Recently in Science & Nature Category

Growing Crystals

All Done
For her birthday, my daughter received a grow-you-own-crystals kit: the Creativity For Kids Growing Crystals Undersea World by Faber-Castell. When we decided to break open the box and I read that the crystals grow over several hours, I realized that a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old were not going to have much patience to "watch" that.

So, I decided I wanted to create a time-lapse movie of the crystals growing, so the kids could enjoy at least that later on.  

rig.jpg
To do that, I took a Motorola DROID Razr, on loan from Verizon, and installed this Time-Lapse video recording app by Sheado.net [Android Market link]. I've used it before and it produces good results.

I then built a simple fixture from LEGO blocks to hold the phone at the right angle and elevation.

Not shown is a lamp I placed to illuminate the crystal kit. As this was going to happen over a 12-hour period, and light conditions in our kitchen were going to change a lot (from before noon to almost midnight), a constant light source was needed.

Not shown is assembly of the kit, which contains three pieces of cardboard treated with some  chemical (I wasn't able to find out exactly what kind of crystals these are) that you then treat with a saline brine. The crystals start appearing within an hour after you do that.

If anyone knows what chemical reaction is involved here, please let me know.

So, here's the video:


Below are some close-ups of some of the prettier crystal growths.
blue.png
green.png
yellow.png
Then, to top things off, we pulled out the microscope and looked at some of the crystals. Here are some at around 150X. Pretty cool.

zoom.jpg
As the stuff isn't toxic (unlike some of the older kits that use really nasty stuff that can etch granite and ruin just about any surface it gets on), it's not a bad way to spend an hour for kids (or grown-ups) interested in science.

ontogeny-comic-small.cf.jpg

It seems a great many people want to believe that the end of 2009 marks the end of the decade.  That's only true if you consider any arbitrary block of 10 years to define a decade.  If that's the case, then each year is the end of a decade, which then seems kind of silly to point out as being significant.

What I really think people believe is that 2009 is the end of the decade because we're moving from single digits to double digits in the millennium.  I suspect many of these same individuals felt that 2000 was the start of the new millennium (which it wasn't) because the year suddenly had a "2" in front of it. As comforting as that numerically-based logic may seem, it's just plain incorrect.

Here's a simple table to illustrate why 2009 is NOT the last year of this decade.

decades.gifThis table is only helpful if you understand that there was no "Year 0" in the world-standard Gregorian calendar. The first year of the current epoch was 1 A.D.  That means January 1st, 1 A.D. was the very first day of our calendar.

So, given that long-established fact, December 31st, 2009 is exactly one year prior to the last day of the decade.  January 1, 2001 was the first day of our current millennium, and January 1, 2011 (not 2010) will be the first day of the next decade.

But, that shouldn't diminish anyone's celebrations; 2009 was a helluva year and I think most everyone is happy to see it end.
"Today's scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality."     - Nikola Tesla

I'm always interested in how our personalities affect what we do, think, and say. Now, there's a tool that uses the Myers-Briggs type indicator personality framework to analyze your writing.

Following up on a tweet from @bshermcincy, I submitted GearBits.com to the Typealyzer and it popped out this analysis:

estp.gif

Keirsey.com labels ESTP profiles "Promoters" and says "Clever and full of fun, Promoters live with a theatrical flourish which makes even the most routine events seem exciting." I guess that makes sense given that not all gadget reviews are inherently exciting and many need a bit of hyperbole to make them interesting.

But that ESTP seemed somewhat different than the profile M-B tests have generated for me in the past, so I self-administered the 72-question instrument here and came up with the more familiar INTJ. INTJs are described as follows (courtesy of Keirsey.com):

Rational Portrait of the Mastermind (INTJ)

All Rationals are good at planning operations, but Masterminds are head and shoulders above all the rest in contingency planning. Complex operations involve many steps or stages, one following another in a necessary progression, and Masterminds are naturally able to grasp how each one leads to the next, and to prepare alternatives for difficulties that are likely to arise any step of the way. Trying to anticipate every contingency, Masterminds never set off on their current project without a Plan A firmly in mind, but they are always prepared to switch to Plan B or C or D if need be.

Masterminds are rare, comprising no more than, say, one percent of the population, and they are rarely encountered outside their office, factory, school, or laboratory. Although they are highly capable leaders, Masterminds are not at all eager to take command, preferring to stay in the background until others demonstrate their inability to lead. Once they take charge, however, they are thoroughgoing pragmatists. Masterminds are certain that efficiency is indispensable in a well-run organization, and if they encounter inefficiency-any waste of human and material resources-they are quick to realign operations and reassign personnel. Masterminds do not feel bound by established rules and procedures, and traditional authority does not impress them, nor do slogans or catchwords. Only ideas that make sense to them are adopted; those that don't, aren't, no matter who thought of them. Remember, their aim is always maximum efficiency.

In their careers, Masterminds usually rise to positions of responsibility, for they work long and hard and are dedicated in their pursuit of goals, sparing neither their own time and effort nor that of their colleagues and employees. Problem-solving is highly stimulating to Masterminds, who love responding to tangled systems that require careful sorting out. Ordinarily, they verbalize the positive and avoid comments of a negative nature; they are more interested in moving an organization forward than dwelling on mistakes of the past.

Masterminds tend to be much more definite and self-confident than other Rationals, having usually developed a very strong will. Decisions come easily to them; in fact, they can hardly rest until they have things settled and decided. But before they decide anything, they must do the research. Masterminds are highly theoretical, but they insist on looking at all available data before they embrace an idea, and they are suspicious of any statement that is based on shoddy research, or that is not checked against reality.

Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Dwight D. Eisenhower, General Ulysses S. Grant, Frideriche Nietsche, Niels Bohr, Peter the Great, Stephen Hawking, John Maynard Keynes, Lise Meitner", Ayn Rand and Sir Isaac Newton are examples of Rational Masterminds.

Given the work I do and my albeit limited degree of self-awareness, it seems to fit quite well (if you know me IRL and have a different opinion, let me know).

But why the difference between my writing's ESTP profile and my "normal" INTJ? That will take some looking into, but my guess is that I don't feel a need to juice things up in day-to-day life, but can be very enthusiastic when writing about something because I know I won't be there to convey my thoughts in person. That's just a guess, but it's an interesting difference nonetheless.

If you try this, let me know if you come up with different profiles as well.

Each year, we at GearBits post some predictions for the coming year. And then, in the interest of honesty, fairness, and self-deprecation, we take a look back to see how we did. Each of our predictions for 2008 are listed below, along with an update on what actually happened.

1) Blu-Ray Wins the Format War
Yep, I'm going to pick a winner and it's going to be Blu-Ray. The one-two punch of Warner Brothers's move to Blu-Ray exclusivity (from its Switzerland-like neutrality of supporting both formats) later in 2008 and Apple's announcement that BD will be the only HD format available in its products will cement HD DVD's demise. And none too soon. I don't really care which wins...just make it snappy so that prices on players and media can plummet, thanks.

thumbs-up.gifAs of now, the end of 2008, it seems like forever since Blu-Ray trounced HD DVD in the format war. But back in early January, it was anyone's guess. But then, on February 18th, Toshiba officially threw in the towel. Interestingly, the Warner Bros. move I thought would happen eventually was actually announced the day after I posted my predictions. Of course, Apple hasn't yet released any products with any form of HD optical drive, so that bit wasn't exactly spot on. And I'm still waiting for my $99 Blu-Ray player. But, overall, this prediction looks pretty solid.

2) Google's Android Shakes Up Phone Industry
For a while now, the cellphone industry has been fairly static. A few smartphone and mobile OS makers have generally tussled for market share, but the overall industry has been pretty evolutionary. Google's entry will prove to be a watershed moment, with open source finally making a big impact in the handheld space (and no, I don't consider the Zaurus to be a big deal...sorry). Actual handsets running Android will be announced, if not available, before the end of 2008.

thumbs-up.gifDepending on your threshold for "shaking up" the phone industry, I think most people would agree that Android made quite a splash in 2008 when the HTC G1 was launched on T-Mobile in the US on September 23rd. And we've already heard of around a dozen hardware makers signed on to release Android handsets. While handset sales still pale in comparison to the iPhone, 2009 looks like it just might be the year of the Android.

3) Palm Supports Android
This is more of a hope than an actual prediction, as I just don't know whether the egos at Palm will let the company do the right thing and admit that their next-generation OS (which has been under development since 2004!) will be a viable contender against Android (which has essentially the same technical details but scads more developer support). But, if cooler, more rational heads prevail at Palm, they'll announce that they're plans will be to produce at least one Android-based product (probably to come out sometime in 2012 :-/ ).

thumbs-down.gifOuch...I couldn't have been more wrong. While I still think Palm would have been smart to advance their product refurbishment by a full year (maybe more) by going with Android instead of continuing to pursue Nova, the company stuck to its original, go-it-alone plans. We'll see how well that pans out in 2009.

4) Microsoft's HD Photo Replacement for JPEG Image Standard Goes Nowhere
I'm not saying it's a bad idea technically; I'm just saying that JPEG is so entrenched now that replacing it would be about as reasonable a thing to try as would be replacing MP3 with any of the multitudes of better formats. JPEG, like MP3, isn't great, but it's adequate (at least for consumers) and ubiquitous. We'll still be saving all our photos in JPG (and maybe RAW) at the end of 2008...and likely long after that.

thumbs-up.gifJPEG XR, the official name of Microsoft's HD Photo format, has generated essentially zero traction in the camera industry. Part of that is Microsoft's less-than-swift transition of JPEG XR into its quasi-open licensing portfolio, a move that will have to happen for camera makers and developers to trust that they won't be bitten by huge licensing fees in the future if they move their products away from RAW to JPEG XR.

5) Subnotes Will Explode in Availability (and Maybe Popularity)
I've always been a fan of tiny, sub-3-pound laptops, but I think 2008 will see a huge number of these clamshell devices come out of every corner of the consumer electronics space. The Asus EeePC and the OLPC XO Laptop are two examples. While Microsoft had a good idea in its UMPC (Ultra-Mobile PC) concept, the hardware was just never executed all that well. Frankly, I think a 7" touchscreen for Windows is just too difficult. But, going with the traditional clamshell design and using cheaper and/or smaller technologies (e.g., flash memory instead of a HDD) will bring us a raft of interesting (and some good) designs at <$500 price points. Bring 'em on! And I think we'll start to see a lot more people toting these things along that traditionally avoided laptops for whatever reason (cost, weight, etc.).

thumbs-up.gifBingo. If the shelves at Best Buy and Circuit City are any indication, these "netbooks" (the now-favored term...at least by everyone except Psion) have multiplied faster than Tribbles on Cialis. One glance at the huuuge list of netbooks over at small-notebooks.com is enough evidence to suggest that this prediction was spot on.

6) The GPS War Heats Up
TomTom, Nokia, and Garmin will exchange hostile fire over the GPS market due to convuluted agreements regarding mapping data as well as market-share for hardware. Products will continue to decline in price and improve in functionality, and >50% of cellphones will have some form of GPS functionality available on them. I guess that's two predictions in one...oh well.

thumbs-up.gifI'm going to give myself this one. While we haven't heard that much more about the complex licensing agreements involving the big three, you need only walk through a Staples, Radio Shack, or Target to see a vast assortment of portable GPS units now available for under $150, most even having text-to-speech and other advanced functions. That's in direct comparison to late last year, when it was difficult to find a decent unit for under $300.

7) DRM Hits Choppy Water
2007 saw some movement away from DRM (digital rights management), especially in the music industry, but I expect we'll see similar initiatives in all areas of media. DRM has been proven again and again to be little more than an expensive technological boondoggle, and the leading innovators at the consumer media interface (e.g., Apple, Amazon, and Google) will make some headway into reversing the trend of more encumbrance for our media. The RIAA and MPAA will continue to fight it...they know how to do nothing else...but economic results will start to demonstrate that DRM actually hurts profitability.

thumbs-down.gifNope...we didn't hear much consistent with my prediction. While some markets moved towards offering DRM-free downloads, most are still heavily laden. And the RIAA actually reversed its strategy and is now no longer suing everyone and their mother for alleged downloading. So that's two different ways I was off on this one. Just goes to show that there's no telling what the content owners are thinking.

8) Major Tech Stocks End 2008 Up Significantly
These are bound to be wrong, but what the heck...nobody pays me for stock tips. I think Apple will end 2008 at 235, Google will be at 960, and Microsoft will finish the year at 50. As for other stocks, iRobot will end up at either 46 or 12 (can you tell I'm a cynical shareholder?), IBM will show tepid growth to 112, and RIM, hurt by the continued weak US dollar and facing increasing competition, will struggle to match its 1-year high of 127.

thumbs-down.gifUh, no. While I doubt many saw the massive downturn in stocks coming, tech stocks are decidedly not even slightly better off than most. Let's see how my specific price predictions held up:
  • Apple (AAPL): Predicted = 235; Actual = 86.29
  • Google (GOOG): Predicted = 960; Actual = 303.11
  • Microsoft (MSFT): Predicted = 50; Actual = 19.34
  • iRobot (IRBT): Predicted = 46 or 12; Actual = 8.95
  • IBM (IBM): Predicted = 112; Actual = 83.55
  • Research in Motion (RIMM): Predicted = 127; Actual = 38.77
In summary, do not ask me to manage your stock portfolio...you would be better served by setting your money on fire, as then you could at least stay warm for a while.

9) I Buy a New Laptop and Am Disappointed
My Panasonic CF-W2 is now three-and-a-half-years-old and I'm starting to cringe every time I turn it on (my luck with hard drives makes me skeptical of many living past their 4th birthday). I've been looking at possible replacements (e.g., Toshiba R500, Panasonic W7, maybe the Lenovo IdeaPad U110 or the rumored Apple subnote) and so far every single one has some significant trade-offs. So, I expect I'll get one and it will turn out to be not significantly better than my aging Toughbook. You'd think in nearly four years that two grand would buy something markedly superior. We'll see...

thumbs-up.gifUnfortunately, I was right on this. The Fujitsu LifeBook P8010 I ended up purchasing in February is a good laptop...don't get me wrong. It's just not a heads-and-shoulders better laptop than my ToughBook was, and that's what I was expecting given the nearly 4 years newer technology and the $2500 it cost. And, given that I've already had to send it in for a repair (the power button broke off), I'm guessing the durability won't even come close to that of the Panasonic (which I still use regularly around the house).

10) Major Changes in Automotive Industry Announced
While the car business makes actual change only very slowly, we'll see some huge announcements in 2008 that will fundamentally change the future of that industry. Things like record oil prices, an increasing attention to sustainable/green technology, and significant ownership changes will substantially change the competitive landscape. Make no mistake; Toyota will continue its ascent and eclipse GM as #1 car-maker in the world. But, we will see several major announcements that will start affecting actual consumers in 2009 and beyond.

thumbs-up.gifWhile I didn't get the stock predictions exactly right (OK, not even close), I think it's safe to say that the US automotive industry has been shaken up with major changes during 2008. We saw record oil prices (check!), more attention to green tech (check!), and the bottom dropping out of US consumption didn't leave them anywhere to go except to the Congress for help. And Toyota did indeed become the biggest carmaker in the world in 2008, just as predicted. Let's hope the Volt truly is something special...for all our sakes.

So, there you have it: our final score is 7 winners and 3 losers. I'll take it. :-)

In a couple of days, I'll be posting GearBits' predictions for 2009, so make sure you come back and check those out, m'kay?

We get a lot of mail-order catalogs at our house. For whatever reason or past sin, our mailman comes bearing some catalog or another nearly every day. As an experiment, I decided to keep every single catalog we received between the day after Thanksgiving ("Black Friday") and Christmas to see just how many we get during this most joyous of holiday seasons.

And here's the resulting pile:

catalogs0.jpg

Yes, that's over 12" of catalogs...121 in total...

catalogs1.jpg

...weighing in at a mind-boggling 34 lbs!

catalogs2.jpg

This is absurd on several fronts. First, we have never ordered from probably 90% of these companies, and likely never will. Second, several companies sent us multiple copies of the same catalog on the same day. What purpose does that serve, other than to illustrate how bad your marketing department's data-mining efforts are? Third, we received at least five different catalogs from several firms in this one-month period; if the first four catalogs didn't catch our eye, believe me, it's unlikely we're even going to look at the fifth.

In this age of heightened awareness towards ecological and energy concerns, it seems ridiculous that such wasteful physical marketing efforts would not only be tolerated, but be encouraged by discounted postal rates for materials like this. If it cost these companies the same per pound to ship these as it does for you and I to ship something, I guarantee you we'd see fewer of them in our mailboxes.

McCain and the Republican talking heads have been, shall we say, critical of Obama's suggestion that keeping tires optimally inflated and getting our cars properly tuned up would save more oil than offshore drilling would produce. But guess what...they're wrong!

The Tire-Gauge Solution: No Joke

How out of touch is Barack Obama? He's so out of touch that he suggested that if all Americans inflated their tires properly and took their cars for regular tune-ups, they could save as much oil as new offshore drilling would produce. Gleeful Republicans have made this their daily talking point, Rush Limbaugh is having a field day, and the Republican National Committee is sending tire gauges labeled "Barack Obama's Energy Plan" to Washington reporters.

But who's really out of touch? The Bush administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 barrels per day by 2030. We use about 20 million barrels per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage by 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone else did, we could reduce demand several percentage points immediately. In other words: Obama is right.

Read the whole story (Time.com)

And yet, being wrong doesn't seem to keep them from saying it over and over again.

It's unfortunate, but not unexpected, that politicians seem much more interested in managing perceptions than dealing with truths.

In this CNN story -- Poll: Most Americans want offshore drilling -- there are two things I find incredibly troubling.

First, is this quote:

Most Americans favor an increase in offshore oil drilling but the public is split over whether or not it would result in lower gas prices in the next year, according to a just-released CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. (emphasis mine)

It is a cold, indisputable fact that initiating offshore oil drilling today would have no impact on gas prices for several years, certainly not in the next 12 months. Nobody who knows anything about the industry would claim otherwise.

The second thing I find troubling is that this fact was even considered to be something that should appear on a poll. Polls are meant to discern sentiments, not uncover core understanding and comprehension of the facts at hand.

It made me wonder why don't we poll people on some other things, like scientific constants: "Do you believe gravitational acceleration on Earth is approximately (a) 8 m/sec/sec, (b) 9.8 m/sec/sec, or (c) 12 m/sec/sec?"

Or historical facts: "Which country do you feel was more directly responsible for the American Revolution: England or Mexico?"

If the oil poll was intended merely to demonstrate how little the public knows about the topic, it is clearly successful.

If, however, it was supposed to influence policy-makers, it failed miserably to show that any general public will on the matter is based upon anything other than a short-term, myopic desire for lower gas prices regardless of the long-term costs incurred.

Unfortunately, that's neither journalism nor science. In fact, I'm not really sure what it should be called other than a waste of time and effort.

Mitch, seeing my Hot/Not list from yesterday, compiled his own, so here it is:

HOT

  • iPod Touch - I tried the Archos 605 Wi-Fi first and its mediocrity makes the Touch that much more delightful. I really love well done user interfaces and this one is first rate. My only complaint is its picky eating habits when it comes to video formats.
  • iMac - I waited longer than any other tech purchase to finally go with Apple's all-in-one desktop PC. I opted for the top of the line 3.06 GHz 24" model and have been completely blown away by it. So far I have found no flaws. It is stunning.
  • High Gas Prices - Innovation rocks and if it takes $5/gallon gasoline to get us out of this oil addiction then I'm more than willing to pay my dues. Fewer SUVs and pickups, electric cars, solar energy, alternative fuels, more big butts on bicycles, less traffic congestion; I'm all for it. Let's drop our consumption by half and let OPEC drink their devalued crude.
  • Synology - A NAS will soon be as ubiquitous on a home network as the router is today. The clever, feature-filled offerings from Synology are the best of the breed. I'll have a DS508 please!
  • Subaru - Totally agree with Craig here. I've been
    in Imprezas now going on six years and I still feel like I'm cheating when I share the road with normal cars. Scoobys are fabulous.
  • Ken Follett's Historical Novels - "The Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End" are two of my favorite books of all time and I just took them in this Spring. I listened to both on my iPod (over 40 hours each) after downloading them from Audible and they made a month of 1000 mile weekly commutes totally enjoyable. Masterful stuff.
  • CrossFit - I was in good shape 20 years ago and at 44 I can wipe the floor with my 24 year old self (if that was possible). I've been CrossFitting for almost a year now and some of the things I can do now would have seemed outlandish back then.

NOT

  • General Motors - If you Google dinosaur, out of touch, lethargic, and unimaginative you should pull up GM's home page. I used to be a fan, but they have been disappointing me for 25 years now and don't seem to be planning any big changes. The sooner they finish themselves off, the better off we'll be.
  • Labor Unions - Working in the industrial world I cross paths with unions
    of all sorts way more than I would like. I completely understand why our manufacturing sector is fleeing to other countries. I have never seen such a lazy, selfish, destructive, regressive bunch of people in my life. They can't all be like that, but the ones I've met surely are.
  • Sheeple-Filled Corporate IT Departments - My 26,000 strong corporation is going to switch to Vista because they don't want to be left with no anti-virus support for their XP platform. Goodbye nice warm frying pan and hello fire.
  • Cable/Satellite TV - I'm SO tired of paying $80 a month for a bunch of
    garbage that I would never watch even if I had the time. It won't be long until I cut that cord and start rolling my own TV. If I could just decide which way I want to do it!
  • Global Markets - I realize that even the lowliest trader in/on most investment banks/trading floors/commodities exchanges is smarter than I am, but I would really love to see them use those brains rather than run with every emotion that riffles through the world markets. Do investors even pay attention to P/E ratios or supply and demand or is it all about what the hot analyst is saying or the sheeple are doing?

The industriousness and efficiency of humanity is really, really impressive if you stop to think about it. While lesser species sit around and wait for Nature to "happen," we devise new ways of accelerating our ass-over-teakettle tumble through new realities.

One particularly delicious example of this is global warming. "Oh, yes, we know all about that," you say, but wait...there's a cool twist.

For years, scientists have been telling us that the Earth's climate is changing, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels and other of man's activities that result in a hotter planet. And for years, scientists have been predicting the most dire of outcomes: dramatic loss of coastal land (and the cities that sit on them), increasingly violent and unpredictable weather, a huge decrease in biodiversity as scores of plant and animal species fail to adapt to what is essentially overnight change to their ecosystems, and so on.

One prediction that scared the US Defense Department so much that it put global warming on its list of top national security threats was the likelihood of widespread food shortages. Changing weather patterns, including increased drought and flooding, were going to wreck havoc on food production around the globe. This shortage would then lead to instability in parts of the world that weren't terribly stable to begin with and further fuel the anti-Western backlash that began sometime before this decade. This would generate new threats like terrorism, disruptions to our own food and energy supply chains, and increase the uncertainty in global markets. All told, not a very rosy scenario.

And that was all supposed to happen by the middle of this century.

But, humanity's unfailing inability to leave bad enough alone has created a worldwide food shortage well before global warming could directly. No, global warming (which, remember, is our fault) is motivating us to seek out alternative fuel sources, such as corn-based petroleum substitutes. These biofuels are diminishing the availability of food and driving up costs. This, in turn, is starting to generate unease in the world's poorest communities. And that is precisely the type of situation that the Defense Department warned us about...just about 40 years earlier than predicted.

It is indeed ironic that our efforts to stem global warming are resulting in many of the very same problems that global warming was itself going to cause, just sooner. When your best effort to avoid calamity only hastens its arrival, you have to wonder whether there's any hope of steering clear at all.

I think we just experienced an earthquake here in Cincinnati.

At 5:40am, our house shook for about 20 seconds as if there was a huge wind gust, but there was no noise from outside and the trees weren't moving at all.

It's been about 25 years since our last one (there's a fault line in Kentucky) and, if this was another one, it certainly was a surprise.

Update: Apparently, it was centered in Illinois.

usgs.jpg
Enquirer.com

The Discovery Channel's website continues to have just awesome stuff. If you're a dinosaur fanatic as I was as a kid (OK, still am), then you'll get instant thrills out of their Dinosaur Planet "Dino Viewer"

dinosaur_planet.gif

It offers everything from profiles to 3-D rotating views to size comparisons (making it simple to tell just how easy it would have been for any given dino to eat or squish you) to rendered animations of the animals in motion (example shown) and all sorts of other nifty info. If you have little kids, I guarantee they'll get a kick out of this.

As has become customary around the changing of the calendar, here are GearBits' official predictions for 2008.

1) Blu-Ray Wins the Format War
Yep, I'm going to pick a winner and it's going to be Blu-Ray. The one-two punch of Warner Brothers's move to Blu-Ray exclusivity (from its Switzerland-like neutrality of supporting both formats) later in 2008 and Apple's announcement that BD will be the only HD format available in its products will cement HD DVD's demise. And none too soon. I don't really care which wins...just make it snappy so that prices on players and media can plummet, thanks.

2) Google's Android Shakes Up Phone Industry
For a while now, the cellphone industry has been fairly static. A few smartphone and mobile OS makers have generally tussled for market share, but the overall industry has been pretty evolutionary. Google's entry will prove to be a watershed moment, with open source finally making a big impact in the handheld space (and no, I don't consider the Zaurus to be a big deal...sorry). Actual handsets running Android will be announced, if not available, before the end of 2008.

3) Palm Supports Android
This is more of a hope than an actual prediction, as I just don't know whether the egos at Palm will let the company do the right thing and admit that their next-generation OS (which has been under development since 2004!) will be a viable contender against Android (which has essentially the same technical details but scads more developer support). But, if cooler, more rational heads prevail at Palm, they'll announce that they're plans will be to produce at least one Android-based product (probably to come out sometime in 2012 :-/ ).

4) Microsoft's HD Photo Replacement for JPEG Image Standard Goes Nowhere
I'm not saying it's a bad idea technically; I'm just saying that JPEG is so entrenched now that replacing it would be about as reasonable a thing to try as would be replacing MP3 with any of the multitudes of better formats. JPEG, like MP3, isn't great, but it's adequate (at least for consumers) and ubiquitous. We'll still be saving all our photos in JPG (and maybe RAW) at the end of 2008...and likely long after that.

5) Subnotes Will Explode in Availability (and Maybe Popularity)
I've always been a fan of tiny, sub-3-pound laptops, but I think 2008 will see a huge number of these clamshell devices come out of every corner of the consumer electronics space. The Asus EeePC and the OLPC XO Laptop are two examples. While Microsoft had a good idea in its UMPC (Ultra-Mobile PC) concept, the hardware was just never executed all that well. Frankly, I think a 7" touchscreen for Windows is just too difficult. But, going with the traditional clamshell design and using cheaper and/or smaller technologies (e.g., flash memory instead of a HDD) will bring us a raft of interesting (and some good) designs at <$500 price points. Bring 'em on! And I think we'll start to see a lot more people toting these things along that traditionally avoided laptops for whatever reason (cost, weight, etc.).

6) The GPS War Heats Up
TomTom, Nokia, and Garmin will exchange hostile fire over the GPS market due to convuluted agreements regarding mapping data as well as market-share for hardware. Products will continue to decline in price and improve in functionality, and >50% of cellphones will have some form of GPS functionality available on them. I guess that's two predictions in one...oh well.

7) DRM Hits Choppy Water
2007 saw some movement away from DRM (digital rights management), especially in the music industry, but I expect we'll see similar initiatives in all areas of media. DRM has been proven again and again to be little more than an expensive technological boondoggle, and the leading innovators at the consumer media interface (e.g., Apple, Amazon, and Google) will make some headway into reversing the trend of more encumbrance for our media. The RIAA and MPAA will continue to fight it...they know how to do nothing else...but economic results will start to demonstrate that DRM actually hurts profitability.

8) Major Tech Stocks End 2008 Up Significantly
These are bound to be wrong, but what the heck...nobody pays me for stock tips. I think Apple will end 2008 at 235, Google will be at 960, and Microsoft will finish the year at 50. As for other stocks, iRobot will end up at either 46 or 12 (can you tell I'm a cynical shareholder?), IBM will show tepid growth to 112, and RIM, hurt by the continued weak US dollar and facing increasing competition, will struggle to match its 1-year high of 127.

9) I Buy a New Laptop and Am Disappointed
My Panasonic CF-W2 is now three-and-a-half-years-old and I'm starting to cringe every time I turn it on (my luck with hard drives makes me skeptical of many living past their 4th birthday). I've been looking at possible replacements (e.g., Toshiba R500, Panasonic W7, maybe the Lenovo IdeaPad U110 or the rumored Apple subnote) and so far every single one has some significant trade-offs. So, I expect I'll get one and it will turn out to be not significantly better than my aging Toughbook. You'd think in nearly four years that two grand would buy something markedly superior. We'll see...

10) Major Changes in Automotive Industry Announced
While the car business makes actual change only very slowly, we'll see some huge announcements in 2008 that will fundamentally change the future of that industry. Things like record oil prices, an increasing attention to sustainable/green technology, and significant ownership changes will substantially change the competitive landscape. Make no mistake; Toyota will continue its ascent and eclipse GM as #1 car-maker in the world. But, we will see several major announcements that will start affecting actual consumers in 2009 and beyond.

So, I'll check back in about 12 months to see how I fared. In the meantime, what do you think will happen?

CNN (via the AP) has the following story, Where have all the hunters gone?

Hunters remain a powerful force in American society, as evidenced by the presidential candidates who routinely pay them homage, but their ranks are shrinking dramatically and wildlife agencies worry increasingly about the loss of sorely needed license-fee revenue.

Observers say increasingly urban and suburban culture is contributing to the decline in hunters and fishers.

New figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that the number of hunters 16 and older declined by 10 percent between 1996 and 2006 -- from 14 million to about 12.5 million. The drop was most acute in New England, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific states, which lost 400,000 hunters in that span.

The primary reasons, experts say, are the loss of hunting land to urbanization plus a perception by many families that they can't afford the time or costs that hunting entails.

"To recruit new hunters, it takes hunting families," said Gregg Patterson of Ducks Unlimited. "I was introduced to it by my father, he was introduced to it by his father. When you have boys and girls without a hunter in the household, it's tough to give them the experience."

Some animal-welfare activists welcome the trend, noting that it coincides with a 13 percent increase in wildlife watching since 1996. But hunters and state wildlife agencies, as they prepare for the fall hunting season, say the drop is worrisome.

"It's hunters who are the most willing to give their own dollar for wildlife conservation," Patterson said.

Read the entire story (CNN.com)

I'm quite content to hear that hunting is declining, but I find it a bit ironic that wildlife conservation efforts would still be significantly dependent upon those who wish to kill the large animals in those areas. It's almost like saying that the only way to extract value from the natural spaces is to use them as shooting ranges. It really suggests that the US Fish and Wildlife Service needs to partner with other governmental organizations to figure out better ways to simultaneously promote and extract revenue from non-hunting/non-damaging uses of natural spaces.

Of course, as suburban sprawl continues to envelop larger and larger areas of formerly wild land, the chances for anyone to observe, let alone hunt, big animals will be greatly reduced. Will we get to the point where the only large wild mammals left in the US are deer? Given the range of animals that lived here just 200 years ago, that will certainly be a sad day if (or when) we do.