FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Move Over, DVD... Here Comes HVD!

Just a few years ago, DVD players cost thousands of dollars and were the last word in sophisticated video technology. Today, DVDs are everywhere, players can cost as little as $30... and DVD's successors are already being planned.

Sony is developing its Blu-ray technology, and Toshiba is leading the HD DVD group. But an even more advanced technology might trump them both. Holographic Versatile Disc (HVD) uses holographic technology to store vast amounts of data -- up to 60 times more than an ordinary DVD -- throughout layers of the disc. HVD discs are also touted as being highly shelf-stable, able to archive data for 50 years or longer.

Manufacturers are planning to release a 200GB HVD system by the end of next year, and 1.6 terabytes are possible by 2010. A 300GB HVD disc can hold up to 26 hours of broadcast-quality HD video.

The earliest adopters of HVD technology are likely to be broadcasters who want to archive their video catalogs (Turner Entertainment, which owns the rights to 200,000 movies, is reportedly expressing interest) and video game developers, who could create ever more sophisticated games with the massive storage afforded by HVD.

Source: GameDaily

BP Putting "Green" Money Where Its Mouth Is

You've likely seen the TV commercials from BP touting itself as a "green," environmentally conscious energy company. Now, though, it appears that BP is making a serious financial commitment to alternative, renewable energy.

BP has announced plans to invest $1.8 billion in solar, wind, hydrogen and combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power over the next three years. The company plans to bring a wind farm online in the US by 2007, and deploy CCGT units to be major contributors to the US power grid.

Although alternative and renewable energy remains a fraction of BP's overall business (oil and gas still dominate), BP appears to recognize the urgency of developing such energy sources in light of increased global demand and possible exhaustion of oil and gas supplies. And because its competitors are largely ignoring this market, BP is being given an unprecedented opportunity to stake a claim in alternative and renewable energy.

Source: Alternative Energy Blog

Ten Rules for Startups

Thinking about starting your own Web 2.0 company? If so -- and even if you're not -- you'll find Evan Williams' Ten Rules for Web Startups compelling reading.

Williams is the co-founder of Pyra, the original parent company of Blogger, and current CEO of podcast site Odeo. All of his "rules" make sense, and though some may seem obvious, we all know of instances where they have been ignored, to the business' detriment. Williams also provides links to useful tools such as David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) workflow methodology.

"Spray-On Computers" Becoming a Reality

A UK-based group called the Speckled Computing Consortium is developing networks of tiny computers that could one day be sprayed on a surface to help make pervasive computing possible, and help monitor hard-to-reach surfaces.

The group's goal is to create tiny computers, or "specks," about 1mm squared, that would network with each others, as well as with other devices. Currently, the smallest devices are 5mm squared. Each speck is a fully functioning processor with about 2KB memory, and each can be programmed to carry out a specific task.

Among the potential uses for speckled computing are monitoring the structural integrity of aircraft surfaces, and in smart clothing that would allow physicians to monitor the condition of a patient. There's no word on when this technology will be deployed in a production environment... but as it moves closer to reality, concerns about abuse of this technology are sure to be aired.

Sources: Roland Piquepaille's Tech Trends, Discovery Channel

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Washington Post Mixes It Up

Taking its RSS feeds to the next level -- and heralding one future direction for mainstream media -- the Washington Post is supporting creators of "mashup" sites that integrate Post feeds with other functionality. The Post Remix site is a blog that supports developers, whose projects include news quizzes and a world map that combines Post news feeds with Google Maps.

Source: Web 2.0 Explorer

Happy Cyber Monday!

Did you sleep in after Thanksgiving rather than deal with the insanity of Black Friday, even though you missed out on some bargains? Who can blame you? But for those of you who prefer the comfort of your home or office to combat zone of the local mall, this is your day -- Cyber Monday!

With people returning to work (and their high-speed Internet connections) after the holiday weekend, the Monday after Thanksgiving has produced a spike in online shopping in recent years (don't worry, we won't tell the boss!).

Online sales are expected to rise 24% over last year to hit $20 billion this season (not counting private sales such as those on eBay), so e-business is no small consideration to retailers, though it's still a fraction of the total holiday sales tally. Many retailers have special offers that are only available online. Shoppers are also discovering wholesale sites such as Overstock.com and bargain-finder aggregate sites such as Shopzilla.

Retailers will also watch online sales carefully this season because some (but not all) Black Friday sales results were below estimates. Perhaps shoppers are more price-sensitive than in the past in light of higher fuel costs. Or they may just not be that anxious to be trampled by a mob.

RELATED: Concerned about the safety of online shopping? Visit the Federal Trade Commission's online shopping guide.

UPDATE: Although there may be an uptick in online sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving, retailers say that the busiest online sales days of the year are actually between Dec. 5 and 11. Indeed, Cyber Monday appears to be mostly about marketing hype. But then, so is Black Friday, which has morphed into what is almost an unofficial holiday in its own right.

Source: CNET

When Gaming Hurts Relationships

Ladies, you might want to think twice before buying your boyfriend or husband that new Xbox 360 for Christmas. A growing body of anecdotal evidence suggests that some young men are becoming so preoccupied with video games that it is hurting their relationships.

For some, playing video games mirrors the addictive behavior of drug and alcohol abuse, with players going on "binges," ignoring everything and everyone around them, and reporting symptoms of withdrawal when they try to quit. In response, female students at Kansas State University have started a support group, Girlfriends Against Video Games. One member, Megan Hoffman, says of her boyfriend's obsession, "I think the biggest issue I have is how much money he spends on it... He has a campus job, and campus jobs don't pay very much at all. Then he gets his paycheck and spends it all on video games." For his part, Megan's boyfriend says that he has begun selling plasma to pay for his gaming habit.

This appears to be more than the typical "battle of the sexes" scenario. Something so powerful that college-age men prefer it over relations with the opposite sex is a true force to be reckoned with! If we were talking about a chemical substance here, there would surely be calls for its criminalization -- after all, the driving forces in the Temperance movement of the early 20th century that led to Prohibition were women fed up with their husbands coming home drunk from saloons.

But this example begs a broader question -- are we entering an age where we prefer interacting with technology over relationships with other humans? At what point will young women give up on gamer boyfriends and look elsewhere for companionship (Older men? Men who have actively sworn off video games? Amish men?) How often is the situation reversed, with "girl gamers" forsaking boyfriends? As video game junkies grow older, will their addiction further hurt their ability to form relationships with either men or women, maintain families, hold jobs, or participate in society at large? At what point could a broader backlash set in?

We may only be seeing the tip of the proverbial iceberg if video gaming -- and technology in general -- drives an irreconcilable wedge between men and women.

RELATED: For years, psychologists have theorized that Internet addiction is as real as addiction to any chemical substance. Recently, at least one hospital reports admissions of patients suffering from obsessive computer use, and experts now believe that one in 10 Americans has a technology-related dependency.

Sources: MTV.com, Joystiq

Mobile Phones Fight Poverty

Here in the affluent West, we have come to take cell phones for granted, as pretty much everyone who wants one can now afford one. Yet they've changed our lives tremendously. But if they're a change agent here, mobile phones are truly revolutionary in the developing world.

Telecoms such as Grameen Phone in Bangladesh have developed creative strategies for providing mobile phone access to some of the world's poorest people, such as selling people SIM cards and renting out handsets. And because mobile phone networks are easier to build than landline networks, phone access is being made available to remote regions that never had phone service before.

For the first time, farmers, fishermen and other producers of goods in developing countries are able to obtain real-time market information, and more effectively negotiate prices. Travelling workers can advertise their cell phone numbers and be reached quickly when work is available. Purchases via phone and text messaging eliminate the need to carry large amounts of cash, which can be readily stolen. Telemedicine by mobile phone has also demonstrated benefits, especially in remote regions.

Research is showing a direct connection between phone access and wealth building. One study by the London Business School found that for every 10 mobile phones per 100 people, an area's GDP rises by 0.6%. Says Grameen Phone founder Muhammad Yunus, "When you get a mobile phone it is almost like having a card to get out of poverty in a couple of years."

Source: Developments, Smart Mobs

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"Bottom 10" Worst Tech Gifts

With Black Friday only three days away, PC Magazine weighs in with its picks for the worst technology gifts this holiday season. Some, like the ROKR and the Oakley Thump sunglasses-cum-MP3-player, have been mentioned here previously.

Each product made the list because it was, in the reviewers' opinion, overpriced, poor performing, simply a bad concept, or all those and more. The reviews also note what may be less expensive, more functional alternatives.

Trendspotting Podcast

The Wall Street Journal, as part of its annual review of trends, has made a podcast about trendspotting available on its site. The podcast features an interview with Jim Breyer of Accel Partners, and focuses on trendspotting skills and tools. Unlike most WSJ content, you don't have to be a subscriber to listen.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fine Dining from the Assembly Line

With Thanksgiving approaching, traditional home cooking is on a lot of people's minds. It's one thing to pull out the stops for a special occasion... but who has time to cook like that on a regular basis nowadays?

For families who are pressed for time yet refuse to settle for fast food or frozen dinners, "mass assembly retail kitchen outlets" offer a solution. Chains such as Chicago's Dinner By Design provide food and kitchen facilities for customers to prepare up to 12 family-sized meals in a single two-hour session. Customers can rediscover the joy of cooking without having to worry about the shopping, tedious preparation or the cleanup... and socialize while they're at it. By controlling the ingredients, customers can also prepare food to family members' preferences (low fat, low carb, vegetarian, food allergies, etc.) Best of all, they leave with solid, nutritious and delicious meals... and don't have to cook again for a week! Dinner by Design's price of $200 per session is only a bit more than most families might spend for groceries each week, and certainly less than the cost of eating out regularly.

Dinner assembly lines are one of many services that seek to bridge the gap between people's desire to take back control of their hectic lives and the reality of busy schedules. In the days when most women were homemakers and meal preparation was a big part of their daily routine, such an idea would have seemed absurd. But in a world where time is a precious commodity, it's just one more quality-of-life service that makes sense.

Source: Ubercool

A Mighty Pen

This holiday season's must-have toy is supposedly the Fly Pentop Computer from LeapFrog, essentially a giant ballpoint pen with an on-board computer. Designed for pre-teens, the Fly has interchangeable educational modules that allow it to read what is being written, provide audible feedback, and even play games and music.

David Pogue of the New York Times provides some examples of what the Fly can do:

Staggering possibilities await a pen that can read software right off the page as it moves, and the Fly package comes with a sparkling sampler. For example, as you tap countries on a world map, the pen pronounces their capitals or plays their national anthems. On a glossy, fold-out mini-poster of a disc jockey's setup, you can tap buttons to get music samples, or tap turntables to produce record-scratching sounds; then you can record your own compositions or compete, memory-game style, against other players. There's even a sheet of stickers that, when tapped, produce appropriate sound effects. (For my two elementary-schoolers, the belching mouth alone was good for 20 minutes of hilarity.)

The Fly, however, has much greater potential than as a mere toy, or even as an educational tool. Able to save reminders and perform calculations, the Fly can, in effect, serve as a PDA. (Actually, that's what Gizmodo said when it reviewed the Fly back in August). It will also be interesting to see if and how users hack the Fly, and whether third-party developers will create software for it. The current model has its flaws, but that's to be expected. Could a 2.0 model contain a wireless interface so that Flies could "talk" to one another, or even download data and tagged files from the Internet? Teachers could use it to deliver assignments and study aids to students. Kids could recommend music downloads to their friends (just what the music industry wants to hear, I'm sure).

A pen-based computer might not make much sense to adults, but kids who have tested them reportedly find them endlessly fascinating. Even though the Fly has a bit of a learning curve and -- like any good computer -- crashes occasionally, the kids don't seem to mind. As these kids grow up and enter the workforce, they'll bring their experiences with pen-based computing with them... and perhaps foster a new generation of computing devices.

Source: Business Week

Is Google Base a Killer App in the Making?

The recent beta launch of Google Base -- an XML/RSS classified advertising portal in the vein of Craigslist -- positions the Internet juggernaut to disrupt not just one business, but many.

The most vulnerable victim is the newspaper industry, which has taken its share of lumps recently. Local papers, after all, derive as much as 80% of their income from classified ads. But they can't blame Google Base for their woes, as the Internet broke the business model for newspaper classifieds long ago.

Rather, Google Base is a threat to the established Internet classified sites that have carved out niches for themselves. Some believe that Google Base could even pose a threat to other Internet giants such as eBay and Monster, which became killer apps themselves by allowing individuals to market products and services on a wider scale than was ever before possible. One enormous incentive for using Google Base is that its entries appear to come up very high in Google searches, thereby becoming, if nothing else, a powerful search engine optimization tool.

The biggest immediate problem for Google Base is that, with all the hype surrounding it, it will surely attract spammers and could quickly be filled with junk, suffering the fate that befell Usenet newsgroups. But, assuming that users continue to find value in the tool, at least a couple of solutions could emerge. One, Google could simply charge a small fee for each posting; even a fee of a few cents per posting would deter serial spammers. Another is that third-party developers will see huge opportunities in developing filtering tools and mashups for easier, more accurate parsing of Google Base data. This will be even easier as Google issues open APIs for Base.

It's important to remember that Google Base is still a beta app and has a ways to go to catch on with the average user. In fact, Bill Burnham speculates that classified advertising is just the beginning for Google Base, that it's capable of aggregating and relating a wide variety of XML and RSS feeds... becoming, in essence, a giant SOA hub where anyone -- or any computer -- can access all forms of structured data. "With the database assembled," Burnham writes, "Google will be able to deliver a rich, structured experience... because Google Base will in fact be a giant XML database it will be far more powerful than a structured directory. Not only will Google Base users be able to browse similar listings in a structured fashion, but they will also ultimately be able to do highly detailed, highly accurate queries."

Russell Beattie suggests that Google Base could ultimately evolve into a singular personal information aggregator:

Imagine in your aggregator you could receive not only Posts but forms as well. And calendaring info, and images, etc. And this stuff wasn't just HTML formatted inside the Description tag, but actually processable by the aggregator itself. I guess then the Aggregator becomes a Universal Data Reading Client instead. On the other side of the equation, I currently have a weblog which has only one way to create new items, a button called New Post which has just two fields, Title and Content. Now what would happen if I added more ways to create items: New Calendar Item and New Review and New Classified, etc. Each one of these extra types of posts would all have Title and Content, but they'd also have fields filled with additional arbitrary information which was included in the RSS also. If your aggregator didn't understand these fields, they could just display them.

Even if Google Base isn't this killer app, it will help us better understand how to ultimately build it... and whether or not we truly want it in the first place.


$100 Oil: Not If, But When

Here in New Jersey, gas prices spiked up during Labor Day weekend, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to a peak of about $3.40 per gallon for regular unleaded. But prices have fallen ever since, and are now below $2 per gallon -- approximately where prices were this time last year.

So the crisis is over, right? Hardly, say some oil industry analysts. At the beginning of the year, some warned of a "super-spike" that could push oil prices well above $100 per barrel. But as it happened, prices peaked at $71 per barrel after Katrina, and will likely continue to fall over the short term.

However, we may be seeing a "perfect storm" of circumstances that could lead to oil shortages and sharp price increases over the long term:

  • According to an estimate by Gold & Energy Advisor, a Florida-based energy consulting firm, the US only has about 11 years of oil reserves remaining. Most of the world's remaining oil -- about 1 trillion barrels -- is contained in volatile Middle Eastern countries, shifting price and production power to these countries as well as to OPEC.

  • Alternative energy sources will likely not ease demand for oil anytime soon.

  • Even in countries with large oil reserves, politics is keeping output down.

  • Global demand will remain high for the near future.

  • The world's oil supply remains vulnerable to disruption through terrorism or severe weather.

  • Refineries may have to resort to using lower quality crude oil that's more difficult and costly to refine, thereby driving up prices for consumers.

With all this in mind, commodities expert Kevin Kerr says that we could see $100-per-barrel oil within the next 30 months -- or sooner in the event of a catastrophic terror attack or weather event. So instead of $1.98 gas prices being a return to stability, it could be simply a temporary dip in the "new normal."

Source: CBS MarketWatch (via Excite)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Generation Gap in the Workplace

We've previously speculated on the impact that "Generation Y" employees will have on the workplace. Now we're starting to see the reality... which, in many cases, involves friction between young workers and their elders.

Generation Y, a.k.a. millenials, are generally agreed to be the generation born between 1978 and 1989, comprising today's teens and twentysomethings. However, some demographers include younger children (born as recently as 2002) in this category.

Independent, self-confident and self-expressive, Gen-Y workers are far different than their predecessors. They're smart, have no problem questioning authority, both expect and demand change, and truly believe the cliche that rules were meant to be broken. The first generation to grow up with the Internet, they take electronic collaboration for granted. Already they're challenging workplace norms such as dress codes, flex time and employee-supervisor relations.

Most importantly, they're hard and ambitious workers... but unlike the Baby Boomers, they're not workaholics. Having seen their parents burned by layoffs, their priorities are with friends and family, not the boss. In a workplace that is not prepared for them, their arrival can be a shock. And because they're not followers by nature, if they're not happy, they're outta there.

Naturally, this causes friction with Boomers and even Gen X co-workers. One survey showed that 60% of employers questioned are experiencing conflicts between generational groups. Employers especially report tension in cases where Gen Y-ers are managing people twice their age.

Much as employers might not like it, they need to get used to this trend. Gen Y workers now constitute 32% of the workforce, and will grow as the younger legions get jobs and Boomers begin to retire.

Source: USA Today

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Marines 1, Building 0

US Marines in Iraq have reportedly begun using a new generation of shoulder-held urban combat weapons that use thermobaric principles. When launched, the warhead ignites the air around it, producing a shock wave capable of leveling an entire building.

The sheer destructive power of the NE ("novel explosive") weapons make them controversial, with critics citing the risk to surrounding noncombatants. Human rights groups took the Soviet Union to task for using thermobaric weapons in Afghanistan. Now, the Marines are remaining low-key about their NE warheads. However, supporters of the weapons claim that they are highly effective in extremely dangerous areas such as Fallujah, and ultimately help save Marine lives.

Sources: Boing Boing, Defensetech

Could Universal Broadband be a New Political Issue?

A 21st Century version of the "chicken in every pot" political rallying cry might be "broadband Internet in every home." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is unveiling a new Democratic "innovation agenda" that, among other things, aims to guarantee broadband Internet access for all Americans within five years.

The idea is not new; during last year's presidential race, President Bush proposed universal broadband by 2007. The proposal didn't gain as much attention as it should have -- and Bush's plan had few specifics -- but with the President's sagging poll numbers in mind, Republicans may revisit it during next year's election if the Democrats appear to be gaining traction with the issue.

Government support of technology can yield impressive dividends; without Uncle Sam's bankrolling, there likely would be no Internet. And with PCs now cheap enough so that nearly any American who wants one can afford one, the time might finally be right. But with every intriguing political proposal comes hard questions, such as, who will pay for it? Will access be completely free to users, or will the cost be subsidized? Can carriers handle the influx of millions of new users? What special interests will feel threatened enough by this proposal to fight it? What are the unforeseen technical challenges?

One powerful special-interest group that might balk at universal broadband is the television industry, which might worry that streaming content would disrupt their business models. But broadcasters don't see the Internet as much of a threat... yet... even though Internet services are beginning to offer "on demand" episodes of classic sitcoms and other TV shows.

Source: eWeek

Tomorrow's Taxi

Yellow taxi cabs are as much a New York City icon as the Empire State Building. Yet Parsons the New School for Design is hosting an exhibit called "Designing the Taxi: Rethinking New York City's Movable Public Space," that attempts to envision the taxi system of the future.

The show includes improvements to cabs, such as more legible and intuitive rooftop lights, one-way windows for privacy, seats designed for better visibility, wireless Internet, monitors that display traffic conditions and note points of interest, electrical outlets for charging laptops and cell phones, and credit/debit card swipers. Designs for next-generation cabs are substantially smaller than the ubiquitous Crown Victorias, noting congestion, fuel economy, and the fact that most cabs carry only one or two passengers at a time.

If you go, the exhibit is at 2 West 13th Street through Jan. 15.

Source: New York Times

Monday, November 14, 2005

Cell Phone Knockoffs

As with any product, the newest and most sophisticated cell phone models are also the most expensive. Hence the market for knockoffs of popular cell phone models such as the Motorola RAZR and Samsung's Anycall.

Such phones are generally made in China, use designs and even names that are remarkably similar to the original ("Samsumg Amycall"), and are substantially less expensive. So if you're planning to upgrade your phone -- and especially if you're offered a sweet deal -- be sure to read the fine print... on your phone as well as elsewhere!

Source: Engadget

Fast Robots

One obstacle faced by today's robots is that their "muscles" -- the devices that allow them to move and perform their tasks -- react 100 times slower than human muscles. To solve this problem, researchers at MIT are developing robotic "muscles" made from conductive polymers that can potentially respond 1,000 times faster than human muscles.

No word on when these "bionic muscles" will enter production... but if and when they do, they will have a profound impact on robotics at all levels.

Source: EurekAlert

Friday, November 11, 2005

Kids Living in "Connected Cocoons"

Back when I was growing up (the Stone Age), any teen who spend hour upon hour locked away in his room would have been considered extremely -- and perhaps dangerously -- antisocial. That's hardly the case anymore, as the average teen's room is now a hub of digital activity, and the portal through which he stays connected with his friends and personal interests.

In trying to get a handle on its core audience of 16-to-24-year-olds, the music channel MTV has dubbed this practice "connected cocooning." While they physically might not be out and about as much as previous generations of teens, today's "MTV generation" can connect to more people than every before through the Internet and an array of devices. Today's teens can network with peers throughout the world, and have access to information (music, games, movies, trends, etc.) that my generation could only dream about.

Of course, such absorption in technology has its ups and downs. On the positive side, kids have a greater access to knowledge than ever before, and their technical skills will serve them well once they enter the workplace. Through social networking tools, even the most isolated, lonely and alienated teen can find kindred spirits. But on the downside, they face risks that earlier generations never faced -- easy access to pornography, identity theft, online predators, gambling. Despite its array of information, the Internet also allows fine filtering, preventing teens from hearing multiple viewpoints and being exposed to different types of people. Plus, every hour spent in front of a computer is one less hour spent outside, getting exercise, or interacting with others face-to-face (how 20th century!).

Even when teens are outdoors, their interactions are shaped by technology. Researchers in Japan have noted that cell phones are causing young Japanese to blur the lines between public and private space, lose the ability to speak face-to-face, and to be oblivious to their surroundings. As a result, they are said to be forming dearuki-zoku (out and about tribes), which, one research claims, resemble the social patterns of chimpanzees... or street gangs. These "tribes," combined with the loss of social context, can lead some to violence, as seen both in Japan and in the UK through its "happy slapping" craze.

The "connected cocoons" will have profound implications in marketing, business, politics, family relations and even religion as today's teens mature. They will certainly shape teens' social skills, affecting the fundamental ways in which they interact in a variety of settings.

Sources: The Guardian, Mainichi Daily News

Thursday, November 10, 2005


After years of speculation, McDonald's will soon pilot the use of self-service kiosks in selected restaurants in Houston, Orlando and Denver.

In a typical scenario, a customer places an order through the kiosk and pays with cash or a credit, debit or gift card. The order is sent directly to the kitchen, and the customer is given a receipt to collect his order. Throughout the transaction, the customer need never interact with a human.

Aside from speeding up service, the kiosks, developed by NCR, can converse in 26 languages, display 3D images of selections, and even recommend certain items ("up-selling").

The kiosks would also reduce long-term labor costs and head off an expected labor shortage, though McDonald's is quick to emphasize that affected staff would be re-deployed rather than downsized. Regardless of the technology it deploys, the fast food industry anticipates a need for approximately 1.8 million new workers by 2015.

McDonald's is piloting several kiosk models, ranging from $2,500 to $18,000 per unit, and hopes to deploy them on a wide scale next year. Burger King and Subway are also exploring the use of electronic self-service.

Source: WFAA-TV

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

On-the-Spot Flu Tests

Researchers at the University of Colorado have developed a chip capable of testing for 11 strains of influenza, including H5N1 (a.k.a. bird flu). Unlike current tests that can take days, this chip allows a physician to diagnose flu almost instantly.

Analyses by the Centers for Disease Control have found the chip to be 90% accurate. However, the research team is working to make the chip more user-friendly.

Such a device would be invaluable in the event of a flu epidemic, allowing patients to be diagnosed, treated with antiviral drugs, and -- if needed -- quarantined rapidly. It would be especially important for healthcare professionals serving rural and remote areas without access to lab services.

Source: New York Times

Print Your Own Organs

The University of Utal College of Pharmacy is developing "organ printing" technology that will allow healing tissue to be "printed" on "bio-paper" and "bio-ink" from a patient's own tissue. The result is a hydrogel that will allow a damaged organ to heal, and that may one day be an alternative to transplants.

"Think of taking a blood vessel — a cylindrical object — and trying to reconstruct it in 3D with two-dimensional slices," said U. Presidential Professor of Medicinal Chemistry Glenn D. Prestwich, who created the hydrogel. He likens the resulting slices to a "non-nutritious doughnut" with muscle cells on the outside and endothelial cells inside. To make the cylinder, those flat doughnut sections are literally printed, one thin layer of cells and hydrogel at a time, the platform moving away from the printer's "bio-ink"-delivering needles as the cylinder grows.

The cells in the gel are alive and will begin to move from one side to the other, one "doughnut" to the other, fusing and interweaving to form a complete, living cylinder. The advantage of his hydrogel over others, Prestwich said, is the cells will stick to them well. They don't with others, which are typically made of synthetic polymers.

The research has received $5 million in funding from the National Science Foundation.

Source: KurzweilAI.net

A Bad Year for Old Media

Coming as little surprise to those who follow new media, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the organization that audits newspaper and magazine subscription numbers, reported Monday that the average weekday circulation of US newspapers fell by 2.6% between March and September of this year. The New York Times was one of the few papers whose circulation rose (slightly) in the past year, but on the whole, major US dailies lost readers. One of the hardest hit was the San Francisco Chronicle, whose circulation shrank by 16.4% in 2005.

Newspaper readership has been shrinking steadily for decades, with television, shortened attention spans, 24-hour cable news, hectic lifestyles, the Internet and restrictions on telemarketing all blamed for its demise. But newspapers are not alone in their pain, as Chris Anderson of the Long Tail illustrates in his neat summary of media winners and losers.

Down significantly along with newspapers are movies (theatrical releases), music CDs, books and AM/FM radio. Magazine sales are flat. The fragmenting of audiences makes for lower ratings of individual TV shows, though overall viewership is rising. Even the numbers for videogames and DVDs are mixed.

What's rising? Internet use (reflected in the growth in online advertising), digital downloads and streaming of music, and satellite radio (likely to get a shot in the arm once Howard Stern moves to Sirius). Total numbers for these media, however, remain well below those of the old guard.

UPDATE: Newspapers, to their credit, realize that their survival depends on their moving online. The UK's Guardian Newspaper group plans to devote up to 80% of their efforts on digital activities over the next few years, as opposed to 20% now.

UPDATE: Terry Heaton comments on the possible forced sale of Knight-Ridder, the nation's second-largest newspaper publishing chain whose prominent titles include the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald. Though the fate of the chain is far from sealed, Cleveland Plain Dealer editor Dough Clifton sums up the situation by saying, "There's a whole range of options, none of them especially pretty."

UPDATE: In light of its fallen readership numbers, the LA Times plans to eliminate 85 jobs between now and the end of the year. The Chicago Tribune plans "fewer than 100" layoffs within the next several weeks.

Bill Gates Considers Web 2.0 Services a "Sea Change"

Some people may be dismissing Web 2.0 as hype, but not Bill Gates. In a letter to Microsoft's leadership, Gates warned that the shift to Internet-based services represented a major "sea change" that would require the company to "act quickly and decisively" to meet its competitors.

"This coming 'services wave' will be very disruptive," Gates wrote. "We have competitors who will seize on these approaches and challenge us - still, the opportunity to lead is very clear."

Recently, Microsoft launched its "Live" initiative to port some of its flagship products to Internet platforms, putting it in direct competition with Google, Yahoo and others.

In technology trends, Gates has a history of making sure Microsoft becomes the life of the party--or at least the center of attention--even after showing up late. A decade ago, Gates refocused Microsoft on Web initiatives after having been caught flat-footed by the likes of Netscape. The result was Microsoft's continued dominance in an Internet-driven business environment, while leaving much of the innovation (and risk) to others.

Source: AP (via Excite)

FreeCharge Weza: Batteries Not Necessary

Freeplay Energy, a company that manufactures hand-charged radios and lights, now offers the FreeCharge Weza, a multipurpose electrical charger that is powered by a step treadle.

Just step on the treadle, and you can create enough AC or DC energy to jump-start a car or boat, or charge an electronic device. Clearly, it's an ideal solution for emergency situations, both ordinary (car won't start in a desolate parking lot) and extraordinary (disaster relief, especially in developing regions). It's also compatible with solar panels and wind-powered turbines.

But if you plan on adding the FreeCharge Weza to your holiday gift list, you'll have to take a raincheck. The $300 device isn't scheduled to ship until next spring.

Source: WorldChanging

Low-Power Wireless Broadband

Could a wireless network be built with inexpensive access points that have a range of miles instead of feet, and that can run on long-lasting watch batteries?

xG Technology is developing hardware for such a network, which is currently being piloted in Miami. The xG hardware operates on the 900MHz band and can send a signal up to an 18-mile radius. Single cycle modulation allows the access points to use much less power than conventional devices.

The hardware still needs further testing and FCC approval, but technologies such as this suggest a solid future direction for wireless networks.

Source: Minding the Planet

Monday, November 07, 2005

Video iPod as the New TV

Jeff Jarvis believes that the video iPod is not just a new gadget, but a media revolution. He notes that already, the video iPod is usurping the role long held by that other great, paradigm shifting media device, television, as advertisers are producing commericals for video iPods. Jarvis sums it up by saying:

I say that what really needs to happen is for sponsors to add their commercials to the vlogs and shows I'm watching now. Ad agencies are whining about measurement. Well, wake up, fools! TV is exploding. People are watching TV online and on their iPods and you're not there with them. And if you start supporting this new form of programming, there will be more programming and more audience and more less scarcity of ad avails and lower prices for those ad avails and you'll be happy. So get cracking, kids.

Jarvis also notes the mobile porn phenomenon as one more example of how rapidly the video iPod is becoming a media force all its own.

Similarly, George Simpson makes the point in Online Media Daily:

Let's see if we can make this elementary enough so that even the faculty of the Columbia Business School can get it: The Internet is not a toy. It is not a passing phenomenon. It is the single most important development in the history of media (with the possible exception of the Grill Room at the Four Seasons). Nothing in media will ever be the same again (with the possible exception of creative expense accounting).

However, don't expect your favorite blog or podcast to jump on the videocasting bandwagon right away. Expense and technical expertise aside, the written and spoken word doesn't necessarily translate into compelling video. The videocasting future will belong to those who can think visually and translate their ideas into something an audience will want to watch... not talking heads. However, this will require developing new metaphors and visual techniques. Videobloggers already have a jump start on this, and these folks -- rather than the mainstream media -- may lead the way in videocasting innovation.

Technology's Role in the French Riots

The recent rioting in France appears to be getting a boost from mobile and Internet technology:

In its early days, the rioting appeared to spread spontaneously, but law enforcement officials said it was also being abetted by exhortations on the Internet. Worse, said Patrick Hamon, the national police spokesman, "what we notice is that the bands of youths are, little by little, getting more organized" and are sending attack messages by mobile phone texts.

Some sites on the Internet mourned the two teenagers; others issued insults to the police or warned that the uprisings would only give the anti-immigrant far right an opportunity.

The use of technology may be resulting in less-decentralized disturbances that are harder to control. Whether and how the French authorities will respond to the rioters' use of technology will be an interesting question. If the unrest is indeed more coordinated than most people realize, it would fit in neatly with theories pointed out in the conservative Captain's Quarters blog, which notes accounts of connections with radical Islamic groups sending trained agitatiors to Europe from the Middle East.

RELATED: The futuramb blog notes how the recent disturbances are in line with the forecasts of Peter Schwartz and other futurists of immigration straining not just France, but the entire EU. Unrest, under this scenario, would lead to a reactionary rise in ultranationalism across Europe, a closing of borders, and the ultimate breakdown of the EU.

ALSO RELATED: Blogger Thomas P.M. Barnett believes the long-term solution to unrest and disenfranchisment is to encourage immigrants to create political parties that would create social connectivity and help these groups develop a voice in the government. Read the comments in the earlier-cited Captain's Quarters post for some possible implications of this.

UPDATE: Smart Mobs cites a report that three bloggers have been arrested and accused of inciting some of the French rioting.

Source: International Herald Tribune (via the New York Times), Smart Mobs

Friday, November 04, 2005

Scenarios for Energy Futures

The recent rise in energy costs -- and the impact those higher costs will have on economies and lifestyles across the board -- has focused renewed attention on scenario planning.

It was Shell Oil who pioneered the use of scenario planning in the 1960s to forecast the disruptions in energy supplies that would occur in the next decade, helping it to plan its business models accordingly. Now, Shell has developed a new set of scenarios that envision a world grappling with energy shortages, higher costs and security concerns.

Similarly, the UK-based Energy Saving Trust has created two scenarios for 2020: One envisions a bleak world of energy and water rationing, a rejection of modern conveniences, a real estate crisis due to flooding from global warming, and the collapse of suburbia. The other suggests a more palatable world of sustainable, "green" design, local energy generation, and more intelligent use of resources.

The point of scenarios is that they are merely models, not firm predictions of reality. If we want to avoid the more pessimistic visions, the time to act is now. Says Philip Sellwood, Chief Executive of the Energy Saving Trust:

The bleak picture of life in 2020 can be easily avoided just by taking small measures now to reduce excess levels of carbon emissions - one of the leading contributors to climate change... Rather than having to rely on harsher measures to urge consumers to take the issue seriously, we are encouraging people to act now and start saving at least 20% of their carbon dioxide emissions. This target is easily achievable by adopting a mix of simple measures such as improving insulation, turning appliances off standby, installing energy saving lightbulbs and turning the thermostat down by just one degree.

Source: WorldChanging

Could the Web Be Built Today?

As the World Wide Web approaches its 15th birthday, Duke University law professor James Boyle ponders whether such an open set of communication protocols could be created today. Sadly, he thinks not.

Technology isn't the issue; Boyle believes that today's corporate and government interests would be too quick to crush such an ungovernable platform. The only reason the Web gained traction in the early '90s was that, back then, no one in authority was paying attention:

The web became hugely popular too quickly to control. The lawyers and policymakers and copyright holders were not there at the time of its conception. What would they have said, had they been? What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network. Beforehand, the logic of control always makes sense. “Allow anyone to connect to the network? Anyone to decide what content to put up? That is a recipe for piracy and pornography.”

And of course it is. But it is also much, much more. The lawyers have learnt their lesson now. The regulation of technological development proceeds apace. When the next disruptive communications technology – the next worldwide web – is thought up, the lawyers and the logic of control will be much more evident. That is not a happy thought.

And indeed, enough to give potential developers of the next open architecture pause...

Source: Financial Times

Porn for Pods

It's been said that pornography is often the catalyst for new media technology adoption. That tradition seems to be holding fast with the recent debut of video iPods. Producers of adult material are seeking out -- and finding -- an audience among video iPod owners.

As of Oct. 31, Video iPod users have downloaded one million clips from iTunes, at an average cost of $1.99 per clip, since the video iPod debuted on Oct. 12. The most popular selections are music videos, TV episodes, and short films.

This interest has not been lost on the adult entertainment industry, as the biggest names in adult video, including Playboy and Penthouse, have either launched or are preparing to launch video services in the video iPod format. From a purely financial perspective, the move would appear to be quite lucrative. In Europe, porn for cell phones is a $400 million-a-year business, and is expected to reach $5 billion by 2010. Meanwhile, the adult site Suicide Girls claims to have served up 500,000 free video clip downloads in the first week they were made available.

"The entire entertainment business is changing to portable devices," says Steven Hirsch, co-founder of Vivid Entertainment Group, one of the largest adult movie studios. "I think that the dollars are going to shift with it."

Source: Forbes

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Using Pervasive RFID to Predict Human Behavior

A Japanese consortium called the Tagged World Project has unveiled a prototype system for using RFID tags to continually monitor and ultimately predict a user's future behavior.

The project tags every object in a given space; each tag captures data and adds it to an XML database. The user can then receive feedback through a PDA, such as "Don't forget to lock the door" if he leaves the room without touching his keys.

In many instances (such as a hospital or nursing home), such an environment would be immeasurably helpful and could save lives. But in others, it could be annoying, invasive and just downright creepy.

Source: RFID in Japan

In Search of Rosa Parks

The following post has nothing to do with futurism or technology. But it is timely, and it does illustrate the powerful nature of information and change.

Today saw the funeral of Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on a segregated bus sparked the civil rights movement that thrust Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into the spotlight and led to many of the rights that Americans today take for granted. Today -- especially today -- she's a household name. But when I was an elementary school student back in the early 1970s, it was a different story.

Our third-grade class (in an all-white school, it should be noted) was assigned to write a report about a notable American. We were to draw names from a hat, and write our report on the name we drew -- no trading or do-overs allowed. Most of my classmates drew familiar names... George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, Betsy Ross.

I drew Rosa Parks.

I asked the teacher who Rosa Parks was. She just shrugged; the point of the assignment was that we had to do all the research on our own, and asking the teacher would be cheating.

Fair enough... so off to the library I go. Hmmm... nothing in the encyclopedia. No books in the card catalog. I asked the librarian, and she looked at me as if I were from another planet. She asked her assistant, who couldn't understand why I would be asking such an annoying question.

So I went home, confident that my parents would know something about this Rosa Parks. But that night, they were just as perplexed as the library ladies. My father and I went to the local public library (going online wouldn't be an option for another two decades). Again, nothing.

Now it was starting to become a problem. My classmates were well into their reports, finding plenty of books and encyclopedia entries on their subjects. And the due date was edging ever closer. I told my teacher that this mysterious Rosa Parks didn't seem to exist. Too bad, she replied, keep looking. My father took me to other libraries in the area. Still, Rosa Parks remained elusive.

At a time when parental involvement in children's schoolwork was frowned upon, my mother took the extraordinary step of calling the teacher and explaining my predicament. Could I be assigned another subject? No, but the teacher did agree to point me in the direction of some resources.

Finally, a glimmer of hope. Working with my teacher, the librarian found a slim volume on the civil rights movement. It was a children's book that appeared to have been recently published. The book contained a single paragraph on the woman, alongside an illustration copying the now-famous photo of Mrs. Parks seated on a bus, looking out its window. Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus and got in trouble for it. The end.

My report stunk. Even in third grade, one can't write a decent academic paper based on three sentences from a single, juvenile source. But it was the best I could do given the resources at hand. Oh well.

Thirty years later, schoolchildren are not burdened by such a predicament. Not only do kids have access to the web and other tools I could only dream about, but they live in a world far more diverse, more familiar with Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement in general. Wikipedia contains a comprehensive entry on the woman, and a simple Google search yields a stunning 20,000,000 results (though, granted, many of these are news stories covering her recent passing). There is even a handy Rosa Parks Portal containing links to news stories, essays and other resources, as well as an entire domain.

That third-grade assignment taught me very little about Rosa Parks... but that really wasn't the point anyway. The purpose was to teach us how to research. In that vein -- and with three decades of perspective behind it -- I learned that information is inseparable from context. Even as late as the early 70s, civil rights remained a disruptive concept, still threatening to many. Had I been in contact with people of color who were better educated about the civil right struggle, it's doubtful my research would have been so difficult. My teacher -- who was young at the time, and probably far more tuned in to race relations than her colleagues -- deserves credit for throwing someone like Rosa Parks into the mix of notable Americans, but perhaps she should have considered that information on her might be hard to come by in our lily-white community.

Today, our information sources are more diverse... not only because of the Internet and globalization, but because information gatekeepers such as librarians work harder to ensure that their patrons have access to a broad array of resources. People such as these deserve our support for exposing us to such a broad pool of information, even if we have no intention (or ability) to consume it all.

This past week, we've heard a lot about how Mrs. Parks' simple actions changed America so profoundly. But apparently, the people in my third-grade world couldn't see that yet. Times, of course, have changed.

New Tools for Managing News

Just as inventors eternally strive to build a better mousetrap, Internet developers, it seems, are constantly looking for ways to better manage news items. Once upon a time there was Topix, Slashdot, Bloglines and Technorati, but now, a new generation of news tools is making its mark.

Digg is a tech news site that arranges its stories by popularity, or how many "diggs" the story receives. For the more politically inclined, there's memorandum, which crawls blogs and news sites, and organizes disparate stories by topic. Inform.com, a beta, focuses more on traditional news sources, but allows users to drill around by using "discovery paths" to find information related to a certain topic.

Many of these tools have received substantial amounts of VC funding, so they are being taken seriously. With the growing concern about information overload and an "attention crisis," people are eager for better ways to manage the onslaught of data they receive daily. The new tools appear to steer clear of the one drawback of many of the original news portals: they filtered news items to the point where users saw only the items they wanted to see, rather than what they needed to see to be truly informed.

The next generation of these tools will have to focus not only on categorizing items, but helping the user make sense of it all. If a tool could be smart enough to somehow abridge the mountains of news items and present a "fair and balanced" perspective -- yet still allow users to drill into the primary sources -- it would go a long way toward helping people be better informed, more productive and less overwhelmed.

RELATED: The importance of news aggregators and organizers will only grow in the era of what Terry Heaton calls "unbundled media." In an essay on the subject, Heaton explains how, instead of watching a structured news program on TV, we'll be able to aggregate discrete news items (local news stories, national news stories, sports highlights, weather forecasts, etc.) that are either supported by relevant advertising or offered through paid subscription. Of course, we can do much of that now, but Heaton argues that this will ultimately be the preferred source of news for many.

Source: MIT Technology Review

Fewer Visitors, Foreign Students to US

The combination of hurricane damage to tourist spots, stringent security and visa application procedures and a general sense of anti-Americanism abroad has resulted in fewer visitors to the US over the past several years.

According to the Travel Industry Association (TIA), overseas travel to the United States has declined by 15% since 2000, and visa applications have dropped by a third since 9/11. This is significant, since overseas tourism contributed $93 billion to the US economy in 2004.

As a result, the US tourism industry is expected to launch an aggressive marketing and PR campaign to improve America's image abroad and promote US tourism. It may also support fewer entry restrictions, a move that would certainly put it at odds with security organizations.

On top of this, fewer foreign students are applying to US universities... reducing the overall student pool, and forcing schools to become more aggressive in their recruiting. Smaller colleges without name recognition or big marketing budgets could be especially hard hit over the next few years.

Source: Herman Group

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Website Leaks Discounter Deals for the Holidays

One more way in which technology is disrupting retail is evidenced by the website Gottadeal.com, which today leaked what it says is Wal-Mart's planned discounts for the upcoming holiday season. Among the bargains the giant discounter is supposedly planning for Black Friday are an HP Pavilion notebook for $398 (no rebates), a 12-cup coffee maker for $4.24, and an HP Photosmart digital camera for $98.

Gottadeal.com founder Brad Olson says that he got the list from "someone close to the production process for the [store's] ads." Wal-Mart neither confirms nor denies the accuracy of the information, though some observers suggest that posting discounts this early could give Wal-Mart an edge among shoppers who increasingly rely on the Internet to find bargains, and who begin their holiday shopping earlier than ever.

Gottadeal.com also lists discounts from other stores. The site is apparently a victim of its own success; because of the attention it's gained from various media sources, Gottadeal.com has had to temporarily shut down.

UPDATE: As of today (11/3), Gottadeal.com is fully back online, including its Black Friday section.

Source: CNN/Money

Microsoft Goes "Live"

In response to the success of Google's platform-free application development, Microsoft has unveiled its "Live" initiative. Like Google, Windows Live will be a web service-based, data-driven, hardware-independent, ad-supported environment. Office Live will be an "'Internet based services for growing and managing your business online.' extensible, thousands of partners. ad supported level with tier above requiring subscription."

Bill Gates personally announced the initiative today. The blog Read/Write Web describes the Live program as "...a bit of Web 2.0 mixed with Microsoft's live naming theme–Live Meeting, XBox Live. Services = Software, in a broad way, from hosted services like email and CRM to MSN and mapping mashups."

In other words, Microsoft is scrambling to catch up to Google and Yahoo in the web services space. It will be interesting to see how Live pans out... for as Windows 95 and Internet Explorer proved, Microsoft excels (pardon the pun) at coming from behind to take the market lead.

Read the official Microsoft press release and fact sheet on the Live initiatives here. Or, visit the Windows Live Ideas site to try beta versions of some Live applications.

Source: ZDNet

The Big Crash

Most futurists take progress for granted. Even when they warn about problems in the offing, they believe that solutions are available and feasible. However, some scholars and researchers warn us that innovation and prosperity are not inevitable, and that, in fact, we may be lurching toward a dark age.

A leading proponent of this theory, physicist Jonathan Huebner of the Naval Air Warfare Center, has attempted to chart progress based on the rate of innovation. Huebner figures that the current rate of innovation -- seven important technological breakthroughs per billion people per year -- is the same as it was in 1600, and that the rate of innovation has been declining ever since it peaked in 1873.

Needless to say, the work of Huebner, Northwestern University management professor Ben Jones and others is controversial, with noted futurists such as Ray Kurzweil and K. Eric Drexler dismissing it out of hand. But such concerns are exacerbated by worries over pollution, energy shortages, a growing gap between rich and poor, religious backlashes and the threat to democracy posed by terrorism:

If Huebner and Jones are right... if innovation is the engine of economic progress — and almost everybody agrees it is — growth may be coming to an end. Since our entire financial order — interest rates, pension funds, insurance, stock markets — is predicated on growth, the social and economic consequences may be cataclysmic.
Is it really happening? Will progress grind to a halt? The long view of history gives conflicting evidence. Paul Ormerod, a London-based economist and author of the book Why Most Things Fail, is unsure. "I am in two minds about this. Biologists have abandoned the idea of progress — we just are where we are. But humanity is so far in advance of anything that has gone before that it seems to be a qualitative leap."

Ormerod believes that progress may occur in 200-year waves... and the wave we've been riding since the 18th century Enlightenment may be coming to an end. Instead of the utopian playground that's been promised us, our future may resemble the situation faced by Cuba in the 1990s -- survivable, if not very pretty:

The American trade embargo, combined with the collapse of Cuba's communist allies in eastern Europe, suddenly deprived the island of imports. Without oil, public transport shut down and TV broadcasts finished early in the evening to save power. Industrial farms needed fuel and spare parts, pesticides and fertiliser — none of which were available. Consequently, the average Cuban diet dropped from about 3,000 calories per day in 1989 to 1,900 calories four years later. In effect, Cubans were skipping a meal a day, every day, week after month after year. Of necessity, the country converted to sustainable farming techniques, replacing artificial fertiliser with ecological alternatives, rotating crops to keep soil rich, and using teams of oxen instead of tractors. There are still problems supplying meat and milk, but over time Cubans regained the equivalent of that missing meal. And ecologists hailed their achievement in creating the world's largest working model of largely sustainable agriculture, largely independent of oil.

Using Cuba as a model is problematic, as its communist dictatorship lacks a self-correcting free market. But hypothetically speaking, could a capitalist consumer culture accustomed to plenty adjust to such a change? If we can't count on technology to come to our rescue, we might have to. The result, though, would be a global upheaval unlike anything we have ever seen. Revolutions and a return to now-discredited political ideas as communism and fascism could sweep the globe, with the greatest pain being felt by the most prosperous nations.

Assuming such a crash is inevitable, it is imminent? Although some researchers believe the earth may have as little as 10 years of crude oil in the ground, that figure is subject to much debate (geologist Kenneth Deffeyes predicts that world oil production could peak as early as this month!). Many other factors would be at work in determine when and how badly the world economy would crash. It's possible that we may stave off the worst effects for another couple of generations... or rise to the challenge and embrace alternatives that would help us break the cycle.

RELATED: For a more optimistic assessment of the world, read this essay by David Shribman.

Sources: Times Online, AiKnowledge

Contactless Debit/Credit Cards Go Mainstream

The familiar magnetic-striped credit and debit cards may be replaced with contactless cards sooner than we think. After years in the theoretical and experimental stages, contactless cards are being rolled out by major US banks.

JPMorgan Chase, MBNA, HSBC USA, Citibank and KeyBank are all planning to distribute several million contactless Visa and Mastercard cards within the next year. Major retailers are already installing contactless readers in anticipation of consumer demand.

Security concerns about contactless cards include the potential for data thieves to intercept the 128-bit triple-DES transmission between card and reader, and the possible use of contraband readers. Proposed solutions to such theft include on/off switches for cards and biometric verification.

Source: ePaynews.com

Become Multilingual in One Easy Step!

Learning other languages may become a thing of the past... not because everyone will begin speaking a single language, but because speech-to-speech translation is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

New speech recognition technology measures muscles in the speaker's face and neck to translate his or her speech into multiple languages. Such a device, developed by Carnegie Mellon University, was debuted at the International Workshop on Spoken Language Translation 2005, held October 24-25 in Pittsburgh. Currently, these monitors are in the form of electrodes, but eventually they could be implanted into one's throat. Instead of using grammatical rules, as does most contemporary translation technology, these new approaches use statistical analysis to make the translation.

The technology remains imperfect, but its developers believe that a commercially viable version could be ready in 10 years. Becoming multilingual, then, would go from spending years studying multiple languages to a simple surgical procedure.

Source: Roland Piquepaille's Tech Trends (ZDNet)

A Floating City

A solution to low-sea-level architecture being explored in the Netherlands -- and that may prove useful in rebuilding New Orleans -- is floating architecture. The Dutch have been experimenting with floating greenhouses and "amphibious housing" for some time now.

Says the blog BLDGBLOG of the approach:

Without going back through the specifics of Dutch terrain – vast sections of which are actually reclaimed Atlantic seafloor, only existing as dry land through a complicated network of levees, canals, and seawalls – it is worth quickly highlighting the obvious: that in a "post-Katrina world," whatever that is, a world with rising sealevels and accelerating polar thaws, architecture that can adapt to its hydrological surroundings – that is, architecture that can float – is now very much in vogue.

"The goal," as the New York Times writes, "is a town that can live with flooding, not just wall it off, using a variety of floating structures and an extensive system for rainwater storage, among other means."