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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The arcade whiz became a hero to retrogamers worldwide for his starring role in the 2007 documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which follows his successful quest to topple video game nemesis Billy Mitchell for the title of Donkey Kong world champion.

Mitchell - who was also the first person to achieve a perfect score in Pac-Man - had held the title since 1982, but lost it after a spiteful running public battle with Wiebe which formed the basis for King of Kong.

After the movie's release, Mitchell took his title back off Wiebe within months, but both he and Mitchell were amubushed by newcomer Hank Chien, who hit an all-time high of 1,061,700 points back in March this year.
The ever-competitive Mitchell claimed it back off Chien in August, controversially stopping play once he was 1100 points clear of Chien.

Asked why, he replied: “Some say I’m being cocky. Some say I’m being lazy. I say, I’m being Billy Mitchell."

Now he might regret "being Billy Mitchell" on that day, because Wiebe's new record - set on August 30 but not verified by video game scorekeepers Twin Galaxies until yesterday - stands at 1,064,500.

Space agency to stream aurora borealis online

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SKYWATCHERS can turn now their gaze to a computer for a glimpse of the northern lights.

The Canadian Space Agency this week launched an online observatory to stream the aurora borealis live over the internet.

"Armchair skywatchers everywhere can now discover the wonder of the northern lights live on their home computer screen," said the agency's president Steve MacLean.

"We hope that watching the dance of the northern lights will make you curious about the science of the sky and the relationship we have with our own star, the sun."

Auroras occur when charged particles from the Sun collide with gases in Earth's upper atmosphere, resulting in a ribbon of lights dancing across the night sky.

The launch of the website, called AuroraMAX, coincides with the beginning of aurora season in northern Canada, which generally begins in late August or early September and ends in May.

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Aurora enthusiasts will be able to catch the most frequent and intense auroras when the Sun reaches the most active period of its 11-year cycle, called solar maximum, in 2013.

In addition to nightly broadcasts of the aurora, the website will also explain the science behind the phenomenon and offer tips for seeing and photographing auroras.

As well, it offers an image gallery with photographs and videos of the auroras from previous nights.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

THE company behind the BlackBerry may unveil its iPad rival at a conference for developers next week, according to a report.

The Wall Street Journal said Research In Motion could debut its new tablet computer at an event next week for developers who make software for the BlackBerry range of phones.

The company responded to an inquiry with a terse email stating its "standard policy is to decline comment on rumours and speculation".

A tablet computer unofficially referred to as the "BlackPad" is due for release by the end of the year, prompting talk that it will be introduced at the Devcon 2010 event in San Francisco next Monday.

The Journal cited unnamed insiders as saying the BlackPad would have a 7" touchscreen, built-in cameras, and link wirelessly to cellular networks through BlackBerry phones.

Research In Motion has been under pressure in recent times because of the popularity of Apple's iPhone and handsets running Google's Android software.

Apple earlier this year unleashed a new titan into the mobile arena in the form of its hot-selling iPad tablet and rival firms have been racing to field competing devices.

Credit Card with a Computer Inside

Friday, September 24, 2010

A programmable credit card can display useful information, offer added security features, and even act as several different cards by rewriting its own magnetic strip.
Two types of programmable credit cards were unveiled this week at the DEMO conference in Santa Clara, California, by Dynamics, a startup based in Pittsburgh that's been developing the technology in stealth mode for three years. The company raised $5.7 million of funding last year.

The new cards are no bigger than the one in your wallet, and is actually slightly more flexible. It can display information at the press of a button, and can become several different cards by rewriting its own magnetic strip.

The "MultiAccount" card has two buttons on its face, each with an indicator light that can be pressed to record data to its magnetic strip. "One might switch the card to be your debit card, and the other your credit card," says Dynamics CEO Jeff Mullen. "These cards are exactly the same size and thickness of a conventional card, and the lithium-polymer battery inside can last four years under high usage. They're also fully waterproof, so you can put them through the washing machine."

Sensors Use Building's Electrical Wiring as Antenna

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wireless sensors scattered throughout a building can monitor everything from humidity and temperature to air quality and light levels. This seems like a good idea--until you consider the hassle and cost of replacing the sensors' batteries every couple of years. The problem is that most wireless sensors transmit data in a way that drains battery power.
Researchers at the University of Washington have come up with a way to reduce the amount of power a sensor uses to transmit data by leveraging the electrical wiring in a building's walls as an antenna that propagates the signal. The approach extends a wireless sensor's range, and it means that its battery can last up to five times longer than existing sensors, say the researchers.

The technology, called Sensor Nodes Utilizing Powerline Infrastructure (SNUPI), sends a small trickle of data wirelessly at a frequency that resonates with the copper wiring in a building's walls, says Shwetak Patel, professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Washington. The copper wiring, which can be up to 15 feet away from the sensors, picks up the signal and acts as a giant receiving antenna, transmitting the data at 27 megahertz to a base station plugged into an electrical outlet somewhere in the building.

"The powerline has an amplification effect," says Patel. While many low-power sensors only have a range of a few feet, he says, his prototype sensors can cover most of a 3,000-square-foot home. In most wireless sensor schemes, Patel says, walls impede transmission of sensor data, but with SNUPI, "the more walls in the home, the better our system works." A paper describing the work will be presented at the Ubiquitous Computing conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in September.

Adult website

Sunday, September 19, 2010

AN audit of politicians' internet use that claimed the scalp of a state minister ranked as the most visited "adult website".

NSW Ports and Waterways Minister Paul McLeay resigned this week after results of the audit were revealed.

The audit supposedly showed whether NSW MPs had been visiting adult links such as gambling and pornography sites.

However Legislative Council president Amanda Fazio yesterday revealed the audit had incorrectly classified news sites as adult because they contained links to or advertisements for adult dating sites.

Both and were classified as adult sites in the audit.

"The definition of what has been classed as an adult site is something we're reviewing," she said.

"What surprised us... the biggest (site) of what is classed as an adult site being hit by the parliament is the site.

Samsung unveils Galaxy Tab tablet computer

Friday, September 17, 2010

SAMSUNG today unveiled a new tablet PC named Galaxy Tab as the latest device to rival Apple's popular iPad.

The device offers users "a new galaxy of possibilities" with features such as mobile video conferencing and a video chat function, Samsung Europe executive Thomas Richter said at Berlin's IFA consumer electronics fair.

The Tab weighs 380grams and has a 7-inch (18cm) touchscreen, making it about three times as big as an Apple iPhone but a third smaller than an iPad.

Mr Richter said the Tab would come with Google's Android 2.2 operating system, which can run HTML5 and Adobe's Flash Player — unlike the iPad.

The Galaxy will allow users to browse the web and check email just as on a regular PC.

"The Samsung Galaxy Tab has been designed to enable consumers to maximise their online experience wherever that may be," said head of Samsung's mobile communications business, JK Shin.

The price of the device will depend on telecommunications operators, through which it will be available.

It will be go on sale next month in Europe and later in fall in the US and Asia, Samsung said.

The device supports Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 3G cell phone networks, making it a combination of smart phone and laptop.

It "turns out to be a perfect speakerphone on the desk, or a mobile phone on the move via Bluetooth headset," Samsung said.

The tablet PC also comes with two cameras, one with a flash on the back of the device, and a second one on the front for video conferences — a feature the iPad lacks, but other competitors such as Dell's Streak tablet PC also offers.

The company said the device's battery would support more than eight hours of continuous multimedia usage, or seven hours of playing video.

The tablet also comes with Swype, a third-party application already found on Samsung's Galaxy 5 series phone and available for some other Android-based handsets, which allows users to type on virtual keyboards by simply swiping fingers around from one letter to the next, lifting only between words.

Copenhagen Suborbitals rocket left standing in cloud of smoke

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

THE first launch attempt of a homemade rocket built by two Danes has failed due to a technical glitch.

Eccentric engineer Peter Madsen founded Copenhagen Suborbitals with Kristian von Bengston two years ago with the aim of building the world's largest amateur space rocket.

The pair raised more than $71,000 through online donations and used volunteers to build the HEAT1X rocket and the micro spacecraft it was supposed to launch, called Tycho Brahe-1.

Tycho Brahe-1 would eventually carry one human passenger, in a half-seated position, into space and back down again.

Unfortunately for Copenhagen Suborbitals, live footage of the launch off the Baltic island of Bornholm yesterday appeared to show brown smoke coming out of the rocket after the countdown.

Experts interviewed by TV2 News said the likely cause was a failure of the ignition system.
After an inspection, the builders of the rocket decided against a second launch and did not set a date for a new attempt.

Mr Madsen and Mr von Bengtsson intend "to show that with little financial means anyone can send a rocket into space, which is a privilege not just reserved for rich countries".

The launch had been delayed several times because of bad weather.

The prototype contained a mannequin and was aiming for an altitude of between 10 and 30km.

The duo hope to send a person into space within three or four years, which would make Denmark only the fourth nation to do so.

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Red number of death

Monday, September 13, 2010

KENYA'S telecommunications regulator has told mobile phone users to ignore rumours that receiving calls from some numbers appearing in red can cause brain haemorrhage.

A text message sent around since late Tuesday and seen by AFP said 27 people had died after they picked calls from numbers listed in the SMS.

"Please inform all your friends and relatives soon, it's urgent," read the text.

But the Communications Commission of Kenya said the message should be dismissed.

"Upon analysis of the messages, the commission has established the warnings are a hoax generated by unscrupulous people bent on causing fear and despondency among members of the public," it said.

"In addition, the alleged haemorrhage due to high frequency has no technical basis whatsoever."

The CEO of Kenya's largest mobile phone company Michael Joseph said the text message was "a popular urban myth that has been perpetuated, especially in some Asian markets".

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Google Scribe experiment takes over the writing

Saturday, September 11, 2010

GOOGLE'S overhaul of its search engine this week to offer instant results as users type appears to have had a quirky bonus.

Attentive web geeks have discovered an experimental Google Labs product that appears to be related to the search upgrade.

Called Google Scribe, the service suggests new words and phrases to you as you type, and can even finish off whole sentences if you let it.

The difference between it and the new search box is that Scribe can be used anywhere on the web you have to enter text.

The program seems to be designed to predict what users want to type before they type it — but it isn't always successful.

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Solar Probe Plus to 'touch, taste, smell' sun on $180m NASA mission

NASA has outlined details of its mission to send a probe deep into the sun's atmosphere.

Set to launch by 2018, the Solar Probe Plus will be protected by a carbon-composite heat shield that can withstand temperatures up to 1400C.

About the size of a small car, the probe will get within 6.5 million kilometres of the sun's surface.

“For the very first time, we’ll be able to touch, taste and smell our sun,” Lika Guhathakurta, Solar Probe Plus program scientist at NASA headquarters, said.

Last year, NASA invited scientists to submit proposals regarding exactly what the probe should do once it gets there.

According to Dick Fisher, director of NASA's Heliophysics Division in Washington, of the 13 proposals reviewed by NASA, five were chosen "specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics - why is the sun's outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun's visible surface and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system? "
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Rocket Racing League

Thursday, September 9, 2010

ROCKET planes could soon be racing through virtual racetracks in the skies above Australia.

As the Rocket Racing League gears up for a possible launch late next year, chief operating officer Mike D’Angelo said the league had every intention of holding races outside the US.

The RRL pits anywhere between two and 10 liquid oxygen-powered “X-racers” head-to-head around virtual 3D tracks, pushing speeds of up to 480km/h through closed circuit and drag racing formats.
Spectators can also view the tracks with augmented reality smartphone apps, or on giant screens at the events which overlay the skies with virtual obstacles.

Unlike the Red Bull Air Races, RRL ups the ante by racing several vehicles against each other on the same track at the same time.

It’s one of the keys to RRL’s success and a lot of the current testing is aimed at ensuring the action can be as close-in as possible.

Mr D’Angelo said the RRL was “already flying multiple vehicles in tandem, sometimes as many as three experimental flights a day”.

The closest so far seen by the public was at the Air and Rocket Racing Show in Tulsa in April, where two Rocket Racers flew within 13 seconds of each other.

By the time the league starts, X-Racers will be flying as little as seven metres apart.

While he said that the league's “internal development schedule” was on track, Mr D’Angelo wouldn’t commit to a rumoured late-2011 launch.

“We’re excited about the development of the vehicle systems and are fully focused on completing that before we start setting dates for races,” he said.

He could, however, make a much stronger commitment about the league’s intention to bring X-Racers to Australian skies.

“100 per cent ... stay tuned,” he said.

“For us … going global is absolutely a priority.”

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

MICROSOFT'S new Arc Touch Mouse is flexible, touch-sensitive and changes shape according to need.

Apple has indicated it is moving towards a mouse-free future, embracing touchscreen devices like the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, and introducing peripherals such as the Magic Trackpad.

Microsoft, on the other hand, firmly believes the mouse is the ultimate input tool for computers.

"This is not the first time that the mouse has been threatened – look at 10 years ago when people started buying laptops that had integrated pointers and touch pads," said Microsoft hardware group manager Brett Ostrum.

"Still, the mouse category continued to grow and grow.

"The reasons people need external mice will not change: comfort and precision. The Arc Touch Mouse just demonstrates again how committed Microsoft is to continuing to bring great new mice to consumers."

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The company has given the 30-year-old pointing device a makeover to bring it into the 21st century.

The Arc Touch Mouse is thin (15mm at its widest point) and flexible, making it ideal for on-the-go consumers who need to conserve space in their bags.

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App Offers Guidance

If you've ever accidentally shot a video sideways, or cropped the top of someone's head out of a frame, you might be glad to know about a new cell-phone app that automatically provides shooting advice to videographers.
Beyond just warning when the light is too low, or the color balance is off, the app issues alerts and guidance when a person has been framed poorly, or when the camera is being moved too jerkily. The software, which analyzes a video in real time, offers a peek at features that could become standard in future videocameras.

The new app, called NudgeCam, was developed for Android cell phones by researchers at FX Palo Alto Laboratory, a corporate research lab owned by Fuji Xerox. The app tracks faces in a video and provides on-screen tips for how to best size and position them inside the frame. It also warns if the camera is not being held level, or if the image is too bright or dark, or if the audio quality is bad.

"This is an approach to the media overload problem," says Scott Carter, who developed the app with colleagues John Adcock and John Doherty. "NudgeCam is intended to guide the capture of video so you don't have to edit and review so much footage."

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Nano Switches that Store More Data Head to Market

Monday, September 6, 2010

An electronic component that offers a new way to squeeze more data into computers and portable gadgets is set to go into production in just a couple of years. Hewlett-Packard announced today that it has entered an agreement with the Korean electronics manufacturer Hynix Semiconductor to make the components, called "memristors," starting in 2013. Storage devices made of memristors will allow PCs, cellphones, and servers to store more and switch on instantly.
Memristors are nanoscale electronic switches that have a variable resistance, and can retain their resistance even when the power is switched off. This makes them similar to the transistors used to store data in flash memory. But memristors are considerably smaller--as small as three nanometers. In contrast, manufacturers are experimenting with flash memory components that are 20 nanometers in size.

"The goal is to be at least double whatever flash memory is in three years--we know we'll beat flash in speed, power, and endurance, and we want to beat it in density, too," says Stanley Williams, a senior fellow at HP who has been developing memristors in his lab for about five years.

HP makes memristors by laying down parallel metal nanowires onto a substrate, coating them with a layer of titanium dioxide, and placing a second layer of nanowires perpendicular to the first layer. Where the wires cross, a memristor is formed. HP expects the first devices containing memristors to offer about 20 gigabytes of storage per square centimeter, twice the projected capacity of flash at this time. The company has dubbed memristor-based data storage "ReRAM", which stands for Resistive Random Access Memory.

Robotic Storm Tracker Gets a Big Test with Earl

Saturday, September 4, 2010

As Hurricane Earl barrels toward the eastern seaboard of the United States, coastal residents don't know if they should evacuate in case the storm makes landfall. They rely on forecasters analyzing computer models, but those predictions differ. A new hurricane-monitoring mission that's now underway hopes to reduce this uncertainty by gathering atmospheric and environmental storm data never before obtained.

NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are conducting the largest tropical storm and hurricane monitoring mission to date. The mission involves simultaneously flying up to eight aircraft, each equipped with sophisticated instrumentation, to gather data from the time of a storm's inception to its dissipation.

"There is a lot about storms that we don't know--why does a storm rapidly intensify? How do things like aerosols, atmospheric moisture, and ocean currents affect a storm's development?" says Gerry Heymsfield, a NASA mission scientist. "The new measurements we are making will significantly enhance our understanding and ultimately improve forecast models."

Start-up company aims to harness the full potential of producing electricity from waste heat

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Currently, more than two-thirds of the fuel used to generate power in the United States is lost as heat, according to a 2008 report from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The goal of cogeneration technology is to convert this waste heat into electric and thermal power. Although the idea has been around for more than a century, the US produces only about 9% of its power from cogeneration systems. In comparison, many European countries use cogeneration systems for a significantly larger portion of their electricity production, with Denmark producing more than 50% of its power using waste heat recovery systems. In the US, the Department of Energy has a goal for recycled waste heat to account for 20% of US electricity production by 2030.

Alphabet Energy's strength lies in its recent development of a thermoelectric chip that can be inserted into a wide variety of exhaust flues, engines, or other heat-producing devices to convert the waste heat into electricity. As heat essentially pushes electrons through the material, the device can be connected to the grid to feed in the electricity in real time. As the company explains, the device's key advantage is the novel material - a relatively abundant, low-cost material that has been modified by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to lower its thermal conductivity and increase its electricity output using a smaller amount of heat. Another advantage is that the thermoelectric chip is produced using similar methods used for producing the microchips used in electronic devices, which should lower production costs.

These improvements may allow Alphabet Energy to lower the cost of installing the system to less than half that of current systems, to under $1 per watt. At this cost, and depending on the properties of the heat generation system, the system could deliver a payback time of two to four years. In addition, since electricity generated from waste heat is 100% clean energy, Alphabet estimates that its technology will be able to offset more than 500 million tonnes of carbon annually.

Alphabet Energy plans on performing a pilot test at an industrial facility next year, and may start commercialization in 2012. One of the challenges the company faces is that waste heat is one of the few power sources that the US government does not currently subsidize. However, recently a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Democratic Representative Paul Tonko of New York have introduced a bill that would offer a 30% tax credit for installing waste heat recovery systems in industrial environments.

Alphabet Energy estimates that the technology for waste heat recovery systems could comprise a $200 billion global market. Other US companies are also working on waste heat recovery techniques, from small start-ups to corporations including General Motors and General Electric. Besides heat from factories and power plants, future systems could also harness the heat from laptop computers and cell phones, although that technology is still in development.

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