24 January, 2010

How the internet killed Jonny Depp (for a few hours)

About 10 minutes ago I came across an article on Huffingtonpost.com that simply mentioned that famous actor Johnny Depp is not dead. Apparently a rumor of the unfortunate demise of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Edward Scissorhands" star in a road accident in Paris was a hoax. This incident though highlights something I've wanted to blog about for some time, namely the hoax was enabled by the real time communication media that we have today on the internet. All it takes are for sufficiently trusted agents online in social networks such as Facebook or Twitter to get the faulty information, for that information to spread rapidly as a "meme" through the internet and soon off the internet into the real world.

This ability for information to spread so rapidly is only recent and was born on the backs of real time social media services like Facebook and Twitter. We saw most recently the power of information spread using these tools in the U.S. election of Barak Obama. His campaign team was intuitively aware of the power behind these technologies and wielded them masterfully to shape the image of the candidate that they wished to get out. When traditional methods were employed by opposition candidates or entities to smear Obama, the electronic media was used to quickly spread information to counter the claims. The response to the claims was immediate and prevented the claims of the opposition from cementing in the minds of the people. How far will this go? The Johnny Depp rumor and rapid declaration of it as a hoax in many ways shows how the collective consciousness of all humanity connected digitally can and will react to information. No longer will information that is faulty persist for long periods to fester and trigger unfortunate consequences or delay necessary action. I think this is a great thing for humanity for the most part, as it allows us all to listen to the collective heart beat of the world as it experiences events as one global unit. I think this will have far reaching consequence for our desire and ability to address events through out the world in ways we can only imagine today, the recent earth quake in Haiti garnered an amazing amount of support and a world wide effort to secure the nation and provide assistance that would have been vastly different had we lived in the technologically devoid time of say the early 30's. For one, knowledge of the event would have taken weeks or months to reach certain corners of the globe, teams for rescue came from as far as South African and China, would there have been a public desire by the governments of these countries to lend assistance if the eyes of the world were not shining on them through the visibility made possible by the internet? I say no, the internet shines a public light on countries, regimes and rulers and if there is anything a regime or government wants to have it is a positive perception in the eyes of the world. Note the incredible response the world gave to recent events in the middle east, when Israel orchestrated a botched invasion of their northern neighbor Lebanon in a stated effort to extricate Hesbollah, unfortunately for Israel, and despite their attempts to prevent media from inspecting their activities on the ground, the eyes of the world was able to get moment by moment reports from ordinary Lebanese, held hostage in buildings, homes as they wondered why Israel felt the need to bomb civilian roads and bridges when their beef was with people that had nothing to do with their building. Similar reports of the actions of the Russian Army in Georgia quickly drew the ire of the international community and I believe severely restricted the intensity of attack that would otherwise have occurred had the world not been watching and listening from cell phones, blogs and laptops.

This hyper perception of global events may contain the key to our salvation, it could be that by listening to the global heart beat through the use of these real time media that we are learning to engage the compassion we have for our family and our countrymen to our fellow Earthlings, in so doing we are gaining a heightened ability and desire to redress wrongs, where ever they may be occurring on the planet. At a time where the poisoning of our ecosystems world wide are leading to vast changes that have not been seen in hundreds of millenia such visibility and potential for action could not have come sooner. It will be interesting to see how much more rapidly we can tap into the global heart beat, the infrastructure required is already in place and growing but what will improve is the visibility to far flung regions of the world, as yet unconnected to the global network. As these areas tap in and as it becomes more facile for individuals to engage with the global consciousness via smart phones, the ability for us to experience as a species global events will be complete. I am optimistic that this hyper awareness of the global heartbeat will allow us to avoid the looming tragedies of climate change and ideological conflict that threaten in many tenuously connected areas to the global net, here's to an increasingly connected future and the rapid quashing of rumors of Johnny Depp's demise! ;)

12 January, 2010

Why OLED is going to be big for consumer technology.

It has been quite a while since a technology has built up a buzz as loud as that of OLED display technologies. OLED displays promise to significantly advance display technologies by impacting costs of production, quality of display and utilization of power in ways that previous technologies could not ever match. Unlike previous generations of technologies such as CRT, Plasma and LCD which have variously been successfully used in certain product areas, OLED is the first display technology that enables similar efficiency of use across all existing areas. OLED displays can be made cost effective for use in cell phone displays and as well laptop or desktop monitor displays or even large tv displays. Unlike CRT and Plasma which are fixed to specific use cases (neither can be used on Laptop's or cell phones for example).

The main advantages of OLED stem from the fact that the technology uses an organic polymer based diode process to create light of the specific color required directly from electron jump events that occur between two materials selected to produce light of a specific frequency. Much like the LED lights that we are all familiar with from their use in power indicators on all sorts of products this method of light production is extremely efficient compared to CRT and Plasma.

Additional advantages of OLED technology lie in the fact that the purity of the produced light enables high gamut displays with very accurate color. Also since light is produced only when it is needed, OLED displays have very high contrast ratio's while offering very high angle of view (unlike LCD's which have significant light fall off due to masking elements in the LCD layers) just like older CRT's. The parsimonious production of light as it is needed and the creation of that light from specific pixel elements means that OLED displays are amazingly power efficient compared to any other technology save for passive technologies like e-ink.

Thus coupled with the requirement for TFT (thin film transistor) backplanes to define the pixel grid of the display, the OLED display technology offers superior performance to the older technologies but comes at an advantage in the characteristics mentioned providing a strong incentive for consumers to purchase the technology (at appreciable cost) over the other technologies once it is released. The strong list of advantages will provide a great impetus for the display manufacturers that plan to start mass producing OLED displays to move to the technology as quickly as possible to take advantage of the strong demand that will arise from the consumer space for such vastly out performing displays.

Currently, small production numbers on small screen areas have shown the power of the advantages mentioned to effect products that they are used in. Several model cell phones have been released using AMOLED displays (active matrix-OLED) these devices are often lauded for two advantages that come directly from using OLED first the color and contrast advantages and second the power frugality advantage which directly enables longer battery life in the cell phone.

The advantages however must be contrasted with several prominent disadvantages which are really so in a relative sense. The first is the fact that AMOLED displays have variable lifetimes for the polymers used for producing each of the 3 primary colors used to produce usually 16 million colors on the true color displays, the most recently perfected polymers for producing blue light have relatively short life times of only 5 years at 8 hours per day utilization before half light output is reached (see wikipedia link below), though continued refinement of the polymers continues apace and will likely quickly eliminate this issue as a factor in the coming years. The next issue lies in the burn in problem that can occur as the differential light production of the pixel elements increases over time, again so long as development continues to find more robust polymers to produce the primary colors (and it does) the average life time for optimal use of these displays can extend beyond a decade matching or exceeding the life times of previous technologies. Also, this is a user adjustable issue as the color of items displayed can vary battery life, use of dark backgrounds being more power efficient than using light ones for example.

Still the main reason that the producers of these products , Samsung, LG, Mitsubishi being big names so far is that stacking a two layer polymer onto a TFT grid is always going to be cheaper than stacking an LCD above a TFT when both are running on a fab line. The reason is that though the TFT cost is the same between the two, the integration cost between the TFT and the OLED or LCD layers is not. OLED's have already been shown to be able to be deposited spray paint like, though these applications are ideally suited for surface area lighting solutions, it is conceivable that a similar method applied to TFT's in some novel way could lead to extremely easy to produce panels from low to high resolutions. The number of innovations being produced to reduce costs on production is quite high this gives the manufacturers an incentive to get going NOW with ramp up and fab retooling efforts to create more OLED displays over waiting for cheaper production methods to arrive. They know that if they could retool their fabs with the snap of a finger they would immediately reduce costs of production versus producing LCD's and plasma's and they could provide those reduced cost displays for a critical time period at a significant price premium versus a competitor who waits to ramp up OLED displays. Secondly, and possibly even a bigger factor is that not only are the costs of producing the AMOLED displays lower than LCD's of the same size but because of the quality advantages there will be an immediate disadvantage to having production capability for LCD's and plasma ONCE the first large AMOLED displays are available. The difference in quality is so obvious and apparent that consumers will simply see no reason to consider buying LCD's or plasma's. This will allow the manufacturers to ramp down those alternate technologies as fast as possible to ramp up more OLED models thus saving more money. Also great savings will be had in the associated variable supply costs for all the current form factors supported by those display technologies that are produced at different form factors, namely LCD's. An LCD that goes into a cell phone still needs a back light but it can't use the same type of CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent light) bulbs used in a laptop LCD and that is different from the CCFL's used in monitors, the variable procurement costs will be eliminated with OLED which have no such auxiliary product and stocking costs,this will realize a significant reduction in total cost between scaled production of the two technologies for different form factors that again gives the manufacturers a strong incentive to ramp over to OLED as quickly as possible.

Thus I predict that the panel makers are ramping up production to exceed their published OLED production goals as doing so enables them to eek out an advantage both in profits and mind share once the stunning glory of these displays is realized by the masses. Case in point is the fact that Samsung is finalizing a fab that can produce 42" panels, assuming 1 year to operation such a fab would be able to go into mass production on panels up to that size by early 2011, it would literally be an over night appearance of OLED displays at an assortment of sizes which makes sense given the major advantage the first producer out the gate is likely to garner.







09 January, 2010

On the idea of "world wide mush" resulting from "open" development models

A recent article posted in the Wall Street Journal posits that the collectivization of various types of goods or services created by the internet is long term a damaging trend for human societies.


I think that the author misses truths that have been in place that show that collectivization is not a process that started with the internet but has been with us since we started inventing things.

It seems that Mr. Lanier is not properly defining the contexts under which different problems can benefit or suffer from collectivization. He speaks in general terms of the loss of the potential for creators to extract profit from their work but misses that this is and was true of human civilization since we first picked up a rock to use as a crude hammer. New things make old things obsolete and people MUST adapt to what is displaced (be it a former human performance of that task or use of an older product) so as to maintain relevance.

In some areas collectivization has no peer, the example he mentioned of Wikipedia is a good one. The incentive for contributing to an article is simply self serving but because it is applied over time to an evolving concentration of value (whatever subject topic is being edited) a convergence toward a more full telling of the "truth" of a given topic occurs. Revisions are not random and vandalism in fact engages repair mechanisms that prevent it long term such as closed edits for articles subject to vandalism. Another area where collectivization is great is in social networking where the "likes" and trends of user behavior are tracked and used to determine behavior highly correlated with interest..such as the desire to purchase a given product or go to a given country on vacation. This data can be very useful to marketers for targeting advertisements of for shaping recommendations to a users needs allowing them to spend less time searching and more time finding. The open collaboration model used within the confines of a closed enterprise can lead to massive improvements in the rate of development for companies that use these tools. The productivity gains realized from team collaboration and sharing services similar to the mentioned "Google Wave" are real and benefit the economy. "Mush" is not always the result.

In the hypothetical future that he postulates concerning medical robots displacing the need for many health care workers, the focus of the societies of that time ..from their educational institutions to their Health care facilities should be on the path to presage such change or sit back and go obsolete. The past is filled with examples of both happening, Rolls Royce went from building engines for British planes to building luxury automobiles. Nokia went from a rubber works and mining company 150 years ago to the wireless telecommunications company we know today..these are examples of recognition of the changes that technology forced on society and adapting but at the same time many countless companies didn't adapt and went extinct. The jobs of the people who worked at those companies disappeared and the people had to retool. The same will be true in the future for health care workers when those lithe robots start taking over, the move from physical to mental labor in the form of white color work has been slow and gradual and as things get better people will simply need to find new things to do or become virtually extinct.

It is interesting what happens to society when such virtual extinction takes place, vast oceans of people , their every need catered to by technology...do they become like the humans of the recent film "Wall E" ? or do they become like the Eloi of H.G. Wells "Time Machine" or do people end up more like they did in the nightmare shown in "Soylent Green" ? the answer depends on how well people can retool to whatever is next, whatever need we can serve with our biology that artificial bodies and minds can not...hard to think of anything that fits that boat and that could be reason for worry especially with a rapidly expanding population but I don't anticipate it as a problem for at least another 50 years, in that time we can still retool so that like Nokia we stay relevant despite what the future brings in new Technology. Also because technology is not homogeneous across the globe the lack of technological parity will enable the chance for a mediating market between the demand in poorer regions and supply of advanced technology in the richer ones, this will enable markets that people can exploit for time far beyond 50 years.

The story of a technology conservative...

I only just last month purchased my first personal cell phone (Samsung Magnet) and that decision pained me..why?

The curse of the Engineer, my training means that I have a bit more awareness of what is possible with a given technology when it is released..so often I find myself refusing to purchase things because I *know* the manufacturers can do much better or that something is coming down the line that will obsolete my current purchase. So rather than suffer the slow trickle of certain technologies I give them time to catch up to my standards.

During the age of VCR's (I was a teen..I reluctantly bought one in HS in the mid 80's but I knew that in 5 - 10 years the DVD would emerge to make it obsolete) so the one I bought (one of those inside the tv models) was my first and only VCR. I had read of the research being done on the DVD technology in electronic magazines available in my H.S. library. I vividly remember seeing a massive washing machine sized monstrosity of circuit boards and wires in a photo claiming this technology a video technology presented on digital compact disc format would 'soon' be in products and about 8 year later in mid 1994, it indeed was. I didn't purchase my first DVD player however until 4 years later or so in 1999 (a dual internal tray unit that I still own) and in 2003 I purchased a second one when I moved into a new apartment. The next generation video tech of HD DVD's I read about in the late 90's and didn't expect to get one any time soon (especially since screens capable of extracting the HD quality were yet on the market and would be expensive for a long time) I still haven't purchased either a "Blueray" (the player tech. I had my money on winning the "format war" that the magazines ranted about (I knew time would solve the problem by having drives that supported both formats just like the CD and DVD drives did before)

The same slow process was was taken with CD's, I bought one CD stereo unit which I still use today (I connected its aux audio to my Television for better sound quality) back in the early 90's...refused to get another one since by about 96' I started using mp3's. Around the same time cell phones started to take off and shrink, by 1999 they were so small as to be able to be held with two fingers (there was a particularly small Motorola unit I remember) ..it was around this time that I started prognosticating on where that tech. was going...that one day would come where the cell phone had a screen, input methods and other functionality and I'd wait until one of those came along before buying my own. The closest culmination of that idea was the Iphone released 3 years ago but still I didn't pull the trigger (I hate Apples proprietary strategy) and wanted a more open pc like platform for wireless devices. I remember vividly the hardware and software fiefdomes that were present as supposedly winning strategies in the early 80's. All computer makers had their own set of unique hardware that they built their devices around, many from model to model used different components, the idea of modularity was not in their best interest as keeping the customer locked into the hardware and software dependence seemed like the more profitable strategy. It actually took outside forces and the hacking community to open up the process and ironically enable computers to become the commodity , cheap and ubiquitous devices they are today. The reverse engineering of the relatively modular design of the IBM AT enabled costs for the common protocols used on the motherboard and slot architecture for the expansion cards to be amortized over dozens of Asia based manufacturers while still allowing the produced "clones" to run Windows software. This fueled the spread of windows off of the IBM machines and onto the clones and the reduced price of the clones brought the consumer into the space of buying pc. Before this act, the IBM models were expensive business focused computers but the cloning of the AT set in motion a change that soon enabled "pc's" to beat their proprietary competitors which included Apple, Atari, Commodore and several others. See this post for more on how this history is relevant to Apple and cell phones today.

The handheld computer capable of doing anything I would want in a dedicated device was the dream I held out for and we are finally at the point where such devices are being produced but there is still a huge problem that prevents a technology conservative like myself from moving forward aggressively with purchases in the space. The obscene cost for service, the wireless providers have created an ominious set of service options and plans and force users to stay in contracts when really they should be nothing more than a dumb pipe provider just as the cable companies should be for delivery of data to the home. The consumer should be able to purchase a wireless device add to it the necessary radio for the service they wish to use and then pay a single data access fee. It is particularly egregious to me that the providers charge more for data than for voice (an absurd irony that can only be truly appreciated by any one who knows how much more easily data can be compressed compared to voice) in fact there should be no such thing as a distinction as even voice is digitized and sent over a packet network over the air. Yes, you are being over charged for all those texting "minutes" so I refused to eh...bend over as it were for that treatment until the need for a phone just to triangulate with friends and family (it is very convenient) kept nagging and I finally pulled the trigger on the Magnet...which thanks to the plan option I am under only cost $27 US...it's a frustrating phone to do anything but make phone calls with but that is all I bought it for...until the nirvana of a powerful wireless device with a pay one price data rate comes out I will stick with it. Let's see how long it takes ;)

The final example of my technology conservative nature is exemplified by the recent order of a 23" LCD monitor for my workhorse computer towers (connected to a KVM). This will be my first LCD monitor/TV of any sort and like the other areas I waited so long to let prices come down and the technology move up to where it was better than CRT. Also, I tend to use my video cards at 1600 x 12000 pixel resolution or better and on a 19" that means very small text and my eyes can get strained from reading text that small for hours at a time. Though today LCD panels are thin and bright and relatively cheap (the 23" model coming only cost $208) there is another technology on the horizon that will change *everything* , the coming OLED panel revolution gave me a moments pause about buying this 23" model..but since it was so cheap and it will improve my productivity and save my eyes..I decided it was worth the investment. I started reading about OLED nearly 10 years ago, an article in Scientific American discussed the use of a bio-molecule called bacteriorodopsin extracted from a type of jelly fish that could be made to fluoresce with the right current applied. This was postuled as a great "pixel" for a future panel...fast forward and the hardware issues required to make such panels in color have all been addressed while simultaneously ensuring a very cheap production process (unlike LCD and Plasma) , high resolution, incredibly lower power output...in short the holy grail of display technologies. In 5 years 80" OLED wall panels will be routine and they *should* be very cheap to boot. *Sigh* I'll probably still bemoan my choice to buy this LCD so soon to the OLED attack in two years when the first huge and gorgeous and flat OLED models seriously ramp up in size and down in cost but oh well ...technology marches on!





05 January, 2010

The coming Lap-pad attack..

(The following are reasons I quickly cited in response to an article posted at SAI here, I plan on writing another post to expand on the significance of OLED to come for other areas of technology.)

**Posted questions**

1. People are not interested in reading anymore
2. Any PC, heck smartphone can get all the news you want. I have at least 200 RSS feeds currently!
3. The content is just not there. Why buy a magazine for things you read about a month earlier online?


To your point: 1) People are reading now more than ever, they just aren't reading books, magazines and newspapers they are online reading blogs, links, articles and chat room transcripts. A tablet enables the old format of reading a book or a magazine to merge with the digital medium. Imagine a magazine that you "read" on a tablet but where the images can be tapped to play video, the links expand to side stories, the "pages" slide and swipe across the display as the "reading" process commences. Apple sees an opportunity here to do exactly what they did for music, provide the music producers a place to showcase their "traditional" media at a price that people were willing to play for because of the scope of offerings and the convenience of access. This is exactly what the Istore did with mp3's which had begun to seriously eat into industry profits but now thanks to the Istore have allowed many companies to eek out an existence over going extinct.

To point 2) You can sit for an hour reading things on your smart phone? Would you want to? For the smart phones with pinch and zoom (like the Iphone) the process of constantly sliding the screen to read the text at the desired size is annoying and battery life suffers. People find the convenience of being able to access the web or read documents on a smart fun awesome, it's a huge advantage over how it was a few years ago with WAP phones but it is still not mated to how people like to "read" real content...a tablet will firmly merge the two worlds and there is definitely a niche for it.

To point 3) The internet is there, the tablets wlll access it...instant content! The new ways of displaying existing magazines to take advantage of the new format will happen very quickly...in fact I've already seen models of digital magazine reading paradigms (there is a youtube video of one that was going around last week I'll post if i find it)...in the mean time the tablet is going to be perfect for doing all the normal things you do with your laptop. Surfing the web, navigating, playing games (it will really open a new class of games that expand on what you can do with a Ipod touch game).

To your question "why buy a magazine for things yo uread about a month earlier online?" I respond with another also asked before the Ipod.

"Why buy mp3's when I can download them free from napster, bit torrent, aries or a bunch of other free ware sites?"

The answer: convenience and if the price is right people will pay a non zero price to get that convenience. Apple realized this with their .99 price point for mp3's and that brilliance enabled the later success of the Iphone. You have to look at this progression in their choices....

Now one more thing on how the time for this technology is now, though the first pads to come will surely be LED backed LCD displays we are on the verge of a MASSIVE change over to the most advanced display technology ever, OLED. The OLED ramp up is being initiated in force by all the major semiconductor and panel makers because of how game changing the technology is on the performance, life time, form factor, efficiency fronts. Starting pad development now enables Apple to be in line for a gen 2 or 3 device with a nice bright OLED screen , the space taken up by the current LED backed LCD's as thin as they are is going to be several times more than that used in a brighter, bigger , more dynamic and energy efficient OLED. The savings in production costs can then go into packing beefier processors while still realizing insane battery life, it will also enable packing the kitchen sink into the pad, GPS, accelerometer, IR...all things I'd want in a pad especially if it could give me 10 hours of continuous use and would not fatigue my arm while carrying it about (every where!).

In 5 years these pads are going to be everywhere and laptops will be the rare beast, remember you read it here first. ;)