Friday, November 10, 2006

Intel eyes nanotubes for future chip designs

From ZDnet:
Intel is eyeing carbon nanotubes as a possible replacement for copper wires inside semiconductors, a switch that one day could eliminate some big problems for chipmakers.

The chip giant has managed to create prototype interconnects--microscopic metallic wires inside of chips that link transistors--out of carbon nanotubes and measure how well the interconnects perform. In essence, the experiments are a way to test whether the theories about the properties of carbon nanotubes are accurate.

Court Will Examine The Constitutionality Of RIAA Fines

From Techdirt:
When the RIAA sues people for unauthorized uploading of songs, they usually put a price between $750-per-song to $30,000-per-song in losses. Many have argued that this seems rather excessive -- especially considering how much the songs are actually sold for. A year and a half ago, there was a scholarly paper that examined whether the RIAA's excessive loss claims were unconstitutionally excessive. With that in mind, it wasn't that surprising earlier this year to see one defendant in an RIAA suit question the constitutionality of the $750 number that was trotted out in her case. At the time, we stated that the reasoning used to back this up seemed much weaker than the reasoning in the law review article, but as lawyer Ray Beckerman (who is involved in the case) explained, the filing was limited in length and only needed to serve a specific purpose. It also looks like they were later able to submit either the law review article we mentioned, or other supporting documents. No matter what happened, the judge has now ruled that it is a perfectly legitimate question, and will be included as part of the case. The judge tossed out all of the RIAA's objections, noting that the defendant actually backed up their claim with case law and law review articles. The RIAA, on the other hand, could offer no similar case law to explain why the constitutionality of the fines couldn't be questioned. Of course, who knows how the case will turn out, but should the RIAA lose, it would be pretty damaging for them. They use the threat of the $750/song (or higher) fines as a way to bully people into just settling, rather than fighting -- even if they know they're innocent.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Microsoft’s Entertainment Domination Plan

From Techcrunch:
Forget the fact that Microsoft is being overshadowed by Google and that Google is looking like the 800lb gorilla beating down Microsoft. Microsoft has other plans they’ve been working on — plans that have been really coming together the past few weeks and that quite frankly, I’m sitting here in amazement.

Earlier this week, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 division announced partnerships with CBS, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, Turner Broadcasting, UFC and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment to “Digitally Deliver TV Shows and Movies to Gamers.” This is Microsoft’s first move into digital movie and TV show sales — and is also another move towards turning their Xbox gaming system into a full-fledged digital entertainment system (note: they want to become the center of your living room). These digital movie and TV show partnerships for their Xbox 360 unit, will likely turn into sales through their future digital media sales service Zune.com and playback on their upcoming handheld Zune device. Xbox 360 up until this announcement has only let users download select music videos and movie trailers. Last week, Microsoft sent a major update to Xbox 360 consoles that now allows users to now stream video from a PC or portable device (note: their handheld Zune device has wireless capabilities built-in) — previously, only users with Windows XP Media Center Edition installed could stream video to the Xbox 360.

Last week, Microsoft launched the website for their handheld digital music/video player Zune, which comes out next week (November 14) — Microsoft is taking on Apple’s iPod with their Zune device. And less than 2 weeks ago, Microsoft launched the latest version of their Windows Media Player (WMP), version 11, which takes over for Windows Media Connect and allows users to manage connections for sharing media (between PC, Xbox 360, Zune) within the new WMP player. One shocker is that Zune is not using Microsoft’s own “PlaysForSure” framework that other digital music etailers and manufacturers embraced (Napster, Musicmatch, Wal-Mart, URGE, MSN, FYE, etc) since Apple has not let etailers sell to iPod owners (due to Apple’s proprietary DRM, which DVD Jon recently cracked) and Apple has not let other manufacturers make devices that can work with iTunes-purchased media. Zune will be proprietary as well (like the iPod) and won’t be allowing etailers to get their media on it — Zune will not support PlaysForSure.
Since September, Apple has been selling movies online via iTunes, which iTunes at the time had 40-60 million copies of their software installed on user machines. Less than a week after launch, Apple announced $1mm in digital movie sales (125k purchases).

What does all of this mean? Microsoft has a serious strategy to dominate digital entertainment. Microsoft already has a very successful gaming console (Xbox 360) that allows users to play games, watch movies, buy movies, buy TV shows, stream video from their computer, stream music from their computer, and I’m sure buying music from URGE is in the gameplan — not to mention the social networking features that allow Xbox 360 users (and maybe Zune users, considering the wi-fi built-in?) to chat with each other in games, send messages to each other, add users to their friends list, etc.

The other device that has entered millions of homes over the years is the DVR. Microsoft has already been using DVR-related technology in their Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 operating system (OS). In fact, if you own this OS, you can login to Microsoft’s online TV listing guide and setup their MSN Remote Record service, which then allows you to browse TV listings from any computer and click a button that will set a TV program to record to your home PC. I’d guess that in the future, there will be an accessory for my Xbox 360 that plugs into one of the Xbox 360 USB ports, hooking my cable TV into my Xbox 360, and allowing me to easily record TV shows to my Xbox 360 (note to self: short TIVO).
r>Apple may have millions of users using iTunes and millions of owners of iPods, but they lack a gaming console (which PriceWaterhouseCoopers predicts the gaming market will be $54.6 billion by 2009), they lack a DVR unit, and they won’t let manufacturers and etailers sell to their users. Currently, Apple’s strategy for getting into your living room is the anticipated iTV, which is rumored to be a set-top box for your TV and will allow you to stream movies, TV shows, and music from your iTunes software. Apple is also planning to sell basic games through iTunes, which iPod owners will be able to play. Could there be a gaming console (Nintendo WII? Sony Playstation 3?) purchase or partnership in the future for Apple? Could there be an Apple purchase of TiVo? (note to self: long TIVO)

This strategy by Microsoft is impressive and we’ll begin seeing how it all plays out over the next couple months of the holiday season — as buyers put up their money for an Apple iPod or a Microsoft Zune and/or Xbox 360.

I think Steve got all of his info correct but I think his predictions are completely wrong. Instead of turning the 360 into a Tivo where you record TV, all you will do is pay to download shows from the 360 marketplace. I bet Apple will do the same thing. You will be able to pay for certain episodes from the Itunes store and download them instead of recording them. This means that Microsoft and Apple get revenue from TV shows. This brings up the question of why should there be cable TV besides realtime news and sports? Is this the beginning of the end for cable TV operators besides internet access?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Riya launches Like.com visual similarity shopping

From ZDnet:

Riya’s facial search service was one of the first darlings of the Web 2.0 world. The company garnered more than $15 million in venture capital to make facial and object search as easy as text search. It turned out that searching by facial similarity was a nice bit of computer science but not what turned users on.

Riya loaded 50 million faces from MySpace into its search engine and tested out the service with 100 users, mostly from MySpace. According to Riya CEO Munjal Shah, the testers didn’t find the facial search very useful, but visual similarity shopping for items such as shoes and jewelry was a hit. Today, Riya is launching an alpha version of Like.com, a new visual search shopping engine based on its visual recognition technology. Click on a photo of an item and Like.com compares the shape, color, and texture to other items in the database and displays the most similar results from merchants such as Amazon, eLUXURY, ICE.com, Lands’ End, ShoeBuy, and Zappos.

"We see a gap. There is little innovation from Google, Yahoo and other in image search,” Shah said. "Thirty billion items are sold on line with no great cross site search tool." As a result of the opportunity, Riya is not putting a lot of effort into its face recognition service, which has over 10 million uploads since it launched in March, Shah said.

Like.com is starting out by indexing images from jewelry, handbag, shoe and watch merchants, and will add clothing soon, Shah said. Jewelry, handbags and clothing are about a $15 billion business online. The target audience is women from 20 to 30. Furniture and home and garden (such as search for flowers) are being considered as additional categories.

Like.com offers several search capabilities, including the ability to search by image instead of text; finds items that have specific features, such as a watch bezel; find color variants of the item via a color picker; find clothing, shoes and accessories similar to those worn by your celebrities (Like.com includes 100,000 celebrity images); and in the near future the ability to upload photos. Like.com will also have a browser extension to initiate likeness searches from any site as well as pages to save searches and a recommendation engine. After launch Like.com will also have a cross-matching feature. "If you have a hat and want shirt to with it, you drag a slider and search on new category," Shah said.
For example, users searching for a particular watch style can draw a box over dials on a watch face. If it has three dials, Like will return results with three dials. If the color of the band is chosen as a search criteria, Like will find all watches with the same color band or in slightly different shade. Users can interactively filter the results to find the the product that they desire. A slider can filter by shape, color and pattern for any of the products.
The core technology is even more complex than face recognition technology, Shah said. Like.com crawls target merchant sites and retrieves the highest quality images. It takes about 20 seconds per image to preprocess, creating a visual signature and indexing the image.

Search results are returned in under a second–the server farm consists of 250 quad-core servers, each loaded with 16 to 32 gigabytes of memory. Like.com converts every picture into a visual signature, a 10-kilobyte vector image consisting of about 5,000 numbers. The “likeness” algorithm determines the order of results based on shape, color and pattern.

“We are extracting and computing the visual signatures and pulling out pieces for comparison,” Shah said. “The results will never be worse than a text search. We index all the metadata and even normalized some of it.” Currently, Like.com only indexes the merchant sites.The soft goods vector images are more detailed than faces, which are encoded as 3-kilobyte vectors, and include about 40 elements, including shape densities, color histograms broken into quadrants and other properties, such as glossiness and sheen (analyzing color changes in the middle of objects).

The technology performs best when items are 2D or symmetrical, Shah explained. “Jewelry is the hardest because is has lot of artifacts. The way light bounces across the images sometimes get confused with holes in items, like rings. Other elements work on 3D items if they are symmetrical like a vase. It works with clothing like shirts but not well with skirts and bulky items—we can get the color and pattern but not shapes as easily, but the metadata is helpful with results.”

Like.com is open for business with an alpha version, and is adding about 30,000 items a day to the database. The first 10,000 Like.com shoppers will receive free shipping, up to $8, on their first purchase from any of the featured retailers.

Like.com gets paid via cost per click and cost per action. The company is looking to advertising as a revenue source, but is focused on building the audience first. "We are also having conversations with celebrity bloggers with images. We could create a new ad unit that goes into the picture. If someone clicks and buys, we share the revenue. However, our first goal get the search engine right and then add ad units for each category," Shah said.

Shah acquired the Like.com URL for about $100,000, which would be a bargain if the site is successful. From my test drive, just after the site launched. Riya seems to have figured out how to extract value from its visual search technology.

Monday, November 06, 2006

'Silent aircraft' plans released

New York Times 11/06/2006
Author: Associated Press
c. 2006 New York Times Company

BOSTON (AP) -- A U.S.-British team of researchers from academia and the aerospace industry believes the passenger aircraft of the distant future will not only be fuel efficient, but virtually silent.

Leaders of a long-range research venture called the ''Silent Aircraft Initiative'' were scheduled Monday to release a conceptual design for a plane they say could cut through the air with practically no sound bothering those below, thanks to its unique shape and design features to limit engine noise.

The design adds a new twist to aviation's long history of mixed success developing flying wings designed to be more fuel- and space-efficient than conventional aircraft with long, narrow fuselages.

The design, to be announced in a news conference at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, would blend fuselage and wings together so that the entire airframe provides lift -- an approach that to date has been confined largely to payload-carrying military aircraft such as long-range bombers.

The body shape of the ''silent aircraft'' would allow for a slower landing approach and takeoff to cut airport noise -- a form of environmental pollution that makes it politically unpopular to expand airports and flight schedules.

''The 'silent aircraft' can help address this concern and thus aid in meeting the increasing passenger demand for air transport,'' said Edward Greitzer, and professor of aeronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Even if he's right, don't expect to see -- or hear -- such a plane anytime soon. The project is aimed at establishing research knowledge that could lead to development of an aircraft by 2030. And whether such a plane could become a commercial success is anybody's guess.

But the project, led by researchers at Cambridge, Mass.-based MIT and Cambridge University in England, has plenty of commercial interest so far. The two universities say more than 30 aviation companies from around the world participated in the design, including aircraft maker Boeing Co. and engine maker Rolls-Royce PLC.

Rolls-Royce wouldn't participate if the project didn't have potential to help shape future aircraft design, said Martin Brodie, a spokesman for the London-based company.

''We have a very strong record of involvement in environmental programs anyway, so this is just a logical thing for us to get involved in,'' Brodie said. ''This is really a clear-blue-sky thing for the moment, and we'll have to wait to see what develops.''

More than 40 researchers from MIT and Cambridge as well as engineers from the 30 companies have been collaborating on the design since the project's launch three years ago. Funding has come largely from the British government's Department of Trade and Industry, which committed money seven years ago to establish the Cambridge-MIT Institute, a joint venture between the schools that also has worked on other projects.

For now, the aviation project's goal is not to produce a marketable aircraft.

''The goal was to find out what technologies would be required, and what an aircraft would look like if a step-change in noise reduction was one of the key drivers for design,'' said Zoltan Spakovszky, an MIT aeronautics professor and a chief engineer on the project.

One aspect of the plane's sound-reducing design eliminates flaps -- hinged sections on the rear of each wing -- to reduce a major source of noise as the plane cuts through the air at takeoff and landing.

To reduce sound reaching the ground, the jet engines would be embedded into the plane's body, rather than hung from the wings as on conventional airliners. The engines would have variable-size jet nozzles, allowing slower jet propulsion during takeoff and landing but efficient cruising at higher speeds.

The proposed plane is designed to carry 215 passengers and achieve fuel efficiency of 124 passenger-miles per gallon.

By comparison, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, a fuel-efficient airliner due for delivery in 2008, is expected to achieve 100 passenger-miles per gallon on a typical flight, Boeing spokesman Adam Morgan said.Financial Times 11/06/2006
Author: Clive Cookson
(c) 2006 The Financial Times Limited. All rights reserved

The cause of green aviation will receive a boost when researchers from Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology unveil their futuristic design for a "silent aircraft" that is also ultra-fuel efficient.

The noise that people would hear on the ground has been cut by a factor of 3,000, says Ann Dowling, who headed the Cambridge team - so the aircraft would hardly be audible abovenormal background noise outside the airport perimeter. It would consume 25 per cent less fuel than today's most efficient airliners.

The Cambridge MIT Institute (CMI) has worked for three years with Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Nasa and other aerospace organisations on its Silent Aircraft Initiative, with total funding of more than Pounds 4m including industrial contributions. The 40 engineers and scientists on the project released a preliminary design last year but it has changed substantially ahead of its presentation to the Royal Aeronautical Society in London today.

The overall shape is a tail-less flying wing or "blended wing body", so that the whole structure provides lift. This enables it to make a slower, steeper and therefore quieter approach to landing than a traditional "tube and wings" aircraft. Conventional flaps and slats, which are usually a noise source, have been eliminated.

Three novel engines are mounted on the top of the aircraft, to screen noise from the ground. Unlike today's engines, they have variable-size jet nozzles to allow slow jet propulsion for low noise during take-off and climb - and then higher jet speeds optimised for maximum efficiency during cruise.

When the project started the emphasis was on silence, with fuel efficiency very much a secondary objective. But, as the global warming debate has heated up over the past three years, the public has been much more aware of commercial aviation as a fast-growing source of carbon emissions. So the CMI design team has paid more attention to reducing fuel consumption than it originally expected.

"On the whole, fortunately, fuel economy and quietness have gone together well," says Tom Hynes, head of engine design for the project. "We thought at the beginning that there would be more trade-offs between them than has actually been the case. But if we were to design this aircraft purely for fuel economy there would be some differences."

The passenger experience in a flying wing aircraft with a wide delta-shaped cabin would be very different to that in a conventional cigar-shaped body. For a start, there might be no real windows. Instead, "virtual windows" might be displayed around the cabin. But the design team has done no detailed work on internal design.

The main project is winding down but Prof Dowling says Cambridge and MIT will follow up several of the technological advances made during the design phase. So will their industrial partners. "The ideas are conceptual and could not be produced without much further work," says Colin Smith, Rolls-Royce engineering and technology director. "The practical versions of concept designs inevitably involve changes to the original ideas. The aircraft and engine designs that have been shown are not necessarily what a future product will look like - rather they are a valuable platform to capture the big ideas that we need to consider when working on the next generation of designs."Mithra Sankrithi, Boeing's chief product development engineer, adds: "They have certainly come up with several innovative ideas that we will be evaluating for incorporation into future Boeing products." But Mr Sankrithi does not envisage a passenger aircraft with such a blended-wing body flying in the near future. "There may be a military application," he adds, "but we cannot talk about that."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Companies track gridlock via cell phones

ATLANTA - Tracking traffic can be an expensive business. In some places, costly cameras and radar systems are mounted high above highways to watch traffic at strategic points. Transportation agencies also dig up roads to install sensors that monitor the flow. And helicopters roam the skies of the busiest cities, relaying information on the choked roadways to media outlets.
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Atlanta's horrendous traffic has inspired two companies that are looking to monitor many more roads and highways than is done today and at a much lower cost. Their approach: Track the signals of cell phones that happen to be inside cars.

By using anonymous data from wireless providers to mark how fast cell-phone handsets are moving — and overlaying that information with location data and maps — IntelliOne and AirSage hope to offer more detailed information and pragmatic advice than other firms that monitor traffic through radar, helicopters or cameras. But some critics aren't so sure the benefits outweigh the potential privacy risks.

Both systems rely on wireless companies allowing them to process the data from their towers that calculate the position of each phone about twice a second when it's being used and once every 30 seconds when it's not.

IntelliOne, in business since 1999, uses technology that can track vehicles to within 330 feet without using Global Positioning System satellites. Its software is designed to weed out the difference between pedestrians and drivers, then crunch it into detailed color-coded maps that show average speeds along roadways. Light-traffic stretches are in green, slowdowns in yellow and logjams in red.

It rolled out a pilot program in Tampa, and plans to dive into its first market in March, in Ontario, Canada. Forty more markets, including Atlanta, could be covered by November 2007.

The service would be marketed free to wireless providers, who would share profits with IntelliOne. Media outlets could buy access to broad snapshots of a city's traffic situation.

Individual customers would be able to buy a single use or pay a monthly fee for personalized information and a service that sends alternate routes when traffic takes a turn for the worse. No prices have been set yet.

AirSage has a similar strategy and has partnered with Sprint Nextel Corp. to offer government customers real-time traffic data. The company already has four contracts with state transit departments and recently announced a plan with the Georgia Department of Transportation to extend traffic coverage between Atlanta and Macon.

Cy Smith, AirSage's president and CEO, said more than $1 billion is spent each year by government agencies to track traffic, but the expense doesn't even cover 1 percent of the nation's roads. He said his company can increase coverage tenfold at the same expense.

The success of both systems will hinge on whether wireless companies are willing to extend the service to a mass market. Lewis Ward, a telecom analyst with IDC, said wireless carriers have long been reluctant to use the locations of their users for profit and that's unlikely to change.

"Location is one of the unique attributes of a cell phone," Ward said. "There is a lot of value there and a lot of potential for abuse. From my sense, the carriers have invested quite a lot of money to develop these systems and they're very unlikely to let those streams back out."

It remains to be seen whether wireless providers will be swayed. Cingular, for instance, said it doesn't plan to immediately provide traffic-tracking services.

"We're not going to speculate on future plans," said Dawn Benton, a company spokeswoman. "But should we participate in projects like this in the future, we would only do so with strong privacy protections in place."

Kristin Wallace, a Sprint spokeswoman, confirmed the partnership with AirSage but said she wouldn't comment more due to "competitive reasons."

Privacy advocates are already raising a red flag.

"This is your personal information. Shouldn't you have the right to control whether people know where you are?" asked Melissa Ngo of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. "When I signed up for a cell phone, I did not sign up to be tracked."

Beyond privacy concerns, the cell phone-based tracking system has other potential flaws, one being that there's no way to determine exactly what is backing up traffic.

Ron Herman, IntelliOne's CEO, illustrated that as he sat in his Atlanta office monitoring an abrupt slowdown in Tampa traffic. It could have been a police car parked on the shoulder of the road or a more disruptive fender-bender, but there's no way to know. "I'd guess someone lost a mattress," he reckoned.

And tracking data will likely be sparse late at night or early in the morning, when few drivers are navigating the roads.

But the odds are, where cell phones are sparse, so is traffic.

As Smith said, "There are times when the absence of data tells as much a story as the presence of data."

Ten Most Used BitTorrent Sites Compared

Site Review
BTJunkie - Editors Choice
http://www.btjunkie.org
It's funny because BTJunkie was a site that I had never heard of before, barely made the top ten list, and it turned out to be the largest BitTorrent index. BTJunkie also indexes private trackers which tend to have faster, higher quality torrents. I spoke with the operator who claims their success is due to having an automated web crawler similar to Google, which captures torrents from thousands of web sites. The site also has an innovative feature where users can have BTJunkie search the new torrents daily and e-mail them the results. The site is fast with powerful search options and the layout is "windows" like. Overall this is my number one pick due to it's huge index of active torrents, hats off to BTJunkie!


BitTorrent.com
http://www.bittorrent.com
This search engine is operated by the founder of the BitTorrent protocol, Brah Cohen. The site lacks a directory service and does not store most torrents directly on their servers. This is probably due to being Incorporated in the United States and trying to avoid any legal troubles. The quality of the matches returned were mediocre at best, and only provided very limited "for dummies" information. Their index seams to be based mostly off of a few major indexes included in this study. The site was offline several times during our testing period too so they loose points for uptime. I personally expected better from the "creator".


BushTorrent & TorrentReactor
http://www.bushtorrent.com
http://www.torrentreactor.net
I was surprised to find out these two sites shared the same index and operator. The index is a good size with a very flexible and easy to use search. Most of the initial matches of searches were good but near the end were several non-relevant matches. The search gives you powerful control options for your queries by giving you the ability to match with OR or AND. Torrentreactor has definitely overkilled the ads and includes pop-ups.


isoHunt
http://www.isohunt.com
Established in early 2004, this site flourished at the demise of Suprnova. Most of the torrents in this index have tested active within a week. The search query options are set from within the query using similar syntax to Google. The directory is a bit odd, it is split off into a isoHunt release section and a web release section. The interface is easy to use and loaded with JavaScript. IsoHunt is the 3rd most popular BitTorrent site today and is also being sued by the MPAA.


Meganova
http://www.meganova.org
Very basic site heavily integrated with usenext advertisements. The search is very limited, the only special option is to limit by category. The index is one of the largest but the incoming daily torrents are a little lower then they should be for such a high number.


Mininova
http://www.mininova.org
This is the 2nd most popular BitTorrent site despite having around an average of only 1/3 as many torrents as other sites. The speed, quality, and simplicity of Mininova are what keep their users happy. Mininova was the largest successor of Suprnova's shutdown.


The Pirate Bay
http://www.thepiratebay.org
The Pirate Bay is the largest BitTorrent tracker in the world. Famous for their blatant disregard for intellectual property rights, they are a beacon of light for a neutral Internet. The web site is easy to use and efficient with limited capabilities. Their index is comprised of only torrents they index on their tracker, but don't worry because there tracker has almost 350,000 torrents.


Torrent Portal
http://www.torrentportal.com
Torrent Portal is famous for there large following of faithful uploaders. They had the second most incoming daily torrents with 468,000 indexed, so they have a pretty good standard for active torrents. The web page is loaded with ads that can be reduced by becoming a member. The search gives powerful options to it's users.


TorrentSpy
http://www.torrentspy.com
TorrentSpy is the most popular BitTorrent site. They had the nicest interface and features out of all the sites we tested. They scored low where it counts the most, only an average of 640 torrents a day. We were surprised by this because it is the most popular yet it has such a poor index. The site has advanced identifications for torrents like languages and subs that are set by the users. Users can also report passworded archives within the torrents. Heavy on the ads and includes pop-ups. They are also currently being sued by the MPAA.


Torrentz
http://www.torrentz.com
Torrentz is similar to Bittorrent.com in that it doesn't actually store the torrents on their servers but outsources to many of the sites included in this study. This is one of the only search engines that gives you the ability to search for files within the torrents. They only index torrents that have tested active with at least one seed which makes the quality of there index the best. It is not the best option if you are looking for something that is hard to find, torrents that have no seeds pull themselves together all the time.