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Legislative rumblings on climate change I've argued in the past that climate change was no longer a scientific issue, but a series of economic and political issues that are now derived from the science. There's been a host of news on this front within the past few weeks, so a summary appears to be in order. One possible cause for the sudden upswing in news is the persistent rumor that President Bush's State of the Union address, which will be delivered next Tuesday, will contain a major new initiative to curb carbon emissions. The White House is currently confirming that there will be some sort of energy policy outlined in the address, but denies that it will include any mandatory caps. In Congress, however, the recent shift in power has energized legislators to push for carbon-limiting legislation that would have never made it to vote in the prior sessions. At least three bills are under discussion in the Senate. Despite White House opposition, all would create a mandatory cap on carbon emissions, and allow market trading of credits to give industries the chance to choose how best to balance emissions and expenditures. Two of these would begin reducing emissions by 2010, while a third would have them level off at slightly above today's emission rates by 2020. The widespread support within the Senate suggests that Bush will receive some legislation that includes a mandatory cap before the year is out. The legislative efforts may be picking up a sense of urgency due to the wide array of groups lobbying for them. This week has seen two sets of unexpected bedfellows push for action on climate change. A combination of scientists and evangelical Christians released a statement in which they promised to work together to promote this sort of legislation. This statement built on a prior commitment to this sort of effort from prominent evangelicals. Meanwhile, a combination of environmental groups, energy generators, and major industrial companies (including GE, Alcoa, and Caterpillar) will release a statement on Monday calling for rapid and significant cuts in carbon emissions: 10-30 percent within 15 years. In part, they want legislation now because they feel that a combination of further evidence of warming and the potential for additional political changes over the next few years could both lead to even more stringent cuts in the near future. It may also be good business—GE noted a boom in sales of energy efficient equipment in recent years. Not all of the action is happening in Washington, of course. California Governor Schwarzenegger's State of the State address included a call to go beyond earlier legislation on a statewide energy efficiency plan. He proposed a set of standards that would shift California to a greater use of carbon-neutral fuel sources. Meanwhile, the European Union has released a set of policy papers on energy that call for creating a single European energy market. With the market in place, carbon emissions would be targeted for a 20 percent reduction by 2020. Included in their plans would be carbon sequestration, a shift to renewable energy, and an increase in the use of biofuels. All of this activity suggests an environment in which progress is being made in mandating a shift towards efficiency and renewable energy. That will provide the backdrop for the President's State of the Union next week. What remains to be seen is whether he will encourage this direction, or try to limit it.

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802.11n spec moves closer to completion By a unanimous vote, the IEEE’s 802.11 working group has sent Draft 2.0 of the 802.11n WiFi spec out to the entire membership of the IEEE for approval. If it is approved by the membership, Draft 2.0 wil then become the basis for the final 802.11n spec. 802.11n has been hailed as an ideal, easy-to-use home networking solution because of its speed and backward compatibility with the slower 802.11b and 802.11g wireless networking spec. 802.11n will have a maximum throughput of 600Mbps, but will typically operate at 200Mbps, about twice that of wired 100BaseT Ethernet and nearly four times the maximum of 802.11g. Its relatively high speeds have networking companies excited, as there’s enough bandwidth to easily stream high-definition video wirelessly. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Ruckus Wireless treated me to a demo of their draft 802.11n equipment. Using their own hardware, they were able to simultaneously stream 1080p video to a couple of TVs while also streaming standard-def video to other devices. Very impressive, and a workable solution for getting HD content from one place to another without relying on coaxial cable or Cat 5e wire. So-called "Draft N" 802.11 gear has been available for several months from major vendors, with most of them touting 802.11n’s 600Mbps ceiling. The rush to bring Draft N gear to market has actually outpaced the development of the spec itself, leading to some concerns over how well the early Draft N gear would work with the final spec. By mid-2006, Dell, Linksys, Belkin, D-Link, and many others were selling draft-compliant gear. With the rush to bring faster WiFi gear to market, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced it would begin certifying 802.11n equipment in two waves. Starting in March, the Wi-Fi Alliance will certify products as being compliant with Draft 2.0. Once the spec is finalized later this year or in early 2008, products will then be certified as fully 802.11n compliant. 802.11n’s progress through the various steering committees and working groups has been much more arduous than the raft of products might lead one to believe. After Draft 1.0 was released in early 2006, Task Group N was deluged with over 12,000 comments—six times what was expected—as the draft spec lacked support from over half of the membership. The big question facing early adopters right now is how well their Draft N equipment will work with Draft 2.0 as well as the final spec, which is expected to be something akin to Draft 2.0 with some minor tweaks. Many—but not all—wireless equipment vendors have promised that their equipment will be made compliant with the final spec via firmware updates. If that turns out to be the case, it should be smooth sailing from here to the final spec. Given the widespread agreement that Draft 2.0 will only need some very minor modifications in order to gain the "full" 802.11n designation, Draft 2.0-compliant equipment should be a safe choice for those with the itch to upgrade.

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First fruits of new e-voting certification process: two companies get thumbs-up from federal testers How do Americans know that electronic voting machines are reliable? They have to trust the word of the private testing laboratories that examine the machines. But how do people know that the testing laboratories themselves are reliable? That’s where the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) comes in. As part of the 2002 Help America Vote Act, the NIST is charged with providing technical guidance to the Election Assistance Commission as the EAC certifies testing laboratories. Yesterday, the NIST recommended that SysTest Labs and iBeta Quality Assurance receive the first full accreditations from the EAC. Six labs have currently applied for accreditation: SysTest, iBeta, InfoGuard, BKP Security, Wyle, and Ciber. Last summer, the EAC granted interim accreditation to Wyle and SysTest, though it found some documentation problems at Ciber and refused to give the company the green light. Now that the NIST process is firmly in place, interim accreditation will be replaced by a full accreditation process that takes 9 to 18 months to complete. NIST bases its program on ISO/IEC 17025, a set of “General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories.” Because there are currently no standard tests for evaluating voting machines, each laboratory has created its own testing suite. NIST accreditation is designed to ensure that the testing process at each lab can produce precise data with repeatable results, not that the tests themselves are well-designed. Recognizing that this is a weakness, NIST will start development work this year on a standard series of tasks that all laboratories will eventually be encouraged to adopt. There is no word on when the new tests will be ready. The government does require seven basic areas to be tested. Voting machines first need to be evaluated to make sure they conform to federal design standards, and then they are run through a physical configuration audit in which the lab makes sure that the machine actually matches the documentation. The third part of the test is a source code review, followed by a functional configuration audit that tries to determine if every function mentioned in the manual actually exists and works. A system integration test, reliability and accuracy tests, and security testing round out the requirements. Now that the EAC has received the first two NIST recommendations, it still needs to act on them for the accreditation to become official. The EAC also issued a letter last week asking both voting machine manufacturers and testing labs to refrain from political activity. Saying that the companies involved had a “significant responsibility as the public places its trust in these organizations,” the EAC asked labs and manufacturers to “adopt policies that prohibit the organization and its employees from engaging in act of these that may create the appearance of a conflict of interest or partisan bias.”

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Friday afternoon Apple links Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books from when you were a kid? You can get them online now, but not just in book form. The CYOA store has an entire section devoted to iPod downloads (even though there's only one product there right now), where you can choose your own adventure using your iPod instead. The first (and only) selection right now is available as a free demo.On the topic of remembering things from ages past, remember Cookbook, one of the winners of My Dream App? The neat little cooking/recipe/everything else application is actually in the process of being developed. The team has apparently been working on the UI and programming for a while now, and there's even a screenshot of what they have so far.Erika Jonietz from MIT's Technology Review says that, after being a die-hard Windows "apologist" (her own words) for more than 20 years, playing with Windows Vista has driven her to become a Mac fan. She only reviewed RC1 however, and only played with it for a month. But ouch. Them's some pretty harsh words.Disney's has hired ex-iTunes executive Martin Morales to run the European arm of the business. Morales' "knowledge of the digital market wouldhelp," Disney says, as the company "seeks to strengthen its business throughout Europe." A company named OPTi is suing Apple over patent infringement. The chip-maker says that Apple has stepped on its toes regarding "predictive snooping," a method by which to more efficiently transfer information between the CPU, memory, and "other devices." The suit was filed just this week in Marshall, Texas.If you're into Twitter (a social networking system in which short SMS-length messages are distributed to and from your network of small friends via SMS, IM, and the Web) you should check out the Iconfactory's newest free application called Twitterific, the design is awesome. Don't forget to add Clint and Jacqui as friends once you get it going! Have a good weekend, everybody. I officially turn one year older this weekend (actually technically on Monday), so you know I'll be partying it up all weekend long. Maybe I'll buy myself a new music player. I hear brown is the new black these days.

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iPhone interface analysis from an actual usability expert. Gasp! Bruce Tognazzini is probably not a name that most of you are familiar with, but his associations might ring a bell. Tognazzini (nicknamed "Tog," kind of like Woz) is a member of the Nielsen Norman Group—that's Nielsen, as in Jakob Nielsen, one of the most world renown usability experts. Donald A. Norman and Bruce Tognazzini are two of Nielsen's esteemed colleagues, and Tog himself was hired personally by Steve Jobs and interface god Jef Raskin back in 1978 as a founder of the Human Interface Group at Apple. Since leaving the company many years, later, Tog has made a name for himself as a "harsh critic" of many things Apple, including the atrocity that was the hockey puck mouse and the dock in OS X. That's why, as he puts it in his recent column on the iPhone User Experience, his reaction to the iPhone is "most unusual" and Kind Of A Big Deal™. So now that we've established exactly who Tog is and why you should care about what he says, let's get onto… well, what he says. Tog has a lot of great things to say about the iPhone, as well as a lot of critiques. He first goes into detail about how every single "innovation" in the iPhone is about ten billion years old to most usability researchers, but acknowledges that things can take an extremely long time to trickle down into public consumption and common use, using the mouse as a prime example. "I’ve been pushing multi-touch gestural for over 20 years myself, beginning while I was still at Apple, incredulous that everyone has been ignoring it. Apple stopped ignoring it," he says. Without actually being able to play with the iPhone firsthand (only the blessed can do that, apparently), Tog goes in and picks some nits with various usability elements of the iPhone as a phone, an iPod, and an internet communicator. The article is long, but extremely insightful, so I highly recommend you actually read it after reading this post. However, here's my summary of Tog's opinions on the iPhone for you: Loves: Gives ordinary people widespread access to technologies that have otherwise been very limited for public consumption (such as multitouch and whatnot)Very approachable, even for older folksVisual, random-access voicemail. "It's about time." Hates: Five hour battery life, and non-replaceable battery (without a crowbar…). "That’s a bad interface," Tog says. Relying on public WiFi ("Public WiFi is a mess") for Internet access, or expensive cell networks affect fundamental reliabilitySMS, e-mail, and voicemail are all separated out as much as possible. "I should not have to visit three different places on my phone every few minutes to see what is happening."Widgets are the only add-on path for the iPhone. "I can only hope that changes."Needs a keyboard. Touchscreen keyboard is nice and all, but not good for extended use and takes up much of the screen. Nits: Desperately needs to be tested for ruggedness (is that a hint for me, Tog?)SMS should include an interpreter to expand upon common abbreviationsCamera should be higher resolutionFacial recognition "would be a plus"iPod interface potentially confusing, much more complex than phone interfaceSafari browser on iPhone may and may not be forgiving to web pages that are not totally strict on HTML. Forgiving will be much better in the long run than not.Maps on the iPhone should just "know" where you are and tell you how far, distance and time-wise, you are from appointments that are on your calendar "There’s lots to do tomorrow, not only in expanding the capabilities of iPhone, but in more tightly integrating the features already offered," Tog says. "However, while this first iPhone may not be the be-all and end-all, neither was the original Mac." He believes that the iPhone, nits and all, is still revolutionary as far as cell phones go, and he's excited to see what the future—and Apple—brings to the little device in the years to come. "Traditional cell phones are dull, limited, and at end-of-life. iPhone is glorious, and it is only the beginning." (I hear that our own John Siracusa is a big Tog fan, and was glad that Tog wrote this article so that he wouldn't have to write his own.)

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