Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Turnen Ze Righten

July 12th, 2010 Comments off

This is a fascinating little video made by performance artist Gavin Nolte (via technabob), a concept which, at first, struck me as incredibly funny: he stuck 25 German GPS navigation computers on his windshield and they all gave him directions at once. As I watched the video, however, it seemed less funny and more fascinating, how the various computers seemed to work, what similarities and differences were apparent.

Categories: Technology, The Lighter Side Tags:

Now Let’s Make It Look Less Like a Giant Insect

May 24th, 2010 Comments off

Very cool tech:

Categories: Technology Tags:

Paying Twice for the Same Item

April 12th, 2010 4 comments

Randy Cohen, ethicist for the New York Times, has an interesting spin on a reader’s question about pirating a book which he already bought. In short: it’s illegal, but not unethical. The reader in question already paid full price for the hardcover, so Cohen feels that there is no bad juju involved in downloading the same work for an ebook reader:

Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform. Sadly, the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology. Thus you’ve violated the publishing company’s legal right to control the distribution of its intellectual property, but you’ve done no harm or so little as to meet my threshold of acceptability.

Cohen notes immediately after that, however, that publishers disagree:

Unsurprisingly, many in the book business take a harder line. My friend Jamie Raab, the publisher of Grand Central Publishing and an executive vice president of the Hachette Book Group, says: “Anyone who downloads a pirated e-book has, in effect, stolen the intellectual property of an author and publisher. To condone this is to condone theft.”

I’m definitely with Cohen on this, although he’s a bit wrong on what lags behind what (see the next paragraph). What the publishers want, of course, is the ability to re-sell the same product to the same consumer over and over again, and call them “separate” purchases. I liked my purchase of the Star Trek Blu-ray because it contained a digital copy which I could use on my computers and my iPhone. Including a DVD-compatible version would be even better. The point is, you should never be forced to pay twice for the exact same thing. Publishers, of course, want as much of your money any way they can get it, so they fight for the paradigm of device-centric purchases.

Partly to blame here is the mindset that came into play with business purchases of software. Because businesses would use the same software on hundreds or thousands of machines, instead of having to wastefully purchase that many physical copies of the software, they would buy just one copy. That copy would come with an EULA (End User License Agreement) that would spell out exactly how the software could be used–how many machines or users, in what environments, etc.

Soon enough, the EULA was popping up everywhere, including personal purchases of software. If you buy a copy of a program for personal use only, you may have to pay several times–one each for every computer you use it on. Sure, if there are different versions for different devices, like for Windows, OS X, and the iPhone OS–that represents separate products which the author must work to produce. But for the exact same product on two machines using the same OS? How is that really fair, when there’s only one user? Depends on how you see it, of course–and of course, sellers will want to see it in the way that makes them the most money.

Most users see it differently: I am one person using this content, I should not have to pay to use it in two different places. Some extend that not just to themselves, but to family–after all, if I buy a book, I don’t have to pay for my family members to read it; within the home, there is a “community property” sense at work. While the same could be said about lending to friends, most people would agree that the ethical line ends pretty sharply at the borders to your house, and some will say it ends around the individual user. Publishers insist that it ends around the individual device. Often times a compromise is met which reflects these sensibilities; for example, your iTunes account can be extended to five devices, enough for most families. Some software comes in heavily discounted “family” packs.

However, the EULA was seen as an opportunity for content publishers in the digital world, who applied it to music, video, and all other forms of media. Publishers realized that they could use the EULA to keep that cash register ringing: sell a movie on DVD, then on Blu-ray, then for the computer, then again for the mobile device. As the number of devices which can play media multiplied, publishers saw the number of sales opportunities similarly multiply, and so have since aggressively pushed the idea that any copying, in any form is illegal and shameful. That includes ripping your CDs to iTunes. You’re a criminal, they insist; instead, if you want to use your iPod to listen to the music which you already bought on CD, you must go to the iTunes Store and purchase it again digitally, like a good little consumer. Naturally, most consumers call bullshit on that and rip away.

What it comes down to is perception and control. Are you buying a thing, or the rights to use a thing in a very specific way in a very specific place? Once you buy something, do you own it for personal use, or does the publisher maintain both ownership and control, with you simply having the privilege of looking at it in the way the publisher approves of? It could be argued both ways, with publishers claiming that the idea of copyright in itself asserts eternal control by the owner over intellectual property. But publishers try to go beyond that, not just controlling the rights to the intellectual property, but also controlling a consumer’s personal use of that property. If John Grisham writes a book and I buy a copy, he still owns the story, but he does not control the specific book I bought, nor can he dictate to me how I read it. Publishers are trying to change that, at least in the digital world (though you know they would do the same in the physical world if they thought they could get away with it).

As I laid out a little more than fours years ago, once you apply the digital model to a physical purchase, the “eternal control” concept and most EULA terms come across as ludicrous. If you purchase a paperback book, it does not come with an agreement that you will only read it at home, and that reading it in a cafe, at the park, or at work would require additional payment. They can’t charge you extra for reading the book in bed, or using a book-light with it. In purchasing the book, there is no legal way for the publisher to prohibit you from later selling that book to another person. Nor will they try to–people would seriously balk at that, the idea being contemptible.

And yet this is precisely the kind of control and re-purchasing which the publishers are trying to foist on people with the transition to the digital medium. If you buy digital music, digital movies, or ebooks, you will not be allowed to re-sell these things, even if you paid more for them than you would have for a physical copy. And many will forbid you to transfer the work to another location, or else severely limit it. Technically, I am violating my purchase agreement when I rip a DVD I bought so I can view it on my computer or iPhone, unless they specifically say I can.

Screw them. I say the traditional model holds. Cohen is right: if you pay full price for a book, you paid for the book content to be at your disposal. Downloading the digital version of the book is no crime, as the publisher and author have already made their money off of you. In my book, forcing a consumer to pay again for something they already bought is, if not illegal, then certainly unethical. Now, if the electronic edition is different, if it contains extra content like audio, video, or even changes one would expect in a subsequent edition, that’s not kosher to download for free; it represents added work. Sure, you can grouse that the 47th re-re-release of the “Star Wars” soundtrack only adds two tracks that the other five versions you bought don’t have, and George Lucas is being a schmuck for trying to make you pay for the same music over and over again just to get the new snippets–but there’s new content, and so you can’t say you already paid for it.

Publishers instead insist that it’s all in the agreement, and will refuse to sell to you unless you agree to their terms. The law, over time, has sided with the traditional model (remember the whole debate over recording video at home?), but more and more I fear that the content cartels will get more and more restrictive laws passed, like the DMCA, and eventually consumers will be forced by a government bought and sold to work against them to toe the publishers’ line.

Steorn Is Back! With Orbo! Really! Still Not Specifically Yet!

December 15th, 2009 2 comments

Our favorite free-energy company is back, just as certain as ever that they have free energy on their hands. If people were skeptical before, they are doubly skeptical now, considering that Steorn promised a demo of their free-energy device two and a half years ago, but failed to deliver, citing “technical difficulties. This time, they’re back with more promises, more videos, and another demonstration.

If there was ever a case of ”I’ll believe it when I see it,“ this is it.

Categories: Technology Tags:

CEATEC Japan, Part 2

October 13th, 2009 4 comments

On to wrap up the post about CEATEC. I was only there for most of one day, so I did not get to see everything; also, the fact that most everything was in Japanese only hampered my ability to fully understand everything I saw.

Nonetheless, there was some interesting stuff; though much was pre-existing tech, a lot was still fun to see and play with.

For example, this electronic whiteboard:

E Board

E Board2

The projector they had was at waist-level, so it was hard to write without blocking the area you were writing on; this setup is intended to be used with a ceiling-mounted projector (which would not solve all of the problems, but would help). It’s not the sexiest system–having a projector behind the screen, or making the whiteboard itself a display would be far better. But for $1000, it’s a relatively cheap setup–and I can imagine doing a lot with this in my computer class. The whiteboard software can call up any image or file on a computer and make it interactive with what the lecturer is doing. It can also call up saved screens with prepared content. There is a LOT I could do with this thing in my computer class.

Oled Sample

Strangely, I had never seen an OLED in person before this. They do seem very nice–high contrast, rich colors. I hear they’re weak outdoors, though.

Smallest Keyboard

One guy was pitching “the world’s smallest keyboard.” Um, maybe, if you mean one that’s a remote keyboard–I am pretty sure that smaller ones exist on portable devices. And I’m not really sure how he verified that no smaller remote keyboards exist, but OK. This device looks kinda fun, until you start trying to think of situations where you really need it. Like a lot of other tech at the show, this was more along the lines of “it looks cool but adds minimal functionality.”

Sony Datapad

Here’s another example of that ‘limited functionality’ thing: wireless upload of images from a digital camera to the computer. This was at Sony’s booth. Just place the camera on the pad, and presto! The photos download and display. Except that when it was displayed, it suffered from glitches (didn’t connect a few times; the rep had to fiddle with it), and was kind of slow uploading. Plus, there’s been an easier way to do this for a while: the Eye-Fi Wireless SD card, an SD memory card which will automatically upload your photos to a WiFi network as you take them, or when you come in range of a network. It was also at the show, looking for a distributor.

Tdk Superdiscs

TDK had several tech items on display, including these 320 GB optical disks. Promises, promises. There have been tons of “coming soon” super-high-capacity media promised over the years, with very few actually making it to market.

Flexi Solar

This is cool: flexible solar panels. I am sure that they are useful somewhere.

Fac Rec 00

Terminator-Vision!! No, actually, it was facial recognition software Sony was showing off.

Fac Rec 01

Fac Rec 02

This was more for industrial use, but was very interesting to see in action. As you can see, it tagged me as being 90% male, 100% adult, and definitely not a baby or a senior. It figured that I probably had both eyes open and had a hint of a smile, but didn’t see my glasses too well.

The use of this became apparent when the rep explained it to me: a camera would accompany a digital advertising display which would alter its content based upon who was looking at it. If mostly women were looking at the ad space, it would display ads aimed at women; same with different age groups. Presumably the smiling would help gauge the effectiveness of ads. One can imagine other uses for this as well.

Panel 01

Panel 02

Finally, there was the panel discussion on personal computing undergoing a transformation, which was, as I mentioned in the last post, mostly just PR pitches by the execs. I wish they had discussed advances in multi-touch and non-volatile RAM, the possible development of quantum computing, the implementation of facial and body recognition in UI development, specific timetables for adoption of wireless standards, and other stuff I hadn’t even heard of yet. But no, it was mostly about stuff they were actually currently doing, tame stuff like using cloud connectivity (heck, I use that now), with lots of references to how cool Windows 7 is going to be.

One thing that Fujitsu showed actually did seem pretty neat:

Slide 00

I think the name comes from the fact that the displays cover the entire surface of the devices, with no frames–and the devices communicate wirelessly to connect and make larger displays. The exec pulled out a non-functioning sample to show a netbook and a cell phone which both had the exact same depth, so that when you put the cell phone next to the side of the netbook, you essentially extend the netbook display by a few inches.

Slide 01

Then you could add any number of such devices to continue to increase the size of the display.

Slide 02

Pretty nifty concept. Once you think about actually using it, though, its value becomes less striking–maybe adding a few inches to one side could be nice, but when would you really get more than two devices together in a situation where joining them to make a larger display would be viable and useful? Hard to see that happening much.

But still, it’s cool. That’s the main point!

Unfortunately, the end of my visit to CEATEC was marred by NHK, something I should have seen coming when I approached their booth. NHK is Japan’s public TV network–more like the BBC than PBS in that it’s driven by ‘required’ payments by everyone, and their door-to-door collectors are more or less universally disliked. Most people in Japan refuse to pay when the collectors come–technically, you’re supposed to, but I believe there are no penalties for not paying. NHK is kind of like a state-run, state-friendly behemoth which many see as outdated and unnecessary.

The only thing I really wanted to know about was their progress on the next level of HDTV. Pre-HDTV sets had a resolution of 480 (or 525, depending on how you count them) vertical lines; HDTV goes up to 1080 lines. The next generation quadruples that, going up to 4320 lines of resolution. Imagine taking 16 HDTV screens in a 4 x 4 grid–that’s the same resolution you’d get with one single “Super-Hi-Vision” TV.

I came to the NHK booth to ask for info on that, and the guy there said they had one on display, urging me to enter their booth and see it for myself. OK, cool, I though, momentarily forgetting who I was speaking to. So I joined the queue, and waited for 20 minutes, using up the last half-hour of my time at CEATEC. Finally, I got in, and walked past lame displays of this-is-what-a-living-room-looked-like-in-the-60’s, and past a mini-theater showing what 5.1 Surround sound was like. I kept asking, “Where’s the Super-Hi-Vision?” and people kept saying, oh, it’s right over down that way, check it out!

So naturally, when I finally got there, they were shutting it down. Unapologetically, the NHK rep had a “too bad” attitude, and was even a bit condescending about it, as if it was perfectly natural to urge people to wait in line for something and then refuse to extend a display for two minutes to show them what was promised. What kind of idiot are you?

That sour end note aside, CEATEC was a fun event and I did get some fairly useful intel from it. Not as much as I expected, but I learned some stuff–in part, what to expect from such shows, and how I might better approach the show when it comes again next year.

CEATEC Japan, Part 1

October 12th, 2009 Comments off

Ceatec Front

So I visited CEATEC Japan last Friday. I thought that maybe I could get a look at some of the upcoming technology and bring back the goods to my Introduction to Computers class. But while there was some fun stuff, it didn’t really knock my socks off–there was lots of stuff I know is in the works which was not shown, a lot of the in-development stuff they did show was pretty tame, and most of the stuff was just current for-sale technology that people were trying to sell. Well, it’s a trade show, so that’s par for the course; I just thought there would be more ground-breaking stuff to be found.

I attended a panel discussion during the afternoon which I thought looked promising: titled “Personal Computing Will Undergo a Transformation!” it included high-level executives from Intel, NEC, Sony, Panasonic, Fujitsu, and Microsoft. It sounded like they were really going to get into a lot of the cool stuff coming up, maybe discuss how the user experience will dramatically change in the next five to ten years. Well, not so much. Each panel member took about 10 minutes to essentially present an infomercial for their company, then there were a few rather plain-vanilla questions (“How will that spiffy new Windows 7 change things?”), and not much else. There were very quick mentions of stuff like 3-D interactivity–but most of it was about stuff that’s pretty pedestrian, like cloud connectivity. Overall, a pretty disappointing show. I’m not sure if I even benefitted by the simultaneous translation–without it, I might have thought it was much cooler.

Anyway, here are some of the photos I took of a few of the more interesting things to see.

Kddi Polaris

This is an as-yet uncompleted project KDDI was showing off–a mini-robot pod which acts as a moving, motion-sensitive stand for your cell phone. It has built-in speakers, automatically closes or opens up (triggered by what I didn’t find out), and can roll about and do turns, presumably to face and be accessible to the user. It is also supposed to be able to interface with your TV or LCD, showing the cell phone’s data on whatever display you choose. Cool concept.

Overlay Keitai

Nearby, they were demo’ing a cell phone with virtual overlays of data on what the phone’s camera displayed; in this case, when they pointed the phone (presumably outfitted with an electronic compass) in a certain direction, it would tell you what interesting stuff exists in that direction, with images of each point appearing in frames. Not revolutionary–this kind of stuff is being played around with on iPhone and Android phones–but still an interesting concept which will undoubtedly be smoothed out and will be quite useful in the future.

Hellokitty Notebook

Some stuff was simply for show, like themed notebook cases (this was at the Intel booth, for some reason). Below are a netbook with a reversible monitor, and a smartphone with full-face display.

Flexscreen Netbook

Fullface Cellphone

They had a lot of touchscreens there, but nothing knocked my socks off. The only ones I found were not multi-touch–it was nothing more than a trackpad could do, and not all that impressive.

Touchscreen Pc

Wimax Display

One thing that surprised me: Tokyo has WiMAX, and has since July. I guess I didn’t get the memo. If you don’t know what WiMAX is, it’s a new-ish wireless Internet service. It’s kind of like WiFi, except it’s wide-area; the entire city is a hotspot. Think of it like 3G, except it’s a lot faster. Effectively, it’s an Internet connection that follows you wherever you go. Instead of getting broadband just at home, you get it everywhere you take your computer–except, presumably, in basement coffee shops or other areas where cell phone reception might also be spotty.

Tokyo’s service boasts 40 Mbps download, 10 Mbps upload, though such claims are always over-rated–I’m supposed to have 100 Mbps fiber-optic at home, but have never gotten anywhere near that speed. So figure that Tokyo’s WiMAX is at least a fair-speed broadband connection.

The catch: it’s expensive. They charge 4,480 yen (about $50) per month to subscribe; that’s not too bad, I pay about that much for fiber. The problem is, they don’t give you the reception devices for free. If your laptop does not have built-in WiMAX (few do), then each laptop will have to have a $140 USB dongle. For home networks, a reception base that will distribute the connection to home devices costs about $170. To set Sachi and myself up with this, we’d have to shell out $450. No thanks on that; I’m OK as-is. They do have a free 15-day trial they offer, and I may take them up on that just to test out the system.

Video Phone

This was a nice little gadget: a video phone which doubles as a photo frame. Probably has features I didn’t sniff out while there.

Sony 3D

The first of three large halls at Makuhari was dedicated mostly to the big home electronics firms, and it seems that every one of them had a 3-D HDTV system. They also had most of their good stuff inside the booths, all of which had long lines. I didn’t have enough time–the lines looked like they were about an hour long each. I figured I’d simply take their word for it.

Iphone Projector

This was a neat little gadget: a hand-held laser projector, which will take lots of inputs, including the iPhone shown here. For $500, this iPhone-sized dealio will project an image onto any surface you point it at–great for impromptu slide shows, when a TV or other projector is not available. The image was a bit weak, best in dark rooms or close-up. The American guys pitching it said that in a dark room, it was possible to use it as a “100-inch TV screen.” Uh, maybe. They said they can’t sell it in Japan yet, because the government made laser projectors illegal after some bad laser pointer incidents years back, and haven’t updated the legislation yet. This looks like a nice toy, but I couldn’t possibly justify buying one. Still, this is something I expect will shrink in size and price over the years and may eventually become a standard feature in hand-held devices.

Before I finish for today’s post, one more–this gadget being one that I frankly pray to god will never become popular. I show it here as a screen shot from the manufacturer’s web site: a wearable speaker vest.


Yes, that’s right. If you think it’s bad when a-holes outfit their cars with giant speaker systems so the entire county can be massively annoyed by their poor taste in music, then you’ll love this. The user just plugs in their digital audio device, and the music gets blasted out of speakers on the shoulders. And it’s loud, too–they guy demonstrated it for me. It is designed for joggers, bicyclists, and motorcyclists–yes, it is intended to be loud enough to be heard clearly when wearing a full-head helmet, over engine noise. He said it was for people who could be endangered by using headsets because they can’t hear traffic coming. So instead, they blast the music for everyone in the area to hear–and they still can’t hear traffic coming. But now everybody is getting pissed off to boot. Whee!

The rest tomorrow.