Vinton Cerf: Interplanetary googler

By Julian Matthews

It is hard to imagine the always dapper Vinton Grey Cerf used to enjoy blowing up things.

At the age of 10, he got his first chemistry set and, together with a cohort, made match-head rockets and mixed chemicals to mimic volcanoes in his backyard in California.Vint Cerf

“I read a book called The Boy Scientist and knew I wanted to be one,” he says.

Today, half a century later, that incendiary boy is the acknowledged “father of the Internet”. And it comes as no surprise he’s still dabbling with rocket science. Cerf is currently a visiting scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The admitted sci-fi buff is laying the specs for mankind’s first extraterrestrial contact and taking the Internet to infinity and beyond; to boldly go where no modem has been before.

In this interview, the amiable co-inventor of TCP/IP — the data transmission protocols that formed the basis for the Internet on earth 30 years ago — reveals he is partial to fine wine, channel surfs for Star Trek re-runs and personally books his wife’s hotel rooms on trips.

Vint, as he prefers to be called, also talks about the shuttle tragedy and the implications for the Interplanetary Internet project and comments on the infernal menace of spam, blogging and the dire possibility of an Internet “takedown”.

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Kalpana Chawla: Destined For The Stars

kalpana : any desire of the present or future, also refers to imagination or fantasy.

“I pretty much had my dreams, like anybody else and I followed them. People around me fortunately always encouraged and said ‘if that’s what you want to do carry on’.” Kalpana Chawla , just prior to leaving on her last mission.

Kalpana ChawlaIT IS EASY to spot Kalpana Chawla in pre-flight pictures of the ill-fated Columbia shuttle mission. While her crewmates looked snug in their lumpy orange suits, Kalpana looked like hers was two sizes too large.

Her smallish frame belied the credentials of a career astronaut who, until Saturday’s tragedy, seemed destined to reach greater heights in NASA’s male-dominated hierarchy.

At 41, Kalpana held a doctorate in aerospace engineering, a commercial pilot’s licence, a flight instructor’s licence, had racked up seven years of experience at the distinguished NASA Ames Research Center and as vice president of a private research company.

On her first shuttle mission in 1997, she had logged 376 hours and 34 minutes in space, exceeding even the celebrated first American woman in space — Sally Ride.

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Miko Matsumura: Evangelizing the web-app

By Julian Matthews

Miko Matsumura may have left his position as Java evangelist for Sun Microsystems but he’s still singing the same mantra. The new spin on the “network is the computer” is that the “Net is the application.” Here he speaks about the rent-a-web-app doctrine, the second coming of the network computer, and Inc, which is pioneering the new movement on the Net.

Sept 16, 1999, Kuala Lumpur — Miko Matsumura may not display the flamboyance that had him bungee-jump off a bridge suited up as Java’s mascot Duke last year. These days, he sports three-piece suits, albeit uncomfortably, in his new corporate veneer. The boyish charm and improbable sixties hair-style is still there, but the tone is more, err, business-like.

As Inc’s vice president of strategy, Matsumura believes his new Java-fueled vehicle has got “the right stuff” and is on the brink of stellar growth. A pending IPO, may sweeten the journey.

Simply put, Matsumura wants companies to put their cash registers on the Internet. In fact, if he had his way, he would have you throw in your ledger, accounts and entire financial documentation in there.

You would access it as you would Hotmail – anywhere – minus the security flaws of course.

“It is like putting money in the bank. Wouldn’t you rather have it there than under the mattress?” he said.

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Negroponte: Why Bits Matter

By Julian Matthews

Nicholas NegroponteWhen Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory founder and digital economy advocate Nicholas Negroponte makes a prediction about the future you can’t help but sit up and listen. But his vision – however close to the truth it may appear – can be frightening. At a talk in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year, his candid responses seemed threatening even.

Taking questions from the floor, Negroponte tells a Xerox employee to “exercise his options soonest”. A newspaper owner asking about the future of his industry, is told, wryly: “The unfortunate thing about newspapers is the word paper.” Middle management is belittled as relics of the past; in fact middle anything, says Negroponte will vanish without a trace. Asked how governments should respond to the coming digital economy, Negroponte says their only logical response is to step aside.

Nicholas Negroponte’s audacity stems from the fact he has more often been right than wrong.

When he first spoke of the convergence of computing, communications and entertainment 20 years ago, he was considered a borderline nut-case. A proposal he submitted to government in 1975 on “multimedia computing” was accepted on the condition that the first word be dropped because it sounded frivolous. Today, corporations are betting billions on the multimedia age.

The 12-year-old MIT Media Lab is proof of this. It is sponsored by 160 corporations the world over, including the likes of IBM, Sony and Warner Brothers. Negroponte is the guiding force behind the 30 faculty staff and 300 student-employees of this respected hotbed for interdisciplinary research on media innovation. He is also the lab’s No. 1 salesman, jetting the world to raise funds and speaking at high-level conferences.

Yet for all its high-tech promise, none of the Media Lab’s research appears to have any short-term commercial value. Sponsors also cannot specifically cite how their support has paid off. The research projects themselves are intentionally far out. Sample this: a system that reads massive amounts of news at night and delivers a personalised newspaper for you in the morning that caters to your tastes and interests for the day. Or how about a smart refrigerator that monitors its contents and orders directly when its running out of say, milk. Or perhaps a telephone that screens your calls and decides whether or not to interrupt when you are in the midst of dinner or a domestic crisis.

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Jaron Lanier: Of dreams and imagination

By Anita Devasahayam

Jaron LanierJARON Lanier, as “guru” of a growing technology, pioneered the frontiers of Virtual Reality, a 3D world rendered by a computer and experienced with EyePhone goggles and sensor-equipped DataGloves.

The computer scientist with the shoulder-length red dreadlocks – affectionately dubbed by some a “Rastafarian Teddybear” – founded the world’s first VR company, VPL Research Inc, which produced most of the world’s VR equipment for many years. VPL is now defunct. These days, Lanier devotes much of his time to music as well as pondering the future.

He has appeared on the cover of the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, on TV shows like Nightline and The Charlie Rose Show. The 35-year old “self-educated” dropout-turned-scientist is currently a visiting scholar at the Department of Computer Science, Columbia University, and at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

While his preoccupation is Virtual Reality, his first love is music. Lanier has appeared on stage at Chicago, Toronto and Linz, Austria; and has performed with Vernon Reid, Philip Glass, Ornette Coleman, Terry Riley, Barbara Higbie and Stanley Jordan.

COMPOSER-MUSICIAN Jaron Lanier, famed for his pioneering work in Virtual Reality, is full of philosophical musings. Philosophy is the newest “byte” which Lanier has added to his personal portfolio.

“Technology without philosophy is dangerous and foolish. The combination is beautiful as philosophy will have a long term value and impact on society,” he declares.

Although Lanier is best remembered for his failings – a business gone awry and patents lost – he held his audience and press in awe at a recent meeting.

His personality radiates hope of a better future and an easier way of life brought on by technology,

After chatting with him, even cynics will concur that this world, with its social and environmental ills, needs Lanier’s passion to merge real life with technology to bring about conclusive change.

Currently teaching computer science at University of Columbia and interactive telecommunication programme at New York University, Lanier also edits an American entertainment magazine Spin (this is an experiment, he says) and writes in between. He admits that his books are late in coming but expects them to hit the stands someday.

“I’m having a deliciously wonderful life right now. I have a few different careers that are going simultaneously. Being a composer-musician is probably the closest to my soul,” he says.

Lanier is also working on a prospective album for Polygram called Instruments of Change, which involves playing instruments that exist inside virtual reality.

He performed at a recent classical rock concert, and played a virtual saxophone using a single glove to an awed audience at the CA World Tour last month.

Aside from music, Lanier is also involved in the use of virtual reality in the field of medicine. How surgeons can use virtual reality in the future – to plan operations, carry out surgery and control very sophisticated surgical instruments.

“To make sure surgeons keep in touch – human touch is such sophisticated technology,” he adds.

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