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All the cool entrepreneurs hang out at Moffett Field

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The hottest spot in Silicon Valley, these days, appears to be Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif. First, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin got permission to use the Moffett airstrip for their personal jet, a 767-200. The place couldnâ''t be beat for convenienceâ''Google headquarters is practically across the street. And it is only going to cost them $1.3 million a year, plus an agreement to carry scientific research instruments and fly the occasional scientific mission. (This isnâ''t the first time the jet has gotten the Google boys in the news, you might remember the argument over outfitting the plane that led to the famous intervention by CEO Eric Schmidt, in which he reportedly settled a bitter argument by stating, â''Sergey, you can have whatever bed you want in your room; Larry, you can have whatever bed you want in your bedroom. Letâ''s move on.â'')

Now, a Los Gatos sightseeing company, Airship Ventures, is looking to park a Zeppelin at Moffett Field. That won't happen, however, in the famous Hangar One, built to house the USS Macon in 1934. usn5.jpg Hangar One, a Silicon Valley landmark, will either face a wrecking ball or be preserved as an aviation museum, its fate is being contested. You can follow that debate on the website of the Save Hangar One committee. usn2.jpg

Instead, Airship Ventures has its eyes on Hangar Two, built in 1943 to house U.S. Navy blimps. The company has an option on a Zeppelin NT07, now being built by Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik in Friedrichshafen, Germany. The 75-meter helium-filled airship will be able to carry up to 12 passengers; itâ''s 15 meters longer than the largest blimp flying in US skies today. Tickets for sightseeing trips will cost around $250 to $300 each for a one-hour (or less) tour.

When Nanotech Disappears

A recent article in Industry Week posed the question: Nanotech: The Next American Revolution?

Okay, to start nanotechnology is better thought of as â''evolutionâ'' rather than as â''revolutionâ'' in that it essentially is the next step in fields such as material science, exploiting microscopy tools developed over the last 20 years to get new functionalities from materials, but I suppose this is just quibbling.

Another implicit question is posed in the article, if the US has such pressing challenges like energy, materials and labor costs that are making it difficult to remain competitive in the global economy, can nanotechnology fix these problems?

Sure, nanotechnology could fix some of these problems, although I am not too sure about how nanotechnology could directly fix the issue of labor costs.

But it will likely reach these goals when nanotech is no longer used as a term to describe a panacea for the worldâ''s ills.

As the article finally notes in commenting on a quote from Scott Rickert of Nanofilm: As nanotechnology moves from being cutting-edge to being a general-purpose technological process, the term itself could ultimately disappear from general use. "After all, nobody buys our products because they're nanotech based," Nanofilm's Rickert says. "They buy them because they do amazing things."

CEATEC Japan Day 1: Fat show, slim TVs, and some human wires

From Japan correspondent John Boyd:

CEATEC Japan kicked off on a coldish, rainy October 2, but bad weather is not expected to lessen the attendance, which topped 200 000 visitors last year, easily making it Asiaâ''s largest annual electronics and communications industry get-together. This year 895 companies and organizations (up from 807 last year) are exhibiting their wares, new technologies and prototype gizmos in more than 3000 booths, so there will surely be at least a few items to wow even jaded engineers.

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While the electronics industry has long chosen smaller-lighter-faster as a target to perennially aim for, this year it is also making a fetish out of thinner. A number of TV manufacturers including Sony, Sharp, Hitachi, and JVC have been making a display of themselves by vying to out-diet each other and at CEATEC they are brazenly showcasing their skinniest models with wanton pride and with no concern that they might be encouraging anorexia among attendees. Iâ''ll have more details on these technologies in a later blog.

Should you feel unable to justify purchase of such a super thin display, if only on the grounds that high-definition TV broadcasting is still far from being ubiquitous, donâ''t forget there is always the opportunity to hook one up to a next-generation DVD playerâ''though you will have to decide which of the two competing versionsto buyâ'' HD DVD or Blu-ray. The battle between these two camps continues unabated and can be seen up close at CEATEC, with Matsushita Electric, Sharp, Pioneer and Sony all devoting much space to their recently unveiled Blu-ray Disc players and recorders. Meanwhile, lonely Toshiba Corp. will exhibit two HD DVD hard disk recorders that sport new features.

The above are just a few of the heavy items the exhibiting companies are using to strut their stuff at this yearâ''s CEATEC, which, by the way, stands for Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies Producing Images, Information and Communications. But weâ''ll kick off this first of a series of stories on what is happening at the show with something on the lighter side from NTT DoCoMo, Japanâ''s largest mobile network company. In one of its R&D booths it is demonstrating a technology itâ''s dubbed Human Wire Communications, though it is more formally known as near-field intra-body communications.

Currently, millions of Japanese now use their phones as electronic wallets and credit cards to make purchases. The same phones can also be waved at the ticket barriers of train stations to enter and exit minus said tickets with the fare automatically deducted. This is all done via a contactless RFID chip embedded in the phone. Yet as easy as this might appear, some users still find it a hassle to search through their bags for the phone in order to wave it at a the reader.

So DoCoMo is developing a system that will send a signal to a device on your body, such as a phone in your pocket, which then can transmit a weak high frequency signal of 10.7 MHz through the body so that you can simply reach out and touch a reader to enter or leave, making it unnecessary to search for the phone. Similar applications would include gaining access through a security door simply by touching the reader, rather than swiping an ID card through it.

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In one demonstration I put on wireless headphones and when I held a prototype cellphone, it detected the headset using my body as a conduit and caused preselected music stored in the cellphone to play in the headset without having to press a button. The demonstrator also suggested a sensor might be embedded into a ring, for instance, so that only the wearer could unlock a phone for use. There was no sensation whatsoever of an electric current flowing through my body during the demonstration and DoCoMo says the strength of the signal is within safety levels specified by the Association of Radio Industries and Business (ARIB). At the same time, DoCoMo was advising visitors with implanted medical devices such as a pace maker, to consult first with its staff before turning themselves into a human wire

No word yet on when such a system will become available.

Missing Monks in Myanmar

The BBC is reporting that the military junta has arrested and sent away thousands of monks and the streets of the capital are devoid of them. Some of them have been apparently disrobed and shackled:

http://http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7022437.stm

The AAAS reported on Friday that it is trying to get satellite images of the important monasteries. This will help to gather any visual evidence of human rights violations (in case any monasteries are burned down, or surrounded by the army). See related posts:

http://blogs.spectrum.ieee.org/tech_talk/2007/09/technologys_role_in_myanmar_up.html

http://blogs.spectrum.ieee.org/tech_talk/2007/09/satellite_images_indicate_abus.html

Meanwhile, information from citizen journalists (bloggers) has slowed to a trickle as the junta has tried to cut off outside links to Myanmar (Burma). See the Guardian (UK) story below:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/burma/story/0,,2180905,00.html

Another way to make design easier

From the desk of senior associate editor Samuel K. Moore

The folks at the The Mathworks have their feet in two worlds. On the one hand, everybody and their mother uses MATLAB for all kinds of technical computing, algorithm development, and what-not. Other folks use a product called SIMULINK to model and design their embedded systems. Trouble was, if you wanted to take, say, a signal processing algorithm developed and written in MATLAB and incorporate it into your design in SIMULINK you had to translate it into C codeâ''by hand. That takes time and tends to introduce a lot of errors, according to Paul Barnard, marketing director for design automation at The Mathworks.

So, today, the company fixed that issue with something theyâ''re calling Embedded MATLAB. It lets you port algorithms from MATLAB straight into SIMULINK; so no more hand translations.

The Missing Ingredient in Soviet Space Missions

As the fiftieth anniversary of the first launch of a satellite into orbit looms, much will be written about the impressive accomplishment. The ascent of Sputnik 1 on 4 October 1957 from the Soviet Union's space complex near Tyuratam, Kazakhstan (where it actually was 5 October at liftoff), officially launched the Space Age and led to the costliest civilian competition between two nations in the history of the world.

Already, every media outlet on the planet has posted a story with some explanation reminding us why this particular space flight shocked the world (especially aimed at those under a certain age). And they are all correct. The first Sputnik was a stunning surprise to people everywhere. Most historians rank its importance to 20th-century events as comparable to the attack on Pearl Harbor at the beginning of World War II or the atomic bomb strike on Hiroshima at the end of that horrifying conflict.

Here's a sampling of some of the headlines from around the world:

One of the most telling comments in all these, though, can be found almost buried in a piece by the Associated Press, "Sputnik at 50: An Improvised Triumph". Georgi Grechko, a Soviet rocket engineer and cosmonaut, told the AP, that the U.S.S.R. may have leaped to the forefront of exploration with the Sputnik series and the first manned missions of the Vostok project, but that its participants were aware early on that they lacked a key advantage over the U.S. campaign in one vital area: electronics.

"We wouldn't have been the first on the moon any way," Grechko said. "We lost the race because our electronics industry was inferior."

As a civilian, Grechko, 76, flew three Soyuz missions in the 70s and 80s for the Soviet space agency, setting endurance records along the way aboard the early Salyut space station. As a Ph.D. in mathematics and training in spacecraft design from the unit Sergei Korolev founded originally, Grechko is in a position to know something about the different design philosophies the U.S. and U.S.S.R. pursued.

The advanced electronics that NASA engineers were able to use in their designs during the heyday of the space race certainly contributed to the U.S. being able to employ lighter but more efficient payloads, thereby reducing the thrust requirements of their launch vehicles as a ratio to the mass of the objects they were transporting into orbit. Plus, these payloads, such as the famous Apollo spacecraft (with its lunar module), could be made more complex, enabling them to offer greater capabilities.

Let's return to this important subject in future blog entries on the role of electronics in the Space Age. For now, feel free to contribute to a discussion on the topic.

Some things I didnâ¿¿t know about HDTV

From the desk of senior associate editor Samuel K. Moore

In case you hadnâ''t heard (and I admit that I hadnâ''t) there are lots of analog problems with digital TV. Doug Bartow, strategic marketing manager for advanced TV at Analog Devices (ADI), told me so the other day. He ought to know, because ADI is making a killing off of it. What the company calls advanced TVâ''thatâ''s HDTV plus high end digital cameras, game boxes, and other expensive media toysâ''makes up 24 percent of the companyâ''s $2.6 or so billion annual sales.

Anyhow, Bartow dropped me a line to tell me about it, because â''we can see the writing on the wall.â'' The writing, he told me, says big HDTV makers are seeing their marketshare slip so you have to sell to the second tier like Brillian and Westinghouse. But apparently those guys arenâ''t aware of all that ADI can do for HDTVs.

I wonâ''t go in to everything; ADI has a press release for that. But one thing that stuck with me was that sound is a big problem. When the screen is flat, thereâ''s no room for nice-sounding big speakers and their associated amplifiers with their accompanying heat sinks in the box. One solution is to use small, not-so-nice sounding speakers and make up for their deficiencies with some really nice-sounding audio processing and some good class-D amplifiers. You guessed it, ADI makes both. (The processors also help synch the sound to the video, which is tricky in HDTV because all of the image processing involved takes many milliseconds more than the audio processing.)

Weâ''ve made much of wireless in the home, and Bartow told me some interesting things in that area, too. ADIâ''s marketing a technology it calls Wavescale to compress video according to the JPEG2000 algorithm used by Hollywood to for digital distribution of movies to theaters. ADIâ''s contribution is in making a cheap enough chip to put in consumer devices.

Of course once the video is compressed you need to radio it to the TV (or whatever). Bartow says the company is working in ultrawideband, IEEE 802.11n, and, with SiBeam, on 60 GHz. Weâ''ve made much of the 60 GHz bandâ''s capabilities in the pages of Spectrum. In particular, we have been fans of the idea of being able to transmit uncompressed high-def video. SiBeam is one of the leaders of the effort, having gone further than anyone else in making a CMOS (read as cheap) transceiver. But Bartow tells me that SiBeam is coming around to the idea that even the amazing multi-gigahertz data-rates possible in the 60 GHz band are no match for the torrent of data in uncompressed HD video, and that theyâ''ll need some sort of compression, too.

One of our reporters will be checking in with SiBeam about that soon. So stay tuned.

Technology's role in Myanmar (Burma) uprising

No one used the Internet to tell the story of 1988 Burmese uprising while it was happening. Ordinary Burmese didn't have camera-equipped cellphones or handheld video cameras with which to record the violent crackdown that put a generation of student protesters in jail. The story is vastly different this time around. Despite the fact that junta that runs Myanmar tightly controls Internet access, computer savvy exiles and activists are exploiting inherent weaknesses in those controls to get the word--and the pictures--out to the world, as Asia Times reports.

The OpenNet Initiative blog points out that "Bloggers are also utilizing underground networks inside Myanmar to instruct users on how to use proxies, as well as post updates on events and, most recently, casualties."

In addition to posting videos on YouTube such as this one...

people are also using CNN's iReport facility to post video, mostly from the Myanmar (Burma) capital of Yangon (formerly Rangoon):

As Spectrum noted a few years ago in a special report called Sensor Nation, savage dictators can no longer hide from the glare of cameras wielded by citizen journalists. They must now do their dirty work while the world watches. As Saswato Das pointed out yesterday in Tech Talk, it's not just video cameras that are gathering evidence of the junta's brutality--satellite images analyzed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) seems to indicate evidence of villages being razed by the military in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).

Satellite images indicate abuses in Myanmar (formerly Burma)

An analysis of satellite images performed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) seems to indicate evidence of villages being razed by the military in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) over the course of the last several years.

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A before image (top) depicts a small settlement in Burma on 5 May 2004, and again on 23 February 2007, with all structures removed. The images correspond with information provided by the Free Burma Rangers regarding December 2006 attacks at and near the Burmese village of Kwey Kee. (Lat: 18.79 N Long: 96.76 E.)

Credit: Top Image: © GeoEye, Inc. Bottom Image: © 2007 Digital Globe.

Myanmar has been in the grip of violent unrest in the past few days, the worst since 1988. The military junta in control has long been accused of human rights violations. U.S. Ambassador Jackie W. Sanders has gone on record saying Burmese military forces systematically rape women and girls -- especially those of the Shan, Karen, Karenni, and other ethnic minorities.

Yesterday, the Bush administration slapped financial sanctions on Myanmar, with the intent of shutting the military junta out of the international banking system. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has also called for a stop in outside investment in the country.

Today, apparently the military junta has clamped down on the Internet in order to prevent bloggers from telling the outside world about protests in Burma.

The AAAS offered high-resolution satellite images today as visual proof of state-ordered destruction.

At a press conference earlier today, Lars Bromley of the AAAS detailed some of the findings. Entire villages have been burned, military camps have grown in size, and people have been forced to move against their will."

"We saw evidence of forced relocation," he said, also talking about villages that were burned. "People are being moved from outlying areas to areas near the military camps so that they can be closely watched."

The AAAS researchers were told of 70 instances of human rights violations and they mapped the locations of 31. An analysis of satellite images revealed visual clues that implied that 25 sites had definitely had seen abuse, they said. Wherever possible, Bromley compared older satellite images with recent images to get a "before" and "after" perspective.

"Eighteen of the locations showed evidence consistent with destroyed or damaged villages," Bromley reported in a statement. "We found evidence of expanded military camps in four other locations as well as multiple possibly relocated villages, and we documented growth in one refugee camp on the Thai border. All of this was very consistent with reporting by multiple human rights groups on the ground in Burma."

The entire report is available at:

http://www.eurekalert.org/images/release_graphics/pdf/burmareport_24sept2007_press.pdf

Bromley relied upon the Free Burma Rangers, the Karen Human Rights Group, and the Thailand Burma Border Consortium for field accounts of military oppression and destruction.

Images were provided by two firms: GeoEye, Inc (Nasdaq:GEOY) and DigitalGlobe.

AAAS had previously used the same technology to assess destruction in Darfur and Zimbabwe. The latest research was supported by the Open Society Institute and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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