Computer Clusters That Heat Houses

Thursday, December 31, 2009

They have been used to model climate change, forecast economic trends, and simulate the intricate complexities folding proteins. Now IBM has something new in store for high-performance computers: heating buildings.

Thanks to a novel on-chip water-cooling system developed by the company, the thermal energy from a cluster of computer processors can be efficiently recycled to provide hot water for an office, says Bruno Michel, manager of advanced thermal packaging at IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory, in Switzerland. The goal, he says, is to improve the energy efficiency of large computing clusters and reduce their environmental impact.

A pilot scheme involving a computer system fitted with the technology is expected to save up to 30 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year--the equivalent of an 85 percent carbon footprint reduction. A novel network of microfluidic capillaries inside a heat sink is attached to the surface of each chip in the computer cluster, which allows water to be piped to within microns of the semiconductor material itself. Despite its close proximity to the circuitry, there is no danger of leakage, says Michel, because the capillaries are hermetically sealed. By having water flow so close to each chip, heat can be removed more efficiently. Water heated to 60 °C is then passed through a heat exchanger to provide heat that is delivered elsewhere.

A Stimulating Treatment for Sleep Apnea

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Unlike most researchers, the engineers at ImThera Medical just might consider it a compliment if someone called their product a "snooze." The experimental device is designed to treat sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that can disrupt sleep and trigger serious complications, including an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, as well as daytime sleepiness so severe that sufferers often fall asleep at the wheel. The implant, which wraps around a nerve connected to the tongue, is now being tested in a small clinical trial in Europe.

Sleep apnea is one of the most common kinks to the breathing process. It affects as much as 4 percent of the U.S. population, and occurs when something--usually a blockage, such as the tongue--stops a person's breathing multiple times throughout the night. The resulting oxygen deprivation and sleep loss leads to fatigue in the short-term, but it can also cause serious long-term health problems.

The gold standard for sleep apnea treatment is a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, which keeps the airway open by forcing air through a mask and down a person's throat. But the device is loud and uncomfortable, and roughly half of CPAP users can't tolerate it. Alternative therapies include everything from a device that changes the relative positions of the upper and lower jaw, to actually breaking the jaw and repositioning it, to something as invasive as cutting out a portion of the patient's soft palate to increase the airway opening.

Nissan's Leaf: Charged with Information

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When the all-electric Nissan Leaf hits the U.S. market next year, consumers will have to consider its relatively short 100-mile driving range, as well as the scarcity of charging stations beyond their own homes. Nissan plans to tackle these concerns by providing information--and lots of it--to help drivers manage the recharging process.

The success of the Leaf and other electric cars "is going to come down to how comfortable people are that they can get where they want to go, won't run out of charge, and won't have to go through some process that will take them a long time and impact their ability to use the vehicle," says Rod MacKenzie, vice president and chief technology officer at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a research think-tank in Washington, DC.

In other words, all-electric cars will need to connect the recharging infrastructure to in-car telematics.

The Leaf will do this with a communication module that connects via satellite to Nissan's global data center. It will be similar to existing telematics systems, such as GM's OnStar, which detects mechanical breakdowns and accidents and beams this information back to base.

But the Leaf will add an emphasis on monitoring the battery's condition and helping drivers keep their batteries topped-up. Planning recharges will be crucial: giving a Leaf a full charge will take 16 hours from home-based stations, at the voltages available in the U.S. or Japan, or eight hours at the higher voltages available in Europe. At a fast-charging station, equipped with high-voltage plugs, a charge will take 30 minutes--still a long time compared to filling a gas tank.

The Leaf's dashboard display will show remaining battery life, the location of charging stations, and which stations are within range. When the car gets low on power, the driver can put it into a "limp" mode so it drives at the most-efficient speed to ensure it gets there.

Once the driver plugs a car into a charging station, Nissan sends e-mail updates on how the charge is progressing, and when it's done. And finally, the owner can use a mobile device to switch on the car's electric air-conditioner or heater before detaching it from the charging station, so as not to waste battery life after pulling away.

Web filter will compromise national broadband network, say providers

Monday, December 28, 2009

INTERNET service providers believe Labor's filter to block web nasties could well neuter its cherished national broadband network.

They believe the filter to block all material refused a classification will slow broadband speeds, including the services delivered by the much vaunted NBN.

When Communications Minister Stephen Conroy this week unveiled the legislation to be introduced next year, he also released a report saying the filter would not degrade internet performance, according to tests performed by Enex TestLab.

ISP network engineer Mark Newton said yesterday Enex only tested speeds up to eight megabits per second, which is standard for residential connections.

Mr Newton said the proposed filter would degrade higher network speeds, including the 100Mbps services promised by the Rudd government's $42 billion NBN and called for another trial.

"I think it's fair to ask whether the NBN goals are in conflict with the censorship goals," Mr Newton said.

"It's a completely open question until they do another trial which shows no significant performance degradation with large numbers of 100-megabit users all going hell for leather at the same time - which is exactly what they're expecting us to be able to do in a few years time."

RC-rated material includes child sex abuse, bestiality, rape and instructions on crime or drug use. A blacklist of RC content will be compiled through a public complaints mechanism.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released yesterday showed that in June more than five million Australian households had broadband - about two-thirds of all households. This was an increase of 16 per cent on the previous year.

The ABS found an estimated 72,000 children experienced personal safety or security problems on the internet, while 28,000 children had similar problems while using mobiles.

Annie Pettitt of Save the Children had concerns about the government's filtering plan.

"In particular we have concerns that an ISP filter will potentially lull families into a false sense of security... when in fact, they may not be aware of what their children may be doing on the internet and its much better to have parents and children educated about the safety of internet use."

Twitter briefly blocked by hackers

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Users trying to reach early Friday were redirected to a Web page that CNN reported had a picture of a green flag and a message that said, "This site has been hacked by the Iranian Cyber Army."

There was no evidence the are actually linked to Iran. Web sites like Twitter and Facebook helped bring attention to the Iranian opposition during the country's crackdown after its June elections, with users posting minute-by-minute updates and amateur video.

Twitter later Friday posted a message on its blog that said its Domain Name Systems' records "were temporarily compromised but have now been fixed." The site says it will update with more details "once we've investigated more fully."

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Most lost motorists blame GPS units - study

Saturday, December 26, 2009

THEY are designed to help drivers find their way, but two thirds of motorists say their GPS is to blame for wrong turns.

A study commissioned by SGIC, released today, found 66 per cent of South Australians behind the wheel believe their car navigation system is responsible for getting them lost.

Almost half said they did not trust the technology.

But Australian Driving Institute director Cameron Wearing said impatient drivers were usually at fault when it came to unplanned detours.

"People are generally rushing, nine times out of 10 they're trying to squeeze too much into that extra minute," he said.

"The attitude that it's not my fault, and that comes with crashes and speeding, is commonplace on the road.

"One bloke I came across looks at the map first to get a vague idea where he's going then uses the GPS as a bit like confirmation, it might seem a bit over the top, but doing that bit more can make a difference."

Pentagon plays down security breach with US drones

Friday, December 25, 2009

On Thursday, military officials sought to play down security concerns after the revealed that militants in Iraq and Afghanistan had intercepted the unencrypted downlink between US drones and ground control.

"This is an old issue that's been addressed," a defense official, speaking on condition of , told reporters.

The problem had been taken care of, he said, without elaborating.

But on Friday, the Journal reported that the began addressing the issue only this year, despite fears going back to 2004 that Russia or China might intercept and doctor video feeds from the unmanned US aircraft.

The Journal said Friday that members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed the vulnerability posed by the lack of encryption in 2004 and 2005.

Citing two officers with knowledge of the talks, the newspaper said concerns focused on the possibility of interference by national militaries and officials assumed insurgents would not be able to exploit the flaw.

"The main concern was that the video feeds were being intercepted, manipulated and then fed to the commanders in the field," an officer told the paper.

But senior members of the Joint Staff dismissed those concerns.

The military did not begin addressing the flaw until video footage from a feed was discovered on the laptop of a captured Shiite Iraqi militant earlier this year.

Officials on Thursday confirmed Iranian-backed Shiite insurgents in Iraq had used programs such as SkyGrabber -- available online for 25.95 dollars (18 euros) -- to capture the live from the drones.

Some sensitive video feeds from drones are routinely encrypted, another defense official, who asked not to be named, told AFP on Thursday. But the extent of the encryption remained unclear.

Privacy advocates take Facebook gripe to US Federal Trade Commission

Thursday, December 24, 2009

PRIVACY advocates are calling on the US Federal Trade Commission to make Facebook undo recent changes made to privacy controls on the world's leading online social network.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) joined with the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and several other organizations in a complaint accusing Facebook of violating US consumer protection law.

"More than 100 million people in the United States subscribe to the Facebook service," said EPIC director Marc Rotenberg.

"The company should not be allowed to turn down the privacy dial on so many American consumers."

Facebook last week began calling on users to get a better grip on their online privacy by dictating who sees what in online profiles.

All of Facebook's more than 350 million members are required to refine settings with a new software tool that lets them specify who gets to be privy to each photo, video, update or other piece of content uploaded to the website.

Go Home to Rovio

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You can control the Rovio robot over the Web or set it to patrol your home autonomously. Video from the robot's camera can be relayed anywhere in the world, and you can even carry on a two-way conversation with anyone near the robot, using its built-in speaker and microphone.

Making 3-D Pop

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

3-D computer gaming has been underwhelming to date, largely because awkward add-on hardware is typically required to support 3-D glasses, and because frame rates are relatively low. (A 3-D system needs to generate twice as many images per second as a standard screen to perform equivalently in gaming applications.) The G51J solves these problems by using built-in graphics hardware that operates LCD shutter glasses at 120 hertz. That's 60 frames per second for each eye, fast enough for all but the most hard-core gamers. Most modern titles do not have to be redesigned to be played in 3-D.

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Google phone revolution or misdirection?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Analysts interviewed Friday were divided over what to make of the "Nexus One" smartphones that Google is having workers test internally.

"We are having a big discussion whether this is going to kill Android or make it," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley.

"It looks like Google is moving to see if they can do the Apple thing."

Apple iPhones dominate the smartphone market, in part because the California company "controls the customer experience" from design of handsets to programs available at the hugely successful online App Store.

Canada-based Blackberry maker Research In Motion rules the business market with a similar approach, instead of licensing software to device makers who call the shots regarding hardware.

"When you have too many cooks in the kitchen, who actually owns the menu?" Enderle asked rhetorically. "Apple and RIM have one person owning the phone. Clearly it is worth experimenting with. This could work."

Google had Taiwan-based HTC make the hardware for Nexus One, the devices it gave employees last week to experiment with in a process referred to as "dogfooding."

If Google markets an "unlocked" phone, meaning it isn't tied to a specific carrier, customers would face price premiums because telecom firms routinely subsidize hardware to get lucrative multi-year service contracts.

"Google clearly is not going to sell this merely as an unlocked, unsubsidized phone at a commensurate high price point (over 500 dollars)," Ovum research fellow Jonathan Yarmis said in a note.

"More disruptive than the phone itself is likely to be how they approach the business model."

Liberating itself from carriers would free Google to put its online ad targeting skills to work generating revenue to subsidize its smartphones, according to analysts.

Enter the Netbook Slayer

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The handsome offering with the bland designation "EC 1437u" has power, performance and a small footprint, all for a very reasonable price of US$549.99.

When the notebook is pulled out in a crowd, its glossy, cherry-red shell is sure to evoke envious questions about its origins.

Although larger than most netbooks, the Gateway model is still smaller than a clipboard, albeit thicker and heavier. It measures 1.18 by 11.22 by 8.03 inches and weighs three pounds, 3.5 ounces.

The notebook displayed peppy performance operating under Windows 7 Home Premium edition. It has an Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) dual core Pentium processor (SU4100) clocked at 1.3 GHz per core (FSB 800 MHz) with an L2 cache of 2MB. Graphics are rendered with Intel's Graphics Media Accelerator (4500MHD), and the unit is built around Intel's GS45 Express chipset.

Power Ranger

It also has 3MB of DDR2 dual-channel 667MHz RAM and a 320GB SATA hard drive running at 5,400 RPM. Like most netbooks, it doesn't have an optical drive. That can create some initial consternation when system messages start popping up asking if you want to create a Gateway recovery CD and there's no CD drive to create one on, but those messages can be turned off for peace of mind.

Intel's Consumer Ultra Low Voltage (CULV) technology is incorporated into the notebook, and its stingy power consumption is astounding.

What's more, the device comes with a six-cell lithium ion battery (5600 mAh). Unlike some six-cell power plants, this one doesn't mar the computer's svelte contours with a bulging waistline. Gateway rates the battery at over six hours run time. Experience bore out that rating. It's fact, not brag, as it is with most manufacturer ratings.

Moreover, with Windows 7's improved sleep mode, you don't have to be afraid of walking away from the notebook for an extended amount of time only to find the battery depleted and a reboot in order.

High-Definition Audio

The notebook has a very sharp, bright and richly colorful LED backlit display. Measuring 11.6 inches diagonally, the Ultrabright widescreen has a 16:9 aspect ratio and resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels.

Although the laptop's QWERTY keyboard is slightly smaller than a full-sized clavier, it has a very good feel. Its keys are amply sized even for typists whose hands are closer to hams than pinkies.

Screen navigation can be performed with an inverted T arrow pad conveniently located at the right corner of keyboard and through a two-button touchpad. Items can be selected with the touchpad's buttons or by tapping the pad's surface. Scrolling within windows can be performed by dragging a finger along the right side of the pad.

High-definition audio is supported by the notebook, and for a computer this size, the speakers are very good. External speakers can be attached to the laptop through it speaker/line out jack. The unit also has a headphones jack that supports Dolby Headphones Technology.

Ubuntu Linux founder stepping down as CEO

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ubuntu Linux backer Canonical is changing top management in an effort to become more operationally disciplined, with founder Mark Shuttleworth passing the chief executive job to Chief Operations Officer Jane Silber by March 1.

Shuttleworth will continue working at the company, focusing on the company's desktop Linux product, its cloud-computing efforts, and meetings with partners central to the company's business. Silber, who has worked for the company for almost all its five-year history, will spend more of her time on Canonical's enterprise products for business customers.

"Within the company I can say very strongly everyone's expectations will be that Jane will bring a focus on financial performance as much as operational performance. It's something I want for the company," Shuttleworth said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

Shuttleworth founded Ubuntu and Canonical in part as a reaction to Red Hat and Novell's Suse Linux, both of which are available as a free version that differs from the commercially supported product. With Ubuntu, the two versions are the same, meaning that those who want the better-tested and certified product need not necessarily pay for it. Canonical does offer support subscriptions and is working on gradually proving its server operating system's mettle beyond just test and development situations.

Canonical today has two other main lines of business besides its Linux server support: partnerships to help with operating-system technology for Netbook companies, including most recently Google for its Chrome OS; and selling support for Ubuntu's newer cloud-computing technology developed in partnership with Eucalyptus Systems. The Eucalyptus technology is compatible with Amazon Web Services options including the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3), but lets customers use the technology in their own data centers or in combination with Amazon.

Shuttleworth, who funds Canonical with wealth stemming from selling his Thawte Internet consulting business to Verisign in 1999, takes a long-term view of the company's finances.

"We are not profitable. But we continue to believe we're on the right trajectory," Shuttleworth said.

"Five years is a long time," he said, but Canonical wants to be a platform company on which others house or build their own technology. "Those take a substantial amount of time to get a foothold. We continue to invest in areas that make us a complete platform rather than focusing on the things that could achieve profitability fastest."

The company presently has more than 300 employees, he said.

Canonical releases new versions of Ubuntu every six months, the most recent being 9.10, called "Karmic Koala." Version 10.4, or "Lucid Lynx," is due in April. It will be one of the LTS versions that comes with long-term support for customers who don't enjoy upgrading their operating systems frequently. Canonical releases LTS versions every two years.

Intel: New graphics, 'Core' chips coming

Friday, December 18, 2009

Intel on Thursday previewed new Core processors and graphics technology that will become the pillar of its mainstream chip offerings.

As reported previously, Intel said it will roll out new Intel Core i processors on January 7 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, including the new i3 chip. These will be based on 32-nanometer technology for the first time. The smaller the geometry, the faster and more power-efficient the processor. Intel's main CPU processors are currently based on 45-nanometer technology.

Intel will introduce 17 new processors in all.

And the chipmaker restated the Core i series lineup. The i7 is its the top-of-the-line processor, the i5 is the midrange, and the new i3 will be the low end.

Intel also discussed its upcoming integrated graphics technology for laptops, which has been referred to as "Arrandale." This will be the first mainstream Intel laptop processor to integrate two processor cores and a graphics function in a single chip package, to deliver better overall power efficiency.

The graphics silicon is based on 45-nanometer technology for the first time, Intel said. The technology will also support Blu-ray playback, and Intel claimed that it is capable of "mainstream gaming."

Intel is also moving its "Turbo Boost" technology into more Core i5. Turbo Boost speeds up and slows down individual cores to meet processing and power-efficiency needs, respectively.

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Bing Spreads Wings in Apple's App Store

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bing the Smartypants

The Bing app for the iPhone and iPod touch has been launched less than a month after Microsoft released a BlackBerry version of the app. Bing apps are also available on Windows Mobile, BREW, and the Danger operating system, which runs on SideKick devices from T-Mobile.

Despite Microsoft's rivalry with Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) in many fields, it's sound marketing Download Free eBook - The Edge of Success: 9 Building Blocks to Double Your Sales strategy for Redmond to get onto as many mobile operating systems as possible, according to Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist at In-Stat. "Search engines have to do two things: Give people a compelling reason to use them, and be the first thing they go to," he told MacNewsWorld. "Most of the search engines have similar features," he said.

"I think Microsoft realizes it has to move to where the people are, which is the iPhone and Android," Greg Sterling, founding principal at Sterling Market Intelligence, pointed out. "Windows Mobile is a smaller audience than these two," he told MacNewsWorld.
About the Bing App on iTunes

The Bing app in the iTunes app store uses Seadragon technology for panning and zooming in maps, said Justin Jed in the Bing community blog. Seadragon was developed by Seattle Software, which Microsoft purchased in 2006.

Seadragon, a free Web service which is part of Microsoft LiveLabs, combines several technologies to let users view, zoom, pan-into, and share large images on the Internet without degrading or shrinking them. It works with all types of content, regardless of the amount of data used or the network's bandwidth. Seadragon is incorporated into Silverlight.

Bing for the iPhone and iPod touch works well in conducting Web searches or searching maps using voice technology, Jed claimed.

Some users, however, have begged to differ. Several iPhone users complained that the voice features wouldn't work on their devices. "iPhone 3G app simply crashes whenever I try and use the voice features," wrote user "ChadT." Users "nanexcool" and "robin capper" had the same problem with their iPhone 3Gs. "Robin capper" found that voice search either crashed his iPhone or did not return any results. "It's not connectivity, as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) on the same phone shows," he wrote.

On the other hand, Sterling found that voice search worked for him on the iPod touch. Some technical differences could have led to the different results. "Microsoft told me they turned off some of the app's features for the iPod touch," he said.

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Bendable Magnetic Interface

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Computer users have been typing on keyboards and clicking on mice for more than 20 years. An experimental new interface under development at Microsoft could give them a completely new way to use their system.
Multi-touch and motion-sensing devices have recently emerged from research labs, offering new ways to operate computers. Microsoft's experimental tactile interface takes things further still, letting users interact by squashing, stretching, rolling, or rubbing.

At the base of the new device a "sensor tile" produces magnetic multiple fields above its surface. By detecting disturbances to these fields, the system can track the movement of a metal object across its surface, or the manipulation of a bladder filled with iron filings or a magnetic fluid. A user can drag a ball bearing across the surface to move a cursor across a computer's screen, or manipulate a ferrous fluid-filled bladder to sculpt 3D virtual objects.

Stuart Taylor of Microsoft Research Cambridge in the U.K. says that the surface can easily be reconfigured to allow for different forms of input. Working with Microsoft colleagues and with Jonathan Hook at Newcastle University, Taylor created arrays of 64 magnetic coils, each wrapped in a coiled wire, within a 100-square-centimeter sensor tile. "In essence, these are modeled on an electric guitar setup," says Taylor. "If you disrupt the field, this causes a current to be induced in the coil."

The researchers have also experimented with applying currents to the coils to induce physical effects on the objects placed on top of the sensor tile. This could allow an input device to also provide haptic force-feedback, says Taylor.

"It's an interesting concept which extends multi-touch to something more tangible," says Anthony Steed, a professor in the Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics group at University College London. To have a surface that lets users manipulate different objects would be of great interest, he says.

Practical Nanotube Electronics

Monday, December 14, 2009

Carbon nanotubes are a promising material for making display control circuits because they're more efficient than silicon and can be arrayed on flexible surfaces. Until recently, though, making nanotubes into transistors has been a painstaking process. Now researchers at the University of Southern California have demonstrated large, functional arrays of transistors made using simple methods from batches of carbon nanotubes that are relatively impure.
The pixels in a computer or television screen, whether it's an LCD or plasma, are each controlled by several transistors. In today's devices, these transistors are made from silicon. Arrays of these transistors need to be made at high temperatures and in a vacuum, so they're very expensive, says Chongwu Zhou, an associate professor of electrical engineering at USC and researcher on the nanotube project.

Transistors have also been made from carbon nanotubes, but that, too, presents challenges. "Many people use one nanotube to make a very small, high-performance transistor" for computer chips, says Zhou. But that one-to-one ratio won't work for displays, in which a large surface must be covered in transistors. "If we use one nanotube for one transistor, the yield will never be high enough" to work for large-scale manufacturing of big screens, he says. Zhou believes his approach will solve this problem by making larger transistors from mats of nanotubes.

The USC researchers make large arrays of carbon nanotube transistors using solution-processing techniques at room temperature. They start by placing a silicon wafer in a chemical bath to coat its surface with a nanotube-attracting chemical, then rinse off the residue. The treated wafer is then immersed in a solution of semiconducting carbon nanotubes, which are attracted to its surface. The wafer, now coated with a carpet of nanotubes, is rinsed clean again. To make transistors from this tangled mess, the researchers put down metal electrodes at selected locations. The electrodes define where each transistor is and carry electrons into and out of the nanotubes that lie between them. Areas of silicon underlying each device act as the transistors' gates. So far, they've built a prototype device on a four-inch silicon wafer and used it to control a simple organic light-emitting diode display. This work is described online in the journal Nano Letters.

University starts iPhone music ensemble

Sunday, December 13, 2009

WELCOME to an orchestra of the 21st century. iPhones are being used as musical instruments in a new course at a US university.

Students at the University of Michigan are learning to design, build and play instruments on their Apple smartphones, with a public performance planned for December 9.

The university said it believed the course, called Building a Mobile Phone Ensemble, is a world first.

It is taught by Georg Essl, a computer scientist and musician who has worked on developing mobile phones and musical instruments.

Mr Essl and his colleagues began using the microphone as a wind sensor a few years ago, which enabled iPhone apps such as the Ocarina that essentially turns the phone into an ancient flute-like wind instrument.

"The mobile phone is a very nice platform for exploring new forms of musical performance," Mr Essl said.
"We're not tethered to the physics of traditional instruments. We can do interesting, weird, unusual things."

"This kind of technology is in its infancy, but it's a hot and growing area to use iPhones for artistic expression."

Mr Essl said that to build an instrument on an iPhone, students program the device to play back information it receives from one of its multitude of sensors as sound.

"The touch-screen, microphone, GPS, compass, wireless sensor and accelerometer can all be transformed so that when you run your finger across the display, blow air into the mic, tilt or shake the phone, for example, different sounds emanate,"

Surgery gives gift of 'HD' sight

Saturday, December 12, 2009

PATIENTS are having their eyes fitted with an artificial lens that allows them to see in "high definition".

Surgeons begin the process by implanting the lens into the eye using the standard procedure for cataracts.

Then, for the first time in Britain, they can fine-tune the focus of the lens several days later.

The technique gives patients vision so sharp that it is even better than 20/20 - the best an adult can usually hope for.

Bobby Qureshi, the first ophthalmic surgeon in the UK to use the lens, described it as "a hugely significant development".

It can correct both cataracts and the long-sightedness that usually comes with age.

The lens is made from a special light-sensitive silicone.

By shining ultraviolet light on specific parts of the lens, surgeons can change its shape and curvature, sharpening the image seen by the patient.
Mr Qureshi told Sky News: "We have the potential here to change patients' vision to how it was when they were young.

"The change is so accurate that we can even make the lens bifocal or varifocal, so as well as giving them good vision at distance we can give them good vision for reading.

"They won't need their glasses at all."

The technique can overcome tiny defects in the eye that cause visual distortions.

The lens can be adjusted several times over a period of days until patients have perfect vision.

A final blast of light then permanently fixes the lenses' shape.

Gill Balfour was one of the first patients to be fitted with the new lens at the Spire Gatwick Park Hospital, Surrey, England.

She had the first signs of cataracts and other vision problems.

She said: "It's absolutely incredible. To think it's been tailor-made for you, matching any imperfections. It's the way forward, isn't it?"

For 2010, IDC predicts an Apple iPad and battles in the cloud

Friday, December 11, 2009

Apple brings out an iPad digital tablet. Netbooks move upscale. And IBM buys Juniper Networks.

Those predictions for next year, and others, are being presented on Thursday by the technology research firm IDC.

IDC's entry in the year-end forecasting sweepstakes doesn't lack for detail. There will be 300,000 iPhone applications by the end of next year, nearly triple the current number, according to IDC. There will be 50,000 to 75,000 Google Android applications, up from about 10,000. Interested in digital electric meters, the home devices crucial for energy-saving smart electric grids? Twenty million will be deployed in United States households in 2010, and more than 60 million worldwide, IDC says. Spurred by federal stimulus dollars, 77 million Americans, or 25 percent of the population, will have electronic health records, compared with about 14 percent now, the firm predicts.
Often, it is the thinking behind the data points that is most illuminating. I discussed the predictions on Wednesday with Frank Gens, IDC's chief analyst.

Take all those applications iPhones and Android phones, for example. Gens notes that there are roughly 10,000 Windows PC applications listed on Microsoft's Windows 7 compatibility Web site.

"The market follows the applications," Gens said. "That's a message for the software industry, particularly for the PC industry."

The competition to supply the tools and digital workbench--a "platform," in techspeak--for cloud computing will intensify, Gens says. The early cloud platforms come from's, Microsoft's Azure, and Google's App Engine. In 2010, IBM and Cisco Systems will enter the field with their cloud platforms, IDC predicts.

"This is going to be the strategic battleground of the next 20 years in computing," Gens says.

The long-rumored Apple touch-screen tablet computer, or iPad, will arrive in 2010, IDC predicts. It will be more of an oversized iPod Touch, with an 8-inch or 10-inch screen, than a downsized Macintosh. With its larger screen, IDC says, the Apple tablet will be ideal for watching movies, surfing the Web, playing online games, and reading books, magazines and newspapers. It will be general-purpose, unlike's single-purpose Kindle reader. The Apple offering, Gens says, "could deliver a real kick in Kindle's butt."

Netbook PCs, IDC predicts, will move beyond stripped-down Web-surfing, e-mail and note-taking machines, costing $200 to $400. More powerful models, Gens says, may cost $700 or more, though will still be extremely light and small.

IDC also sees IBM getting back into the computer network business by acquiring Juniper. Networking, Gens says, is increasingly part of the package of capabilities the largest technology companies must offer corporate clients. He points to Hewlett-Packard's recent purchase of 3Com and Cisco's partnership with EMC as evidence of the trend.

Panasonic to invest $1 billion in green tech

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Panasonic plans to invest $1 billion by 2012 to develop green technologies for the home that would include energy-monitoring systems, marking a major shift in the company's focus.

Panasonic President Fumio Ohtsubo said in an interview with the Bloomberg news service this week that growing consumer interest in more efficient products has led Panasonic to decide to develop new core businesses.

"Our growth is not enough . So we want to change our fighting ring from our current categories to a different field," Ohtsubo told Bloomberg.

The company plans to offer home energy management systems, as well as develop existing interests in lithium ion batteries for electric cars, solar panels, and smart appliances.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that the world's leading plasma-TV manufacturer is getting rid of its star product.

As one of its green product ideas, Ohtsubo told Bloomberg about a system in development that would allow people to monitor the electricity generation of their solar panels and the electricity use of their home appliances through their television sets.

One can't help but wonder if Panasonic's interest in a new core business was in any way influenced by the U.S. Department of Energy's decision to curb Energy Star seals for supersized televisions. Very large televisions could fall out of favor if an increasingly energy-conscious public relies on the Energy Star seal when deciding which products to purchase for their home.

It also remains to be seen if this means Panasonic is going to abandon its plasma TVs in favor of the increasingly popular LCD and LED-based LCD televisions. Panasonic already does make LCD televisions, in addition to plasmas.

Bing's iPhone plans

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

soft would rather everyone ran out and bought a Windows Mobile phone, the software maker is aware of reality. And, since it wants people to use Bing on their phones, it knows it needs to
have software that works on other devices.

"Everyone understands the popularity and the pervasiveness of the platform," said Microsoft principal group p

rogram manager David Raissipour, following a Bing event Wednesday. "We are actively working on it."

Raissipour confirmed Microsoft is working on a mobile Bing application that will combine a number of features--more than just mapping and search. However, he declined to say what all of those features are or when the software will be ready.

I probed as to whether some of the cool mapping technology Microsoft showed on Wednesday might make it onto phones. Raissipour said such mapping requires a rich platform, but could potentially be done without Silverlight, if necessary. So, what about the iPhone?

"It's certainly possible," Raissipour said. "That's a rich platform."

Microsoft already has native mobile applications for many Windows Mobile phones, BlackBerry devices, and a number of Verizon feature phones. The company is also exploring what it might be able to do on Android, particularly on non-Google branded Android devices. In the meantime, the company has its mobile Web site.

I also had a chance to catch up with overall search engineering chief Satya Nadella to ask some overall Bing questions.

In particular, I wanted to see just how many people are actively choosing to go to, as opposed to just searching via MSN or a browser tool bar. With Bing's predecessor, Live Search, very few people actually went to the page.

"It's still a small percentage," Nadella said, but noted that it has succeeded in getting a fan base, which was a key early goal of the product.

When it comes to the data that Microsoft is including at the top of some search results, in general, Nadella said Microsoft is not paying for the content, nor are companies paying to get their information included.

Microsoft to plug critical IE hole targeted by exploit code

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Microsoft said on Thursday that it will offer six updates for 12 vulnerabilities next week including a critical hole in Internet Explorer that affects Windows 7 and other current versions of the operating system for which exploit code has been released.

Late last month, Microsoft said it was investigating an IE vulnerability after someone released proof-of-concept code affecting IE 6 and IE 7 that could be used to take control of computers.

Microsoft described the problem in an advisory issued November : "The vulnerability exists as an invalid pointer reference of Internet Explorer. It is possible under certain conditions for a CSS/Style object to be accessed after the object is deleted. In a specially-crafted attack, Internet Explorer attempting to access a freed object can lead to running attacker-supplied code."

Of the six updates Microsoft will release on Patch Tuesday, three of them are critical, according to a Microsoft security bulletin advance notification.

Software affected includes Windows 2000, Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Server 2003, Server 2008, Office XP, and Office 2003.

Facebook notifies members about Beacon settlement

Monday, December 7, 2009

An e-mail was sent on Thursday to Facebook users who were members at the time that its controversial, now-defunct Beacon advertising program was operated: it's the official notice about the proposed settlement for the class-action lawsuit against Beacon. The terms of the settlement have been public since September, but the court-ordered summary notice is the last step in the process before final approval on February 26.

"This is not a settlement in which class members file claims to receive compensation," the notice explained (possibly crushing the hopes of any Facebook members who might have got excited that this would be an easy way to make some pizza money). "Under the proposed settlement, Facebook will terminate the Beacon program. In addition, Facebook will provide $9.5 million to establish an independent nonprofit foundation that will identify and fund projects and initiatives that promote the cause of online privacy, safety, and security."

A Web site has been set up to explain the terms of the settlement for the case Lane et al. vs. Facebook Inc. et al., which was originally filed last summer.

Beacon, an advertising program that shared members' activity on participating third-party sites on their Facebook profiles without much warning or notification, was a much-hyped part of the Facebook Ads initiative that debuted in the fall of 2007. But it was, unfortunately for Facebook, a complete public relations disaster.

Pressure from privacy and activist groups resulted in notable changes to the product and member controls thereof, but image repair proved to not be enough and Facebook let Beacon fade to black.

The yogurt makers of tech: Gadgets to avoid

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cisco's release Tuesday of the Flipshare TV brought to mind other overpriced single-purpose devices that have cluttered my computer desk and stereo rack over the years. Like the over-specific kitchen appliances you use once or only once in a while and don't really need in your life (yogurt makers, margarita mixers, hot-dog toasters), there are plenty of technological products that are better at taking up your space and money than providing ongoing value.

TV media viewers
Worst example: The Microsoft TV Photo Viewer. Released in 2001, this was a floppy disk drive with a TV output. It was for viewing digital photos on a TV. Of course, if you had a digital camera and a computer, you already had a good way to view photos, and at a better resolution than the TVs of the day. But with the TV Photo Viewer, you could set your parents up with a viewing station for your digital photos.

Great--but then you had to teach them how to use it, make sure it stayed connected to their TV, and worse, crunch your photos down to fit on a floppy and get said floppy to them so they could see the pictures. I tried to set one of these up for my mother. She rolled her eyes and said, "Just mail me the snapshots, dear."

Also in this category, the aforementioned Flipshare TV, a $149 device whose main function can be duplicated by a $0.31 HDMI cable. For that matter, the Flip camera itself is a bit of a one-trick pony. Sure, it's easy to use, but a standard digital camera will also take videos. I have a Flip camera myself and I do love it--in theory. But when I leave the house, I don't want to take a video camera that duplicates only one thing that my point-and-shoot digicam does (and without a zoom lens, no less), so the Flip stays home almost all the time.

Related: The Sandisk Take TV, which was a bunch of wires and parts that let you watch videos stored on SD cards on your TV. It was a great product for all those illegal vids you got from BitTorrent. It, like the the TV Photo Viewer, is no longer sold.

Hardware for Gmail: The 'Gboard' keyboard

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gmail has long had keyboard shortcuts, though learning them can be difficult. Enter the Gboard, a specialized mini-keyboard for Google's e-mail service. It debuts this Friday at an asking price of $19.99.

The Gboard consists of 19 colored keys set in a standard size numpad-only keyboard. Clicking on any one of these performs that particular keyboard shortcut. Included are Gmail-specific features such as starring messages, starting a search, and jumping between message threads. Outside of Gmail they simply act as normal keyboard buttons, and will type in whatever letter or number corresponds with that shortcut.

The device is powered by USB and requires no special software or drivers, however users need to first enable keyboard shortcuts within Gmail's settings before using it. Also worth noting is that it was created not by Google, but by Charlie Mason, a film producer from Venice, Calif. This is his first foray into the computer hardware business.
This really is a product that users will either love or hate. Those who have mastered Gmail's shortcuts will see little need to buy special hardware and find a spare USB port to plug it into. Meanwhile, newbie users may be unwilling to take the plunge on such a specific peripheral for a program that works only within another program (the browser). The Gboard runs the risk of being an unappealing prospect to both parties.

It's also not the first attempt at easing the process of learning and remembering shortcuts. This time last year Google offered users a free pack of color-coded shortcut stickers that could be tacked onto any keyboard. There have also long been specialized keyboards for video and audio editing as well as graphical design--all of which provide similar, color-coded keys. Users who don't want to commit, or tack stickers on their keyboard, also have the option of buying a silicone keyboard mat, though no such thing has been created for Gmail.

Considering there are a total of 69 Gmail shortcuts (with more on the way if Google graduates some of its experimental features from its labs section) the Gboard could just be the first step toward creating a full-size (100 plus key) version. In the meantime, its early December release and low price tag make for a good stocking stuffer if you've got a Gmail lover in your family.

Bing Maps Beta Opens New Avenues of Exploration

Friday, December 4, 2009

Taking on one of Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) most popular Web applications Take the worry out of managing your enterprise applications. Click to learn how., Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) introduced a beta for Bing Maps that incorporates improved imagery, 3-D photographs and street views using tools made possible by its Silverlight technology.

The Streetside feature puts users on street level, letting them walk around to find "that good parking lot," for example, "or figure out exactly where the door to the club is located," according to a blog post by Satya Nadella, Microsoft's senior VP for online services.
Some of the apps included in the Gallery:

* An app to see tweets on the map from their originating location. Users can get real-time updates about events, breaking news, or just tweets from friends about the quality of coffee at their favorite coffeehouse, for example.

* Local Lens, a Microsoft app that indexes local blogs from around the U.S. and, using the clues in the posts, tries to place them physically on a map. "It's an entirely new way to consume local crowdsourced information," according to Nardella.

* What's Nearby, an app that shows users what is close to an address they have searched for -- such as places to sync up a computer before a meeting. This app automatically searches for nearby amenities and delivers the search results sorted into categories.

Microsoft has also peppered Bing Maps with Photosynths (3-D photos) generated by the community. A user can search for the "Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City," Nardella explained, and then enable Photosynths by clicking on the orange arrow on the bottom of the left pane. Photos of Met exhibits will then appear on the screen, and users are invited to "dive in" for close-up views.

The beta is very limited in its content and functionality at the moment. Streetside views are available only in certain areas, and there's just a smattering of Photosynths. A test search for tweets by location showed only a handful of tweets in a D.C. suburb.

Microsoft was unable to arrange an interview for TechNewsWorld in time for publication.
Taking on Google

Still, the beta is a good foil for Google Maps, which is very important to the search engine's usability, Ken Saunders, president of Search Engine Experts, told TechNewsWorld.

"Local search and local ads are a critical aspect of a good search engine optimization effort," he said, and how well the search engines execute on this will continue to be competitive differentiators.

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