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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Brain Drain

It’s hard to miss all the cries of fear about the coming brain drain. The boomers are going to retire, and if you listen to most workplace consultants, there’s going to be no one left in the halls of Corporate America to run the store. Those Gen Xers among us keep waiting for this golden career opportunity to suddenly materialize—plenty of challenging jobs! room to move!—but then keep wondering why we watch so many of our peers get laid off.

If you are a believer that the brain drain is coming—and few argue it won’t have at least some effects—you may want to take a read of this new report out by job search company Monster. It highlights a few startling statistics:

>>Only 12 percent of human resource managers report knowledge retention as a high priority within their organizations, despite the fact that one-third estimate 20 percent or more of their current workforce will be eligible for retirement over the next several years.

>>Only 23 percent of firms report having a formal method to identify the knowledge that needs to be protected and retained.

>>43 percent of respondents cite the ability to measure the ROI and effectiveness of a knowledge retention program as a chief stumbling block to implementing a formal strategy.
Monster Study Reveals Organizations Not Adequately Prepared for Impending Employee ''Brain Drain''
U.S. employers largely recognize they face an imminent worker shortage due to Baby Boomer retirements; however, few have a formal strategy in place to manage and retain worker knowledge, according to a survey released today by Monster®. The corresponding report, titled ?Building and Securing an Organizational Brain Trust in an Age of Brain Drain,? reveals that only 12 percent of human resource managers report knowledge retention as a high priority within their organizations ? despite the fact that one-third estimate 20 percent or more of their current workforce will be eligible for retirement over the next several years. Monster is the leading global online careers and recruitment resource and flagship brand of Monster Worldwide, Inc. (NASDAQ: MNST).

?While institutional knowledge is increasingly an organization?s most valuable asset, our study found many companies do not have the processes in place to preserve and redistribute this critical information,? said Jesse Harriott, vice president of research, Monster. ?Bridging this Gap represents a significant opportunity for companies to gain a competitive edge in a global economy where knowledge is increasingly becoming the primary resource for value.?

Key Findings

The study reveals that while HR managers recognize the looming issue of losing institutional knowledge due to retirement, many face barriers to establishing strategies and tactics that help preempt the problem.

Key findings include:

Turnover vs. Retirement: More firms perceive conventional turnover as a higher risk to losing organizational knowledge than loss due to retirement, as younger workers leaving an organization not only take away knowledge, but typically bring it to competitors.
What You Can?t Measure, You Can?t Manage: Only 23 percent of firms report having a formal method to actually identify the knowledge that needs to be protected and retained.
Proving ROI: 43 percent of respondents cite the ability to measure the ROI and effectiveness of a knowledge retention program as a chief stumbling block to implementing a formal strategy.
Unmotivated Workers: Only one-third of firms report that their workers are rewarded or encouraged to share organizational knowledge with colleagues.

?As knowledge is perceived to be a key source of internal power, employees often think that sharing what they know makes them less valuable to the organization. In reality, the opposite is true. Therefore, employers must strive to make information-sharing part of the company culture,? added Harriott. ?Furthermore, no single tool has emerged that readily enables companies to effectively meet knowledge-retention challenges. Thus, organizations should AIM to manage information with a broad strategic approach, utilizing various tactics to determine what will be most successful.?

Despite the obstacles, there are concrete steps organizations can take to help mitigate the affects of brain drain. Key recommendations from the study include:

C-Level Accountability: Appoint a Chief Knowledge Officer to be responsible for organizational knowledge.
Pinpoint the Goods: Implement a formal program to actively identify key knowledge assets and its sources.
Employee Incentives: Provide knowledge-sharing incentives for employees and incorporate standards in Performance reviews.
Tools for Involvement: Create a blogging forum and mentoring program whereby employees can redistribute and access organizational knowledge.
?While brain drain is a looming problem for employers, it presents an excellent opportunity for innovative companies to position themselves for better competitive advantage,? concluded Harriott. ?Companies that aggressively manage and protect their knowledge can readily increase their value as an organization.?

Knowledge Retention Webinar

Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Time: 2:00 ? 3:00 p.m. ET

Topic: According to The Economist, approximately half the top workers at America?s 500 leading companies will retire in the next five years. How can you help retain the vast knowledge of these workers before they leave your organization?


Survey Methodology

The study was a nationwide online survey conducted in NOVEMBER 2006 of 550 human resources managers with high level knowledge of their firms? strategies. The sample consisted of a cross section of U.S. organizations representing small- to large-size firms that operate in the government, private and non-profit sectors. The executive summary and full report are currently available online via

About Monster Worldwide

Monster Worldwide, Inc. (NASDAQ: MNST), parent company of Monster®, the premier global online employment solution for more than a decade, strives to bring people together to advance their lives. With a local presence in key markets in North America, Europe, and Asia, Monster works for everyone by connecting employers with quality job seekers at all levels and by providing personalized career advice to consumers globally. Through online media sites and services, Monster delivers vast, highly targeted audiences to advertisers. Monster Worldwide is a member of the S&P 500 Index and the NASDAQ 100. To learn more about Monster?s industry-leading products and services, visit More information about Monster Worldwide is available at

Special Note: Safe Harbor Statement Under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995: Except for historical information contained herein, the statements made in this release constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Such forward-looking statements involve certain risks and uncertainties, including statements regarding Monster Worldwide, Inc.?s strategic direction, prospects and future results. Certain factors, including factors outside of Monster Worldwide?s control, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in the forward- looking statements, including economic and other conditions in the markets in which Monster Worldwide operates, risks associated with acquisitions, competition, seasonality and the other risks discussed in Monster Worldwide?s Form 10-K and other filings made with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


Computers to Children in Developing Countries

The non-profit group "One-Laptop per Child" has announced a program to sell its durable laptop computers to American and Canadian residents for $399. The profit from the sale of each computer will allow the program to donate another computer to a child in a developing country. The "Give One, Get One" plan aims to put the child-friendly laptops into the hands of children across the globe, as VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

The low-cost green and white plastic computer is built to withstand high and icy cold temperatures, as well as impacts from being dropped and spilled milk. In short, it is made for kids. It is lightweight and can be used outdoors in bright sunlight and can be charged with a solar panel or hand crank. It offers built-in wireless networking, video, a music synthesizer and games children like to play.

The "Give One, Get One" program is the realization of a dream for Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory. "It was a pipedream in the beginning, and it now actually exists and that's really pretty cool," he said.

Since 2005, when Negroponte came up with the "One Laptop Per Child" idea, he has criss-crossed the globe, trying to convince leaders of developing countries to buy the inexpensive laptops. Many countries are participating, including Brazil, Uruguay, Libya, Rwanda and Thailand. But a number of poorer countries have been slow to commit to buying them.

Negroponte says he is hoping the "Give One, Get One" promotion will help kick-start the program. It will run for two weeks, beginning November 12. Negroponte says his goal is simple. "For every single child in the world to have the opportunity to learn," he said.

So far, focus groups of American children who have tested the "green machines" have responded enthusiastically, saying the computers definitely pass the "fun test." Negroponte says this is important.

"It's about fun because when you have fun doing things you learn a great deal more," he said.

Each laptop is programmed in the target country's language, with 1,000 books and other educational software. The computers are intended to belong to individual children, who can take them to school and bring them back home in the evening. Negroponte says he hopes to eventually distribute 100 million laptops a year, saying that would take us to a very different planet.

Computer enthusiasts in the developed world will soon be able to get their hands on the so-called "$100 laptop".
The organisation behind the project has launched the "give one, get one" scheme that will allow US residents to purchase two laptops for $399 (£198).

One laptop will be sent to the buyer whilst a child in the developing world will receive the second machine

The G1G1 scheme, as it is known, will offer the laptops for just two weeks, starting on the 12 November.

The offer to the general public comes after the project's founder admitted that concrete orders from the governments of developing nations had not always followed verbal agreements.

Nicholas Negroponte told the New York Times: "I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a cheque written.

"And yes, it has been a disappointment."

Walter Bender, head of software development at One Laptop per Child (OLPC), told the BBC News website: "From day one there's been a lot of interest expressed in having some way of people in the developed world participate in the programme."

Price hike

The XO laptop has been developed to be used by children and is as low cost, durable and simple to use as possible.

It packs several innovations including a sunlight readable display so that it can be used outside. It has no moving parts, can be powered by solar, foot-pump or pull-string powered chargers and is housed in a waterproof case.

The machine's price has recently increased from $176 (£88) to $188 (£93) although the eventual aim is to sell the machines for $100 (£50).

Governments can buy the green and white machines in lots of 250,000.

In July, hardware suppliers were given the green light to ramp-up production of all of the components needed to build the low-cost machines.

The decision suggested that the organisation had met or surpassed the three million orders it need to make production viable.

The names of the governments that have purchased the first lots of machines have not been released.

Developing whirl

But, according to OLPC, there has also been huge interest in the XO laptop from individuals in the developed world.

"I don't know how many times people have added an entry in our wiki saying 'how do I get one?' or 'I'd gladly pay one for a child if I could get one'," said Mr Bender.

The laptop was designed to be used in developing countries
The organisation has previously hinted that they were considering selling the laptop on a give one get one basis, but not this early.

In January this year, Michalis Bletsas, chief connectivity officer for the project, told the BBC news website that OLPC was hoping to sell the laptop to the public "next year".

Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of OLPC, has also previously said: "Many commercial schemes have been considered and proposed that may surface in 2008 or beyond, one of which is 'buy 2 and get 1'."

According to Mr Bender, OLPC see several advantages to offering laptops to the developed world.

"There's going to be a lot more people able to contribute content, software development and support," said Mr Bender.

But primarily, he said, it was a way of extending the laptop project to countries that cannot afford to participate.

"We see it as a way of kick-starting the programme in the least developed countries."

Early adopter

The first countries to receive the donated laptops will be Cambodia, Afghanistan, Rwanda and Haiti.

Other least developed countries (LDC), as defined by the UN, will be able to bid to join the scheme.

The laptops will go on sale for two weeks through the website.

They will only be available for two weeks to ensure OLPC can meet demand and so that machines are not diverted away from countries that have already placed orders.

Although the exact number of laptops available through the G1G1 scheme has not been revealed, Mr Bender said that the "first 25,000" people that purchase one should receive it before the end of the year.

Others will receive their machines in the first quarter of 2008.

Mr Bender said that if it proves successful, the organisation would consider extending the scheme.

"Our motivation is helping kids learn and giving them an opportunity to participate in the laptop programme so whatever will advance that cause we will do," he said.

"This is something we are going to try and if it looks like it is an effective tool we will do more of it."

AOL co-founder backs new online payment firm

AOL co-founder backs new online payment firmAOL co-founder backs new online payment firm Co-founder of America Online Steve Case speaks at the Health Care Innovation and Technology Congress in Washington November 11, 2005. Case is backing a new online payment company that promises to let users transfer funds for free and offer a credit card with sharply lower fees for merchants. REUTERS/Jim Young .

Steve Case, the founder of the AOL Internet service, is backing a new online payment company that promises to let users transfer funds for free and offer a credit card with sharply lower fees for merchants.

The new venture, Revolution Money, said it will let users transfer money to individuals and online merchants for free through its Revolution MoneyExchange service. The payment system is in a pilot stage.

Revolution Money will go up against popular online payment systems such as industry leader PayPal from eBay Inc <EBAY.O> and one offered by Web-based retailer Inc <AMZN.O>.

An initial partner will be AOL, which will let users make payments and fund transfers through its AIM instant messaging service for free, Revolution said.

The company also said it will offer RevolutionCard, a credit card with an interchange fee of 0.5 percent, compared with an average of 1.9 percent for other cards.

Interchange fees are those a merchant pays to a credit card company when a customer makes a purchase.

Revolution said it could offer a lower rate because of its Internet-based payment system, adding that the savings could be passed on to consumers.

Users can also obtain an anonymous credit card with no name or account number on it, something that could cut the risk of identity theft, fraud and problems stemming from lost or stolen cards, Revolution said.

The company is backed by Case's investment firm, Revolution LLC, which led a $50 million round of venture capital funding that also included Citi <C.N> and Morgan Stanley <MS.N>.

Case co-founded AOL, originally America Online, and later merged the company with Time Warner Inc <TWX.N>. He resigned from Time-Warner's board in 2005 to focus on Revolution..

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Microsoft offers to replace damaged "Halo 3" discs

Microsoft offers to replace damaged "Halo 3" discs

Microsoft offers to replace damaged "Halo 3" discs Fan Darnell Jefferson plays a copy of the Xbox 360 video game "Halo 3" prior to it going on sale in New York September 24, 2007. Microsoft is offering to replace damaged discs of its just-launched "Halo 3" game for the Xbox amid reports that special limited-edition packaging is scratching them. REUTERS/Keith Bedford.

Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> is offering to replace damaged discs of its just-launched "Halo 3" game for the Xbox amid reports that special limited-edition packaging is scratching them.

On its Xbox Website, Microsoft says the disc replacement program covers the "Halo 3" limited edition game disc and essentials disc at no charge through the end of the year.

Microsoft began selling "Halo 3" on Tuesday, and the acclaimed alien shooter game is seen as the $30 billion video game industry's equivalent of a new "Harry Potter" book.

The Associated Press said that blogs were brimming with reports that special limited-edition packaging is scratching the videogame discs.

MORE NEWS.......

Halo 3 Discs Arrive Pre-Scratched

Eager fans today cracked open the hot new video game Halo 3, only to discover that their game discs were already scratched. It seems in their midst of preparing for a global launch with mondo cross-promotion, Microsoft forgot to check they didn't use the the DVD holders with the defective nubs.

The weak nubs allowed the DVDs to float around and get all scraped.

Reader Mr. Chip Livejournals that 3 out the 4 he opened in Walmart, which were of the fancy metal tin "collector's edition" variety, were scratched upon opening. That's $70 for a game that's already scratched. PC World says the scratches are cosmetic and you can still play the game just fine, but wants to buy a "new" scratched video game?

If your Halo 3 is scratched, you can get it swapped out for a shiny new one under the Xbox disc replacement program.

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My geotagging trials, travails and triumphs

My geotagging trials, travails and triumphs

Geotagging and I are a match made in heaven. But we nearly got a divorce.

In the course of reporting a feature about geotagging--endowing digital photos with location data--I decided I'd better try out the technology. Being a fan of both photography and cartography, as well as a bit of a geek, it seemed like the perfect technology for me. Geotagging proved a frustrating experience, but I'm still sold on the idea.

For you early adopters, geotagging can be fun and useful. It adds an extra dimension to your photos--literally as well as figuratively. One obvious application is seeing your vacation photos arrayed on a map for a visual tour of your trip. Another is using a map to zero in on a particular photo buried somewhere on a disorderly hard drive. That could be a lot easier than trying to remember which month of which year you visited a particular spot if you're searching on the basis of time.

Casual snapshooters, though, should steer clear of geotagging for now. Not only do you need some kind of GPS receiver, you also need some software to add the location metadata to the photo files. For me, that process was fraught with peril. Web sites that can use the location technology also are fairly immature.

Here are some of the potholes I encountered in my geotagging journey and my advice on avoiding them:

• Set up your gear right. Make sure you turn the GPS receiver on and that it's loaded with charged batteries. Set your camera's time zone correctly--especially if you just hopped on a plane away from home.

I botched the time zone for my first four days of a trip to Ireland, and I spent hours trying to fix the problem. The slip-up eventually crushed my techno-adventurer's spirit, and I admitted defeat despite investing hours trying to fix it. I tried all kinds of avenues, including EXIF editors to adjust the timestamps of photos and GPSBabel to toy with the GPS track log. (I even found a bug in Microsoft's Photo Info software: when offsetting the timestamps of a selected batch of photos by a set amount, the software changes all the photos' time to the first picture's new time instead of adjusting them all by the proper offset. The bug will be fixed in the next version, Microsoft said.) I would have been better off if I'd realized earlier in the process that the geotagging software I chose, Breeze Systems' Downloader Pro, can handle the time zone offset during the geotagging process, but even then I couldn't get it to work for the Ireland shots. I did successfully geotag two backpacking trips and a visit to the zoo, though, so I know it can be done.

• Pick your software carefully. There are a number of packages out there for geotagging photos, but if you shoot raw images, the list gets a lot shorter. Downloader Pro worked fairly well (and I like other features), but it's Windows-only. Mac users have options such as HoudahGeo and GPS Photo Linker.

• Get the geotagging done as early as possible. As with all metadata, it's a bad idea to add it later. If all you do is copy your images to your hard drive, it's not a big deal, but you want the data in the photos before doing things like spinning off edited variations of pictures, backing up files or preparing low-resolution versions for upload to a photo-sharing site. Believe me, you don't want to enter that location data more than once.

• Be careful with what data you share, either by e-mail or posting to sites such as Yahoo's Flickr or Google's Panoramio. Even if you're willing to let the world at large see pictures of your children, it's another step of privacy loss when the world knows where your children live, too. Flickr's default behavior is to strip out geographic data, and if you enable it, you can restrict sharing of geographic information. But doing so is complicated, especially if the settings vary a lot from one photo to another.

In a perfect world
Having undergone my bruising conversion, I now know more clearly what I'd like in geotagging. Here are elements of the better world I envision.

For one thing, I wouldn't have to use a hodgepodge of different software utilities to unite my photos with the geographic data. Ideally, this would be a standard part of copying photos from the camera or flash card. There's good news on this front: Adobe said the unification feature is "a logical inclusion in a future version of Lightroom." ACDSee said it's "something we're getting feedback on and that we'll look to implement in our next major release." Presumably this technology will trickle down to more mainstream software in the future.

It would help software companies if there were better standards for adding metadata to images. I encountered reports of metadata being corrupted when location information was added, for example. Consider the plight of the programmer building geotagging support to an image editing program who must contend with dozens of proprietary raw image formats from higher-end cameras.

I'd also like to see a good way to add or correct location data on photos, individually or in bulk. My editing or cataloging software would present a map on which I could drag a virtual pointer around, and the photo would be relocated correctly. Or I could type in latitude-longitude numbers manually, or copy them from one image and paste into another. This could help correct the typical errors that even the newest GPS systems suffer.

Of course, unification of photos and location data would be unnecessary if the cameras recorded location in the first place when I snapped the picture. Some newer and higher-end cameras have GPS interfaces--among them, the Nikon D3 and D300, the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III and 40D with wireless communication add-ons, and Hasselblad's H3D-II. But I'd like GPS integration much further down the line, perhaps with some standard GPS-camera connector or communication method. Hello, Bluetooth!

Building the GPS receiver into the camera would be the ultimate integration, and perhaps that day will come. But given how power-hungry and imperfect standalone GPS receivers are, I'm not sure I'd want it built into a camera anytime soon. One obvious problem is that GPS systems must be awake at all times to keep track of their position, but cameras enter dormant states to save batteries. Even modern GPS systems in good conditions take more than a minute to get their first position fix from satellites.

Even without these pies in the sky, though, I find it worthwhile, and I'm now geotagging routinely. I just added another piece of electronic clutter in my life by buying a GPS receiver. But I'm betting having those location coordinates in my photos will pay off in the long run.

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Shining a light on solar power

.Shining a light on solar power

A power-producing roof

As the industry's big confab gets under way, solar companies talk up new tech, new deals and ways to cut costs.

Keep solar power on when power goes out

Savor the irony. When there is a blackout, your solar power system will probably go out too.

That's because most systems are tied to the electrical grid. (In Germany, the utilities pay for this electricity, but in most states here, the utilities give you credit against any grid power you might buy.) To ensure that their workers don't get hurt, utilities shut off all devices that feed power into particular sectors of the grid when doing repairs.

To ameliorate that problem, SMA America, the U.S. group of a larger German company, has released a new version of its Sunny Island inverter. An inverter converts DC power coming from the panels into AC power that can be used in your home or fed into the grid. The company's Sunny Boy inverters are grid-tied. The Sunny Island line feeds the power into batteries instead.

"It's for vacation cabins, or backup systems," said Jeffrey Philpott, marketing manager for SMA America.

The new Sunny Island 5048U, announced at Solar Power 2007 taking place in Long Beach, Calif., has 20 percent more capacity than its predecessor. It can provide up to 5,000 watts of power. So in case you need to start a motor or something (think Charlton Heston in The Omega Man), the Sunny Island will do the job.

Like other inverter companies and even solar panel companies, SMA is trying to reduce the cost of installation and service. Installation is half of the cost of most solar systems.

"The installers like to go out once. They lose the money they made if they have to go out and fix something," he said.

SunPower, the fast-growing U.S. maker of high efficiency solar panels and cells, includes SMA inverters in its systems. SMA also sells through distributors.

Cutting solar panels' high price tag

For all the technical advances in the thriving solar power industry, the large up-front costs of solar electricity in the residential market remains a stubborn barrier to wide adoption.

A number of companies, from installers to panel producers, are taking different routes to try to improve the economics of purchasing rooftop solar panels.

Bringing down the high costs of solar compared to other forms of power is one of the big areas of discussion planned for the Solar Power 2007 conference in Long Beach, Calif., which starts Tuesday.

Installer Akeena Solar on Monday announced Andalay, a panel that it says is more attractive and quicker to install. It is scheduled to further detail the panels, which use 70 percent fewer parts, at the conference.

Panel manufacturer Sharp Solar, too, is expected to detail a mounting and panel system meant to streamline the process of installing panels, and thus lower the costs. Similarly, solar companies are working with builders to pre-install panels or power-producing roof shingles on new homes.

In addition to hardware improvements, solar companies are trying out new business models to make the jump to solar power easier on the pocketbook.

A San Francisco-based start-up, Sun Run, is borrowing a financing model commonly used in the commercial market and applying it to residential customers. On Monday, it announced that it has signed on REC Solar as another installer.

Sun Run's business model is structured around owning the panels on people's homes. So instead of paying all the money to install panels, the homeowner pays for the electricity they produce at a fixed rate.

"We've found that most people are really interested in going green but they also have economic focus in doing it," said Sun Run President and Chief Operating Officer Nat Kreamer, who founded the company earlier this year.

Even though much of the media coverage around solar power focuses on the incremental improvements of converting sunlight to electricity, the actual work of installing photovoltaic panels remains 30 to 50 percent of the total cost.

Sun Run's contract--called a purchased power agreement--won't eliminate the initial cost of getting solar electricity. But it will reduce by about 60 percent the pain of shelling out anywhere from $20,000 to $35,000 for solar panels, according to the company.

Working solar incentives

Sun Run is focusing specifically on California, where people pay different rates depending on how much they consume. But financing is increasingly being recognized as an important part of the solar power puzzle.

Sun Edison and MMA Renewables are two companies that specialize in providing financing and solar power installations for commercial customers.

Other installation firms with similar models have recently received venture capital funding, including Solar City, Tioga Energy and, according to reports, Solar Power Partners.

Solar City's twist on solar installation is group buying. The company canvasses residential neighborhoods. When it gets 50 or so committed customers, it purchases the panels and then sends out teams of five or so installers to erect them. Volume discounts and concentrated installation leads to a reduction of about 20 percent in the overall cost, according to the company.

Purchase power agreements are mainly used in the commercial world. Companies that offer them own and maintain solar photovoltaic panels on customers' rooftops and sell the electricity back to the customer.

In addition to avoiding a large capital outlay for the solar panel installation, customers fix into an electricity rate and thereby get a hedge against rising prices.

"Any way you can use renewables to guarantee stable power prices, allowing homeowners or large industrial customers to fix their power and fuel costs, is a good step forward and an effective way to bring renewables to a broader market," said Alex Klein, an analyst at Emerging Energy Research.

Sun Run's Kraemer said that his company's attempt to bring purchase power agreements to the residential field has met with a good amount of skepticism.

That's in part because electricity is so price sensitive that it leaves little room for a profit margin. Skepticism may also be fueled by the experience of Citizenre, a company that has been signing on homeowners for solar panels with a nominal up-front fee but has yet to deliver on its promises.

Lumeta expands solar roof tile production with Suntech

Lumeta on Tuesday announced a manufacturing deal with Chinese solar panel producer Suntech for Lumeta's solar roof tiles.

Under the deal, Suntech will supply solar modules for Lumeta's building-integrated photovoltaic roof tiles.

Lumeta's Solar S Tile, launched earlier this year, looks just like terracotta concrete roof tiles but are covered with a solar cell that generates electricity. Lumeta, a subsidiary of DRI Companies, announced the supply deal at the Solar World 2007 industry conference.

The solar industry is pursuing building-integrated photovoltaics as a way to reduce the cost of solar electric installations.

One advantage of solar roof tiles is that they don't look any different from a regular roof. However, it is unclear whether they are as economical as traditional solar panels.

Nanosolar to move into production this year

Nanosolar, one of the several companies trying to popularize CIGS solar panels, says it will move into commercial production later this year, and it's already booked the first 12 months of production.

The company hopes to inaugurate its manufacturing facility later this year and start shipping products before the calendar turns to 2008, according to CEO Martin Roscheisen.

"November and the first part of December are going to be extremely busy," Roscheisen said in a phone interview. Technically, Nanosolar is five days behind its own internal schedule, he said.

Nanosolar's flexible Cell Foil product.

(Credit: Nanosolar)Even if production slips a bit, 2008 is looking up. The entire year of production has already been allocated to customers who have placed advance orders. The first 100,000 panels will go to a small number of commercial solar installations.

Roscheisen would not say exactly how many panels the company will make in 2008, but allowed that the 100,000 panels represent "a fraction" of the total output for the year. Back in 2006, Nanosolar said its first factory would be capable of churning out 430 megawatts worth of panels a year. The company will sell its product through wholesalers.

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy has awarded the company a $20 million, three-year development deal. The company will get $9.5 million between now and October 2008 and the rest will follow afterward, subject to continued availability of funds.

Nanosolar has already received $100 million in financing. Investors include Mohr Davidow Ventures, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Since the company's big funding round in 2006, Nanosolar has been aiming to move into commercial production in 2008.

Solar cells based on CIGS--which stands for copper, indium, gallium, selenide--aren't as efficient as silicon solar cells, but they are less expensive to manufacture. CIGS cells can also be printed on rolls of foil. Conceivably, the roof of a Wal-Mart could be coated with a sheet of CIGS cells to turn the entire roof into a giant solar panel.

Although CIGS cells have been made in laboratories, no one has yet to move to commercial production. Rivals such as Miasole and DayStar Technologies have had to delay their products.

CIGS will no doubt be a topic of conversation at Solar Power 2007, taking place this week in Long Beach, California.

Podcast: Solar dreaming gets real

On the eve of the opening of the solar technology industry's premier gathering, CNET's Michael Kanellos gauges the progress of a business everyone says has a "can't miss" future. But does it?

Only hours to go before Microsoft hits the switch and Halo 3 becomes available. The company's hoping it has a big hit on its hands, but does the product's performance live up to its advance billing?

Plus, do you think you have what it takes to become a astronaut? NASA is giving you the opportunity to live out that dream.

CEOs, Ted Turner, Larry Hagman gather for solar fest

A conference featuring actor Larry Hagman and media mogul Ted Turner? Your first thought is that someone must be colorizing episodes of I Dream of Jeannie.

Actually, the two men are going to be keynote speakers this week at Solar Power 2007, the industry's big annual conference, in Long Beach, Calif. Like the solar industry, the conference has been growing like crazy and the conference will likely be noticeably bigger than last year's fete in San Jose, Calif. (Click here for pictures and articles from that event.)

Among the highlights:

• Turner is expected to talk about DT Solar, a joint venture he formed with Dome-Tech that will create solar power plants for utilities, commercial buildings and industrial sites. Turner is scheduled to deliver a keynote speech Tuesday morning.

• CEOs and other leading executives from the photovoltaic solar industry will hash it out in a roundtable discussion on Wednesday morning. Speakers include Zhengrong Shi, founder of China's Suntech Power Holdings; Thomas Werner, CEO of SunPower, the fast-growing U.S. solar manufacturer known for its high-efficiency solar cells; Steve Hill, president of Kyocera Solar; Anton Milner, CEO of Germany's Q-Cells; Heiko Piossek, CFO of component supplier and installer Conergy; and Ron Kenedi, vice president of Sharp Solar Energy Solutions.

That's a significant portion of the big-name executives in the photovoltaic industry. Suntech may further flesh out its plans to build new industrial parks in China. The company is ranked third right now, behind Sharp and Q-Cells, and is expected to try to become the largest maker of photovoltaic panels, which convert light into electricity. Sharp, Conergy and others will also likely elaborate on their plans to sign up more solar installers.

• Executives from roofing companies and home builders will discuss their plans to integrate solar technology into new construction. Installing solar panels into a home during initial construction cuts down initial costs (installation accounts for about half of the price of adding solar to a building). Companies represented include Lennar, Grupe Homes (which has been installing solar roof tiles in some homes) and Old Country Roofing.

• Solar thermal technology--which some believe is more economically viable than photovoltaic--will also be a major topic of discussion. Several companies, including Ausra and BrightSource Energy, have already sketched plans to build solar thermal plants in California that will be capable of generating several hundred megawatts of power. Utilities in the state, forced and encouraged by recent legislation to get more power from renewable resources, are signing long-term deals with solar thermal companies. (In solar thermal, heat from the sun is harvested and then used to heat liquids, which turn into steam. The pressure from the gas turns a turbine.) CEOs from both BrightSource and Ausra will speak at the show.

Solar thermal water heaters, which use heat from the sun to warm water, will be represented as well. Canadian Alex Winch of Mondial Energy will discuss how his company has been trying to sign large-scale deals for solar thermal water heaters. He is among the presenters scheduled to speak Tuesday afternoon.

• Venture capitalists and analysts will be crawling all over the place. Several panels will discuss the latest trends in solar financing, whether the market has become overheated and when the silicon shortage will end.

• And on Thursday, the last day of the conference, the spotlight will be on Hagman, he of Jeannie and Dallas fame. Hagman actually owns one of the largest personal solar installations in California, according to sources. It generates far more electricity than is used in his home.

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Zero-Gravity Surgical Robot

A nonprofit R&D organization, will conduct the first demonstration of a teleoperated surgical robot in a zero-gravity environment this week. The robot is controlled with a special interface by a skilled surgeon hundreds of miles away.

The SRI robotic surgical system is designed to be stored in a very compact space for space travel. Astronauts will reassemble the device for use in the event of illness requiring surgical intervention.

The system was successfully tested underwater in the Aquarius undersea laboratory off the coast of Florida earlier this year. A Canadian surgeon successfully utilized the device to perform a vascular suturing operation from fifteen hundred miles away (see photo).

Now, however, SRI researchers are testing the device in the extreme environment of zero gravity. The tests will be done over a period of four days aboard a NASA C-9 aircraft. The plane undergoes a series of parabolic flight maneuvers that simulates, for a brief period, the microgravity environment of space.

"In previous experiments, SRI successfully demonstrated how robots can be manipulated remotely and set-up with minimal training. We are now extending that technology to movement and weightlessness, critical elements of any space travel program," said Thomas Low, director of SRI's Medical Devices and Robotics program.

SRI-developed software is intended to help the robot compensate for errors in movement that can occur in moments of turbulence or transitions in gravitational field strength. The experiment will compare the same surgical tasks performed by a physician who is physically present on the plane with those performed remotely using the teleoperated robot.

SRI is pioneering other remotely-operated surgical systems; they are working with DARPA on the Trauma Pod Battlefield Medical Treatment System; The trauma pod is used to treat soldiers on the battlefield using advanced diagnostics and teleoperated instruments.

Science fiction writers were arguably the first to imagine such things; the telemedicine apparatus from E.M. Forster's 1909 story The Machine Stops is a very early inspiration to real-life roboticists. More recently, science fiction writer Peter Watts vividly visualized a teleoperated medical mantis that could perform surgery deep beneath the sea's surface.

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Fear of Space Germs -Space Makes Bacteria More Dangerous

Hours after we learned that a wave of illnesses near a small meteorite impact in Peru were terrestrial in origin, a newly published study gave us a big reason to be glad: bacteria can be made deadlier by space travel.
NASA astronauts grew salmonella bacteria during an Atlantis space shuttle mission in 2006, and found that it had become three times as deadly to lab mice as its earthbound equivalents.
Why would that happen? Apparently, it wasn't the near-zero gravity, at least not directly. The researchers, interviewed by The Associated Press, said that while they are not completely certain, they said the best explanation offered so far had to do with a little-known phenomenon called fluid shear.

Here is how Cheryl Nickerson, an associate professor at the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at Arizona State University, explained it to The A.P.:
"Being cultured in microgravity means the force of the liquid passing over the cells is low." The cells "are responding not to microgravity, but indirectly to microgravity in the low fluid shear effects."
"There are areas in the body which are low shear, such as the gastrointestinal tract, where, obviously, salmonella finds itself," she went on. "So, it's clear this is an environment not just relevant to space flight, but to conditions here on Earth, including in the infected host."
Still, it's hardly time to start shipping cases of Purell to the International Space Station. Astronauts have long been wary of microbial growth there, especially after a mysterious fungus started eating through the Mir Space Station.
No one got sick, but the problem was bad enough to prompt a Russian scientist to worry that destroying the station over Earth at the end of its service life could "do serious damage to humanity." They did it anyway in 2001, and his worry proved unfounded.
NASA has a bunch of precautions for shuttle flights, including testing astronauts for infections, filtering the air onboard for microbes, disinfecting the water supply on the vehicle and keeping the ship spic-and-span with antibacterial wipes.
The results of the salmonella-on-the-shuttle experiment are being published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

Space Makes Bacteria More Dangerous .

A germ that causes food poisoning and other illnesses can be three times more dangerous in space than on the ground, an experiment has shown.

The finding spells out tougher challenges for astronauts taking trips to the moon or Mars, as recent work also hints that the body's immune system weakens during extended stays in space.

"Space flight alters cellular and physiological responses in astronauts including the immune response," said Cheryl Nickerson, a microbiologist at Arizona State University and leader of the experiment. "However, relatively little was known about microbial changes to infectious disease risk in response to space flight."

NASA's STS-115 space shuttle mission, launched in September 2006, carried Nickerson and her colleague's Salmonella typhimurium bacterial experiment into space while her group conducted an identical experiment on Earth. Their findings are detailed in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Flip the switch

Bacteria express different sets of genes in different environments to ensure their survival. Inhospitable conditions, for example, can turn on a "master switch" in some bacteria and allow the microbes to form tough spores that can survive the extreme conditions of space.

Prior to Nickerson and her team's study, the genetic behavior of Salmonella typhimurium--the main culprit in cases of food poisoning and typhoid fever--was unknown. The microbe poses a significant threat to astronauts during spaceflight, especially because it is resistant to many antibiotic treatments.

The researchers' experiment revealed that a genetic switch called "Hfq," which may control more than 160 genes in S. typhimurium, turns on in space and causes S. typhimurium to become three times more virulent than on the Earth's surface.

Based on what the space-faring bacteria did to animal models on the ground, Nickerson and her colleagues think hard-to-control biofilms are responsible for the increased danger.

"Biofilms are associated with increased pathogenicity because the immune system can't clear the bacteria effectively and antibiotics don't treat them effectively," Nickerson said. "The change that we observed [in space] is consistent with what looks like formation of a biofilm. The ground-grown samples did not show biofilm formation."

Tiny passengers

To see how zero-gravity affected the bacteria, the researchers sent a special growth chamber aboard the space shuttle Atlantis with the astronaut crew of STS-115.

When astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper activated the experiment in space, Nickerson and her group started an identical version inside the orbital simulator at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The simulator ensured that both sets of bacteria grew in the same conditions, aside from the difference of zero-gravity.

"This simulator is linked in real-time to the shuttle and duplicates the exact temperature, humidity and growth conditions of the shuttle, with the exception that [it is] not flying in space," Nickerson said. Both experiments "froze" the bacteria in place at the same time, allowing the researchers to see that Hfq was greatly activated by zero-gravity.

In spite of the microbe's increased danger to astronauts, Nickerson and her group thinks the Hfq genetic regulator could be used to control food-borne disease caused by S. typhimurium--especially since no vaccine exists for it. The researchers plan to conduct more investigations of disease-causing microbes in space to better understand their risks and mechanisms during spaceflight.

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