I was thinking about time today. Just the usual stuff: how to have more of it, why must it be so … precise. This all seemed to stem from looking at our definition of atomic clock, as I browsed the database for interesting Words of the Day for the weekend. Atomic clock came up in our Director, Margaret Rouse’s blog on IT Knowledge Exchange. She quoted Douglas Dwyer’s article on How Stuff Works:
Without atomic clocks, GPS navigation would be impossible, the Internet would not synchronize, and the position of the planets would not be known with enough accuracy for space probes and landers to be launched and monitored.
All that precision makes me fantasize about simpler times when (I fondly imagine) humans weren’t as time-driven. I tend to think that, for example, noonish would be a perfectly valid time to set an appointment if we were going by the position of the sun. (All appointments automatically cancelled on cloudy days!)
And yet… NIST’s A Walk Through Time seems to suggest that my fantasy is … just a dream. According to their section on ancient calendars, humans have been doing their darndest to track time for so long that if I want to go back to a simpler time where time’s less of an issue I’d have go go back to a time that was probably too simple for my liking. Before books and coffee, for example. I’m no technology addict (I’d be happy to read by firelight, steaming latte in hand) but there are limits to how rough I’m willing to go.
Here’s a bit from Ancient Calendars:
We know little about the details of timekeeping in prehistoric eras, but wherever we turn up records and artifacts, we usually discover that in every culture, some people were preoccupied with measuring and recording the passage of time. Ice-age hunters in Europe over 20,000 years ago scratched lines and gouged holes in sticks and bones, possibly counting the days between phases of the moon.
Ice age? No thanks! I can hardly wait till Spring as it is. The days get shorter, nights get longer and I start to fantasize about hibernating until, oh, Aprilish.
~ Ivy Wigmore
Virtualization was top of the mind for IT administrators and media alike last year. 2008 is no different. Just review the much-discussed recent survey, IT priorities in 2008. If a technology can be remotely related to any virtual, you can bet that vendors will do so. “Virtual insanity” isn’t a 90s Jamiroquai tune.
Our job, as always, is to cut through the buzzwords to the meat of what any particular technology is, how it works, who is using it and why it’s important. Read our definitions for server virtualization, application virtualization, file virtualization, virtual machine and paravirtualization to get just a taste of our virtual offerings. We even added Second Life to the database, after it became clear that virtual worlds needed some explanation as well.
If you want the complete virtual file, head over to the complete virtualization taxonomy.
A couple of readers responded to a Word of the Day from last week, virtual networking. One asked for clarification, the other outright disputed the entry. Following is most of our definition for virtual networking, if you missed it (and if you did, make sure to sign up for the Word of the Day newsletter).
Virtual networking is a technology that facilitates the control of one or more remotely located computers or servers over the Internet. Data can be stored and retrieved, software can be run and peripherals can be operated through a Web browser as if the distant hardware were onsite.
Virtual networking facilitates consolidation of diverse services and devices on a single hardware platform called a virtual services switch. The centralization of control reduces the cost and complexity of operating and maintaining hardware and software compared with administering numerous separate devices in widely separated geographical locations. Maintenance personnel and administrators can install device drivers, perform tests and resolve problems on the remote machines from a single location.
It may be necessary to install virtual networking software on the remote computers or servers to take advantage of this technology. Several vendors, including Microsoft and VMware, offer virtual networking software. Some vendors offer comprehensive virtual networking services, allowing business network administrators to outsource labor and resources to the vendor. Virtual networking capability is a standard feature of Windows XP and Vista.
Here’s our reader’s request for clarification:
“Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought accessing something over the Internet is still a physical network. Yes, it isn’t a LAN, but I think it wouldn’t be appropriate to classify as “Virtual Networking”. It is a real network, physical connection, but under the cooperation of the original network (ie a company or home network) , telecommunications provider and possibly an intermediate ISP. It is still all physical and I would think “Virtual” would be an inappropriate classification/definition.” -Justin Snyder
Justin, thanks for writing in. In this sense, the term virtual is used in a more figurative than literal way. In general, virtual simply means the quality of effecting something without actually being that something. All of the various virtualization technologies are a variant of this concept. In server virtualization, one physical server is divided into multiple isolated virtual environments, each of which is masked from the users. Virtual tape makes it possible to save data as if it were being stored on tape although it’s actually be stored on hard disk or on another storage medium. A guest OS is an operating system installed in a virtual machine or disk partition in addition to the host or main OS. In each case, a software layer has been added in lieu of a physical connection.
Virtual networking is much the same. A virtual sevices switch allows the sysadmin to monitor or change configurations remotely — or virtually — instead of going to the location in person. Justin, you’re right — whenever you access something online, it does flow over physical devices at one point or another, even if it’s wireless — but the technologies that underpin much of that traffic are these days, often virtual.
Our other reader strongly disagreed with the idea of virtual networking on a more existential level:
This entry [virtual networking] is specious and should be deleted. Unix workstations and servers have had this capability for at least 15 years. And there is nothing virtual about it. It simply uses a little hardware and OS capability, accessed via the network. Since when did anything and everything involving the network become “virtual”? Is e-commerce going to be renamed “virtual shopping”?
Microsoft and VMware have done nothing more than catch up to 1990’s technology, slap a “virtual” label on it, and pretended as though they invented it. Give us a break. -Brian Herzog
Brian, I agree. Virtual has now been attached to so many products that the term is well on its way to being meaningless. You make a great point, with respect to the historical abilities of Unix gurus far and wide to effect changes through the command line, abilities only now being entrusted to mere mortals using Windows GUIs. That being said, even if Microsoft and VMware are adopting “old” technologies and incorporating them into their offerings, I think the process of networking using this kind of is fairly described as virtual. If I’m wrong, I’m sure I’ll hear more from you, our dear readers, on this count.
Thanks for writing in!
It’s hard to miss the social media and Web 2.0 trends that have spawned numerous venture-backed start-ups over the past few years. It’s also hard to miss the emergence of the “flat world”, where our kids can be tutored (online) on their fourth grade math … from a teenager in Bangalore, India. My latest discovery is an interesting combination of these trends – a social network and web site (www.livemocha.com) that provides “the social way to learn a language”.
Visit their site and you’ll find their three-pronged approach: Learn, Practice, Share. During “practice”, you can invite your friends to “join the conversation and motivate each other”. During “share”, you connect with others, sharing tips and getting free tutoring. All seems pretty neat to me. Here’s the question I’d have for the folks at Livemocha: on your “Which language do you want to learn?” drop-down menu, when will you be adding Ruby on Rails? :-)
Last night, Bill Gates gave his swan song keynote at CES 2008. Before his speech, which as always enjoyed blanket coverage from the tech press, the outgoing chairman of Microsoft played a hilarious video.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/HEWMC4usElM" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
(Thanks go to the Future Shop for the video.)
Gates was able to pull in celebrities from all walks of life to participate: Speilberg, Clooney, Bono, Hillary, Al Gore, Obama, Jay-Z and a particularly hilarious bit with Matthew McConaughey. Even you didn’t make it to CES, this one’s worth adding to your lunchtime video snacking. It turns out that Bill balances funny with brilliant, though not so much on a fitness ball.
Aside from the humor, Gates orated at length about the next “digital decade,” where we can expect vast improvements in hardware and software to drive media to places it’s never been, though he painted in broad strokes rather than introducing many specific products or services. He outlined three major themes : high definition displays with 3D, multiple devices always connected to Web-enabled services ( so-called “cloud computing,” a trend we and others are documenting) and the power of vastly improved natural interfaces. To that end, Gates managed to get through a successful demonstration of snowboard design software using the Surface I/O platform without a single crash, an improvement on past experiences. Gadget geeks, epitomized by the Engadget and Gizmodo crowd, took note of the Windows Mobile 7 (Photon) image that snuck into the presentation, promptly linking to leaked interface designs for the OS that might show up on an upcoming Palm/Treo handset.
It looks like the iPhone’s multitouch interface spurred Redmond to improve on the feature-laden but complex interface of Windows Mobile 6.
The nascent Silverlight platform also scored a big win, as Gates announced that MSN would be NBC’s exclusive online provider for the 2008 Olympics in Bejing. That means that if you want to watch the Olympics online, you’ll need to download the player and install it on your browser. Well, legally, anyway. I’d be shocked if NBC wasn’t chasing .torrent files around the Net or YouTube mashups. I had to install Silverlight to watch the slive last night, actually, with a few bumps along the way. Version 1.0 of anything always worries me. You can watch the entire Gates CES keynote here.
It’s sometimes said that the only constant that you can count on is change. Change is necessary, after all — “Adapt or die” being an imperative of the natural world. And perhaps even more so in the world of technology…
These are the sorts of thoughts that occur as I poke around in the definition database, reviewing likely suspects for Words of the Day. WhatIs has been around since 1996, when founder Lowell Thing started his little “dining room table experiment in hypertext.” Eleven calendar years ago. I’m not sure how long ago that is in Web years, for which the calibration must always be ramping up. However long the years since, though, what it means for us editors is a whole lot of updating.
We try, with varying success, to make definitions as future shock proof as we can without compromising the value of current information. Today’s Word of the Day, Antikythera mechanism, lends itself to that approach pretty well. You don’t expect a lot to change on a 2000-year-old computer. But for breaking news and link rot, we’re pretty much set with that one.
On the other hand, there are those definitions that seem to have been written in a simpler time, probably in the last century. Occasionally, I review a definition that predicts future developments that have either not panned out or have proven so prescient that all we have to do is change the tenses and phrases like “might become” to “is.”
Take silicon cockroach for example. I came across that one yesterday, looking for WODs for the weekend. John Sidgmore coined the term back in ’98 to refer to the multiplicity of small electronic devices that he predicted would prevail in the future. We added the definition in ’01. Now, as we flip lightly over into ’08, I see that not only do the tenses need to be changed from future to present but a host of new life forms added to the species. No mention of MP3 players, GPS , USB drives…
What does our definition say now? Well … that depends. How far into the future are you reading it?
~ Ivy Wigmore
Well, somehow it happened again. Another year has come and gone, to this eye even more quickly than the one before. I can’t help but think that as the speed of our connections goes up, time itself seems to pass more quickly. That may because I have relativity on the brain, given that Schrodinger’s cat was the Word of the Day, but the pace of news and technology certainly didn’t slow down in 2007. Find out what was important in our Enterprise IT Year in Review.
Vista and Leopard hit our desktops, the iPhone slipped into our back pockets and Google’s growth accelerated. Facebook created new connections and rebuilt old ones. Green computing became the IT term of the moment, though cloud computing looms on the horizon. The writers strike accelerated our move to watching video on our computers, whether it was offered on Joost, Hulu, Miro or, of course, YouTube. Next up: HD IPTV.
Viruses, worms, phishing attacks and good old spam all conspired to make cleaning out your inbox a dodgy proposition at best. Simply writing about the Storm Worm or Rock Phish could make you the target of a denial of service attack. We discovered new repetitive stress injuries with the Wii and rocked hard with Guitar Hero. Blu-Ray and HD-DVD recalled the format wars of the 80s. The Web 2.0 buzz moved towards a Web 2.0 bubble, even as blogs, wikis, RSS, social networking and AJAX all started to see meaningful adoption in the enterprise and beyond. Net neutrality became real, as stories of ISPs throttling P2P applications surfaced. Mobile broadband is now a legitimate, if pricey, option for connectivity.
In a mega-roundup of the best enterprise news, tips and stories for 2007, we’ve pulled together the stories and tutorials that mattered to you. As you look ahead to the new year, remember the news that mattered. Review the tutorials that helped you do your job better. Browse through the blogs and trivia that informed or entertained you. Read the first installment of the year in review here or surf on over to Overheard in the Blogosphere for a 2007 What’s In/What’s Out Technology Roundup.
Then, look ahead to 2008, where we promise to do it all over again.
Happy New Year from WhatIs.com!
P.S. Please take a moment to let us know what you liked — and didn’t like — on our site this year. Just let us know in the comments. Thanks!
‘Tis the season! We’ve made a list and checked it twice. Now we’re gonna find out who’s naughty, who’s nice… and who’s a really holiday-oriented geek! Okay, maybe it doesn’t rhyme, but we never claimed to be poets. If you qualify, we’ll put your name on our Festive Geek of Distinction list: the December honor roll. This week, our gift to you is a tasty sampler of IT terms with tantalizing clues. Let us know how you did!
1. If Saint Nick ate all of these that we kids leave out for him, he might need extra RP (reindeer power) to get that sleigh airborne! On the Internet, it’s information for future use that is stored by the server on the client side of a client/server communication.
What is it?
2. Sounds like the gift that always fits — although generally, the bigger the better! In an Internet context, it’s a storage area where automatically requested files are contained so they don’t have to be downloaded each time.
What is it?
3. In a North Pole context, this is an extremely seasonal worker. In a communications context, however, it’s a type of electromagnetic field having a frequency much lower than the frequencies of signals typically used.
What is it?
4. Nice in a festive beverage, but challenging for holiday travel: it also describes a Web page in which the primary content has a fixed width in pixel and assumes a left margin alignment.
What is it?
5. Does Martha Stewart liberally festoon her house with these for the holidays? On the Internet, this word is sometimes used to describe a Web site that is updated on a daily or other frequent basis.
What is it?
6. We usually remember these, although we might end up humming the rest of the carol. In audio production, this is one of the two standard audio effects defined by the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI).
What is it?
7. Does the magnetic stripe on your card wear thin this time of year? Well, negative or positive, in physics it’s a characteristic of a unit of matter that expresses the extent to which it has more or fewer electrons than protons.
What is it?
8. If all the stars at the top of all the decorated trees in your neighborhood could communicate with each other, what would you have? (Hint: this is also the term for a local area network in which all nodes are directly connected to a common central computer.)
What is it?
9. Migratory birds — and disenchanted humans — often fly south this time of year to avoid this seasonal phenomenon. In a computer context, however, it’s a system for archiving data such as business records and reports to one or more optical disks in a compressed but easily retrievable format.
What is it?
10. This sounds a bit like a kind of soft lighting that is flattering to elves of “a certain age” — fittingly, it’s the standard unit of luminous intensity in the International System of Units.
What is it?
How many could you guess correctly without peeking? Let us know!
Still feeling merry? Check out our:
Quizzes of Festive Seasons Past
Array in a Manger (2004)
Do you prefer your quizzes straight-up or with a twist? Each question in this quiz offers a link to a seasonally-themed hint before the link to take you straight to the answer. Good luck!
The Dickens you say!
For a little geeky and festive fun, try our new quiz, What the Dickens! In which, Dear Reader, we ask the techy questions and then supply hints from the text of Charles Dickens’ seasonal classic, “A Christmas Carol.”
Ah, December. The first real snow has fallen here in Boston, the malls are full of holiday shoppers and the blogosphere and pages of industry mags are full of annual summaries of the best and worst of the year in technology. We’ll be coming out with our own most notable word of the year, as you’d expect from an IT encyclopedia, so stay tuned. In the meantime, read on for a summary of some of the best (and worst) tech of 2007.
Around this time year, I laid out the top 20 IT buzzwords of 2006. To be fair, calling some of these technologies “buzzwords” now looks like a bit of a stretch, in terms of the strict definition for buzzword. Virtualization is everywhere now, in the network, server, desktop PC, storage hardware and data center. Web 2.0 may have been massively overhyped, but blogs, RSS, Ajax, wikis, podcasting and social bookmarking have all made an impact this year too, in a wave of adoption that many have now settled down to term “Enterprise 2.0.”
“2.0″ itself could be the word of the year, were it not for the discussions of Web 3.0 that led to some buzz fatigue and gentle reminders of the Semantic Web. (See this list of semantic apps for some insight into how this space is evolving).
SaaS applications from industry giants continue to be important for CRM. And at the end of every year, IT admins and CFOs alike can’t help but think of SOX compliance. Mash-ups, VoIP, BPM, 3G SOA, XML and data mining all continued to be relevant too, with nary a buzzword to be seen.
Anyone who creates, markets or sells content or services online know the value and importance of search engine optimization (SEO) by now as well.
While they didn’t make the number one spot (you’ll have to wait for that one) there’s no question that IT became greener, as tracked by the surge in spending, research — and hype. Green data centers , green computing, LEED certification, and, unfortunately, greenwashing all make the trend list.
Dealing with Vista is also right at the top of any trend list. Microsoft’s new OS has met with slow adoption and a slew of backwards compatibility headaches, and, as SearchWinIT’s Christina Torode reports, “Few Windows shops had plans for Windows Vista migrations in 2007, and it appears that there may also be little interest well into next year. Of more than 800 responses from IT managers to an online survey conducted by SearchWinIT.com, 37% said they had no plans whatsoever in place to install Vista, while 8% said they would begin adding the new desktop OS in the first quarter of 2008, and 9% expect to begin the upgrade in Q2 2008.”
So what else is new? What else mattered? If I just pulled from the words on WhatIs.com that received the most attention from you, our audience, you’d think it was dialectric materials, FUBAR , chaos theory, IEEE, heuristics, nanometers and compilers — but there’s more to the year that that!
I won’t aggregate every 2007 list here (after all, Fimoculous.com has, yet again, done a great job of pulling together 2007 lists) but following are some of the best that cover IT. You’ll find great new Websites, tools and services — exactly what we promise to provide you in this space from week to week.
Enjoy the lists — and, of course, don’t forget to subscribe to to our newsfeed for the best enterprise IT news or subscribe to our tipsfeed for the best enterprise IT tools and expert advice to help you work better and faster.
Jason Hiner takes aim at hardware and software in The 10 most important business technology products of 2007, noting the i-Mate, Sprint Xohm, Salesforce.com, Vista/Leopard, LinkedIn, Zoho Office, Cisco Telepresence, Microsoft Office 2007, OQO and the Apple iPhone.Personally, I agree with the commenters that the XO of the OLPC project should be in the conversation, though perhaps not on this list, as Jason says. I’d add OpenOffice, personally.
This list is a grab bag of hardware, software, Web sites and services. Techies will find plenty to quibble with — can you really compare the Intel Core 2 Duo with Pandora.com, Guitar Hero 2 and Netflix without segmenting them out — but if you’re looking for a good list of what mattered to techies and netizens alike to discover the best of the best, you could do much worse.
Some of my favorites (and now bookmarks) include Wink, Footnote, Wikisky, DZone, Programmable Web, VideoJug and Zoho and Meebo. Happy surfing!Time Magazine, in much the same vein, offers up their 50 Best Websites of 2007.
(Stumble this blog and find out what I mean).
I liked Mozy.com for online backup, too.
It isn’t quite a 2007 roundup but Esquire’s six ideas that will change the world offered such intriguing suggestions that I couldn’t help but mention them:
- a low energy method for getting rust nanoparticles to bind to arsenic for water purification in the developing world
- Internet “hacktivists” who use Psiphon to provide uncensored Net access to netizens stranded in regimes hostile to the free flow of information and ideas
- flexible circuits embedded in silicone skin that can be used for prostheses and wearable computers
- self-modeling robots who use the principles of natural selection found in evolutionary theory to arrive at the optimal model for a structure or mechanism
- CO2 sequestering in the deepest water of the oceans to force it to become a liquid heavier than water
- biodegradable plastic produced in an environmentally friendly way
For more in that vein, make sure to consult the pages of MIT’s Technology Review, where they list the following exciting emerging technologies:
- optical antennas and metamaterials
- peer-to-peer video,
- personalized medical monitors
- compressive sensing
- nanohealing and quantum-dot solar power
- single-cell analysis
- mobile augmented reality
On the other side of the coin, eWeek’s Brian Moore illustrated a list of technologies and services that flopped, floundered or aren’t quite ready for prime time in 2007′s Biggest Emerging Technology Disappointments. You’ll find virtual worlds, in the form of Second Life, ultramobile micro-PCs, home-based VoIP, mobile security for smartphones, IPv6, ebook reader (Hello, Kindle!), WiMax, BlueRay/HD DVD and MuniWiFi.
It’s hard to argue with the selections, though I do think that Kindle’s eInk technology offers the closest thing to a pleasant electronic reading experience yet.
Personally, and I know I’m burying the lede here, 2007 was the year that the network took a huge step towards being the computer, a trend acknowledged by Amazon, IBM and Microsoft in one form or another. (And yes, I’m talking about our word of the year again here.) Sun talked about that phenomenon ten years ago, though it missed an opportunity by not open sourcing Java. This model of Internet-based supercomputing, where vast stores of information and processing resources can be tapped into remotely by a laptop, PC, smartphone or other connected device is still building momentum..
2007 saw the introduction of more devices than ever before, including the gPC, iPhone and XO, that all move the user into this browser-based, Web application world, enabled and enobled by Ajax. Between open source operating systems, browsers, office productivity applications and inexpensive hardware, users and organizations can do more and create more than ever before, albeit in increasingly insecure environments.
We may take a stab at some predictions for the year ahead some time soon, once we finish digesting the year that was. Feel free to let me know what YOU think the most important trends and technologies for 2008 will be through email or in the comments.
Are you thinking ahead to making gifts for the holidays? I certainly am; once the Thanksgiving holiday is on the immediate horizon, my internal clock starts ringing madly. Less than a month until the gift exchanges begin?!
Why is this cool? Because a bit map uses a fixed or raster graphics method of specifying an image, the image cannot be immediately rescaled by a user without losing definition. A vector graphics graphic image, however, is designed to be quickly rescaled.
Instead of using commercial software, you can just upload your image to Vector Magic (essentially, a stanford.edu server) and they’ll vectorize it for you.
Here’s their example of the difference:
In other words, you can scale an image without making it blurry or pixelated. Savvy? Happy gift making!
[kml_flashembed movie="http://vectormagic.stanford.edu/screencasts/vm_short.swf" width="450" height="380"/]
Check out this FAQ for more info. Vector Magic supports the JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP and TIFF image formats as inputs and outputs them as EPS, SVG or PNGs.
Thank to its ubiquitous advertising spots on BoingBoingTV, I’ve discovered the IT Room. Clearly, I’m part of the target audience of this new take on tech support humor, ’cause I found the trailers and initial 4:22 minute webisode (embedded below) hilarious.
The IT Room has ambitions to be more than just a series of webisodes created by Motiv Studios, written by a group of writers in a snark-laden conference room. The producers want the audience of IT geeks (and perhaps a few end users) to submit their own IT horror stories, which they can then use to create further episodes.
Is it a way of dodging the ongoing writer’s strike? Perhaps. We’ve had some luck with getting users to submit their own IT bloopers in the past, though we haven’t assembled a crack comedy team to make them into video shorts quite yet. The monkey promises to give the best written IT horror story a Dell Latitude, so there’s some extra incentive in there, too. The site gathers submissions in a transparent and decidedly techie way — you contribute the story as a blog post, visible to all.
Cleverly, there’s a Digg button next to each post, a move that the rather more old media Wall Street Journal just made as well, leading to wide spread speculation that Murdoch might be interested in acquiring the social news site. (That move also allows you to subscribe to an RSS feed of all of the WSJ’s content on Digg– neat!)
The cynic in me notes that Motiv works on marketing programs for Dell, though this is obviously more than just extended commercials. There’s no Dude getting me a Dell (instead, he’s offering me a pint), happily, but until I see a battery meltdown or a frustrating tech support mobisode focused on relentlessly calm Indian associates offering scripted responses, I’ll be a tad suspicious…. even as I snarf my coffee a bit when I tune in.