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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

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Middle East technology parks

Middle East technology parks

The rapid growth of technology parks in the Arab world has so far created more expectations than outcomes, reports Waleed Al-Shobakky.

Over the past few years, technology parks have been sprouting up all over the Middle East: from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia in the north, to Kuwait, Oman and Qatar in the east.

Recognising that their natural resources, particularly oil, are being fast depleted, and looking to emulate the success stories of technology parks in Asia, Europe and North America in creating jobs and successful businesses, countries like Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have constructed as many as seven or eight parks.

But as the ranks swell, the question remains: will technology parks be able to prove their worth?

Good reasons

The concept of gathering together businesses with similar interests in one place is now a region-wide movement in the Middle East, but different reasons lie behind each country's decision to join the bandwagon.

For instance, to the oil-wealthy Gulf states, science and technology parks are tools for diversifying the economy in preparation for the post-oil times.

For the less-endowed countries, such as Egypt and Jordan, technology parks seem to be a way out of poverty - with high potential returns without the need for prohibitively high investments.

The successful parks of India and Malaysia look particularly appealing to these countries. This may explain why Middle Eastern governments have established a total of 30 technology parks dedicated to information and communication technology (ICT) alone, according to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). There are also 15 biotechnology parks, and 12 dedicated to advanced engineering.

Indeed, the buzz surrounding technology parks in the region, says Eulian Roberts, chief executive officer of Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), is coming from what policymakers see happening elsewhere - namely the technology parks' ability to foster a country's economy, without necessarily relying on natural resources.

And there is research to back this up. A study from the United Kingdom's Science Park Association, says Roberts, found that companies located inside technology parks stand a better chance of gaining funds and support - and hence success - than their counterparts outside.

Technology parks are also thought to help initiate synergy with academic institutions. "They encourage productive R&D in academia and provide a mechanism to commercialise this research," says Omar Hamarneh, director of iPARK, Jordan's government-run institution mandated with supporting technology start-ups.

A focus problem

But the near consensus over the validity of establishing technology parks erodes when it comes to deciding what to do with them.

One view, as articulated by Tarek Elabbady, director of the Microsoft Innovation Centre in Egypt, is that technology parks should focus on supporting the "most rewarding industries," in terms of either monetary returns or jobs.

Elabbady says high-population countries like Egypt can make the most of technology parks by channelling their energy into the most rewarding job-creating sectors, such as agriculture and textiles. To that end, research and development activities could focus on areas such as bioinformatics and fertilizers.

Another view is that a technology park should be employed as an instrument to augment the economic gains from a country's existing natural resources, says QSTP's Roberts.

For a country with a small population such as Qatar, Roberts explains, technology parks can be a way to generate wealth through intellectual capital - for example, through development of specialised fuel formulas for the aeronautic industry and more environment-friendly energy solutions - rather than relying solely on the direct exploitation of natural resources like oil.

Besides the intellectual capital gains, science and technology parks can also bring about "human capital" gains. They could attract expatriates back from Europe and the United States and stem the brain drain, says Mikko Suonenlahti, a Finnish venture capitalist who runs the two new technology funds of the QSTP.

And beyond that, Egypt's Smart Village, like its counterparts in the region, is starting to attract foreign entrepreneurs and executives to set up their own companies.

Indeed, the current zeal for technology parks has put entrepreneurs in a good position. Governments and technology park authorities in the region try to outbid each other in offering incentives (such as tax holidays, access to venture capital and unrestricted movement of labour, equipment and merchandise) to attract entrepreneurial talents, both from within the region and from outside.

To some, such as Suonenlahti, "competition is always good," because the free movement of talents and venture capital in the region will lead to the best allocation of resources, and best outcomes.

Competition vs. integration

To others, such as Elabbady, competition at this stage should give way to integration that is based on specialisation. That view probably stems from a curious dilemma in the Arab world: countries that are rich in human resources (like Egypt and Turkey) are often poor in resources, and vice versa - as is the case in the Gulf.

The result is either a technology park rich in human capital but poor in infrastructure and facilities, or one with good resources but a limited (and hence highly expensive) talent pool.

One consequence is that countries with similar economies - such as the Gulf States, with their reliance on oil - look set to compete for the same big clients in the hydrocarbon sector. Everyone is talking about specialisation in the long term. But it seems that little has been done to that effect.

QSTP's Roberts says that specialisation is surely the road ahead; but the nascence of almost all technology parks in the region makes them hold their bets as to what to specialise in, until areas of specialisation emerge naturally, in response to market realities. QSTP, for example, has among its targeted sectors aircraft operations, environmental technology, gas and petrochemicals and ICT.

Tarek Elabbady sees the situation differently. He says most technology parks in the Arab world are not focused, spreading their already limited resources on widely diverse activities.

The state of science and technology today, he says, would reward most those with focus on a certain discipline - such as what Singapore is trying to do in biotechnology, South Korea in electronics, or Taiwan in microchips.

Elabbady also believes that many of the science and technology parks in the Arab world have practically no entry criteria and are in essence real estate development projects with just a tiny research and development component.

Attempting to be everything to everyone, Elabbady says, could help technology parks get quick returns in the short term by attracting multinational and large national companies. But this approach, he adds, robs technology parks of any significant future potential, particularly in local capacity building.

On the other hand, Ahmed Naim, sales and marketing director at the Smart Village, says that the traditional boundaries between different research fields - such as information technology, media and communication technologies - are no longer relevant. And this is why such a diverse range of companies do business at the village.

Should the lack of specialisation then be a reason for concern? Adhip Chaudhuri, economics professor at Georgetown University in Qatar, says no.

In the oil-rich Gulf, he says, specialisation will happen sooner or later because the growing demand on oil serves as an incentive for companies to come and set up shop here in search for niche markets or innovative products.

Not the panacea

Whether diversity is good or bad for science and technology parks may not be certain. What is certain is that what those parks have achieved so far in the Middle East is not much in terms of patents granted or technology companies listed on international stock markets.. In spite of this, euphoric reports, particularly from state-run media, have already started portraying technology parks as a magic entry pass into the league of developed countries.

"We sometimes get carried away by the excitement and lose sight of the goals and how we are going to get to them," says Microsoft's Elabbady.

To counter this, adjusting expectation is necessary. Eulian Roberts says that policymakers and the public alike need to be reminded that technology parks are not the panacea for the knowledge economy. They are rather "one important instrument that can focus effort and resources and deliver visible results".

Nevertheless, technology parks are already sending a positive message about the region into the larger world. Says the Smart Village's Naim, "The mere presence of technology parks in Egypt and other countries is gradually changing the desert-and-camels stereotypes about the region."

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Math: Gift from God or Work of Man

Math: Gift from God or Work of Man

From the Empty Set to the Boundless Universe of All Sets -- Exploring the Full Range of Mathematics and Seeing its Source in Your Self
Intermediate Algebra: Using Variables to Manage the Total Possibility of Numbers and Solve Practical Problems

Its New Age calculus sequence is described thus:

Calculus 1: Derivatives as the Mathematics of Transcending, Used to Handle Changing Quantities
Calculus 2: Integrals as the Mathematics of Unification, Used to Handle Wholeness
Calculus 3: Unified Management of Change in All Possible Directions
Calculus 4: Locating Silence within Dynamism

Evolution, a Counterargument to the Divine Nature of Mathematics

Of course, there are more sophisticated ideas that are vaguely similar, and there have been first-rate scientists who have taken mathematics to be some sort of divine manifestation. One of the most well-known such arguments is due to physicist Eugene Wigner. In his famous 1960 paper, "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences," he maintained that ability of mathematics to describe and predict the physical world is no accident, but rather is evidence of a deep and mysterious harmony.

But is the usefulness of mathematics really so mysterious? There is a quite compelling alternative explanation why mathematics is so useful. We count, we measure, we employ basic logic, and these activities are stimulated by ubiquitous aspects of the physical world. The size of a collection (of stones, grapes, animals), for example, is associated with the size of a number and keeping track of it leads to counting. Putting collections together is associated with adding numbers, and so on.

Another metaphor associates the familiar realm of measuring sticks (small branches, say, or pieces of string) with the more abstract one of geometry, The length of a stick is associated with the size of a number (once some segment is associated with the number one), and relations between the numbers associated with a triangle, say, are noted. (Scores of such metaphors underlying more advanced mathematical disciplines have been developed by linguist George Lakoff and psychologist Rafael Nunez in their book, "Where Mathematics Comes From.")

Once part of human practice, these various notions are abstracted, idealized and formalized to create basic mathematics, and the deductive nature of mathematics then makes this formalization useful in realms to which it is only indirectly related.

The universe acts on us, we adapt to it, and the notions that we develop as a result, including the mathematical ones, are in a sense taught us by the universe. That great bugbear of creationists, evolution has selected those of our ancestors (both human and not) whose behavior and thought are consistent with the workings of the universe. The usefulness of mathematics is thus not so unreasonable.

There are, of course, many other views of mathematics (Platonism, formalism, et cetera), but whatever one's philosophy of the subject, the curricula cited above and others like them are a bit absurd, even funny. In private schools they're none of our business. This is not so if aspects of these "creation math" curricula slip into the public schools, a prospect no doubt devoutly wished for by some.

John Allen Paulos, a professor of mathematics at Temple University, is the author of the bestsellers "Innumeracy" and "A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper," as well as of the forthcoming (in December) "Irreligion." His "Who's Counting?" column on appears the first weekend of every month.

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AT&T Buys Big Chunk Of Wireless

Communication is the Most important thing of the wold business. Understanding the thing the Business Jaint are creating their scope for the next .

AT&T boosted its signal Tuesday in the wireless broadband sector.

The telecom giant said it will purchase licenses from Aloha Partners for $2.5 billion for spectrum that is well-suited for mobile video and data services.

Under the deal, AT&T (nyse: T - news - people ) will get licenses in the 700 MHz frequency covering 196 million people in 281 markets, including 72 of the top 100 metropolitan areas and all of the top 10 markets.

"Customer demand for mobile services, including voice, data and video, is continually increasing," AT&T senior executive Forrest Miller said. "Aloha's spectrum will enable AT&T to efficiently meet this growing demand."

Shares of AT&T edged up 0.1%, or 5 cents, to $41.98.

The deal will give AT&T a leg up in the race to claim a large stake in the highly coveted 700 MHz frequency. The 700MHz frequency is prized for its signal strength, making it an attractive channel for data and video transfers. In January, the Federal Communications Commission will auction 60MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz. Many expect the bidders to include traditional mobile services companies, such as AT&T and Sprint Nextel (nyse: S - news - people ) and a smattering of unexpected tech names, like Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ).

This may be the first of many big-ticket purchases for AT&T.

Patrick Comack, a Zachary Research Investment analyst, said AT&T probably will buy up as much of the spectrum as it can at good prices. The deal with Aloha is "a steal," he said. "It's an absolutely incredible purchase. They really leapfrogged everyone else."

In September, Oppenheimer analyst Thomas Eagan predicted that AT&T would take over EchoStar, a satellite television company. Eagan said the acquisition was inevitable because AT&T has struggled to jump-start its own Internet television service. "Given the lack of success of AT&T's U-Verse rollout, it seems to us a matter of when, NOT if, AT&T acquires EchoStar," said Eagan. He added that the telecommunications giant would be willing to shell out a hefty premium for the company, saying that AT&T will pay shareholders more than $56 a share.

Indeed, AT&T has the cash power to back these acquisitions. In April, the company said profits doubled from a year ago, amid strong wireless sales and cost synergies from the 2006 takeover of BellSouth. In addition, AT&T is riding the iPhone craze, as the only service provider for Apple (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people )'s new mobile device. (See: " iLove iPhone?" )

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The Future Travel

The Future Travel
The Future of Travel: Aquatic to Cosmic Destinations

Future travelers will be putting down their luggage in far-flung places, underwater, in the air and around the planet. They'll get amazing views from bizarre living quarters that build on "outrageously successful" billion-dollar projects on Earth, and they'll take adventures that have long been the province of science fiction.

That's the vacationing landscape of the 21st Century envisioned by various travel analysts.

Thomson Holidays, a leading travel and destination group based in the United Kingdom, just issued a report on the future of leisure travel. The report is an outgrowth of the Future Holiday Forum, an event Thomson organized late last year to bring together architects, technologists, travel journalists, experts on social trends of the future, as well as authorities on sustainable tourism.

The conclusions are a sweeping preview of the changing needs and expectations of globetrotting travelers two decades out.

They include way-out expeditions and down-to-Earth jaunts. No-frills travel will include brief, affordable breaks to locations such as Moscow, Rio and Cape Town. The Middle East and South America will vie for top billing with traditional European destinations.

And others say regular civilian flights to space could finally become reality.

Ride the Cosmoplane

Development by 2024 of the Cosmoplane - a successor to Concorde - will make it possible for adventurous travelers to go farther and faster. More traditional types of destinations won't be crowded out of the picture. In fact they'll just get more crowded as an aging population swells the ranks of folks with time and money to spare, looking for new places to wander.

China is predicted to be the world's number one tourist destination within 20 years. Elsewhere in Asia, countries along the Silk Road such as Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan are likely to see a dramatic rise in tourist numbers as backpackers seek out new destinations.

Other destinations that can expect throngs include Qatar in the Middle East with its positioning as the 'Real Arabian Experience', Ljubljana in Slovenia as a city break, and Slovakia for its natural scenery and outdoor sports potential.

Then there's Brazil for its unbeatable combination of beaches, rainforest, nightlife and cities, according to the report.

Other key predictions:

In the 2020s, people over 50 will outnumber younger generations. This aging but very active population will holiday more frequently in increasingly exotic locations, thinking nothing of jetting off to destinations all over the world.
The 'real holiday' experience for travelers is seeking many different experiences. That includes "zorbing," in which "zorbonauts" climb inside a large inflatable ball and are rolled downhill; skydiving; watching polar bears in the wild; and mind-and-body getaways at yoga retreats.
A new breed of tourist will seek out eco-friendly holidays. Less than 1 percent of people currently look for sustainable destinations, but this is predicted to grow to 5 percent by 2024, with many people only traveling to places that protect or benefit the environment.
Beyond Earth

In the wake of the first private, manned mission to space -- SpaceShipOne's history-making trip beyond the atmosphere on Monday -- space hotels may also be on the horizon, according to other analysts.

"It's only a question of time and money," explained Howard Wolff, senior vice president of the international architecture and design firm Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG), from his office in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Wolff noted that the ability to create habitats in space exists.

"The obstacle is not technology," he told "The Catch-22 is that a space hotel won't be affordable until there is a mass market for space tourism … and there won't be a mass market until it's affordable."

The missing ingredient, Wolff said, is a commercially viable fleet of reusable launch vehicles. "You can't have a successful hotel if you don't have the means of getting people there."

Visionary clients

Wolff, who is spearheading his company's development of concepts for a hotel in Earth orbit, is optimistic.

"The interest exists among prospective travelers," he said. "Several companies are already testing the next generation of vehicles. The hotel investment community is intrigued but skeptical. All it will take is one entrepreneur with deep pockets who is willing to take a bit of a financial risk."

WATG has been involved in ambitious on-Earth destinations for travelers in 130 countries on six continents, such as: The Venetian in Las Vegas; Atlantis, Paradise Island, in the Bahamas; and The Palace of the Lost City in South Africa.

"We've worked with visionary clients who have invested well over a billion dollars to create a single resort that generates a handsome return on investment," says Wolff. "Others thought they were crazy, but their properties turned out to be outrageously successful."

Wolff predicted that the first hotel in space will be a mixed-use project with commercial and research applications that will make it easier to finance.

What will fly?

WATG's visionary space hotel concept includes portions that will have partial Earth gravity "for creature comforts like being able to flush a toilet and take a shower" as well as weightless environments "for scientific experiments as well as the sheer thrill of the experience," Wolff explained.

Having designed destinations for well-heeled travelers for over half a century, the folks at WATG have a pretty good handle on "what will fly," a confident Wolff added.

Fly indeed. For those among us who want to stick closer to Earth, the WATG futurists also envision a potentially revolutionary helium-filled airship hotel.

The concept melds elements of traveling by cruise ship, hot air balloon and airplane. No need for travelers to unpack. Passengers can hit any number of destinations in a given trip. Unlike an airplane, the airship hotel would cruise at a leisurely pace and at low altitude, giving camera-snapping sightseers picturesque viewing along the travel route.

Deep Six those anxieties

Afraid of the heights, be it spinning around in a space hotel or taking cloud-banking turns in an airship?

Then deep six those anxieties and check into Hydropolis.

Planning is already underway for this watery habitat to be built in Dubai, the second largest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai is being tagged more and more as the Las Vegas of the Middle East, known for its over-the-top hotels. Hydropolis is no exception, albeit under the water. It is slated to open in December 2006.

Planning documents for the venture point out a few factoids: For one, the medium "water" is a basic elixir of life. Then there's the basic fact that a human is 75 percent of water, and that a person's wellbeing requires regeneration of this basic substance.

"Sanus per aquam" -- health through water -- is therefore not a trend, "but rather an expression of health-consciousness, a synonym for well-feeling, and of harmony of body, mind, and spirit," Hydropolis designers suggest.

Hydropolis is to be located off the Jumeirah coast. As the world's first underwater luxury hotel, the plan is to construct three distinct areas: one on land, a connecting tunnel, and the submarine complex. There will also be a ballroom, spa, restaurants, shops and separate underwater villas.

"Hydropolis is a splendid refuge far away from the stress factors of everyday business life and is ideally suited for guests from top management seeking to regenerate their inner strength," explains a project fact sheet.

Pod hotels

Hotel "pods" that can be moved to any spot on the globe is the way to go, contends Nadi Jahangiri, Director of m3architects in London. He and collaborator Ken Hutt foresee the pop-up pods planted anywhere from the Australian rainforest to the Antarctic.

"We propose a temporary, licensed, pre-fabricated, self-sustaining, transportable facility that can be located on sites and locations all over the planet in places where establishing a traditional holiday resort would be unacceptable environmentally and politically," Jahangiri and Hutt reported at the Future Holiday Forum.

These futuristic pods can remain in place for up to 15 years, or could be dismantled as demand drops for a destination. Constructed on stilts, the holiday pod is designed to leave only a small mark on the local environment.

A pod would be fabricated off-site, then transported to a select location and assembled on the spot.

Each pod would be self-sustaining and easily transportable from site to site. All waste produced by the hotel pod would go into a disposal unit at the base of the structure. The hotel would create its own operating power, making use of Sun-soaking, energy-providing photovoltaic cells.

Different sized rooms within a hotel pod can be upgraded or downgraded according to a tourist's travel budget. Inside the rooms, 'active' walls and floors will show changeable images. Pod guests can use this mode-changing select-switch and pick whatever mood they wish, be it an ocean panorama, desert landscape, or jungle scene.

Guests would arrive by helicopter.

Hugh Edwards, Marketing Director for Thomson, said the Future Holiday Forum -- which focused on Earth-bound travel -- underscored a number of trends. While he expects destinations such as Spain, Greece and Italy to remain popular, the forecasts are based on projections from experts who have carried out in-depth research into future trends.

"Holidays in pods, mini-breaks to Rio and family holidays in Qatar are very likely scenarios for holidays of the future," Edwards said.

About the Editors.

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Mirrors the best way to deflect asteroids

Mirrors the best way to deflect asteroids

Are mirrors the best way to deflect asteroids?

A Focusing sunlight onto an asteroid with space-based mirrors is the best way to deflect Earth-bound space rocks, a new study finds. The mirrors beat out nuclear blasts and "gravity tractors" in the study, which compared nine different deflection methods.

Asteroids larger than 5 kilometres across - such as the one that killed off the dinosaurs - hit Earth about once every 6 million years. But smaller space rocks spanning about 140 metres strike more often, about once every 5000, and they can cause significant damage.

Now, researchers led by Massimiliano Vasile of the University of Glasgow in Scotland have compared nine of the many methods proposed to ward off such objects, including blasting them with nuclear explosions.

The team assessed the methods according to three performance criteria: the amount of change each method would make to the asteroid's orbit, the amount of warning time needed and the mass of the spacecraft needed for the mission.

The method that came out on top was a swarm of mirror-carrying spacecraft. The spacecraft would be launched from Earth to hover near the asteroid and concentrate sunlight onto a point on the asteroid's surface.

Vaporise surface

In this way, they would heat the asteroid's surface to more than 2100° C, enough to start vaporising it. As the gases spewed from the asteroid, they would create a small thrust in the opposite direction, altering the asteroid's orbit.

The scientists found that 10 of these spacecraft, each bearing a 20-metre-wide inflatable mirror, could deflect a 150-metre asteroid in about six months. With 100 spacecraft, it would take just a few days, once the spacecraft are in position.

To deflect a 20-kilometre asteroid, about the size of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, it would take the combined work of 5000 mirror spacecraft focusing sunlight on the asteroid for three or more years.

Vasile admits that launching and controlling 5000 spacecraft is a daunting prospect. "I must say honestly that 5000 is really a lot," he told New Scientist. But he says launching a few dozen spacecraft to deflect a smaller asteroid is within our capabilities, pointing out that this many spacecraft were launched to create the Global Positioning System.

The mirrors came out ahead of the so-called gravity tractor option, in which a spacecraft simply flies alongside an asteroid and nudges it off course using the tiny force of the spacecraft's own gravity.

'Wrongheaded approach'

"The problem with the gravity tractor is that essentially what you have is a low-thrust spacecraft that is pulling the asteroid," Vasile says. "The gravity tug, for the same mass into space, requires more time" and moves the asteroid by a smaller amount.

The nuclear explosion option fared about as well as the mirrors in the rankings. But the team says it is less desirable for other reasons, such as the possibility that it would break up the asteroid into fragments that could still hit Earth.

But Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, US, says ranking the options based on what gives the largest nudge and takes the least time is wrongheaded.

The most likely type of asteroid humans will have to deal with is in the 50- to 100-metre size range. Chapman says such space rocks require relatively little effort to move, and he argues that searches for near-Earth objects (NEOs) will probably find them long before they may strike Earth.

'Controllable and safe'

The proper way to go about ranking this "is to give weight to adequate means to divert an NEO of the most likely sizes we expect to encounter, and to do so in a controllable and safe manner", Chapman told New Scientist.

The best approach may be to ram the asteroid with a spacecraft to provide most of the change needed, then follow up with a gravity tractor to make any small adjustments needed, he says.

But Dan Durda, also of the Southwest Research Institute, says the mirror idea should not be ruled out prematurely. "I think we need to have a lot of tools in the toolbox and the mirrors options have a place at the table of options to be considered," he told New Scientist.

High-speed collision

This is not the first time scientists have proposed using mirrors to deflect an asteroid. In 1993, Jay Melosh of the University of Arizona in Tucson, US, proposed using one very large mirror deployed by a single spacecraft for this purpose.

Vasile's team presented their findings recently at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Macclesfield, UK, as part of celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik.

The other options considered in the study include:

• Kinetic impactor: Ramming the asteroid at high speed with a spacecraft

• Mass driver: Digging up and spewing pieces of the asteroid into space, pushing the asteroid in the opposite direction

• Propulsion: Pushing the asteroid using a thruster attached to the surface (high-thrust and low-thrust versions)

• Yarkovsky effect: Painting the asteroid to enhance the Yarkovsky effect, in which the asteroid's uneven heat radiation preferentially pushes it in a particular direction

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Human origins mystery

Human origins mystery

New findings solve human origins mystery

An extraordinary advance in human origins research reveals evidence of the emergence of the upright human body plan over 15 million years earlier than most experts have believed

An extraordinary advance in human origins research reveals evidence of the emergence of the upright human body plan over 15 million years earlier than most experts have believed.

More dramatically, the study confirms preliminary evidence that many early hominoid apes were most likely upright bipedal walkers sharing the basic body form of modern humans.

Recent advances in the field of homeotic genetics together with a series of discoveries of hominoid fossils vertebrae now strongly suggest that a specific genetic change that generated the upright bipedal human body form may soon be identified. The various upright "hominiform" hominoids appear to share this morphogenetic innovation with modern humans. Homeotics concerns the embryological assembly program for midline repeating structures such as the human vertebral column and the insect body segments.

The report analyses changes in homeotic embryological assembly of the spine in more than 200 mammalian species across a 250 million year time scale. It identifies a series of modular changes in genetic assembly program that have taken place at the origin point of several major groups of mammals including the newly designated 'hominiform' hominoids that share the modern human body plan.

The critical event involves a dramatic embryological change unique to the human lineage that was not previously understood because the unusual human condition was viewed as "normal."

Diversity of lumbar transverse processes (LTP) serial homology and NLM morphology in therians. (A)-There is an independent laminapophysis (NLM) in Erinaceus (Eulipotyphla) that does not split at the thoraco-lumbar transition and is unrelated to the LTP. Erinaceomorphs have no pre-pararthrum on the last ribbed vertebra (post-pararthral dominance) and have a diapophysial LTP. (B)-Typical transition from tri-articulate rib to uni-articulate rib to LTP in Superorder Euarchontoglires. Note splitting of laminapophysis (NLM) (green), loss of the diarthrum (blue), and suppression of the post-pararthrum (orange) to yield a pre-pararthral base for parapophysial LTP (red)-drawing of Macaca (Primates). (C)-Post-pararthral dominance with anterior segmental frame shift in metatherians. (C1)-Diapophysial LTP with absence of prepararthrum and no participation of the post-pararthrum (orange). The last rib articulates only on the vertebra of the preceding segment. Note that the diarthrum transposes from dorsal to the neuraxis to ventral (diarthro-neural transposition). Drawing of Thylacinus. (C2)-Thoraco-lumbar transition in Thylacinus cynocephalus (Metatheria) MCZ 36797 (photo of specimen drawn in C1).

"From an embryological point of view, what took place is literally breathtaking," says Dr. Aaron Filler, a Harvard trained evolutionary biologist and a medical director at Cedars Sinai Medical Center's Institute for Spinal Disorders. Dr. Filler is an expert in spinal biology and the author of three books about the spine - "Axial Character Seriation in Mammals" (BrownWalker 2007), "The Upright Ape" (New Page Books 2007), and "Do You Really Need Back Surgery" (Oxford University Press 2007).

In most vertebrates (including most mammals), he explains, the dividing plane between the front (ventral) part of the body and the back (dorsal) part is a "horizontal septum" that runs in front of the spinal canal. This is a fundamental aspect of animal architecture. A bizarre birth defect in what may have been the first direct human ancestor led to the "transposition" of the septum to a position behind the spinal cord in the lumbar region. Oddly enough, this configuration is more typical of invertebrates.

The mechanical effect of the transposition was to make horizontal or quadrupedal stance inefficient. "Any mammal with this set of changes would only be comfortable standing upright. I would envision this malformed young hominiform - the first true ancestral human - as standing upright from a young age while its siblings walked around on all fours."

The earliest example of the transformed hominiform type of lumbar spine is found in Morotopithecus bishopi an extinct hominoid species that lived in Uganda more than 21 million years ago. "From a number of points of view," Filler says, "humanity can be redefined as having its origin with Morotopithecus. This greatly demotes the importance of the bipedalism of Australopithecus species such as Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) since we now know of four upright bipedal species that precede her, found from various time periods on out to Morotopithecus in the Early Miocene."

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Nanotechnology is Undergoing Rapid Developments

Nanotechnology is Undergoing Rapid Developments

Research and Markets has announced the addition of Biomedical Applications of Nanotechnology to their offering. via Small TimesResearch and Markets has announced the addition of Biomedical Applications of Nanotechnology to their offering.

This book provides a comprehensive survey of nanotechnology that reviews recent advances in nanotechnology-based drug and gene delivery systems and imaging approaches, and includes their biomedical significance, future prospects, and economic impact on pharmaceutical and biotechnological industries. Authors from different disciplines representing pharmaceutical sciences, biology, physics, engineering, medicine, and others investigating nanotechnology for various biomedical applications contributed book chapters.

An overview of nanotechnology and its potential

The field of nanotechnology is undergoing rapid developments on many fronts. This reference provides a comprehensive review of various nanotechnologies with a view to their biomedical applications. With chapters contributed by distinguished scientists from diverse disciplines, Biomedical Applications of Nanotechnology:

- Reviews recent advances in the designing of various nanotechnologies based on nucleic acids, polymers, biomaterials, and metals

- Discusses biomedical nanotechnology in areas such as drug and gene delivery

- Covers advanced aspects of imaging and diagnostics

Includes a chapter on the issue of nanotoxicology

Complete with figures and tables, this is a practical, hands-on reference book for researchers in pharmaceutical and biotech industries, biomedical engineers, pharmaceutical scientists, pharmacologists, and materials scientists as well as for the policymakers who need to understand the potential of nanotechnology. It is also an excellent resource book for graduate-level students in pharmaceutical sciences, biomedical engineering, and other fields in which nanotechnology is playing an increasingly important role.

About the author(s):

Vinod Labhasetwar, PHD, is a Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Lerner Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, where he leads the Cancer NanoMedicine Program, a collaborative effort jointly sponsored by the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the clinic's Taussig Cancer Center. Dr. Labhasetwar's research interest is in translational nanomedicine. His laboratory investigates various nanosystems for drug/gene delivery in cancer therapy, stroke, cardiovascular conditions, and other age-related disorders. In addition, his group investigates magnetic nanoparticles for imaging applications. Dr. Labhasetwar has published over one hundred peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. He has several U.S. and foreign patents on drug delivery.

Diandra L. Leslie-Pelecky, PHD, is Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy and a member of the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. She works with nanostructured magnetic materials having applications in biomedicine, magnetic recording, and permanent magnets, as well as with fundamental understanding of disordered magnetic systems. She has forty peer-reviewed articles and book chapters.

Content Outline:

1. Biological Applications of Multifunctional Magnetic Nanowires.

2. Nucleic Acid Delivery and Localizing Delivery with Magnetic Nanoparticles.

3. Magnetic Nanoparticles in Cancer Diagnosis and Hyperthermic Treatment.

4. Brownian Motion In Biological Sensing.

5. Dendrimers And Hyperbranched Polymers For Drug Delivery.

6. Nanogels-Chemistry to Drug Delivery.

7. Targeted Gold Nanoparticles for Imaging and Therapy .

8. Building Blocks of Nucleic Acid Nanostructures: Unfolding Thermodynamics of Intramolecular DNA Complexes.

9. Nanotoxicology.

About the Editors. .

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lightning at Jupiter's poles

lightning at Jupiter's poles

NASA probe discovers lightning at Jupiter's poles

A NASA spacecraft observed lightning strikes at Jupiter's poles as it provided insights into the giant planet's dynamic atmosphere as well as volcanic activity on one of its moons, scientists said on Tuesday.

The New Horizons spacecraft, passing by the solar system's largest planet en route to the dwarf planet Pluto, also snapped images of the tiny rings encircling Jupiter, studied a huge, swirling storm and explored the planet's long magnetic tail.

NASA released full scientific findings from the mission in the journal Science after discussing highlights earlier this year.

New Horizons zipped by Jupiter earlier this year, making its closest pass on February 28, and used the gaseous planet's considerable gravity to slingshot itself toward Pluto. The piano-sized robotic probe is due to reach Pluto in July 2015.

But while in the neighborhood, the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth aimed its cameras and sensors at Jupiter and its four largest moons, making about 700 observations.

"This was drive-by science at its best," Jeff Moore of the New Horizons Jupiter Encounter science team at NASA Ames Research Center in California, said in a telephone interview. "The encounter went off as well as it possibly could have."

Io is known for having active volcanoes on its surface. One of the 11 volcanic plumes detected was particularly dramatic.

Rising 200 miles into space from the volcano Tvashtar was an umbrella-shaped plume of dust, captured in what scientists called the best images ever taken of a giant eruption from Io.


"By incredibly good luck, we just happened to arrive at a time when one of these rare 'super eruptions' took place," Moore said.

New Horizons allowed the scientists to gain a greater understanding of Jupiter's dynamic atmosphere. For example, they saw lightning strikes at the two poles, a phenomenon previously witnessed only on Earth.

Lightning strikes had been documented elsewhere on Jupiter. The new findings showed lightning is not concentrated near the planet's equator, suggesting that convection clouds are spawned by heat differences all over Jupiter, the scientists said.

The probe made the first close-up observations of Jupiter's second-largest storm, dubbed "the Little Red Spot" to differentiate it from the "Great Red Spot," another swirling storm that is twice as big. Nevertheless, the little one is still 70 percent as big as the Earth's diameter.

"Take 'little' with a grain of salt," Alan Stern, the New Horizons lead scientific investigator, told reporters. "This is an extremely large storm on a giant planet."

Jupiter is encircled by tiny rings that are much smaller and less dramatic than those around its neighboring planet Saturn. Scientists said New Horizons sent back the clearest images to date of these rings of Jupiter.

They saw evidence indicating a meteorite had recently smashed into one ring. They also observed how the small inner moons Metis and Adrastea seemed to lead material like dust and boulders around the rings.

New Horizons also tracked charged particles that flow hundreds of millions of miles beyond Jupiter in the planet's long magnetic tail. It found that material from Io's volcanoes moves down this tail in slow-moving blobs.

The probe came within 1.4 million miles of Jupiter. By getting a boost from Jupiter's gravity, it will cut three years off its trip to Pluto, NASA said.

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Migrations influenced immune evolution

An important component of the innate immune system evolved differently in different human populations, depending on the infectious diseases that each population has encountered, suggests a study published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors found that variants of an immune receptor protect against bacterial infection in Europeans and Asians, while Africans often possess a version of the receptor that protects against malaria.

"Our study demonstrates that during migration out of Africa, the immune system has been changed by the infections it has encountered," senior author Mihai Netea of Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center in the Netherlands told The Scientist in an Email.

Toll-like receptors (TLRs) defend hosts by recognizing molecules that all pathogens possess. One of these receptors, TLR4, protects against Gram-negative bacteria, mycobacteria, fungi, and malaria parasites.

Previous work has identified two common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in TLR4, which appear to change the receptor's activity and alter susceptibility to infectious diseases. Different human populations also show different frequencies of these two SNPs.

To see if infectious disease pressures could have influenced TLR4's evolution in different human populations, researchers led by Bart Ferwerda, also of Radboud, analyzed TLR4 polymorphisms in individuals from Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas.

They found a high frequency of one of the SNPs in Africans, while Europeans showed high frequencies of both SNPs. The two SNPs appeared to cosegregate in European populations: people with one SNP always had the other. Most Asians and Americans showed neither SNP, instead expressing the ancestral alleles.

It was a bit of a surprise to find no Europeans with the single SNP found in Africans, Betea said, but it indicated "a strong evolutionary pressure."

The researchers next looked for functional differences between the TLR4 variant with one SNP, common among Africans, and the TLR4 variant with both SNPs, common among Europeans. They found that the African variant caused cells to produce high levels of a proinflammatory factor, while the European variant did not differ functionally from the ancestral TLR4.

The second SNP found in Europeans must somehow neutralize the proinflammatory effects of the first SNP, according to Igor Mokrousov of St. Petersburg Pasteur Institute in Russia, who was not involved in the work.

Other work has shown that enhanced inflammatory responses can contribute to death from septic shock, and the authors propose that this may explain why most populations do not possess the single SNP that leads to inflammation.

In Africa, however, the threat of malaria may have overridden the threat of bacterial infection. Previous research has suggested that people with the single SNP suffer lower mortality rates from malaria than do people with ancestral alleles, although the mechanism of this protection is unknown.

According to Calogero Caruso of the University of Palermo in Italy, the authors' hypothesis that malaria shaped TLR4 variants is "not completely convincing," because malaria was present in places other than sub-Saharan Africa during much of human history. Also, studies have conflicting findings on the role of inflammation in bacterial infection, said Caruso, who was not involved in the word. "Too much inflammation is dangerous as well as not enough inflammation, depending on the kind of bacteria and the individual phenotype."

"The interplay is very complex as [other] environmental factors also played a role" in shaping humans' immune evolution, Mokrousov told The Scientist. But the study presents "very interesting, exciting results," he said. "Pressure from infectious diseases was one of the forces that shaped the human immune system."

Melissa Lee Phillips

Links within this article:

C. Holding, "Evolution of innate immunity," The Scientist, July 8, 2004.

B. Ferwerda et al., "TLR4 polymorphisms, infectious diseases, and evolutionary pressure during migration of modern humans," PNAS, published online October 8, 2007.

M. Goozner, "Beating malaria," The Scientist, December 1, 2006.

K.Y. Kreeger, "Taking toll of Toll-like receptors," The Scientist, May 5, 2003.

S. Akira, K. Takeda, "Toll-like receptor signalling," Nature Reviews Immunology, July 2004.

B. Beutler, "Tlr4: central component of the sole mammalian LPS sensor," Current Opinion Immunology, February 2000

N.C. Arbour et al., "TLR4 mutations are associated with endotoxin hyporesponsiveness in humans," Nature Genetics, June 2000.

M.J. Newport et al., "The toll-like receptor 4 Asp299Gly variant: no influence on LPS responsiveness or susceptibility to pulmonary tuberculosis in The Gambia," Tuberculosis (Edinburgh), 2004.

B. Beutler, A. Cerami, "Cachectin and tumour necrosis factor as two sides of the same biological coin," Nature, April 17, 1986.

F.P. Mockenhaupt et al., "Toll-like receptor (TLR) polymorphisms in African children: Common TLR-4 variants predispose to severe malaria," PNAS, January 3, 2006.

Calogero Caruso

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micro RNA ; control over biological systems

"Almost every important gene and pathway will be regulated at multiple levels by a variety of micro RNA," predicts Deepak Srivastava of the University of California, San Francisco. "It's really an entirely new layer of biology."

Over the years, scientists and drug companies seeking genetic control over biological systems have focused their attention on proteins. But that's only one part of the picture: Recently, scientists have been accumulating evidence that non-protein-coding sequences often play the role of conductor in the body's response: it's a kind of "conductome". Now this information is becoming encyclopedic, and it is calling into question everything we thought we knew about the so-called functional genome.

In the following pages, we illustrate the roles of microRNAs - the small non-coding RNAs that regulate gene expression by interfering with messenger RNA function - in biological systems. We also present a controversial new definition of the functional genome from John Mattick, based at the University of Queensland, who argues that so-called junk DNA provides the intricate instructions for regulating the functions of complex organisms.

MicroRNAs: An emerging portrait :

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Albert Fert & Peter Grünberg, Physics of Hard Drives Wins Nobel

Two physicists who discovered how to manipulate the magnetic and electrical properties of thin layers of atoms to store vast amounts of data on tiny disks, making iPods and other wonders of modern life possible, were named winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics yesterday.

Albert Fert, of the Université Paris-Sud in Orsay, France, and Peter Grünberg, of the Institute of Solid State Research at the Jülich Research Center in Germany, will share the $1.5 million prize awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

They will receive the money in a ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10.

Dr. Fert, 69, and Dr. Grünberg, 68, each working independently in 1988, discovered an effect known as giant magnetoresistance, in which tiny changes in a magnetic field can produce huge changes in electrical resistance.

The effect is at the heart of modern gadgets that record data, music or snippets of video as a dense magnetic patchwork of zeros and ones, which is then scanned by a small head and converted to electrical signals.

"The MP3 and iPod industry would not have existed without this discovery," Börje Johansson, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy, said, according to The Associated Press. "You would not have an iPod without this effect."

In remarks broadcast over a speakerphone at the academy in Stockholm, Dr. Fert said: "I am so happy for my family, for my co-workers. And I am also very happy to share this with a friend."

Experts said the discovery was one of the first triumphs of the new field of nanotechnology, the science of building and manipulating assemblies of atoms only a nanometer (a billionth of a meter) in size.

The scanning heads in today's gizmos consist of alternating layers only a few atoms thick of a magnetic metal, like iron, and a nonmagnetic metal, like chromium. At that small size, the strange rules of quantum mechanics come into play and novel properties emerge.

The Nobel citation said Dr. Fert and Dr. Grünberg's work also heralded the advent of a new, even smaller and denser type of memory storage called spintronics, in which information is stored and processed by manipulating the spins of electrons.

Engineers have been recording information magnetically and reading it out electrically since the dawn of the computer age, but as they have endeavored to pack more and more data onto their machines, they have been forced to use smaller and fainter magnetic inscriptions and thus more and more sensitive readout devices.

It has long been known that magnetic fields can affect the electrical resistance of magnetic materials like iron. Current flows more easily along field lines than across them. The effect was useful for sensing magnetic fields, and in heads that read magnetic disks. But it amounted to only a small change in resistance, and physicists did not think there were many prospects for improvement.

So it was a surprise in 1988 when groups led by Dr. Fert at the Laboratoire de Physique des Solides and by Dr. Grünberg found that super-slim sandwiches of iron and chromium showed enhanced sensitivity to magnetic fields - "giant magnetoresistance," as Dr. Fert called it. The name stuck.

The reason for the effect has to do with what physicists call the spin of electrons. When the magnetic layers of the sandwich have their fields pointing in the same direction, electrons whose spin points along that direction can migrate freely through the sandwich, but electrons that point in another direction get scattered.

If, however, one of the magnetic layers is perturbed, by, say, reading a small signal, it can flip its direction so that its field runs opposite to the other one. In that case, no matter which way an electron points, it will be scattered and hindered from moving through the layers, greatly increasing the electrical resistance of the sandwich.

As Phillip Schewe, of the American Institute of Physics, explained, "You've leveraged a weak bit of magnetism into a robust bit of electricity."

Subsequently, Stuart Parkin, now of I.B.M., came up with an easier way to produce the sandwiches on an industrial scale. The first commercial devices using giant magnetoresistance effect were produced in 1997.

Dr. Grünberg was born in Pilsen in what is now the Czech Republic and obtained his Ph.D. from the Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany in 1969. He has been asked many times over the years when he was going to win the big prize, and so was not surprised to win the Nobel, according to The A.P.

He said he was looking forward to being able to pursue his research without applying for grants for "every tiny bit."

Dr. Fert was born in Carcassonne, France, and received his Ph.D. at the Université Paris-Sud in 1970. He told The A.P. that it was impossible to predict where modern physics is going to go.

"These days when I go to my grocer and see him type on a computer, I say, 'Wow, he's using something I put together in my mind,'" Dr. Fert said.

iPods, Better laptops Stemmed from Nobel Prize Discovery
The 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics goes for the discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance, a nanotechnology that enables more compact disks to be squeezed into laptops, iPods, and other such devices.

The 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to two researchers for their discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance (GMR), a sort of nanotechnology that enables more compact disks to be squeezed into laptops, iPods and other such devices.

The discovery was made separately in 1988 by Albert Fert of France and Peter Gr|nberg of Germany, though the technology didn't really take hold until the late 1990s.

GMR technology allows for data to be read from very compact disks. Here's a description from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which doles out the Nobel Prizes:

"A hard disk stores information, such as music, in the form of microscopically small areas magnetized in different directions. The information is retrieved by a read-out head that scans the disk and registers the magnetic changes. The smaller and more compact the hard disk, the smaller and weaker the individual magnetic areas.

"More sensitive read-out heads are therefore required if information has to be packed more densely on a hard disk. A read-out head based on the GMR effect can convert very small magnetic changes into differences in electrical resistance and therefore into changes in the current emitted by the read-out head. The current is the signal from the read-out head and its different strengths represent ones and zeros."

More background about the discovery is available here.

Last year, the prize went to John Mather and George Smoot "for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation."

The real Nobel Prizes are being announced a week after the quirky Ig Nobel Prizes for weird science were announced at Harvard University.

Research into the mystery of wrinkles on bed sheets, the bottomless bowl of soup and the effect of Viagra on hamster jet lag dominated those awards.

For more on network-oriented research, read our Alpha Doggs blog.

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Google Buys Into Microblogging (Jaiku)

That was actually a test. If you actually know what Jaiku is, you have probably already heard about the acquisition on Twitter or on Jaiku itself. In other words, you are on the vanguard of trying to evolve a new sensory organ devoted to instantly perceiving what your friends are doing at any moment (and at the same time, how to profit from the latest technology trends).
Otherwise, you probably assumed Jaiku is some game played with dice that Google will put in its employee lounges. I'll bet this second group represents something that rounds easily to 100 percent of the adult population.
For all of those people: Jaiku, like Twitter, is what has become known as a microblogging service that lets people send short blasts of information about themselves to their friends and to the public. The company is based in Helsinki, and was founded by Jyri Engeström and Petteri Koponen. Not surprisingly both have been heavily involved in the mobile phone world. (Here are Google's blog post and Jaiku's FAQ on the deal.)
Despite the obsession of a small corner of Silicon Valley with Twitter, I suspect this is hardly a blip in the evolution of the Internet. The terms of the deal were not announced, but doubtless the company was sold for an amount in the millions or low tens of millions of dollars.
Google is not picking up a significant number of users in buying Jaiku. And I don't see any evidence that Jaiku has technology that is very hard to build. So we've got to assume Google is paying a lot of money to hire a small group of engineers it likes, as it tends to do.
This may also be a sign that Google has overstaffed its business development department and is doing deals just to keep them busy.
Still, Jaiku and Twitter, which recently raised money from Union Square Ventures, are onto something. AOL Instant Messenger showed that there is something very engaging about watching what other people we know are doing - logging on and off, putting simple information in their 'away' messages. Facebook found a way to amplify this with an easy to update "status" message, brilliantly aggregated into a personal newsfeed for each user. Twitter and Jaiku, of course, are the newsfeed without the rest of the service.
So the question here, of course, is whether status updates really will become a mass product on a standalone service, or whether they will be a feature of some other more complex offering.
You've got to bet that status, presence and so on constitute a feature. It's too easy to add these to other services that are more engaging. And I suspect that there are enough other sites wanting to expand their use for social communication that there will be many offers for Twitter whenever it decides it's time to sell.
Google, after all, has decided that it is simply too complex to create a new interface for each good idea and has been on a campaign to focus on developing "features not products." The best example of this is the integration of its instant message system into Gmail. Indeed, you can already see little orange icons showing which of your Gmail contacts are online at any given moment. And it is easy to imagine that this interface could easily add a stream of text or photo blasts too.
I'm sure some users would like that. What's not clear is why Google needed to buy a standalone company to offer it.
By the way, I asked Google for comment and haven't heard back yet. I'll update this post if they reply and add anything.

UPDATE: I just ran across this bit of fan mail to Jaiku from Tim O'Reilly. He is particularly enamored of how the service can integrate into the address book of a few high-end cellphones. As you start to dial a person, you can see their latest status update and where they are. As Google moves into the phone software business, it's possible that this sort of feature might be interesting. Google certainly has a fondness for services that relates to geographical location.

Google buys Finnish startup Jaiku.

Google announced on Tuesday it is buying Jaiku, a Finnish startup specializing in letting friends use mobile telephones to share what they are doing at any given moment.

Google is making a priority of following Internet users as they go mobile and is even reported to be crafting a "gphone" with an open-source software platform tailored to its online services.

Jaiku is a social networking and mini-messaging service that enables people to keep track of each others' activities while on the move using curt missives sent to mobile telephones.

The Helsinki-based firm founded early last year by Jyri Engestrom and Petteri Koponen has been compared to the popular US-based service Twitter.

"Technology has made staying in touch with your friends and family both easier and harder," Google product manager Tony Hsieh wrote in a posting on the California firm's website.

"Living a fast-paced, on-the-go lifestyle is easier (and a lot of fun), but it's more difficult to keep track of everyone when they're running around at warp speed. That's why we're excited to announce that we've acquired Jaiku."

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Last month, Google's quest for devotees in the booming world of mobile online services led to its purchase of Zingku, a startup company that streamlines sharing pictures, messages and more via smart phones..

About Jaiku
Jaiku is now a part of Google. For more details about Jaiku and Google, see the Q&A about the acquisition.

Jaiku's main goal is to bring people closer together by enabling them to share their activity streams. An activity stream is a log of everyday things as they happen: your status messages, recommendations, events you're attending, photos you've taken - anything you post directly to Jaiku or add using Web feeds. We offer a way to connect with the people you care about by sharing your activities with them on the Web, IM, and SMS - as well as through a slew of cool third-party applications built by other developers using our API.

The most powerful instrument of social peripheral vision is your mobile phone. We've put in a special effort to create Jaiku Mobile, a live phonebook that displays the activity streams, availability, and location of your Jaiku contacts right in your phone contact list. We modestly believe it is the best solution out there for seeing what your friends are up to. Currently Jaiku Mobile is available for phones based on the Nokia S60 software platform (see the list of compatible devices).

Check out our Jaikido blog for updates about the service. We appreciate your feedback, so feel free to comment away on the blog - or join our feedback and ideas channel.

For an insider's view into things happening at Jaiku, follow the updates from Jaiku Team

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Podcasting:Pursuit of the Almighty Dollar

Podcasting:Pursuit of the Almighty Dollar
Agencies and networks, being grounded in the traditional advertising business, favor the payment model that the advertising world has used for decades: cost per mille, or CPM. Mille is Latin for "thousand," so it means the amount of money the advertiser pays for every 1,000 audience members to whom the ad is delivered.

At first blush, the recent Podcast and New Media Expo held in Ontario, Calif., might have looked a bit frivolous -- there was a guy with bright blue hair, a woman in a burlesque getup posing for pictures, and someone in a pickle suit handing out promotional buttons -- but doesn't every trade show have its share of weirdness?

Podcasting is anything but a joke to the more than 2,000 who turned out at the 2007 Podcast and New Media Expo. In fact, the show itself is no joke, either. It won Expo Magazine's "Best New Show" award in 2006 and will move its venue to Las Vegas next year.

As the show itself illustrates, podcasting is growing into a serious online media phenomenon, said Tim Bourquin, the show's founder and CEO, and himself a podcaster.

"It really is an 'industry' now, and ... people are starting to realize the value of small media companies that have the ability to compete with traditional media," Bourquin told TechNewsWorld.

Podcasting's Identity CrisisIn fact, another indicator of podcasting's growth is its identity crisis. You can stream a podcast to your computer, smartphone or PDA (personal digital assistant) in addition to loading it onto your iPod, so the name itself is misleading, attendees and presenters alike were quick to point out. The industry is leaning toward "online media" as a more all-encompassing moniker.

The trade show itself is changing its name to reflect that shift, electing to become simply the "New Media Expo" beginning with next year's event.

Key to the growth of podcasting is the same factor that affects all online media: monetization. It's a tough topic, and one that formed a thread throughout the trade show.

"If your goal is to make money, podcasting will provide you with nothing unique," GigaVox Media founder Michael Geoghegan told the audience. "You are not entitled to anything special because you have an RSS (really simple syndication) feed. There's something you have to realize, and you have to accept: It takes work."

Making Money Takes Work

Podcasters who want to attract advertisers need to prove that their audience is valuable to those advertisers, he said. Among the ways to accomplish this goal are conducting an audience survey, fostering your podcast's image through site design and production value, and -- most importantly -- creating a media kit to give advertisers all the information they need in one place.

Actually making money involves even more work, Geoghegan said. Those who have the time, energy and inclination to do it themselves will get more money out of direct advertising sales. It's a time-consuming process, however.

The more you know about your audience, the easier it is to match that unique group with specific advertisers that target that group, said Goghegan, who also founded the wine-related new media site The advertiser might pay a higher amount per impression by sponsoring a Graperadio podcast, but more of the responses are likely to be converted into sales, he noted.

Otherwise, there are podcasting networks that aggregate and distribute content, or agencies that can sell advertising time. Both receive their cut of the advertising revenue that is generated from the sale.

The Old Way vs. the New Way

Agencies and networks, being grounded in the traditional advertising business, favor the payment model that the advertising world has used for decades: cost per mille, or CPM. Mille is Latin for "thousand," so it means the amount of money the advertiser pays for every 1,000 audience members to whom the ad is delivered.

"CPM is antiquated and does not apply to what you do," Geoghegan told the show audience. "People in the advertising business live in a CPM world."

Gary Puckett, a host on, a new media network, said adapting existing financial models to new media is a tough fit.

"It's way too complicated at this point, but hopefully they'll get it resolved," said Puckett.

Podcasters are trying to change that model, but until they come up with another that works better, it's going to be a difficult struggle, said Matthew Snodgrass, vice president of advertising firm Porter Novelli's creative service department.

"They deal with television in a ratings model. That's the only one going. People have tried to come up with a bigger and better Neilsen rating system, and they've failed," he observed.

Knowing Your Audience

What podcasting offers is a more intimate connection with its audience, Snodgrass continued. "Podcasting is able to do that -- precision micro-targeting -- unlike anything out there."

Because of that, sometimes a sponsorship model -- an advertiser supporting the entire podcast in exchange for a mention at the top or bottom of the podcast -- might be better.

Remember "Texaco Star Theater?" That model is being tried with some success in podcasting, Snodgrass said.

Other Methods

Product placements are proving effective as well, especially in entertainment-oriented video podcasts, Geoghegan said.

As an example, he pointed to "French Maid TV," a video podcast that skews toward a younger, male audience thanks to its scantily clad namesake stars, who show the audience how to do everyday things, such as change their oil.

With a product placement, the oil in question is whatever brand happens to pay for placement, and it features prominently in the picture throughout the podcast.

However, give up too much control over your content in exchange for money, and your audience will notice, said Paul Vogelzang of "Mommycast," a popular podcast that offers parenting advice and is sponsored by Georgia Pacific's Dixie brand.

"Moms, in particular, are very skeptical. They won't listen to that," he said. "You don't want a shill. That's against the nature of podcasting.

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Disk technology takes Nobel Prize

Disk technology takes Nobel Prize
French scientist Albert Fert and Peter Grunberg of Germany have won the 2007 Nobel Prize for physics.

They discovered the phenomenon of "giant magnetoresistance", in which weak magnetic changes give rise to big differences in electrical resistance.

The knowledge has allowed industry to develop sensitive reading tools to pull data off hard drives in computers, iPods and other digital devices.

It has made it possible to radically miniaturise hard disks in recent years.

Matin Durrani, editor of Physics World, a journal published by the UK's Institute of Physics, said the award had gone to "something very practically based and rooted in research relevant to industry".

"It shows that physics has a real relevance not just to understanding natural phenomena but to real products in everyday life," he added.

'Ubiquitous' technology

Professor Ben Murdin of the University of Surrey, UK, said giant magnetoresistance, or GMR, was the science behind a ubiquitous technological device. "Without it you would not be able to store more than one song on your iPod!" he explained.

A computer hard-disk reader that uses a GMR sensor is equivalent to a jet flying at a speed of 30,000 kmph, at a height of just one metre above the ground, and yet being able to see and catalogue every single blade of grass it passes over."

GMR involves structures consisting of very thin layers of different magnetic materials.

For this reason it can also be considered "one of the first real applications of the promising field of nanotechnology", the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

"Applications of this phenomenon have revolutionised techniques for retrieving data from hard disks," the prize citation said. "The discovery also plays a major role in various magnetic sensors as well as for the development of a new generation of electronics."

Bigger, cheaper

A hard disk stores information, such as music, in the form of microscopic areas that are magnetised in different directions

The information is retrieved by a read-out head that scans the disk and registers the magnetic changes.

The smaller and more compact the hard disk, the smaller and weaker the individual magnetic areas.

More sensitive read-out heads are therefore needed when more information is crammed on to a hard disk.

"It's no good having computer hard-drives that can store gigabytes of information if we can't access it," said Professor Jim Al-Khalili of the University of Surrey, UK.

"The technology that has appeared thanks to the discovery of GMR in the late 1980s has allowed hard-disk sensors to read and write much more data, allowing for bigger memory, cheaper and more reliable computers."

Last year, US scientists John C Mather and George F Smoot won for their work examining the infancy of the Universe.

They were honoured for their studies into cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), the "oldest light" in the Universe.

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Virtualization: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

In the latest installment of a twice-yearly survey by The InfoPro, a New York-based consulting firm, about 40 percent of respondents from 150 large companies said they aren't asking business units for permission to implement server virtualization. "Server pros are saying, 'I guarantee [service-level agreements], and the users don't need to know how I do it,'" said Bob Gill, director of server research at The InfoPro.

The promise of virtualization technology has convinced some companies to require that most new applications be run immediately on virtual machines.

Such a rush to virtual servers is certainly under way at The Hartford Life and Accident Insurance, where "the standard is that everything new comes in on virtual servers," said Bruno Janssens, senior architect in the company's infrastructure services group.

A dozen of the Simsbury, Conn.-based insurer's 5,000 servers are currently virtualized, as are some 500 Windows XP client machines, he said.

On the QT
However, IT managers at some companies can feel forced to hide plans from end users and vendors in order to overcome potential objections to virtualization, said IT professionals and analysts attending Computerworld's Infrastructure Management World (IMW) conference, held earlier this month in Scottsdale, Ariz.

In some cases, end users object to virtualization because they're concerned that virtual machines lack the security and performance of dedicated servers.

At the same time, many IT operations must deal with vendors that either prohibit them from implementing their software on virtual machines or establish convoluted pricing schemes for virtualized setups.

Companies are taking a variety of measures to overcome such obstacles, including adopting "don't ask, don't tell" policies in order to get virtual applications running without notifying users and vendors.

In the latest installment of a twice-yearly survey by The InfoPro, a New York-based consulting firm, about 40 percent of respondents from 150 large companies said they aren't asking business units for permission to implement server virtualization.

"Server pros are saying, 'I guarantee [service-level agreements], and the users don't need to know how I do it,'" said Bob Gill, director of server research at The InfoPro.

Subject of Debate
Some IT professionals at the conference defended decisions to keep users out of the loop, while others said such dishonest dealings could prove tricky.

"It's not like we're hiding anything," said Wendy Saadi, a virtualization project manager for the city government of Mesa, Ariz.

"The application analysts know, and they'll raise objections if they see any problems beforehand," she said. "My users don't care what servers we run their applications on, for the most part, as long as it all works."

However, Saadi noted that an initial effort by a small Mesa IT team to implement virtualization without notifying users -- or the rest of the IT organization -- did force a change in direction.

"When we first started, (the small team) watched training videos about how to virtualize everything without asking anyone first," Saadi said. "So they did that, and we were getting a reputation (among users and other Mesa IT managers) as 'that' server group. We put the brakes on everything."

Change of Plans
At that point, IT managers created a process for implementing virtual servers, and they prepared white papers and planning documents to keep all IT personnel involved, she said.

"We gave lots of opportunities for IT folks to help set standards and procedures" and then started the effort again, Saadi explained.

Now, she said, all of IT is notified of virtualization projects, and various IT managers represent the needs of specific users -- without necessarily notifying them of the plans.

Currently, the city has 32 virtual machines running on two quad-core servers; the plan is to have 90 virtual systems by year's end.

It's important that users be notified of any virtualization plan, said Mike Biagioli, IT manager for Waukesha County, Wis.

A "don't ask, don't tell" policy could be a "career-ending move" for a Waukesha County government employee, he said. "If you do that and people find out, they won't trust you on anything else."

Vendor Dilemmas

Software vendors are also erecting barriers to efforts to set up virtual computing systems, according to IMW attendees.

Some vendors won't support their software at all if it's run on virtual machines, they said. Those that do support virtualized deployments have widely varied pricing schemes.

"You have to go to each vendor and ask," said Jeff Dill, senior manager of technical architecture services at aircraft parts supplier Aviall Services in Dallas.

With many vendors, Biagioli noted, "it's case by case. If you have a disaster recovery facility (that's running virtualized software) and it's not live, then that's fine -- but if you turn it on, you have to pay."

Waukesha County's IT shop has had to postpone some software upgrades because of virtualization licensing concerns, according to Biagioli.

Going Against the Grain

David Hodge, manager of computer systems at Systech, a Woodridge, Ill.-based vendor of billing and dispatch software for concrete mixers, is one IT staffer who doesn't tell his vendors and end users about virtualization projects right away. However, his employer is a software vendor that prohibits users from virtualizing its software.

"We're one of those vendors that doesn't allow our customers to do virtualization, but I'm off in my corner doing it," he acknowledged. "It makes my job easier to just put it out there and then tell [users] later. I eventually do tell them, but just not during the initial period."

A common tack for dealing with uncooperative vendors is to test software on a virtual machine used for development, to get a sense of how much support the application might require.

While staffers undertake that effort, the project's leader might reach out to the virtualization software supplier for help in convincing application vendors of the benefits of the technology, said IMW attendees.

Price Is a Factor

Whether or not licensing issues can be resolved, it's clear that users are already buying bigger servers to help meet their virtualization needs. "The sweet spot for hardware configurations has shifted from two-socket to two-socket dual-core or two-socket quad-core" processors, said Gill.

Though the extra processing power comes in mighty handy when consolidating many servers onto one, its price tag could slow virtualization plans at some IT departments.

Bob Logan, director of enterprise infrastructure services at SAIC Inc., a research and development company in San Diego, noted that the typical server used for virtualization in his shop costs almost five times as much as an average stand-alone server.

"It's around (US)$28,000 vs. $6,000," he said.

However, the cost hasn't proven to be a problem for SAIC.

Virtualization has allowed the company to consolidate its data center by replacing 300 physical servers with 20 servers hosting virtual machines, Logan said. The effort saved $1.2 million in leasing costs over three years, he added.

According to the InfoPro survey, successful implementations like that should become far more common over the next few years.

For example, Gill said that about 28 percent of the respondents said they expect that half of all new servers installed at their companies this year will host virtual applications. About 50 percent said that, by 2010, at least half of their new servers will likely host virtual software.

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Incredible shrinking memory drives new IT

Incredible shrinking memory drives new IT

Over the past decade, hard drives have shrunk to the size of postage stamps while their storage capacity has improved fifty-fold, a feat that can be traced to two men who won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Physics on Tuesday. From MP3 players to cameras to laptops, most of the gadgets that store the digital threads from which our daily lives are increasingly woven owe their enhanced power to this hard-disk breakthrough.

"It has revolutionized everything from iPods to mobile phones," said Matin Durrani, editor of Physics World, a journal published by Britain's Institute of Physics.

Along with people in the trillion-dollar hard-drive industry, Durrani was delighted that the physics Nobel -- usually given for highly theoretical work with scant practical application -- recognized research that had tangibly changed lives.

"It shows that physics has a real relevance not just to understanding natural phenomena but to real products in everyday life," he said.

Albert Fert of France and Peter Gruenberg of Germany have been lauded for discovering the principle, called giant magnetoresistance (GMR), that led to this breakthrough.

Working at the atomic scale of nanotechnology, they independently discovered in 1988 that tiny changes in magnetic fields can yield a large electric output, something physicists at the time did not think possible.

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These differences in turn cause changes in the current in the readout head which scans a hard disk to spot the ones and zeroes in which the data is stored.

"The real payoff is being able to use smaller and smaller magnetic domains. This translated directly into greater density of data," said Phil Schewe of the American Institute of Physics.

In a quarter-century, a computer of comparable computing power shrank from the size of a large room, to a fridge and then a laptop, he said.

"And now you can fit more than a trillion bits of data onto a tiny handheld device, such as an iPod or an Blackberry," Schewe said.

The information revolution has long obeyed "Moore's Law," which says advances in the miniaturization of electronic circuitry enable silicon chips to double in power roughly every 18 months.

In the mid-1990s, though, it looked as if that blistering pace of evolution would be braked by the limitations of hard-disk technology.

Hard disks could not store enough data relative to their size and the induction coil, used for extracting the data, was a bad choke point.

Fert and Gruenberg were able to prove that their concept of packing more information into less space worked. But they could not find a way to ramp up to industrial-scale production.

That breakthrough came from the laboratory of Stuart Parkin, an experimental physicist at IBM who applied something called "sputtering" techniques to create GMR structures, which are thin magnetic layers separated by non-magnetic metals.

IBM introduced the new technology in its disk-drive products in 1997 and was quickly followed by the rest of the industry.

Technology based on GMR "may be regarded as the first step in developing a completely new type of electronics, dubbed 'spintronics'," the Nobel jury said in announcing the award.

Unlike traditional electronics, spintronics uses not only an electrical charge but the spin of electrons in individual atoms.

This quantum mechanical effect, the jury predicts, will be the basis of a new kind of computer memory -- MRAM, or magnetic working memory -- that will be as fast as today's temporary memory but will be permanent at the same time.

"People keep saying there are limits to how small we can make things," said Schewe. "But clever physicists keep finding ways to cheat Moore's Law and cram more information in."

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