Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New storage technologies replace old ones

In our discussion of progress in storage technology, we saw that large improvements occur when new methods of storing bits -- of differentiating ones from zeros -- are invented. Early computers used punched cards in which a one was recorded by punching a hole in a particular position on the card:

We no longer use holes in cards, but have moved to microscopic magnetized spots or pits on the surface of a rotating disk for storage. These are now being replaced by flash memory for some applications.

Researchers are always looking for new ways to differentiate between ones and zeros, and this article mentions several technologies that may take over for flash drives one day.

Do you remember computers with punched card, magnetic tape, or floppy disk storage? Does your mp3 player use a rotating disk or a flash drive for storage? Large flash drives are becoming available -- will your next laptop have a hard disk or a flash drive? What advantages would a flash drive have in a laptop? What disadvantages?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Two cool audio processing demos

We begin our discussion of audio processing with examples of speech recognition and synthesis.

I've just added two examples you might want to play around with. The first is a voice synthesis demonstration that combines text-to-speech with avatar facial animation. The second is Google's yellow page application, Goog411, which can look up a business phone number and place a call, display a map or send text information. (Goog411 is designed for mobile or desktop use).

Try the speech synthesizer. Can you understand it if someone else enters the text? Does the pronunciation change if you end a sentence with a question mark? An explanation point?

Try Goog411 and see if it can find California State University in Carson, California. Does it work well if you have an accent? For a man or woman? When there is ambient noise?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Navteq versus Tele Atlas maps

We discuss Google Maps, and the mashups Google has encouraged people to build. Initially, Google used map data from a company called Navteq, but Nokia acquired Navteq, and Google has now switched to Tele Atlas for their maps.

Note that the mapping services are not identical. Microsoft uses Navteq for their Live maps, so we can compare their map of the CSUDH campus dorm area with Google's Tele Atlas map. As you see, Navteq (right hand side) maps and labels Unity Drive and Hillside Court and they show the street addresses on Central Avenue.
This is not to imply that Navteq maps are better everywhere. Both companies have crews constantly driving the routes and updating the maps, and both invite users to submit changes online. Competition between Google and Nokia, which sells 40% of mobile phones, may lead to differentiation in map features and completeness.

Is Navteq or Tele Atlas more accurate in the neighborhood where you live? If you know of a change -- say a street becoming one way -- would you inform either Tele Atlas or Navteq?

(Thanks to Ron Jimenez for suggesting this post).

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Obama Transition Team creates ad hoc threaded discussions using Intensedebate.com

The Obama Transition Team wants input on issues from citizens, and is now hosting discussion of questions like "What social causes and service organizations are you a part of that make a difference in your community".

People post their answers to the questions, and others can post a reply, check the reputation of the person who posted the answer, or vote it up or down. In the example shown below, we see that Denise C., who has 34 reputation points, submitted an answer to the question. So far, two people have voted her answer up, and the user is invited to vote up or down.

If you follow the link to a discussion question, you will see a fairly polished Web site with a short video elaborating on the question and the ensuing discussion. The Transition Team was able to quickly create this ad hoc site with a mashup in which the video is stored on YouTube and the threaded discussion, with its reputation and rating scheme, is hosted by intensedebate.com.

Would you respond to a Transition Team question? Do you think this process will generate meaningful input from the public and that the Transition Team will read it? Will it make people feel they are being listened to? Will it change politics?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Change from Obama -- using the Internet for transparent, two-way communication during the transistion

We've discussed Obama's use of the Internet, and the difficulty of gathering meaningful input from many users.

You may recall the Bush energy policy controversy. In his second week in office, George W. Bush created the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG), charged with developing a national energy policy.

NEPDG meetings were secret, and the administration refused to share information about them with Congress. This led to the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, filing a lawsuit against the administration. The suit was dismissed.

The Obama Transition Team will hear from many groups over the next several weeks, and, in sharp contrast to Bush's policy, they will use the Internet to open those meetings. They have established a Web site for two-way communication with the public, where one can track Transition Team meetings, read documents presented at those meetings, and offer comments. You can read more and see a short video in this press release.

Do you have an interest in any of the meeting topics at "seat at the table?" Have you posted any comments? Do you feel such feedback will be meaningful, or is this sugar coating for one-way communication?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

High definition video is coming to the Net

We have seen that new data types become mainstream as technology improves, and high definition video is now becoming available on the Internet.

YouTube is now offering "high definition" video, and NetFlix and others promise to follow soon. These still frames from a YouTube video illustrate the quality improvement.

YouTube claims their high definition video is 720p -- each image is made of 720 horizontal scan lines with every line refreshed in every frame. That would place the quality somewhere between an old style TV set (525 lines, alternatively refreshed every other frame) and high quality new TV sets (1080 lines, refreshed on every frame).

Since YouTube streams video, high definition requires a high speed Internet connection.

Would you be willing to watch 720 line video on a television set? Would you be willing to pay extra for a high speed Internet connection at home if you could watch 720 line movies and television programs? How might this effect movie and television production and distribution?

Truephone -- mobile Skype (almost)

We have seen that cellular network operators control applications and devices in order to preserve their business model, which centers on selling service like SMS messages and phone call minutes rather than unfettered Internet access.

But, newer phones with both Wi-Fi and cellular radios can run VoIP software when using their Wi-Fi connections to the Internet.

Consider, for example, Truephone.com. Truephone software runs over Wi-Fi connections on the Apple iPhone, iPod Touch and other phones. As with Skype, calls to other Truephone users are free, but they charge for calls to landline and mobile phones. Truephone's rates are much higher than Skype's. For example, the per minute rate from the US to a Chilean mobile phone is $.70 on a Truephone while Skype is only $.243. The difference for landlines calls is much greater -- $.68 versus $.024.

Regardless of their rates, Truephone illustrates two points we have discussed: innovation occurs rapidly on "dumb" end-to-end networks and the Internet is a highly leveraged platform on which to develop businesses.

Truephone CEO Geraldine Wilson recognizes these points in the following quotes from a BBC article:

"There are a slew of new features we're rolling out for the iPod Touch that will let users call landlines, Skype users or send instant messages. We're talking weeks, not months, before these go live."

and

"We've decided to focus on devices that are wi-fi enabled and have an apps-store. For the consumer, there has to be an easy way of downloading an application."

They are innovating rapidly and will "outsource" distribution and sales to the Apple and Google Android stores.

Do you currently use your cell phone as an Internet access device? Would the ability to make Truephone calls convince you to do so?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai terrorist attack: the 21-hour evolution of a co-authored document.

We discuss writing for the Internet, including co-authroing composite and co-authored documents and collaborative writing by small and very large groups.

The Mumbai terrorist attack provides an illustration of a co-authored document with many authors. The Wikipedia page on the attack was started at 18:20, 26 November 2008 by a user named Kensplanet. The initial posting consisted of two sentences:

The 26 November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks were a series of attacks by terrorists in Mumbai, India. 25 are injured and 2 killed.
Kensplanet revised his initial post 5 times during the next ten minutes, then others began to contribute. By 15:44, 27 November 2008, the article was 4,780 words long with many links. During this time, there had been 942 edits. Of those, 149 were anonymous (IP address only), 199 people made only one, and 93 authors could not be identified. Two contributors had made over 50 edits. Kensplanet, who started the article, had made 57.

The organization of the article also evolved during this period. While it began as two sentences, 21 hours later it was organized into 6 major sections with 5 sub-sections:


For the story of the evolution of another Wikipedia page, see this most interesting screencast by Jon Udell.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Anyone might be a reporter with Twitter

We have seen that portable Internet access devices capable of streaming live video are becoming available. Video cameras are not yet ubiqutous, but portable devices capable of micro-blogging with Twitter are now quite common.

Here is a sad example of the use of Twitter during the terrorist attack in Mumbai.

What would be the implications for news reporting, police work and security if most people carried location-aware, mobile Internet access devices capable of Twittering, uploading pictures and streaming video?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama uses the Internet after the election

This New York Times article describes the role of the Internet in the presidential campaign. As we saw earlier, both candidates used the Internet for fund raising, mobilizing and organizing volunteers, videos of speeches, etc.

Now Barack Obama is using the Internet in the government transition process, see change.gov. The change.gov blog will inform the public of upcoming events, appointments, and other news during the transition. There are also descriptions of the administration agenda in 25 policy areas.

But they want the site to be more than a one-way broadcast of their message. We have discussed structured means of soliciting user input, and they have taken a step in that direction by allowing the public to "tell us your story in your own words about what this campaign and this election means to you" or "share your vision for what America can be, where President-Elect Obama should lead this country."

You can also apply for "non-career" jobs in the administration. Some of those are in high positions, requiring Senate approval.

The current site is clearly just a start. Links to the "Obama National Service Plan" and "Find a way to serve" are still under construction, and when you complete the job application form, you receive an email saying they will get back to you with a more detailed application in a few days. There is plenty of room for the site to improve, and I am confident that it will.

It seems that President Elect Obama is using the Internet to reiterate President Kennedy's admonition that you ask yourself what you can do for your country.

Can the Internet facilitate government "by the people?" Would you consider applying for a job in the new administration? Have you a story or suggestion you would like to share with them?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Amazon adds .NET support for enterprise developers

We have discussed infrastructure services – services that are intended for developers, not end users.

Amazon jumped off to a lead in this space, and many Web sites now use their virtual machines and storage services. They appreciate not having to invest in servers and the easy scalability of these services. The cost is also low because Amazon enjoys economies of scale and expertise in building and reliably running huge data centers.

Amazon has recently cut prices for their infrastructure services, added a service level agreement, and support for Microsoft .NET and SQL server. (They initially focused on Linux). These moves are designed to appeal to enterprise developers.

In focusing on enterprise developers, Amazon is in direct competition with Microsoft. Microsoft will be announcing their entry in this market soon. Rackspace, a large hosting firm, offers similar support for both .NET and Linux. They call it “Mosso,” which means fast in Greek, and claim that you can get started in only 8 minutes.

Web and enterprise developers will need to be able to use these infrastructure services in the future. Would you like to learn to deploy applications in the "cloud?"

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gross contributed product -- the value of Linux

We discuss people's motivation to contribute time and content, and speculate on the total value of contributed content, the "gross contributed product."

In a recent report, the Linux Foundation, estimates that it would cost approximately $10.8 billion to build the Linux community distribution Fedora 9 in today’s dollars with today’s software development costs. The market research firm IDC reports that hardware and software spending related to Linux hit $21 billion during 2007, and predicts that it will rise to $48 billion by 2011.

To put the size of the Linux market in perspective, we note that in the year 2007, the GDP of the State of Maine was $48.1 billion, and the GDP of 7 states was less.

How many people would you estimate are employed in Linux-related industries?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A cool, collaborative drawing tool

Most of you use or will be using Visio to create diagrams. I just came across Dabbleboard, a vector drawing service you might find useful.

It is not as capable and flexible as Visio, but it is very easy to use, extensible -- you can reuse shapes and shape libraries you and others create -- and, of course, it is a networked application.

Several people can work on the same drawing at the same time, and the drawing can be made public or shared within a limited group when it is published. You can create libraries based on your drawings, and there are also public libraries and tool kits.

If it sounds interesting, check this how-to screencast.

Dabbleboard has several features that facilitate and encourage collaborative work. What features would you like to see them add? What do you think the community of Dabbleboard users will add? When would you use Dabbleboard instead of Visio? When would you use Visio?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Non-economic motivation to contribute -- Jon Postel

The Internet facilitates collaboration, which is often voluntary. We discuss non-economic motivations for contributing time and effort to projects as well as the social and economic value of those contributions.

Jon Postel who died ten years ago today, led the development of critical Internet organizations and technologies without the economic incentive of an entrepreneur. You can read about his contributions here.

How was Jon Postel "paid" for his work? What was its value to society and the economy? Have you made any unpaid contributions -- perhaps "digging" a blog post, reviewing a product or book, or making an improvement to a Wikipedia page?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Commoncraft -- a business made possible by the Internet

We discuss the falling costs of content creation, publication, and distribution. Commoncraft has built a successful educational video business by taking advantage of these falling costs.

Commoncraft is a two-person (husband and wife) company, and they want to remain small. Low resolution copies of their videos are available for non-commercial use at no cost, and they license high resolution versions for commercial use.

As shown here, they have a very low-tech studio, keeping their investment low. Their time is the only significant cost of producing a video.



Distribution cost is also nearly zero. The non-commercial version of a video is distributed at no cost on YouTube and other video sites. They distribute the commercial version from their own server at minimal cost.

Marketing also costs close to nothing. They post a video on Youtube, and wait for users to find it and tell each other about it. They do "viral" marketing.

If it were not for the Internet, what would it cost to produce, market and distribute short educational videos? Since the cost of entry is so low, a Commoncraft competitor could easily spring up. (They even have a Web page showing how they make their videos). Would Commoncraft have an advantage over a competitor? Would they mind the competition?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Chrome benchmark: math is slow, but will improve -- bad news for Microsoft

Several people ran benchmarks when Google Chrome came out, and concluded that it was faster than Internet Explorer and Firefox. But others, for example this article on 10 things to love (and hate) about Google Chrome, found Chrome to be no faster. Relative speed depends upon the benchmark.

I created a Google Spreadsheet that computes 200 sines, cosines, squares and square roots. Recalculation was noticeably slower with Chrome (23 seconds) than Firefox (2 seconds) or Internet Explorer (10 seconds).

The bad news for Google is that they will have to improve the efficiency of their math libraries. The good news is that Firefox has demonstrated that it can be done. More good news -- the user will not have to install new software when it is ready. It will automatically download when the application is used.

The bad news for Microsoft is that they too will have to improve the speed of math calculations in Internet Explorer. That will not be difficult for them to do, but doing so will have a bad-news side effect -- it will narrow the speed gap between Excel and Google Spreadsheet.

This is just one example. Microsoft will be forced to improve Internet Explorer to keep up with Google, Firefox and others. But every time they improve Internet Explorer, they chip away at the advantage their dedicated Office applications have over the network applications of Google and others. The performance gap between desktop and network-based programs narrows.

Can you think of other new technologies that painted an old technology into a corner? If you were running Microsoft, how would you deal with this situation?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Encouraging Android and iPhone application developers

We discuss the importance of building communities of users and of developers.

Google and T-Mobile just announced the availability of the first phone running Google's Android operating system. Android is strategic for Google because it is bundled with their applications, and they are entering the mobile Internet access market along with the Apple iPhone.

Both companies are trying to attract application developers for their platforms. Apple has established a $100 million venture capital fund for start up companies with ideas for interesting applications and has an iPhone Developers Program where developers find tools and technical and business information.

Google also understands the importance of developers to the success of Android, and they have allocated $10 million for awards for innovative applications. The first set of winners has been selected, and the second round of competition is under way. The ten top applications in the first round are here.

Apple has created an online store to help developers sell and distribute their applications, and Google has announced their intention to do the same for applications that run on Android phones.

To encourage development, Apple distributes free applications at their store, and charges a reasonable commission on commercial applications -- they hope to profit by selling more Apple hardware. Google will be selling advertising, not hardware, so they hope their store will encourage both software developers and handset manufacturers to adopt the open-source Android platform.

Finally, and this is highly speculative, Android is Google's operating system for mobile Internet access devices -- might they one day release a full-scale version for the desktop, competing directly with Microsoft Windows, Linux and Apple OS X? Microsoft and Apple adapted their desktop operating systems to hand-held devices -- might Google be planning to adapt their hand-held operating system to the desktop one day?

Is Google truly competing with Apple? Does it help or hurt Google if someone buys an iPhone instead of an Android handset?

17 percent of European households now use VoIP

We discuss VoIP in class. A recent market research report shows VoIP growing rapidly in Europe. At the end of 2004, 1.9 million VoIP lines were in service, equivalent to just over 1 percent of European households. By the end of 2007, Europe was up to 25.3 million lines and 17 percent of households.

As shown here, VoIP service is growing faster in Europe than in the US, and is eating into the traditional switched circuit revenue of the phone companies.

Do you ever use VoIP? If so, do you use an Internet program like Skype or do you get your service from a phone company?

Fiber now connects 3.76 million US homes

We discuss home connectivity. Today, DSL and cable are the most commonly used home connectivity technologies, but we expect that, in the long run, we will have fiber links to our homes. Today, that is far from the case. A recent market research report estimates that fiber now passes 13.8 million U. S. homes and 3.76 million are broadband subscribers.

What percent of US homes is 3.76 million? Providing fiber links requires investment in equipment and trenches and installation -- which neighborhoods will operators focus on first? Will all neighborhoods eventually be served?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Synchronizing data for offline work

We defined network applications, as opposed to stand-alone applications, as those in which either the data, programs, or both are stored on the network.

All network applications store data on a server, but some also store copies of the data on the client. That enables a user to work when off line -- perhaps when traveling -- and automatically synchronize the data on the two machines when the client re-connects to the network.

This short video illustrates offline editing while using Zoho's Writer word processing service, and you can read more about it here.

Note that it uses Google Gears, an open source program that must be installed on the client computer.

Google wrote and supports Gears as an open source project -- what is their reason for doing so? Why is Gears strategic for Google?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Miniature projectors

We discuss technology progress, which, when significant, can lead to completely new applications.

A year ago, we noted some newly developed technology for miniature projectors. 3M has now announced a projector using that technology. The list price is $359, the display resolution is 640 by 480, and it is reportedly bright enough to project an 11 inch image in a lit room. This projector is a stand-alone device designed to connect to a laptop or PDA.

Other companies are working on similar products. If that leads to continued technology improvement -- lower cost, smaller size, higher resolution and brighter displays -- we may see projectors bundled into phones and PDAs.

What technology barrier may keep that from happening?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Senator Kohl questions cellular competition

We discuss the competitive nature of the US cell phone and ISP markets. Generally speaking, ISPs and cell phone companies oppose regulation, arguing in favor of private enterprise and competition. Is there competition in these markets? Let's look at text messaging.

In 2005, each US cell phone company charged 10 cents to send or receive a text message. No doubt they had different cost structures and strategies -- you might have expected one of them to cut their price to try to win new customers. Well they did change their prices -- today they are all charging 20 cents.

Do you find that surprising in this competitive marketplace? Do you suppose their costs rose during those years? Its only fair that they cover their costs, right?

Text messages are transmitted in 140 byte (1,120 bit) packets -- 1,120 bits delivered for 20 cents. How much would it cost to deliver a recorded song at that rate?

Let's be conservative and assume the typical song is 2 minutes long. If it were encoded at 256k bits per second, the rate Apple iTunes uses for premium recordings, that would be roughly 30,720,000 bits -- the equivalent of 27,429 text messages. If a music vendor like Apple charged the same rate per bit as a text message vendor, a song would cost around $5,486 to transmit, yet Apple manages to sell and deliver songs, and make a profit at $1.29 per song.

US Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, recently asked the presidents and chief executive officers of the four largest wireless telephone companies to justify their text message rates. In a letter, Senator Kohl requested an explanation from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, which collectively serve more than 90 percent of the nation's cellular phone users.

Do you think the cellular market is competitive? The Internet access market? What do you think Senator Kohl is planning to do?

-----
Update 3/13/2015

WhatsApp reports that it now has 700 million monthly active users sending 30 billion messages a day. For comparison, the global SMS system sees about 20 billion messages a day.


Here is the decline of SMS in several nations:


Senator Kohl's call for action went nowhere, but he needn't have worried -- no monopoly lasts forever.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Will Google Chrome paint Microsoft into a corner?

Google recently announced their Chrome browser. They released a beta version that lacks many of the planned features, but they claim that it is more stable and secure than the competition, and explain why that is so in this neat comic book presentation.

They also say JavaScript programs run very fast when using Chrome. Chrome trounces other browsers when running benchmarks that Google designed. In some other benchmarks, it is still faster than Firefox and much faster than Internet Explorer.

When does JavaScript speed matter? We discuss dynamic Web applications, in which programs are downloaded to the client when the user visits a Web site. Those programs are typically written in JavaScript, so they will run much faster on Chrome than Internet Explorer.

Google is betting on network applications, and speed is critical if their networked word processor, spreadsheet, and other programs are to compete with Microsoft Office. A networked word processor or spreadsheet program has advantages over a stand-alone program like Word or Excel, but also has disadvantages, one of which is being slow. If Google Docs runs a lot faster with Chrome than current browsers, it will appeal to more people, and perhaps eat into Microsoft's very profitable Office sales.

If Chrome is a lot faster than Internet Explorer, customers will adopt it. But, ironically, if Microsoft counters by improving the speed of Internet Explorer, they will hurt Office sales.

Microsoft Office is sold by their Business Division, where fiscal 2008 consumer revenue dipped 2 percent, or $80 million. Microsoft analyst Joe Wilcox thinks this is the start of a "gradual, but later rapid decline." Faster browsers will accelerate the decline.

As communication technology improves, will Google's network application strategy gain or lose advantage over stand-alone software? How about improvement in storage technology? How about improvement in electronic technology?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Internet and the presidential election

We eventually learn to use new media, but at first we mimic old media. For example, this 1952 presidential ad for Eisenhower is like a radio jingle with crude animation:



It seems goofy today, but was made by intelligent, creative people at the time.

Many people feel that John Kennedy was the first presidential candidate to effectively use television. Checking his commercials from the 1960 campaign, we see sincere statements by the candidate, attack ads and celebrity endorsement ads as well as Eisenhower-era jingles. Kennedy also had the ability to speak directly to the voter as shown in this clip:



Earlier, Franklin Roosevelt broke new ground by communicating directly with the people in weekly fireside chats on the radio.

The Internet is today's new media. Howard Dean and John McCain pioneered in using the Net for fund raising during the 2000 and 2004 elections, and both of the current candidates are using it for position papers, fund raising, community formation, video, instant messaging, Twitter streams, email, etc. this year.

In this interview, Phil Noble of the consulting firm Politics Online says Obama may be to the Internet what John Kennedy was to television and the New York Times published this excellent article on the importance of the Internet in the campaign on the day before the election.

For more examples of presidents using radio and television, see the archives of presidential speeches at the University of Virginia and presidential campaign commercials at Living Room Candidate.

Have you registered with either (or both) the presidential campaign sites? Have you contributed to a candidate on the Internet? Have you created blogs on either campaign site? Do you see differences in the way Obama and McCain are using the Internet?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Consumer electronic devices on your home LAN

We talk about home LANs and their eventual convergence with consumer electronics like TV sets and audio equipment.

This New York Times article surveys some of the Internet-ready consumer electronic devices that were shown at a recent German trade show.

Do you have a home LAN? If so, is your TV, sound system or any other consumer electronic device connected to your LAN?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Technology transitions -- the early days of the Web

Today's freshman cannot remember a time before the Web, but, at first, HTTP and HTML were just newly proposed protocols without users. In the early 1990s, email, file transfer, network news, and remote login were important Internet applications. We also read documents from Gopher servers, and found them using search services like Veronica, WAIS, and Archie or a directory called "Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web," which was maintained by two graduate students and later renamed "Yahoo!".

Gopher sites had tables of contents with links to documents, but no links within documents. The text could not be formatted (as we do with HTML today), and there were no images, only text. Web files were larger than Gopher files, but that became less important as communication speed -- faster modems -- improved.

As with all technology transitions, the Web protocols co-existed with Gopher and related search engines for some time. John December, a graduate student at the time, documented this transition period and his outlook for the Web in a book and in this article.

Can you give an example of another emerging application that depends upon increased communication speed? Increased storage capacity? Increased computation speed?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Computer science research leads to commercial products

Computer scientists at universities and the research labs of companies like Microsoft, Google or IBM work on new ways of doing things that may one day be used in commercial projects. In addition to theoretical studies, they often build hardware or software prototypes that test and demonstrate their ideas. (The slogan "demo or die" is common in such labs).

They also publish papers describing their work in technical journals and conference proceedings. One can get a glimpse of the future by reading those papers and attending conferences. For example, the 2008 conference of the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics (SIGGRAPH for short) was just held in Los Angeles. Projects presented at SIGGRAPH foreshadow tomorrow's image and video editing programs. For a first look at features that might one day be in Photoshop or Windows Movie Maker, check these projects:

You will find demonstration videos and technical papers at each of these sites.

The case of Pixar Animation illustrates the research-commerce relationship. In 1986 Pixar, then a brand new company, showed its first film, a short called Luxo Jr., at the SIGGRAPH conference. Watch Luxo Jr. and you will note things like the accuracy of moving light, shadows and reflections and the sinusoidal movement of the lamp cord when Luxo jumps. Achieving that sort of realism was state of the art research in 1986, therefore relevant for a scientific meeting. (The creation of a cute character was not science, but story telling art). The interplay between research and commerce continues -- Pixar employees presented a technical paper and a course at SIGGRAPH 2008.

Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists watch developments at research conferences like SIGGRAPH for ideas -- what are some other computer science conferences?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How can we achieve broadband competition?

We have discussed Columbia University Law Professor Tim Wu's wireless policy recommendations. In a recent NY Times editorial, he addresses broadband policy in general. Wu compares the US telephone and cable companies control over Internet connectivity to OPEC's control over world oil production and price.

Wu says Americans spend almost as much on bandwidth as we do on energy, and both are important to the economy and quality of life. (See our exercise on the cost of home connectivity and content).

He is aware that the US connectivity has fallen behind many developed nations, and feels we need to act to increase competition. He suggests municipal networks, customer owned fiber, and more license free spectrum. He concludes that "there is a pressing need to explore all alternative supplies of bandwidth before it is too late".

Roads, sewer systems, electricity and water are often supplied by municipal, state or federal government agencies. Do you feel there is a role for government in broadband communications? Can you state an argument for government participation? Against it?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools

Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools are free services that help you improve your Web site and increase traffic and visibility.

Google Analytics:

Google Analytics enables you to track traffic and visitors to your site during a given day, week or month. The reported statistics include:

  • the number of visitors
  • where they were located (city, nation, region, continent)
  • how many pages they viewed
  • which pages they viewed
  • which browser and operating system they used
  • what their screen resolutions and connection speeds were
  • how many came directly, from search engines, or from referring sites
(You can see a call to Google Analytics just before the "/body" tag at the end of my home page. A call like that one must be inserted in every page you wish to track, but it can be inserted automatically using an "include" file).

Google Webmaster tools:

Google Webmaster Tools report information their search engine finds when "crawling" your pages. Information includes:
  • diagnostics -- which pages on your site have problems like broken links?
  • top search queries -- which queries returned your site and what was its rank?
  • external links -- which sites link to your site, and which page do they link to?
Google Webmaster Tools also enable you to upload a sitemap file for your Web site. A sitemap file is a list or your site's URLs. Adding a sitemap file to your Web site will improve your Google searches (though Google does not reveal how they use the file).

A sitemap file must be in a standard (XML) format, and creating one by hand would be tedious. Luckily, there are a number of programs to automatically generate sitemap files. Maposite.com is a handy service for generating sitemap files. Once you have generated the file, you upload it to the root of your Web site, and let Google Webmaster Tools know it is there.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Wikia search combines explicit and implicit user input

We discuss the importance of user supplied content. For example, all Wikipedia content is explicitly entered by users who create and edit entries.

Google also uses user supplied data. The more links there are to a given page, the higher its search ranking. Every time someone creates a link to a Web page, they implicitly give it a vote. They do not have to take extra time or effort -- the value of the data to Google and the Internet community is a by-product of creating the page.

The Wikia search engine uses both implicit and explicit user input. A Wikia search turns up listings similar to Google's, but lets the user evaluate and comment on the search results. To test it, I did a vanity search on my own name.

As shown here, Wikia found my home page and a number of other pages containing my name, and displayed them in the conventional Google style:



But, unlike Google, there are several input options on the right side of the screen. A user can edit, annotate, spotlight, comment on or delete the search result. As shown here, I spotlighted the entry and added a comment stating that this was my home page:



Wikia is separate from Wikipedia, but Jimmy Wales was a co-founder of both. You can read an interview of Wales on his hopes for Wikia search here.

Do you consider del.icio.us tags explicit or implicit? If you did a search, would you take the extra time to add comments to the result?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ten technologies to watch

The Gartner Group, a prominent IT consulting and research firm, has published a list of ten technologies they believe will change the world in the next four years:

  1. Multicore and hybrid processors
  2. Virtualization and fabric computing
  3. Social networks and social software
  4. Cloud computing and cloud/Web platforms
  5. Web mashups
  6. User Interface
  7. Ubiquitous computing
  8. Contextual computing
  9. Augmented reality
  10. Semantics
One can argue with the choices -- they were probably dreamed up in a brainstorming session around a conference table. One can also question the value and expertise of consulting firms like Gartner, as Robert Cringely did recently. But, this still serves as a checklist of technologies to keep an eye on. At the very least, you should have an idea what each is.

You can join in on a discussion of Gartner's list at Slashdot.

Which of these technologies seems like the most fun to work on? Gartner is only one of many IT consulting and research firms -- what are some others?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Free tools for working with Flash video files

Flash (.flv), probably the most common Internet video format, is used by Youtube and many other sites. If you download a video, you you might want to convert it to another format, strip off the audio as an .mp3 file, or edit it. Check out this list of free tools for processing Flash video.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Senator Lieberman objects to terrorist video on YouTube

We saw earlier that al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades were using Google Earth to site targets. Terrorist organizations also use the Internet for recruiting, logistics, propaganda, etc.

Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked Google, the parent company of the YouTube, to "immediately remove content produced by Islamist terrorist organizations" from the site and prevent similar content from reappearing.

Google, refused stating “While we respect and understand his views, YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone's right to express unpopular points of view.”

A spokesperson for Lieberman then stated that the senator found the response unsatisfactory and was troubled that the company "does not appear willing to change its guidelines to prevent foreign terrorist organizations (as designated by the State Department) from posting videos used to radicalize followers and incite them to violence."

Evidently Lieberman feels that the Islamist organizations have a right to free speech in the US, but that Google does not have the obligation to publish their speech.

Every nation makes some attempt to control Internet content. Some ban pornography, others the sale of Nazi memorabilia, etc. Do you think Google should comply with Lieberman's request? What are the moral considerations? The practical business considerations?

Monday, May 12, 2008

User supplied content and network effects

We discuss the value of user-generated content. An early example was Amazon.com, which beat a better established competitor, Barnes and Noble, by encouraging people to submit reviews of books.

Wikipedia and Craigslist are two other well known examples. The Wikipedia Foundation, which runs one of the most visited sites on the Web, had only 14 employees as of March 2008. Craigslist had only 23 employees in October 2006 yet it was one of the ten most visited Web sites, as we see here:



This list may be exaggerated -- other companies like the BBC and Disney have diverse interests going far beyond their Web sites and revenue at Craigslist is far below the other companies on the list -- but it makes the point that providing a uniform place for users to post their content is sufficient to build a very valuable service.

Ebird provides another example. Ebird is not commercial -- it is a citizen science site, operated by the Audubon Society and Cornell University, where bird watchers can submit their observations. Ebird gives individual bird watchers a secure, handy place to store their observations, and the collected data may be analyzed for scientific purposes, as we see in this map showing the US Osprey population:



Services which, like these, grow in value as the number of users (content contributors) grow, are said to enjoy network effects.

Can you give examples of other services that rely on users for content and enjoy network effects? Can you think of such a service that might be of value to students on our campus? To students world wide?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Clearwire, Sprint, Intel and Google shoot for mobile Internet access

We discuss mobile connectivity. Today, third generation cellular is the most common means of mobile connectivity, but wireless communication using WiMAX technology is becoming available for both fixed and mobile applications.

Sprint and Clearwire have planned WiMAX deployment for some time, but they have now formed a new company and taken in strategic partners Intel and Google. The new venture, also called Clearwire, plans to be available to between 120 and 140 million people by 2010. That is only about 40 percent of the US, but it is significant.

Intel is a leading WiMAX hardware vendor. Today's laptops usually have WiFi radios for local area connectivity, and Intel wants tomorrow's laptops to also have WiMAX chips for wide area connectivity. Google is interested in mobile computing and wants their applications, Youtube videos and ads to be on every cell phone and mobile Internet access device.

If you could get high speed mobile access using a handheld device like an Apple iPhone, what would you use it for? How much would you be willing to pay for the mobile service? Would you want your phone to be separate from your Internet access device?

Clearwire hopes to be available to 40% of the US population by 2010 -- which areas will get service first?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Abilene Christian converts to Google Apps for Education

We discuss the pros and cons of using Internet services, and have seen that several universities are using Internet services for some of their IT applications.

Abilene Christian University is a recent convert to Google Apps for Education. The "easy", "no brain" decision has saved them $100,000 per year while improving service, security and reliability. The savings came from eliminating servers and one position, but rather than cutting staff, they re-assigned the position from administrative computing to development in support of instruction.

The primary applications have been Google email, shared documents, and shared calendar. They are also pleased that the Google applications are compatible with the iPhone and iTouch Internet access devices incoming freshmen receive.

You can read more here and here or watch CIO Kevin Roberts describe their decision, the conversion process, the applications and advantages in this four minute video clip.

What are the advantages of Google's Gmail over our current campus email system? What would be the drawbacks or risks of converting to Gmail and other Google applications?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Web anniversary -- 15 years in the public domain

We discuss IT history, including that of the Web.

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the placing of the Web in the public domain -- enabling it to grow to what it is today.

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. He proposed that CERN develop a hypertext (link) based document management system for the Internet. You can read his proposal here.

The proposal was accepted and work began on what would become the first Web client/server.

On April 30 1993, CERN placed the Web software in the public domain, allowing anyone to build and use Web browsers and servers without paying a royalty. The BBC published several articles commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of that date, including:

What do you think would have happened to the Web if CERN management had decided to copyright the Web protocols and software and charge royalties for those wanting to use them?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Analyzing and improving Web site performance

We discuss the HTTP protocol and Web site timing. WebSiteOptimization is a good source of information about speeding up your Web site. The site includes:

  • A free Web site analysis and optimization service, which breaks out the load time of all Web page components and makes suggestions for improving performance.
  • A speed tweak of the week -- weekly tips on how to improve Web site performance.
  • Data analysis like this paper showing a three time increase the average size of a Web page and doubling of the number of objects during the last five years. (The average Web page is no longer useful for those with dial up connections or those in developing nations).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Should you write a paper or create an ad hoc blog?

I just gave a presentation on computer literacy courses at a conference. People typically write papers for publication in a conference proceedings, but I decided a companion blog would be more useful.

Creating an ad hoc blog for a project, event, or, in my case, a conference presentation, takes only a few minutes, but providing the content is somewhat more time consuming than writing a paper for publication.

My ad hoc blog ended up with 2,964 words in 9 posts. Writing it took longer than writing a paper of the same length with 9 sub-headings because of the inclusion of 76 links to references and enrichment material. Some of those 76 links would have been references in a traditional paper, but I would have left most of the enrichment material out. Since I was writing for a blog, and knew the reader could easily skip a link or follow it, I left them in. Adding the links is mechanical, but discovering and reading the enrichment material was time consuming. It also meant I learned more.

The division of the blog into 9 separate posts, each of which stands alone, allows the reader to focus only on portions of interest. Category tags and full-text search also help the reader focus and make sub-sections more discoverable.

Reading a blog is different than reading a paper. The author does not specify a reading sequence, and transitions between sections (posts) are not explicit. These drawbacks could be overcome by knitting the blog posts together into a linear paper or by preparing an overview post -- an extended abstract with links to the individual posts. Writing a traditional paper or an overview post would be relatively simple once the blog was complete, but it would still take time. (I will do both when I find time).

An electronic publication like an ad hoc blog is also mutable, whereas a conference proceedings is fixed once it is published. For example, I revised the Internet Writing post twice after publishing it. The blog also allows for comments and other feedback. Of course, an online conference proceedings can also be changed and feedback can be solicited.

The blog might also continue to grow. The first nine posts of the computer literacy blog were related to my presentation, but the tenth summarized a related presentation I heard at the conference. Some ad hoc blogs may continue after the event.

A final consideration is academic credit. Even if a blog is more effective than a paper, an academic writer may be reluctant to go that route due to publication pressure. The traditional notion of academic publication is out of date.

You often write term papers for classes. Would creating an ad hoc blog be preferable? Why or why not?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Writing for the Internet: conversations, short documents and collaborative wrting

Netcraft publishes a monthly survey of the Web. Their April, 2008 survey reports 1.1 million new blogs were created using Blogger alone.

Some of those 1.1 million are just tests, and they will be abandoned. Others are ad hoc blogs, set up for a single event or project. Others will go on for years. Regardless, it is clear that a lot of people are writing for blogs -- professionally and personally.

We should examine our writing curriculum with this in mind. What sorts of things will our students be writing after graduation? Much of what they write will be for the Internet or intranet. That means they will be participating in electronic conversations, writing short documents like blog posts or Web pages, and doing collaborative writing.

You can read more on this topic in a post on the impact of the Internet on the writing curriculum.

A student recently wrote "I will write 42 pages for class this semester ... and over 500 pages of email". How many pages will you write for your classes this semester? How many emails, blog posts, instant messages, twitters, FaceBook pages, etc. will you write for the Internet?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Does being open pay off?

In spite of setbacks and roadblocks, there is an overall trend toward increased Internet and telecommunication openness and standards. (The ball started rolling with the 1956 Hush-A-Phone Case which forced AT&T to allow us to attach devices to their network).

We talk about openness and transparency in various contexts. We talk about the end-to-end, dumb Internet where anyone can run any application and connect any device. We talk about the cellular providers trying to keep control over their networks, but gradually begining to loosen up. We have seen record companies first try to control music copying, then starting to sell unprotected .mp3 songs. YouTube is open to all comers as are FaceBook, MySpace and thousands of other sites. I came across a different sort of openness while ordering a book at Amazon.com.



As you see here, Amazon sold new copies of the book I wanted for $18.25 plus shipping. They also listed offers to sell the same book from 36 of their competitors. One competitor, FeelGoodReaders, was selling the book new for $14.55 and another had a used copy that was "like new" for only $12.75. In fact Amazon listed 12 competitors who were selling new copies of the book for less than their price of $18.25 and many others selling cheaper used copies. Amazon also told me that FeelGoodReaders had an excellent reputation -- 99% of their customers gave them positive reviews.

Based on this, I bought the book from FeelGoodReaders. Was Amazon hurt or helped by their openness? What did the decision to show the competitor's prices and customer ratings cost Amazon? Did it benefit them at all? Did it benefit the economy?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Soon we will have Internet video cameras in our pockets

Video is now a common Internet data type and mobile Internet access devices are becoming available. You can see the convergence of these trends in this video of a test drive of a Tesla electric car:



The audio and video quality is poor, but it was shot using a Nokia N95 cell phone camera and streamed on the Internet as it was being recorded.

(The video is worth watching in its own right -- Tesla's founder discusses their technology and plans for the future while taking a joy ride).

We saw the Apple iPhone this year, and large phone vendors are now demonstrating their own mobile Internet access devices. Soon portable video cameras will be ubiquitous.

Ubiquitous, Internet-connected video cameras will be used for many business and personal applications. Will they also affect politics and government? Would it have mattered if the students at Tienanmen Square or the recent Tibetan demonstrators had been online? How many athletes and spectators will be online in China during the upcoming Olympic Games? How many people will be online in Iraq next year?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Today's students take the Internet for granted and want to use it in school

We have seen that today's students have been raised with information technology (see
Beloit College Mindset list and Characteristics of today's students).

In a recent three part column, Robert Cringley noted that schools are now full of computers, but, increasingly, technical resources are devoted to keeping students from using their information technology -- defending against instant messaging, blogging, Web surfing, reading and writing email, twittering, playing games, etc. during class and exams as well as against plagiarism.

Cringley thinks we will be forced to accept student's use of technology, stating

We've reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools (my emphasis).
That is a strong statement -- do you feel it is over the top?

You can read Cringley's three columns for yourself Column 1, Column 2, and Column 3.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Intel RCP -- a packaged rural wireless solution

We discuss wireless communication, and an earlier class used WiFi wireless technology to connect our campus dorms to the Internet. They used 802.11A for the links between the dorm buildings and 802.11G to connect to student's computers in their dorm rooms inside the building.

Intel has taken a similar approach with their Rural Connectivity Program (RCP). (Watch the short video). They have combined the components we used in the dorm into a single, commercial package. An Intel RCP node puts two radios (one using 802.11A for a long distance link and a second using 802.11G for user connectivity) in a weatherproof box along with antennae for local access and a high-gain, focused antenna for the longstance link. They also modify the modulation method to improve communication speed and reliability.

Our dorm buildings are only 100 or so meters apart, whereas Intel intends RCP links to be as much as 60 miles apart. Their goal is to provide a link from a rural village or farm back to an ISP for Internet connectivity. Their target market is developing nations, but many rural areas in the US also lack connectivity.

Can you think of a place where Internet access is not available in the US? Would Intel RCP offer a solution?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Synchronous collaboration -- working in different places at the same time

Several years ago -- before the Web was invented -- I was at the home of a Russian networking pioneer. I noticed that he had a computer in his living room that was connected over dial-up phone line to the Internet connection at his office. He told me he had called the office six months earlier, and, since there was no charge for local calls within Moscow, he never hung up the phone.

The cost of Internet connectivity is fixed -- you pay a flat fee for the month. That fee structure encourages same-time collaboration. Consider the way this programmer describes his work day.

He works with a colleague in a different state, but they remain in constant communication -- as if they were in the same room. Like my colleague in Russia, they open the connection between them when they arrive at work, and leave it open all day. He mentions using several networked applications -- Skype (VOIP), IRC (chat), Wiki (for documentation), and VNC (screen sharing) -- to facilitate collaboration.

(The recorded comment was made by an audience member at a panel discussion on attention).

But, can we have rich, emotional communication over the Internet? In 1980, artists Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz connected larger-than-life video displays in Los Angeles and New York using a satellite link. They called the event "Hole in Space," and it was The Mother of all Video Chats. They demonstrated that, with sufficient bandwidth, emotion and presence could surely be communicated. Here are some video excerpts from their experiment followed by a short public-policy rant.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Characteristics of today's students

We have discussed the Beloit College Mindset List, which characterizes today's incoming freshman class.

Michael Wesch's video Vision of Students Today is similar, but perhaps a bit darker. The video shows students in a large lecture hall holding up signs stating their characteristics.



Many of the characteristics it portrays have to do with the Internet and its implications and applications. For example:

  • I spend 3 1/2 hours a day online.
  • I will write 42 pages for class this semester ... and over 500 pages of email
  • I will read 8 books this year ... and 2,300 Web pages and 1,281 FaceBook profiles.
  • I buy $100 textbooks that I never open.
  • I bring my laptop to class, but I'm not working on class stuff.
  • I FaceBook through most of my classes.
  • This laptop costs more than some people in the world make in a year.
The video was produced by Wesch and his cultural anthropology students at Kansas State University. Visit their Web site for more information.

Last, but not least, check out this Doonesbury cartoon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Television video is becoming economically feasible

We discuss the notion that new data types become economically feasible as technology improves. A New York Times article indicates that television quality video may soon be common on the Internet.

As shown here, over 100 million videos were streamed from four network Web sites during December, 2007.



The Times also reported that 2.7 million people watched the season four premier of The Office on the Internet and 9.7 watched it on television. (The Office is a dialog-heavy program, better suited to the computer screen than an action program). The article also mentions a survey conducted last October by Nielsen Media Research which found that one in four Internet users had streamed full-length television episodes online during the previous three months.

Note that these surveys were taken in the United States, where connectivity is mediocre by the standards of developed nations.

Have you watched a television episode on the Internet? If not, why not? If so, how was the experience? These surveys refer to television quality video. Would high-definition TV programs or movies be as common on the Internet?

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Beloit College Mindset List -- Technology changes the experience of young people

We cover the implications of technology for individuals. For ten years, Beloit College has published its Mindset List of characteristics of the incoming freshman class. The list for each year has about 70 items, and some of them are relevant to our course. For example, the lists for the classes of 2010 and 2011 include these statements about incoming freshmen:

  • They are wireless, yet always connected.
  • “Google" has always been a verb.
  • Bar codes have always been on everything, from library cards and snail mail to retail items.
  • They have rarely mailed anything using a stamp.
  • Being techno-savvy has always been inversely proportional to age.
  • Music has always been “unplugged.”
  • Thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time.
  • Virtual reality has always been available when the real thing failed.
  • The World Wide Web has been an online tool since they were born.
  • They’re always texting 1 n other.
(Click here for more student characteristics).

Do these and other items on the list accurately describe you? In what ways should our class change to reflect these changes?

37Signals -- excellence in Internet customer relations

We discuss progress in storage, electronics and communication, and it is common knowledge that all three technologies are improving exponentially. Everyone speaks of "Moore's Law." (But few read the short article that gave rise to the term).

What do companies do when better technology cuts their costs? Most grin and watch their profit margin rise. But, another alternative is to create good will by passing some of the savings on to customers.

When I logged on to my 37Signals Basecamp site yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to see this message:

More storage space for the same price!

Last night we increased file storage space for Personal through Premium plans. Personal plans now get 1 GB (up from 250 MB), Basic plans now get 3GB (up from 500 MB), Plus plans now get 10 GB (up from 3 GB), and Premium plans now get 20 GB (up from 10 GB). Max plans remain at 50 GB for now, but if enough people start to hit that limit we will increase that limit as well. We hope you find the increased storage space useful and thanks again for being our customers!

That, combined with their forthright handling of a recent service interruption, is a case study in good customer relations!

Which do you feel has done a better job of passing technology improvements along to the consumer -- PC companies or telephone companies?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

164 terabit per second communication

We discuss exponential improvements in electronic, storage and communication technology and backbone networks.

The first NSFNet backbone links had a speed of 64 kilobits per second. Today, links with speeds of 10 gigabits per second are common. That is considerable improvement, but researchers have recently achieved 164 terabits per second over a distance of 2,500 kilometers, an indication that we will one day see much faster backbone links.

The researchers reported using "164 wavelength-division multiplexed channels modulated at 100 Gbps in the effort." In plain English, what is that saying?

How many times faster is 164 terabits per second than 10 gigabits per second? How many times faster is 10 gigabits per second than 64 kilobits per second?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mobile Internet access is looking up

We have discussed mobile device form factors. We still don't know what form factor the public will choose, but we just got an indication. Apple's iPhone is a better Internet access device than any previous cell phone, and, since it was introduced, Google has seen 50 times more searches on the iPhone than any other mobile handset.

Virtually all phone manufacturers are working on touchscreen devices similar to the iPhone, and many of them will use Google's Android operating system and application bundle.

Phone manufacturer Nokia is convinced the public will want mobile Internet access. They recently purchased NAVTEQ, the street mapping company used by Google Maps and others. Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia president and CEO, believes GPS chips will be as common in mobile phones as cameras. He says "navigation is one of the foundations of the context-aware mobile phone. We believe it will be as important as voice capability was 20 years ago."

IPhone users like to access the Internet, but that does not prove the billions of simple cell phone users will feel the need to convert. Is mobile Internet access important to you or are you satisfied with your current cell phone? If you had a mobile Internet device, what would stop you from running Skype or another VOIP program instead of using cell call minutes? Check these hypothetical auto navigation videos from NAVTEQ -- would you use these applications?

Mega data centers and electric power

As we have seen, there are data centers and Internet exchange points in many cities. These are very large, but they pale in comparison to the data centers being built around the world by Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and other large organizations which hope to provide the utility infrastructure for the era of network-based applications.

Consider Google's data center in The Dalles Oregon, which is described in an article on "Information Factories" by George Gilder. The data center at The Dalles is the latest and most advanced of about two dozen Google data centers and is estimated to house at least 450,000 servers.

Google located the data center at The Dalles because electric power was plentiful and cheap. A study published in 2007 estimated that in 2005 servers, cooling and auxiliary infrastructure consumed 1.2% of US power, an amount comparable to that for color televisions. The 2005 electric bill was about $2.7 B in the US and $7.2 B for the world. Network World estimated the 2006 US bill at $4.5 B -- about 1.5% of US electricity for the year -- and expects that to double by 2011. Given these costs, Intel, AMD, SUN and others are working very hard to produce low power electronics and servers, but the number of servers is rising rapidly.

Harper's Magazine took a somewhat critical look at the politics involved in bringing Google to The Dalles.

The Economist has also had an article on the global growth and consolidation of data centers.

For ongoing discussion of power and the environmental impact of this topic, see Bill St.Arnaud's blog Green IT/Broadband and Cyber-Infrastructure.

This article in the New York Times Magazine talks about data center power and other characteristics -- from the point of view of society and organizations.

Google's data center in The Dalles is also discussed in Slashdot and in
The New York Times


Our communication infrastructure, data centers, and personal computers consume a lot of electric power. Do they save power as well?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Finding, then filtering blogs

We discuss blog applications and platforms. But, out of the millions of blogs, how do you find one you want? This post gives tips on searching for blogs on a given topic.

Once you find a good blog, you can subscribe to its RSS feed. But, instead of getting notification of every post, you might want to filter the feed, only receiving notification of the better ones. Aiderss.com offers one approach to feed filtering. They compute a postrank score, and only include high-scoring posts in the feed.

Try Aiderss pagerank pagerank filtering on a blog that you read, and see whether you agree with its selection of the best posts. Aidrss is an attempt to cut down on information overload -- do you feel overwhelmed by a flood of information?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Real time location tracking

We discuss location-based applications, and the US Federal Communication Commission has mandated that all cell phones be location-aware for emergency 911 service. Carriers are working toward that goal, and eventually, all cell phones will be equipped with a GPS (global positioning system) receiver or use other technology to record their locations, enabling real time monitoring.



Tim Hibbard illustrates real-time monitoring by carrying a GPS-equipped phone in his car. His location is recorded every 15 seconds, and plotted on Google Maps and Google Earth. His travel routes are also stored on a server so one can see where he has been in the past. For example, on August 12, 2006, Tim traveled around his old college town, Lawrence, Kansas:



Real time GPS could be used to monitor fleets of delivery vehicles or taxis, children, pets, criminals under house arrest, etc. Does this capability raise concern over privacy?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Undersea cables

We discuss backbone connectivity, including udersea cables. The first undersea cable carried telegraph traffic between New York and London in 1858.



Today, undersea cables have a combined capacity of over 7 terabits per second, as shown in this map:



The map also shows the site of a recent cable cut off the Egyptian coast. The cut was attributed to a ship dragging its anchor, and repairs are underway, but some wonder if it may have been cut intentionally.

Undersea cables are high-capacity components of a rapidly growing global nervous system. (You might think of the connected people and computers as being like neurons). You can read the story of the construction of the FLAG cable in an epic article from Wired Magazine entitled Mother Earth Mother Board.

You can get an idea of the history and importance of undersea cables in Arthur C. Clarke's "How the World was One" or check this Web site on the history of Atlantic and other cables.

Satellite links also carry intercontinental traffic -- how does their speed, capacity, latency, and ease of deployment compare with undersea cables?