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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

2020 vision: A day in your life in 10 years time

It Is 2020, iPhones appear ancient and Tweeting seems as old-fashioned as sending a fax.

As we start one new decade, the science experts at BBC Focus magazine have revealed how technological advances will be shaping our lives as the next one comes into play.

So sit back and prepare to be amazed by a day in your life in 10 years' time...

Your alarm clock goes off 15 minutes early because it is linked to the internet, and traffic reports predict delays due to a train strike.

The internet radio station streams the same music to every listener, but the HomeDJ service means that news, traffic and weather are local to you, and can be customised to provide the level of detail you want.

When you leave home, you carry on listening in your car - the first internet car radio was showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas back in 2009.

GPS data automatically selects the most relevant traffic news stream for you and updates your sat-nav.

For breakfast, you grab an apple from a FrootStore bag. This is a plastic bag from the supermarket impregnated with a compound that inhibits ethylene, the naturally produced gas compound that encourages fruit to ripen.

The FrootStore holds everything from apples to avocados in a preripe condition. When you want to eat them, you take them out and put them in a FrootRipe bag, which emits ethylene, for a few hours.

It means every apple is in perfect condition when you bite into it, so there is much less waste.

And the core goes into a back door composter. By opting for a two-thirds size wheelie bin, you have saved 20% on your council tax bill.

Your journey to work is by car - the public transport infrastructure hasn't improved much in the last decade.

It's now almost impossible to buy a new car that isn't a hybrid, uses regenerative braking (which charges the battery as you brake) and smart idling (it cuts the engine if you stop for more than a few seconds).

The hybrid revolution started with the Toyota Prius back in 1997. A report published in 2009 predicted that 35% of cars made in 2025 will be electric - 25% will be hybrids and 10% purely electric.

Service stations now have fastcharge points. But it's bad news if you still have an old gas-guzzler - rumour has it petrol could soon break the £4.50 per litre barrier.

Fewer people spend all their working day in an office now, with many companies ditching call centres for distributed Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems.

Calls are routed to individual operators around the country via internet data lines, meaning that many of us can work from home, with flexible working hours.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics in 2005 showed how workers had already started migrating out of the office.

Back then, 3.1 million Brits worked mainly from home, up from 2.3 million in 1997.

You've driven into town today for a meeting with your project team at a coffee shop - a venue that has become an increasingly important part of working life.

Many cafes are now making clever use of acoustic materials that make the music loud in the public areas but quieter in the discreet booths.

This makes it easier to talk in the booths, and harder for others to eavesdrop on confidential conversations.

You spend all afternoon trying to get a copy of a controversial biography of the Chinese premier, hard copies of which were banned outright in China.

The electronic version you downloaded won't play and the web filter in the cafe's Wi-Fi connection is blocking forums discussing China's censorship of the world wide web. As China's economy has grown over the past decade, its attempts to control the internet have become more sophisticated.

Filters that block content the superpower objects to are being installed in applications and even hardware.

Eventually you send a carefully-worded email that finds its way past the filters to a colleague in Finland who sends you a link to a file-sharing website. It might work - once you get home.

On the way home you stop off at a pharmacy to pick up a FluCheck which you use to swab the inside of your nose. The single-use device detects the pres-ence of antigens on flu virus particles.

It takes just 20 minutes for the "lab-on-a-chip" to give you a result.

Back in 2009, to diagnose something like swine flu required a sample being sent off to a lab. But in 2020 super-fast diagnoses are common for lots of conditions, including prostate cancer, hepatitis, TB and diabetes.

All the checkouts at your local supermarket are self-service, apart from one "assisted checkout", intended for customers with disabilities, which is manned on demand. Back in 2009, a Tesco store in Northampton became the first completely self-service supermarket.

Most food is now labelled with "food miles" - some products even have a "carbon foodprint" indicating the total carbon emitted during both production and transportation.

Dinner is Bosnian meatballs with kljukusa because Jamie Oliver is currently touring Central Europe for his latest video podcast.

Several broadcasters now transmit programmes simultaneously through the aerial and the internet. Commercial TV revenues continue to fall as fewer people are prepared to sit through live adverts any more.

The line between the internet and TV began to blur in 2009, when the number of videos watched online increased by 47% in a year.

You check your LifeSaver account, which has all the audio and video you uploaded today, recorded by a camera built into your glasses. LifeSaver picks out the most significant moments and sends out a video stream to everyone signed up to receive them.

Lord Stephen Fry has three hours of LifeSaver video for today - or you can catch the weekly summary on the Celebrity LifePeeks website. You also catch up on today's news on your e-reader.

As you snuggle down in bed, your iPillow plays the next chapter of your current audiobook through flat speakers embedded inside it. The pillow also adjusts the volume based on your activity and posture - it even switches to gentle music when it senses you are nearly asleep.

As you sleep, wind and wave power supply electricity to the National Grid. Some of this pumps water into reservoirs in the recently opened hydroelectric power stations in Scotland, proposed in 2009. Tomorrow, this water will feed electricity into the National Grid when everyone switches on their kettles and toasters.

Combined with the photovoltaic cells you installed on your roof three years ago, more than 15% of your electricity now comes from green sources.

Thanks to your smart meter you can keep tabs on your total electricity consumption - having the TV on standby is a thing of the past.

Life in 2020

The future of "ubiquitous computing" has been heralded for decades. It sounds grandiose-computing, everywhere!-but ironically, a future of ubiquitous computing is one where computers actually go unnoticed. That's 2020. It is when Nicholas Negroponte's assertion in 1995 of "being digital" switches to "been digital" because we will have been there and done that. Kids who have grown up stealing free views of recent movie releases online or regularly chatting with a friend in Bangalore or Atlanta will be working adults in a world where the notion of "work" has changed because of digital technology. But it's no longer "technology" in 2020 anymore-it's just how we get things done.

Consider attempts by schools to quell mobile phone usage in the classroom. In many parts of Asia, where the mobile phone took hold sooner than in the US, schools have given up. To a student in Hong Kong, their mobile phone is as vital as the beating of their heart. The word "mobile" means your world can all "go" with you, and by 2020 it will be too hard to imagine going without. We won't carry today's angst of feeling tied to our mobile devices in an apologetic sort of way. Instead, it will be the accepted norm, an innate part of daily life, and will vanish within our collective consciousness.

But if technology and the ability to be connected disappear further into the background, what will occupy our foreground? A bit of the humanity we've always valued in the "real world." Legislators who are currently fixated on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education as the key to innovation will realise that STEM needs some STEAM-some art in the equation. We'll witness a return to the integrity of craft, the humanity of authorship, and the rebalancing of our virtual and physical spaces. We'll see a 21st-century renaissance in arts- and design-centered approaches to making things, where you-the individual-will take centre stage in culture and commerce.

The software industry is poised to embrace its craft heritage. By 2020 software will return to a cottage industry, with bespoke applications made by many, rather than today's industrialised, Microsoft-esque mass-production and distribution model. It will be part of a larger world movement to make things by hand, infused with emotion and integrity. This phenomenon is already becoming visible in the rise of the "apps" market for mobile phones. With few dominant players and close-to-zero distribution costs, practically anyone can "ship" an app on the iPhone, Android or BlackBerry. These apps are often built with care and attention to the design that big companies' offerings lack. Look at the exquisite quality made by game companies like Iconfactory; or the many iPhone apps like ToonPaint that focus on letting users make "hand-crafted" creative content on their phones.

Rather than be content to accept corporate anonymity, we will rediscover the value of authorship. In 2020 technology will continue to enable individual makers to operate in the same way that once only large corporations could do. Witness the growth of individuals as "brands-of-one" in the social media space, broadcasting their news in the same fashion as major media outlets, or in software apps marketplaces, where "Bob Schula" can hawk his wares right next to "Adobe Systems," and it's just as easy to buy hand-stenciled napkins from a seller on Etsy as it is to buy them from Crate & Barrel. You might say it is a return to learning to trust individuals again, instead of relying on an indirect connection to a product through trust in its brand. Certainly our trust in those brands is already being tested right now.

Digital metaphors will reconnect to their original physical sources as a way to recapture what has been lost in translation. A creative director friend of mine recently commented how he noticed that younger designers were absolutely captivated when he used tracing paper in layers to develop a concept over an existing printed photograph. They commented to him, "Wow! That's so fast. I could never make those layers in Photoshop so quickly." Today we fill folders on our computer desktop to the brim with absolutely no sense of scale, no notion of what is a "full" or "less full" folder. They may be more easily searched, but there's a reason why paper-based systems comfort us so well with their tacit communication of what is more vs. what is less. Unable to let this go, we will see many new designs that best leverage what is good in virtual with what is good in the physical world. The subtleties and greyness that we can so easily grasp off the screen will make their way on to it.

The last 20 years have been so full of technological change that technology and the digital world has become the dominant narrative in our consumer culture. Educators, legislators, futurists and social scientists can't help but fixate on it. As we become more accustomed to it, happily, some breathing room will open up for a different conversation about what we want back in our lives.

So, what will take technology's place? It begins with art, design and you: Products and culture that are made by many individuals, made by hand, made well, made by people we trust, and made to capture some of the nuances and imperfections that we treasure in the physical world.

A British woman has suddenly started speaking with a Chinese accent after suffering a severe migraine, she said in comments quoted by British media on Tuesday.

Sarah Colwill believes she has Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) which has caused her distinctive West Country drawl to be replaced with a Chinese twang, even though she has never even visited the country.

The 35-year-old from Plymouth, southwest England, is now undergoing speech therapy following an acute form of migraine last month which reportedly left her with a form of brain damage.

"I moved to Plymouth when I was 18 months old so I have always spoken like a local. But following one attack, an ambulance crew arrived and they said I definitely sounded Chinese," she said.

"I spoke to my stepdaughter on the phone from hospital and she didn't recognise who I was. She said I sounded Chinese. Since then, I have had my friends hanging up on me because they think I'm a hoax caller."

Ms Colwill added: "The first few weeks of the accent was quite funny but to think I am stuck with this Chinese accent is getting me down. My voice has started to annoy me now. It is not my voice."

FAS has been documented around the world and is usually linked to a stroke or traumatic brain injury. It was first recorded in the early 20th century and there are thought to be only a couple of dozen sufferers around the world.

Croatian teenager wakes from coma speaking fluent German

A 13-year-old Croatian girl who fell into a coma woke up speaking fluent German.

This is not a picture of the girl.

The girl, from the southern town of Knin, had only just started studying German at school and had been reading German books and watching German TV to become better, but was by no means fluent, according to her parents.

Since waking up from her 24 hour coma however, she has been unable to speak Croatian, but is able to communicate perfectly in German.

Doctors at Split's KB Hospital claim that the case is so unusual, various experts have examined the girl as they try to find out what triggered the change.

Hospital director Dujomir Marasovic said: "You never know when recovering from such a trauma how the brain will react. Obviously we have some theories although at the moment we are limited in what we can say because we have to respect the privacy of the patient."

Psychiatric expert Dr Mijo Milas added: "In earlier times this would have been referred to as a miracle, we prefer to think that there must be a logical explanation – its just that we haven't found it yet.

"There are references to cases where people who have been seriously ill and perhaps in a coma have woken up being able to speak other languages – sometimes even the Biblical languages such as that spoken in old Babylon or Egypt – at the moment though any speculation would remain just that – speculation – so it's better to continue tests until we actually know something."

Thursday, April 08, 2010

World fashion follows Kim Jong-Il: Pyongyang

The trademark suit sported by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is now in fashion worldwide thanks to his greatness, Pyongyang's official website said on Wednesday.

Uriminzokkiri, quoting an article in communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, said the modest-looking suits have gripped people's imagination and become a global vogue.

"The reason is that the august image of the Great General, who is always wearing the modest suit while working, leaves a deep impression on people's mind in the world," it said.

"To sum it up, that is because his image as a great man is so outstanding."

The article quoted an unidentified French fashion expert as saying world fashion follows Kim Jong-Il's style.

"Kim Jong-Il mode which is now spreading expeditiously worldwide is something unprecedented in the world's history," the stylist was quoted as saying.

The suits consist of an overall-style zipped-up tunic and matching trousers, usually in khaki or blueish-grey.

The 68-year-old leader wears them even when receiving foreign dignitaries.

During his outside "field guidance" trips in winter, he also dons a shapeless anorak and fur hat.

Kim and his deceased father Kim Il-Sung are at the heart of a personality cult that borders on religion, with near-magical powers ascribed to the younger Kim.

Rainbows supposedly appeared over sacred Mount Paekdu where Kim Jong-Il was allegedly born, and he is said once to have scored 11 holes-in-one in a single round of golf.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Strange ‘Oriental Yeti’ creature found in China’s Sichuan province

Hunters in the Sichuan province of China are reported to have trapped the strange animal in the picture above, but no one seems to know what it might be. The news has dubbed the creature an “Oriental Yeti”.

Hunter Lu Chin spoke about the “yeti’s” behavior to press:

“It looks a bit like a bear but it doesn’t have any fur and it has a tail like a kangaroo.”

“It also does not sound like a bear – it has a voice more like a cat and it is calling all the time – perhaps it is looking for the rest of its kind or maybe it’s the last one?

“There are local legends of a bear that used to be a man and some people think that’s what we caught.”

The Oriental Yeti is now en route to Beijing so scientists can DNA test it and try to determine its origin.

When wombats attack...

A SURVIVOR of the Black Saturday bushfires feared for his life yesterday during a wombat mauling that lasted up to half an hour and ended only when a neighbour saved him.
Bruce Kringle, who lost his house in the deadly blaze in Victoria last year, was in hospital last night recovering from bites and lacerations sustained in the attack.

Mr Kringle, 60, a painter, is living in a caravan until his house in Flowerdale is rebuilt. He was walking down the caravan steps yesterday when the wombat appeared out of nowhere and attacked his legs, bringing him to the ground.

The animal continued to bite and scratch Mr Kringle as he tried to escape.

Terrified that it would tear his throat out, he eventually lay on the wombat until a neighbour, known only as ''Rob'', heard his cries for help.

Rob told Mr Kringle to get off the animal, then killed it with a blow from the back of an axe.

Yvonne Kringle said the family, who have lived in the area for 28 years, was shocked a wombat could inflict so much damage.

She said her husband, who is believed to take medication after suffering an unrelated heart attack, thought he might die.

''He was too scared to get up,'' she said. ''Every time he tried to run away initially it kept running after him. It kept on going him.

''Obviously it was quite angry or very sick. He's got bites all over him. The doctors said they can't believe how many bites he's got.''

She said the wombat had been seen headbutting a glass door at another property before it was chased away minutes before the attack.

One neighbour said the wombat was about 60 centimetres long, meaning it would be at least two years old, according to a wildlife expert. Experts were divided about why a wombat, which are herbivores and usually docile, would attack a human. A wildlife officer at the state Department of Sustainability and Environment, Geoff McClure, said in 34 years he had never heard a story like this, saying the most aggressive he had seen a wombat was when they were cornered.

He said the animal had probably been hand reared and might have been bumping the glass to draw attention to itself.

But Phillipa Mason, a veterinarian at Healesville Sanctuary, said the animal probably had the skin condition mange which could cause blindness, leaving it scared and defensive. But a neighbour, Don Dawson, said: ''It looked quite healthy apart from the fact it was dead.''

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