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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Google new initiative to develop renewable energy sources



Wind-Powered Google Data Centers? One Already Exists

Google (NSDQ: GOOG)'s new initiative to develop renewable energy sources conjures up images of data centers powered by water, wind, and the sun. No need to stretch your imagination; Google's already got them.

Google's hydro-powered data center on the banks of the Columbia River in The Dalles, Ore., has been well documented. I walked the perimeter of the facility in August. As you can see from my pictures, Google's data center is literally a stone's throw from the Columbia. The juice to power and cool the place comes from a dam a mile or so downstream.

I'm not an expert in these things, but it seems to me that The Dalles would be a good location for wind-powered energy to augment the swift current of the Columbia. The surrounding landscape, hills, and river valley form a natural wind tunnel, at least they did when I was there. Rights of way and public resistance to eyesore windmills would seem to be the obvious barriers.

In the Netherlands, Google has a wind-powered data center nearing completion. Check out these pictures by local Erwin Boogert.

There are caveats to these images of a green Shangri La. In The Dalles, Google negotiated discounted energy rates and tax incentives, so it's able to suck more power at lower costs than other companies. And in the Netherlands, those windmills provide only some of the power. A power plant down the road generates the rest.

But it's clear that Google is intent on using eco-friendly energy sources in lieu of coal-burning power plants. In an article about a new Google data center under construction in Council Bluffs, Iowa, The Des Moines Register notes that Google purchased 1,000 acres of land south of town in addition to 55 acres for the data center itself and another 130 acres nearby. When local farmer Bruce Barnett asked Google's Ken Patchett -- the manager of Google's data center in Oregon -- about how that land would be used, he was told that Google was still thinking about it.

Might those 1,000 acres be used for a wind farm? Google's "renewable energy cheaper than coal" project increases the possibility.

PayPal Says Linux Grid Can Replace Mainframes

A Linux grid is the power behind the payment system at PayPal, and it's converted a mainframe believer. Scott Thompson, the former executive VP of technology solutions at Inovant, ran the Visa subsidiary responsible for executing Visa credit card transactions worldwide. The VisaNet system was strictly based on IBM mainframes.
In February 2005, Thompson became chief technology officer at the eBay payments company, PayPal, where he confronted a young Internet organization building its entire transaction processing infrastructure on open source Linux and low-cost servers. Hmmmm, he thought at the time.

"I came from Visa, where I had responsibility for VisaNet. It was a fabulous processing system, very big and very global. I was intrigued by PayPal. How would you use Linux for processing payments and never be wrong, never lose messages, never fall behind the pace of transactions," he recalled in an interview.

He now supervises the PayPal electronic payment processing system, which is smaller than VisaNet in volume and total dollar value of transactions. But it's growing fast. It is currently processing $1,571 worth of transactions per second in 17 different currencies. In 2006, the online payments firm, which started out over a bakery in Palo Alto, processed a total of $37.6 billion in transactions. It's headed toward $50 billion this year.

Now located in San Jose, PayPal grants its consumer members options in payment methods: credit cards, debit cards, or directly from a bank account. It has 165 million account holders worldwide, and has recently added such business as Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, U.S. Airways, and Overstock.com, which now permit PayPal payments on their Web sites.

Thompson supervises a payment system that operates on about 4,000 servers running Red Hat Linux in the same manner that eBay and Google conduct their business on top of a grid of Linux servers. "I have been pleasantly surprised at how much we've been able to do with this approach. It operates like a mainframe," he said.

As PayPal grows it's much easier to grow the grid with Intel-based servers than it would be to upgrade a mainframe, he said. In a mainframe environment, the cost to increase capacity a planned 15% or 20% "is enormous. It could be in the tens of millions to do a step increase. In [PayPal's] world, we add hundreds of servers in the course of a couple of nights and the cost is in the thousands, not millions," he said.

PayPal takes Red Hat Enterprise Linux and strips out all features unnecessary to its business, then adds proprietary extensions around security. Another virtue of the grid is that PayPal's 800 engineers can all get a copy of that customized system on their development desktops, run tests on their raw software as they work, and develop to PayPal's needs faster because they're working in the target environment. That's harder to do when the core of the data center consists of large Unix symmetrical multiprocessing boxes or mainframes. In neither case is it cheap to install duplicates for developers, he said.

PayPal "pays very close attention to the Linux kernel development process" lead by Linus Torvalds and the kernel maintainers because future capabilities are being debated and resolved through the process, he said.

PayPal has experimented with virtualization and is watching carefully developments in open source virtualization, still a young field. "One place we see the kernel process at work is in virtualization," Thompson said. VMware's ESX Server can run Linux, as can the open source Xen hypervisor; both work outside the Linux kernel but can be linked to its internal operations. A year ago, Torvalds approved the addition of a contributed Kernel Virtual Machine, which runs inside the kernel and makes use of the kernel's own memory management and other functions.

"If we could fully virtualize our middle tier, that would be another step of cost advantage," said Thompson. More fully virtualized data centers also would allow him to shift workloads across the grid, depending on time of day and traffic volumes, which would lead to additional savings.

"We'd love to shift processing capacity to workloads. That would be a tremendous benefit," and slow the need to buy and manage blade servers, even as PayPal continues to grow, he said.

Virtualization also would help him avoid building out another "power center" or new unit of the data center located close to cheap power. Avoiding added power costs is a much higher priority than it was a few years ago, he said.

But he's not ready to virtualize batches of servers here and there. He wants a plan that will allow "virtualization with a layer of intelligence on top of it" to manage virtual resources. He is experimenting with VMware, but before he implements virtualization throughout the data center, he'll wait until he sees the right intelligence materialize to make it manageable.

Does relying on Linux worry him when Acacia Research, through its subsidiary IP Innovation, filed suit in October against Red Hat and Novell for violating its patent portfolio? And Microsoft claims its patents are violated by Linux? Thompson said: "I'm not worried about those statements. I'm familiar with the issue but I'm not worried about it. We have people in our business who are on top of it."

Intel The new compilers contain auto-parallelizing capabilities



Intel Releases Apple Leopard Toolset Upgrade

The new compilers contain auto-parallelizing capabilities and new application programming interfaces for building multithreaded applications.


Intel (NSDQ: INTC) on Wednesday released an upgrade of its Mac OS X tool suite, which has been optimized for Leopard, the latest version of Apple's operating system.
Version 10.1 of the toolset includes the Intel C++ and Fortran compilers, as well as threading building blocks, math kernel libraries and performance primitives. All have been optimized for Apple's Leopard and Xcode 3.0 development environment launched last month.

The combination of Apple and Intel tools enable developers to take advantage of Intel multi-core processors inside Mac computers, Intel said. The compilers, for example, contain auto-parallelizing capabilities; and Leopard includes new application programming interfaces for building multithreaded applications.

Intel introduced the Mac OS X tool suite in January 2006. Development teams in Apple, Adobe Systems and Autodesk use the toolset. "Intel's software works well in our Xcode environment, and the Intel engineering team does a great job supporting our Apple engineers and Mac OS X developers," Bertrand Serlet, Apple's senior VP of software engineering, said in a statement.

Intel launched the toolset nearly two years ago with the compilers, kernel libraries and primitives. The company added threading building blocks a year later. The Intel evaluation Web site also includes free testing products for Intel's line of Mac development tools.

Mac sales have been increasing, in part by the success of Apple's iPod line of portable media players, which has drawn consumer interest in the company's other products. Nevertheless, development of the Mac platform could be affected by Apple's decision to include in Leopard a utility called Boot Camp that lets users boot Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Windows.

Apple has warned investors that the utility may discourage developers from building software for Mac OS X, if the same software is available on Windows.

Google Maps With My Location, a service for mobile users



Google Service Uses Cell Towers to Locate Users

Google Maps With My Location, a service for mobile users that doesn't rely on GPS, is now in use by Google.

Google launched a location service for mobile users on Wednesday that doesn't rely on GPS.

Google Maps with My Location, currently in beta, locates users who don't have GPS-enabled phones based on their location to nearby cell towers. The result isn't as accurate as GPS (Global Positioning System) but works for people who lack the positioning technology in their phones.

"It helps users speed up search by showing the general neighborhood they're in," said Steve Lee, product manager at Google for the service. Without the location service, users must type in their address or neighborhood in order to find nearby businesses using Google Maps.

Google Maps with My Location will use GPS data to locate the user if the phone has the capability. But even for users of GPS-enabled phones, the cell location service might be useful, Lee said. That's because the cell tower feature works better indoors than GPS, it doesn't drain the phone battery as quickly and can bring up a result quicker, he said.

The service could be useful to a person who might be traveling in an unfamiliar city and looking for restaurants or other businesses. A user pulls up Google Maps and hits the zero key on the phone. A blue dot will appear on the map in the user's location. If the service used GPS in the phone, the blue dot will be solid. If the service used cell towers to determine the location, the blue dot will have a halo around it, indicating that the location isn't precise. The user can then search for nearby businesses.

Google says the cell tower technique will locate the user within about 1000 meters. It doesn't use triangulation, which calculates a user location based on the user's distance to three nearby towers. Instead, it essentially shows the range of the tower that the user's phone is connecting to.

But the accuracy should improve as more people use the service, Lee said. That's because Google is keeping a database of location queries, minus any personal information like individual phone numbers or names. That will allow Google to learn more precise information about the range of each tower, so that it can deliver a more accurate location area to users. The coverage area of cell towers can vary from about a quarter of a mile to several miles based on whether the tower is in an urban or rural area.

For now, Google Maps with My Location doesn't feature any advertising, but it could in the future. "This product makes a lot of sense for advertising," Lee said.

In order to use the service, phone owners must download a free application from Google. The application will work on BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian phones as well as many phones that support Java. A few notable exceptions include the Samsung Blackjack, Moto Q and Palm Treo 700W, which don't support the APIs (application programming interfaces) Google requires to find cell towers, Lee said.



Google Maps with My Location (beta)


See your location on the map, with or without GPS. Save time and tedious keystrokes finding where you are, what's around you, and how to get there. Watch the video on the right to see how it works.

Press "0" and look for the blue dot or

If you have a GPS-enabled device, this blue dot corresponds to your GPS location. At times, or if you do not have a GPS-enabled phone, you might see the blue dot surrounded by a light blue circle (as shown on the right) to indicate uncertainty about your location.

Why the uncertainty? The My Location feature takes information broadcast from mobile towers near you to approximate your current location on the map - it's not GPS, but it comes pretty close (approximately 1000m close, on average). We're still in beta, but we're excited to launch this feature and are constantly working to improve our coverage and accuracy.

The My Location feature is available for most web-enabled mobile phones, including Java, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Nokia/Symbian devices.

Get more info on the My Location feature and supported devices, or discuss Google Maps and My Location with other users.

Google announces new 'My Location' service for Google Maps Mobile - find yourself without GPS

Maps are great if you know exactly where you’re currently located, but what good are they when you’re completely lost? Navizon is a great solution to help locate your approximate position based on cell-tower signal triangulation (we’ve been using on our iPhones with great results for some time now), and now Google is treading all over their turf. With Google’s announcement of their new “My Location” service on compatible phones with Google Maps for Mobile marks the launch of a public test of the new faux-GPS position location feature.

Google says they’ve compiled a database of cell-tower locations through previous Google Maps users, and has employed some “algorithms” (we call them “triangulation equations”) to quickly give Google Maps for Mobile users a fairly accurate lock of their current position. By simply pressing ‘0′ on your keypad, the service can pinpoint locations to within several meters in optimal condition - presumably with at least three cell-towers in range. The “My Location” service is available for free to anyone with Google Maps for Mobile and a compatible cellphone - its in open beta testing, but is available to most BlackBerry, S60, and Windows Mobile users.

Users with integrated GPS receivers can use the new “My Location” service for Google Maps Mobile to complement their satellite position-fix when buildings or mountains obscure the line-of-sight required for a GPS signal-lock. Head on over to Google’s download page to find out if your phone is compatible with the upgrade.

Video games are undergoing a real renaissance



Mass Effect' a thrilling, absorbing space opera.
You'll want to explore this 'do-anything' universe over and over again


Video games are undergoing a real renaissance in storytelling this holiday, from Sony's "Uncharted" to Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed." But the undisputed champ of 2007 is "Mass Effect," a sprawling space opera for the Xbox 360. Boiling over with new twists on science fiction staples, political intrigue on a galactic scale, and even a handful of romantic subplots, "Mass Effect" delivers a narrative that you can really sink your thumbs into over and over again.

The backstory sounds like typical sci-fi fodder: Humankind is a relative newcomer to the overall galactic community, but our propensity for aggression and compassion has made us a huge focal point of the known universe. In fact, so much attention is lavished on humans that other alien races view us with jealousy and disdain.

Because humankind has only recently joined the cosmic rat race, we still do not have a place on the council that oversees all activity in the galaxy — nor are we represented amongst the Spectres, agents of the council that are not bound by traditional law.

One of those Spectres, Saren, has gone rogue and attacked a human colony to get his hands on an ancient alien artifact that could unlock the deepest secrets of the universe. Humankind must take matters into their own hands to track down Saren and bring him to justice. That is, if the council will even listen to evidence brought forth by the game's hero: Commander Shepherd.

How you get from one end of the galaxy to the other and apprehend Saren is entirely up to you — and this is one of the rare times when a video game that promises a "do-anything" universe actually delivers. "Mass Effect" is a game about choice. From the moment you start the adventure, you are bombarded with decisions that have significant effects on how the game unfolds.

Perhaps your biggest decision is how you choose to construct the game's hero, Shepherd. Making the hero a heroine will dictate how some aliens treat you. You can also customize Shepherd's background, which in turn affects the storyline. Before finally heading out into the coldness of space, you choose whether to make Shepherd a soldier, technician, or biotic (biotics are the game's equivalent of magic) — or some combination of the three.

The choices hardly stop there. Between action scenes, Shepherd enters into a lot of conversation — if it has ears and a mouth, it's fair game for a chat. A lesser game would be slighted for being too "talky," but the crackling banter and smoothly doled-out exposition never grows tiresome. (Exceptional voice work also helps, including a star turn from actor Keith David, the Arbiter in "Halo 2" and "Halo 3.")

While engaging in dialogue, you choose Shepherd's thrusts and parries, guiding the conversation. Shepherd can represent the best in humankind's generosity or dish out some harsh words that get the job done, hurt feelings be damned. A silver tongue can even lead to a little romance, allowing Shepherd to go all Captain Kirk with blue-skinned alien women. This is a true role-playing game.

"Mass Effect" is hardly just a tea-time simulator. The Spectre has struck a bargain with a ghastly race of aliens called the Geth, and the majority of combat situations involve Shepherd blasting Geth nasties off hostile planets. The combat is seen in third-person, not entirely unlike the Xbox 360 hit, "Gears of War," and for the most part, it's consistently thrilling. The ramification of past choices is really felt in combat, as you wonder if beefing up your talents with a shotgun was unwise in a situation where defensive biotic powers might have been more useful.

Exploration is also a major component of "Mass Effect." The central hub of the galaxy and home of the galactic council, called the Citadel, is a colossal space station full of sights, sounds, and curious aliens. Players can pick up a lot of extra jobs here to augment the main quest, another cool part of "Mass Effect's" choose-your-own-adventure vibe.

Nothing's perfect, though, and "Mass Effect" is marred by a list of unfortunate technical glitches and presentation-related speed bumps. The otherwise strong visuals often need a second or two to catch up to the hero as he runs from location to location. The frame rate occasionally struggles to keep up, reducing the game to a slideshow for several seconds at a time. Your squad members also have a talent for getting stuck in doors and crates at just the wrong time, like in the middle of an intense firefight. None of these problems are absolute showstoppers, the kind of bugaboos that make you want to permanently eject the disc.

Researchers studied sunsets to look for effects caused by volcanic eruptions



Greek scientist Christos Zerefos shows one of the paintings that he studied at the National Observatory of Penteli, near Athens. Zerefos led a group of Greek scientists studying the colors of sunsets in more than 500 paintings by old masters from the 16th to 19th centuries.


Scientists use paintings to track climate change

The vivid sunsets painted by J.M.W. Turner are revered for their use of color and light and for their influence on the Impressionists. But could they also help global warming experts track climate change?

A group of scientists has studied the colors in more than 500 paintings of sunsets, including many of Turner’s 19th-century watercolors and oils, in hopes of gaining insights into the cooling effects caused by major volcanic eruptions.

By better understanding past changes in climate, they hope to improve computer models for future climate change.

Christos Zerefos, who led the research at the National Observatory in Athens, said he believed it was the first scientific study of art for clues to climate variations.

The scientists studied works painted around the times of major volcanic eruptions, such as the cataclysmic explosion of Mount Krakatoa in 1883, to measure how much pollution was pumped into the skies. Contemporary accounts describe brilliant sunsets after Krakatoa erupted.

“The initial idea arose from the fact that we saw an increased reddening of colors in sunsets which followed large volcanic eruptions, particularly Krakatoa,” Zerefos said.

By measuring the amount of red and green in the paintings, the scientists aimed to calculate the amount of dust in the atmosphere. The greater the pollution, the redder the sunset, Zerefos said.

Skepticism about method
But Kevin Trenberth, who heads the Climate Analysis Research Center at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and who is not connected to the study, warned that artists and scientists do not necessarily see sunsets the same way.

“Painters are not scientists trying to do an accurate picture of nature,” he said. “They are artists trying to make something look good or dramatic.”

And James Hamilton, the curator at the University of Birmingham, who has written books on Turner, said that while Turner claimed to paint what he saw, it’s dangerous to put too much weight on an artist’s interpretation.

“They (artists) are not making absolutely clear and accurate records of what they can see,” he said. “It’s very hard to tell when artists are being absolutely accurate and when they’re using vivid sky as a platform to more vivid painting.”

John Thorne, a professor of atmospheric meteorology at the University of Birmingham, who is not connected to the study, said that while there can be a worry about painters taking artistic license, the study deals with that by using a cross section of artists.

“Some artists are very true to nature, some are very true to making up their own story,” Thorne said. “But they’ve used a huge cross-section. So rather than a specific artist, they’re more showing an average across all artists.”

Hamilton agreed, noting: “The more artists and more known dates, the better.”

554 paintings examined
The group examined 554 paintings from 181 artists and categorized 54 of them as “volcanic sunset paintings” because they were painted within three years of major volcanic eruptions.

The volcanic group included paintings by 19 artists, including Turner, Claude Lorrain, John Singleton Copley, Friedrich Caspar David, Breton Jules, Edgar Degas, Alexander Cozens and Gustav Klimt.

The scientists measured the color ratio in all the paintings and found that those with the highest red to green ratio were in the volcanic group.

humanoid practice robot with a complete set of pearly white teeth.



Japan Expo Showcases Latest Humanoid RobotsA robot math whiz breezes through a Rubik's Cube, using metal hands to twist and turn the colorful toy.

A panda robot uses sensors to detect when people are laughing, and joins in.

A dentistry student peers into the mouth of a new patient — a humanoid practice robot with a complete set of pearly white teeth
Japan showed off its cutting-edge robots Wednesday at the country's largest robotics convention, a dazzling display of the technologies that make it a world leader in both service and industrial robotics.

The dental training robot, dubbed Simroid for "simulator humanoid," has realistic skin, eyes, and a mouth fitted with replica teeth that trainees practice drilling on.

A sensor fitted where the nerve endings would be raises the alert when dental students drill too close — triggering a yelp from the robot.

"Ow, that hurt!" a female robot squeaked, narrowing her eyes as a young dentist drilled on her replica teeth. "Now, I'm OK," she said as the dentist eased off.

"Our aim is to train dentists to worry about whether patients are comfortable, and not just focus on technical expertise," said Dr. Naotake Shibui of the Nippon Dental University in Tokyo, who collaborated with technicians at Kokoro Co. to develop the robot.

Researchers are still ironing out a few kinks — including perfecting a function that lets novices inject anesthetic into robot gums — before working on commercialization plans, Shibui said. He said a prototype has been used at the university since September.

Across the hall, Kawasaki Heavy Industries' Mr. Cube robot used built-in color sensors and a pair of dexterous hands to solve a Rubik's Cube, then raised the completed puzzle in glee to show off to spectators.

Mr. Cube is no match for his human counterparts, taking up to five minutes to solve a typical puzzle while the human world record is 9.77 seconds.

Still, the sensors' ability to quickly detect and differentiate between colors is a breakthrough in industrial robotics, said Kawasaki engineer Masafumi Wada.

"We hope to employ this technology to robots working in factories, so they can distinguish parts by color, as well as size and shape," Wada said. "That would make production lines much more versatile," he said.

The main focus of the 2007 International Robot Exhibition, which kicked off Wednesday in Tokyo, is on industrial robots like Mr. Cube.

Japan is an industrial robot powerhouse, with over 370,000 in use in 2005 — about 40 percent of the global total and 32 robots for every 1,000 Japanese manufacturing employees — according to a recent report by Macquarie Bank.

But Japan has also led the way in personal robots, with big players like Honda Corp. and Sony Corp. to little-known startups launching robotic companions for the home.

Waseda University's furry, panda-shaped Tocco-chan robot, for example, is designed to relieve stress by helping people laugh.

A Web camera connects to software that scans a person's face for smiles — and when it detects one, the robot joins in by giggling and wiggling its arms and legs.

"We all know laughing is good for your health. This robot helps you laugh, by laughing together with you," said Waseda research student Saiko Hirano, who developed Tocco-chan.

"I wanted to design a robot that helps people," she said. "But mostly, this robot is the product of a wild imagination."

lightning striking the surface of the planet Venus.



Lightning Storms Shake Clouds on Venus


Nearby Venus is looking a bit more Earth-like with frequent bursts of lightning confirmed by a new European space probe.

For nearly three decades, astronomers have said Venus probably had lightning — ever since a 1978 NASA probe showed signs of electrical activity in its atmosphere. But experts weren't sure because of signal interference.

Now a magnetic antenna on the European Space Agency's Venus Express probe proved that the lightning was real.

We consider this to be the first definitive evidence of abundant lighting on Venus," David Grinspoon of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science told reporters Wednesday at a briefing in Paris.

The finding is significant because lightning affects atmospheric chemistry, so scientists will have to take it into account as they try to understand the atmosphere and climate of Venus, he said.

The lightning is cloud-to-cloud and about 35 miles above the surface, said University of California, Los Angeles geophysics professor C.T. Russell, lead author of a paper on the Venusian fireworks. It is being published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Bursts of electrical energy from lightning are something that scientists have long theorized could provide the spark of life in primordial ooze.

But not on Venus.

"If life was ever something serious to talk about on Venus, it would be early in its history, not in its current state," said Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who was not part of the research team. "It's a very unforgiving atmosphere."

The idea of Earth-like lightning is fascinating, Russell said. However, you couldn't see it from Venus' surface, nor would you want to look because the Venusian atmosphere is 100 times more dense than Earth's, is about 900 degrees hotter and has clouds of sulfuric acid, he said.

"It may be Earth's 'evil twin,' but it is in many respects Earth's twin," Russell said.

What excites astronomers most about the lightning discovery is simply the coolness factor.

Venus' weather forecasts have long thought to be "kind of boring ... steady winds for the next 400 years," said Allan Treiman, a senior scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, who isn't affiliated with the research.

The idea of lightning, he said, adds a spark to Venus'

Google in Diffrenent :Google's energy push


Many people aren't totally sure what to make of Google's ambitious announcement on Tuesday that it intends to generate one gigawatt of electricity--the equivalent of a few power plants--from renewable-energy sources.

After all, what is a company that makes its money from search and advertising know about the stodgy world of utilities and power generation?
Search giant Google on Tuesday pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make renewable energy cheaper than coal.

The effort, dubbed RE
Technologies created by Google will likely be used by Google, whose data centers are voracious consumers of electricity. The company envisions either selling electricity from renewable sources or licensing technology on terms that would promote broad adoption, according to company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Its overarching goal is to produce 1 gigawatt of electricity from renewable sources--enough to power the city of San Francisco--faster than the current pace of green-technology development.

"The main crux of this is that we believe that you can do it cheaper than coal...and we want to make it happen now," said Page, Google's president of products. "Most people who are doing this now are trying to do it less expensive than people before, but they are not trying for that goal which will have a significant effect on the world."

Investments in other companies will be funded by Google's philanthropic arm, Google.org, which has about $2 billion worth of Google stock available to it.

In particular, Google will be investing in solar-thermal technology, wind power, and geothermal systems. Its target is to fall below the price of coal power generation, which can be as low as 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, said Bill Weihl, Google's green-energy czar.

Google said it's already working with eSolar, a solar-thermal company building systems for utilities to generate electricity from heat. It has invested in Makani Power, which is pursuing electricity generation by harnessing wind at high altitudes.

As part of the effort, Google will be hiring experts in the energy field. It expects to hire 20 to 30 people into its clean-energy division in the next year. More substantial investments will come as energy projects come online, Weihl said.

Although an ambitious plan, Google's impact on the clean-tech market segment in the near term is likely to be more psychological than financial, said Paul Clegg, a senior equity analyst who follows clean tech at Jefferies.

"Tens of millions of dollars is not a small number, obviously, but you're spreading that over things that a lot of other companies are attacking on an individual basis with more money going at it," Clegg said. "I think they'd have to invest a lot more money to get the next Manhattan Project going."

However, Google's initiative is significant in that it could indicate how corporations will start addressing their energy needs and climate change going forward, he said.

A strategic move
The push to mitigate the effects of climate change through clean energy falls squarely into Google.org's missions to improve human health and alleviate poverty, said Larry Brilliant, the executive director of Google.org.

Its foray into the energy business is part of Google's corporate charter to expand into new business areas that are "strategic," according to Brin.

As a large consumer, Google can benefit from cheaper sources of electricity and technologies it successfully develops could generate revenue, he said. In addition, those technologies could potentially bring cheaper sources of electricity to areas of the world that don't have it.

"For economic development to be possible in these areas and for new industries to be spurred along, we want to develop cheap alternatives that are widely available," Brin said. "This isn't just about solving a problem. It also creates a gigantic opportunity."
Right now, the most widely used form of renewable energy in the United States is from hydropower, which makes up about 7 percent of power generation. Other renewables make up 2.4 percent, while coal-fired power plants generate nearly half of the power in the United States, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. Google estimates that about 40 percent of power worldwide comes from burning coal, one of the most polluting fossil fuels.

Some renewable forms of power promise to approach the cost of fossil fuel production, notably solar thermal and wind, which both benefit from government incentives.

In an FAQ document, Google said it will pursue "enhanced geothermal technology that taps into heat underground to generate usable energy. It said this approach differs from traditional geothermal technology because it can be used nearly anywhere, rather than only in locations with specific geological features.

Avoiding hypocrisy
Google's intention to invest directly in power generation technologies is unusual for a business outside the energy sector.

Companies with environmental stewardship programs or commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions typically invest in on-site renewable energy or purchase carbon offsets that represent investments in clean-energy projects.

Wal-Mart, for example, has a high-profile program to make its stores more energy efficient by using the latest technologies, including solar photovoltaics. It has also done reviews with suppliers to reduce waste and packaging in its supply chain and stores

I would argue that Google's commitment to clean energy is a smart move.
Will it make fabulous riches from its investments? We won't know for a while. But in the meantime, its announcement has done exactly what the Googlers wanted--it focused people's attention, however briefly, on the importance of clean energy.

Judging from news articles and blogs, there are plenty of people in the "distraction" camp.

The reaction from ZDNet blogger Larry Dignan (writing for a site owned by News.com parent company CNET Networks) was that Google should not do energy.

"I can't help but think Google is a company with too much cash on its hands and is spreading itself too thin," Dignan wrote.

One financial analyst told the New York Times that he thought the announcement was a "joke," calling the move into energy risky.

Others pointed out there are plenty of other technology companies doing as much if not more to save energy and address climate change

Renewable energy advocates were predictably quite happy with the news.

"It might strike some people as odd that Google would get into the renewable energy field, but I think of Google as a transformative technology company, and that philosophy is very welcome in the renewable energy business today," said Michael Eckhart, president of the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE), in a statement.

To put things in perspective, Google.org--its philanthropy, not the corporation--will be investing hundreds of millions in clean energy companies. Google has committed to hire about 20 to 30 people in a new clean energy division in the next year who will do research and development. The money there will be in the tens of millions.

So the dollar amounts are not going to derail Google's core search and advertising business or its investments in Web applications.

Similarly, those investments won't rock the world of clean tech overnight. Venture capitalists are putting about $3 billion a year into the sector, and that's still a fraction of overall research and development from public corporations and government funding.

Where's the upside for Google? It can actually use the technology it develops or helps funds. Co-founder Larry Page said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday that it's likely that Google will do on-site power production, capture waste heat for electricity, and take other smart energy measures for its facilities.

Of course, if these innovative energy companies that Google.org is seeking out make lots of money, it stands to make some revenue.

What may seem odd is that Google is combining environmental leadership with business. Aren't those at odds?

If you need to clean up a brownfield site, then yes, being good to the environment is a financial drain. But the notion that businesses can profit from the world's woes is being tried and tested every day.

IBM first talked about its "Big Green Innovations" campaign earlier this year which focuses on computing energy efficiency as well as products and services in things like water conservation and solar technology.

Another obvious example is General Electric's Ecomagination, one of its fastest-growing initiatives.

In the end, what Google's trying to do is increase the speed of innovation in clean energy, which most people agree is needed. To do that, Google is investing in a potentially profitable field and using the rock star status (among geeks, anyway) of its founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to inspire energy entrepreneurs.

Tomorrow's Clapton playing 'Guitar Hero'


In a recent South Park episode, we see two of the show's main characters, Stan and Kyle, rocking out to the video game Guitar Hero as a roomful of their friends watch, rapt.

As they're playing, Stan's father walks in, asks, "You kids want to see something really cool?" and starts to play an electric guitar.

For a moment, the room is dead silent. Then, Stan asks, incredulously, "Dad, what are you doing?"

"I can actually play a lot of these songs on a real guitar," the father responds. "Want me to show you boys how?"

Stan spits back, "That's stupid, Dad."

Well, maybe not, say guitar teachers. In fact, the immense popularity of the hit Guitar Hero franchise--the third iteration of the game, Guitar Hero III, brought in $115 million during its first week on the market--may be the best thing that has happened to the instrument, to rock 'n' roll, and to guitar instructors, in a long time.

"I have an overwhelming feeling that my business is safe for years to come when I see kids playing Guitar Hero," said Dan Emery, owner of New York City Guitar School. "These kids are really enjoying playing Guitar Hero, and they're really being turned on to old classic rock" via the game.

Emery said he actually sees Guitar Hero as perhaps the best recruitment tool his school could have asked for.
"I fully expect that (kids who play the game) will get into their twenties and they will have disposable income and they will decide to actually play guitar and they're going to call us up," he said.

Exact numbers of Guitar Hero-fueled converts to the real thing (kids or adults) are hard to come by. But something at work here clearly could be the most powerful advertisement for the guitar since the hit Richard Linklater movie School of Rock.

In that film, Jack Black plays a teacher who, through sheer passion for music, turns a class of rock-illiterate elementary school students into a head-bobbing rock band. After the movie came out, San Francisco guitar teacher Jay Skyler said his roster of young students exploded overnight.

"All of a sudden, I had 9-year-old students," Skyler said, "because all of a sudden, everyone wanted a guitar."

But now, with Guitar Hero turning into one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, Skyler said it's not just kids who seem interested in playing the real instrument.

While some of his new adult students may not be willing to admit that the game drove them to him, he did suggest a definite cause and effect.

"My adult students, they don't want to cop to it," Skyler said of being Guitar Hero fans, "but they're all, 'Have you played the game?'"

The immense popularity of Guitar Hero does worry some of Skyler's fellow guitar teachers, who fret that the game may deter kids from being interested in picking up the real instrument. But Skyler doesn't share that concern, instead feeling that the long-term outcome will be positive.

"Basically, it's getting more kids into guitar," Skyler said. "So if you're a guitar teacher, or a band, you have to love it. They'll play with the toy for a while, but after awhile, they'll want the real thing."
There are those, of course, who believe Guitar Hero signals a death knell for real guitars.

"It's going to kill music," said San Diego bass instructor David Hilton. "It seems to me that as long as (Guitar Hero fans) can get really, really good playing this console, (and) it's not really easy to play (a real) instrument," that the guitar is dead
But Hilton's fears may well be in the minority, and the enthusiasm of teachers like Emery and Skyler indicate that there's a real chance the ultimate result of millions of people getting hooked on games like Guitar Hero and now Rock Band will be a new love of rock 'n' roll.

Part of the equation, Skyler said, is that Guitar Hero teaches rhythm.

"In the game, you have four buttons," he said. "You have to get them in time, in sequence. So in a sense, even though (you're) not learning the specific strings, you are building rhythm in a musical context, which is valuable."

Not only that, but the wide variety of songs included in the various editions of Guitar Hero may be opening up kids' ears to music they haven't previously been familiar with.

"It's also interesting kids in great bands of the past that they might not have been exposed to," Skyler said. "So I think we'll see a resurgence of rock. Rock 'n' roll is about fantasy. If you can go and you're having a good time (and saying), 'Hey, I'm jamming with Slash,' that's great."

Even more important, suggested Emery, is that the guitar is a unique instrument when it comes to the way people connect with it.

"The thing that drives guitar playing is not the same thing that drives violin playing (or) piano playing," Emery said. "It is the desire to connect with the spirit of rock 'n' roll, and anything that builds the spirit of rock 'n' roll is going to build the spirit of guitar."

And that, of course, is good for those in the business of teaching the instrument.

"When a kid gets filled with the fire of rock 'n' roll, they're going to practice four hours a day," Emery said. "Desire drives the guitar business. So I view (Guitar Hero) as a totally good thing.

Next vision :Google Eyes Online Storage


Google Inc. is preparing to take the covers off its own brand of hosted-storage services, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

The online storage subscription-based service may be ready for release early next year, according to the report. The service will reportedly include a limited amount of free storage with extra space available for an undisclosed price. Google officials could not be reached for comment this morning.

Increased mobility of end users and the rapid proliferation of stored digital content, including photos, video and music, is driving businesses and home users toward fixed fee-based online storage systems that can meet growing storage needs without relying on spinning and space-constrained hard drives.

Freedom to access personal storage files from any device or PC is another attraction of online storage. Armed with only a Web browser and password, users can quickly upload, share or see their files (which will reside on Google's servers) via a high-speed Internet connection. In particular, students and campuses have lauded the cost-effective data storage option.

Despite its vast resources, Google is a late entrant into the hosted-storage arena, observers noted. Microsoft Corp. in August announced its free 500MB online storage service dubbed Windows Live Skydrive. Another Google rival, Amazon.com, last month guaranteed 99.9% uptime for its year-old S3 online storage offering, while Facebook in September unveiled its open Data Store API program.

Even EMC Corp. has driven a stake into the hosted-storage landscape with its October agreement to buy start-up Berkeley Data Systems Inc. and its popular Mozy online backup One Google to Rule Them All?
Rumors that Google has planned a storage service have circulated for over a year. Technically, the Mountain View, Ca.-based company already provides storage through existing services like Gmail, Google Base and Google Docs.

"It's a natural extension of the fact that Google operates some of the world's largest data centers and has unique value-added features that it can add in terms of search and organization of the data," said Kurt Scherf, principal analyst at Parks Associates . "It looks like nice synergy, based on what they're already doing."

"Google has their finger in lots and lots of pies, and this is sort of a natural compliment to some of the things it is already offering," said Gordon Haff, a senior analyst at Illuminata. "It makes sense that if you're going to offer all these things that use storage to tie storage itself in as well."

For Google, which has already made a substantial investment to build its data centers, this service is an opportunity to use its infrastructure as a revenue-generating service, Scherf said.

"It also gets Google one step closer to becoming a full-fledged applications company that is more consumer-facing. That's a benefit to them, as they are definitely pursuing the strategy of offering network-hosted applications, including both software and storage," Scherf told TechNewsWorld.

In addition, Google's status as the Internet's leading search engine will give the service a boost among consumers.

"For consumers, it's the benefit of knowing that the Google name behind the service means that finding and organizing their data is going to be enhanced because Google is really proficient at it," he continued. "It's also an intriguing consumer product -- British Telecom offers a Digital Vault service that is apparently doing quite well with consumers."

The Business of Storage
Providers such as Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) offer Web-based storage services. In particular, small businesses that may not have the resources to employ full-time IT professionals could also benefit from the ability to store data on a much larger network.

"Google's offering can be an opportunity for them to have really robust network-hosted storage that the big guys typically get," Scherf explained.

One of the things missing in the emerging online storage market is the ability for both consumers and businesses to back up their data, Haff told TechNewsWorld.

"There are some services out there, but none of the major industry players have thrown their weight behind those kinds of services. There could potentially be a lot of demand if a Google or somebody like that really creates awareness of backups," he explained.

Privacy Questions
Should Google roll out a storage system, it will have to ensure users that the service is safe and secure and also that it has instituted sufficient safeguards to protect users' privacy.

"There will have to be a privacy policy associated with it," Haff noted. "Safety is not specific to Google but a concern surrounding the online storage market as a whole. There are also concerns about possible subpoenas and how they will be handled.

Antarctica in High-Def :NASA Releases New, Interactive Map of the Bottom of the World


A map of Antarctica, produced by satellite technology, has images 10 times clearer than previously achieved and will aid scientists studying global warming on the continent, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said.

NASA used about 1,100 images from its Landsat 7 satellite recorded between 1999 and 2001, the administration said on its Web site. As a result, features half the size of a basketball court can be seen on the map known as the Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica, it said.


U.S. and British researchers unveiled an 1,100-image photo mosaic of Antarctica on Tuesday that they say will change how scientists -- and desktop travelers alike -- will explore and learn about the icy continent at the bottom of the world.

The images were captured by the Landsat 7 satellite orbiting 400 miles above the Earth. Researchers from NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation and the British Antarctic Survey digitally "stitched" together thousands of pictures to complete the mosaic.

The finished picture -- which has a resolution 10 times greater than ever before -- will help scientists study changing conditions in Antarctica. For example, the pictures will be used over time to track changes to the extent and thickness of ice sheets and glaciers, said NASA scientist Robert Bindschadler.
Bindschadler -- an Antarctic specialist who conceived the project -- calls the mosaic "a dream come true."

"It has changed my views of Antarctica and has influenced the science questions that I ask myself," Bindschadler said Tuesday at a press conference.

The Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica -- or LIMA -- shows features as small as half the size of a basketball court. Scientists say it will be especially useful in planning expeditions on the giant landmass -- the size of the continental United States and Mexico combined -- where clear images have been hard to come by.


Facilitates New Research
"Being able to see where we couldn't see before will lead to new ideas for research. And these new ideas for research will in turn lead to more knowledge about the continent," said Scott Borg, who directs Antarctic science programs for the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va.

Scientists also hope the new image will help the public better understand what is at stake in the world's polar regions as temperatures rise due to human-created global warming.

"As society wrestles with the proper stewardship of the planet, it's really important to have an appreciation of what it is we're trying to preserve," Borg said.

An interactive version of the map can be found here, allowing anyone to zoom in and explore any part of the continent.
"It's like giving them a helicopter to explore Antarctica," said Bindschadler, who has led 14 expeditions there.

Antarctica is warming 10 times faster than the global average, said Andrew Fleming of the British Antarctic Survey. In recent years, scientists have seen collapsing ice sheets, changing coastlines, and retreating glaciers as the climate has warmed there, according to Fleming.

The LIMA effort is part of the International Polar Year, a multination research endeavor to explore and understand the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

"The climate of our world is changing no faster than in the polar regions," Bindschadler said. "In the future, we have to be better stewards of our environment."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dell XPS M1530 ,,Starts at $999



Dell's new XPS M1530 notebook features a 15.4-inch screen, a Core 2 Duo CPU, Nvidia GeForce graphics, HDMI output, a 2 megapixel camera...and a $999 starting price.

Dell has taken the wraps off its new XPS M1530 notebook computer, a slim new system with a 1-inch profile and a design largely inspired by the XPS M1330 Dell introduced earlier this year. But it's not so much the similarities to the M1330 that might attract customers to the M1530: instead, that'll be the 15.4-inch display range of Core 2 Duo processors, Nvidia graphics controllers, storage updates, a 4 GB RAM ceiling, an optional Blu-ray drive…and a starting price of just $999.

"The enthusiastic reception of the XPS M1330 demonstrates that Dell's focus on design and performance resonates with customers seeking a premium notebook experience," said senior VP of Dell's consumer product group Alex Gruzen, in a statement. "We're building on that success by broadening the product line, and the XPS M1530 will bring the XPS experience to the most popular 15.4-inch widescreen market segment."

Under the hood, the XPS 1530 is available with a range of Core 2 Duo processors (from 1.5 to 2.6 GHz), up to 4 GB of RAM, 200 or 320 GB hard disk drives (or an 64 GB SSD), HDMI and VGA output, three USB 2.0 ports, an 8-in-1 media card reader, an ExpressCard slot, and an integrated 2 megapixel Web cam. Dell is also offering a range of wireless connectivity options (including Dell and Intel 802.11g/n Wi-Fi, Dell long-range HSPDA and EVDO options, and Bluetooth 2.0), 6- and 9-cell batteries, and either a slot-loading DVD±RW drive or a slot-loading Blu-ray writer. The systems ship with Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate, and can be configured with either a 128 MB Nvidia GeForce 8400 GS graphics controller, or the 256 MB Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics controller.

Outside the hood, the XPS M1530s will be available in either alpine white, crimson red, or tuxedo black, and they offer Dell's MediaDirect 3.3 functionality with external media buttons so users can tap into DVDs and media without booting Windows.

Prices for the XPS M1530 start at just $999, but a system with a Blu-ray writer, 2 GB of RAM, and a speedy Core 2 Duo processor is going to run around $2,000.

Dell unveils the new XPS M1530 notebook

In a move to expand its existing hardware range yet further, computer manufacturing giant Dell Inc. has this week whipped the covers of expectation off its new M1530 notebook, which it is offering up as a sleek and stylish 15.4-inch entrant to the popular XPS line.


According to Dell, the new XPS M1530 comes packed with all the same "award-winning design and features" first bundled into the company’s highly acclaimed XPS M1330, which was released to retail a little earlier in the year.

In particular, the M1530 comes equipped with a built-in Web camera, fingerprint reader, touch-sensitive multi-media buttons, and an exterior design that boasts brushed aluminium accents and a selection of "sophisticated" colour choices.

"The enthusiastic reception of the XPS M1330 demonstrates that Dell’s focus on design and performance resonates with customers seeking a premium notebook experience," enthused Alex Gruzen, Dell’s senior vice president, consumer product group. "We’re building on that success by broadening the product line, and the XPS M1530 will bring the XPS experience to the most popular 15.4-inch widescreen market segment."

While customers can, of course, customise the XPS M1530’s internals to suit their specific needs at point of purchase, the little 15.4-inch notebook weighs in at a little under six pounds while also delivering a skinny 1-inch physical profile. Other features bundled with the M1530 include Wi-Fi wireless networking (optional Bluetooth), a slot-load optical drive, DirectX 10 graphics capabilities, and HDMI support. It also comes with an optional high-definition Blu-ray drive, which includes noise cancellation earbuds and a travel remote control that can be stored in the notebook’s ExpressCard slot.

Dell’s latest attempt to loosen consumer purse strings comes with a starting price of $999 USD, which secures the following technical specifications:* Intel Core 2 Duo T5250 (2MB cache/1.5GHz/667MHz FSB)

* Windows Vista Home Premium Edition

* 1GB Shared Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz (2 Dimms)

* 120GB 5400rpm SATA Hard Drive

* 128MB Nvidia GeForce 8400M GS

* High Definition Audio 2.0

Prices reaching as high as $1,499 USD duly offer more bang for consumer bucks.

Judge Denies Request for Amazon Bookseller's Customer Data



The Associated Press reports that prosecutors have withdrawn a subpoena seeking the identities of thousands of people who bought used books through Amazon.com. "The withdrawal came after a judge ruled the customers have a First Amendment right to keep their reading habits from the government." Prosecutors sought the information as part of an investigation into a third-party bookseller on Amazon Marketplace who allegedly failed to report his income.

The AP quotes the judge's June ruling: "The subpoena is troubling because it permits the government to peek into the reading habits of specific individuals without their knowledge or permission. It is an unsettling and un-American scenario to envision federal agents nosing through the reading lists of law-abiding citizens while hunting for evidence against somebody else."

Jury selection and trial against the bookseller is set for February 25, 2008, in the Western District of Wisconsin, according to court records.

Feds lose bid for Amazon.com customer records


Federal prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to force Amazon.com to identify thousands of innocent customers who bought books online, then abandoned the idea after a judge rebuked them.

In an order that was sealed but has now become public, U.S. District Judge Stephen Crocker rejected the Justice Department's subpoena for details on Amazon's customers and their purchasing habits. Prosecutors had claimed the details would help them prove their case against a former Madison, Wisc., city official charged with tax evasion related to selling used books through Amazon.

"The subpoena is troubling because it permits the government to peek into the reading habits of specific individuals without their prior knowledge or permission," Crocker wrote in June. Amazon filed the lawsuit to quash the grand jury subpoena.

The case is reminiscent of last year's attempts by federal prosecutors to wrest sensitive search-related information from Google through a subpoena. A California judge eventually rejected the request for users' search queries (and allowed only an excerpt from Google's index of Web sites).

In both cases, the judges worried about public perception. California's Judge James Ware was concerned about the "perception by the public" that Google search terms are "subject to government scrutiny." In the Amazon case, Judge Crocker predicted that "rumors of an Orwellian federal criminal investigation into the reading habits of Amazon's customers could frighten countless potential customers into canceling planned online book purchases, now and perhaps forever."

Instead of giving the Bush administration what it wanted, Crocker split the difference, saying that Amazon could send letters to its customers asking them whether they voluntarily wanted to contact the Feds.

After losing the subpoena fight, Daniel Graber, the assistant U.S. Attorney in Madison, gave up and rescinded his request for the customer records.

The onetime Madison city official who's facing tax evasion, wire fraud, and money laundering charges is Robert D'Angelo. He was indicted in October on charges that he ran a sizable mail order business from his city office, using city computers, and city storage facilities. The business allegedly generated $238,000 in revenue through the sale of music CDs, costume jewelry, and--through Amazon--used books.

Initially, prosecutors demanded "virtually all" records from Amazon dealing with D'Angelo, including "the identities of thousands of customers who had bought used books" from him, according to court documents. Prosecutors subsequently narrowed the request to 120 book buyers, 30 per year for the four years under investigation--on the theory that FBI and IRS agents could then contact those 120 customers.

David Zapolsky, vice president of litigation for Amazon, told the Wisconsin State Journal that his employer tries to protect its customers' privacy rights from governmental fishing expeditions: "When we don 't know what the government wants the information for and we have a doubt whether it violates privacy or First Amendment rights, typically we will dialog with the government and try to understand what their perspective is or we'll make a motion and have a judge decide whether the government has any need for the information."

This subpoena, even more than the one directed at Google, highlights the tension between law enforcement's desire to assemble information--and the privacy rights of Americans who have that information stored by search engines or e-commerce sites.

If the Wisconsin subpoena had been directed at a credit card company or bank, the customer records would probably have been handed over without a fuss (and without any publicity). But booksellers and libraries have unique First Amendment protections under U.S. law that can shield them from some overzealous demands by police for personal information.

In an important 2002 case, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that police could not serve a search warrant on Denver's Tattered Cover Book Store. Two years earlier, a judge denied the Drug Enforcement Administration's attempts to get sales records from a Borders bookstore as part of a grand jury investigation. And perhaps the most famous case came when independent counsel Kenneth Starr tried unsuccessfully to obtain Monica Lewinsky's purchase records from Kramerbooks, a popular neighborhood bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Greenpeace Speaks



Its environmental ranking of Sony, Nintendo and other electronics makers raises consumer awareness—but does it factor into buying decisions.

Greenpeace is smacking Microsoft and Nintendo for using toxic chemicals in their video game consoles, while applauding longtime target Apple for improving its green credentials. But the group's latest quarterly ranking of electronics vendors, issued Nov. 27, in the thick of holiday shopping, also spotlights the difficulty in measuring the environmental impact of such products—and raises questions about whether customers really care.

Greenpeace's sixth "Guide to Greener Electronics" ranked Nintendo (NTDOY) last among 18 companies, criticizing the Japanese company for its failure to offer a recycling program for its old video game consoles or disclose any information about chemicals used to make its hot-selling Wii machine. Microsoft (MSFT), another newcomer to the list, ranked 16th for setting a comparatively late date of 2011 for eliminating the use of toxic plastics and flame retardants from its hardware, which includes its Xbox game machine and Zune digital music player.

Flexible Yardstick
Apple (APPL), which Greenpeace has assailed repeatedly in surveys past (BusinessWeek.com, 10/26/07), moved up one notch to 11th place in the latest ranking on the strength of its pledge to eliminate certain chemicals by 2008. Top honors went to cell-phone maker Sony Ericsson and electronics conglomerate Samsung (SSNLF). The two companies tied for first, each scoring 7.7 out of a possible 10 points, on the strength of their recycling programs and the absence of some harmful chemicals in their products.

Greenpeace ranks electronics makers on the speed with which they're phasing out brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride, a chemical used to make plastic more pliable for wiring. The rankings also reflect companies' willingness to take back old products for recycling. The latest report comes amid the post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping rush (BusinessWeek.com, 11/26/07), in which consumers are expected to snap up millions of laptops, iPods, printers, digital cameras, and other electronic goods.

But the rankings also underscore the wide array of environmental impact yardsticks—anything but consistent in their parameters—that consumers and businesses are confronted with when making purchasing decisions. In addition to Greenpeace, industry groups and government regulators in the U.S., European Union, Canada, and Germany all have issued metrics and rules governing the use of toxic chemicals in products, energy consumption by those machines, and recycling of discarded equipment. "There are a lot of tools out there; and maybe too many," says Dave Stangis, Intel's (INTC) director of corporate responsibility. "There's no doubt it's tough" for consumers to make sense of all the ratings, he says. But, "the Greenpeace list is definitely driving awareness."

"Cynical" Consumers
When you factor in the way electronics makers promote every environmentally friendly move they make, and the fire that Greenpeace has taken for picking a fight with Apple to publicize its agenda, it's not surprising consumers may have a hard time sorting out competing claims. "It always seems to be certain companies that get targeted first," says Chris Crotty, analyst at industry researcher iSuppli.

And given the apparent lack of strong consumer demand (BusinessWeek.com, 9/10/07) for eco-friendly products when buying computers and electronics, a manufacturer's production costs still tend to count for more than its green bona fides at the cash register. "The bottom line is, [consumers] are quite cynical about it," says Roger Kay, president of industry researcher Endpoint Technologies Associates. "Everybody is hopping aboard the 'We've got to be green' train, and there's a lot of lip service."

Kay puts vendors' eco-friendly initiatives into three categories. Some manufacturing changes, such as replacing a harmful material with a nature-friendlier one that costs less, are "no-brainiers," he says. Then there's commonsense global compliance with stringent local regulations in places such as Germany and Scandinavia. Such moves can prove cost-effective for large PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) by reducing the need to produce different products for different markets. Last, there are "feel-good" efforts, such as PC maker Dell's (DELL) offer to plant trees for buyers of its PCs to help offset the carbon dioxide emissions of those products. "That's the category that's squishiest," says Kay.

Costly Changes
Greenpeace gave Dell a strong 7.3 rating, citing the company's pledge to stop using brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride by 2009, as well as its aggressive recycling program. It gave HP a 6.7 rating for its pledge to eliminate the chemicals from computers—but not all its products—by 2009.

Whether companies are cleaning up their acts to get ahead of tough regulations or for better public relations, such efforts are very expensive. On Nov. 11, Intel said its new 45-nanometer chips eliminate the use of lead and will soon exclude halogens, a class of materials that includes brominated flame retardants soon to be prohibited by EU regulations. Intel's efforts to stop using lead alone has spanned hundreds of engineers' time over five years, according to Stangis. "It's definitely more expensive," he says.

Greenpeace's quarterly pounding on the electronics industry's biggest companies has no doubt raised consumers' awareness of what's in their gear. What's less clear is how eco-savvy shoppers will navigate the thicket of pronouncements and criticisms coming from both sides.


Greenpeace Survey Ranks Nintendo Last

Activist group Greenpeace has released on Tuesday its last environmental ranking of the 18 most popular electronic companies that scored Nintendo 0, as the first company that did not get any points out of the possible 10.

Along with Nintendo, Microsoft also was criticized due to the fact that it failed to remove toxic chemicals from their game consoles, joining all the newcomers that reached the bottom of the list, which was rarely accused of unfairness, but usually it weights a lot in the eyes if customers, so companies cannot afford to ignore it.

The ranking is made according to several ecologist standards, while it supervises the efforts made to eliminate PVCs and other hazardous chemicals and to gather the used hardware. Greenpeace also declared that from next year it would introduce the energy efficiency criteria.

Greenpeace’s ranking comes after Microsoft previously announced that it expects that only in 2011 it would finish the removal of all toxic chemicals from their products, and does not accept old hardware.

Nokia, the leader of the last list, and Motorola were also penalized for not keeping their word regarding their promises of taking back used hardware.

Sony Ericsson and Samsung were ranked as the most eco-friendly companies, scoring 7.7 points each.

While Philips, whose green policies are allegedly too old as they were set up in 1970, ranked the 17th, the former bottom of the list, Apple, managed to reach the 11th place, due to its pledge of removing vinyl plastics and brominated flame retardants from its products by 2008.

Japan: PSP Slim Hits 1M Mark


Japan: PSP Slim Hits 1M Mark


While Sony's shiny black handheld has been doing reasonably well in the marketplace, it's been hard for most gamers and pundits to focus on its relative success while Nintendo's dual-screened handheld lumbers through sales statistics like Godzilla, toppling buildings and wrestling Mothra.
It's not as if PSP is doing poorly though, and the report from two months ago regarding a strong Japanese launch of the PSP Slim was heartening. Today, there's more good news for Sony, as GamesIndustry.biz reports that to date the handheld has topped 1 million sales of the Slim PSP. This is no doubt partly thanks to it launching with Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, which has the words "Final Fantasy VII" right in the title and thus guarantees success.


The report also points out that the Slim has reached the million mark earlier than its predecessor by two weeks, meaning it's off to a stronger start than the original PSP.



PSP Slim Hits 1 Million in Japan


It wasn't so long ago that gamers worldwide were doubting Sony's ability to compete with Nintendo in the handheld market. Since the PlayStation Portable Slim launched in September, however, sales of Sony's multimedia gadget have surged. The redesigned machine sold almost 600,000 units in its first 14 days.


Sony Japan today reported that the little console that could has shipped 1 million copies since losing weight, a figure reached two weeks faster than with the 'PSP Fat' as gamers now refer to the original system.


The 1 million units include Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII bundles.


Sony says gamers are obviously enjoying the 33% of weight sliced off the new units, the more efficient battery and the faster loading times of the Slim. The 1seg TV tuner, available in Japan (and known as the DS TV for Nintendo's DS) has also been pushing sales.


Sony will release a new glossy red version of the PSP Slim in Japan on December 13.




PSP-Slim or PSP-2000 Comes in Girly Colors Too!



Female gamers can now geek away in style because not only is the PSP-Slim (PSP-2000) 19% thinner and 30% lighter; it comes in chic new colors too! Aside from the standard black, white, and silver, they're also available in rose pink, lavander purple, and felicia blue. The PSP-Slim hits stores in Japan on September 20 for 19,800 Yen ($162). No word on when it'll be released to the rest of the world yet, but something tells me I'd better start saving money soon.



MORE NEWS....



Gaming Front: Sony Ericsson PSP Phone in Q1 2007


PlayStationPhones may be coming to stores come February of next year under the cell phone brand Sony Ericsson. Manufacturers like Sony Ericsson will have to go back to the drawing board a lot after Apple's recent iPhone price cut. A PSP phone has been rumored for some time now. The mock up above seems to be a direct blending of Sony Ericsson camera phones and PSP and whets one's appetite for the real thing, or at least for more rumors. Peter Ahnegard, Partner Manager Games and Graphics from Sony Ericsson, recently and practically confirmed that the handset manufacturer is planning another convergence device to follow Cyber-shot and Walkman phones.



Peter Ahnegard on an interview with PocketGamer last month: "Up until today we haven't felt we could launch a PlayStation phone because it wouldn't be recognised as a true continuation of that brand of products…. It's obviously something that we're looking at but right now I can't really comment. Before Christmas, certainly… but exactly which Christmas I can't confirm!" But now Mobile Entertainment claims the PSP Phone is set for a February 2007 announcement at the Mobility World Congress but it won't be a PSP Phone!



PSP Gets Video Downloading Service, VoIP


Sony, in collaboration with the UK's Sky, will be bringing a Go! branded video download service to the PSP in early 2008. The available programs will include a mix of Sky content, such as sports, entertainment, movies, music and animation. PSP owners will also be able to purchase pay-per-view programming, and downloads can be transferred from the PSP to a PC without additional charges. In case you aren't a Sky fan, plans to offer video content from other channel brands and content providers are in the works.



January 2008 will also see the release of Go! Messenger, which uses VoIP to let you to text- and voice-chat with other PSP users with the same program. A future firmware upgrade for the PSP will place an application on its XcrossMediaBar. For video calls on Go! Messenger, Sony has also announced the Go! Cam, which attaches to the top of the PSP.









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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Japan: PSP Slim Hits 1M Mark



While Sony's shiny black handheld has been doing reasonably well in the marketplace, it's been hard for most gamers and pundits to focus on its relative success while Nintendo's dual-screened handheld lumbers through sales statistics like Godzilla, toppling buildings and wrestling Mothra.
It's not as if PSP is doing poorly though, and the report from two months ago regarding a strong Japanese launch of the PSP Slim was heartening. Today, there's more good news for Sony, as GamesIndustry.biz reports that to date the handheld has topped 1 million sales of the Slim PSP. This is no doubt partly thanks to it launching with Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, which has the words "Final Fantasy VII" right in the title and thus guarantees success.

The report also points out that the Slim has reached the million mark earlier than its predecessor by two weeks, meaning it's off to a stronger start than the original PSP.


PSP Slim Hits 1 Million in Japan
It wasn't so long ago that gamers worldwide were doubting Sony's ability to compete with Nintendo in the handheld market. Since the PlayStation Portable Slim launched in September, however, sales of Sony's multimedia gadget have surged. The redesigned machine sold almost 600,000 units in its first 14 days.

Sony Japan today reported that the little console that could has shipped 1 million copies since losing weight, a figure reached two weeks faster than with the 'PSP Fat' as gamers now refer to the original system.

The 1 million units include Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII bundles.

Sony says gamers are obviously enjoying the 33% of weight sliced off the new units, the more efficient battery and the faster loading times of the Slim. The 1seg TV tuner, available in Japan (and known as the DS TV for Nintendo's DS) has also been pushing sales.
Sony will release a new glossy red version of the PSP Slim in Japan on December 13.




PSP-Slim or PSP-2000 Comes in Girly Colors Too!


Female gamers can now geek away in style because not only is the PSP-Slim (PSP-2000) 19% thinner and 30% lighter; it comes in chic new colors too! Aside from the standard black, white, and silver, they’re also available in rose pink, lavander purple, and felicia blue. The PSP-Slim hits stores in Japan on September 20 for 19,800 Yen ($162). No word on when it’ll be released to the rest of the world yet, but something tells me I’d better start saving money soon.



MORE NEWS....

Gaming Front: Sony Ericsson PSP Phone in Q1 2007

PlayStationPhones may be coming to stores come February of next year under the cell phone brand Sony Ericsson. Manufacturers like Sony Ericsson will have to go back to the drawing board a lot after Apple’s recent iPhone price cut. A PSP phone has been rumored for some time now. The mock up above seems to be a direct blending of Sony Ericsson camera phones and PSP and whets one’s appetite for the real thing, or at least for more rumors. Peter Ahnegard, Partner Manager Games and Graphics from Sony Ericsson, recently and practically confirmed that the handset manufacturer is planning another convergence device to follow Cyber-shot and Walkman phones.



Peter Ahnegard on an interview with PocketGamer last month: “Up until today we haven’t felt we could launch a PlayStation phone because it wouldn’t be recognised as a true continuation of that brand of products…. It’s obviously something that we’re looking at but right now I can’t really comment. Before Christmas, certainly… but exactly which Christmas I can’t confirm!” But now Mobile Entertainment claims the PSP Phone is set for a February 2007 announcement at the Mobility World Congress but it won’t be a PSP Phone!

PSP Gets Video Downloading Service,
Sony, in collaboration with the UK’s Sky, will be bringing a Go! branded video download service to the PSP in early 2008. The available programs will include a mix of Sky content, such as sports, entertainment, movies, music and animation. PSP owners will also be able to purchase pay-per-view programming, and downloads can be transferred from the PSP to a PC without additional charges. In case you aren’t a Sky fan, plans to offer video content from other channel brands and content providers are in the works.



January 2008 will also see the release of Go! Messenger, which uses VoIP to let you to text- and voice-chat with other PSP users with the same program. A future firmware upgrade for the PSP will place an application on its XcrossMediaBar. For video calls on Go! Messenger, Sony has also announced the Go! Cam, which attaches to the top of the PSP.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Carbon nanotubes to be replaced



Carbon nanotubes to be replaced by MoSIx nanowires in high-tech devices
Carbon nanotubes have long been touted as the wonder material of the future. Applications cited for carbon nanotubes range from super fast computers and ultra small electronics through to materials that are lightweight yet super strong and tougher than diamond.
Several techniques have been devised for producing carbon nanotubes but, getting these materials and devices from the laboratory to the marketplace is obstructed by one inherent problem. Scaling up laboratory production techniques to produce commercial quantities of high quality, high purity carbon nanotubes is a difficult process. But this is set to change with another type of recently discovered nanotube currently under investigation.

This promising new material is molybdenum-sulfur-iodine nanowires. Researchers from Jo┼żef Stefan Institute have investigated the atomic and electronic structure of molybdenum-sulfur-iodine molecular nanowires as well as their basic transport, optical and mechanical properties. The research has now been published in a special edition of the open access journal, AZoJono and can be accessed in its entirety at http://www.azonano.com/Details.asp?ArticleID=2039.

This special edition of AZoJono* features a number of papers from DESYGN-IT, the project seeking to secure Europe as the international scientific leader in the design, synthesis, growth, characterisation and applications of nanotubes, nanowires and nanotube arrays for industrial technology.

The research team of D. Dvorsek, D. Vengust, V. Nicolosi, W.J. Blau, J.C. Coleman and D. Mihailovic found that the material also known as MoSIx nanowires was relatively easy to synthesise and disperse making it highly suited to commercialisation. The properties of the nanowires point to them being suited for use in applications such as battery electrodes, tribology and field emission displays. Ongoing research will look at growth mechanisms, stoichiometry control, magnetoelasticity and electrostrictive properties.

Carbon nanotube science and technology

Carbon nanotubes are molecular-scale tubes of graphitic carbon with outstanding properties. They are among the stiffest and strongest fibres known, and have remarkable electronic properties and many other unique characteristics. For these reasons they have attracted huge academic and industrial interest, with thousands of papers on nanotubes being published every year. Commercial applications have been rather slow to develop, however, primarily because of the high production costs of the best quality nanotubes.


Structure
The bonding in carbon nanotubes is sp², with each atom joined to three neighbours, as in graphite. The tubes can therefore be considered as rolled-up graphene sheets (graphene is an individual graphite layer). There are three distinct ways in which a graphene sheet can be rolled into a tube, as shown in the diagram below.


The first two of these, known as “armchair” (top left) and “zig-zag” (middle left) have a high degree of symmetry. The terms "armchair" and "zig-zag" refer to the arrangement of hexagons around the circumference. The third class of tube, which in practice is the most common, is known as chiral, meaning that it can exist in two mirror-related forms. An example of a chiral nanotube is shown at the bottom left.

The structure of a nanotube can be specified by a vector, (n,m), which defines how the graphene sheet is rolled up. This can be understood with reference to figure on the right. To produce a nanotube with the indices (6,3), say, the sheet is rolled up so that the atom labelled (0,0) is superimposed on the one labelled (6,3). It can be seen from the figure that m = 0 for all zig-zag tubes, while n = m for all armchair tubes.


Synthesis
The arc-evaporation method, which produces the best quality nanotubes, involves passing a current of about 50 amps between two graphite electrodes in an atmosphere of helium. This causes the graphite to vaporise, some of it condensing on the walls of the reaction vessel and some of it on the cathode. It is the deposit on the cathode which contains the carbon nanotubes. Single-walled nanotubes are produced when Co and Ni or some other metal is added to the anode. It has been known since the 1950s, if not earlier, that carbon nanotubes can also be made by passing a carbon-containing gas, such as a hydrocarbon, over a catalyst. The catalyst consists of nano-sized particles of metal, usually Fe, Co or Ni. These particles catalyse the breakdown of the gaseous molecules into carbon, and a tube then begins to grow with a metal particle at the tip. It was shown in 1996 that single-walled nanotubes can also be produced catalytically. The perfection of carbon nanotubes produced in this way has generally been poorer than those made by arc-evaporation, but great improvements in the technique have been made in recent years. The big advantage of catalytic synthesis over arc-evaporation is that it can be scaled up for volume production. The third important method for making carbon nanotubes involves using a powerful laser to vaporise a metal-graphite target. This can be used to produce single-walled tubes with high yield.

Properties

The strength of the sp² carbon-carbon bonds gives carbon nanotubes amazing mechanical properties. The stiffness of a material is measured in terms of its Young's modulus, the rate of change of stress with applied strain. The Young's modulus of the best nanotubes can be as high as 1000 GPa which is approximately 5x higher than steel. The tensile strength, or breaking strain of nanotubes can be up to 63 GPa, around 50x higher than steel. These properties, coupled with the lightness of carbon nanotubes, gives them great potential in applications such as aerospace. It has even been suggested that nanotubes could be used in the “space elevator”, an Earth-to-space cable first proposed by Arthur C. Clarke. The electronic properties of carbon nanotubes are also extraordinary. Especially notable is the fact that nanotubes can be metallic or semiconducting depending on their structure. Thus, some nanotubes have conductivities higher than that of copper, while others behave more like silicon. There is great interest in the possibility of constructing nanoscale electronic devices from nanotubes, and some progress is being made in this area. However, in order to construct a useful device we would need to arrange many thousands of nanotubes in a defined pattern, and we do not yet have the degree of control necessary to achieve this. There are several areas of technology where carbon nanotubes are already being used. These include flat-panel displays, scanning probe microscopes and sensing devices. The unique properties of carbon nanotubes will undoubtedly lead to many more applications.

After sidor : US marines assist stepped up relief effort in Bangladesh



US marines were on the ground in cyclone-hit southern Bangladesh Sunday as the military-led relief operation was stepped up and international aid continued to pour in.

More than 3,400 people have been confirmed dead and the government estimates that 360,000 people have been left homeless by cyclone Sidr which smashed into the southern coast on November 15, prompting a massive aid operation.


"The relief operation has gathered pace with the arrival of more aid from donor countries, agencies and private charities. We've also got increased logistics support," said Navy commander Bashir Ahmed, who is coordinating help to the worst-hit Barguna district.


Sidr was the second most powerful storm to hit the country since records began, experts say.


Ahmed said he believed virtually all survivors had now received at least two deliveries of aid.


The needs, however, remained huge and it would take weeks to ensure adequate supplies to all victims, he added.


US marines from the USS Kearsarge, which arrived off the coast of Bangladesh on Friday, were carrying out air lifts of water and other supplies for a second day, a US embassy official said.


In the badly-hit Patharghata town, local administrator Salim Khan told AFP supplies were finally reaching victims.


"The emergency crisis is overcome," he said, adding, however, that more materials would be needed later.


Aid workers said getting fresh water to victims remained a priority as the prospect of outbreaks of water-borne diseases looms.


Many of those in coastal districts have seen their traditional sources of drinking water contaminated by saline water which cannot be treated by water purification tablets.


Authorities fully expect the death toll to rise.


"Some 1,734 people are missing," said Major Nawrose, who uses one name, of the armed forces control room, adding that many of those unaccounted for were likely to have been swept away by the tidal surge.


Others were fishermen who "went out to sea before the cyclone and did not return, although we cannot say they are all dead yet," Nawrose added.


In Patharghata, popularly known as the fishing capital of Bangladesh, the industry directly supports 200,000 people.


Coastguards and the government's weather department had warned boats to stay in port as the cyclone approached. But many villagers told AFP they did not take the warning seriously because of frequent previous alerts.


In a sign of the precarious situation, one person died and 10 more were seriously injured Saturday when a bridge in the southern Patuakhali district collapsed under the weight of 1,000 people queueing for relief.


Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries where 40 percent of the 144 million population lives on less than a dollar a day.

The United Nations estimates that the cyclone has affected 6.7 million people in 30 of the country's 64 districts, causing severe economic losses.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN said 92,000 hectares of crops had been ruined, 500,000 hectares partly damaged and around 350,000 livestock lost.

"Serious damage has also been observed in the fisheries and shrimp aquaculture sectors," a statement said.

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