Heather’s Innovation and New Technologies Blog

The Impact of YouTube On Politics

      On Aman5000’s Weblog, fellow blogger Aaron recently wrote a post about political debates being held on YouTube.  Since anything pertaining to next year’s election seems to be a hot topic right now, I thought I would post a response containing my own thoughts about the “YouTube-ification of Politics,” as it has been called.  I agree with Aaron’s opinion that allowing users to submit questions to candidates on the viral video site is a great idea, though the concept is not without its faults.

      The effects of Presidential debates being made available to the public have been evident from the beginning with the first televised debate in 1960.  If you’ll remember from your high school history class, those who listened to the debate on the radio declared Richard Nixon to be the winner, while the 70 million viewers who watched it on television overwhelming said the tan and fit John F. Kennedy beat his pale and sickly-looking opponent.  The image of political candidates has only increased in importance as the years have passed.  I suppose that’s the danger of using sites like YouTube to promote, tear down, or question candidates.  Sometimes with all the video capabilities out there, people can tend to get too focused on superficial traits.  They may can become more concerned with how a candidate looks than they are about the major issues.  However, since this trend on focusing on outward qualities seems inevitable in today’s culture, we might as well try to find some way to use it for good.  I think YouTube is doing just that.  By allowing users to submit questions, the site is forcing contenders to tackle the tough questions that they had tried to avoid in the past.  Or as my future husband…er…I mean CNN host Anderson Cooper likes to say, we’re “keepin’ em’ honest.”  Since no subject is offlimits and anyone can participate, it really is revolutionizing the way we do politics in America.

       So go ahead…Get involved!  Send a candidate a question or at least view some sent in by others.  YouTube is making it easier than ever for us to take an active role in shaping the leadership of our nation.  Just be sure you keep the issues in mind as you navigate through the wave of images of candidates on the Internet.



Portable Media Players: Can A New Competitor Touch the iPod Touch?

                       Screen envy

      Recently, I read fellow blogger Kellie’s post called “Competition for the iPod Touch.”  I wondered how the Cowon Q5W matched up against the latest touch screen iPod model, so I thought I would respond by writing my own post comparing these portable media players.  I don’t actually own an iPod or any other similar device and to be honest I never really wanted one all that much…until I saw my brother’s new iPod Touch in action.  Its small size and clean lines sold me right away.  I was really surprised at how user-friendly it was as well.  A lot of the touch screen devices I’ve tried in the past were too difficult to use.  I found that they just weren’t “touch-sensitive” enough.  You know, like on some laptops where you have to keep scrolling your finger down over the little pad over and over just to get the cursor to move half an inch.  However, the iPod Touch allows you to move effortlessly between pages and songs with just a glide of the fingertip. 

      So what about the new Cowon Q5W?  Well, I’ve never actually tried using one or seen one up close, but from the pictures of it I do notice some disadvantages with regard to the look of it.  First of all, the the Q5W seems slightly “clunkier” than its main competitor.  Granted, it’s not as bulky as some other portable media players out there, but it still doesn’t capture that same sleek look of the iPod Touch.  To me the Q5W looks more like a handheld videogame of yesteryear than the latest new media music and video player.  With that aside, the Q5W boasts some great features including a 5-inch high resolution screen, Microsoft CE 5.0, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities, Adobe’s Embedded Flash Player 7, and numerous supported file types.  You can even add a GPS navigation system if you’re willing to shell out an additional $200.  However, with an average price tag of $550 to $600, you might not want to opt for any extra features.  As Kellie noted, the biggest draw of the Q5W is its storage capacity.  The 40 or 60GB options seem downright massive compared to the iPod Touch’s puny 8 or 16GB worth of space.

      The Cowon Q5W has some great features, but I guess the real question is: Will people be willing to pay a higher price to get them?  And an even better question: Will they be willing to pay more for something that doesn’t hold as much value as a status symbol in today’s society?  Personally, I think the Q5W would be a great buy if you have the money, but I just don’t see it being able to shake the hold Apple has on the portable media player market.  Ultimately, it’s going to take a lot more than extra storage capabilities to even make a dent in the empire Steve Jobs has created.

Podcasts: Revolutionizing Communication or Just A Waste of Time?


      A while back, fellow blogger John wrote a post on his Technovation blog called “Podcaustic” in which he discussed the negative side of podcasts.  I found this topic intriguing so I thought I would post a repsonse on some of the issues he discussed.  First off, I must admit: I’ve never actually listened to a podcast.  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to.  I’ve even tried multiple times on several sites, but for whatever reason I could never get them to play.  Like John, I agree that podcasts haven’t exactly revolutionized the way people communicate, at least not yet anyway.  However, I do think podcasts have some good qualities as well.

      One appeal of podcasts is based on the concept of immediacy.  They allow someone to feel like the person doing the podcasting is actually talking to him or her specifically.  In some ways, I think the proof that it’s a good medium lies in the potential to forget the medium as you’re using it.  If you find a podcast that suits your particular need for information and you’re really interested, then the podcast part of the equation sort of takes a backseat.  All that really remains is the element of communication.  Even if the interaction is one-sided, just the feeling that you are connecting with someone can be beneficial.  This idea is similar to the concept of interactive game shows that I discussed in an earlier post.  If you haven’t read my update to that post, the game show I referred to has now been cancelled (sniff, sniff), but I still think it was a great idea.  Even though I never called in, I still enjoyed watching because it was almost like the host was talking directly to me rather than millions of viewers across the nation.  It’s the same way with podcasts.  Although podcasters may have no idea who their listeners are, they can still create a link with those listeners based on just being real and relational.  Only time will tell if podcasts have true staying power.  Hopefully, podcasts will fare better than interactive television in the long run.

      As for podcasts being linear, I suppose there’s no way to get completely around that.  It’s true that when listening to a podcast you’ll more than like have to listen to bits of unrelated information and anecdotes.  However, if you really feel it’s too much of a pain to listen to an entire podcast, there are new types of software available that let you listen to podcast in half the time by altering the speed of the playback.  And don’t worry, it also uses pitch correction, so it won’t sound like a copy of Alvin and the Chipmunks greatest hits (though you can click that last link for a little holiday cheer) or that one kid who always inhaled the helium from the balloons at your childhood birthday parties.  But even if you don’t have access to this software, listening to the entire podcast might not be such a bad thing.  Some people might actually be listening to the podcast just to hear those slightly random stories.  After all, isn’t that what a lot of talk shows on TV or the radio do?  It just goes back to that idea of immediacy.  They tune in because of that feeling of connection they get from watching or listening to the person conveying the information.

      So yes, podcasts may require you to sift through sometimes boring chatter, but perhaps that’s just part of their fundamental nature.  Although podcasts might not give you the information exactly when you want it, you can always search the web while you listen to one.  It’s multitasking made easier.  But for those of you nearing graduation, remember that there’s some things podcasts just aren’t a substitute for…

Doing Real Time for Virtual Crime

                                 Habbo Hotel Room

     If someone took your house key, went into your home, and stole all your stuff when you weren’t looking, I bet you’d be pretty upset.  You would most likely want the thief to be caught and brought to justice.  But what if this was done to you in a virtual world?  Do the same principles apply?  Dutch law enforcement seems to think so.  Recently a Dutch 17-year-old was arrested for stealing over $5800 worth of virtual furniture in an online community called “Habbo Hotel.”  This is sort of a low tech, 2-dimensional version of “Second Life” (think old school version of “The Sims“).  Users create an avatar and use real money to buy items to decorate their virtual pads.  The site attracts a lot of teens across the pond, but it hasn’t really caught on in the United States.  So your probably thinking “Okay, I understand stealing is wrong, but being jailed for taking furniture that isn’t even real?  Isn’t that a little harsh?”  But let’s think about it this way:  People pay real money for both real and virtual furniture.  Should it really matter which form was taken as long as it resulted in the loss of something with monetary value?  And just in case you were thinking of giving the argument that it was just the avatar sinning, I should note that the person’s avatar didn’t literally go into another avatar’s virtual home and sneak off with his or her possessions.  The accused teenager and possibly five of his friends used phishing and imposter websites to steal the passwords of other users.  They then logged in to those accounts and got away with the virtual loot.  I guess that means there are really two elements of theft here: stolen passwords and stolen goods.  And going back to my original example, it seems to me that stealing someone’s password for his or her account is a lot like stealing the key to a person’s home in real life.  After all, keys and passwords both enable you to access your belongings.

     So what does all this mean?  I suppose it all comes down to what’s real and what’s fantasy.  It’s a little bizarre that we even have to contemplate situations like this.  As the discussions in my Innovations and New Technology class have noted, technological advancements are always bringing up new ethical questions and blurring the lines of reality.  With any new technology, there are always going to be people who will find ways to use it in a deviant manner.  However, this case shows that the consequences of these actions can be very real.  Hopefully people will begin to act more responsibly as more of them realize that the punishment for virtual crimes could mean a bit more than just a stay in the virtual slammer.


A Pot of Gold At the End of “In Rainbows”?


    By now, most of you have probably heard about Radiohead’s latest album experiment.  If not, the main idea of it was that Radiohead made “In Rainbows” available online to people for whatever they wanted to pay, including nothing.  For more, check out Jordan Lee’s and Joey Shook’s blogs.  I read their posts a while back, and since there have been a few developments in the ongoing Radiohead saga, I decided to respond with a post of my own.  Basically, I wanted to find out the answer to the question everyone seems to be asking: Was the experiment a success?  To get to this answer, I think I should note that the online release of the album was not without its issues.  First, there was the matter of sound quality.  “In Rainbows” was encoded at a bit rate of 160 kilobits per second (whatever that means), which fans complain is lower than Radiohead’s previous album.  This seems like a fair complaint, but on the other hand this bit rate is higher than the standard download on iTunes.  Something else fans had a problem with is the recent announcement that a physical album with possible bonus tracks will hit stores in January.  That means that both the people who got the album for nothing, or next to it, and those who made a considerable donation will have to cough up more money if they want better sound and extra songs.  This has some fans upset because they paid a little more thinking Radiohead was doing this great service by bypassing the system.  Although I can understand where they’re coming from, I can see Radiohead’s perspective as well.  After all, the band never said that was the only way they would release the album.  They simply said “Here it is” and let people name their own price.  Besides, those that downloaded the album did have the advantage of getting it first.  That should count for something, right?

    After taking into account the criticisms I’ve mentioned, I now return to the question I wanted to answer:  Was the experiment a success?  Let’s look at some statistics.  Initial data shows that more than half a million people still downloaded the album illegally, but I suppose that is to be expected since pirates will be pirates.  Maybe it’s because BitTorrent site users typically prefer to get their music all at once from the same place.  Maybe they hadn’t heard Radiohead was offering it directly through their site.  Maybe they’re all just music-loving kleptomaniacs.  I guess we’ll never know for sure.  Despite the high number of pirated copies, 1.2 million copies of Radiohead’s album were downloaded legally through the band’s site within the first week.  This is a significant amount more than the 500,000 people who got it illegally and is an even more substantial increase over Radiohead’s previous album, “Hail to the Chief,” which sold 300,000 copies in its first week. 

    Overall, I would say Radiohead’s experiment was a success.  Maybe not as much of one as the band would have hoped, but a success nonetheless.  1.2 million copies is certainly nothing to scoff at, especially for an album with practically no advertising.  Plus, they’ve set the stage along with several other artists to make music less expensive and more directly available to their fans.  Artists that are choosing to go without labels are at least making enough waves for the record companies to notice.  The actual amount of money from online sales is yet to be determined, so only time will tell if Radiohead actually made more money by doing it this way.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this trend really catches on as more artists realize how important it is to cater to their fans.  Except maybe for Prince

A Whole New World (A Virtual One That Is…)

   In Innovation and New Technologies class we’ve been talking about some of the virtual worlds that are available online.  Most people know about Second Life and There, so I decided to find out if there were any new, lesser known virtual worlds that could come to the forefront soon.  My research led me to “Kaneva,” which has similarities to most virtual worlds on the Internet.  However, Kaneva is somewhat unique in that it began as a site that allowed users to create 2D profiles that others could view.  Recently, the site expanded to the 3D world by letting users personalize their own virtual apartments.  Basically, Kaneva is kind of like a blend of MySpace and Second Life.  First, you have the profile element, with all of the usual features.  This includes adding friends, forming groups, leaving messages, adding pictures and videos, and writing personal blogs.  Then, you have the virtual world part of it, which allows you to design an avatar, decorate your own space, make purchases with virtual currency, and converse with other users at public locations or parties that you host.  Kaneva merges these two ideas to create a fairly distinct concept.  It seems like Kaneva focuses a little more on letting you craft your own area than its rivals.  For example, users can actually place their own photos in picture frames and put their favorite videos on the televisions in their virtual apartments.  Although Second Life lets you decorate your own home, it seems like the site concentrates on your ability to chat with other users rather than letting them see the personal touches you’ve made.

   Although I don’t use sites like Second Life or Kaneva, it seems like Kaneva could have a chance for staying power if they are able to update their graphics to rival those of the more established sites.  Kaneva’s ability to incorporate the idea of MySpace is probably helping them gain popularity with the younger crowd.  However, I think that Second Life will always have the advantage of being the first virtual world to really catch on.  It’s kind of like “As Seen On TV” products.  The first colander that let you “strain and drain” pasta in the same pot was called the “Pasta Pro.”  A lot of people heard about it, thought it sounded interesting, and got one.  It wasn’t long before “Better Pasta Pot,” “Perfect Pasta Pot” and “Pasta Pot Express” were released.  But by then everyone either already had a Pasta Pro or just didn’t really want one.  It’s the same way with virtual worlds on the Internet.  Second Life was the first one everybody really heard about and many people signed up.  By the time a lot of these competitors like Kaneva came out, people didn’t really think they needed to be involved in another virtual world or they never wanted one in the first place.  (Like the Pasta Pro, the newness may have worn off of some of those Second Life accounts and they might even be sitting around collecting virtual dust.)  The point is: It’s difficult to compete with the first well-known version of something.  However, if Kaneva can find a way to further develop its main premise and maybe add some games, it still has a fighting chance to make some waves.  Kaneva’s best bet is to hold on to the 3D profile idea so that it can give the impression of being a little different than its opponents.  In other words, maybe they shouldn’t try to create the next Pasta Pro, but instead focus on creating something slightly different than the original, like the “Slanket” or “Meatball Magic” (I was going to use “Pancake Puffs,” but decided against it since I secretly want one of them.) 🙂  Seriously, though.  Click on the Slanket hyperlink above if you want a good laugh.  You won’t be disappointed…

No Power? Not a Problem With a Prius


   In observance of Blog Action Day (nod to fellow blogger Jordan Lee for informing me of this), I am joining bloggers across the country to discuss some ways that we can help the environment.  Although I’m not as environmentally conscious as I should be, I still like to do what I can to promote eco-friendly products and innovations.  We should all strive to protect the planet God has given us, so finding ways to conserve energy is definitely a plus.  Many people know that one of the ways we can conserve energy is by driving hybrid vehicles, but there is another use for these vehicles that some might not be aware of.  The next time you find yourself without electricity in your house, just hook it up…to your Prius.  That’s right.  An article in the New York Times highlights how the Toyota Prius can actually run power to your home.  Although no automaker is currently selling a plug-in hybrid vehicle, some people are choosing to make their own.  Here’s how it works: Just plug your Prius into your home’s backup uninterruptible power supply (or U.P.S. for short).  The battery pack keeps the U.P.S. online and the pack itself is recharged by the gasoline engine, which cycles on and off as needed.  The direct current electricity from the batteries is converted to household alternating current by the U.P.S. inverter.  This inverter also regulates the voltage.  As long as you keep gas in the tank, the Prius can easily produce enough power to maintain most of the basic functions of your home.  Now I know what you’re thinking.  You’re probably saying to yourself: “What?! It just sits there burning all that fuel?!  I thought this post was supposed to be about helping the environment, not polluting it!”  But get this: During one man’s recent power failure, his plug-in Prius used less than a gallon of gasoline in six hours.  Most of us use more than that making our daily runs to Starbucks (I don’t drink coffee, but hey, you gotta love the Toffee Almond Bar).  So when you put it into perspective, it doesn’t seem that bad. 

   Overall, I think the concept of running power to your house through your hybrid car is pretty interesting.  It allows people to be able to communicate and stay connected to one another even when the power is out for long periods of time, such as in locations that have a lot of hurricanes.  Many experts say that these types of vehicles could be very useful by being recharged at night when the demand for power is lower.  This means that less energy would be consumed during the hottest parts of the day, which could help avoid blackouts in some areas.  Some automakers are exploring the possibility of making this kind of plug-in more available to the general public.  Until then, maybe you could look into buying a hybrid and rig one up for yourself.  However, I’d say the best strategy for most of us is to just conserve energy by using a little less power in our homes and decrease pollution by driving less often.  Perhaps we can just cut our Starbucks trips down to every couple of days.  C’mon, you can go without that Caramel Macchiato a little more if it means saving the planet, right? 😉  



Big Billboard Is Watching You…


    Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?  Well, if you are looking at a billboard in Great Britain, that just might be the case.  Roel Vertegaal has a recent invention called the EyeBox2, which he developed through the company Xuuk, Inc.  This new form of technology serves as a new option for advertisers as they try to determine what billboards, shelves, and plasma TVs are getting the most attention from unsuspecting onlookers. 

    Vertegaal says that the concept of the EyeBox2 is similar to the process used in photo editing software.  You know how it goes…You make some pictures of your friends using the flash on your camera and they turn out absolutely perfect…except for those awful red eyes.  You’re forced to go in and edit them out.  The EyeBox2 actually looks for that red eye and allows adverstisers to use it to find out if people are interested in their ads.  There have been several other eye-tracking systems up to this point, but none of them have been nearly as effective.  Many of these devices were only able to track the eyes of a person no more than a half a meter away.  However, this latest system has increased that distance up to 20 times, which means that it can find out if you are looking at an ad up to 10 meters away. 

    For now, this advertising practice is just being used across the pond, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it showed up in the United States sometime soon.  While some might consider these eye-tracking billboards to be a little bizarre, I think that they really don’t seem that different from some of the procedures that advertisers are currently using online.  The author of the article says that EyeBox2 “…is like Google Analytics for the offline world.”  Google Analytics is already helping advertisers measure the success of their ads and product placements, so eye-tracking billboards should really come as no surprise.  The question is: How far will this go?  I’ve never seen the movie Minority Report, but I’ve heard that it contains a futuristic concept in which individuals have hologram-like ads that are personalized specifically for them.  I’m not saying that the EyeBox2 is that advanced, but you have to admit it seems like a step in that direction.  It’s definitely something to think about…

    The price for each unit is $999, which I don’t think seems too bad.  If advertisers are really able to use this to identify what types of ads capture attention, it seems like they could easily make up the cost of a few units in key areas of the country.  However, if companies find this to be a little more than they are willing to pay, they can always go with something a little more low-tech by following in the footsteps of a Dutch online reservations company called Hotels.nl.  The cost per…uh…”unit” is only 1 euro or about $1.23 a day (plus the fines for violating bans on advertising along highways in some areas of the Netherlands).  It’s certainly attention-grabbing, so long as advertisers don’t feel too “sheepish” about using the method.  (I know, I know…Please spare me your groans.)


Retail Me…Not?


    After reading a post about RetailMeNot.com from fellow blogger Arielle’s page, “Eternal Sunshine of the Innovative Mind,” I decided to check out the site for myself.  I’ve always been a big fan of coupons.  In fact, I’m known in my family as the “Coupon Queen,” which is a compliment (I think).  I don’t typically use coupons for things I wouldn’t normally buy (mostly because that means spending more money which defeats the purpose of using a coupon in the first place), but I do take the time to clip coupons for things I purchase regularly or for things I think I might be of use to me at some point.  It’s not that I’m obsessed with saving money or anything, although I do enjoy getting a good deal when I can.  To tell you the truth, I find clipping coupons to be kind of stress-relieving, as strange as that might sound.  Maybe it’s because it gets my mind off of all the school work that I should probably be doing instead.  Maybe it brings back memories of kindergarten when my Kool-Aid stained classmates and I would use our safety scissors to cut out shapes in our macaroni-covered construction paper.  Maybe I’m just a little odd.  (I’m pretty sure it’s mostly that last one…)  Whatever the case may be, I’m always the one standing in the checkout line at the grocery store saying “Oh, wait…I think I have a coupon for that…”  Needless to say, I was intrigued by the idea of a website with coupon codes that I could use for some of my favorite merchants.  So I clicked on the link to see what deals I could find. 

    After exploring the site for a couple of minutes and checking out some offers for a few preferred places, I have to say, I was kind of disappointed.  I couldn’t really find that many coupons that I thought I would actually use and the ones that did peak my interest proved to be non-working.  I tried to find several different codes for some websites to no avail.  However, this doesn’t mean that all of the coupons on RetailMeNot.com will turn out to be dead-ends.  I suspect that perhaps I’m just not interested in the right kind of coupons.  For those of you that don’t know me, I’m not really a Victoria’s Secret kind of girl, and I don’t usually shop for CDs or books online at websites like Amazon.  These are two of the most popular stores with codes on the website, so users who are interested in buying from retail establishments such as these would probably have more luck than I did. 

    Overall, I think RetailMeNot.com is a good idea for those who do a lot of online shopping.  I particularly like the feature of users being able to see the success rate of others who have tried using the coupons.  However, I personally prefer websites like Coolsavings.com where you can just print out a coupon to take to a store.  Better yet, just give me the old-fashioned insert in the Sunday paper.  For now, I think I’ll skip the codes for the online stores and just stick with the coupons for the important stuff.  You know, the essentials…like Extra Cool Watermelon flavored gum, Clairol Herbal Essences shampoo, and pretty much any available Aunt Jemima product.  I feel the need to break out into a classic Julie Andrews song right about now: “These are a few of my favorite things…”

Much Ado About Apple?

          Apple StoreApple Store

   Apple has been around for a quite a while, but I really didn’t start to take notice of the company until just a couple of years ago.  When I was in high school, I never knew anyone with an iPod that I could recall.  However, once I arrived at college, I began to see people with those little earbuds in constantly.  Pretty soon, MacBooks started popping up everywhere.  Then, several PC labs were converted to Mac Labs.  With the release of the iPhone and the latest iPods, PC users cannot ignore the fact any longer: Apple is taking over the world.  (Okay, okay…So Apple isn’t really taking over the world.  But it can sure seem that way at times.)  Is Apple really all it’s cracked up to be?  This seems to be the typical argument for Apple:

          (1) Apple offers the latest forms of technology and everyone has Apple products.  (2) Everyone should want the latest forms of technology and have what everyone else has.  (3) If someone doesn’t have Apple products, they will not have the latest forms of technology or what everyone else has.  (4) Therefore, everyone should buy Apple products.

   There are some valid points to this argument.  After all, keeping up with new innovations allows us to continue to progress as a society.  It also makes performing certain tasks easier or more efficient.  However, we must ask ourselves if all forms of technology are absolutely necessary.  For example, do we really need to be able to access the Internet from a phone?  Although Apple’s iPhone allows its users to go online, I personally don’t see it as something I just have to have.  If I want to make a call, I’ll use a phone.  If I want to go on the Internet, I’ll use a computer.  Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I don’t mind using each one for only its originally intended use.  In addition, I think Apple is encouraging sort of a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.  Most of Apple’s empire has come about through sheer hype.  As a college student, sometimes I feel like people just assume and expect that everyone has an iPod.  When I tell people I don’t, they often seemed shocked and almost act as if they feel sorry for me.  Granted, I think iPods are nifty little gadgets, but I’m just not willing to shell out almost $300 for one of the latest models.  As I have mentioned before on another blog post, I only own about 15 CDs, so I don’t have enough music to even begin to fill up an iPod.  I think there are probably a lot of people that have iPods that really don’t need them.  They just get them so that they can have them as a status symbol.

   For all my criticisms, I must admit that I am not totally against Apple.  I do think that they have made some great advancements in the last few years and I am curious to see what they will do in the future.  However, I’m just not ready to become a true Apple convert, nor am I sure if I ever will be.  I have been using a Mac in one of my classes this year and contrary to what I had always been told, I didn’t find it difficult to learn how to use at all.  In a way, though, it was almost oversimplified.  I don’t know…It just didn’t feel right.  I may slowly come around to the Apple revolution, but for now I think I’ll stick to my HP Pavilion notebook and live without an iPod (and possible hearing loss).