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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pixelated Memories : Super Smash Bros

The release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl this week for Nintendo's Wii brought on a whiff of nostalgia for me. The previous iterations of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo GameCube and Nintendo 64 nearly destroyed my college transcript, while they forged deep friendships among roommates, as deep as those found in the heart of war. OK, that's a bit strong, but it has been a more than six-year wait since the previous version. Here's a look at the new one:
Blame smoking for Super Smash Bros. Brawl issues

It’s undisputable that smoking is hazardous to one’s health, but who could have expected that the smoke from cigarettes could also be harmful to a videogame system?

Super Smash Bros. Brawl was released last Sunday, and will likely be one of Nintendo’s biggest Wii titles for 2008. Several of those who purchased the game found that their Wii consoles had issues reading the disc, preventing it from running.

According to the Boston Herald, second-hand cigarette smoke could be one of the culprits for giving the Wii trouble in reading the disc. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the biggest Wii game yet, and requires dual-layer DVD media in order to contain all the data. The slightest bit of smoke residue on the optical

Welcome Back, Gamers

The Super Smash Bros. series has always been a bit of a homecoming for gamers who have grown up on Nintendo's releases. The characters are pulled from major franchises of the past 25 or so years, such as Donkey Kong, Metroid and the Legend of Zelda. Brawl features even more favorites. As the game progresses, you collect dozens of "trophies" of characters from the history of Nintendo.

A Simple Concept

For beginners, Brawl is wonderfully simple. You pummel your opponents until they are weak enough to be flung from the stage. Last man -- or beast -- standing is the winner. Unlike other fighting games that bear a panoply of buttons or attack combinations, Brawl has only three basics: attack, jump and block.

Don't Fight Alone

While the core of the Smash Bros. series has been multiplayer, this version features a new single-player game called The Subspace Emissary. In short, it's boring. While it does introduce you to all of the game's characters, Emissary is a monotonous side-scroller and the game changes little after even several hours of play.

Now Playing: Brawl Unplugged

One of the new, lauded features is online play, a staple for other popular franchises such as Halo for Xbox 360. But it didn't work. I tried several times over several days and got the same error message. Online, I saw other players claimed similar trouble. Nintendo says the problem is caused by too many players putting "a strain on the pipeline" but that online performance has been improving every day.

The Bottom Line

The challenge with franchises is to tweak a game enough to attract buyers without alienating longtime fans. Brawl plays that balance well -- the new characters and weapons add dimensions to the play while Nintendo hasn't messed with the basic formula. However, the problems in playing online and the lack of a way to share content outside the Wii platform taint an otherwise enjoyable title.

Robot Army

U.S. Army ordered more than 1700 for 15 brigades, a potential human-to-robot ratio of 29:1 | Deployment: Ready for combat as early as 2014 | Models: Half will be armed; the rest will clear minefields and haul gear | Cargo capability: 1800 to 2000 pounds | Weapons: Four antitank Javelin missiles and a turret-mounted M240 machine gun.

Popular Mechanics explores the increasing level of reliance the US military has when it comes to robotic assistance. In the last few years, robot drones have reached an all-new level of sophistication, with several models already deployed in the field. Now, the next generation of robot helpers is nearing the end of its test phase. PM offers up a preview of what we could expect to see in the field within the next five years.
"The MULE (Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment) is roughly the size of a Humvee, but it has a trick worthy of monster truck rallies. Each of its six wheels is mounted on an articulated leg, allowing the robot to clamber up obstacles that other cars would simply bump against ... Barely a year old, the prototype is a product of the Army's Unmanned Ground Vehicle program, which began in 2001. It has yet to fire a single bullet or missile, or even be fitted with a weapon. Here at the test track it's loaded down with rucksacks and boxes, two squads' worth of equipment."

Spacewalkers attached Canadian robot's mechanical arms

Two spacewalking astronauts attached 11-foot arms to the international space station's huge new robot on Sunday, preparing the giant machine for its handyman job on the orbital outpost.

The Canadian-built robot, named Dextre, will stand 12 feet and have a mass of 3,400 pounds when it's fully assembled. It is designed to assist spacewalking astronauts and possibly someday take over some of the tougher chores, like lugging around big replacement parts.

The already challenging outing turned grueling as Linnehan and fellow spacewalker Michael Foreman struggled to release one of the robot's arms from the transport bed where it had been latched down for launch.

Two of the bolts wouldn't budge, even when the astronauts banged on them and yanked as hard as they could. They had to use a pry bar to get it out.

The other arm came out much more smoothly and quickly, paving the way for Linnehan to pull up Dextre's body 60 degrees, like Frankenstein rising from his bed. That was the ideal position for plugging in Dextre's gangly arms to its shoulders.

Two US astronauts, working outside the International Space Station early Sunday, attached mechanical arms to a Canadian-made robot, enabling it to take over human tasks and reducing the need for future risky spacewalks.

Mission Specialists Richard Linnehan and Mike Foreman finished their task at about 3:00 am (0700 GMT), stowing away instruments and making their way into the station's airlock.

But their job got slightly complicated early in the seven-hour spacewalk when they encountered trouble unscrewing a couple of fasteners and removing one of the robot Dextre's arms from its storage container.

The problem was eventually resolved with the help of a simple crowbar. But as a result, "the spacewalkers fell about 45 minutes behind their timeline," said a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Linnehan and Foreman, who arrived last week aboard shuttle Endeavour, recouped most of the lost time, performing their task using socket wrenches and drills to bolt the Dextre robot's two 11-foot (3.3 meter) arms.

Mission Specialist Robert Behnken coordinated the spacewalk activities from inside the orbital complex while Endeavour pilot Gregory Johnson and space station engineer Garrett Reisman operate Canadarm2.

The hitch notwithstanding, astronaut Steve Robinson, monitoring the events from Mission Control in Houston, Texas, offered all involved hearty congratulations.

Pierre Jean, a program director from the Canadian Space Agency, echoed the view saying the crew did "a fantastic job."

The robot, which was re-powered immediately after the walk, will be able to handle maintenance tasks that have been performed by spacewalkers, allowing astronauts to focus on research inside the orbiting outpost.

"Dextre looks quite a bit different today," observed NASA flight director Dana Weigel. "It's almost fully assembled: It has two hands, two arms and the main body is pivoted up."

Astronauts installed Europe's first space laboratory in a shuttle Atlantis mission last month and Endeavour's crew added the first of three parts of Japan's Kibo research facility this week.

Dextre, sent up on Endeavour which is docked with the space station, is the third and final component of the Canadarm Remote Manipulator System, the robotic arm that is Canada's vital contribution to the station.

The 200-million-dollar robot encountered a technical glitch before its assembly, but the problem was resolved in time for Saturday's spacewalk.

The 1.56-tonne robot will conduct operations such as replacing small components on the station's exterior -- tasks which until now required a human touch.

Its presence will boost crew safety by reducing the number of hours that astronauts will have to be outside the station on spacewalks, and thus allowing them to focus on other tasks such as conducting scientific experiments in micro-gravity, according to the Canadian Space Agency.

Dextre's two hands are each about the size of a small microwave oven. They are equipped with built-in socket wrenches, retractable claws used to grip objects, and remote-control high-resolution cameras.

The robot's human-like upper torso swivels at the waist, and its arms were designed with seven joints to provide it with maximum versatility. Umbilical connectors provide power and data connectivity.

With Dextre delivered to ISS in nine separate pieces, the astronauts will use three of the Endeavour mission's five spacewalks to get it up and running.

Linnehan and fellow astronaut Garrett Reisman conducted the Endeavour mission's first spacewalk Friday to lay the groundwork for the robot's complicated assembly.

Dextre's assembly will be complete with a third spacewalk set to start Monday.

NASA plans to finish building the International Space Station by 2010, at which time it will retire its three-shuttle fleet.

RPT-Study criticizes US FCC

A congressional study released on Thursday found serious shortcomings in the way the U.S. Federal Communications Commission handles complaints from consumers.

A study by the Government Accountability Office concluded that about 83 percent of the complaint investigations conducted by the FCC between 2003 and 2006 were closed without any enforcement action taken by the agency, and that it was impossible to determine why because the FCC did not collect enough data to follow up.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is defending the way it tracks complaints, investigations, and enforcement, and it claims a critical government report is based on several inaccuracies.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a 53-page report this week saying the FCC doesn't properly collect and analyze data, making it impossible to analyze the effectiveness of its enforcement.

The FCC is charged with overseeing communications. It takes complaints from consumers and businesses and has latitude in terms of how to get companies to comply with telecommunications laws and rules.

The GAO report found that the FCC doesn't take enforcement action on about 83% of its investigations arising from complaints, and because of poor data collection, the GAO can't figure out why.

But FCC employees said they have already made some changes toward improvement and the GAO report is based on old information and inaccuracies.

The dispute comes as Congress investigates how the FCC handles complaints and makes decisions.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., issued a statement saying that the GAO report highlights some of the FCC's problems and a need for oversight.

"When more than 80% of complaints investigated by the FCC are closed without any meaningful enforcement action, and it isn't possible to determine why no action was taken, then it appears that the FCC has abdicated its duty to protect consumers," he said. "This GAO report clearly demonstrates why we cannot rely solely on the FCC to enforce complaints, and why it is important to have safeguards in place at both the federal and the state level, as is the case in my home state of Michigan."

The report said that the FCC received about 454,000 complaints from 2003 through 2006. During that time, number of annual complaints grew from 85,000 to 132,000, according to the report. The FCC processed about 95% of its complaints and opened 46,000 investigations, but only 9% of the investigations led to enforcement action, according to the GAO.

The report said that the FCC measures its enforcement impact by reviewing the amount of time it takes to close an investigation and other benchmarks, but it lacks management tools like measurable goals, a well-defined enforcement strategy, and evaluations related to enforcement goals.

"Without key management tools, FCC may have difficulty assuring Congress and other stakeholders that it is meeting its enforcement mission," the report stated.

That makes it difficult to analyze trends, determine the effectiveness of FCC enforcement, properly allocate resources, monitor key aspects of complaints and follow-up, and carry out its responsibilities, according to the GAO.

The GAO said the FCC should improve the way it collects and analyzes data and implement performance management practices.

Although the FCC maintains that it has implemented GAO recommendations to improve its databases and management tools, the GAO said that the commission didn't provide supporting documentation to back up its statements.

FCC Enforcement Bureau chief Kris Anne Monteith said that the FCC is almost finished planning and budgeting for database modifications that will improve the ability to monitor consumer complaints and improve case management. She also said that the FCC has created performance goals and incorporated tools to evaluate how well the goals are met.

In a letter to the GAO, Monteith said the report and its criticism rely on out-of-date information, giving a misleading picture of current practices. She also said that some of the GAO's figures are inaccurate because they state that no action was taken on occasions when the FCC determined compliance or lacked sufficient information to proceed.

Monteith said the GAO significantly understated the number of admonishments, warnings, citations, consent decrees, monetary forfeitures and notices of violations, while overstating the number of investigations opened from 2003 to 2006. She said it also stuck to information in databases and failed to draw information from investigative files.

Android will beat iPhones

Google executives say they are confident the company's forthcoming phones armed with the Android operating system will overtake the U.S. market from the iPhone.

Rich Miner, manager of Google's mobile platforms group, says the new Android-based mobile phones are more flexible than the proprietary Apple phones since the so-called open system allows applications from other software makers, The Times of London reported Saturday.

Miner said the first Android phones are due out late this year.

"It's great that people are finally building tools so all of these third-party applications can be built and get out there, (but) there are things I saw people doing with the first version of the Android SDK that it seems like you can't do with the iPhone -- at least at the moment," Miner said.

The Times said the Android SDK was made available online last November and Google officials say it has already been downloaded more than 750,000 times.

The Android mobile software stack will gain more users than the iPhone, several people commented. The general consensus is that Apple is the BMW of the personal computer industry and is the standard for innovation that its competitors, with far more market share, follow. Android is a non-factor.

The challenge for Apple is to keep coming up with proprietary products that fuel its business model, which is based on innovation and R&D around both hardware and software. Since Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company has had a series of hit products that don't dominate markets (with the exception of the iPod) but appeal to an elite and influential minority. Even Apple's advertising makes the marketing from competitors look tedious and uninspired.

Apple's tightly bound software and hardware provides unique differentiation in a world of mostly undifferentiated PCs and mobile devices. RIM's Blackberry also has had success by controlling its entire product.

Microsoft has made progress with its Windows Vista operating system, and its OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have created slicker PCs and laptops to run the software, but the Macintosh is still considered a superior product overall.

Jobs is clearly making the right choice for now not to license the Mac, iPhone, or iTunes software to hardware makers. Getting into a battle for OEMs with Microsoft, Google, Symbian, RIM, and Palm, etc. is a losing strategy at this juncture. The best mobile operating system and user experience doesn't necessarily win the deals, even with Steve Jobs as the chief negotiator. Microsoft is extremely capable in working with OEMs and developers, which is a key factor in building out a platform.

On other hand, it would be interesting to see what developers could do if Apple open sourced the iPhone software. The mobile Web experience is the new center of attention and R&D spending in the tech industry. Google's Android will be a good test case. If Android were to become successful, due to its openness and developer community, Apple would feel the heat. An army of smart developers with Google behind it could create a next-generation mobile Web operating system and application platform that challenges Apple far more than the current set of incumbents.

But Jobs is uniquely talented and a master of total product design. Handset manufacturers come up with dozens of phone designs per year, but haven't been able to duplicate the user experience of the iPhone. You could say the Nokia N95, the HTC Touch, and other smartphones have similar capabilities, but they don't match the slickness, pinching, and other capabilities of the Apple device despite its flaws (no 3G network and inaccessible battery, for example). The iPhone is also part of a family of personal devices that will become even more integrated.

Throwing open-source Android into the mix could give mobile device makers a better platform to take on the iPhone, but they will be mostly competing with each other for market share.

The iPhone will continue to be the BMW or Lexus of mobile devices, with modest share and lots of profit and envy from other mobile device makers. However, Apple could stumble, failing to keep up the rapid pace of innovation, but I wouldn't count on it as long as Jobs is in the house.

The Internet often seems like a limitless landscape

The Internet's Space Shortage
The Internet often seems like a limitless landscape, connecting billions of hyperactive endpoints, with more added by the minute. But ask some of the engineers quietly working to keep those billions of nodes seamlessly connected and they'll tell you the Internet is far from infinite. In fact, it may be starting to get a bit crowded.

The problem, says Leslie Daigle, chief Internet technology officer for the non-profit Internet Society, is simple math: the Internet Protocol addresses that are assigned to differentiate networks and individual computers at the edges of the Internet have 32 digits, allowing for only a finite number of addresses--about 4.2 billion.

That may seem like plenty of space for the world's online population. But huge swaths of IP addresses were originally allocated to the groups that helped build the Internet, starting with the Department of Defense and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and can't be reassigned.

Add to that the quick proliferation of computers and Internet-connected mobile devices, Daigle warns, and available slots for new Internet connections will start to run out as early as 2010. "There's not an immediate panic here, but the end is in sight," she says. "Something has got to change."

The solution that about 1,400 engineers at this week's Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) conference are focused on is Internet Protocol version six, or IPv6, an addressing system that would increase the number of usable address by trillions of trillions--easily enough to account for the Internet's growth for the rest of human history.

Switching to IPv6, Daigle says, would also help solve another nagging problem: spam. In today's addressing system, large groups of IP addresses--what Daigle calls "the swamp"--are often assigned and then left unused for a period of time. Spammers can impersonate those virtual identities to circumvent e-mail filters based on blacklisted IP addresses.

By starting a new accounting system from scratch, IPv6 could allow more careful tracking of which IP addresses are assigned where, limiting the IP identities that spammers can spoof, she says.

But changing the Internet's ordering system isn't as simple as it sounds. In fact, replacing the last generation of IP addresses, IPv4, requires reworking the entire infrastructure of the Internet--not just revamping software but replacing much of the outdated networking equipment installed in Internet service providers, large enterprises and governments.

That kind of massive switchover, which would likely happen gradually, is a great sales pitch for networking giants like Cisco (nasdaq: CSCO - news - people ) and Juniper, whose newest hardware is capable of handling both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.

But aside from the U.S. government and markets in Asia, where mobile-device use is growing quickly and IPv4 addresses are scarcer than in more mature markets in the West, Cisco director of operations David West says customers aren't that interested. "They're watching and waiting," he says.

Russ Housley, the general chair of the IETF, worries that's not enough. "We've been warning about this for 13 years, so that when the time came, we would be ready," he says. "But of course, everyone held out. Only once IPv4 gets scarce will people get interested."

When service providers notice that addresses are running out, Housley says they may trigger a "bank run" mentality, where businesses and governments race to snap up all the remaining addresses.

There have been some virtual band-aids. Until now, businesses have delayed the inevitable by using a workaround known as a network address translator, or NAT. NATs can allow multiple computers to connect to the Internet through a single IP address--but they also complicate some applications by masking their virtual locations. Voice, video, and peer-to-peer file sharing are all applications that could become slower and more prone to bugs as the Internet becomes increasingly "natted," says the Internet Society's Daigle.

That means the real problem with delaying a switch to IPv6 could be that the tangled configuration of NATs will drag down the network's performance, limiting what new applications can be created.

"The Internet is an organic environment, and it will continue to function into the future," she says. "We just have to make sure the future of the Internet is the one we want."

Gartner research analyst Lawrence Orans is more sanguine. He's heard doomsday warnings for more than 10 years, he says, and year after year, businesses have found solutions other than switching to IPv6. He doubts that a shortage of IP addresses--even with the current technology--will severely cripple the Internet.

Even so, the problem won't go away by itself, Orans concedes. He compares the IP address problem to the so-called "Y2K" bug, the millions of programming hours spent recoding software that wasn't prepared for the switch to the "2" digit before Jan. 1, 2000.

In fact, this is a bigger challenge than Y2K," he says, "But at least with Y2K, there was a deadline."

Acer Brings Engaging Digital Experience With Aspire 8920G Laptop

Acer launched on Wednesday its latest creation in terms of high-end mobile , easily rivaling to any other product on the market today, and combining a high-quality computers notebook with the latest entertainment features. Acer Aspire 8920G and Acer Aspire 6920G are part of what the company called the Blue Gemstone series, which will become available on the market within a month, the company said.

The Aspire 8920G comes with an 18.4 inch LCD display and uses the Intel Centrino platform, with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor that supports Intel 64 architecture, Mobile Intel PM965 Express Chipset and Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN network connection.

In terms of hard drives, it supports up to 2 hard disk drives, with a maximum of 320 GB each, while offering a DDR2 667 MHz memory that can be upgraded to 4GB, 2x Blu-ray Disc Super Multi double-layer drive and 6-in-1 card reader.

Offering a 1920 x 1080 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio and 8ms high-def response time, the Acer Aspire 8920G operates on an NVIDIA GeForce 9500M GS graphics card or NVIDIA GeForce 9650M GS, at the customer’s choice.

As its creators intended, the notebook will offer a complete and exciting entertainment experience, through its 2nd generation Dolby Home Theater audio enhancement, five built-in speakers, high-definition audio support and two built-in stereo microphones.

In terms of design, the Aspire Gemstone series offers holographic 3D cover that changes from blue to black depending on angle, an Enlightener power button and ultra slick media control area, while at the same time offering a comfortable and ergonomic area for the user’s hands.

“The Aspire Gemstone blue series is the new champion of the Gemstone line, fusing design, technology and innovation into a notebook that pushes the boundaries of mobile high-definition and delivers a digital experience that engages all the senses,” the company said.

The company also unveiled that the basic models will cost around $900, while depending on options, the prices could go as high as $1,700.

NASA’s Science Programs – Inspirational But Low On Budget

NASA has big plans for the future, but low budget, was the conclusion at a hearing held on Thursday in front of the House Science and Technology Committee’s subcommittee for space and aeronautics. The members of the subcommittee took a close look at the FY09 budget for NASA scientific programs and at the same time, took into consideration the probabilities for NASA to manage to complete its projects on shorter budget.

NASA’s Science Programs – Inspirational But Low On Budget
NASA has big plans for the future, but low budget, was the conclusion at a hearing held on Thursday in front of the House Science and Technology Committee’s subcommittee for space and aeronautics. The members of the subcommittee took a close look at the FY09 budget for NASA scientific programs and at the same time, took into consideration the probabilities for NASA to manage to complete its projects on shorter budget.

Subcommittee’s Chairman Mark Udall said about NASA’s science program that it has long been the “crown jewel” of the agency for 50 years, making history in the field and that he wanted the “accomplishment and inspiration” to continue, but he declared himself to be “concerned that NASA’s science program is facing an uncertain future under the funding plan offered by the Administration.”

In order to properly carry on with the science program, NASA would need more than has been allocated by the Bush administration was the overall conclusion. Compared to FY08, the FY09 budget is $264.7 million short. NASA’s science programs account for 25 percent of the agency’s total FY09 budget, which directs $4.4 billion toward SMD (Science Mission Directorate).

Lower on budget, but not short on ideas, NASA will try to continue its science programs. Udall said about NASA’s Associate Administrator Dr. S. Alan Stern: “I commend Dr. Stern for his efforts to address some of the stresses facing the science community from past NASA budgetary problems, and for the energy and commitment he has brought to his job.”

However, Udall continued, it is very less likely that NASA will be able to sustain all its initiatives under the current budget plan. “NASA’s challenging new science initiatives are to be built on a budget that increases by only 1% through FY 11,” Udall added, adding that the Administration’s budget would contribute seven times less than necessary for the next five years.

The head of Nasa has been outlining its new strategy at a major conference in Houston, Texas.

The US space agency will concentrate more on exploring the outer Solar System and a little less on exploring Mars.

Dr Mike Griffin tried to reassure the community of scientists who study the Red Planet, but also warned them to be prepared for change.

Nasa's 2009 budget request called for significant funding cuts for its Mars programme over the next five years.

The average annual budget plan for Mars exploration from 2009-2012 stands at about $343m, compared to an average of $620m for the same period in last year's budget estimates.

But Dr Griffin pointed out that Nasa would simply be returning Mars funding to its historical average over a 25-year period: "That's not a bad deal," he told the audience.

The Nasa administrator was addressing scientists this past week at the 39th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Shifting balance

Nasa's Mars programme has provided some of the most exciting science results of the last 10 years.

Global Surveyor, Odyssey and Reconnaissance Orbiter, not to mention the Mars Exploration Rovers, have been hugely successful and popular.
A lander, Phoenix, is scheduled to touch down in May to examine Mars' "Arctic" terrain. And in 2009, the agency will send an 800kg rover to the planet to search for signs of past or present life.

But Mike Griffin said it was now time to re-balance the agency's science priorities. Among the new ventures announced in the latest budget was a major robotic mission to explore the outer planets.

He referred to a recent grading of Nasa's planetary exploration portfolio by the US National Research Council (NRC) which gave the space agency an "A" for its Mars programme, but also a "D" for outer planets and a "C" for research and analysis.

"We've rebalanced our planetary science portfolio accordingly," Dr Griffin told the conference.

"As I discussed elsewhere, we've learned more, and had more questions to answer, about the many other planets and moons in our Solar System.

"So after Mars Science Lab - the current planetary sciences flagship - we are now planning in earnest for an outer planets flagship to Europa, Titan or Ganymede."

International doubts

During a question and answer session following his speech, Dr Griffin was challenged over the agency's commitment to the international Mars Sample Return mission in light of "massive" cuts to its Mars exploration programme.

Nasa, Esa and international partners have begun work on a strategy for this ambitious mission to return samples of Martian soil to Earth.
But the audience member said scientists in Europe now faced a challenge in selling the project to their ministers because a perception had been created that Nasa was no longer serious about Mars exploration.
Dr Griffin responded: "The Mars programme today is at the level it is to support the Mars Science Lab, which is the planetary sciences flagship? it cannot be an entitlement that the Mars programme gets a flagship and then retains, for all future time, a flagship level of funding."

He added: "Now, if as an entry-level requirement to get co-operation on international missions, I am required to keep the funding of any one community at a historically high level, then I can't meet that requirement."

But he reiterated Nasa's commitment to the mission, saying the agency's associate administrator for science, Dr Alan Stern, was dedicated to getting the long-mooted venture off the ground.

'Flexible' approach

The administrator was also asked to address the effect of the agency's "oscillating" priorities on the next generation of young scientists and engineers building up expertise in their chosen field - professionals who would be contributing to the bold vision Dr Griffin said he wanted for Nasa.

The Maryland-born engineer and physicist replied that most scientists' careers were not in danger, but added: "The second comment I would make is: don't specialise. Specialisation is for insects. Don't specialise. It's not professionally smart."

He added: "I think a bold vision has to be flexible and adaptable."

Mike Griffin joined the space agency in the aftermath of the Columbia shuttle disaster, which killed seven space shuttle astronauts, and has presided over the implementation of President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, which aims to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020.

Questioned about the biggest achievement and disappointment of his tenure, Dr Griffin replied: "I can't grade my own paper - I have a deep ethical aversion to self-assessment."

But he continued: "I would like people to say that I repopulated Nasa headquarters with people who were at the top of the business, rather than people whose first job in the space business was at the top."

On his biggest regret, Dr Griffin said: "I regret that I have been unable to make an appropriate case at policy level for having a smooth transition between the shuttle and its replacement systems. I yield to no one in my desire to see the shuttle retired by the end of 2010."

The space shuttle's successor, the Orion capsule, is due to make its maiden flight in about 2015. Dr Griffin said he had been unable to make the case to politicians that it should be brought online sooner.

$100 off Blu-ray backed PS3 with HDTV

Shortly after the fall of the HD DVD format Microsoft officially announced that they were ending production of the HD DVD player for the Xbox 360 and we, along with a number of others, figured they would be jumping on board with Blu-ray in short order.

According to Microsoft exec Aaron Greenberg, group product manager for the Xbox 360, the company appears to have no plans to move in the direction of a Blu-ray player, or any high-def player for that matter, for their game console. “Xbox is not currently in talks with Sony or the Blu-ray Association to integrate Blu-ray into the Xbox experience,” Greenberg said. He followed up that comment with “We’re the only console offering digital distribution of entertainment content,” which leads us to believe that Microsoft may have taken this opportunity to rid the console of physical disc media all together.

Microsoft will likely continue to promote and grow the Xbox Live online service instead which might be a better option for them and will almost certainly keep them from investing in another technology that gets beat out by a competitor such as the HD DVD player.

Best Buy Co. Inc. this Sun. will offer customers $100 off Sony Corp.'s Playstation 3 when purchased with an HDTV $999 and up.
The promotion is the latest to further high-definition sales.

Each PS3 sold includes a Blu-ray disc drive to playback high-definition titles.

Last Sun., Best Buy began offering a free $20 gift card with the purchase of any two Blu-ray disc titles.

The PS3 has held strong sales following the Blu-ray camp's victory over Toshiba Corp.'s HD DVD.

NPD Group Inc. on Thurs. recorded sales of 280,841 units sold in at U.S. retail in Feb., outselling Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 by 10 percent.

Microsoft this week debunked reports that it was in talks with Sony to provide a Blu-ray option for the Xbox 360. Instead, it said it will concentrate on digital distribution via the Xbox Live online service.

Sony Computer Entertainment America Jack Tretton this week cited Blu-ray as a factor for strong PS3 sales.

Post Blu-ray victory, Sony should sustain strong U.S. sales in Q2 on the release game titles, including Take-Two Interactive Inc.'s Grand Theft Auto IV and Konami Corp.'s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.

Since the Blu-ray format victory, retailers have begun to offer incentives to drive the format to customers. this week fired a new Blu-ray disc sale that discounted titles up to 53 percent.

Titles in the new sale include Casino Royale, First Blood, Curse of the Golden Flower, Transporter 2, and A Knight's Tale.

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