The fastest RC cars in the world

Friday, April 28, 2006

Why Americans are technology, political, and educational laggards and how it will doom them

By David Berlind of CNET:

The other day, via CNET Networks' internal email system, fellow ZDNet blogger and TechRepublic technical director George Ou sounded an alarm about an urgent online banking issue he came across on the Web site for the SANS Institute. It probably didn't get the attention it should have. Ou blogged the item with a headline that for many may require no further reading: Many banks failing to use SSL authentication. Ouch. The risk to you if your bank isn't using SSL authentication is that you could end up logging into a Web site that looks like your bank's Web site but isn't (some banks like BofA are using interesting technologies to avoid this). By logging into the imposter Web site, you'd be turning over your banking credentials (user ID, password) to the bad guys and what happens next may not be pretty. Wrote Ou:

This looks really ugly for the American Banking system as a whole and it's time that they cleaned up their act and learn to use some basic cryptography. If you have a bank on this hall of shame list where "SSL Login Form" is listed as "optional", be sure to complain to them that this is unacceptable.

What's really scary about this is that for something as senstive as online banking, even the best banks in the US are still using little more than single factor security to grant you access to your bank account. Two years ago, a friend from The Netherlands who was visiting asked if he could use one of our PCs to do some online banking. As he began to login to his bank's Web site, he pulled a credit-card sized authenticator out of his wallet. Hardware-based authenticators like RSA's keyfob-esque SecurID 700 generate a random sequence of numbers at regular time intervals (eg: every 60 seconds). The way this works is, at any point in time when yo login to your banking system, you have to use your authenticator to randomly generate a key. I watched my friend as he pressed a button on his authenticator and then, from authenticator's LCD display, he read-off and keyed-in (on the keyboard) a long string of randomly generated digits.

If you had something similar and you were using one of RSA's authenticators, then, the bank would have an RSA-built appliance on its internal network that's generating matching keys for your account. The only way someone can log into your account is if they have your UserID, your password, and your authenticator. Randomly generated keys are only good for a minute or so. So, even if someone gets a hold of your UserID, password, and one of the randomly generated keys (eg: if they watched you key it on your keyboard), by the time they got to a computer to pretend to be you, the randomly generated key would have expired.

This to me is secure. I asked my friend how much it costs to have the added level of security. "Nothing" he said. While I'm sure the cost gets absorbed somewhere and is passed along to customers, it comes with the account (much the same way you get a free ATM card in the US). I'm not sure if every European bank does this. But apparently, a bunch do. After observing my friend in action, I started asking knowledgable people why US banks don't do the same thing. The consensus answer, I'm afraid, is a sad commentary about our culture rather than some technological roadblock. There are, of course, plenty of Americans who would gladly exchange this bit of friction in the system for the security it offers. I'm one of them. But America is a culture of convenience and additional friction — especially friction that requires you to carry more gear with you — apparently doesn't fly with most Americans.
Other examples of this are how most businesses don't even check your ID anymore when you use your credit card (I wrote "C PHOTO ID" on the back of mine but half the clerks don't even turn the card over) . Some merchants — for example the Dunkin Donuts in my neighborhood — don't even require a signature anymore. It gets me through the drive-in faster. Everywhere you look, friction is being squeezed out of the system and customers love it. Just try adding friction to the system and customers will take their business elsewhere. Even worse, the more secure system involving authenticators is apparently too sophisticated for most Americans. As much as I don't want to believe this, I've encountered enough of my compatriots in person or have seen them on Jerry Springer to know this is true.

Compared to other parts of the world, we're a relatively unsophisticated bunch, us Americans. And that culture of convenience, laziness, and ignorance is going to doom the US in the long run because of how it will deprive America of its edge in other areas where it was once a beacon to the world. Democracy is one of those. Education the other.
On the political front, we are no longer a nation of people that goes deep on the issues and seeks out the truth. I'd like to believe there was a time when the majority of Americans were passionate about democracy and politics. But perhaps I'm fooling myself. The People, helped along by a failing media complex, have established a preference for fast food politics. Forget any real exploration. Just give us the sound bites please, thank you very much.

Just yesterday, our culture of political convenience was probed and picked apart on National Public Radio when Tom Ashbrook interviewed Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein whose book Politics Lost: How American Democracy was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid was published this month. American democracy is being trivialized because we as Americans are letting it happen. During the show, one caller remarked on how John Kerry as a communicator was very different in his town meetings leading up to the 2004 Presidential Election than he was on TV in front of the newscameras. Al Gore was the same way.

Before interviewing Gore on stage at one of Research In Motion's annual Wireless Symposiums (this year's event is coming up next month), I spent some time with him backstage. I felt like I was talking to someone I'd never met or seen before. I've heard the same about President Bush too. I'm not sure it's their fault. The law of political information supply and demand practically says there's no demand for the person with the biggest supply of information. Cure the sound-bites please (and kill democracy while you're at it).

And if you want real evidence of how our culture of convenience is going to doom the US (long term), just check out what's going on in our education system. The rest of the world's kids are hungry for worldiness and knowledge. OK, maybe not all of them. But enough of them to make most American kids look like laggards that are too lazy to embarce benefits of two-factor security (like the aforementioned authenticators) or, worse, real democracy.
What motivates a child to weather sandstorms and bullet crossfire to get into a classroom? Is it them? Their parents? Their governments? Or, is what's taking place in a technology-deprived classroom in the foothills of an Afghan mountain that much more tittilating than what's happening in American schools. Perhaps one day when we as a people wake up to the reality that China, India, Pakistan, and Singapore have billions of engineers working in the R&D labs that American companies had to relocate to Asia just to stay competitive, things will change. But right now, as evidenced by Time Magazine's recent cover story — Dropout Nation — as far as I can tell, most American children are being left behind and so too is this country. Unfortunately, we have no one else to blame but ourselves. Think I'm wrong? In response to a recent blog of mine that quoted Mark Cuban on the education issue, ZDNet reader Chris W pointed me to a treatise by former New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto who wrote:

Boredom is the common condition of schoolteachers, and anyone who has spent time in a teachers' lounge can vouch for the low energy, the whining, the dispirited attitudes, to be found there. When asked why they feel bored, the teachers tend to blame the kids, as you might expect. Who wouldn't get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in grades? If even that. Of course, teachers are themselves products of the same twelve-year compulsory school programs that so thoroughly bore their students, and as school personnel they are trapped inside structures even more rigid than those imposed upon the children. Who, then, is to blame?….We all are.

Whether its online banking fraud, anarchy, or academic underachievement, as long as we continue take the convenient path of least resistance, the bed that we'll all have to sleep in today, tomorrow, or in 10, 20, or 30 years will be the one that most of us asked for.

HD on Steroids

From PC world:

So you think HDTV is cool? How about something with 16 times the resolution, accompanied by rich, 22.2-channel surround sound?Welcome to the world of Ultra High-Def. NAB convention goers got a sneak peek at the new technology in Las Vegas--only the second time it's been shown to anyone outside a lab (the first was last year, near Nagoya, Japan). Ultra HD boasts 4320 scanned lines and a resolution of 7680 by 4320. Take that, 1080p!NHK, a Japanese government-owned company which developed the technology, had an impressive 12-minute demo on a 400-inch screen at their booth. Images ranged from outdoors scenes (the field of sunflowers stretched back forever and the flowers were so detailed I felt like I could pick one), to various sports (I didn't really need to see the hair on the sumo wrestler's thigh, but I could), to animals at work and play (I could clearly see even the patterns on bees' wings as they walked over a honeycomb), to a Google Earth-style map of Las Vegas with super-crisp lines.There was also a side-by-side demo of Ultra HD and standard HD at the booth. The scenes were live shots from the roof of the Las Vegas convention center; Ultra HD video was shown on a 22.2-inch LCD at 3840 by 2160 and the HD one on a 17-inch LCD at 1920 by 1080. It was easy to see the difference: the Ultra HD sample gave me a broader, sharper view; for example, I saw individual strands on palm leaves where in the HD image I saw only the fronds.Nagamitsu Endo, producer for the company, told me there were only two prototype systems in the world that could produce the Ultra HD images, both of which were at NAB. The camera and tripod alone weigh over 100 pounds (see image below).
All the custom-built processing and recording equipment (see samples below) bring the total weight up to about a ton.
And it all needs about 7 megawatts of power. It takes 7 hours to process 18 minutes of video, which takes up 3.8 terrabytes of space, uncompressed.The camera captures a 100-degree viewing angle to give the viewer the sense of being immersed in the image (it worked). To get the full benefits of the technology, you'll need to see it on a screen at least 100-inches on the diagonal; 200-inches is preferred.Once they get the power, weight, and compression issues worked out, you could eventually see Ultra HD at sporting events or in museum displays. It is a TV system, though, so it will come to your living room, too--maybe by 2025, says Endo.

Ultra Hi-Def: New Oakley RED camera

From Gizmodo:

"Finally officially announced at NAB 2006 in Las Vegas today, the RED ONE camera is the latest greatest project from Oakley founder Jim Jannard, a serious photography and video buff who owns about a thousand different cameras himself. The RED ONE is designed to be a modular, upgradable system, so users can add hardware, software, storage, handling and monitoring accessories as they’re developed or needed; a wonderful idea in itself, but check out its other specs:

Typical high-end HD camcorders have 2.1M pixel sensors and record with 3:1:1 color subsampled video at up to 30fps. We deliver 11.4M pixels at up to 60fps and record RAW, or 2x over-sampled HD in 4:4:4 or 4:2:2 - your choice. That’s more than 5 times the amount of information available every second and a vastly superior recording quality. Don’t need all that data for your workflow? Dial it back, and keep all the other advantages of the Mysterium Super 35mm cine sized (24.4 x 13.7mm) sensor. You get the same breathtaking Depth of Field and selective focus as found in film cameras. Mysterium boasts a greater than 66db Signal to Noise Ratio thanks to its large 29 sq. micron pixels. And 11,480,800 pixels deliver resolution that can only be called Ultra High Definition.

On an Apple forum thread about the price of pro cameras just a few months ago, someone was guessing the RED would go for about $250k, but the RED site is saying $17,500 MSRP. They’re taking reservations now, $1k deposit and a maximum of five reservations per customer, but the fine print says they make no promises as to final list of specifications, availability or price, only that if you reserve the price will be set for you."

VOIP on a citywide Wi-Fi network: goodbye to mobile phone subscriptions?

From MuniWireless:

"VOIP on a citywide Wi-Fi network: goodbye to mobile phone subscriptions?

I came across an article in Sci-Tech Today, announcing Vonage UK’s deal with The Cloud, a Wi-Fi network wholesale operator: U.S.-based Internet-phone company Vonage announced Wednesday that it is teaming up with The Cloud, a provider of wireless broadband, to offer a mobile-phone service that will rely on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to let users make calls through Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK. According to Vonage, there will be no cumbersome log-on to connect through a VoIP hotspot. Users near a hotspot will simply make their calls. But if those using the service move outside a hotspot’s range, the call will be cut off and the user will have to revert to a conventional cellular network to make and receive calls — complete with traditional per-minute rates. So far, Vonage’s customers have to find a hotspot to make their calls and use traditional cellular service when they are outside the range of the network. But what if there is a citywide Wi-Fi network and what if access is even free of charge as in St. Cloud? This is not lost on the author of this piece: “Vonage and others are looking at the rise of municipal wireless networks, run by city governments, as being a big opportunity in the U.S.” Read my recent interview with Niall Murphy of The Cloud, my post on T-Mobile’s new HSDPA service in the Netherlands and why I love Skype on a Wi-Fi network (make sure you read the comments to this article). "

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Northrop Grumman to fly supersonic oblique flying-wing by 2010

The aerodynamics behind this thing are insanely complicated. It would be cool to see it fly.

"Northrop Grumman hopes to fly the first supersonic oblique flying-wing aircraft by 2010-11 under a US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) programme. The company has received a $10.3 million, 20-month contract for risk reduction and preliminary design of the unmanned X-plane demonstrator.

© Northrop Grumman
At low speed and sweep (top image) aerodynamic efficiency is high. At high speed and sweep supersonic drag is reduced

DARPA’s Oblique Flying Wing (OFW) programme is being distanced from the US Air Force’s emerging long-range strike requirement, but the tailless variable-sweep aircraft’s combination of high speed, long range and long endurance looks promising for longer-term applications if design and controllability challenges can be overcome.
At low speed, with the wing at low sweep, aerodynamic efficiency is high, and the configuration has good subsonic loiter capability. At high speed and high sweep, supersonic wave drag is reduced compared with a conventional swept wing because the aircraft’s volume and lift are distributed along the length of the oblique wing.
However, the tailless and unstable OFW presents severe flight-control challenges because of the unique coupling between the asymmetric aircraft’s aerodynamic and structural modes. Integration of the propulsion system – mounted in a pod slung under the wing in Northrop’s concept – is also a technical challenge, as is manoeuvring the aircraft on the ground. "

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dump truck crashing into a wall @ 50mph

Sunday, April 23, 2006

You have reached the end of the Internet

"The desire of AT&T, Verizon, et al to end network neutrality and assert fees for access to connected customers represents a death wish. Imagine the prospects of an info tech industry without “software neutrality” where Intel charged a fee to enhance software performance. Pay Intel and your applications run faster. The incentives driving Moore’s Law disappear in this pay-to-play model. Intel’s profit maximizing incentives become serving the interests of software companies willing to spend the most on “enhancing software performance” not the end users of computers. The meritocracy driving competition between software companies disappears as Intel picks winners and losers based on willingness to pay. Innovation becomes permission based at Intel’s discretion.

The Internet does not exist without net neutrality. Consider the misleading assertion that tinkering with network neutrality simply amounts to adding class of service as in the case of air travel or HOV lanes on highways. Network neutrality refers to the uses of the Internet not the quality of access. There already exists an infinite range of classes of service as regards Internet access. End users pay for what they get regarding the performance and capacity of Internet access. Internet content and service providers like Google, Amazon, and Vonage already pay for access to the Internet.

The telco and cable companies have in mind creating another type of customer not a class of service. They want suppliers to pay for the right of transit. It amounts to airlines charging Time Warner for the right of readers to take Time magazine on an airplane. It means charging Ford tolls in addition to drivers for the right of Ford cars to use highways.

The pursuit of tolls based on content and application type requires something that does not exist in the Internet today. It requires a linkage between content type and transport. Equipment providers like Cisco increasingly deliver products offering packet by packet inspection in the name of network management, but implementing the access fees means giving billing systems the ability to monitor and track the types of applications and content customers use. Setting aside the chilling privacy concerns, the telephone network’s linkage of usage to transport represents the primary obstacle to service creation I observed during five years at Bell Labs in the 1990’s. Forcing innovators to change the network in order to implement an application means an end to innovation. The end of innovation means the end of growth in demand for Internet access.

An end to innovation probably represents the main motivation behind opposition to network neutrality rather than merely the desire for a second revenue stream from Internet access. The dominant providers of Internet access have powerful incentitives to protect their existing voice and video revenue streams from Internet enabled innovations. The ability to add tolls by Internet application end the prospect of Vonage and VoIP as a threat to Plain Old Telephone Service. It ends the prospect of new Internet enabled video distribution models that might compete with CATV. Network neutrality allows end users to choose winners and losers in an application meritocracy that threatens service providers long dependent on barriers to entry. The idea that Yahoo could pay Verizon to improve performance over Google means Verizon not the end user decides which search engine wins.

Beware of the monopolist that wants the “market” to decide. If there actually existed a healthy market for Internet access, users would certainly switch away from service providers tinkering with performance based on kickbacks from content companies. The toll collecting ambitions of the telco’s and cable co’s hinge on the absence of market forces. The fights against municipal wireless initiatives and lobbying budgets that exceed R&D budgets arise to defeat any leakage of market power. Network neutrality forces a virtuous cycle where winning requires making offers faster and cheaper. This dynamic accounts for growth in the info tech industry as platform improvements expand the range of possible applications.

Eliminating network neutrality means giving one participant in the value chain a tool to extract a greater share of revenues without delivering greater value. The best effort Internet holds far more promise than the metering of scarcity associated with QoS because “best effort” continues to improve. The improvement in modems set the pace for expansion of the dialup Internet during the 1990’s. Lowest common denominator broadband access continues to govern Internet health as access capacity and performance determines addressable applications. Continuous improvements in cost performance represents the key to growth just like every other area of info tech.

The network management quality of service argument for ending network neutrality misses the fact QoS does not work outside a private network environment where a single entity controls usage end to end. The implementation of QoS remains limited to private networks, because it makes the negotiation of interconnection compensation intractable.

The large info tech companies like Cisco, Microsoft, and Yahoo view themselves as arms dealers content to accept business from both sides of the net neutrality debate. Intel has proven a more consistent friend of the Internet as with its Digital Communities effort supporting municipal broadband initiatives. Intel may recognize the connection between meager US broadband offers and the decline of the proportion of Intel revenue attributable to the US from 41% to 18% over the last 5 years.

The future growth prospects of the trillion dollar info tech industry depend as much on network neutrality as on Moore’s Law, so the arms dealer point of view represents a very short sighted one. The Bell company and cable MSO efforts to protect existing revenue streams means preserving the 20th century telco business model of controlling scarcity. The growth of the info tech industry comes from delivering surplus value as the means to generate demand. The info tech industry needs the find a way to protect network neutrality, because the Internet will cease to exist without it."

GigaOM : » Net Neutrality Not An Optional Feature of Internet