We are living in the future


The last few years I have revisited the stories of some of my childhood favorite sci-fi authors, and in particular Robert A Heinlein. It is fascinating to read stories written in the 50’s and 60’s and compare them to what actually happened.

Last week I finished The Door into Summer (1956) which takes place in 1970 and in 2000. It is amusing to read about the household (and other) robots and how they are programmed using a kind of electronic tubes. My robotic vacuum at home is the size of a pizza box, not the human sized robots described in the book. Voice recognition is mentioned, but according to the book it is too complicated and bulky, except for a very limited vocabulary. Today we have voice recognition in every mobile phone, and programs like DragonDictate (later Dragon NaturallySpeaking) have been around since the late 90’s.

In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966) one of the main “characters” is the computer Mike, who takes up a large building and control all of the Luna colony. This echos the quote attributed to IBM’s Thomas J. Watson: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”. The philosophy back then was that centralized computer power was the way to go, not the distributed systems we have today. And they were still using telephones with wires in the future. Today we use smart phones with more computing power than Heinlein could ever imagine, and probably more computing power than the computer in the book.

And in Starman Jones (1953) the crew calculate their position largely manually, with the help of a computer that requires all the input data entered with binary switches, and returns the data in binary code using lights. The positions of the stars (used for the calculations) are recorded using “plates” which have to be developed, in other words traditional photography. Digital photography have today pretty much killed off traditional “chemical” photography using film.

There are of course many examples of where authors been right and describe technical equipment which have actually been developed, like the water bed (Heinlein in aforementioned The Door into Summer) and tablet computers (Orson Scott Card in Ender’s Game from 1985).

So in many ways we already live in the future, and in an even more amazing and technologically developed world than even the greatest sci-fi writers could imagine. I don’t think anyone envisioned Internet and it’s importance, even if Orson Scott Card does write about a world wide computer network used for information and discussion in Ender’s Game. But by that time Internet already existed (just not the world wide web) and the electronic bulletin board systems (BBS) were becoming popular in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Personally I started connecting to BBSes in 1986 (possibly 1987) and in 1990 I connected to my favorite BBS almost daily.

Sure, we don’t have the flying cars everyone expected, or even the hoverboards from Back to the Future II (1989). But I believe that the rise of Internet is perhaps the single most important event in recent history. It has revolutionized shopping, you can now connect to a site on the other side of town or the opposite side of the planet and talk to people or purchase products. We have sites like Wikipedia and Stack Exhange where we can learn things and ask questions, not to mention online learning.

We have home automation that rival what is described in sci-fi books and movies. At home we are renovating (or rather rebuilding from scratch) our bathroom. We are going to install a Moen digital shower system as well as a pretty high-tech toilet. We already have a number of Insteon lights all over the house, controlled though a hub and a smart phone app (some lights are even turned on and off on a schedule based on sunset and sunrise), as well as a robotic vacuum. The latter is cleaning the house twice a day by itself, which is keeping the pet hairs under control and improving the air quality substantially. There is so much more you can do to your home these days, including changing the temperature remotely and even monitoring and controlling your hot tub.

My car has a radar to automatically break if someone walks out in front of the car, and this feature has been improved even more in the latest models. When the car is not braking by itself, the radar assisted cruise control let you drive safely behind other cars while you stream live radio from the other side of the globe through the Internet to your phone and then over bluetooth to the car stereo.

I love living in the future.


World Wide Web turning 25 years this week

In some articles it is claimed that Internet turns 25 years old this week, which of course is not true. But the World Wide Web is. It was on March 12, 1989 that Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal for a hypertext system that would become what we call “the web”. In 1991 the first webpage was created and published at CERN.

Since then the web has exploded. I first got in touch with web pages and HTML in 1994, and in 1995 I had my own little server running on my work computer. I don’t think I could imagine what the web and other internet technologies would lead to back then.

Back then pages were static, and Javascript was not invented until later (in the end of 1995). Everything was done server-side, so the pages needed to be reloaded to display new or updated information.

Today we have dynamically loading pages, with client side scripts that perform Ajax calls and update elements on the page without reloading the page.  Sure, specialized software like Lotus Notes had similar functionality way back, but required special clients and servers. Now we also have Javascript libraries like jQuery to help in development. It’s like night and day compared with how it was back in the mid-1990’s.

But it is not only the technology that has changed. What the web (as well as the rest of the Internet) is used for has also changed. From being more of an encyclopedia, where you were looking up information, today the web is used for commerce in a way I don’t think many expected back in the mid-90’s.

Today you can use a computer or smart phone anywhere in the world, and buy anything from toilet paper to a new car. We have auction sites like Ebay, big commercial juggernauts like Amazon as well as classified sites like Craigslist. Almost any retailer offers online purchases today.

Here is just a sample of what I bought online in the last week or so: Swedish Björn Borg underwear, a Kensington Proximo tag to use with an iPad at a trade show and a charger and two spare batteries for my GoPro camera. Just a few years ago, I had to wait for my sister to come visit or me going over to Sweden to be able to buy those particular underwear, for example.

The other day I was at JC Penney to buy a couple of Levi’s jeans for my sister’s boyfriend. In Sweden, a pair of $40 jeans can cost over $150… I had the model and the size, but since they had several different shades of blue, I simply took a couple of pictures of the different ones and mailed then to my sister on the other side of the globe. Within a few minutes I had a response and knew which ones to get. I know this was technically not using World Wide Web being used, but this is still a huge development from 25 years ago, when Internet mail was just plain text.

We truly are living in the future, and it is a future that no sci-fi writers envisioned. There are some 1980’s writers that envisioned a world-wide network, with discussion forums and email (e.g. Orson Scott Card in Ender’s Game from 1985). When I recently re-read Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, as well as Robert A. Heinleins The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I noticed how they for example still used land-lines for telephony, and that most of the computer technology felt very antiquated. Nothing of what we take for granted today was mentioned, like email, instant messaging, Google search engines or Wikipedia-style reference sites with all it’s collected knowledge.

Some things from the sci-fi stories have come true, like communicating with a computer using your voice. Today that computer is (in most cases) our smart phones, having more computing power than even the most powerful computer back in the 90’s…

What will the next 25 years give us? Who knows. Faster, smaller and more powerful computers and higher connection speeds are obvious. The 5G wireless networks are already in the development stage. But what will the next big leap be? Artificial intelligence? I guess we will see. What do you think will be the next big step in technology?


Microsoft Store – #fail

I visited Houston this weekend, and we decided to go to the Microsoft Store in The Galleria. The plan was to look at the Surface devices for a project I am currently working on (I will blog about this later this year, when we are closer to release). The thought was to take a look at the application on the web, before decided which device(s) to get for further testing. We also went to the Sony Store (pretty much next-door to Microsoft) to look at some laptops and to the Apple Store on the level above to check out their devices.

At Sony there was no problem looking at their laptops and other devices. They did not really have any tablets we were interested in, but we were still able to look at our application on their laptops, using Windows 8. Same thing at Apple, I accessed the application on an iPad Mini, no problem.


Then we went to Microsoft, and I started playing with a Surface RT device. Nice small form factor and, and surprisingly nice keyboard. I entered the URL for my server and expected the login prompt to show up. Instead I was redirected to the Microsoft Store webpage. OK, perhaps I had typed something wrong in the URL. I tried one more time, making sure the address was correct. Same result. We then asked a girl working in the store what was wrong. She explained that most pages are blocked, only a small number of commonly accessed pages were avaliable to surf to. That was supposedly because people went to “inappropriate pages”.

So obviously Microsoft don’t have access to the blocking technology that most companies (including the one I work at) use to block online gaming, adult sites or other categories deemed not appropriate for work. Why even have a store, when Best Buy or similar places is a much better place to actually test the device? Total fail by Microsoft.

“Do again, do right”, as my instructors in the Swedish Army would have said.


Note: The picture was taken with my Samsung Galaxy S4, using the camera mode to erase moving objects. At least 3 people walked in front of me while I took the picture, but as you can see, the phone did a good job at erasing them!


New graphics card

I recently decided I needed a new graphics card at home. As I mentioned last month, a new version of SimCity is coming out soon (next week, as a matter of fact)

My previous card, a Nvidia GeForce 7900 GS  with 256MB memory, was purchased in the end of 2006, and it was at that time considered a upper mid-range graphics cards. At this time, I built myself a new computer to play the brand new Flight Simulator X, which was a demanding game both for graphics and CPU. I think I paid $189 for it.

That card was nice, even if I still could not play Flight Simulator with smooth graphics in the highest resolution and with highest realism/quality settings. But I could not justify spending hundreds of dollar on a faster/better graphics card. I don’t play that much games, most of what I do at home is using Photoshop, video editing and programming.

But today — after some online research and comparison of benchmarks for different cards — I went to my local Fry’s Electronics during lunch and purchased the Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti with 2GB DDR5 memory, at a price of $299. I also got a $10 mail-in rebate (which I probably will forget to send in) and a free download of Assassin’s Creed III.

Here is a comparison of the two cards. Amazing what have happened in 6 years…

Comparison chart between Nvidia GeForce 7900 GS and GeForce GTX 660 Ti
Comparison between my old Nvidia GeForce 7900 GS and ne GeForce GTX 660 Ti.
Click on image for larger version.

Cloud Storage – Overview

Cloud Storage - Logos

There are a number of cloud storage services available, all with similar functionality. The differences are mostly in the details, like amount of free storage, what platforms the clients are available for, etc. I mentioned some of them in a previous entry on this blog, when I wrote about some useful Android apps.

So what is cloud storage? The first people ask me when I tell them about these storage services is what “the cloud” is. Some even think it is an Apple product or service (because of iCloud). I think Wikipedia has a good explanation:

Cloud computing is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet). The name comes from the use of a cloud-shaped symbol as an abstraction for the complex infrastructure it contains in system diagrams.

Cloud storage is basically that you get space to store your files securely somewhere on the Internet, in a data center somewhere in the world. You then typically install a client program or app on your computer and/or smartphone to access the files. You can then upload a file from one computer or device and access it from any other device. Several of the services also integrate the storage with online editing withouth the user having to download files to edit them and then upload them again.

A typical example is how I use cloud storage. I have SugarSync and DropBox installed on my Android phone. When I take a picture, it is automatically uploaded to DropBox when I have wifi connectivity. I could set it to always upload, even through mobile data, but I set it to wifi only to save on my data plan. The pictures are available at once on my computer at work as well as on my computers at home (two of them with DropBox installed).

This actually saved me during Connect 2013. I store all photos on the SD card in the phone, and that card got fried halfway through the conference. In a normal case, i would have lost all the pictures I had taken that far, but now I had them uploaded to DropBox, and did not lose anything.

I also use DropBox to store certain files I want to be able to access both from home and from work. Like Photoshop files I use for my blog, funny pictures I find online or personal documents like my resume.

I use Microsoft Skydrive OneDrive for some other files, for example a book I am working on. I can then work on the book on any computer (even my Android phone!), even if the devices/computer does not have Word installed. Skydrive OneDrive includes a Word web app, while Google Drive and Box offers the same functionality using Google Docs.

Some services create their own folder on the computers where the shared files are stored, other let you share existing files, like My Documents. Most also allow you to share files with others, either a full directory or individual files. The person you share the files with does not need an account with the service, the file can be accessed through an URL, but having an account makes it easier to share whole directories.

Most of the services uses the freemium business model, you get a certain storage for free, and then you pay if you want more, after you tried it out.

Dropbox gives you 2 GB, but through referrals you can increase this. You can send emails to yoru friends from the site, or simply share a URL. You both get additional space this way. If any of my readers are not using Dropbox yet, use this link to sign up, to get additional space: http://db.tt/Yl563Kf

SugarSync used to offer 2 GB, but recently increased it to 5 GB for free. They also have a referral system similar to Dropbox, feel free to use this link to sign up: http://bit.ly/XmJQNf

Microsoft SkyDrive OneDrive offers 7 GB free, or 25 GB if you signed up early (before April 20012). You use your Hotmail/Live/Outlook.com account to login to the service, and it also includes integration with Office on the desktop, as well as editing files using the Word Web App directly in the browser. Update: As of February 19, 2014 Skydrive has been renamed OneDrive, and a referral system has been added. If anyone signs up using your personal link, you and the other person both get 500MB extra storage. Feel free to sign up using my link: http://bit.ly/1c2RvrI

Box (formerly Box.net) offers 5 GB free storage. When I installed ASTRO File Manager the other day on my Android phone, I was offered  25 GB free storage. I haven’t explored the functionality of the service very much yet

Google Drive is one of the latest entries on the cloud storage arena. It was launched less than a year ago, in April 2012, and offers 5 GB of free storage together with access to Google Docs, the web-based office suite, so documents can be edited directly online.

iCloud is Apples offering. The user get 5 GB for free here as well. Currently iCloud only works on mobile devices using the iOS operating system (i.e. iPhone), but there are clients for both MacOS and Windows. The service allows users to backup their contacts, photos and other data on the phone wirelessly and automatically.

Ubuntu One is a service from Canonical, giving users the customary 5 GB of free storage. It is aimed at Ubuntu users, but there are clients for Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS as well. Ubuntu One also offers music streaming, included in a paid upgrade.

There are more similar services, but the ones listed above are the most popular ones. Wikipedia has an overview of file hosting services, where you can find out more how they compare to each other.



Upgrading my workstation with SSD drive

This weekend I picked up a 120 GB Samsung SSD drive at my local TigerDirect. It was on sale, $89.99 plus sales tax, so the final cost ended up being just below $100. I also had to get an adapter for 2.5″ form factor to 3.5″ drive bay. My hope is that this will give me enough of a performance boost to avoid having to spend many hundreds of dollar on a new, faster processor, a new motherboard and new memory.

Yesterday afternoon I installed it in my disktop, and started reinstalling Windows 7. I decided to perform a clean install, as it has been almost 2 years since I installed the operating system, and I noticed some slowness (especially during boot time) compared with when the system was new.

The important thing to remember about SSD drives is that they have a limited number of writes. I will only install the operating system and any major pieces of software (Lotus Notes, LibraOffice, Photoshop, Sony Vegas and a few more that I constantly use) on that drive. All data, including the Notes Data data directory and the Windows user data (My Documents, My Pictures, etc) will be located on my D-drive, which is a traditional harddisk. I also put the Windows swap file on that drive.

Mike Brown posted the other day about his frustrations installing Windows 7, also on a SSD drive. I always disconnect all other drives anyway when reinstalling an operating system, but I suspect his issues had to do with previous installs leaving things in the boot records on drives. However, he is completely right that Microsoft ignores the possibility that someone wants to have other operating systems installed in a dual boot environment. Very annoying.
One big advantage with installing on a new drive is that I still have the old drive, with existing data (files, bookmarks, etc) so they can easily be moved over to the new installation. I also have a reference of installed software, I just have to look in the Program Files directory to find out what software I had previously installed.

I can tell a substantial decrease in startup time after the reinstall on the SSD drive, but I expected nothing less from a clean install. Now I just have to install all my other programs and see what the end result will be.

120 GB Samsung SSD drive
120 GB Samsung SSD drive



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