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Monday, March 31, 2008

A South American river dolphin uses branches, weeds and lumps of clay to woo the opposite sex

A male boto rises to the surface of the Amazon carrying plant material in its mouth. It thrashes the foliage from side to side against the surface of the water, creating a visual and auditory signal.
Dolphin woos with wood and grass
A South American river dolphin uses branches, weeds and lumps of clay to woo the opposite sex and frighten off rivals, scientists have discovered.

Researchers observed adult male botos carrying these objects while surrounded by females, and thrashing them on the water surface aggressively.

Writing in the journal Biology Letters, they say such behaviour has never before been seen in any marine mammal.

The boto lives in only two rivers, and numbers are thought to be declining.

A group of British and Brazilian researchers studied the dolphin's unique courtship behaviour over three years in the Mamiraua Reserve, a flooded rainforest area on the Amazon.

"You see them coming up with bits of wood or lumps of rock in a very ritualised manner," recalled Tony Martin from the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St Andrews University.
Quite often they'd slowly come up above the surface in a vertical posture holding this stuff in their mouths, then sink down rotating on their own axis.

"They would also throw it or smash it against the surface, and it does appear that the waving around and bashing is to impress the ladies; but at the same time there's a lot of aggression between adult males, and we have to infer that's part of it."

Professor Martin's group established that rock carrying and branch thrashing were almost exclusively the preserve of adult males, and that they did it more when lots of adult females were present.

Although the males were more aggressive towards each other at these times, they were never seen to hit each other with the rocks or plants.

Sound theory

Three years ago, scientists found bottlenose dolphins in Australian waters carrying pieces of sponge, either to help with foraging or to defend against predators.

But using objects for socio-sexual display is a novel finding.

"I naively imagined this kind of thing was seen in other mammal species," said Professor Martin.

"But I was quite surprised when I consulted friends and colleagues, and it turns out that only chimps do anything similar - and that's much less sophisticated."

How and why the boto evolved the behaviour is unclear; although as cetaceans communicate largely with sound, it appears likely that the displays also create an impressive auditory impact on females, rival males, or both.

Hooked on boto

This research stemmed from a larger project, Projeto Boto, aimed at conserving the Amazon dolphin and its habitat.

River dolphins are among the most threatened of all cetaceans; the baiji, a native of the Yangtze in China, may already have gone extinct in the last two years, while numbers of the Indus or blind river dolphin of South Asia are believed to be down to around the 3,000 mark.
Compared to these species, the South American dolphin is in good health in its traditional haunts along the Amazon and Orinico rivers. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species suggests "there are probably tens of thousands of botos in total".

But the future does not appear secure. The Red List concludes that the boto is threatened by dams (causing fragmentation of their habitat) and pollution, such as from mercury used in gold mining.

"With growing human populations in Amazonia and Orinoquia, the conflicts between fisheries and dolphins are certain to intensify", it notes.

Projeto Boto has found that fishermen are increasingly catching the dolphins for use as bait to catch a fish, the piracatinga, which usually feeds on dead flesh.

Meat from the caiman, a close relative of the alligator, is also used for this purpose.

Projeto Boto scientists are regularly finding dead dolphins, either harpooned or entangled in ropes.

"We lost half of the animals from our study area in just five years," said Tony Martin.

"They may be fairly numerous now, but they're going downhill fast and we can't see any end to it."

Collabration :Adobe brings AIR to Linux, joins Linux Foundation

Adobe system is updating alpha version of AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) and to release the version today also announce that it is joining the Linux Foundation.

AIR is Adobe's Web browser plug-in for running and creating Web applications that run both online and offline. AIR 1.0, released late last month, runs on Windows and Mac OS. Adobe had said it will port AIR to Linux and then mobile devices.

As part of the AIR-on-Linux release, Adobe is making an update to the alpha version of its Flex Builder framework for Linux. Both will be made available at Adobe Labs for free and will be completed later this year.

Adobe said that it joined the Linux Foundation to help promote rich Internet application development on Linux. It's a bid to raise its commitment to Linux-based software on the desktop, where it's support until now has been limited.

Google is sponsoring programmers at CodeWeavers who are using Wine to write a Linux version of Photoshop and other Creative Suite applications.

Adobe has also sought to work with open-source software more, in general. It has open-sourced development tools, including its Flex development framework, and contributed a scripting engine to the Mozilla Foundation for inclusion in the Firefox Web browser

Windows Vista miss matching with Nvidia!!!

From several authentic sources its can be clear that Nvidia is miss matching with Nvidia .
According to a 158-page pack of e-mails released as part of the Windows Vista Capable lawsuit, 30% of Vista crashed were caused by problems with Nvidia drivers.

The report in regards to Nvidia drivers on Vista comes from Ars Technica.

They have stated, after reviewing the pack of e-mails released, that in 2007, 30% of all Vista crashes were due to Nvidia drivers.

The report states that Nvidia caused 479,000 of the 1,663,748 Vista crashed Windows logged last year over a period of time.

Behind Nvidia, it was found that Microsoft drivers caused 17.9% of crashes, following by ATI causing 9.3% and Intel causing 8.8%.

Nvidia is to blame for the Vista crashes during 2007, that's the conclusion one would reach after reading the emails made public during the ongoing "Vista Capable" lawsuit.
This comes a month after U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled in favor of consumers. Pechman stated that consumers have the right to continue class action lawsuits against Microsoft over their Vista Capable advertising campaign.

Many consumers were none too happy with Microsoft in how they handled their Vista Capable campaign.

The idea behind it was to educate consumers to teach them which computers would be capable of running Windows Vista Basic.

Microsoft is hoping to fix a lot of the current bugs with the release of Windows Vista Service Pack 1, which was made available for download on Microsoft’s Windows Update Web on March 18.

Microsoft will push the fixes to those who get automatic updates starting in the middle of April.

Vista SP1 fixes many of the big bug problems with the operating system.

New robotic intelligence

A new robot is able to learn by itself and can solve increasingly complex tasks with no additional programming.
Designers of artificial cognitive systems have tended to adopt one of two approaches to building robots that can think for themselves: classical rule-based artificial intelligence or artificial neural networks. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and combining the two offers the best of both worlds, say a team of European researchers who have developed a new breed of cognitive, learning robot that goes beyond the state of the art.

The researchers’ work brings together the two distinct but mutually supportive technologies that have been used to develop artificial cognitive systems (ACS) for different purposes. The classical approach to artificial intelligence (AI) relies on a rule-based system in which the designer largely supplies the knowledge and scene representations, making the robot follow a decision-making process – much like climbing through the branches of a tree – toward a predefined response.

Biologically inspired artificial neural networks (ANNs), on the other hand, rely on processing continuous signals and a non-linear optimisation process to reach a response which, due to the lack of preset rules, requires developers to carefully balance the system constraints and its freedom to act autonomously.

“Developing systems in classical AI is essentially a top-down approach, whereas in ANN it is a bottom-up approach,” explains Michael Felsberg, a researcher at the Computer Vision Laboratory of Linköping University in Sweden. “The problem is that, used individually, these systems have major shortcomings when it comes to developing advanced ACS architectures. ANN is too trivial to solve complex tasks, while classical AI cannot solve them if it has not been pre-programmed to do so.”

Beyond the state of the art

Working in the EU-funded COSPAL project, Felsberg’s team found that using the two technologies together solves many of those issues. In what the researchers believe to be the most advanced example of such a system developed anywhere in the world, they used ANN to handle the low-level functions based on the visual input their robots received and then employed classical AI on top of that in a supervisory function.

“In this way, we found it was possible for the robots to explore the world around them through direct interaction, create ways to act in it and then control their actions in accordance. This combines the advantages of classical AI, which is superior when it comes to functions akin to human rationality, and the advantages of ANN, which is superior at performing tasks for which humans would use their subconscious, things like basic motor skills and low-level cognitive tasks,” notes Felsberg.

The most important difference between the COSPAL approach and what had been the state of the art is that the researchers’ ACS is scalable. It is able to learn by itself and can solve increasingly complex tasks with no additional programming.

“There is a direct mapping from the visual precepts to performing the action,” Felsberg confirms. “With previous systems, if something in the environment changed that the low-level system was not programmed to recognise, it would give random responses but the supervising AI process would not realise anything was wrong. With our approach, the system realises something is different and if its actions do not result in success it tries something else,” the project coordinator explains.

“Like training a child or a puppy”

This trial-and-error learning approach was tested by making the COSPAL robot complete a shape-sorting puzzle, but without telling it what it had to do. As it tried to fit pegs into holes it gradually learnt what would fit where, allowing it to complete the puzzle more quickly and accurately each time.

“After visual bootstrapping, the only human input was from an operator who had two buttons, one to tell the robot it was successful and another to tell it that it had made a mistake. It is much like training a child or a puppy,” Felsberg says.

Though a learning, cognitive robot of the kind developed in COSPAL constitutes an important leap forward toward the development of more autonomous robots, Felsberg says it will be some time before robots gain anything close to human cognition and intelligence, if they ever do.

“In human terms, our robot is probably like a two or three year old child, and it will take a long time for the technology to progress into the equivalent of adulthood. I don’t think we will see it in our lifetimes,” he says.

Nonetheless, robots like those developed in COSPAL will undoubtedly start to play a greater role in our lives. The project partners are in the process of launching a follow-up project called DIPLECS to test their ACS architecture in a car. It will be used to make the vehicle cognitive and aware of its surroundings, creating an artificial co-pilot to increase safety no matter the weather, road or traffic conditions.

“In the real world you need a system that is capable of adapting to unforeseen circumstances, and that is the greatest accomplishment of our ACS,” Felsberg notes.

Google and Apple compete on developing mobile application

Mobile phobia dominating the big technology giant, and the result is google and apple the world technology giant preparing themself to pick them top through mobile application.
For the last four months, Howard Chau has been developing a mobile application that's designed to alert people to their next calendar appointment, factoring in data like the person's physical location and traffic conditions en route to a meeting.

In the next two weeks, Chau plans to submit the GPS-based application, called Mappily, to Google in the hopes of winning its Android Developer Challenge, a developer contest with $10 million in total prize money. Because Chau only stands to win tens of thousands of dollars in the first round of the challenge, the money would just be gravy.

"It's really a way to get seen," said Chau, the 26-year-old president of Cupertino, Calif.-based Mappily, which employs three people.

Chau's plight is part of Silicon Valley's new contest within a contest to create the hottest new mobile technology.

Pulling the strings are Google and Apple, which are in a simmering battle in the handset market with respective new platforms and software development kits. (That could be especially uncomfortable, given that Google CEO Eric Schmidt sits on Apple's board of directors.) Behind the scenes are the venture capitalists, such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which recently established the $100 million iFund to invest in mobile applications for the iPhone. Google's Android Developer Challenge is its own version of the iFund at a 10th the size. But surely other VCs are ruminating on forming the Android Fund to rival KCPB.

Charles River Ventures, for example, has briefly considered the idea, but will likely fund Android applications from its QuickStart seed program, which grants promising upstarts a convertible note worth $250,000 to get their project off the ground, according to one partner.

With all of that money floating around, developers are rushing to build the next big widget, social network, or mapping technology for the mobile phone. Not only are developers lured by the idea of making money on the mobile phone, but they're also drawn by financial incentives coming from both camps that might seal their future.

Google's $10 million will be doled out in chunks to developers with winning mobile apps for its upcoming Android platform. That contest, which will come in two rounds with the first deadline April 14, takes a page from the XPrize Foundation and other incentive-prize competitions that have spawned innovations in flight and rocketry, and potentially, lunar rovers and energy-efficient cars.

Meanwhile, KPCB has dangled a much bigger carrot for developers trying to win big with mobile applications on the Apple iPhone. The venerable VC announced the $100 million fund in early March, when Apple unveiled its software development kit. Developers who land a deal with KPCB will not only be well-funded, they will be well-connected to Apple's platform. Apple executives at the highest levels will be consulting on the deals, according to KPCB iFund lead Matt Murphy.

KPCB has already ported a couple of its own venture-backed start-ups into the iFund, including Pelago, which makes a social-networking application.

Still, such specific funds have failed before. For example, during the dot-com boom, KCPB announced the Java Fund, and nothing huge came of that venture. For that reason, many VCs say it's a way to generate buzz more than anything else.

"Any serious VC is going to fund things on the iPhone and Android platform if it's a cool thing. In general, VCs are less excited about applications where the carrier is in control," said George Zachary, a partner at Charles River Ventures.
iPhone already established
For many developers, Apple's iPhone is more alluring as a development platform because of the established customer list. Unlike Android, the iPhone platform has hardware with millions of customers; and as a bonus, Apple-sanctioned applications go on sale in its mobile store.

Craig Hockenberry, chief technology officer at IconFactory and a longtime Mac developer, said the iPhone offers a clear business path. His company is developing a Twitter messaging tool called Twitterific for the iPhone, among other applications. IconFactory will sell Twitterific for a one-time fee of $15 or offer a free advertising-supported version.

"We don't need outside investment, but that iFund is going to be useful for people who have big social-networking programs that need backend infrastructure," Hockenberry said. "We just want to build small, fun apps and leave it at that. Those are the ideal apps for the iPhone."

As for the Android contest, he hasn't been enticed by it because there's no hardware yet. "It's a bit of a gamble. You can maybe make a million dollars, but what if you don't? You have nothing. I think what we have going onto the iPhone, it's going to sell. People are asking for it," Hockenberry said, adding: "Nobody's got Android."

Hank Williams' company Kloudshare aims to enter the Android contest. Having raised $40 million in venture funding for ClickRadio during the dot-com boom, he said that VC money comes with too many strings. Kloudshare, based in New York, is developing an application that will help people manage data on their phone and desktop, but Williams wouldn't get more specific than that.

"The idea that Google's putting $10 million on the table, saying 'we're going to give it to the best companies by this deadline' is more direct in my mind. I would imagine Google will write more checks than the Kleiner folks."

"The money--that's a maraschino cherry," Williams said.

Still, Kloudshare will likely develop an application for the iPhone. "We figured Android was the low-hanging fruit. We want to prove that it worked on the Android platform and then go from there," he said. Williams believes that Android will likely be the operating system for the largest portion of the cell phone market, rekindling the PC vs. Apple fight. "It's going to be like the PC market, with 20 companies selling Android. One is perfect and the other is everywhere," Williams said.

To be sure, developers say Android's platform is easier to create applications for because of built-in mapping intelligence technology and so-called background processing. That's why Chau chose the Android platform, for its in-build mapping technology.

Chau said he's waiting to hear of an Apple update that will include a GPS-sensor so that he can port his application to the iPhone and boost its customer base.

Microsoft OOXML is to be ISO certified

Last year after failing the ISO certification again facing the standard qualification. hope getting positive result.
even OOXML rivals –predicted on Sunday that the Redmond, Wash. software giant has amassed the required number of votes to pull it over the goal line. Of course, a final vote will not be tallied until Monday … so hold on.

According to, Microsoft got a boost from Norway, Ireland, Czech Republic, Denmark and South Korea, which changed their respective ‘No’ votes to ‘Yes’ votes for Office Open XML, while Finland, which abstained from the last vote, gave OOXML the thumbs up.

Andy Updegrove of Gesmer Updegrove LLP, a technology law firm based in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, has compiled the vote count and deemed that OOXML will get ISO approval.

In ODF’s favor, Venezuela changed its vote from “Yes” to “No” while Kenya, which formerly approved of OOXML becoming an ISO standard, opted to abstain.

ODF was approved as an ISO standard on May 1, 2006.

Microsoft began its battle to get ISO approval in early December of 2006. On December 7 of that year, ECMA International approved Office Open XML Formats as an Ecma standard and voted to submit the new standard to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for consideration as an ISO standard.

Although many argued that there ought to be just one document format standard, Microsoft has lobbied the national standards bodies in at least 87 countries for two long years to accept OOXML as an ISO standard. Microsoft maintains that Office dominates on the desktop worldwide and that OOXML is a de facto standard anyway. Microsoft also made some requested changes as of late to the spec that got a few no votes into yes votes.

Whatever the case, big bucks are at stake. An ISO approval would make Microsoft’s Office an acceptable choice among many governments around the world. It will also make it harder for open source desktops, such as ODF, to gain market share.

It’s 4 a.m. EST Monday and still no word from ISO or from Microsoft’s European PR team. I found one Microsoft Office blogger rejoicing — but he’d only read the same reports that are linked here. It should be an interesting day. According to some reports that came in over the weekend, voting irregularities have occurred in Croatia and Germany and ODF backers are calling for a re-vote.

What a drama. The early polling looks good for Microsoft, but don’t hold me to it. Remember the major media outlets prematurely calling Al Gore’s win over GW in 2000? And pundits prematurely announcing McCain’s political death last year?

'Shine' by yahoo - new era for woman

Classification with specification,yes its new special site from yahoo and its new era for only woman ,Yahoo on Monday will launch a new Web site aimed at women. The site, called "Shine," will feature original blogs and content from major publishing partners including Conde Nast, Hearst, and Time.

The site is Yahoo's latest foray into vertical sites, which include the popular Yahoo News and Yahoo Finance, as well as Sports and Entertainment, and the much less popular Yahoo Tech and Yahoo Green. This site is Yahoo's first targeting a specific audience and not just a topicYahoo aims to be the top destination site in the lifestyles category, said Amy Iorio, general manager of Lifestyles at Yahoo. Women as a demographic is a good target, particularly given the number of women who use Yahoo (40 million women between the ages of 25 and 54 every month) and the fact that females tend to blog more than males.

The new Web site aimed at women. The site, called "Shine," will feature original blogs and content from major publishing partners including Conde Nast, Hearst, and Time.

The site is Yahoo's latest foray into vertical sites, which include the popular Yahoo News and Yahoo Finance, as well as Sports and Entertainment, and the much less popular Yahoo Tech and Yahoo Green. This site is Yahoo's first targeting a specific audience and not just a topic
NO DOUBT TIRED OF being relentlessly pursued by the Vole, Yahoo has decided to do a bit of its own chasing. Skirt chasing that is. Today Yahoo is launching its latest new Web site, called “Shine”, aimed squarely at women.

Shine now joins a whole host of other Yahoo spawned sites including Yahoo news, finance, sports, entertainment, tech and even the unpopular green. But Shine is Yahoo’s first go at targeting a specific demographic audience rather than just a topic of potential interest. Well, you can’t really go wrong when you’re targeting just over 50% of the world’s population. Or can you?

Yahoo claims that Shine will not aim to tap into the stereotypes nauseatingly used by marketers and advertisers to decide what content women should be interested in, and claims that it doesn’t “want to be a site just for moms or just for single women or working women, or any specific demo- or psychographic” (psychographic? Are they calling us insane now?).

Instead, Yahoo reckons that Shine will be more appealing to the new breed of tech savvy women who, according to CNET, tend to bog even more than men do. Also, according to CNET’s girly stats, about 40 million women aged between 25 and 54 log into Yahoo every month, making them a worthwhile market to tap.

Shine seems to be aiming at becoming the top destination site in the Yahoo lifestyles category, and supposedly will try very hard not to drag in it’s female punters by the hair with thigh (sorry, eye) grabbing headlines like “how to lose that winter flab for that perfect bikini body”. To try to ensure that this doesn’t happen, the site’s management team is entirely female, but that still hasn’t stopped them from admitting that they’ve been referring to women as 'chief household officers', or that the site will have full integration with Yahoo Food, Health, and Astrology - the three subjects closest to women’s hearts apparently [What about chocolate

Also, Shine’s idea of reaching out to the new breed of totally-non stereotypical women involves insightful articles and blogs hailing from such non stereotypical sites as Women's Health, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, InStyle, and cooking site Epicurious. Strange, but there’s not a tech site among them.

Shine appears to be a shallow façade of a site, pretending to offer women something new, when it obviously doesn’t. At least other women orientated sites like CafeMom and Glam don’t try to hide their real motives under layers of this season’s hottest pastel lip shades and blemish hiding foundation cream

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Windows browser world has a new compatibility king

An Acid3 score of 100 percent on Windows was long thought to be a mythical creature like a unicorn or dwarf, but Opera proved otherwise.
Opera Becomes First Windows Browser To Pass Acid3
The Windows browser world has a new compatibility king

It looks like Safari's sole reign at the top of the Acid3 standings was rather short lived. The new co-victor is Opera, maker of the Nintendo Wii and DS browsers, which has been hard at work preparing to release its PC 9.5 version of its browser, codenamed "Kestrel". It released an alpha build in September and a beta build in October. It plans on a final release of "Kestrel" this summer, squaring it up to take on Firefox 3.

Now "Kestrel" has some new bragging rights in its competition against Microsoft, Mozilla, and Apple's browsers. The scrappy little company has become the first to produce a Windows browser capable of passing the Acid3 test. On Opera's Desktop Team blog a team poster shared news from Lars Erik Bolstad, the Head of Core Technology at Opera Software, who states, "I have a quick update on where we are with Acid3. Since the test was officially announced recently, our Core developers have been hard at work fixing bugs and adding the missing standards support. Today we reached a 100% pass rate for the first time! There are some remaining issues yet to be fixed, but we hope to have those sorted out shortly."

Last month the best result had been set on a Mac computer using the Safari browser, which scored 90 percent. The same day that Opera scored a passing result, Safari's nightly webkit build for Apple also achieved a 100 percent score, according to an online leaderboard with many statistics. However, this passing result was for Mac only. According to the list the previous leaders for Windows for in-development browsers were Firefox 3.0b4 at 68 percent, and for released browsers Safari 3.1 (525.13) at 75 percent.

The new results for Opera place it as the clear leader in compatibility among the Windows browsers. While it has to share the overall crown with Safari, Safari is only fully compatible on Macs, lowering its userbase that get to enjoy Acid3 perfection. For those who want to grab the record setting Opera browser, you'll have to wait about a week, while the Opera team fixes a few final bugs for the final preview version.

In his message Bolstad states, "We will release a technical preview version on within the next week or so. For now, the screenshot above shows the Acid3 test as rendered in our latest WinGogi Desktop build. WinGogi is the Windows version of our reference builds used for the internal testing of Opera's platform independent Core."

Opera use peaked in February 2004. With the release of more stable/functional Internet Explorer versions and Firefox its support waned to its current marketshare of between 0.5-0.8 percent, according to current estimates. However, with its new status as compatibility king of windows browsers some may care to take a second look at this alternative browser.


Just a few months after the announcement that Internet Explorer 8 successfully passed the Acid2 standards compliance test, the Web Standards Project (WaSP) announced last Monday that it unleashed Acid2’s successor, Acid3.

Created to identify flaws in the way a browser renders its web pages, WaSP’s Acid tests throw down the gauntlet with difficult-to-display graphics written to accentuate browsers’ quirks. When the original Acid test was released in 1998, it helped reign in browser inconsistencies and insured that Internet Explorer, Netscape, and others handled HTML code according to specification – making web designers’ lives easier and ensuring the web rendered consistently in the future.

Acid2, with its focus on Cascading Style Sheets, seems quaint in comparison to Acid3’s objectives, which target major web standards expected to see use today and in the future. Tests are derived from many of the last few years’ development in the web’s control languages, including rendering graphics embedded in HTML code, CSS3 compliance, DOM compliance, CSS2 downloadable fonts, as well as handling new graphics formats and Unicode support.

Currently, no known browser is able to correctly render the Acid3 test, which displays an animated, incrementing score counter and a series of colored boxes with some description text. Bloggers have already assembled galleries of browsers’ failing test results, with most of today’s browsers scoring between 40 and 60 on the test’s 100-point scale. The results shouldn’t be too alarming as the Acid tests have always been forward-looking in nature, and are designed to measure standards to aspire to, as opposed to what’s current. Also note that more than six months lapsed between Acid2’s release and Safari 2.02’s announcement that it was the first to pass Acid2.

Anecdotal reports around the web seem to indicate that nightly builds of the next versions of Firefox and Safari are reportedly achieving Acid3 scores in the 80-90 range.

Given the state of the web today – where web designers will often write two versions of a web site: one for Internet Explorer and one for everyone else – Microsoft’s announcement that Internet Explorer 8 passed Acid2 is all the more important. Currently, each new version of Internet Explorer keeps older versions’ flaws for compatibility, resulting in a confusing state of affairs for web developers.

The release of IE7 complicated matters further, as it shipped with both an IE6-compatibility mode and a somewhat-standards-compliant IE7 rendering mode, with an easily overlooked method for switching between the two. As a result, Internet Explorer earned a nasty reputation among web design circles, with developers writing safe, proven websites that worked universally instead of rich websites that exercised their languages’ full features.

Scientists from Japan believe the origami airplanes could make it back to Earth without catching fire

Origami Shuttle in wind Tunnel Tests
The biggest thing that most associate with the re-entry of a spacecraft into the Earth’s atmosphere is heat and friction. To that end, one of the biggest concerns for the space shuttle fleet is the integrity of the heat shield to allow re-entry without catastrophic failure such as the Columbia suffered.

Japanese scientists have a wild idea that involves the ancient art of paper folding known as origami. A prototype shuttle built from folded paper that was made from sugar cane fibers and sprayed with a special coating has been able to withstand durability tests in a wind tunnel at the Tokyo University Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Ultimately, the researchers want to launch the plane from space and see if it can withstand re-entry.

Project leader Shinji Suzuki is quoted by as saying, “It sounded like a simply impossible, crazy idea [origami planes surviving reentry]. I gave it some more thought, and came to think it may not be ridiculous after all, and could very well survive if it comes down extremely slowly."

The researchers believe that if the origami planes enter the earth’s atmosphere at slow enough speed that they would be subject to much less friction and heat than a full-size space craft like the space shuttle. Large spacecraft enter the Earth’s atmosphere at tremendous rates of speed leading to copious amounts of heat generated from friction.

The small origami paper shuttles measure about 2.8-inches long and 2-inches wide. In wind tunnel testing the origami shuttles survived wind speeds of up to Mach 7 and temperatures up to 446 degrees Fahrenheit. These conditions are said to approximate reentry into Earth’s atmosphere from orbit.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has agreed to fund the project for three years with a grant of $300,000 per year. The program is getting stiff opposition from those who don't understand why money would be wasted on such a proposal.

Opponents ask what’s the point of the study if the planes can’t be tracked to determine if they survived reentry. The origami panes would be launched by astronaut Koichi Wakata by throwing them into the wake of the ISS as it hurtles through its 250 mile high orbit at Mach 20.

Suzuki and fellow researchers plan to write messages of peace on the origami shuttles, the exact number of which would be launched is not yet determined. Messages on the origami shuttles will also request that anyone finding the planes notify the researchers.

The launch of origami planes from the ISS would be a perfect use for the Japanese Kibo lab's open section scheduled to be delivered to the ISS next year. The first section of the Kibo lab was delivered by the space shuttle Endeavor in March 2008.

The biggest thing that most associate with the re-entry of a spacecraft into the Earth’s atmosphere is heat and friction. To that end, one of the biggest concerns for the space shuttle fleet is the integrity of the heat shield to allow re-entry without catastrophic failure such as the Columbia suffered.

Japanese scientists have a wild idea that involves the ancient art of paper folding known as origami. A prototype shuttle built from folded paper that was made from sugar cane fibers and sprayed with a special coating has been able to withstand durability tests in a wind tunnel at the Tokyo University Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Ultimately, the researchers want to launch the plane from space and see if it can withstand re-entry.

Project leader Shinji Suzuki is quoted by as saying, “It sounded like a simply impossible, crazy idea [origami planes surviving reentry]. I gave it some more thought, and came to think it may not be ridiculous after all, and could very well survive if it comes down extremely slowly."

The researchers believe that if the origami planes enter the earth’s atmosphere at slow enough speed that they would be subject to much less friction and heat than a full-size space craft like the space shuttle. Large spacecraft enter the Earth’s atmosphere at tremendous rates of speed leading to copious amounts of heat generated from friction.

The small origami paper shuttles measure about 2.8-inches long and 2-inches wide. In wind tunnel testing the origami shuttles survived wind speeds of up to Mach 7 and temperatures up to 446 degrees Fahrenheit. These conditions are said to approximate reentry into Earth’s atmosphere from orbit.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has agreed to fund the project for three years with a grant of $300,000 per year. The program is getting stiff opposition from those who don't understand why money would be wasted on such a proposal.

Opponents ask what’s the point of the study if the planes can’t be tracked to determine if they survived reentry. The origami panes would be launched by astronaut Koichi Wakata by throwing them into the wake of the ISS as it hurtles through its 250 mile high orbit at Mach 20.

Suzuki and fellow researchers plan to write messages of peace on the origami shuttles, the exact number of which would be launched is not yet determined. Messages on the origami shuttles will also request that anyone finding the planes notify the researchers.

The launch of origami planes from the ISS would be a perfect use for the Japanese Kibo lab's open section scheduled to be delivered to the ISS next year. The first section of the Kibo lab was delivered by the space shuttle Endeavor in March 2008.

Researchers Show Bomb Defusing Robot Controlled

A Soldier and his Packbot
Xbox 360 style controls not intuitive enough say researchers.
If you want to make a complex piece of machinery easy to control by a multitude of different people from different walks of life you have to use something that’s common to many different groups. The U.S. military has found this common thread for several of its military robots: console gamepads.

Some of the U.S. military’s robots are controlled by a gamepad that is very similar to the controller of an Xbox 360. As one of the most popular game consoles around, the Xbox controller is very familiar and easy to operate for a variety of users.

Researchers David Bruemmer and Douglas Few at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Lab have found a way to control robots that they feel is even more intuitive than the Xbox 360 style controller. The researchers took a Packbot made by iRobot that is used by the military to search out mines and diffuse bombs and modified it for a new control method.

The researchers say that the problem with using the gamepad is that it requires so much of a soldier’s attention to operate the robot that they can miss information sent from the robots sensors. To remedy this problem, Bruemmer and Few believe a more intuitive control method is needed to free up the solider to pay more attention to the sensor data.

The more intuitive control method the pair of researchers chose is the Nintendo Wiimote. The Wiimote from a typical Nintendo Wii game console was modified to control a Packbot. The researchers say that the motion sensitive Wiimote allows for far more intuitive control of the robot by directly translating hand movements into movements of the robot.

Few told New Scientists, “It’s Awesome [controlling the robot with the Wiimote].” Few also says that the control system could be modified to activate the Wiimote vibration feedback when the robot detects something.

The pair also plan to modify an iPhone to receive video streams directly from the robot's cameras eliminating the need for soldiers to carry a laptop. There is no word on if the researchers will modify the machine gun wielding variety of the Packbot for use with the Wiimote.

Packbot, made by iRobot in Burlington, Massachusetts, disposes of bombs, sniffs out explosives and checks for landmines for US soldiers. It is 70 centimetres long, and moves on wheels or tracks. Some even have machine guns attached, although these are yet to be used in battle (see "Make robots, not war").
Packbot is capable of some autonomous tasks, but is usually remote-controlled by a "joypad" similar to the controller used with most video games consoles, or a traditional joystick. The joypad consists of two groups of thumb-activated buttons, one for steering and the other for speed control. The problem with the joypad is that it takes a lot of concentration and can monopolise the attention of the soldier using it. Any information the robot gathers is beamed back and presented on a laptop display, but the soldier can be so occupied with the robot's controls that they can easily miss this, says Bruemmer. "Our tests show 90 per cent of the operator's workload goes into driving the robot rather than keeping an eye on the sensor data."
The Wiimote is far more intuitive because movements of the hand directly translate into movements of the robot. Bruemmer says it should allow soldiers to control the robots more instinctively, freeing them up to pay closer attention to the incoming sensor data. "It's awesome," Few says, although they have yet to ask the soldiers themselves what they think. Bruemmer and Few have also written software that sends a signal to the Wiimote when the robot has detected something of special interest - somebody trapped in a building, say - activating the Wiimote's built-in vibration feedback.
"Using the Wiimote to control various aspects of the robot makes a lot of sense," says Colin Angle of iRobot.
The pair also plan to harness the iPhone for military use. As an alternative to lugging a laptop around, Few and Bruemmer plan to modify the Packbot to transmit footage compatible with the palm-sized iPhone. Its touch screen should also allow soldiers to manipulate the video captured by the robot more intuitively.
The team will also be adding Wiimote control to the military Talon robots, made by Foster-Miller of Waltham, Massachusetts, but it could be applied to other types. "When trying to envision controlling a future domestic robot, I don't picture sitting down to my PC to instruct it to fetch me something," says Bruemmer.

researchers and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories has uncovered genetic errors that may shed light on the causes of schizophrenia

In a major step toward solving the puzzle of schizophrenia, researchers have found that deletions and duplications of DNA are more common in people with the mental disorder, and that many of those errors occur in genes related to brain development and neurological function.

Rates Of Rare Mutations Soar Three To Four Times Higher In Schizophrenia
A team of researchers at the University of Washington and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories has uncovered genetic errors that may shed light on the causes of schizophrenia. The scientists found that deletions and duplications of DNA are more common in people with the mental disorder, and that many of those errors occur in genes related to brain development and neurological function.

Schizophrenia, a debilitating psychiatric disorder, affects approximately 1 percent of the population. People with schizophrenia suffer from hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking, and are at risk for unusual or bizarre behaviors. The illness greatly impacts social and occupational functioning and has enormous public health costs.

The team of investigators, led by Tom Walsh, Jon McClellan, and Mary-Claire King at the UW, and Shane McCarthy and Jonathan Sebat at Cold Spring Harbor, examined whether the genetic errors, which are individually rare DNA deletions and duplications, contribute to the development of schizophrenia. The findings, which were replicated by a team at the National Institute of Mental Health, appear in the March 27 online edition of the journal Science.

Some deletions and duplications are common and found in all humans. The researchers studied such mutations that were found only in individuals with the illness, and compared them to mutations found only in healthy persons. They theorized that rare mutations found only in schizophrenic patients would be more likely to disrupt genes related to brain functioning and thus may cause schizophrenia.

The study was conducted using DNA from 150 people with schizophrenia and 268 healthy individuals. The investigators found rare deletions and duplications of genes present in 15 percent of those with schizophrenia, versus only 5 percent in the healthy controls. The rate was even higher in patients whose schizophrenia first presented at a younger age, with 20 percent of those patients having a rare mutation.

The results were replicated by a second research team, led by Anjene Addington and Judith Rapoport at the National Institutes of Mental Health. They found a higher rate of rare duplications or deletions in patients whose schizophrenia began before age 12 years, a very rare and severe form of the disorder.

In individuals with schizophrenia, mutations were more likely to disrupt signaling genes that help organize brain development. Each mutation was different, and impacted different genes. However, several of the disrupted genes function in related neurobiological pathways.

The findings suggest that schizophrenia is caused by many different mutations in many different genes, with each mutation leading to a disruption in key pathways important to a developing brain. Once a disease-causing mutation is identified, other different disease-causing mutations may be found in the same gene in different people with the illness.

Thus, for most cases of schizophrenia, the genetic causes may be different. This observation has important implications for schizophrenia research. Currently, most genetic studies examine for mutations that are shared among different individuals with the illness. These approaches will not work if most patients have different mutations causing their condition.

Fortunately, there are now genomic technologies available that allow researchers to discover rare mutations within each individual with a disorder. As these technologies improve, it will be possible to detect other types of disease-causing mutations. Eventually, the identification of genes disrupted in individuals with schizophrenia will allow the development of new treatments more specifically targeted to disrupted pathways.

The research team included many other scientists at a variety of institutions, including Evan Eichler and his colleagues at the University of Washington, and investigators at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Case Medical Center in Cleveland, the University of North Carolina, the University of California Los Angeles, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Institute on Aging.

This work was supported by many different grants from several foundations and agencies, including the Forrest C. and Frances H. Lattner Foundation, NARSAD, the Simons Foundation, the Stanley Medical Research Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Mental Health Division of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

New Rocket Aims for Space Tourism Market

California-based Xcor has announced that they are joining the space tourism market. They have revealed new information about their Lynx rocket.

The rocket is designed to seat one passenger and one pilot, and is set up similar to how a private plane is designed.

The Lynx will be able to run several times a day and reach altitudes of 37 miles above the Earth.

Xcor CEO Jeff Greason stated “Its liquid fuel engines will provide the enhanced safety, durability, reliability and maintainability that keeps operating costs low.”

Xcor stated they will have Lynx up and running by 2010.

They will be going head to head with Virgin’s Richard Branson

Another Firm Joins the Commercial Space Race

The race to become the first private company capable of launching paying customers into space got more crowded last week as a small but well-respected California firm announced plans to have a two-seat spacecraft ready within two years.

The mini-ship, built by Mojave-based Xcor Aerospace and designed to fly to the edge of space, is expected to be ready for test flights by 2010, around the time Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic hopes to send its much larger spaceship on its maiden voyage.

More than half a dozen other companies -- most, unlike Xcor, bankrolled by wealthy businessmen, including Jeff Bezos of and Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal -- are building rockets and spacecraft that they hope will capture the imagination of space travelers. Most plan to finish testing their rockets and rocket planes in the next few years, and the Federal Aviation Administration has estimated the market for space tourism to be more than $1 billion a year by 2021.

In announcing his company's plans, Xcor chief executive Jeff Greason revealed last week that his company's spaceship, called the Lynx, will have an unusual but understandably interested partner: the Air Force.

The Air Force recently announced that it awarded Xcor a small-business research contract -- usually between $700,000 and $900,000 -- to demonstrate the capabilities of the spacecraft. The U.S. fleet of space shuttles, which are fixed-wing spacecraft like the Lynx, is scheduled to be retired in 2010, but the Air Force has voiced interest in continuing that technology. The Lynx could help provide a model.

"As I understand their objective, they want to share in the lessons learned during our program," Greason said. "They want to learn about space vehicles that take less notice and less time to prepare for flight, and that's what we're trying to do."

Greason played down the government's financial role during a news conference but said that having the Air Force "show interest in our program is a very validating thing." The company also said that NASA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force have provided technical assistance.

Theresa Hitchens, director of the Center for Defense Information, who is sometimes critical of government efforts to mix commercial and military missions in space, said the Xcor cooperation appears to be useful. She said that the Air Force is eager to find ways to decrease the vulnerability of orbiting satellites and that technology from the Lynx could help with that, as well as reduce the cost of getting to space.

Roughly the size of a small private airplane, the initial Lynx is expected to fly about 38 miles high, and the follow-up version will go up to 63 miles, generally considered the beginning of space. Like most rocket companies aiming for the space tourism market, Xcor plans to create a ship that can enter orbit -- about 130 miles up -- Greason said.

"We decided to make it small because we could, and because there is a market for what it will provide -- a front-row seat into space," he said. "We fully expect to move into larger and more complex vehicles in the future, and to someday send spacecraft into orbit."

The company also plans to make the vehicle fully reusable, an aim of many commercial rocketmakers. It has been working for nine years on building reusable rockets and has flown two different rocket-powered vehicles.

Xcor hopes to make its spaceflights available for considerably less than those by Virgin Galactic, which has taken 85,000 reservations at $200,000 each. Greason said a central mission of his company is to bring down the cost of spaceflight "because affordable access to space for everyone means far more than breathtaking views and the freedom of weightlessness. It means unlocking the material and energy resources and economic opportunities of our solar system."

While the Xcor contract with the Air Force is unusual for a space-tourism rocket company, NASA has entered into substantial contracts with two private companies that are developing rockets and spacecraft that could ferry cargo and, someday, astronauts to and from the international space station.

Other companies working to be the first nongovernment carriers of space tourists include Blue Origin (created by Bezos), Bigelow Aerospace (founded by hotel magnate Robert Bigelow of Las Vegas) and SpaceX (started by Musk). Space Adventures, based in Tysons Corner, has already sent up five tourists in Russian Soyuz capsules.

The emerging private space-travel industry does not have an association -- the companies are very competitive and guard their technology and plans closely. But its progress is being tracked by space enthusiasts, including Kevin Kantola, whose Web site,, collects information about the companies and their spacecraft and launches.

Kantola said that while some companies will doubtless fail, some will succeed and turn space travel into "a great vacation or fancy cruise."

"Eventually," he said, "there will be lots of choices and different ways to have the adventure." He also said he expects prices to drop dramatically within a decade, at which point he hopes to take a ride himself.


Lynx will make its first suborbital flight in 2010
The thought of traveling into space and experiencing weightlessness is enough to excite most space enthusiasts. However, the actual cost of taking a trip into space is more than most can afford.
A company from California called Xcor Aerospace intends to enter the space tourism market with a vessel called the Lynx. Lynx is the size of a small private aircraft and is expected to begin flights in 2010. According to Xcor the Lynx will take off from a normal runway like any other private aircraft.

After takeoff the two seat Lynx will reach a speed of Mach 2 and climb to an altitude of 200,000 feet. The Lynx would then return back to Earth in a slow gliding circle before touching down on a standard runway.

Xcor CEO Jeff Greason claims, “We have designed this vehicle to operate much like a commercial aircraft. The Lynx is powered by reusable liquid-fuel engines and is expected to be able to make several flights per day.

Boxing is possibly less dangerous for the brain

Boxing is possibly less dangerous for the brain than previously feared -- at least for amateurs.
How Dangerous Is Boxing For The Brain?
Boxing is possibly less dangerous for the brain than previously feared – at least for amateurs. However, conclusive statements on the level of danger are not yet possible. Whether professional boxers such as Muhammad Ali contracted their later brain conditions – in his case Parkinson’s disease at the age of 40 – from boxing, remains unclear. The all-clear cannot be given until more extensive studies of both amateur and professional boxers tell us more about the risks for the brain from boxing.
This was the conclusion reached in the “Heidelberg Boxing Study”, in which high-resolution MRI data were used to search for tiny changes in the brains of amateur boxers and a comparison group of non-boxers. These changes are most likely precursors for later severe brain damage such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia.

The study by the Department of Neurology, University of Heidelberg Medical Center has now been published in the American Journal of Neuroradiology. In three of the 42 boxers, microhemorrhages were found, while in the comparison group of 37 non-boxers there were no such changes; however the difference was not statistically significant. The study was carried out jointly with National Training Center for Boxing in Heidelberg and the Department of Sport Medicine at the University of Heidelberg Medical Center (Medical Director: Professor Dr. Peter Bärtsch).

Microhemorrhages could be precursors to Parkinson’s disease and dementia

In boxing, the head is hit at a high speed and with great force. This can lead to shear movement between different brain tissues, resulting in microhemorrhages. “Injuries of this kind can be detected with the help of a modern MR imaging device with a field strength of 3 Tesla such as is available in Heidelberg,” explained Professor Dr. Stefan Hähnel, chief consultant at the Division of Neuroradiology, Department of Neurology, University of Heidelberg Medical Center, who conducted the study with Professor Dr. Uta Meyding-Lamadé, then chief consultant at the Department of Neurology, University of Heidelberg Medical Center, now Medical Director at Krankenhaus Nordwest in Frankfurt.

It is not known how often the microhemorrhages occur in boxers. They may eventually lead to the destruction of brain cells and deficits such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease. This hypothesis is shared by some working groups. The three boxers in whom changes were found typically had the changes in the frontal or temporal lobes, where the shear forces of blows are strongest.

A follow-up study will compare amateur boxers with professionals
One disadvantage of the “Heidelberg Boxing Study” was the great range in duration and intensity of amateur boxing. Duration ranged from one to 25 years and intensity from one to 375 bouts with 0 to 12 knockouts. A follow-up study is planned to include professional boxers, in order to assess intensive exposure to blows. The Heidelberg researchers are currently looking for funding for this study.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Security :MacBook Air Hacked In Minutes

Mac OS X's reputation for security was tarnished Thursday when a team of researchers from Independent Security Evaluators (ISE) managed to hack a MacBook Air in two minutes using a zero-day vulnerability in Apple's Safari 3.1 Web browser.
The ISE security researchers -- Charlie Miller, Jake Honoroff, and Mark Daniel -- were participating in the "PWN to OWN" competition at the CanSecWest security conference, which began Wednesday in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"Pwn" is computer gaming slang for "own," as in conquer. The "p" typo serves to heighten the humiliation of defeat by emphasizing that the loss came at the hands of a youth who can't even spell or type correctly. The term has also come to be used in security circles.

Contest participants had their choice of trying to hack an Apple MacBook Air running OS X 10.5.2, a Sony Vaio VGN-TZ37CN running Ubuntu 7.10, or a Fujitsu U810 running Vista Ultimate SP1. During the first day, when attacks were limited to network attacks on the operating system, no one managed to compromise any of the systems.

That changed Thursday when attacks on default client-side applications -- Web browser, e-mail, IM -- were allowed. The ISE team won $10,000 from security firm TippingPoint Technologies for compromising the MacBook Air.

The undisclosed vulnerability in Safari 3.1 has been shown to Apple and no further information about it will be revealed until Apple can issue an update, TippingPoint said.

In a blog post on Friday, TippingPoint said, "[S]ince the Vista and Ubuntu laptops are still standing unscathed, we are now opening up the scope of the targets beyond just default installed applications on those laptops; any popular third-party application (as deemed 'popular' by the judges) can now be installed on the laptops for a prize of $5,000 upon a successful compromise."

MacBook Air, the easiest one of the three
That's right; Mac OS are the easiest to hack, according to Charlie Miller, analyst – ISE (Independent Security Evaluators). Charlie not only proved by hacking the MacBook running the OS X, 10.5.2 version, in less than two minutes, but also won $10k and a new laptop.

Sponsorors had put up three laptops with different operating system and each patched up with the latest updates. They were made available to any one who could hack into the system. The three day hacking contest was organized at CanSecWest conference, Mariott Renaissance, Vancouver, British Columbia. A USD 20k cash prize would have been paid for successful applicants on day one, USD 10k on day two and USD 5K on the last day.

No one was successful on the 1st day, but on the 2nd day Charlie Miller breached into the MacBook OS, in just about less than two minutes. Charlie Miller did not share the vulnerability as he was bonded by the nondisclosure agreement. Miller however pointed out a bug in Safari browser 3.1.

The co-winner of last years hacking content, Macaulay was able to breach into the vista operating system running service pack 1. It took him two days but was finally successful hacking into vista on the last day.

Overall threre were three winner, Charlie who hacked MacBook, Macaulay who breached the Vista, and linux operating system Ubuntu 7.10 installed in one of the system that remained unconquered.

3G iPhone , predictions "too conservative"

Further fueling talk of a 3G-capable iPhone this spring, a research note from Bank of America claims knowledge of next-generation Apple handset production beginning in May, and warns that past sales predictions have been timid.

In his message to investors, financial analyst Scott Craig points to channel investigations which show an iPhone capable of faster, third-generation cellular Internet access produced in small numbers in May, with a larger number surfacing in June as Apple prepares a formal rollout for the new device.

"This likely implies a launch announcement in [the second calendar quarter]," Craig says.

Apple is also likely to significantly increase its iPhone production compared to its most recent full quarter. While iPhone production during the holidays totaled 2.3 million, the Bank of America researcher estimates about three million 2G and 3G iPhones made during the spring quarter and a much larger eight or more million during the summer. Each additional million units sold could add about $400 million to Apple's bottom line, Craig notes.

Simultaneous reports on Friday supported the analyst's statements., with the Taiwanese Commercial Times paper alleging that bidding is underway for 3G iPhone manufacturing while Dow Jones ventured so far as to claim that Hon Hai had already won a contract for production of an advanced model.

The investigations of the supply chain have been enough to warrant a significant rethink of longer-term predictions for 2008. As Apple may now produce the same eight million iPhones in one quarter that analysts have been predicting for the entire year, previous estimates are now "starting to look too conservative," according to Craig.

The expert maintained existing forecasts for the rest of Apple's lineup. iPod shipments are estimated to drop by several percentage points year over year for the first quarter, dipping below 10 million units, while a combination of the MacBook Air and refreshes to existing portables is tagged as a likely upside for computer sales.
3G iPhone Update; Rumors Of 10 Million Orders May Not Be True
Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision, which also goes by the name of Foxconn, has secured an exclusive contract with Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) to assemble a new iPhone, an unnamed person familiar with the situation told Dow Jones Newswires today. The report comes a couple days after a Gartner analyst had reportedly heard that Apple had placed an order for 10 million 3G iPhones, but coincidentally, reports today are now saying those statements were misunderstood.

Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS) reported that a Hon Hai official, who declined to be named, told them that the company was in talks with Apple for the supply of a "more advanced version" of the current iPhone, but provided no further details. The more advanced version of the iPhone is likely one that comes with the faster 3G chip inside, which some analysts speculate could come out as early as May.

This week, the iPod Observer reported that Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney heard Apple may have ordered 10 million iPhones that support 3G networks. InfoWorld reported today the comments were misinterpreted Dulaney's boss, Bob Hafner, said. To clarify, Hafner said they do believe the next version of the phone will be 3G, but "we have not got confirmation that an order had been placed."

Dell Introduces Sub-$1000 Blu-ray Laptop

Noticing the Changing environment of technology Market Dell has announced that they have added a Blu-ray drive (with reading capability for Blu-ray Discs, and read/write capability for DVDs and CDs) to their award-winning Inspiron line of laptops. More impressive, the Inspiron 1525 with Blu-ray drive will only set consumers back a mere $879. The computer features a 15.4" 720p screen and HDMI output.

Blu-ray disc decoding will be accomplished via a dedicated Broadcom decoder located in the laptops mini-card slot. And for those consumers who want to watch Blu-ray movies on-the-go, Dell has available a slim travel power adapter and IR remote control for quick access to Blu-ray menus.

These laptops are available today directly from their website, and come in a variety of colors and configurations to match any Blu-ray fan's needs.

Comcast's P2P Conversion

Comcast announced a deal yesterday with BitTorrent Inc., in which the cable giant agreed to stop throttling the performance of heavy P2P users during peak times, and instead pledged to invest in the bandwidth and technologies to be able to handle that traffic. After months of accusations, denials and foot stomping on the part of users, cable giant Comcast and the peer-to-peer file sharing company BitTorrent have reached an agreement that supports file exchanges on the Comcast broadband network.

The issue surfaced last summer when Comcast subscribers began to notice a degradation in their BitTorrent uploads. Further investigations by individuals were later confirmed by the Associated Press: Comcast was sending out signals to disrupt the uploads of BitTorrent transfers.

The controversy expanded as Lotus Notes users realized they were also being throttled back, and other Internet service providers (ISPs) admitted that they too throttled excessive traffic use. The FCC even held hearings, and Comcast became the whipping boy among net neutrality advocates.

Behind the scenes, the two companies worked out the issues facing them, resulting in today's announcement. Instead of picking on specific applications, Comcast will focus on which users are being particular bandwidth hogs during peak usage hours.

It is expected that may well be true—somewhere down the line. For now, it’s pretty clear that this conversion is more about solving a nasty PR problem, than in truly working with P2P providers to better handle the rising tide of online video traffic. Clearly, Comcast needs to calm down critics—including at the FCC—who’ve had a field day since the Associated Press revealed last Fall that Comcast was throttling the bandwidth to heavy P2P users during peak times. And BitTorrent was the most convenient partner through which to make such a move. “Comcast has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar, and they’re trying to quickly close the book on the issue,” says Gilles BianRosa, CEO of P2P rival Vuze Inc., which filed a complaint with the FCC last year seeking new rules on how ISPs can manage traffic over their networks. “Just putting out a press release doesn’t push the envelope too much.” Om Malik was similarly suspicious. And FCC chairman Kevin Martin says he’s watching to make sure words are followed by action.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Study sees mental link between drug price, effectiveness

A higher-priced medication with a brand name might work better than a generic version--even if the pills are exactly the same--simply because the patient thinks the expensive prescription should work better, according to a recently published MIT study.

The study--conducted by researchers including graduate student Rebecca Waber and Dan Ariely, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT--involved 82 volunteers who were given identical placebos that were supposed to be a new pain medication. But the volunteers were told the pills had different costs, with some getting pills supposedly costing 10 cents, and some getting $2.50 pills.

Results of the study, which appeared in the March 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that those who were told the pill cost more reported feeling less pain from a series of electrical shocks to the wrist. Those told the pill only cost 10 cents reported feeling more pain on average.

The results may impact how generic medication and brand-name medication are marketed, packaged and distributed, and help explain "the popularity of high-cost medical therapies over inexpensive, widely available alternatives," according to the study.

A tangled web: CEE researchers unravel the secrets of spider silk's strength

This figure shows the structure of a beta-sheet protein, Z1-Z2 telethonin complex, in the giant muscle protein titin. The inset shows the orientation of the protein backbone of three beta strands (in purple) with hydrogen bonds (yellow) holding the assembly together. Buehler and Keten found that hydrogen bonds in beta-sheet structures break in clusters of three or four, even in the presence of many more bonds.
The strength of a biological material like spider silk lies in the specific geometric configuration of structural proteins, which have small clusters of weak hydrogen bonds that work cooperatively to resist force and dissipate energy, researchers in Civil and Environmental Engineering have revealed.

This structure makes the lightweight natural material as strong as steel, even though the "glue" of hydrogen bonds that hold spider silk together at the molecular level is 100 to 1,000 times weaker than the powerful glue of steel's metallic bonds or even Kevlar's covalent bonds.

Based on theoretical modeling and large-scale atomistic simulation implemented on supercomputers, this new understanding of exactly how a protein's configuration enhances a material's strength could help engineers create new materials that mimic spider silk's lightweight robustness. It could also impact research on muscle tissue and amyloid fibers found in brain tissue.

"Our hope is that by understanding the mechanics of materials at the atomistic level, we will be able to one day create a guiding principle that will direct the synthesis of new materials," said Professor Markus Buehler, lead researcher on the work.

In a paper published in the Feb. 13 online issue of Nano Letters, Buehler and graduate student Sinan Keten describe how they used atomistic modeling to demonstrate that the clusters of three or four hydrogen bonds that bind together stacks of short beta strands in a structural protein rupture simultaneously rather than sequentially when placed under mechanical stress. This allows the protein to withstand more force than if its beta strands had only one or two bonds. Oddly enough, the small clusters also withstand more energy than longer beta strands with many hydrogen bonds.

"Using only one or two hydrogen bonds in building a protein provides no or very little mechanical resistance, because the bonds are very weak and break almost without provocation," said Buehler, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "But using three or four bonds leads to a resistance that actually exceeds that of many metals. Using more than four bonds leads to a much-reduced resistance. The strength is maximized at three or four bonds."

After observing the simultaneous rupture of these hydrogen-bond clusters within the proteins in their atomistic simulations, Buehler and Keten wanted to know why the bonds break in small clusters, even in long strands with many hydrogen bonds. They used the laws of thermodynamics to explain this phenomenon. The paper in Nano Letters describes how the external force changes the entropic energy in the system and leads to the rupture of hydrogen bonds. By calculating the energy necessary to initiate the unfolding process in a protein molecule, they demonstrated that adding more hydrogen bonds in longer strands would not increase the material's strength.

"You would simply have this long chain of beta strands with lazy bonds that don't contribute to the strength of the assembly," said Keten. "But a material that employs many short beta strands folded and connected by three or four hydrogen bonds may exhibit strength greater than steel. In metals, the energy would be stored directly in much stronger bonds, called metallic bonds, until bonds rupture one by one. In proteins, things are more complicated due to the entropic elasticity of the noodle-like chains and the cooperative nature of the hydrogen bonds."

Structural proteins contain a preponderance of beta-sheets, sections that fold in such a way that they look a bit like old-fashioned ribbon candy; short waves or strands appear to be stacked on top of one another, each just the right length to allow three or four hydrogen bonds to connect it to the section above and beneath.

Beta sheets with short strand lengths connected by three or four hydrogen bonds are the most common conformation among all beta-structured proteins, including those comprising muscle tissue, according to experimental proteomics data on protein structures in the Protein Data Bank.

This correlation of a common geometric configuration among beta sheets--which are one of the two most prevalent protein structures in existence--suggests that a protein's strength is an important evolutionary driving force behind its physical design. The researchers observed the same behavior in similar small clusters in alpha-helical structural proteins, the other most prevalent protein, but haven't yet studied those assemblies in detail.

On the other hand, synthetic materials like steel have a very different and crystalline structure held together by the stronger glue of metallic bonds. Because steel and other synthetic materials tend to be dense, and therefore heavy, they consume a good deal of energy in manufacturing and transport.

"Metals are configured with bonds that are much stronger and require a much greater force to break," said Buehler. "However, the crystalline lattice of a metal's structure is never perfect; it contains defects that effectively reduce the material's strength quite drastically. When you place a load on the metal, the defect can fail, possibly causing a crack to propagate. In protein's beta sheets, the confined nature of the hydrogen bond clusters helps to dissipate the energy without compromising the strength of the material. This shows the amazing ingenuity and efficiency of natural materials."

This research was supported by an MIT Presidential Graduate Fellowship, the Army Research Office, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the Solomon Buchsbaum AT&T Research Fund, and a grant from the San Diego Supercomputing Center (SDSC

Apple releases updated version of iPhone SDK

Apple has released an updated version of the iPhone software development kit, adding support for a popular tool.

The new SDK is available for downloading on Apple's site, and now comes with Interface Builder. That tool allows you to design user interfaces in line with Apple's human interface guidelines, which is a requirement for iPhone applications.

This is a helpful reminder that the SDK is a beta product until June, when it's scheduled for a formal release. After an initial bottleneck, Apple has started accepting developers into its program to begin developing and testing their applications for a June release.

Microsoft hopes to offer applications to iPhone consumers that could benefit the use of Office on both the Mac and mobile phone.
Microsoft recently interviewed developers to consider a variety of possibilities that include offering its Office functionality on Apple's iPhone.

The plan began when Apple released its iPhone SDK (software development kit) earlier this month which gives developers access to the same tools that Apple uses for building new applications that run on the Mac OS X-based mobile phone.

"It's really important for us to understand what we can bring to the iPhone," Tom Gibbons, corporate VP of Microsoft's Specialized Devices and Applications Group, said told Fortune magazine. "To the extent that Mac Office customers have functionality that they need in that environment, we're actually in the process of trying to understand that now."

The software giant hopes to assist customers connecting the iPhone to more options than just the Exchange server. The iPhone can be synced with Mac or PC e-mails, calendars and contact lists. Apple licensed Microsoft's ActiveSync protocol for connecting the iPhone to an Exchange server earlier this year.

Gibbons said the software giant has experience with the iPhone environment and is very confident on providing the new application. Microsoft developers are still getting comfortable with the SDK and are going over feasible plans that could benefit iPhone consumers.

The final iPhone SDK will be released in June, along with new versions of the iPhone and iPod Touch operating systems. The latter gadget contains the same platform as the iPhone. AT&T remains as the exclusive cellular provider of the smart phone.

Mobile TV By AT&T

AT&T to offer live mobile TV in May
AT&T Set to Offer Qualcomm Service
To Broadcast Live Video to Cellphones
AT&T said Thursday that it will start offering live mobile TV service from MediaFlo in May, but will anyone be watching?

AT&T first announced its partnership with MediaFlo in February 2007. Back then it said it expected the service to begin by the end of 2007. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told Reuters the company waited until May to offer the service because it was "a brand new service on a brand new network, and two brand new devices."

The new service will operate on two new handsets, the LG Vu and the Samsung Access. Subscribers will get access to eight channels of live TV plus two exclusive channels. AT&T said it would make pricing information available in May when the service officially launches.

MediaFlo USA is a subsidiary of wireless chipmaker Qualcomm. Using analog broadcast TV wireless spectrum it bought several years ago, MediaFlo has built a wireless network to deliver broadcast TV service to mobile devices.

Verizon Wireless, which was the first wireless provider to work with MediaFlo, has been offering the service for more than a year. Verizon hasn't published specific subscriber numbers, but Qualcomm's CEO Paul Jacobs said during a speech at the Tech Policy Summit in Hollywood on Wednesday that the uptake has been going slower than the company would like, according to RCR Wireless News.

Jacobs blames the carriers for not advertising the service enough. He said that carriers might be waiting for MediaFlo to increase its coverage, which he said will happen in February 2009 when TV broadcasters will transition to digital TV, the article said.

Qualcomm, which owns spectrum for the analog TV Channel 55, has had to negotiate with broadcasters in each market to be able to use the spectrum that some of them have used to broadcast TV. The network is currently operating in about 55 markets and is available to about 130 million people, said Gina Lombardi, president of MediaFlo USA. Markets where MediaFlo has launched include Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Orlando, and Philadelphia.

But some mobile experts question whether people really want to watch TV on their phones. Verizon is charging $15 a month extra for eight channels of live TV. Perhaps the price point is still too expensive for consumers who on average spend about $40 to $50 a month on cell phone service. And as the economy dips further into a recession, I question how willing people will be to spend extra money on what I'd consider an unnecessary service like mobile TV.

It will be interesting to see AT&T's customers' response to the live TV service. AT&T already offers an on-demand video service to customers who buy certain 3G data packages.

If consumers don't fall in love with live mobile TV it could spell trouble for Qualcomm's MediaFlo USA, which has spent millions of dollars acquiring spectrum and building the network. Right now the company wholesales the service to mobile operators. But Verizon and AT&T are currently its only customers.

Lombardi said the company is in talks with other wireless operators in the U.S. But the company is also considering offering its service on any device with a small screen.

"We've had a lot of interest from car manufacturers," she said. "We've even had refrigerator manufacturers ask if we could provide TV service to the tiny screens they put on refrigerators."

Lombardi said the service could be sold much like satellite radio, which allows people to subscribe to a monthly service for about $10 per month. If subscribers want satellite radio service on additional devices, they get a slight discount on the monthly subscription for the second and third device.

"We are looking into all of these options," she said. "If there's interest, we don't want to turn away from any opportunity knocking at our door."

Adobe added new online shop for Photoshop Express

AdoWeb-based image editor aimed at the millions of consumers that want a simple way to touch up, share, and store photos.

Photoshop Express, available for free with 2 gigabytes of storage at, is a significant departure from Adobe's desktop software business and a big bet that it can make money offering Web services directly to consumers.

The application, which needs Flash Player 9 to run, pushes the limits of browser-based applications and will likely ratchet up the competition on the dozens of free and online photo-editing products available now (see our full review of Photoshop Express and gallery of screen shots of the application).

News of an online version of Photoshop first came to light last year when Adobe's then-CEO Bruce Chizen told CNET that the product would be available within six months.

Since then, Adobe has expanded the scope of the project, one reason why the product launch has taken longer than expected, according to executives. Rather than only an image editor, Photoshop Express also has ties to social networking sites like Facebook and other image-sharing sites.

Also, Adobe needed to build the back-end infrastructure needed to offer the service directly to consumers, rather than partner with another photo-sharing site, as it did with its online video editor, Premiere Express.

"We've seen a convergence of trends where the everyday consumer is becoming overwhelmed with the number of images and they have the desire to share images in new and interesting ways," said Doug Mack, the vice president of consumer and hosted solutions at Adobe.

"We're at the point now with bandwidth that most consumers can use really rich Internet applications and also have a relationship with a service where they store and upload images," he said.

The service will go live in beta test mode on Thursday. Mack said that the company intends to use the test period as a way garner feedback from customers.

Adobe intends to offer more features to consumers who pay a yearly fee. Some planned features include a printing service, more storage, support for audio and other media, and the ability to read additional image file types (the service works with .JPGs now.)

Adobe also plans to build an offline client using AIR (the Adobe Integrated Runtime) so that people can edit photos offline, executives said.

Under the hood
Adobe already has a few other Photoshop-branded products--Photoshop Creative Suite 3 and Photoshop Lightroom are aimed at professional and serious amateur photographers, while $99 Photoshop Elements is a consumer-oriented product.

Photoshop Express is designed to be used essentially by anyone who uses a point and click digital camera, said Mack.

People can organize photos by dragging them into albums or create a gallery to share images. The service also lets people email links images stored online, embed them in a Web page, or download them.

When people hover a mouse over an image, a menu appears that lets people do tasks, such as rotating an image. The editing tools are designed for speed, with an autocorrect option, redeye removal, and a touch-up tool.

Adobe has sought to make Photoshop Express intuitive enough for people to use without any training but still have features that appeal to more sophisticated photographers, said Geoff Baum, director of Adobe's Express products.

For example, the touch-up tool will automatically choose a color from a surrounding item to, say, remove a blemish on a face. Or, a person can choose where to sample a color to replace the blemish.

Photoshop Express also includes several ways to tweak photos just for fun. There are a number of effects to change the color of one item in a photo, like a hat on someone's head, or blur parts of an image.

While editing, the application displays thumbnail images that let people view how effects will change a photo before saving it and people can revert back to an original. The connections to Facebook and other social networking sites let people edit and update images from within Photoshop Express.

First impression
Adobe engineers wrote Photoshop Express from scratch using its Flex development framework and ActionScript, its JavaScript-compatible language.

"We had some of the top Photoshop engineers who understand the technology and science behind Photoshop rewrite some of the algorithms in ActionScript 3," Baum explained.

Having used Photoshop Express for a short time, I can say that it is simple to use. It's attractive, too. The use of Flash animation makes for a dynamic page and smooth transitions between operations.

Adobe is hoping that people who use Picasa, Google's free downloadable application, will be tempted by Photoshop Express.

As someone who uses Picasa for both work and personal photo editing, I'd say that Photoshop Express is indeed tempting because it's slick yet easy to use. You can get edits done quickly, particularly using the thumbnail preview feature
launching the editor and actually saving changes is far slower than Picasa. That's not surprising, given that Photoshop Express has to download photos and upload changes, while Picasa doesn't. By design, Photoshop Express also has a broader range of options for sharing photos on other sites.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Future Laptop

The rules of notebook design and the components that go inside are being rewritten to make the road a better place to work and play. Here's a peek at key changes coming, from cases to displays.
A lot has changed in the 20 years since the first laptop computers appeared, including gigahertz processors, color screens, optical drives and wireless data. However, one thing that has stubbornly stayed the same is the conventional clamshell format with its hinged display lid that opens to reveal a mechanical keyboard.
That's about to change. The rules of notebook design and the components that go inside are being rewritten to make the road a better place to work and play.
"Between now and 2015, we expect to see a series of big changes that will redefine what a notebook is and what it looks like," said Mike Trainor, Intel Corp. 's evangelist for mobile products.
With crystal ball in hand, we talked to designers, engineers and marketers about how notebooks are likely to change over the next seven years. Here's what they told us.
Concepts for the future
First, let's take a look at some concept notebooks. Just as futuristic show cars give us insight into what we might be driving in the future, concept notebooks offer a sneak peek at how we'll be computing.
These concept notebooks typically are created by independent designers and firms retained by laptop vendors. This is highly secretive business: the designers we spoke were willing to talk about some of their concepts but couldn't tell us who they were working for.
Rarely does a concept notebook make it to the real world as a whole unit, but certain aspects often make it into production. Early 1990s concept devices contained integrated pointing devices, speakers and webcams, all of which are now standard equipment. It's likely that at least some of the new ideas, components and features showcased below will be coming to a notebook near you.
For example, several concept laptops rely on touch-sensitive screens that act as the system's keyboard and mouse and go beyond today's multi-touch technology. Imagine being able to slide your finger across the screen to immediately shut off the display and keep what you're working on confidential, and you get an idea of its potential.
The Compenion concept notebook from independent designer Felix Schmidberger in Stuttgart, Germany, borrows heavily from slider cell phones to move beyond the clamshell. Rather than lifting the lid open, just slide it up.
The pair of superbright organic LED panels slide into place next to each other, with the lower panel acting as keyboard or scribble pad. The whole thing is only three-quarters of an inch thick.
"It reduces thickness, but the slider was more about the feel of using the notebook," said Schmidberger. "The idea is to break free from traditional notebook hardware without having to adapt to new ways of using a computer."
Together, the 11-in. screens will yield about 16 inches of usable workspace, so the system has the dimensions and weight of a thin and light system but the screen of a larger one.
Dual-screen systems could well be the rage in seven years. The Canova from V12 Design, a Milan, Italy-based design firm, is closer to the tried and true clamshell layout, but with a twist.
Instead of a display and a mechanical keyboard, the device has two touch-sensitive displays: The upper screen is primarily for viewing applications, and the lower screen is for the mundane activities of typing, drawing and jotting notes. But the Canova can also lie flat for a large expanse of working space.
According to designer Valero Cometti, "the idea was to close the gap between man and machine." This notebook changes personality depending on how it's held. Opened all the way, it's a sketch pad. Fold it half open and rotate it 90 degrees, and it's an e-book. By emulating a musical keyboard on the lower half, when it's flat on a table, it can be a go-anywhere piano.
Who needs a screen at all? Long Beach, Calif.-based independent designer Jonathan Lucas' eccentric Siafu concept can touch you, literally. That's because Siafu is for the blind and has no screen.
"The idea was to open a new realm of digital interface for the visually impaired by enhancing and even surpassing existing technologies that currently cater to this group," said Lucas.
Because the blind can't see what's on the screen, Siafu converts images into corresponding 3-D shapes that are created with Magneclay, an oil-based synthetic material that instantly forms shapes in response to electrical fields.
In such hands-on computing, you interact with Siafu with your fingers to feel the bumps and protrusions that pop up. The Magneclay surface could be used for reading a Braille newspaper, feeling the shape of someone's face or going over a tactile representation of a blueprint.
When could it be available? "I don't know," answered Lucas. "How about 2015?"
Imagine a system that is at home in a car, in an Internet caf? or on a hotel desk, and you have the job description of Anna Lopez' Cario.
"The concept offers several ways of working on the move or at a desk," explained U.K.-based independent designer Lopez.
Equal parts form, function and fashion, this concept replaces the traditional lid hinge with a shiny bar that, as the name implies, is a carrying handle. It also allows the lid to fold up for travel and can be converted into a an easel or sit on a car's steering wheel.
Not surprisingly, then, Cario comes into its own on the road. So the driver doesn't get cross-eyed or crook-necked by looking down at the screen when it's locked into the steering wheel, Cario has a microprojector that projects its images onto the vehicle's windshield. This heads-up display can show maps, videoconferences and find the closest gas station.
A safety hazard in the making? "The notebook is connected to the [car's] dashboard so that Cario can only be operated if the vehicle is stationary," said Lopez.
Changing materials
Some changes and new functionality in the laptops we'll use in 2015 will come about because of significant advances in the materials used to create the devices. Magneclay is just one example.
Another example is a change in the plastics used in the notebook case. In fact, by 2015, dropping a notebook might not be the catastrophe it can be today.
That's because a group at UCLA 's Exotic Materials Institute led by Fred Wudl has come up with an epoxy that's strong, durable and can repair itself. Called Automend, small cracks can be sealed by just heating the surface with a hair dryer, making it a godsend for the clumsy among us.
Another example relates to peripherals used on the road. For instance, future mobile systems could easily include projectors, which will be reduced to about the size of a pack of cigarettes by 2015.
Because such projectors use a laser, "you can project images on a wall within a distance of several meters without having to adjust a lens," said Schmidberger. "It can even be bumpy or bent."
Powerful components
It doesn't take a very clear crystal ball to know that the next generation of notebooks will deliver much more computing power. And notebooks will also get smarter as components continue to shrink and more components get squeezed onto a sliver of silicon the size of a fingernail.
The result will be that notebooks will be able to perform tasks that we can only dream of today. Here's what our experts say those components will look like and what they'll be able to do.
It's a sure bet that we won't be using a mere single- or double-core processor by 2015. Most notebooks will have at least six computational cores, if not eight, according to the experts we contacted.
Such technology is available today, so it surely will be standard-issue on laptops of the future, the experts agreed. Having at least six computational cores at your disposal will not only make high-end simulations and data visualizations possible, but will also make for one heck of a game of Halo.
Missing your bus
The CPU's front-side bus will likely disappear by 2015. The bus acts like a traffic cop, sending data to the different parts of the system at a slower speed than the computational core. In its place will be an integrated controller that makes this distribution of data much more efficient by operating faster.
As with multiple-core processors, this trend is already under way; Intel, for instance, has announced that its Nehalem CPU microarchitecture, set to debut later this year, will feature an integrated memory controller, eliminating the need for a front-side bus. However, it will take a long time for this trend to reach CPUs used in notebook computers -- the 2015 time frame seems reasonable, the experts agreed.
With most notebooks having built-in wireless broadband connections, a new onslaught of data is expected. As a result, where we'll store our accumulated files will be transformed.
According to Intel's Trainor, we'll see ever-more storage capacity in smaller and smaller packages, along with solid-state memory that is lighter and faster, while being more rugged and using less power.
Currently, adding 64MB of solid state capacity to a notebook's hard drive runs an extra $1,000. By 2015, the typical mainstream notebook could be outfitted with a 2TB hard disk drive, which should be plenty of room for even the biggest data hog, the experts speculated. For smaller and lighter machines, look to having something like 250GB of flash memory at your disposal, but it will likely come at a small premium.
There will be a new type of storage as well that has can boost performance, said Intel's Trainor. Currently, with Windows Vista , a USB flash memory key can act as an intermediate data cache for the system's hard drive.
This makes the most-used data more quickly available for the processor, streamlining its operation. Called Turbo or Robson memory, this technique will go into overdrive when the flash memory is put on the motherboard for faster access, Trainor noted.
We'll look at our notebooks in a different light in 2015 as sequential red, green, blue LED backlighting replaces the cold cathode fluorescent lighting tubes found in today's LCD screens. This technology will not only offer brighter images, but will also use less power.
Ultimately, organic LEDs will take over, although they may not be ready in time for a 2015 system in the sizes and quantities required for mass production. Because they make their own light, OLEDs can be made thinner than today's screens.
These screens have been used on phones for several years, and Sony's XEL-1 is the first TV to have an OLED display. Its 11-in. OLED screen is just over a tenth of an inch thick. "We're very excited about OLEDs," said Trainor. "They're capable of producing beautiful, rich colors and using less power. It adds another choice."
In a more speculative vein, in seven years, we just might have 3-D displays that show the world as it really is. This will not only be great for gamers, but it can aid in representing complex data and displaying computer-aided designs.
Such displays could also revamp the way we interact with our desktops. Imagine an on-screen desktop that, rather than a flat expanse, has depth and perspective so that you can hide your list of passwords behind the icon for opening your Web browser.
More, better power
Most experts agree that future notebooks will be just as limited by battery life as they are now. But that doesn't mean we won't see significant advances in mobile power supplies; such advances will be necessary to keep up with all the extra power.
While fuel cells that turn methanol into power showed promise over the past few years, batteries will continue to dominate the power scene. However, there will be a move from lithium-ion cells that have to be made in cylinders to lithium polymer cells that can be formed in a variety of shapes and sizes.
"This allows notebook designers to fill small nooks and crannies of a notebook with extra batteries," explained Trainor.
Powering up could also change with inductive charging, which is key to both the Compenion and Cario concept notebooks. Rather than plugging a cord into the notebook to charge it, you just put the notebook on a special surface that has an inductive power pad, and juice is sent wirelessly to charge the battery.
The payoff is that there's no AC power adapter to carry, but this new method of charging devices will work only if enough charging pads are available. They'd need to be at cafes, hotels and even on airliner tray tables. This technology is ready today , although it is a long way from being adopted widely enough to be useful.
"Inductive charging," said Lopez, "would allow easy access and a secure way to charge."
An innovative mobile approach to power is taken by Nikola Knezevic, a Serbian designer who has turned the clamshell format on its head with solar panels. His concept design, called, not surprisingly, the Solar Laptop Concept, has an extra hinged lid covered with solar cells that can be adjusted to get the most out of the sun.
It'll add a few tenths of an inch to the system's thickness and won't be able to fully charge the system, but when you're done, just fold it up and go.
Still, Trainor, who avidly follows developments of technologies such as solar power, cautioned against becoming too optimistic that this type of technology will make it easier to keep laptops of the future charged.
"We're still a ways away from generating enough to power the notebook," explained Trainor.
In this one way, the more things change, the more they stay the same. While mobile computers in 2015 will significantly eclipse today's notebooks in terms of usability and capabilities, we'll still need to find ways to keep the devices charged.

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