by March 1, 2000 0 comments

Magnetic storms–the next threat 
After the Y2k bug, the next threat to communication comes from a supernatural phenomenon. The US Geological Survey and NASA’s space weather department (www.space weather.com) have sent warning signals about a major “geomagnetic storm” that’s expected to hit the planet early this year. Such magnetic storms occur in 11-year cycles. The last such storm occurred at 3 am EST on March 13, 1989, and caused the collapse of the Hydro-Quebec power system in Canada. This time, the consequences could be devastating as the world today is entirely dependent on telecommunications. Internet traffic depends heavily on satellite communications, one of the areas that would be hardest hit by this magnetic activity. Such storms are caused due to the collision of charged particles from the sun with the earth’s magnetic field. So if you get disconnected, on the 13th, before think blaming your ISP.

SMILe with multimedia
The Internet might just become your television too in the near future–with audio-video presentation as good as your TVs. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is in the process of developing a new multimedia-oriented language for the Internet–Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL; pronounced “smile”). SMIL involves no complex coding, is easy to learn and can be written in a simple text editor, very similar to its hypertext counterpart, HTML. SMIL significantly lowers the bandwidth requirements for transmitting multimedia content over the Internet. Apart from leading research organizations, key industry players including Lucent/Bell Labs, Microsoft, Netscape, Philips, and RealNetworks have been involved in the development of SMIL. Microsoft Player IE 5.5 Preview supports selected modules of SMIL. For more details go to
www.w3.org/AudioVideo  and http://smw.Internet.com/smil/smilhome.html.

Interactive TV
A Sunnyvale, California-based company has rolled out a revolutionary television set-top–TiVo–that stores television broadcasts in its memory in real time. So, when you’re watching your favorite program, TiVo stores the program digitally in its memory. You can then pause, rewind, or watch something in slow motion, and then resume watching the show, without missing any of the broadcast, even in the middle of a live show. You can also record 20 hours of programs in the set. Initially, the company planned to use TiVo to monitor what the user was watching, which could help them judge the actual viewership of a particular program, or even a particular advertisement, and thus target and measure the effectiveness of advertisements on TV. But this idea was opposed by privacy advocates, and was eventually given up. TiVo now incorporates a Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down feature which lets a viewer rate a program. More details are at
www.tivo.com.

E-commerce in 3D
Over the last one year, e-commerce has hit bigtime. Web traffic has nearly doubled and sales have tripled over the year. In order to ensure increasing sales, e-commerce sites have to change continuously to suit customers needs. One of these evolutions may lead to 3D presentations.

3D object technology lets customers stream, scale, and even manipulate 3D objects within the online store they’re visiting. MetaCreations, one of the majors in this field, already has a version of this technology, as well as customers like Sony.

MetaStream 3–the next version–will let customers interact with the product. So if you’re looking at a refrigerator, you could open or close the door with your mouse.

MetaStream is initially focusing on electronics, sports, houseware, etc. The MetaStream 3 plug-in will be available in the first quarter this year, and would be free to download.

The biggest problem facing this technology is file sizes and bandwidth. Virtue, another company dealing in this area, focuses on this aspect. Its Optimizer package transfers 3D content into Virtue’s 3D Web format–VTU–which compresses regular files by up to 50 times. These tools are currently available in their pre-release versions. The full versions would be released in February. 

Other players in this area include IBM, with its HotMedia and Shells Interactive, and WebGlide. WebGlide’s Utopia will work with Real Networks’ Real Player G2 to create 3D environments for whole stores. The pre-release version would be available in the first half of this year. For more information, refer to www. metastream.com, www.virtue3d.com, and
www.webglide.com.

Internet answering machines
Are you constantly logged on to the Net, as a result of which you’re unable to get any calls? And if you happen to have a home business, lost calls may mean lost opportunities.

But now, you can surf and take calls simultaneously by using Web-based answering machines that handle all your calls while you’re online. They record these messages and forward them to your PC. You could listen to these messages using your PC’s audio system, and log off to return some important calls. 

Presently, Pagoo.com’s Call Catcher and CallWave’s Internet Answering Machine (IAM) offer these services. IAM is supposedly free, but is supported by advertising. Call Catcher lets you use the software for a month for free, but after that you’ve to pay to use it. 

These services work by using a telephone feature called Call Forward Busy. However, this feature is not available in India as of now. For more information go to www.pagoo.com or
www.callwave.com.

Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force
This is the latest game in the Star Trek series. It’s the first game based on the Star Trek Voyager universe and has single as well as multiplayer capabilities. But the winning feature is that it employs the recently-released Quake III Arena engine to do all its first person shoot out rendering.

The result? Awesome effects, with mind-blowing textures and locales, and a new degree of realism. All the present crew on the StarShip would be present, with the television actors providing the voices in the game. The multiplayer capabilities are many, including the standard Deathmatch, Capture-the-flag and team play. The game is slated to be released in the spring of 2000. For more information go to
www.ravensoft.com.

Mobile chips
Intel has announced two mobile PIII processors with clock speeds of 600 MHz and 650 MHz. These processors feature a new set of technologies collectively called SpeedStep, which lets processors adjust their speed down to 500 MHz from their normal speeds of 600 MHz and above, when running on battery power. The operating voltage is also stepped down to 1.35 V, as long as it’s working on batteries. When it’s plugged into an AC power source, the processor functions at the normal speeds. One of the biggest problems plaguing mobile computers was the performance vs mobility compromise. With this new technology, Intel hopes to solve this problem. 

Transmeta, another company working in this field–more known for its famous employee Linus Torvalds than its products–has announced a mobile microprocessor called Crusoe. The chip is being described as “the first microprocessor whose instruction set is implemented entirely in software”. Their primary goal is to produce cheap and energy-efficient mobile processors.

Among other announcements expected in the mobile computing area are the many devices and chips based on the 2.4 GHz wireless radio communications technology called Bluetooth. Intel, Motorola, Silicon Wave, and many other companies are developing products for this technology. These may be out by the end of this summer. More information is availble at www.intel.com and www. transmeta. com.
MotionWare: a new dimension to Virtual Reality Virtual Motion has patented a new technology called MotionWare, which simulates virtual reality, not by using standard techniques like optical illusions, moving the screen image, etc, but by simulating the nervous system to create the sensation of actual motion. 

MotionWare uses stimulation of the vestibular system–electronic stimulation that influences the user’s sense of balance. This technology is not new–it’s widely used in various medical fields. But this is the first time it’s been applied to virtual reality. This technology can be integrated into the source code of any game or application. 

It’s still in the research stage, and no concrete dates for release have been set. But once it enters mass production, the price of one unit would be less than $100. Details are available at
www.vm3.com

From HTML to XHTML
If you feel that good old HTML doesn’t have much to offer in terms of customizability and expandability for future applications, here’s a technology that lets you to do more. A marriage of HTML 4 and XML (eXtensible Markup Language) lets Web programmers mix and match HTML 4 elements–such as paragraphs, links, and tables–with XML elements, such as Synchronized Multimedia Language (SMIL), mathematical expressions (MathML), and metadata through the Resource Description Framework (RDF). It also makes it easier for Web developers to manage their data and Websites since XHTML, unlike HTML, can merge data and Web page layout on the fly. That means data can be updated without a complete overhaul of the Web page. But more importantly, as publishers prepare to send Web pages to mobile devices, Palm Pilots, or TV sets, XHTML will provide platform independence. Currently there’s mixed support for XML in common browsers–IE supports it partially while Netscape doesn’t support it at all. The new XHTML 1 specification given by the W3C is fully supported by both. 

For a live demo of XHMTL-based page, visit www.w3.org. This Website also contains resources and specifications for XHTML 1.

Intelligent agents for shopping
Ever thought of taking the help of an agent for shopping? A combined effort by HP and a Swiss Internet startup–net-tissimo–now allows online shoppers to take the help of an intelligent “agent” for buying through bargaining and collaborative settlements. The agents are actually software “robots” that accompany you on your tour of the shopping mall, and help you by using intelligent decision-making capabilities. You can visit the site at www.net-tissimo.com. More information about agent-based Internet systems is available at www.
artificial-life.com.

IBM follows customers’ footsteps
IBM has come up with a technology that tracks how a customer moves through a store during the buying process. IBM’s prototype technology–Footprints–paints a digital map of the trails customers take through a store. You can mount a network of these smoke detector-sized devices in your store’s ceiling. These devices detect body heat and record customers’ travels through the store. This information then beamed via radio waves to a computer where it can be analyzed as it is received, enabling real-time management of staff and customer services. Footprints is already in use in Germany, tracking traffic flow in a train station. A trial with a retail customer is planned for rollout in the first half of the year. More information is availble at
www.ibm.com.

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