A better Computer Mouse

From News.com:

Popularized by Norway’s Opera Software, the “mouse gesture” is slowly winning converts among software developers who hope to simplify repetitive tasks in computer applications.

The idea is to allow people to execute commands with a simple flick of the wrist, rather than navigate through complicated point-and-click toolbars and drop-down menus. In Opera’s Web browser, for example, a person who wants to return to a previous page can simply hold down a button and slide the mouse to the left, rather than moving the cursor to the top of the screen and hitting the “back” button.

Something for us to note: “Programmers associated with the Mozilla open-source team plan to release an upgrade Thursday to a mouse-gestures project known as Optimoz. The effort is one of several to expand the reach of a kinetic, rather than a graphical, user interface (UI) in the browser and beyond. At least one developer is seeking to add gesture functions in popular Windows applications.”

RFIDs in Supply-Chain Management

Writes Information Week:

When applied to pallets, cases, or even individual items, RFID tags can give suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers unprecedented control over inventory, shipping, and other logistics. The real-time data generated by the tags as products move along a route could help businesses make faster decisions, increasing efficiency and productivity in many areas, including how invoices and payments are handled. For instance, when a loaded pallet enters a retailer’s warehouse, the RFID tag’s signal could trigger an electronic payment to the shipper, rendering invoices obsolete, says Simon Ellis, supply-chain futurist at Unilever.

The concept has been around for decades, but its application has been held back in part by the expense of the tags, which ranges from just under $1 to $20. Now the potential cost has dropped to about a nickel, as sponsors of the commercially funded Auto-ID Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have figured out ways to produce cheap chips in quantity based on developing standards. “You need volume,” says Kevin Ashton, executive director of the Auto-ID Center. “If you produce them in the billions, it’ll cost as little as 5 cents.”

RFIDs are going to play a key part in helping build out the feedback-driven real-time universe, as envisioned by Malone.

Linux ready for Prime Time?

Writes Upside:

The key battleground might be in server configuration and management. And unlike the desktop space, where only one huge corporation, Microsoft, has been dictating terms and pricing, there now seems to be real competition going on between Microsoft, Sun, and the various entities pushing Linux and Unix. Spelling out the state of affairs further, Donald Rosenberg, author of Open Source: The Unauthorized White Papers, says, “Open source turns the proprietary high-margin software game into a lower-margin service game.”

Solazzo [of IBM] says the biggest moves in the near future will be in “virtual servers,” where workloads are consolidated on one networked server, and in “server clustering,” where companies can get the “supercomputer feel of distributed workloads.

The last paragraph quotes Donald Rosenberg: “Very high-level people at Microsoft see the big picture and are horrified. Open source is the end of the software business as we know it. Very simply put, it will enable the majority of software that is written to emerge from its hiding place within corporate IT departments and be traded and jointly worked on because of the mutual advantage.”

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Feedback Universe

From Forbes ASAP comes an article by Michael Malone on the next big thing – Feedback:

When we speak of feedback, we don’t mean strictly the squeal from a microphone placed too close to a speaker, or customer comments to a corporate service center. Rather, the term is shorthand for “feedback loop,” which is a closed system by which the consequences of an event send back data that in turn modify that event in the future. For example, hunger followed by eating to assuage that hunger, is a simple feedback loop we all experience.

Only a few people have experienced the power of fast feedback loops. Most are either early riders of the Segway scooter or Formula One race car drivers. But they are the vanguard of millions.

Already, an estimated 100 companies, from Microsoft and IBM to tiny startups, are pursuing a vision of high-speed information feedback systems among the departments of corporations, their employees, suppliers, distributors, and end users. This vision, called real-time enterprise computing, offers the potential for companies to instantly identify changes in orders and then quickly respond.

But the corporation isn’t the only sector of modern life about to be transformed by the use of feedback loops. Automobiles already have demonstrated feedback technology’s effects in engine computers and automatic transmission settings; now computer-controlled feedback is moving into the drive train, suspension, passenger compartment environment and collision avoidance.

Any regular user of Amazon.com knows about fast feedback loops. They can be found in those ever-changing lists of “Other Items You Might Enjoy.” Every Amazon purchase you make teaches that algorithm a little more about you. Other companies, such as credit card firms, supermarkets, and department stores are following suit, tracking your every purchase to build a profile of your buying habits.

Mix that information in a vast shared database with mountains of data coming in about you from millions of sensors scattered across the landscape in roads, cash registers, and video cameras, and it soon will be possible to construct a virtual image of you–your tastes, interests, patterns, and perhaps even dreams–that will be almost indistinguishable from the real thing. This will be the face of retail–and probably law, education, health care, and entertainment–in the 21st century.

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Real-time Business

Writes Information Week:

The challenge is to build a real-time IT infrastructure that supports something far more ambitious: a real-time business. Imagine a company that can offer targeted incentives the moment a customer calls, track products in real time as they move from warehouse to store shelves, almost immediately close its books at the end of the quarter, and give senior executives up-to-the-minute reports on key operational data.

Real-time business requires synchronizing business processes with computers that manage and distribute data as events occur — and a fast-acting corporate culture to make it all work.

The challenge for Emergic is to help SMEs in emerging markets to leapfrog and become real-time businesses.

TECH TALK: The Years That Were: 1999

From a survey in the Economist (June 24, 1999), written by Matthew Symonds:

In five years time, says Andy Grove, the chairman of Intel, all companies will be Internet companies, or they wont be companies at all. Just another example of the arrogance and exaggeration the information-technology industry is notorious for? Yes, in the sense that Mr Grove is as keen as the next chip maker to scare customers into buying his products. No, in the sense that, allowing for a little artistic licence, he is probably right.

The Internet is said to be both over-hyped and undervalued. Ask any signed-up member of the digirati, and you will be told that the Internet is the most transforming invention in human history. It has the capacity to change everythingthe way we work, the way we learn and play, even, maybe, the way we sleep or have sex. What is more, it is doing so at far greater speed than the other great disruptive technologies of the 20th century, such as electricity, the telephone and the car.

Yet, nearly five years since the Internet developed mass-market potential with the invention of a simple-to-use browser for surfing the World Wide Web, it is easy to overstate its effect on the daily lives of ordinary people. Even in the United States, the most wired country in the world, most people still lack, or choose not to have, Internet access. And even for most of those who have access both at home and in the office, the Internet has proved more of an addition to their livessometimes useful, sometimes entertaining, often frustratingthan a genuine transformation.

Wrote Newsweek in a cover story (October 11, 1999): Were at the beginning of a new way of working, playing and communicating. At Newsweek, were calling this phenomenon e-life, and its just in time. Because the day is fast approaching when no one will describe the digital Net-based, computer-connected gestalt with such a transitionary term. Well just call it life.

Business Weeks special report on 21 Ideas for the 21st Century (August 30,1999) had the Internet as one of its Ideas. Neil Gross wrote:

In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations. This skin is already being stitched together. It consists of millions of embedded electronic measuring devices, thermostats, pressure gauges, pollution detectors, cameras, microphones, glucose sensors, EKGs, electroencephalographs. These will probe and monitor cities and endangered species, the atmosphere, our ships, highways and fleets of trucks, our conversations, our bodies even our dreams.

Ten years from now, there will be trillions of such telemetric systems, each with a microprocessor brain and radio. Consultant Ernst & Young predicts that by 2010, there will be 10,000 telemetric devices for every human being on the planet. Theyll be in constant contact with one anotherMachines will prefer to talk at gigabit speeds and higher – -so fast that humans will catch only scattered snippets of the discussion.

Tomorrow: History Lessons

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