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April 15th, 2010

Floored by latest computer interface?

Floored by latest computer interface?


Touch screens have rapidly revolutionised the way in which the majority of us interact with our computing devices. Although we had lived with touch screens for many years in public kiosks and other niche applications, it wasn’t until they began dominating the UIs in our pockets and on our laptops that most of us succumbed to the lure of intuitive graphical interaction.

So how certain are you now that the latest innovation – touch sensitive floors – will prove to be a conceptual fad or a technology cul-de-sac? Perhaps ‘touch floors’ will also become a major part of all our lives more quickly than we might have thought?

New Scientist this week asked us to imagine a world in which submersive gaming would become more sure-footed than ever before, while the way we in we which we chose to enter a room could determine the audio/visual entertainment set up for the evening.

The ‘Multi-toe‘ touch floor is the brainchild of Patrick Baudisch and a team at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany. The prototype is a 0.5mm thick sheet of silicone lying on an eight millimetre thick layer of clear acrylic, both of which sit on a thick glass sheet to provide rigidity. Light beams bounce around inside until pressure from a foot allows them to escape. A camera below then registers an image of whatever was pressing down on the floor.

Baudisch has already hooked the Multi-toe up to video game Unreal Tournament, and even presented the technology at the Association for Computing Machinery 2010 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Atlanta earlier this week.

For the lowdown on touch floors, hop over to the latest tutorial video from New Scientist.

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April 9th, 2010

Best of Boston: Patriots' Day

Best of Boston: Patriots' Day

As spring takes shape in Boston (check out Kendall Square below), it’s time for our counter to the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race: the curious celebration of Patriots’ Day.

A Massachusetts state holiday, Patriots’ Day formally commemorates the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. For all intents and purposes though, it may as well be rebranded as Marathon Monday. Patriots’ Day marks the running of the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon and a rite of Boston passage.

In memory, if not actuality, the Boston Marathon always takes place on a sunny day, as over 500,000 spectators line the course from the Hopkinton starting line to the Copley Square finish line, 26.2 miles later. Runners pass by in waves; watch closely, or you might miss contenders, past champions (including Bill Rodgers, Uta Pippig and Moses Tanui), friends or family or any of the more eccentric runners (in Batman costumes, jugglers, or Will Ferrell).

Ultimately, for spectators the marathon is as much about what is happening (running) as what isn’t (school, business). Crowds head outside, soak in spring sun and wait for thousands of competitors to make their way by – the runners give a reason to get together and head out for the day off. Any excuse to head outside on a spring day is appreciated, and if it means shouting words of encouragement at runners slogging through their 14th mile of a race, so be it.

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April 5th, 2010

Best of Blighty: The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race

Best of Blighty: The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race


There are some things that are just very British. Royal Ascot, allegations of us having warm beer (I’m not getting into any debate here, I will leave that to our in-house CAMRA specialist), and the Oxford / Cambridge Boat Race.

Yesterday was the 156th Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, with the finish line right before Chiswick Bridge, just down the road from Prompt’s London offices. It was more exciting than it looks on the photo, honest.

Oxford’s Dark Blues, the presumed favorite for this year’s race, were beaten by the Cambridge team (the Light Blues) for the 80th time (Oxford trails in the all-time standings, with 75 victories).

A quintessentially English, the Boat Race started back in 1829. This year an estimated 300,000 people crammed along four miles of the Thames from the starting line in Putney to the finish line in Mortlake. Heavyweight eights (boats with eight rowers) represent their universities, going through grueling training regiments whilst continuing their studies. No money for the rowers: it’s all about good old-fashioned pride, glory and rivalry.

Pure competition, of course, is not the only draw for Londoners. The start of spring plays as much a role in the race’s allure as the spirit and theatre of amateur athletics, with cherry blossoms and revellers lining the Thames. Oh, and there are some great pubs as well….

So London has its day at the races, a celebration of all things British. We come out in droves for athletes who don’t earn millions of pounds a season and enjoy our time by the river.

As far as finishing lines close to Prompt offices, it’s Prompt Boston’s turn next.

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April 2nd, 2010

Datacentre coal out of control, warns Greenpeace

Datacentre coal out of control, warns Greenpeace


Cloud computing and ubiquitous internet access are driving data centre demand and accelerating climate change, according to Greenpeace.

The environmental pressure group gave notice this week that it would release a major report later in the year attacking the excessive fossil fuel consumption of major IT brands including Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook. An initial paper, ‘Make IT Green: Cloud computing and its contribution to climate change’, already makes the argument pretty clear.

Greenpeace is calling on businesses to begin transferring their data centre power sources away from coal to renewable energy. The group told BBC News this week that by 2020 it estimated global data centres will use 1,963 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year – more than the total power currently consumed by France, Germany, Canada and Brazil put together.

Greenpeace believes that too many firms pride themselves on developing green technology initiatives to cope with ubiquitous computing, when all they are really doing is producing energy from dirty sources more efficiently. “Growth in the IT industry is leading to a fast growing carbon footprint,” Tom Dowdall, greener electronics campaign coordinator at Greenpeace, told the BBC.

Despite Facebook and Microsoft both receiving recent praise for installing fresh air cooling rather than air-conditioning in new datacentres, even those facilities are still powered by coal-fired electricity production. Microsoft does however have one data centre in Quincy, Washington which it claims is run on “100% hydropower” drawn from the Columbia River Basin. Yahoo too has claimed it is tapping hydro power for its latest datacentre in Buffalo New York, as well as a succession of forthcoming new sites.

“We would like to see more examples of companies using purchasing power to drive an increase in renewable capacity,” said Dowdall.

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