Friday, March 28, 2008

What's ahead for laptop computing?

If you're intrigued by Apple's new Macbook Air computer because it's a pretty cool innovation, you might be interested in this article over on (If you want to filter out all the ads on the page - there's a lot of them - scroll to the bottom and click on the "Print Story" button.)

The Computerworld editors went out and started talking to laptop designers all over the world about some of the concepts they're working on, with a view to trying to figure out what a laptop computer might look like in 2015.
A lot has changed in the 20 years since the first laptop computers appeared, including gigahertz processors, color screens, optical drives and wireless data. However, one thing that has stubbornly stayed the same is the conventional clamshell format with its hinged display lid that opens to reveal a mechanical keyboard.

That's about to change. The rules of notebook design and the components that go inside are being rewritten to make the road a better place to work and play.
There are some pretty cool-looking items in this story. But imagining the laptop of the near future is not just a dreamy thing to do. It's practical as well.

I've been using laptops as my primary computers for many years and I've gone through quite a variety - everything from my Tandy 200 through to my current PowerBook. Some have been more enjoyable than others, but the steady improvements have been startling, when you stop and think about it. There used to be a performance hit when you switched to a laptop and for some applications, that's still a problem. But for most people, a laptop will work fine as a primary computer. And the benefits of not being tied to one location more than offset any possible performance issues, as far as I'm concerned.

I've had my current laptop - a G4 12" Powerbook - for about 4 years now and it's starting to show its age. For one thing, instead of a flat display, I've got a "deep V" style, thanks to the time my backpack crashed into a refrigerator (with me still attached and the laptop inside!) But despite it's rugged appearance, it's still working and I still use it every day.

But I know that before too long I'm going to be in the market for a new machine, so I'm very interested in some of the cool things that are going to be appearing before too much longer.

Thin and touch-screen are the two items that jump out at you when you look through this list. But there's a lot of innovation in the works and the user interface experience is just the most noticeable.

Other significant changes are expected in the kinds of materials the machines are built of, more powerful components and faster processors.

If you like to think about the future -- and seven years into the future is a long way in computer years -- you'll enjoy this piece.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Seeing is believing

wiener.jpgSome things you just have to see in action to believe them.

Imagine you're cutting some wood on a tablesaw and your finger accidentally slips in front of the blade. Zap! No more finger, right?


If you're using the right tool, that spinning disk will stop before it slices through your delicate pinky. In fact, it probably will hardly scratch you.

Fine Woodworking has posted a video demonstrating this. The actual demonstration is near the end of the six minute video, so if you want to skip ahead over the boring (for some) details of the saw itself, go ahead.

To test the SawStop technology, they substituted a wiener for a finger. But it's very impressive anyway.

Here's the link to the Fine Woodworking video.

And here's a link to more videos on the SawStop site.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

March Madness starts today

The NCAA men's basketball tournament - better known as March Madness - starts today.

I've been watching the tournament for years any way I could. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I remember driving down to Estevan, in southeastern Saskatchewan, from Regina when I was in high school, so that we could catch some of the games. (They might have been NBA games - but I think they were college.)

We had to drive to Estevan because we didn't have cable TV in Regina at that point and Estevan was close enough to the US border that they were able to pick up signals from North Dakota.

Today, March Madness has become an institution, with every game available on TV -- and now for free on the Internet.

Today's Globe and Mail has a good story on how CBS is making millions of dollars in advertising by letting anyone who wants to watch the games for free on the Internet. (You can sign up yourself here.)

While the picture quality doesn't come close to TV, it's perfect for people at work who want to hunker down and catch all of the 32 games that will be played in the first two days of the tournament.

And if you want to see some great examples of how to enhance the experience using web-based tools, just cruise around the website.

I've been watching online since the service first started (when you still had to pay to watch.) And today, although I'll probably have my browser pointed to the action, I am lucky enough to have a TV right here in my office, so I'll be able to see it on the big screen too.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Before you buy your next ad...

Seth Godin has some good advice for marketers:

Before you buy your next ad... My suggestion is that you spend thirty seconds watching this video.

Safe for work, audio is okay. Thanks to Ken for pointing it out. [And Bryan points out this original. Hope the client didn't pay too much for the new one!]

You were going to spend how much to distract me from what I was doing?

(Via Seth's Blog.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Comparing what was said to what we read

barack.jpgOne of my frustrations with our "always on" media is that we rarely get to make up our own mind about an issue. Although we often see video or hear audio of an event when it happens live, we usually end up hearing about it through the filter of the reporters or commentators covering it. And in that context, they tend to do more "interpreting" than "reporting."

So I was interested in an event today, where US Senator Barack Obama delivered a much-anticipated speech about racism in America. The speech was widely covered on TV and the whole speech is available here on YouTube. Personally, I prefer to listen to speeches. You can download an MP3 version here.

You are probably aware of the background to the speech. In recent days, the Obama campaign has been dealing with the super-charged race issue, after his pastor's alleged Anti-American sermons were posted on the Internet. It's been a difficult time for the campaign. And there is intense interest in how Obama - already accused of lacking the experience to deal with a crisis by his opponents -- would respond.

I suspect that once again, most observers will be gauging their own reaction based on what the news media they follow has to say. But it's good to know that there are alternatives out there. And I think that once you watch a speech live, you're at least less likely to be swayed by others' opinions.

So I recommend you watch the full video, or listen to the podcast, then read about the speech. Here's a link to the coverage in the Los Angeles Times, which I thought did a very good job of summarizing the speech without editorializing. And here's a link to a Google Search for all news stories about the speech.

By tonight, there will be plenty of "opinionated" coverage out there, which will tell us what we should think about what he said. But fortunately, by then, we will be able to weigh what we read (or hear) against what the man actually said.

Our ability to "go to the source" thanks to the Internet and new technology is an important development in the media business. But it's still incumbent on us to take the time to do it.

And what did I think of the speech? It was impressive. His campaign may be suffering from the hard ball politics being played out, but the guy can deliver a speech. And I can't find anything in what he says to disagree with.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom

(Taken at Buena Vista. Click on the pic for more)

It's my Mom's 86th birthday today.

She lives in Regina and it's the first time in a few years that I haven't been there for her birthday. But I'm thinking of her.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Panoramic fun

I've always enjoyed panaromas, whether in real life or in photographs.

Maybe it's from growing up on the prairies, where panaromas are all around you every day. All you have to do is look around. For example, here's one that I've posted here before, taken off my front deck at the lake in Buena Vista:


So I couldn't resist passing along a link to this website, which is simply a place where you can view panaromic shots of some pretty impressive places. Imagine standing on top of Mt Everest for example, and looking all around you. It's quite a site.

Or maybe you'd like to see what it's like to be on the red carpet at the Oscars.

Or perhaps you'd prefer para-gliding in France.

To use the site, you just push shift or Cntrl to zoom in or out, and right click and move your mouse to go from side to side. You can choose other places to visit with the menu at the top right.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Food Court Musical, by Improv Everywhere

You've got to admire their "hutzpuh"! I found this on Boing Boing

The pranksters at Improv Everywhere describe their latest noble work thusly:

For our latest mission, 16 agents staged a spontaneous musical in the food court of a Los Angeles shopping mall. We used wireless microphones to amplify the vocal performances and mix them together with the music through the mall’s PA system. We filmed the mission with hidden cameras, mostly behind two-way mirrors. Apart from our performers, no one in the food court was aware of what was happening.

Link to their blog post with more details and pix.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Microsoft braces for a PR disaster

Since Windows Vista started shipping just over a year ago, there have been persistent complaints from users that have been disappointed by the performance of this latest version of Microsoft's PC operating system. Many users discovered that after they upgraded from Windows XP, their old printers and other peripherals didn't work with the new Vista.

Although Microsoft played down those early complaints and says that most of the missing drivers for printers and other devices are now available, the early complaints did have the effect of slowing the migration of some existing XP users over to Vista. Whether deserved or not, Vista is suffering an image problem and according to this article from the New York Times, it's going to get a lot worse, now that Microsoft's own executives appeared to share users' concerns prior to the office release.
Their remarks come from a stream of internal communications at Microsoft in February 2007, after Vista had been released as a supposedly finished product and customers were paying full retail price. Between the nonexistent drivers and PCs mislabeled as being ready for Vista when they really were not, Vista instantly acquired a reputation at birth: Does Not Play Well With Others.

We usually do not have the opportunity to overhear Microsoft’s most senior executives vent their personal frustrations with Windows. But a lawsuit filed against Microsoft in March 2007 in United States District Court in Seattle has pried loose a packet of internal company documents. The plaintiffs, Dianne Kelley and Kenneth Hansen, bought PCs in late 2006, before Vista’s release, and contend that Microsoft’s “Windows Vista Capable” stickers were misleading when affixed to machines that turned out to be incapable of running the versions of Vista that offered the features Microsoft was marketing as distinctive Vista benefits.
It's a fascinating tale. And from a public relations point of view, this could become a case study for how not to launch a new product.

Here's the link.

Friday, March 07, 2008

China's Great Firewall

We've all heard about China's efforts to censor what its citizens can find out by using the Internet. There have been plenty of reports about sites being inaccessible from within China and even how some large companies, like Yahoo and Google, might be working with the authorities there to cripple their own products.

Most of the stories I've read tend to convey the impression that China's efforts to block Internet access are crude and ultimately not that effective.

But in a feature in Atlantic magazine, James Fallows paints a different picture of what is going on. And as this summer's summer Olympics in Beijing draw closer - and the arrival of thousands of foreigners - he has a fascinating tale of how Chinese authorities are planning to control cyberspace. There is much, much more going on than is evident at first glance.
Depending on how you look at it, the Chinese government’s attempt to rein in the Internet is crude and slapdash or ingenious and well crafted. When American technologists write about the control system, they tend to emphasize its limits. When Chinese citizens discuss it—at least with me—they tend to emphasize its strength. All of them are right, which makes the government’s approach to the Internet a nice proxy for its larger attempt to control people’s daily lives.
James Fallows is a long-time contributor to the Atlantic who has a keen interest in technology and always makes the technical stuff interesting for the rest of us.

Here's the link to the story.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The ultimate sales techno-babble

Since it's Friday, this seems like an appropriate workplace diversion.

I've worked with clients who had a problem with jargon, but I've never come across something like this.

Here's the blurb from Google video, where it's hosted:
This video was seen circulating the internet, author unknown. The Retro-Encabulator is a fictional device purportedly manufactured by "Rockwell Automation", according to the video. The video has become popular with engineers due to its humurous use of technobabble.