LATEST NEWS

Shoot em up – With your Mobile?

By: Conor Ryan
New generation networks allow providers to roll out exciting new mobile services. Take, for example, BotFighters, a real-world mock combat game that’s a variant on paintball – but in this case you use your mobile phone to locate and ‘kill’ opponents.
Created by a Stockholm-based gaming company called It’s Alive, BotFighters is offered exclusively to Telia (Swedish Mobile Operator) customers. Over 5,000 customers have signed up since its launch in April 2001. Players join by going to the game’s Web site (www.botfighters.com). Once there they can enter the robot lab and design their warriors, choosing from a range of armour, weapons, and ammunition.
Once the warrior has been built, the player can then locate or indeed be located by other players. The fun here is in ‘shooting’ a real person who could be standing up to 1,000 feet away. Other BotFighters can then try to retaliate. The goal, naturally, is to ‘kill’ as many people as possible and the game designers provide players with help by inserting imaginary items into the real-world terrain. For example, if a gamer steps onto a certain street corner, they might find that it contains an imaginary first-aid kit. Or an imaginary gun might be stashed at the next bus stop, and so on.
BotFighters has grabbed headlines in Europe for two reasons. First of all it has shown how mobile phones are mutating into location-aware devices. Unfortunately at the same time the game has spawned all sorts of aberrant behaviour:
Reportedly a player went on vacation on the Swedish island of Gotland, located all the BotFighters there, drove around in a sneak attack and actually killed every one of them. In retaliation, five local players formed a team and chased after him, giving him a good beating.
Can you see Ballygunner and Mount Sion battling it out with their mobiles in Walsh Park?
It’s not just a possibility that this kind of activity can filter in to our daily lives – it’s a fact.
Source: http://www.wired.com/

3G Adds New Meaning to the Concept of Home Entertainment

By: Conor Ryan
Imagine you’re in Kilmeaden and you decide you’d like to go to the cinema. So you activate your 3G service. A Global Positioning System (GPS) determines your geographical location. The service then accesses the Irish cinema database to generate a list of nearby cinemas such as the Ormonde in Dungarvan or the Cineplex in Waterford, and a user profile database to determine what kind of movies you like best e.g. Sci-Fi, Horror or maybe Thriller. Based on the geographical location information and user-defined preferences, the 3G service offers you a selection of available movies and show times. You then have the option of using your mobile device (laptop, palmtop, phone etc.) to view corresponding movie trailers through a video streaming service. Once you’ve chosen a film you can purchase a ticket through your mobile device and then all you have to do is get yourself along to the film of your choice and enjoy the evening’s viewing. Mobile cinema ticketing is just one example of the kind of things that can be done with a 3G service.
By offering data-transmission rates up to 384 Kbps for wide-area (home) coverage and 2000 Kbps for local-area coverage (office), 3rd Generation (3G) systems will be able to provide high-quality streamed Internet content to the rapidly growing mobile market. In addition to higher data rates, these systems also will offer what the industry now terms “value-added” services supported by an underlying network that combines video streaming services with a range of unique mobile-specific services such as geographical positioning, user profiling, and mobile payment.
These types of service are the promised offerings of 3G and will have a deep impact on our daily lives. A Virtual Home Environment (VHE) service is another exciting 3G proposition. Imagine sitting in your office in Waterford Crystal and connecting to a camera in your kids’ bedroom to watch them playing, on your computer screen or on your mobile device.
Better again, imagine you are driving home and while stopped in traffic on the Dunmore Road (unfortunately 3G services will not make traffic jams disappear but may help to alleviate them!), you can turn on the heating in your home to ensure it will be warm when you get home, you can also turn on the potatoes on the cooker and time the grill to come on fifteen minutes later so your chops will be cooked at the same time as the potatoes, two minutes after you walk in your front door. How do I know when the potatoes are boiling? or what if there is a fire?, you might ask. Don’t worry, you can watch everything from your cookercam and furthermore, if there is a problem your cooker will ring you to tell you that ring four is malfunctioning and that it has shut it off as a precaution.
All of this is now possible and will be available to the general public in the not too distant future when 3G service providers have rolled out the services and supporting infrastructures.
So just imagine your alarm system ringing you to tell you that there is a burglar in your sitting room. You can sit back in the pub, connect to your sitting room camera and watch the burglar panic as you instruct your VHE alarm to lockdown the sitting room (double lock all doors, close electronic window shutters, shut off electricity to the room etc.), after you have contacted the Gardai. When the Gardai arrive at your home you can open your VHE front door and let them in. All this while still sitting in the pub! So instead of sitting at home watching the outside world on television, you can be outside, anywhere you like in fact, and at the same time watching your home.

MP3 – What’s it all about?

By: Robert O’Connor
In the early 1980s, the Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG) was set up by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) to develop a standard for the encoded representation of pictures. After a meeting held in Hanover in 1988, MPEG decided to increase its responsibility and added sound formats to its area of standardisation. The result of this was MPEG-1 Layer 3, which has become known throughout the world by its more user-friendly file extension name, MP3.
MP3 is based around the idea of file compression. File compression techniques are used by computer systems to reduce the amount of space required to store information without any notable loss of data. A good example of this is the following simple text compression algorithm. Consider the sentence:
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country”
This sentence contains 82 characters (mainly letters) making 18 English words and various punctuation marks. If we assign a unique identifier to each word in the sentence such as:
1 ask
2 not
3 what
4 your
5 country
6 can
7 do
8 for
9 you
and rewrite the sentence using these identifiers, instead of the words we get:
“1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9, 10 1 3 9 6 7 8 4 5″
we can decrease the amount of disk space required to store it on a computer system. The table defining what each identifier stands for (lookup table) must also be stored, so in the case of this example any saving would be negligible. However, by using this simple algorithm with a large text file, we could noticeably reduce the amount of storage disk space required.
Research into the compressed storage of audio signals was carried out by a group of scientists in Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in Bavaria under the supervision of Karlheinz Brandenburg. Brandenburg applied this idea of file compression to audio waveforms and greatly reduced the amount of memory required to store these signals without any significant loss in quality. He utilized work performed in the field of psychoacoustics, which is the study of how the human ear and brain perceive sound, to develop a compression algorithm called perceptual filtering. This algorithm is based on the following characteristics of the human ear:
* There are sounds the ear cannot hear.
* There are sounds the ear hears better than others.
* When two sounds are being played at the same time, the ear hears the louder one and ignores the softer one.
By using these facts, certain parts of a sound wave can be eliminated without any noticeable loss in quality to the listener. This is the basis of MP3 file compression.
MP3 compression is most impressive when compared with the way compact discs store audio information. CDs use a high-resolution, uncompressed sampling technique to store sound. Music is sampled at 44,100 times per second, with each sample being 2 bytes (i.e. 16 ones or zeroes) in length. In a stereo system, samples are taken for both left and right speaker channels, so this increases the storage space by a factor of 2.
So an average three-minute song takes up 32 million bytes or 32 Megabytes of memory and an album of 12 three minutes songs would take up 384 Megabytes. Imagine how much space would be required to store any reasonably sized album collection?
On a computer’s hard disk, this is considered impractical use of space. Using the MP3 file format however, CD audio can be compressed by a factor of 10 to 14 without any noticeable reduction in quality. So our three-minute song now takes up roughly 3 Megabytes, which is a significant improvement. It is still too big to fit on a floppy disk, but you can fit many such files on bigger Iomega Zip Disks, or a hard disk.
The main force behind the popularity of MP3 technology is the overwhelmingly large number of quality products that are freely available for download to the general public. If you type the words “MP3″ into a search engine (e.g. www.google.com) you can see this for yourself. One of the most popular MP3 products is Winamp (www.winamp.com), which allows users to play MP3 files, create playlists and customize the look and feel of the program. Other products, such as Musicmatch Jukebox (www.musicmatch.com) have an added recording feature, which gives users the opportunity to create MP3s from their existing CD collections and if they have a CD-Writer, create CDs from their MP3 collection. Most of these programs allow users to download their files to handheld MP3 devices like the MP3 Walkman, now becoming less expensive and more popular.
Of course, major record companies are taking a negative stance with MP3 as they claim the free distribution of MP3 tracks hurts revenues, takes away from artists’ incomes and thus decreases their ability to create new music. These arguments were cited in the recent Napster case, which gained much publicity. Those on the pro-MP3 side state that MP3 is more consumer friendly, and affords people greater flexibility with their musical choice. This is a debate that will continue for some time yet and the outcome will greatly affect the way the music industry operates.
Notwithstanding the opposition, MP3 technology has been so widely adopted experts agree that it is here to stay, whatever form it may take in the future.

Bluetooth: Cutting the cord

By: Shane McCormack
Harald Blaatand (Bluetooth) II, King of Denmark from 940-981AD, was not like other Vikings. In the first place he had a dark complexion and very dark hair, and in the second place, instead of the usual Viking activities of pillaging and plundering, he spent most of his time converting Denmark to Christianity and uniting Denmark and Norway in peace.
Not to be outdone by this spirit of teamwork and collaboration, albeit more than a thousand years later, another Scandinavian institution, Ericsson (the company), launched an initiative in 1994 to study low-power, low-cost radio interface between mobile phones and their accessories. The idea behind this research was to break down the barriers between different communications devices and from this a new technology, which literally cuts the cord that used to tie up digital devices, called Bluetooth was born.
Bluetooth is a wireless technology based on a short-range radio link. By using a radio-based link it connects different devices together giving the user the freedom to roam. Its key features are robustness, low complexity, low power and low cost. The standard is aimed at achieving global acceptance so that any Bluetooth device, anywhere in the world, can connect to other Bluetooth devices in its proximity, regardless of brand. The technology also offers wireless access to Local Area Networks (LANs), Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTNs), the mobile phone network and the Internet for a host of home appliances and portable handheld interfaces. Putting it technically, Bluetooth uses frequency-hopping, spread-spectrum (FHSS) communication in the 2.4-GHz industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) band, in which unlicensed devices are permitted to communicate in most countries of the world.
In 1998 Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia and Toshiba formed the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG). Then in 2000 the Bluetooth SIG was joined by 3COM, Lucent Technologies, Microsoft and Motorola. Today more than 2000 companies are members of the Bluetooth SIG.
By having the Bluetooth technology you can have:
* Instant, automatic access to your personal and business data
* Your electronic devices wirelessly and spontaneously synchronising with each other
* Access to the Internet/intranet from wherever you are
* Instant networking with airlines, hotels, theatres, retail stores and restaurants for automatic check in, meal selection, purchases and electronic payment.
With Bluetooth you can synchronize the information on one Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), such as a palmtop, with another PDA. You can synchronize your PDA with your mobile phone, with your laptop and with your PC. And this is done with no strings attached, or no wires at any rate!
You can also use a Bluetooth PDA or notebook to connect with a local access point or utilize a Bluetooth-compatible mobile telephone to access e-mail.
For example if you’re a techno savvy business traveller just arriving at your flight destination you can configure your laptop (carry-on luggage of course) to communicate with your mobile phone via a local Bluetooth connection. With access through your mobile phone via the public telephone network, you can access the Internet or synchronize your e-mail while on your way to the rental car counter or in transit to your hotel.
If you have a mobile phone headset enabled with Bluetooth technology you can be connected to a phone worn on your belt or mounted in your automobile. With Bluetooth-enabled car kits drivers can use their mobile phone and still keep their hands on the steering wheel.
Bluetooth is a huge technology, which is rapidly growing and expanding globally and already a substantial amount of Bluetooth products are available to purchase that range from Bluetooth-enabled mobiles to a digital camcorder which lets you e-mail your digital still photos and MPEG e-Movies when you’re miles from the nearest PC (you can even surf the Web on the colour LCD screen of this camera).
Bluetooth is changing the face of the mobile world so watch this space for the next generation in wireless technology.

A More Useful Internet

By: Parisch Browne
Consider ‘Joe’ (Joe Soap), who has four children and likes to holiday in the sun and near the Mediterranean in particular. When Joe does an Internet keyword search for ‘holiday’, he will be presented with a mass of information, most of which will be irrelevant to him.
If you have used the Internet you will be familiar with this scenario of searching for information and being presented with numerous results that are not relevant.
At the Telecommunications Systems Software Group (TSSG) at Waterford Institute of Technology we are working on the GUARDIANS project, in conjunction with seven other academic institutes and commercial organisations, to replace this scenario with one where when Joe performs a search the search system will know of Joe’s preference for the sun and of his kids. It will use this and other information to ensure that Joe receives only relevant results and therefore can more quickly obtain the required information/content. In this case his search for ‘holiday’ will highly rate results, which are related to the Mediterranean and cater for families.
Let’s consider a second scenario. ‘Joanne’ (Joanne Soap) is a senior astrologist working for the Irish Space Agency, and she wishes to do a search for material on the planet Venus. If the search keywords ‘planet’ and ‘Venus’ are entered Joanne will probably receive results but it is also likely (as she is the senior astrologist) that she is not interested in elementary information but only in more advanced information on the planet.
Our system will take this into account and therefore provide her with more relevant results. The system also considers accessibility preferences (e.g. whether Joanne has the ability to play videos on her machine or display certain types of fonts/documents). This is important as she may be connecting and searching from her home PC, her work PC, her WAP-enabled mobile phone, her Internet-enabled Digital TV Box or some other device, and the results that are relevant may vary depending on this device. She could be on the train travelling home from work, doing a search using her mobile phone. She may search for video satellite footage of Venus, and if she receives any relevant hits she can have them streamed to her home PC where they will be waiting on her return.
The important point here is that the system will know what platforms/devices Joanne has and what the capabilities of each are.
In a nutshell this European Commission sponsored project enables the user to exploit advanced search facilities that match his/her ever changing interests, past experiences and available resources, to the available content from a series of service providers, thus providing a more relevant Internet experience.
GUARDIANS stands for ‘Gateway for User Access to Remote Distributed
Information and Network Services’, and more information can be found at the Guardians website

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