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Monday, January 21, 2008

Finalists picked for second spaceship contest

NASA has narrowed the field of private space companies vying for $175 million in public funds the U.S. space agency expects to award in early February for demonstration flights to the international space station, according to industry sources closely following the competition.

At least eight firms, and perhaps as many as 14, submitted proposals in late November under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, or COTS.

Established in 2006, COTS aims to spur development of privately operated space transportation systems capable of delivering cargo and eventually astronauts to the space station.

NASA selected two companies - Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, and Rocketplane Kistler - in mid-2006 to share about $500 million. But NASA has since pulled the plug on Rocketplane Kistler's award for non-performance, freeing up the $175 million NASA intends to give to some other company next month.

According to multiple industry sources, NASA has notified four companies that they are finalists for the $175 million and should prepare to meet with COTS selection officials in Houston in the days ahead to defend their proposals.

Spacehab was one of the companies notified this week that it had made the cut, Eva DeCardenas, a spokeswoman for the Houston-based company, confirmed on Thursday.

The other companies, according to sources, are: Andrews Space of Seattle; Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va.; and PlanetSpace of Chicago.

NASA spokeswoman Beth Dickey would not confirm that a downselect had taken place, because the agency has refrained from comment while the COTS competition remains under way.

Industry sources said NASA intends to announce its final selection on Feb. 7, the date by which the U.S. Government Accountability Office is required to rule on Rocketplane Kistler's challenge of NASA's use of Space Act Agreements for the COTS program. Rocketplane Kistler maintains that a traditional federal contract would be a better fit for COTS.

The COTS money has been paid out according to a schedule of milestones for spacecraft development, and NASA paid Rocketplane Kistler $32 million for meeting early milestones before terminating its Space Act Agreement. SpaceX is in line to receive $278 million if it hits all its milestones through 2010. Another $15 million was set aside for NASA's administration costs.

(In addition to the $500 million NASA-funded COTS program, five companies have been working with NASA on cargo supply projects on an unfunded basis. Those companies include PlanetSpace and Spacehab, as well as SpaceDev, SpaceDev and Transformational Space, or t/Space.)

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world’s blackest black

Scientists create world's blackest black
Super-dark carbon nanotubes could be used in solar cells and sensors
Researchers say they have made the darkest material on Earth, a substance so black it absorbs more than 99.9 percent of light.

Made from tiny tubes of carbon standing on end, this material is almost 30 times darker than a carbon substance used by the National Institute of Standards and Technology as the current benchmark of blackness.

And the material is close to the long-sought ideal black, which could absorb all colors of light and reflect none.

"All the light that goes in is basically absorbed," Pulickel Ajayan, who led the research team at Rice University in Houston, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "It is almost pushing the limit of how much light can be absorbed into one material."

The substance has a total reflective index of 0.045 percent - which is more than three times darker than the nickel-phosphorus alloy that now holds the record as the world's darkest material.

Basic black paint, by comparison, has a reflective index of 5 percent to 10 percent.

The researchers are seeking a "world's darkest material" designation by Guinness World Records. But their work will likely yield more than just bragging rights.

Ajayan said the material could be used in solar energy conversion. "You could think of a material that basically collects all the light that falls into it," he said.

It could also could be used in infrared detection or astronomical observation.

Ajayan, who worked with a team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., said the material gets its blackness from three things.

It is composed of carbon nanotubes, tiny tubes of tightly rolled carbon that are 400 times smaller than the diameter of a strand of hair. The carbon helps absorb some of the light.
These tubes are standing on end, much like a patch of grass. This arrangement traps light in the tiny gaps between the "blades."
The researchers have also made the surface of this carbon nanotube carpet irregular and rough to cut down on reflectivity.
Such a nanotube array not only reflects light weakly, but also absorbs light strongly," said Shawn-Yu Lin, a professor of physics at Rensselaer, who helped make the substance.

The researchers have tested the material on visible light only. Now they want to see how it fares against infrared and ultraviolet light, and other wavelengths such as radiation used in communications systems.

"If you could make materials that would block these radiations, it could have serious applications for stealth and defense," Ajayan said.

The work was released online last week and will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Nano Letters. The Indian-born Ajayan holds the 2006 Guinness World Record as co-inventor of the smallest brush in the world. : , , ,
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China’s Internet users increase 210 million

China's Internet population soars to 210 million
Country on track to surpass U.S. online community this year

The Chinese government said Friday its Internet population has soared to 210 million people, putting it on track to surpass the U.S. online community this year to become the world's largest.

The official China Internet Network Information Center, also known as CNNIC, said the online population grew 53 percent, from 137 million reported at the same time last year. According to the government's Xinhua News Agency, China is only 5 million behind the United States online, a figure consistent with some American estimates.

China still lags the United States in many respects, however.
Xinhua placed China's online penetration rate at 16 percent - the point Americans were at in the mid-1990s. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 75 percent of American adults are now online; penetration is even higher when teens are included. (China's stats cover Chinese 6 and older.)

"We're two countries at very different points along the adoption curve," said John Horrigan, Pew's associate director. "China is approximately 15 years behind."

Several other differences between the two markets mean Internet penetration has different meaning in China and the United States.

First, cybercafes serve as the main entry to the Internet for many Chinese unable to afford a computer at home. One-third of Chinese Internet users surf through cybercafes, according to Xinhua, while Pew found that 93 percent of U.S. Internet users have access at home.

Also, China is notorious for censorship. Although the government promotes Internet use for education and business, it tries to block the public from seeing material it deems pornographic or critical of communist rule, including new rules promulgated this month covering online videos.

And China's government imprisons people who mail, post online, or access politically sensitive content from within China. Reporters Without Borders says 50 Chinese "cyberdissidents" are currently in prison.

Nonetheless, China's online growth is significant
"Users do a lot to shape the Internet and not only by directly posting content but (by) their behavior," Horrigan said. "It tells other people what the demand is. As you get more Chinese, that increases demand for Internet content in Mandarin and other Chinese languages."

Horrigan also said many Chinese users are accessing the Internet through mobile devices, offering China "a distinct opportunity to shape the Internet" with usage everywhere.


China builds an ultrafast Internet
China has built its own version of an ultrafast next-generation Internet network that promises to reduce the country's dependence on foreign companies, the state news media reported Monday.

The China Education and Research Network has linked 167 institutes and departments at 25 universities in 20 cities through the Internet Protocol Version 6, China Central Television reported.

The current Internet is run by Internet Protocol Version 4, which is limited by the numbers of Internet addressesthat can be created and lacks advanced security functions, the report said.

The new protocol can work at speeds of 2.5 gigabytes to 10 gigabytes of information per second, around 100 times current Internet speeds, the report said.

Researchers in the United States, Japan and South Korea are also building IPV6 technologies, which are expected to gain "significant global traction" by 2010, it said.

to IPV6 information posted on Microsoft's Web site, IPV6 and IPV4 will be used simultaneously over the coming years as Internet operators and home computers gradually take on the new technology.

IPV6 is expected to be able to handle an infinite number of Internet addresses, offer better security and be more compatible with mobile phones and hand-held computing devices, the Microsoft site said.

Chinese researchers received government approval to research the new protocol in 2003 with the goal of helping domestic companies build competitive hardware for the next-generation Internet, The China Daily said.Internet routers and other equipment for the IPV4 system are now mostly made by American companies like Cisco Systemsand Juniper Networks, the paper said.

Five Chinese telecommunications operators, including China Telecom and China Mobile, are building IPV6 networks, with some expected to begin trial runs by the end of the year. Chinese research institutes and manufacturers are also working to standardize and commercialize IPV6 applications and hardware with the hope of making Chinese technology companies more competitive globally, the paper said.

Lenovo reports overheating

Lenovo Group, the Chinese personal computer maker, said it was investigating a case in which a Sony-battery- powered Lenovo notebook computer overheated this month and began smoking and sparking, Reuters reported from Tokyo.

The malfunction, whose cause is unclear, happened with a Lenovo ThinkPad T43 on Sept. 16 at Los Angeles International Airport, but no one was injured, a Lenovo spokesman in Tokyo said.

Dell and Apple Computer last month together recalled almost six million Sony batteries, saying that they could produce smoke and catch fire. The Lenovo notebook that became overheated was using the same type of Sony battery that was a target of Dell and Apple Computer recalls, the Lenovo spokesman said.

A spokesman for Sony said the company was cooperating with Lenovo in investigating the overheating but added that Sony had not determined that the notebook computer had been equipped with a Sony battery.

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US company claims ,cloned humans

US company claims cloned humans, made stem cells
A California company said on Thursday it used cloning technology to make five human embryos, with the eventual hope of making matched stem cells for patients. Stemagen Corp. in La Jolla, California, destroyed the embryos while testing to make sure they were true clones. But the researchers, based at a fertility center, said they believed their ready source of new human eggs would make their venture a success.

Other experts were skeptical about the claims, published in the journal Stem Cells. If verified, the team would be the first to prove they have cloned human beings as a source of stem cells, the master cells of the body.

There are several types of stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, made from days-old embryos, are considered the most powerful because they can give rise to all the cell types in the body.

The Stemagen team said they got five human embryos using skin cells from two adult men who work at the IVF center. They said they had painstakingly verified that the embryos were clones of the two men.

"We hope it is a bit of a turning point for many more studies," Andrew French, who led the research, said in a telephone interview.

They used a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT, which involves hollowing out an egg cell and injecting the nucleus of a cell from the donor to be copied -- in this case, the skin cells from the men. It is the same technique used to make Dolly the sheep in 1996, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult. Researchers hope to use the technique to create tailor-made transplants of cells, tissue or organs for patients, treating injuries and diseases like juvenile diabetes.

"Since a significant percentage of couples undergoing fertility treatments appear willing to participate in this type of research, we believe the method described to obtain donated oocytes is a viable and ethically acceptable strategy," the researchers wrote.

Some cloning experts said the work appeared to be genuine.

"This is the most successful description so far of the use of the cloning techniques with purely human material. However, it is still a long way from achieving the goal of obtaining embryonic stem cells," said Robin Lovell-Badge of Britain's Medical Research Council's division of stem cell biology.

"I hope that the authors have the opportunity to continue their work and derive embryo stem cell lines," Ian Wilmut, who led the team that cloned Dolly and who is now at the University of Edinburgh, said in an e-mail.

The field is controversial for several reasons.

President George W. Bush opposes the use of human embryos to make stem cells and has vetoed bills from Congress that would expand federal funding of this research.

South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk made headlines when he was found to have faked key parts of a report that his team had used cloning technology to make human embryos in 2004.

"We need to be ultra-cautious after the Hwang scandal and not make the same mistake all over again," said Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, a Massachusetts company that is also trying to make human embryonic stem cells. "I'd really like to believe it, but I'm not sold yet," Lanza said.

Other teams have made stem cells they believe are similar to embryonic cells using a variety of techniques, including reprogramming a human egg cell alone, reprogramming ordinary skin cells into what are called induced pluripotent stem cells, or by taking one cell from a human embryo without harming the embryo
But most stem cell experts agree it is important to continue trying to make stem cells from embryos too.

(C) Reuters 2008. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution ofReuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expresslyprohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuterssphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group ofcompanies around the world.


Human cloning
Human cloning is the creation of a genetically identical copy of an human being, human cell, or human tissue. The term is generally used to refer to artificial human cloning; human clones in the form of identical twins are commonplace, with their cloning occurring during the natural process of reproduction.

Although genes are recognized as influencing behavior and cognition, "genetically identical" does not mean altogether identical; identical twins, despite being natural human clones with near identical DNA, are separate people, with separate experiences and not altogether overlapping personalities. The relationship between an "original" and a clone is rather like that between identical triplets raised apart; they share nearly all of the same DNA, but little of the same environment. A lively scientific debate on this topic occurred in the journal Nature in 1997.[1] Ultimately, the question of how similar an original and a clone would be boils down to how much of personality is determined by genetics, an area still under active scientific investigation.
There are no documented cases of successful human cloning. However, the most successful common cloning technique in non-human mammals is the process by which Dolly the sheep was produced. Dolly was one of 276 attempts, It is also the technique used by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), the first company to successfully[2] clone early human embryos that stopped at the six cell stage. The process is as follows: an egg cell taken from a donor has its cytoplasm removed. Another cell with the genetic material to be cloned is fused with the original egg cell. In theory, this process, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, could be applied to human beings.

ACT also reported its attempts to clone stem cell lines by parthenogenesis, where an unfertilized egg cell is induced to divide and grow as if it were fertilized, but only incomplete blastocysts resulted. Even if it were practical with mammals, this technique could work only with females. Discussion of human cloning generally assumes the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer, rather than parthenogenesis.

On January , 2008, Wood and Andrew French, Stemagen's chief scientific officer in California, announced that they successfully created the first 5 mature human embryos using DNA from adult skin cells, aiming to provide a less-controversial source of viable embryonic stem cells. Dr. Samuel Wood and a colleague donated skin cells, and DNA from those cells was transferred to human eggs. It is not clear if the embryos produced would have been capable of further development, but Dr. Wood stated that if that were possible, using the technology for reproductive cloning would be both unethical and illegal. The 5 cloned embryos, created in Stemagen Corporation lab, in La Jolla, were later destroyed
Claims of success in human cloning beyond the embryo stage
In 1978 David Rorvik claimed in his book In His Image: The Cloning of a Man that he had personal knowledge of the creation of a human clone. A court case followed. He failed to produce corroborating evidence to back up his claims; now regarded as a hoax.

Severino Antinori made claims in November, 2002 that a project to clone human beings had succeeded, with the first human clone due to be born [in January 2003.] His claims were received with skepticism from many observers.

In December 2002, Clonaid, the medical arm of a religion called Raëlism, who believe that aliens introduced human life on Earth, claimed to have successfully cloned a human being. They claim that aliens taught them how to perform cloning, even though the company has no record of having successfully cloned any previous animal. A spokesperson said an independent agency would prove that the baby, named Evá, is in fact an exact copy of her mother. Shortly thereafter, the testing was cancelled, with the spokesperson claiming the decision would ultimately be left up to Evá's parents.

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HBO, one of the few remaining holdouts from online video,

It's not TV, it's HBO - on your computer
HBO, one of the few remaining holdouts from online video, is jumping in and offering viewers Sopranos on the go.
On Tuesday, the pay-cable network unveils HBO On Broadband, featuring 400 hours of movies and original series that can be downloaded to computers.

The catch: To gain access, you must be a digital cable customer who subscribes to HBO, and you must use your cable company as your Internet provider. And, at least initially, you must live in Milwaukee or Green Bay, where Time Warner Cable will first test the service. (There's no extra cost for online access.)

Like HBO On Demand, introduced in 2001, HBO Broadband offers a broad selection of programming, including 130 movie titles that rotate monthly and top hits ranging from The Sopranos to Sex and the City, as well as documentaries. Usually, about six episodes will be offered at any one time, but for one series every month, every episode ever produced will be available.

HBO co-president Eric Kessler blames technological issues for the delay in offering online video but says the new service continues the network's plan to "enhance the value of the HBO subscription by giving viewers greater access to our content."

He says the service will most appeal to business travelers who want to watch HBO on the road and younger viewers "who generally tend to watch more TV through their PCs." A Macintosh version of the service is not yet available, nor is it compatible with Apple's iPods. And satellite-dish providers such as DirecTV can't offer it.

Compared with HBO On Demand, a subscription service that reaches about one-third of HBO's 29 million homes, the broadband service offers more than twice as much programming.

Users can program their computers to download new movies or episodes, DVR-style, as they become available. The service recommends programs based on viewing history, offers different user accounts for family members and includes parental controls that restrict access by rating. And it includes a live feed of HBO's main channel in the Eastern time zone.

So far, HBO has offered only a limited amount of programming as iTunes podcasts and on its own website, usually clips or sample episodes.

But "it's inevitable for all TV networks that they have some broadband play," says SNL Kagan analyst Deana Myers. "There's a whole generation of people growing up using the Internet."

Like On Demand, HBO On Broadband is designed to keep subscribers from pulling the plug, and it may spur some to "bundle" their cable and Internet service with one company.

"It encourages customers to take our bundle and keep it," says Peter Stern, executive VP at Time Warner Cable, which says 365,000 Wisconsin customers will have access to the new service. No timetable has been set for expanding the service to other cable companies or Time Warner systems.

more HBO....

On March 2nd, a mysterious Second Life machinima appeared on YouTube, purporting to be a documentary by a heretofore unknown Resident named Molotov Alva (now viewable here) describing his disappearance from the material world into SL. At the time, I called it "evocative, vivid, and beautifully produced", but knew little else about its origins. Later I learned that Alva was the SL avatar of Douglas Gayeton, an accomplished multimedia director. As it turns out, I wasn't the only one impressed, because Gayeton just let me in on a truly gigantic announcement:

"HBO purchased the North American television rights," Gayeton e-mails me. "They have decided to first submit it for an Oscar in the Animated Short Subject category." It'll soon be screened in a Los Angeles theater to meet the Academy's qualifications for nomination. "They are then hoping to premiere it at Sundance. It will probably screen next spring on HBO." (Originally called "My Second Life", it'll probably air under a new name, likely something reminiscent of a 19th century novel title.) [Update, 4:00pm: According to Adam Reuters, the deal was for "a six-figure sum."]

This is the rare Second Life news that is worthy of full superlatives: it's the highest profile example of an SL-to-RL rights deal so far, leveraging Linden Lab's policy in which Residents retain the : , , , ,
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