William's home for discarded gems and concepts-in-progress.

Welcome to William Van Winkle's blog, home for everything from notes on his latest ebooks to leftovers from his articles in CPU, Tom's Hardware, Smart Computing, and other media outlets. Check out his author pages at Amazon and Smashwords!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Google TV: Finally, the Cloud Comes to Your Couch

In 1999, at the height of dot-com craziness and imagination, I wrote am article about how we might someday use tablets to control this seamless living room experience, where the Internet and movies and communications all swirled together in this intuitive, entertaining, productive Utopia. This was a common vision back when "home theater PCs" were coming into vogue and the cable/satellite providers had yet to reveal their true hatred for the PC world. 

So for over a decade, we've been trying -- and failing -- to achieve that home convergence dream. I think that all may have just changed today with Google TV. At last, we have movies, TV shows, countless media services, the entire Web (although that term is quickly becoming a cliche), and soon an avalanche of Android apps all pouring into into your living room, and it's all no harder to manage than running a Google search. Insane.

In this photo on the left, you might notice two things: 1) the dad is conducting a Google Search of the Web and his subscribed services, such as Netflix, and 2) there's no PC in the picture. Instead, there's a little box called the Logitech Revue tucked under the monitor, and it's basically a tiny intermediary between your set-top box, the Internet, and your TV. The PC has vanished back into Google's cloud data centers. In fact, you don't even need the Revue. The Google TV platform can be built straight into your next flat panel.

And what about the tablet part of that converged Utopia? Well, your Android phone or iPhone can becomPublish Poste your universal home theater controller, complete with touch and voice control. And if Google TV will work on a phone chances are it'll work on tablets, too.

My in-depth walk-through and analysis of Google TV just went live on Tom's Guide here. If you're interested in seeing the future of home entertainment and computing today, don't miss it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Salman Khan of Khan Academy Questions Viability of University Lectures

I just turned in my Q&A to CPU magazine, which will appear in the next issue's Back Door column. A little behind the scenes story on this one:

I originally became aware of Khan Academy when Bill Gates tweeted about how much he and his children were enjoying the site's classes. I looked into it and was stunned at the wealth of knowledge just laying there. It was like YouTube had spent its whole existence just waiting for this man. The first time I queried Mr. Khan about being interviewed, I received no reply. In my second attempt, I promised to only ask five questions and not require more than 15 minutes of his very precious time. That got an answer.

In the prelude to my five -- OK, six; I cheated -- questions, I wrote the following paragraph. I repeat it here in the hope that it might inspire some others to enjoy Khan Academy and give it the use it deserves.

"The longer I think about this interview and the more I read and watch about your work, the more daunted I am at trying to do any justice to your accomplishments. I'll be totally unprofessional for a second and admit this: When I was about nine, my dream was to stay in school forever and just learn everything. Two decades later, part of what drew me to journalism was a desire to share what I could learn and hopefully help millions of people through enriching their minds. But you've managed to fulfill both of these dreams in a simple, elegant, and fundamentally powerful way. My admiration for what you've done cannot be overstated. I wish I could shake your hand and convince you of my sincerity. At age 39 with two children, I'm not above still having heroes...and you are a hero to me. Thank you so much for what you do every day."

Here is a snippet of our email conversation. Watch for the full piece in CPU soon.

CPU: While you can't offer the science labs and fevered English Lit. debates of traditional schools—yet—do you foresee Khan Academy, MIT OpenCourseWare, and similar programs ultimately transforming America's higher education system?

SK: Yes. At the simplest level, it calls into question whether the 300-person impersonal lectures that occur at almost every university are even necessary anymore. On-demand video is better in almost every way. It also makes us think harder about whether current schools are learning institutions or filtering institutions. Is a Harvard degree impressive because something magical happens in the four years at Harvard or because we know how competitive it is to get in to Harvard? I think students will help transform what goes on in the physical environment once they see that they potentially learn more from these free, online tools.

Friday, October 8, 2010

IBM: Want a Job? Ditch the Desktop

If you're one of the many millions of Americans pining for your old desk job, IBM has some harsh advice: get over it. The desktop is done. The future belongs to ultamobile devices and the cloud.

Of course, this is nothing new, right? We've been watching notebooks eat into desktop PC market share for well over a decade. At mid-year, CNNmoney.com ran this IDC chart showing skyrocketing smartphone sales while desktops will stay flat until the end of time, or at least 2014.

Now we have IBM releasing survey data declaring that "more than half of all IT professionals – 55 percent – expect mobile software application development for devices such as iPhone and Android, and even tablet PCs like iPad and PlayBook, will surpass application development on all other traditional computing platforms by 2015."

Naturally, developers follow the market. If people are dropping desktops and signing in with smartphones, then that's where developers will put their time, effort, and money. However, the more interesting part of this survey news is this:

Additional IBM Tech Trends Survey findings include:

  • 91 percent anticipate cloud computing will overtake on-premise computing as the primary way organizations acquire IT over the next five years
  • Mobile and cloud computing are followed by social media, business analytics and industry-specific technologies as the hottest IT career opportunities beginning in 2011
  • 90 percent believe it is important to possess vertical industry-specific skills for their jobs, yet 63 percent admit they are lacking the industry knowledge needed to remain competitive
So imagine that you want a new job. If your resume showcases the fact that you know Microsoft Office and can answer phones, is it any wonder that no one is hiring you? Employers want you to use phones, not answer them. They want you savvy on next-gen cloud apps, not last-gen programs sitting on your hard drive, and those cloud apps better include a wide range of social media tools.

Now, consider the source. IBM released these survey results because "IBM today announced additional resources, through IBM developerWorks, to help professionals build skills to prepare for the next generation of IT and application development opportunities." So there's an agenda. There's always an agenda. But that doesn't mean that the message is invalid for anyone looking to find a role in the next decade.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Born to Couch: Americans Spending 5 Hours Watching TV Daily

"No way," you're probably thinking. "I don't watch anywhere near that much tube."

Well, maybe you're not, but odds are that your neighbors, friends, and family are. Recent data from Nielsen's "Snapshot of Television Use in the U.S." shows that we the people now average 35 hours and 34 minutes of TV viewing per week. If you figure 16 waking hours per day, that's 115 days we Americans spend watching TV every year, or over 24 years of our average waking lifespan. The last age breakdown I could find of this estimate was in Nielsen's 1st Quarter 2009 Three Screen Report:

The crazy thing here is that kids tend to get a bad rap for all of the TV they watch, but it turns out that kids actually watch less television than any other demographic. The older we get, the more we watch. Think how awesome it'll be to hit that 65+ group, when we can draw Social Security and spend 158 waking days of every year -- almost half of our conscious existence -- watching TV.

It's easier to rack up those viewing hours when you have more TV sets to watch. More Nielsen data shows that the majority of American homes have at least three TV sets. Over 30% have at least four.

I've heard that in some cultures, the elderly are prized for their ability to volunteer in social causes and mentor children. I wonder what the education trends are like in those countries compared to ours. It's probably a fair guess that they're watching a lot less television than we do. Of course, if you don't feel like guessing, look here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Visualize the Ebook Format Wars

Andrew Savikas at O'Reilly posted an interesting chart today showing his company's ebook downloads broken down by format over the past two and a half years. Clearly, the dominance of Adobe's PDF is thinning under pressure from EPUB and MOBI.

As a Droid owner, I find it interesting that Android as an OS is on fire but Android as an ebook format is pretty lackluster. Perhaps this is because Android has yet to make its initial splash in the tablet space. EPUB, in contrast, is the native choice for Apple devices as well as Sony's Reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and the Kobo eReader. Kindle uses Amazon's proprietary AZW format, which is based on MOBI. Interesting that in the last few weeks you can see MOBI eating into EPUB share. Looks like Santa Clause may be heading down Amazon's lane.