Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Worm Has Turned

He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator.

– Francis Bacon

In my last post I spoke of the changes taking place – more specifically, the dynamics between the old Microsoft / Apple rivalry – and how in many ways, that rivalry is irrelevant. Well, as the recent post by Marco.org did regarding a visit to a Microsoft store pointed out, this notion is now, more than ever before, reinforced.

First of all, several things come to mind:

1) Microsoft just created it’s own version of a tablet – something that was (ironically) dismissed some ten / fifteen years ago previously by Bill Gates and his crew.

2) Microsoft created a whole new totally different operating system that is a total break from their old standard versions – from 3.1, ’95, Xp, 7, etc., etc., (gee, whatever happened to Longhorn?) and is along a similar path to some versions of Apple IOS.

3) Microsoft is now touting the notion of utilizing apps as opposed to selling packages of software (note the recently proposed change of users having to ‘subscribe’ to Microsoft products as opposed to paying up front for their software packages).

4) Microsoft is clearly trying to introduce the notion of ‘distributive computing’ – and in the process, is attempting to create their own ‘ecology’ of hardware and software solutions. At the risk of enraging the Microsoft wonks (and for the record, I’m ambidextrous as I work with both services / systems) I have this to say in regard to their tablet thingy:

Microsoft has met the enemy – and they are becoming Apple.

But it’s not a very good version – at least, not yet. The jury is still out and although this is only a recent release still, Window’s efforts still bear watching, if for no other reason to see what this (former) behemoth intends to do with its future. Microsoft is a legacy system, where many users are wedded to its packages (ever notice how Apple iWork products – Numbers, Pages, Keynote, etc. – all follow the same commands and format as Microsoft’s Words, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.?).

But Microsoft is also following a dangerous path, for in its efforts to take the future, it is jettisoning the very thing which defines who and what they are: it’s past, inclusive of their consumer / major customer base. In this day and age of uncertainty, the last thing folks want to do is to have to re-learn how to send e-mail, do a letter or prepare a report for next week’s board meeting.

And yet Microsoft intends to do just that.

Below is a post worth reading: see / read for yourself – and next time, check out a Microsoft store and ask yourself: what’s the real different between these two: Apple and Microsoft? And if one is trying to differentiate itself from the other, than what is the purpose by embracing the very thing whom you intend to challenge – and then (for the time being) failing to imitate your opponent in a very effective manner? (Oh, and point # 5: recalling how the Minions of Microsoft denounced Apple’s consumer outreach program of creating a whole network of stores back when they first opened up, why is it that Microsoft is now doing the very same thing?)

Pablo Picasso said it best: ‘good artists copy: great artists steal.’

The jury is still out on whether Microsoft is being a good artist – or just doing a bad job of it altogether.

Check out this post: http://www.marco.org/2012/10/26/an-alternate-universe

Fun (and Profit) With Actual Tractor Beams

Once again, everything I wanted to know about the future I learned by watching Star Trek,…

Scientists successfully created (albeit on a small scale) an actual demonstration of a tractor beam.

For those of you who are not trekkies, the notion behind a ‘tractor beam’ was that some sort of energy beam would emanate from a spaceship onto an object – say, an asteroid – and either move it aside or pull it along; and all this without cables! Pretty cool, but that’s just science fiction, right?

Wrong. A group of physicists have built their own tractor beam in the lab by using an optical beam to pull a 30 micrometer silica sphere suspended in water (okay, so it’s something you can just see with the naked eye, but the demonstration proved that a tractor beam can actually exist).

Nothing magical or off the wall: just a working example of a Bessel Beam. A Bessel Beam is a field of electromagnetic, acoustic or even gravitational radiation whose amplitude is described by the Bessel function. A true Bessel beam is non-diffractive – which means that as the beam propagates, it does not diffract and spread out – like sound or light normally does – and, in fact, can be focused down to a small spot.

The applications are tremendous: moving heavy objects at will, offering potentially greater savings and worker safety; the construction industry, along with moving services and a host of others would benefit from this advancement.

Sounds great, but before you rush out to the store to get your own tractor beam, hold on: there’s a whole lot more work to be done. As reported in PhysOrg:

…the tiny tractor beam may not be scalable — at least not for the foreseeable future. The creation of a space-based tractor beam like the one portrayed in Star Trek would require a tremendous amount of energy — enough to destroy the object that it’s trying to pull in. But that said, the breakthrough indicates that a similar device might be possible by using a less energy intensive energy source.

And of course, you know what that means: it’s going to be a awhile before we’ll be carrying our own pocket version of Bessel / Tractor Beams on our key chains, going to the nearest sports bar and using your beam to get a bottle of beer or doing some other cheap parlour tricks (Ah, what the future brings: I can just see the sexual harassment lawsuits growing in leaps and bounds,...).

The Ruffner and Grier paper was published in Physical Review Letters and can be found here: http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v109/i16/e163903

The New WiFi is Here: A Tenfold Increase in WiFi Coverage At Little or No Cost

From the Now That’s Cool! Department,… Researchers and engineers uncovered a new and powerful means to boost Wifi bandwidth on an order of up to ten times. The best part: there’s no hardware involved – it’s simply a matter of fine tuning and enhancing the mathematics behind  dropped packets.

Packets is how data is transmitted on a typical wifi signal: and, as to be expected with present system configurations, packets are generally dropped as part of any normal transmission. This is why, when you’re travelling and trying to watch any porn videos on YouTube, participate in a webinar or try to watch a cool episode of “The Big Bang Theory” the picture(s) can come across glitchy and jumpy: it’s those pesky dropped packets clogging up the network processing.

Now, staff at NBC Universal, MIT, University of Porto in Portugal, Harvard, Caltech and the Technical University of Munich found a way around this problem: tighten up the math behind the transmissions and dramatically cut back on the clogging taking place around dropped packets. Best part: no need for the consumer to buy new hardware or equipment. The process is being offered through a new startup known as Code-On Technologies (http://www.code-on.org).

Simple, elegant – and very effective.

Brilliant.

This is big; very big. As reported:

The practical benefits of the technology, known as coded TCP, were seen on a recent test run on a New York-to-Boston Acela train, notorious for poor connectivity. Medard and students were able to watch blip-free YouTube videos while some other passengers struggled to get online. “They were asking us ‘How did you do that?’ and we said ‘We’re engineers!’ ” she jokes.

More rigorous lab studies have shown large benefits. Testing the system on Wi-Fi networks at MIT, where 2 percent of packets are typically lost, Medard’s group found that a normal bandwidth of one megabit per second was boosted to 16 megabits per second. In a circumstance where losses were 5 percent—common on a fast-moving train—the method boosted bandwidth from 0.5 megabits per second to 13.5 megabits per second. In a situation with zero losses, there was little if any benefit, but loss-free wireless scenarios are rare.

Medard’s work “is an important breakthrough that promises to significantly improve bandwidth and quality-of-experience for cellular data users experiencing poor signal coverage,” says Dipankar “Ray” Raychaudhuri, director or the Winlab at Rutgers University (see “Pervasive Wireless”). He expects the technology to be widely deployed within two to three years.

Given the importance wireless plays in business, home, education – just to name a few application arenas – we’re talking about something rather remarkable. In the next year or so this new development will seriously impact on business operations, consumer services as well as educational institutions. Now, users can enjoy truly reliable teleconferencing calls; businesses can save more money by encouraging telecommuting. Educational facilities can also enable greater and more reliable access to classroom settings and services while both private and governmental entities can better utilize wireless networks, as opposed to wired networks, saving money on both equipment and employee time spent on maintenance.

This development is also big for another reason: we’re reaching a critical point in our wireless spectrum. As the FCC noted, frequencies within the general wifi spectrum could run out in a couple of years. Meanwhile, Cisco Systems says that by 2016, mobile data traffic will grow 18-fold while Bell Labs goes farther, predicting growth by a factor of 25. Given the pervasiveness of consumer products and systems utilizing wifi more and more, none of this should come as any surprise; but coming up with the bandwidth necessary to continue service delivery is a major point of contention.  Code-On’s solution may now have very well developed a truly viable means to answer these challenges while paving the way to expand distributive computing by a tenfold factor – and without breaking the bank in the process.

Ah, witness the power of algebra.

For more on this, check out this link: http://www.technologyreview.com/news/429722/a-bandwidth-breakthrough/

Microsoft Versus Apple: You’re Missing The Bigger Picture

Author’s Disclaimer: For the record, I have a Dell desktop and a Gateway laptop (both running Windows XP), along with a MacBook Pro (Mountain Lion), iPad and an iPod along with an iPhone (older version; doing quite fine, thank you) that just replaced my old and trusty Samsung (RIP, sadly).

Nowadays, you have to be ambidextrous: you need the ability to work within the realm of Microsoft as well as Apple IOS because if you can’t, chances are you’re going to lose out on a lot of opportunities. That said, I’m not about to grace any discussion about which is better – Microsoft or Apple – because frankly, it’s all pointless: you might as well argue about vanilla versus chocolate ice cream. There are far more (and overlooked) important things afoot to consider that brings a whole new context to this discussion.

First hand, the traditional notion of ‘everything on one box’ is pretty much gone; it’s now all about distributed computing. During the past decade, we’ve moved away from stuffing everything on one box, starting with the notion of conducting back-ups owing to data loss, moving to plug-on hard drives, and then moving into remote back-ups. As technology advanced, so too did prices drop offering greater availability for services that heretofore were not financially feasible for many. And with all of this came (in part) the notion of ‘cloud computing’. It’s no longer just about how big your or strong your PC / box is; it’s more about where and how you access you data in relationship to your box / PC.

Secondly, connectivity has dramatically improved. We’ve moved away from traditional cabling and into wireless connectivity – with a vengeance. Wireless is everywhere and it’s only going to increase (little known factoid: did you know that chances are, you are – at most – only about 20 miles away from the nearest Starbucks? Of course, this does not apply in remote areas such as Montana, Wyoming or the Dakotas, but don’t worry; that’ll change). This development strongly underlies the growth of the tablet market: so long as I have a good connection, I can read and process my files without having to carry a bulky 8 pound laptop as was so common back some years ago.

Thirdly, it’s no longer just about ‘software suites’; it’s about ecology. Ecology is a big new concept – while at the same time, it’s as old as the hills. When you went with a specific approach – MS / Windows box, Apple or Linux – you became ‘married’ to that concept. To be sure, there was some ‘bleed-through’ – i.e., Linux can work (to a certain extent) with either Apple or Windows boxes, but overall, for the average consumer or business entity, it was an all or nothing approach. Fast forward to the present time, now you’re finding yourself making choices that went far beyond just which PC / Box you’re buying: it’s now what format are you going to listen to your music? What phone service are you committing yourself to? What television / cable / subscription service are you committing yourself to – FIOs, traditional cable, Apple TV or just winging it on your own via Netflix or other open Internet options (i.e., YouTube)?

And lastly, the nature of data management also has changed: sound, graphic and print files are merged together in ways and means underscoring tremendous creativity, raising the bar for competitive services and advertisements; consumer and political outreach programs as well as new notions for political activism and creative / artistic endeavors. It’s now more about what offers you the easier means to grasp your data, exchange your endeavors and advertise / distribute? It’s a lot easier to do all of this if you’re sharing / existing within the same ecology.

This is the new Ecology paradigm: what ‘system’ offers you the most convenience, less cost and unifies everything in a manner that’ll make your life easier to manage? To be certain, for some, this notion of ‘unification’ is not a desirable aspect (note Wozniak’s comments earlier this year about how he doesn’t have cable service and prefers to use his data / cellular service for his own Internet surfing) but for the average consumer market, this is the new bonanza: getting everybody to sign up for as much as they are willing to do so. Some companies – such as Verizon – got this early on: witness their various ‘bundling’ packages (Verizon doesn’t sell as comprehensive a solution as does Apple or Windows as Verizon doesn’t quite have a complete ecology developed as of yet).

The battleground is not just about which flavor do you prefer – Vanilla or Chocolate – it’s now all about the bowl and how that bowl works best for you; everything else is simply a matter of taste.

The Road To Hell,…

…is paved with good intentions as noted by a rather disturbing and underreported event. Earlier several months ago, scientists and government officials, through satellite imagery, detected an unusual plume of iron sulfate in the waters off of British Columbia, midway between Alaska and the continental waters in the area around Queen Charlotte Sound. Initially, officials suspected illegal industrial dumping as the waters were identified as having high levels of iron oxide. Following the dump, a remarkable chemical reaction then took place: tremendous outgrowth of plankton in a rather large area.

Turns out it wasn’t industrial espionage, but rather an effort by a wealthy and ‘idealistic’ individual to change our weather pattern.

Before you get to thinking that this is some sort of typical James Bond story: wealthy individual who’s stone cold crazy decides to take on the world in order to destroy it, think again: this is really about a wealthy investor who’s stone cold crazy and decided to take on the world in order to save it, but at the risk of destroying it in the process. And the sad part is that there’s no James Bond character figuring in any of this: no explosions, no wild sex with incredible women or fantastic tech tools and cars: just lots and lots of boring scientific charts, satellite imagery and court documents.

But the impact is just as bad – if not worse.

The confessor proudly admitted to doing such – and he’s none other than Russ George, an American entrepreneur. George was the one who literally dumped a hundred tons of iron sulfate into the warm water currents of the Pacific Ocean, creating a tremendous outburst of plankton growth. George had been chief executive of a company called Planktos Inc. and George is no stranger to this type of weirdness. As noted,

Those previous failed efforts to conduct large-scale commercial dumps near the Galapagos and Canary Islands led to his vessels being barred from ports by the Spanish and Ecuadorean governments. The US Environmental Protection Agency warned him that flying a US flag for his Galapagos project would violate US laws, and his activities are credited in part to the passing of international moratoria at the United Nations limiting ocean fertilization experiments.

George told the Manchester Guardian that the recent dump in discussion is “the most substantial ocean restoration project in history,” and that he has collected “a greater density and depth of scientific data than ever before…. We’ve gathered data targeting all the possible fears that have been raised [about ocean fertilization]…. And the news is good news. All around. For the planet.”

Aw shucks, gee whiz, Russ; thanks for the good news – NOT!

You’re a real schmuck, Russ.

In theory, the approach is not as bizarre as it sounds: plankton blooms are capable of sucking large amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere and eventually sequestering it deep in the ocean. Of course, nobody’s ever really studied the long-term impact of what happens when the deep water ocean holds an excessive amount of carbon, but that’s a minor detail,…right?

So before we get all weepy eyed at Russ George’s eco-vigilantism, let’s make something clear: nobody really knows the true, long-term and greater overall impact of this act, especially as it’s still continuing to unfold – and this isn’t just another high school chemical class experiment: it’s about where we live, exist and hope to continue dong such.

Could somebody give this guy a good slap in the back of the head – I mean, really, really, really hard?

And BTW: George’s company is also involved in carbon credits trading: he has long sought to create lucrative carbon credits to trade on international markets.  So it begs to ask the question: is this an effort by George to ‘fix the market’ so to speak and cash in on the results – sort of long-term effort at selling the market short? Hey, why stop there: why not send chemicals into space, create artificial clouds and dramatically cool the Earth off that way? Hm; then again maybe not: as history has shown with prior volcanic reactions, such events created disastrous winter conditions leading to substantial kill off of the human population,…

Do you see the point?

We’ve reached the point in human history where individuals with the wherewithal and means can conduct acts brazen and open without any consideration whatsoever to the rest of us.

Gee, Russ, but I’d like my children to grow up, too; after all, they have a life and you didn’t bother consulting with any of us about to your actions. And the worst part of all of this is that Russ truly believes this notion that his actions are justified, regardless of what outcome may arise because, well, he knows better than the rest of us.

According to Russ George’s arguments, it’s his world, and we just happen to be in it.

This is the very same asinine attitudes being exposed by those who disavow any notion of global warming – despite the overwhelming – and still growing evidence to the contrary. And yet those dingbats continue plowing on ahead in building up more factories and development at the cost of the environment and our planet.

Russ George, you’re a selfish ass-ho; you’re as bad an ass-ho as those whom you denounce.

Two ass-hos certainly don’t make a genius.

As a final note, officials are not certain how to prosecute this act (!) even though he violated several international laws and United Nations covenants. George is arguing that he convinced the council of an indigenous village adjacent to (well, adjacent is such a vague term; I mean we are talking about an area hundreds of square miles!) to approve the project.

And evidently, there was no scientific assessment attached to the experiment, which does carry potential risks. It’s like somebody (who just happens to be a rich multimillionaire) just went to their local library, took out a high book chemistry book, did a little reading, hired a bunch of planes and dumped a pile of shit into the ocean (oh, and after speaking with a local village – which also begs the question what was said and offered to the village,…?).

Oh, I don’t know, but somehow I hold the notion that no village on earth should have the power to judge, let alone decide upon an act which directly impacts our entire world – let alone an act that we’re not certain what the long term impact will be.

Now imagine if this was done by an international terrorist group,…

Let’s face it: some folk shouldn’t be allowed to hold a driver’s license, let alone possess the means to unilaterally act in such a manner – no matter how ‘high handed’ or ‘well meaning’ it may be (after all, Hitler REALLY DID BELIEVE that he was doing the world a favor with his incredibly sadistic, insane and utterly disgusting acts – and hence, why Wehrmacht soldiers were issued a belt buckle with the inscription ‘God Mit Uns’ – ‘God is With Us’ because Hitler really did think that God was with him!).

I therefore nominate Russ George for the Cyanide Breathmint Award: because some people should do us all a favor and bite it.

To read more about this, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/10/the-first-geo-vigilante.html#ixzz29kWhVKcQ

Our New Neighbor

After diligent (and very well-tuned!) work scientists determined that the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, has a planet.  While it’s certainly not likely to be a popular vacation spot, the significance of this discovery is far more than just a neat little science story:

…don’t start building the colony ship just yet. With a 3.3 day orbit, the planet is only 0.04 Astronomical Units (1 AU is the typical distance from the Earth to the Sun). That makes this planet blazingly hot, at about 1,500 Kelvin. One of its discoverers indicated this would ensure the surface is “not solid, more like lava.” The radial velocity method lets you estimate the lower bound on the mass of the planet. Assuming it’s orbiting roughly in a plane that faces edge-on to Earth, it has a mass roughly equivalent to our home planet.

The significance of this is striking: planets within our known universe could very well be as common as leaves within a forest, thus tremendously raising the odds of our finding other habitable planets. Whether or not our DNA would be acceptable on other planets remains to be seen, but let’s take it one step at a time,…

In the meantime, bizarre notions of ‘Star Trek’, ‘Babylon 5’ or other popular space shows are now coming to the fore. Considering how a number of predictions have come true – personal communications, advanced computers, powerful networks, etc. – it’s not too far fetched to state that we could see, within our lifetimes, the beginnings of actual interstellar travel. As posted perviously on this blog, we discussed notions of hyperdrive as something that is far more realistic to attain then many realized. As one scientist opined:

What about visiting? Laughlin estimates that, given our current technologies, any probe we sent wouldn’t arrive for about 40,000 years. So that’s probably a no-go, “given our propensity for instant gratification.” But there are some unproven propulsion ideas that could get us there much more quickly, and Laughlin said that, should this find ignite enough interest, we may look into those more seriously.

Given the way things are going here on Earth – global warming, rising population and depletion of resources, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to think about taking the next big step and moving upward – and outward,….

For more on this, check out this link: http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/10/exoplanet-found-right-next-door-in-alpha-centauri/

A Growing Plague

Like a plague of locusts, patent trolls are on the loose and although this is nothing new, industry professionals estimate that ‘trolling’ is costing the economy billions and threatens to ram down whatever hope of an economic recovery that we could hope for. As reported in Ars Technica (October 11th, 2012):

new study helps to fill the gap by providing systematic data on the growth of patent troll litigation. Robin Feldman, a professor at UC Hastings College of Law, teamed up with Lex Machina, a Stanford Law spinoff that collects data on patent litigation, to compile a systematic survey of patent litigation. Their results are striking: the fraction of lawsuits filed by troll-like entities grew from 22 percent in 2007 to 40 percent in 2011.

Ars Technica goes on to point out,…

…the overall volume of litigation has also been increasing. Second, anecdotal evidence suggests only a small fraction of troll threats ever lead to lawsuits. In most cases, targets settle without going to trial. “From all appearances, lawsuits filed are only the tip of the iceberg, and a major operating company may face hundreds of invitations to license for every lawsuit,” the authors write.

Ah, yes: out of court settlements. Marvelous. Who knows how deep the damage is when it’s below the legal waterline, so to speak? And coincidentally, a majority of these trolls also happen to be based out of a series of offices in East Texas (as in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre). And not to disparage an entire geographical locale, it’s discouraging how a state with a history of self-reliance and a strong history of ‘boot-strapping’ is home to some of the funkiest, self-serving, laziest suck ups trolls conducting some of the biggest rip-offs in the United States of America (yet another example of how some folks abuse states right privileges; just our opinion, nothing more,…).

And, as TechDirt reported today (October 16th, 2012) in their excellent article, “Digital River Loses Patent Suit Despite Doing What Was In The Patent Two Years Before Patent Was Filed”:

Last week a jury in the federal district court in Marshall, Texas (patent trolls’ favorite court) gave a ruling that was a clear miscarriage of justice — and this is a case where I actually know quite a lot about the details and have firsthand knowledge that the patents are 100% bogus. The case involves a patent troll called DDR, which was built out of the ashes of a failed dotcom called Nexchange, which tried to build affiliate style stores that could be embedded in other websites, with their look and feel. DDR sued a few companies, including Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Digital River and World Travel Holdings. Everyone but Digital River and World Travel Holdings settled. The main company here is Digital River — and the key patent, 6,993,572 is ridiculous and never should have been granted. Even Nexchange admitted it wasn’t doing anything new — though it insists it was the first to do it “on the internet.”

It wasn’t.

Digital River pointed out that it had been doing the same thing since its founding more than two years before Nexchange filed for its patents. I can confirm this first hand. In June of 1998, I started working for a company called Release Software. Our main competitor? Digital River. We were always up against each other in trying to do deals to build exactly these kinds of stores. In fact, by the time I started (months before these patents were filed), Release was already supplying “store within a site” offerings to a number of sites, including Egghead (remember them?), Canadian electronics giant Futureshop, and had also done download “kiosk” sites for software companies like Adobe and Intuit — all of which were designed to match the look and feel of the original site exactly.

So let’s get this right: you file a patent, get it approved and then you’re sued for the products and services associated with this patent despite having it two years in advance of the claim – and still the judge rules against you?!? And coincidently, this takes place in the very same locale as where the claimant operates? Gee, is the judge in on the action, so to speak? I’d like to see the public disclosure on the judge who made the ruling – oh, that’s right: in Texas, they’re not obligated to! 

You simply can’t make this stuff up – but nowadays, as it’s becoming more and more painfully evident, we’re facing not only a growing trend of patent trolls on the lose, but also a notable rise of significant failures in the court system. We’ll talk more about this in later postings,…