Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How Technology Could Save Soccer

This summer's World Cup tournament in South Africa looks like it could be on track to becoming one of the biggest sporting events ever. By turns it's been spectacularly entertaining, nail-bitingly dramatic, and capable of moving one quite suddenly and unexpectedly to tears. It's also been marred by the controversy of some blatantly bad calls.

Before their disappointing exit, the US team had two perfectly good goals disallowed in two different games. While neither of these goals would have kept the US in the tournament if they had stood, they would have given the US a more comfortable passage to the second round and caused fewer gray hairs to emerge on the heads of their fans and supporters.

England had what could have been a pivotal goal not counted in the loss to Germany that saw them exit the tournament. Argentina, meanwhile, scored a goal against Mexico that should not have counted, in the match that saw Mexico's tournament come to an end.

France, whose showing in the tournament was so disastrous the French President called a meeting with members of the team, gained entry to the tournament through a bad call that involved a blatant handling of the ball.

The problem that international soccer is facing is that 10 million people may see something, plain as day on their televisions, but if one referee misses it, a bad call can be allowed to stand. But thankfully there is a solution.


Goal line technology exists that could minimize the occurrence of bad calls like these in future matches. However FIFA, the body that governs international soccer, has been stubbornly against such technology for years.

In practically every other area of culture and society, technological advances are regarded as just that, advances. In technology! Where I come from, that's a good thing. However for one reason or another FIFA has maintained that human error is somehow integral to how the game is played.

It's hard to imagine such unabashed pigheadedness towards technological advances being tolerated in any other quarter. Can you imagine if doctors or aircraft controllers refused to adopt technology that would improve the accuracy of what they did on such basis? It would never happen.

Okay, you say, but soccer isn't like surgery or landing a plane. Isn't it? You think soccer is not a matter of life and death? What about the referee from the England vs. Germany game who is currently under police protection? Or the Colombian player who was killed for missing a free kick after the 1994 World Cup?

Soccer teams train for years to compete in the World Cup. Many of them carry the hopes and dreams of entire nations on their shoulders. To see the course of events be affected by human errors that can be so easily corrected with technology seems patently absurd.

Soccer is a sport. It will always be about skill, grace, speed, strength and athleticism. However if technology can be used to compliment the human element of the game and protect the interests of fair play, why not use it?

Isn't that what technology is for in the first place? To improve the lives of people?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cisco's Business Like Approach to Tablet Computers

On Tuesday Cisco unveiled plans for a new tablet computer designed for business users. The device known as the Cisco Cius (rhymes with Priuss) is mean to be a more business-like alternative to the Apple iPad.

The Cius offers many of the same features as the iPad such as email, instant messaging and wireless Internet capability. It also will provide users with the ability to produce, edit and share content locally or on the Internet.

Not only that but unlike the iPad the Cius is equipped with a camera, in fact, two of them. And it's a pound and a half lighter than the iPad.

Like the "Streak" tablet computer that was unveiled by Dell last month, the Cius is powered by Google's Android.

Tablet computers, it would seem, are fast becoming to computer companies what hybrids are to car companies. They may not be the product to build your business on but not having one on the market is something a company does at its own risk.

And while it would be tempting to compare the Cius with the Priuss because of the satisfyingly lyrical rhyme, that comparison doesn't seem entirely accurate.

The iPad must undoubtedly be regarded as the Priuss of the notebook computer world. They are after all, both widely popular, slightly quirky in design and oh-so-user-friendly. Their television and print ad campaigns would also seem to be completely interchangeable.

The Cius isn't slated to be put on the market until early next year. So while it may be too early to tell what market share it will occupy, at first glance it sounds more like the Honda Insight than the Priuss. Practical, functional, business-like and most likely forever to be in the shadow of its more popular competitor.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Adding Lanes on the Information Super-Highway

The Obama administration announced on Monday that it would be freeing up some 500 megahertz of radio spectrum for broadband over the next ten years. Much of that bandwidth will likely be auctioned off to the wireless industry. As of this writing the wireless industry occupies around 500 megahertz of bandwidth and it has yet to tap out on its' usage.

The announcement was part of a larger initiative that was unveiled by the administration in March that intends to bring high-speed Internet access to all Americans. Wi-Fi is considered to be particularly crucial to bringing broadband into rural areas where it is less cost-effective to build landline networks.

Rather like a freeway expansion plan that is drafted to accommodate projected traffic growth, this plan has been created in part as an effort to head off a serious spectrum shortage. And just as it is with real traffic, virtual traffic is getting particularly congested in dense, urban areas.

Between desktop computers, iPhones, iPads, and laptops, users are currently jamming up a large segment of the bandwidth that's available in urban centers. With people checking sports scores on their iPad, twittering on their phones and everyone's computer online practically around the clock, the information super-highway begins to resemble the 101/405 interchange on Friday afternoon (that is an L.A. reference, for you non-Angelenos out there).

The administration's plan to increase the bandwidth would in theory take high-speed Internet to some new areas and open up the traffic flow in areas it is already present in. Of course bandwidth doesn't come for free.

The administration is attempting to persuade television and radio broadcasters to hand over bandwidth they are not using which would then be auctioned off. The broadcasters would then be given a share of the proceeds from the auction.

Other shares of bandwidth are expected to come from within the government from agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Interestingly, the government's plan to expand high-speed Internet around the nation could have other surprising benefits. The government currently intends to use the proceeds from the auction to fund infrastructure projects such as a high-speed rail system.

Whether or not, or how well it will all pan out, of course, remains to be seen. Still, the notion of some expanded channels for information to flow on is hopeful. That that information may flow to places it as of yet doesn't is also hopeful. And the idea that the Internet could give something back as far as expanding real world infrastructure is positively brilliant.

Now if they could figure out a solution for that 405/101 interchange, we'd really be making progress.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Digital Red Light District

On Friday ICANN, the California-based nonprofit agency that controls domain names announced that it will consider adding .xxx to the list of available suffixes a company can choose when setting up an online domain.

The ideas of the .xxx has been bandied about for some time now. Pornographers were among the first ones over the top when it came to online content. Porn's proliferation on the web is widespread and deeply entrenched. Having porn sites demarcated by the .xxx suffix, as opposed to .com, would make it much easier to filter them out. This is obviously good news for parents who wish to prevent their children from viewing such content.

This decision comes as a victory for ICM Registry LLC, a company that has applied and been rejected three times since 2000 for the rights to register and manage the .xxx domain.

However not everyone is crazy about the idea. Christian groups have long opposed and previously blocked attempts to establish a XXX domain name, fearing it would offer too much legitimacy to porn. Even members of the $13 billion dollar a year porn industry itself aren't exactly crazy about being shepherded together into a kind of digital red light district.

Steve Hirsch, founder of the Vivid Entertainment Group called the domain name, "a slippery slope for the legal adult business. "

But someone must like the idea. At least according to ICM's chief executive, Stuart Lawley, who claims that there are already 112,000 reservations for .xxx domain names. Lawley goes as far as to call the .xxx domain name a "quality assurance label."

It should be noted that ICANN have not exactly approved the .xxx domain name as of yet. Friday's decision means they are have merely not rejected ICM's latest application and may be giving it serious consideration.

So whether or not the digital red light district will ever emerge however remains to be seen as even if the domain were created, there's nothing that would force companies to abandon their .com addresses for .xxx ones.

Still, Computers As Humans thinks it's a good idea. Pornography will always be a presence on the Internet. Any step to potentially rein it in together into a kind of seedy ghetto district on the web is probably a good one. The .xxx domain name, were it to really catch on, would make it easy to identify porn sites. This would in turn make it easier of course for interested users to find them. However it would also make it easier for the rest of us to avoid them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Dawn of the Tech Oligarch

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! Well, a Russian is coming at least. In fact he's already here. Russian President Dmitry Medveded touched down in San Francisco last night where he was greeted by California first lady Maria Shriver and former Secretary of State, George Shultz.

In an effort to drag Russia's outmoded oil-based economy into the 21st Century Medveded is scheduled to meet with the likes of Apple's Steve Jobs, Cisco's John Chambers and Twitter chiefs Evan Williams and Biz Stone. While former Russian President and current Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin still pulls the strings, Medveded is apparently tech-savvy and has plans for a kind of post-Soviet Sillicon Valley to be located just outside of Moscow. A place where companies and innovators would be lured with tax breaks and "special rules."

The Russian Silicon Valley, were it to emerge, would have interesting implications. In the Russian Silicon Valley, I imagine that things would be more straightforward. Our Silicon Valley likes to put forth the idea that in technology, anything is possible. In the Russian Silicon Valley, anything is possible. . . for a price my friend.

Perhaps a Russian Silicon Valley means that the oil oligarch would give way to the tech oligarch. What would Russian tech oligarchs be like? Russians, after all, tend to take to new money like starving men to the buffet at Sizzler.

I for one can imagine them sitting in opulent, marble columned office spaces flanked by Ukrainian supermodels. On their grandiose white marbles desks, would sit gilded gold plated, diamond encrusted desktop monitors complete with velvet covered keyboard and mouse. Outside in the waiting room, would sit another Ukrainian supermodel, dressed immaculately, looking bored as she filed her nails.

"You hef appointment?" she would say. "You sit, you wait."

Imagine the trade shows and conventions the Russian tech industry would put on. Envision rows of booths manned by bored Ukrainian models hawking the hi-tech wares of Georgian super-geeks now decked out in Armani suits pushing Dolce & Gabbana glasses back up their noses.


Of course right now it's only talk. With a 2.2 out of 10 score, Russia currently falls just behind Nigeria in it's business confidence score. In fact Russian born Google founder, Sergey Brin, has called Russia, "Nigeria with snow." Surely for any kind of tech industry, real or imagined, to flourish there Russia must first focus on dealing with corruption and better protecting intellectual property rights. Certainly they must do this if they really hope to join the World Trade Organization.

While it is intriguing, for now, Computers As Humans would just like wish Mr. Medveded luck on his visit to Sillicon Valley. Who knows? Maybe, if he's really lucky, during his visit with Steve Jobs, he'll be given an inside track on how to score one of the new iPhones.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The iPhone 4 and Internet Overload

As reported in the previous installment of Computers As Humans, the good people at Twitter have been busy reconfiguring servers in order to handle increased traffic flow they have predicted as a result of the World Cup. In an effort to stave off appearances by the "fail whale," Twitter techs have reassigned bandwidth and pumped up server capacity in general.

Well apparently things aren't much better over at Apple or AT&T. With orders for the new iPhone 4 coming in faster than shots from German strikers, apparently both sites are feeling a bit like the Australian goalkeeper. Or might that be the English goalkeeper?

According to Reuters, Apple took more than 600,000 pre-orders for the new iPhone 4 in one day alone. Reportedly, Apple are selling so many iPhone 4s that both the Apple and the AT&T websites are buckling under the pressure.

The high volume of orders has caused online customers to be effectively turned away at the door as order and approval system malfunctions have cause both sites to bog down. The Apple site was down completely for a while on Tuesday while the AT&T site offered only an error message to those seeking to upgrade their existing phone for one of the latest slimline iPhones that retail for $199.

Another report stated that people who attempted the AT&T upgrade may have seen the personal information of other subscribers while trying to log into their accounts.

Now, not that I'm counting mind you, but I've seen that little "fail whale," about three times since the month long World Cup tournament began. So while they may not be doing the best job, at least those diligent Twitter techs have been making an effort. One has to wonder of Apple and AT&T, did they not see this coming?

After all it's not as if runaway orders for a new Apple product are completely out of the blue, like North Korea's goal against Brazil, or Switzerland beating Spain. In April of this year the Apple iPad was quite simply the fastest selling iTem on Earth, full stop. It outsold cars, World Cup tickets and even Justin Bieber.

How Apple could not have been prepared for this is perhaps one of the great mysteries of the summer. Like how the French coach still has his job or why Italy always manages to play so poorly but still win World Cups. Apple, like the British goalkeeper against the USA, should have done better.

One person who apparently won't be needing a new iPhone 4 is Kim Jong Hun, coach of the North Korean World Cup squad. Hun apparently told reporters he receives coaching instructions during the games from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Hun said the North Korean leader transmits his instructions telepathically simply by facing towards South Africa. It would appear that Kim Jong Il knows a thing or two about football tactics, because the North Koreans performed far better than anyone expected them to against Brazil.

Perhaps Kim Jong Il would have been successful if he had telepathically pre-ordered his iPhone 4 yesterday, by turning towards Sunnyvale? Who knows, maybe he did.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Traffic Jams on the Information Super Highway?

Popular social networking site, Twitter, warned of potential outages that may occur due to predicted heavy usage traffic during the month long World Cup Finals. Apparently Twitter, which has experienced a series of outages in the past week or so, will be doubling it's capacity and re-balancing traffic on it's network to mitigate any potential soccer-related outages.

Twitter users are already likely familiar with the "fail whale," which is kind of cartoon whale picture that appears on the site during failures related to heavy usage. Jean-Paul Cozzatti, an engineer at Twitter,and his team are working to attempt to minimize the number of appearances the creature makes during this summer's tournament. However as Cozzatti himself told Yahoo news Friday, "You may still see the whale when there are unprecedented spikes in traffic."

The number of different medias and manners in which people will follow the World Cup this summer have increased dramatically from even the last tournament which was held four years ago. Social networking sites Twitter, Gather and Facebook are getting in on the act. Yahoo has even signed on David Beckham as part of it's coverage of the event (Becks, was hoping to play for the English team this summer however he was ruled out because of an injury).

People will be watching games on their laptops, their desktops, their iPhones, their iPads and maybe even in some cases, on their televisions. With all those millions and millions of people watching matches and tweeting and texting their reactions and commentary back and forth while they do so, the month long tournament certainly looks set to occupy a significant portion of the available bandwidth in the entire telecommunications industry.

American sports network ESPN, is giving the tournament pole position on several of it's stations as well as on the Web. The fact that the USA managed a draw with England and may yet do well this time around has served to draw even more increased attention to the event. With all this World Cup related traffic set to go out over the airwaves one can only wonder if Twitter won't be the thing that experiences "outages," in the coming weeks.

The World Cup has long been one of the single most massive collective global events. Soccer's growing stature in America, along with the way digital technology and the Internet have globalized the world, could possibly make this summer's Cup the biggest sporting event in history.

If Twitter has experienced outages during the week leading up to the kickoff, one can only wonder what will happen during the final. Four years ago in Germany, the final between France and Italy was viewed by approximately 284 million people. This year, with Twitter, Facebook, iPads, ESPN online and all the rest of it, the viewership could easily increase by 100 million or more.

So be warned, the traffic forecast for the information super highway this summer looks to be busy, busy, busy as computers, televisions, telephones, iPods and iPads are all going to be buzzing like a stadium full of plastic vuvuzela horns.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Google Keeps it Simple

Google reverted their home page back to it's traditional spartan white back drop yesterday after users complained about colorful photos the search engine had adopted as a promotional gimmick. Google had apparently introduced the imagery to promote a new feature that allows users to personalize their search page with their own pictures. Or, perhaps to compete with Microsoft's Bing seach engine which likes to feature a different photo everyday.

Google users however weren't having it and complained in droves prompting the powers that be to bring back the plain white backdrop which apparently users have grown attached to.

There is something to be said after all, about keeping it simple. Sure a splash of color and a pretty picture can be nice. However when you see something every day sometimes you just want it to be easy on the eyes and uncomplicated.

This is why most of us drive cars that are grey, black, silver or blue and not art cars. You know what I'm talking about? Those crazy, wacky cars that are painted all kinds of different colors and have Lego pieces glued to them? Yes, those. Ha, ha, funny at first but then decidedly less so with each passing glance until the site of the thing becomes downright annoying.

Or remember the colorful iMacs that Apple launched back in the late '90s with Jeff Goldblum doing the voiceover in the commercials? If you're under the age of 25, you quite possibly don't. It's because no one really wants orange, red or blue computers either.

The fact is that most of stare at our computers and computer screens all day. When it gets right down to it, there's something comforting and settling about having a nice grey, silver or white laptop. Just as there is about Google having a white backdrop.

With web content flashing advertisements at us and even Yahoo selling space in our emails to Diet Coke, it's unsurprising that Google users cried shenanigans on pictures of sunsets, aritificial frogs or whatever else it is they pasted up there today.

Call me old school, but I like my car blue, my laptop grey and my search engine homepage pure and white as the driven snow.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The World Cup for Computers

The biggest sporting event in the world, the FIFA World Cup, is just a few days away. Coaches from around the world are putting their teams through the paces in last minute friendly matches that are meant to serve as final dress rehearsals for the impending big event.

Sadly, many of the finest players in the game of football (soccer if you must) are getting injured in these last minute warm-up games. As a consequence quite a few of them will now be missing the tournament entirely.

Ironically in trying to fine tune and maximize their players performance as a team, coaches everywhere have inadvertently wound up depriving themselves of the very players that are considered key to their teams chances of success. From a computer point of view it could perhaps be seen as having your CPU burn out while you are attempting to perform a system optimization.

Unfortunately for sports fans, and in particular the people of Portugal, England and the Ivory Coast, international football players take longer to heal than even burned out hard drives. For while a computer on the fritz might mean a trip to the repair shop or a visit from the Geek Squad, top scoring strikers and key central defenders are not so easy to mend.

But what can you do? After all, whether it's our 3G laptops or our national World Cup team, we all want optimal performance don't we? Dialing in your computer's performance is important. However it's not without it's risks either.

Sure computers aren't susceptible to torn hamstrings, broken arms, or bruised collarbones. But downloading system upgrades is one of the most common ways to encounter bugs and glitches. And while such bugs and glitches don't usually take 4 to 6 weeks to heal, they can and will take your computer out of the game for a while.

So is there a lesson to be learned in this? I'm not sure. If there is it's that maybe like our nation's World Cup team, we all want to make sure our computers are performing at their best possible level. And no matter how smart you train, to be the best, sometimes maybe you just have to take the risk.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Opening the Digital Window

Bangladesh lifted it's ban on Facebook this weekend. The ban had been ordered after Facebook had featured links to an online competition to draw the prophet Mohammad. According to Islamic law, all representations of the Prophet are blasphemous.

However Bangladeshi lawmakers rescinded the ban over the weekend after Facebook removed the objectionable images.

In the meantime a California woman whose children had been missing for fifteen years used the social networking site to track them down in Florida. The children, aged two and three at the time, had been abducted by their father back in 1995.

The mother was able to locate the kids by searching her daughters name on Facebook and then contacting her through her profile.

These incidents perhaps demonstrate the two sides of the coin when it comes to Facebook and it's much criticized privacy practices. If computers are the houses we dwell in digitally, then social networking sites like Facebook can be considered the windows. Our privacy settings then, are sort of like the blinds or the curtains. Just how far we choose to leave them open is largely up to us.

Computers and the Internet have globalized the world as never before. The openness and free-flowing nature of the Web has created an environment where a woman who might never have seen or heard of her children twenty years ago, can now find out just about everything about them.

But let us not forget that in 2005 a Danish cartoonist's caricature of the prophet Mohammad ignited international outrage and cries for Jihad. The nature of the Internet, and user-generated content sites like Facebook, mean such events are likely to occur again and again.

With Facebook under fire in recent weeks and the public backlash against it growing, the incident with the missing children being found in Florida perhaps reminds us what's so great about computers, the Web and social networking in the first place.

Computers have shrunk the world. Obviously there are many advantages to this. However when one travels as quickly down the information superhighway as we all have in the last fifteen years, there are bound to be some speed bumps.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Talking to Computers

Welcome to another installment of Computers As Humans, the tech blog that's plugged in and switched on.

At the Google I/O conference in San Francisco last week, web giants Google announced plans to introduce voice technology into their browser application, Google Chrome. Apparently the company is busy developing voice recognition and text-to-speech capabilities to be used on both mobile and desktop browsers alike.

As Ian Fette, product manager for Google Chrome put it, "There's voice recognition and there's text-to-speech so we figured, why not build that into our browsers." Fette, and the other good people at Google, are optimistic that by introducing such technology they can bring about a new industry standard.

The idea of being able to verbally tell your web browser where to go certainly sounds intriguing. Granted, many of us already do tell our web browsers just where they can go, particularly on days when they are running sluggishly. But apparently with Google's proposed new technology, your browser will actually be listening to you this time.

Fette for one, seems convinced that there will be a public demand for this sort of technology. "People want to speak their input for certain types of queries," he said.

Just what type of queries those are remains to be seen of course. Still, considering how much time we already spend on our computers, it's perhaps surprising we don't talk to them already. But if Fette is proven right, and voice input commands become standard on all browsers, we will certainly be increasing the amount of random chatter we hear on a day-to-day basis.

People are already walking down the street talking into headsets and earpieces. Imagine how it will be if everyone sitting at the cafes' working starts telling their computers what site they want to go to? Will computers start talking back? If so, what kind of voices will they have?

Maybe there will be apps that will allow you to choose your computer's voice. Kind of like the GPS app you can buy that makes Snoop Dogg the voice of your GPS? Whose would you choose if you could give your computer anyone's voice? I think if I could give my computer a voice, I'd give it Michael Caine's. Because if the future means we're all going to be sitting at our desks having conversations with inanimate objects, I at least want mine to sound charming.