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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Computers can match human brains by 2030'

Computers 'to match human brains by 2030'

Artificial intelligence portrayed in Hollywood movies like 'The Terminator' and 'Blade Runner' could be a reality in the next two decades.

A leading scientific "futurologist" has predicted that computer power will match the intelligence of human beings by 2030 because of the accelerating speed at which technology is advancing worldwide, 'the media reported.

According to computer guru Dr Ray Kurzweil, there will be 32 times more technical progress during the next half century than there was in the entire 20th century, and one of the outcomes is that artificial intelligence could be on a par with human intellect in the next 20 years.

He said that machines will rapidly overtake humans in their intellectual abilities and will soon be able to solve some of the most intractable problems of the 21st century.

Computers have so far been based on two-dimensional chips made from silicon, but there are developments already well advanced to make three-dimensional chips with vastly improved performances, and even to construct them out of biological molecules.

"Three-dimensional, molecular computing will provide the hardware for human-level 'strong artificial intelligence' by the 2020s. The more important software insights will be gained in part from the reverse engineering of the human brain, a process well under way.

"Already, two dozen regions of the human brain have been modelled and simulated," Dr Kurzweil said.

Flash Drive Has Protection Feature

As the computing world has become smaller, it has created bigger problems for users.

Take, for instance, sensitive information. Back a few decades ago, it would have been impossible to misplace or lose information. The database had to be stored on a mainframe, which was larger than a work desk.

Even when magnetic storage devices came into being, they were a long way from being portable. And the first laptops? They were often referred to as "luggables," because they were more suitable for luggage than lap top.

Today, a flash drive no larger than an index finger can hold millions of names and numbers. An entire company's business plan and customer list can fit on it. It can easily be carried.

And just as easily left behind.

If you're one who finds that thought disturbing, consider the Padlock drive from Corsair. The flash drive has a key pad on its front. Once programmed with a personal identification number, the drive can't be used until the correct PIN - from one to 10 digits - is entered.

Once the correct code is entered, it must be plugged into a USB port within about 10 seconds or the drive will relock itself. It also automatically relocks when removed from the USB port, or if it is left in the computer when the computer is turned off.

The drive comes in one- and two-gigabyte sizes and sells for around $30.

The Padlock has six buttons and a red and green LED. One of the buttons has an icon of a key on it. Press it to begin entering the PIN number. Each number key handles two numbers: Press the first key once for 0; quickly press it a second time to enter 1. The remaining keys are grouped 2-3, 4-5, and so forth. Press the button with the key icon again when finished. If the PIN was entered correctly, both the red and green LEDs will flash. Insert the drive into the USB port of the computer and the drive is recognized.

The drive comes with a clearly written instruction sheet. And there is another nice feature as well: If you want to change the PIN number, but don't have the instruction sheet, look on the drive itself. A copy is stored there that can be viewed using any Adobe reader program.

In addition, Corsair also provides a free Web site where Padlock owners can store PIN numbers. If you forget the PIN number, supply the Web site with a name, e-mail address and password and it will be sent.

A Corsair spokeswoman said the keypad entry system is a low-cost approach to protecting data. It also avoids the problem of using encryption (software is needed on the host computer) or drives with biometric fingerprint sensors.

She also noted the Padlock works without software installation on Windows, Mac and Linux-based computers.


Corsair Introduces 32GB High-Density USB Flash Drives
for Flash Voyager™ and Flash Survivor™ at CES 2008
USB Drives Have Capacity to Hold Over 16 Full-Length High-Definition Movies
or an Entire Season of a TV Series

A worldwide leader in high performance computer and flash memory products, announced today that it is expanding its Flash Voyager and Flash Survivor USB family lines with new 32GB capacity offerings. The new Corsair 32GB Flash Voyager and Flash Survivor USB drives will be debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show 2008 (CES) next week in Las Vegas in the Corsair Suite at the Wynn Hotel and at Showstoppers CES 2008.
Ultimate Solution for Storing, Transporting & Backing-up Critical Data
Users now have the ultimate solution for storing, transporting and backing up large amounts of personal and professional data. Whether using the Corsair proprietary all-rubber Flash Voyager or the aluminum-encased water-proof Flash Survivor, the large amounts of data on the drive will be safeguarded for users with an active lifestyle. Corsair USB drives provide the added ruggedness and performance not found in other storage drives utilizing rotating media.
Corsair 32GB drives provide the storage capacity necessary to hold over 16 full-length, high-definition movies or even an entire season of your favorite TV series. These large density drives can also be used as portable back-up devices for critical or sensitive information. In addition, Corsair 32GB USB 2.0 drives are bootable, which means users can actually store full versions of operating systems and applications in order to quickly “re-create” the necessary software environments to troubleshoot system problems.
Corsair 32GB USB drives are immediately available:
Flash Voyager 32GB ~ MSRP $229.99 USD
Flash Survivor 32GB ~ MSRP $249.99 USD

"Whether with innovative designs, like the Flash Voyager and Flash Survivor, or industry leading large-density drives in convenient portable form-factors, Corsair is always pushing the limit of what USB portable storage has to offer," said Jack Peterson, VP of Marketing at Corsair. "Our newest USB additions will allow a whole new set of users – multimedia, technical and data conscious – to take advantage of rugged, high-performance solid-state storage," added Peterson.
Corsair 32GB USB drives are available through Corsair’s authorized distributors and resellers world-wide. Each drive is bundled with a lanyard, security software/driver preloaded, and USB extension cable. Corsair flash products are backed by a 10-year Limited Warranty. Complete customer support via telephone, email, forum and TS Xpress is also available. For more information on Corsair USB drives,

Apple released its second major update to Mac OS X Leopard

Apple Updates Leopard--Again
Apple released its second major update to Mac OS X Leopard, the operating system it shipped in October. Mac OS X 10.5.2 Update, as Apple calls it, is one of the largest operating-system patches I've ever seen. The "combined update" download, which applies every fix issued so far to an unpatched copy of Leopard, weighs in at 343 megabytes, but even on a Mac with the 10.5.1 update applied, 10.5.2 was a 341-meg download.

(A conspiracy theorist could note that the mammoth size of these files forces dial-up users to drive to the nearest Apple Store to use the shop's broadband connection to grab their own copy--and maybe they'll wind up buying a new iPod while they're around.)

A note at Apple's tech-support site inventories the fixes 10.5.2 brings. Most are the usual security, stability and performance improvements, but Apple also fixed two of the bigger sources of complaints about Leopard's interface--the partially-transparent menu bar and the Dock "Stacks" that offer quick access to the contents of your Applications, Documents and Downloads folders.

You can now return the menu bar to a solid shade of light gray, and you can tweak the Stacks icons (via a right-click menu) to change their appearance, vary their order in which they display their contents, or make them act like standard folders. Those may not sound like major changes, but Mac interface-design connoisseurs had objected vociferously ("Transparent Menu Bar, Die Die Die!") to Leopard's earlier implementations of these ideas.

10.5.2 was not as easy to load as earlier OS X patches. On the MacBook Air that I reviewed recently, a download through OS X's Software Update mechanism didn't work. After a restart, the computer stalled at the first step in the install process. I shut the laptop off, discovered to my relief that the aborted update hadn't destroyed the system, and--after a second failure by Software Update--downloaded the massive combo updater file and installed that instead, which worked as advertised.

After putting 10.5.2 on my own Mac, I discovered a second issue: iCal seemed to have lost all of my calendar and to-do entries. A survey of some Mac-troubleshooting forums suggested that I could recover those entries by deleting some cache files in my home account's Library/Calendars folder. That worked; you can read a more detailed account of this in Sunday's Help File.

With those glitches out of the way, I'm pleased overall with this update. I liked Leopard when it shipped--the lack of an equivalent to 10.5's Quick Look document viewer in Windows now annoys me on a daily basis--but I certainly like it better with this update.

But for all of the compliments I've given Leopard, I've heard from some readers who are annoyed or even angry about this operating system. About a month ago, for instance, one reader vented at length that "Leopard is buggy and you should tell people about it since Apple has ignored these problems for months." (I told him that I hadn't seen any issues with it on the five or six Macs I've installed it on, and suggested an "Archive and Install" reinstall to put a clean copy of Leopard on his Mac, but he hasn't written back to say if that worked or not.) So I'll throw these questions out there: How has Leopard worked for you? What kind of a difference has 10.5.2 made?


A pleasant surprise for many Mac users

Incremental updates to Mac OS X traditionally have consisted primarily of bug fixes. Significant changes to existing features are saved for the major updates (Panther, Tiger, Leopard).

So when Apple let loose the much-anticipated 10.5.2 update to Mac OS X Leopard on Monday, changes to two features introduced with the release of Leopard in October pleasantly surprised many veteran Mac users.

One change is the addition of an option in the Desktop Control Panel to turn off the translucent menu bar at the top of the screen. Some Mac users detested this new feature because the patterns of desktop images could make menu items hard to read. It didn't bother me all that much, but it's nice to have the option to make the menu bar opaque again.

Apple also tweaked the Stacks feature, which allows users to click on special folders in the Dock and see the icons of its contents fan out across the desktop. Some users didn't like how the folder looked like a pile of icons with only the topmost icon identifiable. Not only that, but they disliked how the icons fanned out from the Dock. The more items, the harder the feature was to use.

Apple has addressed these complaints by offering choices. Control clicking on a Stack reveals several new options, such as making the Dock icon appear as a folder and setting the folder's contents to appear as a list. This works much better for folders with numerous items.

It's very un-Apple-like to alter fresh features in a version of OS X not six months old. Could it be that Apple has decided to listen to its users?

Other observations:

Mac Pro's Reboot on Wake From Sleep: Incremental updates sometimes fix other issues not noted in Apple's documentation. As have most other owners of the new Mac Pro, I had hoped the 10.5.2 update would fix the dreadful "reboot on wake from Sleep" problem.

After a day and a half and more than a half-dozen wake from Sleeps, I have not had an unexpected reboot.

However, reports on Mac forums indicate that other Mac Pro owners still are experiencing the issue even after upgrading to 10.5.2. Others owners also report unresolved problems with their graphics (which I thankfully have not had.) Apple needs to fix this soon. Its Mac Pro customers - those who have bought Apple's priciest hardware - deserve better.

Improved performance: One point of speculation that dates back to before the Mac Pros were announced was that the 10.5.2 update would contain optimizations designed to extract better performance from the new models.

I have run both the Geekbench and XBench benchmarking software on my Mac Pro since upgrading to 10.5.2. Given the variable scores I tend to get from these programs, it doesn't look as if this update has boosted performance. But the Leopard Graphics Update, which users can install only after installing 10.5.2, did improve my graphics scores noticeably in XBench's Quartz Graphics Test, which leapt from averaging in the low 200s to averaging in the mid-250s, a 25 percent increase.

To upgrade to 10.5.2: If you're running Leopard and haven't updated to 10.5.2, click on the Apple Menu and select "Software Update." After the Mac reboots, go back to the Apple Menu and repeat the process to obtain the Leopard Graphics Update. A word of warning: The 10.5.2 update weighs in at a bulky 343 megabytes, so a fast broadband connection will come in handy.

Apple Now Comes With Time Capsule
Apple introduced Time Capsule -- a backup device for automatic and wire-free back-ups for one or more Macintosh.

Time Capsule supports all the Macs running on Leopard -- Apple's latest Mac OS, which includes Time Machine -- automatic backup software.

In terms of functionality, Time Capsule is a plug in device, which unites an 802.11n base station with a server grade hard disk to form a single unit, followed by the installation that automatically backups Macs wirelessly.

Time Capsule offers a full-featured 802.11n Wi-Fi base station and has two models, 500 gigabyte and 1 terabyte. It performs 5 times more and double the range of 802.11g. Apple's iMac desktops and all Mac notebooks including MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air are built-in with 802.11n. Also it has a built-in power supply and connection to print wirelessly to a USB printer.

Some additional feature includes, dual band antennas for 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequencies, 3 gigabyte LAN ports, 1 gigabyte Ethernet WAN port, 1 USB 2.0 port, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA-2), 128 bit WEP encryption, and a built in NAT firewall supporting NAT-PMP for features like 'Back to My Mac'.

"Bring Time Capsule home, plug it in, click a few buttons on your Macs and voila - all the Macs in your house are being backed up automatically, every hour of every day. With Time Capsule and Time Machine, all your irreplaceable photos, movies and files are automatically protected and incredibly easy to retrieve if they are ever lost," said Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple.

Along with wire free backup of all data with Time Machine, the user can find lost files and even restore all of the software. In case of file loss, it can be track back to find the deleted files, programs, photos and other digital media. And then restore back the file. The Leopard OS can easily restore an entire system from Time Capsule's backup via Time Machine.

With Time Capsule, a wire-free and secured network for about 50 users can be created and can imply security checks such as Internet access for children's computers. It can also serve as a backup solution for multiple computers as well as the backbone for a high-speed - 802.11n wireless network that can be used as an easy and cheap options at home, school or work for file security.

Wal-Mart said it would continue to sell its HD DVD inventory over several months

Wal-Mart moves to the Blu-ray camp
The HD DVD format is reeling from another body blow.

The nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said Friday that it would sell movies and players only in the rival Blu-ray format at its 4,000 discount stores and Sam's Clubs.

Wal-Mart said it would continue to sell its HD DVD inventory over several months, then devote more shelf space to Sony Corp.'s Blu-ray. The announcement from the country's biggest seller of DVDs comes amid a growing number of defections from the Toshiba Corp.-backed HD DVD camp.

Earlier this week, online movie rental service Netflix Inc. said it would exclusively stock Blu-ray discs, and electronics retailer Best Buy Co. said it would "prominently showcase" Blu-ray hardware and movies as a way of steering consumers to the format.

"Up to this point, it's been death by a thousand cuts," said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for NPD Group, a market research firm in Port Washington, N.Y. "This one may be the unkindest of all."

The HD DVD format has been losing momentum since January, when the last major studio to support both formats, Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. Entertainment, announced it would sell its high-definition movies exclusively on Blu-ray discs. The shift gave the Blu-ray camp about 70% of the home video market, with Warner, Walt Disney Co., 20th Century Fox, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and Sony Pictures.

Toshiba has deals with Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. Toshiba could not be reached Friday to comment on Wal-Mart's announcement. In a sign of the high stakes in this format war, the Tokyo-based Toshiba said in a December earnings call that it anticipated losing $370 million on its HD DVD equipment this fiscal year, which ends in March.

Before Warner's defection, Toshiba had been in active discussions with Fox and Warner to secure support for the format. It sought an exclusive content deal with Fox similar to one it reached in August 2007 with Paramount and DreamWorks in which it reportedly offered $50 million to $100 million for Fox to abandon Blu-ray, according to two industry sources. Fox ultimately walked away from the offer.

Toshiba had hoped to use the lure of a potential Fox deal as a sign of its continued turnaround in an effort to retain Warner's continued support for the HD DVD format.

Warner's Jan. 4 announcement that it could no longer support both HD DVD and Blu-ray triggered a major shift in momentum in a format war that has been likened to the epic Betamax-VHS videocassette battle of the 1980s.

Up until January, Blu-ray and HD DVD each accounted for an equal share of dedicated high-definition movie players, according to sales data tracked by NPD. In the week following the Warner announcement, Blu-ray sales skyrocketed -- grabbing 90% of all next-generation hardware purchased, according to NPD.

Toshiba responded with a price cut Jan. 15 on three models of HD DVD players, which helped it regain lost ground. But NPD numbers show that Blu-ray retained the edge, with 63% of sales. In an act that some called a last gasp, Toshiba touted its discounted players in an ad that ran during the Super Bowl, noting that they also worked as high-end DVD players.

This week Toshiba issued a statement saying it was studying recent developments and watching how the market would respond to its recent price cuts.

HD DVD movie sales have declined as well.

At the end of 2007, Blu-ray accounted for 64% of sales. The latest Nielsen VideoScan First Alert sales data show that Blu-ray represented 81% of all high-definition discs sold in the week ended Sunday.

Wal-Mart's decision, which it said came in response to consumer preference, may make Blu-ray's lead insurmountable. Wal-Mart accounts for roughly 40% of all DVDs sold in the U.S.

"It's difficult to see how the format could be viable without access to those movies at Wal-Mart," NPD's Rubin said.

Andrew Parsons, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Assn.'s U.S. promotions group, said Wal-Mart's news signaled that the format war was all but over.

"People who've been holding back because they've been afraid to buy the wrong format have absolutely no reason to be afraid anymore," Parsons said. "There's absolutely no reason why anyone should be afraid to buy a Blu-ray player at this point."

Nonetheless, Envisioneering Group senior analyst Richard Doherty predicted that Toshiba would continue to support the HD DVD format, which it has also incorporated in products such as its Qosmio laptop computers. However, it may reduce the number of HD DVD players it manufactures to a single model.

"They will never admit this isn't working," Doherty said. "They'll just trim the inventory."

Taps for HD DVD as Wal-Mart Backs Blu-ray
HD DVD, the beloved format of Toshiba and three Hollywood studios, died Friday after a brief illness. The cause of death was determined to be the decision by Wal-Mart to stock only high-definition DVDs and players using the Blu-ray format.
There are no funeral plans, but retailers and industry analysts are already writing the obituary for HD DVD.

The announcement by Wal-Mart Stores, the nation’s largest retailer of DVDs, that it would stop selling the discs and machines in June when supplies are depleted comes after decisions this week by Best Buy, the largest electronics retailer, to promote Blu-ray as its preferred format and Netflix, the DVD-rental service, to stock only Blu-ray movies, phasing out HD DVD by the end of this year.

Last year, Target, one of the top sellers of electronics, discontinued selling HD DVD players in its stores, but continued to sell them online.

“The fat lady has sung,” said Rob Enderle, a technology industry analyst in Silicon Valley. “Wal-Mart is the biggest player in the DVD market. If it says HD DVD is done, you can take that as a fact.”

Toshiba executives did not return calls asking for comment. Analysts do not expect the company to take the product off the market but the format war is over. Toshiba had been fighting for more than two years to establish the dominance of the format it developed over Blu-ray, developed by Sony.

The combined weight of the decisions this week, but particularly the heft of Wal-Mart, signals the end of a format war that has confounded and frustrated consumers and that had grown increasingly costly for the consumer electronics industry — from hardware makers and studios to retailers.

Andy Parsons, a spokesman for the Blu-ray Disc Association, an industry trade group, said retailers and movie studios had incentives to resolve the issue quickly because it was costly for them to devote shelf space and technology to two formats. Besides, he noted, many consumers have sat on the sidelines and not purchased either version because they did not want to invest in a technology that could become obsolete.

Thus far, consumers have purchased about one million Blu-ray players, though there are another three million in the market that are integrated into the PlayStation 3 consoles of Sony, said Richard Doherty, research director of Envisioneering, a technology assessment firm. About one million HD DVD players have been sold.

Evenly matched by Blu-ray through 2007, HD DVD experienced a marked reversal in fortune in early January when Warner Brothers studio, a unit of Time Warner, announced it would manufacture and distribute movies only in Blu-ray. With the Warner decision, the Blu-ray coalition controlled around 75 percent of the high-definition content from the major movie and TV studios. The coalition includes Sharp, Panasonic and Philips as well as Walt Disney and 20th Century Fox studios.

Universal, Paramount and the DreamWorks Animation studios still back HD DVD; none of those studios responded to requests for comment Friday.

“It’s pretty clear that retailers consumers trust the most have concluded that the format war is all but over,” Mr. Parsons said. “Toshiba fought a very good battle, but the industry is ready to move on and go with a single format.”

Because movie and entertainment technology has become integrated into a range of consumer electronics, the high-definition movie format war has created unusually wide-ranging alliances. The battle included, for example, video game companies; Microsoft has backed the HD DVD standard and sold a compatible player to accompany its Xbox 360 video game console.

Sony has pushed vigorously for the Blu-ray standard, not just because it is a patent holder of the technology, but also because it has integrated the standard into PlayStation 3. Sony has argued that consumers will gravitate to the PlayStation 3 because of the high-definition movie player.

Any celebration over the victory may be tempered by concerns that the DVD — of any format — may be doomed by electronic delivery of movies over the Internet. The longer HD DVD battled Blu-ray, the more the consumer market has had an opportunity to gravitate to downloading movies. Such a move, coupled with the growth of technology that makes such downloading easier and cheaper, has threatened to cut into the long-term sales of physical movies in the DVD format.

Mr. Doherty, like Mr. Parsons, argued that digital downloads are not yet affecting the DVD market and that they would not for some time. They said that movie downloads face a host of challenges, chief among them that many consumers have insufficient bandwidth to download movies or move them from device to device on a wireless home network.

Mr. Enderle, however, argued that bandwidth was improving and that major telecommunications carriers, which are pushing to increase speeds, would like to be able to make their pipes the delivery mechanism for high-definition movies. Wal-Mart, Warner Brothers, Best Buy and all the others lining up behind Blu-ray realized they had to kill HD DVD — and fast, he said.

“The later it gets, the much worse it gets,” he said.

By contrast, Mr. Parsons said that downloading movies “is not a viable option now or even in the near future.”

“It’s something that will move very gradually in that direction.”

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