Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Apple iPods now come with viruses

Apple says the virus infected only the video iPod and not the Nano or any of the Apple computers. The iPods were infected by a Windows machine at a contract factory. An official statement and apology was posted to Apple's website and you can view that here.Apple is placing some of the blame on the Windows operating system and said, "As you might imagine, we are upset at Windows for not being more hardy against such viruses, and even more upset with ourselves for not catching it." The RavMonE virus doesn't cause any serious damage or data loss, but it does act as a trojan horse that could allow other, more serious, viruses to infect the computer. The offending computer has been found and dealt with and Apple says it doesn't expect any more infected iPods to be produced.

Mozilla Releases Firefox 2.0 Beta, Invites 3.0 Suggestions

The Mozilla Foundation released the next beta of version 2.0 of its popular Firefox browser Tuesday. Release Candidate 3 is expected to be the final version of Firefox 2.0. Mozilla also launched a wiki inviting the public to help it brainstorm new features for version 3.0.

Element 118 Created, Scientists Report

A U.S.-Russian team is seeking even heavier atoms in a theoretical `island of stability.'

A U.S. and Russian team said Monday that it had created element 118, the heaviest known to date.

It is the fifth ultra-heavy element produced by the team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, which has come to dominate the creation of short-lived elements.

Although they produced only three atoms of element 118, and each lasted for less than a thousandth of a second, the team said that there is less than one chance in 10,000 of mistaken identity.

A team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announced in 1999 that they had created element 118 by a different route, but those results were shown to have been fabricated by physicist Victor Ninov, who was eventually fired by Berkeley.

"We selected a completely different nuclear reaction, performed with completely different people in a different laboratory," said physicist Ken Moody of Livermore, who led the American team, at a Monday news conference. "Everything we do is checked and double-checked."

Their findings will be published today in the journal Physical Review C.

The discovery has no immediate application, but brings researchers closer to discovering what theoretical physicists have described as an "island of stability" — a group of ultra-heavy elements that may survive minutes, or even hours, compared to the fractions of a second now seen with the heaviest creations.

That would allow researchers time to begin to understand the chemistry of the elements, perhaps even to discover some unique new chemical properties.

"I think of this like any other journey to a new place," said physicist Nancy Stoyer, a member of the Livermore team. "Finding it is something new, something interesting. At some point, we will no longer be able to discover new elements. We will reach the end of what we can find."

The team used a cyclotron at Dubna to bombard the man-made element californium-249 with ions of calcium-48.

In two separate experiments, they bombarded the target with 40,000,000,000,000,000,000 ions, producing three atoms of element 118. Each atom had 118 protons and 179 neutrons in its nucleus, giving it an atomic weight of 297.

The element was characterized by observing its radioactive disintegration. Each atom first spit out an alpha particle — composed of two protons and two neutrons — to become the previously known element 116. That element, in turn, spit out another alpha particle to become element 114, and then another to become element 112. Element 112 fissioned into two atoms of roughly equal size.

Element 118 would fall directly below radon in the periodic table of the elements and is thus expected to be a so-called noble gas.

Only 92 elements exist in nature, but physicists have produced 18 more that have been officially recognized and named.

The Livermore-Dubna team has also created elements 113, 114, 115 and 116, but none of those has yet been officially recognized, named and placed in the periodic table because the work has not been replicated by other researchers.

The team will now try to produce element 120 by bombarding a plutonium target with a beam of iron ions.

Heavier elements will require the construction of a new accelerator, the Rare Isotope Accelerator.

But work on that accelerator, which will be built at either Michigan State University or the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, has been delayed by lack of funding.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Software revises Armstrong's moon quote

That's one small word for astronaut Neil Armstrong, one giant revision for grammar sticklers everywhere.

An Australian computer programmer says he found the missing "a" from Armstrong's famous first words from the moon in 1969, when the world heard the phrase, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

The story was reported in Saturday's editions of the Houston Chronicle.

Some historians and critics have dogged Armstrong for not saying the more dramatic and grammatically correct, "One small step for a man ..." in the version he transmitted to NASA's Mission Control. Without the missing "a," Armstrong essentially said, "One small step for mankind, one giant leap for mankind."

The famous astronaut has maintained he intended to say it properly and believes he did. Thanks to some high-tech sound-editing software, computer programmer Peter Shann Ford might have proved Armstrong right.

Ford said he downloaded the audio recording of Armstrong's words from a NASA Web site and analyzed the statement with software that allows disabled people to communicate through computers using their nerve impulses.

In a graphical representation of the famous phrase, Ford said he found evidence that the missing "a" was spoken and transmitted to NASA.

"I have reviewed the data and Peter Ford's analysis of it, and I find the technology interesting and useful," Armstrong said in a statement. "I also find his conclusion persuasive. Persuasive is the appropriate word."

Friday, April 28, 2006

SketchUp: Google's Latest Cool Free Download

SketchUp, a 3D drawing application which Google released today, is the latest example of a happy, booming software trend: Google or Yahoo buys an innovative small company which makes a for-pay product, and quickly releases a cool free version of its software.

In this case, the innovative company was @Last Software, and SketchUp truly is cool, since it makes the notoriously difficult job of drawing 3D architectural models surprisingly easy. In its Google iteration, it's a complement to Google Earth, one which lets that amazing program's community of fans build and share buildings to be incorporated into its virtual world.

The application comes with bountiful documentation and tutorials, but the user interface is simple and intuitive.


But you can have fun with SketchUp without constructing anything from scratch, because it's easy to grab models from Google's 3D Warehouse, a searchable online repository of objects, including excellent recreations of lots of real-world landmarks. (You can also upload your creations to the Warehouse.) Here's one example of a ready-made model:

And here's San Francisco's AT&T Park (nee SBC Park, nee Pacific Bell park) as it looks after being imported into SketchUp:


This is not a review of SketchUp. SketchUp is about the least intimidating one ever seen. Which makes Google an entirely appropriate home for it.

As with Google Earth, by the way, there's still an industrial-strength version of SketchUp aimed at professionals, at an industrial-strength pricetag: $495. The free version is Windows-only at the moment, but a Mac edition is on the way.

Scientists create artificial insect's eye

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, said on Thursday that they have created anew mechanical eye, which looks and works like an insect's eye.The eye's many lenses and curved shape give it a wide field of view, as well as super-fast motion detection and image recognition, the researchers reported in the April 28 issue of the journal Science.

Minute cameras and motion sensors with these types of lenses could have medical, industrial and military applications, according to the researchers.

Insects have multiple imaging units called "ommatidia" that are pointed in different directions. The researchers used flexible polymers to build artificial ommatidia, each with a tiny lens connected to a tube-like "waveguide" that directs the light down to an opt electronic imaging device.

Then, they arranged the ommatidia around a dome, projecting outwards in all directions. Of the many different types of insect eyes, a bee's eye is most similar to the new mechanical eye, they said.

Just like pins in a pincushion or a dragonfly's 30,000 ommatidia, the team's artificial ommatidia are each oriented at a slightly different angle. The researchers have shown that the lenses and waveguides of the artificial eyes focus and conduct light in the same way as an insect's eye.

"The lenses and waveguides are the most important part of the system," said Luke Lee, the principal investigator of the study.

"People have said that it would be totally impossible to create them with an angle, but now that we've done it, we're ready to integrate imaging or chemical sensing into the eyes," Lee said.

While conventional micro fabrication techniques are expensive and use high temperatures, Lee and his team borrowed from nature, using a low temperature system, photopolymerization, and self-aligning, self-writing technology.

To create the artificial eye, the team first needed to construct a hemispherical mold of the eye's outer layer, a structure consisting of thousands of microlenses.

Using existing technology, they made a flat array of these tiny,domed lenses arranged in the hexagonal honeycomb pattern. On top of this, they applied a thin slab of an elastic polymer called polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS, creating a concave pattern of the lenses in the polymer.

By affixing the PDMS membrane over the opening of a vacuum chamber and applying negative air pressure, they pulled it into the dome shapes they needed, controlling its form by using different pressures.
These eyes can eventually be used as cameras or sensory detectors to capture visual or chemical information from a wider field of vision than previously possible, even with the best fish-eye lens, according to Lee.

The researchers speculate that the artificial compound eyes will be put to use within a few years. Their first applications may be in ultra-thin camera phones, and then in camcorders for omnidirectional surveillance imaging and such uses as small, hidden, wearable cameras.

Yahoo! Gives Babel Fish a New Bowl
Yahoo! Gives Babel Fish a New Bowl

Good old Babel Fish, the "mascot, star, and proprietor of the oldest free, on-line translation service on the web" has a new home. He has leapt from his original bowl over at Alta Vista over to Yahoo!

Go to and type most anything you'd like to translate (phrases or passages under 150 words or a Web page), and Babel Fish takes care of the rest. I punched in "I really like to eat fish" in English, scrolled down the dropdown menu to my language of choice, Spanish, and got back "Realmente tengo gusto de comer pescados." Not bad.

New enhancements attained over at Yahoo! include a couple of new languages (simplified Chinese into traditional Chinese, and traditional Chinese into simplified Chinese), bringing the site's total to 38 language pairs you can translate between. You'll also find a Babel Fish toolbar button as well as tighter integration between translation and Yahoo! search services, among a few other things.