Friday, November 03, 2006

Robot Century

From Gizmodo:
When they're not impressing us with their HDTVs, Samsung's out making killer robots. Literally. Along with Korea University, they've created a robotic sentry that's equipped with two cameras (one infrared), zooming capabilities, and a BFG (a 5.5mm machine gun to be exact). The robot has the ability to differentiate between humans and inanimate objects and can even hunt its enemy from afar (which is actually kinda scary). It also has a speaker that beckons the fool that walks near it to surrender before being pulverized. The robot is damn good at keeping up with its "targets," but most of them seemed to be walking so we'd be curious to know if it's possible to out run the machine, though we wouldn't wanna be the guinea pig for that job.

Now Net Neutrality Will Ban Ad-Based Network Business Models?

From Techdirt:
We've been dismayed at some of the really questionable or outright dishonest statements made by those paid by the telco industry on the issue of net neutrality. They keep distorting the debate -- which is disappointing, because there are reasonable arguments against net neutrality legislation. We just don't seem to hear them from the think tankers and the shills (sometimes, though not always, they're the same thing). The latest is a long piece by Haney Hance, who is certainly quite knowledgeable and experienced on the topic, but who writes up a long post explaining why enforcing net neutrality as a condition of the AT&T/BellSouth merger will make it that much more difficult for the US to have "world-class internet infrastructure." Amusingly, he points to the situations in South Korea and Japan as evidence of why the US needs better, cheaper broadband, failing to include the bit about how heavily state-supported both of these efforts were. Considering that he's warning about how it will stifle growth here to have the government involved, it's pretty bad to see him raise up those examples as reasons why we need less government regulation. He also says that AT&T/BellSouth wouldn't block web sites or degrade service, despite the fact that they've said they wanted to in the past. Hance, instead, says it's no problem since AT&T's CEO has promised he'd never do that (going against his own earlier statements). Of course, we've seen the telcos go back on their promises before -- so forgive us for being skeptical.

However, the meat of his piece is to suggest that if network neutrality rules were put in place, it would mean that telcos would be unable to experiment with business models that involved using advertising as a subsidy. Of course, he leaves out the part where he explains why this is. He just states it as true, when there's simply no evidence to support that being the case. A non-discrimination clause (while problematic in other ways), would not limit a telco from offering broadband service that's supported by advertising -- and there were even attempts (which failed miserably) to offer such services in the past. He even makes it sound like Google and Yahoo are somehow taking money out of the telcos hands by being able to advertise without having to give up a piece of it to the telcos ("content providers like Google, Yahoo and eBay get to keep every dollar spent on online advertising.") That's because those providers already pay the telcos for their bandwidth and provide the actual pages on which the advertisers advertise. What they do with it, is none of the telcos concern -- which is the point the network neutrality folks keep trying to get across. While I'm still worried about any new legislation that gives the government more power to regulate the internet, it's disturbing to see the continued batch of bad arguments coming out in favor of the telco position. It doesn't help their cause at all. It just makes it look like they don't have a real argument.

Why Not Have The Government Tax Google To Pay For Next Generation Networks?

From Techdirt:
For all of the bad arguments we see against network neutrality legislation, at the very least they come from a basic (if skewed) free market rationale. They very much focus on the idea of keeping the government out of the process (which is somewhat amusing when you consider how many favors, tax breaks, government-granted rights of ways and subsidies were used to get the telcos to where they are today). While it was AT&T's Ed Whitacre who kicked off the latest round of net neutrality debates a year ago by saying that companies like Google should pay AT&T for delivering their content, at least he was talking about a private deal between two companies. More recently, the telcos have backed away from the idea that Google owes them money for a free ride, perhaps because it's idiotically wrong and provably false. That's resulted in some net neutrality critics saying that the telcos would never, ever block a service like Google (despite their own earlier statements).

Apparently, however, someone forgot to tell all of that to Canadian cable company Videotron, who's chief stirred up the pot by not only suggesting that all of these internet companies are getting a free ride on his network, but tossing out all the "free market" "hands off" crap to come right out and say he thinks the government should put a "transmission tariff" on various internet service to help fund the ability for his company to build a new network. Somehow, I think Robert Depatie may have lost a bunch of support from free market think tankers on that suggestion. Of course, there is no fundamental reason for this, other than greed from a company who wants more money from the government because it's unable or simply too lazy to build up its own business. David Canton responds to this suggestion the same way some of us suggested Google should respond to the earlier suggestions that they were getting a free ride: they should ask the telcos to pay them. After all, it's services like Google and Apple and Amazon that make the broadband lines the telcos and cable companies provide valuable. The problem is that these telcos and cable companies think they have the power position here, when they don't. Or, perhaps, in this case, Videotron realizes it doesn't have the power position, which is why it's asking for the government to step in and force Google to pay up.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Super car shootout

Foose Hemisfear

SEMA may have been overrun with sport compacts and speaker boxes years ago, but the hot rod still rules and the Foose Hemisfear found at the DaimlerChrysler display is one of the best we've seen this trip. It's a car that's captivating from every angle. From the exposed carbon fiber to the glass-top roof to the completely exposed steering and braking hardware that's polished brighter than your grandma's Sunday silver, the Hemisfear will not let you break eye-contact until you've inspected every inch of it. Eventually you'll find your way to the rear where Chrysler's new HEMI 392 crate motor resides amidship under the aforementioned glass top roof. The engine itself is a work of art, though its 500 horsepower and 472 ft-lbs. of torque are meant for more than just display. What's unusual about the Hemisfear compared to most of the other cars at SEMA is that you can actually buy it. It will be sold as unfinished kit from Gaffoglio Family Metalcrafters. In fact, this particular one is under private ownership.

Obsidian CoupeR Mustang

Outside the halls of the SEMA show looks like an L.A. expressway during rush hour. A sea of custom cars are double, triple and quadruple parked on sidewalks and access roads. The cumulative effect of so many incredible rides is that it's tough for any single set of wheels to stand out. The Obsidian CoupeR Mustang, however, stood out. It may have been because it was parked in a spot of honor, directly outside a set of main doors in the middle of the pathway with no cars in front, in back or beside it to divert attention. It may also have been its 900 hp, twin-supercharged engine. When a representative of CoupeR Design, the company who built this custom '67 Mustang, would lift the hood, you would think one of the SEMA girls just dropped her top by the size of the crowd that gathered. Everything about this car, however, attracts attention, from the front end that scowls behind a custom air dam and lethal looking hood scoop to the onboard 2.4Ghz computer packing a 60GB hard drive and controlled via a 10.5-inch touchscreen custom installed in the dash, the Obsidian is a particularly obscene example of SEMA-style tuning.

Funnies today

"Rapping Paper"

The Best Video Cards for Your Money: November 2006

Best PCI-E Card For Under $100
Radeon X800 GTO 256mb

Codename: R420, 13-micron technology
12 Pixel Shaders, Six Vertex Shaders, 12 Texture Units, 12 Raster Operator Units
256 bit memory bus
400 MHz core, 490-MHz DDR (980 MHz Effective) Memory

Best PCI-E Card For ~$130
Geforce 7600 GT

Codename: G73, 90-nanometer technology
12 Pixel shaders, Five Vertex shaders, 12 Texture units, Eight Raster Operator Units
128 bit memory bus
560 MHz core, 700-MHz DDR (1400 MHz Effective) Memory

Best PCI-E Card For ~$180
Radeon X1950 PRO

Codename: RV570, 90-nanometer technology
36 Pixel shaders, Eight Vertex shaders, 12 Texture units, 12 Raster Operator Units
256 bit external memory bus (512-bit internal ring bus)
575 MHz core, 690-MHz DDR (1280 MHz effective) Memory

Best PCI-E Card For ~$250: None
In this price range, the best buys used to be the Geforce 7900 GTO and Radeon X1900 XT 256mb.

Unfortunately, I can't find them for that price anymore. What we can find in this price range is the 7950 GT, which is a good card, but it is more expensive than the X1950 PRO and only offers similar performance. It is thus hard to recommend.

Supposedly, ATI will release the X1950 XT this month, which should be a recommended buy once it becomes available--assuming it can be bought in this price segment. Until then, keep your eyes out for X1900 XTs and 7900 GTOs, in case they resurface in the $250 range.

Best PCI-E Card For ~$340: Dual-Gpu Solutions
Radeon X1950 PRO Crossfire / Geforce 7900 GS SLI

Best PCI-E Card For ~$400
Radeon X1950 XTX

Codename: R580+, 90-nanometer technology
48 Pixel shaders, Eight Vertex shaders, 16 Texture units, 16 Raster Operator Units
256 bit external memory bus (512-bit internal ring bus)
650 MHz core, 1000-MHz DDR (2000 MHz effective) Memory

Best PCI-E Card For ~$500
Geforce 7950 GX2

Codename: G71, 90-nanometer technology
2x24 Pixel shaders, 2x8 Vertex shaders, 2x24 Texture units, 2x16 Raster Operator Units
256 bit memory bus
500 MHz core, 600-MHz DDR (1200-MHz Effective) Memory

Raytheon announces new UAV cockpit setup

According to Raytheon's press release, the new "Universal Control System" consists of five LCDs, a couple joysticks, a keyboard, and a nice leather chair.

"We took the best-of-breed technologies from the gaming industry and coupled them with 35-years Raytheon UAS command and control expertise and developed a state-of-the-art universal cockpit built around the operator," said Mark Bigham, business development director for Raytheon's Intelligence and Information Systems business. "We broke down the operator's tasks and objectives and constructed a system built entirely around them, rather than building the system around the air vehicle first, without input from the operators. Improvements included adding a wrap-around display to enhance operator effectiveness. We wanted to put the operator in the UAS 'cockpit' virtually and dramatically enhance his or her situational awareness. UCS operators will have better situational awareness than any manned platform, which dramatically improves safety." "Aircrews today need UCS superior control interfaces and situational awareness, which will dramatically improve the combat effectiveness of pilot and sensor operators," said Michael Keaton, former commander of a U.S. Air Force Predator squadron who is now working for Raytheon. "We developed the essential tools and technology needed to bring UCS to fruition, and I believe this is the only UAS control system on the market designed specifically around the operator to enhance combat operations." Raytheon designed and developed the UCS to meet operator demands and decrease human factors issues when operating a UAS. The enhanced operating system addresses ergonomic concerns and caters to the needs of the operators to help them perform their jobs more effectively. In addition, the system gives the operator the option of standing or sitting and provides flexibility in controlling multiple functions. Moreover, the technology provides a safer work environment for operators, keeping their minds more focused to perform their missions more effectively and safer. The UCS system can control multiple dissimilar UASs simultaneously, with software designed and developed by Raytheon. Raytheon developed an intuitive interface technology, which makes UAS operators much more effective in learning the UCS system and with significantly less training. The gaming industry has invested billions of dollars in developing advanced human interface technologies which are simple and intuitive; Raytheon leveraged the technologies and adapted them to the UCS system. A 2004 study by the Federal Aviation Administration, "A Summary of Unmanned Aircraft Accident/Incident Data: Human Factors Implications," states that " ... a common theme across many of the mishaps reported involved a problem with the command interface to the system." The study also noted that "In the systems analyzed, human factors issues were present in 21 percent (Shadow) to 67 percent (Predator) of the accidents ... numbers suggest there is room for improvement if specific human factors issues can be identified and addressed." Bigham added that Raytheon is confident that UCS will improve operator performance statistics such as these found in this study, and that the company looks forward to analyzing user results. The RUCS system is based on flight proven technology and an open architecture, multi-platform, multi-sensor and STANAG 4586 compliant. STANAG 4586 is a specification that allows members of the NATO alliance to share information obtained by their unmanned air vehicles.

Raytheon has been a pioneer in developing a wide variety of UAS ground control systems for the U.S. military for more than 35-years. Most recently, Raytheon developed the Global Hawk ground system for the U.S. Air Force and the Tactical Control System for the U.S. Navy. The Global Hawk ground system was ranked as the "most automated of all systems," according to the FAA December 2004 study.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Clear Wheels

D'Vinci Forgiato Wheels worked up these transparent rollers made of Lexan or something. The reps say they're roadworthy, though we might have a problem with cleaning the brake dust off everytime we go out for groceries. Rolling fly is such a pain in the ass.

USB Turntable

18/10/2006. First up, this isn't your typical USB knickknack. At US$225 a pop, it's in a league of its own. Now that we've established that, this USB Turntable actually converts your LPs, 12 inches and singles straight into your laptop. Forget about all the step-by-step guides that teach you how to save your vinyls digitally. All you need with this belt-driven USB Turntable is to plug it into the nearest USB port, fire up the idiot-proof Audacity software, and begin converting. No more wire-tangling adapters, special drivers and mismatched software. Even dear old dad could cop a spin on this without breaking into cold sweat. Elementary, my dear Watson.

Price: US$225
Availability: At Firebox
Device: USB turntable
Basic specs: Adjustable gain, anti-skating control, high-speed vinyl recording function, can also be connected to any home stereo with CD or auxiliary inputs, 33.3/45rpm, 78rpm records can be transferred by recording at 33.3/45rpm and using software to restore to original speed, but you will need to buy a special stylus (not included, but available from specialist retailers) to playback 78s, 3.5mm

FCS successfully tests NLOS-C Firing Platform

The Future Combat Systems program recently tested the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon Firing Platform – an ultralightweight, 38-caliber, fully automated 155-mm howitzer featuring a fully automated ammunition handling system integrated onto a tracked chassis. Testing will continue through 2008, when preproduction units are scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Army. (Yuma Proving Ground photo)

Future Combat Systems last week at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona successfully test-fired the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon Firing Platform being developed by BAE Systems.

The firing platform is an ultralightweight, 38-caliber, fully automated 155-mm howitzer featuring a fully automated ammunition handling system integrated onto a tracked chassis. The test launched an official firing platform testing and evaluation program that will run through 2008.

"We are committed to delivering the world's best capabilities to our joint warfighters in a timely fashion," said Dennis Muilenburg, FCS vice president and program manager. "The recent test activities and ongoing development work are evidence the program is on schedule and performing effectively."

The program will continue single-round firing tests with the firing platform during the coming weeks. Those tests will be followed by rate-of-fire testing to demonstrate the effectiveness of the NLOS cannon's automation system, which will give soldiers the capability to fire a four-round Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact mission with the push of a button.

The NLOS-C is the first vehicle in the FCS program's fleet of eight variants of manned ground vehicles. Preproduction units are scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Army by the end of 2008.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments II - The Domino Effect

An even bigger, more ambitious Coke and Mentos fountain. More than twice as many bottles as last time – and an amazing new twist. The Domino Effect!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Microsoft Adds 1080p Support With Xbox Update

Microsoft said it will issue a Halloween update to its Microsoft Live! service on Tuesday, adding more than 85 new enhancements to its online service, including 1080p support.

The enhancements are a grab bag of fixes and updates, including such improvements as the 1080p support, enhancements to the Xbox Live Arcade system, as well as the ability to stream video to the console in a variety of different formats.

The update's coming tomorrow with the following features, quoted from Microsoft's press release:

* Expanded HD Display and Video Playback Options With 1080p resolution, gamers now have the ability to enjoy both game and video content in the best HD resolution currently available.

* Expanded video playback options increase the ways gamers can enjoy video content on Xbox 360. It is now possible to stream WMV video from a Windows PC running Windows Media Player 11 or Windows Media Connect.

* Gamers can now play video files from data CDs and DVDs, as well as from storage devices like USB 2.0 flash drives and Xbox 360 Memory Units.

* Xbox 360 will support 50hz HDTV display modes, providing viewers greater choice in how they watch DVD and HD DVD content.

Most Extreme Superyacht

It may not be the fastest, but what could be classified as the world's most extreme superyacht has been developed. And while it's not hard for some skunkworks whiz to draw some far-out lines on a computer, this design has both a pedigree and a working model. Craig Loomes Design has made a name for its many innovative motoryacht concepts; this new 148-meter (485-foot) plan certainly looks otherworldly, like something out of Star Trek. And with a transatlantic range at 40 knots it moves into territory where other superyacht designs have not ventured.
Skeptics may ask whether a trimaran hull will work for a superyacht. In this case, the design follows the formula that Loomes has exploited in smaller sizes, including a 23-meter (75-footer) built in Mauritius. This concept uses a long, slim center hull flanked by two narrow side hulls that provide stability. Such long and slim hulls endow this trimaran with a wave-piercing capability that will give it exceptional seaworthiness and a level ride, while minimizing pitching.

Another question is whether the slim center hull's narrow beam will restrict accommodations. In this case, a 148-meter hull has its advantages, with split-level luxury staterooms providing room for up to 28 guests. The master suite extends to three decks, which means, of course, it needs a private elevator. There also is accommodation for 11 personal staff and a crew of 48. Public rooms include observation lounges in the cross decks that link the center hull and side hulls-just the place to have drinks, do yoga and watch dolphins playing beneath you. There is a swimming pool, hot tub and plenty of room for sunbathing.

Other facilities include a grand piano and bar, a helicopter pad, a grand hall and an internal harbor. A range of tenders is carried in garages built into the side and main hulls with the remainder of the side hull area given over to stowage and crew requirements.

Propulsion for this yacht comprises four MTU V-20 8000 diesels, each producing 8,200 hp and coupled to individual water jets. When all 33,000 horses kick in the yacht has a sprint speed of 50 knots, and at a cruising speed of 40 knots the range is over 3,000 miles. It seems remarkable that a 148-meter, 3,000-tonne (3,360-ton) displacement hull can operate at a draft of just 3.5 meters (11 feet 6 inches), but that's another multihull advantage.

Not only does this superyacht have spectacular interior accommodations, but it also has a stunning external appearance. The side hulls are placed right aft, and two angled fins dominate the superstructure and incorporate air intakes and provide a mounting for antenna. Perhaps the most striking feature is the rows of windows and portholes along the hull that reflect the five decks of accommodation. Construction is likely to be in aluminium or high-tensile steel; Craig Loomes design has already identified shipyards that can construct such an unusual design.

A clue to a possible destination of this new ship is the inclusion of a mosque, but we think she would be equally at home in the Caribbean or South Pacific-or outer space. n

Contact: Craig Loomes Design;

Microsoft zeros in on Office fakers

After first introducing a voluntary way for users to ensure that they only used licensed and legal copies of Microsoft Office products, the software giant has announced it is about to make the scheme mandatory.

The move means users who are caught using software that can't be proved to be 100 per cent legal won't get access to add-ons and updates from Microsoft.

Boeing to Begin Ground Testing of X-48B Blended Wing Body Concept

In cooperation with NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing Phantom Works will soon begin ground testing its X-48B Blended Wing Body concept in preparation for flight testing early in 2007. (Bob Ferguson photo)

EDWARDS, Calif., Oct. 27, 2006 -- In cooperation with NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing Phantom Works soon will begin ground testing of its X-48B Blended Wing Body (BWB) concept in preparation for flight testing early next year.

The X-48B ground and flight testing will take place at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where two high-fidelity 21-foot wingspan prototypes have been delivered.

The prototypes were produced to explore and validate the structural, aerodynamic and operational advantages of the BWB concept. They were designated the "X-48B" by the U.S. Air Force based on its interest in the design's potential as a future military aircraft.

"Earlier wind-tunnel testing and the upcoming flight testing are focused on learning more about the BWB's low-speed flight-control characteristics, especially during takeoffs and landings," said Norm Princen, Boeing Phantom Works chief engineer for the X-48B program. "Knowing how accurately our models predict these characteristics is an important step in the further development of this concept."

X-48B Ship 1 completed extensive wind tunnel testing at the Old Dominion University NASA Langley Full-Scale Tunnel this summer before being shipped to NASA Dryden as a backup to Ship 2, which will be used for flight testing early next year.

In preparation for first flight, the X-48B Ship 2 will undergo ground testing to validate its engine- and fuel-system integrity, battery endurance, telemetry link communication, flight-control software, and low- and high-speed taxiing characteristics.

The X-48B's three turbojet engines will allow the 500-pound, composite-skinned, 21-foot wingspan prototype to fly up to 120 knots and 10,000 feet in altitude during flight testing.

The X-48B research project is led by Phantom Works, Boeing's advanced R&D unit chartered to provide innovative technology and system solutions to meet future aerospace needs. Cranfield Aerospace, Ltd., in the United Kingdom built the two X-48B prototypes for Phantom Works in accordance with Boeing requirements and specifications. NASA's participation in the project is focused on fundamental, edge-of-the-envelope flight dynamics and structural concepts of the BWB, while AFRL is focused on the BWB's potential as a flexible, long-range, high-capacity military aircraft.