Technology


There are many science fiction stories published each year with wild speculation, and usually few details. It’s not unusual, therefore, just by the law of averages, for sometimes the SF to be followed by theĀ  a discovery of (somewhat) matching science. An interesting piece on anti-agathic (delaying or removing the effects of ageing) work I saw today reminded me of a piece in a Heinlein novel. In “Methuselah’s Children” where a secret bunch of families with naturally bred longevity flee the Earth in an early spaceship because of the threat of a pogrom and/or being the subject of vivisection to discover the secret of their longevity. Returning to Earth after some interstellar adventures and with time dilation having kept them even younger than ever, they find that their existence spurred Earth to invest in anti-agathic research and discover a “blood cleaning” process which seriously reduces ageing. Not a novel idea, actually, as this Guardian article points out, the idea was proposed by Libavius in 1615. It’s looking like it might have potential, though. The work of Wyss-Coray on the effects of young mouse blood on old mouse brains (and vice versa) shows that transfusion of young blood into an old mouse causes a revival of neuron birth, while old blood in young mice retards such development.

There’s a horror story in here about, say, the Chinese communist party using both sides of this – harvesting young blood to keep their gerontcratic leaders healthy, while deliberately transfusing older blood into younger dissidents to dumb them down.

As that very good Guardian article mentions (it’s an in-depth and very well-written science piece, a rarity in modern journalism) though, it’s not just the idea of transfusions – we can hardly keep up with other demands for blood for transfusions in most societies. The idea that we could track the protein components of blood plasma as we age and filter out the ones which contribute to ageing and synthesise and add back the ones which promote health and youth, are interesting. Of course there’s also the idea that’s been used by a number of SF authors where by tinkering with ageing and encouraging bodily regeneration, we “use up” our body’s ability to regenerate and instead of gaining (near)immortality we die quicker (sometimes very quickly) though with amazing powers of regeneration in the (usually short) time. Again, this is perhaps a worry with these real science ideas.

Current Mood: Interested

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I signed up today for a conference in Spain. They are using PayPal for taking registration. I’m trying to avoid PayPal, but as the only alternative (bank transfer) is a real pain to do from Japan, I bite the bullet when the other party only offers PayPal as a sensible option. So, I was directed to a PayPal site to process the payment, having given them all the registration details they demanded (including them requiring a landline phone number! I just re-entered my mobile number, which they had already also required). The initial PayPal page was all in Spanish. There was no visible button for changing the language. An understandable (to me) bit asked for my country, so I selected Japan and the page renewed into English. Odd, but useful to me. So, I gave them my credit card details including the billing address and submitted them. The “review and confirm payment” page then came up in Japanese. These days I know enough Japanese to have been able to figure this one out.

So, PayPal displayed itself in three different languages during one transaction, with at no point that I could see a visible button to select a language I can definitely use, and with some apparently random selections of which language to display a particular page in. This is not good internationalisation.

Current Mood: (irritated) irritated
Current Music: Battlestar Galactica Season 4 Soundtrack

As part of my research I need to look into Amazon.com’s Kindle account offerings. Because of their setup with geographic rights restrictions it’s difficult to set up such an account without a US-registered credit card. Does anyone reading this have an Amazon.com Kindle account who is also available to help us get information about their practices? It’s nothing bad, it’s that we’ve been told Amazon.com provide a “Family Account” with features we’re recommending more service providers should give, but which aren’t available on Amazon.co.uk (and Amazon.co.jp’s account information is mostly in formal Japanese which is a bit beyond me).

Current Mood: Interested
Current Music: None

Despite their own advertising claims and hype, Apple did not invent the personal media player, the smartphone or the tablet computer. However, their second or third generation mass-market devices in these areas have clearly captured the market at a crucial time becoming the single largest provider of such devices and relgating their competitors to mostly fighting amongst themselves for second place. While Android devices outsell iPhones by more than 3:1 no single manufacturer was able to beat Apple for sales until Samsung pulled out of the Android pack in 2012. By this time, however, the name of the game was iSomething. Ask a teenager what type of mobile they have and they’ll often say an iPhone, even if it’s Android device. Similarly iPod and iPad have become the standard term for media players and tablets. With the release of the iPad mini, even mid-sized tablets no longer seem distinct from the fruity products.

This all seems good for the Cupertino mothership, with brand recognition supporting their product with much higher product margins than anyone else (Samsung sells more but makes less), while their tied-in software and content distribution system also buoys up their profits more than in the more open Android marketplaces.

But this is a double-edged sword as at least two companies have learned before: Kleenex and Hoover. They became so ubiquitous and their products so associated with the product class that they effectively lost much of their trademark protection due to genericisation. Google made a strong effort to prevent this, although both the OED and Miriam-Websters include the verb “to google” as a synonym for searching the Web, particularly but not solely with the Google search engine.

I am hearing a lot of usage of iPhone, iPod and iPad to refer to smartphones, media players and tablets, particularly at places like airports where we’re told to take our iPads out of bags and iPods/iPhones out of pockets for security screening, and on planes where we’re told to switch off our iPods/iPhones and iPads for take-off and landing, and only use our iPhones in airplane mode while in-flight.

While it may seem a boon to their current business model to be the poster-child of the current generation, becoming too generic can lose your edge in law and undermine your position in the market as the brand people will pay more for (which seems to be and remain the core of Apple’s approach [pun intended]).

Current Mood: Jetlagged
Current Music: Dune (2001) OST

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Fascinating article in the Atlantic magazine showing pictures from the only official photographer in the Manhattan Project’s secret city.

Current Mood: artistic
Current Music: Battlestar Galactica (2003) Miniseries Soundtrack

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One of my current research projects (DESVALDO, funded by the CIGREF Foundation) involves surveying people about their use of digital data. While our primary target is non-expert computer users, expert users are also welcome to take it. This is the survey.

Current Mood: (curious) curious
Current Music: None

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I’ve just submitted a paper to Computers and Society. The draft submission is available on OpenDepot.

Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished
Current Music: Torchwood Soundtrack

After visiting Japan in 2007 for the Worldcon (Nippon 2007) Charlie Stross wrote in his travelblog that Japan had “got our future, damn it!”. I’ve just moved into a new-build apartment in Tokyo and thought I’d share some initial impressions of up to date living conditions in Tokyo, some of which clearly represent Charlie’s impression, but some of which are not ideal or futuristic. (more…)

The Today programme (BBC Radio 4’s morning news/current affairs programme for the non-Brit amongst you) has a “Best of Today” podcast available on the BBC site. While I regularly lsiten to the whole programme for a lot of the other news/current affairs programmes from Radio 4, the Today programme being 3 hours long has quite a bit of repetition (most people listen to it for up to an hour rather than the whole thing). Anyway, I had a look to see if the “Best of” was better than picking up the iPlayer version and forwarding to 08:00 today and found that they’d obviously had use of the TARDIS while no one at BBC Wales was looking. The date as I write this is Monday 6th April. Look at the podcast page, then see the close-up. (more…)

Toshiba announced today that it will pull out of producing the HD-DVD format, which leaves the way pretty much clear for Sony’s Blu-Ray to become the standard high definition physical distribution medium. This is a much quicker solution than the earlier format war (VHS v Betamax).

Some claim that physical distribution is now dead, citing declining CD sales (particularly among the young). However, even peer to peer systems struggle to compete with the simplicity and reliability of DVDs for most. So far, at least, easy playback of downloaded TV/movie content on HD home display screens mean that Blu-Ray will probably be quite successful. Only when both bandwidth and ease of display catch up to distributing the 1Gb needed for your average TV episode in HD format, and then showing it in good quality on your home LCD or plasma TV, will physical shipping of TV and Movies become truly obsolete. Video on demand has been “coming but not yet here” for so long now I’m not holding my breath for DVDs following CDs in decline any time soon.

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