FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Young Entrepreneurs Strike Out on Their Own

The Herman Trend Alert, which has been warning for months of a pending labor shortage, says that young Millennials (those born after 1985) are increasingly more likely to start their own businesses than seek more traditional employment. The result: those individuals who are most desirable as employees (ambitious, curious, creative, hard-working) are less available to hiring managers.

Herman notes the irony in that many companies, unable to hire the individuals they want and need, will ultimately outsource work to companies run by these young entrepreneurs.

This may be an especially good time for young people with creative ideas to start their own businesses. Red Herring reports that venture capital funding is up dramatically in both the US and Europe, signifying a high level of confidence in innovative businesses as well as the overall business climate.

Publishers Print More Large-Type Books

Publishers trying to boost sagging paperback book sales (down 11% in the past five years) are wondering if one cause of the decline is the growing number of aging Boomers with failing eyesight. If so, the growing move to issue titles in large-print format ought to help boost sales.

"We've been losing the foundation of our customer base because their eyesight is getting worse, and the books are getting harder and harder to read," said Simon & Schuster CEO Jack Romanos. Publishers have increased the type size of some books by half a point size, and increased the spacing between the lines as well.

Source: TheLedger.com

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Is the Speed of Light Variable?

"186,000 miles per second: It's not just a good idea... it's the law!"

So goes the old nerdy joke reinforcing what has been drilled into generations of Physics 101 students: the speed of light, as Einstein showed, is constant and absolute, never faster or slower.

Or maybe not. A team of scientists at France's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) claims to be able to manipulate the speed of light, speeding it up and slowing it down.

Previously, light speed has been manipulated under highly controlled conditions, using exotic gases and environments. The EPFL experiment, however, used ordinary fiber optics to affect specific portions of the light signal (exploiting a bit of "wiggle room" in Einstein's laws).

The team's success opens up a host of possibilities for controlling signals on a fiber optic cable, allowing standard fiber optics to carry even more data. The benefits of this research could also be applied to microwaves for next-generation wireless communications.

Related research at Princeton has shown that light can be trapped and bent at sharp angles, using quasicrystals made from polymer rods. Such manipulation can lead to more efficient fiber optic junctions.

Source: Ron Piquepaille's Tech Trends, Phys.Org

Google to Launch IM, Talk Services

Google is reportedly planning to launch its own instant messaging and voice service, entering the market against AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, and Interent voice service Skype.

A website called GoogleRumors notes that Google has activated the domain http://talk.google.com (though it generates a 404 error as of this writing), and is developing its Google Talk service around the Jabber platform. Reports have Google Talk going live as early as tomorrow.

Source: MSNBC

E-Paper Visual Index Cards

Japanese electronics firm Fuji Xerox has developed a prototype of "electronic paper" that uses photoconductivity to display an image on an ultra-small, ultra-thin LCD display. The e-paper, currently about the size of a business card, is expected to enter the marketplace next year.

Source: Usernomics

Friday, August 19, 2005

Who's Listening to Podcasts, Anyway?

Who are the biggest fans of podcasting? It might not be who you think.

A new survey by pollster CLX has found that the biggest consumers of podcasts are not teens and young adults, as one might assume, but those over 45. Of that age group, 21% said they listened to podcasts, as opposed to 13% of those between 15 and 24 years old.

Why is this? Considering that today's mainstream media is largely geared toward young people (especially in entertainment), their elders may well be finding niche programming in the form of podcasts. Older listeners are also more likely to listen to news-related podcasts such as those offered through NPR (which makes sense, given that the majority of talk radio listeners are over 35). Adults may also be listening to podcasts during the work day (taking advantage of their employers' broadband Internet) and in their cars during those long commutes.

The survey also suggests that podcasting is not foremost in the minds of media consumers of any age. Just 15% of the 8,000 people surveyed had listened to a podcast, despite the hype surrounding the medium.

Websites and other media whose audience consists of adults and seniors should take a fresh look at podcasting, whereas youth-oriented media might want to tread carefully. Advertisers and investors who have assumed that podcasting is for kids may want to re-evaluate their strategies as well.

Sources: Vnunet, unmediated

The Ugly Netizen

One might think that being wired (or wireless) would help keep us on our toes, and that being more connected would make us more empathetic. But just the opposite seems to be happening, as recent surveys suggest that technology enables people to be obnoxious, inconsiderate and downright vicious.

One study found that Americans regularly fail to use good cell phone and e-mail etiquette, doing things like talking loudly on phones, texting or answering the phone at inappropriate times, photographing strangers without their permission, using poor grammar when e-mailing, and passing along chain e-mails (a dangerous practice as well, as many of these can link to viruses, pornography or spyware).

Another study sponsored by Intel found that nearly 20% of 1,000 people surveyed admitted to being less punctual as a result of having a cell phone, relying on it to make excuses for being late or to cancel plans at the last minute.

The younger generation are exhibiting habits that are just as bad if not worse. The Pew Internet & American Life Project found large percentages of teens who admitted to saying things in text messages that they would not say to someone in person, and using IM buddy lists to form cliques and exclude others. Even worse, a UK survey found that 14% of teens admitted to being bullied or harassed via text messaging; teens also use digital camera to take and circulate embarrassing photos of others, and even document assaults. Unlike adults who do things with technology that are well meaning but ignorant, these kids use it as a weapon.

In one of the most unusual examples of digital life gone bad, a Chinese exchange student in Japan was recently arrested for creating bots that "mugged" characters in the online game Lineage II and stole their virtual possessions, which the man could then exchange for real cash. Unlike the characters in the game that are controlled by human players, the bots were programs that couldn't be beaten in the virtual world.

The Lineage II case is of concern because it's an omen of what could be the future of digital crime. "I regularly say that every form of theft and fraud in the real world will eventually be duplicated in cyberspace," says renowned cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier. "Perhaps every method of stealing real money will eventually be used to steal imaginary money, too."

Despite its immediacy, the physical distance afforded by technology creates a "buffer zone" behind which people feel safe, even when engaging in offensive behavior. Cyberspace makes denial easy, as we can compartmentalize our online behavior as "not real" and ending when we log off. But as we spend more and more of our time online, our digital behavior will have greater consequences.

The recent onslaught of new technology has given us unprecedented capabilities, but we haven't yet agreed as a society on appropriate use. Without boundaries, guidelines and a "digital ethic," even the most beneficial technology can bring out the worst in us.

Sources: Forbes.com, Telegraph, Smart Mobs, New Scientist

Commuting Smarter

Few activities are more annoying, more wasteful and (with today's gas prices) more costly than being stuck in rush-hour traffic. If you live and work in a congested urban area, you know it's an unavoidable reality.

Researchers at Oxford University in the UK are studying networks of all kinds -- traffic, the Internet, supply chains, and even tumors -- to understand where bottlenecks occur and how to route around them. The problem in most cases apparently occurs when a network uses a hub-and-spoke model to connect to a center. When all routes head toward the center, they invariably become congested... no matter how many routes are available. So building more routes directly to the center is not necessarily the solution.

What does seem to help, though, is to create alternative, indirect routes to the center, and to stagger traffic. In the case of car traffic, entry ramps with time delays and tolls charged for entering city centers at peak times have proven to reduce congestion. The downside is that drivers have to plan their commutes a bit more carefully. But if the end result is less time sitting in traffic jams, few will complain.

Source: Technology Research Network

Goodbye Textbooks... Hello Laptops!

When high school students in Vail, Arizona hit the books this fall, they won't literally be hitting books. Instead, they'll be issued Apple iBook laptop computers.

Although several high schools throughout the US have been participating in pilot projects to replace textbooks with laptops over the past few years, Vail's Empire High School is one of the few to go cold turkey.

The laptops offer both the schools and the students a number of advantages. For one, they spare the students having to lug around a collection of heavy books. Through the Internet (the school has a heavily-filtered wireless network), they can access assignments in learning management workspaces, collaborate, use e-mail, and get up-to-the-minute texts and multimedia presentations. And with the cost of textbooks these days, the laptops are likely to pay for themselves quickly.

Another surprising benefit is helping students learn practical computer skills. Despite kids' embracing video games and entertainment technologies, they don't necessarily know how to use computers and the Internet as productivity tools. "One of the greatest challenges actually is getting the kids up to speed in using Word, in using an Internet browser for other than a simple global search," said social studies teacher Jeremy Gypton.

The paperless trend is spreading to colleges as well. The University of Texas has retired 90,000 books in its library, redesigning it to be an "information commons," a more social environment not unlike a coffee house. And with wireless access, naturally. America's leading universities, including Stanford, Penn State and Georgia Tech, are following suit.

Sources: CNN.com, Christian Science Monitor

The Mainstreaming Video Game Culture

The Ubercool blog cites a number of statistics illustrating the growth and pervasiveness of video gaming:

  • An estimated 76.2 million Americans (representing 58% of households) play video games, up from 67.5 million in 2004. Much of this growth may be attributable to the Sony PSP, released this past spring.

  • Sales of video game software set a record in 2004 ($7.3 billion).

  • In one survey, 43% of game players said they played games online, up by more than 10% over 2002. Players included both hardcore and casual gamers.

Not all numbers were so positive. Sales of video game consoles in 2005, for instance, were off their 2003 high. Also, the overwhelming majority (70%) of gamers are men, as has been the case in years past.

Plasma TVs Outsell Rear-Projection Sets

In the world of television, the future belongs to plasma screens... judging from sales, at least. Shipments of plasma TVs reached a record high of 1.13 million units during 2Q 2005 -- nearly a 90% increase over the previous year. Sales of plasma sets have eclipsed sales of rear-projection models, and are even gaining on traditional CRT TVs, whose sales fell nearly 40% since 2004.

Source: Extremetech

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Wanted: Your Opinions

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Internet + Cell Phone = ???

The sheer rate of mobile phone expansion has taken aback even the most visionary observer. Now, Gartner is predicting that by 2009, 1 billion new cell phones will be sold per year -- meaning that most anyone in the world capable of owning a cell phone can have one.

A USA Today article tries to grasp the significance of ubiquitous, powerful cell phones, especially when coupled with the Internet:

No sane person at the time ever thought these things would become the most significant electronic consumer device in history. But that's exactly what is happening.

Bigger than television. Bigger than the PC. Bigger than the telephone.

The cell phone's impact will be so huge because — unlike those previous technologies — it's so widespread. People in developing countries who a decade ago owned nothing more complicated than a water pump now have cell phones.

At the other extreme, middle-class teenagers in the USA now carry in their pockets a networked computing and communicating device more powerful than the mainframes that might've run a good-size company when their parents were the same age...

Deep social change can happen because cell phones are now in our pockets all the time. "We're evolving from a world where the PC was the communications device to one where the cell phone or PDA is the center of gravity," says Kim Polese, CEO of open-source software company SpikeSource. These gadgets will alter habits even more as they become the way people listen to music, get information, blog and pay for purchases at stores [Case in point: see the previous post on how Saudi youth use their mobile devices]...

Neville Street, CEO of text-messaging company Mobile 365, puts it this way: How many inventions in history have literally become part of your person — something you always have with you?

Your watch. Your credit card. Your cell phone. That's pretty much it, unless you count tooth fillings...

New businesses will pop up, new models for making money, new ways to be entertained, new definitions of privacy. The Internet was a grand creation. The Internet plus cell phones will be magnificent.

Sources: USA Today, EMERGIC.org

Saudi Boys, Girls Use Technology to Flirt

One of the earliest cliches about the Internet was that it "sees censorship as damage and routes around it." Saudi youth have found that this observation applies to restrictive social mores as well, as they use mobile phones and Bluetooth messaging to interact with the opposite sex.

Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi flavor of Islam mandates strict separation of the sexes, and prevents unrelated men and women from interacting. However, Saudi youth equipped with Bluetooth mobile phones can send messages to one another discreetly, and can even exchange photos (some of which are risque even by Western standards).

Currently, Saudi officials concede that little can be done to prevent this type of interaction, beyond warning young people that technology can be abused. Indeed, the proliferation of high-tech flirting has yielded byproducts that are unwelcome in any culture -- namely harassment and the spread of mobile phone viruses.

Source: MSNBC, Boing Boing

Smart Roofs

What does your roof do other than protect you from the elements? That's a pretty important job, granted... but architects and designers are considering how to put building roofs to work in other ways, such as:

  • "Green roofs" for planting gardens in congested areas and creating more aesthetically pleasing city skylines

  • "White roofs" made from titanium shingles that can lower air conditioning costs by up to 40%

  • Solar roofs that hold solar power cells and solar water heaters

Blogs such as Groundless Sites and Inhabitat document these and other efforts.

Source: WorldChanging

The Mighty Tween

We've written a lot here about how young people influence the adoption of technology (here, here and here for instance). Now, a new survey conducted in part by Nickelodeon has found that "tweens" (kids aged 9-14) influence consumer choices even more so than previously thought.

Despite modest means (the survey found that the average tween allowance was $9.15 per week), tweens influence family purchases of everything from food to toiletries to fashion to entertainment. Three-quarters of tweens surveyed said they had "a lot of say" in clothes purchases, as well as big-ticket decisions such as family vacations.

Tweens' influence also extends to technology. Tweens are often the deciding factor in movie rentals and video game purchases, and techno-challenged parents frequently consult their tween children when purchasing computers.

The Nickelodeon survey was surely done largely for the benefit of marketers... so expect more advertising aimed at kids for items that are not traditionally kid-related. Also look for an increase in product placement in movies, TV shows and even video games. Product design might also be affected, as designers seek to make their creations more appealing to kids, even when they aren't designed specifically for kids.

Source: eMarketer

US Okays Plans for Virgin Galactic

The US Department of State has given the green light for UK-based Virgin Galactic to work with American firms to develop passenger-carrying suborbital spacecraft.

Specifically, this will allow Virgin to license SpaceShipOne, developed by Mojave, CA-based Scaled Composites. SpaceShipOne made news -- and history -- back in October when it won the X Prize by completing two flights above 62 miles (100 km). The two companies have formed a joint venture, The Spaceship Company, that will develop suborbital craft for commercial use.

Plans are for commercial flights to begin within a couple of years. Virgin Galactic is taking reservations for the yet-to-be-constructed crafts, at $200,000 a seat.

Source: Space.com

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

J.D. Lasica on Darknets, File Sharing and Remixing

The Well posts an interview with J.D. Lasica, author of Darknet: Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation. In this interview, Lasica discusses the nature of darknets, why they exist, and how they are affecting traditional media:

The Darknet, at bottom, is the collection of spaces where unauthorized or illegal file sharing takes place. Most media outlets use the Darknet in the narrow sense to refer to the private, secure, encrypted spaces online set up to exchange files without fear of detection -- sites like Blubster and WASTE and the new initiative Ian Clarke announced 2 weeks ago [a globally scalable version of the anonymous file publishing system Freenet that can be deployed to Internet-hostile regions of the world] that will expand darknets from small groups of a few dozen people to potentially millions of people...

Darknets are not evil -- at least in my book. They're the public's reaction to overly restrictive copyright laws and bass-ackwards media business models. In some ways, darknets are becoming the last bastion of the digital freedom fighters (alongside the folks who just want to snag free stuff). So it's a decidedly mixed bag.

I've actually been approached by one of these legitimate darknet companies, and we may do some work together, to help people exchange their own media with friends and family -- instead of swapping Hollywood's media...

The book's title is also a metaphor for what the Internet is in danger of becoming if Congress, the courts and the federal regulatory agencies continue to clamp down on an emerging, vibrant new form of grassroots media that borrows from the culture at large. So it's a warning about where we may be heading unless we come to grips (and Washington gets a grip) on the realities of digital culture...

Monday, August 15, 2005

How Fewer Mexican Immigrants Could Affect Mexico and the US

That Latinos are a growing force within US culture, as described in this article from TIME, is hardly a secret. What may be a surprise to many, though, is an associated statistic: because of dramatically falling birthrates, immigration from Mexico may fall by as much as half by 2020.

Based on the assumption that Mexicans will be enticed to stay at home by more plentiful jobs, a lower rate of immigration will have important implications for both the US and Mexico. For Mexico, a lower population may lead to higher wages and greater overall prosperity. For the US, the existing Latino population will be further assimilated into -- and influence -- mainstream US culture (perhaps shifting the culture even further to the right, since Latinos exhibit largely conservative values). Also, the loss of cheap labor from undocumented Mexican workers could lead to a return to wage inflation in the US, and American businesses seeking new sources of inexpensive labor. Outsourcing, importing workers from other countries and even robotics could play a role in this labor shift.

UPDATE: Herman Trend Alert reports that, in the near term, the US will have a slight surplus of Hispanic workers (most undocumented), owing to a relatively strong US economy and US employers' eagerness to hire them. The surplus will likely drive down wages (which, according to Herman, are better than many realize, though these workers rarely receive benefits). Herman also offers up this interesting factoid: Money sent back to Mexico from workers in the US is that country's second largest contributor to its gross domestic product (after oil exports) and could become number one.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Fly Me to the Moon... For Just $100 Million

Just a few days after the space shuttle Discovery successfully ended its nail-biter of a flight, we're now pondering the possibility of private citizens flying to the moon (on a honeymoon, perhaps).

Private space flight company Space Adventures will fly you and a partner on an orbital flight to the moon for only $100 million. The flight is being developed in a partnership with the Russian space agency, and could launch as early as 2008.

A little too rich for your blood? Not to worry... technology has a way of becoming cheaper. Remember when CD players were a thousand bucks?

Source: AiKnowledge

Missouri Says "Show Me" to Biometric Payment

A convenience store chain in Jefferson County, Missouri has debuted a biometric payment system that uses customers' finger images to access their debit accounts.

An Express Pay store (affiliated with Citgo and Phillips 66 gas stations in the region) in Arnold, MO has begun using BioPay for its biometric payment services. Express Pay hopes that the system can reduce costs of transactions by nearly 70%.

Source: Convenience Store News

Losing Weight the McDonald's Way

How bad is fast food for you, really? Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary Super Size Me might have permanently scared millions away from McDonald's, as his Mickey-D's diet made him gain weight and wrecked his health.

However, other dieters have taken the opposite tack, actually managing to lose weight on McDonald's-only diets. Merab Morgan of Raleigh, NC, ate exclusively at McDonald's for 90 days and lost 37 pounds.

It seems like there's a huge disconnect here, but there isn't really. The dieters claiming to lose weight with McDonald's food are being very careful about what they eat, choosing healthy fare such as fresh fruit over fried items. Most are also limiting their calories to 2,000 a day or less (the recommended daily calorie limit). For Super Size Me, Spurlock ate 5,000 calories a day to mimic more typical American food consumption, and also limited his exercise to match a typical sedentary lifestyle. Merab Morgan, it should be noted, is a construction worker and a mother of two, suggesting that she's probably more physically active than the average American.

Both the McDonald's dieters and Spurlock prove that there's nothing mysterious to weight loss: limit your calories, eat healthy foods, and exercise. It's also to McDonald's credit that they are offering their customers more healthy choices (though one still needs to be careful, as some salad dressings, for instance, contain high levels of fat and sugar). The burden is on customers to pay attention to what they eat and to make sensible choices.

Wherever one eats, there are two guiding principles to staying healthy: common sense and Caveat emptor.

Source: CNN Health

Concierge Healthcare: Doctors At Your Service

It's perhaps a natural outgrowth of the current state of US healthcare that some doctors would offer exclusive services to their more discriminating clientele. Practicing what is called concierge care or boutique care, these primary care physicians limit their patient rosters, allowing them to provide more individualized care, spend more time with patients, reduce wait times, offer 24x7x365 access, provide luxury surroundings at their practices, and even make house calls! Some will even accompany patients to specialists to ask questions and coordinate treatment.

Of course, this all comes at a price. Most concierge doctors charge an annual retainer fee for their services (anywhere from $1,500 to over $10,000 per person), and not all of their services are covered by health insurance. Plus, even advocates of concierge care say that better services doesn't necessarily equal better quality of care. Katherine Harmer, the founder and president of concierge care provider Higher Care, says, "We don't say better care, because, quite frankly, when you walk into a concierge practice you will probably walk out with the same diagnosis and treatment that you would get at a traditional practice."

Concierge healthcare is controversial for obvious reasons: why, after all, should quality service be reserved for the wealthy? If concierge healthcare catches on, expect a trickle-down effect and multiple tiers of service; "better-than-average" providers may emerge with fees more affordable than the ultra-premium services. Employers, moreover, may find that offering paid membership in concierge services -- and pre-paying for some services -- is an attractive and cost-effective employee benefit.

The mere fact that concierge healthcare exists points to the problems of our current healthcare "system." But as long as we have market-driven healthcare, services like concierge care are logical if not necessarily fair.

Sources: Hospital Impact, Departures.com

Web Surfers at Work: An Untapped Audience?

If you're reading this at work, and it's not a part of your job, you're not alone in your web surfing habits. A recent survey by Vault, Inc. has found that 87% of employees regularly access non-work-related websites during business hours, yet only 35% believe this decreases productivity.

Media blogger Terry Heaton believes that no only is this a good thing, but that media companies have an opportunity to build their brands among this audience. This is especially true for news sites, perhaps the most commonly accessed category of website read during working hours.

BT's Future Timetable

British Telecom's futurology department has compiled a list of future forecasts for the next 50 years. The team that predicted text messaging and Internet search engines offers their thoughts on technology and economics. The following are just some of the team's predictions:

Near-Term (2006-2020)
  • Electronic medical prescriptions sent directly from physicians to pharmacists via handheld
  • Ultra-thin polymer screens that can stick to the skin to provide "video tattoos"
  • Clothing fabrics that can sense the wearer's heart rate and temperature, and can transmit that information to a room
  • Self-driving cars
  • Regrown teeth through gene therapy
  • "Active make-up" that automatically changes color
  • Devices that control emotions, suppressing anger and depression
Long-Term (2020+)
  • 3D "printers" that can create solid models
  • Moon bases and Mars colonies
  • Energy through nuclear fusion
  • The Singularity arrives, when machines become smarter than humans
  • A massive financial collapse sometime within the next 50 years
Sources: The Mirror, AiKnowledge

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Cingular May Offer HBO via Cell Phone

Cingular is reportedly in talks with HBO (owned by Time Warner) to offer HBO programs through Cingular mobile devices. Under one proposed agreement, Cingular customers with video-compatible devices could access HBO's acclaimed programming such as Six Feet Under and Deadwood, as well as specialty channels.

With 52 million subscribers (including many adopted from its purchase of AT&T Wireless), Cingular is the nation's largest cell phone carrier. Although Cingular has lagged behind Verizon and Sprint in the mobile video market, it is positioned to catch up quickly. Cingular plans to introduce broadband service and a video-capable phone in selected cities by year's end.

One hurdle both Cingular and HBO may face is a potential uproar over HBO's adult-oriented content. Already, consumer and morality groups are gearing up to fight cell phone pornography, which promises to be a hugely lucrative market if carriers allow it.

Source: Newsweek

A Model for Exchanging Media

Understanding how we create and consume media will ultimately answer a lot of questions we now have about how and under what circumstances media can be manipulated. The Media Streams Metadata Exchange (MSMDX) project at UC Berkeley is an attempt to define how media is and can be developed. The goal of the project is "to create a platform for collaboratively annotating, retrieving, sharing and remixing multimedia content." MSMDX would provide a metadata framework to mark up small segments of media, such as scenes in a movie. Tags would include character names, appearance (looking confused), emotions, moods, genres, themes, and actions.

Among the approaches MSMDX advocates are media-on-demand networks that remix content based on the user's specifications and templates, shot metadata repositories that would allow users to search for an access specific scenes from a movie or TV show, and remixing engines that would allow non-technical users to easily create their own music videos and mash-ups.

The majority of media consumers are passive, and will not take advantage of MSMDX the way that remix enthusiasts would. However, the movement of media to small formats such as cell phones may accelerate initiatives like MSMDX, which may find their first wide use in areas such as news and sports. This type of metadata also has promise in academia, where students and researchers will appreciate the ability to search video and audio content by keyword. However, there still remains the proverbial elephant in the corner: the issue of digital rights management and copyright infringement. Fully leveraging something like MSMDX fully would require a rethinking of DRM... something that doesn't appear to be in the offing.

Source: Long Tail

Open Source Documentary

Kent Bye is putting a new spin on citizen journalism with Echo Chamber Project, an "open source, investigative documentary about the how the television news media became an uncritical echo chamber to the Executive Branch leading up to the war in Iraq."

The documentary is open source in the sense that Bye is making transcripts and footage available to anyone who wants to use it. Portions are viewable in Quicktime format on the site, and on OurMedia, a site that provides free publishing of video, audio and other content.

Source: Center for Media and Democracy

Content Networks

With more of our life "content" being digital and, in many cases, online, how are we supposed to keep it all together? PDAs handled that in the past, but our content today is too complex and too rich. Laptops and web browsers are a solution, but they're specific to a device. When you get a new laptop or borrow a friend's PC, your bookmarks and links are lost.

The solution may be a rich "content network" that links all of one's online information together, using searchable tags and service-oriented architecture. Student and interaction designer Thomas Stovieck is developing one approach that would allow content networks to be accessed via multiple devices. Content would be navigable, searchable, and interacting; two devices in proximity to one another could, for instance, synchronize their calendars.

We will surely see more solutions such as this as more of us rely on mobile devices, and our online content becomes more complex and more important. "Content" will ultimately include not just our calendars and photo collections, but our bank accounts and legal credentials. Accessing and sharing them in a controlled, secure manner will be one of our biggest technical challenges in the coming years.

Source: we make money not art

Revenge of the Average Woman

We may be seeing a backlash against rail-thin supermodels and celebrities as more magazines feature women with average bodies as models. Perhaps it's out of concern that unattainable figures harm the self-esteem of women and girls, and may even lead to eating disorders. Or, it may be that publishers and advertisers are finally realizing that the majority of their customer base have bodies that don't meet the criteria of supermodels, yet are beautiful anyway.

Magazines such as Seventeen, Teen People and CosmoGirl are featuring more "average" models. "It's not going to help my reader if we only show girls who are size 6's," said Atoosa Rubenstein, editor of Seventeen. "Everyone is beautiful, it's just a matter of confidence, and we try to show that." For their shoots, these magazines are finding prospective models in malls rather than turning to professional models (a move that the more cynical among us will say helps the magazines cut costs).

Last fall, Dove gained national attention when it launched its "Campaign for Real Beauty." A recent component of that campaign are ads and posters showing ordinary women of a variety of shapes in white bras and panties. The ad campaign for Dove cosmetics -- featuring the tag line "real women have real curves" -- is controversial (which was surely the intention), criticized by those who believe that the unattainable looks of supermodels serve a purpose by providing a look to aspire to. Others see it as mere marketing manipulation: "[W]hat bothers me most about the ads is the hypocrisy," says Lucio Guerrero of the Chicago Sun-Times. "The folks at Dove want us to embrace our 'real beauty' and love who we are no matter what we look like. If that's the case, why are they selling firming cream?"

But on the whole, moves toward featuring more average women in media are being applauded by the public. Says filmmaker and activist Jean Kilbourne, "Showing real girls is just great sociologically. Not only does it make more sense to show how a bathing suit will transform a person's body by using a real body, but it makes women feel like they aren't alone out there, that they are beautiful too."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A New, Free Online Meeting Tool

Gatheroo, an online meeting tool scheduled to launch in the fall, presents itself as a free alternative to fee-based social networking tools like MeetUp. The site markets itself as suitable for everyone from small, grassroots groups to large, enterprise-scale organizations. The site is ad supported, with additional support from the CivicSpace Foundation, which grew out of Howard Dean's Internet-based support network when he ran for President in the last election.

Source: Personal Democracy Forum

Podcasts for Education

As (*sniff*) the summer winds down and we start looking toward the upcoming school year, many of our more progressive educators are thinking of ways to incorporate podcasts into their curricula. To aid this effort, the Educational Podcast Network serves as a clearninghouse for educational podcasts appropriate for K-12 as well as college-level classes. A few are done by elementary, middle and high schools, but most of the listed podcasts are not specific to education, and would be of interest to anyone. Suggestions for new podcasts are welcome.

Source: unmediated

Microgeneration as an Energy Solution

As gas prices flirt with the $3-per-gallon mark, much attention has been paid to alternative energy sources. However, some are also looking at the entire energy grid as part of the problem. The transmission of electricity is an inefficient process, as much energy is lost through heat dissipation. Plus, many of the eco-friendly energy solutions aren't practical on a large scale. Large energy grids, moreover, represent single points of failure, vulnerable to damage both accidental and deliberate.

Microgeneration -- energy production for individual buildings and facilities -- is attracting attention as an efficient, environmentally friendly way of generating power. Endorsed by Greenpeace as a way of slashing carbon emissions, microgeneration is being envisioned as a way of providing energy even to individual homes. Small-scale electricity generation can be networked into a failover system; a building that loses its generating capacity could "borrow" electricity from its neighbor.

The microgeneration concept is not limited to electricity. Individual buildings may find it useful to maintain their own water treatment facilities. In the communications realm, mesh networking could make every Internet device a wireless access point... making Internet access as close as the nearest device.

Source: Sustainablog

Next-Generation iPods

AppleInsider features an article that speculates on features of the next (fifth) generation of iPods. Among the innovations forecast: a new scroll wheel to replace the iPod's trademark control device. In fact, Apple is moving toward vertical integration, manufacturing more of its own iPod components rather than buying them from suppliers. Apple also plans a removable battery (the lack of which was a longtime source of criticism) and will lower the price of replacement batteries (from $99 to $59).

Source: I4U Future Technology

Iraq's Insurgency: An Open Source Business Process

Global Guerrillas, a blog by terrorism expert John Robb that focuses on political disruption and "the emerging bazaar of violence," visualizes the Iraq insurgency not as a traditional military operation, but as a decentralized business process that operates on basic economic and technological principles.

The insurgents use the Internet to recruit new foot soldiers and "support staff" (skilled bomb makers), negotiate for and purchase supplies, and to regroup when a leader of a cell is captured. They videotape their attacks for future study, the way a football team reviews its last game, and know how to leverage the Arab media. In a post last year, the blog compares the Iraq insurgency to a bazaar that leverages rapid prototyping and swarming principles.

The good news is that the US military appears to be learning these lessons and is approaching the insurgency in a different light. The bad news is that this model of "open source warfare" can easily spread elsewhere, and may already be appearing in India.

Global Guerrillas is required reading for anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding of global terrorism. Don't read it at night, though. It's sure to keep you awake.

Using Games to Teach Computers to See

There's a world of difference between looking at something and seeing it. A computer with a video camera, for instance, can obtain an image of an object, but doesn't have a deep enough understanding of what that object is to identify it, or relate it to something else ("bigger than a breadbox"). Humans, however, have developed a lifetime of experiences to be able to put most objects they encounter into context.

The only way to help computers "see," therefore, is to program them with enough background knowledge so that they can identify objects correctly on sight. But this is harder than it sounds, as it involves massive amounts of time.

Enter Peekaboom, an online game where players try to get others to guess the identity of objects by gradually revealing their shape; the first player to correctly identify the object wins. A graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University wrote the program with an interesting side effect. As players play, they are also programming a computer to identify the objects featured in the game.

Aside from aiding in computer science research, Peekaboom has reportedly become very popular since it was introduced about a month ago. The game is open to all.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, unmediated

Software to Help Teams Perform Under Stress

In crisis situations, teams fail when they don't have complete information, and when they don't share what information they do have quickly and accurately. To help such teams function at their best when the stakes are high, Penn State researchers have developed a software system that helps individuals stay focused and work with others.

Called R-CAST, the software helps teams collaborate, share information and make sound decisions in a crisis atmosphere. The initial research, funded by the US Army Research Laboratory, focused on a military command-and-control situation. But R-CAST could just as easily be deployed to any team working in crisis mode, such as police, EMT and hospital emergency room staff.

Source: Roland Piquepaille's Tech Trends

Peter Jennings and the End of an Era

The New York Times' editorial obituary notes the symbolic significance of the death of ABC News anchor Peter Jennings this past Sunday. Along with the retirement of NBC's Tom Brokaw and CBS's Dan Rather, the troika of post-Cronkite network anchors -- and the media era they represented -- is no more:

Mr. Jennings, who died on Sunday at the age of 67, is being remembered as someone who would use his considerable clout to get a news report on the air from some faraway place that Americans had never heard of, or one that could be hard to look at or difficult to understand. He leaves behind a world in which network news operations are less well financed, less powerful and less likely to send an expensive team of cameras and producers to cover an overseas story. While the nation will adjust to a world without superstar network anchors like Mr. Jennings, it can ill afford the loss of someone with his kind of influence behind the scenes.

While we mourn the loss of the man, not all will mourn the loss of the media era he represented. Jeff Jarvis, who regularly blogs about this topic, says (in a post not related to Jennings) that traditional media are not only obsolete, but unnatural:

The natural means of interaction and of sharing information is, of course, conversation, through the ability to ask and answer questions, to impart and collect knowledge. I'm not one to make allusions to primitive life as if that describes the natural state of man, but I will in this case: When you listened to the tribe storyteller, you could remix before passing on; when you heard from the town crier, you could stick your head out the window and ask for details; when you set the price of a good or service, you got to haggle with the seller. This is why Socrates said that education is a conversation, and why Luther said that prayer is a conversation, and why Cluetrain says that markets are conversations, and why I say that news is a conversation. That is the natural order of things.

Media changed that. Media made society one-way.

But now the internet drains the one-way pipes of media and pours us all in the same pond together. The internet enables conversation. [Emphasis added]

The stark contrast between the news organizations of the past and today's information reality was seen during the London subway bombings in July. There, the first (and most powerful) images came not from network camera crews, but from individuals who happened to be on the scene... and who happened to have cameraphones. Earlier this year, the images of the southeast Asian tsunami broadcast over and over on news broadcasts came from vacationers shooting the unfolding travesty with their personal video cameras. Instead of the top-down news direction that Jennings personified, the future of news appears to be coming from the bottom up.

Of course, network news will go on after Peter Jennings. Yet technology is undoubtedly changing the way we gather and process information. The world is surely a bit poorer by losing Jennings' nightly take on world and national events. The big question now is: what will we turn to to enrich it again?

UPDATE: Anchors as father figures? Read another take on the passing of the Jennings/Brokaw/Rather era here.

Monday, August 08, 2005

New Daylight Saving Time to Disrupt Electronics

Shades of Y2K! The recently enacted expansion of Daylight Saving Time that will take effect in 2007 (beginning three weeks earlier in the spring and ending one week later in the fall) will not be kind to electronics that are programmed to switch between time modes automatically. Without patches or upgrades, such devices will not switch from Standard Time to DST on the correct date.

The effects of this will range from minor annoyances (incorrect VCR/DVD recorder start/stop times) to major headaches (missed appointments due to incorrect clocks on PDAs and PC calendars). However, no one is anticipating any catastrophic disruptions such as were feared in the months leading up to the Year 2000 bug. The most adversely affected are those industries whose processes are highly schedule driven, such as airlines and shipping... and they're already on top of this. For the rest of us, software manufacturers will have plenty of time to issue patches. Furthermore, devices that rely on phones, atomic clock radio or PBS time stamps to set their time will operate as normal. Or, we'll just have to do things the old fashioned way, personally making sure that each of our clocks either "springs ahead" or "falls back."

Source: CNN.com

A Cell Phone for Under Five Bucks

The problem with cell phones is that, despite their ubiquity, they are still too expensive for the majority of the world's population. According to the World Bank, three-quarters of all humans live within range of a cell phone signal, yet only one quarter use cell phones.

Philips Semiconductors executive Thierry Laurent has a solution to bring cell phones to the masses: a cell phone that would retail for less than $5.

Speaking at a conference in June, Laurent unveiled his strategy. From its manufacturing base in China, Philips would develop ultra-low-cost phones that can make phone calls, send SMS messages, and play polyphonic ringtones. Not too shabby for less than five bucks.

The fulfillment of Laurent's vision is likely a ways off, as the infrastructure to build these phones remains under development. However, he predicts that they could drive the cost of phones down to $15 by 2008. Currently, the average handset retails for $40.

At less than $5, cell phones would (in the West, at least) become effectively disposable... causing problems for carriers looking to lock customers into long-term commitments. To attract and keep customers, carriers may lure them with ever more sophisticated smart phones, or offer steeply discounted airtime to customers who agree to long-term contracts. Or, they may partner with other marketers who would use cell phones as "loss leaders" (free phone with every purchase!) Meanwhile, more cell phone customers in the developing world could yield some interesting social and political consequences.

Source: i-mode strategy

"I-Powder" Tracks Criminals Through "Unique DNA Code"

UK security firm RedWeb Security has developed an "i-powder" that sticks to an intruder, staining him/her with a "unique DNA code" of the powder's owner. The result is irrefutable proof linking a criminal to the scene of the crime.

The powder, suspended in a red dye, cannot be washed off for several weeks. I-powder is currently being marketed to retail establishments; in cases in the UK where it has been presented as evidence, RedWeb claims that it has led to a 100% convinction rate. A version for home security systems is presently in the works.

Source: we make money not art

Friday, August 05, 2005

Supernova: Before and After

Our weekly Friday diversion takes us to the edge of the Whirlpool Galaxy for a midsummer fireworks display... cosmic-style.

The Hubble Space Telescope provided a rare glimpse of an exploding star (supernova) both before (1/21/05) and after (7/11/05) the event. The star was a red supergiant with a mass 7 to 10 times greater than our Sun.

This before-and-after view of a supernova has helped broaden astronomers' understanding about the phenomenon. One thing that is known about supernovae, however, is that a minimal star mass is necessary for them to happen. Our Sun is way too small to go supernova; instead, its eventual destiny (many millions of years from now) is to contract to a cool white dwarf.

Sources: Space.com

Consumers Want More Powerful Mobile Devices... Sort Of

The digitally empowered consumer seems to be a theme this week. A recent survey by Parks Associates has noted the top functions that consumers would like to see in their mobile devices. By far the top desired function (selected by 42% of those surveyed) was taking pictures... which would seem to be good news for cameraphone manufacturers. Other top functions on the wish list were:

  • Receiving location-specific information (25%)

  • Watch live TV (24%)

  • Browse the Internet (21%)

  • Voice communication (21%)

  • Listen to music (20%)

As with many surveys of this type, the results can be read more than one way. On the one hand, consumers like the idea of advanced functionality on their cell phones and other mobile devices. On the other hand, none of the features aside from picture taking polled higher than 25% in the survey (only 14% wanted an address book, a relatively mundane feature). Perhaps the takeaway from this survey might be that consumers want advanced functionality in their mobile devices... but not that badly.

Source: ZDNet

New Service Offers Cash to Citizen Journalists

In light of the London bombings -- where bystanders with cameraphones provided the first images of the disaster -- a new service is offering cash for newsworthy images captured through mobile media.

Scoopt allows members to submit digital images via MMS and mobile e-mail within seconds after capturing an event. Membership is free, and members are offered the same terms as professional photojournalists.

Broadcasters, however, have been critical of such services, saying they encourage amateurs to place themselves in dangerous situations. Just as likely will be an increase in stunts and staged situations, leading to a rash of bogus news stories. This, combined with ever increasing competition for breaking news stories, will force those in editorial functions -- whether they be bloggers or editors within the mainstream media -- to more closely examine the stories they come across.

Sources: Textually.org, Netimperative, Techdirt

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The New Breed of Cell Phone Companies

Yesterday we talked about how Americans are becoming increasingly comfortable with technology. One sign of this is the spread of a new type of cell phone company that will sell you a cell phone and a calling plan anytime, anywhere.

It's all about reselling. Mobile virtual network operators resell phones from the leading manufacturers and resell network airtime from the major carriers. Most sell airtime at prepaid flat rates that are usually less than the rates charged by the major carriers to customers who go over their allotted minutes. Such plans are especially appealing to customers who don't use their phones much, who have bad credit, or who simply don't want a monthly bill. Mobile virtual network operators are selling their phones in such diverse locations as convenience stores, gas stations and discount stores.

Currently, Virgin Mobile is one of the biggest players in this space, but other companies, like Disney and ESPN, have their eye on the market as well. Some of these operators try to appeal to niche markets and customers' sense of social identity. Working Assets Wireless donates money to peace, environmental, social justice and other (generally liberal) causes, whereas Sienna Communications supports "needy Catholic and pro-life charities" (even though they resell airtime from Sprint, one of the services they accuse of "supporting abortion, pornography or homosexuality"). Movida focuses on Hispanic customers who don't speak English. ESPN phones will offer scores that scroll across the bottom of screens.

Niche markets might just be the most interesting aspect of virtual operators. It's a sign, after all, that cell phones have become an everyday necessity. Says Gowri Shankar of Wireless Service Operation, "Phones are moving from utility to lifestyle."

Remarkably, the pool of cell phone customers is large enough to support virtual operators. Thirty-five percent of Americans do not own a cell phone, and competition for the 13 million Americans who get their service through virtual operators is fierce (after all, they aren't tied down by contracts, and many may want to replace their phones after a year or so anyway). Virtual operators are expected to see a 42% increase in new business between now and the end of 2006.

Sources: The New York Times, MacNewsWorld

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

US Consumers Will Continue to Embrace Digital Products

A new survey by Forrester Research indicates that American consumers are as enamored as ever with technology, and are likely to keep acquiring new digital devices over the coming years.

Among other things, Forrester predicts that by 2010:

  • 62% of American households will have broadband Internet access (double the number in 2004)
  • 53% of Americans will own a laptop
  • 37% of Americans will own digital video recorders (DVRs)
  • 55 million Americans will shop online (up from 39.5 million in 2004)

The survey, which covered 68,000 households, also found that sales of nearly all types of digital devices went up in 2004, with MP3 players and digital cameras leading the pack.

Perhaps most importantly, the survey revealed that technology is losing its geeky image. The average American has a comfort level with high-tech that wasn't there before... perhaps fostered by the maturing of the younger generations for whom computers and the Internet were second nature. Rather than expressing wariness about new devices, Americans feel good about digital products and are incorporating them into their lives. Says Forrester analyst Ted Schadler, "We are moving well beyond the point where early adopters drive the sale of new technology." He also advises advertisers and marketers to tailor their sales messages accordingly.


South Korean Researchers Clone a Dog

South Korean cloning researcher Woo Suk Hwang has announced the successful cloning of an Afghan Hound. "Snuppy" (the name comes from Seoul National University puppy) is the product of 1,095 eggs with the DNA of a three-year-old Afghan, transferred into 123 surrogate mothers. Of the three pregnancies that resulted, only Snuppy survived.

Happy family: Snuppy (center),
with Dad (left) and Mom (right)

This news will surely pique the interest of pet lovers looking to reproduce beloved canine companions. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine says not to look to his facility to do the work. “We are not in the business of cloning pets,” he says. “We perform nuclear transfer for medical research.” But where there are potential customers willing to pay big bucks for a service, look for someone to fill that need.

Source: New Scientist

The Next New Diet Craze

Several months ago we talked about declining interest in the Atkins low-carb diet (here and here). This week, the company that markets the Atkins diet plan declared bankruptcy... unofficially writing the epitaph to the low-carb trend.

So what's next? With so many Americans wanting to lose weight, the vacuum in diet fads isn't likely to last for long. Some have suggested revived interest in low-fat diets (especially those that cut out trans fats), high-protein regimens, or ones based on the glycemic index, used to monitor diabetes and heart disease.

Some have suggested that dieters lost interest in Atkins when they got tired of sacrificing carbs. That may be true, but any diet worth its salt (pun intended) imposes restrictions of some sort. Sorry, but we can't "eat all we want and lose weight without exercise" any more than we can flap our arms and hope to fly. Eating less and exercising more -- as unsexy as it is -- are the essential ingredients to any viable weight-loss program.

Auto Insurers as Back-Seat Drivers

One more sign that our traditional notions of privacy are going out the window: auto insurers are piloting programs that would offer customers discount rates if they allow the insurer to monitor their driving.

Progressive has been running a pilot program in Minnesota for about a year. Participants receive a small gadget that plugs in under the steering column, which records driving speeds as well as the dates and times driven. After a set period, participants unplug the device, attached it to their PCs via USB, and upload the content to Progressive.

In this pilot, participants are rewarded for driving under 75 MPH (Minnesota's top speed limit is 70) and not driving during statistically dangerous times, such as late Saturday nights. The average discount for "good behavior" is about 12%. Another, more ambitious pilot in the UK uses GPS tracking, and can determine where people drive and park (in dangerous neighborhoods, for instance).

Progressive's pilot has reportedly gone well, and the company plans to roll it out nationwide. But, as with all monitoring, this is sure to generate plenty of debate. Will monitoring help modify driver behavior to make the roads safer? Will people who have to drive at night and park in rough neighborhoods be unfairly penalized? Would parents actively seek this out for their teenagers (which begs the question, how would a system distinguish between different drivers of a single vehicle)? Could insurers pass information gathered along to police (who could, for instance, keep an eye out for a blue Toyota with license number 999999, which typically speeds along Route X at 12:30 AM)? Could we see the rise of a whole new class of insurers who would offer deep discounts in exchange for mandatory, 24x7 monitoring?

The ultimate question, of course, is whether the discounts will be worth it, or if it is just one more intrusion.

Sources: USA Today, Techdirt

Apple Teaches an Old Mouse New Tricks (or a New Mouse Old Tricks)

Apple's new Optical Pro Mouse (a.k.a. "Mighty Mouse") has perhaps generated the most buzz (and controversy) about mice since... well, since Apple introduced them with the the first Macs.

For starters, the Mighty Mouse is Apple's first two-button mouse. The "buttons," though, are squeeze buttons. A top button uses a touch sensor, like the touchpad on a laptop; in addition to the up-down motion of a scroll wheel, the Mighty Mouse's top button provides a complete range of movement. The mouse retails for $49, and is compatible with PCs as well as Macs.

Russell Beattie put the Mighty Mouse thorough its paces and waxes enthusiastic on it, as have others who have tried it. Critics, however, have expressed surprise and disappointment that it is not wireless, and feel that the design is unintuitive.

Source: Engadget

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Are Ringtones a Bursting Bubble?

A few months ago, the phenomenal success of certain cell phone ringtones took many by surprise. Now, it appears, much of that may have constituted a bubble that is now bursting.

Scams, the risk of viruses, and changing consumer tastes are taking a toll on the nascent industry, which currently represents between 6% and 10% of the entire music industry. Ringtones also largely appeal to young people, who are often not as wary of fraudulent or malicious activities as their elders. But even with kids, a growing trend is the swapping of "trutones," or original ringtones, as opposed to versions of popular songs.

Fraudulent activities surrounding ringtones have led for international calls to regulate the ringtone industry... adding further to distributors' woes.

Source: Forbes

Monday, August 01, 2005

Up, Up and Away: Air Travel to Increase Worldwide

Despite sharply higher oil prices and ongoing concerns about terrorism, air travel has increased worldwide over the past year, and is expected to continue its upward momentum over the next few years.

According to the International Civic Aviation Association, international air travel has fully rebounded from slumps brought on by 9/11, the SARS outbreak and the Iraq war, and is expected to keep growing by between 6 and 7% into 2007. The Middle East is expected to see the most rapid rate of growth.

Strong regional economies, combined with a lower cost of air travel overall, are contributing to the growth in air travel.

Source: CNN.com

Hollywood's 10-Year Plan

The movie industry knows it's in trouble. Well... maybe not in trouble so much as its business model is changing radically. DVDs, TiVo, home theatres, bland mass-audience movies, online chat rooms that can make or break a movie's buzz, and exasperation with high cineplex prices are all coming home to roost.

An article in Newsweek suggests that at least some people in Hollywood get it, and are at least thinking seriously about the industry's future. However, no one is really sure what to do about it. Many of the suggestions for Hollywood of 2015 focus on improving the theatre experience... but this seems to be going into the wrong direction.

Instead of trying to resuscitate a dying distribution method, moviemakers should be focusing on new channels. As digital device storage increases and video delivery via podcasting is perfected, whole new avenues of film distribution will open up. In 2015, we'll be more likely to download movies onto mobile devices and watch them on the go -- or on a home theatre system -- than go to a traditional theatre. And these movies, unlike today's mega blockbusters, might well appeal to niche audiences.

The article interviewed film directors and producers... but it's the people who make the business decisions who need to understand what's going on. As Napster showed us, if the suits don't take the initiative to change an obsolete business model, someone else will do it for them.

An Index of Failed States

The most dangerous nations in the world today are not superpowers, but "failed states," defined as countries where the rule of law does not hold. The Fund For Peace, in conjunction with Foreign Policy magazine, have put together a "Failed State Index" based on 12 social, economic, political and military indicators to identify those nations at greatest risk.

As one might guess, the bulk of the nations rated "borderline" (yellow) or "critical" (red) were clustered in Africa and the Middle East, with a smattering in Southeast Asia and South America. Most strikingly (and disconcertingly), Russia showed up on the "borderline" list.

The "critical" states suffered from outright civil war in most cases, or were under foreign occupation (Iraq). Those on the "borderline" list had stable governments, but also crime and corruption, crushing poverty, and/or territories where authorities had no reach.

We have already seen how dysfunctional states can nurture terror groups and otherwise pose a drain on the world's economies and diplomatic efforts. Predictions of future conflicts will almost certainly focus on these failed states, even if they take a passive role in the threat.

Source: Foreign Policy, Futurismic

Modeling an Attack on the Food Supply

Researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business have modeled the effects of a bioterror attack on the nation's food supply. Their results are disquieting at best: Only four grams of botulinum toxin dropped into a milk tanker could infect and possibly kill up to 400,000 people.

Botulinum toxin is the most deadly toxic substance known, with only a millionth of a gram needed to kill an adult human. The calculations were done using mathematical models of the distribution of the milk supply.

The good news from the study is that security, testing and early warning systems could be implemented that would raise the price of milk by only 1 cent per gallon. The National Academy of Sciences has suggested that the study be used as an example of further research into homeland security measures.

Source: FuturePundit