Boy wonder

Special to SunSpot

When he speaks to the crowd at the national millennium celebration or a California tech conference, 10-year-old David Dalrymple might need some help reaching the microphone but his words carry a lot of weight. Via e-mail, UMBC's youngest student recently discussed his team's win over the area's best budding tech entrepreneurs, his vision of our technological future and his plans to rule the world.

Your team recently won the Greater Baltimore Technology Council's collegiate "Mosh Pit" business plan competition with a digital utility metering device. What does it do exactly?

It sends the data from a power consumption sensor to the Internet inreal-time. This would enable monitoring of industrial equipment aswell as quick checking of power consumption by consumers and powerdistributors.

What are some typical applications of this device? For instance, could I log on at work and tell if I left the coffeepot on at home?

Sure. You could even make coffee from work if you wanted to.

Another application is in a restaurant setting - what Icall"fine computerized dining" and involves computers at each table.Youcould have your PDA transfer your dietary restrictions and foodpreferences to a restaurant computer, and the restaurant computercouldcome up with a menu custom-created for you. Then you could playtriviagames with others in the restaurant on this same computer whilewaitingfor your meal, and then use the same computer to check outautomatically(no waiting to get your bill, waiting again for the wait staff topickup your credit card, waiting again to get the credit card slip tosign).

The restaurant can also use these computers to automaticallyupdate the menu if a dish becomes unavailable (so as not to havecustomers drooling over items they won't be able to have), lowerpricesto increase sales in, say, overstocked vegetables or increase priceswhen,say, steak becomes low in supply, have paint programs installed tokeepchildren busy without always buying new coloring books or specialchildmenus or paper table covers, advertise items the restaurant sells(special hot sauces, mugs, shirts, etc.), and much more.

Was your age ever an issue between you and your team members?

No. It wasn't a problem at all.

Are you interested in business?

Yes. I would like to start the company I.D.E.A.S. to sell the IDEAProtocol.

The IDEA Protocol is a communications system thatalleviatesmany of the problems I see with electronic device communication. Itallows any electronic devices to transfer data, regardless of their"smart-ness" or processing power. Such a project is a dubiousundertaking, but precursors' work, such as Jini, proves that thetechnology is possible, though not necessarily profitable.

I believe that with a combination of innovation, gooddesign,widespread marketing and financial good sense, such a productshould be viable.

Are you talking about something along the lines of a "smart kitchen," where the refrigerator knows when you are out of milk?

A smart kitchen is one of many relatively unimportant consequencesofthe IDEA Protocol. It wouldn't be much of an innovation, sinceplentyof smart kitchen products are readily available.

What is Jini?

Jini wasoriginallytouted as a Java-based platform for "smart "operation. However, though its uses are far and wide, they do notinclude "smart everything, from letter opener to mainframe." That'skind of what I'm trying to do.

By the way, a smart letter opener,though seemingly useless, could keep track of incoming letters, andevenprovide information about the letter being opened (perhaps loweringtherisk of anthrax exposures) from some kind of RFID (Radio FrequencyIDentifier, a dumb system which can be queried for a single longnumber)inside the envelope, linking to e-mails or information packets on theWeb. For more on Jini, see

You presented at Richard Saul Wurman's famous Technology Entertainment Design conference last year. What was it like rubbing elbows with Martha Stewart and AOL's Steve Case?

The crowd at TED is a truly exceptional group of people. Meetingthem was great. Talking to them was pleasurably enlightening.Sittingdown with them for an intellectual conversation was happinessitself. New York Times best-selling authors, Pulitzer prizewinners, Nobellaureates, Grammy award winners, artists, designers, visionaries,outstanding technologists, and other superior people in their fieldscome together in Monterey, California for an invigoratingconference. I thought it was also a great opportunity andpersonally establishedcontact with lots of great people, including one who got me a slotat Microsoft Research to make a presentation there this spring.

Was there one celebrity sighting or exchange that was particularly memorable for you?

Sorry, but no. All of them were enjoyable, and I don't havefavorites.I enjoy meeting everyone who's fun to be around, regardless of theircelebrity (or not) status.

What does the future hold for technology in your view? What do you predict will be the biggest technological change we'll see in the next decade?

Technology is not constant. It grows at X rate. What many do notknow is that X rate grows at Y rate. And what even fewer realize isthatY rate grows at Z rate. Z rate is very low, but Y rate has beenastronomical since (literally) the beginning of time. X rate is nowtremendous, promising a faster computer next month. When computerswere first invented, it took a decade to release the next product.

Inother more confusing words, technology will continue to advance at arate that will continue to advance at a rate that will continue toadvance; this spawned the extremely fast artificial evolution nowoccurring in electronic products.

Is there one advance, though, that you think we will see in the next decade? In an essay you wrote that is posted on the Internet ( you mentioned a car that you can tell to "go to Wal-Mart." Is that something you expect to see?

Don't read too much into [my essay titled] "The Future." It's a mishmash mix of mymemesand my dreams.

In other, less esoteric terms, "The Future" is acombination of what I really think will happen and fantasies. TheWal-Mart story is something I really think will happen. The babybornwith a PCMCIA card slot is not.

You began to read at 18 months. What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is "When Things Start to Think" by NeilGershenfeld, professor and director of the Center for Bits and Atomsat MIT. Irecommend it to anyone.

Why did you like that book so much? You struck up a correspondence with Gershenfeld as a result of reading it didn't you?

Why does a rose smell sweet? Why do I like that book so much? Isthereintelligent life in space? These questions have yet to be answeredbyscience. Science is unruffled by this, and still progressing at -- amongother places -- MIT.

"When Things Start to Think" was written by [the] head of the Things that Think consortium,nowknown as the Center for Bits & Atoms, at the MIT Media Lab. As Ireallyenjoyed his book, I decided to write him a half-congratulatory,half-begging for more letter to him. This started up acorrespondencebetween us, and through this correspondence, I received the LegoMindstorms Robotic Invention System. After a period of void in ourcommunications, I received a letter in November [1999] inviting me to speakatthe turn of the millennium celebration. After that, as they say,it'sall history.

What's next for you? Graduate school, business, ruling the world?

I don't know when I'll graduate [from UMBC]; in fact, I do not expect anythingof mygraduation, except that I expect to graduate and hopefully be asmarterand wiser person. I'm hoping to not long from now be takinggraduate-level classes, but am in no rush to graduate with my bachelor's.

After my degrees at UMBC are finished, I plan to go to the MIT MediaLab (; for graduate school, then proceed tostartmy own business. Eventually, within the next 10 to 15 years, I need toget something of a working version of the IDEA protocol working,whichwould be a full-time job for many years.

By buying out Microsoft,AOL Time Warner, Broderbund and the Office of Homeland Security(ArmedForces, Pentagon, DoD, etc.), I could conceivably rule the world.;-) Not that I would do such a thing - I have no desire to rule theworldnor save the world; my goal is simply to make the world a betterplace in whatever ways small or large that I can.

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