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Standardized Chargers for Cell Phonesâ¿¿All Good, All Green


I first met the folks at Green Plug at the Demo conference early last year. They had designed a universal charger that could work for all consumer electronics devices, eliminating the need to carry multiple chargers on the road or fill multiple power outlets with charging devices at home. The Green Plug charger offered energy savingsâ''because it could detect when a device was done charging and shut down. The secretâ''it talks to devices to find out their voltage and power requirements. The obstacle to successâ''the devices have to talk back, that is, consumer electronics manufacturers have to build Green Plugâ''s software into the devices. â''Good luck with that,â'' I thought, even though I saw it as a great idea and wished them success.

Well, Green Plug is indeed having some luck with that. Last week the company announced that it has convinced 17 wireless operators and mobile phone handset makers, under the auspices of the worldwide GSM Association, to build Green Plug compatibility into their devices by 2012. That means chargers will be interchangeable among manufacturers and work with future handsets. Which means, for me, could mean leaving three chargers at home when packing my family up for our next vacation.

Sun's Simon Phipps: Java Cloud Dispute Is a Tempest in a Teapot

This kerfuffle probably doesn't deserve much attention (in fact, we almost let it go entirely), but it probably bears mentioning.

Last month, Simon Phipps, the chief open source officer for Sun Microsystems, penned a little blog item in which he criticized the folks working on the Google App Engine for creating subsets of the core classes in the Java platform in their cloud computing endeavor.

Phipps commented simply:

Whether you agree with Sun policing it or not, Java compatibility has served us all very well for over a decade. That includes being sure as a developer that all core classes are present on all platforms. Creating sub-sets of the core classes in the Java platform was forbidden for a really good reason, and it's wanton and irresponsible to casually flaunt the rules.

For some reason, a reporter at ITworld picked up the comment and ran with a story claiming that Phipps had slammed Google's developers for committing "a major transgression by only including support for a subset of Java classes in its App Engine development platform."

That was enough to get the tweets flying, and pretty soon the incident became a big enough deal to merit a discussion thread on Slashdot, the software development community site. There, hardcore Java users roundly debated the merits of implementing only pure Java core classes in new applications. Typical of the arguments were these responses: "I think that Phipps is upset because Sun is in the process of gearing up their own cloud services, and the last thing they want is Google's Java support drawing enterprise interest to AppEngine while they try to get Sun's cloud service off the ground"; and "What Google should have done was engage in the JCP [Java Community Process] to define a new profile for supported 'device'.... At least that way it would have been within the framework of practice understood and used by Java developers. Instead, Google just said 'here's what's available', without tying into any of the already available accepted ways of defining a subset of Java."

The brouhaha became so loud that Phipps had to post a full rebuttal explaining his earlier remarks. In it, he notes that he is "delighted" that Google is supporting the Java platform in App Engine. He then writes: "It seems entirely likely that Google's approach here to 'subsetting' is simply because they haven't yet gotten around to making everything safe in their sandbox, not because they have some deep philosophical belief that those things should be removed."

Phipps emphasized that he is not an official spokesperson for Sun on the issue. Still, he urged participants in the Java Community Process to press for "a new, agreed Java cloud profile." He added:

What we need as a global Java community is "Java for Cloud" somehow. Given their good work so far, I'd like Google to show leadership and a commitment to openness by taking their subset to the JCP and offering to join a working group to establish a new Java profile for cloud applications.

Phipps reiterated his thoughts on the App Engine debate in an email reply to this reporter: "The Java community probably does need a web/cloud subset, but it needs to be agreed within the community (probably at the JCP). If that doesn't happen, every cloud provider will define their own subset and people writing Java applications for the cloud will have to refactor them for every supplier. Google has done fine work; they should now take it to the JCP and get it agreed."

He added, for the record, that he has nothing to do with Sun's cloud computing business and that his comments are entirely his own. "And for what it's worth, I am amazed by the advanced hermeneutics put into analysing an off-the-cuff tweet I made for insiders," he finished.

Kieron Murphy was a co-creator of The Java Report in 1995.

Nanotech's Bubble/Bust/Boom Cycle Hardly Qualifies for Any of These

I just read Glenn Reynoldsâ'' take on how nanotech had a bubble up until 2005 and then a bust over the last four years and now is beginning to resurge (or boom, if you prefer).

I too like to make comparisons to the Bubble and the Nanotech version. But letâ''s face it, itâ''s like comparing the demise of a kidâ''s lemonade stand to the end of General Motors. The difference in scale makes it hardly a worthy comparison.

But what is really troubling about Reynoldsâ'' piece is that in order to demonstrate how nanotech is making a resurgence (or a new boom, I imagine) he points to a number of different reported research projects. Meanwhile the bust he describes in 2005 is most definitely business oriented with tales of failed IPOs and scaled down market research reports.

It might be possible that Reynolds may have had his Google alert feed turned off between 2005 and the beginning of this year because mine has been filled daily with the latest research developments and over the last four years there has not been any let up.

However, the problem over the last four years, and for which I have not seen any real signs of recovery, is that none of these research projects are leading to much commercialization.

The general sense I have of the last eight years when nanotech has been talked about in terms such as the Next Industrial Revolution is that its bubble was not much of a bubble (how many nanotech companies are publicly traded again?); the bust was hardly a bust (shortened market research reports hardly qualifies as signaling the demise of a sector); and the boom is not much of a boom (another litany of research projects with little to indicate that they are any more likely to be commercial successes than any of the others just doesnâ''t inspire me with new confidence).

I think I have better way to describe nanotech's cycle thus far: it is in its very essence a tortoise, but analysts and pundits and other observers want to describe it as though it was a hare. Being a tortoise is not so bad. It may be slow, but it's steady and it will get there eventually .

Wall Street Buzz: Apple Set to Design Chips for Its Own Gadgets

Apple Inc. is preparing to get into the chip design business, making processors to work in its highly successful line of cell phones and music players, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

The business paper reported today that Apple is hiring engineers and designers in the Silicon Valley area from chipmakers that have been laying-off workers recently. It wrote that the effort by the Cupertino, Calif., computer firm is aimed at extending the features of its handheld devices to stay one step ahead of its rivals.

Apple could possibly use custom designed chips in its hit iPod and iPhone lines to reduce power consumption and accelerate graphics capabilities, in order to bring advanced games to the tiny platforms, insiders told the Journal.

Apple recently hired Raja Koduri, formerly the chief technology officer of the graphics products group at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Koduri started at Apple this week, following in the footsteps of Bob Drebin, who had held the same title at AMD and is also now working for Apple. Online job postings from Apple describe dozens of chip-related positions it is trying to fill, some with partial descriptions like "testing the functional correctness of Apple developed silicon," according to the Journal account.

A year ago, Apple acquired start-up P.A. Semi to acquire expertise to help run the increasingly sophisticated software on iPhones and iPods. "You can't just go out and buy the chips off the shelf to do that," Apple CEO Steve Jobs told the Journal at the time.

Currently, Apple uses custom-designed microprocessors based on chips from ARM Holdings Plc and manufactured by Samsung Electronics Co. in its cell phones.

Apple declined to comment to media outlets on today's report.

News Report: Chrysler to Declare Bankruptcy and Merge with Fiat

Chrysler LLC, the parent company of the U.S. automaker, will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy tomorrow, paving the way for a merger with Italy's Fiat SpA, according to the Bloomberg news agency.

Bloomberg has reported that Pres. Barack Obama will make the announcement tomorrow, although the bankruptcy plan has not been completely finalized as of today. Chrysler, which is owned primarily by Cerberus Capital Management, of New York City, would sell its best assets to a new entity, according to the Bloomberg account.

The Italian company would become a 20 percent owner of Chrysler, and a union retiree health-care trust fund would own 55 percent, with the rest of the company staying in the U.S. governmentâ''s hands initially, Bloomberg reported.

Chrysler, of Auburn Hills, Mich., was founded in 1925 and is considered one of the "Big Three" of U.S. automakers, along with Ford and General Motors. It employs 58 000 workers worldwide.

Key to Understanding MEPs Tough Stance on Nanotechnology: Non-Binding

In a rather hastily conceived bit of public grandstanding Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted 391 votes in favor and three against, amid four abstentions to support a controversial report from Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter that urges the European Commission to consider nanomaterials as new substances, and that existing legislation does not take into account the risks associated with nanotechnology.

The key, of course, to any bit of political theater like this one is that you need to make sure that it doesnâ''t have any real consequences. In this case, the vote just supported a non-binding opinion.

But what an opinion it is, borne as it is out of the simultaneous misunderstanding of the scientific evidence thus far and perverting that evidence to support your already determined conclusions. TNTLog has a pretty accurate rundown of how these â''opinionsâ'' typically come into being.

Why couldnâ''t the MEPs offer a non-binding opinion that might actually be helpful, like we need to do more research, so letâ''s get it funded? I suppose that wouldnâ''t satisfy those so rabid for â''actionâ'' that they might actually find this opinion helpful. And let's face it, that's who this vote and opinion were meant for, not to further address the issue of nanomaterials' potential risks.

ARPA-E takes first baby steps

Today the first signs of life were evident at ARPA-E. They released a "Funding Opportunity Announcement" which was funded through the American Recovery and

Reinvestment Act of 20093

It's not quite the same thing as a DARPA proposal. For one thing, ARPA-E doesn't really exist yet. For another, it has no program offices and no projects. Also, it has no web site of its own. Doesn't every federal agency need a site of one's own?

Interestingly, IARPA has had a web site since May 2008, the DARPA site has been around since they invented the internet, but ARPA-E's web site languishes as a subdomain of the Department of Energy's web site. They haven't even bought the domain name! The thing was passed into law a year and a half ago!

This might seem a trifling bone to pick but I think it's indicative of a larger program. The Defense Department is not in direct competition with DARPA; DARPA is a valued part of the Pentagon. ARPA-E, on the other hand, has been described by house staffers as kind of a red-headed stepchild of the DOE. The DOE, it seems, resents anything that might siphon tax dollars away from existing projects.

The Discipline of NanoEthics Needs to Exercise Some Discipline

My patience with ethicists who apply themselves to the subject of nanotechnology has worn pretty thin already.

So I was not really in the mood for another of these articles. But alas, let me point you in the direction of this latest piece entitled â''The Wild West of Nanotechnologyâ''.

Before addressing this colorfully titled article, let me start by explaining that what is paramount to understanding the nanoethicist is that the ethical issues they are concerned about deal more with genetic research, stem cell research or some other scientific discipline in which the relationship to nanotechnology is tangential at best.

It seems just a tiresome idea to these ethicists that technologies such as genetic profiling can be done without nanotechnologies; nanotech just makes them faster and cheaper. But, of course, putting the ethical dilemma in those terms sort of makes nanotech inconsequential to the whole matter.

No, sir, theyâ''ll have none of that.

So again letâ''s look at the Wild West article. While the author, Summer Johnson, Executive Managing Editor of The American Journal of Bioethics, explains to us that â''Wild Westâ'' is a term that is â''actually a good thing for nanotechnology's image,â'' I strangely conjured up images of lawlessness. How silly of me.

Of course, no article on nanotechnology can go without some kind of description of how huge it is. Whether nanotech is a Gold Rush or the next Industrial Revolution, the idea has to be gotten across that itâ''s some huge money-making, corporate monolith. In this case, to magnify how large nanotech is in medicine we get the following: â''Multiply that times the amount of money being invested by NNI and venture capitalists and other private investment and you begin to grasp the grandiosity of nanomedicine as an endeavor.â''

Really? That is the undetermined factor you want to multiply by? Letâ''s try on some real figures. Estimates have pegged VC funding of nanotech over the last seven years at about $1 billion. And the US government has spent a little less than $8 billion over the last 5 years. Those are the factors but to give you a little comparison, the NASA budget announced for 2009 alone is $17.6 billion.

I am feeling a little less convinced of the â''grandiosityâ'' of nanomedicine or any other nano for that matter.

You know, the real issue that ethicists want to talk about when it comes to nanotechnology is self-replicating nanobots. But in order to do that you have to be both a futurist (with an extremely open mind) and an ethicist. But undeterred, Johnson did not shy away from nanobots in this piece and she does so by using the term as a metaphor for the number of applications popping up for nanotechnology. Well done! I think that marks a first.

Finally, we get to the real crux of the matter for Johnson. It appears that she got duped into giving a presentation for an organization she claims was fraudulent called the Academy of Nanomedicine (AANM).

All I can say is that I am impressed. You drag the entire reputation of the field of nanotechnology through the mud to indict some guy by the name Wei--I really have to look into this whole ethicist business.

Dots and Dashes: Morse Code Returns for a Day

If you used Google today, you saw the search engine's front page adorned with artwork that looked a bit odd. It was a colorful depiction of the Morse Code symbols (--. --- --- --. .-.. .) for the word 'google'. It was used to mark the birthday of the man who made the telegraph one of the greatest technologies of all time.

Samuel Morse was born on 27 April 1791 in Charlestown, Mass. He became a painter by profession as a young man, but in mid-life turned his attention to the exciting new field of electromagnetism. Morse was one of those iconic American inventors who did not create the technology associated with his name but rather found the perfect way to use it.

During a trip to Europe in 1832 to study the latest artistic styles, Morse became interested in the electrical inventions that were causing a sensation in the press of the era. Upon his return, he became fixated on inventing a system of his own that could use electromagnetism to send messages over a copper wire. He suspended his promising painting career and turned his attention to developing a practical telegraph transmitter and receiver.

Morse was apparently unaware that others had already created telegraph schemes, notably Carl Steinhill of Germany and Charles Wheatstone of Britain. Still, with the help of American inventor Joseph Henry, he forged ahead with an independent approach. By 1837, he was able to demonstrate a prototype of his telegraph at the University of the City of New York. Shortly afterward, collaborating with a university student named Alfred Vail, Morse hit upon a plan to use short and long pulses of current to form a code standing for 36 alphanumeric characters. Then he applied for a patent for the system.

Discovering an obscure government award of US $30 000 to anyone who could build a practical signaling system over a thousand miles along the Eastern Seaboard, Morse set out to win the prize. He took his equipment to Washington, D.C., to display its workings to the government. However, the nation was in the midst of a recession, and Morse found little support for his seemingly far-fetched idea. In 1843, though, the Congress granted Morse funding to build a working demonstration of his telegraph to be operated between Washington and Baltimore.

On 24 May 1844, the telegraph line stretched 40 miles to its planned destination; and Morse, sitting in a chamber at the Capitol Building, keyed the signals for the words "What hath God wrought."

It was the beginning of a new era featuring a new field that would revolutionize the world: telecommunications.

For more than a century, Morse's code would be used to transmit messages both profound and mundane, but it would eventually be supplanted by newer means, from the telephone to the Internet. And the dots and dashes of Morse's language would fade into obscurity. Yet, today, on his 218th birthday, we celebrate the ingenious idea embodied by Morse Code, developed by a man who had set out to become a famous painter and became a famous inventor.

Semiconductor upswing?

Can a company survive an 80 percent drop in sales? Apparently it can, at least if the drop doesnâ''t last too long.

ASML, which makes the lithography tools that chipmakers need to make chips, had Q1 sales this year of just $184 million, compared to $919 million in 2008.

But back on April 15th, Aaron Hand reported in Semiconductor International that things should start to pick up.

Second-quarter sales are expected to fall in the range of â'¬210-230 million, but more considerable pick-up in demand is figured for the second half of the year, when ASML expects quarterly revenues to reach â'¬400-500 million to enable customersâ'' shrink roadmaps.

Transitions to new nodes are forcing installed base upgrades, [CEO Eric] Meurice said. â''As of last year, only the leaders had invested a bit of capacity in 45 nm flash, 55 nm DRAM, or 45 nm foundry logic. The rest of market is now organizing their conversions during this year, 2009. And during this year, the leaders themselves, who had already started these conversions, are now involved in even more aggressive conversion â'' namely 35 nm flash and 45 nm DRAM development. And these things will materialize also this year.â'' Improved foundry capacity utilization and Taiwanese DRAM consolidation are also enabling the current level of activity, Meurice said.

(By the way, if you get all confused about flash versus DRAM node sizes, as it happens, Bill Arnold, ASMLâ''s chief scientist, sorted it all out in this monthâ''s Spectrum in Shrinking Possibilities.)

Anyway sure enough, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that

European semiconductor companies will be hoping the worst of the slump may be over after Intel Corp. (INTC), the world's largest chip maker, recently indicated that sales of personal computers bottomed out during the first quarter.

Apple Inc. (AAPL) also reported a surprise gain in net income for its second fiscal quarter Wednesday, as sales of the company's iPod and iPhone products came in ahead of expectations.

Still, chip companies may have some time to wait for a full recovery. Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) chief financial officer Chris Liddell said Thursday he sees no immediate letup in the difficult trading environment, warning that it will persist through this quarter and "potentially through the calendar year."

The view from Microsoft may a bit misleading, though, and thereâ''s no contradiction in the disparate fortunes of Apple and Microsoft. In fact, on Saturday Daniweb columnist Ron Miller commented on that very thing.

The quarterly numbers are in the books for Google, Apple and Microsoft , and while Apple and Google made money, Microsoft failed to report a profit for the first time in 23 years as a public company.

It seems unfathomable that Apple continued to do well in this recession, but as I wrote on Thursday in Apple Earnings Continue to Defy Logic, while Apple's computer sales dipped, and iPod revenue (as opposed to sales) remained flat, the iPhone and the App Store carried the day. Meanwhile, the National Business Review reports that at a recent earnings call Google reported a very respectable 8.9 percent increase in profits.

Microsoft on the other hand had a devastatingly bad quarter compared to its biggest rivals. Microsoft's reported 32 percent profit plunge was all the more shocking since they had never reported a loss as a public company.

Ron shouldnâ''t be entirely surprised. Last July, Francis McInerney, corporate analyst and investor extraordinaire, explained exactly why Appleâ''s star was on the rise, and Microsoftâ''s was falling.

A Tale of Two Innovators

New York â'' Here is an intriguing tale of two innovators. Apple gets a NORTH RIVER MANAGEMENT GRADE A+ and Microsoft gets an A-. Since 1999, Apple has seen sales grow by four times and stock by fifteen times. Microsoft, by contrast, has seen sales grow 2.7 times and its stock fall 40%. The big difference: how they innovate.

Apple has a well-defined brand message: we manage your entertainment. Microsoft once had a clear message: we manage your work experience. But, once the company attacked Netscape with its Explorer web browser in 1995, the company lost its way and fell into a â''Let a thousand flowers bloomâ'' strategy. The latest thing is to be in the search and advertising businesses. Why? Who knows. But it is what it is.

The results are startling. Apple will overtake Microsoft in sales in about 24 months. If current sales multiples hold â'' no sure thing â'' the company would be worth $417 billion. Microsoft would be worth $343 billion, though probably less because its market cap to sales ratio is falling with its stock price. Either way, it is likely that Apple will be worth more than Microsoft in the foreseeable future.

Microsoft still has the higher market cap, but the Q1 results make clear that McInerney had spotted the key trend correctly. Itâ''s not clear what the lesson is in all this, but well-managed companies, like Apple, Google, and ASML seem to be pulling through the economic crisis.


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