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Memory Acorns

Fun, useful and perhaps surprisingly convenient.
(+3, -3)
  [vote for,

I apologise if the following doesn't scan well. I can't quite decide what angle to spin this with, it is 'for fun' but also may be generally useful as a side-effect.

** serious buildup **

As technological beings, you probably have data stored in many different physical formats. Most of these are annoying for one reason or another.

CDs, DVDs and other optical disk-based media are a pain to write, and hard to distinguish when you've got dozens of them lying around. Their single-shot nature is also a git. So you need to be really organised.

USB memory drives are okay, at least you can rewrite them. But again they're hard to distinguish if you have a few. And as a transfer format they tend to accumulate random things, all on the same unit - so finding the file you want can still be tricky.

Compact flash, secure digital, and the like : well there's lots of competing formats, but these essentially fit a niche. Personally I like CF, as the other formats are much too small and fiddly.

The main problem is generally finding the data you want.
Data size, on the other hand, is no longer a general issue. Most things easily fit on one unit. I'm not going to concern myself with the exceptions to this - they can go on other formats.
Similarly, physical size of the unit is generally not an issue. In fact, things can be made ridiculously small.

This idea relies on the fact that humans are very physical beings. Physical appearance and location is easy to learn. Many methods of improving memory rely on this, by creating mental castles for data recall.

** fun & games buildup **

Kids like to collect stuff. Pockemon was a big craze fairly recently. And although I never bothered to learn how they actually worked, I did have a poster with all the funny little critters on.
This idea could begin as a collectable item game, then build up to useful stuff once the infrastructure is set up.

** the idea proper **

Encase flash memory (or ROM) in small[1] colourful plastic spheres[2] along with a contactless data-transfer interface.
These spheres I propose to call memory acorns, because that should be catchy enough to stick and to avoid them being called memory balls.
The acorns must be very cheap, and come in a range of data sizes. An important part of the mindset of using this format is that a unit should only carry one file, or inter-related data. So, lots of files comprising a computer-game: good. Several iterative versions of the same file: good. Random different things to transfer:bad - use another, empty acorn instead.

To get the data in or out, you need a reader. Reader/writers come in several formats, from a basic reader only (which could be part of a portable battery-powered toy), to more serious devices.

A crucial part of the system is that the acorns can be easily sorted. The larger readers have a mechanical mechanism included, so you can sort out all your acorns with pictures on, for example, or all acorns with a partial file-name on. You'd tip your bag into a hopper on the top, and the acorns would be sorted out into two output trays. To do this the acorns would have a quickly accessible data-block with this sort of information. It would also allow tags and other user-supplied meta-data. For example you'd tag all your personal files with your initials, first name or something like that.

So, the system would be introduced with some sort of collectable game for kids. Small ROMs would have games, pictures, some sort of top-trumps-like metagame system. Kids could carry their collection in a bag or whatever, sort and fiddle with them at home on the PC/large reader, and play the game on a handheld.
And then writable static-ram versions would come out, again with massive variety of stylings, so adults could play too.

[1] How small? The answer is not quite the smaller the better; besides technological capability, they must not be too small to handle easily. I would say approximately the size of a standard marble would be acceptable; approximately 1cm [3] diameter. A little bigger might suit, depending on useability testing.

[2] Do they have to be spheres? Not quite. Provided they have a constant width they will roll and can thus be mechanically sorted. Many such shapes exist - and excitingly, some are reminiscent of acorns (see my link). This means memory acorns can have an extra degree of distinguishability, and makes them even more useful for visually impaired users.

[3] Oh, that's about 6/16ths of an inch, in archaic measurements.

Loris, Aug 29 2008

(?) Mimobots - collectible USB flash drives http://www.mimoco.com/mimobots/
Not "hard to distinguish, once you have a few". But yes, they will fit multiple files. [jutta, Aug 29 2008]

(?) Tangible Media http://w5.cs.uni-sb...eMediaGroup/TMG.htm
I was thinking of their answering machine in particular. This is a similar underlying philosophy. [jutta, Aug 29 2008]

(?) Plastic acorns http://buyritevendi...es_plastic_eggs.htm
This is what I think of when you say "Encase flash memory (or ROM) in small colourful plastic spheres along with a contactless data-transfer interface. These spheres I propose to call memory acorns..." [phoenix, Sep 01 2008]

Solids of constant width http://web.mat.bham...undness/solids.html
Guess what some of these remind me of. [Loris, Sep 02 2008]


       jutta, regarding your 'mimobots' link - yes, you can get identifiable flash drives. But they are not an alternative for several reasons:
1) They're not cheap. The base price seems to be $35.
2) They're not sortable.
3) As you mentioned, they hold several files. The point here is not that the memory acorns are crippled to hold one file, either by size or filesystem. They wouldn't be. Rather, its the mindset of putting unrelated files temporarily together which is downplayed. Sure, you could have big, expensive memorychips inside, and you probably would in some lines, eventually, for the really big files. But generally, the smaller memory sizes are cheaper, so you can have the really cheap base units for most purposes.
Since it is so desirable to temporarily put a few files together for transfer the system wouldn't in any way prevent this. Instead, it would have features to make managing such data easily. Basically on creation these could be labeled with a 'temp' tag. Then the next time you came across it you'd get the option of stacking it back into the unused acorn pile.
Loris, Aug 29 2008

       Mimobots. Not momobots.   

       // 1) They're not cheap. The base price seems to be $35.   

       These are collectors' items; you can make smaller, cheaper USB drives, and people frequently do (e.g. for corporate schwag.) It just happens that these are pretty.   

       // 2) They're not sortable.   

       I don't understand what you mean by that. One can sort anything. E.g., mimobots by color, price, last name of the designer, release date, how much I like it, ...)   

       // 3) ... Rather, its the mindset of putting unrelated files temporarily together which is downplayed.   

       Yeah, I get that. I worry about the environmental impact of having lots of chips flying around; I guess you could address that by making sure you use recyclable materials.
jutta, Aug 29 2008

       Why something so bulky as a plastic acorn? Why not a deck of cards?
phoenix, Aug 29 2008

       (mimo: corrected)   

       I'm sorry jutta, I misunderstood the point you were making. I'm not sure what you meant, now. Mimobots are related in being distinguishable storage, but this is only a minor part of my proposal.   

       The marble answering machine looks interesting, but from what they say I don't think it goes far enough! If you could set it up to represent calls from different people with different colours, you could pick out messages you wanted to hear.
But yes, making data tangible is really helpful. During my PhD I had tonnes of useful papers all photocopied in slightly different ways (I trimmed off variable amounts of wasted paper, did a bad job of aligning before stapling, that sort of thing). Just by chance, this meant I could find the paper I wanted very easily. I demonstrated how useful this was when I lost a paper for a while - I'd decided that a double-page A3 copy I'd been using for ages was too unwieldy, and cut it down to a bit less than A4 and restapled.

       The sorting thing is critical, and complements the physical distinguishability. You could remember that a particular file is on, say, a red acorn with blue dots, or a green acorn with yellow swirls, or whatever, while you're using it, but after a month or two that mental data is gone (actually with me it's more like a day or two). Currently you can computationally sort through files on your hard drive, but not your mobile data. If I had forgotten which of, say, 20 mimobot flash drives, a file was on - the only way to find it would be to plug each one in in turn, and look through (or scan) the directory structure. With memory acorns, well, you might need several times more to hold as much data, but you'd just pour them in, and the one you wanted would be separated out.   

       With current media (CD/DVD/zip/floppy disks etc) sure, you can write it on the label - but there's not a lot of space, and doing so for rewritable media 'fixes' that data into place.
So this is why I like the marble form-factor. The balls can be rolled off in different directions within the machine. You could tip a whole bunch of acorns into the machine, and it would pachinko through them, physically sorting out ones which match your criteria.

       I'm not sure what you mean about the environmental aspect, either - or something about chips?
CDs are virtually single-use in practice, and they suck. But I don't think I know anyone who has ever thrown a working USB Flash drive away. So why would making something similar in a different form-factor be an issue?

       phoenix, I'm not sure what you mean by bulky. You realise that while I called them acorns, they're not that size or shape, don't you? I consider them to be rather small, actually - certainly an awful lot smaller than CDs. How small could they be? Since you can get flash drives which are just as big as the socket, I think making them standard marble size (whats that? about 1cm diameter I guess) or perhaps smaller would not be difficult.   

       If you just don't like the idea of them being balls - well, discs would be nearly as good. You'd sacrifice either some ease of insertion into the machine, or add some complexity to the loading mechanism though.
Loris, Aug 30 2008

       ...pheonix, I see (pheonix's link refers to those large hollow balls used for encasing toys in dispensing machines).
I'm glad to have established that we're not dealing with those.

       While thinking about ways of making these objects distinguishable, I was reminded of the 3D extension of curves of constant width. It turns out that there you can create many different surfaces of constant width, if you don't require them to be regular - and ... well, check the link. I think they're beautiful.
Loris, Sep 02 2008

       I seem to recall that woodpeckers cache acorns individually in custom holes pecked into a dead tree trunk, and remember where they are so they can retrieve them as winter food. I thought this idea might relate to that, and in a way it does.
spidermother, Sep 02 2008

       I'd love an hb memory stick! :)
po, Sep 02 2008

       I can picture finding a stash of files buried in the yard sometime, me trying to put an actual acorn into a computer, and a family of very confused squirrels.   

       Just number your discs and keep a directory spreadsheet of where your files are at, man.
RayfordSteele, Oct 14 2011


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