Honey, I shrunk the PC

By Hector Cisneros

Being a sci-fi buff, I'm into technology. I  imagine how it will affect our lives, what will it
Image courtesy of fanpop.com
mean for business, commerce, education, travel and yes watching your favorite sci-fi video episode. Recently my eye caught a headline that read, “HP Launches Stream Mini and Pavilion Mini Affordable Compact PCs”. These computers fit on the palm of your hand. After sending a picture of the computer to my business partner telling him that soon we will be able to make anything a smart device, he wrote me back saying he’s got Tupperware bigger than this new PC. Now keep in mind, we don’t sell any kind of hardware, but we love technology. And this brings up my most important question. Just how low can computers go in the next five years? Matchbox size? In this article I will explore the ever shrinking personal computer, how they will be used and where they will take us. So strap yourself in and turn on “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” so that you can find the limits (if any) to the ever shrinking personal computer.

I have been involved with personal computers since the very beginning. I purchased my very first Apple II in 1979. I had already owned several special purpose computers before (chess computer, etc…) and was stoked at what the future would bring.

From androidwaypoint.com
In the beginning, personal computers actually got bigger. As functionality was added (like floppy drives, hard drives, more memory, faster processor and so on) the PC physical size went up. Portable
devices came into being around 1983 with the Osborne One and soon to follow, Compaq computer. By the end of the eighties the size trend began to splinter with high powered computers getting somewhat larger and regular small business and personal systems shrinking in size by a marginal amount. The 90’s saw this trend continue with the overall size really starting to accelerate with the widespread acceptance of laptop and notebook computers. The early 2000’s saw the domination of laptop over desktops and the emergence of tablets, smart phones and even phablets. Recently we have seen the emergence of Chromebooks and Apple and Android tablets of varying size. Until recently, there were only a few mini size PCs that could actually run full blown Windows 8.1. Most had a foot print of say 10 inches by 6 inches or so and had very specific limits on processing power, memory and storage.  With HP’s launch of their new mini’s, we see the emergence of full powered small footprint computers today.

What many people do not realize is that our high tech world has already spawned dozens, if not hundreds of miniature and micro computing devices that are smaller than the HP Stream. Early smartphones (PDA) have been around since the early 1990. Today, many smartphones have more computing power than the computers used in the moon mission space crafts. Today smartphones run the gamut from ultra-portable, super thin do everything devices to large format phablets that act as tablet substitutes. Speaking of tablets, these devices have made huge inroads towards replacing laptop computer systems.

Another area of small smart devices can be found in the medical industry. For example, blood
Courtesy of buffalonews.com
glucose meters have been shrinking in size for years. Ingestible video cameras with tracking devices have been around for quite some time. There is a whole horde of medical devices that use smartphones as the smarts in the system where the smartphone is used to record and store the measured biological function from a micro transmitter measuring device. Today health tracker wearables are all the rage.

In modern terms, when you think of smart devices you can include everything from watches to clothing, drones, small robots, even smart prosthetics come to mind. Let’s face it, miniaturization of transistors, CPUs, memory, storage and other computing devices have always been the norm.  But how many are actually full blown computers that include everything you expect in a desktop or laptop system that you’d buy today. 

Hewlett Packard was not the first to produce small foot print personal computers. A number of them have been around for several years. A quick internet search reviles small footprint PC from companies like ASUS, MSI, Acer, Lenovo, Zotac and many more. Some of these are even smaller that the newly announced HP Mini’s. The smallest of these are still full featured and come in with dimensions as small as 4 inches by 6 inches by 1 inches and can run Windows 7 or 8. Most of these small footprint computers have been used in specialty/vertical markets, which is why most consumers haven’t yet seen them. It usually takes a company like Apple or HP to push a new technology to the consumer market.

Having said that, the new HP Stream sets a new standard for low price & features while at the same time being one of the smallest new PCs for sure. It includes a powerful Intel Celeron CPU, 2 gigs of RAM memory, 32 gig SATA solid state drive, Intel graphics, support for two displays, four USB 3.0 ports, Wireless integrated Bluetooth 4.0, wireless LAN, wired Ethernet port, HDMI out, headphone out, built in power supply and comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse. Plus, it comes with windows 8.1 and a stack of software apps. The dimensions are approximately 5.7 inches square and 2 inches thick. Price tag – around $179.

If you need a little more power, upgrade to the HP Pavilion which comes with a faster processor, twice the RAM (4 gigs), 3-n-1 card reader, 500 gig hard drive (up to a 1 terabyte in top model), and more s/w.  Both come with antivirus s/w and cloud services. Price tag – starting at around $319
Now before you think this is an HP commercial, understand HP was not the first to offer a small footprint PCs. There have been many white label small footprint systems running Android and chrome. Also Apple beat HP to the punch with its 2014 October 16th release of its own Mac Mini. The Mac Mini is a tad more expensive (starting at around $499) is a full powered, full featured and comes with Apple’s latest IOS. Its footprint is around 7.7 inches square by and inch and half or so. Any Mac user will love this mini Mac because it's essentially a “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” version of a Mac system.

How Low Can You Go?

How small can these devices really get? The actual limit is the size of the connected port you need. You need physical space for video, audio, network etc… ports. However the more we move to higher speed wireless devices the less you need physical connected ports. One day we will easily have match box sized PC’s. Some futurists have even predicted nano-sized computing devices. I don’t know about nano- sized devices, but they would be cool because you could attach them to most anything which is where this article started.

Image courtesy of tomsguide.com
So what's the point of all these small footprint systems. These new small footprint, full featured personal computer systems will allow us to upgrade the smarts of many of our personal devices we currently have at home or in our offices. Want a smart TV? Just plug in a small footprint PC. Want to have your own steaming music or video service, just plug in a small footprint PC and add software for your specific needs. Need to clear up desk space. These little devils are a pint sized godsend for saving space and removing clutter.  I don’t know about other people, but I really like the idea of connecting one of these devices to my large flat panel TV. The idea that I can have two full screens on my desk with “virtually no desktop PC” is very appealing. So the next time you go shopping for a new desktop PC, think small, Tupperware small and save all your desktop space for important things like pictures of your family, your lunch or other necessities of life.

Hector Cisneros is CFO of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio

To the Moon

By Carl Weiss

Nearly everyone on the planet has heard of the XPrize, which has spawned hi-tech competitions with multi-million dollar prizes for everything from fuel efficient vehicles to sub-orbital spacecraft. However, in what must be the XPrize that is by far the most "Out There," the race is on as three-dozen teams are vying to become the first private enterprises to land a rover on the moon. The winner takes home $30 million. In fact, the Google Lunar XPrize competition has recently heated up with one competitor, Team Astrobotic collecting a three quarters of a million dollar "Milestone Prize" for overcoming key technical risks in the areas of imaging and mobility. XPrize may announce more Milestone winners in the coming weeks, if other teams can prove their rovers are on track to land on the moon by December 31, 2016.

To Go Where No XPrize has Gone Before

Image courtesy of deviantart.com
To understand the sheer audacity of the current prize, you need to understand those that came before it.  The XPrize Foundation was founded in 1995 by entrepreneur Peter Diamandis who offered a $10 million prize to the first privately financed team that could construct and fly a three place vehicle 100 kilometers into the stratosphere.  The contest, which later morphed into the Ansari XPrize eventually involved 26 teams whose combined expenditures topped $100 million.  Won by Burt Rutan and his Mojave Aerospace Ventures team who flew SpaceShipOne into space and back, the XPrize did not end there.

In fact the inspiration for the XPrize did not get its start in the space age, but the Roaring Twenties when French Hotelier Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 prize for the first person to fly nonstop between New York City and Paris.  That’s right, this is the very prize that inspired Charles Lindbergh to work with the Ryan Aircraft Company to construct the Spirit of St. Louis.  While Lucky Lindy won this prize in 1927, what most people forget is that he was not the first, nor the only person to attempt the feat. 

The same year that the Orteig Prize was announced, the Daily Mail offered a 10,000 pound prize for any airplane or airship that crossed the Atlantic Ocean in either direction between the British Isles and the US or Canada.  Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten-Brown of the RAF accomplished this feat in a WWI Vickers-Vimy bomber, making the prizewinning flight from Newfoundland to in a little more than 16 hours.

They weren’t alone.  According to thestraightdope.com, “Major George Herbert Scott of the RAF and the crew of the British dirigible R.34 in July 1919 flew from East Fortune, Scotland, to Mineola, Long Island, New York, a distance of almost 3,000 miles, in about four and a half days. Also on board were a stowaway (William Ballantyne), a stowaway cat (Whoopsie or Wopsie) and two homing pigeons. The R.34 made the return flight to Pulham, England, a few days later, marking the first round trip transatlantic flight.”

While 10,000 Pounds Sterling or $25,000 American sounds like a paltry amount today, as well as a flight from Europe to the US or vice versa, when taken into context both the prizes offered and the lofty goals put forth were staggering for their time.  It also goes to show that cash prizes are an incredible way to galvanize the creative spirit and spur competition.

While the Ansari XPrize was the most newsworthy, it was not the only competition to bear that moniker.  In 2007, Progressive Insurance threw its hat into the ring b announcing the Automotive XPrize whose goal was to design, build and race vehicles that could achieve 100 MPG that were capable of being mass produced.  On September 16, 2010 three winning teams were announced:

Courtesy of inhabitat.com
1.      Team Edison2 won the $5 million mainstream competition with its 4-passenger Very Light Car that achieved 102.5 MPG.
2.      Team Li-Ion Motors won the $2.5 million Alternative competition with their Wave-II electric vehicle that achieved 187 MPG.
3.      Team x-Tracer Switzerland won the $2.5 million Alternative Tandem competition with an electric motorcycle that clocked in at 205.3 MPG

On July 29, 2010, the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XCHALLENGE was introduced that offered a $1 million prize that inspired a new generation of innovative solutions that will speed the pace of cleaning up seawater surface oil resulting from spillage from ocean platforms, tankers, and other sources. The team of Elastec/American Marine won the challenge by developing a device that skims oil off of water three times faster than previously existing technology.

A Clear Cut Case of Lunacy

This brings us to the Google Lunar XPrize introduced in September 2007.  The goal of the prize is for teams to launch, land and operate a rover on the lunar surface.  Offering $20 million to the first team that successfully roves more than 500 meters and transmits back high definition video, the competition also offers a $5 million second prize as well as millions in bonuses by being the first to achieve specific goals.

According to Wikipedia, “As of June 2014, 18 GLXP teams remain in the competition, and five of those are thought to be making good progress. However, none of the GLXP teams have announced firm launch dates to attempt the prize. The prize expires at the end of 2016 and launch service providers typically require launch vehicle reservation 24 months prior to the date of the launch.[4] Also in June, one GLXP team is scouting co-competitors to travel with it on a common launch vehicle and lunar transit satellite. Astrobotic announced it would be willing to share a single "ride" to the Moon with up to four competitors. The shared transporter, including a shared Lunar landing, would result in a common start time for a race to achieve the 500 m lunar-surface distance-traveled objective. However, Astrobotic had not yet lined up its own launch arrangements with 18 months left in the competition.[5]
Image courtesy astrobotic.com

That’s not to say that several teams haven’t made significant progress.  Several teams, including Carnegie Mellon University have already completed rovers. Astrobotics Griffin Lander is well under way. https://www.astrobotic.com/griffin  Whether any of the teams will be able to snatch the prize before the clocks runs down is anybody’s guess.  But if Lucky Lindy hadn’t risked his life to make the first solo transatlantic crossing by airplane, think of how different the world might be today.

But Wait, there’s More

If a trip to the Moon isn’t far out enough for you there is yet another XPrize that’s even more out there.  In 2011 Qualcomm sponsored a Tricorder XPrize with the goal of creating a mobile device that can deliver medical diagnosis, better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians.  Inspired from the Tricorder device from the series Star Trek, this prize has yet to be won.  With $10 million in prizes on the line all I can say is, “get cracking all you Trekkies out there”.

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio

Greatest Garage Gurus

When it comes to the Internet everyone is familiar with the three letters WWW.  Well today we are going to talk about the three G’s, since if it weren’t for the Greatest Garage Gurus there would never have been an Internet in the first place.  A number of startups from Apple to HP got their start in the humble garage.  Some of these made their owners billionaires.  All of them changed the ways in which the world works. Let’s take a look at the top five garage businesses:

#1 – Amazon

What sounded like a South American River turned into a waterfall of profit for Jeff Bezos who founded Amazon.com in 1994 as an online bookstore in his garage in Bellevue, Washington.  While it took Jeff until 1995 to sell his first book online, he made it book by being one of the quickest online businesses to go IPO in 1997.  Today, this online e-tail powerhouse has one of the most automated shipping systems in the business with more than 40,000 robots employed to help take products to market.  Amazon has also been flirting with using delivery drones to enable them to compete with retailers who can offer products on the spot.  2015 is shaping up to be the start of the shipping wars as e-tailers and major retailers duke it out for dominance.

#2 – Apple
image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org

Started in the year of our Bicentennial, 1976, two Steves by the name of Jobs and Wozniak started a revolution by bringing personal computing to the masses.  One of their first major orders for 50 Apple I Computers was constructed in Job’s parents garage in Cupertino, California.  Although they had their battles with everyone from Bill Gates to the Beatles over the Apple trademark name, the rest is history being that today Apple is the most valuable tech company in the world.

#3 – Disney

While not technically a tech company, although their current crop of animated feature films are produced on computers, the Walt Disney Studio got its start in Walt Disney’s uncle’s one-car garage in Anaheim, California.  Started with a mouse named Mickey, today Disney is no Mickey Mouse operation, being the highest-grossing media conglomerate in the world.

#4 – Google

We couldn’t talk tech without mentioning the 800-pound gorilla in the room named Google.  Started by Stanford graduate students Larry Page and Sergey Brin in Susan Wojcicky’s garage in September 1998, they unsuccessfully tried to sell the search engine to Excite for $1 million a year later.  Excite’s loss was the college student’s gain as the company went public in 2001, raising $2.7 billion.  Today, Google is the most trafficked search engine online garnering 80% of all web searches.  During the intervening 14 years, Google has diversified itself into everything from medical research to robotics.  It has also bought or developed dozens of other tech businesses since going public.

#5 – Hewlett Packard

An oldie but a goodie, HP got its start in 1939 when Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard invested $535 in order to start building audio oscillators in a garage in Palo Alto, California.  One
 of their first customers was the Walt Disney Studios, which purchased eight oscillators in order to augment the sound system for its animated feature film, “Fantasia.”  Widely regarded as the birthplace of Silicon Valley, Hewlett Packard is today one of the largest and most respected tech companies in the world.

Making Something from Nothing

Like the story “Stone Soup,” where an itinerant stranger tricks the town folk into sharing their food, all of these people literally made something out of nothing.  Think about it.  When Jeff Bezos started Amazon, major booksellers didn’t regard him as a threat.  Heck, it took him almost a year to sell his first book.  When Jobs and Wozniak tried to sell the Apple 1, it was little more than a computer kit that sold for $666.66 ($2,763 in 2015 dollars.)

What turned these businesses from a curiosity to an industry were several things, including a little bit of luck and a ton of pluck.  Part businessmen, part showmen, each and every one of these individuals ― while regarded as genius innovators today ― had to suffer the slings and arrows not only of their competitors, but of their peers as well. (“Go on, get out of here boy, yer botherin’ me!”)  Yet persist they did to become icons of industry, proving the old saw that success is “10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”

Today this trend continues as other tinkerers piece together hardware and software in their garages,
Courtesy alibabagroup.com
hoping to be the next tech sensation.  While many of these future Garage Gurus will be products of universities, others can come out of the blue.   Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba in China, founded his company in his apartment in 1999. He claims to have coined the name while sitting in a San Francisco coffee shop.  On September 5, 2014 the company went public, raising more then $20 billion making it the largest IPO in history.

Industries to keep an eye on in 2015 are offering such inventions as 3D Printing, Personal Robotics and Drones, Wearable Computing, Battery & Power Technology and Cybersecurity and Robotic Exoskeletons. While the next wave of Garage Gurus could come from one of these areas, or from some other innovation such as nanotechnology is anybody’s guess.  What is certain is that some of the most profound changes to society will almost certainly have its start in the most humble of beginnings … the garage.

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio