FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Monday, July 31, 2006

Off the Wire, 7-31-06

Many men who have left the workforce over the past few years -- whether by choice or circumstance -- are not rushing back, choosing to live off of savings and home equity rather than take a lower-wage and lower-status job. Approximately 13% of US men aged 30 to 55 are not working, nealy three times the number in the 1960s. Meanwhile, more women are entering the workforce. [New York Times]


The FDA is considering a move to reverse its policies about the so-called "morning after" or "Plan B" birth control pill to allow its sale without a prescription, but only to women over 18. The pill's manufacturer, Barr Pharmaceuticals, must re-file its application with the FDA for reconsideration. [CNN]


Arimasa Naitoh, Lenovo's worldwide VP of Development and the "father of the ThinkPad," made some predictions about the future of laptops... Lenovo laptops, at least. Naitoh believes that battery life, wireless capability, security and the ability to run Windows Vista will be critical features in future models. He said that within two years, Lenovo ThinkPads will be able to run all day on a single charge, and (shades of Henry Ford) will be available in colors other than black. [ZDNet]


You may soon be able to control your computer with a wave of your hand. The University of Buffalo's Virtual Reality Lab has developed a "Fingertip Digitizer" that, when worn on the tip of the index finger, allows a user to operate a computer with hand gestures. [U of B news release]


For those following the current conflict in Lebanon, The Truth Laid Bear provides a mashup plotting regional blogs and news feeds on a Google Map.


The heat wave currently blanketing much of the US is creating an all-time record demand for electricity in the Midwest, putting enormous strain on the power grid there. [ABC News]


According to the website traffic monitoring firm Alexa, YouTube has overtaken MySpace as the world's most popular community website, commanding nearly 4% of all Internet traffic. [Huffington Post]

(Heat) Waves of the Future

Get used to brutal heat waves that cause power outages and take lives, say scientists and weather experts. Not just for this summer -- above normal temperatures are forecast for August across the US -- but for the long term.

Global warming may be the culprit, scientists say, causing more frequent heat waves with higher temperatures. If current trends stay on track, temperatures may continue to rise over the next several years to rival the record-setting heat of the 1930s Dust Bowl era.

Experts believe that residents of older Northern cities, where homes often lack air conditioning, may be at greater risk than their counterparts in the South and Southwest, where air conditioning has always been a necessity. Many cities have prevented heat deaths by establishing emergency cooling centers where residents can stay and cool down.

Source: AP

Instant Evolution: People Bigger, Healthier than their Ancestors

It's no secret that people live longer than did their ancestors. In 1850 the average life expectancy was about 60; today it's close to 80. But new research also finds that we are also taller and heavier than our great-great-grandparents, by about two inches and 30 pounds since 1900.

We also have fewer chronic illnesses that take people out in the prime of life, according to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health that compared the heath of Americans in their 40s and 50 to heath surveys of Union Army veterans taken during the 1860s. Whereas it wasn't uncommon for those in the Civil War era to suffer from arthritis or to die from lung or heart failure in their 40s, their counterparts today have few health problems at that age. Even IQ has seemed to go up, and dementia appears to be falling.

The NIH researchers were particularly surprised at the number of chronic conditions showing up in young people 140 years ago, noting that one in six Union Army enlistees aged 16 to 19 was rejected for a disability (interesting, bearing in mind that the army often accepted recruits who were blind in one eye or who had other serious ailments).

Each generation has experienced better health than its parents -- a phenomenon that's reflected in both developed and developing countries all over the world. The reasons are many, from better nutrition from in-utero through childhood; to more sophisticated surgical treatments, vaccines and medicines; to decrease in workplace hazards; to greater awareness of health issues overall. Researchers also believe that those who survived serious illnesses such as tuberculosis lessened one's resistance to chronic conditions later on, and also theorize that health and nutrition in children before birth and in the first two years is critical to determining one's long-term health prospects. Other studies have found that those born during famines and epidemics (such as the 1918 flu pandemic) are overall less healthy than those born during healthier, more prosperous times.

So, how much longer can the upward trend continue? Transhumanists argue that the sky's the limit, that people should be able to live indefinitely given proper healthcare, body part replacements and nanotechnology. But other healthcare researchers worry that countertrends such as obesity, unintended consequences of medications or environmental phenomena could reverse the upward trend.

Source: The New York Times

A China Bubble Burst by 2009?

MSN Money financial editor Jim Jubak believes that China's economy is way overheated -- fueled by low interest rates, lots of high-risk borrowing and the government's inability to manage production -- and may crash as early as 2009. Naturally, because China has grown to become such a major player in the world economy, even a moderate recession would affect the global economy.

Some of the effects of an economic crash in China might be:

  • Massive unrest if widespread unemployment were the result, threatening the stability of the communist government, which is already struggling to maintain control.

  • If China were no longer perceived as a safe place to do business, short-term higher prices for goods could result... and could open up opportunities for China's global competitors. Long term, prices could fall once unrest settled down and if China were aggressive in getting back in the game.

  • A drop in China's consumption of oil, leading to lower prices on the world oil market -- perhaps even a crash. Good news for Western consumers; bad news for oil-producing countries (especially those in the volatile Mideast), which are currently enjoying the revenues generated by high oil prices.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Off the Wire, 7-27-06

Infamous computer hacker Kevin Mitnick has reportedly taken ill in the Colombian Andes, and was hospitalized for a severe flu that he attributed in part to the high altitude there. [CNN.com]


The trend toward "consumer producers" continues with the offer of a customizable version of Jessica Simpson's new video "A Public Affair" through her website. Fans can customize the lyrics, inserting their own name in the video. [Trendcentral.com]


GlaxoSmithKline has developed a vaccine for the H5N1 "bird flu" virus that could be ready for distribution as early as next year. Testing has proven successful so far, though infectious disease specialists warn that the virus could mutate before the vaccine reaches production. [AP]


The latest drug for teens and young adults -- and possibly the newest drug hysteria -- is sniffing bags of mothballs, or "bagging." Mothballs contain paradichlorobenzene, a substance that produces a high, along with possible liver and kidney failure. And, of course, mothballs are legal. The trend mirrors a move among drug-using teens toward legal yet supposedly controlled substances such as OxyContin and Vicodin, which are often available for purchase over the Internet. Look for moves to reformulate mothballs and control their sale to minors. [CNN.com]


Who's up for a swim? Scientists reviewing data from the Cassini probe orbiting Saturn believe that the planet's largest moon, Titan, sports a cluster of lakes containing a mix of liquid methane and ethane. [CNN.com]


Americans have become deeply pessimistic about the future, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. While worrying about current events such as the Iraq war and the fighting in Lebanon, 65% of Americans surveyed feel less confident that life will be better for their children. Seventy-three percent felt that America is "on the wrong track," and of those, 81% believed it's part of a long-term decline. [MSNBC]

India Says No, Nigeria Says Yes to Negroponte's $100 Laptop

Good news and bad news for the One Laptop Per Child initiative spearheaded by MIT's Nicholas Negroponte, which seeks to build and distribute laptops costing a mere $100.

First the good news: The government of Nigeria has placed an order for $1 million worth of the OLPC laptops. Said Ernest Ndukwe, Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), "This is in consonance with our vision which aims to create an information rich environment in the country. The Commission believes that preparing the future of Nigeria is to educate the young generation... [T]herein lies the richness of our country."

Now the bad news: The Indian government gave OLPC a major smackdown, revealing an entirely different set of educational concerns. The Indian Ministry of Education called the laptop immature and "pedagogically suspect." Education Secretary Sudeep Banerjee summed up the government's concerns by saying, "We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools."

In the scheme of things, OLPC probably lost more by losing India than it gained through Nigeria, considering India's technological sophistication and its growing role in producing computer engineers. For India, it may also be the growing realization that laptops are proving themselves to be less than productive in classrooms, and that computer-literate Indians might be more likely to buy regular laptops anyhow. Plus, as Banerjee said, the correct priority among educators in the developing world is securing the basics -- functioning classrooms, supplies like pencils and paper, and skilled teachers -- even though initiatives like OLPC offer students an edge in an ever more technology-driven world.

Sources: All Africa, The Register

Teen Mags, Dow Jones Lead the Migration from Print to Digital

Teens and business executives: two groups that don't have much in common. Except that both are tech-savvy, and are driving the move of the publications they read from print to the Internet.

Time Inc. announced yesterday that it will cease publication of its magazine Teen People... making it the second major teen magazine to shut down after ElleGirl folded earlier this year. However, in both cases the online versions remain, suggesting that the magazines' readership is still engaged, but just prefers to get content online rather than in print. Plus, the online versions are free...

Also, last week, Dow Jones announced that it will "reassess its news delivery" to provide more content online and less in traditional print formats. Perhaps the end result will be to convert its venerable Wall Street Journal to a wholly online format.

The Journal is an interesting case because it's one of the few publications whose online edition has been successful at attracting paid subscribers (768,000). The Internet offers Journal readers particular advantages, such as delivery of breaking news that's essential for traders who rely on up-to-the-minute information. If an all-online move were to occur, it would be precedent-setting to say the least, and could indicate the final step in legitimizing online publications.

By then, its younger readers -- who grew up reading Teen People online -- might go to the online Journal first, and consider the print version an oddity.

More specifics about Dow Jones' future will likely emerge as current Journal managing editor Paul Steiger nears his announced retirement at the end of 2007.

Sources: Huffington Post, Advertising Age

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

[NEW FEATURE] Off the Wire, 7-25-06

"Off the Wire" is a new FutureWire segment, a roundup of links to various stories that FutureWire readers may find interesting. I will post "Off the Wire" segments as frequently as possible. Naturally, suggestions for stories are always appreciated...

At a recent Brainstorm Conference hosted by Fortune magazine, an age gap became apparent when discussing the benefits of the Internet. Hmmm... how do you suppose that played out? [CNN/Money]

Though President Bush recently vetoed a bill that would have increased federal support for embryonic stem cell research, he is clearly going against the tide of public opinion. A survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press found that Americans strongly support using embryos for such research (57% to 30%) -- support that cuts across nearly all religious categories. White evangelical Christians were the only group found to strongly oppose embryonic stem cell research.

Back in June, members of Congress -- with input from environmentalists, industry and even the "big three" Detroit automakers -- kicked off a "25x25" campaign to convert 25% of US energy consumption to renewable sources by 2025. Despite its broad support (politicians from Newt Gingrich to Bill Clinton have signed on), and the fact that 98% of Americans favor developing renewable energy, the fate of the effort is uncertain. Plus, with the news being dominated by events in the Mideast these past few weeks, you can be forgiven for not having heard much about "25x25." [Christian Science Monitor]

Go see a glacier now, while there's still time. The melting of glaciers in the European Alps has accelerated greatly since the 1970s; they now cover only half the area they covered in 1850. Scientists at the University of Zurich estimate that if summer temperatures rise by 5°C by 2100, virtually all of Europe's Alpine glaciers will vanish. The situation mirrors that of North America; in Montana's Glacier National Park, the number of named glaciers has shrunk from 150 in 1850 to 26 today. [LiveScience.com]

The Pew Internet & American Life project has released a survey of bloggers. Not surprisingly, the survey found that most bloggers are novice writers under age 30 who blog primarily to share their personal experiences. [UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis explores the implication of this survey, especially the suggestion that bloggers "don't consider themselves journalists."]

Venture capital investments in startup firms have reached the highest level since the first quarter of 2001, totalling $6.73 billion. Biotech, pharmaceuticals, alternative energy and IT were among the winners. [Red Herring]

Tech-savvy book lovers in Sweden can now download and listen to audiobooks through their cell phones, through a new service by Bokilur (literally, "book on phone" in Swedish). [Springwise]

Marketing firms that have had success in online ad campaigns see social networking sites as fertile ground. A survey by Forrester Research in December 2005 found that 51% of marketers surveyed planned to leverage social networks substantially over the next 12 months. A slightly smaller percentage planned aggressive campaigns around RSS and mobile devices. [eMarketer]

Jeff Bezos Bankrolling Private Spaceport

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is reportedly funding a spaceport to be developed in west Texas, servicing spacecraft that both take off and land vertically.

Bezos has bought a 165,000-acre ranch in sparsely populated Culberson County, and has filed an environmental review with the Federal Aviation Administration. The spacecraft company, Blue Origin, could begin suborbital space tourism flights as early as 2010 if everything goes as planned.

Source: CNN.com

Thursday, July 20, 2006

That New-Time Religion

How could the national discussion about religion evolve in the coming years? The future of faith could hold some surprises.

A survey conducted by the City University of New York in 2001 found that the third most popular "religion" in the US was, in fact, no religion at all. After Catholic (24.5%) and Baptist (16%), the third largest religious category was "no religion" (atheist, agnostic or secular). Even in "Bible Belt" states and Mormon-dominated Utah, "non-theists" represent a significant portion of the population. Currently, many of these people don't think of themselves as part of a religious group. But what if they were to discover their commonality, or identify with a leader who could offer them a political alternative? Would any of today's leaders consider taking up the challenge?

On a different note, the new blog The Digital Sanctuary speculates on how new media might change the nature of religious worship. The blogger, Cynthia Ware, notes that, in her experience, Internet technology has already become critical to keeping her congregation informed about events and activities. How else could the faithful leverage technology... and how might the use of technology influence the development of religious faith?

Technological change has had an enormous impact on religion, from the first printed copies of the Bible that helped trigger the Reformation, to television that led to a new form of worship in televangelism. Rituals and doctrine have been created in response to the needs of the populace; the stationary, land-bound serfs of medieval Europe built grand cathedrals, while the nomadic tribes of the Islamic world memorized the Koran and prayed wherever they happened to be. How else will future trends and technologies shape and redefine our religious faith?

UPDATE: Flying in the face of assumptions that religion would decline in the modern world, researchers at the Pew Forum for Religion & Public Life believe that religious observance is growing worldwide. Freed from oppression of communism and other regimes that saw faith as a threat, religion is manifesting itself in forms ranging from evangelical Christianity to radical Islam to "neo-orthodoxies" that adapt religious observance to politics and other aspects of the modern world.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"E-Mail Has Become the New Snail Mail"

If you're e-mailing instead of IM'ing or text messaging... well, sorry, you're behind the times.  Increasingly, tech savvy people are relying on texting and instant messages rather than e-mail to communicate, citing immediacy and convenience, as well as relief from spam overload.  "In this world of instant gratification, e-mail has become the new snail mail," says 25-year-old Rachel Quizon from Norwalk, Calif.

Even though texting and IM'ing are making their way into the workplace, the obvious generational divide persists.  While young people embrace the new communications media wholeheartedly (they prefer IM over e-mail by a 5-to-1 margin), their older colleagues still prefer e-mail.  "Adults who learn to use IM later have major difficulty talking to more than two people at one time — whereas the teens who grew up on it have no problem talking to a bazillion people at once," says social media expert Danah Boyd. "They understand how to negotiate the interruptions a lot better."

Source:  AP (via MSNBC)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

China Tech Trends

Silicon.com interviews Sage Brennan of Pacific Epoch about emerging business and technology trends in China. Brennan, a China expert based in Shanghai, says that despite bureaucracy and the trappings of communism, the Chinese economy is surprisingly similar to those of the West in terms of being consumer-driven. The Chinese, he says, are also heavy Internet users, blogging, chatting and posting to online forums, even in the face of government attempts at censorship. The Chinese workforce is also very mobile; in a seller's market, a skilled worker who speaks English has his or her pick of jobs.

Brennan believes the biggest weakness in the Chinese economy is a general lack of innovation, stemming from a centuries-old culture that values tradition instead of change. But Brennan believes that the Chinese will become more innovative over time as they are exposed to different ideas and see the value of innovation in their own economy.

Where Might We Be Living in 2025?

Columbia University's Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR) has created a map of projected population shifts between now and 2025. The map takes into account population migration trends, growth of certain populations, and possible evacuation of coastal areas threatened by rising sea levels.

Predictably, much of the world's future population growth will come from areas that are already densely populated, such as India and China. But some highly populated regions -- Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Japan, and Central and South America -- are projected to experience population declines within the next two decades.

"By bridging these two areas of demography — mapping and long-range, aggregate projections — we're getting a better idea of where people are likely to live in the future and why," said Stuart Gaffin, associate research scientist at CCSR and lead scientist on the project. "Hopefully, work like ours will play a central role in improving environmental policies around the world and in reducing natural hazard risks faced by the most vulnerable parts of society."

The map is expected to help climatologists, conservationists and others determine which populations are most susceptible to natural disasters and resource shortages in the coming years, as well as anyone else needing to understand how regional populations will change.

Source: ScienceDaily

The Downside of the Long Tail

The "long tail" phenomenon has received renewed interest in part because Chris Anderson, who coined the term, has recently published a book on the topic, arguing that the long tail helps niche markets. However, Jonathan Rowe offers a contrarian view, suggesting that the long tail is not the free-market panacea that Anderson claims:

Anderson contends that this means the gradual demise of the blockbuster. There will be more niches, and less mass on top. But as John Cassady points out in the current New Yorker, it more likely means the demise of the middle -- that is, the items that sold pretty well but not extraordinarily so. “A long-tail world doesn’t threaten the whales o\r the minnows,” he writes. “It threatens those who cater to the neglected middle.”

I wonder if it’s a total coincidence that what’s happening to merchandising on the Web is happening to peoples’ fortunes in the society at large. Is there a connection between a world in which the mechanisms of selling tend to drive out the middle, and one in which the very rich get richer while the middle morphs into a long tail at the bottom?...

[W]hat happens to a community when every member has his or her head up their own little niche? One of the advantages of the old model – or paradigm, or whatever -- was that we sometimes had to listen to things we didn’t entirely agree with, or like. We had to moderate our annoyance and leave room in our psyches for someone else’s views.

Now people can crawl into their cocoons and spend their lives nursing their outrage at people who don’t think exactly as they do. Cf the political arena today. Isn’t "polarized" just another word for "niche-ized"? There’s something to be said for not always having exactly what we want...

Is the long tail also a long maw that reaches into this non-market realm and cannibalizes it? You could make a case. A story in the New York Times a few days ago dipped into the world of male college students who spend 4-6 hours a day playing video games, with a corresponding deficit in social skills. The long tail, Anderson writes, reflects new technology that can “tap the distributed intelligence of millions of consumers to match people with the stuff that suits them best.”

Intelligence? That’s market orthodoxy with a techno-futurist spin. Everything we do as consumers is a "market choice", and therefore by definition intelligent and good. There’s another possibility, which is that the market can be as dumb as we humans who comprise it; and therefore technology that provides greater range for market selections also provides greater range for this dumbness as well.

Source: OnTheCommons.org

Shopping by Text Messaging

Spawned by the ability to link a PayPal or credit card account to an SMS-capable cell phone, several US startups are helping to promote text-to-buy shopping.

New Yorkers can use Mobo to order food from take-out chains across the city simply by sending a text message containing a "fave" (saved order from a favorite restaurant via your phone or the Mobo website); Mobo texts you back when your order is ready, and automatically bills your credit card.

LiveBuyIt is a similar concept, though many other types of products are available. Produced in partnership with Lucky magazine, LiveBuyIt makes available everything from clothes to jewelry to cars (!), though as of this writing only a few items are available.

Both systems require a fair amount of technical savvy, so they're not for everyone. Both appear to target young, affluent buyers who may be most comfortable making purchases (large ones in particular) via text messaging. Of the two, Mobo would seem to hold the most promise, helping make a task that all of us do everyday (get a meal) as quick, easy and inexpensive as possible.

RELATED: A somewhat different use of shopping via cell phone is being forged by Quickpons and Cellfire, two services that allow shoppers to download store coupons to their cell phones. Quickpons is SMS-based, whereas Cellfire requires a software download that is only compatible with Cingular phones.

UPDATE (8/3/06): The production version of LiveBuyIt is now live.

Source: Trendcentral

Tokyo Becomes a "Heat Island"

While much of the US broils with abnormally high temperatures this week (99°F in my little corner of New Jersey yesterday), other parts of the world are coping with uncomfortable summer heat as well. Tokyo, for instance, experienced very high temperatures last week (96.8°F on Saturday), due in part to the "summertime heat island" phenomenon.

A local condition, the "heat island" effect occurs in cities lacking trees and grass cover that promote natural cooling. Buildings, meanwhile, retain and reflect heat, keeping cities uncomfortably warm even at night. The Japanese government is studying ways to relieve heat islands such as Tokyo, which experienced record heat last summer and appears on course to remain hot this year. Among the proposed solutions are to develop new structures that dissipate heat more efficiently, enforce traffic control, promote more use of low-emission vehicles, energy conservation, increased planting of vegetation, and recreational activities outside the city center in the summer.

Source: Kurashi News from Japan

Life as a Clone

What would life as a clone be like? How deeply would they empathize with their other clones? Would they be true individuals?

Scientists are beginning to ask such questions, despite the fact that no true human clones exist, and despite strong scientific and ethical opposition to human cloning. To better understand the mindsets of genetically identical individuals, UK and Austrian researchers have been studying identical twins.

The studies show that, while identical twins value their relationship with one another, they do see themselves as individuals. Factors such as environment and proximity have formed their personalities much more so than genetics, the studies have found.

Even though, like clones, identical twins share identical sets of genes, identical twins are the exact same age and typically grow up together, whereas clones could be born years or even decades apart. A clone that's very elderly or deceased could have a co-clone who's an infant; based on the UK and Austrian studies, these clones would have very different life experiences that would shape their personalities much more so than their shared genes.

This kind of study, the researchers say, is critical to understanding the functioning of clones and how they could impact society, even though human cloning is years away, if it happens at all. It also shows that clones would be, indeed, true humans, and not mere automatons.

Source: BBC

Movie Rentals via iTunes?

The blog Think Secret has scoop about a possible pending announcement from Apple CEO Steve Jobs that the iTunes Music Store will soon feature downloadable movie rentals -- presumably for playback on computers and video iPods, a la Vongo. The deal, between Apple and several major movie studios, represents a departure from Apple's previous strategy of endorsing movie sales. The service will supposedly place date-stamp coding in movie files that prohibits play after either a certain date or a set number of viewings. No word yet on the price per movie, or when the service will be fully available.

The reported announcement is scheduled for August 7.

RELATED: Ars Technica reports that movie download service Movielink is partnering with Sonic Solutions (makers of the Roxio CD/DVD recording software) to allow its customers to burn downloaded (and copy protected) movies onto DVDs for more convenient viewing.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Eggs as Billboards

With the effectiveness of TV advertising and overall viewership on the decline, how else can a TV network promote its fall lineup? The solution is obvious -- put advertisements on eggs!

Egg-centric? Egg-xotic? Perhaps. But how better to catch the eye of fickle viewers than when they're preparing their sunny-side-up? The marketing eggheads at CBS plan to brand 35 million eggs this September with tag lines promoting the network's new and returning shows. Phrases include "CSI: Crack the Case on CBS" and "The Class, New Grade-A CBS Comedy." (rimshots, please!)

To produce the eggs, CBS is partnering with EggFusion, which has developed laser technology to produce "OnEgg Messaging." Originally created to emboss expiration dates on individual eggs, the technology can print virtually any kind of marketing message. Considering that Americans consume 50 billion eggs a year, that's an egg-tremely high number of potential impressions.

One must wonder if CBS will see a spike in viewership this fall among short-order cooks... of if they'll just end up with egg on their face. But even if egg-vertising doesn't crack you up, remember that not that long ago, people thought placing ads on websites was a pretty weird idea, too.

Source: AP (via Yahoo)

Social Networking Sites Serve Niche Audiences

Now that MySpace has become the dominant general-purpose social networking website -- as well as the most popular destination on the web -- new entrants are focusing on specialized audiences. Witness Dogster and Catster, sites where dog lovers and cat lovers can create their own web pages, post pictures of their furry friends, join forums, look at dogs and cats up for adoption, and even chat.

For people looking for a clever way to share their life story with others, dandelife is a beta "social biography network" that allows members to create biographies along a timeline, integrating links, YouTube videos and Flickr photos to document people, places and activities. Not everyone wants to document their life this way, but for those who do, dandelife offers an innovative and intuitive means of doing so.

In addition to serving niche audiences, specialized sites cater to users who may be overwhelmed by a general site like MySpace, or turned off because of the controversy it has generated lately.

RELATED: Dating sites have similarly become more specialized. Prescription4Love.com is an online dating service for people with chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and even STDs. STD dating sites have been around for some time, but those with other chronic conditions have not been as well served. As TechCrunch says, "One consequence of the falling cost of computers will undoubtedly be an increase in the number of people who have chronic medical conditions but are now able to afford to be online. Im sure in the future we will see many, many more services targeting the life styles and needs of demographic groups previously unable to use the web at all."

Source: Smart Mobs

First Half of 2006 Was Warmest Period Ever in US

Hot enough for ya? As much of the nation literally sweats it out with triple-digit temperatures, we learn that the first half of this year was the warmest period on record.

The average temperature for the continental US, measured by the National Climatic Data Center, was 51.8°F, or 3.4°F above average for the 20th century. Five midwestern states experienced record warmth -- warmth that likely contributed to drought and subsequent wildfires.

Globally, early 2006 was the sixth warmest period since records were first kept in 1880.

Source: AP (via Brietbart.com)

[BREAKING NEWS] Space Shuttle Discovery Lands Safely in Florida

After the madness in the Mideast, wildfires, and record heat, a bit of good news: The space shuttle Discovery made a perfect landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida just moments ago after its 13-day mission.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Maryland Gov. Proposes Renewable Energy Mandate

When it comes to government promotion of alternative energy sources -- action rather than just rhetoric -- individual states may lead the way. Earlier this week, Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich proposed that the state government buy at least 10% of its energy from renewable resources to power its buildings and other properties. Ehrlich has specifically cited wind and solar energy, as well as "forest residue" left behind from logging, as potential fuels.

"We need to get with it," the Republican governor said. "We want to be No. 1 when it comes to alternative energy in the United States of America."

If Ehrlich's proposal is enacted, it would put Maryland on the forefront of alternative energy use. Environmentalists and other observers are cautiously optimistic, noting similar pledges dating back to 2001 that have received no funding and produced no results. Says Brad Heavner of Environment Maryland, "My feeling is, show me the contracts. We've been hearing promises like this for six years."

Source: WTOP 103.5 FM

Fabled Bell Labs Facility Sold, Faces Wrecking Ball

The Holmdel, New Jersey headquarters of Bell Labs, the legendary R&D organization that gave the world the laser, the transistor, LED lights, the Unix operating system, fiber optics, microwave communication and cell phone technology, has been sold. The real estate investor who bought the site wants to use it as an office park and plans to retain its pastoral charm, but says that the unique building is outdated and cannot be renovated, and therefore needs to be demolished.

The massive facility has been a part of the Holmdel community (approximately 30 miles south of New York City) for 44 years, and at its peak held 5,600 employees. In the '90s, Bell Labs was folded into Lucent Technologies, which was hit hard by the 2000 tech bust. Lucent continues to maintain two smaller labs in northern New Jersey, and remains active in emerging fields such as nanotechnology.

The demise of the Holmdel facility marks an end of an era for corporate R&D, as well as for elaborate corporate facilities in general. In an age of aggressive cost-cutting, outsourcing, globalization, mobile workforces, mergers, decentralization and rapid business change -- all practices that Bell Labs helped make possible in one way or another -- monolithic R&D organizations have lost much of their relevance. Yet without the innovations they produced, the world would be a much different, and poorer, place.

Source: New York Times

Africa May Be Climate Change's Biggest Victim

Poverty-stricken countries in Africa will likely bear the brunt of the effects of global warming -- drought, temperature fluctuations, and flooding from heavier rainfalls. The result will be more crop failures, famine, diseases and military conflicts in already fragile regions, despite increased aid from developed countries.

Hilary Benn, the UK's Secretary of State for International Development, has suggested that developed countries reconsider the Kyoto protocol (which the US has never ratified) in light of the threat to African countries, which produce relatively little greenhouse gases. Benn also says that the impact will hit sooner than we think. "Climate change is happening faster than any of us anticipated even five years ago. It is the most pressing global challenge of all, yet does not have a global framework for solving it. Climate change knows no boundaries and neither should we."

Source: The Independent

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Your Very Own Satellite

Admit it... you know you've always wanted one. Astro Research Corporation, a Japanese aerospace firm, has developed MySat-1, a "personal Earth orbiter" that can be yours for a mere $860,000.

The 44-pound cube can be launched within a mere 18 months of an order placement; the first one is said to be ready within a year. Once in orbit, the MySat-1 can perform a variety of sensing, observation, and scientific tasks, and can hold an assortment of payloads. Owners can track the satellite, which will orbit the Earth 14 times per day for up to 20 years, through an intranet site.

Already, MySat-1 has potential competitors, as firms in the US and Europe are developing satellites weighing two pounds and launched at a cost of $100,000. Critics, however, question the wisdom of launching personal satellites. Not only will these contribute to the growing collection of space junk in orbit, but they could also be used for nefarious purposes. Imagine the possibilities, and problems, associated with someone's "personal" spy satellite, a "personal" communications satellite used by a criminal syndicate, or a satellite used to jam or even hack into legitimate communications.

Otherwise, what, pray tell, would someone really do with their own satellite? It might not matter -- once Paris Hilton and Angelina Jolie have their own, they'll be all the rage.

Source: Discovery News

Lowest Week Ever for Prime-Time Broadcast TV Viewing

WIth few new shows on and plenty of other activities afoot, early July is historically the quietest time for TV viewing in the US. But this past July 3-9 set a precedent.

The four major broadcast TV networks (CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox) experienced their least-watch week in recorded history. Let me repeat: the networks had their least-watched week in the history of television ratings!

The networks had a combined average of 20.8 million viewers during prime time (one-fifteenth of the total US population). Only one show, NBC's new America's Got Talent, captured more than 10 million viewers. Meanwhile, cable and Spanish-language networks continue to post respectable numbers that are beginning to rival those of the "Big Four."

Is this an anomaly, or part of a long-term trend? Considering that the previous low record was set in July 2005, we may indeed be seeing a pattern emerging. What will be interesting to see is how well ratings rebound in the fall.

This news was cited by Chris Anderson's Long Tail blog, which also notes that the movie industry is experiencing similar long-term struggles, despite recent mega-hits like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis suspects a connection between declining TV ratings and the fact that YouTube is now serving 100 million videos a day.

Source: AP (via Yahoo Asia)

Microsoft, Yahoo Become Chat Buddies

Microsoft and Yahoo have launched a pilot program to test the interoperability of their respective instant messaging systems, Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger) and Yahoo Instant Messenger. Once live, the combined services will create the world's largest IM network (350 million accounts), and will include voice chat.

So where does this leave AOL's Instant Messenger, currently the most popular IM platform in the US? AOL is teaming up with Google to make AIM compatible with Google Talk, though details remain unclear.

Aside from recognizing an economy of scale, these partnerships help alleviate one of the biggest problems with instant messaging: vendors' proprietary technology that does not allow for interoperability, and forced users to maintain several applications to manage various buddy lists. Also, the incorporation of voice could be potentially disruptive to long distance phone service, particularly for international calling.

Source: CNN/Money

"Urban Dorms" for Young Professionals

So you're a young college graduate eager to make your way in the world. You want to strike out on your own, yet your modest starting salary doesn't begin to cover rent in the big city where you live and work. So what do you do?

In New York City and other metro areas with ridiculously high real estate prices, young people are turning to "urban dorms" in which creative landlords match groups of renters together in single, large apartments (a task made easier by online classified systems like Craigslist). For affordable (yet still hefty) rent in a safe and desirable location, the tradeoff is a lack of space and privacy.

Urban dorms appear to be meeting a need. However, the greater problem in many cities are real estate prices that are out of synch with the means of the majority of their residents. Urban dorms, therefore, represent a workaround rather than a direct solution to one of the major problems in urban America.

Source: New York Times

What Young People Want in Cell Phones

The cell phone market for teens and young adults is evolving into something quite different than the market for older adults. The last thing kids want is the same kind of phone Mom and Dad carry. And for the hippest and geekiest, don't even talk about the Motorola Razr -- it's soooo 2005!

The cool phones for young trendsetters are the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 and Virgin Mobile's Switch_Back (both with retractable keyboard), the Boost Motorola i875 (with video camera, MP3 player and walkie-talkie ["chirp"]), and the Amp'd Hollywood (with downloadable video clips). Boost and Amp'd are "pay as you go" services that target the youth demographic with attractive extras such as videos and games, and affordable no-contract plans.

In addition to offering sophisticated phones, many youth-oriented services also intregrate with e-mail systems, instant message services, and even MySpace pages. Clearly, the customers of these carriers see regular phone services as just one of many communication offerings that they leverage routinely. Boost, for instance, says that 65% of its traffic consists of "chirp" messages rather than traditional phone calls.

Source: New York Times

The New Cubicles: Liberation or Dilbert Run Amok?

Introduced in 1968 -- and a huge improvement over the open "bullpen" office configuration that existed before then -- the office cubicle has become a symbol of the conformity and soullessness of corporate America. It's a perception so bad that pioneering cubicle designer Robert Propst cursed his invention (which he called the "Action Office") as a tool for "monolithic insanity." The term "cube farm" is particularly demeaning, Scott Adams built a lucrative career out of lampooning cube culture through Dilbert, and the cliche "thinking outside the box" in no small way refers to the modern office environment.

Now, office furniture designers are rethinking the cubicle. For workers, they seek to make the office more ergonomically sound and visually appealing. For bosses, they promise greater productivity and more efficient use of space.

Some of the designs offered by cubicle inventor Herman Miller, Steelcase and other office furniture vendors hardly resemble the traditional cube (boo hoo!). The typical gray or almond fabric-covered panels are replaced with colorful plastics, brushed steel and translucent panels -- even, in Herman Miller's new My Studio, closet space and doors.

Herman Miller "My Office"

The new designs are meant to offer a sense of privacy, muffle voices (having to overhear others' conversations is a top employee gripe), and accommodate modern electronics (an afterthought in cubicles designed in the age of typewriters). Designers are even offering modular "conference rooms," where two or more people can gather to talk away from others.

Designers are hoping that workers will be so impressed with the new designs that they won't notice that workspaces are, on average, about half the size they were three decades ago. Back then, the typical cubicle measured 12'x12'; today's counterparts average 6'x8'.

Source: TIME

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Time for a National Telecommuting Initiative?

A recent study of telecommuting conducted by the National Technology Readiness Survey revealed two startling pieces of information:

  • If all workers in the US who are able to telecommute actually worked from home an average of 1.6 days per week, the gasoline savings would total $3.9 billion (not to mention reduced car emissions, less stress and more productive time).

  • However, only one quarter of those capable of telecommuting do so, and 14% of workers who have the option of telecommuting choose not to.

Surely, there are valid reasons why people don't telecommute even when given the ability. In some organizations, the perception may linger that teleworkers are less productive and less engaged than their in-office colleagues, or that telecommuting is somehow unprofessional. Even with a variety of electronic communication at their disposal, many organizations still place a premium on "face time." More ambitious employees may feel that working from home may hurt their career path. Some may not have a home environment that's conducive to work (lots of small children, for instance). Others may simply miss the face-to-face interaction of the workplace and the company of their co-workers.

The energy savings alone should be enough to prompt a national initiative to encourage telecommuting. Sooner or later, our government is going to have to face reality when considering the value of energy conservation, which can yield immediate and concrete benefits. Businesses should be encouraged to allow and promote telecommuting wherever possible, and maybe even receive tax credits for employees who work at home a minimum number of days per week.

Later this summer, when the media give President Bush his annual lumps for taking an extended "working vacation" at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, perhaps they should instead hold him up as a role model for telecommuting. After all, the business of state goes on regardless of the season or the President's physical location, and his staff ensure that the Teleworker-in-Chief is just as wired in Crawford as he would be in Washington.

UPDATE: Jonathan Shaw's Fixing Foibles and Follies blog cites this post, and adds one other reason for making telecommuting a national priority -- the possibility that, in the event of a bird flu or similar pandemic, telecommuting might be a necessity to keep the economy going.

UPDATE 2: An article in Red Herring suggests that the combination of high gas prices, the proliferation of broadband Internet, tools such as instant messaging that allow for informal chatting, and the move of the "MySpace Generation" into the workforce will create a "telecommuting explosion" in the coming years (or maybe even months). "There is a perceived risk that the telecommuter will not be taken seriously by the company..." the article says. "The perceived risk will only begin diminishing as younger workers who are currently about 20 years old and younger begin having an effect on the workplace." (via Velcro City Tourist Board)

UPDATE 3: Techdirt notes the elimination of telecommuting at HP due to purported abuse. However, commenters theorized that such a cutback could be construed as a layoff by proxy, forcing workers to quit by making their lives miserable.

Source: Reuters (via Excite)

US Government Updates Emergency Alert System

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the US Department of Homeland Security are developing a system to alert Americans to emergencies via their mobile devices and cable TV as well as radios.  A 21st century version of the Emergency Broadcast System developed during the Cold War, the system will allow the federal government to keep citizens informed in "situations of war, terrorist attack, natural disaster or other hazards to public safety and well-being."

The system, under development since October 2004, will be piloted in the Gulf states before being deployed nationwide.  Among the kinks remaining to be worked out include figuring out how to send out millions of text messages without jamming the cell phone carriers, and whether to allow people to "opt out" of receiving messages.

Source:  CNN.com

Salary Wars Push Up Earnings in India

India may lose its edge as a cheap IT outsourcing destination, if recent trends toward wage increases continue. A recent survey by Kelly Services has found that salaries in India have risen by nearly 14% over the past year, and by nearly 18% in the information technology industry. The reason: intense competition for talent among employers in rapidly growing industries.

Even though Indian wages remain a bargain by Western standards, outsourcers may be tempted to overlook India for cheaper (and perhaps riskier) alternatives. If this happens, Indian firms will need to differentiate themselves using other criteria, such as quality, stability and innovation. One must suspect that wage inflation will also reach other outsourcing destinations such as Russia, where workers who have helped build lucrative industries will seek better opportunities and a bigger piece of the pie.

Source: The Herman Group

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Keyboard Food Tray for Antisocial Meals

Do you eat lunch at your desk? Are you so busy that you have to eat at your desk, the alternative being starvation? Do you prefer to eat at your desk, surfing the Web or getting work done instead of going to a proper lunchroom or eatery and actually---good God --interacting with people?!? If so, the keyboard food tray is for you.

Designed by Duck Young Kong, the tray keeps your keyboard clean while providing extra surface space for your food. At least in theory: placing a drink directly above a keyboard seems awfully precarious. Plus, using the keyboard with the tray on top could get awkward.

In any case, it's a sign of the times...

Source: TechEBlog

FutureWire Turns Two

FutureWire is officially a toddler!

It was two years ago this week that FutureWire went live with its first post. Since then, it has been visited and supported by netizens from around the world, cited by many of the top blogs, and hopefully contributing in a small way to enlightenment for all.

Whether you're a regular reader or a first-time visitor, thank you for your interest and support. I look forward to another year of sharing thought-provoking, future-focused material.

Link Between Global Warming and Bigger, More Frequent Wildfires?

Yet more evidence that global warming is having an immediate and severe effect on our environment: A survey of western wildfires occurring between 1970 and 2003 by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography has found that large wildfires after 1987 were four times as frequent and destroyed nearly seven times more forest than their predecessors.

The study also found that warmer seasons with earlier snowmelts in the Rockies caused more frequent and more severe fires. "With the snowmelt coming out a month earlier, areas then get drier earlier overall and there is a longer season in which a fire can be started. There's more opportunity for ignition," says Anthony Westerling of Scripps, who headed the study. Aggressive forestry management appears to help, but it isn't stopping wildfires entirely.

Western wildfires have an economic as well as an environmental impact, as fighting wildfires in the US costs $1.7 billion a year. And with more people living in once-remote forested areas, wildfires pose a growing safety threat. Moreover, the carbon generated by wildfires only adds to greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change. Unfortunately, the Scripps study does not propose a simple solution to reversing the trend.

Source: Scientific American

Babies as Status Symbols, Lifestyle Accessories

Thanks to high-profile celebrity pregnancies and births, babies are hot these days. To support affluent new and expectant parents who are taking cues from these celebrities as well as their peers, an entire industry has grown up, providing products and services to Gen X families that their parents would barely recognize.

One of the biggest trends identified by the consumer research firm Zandl Group is that of co-parenting, with dads taking a far more proactive role in child rearing. Paternity leave, "daddy bags" and discussion forums for dads are growing in popularity, according to Zandl. Twenty-five years ago, the thought of Dad raising the kids while Mom worked was downright hilarious (and lampooned in movies like Mr. Mom)... largely because it seemed so implausible. Not anymore.

Another sea change is the idea of pregnancy and parenting as a fashion statement. Designer baby accessories, stylish maternity wear and punk-inspired infant clothing are all must-have items. As these kids grow older, they may be more likely to be involved in alternative schooling arrangements, ranging from specialized private schools to home schooling to "unschooling."

A generation ago, much of this would have seemed in poor taste at best, downright offensive at worst. But those who observe trends have seen this coming for a long time, witnessing the convergence of other trends such as fertility technology that allows older (and presumably more affluent) women to bear children, the Gen X and Gen Y redefining of adulthood, smaller families that allow for more individual attention, the growing influence of celebrity on our culture, changing gender roles, general prosperity and luxury as an expectation, and continuous redefining of status symbols (sorry, gas-guzzling cars aren't cool anymore). Of course, these trends won't affect everybody at first, as a single mom on welfare isn't going to be buying Coach diaper bags. But this demographic represents the pacesetters of culture, and through the trickle-down effect, similar fashions soon will be at a Wal-Mart or Target near you (if they aren't there already).

To the greater interest of futurists is how these children will emerge as they grow older. Comedian Stephen Colbert made waves recently at a commencement speech he gave calling the graduates of Knox College in Illinois part of "the most coddled generation in history." "I belong to the last generation that did not have to be in a car seat. You had to be in car seats. I did not have to wear a helmet when I rode my bike. You do. You have to wear helmets when you go swimming, right? In case you bump your head against the side of the pool. Oh, by the way, I should have said, my speech today may contain some peanut products."

While trying to be funny, Colbert made a salient point. Growing up in the 1970s, my parents were considered highly over-protective... but they would be considered unacceptably permissive by today's standards. In the summers I went out all day and rode my bike all over the place -- something that few parents would permit today (and with good reason, some might add). But if Gen Y is "the most coddled generation in history," will their children be even more so? And what kind of adults will that produce?

Too Much Software, Not Enought Coders

The growth of "smart" devices, combined with their being integrated almost everywhere, is creating a huge need for software to support them. According to one estimate, the number of lines of code for the average software project increased by 26% between 2000 and 2005. Yet the number of developers worldwide is reportedly growing by only 8% a year -- not enough to keep up with demand.

Despite reusable code, and barring any new rapid development methodologies (software writing software?), mass recruitment of coders or a global economic slowdown, this will lead to a shortage of software developers before long. The problem is compounded when the need for a rapid development cycle conflicts with the realities of the development process (12 to 18 months from start to finish).

Karl Gustav Niska of the software development firm Enea suggests the use of pre-integrated platforms as one solution, whereby developers can simply buy what they need from third parties instead of creating it from scratch. Interestingly, Enea specializes in embedded software and middleware for mobile devices. It makes sense... but as Forrester points out, that's only part of the story. Proprietary software and intellectual property rights are among the additional monkey wrenches thrown into the development process. Plus, an innovative company creating a new and potentially disruptive product may need to develop software from scratch and take the efficiency hit.

The demand for new and better software won't go away anytime soon. Like the global demand for oil, the marketplace is not longer just the developed world but the developing world. To meet this need, we will need to either train and nurture many more developers, or create development processes that are far more automated and less labor-intensive.

RELATED: Strategy+Business examines the possible effects of software vendor consolidation on the enterprise.

Source: Device Software Optimization

Firefox Now Commands 15% of US Browser Market

Mozilla Firefox now holds 15% of the US web browser market while use of Microsoft's Internet Explorer has fallen by 2% to below 80%, according to web statistics firm OneStat.com.

Elsewhere, the percentages of Firefox fans are even higher. In Germany, where many municipalities have embraced open source software, Firefox controls nearly 40% of the browser market. Worldwide, Firefox has nearly 13% of market share.

Both Firefox and IE are gearing up for major new releases toward the end of the year. In the past, these release periods have been good for Firefox, as they have been able to build awareness while attracting users wary of IE bugs and security flaws.

Source: BetaNews

Monday, July 10, 2006

Colleges, Students Connect via Cell Phone

The Fourth of July has come and gone, and you know what that means.  It's back-to-school time!  Well, in another couple of months, that is... When college students return to campus this fall -- perhaps even before -- their schools will be leveraging the power of the cell phone more than ever to stay in touch.

With 90% of all college students possessing mobile phones, campuses are ripping out money-losing land-line phone jacks in dorms and in some cases providing students with free or subsidized cell phones.   At some campuses, students can get real-time alerts about class assignments, cafeteria menus, and shuttle schedules.  Some also provide GPS-enabled mobile phones that, among other things, allow students to activate a tracking service so campus police know their whereabouts for safety purposes.  "Police can track a student's trip on a large screen in a bread-crumb sort of way until the student deactivates the service," said Edward W. Chapel, who helped implement a GPS system at Montclair State University.

On some campuses, the decommissioning of land lines is controversial, as some worry that cell phones won't be as reliable in case of an emergency.  The University of Cincinnati, however, is one school that sees mobile technology as the way of the future, and the cell phone as an ideal medium to keep their students informed.  "The landline probably will be obsolete in five years or so, and we want to be in the forefront of new technology," said Frederick Siff, UC's chief information officer. "Students don't carry laptops around constantly, but they always have their cell phones."

Source:  AP (via Excite)

A Chip Glut in 2007?

New electronic devices and a relatively strong economy are encouraging semiconductor manufacturers to produce microchips at full tilt. Yet this current high demand may lead to an oversupply in 2007, especially if, as Gartner and other analysts predict, a slowing global economy weakens demand for chips.

Obviously this is bad news for chip manufacturers, and it could be a mixed blessing for consumers. While chip prices could fall to make electronics more affordable than ever, a cooling economy could lessen manufacturers' incentive and ability to develop new chips that are faster, more energy efficient, and have greater capacity.

UPDATE: Applied Materials CEO Mike Splinter argues that the chip market will remain healthy next year, with no risk of producing a glut. Increased use of flash memory and the expected impact of Windows Vista will help make 2007 "a reasonably good year" for the semiconductor industry.

Source: Forbes.com

Friday, July 07, 2006

New Words Added to Dictionary

As they do every year, the editors of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary add a few new words to their venerable collection, establishing a bridge between pop culture and high culture, and illustrating how English is a dynamic, evolving language. Among the words and phrases making the cut this year are google (as a verb), himbo (male bimbo), drama queen, empty suit, bling, unibrow, bird flu and biodiesel.

Source: USA Today

Videoblogging's First Talent War

Over a decade ago, one of the hottest stories in entertainment was the late-night talk show feud between Jay Leno and David Letterman in the wake of Johnny Carson's retirement from The Tonight Show. More recently, we've seen the ascension of Katie Couric to the anchor spot at the CBS Evening News, and the corresponding demise of Dan Rather. Now, the blogosphere has its own talent drama -- perhaps a perverse sign that it is maturing as a news and entertainment medium.

Amanda Congdon was the energetic host of the popular videoblog Rocketboom until this past Wednesday, when she announced her sudden departure. Clearly, the separation was not friendly. On her personal blog, Congdon claims she was fired by former partner and Rocketboom producer Andrew Baron. "I am disheartened by Andrew Baron's decision to spread misinformation," she writes. "[He] insists on spinning things this way to shore up his assertion that I am 'walking away' from Rocketboom. I did not walk away. I did not accept Andrew's idea of 'partnership'." Baron, for his part, says that Congdon quit of her own accord.

The conflict marks a turning point in the evolution of blogs and vlogs, as money appears to be at its heart. The key difference between Congdon and Baron was how much financial interest Congdon would have in the highly successful Rocketboom, which has reportedly averaged 300,000 downloads per episode.

The blogosphere. It isn't just for hobbyists anymore.

Now that the videoblog has lost its "face," Rocketboom's future is uncertain. Like The Tonight Show without Carson (and without Jack Paar and Steve Allen before him), Rocketboom might go on, and even thrive. But that depends on whether Baron can find a replacement host with as much personality as Congdon to retain Rocketboom's fan base. In a medium of almost infinite choices, that will be difficult at best. If Rocketboom cannot survive Congdon's departure, it will signal that, just as with TV, personalities matter in the blogosphere... and are potentially worth big bucks. Perhaps they'll matter even more; in the days of Paar and Carson, TV viewers had only a handful of channels, and until 1992 The Tonight Show was the only late-night game in town.

As for Congdon, she will likely be just fine. The once-struggling actress claims that since announcing her separation from Rocketboom, she has received hundreds of supportive e-mails -- many of them from potential employers.

UPDATE: B.L. Ochman called the debut of Congdon's replacement on Rocketboom, former MTV Europe VJ Joanne Colan, "cautious and unremarkable." Commenters on Colan's personal blog, however, were more enthusiastic. Meanwhile, MediaShift explores the state of talent on other high-profile vlogs and blogs.

Source: Wired

Flash Drives for Laptops

The solid-state flash technology that powers iPod Nanos and mobile phones is making its way into laptops, where its advantages -- speed, silence, ruggedness, efficiency -- will be greatly welcomed.

Samsung's new Q30 laptop features a flash drive instead of the traditional hard drive with many delicate moving parts, giving it 32 GB of storage. Hence, it uses less power for longer battery life, features instant-on (my biggest beef about laptops is their generally slow startup time), and can tolerate far more abuse than the average laptop.

The price tag ($3,700) is steep, but flash prices are falling by 40% per year. Plus, consumers will surely embrace any technology that's faster and more reliable than what came before. For those who need more storage capacity than what flash drives can offer alone, laptop manufacturers are incorporating "hybrid" drives -- conventional drives that feature built-in flash storage for accelerated performance. One indication that we may see more hybrid drives in the future: Microsoft's new Vista operating system will reportedly contain features to take advantage of them.

Source: Forbes.com

Monday, July 03, 2006

Stephen Hawking: Think Beyond the Planet

The eminent physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking says that it's time for humans to get away from Earth -- and while we're at it, to get away from planets altogether. In a recent talk in Hong Kong, Dr. Hawking said, "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers."

Stating the obvious, perhaps. The idea for space colonization dates back at least a century, when the Russian rocket pioneer Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky said, "Earth is the cradle of mankind... but one cannot live in the cradle forever!" But Hawking took his argument a step further: Before we simply pack up and move to Mars or some other planet, we should consider what kind of structure is truly best for us.

As spheres, Hawking says, planets have less surface space than many other geometric shapes, and have a hard time accommodating rapidly growing populations. Artificial habitats such as rotating cylinders proposed by Gerald O'Neill and Tom Heppenheimer in the 1970s would be a more efficient and cost-effective way to go. Completely artificial space colonies might make their inhabitants feel a bit like hamsters, but at least those folks wouldn't have to terraform a planet with a hostile environment. Even asteroids might be preferable habitats, as their asymmetrical shapes offer higher ratios of surface area to volume.

To space enthusiasts, much of what Dr. Hawking said is not new, but his endorsement of space colonization only adds to its credibility. Unfortunately, any such endeavor would take a colossal worldwide commitment of time and money, as well as an abundance of visionary leadership -- resources not readily found in either the public or private sector these days. Just as it took the authority of Albert Einstein to alert Washington to the power and danger of nuclear energy during World War II, some current or future world leader might be listening to what Stephen Hawking has to say.

Source: Space.com

Video for the Blackberry

Everyone thinks of Blackberries as e-mail tools. Now, a Toronto-based company called Sona Mobile seeks to make the Blackberry a mobile video device as well, with a video player for the Blackberry 7130e and 8700.

The video selections are currently limited, and the player itself is still in beta. But early feedback about the player is encouraging. If Sona's efforts prove successful, it will open up mobile video to an entirely new -- and potentially huge -- audience.

Source: I4U News

More Ways to Help Computers See

Last month, we talked about an effort at MIT to help computers understand more of what their electronic eyes can see. The Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science is engaged in a similar project, which it calls Geometrically Coherent Image Interpretation.

Using this technology, a computer can take an photographic image and construct a 3D model of what it sees, based on depth perception and the ability to identify types of objects. In this way, the computer can gauge relative distances of the objects it sees -- critical for such tasks as robotic navigation -- and can distinguish classes of objects.

Source: Smart Mobs