FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"Boomerang Migration" for Global Technologists

In a telling sign that India has become one of the world's leading engines of technical innovation, Indian technologists who have been working abroad are now moving back home. In fact, technology professionals throughout the world are doing likewise, reversing a 50-year trend of migrating to the US and Europe, as their native countries move to deregulate and encourage business growth.

Indian expatriates (known as NRIs, or non-resident Indians) are finding that they are welcomed back with open arms, valued for their international experience, and can command top salaries. NRIs tend to live in gated communities that are more reflective of American suburbs than anything native to India. Those who have lived in the US experience a bit of culture shock, adjusting to the more traditional Indian lifestyle while importing American practices such as celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving.

This "boomerang migration" illustrates how globalism has loosened the US's position as a unique innovation incubator and the land of opportunity. A quote from Dutt Kalluri, an IT manager who recently returned to India from Rockville, Maryland, is particularly revealing: "If you want to be in the latest trends, you have to be in India... Technology development happens in India. Technology consumption happens in the US."

Source: Washington Post

Web Attacks on the Rise

As the Web becomes an ever more important part of business, it's also becoming an increasingly rough neighborhood. For instance, distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks -- the practice of flooding websites with so much incoming traffic that they can't operate properly -- increased by nearly 700% between 2004 and 2005, according to security firm Symantec. Attacked e-commerce sites can be knocked offline for days, losing millions in sales. These attacks are done not by teenage pranksters, but by e-commerce competitors (some from countries where cybercrime laws are lax), or customers who feel wronged. Symantec also notes the practice of using "bots" -- hacked "zombie" PCs that can be remote-controlled and directed to flood a site with traffic. Some hackers rent out the bots they control, acting as digital hit-men.

Meanwhile, "click fraud" in web advertising is on the rise, with scam artists learning how to manipulate ads from Google and others. One estimate claims that click fraud activity accounts for 20% of all Internet traffic, and costs advertisers up to $1 billion every year. Click fraud has become such a problem that it caused Standard & Poor to downgrade Google's stock to a "sell" rating in January. As with DDOS attacks, click fraud is conducted by sophisticated criminals who often use bots and zombies.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell Blogs

Malcolm Gladwell, renowned author of books such as Blink and The Tipping Point has started a blog at http://gladwell.typepad.com/. So far there's not much to it, but that will surely change considering the buzz this early effort has already generated.

India Considers a Reusable Spacecraft

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is considering plans for a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) capable of placing a 10-ton payload into low earth orbit.

The craft would be launched in two stages, with one part gliding back to a runway like the US Space Shuttle, and another landing via airbags.

ISRO officials, however, caution that the RLV is in its conceptual stage, and that deployment is a long way off. But when the RLV does (literally) get off the ground, the ISRO undoubtedly hopes it will solidify India's position in the satellite-launch industry. They will also surely incorporate lessons learned from the US space program as to the realistic expectations of a reusable spacecraft.

Source: Zeenews.com

You Are Feeling Veeerrrry Sleeeeeeepy...

Feeling tired? If so, you're in good company.

Seventy million Americans aren't getting a good night's sleep, according to the National Institutes of Health. The resulting sleeplessness is affecting work performance ($50 billion annually in lost productivity) and causing safety hazards (100,000 car crashes each year, plus many other undocumented accidents). Sleeping pills and caffiene-laden beverages, experts say, only mask the problem.

Causes of sleeplessness range from stress to overloaded schedules to disorders such as sleep apnea. Scientists are investigating genetic causes of sleep troubles, and are improving their ability to diagnose specific problems.

So if you have trouble falling asleep at night, see your doctor. And sweet dreams.

Source: WCAU-TV

Little Robots, Big Jobs

An EU-funded research team called MICRON is exploring the potential of floating "micro robots" just a few cubic centimeters in size. Each unit can be controlled wirelessly, powered through a coil system that transmitted electricity through the air, and can interact with other micro robots... in effect, acting as a flock or swarm (choose your metaphor).

Successful tests involve having the robots perform biological tasks at the cellular level, injecting liquid into cells, as well as soldering metal. With those tasks under its belt, the researchers are perfecting the robots' internetworking abilities, hoping to leverage "swarm" intelligence.

Source: Roland Piquepaille's Tech Trends

Pimp Chic

If someone called you a pimp or a whore, how would you react? If you're over the age of 30, you would almost certainly be offended. But to younger people, the terms have become fashionable -- a fashion that has many concerned.

Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, has come out strongly against such sexualized images in pop culture and marketing, where they are held up as role models:

A lot of people seem to think that it's cool to be a pimp or whore. It's not cool. The reality is dark, evil and appalling and unregulated. The reality is sex trafficking, which is about young women being forced into rooms to have sex however many times a day so that the pimp can take all the money.

There are thousands of ads, mostly focused on women and young girls, that say you are not attractive, you are not sexy, you are not intelligent, unless you look like this. In kids' magazines there is a passivity and a stupidity that is seen as a great way forward. Something has gone very wrong.

The Ypulse blog, which tracks youth trends, calls this phenomenon "pornification." Sexuality has been an element in marketing from the era of the Gibson Girl of the early 1900's. But critics of today's imagery suggest that there's a difference between sexuality (which can be coy, discreet and fun) and raw, in-your-face sex (which can be scary and brutal), with the latter all too short a distance from actual pornography. And not the Playboy variety, either.

The Gaslight Era's Answer to the
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue!

As the contrast between the images of the past 100 years shows, the history of sex in advertising (and the media in general) is that of greater tolerance and permissiveness, taking twists and turns in response to the zeitgeist of the moment. In fact, some have suggested that the current infatuation with pimp culture is a direct backlash against feminism.

Are the current fashions simply a continuation of this trend, and the controversy something we'll look back on with bemusement in a few years? Is Anita Roddick's criticism of pornification a voice in the wilderness, or the start of a genuine rebellion? Attitudes, after all, are flexible, as reactions against behaviors such as smoking and drug abuse prove (remember the "heroin chic" of the '90s?). Regardless of whether pimp chic is a passing fad or the shape of things to come, it is having an undeniable effect on the young people who are embracing it.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Underwater Airplane

From Lockheed Martin's famed Skunk Works comes a proposal for an unmanned plane that would be launched from submarines.

The Cormorant jet aircraft would be launched from a retrofitted missile tube of a Trident nuclear submarine to perform surveillance or surgical strikes, taking off from and landing in the sea.

The Cormorant is still in the proposal stage. DARPA will make its decision to fund the project by this fall.

Source: we make money not art

Friday, February 24, 2006

KFC Develops Ads for DVR Users

Users of digital video recorders are notorious for skipping over ads when replaying recorded TV programs -- a practice that deeply concerns advertisers. In response, fried chicken purveyor KFC is producing ads that are specifically designed for viewers who watch them on recording devices.

When viewers play back the ad slowly, they can view a "secret code" that they can then enter at the KFC website to get a coupon for a free sandwich. The ads debuted during NBC's broadcast of the Winter Olympics and will run until the end of March.

The advertising industry is applauding KFC's if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em approach, though the actual impact of the campaign is not yet known. “Any strategy that gets a message to rise above the clutter is terrific from the advertiser’s perspective,� says Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research.

UPDATE: ABC is reportedly refusing to air the KFC ads, calling the secret code "subliminal advertising."

Source: MSNBC

Defending Cell Phones Against Viruses

So far, the virus threat to cell phones has been minimal, despite nearly 150 cell phone viruses discovered since 2004. But security experts believe that a widespread phone virus outbreak is only a matter of time... and to that end, antivirus software is being developed for cell phones.

The prevalence of advanced features on cell phones, especially Bluetooth wireless connections and MMS messaging, leave cell phones increasingly vulnerable to viruses. Gartner, in fact, believes a fast-spreading cell phone virus is likely to strike sometime before the end of 2007. In response, antivirus software developers Symantec, McAfee and F-Secure are developing security software for smart phones. Although these products have made inroads in Japan, the major US phone carriers have resisted such protection, declaring their networks safe from malicious use. Verizon and T-Mobile routinely scan their networks for virus activity and block anything suspicious.

Whether consumers demand antivirus software for their phones will depend largely on perception and media attention given to a virus outbreak, and the sense among corporate mobile phone customers that their assets need maximum protection. But as phones become more complex, contain more data and become ever more deeply ingrained in our lives, a serious virus could become downright crippling.

Source: ZDNet

Chinese Mobile Phone Users Top 400 Million

China, home to the world's largest mobile phone market, now claims to have 400 million users. Chinese mobile phone users also sent nearly 34 billion text messages in January alone. By contrast, the US has about 200 million cell phone users.

Three-Dimensional Images in Midair

3D displays that hover in midair have been a staple of science fiction for decades; after all, who can forget the hologram of Princess Leia in the first Star Wars? Now, Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has developed a method of projecting three-dimensional images in the air.

The system reflects laser light off of mirrors, and focuses that light into a point in the air using a plasma emission phenomenon.

The technology remains experimental, so there is no estimate of when it might appear in the marketplace.

Source: Minding the Planet

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Why MySpace Appeals to Teens

According to a presentation by media researcher danah boyd, young people are attracted to MySpace because they perceive it as a literal place where they can relax with their peers and do things they can't do physically.

MySpace neatly mirrors the way teens perceive the world, allowing them to meet others easily, interact with their "real time" friends, and share their feelings and preferences.

For most teens, it is simply a part of everyday life - they are there because their friends are there and they are there to hang out with those friends. Of course, its ubiquitousness does not mean that everyone thinks that it is cool. Many teens complain that the site is lame, noting that they have better things to do. Yet, even those teens have an account which they check regularly because it's the only way to keep up with the Jones's.

Additionally, teens turns to the online world because their physical space is increasingly "structured space," where their behavior is regulated. Few physical places exist where teens can do as they please without adult supervision. "Classic 1950s hang out locations like the roller rink and burger joint are disappearing while malls and 7/11s are banning teens unaccompanied by parents." Online, though, no such structure exists... and it's this lack of structure that causes the problems associated with MySpace, such as the presence of adult predators.

"What we're seeing right now," boyd writes, "is a cultural shift due to the introduction of a new medium and the emergence of greater restrictions on youth mobility and access. The long-term implications of this are unclear. Regardless of what will come, youth are doing what they've always done - repurposing new mediums in order to learn about social culture."

RELATED: For parents worried about or simply confused by MySpace, Wired offers a Q&A mini-tutorial. Another Wired article sorts out the real, perceived and overhyped dangers of MySpace.

Source: Many-to-Many

A Christian Utopia

South Carolina is already a solidly "red" state, but if Cory Burnell has his way, the Palmetto State will become a true promised land for Christian conservatives.

The 30-year-old financial advisor from California (a state he considers a "lost cause") has founded a movement called Christian Exodus, which encourages Christian families to move to South Carolina, with the intent of reforming local and state government under biblical principles. With a fundamentalist Christian majority in place, Burnell hopes to pass laws that outlaw abortion, restrict sexual practices, ban the teaching of evolution and "revisionist history," and allow government displays of Christian symbols.

Although only 20 people have signed on so far, Burnell is optimistic, as over 1,000 more have expressed interest. Taking a county-by-county approach, he believes he only needs about 100 committed people to take political control of six counties. Christian Exodus, he says, could have an "overwhelming impact" on state elections by 2014. According to its plan of action, the group has a goal of placing 2,500 members in key counties by the end of this September.

If Christian Exodus catches on, the movement could gain momentum by attracting support from current South Carolina natives sympathetic to the group's goals. It could also be accelerated if South Carolinians who don't support Christian Exodus feel disenfranchised -- even oppressed -- and decide to move out of the state.

Not all of those who would seem to be logical allies of Christian Exodus are supporters. Among those is Bob Jones University, South Carolina's famously Christian conservative college. "As Christians, it's not our job to start a new country," said Bob Jones spokesman Jonathan Pait. Another interesting paradox is that, through his blog, Cory Burnell supports the impeachment of President Bush for violating the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (unwarranted searches and seizures) with his secret wiretapping policy.

How serious is Burnell about converting South Carolina into a Christian utopia? He does not rule out secession from the union, though only as a "last resort" if his hoped-for state laws conflict too greatly with federal law.

Source: USA Today (via AOL), FOXNews.com

Poopy Power!

There isn't a dog owner alive who hasn't occasionally wondered, while poop-scooping, why their pooch's by-product couldn't have some productive value other than messing up the lawn. Officials in San Francisco have wondered the same thing -- and are launching a program to turn doggy doo into an alternative energy source.

The city will pilot the program at a dog park, where residents can deposit dog droppings into a "methane digester" that uses bacteria to break the feces down into methane gas.

It would seem that it would take a lot of dog doo to make a significant amount of methane. But San Francisco officials estimate that city dogs generate 6,500 tons of the stuff every year. Another benefit to the program would be to keep the poop out of landfills, as 4% of San Francisco's trash volume consists of discarded poop.

If the program is successful, the next logical step would be for the city to pay for it. Then, you would most assuredly never again step in a mess... or complain about cleaning up after your dog!

Source: Washington Post

Designing "Walkable Neighborhoods" For Better Health

Your health may be determined in large part by your community's design, according to a recent study by the American Planning Association.

Most communities in the US have grown up in an ad hoc manner, or planned with considerations other than the residents' health. The APA recommends that communities be designed to support pedestrians and cyclists, with ample sidewalks, bike paths, and closer proximity of retail and recreational areas to residences. "Walkable neighborhoods" would encourage residents to exercise, and would reduce the level of pollution from motor vehicles.

"Walkability of neighborhoods around each participant's home was significantly related to overall physical activity levels, minutes per week devoted to active transportation, and body mass index," Says Lawrence D. Frank of the University of British Columbia, who led the study. "People living in high-walkable neighborhoods were more physically active, walked more and had lower BMI."

Source: World Future Society

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Big Mother is Watching You (With Help from the Lunch Ladies)

If you're a kid who attends a Houston public school, the days of being able to select whatever you want for lunch in the cafeteria are numbered.

Within the next year, the Houston Independent School District plans to launch a prepaid lunch account system that tracks kids' eating habits, and lets parents control which food items they are allowed to choose. Parents can access their children's menu permissions and purchase history through the web, limiting or prohibiting sweets and other types of food as they see fit.

RELATED: For parents worred about how much time Junior is spending playing video games, watching TV or on the computer, a new device called "Bob" allows parents to set a limit on the time allowed on these devices, and cuts off access when time's up. Meanwhile, Techdirt wonders if these kid-controlling devices are getting just a little too creepy.

Source: WTSP-TV

Is Web 2.0 Capitalist or Marxist?

As the conversation around Web 2.0 becomes more mainstream, those who examine it from a business perspective are wondering whether its components and effects more closely mirror capitalism or socialism.

The New York Times weighs in on the side of a pro-capialist web, examining how it is benefitting "gazelles" -- small businesses that are able to quickly adapt to and exploit change. The article profiles "virtual" companies that grow and profit using online collaboration tools to network widespread freelance talent, and more traditional companies that have enjoyed renewed growth through online sales channels and supply chain tools.

Meanwhile, Andrew Keen of the Weekly Standard declares that "[j]ust as Marx seduced a generation of European idealists with his fantasy of self-realization in a communist utopia, so the Web 2.0 cult of creative self-realization has seduced everyone in Silicon Valley." Keen argues that, although Web 2.0 media appropriates egalitarian language ("citizen journalists," etc.), it fosters nothing more than irresponsible narcissism.

The purpose of our media and culture industries — beyond the obvious need to make money and entertain people — is to discover, nurture, and reward elite talent... Without an elite mainstream media, we will lose our memory for things learnt, read, experienced, or heard... [O]ne of the unintended consequences of the Web 2.0 future may well be that everyone is an author, while there is no longer any audience...

As easy as it is to dismiss Keen as a snobbish crank, he does make some valid observations. However, he fails to take into account the ways in which Web 2.0 promotes quality through social ranking of content. Though still maturing, tools such as Digg and del.icio.us allow readers to rank and "vote" for items that, to them, have the greatest value, allowing the proverbial cream to rise to the top. New media has its ways to "discover, nurture, and reward elite talent" -- those ways are just different, and are still emerging.


WorldChanging offers this bit of "speculative fiction", set in the year 2030, about a growing sustainable-lifestyle movement called "Unplugging," rooted in "a combination of the economic theories of Mahatma Gandhi and the political science of Buckminster Fuller":

The core of [Unplugging] theory is that we can all live off the interest generated by our savings, or the profits from our investments, if we possess enough capital - and generations of Capitalists have dreamed of "getting off at the top" - making enough money to cash out of the workplace and live as they like for the rest of their lives...

To "get off at the top" requires millions and millions of dollars of stored wealth. Exactly how much depends on your lifestyle and rate of return, but it's a lot of money, and it's volatile depending on economic conditions. A crash can wipe out your capital base and leave you helpless, because all you had was shares in a machine.

So we Unpluggers found a new way to unplug: an independent life-support infrastructure and financial architecture - a society within society - which allowed anybody who wanted to "buy out" to "buy out at the bottom" rather than "buying out at the top."

If you are willing to live as an Unplugger does, your cost to buy out is only around three months of wages for a factory worker, the price of a used car. You never need to "work" again, although there are plenty of life support activities to keep you busy, and a lot of basic research and science to do. Unplugging is not an off-the-shelf solution, it's a research career!

The story, set as a futuristic news report, states that "the Unplugged have now reduced the GDP of the United States of America by 20% over their 15 year programme."

IBM Declares TV "As We Know It" Dead by 2012

IBM's Institute for Business Value has released a study reflecting what most new-media experts have been saying for some time: that a fragmented marketplace combined with more tools for interactivity will lead to "the end of TV as we know it."

The IBM analysts predict that the television audience will cleave into two main segments within the next several years. The "passive mass audience" -- those who view TV in the traditional sense -- will still be around by 2012. But even that audience will demand greater control over their media experience, while groups that push the envelope of content access and control ("Gadgetiers" and "Kool Kids") will grow ever larger. The two groups will be separated, predictably, by a "generational chasm."

IBM urges those in the television industry to start preparing now for this future state. Experiment with new formats and business models, pursue mobile content, and develop more diverse offerings, to name a few of the report's suggestions. However, while a worthwhile and valuable read, nothing in this report should surprise anyone who's been paying attention to the state of media for the past several years.

Source: BuzzMachine

Poll: Most Americans Would Vote for a Woman President

Nearly a year after a Marist poll found significant interest in both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Condoleezza Rice running for President -- and several weeks after First Lady Laura Bush informally endorsed Secretary Rice for the office -- another poll finds widespread support for the idea of a female Chief Executive.

According to this survey, commissioned by Hearst Newspapers and conducted by Siena College in Albany, NY, 79% of Americans polled said they would be willing to vote for a woman as President. However, no potential candidate was named in the survey, and the available results were not broken down by party affiliation or gender.

Source: WFMY-TV

Greenland Glacier Speed Doubled in Past Five Years

The glaciers of Greenland are accelerating, doubling the amount of ice they dump into the Atlantic Ocean over the past five years. Caused by rising surface air temperatures, this acceleration could ultimately lead to a rise in sea level.

A study published in Science magazine notes that Greenland's melting glaciers cause global sea levels to rise approximately 0.5 mm per year, and that overall sea levels are rising by 3 mm per year. Yearly ice loss from the glaciers has increased from 50 cubic kilometers in 1996 to 150 cubic kilometers in 2005.

In related research, scientists studying Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya believe the loss of ice on its summit is accelerating as well, and may disappear entirely by 2020.

Source: Green Car Congress, WorldChanging

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hotels Go High-Tech

With business booming (bookings were up 8% in 2004) and a bevy of new technologies at their disposal, the hospitality industry is looking to give hotels a high-tech upgrade. Among the innovations likely to appear in hotels over the next few years are:

  • Self-check-in kiosks, similar to those used by airlines to obtain boarding passes. The Holiday Inn chain is already piloting a check-in kiosk.
  • TVs that deliver guests' hometown news, as well as channels from around the world.
  • Docking stations for iPods (Hilton hotels have been providing iPod-friendly alarm clocks for the past year).
  • Lights that allow guests to adjust the wall color.
  • Ubiquitous, free Internet access.
  • Iris scanners in place of key cards.
  • Room cleaning systems that use an "ozone shock treatment" to wipe out foul odors, dust mites and mold.
  • Rooms that "remember" the preferences of frequent guests (temperature, TV stations, favorite room service orders, speed-dial numbers on the phone, etc.).
  • Pervasive sensors that monitor a guest's health and alert the front desk if a problem is detected. This may seem invasive to some, but may be welcomed by others, particularly elderly travelers.
  • Increased use of eco-friendly, organic amenities.

Through it all, hotels hope to distinguish themselves from the competition and increase guest satisfaction while cutting costs.

Source: CNN/Money

Birth of an Atomic Blast

An interesting end-of-the-week diversion...

Ever wondered what an atomic blast looks like before it obliterates everything around it? Before the smoke, the mushroom cloud, the devastation, it's really quite amazing to see the first few fractions of an atomic bomb upon detonation...

Source: RapidNewsWire

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Synch or Swim

Ted Schadler of Forrester believes that the "next big thing" in tech is a killer app for synchronizing devices -- and he's probably right:

I've seen the future, and its name is sync. The company that can synchronize everything in my little digital universe -- photos, songs, contacts, bookmarks, blog posts -- on my PC, phone, and any other device I happen to throw at you, will win my heart forever. After all, it frustrates me to tears that my Outlook contacts don't immediately show up on my phone or in my Gmail account. And that my high-alert emails don't come as text messages to my phone...

It's an opportunity because a platform approach to synchronization addresses its biggest challenge: There is no single killer application; there's only my killer application. Some consumers want photo sync; others want contact sync; others want video sync, or email sync, or bookmark sync. The company that builds out and brings to market the best synchronization platform will win.

It's a problem because each kind of synchronization involves a different application, a different retail channel partner, and a different stakeholder...

As we acquire more devices and keep more of our important content on them, synching will become an ever greater challenge. Currently I use a kludgy application to synch files between my laptop and desktop PC; it presents more difficulty than the average user would put up with, but it gets the job done. However, it doesn't synch Outlook, and it doesn't talk to cell phones, blogs, DVRs or photo sites.

The killer synch app, therefore, needs to be more than just universally compatible. It needs to be transparent, nearly effortless to set up and use. And, of course, fail-safe.

Schadler notes Vizrea, which allows camera phone users to easily upload photos to a web-based account. This is a step in the right direction... but the uber-synch remains elusive.

Source: EMERGIC.org

Building a "Network on Wheels"

Cars and trucks in the future are likely to network continually with other vehicles and the surrounding environment, sharing road information (an upcoming traffic jam, accident or hazardous road conditions) and calculating alternative routes, or alerting police in case of emergency. High-tech though it may be, it's the same principle as truck drivers talking on CB radios.

Motor vehicles, however, pose special problems for networks. With vehicles moving rapidly between nodes and attempting to communicate with one another in an ad hoc manner, security, authentication and seamless communication all become crucial concerns.

To address this problem, the German government has authorized the Network on Wheels project to address inter-vehicle communication systems while the technology is still in its relative infancy. The project will examine how vehicles interact, how to ensure the privacy of drivers, and how to guard the network against malicious attacks.

Source: Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends

Future Wikis

Two futures-related wikis to take note of:

  • A new effort simply titled "Future." It's in its early stages, but already has a lot of useful information. Built in Wikicities, it has a structure very similar to that of Wikipedia.

  • ScenarioThinking.org is a more established wiki that focuses on scenario thinking, driving forces, innovations and strategy development.

As with most all wikis, input is welcome for both these efforts.

Fast, After-Hours Delivery Services

If you were in a Northeast city during this past weekend's snowstorm, you might have appreciated someone braving the elements to bring you a gallon of milk. Especially if you realized you were out of milk at 3 AM.

The Turkish firm After-9 saw a niche here and has built a unique service, delivering everything from groceries to prescription refills to take-out food orders between the hours of 9 PM to 6 AM. After-9 aims for delivery within 45 minutes, and charges a 25-30% fee (with a $7 minimum order).

Here in the States, MaxDelivery delivers your order by bike in under an hour (giving bicycle messengers a new business model). According to MaxDelivery's website, "We carry items as diverse as milk, bread, cold medicines, DVD rentals and sales, paper towels, baby bottles, cereal, frozen meals, ice cream, shampoo, gourmet & organic foods, cleaning supplies and much more. " MaxDelivery even offers free delivery for orders above $50. However, the service is limited to Manhattan, between 24th and 26th Streets. And if you place an order after hours, you have to do so by midnight.

Source: Springwise

Web 2.0 Resource Page

This page from the "wwwtools" section of the Fastfind online magazine contains dozens of links to Web 2.0 articles, papers and example resources. Although aimed primarily at educators, this page will be of interest to anyone looking to investigate Web 2.0.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Long Tail is Killing Hit Albums, Blockbuster Movies

Chris Anderson of Long Tail fame has put together some statistics indicating that mass-appeal music albums and movies are on the decline. This is not news to anyone who follows new media, but Anderson's figures are particularly compelling.

Although noting that US box office revenue has been rising steadily since the early 1990s (though it dipped a bit in 2005), that can be attributed simply to rising ticket prices. Perhaps more importantly, theatre attendance as a percent of the total population has been declining sharply since 2002 (around the time that DVDs hit the mainstream). Anderson also notes that revenue generated by the the most popular movies has dropped since the '90s, while production and marketing costs have soared. It's not uncommon these days to see a movie earn $100 million or more in box office revenue... and barely turning a profit (not to mention big-budget productions that are genuine bombs).

As for music, Anderson references sales figures showing the number of hit albums (500,000+ copies sold) rising sharply during the '80s (the advent of compact discs and MTV's hit-making capacity), and then falling just as steeply since around 2000 (the advent of online music downloading). Even when adjusted for the overall growth of the music industry, sales figures show a steep rise in the early '60s (Beatlemania and the British Invasion? The stereo LP?) and a general plateau that held until the late '90s.

Music and movie fans shouldn't fret, however. Says Anderson, "It's not that people aren't watching films and listening to music, it's that they're watching different films and different music--we're just not following the herd to the same hits the way we used to." The movie and music industries are quick to attribute sales declines to piracy, but the causes are deeper and more long-term. Not only does technology give us more choice than ever before, it keeps us better informed about what's out there, helping to generate buzz for small projects as well as big ones, and creating new channels for sales.

Hit music and movies are not going away anytime soon; American Idol, for instance, is an new and enormously powerful tool for mainstream hitmakers. But the age of the album that "everyone" must own (Michael Jackson's Thriller comes to mind) and the movie that "everyone" must see (Titanic might have been the last of these) may be over.

Real-Time Location Systems for Miners and Tunnel Workers

The recent West Virginia mining tragedies have focused national attention on mine safety. One class of technologies that can aid in this is real-time location systems (RTLS).

Using an RTLS, workers in a mine or tunnel carry radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and can be tracked precisely and continually through a standard wi-fi network. The tags also serve as two-way communicators; workers can be notified of impending danger by central operators, and can also press "panic buttons" on their tags to signal trouble.

RTLS is hardly a bleeding-edge technology that can be applied to a variety of industries. Ekahau, a leader in real-time location systems, has deployed systems in mines throughout Europe, Africa and South America. RTLS is also poised for explosive growth; owing to the combined drivers of falling costs, proven return on investment and the safety imperative (saved lives is the ultimate ROI), the Yankee Group predicts that the RTLS market will expand from $20 million in 2005 to $1.6 billion in 2010.

Source: RFID Update

Retro Future

The website Retro Future offers a catalog of "futuristic" concepts popular in ages past, including the famed Futurama of the 1939 World's Fair, flying cars, Smell-O-Vision, time capsules, and rocket mail.

Retro Future contains links to related sites, for those interested in further reading.

Envisioning the Future of Warfare

We've known for some time -- since 9/11, at least -- that warfare of the 21st century isn't going to be anything like conflicts of the past. In September 2005, researchers and military experts at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico developed scenarios for how wars of the future might be fought.

Among the possibilities the Future of Warfare team considered:

  • Traditional military strength will be marginalized as warfare becomes more asymmetric and indirect (terrorism, sabotage, disinformation campaigns).

  • Military forces will see a larger role in peacekeeping, and a smaller role in direct combat.

  • Nonlethal attacks on systems (economic disruption, cyberattacks, etc.) will become more important... and more devastating. Terrorism expert John Robb calls such attacks, when designed to cause a cascading effect of infrastructure or market failures, systempunkt.

  • The relationship between the US and China will shape much of the geopolitical landscape as the 21st century moves forward.

  • Military strategists need to pay more attention to culture and identity when managing conflicts, and may employ sociologists and anthropologists to help in their planning.

One of the more interesting scenarios the team considered involved unintended consequences of the switch to alternative energy sources. If oil prices crash as a result, already volatile regions such as the Middle East could become even more explosive, and an even greater threat to the West.

Source: World Future Society

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Trendwatching 101

Want to become a trendwatcher and futurist in your organization, but don't know how to get started? The consumer trend monitoring firm Trendwatching.com has a tutorial or sorts on how to start a "Trend Unit" with minimal time and little or no startup costs.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Five Professions Face Worker Shortages

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Monthly Labor Review, five career paths in particular will face worker shortages over the coming years:

  • Registered nurses
  • Librarians
  • Machinists
  • Truck drivers
  • Pharmacists

Reasons for shortages are a combination of increased demand, fewer young people entering the professions, unattractive wages and working conditions, and anticipated mass retirements. In response, employers in these professions are working to raise salaries and create additional incentives to attract new hires and retain current employees.

UPDATE: A survey by the staffing firm Manpower shows that 40% of over 30,000 employers worldwide are having trouble finding qualified job candidates. Sales representatives, engineers, technicians and accountants lead the list of in-demand professions where openings are hard to fill. Manpower predicts that within 10 years, such labor shortages will cause many businesses to fail. Says Manpower CEO Jeffrey Joerres, "This is not a cyclical trend, as we have seen in the past, this time the talent crunch is for real, and it's going to last for decades."

Source: CNN.com

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Planet is a Planet is a Planet...

Planets are hot these days. But only figuratively speaking, as all the orbs in the news lately -- Pluto, a rocky planet discovered in a distant solar system, and the so-called 10th planet in our own solar system -- are all frozen wastelands.

Last year, astronomers discovered a "10th planet" in our solar system, orbiting nearly twice the distance from the sun as Pluto. Not much is known about this world, named UB313 until something more catchy can be assigned to it, other than it is larger than Pluto.

Pluto (L) and UB313 (R)

This, of course, forces astronomers to more closely define what is a planet and what is not. UB313 orbits in a zone filled with 1,000 known "trans-Neptunian objects," which might or might not be classified as planets. But if UB313 is larger than Pluto, doesn't it deserve planetary status? Could Pluto, moreover, face a demotion?

Astronomers must now agree on a set of standards for designating bodies as planets rather than asteroids or trans-Neptunian objects. Some have proposed making Pluto the lower threshold for planetary size, therefore preserving its status as a planet. Having moons might also qualify a body as a planet (Pluto has two that we know of).

As we expand our knowledge of space and learn more about what lies in the outer reaches of our solar system, we need to improve how we classify what we find. For we might be in for many more surprises.

Source: Scientific American

Mobile 2.0

Those who follow the development of mobile technology have already seen its impact, especially in the developing world. Says Oliver Starr of Mobhappy, "The poorer a region is - both technologically and economically, the greater the impact mobile phones have on society... In a place where the fastest means of transportation is on foot most of the time, the ability to transmit or receive a message from someone miles away is life altering."

To that end, Starr envisions the evolution of Mobile 2.0, which is distinct from the Web 2.0 discussions that have been going on for the past year:

Mobile 2.0 is not device dependent. There is no measuring stick of functionality that is a determinant as to whether or not a mobile phone is or is not a Mobile 2.0 device. All functioning phones today are Mobile 2.0. It isn’t what the phone does, so much as what is being done with the phone that has lead us to Mobile 2.0. This definition has the advantage of extensibility - a developing country experiences Mobile 2.0 by virtue of the changing socio economic status of those that own phones. In Japan or Korea Mobile 2.0 can be seen in the development of entirely new forms of entertainment oriented content for display on mobile devices and in the US we can see the birth of Mobile 2.0 in the roll-out of presence enabled services and phone-based navigational services.

Starr includes pervasive computing elements in his vision of Mobile 2.0, such as "smart dust" integrated into clothing or elsewhere in the environment, keeping us connected and informed at all times. "I’d seriously consider having the ability to instantaneously communicate with people on the other side of the globe physically implanted in my body just as I would love IR visual capabilities or super-acute hearing," he writes.

Naturally, such a scenario is rife with unintended consequences. A Mobile 2.0 environment built out to its logical conclusion (Mobile 3.0, 4.0, 5.0...) would effectively be able to track everyone and everything on a global scale. Who would do the tracking, and why? Who could hack it, and what would happen if it broke down? The Mobile X.0 endgame would be a purely transparent society; we would all interact on very different levels than we do now, as privacy as we now know it would case to exist.

According to his post, Oliver Starr will continue to write about Mobile 2.0 in the coming days.

Facial Armor

The latest in body armor for US troops is a "facial armor" mask designed to protect the head and face from bullets and fragments. Reportedly, soldiers in Iraq are giving it a try.

It's been suggested that the mask might give soldiers a psychological as well as physical edge in battle. After all, it does bring to mind something else that's also rather intimidating...

Source: Defense Tech

Quiet, Compact Wind Power

A British firm called quietrevolution will begin installing 6-kilowatt vertical-axis wind turbines this year. The turbines are much smaller than typical designs, and can be installed discreetly in urban and suburban areas. The quietrevolution design is also "virtually silent and vibration free," designed for maximum reliability and minimal maintenance.

The quietrevolution design solves some of the problems typically associated with wind turbines... namely that they require lots of open space to operate, and are accused of being eyesores.

Source: Treehugger (via Future Feeder)

State of the Blogosphere 2006

Technorati founder and CEO David Sifry, who compiles a periodic State of the Blogosphere report on his blog, reports that the blogosphere continues to grow at a rapid pace. He notes that Technorati now tracks 27.2 million blogs -- 60 times more than three years ago -- and that the number of blogs doubles about every 5.5 months. 2.7 million blogs are updated at least weekly.

As of January 2006, Technorati estimates that 75,000 new blogs, or approximately one blog every second, come online every day. Of these, half are still kept current three months later.

Technorati currently tracks 1.2 million blog posts per day, or 50,000 posts each hour. The frequency of postings fluctuates, largely based on current events that bloggers write about, though the overall trend is upward. In 2005, posts spiked on the death of Terry Schiavo, the revelation of the identity of "Deep Throat," the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the London bombings, Hurricane Katrina, and the hearings for the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

Source: BuzzMachine

Monday, February 06, 2006

Cartoons and the "Prism of Pain"

Over the past few days the world has seen escalating violence in the Muslim world against European countries for what Muslims believe is a grave insult and offense against them. What did these Europeans do to Muslims? Did they kill anyone, destroy their homes, ruin their economy?

No. They printed cartoons -- cartoons! -- in their newspapers depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Now, to the Western mind, this reaction seems incredibly petty... especially given that depictions of Jesus and other Biblical personalities make up the foundation of the Western world's artistic heritage. Images of Jesus are everywhere in contemporary America, from The Passion of the Christ to sketches on Saturday Night Live. However, in Islam, making images of the Prophet for any reason is blasphemous.

Then again, this conflict has nothing to do with cartoons or graven images, and everything to do with how poorly the Western and the Muslim worlds understand each other. Not only do the two have utterly different perspectives -- what is perfectly acceptable to one is an outrage to the other -- but, in this age of globalization, the two worlds seem to be moving ever farther apart.

While in the US we advocate religious tolerance, many Europeans are moving in the direction of greater secularlism. According to one study, only 21% of Europeans surveyed said that religion was "very important" in their lives (as opposed to nearly 60% of Americans). Meanwhile, religious fundamentalism and fanaticism in the Muslim world is growing.

Fueling much of this anger is what University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami calls "prisms of pain" through which groups see their world.

Nations, religions and ethnic groups, says Telhami, derive their self-image through their most painful experiences, from which they have legitimate grievances. For Jews, the Holocaust is their prism of pain. For African-Americans, it's slavery. For Americans over the age of 70, the Depression and World War II were prisms of pain that shaped their worldview -- prisms that their children and grandchildren struggle to relate to. For Baby Boomers, it was the Kennedy assassinations and the Vietnam war. And for all Americans, our most recent prism of pain is 9/11.

Muslims' prism of pain extends all the way back to the era of the Crusades and Western domination. For Europeans, it's centuries of religious persecution (which fuels the desire among many for a secular society) as well as the totalitarian legacy of Nazism. Thus, European newspaper editors feel fully justified in printing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, while Muslims feel equally insulted and outraged in return.

In the past, the Western and the Muslim worlds could largely ignore one another safely. But because of today's global media, modernization, immigration and our intertwined economies, the two cultures collide, often with explosive results. As a post in the PBS blog MediaShift says, "Pre-Internet days, a newspaper in Denmark that printed cartoons could be assured that they wouldn't be seen in other parts of the world. Those days are over. With protests and riots still burning bright in the Middle East over cartoons depicting Mohammed, we cannot ignore our global neighbors even if they live on the other side of the world. As newspapers in the U.S. consider whether to run the cartoons, simple searches online can show anyone what the fuss is about."

Just as friction between political ideologies dominated the 20th century, conflicts between religions, and between religion and secularism, will be driving forces of the 21st century. The conflict will not go away... but we can manage it so that the outcome will be constructive rather than tragic.

UPDATE: Martin Borjesson elaborates on this post in his futuramb blog, noting the technological and economic trends that have led up to this recent unrest, and how our increasingly interconnected world is exacerbating cultural differences rather than eliminating them.

UPDATE 2: Christopher Hitchens weighs in on the matter, not giving any ground to the Muslim fanatics in this piece in Slate subtitled "The case for mocking religion."

UPDATE 3: Americans, especially conservatives, are seeing their worst assumptions about the Muslim world coming true. On Fox News Channel's political talk show Hannity and Colmes yesterday (2/6), Col. Oliver North declared that "there is no such thing as an Islamic moderate."

UPDATE 4: Personal Democracy Forum reports that many of the mobs attacking Danish and other European embassies have been receiving instructions from Islamic study centers via cell phones and SMS text messaging. Smartmobs gone bad, for sure...

UPDATE 5: An Iranian newspaper is attempting to ratchet up the tension by sponsoring a contest for cartoons mocking the Holocaust.

UPDATE 6: Western thought seems to be rallying around the Danes and others who have chosen to print the controversial cartoons. Writes Andrew Sullivan in an essay in Time, "Should non-Muslims respect this taboo [against images of the Prophet]? I see no reason why. You can respect a religion without honoring its taboos. I eat pork, and I'm not an anti-Semite. As a Catholic, I don't expect atheists to genuflect before an altar. If violating a taboo is necessary to illustrate a political point, then the call is an easy one. Freedom means learning to deal with being offended." The point, though, is probably lost on Islamic fundamentalists who don't share our ideas about freedom. Meanwhile, protests in the Muslim world continue to escalate, as the US is inevitably drawn into the fray.

UPDATE 7: Journalist Souheila al-Jadda provides a Muslim perspective on the controversy in USA Today. "While it is legitimate to raise questions about censorship, it is quite another thing to address the issue by defaming the most revered Muslim prophet in the name of press freedom... Though free expression is a value cherished in the West, it is not a carte blanche to say anything. With speech comes responsibility."

UPDATE 8: The ongoing cartoon riots appear to be uniting the American left and right wings in a way not seen since 9/11, and driving a wedge ever further between Western and Muslim thought. Writes Nina Burleigh in the liberal blog Huffington Post, "Leave it to the fundamentalist imams to align me with [UN Ambassador and critic] John Bolton and [conservative blogger] Michelle Malkin." Meanwhile, MSNBC's conservative commentator Joe Scarborough blogs, "[L]et’s stop lying about how Muslim radicals are a small, misguided group of violent renegades who have perverted the true meaning of Islam. I actually believed that Urban Media Legend until Palestinian election results handed Hamas a landslide victory. Hamas is, after all, an ultra-violent terrorist organization who has spent the last decade blowing up little children at bus stops and grandmoms in public markets."

UPDATE 9: Text messaging and blogs are being used by both sides in the conflict, though many sites contain rumours and errorneous information. Meanwhile, the controversy has sparked a hacker war, in which both Danish and Muslim websites have been defaced.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Getting "Unschooled"

Imagine being a kid and your "school day" starting whenever you felt like getting up (noon, say), and then consisting of doing whatever you wanted all day long. Watching TV, playing, whatever. It may sound like a child's fantasy, but it's actually part of an educational movement called "unschooling" that, while not quite sweeping the nation, is beginning to attract attention.

Of course, this was around when I was growing up; we called it "Saturday morning." Introduced in the late 1970s by educator John Holt, "unschooling" now claims to involve about 150,000 children, or about 10% of the US homeschooled population. The movement has reportedly grown by nearly 30% since 1999 -- driven, in part, by parents who are reacting against the high-pressure, over-scheduled, achievement-obsessed culture now engulfing many of today's families. Many support resources are available online, such as Unschooling.com and the Family Unschoolers Network (FUN).

A cross between traditional homeschooling and child-empowering educational approaches such as Montessori, "unschooling" would seem to work best with highly intelligent children with lots of internal motivation and curiosity... and with parents who are highly involved and who set good examples for learning. Most "unschooled" kids, it should be noted, take their local school districts' standardized tests just like their more traditionally schooled friends.

The following is a typical "unschool" day in the life of 10-year-old Nailah Ellis of Marietta, Georgia:

Nailah's day starts about 11 a.m., her typical wake-up time. She studies Chinese, reading, writing, piano and martial arts. But there's no set schedule. She works on what she wants, when she wants. She'll even watch some TV -- science documentaries are a favorite -- until her day comes to an end about 2 a.m.

Clearly, Nailah is no slacker. But that doesn't quell the critics of "unschooling" who simply see it as parental permissiveness run amok. Additionally, more traditional educators bemoan the lack of structure and interaction with peers.

Which leads to the obvious speculation: How will "unschooled" children respond when they grow up and have to fit into more regimented environments such as college and the workplace? How will they relate to others -- especially potential partners and spouses -- who were brought up in more traditional settings? Will they adjust? Or will they inspire the environments around them to change? Much of this, of course, will depend on whether and how greatly "unschooling" catches on in the coming years.

Sources: CNN.com, Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), Salon.com

The Me2 Revolution

Public relations expert Richard Edelman argues that new lines of communication, opened up by Web 2.0 principles, attitudes and expectations of the younger generation, and other factors, are disrupting the normal lines of business communication. Edelman calls this the Me2 Revolution:

The traditional approach to corporate communications envisages a controlled process of scripted messages delivered by the chief executive, first to investors, then to other opinion-formers, and only later to the mass audiences of employees and consumers. In the past five years, this pyramid-of influence model has been gradually supplanted by a peer-to-peer, horizontal discussion among multiple stakeholders. The employee is the new credible source for information about a company, giving insight from the front lines. The consumer has become a co-creator, demanding transparency on decisions from sourcing to new-product positioning.

Smart companies must reinvent their communications thinking, moving away from a sole reliance on top-down messages delivered through mass advertising. This is the Me2 Revolution. What is now required is a combination of outreach to traditional elites, including investors, regulators, and academics, plus the new elites, such as involved consumers, empowered employees, and non-governmental organizations.

Edelman cites not only interactive technology, but a growing lack of confidence in "official sources" in government, business and academia, as fueling this trend. He urges businesses to embrace new media as a way to communicate credibly with the people who may ultimately have the greatest impact on the bottom line.

In part because of the highly polarized state of modern American politics, new media have perhaps achieved their most impressive inroads in the realm of government. As K. Daniel Glover writes in the National Journal's Beltway Blogroll:

Only one congressional blog existed before January 2005, but in the year since then, 17 lawmakers, the Republican Study Committee, and Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee have started blogs. Several more members of Congress regularly or occasionally make guest appearances at group blogs such as Marshall's TPMCafe and The Huffington Post on the left, and RedState on the right.

"Blogs are becoming more respectable," said Henry Farrell, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and a blogger at Crooked Timber. Citing the debate over Social Security as an example, he added, "People are beginning to figure out that blogs do have real impact."

However, if recent events are any suggestion, most traditional institutions have a way to go in embracing new media. Through fear and misunderstanding, organizations have either misinterpreted the impact of electronic media, or moved to suppress it -- often, to those organizations' regret. The Me2 revolution, therefore, won't be either bloodless or instantaneous.

Source: EMERGIC.org

Yahoo's Buzz Game Uses Markets to Forecast Future Trends

Yahoo's Buzz Game is "a fantasy prediction market for high-tech products, concepts, and trends." In the Buzz Game, players buy and sell "shares" in ideas and concepts, based on what they believe to be their future potential.

The game primarily tracks web, IT and gadget trends, though it also features "markets" for entertainment technologies and tech rumors. The Yahoo Buzz Game is powered by the well-known prediction market technology of NewsFutures.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Western Union Stops Sending Telegrams

An era officially ended last week when Western Union stopped sending telegrams. On its website, which supports its primary business of money transfers, Western Union displays this paragraph on its telegram page:

Effective January 27, 2006, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage.

A great and storied technology that began its decline with the advent of the telephone finally met its end in the age of e-mail, cell phones, text messaging, faxing and overnight shipping. Now, this bit of Americana will live on only in memory and in classic movies.

Source: LiveScience.com