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Saturday, 4 December 2010

Icequake swarms portend some avalanches

Forecasting glacier crack-ups may be possible by keeping an ear to the ice

Unless you’re eating breakfast, hearing snap, crackle, and pop may be an early warning sign of an impending avalanche. Geologists listening in on “icequakes” that rumble through glaciers have developed a model that can predict a collapse up to 15 days before it happens, the team reports in a study posted on
With that kind of heads up, villages could be evacuated and roads closed in avalanche-prone areas.
Though all glaciers groan and creak under stress, glaciers on an incline are especially creaky because gravity tugs on the top of the ice more than the base. Accumulating snow causes even more stress. These forces cause the glacier to fracture, sending tiny icequakes throughout. Eventually, if a glacier can’t handle the stress, a large chunk will fall off, pummeling any unsuspecting villages below with a moving mass of snow and ice.
To find early warning signs of a break-off, scientists in Switzerland placed seismic instruments on a glacier precariously hugging the northeast face of the Weisshorn, a mountain in the Swiss Alps that looms over the 400 inhabitants of the village of Randa, 2,500 meters below. Break-offs in the winter are especially dangerous because the glacier has accumulated snow, so that ruptures trigger avalanches. Weisshorn avalanches have claimed 51 lives since the 17th century.
The team traveled via helicopter in 2003 to plant the instruments — the glacier spans 3,800 to 4,500 meters above sea level on a slope of 45 to 50 degrees. The team also planted seven light reflectors mounted on stakes to help track the glacier’s movement, and left a camera across the valley to film changes in the dynamic landscape.
Researchers froze into the ice a special microphone, called a geophone, to pick up seismic vibrations. Two weeks before the glacier split in 2005, researchers were able to detect a change in the sounds picked up by the microphone.
“As you approach rupture, you hear more sounds,” says geologist and study coauthor Jérome Faillettaz of ETH Zurich. “It’s just like if you break a pen or a cracker. You hear some small noise before it breaks.”
Along with rumbling sounds, the team also saw the reflectors-on-sticks accelerate several days before the rupture. Scientists have known that seismic activity dramatically increases five days before a break-off, but by combining the motion of the glacier with the behavior of the icequakes, the researchers’ model can detect a rupture 15 days in advance.
“It’s the first time icequakes have been used as a precursor to these break-offs,” says glaciologist Fabian Walter of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.
Though there are similar hanging glaciers all over the world, says Walter, few are near human settlements with lots of infrastructure.
Icequakes are less complicated to study than earthquakes because waves travel through only one medium, as opposed to several layers of the Earth. But just as scientists haven’t figured out how to predict earthquakes, predicting icequakes isn’t possible either.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

2nd Life for electric vehicle batteries?

Second life for electric car batteries? No, it’s not a world of electric virtual avatars - it’s a plan under development by Duke Energy and Tokyo-based cleantech ITOCHU to develop applications for spent car batteries.
Apparently, these two companies believe that after the batteries set to power the next generation of green cars end their useful life as far as autos go, they can go on to have other lives in other applications, such as supplemental home energy supply, renewable power storage and fast-charging power for electric vehicles (EVs).
According to some auto industry estimates, electric vehicle (EV) batteries that can no longer charge to approximately 80 percent of their original capacity may be candidates for replacement.
Both Duke Energy and ITOCHU were involved in a large-scale public/private EV pilot program based in Indianapolis known as Project Plug-IN, which apparently inspired the companies to study the second-life market for EV batteries.
ITOCHU and Duke Energy plan to work together to assess how such EV batteries perform in stationary applications in homes, neighborhoods and commercial buildings, validating potential business models for future commercialization.
If successful, the companies believe that this "after market" for batteries could help reduce initial battery cost (which, in turn, would lower the cost of EVs).
It should be noted as well this isn’t the only attempt to make second life use out of electric vehicle batteries. Similar projects are happening with the likes of Nissan, for example, as well

Monday, 29 November 2010

Lady Gaga trapped in an Android smartphone, we wish she'd stay there (video)

NTT DoCoMo has Darth Vader selling its Android wares, so what could KDDI au possibly counter with? Why, a force even darker and more heinous than the Sith Daddy himself: Lady Gaga. Yes, the music fiend we love to hate has remixed Poker Face just to make sure we take notice of Sharp's IS03, and the kindly Japanese carrier has taken care of inserting her into the phone for maximum promotional value. Yes, au, now that we've seen Lady Gaga strutting around inside it, we totally want to own one of these handsets! See the video promos after the break.

Apple beefs up legal team for fight with Nokia


It's boom time for lawyers, with Apple hiring them by the truckload to help it see off Nokia in an intellectual property dispute being heard by the International Trade Commission this week.
Nokia sued Apple in October last year, claiming the iPhone - and, later, all Apple products - infringed its patents. It filed a complaint with the ITC two months later.
Apple has since countersued, calling for imports of Nokia phones into the US to be blocked.
According to Bloomberg, Apple's hired some of the top patent lawyers in the country. These include Robert Krupka of Kirkland & Ellis, who previously struck a settlement deal with Creative Technology under which Apple paid it $100 million, and William Lee of WilmerHale in Boston, who helped Broadcom win a patent battle against Qualcomm.
The company's also hired an in-house attorney, Noreen Krall, who was previously chief IP counsel for Sun Microsystems.
Apple's got similar patent battles raging with HTC and Motorola, each including a range of complaints and counter-complaints. Indeed, according to LegalMetric, it's been the most-sued company in the world for the last two years.
All these disputes are likely to end eventually in some sort of cross-licensing deal - meaning lots more lovely work to come for the lawyers.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Cosmic rebirth

Circular patterns in the universe's pervasive background radiation suggest the Big Bang was only the latest of many

Most cosmologists trace the birth of the universe to the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. But a new analysis of the relic radiation generated by that explosive event suggests the universe got its start eons earlier and has cycled through myriad episodes of birth and death, with the Big Bang merely the most recent in a series of starting guns.
That startling notion, proposed by theoretical physicist Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford in England and Vahe Gurzadyan of the Yerevan Physics Institute and Yerevan State University in Armenia, goes against the standard theory of cosmology known as inflation.
The researchers base their findings on circular patterns they discovered in the cosmic microwave background, the ubiquitous microwave glow left over from the Big Bang. The circular features indicate that the cosmos itself circles through epochs of endings and beginnings, Penrose and Gurzadyan assert. The researchers describe their controversial findings in an article posted at on November 17.
The circular features are regions where tiny temperature variations in the otherwise uniform microwave background are smaller than average. Those features, Penrose said, cannot be explained by the highly successful inflation theory, which posits that the infant cosmos underwent an enormous growth spurt, ballooning from something on the scale of an atom to the size of a grapefruit during the universe’s first tiny fraction of a second. Inflation would erase such patterns.
“The existence of large-scale coherent features in the microwave background of this form would appear to contradict the inflationary model and would be a very distinctive
signature of Penrose's model” of a cyclic universe, comments cosmologist David Spergel of Princeton University. But, he adds, “The paper does not provide enough detail about the analysis to assess the reality of these circles.”
Penrose interprets the circles as providing a look back, past the glass wall of the most recent Big Bang, into the universe’s previous episode, or “aeon,” as he calls it. The circles, he suggests, were generated by collisions between supermassive black holes that occurred during this earlier aeon. The colliding black holes would have created a cacophony of gravitational waves — ripples in spacetime due to the acceleration of the giant masses. Those waves would have been spherical and uniformly distributed.
According to the detailed mathematics worked out by Penrose, when the uniform distribution of gravitational waves from the previous aeon entered the current aeon, they were converted into a pulse of energy. The pulse provided a uniform kick to the allotment of dark matter, the invisible material that accounts for more than 80 percent of the mass of the cosmos.
“The dark matter material along the burst therefore has this uniform character,” says Penrose. “This is what is seen as a circle in our cosmic microwave background sky, and it should look like a fairly uniform circle.”
Each circle has a lower-than-average variation in temperature, which is just what he and Gurzadyan found when they analyzed data from NASA’s orbiting Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP, which scanned the entire sky for nine years, and the balloon-borne BOOMERANG experiment, which studied microwave background over a smaller fraction of the heavens.
Because the team found similar circular features with two different detectors, Penrose says it’s unlikely he and his colleagues are being fooled by instrumental noise or other artifacts.
But Spergel says he is concerned that the team has not accounted for variations in the noise level of WMAP data acquired over different parts of the sky. WMAP examined different sky regions for different amounts of time. Maps of the microwave background generated from those regions studied the longest would have lower noise and smaller recorded variations in the temperature of the microwave glow. Those lower-noise maps could artificially produce the circles that Penrose and Gurzadyan ascribe to their model of a cyclic universe, Spergel says.
A new, more detailed map of the cosmic microwave background, now being conducted by the European Space Agency’s Planck mission, could provide a more definitive test of the theory, Penrose says.

Cassini finds oxygen atmosphere around Saturnian moon

The Cassini-Huygens mission has identified an oxygen-carbon dioxide atmosphere around Saturn's second-biggest moon, Rhea - the first time a spacecraft has captured an oxygen atmosphere from a world other than Earth.
The atmosphere is unbreathable, to say the least, with an oxygen density around five trillion times less than Earth’s. But there's potentially enough, says the Cassini team, to drive complex chemistry.
"The new results suggest that active, complex chemistry involving oxygen may be quite common throughout the solar system and even our universe," said Dr Ben Teolis, a Cassini team scientist based at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
"Such chemistry could be a pre-requisite for life. All evidence from Cassini indicates Rhea is too cold and devoid of the liquid water necessary for life as we know it."
The ion and neutral mass spectrometer 'tasted' peak densities of oxygen of around 50 billion molecules per cubic meter. It also found peak densities of carbon dioxide of around 20 billion molecules per cubic meter, as well as clear signatures of flowing streams of positive and negative ions, with masses that corresponded to ions of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
The team believes the atmosphere is sustained by high energy particles bombarding its icy surface and kicking up atoms, molecules and ions into the atmosphere.
"Rhea's oxygen appears to come from water ice on Rhea's surface when Saturn's magnetic field rotates over the moon and showers it with energetic particles trapped in the magnetic field," said Professor Andrew Coates from University College London.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Syte Shirt redesigns iPad-toting version, introduces smartphone edition


 Look, it's not embarrassing. We too are waltzing around the dinner table, iPad Syte Shirt on, with a slideshow of pilgrims and Tofurkys to really "showcase our spirit." But what about the jubilant among us that aren't about to part ways with their hard-earned clams in order to pick up an iPad? Enter the Smartphone Syte Shirt. Like the original, this all-black shirt is handmade in San Diego, but very much unlike the original, this one's designed to hold your iPhone, Droid Incredible or whatever handset you so happen to own. Better still, there's a zippered pouch at the top to prevent theft, and both landscape and portrait orientations are duly supported. The screen protector still accepts finger touches, and it's both dust and water resistant -- you know, in case your jealous bandmates decide to douse you when you refuse to remove it before heading out on stage. Hit the source link to order yours for $39.95. Seriously, do it. No one's watching.

Shuttle images reveal Egypt's lost great lake

Desert drainage patterns point to ancient oases in Sahara

A huge lake once waxed and waned deep in the sandy heart of the Egyptian Sahara, geologists have found.

Radar images taken from the space shuttle confirm that a lake broader than Lake Erie once sprawled a few hundred kilometers west of the Nile, researchers report in the December issue of Geology. Since the lake first appeared around 250,000 years ago, it would have ballooned and shrunk until finally petering out around 80,000 years ago.
accessKnowing where and when such oases existed could help archaeologists understand the environment Homo sapiens traveled while migrating out of Africa for the first time, says team leader Ted Maxwell, a geologist at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Modern humans arose in Africa about 200,000 years ago.
“You realize that hey, this place was full of really large lakes when people were wandering into the rest of the world,” he says.

accessSince then, desert winds have eroded and sands have buried much of the region’s landscape, says Maxine Kleindienst, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto. But during next summer’s field season, she and her colleagues will be checking for ancient shorelines at the elevations suggested in the new paper.
Other studies have found evidence of mega-lakes in Chad, Libya and Sudan at various points over the past 250,000 years. The new study targeted Egypt, some 400 kilometers west of the Nile, where in the 1980s researchers reporting finding fish fossils in the desert.
That discovery, says Maxwell, triggered scientists to think about how those fish could have gotten there. In 2000, astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavour used a radar instrument to take high-resolution pictures of the area’s topography. Maxwell and his colleagues recently analyzed those pictures to deduce how water would have drained across northeastern Africa over the past few hundred thousand years, ever since the Nile was born.
In Egypt, west of the Nile Valley in a region known as Tushka, the researchers spotted a low-lying area where water would have pooled after overflowing from the river, carrying fish with it. At its maximum, this ancient lake would have stretched for 350 kilometers, down to the modern-day Sudan border.
At the time, the Tushka area had more rainfall than today and would have been covered by grasslands, says Maxwell. Heavy rain in highlands to the south, from where the Nile flows, would have caused the lake to grow; dry spells shrank it. “This lake was going up and going down in size, doing all kinds of things over multiple thousands of years,” he says.
Something similar is going on today at a smaller scale, says Mohamed Abdelsalam, a geologist at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Just northeast of where the huge paleolake once lay, the Nile also overflowed, starting in 1998. A series of five small “new lakes of the Sahara” was born. Deprived of water since 2003, these lakes have since almost entirely dried out, says Abdelsalam.
Today, for water, Egyptians rely almost exclusively on the Nile and its annual floods. The ancient lakes, says Maxwell, suggest that such flooding was already under way, at least to some degree, a quarter million years ago.

Physicists create new type of light

Physicists from the University of Bonn have developed a completely new source of light, previously thought to be impossible - a so-called Bose-Einstein condensate consisting of photons.
The discovery could lead to the development of new light sources resembling lasers that work in the x-ray range, and more powerful computer chips.
By cooling Rubidium atoms deeply and concentrating a sufficient number of them in a compact space, they suddenly become indistinguishable, behaving like a single huge 'super particle' - a Bose-Einstein condensate.
This should also work for photons. Unfortunately, though, there's a fundamental problem: when photons are 'cooled down', they disappear. This is the first time scientists have been able to cool light while concentrating it at the same time.
The Bonn researchers succeeded by using two highly reflective mirrors, bouncing a light beam back and forth between them. Pigment molecules were dissolved between the reflective surfaces; the photons collided with them periodically. In these collisions, the molecules 'swallowed' the photons and then 'spit' them out again.
"During this process, the photons assumed the temperature of the fluid," explains Professor Msrtin Weitz. "They cooled each other off to room temperature this way, and they did it without getting lost in the process."
The physicists then increased the quantity of photons between the mirrors by exciting the pigment solution using a laser. This allowed them to concentrate the cooled-off light particles so strongly that they condensed into a 'super-photon'.
This photonic Bose-Einstein condensate is a completely new source of light that has characteristics resembling lasers. But compared to lasers, they have a decisive advantage.

Australian teen admits government website attacks

A teenager has admitted launching a series of distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks against the Australian government.
Nineteen-year-old Steve Slayo - yes, that really is his name - was angered by the plans of communications minister Stephen Conroy to filter all internet access in Australia.
He responded by recruiting an 'American mastermind' nicknamed 'Pulsar' through 4Chan to help him attack government websites. These included those of Conway and the then prime minister Kevin Rudd, as well as the parliamentary and Australian government sites.
Bith the parliamentary website and Conroy's were forced offline for several hours.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian Federal Police high-tech crime investigations team acted on February 5 after a group posted plans online to attack the sites.
In fact, Slayo has been rather overtaken by events, since after widespread opposition to the filtering plans, coalition parties have indicated that they won't support the proposed legislation, effectively scuppering it.
Perhaps alarmingly, Slayo faces trial despite the fact that he's accepted not to have carried out any attacks himself, acting only to encourage others.
He yesterday pleaded guilty to four charges including one of inciting others to impair electronic communications and two of unauthorised access to restricted data. He will be sentenced next month.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Negative temperature, infinitely hot

Physicists propose creating thermodynamics puzzle routinely in the lab

Physicists have described a new way of making one of the most counterintuitive phenomena known: negative temperature, which despite its name means a system that is almost infinitely hot.
Negative temperatures have been seen before, but only in very limited applications. In a paper to appear in Physical Review Letters, theorists propose broader and more intriguing ways to confirm negative temperatures, by taking pictures of atoms as they change from positive to negative temperature.
Such new approaches, scientists say, might reveal previously unknown ways in which matter behaves at the quantum level. “With these atom systems you can mimic various states of matter and do stuff that is otherwise not possible,” says team leader Achim Rosch, a physicist at the University of Cologne in Germany.
To understand negative temperature, think in terms of energy states rather than markings on a thermometer. Atomic particles in what physicists consider positive temperature — which includes most ordinary experiences, from the sun’s surface to Antarctica’s ice — like to be in the lowest energy states possible. But in systems with negative temperature, particles prefer to populate high-energy states instead of low-energy ones.
Scientists have made negative-temperature systems before, using the spins of atomic nuclei. Picture a line of atoms, each with a spin that can point up or down. In the lowest possible energy state, all spins point down. Add energy to the system and the spins will start to flip up — reaching maximum entropy, or disorder, when half the spins are up. Adding more energy after that will shift the system into negative temperature, whose high-energy states are the only way to accommodate the extra energy.
In place of atomic spins, Rosch’s team now proposes using ultracold atoms, like those used in many laboratories to study matter at the quantum level. In such extreme experimental conditions, the atoms lose their collective identities and begin to interact with one another in weird ways. By tweaking energy inputs and other factors, the scientists say, atoms that are millionths of a degree above absolute zero on a thermometer scale could be pushed past maximum entropy into the range of negative temperature.
By making images of the probability of each atom’s location, researchers propose that theoretically they could see the atoms shift from sticking together to flying apart once they crossed the boundary from positive into negative temperature. That change would constitute “a clear signature” of negative temperature, says Immanuel Bloch, an experimental physicist at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in nearby Garching.
Bloch, who works with ultracold atoms, plans to soon try coaxing them into negative temperature and measuring them in the way Rosch’s team suggests. “It’s an exciting proposal which challenges our perception of thermodynamics,” he says.
For instance, if a negative temperature system were plopped down next to a positive one, the heat of the high-energy states would continually flow from the negative to the positive system. In that sense, the negative temperature one is infinitely hot.

SpaceX wins approval for first commercial spacecraft re-entry

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has awarded SpaceX the first-ever commercial license to re-enter a spacecraft from orbit.

The one-year license gives the green light to next month's launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the company's Dragon capsule. This is expected to orbit the Earth at more than 17,000 miles per hour, reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and land in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later.

It's something that's never been achieved by a private company before. Indeed, only five nations - the US, Russia, China, Japan and India - have managed it, along with the European Space Agency.

"Milestones are an important part of space exploration and SpaceX achieved a very important one today," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

"I congratulate SpaceX on this landmark achievement and wish them the best with their launch of the Dragon capsule."

The flight also marks the first stage in NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, bringing commercial supply services to the International Space Station.

After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX will make at least 12 flights to carry cargo to and from the ISS.

"Congratulations to the SpaceX team for receiving the Federal Aviation Administration's first-ever commercial license to reenter a spacecraft from Earth orbit," said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden.

"With this license in hand, SpaceX can proceed with its launch of the Dragon capsule. The flight of Dragon will be an important step toward commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station. NASA wishes SpaceX every success with the launch."

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Pop-up MicroLite turns your janky remote into a well-lit, even jankier remote (video)

"I think everyone in the known world will want them!" That's a potent, soul-stirring quite from Honolulu's own Becky Gray, and her emotions tend to mimic our own. We mean, who wouldn't want a pop-up MicroLite dongle affixed to the bottom of their remote? For a limited time of indefinite nature, free-spending consumers can actually get not one, not two, but three of these miracle workers for the tidy sum of just $19.99*, enabling them to light up a full trio of cut-rate remotes. Better still, you can use two of 'em to illuminate the keyboard of your shiny new 13-inch MacBook Air -- you know, because Apple decided this solution was better than its own integrated one. There's an unrealistic video demonstration embedded just past the break, and it's just a Billy Mays (rest his soul) short of awesomeness. Order now!

*Along with a likely laughable shipping and processing fee, of course.

See more video at our hub!

Visor might protect troops from blasts

Current military helmet lets explosive forces in through the face, computer simulations show

Adding a face shield to the standard-issue helmet worn by U.S. troops could help protect soldiers from traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A new study that models how shock waves pass through the head finds that adding a face guard deflects a substantial portion of the blast that otherwise would steamroll its way through the brain.
The study, to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is part of a spate of new work tackling traumatic brain injury. An estimated 1.5 million Americans sustain mild traumatic brain injury each year, and nearly 200,000 service members have been diagnosed with it since 2000, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center in Silver Spring, Md. While direct impact, such as banging the head, clearly can injure the brain, the forces endured when explosives send shock waves crashing through the head are much more difficult to characterize.
In the new study, researchers led by Raúl Radovitzky of MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies created an elaborate computer model of a human head that included layers of fat and skin, the skull, and different kinds of brain tissue. The team modeled the shock wave from an explosion detonated right in front of the face under three conditions: with the head bare, protected by the currently used combat helmet and covered with the helmet plus a polycarbonate face shield.
The results showed that today’s helmet doesn’t exacerbate the damage, as some previous research had suggested. But at least in terms of blast protection, the current helmet doesn’t help much either. Addition of a face shield would improve matters, the team reports.
“The face shield contributes a lot to deflecting energy from the blast wave and not letting it directly touch the soft tissue,” says Radovitzky. “We’re not saying this is the best design for a face shield, but we’re saying we need to cover the face.”
To validate the model, researchers at MIT and elsewhere will have to conduct experiments in the real world. But the work points to an intrinsic flaw in the current helmets.
“These helmets weren’t designed to stop a pressure wave; they were designed to stop bullets,” says Albert King, director of the Bioengineering Center at Wayne State University in Detroit. “Just like a football helmet wasn’t designed to stop a concussion, but to stop skull fracture.”
Designing a blast-resistant helmet requires a better knowledge of what happens in the brain when an explosion washes over it. Soldiers experiencing explosions often describe a wind or wave that makes them see stars. “I really got my bell rung,” is a common report.
The resulting “mild” traumatic brain injury doesn’t lead to long-term loss of consciousness, and brain scans yield normal results. But labeling these injuries as mild is a misnomer, says Douglas Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“It is not mild; that term has led people astray,” says Smith. “It is something very serious that can lead to severe dysfunction.”
Smith and his colleagues have been working on a sensor that could be placed in a helmet or vehicle and that, like the radiation badges worn by nuclear-plant workers, would indicate exposure to blast forces likely to cause brain injury. The sensor is described in a paper to be published in NeuroImage.
While a sensor would indicate exposure to blast forces, it still isn’t clear exactly how that energy translates into brain trauma. Under everyday conditions, the brain can easily withstand a little jostling. “Plop down in your chair and your brain blobs around like Jell-O,” Smith says. But at tremendously high speeds, instead of gently stretching, brain cells can snap and break (SN: 3/13/10, p. 11) like glass.
The long-term effects of these busted brain cells are largely unknown. In addition to chronic headaches, vertigo and difficulty remembering words, research suggests that when the brain shuts down for even a few minutes, depression is more likely down the road.
Scott Matthews, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego, who studies mild traumatic brain injury in returning veterans, notes that causality can’t be established. But among soldiers who were exposed to combat, he sees depression twice as often in people with traumatic brain injury.
“There’s more and more evidence that loss of consciousness changes the brain,” Matthews says.
Unraveling cause and effect and designing useful experiments to illuminate traumatic brain injury and its aftermath remains extremely challenging. And translating those scientific findings into meaningful policy can be just as difficult. Even implementing something as simple as a helmet with a face shield poses problems, says Smith.
“How do you deploy something like that?” he asks. “There are practical things like temperature issues. And then there’s wanting soldiers to be able to meet and greet in villages without looking like spacemen.”

Facebook goes after another site with 'book' in its name

Facebook is continuing with its campaign to trademark two of the commonest nouns in the English language by turning its sights on a two-person website that highlights stupid Facebook posts.
Lamebook consists of a collection of amusing or unintelligent statements (no, "we own the word 'book'" isn't one of them) posted on Facebook. Many consist of unintended sexual innuendo; apart from a tendency for users to post rather spiteful comments
on some of the posts, it's all pretty harmless.
But according to Facebook, the name itself is too offensive to allow. It's filed a trademark suit against Lamebook, and has shut down its Facebook page.
"Facebook didn't like us sticking up for ourselves, so they shut down our fan page, are preventing any users from 'liking' us, and won't even let you share URLs with your friends if they point to Lamebook," says Lamebook.
The move follows a recent attempt from Facebook to close down Teachbook, a site aimed at teachers, and location-based service provider PlaceBook. It's even been said to have tried to trademark the word 'face' itself.
Undaunted, Lamebook continues on Twitter, here. And it plans to defend itself against Facebook by launching a pre-emptive legal strike of its own, calling for Facebook's suit to be thrown out on principle, as it's a parody site protected by the First Amendment.
"This is one website that’s not going down without a fight," say founders Jonathan Standefer and Matthew Genitempo.
"With our first amendment rights under fire, we’ve made a daring legal move that we believe will help us defend ourselves under the law and keep this site up, allowing us to keep bringing you, your friends, your parents, and your creepy uncle the insanity that’s had us in stitches since we started."

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Oracle vs. SAP update: Catz does partial recovery but can't make up for Ellison

Safra Catz took the stand after Larry Ellison this evening and appears to have done a vastly better job of being a convincing witness. 
However, here too the issue will likely be the jury that likely has a relatively low average income and the huge numbers being tossed about without context.   
So, let’s do a quick summary and update. This analysis follows an earlier initial piece on TG Daily about Larry Ellison’s testimony.
Catz on the Stand

Catz played the role of expert witness in that she lectured the jury on critical areas of the trial they probably didn’t understand with regard to investment banking and software licensing.

The licensing is important because it grounded the $2.3B Oracle wants (Larry is using a larger $4B number in his testimony) as a settlement because it is the Oracle estimate of what Oracle would have charged had SAP asked for a license. 

Those attending thought she did a masterful job.
However, her main point appeared to be that accepting $40M from SAP in damages would reward them for bad behavior and the Jury with a likely low average income may not agree at all that $40M is an inadequate number given Oracle has so far failed to prove any actual damages. 

In context, $1M is a lot of money to folks like this and large awards are reserved for behavior where one side is vastly wealthier and more powerful than the other and behaves very badly. 

In this instance, Oracle is the bigger player and appears to have already benefited the most from what SAP did. So, a high judgment needs a lot of justification and Oracle hasn’t reached that bar yet. 

SAP’s Likely Response

It should be fairly easy for SAP to create a metaphor the jury would understand. What I’d do, were it me, would be tell the following story.  Let’s say you have two sons and one takes the other kid's used VW without permission, drives and fixes it up with new wheels, tires and attractive paint and then is forced to return it. 

The son that owns the car asked for $2,000 in compensation because that is what he would have charged had the other son asked him to rent him the car and won’t accept anything less. 

As a parent, you’d certainly say "be happy you got a better car back" and let it go - knowing the first would have never rented the car in the first place and the other son never would have paid $2,000, but lost everything he put into the car himself and learned a lesson.    

If they keep the metaphor simple and grounded it in the facts of the case the jury should see that the Oracle claim is excessive and the risk is they might not even grant the $40M because they might feel that the Oracle folks, who have been lecturing them, thought they were stupid.
Wrapping Up:

Testimony is often like a relay race and it is really hard to win one if the runner before you doesn’t do a good job. Larry dug a pretty deep hole and while Safra presented herself better and did likely improve the perception of Oracle for the Jury she didn’t make up for the fact there isn’t any real evidence to support their $2.3B claim.
The inconsistencies in the claim aren’t helping Oracle’s case either and make the numbers seem even more artificial. Oracle needs to connect with the Jury and show pain in line with the judgment they are seeking and create a credible justification for that judgment. 

They don’t appear to have done this yet. This suggests the outcome is still trending towards SAP for the judgment.

Monday, 8 November 2010

PlayStation 3's Bluetooth headset slims down, shines on, adorns ears later this month

My, what a difference a couple years makes. As we suspected, Sony is updating its old Bluetooth headset design with a decidedly more elegant model. Here's what we've got: dual mics, USB pairing, in-game status indicator, a charge cradle that doubles as a desktop mic, and of course, a giant mute button for when you have only moments to smack yourself in the ear and curse loudly about your good-for-nothing teammates. It's also smaller and glossier -- and rocking the same $49.99 price tag. When's it arriving? Soon, later this month. When is that, exactly? Have patience.

iOS 4.2 bringing speed improvements to iPhone 3G?

The recent iOS updates have mostly been welcome improvements for iPhone 4 and 3GS users, but it's been a decidedly different story for folks sticking to their venerable iPhone 3G. Not only have they been left out of some of the fun, but they were dealt a serious performance hit with iOS 4.0 that was only somewhat corrected by IOS 4.1. Could iOS 4.2 finally bring things back up to speed? According to the folks at TiPb, it just might -- they've now tested the iOS 4.2 gold master on an iPhone 3G and found that performance was noticeably improved across the board. Head on past the break to check out their results for yourself, and keep your fingers crossed that you'll actually see a similar improvement when the official update finally hits your 3G.

Building a better bomb sniffer

Handheld device detects an explosive that is easy to make but hard to detect

A handheld device that sniffs out the same powerful explosive employed by the would-be shoe bomber may be coming soon to an airport near you. Chemists have developed a sensor that detects minute amounts of TATP, an explosive favored by terrorists because it is easy to make and difficult to detect.
The new sensor consists of a postage stamp–sized array of dyes that change color when they react with certain compounds. When air containing triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, is drawn toward the sensor, it passes over a chemical catalyst. Some of the TATP in the air reacts with the catalyst and the resulting mixture hits the dyes. The ensuing chemical reactions yield a specific color pattern that is discernable within minutes, researchers report in the Nov. 10 Journal of the American Chemical Society.
“When the challenge is to identify a particular compound it is very difficult to do it with a single sensor,” says materials scientist Howard Katz of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “But what they have done — a multisensor array that gives you a specific pattern of dots — this is the right direction, the direction we need to be going.”
TATP, sometimes called the Mother of Satan, is easy to make from readily available ingredients: acetone, hydrogen peroxide and an acid. None of those ingredients contains nitrogen, the most common target for current bomb-sniffing technologies. In fact, the explosive is pretty featureless chemically speaking, making it difficult to detect by standard techniques. But the new sensor reacts to minute quantities of TATP, detecting amounts as low as 2 parts per billion, says chemist Kenneth Suslick of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who led the new work. 
The sensor isn’t affected by changes in humidity and doesn’t confuse TATP with household products such as mouthwash, shampoo, laundry detergent, bleach, vinegar or Jim Beam whiskey, Suslick and his Illinois colleague Hengwei Lin report. The team is now taking steps to convert their prototype into a commercially available device that could be waved over suitcases or placed inside walk-through sniffers in airports.

The sandman gene

Researchers find another genetic variant linked to sleep duration

Whether people sleep a lot or a little may depend in part on a gene that also determines whether fruit flies snooze all night.

Geneticists studying sleep duration in people scanned the DNA of more than 4,200 Europeans, looking for genes associated with a person’s average nightly sleep time. The team found that people who have one version of a gene called SUR2 sleep about 28 minutes longer than people who have another version of the gene, said Karla Allebrandt of the University of Munich, who presented the research November 5 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics.

In order to determine whether SUR2 really affects sleep or was just found by coincidence, the researchers then examined the gene’s function in fruit flies. The team removed the gene from the brains of two strains of fruit flies and then recorded how well the flies slept. Flies without SUR2 didn’t sleep as long at night as flies that have it, Allebrandt said. The gene encodes a protein that forms part of a channel that transports potassium in and out of cells.

Last year researchers from the University of California, San Francisco reported that a rare variation in DEC2, a gene involved in regulating the body’s daily rhythms, is associated with sleeping almost two hours a night less than average (SN: 9/12/10, p. 11)

Hanvon to debut first color E Ink e-reader

The first color E Ink-powered e-reader is expected to make its debut at a Tokyo electronics show on Tuesday.
According to the NY Times, E Ink black-and-white displays can be found in approximately 90 percent of the world's e-readers, including the Kindle and Nook.
Other devices, such as Apple's iPad and the color Nook use LCD - the same technology deployed in current-gen televisions and monitors.
Hanvon to debut first color E Ink e-reader"Color is [certainly] the next logical step for E Ink," iSuppli analyst Vinita Jakhanwal told the Times.
"[Because] every display you see, whether it's a TV or a cellphone, is in color."
So, what are some of the advantages of an E Ink color screen?
Well, they sip significantly less battery power and are readable even in the glare of direct sunlight.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that E Ink color screens are not as sharp and colorful as their LCD counterparts, nor are they capable of rendering full-motion video.
Still, Hanvon's first product boasting a 9.68-inch color E Ink touch screen will be available this March in China for approximately $440.
If successful, the device - which supports Wi-Fi and 3G wireless connectivity - could eventually be sold in retail stores throughout the US.

Google sponsors free in-flight WiFi for holiday travelers

Google’s Chrome browser team is teaming up with AirTran, Delta and Virgin America to provide free in-flight WiFi for holiday passengers.
Travelers flying on any of the above-mentioned airlines between November 20, 2010 and January 2, 2011 will be able to use the free Gogo connection to check e-mail, surf the web or watch videos - all while cruising 30,000 feet above the ground.
"We are constantly working to help provide a better web experience to users around the world,” explained Google VP Sundar Pichai.

Google sponsors free in-flight WiFi for holiday travelers"Whether it be building a better browser with Chrome or bringing free Wi-Fi to air travelers this holiday season, we are constantly innovating to ensure that user access to the web is fast, simple and seamless.”

This season marks the second straight year that the Mountain View-based company has offered free Wi-Fi to travelers over the holidays.
Last year, Google worked with Virgin America as well as more than 50 airports to provide free Internet both on the ground and in the air. 

And this year, the Chrome team is continuing its newly-inaugurated Google tradition by joining with three airlines to connect travelers while they’re in the sky.