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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Switch to Digital TV On Track

FCC Chief: Switch to Digital TV On Track

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin confirms that the deadline for the country's switch to digital TV next year will not be postponed.
In a broad discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show,U.S. Federal Communications CommissionChairman Kevin Martin on Tuesday confirmed that the deadline for the country's switch to digital TV next year will not be postponed, explained the rationale behind the requirements for the current 700MHz auction and gave hints about his thinking regarding various communications megamergers.

Interviewed at the show by Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro, Martin said the February 2009 deadline for the digital TV switch is a "hard deadline." He said a postponement would "dis-incentivize" industry to make the transition.

"After all of our efforts we couldn't just turn around and say 'We're just kidding,'" he said.

About 50 percent of all homes in the U.S. now have digital TVs, and the CEA forecasts that some 28 million digital TVs will be bought in the U.S. this year, Shapiro noted.

Other FCC Updates
The transition to digital will not only improve picture quality for consumers, but also free up spectrum that can be used for wireless broadband, Martin stressed. He also noted that the extra spectrum provided by the switch would be used to improve public safety, allowing for better communications between fire departments and police. The need for better coordination among law enforcement and safety officials was a major point made in the 9/11 Commission report, he noted.

Requirements related to the auction for 700MHz spectrum blocks in the U.S. will play an important part in bringing broadband access to more people, such as inhabitants in rural areas, who have limited wireless options now, he said.

The spectrum auction has been broken up into blocks. One block, for example, has open-access rules and is broken up into 12 regional licenses across the U.S. There are also "buildout" requirements that will ensure that auction winners will actually put the spectrum to use in a reasonable timeframe, Martin said.

He declined to comment directly on the planned merger of Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio, currently under review by the Department of Justice. But he noted that the companies have been talking about a la carte pricing plans for shows, which would give consumers a wide range of options to choose different bundles of programs and prices. Martin said he would encourage content providers -- especially cable TV companies -- to offer this type of program-options plan.

One disappointment in the wake of communications industry deregulation has been the rising price of cable TV, he said.

Martin stopped short of saying that approval of the Sirius-XM merger would set a regulatory precedent for a rumored merger deal between satellite TV companies Echostar and DirecTV. But he did say that it would be important for the satellite TV companies to give consumers more pricing and program bundle options as part of any merger plan.

"This is the type of thing we'd be looking at," he said.

Digital TV switch to generate ad blitz
In an election year - especially a presidential year - most of us can expect an avalanche of TV advertising. But in 2008, the candidates may be competing for air time with the very broadcasters who carry their ads.

That's because broadcasters are desperate to get their message out soon enough to prevent an election year train wreck: that millions of TVs will go dark in 16 months unless viewers replace them or buy converters to equip them for digital broadcasting.

With almost half the population unaware of the switch, the National Association of Broadcasters this week announced plans to spend almost $700 million on an advertising blitz to tell Americans what's about to happen - and persuade them that it's for their own good.

It's a tough sell. Still, if you receive TV over the airwaves with an antenna - as opposed to cable or satellite service - start paying attention. More immediately, if you buy a new set this holiday season, make sure it's equipped to receive the new digital signals. This is also a good time to figure out whether your existing sets, even recent purchases, will work after the digital tsunami strikes.

Congress has told broadcasters to turn off the over-the-air, analog transmitters they've used for more than half a century on Feb. 17, 2009. They'll now rely solely on new digital transmitters whose signals aren't compatible with the tuners in traditional TVs without converter boxes.

These include millions of analog-only sets that consumers bought over the last few years, unaware that they were already on the road to Palookaville.

The broadcasters' PR strategy includes thousands of public service commercials, annoying "crawlers" that inch across the bottom of the screen during regular programs, educational programming, and even a traveling road show.

Altogether, NAB expects to create 98 billion "viewer impressions," an onslaught that may rival campaign pitches for sheer annoyance.

This is separate from the cable industry's $200 million program that aims to convince disgusted over-the-air customers that it's now worth their money to hook up to cable.

Unfortunately, critics say, the government isn't doing much on its end. Out of $1.5 billion appropriated for converter box subsidies, the government has allocated only $5 million for education - a situation that drew bipartisan ire at congressional hearings yesterday.

There will certainly be plenty of irate viewers to go around, considering that that government's program to provide every household $40 vouchers to defray the cost of up to two converters won't come close to the total cost of switching.

The converter boxes will cost $50 to $80 each. Many viewers may need new antennae, too. Even if the cost won't dent their retirement accounts, they will still have to go through the hassle of buying converters, hooking them up and possibly learning - as I did when I reviewed a digital TV - that they can't get all the channels they were accustomed to receiving.

For local TV stations, the stakes are tremendous. Once they get past the switchover, the new system will allow them to broadcast on three or four channels simultaneously, including high-definition broadcasts. That's an upside for viewers, too: They will also get an improved picture, even without high-definition sets.

Not predictable
But if the advertising blitz fails and enough Americans get riled up just before the election, Congress might be tempted to postpone the scheme. At the very least, broadcasters could wind up losing disgusted analog viewers to cable networks and online diversions.

Given the swirl of political and economic variables, there's no way to predict the outcome. In fact, this is uncharted territory. Never before has the government, by simple fiat, made such a reliable and important technology obsolete overnight - and with no demand for the change from consumers.

Most immediately at risk are viewers in 20 million American households who rely solely on free, over-the-air broadcasts.

1 household in 5
That's roughly 1 household out of 5. They are disproportionately occupied by the poor, who can't afford cable, and by the elderly, who vote in droves and know enough to punish those who've done them wrong.

In fact, the only reason why lawmakers who set this scheme in motion 11 years ago haven't already been tarred and feathered is that 80 percent of TV households get their broadcasts from cable or satellite companies. Those carriers will convert the new digital broadcasts for their customers' analog sets - at least for the time being.

Even among cable households, the NAB says, almost 15 million have second, third or fourth sets in bedrooms and kitchens that get their broadcasts over the air. Those sets will have to be replaced or converted, too.

Yesterday, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which will administer the $40 voucher program, released a few details - including, the award of a $120 million contract with International Business Machines Corp. to manage the program.

Officials said applications for vouchers will be available online, by phone or mail, as well as through many public libraries whose staff will be trained to help applicants fill them out..

Comcast: Industry to standardize network, enabling new services without cable box
Facing pressure from regulators, the cable TV industry plans to make good on a promise to standardize its technology and open the door to televisions and other gadgets that don't need cable boxes to receive video-on-demand programs and other interactive services.

An industry initiative, to be renamed "tru2way" after a decade in the works, is expected to allow electronics manufacturers to make TVs and other gear that will work regardless of cable provider. By making devices compatible, the standard also could encourage the development of new services and features that rely on two-way communication over the cable network.

Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable provider, will roll out the platform in all its markets by the end of 2008, Chief Executive Brian Roberts said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of a speech Tuesday at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

Time Warner Cable Inc. is even closer to completion, Comcast executives said. A spokesman for No. 3 provider Cox Communications Inc. said the company will have "widespread deployment" this year.

"Our business model has changed completely, from a closed, proprietary model to an open architecture that will work across cable companies - not just across Comcast," Roberts said. "That was a Herculean job to accomplish."

Craig Moffett, senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein, said the industry is sending a hands-off signal to the Federal Communications Commission. Last summer, FCC officials said they would soon take on the issue of two-way compatibility between consumer electronics and cable systems.

"They don't have a lot of friends at the FCC right now. The cable industry has every reason to be nervous," Moffett said. "I suspect a lot of this is trying to beat the FCC to the punch."

CableLabs, the cable industry's research and development arm, which Roberts leads, was to announce Monday that its OpenCable platform, which began development in 1997, will now be branded as "tru2way."

Cable providers and device manufacturers have long disagreed over the technical specifications for two-way communication among their devices. There are TVs and set-top boxes in the market that can receive digital programming, but they can't talk back to the network, which would allow advanced interactive services. That leaves consumers with having to rent a box from the cable company.

And even with the new standards some discord remains.

Though the cable industry has inked separate deals with electronics companies, including Panasonic, Samsung and LG, consumer electronics giant Sony isn't on board.

The FCC - where Chairman Kevin Martin supports a more open and competitive environment - is also considering a different standard put forward by a group of consumer electronics companies.

CableLabs said it has inked licensing agreements with Intel Corp. and Broadcom Corp. to develop chips to run the software. And Microsoft Corp. is expected to integrate the standard into future versions of its Windows operating system for personal computers.

Comcast foresees "tru2way" branding on TVs, set-top boxes, PCs and other devices to signal their compatibility with cable systems.

On Monday, Panasonic and Comcast plan to unveil a slew of products that will be compatible with "tru2way," including a plasma high-definition television, high-definition digital video recorders and a portable DVR.

"You'll see a number of new 'tru2way' devices, and this is just the beginning," Roberts said. "This is Day One."

The Panasonic Viera Plasma HDTV with "tru2way" will go on sale this year. Panasonic's portable DVD player and recorder, called "AnyPlay," lifts off a docking station and allows consumers to watch the programs they've recorded anywhere they like, on its 8.5-inch LCD screen. It is to go on sale in early 2009.

Other products are expected to reach retail stores as early as the end of 2008. The timeframe gives cable leverage over the competing standard proposed by consumer electronics makers, whose devices might not make it to retail until 2009 at the earliest.

Moffett said cable operators are telling the FCC that the industry can work with consumer electronics makers on two-way cable-compatible products.

"That could tip the scales in their favor," Moffett said.

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nanotubes together like water pipes

nanotubes together like water pipes

Plumbing Carbon Nanotubes
Scientists have determined how to connect carbon nanotubes together like water pipes, a feat that may lead to a whole new group of bottom-up-engineered nanostructures and devices.
The researchers, from Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, were able to "plumb" together nanotubes with similar or equal diameters using a technique they developed. They expect that their method could be used in the future to seamlessly join carbon nanotubes regardless of their diameters.

"Our method could allow longer carbon nanotubes to be created, and even nanotubes with multiple branches," the study's corresponding scientist, Chuanhong Jin, said to "Such structures could have many applications, such as field-effect transistors or current lead-wires."

The work is described in a paper in Nature Nanotechnology.

Working through the eyes of a transmission electron microscope, which allowed them to watch the process as it occurred, Jin and his colleagues first split a single carbon nanotube by bridging it across two electrodes and applying a high current. This caused the middle section of the nanotube to become gradually narrower until it eventually split, resulting in two nanotubes with equal diameters and closed, or capped, ends.

The capped ends were moved near each other and the voltage across the electrodes was slowly raised from zero. At certain threshold values of voltage and current, the two nanotubes suddenly joined again. This process was so quick that Jin and his colleagues are as yet unsure of how it occurs.

The researchers found that they could repeat this split/join process on the same nanotube several times; so far, up to seven times.

The group also attempted to join carbon nanotubes with different diameters, but were not successful. In each case, at a certain threshold of voltage and current, an obvious deformation occurred on the cap of the larger nanotube. The nanotubes would then detach, pulling away from each other, and the cap structures of both nanotubes seemed to change, causing a shrinkage in length. Attempts to reposition and attach the nanotubes produced the same results.
"It seems intrinsically difficult to join two carbon nanotubes with entirely different diameters," says Jin.

The difficulties seem to arise from the nanotubes' "chiralities"-whether the carbon atoms are bonded in chains that run straight down the tube or chains that twist around it. Two nanotubes made from the same mother tube have the same chirality, but nanotubes with different diameters rarely do. This mismatch caused problems at the atomic level when the scientists attempted to force the tubes to merge.

But the scientists came up with a fix: inserting tungsten atoms between the two nanotubes to catalyze the joining process. Tungsten has long been known to help carbon atoms "graphitize," or arrange themselves into ordered structures, as are found in one crystal form of carbon, graphite. By moving the particle back and forth during the annealing process, the nanotubes joined seamlessly.

Nanotechnology with Carbon Nanotubes

pipes, bearings and springs are a few common ways that engineers have made use of the geometric shape known as a 'cylinder.' The utility of this shape is apparent in architecture, plumbing and mechanical devices. Carbon nanotubes are molecular cylinders that are rapidly extending our ability to fabricate nanoscale devices by providing molecular probes, pipes, wires, bearings and springs.

Their strength as structural supports comes from their sturdy molecular structure, which looks like what one would get if onecould roll a two dimensional sheet of graphite into a three dimensional cylinder. The limit to how long they can be is unknown, thus aerospace scientists are seriously considering using them as cables extending into space, an idea that is not possible with traditional ropes since they would break under their own weight. Furthermore, carbon nanotubes can easily be cut into sections as small as a few nanometers [1]. One of the first important applications of carbon nanotubes has been in the fabrication of sharp, strong and functionalized AFM probe tips [2].

The hollow nature of nanotubes allow them to function as pipes for transporting and molding atoms and molecules. Furthermore,the tubes come in insulating, semiconducting and conducting form, meaning that they can also be used as molecular wires and circuits [3]. Whats more, capillary induced filling of the nanotubes with other materials further extends the diversity of nanowires that can be fabricated [4]. The electronic properties of carbon nanotubes are directly related to their shape, making them an important Nano-Electromechanical System (NEMS). For example, the feasibility of a nanotube-based random access memory device with a memory density around 100 gigabytes/cm2 and an operation frequency around 100 gigahertz has recently been developed at Harvard University [5].

In addition to their high aspect ratio (meaning long and thin) and particle transport capabilities, carbon nanotubes can alsofunction as durable bearings and springs. Nanotubes can be fabricated in two forms: single-wall nanotubes (SWNT) or multi-wall nanotubes (MWNT). While a SWNT consists of only a single cylinder, a MWNT consists of several (between 2 and 30) concentric tubes, each with a specific diameter. Physicists at the University of California, Berkeley have recently demonstrated that a MWNT can act as a molecular bearing when one of the inner tubes rotates, or as a molecular spring when an inner tube is pulled out, causing the MWNT to stretch in a way similar to a telescope .

The stable arangement of atoms into cylindrical nanocrystals is not limited to carbon. The inert nature of boron nitride and tungsten disulfide nanotubes makes them particularly durable molecular components for NEMS.

Inorganic Nanotubes

The stability of the cylindrical form is not limited to carbon nanotubes. In 1992, scientists at the Weizmann Institute discovered crystalline molecular cylinders (nanotubes) composed of Tungsten and Sulfur [1] (figure). Thus began the subject of inorganic fullerene-like materials and nanotubes. Any of the numerous elements and compounds known to form stable two dimensional sheets (as well as several other elements) can be used for theoretical simulations. Predictions made by these simulations are continually being confirmed as nanotube engineers find new ways to roll those sheets into tubes.

Several methods exist for the synthesis of inorganic nanotubes. Each method may result in a different type, size and yield. The 'type' of tube refers to its atomic structure and chirality, 'Size' means the diameter and length of the tube and 'yield' refers to the purity of the product. A common method for synthesis of both inorganic and organic nanotubes is exposure to high temperatures by laser heating or an arc discharge [3]. Another technique is to substitute the atoms in an already fabricated tube by a substitution reaction .Template assisted synthesis is perhaps the most promising method, since it allows more precise control of the nanotube type

As the diversity of available nanotubes increases, nanoscientists are gaining access to a wide variety of molecular columns, pipes, bearings and springs. The mechanical properties of these tubes are controllable by electronic means, making them ideal components for Nano-Electromechanical Systems, otherwise known as nanomachines. Two of the best understood inorganic nanotubes.

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Apple ships Xserve, Mac Pro With 8-Core Xeon

This is Apple's latest Mac Pro, unveiled Tuesday. Click for more pictures of it and the latest Xserve.
Apple got a little business out of the way before next week's Macworld extravaganza, announcing new versions of the Mac Pro and Xserve to go along with new Intel chips.

These systems are very high-end computers, designed for heavy work rather than organizing photos of your latest trip to St. Louis. Both the Mac Pro and the Xserve are available with two of Intel's Xeon 5400 series quad-core processors, and come with loads of memory and other performance-oriented features, like RAID hard drives

(24hoursnews)The company is marketing to IT-challenged small businesses that want computers capable of terabyte storage and improved graphics capabilities.

Apple on Tuesday introduced a more powerful Xserve aimed at organizations with limited IT support, such as small businesses or departments in larger companies.
In addition, the company launched a Mac Pro with twice the performance of the previous version of the workstation for creative professionals and research organizations. Apple unveiled the new products a week before the Macworld conference opens in San Francisco.

Both new products are under $3,000 and come standard with two Intel Xeon quad-core chips, codenamed Harpertown, which were released only last month. Last year, the same custom design would have cost $4,000.

"One of the advantages in using Harpertown is that it packs a lot more performance per watt in the same thermal envelope," Tom Boger, senior director of desktop, servers and storage product marketing at Apple, told InformationWeek. "Just by itself, the Harpertown processor raw is a 60% improvement over the previous configuration [Cloverton]."

Apple designed the hardware and software in the new products to take advantage of Harpertown's low-power capabilities, Boger said. The new machines can show as much as a 2x performance boost with some third-party applications. In addition, Apple is offering in both machines terabyte hard-drive capabilities for the first time.

With the new Xserve, Apple is also drawing attention to the Mac OS X Leopard Server operating system as a strong competitor to other products aimed at organizations without large IT staffs. The 1U rack server can operate in a mixed environment of Macs and Windows clients, and is powered by two Xeon 5400 series processors running up to 3.0GHz. The chips are Intel's latest 45 nanometer manufactured processors, which top previous products in power and energy consumption.

The new Xserve includes up to 3 Tbytes of internal storage and two PCI Express 2.0 expansion slots that provide up to four times the input/output bandwidth of the previous model to support 4 Gbit Fibre channel and 10 Gbit Ethernet cards.

Apple has added accelerated graphics to the new Xserve to support several Apple Cinema Displays at once. The new product also includes two FireWire 800 and three USB 2.0 ports, and comes with a license for unlimited client seats. The starting price is $2,999.

The latest server draws attention to Leopard's capabilities as an OS for small businesses and other organizations that can't afford large IT staffs, industry analysts with Technology Business Research said in an e-mailed commentary.

"TBR believes this package is a strong offering wherever IT services are limited," the market research firm said. "Apple will use the value proposition of easy-to-use comprehensive services to broaden its market to small businesses and departments, where Xserve is an ideal first server."

Included with Leopard Server are mail hosting, Web hosting, file sharing, client management, network management and security, VPN, chat, search, and directory services, TBR said.

With the new Mac Pro workstation, Apple is offering its fastest Mac through the use of two Xeon 5400 series processors running up to 3.2GHz. The machine comes standard with an ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card with 256 Mbytes of video memory.

The machine includes a PCI Express 2.0 graphics slot that delivers twice the bandwidth as previous generations, and can be upgraded with Nvidia graphics cards, such as the GeForce 8800 GT with 512MB of video memory, and the Quadro FX 5600 with 1.5GB of memory.

The system can carry up to four 1Tbyte Serial ATA hard drives, and includes nine ports for external devices, including five USB 2.0s, two FireWire 400s and two FireWire 800s. The Mac Pro also supports SAS drives, which run at a higher rate than SATA drives and provide RAID 0, 1 and 5 storage protection.

Pricing for the new desktop machine starts at $2,799.

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