FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Bringing Dogs Back from the Dead

In an experiment that recalls the Stephen King horror story Pet Semetary, scientists at the Pittsburgh-based Safar Center for Resuscitation Research have successfully brought dogs back to life that had been clinically dead for three hours.

In the procedure, blood was drained from the body and replaced with an ice-cold saline solution. The dogs were then revived with an electric shock. Upon examination, the resurrected dogs appeared to be perfectly healthy.

The caveat here (and in these cases, there is always a caveat) is that the bodies were in perfect condition before the procedure; no trauma, no disease and no decomposition. Even if the procedure were perfected to the point where it could be used on humans -- and the Safar Center hopes to begin human trials in the near future -- it could only be used in specific situations.

While the project remains in its early stages, some who have followed it believe that it could become a life-saving tool in as little as 10 years.

Sources: News.com.au, Minding the Planet

Blogging Live 8

If you can't make one of this weekend's Live 8 concerts, you can read bloggers' takes on them. Technorati is aggregating blogs that are covering the concerts as well as the cause behind them: debt and poverty relief for Africa, and the upcoming G8 summit in Edinburgh, Scotland. Similarly, Flickr has a Live 8 group photo pool, and the blog Global Voices Online has a post summarizing the observations from many African bloggers on the events. Wired has a summary (and critique) of the technical and marketing activity surrounding Live 8.

The ONE Blog covers a variety of topics related to the ONE Campaign for African aid. And if you plan on attending the Live 8 concert in Philadelphia, check the Greater Philadelphia segment of About.com, which features news about parking, the location of portable bathrooms and general information about the city.

Americans Take Shorter Trips More Frequently

As Americans prepare to hit the road for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend, the American Highway User Alliance has found that we are travelling more often for recreation, but taking shorter trips. That's because more of us are pressed for time, and forego longer vacations.

Source: CNN.com

Are We Entering an Innovation "Dark Age"?

On the surface, it seems like a silly question. Advances and disruptive technologies are all around us, and Moore's Law appears to be holding fast. However, one researcher claims that, far from being in a golden age, we are actually entering an innovation dark age.

Jonathan Huebner, a physicist at the Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California, based his analysis on the number of key innovations in relation to world population growth. Using that figure, Huebner determined that innovation peaked in 1873 and has been declining ever since. When analyzing the number of US patents in a similar manner, he determined that US innovation peaked in 1915.

Huebner bases his contrarian view on the fact that many promised innovations have been slow in reaching the marketplace. "I wondered if there was a reason for this," he says. "Perhaps there is a limit to what technology can achieve."

Assuming that Huebner is correct -- and there are many who would say he isn't -- the next step is to determine why innovation is slowing. Have we indeed exhausted the capabilities of our knowledge and resources? Or are economic, political, regulatory or social barriers in place?

Sources: Eurekalert, GeniusNow

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Can Social Networks Make Political Decisions?

According to theories of group wisdom like those outlined in The Wisdom of Crowds and other sources, groups make better decisions more consistently than even subject-matter experts. But how to harness that wisdom?

Two researchers from University of California Santa Cruz believe they can capture collective wisdom in algorithms that can be used to make political decisions that are truly democratic. Marko Rodriguez and Daniel Steinbock outline in a paper how "trust relationships" that members of a computer-based social network create with one another can be measured, and therefore used to gauge group preference. And the larger the group, the more accurately that the decisions it makes will reflect its opinions.

Source: Futurismic

US Unprepared for Possible Flu Pandemic

The US is woefully unprepared for a flu pandemic if one were to hit today, according to the health advocacy group Trust for America's Health. The group projects that nearly 67 million Americans could contract a flu virus, and that over half a million could die.

Among the problems the group notes are the lack of vaccines and antiviral medications such as Tamiflu, a shortage of available hospital beds, and no real preparedness for disruptions to the food supply, the economy, homeland security, and overall daily life. They recommend that the President create a body with the power to reach across agencies and plan massive emergency efforts -- thereby giving pandemic prevention the same government priority as anti-terrorism.

Concerns remain for a possible widespread outbreak of the avian flu. The World Health Organization estimates that, if such a pandemic were to emerge, as much as one quarter of the world's population could be affected. Countries such as Great Britain are making pandemic preparation a priority, but they have concerns of their own -- namely, that people from countries that are poorly prepared will try to illegally enter countries with better preparation.

RELATED: The Flu Wiki has been established as an information resource "to help local communities prepare for and perhaps cope with a possible influenza pandemic." The goal is to help local communities gather and share information that might be hard to disseminate otherwise, and to discuss possible problems and solutions before they get out of control.

Sources: FuturePundit, WorldChanging

A Robotic Breast Exam

Remember... before you heard it in Jay Leno's monologue, you heard it here first!

Seriously, though, Michigan State University's Department of Surgery has developed a robotic breast examiner. The device, shaped like a human arm and hand, allows a clinician who may be many miles away from the patient to "feel" the breast to detect lumps or other abnormalities. The robot and its operator are connected through the Interent.

The robot can be used in remote regions without good access to specialists, or even in more populated areas that may be experiencing a clinician shortage.

UPDATE: Indeed, this subject turned up in Jay Leno's monologues of 7/8 and 7/11.

Source: The Engineer Online

Monday, June 27, 2005

"Casual Gaming" Makes Its Mark

When people think of video games, they usually envision adolescent boys playing violent shoot-'em-ups, or hardcore gamers for whom the games are a huge part of their lives. In the midst of this comes "casual gaming," appealing to people who just want something to mess around with for a few minutes at a time.

Instead of pushing the technology envelope, the new breed of casual games are decidedly primitive, often a throwback to the two-dimensional games of the '80's. They're designed to be simple to play, and to be played on small platforms such as cell phones or PDAs.

One factor that sets casual gaming apart from the rest of the industry is cost. Casual games cost a only a fraction to develop compared with more sophisticated games, and are downloadable for only a few dollars each. Another distinguishing factor is the audience base; it's not kids who are gobbling up these games, but adults, most old enough to remember Pac-Man and the first generation of arcade video games. Also, women make up a large percentage of casual game buyers and players.

RELATED: Russell Beattie believes that the mobile gaming market may be a bubble that's about to burst. Between the glut of mobile games, a possible shift to more complex graphics and multiplayer games, and potential loss of consumer interest, he cautions that the current market cannot be sustained.

Sources: New York Times, Techdirt

South Korea Takes the RFID Plunge

The South Korean government is sinking $800 million into R&D for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, believing the business opportunities to be as great as those of cell phones. South Korea hopes to become a leader in RFID technology by 2010.

The funding will cover RFID tag production, as well as further research. South Korea has been aggressively testing RFID technology for tracking airline luggage, monitoring and quarintining imported beef, and managing military ordnance.

Source: ZDNet Australia

Record Labels (Finally) Embrace File Sharing

Despite their legal efforts to halt illegal file sharing, the record industry appears to be finally accepting the inevitable: file sharing is here to stay. Last year, 5 billion songs were downloaded through free swapping services, dwarfing the number that were purchased and downloaded legally. To that end, record labels are exploring new peer-to-peer technologies that would allow them to offer downloadable songs legally, make money, and give audiences the service they're looking for.

One emerging P2P technology, Peer Impact, will require users to purchase songs for download, but will give them credit for songs that they share with others in the network (thought they can only share songs that they purchase from the service). Another service, Snocap (founded by Napster creator Shaun Fanning) will track songs being downloaded, watch for attempts at illegal downloads, and allow labels to assign different privileges for each song. If a band encourages its fans to record and trade its songs, their tracks might be downloadable for free or for an extremely low cost.

Still, the question remains: why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? Clearly there's a demand for downloading songs, but will music lovers abandon their free services in favor of paid ones? The threat of lawsuits doesn't seem to be a deterrent; will these new services be an incentive?

UPDATE: No less a figure than Hillary Rosen, the former CEO of the RIAA who led the legal fight against Napster and other file-sharing services, concedes that online music downloads and P2P are a foregone conclusion. Writing in the Huffington Post blog, she effectively recants her previous strategies, saying, "The entertainment industry has no choice right now but to speed up its licensing activity and risk-taking and the tech industry should start caring that they are not helping their customers when the easiest way to get entertainment content is to also accept spyware, viruses, and bad files in the process. Sure there are some promising things happening, but they are not being embraced nearly fast enough." Pity... if she and the RIAA had had this attitude several years ago, the recording industry might have been able to get out ahead of the illegal file-sharing services and be in a stronger position today.

Source: CNN.com


Just because it's Monday morning doesn't mean it's too early to start planing for that next trip. The Treknologies blog catalogs and reviews the latest cool travel gadgets that you shouldn't leave home without. Whether you travel for business, are planning your summer vacation or are into extreme outdoor adventures, Treknologies probably lists a device that's just what you're looking for.

Source: Futurismic

Friday, June 24, 2005

Broadcast TV Advertising On the Decline

So far this year, the broadcast TV networks have earned less in preseason ad buying than last year. Media observers such as Jeff Jarvis believe that this is not just an isolated decline, but a critical tipping point in which advertisers are beginning to seriously question the value of network TV advertising, and are shifting their priorities (and budgets) to online and digital media. The decline of key demographics and the mass audience in general, the ability of TV viewers to "zap" commercials, the growing popularity of cable, and increased use of the Internet and other media all factor into this decline.

The interesting question is not so much how advertisers will respond (simple: they'll go where the eyeballs are), but how network TV will respond. Will networks take more risks in an attempt to attract more viewers, or play it safe? Will they cut production budgets to the bone (which in all likelihood would mean more reality shows), or roll the dice on a few really big projects? If the media observers are correct and this is the beginning of a long-term trend, the broadcast networks have to make some crucial moves over the next few years. And as audience share dwindles, the margin for error grows ever smaller.

Sources: Media Post, BuzzMachine

The Mobile Handset Market Isn't Shrinking... It's Evolving

Mike Masnick of TheFeature believes that, counter to reports that the market for handset devices is reaching saturation and declining, the market is actually increasing. The difference, he believes, is in profit -- that is, the growth is in cheaper units and in upselling to those looking to replace or upgrade what they already have. Masnick compares the handheld device market to the PC market, which continues to grow as the cost of PCs falls... and believes that this is good news for innovators in this space.

The market for handsets isn't "declining," it's just going through it's expected phases of growth. If the average price of handsets didn't decline over the next five years, that would be much more worrisome, as it would be a sign that something seriously problematic had happened in the market. For companies in the space, however, it's important to view this as an opportunity. First, as an opportunity to reach new markets that previously could not afford to take part in mobile connectivity. Second, and more importantly, it's an opportunity to come up with new and innovative uses that take advantage of just how inexpensive the equipment is becoming. That even means going beyond the concept of the "handset" to recognizing that a cheap device with connectivity can be useful for many different things, from gaming devices to security cameras to completely new concepts we haven't even thought about yet. The only thing that's really in decline are the barriers to new opportunities for the market.

A related article in TheFeature is an interview with John Poisson of the Fours Initiative, who believes that we've only begun to scratch the surface of the potential for camera phones and MMS. The industry still has technical and business hurdles to overcome, but once they're resolved, Poisson believes that picture sharing through camera phones could revolutionize the way we understand both photography and digital content.

Connected Teens

Very little in this article from the LA Times will surprise those who follow communication trends, especially among young people. But it makes several key points quite nicely, including:

  • Increasingly, teens are connected 24/7 to family and friends via Internet and cell phone. "Millennials" (those born after 1982) are using technology to reconnect smaller groups into larger ones in a way never before possible. Some have hundreds of people on their "buddy lists."

  • Teens value instant communication, favoring IM and text messaging over e-mail.

  • The average teen spends only 53 minutes on the Internet per day, but might spend much more time text messaging.

  • Growing reliance on electronic communication may be priming teens to meet, interact with and express emotions to people in wholly different ways. How this will affect them as they grow up and move into the wider (non-electronic) world remains to be seen.

  • One semiconductor manufacturer estimates that 15-year-old girls are now the top consumers of computer chips.

  • Teens multitask at a rate that stuns their elders (despite recent research suggesting that multitasking impairs concentration and cognition).

  • Although technology makes it possible to communicate with people from all over the world, teens are most likely to interact electronically with those relatively close by.

Source: Smart Mobs

"Pod Slurping" the Latest Security Threat

Security-conscious companies and users have known about the potential threats from unsecured USB ports for some time. Now, the practice of "pod slurping" has caught the attention of Gartner analysts and bloggers who cover security issues.

Pod slurping is a simple and effective way to steal data off of unsecured PCs. Anyone with an iPod or any other USB device that can hold data (thumb drive, digital camera, PDA, smart phone) can simply connect it to a PC or laptop and do a simple data transfer. With unsecured Bluetooth connections, the process is even simpler; the thief doesn't even have to touch the device. One blogger has noted that a janitor working after hours, largely unsupervised, could easily pod slurp unsuspected.

Some security specialists recommend that companies ban iPods and similar storage devices from the workplace. Aside from treating employees like criminals, such a policy wouldn't deter a truly determined data thief. A better solution would be to secure USB ports, lock down Bluetooth connections, and disable Windows XP Plug and Play. Even then, the proliferation of gadgets will help keep the bad guys one step ahead.

Sources: Yahoo! TechWeb, I4U Future Tech News

Sabbaticals: The Hottest New Benefit?

Ever wanted to travel the world, remodel your house, finish that advanced degree, volunteer to work in a developing country or write that novel, but never had the time? Your employer may give you the opportunity.

Sabbaticals may become a new employee benefit, as they are relatively inexpensive for employers (especially if the sabbatical is without pay) and appreciated by employees looking for greater work-life balance. It also helps employers avoid the alternative: having a restless employee quit.

Executives have been negotiating sabbaticals ranging from three months to a year for some time, and the trend is trickling down to other professionals.

Source: Herman Trend Alert

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Enjoy a Heapin' Helpin' of Nanofood

When nanotechnology experts and food processing professionals meet, will the result be nanofood?

A conference in the Netherlands may help answer that question. Researchers are studying to possibility of applying nanotechnology to foods, namely embedding edible nanoparticles in foods that would travel to specific areas of the body and release nutrients. They are also exploring the possibility that nanomachines -- which would not be eaten -- could help better ensure food quality and freshness.

The concerns of the researchers are not just technical. Most emphasize that long before nanofoods reach the marketplace (which might be years from now), the industry will need to conduct public relations efforts to assure the public that nanofoods are safe.

These and other ideas were discussed at the Nano4Food conference held last week.

Source: Food Production Daily

Soy Foods May Lower Fertility

Couples wanting to conceive might want to lay off the tofu and other forms of soy protein. A study conducted by King's College London has found that a compound in soy-based foods mimics estrogen, which weakens sperm, thereby reducing male fertility.

The study found that soy foods affected women as well as men, as they can weaken sperm that are inside a female on their way to fertilize an egg.

Although more research is needed, the findings are significant, especially since more foods these days contain soy ingredients. The researchers who conducted the study suggested that couples wanting to get pregnant might consider reducing their soy intake around the time of ovulation.

Source: CNN.com

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What's Behind the Rash of Data Thefts?

Nearly every day brings another report of a data compromise at a bank or other institution that handles confidential information. All tolled, nearly 50 million accounts of one type or another have been put at risk of identity theft since the beginning of the year. So what's behind this apparent rise in incidents?

For one, institutions are making data thefts public more so than they used to, whether because of their own practices or because of laws requiring them to do so. Institutions are also facing a new breed of professional hacker motivated by financial gain rather than mere mischief-making. Generally lax security measures also play a role (as is the case of data being stolen from loose tapes and laptops) -- a situation some believe won't be rectified until class-action lawsuits begin showing up in court.

I might add one other element, which is that the news media have, over the past few years, become more aware of IT-related issues, including identity theft. They've stopped treating the Internet as a novelty and realize it's a big part of mainstream, daily life. This, combined with tech-savvy websites and bloggers who make IT info easily accessible, help fuel awareness. And where there's awareness, problems such as security breaches are more likely to make the headlines.

Source: Washington Post

The Onion in 2056

The satirical newspaper/website The Onion has some fun with the future in its issue for June 22-29, 2056. Among the choice headlines:

  • 117-Aerocar Pileup Clogs Troposphere for Hours
  • Million Robot March Attended By Exactly 1,000,000 Robots
  • Remainder of Ross Ice Shelf Now in Smithsonian Freezer
  • Report: 40 Percent of American High-School Students Mind-Reading at Sixth-Grade Level

WARNING: Some material may not be office- or family-friendly.

Skyhook Launches Wi-Fi Location Service

Skyhook Wireless has announced the launch of its Wi-Fi Location Service (WFS), an alternative to GPS that maps a client's location by triangulating against 802.11 access points.

Skyhook promotes its service as more effective than GPS in congested urban areas, where tall, tightly packed buildings can block GPS signals. Among its potential uses, according to Skyhook, are E911 location, enhanced driving directions, and asset tracking when coupled with RFID tags.

Skyhook has mapped 25 major US cities, and plans to increase its coverage to 100 US cities and select European cities by year's end.

Source: CNet

In US Homes, Broadband Overtakes Dialup

In the first quarter of this year, more US households had broadband Internet connections than did dial-up connections for the first time ever. Aside from the inherent benefits of high-speed Internet connections, lower prices and aggressive marketing campaigns by phone and cable companies are contributing to the growth in household broadband.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Ultra-Cheap PCs a Threat to Microsoft?

The Indian-built Mobilis PC may herald a new generation of extremely inexpensive computers that sell for at little as $200 and forego Windows in favor of Linux and other free/low-cost/low-resource OSs. The Mobilis is a fully featured PC -- with office software, and the ability to play movies and music -- but is small (with a 7.4 inch LCD screen) and uses flash memory instead of a hard drive.

The first Mobilis computers will be available in a few months. No word on when they will be available outside of India.

Sources: Argentina Indymedia, EMERGIC.org

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Physical Wikipedia

The idea is not entirely new (one could argue that :CueCat was an abortive first attempt), but thanks to the growth of Wikipedia and other open-source information resources, it's more practical than ever: "tag" the physical world so that users of mobile devices can learn more about their surroundings.

The essential ingredients are mobile devices, a database such as Wikipedia, and some kind of technology to link the two together. That link might be a low-tech construct such as Yellow Arrow, or something like ShotCode, a technology that allows camera phones to "read" bar codes that link back to related URLs.

Mobile Weblog has an example of how all this might work:

You're in London and are standing in a pleasant, sunny street in Camden Town. City life is going on around you and you fancy the idea of knowing a little more about where you are right now.

Using your phone, as if it was a PC mouse, you uncover snippets of information from the world around you. You click on an old house in the road and a wealth of digital information comes onto your phone screen. Some contain video and audio links.

You learn that the house is on the site of one lived in by Charles Dickens' wife after their separation. You're interested in Dickens so you poll the area and find that there's actually a tour of Dickens' Camden Town that afternoon.

Out of curiosity, you look up how much this kind of house would be worth, what local rates and taxes are. And you read a review of a local citizen's view of schools in the area.

Moving on you see a tree, which looks unusual and casually click on it to reveal its genus. Then you click on car you like the look of, to find out how much it would cost second hand (2003 model), where you might be able to find one and what the gas consumption is like.

Sources: Mobile Weblog, unmediated

Monday, June 20, 2005

US Workers Turn Down Tech Jobs

More and more programming jobs are outsourced from the US... but that may not hurt the US workforce as much as feared, since many new entrants are staying away from programming and other "techie" jobs.

Gartner predicts that the US tech workforce will shrink by 15% by 2010, mainly due to lack of job openings or better opportunities elsewhere. Many young people are opting for jobs with more strategic roles that are perceived as more interesting, more lucrative, and more secure than hardcore programming jobs.

"If you're only interested in deep coding and you want to remain in your cubicle all day, there are a shrinking number of jobs for you," said Diane Morello of Gartner. "Employers are starting to want versatilists - people who have deep experience with enterprise-wide applications and can parlay it into some larger cross-company projects out there." Those who counsel young people at the beginning of their careers urge them to develop skills in addition to programming, namely in marketing, consulting, finance and languages.

Source: AP (Excite)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Less Trust in Media Than Ever

The recent revelation of the identity of "Deep Throat" reopened examination of the Watergate era... and with it, one of modern journalism's crowning moments. That retrospective (as did coverage of the 30th anniversary of Nixon's resignation last summer) underscored how far the media have fallen since that peak.

A recent Gallup poll found that trust in media -- particularly newspapers and television -- is at an all-time low. The graph below shows a general decline since the early '70s. After a rebound in the '90s, trust has been flat or declining since 2000 at least.

A lot of factors play into this decline of trust. Much of it has to do with our growing cultural cynicism; we just don't trust big institutions of any type anymore. Overheated political rhetoric plays a role as well, as does the sense that news media have abandoned objectivity in favor of agendas. Recent incidents of sloppy reporting (notably CBS and "memogate") and falling for hoaxes have fed into this as well.

To top it all off, the news media are preoccupied with celebrity news and gossip to the point where they drop the ball on news that matters. Anyone who hasn't been living on Mars for the past six months has witnessed the saturation coverage of the Michael Jackson trial whether they wanted to or not. Yet how many are familiar with the Downing St. memo? Of those who are, how many had to actively hunt down information on it?

What can media do to improve its credibility? It's hard to say... and hard to know if they really even want to. Only when the trust issue begins to hurt their bottom line will they take a good, hard look at it.

Source: Pomo Blog

Make the Senators Follow the Money

State-machine.org provides a dynamic visualization of how members of the US Senate follow different sources of campaign funding. A clever (and fun) graphical interface lets you select and manipulate different sources, and shows which ones certain Senators gravitate toward.

The site is powered by data from opensecrets, which compiles data on political campaign contributions.

Source: We make money not art

New Blog: First Draft Tech

Some recent posts here that focus on older technologies gave me the idea of creating a special blog just for discussing them. Hence, a new blog, First Draft Tech, which covers vintage, obscure, obsolete and anachronistic technologies and trends. While FutureWire will continue to look forward, First Draft will look backward.

I invite you to check out this new blog (and subscribe to its RSS feed), which will at first contain many archived posts from FutureWire, yet will gradually take on an identity of its own. Like all blogs, it's a work in progress, so any thoughts and suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

High-Tech Reminiscence Therapy

One consequence of an aging population is the inevitable increase in the number of cases of age-related memory-loss disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Reminiscence therapy is aimed at helping afflicted people communicate better with caregivers and loved ones, taking advantage of the fact that long-term memory is more durable than short-term memory; dementia patients are often better able to recall what they were doing 40 years ago than 40 minutes ago. By providing patients with images and sounds that recall the past, therapists can unlock memories and create an avenue to communication.

A UK-developed multimedia touch-screen tool called the Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid (CIRCA) assists in such therapy. The easy-to-use tool gives patients control over the therapy by allowing them to select pictures, video clips and sounds that can jog memories. CIRCA is designed to be used in conjunction with a therapist, but its design team is developing a version that patients can use alone.

Already, CIRCA has registered some impressive successes:

One 56-year-old woman, cared for at home by her husband, watched a clip of Elvis Presley. She took her husband's hand and started swinging it in time to the music.

At one point, her husband Richard said, she moved in closer to him and rubbed noses with him. Richard told the researchers he thought it was her attempt to show him that "she remembered".

Another headstrong 80-year-old, John, tried the system after his nursing home carers found it a struggle to get him to join in group or planned reminiscing sessions. Giving control over to him meant he could choose the clips of images, audio and movies that he wanted, prompting him to talk about what he saw.

Sources: BBC, Emerging Technologies

Thursday, June 16, 2005

"Nonreligious" On The Decline?

A paper published by the National Science Foundation last fall indicates that, as a percentage of the world's population, the number of those describing their religious affiliation as "nonreligious" is shrinking.

The percentage of the world's population not identified with any faith has been falling since 1970, when it was at 14.4%. The "nonreligious" category is projected to decline from 12.7% in 2000 to 11.2% in 2025.

Christianity is projected to remain the world's largest religion for at least the next 20 years, with the percentage of Christians in the world holding steady (33.5%). Hinduism is also expected to remain steady between now and 2025 (at 13.4%). Islam, however, is projected to grow rapidly, from 19.6% in 2000 to 22.8% in 2025 (at least some of this growth can be attributed to high birthrates). All other religious faiths register below 6.4% of the population.

One reason behind the decline of the nonreligious category may be a discrepancy over exactly what it means to be religious. In the past, those who didn't attend regular worship services or lacked formal membership in a congregation might have considered themselves "nonreligious," whereas today they might be more inclined to identify with either a traditional or a New Age faith. In this context, anyone who has some sense of spirituality, even if they don't adhere to any one religious doctrine, could be considered "religious."

Source: Future Survey, World Future Society

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

:CueCat Blowout!

One of the oddest relics of the dotcom bubble has to be the :CueCat scanner (no, the colon before the name is not a typo). The idea was that magazine readers would use the cat-shaped device to scan ads to view a web page related to the ad, and to help advertisers better determine the effectiveness of their ads.

The :CueCat embodied everything that was wrong with the dotcom era: technology for technology's sake, an unworkable business model, a pretentious name, and one of history's most strained cat metaphors. Though the concept was a dud (obvious in hindsight) and would have tanked regardless of the dotcom collapse, a number of publications, including the otherwise smart Wired and Forbes, bought into the idea (or the hype, rather).

Now, you can own your own souvenir of that wonderful bygone era at a bargain price. Anaheim, California-based A-Z Computer Liquidators is selling millions of the scanners for just 30 cents each! The only downside is that they only accept orders of 500,000 units or more.

Hopefully some enterprising soul will find a clever use for all these millions of artifacts of this technology that was never meant to emerge... if only to recycle their component parts.

Source: Digital Deliverance

Retiring Boomers May "Double Dip"

Much has been written and said about the pending retirement of the Baby Boomers and its impact on the workforce. Few observers believe that the Boomers will leave the workplace en masse the moment they hit 65, yet certain fields already hit hard by labor shortages will be vulnerable even if their workforce numbers decline by even a few percentage points. Teaching, nursing and IT are among the fields expected to be hardest hit.

One retention solution being explored by the state of Florida for its teachers is to allow those nearing retirement age to "retire" and start collecting their pensions, while remaining on the job to collect their regular salaries. On the surface it appears to be a win-win situation; the state retains experienced teachers, while the teachers are motivated by a substantial pay increase while they continue to fund their pensions.

Of course, such a plan would only work for employers with functioning pension systems...

Source: Herman Trend Alert

Run, Robot, Run!

A French-American research project has led to the development of software for controlling a robot that can run on two legs like a human, and maintain and even regain balance. The software has been applied to a robot called Rabbit, which is mainly a waist and two legs. Rabbit can walk and even run at speeds ranging from 5 to 12 KPH.

This research has important implications not just for independent robotics, but for developing prosthetic legs and devices to help brain-injury patient regain walking skills. Practical applications from this research could reach the marketplace in between 5 to 10 years.

Source: Technology Research News

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Wal-Mart Bucks Tide, Sticks By VHS

The meteoric rise -- and falling cost -- of DVD technology has left the venerable VHS videotape technology in the dust. As a result, many major electronics retailers, including Circuit City and Best Buy, have either abandoned products in the VHS format or are phasing them out.

Most recently, the Target chain of discount stores announced that it will phase out VHS tapes by this September. Wal-Mart, however, denies published reports that it will stop selling VHS tapes after the 2005 holiday season. Says Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk, "We will continue to sell the VHS tapes as long as there is a demand from our customers."

Source: CNN/Money

Crusin' the Strait of Florida

Last week, an "amphicar" built by Cuban would-be emigre Rafael Diaz Rey was intercepted by US officials on its way from Cuba to Florida. The car, a converted 1948 Mercury taxi, was Diaz' third attempt to reach the US by converting a car into a boat.

While hardly futuristic, these amphicars are about as innovative as anything, incorporating a combination of found materials, mechanical skill and old fashioned ingenuity. The endeavor speaks volumes about the lengths smart people in Cuba will go to both leave their homeland and reach the US. It would seem that any country would consider itself fortunate to count as a citizen someone as clever and courageous as Diaz.

Source: we make money not art

Dirty Words

Chinese bloggers using Microsoft's MSN Spaces service in its MSN China portal had better watch their language. In addition to obscenities and sexual references, the Chinese government is banning the use of such "forbidden" words and phrases as "democracy," "human rights," and "freedom."

Microsoft has been cooperating with Chinese authorities in imposing this censorship in its portal and blog service, which launched in late May and now hosts 5 million blogs. Yahoo! and Google have similarly cooperated with the Chinese government, filtering out references to the Dalai Lama and the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Authorities in China do not take these matters lightly, as violation of censorship rules can result in serious jail time.

Like most other technically advanced nations, China wants to leverage the Internet for education and business purposes. However, it will be increasingly difficult for China to reconcile those goals with its blockades on free speech.

Source: AP (Excite)

Monday, June 13, 2005

A Woman's Place is Behind the Wheel

Last week we discussed the different ways in which men and women favor cars. Women, according to one survey, made sensible choices about efficiency and value, while men wanted raw horsepower.

Now, an article in the New York Times refutes that notion, up to a point. The article notes how middle-aged, empty-nester women are trading in their soccer-mom minivans for "reward cars" for themselves. Some might dismiss this trend as wealthy women having midlife crises. But the larger trend is that women are becoming more assertive about car shopping -- typically a stressful and intimidating process for anyone -- which is yet another manifestation of the Baby Boomer and Gen-X mindset.

The article, though, is of interest because it touches on a number of current and future trends:

  • Conspicuous consumption is alive and well... at least for those affluent enough to afford luxury cars.
  • Women over 40 are leading a trend toward smaller, sportier cars and away from minivans and SUVs -- cars that symbolize individual freedom rather than family obligation.
  • In addition to sports cars, women are also showing an interest in pickup trucks, both light and heavy.
  • Women are leveraging the Internet for information on car buying, and are spawning specialty websites such as WomanMotorist.com
  • Dealerships report that women are displaying more technical knowledge about cars. These women will do business with dealers who treat them with respect... and will leave the rest in the dust.

As with any emerging trend regarding Boomers, we are likely seeing only the beginning of this one. Car manufacturers who read this demographic right will respond with sporty, sexy cars... including models for those of lesser means. Perhaps the auto industry will come full circle. After all, in the 1960s, Ford offered young, first-time car buyers (Boomers) a car that combined sportiness with economy -- the Mustang. That in turn helped usher in the golden era of the muscle car, when you didn't have to be the richest person on the block to own the coolest car on the block.

Slamming Creationism

The blogosphere is buzzing about a recent editorial in the Times of London by Oxford University professor Richard Dawkins defending evolution and dissing creationism. In a piece provocatively titled "Creationism: God's Gift to the Ignorant," Dawkins writes:

Admissions of ignorance and mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore galling, to say the least, when enemies of science turn those constructive admissions around and abuse them for political advantage. Worse, it threatens the enterprise of science itself...

The creationists' fondness for "“gaps"” in the fossil record is a metaphor for their love of gaps in knowledge generally. Gaps, by default, are filled by God. You don'’t know how the nerve impulse works? Good! You don'’t understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please don'’t go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don'’t work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries for we can use them. Don’t squander precious ignorance by researching it away. Ignorance is God's gift to Kansas.

The Kansas reference is a dig at efforts in that state to enforce the teaching of creationism and de-emphasize evolution in the public schools.

I wonder how many newspapers in the US -- even in the Blue States -- would have the courage to reprint this editorial?

LA Times to Test "Wikitorials"

Now that newspapers and other mainstream media are incorporating blogs into their offerings, testing wikis would seem to be the next logical step.

In announcing several editorial and technical changes, the Los Angeles Times has stated plans to launch "wikitorials" that will presumably use wiki technology to allow readers to re-write the Times' editorials. No further plans were made public, though the Times plans a more formal announcement next week.

At best, it's likely that allowing readers to edit content through a wiki will be a trial-and-error process. Will there be limits? And if so, what? Could a person or group "hijack" a piece of content, blocking others' attempts to edit it? The possibilities are endless... and it will be interesting to see whether wikis and the MSM are a good fit.

UPDATE (6/21/05): The L.A. Times suspended its wikitorials after some people abused them by posting foul language and pornographic photos. Though some have said they saw this coming, others praised the paper for taking a risk and experimenting with a new technology.

Source: Dan Gillmor


Combine graffiti with wireless technology, and you have grafedia, a communication form that been experimented with for awhile but just now beginning to yield practical applications.

Grafedia works by placing e-mail addresses or Web URLs in public places. When someone sends a message to an address, they receive a message or image back. Some grafedia initiatives are art projects, while others are using grafedia to provide information on historical locations and other points of interest. One project, Yellow Arrow, encourages people to place yellow arrow decals on public places (getting permission beforehand, of course) with a phone number through which others can get information. For instance, participants can place yellow arrows near a favorite restaurant and describe what makes that establishment so special.

Currently, grafedia is most prominent in large urban centers such as New York City and Toronto, which have a combination of pedestrian traffic and tech-savvy people. But if it catches on in other locations, it will be only a matter of time before everyone from marketers to urban planners latch on to it, using it as a tool to provide information in open spaces.

Source: AP (Yahoo!)

The Pentagon's Robot Road Race

In a continuing drive to roboticize the US military, Congress has mandated the Pentagon to make one-third of its ground forces robotic within 10 years. There's obvious urgency in such an initiative; aside from being able to protect troops and save lives, robots may be a partial solution to the military's recent recruitment difficulties.

Trouble is, Washington's android ambitions are ahead of the available technology. To help stimulate grass-roots innovation in the area, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) holds an annual contest among robot builders called the Grand Challenge. Simply put, it's a road race for robots covering 150 miles of rugged desert terrain, with a $2 million purse at stake. Earlier this month, 40 semifinalist teams were selected, ranging from corporations to universities to a high school. The actual race will be held in the fall.

In 2004, no robot was able to complete more than 7.4 miles of the Grand Challenge course.

Source: AIKnowledge

Friday, June 10, 2005

Not All Evangelicals Support Censorship

An editorial on the Christian Examiner website urges evangelical Christians to think very carefully before embracing measures to regulate media. The article reminds its readers that what goes around, comes around...

...Overzealous political activism poses a threat to the fundamental task of the church: proclamation of the gospel. Many criticize the relief efforts of nominally Christian groups, such as the National Council of Churches, which divorce evangelism and charitable work. But where Christians rightly decry such inconsistency in other quarters, we should also beware the temptation elsewhere to confuse or obscure the fulfillment of the Great Commission...

Today perhaps the antics of a Howard Stern will be outlawed by increased governmental regulation. But tomorrow it may be that simply reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans will be prohibited as hate speech, indecent or otherwise intolerant. We have already seen threats of this in other countries. In the words of Jesus, “All who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52 NIV). Zealous Christian activism in the area of speech limitation carries within it the possibility for governmental incursion into the realm of the church itself.

If nothing else, the editorial shows that evangelicals don't speak with one voice on such matters, and that, more so than many of us realize, they support free speech, even when they don't endorse the content of that speech.

Source: BuzzMachine

Digitizing Old Audio

Now that you've ripped your CD collection and copied it to your digital music player, what about those old cassettes, vinyl LPs, 8-track and reel-to-reel tapes that are sitting around gathering dust? Audiophiles everywhere have magnificent collections of sound recordings on old (and increasingly obsolete and deteriorating) media. But how to digitize them?

Roxio's new CD Spin Doctor -- part of its Boom Box software collection -- allows a Mac to translate an in-line analog audio input from a turntable or tape player, and convert it to MP3, AAC or Apple Losless digital format. Once recorded, the file can be cleaned up, edited, and imported into iTunes.

The software is for Macs only, and costs about $50 (plus an additional $40 or so if your Mac needs an audio input connection). It also includes several other products, such as tools for making recordings with a microphone. These could be useful for digitizing antique recordings too old to be played on modern stereo equipment.

Beyond serving as new gadgets for iPod fans, these tools provide a valuable service by allowing music lovers to copy and preserve beloved recordings that might otherwise be lost to both time and progress.

A collection of Mac-based audio software is available at Rogue Amoeba.

A Real video showing the process is available here.

Source: Forbes

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Cyborg Guard Dogs

Our reliance on "man's best friend" for protection dates back to prehistoric times. But now, an Israeli-based startup called Bio-Sense Technologies is giving the venerable guard dog an upgrade with an electronic collar that can monitor a dog for signs of anxiety such as raised fur or a racing heartbeat, which dogs often exhibit before they bark. The collar can also interpret different types of dog barks, and can distinguish barks signaling a threat from other types. When the collar registers such activity, it sends a signal back to a home base, which can distribute alerts via e-mail or cell phone.

In tests in an Israeli prison, dogs equipped with the Bio-Sense collars detected 93% of simulated prisoner escape attempts, compared with 30 to 40% otherwise.

An MPEG video showing the system in action is available here.

Source: Business 2.0

Parenting By Phone

With so many households on cell phone "family plans" these days, it's little wonder that the cell phone is becoming a primary means of communication between parents and children.

Families find this type of contact convenient and -- in this age of concern over child abduction -- reassuring for both parent and child. And certainly the cell phone carriers would agree. But "parenting by phone" has its critics as well.

Some parenting experts believe that such heavy reliance on phone communication is a weak substitute for face-to-face contact, and symptomatic of a society in which working parents can't afford to spend quality time with their kids. Others fear the exact opposite, that a constant phone link robs children of personal space needed to grow and mature. They believe, for instance, that it's too easy for a child facing a dilemma (as opposed to a genuine emergency) to call Mom and Dad for help, rather than to take risks and figure out a solution themselves.

This, psychologists note, becomes especially problematic for older children going off to college or otherwise beginning to make their way in the world. Experts have for some time noted a phenomenon they call "helicoptering," in which parents "hover" over their kids even as they enter adulthood. They observe how parents have become increasingly protective of their children (credit baby boomer sensibilities, affluence and lower birthrates), and express little surprise that parents micromanage their children's lives well into adulthood. These are the same parents who shouldn't be surprised when their kids are still living at home long after they themselves moved away from their parents at the same age.

Technology's role in these phenomena will continue -- and likely grow -- as families continue to adopt text messaging and instant messaging as well as cell phones. However, the technology is neither the hero or the villain here. Families must determine reasonable boundaries when applying technology, answering for themselves such questions as, when is too much contact "too much"? More fundamentally, kids must learn when to become self-reliant, and parents must learn when to back off.

Sources: The Mercury News, TheFeature, USA Today

If Roaches Were Drivers...

What is the purpose of building a vehicle that only a giant cockroach can drive? That's a question that Fulbright scholar Garnet Hertz seems prepared to answer.

Hertz has built a car of sorts that can be controlled by a Madagascar cockroach. The "driver" strides a trackball atop the "roach coach" and steers it and moves it along simply by walking.

Hertz developed the vehicle as part of his fine-arts thesis. However, he hopes that it could shed some light on how future robots and cyborgs can use insect-like actions for movement and navigation (a concept that's become popular among robotics researchers as of late). As his unpublished essay on the subject says, Hertz hopes the roach coach will foster "discussion about the biological versus computational, fears about technology and nature, a future filled with biohybrid robots, and a recollection of the narrative of the cyborg."

Source: New York Times

One in Every Seven Americans are Now Hispanic

The US Census Bureau estimates that the American Hispanic population is now at about 41.3 million and growing faster than any other population bloc, thanks to high birthrates and immigration. In fact, Hispanics accounted for half of the nation's population growth between 2003 and 2004.

Naturally, this growth will have important implications for the US in the coming years:

“Looking toward the future, we see a different face of the U.S. population,” said Audrey Singer, an immigration and census specialist at the Brookings Institution. “But I don’t think that’s necessarily new. It’s a confirmation that this hasn’t stopped or changed much.”

The size of the Hispanic population and, to a lesser extent, the Asian population, rose in nearly every state over the 1990s. Also, the Census Bureau projected last year that whites and minority groups overall would be roughly equal in size by 2050.

“Sometimes this is portrayed as a problem for the United States — that the ethnic composition of the country is changing and that new people are coming to take jobs,” said Goodman, dean of American University’s School of International Service.

“My view is just the opposite: increased fertility of young people makes the (social) structure one that is more sustaining of economic production and enables older people to be in a culture where their retirements can be financed.”

Source: MSNBC

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Music Licensing Thrives Despite CD Sales Declines

Despite the decline of physical CD sales, owners of rights to popular music are finding that their investments are more valuable than ever, as music is being licensed for ringtones, advertising and soundtracks to video games.

The value of music catalogs is illustrated in speculation that Michael Jackson may have to sell part or all of his rights to the catalog containing the music of the Beatles and other artists, which he presently co-owns with Sony. Jackson paid $48 million for the catalog in 1985; today it's estimated to be worth about $500 million.

Though the Beatles catalog is one of the most valuable entities in music, other catalogs have increased in value, as new technologies incorporate popular tunes. Ringtones are just one example of a business that the music industry is cultivating as older sales avenues dry up -- proving that the music industry is hardly being wiped out by new technologies, but actually thriving because of them.

Bullying by Camera Phone

Children are relentlessly creative in their efforts to devise new ways of tormenting each other. Now, camera phones are being added to the toolbox of torture devices. The UK Guardian recalls an incident in which intimate photos of a young girl were circulated to as many as 10,000 people, causing her "immense distress," as one might imagine.

The children's charity NCH conducted a survey that found that one in five children had experienced bullying via text messaging, chatrooms and e-mail. One in 10 children report having been photographed via camera phone "in a way which made them feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or threatened." Of those, 17% suspect the images were sent to other people.

In its effort to counter the trend, NCH has launched a website, stoptextbully.com

Sources: Guardian, Smart Mobs

What Fuels American Religion?

An article from the UK Independent explores America's religiousness -- and its growing impact on politics -- from a European perspective:

Despite the separation of church and state being enshrined in the US constitution, more than 40 per cent of US citizens said religious leaders should use their influence to try to sway policymakers. In France, by contrast, 85 per cent of people said they opposed such "activism" by the clergy.

"These numbers are not surprising," Daniel Conkle, who teaches law and religion at Indiana University, told The Independent. "The US, in separating church and state, has not followed with the notion that it includes a separation of religion and politics.

"In other words, it's believed the institutions of church and state should be separate but there has never been a consensus that religious values should somehow be separated from public life or kept private."

The survey, carried out for the Associated Press by Ipsos, found that, in terms of the importance of religion to its citizens, only Mexico came close to the US. But unlike in the US, Mexicans were strongly opposed to the clergy being involved in politics -- an opposition to church influence rooted in their history.

The survey -- which questioned people in the US, Australia, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, South Korea and Spain -- found that only 2 per cent of people in the US said they did not believe in God. In France and South Korea the number of people who said they were atheists stood at 19 per cent.

The article suggests that the sheer diversity of religious options in the US -- options that are largely absent in other countries -- contributes to Americans' embracing of religion. It also notes that, thanks to the First Amendment, the US has been free from the historical religious oppression that has made those in other countries wary of religious institutions.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Global Military Spending Highest Since Cold War

Spending on military and weapons systems around the world exceeded $1 trillion in 2004 -- the highest level since the height of the Cold War. The US accounted for half of the spending.

The figures, compiled by the Stockholm-based Peace Research Institute, show that in real terms, current military spending is only 6% lower than the all-time peak period of 1988-1989.

Global military spending, which rose by 6% over 2003, has been driven higher largely by increased spending for security and anti-terror measures, followed by military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ironically, this increase comes at a time when, according to a recent study by the University of Maryland, global conflicts are on the decline... even with the fighting in the Middle East. That study has found that globally, wars have been on a downward trend for the past 15 years, largely because most nations realize that resources (the principal cause of most wars) can be more easily obtained by cooperation than through conflict. It is perhaps no accident, then, that religious differences have supplanted competition for resources as the sparks igniting so much of today's armed conflict.

Sources: FuturePundit, MSNBC

Pizza Chain Debuts RFID Payment System

Approximately 160 outlets in the Toronto-based Pizza Pizza chain will begin issuing RFID-based tags to allow customers to pay for low-cost orders without cash.

The chain will use Dexit RFID tags linked to pre-paid accounts, and can be used to pay for small orders such as individual pizza slices. Customers will also be able to refill their accounts at any participating outlet, or through the Dexit website. Pizza Pizza hopes that the tags will increase business while providing an added customer convenience.

Pizza Pizza will actively encourage customers to sign up for the accounts, and will enter customers in a contest to win a new car each time they make a purchase with their tag.

Source: Kioskmarketplace.com

Men, Women and Cars

As with most things, men and women see the world differently when it comes to shopping for cars. Market research firm NOP World has developed an index of the top car model picks for men and women; it shows clearly what guys and gals want, and how they arrive at their very different conclusions.

If a car manufacturer wants to market a vehicle to men, all it has to do is make it powerful and load it with lots of impressive features. The NOP World index shows that guys prefer the fastest, baddest rides they can afford. According to the index, the top "guy car" is the Porsche 911 (starting price: $70,095).

With women, though, it's slightly more complex. Women weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each model, then consider each against cost, usually choosing the most reasonably priced one. According to NOP World, the top choice for the ladies is the Pontiac G6 convertible (not available as of this writing, but the standard G6 has a starting price of $21,555). None of the top picks for women has a starting price higher than $36,080; the most expensive choice for men (the specialty Ford GT) starts at $143,345.

From this index, one could easily conclude that women see cars as strictly utilitarian, even necessary evils, whereas men have a passion for them. Then again, we might have determined the same thing when we were in kindergarten, when the boys played with toy cars and trucks while the girls played with dolls.

It's also important to note that the index isn't representative of all men and women, and certainly doesn't reflect purchasing decisions in the real world. Men whose hearts say "Porsche" while their bank accounts say "Kia" have some compromising to do. And women will often find that that sensible little car could use a little more horsepower or luxury. But it's curiously indicative of how men and women see the world, and suggests how they might go about choosing products and services of all types.

Source: CNN Autos

Home Bodies

Home funerals -- which honor the deceased in his or her own home rather than in a funeral home -- may be making a comeback.

Up until the 20th century, wakes and viewings in one's home were the rule rather than the exception. Now, though home funerals remain a minority trend (a few hundred out of the 2.4 million deaths in the US annually), some are comparing the movement to the embracing of hospices that began in the 1960s. Proponents of home funerals believe that, like hospices, they humanize death and assist in the grieving process. Cost is also a factor, as home funerals are substantially less costly than those held at funeral homes.

Lisa Carlson, executive director of the Funeral Ethics Organization, says that baby boomers represent the driving force behind home funerals as they enter their later years. "It's the other end of the spectrum from natural childbirth. The baby-boom generation took control of critical life events, wrote their own wedding vows, had home births. . . . They're fueling the interest in taking control."

Keeping the deceased at home is legal in 45 states. The funeral home industry is taking note of the trend, and some funeral homes are responding by offering services to assist those planning a home funeral. Others, however, are petitioning state legislatures to place restrictions on home funerals.

Source: Washington Post

Monday, June 06, 2005

Implanted Medical Devices Go Wireless

Imagine a doctor being able to remotely monitor a medical implant such as a pacemaker, and diagnose and even repair problems remotely, and without surgery. Or, what if that pacemaker could automatically call 911 if its owner were having a heart attack?

Zarlink Semiconductor, a Canadian-based microchip manufacturer, has taken the first step towards those visions with a chip that allows implants to establish wireless communication. The ultra-low-power chip can communicate with a nearby base station in the patient's home or in a hospital, which in turn keeps the doctor updated. The chip has a transmitting range of about six feet (meaning that multiple access points would need to be installed in a patient's home to keep him or her "online" at all times).

Theoretically, the chips could lead to an "in-body messaging system" in which multiple implant devices could communicate with one another and coordinate their functions. Or, external medical devices could be made aware of the implanted devices, and receive special instructions from them.

Source: Reuters

First-Ever Snowfall in Somalia May Suggest Climate Disruption

A northeastern province of Somalia -- normally a warm region -- has received its first-ever recorded snowfall. The event caps off a recent spate of odd weather that some observers believe may be part of a larger trend toward global climate disruption.

Last month, unusually heavy rains led to flooding that caused major property damage and killed both people and livestock. The recent snowfall was accompanied by high winds that destroyed homes and claimed at least one life.

Without an effective central government, Somalia has no national weather service to monitor these trends. Further observations will have to be made by outside meterologists, though the country's poor infrastucture and ongoing tribal warfare will make that task extraordinarily difficult.

Sources: SomaliNet, Minding the Planet

Next-Generation Microprocessors

Dual core microprocessors are the current state-of-the-art in the world of computer chips. But already, a South Korean team is developing processes for creating the next generation of microprocessors.

The emphasis of the team's work appears to be small size. Whereas 60-nanometer (billionth of a meter) thicknesses are the current "gold standard," the team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is working towards creating chips only 50 nanometers thick. The smaller size will allow chip manufacturers to both shrink product size and create chips with higher capacities.

Sources: Korea Times, AIKnowledge

RSS Resources

The Fresno Bee summarizes some new uses for RSS feeds that go beyond blogs. Among the most interesting are tracking applications like Watchcow, which allows you to convert Amazon price watches into feeds that you can view in any feedreader.

Also, bloggers looking to promote their RSS feeds, there's the RSS Top 55, a list of RSS directories. The article is updated regularly (most recent update was May 25 of this year), and contains 121 blog and RSS directories (some of which are no longer active, though). However, you'll have to manually submit an entry to each directory.

Manipulating Trust

A very primal human desire is to control the trust of others. From hypnosis to roofies, we try all kinds of tricks. Now, we may be on our way toward a sure-fire tool for controlling trust... for better or for worse.

Scientists have recently isolated a substance called oxytocin, which appears to make those exposed to it more trusting. Clearly, if this substance is commercialized, the applications are both wide and the implications disturbing. Police could use it to get suspects to talk... and criminals could use it to subdue their victims. Marketers could use it on potential customers. Diplomats could use it in negotiations. And one can only imagine the applications in singles bars...

Says Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania:

"The use of drugs to manipulate human emotions is not new. There are spies and barflies who rely on alcohol to get people to trust them or at least let their guard down. But the emerging world of new knowledge of the chemistry of the brain as reflected in this study promises to raise some of the most difficult questions of bioethics ever encountered: When can such drugs be used to build trust? Can you use them on young children? And when would it be ethical to use them surreptitiously -- if ever?"

The question, as all students of unintended consequences know, is not so much whether a certain technology is ethical, but the extent to which a technology will be abused. With so many applications and misapplications of oxytocin, the potential is staggering.

Sources: Wired, Genius Now

Friday, June 03, 2005

First Shooting Star Seen from Mars

Our weekly Friday diversion takes us yet again to the Red Planet, where NASA's feisty Spirit rover snapped a picture of a streaking meteor that was part of a Martian meteor shower.

The image was shot back in March, but astronomers were not sure exactly what it was. Now they have a pretty firm idea that it was a piece of a comet.

I wonder what the NASA scientists wished for?

Source: Space.com

Outsourcing Education

The newest trend in outsourcing may be in education, as Indian teachers are now tutoring American students at a fraction of the cost of their US counterparts.

Internet technologies are making such long-distance interaction practical and economical. In addition, the No Child Left Behind Act provides federal funds for tutoring. One New Delhi firm that serves students from all over the world currently tutors 1,500 American students in math.

Sources: India Times, Techdirt

Is Social Networking a Passing Fad?

CNET columnist Molly Wood speculates that social networking as a business venture may be failing, judging by the number of prominent services that appear to be in trouble. Most notably is Friendster, which is seeing a high-level management shakeup coupled with a shrinking user base.

Wood's theory is that the social networking services don't offer anything that e-mail and instant messaging can't provide, and that they are too high-maintenance for most users. Plus, there's the classic conundrum of trying to develop a sound business model out of an immature medium.

Perhaps using such services to meet strangers isn't the best application of social networking. Some more useful applications may emerge though the kinds of experiments that are regularly reported on blogs such as Smart Mobs and we make money not art, and by integrating it with GPS and other technologies.

USA Today, in fact, offers a rebuttal of sorts, reporting on how technology is actually reinvigorating communities and strengthening social ties. The article cites targeted uses for social networking technology, such as community associations, churches, school districts and volunteer groups. As Howard Rheingold, who is quoted in the article, notes, "You can't pick up the telephone and say, 'Connect me with someone else who has a kid with leukemia' "

Perhaps interest-specific networks will succeed more than general-purpose networks. After all, the odds are better that you'll meet interesting people in a small group with similar interests than in a large, unstructured crowd.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Holy Distraction! Wi-Fi in Church

If you've ever sat through a dull sermon in church and wished you could check your e-mail or text-message someone a couple of pews over, this may be the answer to your prayers. A church in Wales has installed a Wi-Fi hotspot for the benefit of its congregation.

"The church has to move with the times and I wanted to make St. John's a sanctuary for everyone, including business people with laptops and mobiles," said Rev. Keith Kimber of the St. John's Rectory Church in Cardiff. "I have no problem with people quietly sending an email or surfing the Internet in church, as long as they respect the church." In other words, no downloading Ozzy Osbourne tracks and blasting them at full volume.

If the idea is to boost attendance and involvement in the church, this might not be the right way to go about it. Unless, of course, the good reverend plans to podcast his sermons...

Source: Wired

Time Management for Anarchists

Novelist and indie media advocate Jim Munroe has created a Flash version of his presentation on "Time Management for Anarchists." As he describes it:

It's based on the paradoxical notion that anarchists have to be more organized than average if they don't want to depend on power structures, and presents some ideas on how to kick the boss habit.

In short, it's personal productivity theory for people who hate personal productivity theory. Subversive, is it not?

The Powerpoint-style presentation is eight minutes long, and is available for download in raw .fla format for expanding and remixing.

Source: TheTedRap

Is Hyperdistribution the Future of TV?

Mark Pesce, co-creator of Virtual Reality Modeling Language, has coined a new term to describe the peer-to-peer distribution of media content -- hyperdistribution. Specifically, he addresses the use of BitTorrent technology to distribute television programming, and how producers and broadcasters are eventually going to have to come to terms with this new distribution method.

Pesce asserts that television presents a special problem for content creators. Unlike music and movies, for which pay services can supplant pirate download sites, audiences do not expect to pay for TV, at least not on a per-program basis. Pesce believes they won't accept a pay-per-download business model. However, he also believes that hyperdistribution can still deliver advertiser-supported programming, allowing viewers to access free and legal hyperdistributed TV without ripping off the content creators. Furthermore, hyperdistribution will free producers of the need to conform to timeslots in 30-minute multiples.

Perhaps more unsettling to broadcasters is the possibility that audiences' "swarming" behaviors will supplant the need for networks as home bases for content. Noting the popularity of last summer's "This Land" Flash video from JibJab, Pesce believes that Internet discussion groups and old-fashioned word of mouth will become the primary methods for helping viewers find the programs they want.

Pesce proposes some new laws of television, perhaps the most instructive of which (particularly for content distributors) is that open and empowering technology does not necessarily spell economic doom. As an example, he cites Disney, which in the early '80s leveraged the then-new (and then-controversial) technology of home video to distribute its content catalog to a whole new audience. The new revenue channels Disney was able to create catapulted it from a failing studio to a media giant without peer.

In the US at least, hyperdistribution is nowhere close to entering the mainstream. Even if technical hurdles are overcome (namely the dearth of broadband Internet connections in American households), the powers-that-be are certain to launch all-out legal challenges and squabble over standards. The tipping point, Pesce notes, will come when smaller players use hyperdistribution to satisfy viewer demand while turning a profit. When that happens, the major broadcasters and content distributors will hop on the bandwagon, and it will be a whole new game.

RELATED: Ernest Miller elaborates on how TV channels and traditional programming could ultimately be made obsolete.

Source: Mindjack

A Blog That Wants Your Secrets

PostSecret represents a clever and original use of blogs, blending therapeutic confessionals with the allure of tattletale revelation. The blog is simply a collection of postcard-sized graphic confessions that anyone can submit for posting. Some are funny, others poignant, and still other are deeply unsettling.

A sampling of posts includes:

  • "I am grateful to the psychiatrist I saw when I was nineteen, who told me I would be fine again. He saved my life."
  • "I cried for Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode III... but not for the tsunami victims."
  • "I save all the staples I pull out at work. They're in a box in my desk. It weighs a pound and a half."
  • "My older sister tried to kill herself three times. Sometimes I wish she'd succeeded."
  • "I show pictures of my feet to a man online so he'll buy me stuff."
Just as interesting as the shared secrets is the care and creativity taken in preparing many of the postcards. WARNING: Contains posts that may not be office-friendly.