Category Archives: Future trends

Broadband for prosperity

Hot on the heels of a report that fast broadband was driving population and economic growth in Victorian regional cities (and conversely, those without good IT infrastructure are missing out), the government of New South Wales has announced plans to run free wifi in the Sydney CBD, North Sydney, Liverpool, Parramatta, Wollongong, Newcastle and Gosford.

So, obviously the NSW govt has finally figured out that they can boost IT activity and investment by providing such services. One would hope other city, regional and state governments aren’t far behind. Viva the Information Age!

(Oh, boy am I out of date. Apparently the Information Age finished in 1991, taken over by the Knowledge Economy, which lasted until 2002. Now we’ve got the Intangible Economy.)

Douglas Adams and Tom Baker in Hyperland

In this one-hour (50 minutes, actually) documentary produced by the BBC in 1990, Douglas falls asleep in front of a television and dreams about future time when he may be allowed to play a more active role in the information he chooses to digest. A software agent, Tom (played by Tom Baker), guides Douglas around a multimedia information landscape, examining (then) cuttting-edge research by the SF Multimedia Lab and NASA Ames research center, and encountering hypermedia visionaries such as Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson. Looking back now, it’s interesting to see how much he got right and how much he didn’t: these days, no one’s heard of the SF Multimedia Lab, and his super-high-tech portrayal of VR in 2005 could be outdone by a modern PC with a 3D card. However, these are just minor niggles when you consider how much more popular the technologies in question have become than anyone could have predicted – for while Douglas was creating Hyperland, a student at CERN in Switzerland was working on a little hypertext project he called the World Wide Web…

LANGUAGE: English
PUBLISHER: BBC

A free STB for all (again)

Alex Encel is having another go at getting everybody in Australia a government-subsidised set top box. (See last time).

I like the idea, but I’m still not clear on who would pay for those who need antenna upgrades (or indeed how many/how much dosh is involved for this).

As he points out, so far they haven’t picked up the idea apparently due to ideological grounds rather than sound economic argument. But that’s typical of the current government — otherwise why would we have massive subsidies for private health insurance?

By the way, just to be pedantic for a moment, in Australian English, the word analogue has a ue on the end.

Long term archiving

Professional archivists agonise about how digital archives should be stored, but it’s important for those of us further down the food chain consider it too. Many people are simply burning their most prized data onto CD or DVD, and shoving the discs into the bookshelf. But given known doubts about the lifespan of burnt discs, how will you feel if they reach for them in 5 or 10 years and find them unreadable? (Just like I recently found many of my old BBC Micro disks unreadable.)

Pressed discs seem to be no problem. I’ve got CDs that are close to 20 years old that are still going strong. But recent warnings have highlighted that burnt CDs might only last a few years (even taking great care in handling and storage).

It’s been suggested that magnetic tape is the way to go in the longer term, with a view to periodically migrating to newer technologies as they come along. I’m still not sure I want to invest in a tape drive…

The other issue is formats. What format should be used to ensure that when you or your descendants poke around in your files, they’ll be readable? It’s not just a matter of choosing formats that are ubiquitous now, but also those that will be common into the future.

Think back 20 years. What formats were popular in 1986 that are still around now?

I think, for example, that of all the formats, JPEG and PNG (for pictures), MPEG-1 or 2 (movies), and MP3 (sounds) are perhaps the formats that have such open, widespread support that they’re likely to still be readable in 20 or 30 years’ time.

For text documents? What’s practical probably depends on your source files. Obviously TXT is totally human-readable, but lacking formatting. HTML (with support from JPEG and PNG) is probably the most obvious choice for many documents, as long as you don’t try and do anything too clever with it. RTF also has widespread support via open-source products such as OpenOffice, Mac OSX TextEdit and while it’s owned by Microsoft, is arguably as human-readable as HTML, and arguably an easier conversion for many existing documents such as those in Word format (though I’m not sure it supports all of Word’s latest features).

For other more specialised file formats, I suppose it depends what is the easiest format to keep them in… Definitely more thought required.

(Of course if there’s any doubt, printing on paper is the ultimate in future-proof technology!)

Digital TV takeup

Absolutely superb article in today’s Age.

The federal government wants to close down the analog TV signal. It can’t do that until enough people have digital TV receivers. People don’t particularly want to spend the time or money purchasing a digital TV set top box. So the government is going to have to spend a couple of billion dollars to continue broadcasting the analog signal for longer.

Sony have even suggested spending $200 million on consumer education, I guess to tell us why we should buy digital set-top boxes.

Alex Encel thinks we should just spend $150 million to give everyone a digital set top box for every TV they own.

What a brilliant solution! It’s not often you get to achieve your goals and also save a couple of billion dollars at the same time!

Windows System Reqs. 1990-2006: More For Less

The price of a minimally speced Windows box keeps going down. So the portion of the price that is the OS keeps going up. I predict that eventually Microsoft will just give you a computer with each of copy of Windows. Oh, they already do that: it’s called the XBox!

The must-have job ticket

The Age reckons nowadays that all the cool kids workers need IT degreees, regardless of what they’re doing.

In the 1970s, an arts degree gave graduates the foundation to get a good job in most fields. In the 1980s it was a law degree, and in the late 1990s it was a commerce degree. But this looks to be the decade of the IT degree.

Sure, but I’ve got both the commerce degree and the IT degree, and where has it got me?

‘Mirage’ off Penglai, China

Wow: Photographic proof of a time-travelling city appearing offshore of Penglai, China. Clearly visible are a number of high-rise buildings of various construction. Scientists claim it’s a mirage, but we know the truth, don’t we?

Update: there seems to be some trouble viewing this image. I can see it at http://en.chinabroadcast.cn/mmsource/images/2006/05/08/4316seasea.jpg, which is hosted in China. If there are more difficulties I’ll post it on our server.

Distributed computing, capitalist style

Here’s an idea: rather than sending advertisements to user’s computers, why not send scripting code to calculate [the valuable thing, like, I dunno, pi or hacking the encryption on HDDVD or something] and send the results back to your central computer?

Come on, you know you want to. And it’s free!

Alternative fuels don’t solve greenhouse problem

Popular mechanics examines various alternative fuels, but isn’t good at figuring out cause and effect.

Point one:
Global warming is caused by too much greenhouse gases; Burning stuff creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Burning stuff causes global warming. Not digging stuff up out of the ground.

Point two:
Hydrogen is easiest to create by passing electricity through water. Electricity is mostly created by burning coal (heating water, turning turbine, yada yada yada). See point one. This has just been pointed out in an Age opinion piece on public transport.

Which is why ethenol, methenol, biodiesel, natural gas, electricity and hydrogen aren’t anti-greenhouse fuels; Solar, wind, hydro, nuclear and geothermal are.

Only electric batteries / hydrogen cells can act as crossover technologies from renewable generation sources to transport. Anything else is going to have water lapping at your front door in a century; but hey, Venice is a romantic city – and wouldn’t it be great if many more of the cities of the world were romantic like Venice?.

Piracy Is Good?

Mark Pesce delivered a presentation, “Piracy Is Good?“, on May 6th, 2005 at the Australian Film Television and Radio School in Sydney. In it, he asserted that bittorrents exhibit demand-driven bandwidth supply, and are thus a better utilization of bandwidth than terrestial television broadcasting. Which is an apples and oranges comparison. But that’s where the title came from.

He then goes on to note that viewers are shunning broadcast television in preference for web-acquired content. He attributes this to the advertising, as I have done in the past. He asserts that Watermarks – or bugs – in visual entertainment are going to become more ubiquitous, inserted as advertising at production time (so, instead of the Channel9 logo in the righthand bottom corner, you’ll see… Nike). I predict someone will become annoyed enough to invent a watermark remover. Oh look, they already have.

So Mark Pesce is wrong. The advertising is going to have to be more subtle and harder to remove. But initially it’s going to be less subtle – animated, say – to annoy the simple-minded watermark removal programs.

Technology will march on, and auto-adapting watermark removers will be developed, and then you’re looking at product placement. I wonder how that will work with sci-fi programs? “Worf, take us to warp factor nine. We have to get to Chase Manhatten Bank to do a funds transfer; I prefer their friendly service and forward-looking technology.” Perhaps we’re looking at the death of sci fi? And historical dramas? And documentaries aren’t looking too hot either. Neighbours should be fine. Perhaps merchandising will be how shows make their production budget.

An observer has noted that the order of release of content is becoming arranged by profitability – so you’ll see more TV shows released on DVD, then broadcast when sales drop off. The world’s gone all topsy-turvy.