Saturday, January 12, 2008

TranCESformer... part of CES.

....I'll do my real wrap-up next week...the Rocket is still in flight...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Wow. "Ho fatto un errore" so early into '08??

Ok - half way through the complex tech love-hate relationship that is "CES," just barely into week #2 of the new year, freshly back from vacation...and two of my Nostradamus-esque "predictions" for 2008 are checked off my list, one completely correct, the so much. So I'm batting 0.500 so far... not too bad, I'll take it.

  • "Massive adoption of non-DRM'ed digital music from the recording industry."
    With the bizarre-I-really-didn't-think-this-would-happen-in-my-lifetime announcement from Sony BMG that they plan on joining the human race and dropping DRM from their digital catalog. Their entire catalog. Yipes.

    So, that announcement, following on the heels of Warner Music's similar announcement in December, and the same announcement from Vivendi and EMI in the late fall, all four major labels have made the strange decision to stop pissing off their consumer base. Go figure.

    The effect this is going to have on the proprietary stranglehold iTunes has on the download industry, combined with Warner throwing its weight behind Amazon's download service is going to be anyone's guess... but at least, now, we can all guess. Thanks Mr. Sony! I feel good about buying your stuff again...

  • "Porn and Wal-Mart don't matter!" (the HD-DVD/BluRay cluster-eff)
    Ok, I predicted here that the Great Video Format War XIX would continue throughout 2008, to the detriment of the market who would represent their confusion over the formats as apathy for the players.

    However, Warner - fresh from their recent slap down of DRM with their music group, has decided to keep stealing headlines by reversing its decision to support HD-DVD and move their entire catalog to the Blu-Ray format. This isn't just another production company, this is Warner, who owns the lion's share of all digital video content. Although Paramount and others haven't thrown in the towel yet, they may as well - because they are going to be wasting a lot of money on those HD-DVD burning facilities. Player manufacturers are now going to think twice about making players for less than 40% of the market space, and the Guys in Blue at Best Buy are gonna have a real hard time coming up with sales floor double-speak when a customer asks "Which should I buy?"

    On a related story, the HD-DVD cooperative booth here at CES was a little, uh, gloomy this week.
So, there. Mea Culpa.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Quick CES Field Report...Thin is In

Ok, never blogged from a mobile phone before, so be patient.

There's a lot of themes running through the CES floor this year, but one of them is clearly "thin is in." It seems everyone and their mother is trying to get a "waffer thin" HD screen out to market successfully to try and beat Sony's OLED to the punch.

A lot of these screens are impressive - but none came close to the thinness, brightness, color and just plain "cool factor" of the Sony OLED. Oh sure, its only 11" diagonal and obscenely expensive, but Sony also had their prototype 40" model on display...and that was tasty.

In no particular order (primarily cuz I can't figure out how to order pictures on this blog from a flippin' cell phone), here's some of the more noteworthy contenders: The Hitachi "1.5" series, the Sharp 20mm prototype, and the Sony OLEDs...

Saturday, January 5, 2008

What Time Is It? Why, It's Perpetual Motion Time Again!

Ok, let's all look at the video below:

Got that? Ok, great.

Brief primer: Perpetual motion refers to a system that, once placed in motion, generates its own energy to sustain the motion indefinitely.

Briefer primer: it's pseudo-science.

Every 20 years or so - for, like, the last 4000 years - some joker pops up with an "invention" or paper that professes to maintain a system in motion without outside influence. (For the past few hundred years, it almost always involves magnets...excuse me..."loadstones") Some of these people even try and pull one off on the US Patent Office. Ironically, several of the inventors seem to believe their own a-think-I-went-to-high-school-but-I'm-not-certain theories.

The Perpetual Motion Lunatic Fringe (or, the PMLF) like to point out that a system that generates enough energy to maintain its own motion doesn't violate Newton's First Law of Motion: basically that any nudged into motion will stay in motion until acted upon by another force. Well, you know what? They're right. Perpetual motion doesn't violate Newton's 1st law. Sadly for the PMLF, though, there are more laws to physics than Mr. Newton could conceive of under his apple tree, and perpetual motion violates most of them...the most egregious abuse being against the Conservation of Energy, which states that even though the total amount of energy in a closed system cannot be added to or subtracted from, it is completely free to change forms.

As a matter of fact, it changes forms all the time... actually, constantly. Take our weird little magnet video above - which is getting a disturbing amount of Diggs, by the way. The magnets seem to be doing a good job of maintaining that spin, aren't they? Sure, but give it time, and it will stop. Everything that system is doing is transferring energy around - the spin around the axis causes friction which translates the spin into heat, the magnets themselves are transferring electromagnetic energy into rotational velocity, the whizzing sound you hear is noise energy created by the disc frictioning with the surrounding air, etc. (Uh, and the whole "speeding up" thing - implying that this system is actually generating more energy than it is consuming? I'm betting on a motor powered by an energizer battery...but I digress.)

This is true for every contained system - including the good ol' universe. It's a closed system too - all those stars? All that gravitational energy? The Big Bang? Surely we are in a giant PM machine, aren't we? Nope. Sorry. Depending on which theory you subscribe, the universe is either slowing down to collapse in upon itself (my personal fav), or expanding forever. In either case, entropy (which is the measure of the unavailability of the amount of work a system can do) is increasing. Entropy is, basically, a measure of the decay of energy available to do work -- the energy is there, but it migrates to a form that is, for all intents and purposes, useless. Entropy is king. Everything decays. Including the grand ol' universe...and, especially, that stupid magnet-on-a-pinwheel thing above.

So, moral of the story:

  • Diggers: just stop giving that guy any cred, please.
  • VC community: Don't put your cash into a PM machine, no matter how whizzy the Power Point presentation is...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Pop Goes the Nano-weasel

Ever wonder what happens when explosions occur at the tiniest fraction of a micron? Me too - apparently, it looks like a teeny-tiny nuclear fireball.

Check out what happens when you overload a CoFeB magnetic array, as Fanny Beron from the École Polytechnique de Montréal attempted. This micrograph won first prize at last year's "Science as Art" competition.

If you question why, you need your head examined. (Although the itty-bitty dice are way effing cool as well.) Ah. Fun with science again - thank you, Ghost of Mister Wizard!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year, New Tech - Happy 2008 Everyone

It's a new year, and it promises to be even a faster path of acceleration for the Rocket than 2007. We're already looking at wafer thin OLED technology from Sony, rumors of touch screen Apple laptop/tablet computers, mesh networks of XBox360's and - of course - a bazillion new cell phones.

Here's the Rocket predictions for '08 - let's see how they hold through the year - in no particular order:

  • The end of the RIAA Reign of Terror.
    They jumped the shark a while back, of course, but the final straw probably came a few weeks ago in December when the RIAA went after a private citizen for ripping his own, legally purchased CDs to his hard disk without any intent or means to share the resulting files. Combined with weird crap like writing its own new stories for local TV stations, the RIAA has probably finally garnered the illusive "what the fuck?" factor from Congress.

    ...which leads us to...

  • Massive adoption of non-DRM'ed digital music from the recording industry.
    OK, this one has a huge "Duh!" factor on it, but I'm throwing it in here to get an easy prediction in. With iTunes, Zune Marketplace, Amazon MP3, Yahoo, and eMusic all moving their inventory as quick as possible to high quality, non-DRM crippled MP3 files - plus the number of music groups (yay, RadioHead) eschewing record labels in search of new business models - the message is clear: crippling the use of your product for your own consumer base is a really shitty business model.

  • The age of digital books begins in ernest.
    OK, maybe two easy predictions. Yeah, it's ugly. Yeah, its got production problems. Yeah, its nowhere near as slick as the Sony eReader. Amazon, however, is absolutely on to something with the Kindle. Having a digital book that gets its contact magically from the ether is the missing link. Amazon is big enough to convince more and more publishers (and, independent authors) to leave the paper on the trees and provide its content directly to the consumer, whenever they want it. Reading long format, non-web based content is suddenly hip again.

  • Fold-up, roll-up displays.
    They've been predicted since 2001: A Space Oddysey came out in 1968, but with the advent of OLED tech in the past few years - culminating the sale of Sony's amazing (and amazingly tiny/expensive) paper-thin OLED TV, the dawn of truly portable computing may be arriving in 2008. Look for the first OLED screens to be mated with newer, larger solid-state drive technology. Sony is in the best position to put out these devices, lets see if they have enough cash and cache to get the job done.

  • GPS enabled, well, everything really.
    Cars, cameras, IM clients, laptops, wallets, dogs, briefcases, kids, watches, and condoms. Whether that is a good thing or not, I have my doubts. I was more than a little annoyed the other day when I realized Twibbler (a Symbian Twitter client) was accessing the GPS chip on my Nokia and broadcasting my exact position. Hmmm... not sure I want this kindofa world, but its coming regardless.

  • The mainstream emergence of "new media."
    Declining viewership for live network television will accelerate. The onslaught faced by the major networks from cable, time-shifting technologies, durect purchases from sources like iTunes and Amazon Unbox will be accelerated by lack of original content from the ongoing writer's strike. The end result is that more and more people will turn to video podcasts and user generated content as a source of entertainment. So - all you video podcasters out there with just a touch of production value better find a lawyer or two, because Hollywood is gonna go shoppin' for new property.

  • Verizon will pick up the 700Mhz spectrum.
    I cannot believe I am saying this - and I wouldn't be saying this if it wasn't for Verizon's sudden reversal of its "Walled Garden Uber Alles" mentality in December. Google will be putting out the greenbacks for the 700MHz spectrum as they announced, but Verizon will outbid in order to keep them from stepping into their world.

  • Porn and Wal-Mart don't matter!
    Well, ok...they matter...just, uh, not in the high-definition disk format wars. Despite the porn industry and Wal-Mart throwing their muscle into the HD-DVD camp in 2007, the outlook for the HD-DVD/BluRay war will remain murky through 2008 and well into 2009. The last time porn got involved in a format war, there was no internet as we know it - so, uh, connoisseurs didn't have the luxury of downloading stay-at-home-action, now they do. As for Wal-Mart, rumor mill says that now that BluRay player prices are dropping down to the levels of HD-DVD player prices, Wal-Mart may reverse its HD-DVD only stance. It's gonna be a long, cold stalemate.
CES is next week, and the Rocket will be there, of course. Getting a glimpse into the crystal ball for this year is a way to cheat on the Jan 1 predictions, but - eh - I'm not above that kind of fake prognostication. So, more "predicitions" next week.