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Here's one of the more interesting weekly newsletters on computing. More along the lines of enthusiastic industry predictions, rather than critical social commentary, but very informative nonetheless. I won't send it out regularly, so those who want to receive it should subscribe yourselves. I recommend reading it on the Web, rather than via email, as the Web version usually includes images and links.
From: "Harrow, Jeffrey" Jeff.Harrow@compaq.com
Subject: RCFoC for June 5, 2000 - BROADERband?
To: "\"The Rapidly Changing Face of Computing\" distribution (E-mail)"
Date: Mon, 5 Jun 2000 06:20:06 –1000
The Rapidly Changing Face of Computing
June 5, 2000
by Jeffrey R. Harrow
Principal Member of Technical Staff
Technology & Corporate Development,
Compaq Computer Corporation
Insight, analysis and commentary on the innovations and trends of contemporary computing, and on the technologies that drive them (not necessarily the views of Compaq Computer Corporation).
Copyright (c)2000, Compaq Computer Corporation
In This Issue:
* RCFoC Radio!
* Quotes for the Week.
* How Fleeting Our History...
* Return Of The Phoenix?
* Ecommerce Update.
* From Out of the Ether.
* Potato or Potatoe?
* About the "Rapidly Changing Face of Computing..."
As always, the RCFoC is also available as a "radio" show in three Web-based audio-on-demand flavors: "RealAudio" technology from RealNetworks, ToolVOX from VOXware, and MP3. It's easy to set up and use, and works over even slow modems -- give it a try by clicking on the "RCFoC Radio" icon next to this issue on the RCFoC home page at http://www.compaq.com/rcfoc <http://www.compaq.com/rcfoc> !
Need help acquiring or setting up the players? Information is a click away at http://www.compaq.com/rcfoc/rcfoc_radio_help_general.html <http://www.compaq.com/rcfoc/rcfoc_radio_help_general.html>.
Quotes for the Week.
"In a survey conducted by The Economist with market-research firm MORI, 76% of youthful respondents (median age 23) said they viewed the Internet revolution on a par with the industrial revolution, and ranked Bill Gates third behind Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi as the greatest individual of the 20th century..."
May 24 NewsScan Daily summarizing the May 26 Economist online article "Talkiní About E-generation."
And, commenting on the sense of the recent "Wireless Data Forum," the May 23 ZDNet News
paints a picture of our wireless future that may seem outrageous -- until you remember that this is what has already happened to wired phone networks:
"All the [wireless] carriers painted a picture of a day when data
would be the primary wireless signal and voice would be secondary."
How Fleeting Our History...
My Mom came to visit recently, and even though I've yet to convince her to reach out and touch the Web, her low-tech visit triggered some very high-tech thoughts. We were engaged in that most traditional of Mother's Visit activities, going through a box of old family photographs, when we came across several "personally recorded" small 78-RPM records; they were apparently from my Dad to my Mother when he was overseas during World War II. This was long before the days of tape, so various organizations such as the USO provided this recording service to soldiers so their families at home could actually hear their voices. (One record even has a full-color Pepsi commercial emblazoned across its face -- and you thought "banner ads" were new for the Internet!)
"Well," I thought, "playing these old records would be a real Mother's Day treat for Mom!" Although a CD/DVD player had long-since replaced our venerable turntable, I knew it was still in the basement, so up it came; it was the work of but a moment to hook it into the sound system. And then the disappointment...
My old turntable, it turns out, was not quite old enough. As you probably suspect by now, it would play 33 and 45 RPM records, but not 78s. The voice was there, buried under the scratches and pops, but it was very ssssllllllooooowwwwwwwww.
Now I will admit to thinking of digitizing the slow audio into my PC and speeding it up through software, but I could tell from the very poor quality that I'd do better starting with the correct speed. So the project is on-hold until I dig up a 78-RPM turntable.
But this did get me to thinking... We had no problem looking at several generations of paper photographs, even though some looked to be from the early days of photography itself. A several generation-old family tree on dry and yellowed paper was still quite readable. And old diplomas and mementos posed no problems at all. Yet the moment "technology" reared its head, the words on those 78-RPM records were lost to our reminiscing, at least until I bring some new technology, or an old phonograph, to bear. Some of the paper records we enjoyed viewing may well have been 200 years old, but the 60-year old records held their secrets tight.
The parallel to how we're increasingly storing information today, in digital format, is all too obvious, and the dangers are all too real. I have old single-density Macintosh disks I can no longer read, even if the information is still intact on the media (highly doubtful.) Somewhere else in my basement are reels of DECtape that, without calling in some favors, will never again remind me of programs I wrote long ago. In another box I have perhaps a dozen different disk and tape media that I no longer have the drives to read, and anyway, their content has doubtlessly succumbed to magnetic old age.
Looking more recently, I have some 8mm videotapes of my kids, and while the old 8mm camcorder still works, it has been replaced with a DV (Digital Video) version. So, when my 8mm camcorder plays its last, I'm unlikely to get it fixed or replace it. What then happens to those old movies if I don't transcribe them to my "new media" first? And even if I do transcribe those 8mm tapes to DV tape, how long will those "DV" tapes remain playable...?
Don't Take This (Only) Personally.
I've been using "personal" data here as an illustration, but this issue, of the long-term integrity of stored digital data, very much extends to businesses and to governments. Consider how much information is now being stored exclusively in computer-readable format, with no paper backup. What are the implications when (not if, but when) those tapes and disks are no longer readable due to media failure or reader obsolescence? What if, ten years from now, you need to access information for your small or large business, only to find that no paper records were ever kept and the magnetic backups are, at best, only somewhat readable. What would happen if hospitals and town halls "upgrade" their old, cumbersome but long-lived paper records, to new easily searchable, but perhaps not "for the ages," digital media, and fifty years from now your kid needs a new birth certificate...?
Certainly, there are ways around this: constantly regenerating magnetic tape (copying from one tape to another before the original degrades) can help, and some CD-ROMs can last longer (although I've been told that the typical writable CD-ROM is not as "cast in stone" as I might have expected, having a life expectancy of less than ten years.) And I'm sure there are other, longer-term archival media out there that can be used by governments or businesses to safeguard their most important data.
But my old box of "photographs" does illustrate that MOST information (government, business, and personal) will never get that "special archival treatment." Which places much of our national, business, and personal histories at risk of being lost to the ages through the decay of magnetic domains, the physical aging of tapes and disks, and the molecular drift of the pits in CDs. The photographs in my old box, however, are likely to remain intact for generations of Mother's Day's viewings to come. It is something to ponder.
Our past would be a terrible thing to waste...
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Return Of The Phoenix?
The Knowledge Age "David" we've been discussing recently may rise again, with a few technological twists that may now keep the lawyers at bay. What I'm talking about is upstart iCraveTV.com, the tiny Canadian company that began Webcasting U.S. and Canadian TV broadcasts to the world. In spite of 800,000 visitors spending an average of 45 minutes on the site, iCraveTV had to pull the plug under massive legal threats (http://www.compaq.com/rcfoc/20000207.html#_Toc474135690
<http://www.compaq.com/rcfoc/20000207.html#_Toc474135690> ). Now though, according to RCFoC reader David Akin in his May 4 Canadian National Post Online article (http://www.nationalpost.com/financialpost.asp?s2=canadianbusiness&f=00 <http://www.nationalpost.com/financialpost.asp?s2=canadianbusiness&f=000504/278763.html), a new iCraveTV may rise from the legal ashes.
CEO Bill Craig plans to be "back on the air" (David used that phrase for want of a new catch-phrase for Webcasting -- "back on the fiber" just doesn't quite sound right) by Labor Day with a new technology he calls Country Area Networks. It would restrict the viewing of individual channels to those countries where it was legal for this activity to take place.
Time will tell if this can work in the relatively geography-independent world of the Internet, and if such restrictions will blunt the lawyers' swords, but Mr. Craig certainly does get an "A" for spunk. Which, if you think about it, is exactly what keeps pushing things forward...
On the other hand, RCFoC reader Gordon Edall suggests that there may be some downsides to imposing "borders" within the Internet:
"Say hello to a new internet that will look nothing like the old
one. Say hello to nations and city states where some people make
sure you cannot share thoughts with your neighbors down the road
because of an invisible cyber-border designed to protect rights
holders and ensure that positions of privilege are maintained. Of
course, I just like the old internet..."
I rather suspect that iCraveTV.com's new technology would only affect who could watch THEIR broadcasts, and so not actually set up any "borders" that could affect other activities. But Gordon's concern -- that widespread adoption of such techniques by many publishers could effectively destroy the global nature of the Internet -- is a concern worth keeping in mind. It would be a great shame (and an immense economic loss) to partition the world's first global, egalitarian, voice and marketplace!
* Japanese Wireless Internet, Revisited -- Following up on our
discussion of how "wireless" is now being considered "...Japan's
most popular way of accessing the Web"
readers commented that it's one thing to talk about the number of
Internet-equipped phones that are sitting in pockets, and another
thing to count how many of them are actually being "used" for
Internet access. That's a valid point and an important
distinction, although the Reuters article I referenced doesn't
clearly differentiate how many pockets fall into each category.
But even if the number of actual users is significantly lower than
the number of pockets that have Internet access (likely), it's just
this dramatically growing "access" that will enable the number of
active "users" to climb. A later article, also from Reuters
<http://www.mercurycenter.com/svtech/news/breaking/merc/docs/014491.htm), pointed out that by the time you read this, "...18% of Japan's mobile phone users will be equipped with Web-compatible phones."
Coupling that Internet pocket-penetration with the 7,000+ Japanese
Web sites explicitly catering to pocket Internet access, and with
the Japanese government's expectation that there will be $67
billion in Japanese Ecommerce by 2005, I think that the rise of
both "pockets equipped," and "active users," remain important
trends to watch.
* The WinTel-less Alliance? -- "WinTel" (Windows + Intel-compatible)
has been synonymous with the majority of end-user computing for
many years; only Macintosh has so far demonstrated a credible
challenge. But it may be that the Internet is providing the
impetus to change these WinTel rules. The May 29 New York Times
<http://partners.nytimes.com/library/tech/00/05/biztech/articles/30chip.html) reports that America Online and Gateway plan to release
an under-$500 WinTel-less home Internet Appliance, this year.
Powered by a Transmeta chip and Linux operating system, and without
a hard drive, this device is explicitly not a PC, but an
"appliance" targeted at making it easy to do just those things that
people do on the Web.
Of course, this hardly marks the death of WinTel or the PC; there
are a vast number of things people do with PCs that this
incarnation of Larry Ellison's "Network Computer" concept will not
support. But it is an opening gambit from very recognized players.
The market acceptance (or not) of dedicated, inexpensive,
easy-to-use Internet Appliances will be one very interesting trend
Almost everyone I've spoken with who has cable modem service is pleased with it. But as we recently discussed (http://www.compaq.com/rcfoc/20000424.html#_Toc480784982 <http://www.compaq.com/rcfoc/20000424.html#_Toc480784982> ), cable modem service does share its 10 megabits/second of bandwidth with a variable number of other subscribers in your neighborhood. So, as activity increases, your available bandwidth decreases. But even if cable's bandwidth were NOT shared, might 10 megabits/second become too slow?!?
Before you look at your current 56K modem and tell me that shared cable modem service would be "quite fine for me, thank-you-very-much," remember that similar statements have been made every time a new modem technology increased available bandwidth. For example, I recall when 9600-baud modems came out -- I could suddenly fill an entire VT100 terminal screen in the blink of an eye, far faster than I could read it. So this was clearly all the bandwidth I'd ever need. Right -- all it took was the transition to a graphics-based interface, and those once-fast modems again had much in common with molasses.
So, I suggest that even though most of us are still lusting after the DSL and cable modem connections that are increasingly becoming available, THEY WILL NOT BE FAST ENOUGH. The day will come (and not terribly far away, if Internet Time continues its relentless acceleration), when a "mere" 380 kilobits/second DSL connection, or a shared 10 megabits/second cable modem connection, will again feel like walking underwater.
What could cause this? One obvious possible bandwidth-driver is the maturing of Internet-delivered full-motion, full-screen, high-quality, enhanced video-on-demand, already being explored by sites such as www.atomfilms.com <http://www.atomfilms.com> .
For example, have you viewed "The New Arrival," a four-minute online film that was shot in a 360-degree format? You use your mouse to freely look completely around the camera's position, rather than your being a slave to where the director pointed it (which I'm sure made the filming rather "interesting"). This new way of viewing a movie, which goes far beyond what we can experience at a movie theater, is available today at http://www.atomfilms.com/default.asp?film_id=809 <http://www.atomfilms.com/default.asp?film_id=809> . I didn't much care for The New Arrival's content, and the quality, even over a high-speed line, is not yet great. But imagine how the entire art of movie making (and viewing) might change if (when?) bandwidth increases to allow for similar 360-degree interactivity at excellent quality!
Or, the bandwidth-driver might be ever-more compelling interactive worlds, such as Sony's EverQuest (www.everquest.com <http://www.everquest.com> ). Or it might be bandwidth demands generated by applications we haven't yet imagined. But history suggests that these bandwidth-consuming applications will surely arrive -- they always have. Which is why ideas to change the bandwidth rules, such a new one from Advent Networks, are so interesting.
Brought to our attention by RCFoC readers Don McArthur and Jamie Walker and the May 24 Forbes Magazine (http://www.forbes.com/tool/html/00/May/0524/mu5.htm <http://www.forbes.com/tool/html/00/May/0524/mu5.htm> ), Advent Networks is promising to supercharge cable modem systems to provide, not 10 megabits/second shared among many users, but 40 megabits/second dedicated to EACH user! And they say this service would be provided at prices comparable to today's high-speed consumer services.
Putting this in perspective, if they can pull this off, each user would have 26-times the bandwidth of a T1 connection. A typical MP3 file would download in about a second; two full-quality HDTV signals could be delivered simultaneously.
Is this in the "too good to be true" category? Their well-animated Web site at http://www.adventnetworks.com/ <http://www.adventnetworks.com/> was labeled "under construction" when I explored it, and provided virtually no supporting detail. But they have received $5 million in initial funding from Murphree Venture Partners and others, and Advent's CEO Geoffrey Tudor expects $30 million in second round financing.
Of course, this particular idea may go nowhere. Or, it may rocket the Knowledge Age to unprecedented heights. How would we expand our use of the Internet if 40 megabits/second became the norm? And how would it change established industries, such as broadcasting and entertainment? Just perhaps, we'll get the opportunity to find out...
* Ahh, Convergence -- Yesterday, if you were seriously into digital
media, you might have carried around a digital still camera, a
digital camcorder, and a pocket music player. But thanks to a
pointer from RCFoC reader Nicholas Bodley, today you can combine
all three of these functions in a single unit from Sony called the
<http://www.sel.sony.com/SEL/consumer/ss5/home/mddisccamcorder/mddisccamcorder/dcm-m1_specs.shtml). And interestingly, you never
have to rewind its "tape."
That's because this $2,500 device, which can store 20 minutes of
digital video, forty-five hundred 640x480 stills, or 260 minutes of
audio (or some combination thereof), uses the "MD Data Disc 2"
minidisc. Oh -- and let's see, it's graphic interface is powered by
Java, and it has an Ethernet port.
Is this device, which fits in your hand, a computer? A consumer
camera? Or more... That, after all, is exactly the Convergence
* More For Less -- Last issue we were considering the future of video
delivered over the Web in the context of new upstart, RecordTV.com
Although I acknowledged that the quality of such Web-based TV is
currently inferior compared to broadcast TV, I did suggest that
"...Internet Time pretty much guarantees that it will get better,
fast." Well, it's next week, so RealNetworks, in conjunction with
Intel, seems poised to make that happen with RealSystem 8.
According to the May 24 Wall Street Journal
compression techniques may shrink the size of a video file by
two-thirds, while it boosts the quality of Web-based video to VHS
quality and beyond -- "enough to stimulate new kinds of media
businesses." A beta version of this software is available at
it interesting that Real is breaking tradition and charging $29.99
for the beta program (along with the current shipping version,
I stand by my predictions that, driven by the Internet, the worlds
of broadcast and cable TV, indeed of entertainment in general, will
(perhaps now sooner than expected) never be the same again...
* Storage Eater -- If you remember just a few years ago, a couple of
hundred megabytes of disk storage was a lot. Yet today, new PCs
are routinely sold with 10-20 gigabytes or more. More than enough.
Right? But -- imagine yourself in Sprint's shoes.
They're getting ready to begin a massive study of Internet traffic,
recording details of each packet that passes their major Internet
switching centers. (Recording this data will not compromise
privacy however -- they will not record the packets' fields that
identify the originator or destination, or the packets' actual
(The way they plan to do this is interesting -- since most traffic
at that level of the Internet backbone is optical, they will use a
passive optical splitter to monitor packets as they go by.
But the really intriguing thing about this study is how much data
they'll be collecting. Monitoring just five of their fifteen major
switching centers, Sprint expects to store thousands of gigabytes
(terabytes) -- each day!
And we thought that WE had problems with our disks filling up...
* Apply Any Way You Wish, As Long As It's Online -- That's the new
policy of West Virginia Wesleyan College, the first to require that
all undergraduate applications be filed online. According to the
May 25 New York Times, this is a natural outgrowth of their policy
of providing every student with a notebook, and their current plans
to install a campus-wide wireless network. (Wesleyan's admissions
counselors allow kids without their own computers to use their
notebooks during high school visits, and Wesleyan feels that just
about anyone can gain access to an Internet-connected PC at their
high school, or at a local library, long enough to fill out the
30-minute application. Students with disabilities will still
receive special accommodations.) If this is the beginning of a
trend, it could save a lot of paper...
On the other hand, this may not be happening a moment too soon,
considering that that old college application tool, the typewriter,
is continuing along the road towards extinction. Venerable,
112-year old typewriter company Smith Corona has filed for Chapter
11 bankruptcy for the second time in five years. It now plans to
sell its assets to one of its distributors, and it will be no
From Out of the Ether.
* Alternative Uses -- Several issues ago we noted that a Japanese
company, Sunshine Inc., is producing artificial fingernails that
flash in the presence of cell phone radio waves
this was touted as a technological fashion statement, RCFoC reader
Mike Ryan thought "outside the dots" for a less, er, down-to-earth
application. He suggests that these radio-wave-powered flashing
fingernails could be well used by,
"Ö hostesses on planes. They always make a big deal about
turning off cellular devices, and yet some people still donít.
With this, they could check them while walking up on down, or
even painting a strip of it down the middle of the plane. That
way, the occasional blip the cellular makes to the base station
would show up."
Just goes to show how a seemingly fanciful device might well find a
very serious application.
* The Changing TV Rules -- Following up on our recent discussions
about how the Internet is altering the broadcast industry, my kids
can't conceive that when I grew up, even though I was in a large
city, there were only two TV channels and they went off the air at
midnight. If I wanted to see something that those two local
stations didn't choose to air, I was out of luck.
Today, of course, with 30 or 40 cable channels or a couple of
hundred satellite choices, we can see something about almost
anything. Yet, reminiscent of "the old days," we are still at the
mercy of a relatively few "broadcasters," be they cable or
satellite operators. And as we've seen with the iCraveTV.com
story, many of them are trying to maintain the status quo.
But not all of them. Because right now, after a suggestion by
Indian RCFoC reader Raja Pundalik, I'm watching a European channel
that (to my knowledge) just isn't available in most of the U.S.
through traditional media -- the "Fashion Channel" from Paris.
Their use of the Internet to expand their audience to a global
market is an example of how some "broadcasters" are already, very
successfully, leveraging the Internet:
"I would like to point out that the concept of
'TV-Over-Internet' is at least 8-10 months old (at least, as
far as my knowledge goes) and the FashionTV channel (broadcast
from France and available freely in India) has been constantly
and aggressively advertising the streaming video from its
This website is quite a hit here and I know a lot of people who
watch streaming images from this website. I have myself logged
on to this site, and the video quality is not at all bad. The
favorite line of advertising of FTV is 'Watch FTV images on
your office PC.'
Since both the TV channel and the website are hosted by the
same interests, there may not be any conflict of interests
here, and no legal issues involved. But in case of an
independent website feeding the images of a TV channel on to
the Net may drag up more issues than we can think of at this
moment. All the same, your statement that '... the best course
of action might be to figure out how to prosper in the new
environment, rather than in trying (usually in vain) to use
heavy-handed legal tactics to attempt to keep things as they've
always been (and falling farther behind in the process)' will
be the ultimate truth."
This does give us a hint, I suspect, of the future of one global
Potato or Potatoe?
[Late breaking indications, brought to our attention by RCFoC reader
Joe Batt, indicate that I, in the good company of the BBC, USAToday,
Ananova, ZDNet and others, have apparently been duped by the report of
this veggie-powered Web server; its home page now carries the note "It
is a joke!" (Also, see The Register at
http://www.theregister.co.uk/000525-000013.html for additional
background.) I also note that the BBC story on which I based this
article now shows "Removed."
But I'm still going to leave this in here because it's an interesting,
if now we know untrue story, that nevertheless leads to an important
thought. And it's also a very good reminder that, especially in an
online world, even the likes of the venerable BBC may not quite see
things as they really are...]
Finally, regardless of how certain political figures might spell it, the lowly potato has now taken on a new role in life -- powering Web servers. Brought to our attention by RCFoC reader Rajesh Ambigapathy and others, the May 23 BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_759000/759529.stm <http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_759000/759529.stm> ) describes how computer hobbyists Steve Harris and his buddies were told that a potato-powered Web server was impossible -- so they just went ahead and built one.
[Image - Tuber Power -
A bare-bones Web server based around a 386 chip and a solid state disk, this Linux server is powered by a "battery" composed of twelve potatoes connected in series, each delivering about one-half volt and lasting for a few days (the moist, salty insides act as an electrolyte when zinc and copper electrodes are poked into the tuber.)
If you'd like to see a live self-portrait of the tater-powered server, just click on http://22.214.171.124:2300/pic.jpg <http://126.96.36.199:2300/pic.jpg> , or check out http://188.8.131.52:2300/ <http://184.108.40.206:2300/> for the cyber-tuber's home page.
It may sound foolish, but potato power is certainly an easily renewable resource. And as electronics continue to shrink and consume ever-less power, who knows -- it's a lot cheaper to drop in replacement veggies than a new set of batteries! In any event, this fun project does remind us how little is "impossible."
I've always believed that if a well-funded think tank or government body collected a broad set of scientists and "proved" to them, beyond their doubt, that another country had successfully developed anti-gravity, if they then gave the scientists all the time and money they needed, those scientists would eventually "catch up" and figure out how the others had "learned" to control gravity. My budget doesn't quite go to funding such an experiment, but I do continue to believe that the "impossible" only takes a little longer...
About the "Rapidly Changing Face of Computing..."
The "Rapidly Changing Face of Computing" is a weekly technology journal providing insight, analysis and commentary on contemporary computing and the technologies that drive them.
The RCFoC is written by Jeffrey R. Harrow, Principal Member of Technical Staff with the Technology & Corporate Development organization of Compaq Computer Corporation.
The RCFoC is published as a service of, but not necessarily reflecting the opinions of, Compaq Computer Corporation. Copyright © 1996-2000, Compaq Computer Corporation. All rights reserved.
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