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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Digital Trust
Wired is carrying a story about how Microsoft's buggy operating system has ruined every vision of the future ever conceived. Okay, maybe I'm reading between the lines, but if you ask anyone if they want a computer flying their plane, they'll reply: "Are you kidding? My desktop computer crashes three times a day!"

When someone states that "It's not imaginable to have a drone airplane full of passengers," you know they say this because the public at large simply does not trust computers and they aren't expected to in the near future. We don't trust them to be stable, we don't trust them to be secure, and we certainly don't trust them with our lives. Despite the fact that toaster ovens and battleships all rely on computers, the public perception is that desktop operating systems aren't trustworthy and handing your life over to a computer is inconceivable. Could that be the fault of the company who owns 90+% of the desktops in the world?

Every sci-fi movie and Asimov novel has computers running with full trust - they drive our cars, cook our meals, clean our homes and protect us. The fictional characters seem to trust them implicitly. How did that happen? Was Rosie never out of commission for the weekend because of a driver conflict? Sure, there have been spectacular failures, but even HAL's problems didn't ground space flight for very long - they were back in deep space in under 9 years.

It seems to me that if we're going to get a future where we trust computers to fly planes or perform complex surgeries, it's going to be based on operating systems with dyed-in-the-wool fans and fanatics, not begrudging accepters.

posted by Doug Roberts @ 1:00 PM

Why Do We Need 'Greener' Computers
We all know that our computers are pretty bad for our environment. They're not easily destroyed when they become obsolete and contain lots of hazardous materials such as lead, carcinogens and other toxins. But this remarkable essay published by Midrange Server, Lean, Mean Green Machines, is focused on one particular point: the waste of electricity -- and other resources, including coal, used to produce it. This waste at the same time costs us money and 'destroys' our environment.

Timothy Prickett Morgan, the author, estimates that $213 billion are absolutely wasted in a single year because of inefficiencies due to poor utilization rates. And while you might disagree with him on the number, you should listen to his arguments. He's also pointing at how grid computing could save electricity and reduce waste by increasing the average utilization of our machines. He even imagines a world where rich countries would sell excess computing capacity to developing nations at a fraction of the cost.

After reading this long essay, or some selected excerpts, I bet you'll power down your computer when you don't need it -- at least, for a few days.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 12:25 PM

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Beautiful Nanorings Could Become Nanoscale Sensors
Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have created nanorings of single-crystal zinc oxide. Because of the semiconducting and piezoelectric properties of the material, these nanostructures could serve as nanometer-scale sensors, resonators and transducers, according to this article from nanotechweb.org.

These perfectly circular nanorings range in diameter from one to four microns and are 10-30 nanometers thick. They could be used to build implantable sensors for real-time monitoring of such biomedical measures as blood pressure, blood flow rate and stress at the level of single cells.

This overview contains more details and references. It also contains an image of such a beautiful zinc-oxide circular nanoring.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 1:21 PM

Thursday, February 26, 2004

'Musclebots' Are Coming
According to an article to be published by New Scientist on February 28, First robot moved by muscle power, a microrobot half the width of a human hair has been powered by living rat heart muscle. "It is the first time muscle tissue has been used to propel a micromachine."

Carlos Montemagno, from the University of California at Los Angeles, who created the 'musclebot', wants to use the technology to help paralyzed people to breathe without a ventilator. And NASA, who helped funding the research, hopes that battalions of these 'musclebots' could one day help maintain spacecraft by plugging holes made by micrometeorites.

The device is an arch of silicon 50 micrometres wide. This overview contains more details and additional pictures.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 12:16 PM

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Growing Silicon Nanowires Where You Want Them
Researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) have found a way to grow silicon nanowires exactly where you need them. According to this news release, this will have an important impact on semiconductor research and might lead to faster computer chips.

How does this new approach work? It's surprisingly easy. Raj Solanki and his team used a technique developed decades ago by Bell Labs called vapor-liquid-solid deposition. "The addition of the electrical fields is what's new," said Solanki. He hopes this discovery will lead to gigascale integration (a billion transistors on a chip). This overview gives you more details. It also includes a photo of such silicon nanowires.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 3:23 PM

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The 'Smart' Hospital of the Future
In this article, the San Francisco Chronicle writes that "high-tech systems help improve quality of care" in hospitals. And it takes the El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif., as an example.

This hospital is completely wireless and hopes to become soon paperless and even filmless. For instance, its new computerized system to handle medications saves $300,000 a year by avoiding human errors. And when the hospital is rebuilt in 2008 to satisfy new seismic safety requirements, all rooms will have bedside PCs, giving patients access to their records.

This overview gives you more details. It also includes a photo of a medical supply cabinet opened with a biometric thumbprint reading.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 1:20 PM

Monday, February 23, 2004

A (Virtual) Therapist's Dream
A company named Virtually Better, based in Georgia, creates virtual environments mixing video images and computer-generated ones to help people deal with their fears and anxieties. In this article, the New York Times (free registration) writes this costs only 10 percent more than conventional therapy.

The newspaper adds that therapists using this system claim a success rate exceeding 90 percent. Virtually Better "has created scenes of a glass elevator and a bridge to address fear of height, an airplane cabin for those who fear flying and a thunderstorm to diminish fear of bad weather."

Other environments address the treatment of substance addiction or of post-traumatic stress. This overview contains selected excerpts. It also includes images on the virtual airplane environment.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 4:51 PM

Friday, February 20, 2004

English-language Ohmynews Goes Live
An English-language version of the Korean online news service Ohmynews is now online. First launched four years ago, Ohmynews is founded on the idea of the "citizen reporter", who contribute the majority of content to the website. Since its launch, the news service has attained considerable influence in South Korea, and is widely recognized as having helped elect the country's president, Roh Moo Hyun. Dan Gillmor provides a good, brief history in this article for the Mercury News.
(via Smart Mobs)

posted by Donald Melanson @ 1:46 PM

Traditional Inuit Ice Treks Guided From Space
From Roland Piquepaille:

When the Arctic floe melts at spring, the Inuit have been going to its edges for thousands of years for fishing and finding game. Now, according to a news release from the European Space Agency (ESA), they are helped by its satellite which provide accurate maps of ice and its extent. These maps are also useful for tour guides and to improve safety.

The ESA-backed Northern View Floe Edge Information Service provides regularly updated ice maps of inlets around Lancaster Sound, part of Baffin Bay within Canada's Nunavut Territory. Users can access maps from the Floe Edge service directly via a dedicated website, or else consult printouts posted for the public by the local Parks Canada Office.

This overview contains more details and references. It also includes an image generated by the Northern View Floe Edge product showing ice conditions.

posted by Donald Melanson @ 1:35 PM

A Phone You Can See From Both Sides
From Roland Piquepaille:

Mitsubishi Electric unveiled a prototype cell phone with an LCD display that can be viewed from both sides. In this article, the IDG News Service writes that this could possibly affect the current trend in clamshell-type cell phones having two separate displays. Cell phones would also be thinner and cheaper.

But don't expect to get such a phone next week. Mitsubishi is still searching for customers to use this technology. This overview contains more details on how this reversible LCD works. It also includes photos from a prototype phone seen from both sides.

posted by Donald Melanson @ 1:33 PM

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Darpa Wants GIs to Fight, not to Eat
From Roland Piquepaille:

We learned recently that GIs will soon be equipped with portable air conditioners. Obviously, this is not for their comfort, but to fight better. Now, the Pentagon also wants soldiers to fight longer and without eating for up to five days. And it asks its research branch to investigate, as Wired News tells us in Darpa Offers No Food for Thought.

Here are some of Darpa's ideas coming from the "Metabolic Dominance" project. "A cocktail of nutrients or so-called 'nutraceuticals' could help build endurance. Lowering soldiers' core body temperature might keep them from overheating. Or, perhaps, the change could be made at the microscopic level, by turbo-charging mitochondria -- the cell's energy suppliers."

We knew the Army wanted to replace humans by robots. Now, it looks like it also wants to turn human into robots. This overview contains more details. It also includes a photo of the First Strike Ration, "a compact, eat-on-the move ration concept designed to be consumed during the first 72 hours of conflict."

posted by Donald Melanson @ 12:55 PM

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Gibson 'Squinting at the present'
The Philadelphia Inquirer has a great interview with William Gibson, promoting the paperback release of his novel Pattern Recognition. Dig this quote:

"The art form I loved as a kid had gone completely flat. I realized no one had tried to write a science-fiction novel as if Lou Reed and David Bowie were writing it."

posted by Donald Melanson @ 1:18 PM

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Mperia.com Launches
Today, micropayment company BitPass launched Mperia.com, an online retail store for independent musicians. Mperia's Joshua Ellis blogs the lowdown:

There are no daily, weekly, monthly or yearly recurring fees; we only take a percentage of each sale, so we don't make any money unless the artist does.

There are no exclusivity clauses, no length-based contracts. If you don't like Mperia, you can remove your account and your work at any time. You can sell your MP3s anywhere else you like, for any price you like. You can compete with yourself.

And here's the kicker: you'll make more selling two songs via Mperia than you would selling an entire album if you were signed to a major label.

But Mperia is not just an e-commerce frontend. It's also designed to bring great artists and fans together, via community-driven and social networking software. Listeners can preview music with a Shoutcast-compatible music player, read the artist's comments, rate and review each song. Artists can post their upcoming gigs, which Mperia Listeners can choose to receive e-mail reminders of the day before (and soon will be able to organize social functions around, ala Meetup).

(full disclosure: Josh is an occasional contributor to Mindjack)

posted by Donald Melanson @ 1:43 PM

Making Music With Sensors
From Roland Piquepaille:

This is what does a trio of Australian musicians from Canberra. The musicians of the group, named Hypersense Complex, create their digital music using sensors attached to their hands. This generates sounds through a laptop network of Apple PowerBooks running a Python script. Pretty exotic, isn't?

In "Music trio's sensors working overtime," PC World tells us more about the group and the hardware and software they designed. "The musicians load sound samples into a laptop and play them using bendable flex sensors, worn on four fingers on each hand, connected to the computer."

This overview contains more details and references about this new way to create music. You can also see the sensors on a photo of the trio rehearsing in studio.

posted by Donald Melanson @ 1:27 PM

Monday, February 16, 2004

GPS Goes to Court
In the MIT Technology Review blog (which is excellent, btw), Henry Jenkins talks about the legal ramifications of police using GPS trackers.

Meanwhile, USA Today has an article (not in the online edition) about the use of GPS tracker data as evidence in the Scott Peterson case. Apparently, the Modesto police used GPS trackers to monitor the suspectís movements for four months before his arrest. Petersonís defense attorney wants the evidence tossed out. One of their tactics is to question the motives of the experts who are defending the accuracy of such information, claiming that they are self-interested: ďI assume you want the judge to rule that this evidence is admissible so you can sell more GPS receivers.ď Here, the dispute centers less around the constitutionality of its deployment than on its reliability, resulting in a war of competing experts.

This is a fascinating example of the negotiation process by which a society -- or in this case, the courts -- adjusts to the potentials of a new technology. Whether it gets adopted or not depends on how it passes these various legal challenges.

posted by Donald Melanson @ 7:11 PM

Universe Today: New Galaxy Beats Distance Record
Astronomers see farther than ever before, reports Universe Today:

An international team of astronomers may have set a new record in discovering what is the most distant known galaxy in the universe. Located an estimated 13 billion light-years away, the object is being viewed at a time only 750 million years after the big bang, when the universe was barely 5 percent of its current age.

The primeval galaxy was identified by combining the power of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and CARA's W. M. Keck Telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These great observatories got a boost from the added magnification of a natural "cosmic gravitational lens" in space that further amplifies the brightness of the distant object.

posted by Donald Melanson @ 5:58 PM

The Sims Go Meta

You've no doubt heard about this already, but it bears mentioning as one of the most inspired game mods in recent years. Designer Steve Alvey's Slice City plug-in for The Sims allows gamers to play SimCity within the game. Writer Clive Thompson comments on the wackiness:

Worlds within worlds within worlds. I love how Slice City riffs off the old science-fiction conceit, in which a scientist peers into a microscope and discovers a tiny civilization at atomic size. Then the camera zooms waaaaaay out and -- whoa! -- you see that the scientist is himself part of an atomic-scale civilization being peered at by another, huger scientist, who is himself being peered at in turn by another ... and so on, and so on.

Recursion is one of the neatest and freakiest intellectual concepts there is.

Wired News story here.

posted by Donald Melanson @ 4:55 PM

Detecting Patterns in Complex Social Networks
So-called social networking is very popular these days, as show the proliferation of services like Friendster, Orkut and dozens of others. But do the companies behind these services have any idea of what is hidden inside their complicated networks? When these networks reach a size of millions of users, it's not an easy task.

A researcher at the University of Michigan is trying to help, with a new method for uncovering patterns in complicated networks, from football conferences to food webs.

This overview contains more details and references about this non-traditional method. It also includes a spectacular representation of the Internet and another image showing a food web at Little Rock Lake.

Thanks Roland

posted by Donald Melanson @ 2:35 PM

Sunday, February 15, 2004

A History of SNK
Gamespot has done a quite extensive history of SNK, the company behind the NEO GEO and many seminal game series including Samurai Showdown, King of Fighters and Metal Slug. (via slashdot)
posted by Donald Melanson @ 8:48 PM

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Smart Software Gives Surveillance Eyes a 'Brain'
Also from Roland:

Surveillance cameras are everywhere these days, from airports to banks and from stores to parking lots. But until now, their images needed to be viewed by humans. Not anymore. Computer scientists from the University of Rochester have developed a software which gives these cameras a rudimentary brain to keep an eye out for us.

But it's not an electronic 'Big Brother.' It will be trained to find guns in airports, but it also will be able to help people to find their car keys or their reading glasses. The system has already be licensed to a company involved in homeland security. This overview contains more details and references.

And keep in mind this is not completely brand new technology. Check for example this previous column from March 2003, "Recent Advances in Computer Vision".

posted by Donald Melanson @ 2:00 PM

Wearable Air Conditioners Will Keep GIs Cool
From Roland Piquepaille:

Modern soldiers are equipped with heavy suits which can protect them from chemical and biological weapons. But in case of extreme heat, they can be quickly incapacitated. The same is true for firemen. Now, researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are showing lightweight and man-portable cooling technology, leading to truly wearable air conditioners.

As says this news release, "Hot, new microtechnology keeps GI's cool." They envision man-portable cooling systems weighing about three to four pounds and able to provide relief for up to six hours. Of course, this technology will be deployed for civilians as well.

This overview contains more details and references. And this technology is also described in "Powerful machines are coming in small packages", a news release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

posted by Donald Melanson @ 1:57 PM

Friday, February 13, 2004

Chemistry Puts New Sparkle In Diamonds
From Roland Piquepaille:

In "The many facets of man-made diamonds," Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) writes that synthetic diamonds are getting bigger and cheaper. An example: for Valentine's Day, you can buy a yellow colored man-made diamond, visibly indistinguishable from a natural one, for $4,000 per carat. This is a 30% discount when compared with a natural diamond. This very long article also says that if synthetic diamond makers are targeting the jewelry market first, these new products will have an impact on many other industries. Not only it's now possible to grow bigger diamonds, you also can choose their color. "Colored diamonds, which are valuable and very rare, can be created by introducing carefully controlled elemental 'impurities' into the stone, says C&EN. For instance, nitrogen produces a yellow stone. Infusing boron into the growing diamond produces a blue gem." This overview contains some details, references and photos of men-made diamonds, but read the original article for even more technical explanations if you have the time. And if you want to choose a gem for Valentine's Day, be sure to visit this gallery. All jewels are available online -- providing that you have enough money.

posted by Donald Melanson @ 1:59 PM

Thursday, February 12, 2004

New York Times Launches a Political Something-er-other
The New York Times recently launched, Times on the Trail, a weblog-esque site that once again raises the question of what is a blog? From an interview with NYTimes.com's Len Apcar:

Do you consider Times on the Trail a Weblog?

I did not want to jump on the bandwagon and race to the lowest common denominator. Thatís not what I was about here. I really studied the blog space. I talked to a lot of bloggers. I went to a bloggers' conference. And I came away from them and I said, thereís a concept here we could use, and we could turn this into what was jokingly refered to for months as an information delivery device. But this whole business of whether a blog should be edited I thought was a red herring. The whole question of whether a newspaper could blog I thought was a red herring. So my view was, if you want to call it a blog, you can call it a blog. Iím not calling it a blog because I donít think itís a blog. Itís an updated news service.

( via Dan Gillmor)

posted by Donald Melanson @ 8:43 PM

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Doctorow Video
Via Smart Mobs: ibiblio has video of Cory Doctorow's talk on the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Copyright at the University of North Carolina.
posted by Donald Melanson @ 8:37 PM

Monday, February 09, 2004

ETECH Liveblogging: Lebkowsky on Trippi
O'Reilly's Emerging Technology conference is happening now and, as usual, live blogging of the event abounds. Here's Jon Lebkowsky's report on Joe Trippi's speech.

Al Gore endorsed Dean. Alarm bells went off in every newsroom and campaign in the country. That alarm said "Kill him now." Because if we don't kill him now, he's going to be the nominee. Press corps said, he's going to be the nominee, we have to hammer him. For three or four weeks, every candidate was hammering him, the press was hammering him. Dick Gephardt realized he had to win in Iowa... murder/suicide: wrecked Dean campaign with their attacks, but Gephardt still lost.

This wasn't a dotcom crash, it was dotcom America being shot down.

posted by Donald Melanson @ 3:15 PM

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