September 12, 2008
University of Illinois -- The Most Wired Campus
Posted by Christine Hurt

PC Magazine has named the University of Illinois -- Urbana-Champaign the most wired campus in the U.S., up from 6th place last year.  The magazine looks not only at student resources, such as the availability of wireless and loaner or cheaper laptops, but at curriculum offerings in the technology fields.  This honor has brought up the slightly embarassing point that the campus doesn't have outside wireless; only 1% of outdoor spaces can access the network.  I might be more embarassed if we were in say, California.  During most of the academic year, outside is not a super place to surf the web anyway!

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March 23, 2008
Luxim's Incredible Light
Posted by Gordon Smith

Check out this new device by Silicon Valley company Luxim, which ZD Net describes as "a lightbulb the size of a Tic Tac that gives off as much light as a streetlight." Folks are discussing the story at slashdot.

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March 16, 2008
Your Brain and the Rest of You
Posted by Gordon Smith

In May I will be presenting in a forum that is foreign to me. More about that later, but I note it to explain why I have been watching TED more than usual lately. And hanging around Presentation Zen. Yesterday, Garr Reynolds pointed to a presentation by brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor that is about as close to perfect as I can imagine. It is simultaneously personal and universal, humorous and poignant. Her message is so simple that it is impossible to miss and so profound that I reckon it will be impossible to forget.

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March 11, 2008
Negroponte in 1984
Posted by Gordon Smith

TED has posted excerpts from a fascinating talk by Nicholas Negroponte from the first TED conference in 1984. That was the year I returned to BYU after serving a Church mission in Austria. Before my mission (1982), I was programming COBOL on punch cards. When I returned, I was required to take a class called Introduction to Computer Programming, which was really a class on how to use PC software (WordPerfect, Lotus 123, Basic). On the first day of class, the instructor began by distinguishing "hardware" and "software."

Obviously, Negroponte was well beyond that ... but still primitive from today's vantage.

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September 23, 2007
"China returning humans to the Moon would be a catastrophic blow to the prestige of the United States"
Posted by Gordon Smith

Seriously? The moon seems so 1960s. We have already been to Mars (at least with machines), but our prestige will be hurt by China replicating a feat we accomplished 40 years ago? Mark Whittington is not joking:

Returning to the Moon represents the first step in establishing space as a venue of human economic and political activity. The potential of space or lunar based solar power, now being studied by the US military, and fusion power fueled by helium 3 to address the world's energy concerns is incalculable. The Moon is the key to accessing these resources.

NASA is plugging away on the next moon mission, but I have a hard time seeing Americans get excited about the moon again. Even if the ultimate goal is to put humans on Mars and we use the moon for practice. Especially not because of some vague notion of technological prestige.

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August 16, 2007
It Turns Out That Microsoft Products Are Needlessly Complicated
Posted by David Zaring

Gordon has been cautious in evaluating the new Microsoft suite of everything. But I feel the same way about it as Fake Steve Jobs does. What did Microsoft give its consumers, Fake Steve Jobs asks?

“A new version of Word that has more buttons than the dashboard on the space shuttle. You need a pilot's license to use it. Have you seen it? It's incredible. First time someone showed me the interface I thought it was a spoof, like that fake ad about what an iPod box would look like if Microsoft made it.”

The new Word combines thirty odd menus of features and activates them via tabs and buttons, instead of text. It doesn’t work with other software programs, including old versions of Word, which can’t open documents done on the new version. It takes me an inexplicable three clicks and a trip to the secret Windows Office button to create a new document.  Said secret Office button also contains a Send submenu, a Print submenu, and a Publish submenu, because those things are all so very different, apparently. It is, in short, a strange combination of bloated, confusing, and unambitious, and I would avoid upgrading to the new Word for as long as your tech services people will allow.

I know, I know, complaining about Microsoft is like hitting alt-F4 on your keyboard when you’re in your blog posting program. But still. It’s like the company never thought to look at how Nintendo succeeded with the Wii or how Google succeeded with Google. And those companies are its direct competitors. Everyone in the legal academic world uses Microsoft, but really, I’m going to look hopefully, longingly at Google Docs, marvel at the advantages of simplicity of design, sigh, and then return to my high-kilobyte, memory-intensive, draft paper, which I will revise by toggling unhappily between the footnote insertion menu (it is under “references”), the comment function (it is under “review”), and the typeface management region (it can be found at “home”).

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August 14, 2007
Is There a 20% Chance That Life As We Know It Is a Computer Simulation?
Posted by Christine Hurt

This article makes me very sad.  I have enough existential angst without now wondering whether my life is really being run by a 20-something guy who doesn't leave his house very much.  And all those hours I spent discussing whether free will, agency and even Paradise Lost were just wasted.  I think in order to maintain my sanity I'm just going to have to be in denial here and refuse to believe that I am either part of someone's computer simulation or worse, someone's avatar!  (But if I am, couldn't I be a little taller and maybe have red hair, like a nice strawberry blonde?)

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July 17, 2007
About iPhone
Posted by Gordon Smith

I am watching iPhone users from afar. USA Today reports that "90% of 200 owners said they were 'extremely' or 'very' satisfied with their phone" and "85% said they are 'extremely' or 'very' likely to recommend the device to others." Of course, some iPhone users love it even though the phone doesn't work:

Right now I can't make or receive calls inside my house. With Verizon, I could get calls inside, outside, anywhere. The service was so good, in fact, that I never bothered to get a landline. With AT&T, I must retreat to the backyard, where mosquitoes drain me of blood. Worse yet, my iPhone often takes five minutes to even detect service in the backyard. After figuring this out, I recounted some of these difficulties to my mother. She suggested that I keep my Verizon service as a backup. This led to a brief argument in which I angrily defended AT&T, claiming that the telecommunications giant was making major infrastructure upgrades. My mother hung up on me. Yes, AT&T's crappy wireless coverage is tearing my family apart.

Apple probably didn't intend to release a phone that will make me less technologically accessible than before. The iPhone: the mobile device that forces you to get a landline. OK, I don't really have to get a landline—I could just move to another house. But even though I can't use it to make phone calls, I still love the iPhone.

Applehound reports that the "OS X graphical interface and applications are extremely solid!" Then proceeds to list 68 bugs!

Then there's this.

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Tech is Back ... But What About the Magazines?
Posted by Gordon Smith

In the mid- to late-1990s, I become a tech-media junkie: WIRED, Red Herring, Business 2.0, Industry Standard, etc. Several years ago, I switched to blogs for my tech news. Forbes now tells us that advertisers are doing the same:

Silicon Valley is booming again. But if you work in tech media, there's blood on the floor. Take  Red Herring. It hung onto its offices after getting the eviction notice earlier this month. But gossip site Valleywag is breaking story after story not just on its beat--but about its woes. Meanwhile, bigger publications are hurting too: ... Business 2.0 saw ad pages drop 21.8% through March from the same period a year ago;  PC Magazine's editor in chief walked out the door after ad pages fell 38.8% over the same period; and one-time online powerhouse CNET is reporting growing losses even as the companies it covers flourish. It may be happening in tech first, but there's no reason the same thing won't happen, eventually, in every media niche.

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June 09, 2007
Posted by Fred Tung

Dropsendlogo_2 Whaddya do when you need to send a 40mb data file to your co-author who's in a different city?  Chances are you can't just email it.  Your email server likely imposes an upper limit on attachment size for security reasons.   And 40 megs is a big attachment.  You could snail mail a thumb drive, but that seems archaic.  You could post your file on your faculty webpage for download, but that may be a bit of a chore, especially if you don't have permission or software skills to tinker with it.  Or . . . (drumroll), you could DropSend it.  DropSend allows you to send files up to 1GB, or to upload and store files online.  And best of all . . . (drumroll), it's free.  You just have to register by (no surprise) giving them a wee bit of personal information.  For free, you get 5 sends per month and 250MB of storage.  Five bucks a month gets you 15 sends and 1GB of storage.  And so on.  It's a really nice service when you need it.

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June 07, 2007
We're a Nintendo Family
Posted by Christine Hurt

Wiiplay As someone who grew up a few months too soon to be in the video game generation, I'm a little embarassed to say this, but I think my family is a Nintendo family.  Last week I was reading this NYT article on how Nintendo is killing Sony and Microsoft in the video gaming industry right now, and it dawned on me that the article was about my family.

Part of the reason for the success of such products as the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo DS, according to the article, is that Nintendo finally realized that many families didn't want high-level geeky games created by high-level geeky gamers.  Although many families have one person that these games attract, the games don't universally attract all family members.  Voila!  The Wii.

I completely agree.  A couple of years ago, I broke down and allowed an X-Box into our house.  But the games are too complicated and not kid-friendly.  The Lego Star Wars series, while a really fun concept, is created for 30-somethings who love Star Wars, not the kids looking at the "E" for everyone.  I don't consider it fun to have to look up on the Internet hints and secret codes for getting from Level Whatever to Level Better.  When my son tries to play it alone (without Paul), he often asks me to help him, but there is literally nothing I can do.  But all this is changed now.  Two weeks ago, we bought a Wii!

First of all, you can hook up a Wii in 5 minutes.  Then, you create your "Mii," and you can play in about 5 more minutes.  (My kids think the creating the Mii part is the best game so far.)  The Wii Sports games that are pre-loaded and the games on Wii Play have very steep (short, fast)learning curves.  Without investing time in honing special skills, mom can jump in, friends who come over can jump in, even grandparents can jump in.  For our family, this is a much better game.  Although complex games may sharpen problem-solving skills, blah, blah, blah, for our family, having something that everyone can play is much more important.  "Game night" doesn't have to be Monopoly anymore!  (On our wish list, Mario Party 8.)

We also have a Nintendo DS Lite for our daughter.  Although she's not video-game crazy either, she really likes Nintendogs, a game the article points out is one of few marketed to girls.  So, I guess if we have to concede that Nintendo is winning the gaming wars by marketing to the low-brow, low-tech masses, that's at least half our family!

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June 04, 2007
iPhone Envy
Posted by Gordon Smith

About a year and a half ago, I bought a PDA phone, the Samsung SCH-i730. I have struggled with this device, which is clunky in every sense of that word. I want an iPhone ...

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January 09, 2007
The iPhone
Posted by Gordon Smith

Apple's new iPhone looks very cool. Here is a report on the launch. I have a Samsung i730, which is an amazing device in many ways, but it is clunky. Unfortunately, the iPhone will be available only through Cingular.

The W$J asks whether the iPhone is worth the hefty price tag ($599). "Yes" seems to be the early answer, at least if you think investors have their fingers on the pulse of the market. Apple's shares rose $7.10.

UPDATE: Check out Paul Kedrosky's brief discussion of Cisco v. Apple on the name "iPhone."

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November 14, 2006
More on Flight Delays
Posted by Fred Tung

Further to my earlier rant on flight delays and airlines' failure to disclose them in timely fashion, Delta has just started a new service that reports flight delays to your designated phone number or email address.  According to a press release, the new service

will notify customers when their flights are delayed and provide continuous, real-time updates when operational changes occur, such as rebooking options or gate changes.

I've just subscribed to the service, so I can't yet say  whether notifications will be timely.  But it's certainly a step in the right direction.  As I wrote previously, this seems in the airline's interest as well as the passengers': 

[I]s it that costly to disclose the departure delay in advance? Presumably, some passengers would find alternative flights, and Delta couldn’t impose cancellation penalties for flight commitments it couldn’t fulfill, right? Even assuming that’s right, it seems to me that it still might be profit maximizing for Delta to disclose early. First off, under current pricing practices, it would probably be difficult for most passengers to find a palatable fare on an alternative airline on such short notice, so there won’t be many cancellations—except for those passengers who simply decide not to fly that day.  Second, wouldn’t a policy of early disclosure offer enormous marketing advantages? If an airline always disclosed flight delays as early as possible, I would certainly favor that airline over its less helpful competitors. Even if it didn’t enable me to switch flights, I would appreciate the information for planning purposes.

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October 20, 2006
The Email Generation
Posted by Gordon Smith

My office telephone has a message on it right now. I am supposed to call someone back. I hate calling people back. I like email, which allows me to write them back anytime of the day or night.

Lately, I have been noticing that many teens do not use email. See, e.g., here and here. I have learned that emails (not just mine, but emails generally) are a burden to my 18-year-old daughter. She doesn't like to respond to emails. She prefers texting. Or talking on the phone.

So I am feeling betwixt and between, not able to communicate effectively with the next generation older or younger. I am imagining myself twenty years from now, still blogging and using email, and annoying all of the younger professors.

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