|National Edition||Volume 14 #7||July 2004|
Now that high-definition television (HDTV) is just beginning to catch on, researchers at the Japanese national broadcaster NHK are already working on a successor. The format, called Ultra High Definition Video, or UHDV, has a resolution 16 times greater than plain-old HDTV, and its stated goal is to achieve a level of sensory immersion that approximates actually being there. At a picture size of 7,680 by 4,320 pixels-that works out to 32 million pixels-UHDV's resolution trounces even high-end digital still cameras. HDTV, by comparison, has about two million pixels, and normal TV about one tenth of that at 200,000 pixels (and only 480 lines of horizontal resolution versus 4,000 with UHDV). Add to that UHDV's increased refresh rate of 60 frames per second (twice that of conventional video), projected onto a 450-inch diagonal screen with more than 20 channels of audio, and you've got an impressive home theater. Of course as currently configured UHDV's dimensions make it impractical for most homes. The people at NHK are working on how to utilize all those pixels on the more normal smaller home screens. But the project aims to do more than just make home entertainment more realistic. The UHDV standard should find applications in museums, hospitals, shopping malls or other places where a keener representation of detail is highly desirable. All of this is a long way off, however, because the standard is still in the early stages of development. UHDV should take many years to develop said a researcher with the Japanese network. But NHK is quite familiar with long-term projects: it began developing the current HDTV standard in 1964, and the first high-definition content did not arrive until 1982 and is just now coming into common use.
The new credit card developed and patented by IBM looks a lot like a small pocket calculator. It has both a window to see what has been typed and a keypad. It is in fact what is being called a theft proof smart credit card. It has a built in PIN that must be typed in the card prior to any use. When the correct PIN is inputted, the card is turned on for one time use. After being turned on the card generates a one-time transaction code that must synchronize with the computers at the credit card company to create a valid transaction. The card has yet to appear in the marketplace but IBM is hoping to license the technology to the major credit card companies.
Apparel, home goods, and outdoor gear cataloger LL Bean has filed several complaints in Maine District Court against four sample companies-including Nordstrom and J.C. Penney-that Bean alleges are using pop-up ads on its Internet site without its permission. In addition to the two cataloger/retailers, Bean named coffee marketer Gevalia and diet creator/marketer Atkins in its suits. Bean claims that these companies are a representative sampling of both competing and non-competing firms that have chosen to use the practice of unfairly trading on LL Bean's good name. In using the four high-profile companies to set precedence, Freeport ME-based Bean's long-term objective is to get all advertisers to stop using pop-up ads on its site. A Bean spokesperson said that pop-up ads are not only a source of interference and irritation to consumers trying to navigate their Internet site but they also cross the line of fair business practices by infringing upon the LL Bean trademark. In the suits, Bean points out that the companies use spy ware software, developed by Claria (formerly Gator), that plants itself on individuals' computers and tracks their online activity. Bean isn't targeting Claria per se in its actions, however. In complaining that its customers find pop-up ads objectionable, Bean adds in a statement that a strong majority of users are unaware that the popup-ad-generating software resides on their own computers in the form of spy ware. If made aware of this fact most users become more unhappy about the popup-ads.
Intel scientists have announced that they have built a prototype of a silicon chip that can switch light on and off like electricity, blurring the line between computing and communications and bringing sweeping changes to the way digital information and entertainment can be delivered. For the first time, Intel researchers said, they have shown that ultra-high-speed fiber optic equipment can be produced at the equivalent of low-cost personal computer industry prices. Industry executives said the advance could lead to commercial products by the end of the decade. As the costs of communicating in cyberspace falls, existing barriers to creating fundamentally new kinds of digital machines capable of far greater performance, and not limited by physical distance, should disappear. The advance, described in a paper published in the journal Nature, suggests that Intel, as the world's foremost chip maker, is on the verge of developing the technology to move into lucrative new telecommunications markets. The advance should free computer designers to think about the systems they create in new ways, making it possible to conceive of machines that are not situated in a single physical place. It will also make possible a new class of computing applications to transmit high-definition video to homes hundreds or even thousands of times as fast as over today's Internet. One potential application would be an interactive digital television system allowing viewers to watch a sports event from several angles, moving the point-of-view at will while the game is being played. With only a limited number of digital cameras, it might be possible to synthesize a virtual movable seat anyplace in the stadium. Such a feature now exists in video games, but is far beyond the capacity of today's digital TV systems. Building laser communications into conventional computer chips also points to effective solutions to the so-called last mile challenge of delivering digital information from the Internet to homes and offices. This will allow the creation of extremely fast, low-cost computer networks and significantly lower the barriers to knitting together powerful servers and supercomputers based on multiple processors. Several experts said the Intel researchers appear to have achieved one of the rare performance increases known in the industry as powers of 10, or exponential change, that has the potential to remake the modern computing world.
Sony said that it is scaling back its Clie handheld line, a move that will see the company exit the US and European markets for PDAs. The consumer electronics giant, which entered the PDA (personal digital assistant) market in the United States with its Clie in August 2000, plans to continue to sell Clies in Japan. But it will wind down production and exit the US and European markets later this year, as it re-evaluates the entire handheld market according to a Sony spokesperson. The surprise move reflects changes in the market for handhelds, as traditional models make way for devices such as smart phones. It also comes as a blow to Palm Source, which makes the operating system for the Clies. Presently, Sony is reassessing the direction of the entire worldwide market for PDAs and other handheld devices. Sony will continue to offer tech support and honor Clie warranties. It will also continue to manufacture United States-spec Clies for an undisclosed period of time. But once manufacturing halts and US inventories sell out, the company has no plans to replenish those stocks. After a slow start, Sony rose to become the second-largest worldwide seller of Palm OS-based devices and the third-leading seller of the devices overall. The company did so through a furious pace of product revisions, often introducing new products twice as often as rivals, and by being first with features like MP3 playback and built-in digital cameras. The company, though, had been somewhat slow to move to wireless devices, though many of its newest devices did have built-in Wi-Fi. Sony did recognize that wireless is an important aspect of its handheld business. Analysts said that although Sony will be continuing in Japan, where its market share is strongest, the decision to pull back from the European and US markets was unexpected. The move is quite a blow to Palm Source, the company that develops and licenses the Palm OS. Palm Source was spun out of Palm as part of plans to make the Palm OS more attractive to new licensees. However, the company has seen its base of big-name licensees decline, rather than grow. Palm, meanwhile, acquired Handspring and became Palm One. Sony is Palm Source's second-biggest licensee, next to Palm One. Sony had accounted for about 14% of Palm Source's revenue prior to the decision to pull out of the US and European markets.
Several firms are moving ahead with development of ultra-thin batteries. At less than one millimeter thick, ultra-thin batteries are ideal for smart labels, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and active packaging applications that require an external power source. They serve as an affordable replacement for button batteries in such diverse applications as greeting cards, cereal box giveaways, printed board games, point-of-purchase displays and credit cards. Being developed is a number of battery configurations that offer end-users the freedom to place the battery in different points of contact on a powered device. In addition, they are designed with a sealed construction to protect them from ambient atmospheric conditions. This feature is very important to manufacturers looking for a reliable power source that can stand up to varying environmental conditions during product shipment, storage and use. The batteries are often called printed batteries since they are so thin and flexible. This gives them a distinct advantage over rigid button batteries that they will usually replace. One of the major blocks to the wide adoption of RFID tags is the cost and size of the batteries needed to drive them. The printable batteries could solve that problem.
Bridges to Excellence, an effort designed to reward physicians for quality care that is bankrolled by some of the country's largest employers, has launched a new incentive program to pay doctors using patient-care IT as much as $50 per patient per year. The Physician Office Link program, as this new effort is called, joins the Diabetes Care Link and Cardiac Care Link, both efforts that reward doctors who follow clinically proven guidelines. The pilot programs are available only to doctors in four regions: Boston, New York's Capital Region, Cincinnati, and Louisville KY. The program is designed to help create a return on investment in technology. Though IT often means better care for a patient, that doesn't automatically translate into cost savings for individual physicians. It is hard to rationalize [the IT investment] when there's no immediate return, or so many doctors have felt. The payment reflects a portion of the savings the health system can expect to reap from use of the increased use of technology. Qualifying health care providers could collect the payment for more than just one year, helping to add to the incentive. Unlike some other incentive programs, the Bridges to Excellence money should flow to even small providers who make the IT investment. The driving force behind the pay-for-quality project is a group of companies, including GE, Procter & Gamble, Raytheon, Verizon, United Parcel Service, and Ford. Because employers foot a large portion of the nation's healthcare bill via employee benefit plans, they stand to gain from improving medical quality. The pilot areas have been chosen, in part, because of the large number of employees there from Bridges to Excellence companies. The Bridges to Excellence plan is very similar to the Leapfrog Group's effort to reward hospitals for implementing policies-including greater technology use-that have been proven to improve patient safety and reduce costs. That effort, too, has been underwritten by businesses in an attempt to drive down total healthcare costs.
Nearly twenty-five years almost everybody who is old enough to remember, either played the early computer games or knew of someone who did. They died a fairly quick death a few years later as newer games came along. Now, strange as it sounds they are back. Many of the major computer game makers have now released updated versions of those games the originals of which were at least ten years ago and most go back as much as twenty to twenty-five years ago. Some of the hot retro games include:
The agreement, which sets the price MCI will pay Qwest to use Qwest's network, was a major breakthrough. Qwest is the smallest of the regional Bell operating companies and MCI is the nation's second-largest long distance provider.
The agreement follows more than a month of mediation between the two companies. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The larger bell companies, Verizon, SBC Communications and BellSouth were unable to reach any deals, as was AT&T, the biggest long distance carrier.
A senior executive in the telecom industry said that he hoped that the deal between Qwest and MCI would encourage others to end their long legal and lobbying battles and strike similar agreements. The talks between the companies were ordered by Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as the agency and the industry face impending legal deadlines.
As the Bush administration considers whose side to take in the lobbying war over the leasing rates, top executives from both sides decided to participate in the discussions in order not to offend government officials and regulators. Participants in the discussions said that the talks have left both sides far apart, with the exception of Qwest and MCI. The talks were the latest round in what has been years of litigation and lobbying over the relationship between the regional Bell operating companies and their rivals.
The issue involved in the discussions amounts to billions of dollars in payments made by the long distance providers and small telephone companies to the regional Bell operating companies for the use of their lines. Those small rivals say that their industry, which was created by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and its requirement for low-cost leasing, could be largely obliterated by any significant increases in lease rates.
The Bell operating companies have replied that they are not getting a large enough financial return on their leased equipment to justify making significant new capital expenditures. They also maintain that the marketplace has become sufficiently competitive and that the rate structure is no longer justified.
Last March, a federal appeals court handed a big victory to the four large regional Bell telephone companies by striking down regulations that had required the Bells to lease their local networks to rival companies at low prices set by state regulators. The decision by the appeals court, which supported the Bells and was a substantial blow to AT&T, World Com and smaller companies that have relied on inexpensive access to the local networks to reach their customers. The decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw the entire equipment lease rate scheme into significant doubt.
The accusations, made in a civil lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in NJ, come after a three-year government inquiry into Lucent's inflation of its sales figures dating back to the 2000 fiscal year. Lucent, the nation's largest maker of telecommunications equipment and formerly part of the Bell System and AT&T, and three of the nine employees have agreed to settle with the government without admitting or denying wrongdoing.
Lucent will not have to make any additional adjustments to its earnings statements, but it will pay a $25 million fine for not cooperating with the investigation, the largest penalty ever levied against a corporation for failure to cooperate in an SEC investigation. The accusation against Lucent comes after smaller fines were levied against the Bank of America and Xerox and is emblematic of the SEC's growing frustration with evasive and obstructive behavior by companies that are under investigation.
The government's move against Lucent added another jolt to the embattled telecommunications industry, whose fortunes have plummeted since the technology bubble burst several years ago. Industry analysts said some of Lucent's accounting problems stemmed from pressure to show stable sales and close deals even as the boom in spending on telecommunications equipment collapsed. Companies are still paying the price for their aggressive accounting.
Recently the SEC opened formal investigations of accounting irregularities against Lucent's biggest rival, Nortel Networks. The company, which is based near Toronto, has since fired several top executives and cut the 2003 profits it originally reported in half. Nortel is also grappling with a host of class-action lawsuits brought by investors. On May 14 of this year, a federal grand jury in Dallas, where Nortel has major operations, subpoenaed financial and other records from the company as part of a new criminal investigation.
The growing troubles at Nortel and the conclusion of this government case against Lucent comes amid a modest turnaround this year in the telecom industry's financial outlook. The accounting problems, however, are starting to distract investors, who have dumped shares in Nortel and its rivals.
The case against Lucent dates back to November 2000, when the company alerted financial regulators about revenues it improperly recorded. SEC regulators ultimately found that $511 million in revenue and $91 million in pretax income were prematurely recorded in the 2000 fiscal year, which ended 30 Sept. that year. Another $637 million and $379 million in pretax income should not have been recognized at all. Lucent subsequently restated $679 million in sales, an act that prompted 54 class-action lawsuits by investors, who said the company intentionally misled them.
In December, Lucent settled those cases by agreeing to pay $517 million in cash and shares as compensation for shareholders, bondholders and other investors. In addition to improperly booking sales, Lucent employees on at least 10 occasions made illegal agreements with customers, including Win Star, which filed for bankruptcy protection in April 2001. The three Lucent executives who settled with the government had worked on the Win Star account.
The settlements with the three executives could foreshadow a coming criminal investigation. Prosecutors often try to reach agreements with midlevel employees by offering them immunity in future cases against more important executives.
This month's book will really be a great deal of help to anybody trying to experiment with the digital camera for special effects. Some of the daytime photo secrets that the book explains how to do include:
This book contains a myriad of full-color photos and consists of eight chapters. The book does not contain what is found in most digital photography books including camera basics, memory cards and when to utilize a flash. It concentrates on the things that professional photographers have learned through many years of experimentation. They are to a great degree the inside tips that the pros have been using for years to make their pictures look so good. It will also aid the person who does not have the latest in digital cameras to extend the useful life of their present camera. If you are interested in learning more than sample sections of the book are available at www.oreilly.com/catalog/digphotohks/chapter/index.html. For additional information about the book including the table of contents, index, author bio and various samples see www.oreilly.com/catalog/digphotohks.Digital Photography Hacks