Handheld Challenges

Dan Gillmor writes about some of the ongoing research areas in handhelds (as an outcome of a recent conference he attended):

  • Keeping track of schedules is a primary task for many users of handhelds. A team of researchers from the University of Maryland and Microsoft have teamed up on “DateLens” — a calendar-on-steroids for the Pocket PC. The software gives an overview of a schedule but lets the user zoom in on events in intelligent ways, such as highlighting competing events.

  • Making the handheld screen larger in a virtual way has obvious practicality in many areas. Ka-Ping Yee, from the University of California-Berkeley, was showing his “peephole” display on a Palm device. Imagine that a handheld is a small window hovering over a larger screen. Move the handheld and you see other areas of the big screen.

  • The profusion of remote controls bedevils everyone with modern video and audio systems, and universal remotes have come into the market to address the problem. Taking that notion a step further is a team from Carnegie Mellon University and Maya Design, both located in Pittsburgh, which is experimenting with “personal universal controllers”.

  • Writing on the handheld is a slow process, typically accomplished character by character with a stylus or by using thumbs on a mini-keyboard. Shumin Zhai, from IBM’s Almaden research lab in San Jose, and Per-Ola Kristensson, from Linkping University in Sweden, have developed a way to write words via a few, linked strokes of a stylus.

  • Dan Gillmor’s Forthcoming Book

    Making the News will be about the “the intersection of technology and journalism. [The working title] reflects a central point of this project, namely that today’s (and tomorrow’s) communications tools are turning traditional notions of news and journalism in new directions. These tools give us the ability to take advantage, in the best sense of the word, of the fact that our collective knowledge and wisdom greatly exceeds any one persons grasp of almost any subject. We can, and must, use that reality to our mutual advantage.”

    Dan Gillmor is asking readers to send in their ideas for the book. This seems like a good thing to do. Maybe I should also put together my thoughts, and work on building up my [still imaginary] book online first.

    Pervasive Computing

    News.com writes:

    Pervasive computing is starting to find a place for itself, outside the consumer realm. Everyday industrial devices and objects–from office heating systems to warehouse pallets–are gaining intelligence through embedded networking chips that enable them to pass along all sorts of data. Different industries can take advantage of the idea in different ways, particularly once networks of devices are connected to corporate computing systems that handle functions such as maintenance or inventory.

    While the vision of a hypernetworked world with a trillion interconnected devices is still decades away, the infrastructure to support pervasive computing applications is taking root slowly in the most unglamorous of places: factories, loading docks, oil refineries and the like. Such industrial settings, as opposed to the consumer market, are creating opportunities for a wealth of technologies–including chips, remote sensors, wireless networking setups, operating systems and software applications–that will collect and interpret data remotely and instantaneously.

    Weblogs in Education

    David Carraher writes:

    Student weblogs could allow students to keep track of their thinking over time, to pose issues, to receive comments by others. Imagine a science student expressing how she initially understood heat and temperature, how a particular comment or finding caused her to rethink her ideas. She could link to web sites that were helpful to her, to points made by other students that clarified things. She could keep certain sections private, others open for public discussion, others to discussion by students only.

    Teacher weblogs could allow teachers to keep track of their own ideas over time. Certain sections could be open to students, others to teachers, some to both.

    Researchers would find a treasure trove of things to study in weblogs and online discussions. They wouldn’t have to physically enter classrooms and disrupt ongoing discussions. Researcher weblogs would let researchers document the evolution of their research over time and to share their thoughts with others.

    TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: TeleInfoCentre as a Business

    The Entrepreneur is the key in proliferating TeleInfoCentres. What an entrepreneur does is bring in the right zest and drive to keep up service levels and innovations. In fact, if we look at India and see the two grassroots technology revolutions in telecom and cable over the past two decades, they were both entrepreneur-driven.

    In the 1980s, Sam Pitrodas dream of making telephony accessible to the masses was realised by tens of thousands of individuals and small businesses who set up a PCO (public call office). India may have only 40-odd million phone lines for a population of 1 billion, but the nearly million PCOs that dot the landscape across the country have made telecom access to almost everyone across the country. (In fact, the TeleInfoCentre can be thought of as a computer PCO.)

    In the 1990s, another revolution at the grassroots brought cable television into millions of homes across the country. With satellite dishes to catch the signals from the air and wires strung from building to building and, the cable entrepreneurs revolutionized television entertainment and gave birth to Indias TV software industry and the dozens of channels that we now see.

    So, who will be the TeleInfoCentre Entrepreneur? Where will he raise the initial capital from? Where will he locate the centre? How will he grow it?

    The TeleInfoCentre Entrepreneur must be from the village. He (or She) could be a shopkeeper or a school teacher or one of the youngsters. It must be someone with some flair for the New. What is most important is that the Entrepreneur have an open mind because for the immediate future, he is the one who is opening up the village to the outside world. In Madhya Pradesh, for example, each village has a prerak or Info Leader, who has played a lead role in increasing literacy by educating the villagers. Such a person could be a good candidate for becoming the Entrepreneur.

    The initial capital of about Rs 90,000 for setting up the TeleInfoCentre will have to come from various institutions: local banks, microcredit institutions, panchayats or NGOs. This money is not a donation it is a loan to be repaid in a period of 3-4 years. As far as possible, the state government or the district administration should not be involved in the business of financing the TeleInfoCentre.

    The TeleInfoCentre should be located in a neutral zone, given the realities of Indias caste system that is still in existence in some form in many villages. A school is an ideal location because it is already seen as a bastion of knowledge, and is respected by one and all. One of the classrooms could be converted into a TeleInfoCentre. For the time that the school is in session, it becomes a computer education centre for the students. Before and after school hours, it offers services to the village residents.

    For any business, growth is essential. The Entrepreneur must see potential in the business that each successive month will be better than the previous one. For this, it is important to keep layering additional services at the TeleInfoCentre. This is going to be driven both by the Entrepreneurs own marketing skills and the nature of requirements that the villagers have.

    Tomorrow: TeleInfoCentre Differentiators

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