Category Archives: Web/Tech


For those swimming in Apple hype, SJM points us to one possible antidote: Apple-related humor.

Woof, woof.

Blink and See the Wisdom of Crowds

Ross Mayfield points us to an article that appeared last week in Slate: a conversation" between Malcolm Gladwell and James Surowiecki.

Gladwell about his book Blink,
which posits that snap decisions are better than carefully considered
judgements.  Especially when made by experts who have developed a muscle memory of the brain.  […] Gladwell’s theories seemed to run counter to those of another popular book these days, The Wisdom of Crowds
by James Surowiecki, which holds that group decisions are better than
those of individual experts.  But not only are these two views
complimentary, Surowiecki and Gladwell are having an open conversation about it this week.

In his post, Ross goes on to talk about how emergent intelligence can be made more effective as the presence of strong (and weak) ties create connections that more closely resemble "muscle memory." (For those who are interested, Jeff Hawkin’s new book On Intelligence nicely summarizes a lot of current thought on the brain–and his thoughts on where artificial intelligence is headed.) That is a line of thought that I have been planning on further exploring when it comes to new media connections.

Testing Technology Aptitude

Educational Testing Service, the group behind the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and other diagnostic tests, is working on a Information and Communications Technology literacy assessment, according to The New York Times. The test is "intended to measure students’ ability to manage exercises like sorting
e-mail messages or manipulating tables and charts, and to assess how
well they organize and interpret information from many sources and in
myriad forms."

"In an earlier time, information came, really, from only one place: the
university library," said Lorie Roth, the assistant vice chancellor of
academic programs for the California State University system, one of
seven school systems that worked with the testing company over the last
two years to develop the test. "Now it is all part of one giant
continuum, and often the student is the sole arbiter of what is good
information, what is bad information and what all the shades are in

Mac Mini, Hype Max

I would have written about the new Mac Mini sooner, but I have not yet figured out how to blog from 15,000 feet without incurring serious monetary charges. Anyway, I thought it was interesting to see how good Steve Jobs still is at generating hype. The new Mac Mini has a great price point, but as many of you know, the concept of a pint-sized computer easily adaptable in form factor through its accessories has been around for a while. How many of you remember IBM’s white papers and think pieces on pervasive computing, including this piece about a "Metapad," for instance?

In an attempt to better understand how
users will interact with such devices, and to determine the type of
pervasive infrastructure required to support them, IBM has undertaken a
research project involving the construction of a prototype designed to
answer these questions. Meta Pad, a 9 oz., 3 by 5 inch portable
computer core boasting the ability to run Microsoft Windows XP®
software and all its attendant applications, quickly transforms into
handheld, desktop, laptop, tablet, and wearable formats. Meta Pad is
not intended as a product; rather, it serves as a creative vehicle for
studying the technologies necessary to develop more powerful pervasive
computing tools.

It is also highly interesting to see how much less fanfare Win-Tel (Windows-Intel) competitors like the OQO computer and Sony U71/U50, which are similar in form factor, have gotten. I like where these devices are going, but as Julie Strietelmeier and Judie Hughes noted in their report from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the form factor still face limitations. Judie says:

While I love the
small size and the idea of XP in my purse, the screen did not seem as bright as
I would have liked (neither on battery power nor when plugged in), the battery
life is (of course) too low and the lack of any upgradeability makes me think I
should wait for the next build before making the purchase.

Apple, perhaps seeing what little stir these other devices have achieved (do they still have the Newton on their collective brain?) notably did not bring out the Mac Mini in a palm-sized form factor. The company seems instead to be pushing the Mac Mini more as a "cool" desktop replacement. While the OQO and Sony devices have onboard screens, the Mac Mini does not come with a monitor, keyboard or any other input device, so the "deeply lower" price point is a touch misleading if you see it as a way of putting together a complete computer system. Apple is betting that those enthralled with the iPod are sure to see things differently, however.

Update:  Rob Pegoraro does a side by side comparison of the Mac Mini and comparable Windows machines:

Technorati Tag(s): , .

Gates Meets Blue-Screen-Of-Death

I do not know if it is more comforting or alarming to learn that Bill Gates himself has problems with his company’s products.

The demo gods were definitely upset with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates
during tonight’s opening keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in
Las Vegas. Three demos showed minor to major glitches, with the Xbox
even resorting to the all-embarrassing blue-screen-of-death.

Forbes magazine, which is covering the event, asks “What Will You Be Adding to Your Home Entertainment System in 2005?

Talking Ski Jackets

I am circulating a piece on wearable computing to one of the technology magazines, so I was interested to see the news that Motorola and apparel maker Burton are planning on building cell phones into ski jackets.

Motorola and privately held apparel maker Burton of Burlington,
Vermont, will jointly develop jackets, helmets and caps aimed at the
snowboarding set, to be released in the latter half of 2005. The jackets will have a padded casing for a Motorola cell phone and an
MP3 music player. They will feature a device on the sleeve that lets
the wearer control incoming and outgoing calls, and toggle back and
forth to music, sending audio signals to removable speakers in the hood.

Kessler Praises the iPod Economy

"You want a scapegoat for the dollar’s almost daily decline — the
Chinese water torture on the U.S. economy? I blame Steve Jobs," says Andy Kessler in today’s Wall Street Journal. Actually, his lead-in is a prelude to a piece praising the "iPod economy." "The $4-trillion-plus in trade deficits
since 1976 has been matched by an $11 trillion increase in value of our
stock market. That’s about all you have to know."

While he overlooks possible ties between the world’s economies (could it be that low prices from Chinese manufacturing continue to help dampen inflationary pressures on the U.S. economy, for instance?), you sure cannot call Kessler a pessimist on the U.S. economy.

Japan is
just emerging 15 years later from a nonperforming-loan hangover. China is
face-first in the punch bowl with half its bank loans uncollectible: If
their currency spikes, it might go to 100%. Rather than debase our wallets, Japan and China have to buy dollar
assets to keep their currencies from rising too much if they want to
continue to sell us their industrial output, while of course, we get rich
selling them the tools to do it productively.

Open Access Medical Research

Amanda Schaffer of Slate writes about the  Public Library of Science, "an advocacy organization dedicated to promoting open access" to medical research.

To the consternation of journal publishers—many of them not-for-profit
associations that rely heavily on journal subscription fees for their
revenue—the National Institutes of Health has thrown its considerable
weight behind the notion of free access to biomedical research. In
September, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni proposed that all NIH-funded
scientists provide full-text copies of their research papers to PubMed Central,
an online government archive, once these papers have been accepted (and
thus vetted) by peer-reviewed journals; PubMed Central would then post
the work, citing both the author and the journal where it first
appeared, six months after publication. (The original plan called for
immediate access but was mitigated in response to publishers’ outcry.)
The initiative is expected to cost roughly $2 million to $4 million per
year, a small fraction of the NIH’s total budget. As the NIH considers
final guidelines, a vitriolic debate has erupted in the scientific
community: How best to balance the needs of journal publishers against
those of scientists, students, and members of the general public who
would benefit from unfettered access?

Timothy Noah, also writing for Slate, celebrates for "discovering" Amazon’s customer service number.

Super Phone, Phone Home

Om Malik notes rumors of an Apple / Motorola project to develop an "iPhone." Jeff Nolan asks, "when will I be able to untether the phone number from
the device without going through the inconvenience of taking the SIM
chip out?" Until they develop Jeff’s ideal phone, maybe one strategy to consider is Paul Boutin’s suggestion in Slate to "Ditch your Treo for a dirt-cheap Nokia [6600]."

So, why am I telling you to rush out and get a cheap,
ugly phone? Because the Nokia 6600 lets you add the cool features you
want without paying for the ones you don’t care about. For the price of
a calling plan, you’ll start with plenty of gadgetry you’d think they
would have saved for the glitzy, high-end models. There’s a
speakerphone, voice dialing, an audio recorder, a serviceable
640-by-480 pixel camera, a (silent) video recorder, RealPlayer for
playing back audio and video clips, an infrared port, and a flash
memory slot that comes loaded with a 32-megabyte card. Most important,
the 6600 comes with Bluetooth and the Symbian operating system with
Series 60, the same robust, reliable platform that’s installed on
high-end Nokias and the $600 Siemens SX1. […] The combination of
Series 60 and Bluetooth allows you to add pretty much any peripheral
device you can imagine.

Pushing for Virgina Research Institution

The Washington Post profiles Eugene Huang, "one of the youngest state Cabinet secretaries in the nation." Huang is Virginia’s secretary of technology.

Yes, he says, he would rather be running or researching than negotiating with state legislators and preaching the virtues of Virginia’s technology community. But he says he also has a sense of how technology has changed his generation, and of what Virginia can do to better compete in a high-tech world. Huang is embarking on a finite opportunity: Because Virginia has a one-term governorship, Huang has 15 months to make his mark on the job, and the state.

He was also covered in The Richmond Times-Dispatch.