Frontiers

Future Tool: Handheld Lessons By Tricia Despres

Remember the days when you couldn't go to school without your trusty notebook and a freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil? Well, times have changed and students across the United States are now ditching their pencils in favor of the latest technology from palmOne Inc.

The company boasts that its palmOne 5-ounce handheld has enough functionality and storage to replace nearly 20 pounds of learning materials that the average student carries in their backpack each day. School administrators are learning that such handhelds can be effective tools for students and teachers. The handheld devices enable students and teachers to easily take notes, sketch ideas, calculate figures, collect data, and even access the Internet wirelessly.

Located in Downer's Grove, Ill., outside of Chicago, Avery Coonley School is just one of the hundreds of schools across the United States which recently outfitted students with their own palmOne handhelds. After finding great success during a fourth grade pilot program last year, over 200 handhelds were issued to students this year in grades four through eight. Students can now beam their homework to their teachers and recite their Spanish homework into their handy handhelds.

School officials say the handhelds are enabling students to write more frequently as they are less dependent on weekly visits to the computer lab.

Industry insiders predict spending on handhelds in K-12 public schools should reach nearly $300 million by the 2005/2006 school year. PalmOne recently implemented an Education Purchase Program, which gives schools a cost-effective way to implement technology via the use of their handhelds in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities.

PalmOne says it doesn't have a formal branding program with schools. The company says all sales come directly through retail outlets. It would be interesting to see just how many students exposed to the brand in school would continue to stay loyal as they reach adulthood.

Future Tool: To Register, Or Not By Shankar Gupta

Any Web user who has read the news online has encountered annoying registration screens, where you're required to offer a name, age, address, occupation, phone number, e-mail address, shoe size, and favorite color before you can actually get to the news you're seeking.

After you've registered and have your user name and password, of course, everything's over... unless, you want to register for another site. Or, until the sites you have registered for sell your name to an e-mail list and then you start receiving oodles of spam. These registration forms are also powerful marketing tools for many companies that use them to find out precious demographic data about who's reading their content, how often, and the kind of advertising they might be most receptive to. Unfortunately for those companies, Web surfers are smarter than the marketing departments charged with targeting them. Enter www.BugMeNot.com.

The simple, no-frills front page of BugMeNot (its tag line is "Tell Everyone You Know") hides a powerful, useful, and popular tool that any Web surfer who values their time and privacy would use, if only they knew it existed. Type in almost any free registration site and you'll get a login and password, bypassing cumbersome registration processes. You can avoid offering any personal data whatsoever. Want The New York Times? User name "tonemgub," password, the same. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer? User name "super," password "sonics."

BugMeNot's frequently asked questions page offers insight into why Web denizens have organized to thwart required registration. It reads like a laundry list of complaints: "It's a breach of privacy;" "Sites don't have a great track record with the whole spam thing;" "It's contrary to the fundamental spirit of the Net, just ask Google;" and "It's a waste of time. It's annoying as hell," the site drones.

BugMeNot's front page lists the number of sites it has collected registration data on  57,844  at press time. In the time it took to write this story, that number went up by five. Will your site be next?

Future Tool: Video Blogging By Shankar Gupta

Legions of print journalists have gone into conniptions recently over the idea that bloggers, who've been variously dissed as "ankle-biting," "pajama-wearing partisan hacks," can write whatever they like  unedited and unfiltered  publish it on their sites, and call it journalism. Imagine their rage if bloggers' rants were accompanied by video.

Well, fortunately, you won't need to imagine for long, because Serious Magic, a communications technology company, is poised to release a product that allows bloggers to create a newscast-like video about as easily as they can post a text entry.

The software is called Vlog It! ("video" plus "blog" equals "vlog"), and it's designed to compress a film crew and editing team into the user's computer, so he or she can focus on being the next Dan Rather, minus the questionable memos. Retailing for $99.95, it connects to a Web camera, digital still, or video camera, and allows bloggers to compose scripts which scroll teleprompter-style across the screen. The software enables them to deliver the daily news spiced with their take on foreign policy or more trivial things like what their cat did that day.

Users can then edit the video adding picture-in-picture media, a video of Paul Wolfowitz testifying before Congress, or a still photo of Mittens playing with some yarn, for example. The software offers a library of video effects like screen wipes, cuts, and dissolves that bloggers can use to transition between their faces and other visual content. According to a Serious Magic spokeswoman, the company has not yet set a release date for the product. Serious Magic is currently in talks with undisclosed blog provider sites to possibly host or create compatibility with Vlog It! The company is shooting for a June release.