Download PDF version of this article PDF

News 2.0

Taking a second look at the news so you don't have to

Big Book to Better the World

MIT Media Lab and nonprofit organization Friendly Planet recently produced what is officially the world’s largest book, Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Kingdom, as part of an effort to raise education funds for that Himalayan kingdom.

If breaking a Guinness world record isn’t enough to impress you, reflect on this: each page is an image approximately 3 gigabytes in size. Every book uses four 5-foot-tall rolls of paper 100 feet long (2,000 square feet of images!), about 2 gallons of ink, and takes 24 hours to print.

Guess you think that the folks at MIT must’ve had mighty highly specialized and customized equipment, huh? Think again. In fact, the lab pushed the capabilities of off-the-shelf hardware to produce the tome, such as Canon digital cameras, a Dell Precision 650 workstation, a 2.5-terabyte Apple Xserver, and a plain old HP DesignJet large-format printer.

That was the easy part, of course. Assembling the 130-pound, shoulder-high book was quite the challenge, as conventional binding techniques could not be used. Acme Bookbinding’s new method involved first fanfolding the rolls by hand, traditionally an Asian bookmaking practice, and then bolting the pages together à la the West.


A Cardboard Computer?

Recent headlines touted that disposable paperboard “computers” are now on the scene. Sounds like a green idea whose time has come, right? Who needs all that plastic and metal, anyway?

But is this “computer” (which looks exactly like a plain white cardboard box) really a computer? Technically, yes. These computers get to keep the moniker because they perform the basics: collect, process, and exchange encrypted data—but that’s where the similarities end. Very cheap to produce, these little cardboard boxes are envisioned as cutting-edge data collectors, with the microelectronics and printable sensors integrated right into the paperboard.

Right now these “computers” are being marketed by Cypak as an enhanced and secure RFID (radio frequency identification) data collector for use in the pharmaceutical industry. A patient would take a pill out of a package, for example, and scan the package by placing it near the cardboard computer, which in turn would record and store the ID, dates, and times of the patient’s pill-taking activity, and perhaps even share the patient’s data (via your PC’s Internet connection) with doctors or pharmaceutical companies. The patient might get a reminder when it’s time to pop another pill or refill the prescription.

Just be careful with that water when taking your pills, the boxes perform terribly when soggy.



Obje—That’s French for Interoperability

These days not enough can be said about our fundamental need for compatibility—especially when it comes to the tangled Web of gadgets and computer peripherals. One day, however, we might look back at the early years of this century and remark at how PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) researchers really came to our rescue with Obje (pronounced OHB-JAY)—a common language that promises to unite all your devices across wired or wireless networks.

What makes Obje special is its ability to put mobile code into place during runtime. A device provides its communication specifics to the entity it’s trying to communicate with. No reprogramming or driver installation is required. As long as your devices can speak Obje, a network of formerly disparate devices (printers, digital cameras, PDAs, cellphones, etc.) becomes a seamless web of connectedness.

For now, however, don’t waste precious months of your life pining for your dream network. PARC has just come up with the basic framework; it still has to license its technology with a company that will turn Obje the idea into Obje the product. And we all know how smoothly that always goes.



Originally published in Queue vol. 2, no. 3
see this item in the ACM Digital Library


© ACM, Inc. All Rights Reserved.