Exploring the impact of broadband and technology on our lives, our businesses, and our communities.

Apple unwires stereo

Apple once again proves it is far ahead of other computer manufacturers with its just announced Airport Express.

Apple, which really pioneered consumer and casual use of WiFi, contrary to the ads Intel runs, has created a new wireless gadget that is Swiss Army knife-like in the features it has in a little box barely the size of a pack of cards.

  • It's a wireless base station--plug it into your DSL or cable modem port and you've got instant WiFi in the house at 802.11g speeds (54 megabits/second).
  • It's a WiFi extender. If your current base station won't reach to the other end of the house, simply plug this in the wall somwhere and forget about it. Now you've got a stronger signal where you need it.
  • It's a printer sharing device. Plug a USB printer into it and every computer on your wireless home network can print on the shared printer.

But wait! There's more!!

This device also has audio jacks. Plug it in the wall and then plug an audio cable into it. Plug the other end of the audio cable into your stereo or a pair of powered speakers, and you can now listen to all the music stored on your computer--anywhere in the house where you have an Airport Express plugged in. Your computer can now wirelessly stream music anywhere in the house where you have this tiny device plugged in the wall.

Apple has leapfrogged all of the stereo manufacturers, who have been touting complicated and expensive new kinds of digital music storage devices, and made whole house stereo dead simple, inexpensive, and truly plug and play--fully integrated with Apple's existing iTunes software.

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Watch out for China

An AP article in the Sunday Roanoke Times discussed China's growing influence on the IT industry. What caught my eye was the fact that China is promoting an alternative to the DVD format called "EVD." China wants to avoid paying royalties to the Japanese developers of the DVD format.

But wait, there's more. China is also pushing a new and different cellphone protocol that they claim is better than the GSM and CDMA standards used in the rest of the world.

Here's the thing--there are 1.3 billion potential customers for IT products and services in China--the biggest market in the world. It's markets that determine protocols and standards most of the time, not standards-making bodies, and it's not outside the realm of possibility that we could, in twenty years, all be using IT products forced on the marketplace by China.

That could be good or bad. But I'm not very optimistic--China is still not an open marketplace and does not have a democratic government. Couple that with an IT industry anxious to increase profits, and we could have a Communist dictatorship telling the rest of the world what IT products to use.

Is it a problem? Not yet, but it could become one.

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Searching for the Space Economy

The Space Economy pops up in the most unlikely places. For years, I drove by an office building in Blacksburg with a sign out front for a company called Phoenix Integration. I knew that they were some kind of software company, but never gave it much thought.

A profile in the Sunday paper (the Roanoke Times) indicates that Phoenix is tightly hooked into the emerging Space Economy. The eight year old company with 18 employees provides software for the biggest aerospace companies around, including Boeing, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, GE, and NASA.

The software they write and sell allows spacecraft designers and engineers to collaborate, share data, and work on design drawings jointly even though they are thousands of miles apart.

Among other projects supported by Phoenix ModelCenter software is the GoFast spacecraft, which is in advanced testing at the Nevada SpacePort.

Add Phoenix Integration to the advanced composites manufacturing facility just down the road in Smyth county, and southwest Virginia may have a toehold in the emerging Space Economy, with an economic development cluster focused on aerospace technologies.

Could southwest Virginia become a major player? Only if economic developers do two things: Survey existing businesses to locate all businesses in the region that are providing goods and services to the space industry, and then make space a key part of economic development initiatives, like New Mexico is doing.

How about your area? In the last six months, I've stumbled, literally, across two very sophisticated Space Industry businesses in my own region. What about your area? Have you even asked?

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Microsoft's future, Open Source, and Apple

This is a long article, but if you, like the author, find yourself rebooting your Windows computer and suffering through hung programs, viruses, and worms more than you care to, you may want to read why this former Microsoft employee is bullish on Open Source products and why he made what turned out to be an easy switch to Apple.

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Comfort Suites--A Knowledge Economy hotel

I stayed in a Comfort Suites last night, and it wins hands down as a Knowledge Economy hotel.

Some of the amenities include wireless in meeting rooms and public areas, wired broadband in the rooms, a full service work area off the lobby that includes an Internet-connected pc, a fax machine, laser printer, and copy machine.

In the rooms, the Ethernet jack is above the level of the desk, as are four convenient AC outlets--no crawling on hands and knees under desks or behind beds to get a connection.

In the future, I'll be going out of my way to stay at Comfort Suites locations. How do the hotels in your community measure up? Can you offer business travelers to your community a place to stay with similar amenities?

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Smart Mobs--Book of the Month

Howard Rheingold is one of the best observers and commentators on how technology is affecting us. Not from a technical or "geek" perspective--Rheingold is interested in what is happening in our social, civic, and business relationships.

This book is easy to read; you can dive into in bits and pieces, and is meticulously researched and referenced. It's our pick for Book of the Month.

Ironing robot

A firm has developed a household appliance they are calling an "ironing robot." It follows on the heels of the wildly successful Roomba vacuum cleaner, which uses software that enables the "robot" to learn where things are in rooms and to successfully clean floors and carpets independently.

The device is pricey, as all new gadgets are, but sounds like it does a superior job of getting the wrinkles out of shirts. Apparently the device does not damage the fabric the way conventional irons do.

What's important about this? Like the Roomba vacuum, no one predicted this. It may or may not catch on--no one thought the Roomba would, but it did.

As communities seek guarantees that infrastructure investments pay off, we have to remember that the future cannot always be quantified by what worked in the past. New technologies like the Internet become engines of innovation, spawning new companies (the Roomba has created jobs manufacturing and selling robot vacuums) and spurring economic development in ways no one predicted. Flexibility in planning and execution gives communities the opportunity to capitalize on those new technologies and companies as they emerge.

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TV-style ads on the Web

If you are a business, you may love it. If you are a Web user, you may hate it.

Take a look at this page (only works well on a broadband connection) and see the new future of ads on the Web. It's a remarkably crisp, clear, video that begins playing on it's own, including the audio, so you are distracted by it even if it is in a hidden or tabbed window.

Like it or not, we'll see more and more of these on "free" sites like newspapers (this one is the Chicago Sun-Times). It's a way to pay for the cost of providing the site.

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Internet access changes buying patterns

Where I stay when I travel is now determined largely by the availability of Internet access, and I'm sure I'm not the only one making buying decisions differently. Twice recently I have had to stay overnight in a city because of bad weather and delayed flights. Both times, I picked hotels that offered free broadband access.

Marriott Courtyard is one of my favorites, even though it is often a bit more expensive because virtually all Courtyards have fast, reliable broadband in the rooms. It's usually hardwired, which is much better than the wireless many hotels offer. Courtyards often have other amenities for business travelers, like free use of an inkjet printer, although the printer was out of ink last time I stayed.

Slowly but surely, the presence or absence of broadband is changing our communities.

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A second state readies a spaceport

California is following New Mexico in preparing a commercial spaceport. An article on Space.com describes the effort in the Mojave Desert, down in southern California.

At least four space transportation companies are located at the spaceport or are planning to use it, including Bert Rutan's Scaled Composites. Rutan's company is expected to win the $10 million dollar X prize for the first commercial sub-orbitals flights.

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