The End of One Era… and Start of Another

November 16th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira

Last one to leave, turn out the lights

Since 1998, Basex:TechWatch has been a weekly communiqué from the desks of our analysts directly to you.  Without our loyal subscribers, it would have never had the run that it has.  Now we have decided to complete this chapter and start a new one.

Basex:TechWatch was created to keep readers on the leading edge of new ideas and new technology in an easy-to-read digest format.  Since 1998, we’ve written well over 20,000 articles and never missed a single issue.  What we wrote about in our analyst opinions resulted in thousands of e-mail messages from readers asking questions and commenting.  The topics we covered in the areas of knowledge sharing, information management, and collaboration were both exciting and a substantial learning experience.

Of course, no swan song would be complete without a mention of the problem of Information Overload.  When we first started talking about this problem, in the mid 1990s, most people thought we were crazy.  After all, there could never be too much information.  Once we started publishing numbers that described the incredibly high cost of Information Overload the tune changed.  We were gratified that so many thousands of companies and the media came to rely on what our research revealed, which included the fact that the cost of Information Overload to the U.S. economy was one trillion dollars for the year 2010.

The sheer quantity of it all was unprecedented, and many of the new offerings were also somewhat alien, but our 20,000+ loyal readers told us that they relied on Basex:TechWatch so we never strayed from our mission.

In recent years, however, we found ourselves approaching what would become a critical turning point as what had once been new and foreign was now at the point of becoming mainstream.

Approximately three years ago, we started an experiment that has gained momentum at the same time that we saw collaboration and knowledge-sharing technology mature into what it is now.

Our research in content management systems led us to start several online magazines, Frequent Business Traveler (née Executive Road Warrior) and The Diesel Driver.  They took off beyond our wildest expectations.  We recently passed the two million mark in terms of page views and have formed a new entity, Accura Media Group (borrowing the Accura corporate name from a company my father founded).

Starting on January 1, 2013, we will be officially ending operations here at Basex to devote our full efforts to Accura.

Our work at Accura is, in many ways, an evolution of Basex, bringing our high-level research and communication to an editorial setting, and like Basex, Accura’s brands are already considered an authority in their respective areas of expertise.

Looking back on the years that we have invested into Basex, and forward to what we will be doing at Accura, not only are we humbled by the magnitude of support we have received, but we eagerly await the challenges ahead.

Thank you for reading and subscribing, for your comments and for your support.  This is the final issue of Basex:TechWatch and, starting in December, we will share Frequent Business Traveler Weekly with you.  I hope you will like it as much as we do.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

After Sandy: A Slow Return to Normalcy

November 2nd, 2012 by Jonathan Spira
Delta Terminal 3 at JFK early Thursday morning

Delta Terminal 3 at JFK early Thursday morning

Airports Open, Some Power Restored, Subways and Buses Running

For some, a sense of normalcy has begun to return to the Northeast. The cleanup continues, more people have power, and operations are starting resume at both John F. Kennedy International Airport as well as at LaGuardia.

The two airports were literally underwater after Hurricane Sandy struck earlier in the week. New York Governor Cuomo had previously gone on record saying that LaGuardia Airport would be closed indefinitely.  While almost 20,000 flights had been cancelled since the weekend, and 2,899 flights had been cancelled just yesterday, only 572 flights had been reported as cancelled on Thursday as of 9 a.m.

In the early hours of Thursday, I arrived at JFK for a flight to Los Angeles on Delta expecting mass chaos.  I had been unable to print my boarding pass at home so I expected lines out the door both at the check-in desks, kiosks, and security checkpoints.  What I found as I entered the former Pan Am Worldport was a calm, almost serene scene.  There was no one on line at the business-class check-in desk and the agent, who told me she still didn’t have power at home, was nonetheless cheerful.

With a boarding pass in hand, I wished the agent well and headed to the security checkpoint.  There was one person in line and no wait time.  The TSA agents were cheerful and friendly and greeting passengers, asking about how they had fared.

My flight was departing from Terminal 2 so I headed to the walkway and towards the Delta SkyClub near my gate.  Two agents were on duty as I entered and one whom I recognized welcomed me and checked me in.  She told me she hadn’t had power since the storm but she was doing all right and she clearly was happy to be at work instead of at home without power.

The club was quiet.  On previous early morning flights, I’ve found it packed, but today there was just a sprinkling of travelers enjoying a bagel or muffin.  Everyone seemed in a good mood to be travelling, based on what I overheard.

At the gate, my flight, which was oversold, had started to board.  Everything was calm and orderly despite a full flight.  Incredibly enough, we pushed back on time at 7 a.m. and there were only a few aircraft ahead of us for takeoff.

My experience, however, contrasts greatly with what my colleague Cody Burke reported after riding his bicycle through Red Hook in Brooklyn yesterday evening.   Red Hook is one of the most impacted areas in New York City. The blocks were lined with shoulder high piles of trash, soggy mattresses, ruined clothing, and building debris. On one corner, a group of people stood around a campfire lit in an old oil drum. The hum of water pumps was everywhere, and huge hoses emerging from the front doors of the houses were spilling flood water out into the street.

In addition, traffic in Manhattan yesterday was pretty much gridlocked at every turn and, as contributing editor Henry Feintuch reported after driving in, there was simply no place to park.  After 90 minutes of looking for a parking spot, he turned around and drove back to Westchester.

Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, where an administrator described third-world like conditions following the failure of its backup power, was evacuated as was NYU Medical Center the day before for the same reason.

Driving Alone: How Technology is Reducing Distractions on the Road

October 26th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira
Lane departure warning in Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTec

Lane departure warning in Mercedes-Benz E350

Recently I have been giving some thought to practical uses of technology with respect to one of the most highly-publicized dangers, namely distracted driving. While distractions at the knowledge worker’s desk can cost a lot of time and money, distractions on the road can be deadly.

One application that comes to mind is the Google self-driving car. While I haven’t ridden in it (since no one drives it really), I have been driving a car for the past year or so that has some features that approach the Google self-driving car’s functionality. My car’s features include active cruise control, which uses radar to adjust the car’s speed in order to maintain a preset distance between the vehicle and the one ahead.

First, a disclaimer. I like to drive and I enjoy high-performance cars, especially on the unrestricted sections of German Autobahns. I don’t like the idea of the car driving for me, either. I didn’t even like the idea of cruise control, primarily because I felt that it would lead to a lack of attention on my part, until I started using the active version.

Another feature, lane departure warning, which is triggered by optical sensors detecting pavement lane markings, informs the driver if the car strays out of lane. Should the warning be ignored, the system will guide the car back into the lane by braking the wheels on the side of the vehicle away from the line.

Blind spot detection uses radar sensors in the rear bumper to monitor the space to the right and left of the car, focusing in on the blind spot. If a car is nearby, a warning triangle in the respective rear view mirror turns yellow. If a car is more or less next to yours, the arrow glows red. If you activate your turn signal, indicating an intention to move in the direction of said vehicle, the arrow blinks red and an alert sounds. If you continue in the direction of said vehicle, the car’s Electronic Stability Program uses rear-wheel braking, specifically applying the brake on one side, to nudge the car back into its lane.

If that isn’t enough, the car also monitors the driver (usually me) to make sure he is awake enough to drive. In the first 20 minutes of each drive, the car establishes a profile for the driver based on steering input and other factors. If a driver deviates from the profile as established, it may mean that he is sleepy. If this is determined to be the case – and the system is operative at speeds over 50 mph (80 km/h) – the car beeps and flashes an Attention Assist message (“Time for a Rest?”) on the dashboard.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

Knowledge Work Kills

October 19th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira
Use it or lose it...

Use it or lose it...

I’ve often wondered about the impact of the change in how we work, from manual and active labor to knowledge work at our desks, with respect to our health. After all, while our life expectancies are significantly longer than even 50 years ago, we suffer more knowledge-age ills, including back problems and neck and shoulder injuries. What I didn’t realize, however, was how frightening the reality was.

Let’s look at the rise of the boob tube. While the term “couch potato” has been the subject of much derision for several decades, the combined effect of long-term television watching with our propensity towards knowledge work has become a matter of great concern, and not just to me. Simply put, the more time we spend sitting in front of a computer screen, be it a laptop or desktop, the shorter our lives will be.

In an article in the October 2012 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine entitled “Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis,” J. Lennert Veerman of the Centre for Burden of Disease and Cost-Effectiveness, School of Population Health, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, and his colleagues examined data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Diabetes, Obesity, and Lifestyle Study, the latter an ongoing project studying the health habits of almost 12,000 Australian adults.

Along with questions about general health, disease status, exercise regimens, smoking, diet and so on, the survey asked respondents how many hours per day in the previous week they had spent sitting in front of the television.This was significant in that researchers found it easier to get respondents to quantify the length of time they spent watching television (and sitting) than simply sitting by itself.

What the researchers found was striking, to say the least. Compared to subjects who watch no television at all, those who watch an average of six hours per day have a life expectancy of 4.8 years less. Each hour viewed reduces that person’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.

The numbers here are staggering – indeed, the researchers compared the loss of life from TV viewing to that associated with major chronic disease risk factors including physical inactivity and obesity.

I’ve become all too aware of my own sedentary knowledge-worker lifestyle and have made several major changes that get me out from behind the computer screen (the TV was less of a concern as I am happy to report that my television viewing habits are minimal, very happy indeed). In the past six weeks I’ve flown over 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) and, while I wasn’t exactly flapping my arms in order to keep the aircraft aloft, the combination of walking through foreign cities and airports (and I find I am more apt to walk around the city when I am not home) as well as the convenience of a hotel gym and pool (while I seemingly ignore the gym and pool on home turf) make it easy to remain active and keep fit. I’ve also just started doing Crossfit, a community-based training program that combines several types of cardiovascular and resistance trainings into a benchmarked sport.

Just as with cigarette smoking, a habit I never acquired a taste for, it’s never too late to stop smoking and it’s never too late to stop sitting in front of the computer or TV. Now that you’ve finished this column, why not go out for a bike ride or walk and become active?

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

Technology You Should Be Paying Attention to: 3D Printing

October 12th, 2012 by Cody Burke
Makerbot Replicator 2

Makerbot Replicator 2

One of the most exciting up-and-coming technologies today is 3D printing. If it sounds like science fiction, that is because, in many ways, it is. The technique builds 3D objects, layer by layer, through a variety of methods. At its most basic level, imagine a hot glue gun that can move on two horizontal axes, as well as vertically, squirting small drops of glue to build up an object one layer at a time. More complex types of 3D printing use powder that is solidified by an ink jet printer head loaded with binding material, or even a solution of liquid resin that is solidified by a laser beam.

The technology itself is not new; indeed, it has been around since the 1980s, and, up until recently, it was more commonly known as rapid prototyping. It is a form of additive manufacturing, which is distinct from the more common subtractive manufacturing since instead of taking a block of material and removing mass to shape an object, it starts with nothing, and adds material to create the object.

Recently, due to an explosion of consumer-level interest in the technology, 3D printing has been getting serious mainstream attention. The darling and established market leader of the consumer 3D printing movement, MakerBot, started selling DIY 3D printer kits in 2009, and has expanded rapidly, receiving a $10 million venture capital investment from the Foundry Group in August 2011. Since then, the company has released two versions of its Replicator line of 3D printers aimed at the “prosumer” market, and opened the first 3D printing retail store in Manhattan. Between 2009 and 2011, the company’s printers accounted for 16% of the market; in 2011 alone they accounted for 21.6%.

The largest players in the field are 3D Systems and Stratasys. They are established public companies with diversified operations that cover medical, industrial, architectural, design prototyping, and 3D scanning. Both have been aggressively acquiring smaller companies to build out their technology portfolios and move into new markets. 3D Systems is the overall market leader in terms of revenue ($288.9 million as of June 2012) and grew by 41.7% and 44.1% in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Stratasys comparatively, achieved revenue of $177.9 million for the same period.

In addition to making and selling hardware, a market has emerged around providing 3D print services. Shapeways and Ponoko are two companies occupying this space, both have established online marketplaces (similar to eBay or Esty), where designers upload 3D designs that can be ordered for prototyping purposes or purchased directly by their customers. The companies handle the 3D printing and shipping, eliminating the need for designers to ever touch the product, or invest in the high-end 3D printing equipment that is used.

The ever increasing level of press that 3D printing technology has been receiving has its own dangers. Gartner placed the technology at the peak of its 2012 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, predicting that overinflated expectations of what is technologically possible will lead to a slump in the market, before eventual slow but steady growth emerges as practical applications are found.

The attention the technology is receiving is considerable; it seems that not a day goes by without a major publication covering some aspect of the industry, including a series of stories about the potential (good headline material but overblown) to manufacture a gun in your home using the technology. Potential applications that earn headlines include printing organs, mass copyright and patent violations, the death of the global supply chain, printing in space, etc, etc, etc. The list is endless, but many of these use cases are years away from being viable.

Nonetheless, the future of 3D printing is bright (perhaps literally so, as Disney research has developed a way to print optics in light bulbs). A reality check on the limitations of the technology and an adjustment of expectations may be in order, but have no doubt; 3D printing will be one of the great technology storylines for years to come.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex. He can be reached at cburke@basex.com

Why Can’t We Just All Get Along (Online) and Pay Attention?

October 5th, 2012 by Cody Burke

Safety first! Padded pole by UK company 118 118.

Sitting on the ANA Boeing Dreamliner inaugural flight from Seattle to Tokyo, Japan, I brought up some reading material on my iPad and first turned to the Wall Street Journal.

In the German-language edition, I found the headline: “Sind iPhone-Nutzer schlechtere Eltern?” (Are iPhone Users Worse Parents?). The lede looked at a hapless father, Phil Tirapelle, who lost track of his 18-month-old son while he was busy texting during a walk outside. The toddler was “almost trampled” but rescued just in time. Regular readers of this space know that the number of emergency-room admissions for pedestrians who walk into lampposts while texting has doubled every year for the past five years.

Clearly, not paying attention can be a problem and sometimes a matter of life or death. Indeed, I just saw an article in the New York Times in which New York City’s transportation commissioner was quoted as having stopped people from walking mindlessly into traffic while texting (half of them were grateful, she reported; the other half were irritated).

We are absorbed and are unable to distinguish between that which is urgent, that which is important, and that which is none of the above (that would be most everything). Yet we cannot disconnect for fear of missing the mundane. And it could cost someone his life or result in great injury.

Later in the flight, I found an article in the U.S. edition of the Wall Street Journal positing the question: “Why We Are So Rude Online,” a topic also near and dear to my heart. Over the years I have noticed that people’s personalities become completely different once seated behind what they believe to be the anonymity of the computer.

But back to the WSJ article on rudeness, in which a TV announcer, Chip Bolcik, is quoted as knowingly posting “provocative” political questions on his Facebook page. He bemoans the fact that he has lost two friends over Facebook spats, but Bolcik is hardly innocent. He fans the flames and encourages dissent, even using “attack dog” friends to further fuel a fire.

Stepping back for a moment, one has to wonder if this is how Bolcik would conduct himself at a gathering of friends. He seems to feel that one’s behavior in the online world can be different, but he is quickly learning that there are no free passes and, as he commented after losing a particularly close friend, “I was pretty upset.”

The problem here is that the entire idea of how one comports oneself in society has been tossed aside. The online world isn’t isolated. What happens online can have repercussions both online and off. Saying anything that comes to mind isn’t any more acceptable online than it is to scream “fire” in a crowded theater.

It’s the newness of it all that allows this to happen. There are no rules, or so people seem to think, yet the very rules that govern life in general are still in force. The thought bubbles that float above cartoon characters, thinking things that should not be said, hold thoughts that we too should not air online.

I wrote about which medium one should use over a decade ago, calling it What Works Better When. The prime impetus behind this was that many people seemed not to understand how saying the same thing, but across different media, could result in different interpretations and understanding of what was being communicated. I never considered, until now, that I would have to contemplate expanding this to include when not to use technology (while crossing the street, for example) or that saying things without thinking (“I hate you”) might come across as more than a bit severe in an online environment where the tone cannot be transmitted along with the words.

Our lives have been so swept up by our infatuation with all things online that we cannot disconnect and are most likely typing something we probably shouldn’t while we mindlessly cross the street looking down at the smartphone. Perhaps New York City needs to update its Walk/Don’t Walk signs: they could say “Text/Don’t Text” instead.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

If Technology Makes Us Dumber, Why Are We Getting Smarter?

September 26th, 2012 by Cody Burke

Downloading higher IQ in 3, 2, 1...

We often think of Information Overload as sapping our intelligence and decreasing our reasoning powers, but, starting in the early 1900s and continuing to the present day, Americans who have taken standardized IQ tests have gained on average three points per decade. Despite claims that texting and Twitter have watered down literacy and the ability of young people to write, research from Stanford that covered writing samples from 2001-2006 shows that students were writing far more than previous generations did. Perhaps as significantly, the study found that they were adept at tailoring their style for a specific audience (i.e. no emoticons in a class essay).

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, James A. Flynn, explains an interesting theory about the reasons behind this. Flynn is the researcher and creator of the Flynn effect, which first acknowledged the trend of rising IQ scores. He notes in his recent article Are We Really Getting Smarter? that one of the main differences between us and our forebears is how the modern world we live in both embraces the hypothetical and values classification. We tend to look for what traits things have in common (as opposed to what traits are different), and are willing and able to imagine possible outcomes.

These differences make us better suited for exercises such as IQ tests that measure the ability to analyze and extrapolate patterns, or use logic to determine the answer to a hypothetical question. Treating hypothetical situations as legitimate thought experiments also enables a writer to visualize his audience and shift tone and style appropriately.

Of course, higher scores on IQ tests alone don’t mean that we are necessarily smarter. Interestingly enough, it seems that we are continuing to improve the specific skill sets that the tests measure, not by studying for the test, but in natural reaction to changes in our environment. In a sense, our mental abilities are evolving by chance in the same direction as the way the tests were originally created.

Information Overload, although detrimental in a variety of documented ways, in this case may not be so bad. Our fast-paced world throws so much information at us on a daily basis that learning how to classify incoming data is a critical survival skill. Given how many different ideas we are exposed to through media, the Internet, and our hyper-connected social lives, it is no surprise that our ability to conflate concepts and scenarios to create hypothetical situations is growing stronger.

The downside of Information Overload is clear: shortened attention spans, lost time and productivity, Internet addiction, and health issues. Nonetheless, there may be a few positive benefits from the barrage of information we receive today, at least as far as IQ scores are concerned.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex. He can be reached at cburke@basex.com

All the News That’s Fit to View

September 21st, 2012 by Jonathan Spira

So much news, so little time...

The volume of news we create, and by news I mean news reporting, not newsworthy events, is mind-boggling. As someone who studies this as a form of Information Overload, the sheer quantity of reporting never ceases to amaze me – and it is this quantity that makes it difficult to search and find items of interest.

Starting with early news programs such as the Camel News Caravan with John Cameron Swayze and You Are There with Edward R. Murrow, and moving into the current 24-hour news cycle that started with the advent of CNN, a good part of the population has come to depend on television to keep current.

This is all well and good but, unlike newspapers, which today are easily searchable online and previously somewhat searchable using microfiche and microfilm, it was not possible to easily go back and find TV news spots on a particular topic.

Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, wants to change that. For the past few years, the archive has been digitizing news broadcasts from twenty outlets and over 1,000 programs. This means every last second of every CNN broadcast as well as all sixty minutes of 60 Minutes.

Currently the archive has collected over 350,000 news programs that are fully text searchable, thanks to the archive’s using the closed-captioned text that accompanies the videos.

To use the system, I clicked through to TV News on the Internet Archive’s website. There I found a dedicated page with a cloud tag showing recently accessed topics. One can search all sources or narrow the search down by network (e.g. CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, etc.) or program name (e.g. BBC World News, ABC World News Tonight, Meet the Press, Nightline, and more).

I searched on (fasten your seatbelts here) “Information Overload.” The system returned 98 results, displayed horizontally (out of 248), with a video above and the relevant text excerpt below. The video was almost always queued to start at the right place, i.e. where the person was starting to mention “Information Overload” and I was generally satisfied with the choice.

The interface itself is easy to use and features a handy timeline for moving quickly to a specific spot in time, for example, looking at a spike in coverage in December 2011.

The Internet Archive has already digitized almost every Web page known to man as well as millions of books, much in the style of the ancient Library of Alexandria. Thankfully, the archive has not resorted to stopping travelers at Egypt’s borders to confiscate their books so they could be copied to the library (anecdotally, the travelers sometimes received the copies back, not the originals). All that the Internet Archive has really needed were very large hard drives and a mission to preserve our history as told to us by newscasters.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

Are You Sleeping Well?

September 14th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira

All that is missing is darkness...

Look around your bedroom. Are there tiny beams of light, maybe blue ones and/or green ones? Or a red one? Is there a glow emanating from a digital clock or clock radio?

According to both common sense and the National Sleep Foundation, one’s bedroom should be dark, but in the past decade that sanctuary has been infiltrated more and more by electronic devices. In addition to a clock or clock radio (which should automatically dim when the lights are out), there’s the settop box (did you know you can turn the clock off on most of them?). Then there are the tiny beams of light generated by your mobile phone when it’s charging, your laptop if it’s in the bedroom, and perhaps even your high-tech desk phone (for those still with landlines).

There may be more such devices in the bedroom these days because, increasingly, more people find it difficult to disconnect and they bring their smartphones and tablets into bed with them before going to sleep. Seeing these, perhaps as a substitute for reading a good book, many are unaware that studies, including one from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, have shown that exposure to light from a computer tablet could lower the level of melatonin in the body, and therefore impact one’s sleep cycle adversely. (Melatonin levels are regulated by the pineal gland, which responds to darkness by releasing the hormone, triggering drowsiness and sleep; any increase in light impacts the release and thus limits one’s ability to sleep soundly.)

The Rensselaer study, published over the summer in the journal Applied Economics, examined the impact of self-luminous tablets on 13 individuals. “Our study shows that a two-hour exposure to light from self-luminous electronic displays can suppress melatonin by about 22 percent,” stated Mariana Figueiro, the study’s director.

Last November, Cody Burke wrote about the findings from the National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 “Sleep in America” survey. They bear repeating:

- 39% of Americans bring their mobile phone into bed with them and end up using it in the hour before they go to sleep. The number is even higher for younger Americans, 67% of 19-29 year olds. 21% of Americans end up texting during this time.

- Those individuals that end up texting in the hour before sleep are more likely to report bad sleep and not feeling refreshed.

- 1 in 10 Americans is awakened by mobile phone alerts from texts, calls, and e-mail. The number rises to nearly 1 in 5 for 19-29 year olds.

- 36% of Americans use their laptop in bed before they go to sleep, and this group reports that it is less likely to get a good night’s sleep.

Since a lack of sleep can impact one’s productivity and feeling of well-being, take steps to improve your sleep hygiene. Well before going to sleep, stop looking at (and thinking about) e-mail, stop texting, and turn off and tune out. You’ll be surprised at how much better you sleep.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

We Are Talking And Singing on Mars Now

September 7th, 2012 by Cody Burke
Rendering of Curiosity Rover

Rendering of Curiosity Rover

The sheer volume of information and content that is produced on Earth is mind numbing. For example, over 35 hours of video footage is uploaded to YouTube every minute. But earthly boundaries aren’t enough. Now, we are accepting submissions from the red planet.

Robotic rovers and satellites have been sent to Mars before. They have gathered images, video, and other data from the planet and sent them back to Earth. Now, for the first time, Earth has received our own voices, broadcast from Mars.

The Curiosity Rover, NASA’s most recent visitor to the surface of Mars, last week broadcast the first human words from another planet. A statement read by Charles Bolden, administrator of NASA, was transmitted to Curiosity, and then back to NASA’s Deep Space Network facility on Earth. The message thanked all of the individuals who worked on the Curiosity mission, and is the first time a recorded human voice has traveled between another planet and Earth.

Not content to stop there, NASA then proceeded to make history once again by broadcasting the first song from another planet, “Reach for the Stars,” an original song by Will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas fame and technology enthusiast.

Impressive work for a robot that can only broadcast at 10,000 bps, or ca. one 10 megapixel image per day. Indeed, Curiosity’s speed is on par with a 1984 computer modem.

Curiosity is also very active on Twitter (@MarsCuriosity), with over 1 million followers, and an irreverent style of tweeting that frequently references dance moves. Sample tweet: “1st drive complete! This is how I roll: forward 3 meters, 90º turn, then back. Electric slide, anyone?”

What NASA has demonstrated with Curiosity thus far shows both scientific advancement pushing the boundaries of what can be transmitted between planets, and also a social savvy that is engaging and exciting space fans and non-fans alike.

(Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)


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