Games Gadgets n Technology

Thursday, July 16, 2009

250 million netizens flock to Facebook

One in 26 people around the world are now on Facebook, as the social networking site adds 100 million users this year

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that the number of people using the online social networking service has climbed to 250 million.

The California-based Facebook was founded in 2004 and has become the most popular online social networking service, eclipsing News Corporation-owned MySpace.

If Facebook were a country, it would be the 4th-largest in the world (between United States and Indonesia).

The Web site boasts of a number of stats in the billions as well – a billion photos are uploaded each month, more than a billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, etc.) are shared each week, and 5 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day by users worldwide.

“The rapid pace of our growth is humbling and exciting for us,” Zuckerberg said in a message posted at Facebook’s official blog on Wednesday.

Facebook took just two years to reach an audience of 50 million by October 2007, doubling that figure in less than a year. By January 2009, the Web site had 150 million users, and has been able to add another hundred million users in just seven months.

“For us, growing to 250 million users isn’t just an impressive number; it is a mark of how many personal connections all of you have made.” He added. The average Facebook user has 120 friends, and more than 120 million users log on at least once each day

The world’s most popular social networking website recently revamped its privacy settings, giving users the ability to share as much or as little about themselves online as they want.

Many Facebook users have gotten into trouble with employers and parents who have read updates containing inflammatory remarks or tales and photos of their indiscretions.

Facebook now offers a tiered level of privacy options, including “all of your friends, your friends and people in your school or work networks, and friends of friends.” said Chris Kelly, chief privacy officer at Facebook.

The move was seen as an effort by Facebook to compete with the hot micro-blogging service Twitter.

While its number of users has grown at an amazing clip, Facebook, unlike other Web giants such as Amazon, eBay, Google and Yahoo!, has yet to prove how it is going to translate traffic into cash

Little Wheel

A charming little click-and-solve adventure that is more than just a game

If the purpose of video games is entertainment, than Little Wheel is right up there with the best of them. In terms of skill, it demands very little. But for the 10 minutes that you play it, you will be completely enthralled.

The game has a great black-and-beige art style, which goes perfectly with the futuristic world that it portrays. The world is full of living robots, who go about everyday tasks much like humans do today. But all these robots, naturally, are linked to a central power supply.

One day, the main power generator has an accident, which shuts off all the robots. Essentially, the entire world falls into a deep sleep until a bolt of lightning strikes! As it so happens, the lightning strikes Little Wheel, our protagonist and the character you will play as.

As Little Wheel awakens and realises what has happened, a sense of duty compels him to rush to the main power generator and fix the problem.


The entire adventure is a click-and-solve affair, where one sees little items at each point circled. These items can be clicked and used to perform some task. The trick is in figuring out the right combination or sequence in which to click them, as you seek to start elevators and trains, raise bridges and break down huge piles of debris to make your way through.


The game isn’t very difficult, but the presentation is what hooks you in completely. The art is magnificent, right from the colours and tones used to the movements of all the bots, and especially Little Wheel himself.


And then there’s that brilliant jazz soundtrack playing in the background that will have you grooving along to each click. Simply marvelous.

Little Wheel is more than just a game — it’s an experience. Try it out!


Rating: 4.5/5
Site: http://armorgames.com/play/3953/little-wheel

FinePix S100FS


The S100FS is a ‘DSLR-styled’ camera which offers high end features of a professional camera at an entry-level price. It features a 14.3x 28-400mm manual zoom lens, a 11-megapixel 2/3-inch CCD, a 2.5-inch tiltable LCD screen, an electronic viewfinder, and is capable of 50 continuous 3-megapixels shots at 7 frames per second.

It can shoot videos at 30 frames per second in VGA quality, and has an xD/SD compatible slot that supports SD-High Capacity/SD-HC cards. For more information on the S100FS, which comes with a 3 year warranty, and is priced at Rs 35,000, visit www.fujifilm.in

Transcend MP320R


The compact and lightweight (just 29g) MP320R is fitted with a 1-inch OLED screen, and supports playback of MP3, WMA, WAV, and WMA-DRM10 music formats. The driverless MP320R can be used like a USB flash drive on any PC. The player also features a recordable FM radio, voice recorder, and boasts of 15 hours of continuous music playback on a single charge. For more information on this product, priced at Rs 4,500 for the 4GB version, visit www.transcendusa.com

Z Book Dock

This netbook is powered by an Intel Atom Processor (N270), 1GB RAM, 10.1-inch WSVGA display, a 160 GB HDD, and comes preloaded with Windows XP Home. One can plug the netbook onto an elegant dock and convert it into a desktop using a “smart manager” user interface which brings different programs onto a single guiding page. Wired connectivity options on the Z book include USB, LAN, D-SUB, and a 4-in-1 card reader, while wireless connectivity options include Bluetooth V.2.1+EDR, 3.5G support (HSDPA), Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), and 802.16 n (WiMAX). Priced at Rs 21,000, for more information on the Z Book, visit www.zenithpc.com

Monday, May 05, 2008

Future of war: Flying saucers and tiny helicopters

London: Emotion-detecting robot cars will face off against eavesdropping flying saucers in the English countryside later this year, as scientists and school children compete with their designs for the next generation of military equipment.

It’s the British Ministry of Defence’s first ever “Grand Challenge’’, aimed at encouraging scientists, inventors and academics to turn ideas into machines for army use in urban environments.

Middlesex University’s Mehmet Ali Erbil displays his unmanned flying vehicle for reconnaissance
It gave six finalists funding to build machine prototypes, such as mini-helicopters and disc-shaped flying robots fitted with heat and motion sensors that can be controlled remotely from a bunker.

And the finalists, who each received 3,00,000 pounds (Rs 2.4 crore), came to London last week to display their models.

“This project has really allowed us to broaden our vision and look at what other work is being done out there in our field,’’ said Norman Gregory, business manager for the Silicon Valley Group PLC, a small research company in southeast Britain.

His company teamed up with the Bruton School for Girls in Somerset to build an unmanned buggy that can analyse gunmen’s movements to determine whether they are angry or nervous.

“We are a small company and would not have been able to put together a consortium to develop such a sophisticated system without this competition. The government made it clear it wanted consortiums to get schools involved, and since the

Bruton school already ran its own robot design competitions, we asked them if they wanted to have a look at our research,’’ Gregory said.

Chris Jones of Bristol University poses with his vision-based control system to use unmanned rotary wing vehicles
Another group, Swarm Systems Ltd, has built a set of tiny helicopters that fly in formation into a village, recording images and audio tracks to beam back to headquarters.

Finalists will take part in a mock battle in August in Copehill Down, a village that was modelled on an East German one when it was built for military training during the Cold War. Copehill Down is near Stonehenge, about 150 kms from London.

The contestants will have their machines search for pretend gunmen and mock bombs, earning points for each find and losing points for hitting civilians or transmitting data too slowly.

The winner gets a trophy made from the recycled metal recovered from a WWII fighter jet. The best designs will also get financial backing from Britain’s defence ministry.
mumbai news

City boffins develop low-cost device to detect heart attacks

Mumbai: City scientists have developed ‘iSens’ – a low-cost biosensor which they say detects heart attacks well in advance.

Developed at IIT Mumbai’s Centre for Excellence of Nanoelectronics, the iSens is now being prepared for clinical trials and will be available by the end of this year, said Dr V Ramgopal Rao, who heads this project.

“Field trials will not take time since it is only a diagnostic tool. We are talking to some Indian and multinational companies to commercialise the product,” Rao said.

Not only is the cost kept low, he said, but the sensor also detects possible acute myocardial infarction up to six months in advance.







Dr V R Rao

The iSens is primarily a table-top box with a set of sensors, and costs between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000. Blood samples are taken on disposable cartridges, and inserted into the box for a period of around 10 minutes, Rao explained.

The box comprises nano-sized sensors, smaller than a millionth of a millimetre. These sensors measure the levels of proteins and enzymes – such as myoglobin, proponin and CK-MB – which can cause myocardial infarctions. Based on the concentration of these elements, the box displays a reading to classify the risk as low, medium or high.

“Our aim is to reach the iSens to the primary health care (PHC) centres. Only five per cent of

patients are able to reach hospitals, while 95 per cent go to PHCs or small clinics,” Rao said. “We can train the PHC personnel as the device will be simple to operate.”

The project was funded by the National Programme for Smart Materials and the National Programme on Micro and Smart Systems.

In association with his colleague Soumyo Mukherjee of the university’s Bio-School, Rao and his team have also developed small silicon lockets to be worn by patients. These lockets can take an ECG of the patient, and transfer the data to a doctor via a mobile phone.

Friday, May 02, 2008

‘My Passport Elite’ drive




Western Digital has launched its ‘My Passport Elite’ portable hard drive range in India. Weighing in at a mere 180 gms, the USB 2.0 device comes with a large suite of software, including automatic backup, synchronisation tools to update your email and important documents, and MioNet software to remotely access files from your computer. Compatible with Windows, Macs and also game consoles, the 320GB drive retails at Rs 12,150, while the 250GB version will set you back by Rs 10,350. For more details, visit www.westerndigital.com.

Flaunt that phone(Online exclusive from MumbaiMirror Daily)

Can an object speak volumes about your personality? Well, it sure can, if that object is as intimate as a mobile phone. Accessorisation is the buzzword today – be it your wardrobe and the paraphernalia that goes with it or the cozy interiors of your abode. If you aren't in the 'let-it-be-accessorised' league then are you sure living on Mars. The markets is ionised with new innovations each offering that 'extra' bit to woo 'the' mass of customer base. Mediocre pace and space is not for these high-end mobile phones that take form of a style statement going beyond a mere possession of need.

Indian mobile phone market is ripe with juicy entrants like ‘Nokia’ series, ‘HTC’, ‘LG Viewty’, ‘BlackBerry’ et al. And the flamboyant elite have added their favourite piece of jewellery to their existing grandeur.

Grand talks:

BlackBerry

The latest BlackBerry smartphones launched in India such as the BlackBerry Pearl 8120, the BlackBerry Curve 8300, 8310 and 8320, come with advanced multimedia and powerful voice and messaging capabilities. They are choices for executives and consumers who want to make the most out of their work and personal lives.

Katie Lee, RIM Asia Pacific explains, “The smartphone has become a lifestyle statement. Consumers demand robust performance and user-friendly experience for both messaging (voice and data) and entertainment (multimedia) in a stylish design and form factor.” She adds, “Smartphones come with strong consumer-friendly features, such as high resolution camera, multimedia player, ability to share photos via MMS, email and IM clients. Recently, RIM introduced a Facebook client allowing users to log onto the popular social network site on their preferable locations, as well as upload and share pictures via Facebook.” The phone ultimately helps users manage their work and lifestyle uniquely and hence has become a preferred choice in the market place.

Price range: Rs 14,990.00 to 31,990.00/-

Nokia:

Nokia believes in catering users who are looking at combination of style, class and functionality. Devinder Kishore, director marketing (India) says, “The phones suit consumers with an active lifestyle, who can use their stunning designs and cutting-edge features as a fashion statement.” He adds, “Nokia high-end products translate in a combination of ‘Style with substance’.”

Knocking deals:
Nokia 8800 Arte is built with combination of exquisite materials, glass and stainless steel. Its twin sibling, the Sapphire Arte sports an actual sapphire gemstone and a leather cover to commemorate its exclusivity.

PRISM Collection is a modernist collection of sophisticated phones with unconventional designs. It comprises of Nokia 7900 and 7500 Prism. The signature diamond-cut designs exhibit class.

Nokia 8800 Sirocco Gold is 18-carat gold plated with the sapphire-coated, scratch-resistant glass display. A smooth sliding mechanism reveals a stunning colour screen (up to 262k colours), high resolution camera, exclusive ringtones by Brian Eno and a wide array of messaging functionalities.

Nokia N95 and N95 8GB - Personal entertainment has taken on a whole new meaning with this multimedia computer, optimised for enjoying videos, playing games, or even locating destinations with A-GPS.

The Nokia E90 is the first GPS enabled device from Nokia Eseries portfolio. The device offers onboard GPS along with high-speed connectivity to allow consumers to search map and navigate to a location.

Price range: Rs 20,000 to 60,000/-

LG:

Anil Arora, business group head, GSM, LGEIL is of the view that their phones offer perfect harmony of stylish design and smart technology. They cater to those who are stylish, want to flaunt the latest gizmos, are abreast with latest technology and who want to lead fashion. These customers consider themselves trendsetters and fashionable.

Arora explains, “Our products have a balanced mix of all the three aspects - lifestyle tag, smooth functionality and superior brand. ‘Viewty’ provides mobile users with high feature-led technology in the palm of their hand. The professional-level camera phone boasts of a number of 'world's first' easy-to-use features never seen before in a mobile handset.”

Price range: Rs. 10,000/- (Shine Slider) to Rs. 22,000/- (Viewty).

HTC

Ajay Sharma, country manager, HTC (India) says, “In this era of converged devices, mobiles have long transcended from being just voice and texting devices to ones that offer a multitude of applications and functionalities. Today, they serve diverse purposes - from being an entertainment medium, extending to m-commerce platform, GPS device to a device that supports business and enterprise solutions as well.” At HTC, they believe that their data-centric devices have different attributes to offer something to everybody, right from a student to a corporate honcho. It is the first phone with a touch flow technology, provides a Microsoft Windows platform, Version 6.

He adds, “Our device should offer them total connectivity with mobility in terms of Internet email access etc. Devices should have appealing form factors, which the customer would like to flaunt. And, business capabilities, which they would like to have, a simple user interface that is easy to use, and good multi media capabilities to pass their free time.”

Price range: Rs 13, 000 to 28, 000/-

Though the mobile revolution is just a decade old in India, its growth has been phenomenal attracting the best of the world. Consumer is the king and nothing but the best can appeal to these masters, who are on the better end of the stick.

Kishore aptly concludes, “While a lot of focus today is on the volumes of new consumers in India, we are also seeing a silent revolution of discerning consumers picking phones not only on the basis of capabilities but also design and form factor. Today, consumers are increasingly becoming more sophisticated in their selection of handset so that they can get best blend of technology and style.”

Creative MuVo T200

Creative recently launched the MuVo T200 MP3 player in India.Weighing in at around 20 gms, the device is equipped with a tiny 65k-colour LCD screen that can change between six colour themes. The gadget can store upto 500 MP3 songs, and also supports WMA and Audible music formats. The device also offers FM radio with 32 presets, and voice recording capability. The T200, which boasts of a battery life of up to 9 hours, retails in two memory capacities – 2 GB for Rs 3,399 and 4 GB for Rs 4,999.For more info, visit in.creative.com

Lasting memories


No more waiting: New discovery in electronics could lead to computers that start instantly, and with the same programs running as when you shut it off


For nearly 40 years, scientists have speculated that basic electrical circuits have a natural ability to remember things even when the power is switched off. They just couldn’t find it.

Now, US researchers at Hewlett-Packard have proven them right with the discovery of an electrical circuit that could lead to a computer you never have to boot up.

The finding proves what until now had only been theory – but could save millions from the tedium of waiting for a computer to find its “place”, the researchers said.

The newly discovered circuit element – called a memristor – could enable PCs that start up

instantly, and laptops that retain your session information long after the battery dies.

Lasts long, really long

Basic electronics theory teaches that there are three fundamental elements of a passive circuit – resistors, capacitors and inductors.

But in the 1970s, Leon Chua of the University of California at Berkeley, theorised there should be a fourth called a memory resistor, or ‘memristor’, and he worked out the mathematical equations to prove it.

Now, the HP team – led by Stanley Williams – has proven that ‘memristance’ exists. They developed a mathematical model and a physical example of a memristor, which they described in the journal Nature.

“It’s very different from any other electrical device,” Williams said. “No combination of resistor, capacitor or inductor will give you this.”

It’s like water flowing in a pipe...

Williams likens the memristance to water flowing through a garden hose. In a regular circuit, the water flows from more than one direction.

But in a memory resistor, the hose remembers what direction the water (or current) is flowing from, and it expands in that direction to

improve the flow. If water or current flows from the other direction, the hose shrinks.

“It remembers both the direction and the amount of charge that flows through it… That is the memory,” Williams said.

The discovery is more than an academic pursuit for Williams, who said the finding could lead a new kind of computer memory that would never need booting up.

Conventional computers use Dynamic Random Access Memory or DRAM, which is lost when the power is turned off, and must be

accessed from the hard drive when the computer goes back on.

But a computer that incorporates this new kind of memory circuit would never lose it place, even when the power is turned off.

“If you turn on your computer it will come up instantly where it was when you turned it off. That is a very interesting potential application, and one that is very realistic,” Williams said.

But he said understanding this new circuit element could be critical as companies attempt to build ever smaller devices.

“It’s essential that people understand this to be able to go further into the world of nanoelectronics,” referring to electronics on the nano scale – objects tens of thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair.

“It turns out that memristance gets more important as the device gets smaller. That is another major reason it took so long to find,” Williams said.

Chua, who wrote the first paper on the topic when he was a new professor at Berkeley, is now 71 years old and says he’s nearing retirement from the university.

“I never thought I’d live long enough to see this happen,” Chua said with a laugh. “I’m thrilled because it’s almost like vindication. Something I did is not just in my imagination, it’s fundamental.’’

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gentlebot: A robot that knows when it’s hurting you

The DLR Light Weight Robot III knows when it’s hit a human, and backs off accordingly

Hamburg: In his famed science-fiction novel ‘I, Robot’, author Isaac Asimov states three rules for robots, the first of which is that no robot may ever harm a human being.

Now, in a project that would have brought a smile to Asimov’s face, a robot in Germany has undergone conditioned programming to ensure it will not accidentally injure humans.

High-speed industrial robots at factories are still too dumb to know whether they may have injured a human co-worker who inadvertently gets in its way.

“Accidents happen,” said robot engineer Sami Haddadin from the German Aerospace Centre Space Agency in Oberpfaffenhofen.

“We have to accept that when people start to work more closely with robots, they will sometimes hit people,” he told New Scientist magazine.

To tackle this problem, Haddadin built the DLR Light Weight Robot (LWR) III. Like a child told to be gentle with small animals, the robot knows when it’s hit a human, and backs off accordingly.

To achieve this, Haddadin’s team placed sensors in the six joints of a robot arm, which was programmed to stop moving if it felt unexpected changes.

Fitted with a large pad – the robot version of a boxing glove – the arm was then put to the test.

Haddadin actually allowed the LWR III to punch him in the stomach, chest, head and arm, forehead and arm at speeds of up to 2.5 metres per second.

It performed as expected, stopping at soon as contact was made.

However, Haddadin admits he was “definitely concerned” when the blows began.

Once the arm pulls a punch, its motors and torque sensors allow it to “freeze”, supporting its own weight. The arm can then simply be pushed aside.

“You give it a push and it just floats away,” Haddadin said. “It feels like it weighs only a few grams.”

More sophisticated responses are also possible. The robot arm can, for instance, tell the difference between a big hit and a soft collision.

It responds to the latter with a gentle nudge that signals “get out of my way” to its human co-worker.

Robot manufacturer Kuka of Augsburg, Germany, will launch a commercial version of the arm next year.

Bots for babies

Scientists have built robots that take care of mobility limitations in toddlers with special needs, helping them with their mental and social development


Sunil Agrawal (left) and James Galloway with one of their ‘testers’ on the UD1 robot
Babies driving robots. Sounds fururistic, but it is actually the focus research being conducted at US’ University of Delaware that could have significant impact on the cognitive development of infants with special needs.

Two researchers – James Galloway, associate professor of physical therapy, and Sunil Agrawal, a professor of mechanical engineering – outfitted kid-sized robots to provide mobility to children who are unable to fully explore the world on their own.

The work is important because much of infant development – both of the brain and behaviour – emerges from the thousands of experiences each day that arise as babies independently move and explore their world.

Infants with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other disorders can have mobility limitations that disconnect them from the exploration that their peers enjoy.

“Currently, children are not offered power mobility, such as wheelchairs until they are 5-6 years of age, or older,” Galloway said. “This delay in mobility is particularly disturbing when you consider the rapid brain development during infancy.”

When a baby starts crawling and walking, everything changes for everyone involved.

“Now consider the negative impact of a half decade of immobility for an infant with already delayed development,” Galloway said. “Given the need, you would think that the barriers to providing power mobility must be insurmountable. In fact, the primary barrier is safety.”

Therapists and parents fear a young child in a power wheelchair might mistakenly go the wrong way, end up in a roadway and get hit by a car, he said.

And therefore, a baby robot…

“Our first prototype mobile robot, called the UD1, was designed with smart technology that addresses each of these safety issues so that infants have the opportunity to be a part of the real world environment,” Agrawal said.

The tiny robot is ringed with sensors that can determine the obstacle-free roaming space, and will either allow infants to bump obstacles or will take control from the infant and drive around the obstacle itself.

The next prototype, UD2, will build on the current technology to provide additional control to a parent, teacher or other supervising adult.

“In this way, we can bind technology and human need together to remove barriers for movement in the environment,” Agrawal said.

Galloway said no one had ever tried using robots with babies – early experiments show that seven-month-olds can learn to operate the simple joystick controls – and he is passionate about the possible benefits to children with special needs of even younger ages.

“Infants with limited mobility play in one location while their peers or siblings go off on distant adventures all over the room or playground,” Galloway said. “With the robot, they become the centre of attention because their classmates want to try it.”

“We predict that this increased social interaction alone will provide an important boost in their cognitive development,” he added.

Agrawal – a robotics expert who had been developing a fleet of small, rounded robots that could work as a unit through a wireless network – first approached Galloway with the idea.

“When I saw his little robots, it was easy to envision a baby driving one,” Galloway said.

Initial jitters were calmed by the first test run of the UD1 at the UD Early Learning Centre.

“It was a relief when we saw that the children quickly grasped the use of the joystick,” Agrawal said. “If they had just sat there or cried, it would have been back to the drawing board. But over time, we have seen them increase their time with the robot and the amount of distance they cover.”

The project will now move on to a second generation with more than one robot. The researchers believe the study will also expand the understanding of young infants’ learning capacity.

They believe the training, robot design and new technology derived from the project will provide the foundation for the first generation of safe, smart vehicles for infants born with mobility impairments.

They want the UD1 to be light enough for moms to stow in a car trunk, and robust enough for babies to use in the home, yard and playground, and maybe even the beach.

Researcher James Galloway can be reached at jacgallo@udel.edu, while Sunil Agrawal can be contacted at agrawal@me.udel.edu

Decoding da Vinci: Scientist unmasks another painting

Pascal Cotte presents his findings on Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Lady with an Ermine’. Cotte applied his multispectral photography to the painting, providing historians with a more accurate rendition

After unlocking the secrets of the Mona Lisa, French scientist Pascal Cotte has turned his all-seeing “multispectral” camera on a lesser-known Leonardo da Vinci muse in Poland: the “Lady with an Ermine.”

Cotte virtually strips away centuries of sometimes sloppy restoration work to provide a digital image of a painting as it may have left the artist’s studio.

Cotte’s unique 240-megapixel camera uncovers the true colours of a painting, literally: Cotte found that the late 15th century wood-panel portrait was not painted on the black background visible today.

“The background was deep blue, very lightly shaded with earth, and probably an azurite mixed with earth,” Cotte said.

“It’s far more beautiful than we thought,” said French art historian Jacques Franck, a da Vinci expert who worked alongside Cotte.

“Here we have a Leonardo da Vinci which has been masked by bad restoration work and which, as a result, has perhaps been seen as less important than it really is,” Franck said.

The camera gives insight into colours, pigments and strokes underneath a weathered surface.

“It enables us to break down the light spectrum three levels into the pictorial layer, from the ultraviolet to the infrared, and from the visible to the invisible,” he explained.

“Multispectral photography provides us with knowledge of the stratification of the successive layers painted by Leonardo and restorers, which enables historical understanding of the way the work was constructed and of subsequent actions,” he said.

In the ‘Lady with an Ermine’, he discovered hidden traces under the ermine’s left paw and muzzle, leading Franck to believe da Vinci may originally have painted the animal lower down the portrait of the woman – who was thought to be Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Duke Lodovico Sforza of Milan.

The technology also laid to rest doubts over how much was drawn by da Vinci and how much was that of his assistants.

Cotte’s conclusion, based on a virtual version he built as close as possible to the original, suggests it is da Vinci’s handiwork.

Cotte, who aims to help build a global archive of digital “originals,” has already gazed behind the layers of around 500 paintings, including da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and also works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh and others.

mumbai news

Fear Factor::Game of the day

The spine-chilling Jericho will leave you spellbound and screaming for more...

Minimum Requirements: 2.4 GHz processor, 1GB RAM, GeForce 6600 or Radeon X1600 128MB graphics card, 2 GB Hard disc space
For Adults Only (18+) Rating: * * * * * Price: PS3: Rs 2,606; Xbox 360: Rs 2,100; PC: Rs 999-Rs 1,200


It’s not often that fiction is genuinely scary. It’s easy to try to scare people with ghosts and gory images, like in games such as F.E.A.R, or horror flicks such as The Ring. But the ominous anticipation of ‘What’s waiting around the corner?’ is what makes Clive Barker’s Jericho a lot more frightening than any game I’ve played.

Barker is the famous horror author who wrote Cabal, and also the movie, Hellraiser. And even with this track record, I wasn’t prepared for what Jericho offered. Come a little closer and I’ll fill you in.

Here’s the briefing I got. Before creating man, God created another being – a being beautiful, yet terrifying; a being that was neither light, nor dark. And it greatly disturbed the Almighty. Unable to destroy this first creation, God decided to banish it, and trapped it into a different plane of reality, which we call ‘The Box’. As for the creature, we don’t dare call it anything other than The FirstBorn.

For centuries now, The FirstBorn has tried to escape from its prison of time and space, hell-bent on revenge. And each time, it has been stopped by a band of seven warrior-magicians, who sacrificed their lives by sealing the prison from within. In the process, they added layers of Earth’s time and space to the prison. Now, The FirstBorn has breached the walls yet again, and it’s upto us to save mankind.

The whole concept impressed me. It was so fresh, so original... Like a fool, I took control of my character, Captain Devin Ross, and rushed into The Box with my six warrior-magician teammates – We’re the Jericho squad. My haste cost me dearly, as I lost my life in an early battle; but in The Box, this meant I merely lost my body.

As Ross’s spirit, I could inhabit any of my Jericho squadron and play as them.

Squad-based ‘shooters’ are always fun, but Jericho offers a refreshingly new gameplay. I had the choice of playing as six different players at any time I wanted, each with different armoury and unique magic spells: From Xavier Jones’ ability to project his astral image and Frank Delgado’s shield of fire, to Abigail Black’s telekinesis and Billie Church’s blood wards that freeze enemies. I know it sounds like a lot of multi-tasking, but trust me, five minutes of practice was all that was needed.

And so, my Jericho squad set forth to stop The FirstBorn. The story unfolded with great charm, as I went back in time and learnt about past attempts to stop it. The fights were great, the gameplay refreshing, and it all lasted for a long time too; in fact, if it weren’t for the anti-climatic main boss fight, Jericho could very well have earned a perfect score.

All the while, I learnt more about my squad through their conversations, which almost made me forget that they were

virtual: Little bickering and some banter; shouting, screaming and pacifying. Well, it sure sounded real.

The sounds didn’t help in snapping me back to reality either. Sure, the visuals were good, but some animations did remind me that it’s just a game. But the sounds? I still hear them sometimes: Those grotesque wails of the undead, interspersed with the sound my feet splashing through a river of blood and guts. And Barker’s experience with the film world showed through with his well-timed, heavy bass notes. A braver man than I would play the game again solely to study the art of building a spooky ambience.

Jericho really is a masterpiece in the art of horror story-telling. The secret, I think, lies in the little things – like how the mere prospect of a group of children attacking you seems a lot more frightening than a cloud of flying ‘man-bats’.

One more thing: Don’t let your kids play this one. Yes, it has a ‘Mature 18 ’ rating, but we tend to gloss over that many times. But the amount of violence, strong language and pure gore in Jericho warrants special attention to the age limit.

There’s often talk about how the movie industry and the video games industry would merge in the future, with what would be termed as ‘interactive films’. If you ask me, Clive Barker’s Jericho is a sneak peek into that world.

The timing of the release is unfortunate as it clashes with the launch of a lot of popular titles. But remember, missing out on Jericho is your own loss.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Molecular detectives

Scientists have developed technology that could speed-up the detection of the virus that causes cervical cancer by using just a single molecule; method could also be used to detect other viruses such as HIV and avian flu

Researchers in the US have developed a technology that detects a single molecule of the virus associated with cervical cancer in women. The development, they say, could help in the early detection of diseases.

The advancement is a significant improvement over the current test for the human papillomavirus (HPV), said Edward Yeung, a professor of chemistry at Iowa State University, and leader of the research team that developed the new test.

About the pathogen...

Papillomaviruses are a diverse group of DNA-based viruses that infect the skin and mucous membranes of humans and a variety of animals.

Over 100 different human papillomavirus (HPV) types have been identified so far.

Research scientist, Edward Yeung, uses laser beams to light up tags that indicate molecules of human papillomavirus are present in a cell
Some HPV types may cause skin warts while others may cause an infection resulting in precancerous lesions. All HPVs are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact.

A group of about 30-40 HPVs is typically transmitted through sexual contact. However, some HPV types, which may infect the genitals, do not to cause any noticeable signs of infection.

Notably, HPV infection is a necessary factor in the development of nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

Researchers believe that the human papillomavirus is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections the world over.

When one molecule is better than fifty The current test, the Nobel Prize-winning polymerase chain reaction technique, requires 10 to 50 virus molecules for detection.

“We are always interested in detecting smaller and smaller amounts of material at lower and lower concentrations,” Yeung said. “Detecting lower levels means earlier diagnosis.”

The discovery by Yeung, Jiangwei Li, an Iowa State doctoral student; and Ji-Young Lee, a former Iowa State doctoral student; was published in the Nov 1 issue of the journal Analytical Chemistry.

Their work was funded by a five-year, $9,50,000 grant from US’ National Institutes of Health.

The project advanced rapidly just as the human papillomavirus made headlines in scientific circles: In June of 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine – for females up to the age of 26 – that was developed to prevent cervical cancer, precancerous lesions and genital warts caused by four types of the virus.

Yeung said single molecule detection of the virus could help earlier detection of disease and could help prevent serious consequences.

The new detection technology improves current technology by eliminating a step to amplify DNA samples for testing.
Although the current test is efficient and well understood, the amplification can cause small contaminants to create test errors.

Yeung’s single molecule technique involves creating chemical reagents that recognise and fluorescently tag the genetic sequence of the human papillomavirus.

Test samples pass through a laser beam that lights the tags. Cameras capture the images for computer analysis.

The research team tested the technique using

samples from normal Pap smears. They also spiked some of those samples with the virus to make sure the tests picked up known amounts of the virus.

Although this test concentrated on detecting the human papillomavirus, Yeung said it should detect HIV, avian flu and other viruses as well.

Will the tech make it to medical labs?

Yeung said he won’t be directly involved in taking the detection technology to market. But he said companies have expressed some interest in licensing and developing the technology.

As that project moves on, Yeung will continue looking for ways to detect chemical targets at the smallest limits. He said the next challenge is to figure out how to detect single molecules of proteins.

No driver, no worry

Autonomous robotic cars race through simulated life-like road conditions, throwing up the possibility of unmanned vehicles for military as well as civilian purposes




The race began with mechanics moving eleven cars to the starting line. The monsters roared their engine at the starting line. But at the fateful moment, the drivers abandoned their vehicles, and the cars began moving on their own, eliciting cheers from thousands of spectators!

Robotic cars built by prominent universities in the US competed Saturday in a high-stakes race organised by the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which hopes to use driverless vehicles as weapons on urban battlefields by 2015.

The competition was staged at an unused military base, and promises a first-place prize of $2 million.

A member of the MIT team tunes their entry’s computer before the start of the race
Cars and trucks with electronic brains, sensors, radar and other sophisticated gear crafted to eliminate the need for humans at steering wheels had to manoeuvre 100 kilometres along mock city streets in less than six hours.

The cars picked up pace as they found their way along streets of the closed-down base without any help.

The challenge sent them along neighbourhood roads, through traffic and around jams created by humans. About 50 humans piloted other cars to simulate real road conditions.

Over and over, cars with a warning honk and roof-rack of space-age gear came to a perfect halt at the stop sign of a deserted intersection, then pulled through smoothly.

In fact, the biggest error was a minor ‘fender bender’, which did not stop or significantly damage either vehicle.

“There’s more computing power in the back (of the cars) than most companies have,” said Paul Barrett, team leader of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) entry, while describing the technology that went into their modified Land Rover.

Only seven contenders remained by the end of the race, and Stanford University’s ‘Junior’, crossed the finish line first.

Carnegie Mellon University’s entry finished second, while Virginia Tech took third place.

Finishing first does not guarantee victory because speed is just one of several criteria used to determine who will be the champion and get the prize money.

Competitors are also rated for precision and performance while navigating the course.

Of the five finalists who bogged down early, one car ended up in a driveway with its sensors continuing to swivel, while an 11-tonne self-controlled green truck called the TerraMax halted inches away from mowing down a column.

In qualifying events, some robot cars simply stopped, lost in thought, climbed over curbs and sideswiped parked vehicles.

However, this scenario is still a lot better than the first DARPA race held in 2004, which had no finishers.

While the teams get fame and large cash rewards, it’s the US military that hopes to be the real winner, by gaining technology that would enable the military to make a third of its vehicles robotic by 2015.

Manufacturer Oshkosh trucks, which built the TerraMax, supplies the US military in Iraq, and a driverless version is exactly what is needed to cut the number of soldiers’ lives at risk in battle.

Universities also see interesting artificial intelligence problems to solve, while corporations see the building blocks of an automobile of the future.

However, there’s enough interest for the common man as well, as hundreds of spectators turned out for the event.

Along with the military uses, DARPA sees the race as ensuring better public safety as well.

While the cars may not be ready to hit the vehicle market just yet, DARPA said the contenders should throw up a few options in the forseeable future.


Inside the Winner
Here’s a look at what goes inside Stanford University’s ‘Junior’, which finished first.

The body
Model: 2006 Volkswagen Passat wagon
Engine: 4-cylinder turbo diesel injection
Transmission: 6-speed direct-shift gearbox
Fuel Consumption: City: 10.8 km/l;
Highway: 18.1 km/l; Combined: 14.7 km/l
Top speed: 203km/h
Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 10.1sec


The senses
Cutting-edge sensors and custom AI software enable Junior to determine its position and perceive its surroundings, day or night, even in adverse GPS conditions. To measure its localisation and perception, the car uses an array of Lidars – a measuring system that detects and locates objects on the same principle as radar, but uses light from a laser. It can estimate positions with an accuracy of within 5cm.


The brains
Hardware: High-tech servers crunch sensor data up to 20 times a second, and run Junior’s artificial intelligence software.

Software: Junior’s intelligence comes from a suite of integrated, custom-coded programs that include four major components: a planner to make decisions and choose paths; a mapper to transform sensor data into environment models; a localiser to refine GPS position and road map structure from lane markings; and a controller to turn decisions into driving.

Friday, August 10, 2007

NASA sends first teacher into space

Cape Canaveral, USA : NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour blasted off Wednesday sending the first teacher into space 21 years after the Challenger explosion tragically ended the dream of another pioneering teacher.

Teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan, 55, has become the star of the second shuttle mission to the International Space Station this year. Her chance to fly into space finally came with Endeavour’s launch at 6:36 pm (2236 GMT) Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral.

“Class is in session,” said a NASA mission control spokesman after the external fuel tank separated from the shuttle and the Endeavour entered its orbit less than nine minutes into the flight.

The shuttle is to reach the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) on Friday at 1753 GMT.

Morgan had trained alongside fellow teacher Christa McAuliffe in the 1980s as a backup for the Challenger shuttle mission.

NASA had hoped that sending a teacher into space would fire the imaginations of millions and keep up support for its shuttle program. But on January 28, 1986, Challenger exploded and broke up 73 seconds after blast-off, killing all seven aboard.

After the Challenger disaster Morgan went back to teaching, and then rejoined NASA in 1998.

Once in space she will operate robotic arms on the ISS and the shuttle to unload and install new equipment and supplies on the space station.

Endeavour is on an 11-day mission to continue the expansion of the ISS. The mission will carry a truss section about the size of a small car to extend the space station to a length of 108 metres, about the size of a football pitch.
The astronauts will also replace a defective gyroscope, one of four keeping the space station on an even keel, and install an exterior stowage platform.

NASA could prolong the mission by three days to include a fourth space walk that will allow crews to inspect for potential damage to the shuttle’s heat shield.

The US space agency has been leery of damage to shuttle heat shields since February 2003, when a broken thermal tile led to the disintegration of shuttle Columbia on re-entry, killing all seven aboard and putting the shuttle program on hold for two-and-a-half years.

NASA finally resumed ISS construction missions last year after conducting two missions aimed at improving safety.

Besides Morgan, the Endeavour crew includes US Navy Cmdr Scott Kelly, the commander; Marine Lt Col Charles Hobaugh, the copilot; Rick Mastracchio, Tracy Caldwell, Air Force Col Alvin Drew and Canadian physician Dave Williams.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Power in your hands

Researchers have found a way to create electricity using only body heat. Future applications could include cell phones with no battery, powered by the heat from your hand…


New circuits transform body heat – such as that of a hand – into electrical energy simply from the temperature difference between a hot and a cold environment. The technology could result in wireless health monitoring systems that are powered by your body heat alone.
Picture a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit: Numerous items of medical equipment are attached to the body of a patient. They monitor his heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, pulse and breathing rate. Now also picture the jumble of power cables in that room. All these devices require their own electricity supply, after all.

But if certain German scientists have their way, medical sensors – in the near future – may be able to function without power from a wall socket.

Instead, they will draw all the power they need from the warmth of the human body. And the respective data will be sent by a radio signal to the central monitoring station.

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits – in collaboration with colleagues from the Physical Measurement Techniques section and the Manufacturing Engineering and Applied Materials Research team – have developed a way to harness natural body heat to generate electricity.

The new system works on the principle of thermoelectric generators (TEG), made from semiconductor elements.

The TEGs extract electrical energy simply from the temperature difference between a hot and a cold environment.

Normally, a difference of several tens of degrees would be required in order to generate enough power, but the differences between the body’s surface temperature and that of its environment are only a few degrees.

“Only low voltages can be produced from differences like these,” explains Peter Spies, a manager with this project. A conventional TEG delivers roughly 200 millivolts, but electronic devices require at least one or two volts.

The engineers have come up with a solution to this problem.

“We combined a number of components in a completely new way to create circuits that can operate on 200 millivolts,” says Spies. “This has enabled us to build entire electronic systems that do not require an internal battery, but draw their energy from body heat alone.”

The scientists are making further improvements to this system: Circuits that are “excited” at 50 millivolts already exist. Spies believes that in future, when further improvements have been made, a temperature difference of only 0.5 degrees will be sufficient to generate electricity.

The scientists have set their eyes on a wide range of possible applications.

“Electricity can be generated from heat, any place where a temperature difference occurs,” claims Spies. “That could be on the body, on radiators to meter the heating costs, when monitoring the cooling chain during the transport of refrigerated goods, or in air conditioning systems.”

It’s thinner, it’s faster, it’s recyclable: The new iMacs

Cupertino, United States: Apple on Tuesday unveiled a new line of iMac computers and slick software, hoping the glow of iPod MP3 players and iPhones will help shine Apple’s core products.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs, in his trademark blue jeans and black shirt, demonstrated the offerings to reporters and analysts at the company’s headquarters in the Silicon Valley city of Cupertino.

“The iMac has a tremendous amount of momentum,” Jobs said. “We’d like to make it better.”

Apple is replacing its white, plastic iMac with a more powerful, slimmer aluminium-and-glass machine for either the same price or lesser than its predecessors, depending on the model.

Apple calls iMac the “all-in-one” desktop because the hardware – now driven by Intel Core 2 Duo processors – is built into the screen that is also equipped with a Web camera and a
microphone.

That’s right, there’s no bulky CPU to attach to your monitor.

“The iMac has been really successful for us. And we’ve managed to make it even thinner than before,” Jobs said.
In the past, environmental groups have criticised Apple for not doing more to eliminate electronic waste. Jobs replied with the new iMac’s recyclable aluminium-and-glass components.

“It’s really been thought through from a recycling point of view,” he said.

He also showed upgrades and innovations packed into Apple iLife software for organising and editing digital movies, pictures or music.

The company also launched a ‘Web Gallery’ where people can easily share videos and images online using its programs. The software lets people use Google’s AdSense to profit from online advertising on blogs or other personal Web sites.

Another software introduced was a spreadsheet program called ‘Numbers’, in a bid to make Apple computers more attractive to offices and business.

“The overriding message here is, there is an Apple ecosystem,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research.

“It’s not just iPods and iPhones. Sometimes people forget that Apple still makes great computers too.”

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Original or fake? Infrared to detect imitation art

Screening paintings (left) with infrared light reveals the watermarks (right) of the paper mills. These enable works to be dated and examined for authenticity without risk of damage


Recovered paintings of the famous Dutch artist Rembrandt have a unique feature about them: Experts are never really sure which ones he created himself.

Many of the paintings, etchings and drawings attributed to the artist were actually created by his pupils.

And to add to that, several other works - attributed to him - were actually painted by imitators, many decades after the master’s death.

These imitations are so brilliant, that at times, it is even difficult for art historians to distinguish the original works of art from the fakes.

However, German research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research, Wilhelm-Klauditz-Institut (WKI), in collaboration with colleagues from the TU Braunschweig, have developed a simple way of exposing fake paintings.

The new method screens the pictures with infrared radiation, which exposes the watermarks of the paper mills, thus allowing researchers to date the works without risk of damage.

The watermarks in the paper were woven into the wires of the screen moulds that were used to scoop paper fibres out of the pulp.

“Every paper mill had several different watermarks at any one time - often a different one on each screen mould,” says WKI project manager Peter Meinlschmidt. “We know a lot about which watermarks were used by which paper mill at which period of time.”

Paper can be dated even more accurately by studying tiny changes in the watermarks that were caused as the screen moulds progressively wore out.

Art historians usually hold the drawings against the light to see the watermark. However, the marks are often obscured by ink, handwriting and paints on the front and back of the painting to the point where they are indecipherable.

The former solution was to trace them, which may leave pressure marks on the picture.

X-rays also reveal the watermark, but the X-ray technique is not usually possible in museums for technical reasons and for the sake of radiation protection.

On the other hand, it is risky to remove the works of art from their air-conditioned environments and take them to a laboratory.

“Most inks are transparent in infrared light,” says Meinlschmidt, explaining the crucial feature of the new method. “So we put a warm plate with a temperature of 35 to 40 degrees Celsius behind the picture and use an infrared camera to register how much heat the picture allows to pass through. This shows up the differences in paper density, and thus also the watermark.”

This exposure to heat is perfectly safe for the picture: As it is placed at a distance of one centimetre from the hot plate for the duration of only one second, it absorbs less heat than if it were touched briefly by someone’s fingers.

The Bavarian State Library in Munich is considering using this method to file the watermarks with the respective pictures in its digital archive.

Scientists draw code of ethics for robotics

Seoul: With the advent of robots in the service sector – from those guarding borders to those caring for the elderly – their interaction with humans is on the rise.

Now, South Korea – which has set an ambitious goal of a robot in every home by 2013 – is attempting to draw up a code of ethics for robotic technology.

“We are setting rules on how far robotic technology can go and how humans live together with robots,” said Kim Dae-Won, a professor at Myongji University who heads a team of 12 scientists, doctors, psychologists and robot developers that is writing what it believes will be the world’s first Robot Ethics Charter.

It will be released by year’s end.

“A society in which robots and humans live together may come soon, probably within 10 years,” Dae-Won said.

Many scientists expect the use of babysitting or dishwashing robots by 2050.

The Korean charter will set guidelines to curb the use of robots for undesirable or dangerous purposes.

“The purpose of this charter is to find ways of coexistence between humans and robots, not to restrict the development of robotics,” Kim said.

Key considerations include ensuring that humans maintain control over robots, preventing their illegal use, protecting data acquired by robots and ensuring they can be clearly identified and traced.

Military robots will require separate rules not covered in the charter, Kim said, as the question of legal liability may create hurdles.

Future Robots, now South Korea last year unveiled a high-tech, machine gun-toting sentry robot designed eventually to support troops guarding their borders.

Min Young-Gi, a manager of the Korea Advanced Intelligent Robot Association set up by manufacturers, does not oppose a charter but noted: “The robot industry requires practical guidelines, not a broad, non-binding declaration.”

The association forged a deal with a nursery school chain in July to provide 8,000 network robots that are programmed to play with or teach kids, and provide extra security.

Korean scientists have developed a variety of robots – some devoted to work and others to play.

The state-run Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has developed EveR-2 Muse, a robot version of a woman in her 20s who can hold a conversation, sing a song, make eye contact and express emotions.

Claiming a breakthrough, KAIST said in July it had developed an artificial brain system which enables a robot to make a decision based on context, or check its surroundings before opting how to behave.

Also, about 300 Korean scientists are working on developing robot caregivers which could tackle chores and monitor the health of the elderly. The project is due for completion in 2013.

Sim Hag-Bong, director of the Commerce Ministry’s Robot Industry Division, said the proposed charter “reflects our determination to secure the upper hand in the field of service robots.”

Friday, August 03, 2007

Halt !!!! U R drunk::::CAR TECHNOLOGY


Motorists tempted to get behind the wheel after one alcoholic drink too many could soon get a ticking off from an unlikely source: Their car.

A new concept car, manufactured by Japan’s Nissan Motor Co, with its breathalyser-like detection systems may aid policing systems, the world over, to keep impaired drivers off the road.

Nissan’s prototype alcohol-detection sensors check odour, sweat and driver awareness, issuing a voice alert from the navigation system and locking up the ignition if necessary.

Rivals Toyota and Honda are also researching anti-drink driving systems, said Credit Suisse auto analyst Koji Endo.

“Everybody’s concern nowadays is with safety and environmental issues,” he said.

ALCOHOL ODOUR SENSORS
Nissan’s hi-sensitivity alcohol odour sensor is built into the gear shift knob, which is able to detect the presence of alcohol in the perspiration of the driver’s palm as he or she attempts to start driving.

When the alcohol-level detected is above the pre-determined threshold, the system automatically locks the transmission, immobilising the car.

A ‘drunk driving’ voice alert is also issued via the car navigation system.

Additional alcohol odour sensors are also incorporated into the driver’s and passenger seats to detect the presence of alcohol in the air. When it is detected, the system issues both a voice alert and a message alert on the navigation system monitor.

“We’ve placed odour detectors and a sweat sensor on the gear shift. But, for example, if the gear-shift sensor was bypassed by a passenger using it instead of the driver, the facial recognition system would be used,” Kazuhiro Doi, Nissan’s General Manager, said.

FACIAL RECOGNITIO
N SYSTEM

A camera is mounted behind the steering wheel to monitor the driver’s face. The system is calibrated to monitor the driver’s state of consciousness through the blinking of the eyes.

Upon detecting signs of drowsiness, it issues a voice and message alert. Additionally, a seat-belt mechanism is activated which tightens around the driver to gain his or her immediate attention.

But the system doesn’t become dormant once the car is in motion.


DRIVING BEHAVIOUR


The system constantly monitors the operational behaviour of the vehicle, such as sensing if the vehicle is veering out of its driving lane. It thus identifies signs of inattentiveness in the driver.


Upon detecting such behaviour, voice and message alerts as well as the seat-belt alert mechanism are activated.

NOT YET FOOL-PROOF

However, the car company is still in the process of distilling exactly what impairment means.

“If you drink one beer, it’s going to register, so we need to study what’s the appropriate level for the system to activate,” said Doi.

The automaker is also testing a new on-board breathalyser that will prevent inebriated motorists from starting up their cars.

Nissan has no specific timetable for marketing, but aims to yoke all technology to cut the number of fatalities involving its vehicles to half 1995 levels by 2015.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

OFFICE, OFFICE

Arguably, the most widely used productivity suite in the world, Microsoft Office is now available in its newest avatar – and this time around, it’s got a complete makeover
MATTHEW FORDAHL


With each update to its Office suite, Microsoft has piled on features aimed at boosting users’ productivity and goosing sales of the world’s most widely used collection of programs for handling documents, spreadsheets, e-mail and presentations.
Office 2007 for Windows-based PCs, launched Tuesday alongside the company’s new Windows Vista operating system, is no different, except for one feature, called “Ribbons”, that makes it vastly easier to figure out what these programs have to offer.

RIBBON ME THIS, RIBBON ME THAT

Most of the suite’s applications – Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook – have done away with the old, familiar menus and toolbars. In their place is the Ribbon – a horizontal strip of screen real estate populated with tabs and icons grouped by function.
Want to add clip art to a Word document? Just click on the “Insert” tab and choose the “Clip Art” icon, which, incidentally, is hard to miss. Creating a complex formula in Excel? Click on “Formulas” and pick your poison – all broken down by type.
It’s also dynamic: When handling a photo in Word, the Ribbon presents the tools suitable for that task. No more clicking on the “View” menu, choosing “Toolbars” and then figuring out which of the tiny icons might be of use.
The Ribbon ranks among the most significant improvements to Office to date. It’s not the first software to break out of the “File,” “Edit,” and “View” mould, but it’s the most convincing alternative I’ve seen. Other programs will surely follow suit.
The Ribbon isn’t customisable and can’t be repositioned, though it can be minimised. There’s no option to switch back to “classic” view, and it isn’t universal – the old menus and toolbars can be found in parts of Outlook, for instance.
It took me a few weeks to get used to it, but after trying out Office 2007 for a couple months, the Ribbon has revealed features of the suite that I didn’t know existed.

ONLY CHANGE IS CONSTANT

The Ribbon isn’t the only enhancement. In many of the programs, when text is selected, a faint “Mini Toolbar” appears above it. Hover the mouse pointer over the toolbar, and you can change the formatting of the selected text. For those easily annoyed, it can be switched off.
Office 2007 also stores documents in a new format – one more compact and safer than before. Colleagues who haven’t upgraded must download a free converter program to open the files. You can also save files in the older formats with Office 2007 – important because the converter isn’t available yet for Apple’s Macintosh computers.
There’s also a new way of adding graphics magic to your documents – once everyone upgrades. “SmartArt” allows you to easily insert graphics that can be easily edited and repositioned. If the typed-in text doesn’t fit, it automatically shrinks the size of the font so that it does.

IN CONCLUSION

Of course, a big selling point, mainly for businesses, is how the Office programs work together. Microsoft is updating its servers that act as the glue, enabling easier sharing of documents and information.
But is Word, Excel and PowerPoint necessary for the average consumer or student? Actually that depends on what you’re used to. Microsoft has seen increasing competition lately from Web-based and open-source software. All those work fine for basic word processing and number crunching. And you can’t beat the price – free.
Office 2007, however, goes a step further: It not only helps you produce the content but also present it in ways unequalled by its rivals. At least, not without a lot of work.


OFFICE 2007 HIGHLIGHTS




WORD



Even the most boring document can be spiffed up quickly in Word 2007 by applying several new themes. And you can get a preview simply by hovering over the theme with the mouse. Word also has a new tool to instantly strip away any metadata, such as snarky comments thought hidden, that might have been attached as notes by people reviewing your work.



EXCEL


The popular spreadsheet can now handle a grid of 10,48,576 rows by 16,384 columns of data – a 16-fold increase in one direction, 64-fold in the other. Improved charting functionality supports 3-D, transparency and shadows.And when working with a large table, it keeps the headers in view when you scroll down.



POWERPOINT


There’s good news for those of us who dread meetings where speakers rely too heavily on PowerPoint: A boatload of new templates helps jazz things up. It’s easier to create the presentations, too, thanks to SmartArt and themes. A boring bulleted list, for instance, can be transformed into a diagram – such as timelines – wit
h a click or two.


OUTLOOK


Outlook 2007 now supports “Instant Search,” to find old e-mail in seconds. Also, it displays a to-do bar that highlights the tasks you should be doing, precluding the need to fish for some function on the Ribbon. It offers many mor
e options for categorising messages. And yes, it also supports Really Simple Syndication feeds, so you can catch up on the latest news and blogs.

URBAN COPTER

The flying car of science fiction may be reality by 2010. An Israeli company envisions its creation – the X-Hawk – saving thousands of lives in urban rescue operations


Rafi Yoeli has a solution to saving people from burning high-rises, flooded cities or rescuing soldiers trapped behind enemy lines: A flying car.
Yoeli already has gotten a rudimentary vehicle off the ground – about three feet – and hopes to see a marketable version of his X-Hawk flying car by 2010.
Although his dream might seem farfetched, US-based Bell Helicopters is taking a serious look, teaming with Yoeli’s privately held Urban Aeronautics to explore X-Hawk’s potential.
Think of the people trapped in the World Trade Centre. Think of ground patrols in Iraq blown up by roadside bombs. Think of citizens stranded in 26 July Mumbai floods.
X-Hawk and its smaller version, Mule, might one day offer the same capabilities as helicopters, but without the serious operating limitations – like exposed rotors – that helicopters face in urban terrain.
As of now, there isn’t any aircraft that can operate optimally in urban environments. Yoeli is trying to address that need by designing a kind of vehicle that can get close to buildings and skyscrapers, and provide some type of relief for people stranded in them.

THE MACHINE

X-Hawk – currently just a full-size mould in Urban Aeronautics’ headquarters in the Israeli town of Yavne – looks like a futuristic space car, with its streamlined design, two fans rising from the rear and cockpit-style driver’s seat.
But Yoeli envisions X-Hawk and Mule as more of a truck, pulling up to dangerous combat or terror arenas to ferry in personnel and supplies and ferry out people at risk. Like a similarly sized helicopter, X-Hawk will be able to take-off vertically, fly up to 155 miles an hour and as high as 12,000 feet and remain aloft about two hours, Urban Aeronautics says.
But encased fans will replace the exposed rotors that keep helicopters from manoeuvring effectively in urban areas or dense natural terrain. And a patented system of vanes is designed to afford the vehicle greater stability. Urban Aeronautics says vehicles will be able to sidle right up to a building.
“The X-Hawk also will be quieter, offering a stealth advantage over helicopters,” said Janina Frankel-Yoeli, the company’s vice president for marketing. “But because the rotor diameter is smaller, the new vehicle will use about 50 per cent more fuel.” Rafi Yoeli expects an unmanned Mule prototype to be flying in two or three years and in production within five. He projects a manned X-Hawk will first hover in 2009 and hit the market within eight years.

THE MAN

The 55-year-old designer says he’s been fascinated by flight since childhood and got into the flying car business after two years at Boeing, five at Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd and 14 at a company he co-founded to develop unmanned airborne vehicles and helicopter applications. His initial fantasy was a flying sports car. But because of all the regulatory issues that would have to be resolved before masses of commuters could start whooshing through the sky, he tucked that dream aside to develop something that could hit the market earlier. The company headquarters are dominated by a large, white-domed flight simulator and the proof-of-concept vehicle that Yoeli says he built in his second-floor living room so he could spend more time with his family. What’s compelled Yoeli on this project is the urge “to get up vertically,” without needing a runway or a rotating mechanism overhead. “You sit in a traffic jam, and everyone gets this urge: I want to get up now, and over this,” he said. “You need a certain kind of machine. I think X-Hawk can do it.” AP

Google defuses “mischievous” linkbombs

SAN FRANCISCO: US President George Bush is no longer Google’s top response to Internet searches for “miserable failure.”
Queries for French military victories no longer take one to “defeats.” And Russian Internet users that type “enemy of the people” into Google are not directed to a biography of that nation’s leader, Vladimir Putin.
The California-based search colossus says it has finally defused such “Googlebombs”, that is, search term results rigged by clever outsiders to make comic or critical commentary.
“By improving our analysis of the Web, Google has begun minimising the impact of many Googlebombs,” Ryan Moulton and Kendra Carattini of Google wrote in a company Web log.
Googlebombs, also referred to as “link bombs”, provide links to unrelated sites under the guise of solving the query. For example, searches for “failure,” “fiasco,” and “miserable” in various languages resulted in links to various countries’ current or former leaders.
“Because these pranks are normally for phrases that are well off the beaten path, they haven’t been a very high priority for us,” Moulton and Carattini explained in their blog.
“But over time, we’ve seen more people assume that they are Google’s opinion, or that Google has hand-coded the results for these Googlebombed queries. That’s not true.” To deactivate Googlebombs, Google engineers developed a search algorithm to neutralise them. “Computers can process lots of data very fast, and robust algorithms often work well in several languages,” Moulton and Carattini wrote. “That’s what we did in this case, and the extra effort to find a good algorithm helps detect Googlebombs in many different languages.” Google ranks search results based on a mathematical model that factors in key words and popularity of Web sites. While Google has known about link bombs for years, it had previously expressed reluctance to defuse them individually because it didn’t want to tinker with the objectivity of its Internet search model. Google, however, cautioned that some link bombs will slip past the algorithm net, which will be tightened based on feedback from searchers. AFP

First “Wiki” novel launched

LONDON: Fancy trying your hand at creative writing but can’t quite find the time? Tired of scribbling away all by yourself?
British publisher Penguin may have the answer – a Web-based, collaborative novel that can be written, edited or read by anyone, anywhere thanks to “wiki” software, the technology behind Web encyclopaedia Wikipedia.
The novel, “A Million Penguins,” went live on Thursday and its first lines are already being written, edited and rewritten by enthusiasts on www.amillionpenguins.com.
Penguin, which embarked on the project with a group of creative writing and new media students, says it is using the novel as a test of whether a group of disparate and diverse people can create a “believable fictional voice.”
“This is an experiment. It may end up like reading a bowl of alphabet spaghetti,” Jeremy Ettinghausen, head of digital publishing at Penguin UK said, adding there were no plans as yet to publish the completed work.
“We are not making any predictions. It would be utterly fantastic if we could, at the end, create a print remix.”
So far, the first chapter includes Carlo, a troubled man walking his dog, and “on the other side of the globe” a seductive murderer, Tom Morouse, “known as the Tango poisoner.”
The experimental novel, which Penguin says is the first “wiki novel” to be started from scratch by a major publishing house, will be online for at least six weeks.
But it warns budding artists that the work is not a talent search and insists it expects a variety of tones and abilities.
“In an ideal world we could throw in a sense of plausibility, balance and humour,” Penguin’s blogger, Jon Elek, wrote in an entry earlier this week.
“That’s asking a lot, and in truth I’ll be happy so long as it manages to avoid becoming some sort of robotic-zombieassassins-against-African-ninjas-inspace-narrated-by-a-Papal-Tiara type of thing.” REUTERS

Exercise game for the

TOKYO: Researchers have developed a device based on the videogame – Whack-A-Mole – that they believe will help senior citizens who have lost their physical coordination.
The new gadget, invented by Kyushu University and game machine maker Namco is an exclusive pastime apparatus designed for the elderly in which the players stomp on snake heads popping up in rapid succession on the floor and try to outscore others in play.
The device helps invigorate players as they use their toes and muscles in their thighs while playing the game, researchers say.
The objective is to enable elders who have lost some of their physical mobility to enjoy moving their bodies and restore body movement functions.
Shinichiro Takasugi, an instructor in the rehabilitation department at Kyushu University Hospital in Japan, initially set up a “Whack-a-Crocodile” machine at a day-care centre in 2000 hoping it would be effective in helping senior citizens to spontaneously enjoy and continue exercises.
He divided those who came to the centre for rehabilitation into two groups – one which used the game machine and the one which did not – and measured their functionality in body movements for a year.
Takasugi said members of the group who used the machine began demonstrating their superiority and agility over those who did not use the game.
He concluded that the users got themselves in shape in the sense of balance and reflexes since they had to stretch their arms and quickly strike the pop-up crocodiles on the head with a mallet while bending forward.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

HOT STUFF

Gadget freaks have never had it so good. Cut throat competition between manufacturers of phones, consoles and other sundry devices only mean good tidings for consumers: Better toys, competitive prices and myriad choices.
Here’s a look at some of the devices that are really hot in the gadget world


MOBILE PHONES


No gadget list would be complete without mention of the new generation of mobile phones. In fact, experts believe that the mobile phone will eventually replace stand-alone music players as the portable device of choice. The more notable devices:
LG has positioned its Chocolate phone as the flagship handset for music. The reason for calling it “Chocolate”, however, escapes us completely.
Not positioned as a phone, but as a “portable computer” instead, the Nokia N80 includes an FM radio receiver and a miniSD memory card slot. It also boasts a Wi-Fi wireless connection that among other things will let users stream music and video directly off their home PCs via special software from Orb Networks.
With Blackberry Pearl, RIM seems to have entered the mainstream mobile phone fray with its new size and shape. Of course, the Quadband GSM/GPRS/ EDGE device is still primarily suited for business executives, but seriously, the device packs quite a punch and comes with e-mail and browser capability, voice dialling, a 1.3 megapixel camera, a media player, expandable micro SD slot, etc.
In fact, the BlackBerry Pearl is expected to be available in India from Airtel later this month at Rs 24,999

ZUNE

Microsoft’s media gadget, the 30GB Zune, most notably features a wireless connection which lets users immediately share songs with one another. Shared songs can be played three times and stored for up to three days before users are prompted to either buy the track or subscribe to the Zune service for unlimited listening.
The debate rages over how big a draw this functionality will be, but already Microsoft has succeeded in capturing a great deal of awareness over the product, something the Apple iPod is accustomed to having all to itself.


SANSA

From nowhere, SanDisk has emerged to become the second-biggest seller (after Apple) of MP3 players with its Sansa, boasting a market share of slightly less than 20 per cent. A budget alternative to the iPod, Sansa is a great combination of looks and functionality. The device features a user-replaceable, rechargeable lithium ion battery, a microSD expansion slot for additional memory, digital FM tuner, on-the-fly FM and voice recording – all housed in a pretty durable package.



SONY PLAYSTATION 3

After many delays, the much anticipated PlayStation 3 is finally on the market. The videogame console features not only the most advanced graphics display and processing power yet, it also has Internet connectivity, a 20GB or 60GB hard drive, and doubles as a Blu-ray DVD player.
But it doesn’t come cheap at $500 (Rs 22,200 approx) for the basic version and $600 (Rs 26,700 approx) for the more advanced unit. Additionally, available games for the system could run as high as $75 (Rs 3,300 approx). Almost everyone expects a major distribution shortage in the first few months after the console’s launch. The company expects to ship about 2 million devices by the end of the year.


NINTENDO WII

The dark horse of the next-generation consoles is Nintendo’s Wii.
Its demo wowed users at this year’s Electronics Entertainment Expo, generating the longest lines at the show to try out the innovative system. The greatest buzz is over the Wii’s controller, which essentially is a wand that players can wave around to control the action on the screen.
At $250 (Rs 11,100 approx), half as much as the cheapest PlayStation 3, there’s certainly a good chance that Nintendo might challenge Sony’s dominance.
The company plans to ship 4 million of the devices by the end of the year. Unlike the PS3, the Wii is not aimed at hard-core gamers, but rather at videogame newcomers, with both the lower price and easier-to-play games.



BLUE-RAY/HD-DVD PLAYERS

The first round of high-definition DVD players will hit retail shelves this year, although with steep price points.
Cooling the market a bit is the ongoing standards war, with Sony leading the charge for the Blu-ray format, while Microsoft and Toshiba rally the flag for the HD-DVD format. Also stunting immediate mass adoption are the prices, expected to average around $800 (Rs 35,600 approx).
The benefits of these next-generation DVD systems are fairly straightforward: better storage, clearer pictures and better digital rights management. But with the entertainment market moving increasingly toward digital delivery, the future of even the most sophisticated physical distribution format seems a bit limited.


IPODS


Whether it’s the new line of Nanos, the new-andimproved video iPod or the new Shuffle, Apple’s digital entertainment product break new ground each year.
Apple’s Nano line has undergone a makeover, featuring a thinner design, better display and battery life, and a range of five colours available in 2GB (Rs 9,800), 4GB (Rs 13,200) and 8GB (Rs 16,400).
Additionally, the revamped video iPod holds a whopping 80GB of capacity, good for 20,000 songs, 25,000 photos or 100 hours of video, and features a brighter screen.
Ah yes, the iPod Shuffle has been downsized.