Science and Technology

The Future of Apple Is the iPad 2

(yum9me/Flickr)
Matthew Yglesias makes a smart point about Apple and the iPad: The iPad is already the market leader to such an extent that simply coming out with a better one doesn’t change the landscape. But if Apple’s supply chain allows them to ramp up production of a new high-end product while continuing to sell the iPad 2 in volume as a cheaper option, that shakes up the landscape. If you look at iPad sales compared to competitors, it’s hard not to conclude that the “tablet market” is a fiction—what we have is an iPad market, with a few companies operating outside of it. Moreover, high demand means that the iPad market continues to have tremendous room for growth at premium price points. But—as demonstrated by the success of the Kindle Fire—its also true that there is room for growth at the lower bound of the tablet space. And, because Apple doesn’t have much in the way of competition, the price of iPads depends mostly on Cupertino’s ability to produce them. If Apple rereleases the iPad 2 as a...

Self-Driving Cars Can't Come Soon Enough

A thing of the past, eventually. (Flickr/huggs2)
So how long will it be before this whole "driving ourselves around in cars" thing is done with? Atrios predicts that "a whole lot of public money will be spent setting up a 'driverless car' system that will never actually work." Kevin Drum is much more optimistic — he predicts that "There will be a transition period that's likely to be messy—though probably no messier than today's all-human traffic nightmare—but eventually you won't even be allowed to drive a car. Every car on the road will be automated, and our grandchildren will be gobsmacked to learn that anything as unreliable as a human being was ever allowed to pilot a two-ton metal box traveling 60 miles an hour." I'm with Kevin on this — technologically speaking, the ability for cars to drive themselves is coming really soon (see this recent article in Wired for a primer). Yes, it will be difficult to get to the fully automated system where the cars speak to the roads and to each other, but between here and there, there are...

When the World Is Your iPhone

If your iPhone is the center of your existence, you might be wondering what life is going to look like in a couple of decades as this kind of technology advances. Corning, the company that you might associate with things like dishes, but these days makes things like the glass on that iPhone, has the answer. Unlike, say, Kodak—another large upstate New York-based company that flourished in the 20th century—Corning has managed to adapt to recent technological changes and find its niche (although it had a fourth quarter slump , the company is still extremely profitable). And guess what they think the future is: more glass! Everywhere! Just take a look at the glass-based techno-utopia they're promising in this video: It may not turn out exactly like this, but it actually seems a pretty plausible projection of where we're headed. I'd be pretty surprised if 20 years from now we're still carrying around powerful computers in our pockets, each of which has huge amounts of storage space to...

Faster-Than-Light Travel Just Got That Much Harder

Of the theoretical means for achieving faster-than-light travel, the most plausible one is the “warp” drive, where a ship travels at superluminal speeds by creating a bubble of space behind it, while compressing the space in front of it. The ship would not move inside of the bubble, but would be carried along with it, like a wave. The upside of this is that it achieves FTL speeds while avoiding time dileation and other relativistic effects. In other words, you can travel across the galaxy and not worry that thousands of years have elapsed on Earth in your absence. However, as Jason Major details at io9, there is one important downside to warp travel. The energy built up during the voyage could incinerate everything around it: Space is not just an empty void between point A and point B… rather, it’s full of particles that have mass (as well as some that do not.) What the research team - led by Brendan McMonigal, Geraint Lewis, and Philip O’Byrne - has found is that these particles can...

Copyright Fight Hits the Lab

The Research Works Act keeps the battle started by SOPA and PIPA in the headlines.

(AP Photo/ailatan)
This week, the scientific publishing giant Elsevier , which produces thousands of academic journals, and Representatives Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, and Darrell Issa, a California Republican, withdrew their support for the Research Works Act after public outcry from public-access advocates. Currently, some federal agencies require that researchers who rely on government funding make their resulting journal publications freely accessible online. The Research Works Act would have forbidden any agency from imposing this requirement, allowing publishers to retain rights to the papers. As with the recent battles over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), opposition and the sudden drop-off in support for the legislation suggests that big content companies are losing some of the traction in Washington they once enjoyed. But the Research Works Act was always largely symbolic. “It’s a stake in the ground,” said Allan Adler of the American Association of...

Today's Robot News

UPenn GRASP lab nano quadrotor
The geek superstars at the University of Pennsylvania's GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, & Perception) lab have taught their nano quadrotors—and if you know robots, you know that UPenn's are among the coolest of quadcopters—to play the James Bond theme. My judgment that this is awesome is unaffected by the fact that I went to grad school at UPenn. Just watch until the end for the guitar: And Rick Santorum thinks college is for snobs!

Do You Know What Your Voter Wants to Hear?

Street view on Google maps still sort of wows me. I'm still not sure I'm prepared for the power of being able to see almost every house in America, block by block. So it's really no surprise that VoterMapping blew my mind. VoterMapping is a new campaign tool that allows a user to see not only every house, but who lives in the house, how they vote, and even what kinds of magazines they get. You can map the state of Illinois based on Democrats who give to religous organizations and enjoy gardening magazines. The tool not only can give likely ethnicities, income levels, and tell you whether people have a premium credit card, but it can also show all the data points around congressional districts, state legislative districts—even elementary school districts. In the meantime, national campaigns—with access to state money—can use the internet to figure out where you live, what you like, and where you shop. After that, it's easy to tailor web ads to appeal to you. Welcome to the new world of...

Education on the Cheap

(Flickr/DraXus)
Publicly funded online schools run by private companies have been controversial with teachers groups and some education advocates since they started to take off a few years ago. But the concept of educating kids by computer has a strong appeal—not just among lawmakers but also among portfolio managers and investors. The two biggest companies offering online education—K12, Inc. and Connections Academy—are both for-profit, and until recently K12 had been a stock-market favorite. But an article this week on Seeking Alpha , a major investment website, casts doubt on the long-term profitability of K12 in light of poor student results. In the past few years, school districts and charter schools have increasingly subcontracted out certain operations to either Connections Academy or K12, Inc. In many states, lawmakers embraced the idea, which promised to bring private-sector efficiency to education. Online education also offered an idyllic image: Kids can take classes anywhere, at times that...

Smile For the Camera, Citizen

A taste of what's to come (Flickr/webjones)
The last few years have not been good to people who care deeply about privacy. Every few months, some new story comes to light about how corporations or government are gathering, sorting, and storing huge amounts of information about us. After a brief spate of interest, people generally go back to what they were doing before. "My iPhone is tracking my movements? Wow, that's creepy. But is Siri awesome, or what? I can't wait for the iPhone 5..." But what if the invasion of your privacy was a little more physical? Alexis Madrigal suggests that when drone aircraft start buzzing over our houses, we may finally get off our duffs and demand some limits to the spying: Drones, in my mind, make it clear how many of our feelings about privacy rest on the assumption that surveillance is time consuming or difficult. If someone smokes a joint in her backyard, she [is] making the (pretty good) calculation that a police officer is not watching. In our cars, we assume we can quickly send a text...

Q&A: What to Make of Facebook's IPO

Flickr/Thos003
Not being particularly tech-savvy, I've found following the Facebook-going-public news to be a bit perplexing. Sure, I know that the Internet behemoth just filed its IPO registration yesterday , revealing for the first time that the company has been profitable for three years and brought in $3.7 billion in revenue in 2011. But what does that mean? And what does Facebook's entry into the public market mean for the Internet? For Google? For the hundreds of millions who use the site? To get some answers, I called up Nicco Mele . Mele—named one of the "best and brightest" in 2003 by Esquire—pioneered Internet fundraising as webmaster for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. He later founded EchoDitto, which consults on Internet strategy with both Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits, and also had a hand in several Internet start-ups. He's currently teaching at Harvard's Shorenstein Center for the Study of Press, Politics and Public Policy. According to Mele, the information raises...

Facebook Bares Its Soul

The company's initial public offering files reveal what its aspirations are, even as competitors play catch-up.

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
"Facebook exists to make the world more open and connected, and not just to build a company," Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg writes in the letter included in the initial public offering (IPO) filings his company deposited with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) yesterday. "These days I think more and more people want to use services from companies that believe in something beyond simply maximizing profits." Facebook's $5 billion IPO filing reveals much about the economics and inner workings of the company. You can read elsewhere for the specifics on that front. The 150-page document also offers a glimpse of what the company believes and seems to be thinking as it moves more decisively onto the public stage. Some early takeaways: There's More to Life Online than Advertisements. For many years, Facebook's business model has been simple. Take the vast quantities of personal data we willingly shovel onto the platform. Add in the meta data we reveal as we move about the site...

Indiana Wades into the Culture Wars

Indiana is hardly a state known for its intense culture wars and political battles. Mostly, it's known for one of the greatest sports movies of all time . But this year, Indiana is entering territory usually occupied by places like Kansas and Texas. The state legislature is not only about to pass a controversial bill to decrease union power; a measure to teach creationism has already passed out of the state Senate's Education Committee. The right-to-work legislation is hurtling at lightning speed for Governor Mitch Daniels's desk. After a year of fighting, including recent boycotts from Democrats, the legislation passed the state's House last week, leaving little doubt that the measure, supported by the governor and most of the state Senate, will soon become law. Indiana will be the first state in the Rust Belt to pass such legislation, which prevents mandatory union membership and forbids unions from collecting fees from anyone who chooses to opt out. Proponents argue that the move...

Newt's Final Frontier

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA—I'm an avowed space nerd who would love nothing more than to see a human land on Mars during my lifetime. So last night's debate was the most entertaining for me of the unending series in this year's election. Thanks to vapid moderation from CNN's Wolf Blitzer, the majority of the debate was devoted to personal life questions better suited for Oprah's couch than a debate stage. He ended the night by asking the candidates why they were the most electable candidate, essentially requesting each of them to offer a shorter version of their usual stump speeches. One of the few moments where the candidates actually engaged on policy was when the discussion turned to space; specifically the bold vision Newt Gingrich had announced the day before during an event along the Space Coast. Gingrich defended his plan for a lunar colony and a Northwest Ordinance for Space while his opponents harrumphed, claiming it was impractical during a time when Republicans are eager to see...

And Then There Was Light, Man

Mimicking a familiar format, Alan Lightman's Mr. g fails to create a unique world.

As an undergraduate student, in order to acquire financial aid, I agreed to take a special first-year seminar called The Creative Process. In the class, we discussed such questions as “What is art?” and, in more concrete form, “Why do we refer to the urinal in the bathroom as simply a place for waste when we call the urinal on the gallery wall a masterpiece?” Halfway through the semester, the professor, a 50-year-old woman with dyed-black, bobbed hair and a necklace that featured a grapefruit-size bust of Jack Skellington, instructed us to consume—to consume —the book Einstein’s Dreams , which, despite its name, was fiction. I did not have high expectations. I could already imagine that the experience was going to be something of a “groovy” ticket to the mother ship. In many ways, I was right. What I hadn’t expected, though, was author Alan Lightman’s uncanny ability to turn psychedelic scientific concepts and abstract philosophy into concrete images and scenes. Which is precisely...

The End of the Internet?

As Wikipedia and Google protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a rival bill offers a middle road to protecting copyrights.

Nancy Scola/yfrog
Google Google featured a censored doodle in protest of proposed SOPA legislation Wednesday. After President Barack Obama released a statement over the weekend that he would not sign any bill resembling the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Representative Darrell Issa postponed Wednesday’s hearing on the proposed law. News as of today is that SOPA is DOA. Since December, prominent tech figures and digital activists, including luminaries like Sergey Brin of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, have characterized the bill as a draconian measure that would chill online innovation. A number of popular websites like GoDaddy, Reddit, and Wikipedia have threatened to black out service for a day to boycott the law, and Craigslist, in its rudimentary script, has a running message on its site protesting the measure. New legislation introduced by Issa and Senator Ron Wyden called the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN) looks to avoid a number of the problems with SOPA that...

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