Archive for October, 2009

A taste of the Sony e-reader

October 29, 2009

We’ve had a Sony e-Reader around the office for a few months now and we’ve used it from time to time to read a few heavyweight pdf documents on long train journeys. But it is only in the last few days that I’ve really got my teeth into it and used it to read an entire book.

Firstly, on the positive side, there is no doubt that it has saved me lugging around seriously heavy chunks of paper on a number of trips. The e-ink screen is good and after years of squinting at laptop screens when I inadvertently end up in a sunny window seat on the train, this is a real joy to read in bright light. It’s also pretty readable in low light. The ability to be able to zoom in on a particular page is also excellent.

Less positively, the page refresh is on the slow side, maybe a second, and this has a noticeable affect on your reading. I also found that the inability to thumb through a book or flick easily from one chapter to another became annoying after a while. You can do these things with the device’s various buttons, but it’s just not as intuitive. I’d also like to be able to scribble notes on pages which is a feature that’s only just been added to the new version of Sony’s device. As a Mac user I was also a bit annoyed that it took several months before Sony had a Mac OS version of their eBook library software.

Sony, of course, are not alone. Indeed, the launch this month of an international version of the Amazon Kindle has generated a lot of newspaper reviews (including an unusually excoriating one by Lynne Truss in the Sunday Times). Some even think these devices will be this year’s Christmas hit. Booksellers Barnes and Noble have got in on the act with an exclusive device called The Nook, which has just launched in America.

More interestingly, Spring Design have announced a dual screen device that has an 6″ e-ink screen area for book reading and another, smaller, LCD screen for Web surfing. The idea is that as you come across hyperlinked items in the book or report you are reading you can click and be taken (on the second screen) to the item in question. This points towards making e-books a different, more interactive experience to the traditional book (which has been much discussed in publishing circles).

Looking at these devices though, I have to say, I think there’s a huge, crisp, perfectly formed piece of fruit about to drop on this market. At the moment it doesn’t officially exist. It’s the Apple tablet and I suspect that will be the Christmas hit. In 2010, that is.


Optical computing gets European size and power breakthrough

October 16, 2009

For years there has been talk within the computer industry of optical computing being the next big thing. Replacing electronic components with light-bearing ones – think tiny fibre optic cables – promised startling breakthroughs in computational speed. But up until now there has always been a problem making the optical components small enough for computers.

A team of European researchers has just demonstrated ‘light on a wire’ technologies that could lead to computing systems that can combine electronics and optical communications in one system. They call it plasmonics and it makes use of a physical property called electron plasma oscillation to transmit both electronic and optical signals down the same wire. What’s exciting about this is that while the plasmonic technique has been demonstrated before, this team have managed to get the idea to work using existing commercial lithography chip-manufacturing techniques.

As Anatoly Zayats, a researcher who’s been working on the project on behalf of the EU, says: “For the last five years or so it has been possible to build an optical computer chip, but with all-optical components it would have to measure something like half a metre by half a metre and would consume enormous power. With plasmonics, we can make the circuitry small enough to fit in a normal PC while maintaining optical speeds.”

Zayats expects commercial results in five to ten years and a French chip manufacturer is drawing up plans. Looks like a good day for the European computer industry.


October 14, 2009

It has been some time, so I thought I would restart proceedings for the autumn with a quick link to Cambridge computing lab pioneer Quentin Stafford-Fraser. Here truly is a man after my own heart as in between blogging about 3G femtocells and recursion he’s found time to consider the future of puddings.

He proffers the idea of a social networking site for recipes as a means to further their evolution, although I have to say it’s not the first time I’ve come across this idea. When I first started working at Intelligent Content one of the development projects that (fortunately) never came to fruition was of a similar ilk – although the concept of social networks didn’t exist then, of course. Quentin has form in this area – he was one of the instigators of the Trojan Room coffee pot affair.