FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Aww, Shucks!

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few.

Give this site a try... it has all kinds of addictive quizzes that bloggers can then post to their own sites. Viral marketing at its best!

Friday, October 29, 2004

[UPGRADE] Better Commenting and TrackBack

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog. Now, anyone can comment on a post, not just Blogger.com members. The downside is that existing comments to posts appear to have been wiped out by the Haloscan install.

Creepy Halloween Urban Legends

There's nothing like a twisted urban legend to run a chill down your spine, and Snopes.com is perhaps the Web's premier resource for the latest and greatest in modern folklore. Check out their collection of Halloween urban legends, including recent news stories and other ghoulish tales.

Happy Halloween to all! Don't eat too much candy... and those of you who observe Daylight Saving Time, remember to turn your clocks back one hour Saturday night. Check your smoke detector batteries too!

Accuracy, Future of Phone Polls in Doubt

As the presidential election enters the homestretch, nobody seems able to make sense of incoming polling figures. One minute it's a dead heat, the next minute Bush is breaking out, and the next, Kerry's ahead. What's going on?

Some experts believe that traditional methods of polling -- particularly telephone polls -- are no longer reliable. Brian Vargus, a political science professor at Indiana University, believes that the era of telephone polling is coming to an end. "This may be the last election where you'll see such a proliferation of telephone polls," he says.

Several factors play into the decline in the reliability of telephone polling:

  • More Americans rely on cell phones, and many -- especially young people -- use them as their primary phones. Cell phone numbers aren't listed, and pollsters would hesitate to call them anyway as the recipient has to pay for incoming calls.
  • The prevalence of answering machines and Caller ID allows for the easy screening of calls. In many households, an incoming call from an unfamiliar number is automatically ignored.
  • Many newly-registered voters are poor, and don't have phones at all. If these voters turn out in large numbers, they will invalidate much of the polling, regardless of how they vote.
  • The response rate of telephone polls -- that is, the percentage of people who agree to participate in them -- has dropped dramatically, from as high as 80% in the 1960s to as low as 10% today. Some statisticians believe that the response rate is now too low to provide an accurate sample of opinions.
If not with phone polls, how else could pollsters gauge public opinion? Some have suggested a return to door-to-door polling and "man on the street" interviews. But in this day and age, those would likely be perceived as even more invasive than phone polling. Perhaps, as Internet access increases, pollsters could develop more scientific methods of Internet-based polling. Yet others believe that market-based predictors, in which participants buy and sell "shares" in candidates based on their potential, are the way to go.

Deadly Flu Epidemic On The Way?

Not to frighten anybody, but the head of the Russian Virology Institute is predicting a major worldwide bird-flu pandemic this season, with fatalities numbering in the billions.

" 'Up to one billion people could die around the whole world in six months,' [Dmitry] Lvov said. The expert did not give a timeframe for the epidemic, but said that it is highly probable that it will start this year. 'We are half a step away from a worldwide pandemic catastrophe.' "

Lvov believes that up to 700,000 Americans could die in such an outbreak. He is also urging Russian authorities to prepare for the epidemic by reserving hospital beds.

Lvov has not provided many further details, and the credibility of this prediction remains unclear. It's interesting that he took pains to mention American fatalities, perhaps playing into concerns over the recent flu vaccine shortage here.

Source: Minding the Planet

Baby Likes Video Games

Video games are no longer the purview of pre-teens and teens, according to an article in the New York Times. Children as young as three are embracing computer games... either playing versions designed especially for them or mastering the games of their older siblings.

The article cites research from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation stating that half of all children between the ages of 4 to 6 have played video games, and of those, one in four plays regularly. The survey also found that 14 percent of children below age 3 have played video games.

Among the things this trend reveals are:

  • Children have an innate comfort level with technology, as evidenced by young children's mastery of games designed for teens and adults. The game players of today will become the workers of tomorrow... and for them, high-tech will be an expectation.
  • At the very least, young game players will demand increasingly complex and challenging games as they grow up.
  • Marketers are responding with computer games designed for young players.
  • Video games sales are beginning to cut into sales of other toys (a trend to watch this upcoming holiday season).
  • Games designed for youngster with unrefined motor skills are including innovative controls and interactivity. Some of these can be adapted for users with physical disabilities, and may lead to more intuitive computer interfaces for adults.

Map of Creativity

A UK-based group called the Next Generation Foundation has created an interactive Map of Creativity that uses an innovative Flash interface to list educational, cultural and other socially beneficial projects around the world. The interface takes a bit of getting used to (about 30 seconds), but once you getthe hang of it, you can drill around and search by category, age group and geographic location.

The NGF was founded by Kjeld Kirk, CEO of the LEGO Company.

Source: Beverly Tang

Microsoft Develops Next-Generation PDA Interface

Microsoft is developing a new PDA interface that will allow users to access Web content more easily. As more PDA users get wireless Internet access, the problem of surfing the Web on a very small screen becomes evident. A standard web page is illegible on a PDA.

Microsoft's solution is to allow users to zoom in on content of interest through pen strokes. The user can use standard web menus and links, then enlarge pages to be readable while preserving their context.

Source: Futurismic

Political Bloggers Strike Again

Liberal bloggers have called the Bush campaign on an ad titled "Whatever It Takes." The ad itself is relatively conventional and, in its final scene, shows the President addressing an assembly of soldiers. Problem is, careful observers have noted that the soldiers in that group scene appear to have been digitally duplicated.

By now you may have heard about this on the news, and the Kerry campaign is using this as evidence that the Bush team plays fast and loose with the truth. However, it seems that the only thing Bush is guilty of here is sloppiness.

In the old days, no one would ever have given this ad a second thought. But in this superheated campaign, everything is game. Plus, the convergence of blogs and digital video recorders have given people the tools to analyze what they see on TV more closely than ever before.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Enterpreneur Uses Tech for Better Health

A must-read article from CNN.com regarding Vikram Kumar, a young MIT graduate who develops handheld technologies for developing countries. Using software developed by his startup company, clinicians in India and South Africa are able to manage thousands of patients and distribute test results... all while maintaining security and patient confidentiality. Kumar is also developing computer games for children with juvenile diabetes to help them better manage their blood sugar levels.

Study: Businesses Not Prepared for Terrorism

In this election season, voters consistently rate terrorism and homeland security as among their top concerns. However, a two-year study reveals that businesses don't appear to share those worries.

Shortly before 9/11, Ian Mitroff and Dr. Murat Alpaslan began a survey of Fortune 1000 companies to determine their preparedness for terrorist attacks and other emergencies. They followed up on the one- and two-year anniversaries of 9/11, and found that little had been done to increase levels of emergency preparedness and crisis management:

Immediately after 9/11, preparation for all kinds of crises shot up dramatically, but especially for terrorism. The reasons were just as important as the increases themselves. Most executives that we talked to reported that their companies increased their preparations because, “it was the right thing to do irrespective of costs.”

One and two years later, only a tiny fraction of companies are continuing their preparations for terrorism and other crises but “if and only if they are cost effective.” Even more disturbing, preparations for terrorism as well as all other crises spiked about one year after 9/11 and they have continued to decrease dramatically. With few exceptions, we are back to the same low levels of crisis preparation that we were prior to 9/11. [Emphasis from the original article]

Mitroff points to the Northeast power failure of August 2003 as evidence that businesses remain complacent about crisis management. However, he does credit those companies that are taking crisis planning seriously and are being proactive.

Unfortunately, this kind of head-in-the-sand thinking is all too common in the business community. Crisis management and disaster recovery don't provide immediate return on investment; therefore, they're the first expenses cut during rounds of budget tightening. Then something happens, and everyone asks the inevitable question: "Why wasn't something done to prevent this?"

Anyone who thinks about the future knows that, sooner or later, the fecal matter is going to hit the fan. Just ask the folks in Florida who have recently been battered by hurricanes...

Source: World Future Society

The Future of Cars

What kind of car will you be driving in 10 years? According to an article on MSNBC.com, politics and the economy could play a large role in determining the future of cars over the next decade.

States, particularly California, are mandating cars that emit less CO2. And since California is such a large car market, many auto manufacturers build their cars to comply with rigid California emissions standards by default. California also has tougher-than-average safety standards, such as mandates for daytime running lights.

Higher-mileage cars typically emit less CO2... so aside from being environmentally friendly, they are also mor eeconomical to drive. And if oil prices remain high, drivers will likely seek high-mileage vehicles. Auto makers may be encouraged to expand their offerings of hybrid technology, adding it to large cars, minivans and even SUVs.

The winner of the upcoming presidental race will surely have a say in car safety and emissions. President Bush has encouraged technical solutions to reduce CO2, but has not pushed hard for regulation. John Kerry, on the other hand, may be more environemtnally aggressive. However, the environment is not high on anybody's radar screen right now.

The auto industry argues that further safety and environmental regulations would increase the sticker price on cars. However, they discovered in the 1980s that consumers were willing to pay more for safer cars, as evidenced by the success of Volvo and other cars that stressed their safety features. So it may go with emissions controls and higher-mileage vehicles; consumers may see those as investments that protect the environment while also saving them money in the long run.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Sick of Boring Old Jack-o-Lanterns?

So is this guy...

If you're looking for creative pumpkin-carving ideas, check out ExtremePumpkins.com and see what some clever carvers are doing with the season's favorite gourd.

[FOLLOWUP] Cassini Relays Perplexing Titan Pix

After its successful fly-by of Saturn's moon Titan, the Cassini space probe sent back surface images, the most detailed yet seen. However, scientists don't know exactly what they're looking at yet.

The infrared photos appear to reveal some types of topography, which may be coastlines or mountains. Some features may be clouds, while others might be lakes of liquid methane. Titan is the only moon in the Solar System in the atmosphere, yet it is so cold that substances that would normally be gases on earth are liquefied.

Searches Increasingly Look for Business, Not Porn

Research from Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh have found that web users are searching more for business and e-commerce resources, and less for sex and pornography. The researchers examined Internet usage patterns and archived searches over several years.

Researchers noted that sex-related searched comprised 20 percent of all searched in 1997, as opposed to 5 percent today. By contrast, shopping-related searches increased by 86 percent in the same period.

Reasons for this shift are multiple, and may include such factors as:

  • The growing acceptance of the Net as a business and productivity tool
  • The general growth of e-commerce, and users' increased comfort level with shopping online
  • The prevalence of anti-porn firewalls and strict policies against accessing adult content in the workplace
  • The increase in the number of women -- who would rather shop than look at porn -- online
  • Fears that adult websites may contain viruses or spyware
  • After seven years, anyone interested in adult content has probably downloaded all the porn they can ever use anyway
The study also found that users seek immediate gratification in their searches, using about two words per search and looking at the first few sites that a search brings up. Hence, the importance of search engine placement, including paid placement.

Source: Techdirt

Blogger Takes the Day Off

Many blogs hosted by Blogger.com -- including this one -- have been dark for much of the day today. According to Blogger's status board, they have been experiencing network difficulties since midnight last night. Things seem to be better now (obviously, I'm able to post). My apologies to readers who have been inconvenienced by this outage.

Tech to Prevent SIDS

Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a "Smart Shirt" for infants that has sensors to record a child's heartbeat. The shirt can be used to monitor infants for risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); data is recorded and played back by medical technicians, much in the way that a holter monitor operates. A next-generation shirt could send alerts directly to parents or clinicians.

Elsewhere, design student Gary Cho has developed a "Caring Cot," a rocking crib that automatically rocks an infant back to sleep if he awakens. Aside from giving baby (and parents) a good night's rest, the device responds to sound, movement and temperature -- giving it the potential to alert parents if the baby is in distress.

SIDS is defined as the sudden, unexplained death of a child under the age of one.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Mobile Phone Cam Attachment Sees Through Clothes

Next time someone takes your picture with a phone cam, they may be getting more of an eyeful than you intend.

A night filter attachment for Vodaphone phone cams can apparently penetrate clothing to reveal naked bodies. The device is made by the Japanese manufacturer Yamada Denshi, and is supposedly most effective in penetrating form-fitting bikinis.

The device works because the images it produces are based on heat, not visible light. And since bodies produce heat and clothes do not, it ignores the clothes and images the bodies only.

As you might expect, the gadget is becoming a fast fave of voyeurs, especially in Japan, who swap photos through the Internet.

When I was growing up, the backs of comic books featured ads for "x-ray glasses" that offered the subtle but titillating promise of being able to see through clothes. Of course, they were just stupid cardboard things with pinholes that created an optical illusion of being able to "see through" something. But now it looks like we have the real thing, along with its consequences...

Source: Smart Mobs

[FOLLOWUP] Cassini Flies Past Titan

The good news is that the Cassini space probe orbiting Saturn made a successful fly-by of the moon Titan today. The bad news is that we have to wait until later tonight to see any images. Cassini won't start transmitting until 9:30 PM EDT, and there's a several-hour time delay on top of that. Hopefully by tomorrow morning we'll have some eye candy.

Glucose Meter + GameBoy = GlucoBoy!

In one of those fits of pure genius, a company called Guidance Interactive Healthcare has developed the GlucoBoy, a glucose meter that attaches to Nintendo GameBoy devices. The idea is to make it easier and more pleasant for children to test their glucose levels.

Technology combined with consideration for the end user. Gotta love it!

Source: bTang

Which Nigerian Spammer Are You?

Eighty percent of all Internet users say they have received spam messages informing them they are the recipients of untold riches in a bank account in Nigeria. The other 20 percent are either lying or haven't checked their e-mail in several years...

The folks at BBspot, who are always good for something funny, have an online quiz to determine which Nigerian spammer you most closely resemble.

You are LAWRENCE OBI. You are Bank Manager of Zenith Bank Lagos, Nigeria. You will share with me 30% of the $26.5 million that BARRY KELLY who died with a WILL left in your bank.  You put the money in two trunks and want me to claim the money.

License to Parent

Occasionally, there comes along a concept that's at once smart and horrifying. One of these is the idea of regulating parenthood. In the book Should Parents Be Licensed?, editor Peg Tittle has assembled essays exploring issues such as requiring prospective parents to be certified for fitness; prenatal child abuse; compulsory contraception; and who should determine the fundamental right to have children.

We witness examples of abysmal parenting on a daily basis, whether we watch a parent explode at their kids in a mall or grocery store, or hear about someone convicted of infanticide on the evening news. Cleary, there are many parents out there who have no business being around kids, and don't have the financial, emotional or intellectual resources to raise them. Children don't ask to be born, and many adults don't ask to be parents.

But doing something about it (i.e. implementing the ideas set forth in Tittle's book) cuts to the very core of individual rights and freedoms. If you don't have the right to perform the most imtimate and profound acts with your body -- make love, conceive and give birth to a child -- what rights can you possibly have? More concretely, what criteria would be used to determine parental fitness? Who would set those criteria? What would happen to a couple who conceived a child without a permit? What would happen to the child? If a woman miscarries a child because she doesn't eat properly, could she be charged with murder? Enforcing these ideas as laws would sow the seeds of a police state, with Nazi Germany as an extreme example. Ultimately, we'd have a two-tier society of those "fit" and "unfit." And if you happen to be judged "unfit," what else would you be good for?

You may be intrigued or repulsed by the positions taken in this book... but you must agree that the questions it sets forth have no simple answers. They are issues that society will have to face in the coming years, especially as we continue to debate abortion, contraception, teen sexuality and population growth.

Read more about the book in this New York Times Book Review excerpt. For more discussion on emerging parenthood issues, check out the Half Changed World blog.

Cassini Saturn Probe to Fly Past Titan

The Cassini space probe currently orbiting Saturn is scheduled to fly today to within 745 miles of the surface of Titan, the planet's largest and most intriguing moon. The probe will take infrared and radar images that are expected to give us a much clearer view of the moon's surface, which is obscured by a thick atmosphere. It is this atmosphere that causes scientists to speculate that Titan might harbor primitive life.

Friday, October 22, 2004

US Army to Use Microwave Guns

Science fiction meets reality! Next year, the U.S. Army will debut a microwave gun, which fires painful yet nonlethal and non-injuring electronic beams. It will most likely see its first use in Iraq for crowd control and to quell civil disturbances. These guns, known formally as the Active Denial System (what a name!), will be mounted on large armored vehicles already in Iraq, to be called "Sheriffs." The Army hopes to have at least several Sheriffs deployed by next fall. If the Sheriffs prove successful, they may be deployed elsewhere, such as sensitive military sites worldwide and for border patrols.

The Active Denial System may be paired with another innovative weapon, Gunslinger, that detects enemy sniper fire, automatically determines its origin, and fires back. This device, however, will be a bit more deadly.

The Rebirth of Design

Have you noticed the increased attention paid to design of consumer items these days? In retail, Target broke out from the pack by infusing everything it sells with smart, hip style. Apple's iMacs and iPods are known as much for their appearance as their functionality. And what's up with all those home makeover shows like Trading Spaces?

It seems like we've all gone design-happy these days, and an article in this month's American Demographics has some theories as to why. For one, thanks to increased attention to quality of consumer goods, many items have become commodities. If everything performs dependably, why choose Brand X over Brand Y, especially if it costs more? While consumers are oversaturated with advertising, they will gravitate toward products that look cool and appear to have some thought behind their styling (with the rationale that a well-designed product must work better than an ugly one). Products, therefore, must differentiate themselves through attractive and original design.

The article even credits our renewed interest in design to post-9/11 trauma, which forced many of us to look inward for fulfillment. Instead of traveling to exotic places, we brought the exotic into our homes. Thanks to makeover shows like Trading Spaces, we know how to add pizzaz to any living space within any budget.

One other factor I'd mention in the rebirth of design is simply the fact that whenever something that's attractive and different hits the market, it causes a sensation -- something that no marketer can ignore. For instance, in the mid-1980s, after years of boring "econo-box" cars, the Ford Taurus appeared with its rounded "jellybean" design and turned the auto industry on its ear. The Taurus' design principles have become so widely adopted that more angular cars like the Scion and the Honda Element are now considered radical. And who can forget the arrival of the colorful iMacs in the sea of white, black and beige PC boxes? The design factor alone virtually saved Apple.

The article advocates a new discipline of designographics, combining styling with demographic research. Designers must learn how people perceive design and why they will be motivated to purchase and use products with certain styling. As researchers delve into this field, they are likely to be surprised time and again by what they learn.

Lessons Learned from Indymedia Server Seizure

The details surrounding last week's seizure of hardware belonging to the independent news service Indymedia remain as murky as ever. According to an article in the UK tech publication The Inquirer, no one seems certain exactly who ordered the seizure, or exactly what was being searched for.

One thing, however, is crystal clear: the Internet is not immune to government control. The article notes that the old Internew saw "the Internet perceives censorship as damage and routes around it" didn't hold up this time. Why? The answer is surprising simple...

Forty percent of Indymedia's servers were hosted at a single location, which made disabling the network a mere matter of unplugging hardware. Where were the failover servers? Why didn't Indymedia treat this as a disaster recovery situation and bring replacement servers back online? Redundancy, then, is the key to surviving any kind of attack, whether it be natural or man-made. Especially for information services that are controversial, designing a redundant architecture and a disaster recovery plan is crucial... even when using peer-to-peer and other protocols that are supposedly decentralized.

Source: Smart Mobs

Robots Rule!

An article in Wired cites the United Nations' Annual Robotics Survey, which says that the use of robots to perform household chores will increase sevenfold by 2007. Between falling costs of robot development and production, rising labor costs and increased functionality, robots are taking on ever more diverse and complex tasks. "By the end of the decade, the study said, robots will 'not only clean our floors, mow our lawns and guard our homes but also assist old and handicapped people with sophisticated interactive equipment, carry out surgery, inspect pipes and sites that are hazardous to people, fight fire and bombs.' "

We seem to be reaching a "tipping point" concerning robots, where all of a sudden they seem practical. Part of it, as the Wired article mentioned, is driven by economics. But a lot of it also is because we're learning more about how to build better robots, and perform complex tasks mechanically. We often take our bodies for granted, forgetting how difficult it is to climb stairs, pick up and manipulate small objects, and refine eye-to-hand coordination. Instead of trying to build humanoid robots, we're learning to accepts machines for what they are, and design them accordingly.

We are also understanding that it's better to design task-specific robots that do one thing well rather than an uber-robot that can do everything. The Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner is a case in point; it vacuums, and that's all. The house of the future may contain dozens of diverse robots, each assigned a specific tasks, for which it is designed perfectly.

How Blogging is Changing Journalism, Public Relations

Anyone following FutureWire (or any resource covering media and technology) has gotten an earful/eyeful of how disruptive technologies are changing the worlds of journalism, marketing and public relations. On a recent webinar hosted by the Public Relations Society of America, Pamela Parker Caird of Jupiter Media and ClickZ, in association with unmediated, presented on how blogs and other emerging technologies are changing the public relations game. You can download the PowerPoint presentation here, or access the archived webinar here.

Bottom line: Journalists are relying more and more on blogs and RSS newsfeeds as sources of front-line information. The presentation includes an informal survey of journalists showing nearly 90% considering blogs "somewhat important" or "critically important" for daily newsgathering.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Poll: College Students Politically Energized, Support Kerry

A study of college students conducted by Harvard University finds that students today are far more politically motivated than students in the past, more vested in political parties, more likely to be registered to vote... and are leaning strongly toward John Kerry.

The poll found that Kerry holds a 13-point lead over George W. Bush among college students -- a lead that appears to have grown since the spring. Women support Kerry very strongly, whereas males are evenly split between Kerry and Bush.

But what might be most remarkable is the "sea change" that the poll finds about political attitudes. The combination of the war in Iraq, the lingering possibility of a draft, realities of a post-9/11 world, concerns about the economy and a general sense that the country is "on the wrong track" have combined to make students more politically active. Topping that off is the 2000 election, which turned the phrase "every vote counts" from a cliche to a reality. As a result of this and other studies, experts predict strong voter turnout among college students in this election.

If this holds true, it could fundamentally change the way candidates campaign. In the past, candidates largely ignored college students, focusing more on senior citizens and other groups with active voting records. But now, candidates may want (or need) to hold rallies on campuses, organizing more aggressively in colleges and even high schools. Advertising might change as well, addressing the concerns of younger voters as well as their parents and grandparents. High interest among young people would appear to be an opportunity for candidates and parties to cultivate lifelong party loyalists.

Back in my college days, political interest was pretty minimal, and I was the only one I knew who bothered to vote. But those days seem to be gone. And if this study is correct, college students could have a substantial voice in a couple of weeks.

Bottoms Up!

Disruptive technologies seem to be all over the place these days... especially in the blogosphere, where political bloggers are making their voices heard, and changing the rules of the game. Joe Trippi has an interesting take on what he calls the "bottom-up" phenomenon on MSNBC.com:

We live in a top-down society, where information is power, and where those at the top have most of the information and hold most of the power. This is true within the institutions of government, political parties, the media, corporations, and the military.

But something dramatic is happening: A giant wave of change is gathering more force each day. Power is shifting to the bottom, spawned by advances in technology and the decentralized bottom-up nature of the Internet...

If information is power, then the Internet which distributes information democratically to anyone who has access to it, is no longer distributing just information— it's distributing power. And in a top-down society, it's empowering the bottom. Put more simply—in America, it's empowering the American people...

Today’s "USA Today" includes an interesting story on how technology and the Internet is affecting our knowledge about the war in Iraq: “With cell phones and the Internet, the military’s ability to censor what is reported home (by our troops) has sharply diminished.”

Bush, Kerry Put Tech on Back Burner

Hear much about the presidential candidates' views on technology lately? Me neither. The omission hasn't gone unnoticed, as the Washington Post has noted.

At the Gartner ITxpo in Orlando this past week, Intel head Craig Barrett issued a scathing assessment of the candidates' positions on technology. Barrett argues that this lack of attention to technology is causing the U.S. to lose its competitive edge:

"I visit 30 countries a year and the country most blasé about IT is the one I'm in now," Barrett said. "Even the French believe in the Internet." Barrett added America lacks the "enthusiasm" for technology that he so often sees in Asia, Eastern Europe and even Africa...

To get back in the game, the federal government should increase the $5.57 billion budget of the National Science Foundation, which researches infrastructure, Barrett said, and reduce the approximately $25 billion in agricultural subsidies...

"We're still in denial," he said. "The U.S. is good at ignoring the incremental messages, and eventually we'll wake up and realize we need to compete."

Meanwhile, ExpressIndia notes that in terms of technology relations between the U.S. and other countries such as India, even aggressive change will move slowly:

Whoever wins the tight presidential election, which is less than two weeks away, there is bound to be significant change of personnel in the US Government.

Even if President George W. Bush returns to power, there would be movement in and out of the Administration. If Senator John Kerry wrests the White House, his administration could take months to settle down. In that event, little political business between New Delhi and Washington would be conducted before next summer.

Under Kerry, there is the prospect of a comprehensive review of the Bush policies. Given the intense polarization of American politics today, delays in expanding high-technology cooperation under a Democratic Administration must be expected in New Delhi.

Perhaps things will change as the campaign moves into its final weeks. Much will depend, though on how hard the candidates stump in tech-heavy states. So far, much of the emphasis has been in the so-called "swing states" where the candidates are talking about preserving non-technology jobs. Discussing technology too much may be seen as a risky move because it bring up the spectre of job elimination through outsourcing and automation

Student Pugwash, a group affiliated with MIT, offers a comprehensive voters' guide to the candidates' stands on technology issues.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

10 Major Trends in the Internet's First 10 Years

The USC Annenberg School's Center for the Digital Future released a report on the top trends wrought by the Internet, titled "10 Years, 10 Trends." The center has been studying the Net since 1994 -- the first year that the Internet was made available to the general public -- and has been tracking Internet use, credibility of content, and the Net's impact on other media ever since. "What will happen as a nation that once spent an extremely large portion of time in a passive activity (watching television) transfers increasingly large portions of that time to an interactive activity (the Internet)?" was one question raised in the center's Year Four assessment of the Internet.

The top 10 future changes take into account the increase in high-speed "always-on" connectivity, the evolution of e-commerce, quality of information, the hype generated by new technologies and services, and downsides such as spam and cybercrime. They won't seem earth-shattering to anyone who has studied the Net and emerging technology, but they're important in the context of this study:

  1. In America, The Digital Divide Is Closing, But Is Not Yet Closed As New Divides Emerge
  2. The Media Habits Of The Nation Have Changed, And Continue To Change
  3. The Credibility Of The Internet Is Dropping
  4. We Have Just Begun to See the Changes to Come in Buying Online
  5. The “Geek-Nerd” Perception Of The Internet Is Dead
  6. Privacy And Security: Concerns Remain, But The High Levels Are Changing
  7. The Internet Has Become The Number One Source For Information For Internet Users
  8. The Benefits – and Drawbacks – Of The Internet For Children Are Still Coming Into Focus
  9. E-mail: “E-Nuff” Already?
  10. Broadband Will Change Everything – Again

Source: unmediated

New Words in the Oxford English Dictionary

When words enter highly respected dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary, we learn something about where society is headed, what it considers important, and what it figures is here to stay (at least for a while). After all, editors of these publications make changes only after much careful thought and deliberation.

The Oxford University Press has published a list of words to be added to the latest edition of its hallowed dictionary. Technology terms that made the cut include bioweapon, blogosphere, cybercrime, desk jockey, designer baby, flash mob, guestbook, infowar, m-commerce, nanobot, plasma screen, pop-up, satphone, and spyware. Also included were jihad, metrosexual, mini-me, punditocracy, sex (as a verb, as to "sex something up"), sky marshal, urban (as in "urban music"), va-va-voom, weekend warrior, and wiggle room.

Source: WorldChanging

A Step Beyond eBay

The BrianStorms blog has a post about the future of online auctioneering... and it's one that eBay might not lead.

Since eBay is the Wal-Mart of the online auction universe, you'd think they'd own the direction of the industry. But, as this post points out, eBay appears to be behind the 8-ball in rolling out newer technologies such as RSS and automatic notifications that consumers not only want, but need. Plus, competitors such as Craigslist and Yahoo! are taking online auctions to the local level. This, the post asserts, is the next crucial step in the evolution of online auctions. Why buy a big-ticket item from someone halfway across the country when you can get the same thing from someone in your town... and save a bundle on shipping?

Going forward, online auctions could leverage all kinds of new technologies, from GPS to text messaging. Imagine being a collector of something obscure or rare, and making the rounds of your community's yard sales one Saturday morning. An alert on your cell phone would tell you that a yard sale approximately 1.2 miles away has exactly what you're looking for. You'd negotiate the price via texting, and when you arrived at the sale (after the system gave you turn-by-turn directions), the item would be there waiting for you. If the seller accepted electronic payments, it would already be paid for, too.

Kinda takes the fun out of yard-sale-hunting, but if you care about the prize more than the race, this is definitely appealing.

Source: Emergic.org

P2P Grows Up

An article from Technology Review asserts that peer-to-peer networks have a lot more to offer than sharing music or even movies. Among the creative uses being found for P2P networks are:

It shouldn't be surprising that P2P has caught on so. Massive distribution, redundancy, low cost of ownership and scalability all make P2P attractive... and what made the Internet itself so powerful in the first place.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Nanoparticles Aid E. Coli Detection

Scientific American is reporting that researchers at the University of Florida have developed a method of rapidly detecting the presence of E. coli bacteria in food through silica nanoparticles.

The particles each contain a few molecules of flourescent dye, which reacts with the bacteria to give off a glow. Using this technique, the presence of E. coli can be verified in approximately 20 minutes.

Detecting E. coli rapidly is a critical task, as it can spread quickly, contaminating food and causing illness. Researchers are optimistic that this approach may be used to detect other pathogens.

Bloggers Flex Their Muscle Yet Again

Last month it was the conservative bloggers who called CBS on the forged documents purportedly showing that President Bush did not fulfill his National Guard obligations. Now, it's the liberals' turn.

Democrats are up in arms about plans by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group to pre-empt its normal programming to show a film critical of John Kerry a few days before the general election. As a result, blogs such as Boycottsbg.com are organizing boycotts of network advertisers. Boycottsbg.com claims to have persuaded 80 advertisers to pull out so far. The Kerry campaign, having gotten up to speed on blogging, is in on the act as well.

Historically, advertiser boycotts have a dubious record, being ineffective at best, conterproductive at worst. However, something is having an effect on Sinclair, as its stock has plummeted from approximately $7.75 per share last week to $6.26 at close of trading today -- near an all-time low (before a late-afternoon rally, shares had fallen to as low as $6.12).

Not all of this can be blamed on (or credited to) the Kerry controversy; other technical factors have contributed to give Sinclair a poor investment rating. Also not helping matters is a report of a spoofed e-mail that is supposedly from Sinclair CEO David Smith. Sinclair claims the e-mail is a forgery and is telling anyone who receives it to disregard it, though Sinclair is declining to say exactly what the e-mail contains.

Sinclair executives are unabashed Bush supporters, and recently fired a reporter who was critical of showing the Kerry documentary. So we seem to be looking at a true battle of the wills here. If the bloggers continue to play a key role in this boycott, and if the boycott proves successful, it would likely be the first time that blogs were responsible for bringing down a corporation.

Source: WorldChanging

Jon Stewart + iFilm, BitTorrent = Mass Disruption

By now you may have heard about the fiery episode on CNN's Crossfire, in which Daily Show host Jon Stewart spoke his mind, said Crossfire was "hurting America," refused to be a comedic "monkey" for the show, and called Crossfire co-host Tucker Carlson a naughty name. If you missed it, you can download the clip on iFilm or BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer technology that is being used to exchange video clips and movies the way Napster was used for music.

A summary of the heated exchange on Salon reads:

"I think you're a lot more fun on your show," said Tucker Carlson to Crossfire guest Jon Stewart this afternoon. "And I think you're as much of a **** on your show as on any other," Stewart shot back. It wasn't the faux avuncularity we've come to expect from Stewart on The Daily Show but there, of course, he's playing a role. Here he was himself -- and he wasn't buying any of it.

From the moment Stewart sat down he made no secret of how repugnant he found the show. In fact, he said to Carlson and co-host Paul Begala that he had been so hard on the show he felt it was his duty to come on and say to their faces what he has said to friends and in interviews. What he said was that their show was "hurting America," and he was being only slightly hyperbolic. Stewart told them that when America needed journalists to be journalists they had instead chosen to present theater.

What's truly remarkable about the incident is not that it happened, but people's reaction to it, particularly on the Net. Downloads on iFilm and BitTorrent reportedly exceeded the ratings for the original episode on CNN. Users with low bandwidth aren't left out either, as the transcript of the exchange has been posted on websites. Bloggers who focus on media and marketing have sharply criticized CNN for missing a golden opportunity to promote itself by offering free downloads of the clip through CNN.com (though I can imagine the suits at CNN being horrified by the whole thing).

In the brave new world of television, events such as this one converge with many other technologies to take on a life of their own, outside the control of the big networks. As "big media" continues to consolidate its power, this kind of disruption is precisely what's needed.

The incident could also mark a turning point in the way the media covers politics. That night, the tables were turned: Stewart drove the discussion, and the laughs were at the expense of Carlson and co-host Paul Begala. This was in part because Stewart was dead-on in his criticism of Crossfire and its ilk; so-called "debate" shows feature nothing more than "screaming heads," and contribute little if anything to understanding of critical issues. In fact, much of the post-exchange analysis has noted that The Daily Show has more genuinely thought-provoking information than much of what we see on cable news. Perhaps the reaction to the exchange marks a disgust people feel with know-it-all cable pundits; folks are getting tired of blowhards and being told what to think, and, with the Net, have the power to form and communicate their own opinions.

Sources: Boing Boing, unmediated

Monday, October 18, 2004

Asexuality: A New Identity Movement?

An article in New Scientist identifies what might be a new sexual identity: Asexuality. There's no formal definition for what it means to be asexual, but it can be loosely described as never having had any desire for any kind of sexual intimacy (different from having had sexual desires at one point and then losing them).

Recently, an "A-pride" movement has been building among those identifying themselves as asexual, supported through Internet websites and chat groups. Among other things, they reject the notion that a lack of sex drive is unhealthy in of itself. And unlike people who choose celibacy as a way of life, asexuals feel they have no choice over their identity. Asexuals also seem to vary widely in their relationships with others, from those who want few or no relationships, to those who want close yet non-sexual friendships. Most imporantly, they want to convince the rest of the world that there's nothing wrong with them physically, mentally or emotionally, and that they are happy the way they are.

The asexual movement, such as it is, says a couple of intersting things... one about society, the other about technology. On the social level, it shows how far we've come in being able to talk about sexual issues openly, and how sexuality has become a source of pride rather than shame or embarassment. On the technical level, it's hard to imagine how such a scattered and as-yet ill-defined group could have cohesed without the Internet and its ability to connect disparate people who in the past would have been hopelessly isolated.

"CIO" Interviews Ray Kurzweil

You know that futurism is moving into the mainstream when CIO magazine -- an industry publication aimed at presumably level-headed IT executives -- interviews Ray Kurzweil, one of the world's leading futurists and technology visionaries. Here, Kurzweil presents his theories on pervasive computing, future productivity, nanotechnology, and the slowing of the aging process. Nothing here too earth-shattering for futurists and Kurzweil fans... but it ought to be eye-opening for typical CIO readers.

Creative Ways of Forecasting Holiday Sales

It's two weeks until Halloween, but to retailers, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And of course, their greatest concern is determining what their sales will be like this season. To that end, Money magazine is reporting that some Wall Street analysts are devising innovative ways to forecast holiday sales. Amond them:

  • Watching sales of Christmas trees in mom-and-pop lots. The sooner they sell out, the better the season is likely to be.
  • Measuring sales of peripheral holiday items such as wrapping paper and kids' photos with Santa. Again, the more brisk the sales of those items, and the longer the lines for Santa, the better the news for overall holiday sales.
  • Observing sales of corrugated cardboard. Better cardboard sales indicate that manufacturers expect to ship more goods, and that consumers are mailing more packages.

Although these measures are controversial, their practitioners claim to have an excellent track record. With so many variables in today's economy, it's tougher to forecast sales using traditional metrics.

I'm no economist or financial analyst, but here are a couple of measures that might be worth considering as well:

  • The number of new subscribers to Internet services in the weeks preceding Christmas. This might indicate a higher rate of online shopping, or consumers who anticipate getting new computer hardware.
  • The amount and type of garbage left at curbside in November and December. Households that discard furniture and appliances may be making way for new items for the holidays.
  • Business at restaurants. Brisk business may mean that more employers are hosting holiday parties -- always a good measure of yuletide cheer and a healthy economy. If you have to wait longer than usual for a table at your favorite restaurant in December, that's probably a good sign.
  • The amount of holiday decoration that are being sold not only in November and December, but in October. Holiday optimism gets people in the spirit sooner, and they may be planning to decorate right after Halloween.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Robotic "Tongue" May Increase Food Safety

The Discovery Channel reports that researchers in the University of Warwick in England have developed an electronic "tongue" that can verify the freshness of foods and detect contaminants.

The device is essentially a flat surface that uses sound waves to "rattle" a substance placed on it. The operating principle is that different substances will repond to the rattling in different ways. Although it has no taste buds, the device can determine the four primary tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. By using physical rather than chemical or electrical criteria, the devices is more flexible than other electronic tasting devices.

Another advantage is that the device is very small, approximately the size of a fingernail. The hope is that the device could be marketed economically and incorporated in consumer products. Perhaps "smart spoons" and "smart cookware" are in our future, as well as better food safety and quality control for food processors and restaurants.

Bon appetit!

Psst... Wanna Buy a Rocket?

Researchers at Japans's Hokkaido University are planning to manufacture and market a small rocket that can carry a payload weighing just over a pound. The asking price: approximately $19,000.

The Camui-50P rocket is only about 5 feet tall and weighs 23 pounds. It's also reusable. The team expects to market it to researchers as well as "hobbyists" who presumably never got to launch those Estes model rockets as kids. Anyone purchasing the rocket is require to undergo two days of safety instruction.

Let's hope they also plan to do some security screening as well. If I were a terrorist, I'd be salivating over this. A rocket that can carry one-pound payload can carry a heck of a lot of anthrax or nerve gas, or a heat-seeking device that could home in on jet engines...

And the scariest thing of all: You probably have a better chance of getting a hold of this rocket than you do getting a flu shot this fall!

Wear an Atomic Clock on Your Wrist

Ever since their invention, "atomic clocks" have been the gold standard for timekeeping, deviating by less than a second every million or so years. Most are extremely large and require plenty of technical expertise to operate. Now, scientists at the National Institute for Standards and Technology -- the primary keepers of atomic clocks in the U.S. -- has developed a miniaturized atomic clock that could one day be incorporated into a wristwatch.

The NIST miniature atomic clock is accurate to within a second every 300 years -- not as impressive as its industrial-strength brethren, but hey... in 300 years, you'll probably want a new watch anyhow. It works through a tiny bit of cesium vapor trapped in silicon; the clock measures the oscillation of the cesium atoms to count off time.

You might not need a watch that's that precise, but one immediate application is in GPS systems, where time accuracy and synchronization are critical.

High-Tech Pushback

Could reaction against the latest high-tech innovations be the newest technology trend? Maybe, if a contributor to Ed Foster's Gripelog is a representative of a movement. In a recent post, a writer argued that many of the newest high-tech gadgets and services are not worth the trouble and expense.

The writer complains about high-speed Internet, high-end cell phones, PDAs, and online bill paying. He's not alone, as this columnist from the Detriot Free Press vents about label printers and has given up his PDA for a paper planner.

High-tech developers and marketers had better be paying attention. The average user of technology is not a geek who will cheerfully while away hours trying to make something work. They need dependability, and they have little tolerance for malfunction, especially if it costs them time or money (which it invariably does). These are not stupid people. They have lives, they're under stress, and their time is precious. This is one reason why we've never seen the much-heralded "paperless office" truly emerge; people have never -- and maybe will never -- achieve a comfort level with it.

Another problem with new technologies is that we too often try to graft them onto old or bad processes. The result is increased confusion, and compounding of problems. This will become even worse as we move toward pervasive computing, with system failures potentially triggering "domino effects" that could, in some cases, be catastrophic.

Many of the emerging technologies that early adopters like myself like to talk about are probably farther off from mainstream adoptability than we'd like to think, simply because they're not fail-safe enough for the average user. High-tech developers need to respect their time, and early adopters have a duty to catch failures and usability problems in emerging technologies.

Source: Lockergnome's Tech News Watch

One-Third of Amphibian Species Threatened

One-third of the world's amphibian species face extinction, according to a paper published in the journal Science. Research has found that 122 species have either gone extinct or have not been sighted in the wild since 1980.

Scientists are particularly alarmed at this study because frogs, newts, salamanders and other amphibians are especially sensitive to their environment. Amphibians are therefore often seen as barometers that provide early warnings about the health of their immediate habitats.

Exactly what is causing the declines is not clear. Loss of habitat is one reason, but population declines are seen in remote areas of the world as well. Amphibians are also susceptible to fungal infections that increase when the animals are under stress.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

[FOLLOWUP] Seized Indymedia Servers Returned

According to a BBC News report, web servers belonging to alternative news organization Indymedia have been returned after they were seized the other day. Indymedia is reviewing the returned media now to determine what, if anything, has been damaged, and is consulting legal authorities, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, about what next steps it should take.

Initial reports indicated that the FBI was involved in the hardware seizure, but that is now unclear, as the FBI is denying any involvement.

Rackspace, the managed host from where the servers were taken, is under a gag order and cannot discuss details of why the equipment was initially seized. What is known is that they were taken under the auspices of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, an international agreement for prosecuting cross-border crimes such as terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering. Indymedia is under investigation from four countries (the US, UK, Italy and Switzerland), and Italian authorities say they are investigating Indymedia for "supporting terrorism."

FDA Approves Implantable RFID

Yesterday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of an implantable radio frequency identification (RFID) chip for use in transmitting a patient's medical data to doctors and other healthcare providers. Healthcare facilities would have readers that would be able to receive and display the information.

The rice-grain-sized VeriChip, manufactured by Applied Digital Solutions, has been successfully used to identify pets and livestock; similar chips have been implanted into humans in other countries.

The chip can be implanted through a syringe in less than 20 minutes. In a medical context, RFID chips can be used to store a patient's blood type, food allergies, existing conditions, prior treatments, and any other information a doctor would need to know. The chips in their current form appear to be read-only.

This could prove to be a watershed moment in the history of RFID and "pervasive computing." On the one hand, RFID presents a host of opportunities for enhanced information management, not only for healthcare but for any situation where information needs to be exchanged. Patients with RFID chips could revolutionize the entire healthcare process; when a patient walks into a healthcare provider, not only could the provider be notified, but also the patient's insurance carrier, expediting the entire admissions process. In an extreme emergency, such rapid transfer of information could save lives.

On the other hand, information integrity and security become issues, and will reach a crisis level the first time a patient's implanted chip gets "hacked" or is read incorrectly. Additionally, standards need to be agreed upon; data on an RFID chip won't do anyone a bit of good if it can't be read.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Wanted: Dirty Old Men

As our population ages, senior citizens will make their mark on the dating scene, according to an article in this month's edition of The Futurist. Senior women are expected to outnumber their male counterparts by 2.5 to 1, and many of these ladies will be single due to divorce or death of a partner. Single senior men, to be sure, can expect to be in great demand.

To be sure, many of these women won't be interested in sexual relationships. But this will be the Baby Boom generation we're talking about -- the generation that redefined sex and sexuality. This, combined with increasingly relaxed sexual attitudes and pharmaceuticals that treat sexual dysfunction, will challenge traditional taboos against senior-citizen sex.

This shift in senior sexuality will be so profound that esteemed futurist Joseph Coates has predicted a sharp rise in lesbianism among senior women. These ladies might also cultivate an eye for younger men; with cosmetic surgeries and other enhancements, women of any age will be able to turn heads.

Wal-Mart Rocks Music Industry

In what some may see as a form of just desserts, Wal-Mart is pressuring the music industry to allow it to sell CDs for under $10, according to an article in Rolling Stone. The labels don't appear to have much choice but to cave in, as Wal-Mart is the 800-point gorilla of retailers (no, wait... make that 8,000 pound gorilla). If you don't play by their rules, you don't play... and you lose your shot to be in front of the 138 million consumers who visit Wal-Marts every week.

But wouldn't Wal-Mart lose money on this deal? Yes, but it doesn't really matter. Wal-Mart and the other "big box" discounters treat CDs as loss leaders in order to sell more profitable electronic gear. If Wal-Mart gets its way, rest assured that Target, K-Mart and other "big boxes" will follow suit. They'll have to if they want to stay competitive.

This sounds like great news for consumers, and terrible news for specialty retailers like Tower Records and Sam Goody, who have to sell CDs at close to list price to make a profit. But not quite. Wal-Mart keeps a very limited inventory of CDs -- 5,000 versus 30,000 carried by Tower -- focusing only on the bestsellers. Plus, Wal-Mart is notoriously squeamish about selling CDs from controversial artists. So there's still room for niche players, as consumers with eclectic or unusual tastes will still need to shop elsewhere.

Exactly who benefits (and suffers) from this remains to be seen. Smaller music stores may remain the go-to places for hard-to-find titles. Yet they will have an increasingly tough time competing with online retailers, who can offer more titles with less overhead. The ultimate "category killers" here may be music enthusiasts who buy and sell on eBay. Consumers may also continue to migrate to online music stores like iTunes and download singles (especially as more of them get iPods and other MP3 players), but even those will be forced to lower their prices if the hit CDs are going for under $10. In the end, Wal-Mart may do what peer-to-peer file sharing could not: force the music industry to lower its markups and radically restructure itself. Unlike with Napster, the RIAA can't haul Wal-Mart into court. The industry may even decide that the costs associated with manufacturing, packaging and distributing CDs aren't worth the trouble, and finally embrace online music wholeheartedly. Crow, anyone?

Source: Techdirt


Recently I "drank the Kool-Aid" and joined BlogExplosion, a referral system for blogs that works much like a webring.

The idea is to drive traffic to your site; the more you surf blogs through the BlogExplosion portal, the more times your own blog will appear. My goal isn't simply to raise raw numbers, but to get in front of the right audience, the people who really care about futurism and emerging technology.

So far it seems to be working. BlogExplosion is growing, and seems increasingly able to deliver a targeted audience.

"Road Pirates": Yet Another Radio Phenom

Yet another radio trend is emerging -- that of people using MP3 players and FM transmitters to not only broadcast their MP3 files to their car radios, but to others' radios as well. In traffic, these folks become mobile radio stations.

Gadgets that allow device output to be broadcast to an open FM band have been around for years, usually sold to people who couldn't afford a cassette deck or CD player for their cars. They're ideal for attaching to an iPod so one can listen to one's MP3s while driving. But these transmitters have enough range so that others can listen in as well... and some are taking advantage of that.

The article on ABCNews.com explains how one radio pirate got started:
While Tim Lynch is wading through traffic on the way to his New Canaan, Conn., corporate consulting job, he may be the only person on the Merritt Parkway wearing a grin.

That's because he's a kind of radio pirate. And with the iPod, Apple's innovative digital music player, all it takes to hijack the airwaves is a car and a bumper sticker.

Lynch, 31, is one of a handful of iPod owners using the device to transmit FM radio stations from their car. He uses a bumper sticker on the back of his fender that reads "iPod @ 89.1 FM" to let passers-by know how to tune in...

"I go on this road trip with a friend of mine," he said. "I'm driving along, listening to my iPod and for a goof I was thinking, 'I wonder, if it's so strong, I wonder if it's leaking outside my car.' "

In order to test the theory, Lynch did what any good scientist would do.

"I put on some profanity. Comedy, R-rated comedy, Chris Rock's early stuff. Then I called [his friend] up on his cell phone and he was two cars behind me. I said, 'You're not going to believe this, but somebody up here is broadcasting swear words! Tune to 89.1FM.' He turns to the station and he's like, 'I can't believe I'm hearing this!' It was a big joke for a few minutes."

The pirate wields a lot of power. He never has to listen to anyone else's music.

"Its great if you're stuck in traffic next to someone who has a big booming stereo or something," said Rik Myslewki, editor-in-chief of MacAddict magazine. "You can just override his frequency if you have a powerful enough iPod antenna and have like little birdies singing or something. It's fun to be a little bit smarter than the guy next to you."

Source: Boing Boing

Radio Reinvented as the "People's Medium"

UPDATE: An article in the Online Journalism Review discusses the impact of satellite radio, podcasting and other emerging radio phenomena.


Over the past week I've written about podcasting, microradio and satellite radio as part of a new, disruptive wave in broadcasting, one that puts the power of the voice in the hands of the people. In the case of podcasting and microradio, the application for individual programming is clear. But even with satellite radio, opportunities exist for individual creativity. And unlike the other two, satellite radio has potential to reach a very wide audience.

MediaPost columnist Tom Hespos suggests that if satellite bandwidth were made public, individuals could craft their own radio programs that could reach a national or even global audience. There's plenty of incentive for the big players in the industry to prevent this, but it's technically feasible. Not everyone wants to produce their own radio show, but there are enough creative people out there to effect a paradigm shift in broadcasting if this were allowed to happen.

Not everybody is so taken with the 'casting revolution. eWeek's Dave Coursey points out some of the downsides of podcasting and similar technologies, particularly the signal-to-noise ratio. "This is blogging for people with even larger egos, folks who think they need to be heard as well as read," he says. Coursey also frets that neo-Nazis and other nefarious groups will get a hold of the technology. If you replaced the occurences of the word "podcasting" in the article with "the Web," you'd have a duplicate of the types of pieces people were writing a decade ago.

Personally, I see 'casting as a growth technology. But the real explosion won't come until people begin posting video clips, and handheld video-capable devices hit the market. Then, 'casting will be taking on the even greater beast of television. It will also open the door to the great bete noir of progress, the phenomenon that truly brings disruptive technology to the masses: pornography.

Source: unmediated

[FOLLOWUP] FTC Sues Spyware Companies

The Federal Trade Commission has filed lawsuits against two companies involved in distributing spyware, Seismic Entertainment and Smartbot.net. The suits claim that the companies exploited flaws in the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser to distribute software that then caused computers to malfunction.

The man behind both companies named in the lawsuit is Sanford Wallace... a name familiar to long-time netizens. In the early '90s, Wallace was heavily involved in sending "junk faxes" before the practice was outlawed, and was one of the first spammers against whom legal action was taken.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Why Johnny Won't Grow Up

Recently, a couple of my posts have mentioned "kidults," adults who indulge in kid-like activities such as video games, who wear clothes designed for much younger wearers, etc. The current issue of The Futurist cites research that indicates that the difficulty for young people making the transition to adulthood runs much deeper.

Sociologist Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania has noted a fundamental shift in our definitions of adulthood. Half a century ago, marriage and parenthood were the hallmarks of a successful adult. Today, the primary milestones are obtaining an education and getting a well-paying job. Young people today are far more likely to postpone marriage and childrearing, unlike their parents' and grandparents' generations, who considered unmarried adults to be suspect.

Among the obstacles Furstenberg cites for today's youth to become adults are:
  • College education, which creates a financial dependence upon parents well into the adult years
  • Divorce, which often forces young people to move back with their parents
  • Layoffs and other employment upheavals, again forcing some young people to move back home
  • Difficulties in securing well-paying jobs
  • The lack of universal military service and alternative service programs
In short, attaining adulthood was easier fifty years ago because life then was far more homogenous and predictable than it is today. Looking back at my parents' generation, most people married relatively young and started families soon after. Most men started careers right after school (high school in many cases), and stayed with the same employer until retirement. Most men -- particularly those of the World War II generation -- had at least some military background (which emphasized maturity, conformity and respect for authority). These generations shared sets of common experiences that do not exist today.

By contrast, today's young people live in a world of diversity and uncertainty. Having seen their peers go through painful divorces, they are less compelled to rush into marriage. Boomers and Gen-Xers distrust authority, their political consciousness having been shaped by Vietnam, Watergate and other scandals. Conformity went from a virtue to a weakness long ago.

Compounding the matter is our obsession with youth culture. The World War II generation paid little attention to the rock and roll of the '50s and '60s (other than to complain about it), but today's adults (at least those under 50) listen to much of the same music as their children do. Most adults are actively engaged in fighting the aging process, whether by working out, dieting, cosmetic surgery, or all of the above. Advertising urges us to think young and reject the bland and boring. Calling someone "old" or even "mature" is an insult.

The "kidult" phenomenon says a lot about where today's young people are headed, and the impact that today's society will have on the next generation. Whatever the future holds, our very definition of what it means to be an adult is evolving.

Podcasting: The Next Big Thing?

Combine blogging, audio and MP3 players, and you have podcasting... a new way to distribute audio files that could become the next wave in Internet-based communication. The term comes from personal option digital 'casting. Podcasts can be used by musicians to distribute their music, by bloggers who want to try their hand at "talk radio," journalists who want to "publish" interviews, or educators who want to distribute their lectures.

Podcasting is currently in its infancy, with only a handful of podcasters. The engadget blog has a detailed overview and how-to guide for receiving and creating podcasts. The instructions are geared for Mac and iPod users, but they at least provide the general idea.

Here's how it works in a nutshell. Any sound file (spoken word, music, etc.) can be shared with others and uploaded to a PC or an MP3 player (iTunes is especially well suited for this). Audio and video files can also be shared through RSS feeds; most RSS newsreaders aren't designed for multimedia, but the files can be opened up in other programs. iPodder is a Windows-friendly newsreader that supports podcasts (.NET framework required).

Wired, as you might expect, has an excellent overview of the podcasting phenomenon.

Source: Smart Mobs

The Shape of Robotics to Come

When we think of robots, we think of humanoid forms, from the mechanical men in Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still to Star Wars' C3PO. However, today's robot builders are looking to other life forms for inspiration.

An article in the IEEE's Computer magazine highlights "biomimetic robots," which mimic living creatures. So far, the most promising life forms to imitate have been not humans, but bugs. Insects are physically simple and stable forms, well adapted to mechanization, and are "tried and true" over billions of years. Engineers have found that by adopting insect forms, they can actually reduce the amount of computing power needed to run their robots.

Robots shaped like cockroaches and lobsters can negotiate rough terrain, and can incorporate sensors that imitate touch. Cricket-shaped robots can hop as well. Georgia Tech is developing the "Entomopter," a flying robot that acts, but doesn't look like, a butterfly.

Engineers are also working to equip these robots with rudementary nervous systems and "swarming" characteristics. By keeping in constant contact with one another, robot "swarms" can stay as a group and warn each other of danger.

Case Western Reserve University has even formed its own Biologically Inspired Robotics Lab, devoted to developing these robots. Among potential customers of these critters are NASA and the U.S. military, both of whom are interested in developing autonomous devices capable of working under adverse conditions and negotiating rough terrain.

Case Western's cockroach-like Robot III

Source: Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Ahh-nold Amendment

Nearly lost in the onslaught of other political news is the introduction by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) in September of a constitutional amendment that would allow a foreign-born American who has been a citizen for 20 years or longer to run for President. This would effectively repeal Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which states, "No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of president." The proposed amendment has some high-powered support in Washington, most notably from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Now, who do you suppose would benefit from such an amendment? Hmmm...

Both Democrats and Republicans have proposed such an amendment in recent years, claiming that Article II, Section 1 is unfair to the growing immigrant population in the U.S. But now, Republicans have taken renewed interest in the amendment -- especially Rep. Rohrabacher, who has a friend in California with political ambitions, and who just happens to be Austrian-born...

You get the idea. Regardless of whether George W. Bush wins or loses in November, the GOP is going to have to field a new presidential candidate in 2008. And the most well-known, most popular, most telegenic and most (so far) politically successful figure in their camp is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Democrats don't have anybody comparable.

Schwarzenegger has obvious appeal within the GOP because he's a bona fide moderate who can reach out to those traditionally alienated by the party's right wing. However, he's not without problems. The very qualities that make him attractive to moderates and even liberals make conservatives uncomfortable; among other things, he's pro-choice. He has no foreign policy experience (though that didn't stop four of our last five presidents). Plus, he has a sexual history that makes Bill Clinton look like a eunuch. Nominating Schwarzenegger in 2008 could cause a fatal schism in the GOP.

But beyond that, there's the entire question of whether it is wise to amend the Constutition for the benefit of one person (short answer: no). Amendments in general are not to be trifled with, and one such as this has particular risks in this age of international instability. Cal Thomas -- not somebody I typically agree with -- has an insightful article on Crosswalk.com on why an "Arnold Amendment" is an especially bad idea.

Halloween Is Frightfully Big Business

Have you noticed how more and more houses this time of year are as decorated for Halloween as they would be for Christmas? It's true -- we're spending far more on Halloween than we used to, and that trend doesn't appear to be changing. Gone are the days of simply carving a pumpkin, tacking a paper skeleton to your door and handing candy bars out to a couple of the local trick-or-treaters in homemade costumes. Today, both kids and adults are spending hundreds of dollars each on professional costumes.

According to a National Retail Federation survey, consumers will spend an estimated $3.12 billion this year on Halloween costumes, decorations and related items. Also, Halloween is becoming increasing popular among 18-34 year-olds. "Young adults aren't willing to relinquish a holiday they grew up enjoying," said Phil Rist, Vice President of Strategy for BIGresearch, the group that conducted the NRF survey. "Halloween remains one of the only days where society gives adults permission to act like kids again."

This is yet another sign of young adults refusing to grow up. When I was a kid, no one over the age of 12 would have been caught dead dressing up for Halloween, and the only kids who went trick-or-treating were those accompanying younger siblings. And our parents sure as heck wouldn't have paid upwards of $100 on a costume at a Halloween "superstore."

Also, the focus of Halloween is changing. The NRF says that this year's hot costumes for kids aren't the traditional ghosts, witches and monsters, but theme characters like Spider-Man and Sponge Bob Squarepants. Also, groups such as evangelical Christians are attempting to move the emphasis of Halloween away from the demonic and the occult. A church in my community has for several years been holding a very successful "Halloween alternative" party every October 31, where kids are encourages to come dressed as their favorite Biblical figures. As the numbers of evangelicals grow, this trend may grow with them.

According to the NRF, Halloween currently ranks as the sixth-largest spending holiday in the U.S. The "winter holidays" (presumably including Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's) are the runaway leaders, with $220 billion in spending annually. Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day and Father's Day follow in that order. Halloween ranks lower because people don't buy pricey jewelry and electronics as gifts at that time... though if the current trend holds, expect Halloween to move up over the next several years.

Death of a "Superman"

Early this morning, Christopher Reeve, the actor best known for his role in the Superman movies, passed away after having slipped into a coma the day before. Reeve, as you probably know, suffered a spinal cord injury in 1995 that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Since then, he faced challenges that most of us can't even begin to imagine.

It will be interesting to see whether and how Reeve's passing will affect the current debate over stem cell research. Many scientists believe that such research could lead to a cure for spinal injuries and other conditions that are currently untreatable.

FBI Shuts Down Alternative Media Network

A disturbing story out of London today: the FBI has confiscated the servers of London-based Indymedia, an independent news service specializing in anti-globalization issues. The servers were located at a U.S.-based hosting facility.

The exact reasons behind the shutdown weren't immediately clear, though it has at least temporarily taken at least 20 individual websites and audio streams offline. The FBI states that it was acting under the auspices of Italian and Swiss authorities, but has said little else.

The main Indymedia site is still functioning, and is keeping users apprised of developments. Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is working to clarify the situation.

There may be completely valid reasons for this action. But currently, the authorities' silence is speaking more loudly than any statement they could make. The actions are sending a chill throughout the activist community, which is truly unfortunate, considering we are so close to election time in the U.S.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Dead Malls

We all know of one or two of them. Once upon a time, they were the go-to places to shop in your neighborhood, the cool places to hang out. But over time, these malls got seedy, their stores closed, and everyone started shopping at newer, fancier malls. So these malls "died."

"Dead malls" have recently become a source of interest from contemporary history buffs, urban redesigners, and environmentalists. The current issue of FORTUNE magazine has a piece on the history and future of malls, making special note of the dead-mall phenomenon. They are at once an eyesore, a development opportunity and a little bit of a community's heritage.

Deadmalls.com is a site that documents dead and dying malls, including a feature on the Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, IL, which earned infamy as the site of the indoor car chase scene in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers (it was closed even back then). You can search for malls by state, access links to urban planning sites, and view pictures of dead malls, some of which are literally returning to nature.

The abandoned Dixie Square Mall

There's something oddly moving about these relics. Malls are built not just for shopping, but to present shopping experiences. Malls reflect a vision of the ideal place to shop, to see and be seen, to have fun, to escape the worries of the world, if only for an hour or two. A dead mall, then, is a dead dream.

Dead malls speak volumes about a community's changing tastes, demographics and growth patterns. Often, they were anchored by large department stores that fell victim to the likes of Wal-Mart and Target, sinking the entire mall with them. Most important to us, they provide clues to future trends. Malls die for a reason, the most common of which is that consumers simply choose to shop elsewhere.

This weekend, take the time to drive past a dead mall. Try to visualize what it was, and what it could be.

More Disruptive Radio Technologies

Yesterday the radio world was abuzz with the news of Howard Stern moving his controversial morning show to satellite radio in January 2006. However, the King of All Media isn't the only one shaking up the airwaves...

A project in Minneapolis called Radio Re-Volt is distributing "microradios" to people in that city, and teaching them how to build their own transmitters, according to an article in Wired. These tiny transmitters cost about $20 each and can broadcast for about 200 feet -- a step up from the novelty transmitter kits that Radio Shack used to sell when I was a kid. The limited reach allows them to comply with FCC regulations. But in a densely populated area, even these can potentially reach lots of listeners. About 500 people in Minneapolis now have these transmitters, and plan to coordinate a mass "broadcast-in" on Oct. 28 along Lake Street, one of the city's main drags. If you'll be in Minneapolis that day, tune in to 97.7 FM and take a listen.

The project is less about technology than it is about free speech and a rebellion against commercial radio... and that message seems to be resonating among the young people participating in Radio Re-Volt. In his essay "F*** Big Media," Mark Pesce takes the microradio concept a step further, suggesting that microradio transmitters can be networked in a peer-to-peer manner, so that they can share content, and cover a wider area the way that cell phones do now.

Microradio is clearly in a very embryonic stage of development. The tools are all in place, Pesce points out, but it's only now that people are starting to realize their potential. This makes it a classic disruptive technology, even more so than satellite radio. It provides users with a tool they didn't have before, it's relatively easy to use and deploy, and it's dirt cheap.

Pesce is concerned that lawmakers will attempt to stamp out microradio, much in the way that they've acted against P2P file sharing. Indeed, mass-market radio doesn't take kindly to competition, as illustrated by this chilling story on an upstart rap station in Oakland, CA competing with the market leader, owned by media giant Clear Channel. This is what differentiates microradio from other disruptive technologies like the Internet; often, market leaders fail to recognize disruptive technologies for what they are until it's too late. But in this case, "big radio" appears to know what it's up against, and may be taking aggressive action.

On another level, microradio could have an impact in developing nations that are "leapfrogging" past the traditional broadcast, phone and electrical infrastructures. Souped up with higher broadcast ranges, battery-powered microtransmitters could be made practical even for remote areas, allowing people to share local, uncensored information.

Source: unmediated