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eReaders and tablets have flooded this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

Advances in technology have made it possible to manufacture these devices with a longer battery life and at an “ever-decreasing cost,” according to the NY Times.

“There are a billion and a half Internet users on the planet today, and a lot of them are primarily using it for entertainment and social networking,” said Glen Burchers, director of global consumer segment marketing at Freescale, a chip company hoping to power the new tablets. [via A Deluge of Devices for Reading and Surfing]

Consumers will soon be able to pick and choose from a wide range of products specifically designed for reading and/or surfing the Internet, for around the price of a netbook. Perhaps these WiFi-ready reading devices will help to rescue, or at least keep afloat the floundering print & publishing industries.

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Bonnier R&D and design firm BERG partnered to explore the future of digital magazines. Below is a conceptual video for  Mag+, a prototype for a future issue of Popular Science. According to Bonnier, they tried to capture the essence of magazine reading and create an experience where “high-quality writing and stunning imagery build up immersive stories.”

Sports Illustrated has their own take:

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3D HDTV was another buzzword at CES 2010, but the technology has been hyped up too much.

Watching Avatar 3D was a great experience, but I can’t imagine having to wear bulky 3D glasses over my glasses every time I wanted to watch TV. That would be a (dizzying) pain. I hope 3D TV doesn’t become standard.

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At IDC2009, I had the privilege of meeting Steven Batiche (Director of Research, Applied Sciences Group, Entertainment & Devices Division – Microsoft Corp.) and listening to his presentation on advances in surface computers. He pulled up a slew of videos demonstrating conceptual and working prototypes from the Microsoft design labs–I was utterly awestruck.

Until then, I had been steeped in Apple’s powerful marketing campaigns and lost sight of the obvious: that Microsoft is an immense international entity with resources that, if leveraged appropriately, could surpass Apple a hundred times over. Microsoft’s research & development rocks, as far as I’m concerned. They are doing some unbelievable experimentation with surface computers (think Microsoft Surface but 100X more awesome).

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How do I begin to describe that which has the feel of pure fiction? It’s better if I show you:

This is the Productivity Future Vision montage from Microsoft Office Labs . Though a concept video by all rights, it is very much grounded on research and is a plausible articulation of  what to expect by the year 2019. There is more artistic license on the software side, but the actual hardware is all too real. Many of the “concepts” have been prototyped or are somewhere along in development.

From the video, we see:

  • Speech, text, and cultural translation.
  • Low cost, multi-touch, edge-to-edge displays; flexible, transparent displays.
  • Software clusters brought together in a natural user interface.
  • Active workspaces with rich graphics, achieved with ambient projectors and thin OLED displays.
  • Large displays allowing for different user inputs (touch, mouse, stylus).
  • Mobile devices with modular form factors that can access sensor networks and information resources. Image analysis and projection abilities.
  • Seamless secure data sharing and integrated workflow tools between devices and across networks.

Check out the coffee mug at 4:12 – it’s to die for. Nothing is impossible! The music makes me feel very optimistic.

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You’ll see technology becoming more invisible, but working harder for you in both your work and personal life. Imagine a future where creating a document with a colleague will be as easy as having a conversation. Making connections with people and your content will be secure and seamless. Relevant insight and information will be delivered proactively and in context to the task at hand.

Mobile devices will be more powerful than desktop computers of today. Technology will connect you with the information you need, when and where you need it, whether it be your local coffee shop, an airport, or a roof top in Hong Kong. Software will be there to make getting things done as efficiently as possible in new ways that are more natural.

[“Productivity Re-Imagined” via Microsoft Office Labs]

During the past few months, the crisis in journalism has reached meltdown proportions. It is now possible to contemplate a time when some major cities will no longer have a newspaper and when magazines and network-news operations will employ no more than a handful of reporters.

There is, however, a striking and somewhat odd fact about this crisis. Newspapers have more readers than ever. Their content, as well as that of newsmagazines and other producers of traditional journalism, is more popular than ever — even (in fact, especially) among young people.

The problem is that fewer of these consumers are paying. Instead, news organizations are merrily giving away their news. According to a Pew Research Center study, a tipping point occurred last year: more people in the U.S. got their news online for free than paid for it by buying newspapers and magazines. [How to Save Your Newspapers via TIME]

savenews
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Good journalism from mainstream media is extremely valuable. New media (i.e. uprising of citizen news+blogging websites) can never supplant international journalistic institutions, because they lack the infrastructure necessary for breaking BIG stories and holding governments and businesses accountable.

The Web spoils us with the idea that journalism is free. With online readership on the rise in spite of falling revenues, newspapers need to begin charging for online content. The traditional advertising-only revenue model alone is flawed cannot continue to support our newspapers.

For a subscription based or micropayment system to work, the process just has to be simple and easy enough. Pennies for an article, dimes for a full edition, or a dollars for months’ worth of access? I wouldn’t mind. Charging for unique content, “online extras” if you will, that leverages the full power of the Internet, is another possibility.

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The common thread here, whether the subject is foreign, national or local, is that the writer in question is performing a valuable task for the reader — one that no sane man would perform for free. He is assembling what in the business world is termed the “executive summary.” Anyone can duplicate a long and tedious report. And anyone can highlight one passage from that report and either praise or denounce it. But it takes both talent and willpower to analyze the report in its entirety and put it in a context comprehensible to the casual reader.

This highlights the real flaw in the thinking of those who herald the era of citizen journalism. They assume newspapers are going out of business because we aren’t doing what we in fact do amazingly well, which is to quickly analyze and report on complex public issues. The real reason they’re under pressure is much more mundane. The Internet can carry ads more cheaply…
[All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper via WSJ]

Taking a sidestep from the leadership and financial disasters as of late, I read this intriguing article published earlier this month in the New York Times, called the “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy“. It offers great socio-anthropological insights into these new social awareness tools and delves into all aspects of their use. Some excerpts to follow.

On the aggregate phenomenon of Twitter/Facebook: “This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating…”

On the formation of weak ties and the pro/cons thereof: “As I interviewed some of the most aggressively social people online…many maintained that their circle of true intimates, their very close friends and family, had not become bigger. Constant online contact had made those ties immeasurably richer, but it hadn’t actually increased the number of them; deep relationships are still predicated on face time, and there are only so many hours in the day for that. But where their sociality had truly exploded was in their…loose acquaintances, people they knew less well.”

Why maintain an online presence?: “It is easy to become unsettled by privacy-eroding aspects of awareness tools. But there is another — quite different — result of all this incessant updating: a culture of people who know much more about themselves. Many of the avid Twitterers, Flickrers and Facebook users I interviewed described an unexpected side-effect of constant self-disclosure. The act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It’s like the Greek dictum to “know thyself,” or the therapeutic concept of mindfulness….Having an audience can make the self-reflection even more acute, since, as my interviewees noted, they’re trying to describe their activities in a way that is not only accurate but also interesting to others: the status update as a literary form.”

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Social media networks are slowly, but surely infiltrating our lives. There have already been situations in which social media trumps traditional media in both accuracy & efficiency for the distribution of breaking news and emergency information.

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“I’m not sure what we should call this group of apps. Presence updaters? Microbloggers? Social networkers? ” [Jaiku/Twitter/Facebook/Kyte/Plaxo – Pay Attention! via WebProNews]

“Personal publishing is more than just text, it spans all media…Sites like MySpace and Facebook are better bigger than blogging sites because they enable people to connect, communicate and share with each other in richer and easier ways than blogging does.”
[Why Facebook is Bigger Than Blogging via 25hoursaday]

Social media networks take advantage of and cleverly fulfill the human need to communicate. At the moment, the only problem is that there are so many options – these social media websites tend to have distinct functions – that your online presence is doomed to be fragmented. You’d get social-media-overload from trying to maintain accounts on WordPress and Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Dopplr, PlaceShout, MySpace, Jaiku or any combination of the slew of online applications available for communication, collaboration, multimedia, and entertainment. The other problem would be all of your friends’ updates saturating your mailbox or friend-feed.

“At what point do we finally peak and have some universal social media dashboard?…The Facebook news feed comes closest, but it only highlights some of the updates even from people I want to follow closely.” [To Twitter or Not to Twitter? via WebProNews]

“One day, I can imagine Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft offering full search/social/traditional media advertising packages that pull all of these things under one roof – a managed campaign offering.” [Microblogging: What Is It Good For? via WebProNews ]

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What we need next is something to organize all these different applications in one place. Facebook has the potential to become that all-encompassing social media network that will aggregate and sieve through everything. I suspect that in the future everyone will be connected to the internet 24/7, which by then, will be massively mobile social media network feeding us updates about people and events happening around the world…in effect, feeding us reality. (At least, that’s what I thought, before the layout changed and I was no longer able to find anything I wanted to access! Darn you, Mark Zuckerberg.)

We will be constantly connected to each other. Together we will form so many intersecting points in a politico-econo-socio-cultural web. The datastream will be instantaneous, perpetual and unbearable unless we are able to effectively collect & filter out all the noise. Something infinitely better than Facebook is necessary; there stands an incredible amount of profit for whomever can come up with the next best social news feed.

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Monday, September 22, 2008
Dow Falls More Than 370 Points Amid Bailout Skepticism
Stocks fell sharply and oil prices spiked, closing up more than $16 a barrel, as a battle seemed to be shaping up in Washington over the details of the biggest government bailout in history. The dollar also slid against the euro.
[via the NYT]

Still worried about the 700 billion dollar bailout plan, which now includes foreign banks. There’s a standoff in Congress. Take your time, guys, because that’s an incredible price-tag.

“Something huge is going to have to give. The energy- and material-rich lifestyle that people in the developed world enjoy simply can’t last, and the lifestyle that people in developing regions might aspire to will never happen, without a concerted effort by the global community to start living within the planet’s means. Either we find ways to run our societies without squandering natural resources and degrading the environment, or we will foist dire consequences on ourselves for generations to come. The first option requires the world to embrace sustainability.

The concept of sustainability, which traces its roots back to the earliest days of human culture, is easy to describe: A sustainable global society is one in which people today meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to live equally well.

Our collective fate will come down to our ability to shift the way we produce and consume electricity and fuels and the way we design and use chemicals and the materials made from them. An ineluctable truth for the chemical enterprise is that this task will require thousands of innovations. The multiple pathways we will need to realize these innovations will have to be built by improving the efficiencies of current technologies, creating myriad new technologies, and recycling like never before.

But knowing what it will take to gain some measure of sustainability is far more difficult than citing a definition because sustainability is not a final destination. Sustainability instead can be thought of as a general direction in which we all must be traveling. It is a moving target influenced by resource availability, environmental impacts, and unforeseen obstacles.

Building those pathways will require not only accelerating the rate of innovation but also creating pragmatic social partnerships between scientists and engineers, research funding agencies, entrepreneurs, product developers, manufacturers, consumers, consumer advocates, regulators, environmental activists, and educators. Together, we will have to work through the multiple dimensions of human societies—technological, environmental, economic, political, and cultural—to ensure that food, water, medicines, electricity, fuels, and materials can be delivered wherever and whenever needed. That is what it will take to conquer the sustainability challenge…”

[Read more here: Callling all Chemists via C&EN]

The rest of the article covers green chemistry & engineering.

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“GOVERNMENT” and “sustainability” aren’t words often uttered in the same breath. Yet from towns and counties to states to federal agencies, and even at the United Nations, governments are grappling with how to integrate environmental concerns into policies that affect people and the economy…

[More on government policies here: Sticks and Carrots via C&EN]

Fossil fuels compose a staggering percentage of the United States’ energy consumption, which represents a huge chunk of the world’s energy budget. It disappoints me that for all the U.S.’s status, power, and technological prowess, we still rely heavily on fossil fuels as a principle energy source and are not making a wholehearted commitment towards alternative energies. We have the means but cannot achieve the ends. 

Developing nations are ahead of us in setting the global example for environmental stewardship. Unlike their united efforts mentioned below, the U.S. stands rather conflicted on the issue and is pulled in so many directions on the issue of alternative energies that it can hardly progress at all. Here, capitalism and blind politics have more influence than rational logic. At the heart of the problem, is a general lack of concern and a perpetually inadequate policy. Governments, businesses, and individuals are unable to look beyond the short-term benefits (profit, convenience) to visualize the massive pitfalls of a nation addicted to fossil fuels. Serious legislation to reduce fossil fuel consumption/emissions, to fund research & development of fossil fuel alternatives (and later, conversion towards those alternative energies), or to increase energy efficiency…simply does not exist. I hope that one of this year’s presidential candidates will deliver.

My wish is for fossil fuels to become obsolete and for our nation (and all others) to achieve a state of energy independence utilizing truly clean, renewable energies derived from carbon-free sources. Alternative energies each carry their own set of social and environmental consequences, both positive and negative, but differ from fossil fuels because they are sustainable. It will be a costly transition, full of protesting oil barons, but it will be well worth it in the end. 

Somewhere in Tracy, California.

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Brazil : Three decades ago, the country imported 80 percent of its oil supply. But since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the Brazilians have invested massively in their sugar-based ethanol industry and created a fleet of vehicles that can run on the resulting fuel. According to the Sugar Cane Industry Union (Unica), 90 percent of the new cars sold this year in Brazil will be flexible-fuel vehicles that cost an extra $100 to make but can run on any combination of gasoline and ethanol.

China: Beijing’s unofficial goal is to have 100 gigawatts of wind power by 2020, a ten-fold increase from today [and is] already on track to become the world’s biggest maker of wind turbines next year, the Global Wind Energy Council says. And like Brazil, China has decided to replace gasoline with alternative fuels. But unlike the United States and Brazil, China has embraced a different alcohol: methanol. Several provinces in China already blend their gasoline with methanol, a clear, colorless liquid also known as wood alcohol, and scores of methanol plants are currently under construction there. The Chinese auto industry has already begun to produce flex-fuel models that can run on methanol.

Denmark: With increasing concerns over fossil fuels, the country is now being closely monitored by energy planners and funders worldwide. This country generates more wind power per head of population than any other country in the world. Its 5500 wind turbines, including the world’s two largest offshore wind farms, generate 16% of national demand (as of 2005). 

France: Nuclear power provides 77% of France’s electricity, according to the government, and relatively few public doubts are expressed in a country with little coal, oil or natural gas.

Iran: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, worried that a comprehensive gasoline embargo could cause enough social unrest to undermine his regime, launched an energy-independence program designed to shift Iran’s transportation system from gasoline to natural gas, which Iran has plenty of. His plan includes a mandate for domestic automakers to make “dual-fuel” cars that can run on both gasoline and natural gas, a crash program to convert used vehicles to run on natural gas and a program to convert Iranian gas stations to serve both kinds of fuel. According to the International Association of Natural Gas Vehicles, more than 100 conversion centers have been built throughout the country: Iranians can drive in with their gasoline-only cars, pay a subsidized fee equivalent to $50 and collect their newly dual-fueled cars several hours later. Ahmadinejad’s plan, which has been largely ignored by the West, means that within five years or so, Iran could be virtually immune to international sanctions.

The list goes on and on: Iceland, Germany, Spain, Yemen, etc.

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