Friday, October 26, 2007

New room extended at space station


24hoursnews
The US space shuttle Discovery linked up with the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday on a mission to prepare the orbital outpost for new European and Japanese laboratories.
With shuttle commander Pamela Melroy at the controls, Discovery eased up to the station and latched onto a docking port at 8.40am EDT.
Working both outside the station and within it, the astronauts moved the Harmony module, which will serve as a connection point for two new laboratories for the station, to a temporary location on the side of the station.
The space station’s robot arm, operated by Stephanie Wilson and Daniel Tani, smoothly moved the 16-ton module out of the shuttle and onto the station, where automatic bolts secured it in place in a temporary home on the left side of the station’s living quarters.

The work outside was more strenuous. Astronauts Scott E. Parazynski and Douglas Wheelock began their spacewalk shortly after 6 a.m. Eastern time. They prepared the Harmony module for its removal from the shuttle’s payload bay and performed some of the preliminary work for the other big task of the mission, moving an enormous set of solar arrays and the truss they stand on from their initial position atop the station to the permanent home on the far end of the truss on the station’s left side.

So far, technical difficulties on the mission have been minor.

So little insulating foam was shed from the shuttle’s external tank that mission managers have determined that a more focused inspection of the shuttle’s heat shield is unnecessary. When that word was passed up to the shuttle on Thursday afternoon before the crew sleep period was to begin, the shuttle commander, Pamela A. Melroy, responded enthusiastically, ”Oh, man, that is fantastic news.”

She said that it was a relief to know that tile and panel damage was not a concern and that they would be able to take the time that would have gone to inspection and use it to further prepare the Harmony module for entry. “We just can’t wait to get inside,” Ms. Melroy said.

The spacewalk, for the most part, went smoothly. The astronauts struggled occasionally with balky bolts and hose connectors, which are optimistically called “quick-disconnect” devices. They were wary of the small amounts of frozen ammonia that drifted away from some the hoses, because they could contaminate the atmosphere within the station if brought in on the space suits. The amount of ammonia, which is used as a coolant, was small.

At one point, Paolo Nespoli, the Italian astronaut who was coordinating the spacewalk from inside the station, asked his colleagues to take a small break to enjoy what might be the greatest perk of working in space: the view. He asked them to look over the starboard side as the station passed over Houston.

The two spacewalkers oohed and aahed as the familiar coastline slid by below.

“Hello, Houston!” Dr. Parazynski said.

The spacewalkers were back in the airlock before noon.

Over the communications system, Ms. Melroy congratulated Dr. Parazynski and Mr. Wheelock on the work of the entire team, which she said she watched while making lunch for the crew.

The new room Expanded at Space Station


(24hoursnews)

The US space shuttle Discovery linked up with the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday on a mission to prepare the orbital outpost for new European and Japanese laboratories.
With shuttle commander Pamela Melroy at the controls, Discovery eased up to the station and latched onto a docking port at 8.40am EDT.
. Working both outside the station and within it, the astronauts moved the Harmony module, which will serve as a connection point for two new laboratories for the station, to a temporary location on the side of the station.
The space station’s robot arm, operated by Stephanie Wilson and Daniel Tani, smoothly moved the 16-ton module out of the shuttle and onto the station, where automatic bolts secured it in place in a temporary home on the left side of the station’s living quarters.

The work outside was more strenuous. Astronauts Scott E. Parazynski and Douglas Wheelock began their spacewalk shortly after 6 a.m. Eastern time. They prepared the Harmony module for its removal from the shuttle’s payload bay and performed some of the preliminary work for the other big task of the mission, moving an enormous set of solar arrays and the truss they stand on from their initial position atop the station to the permanent home on the far end of the truss on the station’s left side.

So far, technical difficulties on the mission have been minor.

So little insulating foam was shed from the shuttle’s external tank that mission managers have determined that a more focused inspection of the shuttle’s heat shield is unnecessary. When that word was passed up to the shuttle on Thursday afternoon before the crew sleep period was to begin, the shuttle commander, Pamela A. Melroy, responded enthusiastically, ”Oh, man, that is fantastic news.”

She said that it was a relief to know that tile and panel damage was not a concern and that they would be able to take the time that would have gone to inspection and use it to further prepare the Harmony module for entry. “We just can’t wait to get inside,” Ms. Melroy said.

The spacewalk, for the most part, went smoothly. The astronauts struggled occasionally with balky bolts and hose connectors, which are optimistically called “quick-disconnect” devices. They were wary of the small amounts of frozen ammonia that drifted away from some the hoses, because they could contaminate the atmosphere within the station if brought in on the space suits. The amount of ammonia, which is used as a coolant, was small.

At one point, Paolo Nespoli, the Italian astronaut who was coordinating the spacewalk from inside the station, asked his colleagues to take a small break to enjoy what might be the greatest perk of working in space: the view. He asked them to look over the starboard side as the station passed over Houston.

The two spacewalkers oohed and aahed as the familiar coastline slid by below.

“Hello, Houston!” Dr. Parazynski said.

The spacewalkers were back in the airlock before noon.

Over the communications system, Ms. Melroy congratulated Dr. Parazynski and Mr. Wheelock on the work of the entire team, which she said she watched while making lunch for the crew.

Cosmic Log : The spaceport Race


Cosmic Log : The spaceport Race

If you think the commercial space race is grueling, consider the hurdles that lie ahead for Spaceport America, a 16,600-acre stretch of ranchland that New Mexico hopes will become a world center for space tourism by 2010.

State officials will have to appoint a new spaceport director, hammer out a deal with the spaceship operator, win a license from federal regulators, get $200 million in financing in order and break ground for construction - all within the next year.

Not only that, they have to convince voters in two rural counties that the project is important enough to merit tens of millions of dollars in new taxes. Kelly O'Donnell, chairwoman and acting director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, admits that won't be easy.

"I feel very, very confident that we will get past this particular challenge, and that the many local governments that stand to benefit from the spaceport will share the burden - er, the honor - of funding this project with the state of New Mexico," she told attendees here today in Las Cruces, N.M., at the International Symposium for Personal Spaceflight.

New Mexico's Spaceport America, situated 40 miles north of Las Cruces, serves as a test case to see if the public will voluntarily accept the costs as well as the benefits that come with space travel. We know people will do it for baseball stadiums, but will they do it for launch pads?

About $140 million is already being put up by the state for building Spaceport America, but local governments will have to kick in the other $60 million, O'Donnell said. And that puts the burden - er, the honor - on three counties in the job-hungry southern part of the state: Dona Ana, Sierra and Otero counties.

Dona Ana voters narrowly approved new taxes in April, but at least one more county or city has to approve its own tax by the end of next year in order for the spaceport plan to move forward. Sierra County is planning a ballot next March or April, and Otero County is due to vote in November 2008, O'Donnell said. In the meantime, Dona Ana is trying to hold off on collecting the tax.

"A delay in those elections could be very bad for the spaceport," O'Donnell said.

That's just one of the hurdles that New Mexico has to negotiate:

Today, O'Donnell is asking the state legislature to approve a $1.9 million budget for the spaceport authority, which she said would represent a fourfold increase.


The authority is finishing up interviews for the new spaceport director this week, and should make its selection sometime early next month, she said.


New Mexico has "accelerated the process" of nailing down a long-term lease agreement with Virgin Galactic, which pledged to operate its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane from Spaceport America in a nonbinding pact last March. Some New Mexicans are rankled by the fact that Virgin Galactic still hasn't made a binding commitment - but the company's chief operating officer, Alex Tai, said a firm agreement is very close. "There's no way we're backing out," he told me.


Due to some snags that hung up an environmental assessment of the spaceport site, New Mexico has not yet completed its application for a launch site operator license from the Federal Aviation Administration, O'Donnell said. But she voiced confidence that the application would be finished by early next year. That timetable is important, because the FAA can take up to 180 days to approve a license - and O'Donnell said construction could not begin until that license is in hand.


The current plan calls for construction to start in September or October of next year, and for operations to begin in early 2010, O'Donnell said.
Those are a lot of hurdles to jump over, so it's no wonder that O'Donnell looked a bit high-strung as she ticked through her to-do list. But she voiced confidence that the spaceport authority will get through the list, even if some items are taking longer than officials expected two years ago. "Our record of meeting those challenges is very strong," she said.

Once the spaceport goes up, local officials hope more construction crews and tourist attractions will follow. The region is already being targeted for a potential new development called Hot Springs Motorplex, which will offer auto racing activities, a resort center and other goodies.

Research conducted for the state indicated that the spaceport alone could generate economic activity resulting in more than $750 million in revenue for New Mexico and more than 5,000 new jobs by 2020.

All this is music to the ears of local officials, and that could turn the tide when taxpayers render their verdict next year.

"Biggest thing on the agenda is to make our folks happy. ... What we're looking for is jobs," said Judd Nordyke, the mayor of Hatch (pop. 1,650) in Sierra County.

Lori Montgomery - the mayor of Truth or Consequences, another Sierra County town that's close to Spaceport America - said her constituents are already seeing the benefits of heightened economic development. Those benefits include a new hospital, a new 18-hole golf course and dozens of new houses.

"I've lived there 41 years, and I've never seen the type of interest that I've seen in the past couple of years," she said.

Having a spaceport nearby will shine the spotlight even more brightly on an area that's already a tourist magnet, said Rick Holdridge, chairman of the New Mexico Space Authority Community Advisory Committee.

"This is one of the most beautiful parts of the country here," he said, "and we want to show it off to the world."

Cosmic Log : The spaceport Race


Cosmic Log : The spaceport Race

If you think the commercial space race is grueling, consider the hurdles that lie ahead for Spaceport America, a 16,600-acre stretch of ranchland that New Mexico hopes will become a world center for space tourism by 2010.

State officials will have to appoint a new spaceport director, hammer out a deal with the spaceship operator, win a license from federal regulators, get $200 million in financing in order and break ground for construction - all within the next year.

Not only that, they have to convince voters in two rural counties that the project is important enough to merit tens of millions of dollars in new taxes. Kelly O'Donnell, chairwoman and acting director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, admits that won't be easy.

"I feel very, very confident that we will get past this particular challenge, and that the many local governments that stand to benefit from the spaceport will share the burden - er, the honor - of funding this project with the state of New Mexico," she told attendees here today in Las Cruces, N.M., at the International Symposium for Personal Spaceflight.

New Mexico's Spaceport America, situated 40 miles north of Las Cruces, serves as a test case to see if the public will voluntarily accept the costs as well as the benefits that come with space travel. We know people will do it for baseball stadiums, but will they do it for launch pads?

About $140 million is already being put up by the state for building Spaceport America, but local governments will have to kick in the other $60 million, O'Donnell said. And that puts the burden - er, the honor - on three counties in the job-hungry southern part of the state: Dona Ana, Sierra and Otero counties.

Dona Ana voters narrowly approved new taxes in April, but at least one more county or city has to approve its own tax by the end of next year in order for the spaceport plan to move forward. Sierra County is planning a ballot next March or April, and Otero County is due to vote in November 2008, O'Donnell said. In the meantime, Dona Ana is trying to hold off on collecting the tax.

"A delay in those elections could be very bad for the spaceport," O'Donnell said.

That's just one of the hurdles that New Mexico has to negotiate:

Today, O'Donnell is asking the state legislature to approve a $1.9 million budget for the spaceport authority, which she said would represent a fourfold increase.


The authority is finishing up interviews for the new spaceport director this week, and should make its selection sometime early next month, she said.


New Mexico has "accelerated the process" of nailing down a long-term lease agreement with Virgin Galactic, which pledged to operate its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane from Spaceport America in a nonbinding pact last March. Some New Mexicans are rankled by the fact that Virgin Galactic still hasn't made a binding commitment - but the company's chief operating officer, Alex Tai, said a firm agreement is very close. "There's no way we're backing out," he told me.


Due to some snags that hung up an environmental assessment of the spaceport site, New Mexico has not yet completed its application for a launch site operator license from the Federal Aviation Administration, O'Donnell said. But she voiced confidence that the application would be finished by early next year. That timetable is important, because the FAA can take up to 180 days to approve a license - and O'Donnell said construction could not begin until that license is in hand.


The current plan calls for construction to start in September or October of next year, and for operations to begin in early 2010, O'Donnell said.
Those are a lot of hurdles to jump over, so it's no wonder that O'Donnell looked a bit high-strung as she ticked through her to-do list. But she voiced confidence that the spaceport authority will get through the list, even if some items are taking longer than officials expected two years ago. "Our record of meeting those challenges is very strong," she said.

Once the spaceport goes up, local officials hope more construction crews and tourist attractions will follow. The region is already being targeted for a potential new development called Hot Springs Motorplex, which will offer auto racing activities, a resort center and other goodies.

Research conducted for the state indicated that the spaceport alone could generate economic activity resulting in more than $750 million in revenue for New Mexico and more than 5,000 new jobs by 2020.

All this is music to the ears of local officials, and that could turn the tide when taxpayers render their verdict next year.

"Biggest thing on the agenda is to make our folks happy. ... What we're looking for is jobs," said Judd Nordyke, the mayor of Hatch (pop. 1,650) in Sierra County.

Lori Montgomery - the mayor of Truth or Consequences, another Sierra County town that's close to Spaceport America - said her constituents are already seeing the benefits of heightened economic development. Those benefits include a new hospital, a new 18-hole golf course and dozens of new houses.

"I've lived there 41 years, and I've never seen the type of interest that I've seen in the past couple of years," she said.

Having a spaceport nearby will shine the spotlight even more brightly on an area that's already a tourist magnet, said Rick Holdridge, chairman of the New Mexico Space Authority Community Advisory Committee.

"This is one of the most beautiful parts of the country here," he said, "and we want to show it off to the world."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Astronauts use robot arm for shuttle safety scan


Astronauts used a robot arm to scan the space shuttle Discovery's heat shield for damage on Wednesday as it headed for a Thursday rendezvous with the International Space Station.

"The mission is right on track ... We look forward to docking tomorrow," mission management chairman John Shannon told a press briefing at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The shuttle is due to dock with the ISS at 1233 GMT on Thursday to kick off a 10-day construction mission at the outpost that will feature five spacewalks.

Astronauts spent the morning remotely maneuvering the arm to slowly inspect the shuttle wings and nose in a now mandatory post-launch routine begun after space shuttle Columbia broke apart on its return to Earth in 2003.

The scan with lasers and digital cameras looked for any damage to the heat shield that might have occurred when Discovery hurtled into space from Florida on Tuesday.

Data collected is beamed back to Earth for study by NASA engineers who will scrutinize it over the next few days. Preliminary analysis revealed nothing amiss.

Three suspect panels were given an especially close examination. Engineers using a new X-ray analysis technique warned managers ahead of the launch that three of the wing's 44 carbon-composite panels had tiny cracks in their silicon-carbide coatings.

After a lengthy debate, managers opted to proceed with the launch and assigned teams to monitor the situation.Columbia was doomed by a hole in its wing heat shield from a blow by fuel tank insulation foam that broke loose during takeoff. The damage was not detected and the shuttle was destroyed by the high heat of re-entry into the atmosphere, killing the seven astronauts on board.

Loose tank foam has been a recurring problem on shuttle flights. NASA says the danger cannot be eliminated, but it has taken many steps to reduce it.

Video of Tuesday's liftoff showed several pieces of insulation flying off the tank late in the ascent when debris strikes pose less danger because they occur with less force.

The shuttle is carrying the 24-foot-long Harmony, an Italian-built unit that will be installed on the station and to which Europe's Columbus and Japan's Kibo modules will be attached on space missions starting in December.

The seven-member shuttle crew is led by retired U.S. Air Force Col. Pam Melroy. They will link up with a space station crew led by NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.

LHC( Large Hadron Collider) :ATLAS 
big wheel triumph


LHC ( Large Hadron Collider)
ATLAS celebrates installing the last of the eight big wheels. These wheels form the end-cap muon spectrometer of the detector.
The ATLAS end-cap muon detectors, the ‘big wheels’, have been compared to many things: flowers, orange halves, clock faces and works of art. But, more importantly, each is an incredible feat of engineering. On Friday last week the team celebrated the completion of the last wheel, and moved into the final stages of installation.

"I must admit that at the end of last year I would not have believed that we would manage to install these eight big wheels essentially on schedule," admitted Peter Jenni, ATLAS spokesperson. The first of the wheels took a long time to install, but the last one took just a couple of weeks. "This is really a great achievement."

The big wheels harbour ATLAS’s middle layer of muon chambers in the forward region and are one of the last large pieces to be installed. Each is 25m across, weighs between 40 and 50 tonnes and contains around 80 precision chambers or 200 trigger chambers. The support structure itself is just one third of the weight of the total wheel.

Because of their sheer size, each wheel had to be made in 12 pieces for the trigger planes and 16 pieces for the precision-measurement planes, or "petals", of aluminium, the last of which was installed on Friday. Each was assembled at CERN using components from all over the world before being fitted together, piece by piece like a jigsaw.

Because of the need for space for the chambers, designing a suitable structure presented a unique challenge, one that project engineers, Raphaël Vuillermet, Dimitar Mladenov and Giancarlo Spigo were happy to take on.

"The detectors themselves have been on drawings for 15 years; everyone knew where they would go but no one knew about the structure," explains Dimitar. "There were chambers everywhere so our design had to build around them and in the small spaces in between them."

The result after 3 years of calculation, design and sleepless nights was a uniquely thin and light structure that is precise to less than a millimetre.

The 100-member collaboration from Israel, Japan, the US, China, Russia, Europe and Pakistan began assembly of components in 2005 and installation in 2006. "Because the pieces are so delicate we had to be careful throughout the whole process," explains Raphaël. "I was very afraid about something happening to the chambers and also to the people, because you are working 30 metres up. But we didn’t have any problems."

The completion of the big wheels is symbolic for ATLAS because, as technical coordinator Marzio Nessi explains, "the big wheels were always seen as something we would do at the end. And now we have done them."

For Dimitar the biggest challenge was the timing. "I feel proud, but not for myself, for everyone. It was the result of hard work. The only thing that we were lucky about was the weather; if there had been a single day of heavy rain we might have been delayed. But Marzio said not to worry and to leave the weather to him, and the weather was great. I don’t know how he did it!"

Now just two smaller scale wheels and the end-wall chambers remain to be installed, and the big wheels have already begun to give read-outs as part of test runs using cosmic ray data that ATLAS performs every six weeks.

With their striking symmetry and aesthetic appeal the big wheels are likely to become icons of the experiment. But to Marzio, all pieces of ATLAS are beautiful. "This piece just happens to be 25m high."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Robotic Cars Must Drive In Darpa Challenge


The robotic vehicles must navigate traffic circles, avoid moving obstacles, and merge into lanes without human intervention. They also must obey California's traffic laws.

Some of the best and brightest geek squads are revving up their engines for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Urban Challenge next month.
More than 30 semifinalists will compete, beginning Friday, to qualify their robotic vehicles for the final competition on Nov. 3, in Victorville, Calif. Twenty teams will make it to the urban military training grounds on the former George Air Force Base, for cash prizes of up to $2 million.

For some in Team Berlin, that could mean slowing down a bit. The team includes engineering students and faculty from Rice University in Houston and from Freie Universität Berlin, whose home turf includes the Autobahn.

"The vehicles must perform as well as someone with a California driver's license," Darpa Director Tony Tether said in a prepared statement.

Teams from Georgia Tech, Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, and Virginia Tech are among the finalists.

The vehicles also will conduct simulated military supply missions to judge their performance in realistic environments.

With many technology companies and innovators participating and supporting the event, innovations from the race are used to improve car safety and robotics. The U.S. military aims to operate one-third of its vehicles without drivers by 2015. Darpa hosted its first Grand Challenge in 2004 to spur innovation needed to meet that goal.

The first year, none of the vehicles could finish the qualifying course. By 2005, 23 teams qualified and Stanford's Stanley took the $2 million prize, completing about 130 miles in nearly seven hours. This year, teams developed cars that made it through intersections with other cars and moved as smoothly as if drivers had taken the wheel.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fueling starts for space shuttle launch try Tuesday


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Oct 23 (Reuters) - Technicians began filling shuttle Discovery's fuel tank for a launch attempt at 11:38 a.m. EDT 1538 GMT on Tuesday, officials said.

Loading the ship's external fuel tank with 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen began at 2:13 a.m. EDT 0613 GMT. The process was expected to take about three hours.

Discovery carries a new module for the International Space Station, which is a little more than 60 percent complete. NASA has 11 construction missions to the outpost remaining and two resupply flights before the $100 billion station is finished.

NASA needs to have the work completed within three years when the shuttle fleet is due to be retired.

The new module, called Harmony, will be the first expansion to the station's living space since 2001. It will serve as a connecting point for new laboratories owned by Europe and Japan, which are scheduled for launch in December and in 2008.

Once Discovery's fuel tank is full, a specially trained team of inspectors will head to the launch pad to scrutinize the tank for ice buildups and cracks in its foam insulation. Both ice and foam pose a serious risk to the shuttle if pieces should break off and hit the ship during liftoff.

NASA has been tweaking its launch procedures and shuttle equipment to avoid repeating the kind of damage shuttle Columbia sustained during its launch in 2003, which ended in the shuttle's breakup and the deaths of seven astronauts.

The shuttle's heat shield had been damaged by a chunk of falling tank insulation during liftoff and it failed as it flew through the atmosphere prior to landing.

For Discovery's flight, NASA carved an hour off the amount of time the tank is filled before launch in hopes of minimizing ice buildups.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

EID MUBARAK


EID MUBARAK................


EID MUBARAK.........


EID MUBARAK...




Technorati :

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Aeron chairs in 'Second Life'


Have you ever sat on Aeron chair?
If you've ever sat in an Aeron chair, you know what real office comfort can be like. Plus, they're just great-looking pieces of furniture.

That's true whether you're talking about a real-life Aeron or an Aeron in the virtual world Second Life, where there are plenty of copycat chairs available for sale at reasonable prices.

But now, according to Wagner James Au over at the blog New World Notes, Aeron manufacturer Herman Miller has launched a store in Second Life and is attempting to address the issue of illegitimate knockoffs through an interesting two-pronged approach.

For a limited time, Herman Miller is offering SL residents free trade-ins on any fake Aerons--or on some of its other iconic products--for an authentic SL Aeron. If you don't have a fake, you can buy an in-world Aeron for a small price.
But the company is taking a much harder, albeit polite (so far) approach to the makers of the knockoffs.

"We've contacted those parties and informed them of our trade dress protections, copyrights and trademarks they are infringing, asking politely but firmly that they cease and desist," a Herman Miller spokesperson told Au. "Some have complied, others have countered with proposed partnerships and some have yet to respond."

It's an intriguing dynamic, all around. The trade-in offer is an innovative way to reach out to the SL population, which appreciates being reached out to, as well as a thoughtful way of doing business on the part of real-world companies. It helps that the company's SL products look good. If they didn't, the whole question would be moot, as people wouldn't buy them.

As for Herman Miller's cease-and-desist demands of the knockoff creators, the result is an open question.

There are all kinds of real-product knockoffs in Second Life and other virtual worlds. One legal case everyone was watching that might have provided an answer to the question of whether such activity was kosher, Marvel v. NCSoft, was settled before a judge or jury could make a determination. In that case, Marvel sued City of Heroes maker NCSoft because the game's players could make avatars that looked like famous comic book heroes like Spider-Man or The Hulk.

Many experts had predicted that Marvel would lose its suit, so the settlement disappointed those in the virtual-world community who are interested in intellectual property issues because it deprived everyone of a final answer to the question.

For its part, Second Life publisher Linden Lab allows rights holders to file Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices in situations like the one Herman Miller is attempting to deal with.

But that process is slow, and Herman Miller is clearly trying to confront the situation head-on by attempting to scare those making Aeron knockoffs into compliance. Whether it will work is a question that remains to be answered, particularly because the burden of enforcing its IP rights would surely be huge if there are SL content creators who defy the company's demands.

For now, however, it's just interesting to see how Herman Miller is approaching the matter. My take is that the company is being smart. For now. We'll have to see what happens next.

Smartphone performance : Monzilla


Iphone is turning to the mobile computer, to provide the customer satisfaction
The iPhone isn't a true mobile computer yet, but it's on the right track, according to a Mozilla executive.

"Getting a no-compromise web experience on devices requires significant memory (>=64MB) as well as significant CPU horsepower. High end devices today are just approaching these requirements and will be commonplace soon," wrote Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering at Mozilla, in a blog post Tuesday, implying that while the iPhone and its current competitors don't quite have what it takes under the hood to be full-fledged mobile computers, we're not all that far away.
It seems to me like there's a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing going on here. Are smartphones slower than people would like because the hardware is too rudimentary, or because truly useful software is too bloated for the limited memory and power requirements of smartphones? I don't think too many people bought an iPhone expecting it would be just as zippy as their PC, but just how much slower is it than a PC?

Schroepfer thinks, based on third-party tests, that the iPhone is about 10 to 100 times slower than a MacBook Pro on scripting benchmarks and about 3 to 5 times slower than a ThinkPad T40 laptop when operating on the same Wi-Fi network. "But rapid improvements in mobile processors will close this gap within a few years," he wrote.


He estimates that the iPhone is using about 128MB of system RAM, and a processor (known to be an ARM-based chip from Samsung) running at between 400MHz and 600MHz. Apple's iPhone application development policy means we're not going to see Firefox on the iPhone anytime soon, but that's information that Mozilla is using to work on future mobile browsers for devices like the iPhone that won't be able to run unmodified PC software for several years.

As Schroepfer notes, the nice thing about the chip industry is that we can be reasonably sure that there will be more performance to work with every couple of years. Both ARM and Intel have set aggressive performance and power consumption goals for chips due out over the next several years.

But Schoepfer seems to be operating under the assumption that it's the hardware that is holding back a true Internet experience on a smartphone. "Up until very recently, device limitations required writing new mobile browsers from the ground up," he wrote. I wonder if that was such a bad thing; I'm sure to save time and effort developers would rather port as much of their PC code as is feasible over to smartphones, but is it better to develop mobile software that's designed specifically for mobile devices or to investigate ways to move the multitude of software that's already out there for PCs to a new category of mobile devices?

Mozilla wants to work both sides of the fence, not wanting to throw away all the work they've done on PC development when mobile processors are bound to get more capable, but recognizing that mobile-computing requirements are different. "There is far from a dominant player in this marketplace and even the best mobile browsers today have compromises in user experience, performance, and compatibility. There is still *plenty* of room for innovation," Schroepfer wrote.

I'm no software developer, and I'd welcome feedback about this from those who are examining this problem. It seems pretty clear to me that true mobile computing is going to require new thinking about software development in addition to faster hardware, the same way multicore processors have shaken up the PC software development industry. And those concepts are even going to merge at some point: by 2010 ARM's partners will have multicore mobile processors on the market.

Does that mean personal-computing software development is headed down two different development paths or that smartphone developers and PC developers are converging at some point down the road? Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Nano Researcher Working On Next Generation


Researcher working on next generation of artificial muscles
Researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno in the U.S. have conducted research on the ability of carbon nanotubes to retain their structural and mechanical integrity after subjection to repeated stress, and they say that the findings could result in the development materials that mimic artificial muscles. The researchers found that nanotubes aligned vertically in a two-millimeter square block were able to retain 75 percent of their original shape after 500,000 compressions. Researcher Jonghwan Suhr said: “If you can smartly control properties and materials, you can more efficiently control the whole structure. If these nanotubes can mimic artificial muscles, then some day they might be utilized as the soft tissue of the stomach wall or even as tendons throughout the body.” According to the article, Suhr is now combining nanotubes with different polymers to “improve their resistance to fatigue.”

University researcher Jonghwan Suhr says a recent study could lead to new materials that will mimic biological tissues and artificial muscles.
The assistant professor of mechanical engineering has been working on the ability of carbon nanotubes to withstand repeated stress and still be able to retain their structural and mechanical integrity, similar to the behavior of soft tissue. While extensive research has been done over the past decade into the mechanical properties of carbon nanotube structures, this study is the first to explore and document their fatigue behavior.
“If you can smartly control properties and materials, you can more efficiently control the whole structure,” Suhr said. “If these nanotubes can mimic artificial muscles, then some day they might be utilized as the soft tissue of the stomach wall or even as tendons throughout the body.”
Many researchers believe carbon nanotubes are the future of electronic circuitry and the successors of silicon, which, according to scientists, has nearly reached the limit of its applications. Suhr and a team of national engineers tested the nanotubes’ ability to resist fatigue by building a two-millimeter-square block in which millions of nanotubes were aligned vertically. Then, they repeatedly compressed it between two steel plates once every 0.75 seconds for more than 100 hours.
After 500,000 compressions in which the tubes were repeatedly squashed to 75 per cent of their original length, the block kept springing back almost to its original shape. The springiness is similar to real muscles’ ability to return to their original shapes over a lifetime of perpetual extension and contraction.
But it’s not only artificial muscles that interest Suhr. Because real muscles create a smoother motion than jerky electric motors or pneumatic devices, some of the new materials would be used to power robots and prosthetic limbs, as well as artificial tissue for implantation. Suhr is now combining nanotubes with different polymers, which control when an artificial muscle gets stretched, to improve their resistance to fatigue.
“I want to focus on new materials and other applications,” Suhr said. “We need to discern which of these polymers will work best, and then we can fabricate the new material ourselves.”
Although carbon nanotubes are not currently used in commercial applications, they are being studied intensely by researchers. The miniscule tubes, some of which are only one nanometer wide (a human hair is 50,000 nanometers wide), may one day have uses in computer-chip technology as transistors.

From blue collar to green chemistry


newsmaker Material science and chemistry are at the root of engineering innovations from semiconductors to nanotechnology.

Yet even as technologists design new materials, little is understood about the potentially harmful effects of these inventions on people and the environment.

John Warner is out to change that.

Warner is director of the Center for Green Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. He also recently co-founded the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, where he is chief technology officer.

He is one of a growing number of academics and professional chemists promoting environmentally benign approaches to chemistry and materials development.

Formulating safer substances is within grasp, Warner argues. But toxicology isn't sufficiently considered during the design stage. And there's a large gap in the knowledge needed to make environmentally benign goods.

Warner spoke at last week's Ideas Boston conference, where he described his life journey and current mission. Coming from a working-class family outside Boston, he got into graduate work in chemistry by chance. Once an employee at Polaroid, he discovered how little he or his fellow chemists known about toxicity.

After his talk, Warner spoke with CNET News.com.

Q: What is green chemistry and why do we need it?
Warner: Green chemistry is just a correction of the fact that right now in our education of chemistry and materials science, we don't teach toxicology or (chemistry) as a mechanism for environmental harm. So as society demands technology, the problem is that the people who are inventing it are unaware of the mechanisms that cause toxicity and environmental harm. If you can put in their hands the tools to understand that, then they may invent new products and processes that...look at toxicity and environmental harm as a design flaw. So green chemistry, succinctly, is making materials in an environmentally responsible way, and the technology required to do that.
You said that you were not trained in toxicity and no chemists are trained in that. How can that be?
Warner: Unless you are a toxicologist, (in which case) of course you are. If you are a chemist who is destined to work at the DuPonts and Dows, our curriculum is so jam-packed with things that we have to learn that we can't fit (it in)--or there is not enough of a present awareness of the importance of it.

If you go online at any university in the country, go to the chemistry department and look at what's required; you show me one chemistry department where someone who has graduated with a degree in chemistry is required to take anything like toxicology or environmental harm. You won't find one. Unless your major is toxicology or environmental sciences. Whereas if you are going to be in the job of monitoring, measuring, characterizing (toxics) after (chemicals have) already been created, then you have to take a ton of classes. But the ones who are doing the creating aren't being educated.

As a parent, I've read about plastics used in baby bottles (that may be harmful) and arsenic in the lumber to build playgrounds. Do we have a good idea of how bad the dangers are?
Warner: That's a very scary thing--that our knowledge of toxicology is a moving target. What we knew 10 years ago, what we know now is changing. The people who invented chlorofluorocarbons were heroes. Every week there would be a disaster: an ammonia explosion from a refrigerator plant--people were dying. Society mandated replacement for ammonia. Chlorofluorocarbons were invented at that time and they were thought of as wonderful, benign and safe things. Years later, we found out that they were ozone-depleting. It wasn't a bad invention--they just didn't know.

The reason is perhaps that a chemist kind of works in isolation. Do you ever see a history major or psychology major sitting down with a group of chemists and saying, "Hey, what are you doing?" The next question is: why shouldn't they?

There is a profound impact...when you invent a material. Why is it that in our society we completely disassociate people who do science and those who don't? What we need to do is get more people to realize that they can participate--their eyes, their ears, their ideas are just as valid to help in that process to say, "Wait a minute. Why are you using that material? Did you know over here somebody actually did find out that it has some toxicological concerns?" Right now, the only way those things happen is by accident during the design process or by identifying the horrors sometime later.

Let's put it as upfront as possible. We're not going to solve all the problems--we're still going to fail, we're still going to screw up, some dangerous things are going to slip through. But right now, there's no chance of stopping them. Someday in the future, we will be better at this. But we have to at least make a decision to go in that direction today.


What's the resistance? I'm sure chemical companies view regulations as a problem.
Warner: Absolutely. Chemical companies actually have embraced this for the most part. You see companies that have vice presidents of green chemistry. They would love to embrace it but the people haven't been trained. So you find them sponsoring workshops, bringing training to employees. Of course they would rather see academia start requiring courses. But changing academia is one of the most difficult things to do.

Some environmentalists say that after global warming the next big environmental concern is toxics within our own bodies. What's your feeling?
Warner: It's terrifying. Obviously my personal history (Warner lost an infant son to a birth defect, and a rock band mate in his twenties to leukemia), I have some questions about how all that pulls together. The new learning about environmental hormones and endocrine disruptors is scary as hell. I'm not in a position to know how much of that is valid, how much of that is not valid. Certainly some of it is valid and if some of it is valid, that's scary as hell.

We have carcinogens. Just look at the rates of childhood asthma and things like that. Now there are links to certain psychological illnesses. Things are happening out there that we need to learn about. But rather than look at it and panic and say, "Oh my God we must stop, stop, stop," I choose to look at it and say, "Let's get a factor of 10 more chemists onboard and get more people inventing safer things." And be proactive about changing the future.

How hard is this, even if you took into account design principles as you were talking about earlier?
Warner: I'm talking into this recorder here. Imagine all the inventions that went into doing this. All the different things--you got the LED light shining, the recording mechanisms, miniaturization of the electronics. Adding "let's make it nontoxic," although it's huge, is no larger of a problem than anything else. It's just that we haven't focused on it. It's always been abdicated to somebody else to do it. The inventors invent and the toxicologist comes in after the fact.

What I'm saying is: Look at that as a design flaw. You want this to work, you want the LED light, you want a clear recording. You also want the components to be nontoxic. And there is going to be a day in the future when that's going to be an acceptable requirement. But right now we don't have the building blocks to get there.

Is this an interdisciplinary problem?
Warner: Absolutely. The whole thing, in my opinion, is that if chemistry was more interdisciplinary and there was a diversity of the eyes, ears and ideas in the process, we'd be much better at what we're doing. The problem is that we're not. The academic structure is such that there is chemistry, there is biology, there is physics. And although the language has become "let's be more interdisciplinary," if you should go under the surface and actually look at how universities are still run today, there's very little successful interdisciplinary (work).

What about nanotechnology?
Warner: Nanotechnology--there's a whole lot of questions. There are two big areas in nanotechnology. One is obviously the potential hazards. True enough, that's scary and we need to do a lot as we develop product materials to make sure of that.

But I actually have a different take on that and that is, many companies will say, "We've been making such and such product for 40 years. You might have a new way of making it. But what are we going to do--tear down a manufacturing plant and fire all the people?" The expense of tearing down an existing thing and creating something new--are they going to go to another country where it's cheaper? There are all kinds of complications of replacing existing technology.

Nanotechnology isn't in the manufacturing phase, so when companies start doing that, they already have a lot of things to choose from that are environmentally-responsible, green chemistry technologies. If they choose to set up a manufacturing plant using the same traditional hazardous materials in spite of the fact that these other technologies exist, now that's a big problem.

The toxicity of this business card (in my hand) is one thing. But when you consider that probably for every gram of business card there's probably 100 to 1,000 grams of waste generated--the solvents for ink, the solvents used for paper, the energy for transportation.

The toxicity of this card is important, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. Where did this card come from? Where does it come from? The things that consumers never ever see can oftentimes have an even more profound impact on the environment than the actual product itself.

What's your sense of the awareness of these issues? Certainly consumers seem to be learning more, but what about the chemists out there? Do they have enough information?
Warner: Not yet. There's not enough information. They're thirsty for it, they want it. Many, many universities have faculty who say they want to integrate this into their teaching but they don't know how.

Five years ago, green chemistry was kind of unheard of. Now, if you look at the basic freshman textbooks, organic chemistry textbooks, about 50 percent of them have a couple pages on green chemistry, maybe a little section in the back or something like that. Pretty soon it will start being integrated a little more. It's a very, very slow process but it's starting to take root.

What's driving that?
Warner: The students. I had something like 120 students pass through my research lab as a professor in the last 10 years. The average time it's taken for a student to get a job is three days.

I'd never suggest hiring an inferior chemist because they know green chemistry. But if they are a really good chemist and they know green chemistry, wow!

Just think of how many times an inventor comes up with a process and the company gets all excited: 'we're going to go to manufacture it.' And somebody says, "You using that solvent? We can't manufacture with this solvent--the EPA is regulating; it costs us this much." It makes an entire project useless. Someone has to go back and has to reinvent the process or scrap it. So if those people at the very beginning understood those real-world implications, it would be a much more efficient process going from invention. So industry is all over this.

What do you want to do at the institute you founded?
Warner: Essentially, the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry is working with industry to do beaker and flask chemistry to develop these technologies. We will work with industry very quickly and very intelligently on problems. If such and such a company realizes that an adhesive is potentially carcinogenic, we're going to help them find a noncarcinogenic one...Ironically, that's where A Civil Action is from.

How will you transfer technology?
Warner: Essentially, the idea is that it will be company by company. Obviously, we need a sustainable model to employ because part of the process is to have post-docs in the institute train the next generation of scientists simultaneously so it has to be sustainable. But at the same time, I'm in it just to get the product out there.

I'm sure you've heard of William McDonough, who wrote the book Cradle to Cradle about sustainable design. It was written with a chemist. How does your work differ?
Warner: He's working with people to say, "You have to use the best technology available. Why are you using this when you could use this?" When he comes up empty, the chemist's job is to invent that alternative

Source :http://www.news.com/

Monday, October 8, 2007

Microsoft :The company's new Web site, HealthVault, is it trusted


New day new technology new service, security , trust
Microsoft has long been labeled an enemy of the people--the company you didn't even trust with your PC's serial number. Now the new Microsoft, led by philanthropist Bill Gates, hopes you will entrust your medical records with it.

The company's new Web site, HealthVault, aims to be a central repository for consumers to store their personal health data so that they can share it more easily with doctors and other medical professionals. The idea has become a sort of medical care holy grail: Current recordkeeping is a mishmash of files. Chronic care patients can wind up taking multiple medications prescribed by doctors who may be unaware of one another. Care of critically ill patients gets mismanaged because doctors can't find the right records.

But can Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) solve this? Microsoft, the company whose personal computer software is regularly attacked by hackers, the company reprimanded by governments for its aggressive monopolistic behavior?

"Those are the same questions I asked," says Peter Neupert, the Microsoft vice president in charge of the company's health group. This is Neupert's second stint at Microsoft: He left in 1998 to start Drugstore.com, which went public a year later. He has since served on presidential commissions on health care. But he wanted to do more than just analyze the problems, and convinced Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer two years ago take him back. "I told him I had this passion and wanted to go back to work. I finally persuaded him it was a good idea."

Neupert figured health care could only be solved by a brand big enough to be recognized around the world. Given the complexity and scale of the health care problems, "even to move the needle takes something like a Microsoft, a company with patience, with an ability to get partners, build infrastructure and, quite frankly, financial strength," Neupert says. "Who are mom and dad going to feel comfortable sharing private data with? The government? No. The insurance industry? Statistics say 87% of consumers don't trust their health plan. Some under-funded no-name organization?" Worldwide, Microsoft is one of the best-known brands, he notes. "I think we have a pretty good shot."

He has lots of competition. In particular, Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ) has been exploring a health care initiative. That program slowed recently when the executive leading the program left Google. Insurance companies, including Aetna (nyse: AET - news - people ), UnitedHealth Group (nyse: UNH - news - people ) and WellPoint (nyse: WLP - news - people ), also have medical recordkeeping systems under way.

There is no shortage of skeptics for a dozen reasons. "The concept behind it is dead on track, but it won't work very well" without a better way to integrate data from local doctors, predicts medical data guru Brent James, vice president for research at Utah's Intermountain Healthcare. The bottleneck, he says, is that there is no universal way to get blood test results, imaging scans and other basic data from thousands of local doctors and labs onto the Web.

"The intercommunications don't exist to get the data from where they now live into this central format and back out again to the physicians and nurses who would use them," James says.

Neupert agrees. "Hospitals, data devices, pharmacies, labs--we need to connect them all because the current situation is just too fragmented and siloed." As a starting point for pulling together data, Microsoft says it is working with 40 partners, including the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the Mayo Clinic, Johnson & Johnson and the American Heart Association, to provide content and applications for the sites. It also is working with device companies on applications that will allow readings to move directly from a range of diagnostic instruments--such as blood pressure cuffs and diabetic glucose monitors--to HealthVault.

Microsoft argues that HealthVault can avoid the countless security problems that have afflicted its operating systems. "It's an apples and oranges comparison," he asserts. "It's a lot easier for us to manage a service for reliability, security and privacy than it is to manage hundreds of millions of distributed personal computers." Microsoft is working with two hacker organizations to test the security of its system.

Although HealthVault will be free for consumers, this is no philanthropic effort. Microsoft hopes HealthVault will translate into more search revenues through targeted health-related ads. The site includes an improved online search that uses a machine-learning algorithm to help consumers search through articles on health issues by breaking broad topics into concrete subcategories.

"By providing a great health search experience, we will actually improve the search loyalty of Microsoft overall," says Sean Nolan, the Microsoft programmer who designed the site. He admits though that moving into the medical record arena "is a huge crazy challenge." Among other issues, Microsoft will have to tiptoe the line between assuring people their information is private--and serving up advertisements relevant to the health problems they have.

James says Microsoft's move into health care is reminiscent of dot-com companies who tried to develop medical records in the 1990s and stalled because they didn't control the data. "It is the same old great idea but the devil is in the details," he says. At least Microsoft has lots of money and technical expertise, he says.

Neupert says the potential "life-saving benefits" of a good electronic records system are worth the business risks. He ticks off what Microsoft needs to make the system real: Sign up medical partners who can start providing patient data, put privacy principles in place, work with hackers to test the system and so on. It's a long list.

The one virtue that even its critics concede to Microsoft is patience. It will need it.

God in the Brain


Where is GOD? in myself ? where ?


"Scientific American is reporting on scientific work done to map the euphoric religious feelings within the brain. As a result, it's now quite possible to experience 'proximity to God' via a special helmet: 'In a series of studies conducted over the past several decades, Persinger and his team have trained their device on the temporal lobes of hundreds of people. In doing so, the researchers induced in most of them the experience of a sensed presence - a feeling that someone (or a spirit) is in the room when no one, in fact, is - or of a profound state of cosmic bliss that reveals a universal truth. During the three-minute bursts of stimulation, the affected subjects translated this perception of the divine into their own cultural and religious language - terming it God, Buddha, a benevolent presence or the wonder of the universe.""


The doughnut-shaped machine swallows the nun, who is outfitted in a plain T-shirt and loose hospital pants rather than her usual brown habit and long veil. She wears earplugs and rests her head on foam cushions to dampen the device's roar, as loud as a jet engine. Supercooled giant magnets generate intense fields around the nun's head in a high-tech attempt to read her mind as she communes with her deity.


The Carmelite nun and 14 of her Catholic sisters have left their cloistered lives temporarily for this claustrophobic blue tube that bears little resemblance to the wooden prayer stall or sparse room where such mystical experiences usually occur. Each of these nuns answered a call for volunteers "who have had an experience of intense union with God" and agreed to participate in an experiment devised by neuroscientist Mario Beauregard of the University of Montreal. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Beauregard seeks to pinpoint the brain areas that are active while the nuns recall the most powerful religious epiphany of their lives, a time they experienced a profound connection with the divine. The question: Is there a God spot in the brain?


The spiritual quest may be as old as humankind itself, but now there is a new place to look: inside our heads. Using fMRI and other tools of modern neuroscience, researchers are attempting to pin down what happens in the brain when people experience mystical awakenings during prayer and meditation or during spontaneous utterances inspired by religious fervor.


Such efforts to reveal the neural correlates of the divine-a new discipline with the warring titles "neurotheology" and "spiritual neuroscience"-not only might reconcile religion and science but also might help point to ways of eliciting pleasurable otherworldly feelings in people who do not have them or who cannot summon them at will. Because of the positive effect of such experiences on those who have them, some researchers speculate that the ability to induce them artificially could transform people's lives by making them happier, healthier and better able to concentrate. Ultimately, however, neuroscientists study this question because they want to better understand the neural basis of a phenomenon that plays a central role in the lives of so many. "These experiences have existed since the dawn of humanity. They have been reported across all cultures," Beauregard says. "It is as important to study the neural basis of [religious] experience as it is to investigate the neural basis of emotion, memory or language."


Mystical Misfirings
Scientists and scholars have long speculated that religious feeling can be tied to a specific place in the brain. In 1892 textbooks on mental illness noted a link between "religious emotionalism" and epilepsy. Nearly a century later, in 1975, neurologist Norman Geschwind of the Boston Veterans Administration Hospital first clinically described a form of epilepsy in which seizures originate as electrical misfirings within the temporal lobes, large sections of the brain that sit over the ears. Epileptics who have this form of the disorder often report intense religious experiences, leading Geschwind and others, such as neuropsychiatrist David Bear of Vanderbilt University, to speculate that localized electrical storms in the brain's temporal lobe might sometimes underlie an obsession with religious or moral issues.


Exploring this hypothesis, neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego, asked several of his patients who have temporal lobe epilepsy to listen to a mixture of religious, sexual and neutral words while he tested the intensity of their emotional reactions using a measure of arousal called the galvanic skin response, a fluctuation in the electrical resistance of the skin. In 1998 he reported in his book Phantoms in the Brain (William Morrow), co-authored with journalist Sandra Blakeslee, that the religious words, such as "God," elicited an unusually large emotional response in these patients, indicating that people with temporal lobe epilepsy may indeed have a greater propensity toward religious feeling.



The key, Ramachandran speculates, may be the limbic system, which comprises interior regions of the brain that govern emotion and emotional memory, such as the amygdala and hypothalamus. By strengthening the connection between the temporal lobe and these emotional centers, epileptic electrical activity may spark religious feeling.


To seal the case for the temporal lobe's involvement, Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in Ontario sought to artificially re-create religious feelings by electrically stimulating that large subdivision of the brain. So Persinger created the "God helmet," which generates weak electromagnetic fields and focuses them on particular regions of the brain's surface.


In a series of studies conducted over the past several decades, Persinger and his team have trained their device on the temporal lobes of hundreds of people. In doing so, the researchers induced in most of them the experience of a sensed presence-a feeling that someone (or a spirit) is in the room when no one, in fact, is-or of a profound state of cosmic bliss that reveals a universal truth. During the three-minute bursts of stimulation, the affected subjects translated this perception of the divine into their own cultural and religious language-terming it God, Buddha, a benevolent presence or the wonder of the universe.


Persinger thus argues that religious experience and belief in God are merely the results of electrical anomalies in the human brain. He opines that the religious bents of even the most exalted figures-for instance, Saint Paul, Moses, Muhammad and Buddha-stem from such neural quirks. The popular notion that such experiences are good, argues Persinger in his book Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs (Praeger Publishers, 1987), is an outgrowth of psychological conditioning in which religious rituals are paired with enjoyable experiences. Praying before a meal, for example, links prayer with the pleasures of eating. God, he claims, is nothing more mystical than that.


Expanded Horizons
Although a 2005 attempt by Swedish scientists to replicate Persinger's God helmet findings failed, researchers are not yet discounting the temporal lobe's role in some types of religious experience. After all, not all such experiences are the same. Some arise from following a specific religious tradition, such as the calm Catholics feel when saying the rosary. Others bring a person into a perception of contact with the divine. Yet a third category might be mystical states that reveal fundamental truths opaque to normal consciousness. Thus, it is possible that different religious feelings arise from distinct locations in the brain. Individual differences might also exist. In some people, the neural seat of religious feeling may lie in the temporal lobe, whereas in others it could reside elsewhere.


Indeed, University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist Andrew Newberg and his late colleague, Eugene d'Aquili, have pointed to the involvement of other brain regions in some people under certain circumstances. Instead of artificially inducing religious experience, Newberg and d'Aquili used brain imaging to peek at the neural machinery at work during traditional religious practices. In this case, the scientists studied Buddhist meditation, a set of formalized rituals aimed at achieving defined spiritual states, such as oneness with the universe.


When the Buddhist subjects reached their self-reported meditation peak, a state in which they lose their sense of existence as separate individuals, the researchers injected them with a radioactive isotope that is carried by the blood to active brain areas. The investigators then photographed the isotope's distribution with a special camera-a technique called single-photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT).


The height of this meditative trance, as they described in a 2001 paper, was associated with both a large drop in activity in a portion of the parietal lobe, which encompasses the upper back of the brain, and an increase in activity in the right prefrontal cortex, which resides behind the forehead. Because the affected part of the parietal lobe normally aids with navigation and spatial orientation, the neuroscientists surmise that its abnormal silence during meditation underlies the perceived dissolution of physical boundaries and the feeling of being at one with the universe. The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is charged with attention and planning, among other cognitive duties, and its recruitment at the meditation peak may reflect the fact that such contemplation often requires that a person focus intensely on a thought or object.



Neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues documented something similar in 2002, when they used fMRI to scan the brains of several hundred meditating Buddhists from around the world. Functional MRI tracks the flow of oxygenated blood by virtue of its magnetic properties, which differ from those of oxygen-depleted blood. Because oxygenated blood preferentially flows to where it is in high demand, fMRI highlights the brain areas that are most active during-and thus presumably most engaged in-a particular task.


Davidson's team also found that the Buddhists' meditations coincided with activation in the left prefrontal cortex, again perhaps reflecting the ability of expert practitioners to focus despite distraction. The most experienced volunteers showed lower levels of activation than did those with less training, conceivably because practice makes the task easier. This theory jibes with reports from veterans of Buddhist meditation who claim to have reached a state of "effortless concentration," Davidson says.


What is more, Newberg and d'Aquili obtained concordant results in 2003, when they imaged the brains of Franciscan nuns as they prayed. In this case, the pattern was associated with a different spiritual phenomenon: a sense of closeness and mingling with God, as was similarly described by Beauregard's nuns. "The more we study and compare the neurological underpinnings of different religious practices, the better we will understand these experiences," Newberg says. "We would like to [extend our work by] recruiting individuals who engage in Islamic and Jewish prayer as well as revisiting other Buddhist and Christian practices."


Newberg and his colleagues discovered yet another activity pattern when they scanned the brains of five women while they were speaking in tongues-a spontaneous expression of religious fervor in which people babble in an incomprehensible language. The researchers announced in 2006 that the activity in their subjects' frontal lobes-the entire front section of the brain-declined relative to that of five religious people who were simply singing gospel. Because the frontal lobes are broadly used for self-control, the research team concluded that the decrement in activity there enabled the loss of control necessary for such garrulous outbursts.


Spiritual Networking


Although release of frontal lobe control may be involved in the mystical experience, Beauregard believes such profound states also call on a wide range of other brain functions. To determine exactly what might underlie such phenomena, the Quebecois neuroscientist and his colleagues used fMRI to study the brains of 15 nuns during three different mental states. Two of the conditions-resting with closed eyes and recollecting an intense social experience-were control states against which they compared the third: reminiscence or revival of a vivid experience with God.


As each nun switched between these states on a technician's cue, the MRI machine recorded cross sections of her brain every three seconds, capturing the whole brain roughly every two minutes. Once the neural activity was computed and recorded, the experimenters compared the activation patterns in the two control states with those in the religious state to elucidate the brain areas that became more energized during the mystical experience. (Although Beauregard had hoped the nuns would experience a mystical union while in the scanner, the best they could do, it turned out, was to conjure up an emotionally powerful memory of union with God. "God can't be summoned at will," explained Sister Diane, the prioress of the Carmelite convent in Montreal.)


The researchers found six regions that were invigorated only during the nuns' recall of communion with God. The spiritual memory was accompanied by, for example, increased activity in the caudate nucleus, a small central brain region to which scientists have ascribed a role in learning, memory and, recently, falling in love; the neuroscientists surmise that its involvement may reflect the nuns' reported feeling of unconditional love. Another hot spot was the insula, a prune-size chunk of tissue tucked within the brain's outermost layers that monitors body sensations and governs social emotions. Neural sparks there could be related to the visceral pleasurable feelings associated with connections to the divine.



And augmented activity in the inferior parietal lobe, with its role in spatial awareness-paradoxically, the opposite of what Newberg and Davidson witnessed-might mirror the nuns' feeling of being absorbed into something greater. Either too much or too little activity in this region could, in theory, result in such a phenomenon, some scientists surmise. The remainder of the highlighted regions, the researchers reported in the September 25, 2006, issue of Neuroscience Letters, includes the medial orbitofrontal cortex, which may weigh the pleasantness of an experience; the medial prefrontal cortex, which may help govern conscious awareness of an emotional state; and, finally, the middle of the temporal lobe.


The quantity and diversity of brain regions involved in the nuns' religious experience point to the complexity of the phenomenon of spirituality. "There is no single God spot, localized uniquely in the temporal lobe of the human brain," Beauregard concludes. "These states are mediated by a neural network that is well distributed throughout the brain."


Brain scans alone cannot fully describe a mystical state, however. Because fMRI depends on blood flow, which takes place on the order of seconds, fMRI images do not capture real-time changes in the firing of neurons, which occur within milliseconds. That is why Beauregard turned to a faster technique called quantitative electroencephalography (EEG), which measures the voltage from the summed responses of millions of neurons and can track its fluctuation in real time. His team outfitted the nuns with red bathing caps studded with electrodes that pick up electric currents from neurons. These currents merge and appear as brain waves of various frequencies that change as the nuns again recall an intense experience with another person and a deep connection with God.


Beauregard and his colleagues found that the most prevalent brain waves are long, slow alpha waves such as those produced by sleep, consistent with the nuns' relaxed state. In work that has not yet been published, the scientists also spotted even lower-frequency waves in the prefrontal and parietal cortices and the temporal lobe that are associated with meditation and trance. "We see delta waves and theta waves in the same brain regions as the fMRI," Beauregard says.


Fool's Errand?


The brain mediates every human experience from breathing to contemplating the existence of God. And whereas activity in neural networks is what gives rise to these experiences, neuroimaging cannot yet pinpoint such activity at the level of individual neurons. Instead it provides far cruder anatomical information, highlighting the broad swaths of brain tissue that appear to be unusually dynamic or dormant. But using such vague structural clues to explain human feelings and behaviors may be a fool's errand. "You list a bunch of places in the brain as if naming something lets you understand it," opines neuropsychologist Seth Horowitz of Brown University. Vincent Paquette, who collaborated with Beauregard on his experiments, goes further, likening neuroimaging to phrenology, the practice in which Victorian-era scientists tried-and ultimately failed-to intuit clues about brain function and character traits from irregularities in the shape of the skull.


Spiritual neuroscience studies also face the profound challenge of language. No two mystics describe their experiences in the same way, and it is difficult to distinguish among the various types of mystical experiences, be they spiritual or traditionally religious. To add to the ambiguity, such feelings could also encompass awe of the universe or of nature. "If you are an atheist and you live a certain kind of experience, you will relate it to the magnificence of the universe. If you are a Christian, you will associate it with God. Who knows? Perhaps they are the same," Beauregard muses.



Rather than attempting to define religious experience to understand it, some say we should be boiling it down to its essential components. "When we talk about phenomena like a mystical experience, we need to be a lot more specific about what we are referring to as far as changes in attention, memory and perception," Davidson says. "Our only hope is to specify what is going on in each of those subsystems," as has been done in studies of cognition and emotion.


Other research problems abound. None of the techniques, for example, can precisely delineate specific brain regions. And it is virtually impossible to find a perfect so-called reference task for the nuns to perform against which to compare the religious experience they are trying to capture. After all, what human experience is just one detail different from the awe and love felt in the presence of God?


Making Peace


For the nuns, serenity does not come from a sense of God in their brains but from an awareness of God with them in the world. It is that peace and calm, that sense of union with all things, that Beauregard wants to capture-and perhaps even replicate. "If you know how to electrically or neurochemically change functions in the brain," he says, "then you [might] in principle be able to help normal people, not mystics, achieve spiritual states using a device that stimulates the brain electromagnetically or using lights and sounds."


Inducing truly mystical experiences could have a variety of positive effects. Recent findings suggest, for example, that meditation can improve people's ability to pay attention. Davidson and his colleagues asked 17 people who had received three months of intensive training in meditation and 23 meditation novices to perform an attention task in which they had to successively pick out two numbers embedded in a series of letters. The novices did what most people do, the investigators announced in June: they missed the second number because they were still focusing on the first-a phenomenon called attentional blink. In contrast, all the trained meditators consistently picked out both numbers, indicating that practicing meditation can improve focus.


Meditation may even delay certain signs of aging in the brain, according to preliminary work by neuroscientist Sara Lazar of Harvard University and her colleagues. A 2005 paper in NeuroReport noted that 20 experienced meditators showed increased thickness in certain brain regions relative to 15 subjects who did not meditate. In particular, the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula were between four and eight thousandths of an inch thicker in the meditators; the oldest of these subjects boasted the greatest increase in thickness, the reverse of the usual process of aging. Newberg is now investigating whether meditation can alleviate stress and sadness in cancer patients or expand the cognitive capacities of people with early memory loss.


Artificially replicating meditative trances or other spiritual states might be similarly beneficial to the mind, brain and body. Beauregard and others argue, for example, that such mystical mimicry might improve immune system function, stamp out depression or just provide a more positive outlook on life. The changes could be lasting and even transformative. "We could generate a healthy, optimal brain template," Paquette says. "If someone has a bad brain, how can they get a good brain? It's really [a potential way to] rewire our brain." Religious faith also has inherent worldly rewards, of course. It brings contentment, and charitable works motivated by such faith bring others happiness.


To be sure, people may differ in their proclivity to spiritual awakening. After all, not everyone finds God with the God helmet. Thus, scientists may need to retrofit the technique to the patient. And it is possible that some people's brains will simply resist succumbing to the divine.



Moreover, no matter what neural correlates scientists may find, the results cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Although atheists might argue that finding spirituality in the brain implies that religion is nothing more than divine delusion, the nuns were thrilled by their brain scans for precisely the opposite reason: they seemed to provide confirmation of God's interactions with them. After all, finding a cerebral source for spiritual experiences could serve equally well to identify the medium through which God reaches out to humanity. Thus, the nuns' forays into the tubular brain scanner did not undermine their faith. On the contrary, the science gave them an even greater reason to believe.




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Robots to Help Elderly


Can we think that robot is doing all the odd job of human .Robot is becoming as a right worker of many things.
If you grow old , expect to be served food by a robot, ride a voice-recognition wheelchair or even possibly hire a nurse in a robotic suit — all examples of cutting-edge technology to care for the country's rapidly graying population.

With nearly 22 percent of Japan's population already aged 65 or older, businesses here have been rolling out everything from easy-entry cars to remote-controlled beds, fueling a care-technology market worth some $1.08 billion in 2006, according to industry figures.

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At a home care and rehabilitation convention in Tokyo this week, buyers crowded round a demonstration of Secom Co.'s My Spoon feeding robot, which helps elderly or disabled people eat with a spoon- and fork-fitted swiveling arm.

Operating a joystick with his chin, developer Shigehisa Kobayashi maneuvered the arm toward a block of silken tofu, deftly getting the fork to break off a bite-sized piece. The arm then returned to a preprogrammed position in front of the mouth, allowing Kobayashi to bite and swallow.

"It's all about empowering people to help themselves," Kobayashi said. The Tokyo-based company has already sold 300 of the robots, which come with a price tag of $3,500.

"We want to give the elderly control over their own lives," he said.

The rapidly aging population here has spurred a spate of concerns: a labor shortage, tax shortfalls, financial difficulties in paying the health bills and pensions of large numbers of elderly.

Moreover, a breakdown of family ties in recent years means a growing number of older Japanese are spending their golden years away from the care traditionally provided by children and grandchildren.

That's where cutting-edge technology steps in.

A rubber and nylon "muscle suit" developed by the Tokyo University of Science helps keep the elderly active by providing support for the upper body, arms and shoulders.

Powered by air pressure actuators, the prototype suit — which looks like an oversized life jacket — provides subtle backing to help older people lift heavy objects.

The intelligent wheelchair TAO Aicle from Fujitsu Ltd. and Aisin Seiki Co. uses a positioning system to automatically travel to a preset destination, and uses sensors to detect and stop at red lights, and to avoid obstacles.

Another wheelchair designed by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology responds to oral commands like "forward" and "back," "right" and "left."

Then there are cars designed for easy entry for the wheelchair-bound or those with difficulty walking, like Toyota Motor Corp.'s Welcab series. Its slogan: "A car that's more patient than your daughter."

Tired? Retire to a Lowland futon bed by Kaneshiro Tsuhso Inc. that can be adjusted into a reclining seat.

And there's help for caregivers, too.

A full-body robotic suit developed by the Kanagawa Institute of Technology outside Tokyo is a massive contraption powered by 22 air pumps to help nurses hoist patients on and off their beds.

Sensors attached to the user's skin detects when muscles are trying to lift something heavy — and signals to the air pumps to kick in to provide support.

Though the suit makes its wearer look a little like Robocop, a student who was easily lifted off a table in a demonstration said he felt comfortable during the test.

"It doesn't feel at all like I'm being lifted by a robot," he said. "This feels so comfortable and very human."

Space -How much you want - Infinity. :To Infinity — and Beyond!


Space is ours. How much ? its infinity.
The U.S. space agency is also celebrating its own 50th anniversary in 2008. Sputnik's historic launch on Oct. 4, 1957 led directly to NASA's creation in 1958 when Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act.

"This book has a wonderful collection of imagery that chronicles the first half-century of NASA," said NASA deputy administrator Shana Dale in a statement. "As we view the historic achievement of our first generation of space explorers and see how far we have come in 50 years, we also peer over the horizon to a new era of exploration that will provide us with an outpost on the moon and eventually human exploration of Mars."


Titled "America in Space" and published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, the book contains 500 color and black-and-white photographs — many never before published — that were gleaned from NASA archives.

Images show dramatic moments at lift-off as well as the faces behind-the-scenes in mission control, providing vivid illustration of the very human astronauts, scientists, engineers, and administrators.

"Abrams is tremendously proud to have collaborated with NASA to create 'America in Space,' which celebrates some of our nation's greatest achievements and is also a milestone in photographic publishing," said Eric Himmel, Abrams vice president and editor-in-chief. "It was thrilling to see these amazing images materialize from NASA's vast visual archives as the project took shape."

"America in Space" also features a foreword by Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong — the first human to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

NASA chief historian Steven Dick, lead photo researcher Constance Moore and other officials also contributed to the new book, the space agency said. The book sells for $50.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

MX Air , actually half mouse and half remote control.


Logitech has created a computer mouse called the MX Air that’s actually half mouse and half remote control.

The MX Air is made to be used “on the desk” or “in the air.” It works like a regular, wireless mouse when you push it on a flat surface.

But, it also works like a combination laser pointer and video remote controller when you wave it in the air and point it towards your TV.

It is made to let you control – from near or far - the latest breed of multimedia Windows PCs. Especially new media computer units which require placement close to those shiny, flat-screens, high-definition televisions.

The MX Air looks like many other modern wireless laser mice. It’s black and steel colored with stealth backlighting that quietly appears when you move the mouse. There are also a lot of extra control buttons that you normally don’t find on a mouse.

On top is a very large, touch-sensitive scrolling bar that runs down the middle. On either side are the left and right “click” buttons. And below the scroll there are buttons for ‘Back’. ‘Select’, ‘Play/Pause’ and ‘Volume so you can take charge of your computer’s digital audio and video media.

The secret weapon inside is called Freespace Motion Control technology. It translates raw sensor data into precise on-screen interactions by using a combination of micro-electromechanical sensors (tiny motors), digital signal processing and radio-frequency technologies. That means it can accurately interpret the mouse’s movements regardless of its orientation.

The MX Air wirelessly connects to your computer via a USB dongle, which looks like a very small memory stick. The wireless radio controller has a range of 30 feet. It’s powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery which should be good for up to five days use per charge.

Of course, good looks and promises don’t always translate into a better user experience. In this instance I’ve had mixed results.

When used as a wireless mouse on a flat surface, the MX Air is a great performer – once you adjust it properly. Right out of the box I found the controls to be very twitchy until all the motions were slowed down almost to their minimum settings. The scroll bar seems to move way too quickly whatever settings I choose. It took a few tries to get most everything set to my liking.

Logitech’s MX Air has a suggested retail price of $149.99.

I found the mouse to be somewhat less endearing when used “in the air”. The cursor is larger and easier to see in this mode, but its motions are somewhat more difficult to control. I found that it takes a little time to get used to using the MX Air across the room – but really like the idea of having only one device control everything that a Windows Media Center mouse and remote control needs to do.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Bat and mouse game -the Informational Graphics category of the 2007 International Science and Technology Visualization Challenge


This image by MIT researchers, based on a computer model of a bat in flight, won first place in the Informational Graphics category of the 2007 International Science and Technology Visualization Challenge.

"When viewed in slow motion, bat flight is beautiful and complex. The goal of this illustration is to capture that beauty while also adding scientific merit," David J. Willis, a research scientist in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, told Science magazine. The competition is sponsored by Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Foundation.

Willis created the winning image with Professor Jaime Peraire of aeronautics and astronautics and several colleagues from Brown University led by Professor Kenneth Breuer.

For the contest, illustrators, photographers, computer programmers, and graphics specialists from around the world were invited to submit visualizations that would intrigue, explain and educate. More than 200 entries were received from 23 countries, representing every continent except the Arctic and Antarctica.

"Breakthroughs in science and engineering are often portrayed in movies and literature as 'ah-ha!' moments. What these artists and communicators have given us are similar experiences, showing us how bats fly or how nicotine becomes physically addictive," said Jeff Nesbit, director of NSF's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. "We look at their visualizations, and we understand."