Online Lesson

Posted by Luis
In Assignments
26 Oct 12

Everyone:

I am very sorry I could not come to school today. My head cold prevented me from coming to LCJ, but by making 10-15 minute recordings throughout the day, I was able to make the video lecture you see below.

All students are required to:

  1. Read all the web pages in the “Internet” unit;
  2. Watch the full video below; and
  3. Complete the assignment (3 steps) given in the video.

The assignment is to send me an email, from a specific account, with specific information. The instructions should be clear in the video.

You must complete the assignment and send me the email by Tuesday evening at 8:00 p.m.

Hopefully, the video should be clear (my voice is low and a bit muffled due to the cold), and from reading and watching, you should be able to understand the material. We also will have a test on the Internet Unit next week on Friday.

If you have any questions, please give me a phone call.


Apple just announced the new iPhone. New features include a slightly taller 4″ screen; LTE hi-speed 4G wireless Internet connectivity; a new 8 mega-pixel camera; a CPU at about double the speed of the previous model; new headphones; and a new dock connector. It uses the new iOS version 6, with a new Maps app with turn-by-turn directions and 3-D flyover, as well as a new panoramic photo stitcher.

However, the iPhone 5 is being criticized for not being mind-blowing; Timothy Lee of Forbes gives the rundown:

It has a faster processor, a bigger and brighter screen, supports LTE networking, and is thinner than its predecessors. It will doubtless prove to be a capable phone and a worthy competitor to the latest Android gear.

Still, judging from the Twitter chatter and early coverage by tech sites, what’s striking about the phone is what’s missing: a compelling story about what makes this phone better than its predecessor or distinguishes it from its competitors.

He then explains why:

Jobs instinctively understood that most customers don’t care about technical specs, they care about what you can do with a device’s raw hardware. Sometimes, if a new product had a particularly impressive technical improvement—as with the Retina Display—he’d come up with a whimsical brand name for the new feature and make that the focus of the presentation. But more often, his presentations would focus on small number of applications or characteristics, like Siri, that weren’t directly tied to any specific hardware upgrade but made the product dramatically more useful for ordinary consumers.

Had he been around, could Jobs have made the iPhone 5 sound more exciting? Maybe. Perhaps a focus on how much faster LTE is, like the old Mac-to-PC side-by-side presentations Jobs did showing a rendering process or something. Maybe Jobs could have made the new mapping technology a centerpiece.

But frankly, I doubt it. One of Apple’s disadvantages is that it is not competing against one company—Google and Android—it is competing against all other companies that make cell phones. It has to beat all of them out, and that’s an enormous task. Not only that, it has to beat all other phones combined. If one Android phone has features A and B, another has B and C, and yet another has C and D, the iPhone has to have A, B, C, D, and E to beat them. Not exactly a fair fight.

Because of this, almost all if not all of the new iPhone 5 features have already appeared on other phones, and some have features (like the NFC e-wallet feature) which the iPhone does not yet have.

The biggest problem with the lack of a “Wow” factor, I believe, is that we’re simply running out of features that knock our socks off. I noted this back in 2010 when the iPhone 4 came out:

One other thing that this makes me think of–there’s so much new stuff on this phone, what’s left to add to the next-gen iPhone a year from now? Seriously. It’ll be hard to make it much slimmer; doubtful they’ll up the screen resolution; no more cameras to add, or video functionality; no more wireless stuff to add that I can foresee. The iPhone 4 didn’t up the flash memory, nor did it add colors, so that could change, but those are relatively mundane “upgrades.” So, what could be added next year that could compare with this year? The iPhone 4 will be pretty damned hard to beat, even for Apple.

The 4S added Siri, but it’s not that easy to create iconic new technologies like that. The “S” upgrades are usually speed bumps anyway; the iPhone 5 was supposed to be one of those every-two-years major upgrades.

And that’s probably its biggest flaw: it didn’t live up to expectations. People have come to expect Apple to hit not just home runs, but grand slams every time. The iPhone is already such a good product, it’s progressively harder and harder to do even better.

This came more to light for me when a student in my class a few days ago asked if I was excited about it, and I gave my “Meh” response. but then they asked about switching from Android, and my response was much different. Students have handed me Androids in the past and I have played with them. They feel plastic and cheap. The touchscreen is less responsive. The interface is less intuitive. I know many people prefer Android, but the phones I have seen it on just feel inferior to Apple hardware and software.

From that perspective, it is my impression that the iPhone 5 is mind-blowing. I think you’re simply getting a much better product. However, coming from the heights of the iPhone 4S, it’s, well, also really good. But from that height, there just isn’t as much difference.

Another factor is Apple’s own popularity and how that has translated into leaks. iPhones in the past had some surprise. This one had zero. Nothing was unknown before the announcement. The taller profile and bigger screen had been known for a year or more, and parts leaks gave us a look at the entire exterior and much of the interior for at least a month in advance. We knew it was LTE from software clues. We knew about all the features in iOS6 already, including the panorama photo feature. The only things we did not know were some minor technical features, like the exact number of megapixels in the camera.

As a result, there was nothing that would surprise anyone who was paying attention.

Alas, a lot of this simply comes back to and down to perception. This was put rather cruelly to the test in this video:

Frankly, I hate videos like this. They play on people’s ignorance—which is the point, yes. But you know they edit out the people who either don’t see a change or who can easily spot that it’s not an iPhone 5. Worse, it plays on people’s desire to be on TV—some of the people in the video look like they’ve been asked to audition for an Apple commercial, and some perhaps think that this is exactly what they are doing.

Despite all that, Kimmel’s video has a point to make: people simply expect every new iPhone to be better, so they see it whether it is there or not. Basic human psychology. It doesn’t mean the new iPhone isn’t faster, thinner, lighter, and better—it just means these poor schlubs aren’t really equipped to tell the difference.


Anyways, I will probably go out and get my iPhone 5 pre-ordered today—SoftBank starts taking pre-orders from 4 p.m. For me, it’s not because I’ve gotta have it, it’s more because, well, frankly, it’s free and there’s no downside. If I thought the 5S or whatever will be out next year would be a quantum leap forward, I might wait, but there’s no special reason to think that. SoftBank subsidizes the entire price of the 16GB model in exchange for extending your contract another 2 years, which I would do with or without a new phone anyway, so I pay nothing extra for the hardware. Is essence, there’s no reason not to get a new phone. It would be turning down a free mini-computer, and while the 5 doesn’t blow me away, it is still a very, very nice product.


Last weekend I visited the Open House for NHK labs in Setagaya to get a sneak peek at the new “8K” UHDTV (Ultra High Definition TV) standard, known in Japan and Super Hi-Vision. They had their 145″ super-LCD screen going, in full 7680 x 4320-pixel glory.

Screen01-1

The system is not just 16 times sharper than your latest-model HDTV; aside from having 16 times the pixels, it’s also progressive scan–not interlaced–meaning that the picture is sharper and clearer. On top of that, it’s got a refresh rate of 120 Hz, meaning that the picture is renewed 120 times every second. In short, it looks great.

The biggest new feature, however, is the resolution–the total number of pixels. That number has grown from a small number to a huge number in recent years.

In the 1940’s and 50’s, in North America, the NTSC (National Television System Committee) settled on a standard of 525 horizontal scan lines for the TV, although only about 480 lines are visible, and the other 45 lines are used for other information, including closed captions. This standard was also used in Japan.

This picture is equivalent to an image on your computer screen 480 pixels tall, the vertical resolution. Here’s an image with 480 “lines” of resolution in the NTSC aspect ratio:

480P-1

Looks OK, doesn’t it? However, there’s a catch–the image you see above is shown in progressive scan, so it looks sharper than it should. Still, that’s fairly close. This is what we used to think of as a clear, sharp TV image.

However, there’s another hitch: you’re looking at it in a very small space.That image might occupy only as much as 7 inches diagonally on your screen. That’s 114 PPI. But what if you have a 32″ TV set? That would be only 25 PPI! That’s extremely poor quality.

At around the turn of the century, when the next-generation of TVs, called HDTV (High Definition TV) came out. (Japan calls this “Hi-Vision.”) These TVs have a maximum vertical line count of 1080. Since we use LCD screens, and they use pixels (not scan lines, like old TVs), we refer to the overall resolution as 1920 x 1080.

So before, we had 480i (480 lines interlaced); with HDTV, we got 1080i. That’s more than double the lines, and (because the screen has a wider aspect ratio) almost 7 times more information. The number of total pixels changed from 307,200 (0.3 megapixels) to 2,073,600 (just above 2 megapixels). On a 32″ TV, the PPI increased from 25 to 69. A big improvement!

Now, I can’t show you an HDTV image on this screen, as it likely would be bigger than your display area (here’s such an image you can view separately). So instead let’s scale things down to about 1/3rd the height, or about 1/8th the area. Of the two images below, the one on top is the same 480i NTSC image scaled down, and below it, an HDTV (1080i) version of the same image. Were the two TVs to have the same “pixel” size, this is how they would compare. Note also the difference in aspect ratios:

Ntsc-230X172-1

Hd-690X388-1

As you can see, you’re getting a lot more image with HDTV, even if your newer TV doesn’t look that much bigger.

On a newer HDTV, older NTSC images look fuzzy and very low-res. You may have noticed this when they show clips from old TV broadcasts on HD TV shows.

So you can see that HDTV was a big improvement. Even more so was Blu-ray; instead of showing images in 1080i, Blu-ray shows them in 1080p. That’s the best quality you’ll see on your current TV.


We’re now heading into perhaps as much as two generations beyond HDTV. They are referred to as 4K and 8K, or QFHD and UHD TV.

The 4K, or QFHD (Quad Full High Definition) is 3840 x 2160, which is exactly double the vertical and horizontal resolution of HDTV (also called “FHD,” or “Full High Definition”), which gives it 4 times the pixels, or overall resolution. Thus the “Quad” label. Current HDTV has about 2,000,000 pixels (2 megapixels); 4K has more than 8,000,000, or 8 megapixels.

The “4K” label, by the way, does not come from the “quad” label; 4K comes from the rough number of horizontal pixels. 3840 is close to 4000, therefore we get “4K.”

On a 32″ display, 4K gives us 137 PPI, much better than before. That’s better pixel density than your laptop probably has, and you use that just 30-60cm from your eyes! From a distance of 2-3 meters, that quality is excellent.

4K is just now becoming available; you can actually buy 4K Blu-ray players and 4K TV projectors (they are very expensive!). The higher resolution is mostly used for HD-quality 3D. HDMI cables are now capable of transmitting 4K video. And 4K is actually closer to a cinema standard–a movie shot in 4K video (as many are now) will look just as good as any shot on film.

However, there’s a catch: 4K TV sets (projectors, really) still cost at least $10,000, even if the 4K-ready Blu-ray players can be had for much cheaper. Oh yeah–there’s nothing to watch in “true” 4K anyway.

Not that 4K won’t become cheaper and more available in the next few years. The problem is, by the time it catches on, it’ll already be obsolete.

You see, NHK here in Japan is working on 8K: a full 7680 x 4320 pixels, more than 33,000,000, or 33 megapixels. That’s more than 100 times the number of pixels on a pre-HD television set! Not only that, it’s progressive scan, meaning a sharper picture still. They call it “Super Hi-Vision” (SHV), though the technical name is UHD, or UHDTV.

If there were a 32″ SHV TV set (there isn’t yet), it would have a pixel density of 275 PPI, which is far more detail than the human eye can see from a comfortable viewing distance.

In addition, it scans 120 times a second (120 Hz), so you get sharpness even with motion that would blur on current TVs.

Movingtext-1

Still not impressed? Let me show you a scale showing all the different resolutions:

8K-1

See that tiny orange scrap at top left? That’s your old NTSC TV set. The higher-quality version of it, with top DVD quality. The screen two levels down, the darker green one, marked “HDTV 1080p”? That’s your current flat-screen set. The light green square is 4K, what is coming out right now. The largest light-blue square is Super Hi-Vision.

They say that it will be ready for broadcast from NHK’s satellites from 2020 (give or take a few years). By 2025 they expect to broadcast that over the Internet.

Not only that, the sound will improve. Today’s “home theater” systems include 5.1 surround sound, meaning there are five speakers surrounding the viewer, and a subwoofer for bass.

Super Hi-vision has a 22.2 sound system–yep, 24 speakers in all. 9 at the top of the room, 10 around the middle, and 3 normal speakers in front, accompanied by two subwoofers.

Nhkspeakers01-1

Nhkholodisk02-1

And still, we’re not finished. After all, you can’t just go and increase resolution by 16 times and expect it’ll still fit on the same media, right?

When DVDs were too small for recorded HDTV, we got Blu-ray, going from 4.7 GB for DVDs to 25 ~ 100 GB for Blu-rays. Even with compression, however, Super Hi-vision will require media that’s 250 GB in size, at least.

Now, Blu-ray might get there–it’s 25 GB per layer is already at 100 GB thanks to 4-layer discs, and 10-layer discs are not too far off. However, it’s not just the capacity: it’s the access speed. If the media can’t send the video data fast enough, it won’t work. And the guy I spoke to at NHK said that even with upgrades, Blu-ray just won’t be fast enough.

So NHK is looking into alternatives–like this:

Nhkdisc01-1

Note the NHK disc is floppy, not unlike the opaque black mylar film used in the original floppies decades back. But this disc (which will probably be more firm when released) holds 100 GB per layer due to a lens process with blue lasers which halves the width of the beam, thus producing 4 times the capacity. A 4-layer SHV disc would hold 400 GB, more than enough for a SHV video.

Shvmedia-1

Alternately, many of the very thin discs could be included in one “cartridge,” which could read several of the discs at the same time, for up to 2.5 TB of data storage.

But that’s not all. They’re also working on holographic media:

Nhkholodisk-1

See those tiny little dots? Each one is several MB of data. A single piece of holographic media could hold as much as a terabyte of data. He also said that it wasn’t reliable enough for data storage yet–but he did say that he expected it to be sold on the market within three years.

He even had a cool laser setup you could look at:

Nhkholodisk02-2

That disc in the middle is not the media–the square chip on it is.

If you want more information, The Verge has an excellent report on the technologies in the open house.


You may notice a few “new” computers in the lab from today. They are not really new, but they are now featured as the frontmost machines in the lab. All have special features, and should be great machines to use. All three have large displays (HD size, 22″ to 26″). A fourth will be joining them soon, and a fifth will be built by the Computer Making Club this semester!

Cmc02

The first one (at far left in the lab) has been around for almost a few years now! It has been sitting in the corner, where almost no one seems to use it! This computer has a huge screen, a 26″ monitor, and a special video card. Plus, it has the Adobe software suite! Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator! It’s the white box under the desk (not the black box on top).

Anyone can use this machine, but if a Newspaper Practicum student needs it, they can ask the person using it to move. This is because the monitor and the Adobe software were purchased by the Journalism Club.

Everyone, be careful not to kick or knock over (!!) the CPU box under the table.

Cmc03

The computer to the right of the first one is special because it has a “dual boot” installed: when you start up the computer, you can choose between English or Japanese as the computer’s language. This is not just input language, it is the total OS language. The Japanese boot even has Japanese-language versions of Office 2010!

In addition, this computer has a Blu-ray drive, so you can watch Blu-ray video discs on it! The monitor is a 22″ wide-screen HD display, perfect for Blu-ray playback.

Cmc04

To the right of those two, on the other row of lab computers, we have a rig built by the club two semesters ago. This is a powerful system with a really cool case which lets you see inside the computer. This also has a Blu-ray player, in addition to a 22″ HD monitor, but only runs the English version of Windows and Office (no dual boot).

That semester, the club also bought a special headphone-mic set for this computer; we’ll be adding it soon!


All three computers run Windows 7 and Office 2010. On all three, you will see a log-in screen; choose the “LCJ (no password)” account to get in. A fourth machine built by the club last semester will be installed soon. This new computer includes a touch-controlled trackpad, and will dual-boot into Windows 8 (Consumer Preview).

Want to help build the next computer? Join the Computer Making Club! I’ll be announcing our first meeting, to be held next week, soon!


Did you know that in America, some businesses that hire people demand that they give their Facebook login and password as part of the interview? With the unemployment rate so high, it is a “buyer’s market,” meaning that businesses can ask people applying for jobs for more than usual, and many people, desperate for a job, will agree.

Why do companies do this? In part, it is to find out what kind of person this is in private, but also companies want to know if this person has ever said bad things about their employers to friends. Some companies include clauses in employee contracts which prohibits them from saying bad things about the company on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.

Some employers are less invasive, instead just searching Facebook without the password, though some ask the applicant to “friend” the interviewer, giving them access to most of the online information that way.

Nor is this just employers; some colleges also look at the “web presence” of students applying for admission.

Facebook itself is not amused, and has threatened to sue any company which demands access to applicants’ accounts. Politicians seem to understand that the idea is so unpopular, they can get “liked” by the voters by making laws against such demands.


Super Hi-Vision (UHDTV)

Posted by Luis
In Computer News
21 May 12

Want to see your future TV set? NHK will be showing it off this week, from May 24-27 (Thursday through Sunday) at their research labs in Setagaya. From Soshigayaokura Station on the Odakyu Line, it’s about a 15-minute walk–so it’s not exactly in central Tokyo. However, it should be pretty interesting.

The new proposed standard, also called UHDTV, is equal to 16 current HDTV sets in a 4-by-4 grid. NHK will be showing off a 145″ TV.

Japan may get this new ultra-hi-def TV system as early as the next two years, though worldwide adoption may not come until the end of the decade–if it gets adopted.

However, with new computers getting super-high resolution screens. It started with the iPhone 4 getting a “retina display,” with the 3″ display going from 480 x 320 pixels to 960 x 640. The increase in quality was very noticeable–though the screen size was still small.

Then the iPad went from a 1024 x 768 display to 2048 x 1536 pixels on a 10″ screen; this was significant because the resolution exceeded even what most larger monitors have; it is hard to find even a 30″ monitor with better than 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution.

The iPhone and iPad got better resolutions by having much smaller pixels–but these are still just mobile devices, not laptops or desktops with full-size monitors.

However, the Macbook Pro is supposed to jump from a 1440 x 900-pixel resolution, to a resolution of 2880 x 1800, currently better than even the largest and most expensive monitors. 2560 x 1600 (WQXGA) monitors can be found, but they are not common, and are very expensive.

In short, you can expect computer displays to improve significantly over the next few years, with televisions following a few years after that.


In Resources
20 May 12

For those of you who use the iPad version of this site as a textbook, please delete what you are now using and download a new version I have made today. The link is here.

You can click on the link in Safari on the iPad; it will download (takes a few minutes), and will show you a button allowing you to open the textbook in the iBooks app.


ReRAM

Posted by Luis
In Computer News
20 May 12

We just finished studying RAM and the CPU. One thing we talked about was how both of these are volatile, which is why your computer loses all memory when you switch it off. It’s also why your computer takes so long to boot after you power down. The advantages of the RAM we now use is that it is fast and does not wear out.

We do have non-volatile Flash (”NAND”) memory, which looks like RAM; it keeps data and it’s on a chip–but Flash memory has significant problems. First, it’s a lot slower than RAM; second, you can only save data to any part of the chip a few tens of thousands of times before it wears out. This makes it OK for external storage (USB and SSD drives), but not for RAM or even CPU usage.

Researches have been trying to get around this problem many years, but now they may be close to a solution. Out of the many technologies that could replace RAM–MRAM, PCM, STT-RAM, CMOx, CBRAM–one called “ReRAM” (Resistive random-access memory) seems most likely and promising.

ReRAM has the speed of regular RAM, but is non-volatile, and does not wear out as quickly as NAND memory does. You can write to ReRAM about a million times before it begins to fail.

Researchers have found a way to build ReRAM using cheap silicon material, and companies like Panasonic are gearing up for releasing ReRAM commercially as soon as next year.

So, what will this mean? First of all, both RAM and CPUs could be made with this technology, meaning a completely non-volatile computer. No more losing data because power goes out.

It also means that computers may switch on instantly, like a light switch, and minute-long boot-ups will not be required.

It also means that a computer may require much less power–meaning that battery life will last much longer.

If ReRAM can be produced cheaply in large quantity, it also means you could have a super-fast SSD, as much as 100 times faster than current SSDs–and current SSDs are much faster than HDDs.

In short, you computers will be a lot faster and will last on batteries a lot longer.


In Resources
18 May 12

For those of you who use the iPad version of this site as a textbook, please delete what you are now using and download a new version I have made today. The link is here.

You can click on the link in Safari on the iPad; it will download (takes a few minutes), and will show you a button allowing you to open the textbook in the iBooks app.


The iPad 3

Posted by Luis
In Computer News
9 Feb 12

For those of you interested in getting an iPad, just wait a month. The iPad 3 has long been rumored, but now the rumors are becoming solid and trustworthy. Apple will almost certainly announce the iPad 3 with an event in San Francisco in the first week of March, with the product release coming about a week later.

The iPad 3 will probably have several important feature upgrades, including a high-resolution “retina” display (similar to the iPhone 4, but much larger), a stronger battery, and a faster CPU. The CPU may be a quad-core “A6″ mobile CPU designed by Apple. It is also possible the iPad will feature LTE Internet access (much faster than 3G), though the availability of that network with SoftBank is in question. There will also probably be slight improvements in the iPad’s cameras.

Update: Softbank is planning to unveil a 4G LTE network by the end of this month–a few weeks before the iPad 3 is released.


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