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Monday, August 6, 2007

Ice-seeking probe blasts off for Mars

Ice-seeking probe blasts off for Mars
A robotic dirt and ice digger blasted off Saturday on a 422 million-mile journey to Mars that NASA hopes will culminate next spring in the first landing within the red planet's arctic circle. e digger blasted off Saturday on a 422 million-mile journey to Mars that NASA hopes will culminate next spring in the first landing within the red planet's arctic circle

sions would have been able to do.

The unmanned Delta II rocket carrying the Phoenix Mars Lander rose from its seaside pad at 5:26 a.m., exactly on time, and hurtled through the clear moonlit sky. It was easily visible for nearly five minutes, a bright orange speck in a spray of stars.

If all goes as planned -- a big 'if,' considering only five of the world's 15 attempts to land on Mars have succeeded -- the spacecraft will set down on the Martian arctic plains on May 25, 2008. It will then spend three months scooping up soil and ice, and analyzing the samples in minuscule ovens and mixing bowls.

The Phoenix Mars Lander won't be looking for evidence of life on Mars but rather traces of organic compounds in the baked and moistened samples. Such compounds would be a possible indicator of conditions favorable for life, either now or once upon a time.

If organic compounds are present on Mars, they're more likely to have been preserved in ice. That's why NASA is aiming for the planet's high northern latitudes, where ice is almost certainly lurking just beneath the surface.

Only about six inches of soft red soil should cover the ice, and so the digger shouldn't have to probe too deeply. The ice is expected to be as hard as concrete, and a drill on the scoop will help gather enough frozen samples. Some dirt and ice samples will be baked and their vapors analyzed. Other soil samples will be mixed with onboard water and the muddy soup examined by onboard microscopes.

"We're really going there just to understand whether the conditions might have been hospitable for microbial life at some point," said the University of Arizona's William Boynton, lead scientist for the oven experiment.

Even if organic molecules pop up, they could be from incoming meteorites, Boynton noted. "It is important, I think, to keep in mind that we are just looking for organic molecules to see if the conditions are right that they could survive," he said, "and that we aren't really going to be making any inference about whether these molecules are indicative of life."

Mars landings are especially risky. Only five of the 15 U.S., Russian and European attempts have worked, all of them American successes beginning with the 1976 Viking touchdowns. Given those odds, the Phoenix team said it did everything possible to test for failures and will continue to do so as the spacecraft flies to Mars. The entire mission costs $420 million.

NASA has never attempted to land a spacecraft on Mars at such a high northern latitude. A lander intended for the red planet's south pole went silent immediately upon arrival in 1999. That failure, combined with the loss of the companion Mars orbiter, prompted NASA to cancel a 2001 lander mission. The parts from that scrapped mission were used for Phoenix -- thus its name, which alludes to the mythological bird that rises from its own ashes.

Mars' north pole would have been too cold for Phoenix to operate, and so scientists opted for a little lower latitude for touchdown. Phoenix will be shooting for 68.35 degrees north latitude, comparable to Greenland or northern Alaska, and 233 degrees east longitude. The lander will parachute down, with pulse thrusters easing its final descent.

Scientists chose the flattest, rock-free zone they could to ensure success. The target landing area is "Kansas flat," according to the spacecraft team, with few if any big rocks that could overturn the stationary three-legged lander or bump against its circular solar panels and jam them.

The 772-pound lander will stretch 18 feet across once its solar panels are deployed on Mars, and its weather mast will tower 7 feet. Watch how the lander will test the Martian soil »

Phoenix should help pave the way for human visitors, especially if it confirms the presence of water ice in large amounts near the pole, said Michael Meyer, NASA's lead Mars scientist. That would be a tremendous resource, he noted.

But if organic matter is indeed found, it could pose a quandary: "As Mars gets more interesting, you may not want to send humans right away until you learn out a little bit more about the red planet and find out whether or not life ever got started there."

Science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, whose novel "Green Mars" is one of dozens of writings going up on a disk aboard Phoenix, is thrilled to see another robot headed to Mars.

The photos beamed back by recent Mars spacecraft "are just astonishingly precise compared to what I got to deal with when I was working on my books," he said. "It's like putting on glasses after you've been semi-blind all your life."

"I'm quite confident that humans will go to Mars and I do think it's important," Robinson said Friday. "When people get there, they'll be able to do on the ground what maybe 100 robotic missions would have been able to do.

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Virtual reality helps GIs deal

TACOMA, Wash. - Staff Sgt. Jeff Ebert's entire body flinches as a roadside bomb explodes near his vehicle. Smoke obscures his view. Gunfire rattles around him.

This isn't on a road in Iraq but inside a room at Madigan Army Medical Center, where psychologists plan to begin using virtual reality - think immersive video games - to treat post-traumatic stress disorder by recreating the conditions of war.

Virtual-reality therapy provides doctors with a tool that uses visual, auditory and thermal cues to set the stage for treatment of veterans with the disorder, which causes nightmares and flashbacks. It can be so severe that some victims withdraw from society.

At Madigan, clinical psychologist Greg Reger hopes to begin offering the treatment later this summer.

"Just about everybody is affected by their deployment experience," said Reger, a former Army captain who recently came off active duty after spending a year in Iraq with the 62nd Medical Brigade. "The vast majority come home and there's a natural recovery that occurs, but for the significant minority that does need additional help, we do see a number of those individuals here in the clinic."

The research is being funded by the Office of Naval Research, which in 2005 provided $4 million to several groups to examine how virtual reality can help treat PTSD. The disorder affects an estimated 15 percent to 30 percent of Iraq war veterans.

Other research is being conducted in California, Hawaii, and Georgia. The Madigan program, Reger said, received a $200,000 grant for its work.

In clinical studies at San Diego's Naval Medical Center and Atlanta's Emory University, eight Iraq veterans with PTSD underwent virtual reality treatment and six showed a reduction of symptoms, said Dr. Albert Rizzo, a University of Southern California psychologist developing a virtual reality system.

"We're very enthusiastic that this is really going to start to make a difference," Rizzo said.

During a demonstration at Madigan, Ebert appears visibly jolted when a concussion from a bomb rocks his mock Humvee as he drives it in a military convoy. Ebert, who doesn't suffer from PTSD, sits in a chair atop a low platform that rumbles and shakes to simulate the vehicle's motion. He wears a headset that displays the scene.

The experience is "very realistic," he said, noting his palms became sweaty during the demonstration.

"I had my fair share of convoys," said the 28-year-old behavioral health specialist from Toledo, Ohio, who returned from a yearlong tour in Iraq in November 2004.

Next Ebert walks through a simulated Iraqi village and scans the area, his right hand instinctively moving to his hip where he would normally be carrying a sidearm while on patrol.

"Being through it before, it's just automatic reactions ... staying ready," Ebert said. "Just a sense of security."

At Madigan, treatment will involve interviewing the soldier to learn what may have triggered the PTSD symptoms, Reger said. He'll then tailor a virtual reality scenario for that person.

"What this technology does is it gives us an environment to help facilitate soldiers telling of their own story," Reger said.

Clinicians can also incorporate a slew of smells - body odor, gun fire or burning rubber, for example - to enhance the therapy sessions.

"You really can do a lot of things ... to heighten the level of realism of the experience," said Mark Wiederhold, president and director of Virtual Reality Medical Center in San Diego.

The company uses cognitive behavioral therapy along with virtual reality to treat people with a range of phobias, including fear of flying, heights and spiders. Its clinicians also have worked with patients involved in motor vehicle accidents who were later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Virtual-reality systems are also being used in the rehabilitation of disabled patients at Israel's Chaim Sheba Rehabilitation Hospital near Tel Aviv.

Previously, options for treating PTSD involved group or individual psychotherapy, or having a person imagine their experience, Wiederhold said.

"The issue is you want to access the fear hierarchy in patients," Wiederhold said. "Only about 15 percent of people are good imaginers. They have difficulty maintaining that state of imagining a scenario. Virtual reality is a much more vivid experience."

Veterans advocates, while not endorsing any specific treatment, welcome the technology for improving mental health.

"Being able to treat these people ... is very important," said Patrick Campbell, legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "It's not just about the drugs."

More About Virtual Reality Medical sc

VRMC currently uses virtual reality exposure therapy (3-dimensional computer simulation) in combination with physiological monitoring and feedback to treat panic and anxiety disorders. These conditions include specific phobias such as fear of flying, fear of driving, fear of heights, fear of public speaking, fear of thunderstorms, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, arachnophobia, social phobia, panic disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder due to motor vehicle accidents. General stress management and relaxation skills are taught for stress-related disorders.

Virtual reality exposure therapy places the client in a computer-generated world where they "experience" the various stimuli related to their phobia. The client wears a head-mounted display with small TV monitors and stereo earphones to receive both visual and auditory cues.

After an intake session and skill building sessions to teach the patient how to control automatic responses to anxiety-provoking situations, the therapist and client collaborate to create a hierarchy of anxiety-inducing situations. In careful, controlled stages, the client is exposed to these virtual experiences that elicit increasingly higher levels of anxiety. Each stage can be repeated until the client is comfortable with the experience and satisfied with their response. At every step, the therapist can see and hear what the client is experiencing in the virtual world. If the level of anxiety becomes overwhelming, the client can return to a less stressful level of treatment, or simply remove the head-mounted display and exit the virtual world.

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New role emphasizes position of nanoTX'07 as the world's most watched nanotechnology event and a unique platform for other organizations to announce their grants and awards to a global audience.

Dallas, TX (PRWEB) -- nanoTX'07 today announced the appointment of Peter G. Balbus as Director of Grants and Awards for its upcoming conference and exhibition October 2-4, 2007 at the Dallas Convention Center. In this role, he will be responsible for managing all aspects of the program's internal and external strategy, partner selection and event planning. He will also MC and host the awards ceremonies during nanoTX'07 and provide a point of contact for media relations. This new role emphasizes the position of nanoTX'07 as the world's most watched nanotechnology event and a unique platform for other organizations to announce their grants and awards to a truly global audience and media channels.

Balbus is CEO and Managing Director of Pragmaxis, LLC, a privately-held company that provides strategy, interim management, open innovation and technology commercialization services with an emphasis on nanotechnology. He recently completed a major engagement with the Nanotech Institute at the University of Texas/Dallas where he was involved in technology commercialization strategy, process development and actively involved in several licensing agreements with external ventures.

"We are delighted to have Peter on board with us in this important role," said Colonel Mason, nanoTX chairman. "I have enormous respect for his abilities and talents and am confident that he will deliver a superb program for us." Last year Balbus served as chairman of the nanoTX'06 Energy Summit and a session speaker on emerging trends in nanotechnology commercialization.

Balbus echoed Colonel Mason's excitement over his new role. "It is indeed a privilege to be a part of something as visionary and comprehensive as nanoTX'07," he stated. "The breadth and depth of science, products, emerging trends and future opportunities of nanotechnology showcased at nanoTX'07 is unrivalled by any other conference in the world. And the grants and awards program will reflect this industry-leading commitment to excellence."

Organizations wishing to make global announcements of their own grants and awards programs are encouraged to contact nanoTX with their proposals. A selected few partners will be chosen to participate in the awards ceremonies at nanoTX'07 based on a combination of their alignment with the nanoTX'07 mission and the strength of their proposals.

Hint of Things to Come:

While all parties involved are under a news blackout for now, the grants and awards program at nanoTX'07 will include the global proclamation of a major new awards program being announced by one of the world's oldest and most prestigious family foundations. Recognizing the critical challenges of the 21st century, this new awards program is designed to focus attention and resources on stimulating innovative solutions and approaches to tackle some of the most complex issues facing humanity today. More information about this awards program will be made available over the next several weeks.

About nanoTX:

nanoTX is the world's most comprehensive nanotechnology conference and exhibition. The event highlights advances in nanoscience, explains how nanotechnology is being used today and how it will impact a broad range of industries tomorrow, including: electronics, energy, aerospace, defense, biomedicine, robotics, chemicals and more.

nanoTX has established a reputation for delivering solid content, compelling panel discussions, early-stage investment opportunities and a world-class roster of presenters. This year's signature Nobel Laureates Legends program features a reunion of the original Nobel Prize-winning Buckyball discovery team - the breakthrough advancement that started the whole carbon nanotechnology and nanotube revolution we're seeing today. And tomorrow? For more information and to register, please visit us at

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Mammograms and brest cancer

Mammogram - A Medical Dictionary, Bibliography, and Annotated Research Guide to Internet References

Major Hospital has invested $400,000 in a digital mammogram machine that will provide state-of-the-art X-rays to aid in the fight against breast cancer.

After installation of the machine this week and training of personnel, the hospital will offer the upgraded mammograms locally.

Linda Skillman, radiology and women's imaging manager at Major Hospital, compared the new machine to the difference between a digital camera and one that uses film. She said the digital picture is stored in the computer of the machine and gives additional options to the technician reading the results of the mammogram.

"Film presents a very fixed image," Skillman said, "but the digital mammograms allow the technician to manipulate the data - he (or she) can change the brightness or contrast, zoom in to areas of concern."

Other advantages of digital mammography are a decrease in the number of breast biopsies needed, the ability to correct under- or overexposed films without repeating the X-rays, the ease of transmitting images from one physician to another and the ability to view large breasts with a single image.

Another reason the hospital decided to invest in the digital mammogram machine is that results from a trial sponsored by the National Cancer Institute suggested that for some women, the digital X-ray is more accurate. Skillman said women with extremely dense breast tissue, women under 40 years of age and pre- or perimenopausal women - those who are very close to menopause - might benefit from the digital mammograms. The American College of Radiology Imaging claims the digital mammograms could detect up to 28 percent more cancers of the breast than film X-rays.

Skillman said normally women who are under 40 years of age do not need a yearly mammogram, but those with a family history of breast cancer are an exception.

"It is also true," Skillman said, "that younger women have denser breast tissue, so the digital mammogram is a good choice for women under 40 with family members who have had breast cancer."

Earlier detection

National Cancer Institute Director Dr. Andrew vonEschenbach, said the digital mammogram demonstrated how new technology is allowing the earlier detection of breast cancer, especially in younger women. For women without high risk factors, however, the film and digital mammograms are considered equally effective by most researchers.

Skillman said women coming to the Women's Center on the third floor of the hospital for a mammogram won't notice a difference in the procedure. She said the machines look very much alike, and an accurate X-ray will still require compression of the breast.

"I know that many women hate the compression," Skillman said. "I know that there are some women who won't have a mammogram because they think the compression is so painful, but they need to understand that compression of the tissue is necessary to get accurate results."

A software program used with the new digital machine called Computer Aided Detection, or CAD, will serve as an extra pair of eyes for the technician reading the mammograms. This program highlights suspicious areas of the X-ray, pointing out sections that need more examination.

"Not that the technician would miss anything," Skillman said, "but the software helps the technician review any areas that might be considered suspicious."

Skillman added that patients will notice that mammograms take less time with the digital machines since the results can be read instantly without a wait for film to develop.

"Patients always are pleased when procedures take less of their time," Skillman said, "and this will allow us to do more mammograms in the same amount of time."

3,500 tests annually at Major Hospital

After the trials by the National Cancer Institute were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in September 2005, many hospitals decided to replace their film machines with digital, and Skillman said she is very proud that Major Hospital is among the medical facilities upgrading its imaging technology.

"Major Hospital wants to provide the best technology available for its patients," Skillman said.

The hospital performs 3,500 mammograms each year, and about 15 of those are for men. Skillman said a small number of men are indeed diagnosed with breast cancer, and as with women, early detection is the best way to provide a total cure.

The American Cancer Society suggests all women schedule a yearly mammogram after age 40.

Most mammograms are performed because of physician referrals, but Skillman said women who cannot afford the procedure or are uninsured may receive assistance through the Little Red Door Cancer Agency or a federal program aimed at fighting cervical and breast cancer.

Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is still the most common cancer found in women and is the leading cause of cancer death other than lung cancer. One in every eight women in the United States is likely to develop breast cancer in her lifetime, with more than 200,000 cases diagnosed each year, experts say. Forty thousand of those women are expected to die of breast cancer.

"We just want every woman to realize how important it is to get a mammogram," Skillman said. "They need to make the call to their doctors."

Inside Mammograms News

Mammograms are probably the most important tool doctors have to help them diagnose, evaluate, and follow women who've had breast cancer. Safe and highly accurate, a mammogram is an X-ray photograph of the breast. The technique has been in use for about thirty years.

Mammograms don't prevent breast cancer, but they can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible. For example, mammograms have been shown to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 35% in women over the age of 50; studies suggest for women between 40 and 50 they may lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 25-35%.

Leading experts, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the American College of Radiology now recommend annual mammograms for women over 40.

Finding breast cancers early with mammography has also meant that many more women being treated for breast cancer are able to keep their breasts. When caught early, localized cancers can be removed without resorting to breast removal (mastectomy).

Mammograms aren't perfect. Normal breast tissue can hide a breast cancer, so that it doesn't show up on the mammogram. This is called a false negative. And mammography can identify an abnormality that looks like a cancer, but turns out to be normal. This "false alarm" is called a false positive. To make up for these limitations, more than mammography is needed. Women also need to practice breast self-examination, get regular breast examination by an experienced health care professional, and, in some cases, also get another form of breast imaging, like ultrasound or MRI scanning.

4 Important Things to Know About Mammograms
1. They can save your life. Finding breast cancer early reduces your risk of dying from the disease by 25 - 30% or more. Women should begin having mammograms yearly at age 40, or earlier if they're at high risk.

2. Don't be afraid. It's a fast procedure (about 5 - 10 minutes), and discomfort is minimal. The procedure is safe: there's only a very tiny amount of radiation exposure from a mammogram. To relieve the anxiety of waiting for results, go to a center that will give you results before you leave.

3. Get the best quality you can.

If you have dense breasts or are under age 50, try to get a digital mammogram.
Bring your old mammogram films with you for comparison.
Have more than one radiologist read your study.
Ask if your center has CAD-computer aided detection-which calls the radiologist's attention to any possible areas of concern.
Make sure the doctor who referred you for the mammogram includes an explicit note when ordering the study (providing clinical correlations-e.g. "palpable mass in the upper outer quadrant, rule out abnormality").
Correlate your results with other tests you've had done, like ultrasound or MRI.
Discuss your family history of breast and other cancers-from both your mother's AND father's side-with your doctor.
4. It is our most powerful breast cancer detection tool. However, mammograms can still miss 15-20% of breast cancers that are simply not visible using this technique. Other important tools-such as breast self-exam, clinical breast examination, ultrasound, and MRI-can and should be used as complementary tools, but there are no substitutes or replacements for a mammogram.

Mammogram - A Medical Dictionary, Bibliography, and Annotated Research Guide to Internet References

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64 (bits, that is), personal computers are searching for developers .

64bit PCI/66MHz FC HBA for RA4000/4100 - Business Class

Now that they're 64 (bits, that is), personal computers are still searching for developers to need them and feed them.

In 2003, Advanced Micro Devices released 64-bit chips for PCs in the form of the Athlon 64, and Intel followed suit in 2005. But the software needed to take advantage of those chips is harder to find than a Beatles song on iTunes.

Several issues have contributed to the problem, but as seen in other transitions, device drivers always seem to be front and center. Drivers are a vexing piece of the PC puzzle. They're small bits of software needed to make sure devices like printers, DVD drives and graphics cards connect properly to PCs and Macs, and they can cause major problems if something goes wrong.

Microsoft is requiring those device manufacturers to develop 64-bit drivers if they want their devices to work with the 64-bit edition of Windows Vista, in an effort to ensure that device drivers are written to proper standards. But hardware vendors and application developers haven't wanted to take the time and effort to develop new software for an operating system that very few people use. As a result, 64-bit Windows software is hard to find, although Microsoft says the situation is improving.

Apple, however, thinks it has found a quicker and easier road to bring its mainstream users into the 64-bit era. When Mac OS X Leopard comes around later this year, hardware makers will be able to use the 32-bit drivers they've already developed and qualified along with 64-bit applications built for Leopard.

"It's a nice migration path, and it recognizes the reality that the benefits of 64-bit (drivers) are somewhat limited," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst with Mercury Research.

In its simplest sense, 64-bit hardware allows a system to take advantage of more than 4GB of memory, the theoretical addressing limit of 32-bit systems. There are other performance advantages, but that's the main one.

But at present, putting more than 4GB of memory into a PC is a very expensive proposition. While that's starting to change, even today it's still pretty unusual for a PC to ship with more than 2GBs of memory.

Almost 90 percent of notebooks, and 73 percent of desktops, are bought by U.S. retail customers with either 1GB or 2GB of memory, according to CurrentAnalysisWest. Just over 15 percent of desktops come with 3GB, but desktops and notebooks with 4GB barely register on the needle.

Some gamers and scientific-computing professionals are already starting to push up against that limit, McCarron said. And as DRAM prices decline, 4GB of memory will become more common as a default option, he said.

So the hardware needed for a 64-bit world is getting close. The software, however, remains rare.

Microsoft released a 64-bit edition of Windows XP in 2005, but few people use it. Apple's Tiger operating system is able to address more than 4GBs of memory when run on 64-bit chips, but it's not a full 64-bit operating system the way Leopard will be.

And although Windows Vista is available in 64-bit versions, retail PCs are mostly sold with the 32-bit version of the operating system. Vista Ultimate comes with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions if you buy the boxed copy, but any other edition of Vista requires you to order the extra DVD from Microsoft an additional fee if you want the 64-bit version.

It's hard to estimate how many 64-bit users there are, Microsoft says, but it acknowledges that most mainstream PC users, and even many enthusiasts, have little reason to go 64-bit, for now. Even the next version of Windows, scheduled for the end of the decade, will arrive in both 64-bit and 32-bit editions, suggesting that Microsoft isn't prepared to fully commit to a 64-bit world this decade.

But in October, Apple plans to ship only one version of Leopard that can run both 64-bit and 32-bit applications. Apple thinks this will entice Mac OS developers to create 64-bit applications because every Mac shipping after October--and Core 2 Duo systems that upgrade to Leopard--will be able to run 64-bit applications, said Brian Croll, director of the company's OS X product marketing.

"If I'm an application developer, I can be assured that all those Leopard systems will be able to run my applications," Croll said.

Tiger, the current version of Mac OS X, has some 64-bit features that allow Macs to address more than 4GB of memory and take advantage of the Unix underpinnings of the operating system to run some 64-bit applications. But it doesn't allow Mac developers to create 64-bit applications using Cocoa, Apple's programming interface. That is what will arrive with Leopard.

And the driver requirements for Leopard are much looser. Hardware vendors can create 64-bit Mac OS drivers once there's sufficient demand, since they know their 32-bit drivers will work just fine with the 64-bit applications on Leopard, Croll said.

Some applications require the extra performance delivered by 64-bit drivers, but most don't, at least not right away, McCarron said. "The sacrifice that's being made here is fairly small, and affects a small set of users."

However, Barry Goffe, a director in the Windows group, says things are easier for Apple. Microsoft feels that in order to bring 64 bits to the world while ensuring interoperability with the vast amount of devices and software available for Windows, it has to specify a standard driver development model.

"The variety and diversity of devices and the quantity of developers that Windows supports is probably several orders of magnitude greater than the limited number of developers that Apple supports," Goffe said. "The problem they are trying to solve is a much smaller problem."

McCarron said one advantage of Microsoft's approach to driver development is that it will force the development of cleaner device drivers. "Because it's one of the few pieces of third-party software that shows up in the protected area of the OS, drivers can really screw things up," he said.

The 64-bit driver situation is improving for Vista systems. Thanks to years of work--and the delay in consumer adoption--64-bit driver coverage is actually pretty high considering there are few actual users of the 64-bit operating systems, according to Microsoft.
"The issue with drivers is already less of a gating factor," Goffe said, noting that Microsoft required that for its premium "Certified for Windows Vista" logo, companies have a 64-bit driver.

"The real issue that's in front of us around broad usage of 64-bit comes back to the applications," he said. "It's a little bit of a chicken and egg kind of thing. There aren't a lot of mainstream 64-bit capable apps yet."

Microsoft expects the transition to take more time, said Michael Sievert, the corporate vice president in charge of product marketing for Windows.

"Usually something comes along that is a catalyzing force," Sievert said. "Each time we've made one of these migrations it's been something that takes time."

Apple agrees that this transition won't happen overnight. It will first emphasize 64-bit applications for its base of users in the graphic design world, who buy systems such as the Mac Pro workstation to run applications with large data sets, Croll said. That system can already be configured with up to 16GB of memory, and will probably serve as Apple's test bed for 64-bit applications.

As for the mainstream users, "the 64-bit pieces of the puzzle are going to be in place a couple of years from now," McCarron said. "The burden will be on the OS side, and the applications will follow."

Corporate strory

Gateway has announced new desktop PCs featuring 64-bit dual-core processors and the Windows XP Media Center operating system.

One model, the 840GM, is powered by Intel's 3GHz Pentium D 830 dual-core processor. The 835GM, meanwhile, is based on the 2.8GHz Pentium D 820 dual-core processor.

The computer maker also released the 831GM, which runs on a 3GHz Pentium 4 processor 630.

All three computers will be available through retail outlets.

Each of the three systems has a DVD-ROM, a 250GB hard drive, and a 16x double-layer, a multiformat DVD+/-RW optical drive.

All the new desktops come with a media manager for reading different digital devices, software for burning CDs and DVDs, a multimedia keyboard, and a USB optical mouse. The 840GM also features a BTX chassis, the company said.

Gateway said the machines were designed with students in mind.

"We created this new line specifically for the needs of students by incorporating all the hardware and software features needed to maximize PC productivity and entertainment," Marc Demars, Gateway's senior director of desktop product marketing, said in a statement.

The 840GM and 835GM will retail for $1,049.99 and $849.99, respectively, starting July 10.

The 831GM will be available for $699.99 starting Sunday, Gateway said.
Gateway has become the latest computer maker to begin selling x86 servers using Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processor.

The company announced three rack-mounted models, dual-processor machines 1.75 inches and 3.5 inches thick, and a four-processor machine 5.25 inches thick. The company unveiled the models Tuesday at the VMworld conference in Los Angeles.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company has a small share of the server market dominated by IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Sun Microsystems. But it has been plugging away for years, and the Opteron models are the latest example of its tenacity.

Intel, afflicted by Xeon processors with comparatively low performance and high power consumption, lost share to AMD's Opteron in the x86 server market. New "Woodcrest" Xeon 5100 processors have helped Intel reverse server market share losses, but AMD still has attracted new customers.

Dell dropped its Intel-only ways in October, introducing two Opteron servers. Shortly before, IBM had fleshed out its Opteron line with a full range of products. HP and Sun were early converts to Opteron.

Gateway's 1.75-inch-thick E-9422R starts at $1,799; the 3.5-inch-thick E-9522R starts at $1,849; Gateway didn't release prices for the 5.25-inch-thick E-9722R. The servers use supporting chipsets from Nvidia to link processors with subsystems such as input-output and storage.

64bit PCI/66MHz FC HBA for RA4000/4100 - Business Class

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Repair process leaves gamers in a fix.

Xbox 360 Wireless Controller

Xbox repair process leaves gamers in a fix.
Microsoft's announcement that it will spend $1 billion to fix problematic Xbox 360s seemed like a step thXbox 360 Wireless Controllerat would assuage disenchanted customers. Nearly a month later, however, some console owners are still less than pleased.

Complaints regarding Xbox repairs and service aren't hard to find. Visit, for instance, Microsoft's official Xbox Live forums. Customers have a range of gripes: customer service reps failing to follow up as promised, receiving broken consoles from the repair center, losing money on prepaid Xbox Live subscriptions and longer-than-expected fix times.

Microsoft, for its part, said the raft of service requests since the announcement of the new three-year warranty has increased the turnaround time for repairs. "We have been and continue to build out our repair teams to help reduce turnaround times," the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Reports of problems with the popular game console surfaced almost immediately after its 2005 launch. The complaints didn't seem to deter buyers, however. Since the product came out, Microsoft has sold 5.8 million next-generation game consoles in the U.S. alone through June, according to the NPD Group. The Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3, both launched last November, have moved 3.2 million and 1.5 million units in the U.S. through June, respectively. The warranty extension hasn't satisfied everyone for other reasons as well. That's because the extension is limited to consoles that display three blinking lights, or the "Red Ring of Death," as it is known to the gaming community. The three red lights indicate a "general hardware failure," according to Microsoft.

Of all the complaints from Xbox warranty repair customers, the most common one is excessive wait times of four weeks to eight weeks, in some cases.

"My Xbox took almost two months to come back," Greg Mcullen, 21, of New York, wrote in an e-mail to CNET, "which was very aggravating since I was told I'd have it back in 10 days."

The return process goes something like this: an Xbox owner calls customer service and describes the problem. If the console can be serviced, a box is sent to the customer with prepaid shipping. The customer then uses the box to send the console to the repair center. The console is then either fixed or replaced and sent to the customer.

Microsoft said the standard repair time runs from two weeks to four weeks. "As we are rolling the new policy out, we expect an increased number of calls and repairs so turnaround times may be longer in the interim," the company said in an e-mail.

Some Xbox 360 customers acknowledge more despair than anger at separation from their prized device.

"I really miss my Xbox 360," one person using the handle "mbmstein" wrote in a thread titled "How Long Was Your 360 Away for Repair?" on the Xbox Live Forums. "I hope the service center sends it back someday. Or sends me a (refurbished console) someday. Or maybe even a new one someday...I don't like doing without my next-gen console for months on end."

Being without one's Xbox can also cost people money. Many Xbox 360 users subscribe to Xbox Live, a service that lets players connect with other Xbox users online via their game consoles and play against one other. The service is often paid for in advance, so an unusable console means an unused subscription.

Microsoft has apparently recognized the problem and is compensating some of its customers with a free month of Xbox Live with the repaired or replaced console. But a number of customers have been without their console for longer, thus missing more Xbox Live time. Microsoft declined to say how those customers are being compensated and would only say that it "will take care of customers as appropriate should they experience problems with their consoles."

Other complaints revolve around cases in which the consoles are not actually fixed, just replaced with older, refurbished consoles.

Xbox 360 owner Mike Vail blogged about his experience with the Xbox warranty repair on his personal Web site, beginning July 5 when he saw the first ominous glimmer of the flashing red lights, until July 26 when he received his replacement Xbox.

He complained that Microsoft didn't fix the console he sent to them. "They just gave me a new one. How does that work? I would understand if the manufacturer's date on the one I got back was a month old or something around there but it wasn't. It was four months older then the one I sent in," he wrote two days after receiving a console back from Microsoft.

Mcullen, whose box took two months to arrive back at his doorstep, was even less pleased. He said that instead of his console, which was 7 months old when it broke in mid-May, he got back a year-old Xbox with a broken disc drive.

For others, the interaction with customer service reps has been the most maddening part of the repair experience. Jessie Lawrence, 30, of Fremont, Calif., said his back-and-forth with customer service turned into what he called an "absolute nightmare."
It began with reps not inputting his information in the computer correctly, he said, and progressed to him being told he would be contacted by a service team member and promised discounts that weren't actually available. Often, when he asked for a supervisor, he was told there was no one higher up with whom to speak, he said.

Although Lawrence's experience may be an extreme case, combined with the complaints of his fellow Xbox users, it at least suggests that the Xbox service and repair process may be in need of its own fixes.

"It felt like the whole time I had to argue to get any kind of service out of them, like I had to defend myself," Lawrence said.

Other than this, Lawrence said, he has been a satisfied Xbox 360 customer.

"Up until this point, I've had a great experience," he said. "If you ask me what's worse--my box going dead or the experience getting it fixed--it's the experience getting it fixed."

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a mammoth tech industry-endorsed bill that calls for pouring some $33.6 billion

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a mammoth tech industry-endorsed bill that calls for pouring some $33.6 billion into a bevy of federal science, technology and research programs.

By a 367-57 vote, the legislators approved the 470-page America Competes Act (short for the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act), which is the result of a Senate-House agreement reached earlier this week and melds earlier proposals broadly related to funding for education and research.

In a speech before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) likened the spirit of the latest bill to the optimism of the 1960s, when President John F. Kennedy pledged to send a man to the moon and back.

"Americans must continue to innovate in order to create new, thriving industries that will produce millions of good jobs here at home and a better future for the next generation," she said.

But the measure's steep price tag continued to draw opposition from a number of Republicans, who questioned how the bill's sponsors planned to finance their "lofty" proposals amid a growing federal deficit.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he believes the bill is well-intentioned but fails to recognize other things Congress could be doing to make American businesses more competitive, such as expanding free trade, extending and making permanent corporate tax cuts, tackling tort reform, and improving American schools.

"We regulate things until they can't hardly breathe, and we wonder why our companies can't compete as well around the world," Boehner said before the vote, which drew "nays" from 56 Republicans and just one Democrat, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), the chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee and one of the bill's chief sponsors, took issue with Boehner's statements, noting that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and major technology trade associations support the bill.

Indeed, a number of those groups in recent days have loudly applauded the provisions contained in the bill.

"Increased support for basic research and math and science education is the key to maintaining U.S. leadership," Semiconductor Industry Association Chairman Richard Templeton, who is also CEO of Texas Instruments, said in a statement after the bill's passage. "Today's action by the House demonstrates that Congress understands that connection."

Microsoft federal affairs director Jack Krumholtz called it "a groundbreaking effort." The Technology CEO Council--whose members include the chiefs of Dell, Motorola, Unisys, Intel and Hewlett-Packard--said the bill "represents a strong commitment from both parties to ensure our nation remains a competitive leader in the innovation economy."

The bill lays out a multibillion-dollar funding schedule for a number of science-related federal agencies over the next three years, including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's science programs and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). It also authorizes hundreds of millions of dollars in education-related grants, including $150 million in state grants for K-12 science, technology, mathematics and engineering programs and nearly $300 million in grants to establish masters and bachelors degree programs for training math and science teachers. number of new government programs would also emerge under the bill's provisions, including an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) within the Energy Department focused on overcoming "long-term and high-risk" obstacles to development of new energy technologies, and a Technology Innovation Program within NIST that would award grants to small and medium-size companies for "high-risk, high-reward" research.

In other sections, the proposal suggests everything from a government-funded summit "to examine the health and direction of the United States' science and technology enterprises," to adoption of principles ensuring government-sponsored research data is shared with the public, to semiannual school events aimed at stimulating interest in science, technology, math and engineering.

As with all such bills, the ambitious funding authorizations approved on Thursday provide no guarantee that the money will actually be allocated in that way. That fate ultimately lies in the hands of the various appropriations committees, whose bills are then subject to congressional votes and the president's signature.

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The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (COMPETES

Earlier this year, both the U.S. House and Senate passed comprehensive legislation (H.R. 2272, S. 761) to ensure our nation's competitive position in the world through improvements to math and science education and a strong commitment to research.

H.R. 2272 is the culmination of a year and a half-long, bipartisan effort led by Members of the House Science and Technology Committee to pass a package of competitiveness bills in response to recommendations in the 2005 National Academies report, Rising above the Gathering Storm.

The Conference Agreement follows through on a commitment to ensure U.S. students, teachers, businesses and workers are prepared to continue leading the world in innovation, research and technology - well into the future.

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