Monday, November 17, 2008

Is There a Tech Slump?

The Economy and Technology

I was kind of dreading addressing this topic because I'm not sure what to make of it. The New York Times put out an article that the slump in the national economy has finally hit technology, so I think it warrants some discussion.

I think it's no secret that every aspect of the economy was going to be affected by the housing marketing crisis and the bank failures and the stock market faltering and all that stuff. If you have low investor confidence then it leads to low consumer confidence and people don't spend as much when they hear about layoffs in the news and, perhaps without a valid reason, fear for their own jobs. I feel like we shouldn't look at this as damaging technology companies and causing layoffs so much as a time for growth and evolution in the industry. It's a time for everyone to take another look at their products and their operations and optimize them. This is a very good thing. Just because there are some short term casualties does not mean that these jobs won't come back in the very near future, hopefully better than before and with greater value for consumers. Times like these force real innovation because you can't re-package something and expect people to buy them. It's actually a really great time to start a company because you can pioneer an industry with little to no competition as long as your idea rests on solid foundations.

Anyway, the point is that I think that the tech sector will be ok. If you're really concerned and work in the industry, Infoworld has a neat little survival guide that features the skills that are hot right now so that you know what to read in your spare time. I'm going to start reading Effective Java next month (I'm trying to finish up The Namesake
right now) myself. I wouldn't get too depressed reading all these articles and hearing about layoffs and all that stuff, just play it smart. Keep putting $15,500 a year into your 401(k), put away at least 25% of your take-home salary into savings, and keep reading books about technologies and concepts that interest you. Don't let the learning stop at college because the people who are the most passionate are more likely to weather better in times like these, so just don't panic.

Google Talk Does Video

Google has finally added video chat to Google Talk from right within your Gmail if you just install their plug-in. I've personally been looking for a good alternative to Skype and this is definitely a cool competitor since it doesn't require the installation of an actual software application, just a browser plug-in. Plus, I know barely anyone on Skype vs. Google Talk. Since it isn't run on Flash (though it apparently uses Flash in some form) or Silverlight, some think that this is the start of Google's own homegrown competitor to the two platforms, and that's definitely a possibility. Could this new plug-in allow you to start a video blog on Blogger? Might it provide for video chat straight from your Android-enabled phone? Is it loaded with functionality to make it easier for future Google Labs applications run without making you close your browser to install something? Details are still scarce, but I'm game to find out more. I'm not sure that it'll be anything revolutionary per se, but I'm more interested to see if, since this is already cross-platform between Mac and PC, it could be the start of applications that are cross-compatible between your phone and your PC from within your browser.

First TDK Review and Blu-ray Ripper

There were a couple of firsts for blu-ray last week! Well, the first one is kind of cheating I guess: it's what I believe to be the first review of The Dark Knight on Blu-ray, which stands to be the best-selling release for Blu-ray to date on launch. When you think about it, it took a few solid releases for DVD to be a desirable format, could a smattering of Iron Man, Hellboy II, The Dark Knight, and Wall-E being available this holiday season boost Blu-ray as people see what it's capable of doing for visually astounding movies? Anyway, the review is very positive, but the only special feature that seems to be unique to Blu-ray as opposed to DVD is that rather than audio commentary you have "seamless" branches into behind-the-scenes features. They don't know what the BD Live feature(s) will be, but probably just updated trailers and being able to watch the movie in sync with someone else and text chatting during the movie. Still, the picture and sound quality are probably enough to sell it, and they both sound quite impressive from this early review. Plus, the price is very close to DVD, so I think that Blu-ray definitely has a chance to get a boost this holiday season, but price drops for the 2009 holiday season on old Blu-ray releases would really help seal the deal for the format.

You can't have a successful new format without an illegal ripper, and we finally have that for Blu-ray. Well, we technically had it before but a recent update unlocks data that seems to be necessary to access BD Live content, which really makes it a fully-functional ripper for the format. I personally do believe that rippers are important for the purpose of backing up your content. It's nice to have a hard drive dedicated to your media so that you can access your movies when you're on the road or just in case you scratch a disc (though I've heard that Blu-ray discs are harder to get accidentally scratched up, can anyone confirm that?).

WPA Gets Cracked

Hacking news is usually pretty standard, but when you manage to compromise a widely used WiFi security protocol, it's kind of a big deal. A couple of researchers have essentially figured out how to spoof data going to your computer as if it came securely from your router and read the data going from your router to your computer in under 15 minutes. The details will be revealed very soon, but sounds intense since it comes out of a "mathematical breakthrough' WPA2 is supposedly safe from the attack, but WPA2 routers support WPA so I wonder if your computer told the router that you only supported WPA if it would then be susceptible to the attack. That was a flaw in one of the older standards, and maybe it's a standing issue. This is going to affect a lot of people because I doubt that everyone on WPA2 given how new it is, but I think that having a pretty long passkey will help. It is a scary thing to have your router compromised though because if it looks like data from your bank is coming from your bank, how would you know if it was a fake site? Fortunately, without them setting up such a site they can't get to your sensitive data, but until we have details it's hard to say what you can do to protect yourself other than WPA2. Unfortunately, that's just the insecure world we live in.

USB 3.0

The final spec for USB 3.0 has finally arrived with blazing speeds. It can transfer 27 GB in 70 seconds, which is about a tenth as long as USB 2.0. It'll also have greater power efficiency and power output, but I don't see how those are complementary. Anyway, rather than having the computer constantly poll the device as it does right now in 2.0, 3.0 will be interrupt-based so that it'll just tell the computer when it's going to do something. I know it may seem dumb that they didn't do that in the first place, but my understanding of interrupts is that they're a lot more complicated than polling, so it makes sense that it would be an evolutionary step. The article points out that it's the death knoll for Firewire, but it's amazing that anyone is still using Firewire nowadays because it's so hard to find a computer with Firewire ports. Anyway, I just like seeing cables standardized and simple like USB and HDMI. They really do make life easier than in the days of serial cables and component cables and the like.

The Remainder

I really don't have a lot to say about a number of items from last week. I think they're noteworthy, but there's simply not a whole lot to add to them. You'll see what I mean here.

Amazon has announced the finalists for their contest for the best startup using AWS technologies, for which the grand prize is $100,000. Almost all of them are pretty cool products, especially MedCommons, which will need boat loads of security and privacy but I think is a good idea.

Windows 7 will have 3 stickers from readiness down from 4 for Vista: Windows 7 Capable, Windows 7 Touch-Capable, and Windows 7 Media Center Capable. 3 is better than 4, but what's the point of the last one except to confuse people?

This is a funny article on how to waste time at work secretly. It may be a bit disingenuous, but they get points for creativity.

Intel demoed their wireless power technology which, I kid you not, I predicted about 6 years ago in a dumb short story I wrote that took place in like 2010. It uses magnetic fields, creepily just as I predicted, but I wonder how it'll affect pacemakers and stuff?

Programmers should take note in this rundown of free text editors. If you're like me and do most of your development on Linux, it's nice to have something on the side on your Windows/Mac machine, or even something else for your Linux box outside of your primary IDE just to quickly browse source code.

Lastly, I found this article with over 30 re-brands fun to browse, maybe you will, too. This was one of my favorites:

Oh, and I pre-ordered Prince of Persia so it looks like I'll have thoughts on that in early December. I'll try to get a review of LittleBigPlanet out before then though. Enjoy your week, everyone!

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