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    Saturday, February 18, 2006

    Commercial spaceports around the globe

    Here is another newsflash from my favorite travel agency Space Adventures: They announced today its plans to develop a commercial spaceport in Ras Al-Khaimah (the UAE), with plans to expand globally. Other potential spaceport locations include Asia, specifically Singapore, and North America. The company, which organized orbital flights for all of the world's private space explorers, also announces that His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi of Ras Al-Khaimah, along with the UAE Department of Civilian Aviation, have granted clearance to operate suborbital spaceflights in their air space. The UAE spaceport, planned to be located less than an hour drive from Dubai, already has commitments for $30 million (USD).
    This was seized 4 u at Space Adventures

    The First Spaceflight Tourism Vehicles

    Space Adventures, Ltd. announced to develop a fleet of suborbital spaceflight vehicles for commercial use globally. The joint venture with the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation (FSA) & Prodea (a private investment firm founded by the Ansari family) will fully develop and provide a set of turnkey operational space tourism systems that include the delivery of several suborbital launch vehicles to multiple global locations.
    The Ansari X Prize inspired and enabled the future of private spaceflights by proving that the necessary technology can be developed commercially," said Eric Anderson, president and CEO of Space Adventures.
    Both Mrs. Ansari and Mr. Anderson agreed, "Our visions for opening the space frontier are completely aligned. This joint venture will enable millions of people to realize their dreams of spaceflight."
    The suborbital space transportation system has been designed by Myasishchev Design Bureau, a leading Russian aerospace organization which has developed a wide-array of high performance aircraft and space systems. Explorer, as it has been named, will have the capacity to transport up to five people to space and is designed to optimize the customer experience of space travel, while maintaining the highest degree of safety.
    "The design plans for Explorer have been perfected over the years and we, at Space Adventures, along with Prodea, have the utmost confidence that this joint venture will enable operations of the world's first commercial suborbital spaceflights," said Mr. Anderson. "After much consideration and examination of the FSA’s plans for suborbital vehicles, given their successful 45-year human spaceflight history and their clear world leadership role in the operations of commercial space activities, I feel completely confident in Explorer. This vehicle is being developed by a group of the most qualified designers and engineers in the world that have the most experience, the highest safety standards and are responsible for the most reliable and longest serving manned spacecraft in the world," said Mrs. Ansari. Additionally, Space Adventures also announced that an agreement had been reached between Space Adventures and FSA which confirms FSA's oversight and supervision in the development process. "As they have demonstrated in many past efforts, the Russian space agency's commitment to this new and pioneering project will expedite its eventual success," said Mr. Anderson.
    This was seized 4 u at Space Adventures

    Friday, February 17, 2006

    Web 2.0 Journal Product Review: "Zoho Planner"

    The Zoho series of online software products from AdventNet has been growing quickly over the last year, and their Zoho Planner product has just been revamped. Designed specifically for the Web 2.0 era, Zoho Planner is an online service for managing task lists and appointments.

    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    US and Canadian skiers get smart armour

    I bet Roland wishes he had seen this post last week! --steve

    A futuristic flexible material that instantly hardens into armour upon impact will protect US and Canadian skiers from injury on the slalom runs at this year's Winter Olympics.

    The lightweight bendable material, known as d3o, can be worn under normal ski clothing. It will provide protection for US and Canadian skiers taking part in slalom and giant slalom races in Turin, Italy. Skiers normally have to wear bulky arm and leg guards to protect themselves from poles placed along the slalom run.

    Skiwear company Spyder, based in Colorado, US, developed racing suits incorporating d3o along the shins and forearms and offered members of the US and Canadian Olympic alpine ski teams the chance to try them out several months ago. "Now they love it and won't ski without it," claims Richard Palmer, CEO of UK-based d3o Labs, which developed the material.

    Although the exact chemical ingredients of d3o are a commercial secret, Palmer says the material is synthesised by mixing together a viscose fluid and a polymer. Following synthesis, liquid d3o is poured into a mould that matches the shape of the body part it will protect.

    This was seized 4 u at New Scientist

    Impossible Art

    Look at these incredible photographs of performance artist Li Wei:

    This was seized 4 u at TINSELMAN

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    Google Windows apps coming to Linux

    Google and CodeWeavers Inc. are working together to bring Google's popular Windows Picasa photo editing and sharing program to Linux. The program is now in a limited beta test. If this program is successful, other Google applications will be following it to the Linux desktop, sources say.

    The Linux Picasa implementation includes the full feature set of the Windows Picasa 2.x software. It is not, strictly speaking, a port of Picasa to Linux. Instead, Linux Picasa combines Windows Picasa code and Wine technology to run Windows Picasa on Linux. This, however, will be transparent to Linux users, when they download, install, and run the free program on their systems.

    Wine is an open-source implementation of the Windows API (application programming interface). It runs, in turn, on top of the X Window System and Linux (or Unix). Wine is not, as has sometimes been said, a Windows emulator. Wine provides a Windows API middleware layer that enables Windows programs, such as Office 2003, to run on Linux without the slowing effects of an operating system emulation or a virtual machine. Indeed, in some respects, Wine on Linux is faster than XP on the same hardware.


    This was seized 4 u at

    Nokia launching net call handsets

    Nokia is introducing new mobile phone handsets that will enable users to make calls over the internet.
    The latest firm to move into internet telephony, users of certain new Nokia handsets will be able to make calls through their wireless broadband link.

    The calls will be routed through their net link if their phone is in range. Outside of this the handset will return to the standard mobile phone network.

    Internet telephony or voice-over IP (Voip) is seeing a surge in popularity. Check out the rest of the BBC's article here. To check out the press announcement at Nokia's web site, click here.

    This was seized 4 u from BBC Technology News

    Monday, February 13, 2006

    GM Promotes Alternative Fuel Vehicles

    It seems that GM has quietly taken a big step in promoting alternative fuel automobiles with their "Live Green, Be Yellow" ad campaign, and corresponding product lines. They claim to have over 1.5 million vehicles on the road that run on either gasoline, or the alternative fuel E85, or any combination of the two. For those of you unfamiliar with E85, it is a combination of Ethanol (85%) and Gasoline (15%), that burns cleaner than gasoline, and leverages renewable resources more efficiently. Taken from The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition's Web Site: "Today, the U. S. imports more than half of its oil, and overall consumption continues to increase. By supporting ethanol production and use, U.S. drivers can help reverse that trend. 85% ethanol can reduce pollution. Government tests have shown that E85 vehicles reduce harmful hydrocarbon and benzene emissions when compared to vehicles running on gasoline. E85 can also reduce carbon dioxide (CO2), a harmful greenhouse gas and a major contributor to global warming.

    Although CO2 is released during ethanol production and combustion, it is recaptured as a nutrient to the crops that are used in its production. Unlike fossil fuel combustion, which unlocks carbon that has been stored for millions of years, use of ethanol results in low increases to the carbon cycle.

    Ethanol also degrades quickly in water and, therefore, poses much less risk to the environment than an oil or gasoline spill." Check out GM's "Live Green, Be Yellow" web site for more information about this program and the 1.5 million GM vehicles that run on E85.

    This was seized 4 u at General Motors

    MIT Researchers Fired Up About Battery Alternative

    Just about everything that runs on batteries -- flashlights, cell phones, electric cars, missile-guidance systems -- would be improved with a better energy supply. But traditional batteries haven't progressed far beyond the basic design developed by Alessandro Volta in the 19th century.
    Work at MIT's Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems (LEES) holds out the promise of the first technologically significant and economically viable alternative to conventional batteries in more than 200 years.

    Joel E. Schindall, the Bernard Gordon Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and associate director of the Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems; John G. Kassakian, EECS professor and director of LEES; and Ph.D. candidate Riccardo Signorelli are using nanotube structures to improve on an energy storage device called an ultracapacitor.

    Capacitors store energy as an electrical field, making them more efficient than standard batteries, which get their energy from chemical reactions. Ultracapacitors are capacitor-based storage cells that provide quick, massive bursts of instant energy. They are sometimes used in fuel-cell vehicles to provide an extra burst for accelerating into traffic and climbing hills.

    However, ultracapacitors need to be much larger than batteries to hold the same charge.

    The LEES invention would increase the storage capacity of existing commercial ultracapacitors by storing electrical fields at the atomic level.

    This was seized 4 u at TERRADAILY

    Sunday, February 12, 2006

    Teaching a machine to sense its environment

    Teaching a machine to sense its environment is one of the most intractable problems of computer science, but one European project is looking to nature for help in cracking the conundrum. It combined streams of sensory data to produce an adaptive, composite impression of surroundings in near real-time.
    SENSEMAKER took its inspiration from nature by trying to replicate aspects of the brain's neural processes, which capture sensory data from eyes, ears and touch, and then combines these senses to present a whole
    picture of the scene or its environment. For example, sight can identify kiwi, but touch can help tell if that kiwi is ripe, unripe or over-ripe. What's more, if one sense is damaged, or if a sensory function is lost due to environmental factors, say because it can't see in the dark, the brain switches more resources to other senses, such as hearing or touch. Suddenly those faculties become comparatively hypersensitive. When it goes dark the brain pours resource into these two senses, along with hearing and smell, to extract the maximum possible data from the environment.
    To explore these aspects of biological perception SENSEMAKER first developed a model of human perception, based on the best available data from the biological and neurological sciences.
    Biological neurons use short and sudden increases in voltage to send information. These signals are more commonly known as action potentials, spikes or pulses. Computer science calls the phenomenon Spiking Neural Networks. More traditional or classical artificial neural networks use a simpler model. "The traditional model of an artificial neural network is quite removed from biological neurons, while the spiking neural networks we used are more faithful to what happens in the real biological brain," says Professor McGinnity.
    Similarly, adaptation is another aspect of the biological model, known as plasticity, where data flows through new routes in the brain to add further resources to data capture.
    If repeated over time, this plasticity becomes learning, where well-travelled routes through the brain become established and reinforce the information that passes.
    As the model was being established, the team developed hardware demonstrators to implement and test components of the overall sensory fusion system. One project partner, the Ruprecht Karl Universitaet in Heidelberg, focused on implementations based on classical traditional neural networks – essentially large arrays of simple threshold devices. In parallel the ISEL group used Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) to implement large arrays of spiking neural networks for emulation of a number of components of the sensory system, particularly the visual processing element. "FPGAs are hardware computing platforms that can be dynamically reconfigured and as such, are ideal for exploring artificial representations of biological neurons, since their ability to reconfigure can be exploited, to some extent to mimic the plasticity of biological networks of neurons," says Professor McGinnity.

    Spiking neurons are more biologically compatible compared to traditional classical neural networks, such as the McCulloch-Pitts threshold neuron, because the time between spikes and their cumulative effect determine when the neuron fires. By using an advanced FPGA computing platform, ISEL were able to implement large networks of spiking neurons and synapses, and test the biological approaches for sensory fusion. The FPGA approach allows for flexibility, both in terms of rapid prototyping and the ease with which different neuron models can be implemented and tested.

    Read more about the project here & at Roland Piquepaille's Emerging Technology Trends