New and improved

This evening I’m rolling out a long overdue update to the blogging platform. It’s been a little complicated, because I ‘ve been running a heavily customized WordPress 1.5.2 for a long time, and there have been a lot of changes since then to WordPress, various plugins, and the underlying database (the current release is 2.7.1).

hjl-weblog-feb09-before hjl-weblog-feb09-after

The new version is based on Atahualpa, which has many customizable options. The Recent Posts, Tag Cloud, Recent Links, Twitter status, and permalinks are all working as before. The new template doesn’t have a place for the randomly selected banner thumbnail images from my Flickr account, but does incorporate a larger random image at the top, which currently selects from a few photos I picked out of my snapshot collection. I may figure out some other way of sharing some photos here. I’ve also added a random quote widget. You have to provide your own collection of quotes, so there aren’t many in there yet.

It might be a little slower than the old platform for a while until I get the caching set up, all those customizable options use a lot of database queries.

Let me know what you think, and if you are have any suggestions or are having problems viewing things. I’ve mostly been looking at this with Firefox 3, so people with other browsers may have a different experience.

The inside of my Thinkpad T42p

The inside of my Thinkpad T42p 

This morning the IBM service tech came to replace the failed fan assembly in my Thiinkpad T42p. The Thinkpad has been fairly indestructable, having gone around the world several times without any problems. So I was surprised when I started getting “Fan Error” messages just after the BIOS splash screen while setting up on Sunday evening. Fortunately, I also got the 24-hour onsite support contract back when I got the system. It ended up taking more like 36 hours to get someone out here, but I did call in the middle of the night.

That reddish assembly at the middle left is the heatsink and fan. The system board runs a test to make sure the fan will spin up before proceeding with the system boot process; the original fan will spin manually, but the motor seems to have failed. I’m glad to have the technician replace the fan instead of doing it myself. Getting the heatsink off the graphics chip required some significant prodding with a sharp knife to unbond the heat compound sticking them together.

The past day and a half I’ve been using other computers around the office, which has been kind of strange. Even though they’re all part of my normal setup, nothing is in the right place, since I keep reaching or looking in a different direction than usual. It’s been like working in someone else’s office. This evening I’ve gotten everything synced back up, but probably need to start thinking about migrating off the Thinkpad at some point as it continues to age.

Random Palo Alto stuff – wheelchair bandit, chickens, Comcast

It’s the time of spring when all the flowering trees bloom. There are a lot of cherry and wisteria trees in our neighborhood, it looks nice and as the petals start falling in a few weeks off later it will look like every home held a wedding recently. Good weather for being out and about. Speaking of which…

The Wachovia Bank (formerly World Savings) branch over at the Stanford Shopping Center was robbed last Thursday. This is already a little unusual, but what caught my attention was that they were robbed by an elderly man in an electric wheelchair. And he got away! He apparently stopped by The Sharper Image and asked for a shopping bag on his way over to the bank.

Mike’s comment about Comcast and chickens wandering in Keith’s yard reminded me about my former neighbors. When we first moved into our current home, we soon discovered that the neighbors bordering our back yard owned several chickens. During the summer when we left the windows open overnight, we would hear their rooster crowing first thing in the morning. Their chickens never made it into our yard, although their cats came through regularly. They were an interesting couple, living kind of like they were homesteaders on a mountain farm, with a rickety greenhouse, garden, and a yard full of debris, on an oversized lot in the middle of Old Palo Alto. They sold a few years ago, at the moment there’s a brand new house going up, the chickens are long gone but we have had random construction work going on for a while.

We also have Comcast here.  I still use PacBell (now AT&T) DSL for the office network, but the house network uses the cable modem service. The download speeds are higher, but it does go offline sometimes, making me reluctant to run my office on Comcast’s internet service. This is a great fit for the rest of our family which mostly surfs the web, watching online video, web pages, or chatting. The DSL service is relatively clunky (I have one of the first lines rolled out in Palo Alto) and slow, but the continuous uptime is similar to my Linux servers in the back of the closet, running for years with uninterrupted service.

Looking at this heatmap, Palo Alto and Stanford are apparently a little blue oasis of solvency in the map of real estate foreclosures, surrounded by a sea of red.

 hotpads-siliconvalley-2008-sm 

Benin is the new Nigeria (for spam campaigns)

Spring seems to have brought on a new variant of the Nigerian “419″ spam fraud campaign, substituting Benin for Nigeria. Going through the e-mail that came in during spring break, weeks I’m seeing a lot of e-mail with titles like

“FINAL NOTIFICATION OF RECEIVING YOUR HERITANCE FUND IN ATM MASTER CARD”

“CONTACT YOUR ATM MASETR CARD”

“CONTACT EMS IMMEDIATLY ON +234 8022856155″

“CONTACT FedEX EXPRESS COURIER COMPANY LIMITED FOR YOUR CONSIGNMENT IMMEDIATLY”

“CONTACT REV DR.KENNETH OKOM DIRECTOR OF ATM CARD BANK”

“CONTACT MR FRED IKEM FOR YOUR $950,000.00″

The general theme in this sort of spam is “We’re waiting for you to confirm your bank information and send a small processing fee so we can send you a lot of money.” This campaign mostly mentions a program from the Republic of Benin to give away money through funded ATM/Mastercard accounts for various reasons ranging from inheritance to payment for previous services. Some of these have an interesting wrinkle though:

THIS IS TO OFFICIALLY INFORM YOU THAT WE HAVE VERIFIED YOUR CONTRACT /INHERITANCE FILE AND FOUND OUT THAT WHY YOU HAVE NOT RECEIVED YOUR PAYMENT IS BECAUSE YOU HAVE NOT FULFILLED THE OBLIGATIONS GIVEN TO YOU IN RESPECT OF YOUR CONTRACT / INHERITANCE PAYMENT. SECONDLY WE HAVE BEEN INFORMED THAT YOU ARE STILL DEALING WITH THE NONE OFFICIALS IN THE BANK ALL YOUR ATTEMPT TO SECURE THE RELEASE OF THE FUND TO YOU. WE WISH TO ADVICE YOU THAT SUCH AN ILLEGAL ACT LIKE THIS HAVE TO STOP IF YOU WISHES TO RECEIVE YOUR PAYMENT SINCE WE HAVE DECIDED TO BRING A SOLUTION TO YOUR PROBLEM.

Maybe this would sound plausible to someone who had already responded to a previous scam email? “The reason you haven’t been paid yet is because you have been illegally dealing with the wrong officials, so please send us the money instead?” Perhaps this reflects a finely tuned understanding of the likely responders to this campaign…

Links: 419 Scan: Advance Fee Fraud and Fake Lotteries, Nigerian Fraud E-mail Gallery, Michigan CyberSecurity – Example of Email Fraud 

Ms. Dewey – Stylish search, with whips, guns, and dating tips


It’s been a while since I’ve come across something I haven’t seen before online. Ms. Dewey fits the bill. It is a Flash-based application combining video clips of actress Janina Gavankar with Windows Live search.

As a search application, it’s fat, slow, and the query results aren’t great. However, as John Batelle observes, “clearly, search ain’t the point.” This is search with an flirty attitude, where the speed and quality of the results aren’t at the top of the priority list.

As short-attention-span theater goes, it’s quite entertaining.

If you can’t think of anything to search for, Ms. Dewey will fidget for a while and eventually reach out and tap on the screen. “Helloooo…type something here…”

It’s far more interesting to try some queries and check out the responses. I spent over half an hour typing in keywords to see what would come up, starting with some of the suggestions from Digg and Channel9. The application provides a semi-random set of video responses based on the search keywords, so you won’t always get the same reaction each time.

The whip and riding crop don’t always appear when you’d think, the lab coat seems to be keyed to science and math (try “partial differential equation”), and I’m not sure what brings on the automatic weapons.

“Ms. Dewey” also has a MySpace page with more video clips. The way the application is constructed, they can probably keep updating and adding responses as long as they want to.

I briefly tried using Ms. Dewey in place of Google, as a working search engine, but it takes too long to respond to a series of queries (have to wait for the video to play) and the search results aren’t great (Live is continuing to improve, though). At the moment this is a fun conceptual experiment.

I wonder if we’ll see a new category of search emphasizing style (entertainment, attitude, sex) over substance (relevance, speed, scope). Today’s version might already work for the occasional search user, but imagine Ms. Dewey with faster, non-blocking search results, a better search UI, and Google’s results. It all vaguely reminds me of a William Gibson novel.

Hey Comcast – I’d take the internet service if you could keep the video running

no-cable-tv
This week there was a guy from Comcast going door-to-door in our neighborhood, offering promotional rates on their triple play bundle (video, data, voice), and internet service in particular. In general, I’m enthusiastic about the future prospects for combined services from either the cable companies or the telcos, and the Comcast internet service is attractively priced at $19.99 for 6mbits down/384k up, so in theory we are a good prospect for this service.

Unfortunately, I’ve been on the verge of cancelling our Comcast service for months because of sporadic outages. I’m not totally thrilled with my relatively slow PacBell/SBC DSL service (1.5mbits down/384k up), but other than widespread outages due to flooding or power interruptions, it has been quite stable. In contrast, our cable TV service went out for a week last year, and I have observed outages lasting anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more every month or so since then. I can live without CNBC or Disney Channel, but things can rapidly grind to a halt here without internet service.

The Palo Alto fiber loop passes just a block from here. I should see if it’s gotten any easier and cheaper to set up a connection. The Palo Alto Fiber-to-the-home project seems to be perpetually stalled, but the bandwidth business has been coming back over the past few years. There are enough wireless LANs visible from here, I could probably set up a mini-ISP or bandwidth co-op for the whole neighborhood.

At the end of the day, the main thing I want from an internet service provider is fast, stable performance at a reasonable price. $19.95 is a pretty good price, but Comcast hasn’t shown that it can keep basic video service running yet. Maybe later.

Update 01-21-2007: Ended up installing Comcast internet, but we’re still keeping the DSL service in place to run the office network. Internet video is a lot faster on the cable network, but it’s already been offline once.

V2 iPod Nano teardown


The current issue of EETimes gives us a good look at the innards of the new iPod Nano. Earlier posts on the new iPod have noted the “Apple”-branded chips, which are identified in this teardown. PortalPlayer had supplied the media processor for the original Nano, and has been replaced in the 2nd generation design:

An Apple-labeled ASIC, the S5L8701- B05, comes from Samsung and is responsible for all audio and still-image decoding. Other than the Apple proprietary markings on the Nano’s CPU, labeling tells of an ARM core within the Samsung chip, under 6 x 6 mm in die size, and packaged in an underfilled ball grid array package similar to the Nano’s PortalPlayer-based predecessor. Unlike the first-generation design, which had a separate NAND controller component from SST, the Samsung CPU appears to have integrated the NAND interface directly, reducing cost and complexity.

The article estimates the build cost at $65 to $132 depending on the amount of flash memory, leaving a healthy margin.

Add it all up and the 2-Gbyte second-generation Nano is estimated to have a direct production and materials cost in the range of $65, inclusive of the accessories (earbuds, USB cable, dock adapter). Assuming a slight premium for higher-density NAND stacks, we estimate the 4- and 8-Gbyte versions would have a materials and production cost in the range of $87 and $132, respectively. With retail prices of $150, $200 and $250 for the three models (2 Gbytes, 4 Gbytes, 8 Gbytes), gross margins look good, ranging from 56 percent at the low end to 47 percent at the high end. Of course, other indirect costs related to product development, marketing, shipping and any software licenses are absent from these figures, but the story remains pretty positive no matter what.

I just replaced the battery in my wife’s iPod Mini this weekend, but we’ll probably end up with a new Nano shortly.

Link: EETimes – Revised Nano toughens skin

See also: Apple’s new iPod family — who benefits? (AppleInsider)

Thinkpad battery fire at LAX


The recent problems with spontaneously combusting lithium-ion batteries in Dell and Apple computers appears to have turned up in IBM Thinkpads now.

Engadget reports

the ThinkPad (which was quoted to be an IBM, not a Lenovo) apparently had a number of death throes as the fire went through various phases, until eventually a United employee busted out the fire extinguisher and laid the laptop to rest. Apparently the machine’s owner already checked its battery against the recalls and it was not listed — and why would it be? IBM and Lenovo aren’t flagged for bad batteries — yet.

I cleaned up the photo a bit to get a better look. Based on the battery placement and connectors it looks quite a lot like my T42P. It will be interesting to see whether that battery was an original IBM-supplied battery or from a 3rd party. My notebook has a Sanyo battery. The recent battery fires have all been in Sony-manufactured units. There are also a lot of low quality generic batteries available in Asia, but the Thinkpad is mostly purchased by corporate and consulting users, who are likely to stick with original equipment.

It would be really miserable if we end up with a ban on notebook computers in airplane cabins. I’ve been on at least one international flight in which everyone on the upper deck (business class) of a 747 appeared to be equipped with Thinkpads.

There’s a short discussion at the Thinkpad forums, and the original post at Something Awful.

See also: Dell recalls notebook batteries – who’s next?

Update Monday 09-18-2006 16:43PDT – The owner of the notebook posted in the comments over at Engadget. It was a T43, and it was turned off and in its case when it caught on fire…

Awesom-o: It’s legit. How do I know? Because it’s mine (I was wondering how long it would take before someone posted this on engadget). The thing went up like a firecracker when the fire hit each of the cells. It was pretty crazy.

And yes, it’s a ThinkPad T43. I don’t know if it was a Sony battery – I can’t tell now that it’s a charred mess, but my guess is that it was if they made them for IBM. I was using it 30 minutes before and it had no problems. It was even turned off and in my bag when it caught fire. So even if the computer is off, there’s still a risk of a fire – now that’s scary.

It’s going to be an interesting Monday morning when I take the thing into the office for a replacement. One thing for sure, I’m always going to disconnect the battery from the computer whenever I fly. At least I have a good excuse for not working when I’m flying :-)

Everyone please check your computer battery, and just because it isn’t on the list doesn’t mean that it’s not at risk. If anything, just disconnect the thing when you fly.

Update Wednesday 09-20-2006 16:25PDT – Lenovo confirms that it was a T43, although doesn’t say if it had Sony batteries. (CNET)

Update Friday 09-29-2006 11:09PDT – Lenovo issues a recall for 500K Thinkpad batteries, including recent T43 and T60s.

Dell recalls notebook batteries – who’s next?

Dell is recalling several models of notebook batteries, due to several incidents of spontaneous combustion. The batteries in question were manufactured by Sony, which also supplies batteries to other notebook vendors. Lithium-ion batteries are widely used today, so I’m expecting to see additional recalls from other notebook vendors, or at least a raft of press releases verifying that they do not have a problem. Dell has already set up their own web site for battery recall information.

I haven’t heard of any episodes other than various spontaneously combusting Dell notebooks and exploding Powerbooks in recent weeks, but I’m keeping an eye out for news about my Thinkpad’s battery.

The battery issue is compounded by the recent changes to airline security screening. It would be unfortunate if this got all lithium-ion batteries banned from the cabin. On the other hand I don’t see any way to create a completely accident-/terrorist-proof high density energy storage device, which is going to make some people unhappy now that they’ve noticed the issue.

Consequences of new air travel restrictions – removable drives, portable user profiles?

I’m quite pleased that the British authorities managed to foil the attempt to blow up multiple airliners last week. On the other hand, I’m probably not alone in wondering how long-haul business air travel is going to work out.

If a ban on all liquids, gels, and personal electronics stands, a lot of air carriers will need to start competing on in-flight service again. In recent years, I normally bring my own water, food, work, entertainment, and a change of clothes for air travel to China and India. On a trip to India, it’s about 30 hours in transit, which is a lot of time to watch the 6 movies that United usually rotates each month, along with putting in a full day or so of work. I usually fly United since their Asian routes are all based here, but I wouldn’t want to rely on them for food, water, and entertainment. Might be time to book on Singapore Airlines, which flies with a huge video- and audio-on-demand library and Nintendo video games, never seems to run out of food or water, and consistently provides attentive cabin service.

Given the growing number of data theft cases, I’m also hesitant to put my Thinkpad in a checked bag which I’m not allowed to lock (per TSA). Some people are suggesting that airlines rent computers onboard, but this isn’t going to help much until either

  • You can remove your data and applications and carry it with you
  • You can connect to your data and applications online from the cabin

Putting the risk of using someone else’s hardware aside for a moment (sort of like an internet cafe in the sky), you might need a convenient, security-screenable media to carry the bulk of your personal data with you. Perhaps flash memory in another year or two. I know of people who carry portable environments on USB flash memory keys, but you have to be fairly motivated to deal with it at the moment. If notebook computers get pushed into checked luggage, I’m certain we’ll see at least one more high profile data leak, in which someone happened to steal the wrong notebook that had data it wasn’t supposed to have on it.

The other direction would be to use web services for applications, files, and storage. Some people already work that way, but it usually fails badly if you don’t have a reliable and relatively fast network connection. A permutation of this might be to have the airlines become a sort of internet service provider, and cache copies of your data onto the airplane’s local network server for in-flight use, which get pushed back to the primary server when you land.

I’m glad I don’t have any overseas travel scheduled for a while.

Update Sunday 08-13-2006 22:18 PDT: more on the prospects for air travel from Michael Parekh, Jeff Jarvis, and Fred Wilson.

Del.icio.us adds private bookmarks

Del.icio.us is testing out private bookmarks now.

I’ve been playing with a private instance of Scuttle ever since del.icio.us was purchased by Yahoo a few months back, but have continued using del.icio.us for posting public links anyway.

My del.icio.us links are automatically posted here (except when one end or the other is out of service for some reason), don’t know if that would include the private ones or not. Also don’t know exactly where the private bookmarks might be visible, aside from in one’s own account. I’ll have to give it a try.

25 years of the HP12C

hp12c
Today’s Wall Street Journal has an ad from HP noting the 25th anniversary of the HP12C calculator.

Unlike most contemporary personal computing technology, the old HP calculators have been nearly indestructable and are utterly reliable. This may have limited the market for HP calculators, in that there aren’t any consumables and there isn’t much of a replacement cycle either, but it’s a relic of the old-school HP that also made indestructable electronic bench equipment and atomic clocks (and mostly turned into Agilent). HP still seems to sell enough new units to keep them in production.

I’m not sure exactly how old my calculator is at this point, but it dates back to some time in the early 80′s, in the days before personal computers and ubiquitous internet access on college campuses, when being able to run repeated calculations without heading to the computer lab was both a luxury and a competitive advantage. At the time I also had an HP 15C and 16C, which were well-used in various projects before going on “permanent loan” years ago.

At this point my remaining 12C has been around the world several times, and the batteries haven’t been changed since sometime around the dot-com boom.

Some very good calculator software applications (including emulations of various HP calculators) are now freely available for PCs, and nearly-disposable plastic calculators are often distributed as promotional novelties.

I suspect that calculators like the 12C may be turning into something like fine pens. There’s little intrinsic, functional rationale for them at this point, but I enjoy using it nonetheless. It turns on and off instantly without a fuss, it is dense and substantial without being too heavy, has the best keyclick feel ever, and is a much better at being a calculator than a cellphone, PDA, or notebook computer is ever likely to be (…once you learn RPN). Like everyone else, I often write with a word processor of some sort, but I like to draft on paper from time to time, because writing with a good pen can make you think differently than typing into a display. I find that working with calculator and paper can have a similar feel. Sometimes computer productivity tools are better at creating the appearance of substance than at facilitating the creation of actual substance.

No Bluepulse for you!

bluepulse-download

The other day Oliver Starr at MobileCrunch wrote a rave review of Bluepulse, a new mobile application platform. In a quick read through their website, it looks like they’re trying to offer a carrier-independent path for 3rd party mobile application developers to reach mobile users.

Bluepulse is planning to develop applications for customers, as well as rev share with 3rd party developers, and offers a free SDK. Getting applications onto wireless carriers network is a pain, and getting paid for them is also painful, so there are some good opportunities here, and I thought I would give it a try on my Nokia 6820.

The application downloaded and installed, but nothing happened, so after a few tries I sent off a message on the Bluepulse web site, and got a quick response from Stuart Hely, their general manager.

Unfortunately, it turns out that while the Nokia 6820 is capable of downloading and installing the Bluepulse application (which is needed to use other Bluepulse-hosted applications), it can’t actually run the Bluepulse application. No Bluepulse for you!

Our technical support guys have looked into the issue you raised and the bad news is that we can’t squeeze bluepulse onto the Nokia 6610 as the memory size required JUST exceeds the phones capacity even though the bluepulse file is very small.

Thanks for your query and sorry about the fact that you can’t have bluepulse on your current phone. We hope that with your next phone, you will be able to enjoy bluepulse.

Sounds like an interesting idea, but there might be some handset deployment issues for a while. I haven’t been keeping close track of handset capabilities, mine’s about a year old, so anything since then is probably OK.

I’ve been having good results with my new Bluetooth headset, so I may consider switching to a phone with a bigger screen that is better at running applications sometime. I’ve been moving steadily toward carrying less and smaller equipment for the past few years, though, and have been resisting switching to a Treo, Blackberry, or any other PDA-like device, partly because of the bulk.

IBM T60 and X60 will run for 11 hours on a charge?

I’ve been pretty happy with my T42P, but I think nearly everyone wants longer battery life. I’ve been debating switching to a smaller form factor for a while, it might be time to keep an eye out for the X60. Something like an X41 with an 11 hour run time would be really tempting. The best I can manage on the T42 is around 5-6 hours with the 9-cell battery.

CES: Lenovo says new ThinkPads go 11 hours on battery power

Update 1-10-2006 22:01 PST: Specifications and photos of the X60 and T60 from NotebookReview.com. It looks like an antenna sticks out slightly on the right side of the T60 display. Perhaps it’s for the EVDO service?

Pandora is now free

I spent a lot of time digging up new music a couple of months ago during the pre-launch period beta tests of the Pandora music service. I put together a list of interesting music that I found, and ended up purchasing a number of new albums, and put off signing up for their paid subscription service until I finished working through the new music. I thought the fee was OK ($12/quarter or $36/year) but I simply had too much other stuff to listen to, so it would have been wasted money until the backlog cleared a bit (all the CDs I found from listening to Pandora in the first place).

Given my experience (liked the service, liked the music, put off signing up temporarily when the fees started), and the opportunity for affiliate referral fees from Amazon and others, this move to a ad- and affiliate-supported service could end up generating more revenue in the end.

In addition to many new features (bookmarking, station editing, playlist improvements, etc.), Pandora v2.0 includes a free, ad-supported version. Listeners have the choice to subscribe and stay clear of ads, or use the free service, which will gradually incorporate advertising. What does this mean for you? You can now come back and listen to Pandora as much as you’d like for free–and all the stations you’ve created remain intact.

At a referral fee of 6% of sales, it would take around $50 of CD sales to directly replace the old subscription fee. However, many more users who would turn away if even a small payment were required might try using a free service. And Pandora is the sort of service that creates demand for new music that those “free” users might be happy to purchase from Amazon (or iTunes). I don’t know what their conversion rates look like, but if they look anything like my behavior, Pandora is far better off working on bringing in more music-loving users than trying to collect subscription fees.

See also:

Decoding the hidden ID tracker in your printer output


via BoingBoing:

Many color laser printers hide information about your printer’s serial number and the date and time of your print job in every job you print. It’s believed that this is done to get your equipment to incriminate you without your knowledge. Now EFF has decoded the information-hiding scheme on the Xerox Docucolor series, by getting EFF supporters to print out pages from their printers and mail them to our researchers, who examined them under magnification and special light and cracked the code.

EFF: Is Your Printer Spying On You?:

Imagine that every time you printed a document, it automatically included a secret code that could be used to identify the printer – and potentially, the person who used it. Sounds like something from an episode of “Alias,” right?

Unfortunately, the scenario isn’t fictional. In a purported effort to identify counterfeiters, the US government has succeeded in persuading some color laser printer manufacturers to encode each page with identifying information.

They have a longer discussion and an online pattern decoder for reading the tracking output from a Xerox Docucolor 12 on the EFF site.

Update 10-29-2005 21:10 PDT – EFF has a list of printers which include visible tracking.

Kids Programming Language


Kids Programming Language:

What is KPL?

KPL stands for Kid’s Programming Language. KPL makes it easy for kids to learn computer programming. KPL makes it fun, too, by making it especially easy to program computer games, with cool graphics and sound. KPL is not just for games, though – it can be used for teaching many different subjects. KPL’s emphasis on games is based on the belief that learning is best when learning is fun.

via Wei-Ming Lee:

One cool feature is that you can directly translate KPL code into C# and VB.NET, making KPL a very good language for getting kids started on programming and then eventually moving into .NET programming using C# or VB.NET.

This is Windows (.NET) freeware only. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks like something to try out out on my daughter and her friends.

It bothers me that in my limited observation of school-age kids, there seems to be so much emphasis on being consumers and end-users of media and technology, (or for that matter, government), rather than on taking things apart, seeing how they work, and how they might be made differently or better. This is partly due to the amazing rate of technology integration in everyday items. There are so many layers of implementation abstraction in cell phones, video games, automobiles, or any application software, that it’s hard to see enough of what’s going on to become engaged in the creative process.

I don’t think kids should be spending a huge amount of time learning software programming in elementary school, but I do think that some exposure to the general concepts of problem analysis, decomposition, specification, implementation, and testing as an overall approach would be useful.

Something with animated graphics, sound, and a forgiving interpreter is probably a better bet than starting them out on C#.

Update 10-17-2005 08:42 PDT – a post along similar lines at O’Reilly on Hacking for Kids

Mobile Search = US$1 billion 411 calls per year

IMG_4937

Today, mobile search in the US = $1 billion per year in 411 calls.

Well, that’s a gross oversimplification, but it gets to one of the main points from this evening’s sold-out, standing-room-only joint Search SIG and Mobile Monday session on Mobile Search, held at Google this evening.

The panel discussion was moderated by David Weiden from Morgan Stanley, with panelists

  • Elad Gil (Google)
  • Mihir Shah (Yahoo)
  • Mark Grandcolas (Caboodle)
  • Ted Burns (4info)
  • Jack Denenberg (Cingular)

Jack Denenberg from Cingular was the lone representative from the carrier world. During the panel, he made the observation that 411 “voice search” was at least 2-3x the volume of SMS and WAP-based search, and that Cingular (US) is doing around 1 million 411 calls per day at an average billing cost of between $1.25 to $1.40. All US carriers combined do around 3 million 411 calls per day.

This works out to more than $1 billion per year in 411 fees!

Other comments from Jack: Wireless 411 use is still rising. Wireline 411 use is starting to decline. Today mobile search is based on user fees (airtime) and search fees (411). In the future, we may see some movement toward advertiser listing fees. The carrier provides a channel for business to communicate with prospective customers.

Pithy comment from the audience: “I see 4 guys trying to make the best of a bad situation, and 1 guy creating a bad situation.” More comments on why no location based services, why SMS is still limited to 160 characters, and partner-unfriendly pricing. Why $1.40 for an address when Google is free (except for $.20 for data fees).

Mihir from Yahoo mentioned that they have been running trials of paid mobile search listings using Overture back end on Vodafone in the UK, and it’s going well, so the mobile paid listings are starting to happen already.

Lot of comments about user interfaces being too complicated. Mark from Caboodle says that for each click into the menu system, 50% of the users will give up trying to buy something, such as a ringtone. They have a system for simplifying this, but unfortunately they weren’t able to get his demo onto the big screen so we never got to see it live.

Some discussion on the carriers generally having a preference to simplify the user experience by giving them a single, (carrier-branded) aggregated search, taking advantage of the proprietary clickstream and data traffic information available to them through the data billing system.

The Yahoo mobile applications seemed the most plausibly useful. The send-to-phone feature allows you to send driving directions and other info from Yahoo Local to your phone. The mobile shopping application could be used for price comparison while shopping in person (although this doesn’t do much for the online merchants today). Some of their SMS search result messages allow you to reply to get an update, so you can send an SMS with “2″ in it to get an update of a previous weather forecast.

For his demo, Jack ran an impromptu contest among 3 audience volunteers, to see who could find the address of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art the fastest, using voice (411), 2-way SMS search, or WAP search. All of them got the answer, although 411 was the quickest by perhaps a minute or a bit less.

IMG_4942

The 4info demo looked interesting. They use a short code (44636) SMS with the query text in the body, geared toward sports, weather, addresses. They also provide recipes and pointers to local bars if you key in the name of a drink. Someone in the audience pointed out that searching 4info for “Linux” returned a drink recipe, which Ted reproduced on the big screen. Not sure what the drink promo or the Linux recipe was about.

During open mike time, someone (mumble) from IBM did a 15 second demo of their speech-activated mobile search, in which he looked up the address of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art by speaking at the phone, and the results were returned in a text page. Very slick.

Lots of interesting data-oriented mobile search projects are building for the future. But $1 billion in 411 calls right now is pretty interesting too. Who makes those 411 calls? Are they happy paying that much?

I avoid calling 411 because I feel ripped off afterwards, and often get a wrong number or address anyway. But it’s not always possible to key in a search.

Photos at Flickr

Korea’s plans for Ubicomp City

Korea has amazingly high penetration rates for broadband and cellular service. It’s cheap, fast, and widely available, and has been for several years now. This has made Korea a lead market for trying out new wireless and online services. Streaming broadcast and video-on-demand for all national networks is the norm. Next up: building a centrally planned, wired city called New Songdo, which will implement many of the ubiquitous / pervasive computing ideas that have been floating around for a while but never attempted at this scale:

New York Times:

A ubiquitous city is where all major information systems (residential, medical, business, governmental and the like) share data, and computers are built into the houses, streets and office buildings. New Songdo, located on a man-made island of nearly 1,500 acres off the Incheon coast about 40 miles from Seoul, is rising from the ground up as a U-city.

In the West, ubiquitous computing is a controversial idea that raises privacy concerns and the specter of a surveillance society. (They’ll know whether I recycled my Coke bottle?!) But in Asia the concept is viewed as an opportunity to show off technological prowess and attract foreign investment.

“New Songdo sounds like it will be one big Petri dish for understanding how people want to use technology,” said B. J. Fogg, the director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University.

If so, it is an experiment much easier to do in Asia than in the West.

“Much of this technology was developed in U.S. research labs, but there are fewer social and regulatory obstacles to implementing them in Korea,” said Mr. Townsend, who consulted on Seoul’s own U-city plan, known as Digital Media City. “There is an historical expectation of less privacy. Korea is willing to put off the hard questions to take the early lead and set standards.”

I think projects like these are going to need something like the AttentionTrust Recorder, or at least an OFF button, to let people see what’s being monitored about themselves and to manage how the information is made available. Without it, this might be a really cool place to visit but not somewhere you’d want to live.

(via TechDirt)

What’s Inside that Nano?

Alex Muse takes apart his Apple iPod Nano and lays out the pieces so the curious among us won’t have to.

Inside Apple’s New Nano (wonder what’s inside)

For some reason, I get a 1024×768 photo viewing this in my RSS reader, but only 425×321 viewing his web site directly. Obviously, the larger photo has better details.

Wonder if he can get it back together (and working)? Those connectors look pretty fussy.

Update 09-22-2005 13:41 PDT: The Inquirer has some details on the components from a report by iSuppli:

The firm offers a “teardown analysis” which it said showed the device uses a Portalplayer 5021C system on a chip and a Cypress CY8C21434 for the circuitry behind the “click wheel” interface.

It said that these, along with other ICs (integrated circuits), account for 77 per cent of the $90.18 total bill of materials (BOM) cost of the Nano.

The NAND flash memory in the device is made by Samsung, and iSuppli estimates it got a big discount from the Korean giant, making the twin NAND flash parts cost only $54.

Isuppli said the iPod Nano costs $400 when you buy it.

Update 09-23-2005 10:41 PDT: Longer analysis of the iPod Nano bill of materials and margins at Business Week.

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