LISTEN To This
Give your eyes a rest.
Quote of the Week.
Read'n & Write'n?
What it means to be a disk drive head...
New Text-To-Speech -- Wow!
Have you ever heard GOOD
I have now!
Back to the future. And
grain by grain...
One Atom At A Time.
The single-atom transistor is
(sort of) here!
Fifty-five percent efficiency improvements;
The latest on
What's Internet traffic up to?
From Out of the Ether...
The cost of content...
My mom's a cyborg! And you
may know one as well.
About "The Harrow Technology Report"
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Back to Table of Contents
Two very salient quotes, from Stavance's June 6
"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be
those who cannot read and write, but those who
cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."
"The read head [of a hard disk drive] is like a
jet flying at supersonic speeds a meter above a
pasture, while counting the grass blades pointing in
two different directions."
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Back to Table of Contents
As you probably know, "The Harrow Technology
Report" is always available as a spoken
Web-based "radio program" at a link specified in the
"Listen to This Issue" section. Several times over
the years I've experimented with the best
"Text-to-Speech" conversion programs to see if my
voice had become superfluous, but the
robotic-sounding results always sent me scurrying
back to my microphone. I will probably still
continue using my voice to record these shows, but
for the first time I've heard an alternative that
sounds so good that there is now an acceptable
alternative. It's called Loquendo, a spin-off of
work done by the research folks at Telecom Italia
Loquendo runs on a PC and, depending on the
configuration, can speak a particular text file. Or
under program control, it can act as a
text-to-speech server providing multiple
simultaneous text-to-speech streams. Loquendo also
comes with quite a few voices, each one optimized
for speaking the text of a particular language.
If you're at all familiar with the many
text-to-speech converters that have been available
on the market, you haven't (yet) heard anything new.
But when you actually hear the result, if you're
half as impressed as I am, you'll agree that
Loquendo will open up quite a few doors.
This is not to say that Loquendo is perfect.
It's not. It doesn't always get things exactly
right, although there is an easy to use lexicon that
let me tell it that www.TheHarrowGroup.com should
have the middle part pronounced as "The Harrow
Group," rather than as an understandably
un-understandable mess. But what Loquendo does
that I have not heard before, is that without any
special tuning of any sort, the resulting speech
sounds vibrant, often quite natural, and -- well --
"human." It's "expressive," in a way that I haven't
previously heard from computers.
But this isn't something that I can really
explain -- it's something that you really have to
hear, so you can form your own opinion. And you
have a couple of choices:
First, I've taken the text of this issue and had
Loquendo's "Susan (American English)" voice speak
the issue into an MP3 file at this link:
Although the good folks at Loquendo wanted to
optimize the text to assure that my spacing and
punctuation didn't mess things up (following a few
rules, which I have not done, can improve things
somewhat), I wanted us to hear the result of a
"typical" document that hadn't been so-optimized,
and that's what we have here. The only significant
thing I've done is remove most of the URLs from the
text, so that you don't have to listen to lots of
"double-you, double-you, double-yous..." And to me,
the result is even more impressive than if I'd let
them further optimize it.
Second, Loquendo offers a demo site where you can
type in a couple of sentences in a language of your
choice, pick the appropriate voice, and it will
translate and play the result for you, at
. You can then find out more about Loquendo
, or by contacting Gaea Vilage at
Gaea.Vilage@LOQUENDO.COM . (If you do,
tell her where you heard about Loquendo.)
As you can tell, I'm impressed with Loquendo, and
this is (of course) just the beginning. I can see
the day when that old question, "Is it Memorex, or
is it real?" will take on a new meaning; at least in
certain contexts, we may have trouble deciding if
we're listening to a computer, or to a person. And
won't THAT be interesting...
Back to Table of Contents
Aren't we glad that, except perhaps in some
voting booths, we've banished the "punched card"
into obscurity? After all, storing information in
physical holes (or depressions -- remember the
'chads') on a flat medium is clearly something from
the bygone era of computers.
Or is it...?
Proving yet again that it's worth looking at old
ideas through the lens of new technologies, IBM's
Zurich Research Lab has announced more details on
its Millipede data storage system, which works
somewhat akin to punched cards, but on a rather
different scale. (http://www.zurich.ibm.com/st/storage/millipede.html)
Instead of punching paper chads however, the tip
of a Millipede write-head uses heat to form a
depression in a plastic sheet, with the spacing and
pattern of depressions and flat areas representing
the ones and zeros of data.
Similarly, a Millipede read-head can scan for the
presence or absence of depressions, and so recover
the data they represent. Expanding this idea to
read and write head "arrays" that each contain about
1,000 or more points, reading and writing can be
done from many areas of the plastic at once,
speeding data throughput through massive
The medium is also re-writable; heating an area
adjacent to an existing depression allows the
plastic to "flow," filling the depression back to
its original "flat" state.
Why Go 'Back To The Future?'
The question, of course, is "WHY" return to those
thrilling days of physical storage yesteryear? The
answers are "Nanotechnology" and MEMS
(MicroElectrical Mechanical Systems).
You see, in this case, those tips that are
forming and reading the depressions are very, very
small. Atomically small. They're actually the tips
of Atomic Force Microscopes, and they can form and
read depressions so small (10 nanometers in
diameter), and so close together, that this
thermomechanical storage technique can store
hundreds of gigabits/square inch -- perhaps as much
as one terabit/square inch! Which is well beyond
the (currently) anticipated magnetic recording limit
of perhaps 150 gigabits/square inch (see below).
Another way to look at this is that "about three
billion of [these depressions] fit in a punch card
According to an AP article brought to our
attention by reader R. Gautier
this prototype can already store the text of 25
million pages on the surface of a postage stamp!
That's 20-times the density of today's common disk
drives. And this is just the prototype...
This isn't the death knell for traditional
magnetic disk drives -- the read/write speed of
Millipede appears (at this time) to be far slower,
and so its initial implementation may be to vastly
increase the amount of memory in portable devices.
Imagine, if you will, that if this technology
increases its storage capacity at anything like the
"Moore's Law-plus" rate of current storage
increases, we could have portable digital devices
that might NEVER run out of room for storing
pictures, audio, video, and more. Which would
change a lot of rules.
Millipede project leader Peter Vettiger expects
that it will be at least two years before a
Millipede chip is ready for production
with CNN estimating that if IBM does decide to
pursue this, it could be on the market by 2005
Additional details on Millipede are at
, which also contains interesting pictures
Bit By Bit.
Of course there is more than one way for storage
to continue its faster-than-Moore's-Law drive to
higher density for lower cost; that old standby,
"magnetics," still has a lot of life left. Despite
a succession of pronouncements that we're (always)
about to reach the "limits" of magnetic storage,
brilliant people who refuse to follow the rules just
keep pushing magnetic storage forward.
Today, according to the July Technology Review
a bit of data has to be stored in several hundred
"magnetic grains" to preserve a reliable state.
Make the grains too small or too densely packed
together, and they randomize. But IBM has now
proven, and GE is attempting to commercialize, the
ability to "pattern" a magnetic media so that
individual magnetic grains form in the "islands" of
the pattern, with each single grain storing one
bit. This could initially yield as much as 40
gigabits of storage per square inch, growing to 150
gigabits/square inch. Which would give us terabyte
notebooks, and far-larger desktops. Prototypes are
due in 2004, with commercial devices potentially
hitting the market in 2008.
It's Just A Matter Of Time...
It's sure nice to know that such technologies are
sitting in the wings, just waiting for our needs to
catch up. How would "limitless" storage change
Back to Table of Contents
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Back to Table of Contents
We may think that our current transistors, such
as each of the 42 million that sit inside our
Pentium 4 chips, are small. But in reality, each
one of those transistors is still made up of
millions or billions of atoms. Imagine how much
smaller our computing elements could be if each and
every ATOM were ITSELF a transistor.
Now, realize that Cornell University researchers
have done just that -- they've created a transistor
in which the current of electrons flows through a
single cobalt atom!
Brought to our attention by reader Dana Hoggart,
Cornell illustrates (http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/June02/McEuen.transistor.deb.html)
how this molecule forces electrons to "hop on and
off" the cobalt atom at the center of the ring, one
by one, for the current to flow.
In effect, they've created a "designer molecule"
that channels the electron flow through just the
This molecule doesn't yet perform all of the
functions of a traditional transistor, such as
amplification or controlled switching, but because
the environment surrounding the molecule affects the
current flow, even at this early stage it may prove
useful as a chemical sensor. Their next step is to
add the structures to turn this into a controllable
Now don't get too excited: our next CPUs won't
work on this atomic scale. But I find a statement
by one of the molecule's creators, Dr. Héctor
"As chemists, we can
deliberately design and manipulate molecules to
achieve a specific function. This is very important
because we are now able to incorporate the
properties of these molecules into electronic
They are, in effect, changing all the rules.
On the other hand, even though we've now
demonstrated what was "unthinkable" just a short
time ago -- the beginnings of single-atom
transistors -- it seems that some people still see
limits to what we can do. For example, the Cornell
article begins by stating that they,
"...have now reached
the smallest possible limit: a transistor in which
electrons flow through a single atom."
But who says that we have to depend on electrons,
which we've been harnessing in one way or another
for the past century? There's more to an atom than
its electron shell...
As impressive as this achievement by Cornell is,
I believe there's still plenty of room for
innovative minds to change the rules again -- and
again, and again, and again...
Back to Table of Contents
One 'Unintended Consequence' Of
Nanotechnology -- Incandescent light bulbs are
the world's most common method of generating light.
Although compact fluorescents are increasingly
showing up in commercial and office settings, most
homeowners still prefer the "warm" spectrum of the
familiar light bulb. The problem is that the light
bulb, which works by heating a tungsten filament to
incandescence, is very inefficient; something you
know all too well if you try to unscrew a bulb while
it's running -- you'll burn your fingers.
Incandescent light bulbs are only about 5% efficient
in generating the light we want -- the other 95% of
the energy that the bulb consumes goes out as
infrared light, or waste heat.
Now though, it turns out that a series of
experiments begun by Eli Yablonovitch at UCLA and
continued at Sandia National Labs, have yielded a
surprising and un-predicted consequence of building
a tungsten "filament" as a three-dimensional array
of nano-sized tungsten bars (a "tungsten photonic
crystal"), using the same techniques that are used
to build integrated circuits. These tiny "Lincoln
Log" structures keep the non-visible light from
getting out, and then convert much of this trapped
"waste" energy into the visible spectrum! As
described in the May 1 Sandia new release
this new type of emitter raises the efficiency of an
incandescent bulb from today's 5%, to 60% or
greater! Which would mean a dramatic reduction in
energy needs around the globe.
There's no indication of when light bulbs using this
new technique will reach the Home Depot near you,
but this is an excellent example of how,
fundamentally, we're going to be able to change the
world around us as we increasingly work with
building blocks of atoms, molecules, and
purpose-designed crystal structures, in the same way
that nature works with them.
Again, Don't Blink!
Teleportation Update -- The
wonderful unfolding sci-fi-to-reality story of
teleportation is one of the better examples of the
"totally impossible" moving into the scientific
journals and the headlines. You may recall that
over the past couple of years, scientists at several
independent labs have demonstrated that they can
transfer the state of the spin of one, and later a
cloud of photons, over distance instantaneously.
This is teleportation, if currently only of
information, and not of reticent physicians (a la
Star Trek's "Bones." - see
Unsurprisingly, this saga continues, this time in
Brought to our attention by readers Raoul Teeuwen
and others, the June 17 Australian IT
describes how a research team at the Australian
National University led by Ping Koy Lam, has now
"teleported a message-encoded laser beam" from
here to there. Specifically, they encoded a radio
signal onto a laser beam at one end of a laboratory,
and then quantum-entangled the beam, during which
the laser beam was completely destroyed.
However, the encoded radio signal survived, and was
received three feet away, where it was used to
recreate the original information-carrying laser
beam a billionth of a second later! The laser beam
ceased to exist at one place, and was recreated at
another place, without (traditionally, at least)
spanning the distance.
According to Dr. Lam,
"What we have
demonstrated here is that we can take billions of
photons, destroy them simultaneously, and then
recreate them in another place."
Does this sound
Initially, this research direction will likely have
more to do with ultra-secure communications channels
than with easing commuting; scientists still have no
idea how to attempt to teleport the vast number of
atoms that make up mice or humans. But to me, this
initial exploration into teleportation is like an
inquisitive child exploring a new toy. Sometimes,
the application of enough "interest" can yield
surprising results -- often quite different from
what the parent (or the toy manufacturer) expected.
Now that we know that teleportation is "real," I
expect that it will be "worried" into giving up some
very surprising and interesting secrets.
And yet once again, Don't Blink!
All Those Bits! -- Following up
on our recent glimpse into the burgeoning amount of
Internet traffic -- so much Internet traffic that it
will exceed voice traffic this year
reader John Ryan of RHK points us to another
According to a recent RHK report
they calculate that U.S. (only) Internet traffic now
stands at 100 petabytes per month, which is
"double the value from the entire nation's
long-distance voice traffic," growing at an
annual rate of 100% during last year. This rate of
growth was down, however, from 130% in 2000, and
160% in 1999.
It's interesting in the face of this rate of growth,
however, that due to the glut of backbone bandwidth
available, and because of consolidation, the
carriers' revenue growth has only risen 17%, perhaps
because the cost per bit has dropped 45%. RHK sums
up its picture of Internet traffic in the following
Back to Table of Contents
The Cost Of Content -- In a recent
discussion regarding the tremendously increasing
capacity of disk drives
I posed the question,
"How could you FILL
UP 120 terabytes, considering that you could store
seven years of 24/7 movies, or 80 years of music,
or...? The problem might not be how much we CAN
store, but more practically "the cost of the
content." Want to buy 30,000 movies to transfer to
your shiny new disk?"
Reader Alex Shmelev did some 'out of the box'
thinking of his own, and came up with the following
"...I would think
that the "cost of content" would shrink, and instead
be converted into a "cost of consumption". For
example, why would music or film companies rely on
broadband content delivery if they could, instead,
install a significant portion of their catalog
directly onto the hard drive of a new PC?
They could then sell a view or a listen, with the
exchange of some payment and "key" information... (I
know about the current limitation of key schemes
like those on DVDs and "uncopyable" CDs, but
eventually someone will make them reasonably
secure...) Perhaps these media mega-corporations
would even subsidize the cost of the drive itself,
making the "cost of content" near zero...
What do you think??"
I think that Alex has the right idea in
extrapolating how technology will be marching
forward, and in considering dramatically new ways to
benefit from the changes. For example, I could
certainly imagine that Turner Networks or other
holders of large media libraries might be very
interested in storing encrypted copies of their huge
stockpile of old movies, old TV programs (and
series), and other entertainment on those disks.
And even new movies could be downloaded and stored
on the disks during slack network time, a la Tivo,
as pointed out to me in a conversation this morning
with Roberto Saracco, Director of the Telecom Italia
Labs' "Center of the Future."
Assuming that the media companies decide to work
WITH technology instead of trying to sue its use out
of existence (a futile effort over time, I expect),
then entertainment assets will remain highly
valuable in these days of an increasingly broadband
Internet -- they may just require imaginative new
ways to wring that value out. (Media companies were
similarly frightened of the VCR, yet now they make
more off of tapes and DVDs than they do from the box
Reader Ary Stuifbergen, however, thinks that we
might be filling up all of this storage in a very
"I suddenly realize
that in the future we will store personal
information which we never stored before! Until now,
we store information as a well-decided act of our
own. Probably in the future, we will store
information without actually knowing we are storing
it. Some processes will decide what is worthwhile to
store for personal use [again, like Tivo already
And then the
Isn't this exactly
what our brain does (and what we call our memory)?
Thanks for your
As Ary so aptly points out, dramatic technology
advances pave the way for some surprising, and
certainly unplanned opportunities and changes!
Back to Table of Contents
Finally, my mother is the ultimate example of
someone who is quite happy without having to deal
with these "computer things," thank-you-very-much.
She can do all of the things she wants to do without
having to learn about the cyberworld of CPUs and
bits and bytes and modems and the Internet. Which
is why, after she recently received a pacemaker, I
gleefully reminded her that she's now more intimate
with the world of technology than am I, since she is
now a very real cyborg!
("A human being who
has certain physiological processes aided or
controlled by mechanical or electronic devices,"
according to Microsoft Bookshelf.)
cochlear implants (http://www.medoto.unimelb.edu.au/info/implant1.htm),
artificial retinas (http://abcnews.go.com/sections/GMA/GoodMorningAmerica/
and other implanted devices, cyborgs are
already rather common. But although common, almost
all of them are cyborgs because of "medical
Because, as pointed out by readers Dave Meachin,
Greg Thompson and others, two researchers at the
European branch of the MIT Media Lab have now
designed a "tooth implant" that will silently send
sound directly to your ears.
As described in the June 21 Wired News
and by ENN (http://www.electricnews.net/news.html?code=7858450),
once implanted within a living tooth by normal
dental surgery, this relatively low cost device will
use your jawbone as an antenna to receive wireless
digital signals from the sending unit in your pocket
(which you can connect to a cell phone, CD player,
or whatever). The new tooth then "micro-vibrates"
to send the sound directly into your ear. According
to developer Jimmy Loizeau, "The vibrations are
on a molecular level, so the user only experiences
pure sound streaming into their consciousness,"
with none of the sound detectable outside of your
head. You could even choose to implant two of
these, for added volume and a "surround sound"
It's tempting to make light of such a device; to
chalk it up as an example of scientists
demonstrating what "can" be done, rather than what
people "need" (with the obvious exception of the
benefits that these devices might bring to
traditional hearing aids and people with related
disabilities). But the tooth's other inventor,
James Auger, offers another idea that I think we're
going to be forced to address, as a growing number
of "optional" implants begin to become available:
"It, [the tooth],
offers a 'Darwinian' advantage to the user, whereby
they have an advantage over their competition.
[It's] not a random mutation but a chosen one. We
are very interested in the ethical debate
surrounding bionics and post-human evolution."
How often have you wished to have a knowledgeable
person whispering in your ear as you take questions
from your boss, or you stand in front of an
auditorium full of people? With such a device, your
assistant, with a Web's worth of information at his
fingertips, could be that "inside voice" with no one
the wiser. Or how about a soldier on a covert
mission? Totally silent, private information could
easily make the difference between life and death.
Or how about a sports figure receiving guidance from
the sidelines? Or a student taking the SAT?
Such an implant could well be used as a
"competitive advantage," and if it proves
significantly valuable in a particular field, it
might become as widely "necessary" as a cell phone
is today in some industries. Those who choose not
to use the technology might fall by the competitive
If that comes to pass, then what about the NEXT
"optional" implant that confers a similar
competitive advantage? And the next...? This tooth
implant has yet to reach the prototype stage, but
it, or something like it, surely will...
Auger used the term "post-human evolution."
Hummm. My mother doesn't have a PC, but she is now
a cyborg. She didn't really have much of a choice,
but an implanted computer is giving her a very real
Darwinian advantage by extending her life. Soon,
as teeth and other implants do become available,
what happens when we all get to pick from a Chinese
menu of optional enhancements?
Especially -- what (competitively) happens to
those of us who opt-out?
Oh -- and one other
implication of this technology that you
psychologists and psychiatrists might want to think
about -- perhaps the next time a patient describes
'voices in his head,' he may just be right!
"The Harrow Technology Report" explores the innovations and
trends of many contemporary and emerging technologies, and then draws some less
than obvious connections between them, to help us each survive and prosper in
the Knowledge Age.
"The Harrow Technology Report" is brought to you by Jeffrey
R. Harrow, Principal of The Harrow Group.
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Copyright (c) 2001-2005, Jeffrey R. Harrow. All
Jeffrey R. Harrow maintains that all reasonable care and skill has been used
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