The Harrow Technology Report

Insight, analysis, and commentary on the 
innovations and trends of contemporary computing, 
and on its growing number of related technologies.

An ongoing journey towards understanding, 
and profiting from, a world of exponential 
technological growth!

Copyright © 2001-2005, Jeffrey R. Harrow.  All rights reserved.


 UFOs 'R Us!

Jan. 31, 2005

  • Listen to this Issue
       Give those eyes a rest.

  • Quote of the Week.
       NBIC, BANG, and COMBINE.

  • UFOs 'R Us.
       Incredibly poetic justice.

  • There's MUCH More I Can Do For You!
       Check out my other services that can help your
       business or organization benefit from future
       technology directions!

  • Private Paper.
       Anonymity?  Pshaw...

  • A Look Back, From 2020 to 2005.
       Fifteen years is really beyond our event horizon...

  • The Seed Of Something New.
       Talk about the growth of cell phone.

  • About 'The Harrow Technology Report.'

  •  Back to Table of Contents

    Listen to this Issue

    Do you prefer to let your ears do the work of keeping you in-touch with, and thinking about where technology is taking us?  If so, "The Harrow Technology Report" is also available in an audio-on-demand, M-P-3 version. 

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    Here's where to listen to this week's issue!


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    Quote of the Week.


    NBIC (the converging of Nanotechnology, Biology & medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive sciences) represents the bedrock of the next wave of technological changes that will radically affect our present and future.  Yet as descriptive as the expanded version of the NBIC acronym is, the acronym itself is not very user-friendly or descriptive. 

    So it's no surprise that many folks at the recent "NBIC 2004" conference (
    are looking to replace NBIC with something that's easier to pronounce and more intuitive.  For example, as pointed out in Corante Tech News by reader Kenneth LaCrosse (
    , Jim Thomas of ETC Group refers to another name for NBIC this way:

    BANG (Bits, Atoms, Neurons and Genes)

    For another take, an unidentified individual suggested:

    COMBINE (COgno, Meets Bio, Info, Nanotech)

    Of the two, I far prefer the first.  Yet what I particularly found interesting about the COMBINE idea was an explanation of why COMBINE misses the boat; it gets to the root of the issue of why the NBIC or BANG or COMBINE revolution is likely to change our world more fundamentally than any endeavor in history:

    "...It was remarked that this [COMBINE acronym] would not work because "nano" needed to be first -- because the convergence of these fields springs from the fact that all these systems are tied together at the nanometer scales: 

    -          Biological systems (proteins are 10-1000 nm);

    -          Cognitive systems (neurotransmitters, receptors and synapses are all measured in nanometers); and

    -          Information technology systems, [which] are becoming faster because of nano-level material science."

    When working at this level of the tiny - at Nature's level - the historic differences between atoms and molecules, and even between things "living" or "dead," simply don't exist. 

    As we get better at this -- and we are currently but infants playing in Nature's sandbox -- can we doubt that it will 'change all the rules' -- again?


    Back to Table of Contents

    UFOs 'R Us.


    UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) stories abound, pegging UFOs as alien invaders, high technology military vehicles, optical illusions (typical government position), and more.  Yet their existence, much less a definitive explanation, has never been publicly and verifiably proven to most peoples' satisfaction. 

    Which makes our activities of Jan. 14, 2005 all the more poetic. 

    You see, it's WE who have now landed a very real, car-size "flying saucer" on another world!


    Image - Artist's rendering of the Huygens probe parachuting to the surface of Titan, one of Saturn's moons, on Jan. 14, 2005 -  

    Image - Artist's rendering of the Huygens probe descending towards the surface of Saturn's moon, Titan - 

    As described in the Jan. 13, 2005 ( and WikipediA (, these are artists' renderings of the Huygens space probe parachuting through a dense atmosphere similar to Earth's 4 billion years ago, is on its way to the surface of Saturn's largest moon "Titan."  Titan is the only moon in our solar system that has an atmosphere, is thought to be composed of about 50% water ice, and is larger than the planet Mercury - .


    But It's 'Art' No More!

    During its successful Jan. 14 descent and subsequent landing, the probe yielded the first-ever "in-person" pictures (such as the one below from, and data, from what may prove to be an environmental precursor of how life developed on Earth.


    (One example of the boundary between a highland and a lowland area on Titan. 
    Doesn't look too different from those on Earth, does it? -

    Image - Real picture of Titan high and low-level terrain -


    A few more images taken by the Huygens probe:

     ("Channels carved by flowing liquids, and a river delta."  On Titan! -

    Inage - channels carved by flowing liquids, and a river delta - on Titan! -

    ("This seaside vista below [presumably a methane sea] on Titan was created by Mike Zawitowski using software called Terragen. The colour has been added, but the terrain details are based on aerial images returned to Earth by the Huygens probe as it fell towards Titan on Friday 14 January."  (  Interestingly, a number of amateurs, such as Mike, are receiving the raw image data from the probe and are releasing photos, such as this seaside, faster than NASA.)

    Image - a seaside vista on Titan -


    (Below is the surface of Titan at the probe's landing spot. - 'rocks' are apparently a few inches across. -

    And what is Titan's actual surface composition?  "... A mixture of water and hydrocarbon ice."  Water!!)

    Image - the actual surface of Titan outside the probe's landing spot -

    Incredibly impressive. 


    A Long Way Off.

    Of course, don't expect our fledgling passenger space industry, with Virgin Galactic's, er, takeoff of SpaceShipOne as its poster boy (, to be arranging sightseeing trips to Titan anytime soon. 

    Image - artist's concept of Birgin Galactic's adaptation of the successful SpaceShipOne suborbital passenger ship -

    Aside from the eight year (one way) journey, Titan is currently a wee bit inhospitable with winds faster than 311 MPH and temperatures at a chilly -292 degrees F.  But given Titan's water, its atmosphere, and the fact that it radiates more heat than it receives from the Sun, we're sure to glean fascinating insights.


    WE Are It!

    Yet perhaps the most significant initial insight from the Cassini-Huygens landing, at least from that poetic standpoint, is that UFO stories are now a verifiable fact. 

    And -- UFOs 'R Us!

    Don't Blink!


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    Private Paper.

    This is an article I've recently written for Future Brief (  Future Brief is published by New Global Initiatives ( and offers brief summaries, commentaries, and other resources to help people, especially those on The Hill who form national policy, to keep up on technological innovations.  But Future Brief adds an important twist -- it "takes one step back and looks at the greater convergence of the accelerating changes in science and technology, with the equally rapidly accelerating changes in society and politics." (


    It doesn't surprise most of us that sophisticated "tags" or "codes" can now be embedded in digital information - consider the copyright information within some digital picture and movie files, or "digital watermarks" (steganography) that can be invisibly embedded (such as at, or on a more simplistic basis, the mostly-transparent network logos that are increasingly appearing during TV shows. 

    But active embedded information on a piece of paper? 

    Generally, we consider a piece of paper without our names or code numbers or bar codes to be anonymous, such as "survey forms" that we receive in the mail, fill out, and return.  Yet this isn't always the case; "invisible inks" can be used to identify such paper in a way we won't notice.  Now, a recent announcement from CrossID ( or promises to take this idea of identifying individual sheets of paper a giant leap forward.

    As described in the Feb. 11, 2004 RFID Journal ( brought to our attention by readers Elliot Wheler and others, the CrossID concept actually prints tiny, wireless, passive, "chipless" RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tags costing less than one-tenth-of-a-cent each, onto any desired sheet of paper (such as government and corporate documents, currency, stock certificates, and any other documents that the issuer wishes to be tracked.)


    How It Works.


    "The system uses "nanometric" materials—tiny particles of chemicals with varying degrees of magnetism—that resonate when bombarded with electromagnetic waves from a reader. Each chemical emits its own distinct radio frequency, or “note," that is picked up by the reader, and all the notes emitted by a specific mix of different chemicals are then interpreted as a binary number. Since the system uses up to 70 different chemicals, each chemical is assigned its own position in a 70-digit binary number.

    For example, if the chemicals A, B, C and D were assigned to the first, second, third and fourth positions in the 70-digit number, then a mixture consisting of A and C would represent the binary number 1010 followed by 66 zeros. CrossID is testing readers that operate at three to 10 GHz, which is higher than the frequencies commonly used by wireless LANs and handheld computers, although the company has not made a final determination on what frequency the readers will use."


    Don't Write Your Shopping List On THIS Paper!

    These chemical "bar codes" can be read at a distance of up to ten feet, without line-of-sight.  So, for example, an office that dealt with sensitive information could replace all notepaper, and paper used by copiers and printers, with blank sheets that had been pre-printed with invisible and unique identification codes.  They would then install CrossID readers at all building exits, and the system would signal if someone attempted to leave with a concealed piece of paper that had been generated within those walls.  It would even identify the specific piece of paper since each is serial-numbered!  (Note that I have no association with CrossID.)

    Another possibility for a "mixed" sensitivity environment (where the most important documents should be tracked but most need not be) would be to have the computer systems force all sensitive documents to only be printed on printers that contain CrossIDed paper.  Or to have special printers actually print CrossID codes and serial numbers (or other information) onto every sensitive document as it is printed.  Insecure information could still be printed on un-tagged paper as usual. 

    But if this were implemented, why couldn't nefarious people simply copy secure documents onto un-tagged paper on a copy machine?  One answer would be to embed CrossID readers within every copy machine so that they can detect a secure document on the glass -- and then refuse to copy it.  With a bit more sophistication, the system could simultaneously alert Security that, at this time and place, this specific person (whose image was captured by the security camera near that copier) attempted to copy a secured document with this specific ID.

    [By the way, the concept of automatically preventing the copying of certain documents is already a reality -- a growing number of color copiers have "currency detection" algorithms built-in and refuse to copy designated currency(s), even for legal uses (
    .  Even PCs are being affected, as new versions of Adobe's Photoshop contain a similar currency filter ( -- Slashdot has an extensive discussion of this issue at


    The Bottom Line.

    By 2006, CrossID anticipates that their paper-tagging solution will be ready to go, costing less than one-cent per page (or product label or garment that contains the chemical codes...)  And they're not alone -- other companies, such as Inkode ( have their own technological solutions to the issue of identifying paper.  (Inkode's solution has already been on the market for some time; they embed tiny metal fibers in paper, plastic packaging, "chipless RFID tags," etc., that provide a unique signature (rather than specific information) when queried by their reader.)

    So it seems that the once-anonymous sheet of paper will not be, for long. 


    There's Also A Dark Side.

    There are many valuable uses for such technology.  But many of the concerns we've explored in the past regarding RFID technology in general (see here and here) certainly apply to "tagged paper" as well.  Imagine, for example, if a merchant paid you change with a tagged banknote that was matched to "You" via your "loyalty card" (even though you paid cash).  Subsequently, as you walk down the street, every reader in every storefront (or on every utility pole) that you pass could also note the bill's ID and uploaded it to a database that consolidated the information.  Not only could this database track your movements, but it might also know exactly what you later purchased with that banknote, and where...


    It's Up To Us.

    This combination of "technology" plus "networks" certainly has the potential to relegate elements of "privacy" to the historical dustbin of other "quaint" ideas, such as not locking your doors at night, or not having to carry your "papers" (plastic in this day and age) when traveling. 

    But through careful, informed choices, it may be possible to implement the societally-valuable aspects of these technologies without treading on the dark side.  It remains up to us -- to each of us through our elected representatives, to assure that technology is only implemented in ways that we are, quite literally, willing to live with.


    Back to Table of Contents

    A Look Back, From 2020 to 2005.


    It's always interesting to "look back" to today from some point in the future to see how crude our seemingly wonderful technology will soon seem (just look back a similar 15 years from today and you'll get the idea.)  These "retrospective" discussions range from the improbable and the silly, to some that may hold more than a little probability of "catching the wave."  So reading these (with a careful grain of salt) can give us some insight as to what may (*may*) lie ahead.  Recently, reader Brad Hay brought an interesting one to our attention.

    "Looking Back From 2020" in the Dec. 16, 2004 (,39024673,39126577,00.htm) captures nuggets of what we may be experiencing 15 years from now.  Of course the individual milestones and their dates may be wrong -- perhaps wildly so -- but I promise that baring unexpected changes that upset the technology applecart, we're all going to be feeling similar to how Ian McNairn, the winner of a competition for a good retrospective article, suggests.

    It's worthwhile to check this out at,39024673,39126577,00.htm , and to then look back to how you might have felt in 1990 if you tried to imagine today's processor speed, memory, hard disk storage, medical technology, NBIC advances, Web commerce, and far more 

    Again, Don't Blink!


    Back to Table of Contents

    The Seed Of Something New.


    Finally, it seems that England's University of Warwick has come up with a way to help dispose of old useless cell phones and their add-on faceplates.  According to the Dec. 1, 2004 Reuters (
    , they've created a new biodegradable plastic that can be used for the shell of a cell phone.

    This might help recycling facilities, yet recycling remains expensive.  Perhaps there's a way to get consumers to happily recycle their old phones themselves?

    This packaging innovation offers them a flower.

    Encased behind a transparent window, a lone seed sleeps away the years until the old plastic case (not the potentially environmentally unfriendly circuitry and battery within) is literally planted in the ground.  The plastic then degrades and helps the seed germinate.  Voila -- a flower!

    It's a novel idea, and a cute one at that.  And it could well be an incentive for direct consumer recycling.  And if the concept were expanded to the many other plastic cases that we produce each year, it could lead to a positive environmental impact.

    Oh -- and the scientists assure that the seed WON'T germinate until the phone is "planted" -- probably a good thing, although perhaps flower-growing cell phones would be so conspicuous that they might help reduce their use in business meetings and in other inappropriate places...


    Back to Table of Contents

    About 'The Harrow Technology Report.'


    "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. 

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    Copyright (c) 2001-2005, Jeffrey R. Harrow. All rights reserved.

    Jeffrey R. Harrow maintains that all reasonable care and skill has been used in the compilation of this publication.  However, he shall not be under any liability for loss or damage (including consequential loss) whatsoever or howsoever arising as a result of the use of this publication by the reader, his/her/its servants, agents or any third party.

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