Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Friday, 3 January 2014

Bookless library opens in Texas... - offers glimpse of bookless future -

Bookless library opens in Texas... - offers glimpse of bookless future - 

Texas has seen the future of the public library, and it looks a lot like an Apple Store: Rows of glossy iMacs beckon. iPads mounted on a tangerine-colored bar invite readers. And hundreds of other tablets stand ready for checkout to anyone with a borrowing card.

Even the librarians imitate Apple's dress code, wearing matching shirts and that standard-bearer of geek-chic, the hoodie. But this $2.3 million library might be most notable for what it does not have — any actual books.

That makes Bexar County's BibiloTech the nation's only bookless public library, a distinction that has attracted scores of digital bookworms, plus emissaries from as far away as Hong Kong who want to learn about the idea and possibly take it home.

"I told our people that you need to take a look at this. This is the future," said Mary Graham, vice president of South Carolina's Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. "If you're going to be building new library facilities, this is what you need to be doing."

All-digital libraries have been on college campuses for years. But the county, which runs no other libraries, made history when it decided to open BiblioTech. It is the first bookless public library system in the country, according to information gathered by the American Library Association.

Similar proposals in other communities have been met with doubts. In California, the city of Newport Beach floated the concept of a bookless branch in 2011 until a backlash put stacks back in the plan. Nearly a decade earlier in Arizona, the Tucson-Pima library system opened an all-digital branch, but residents who said they wanted books ultimately got their way.

Graham toured BiblioTech in the fall and is pushing Charleston leaders for a bond measure in 2014 to fund a similar concept, right down to the same hip aesthetic reminiscent of Apple.

Except Apple Stores aren't usually found in parts of town like this. BiblioTech is on the city's economically depressed South Side and shares an old strip mall with a Bexar County government building. On a recent December afternoon, one confused couple walked into the library looking for the justice of the peace.

San Antonio is the nation's seventh-largest city but ranks 60th in literacy, according to census figures. Back in the early 2000s, community leaders in Bibliotech's neighborhood of low-income apartments and thrift stores railed about not even having a nearby bookstore, said Laura Cole, BiblioTech's project coordinator. A decade later, Cole said, most families in the area still don't have wi-fi.

"How do you advance literacy with so few resources available?" she said.

Residents are taking advantage now. The library is on pace to surpass 100,000 visitors in its first year. Finding an open iMac among the four dozen at BiblioTech is often difficult after the nearby high school lets out, and about half of the facility's e-readers are checked out at any given time, each loaded with up to five books. One of BiblioTech's regulars is a man teaching himself Mandarin.

Head librarian Ashley Elkholf came from a traditional Wisconsin high school library and recalled the scourges of her old job: mishelved items hopelessly lost in the stacks, pages thoughtlessly ripped out of books and items that went unreturned by patrons who were unfazed by measly fines and lax enforcement.

But in the nearly four months since BiblioTech opened, Elkholf has yet to lend out one of her pricey tablets and never see it again. The space is also more economical than traditional libraries despite the technology: BiblioTech purchases its 10,000-title digital collection for the same price as physical copies, but the county saved millions on architecture because the building's design didn't need to accommodate printed books.

"If you have bookshelves, you have to structure the building so it can hold all of that weight," Elkholf said. "Books are heavy, if you've ever had one fall on your foot."

Up the road in Austin, for example, the city is building a downtown library to open in 2016 at the cost of $120 million. Even a smaller traditional public library that recently opened in nearby suburban Kyle cost that city about $1 million more than BiblioTech.

On her first visit, 19-year-old Abigail Reyes was only looking for a quiet space to study for an algebra exam. But she got a quick tutorial from a librarian on how to search for digital books and check out tablets before plopping down on a row of sleek couches.

"I kind of miss the books," Reyes said. "I don't like being on the tablets and stuff like that. It hurts my eyes."

Across the room, Rosemary Caballeo tried shopping for health insurance on a set of computers reserved for enrollment in the Affordable Care Act. Her restless 2-year-old ran around and pawed at a row of keyboards. The little girl shrieked loudly, shattering the main room's quiet. She was soon whisked outside by her father.


Biggest ever satellite constellation to be launched - from Nasa's flight facility in Virginia -

Biggest ever satellite constellation to be launched - from Nasa's flight facility in Virginia - 

They are no bigger than a bread tin, but the Dove satellites are set to break new ground in space exploration.
A flock of 28 are to be put into orbit from Nasa's station at Wallops, about 170 miles south east of Washington DC.
They are radically different from conventional monster satellites.
Not only are they smaller, but they fly far lower than traditional satellites, orbiting at around 310 miles above the earth rather than more than 500 miles.
Although the price is a commercial secret, the Doves cost a lot less to build than the billion dollar behemoth "battlestars" of previous decades.

"We are now getting to the point that you can get useful stuff from small cheap satellites you could build – if not in your garage – something not much larger than that," said Jonathan McDowell, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
"People have built small satellites in the past, but they were very limited.
"What these guys have done is miniaturised everything, so most of the satellite is the telescope."
The results are impressive: "It's the difference between a webcam and high definition."
Deploying the Doves in a flock has additional advantages.
Not only are they more agile than conventional larger satellites, but acting in concert, they are capable of producing images far faster, more frequently and covering a greater area than before.
It means a business relying on satellite images does not have to wait weeks to get the picture from space it needs, as is currently the case with the conventional larger equivalents.
The Doves have been developed in San Francisco by Planet Labs, a company whose founders include Will Marshall, a Briton and Oxford graduate.
Currently the satellites are being transported across the USA in pelican cases – equipment often used by photographers to protect their cameras.
Planet Labs are already in talks with a number of mapping companies who are interested in using the images.
"The latest generation of satellites will enable us to image the whole globe at high frequency, producing an unprecedented data set that will unlock huge commercial, environmental and humanitarian value," Dr Marshall said.
These satellites are scheduled to stay up in space for around three years, which in space terms is short almost to the point of being regarded as disposable.
The pictures sent back will be sufficiently detailed to provide an image of something like a tree canopy, but not so detailed as to raise questions of privacy and intrusion.
"You will be able to see big shapes, such as trucks," a company spokesman said.
It sees a variety of uses from commercial to humanitarian.
At one end of the scale, it will enable big commercial organisations to get real-time images of their property across the globe.
The images could also be useful in tracking climate change, crop disease, deforestation and wildfires as well as aiding humanitarian relief by providing swift images of disaster zones to help in targeting emergency aid.


Contact lenses that could do away with TV screens - projects images onto the eyeball to be unveiled next week -

Contact lenses that could do away with TV screens - projects images onto the eyeball to be unveiled next week - 

Contact lenses that allow the wearer to see high-definition virtual screens are to be unveiled in Las Vegas next week.
Dubbed iOptik, the system allows the users to see projected digital information, such as driving directions and video calls.
The tiny 'screens', which are the invention of Washington-based group Innovega, sit directly on a users' eyeballs and work with a pair of lightweight glasses.

Together, they provide an experience equivalent to watching a 240-inch television at a distance of 10 feet, according to Innovega's chief executive Steve Willey.

The glasses are fitted with micro-projectors and nothing else. The contact lenses, however, are more complicated devices.
They can be worn on their own and only function with the iOptik software when a user looks  through the company's paired glasses.
The system can work with smartphones and portable game devices to deliver video - or switch to a translucent 'augmented reality' view, where computer information is layered over the world we know it.
‘Whatever runs on your smartphone would run on your eyewear,’ Innovega chief Stephen Willey said in an interview with CNET.  ‘At full HD. Whether it's a window or immersive.’
Crucially, the device can be worn while moving around in a similar way to Google Glass.
Innovega customised the standard contact lens manufacturing process with a unique filter to make the contact lenses.
'All the usual optics in the eyewear are taken away and there is a sub-millimeter lens right in the centre,' Mr Willey told CNET.
'The outside of the lens is shaped to your prescription if you need one and the very centre of the lens is a bump that allows you to see incredibly well half an inch from your eye.'
An optical filter also directs the light. 'Light coming from outside the world is shunted to your normal prescription. Light from that very near display goes through the center of the lens, the optical filter,' Mr Willey said
The contacts are due to be previewed at the Consumer Electronics Show and promise to provide a much more immersive experience than other head-work wearable devices. 
The company unveiled a prototype of the technology at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, but plans to show a more advanced, working version next week.


Smarterphones: Sensors to automatically react to users' needs... -

Smarterphones: Sensors to automatically react to users' needs... - 

A staff member sets up the new iPhone 5Ss for display picture at Apple Inc's announcement event in Beijing
The revolution in smartphones is over. This year’s focus will instead be on step changes in technology that will help the devices play an even greater role in people’s lives.

Sensors will be able to detect temperature, pressure, eye movement and gestures, location and magnetic fields. In effect, the screens of premium phones will look back at the user and know when they are sleeping, walking, running or taking the bus; whether or not they are holding up one, two or three fingers or swiping away.
Accenture, the consultancy group, credits advancements in microelectromechanical systems for the coming wave of smaller, more accurate, and more durable sensors.
David Sovie, managing director with Accenture’s communications group, said: “Sensors will step into the spotlight in 2014 like never before, enabling the digital transformation of people and companies and feeding increasingly interconnected networks with insightful data.”
Iris scanning is being planned by some handset makers, which will allow people to open the phone using eye contact rather than a password. This will also allow improved eye tracking for applications such as reading and web page scrolling. Sensors such as those for heart rate monitoring in wearable technology will also emerge this year, according to Canalys.
Crucially, the phone itself will become more intelligent by learning from what it is tracking in the habits of the user. The phone will know who you are and what you are doing, and react accordingly having learnt from past experience.
Luke Mansfield, head of product innovation at Samsung Europe, said: “2014 will see technology start to distil data, and provide even sharper insights, into something even more actionable that can help us make decisions about our health and wellbeing.”
Wearables and watches 
The proliferation of sensors will help wearable technology make the next step into mainstream use, with almost every major manufacturer lining up forms of mobile technology that can be worn on the wrist or elsewhere that will monitor activities and wellbeing on the move.
Most devices will be companion accessories to a smartphone rather than standalone products, although at least two smart watches will come with SIM cards installed that will allow them to connect independently to the mobile internet.
Most Android-based smartphone makers are planning to launch a smart watch, with Chinese makers such as ZTE already promising to bring down the prices with lower end alternatives. Apple, meanwhile, continues to work on the iWatch.
There will be a variety of forms, however, as makers seek to differentiate products with different displays, including at least one with an e-reader format. Many primarily offer notifications and controls for the phone in the pocket.
Many manufacturers are taking ideas already in the market – such as the fitness bands sold by Jawbone and Nike – and weaving them into wider applications where digitally connected people can log every aspect of their lives using their bands, watches and other wearable hardware.
This move by smartphone makers into this “lifestyle” market could cause a dip in the fortunes of specialised wearable devices that only have a single use, such as fitness tracking.
The wearable technology will also spawn new software applications – Ben Wood at CCS Insight has identified eight categories ranging from simple internet consumption and entertainment to the “quantified self” and “lifeblogging”.
Juniper predicts significant opportunities for app developers across the health, fitness, sports and communications markets.

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