Projectors Not Projections
The problem we should all be working on
Thomas Edison was one of the greatest inventors of all time. He invented everything from the phonograph, to the motion picture camera, and to a practical electric light bulb.
Today I want to talk about what I think is the most important open problem in all of computing. It is not PNP.
Inventing is hard. Even Edison had trouble with inventions—at least at the beginning of his career. His first invention was an electric voting machine. He envisioned that Congress, for example, would want to speed up votes that they took many times a day. He noticed that voting was by “roll call,” which was slow and cumbersome. Edison built a electric system that tallied the votes. Given how primitive electric systems were in 1869, this was a great feat: he was granted patent number #90,646.
While his voting machine was a brilliant machine sales were poor. Actually, there were no sales. He sold zero of his machines. It turned out that congressmen did not mind that voting was slow; actually they liked that it took time. During the vote they could discuss the vote, “twist arms,” and make deals. They did not want an instant vote.
Edison learned an important lesson: only invent something if there is a potential market. Only invent something, if there are potential users. From then on his inventions all solved practical and important problems.
Here is the most important problem in my opinion.
The Projector Problem: Simply put:
How do we make screen projectors work?
I believe that we are sorely in need of an Edison who can invent a projector system that actually works.
I cannot count the number of times I have sat in a room waiting for the speaker to figure out how to get their computer to talk with the projector. Sometimes we get no signal, sometimes we get a garbled signal, and sometimes we get a “projector is warming up” message. I believe that billions of hours of productive time are lost because projectors do not work properly.
In one of our buildings at Tech the projectors have a built in timer. This makes them turn off after about 90 minutes. I cannot tell you how much fun it is to be in the middle of a long meeting and have the projector decide to quit. Very neat feature.
While we are talking about projectors I have a suggestion for Microsoft. In the “old days” we had the ability to move a plastic slide up so the audience could see the bottom of a slide. I believe this is impossible today—at least I have no idea how to make Powerpoint move a slide up. My suggestion is simple: add a feature that allows the speaker to move slides around the screen. I think this is within known technology, and I think it would be quite useful. This would help, for example, at some conferences where the room is flat. Those in the back of a large room have no way to see any formula written at the bottom of a slide.
Is the projector problem as important as I claim? What is your favorite open practical problem? I hope you do not mind a less technical than usual discussion.