Tuesday, July 31, 2007

An eggcellent idea

Staff at US-based Smithsonian’s National Zoo use telemetric devices, such as this one, to record important information about how birds incubate their eggs. The electronic egg is put under the adult bird and records incubation temperature and the rate the parent birds turn the egg. The data is sent from the egg to a receiver and recorded throughout the day. This information is vital to better understand the complete biology of bird species

Monday, July 30, 2007

World’s oldest prosthesis?

London: An artificial big toe attached to the foot of an Egyptian mummy could be the world’s oldest prosthetic body part, British researchers said Friday.

The fake toe, which is made of wood and leather and is currently on display at the Cairo Museum in Egypt, dates from between 1000 and 600 BC.

Researchers at Manchester University in north-west England hope to prove it was used to help someone who had lost their original big toe to walk.

If they do, it could mean that prosthetic body parts were in use up to 700 years earlier than was previously thought.

The oldest known prosthesis is a bronze Roman leg, dating from about 300 BC, which was kept at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during a German bombing raid in the Second World War.

A second false big toe, which is on display at the British Museum, will also be tested by scientists in Manchester.

“If either one is functional, it may be interesting to manufacture it with modern materials and trial it for use on people with missing toes,” said Jacky Finch, a researcher working on the study.

She added that the Cairo toe is the most likely to have been a prosthesis, because it shows signs of wear and is attached to a “well-healed” amputation site.

The London toe, by contrast, does not bend and is, therefore, more likely to have been cosmetic, she said.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fridge magnets go high-tech

You are at work and forgot to remind your children to buy milk, so you email... your fridge!

The Israeli branch of Taiwanese high-tech firm Winbond Electronics Corp has developed prototypes of devices with software giant Microsoft that transmit data from a computer to a portable screen, such as one on a refrigerator magnet.

The devices incorporate a technology called SideShow, a feature in Windows Vista, which was released earlier this year. They can connect to a computer up to 100 metres away with a Bluetooth wireless connection, even if the PC is turned off.

The gadgets allow you to write notes, check and send email, view pictures and read news, stock reports and more.

Among the devices Winbond is working on is the Scribbler, a palm-sized, one-inch thick magnet with a touch-pad monitor.

The user can use these monitors without going to the PC. Using a stylus pen commonly used for pocket computers, a person could scrawl notes on The Scribbler or send emails from work that they can read on the device.

The gadgets are expected to be launched later this year.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The aircraft of the future?

The X-48B Blended Wing Body

Edwards Air Force Base, California: An experimental jet that resembles a flying
wing flew successfully for the first time in a program that could lead to more
fuel-efficient, quieter and higher-capacity aircraft, NASA said on Thursday.
The remotely controlled, 230-kg, three-engine jet with a 21-foot wingspan took
off July 20, climbed to an altitude of 7,500 feet and landed about a half-hour
later, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Centre said.
The X-48B Blended Wing Body aircraft was controlled by a pilot at a ground
station. NASA and Boeing said data from the flight are already being compared
with data from wind tunnel tests.
The aircraft and a duplicate were designed by Boeing Co’s Phantom Works in
cooperation with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright
Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, USA.
Built by Cranfield Aerospace in Bedford, England, they are 8.5 per cent-scale
versions of a future full-size design.
The X-48B resembles a flying wing, but the wing blends into a wide, flat and
tail-less fuselage, NASA and Boeing said.
The design is intended to provide more lift with less drag compared to the
cylindrical fuselage of a traditional aircraft, reducing fuel consumption while
The engines are located high on the back of the aircraft, which should mean
it is quieter inside and less noise reaches the ground during flights.
The planes are initially flying at low speeds to gather information about the
stability and flight-control characteristics of the design, particularly during
take-off and landing.
Another X-48B used for wind tunnel testing is available as a backup for flight

Thursday, July 26, 2007

iPhone hacked ......

Menlo Park, USA:
A well-known hacker claims to have overcome restrictions on Apple’s iPhone, allowing highly technical users to bypass AT&T’s network to use the phone’s Internet and music features.

As of now, the iPhone, can only be used in conjunction with service providers AT&T in US states where the telecom provider runs its network. Apple has yet to reveal network operator deals in markets outside the US.

In a post dated July 3 on his blog, Jon Johansen, 23, a prolific Norwegian hacker of electronics gadgets, said “I’ve found a way to activate a brand new unactivated iPhone” without signing up for AT&T service.

“The iPhone does not have phone capability, but the iPod and Wi-Fi work. Stay tuned!” he wrote on his blog, which is combatively named “So Sue Me.”

The site contained technical details for other hackers, as well as links to software necessary to complete the process.

One potential use would be for an iPhone user living or travelling outside the US to access the iPhone’s music player and Internet service over Wi-Fi connections without using the phone.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said it was necessary to activate the iPhone on AT&T’s network to ensure optimum performance.

Using the phone without AT&T’s two-year service contract was unauthorised under the phone carrier’s exclusive network service contract with Apple, Siegel added.

“We’ll monitor situations
like this and if necessary we will take appropriate action,” he said. “Our terms and conditions are very clear.”

Neither Apple nor AT&T have disclosed iPhone sales figures since it went on sale in the US on June 29, but some analysts have estimated sales of up to 7,00,000 units.

Johansen became known as DVD Jon” earlier this decade for helping to reverse engineer the code used to protect DVD movies against piracy, saying he did so in order to play them on his Linux computer.

The computer activist has engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with Apple to bypass copyright controls on various Apple products, including QuickTime, iTunes and Apple TV.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Coexisting with dinos

Dinos were not alone. New fossil findings suggest the earliest dinosaurs, who were not as large as the ones we are used to, lived with their primitive ancestors for close to 20 million years

The coexistence of dinosaur precursors Dromomeron romeri, lower left,and a Silesaurus-like animal, bottom centre, and the dinosaurs Chindesaurus bryansmalli, top centre, with a crocodylomorph in its mouth, and a Coelophysoid theropod, upper right, indicates that the rise of dinosaurs was prolonged rather than sudden

The ascent of the mighty dinosaurs to the throne of the animal kingdom may have been more gradual than previously believed, scientists said on Thursday.
New fossil discoveries dating from about 215 million years ago showed some of the earliest dinosaurs lived for millions of years side-by-side with related animals long seen as their ancestors and precursors, the scientists said.
Many scientists had thought these reptiles – very much like dinosaurs, but more primitive – died out around the time of the appearance of the first true dinosaurs, which were dog-sized beasts and not giants, roughly 230 million years ago.
“When dinosaurs first evolved, they were not very common and they were pretty small,” said Randall Irmis of the US-based University of California-Berkeley, who worked on the study.
“So they’re not the dominant creatures on land at all during most of the Triassic period. And it’s only until the Jurassic when they really explode in diversity and reach these huge sizes we’re so familiar with,” Irmis added.
Scientists had previously hypothesised that the first dinosaurs quickly out-competed their more primitive cousins, known as ‘basal dinosauromorphs,’ condemning them to extinction. But the new findings indicate that any such competition was prolonged.
The newly found fossils from New Mexico, dating from the Triassic period, showed that the first dinosaurs co-existed with these animals – “dinosaur wannabes,” as one scientist called them – for perhaps 15 to 20 million years.
“For the first time, we’re finding the earliest dinosaurs and their closest relatives together,” said one of the researchers, palaeontologist Kevin Padian of the University of California-Berkeley.
“That tells us that the transition to the beginning of the age of dinosaurs was not a very rapid affair and that, therefore, it wasn’t instant competitive superiority.” Irmis said these dinosaur precursors are not thought to have been direct ancestors of the dinosaurs, but rather having shared a close common ancestor.
The scientists discovered new dinosaur precursors including one 3 to 5 feet long called Dromomeron and another unnamed one about three times larger that walked on four legs and ate plants with a beaked snout.
Relatively small bipedal carnivorous dinosaurs also were found, including Chindesaurus, which measured about 6 feet long, as well as remains of an apparent close relative of the well-known Triassic dinosaur, the carnivore Coelophysis.
The fossils were found at the Hayden Quarry at Ghost Ranch, USA, a site that over the decades has yielded many exquisite fossils. For example, hundreds of Coelophysis fossils were found in the 1940s at Ghost Ranch, thus making it among the best documented of all dinosaurs.
These early Triassic dinosaurs were not the bullies and behemoths that later appeared in the Jurassic period, which started around 200 million years ago.
In fact, they were mere pipsqueaks next to some of their nasty neighbours. The scientists found remains of crocodile-like phytosaurs up to 25 feet long, and a relative of the equally long and vicious four-legged predator Postosuchus.
At the time these animals lived, the New Mexico site was a lush environment with a river system, flood plains and forests with towering large conifer trees.

Friday, July 20, 2007

New products boosting Microsoft

Demand for new products such as the Vista Windows system saw Microsoft make profits of $3.03bn (£1.47bn) in the past quarter, up 11% on last year.
For 2007-2008 as a whole, the software giant reported a $14bn profit on total sales of more than $51.1bn.

Profits in the past three months were hampered by costs stemming from repairs to the Xbox 360 computer games console.

Microsoft said its core businesses were "healthy" and it would continue to invest in growth opportunities.


Microsoft acknowledged this month that it is facing a bill of more than $1bn to cover the cost of offering extended warranties to Xbox 360 owners after problems with the console.
Surpassing $50bn in annual sales is a testament to the innovation and value that our product groups delivered
Kevin Turner, Microsoft
Excluding these charges, the firm would have made a fourth quarter profit of $3.78bn.
Sales from the division which includes Vista, launched in January, rose 14% to $38.1bn in the past three months.

Total sales rose 13% to $13.3bn over the same period.

Microsoft said it had had an extremely strong year.

"Surpassing $50bn in annual sales is a testament to the innovation and value that our product groups delivered into the marketplace," said chief operating officer Kevin Turner.

In the upcoming year, Microsoft said it expected sales to rise to between $56bn and $57bn.

Microsoft shares rose nearly 2% before it announced its results but fell in after-hours trading amid concerns it had only met market expectations not exceeded them.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Google ranked 'worst' on privacy

Google has the worst privacy policy of popular net firms, says a report.

Rights group Privacy International rated the search giant as "hostile" to privacy in a report ranking web firms by how they handle personal data.

The group said Google was leading a "race to the bottom" among net firms many of whom had policies that did little to substantially protect users.

In response Google said the report was mistaken and that it worked hard to keep user data confidential.

Hostile approach

The report by the veteran cyber rights group is the result of six months' research which scrutinised 20 popular net firms to find out how they handle the personal information users gave up when they started using such services.

None of the firms featured in the report got a "privacy friendly" rating.

Yahoo and AOL were said to have "substantial threats" to privacy as were Facebook and Hi5 for the allegedly poor way they dealt with user data.

Microsoft, one place higher in the rankings than these four firms, was described as having "serious lapses" in its privacy policy.

Other net sites, such as BBC.com, eBay and Last.fm were described in the report as "generally privacy aware but in need of improvement".

But Privacy International singled put Google at the bottom of its rankings for what the group called its "numerous deficiencies and hostilities" to privacy.

"We are aware that the decision to place Google at the bottom of the ranking is likely to be controversial," the group said in the report.

Privacy International placed Google at the bottom of its ranking because of the sheer amount of data it gathers about users and their activities; because its privacy policies are incomplete and for its poor record of responding to complaints.

"While a number of companies share some of these negative elements, none comes close to achieving status as an endemic threat to privacy," read the report.

Responding to the report Nicole Wong, general counsel for Google, said in a statement: "We are disappointed with Privacy International's report which is based on numerous inaccuracies and misunderstandings about our services."

Ms Wong added: "We recognise that user trust is central to our business and Google aggressively protects our users' privacy."

Privacy International said it planned to release a more detailed report in September produced after detailed consultation with the firms covered in the first draft.

Microsoft’s copy protection cracked... again!

Seattle: Microsoft is once again on the defensive against hackers after the launch of a new program that gives average PC users tools to unlock copy-protected digital music and movies.
The latest version of the program, FairUse4M, which can crack Microsoft’s digital rights management (DRM) system for Windows Media audio and video files, was published online late Friday.
FairUse4M has a simple drag-and-drop interface. And PC users can turn the protected music files they bought online into DRM-free tunes that can be copied and shared, or converted into MP3 files.
“We knew at the start that no DRM technology is going to be impervious to circumvention,” said Jonathan Usher, a director in Microsoft’s consumer media technology group.
He did not say how many songs have been stripped of copy protection, or how long it will take for Microsoft to combat the hack again.
But the music industry is aware of the nature of Microsoft’s technology, he said, and added that he does not expect record labels to lose patience with the process.
While Usher said Microsoft will remain committed to copy protection, attitudes around the industry are starting to shift.
Apple’s chief, Steve Jobs, for one, has started calling for an end to digital music-locking earlier this year. In fact, Apple, as well as Web retailer Amazon.com, have already jumped on the DRM-free bandwagon.
Josh Bernoff, an industry analyst, said he expects music DRM to fade out in the next few years as record companies begin to realise selling unprotected tracks online won’t hurt sales.

Immense knowledge