postheadericon ECS: Best and Worst Tech in 2010

This past year has seen new tech come in and out of our lives as fast as we can get through the revolving doors at KTM’s new shopping malls...and with most of us (being the fickle consumers that we are) opting for new technology that makes budgetary sense over tech sensational.

Take for example Microsoft’s miserable attempt this year at introducing a smartphone geared for teens. The Kin was a scaled down phone that had tight integration with Facebook and Twitter, two of the most popular social networking tools of 2010, yet the US release and then cancelled European release make this the biggest fail of 2010. Even teens today are smart enough to know that a phone that can’t play games or run apps is over-priced – no matter what the cost!

The Kin is in sharp contrast one of the biggest hits in 2010: phones running on the Android operating system, with that software designed by search giant Google. Hundreds of thousands of Asians per day are activating Android-based phones, and over 55 million new users were added in 2010 alone. This was a big win for Google, even though Android’s big brother “Chrome” seems doomed. Chrome is an operating system geared for netbooks, which were eclipsed this year by Apple’s introduction of the iPad. So in other words, Google Chrome is most likely DOA for 2011.

The impending death of Chrome is directly related to the decline of netbook sales, which dropped dramatically in 2010. Once upon a time (just 18 or so months ago) netbooks were considered a viable alternative to shoppers needing a laptop, or for those with light computing needs, such as getting emails and using the web. Once the best new tech of 2009, netbooks are passé with netbook sales “halved” by Apple’s iPad sales, says Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn.

In 2010, the iPad became king of devices for surfing and consuming media of all kinds, albeit without being able to display Flash from popular websites. Despite this limitation and the iPad’s high price (over $500 USD), Apple has sold over 7 million tablets in just twelve months (with a 95.5% market share) and with no other manufacture coming close despite last minute attempts during 2010 to catch up. For example, the Viewsonic “G” tablet was pulled from store shelves when it was discovered that the graphics display processor was not up to the job, and customers were totally disgusted with this tablet’s performance. Yet 2011 promises a boatload of other iPad-like devices, with most having more features then the original success story and with a much lower price tag.

In sharp contrast to 2010’s iPad and iPhone 4 successes – the iPhone 4 introduced in June sold almost 3 million in just 3 days – there have been a slew of tech gadget disasters, with the Cisco Flip Slide HD pocket cam being high on the list. This over-priced addition to the popular Flip HD line of camcorders is a big fail for customer’s inability to figure out how to use it, coupled with an insulting $250+ USD price tag for a camcorder that shoots mediocre HD video at best.

Other failures with 2010’s enlightened consumers include Google TV, which represents a cutting edge tech idea that hopes to merge the Internet with normal TV viewing. Hard to classify as a device, and even harder to use, you can find Google TV built into many Sony TVs and Blu-ray DVD players. Logitech also has the Revue TV product (Google-driven) that attempts to combine web videos with TV channels, if you can ever figure it out. This product was clearly brought to market ahead of its time, which perhaps is just around the corner.

Like Internet TV and cheaper tablet devices, 3D TV sets are starting to pop up in showrooms around the world, and even here in Nepal. It’s hard to say whether 3D TVs like the Samsung UE467000 and associated 3D glasses SSG 2100RB will be a hit or a miss...it’s too early to tell, as early adopters are a bit shy about criticizing their $2000+ USD investment, and there just isn’t that much 3D media out to view.

But for folks that can’t focus their left and right eye simultaneously on any given spot (2 to 3% of the population at large), 3D tech today just won’t work, and for others, headaches or other eye strains could occur; consult your physician if in doubt, so says the manual.

Personally, I have not been impressed with 2010’s 3D technology, either in the theatre or on a flat screen TV. The idea of wearing funky glasses is appalling from a fashion sense, and seems it would be an impossible pre-requisite in the home, as all of already can’t find the remote when we need it, how about hunting down a pair of glasses to boot! However, the $2000+ USD 3DTvs make excellent 2D televisions as well, so if you got the bucks...

And for those that had more bucks to spend on gadgets in 2010, one hit in the Canon ballpark was the Canon G12 compact point-and-shoot, as this is a semi-professional camera that includes HD video recording at 720p with manual focus and RAW processing. I use the earlier prototype, the G10 introduced in 2009, and this class of camera is the next best thing to a much more expensive, larger and heavier DLSR. The G12 fits in a small purse or a very large pocket, and is built like a little tank, producing superb digital photos and movie clips.

Well, that’s this year’s roundup of best and worst tech, with 2011 sure to bring on even more amazing products and equally amazing duds. In 2010 we saw one clear game-changer, the iPad, and 2011 could also be another year that produces a revolutionary product...can you guess what that would be?
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postheadericon TECH TALK: The Best New Tech Into Nepal for 2010

While the best new tech in the world this past year has clearly been the introduction of Apple’s iPad, in Nepal, these game-changing devices have yet to reach our borders in any mass consumerist way. Of course, like the iPhone, they are around - but smuggled into the country via the RNA baggage express. So my nomination as “Best Tech” this year has to then go to the set of phones sporting the Android operating system that have somehow managed to reached our landlocked IT island known better as Nepal.

But just what is Android you may be asking - if you have been living under a technology rock! Android is the system that runs many of the popular phones now being sold all around the valley. To put that into perspective: the iPhone runs on iOS, Blackberries on Blackberry 6, and Nokia uses the Symbian operating system.

A phone operating system is much like a computer operating system (think Windows XP or Linux), and is ultimately what gives you the features and functions that you may already take for granted on a smartphone, like having a music player, a camera roll, a calendar and to-do list, and a web browser for surfing the web while on the go. What operating system that you have on your phone determines just what you can do, while all of today’s phone operating systems do the basics, like provide a way to play games, consume media, and do just about anything besides making a simple phone call.

What makes Android special is that it was developed not by a phone manufacture, but by a world leader in online applications and search technology: Google. This was Google’s first foray into operating systems, and it appears that with the eminent death of Google Chrome (an OS designed for small laptops) that it may be their best effort – and one not easily forgotten...

Android is a fantastic OS for today’s generation of smartphones: lightweight, feature rich, and extensible. Yet this openness in regards to phone manufacture’s customizations is causing problems in the marketplace. For example, you may buy a phone using Android version 1.6, and then find out that your phone won’t support the latest version, which at time of press, is 2.2. But this is mostly a problem for technogeeks - if you are happy with your phone, then why worry?

The few differences between an iPhone and an Android phone are becoming slimmer every day, for example, there are now over 200,000 applications in the Android Store, which is much like Apple’s App Store for iPhones, only Apple’s store is larger in scale and more expensive to use. The Android Store has not been able to sell phone apps like Apple has done to such mega success, so most Android apps are free, and sponsored by in-app advertising.

But that should not be a problem for Nepal’s phone-app users, as we are more likely then not to be on a tight budget, or without an international credit card and access to the iTunes store anyway.
As an occasional Android user and an iPhone owner, I find little difference between the two operating systems when it comes right down to it; both do the same cool things, and very well. But as a dedicated Apple computer user, I find the iPhone fits into my workflow perfectly, and I doubt I could be as productive using an Android phone full time. For PC users, my guess is that an Android phone would be easier there for perhaps the same reason.

But with over 300,000 Asian Android phone applications per day, you would be in good company if you decide that Android is for you, and if contemplating a purchase in early 2011, the most popular models being sold right now are the HTC G-series and Nexus One, and the Nexus S and Galaxy S made by Samsung.

As you may have heard, the Android operating system is also being used in a bucket full of new tablets now out now - with tons more to follow in 2011. Following Apple’s lead, Google has positioned their phone OS to also work on tablets that function just like the iPad, sans the fruit logo. So if you have and like an Android phone today, you’re gunna love what’s coming out tomorrow, as Android tablets will have big screens and fast graphics processors, and will be able to run your favourite phone apps as well.
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postheadericon ECS: Angry Birds Review

I’m not much of a phone gamer, but when I first tried Angry Birds from RoviMobile, I immediately understood why over 50 million people have become hooked overnight on this super silly pastime.

Angry Birds pits some nasty squawking birds against a pigpen filled with noisy grunting pigs in a multilevel phone game that works both on iPhones as well as most other smartphones. Basically, you use your finger to slingshot multitudes of angry birds at ever-changing pigpen structures in order to explode evil pigs in classic arcade fashion.

The plot of this puzzle game is thus: evil pigs have stolen the bird’s eggs, and now the birds are pissed off and fighting back. But the premise of the game is irrelevant, as this game is just flat out engrossing from the very first finger stroke.

The graphics are appealing for all ages, and the soundtrack just makes you want to LOL from the very first shot fired. There are dozens of levels to unlock, and I gave up after level 15 or so, as the game complexity increases infinitesimally to the point where I suspect only diehard gamers (or dog-determined youngsters) would care to continue.

But what I found really amazing about this simple game is the amount of money made by creative game developer RoviMobile, and the resulting spinoff of attention this game is receiving. Development costs are estimated at just $100,000 USD, and revenues after the initial release range between 40 and 50 million USD.

A special Halloween and a Christmas edition have been produced, and there are rumors of a movie or cartoon TV show in the offing. For diehard fans and infants, there is even a collection of stuffed toys for sale online.

This awfully addictive and silly game works on the iPhone/iPad platform, as well as Android and Nokia phones. For Blackberry users who need to waste some time as well, a version is expected out very soon.

What and where to get:

Angry Birds for the iPhone/iPad
ITunes Store (www.apple.com/itunes/) for Rs.73

Angry Birds for Nokia and Android phones
GetJar Store (www.getjar.com/angry-birds/) for about Rs.115

Angry Birds Plush Toys
RoviMobile Website (angrybirds.myshopify.com/collections/plush-toys) for Rs. 870 + Harilo.com shipping and handling
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postheadericon TECH TALK: So What's New - in Nepal?

I was chatting with a pal of mine (in person for a change) who works for Neoteric Nepal here in the Valley. I asked him, “So what’s new in Nepal right now.”

He’s an apple dude, so his reply was a bit predictable; “I just ordered a Magic Trackpad on Harilo.”

Harilo? I covered that website in a previous Tech Talk, and if you caught that review you should remember that Harilo is a new Nepali website that allows you to order anything online from the States, and get it delivered to your KTM front door - for an average 25% mark-up that covers shipping, duty and a small profit for the Harilo folks.

Apparently Harilo has really taken off, as even my Nepali bhini recently ordered and received a pair of cozy Ugg boots from Amazon.com, via the Harilo ordering system. So anyway, my pal is waiting for his Magic Trackpad, which is Apple hardware that works with any kind of computer, and is geared for those still stuck using a desktop computer, but that want to take advantage of all those cool trackpad gestures that laptop users now take for granted...like swiping, scrolling, and rotating without the use of any buttons or wheels.

The Apple Magic Trackpad is a multi-touch trackpad just like the ones built into high-end Apple laptops, but is now a separate component that connects to any PC, and wirelessly through Bluetooth. If you are familiar with Apple wireless devices like the Aluminium Keyboard or the Magic Mouse, you will know how fantastically these devices connect, and stay connected until your two or three “AA” batteries die. The Magic Trackpad runs a few weeks on a set of two batteries, with rechargeable batteries recommended.

And like all other Apple products, this one looks and feels like a shiny little precious bobble, with an all aluminium and glass design – no buttons, no plastic, and very few seams. The Magic Trackpad also has that trademark Apple price – high – at $69USD.

I already own a Magic Mouse, which is Apple’s newest wireless mouse that has a multi-touch trackpad built right into the top, and this unit looks and feels more like a glass bar of soap then a computer mouse. I am completely hooked on using the Magic Mouse’s trackpad features on every computer I sit down in front of nowadays – you can’t beat scrolling up and down through web pages with a swipe of your forefinger over smooth glass, and scrolling left and right through a video clip in the same fashion. The Apple Magic Mouse is hardware that resembles a piece of art, and costs as much: $69USD.

Yet I consider that $69 the best spent in 2010, as I don’t ever see myself using a mouse with less multi-touch features ever again.

But getting back to my pal from Neoteric and HP’s new offering called MultiSeat. My eyes kinda glazed over when he began describing HP’s latest foray into thin-client computing, as I’ve been there before in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. But the MutiSeat Solution from HP could have an impact on Nepal’s education scene. Let me explain...

The MultiSeat Solution consists of a box that looks like any other newer HP desktop box, but comes packaged with as many “seats” that you need. A “seat” consists of a thin-client blackbox, 17” monitor, keyboard, mouse and cables. So for example, a school can order 8 seats for their computer lab, and they get 8 computers in one, sort of. All the seats in the system are running off of one server box loaded with RAM and a beefy dual-core processor, and at the heart of the system software-wise is the latest version of Windows Server 2008.

The entire setup can be configured in minutes, as it’s all plug and play USB connections, with just one Internet line needed into the server box to give all the seats a bit of Internet. Every user of the system first creates an account (just like you would do in Facebook) and the administrator of the MutiSeat Solution has complete control over what applications each user has access too, and even what websites each user can reach. The admin, or teacher in this case, can either have all seats see just what the teacher sees on his or her monitor, or have the students work independently.

And the price per seat? Well, my pal left a sales presentation with me that indicates that each seat costs between $300 USD and $350 USD, depending on options selected for the server box (i.e. RAM, CPU speeds, hard drive size). That is all inclusive of everything, including a 3-year replacement warranty on anything that breaks or frazzles.

The benefits from such a system are immediately apparent: low price per user, low maintenance (as compared to say maintaining 6, 7 or 8 separate laptops or desktops), and perhaps better performance then having that many computers running over a slow or wireless LAN. All in all, I was slightly impressed, but then again, only things made of aluminum with a fruit logo prominently displayed are going to turn my tech crank.

So that’s what’s new from where I sit - what about for you?
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postheadericon TECH TALK: The Non-Report on CES 2011, and on Things More Relevant...

I started to write this week’s column on CES 2011, the largest American consumer electronics show put on each year in the swinging town of Las Vegas Nevada, and featuring such IT moguls like MS CEO Steve Balmer and Cisco CEO John Chambers as keynote speakers, but I started to bore myself to tears just typing out the review. After all, how relevant is the Ford’s new electric car to the average Nepali?

For example, the announcement of the Blackberry PlayBook, an iPad-like tablet targeted at corporate wonks, won’t excite Nepali businesses still using paper records and ancient desktops to conduct business, will it? And who needs a vegetable scale in a Nepali kitchen that runs off an iPod and an app from the iTunes Store?

And I could be wrong, but will a new electric car work in KTM where the hours of power per day is dwindling down to just a few? Likewise, LG’s announcement of smart refrigerators that sport LCD displays and internet connections for tweeting recipes probably won’t excite anyone at all in the New Nepal, no matter how new that may be.

So for me, discussing the announcements (mostly a slew of new Android phones and iPhone cases / docks) just seems irrelevant in light of our inability to keep a simple dumbphone charged during the current loadshedding schedule. However, being at a large trade show like CES can be fun, as you would get to see celebs like Lady Ga Ga introduce a new Polaroid camera.

But what I remember about American trade shows is that they are great places to fake work while all you are really doing is collecting squishy toys, pens, coffee cups, and t-shirts handed out at all the exhibition booths. At least at CAN, Nepal’s version of CES, you get to take home something useful – like the latest model of invertor.

During CAN 2006, I actually bought a ProView Galaxy inverter at a substantial discount, and it’s still humming to this day. Unlike the Hyundai IntellyU UPS/Inverter (which I consider a piece of junk), which broke down a few days after the warranty expired, and even after repair, will now only power a couple of 14-watt light bulks for a few hours using it’s two huge 180 Ah Hyundai batteries.

So as far as consumer electronics go, we don’t need new iPad slipcases or Internet connected refrigerators as much as we need electronics that power all these gadgets. Either that, or we need battery-operated devices that charge in an hour, and last for 18 or more.

I was thinking the other day that a flat screen TV with built-in laptop-like battery might be marketable in Nepal, but then I remembered that the cable companies don’t provide full service during heavy loadshedding periods. So even if you have power for your TV, you can only watch an electronic snowstorm.

“Just get HOME TV!” you say, as this new satellite service is not powered by cable relays along the route, but instead just beams the signal down from space, directly to a set-top box. Clearly this is the wave of the future, but as of today, I can’t recommend this service for two reasons: you can only have one dish per TV set, and the channel selection is no better then say Jawakhel Cable. Why HOME TV only rolled out 80-odd channels is anyone’s guess, as there are clearly more channels in space, and those should be offered to us as well.

And while I am TV kvetching, let me just ask, “Where are the internet-connected TVs that others in the world enjoy?” Wouldn’t it be cool to have a Nepali-priced Hula-like service, where you could order movies and shows on demand for under a buck? Oh wait, that would require a broadband Internet connection faster then what most of us have at the moment...ok folks, just continue to get your knockoff DVDs down at the market for just Nrs. 30.

However, it does seem extremely silly in this day and age to even be messing with DVDs that just play once - if you are lucky. Many of my pals are telling me those Chinese portable DVD players are grand when the lights go out, but I just can’t wrap my head around the economics...why not just use your laptop?

But the bigger question really is: why are we all sitting in the dark, huddled around small screens and battery-operated everything, when the rest of the world is bright and making everything “large.” It’s starting to piss me off, and making me think that I might as well go “Amish.”
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postheadericon ECS: Futurama, A Trip into the Future of Tech

On the eve of 2011, a look into the future of tech seems appropriate and wise, wouldn’t you say? After all, no one wants to be left in the dust and accused of being a neub these days, whether tasked with installing a new phone app, or figuring out the remote controller that came boxed with a new set of wireless speakers. So find below a brief ride along what’s coming down the pike, or to update that cliché, what’s rising on the light peak...

Light Peak is new tech that you will see hit the streets later this year, coming from a joint collaboration between two giants: Apple and Intel. Light Peak will attempt to quell one of the most-often raised complaints from consumers: too many plugs and cables!

Have you ever found yourself dumbfounded, holding two ends of a wire while trying to connect two high-tech computing devices? Of course, we all have. In most cases, it’s not because we are stupid, but the reason for our confusion is that we are often trying to put a square plug into a round hole. Light Peak claims it will fix our funk with computer connections by consolidating all connectors into one. One type of plug for your monitor, keyboard, hard drives, etc. and only one type of cable is what Light Peak claims to be about. And on top of that, all connections will be at optical speeds: about 10-20x faster then anything we have plugged into our home or office today.

But other technology titans are coming up with another related idea to free us from cables, and that would be the rollout of wireless... everything! From flat screen monitors, to speakers, to media streaming servers, the “way of the wire” is about to die all together. We are already familiar with wireless mice and keyboards, and perhaps some of us are early adopters of wireless speaker systems – great for getting Jai Ho blasting into every room of the house – but get ready for nifty consumables like universal wireless charging pads for all of our daily dead battery items, such as our phone, camera, Bluetooth headphones, tablet, laptop, etc. etc.

But while the above technologies make digital living easier to set up and plug in, it’s not as exciting as some other things you can expect to see in 2011 and beyond. Expect better-looking and better-integrated tech appliances as well...

When Shubu Thapa (Nepali pop star) was asked what she would like to see happen in the futurama, she put it bluntly, “Make it better looking – to me, it all looks like toys for boys”.

And unfortunately for the fashion conscious, tech gadgets today are awfully ugly to wear, for example, take those silly looking 3-D glasses they give you in the theatre. Expect that all to change with the advent of high-tech fashion accessories such as designer sunglasses with built in wireless music and video, as well as GPS directional displays so you won’t get lost while walking to the movie hall. And as far as watching 3D in 2011, scrap the glasses – you won’t need them.

But the real change in next year’s tech is not just about digital fashion accessories, but also about a fundamental change in the very fabric of technology. Take for example these recent advances in the weaving of nano and biotechnologies...

We are about to move from silicon-based products to ones made from graphene. Graphene is basically pencil lead, but just 1 atom thick, and in 2010 physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won a Noble Peace Prize for showing how this material can be used to make microchips thousands of times smaller than those manufactured today. That means that you will soon be able to wear the equivalent of your laptop on your lapel, or if you are building devices, you can fit about 20,000 of them on a wafer just a few inches in diameter.

We are also about to start using life itself as a device. Doctor Yen-Hsun Su of Academia Sinica (Taiwan) is pioneering ways to fuse nano-sized particles of metal and other materials into living organisms, so expect to see a new crop of bio devices, like sidewalk trees that glow and act as lampposts to light the way. And the recent project iGem, put together by students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, successfully stores about 90 gigabytes of encrypted data into a single cell of common bacteria.

All of which is leading technologists to view that old fashioned 1950’s vision of human-looking metallic robots in a much different way. The robot we never actually saw materialize - is already fast becoming obsolete - as nanos and bios become built into many types of living organisms, including ourselves!

And if we get sick from embedded data bugs, or take a wrong turn with our GPS Gucchi sunglasses and break a leg, the healthcare industry is forging ahead with innovations of their own that will help save us. Hospital biobeds are being designed that will monitor our vitals and administer medicine automatically, without the need for human intervention; and with products like the NASA designed AlterG Anti-gravity treadmill, our hip replacements will become much less painful and quicker to heal.

All in all, the remainder of this decade promises to unfold into a terrific futuramic mix of miniaturized wireless bionic devices, some that we wear, and some that we can grow in the garden. However, some caution is advised before investing in the next best thing...

Take for example last decade’s tech that was set to revolutionize the way we travel short distances: the Segway two-wheeler. That personal upright and electric scooter was looking good, up until the point when Segway CEO Jimi Heselden drove his right off a cliff. What a trip!
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postheadericon ECS: Getting in Touch with Touchscreens

We all touch them, enjoy them, and are all bound to own one soon (if we don’t already), but what is it – precisely - that makes a touchscreen so touchable lovable?

Before we touch on that (pardon the pun), let’s first go back to the 1960’s, when touchscreens were just a pipe dream of computer engineers. Engineers and scientists were busy perfecting the cathode-ray tube for the then room-sized computers being built at the rate of just hundreds per year. Computers of that era came with monochrome TV-like screens, intricately paired with huge keyboards sporting clunky keys almost the size of small momos.

But even then, engineers understood that it was only a matter of time before images could be displayed on computer consoles, and that meant that the keyboard could become superfluous and even annoying for the user. After all, why not press on a picture of a dog to make it bark, instead of typing, “Dog, please bark.”

It wasn’t until 1977, when Dr. Sam Hurst invented the 5-wire resistive touchscreen panel, that this vision of using a touchscreen to interact with a computer became a reality. Yet it wasn’t until 1983, when the HP-150 business computer surfaced, that anyone could actually put their fingers on a computer screen and make a dog bark, or do anything else as complex.

In the meantime, the computer mouse had come of age and it seems that efforts to further develop the consumer touchscreen were sidelined. After all, one could just use the mouse to click on that dog and make it bark. So instead of manufacturers introducing multitudes of personal computers with touchscreen front-ends, that technology was relegated to public kiosks, cash registers, and ATM machines.

Yet touchscreens were evolving elsewhere – mainly for specific and professional applications. Advances in digitizers, microprocessors, and materials, were all gathering in a perfect storm that would, for example, reward computer artists with touchscreen drawing tablets, freeing them from ink and paper by handing them a stylus and touchscreen to use instead. DHL delivery folks were given small tablets and stylus for recording delivery events, and so on.

Then there was the really big shake up, as Apple Computers was doing something altogether different in their secret laboratory. They were developing a keyboard-less and mouse-less computer for the masses, and about the size of a small paperback book. The Apple Newton debuted in 1993 as the first Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), which was followed by the Palm Pilot in 1996, with the momentous popularity of the PDA building the stage for everything touchable that we see today: touchscreen netbooks, smartphones, iPods, tablets, book readers, hand-held gaming consoles, touchscreen monitors - all of it!

On the front of refrigerators, on sides of digital camcorders, and on the face of our smartphones, we are all pressing what is called a capacitive touchscreen with haptics. Capacitive means that the screen you are touching is not much of a screen at all, but instead a field of electrodes that sense the change in voltage as your finger presses into an electrified field.

And haptics is just a fancy word describing the tactile feedback technology that gives us the feeling that we have touched a real-life looking object, when we have touched nothing more than a bit of thin glass and circuitry. For example, when we press the virtual keypad on our smartphone, we feel a slight vibration and hear a click. We get the sensation of pressing a real key on a mechanical keyboard, but in reality, it’s all high-tech smoke and mirrors.

This combination of haptics, capacitive panels, advances in optical coatings (to resist fingerprints), and the very makeup of the human fingernail - is the “smoke” in the touchscreen mirror. The human fingernail, with its main makeup of keratin, makes our fingertip the perfect replacement for the plastic PDA stylus. Buffs of 1950’s Sci-Fi novels may recall Cordwainer Smith’s short story Scanners Live in Vain, where inhabitants of Smith’s futuristic world actually sharpened their fingernails in order to better operate their hand-held touchscreens.

And if Sci-Fi is any predictor of where touchscreens are going (as it has proven to be), just revisit any of these three blockbusters: Minority Report, Avatar, or Iron Man II, as they all showcase the future of the touchscreen – in which you stand in front of a translucent material, and just drag and drop whatever you desire with the wave of both hands and with a little help from your voice.

“Dog, just bark I say,” as you pet computer dog’s cute virtual 3-D head floating in near space.

While we may have to wait a few years before the “screen” in touchscreen completely disappears from view, we can get in touch with the future of touchscreens by just visiting any modern television shop or computer showroom. All screens, touch or not, are becoming razor thin, and it’s only a matter of time before all that’s left behind is an invisibly-thin membrane that holds the miniaturized circuitry - wirelessly displaying text, graphics, videos and more, and all of that streaming from an equally invisible computer.
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postheadericon TECH TALK: The Wiki Behind Wikileaks

By far the hottest topic in the tech world this week is more of a political issues then a techno one: Wikileaks. But for those that don’t know what a wiki is, and have often wondered if a wiki could be in their own computing future, then this article is for you – even if you could care less about the hundreds of diplomatic embarrassments released this week as part of Wikileak’s latest: Cablegate.

First, a wiki is a website with a special webserver application that supports the group editing of pages on the site. Most of us know of, or have used Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia of gargantuan proportions), but did you know that the “wiki” is the Hawaiian word for “fast”?

But speed is not what makes a wiki website unique; instead, the collaborative opportunities to contribute does. For example, the reason that the Wikipedia database of knowledge is so vast is that there is an army of wiki editors hard at work (citation needed) creating, editing, and even deleting wiki pages 24x7.

The evolution of any particular Wikipedia page is of interest, as it’s been said that this massive collaboration amongst a general population of writers amounts to “Darwikinism” – meaning that web pages in a wiki environment are undergoing a social Darwinian process, a natural selection if you will, and that wiki sites evolve over time to a higher plane as pages are deleted (killed off), content is revised, and new information is added.

A wiki differs from a blog or normal webpage, in the sense that a blog is usually one person posting and everyone else commenting; a wiki is a place where the content is evolving and is not static, as with a blog posting. Another major feature of a wiki is that the pages are being linked with other related web pages, both by the software and by the editors themselves.

For example, a wiki writer will often create a table of contents or index that links other related pages to their wiki topic. The wiki software is keeping track of all these links, so as pages are deleted or moved the indexes are updated automatically. This is terribly important, as no one wants to click on a link – ever – to only find a “404 error, page not found”.

Another important aspect of a wiki website is that the content of site can be edited easily, even by grandma or bhini. A wiki page can be edited using one’s web browser of choice, with no add-ons needed. There is a simplified mark-up language that must be learned, but the language is much easier to learn then HTML, which is the standard language for all pages displayed on the web today.

For example, if I were writing a sentence that wanted to reference another page on the wiki, I would not have to know about HTML hypertext linking, I could just express the link like this:
The [[US Government]] was embarrassed once again with the release of hundreds of secret/confidential embassy cables this week on Wikileaks.

So a link to an existing page on the US Government is automatically created by just typing [[US Government]].

Formatting is also simplified, so that writers don’t need to remember, for example, how to make a word italic using the HTML tags <i> and </i> – they just surround the word in two single quotes like this: ‘’italicized word’’.

But what does this all mean to groups, organizations, and businesses at large? Well, since wiki server software is abundant and largely open source, it means that any group of knowledgeable folks on any variety of topics, be it on a product or a social agenda, can easily start a wiki database of their own, and then share a living and growing knowledgebase with the world-at-large.

Some samples of wikis started by normal folks like us include Wikituneup, an instructional wiki on how to fix cars, and A Million Penguins, which is a collaboratively written novel. Armeniapedia is an encyclopedia just on the country of Armenia, and Diplopedia is a private US government-run wiki that serves the US Department of State. Unfortunately for them, Diplopedia has been eclipsed by Wikileaks, which has made much of what goes inside that office public for all to read.

So my suggestion to anyone wishing to share knowledge by setting up a collaborative website is to take a look at this wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_wiki_software, which compares all the wiki server software currently in the wild, and also highlights which software is best used for a particular information-sharing purpose.

Whether you are trying to end the free world as we know it, or just want to create a collaborative encyclopedia on Nepal’s best momo recipes, there is wiki application out there just for you.
read more "TECH TALK: The Wiki Behind Wikileaks"

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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