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Regulations? We don't need no stinkin' regulations

Australia seems to be a real hot bed for nanotechnology in food debates.

They are up in arms about the potential for nanotechnology in food and food packaging even though one of the lead NGOs, Choice, has no idea whether there is any nanotechnology in either their food or their food packaging.

â''Choice says it does not know for sure if they are present in Australia but given the global prevalence believes they could already be on sale here in confectionery packaging, bottle coatings and PET drink bottles.â''

This is where I would like to see these debates start:

You understand that there are elements in the plastic of your food packaging right now that on their own would cause you to become ill if you ingested them in large quantities, right?

So, we want to talk about the risk of the final plastic products used in packaging, not in the individual ingredients that make up that plastic, okay?

Finally, since we are talking almost exclusively about nanoclays that serve as fillers for polymers when it comes to food packaging, we can be spared discussions about any other nanomaterial, correct?

What am I thinking? Thereâ''s going to be endless references to carbon nanotubes and fish and losing our privacy and a monolithic industry out to poison us for a profit.

You can imagine why the local industry representative, The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), in the Australian Food News article referenced above welcomes this debate.

Spacewalking Astronauts Unable to Install Cargo Platform

On their third and final spacewalk of the STS-119 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts from the space shuttle Discovery had to give up on trying to install a cargo container and have moved on to other business.

NASA announced earlier today that astronauts Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold have "secured" the Unpressurized Cargo Carrier Attachment System in place but were unable to fix a balky pin that had been inserted upside-down by the crew of the last shuttle mission to the ISS.

So the pair of spacewalkers settled for tethering the platform to the space station to keep it from moving around. The space agency then ordered them to install a new coupler on the Crew Equipment Translation Aid cart and to lubricate the snares on one end of the space station's robotic arm.

Properly affixing the cargo carrier will have to wait for a future mission, as the STS-119 crew must now prepare to return home to make way for the arrival in the days ahead of a Russian-American crew of two, dubbed Expedition 19, aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.

Discovery is scheduled to undock from the ISS Wednesday, bringing back astronaut Sandra Magnus. Japan's Koichi Wakata, who flew aboard Discovery will be joined later this week by Russian Gennady Padalka and American Michael Barratt from the Soyuz, which should lift off Thursday.

Colbert wins ISS contest but don't expect a Colbert Mars rover

Remember last month's contest to name the International Space Station's Node 3? Well, NASA has just been punked! Stephen Colbert takes the crown -- and by a long shot.

The Associated Press reports that Colbert took in 230,539 votes, beating NASA's most popular choice, "Serenity," which took a mere 40,000.

Now, NASA wants you to name the next Mars rover, but this time no write-ins are allowed.

Can you blame them?

Last month, NASA asked the public to vote to name the Node 3, the latest addition to the International Space Station. The site gave four choices that included the celestial-sounding names of "Earthrise" and "Legacy." And then there was the write-in vote.

Early on, the leading candidate was Xenu--an intergalactic dictator, according to Scientology. Not to be outdone by a mere supreme being, the guys at Comedy Central's Colbert Report rallied the show's followers to write-in "Colbert."

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Space Module: Colbert - Name NASA's Node 3 After Stephen
comedycentral.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

Out was Xenu, and in was Colbert.

But William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations, refused to commit to naming the Node 3 after Colbert (skip to 6:05 below for the relevant exchange).

A NASA representative told the AP that the space agency reserves the right to name Node 3, but will give "the most consideration" to the public's votes.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Space Module: Colbert - William Gerstenmaier
comedycentral.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

It seems NASA liked the response it got for the naming experiment. Now, the space agency is upping the ante by asking us to name none other than the next Mars rover.

Unfortunately for Stephen Colbert only NASA's pre-approved names are in the running for possible names for the next Mars rover.

The choices come from primary and secondary school children and include "Journey," "Wonder" and "Amelia."

The comedian's critics might be a bit disappointed as well. I'm sure many of them would not mind sending Colbert to Mars. [I know, cheap joke.]

Taiwan Surprise

On March 2, Intel and TSMC announced that they will â''split the Atom:â'' Intel will port its ultra-low power Atom microprocessor cores to TSMC, essentially licensing the IP to customers who will have their Atom-based designs manufactured by TSMC. This was a big deal mainly because Intel usually doesnâ''t share its painstakingly designed toys: Atom, its line of tiny x86-based microprocessors, was designed to be used in low-power applications and for that reason was never intended for power users. So it ended up in a lot of netbooks.

Now, Intel is offering TSMC the Atom for its embedded systems customers. The collaboration will let TSMC offer its customers systems on a chip built around the very low power Atom design, for use in devices like cellphones, set-top boxes and cameras. Intelâ''s giving TSMC everything they need, including process, IPs, libraries, and design flows.

Well, almost everything. Intel held onto its high-k metal gate process. Thatâ''s a bit like licensing the Big Mac without the special sauce.

But I was confused.

Wasnâ''t Atom expressly designed for the 45-nm process technology?

And didnâ''t Intel just about kill itself trying to squeeze its transistors down to the 45 nm node?

The answer to both of my rhetorical questions, by the way, is yes. Recall that the diet plan that got Intelâ''s transistors squeezing into their 45-nm skinny jeans was the high-k metal gate process, based on a ground-breaking hafnium oxide (HfO2) gate dielectric.

The result was, and continues to be, impressive. In November 2008, an EETimes article painstakingly poked around the innards of Intel and AMD 45-nm processors and found that â''Intel's 45-nm high-K metal gate transistors have the best peak drive currents on the market with 1.36µA/µm for NFETs and just over a milliamp for PFETs.â''

So Intel is NOT giving TSMC HKMG? Isnâ''t that just a recipe for failure?

By the time I reached Intelâ''s spokesperson Chuck Mulloy, he had probably answered this question just one time too many. â''You are correct,â'' he e-mailed me, and I could read a heavy sigh between the lines. â''We are not sharing process technology with TSMC, or anyone else for that matter.â''

That raises a couple of questions, then:

1. How will the original 45nm HKMG Intel Atom compare to the 45nm non-HKMG Walmart TSMC brand? Letâ''s confine it to speed and power dissipation. Show all work.

2. Is there any logic circuit in the Atom that would not work without the 45nm HKMG process? For example, the Penryn's new FP division system is probably the only thing in it that would not work at an earlier node. Is there a similar situation in the Atom?

3. What will be the process technology of the Atom-based product? Since Intel has been shipping 45 nm products for a while, it is a matter of speculation if that will be the process technology node of the Atom-based product.

Despite knowing there was no way in h- e- double-hockey sticks I was going to get the answers from them, I went ahead anyway and asked TSMC spokesperson Michael Kramer*, and Intelâ''s Chuck Mulloy.

Mulloy: â''I can't contrast the power or performance because Atom is currently only built on our 45 nm process with high-K metal gate so there's nothing to compare it to.â''

To the question of what technology node TSMC would debut their off-brand Atoms at, Kramer* replied, â''We can not comment on the details of the technology node that Atom cores will be ported to, but you can assume that it is an advanced process node.â''

So Atoms, which are designed for 45-nm node process technology, are being ported to TSMC, which gets at best 10 percent of its business from customers that require the most up-to-date manufacturing technology (the rest is split pretty evenly between one-generation-behind and really older nodes like 90 and 130). And thatâ''s during a good year, which this is not (ASMLâ''s Bill Arnold told me that the $248 billion a year industry is down this year to an expected $200 billion).

But then, the big reveal!

â''I would also like to point out,â'' Kramer* continued, â''that TSMC has its own high-k/metal gate technology at the 40/45nm node.â'' [italics mine]

Did you know that? I didnâ''t.

About a billion papers for IEDM, ISSCC, SPIE, and the rest of the alphabet soup, have TSMC introducing HKMG at the 32 nm node (and in TSMCese, that means the 30 nm and/or 28 nm node. Letâ''s just pretend itâ''s 32. Now my head hurts.) â''TSMC and everyone else won't have high-k dielectrics and metal gates until 32nm,â'' Real World Technologies guru David Kanter confirmed later. â''For TSMC and IBM, that would be late 2009 or early 2010.â'' Kanter is an expert, and he kind of knows everything. Some kind of savant, maybe. So I almost trust his word over that of TSMC.

As you might imagine, I emailed Michael Kramer* immediately with a message that can be summed up as â''Say what now?â''

I havenâ''t heard a peep from the man since. I imagine him in the witness protection program, which would be rough on a Kramer* in Taiwanâ''heâ''ll have to wear a ski mask in perpetuity and have his vocal chords surgically altered.

As for the specifics of a 45-nm Atom microprocessor without Intelâ''s fabled high-k metal gate, Kanter says it is likely that without high-k metal gates, the transistors in TSMC-produced Atoms will run perhaps 20-30 percent more power consumption. â''But in some applications, you donâ''t care about that,â'' he says.

But then I went poking around on the interwebs some more and found this!

In December 2008, a paper published at EDSSC (motto: â''the other IEDMâ'') was called â''National Project on 45 to 32 nm Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistors for Next Century IC Fabricationsâ''â''by a university consortium in Taiwan! Which is working with TSMC!

When pressed, one of the authors, K.S. Chang-Liao, responded with great brevity: â''I will simply state the fact that this is a Project sponsored by MOEA, and work was done independently by professors in National Tsinghua University and NCTU and good discussion was underway with TSMC for adopting in using our IP.â''

The person who finally cleared all this up was Dr. Rajarao Jammy, a veteran IBM semiconductor insider who is now vice president of emerging technology at SEMATECH.

He basically told me to stop focusing psychotically on a single aspect of a complicated device. "In some senses, yes, there would be higher leakage,â'' he said. â''But it's not just about transistor leakage. There would be a whole range of other leakages and power related issues.â''

If you take the transistor itself, the leakage comes from many places. One might be junction-related leakage, threshold leakage, power dissipation from the metal lines themselves. All of this is power dissipation. Leakage is one issue, power is another.

The overall power management of the device comes from several factors. Gate leakage is only one of those. Controlling gate leakage, of course, helps keep overall leakage down--and Atom is one of those chips thatâ''s really aimed at really low standby power operation. However, when it comes to what kind of leakage a device maker, or rather an end-user might tolerate--it would all depend on the application.

â''The design cores could essentially be the same,â'' Jammy explained. â''How the system inside the chip operates might be the same, but they donâ''t necessarily need to be a mirror image of each other.â''

Chuck Mulloy has made it clear that the Intel-TSMC MOU isnâ''t clear yet on how their arrangement will function. It's possible that there are certain cores in the Atom processors that are going to be imported into another design TSMC might have. Different companies could be making their chips with Atom cores.

But, unlike most knockoffs, the chips will not be identical in every way.

Well, but regardless of whether my questions barked up the wrong tree, I still think it's interesting that TSMC has 45-nm HKMG but isnâ''t talking about it.

I wish you the best of luck, Michael Kramer!*

--

UPDATE 3/23/2009

After I posted this entry, TSMC released Michael Kramer from his carbonite prison just long enough for him to pen the following note.

Dear Ms. Adee,

My apologies for my late reply and I hope it's still useful to you.

Double-checking on the status of our 40/45nm HKMG took a little longer than

I expected.

While we have not put 40/45nm HKMG on our roadmap or made any official

announcements, we certainly have the capability to offer this if customers

have the need for it.

Having said that, unfortunately at this point we really can not confirm to

you whether the ported Atom SOC cores will use HKMG or not, or even if it

will be at the 40/45nm node. We welcome you to provide Spectrum readers

with your analysis and insight into the details of this agreement, but

again I apologize that TSMC can only say that the Atom SOC cores will be

ported to an advanced technology node.

Thanks again,

Michael Kramer

For IBM, the Allure of Sun Lies in Next-Gen Software Services

Longtime rivals in the network server market, IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems are in the midst of merger negotiations, according to numerous media accounts.

IBM's rumored offer to Sun of approximately US $7-8 billion would bolster Big Blue's share of the lucrative market for hardware to feed the gluttonous appetite of the growing Internet. Still, the long-term strategy for the Sun acquisition may lie as much in software as it does in hardware for IBM, as well as in reaching the hearts and minds of the software developers who create the state-of-the-art applications generating the need for evermore increasing processing power.

The IBM-Sun talks, first revealed yesterday by the Wall Street Journal, would give Sun stockholders $10 per share, ending the independence of one of Silicon Valley's most fiercely independent computer firms.

Founded in 1982 by a rag-tag cadre of young venture capitalists, engineers, and business wonks, Sun (which took its name from the Stanford University Network on which its engineers previously worked) made a big splash in the early workstation niche of the Eighties, where enterprises from manufacturers to universities needed more binary muscle than PCs could provide but less-expensive machines than those offered by companies such as (ironically) IBM. Sun even developed its own version of the Unix operating system, called Solaris, to make its minicomputers more user-friendly.

Leveraging its network-computing expertise, Sun really took off in the Nineties with a marketing campaign that was epitomized by the motto "The Network Is The Computer" as the World Wide Web exploded into economic importance. Astoundingly, Sun engineers next devised a new programming language, dubbed Java, to expedite the creation of network-based applications and then gave the language away for free, garnering an immense amount of interest (some would even say devotion) from the worldwide software development community.

During the go-go years of the Web revolution, Sun was a darling of Silicon Valley and Wall Street alike, but it was a honeymoon that had to ultimately settle for a troubled marriage. Sun soon found itself under pressure to lower its prices on mid-range computers, scaling them down in size, as competitors in the PC sector geared up the power of their low-cost machines to handle the duties of Web servers, as everyone jumped into the Internet business. Sun even had to fend off the advances of the titan of the software world, Microsoft Corp., in an epic legal battle over the use of Java that lasted years. Then the Web bubble burst, and Sun never fully recovered.

As an article in yesterday's New York Times rightly points out, Sun continues to be a major player in the lucrative area of data-center equipment, but the company has been in financial difficulty for years and has recently been looking for an alliance with a large corporate parent.

A deal with IBM would bring a rainbow of synergies to the two firm's families. Sun's fluid architectural skills and maverick research-and-development philosophy would bring an injection of West Coast zest to Big Blue's tradition-crusted management of innovation and product development. After cutting away overlapping technology, IBM would be able to promote an end-to-end line of server products capable of meeting the needs of providers from boutique outfits to massive enterprise data centers. Moreover, IBM was one of the first firms to embrace the possibilities of Java and became Sun's biggest champion in keeping the language as "pure" as possible in its fight with Microsoft, even encouraging its progress toward an "open" source-code model. As unofficial partners, Sun and IBM have devoted more software engineering brainpower to Java over the years than the rest of the computer industry combined.

Yet, it is in the potential of data-center services where an IBM-Sun coupling could yield the most profitable outcome. As a news analysis yesterday from Dow Jones pinpoints, the biggest names in computing have embarked on a looming war for the future business of corporate information technology needs. The latest sensation in this sector is known as "cloud computing," where enormous numbers of machines process shared commands via network protocols to deliver services to end users. Cloud computing depends on both scalable hardware and software to become "virtual" resources, and this is where Sun's engineering savvy and developer following could provide IBM with an unmatchable advantage.

Sun claims to have over one million dedicated independent Java developers, who stand at the forefront of creating next-generation applications that will employ the cloud-computing concept. Those applications, ranging from cellphone services to design engineering tools, will fuel the rush to the leasing of data-center resources when economic conditions rebound globally.

It's a long-term strategy that could position IBM ideally to dominate the future of computing (once again), as well as finally give Sun's engineering virtuosos a sound and stable home to continue pursuing genius.

[For more on the coming data-center war, please see Tech Titans Building Boom by Randy H. Katz in the February issue of IEEE Spectrum.]

The author is a former Dalang of Gamelan, the world's first Web site devoted to the Java programming language.

Should we be discussing Nano Ethics, Ethically Speaking?

Ethicists and other assorted philosophical types are chomping at the bit to get at the subject of nanotechnology. At first, it was because of the idea of nanobots and universal assemblers that would help us live forever and would spy on us wherever we were.

Now that this particular dystopian future seems as though it is going to be delayed beyond their attention span, they have turned to the more mundane subject of nanomaterials and how they might impact human enhancement.

While the Human Enhancement Ethics Group concedes that there are many technologies that willâ'¿errâ'¿enhance humans, they argue that nanotechnology is at the core of these technologies.

I suppose that might be true if companies trying to make commercial products with nanomaterials are successful, but frankly at the moment those are few and far between.

In one of the bios for a speaker and their introduction to their topic I felt as though they were talking directly to me.

Some writers claim that ethicists involved in assessing future technologies like nanotechnology and human enhancement devote too much time to debating issues that may or may not arise, at the expense of addressing more urgent, current issues.

Youâ''re darn tootinâ''. But then it went on and I got lost in the following idea:

This practice has been claimed to squander the scarce and valuable resource of ethical concern.

â''Scarce and valuable resource of ethical concern.â'' Really? Scarce?

Okay, maybe theyâ''re right. It seems that ethical concern was strangely absent during the deregulation of our financial industry over the past 12 years that allowed a bunch of greedy yahoos to take down the world financial system. So, yeah, I guess it is pretty scarce when â''addressing more urgent, current issues.â''

Public Engagement in Nanotech Gets Ugly

Presumably the purpose of all the public engagement exercises that are funded around the world is to encourage citizens to be part of the process of scientific development.

I have issues with this attempt to make the general public our guides for the development of science and technology. On the one hand, I am cynical enough to think that the policy has been already been laid out and that the powers-that-be are engaging in a kind of charade to appease any public outcry. On the other hand, I fear that the same powers-that-be may actually be sincere and take the recommendations of the public too seriously.

But those are my somewhat jaundiced reasons for not really getting behind public engagement, I am sure those that are idealistic enoughâ''or maybe just realistic enoughâ''would welcome these kinds of public dialogues.

So I imagine when the Australian government decided to hold a public dialogue on nanotechnology in food it never occurred to them that the one constituency they were counting on being there would decide to skip it in a huff.

That's right your friendly neighborhood NGO decided they weren't going to engage in this dialogue.

TNTLog has an uproariously funny look at the utter hypocrisy of the Friends of the Earth (FoE) when they refused to engage in a public dialogue with different groups surrounding the issue.

The officials in the Australian government who set this all up must feel like they went to the trouble of hosting a party they didnâ''t want to give, and the guest of honor refuses to go because they prefer surprise parties.

I would like to humbly recommend that if we canâ''t even get to the point of discussion, canâ''t we just move on?

Russian President Promises Upgrade to Nation's Nuke Force

In a blunt signal to the West that Russia intends to bolster its military might, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today said that his country will embark on a course of strengthening its nuclear arsenal.

At a meeting of Russia's defense leadership in Moscow, Medvedev ordered a "large-scale" upgrade of the nation's nuclear weapons in response to perceived intimidation by the NATO alliance, according to a news report from Agence France Presse (AFP).

"From 2011, a large-scale rearmament of the army and navy will begin," Medvedev said. "Analysis of the military-political situation in the world shows that a serious conflict potential remains in some regions."

He added that the primary goal of the new directive will be to improve the combat readiness of the nation's military, particularly its strategic nuclear forces. "They must be able to fulfil all tasks necessary to ensure Russia's security," Medvedev noted.

The head of Russia's strategic missile forces, Nikolai Solovtsov, told journalists that his command would begin deploying its new RS-24 missiles after the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1) with the United States expires in December, according to the AFP account.

Russia claims that its multiple-warhead RS-24 missiles will be able to thwart any U.S. technology devised to prevent them from striking their long-range targets.

Today's move by the Russian leader should most likely be placed in context as the opening gambit in a long series of moves by the United States and the former Soviet Union to settle a wide agenda of disputes over nuclear weaponry in the months ahead, as the START 1 arrangement limiting atomic stockpiles draws to a close.

U.S. President Barack Obama is openly known to favor new negotiations with the Russian government to reduce the number of weapons of mass destruction held by both sides; and Moscow watchers believe the Kremlin is actually in favor of coming up with a revamped treaty.

One problem the two superpowers have in common is that their existing nuclear weapons are aging rapidly, with many delivery systems and warheads from the Cold War era approaching the end of their expected maintenance timetables. So a new arms reduction pact between the two would allow both to scrap their most suspect components and replace them with fewer, more-sophisticated ones capable of wreaking destruction just as great.

The next few months will tell if today's saber rattling from the Kremlin will achieve its desired effect and compel the new American president to move quickly on one of the most traditionally important issues in global affairs, on top of all the other pressing matters on his already long list of things to do in his first year.

[For more on the deteriorating U.S. nuclear arsenal, see What About The Nukes? by Francis Slakey and Benn Tannenbaum in this month's issue of IEEE Spectrum.]

The World Wide Web Hits 20th Birthday

In March 1989, an obscure 33-year-old science fellow at the Centre Europee de Recherche Nucleaire (CERN) decided to mix ideas from hypertexting with the Internet's transmission control protocol to see what would happen.

Initially, he hoped that he could create an interlinked collection of documents that would enable researchers to quickly view each other's work in progress. He had no inkling that he had come up with the concept that would become the World Wide Web.

While Tim Berners-Lee did not get permission from his superiors at CERN to put his proposal for the "information management" scheme into practice for another year or so, he still counts that initial plan as the birth of the Web.

To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of that proposal, CERN (now known as the European Organization for Nuclear Research) invited Berners-Lee back to its headquarters near Geneva last Friday to speak about how the Web has grown into a global phenomenon and what he thinks it will grow into in the future.

CERN has posted a special section to its own Web site, called World Wide Web @ 20 naturally, to offer the public a glimpse at the proceedings. For example, this link helps explain how the Web got started and depicts the NeXT computer Berners-Lee used to create the first Web server to offer pages of simple HTML text for others to access. And by clicking on this link, you can watch a compilation of videos on the origins of the Web.

Twenty years later, there are millions of Web servers offering tens of millions of sites using the software tools Berners-Lee helped develop.

It's a stunning story that began simply as the imaginings of an obscure science fellow -- 20 years ago.

Business is Business, Even the So-Called Nano Business

About a year-and-a-half ago, I was impressed by a quote Scott Rickert gave for an article in Industry Week.

It essentially said that no one buys a product because it contains nanotechnology but because it can do amazing things. I sort of liked this clear-headed approach to nanotechnologyâ''s role in products.

Now it appears as though Industry Week has given the writing duties directly over to Rickert.

Again, for the most part, Rickert offers up some common sense when approaching the subject of nanotechnology and business albeit with a couple of his own peculiar biases (maybe he can tell me how he uses the The NanoBusiness Alliance as a resource for trusted information).

But like any subject, when you go about reading up on the topic of your interest, you soon realize that you will need to read between the lines. In other words, those pinnacles of financial and business information that Rickert and just about every other businessman turn to for information are sometimes reduced to just being cheerleaders and not objective sources that help you discern what is really going on.

One need only turn to Jon Stewart's public dressing down of the CNBC financial news network, and one of its hapless anchors, Jim Cramer, to realize that just because a news source has lots of money and clout doesn't mean it is giving you the real information.

Itâ''s true of business and nano business. Just follow the adage, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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