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. He had the ability to speak directly to the voter as shown in this clip, much as Roosevelt had done with his 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. 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.