Thursday, March 29, 2012

Open-source designs for your very own tricorder now available online

Star Trek-inspired project packs multiple sensor types, runs Debian


Ever wanted to wave a tricorder at something, furrow your brow, and announce, "captain, I am picking up an odd concentration of signals in this area?" If you have - and what Star Trek fan hasn't? - you might want to give Peter Jansen's tricorder project a look. The Canadian designer recently released full specifications for two versions of his own hand-held multi-sensor.
Jansen began the project in 2007 while still a graduate student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. His first variant, the mark 1, had limited processing power and required six AAs for power, but the more recent mark 2 trades up tor a 32-bit ARM processor, Debian Linux, and a rechargeable lithium polymer battery.

Both versions, however, pack impressive sensor arrays, including everything from magnetic field detectors to IR thermometers to ultrasonic distance sensors, making them startlingly faithful recreations of the omnipresent handheld device featured in the Star Trek universe.
"I think for me, it's really about curiosity. And helping to find ways to see and intuitively visualize the world around us, to help share that curiosity, and get folks excited about science," Jansen wrote in a blog post announcing the availability of his designs.
At the moment, you'll have to build the tricorder from more or less the ground up if you want one of your own. However, Jansen's website says that he's currently working on a version of the device that should "dramatically" reduce production costs. "My hope is that this may be an initial model that could be mass produced, and that folks could have in their hands," he states.
There are mobile apps available for several platforms that mimic the look of the tricorder's interface, some with more fidelity than others. However, the robust sensor package featured in Jansen's project sets it apart and makes it arguably the closest approximation yet of the iconic Star Trek device.

LG kicks off production of e-paper displays

by Trent Nouveau
Flexible e-paper displays have been the stuff of our collective mobile dreams for years, but the technology is typically relegated to showroom floors at CES, MWC and CTIA.
But that is all about to change, as LG recently kicked off mass production of its long-awaited flexible e-paper displays. 

LG kicks off production of flexible e-paper displays    According to The Verge, the 6-inch, 1024 x 768 e-paper screens rolling of the production lines are capable of safely bending up to a cool 40 degrees.
Although LG has yet to issue an official press release or statement, a number of Korean publications confirm the plastic-based screens are already shipping to Chinese manufacturers.

Meaning, e-readers using the flexible tech are likely to be manufactured in the very near future, with bendable devices hitting parts of Europe sometime this spring - perhaps even by the end of April.

As Nicole Scott of Netbook News notes, the display is only 0.7mm thick and covered with a protective film identical to those found on a mobile phone.

Nevertheless, the product is meant to be so rugged that LG apparently had no problem dropping the e-paper from a height of 1.5 meters (5 feet) or smacking it repeatedly with a rubber mallet. 

Personally, I think the concept of flexible e-paper displays is pretty sweet indeed, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing some of the cool e-reader form factors slated to hit the streets in 2012.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

3-D printer with nano-precision sets world record

Summary: Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology have developed a method for fabricating intricately structured sculptures as tiny as a grain of sand in record speed.
A 285 µm racecar, printed at the Vienna University of TechnologyUsing a technique known as two-photon lithography, Austrian researchers have developed a high-precision 3-D printer capable of producing nanometer-sized objects in the shape of race cars, cathedrals and bridges — all in a matter of minutes.
The high-precision 3-D printer at TU Vienna is purportedly orders of magnitude faster than similar devices and opens up new areas of applications, such as in medicine.
The super-fast nano-printer uses a liquid resin, which is hardened at precisely the correct spots by a focused laser beam. The focal point of the laser beam is guided through the resin by movable mirrors; it leaves behind a hardened line of solid polymer just a few hundred nanometers wide. The result is a detailed sculpture measuring a couple hundred micrometers in length.
“Until now, this technique used to be quite slow,” said Professor Jürgen Stampfl from the Institute of Materials Science and Technology at the TU Vienna. “The printing speed used to be measured in millimeters per second –– our device can do five meters in one second.” In two-photon lithography, this is a world record.
The scientists at TU Vienna are now developing bio-compatible resins for medical applications that can be used to create scaffolds to which living cells can attach themselves for the systematic creation of biological tissues. The 3-D printer could also be used to create tailor-made components for biomedical technology or nanotechnology.
The video below shows the 3-D printing process in real time. The very fast control mechanism connected to the laser beam produces 100 layers, consisting of approximately 200 single lines each, in four minutes.

Source: Vienna University of Technology

Food for thought; Career items

Below are some thought provoking career action items:

Rise of the 'maker movement'

Rise of the 'maker movement'

What does 'do-it-yourself' culture mean for the future of development?

The “maker movement” has been around since 2005, and has since spurred "do-it-yourself" or DIY mainstays such as Etsy, Creative Commons and open-source software. Some, however, credit the recent economic slowdown and a growing rejection of mass consumerism with bringing the maker ethic to the mainstream.

3D printers, one of the movement’s most noteworthy developments, can now create everything from buildings to human tissue. With the rise of DIY culture, these machines have become cheap enough for consumer use and could have many implications for nations in early stages of development.

In this episode of The Stream, we talk to Emeka Okafor, co-founder of Maker Faire Africa, and Bre Pettis, CEO and co-founder of MakerBot Industries.

What do you think? Will the “maker movement” and “do it yourself” culture shape the future of development? Send us your thoughts and comments on Facebook or Twitter using hashtag #AJStream.

Here are some social media elements featured in this episode of The Stream:
The maker movement has grown through the spread of real life "makerspaces" or "hackerspaces," which pool resources and provide access to more expensive technology. Each year, Maker Faires are held around the United States, drawing between 50,000 to 100,000 visitors.

The maker movement also complements the spirit of innovation that has been credited to developing countries, particularly in Africa; "jua kali,” Swahili for hot sun, describes the open-air industry of inventors common in many cities. Maker Faire Africa, which is not associated with the American fairs, has been held across the continent in Ghana, Kenya and Egypt.

Although Maker Faire Africa includes the design and craft products found in the US maker movement, it focuses particularly on building hardware to solve local problems. It is described on its website as "a fellowship of creators who believe making is the most authentic form of manufacturing, [which] forges a vigorous middle class." 

Two women are shown below working at Maker Faire 2012, held at the American University of Cairo.

The maker movement aims to be democratic, with an emphasis on the equal connection between the user, the creator, and the product. Most blueprints and basic modeling software are available online free of charge. These "bill of rights" manifestos shown below lay out principles both of restoration and the movement itself.

Dale Dougherty, the founder of MAKE magazine and Maker Faire, talked to The Stream about the maker movement.

Maker-created products frequently combine elements of technology and design, such as this "thinking cap" below that displays brain waves.

3D printers are one of the most popular technologies in the maker movement. Comparisons have been drawn between the maker movement and the hobbyist computer movement during the 1970s that eventually produced Apple and Microsoft. One company, Makerbot, has sold less than 10,000 printers but has already received $10 million in investments. One of the printers appeared on The Stream, shown below.

3D printing has mostly been used to design novelty items on a small scale, but the possibilities for use are growing. Biotechnology companies are already able to make living tissue using the printer. Paired with a 3D scanner that can accurately determine the depth of wounds, the technology could lead to further developments. The US military is studying the possibility of a mobile bioprinter for combat troops.

The 3D printer has other defense possibilities as well. Scientists in the UK have used the printers to make an unmanned aerial vehicle, designed and printed in just a week, that could fly nearly 100 miles per hour. Below is a similar UAV created with a 3D printer.

The maker movement has also found a natural home in agriculture. TED fellow Marcin Jakubowski created the "Global Village Starter Kit," an open source collection of blueprints to create basic farming technology, such as tractors and brick presses, for significantly less than the cost of purchase.

The "personalised manufacturing" espoused by the maker movement has led to predictions of another industrial revolution, or at least a dose of innovation necessary for the faltering American manufacturing industry. Printers can even use cement as their base material, as in this video below. 

A traditional leader of American technology innovation, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has sought to capitalise on the maker movement as well by providing leaders of the maker movement with grants. Below is a model of the "open source military vehicle," created by DARPA via a social media platform to crowdsource a design for the next generation Humvee. The winning entry was created in just 14 weeks.

MAKE magazine was recently awarded a grant to build "maker spaces" to bring science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to 1,000 high schools in the US. Some in the movement have criticised the program as antithetical to maker principles, as well as questioning the use of defense money for educational purposes. Librarian Fiacre O'Duinn explained some of his concerns to The Stream.

Dale Dougherty responded to the criticism saying, "“There’s a small segment (of the hacker community) that is uncomfortable with the fact that we took DARPA funding to do education work, [but] it's naive to think the world of tech is not engaged with the military on every level and vice versa.” Below, US President Barack Obama tests a young maker's project in action at the White House Science Fair."

3D printers often combine functional design with artistic or musical purposes, as with this printed guitar.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Takeaway: The certification landscape changes as swiftly as the technologies you support. Erik Eckel looks at the certs that are currently relevant and valuable to IT pros.
When it comes to IT skills and expertise, there are all kinds of “best certification” lists. Pundits are quick to add the safe bets: Cisco’s CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert), Red Hat’s RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer), and other popular choices.
This isn’t that list.
Based on years of experience meeting with clients and organizations too numerous to count, I’ve built this list with the idea of cataloging the IT industry’s 10 most practical, in-demand certifications. That’s why I think these are the best; these are the skills clients repeatedly demonstrate they need most. In this list, I justify each selection and the order in which these accreditations are ranked.

1: MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008

I love Apple technologies. The hardware’s awesome, the software’s intuitive and their systems make it easy to get things done fast while remaining secure. But it’s a Windows world. Make no mistake. Most every Mac I deploy (and Mac sales are up 20 to 25 percent) is connected to a back-end Windows server. Windows server experts, however, can prove hard to find.
IT pros who have an MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional): Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008 accreditation demonstrate significant, measurable proficiency with Active Directory, configuring network and application infrastructures, enterprise environments, and (if they’ve chosen well) the Windows 7 client OS.
That’s an incredibly strong skill set that everyone from small businesses to enterprise organizations require. Add this line to your resume, and you may be all set to find another job should your current employer downsize.
Honorable mentions for the top spot include the MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2 and MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator on Exchange 2010. Microsoft Exchange owns the SMB space. Virtualization initiatives are only getting started and will dominate technology sectors for the next decade at least. Administrators who can knowledgeably navigate Microsoft’s virtualization and email platforms will only grow in importance.


Not everyone has time to sit as many exams as an MCITP requires. The MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist) certification is among the smartest accreditations an engineer can currently chase. As mentioned above, it’s a Windows world. Adding an MCTS certification in Exchange, SharePoint, Virtualization, Windows Client, or Windows Server will strengthen a resume.
There is no downside to any of these MCTS accreditations. Each of the above tracks provides candidates with an opportunity to demonstrate proficiency with specific technologies that organizations worldwide struggle to effectively design, implement, and maintain every day.

3: VCP

Virtualization is all the rage. It makes sense. Hardware manufacturers keep cranking out faster and faster servers that can store more and more data. Tons of servers sit in data centers using just fractions of their capacities. Virtualization, which enables running multiple virtual server instances on the same physical chassis, will continue growing in importance as organizations strive to maximize technology infrastructure investments.
VMware is a leading producer of virtualization software. Tech pros earning VCP (VMware Certified Professional) certification give employers (both current and future) confidence they can implement and maintain VMware-powered virtual environments. And if you talk to the techs responsible for maintaining data centers, you’ll frequently hear that VMware remains a favorite over Microsoft’s Hyper-V alternative, although most sober IT pros will have to admit Hyper-V is improving and closing the gap.


The next politically correct certification to list is the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert). However, that’s a massive exam that few professionals realistically will ever have an opportunity to obtain. And while Cisco equipment frequently composes the network backbone, fueling numerous medium and large organizations, most organizations don’t need a CCIE and don’t have the resources to pay one.
That’s why I believe the more fundamental CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certification is a smart bet. A CCNA can help technology pros better familiarize themselves with the network OS’s fundamentals, while simultaneously strengthening their resume. Particularly motivated candidates can proceed to earn a CCNA Security certification, as the network security focus is a critical component of enterprise systems.


In early 2012, Dell announced its pending acquisition of SonicWALL. There’s a reason Dell is buying the hardware manufacturer: SonicWALL has made great strides within the SMB unified threat management market.
Someone needs to be able to configure and troubleshoot those devices. The CSSA (Certified SonicWALL Security Administrator) certification not only proves proficiency in installing and administering the company’s devices, certified professionals receive direct access to tier two support staff and beta testing programs.
Organizations are always going to require network devices to fulfill firewall, routing, and threat management services. SonicWALL has carved out quite a bit of market share — so much so that it will now have the marketing might of Dell helping fuel additional growth. Knowing how to configure the devices will help IT pros, particularly those who support numerous small businesses.

6: PMP

Too many chiefs isn’t an IT problem I hear or read much about. Instead, it seems there’s a lack of IT pros capable of sizing up a project’s needs, determining required resources and dependencies, developing a realistic schedule, and managing a technical initiative.
The Project Management Institute is a nonprofit group that administers the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification. The exam isn’t designed to earn a profit or motivate IT pros to learn its product and become unofficial sales cheerleaders. The PMP certifies candidates’ ability to plan, budget, and complete projects efficiently, on time, and without cost overruns. Those are skills most every medium and large business needs within its IS department and such ability isn’t going to be replaced by an app or third-party developer in our lifetimes.


If you want to specialize in security, the (ISC)² (International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc.), which administers the CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) accreditation, is your organization. Its vendor-neutral certification has a reputation as one of the best vendor-neutral security certs.
Organizations’ data, networks, and systems are increasingly coming under attack due to the value of personal, corporate, customer, and sensitive proprietary information. So individuals who demonstrate measurable success and understanding in architecting, designing, managing, and administering secure environments, developing secure policies, and maintaining secure procedures will stand out from the pack. In addition, the knowledge gained while earning the certification helps practitioners remain current with the latest legal regulations, best practices, and developments impacting security.


There’s more to the energy surrounding Apple than pleasant tablet devices, intuitive smartphones, and a stunning stock price. The company continues chewing up market share and shipping computers at rates 10 to 12 times greater than PC manufacturers.
The ACSP (Apple Certified Support Professional) designation helps IT pros demonstrate expertise supporting Mac OS X clients. Engineers, particularly Windows support pros and administrators increasingly encountering Macs, will be well served completing Apple’s certification rack for technical support personnel. Benefits include not only another bullet for the resume but an understanding of Apple’s official processes for installing, setting up, troubleshooting, and maintaining Mac client machines.

9: Network+ / A+

Yes, CompTIA’s Network+ and A+ designations are, technically, two separate certifications. But they’re both critical certs that test absolute fundamentals that every IT pro needs to completely understand.
In fact, there’s an argument to be made that all IT pros should have both of these accreditations on their resumes. CompTIA is a well-respected, vendor-neutral (though vendor-supported) organization that continually develops and administers relevant certifications. The network, hardware, and software skills tested on the Network+ and A+ exams are basics that every self-respecting tech professional should master, whether they’re performing budgeting tasks, deploying client machines, managing site-wide migrations, overseeing security, or administering networks and servers.

10: CompTIA Healthcare IT Technician

With an aging population, U.S.-based IT pros (in particular) should consider earning CompTIA’s Healthcare IT Technician credential. Obviously, if you work in manufacturing, the credential may be a stretch. But manufacturers frequently lay off staff. And many others produce material for health-related purposes.
See where I’m headed?
The interest surrounding health-related technology is almost unparalleled. Look around the city where you live. During the recession, where have you seen growth? Are there lots of new bookstores opening? How about new single-family home developments? Seeing lots of new manufacturing centers?
Doubtful. Like many, you’re probably seeing new medical services offices, immediate care centers, hospitals, outpatient facilities, dental practices, and similar health-related businesses.
They all need IT support. Support technicians, administrators, engineers, managers, and especially consultants who want to position themselves well for the future will do well to demonstrate their proficiency with health care technology’s regulatory requirements, organizational behaviors, technical processes, medical business operations, and security requirements. IT pros could do worse with their time, that’s for sure.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

When Online Attacks Are Beneficial

  • Although hacking attacks threaten company data and expose confidential information, they also reveal weaknesses in IT security and help businesses better prepare for future attacks. Recent hacking events have highlighted how companies can use hacking incidents to their advantage.

  • Although online security continues to improve, with breakthroughs in detection and defense, hackers continue to threaten the safety of companies’ information. Recent attacks by hackers like Anonymous, for instance, successfully shut down the sites of major businesses and government organizations, including the FBI. A recent article in the New York Times, titled “The Bright Side of Being Hacked” highlights not the damages caused by hackers, however, but the benefits that a hacker attack can provide.

    According to the article, most hacker attacks do not cause irreparable damage to a company or expose confidential information. Attacks do, however, reveal security damages in a company’s computer systems and employees poorly trained in smart computer habits. Weak passwords and insecure email are often the open doors hackers use to gain access to company info.
    “Any company that is patting themselves on the back and saying that they’re not a target or not susceptible to attack is in complete and utter denial,” Roger Cressey, senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, told the NYTimes. His company is a defense contractor whose computer systems were threatened during last year’s Anonymous attacks.
    At a recent conference, Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, addressed the reality of hacking threats. “There are only two types of companies,” Mueller said, according to the NYTimes, “those that have been hacked and those that will be.”
    The latest attacks also highlight a new trend in hacking called online espionage. In this type of attack, companies take advantage of computer vulnerabilities to discover information about competing firms.
    Hacking events, however, expose existing vulnerabilities in online security and help companies better protect themselves from future threats. If weak passwords are to blame, for instance, a business might host seminars for employees about how to ensure Internet security.
    Tracking how other companies are attacked can also better prepare businesses to protect themselves from hackers. Since recent attacks, for example, take advantage of unencrypted email accounts, companies might work to improve email security.
  • Play Now Aurora Seen from Space NASA releases breathtaking footage.

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    Monday, March 19, 2012

    Nintendo Wii Diagnoses Eye Malady

    • The inexpensive Nintendo Wii game console can be repurposed to detect eye maladies by making use of its infrared camera and micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) motion sensors.
    • Consumer-grade infrared cameras in the Nintendo Wii game controller have enabled motion analytics capable of identifying an important eye disorder. A proof-of-concept demonstration showed that affordable medical-grade systems can be built from consumer-grade infrared sensors and opens the door to ultra-precise instruments that harness the Wii's inexpensive micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) accelerometers and gyroscopes.
      Today medical diagnostics is often dependent on the precise measurement of body posture, to determine if abnormalities fall into a known pattern. If the diagnosis is accurate enough, known conditions and therapies can be quickly invoked to help patients who otherwise might have to wait until symptoms become so acute that no cure is possible.

      Dual Nintendo Wii remote controllers can be head mounted to track motion with their integral MEMS accelerometers, infrared sensors, and a snap-on gyroscope (right) for detection of rotation.
      Unfortunately, precision diagnostic instrumentation is often expensive and cumbersome, opening an opportunity for MEMS sensors to downsize traditional posture measuring instruments using inexpensive components.
      Medical researchers at Seoul National University (Korea) recently demonstrated that the consumer-grade infrared camera in the Nintendo Wii controller could be harnessed to create a medical instrument that could diagnose ocular torticollis--an abnormal twist of turn of the neck that patients with ocular defects adopt in order to adopt to maintain binocular vision.
      "Accurate measurement of the angle of the abnormal head position is crucial for evaluating disease progression and determining treatment," said medical professor Jeong-Min Hwang at Seoul National University's College of Medicine.
      Two Wii remotes were used to jury-rig a three-dimensional (3D) motion sensor the researchers called an infrared optical head tracker (IOHT). A four light-emitting-diode array was used as an invisible infrared beacon that the Wii infrared camera could use to evaluate the distance and orientation of the patient's head.
      "We believe IOHT has the potential to be widely used as a head posture measuring device in clinical practice," said Hwang.
      Software analytics performed feature detection and pattern recognition on the Bluetooth data streams from the infrared camera to measure and record the angle of the head in real-time. The results were found to comparable those obtained from an expensive laboratory-grade Cervical Range of Motion (CROM) instrument. Sensor readings from the MEMS accelerometers and gyroscopes could be used to further enhance accuracy and real-time tracking capabilities.
      For the future, the team hopes to develop a working prototype of an instrument that could rival the clinical utility of a CROM. More extensive analytics could also enable even more precise readings obtained from the MEMS accelerometer and gyroscopes in the Wii remote.

    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    Motivational Moment

    There isn’t much one can do for the individual who will not try to do something for himself.

    One of the keys to success is Personal Initiative. Most people — including those who will play a key role in the level of success you achieve in your life — will not give you their full assistance and support unless you first take the initiative. If you see something that needs to be done, just do it. Wendy’s founder, Dave Thomas, says, “A little initiative will improve your luck nine days out of ten.”

    Permanent link to this post: There isn’t much one can do for the individual who will not try to do something for himself.

    Focus: HOPE is hosting a FREE Open House and Career Fair

    Sponsor Communication from Detroit IT User Group 

    Please help spread the word to your friends, neighbors, relatives, church, clubs, etc.

     Focus: HOPE is hosting a FREE Open House and Career Fair
    on Wednesday, March 21, 2012
    from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
    in the Center for Advanced Technologies (CAT) Building
    at 1400 Oakman Boulevard, Detroit, MI.

     Here is some basic information:
    Focus: HOPE will begin accepting students into two job training programs later this month after being awarded a $2.35 million grant from the Workforce Development Agency for the State of Michigan. The new funding through the Southeast Michigan Talent Enhancement Program (SEMTEP) targets young adults, ages 18 to 24.
    The Machinist Training Institute (MTI) will offer a 12-week course designed to train individuals to become machine operators. The Information Technologies Center (ITC) will offer a 15-week class which enables students to get two certifications and become eligible for entry level jobs in customer service. The (ITC) certifications will be as Microsoft Office Specialist and Certified Business Professional Customer Service Support.

    These programs provide tuition, books, certification fees, and placement services for eligible students.
    Thank you for your assistance.
    Focus: HOPE Admissions / Student Services Team

    Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    Wordless tribute to a machine that moved millions of voices

    Short 1974 film features assembly of AT&T's Electronic Switching System

    By Paul McNamara 

    AT&T has given new life to "The Hello Machine," a 1974 wordless film that celebrates the hand-crafting by Western Electric workers of a complete Electronic Switching System, which at the time was not yet 10-year-old technology. Directed by Carroll Ballard ("Never Cry Wolf," "The Black Stallion"), the 11-minute "film-poem" was posted to the AT&T Tech Channel on YouTube earlier this month.
    The Ballard film starts at the 1:54 mark of this video after this introduction from George Kupczak of the AT&T Archives and History Center:
    "The film examines the building of an Electronic Switching System in Southern California. The new system replaced the electromechanical system that came before it, tripling the number of calls that could be placed over AT&T's long-distance network. It was the culmination of nearly 20 years of research at a development cost of nearly $500 million, 10 times its original budget. By 1974, when this film was made, more than 5 million customers would have had their calls routed through such a system and it's this kind of human-to-human connection that Ballard tries to spell out in this poetic film. He especially lingers on shots of the hands building the system, the people at Western Electric weaving, sewing and wrapping the wires that would soon carry voices."
    The first Electronic Switching System - known as 1 ESS -- was activated in Succasunna, N.J., on May 30, 1965, and initially connected 200 subscribers.  And because your curiosity knows no bounds, here's a paper written the year before that spells out how everything worked.

    Finally, the YouTube introductory notes for the film add this tidbit: "There's a little irony in the title: 'The Hello Machine' used to be a nickname for the telephone, but Alexander Graham Bell, the machine's inventor, always thought that 'Ahoy' would be a better greeting for a phone call than 'Hello.' 'Hello' was more of Thomas Edison's idea, and is, of course, the one that stuck. In fact, the word wasn't quite as popular as a greeting in English UNTIL the telephone became widely used."

    Flying model of the DeLorean from Back to the Future 2 takes the skies in Russia

    Flying model of the DeLorean from Back to the Future 2 takes the skies in Russia

    Russian quadrotor enthusiast Native115 — who previously dolled one up one of these machines as the Dragon C-21 gunship from Avatar — has built an RC model of the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future: Part II. It's certainly impressive, but I will not sleep until one of you converts your entire house into Biff Tannen's casino.
    [Via Make]

    Monday, March 12, 2012

    Breakthrough could make smartphones and laptops 1,000 times faster

    Summary: Researchers at University of Pittsburgh have generated a frequency comb (a slice of spectrum) with more than 100 terahertz bandwidth, eclipsing today’s devices that operate in the gigahertz frequency region.
    A team of scientists report a communications breakthrough that they say could be used to speed up electronic devices by a factor of one thousand.
    The University of Pittsburgh team claims to have successfully generated a frequency comb, which entails dividing a single color of light into a series of evenly spaced spectral lines for a variety of uses, that spans more than 100 terahertz (THz, or 1 trillion cycles per second) bandwidth.
    Terahertz radiation is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum between infrared and microwave light.
    Hrvoje Petek, a professor of physics and chemistry at Pitt, said that this has been long-awaited discovery in the field. Petek and his team generated the all-optical frequency comb by investigating the optical properties of a silicon crystal and “exciting a coherent collective of atomic motions in a semiconductor silicon crystal” with an intense laser pulse.
    First, they observed that the amount of reflected light oscillates at 15.6 THz, the highest mechanical frequency of atoms within a silicon lattice. The oscillation then caused additional changes in the absorption and reflection of light, multiplying the fundamental oscillation frequency by up to seven times, which then generated the comb of frequencies extending beyond 100 THz.
    “Although we expected to see the oscillation at 15.6 THz, we did not realize that its excitation could change the properties of silicon in such dramatic fashion,” says Petek. “The discovery was both the result of developing unique instrumentation and incisive analysis by the team members.”
    According to a news release, the team is now investigating the coherent oscillation of electrons, which could further extend the ability of harnessing light-matter interactions from the terahertz- to the petahertz-frequency range. Petahertz frequencies scale up to 1 quadrillion hertz.
    The research is published in Nature Photonics and is funded by the National Science Foundation

    Thursday, March 08, 2012

    Where 4,000,000 Phones a Year Go to Be Resurrected

    Fixers - The Fixers is a documentary project about e-waste in Africa, and the repair technicians who turn our unwanted junk into coveted treasures. Produced by Kyle Wiens, screenplay by Brian X. Chen, and photography by Jon Snyder and Justin Fantl.

    Where 4,000,000 Phones a Year Go to Be Resurrected

    By Fixers
      A visit to the warehouse in which gadgets donated to Cell Phones for Soliders and other charity programs get a second life.
    The Recellular warehouse

    The first thing I noticed when I stepped into Recellular's Ann Arbor warehouse was the flags. From the rafters, the flags of the world oversee the processing of more than four million cell phones each year. Algeria and Mali keep watch as donated phones are sorted by make and model into row after row of labeled plastic trays. Brazil and Poland command dozens of test benches, where workers inspect, clean, and repair used phones for resale. Puerto Rico and Great Britain hang over the upstream holding area, where hundreds of used and refurbished phones wait in addressed boxes to be shipped out to customers. Each flag represents an employee--they add a new flag every time they hire someone from another country.

    The flags also emphasize the company's global impact: when you donate a phone to Cell Phones for Soldiers, or Sprint Project Connect, or The March of Dimes, it will end up here. Lots of people think that when they donate to Cell Phones for Soldiers, the phone is actually mailed to Iraq. That wouldn't work very well--our locked down handsets would be rather worthless on Iraq's cell networks. Instead, Recellular resells or recycles the phone and uses some of the profits to buy calling cards for soldiers. The man behind Recellular is the inimitable Chuck Newman. Chuck and his Recellular team recycle over ten thousand used phones every day, which they claim is more than any other cell phone recycler in the world.

    Chuck Newman, founder of Recellular

    Chuck and his brother Allan founded Recellular in 1991, the same year that cell phones switched from analog 1G signals to the digital 2G network. The Newman brothers recognized a trend--people were beginning to upgrade to new cell phones not because their old phones were broken, but because advances in technology had made them obsolete. In this high tech trash, Chuck and Allan saw an opportunity to start a business and to protect the environment--by refurbishing, reusing, and recycling the millions of phones that would have otherwise sat in drawers for years.

    RAZRs wait to be cleaned

    The business model proved highly successful. It's news to nobody that the vast majority (83%) of American adults have some sort of cell phone. Worldwide, 1.6 billion cell phones were sold last year. Although people are hanging onto their phones for slightly longer today than they were a few years ago--Americans reported keeping their phones an average of 20.5 months in 2010, up 17% from 2009--most people still upgrade their phone more than once every two years.

    A pile of used batteries

    I sat down with Chuck this week to discuss some of the larger issues surrounding cell phones. I've been studying the sources and consequences of electronics manufacturing for years and have traveled all around the world, visiting repair shops and e-waste sites. My company, iFixit, is dedicated to increasing the lifespan of our devices, and I value Chuck's perspective on the issue.

    Where does this growth stop, I asked? How many phones should we be making each year for a population of 7 billion people? Chuck isn't sure that growth can or should be stopped:
    In the capitalistic system, in the marketplace, the people decide what they need or want. It's awfully hard to impose upon them, saying, "You don't really need that." We have the right to get a phone that's smaller and a prettier color if we want. And I think it's pretty clear that there are enormous economic and health benefits to populations having access to communications.
    I am also a technology evangelist. The productivity benefits technology brings make our lives easier--but they can also lift someone out of poverty by making a fledgling business profitable. We're just starting to see how pervasive communications are changing lives: it's now possible for a fisherman in Mombasa to check from the docks which market will give him a better price and for a farmer in Haryana to receive life-altering weather updates via SMS.

    A testbench
    It's doesn't do any good to have the capacity to manufacture a cell phone for every person in the world if they can't afford it. The real way we to make affordable phones available to the masses is to get phones from people that are done with them to the people that need them.

    Every day a phone sits in a drawer is a day it's not being used by someone--and a day closer to compatible cell networks shutting off forever. We need to get the used phones from the drawers of Americans into the hands of people in the developing world. And Recellular is more effective at that than just about any other organization.

    Battery processing in the Recellular warehouse

    There's a market for used phones in America, too. Many customers want nothing more than the ability to make calls and send text messages. Recellular's biggest seller is still the original RAZR, which Motorola stopped manufacturing in 2007. AT&T, and perhaps some other manufacturers, have marketed their refurbished phones as "the eco-conscious choice." "And that is just right," Chuck emphasizes, "they are green phones." Apple's recently updated environmental site supports this claim; manufacturing accounts for 61% of electronics' carbon footprint. That's the same reason a used car is more environmentally friendly along some vectors than a Prius. Reuse is the simplest way to mitigate the environmental impact of manufacturing.

    Many large cell phone manufacturers have placed Recellular collection bins in their retail stores to support their cell phone refurbishment programs. Yet only about 10% of defunct phones are recycled, and most people have at least a couple of old cell phones sitting around.

    Testing set-up in the Recellular warehouse

    Why? Chuck boils it down to three major reasons ("this is part of my stump speech," he quips with a laugh): first, people need to be aware that they have options for disposing their phone properly. Second, people need to be motivated to recycle. Third, recycling needs to be "really, really easy. Even when people have the best intentions," he explains, "if it requires an action on their part, it's pretty easy to forget."

    Even though it's the reason they got into the business, ReCellular has learned that the environmental message isn't very effective. Instead, they distribute postage-paid envelopes for people to send in old phones, donating them to some cause or another. When the envelope says the phone will be donated to charity, 50-80% more phones come in than when it bears a strong environmental message. Through their more than 2,000 charitable and environmental partnerships, they donated more than $3 million to charity in 2009.

    Magnifying glass at a testbench

    The jobs Recellular has created in cell phone repair and reuse are a positive data point in an otherwise flagging Michigan economy. Much of the manufacturing that made the Rust Belt famous has moved overseas, but there's still lots of money to be made--and jobs to be created--remanufacturing electronics. And through reuse and remanufacturing, Recellular makes the world a better place, getting phones to people who need them and helping charities such as Cell Phones for Soldiers reap the rewards.

    Wednesday, March 07, 2012

    Tiny Linux computer punches above its weight

    $25 Raspberry Pi technology demonstrator is a fully functioning, self-contained computer

    By Jon Gold,

    At a glance, there's not a lot there to see. Despite the absence of an outsized cooling fan, the Raspberry Pi looks a little like an older-model graphics card, with the usual tangle of wires and plastic mounted on a green circuit board.

    On closer inspection, however, the true nature of the credit card-size device becomes clear -- the Raspberry Pi is actually a fully functional Linux computer, complete with an Ethernet port, USB and an HDMI output. According to the British nonprofit that administers the project, owners just need to plug in a keyboard and attach the device to their TV to start using it.

    The Raspberry Pi Foundation said that the original idea of the device was to improve computer science education by offering a cheap, flexible platform to budding programmers. On an "about us" page, the group said that present-day applicants to university comp-sci programs have less experience than they used to. In part, they added, this is due to a lack of the kind of highly programmable devices -- like Commodore 64s and Amigas -- that the previous generation cut its teeth on.

    However, the Raspberry Pi seems destined to have an impact far beyond the educational sector. One of the first production runs of the device in the U.K. reportedly sold out after a single day on the market, with a distributor saying that orders reached 700 per second at one point.

    The economics of the $25 computer are compelling enough, but its use of open-source technology adds even more potential applications. A developer of an encrypted communication app designed to sidestep online censorship told the BBC that he can use Raspberry Pi for tiny, cheap servers meant for activists in countries that restrict freedom of speech. Gizmodo UK lists several clever consumer uses, including smart TV and network storage.

    Regardless of the exact use to which Raspberry Pi is put, it's clear that the tiny Linux computer will have an impact far beyond its size in diverse parts of the computing world.

    Six minutes of terror

    Jonathan Amos Science correspondent

    Artist's impression of the entry into the atmosphere of Mars 
     The rover, tucked inside its protective shell, will hit the atmosphere at well over 12,000mph

    Come August, we'll be right in the middle of the London Olympics - the greatest show on Earth. But you'll excuse me if I'm a little distracted towards what is sure to be the greatest show off Earth.
    This will be the landing on Mars of Nasa's Curiosity rover, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).
    The Americans have despatched the biggest ever robotic rover to the Red Planet and it is due to touch down right in the middle of our sports spectacular.
    "To give you the specific time so you can put it on your calendar - Monday 6 August, at six o'clock, 30 minutes and 13 seconds. British time," says Dr Charles Elachi, who heads the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where the rover mission is being managed. Dr Elachi has been in London this week to enthuse about all things space but Mars in particular. On Monday evening he gave a lecture to the Royal Academy of Engineering.
    Curiosity is the latest spacecraft to come out of the Nasa centre he has directed since 2001. Launched from Cape Canaveral last November, this 900kg behemoth is about half-way to its destination.

    Curiosity - Mars Science Laboratory

    MSL (Nasa)
    • Project costed at $2.5bn; will see initial surface operations lasting two Earth years
    • Onboard plutonium generators will deliver heat and electricity for at least 14 years
    • 75kg science payload more than 10 times as massive as those of earlier US Mars rovers
    • Equipped with tools to brush and drill into rocks, to scoop up, sort and sieve samples
    • Variety of analytical techniques to discern chemistry in rocks, soil and atmosphere
    • Will try to make first definitive identification of organic (carbon rich) compounds
    • Even carries a laser to zap rocks; beam will identify atomic elements in rocks
    The $2.5bn robot is by far the most capable machine yet built to touch another world. It's packed with scientific instrumentation and even carries a laser to zap rocks to determine their chemistry.
    Its great bulk means engineers have had to design a new type of landing mechanism for Curiosity. They call it the "skycrane". It's a kind of rocket-powered cradle that will hover over the Martian surface and gently lower the rover to the ground. But to get into this position, the mission first has to survive what Dr Elachi calls the "six minutes of terror" - the fiery entry into the Martian atmosphere and the herculean effort to slow the speed of the descent to zero with the aid of a heatshield, a parachute and those retrorockets on the skycrane.
    "We'll be very nervous. Landing on another planet is not a walk in the park," the JPL director says.
    "It's roughly a one-tonne rover. With the heatshield and the carrier, it will be about three tonnes of mass, coming in at a speed of 12,000mph and we have to land softly within less than six minutes.
    "To give you an idea about the energy when you are coming at 12,000mph with that kind of mass - that's the equivalent of 25 high speed trains going at full speed. That's the amount of energy we have to dissipate in those six minutes so we can land softly on the surface.
    "The accuracy with which we have to point, to be at the right angle and the right location, is equivalent to me being in Los Angeles and hitting a golf ball to St Andrews here in the UK, and the ball going straight in the cup.
    "That's how accurate we have to have the navigation. And to make it a little bit more challenging, that cup is moving because Mars is moving at high speed."
    If you haven't yet seen the animation of how this landing attempt is meant to proceed - then do watch it. If MSL pulls this one off, everyone in the JPL control room will be slapping their chests like Usain Bolt, and deservedly so.
    Animation of Curiosity's journey to Mars and arrival on the Red Planet (Courtesy of Nasa)

    There is a huge amount riding on this rover. President Obama has decided to slash Nasa's Mars budget: down from $587m this year to $360m next year - a 39% reduction. And unless Congress intervenes or the president has a change of heart, this funding profile is expected to remain in place for the duration of his second term (assuming he wins one in November).
    It means that MSL could be the last American surface mission to the Red Planet for many years. It therefore adds a little extra tension to 6 August. But Dr Elachi remembers well the landing of Nasa's previous Mars rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) in 2004, and the expectation heaped on the agency back then.
    "When we landed Spirit and Opportunity - that was shortly after the Columbia shuttle accident. And there was a lot of people who were saying, 'Nasa has lost its way; Nasa doesn't know how to do things'.
    "So, you can imagine the pressure that was on us to show that we can still do bold things. There will be similar pressure with MSL.
    "Everything depends on those six minutes. For sure, we're going to land. The question is will the media say we are heroes or bums the following day. It's black or white. There's no in between; either you land safely or you crash."
    I can only imagine the disappointment at JPL on hearing the president's budget request. Dr Elachi conceded there was some, but then went on to explain how the Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden had visited the centre to emphasise that Mars exploration was still central to the agency's mission.
    "We're going through a process of re-planning, and there's still a fair amount of money for that," he told me.
    "Of course, we would have loved to do a 2016 and a 2018 mission jointly with Europe, but the budget situation means that looks unlikely now. Nasa [itself] is looking to a 2018 or 2020 opportunity."
    And he added: "There will be a Mars exploration programme. The issue is not 'if', the issue is 'how much'. What capability will we be doing? Will we be doing orbiters or landers? And on what pace will we be doing them?"
    Europe, as I indicated in a previous posting, has had to go back to the drawing board following the Americans' decision to pull out of their joint 2016 and 2018 missions.
    We will find out next week what state the revised European plans are in when national delegations to the European Space Agency (Esa) meet to discuss the so-called ExoMars project. Esa officials have been discussing the possibility of carrying through the missions with the Russians as partners instead.
    Mars maps MSL Curiosity will try to land at the base of Gale Crater and then climb the mountain at its centre

    Monday, March 05, 2012

    Motivational Monday

    Constancy of purpose is the first principle of success.

    It is critical to your success that you have a well-thought-out plan for your life and that you stick with it regardless of what others may say and the obstacles you encounter. There will always be fault-finders and those who attempt to persuade you that your goals aren’t worth the effort you put into achieving them. Those people will never go far, and they will be the first to ask for your help after you have passed them by. Virtually every successful person has considered giving up at some point in his or her struggle to reach the top. And many breakthroughs occurred soon after those same people rededicated themselves to their purpose. There is no known obstacle that cannot be overcome by a person who has constancy of purpose, a Positive Mental Attitude, and the discipline and willpower to succeed.

    Permanent link to this post: Constancy of purpose is the first principle of success.

    10 low-stress jobs for IT pros

    Takeaway: If you love IT but the stress levels are wearing you down, you might consider one of these less-intense job roles.
    It is hard to say that there are any truly low-stress or stress-free jobs in the IT industry. IT workers operate on tight deadlines, mistakes can take entire companies down (or worse), and there never seem to be enough people to do the job. To make it even harder, IT pros are often asked to work with and even take direction from people who really have no clue about the technical details. But it is still possible to have a job in the IT industry that reduces many or even most of these pain points. Here are 10 IT industry jobs with relatively low stress levels.

    1: Computer sales

    As far as IT jobs go, being a salesperson at a computer store is about as stress-free as it gets. Sure, you need to deal with customers who often have no idea what they are talking about but come armed with a bunch of misinformation from the Internet and from their friends. But you know what? Sales folks don’t take their work home or have to deal with deadlines, and that alone makes a huge difference in the stress levels.

    2: Desktop support technician

    Desktop support can be tough, for sure. People’s PCs are not working and you need to get them back up and running as quickly as possible. The good news is, you should have a supply of PCs ready to go to get the user back up and running quickly if the problem is bad, so you can fix the broken machine in the shop. And yes, you are often forced to support a wide variety of applications, many of which you rarely have to work with. At the same time, most of the problems you see are the same list of issues, like bad hard drives and broken mice. Most important for the stress levels, while someone’s personal work (or a project) may get delayed until you fix the issue, systems administrators and network engineers have to fix problems that often affect entire departments, buildings full or people, or even the entire company.

    3: Backups administrator

    Believe it or not, some companies are big enough to have folks dedicated completely to managing backups. The beauty of this job is that while needing to restore from backup is a super-critical task, it is a rare issue. The majority of your day is spent doing routine tasks that are not under the gun on deadlines.

    4: Configuration (or presales) engineer

    If you’ve ever dealt with a company to spec out a server, you’ve worked with a configuration engineer. They come in a variety of flavors, but the common theme is that they are not the ones doing the actual implementation — which is where the stress of timelines and things not going right come into play. Once the purchase order is authorized, the configuration engineer has moved on to the next client. Again, this is a customer-facing job. But your customers tend to be knowledgeable, which takes a lot of the stress away.

    5: Computer lab support

    When I was in college, we had many computer labs on campus, and one of the much-coveted on-campus jobs was to be one of the support folks for these labs. Many colleges still have computer labs, despite the proliferation of student-owned PCs. For me, this was the easiest, least stressful IT job ever. All I had to do was answer basic questions (like how to save a file), keep the printers full of paper and toner and jam-free, clean one or two computers per shift, and file a ticket if a computer broke. I wasn’t there to troubleshoot. I’d just reboot the computer if it gave the user grief. The only stress from this job was the low paycheck.

    6: Application architect

    Of the wide variety of development jobs, I tend to see application architects as having the least amount of direct pressure on them in general. All development jobs are stressful in their own way, but architects’ code usually doesn’t deal with the troubles caused by actual users since the architects mostly write libraries that other developers use and guide the overall development of the application. Architects are often more separated from deadlines than other developers because the bulk of their work occurs at the front end of a project.

    7: Build engineer

    The build engineer is the person responsible for automating the processes and procedures for building software from source code to running code. Many times, they will fold in a lot of other work as well, such as creating unit tests (or setting up unit tests to be run), making setup kits, handling automatic deployment of code to test machines on a regular basis, and managing the source control system. Like the architect, this job seems to butt up against timelines the least and requires minimal contact with people outside IT. While it is a difficult job that requires knowledge of a large number of technologies, it is the kind of position where you are left in relative peace and quiet to do your work.

    8: Installation technicians

    The installation technician is the person who performs the initial installation and configuration of a piece of hardware, especially things like cable boxes and DSL modems. The beauty of this job is that while you are on a timeline and have a schedule, any major problems found at the client’s site are justifiable grounds for delaying the installation and are generally understood by the customer. As a rule, any mission-critical installations are performed well in advance of their deadline, which keeps a lot of the stress levels down.

    9: Trainer

    Trainers have a great job: They come in, present their materials, and leave before the real carnage occurs. Yes, trainers are there to educate, and it can be frustrating at times to be a teacher. And of course, speaking for much of the day — and often on your feet for most of it — can be difficult. Trainers may spend a fair amount of time traveling, too. But all the tensions that the typical IT staff has to deal with, like projects, crashes, end users, just are not there.

    10: IT industry analyst

    Without a doubt, one of the best jobs in the IT industry is that of industry analyst. These are the people who talk to industry leaders and then write reports filled with predictions of the IT future. Of course, like most folks, they do operate on a deadline. And to make things a bit more stressful, they tend to not be well respected by the rank-and-file IT workers. At the same time, though, they never have to actually implement anything. Even better, their mistakes do not result in dead servers, security breaches, or buggy applications. And by the time it is possible to find out whether their predictions were right, no one remembers them — or if they do, the “uncertainty of the rapidly evolving industry” is a perfectly acceptable scapegoat for mistakes.