Andy Wendt – Fun Technology

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The Deka Arm – The Real Bionic Limb

By: Zack Duncan

Ever since movies like “Star Wars” and “The Terminator”, people have wondered about having body parts like the ones seen in these films. And thanks to the efforts of Dean Kamen, we are closer than ever to that reality.

For as long as anyone can remember there have been wars. Some are fought nobly and some for other reasons. Since the beginning of the most recent war in Iraq, Americans have been coming back home bearing the scars and wounds they gave in defense of our great nation. The army has spared no expense to save the lives of these brave soldiers when overseas. If they suffer a serious injury that causes loss of a limb, more than likely they will have to wear a prosthetic when they come home that hasn’t been updated much since World War II. Even though the technology of our world is growing by the day, constructing a robotic arm with a fully functional hand has been no where near possible, until now. The DEKA arm is the latest breakthrough in a $100 million Pentagon program known as “Revolutionizing Prosthetics.”

Fred Downs is the head of prosthetics for the Veteran’s Health Administration and has been wearing a prosthetic arm after he stepped on a landmine in Vietnam in 1968. According to Downs, the arm he wears is “a basic hook. I can rotate the hook and lock it. In those days [1968] they didn’t have a lot of sophistication about it. They fit you and say ‘This is your arm, this is your leg.’ And it was the best technology in those days. You just had to make yourself learn how to use it, and I did.”

Leading the “Revolutionizing Prosthetics” project is Dr. Geoffrey Ling, a neurologist and U.S. Army Colonel. “There is a hook, like something out of Peter Pan, and that is just unacceptable.” When touring around the Walter Reed Medical Army Center and meeting the troops he is working for, Ling states, “We have a saying in the military, ‘Leave no one behind.’ We are very serious about that. And that doesn’t mean just on the battlefield but back home as well.” And because this is such a big project, Dr. Ling has enlisted the help of Dean Kamen, who is widely considered a “rock star” in the world of inventors.

This new prosthetic, comically named “the Luke arm”, after the neat prosthetic worn by Luke Skywalker in the movie Star Wars, is funded by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. Kamen’s New Hampshire-based medical products company known as The Deka Research and Development Corp. is the head of the project of the Deka arm.

A 650 square-meter space on the second floor of Kamen’s building is solely dedicated to the advancement of the Deka arm. In the entrance is a life size Terminator statue that is missing it’s left arm, which has been replaced by the harness of the Deka arm. Volunteers, like Chuck Hindreth, come to Deka to help engineers prepare for clinical trials. Hindreth lost both of his arms after suffering electrocution while painting a power substation over 26 years ago. Since then, Hindreth has had two prosthetic arms since that accident, although he never wears them. After the initial shock of having a limb amputated wears off, patients generally discontinue wearing their prosthetic. This is because the discomfort of wearing the artificial limbs are not worht the small amount of assistance provided by them. Most get hot, sweaty, slippery, and generally uncomfortable.

When approached by Ling and DARPA director Tony Tether in 2005, Kamen thought they were crazy, but in the “good kind of way” according to Kamen. The creation of a next-generation prosthetic arm had absolutely no financial incentive. Due to the enormous development and research costs, no private company would take the risk in the decently small market, unless DARPA funded it. Only about 6,000 Americans require arm prosthetics each year. After going around the country and viewing different prosthetics, Kamen was swayed to take on the project when he noticed the large technological differences in prosthetic arms compared to prosthetic legs. According to Kamen, “Prosthetic legs are in the 21st Century and prostetic arms are in the Flinstones.” Until the Deka arm, the “state-of-the-art” prosthetic arm has consisted of three powered joints but doesn’t provide much functionality. For this reason, most users still use the old fashioned hook-and-cable device. Despite which one they use, the user will experience three degrees of freedom: movement of the elbow, movement of the wrist, and the open and close ability of some type of hook.

The goal of Kamen and “Revolutionizing Prosthetics” was to create a device that represents a real arm as accurately as possible. They are able to do this because of the advancement in recent technology. Power consumption had become efficient enough and microprocessors had gotten small enough to make it possible to stuff motors, lithium batteries, control electronics, an wiring into a realistic arm-sized device. The process was still difficult according to Ling.”You are asking an engineer to build an arm that can everything your arm can do and confine it to a package the size of – an arm. In addition to that, it has to look and feel like an actual arm!” What was wrong with the previous arms was a lack of agility. The old arms had three degrees of freedom where the actual human arm has 22 degrees of freedom. The fine motor control imparted by the huge amount of circuitry inside the arm gives the Deka arm amazing agility with an incredible 18 degrees of freedom. Engineers fought for space in the arm. The created workarounds when they ran out of space. For example, they used rigid-to-flex circuit boards which were then folded into the spaces condensed by a dense array of wires.

The movement of the Deka arm is incredible. The motor control is so precise taht it allows users to do things like pluck grapes off the vine, unlock a door, pick up a power tool, or even shake someone’s hand. This is possible because of the six different preconfigured grips. These grips include the Chuck Grip, Key Grip, and Power Grip. These different grips are simply shortcuts for the main daily operations of every human. A big thing with the Deka arm was that it be usable to anyone, despite their level of amputation. Every part of the arm has a set of electronics. The hand contains separate electronics and so does the forearm. The elbow is also powered with the electronics contained in the upper arm and the shoulder is also powered. The shoulder’s power can accomplish a feat currently unperformable by the prosthetics of today. The shoulder has the ability to reach up as if to pick something off of a tree.

In order for the arm to work, it must weigh less than the actual weight of a human arm. This is because an amputee’s skeleton can no longer be used as a means of attachment. For an amputation above the elbow, a harness is attached to the user. Engineers at DEKA modeled the arm after the statistically average weight of the female arm which is only about 3.6 kilograms. This weight includes all of the electronics and the lithium batteries! Surprisingly enough, the arm is not made out of titanium, which is the popular light metal. Titanium is too heavy for the requirements and can not be made thin enough without breaking. So, the Deka arm is made mostly of aluminum.

But the main problem with prosthetic arms is discomfort. Like I mentioned before, prostetics can become very uncomfortable, which is why people tend not to use them. Previous arms are designed to connect with the greatest surface area from the prosthetic to the limb. The amputee’s residuum, or stump, is crammed into the prosthetic. The strain of normal use causes discomfort and even pain to the user. The design of Deka’s new socket can be used with the Deka arm or even be applied to traditional arms for improved use. But how does a person move the Deka arm? There are two ways, in fact. The first is through an optional surgical procedure. Todd Kuiken, a neuroscientist with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, has had recent success with rerouting the residual nerves of amputees. The nerves connect the some 70,000 nerves in the arm to the upper spinal cord. In a normal body, the nerves travel from the upper spinal cord, across the shoulders, down into the armpit and finally down into the arm. Kuiken took these nerves out of the armpit and moved them under the clavicle and then connected them to the pectoral muscles. When the user thinks about moving their arm, the signals travel down the nerves now connected to the chest. The chest muscles then contract. The contractions are sensed by electrodes on the chest which then sends signals to the prosthetic arm, moving the arm. This procedure enables the user to use the arm with his/her own muscles making the arm like a part of the users flesh and blood.

The second way of controlling the arm is by way of tractors. A tractor is a small motor that vibrates which is secured against the user’s skin. A sensor on the hand is connected to a microprocessor that sends a signal to the tractor which changes the grip strength of the hand. This allows a user to know how tightly they are gripping something. The softer the vibration, the lighter the grip and vice versa. When Hindreth tried out the arm, he said “I can do things I haven’t one in 26 years. I can peel a banana without squishing it.” The arm is maneuvered by joystick-like controllers placed within the soles of Hinreth’s shoes. When Hindreth pushes down with his left big toe, the arm moves out and when he pushes own with his right big toe, the arm moves back in. These foot switches, which are completely customizable, are connected by long, flat wires, however, like everything else in the world, there is a wireless version already in the making.

When the Deka arm came out to the press, Dr. Ling was very sanguine in regards to it’s future. According to Ling, “We are trying to get a transition partner so it can go into clinical use as well as a commercial partner to get the arm out to patients. This is no longer a science fair project. Since the research and development of the Deka arm has been costly, any company can now take over the Deka arm and look for cost-efficient ways to manufacture it. A state-of-the-art prosthetic arm these days, depending on the degree of amputation, can cost in upwards of $100,000. Rick Needham, project managaer on the Deka arm, says the goal is to keep the price of the product as close to this price as possible. However, before the arm can even be commercialized, it needs to get approval from the FDA. The only way the FDA will approve the Deka arm is through clinical trials. However, it is thus far unclear who will pay for these clinical trials needed for approval. Funding from DARPA usually ends as soon as a project is picked up by another organization willing to fund the project. However, Deka currently does not have any transition partner like this yet.

According to DARPA spokesperson Jan Walker, “Clinical trials certainly have a price. If no one funds the cost, then trials obviously can’t happen.” But according to Walker, the DARPA procedures for funding is not set in stone. Sometimes DARPA continues a low-level of funding until the organization is able to increase its own fundings and other times DARPA’s funding just ends completely. Although specific plans on funding for the Deka arm are unknown. Should funding from DARPA continue with the Deka arm, Kamen and his group of engineers and scientists would like to begin take-home clinical trials sometime this year. Certainly within the next two years we would like to submit to the FDA for approval to sell the arm.” states Needham. Kamen may be talking to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center based in Washington, D.C. as well as various other Veterans Affairs hospitals. According to Hindreth, he absolutely can not wait to take home his very own Deak arm. “My wife can’t either. She says ‘Oh yeah, I got lots of stuff for you to do around the house.'”

The advancement in technology truly is amazing. It is absolutely a wonderful site to see people, some, like Hindreth and Downs, who have spent a vast majority of their lives without the use of their arms, being able to once again hold things, touch things, and use what basically is functional arm. It gives a brand new hope to U.S. soldiers who are overseas risking everything to keep us safe. They can now, at least, have a little bit of humanity restored to them after making such an honorable sacrifice.

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April 17, 2009 Posted by | Technology News | 3 Comments

Verizon Hates IP Phones – Cancels VoiceWing

Verizon VOIP No MoreI am going to guess that most of you did not even know Verizon offered a VOIP solution called VoiceWing for residential customers. I for one have never seen that guy on TV, you know the guy with glasses and like 1,000 other people standing behind him, mention anything about VOIP. In hindsight, I would have to guess those 1,000 people had nothing to do with it, because much like every other VOIP service I have ever tried, the Verizon line quality was rather poor. Perhaps it’s my internet connection, just my luck, or just the way it is. I don’t know and I don’t care.

What I do care about is that Verizon has discontinued the entire service and I know this will end up costing me more money and that’s not my idea of Fun Technology. On January 22, 2009 we received a “Dear John” letter from Verizon with the bad news. They are breaking up with me. That’s right, no more VoiceWing, no more inexpensive low quality VOIP phone and not even the common courtesy to give me a reach around, I mean suggest an alternative solution.

Click here for a copy of the Verizon VoiceWing Cancellation Letter.

From what little I can find out about the situation it appears that the problems may be related to the struggling firm with whom the service was sub-contracted. That, coupled with the obvious lack of commitment to VOIP by that guy with the glasses and his 1,000 buddies, was apparently enough to kill the program.

So my little cheap Verizon VOIP service will be no more as of March 31, 2009; but, as a parting gift, I can keep the phone number and that little box that the phone plugs into. Yeah!

P.S. Verizon guy with the glasses:
I will be dropping my Verizon cell service as soon as my contract expires and switching to AT&T. Yep that iPhone rocks!

January 27, 2009 Posted by | Technology News, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

iPod Touch – Not Just For Kids

iPod Touch - Not Just For KidsIf you know me, or even just occasionally read some of my web content, you may have noticed that I have been a lifelong Apple hater, however as of this Christmas that’s about to change.

You see my wife and I decided that we would like a second generation iPod Touch for Christmas. We opted for the 32GB model as we both love music and have a very large MP3 collection. It was our only gift to each other and we bought it a week or more ago, so I have had plenty of hands on time with the product and plenty of time to re-think my old prejudices.

In the past I have thought that iPods and most Apple products were just for kids. Their cool factor was only ammunition for my theory that they were all bling with nothing much any serious user could take advantage of. (The publishing and graphics industries excluded.)

But after the last SMX (Search Marketing Expo) we here at the office (Xponex Media Services) have been devoting a lot more time, a lot more enjoyable time, in the online social world. And it’s in the social world that I have fallen in love with the iPod touch. With its built in Wi-Fi connection and free apps for Twitter and Facebook it’s easy to pick up the iPod and make a quick post at any time of the day or night.

It’s also easy to use the built in Safari browser and check your favorite blogs, and websites. For example: You just put a cup of coffee in the microwave for 30 seconds and you think to yourself, “Whose on Monday Night Football tonight?”. Well in that case you just grab your iPod Touch and with two clicks, given that you have bookmarked NFL.com, you have your answer before your coffee is warm. And its keyboard, unlike many other portable devices I have used, is actually easy to type on.

Of course the iPod has several other built in features that us older people like, such as instant stock updates, weather, and Google Maps.

Not being a total stick in the mud we of course bought a cassette adapter so we can play our MP3 collection through the car stereo, and my wife has already downloaded and watched several new movies on the iPod. It’s easy and not too expensive to buy or rent movies from the Apple store. My wife has family about 1500 miles away and the movies were a great way for her to pass the time at the airport. Speaking of air travel, another advantage of an MP3 player is that unlike a cell phone that may store some of your music you don’t have to keep your iPod off during any part of the flight.

Now, a day after Christmas, my only regret is that we bought only one iPod Touch.

December 26, 2008 Posted by | Technology News | , , , | Leave a comment

Fun New Technology Blogs

A Monitor Technology BlogSo what fun technologies have I come across this month? The answer is plenty and I have been making my staff blog about these fun technologies on a few new blogs we have started.

My favorite so far is called simply “A Monitor Blog“, as you would expect this blog is dedicated to display technology. Not just monitors for computers or television displays for your home entertainment center, but rather the entire spectrum of current news and advancements with any and all display technology. Another new and fun blog we have been working on is a PC Game Technology blog. This blog is another broad based look at the hardware and software that make up today’s PC gaming world. With an office full of avid PC gamers this was a natural.

Finally a bit of what I consider fun. We have a new web site dedicated to leasing computers and audio visual equipment. For those of you who are familiar with our core business you might wonder why it took 20 years to make this a focus or at least give computer leasing some fair and balanced treatment on our http://www.rentacomputer.com website. Well I wonder too. But the project is done and now we will be turning it over to our people at Xponex.com to get it out there in the search engines.

Alright on last bit of fun that a lot of my friends in our COD4 clan are looking forward to: That would be the soon to be released Call of Duty 5 game for PC. Though not a fan of the Pacific Theatre in WW2 I am sure I will be buying it, if not for myself, than for my little boy who is so easily swayed with the slightest bit of good marketing.

October 23, 2008 Posted by | Technology News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

House – A Place You Put Your Favorite Technology

Technology - The Fun Stuff In Your HouseEver stop and think that technology changes the way we think about our own house? Have you yet admitted that George Carlin was right when he said “a house is just a place to put your stuff”? Ever notice that more and more in today’s high tech world that stuff the house is arranged around is computers, large screen displays, projectors, and expensive kitchen appliances?

Having just moved a very nice 52” Sony DLP out of our living room to our basement, because we realized it was just too much of a good thing for that small space, I just realized that almost every room in the house is designed around a certain piece of “technology stuff”.

For example that 52” monster is now in the basement, in a bedroom actually. Of course the bed and the Lazy Boy in the room are sitting in just the right spot to have a great view of the TV set. So when you walk in you of course see a bed, a desk, a chair and an amazingly big TV that is obviously saying to the bed: “I don’t care what they call this room you are just here so that kid can be comfortable when he looks at me!”.

There is one more finished room in the basement and it is at the present time our computer room. There are two high end gaming PC’s set up in there and soon it will hold a third. This room is struggling as my wife finds the basement chilly no matter the time of year. This is a big problem for me as I love my PC and want to spend more time with it. This is another example of how the room is just there for the stuff. Because in this case the stuff is great, but the room is cold, so the room needs to get its act together, get a little warmer, and tell my wife that her stuff misses her.

Having just bought a new shiny stainless steel GE Refrigerator and stove it’s of course obvious that even the kitchen is arranged around these giant machines that are really a sort of “food technology stuff”. Do any amount of kitchen research and you will have to agree that a good layout depends on where that stuff is. Something about a “work triangle”, I don’t know, I just stare at the pictures of all the shiny stuff.

My last thought takes me back to that living room. That one room that now lacks that one piece of technology to give it a purpose. I can’t help but wonder about a ceiling mounted 1080p projector to save space and I have even considered a projector rental to make sure that’s the right choice of stuff for the room. But at this point it’s a toss up between the projector and a smaller HD LCD or Plasma TV.

So the living room stuff is my next project. But it’s also a project that I imagine will never end. For as long as we live in houses we will fill them with stuff, we will obsess over which room is the best choice for which stuff, and what is the best stuff to put in them.

May 12, 2008 Posted by | Technology News | , , , , | Leave a comment

WiMax – Nothing big is ever easy.

I just came across an old post by my co-worker Alexander Solis from last October. Alexander wrote a little WiMax Primer on our Computer Service Blog.

 One of the first lines in that post mentioned that WiMax should be hitting big in 2008. So wanting to see how “big” it had gotten I started to do some more research. Of course the first thing I notice is that several months after Alexander’s post there was a big problem between the two major WiMax players. (Those players of course being Sprint and Clearwire.) It appears that late last year Sprint lost their CEO and WiMax champion, ultimately putting the billion dollar deal in a tail spin.

However within the last few weeks it looks as if new hope on the horizon, as Intel has agreed to kick in two billion dollars to get his big project going. So all is not lost when it comes to the dream of roaming the country on a super fast high speed wireless network, but it may be the only big WiMax thing that happens this year is more talk and more back room deals.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | Technology News | , , | Leave a comment

Spineless Yahoo Sends Two Innocent Men To Jail

Yahoo Wimps Out And Rats Out MonksThough I would much prefer to keep on the lighter side this issue needs all the attention we can give it. Earlier this week members of Congress showed no mercy to Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang whose firm has been blamed for the imprisonment of two innocent pro-democracy advocates in China. 

You see in China there is no concept of the internet being an open and free medium on which to exchange ideas. As evidence of this just do some quick reading on The Great Firewall of China. Instead the internet is looked upon as just another tool by which to monitor and arrest those who speak out against that state. The two men mentioned above, both Chinese nationals and monks I believe, were arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison for leaking “state secrets”–namely, forwarding an e-mail that detailed press suppression to an overseas advocacy group. The mention of such a subject was in itself a violation of Chinese law.

Congress called Yahoos actions “spineless and irresponsible” and to that I must agree 100%. But in a larger sense I think we as members of “the free world” must accept some responsibility and we must realize that despite our efforts to be better global citizens we have looked at China through a blind eye.

We as a society shun those who are not friendly to the environment, we boycott those accused of employing slave labor, we protest against those who might be perceived to be restricting our freedoms, yet we ignore the constant repression of an entire people. How can we be so blind? How can we be so hypocritical? How can we hide our heads in the sand and think that these problems will not affect us some day? How can we not see that our own addiction to cheap and deadly Chinese goods only serves to empower one of the largest police states to ever exist.

You see a real Police State such as China, that is so willing to deny basic human rights to its own people, will not hesitate to act in it’s own interest in a much broader scale regardless of the consequences to others. So while we bide our time in this self induced state of denial the Chinese Police State grows ever stronger and we, the entire free world, become ever more dependant and closer to our day of reckoning.

December 7, 2007 Posted by | Technology News | , , | 1 Comment

RSS FTW

RSS Feeds For The WinIn case you are Paris Hilton, or one of her close friends, and have been out partying non stop for the last ten years you may be confused by the above subject line. However to be fair there is a possibility that you have been in the Artic Cirlce studying the effects of global warming and  not had much spare time to stay up on your web technology.

So if you fall into the second category above then thanks very much for your hard work. If you fall into the first category then you may want to consider a career in Artic research. But either way to play it safe we will start at the beginning.

And from the beginning this article is about a little web gadget called an RSS feed. Also before I forget “FTW” is a common chat abbreviation meaning “For The Win”.

So anyway, earlier this year something really good happened. Something that has the potential to change the way Small and Medium Business (SMB’s) communicate with their customer base. For the rumored price of $100 million dollars Google bought a little known company called FeedBurner.
 
This little thing called an RSS feed has been around since 1999 but with the Google acquisition of FeedBuner it’s oh so much better. Although there are several valid meanings for the RSS acronym the most common, and useful for this discussion, is Really Simple Syndication.
 
The purpose of an RSS feed is to summarize the content of a web publication or web feed. In some cases the RSS feed could actually contain the entire content of the original story depending on how it is set up. Just so we don’t get lost on terminology a web feed could be anything that gets published on the web, be it in a blog, a website, a podcast, etc. Or in other words an RSS feed is another way to share and announce data on the web. In an earlier post I referred to the RSS feed as the new “Newscast for the SMB”

SMB’s can take advantage of this new way to share data in several ways:

An RSS feed allows even the smallest SMB to have the largest of audiences if they have good content to publish.

The basic RSS service is free, and aside from the time and effort to write marketing material which has to be done regardless of the medium of distribution, the potential cost savings over the traditional printed materials marketing approach is astronomical.

RSS information is disseminated around the world almost immediately. Once “out there” your material will reside on the web almost indefinitely.

RSS feeds if based on well written content and distributed properly can bring increased traffic to your website.

RSS feed reader can more easily stay on top of current market trends. This could give the RSS user an edge over a competitor who waits for the market news from the slower traditional media outlets.

So if this sounds good to you so far, and you are telling yourself you will give this a try once it becomes more common, then hold on because you will not believe how common it already is.

RSS readers are now built in to Windows Vista and many RSS goodies can be found in Windows Live.

RSS headline animators, such as this RSS Animator for a Nationwide Rental Company, that summarize and link to your latest content can easily be placed on your website for no charge.

RSS feeds are indexed and distributed automatically by Google every day to thousands of e-mail accounts eager to read news about a particular industry.

RSS feeds are monitored and displayed in search results on Google News.

RSS feeds from your Blog or Web site can be generated automatically with free software from FeedBurner.

So if you have been putting off implementing an RSS feed for your SMB I would say you should be running out of excuses by now. If you are still looking for excuses there is always some research to do in the Artic Circle.

November 7, 2007 Posted by | Technology News | , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Signs You Should Not Be A Tech

Becky Roberts in a Recent Tech Republic Blog post very eloquently described ten signs that you are not cut out to be a support tech.

However Mrs. Roberts is obviously a well educated writer and I fear she has inadvertently written above the average reading level of her target audience. That target audience being readers who should themselves not even think about becoming a support tech.

To put her top ten signs in a language that her audience may more easily understand I have taken the liberty of re-phrasing her points as you will see below:

Top Ten Signs You Should Not Be A Tech

1 – You think every other tech in the world is a newb.
2 – You took a tech job just to further your career as a cowboy.
3 – You want to be a tech so you won’t have to deal with people.
4 – You thought it was just something fun to do from 9-5
5 – You don’t care if your company goes bankrupt as long as the backups are good.
6 – You think stress is something that only happens to managers.
7 – You want a star on your monitor for every smart thing you do at the office.
8 – If at first you don’t succeed, quit.
9 – You think problem solving was something you did in 7th grade math.
10 – Words Words Words – Don’t talk to me I’m a Tech damn it!

To see the original list and the source for this story visit:
http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/10things/?p=214

August 29, 2007 Posted by | Technology News | Leave a comment

That Blank Line At The Top Of Internet Explorer

After seeing three customers in the last month use the Google or Yahoo’s search tool in place of the Internet Explorer address line I am starting to wonder if computers are making people stupid.

From experience I long ago learned that there is no point in trying to cure some one of this ridiculous habit as they literally won’t understand the words that come out of my mouth when I try to explain it.

If you are afraid to let your mind come down to this level and are still hoping you have misunderstood what I am complaining about then sorry about your luck. I am literally talking about people who would go to Google.com and type in “http://www.myspace.com “, find that site on the results page, and then follow the link to the actual page.

If people get any dumber I would imagine that some day Microsoft would replace the address line with their own internet search bar or perhaps with some pretty advertisement that requires you to click on a monkey to win a prize. The address line could then just become an advanced option for geeks or other throwbacks to the old days when you had to understand what a website was before you could go to one.

August 22, 2007 Posted by | Technology News, Uncategorized | 2 Comments