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client devices get smarter, communications improve

At PhysOrg is a story about the tick-tock in wireless communications tactics. They note how such communications have changed from large coverage, high broadcast facilities to cell networks with limited range that hand off traveling clients as they move from cell to cell. That hand-off business not only is an overhead headache but also a source of failure and interrupted communications.

Most new phones, however, have built-in motion sensors — GPS receivers, accelerometers and, increasingly, gyros. At the Eighth Usenix Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation, which took place in Boston in March, MIT researchers presented a set of new communications protocols that use information about a portable device’s movement to improve handoffs. In experiments on MIT’s campus-wide Wi-Fi network, the researchers discovered that their protocols could often, for users moving around, improve network throughput (the amount of information that devices could send and receive in a given period) by about 50 percent.

What this means is that the client device can do more than just broadcast an ‘I need service’ plea and let the network figure out how to deal with it. The client device can say I am here and I am going that-a-way, let’s work out a communications strategy so I can keep connected and you have less hassle keeping up with me as I move from one of your cells to the next.

As the devices get smarter, the paradigm they use has to change to. It is somewhat like Intel’s tick-tock CPU advances where the fabrication improvements and the device design improvements take alternate steps.

Along this line is the story about an iPad application that uses its camera to track user eyeballs. There are a lot of computing devices with cameras aimed at users that could implement this sort of tactic. Those cameras were originally intended as a realization of the video phone – an idea from fifty years ago. Using them to track eyeballs in order to divine user intent and modify screen displays and device response behavior is a another step on the path. I think some have also managed to use those cameras for security purposes – retina scan, facial recognition, and other identity verification used in lieu of passwords, for instance.

Then there’s the question at Slashdot: Are Graphical Calculators Pointless? – the first comment is another question: “Why are we teaching a generation of students to use crippled technology?” This has been a question of mine since the HP95 came out. That pocket sized DOS computer had an excellent HP calculator and would run most DOS based programs, including the plethora of calculator varieties. What with all the devices with decent screens, excellent general programming capabilities, and other features, the question raised indeed seems pertinent.

The comments get into teaching and education and that reminds me of a teacher describing his experience teaching Python to high school students. That was a mission centered activity that got students involved and, in essence, worked backwards towards the algebra skills they needed. The indications are that there is a paradigm shift going on here as teaching is beginning to get beyond the ‘teaching computers’ into realizing that there is intellectual development approaches to be tapped for other forms of education.

Things are changing. One change has unanticipated reactions with new innovation stimulating new ideas and new ways of seeing things. My but we do live in interesting times!

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