November 30th, 2007
Amazonâ€™s introduction of the Kindle electronic book reader feels momentous. It is the first time that the long anticipated, much debated future of the â€˜ebookâ€™ feels ready to begin in a meaningful way.
During the past ten years there has been great debate about the ebook. Generally speaking there have been three points of view on the subject. The first one comes from the true believers that the ebook is inevitable and that it would ultimately gain a noticeable and then sizable market share of publishing. The second viewpoint is that while there would be a market for the ebook it would never really capture more than a marginal market share. The third viewpoint was that the physical experience of reading an actual book is such an integral part of the reading experience that the ebook would never really catch on. I am one of those that hold the first point of view.
In a column here last summer I wrote:
â€œe-books will ultimately gain significant market share. This will occur when there is an â€˜iPod momentâ€™; when a device comes out that is low priced, wonderful to use and perceived to be cool or hip. Once this occurs there will be a rapid increase in the percentage of books sold digitally, probably leveling off around 40 â€” 50% by 2025. Impulsive buys, such as at airport book stores will become â€œpurchase, plug-in and downloadâ€™. While those of us who have grown up with the wonderful tactile experience of â€˜curling up with …
November 27th, 2007
The electronic media is a wonderful invention. The forty year old vision of Marshall McLuhan of a global village where the electronic media connects us all and becomes an extension of our brains is now truly a reality. The power to educate, connect and inspire are all inherently available on radio, television and the internet. That is why the television news coverage of this past Thanksgiving week was so incredibly disappointing.
There seemed to be only three news stories. Whether I watched the network new programs, the cable news networks or the local news the stories were the same.
News story number one: Airline travel over the Thanksgiving holiday. The anchor throws to one or more reporters live at the check in areas of major airports who breathlessly talks about how busy it might be, what the weather might do to flight schedules and what delays to expect. All of this reported within the context of the recent unfriendly skies of commercial aviation. This of course is accompanied by interviews with a few travelers and what they expected or had experienced. It seemed like the only people traveling were mothers with young children. Every single story had a mom with a young child in arms talking about going to grandmaâ€™s house.
News story number two: The unusually high price of gas for November. Segueing with, â€˜for those that arenâ€™t flying there is the problem of record gasoline pricesâ€™. This usually is followed by an interview with a motorist at a gas pump or …
November 20th, 2007
Thanksgiving is, in many ways, the truest of holidays. It is not connected to a religion or to a national political event. It is about giving thanks and sharing lifeâ€™s abundance, manifested by a large meal to be shared by friends and family. Giving thanks for all the wonderfulness of this planet.
On Thanksgiving day in 2030, I hope my then middle aged son will be sharing this day with loved ones hopefully including me. I hope that they all will be able to give thanks for what those of us alive today did between 2007 and 2015 to mobilize humanity to slow and start to reverse global warming. That is the window we have to allow those of us still living and our descendents to have some semblance of a Thanksgiving that might be similar to the one we celebrate in 2007.
The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change issued itsâ€™ final, synthesis report this past weekend. The fact that it had recently won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore gives the I.P.C.C. an amplified voice for this, itsâ€™ fourth and final report. The report is stunning in its conclusions and recommendations. It puts in stark relief the fact that urgent and global action must be taken immediately to avoid almost unimaginable consequences.
November 15th, 2007
All my life I have believed that there must be other intelligent life in the Universe. When you gaze upon the endless starry night it seems statistically impossible that there isnâ€™t some form of intelligent life out there. It may not be human-like but life there must be. In a prior column, I wrote about the fact that scientists looking for life elsewhere have redefined the definition of life as it was concluded that perhaps our earth bound definition needs to be greatly expanded.
Last week there was an announcement that astronomers had discovered that there were five planets circling a star called 55 Cancri where it had been thought there were only four. This makes this planetary system the most extensive found outside our own. Further, this fifth planet has some earthly characteristics relative to its distance from 55 Cancri, so that it just might have water. This discovery came about as scientists are in transition from studying planets to studying planetary systems. As Geoff Marcy, a professor at University of California, Berkeley said: â€œWe now know our Sun and its family of planets is not unusualâ€.
Another way of saying this is that scientists, in their effort to locate life elsewhere have moved from looking for planets that are earth-like to solar systems that are similar to ours. This is an obvious and logical progression. Technology is not yet at the stage where we can find small planets. Evidently the smallest size detectable is on the scale of Jupiter. …
November 12th, 2007
In the 60 year history of computers, there has been a constant improvement of computational speed. Ever faster has always been one of the driving metrics of the industry. Mooreâ€™s Law has been manifested with desktops and laptops to the point where the computers we use are as fast as we need. The machines we use today are incredibly faster that those we used at the turn of the century. The power of these machines however is dwarfed by the super computers now being developed.
It is in the arena of super computers that both the outer and inner reaches of reality can be explored. The advanced computer modeling and the running of complex scenarios and of course the ability to beat a human chess grandmaster is the realm of super computers.
The worldâ€™s fastest computer is being built and installed at the Argonne National Laboratory in the western suburbs of Chicago. IBM Corp. and the Department of Energy, which owns Argonne, have contracted for a new supercomputer that is now being installed with a peak capability of 445 teraflops, or 445 trillion calculations per second. The current record-holder is the Department of Energyâ€™s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which has an IBM Blue Gene/L with a peak capability of about 360 teraflops.