FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, December 30, 2005

US Government Drafts Rules for Space Tourism

Washington is nothing if not future-minded; they're working to regulate an industry that doesn't yet exist. The Federal Aviation Administration has published preliminary regulations for space tourism, covering medical requirements, crew qualifications, financial accountability, and the process for issuing permits. The regulations are scheduled to be finalized by this coming June.

One has to wonder who exactly drafted these rules. Anyone working on emerging space tourism systems?

Source: CNET

Will Insurers Lead the Way to Change in Environmental Policy?

Weather- and climate-related economic losses cost the world $200 billion in 2005 -- by far the biggest yearly loss on record. That big number falls squarely on the insurance industry, which foresees even bigger losses in the years ahead as global climate change leads to more volatile weather patterns.

The insurance industry is considering how public policy could be changed to control global warming and perhaps lessen the risk of catastrophic weather events. To that end, insurers are dusting off a decade-old study written by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with funding from the US Department of Energy, which states:

Energy consumption is the largest contributor to global climate change, so promoting energy efficiency is a particularly promising strategy. Many energy-efficient technologies also have the potential to reduce ordinary insured losses involving property, health, or liability. This report illustrates 60 specific ways in which targeted energy-efficiency improvements can translate into reduced risk of insured losses. The measures can reduce losses from: fire, ice, wind, and water damage; temperature extremes; occupational injuries; poor indoor air quality; equipment performance problems; and uninsured drivers. These loss-reductions translate into benefits for a variety of insurance providers, including property-casualty, professional liability, health, life, workers' compensation, business interruption, and automobile.

Some insurers are already requiring their corporate clients to disclose their conservation policies before writing new policies. Additionally, expect the insurance lobby in Washington to pitch pro-environmental positions to members of Congress... not just because saving the environment is a good thing to do, but because it's sound economics.

Source: WorldChanging

Thursday, December 29, 2005

France Considers Legalizing File Sharing

Whether you consider it caving in to piracy or facing modern reality, a move to legalize peer-to-peer file sharing in France could have global ramifications if it becomes law. During a nearly empty midnight session last week, the French National Assembly passed an amendment permitting file sharing, hoping to instead compensate copyright holders through a tax on personal computers.

Predictably, computer users praise the measure, while actors and artists generally oppose it. "This law throws us back to before the French Revolution," said Alain Dorval, an actor who dubbed Sylvester Stallone for the Rambo series of films. "France invented property rights for artists in 1791 and now this Parliament wants to vote them away." However, "artists currently get no money from peer-to-peer sharing, and with this fee at least they would get some," said Aziz Ridouan, a 17-year old high school student who has fought for Internet rights as president of the Association of Audiosurfers.

The measure affects netizens and copyright creators worldwide because French file sharing systems would presumably be available to downloaders everywhere, and non-French content creators wouldn't benefit from the PC tax. As a result, ISPs might be forced into blocking all traffic to and from French servers, regardless of whether they are engaged in file sharing.

This measure, however, is still early in the legislative process. The current government opposes it, and many observers believe that it will ultimately be defeated.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Top Trends for 2006

As the clock winds down on 2005, pundits everywhere are weighing in on their expected trends for 2006. Among them:

  • SiliconValley.com makes some relatively safe forecasts, including the rise of "kitchen sink" mobile phones, Internet telephony, on-demand video, vlogging and web-based business applications.

  • David Kirkpatrick of Fortune goes further out on a limb, predicting that the Google bubble will burst in 2006, to the benefit of Yahoo and Amazon. He also believes that the upcoming Microsoft Vista will be greeted with a big yawn, and that video via cell phones will become the next big thing in mobile tech... though they won't be really big in the US until 2007.

  • Peter Newcomb at Forbes makes several media predictions. In addition to expecting greater gains of digital media over print media, he takes the contrarian view that newspaper publishers aren't necessarily dead in the water. Forbes makes some tech forecasts as well, including a rise in startups and a breakout year for RFID chips.

  • Steve Rubel echoes concerns about a tight labor market for 2006, taking into account forecasts for solid economic growth and growing payrolls. He predicts that employers will compete especially hard for bloggers who establish themselves as subject matter experts.

  • Rubel also expects a shakeout of Web 2.0 contenders (in fact, he uses the term "Crash 2.0"). Though he expects the big, established players to survive and even thrive in the aftermath, things won't be so pretty for smaller startups.

Bowling Becomes a Hot High School Sport

These days, the top jocks at your local high school aren't necessarily on the football field, but in the bowling alley (or "center", to be more politically correct). According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, bowling is the fastest growing varsity sport.

Much of this growth is fueled by the bowling industry, looking to update its image and to replace declining bowling leagues. Students like the sport because of its egalitarianism; while players need skill, they don't have to be specially endowed physically to excel.

Source: CNN.com

The Internet Becomes More Diverse

A recent Pew Internet & American Life survey shows that women are leapfrogging onto the Internet, their numbers now equalling those of men online. In fact, due to their greater share of the US population, American women make up a greater share of the online US population than American men. In the 18-29 age bracket, 86% of women are online, compared with 80% of similarly aged men. Additionally, the numbers of black women online have surged over the past several years, outnumbering black men online by 10%.

Not surprisingly, men and women are attracted to the Internet for different reasons:

"Once you get past the commonalties, men tend to be attracted to online activities that are far more action-oriented, while women tend to value things involving relationships or human connections," said Deborah Fallows, a research fellow at Pew and author of the report.

A larger number of men surf the Internet for pleasure, with 70 percent acknowledging they go online to pass time, compared with 63 percent of women. Men are more likely than women to listen to music, view Webcams and pay for digital content...

[W]omen are heavier users of e-mail, often going beyond the matter-of-fact responses of male correspondents to use e-mail to share stories, solve issues and reach out to a wider network of friends and family...

In addition, the survey found men feel more in control of their computers. Far more men fix their own computers, for instance. Men also are more likely to be aware of the latest technology jargon--terms like spam, firewall, spyware, adware, phishing and RSS.

The survey also noted that men are more likely than women to have high-speed Internet connections, affecting their ability to access games, video and other high-bandwidth content.

Ultimately, the report found that the major dividing line in Internet use is generational rather than gender. Only 34% of men over 65 are online, but they outnumber their female counterparts by 13%.

Source: CNET

China Seeks to Register Mobile Phone Users

In the coming year, the Chinese government is seeking to register the identities of all of its 200 million prepaid mobile phone users. The move is obstensibly meant to crack down on harassing or otherwise unsolicited text messaging, but is stirring controversy from those who express concerns about privacy. Users who receive bills for their phone service are already registered with the government.

China has a total of 388 million cell phone users... a number that's expected to nearly double by the end of the decade.

Sources: Times of Oman, Smart Mobs

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Best Business Ideas of 2005

Business Week has selected what it believes are the most innovative and important business ideas of 2005. Regular readers of FutureWire and similar blogs will recognize many of them, including the Long Tail, the breakdown of geographical barriers, the creative economy, mass customization, designer pets, podcasting, the use of social networking among young people (what BW calls "Generation @") and many others. Some ideas have become well established over the past year, while others are still in their early stages.

Wireless Implant Alerts Doctors to Aneurysms

It was around this time of year, nearly 20 years ago, that a relative of mine died suddenly -- and very prematurely -- from a brain aneurysm. The tragedy of aneurysms (artery ruptures) is that they strike suddenly, and do their damage before medical professionals can intervene. Now, however, doctors have a new tool for monitoring the body for possible aneurysms before they strike.

The Endosure sensor by CardioMEMS is a wireless implant device that monitors a stent placed in the body to shore up a weakened artery. The sensors measures pressure, and allow clinicians to determine if a stent is dangerously weak.

Of course, the device only measures arteries that have the stent implanted. But for the patients with stents, the sensor is a welcome and cost-effective alternative to regular CT scans that check the condition of the stent. The sensors actually appear to be an improvement, as they can detect very slight differences that a CT scan might miss.

The Endosure device recently received FDA approval after testing in the US, Canada and Brazil.

Source: CIO Insight

Fan Power

If you're a music executive of the old school, you're certainly anxious to say "good riddance" to 2005... yet you're also dreading 2006. Sales of CDs and digital albums fell 8% this year, echoing a long-term trend. Digital downloads -- while very strong and growing in popularity -- have not been enough to offset those losses.

However, if you're with an independent label or indie band, you're likely rejoicing in a very good year. The Internet and the iPod have combined to help expose music listeners to bands that they would never have heard of otherwise. A recent New York Times article notes:

In a world of broadband connections, 60-gigabyte MP3 players and custom playlists, consumers have perhaps more power than ever to indulge their curiosities beyond the music that is presented through the industry's established outlets, primarily radio stations and MTV.

"Fans are dictating," said John Janick, co-founder of Fueled by Ramen, the independent label in Tampa, Fla., whose roster includes underground acts like Panic! At the Disco and Cute Is What We Aim For. "It's not as easy to shove something down people's throats anymore and make them buy it. It's not even that they are smarter; they just have everything at their fingertips. They can go find something that's cool and different. They go tell people about it and it just starts spreading."

The article also states that the 100 most popular artists on the Rhapsody online music subscription service account for only 24% of the music listeners select, versus nearly half in more traditional music media. This clearly suggests that online music customers are more freely exploring new acts.

Of course, none of this is news to those who have been following the music industry over the past few years. Napster was simply a shot across the bow; the Internet's impact on music runs much deeper, from blogs where fans can write about their favorite groups, to chat rooms where buzz about a band can spread within minutes. Indie labels and bands take advantage of technology to release free MP3 files, and with lower overhead, can afford to take on untested artists and nurture them while the find their audience. Or, as is increasingly the case, while the audience finds them.

Fans are becoming an integral part of the music scene not only by spreading the word about new, exciting acts, but by using their digital devices to create their own sounds. The Numark iDJ Mixing Console allows anyone with two iPods to create their own mixes, and "open source radio station" KYOU in San Francisco plays podcasts submitted by listeners.

UPDATE: According to the web traffic metrics firm Hitwise, traffic to music download sites increased by 50% between this past December 24 and December 25, with the most amount of traffic going to iTunes. Hmmm, what could possibly have led to that?? Overall, traffic to online music sites was up 15% over Christmas 2004.

Source: BuzzMachine, Ubercool

What Will You Do With Your Leap Second?

We'll gain an extra second this December 31, courtesy of the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERRSS), who looks out for these things for us. The "leap second" -- the first in seven years -- accounts for the variability of the earth's rotation. So as you're counting down to the new year this Saturday night, precision timepieces such as atomic clocks will read 23:59:59, 23:59:60, 00:00:00. You'll just have to wait an extra second before breaking out the champagne...

UPDATE: A post in Pajamas Media (which cites this post) notes the very real work and disruption involved in adjusting for the leap second. The post quotes an article from Sci-Tech Today that summarizes the controversy: "Some experts think the leap second should be abolished because the periodic adjustment of time imposes unreasonable and perhaps dangerous disruptions on precision software. Others, however, argue that it would be expensive to adjust satellites, telescopes and other astronomical systems that are hard-wired for the leap second. Researchers hope to find out soon whether the leap second really is disruptive."

Source: ITrain.org

Thursday, December 22, 2005

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

I was going to write a special Christmas message, but time has gotten away from me as of late. So I'll just point you to the message I wrote last year, which remains appropriate.

I do, however, want to take this time to thank you for being a reader, and for helping to make FutureWire a success in its 18 months of existence. Have a safe and happy holiday -- I'm looking forward to sharing futurist news with you throughout 2006.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Strung Out on Tech?

Are high-tech gadgets something we want? Or something we need?

A recent AP-Ipsos poll found that four in 10 spend more than $100 a month on technology, including media subscriptions and high-speed Internet connections. Half of PC owners, half of cell phone owners and four in 10 high-speed Internet customers say they couldn't imagine life without their technology.

We've discussed before how our preoccupation with technology borders on addictive behavior -- a phenomenon exacerbated by the holiday season, in which tech devices are in great demand.

One demographic that is clearly not enthralled with certain elements of technology is moms, who are struggling to keep up with their kids' game demands this year. Although many moms are game-savvy, many others find that shopping for games with their kids puts their persuasion and negotiation skills to the test.

Source: AP (Excite)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Intermittent Postings

Due to the upcoming holidays and other competing priorities, you may see fewer posts on FutureWire than normal over the next couple of weeks. Please bear with us, however, as posting will resume as normal in January.

Putting TVs on an Electricity Diet

Perhaps because they feature few mechanical parts, televisions aren't thought of as energy hogs. But watching TV can add between $13 and $145 to your annual electricity bill. TVs account for as much as 4% of the US's total electricity consumption, or 46 billion kilowatt hours per year -- an amount that could reach 70 billion kilowatt hours by 2010.

Large plasma models are among the biggest energy sinks, requiring nearly 0.4 watts per square inch. Adding to the total power consumption are peripherals such as DVD players, and the fact that many TVs operate in a standby mode when not in use... consuming power even when off.

The good news is that TV manufacturers are developing lower-power models that use as little as half the electricity of today's sets. A new generation of LCD and projector sets uses LEDs to lower the electricity load; organic LEDs (OLEDs) may lead to even greater energy savings.

Source: CNET

E-Cards that Announce "You've Got an STD!"

If you think those "you're my best friend" e-cards from people you barely know are annoying enough, imagine getting one telling you that you might have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease...

Health officials in Los Angeles and San Francisco have launched websites that allow users to send e-cards to sex partners, warning that the sender has been diagnosed with an STD and that the recipient should get checked ASAP. Developed for the gay communities of those cities (though they can be used by anybody), the e-cards feature cheeky taglines such as "It's not what you brought to the party, it's what you left with," and "You're too hot to be out of action."

The sites are a consequence of more people, both gay and straight, using the Internet to hook up for casual sex, as well as a growing reliance on e-mail as a primary communications medium. Health officials in Los Angeles and San Francisco are seeing a rise in the rates of HIV, syphilis and gonorrhea infections, mostly among gay men, though whether this correlates to an increased tendency to meet sex partners online is not known. What health officials do believe is that e-mail is an excellent tool for communicating a critically important yet awkward message such as this.

Once concern about these e-cards is the potential for misuse by pranksters. However, the developers of the websites say that they can closely monitor the sites for signs of abuse, and they have noted that only 0.5% of e-cards sent out have been fraudulent.

Source: Reuters (via Excite)

An IT "Talent War" Might Finally Be Here

Despite outsourcing of IT work, many in the human resource industry have been predicting a labor shortage in information technology for some time. Certainly anyone who reads resources such as the Herman Group are aware of this, as we've discussed both the US and global labor market many times before (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Now, Joe Santana of CIO Update warns IT managers that "you simply cannot afford to just 'hope that the talent you currently have will stick around.'" Turnover rates will undoubtedly rise, he says, without an aggressive recruiting and retention strategy, and teams will fall behind in their projects unless they hire quickly and act to keep employees.

The solution, however, isn't always as simple as higher salaries and more bonuses. Many IT workers are simply burnt out, and may be more interested in moves that address a greater work-life balance and help moderate their workloads.

Tsunami Survivors Face Long-Term Social Costs

A year after the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, the affected areas have benefitted greatly from the $8.4 billion in cash and material donations that has been sent or pledged so far. In fact, Asia grew at a rate of 6.3% in 2005. But infrastructure reconstruction has barely begun -- an effort that is estimated to cost about $9 billion and take up to a decade to complete.

Those outside the "formal" economy, such as fishermen, farmers, and other independent businesspeople, were among the hardest hit, and may be the hardest to help. Damage to the environment and to the tourism industries of affected areas will also take time, and could have long-term economic and social costs, especially if economic distress translates into political upheaval and an increase in crime.

Source: CNN.com

Thursday, December 15, 2005

High-Tech Stocking Stuffers

Now that the holiday shopping season is coming down to the wire, why settle for tube socks or Old Spice when you can give the gift of technology -- at budget prices?

Low-priced domain registrars GoDaddy and DirectNIC offer domain name registration, basic websites and web-based e-mail accounts for as little as $10 a year. Best of all, you don't have to fight the crowds at the malls. If you want to spend a little more, check out this tech gift guide, which suggests games and MP3 player accessories as choice stocking stuffers, as well as many pricier items.

Procrastinators, however, risk losing out this season unless they start shopping now. Some of the hot items -- gadgets and high-tech toys especially -- are starting to sell out and are becoming increasingly hard to find.

Source: CNET

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Santa's PC!

Finally... the perfect personal computer for the Big Guy to manage his naughty and nice lists. A Swedish website contains step-by-step instructions for building a model PC out of gingerbread, complete with gumdrops and icing!

Source: Boing Boing

McDonald's Halts Pilot of Digital Info Kiosks

A closely-watched pilot of kiosks that would allow McDonald's patrons to print photos, download ringtones and burn music CDs was recently halted in the US.

The fast-food restaurant chain declined to say why the tests were stopped, other than to note that they have been received positively so far by customers, and that tests will continue in McDonald's in Germany.

This pilot does not appear to be related to McDonald's tests of self-service ordering kiosks reported in the fall.

Source: Kiosk Marketplace

Are iPods Losing their Cool?

Are trend-setting college students burning out on iPods?

A survey of young people conducted by the Emmis radio division suggests a growing frustration with the current state of MP3 content:

"We spend a lot of time on the college campuses," [Emmis radio division president Rick] Cummings said, "because they’re the leading edge" in trends and habits for younger listeners. He said his latest research has detected "iPod fatigue" which essentially means that younger listeners will have "100 songs on their iPods and they’re sick of dealing with it." The opportunity for radio, said Cummings, is "to continue to lean on content and to bridge that [technology] with the radio audience."

Cummings believes that professionally produced podcasts are the answer to "iPod fatigue," and will eclipse the current collection of podcast offerings (noting that even the most popular podcasts currently have only a few thousand listeners). Of course, this may all be wishful thinking on the part of broadcast radio, which is surely watching the imminent move of Howard Stern to satellite radio with a wary eye, as well as grassroots media produced by hobbyist podcasters and vloggers (many of whom will become more polished as they gain experience).

Such an approach is typical of established media when encountering a new technology; they are torn between looking for ways to dismiss or destroy it, and figuring out how to make money off it. In the end, they embrace it, and might even make a profit. But it will be on the technology's terms.

At any rate, what those "leading edge" college kids return to campus with after the holidays will tell us a lot about where this medium is headed.

Sources: Billboard Radio Monitor, Ubercool

Technology Keeps Seniors Independent, Safe

We've explored before how senior citizens represent a burgeoning online market, especially as the first of 2.8 million tech-savvy Baby Boomers turn 60. We've also looked at how products can be better designed for seniors. Yet seniors are now benefitting from an array of other technologies designed just for them.

Seniors can benefit from LCD screens that provide information on prescription drugs, wrist watches and pendants that monitor the wearer's well-being and alert family members if something is amiss, walkers with built-in navigation devices that operate in pervasive computing environments, and games that allow physical therapists and physicians to monitor players' motor skills. A pervasive system called QuiteCare uses a series of motion detectors to monitor seniors' whereabouts and "learn" their behavior patterns so any abrupt changes can be noted immediately.

This week, technologists showcased their cutting-edge wares in Washington in conjunction with the White House Conference on Aging. Elsewhere, a supermarket chain in the UK is testing a system that allows seniors to order groceries online by scanning barcodes in a catalog.

In all these technologies, the goal is to enhance seniors' level of independence while being as unobtrusive and user-friendly as possible. Many of these technologies also transmit critical information back to caregivers and family members in real time, allowing them to intervene quickly if a problem appears.

Source: Washington Post, Medgadget

Monday, December 12, 2005

Rapid Protyping with 3D Printers

Future products may be developed not on the drafting board or even a CAD computer screen, but on three-dimensional "printers." A company called 3D Systems has developed a system for producing prototypes that are elegant, completely functional, and that could not have been developed any other way.

Recently, the company teamed up with students from the Design Products Department of the Royal College of Art in London to put 3D prototyping through its paces. The group created games, toys and even a fully functional gun. A collection of photos of the prototypes is available on Flickr.

Source: we make money not art

Tempe, Ariz. Goes Totally Wi-Fi

Tempe, Arizona has crossed a milestone in making wireless Internet access as ubiquitous as water and electric utilities. Using a mesh network on light poles over 40 square miles, the Phoenix suburb will offer access for $29.95 per month (students at nearby Arizona State University will get two hours of free access per day) throughout the entire city. Speed will vary by the number of users currently logged in, and indoor users may have limited connectivity without a signal booster. So while the service is imperfect (and still cost-prohibitive for many users), it puts Tempe at the forefront of municipalities offering wireless Internet.

Source: AP (via Excite)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Yahoo Buys Del.icio.us... But What Does It Mean?

The hot story du jour is Yahoo's acquisition of social bookmarking trailblazer del.icio.us. Web 2.0 observers have their takes on the meaning behind the purchase, whether it be that Yahoo's home-grown tagging technology needed beefing up, that Yahoo recognizes that tagging might be the "next big thing" in Internet search, that Yahoo simply wanted a complement to its recent acquisition Flickr, or that del.icio.us was looking for an exit strategy.

The amount that Yahoo paid for del.icio.us (still an unknown at this point) may indicate whether the acquisition signifies a mainstreaming of the social bookmarking/folksonomy movement, or a bubble burst and a big fish merely gobbling up a weak competitor. Watch for some interesting speculation over the next week.

Source: Om Malik


Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon. Aside from the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., no other single death in memory has stirred such passions and feelings of loss. That's because, when we think about John Lennon, we mourn not only what was, but the enormity of what might have been.

Lennon, still young at 40, was enjoying a comeback in the fall of 1980, with his and Yoko Ono's new album Double Fantasy on the charts, and the single "Just Like Starting Over" receiving heavy airplay. This revival made Lennon's death all the more painful. What could he have achieved had he lived? It's impossible to think that John and Yoko wouldn't have left a mark on the music scene of the 1980s and 1990s, not to mention culture and politics. What would Lennon have had to say about all the events that have taken place since December 8, 1980? How would he have leveraged new technology such as video and the Internet? How would he have influenced and inspired a new generation of fans?

That last question segues into what might be the sole silver lining in Lennon's death. I was 16 years old on the day he was shot. It was a genuine "where were you?" moment that affected people the way only a handful of profound events leave their mark over our lifetimes. At my high school the following day, the murder was on everybody's minds, with my classmates falling into two camps: those who were devastated and shocked, and those who were asking "Who's John Lennon?" Most of us, of course, were barely old enough to remember the Beatles breaking up in the early '70s, if that. However, the media interest in Lennon in the months to follow helped those of us who missed Beatlemania learn about -- and appreciate -- what we had missed. John Lennon would soon become a stranger to no one, not even those who were born after his death.

For me, December 8, 1980 marked the beginning of a quest for knowledge about this man that continues to this day. I started buying Beatles and Lennon albums with my meager allowance, and read every Beatle- and Lennon-related book and magazine article I could find. I studied the Beatles and Lennon with the earnestness of an historian. I found John Lennon endlessly fascinating, learning something new about the man in every piece I read. When A Hard Day's Night was re-released in 1982, the theater was packed with kids my age and younger. When I began surfing the Web for the first time in the mid-90's, some of the first sites I visited were unofficial Beatles fan sites.

Part of this fascination has stemmed from the lack of an equivalent visionary for my own generation. We (late baby Boomers/early Gen X'ers) were too young to remember JFK, RFK, MLK as well as Lennon as a Beatle and in his early solo period, but were old enough to remember Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and other fiascoes. Sure, there have been inspiring leaders since then, as well as uplifting moments such as the fall of the Berlin Wall. And perhaps it's because those men were killed at a young age that we remember them so heroically (though no one will argue that Lennon was flawless). As an artist who transcended his medium, Lennon had few peers among the pop musicians of his era (Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, and perhaps Jim Morrison if he had lived longer and cleaned up his act), and certainly no one in entertainment today can hold a candle next to Lennon's legacy (though Bono of U2 comes closest). But why is that?

In all my studies, I detected a single, overarching theme about Lennon's life -- a theme that would ultimately influence my own perspective, and the perspectives of many others. And it's why I'm writing about him here. With few exceptions, John Lennon was always focused on the future, with big, profound visions. He dared to dream that his little nothing band from Liverpool would one day become the greatest force in rock history. He believed that rock and roll could be Art for the Ages, and in so doing produced enduring work that permanently changed the way we think about pop music, and that music lovers 100 years hence will enjoy. He followed his conscience to work for peace, arguing not just for an end to the Vietnam War, but all wars, and trying to show us a better way to get along. He showed how anybody could be an artist, how anybody can create, how anybody could speak their mind and protest injustice, how anybody could communicate and lead with just a little foresight.

You may say I'm a dreamer... but I'm not the only one.

That's why millions still feel pain and loss 25 years after one tragic December evening. John Lennon was a rarity, and we need his approach to the world today more than ever. We need minds like John Lennon to do the hardest yet most rewarding thing a human can possibly do -- to imagine.

Holiday Parties Go From Wild to Mild

The raucous company holiday (nee Christmas) party -- in which employees drink a little too much and do things they regret the next morning -- is fast becoming a thing of the past. Worries over sexual harassment, liability and corporate cost-cutting are making office parties more subdued affairs. Today's parties are more likely to feature healthy foods, and alcohol is limited or gone altogether. Parties are also more likely to be lunches than all-night affairs.

Employees may not be mourning the loss of office parties, as a Canadian survey found that over 80% of employees found their company get-togethers a hassle rather than a pleasure. However, it's always been my experience that the number and quality of company parties, picnics and other extracurricular social events are a barometer of an organization's overall health. When holiday parties and summer picnics are cancelled, it's usually a sign of either belt-tightening or a dysfunctional workplace... and followed by layoffs or a wholesale folding of the business. So if your workplace has cancelled or drastically scaled back a long-standing holiday party this year, it may not just be the boss being a Scrooge or a prude. It may be a subliminal sign to polish your resume come January.

Source: Reuters (via Excite)

"Godcasting" a Growing Trend

We noted the advent of religious podcasting last spring... and it appears that so-called "godcasting" is catching on, if it hasn't yet hit the mainstream.

According to one estimate, as many as 20% of all podcasts have a spiritual context. Listeners say they enjoy podcasts of their pastor's sermons when they travel, and on Sundays when they miss church. Instead of seeing it as a replacement for "live" worship, listeners see podcasts as an extension.

For churches, podcasting is a relatively inexpensive way to distribute sermons, music and other material to a wide audience -- especially if that audience consists of tech-savvy young people with hectic schedules. With podcasting, churches can promote themselves and increase their reach far beyond their physical radius.

No less a force than the Vatican itself is jumping on the godcasting trend. Vatican Radio has been streaming media for some time, and both popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have strongly endorsed the use of technology in support of the Catholic Church (indeed, Vatican Radio has been a major part of the Church's ministry since 1931). "The church should not pass up the opportunity to make liturgies and prayers available via podcast, as well as downloadable sermons by 'podpreachers,'" said the magazine La Civilta Cattolica recently.

RELATED: Japanese Buddhists can now "tele-pray" using a webcam and a remote control to manipulate a sacred artifact called a kin.

Source: ipod.pureosx.com

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wanted: Very Big, Very Small Christmas Trees

Time was when Christmas trees were a uniform, predictable size -- usually somewhere around 6 feet tall. No longer.

The trend in live Christmas trees seems to be skewing toward the extremes this year, with homeowners who have large, cathedral-ceiling rooms buying trees that are up to 13 feet tall. However, some buyers with eyes that are bigger than their houses have to lop off the tops of their trees to make them fit.

At the other end of the spectrum are apartment and condo dwellers who seek small trees that economize on space.

Source: MSNBC

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Media Trends for 2006

The Media Center at the American Press Institute has taken note of some emerging technology trends for the coming year. Some of these are similar to trends forecast for last year (such as this, this and this), though a bit more fine-tuned:

  • Subscription models for electronic media ("all you can eat" for a monthly fee, yet you don't on any of it) will continue to catch on, and spread from music to movies.

  • A new generation of home media systems will challenge TiVo and Microsoft Media Center, which hasn't yet gotten off the ground.

  • This could be the year for personal media, with the appearance of the Video iPod, and with "all in one" players that allow people to watch TV, listen to music, and read e-books.

  • The music and movie industries will continue to struggle with digital rights management, especially against consumer resistance.

  • The Web will be the go-to place for advertising, especially for tech manufacturers looking to market their latest products.

Smart Clothes for First Responders

The Telecommunications division of the European Space Agency is developing smart clothing that can monitor the location and health of firefighters and other emergency response workers. The I-GARMENT, made of protective fabric, will be able to measure geographic positions and vital signs of the wearer, transmitting the data to field officers carrying wireless PDAs or laptops, or to a remote headquarters.

The I-GARMENT will be covered with sensors, with its main processors and transmitter located between the wearer's shoulder blades. The transmitter will be able to communicate via satellite, allowing the wearer to be monitored virtually anywhere.

The ESA created a prototype in September, and will deploy the finished I-GARMENTs to the Portuguese Civil Protection for their first responders.

Source: unmediated

Science Changing the "Facts of Life"

When children of future generations ask their parents where babies come from, the version of "the talk" they hear may be very different from the one we experienced.

Though sexual reproduction lies at the core of life science, technology is progressing in a way that could change the way we think about reproductive issues:

  • In 2004, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania grew mouse "spermatagonial stem cells," or stem cells that can become sperm cells. Other scientists are working to create human sperm and egg cells from stem cells... effectively removing sex from the reproductive process.

  • A St. Louis surgeon has successfully performed an ovarian transplant on a woman from ovarian tissue donated by the woman's twin sister. The woman, whose cancer treatment as a teen left her sterile, then became pregnant and delivered a healthy baby. The ability to remove and replace ovaries offers women a number of reproductive benefits. Women undergoing cancer treatment could have their ovaries removed for the duration of their therapy, then have them restored. It could also serve as a form of "extreme birth control," in which a woman could have her ovaries removed, preserved, and then restored when she is ready to start a family.

  • Scientists have been able to perform in vitro fertilization on mice using microscopic channels on a silicon surface -- literally a "baby on a chip."

While these advances offer new options for treating infertility, they also raise important ethical questions. "Designer" sperm and eggs, for instance, can be altered genetically, with those changes retained by future generations. On the upside, scientists could make such changes to prevent genetic birth defects and diseases. But it also raises the possibility of eugenics, allowing manipulation of both appearance and emotions.

Sources: Wired, KurzweilAI.net

Monday, December 05, 2005

Will 2006 Be The Year of Third Parties?

Facing what seems to be an unending string of corruption charges and scandals, public confidence in US politicians is bottoming out. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 26% of Democrats and 24% of Republicans have "the same priorities for the country" as those surveyed. Plus, the Iraq war has become problematic, especially for those in Congress who supported it early on.

Republicans are worried about losing their majority in the House in next year's election... but there's no guarantee voters will fall in line behind Democrats. Third parties such as the Libertarians, the Greens, the conservative American Independent Party and the Populists all threaten to siphon votes from both the GOP and the Democrats.

Historically, the odds of third-party candidates are very poor. Of all the third-pary/independent candidates who have run for President since 1904, only three (Theodore Roosevelt [Progressive, 1912], Robert LaFollette [Progressive, 1924] and Ross Perot [Independent, 1992]) scored more than 15% of the popular vote. Between difficulties in getting on the ballot and a "winner take all" voting system in many areas, plus mainstream media's focus on the established parties, the two-party system seems locked in. Third parties, however, are counting on a combination of public disgust with "politics as usual," blogs and other new media, and perhaps even an established, high-profile politician (or celebrity) to defect from one of the major parties to shake things up. Controversies such as the Iraq war, immigration and gay/lesbian rights could also help to further radicalize voters on both the left and right, who might seek out third parties more in line with their views.

It's too early to tell whether 2006 will be anything more than another year in which alternative parties generate more buzz than votes. Even if politicians continue to get caught with their hands in the cookie jar, voters might seek alternative party candidates but not abandon their parties.

It's even harder to tell if we're witnessing the beginning of a major sea change in the way we practice politics in the US. Even a disruptive event such as a sustained spike in energy prices or a scandal on the magnitude of Watergate might not cause that. The change might come first to local elections, and then to Congressional districts where candidates of both established parties have been embroiled in scandal.

Source: MSNBC

How to Hook Up a Home Theater System

Santa might be bringing you a home theater system this holiday season. But no matter how good you've been, he won't set it up for free! For do-it-yourself-ers planning to tackle this challenge, the ExtremeTech blog has general instructions and tips on how to get a home theater system up and running, including how to integrate sound systems, game consoles, PCs, and legacy gear like VCRs. Also includes photos and a slideshow.

Down on the Energy Farm

Could a future of higher energy costs and strained supplies lead to a rebirth of the family farm? It's possible... if that farm is devoted to producing renewable energy.

A type of elephant grass, Miscanthus, can yield as much as 27 tons per acre per year (though 4-5 tons is more typical). When processed properly into fuel, a high yield can produce up to 213 million BTUs per half-acre. Considering that the typical home uses about 65 million BTUs per year, the productive and frugal grower (especially one who uses solar and other technology to reduce fuel consumption) can be energy self-sufficient, and can generate surpluses to sell on the open market.

The problem, of course, is a lack of land. An "energy farm" is going to require acreage, and especially on the East Coast, more land is being gobbled up by developers every day. Could we ever see a future in which suburban homes are demolished to create farm land -- reversing a century-long trend? If the value of energy yielding crops becomes high enough, the construction crews of suburbia could one day be replaced by demolition crews and plows.

RELATED: A colder-than-usual winter, combined with spot shortages of natural gas, could combine to give us an unwelcome preview of coming attractions. The Christian Science Monitor reports that natural gas service interruptions and rolling electric blackouts could be the result, especially in the Northeast. Such as situation would surely accelerate demand for alternative energy sources of all types, including nuclear power.

Source: WorldChanging

Interactive Mobile TV

Receiving TV programming on one's mobile device is a new enough concept... but interactive mobile television might be close on its heels.

Norweigian broadcaster NRK is collaborating with Ericsson to test interactive mobile TV, allowing users to watch and vote on their favorite music video via cell phone during a music TV show, and to chat with other viewers.

NRK and Ericsson say that hundreds of users have downloaded the special software necessary to view the show. "Our solution makes it possible for viewers to interact with a show that they are watching on their mobile device in a whole new way, creating a much richer TV experience with the help of the mobile channel," said Kurt Sillen, vice president of Ericsson Mobility World.

NRK has been a pioneer in cell phone broadcasting, debuting the use of a cell phone to broadcast a ski race live this past spring. The outcome of this current experiment will be of great interest to anyone with their eye on mobile TV... since the actual demand for such service is presently unclear.

Sources: San Diego Union-Tribune, Techdirt

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Growth of Hispanic Influence in New Orleans

Aside from its destructiveness, Hurricane Katrina had a host of effects on both the Gulf Coast and the nation at large. Perhaps the most profound long term change is the upheaval and mass movement of entire demographic groups, especially to and from New Orleans.

Before Katrina, New Orleans was 67% African-American and 3% Hispanic. But as many black have vacated -- and, as one survey found, nearly half don't plan to come back -- an influx of Hispanic laborers may change the character of the Big Easy.

If they stick around, that is. Although Hispanic workers are desperately needed for cleanup and reconstruction tasks, these are dirty jobs that pay poorly. In some cases, laborers are being stiffed on wages. Plus, New Orleans residents -- including mayor Ray Nagin -- are not exactly rolling out the welcome mat for immigrant workers.

At any rate, New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast will serve as a fascinating sociological laboratory over the next few years. Just as immigrant labor formed the characters of New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles, population influxes redefine a location decades, if not centuries, after their first arrival.

Source: Newsweek