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Jan 17, 2007 at 12:00
Covering CES, the world's largest assemblage of consumer toys, single-handed is not for the faint-hearted. With 2700 exhibitors spread over four cavernous halls (the size of 30 football fields), two hotels, and the front lawn of the convention center itself, I and the rest the 143,000 CES attendees engaged in a five-day death march across the neon-encrusted canyons of Las Vegas. The event seems to exist in another dimension, separated from what we consider ordinary reality by a veil of pure marketing hype that's so dense it could be cut into chunks and used to fertilize the barren Las Vegas desert. Since the CES size and sheer weirdness assured that there was not even the slightest hope of covering a measurable fraction of the show, I'll just post a few of the more interesting sights, sounds, and encounters I stumbled across in my wanderings through the meeting rooms and show floors.
The surreal nature of Las Vegas itself became apparent even before I hit the CES show floor. Just after get...
Jan 15, 2007 at 12:00
It's easy to take a pessimistic view of the future, at least until you meet a young lady like Sasha Mathas. Inspired by Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth, this junior high school student decided to see what she could do to help us prevent the troubling future the movie warned about. The article below is the first fruit of a semester-long independent study course she and her mom (an industry colleague) put together to see what an ordinary citizen could do on a personal level to reduce their own "carbon footprint." Her first report documents the changes she's helped make in her own household to reduce the family's carbon footprint. A future installment will document the work being done by her local school district to cut its fossil energy consumption through conservation and renewable energy technologies.
While it will take much more than turning off a few lights and driving a few less miles to push back the greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere to a sustainable level, ...
Jan 8, 2007 at 12:00
Since the very first radio transmitters went on the air at the dawn of the twentieth century, we have been rather obsessed with control of the RF spectrum. Rightly so in terms of potential interference; wrongly so in terms of political control. Governments in the 1920s through the 1950s were terrified that radio would become a subversive force that could be turned against them.
Licensing started early on and was given out for transmissions of a particular modulation, at a particular frequency, at a specific power, at a specific location. As technology evolved, the spectrum effectively increased, as we were able to go to higher and higher frequencies. But the licensing model changed little.
I am personally in favor of anarchy in the spectrum; it has been shown to work time and again. In the UK it worked when stodgy BBC radio programming failed to cater to teenage music pressure. Radio Luxembourg filled the gap and, most evenings, you could get a clear AM signal in the South-East of England. Then came the off...
Jan 8, 2007 at 12:00
Standing here with my toes hanging over the edge of a new year, I've started to ponder what 2007 will hold for computing and networking. From my foggy viewpoint it appears that much of the industry should progress in a predictable manner, adding increments of processing power, storage and multimedia capabilities to the venerable PC architecture -- all bundled together under the rigid strictures of Microsoft's new Vista OS. On the other hand, a slightly different reading of the tea leaves hints at the early signs of what may be deep faults in the strategy that has allowed the folks in Redmond to hold sway over our digital lives for the past couple of decades.
If it happens, I don't think it will be because Windows falls victim to a digital coup that enables Linux or any other OS to displace Microsoft from the desktop. What may happen, however, is that a number of technical trends are slowly moving the traditional PC further from the center of our digital lives. In his recent editorial The Vista Of RSS, my col...
Jan 1, 2007 at 12:00
Poor Microsoft. It seems that most of the world secretly hates them and it takes little for that world to heap stuff on them. But sometimes they simply just ask for it. Microsoft Vista is now available as a download on Microsoft's web site and various professional groups have been offering the product at major discounts for a couple of months. But just as surely as a Microsoft product is released you can be sure that it is followed by reports of vulnerabilities. Whether these first weaknesses are significant, or not, there will surely be more. None of us who has some understanding of the progress of a major engineering project will believe that the pieces will always come together cleanly -- however well you think you have designed and specified the interface requirements and limitations. With software, with all the variables that individuals can apply to solutions, it would be almost impossible for a single person -- or group -- to see holes. It would seem, yet again, that Internet Explorer -- now version 7 ...
Jan 1, 2007 at 12:00
The news that the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) had probably succumbed to a fault in its solar array steering mechanism brought a sad although not unexpected loss of a machine that I'd come to think of as an old friend. The spacecraft, which had been built using many spare parts from my ill-fated project, the Mars Observer, went silent after mapping Mars since early 1999, nearly five times its nominal design life. Nevertheless, the news was especially poignant for me since it also echoed the passing earlier this year of G. Edward Danielson, a Principal Science Investigator on the MGS mission and an old friend who taught me so much about Mars, the Universe, and life in general.
If there's any consolation to be had, it's that both Ed and MGS lived full and interesting lives and managed to touch the lives of many others along the way. I met Ed in 1986, after he and Mike Malin had managed to win a seat aboard the Mars Observer for the Mars Observer Camera (MOC), a high-resolution imager that they hoped to use to ge...
Jan 1, 2007 at 12:00
The goals of big business and the Federal Government are not always in alignment, but national RoHS and WEEE laws that mirror the European Union's directives are in the best interest of the US electronics industry -- for manufacturers, distributors and end users alike. A look at the current landscape reveals why.
With no national RoHS-style legislation yet proposed (or likely even discussed), California has gone ahead and enacted its own rule (SB20/SB50).
California's RoHS rule is not as comprehensive as the EU directive, doesn't take effect until January 1, 2007, and addresses only 4 of the 6 substances that the EU RoHS addresses (cadmium, lead, mercury and hexavalent chromium). It also only applies to a select group of products sold through California retailers (laptops, CRTs and TVs with screens greater than 4 inches in size). The scope of SB20/SB50, however, is sure to expand over time.
State rules aimed at restricting mercury in consumer products are appearing in such as Connecticut, Maine, Massachus...