The Benefits of Broadband

I’m finally there. I wasn’t sure exactly when I would take the leap … but I did a few weeks ago. It wasn’t without problems … but I’m glad that I made the move. I finally bought a Broadband card for my laptop, and service from Cingular/AT&T.

I have long been a user of wireless. I bought my first Xircom gear in ~1995, just prior to the Xircom management buyout that formed NetWave Wireless. I think that I spent ~$2000 for an access point and two cards! In 1997 as a Novell employee I began working with the folks at NetWave on potential applications of wireless networking … and this was all pre-802.11 standards! All of this culminated with the demonstration of my research at the 1998 Novell Brainshare where we covered the Salt Lake City Convention Center – the Salt Palace – and surrounding area (~5 city blocks) – with wireless Internet access. I’ve never gone back. I love Wifi … and it is great to see it everywhere. Well … almost everywhere.

This is the issue that I found. Wifi isn’t everywhere … or sometimes when you find it the cost is just too great. A month or so ago I found myself at the airport … for about two hours … and the Wifi access was $10 for the day. I thought about it, and chose to find out exactly how much the service costs these days. I had seen Phil Windley using broadband from Verizon, and he really seemed to like it. As a Cingular/AT&T customer, I figured that I would check out what they had to offer.

I visited the local Salt Lake City Cingular store, and the deal was a Sierra Wireless 2G/3G PCMCIA card for $50 (after the $100 rebate), and the service – with unlimited bandwidth – was $60/month. I was in. I bought the card and the service, and headed off to install and get things working. I will say that I didn’t expect what happened next.

When I went to install the card in my laptop I didn’t even think to check on new versions of drivers. I popped the CD into my drive and installed what they gave me with the card … v5.4.1 drivers. When I rebooted … and inserted the card … BLUESCREEN. Ugh … the drivers were crashing my laptop. I was able to boot into “Safe Mode”, but I then spent two days debugging and interacting with technical support to find out that the latest drivers were v6.2.10, and that there was a conflict with the McAfee firewall that I was using. That mess started on Friday, and by Monday I was recovered and up and running. And now? I’ll never look back!

I have done some speed tests, and fairly consistently get ~1.5mbps down, and ~300kbps up. Several times now I have been getting speeds even faster! It is amazing to me that for $60/month I am now able to get megabit speeds almost any where that I go.  Over the last week, I have found myself in several places where I had no Wifi access … and plugged in my card, and jumped on the net.  The unlimited bandwidth enables me to not even think about how often I use the card, and what I do when on-line.  The speed is good enough for me to run all of my standard business applications.

I’m sure that I’ll do more testing, and might have more feedback, however so far I am happy and impressed with what is possible.  Broadband is now bringing the Internet to you – at an affordable price – in even more locations than ever before.  I now have multiple levels of fall-back to stay connected and in communications.  I’ll have to see when I do my first blog post from a moving vehicle (not while I’m driving!), and also see how many different strange places I can blog from now.  It also gets me thinking about getting out my wearable computers again … I had some fun ideas for mobile games … hmmm …

LearnKey Challenge Presentation – Wearable Computers, etc.

For the last number of years I have had the privilege to present to high-school students from all over the state of Utah when they participate in a “Challenge” at the UVSC campus. The “Challenge” is allow the students to demonstrate their understanding of technology and computer skills. This used to be the “TestOut Challenge” but this year there is a new sponsor and so it’s the “LearnKey Challenge”. On Tuesday I got to do this again and had a blast.
Each year I’ve been asked to present on Wearable Computers and Virtual/Augmented/Mediated Reality. This is an area that I am really interested in as the man/machine interfaces continue to evolve … and computers and peripherals begin to become more embedded. I love to show the students the miniature computers and hardware, and to show them the hardware that I have collected over the years. I also love to shown them the videos of some of the advanced research going on around the world in these areas. If you want an idea, go and check out ARQuake and the Tinmith project, and the Mixed Reality Lab in Singapore, the HIT Lab at the U of Washington, or the work of Steve Mann at the U of Toronto.
The real reason that I love to give these presentations is to see if I can encourage and inspire some of these kids to think out of the box. I want them to get my enthusiasm about technology, and what is coming in the near future … to expose them to things that seem almost too far in the future … things they might not understand they could be involved with. Some of this work is pushing the limits of what we believe is possible … stuff of dreams. I want these kids to know they too can get involved and create the future … and play with some really cool computer stuff. This year they even recorded the presentations and put them all on-line … my Wearable & Mobile Computers is here! One warning … most of the initial presentation is about tech jobs, my experiences, what to expect, and what to consider to love your job.

It was fun to have so many of the student come up afterwards and ask questions … where to learn more … what degrees to pursue … where to go to school. Overall … they seemed to enjoy it, and I know that I did. If I made a difference with just one of these kids it’s all worth while.

Brain / Machine Integration Continues

Nice . .. we are getting closer and closer to neural implants to augment the operation of the brain.  These first ones are oriented towards memory.  I wonder when we’ll be able to get additional memory added via this technology.  Anyone for a memory upgrade … for their brain?

The Memory Hacker. USC’s Center for Neural Engineering researchers have developed a chip that can communicate with brain cells, a first step toward an implantable machine that could restore memories in people with brain damage or help them make new ones.

… [ Accelerating Intelligence News]

Brain controls for computers and games

As the work in the research labs continue, it was only a meeter of time before the technology begins to enter into commodity markets.  I do have to wonder if the quality and capabilities will meet peoples expectations, however it is only going to improve with time.

I keep thinking of other applications for this product … who will do the first TV Remote Control based on this?  Just think about changing channels …  🙂

Connecting Your Brain to the Game. Emotiv Systems has announced that video-game makers are able to buy Emotiv’s electro-encephalograph (EEG) caps and software developer’s tool kits so that they can build games that, they claim, can use the electrical signals from a player’s brain to c… [ Accelerating Intelligence News]

The one reason I have a Laptop *and* a Tablet PC

I saw this article, and imediately read through it … it’s #5 that I agree with the most.  The reason that I have a laptop *and* a Tablet PC is the screen.  The screen size and resolution that is included on most convertibles is still just too low for me.  I heard that the Gateway was a full 14″, but then the resolution is still only 1280 x 768 pixels … too small for what I am used to.  I’ll look forward to seeing what Dell does in this space … but I want pixels!

As for the value of a Tablet PC … I love the Tablet PC for notetaking.  It is still the most amazing computer to take into presentations or conferences, or when walking around having to take notes and sketch diagrams of things.  For these purposes, the Tablet PC beats out the laptop any day.

Eight reasons tablet PCs have missed the mainstream. Tablet PCs haven’t caught on with consumers and remain a niche market for certain users, such as medical personnel and insurance adjusters. Cost and technology problems are among the reasons, according to analysts.

[Computerworld Mobile/Wireless News]

Microsoft Robotics

I know that some people are going to say that this is old news, but today I came across some very cool software from Microsoft … the Microsoft Robotics Studeo.  Where the heck have I been?  For all of my life I have loved the interaction between computers and the outside world.  I remember writing my first code that controlled a floppy disk drive, and it was fun to use keyboard commands to control the heads … stepping them back and forth and returning them to track 0.

I came across this offering from Microsoft while looking for information about White Box Robotics back in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I’m going to be taking a vacation back to Pittsburgh this summer, and am lining up various things to do.  I want to stop over and check out what White Box is doing, as they are looking pretty impressive on the level of research and development that they are doing for “home” robotics.

White Box Robotics was founded in 2001 by Thomas
Burick to fulfill the vision of changing the world one robot at a time.

We remain committed to the ongoing development of the
PC-BOT, a new class of networked mobile robots that delivers exceptional value
and ease of use. This achieved by leveraging mature PC technologies, adopting
open standards and creating a plug and play environment that allows just about
anyone to build exciting PC-based robots.

The White Box Robotics
laboratory is based in Pittsburgh PA and is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of
Frontline Robotics Inc. Thomas continues to pursue his vision as the company’s
Chief Robotics Officer and now is part of a new enlarged team of
multi-disciplinary and highly experienced engineers. This team delivers the
depth and breadth to catapult this technology into the rapidly emerging market
for personal, commercial and security robotic applications.

What I really like about this is that there are a number of vendors all working together to create some standards for the platforms.  The Microsoft Robotics Studeo press release lists an impressive group of companies and researchers in the robotics field.

I’m reading … and I think I’m going to download this for my new laptop tonight!  Cool to see robotics making some good jumps!

Sending E-mail from Cingular SMS Text Messages

When I got my new Nokia E70, one of the things that really disappointed me was the different way that e-mails were sent from the text messaging. No matter what I did, I was unable to figure out how to send an e-mail using the “basic” SMS text message. Instead, I was forced to use the “multimedia message” … which I quickly found out was being charged to me per message, even though I was just sending simple text. 🙁

So why do I really care about this? Well … I have formed the habit of using SMS text to e-mail as a way to send reminders to myself that I later will find in my e-mail inbox! If I am out and about, and away from my computer, I can quickly jot a message on my phone and e-mail it to myself. When I get back in front of my laptop there are my reminders sitting in my inbox! Also … I’m working on a cool SMS text messaging site that I have had under construction for years now … and I am sending messages to it also … for purposes to be announced soon. 🙂

With my older Nokia phone, I could easily send a basic SMS text message, and specify an e-mail address … the phone handled dispatching a properly formatted message to the SMS e-mail gateway at Cingular and everything worked. With the E70, although I am able to add e-mail addresses to my contacts, when sending a basic SMS text message, I am unable to pick an e-mail address to send to! Instead … I have had to use the costly “multimedia message” format, and then I get a pick list of numbers and e-mail addresses to send to.

Tonight, while experimenting more with my phone I realized something … that I could reply to a e-mail that was sent to my phone as a “basic” SMS text. If I could do that, then I figured that there must be a way to properly format a basic SMS text to send as e-mail. By searching Google, and remembering some obscure settings, I finally figured it out. So for anyone interested here it is:

To send a SMS text message to an e-mail address on the Cingular network:

  • Address the message To: “0000000000” (ten zeros)
  • Write the text with the format “{e-mail address}({subject}) {body of e-mail}

Now the exact format has to be followed. An example would be: came from my phone) I figured this out!

The key points in this are that the e-mail address and subject are separated from the body of the message by a space! Do not put a space after the e-mail address … it must be the e-mail address, then the subject – in parenthesis – with NO space between them. Then a space before the body of the e-mail message. If you want to, you can leave out the subject and the parenthesis, and just get a message with no subject.

Now I do have to admit that I am still very disappointed with Nokia, in that I can not find how to get the e-mail address from a contact to appear in the text message … so I end up having to type this EVERY time. But the cost of these messages is included in my plan … so it’s worth the extra effort!

Materials Science … gel body armor!

I love to read about new technologies like this … something truly futuristic … a “viscous gel” in a vest that is fluid until struck or impacted … then it turns to a hardened material.  Afterwards … it returns to a gel.  Bullet-proof vests that morph … very cool!

Prison Guards Saved by Syrup. A new viscous gel that hardens on impact could make bulky, conspicuous body armor a thing of the past. By Vince Beiser from Wired magazine. [Wired News: Top Stories]

Portable keyboard for mobile computing

Nice … I like it. It’s a portable keyboard like no other. Simply sit it down and turn it on … there are serial and Bluetooth versions. For those who want a full size keyboard for their mobile devices … this is a very cool solution!

Review: A virtual keyboard for any surface. I-Tech virtual laser keyboard uses infrared and laser technology to project an outline of a full keyboard onto any surface.  [Computerworld Breaking News]

Privacy … still just a case of obfuscation …

Once again we are reminded that “privacy” is simply a case of obfuscation.  We have “privacy” only because it is too difficult to sense certain things.  We have the “privacy of our own homes” only becuase others can not see what goes on “behind closed doors.”

This article is demonstrating that even that level of privacy is slowly eroding.  With the newest version of this product, different military and police agencies can actually “see” through walls.  Now obviously this is something that will be very costly as a product … but with the rapid evolution of technology, how long until you or I will be able to purchase a device like this?  10 years?  5 years?  3 years?  It is inevitable that we will have our own personal versions of this before too long …

Company with a camera that sees through walls gets $14 million. Blog: Camero, a company out of Israel that has developed a camera that can “see” things through solid walls, has raised $14 million,… [CNET]