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."


"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?