Fresh Austrian Air – Weekly Travel Photo

Innsbruck Ski & Snowboard Competition

It’s the heart of summer so I figured a shot to help cool us all down was in order.  This week’s photo comes from the ski slopes above the gorgeous Austrian city of Innsbruck. While visiting I stumbled onto a fantastic ski and snowboarding competition where local athletes showed off their high flying spins, turns, flips, and periodic crash-landing skills.  Situated about two thirds of the way up the mountain the competition provided a gorgeous setting with an absolutely amazing backdrop out over the valley.

If you get a chance to visit the Tyrol region and the slopes around Innsbruck I highly recommend it!

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Snowboarding the Alps – Weekly Travel Photo

Innsbruck Ski & Snowboard Competition

A few weeks ago I took my first shot at learning how to ski in Obergurgl, Austria.  It was an awesome adventure. It was also a smudge easier than I expected. Probably in large part due to the awesome private instructor the local tourism board provided for my trip.  It made one thing very clear though.  Skiing is challenging, but snow boarding?  Good luck strapping both of my feet together and getting me on one.  Which leaves me that much more impressed by the incredible shows of acrobatics I saw from snowboarders and skiers on the slopes above Innsbruck during a locally organized ski and snowboarding competition.  This photo is of one of the competitors and highlights what an incredible day it was.  I was captivated watching them jump, spin, turn, and launch themselves through the air.  In many ways it reminded me of watching a gymnastics performance….only strapped to long objects and done on snow and in 10 pounds of winter gear.  Truly fantastic!  Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Las Vegas Desert Challenge Ballroom Competition

Vegas Competition Group

This past weekend Nate and I attended the Las Vegas Desert Challenge Ballroom Competition with ASU’s Devil Dancesport Team. The competition draws students from several major southwestern universities and is held over a two-day period. My little brother Nate is currently a Sophomore at ASU and has picked up where I left off with the ballroom program. As part of the fun he’d signed up for a number of dances in this past weekend’s competition with several different partners. I had initially planned to tag along and support Nate and the team but ended up doing a late sign up about an hour before the competition started on Friday. One of Nate’s dance partners and a mutual friend needed a partner for several latin dances and graciously talked me into signing up for the competition.

Friday morning at 6:15 a.m. we all gathered in the parking lot north of the football stadium, staggered onto the two waiting buses and prepared for the long drive to Vegas. Two stops and X hours later we finally rolled into the city that never sleeps and set to exploring our hotel. We had an hour and a half to prepare before check-ins during which I frantically ran around getting the fee paid and signing up for Rumba, Salsa, ChaCha and Merengue. After getting checked in I set about trying to locate an outfit that would work for the comp. Luckily I’d brought a pair of black slacks and was able to borrow a black dress shirt. We all grabbed a bite to eat and then the dancing began.

After an hour of check-ins the comp started at 5 and ran until about 8 Friday evening. The main event was the open salsa competition. Andrea and I made the first two callbacks which was fantastic since we hadn’t had any time to practice together and had only danced Latin once or twice before. What really made the night though was Nate and Debbie’s Salsa. They were able to carry over some of the social Salsa moves we’ve developed for the club, and apply them to the competition environment. The result was a fantastic set of dances which took the GOLD! No small accomplishment given the structure of the Salsa competition. Unlike the majority of the other dances which are broken down into skill categories – Newcomer, Bronze, Silver and Gold – the Salsa is an open dance where all levels of dancers compete at once. As a result it’s both significantly more competitive than some of the other events and has a much larger crowd.

After a few exciting hours of competition the first day of the event ended. We assembled a decent-sized group. After waiting a while to round everyone up about 25 of us started toward the strip. The walk ended up being about a mile or so and after a few hiccups we ended up at a restaurant capable of serving the 15 of us or so that were still together. The food hit the spot and we managed to work in a little dancing at the restaurant in an open space that had been created when they put our 5 or so tables together. Stuffed, exhausted, and dreading the walk back to the hotel we began the mile walk down the strip and the additional mile between the strip and hotel. After a few hours spent socializing we all turned in.

The 2nd day of the competition was long. Check in was from 8-9 and open dancing stretched from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a 2 hour break for dinner. The day was a full one. Luckily the dancing was excellent, and the event organizers did a great job moving things along and mixing in social dances.

All of the ASU competitors did a fantastic job, and there was a lot of terrific dancing. For my part, I danced Rumba, ChaCha, Merengue and had a blast. Mixing things up and keeping everyone on their toes Nate and I decided to have some fun with our Merengue. Dragging our poor partners along, we performed a mid-dance tunnel maneuver where one set of dancers holding hands opens up and creates a bridge/tunnel of sorts, which the other pair then bends down and backs through. While the move didn’t score us any points with the judges (and may have even gotten us disqualified) it was entertaining and well worth it!

While I don’t have any direct video of the comp itself uploaded, Nate just finished posting this video of a ChaCha I danced with Jill during one of the social breaks.

After the competition wound down a group of us formed up and began the trek back towards the strip. After another long, tiring walk, we managed to arrive at the Excalibur before the buffet’s 10 o’clock closing time. As you can no doubt imagine, after a long day of dancing without food breaks, we were famished. We hungrily set to the task of emptying out the buffet and managed to make a pretty impressive dent before relaxing for a few minutes in a food coma.As we left the buffet in the Excalibur we picked up a few refreshments and then hit the strip. Several of the members of our group were under 21, and eager to keep the group intact we avoided areas that carded, sticking instead to the outdoor parts of the strip and common areas/casino floors.

Vegas Competition Group

Singing, dancing, and goofing off we made our way down the strip pausing to take in anything/everything interesting and generally having a blast. Eventually, we found our way towards Paris, Paris! We were delighted to find a large open portion of the sidewalk located directly in front of the bar’s patio area. The bar’s music blasting on the patio was loud enough that we could easily hear it on the sidewalk. As luck had it, it was just right for dancing. Before long we’d dropped our bags, put down our drinks and grabbed our dance partners. The sight of the 12 of us dancing on the sidewalk quickly caught passerby’s attention and before long we’d managed to gather a bit of a crowd. As the crowd grew, the occasional random brave soul jumped in and joined us. Hotel/Bar security kept a wary eye on us, and at one point 3 officers on patrol paused to watch us for a few minutes before continuing on down the strip.

One of the most entertaining moments came when one of the group realized that the music would work for the Wild Wild West line dance we’d learned earlier that day during the competition. If we thought we’d made a scene with the random dancing we’d been doing before, the line dance stopped passerby’s in their tracks. Before long, we’d probably gathered 30 or so people on the street and another 30 or so on the bar patio. After a few minutes of the Wild Wild West line dance, we decided it was time to continue exploring. We picked up our bags and were gone…just like that =) It felt like a spontaneously orchestrated Improv Everywhere skit. It was a blast!

From Paris, Paris! we meandered up and around the fountains before pausing briefly in front of one of the Casinos. Georgi and Chels (our two resident dance/gymnasts) showed off their skills with a number of back flips in a grassy area. Back flips completed and all extremely impressed we made our way inside and found our way to the stunning floral gardens. The gardens are incredible, with intricate designs created out of live flowers. It’s a beautiful and vibrant creation. As an added perk there were a number of beautiful butterflies on display in the butterfly greenhouse. Enjoying the setting we paused for a number of photos…more than a few of which involved dips, lifts, or other entertaining poses before making our way back outside and onto the strip.

Once back on the strip we wandered for another hour or two, pausing to take photos, dancing, drinking, and generally having a wonderful evening. Eventually, footsore and exhausted, we made our way back to the hotel by way of McDonalds. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 4:00 a.m. and after40 minutes or so socializing in the hotel room we split up and called it a night.

After 3 hours of sleep it was wake-up time. We piled our sore, bruised bodies back onto the buses for the trip back to Arizona. We’d all made loads of new friends, had incredible stories, and a wonderful weekend full of memories to show for it. Vegas was a blast!

The Technological Revolution – Lessons from 1770

The Industrial Revolution is over

The Technological Revolution – why everything must change.

Over the past 15 years there has been a lot of dialog over the impact of modern technology, the amazing pace at which it has evolved and general shock at the impact of the Internet and personal computers on our day-to-day lives/the way business is done. In fact, as I completed my research for this article I’ve constantly had to re-evaluate the current situation based on significant developments which have been announced. Yet despite the common appreciation for the significance of current events our government, big business, and the American people have been slow to react.

What we are experiencing now is not just an interesting blip…an increase in productivity. It’s a modern technological revolution which is every bit as significant as the industrial revolution. As was the case with the industrial revolution the adjustment will be equally significant. We are well into the early stages of the technological revolution and the window of opportunity is quickly passing during which the U.S. can change the way we operate while working to maintain our spot at the leading edge of the new social/political/financial structure that will eventually transform the global landscape. We are faced with an opportunity to not only maintain but strengthen our status as the world’s super power for another 100 years…but only if we adjust. Should we fail to take action, history will repeat itself and we will experience the same disastrous ramifications as late adapters during the industrial revolution.

Right now America is falling further and further behind every day. Luckily with powerhouses like MIT, Silicon Valley, Microsoft, Google, Dell and a plethora of brilliant individuals and infrastructure we have a slight advantage. We also still have one of the most diverse, motivated entrepreneurial markets in the world. It is full of creative, inventive, and driven minds but that market is losing steam where it counts. According to statistics recently released by AeA’s Cyberstates 2008 report, “U.S. high-tech venture capital totaled $16.9 billion in 2007, up by six percent”. The fact is large amounts of American capital is being invested in the high-tech industry but the growth rate, while positive, isn’t promising.

For America to ride the current wave we need to adopt, embrace, and acknowledge the new role of technology and the worldwide web (WWW). Our political policy and legal approach to internet/technological issues cannot cling to our old systems while stifling growth with regressive policies. We must embrace invention and focus on creating a culture that not only understands technology, but is driven by it. Already, every aspect of an average American’s daily life has been effected. We may not acknowledge it, but from entertainment to food distribution, our lives are now driven by modern technology, especially the WWW.

Now & Then – Modern Parallels

Parallels between the Industrial Revolution (IR) and what I’ve dubbed the Technological Revolution (TR):

IR: We saw trade explode. This growth was powered by the creation of complex rail and canal networks. Eventually, with the invention of steam power and the automobile we saw additional significant infrastructure growth.

TR: Computer processing speed is growing exponentially. In many ways the computer is representative of IR advances in steam power and electricity. Similarly, our cable/fiber optic/copper/wireless networks have expanded quickly. These networks are the transport infrastructure of the future. They are the roads, canals and rail systems that future commerce and parts of our social dynamic will depend upon.

IR: Massive growth in individual’s production capacity and a shrinking effect as the world became a smaller place.

TR: Similar growth rates and potential in production and productivity. In some instances what previously took hundreds of people to do can now be accomplished by a lone individual in a quarter of the time. The WWW has effectively duplicated the shrink effect the IR had on the world, only now instead of being able to travel to the next town over in an hour instead of a day…you can virtually explore or talk to the other side of the world instantly.

IR: The creation of a middle class. The empowerment of the average individual. An explosion in the options available to the common person when compared to the pre-IR world.

TR: Drastic changes in social power. A populace that switches jobs more often than it switches socks. A business environment where the typical social structures which dictated your professional focus and qualification [e.g. A college degree] have evolved into flexible, general, guides and amount to little more than training opportunities. A population of professionals able to pursue their diverse interests and able to constantly explore new opportunities. The TR has also created amazing opportunities for individuals of all backgrounds and ages [e.g. Facebook, Ebay, Winamp]. Individuals are no longer limited by age, professional experience, or other classic professional barriers.

IR: Major shifts in employment structures and viable business systems. The complete re-evaluation and reformation of certain components of the business sector [e.g. the creation of the automobile industry]. The simultaneous creation of major, alternative business structures previously never before seen.

TR: Drastic shifts in major elements of the business landscape. Major impact resulting from web-based automation all across the spectrum – from WalMart’s automated ordering system to a major shift in math-oriented careers such as accounting and finance where strictly formulaic/mathematical operations can and are now handled by computers. One such example is the automation of the stock market system.

These illustrations are just a brief snapshot. A taste of why I feel that we are truly entering a new global economic period.

Putting Things In Perspective

Even as a relatively tech-savvy individual I find myself regularly surprised by the technological advancements occurring in leading research labs and international markets. Here’s some information that might surprise you.

The Grid: CERN publicly announced the roll out of this data network (think of it as a parallel Internet) recently as part of their Large Hadron Collider project. It was developed in response to their need for a way to exchange the equivalent of 56m CD’s worth of data in a year. The Grid is estimated to be some 10,000 times faster than your current internet connection. This is possible by creating a new network based on state of the art technology instead of a system based around pre-existing networks and operating at the lowest common denominator. By combining modern fiber optics and routers with state of the art servers the increase in web performance is astounding. The Grid currently has 55,000 servers up and running and according to the Times Online expects to have 200,000 within two years. Users of the Grid would be able to download a full length film in mere seconds instead of hours.

Malaysia & Indonesia: Probably not a place that jumps to mind when you think about high tech centers, I recently found an article published by Computerworld Malaysia outlining a Broadband Over PowerLine (BPL) web company which is working on providing Internet access to 60 million Indonesian internet users. To be perfectly honest, I don’t completely understand what they’re doing, but as far as I can gather instead of conventional coaxial or Ethernet lines standard power lines are used. They are using a network of 400,000 mosques in order to serve the projected 60 million users. They claim that their users will be provided unlimited high speed internet connections with a 224mbps connection for approximately $1.60 per user. Compare that with Cox’s standard $50 package for a 7mbps connection with 3 mbps power post. The good news here is that the guys behind this project have inked a deal with US based STM Networks Inc. who will be providing 5 communication satellites.

Japan & Sweden: When I started exploring these concepts I had no idea about the BPL project (Posted March 28th) or CERN’s Grid project (posted April 6th). What I had heard was news of current internet practices and developments in Japan and Sweden. Articles like this one published April 4th by the BBC outlines what’s currently taking place in Japan. The article notes that for $35 you can get a 100 mbps connection. Again keep in mind that here in the U.S. Cox and other similar companies are advertising a 7mbps connection as blazing fast and still charging $40-$60. The article notes that 30% of Japanese subscribers now have access to these plans and that the Japanese government intends to see that expanded to 60%+ in a matter of years.

Meanwhile Sweden which has garnered a lot of media attention as a major hub for P2P networks like ThePirateBay.org and is known for its quality internet network articles like this one outline some of the current experiments being done. This article attracted attention when it mentioned that fiber network operator Karlstad Stadsnät provided a 40gbps connection to a 75 year old woman. The article also outlines plans to expand the service to a 100gbps connection.

FCC Standards & the U.S.: On March 19th Engadget, a major tech blog, noted that the FCC had finally updated it’s policy and official classifications for broadband. The good news is it raised the standard 384%. The bad news is that that raise brought the official broadband threshold to a pathetic 768kbps. Please note that throughout the article this is the first time I’ve so much as mentioned speed in kbps. For those not familiar with the breakdown a kb is a kilobyte. 1,000 kilobytes are in 1 mb or megabyte and in turn 1,000 mb are in one gb or gigabyte. According to the new FCC regulations any connection between 768kbs and 1.5 mbps is now designated basic broadband. It’s also important to note that download speed is often significantly higher than upload speed.

Comcast Corp. & American Broadband: After getting into a major tiff with the general public and the U.S. government over P2P throttling practices, Comcast Corp. changed their stance and has announced plans to offer a 50mbps connection (an upgrade from 16mbps). While a move in the right direction the 50mbps connection also comes with a $150 dollar/mo price tag according to a recent Reuters article. Even better news, however, is their announcement that they eventually plan to offer speeds in the 100 mbps and 160 mbps range. Unfortunately for us that $150 price tag is more than a little different than the $1.60 offering currently going live in Malaysia and Indonesia and still a long ways off of the $35 price tag in places like Japan.

Update – Gizmodo just reported here about new price plans being implemented by Time Warner as well as similar plans already in place in Oregon that are based on a [very minimal] base service with charge by the byte fees if you go over. In addition to having outrageously low minimums these plans are exactly the type of regressive pricing platforms, behavior and thought process I’m talking about.

The EU and P2P: One of the big issues in today’s tech talk is the issue of P2P (Peer-2-Peer) software like BitTorrent and tracker sites like the previously mentioned Pirate Bay. Major lobbying/watchdog groups representing the Movie Industry (MPAA) and the Music Industry (RIAA) have kicked up a lot of press for their lawsuits and ongoing battle with services like Napster and Kazaa. These services enable user-to-user file transfers. There has even been legislation introduced to block the use of P2P software, which has come under heavy fire because P2P networks themselves are not in any way shape or form illegal. In fact, they are used by musicians, software developers, writers, and every day users to distribute software. Even major corporations like the game development group Blizzard behind the online video game World of Warcraft (9 million+ subscribers) use customized P2P networks to distribute their software and updates.

A lot has changed over the last few months. RIAA in particular is getting creamed in court for their unconstitutional behavior, major music labels have dropped/discontinued their controversial DRM (Digital Rights Management) software and the EU announced its 15 million dollar investment/support for a next generation P2P start-up called P2P-Next which will focus on developing a state of the art BitTorrent platform which will allow both downloading and streaming online content. P2P-Next has already picked up the support of several major European players (e.g. the BBC).

Update – The BBC just posted this article about a looming fight between the BBC and ISPs over their iPlayer software which streams legal video. According to the report in its first 3 months over 42 million shows have been downloaded. Unsurprisingly ISPs are crying foul and petitioning the BBC to help offset the costs of expanding their pipelines to meet the increased demand.

Web Hosts – The Other Side Of The Coin

I’ve focused most of my attention and research on the consumer side of things. A lot of focus gets placed on making sure the virtual roads of tomorrow are large enough to keep up with demand but one element that is often overlooked is webhosting. It’s wonderful to have huge pipes, but at a certain level they’re pointless if you lack a pump that can keep those pipes full. In other words, after shelling out your $150 a month for Comcast’s 50 mbps, you pull up your friend’s website and go to download a custom made 50 mb music video he has created. If they’re hosted with a U.S. based webhost there’s a pretty good chance you’re only going to be able to download at a max of 300-500 kbps. The sad reality is that you’re probably realistically looking at a download speed closer to 40-80kbps. Say what you want about Apple and Microsoft, one of the things they have been fantastic about is securing high quality connections. I recently downloaded from Quicktime at 1.8 mbps. THAT is where the web needs to be and that is the level of broadband service we will need to stay competitive.

Security

It’s a problem we are all intimately familiar with. From viruses, to phishing, to identity theft, to hacked websites, security is one of the biggest obstacles to internet progress. Even seemingly harmless issues like spam can reap havoc on user adoption and the utilitarian value of future web development. It’s something that will need to be addressed and that we all need to keep in mind.

The Future

If we want to have any hope of maintaining our position as a world super power it is paramount that we embrace modern technology, foster it with investment, and ensure that it is not hampered by regressive legislation. We are in a time where we need to not only focus on building our infrastructure, but ensuring that American companies, products, and citizens are the best trained, most capable users in the world. As odd a concept as it may seem, the future of tomorrow’s America very well may depend on things like P2P networks, video gaming and the modern media.

The Industrial Revolution is dead. Welcome to the Technological Revolution.