Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Culture shock

Defeating Poverty reports: [edited]

I heard about 6 months ago about the ingenious idea of Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, to build a new yogurt business in Bangladesh.

The story I've heard goes something like this:

Danone (No. 1 worldwide in fresh dairy products & bottled water, No. 2 in biscuits and cereal products) CEO Franck Riboud was sitting next to Yunus at a lunch in Paris in the fall of 2005 and had asked him to explain to him about microfinance and the Grameen Bank. At the end of the conversation, Riboud asked, "How might I help you?"

Now this is a very dangerous question to ask Yunus! Yunus responded, "I'd like you to send your chief yogurt factory designer to Bangladesh to meet with me." Riboud agreed. A short while later the Danone factory designer chief showed up at Yunus' office in Dkaha to find out how he could help.

Yunus said, "I'd like you design and build the world's smallest yogurt factory to operate here in Bangladesh." The factory designer said, "But, I design the world's largest yogurt factories, not the smallest." Yunus responded, "I need you to design the world's smallest one. I'll be here if you want to go off and think about it and come back later."

So, the factory designer left and went back to his hotel room. A little while later, he appeared back at Yunus' office with the sketchings for an idea. And the venture was born...

This is setup as a for-profit, social enterprise joint venture between Danone and Grameen Bank. Danone is contributing $500,000 of seed capital. The plan is to re-invest all profits with the exception of paying back Danone their initial seed capital. The factory will buy milk from Grameen Bank microvenders (who've been financed by Grameen Bank to buy cows) and microentrepreneurs will sell the yogurt door-to-door. Each factory will employ 15-20 women directly and up to 1,600 people in an area.

And the enterprise is designed to be environmentally friendly, using biodegradable cups made from cornstarch, solar panels for electricity generation and rainwater collection vats. If the first factory is successful, they have plans to launch 50 more in Bangladesh and then who knows where.

The first factory just opened near Dhaka as part of a new venture called Grameen Danone Foods. The mini-factory produces a yogurt called Shakti-da (which means "yogurt with strength") which is fortified with vitamins to address malnutrition. Each yogurt helping will be about 7 cents per cup.

There is an extended version of the story in Fortune magazine.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sony DSC-H9, 15x zoom, and it sees in the dark!

dpreview published the Sony press release: [edited]

Responding to the growing demand for super zoom digital cameras, Sony is introducing its 8-megapixel DSC-H9.

The camera debuts Sony’s sports shooting mode. This mode combines high shutter speed shooting and intelligent continuous auto-focusing. The cameras can quickly focus on fast-moving subjects by predicting where those subjects will be in the frame. This predictive technology also helps to reduce shutter lag, the time it takes for the camera to focus and shoot.

The DSC-H9 features a Carl Zeiss 15x optical zoom lens. Sony’s new face detection technology can identify up to eight faces and automatically adjust white balance and flash as well as focus and exposure for correctly exposed, sharp photos.

The H9 incorporates Super Steady Shot optical image stabilization to minimize blur caused by camera shake. And high sensitivity, up to ISO3200, also helps to fight blur resulting from fast-moving subjects.

The H9 camera sports a 3-inch, flip-up LCD screen so that you can shoot comfortably from nearly any position. It also features 'NightShot' technology which allows you to take photographs in environments with virtually no light.

The DSC-H9 will ship in April for about $480.

Cheap and cheerful digital camera

dpreview reports: [edited]

Announced in August 2006 the C875 is the new flagship model in the entry-level Kodak EasyShare 'C' range. Where most previous C series cameras have offered basic, beginnner-friendly 'point and shoot' operation at very low prices, the C875 transplants the functionality of Kodak's higher-end Z and P series cameras into an inexpensive, compact body.

This - plus the 5x optical zoom and 8MP resolution - puts the C875 in direct competition with Canon's A series and some of the higher-end models in the Olympus FE range, yet the price (£129 inc. p&p from is incredibly low for the features and specification on offer.

Of course there are some compromises to be made; the C875 isn't the fastest camera in the world, and there are plenty that offer slightly better image quality, but the truth is that the typical user won't find a great deal to complain about. The screen isn't a patch on more expensive models, and can be pretty hard to see in direct sunlight, but the build quality is anything but 'budget' and ultimately there is only so much you can expect at this price point.

If you're on a budget and looking for a camera that allows you to experiment with the more creative side of photography as you learn more about shutter speeds, apertures and so on, then the C875 is well worth considering. Like the best cameras in Canon's A series it offers a wealth of controls, but - crucially - it also offers very reliable 'point and shoot' operation, rarely failing to get a shot even in fairly challenging conditions. That famous Kodak color - if it's to your taste - produces great looking prints 'straight out of the camera', and unless you're looking very closely at the output on-screen and stick to lower ISO settings where possible, the output is surprisingly good.

The C875 may not be very glamorous, but Kodak could teach some manufacturers of much more expensive cameras a trick or two about user interface design. Kodak's system, once you've mastered it, of putting pretty much all the controls on-screen (using the joystick to change everything) is a much rarer thing; a compact camera control system that not only makes experimenting with settings easy; it positively encourages it.

If you can live with the slightly sluggish focus, over-the-top noise reduction at higher ISO settings, and a rather lame screen, the C875 offers an awful lot of bang for your buck.

Free font - Gentium

Gentium "is a typeface family designed to enable the diverse ethnic groups around the world who use the Latin script to produce readable, high-quality publications. It supports a wide range of Latin-based alphabets and includes glyphs that correspond to all the Latin ranges of Unicode.

"The design is intended to be highly readable, reasonably compact, and visually attractive. The additional ‘extended’ Latin letters are designed to naturally harmonize with the traditional 26 ones. Diacritics are treated with careful thought and attention to their use. Gentium also supports both polytonic and monotonic Greek, including a number of alternate forms. These fonts were originally the product of two years of research and study by the designer at the University of Reading, England, as part of an MA program in Typeface Design.

"SIL International has now embraced the Gentium project, and plans to continue development. Expansion of the glyph set to include more extended Latin glyphs, archaic Greek symbols, and full Cyrillic script support is the next step. Work on this has already begun, but the results will not be available for a few months. Addition of bold and bold italic faces will follow.

"Gentium is freely available. It is now released under the SIL Open Font License, a free and open source license that permits modification and redistribution. Our hope is that it will stimulate literature production and elevate extended Latin alphabets to greater parity with the basic Latin alphabet. We also hope it will encourage other type designers to appreciate and support those fascinating and beautiful extra letters."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Lucky for some

BBC reports: [edited]

A new Belgian carrier, Brussels Airlines, has been forced to change its logo following complaints from superstitious passengers.

The 13 dots making up the stylised 'b' brought a flood of complaints about the "unlucky" design. The airline, which formally launches on 25 March, said it was taken aback by the strength of feeling and felt obliged to respond. It has now altered the design to incorporate an additional dot.

Brussels Airlines spokesman Geert Sciot said: "They [passengers] said they were not pleased with an aircraft with a logo with 13 balls because they think it brings them bad luck. We are never surprised by reactions - but that it was that bad? It really took us aback."

Friday, February 23, 2007

Grow your own teeth

New Scientist reports: [edited]

A Japanese team has successfully grown replacement teeth and implanted them into the mouths of adult mice, suggesting that a similar technique could replace missing teeth in humans.

Takashi Tsuji, at the Tokyo University of Science, took single-tooth mesenchymal and epithelial cells – the two cell types that develop into a tooth – from mouse embryos. They stimulated these cells to multiply before injecting them into a drop of collagen gel. Within days, the cells formed tooth buds – the early stage of normal tooth formation.

The team then transplanted these tooth buds into cavities left after they had extracted teeth from adult mice. There, they developed into teeth with a normal structure and composition. The engineered teeth also developed a healthy blood supply, and nerve connections.

Since mesenchymal and epithelial cells have the potential to develop into other organs and hair follicles, Tsuji hopes his method could eventually be applied more widely. “We hope to collaborate with dentists and clinicians in various fields to develop artificial organs for people,” he says.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

iTunes reveals classical copies

New Scientist reports: [edited]

The recordings of a British concert pianist who found fame in the last years of her life have been exposed as hoaxes - by Apple's iTunes music player.

Joyce Hatto died in June 2006, having become a cause célèbre with fans of classical piano in the last years of her life. A series of recordings showed her masterful command of a wide range of composers including Liszt, Schubert, Rachmaninov, Dukas and more.

Last week, a critic at the Gramophone magazine got a surprise when he put a Hatto recording of Lizt's 12 Transcendental Studies into his computer. The iTunes player identified the disc as being recorded by another pianist, Lászlo Simon. He dug out the Simon album and found it sounded exactly the same as the Hatto one.

The Gramophone critic tried another disc - Hatto playing Rachmaninov - and again iTunes identified it as belonging to someone else. Again, the named recording - by Yefim Bronfman - sounded identical.

Gramophone decided to go to expert audio company Pristine Audio. Their detailed webpages shows what they found, and lets you listen to the evidence. Examinations of the waveforms of Hatto recordings confirmed what iTunes had suggested. Many are direct copies of other pianist's work - some are tweaked versions where a recording has simply been slowed down.

Hatto's husband, who produced and released them, says he cannot explain the similarities.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

When 'Wii' means 'huge'

YouTube have posted a video documenting two guys hooking a Wii into a real cinema. Looks like great fun.

Bill & Steve's Excellent Adventure

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates will make a rare joint appearance at The Wall Street Journal's 'D: All Things Digital' conference this year. The two men will discuss the history and future of the digital revolution in an unrehearsed, unscripted, onstage conversation with D co-producers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

Please, please let it be done against a white background... with Steve's opening line being, "Hello, I'm a Mac..."

Prosthetic retinas better than expected

New Scientist reports: [edited]

Profoundly blind people could get their best shot yet of restored vision with a more advanced "bionic eye", researchers have announced.

Trials of the new retinal prosthesis will begin shortly, following the success of a prototype that has enabled six blind people to see again. The prototypes were fitted in 2002 to patients who had lost their sight entirely.

Within a few weeks all could detect light, identify objects and even perceive motion again. For one patient, this was the first time he had seen anything in half a century, after his sight was destroyed by retinitis pigmentosa, a virus that attacks retinal cells.

"We hoped they might get some sense of light and dark, but it's really amazing how much they can see - how the brain is able to fill in the gaps," says Mark Humayun, who carried out the implant surgery and developed the device with colleagues at Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California in the US.

For the technique to work, the patient must still have some functioning ganglion cells - nerve cells that transmit visual information from the retinal cells to the optic nerve - as well as a fully-functioning optic nerve. A tiny electronic pad is placed onto the retina of one eye, so that the electrodes are in direct contact with the ganglion cells. Each of the devices' 16 electrodes can stimulate 20 to 30 cells.

The user wears a pair of glasses that contain a miniature camera and that wirelessly transmits video to a cellphone-sized computer in the wearer's pocket. This computer processes the image information and wirelessly transmits it to a tiny electronic receiver implanted in the wearer's head.

When received by the implanted chip, the digital information is transformed into electrical impulses sent into the ganglion cells. From there, the brain takes over as the information travels down the optic nerve to the visual cortex at the back of the brain. The whole process occurs extremely rapidly, so that patients see in real-time. This is important any noticeable lag could stimulate the "vestibular-ocular reflex", making people feel dizzy and sick.

Humayun's team is about to embark on a new trial of an improved device, which they will fit into 50 to 75 people aged over 50, who are also blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa. The trial will involve monitoring them for two years and will take place in five centres across the US.

The first implant had just 16 electrodes on the retinal pad and, as a result, visual information was limited. The new device has 60 electrodes and the receiver is shrunk to one-quarter of the original's size. It is now small enough to be inserted into the eye socket itself.

Regaining sight has felt like a miracle to those involved in the preliminary trial. At the beginning, it was like seeing assembled dots - "now it's much more than that," says Terry Bryant, aged 58, who received the implant in 2002 after 13 years of blindness. "I can go into any room and see the light coming in through the window. When I am walking along the street I can avoid low hanging branches and I can cross a busy street."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

SXSW 2007 - 739 free songs!

South by Southwest (SXSW, Inc.) is a private company based in Austin, Texas, dedicated to building and delivering conference and festival events for entertainment and related media industry professionals.

Since 1987, SXSW has produced the internationally recognized Music and Media Conference & Festival.

The music event has grown from 700 people in 1987 to nearly 10,000 in 2006. In 1994, SXSW added a film and interactive component to accommodate these growth industries. SXSW Film and SXSW Interactive events attract approximately 7000 people to Austin every March.

They've made a bittorrent available, containing 739 MP3s (3.1GB) showcasing SWXW artists. I'm hosting it, so if you can't be bothered to download it, bring a blank DVD with you next time you see me :-)

Monday, February 19, 2007

From the 'You Couldn't Make It Up' department

Thanks to Toffee Squares & Major Look for this article, taken from Private Eye, via Derek N. Hartley, via the Otago Daily Times, 18-19/11/06. Disclaimer: Sensitive cat-lovers might find the third paragraph distressing. Less sensitive readers might find themselves laughing so hard that food comes out of their nostrils...

When the constable arrived at the house, Detective Inspector Bernie Hollewand told a press conference in Auckland, he found a heated domestic dispute taking place between a husband, his wife, and their teenage son.

After remonstrations with the couple proved futile, he decided to use his Taser weapon to disable the man. But unfortunately these electronic stun guns are still in the trial stages among frontline police in Auckland and Wellington.

His first 50,000 volt shot from the Taser missed the husband and hit the cat, killing it outright. The second hit the teenage son, knocking him to the ground. A further shot also missed the target, and when the constable tried to remove the Taser's spent cartridges, he forgot to wait for the five-second discharge cycle to complete, and inadvertently blasted himself with another 50,000 volts.

When he had recovered and reloaded, he fired two further shots, both of which hit the ceiling. At this point he abandoned the Taser, and took out his pepper spray in another attempt to disable the husband.

Unfortunately, this also missed its target, and instead hit the couple's twenty one-year-old daughter who had just entered the room.

Luckily, at this point the husband decided to give himself up, and an arrest was made.

Vanuatu cargo cult marks 50 years

BBC reports [edited]

One of the world's last surviving cargo cults is celebrating its official 50th anniversary on Tanna island in Vanuatu.Villagers believe the spirit of John Frum sent the US military to their South Pacific home to help them. Devotees say that an apparition of John Frum first appeared before tribal elders in the 1930s. He urged them to rebel against the aggressive teachings of Christian missionaries and instead said they should put their faith in their own customs.

World War II and the arrival of American troops on Vanuatu was a turning point for the John Frum Movement. Villagers believe that their messiah was responsible for sending the generous US military and its cargo to them.

Speaking in local pidgin, the movement's head, Chief Isaac Wan, said that John Frum was a god who would one day return. He's "our God, our Jesus," he said. Islanders are convinced that John Frum was an American. Every year they parade in home-made US army uniforms beneath the Stars and Stripes.

They hope one day to entice another delivery of cargo. This 50th anniversary marks the formal establishment of the John Frum Movement. It also recognises the day when villagers raised the American flag for the first time in this isolated corner of the South Pacific.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ice pix

Fantastic pictures of the results of spray spontaneously freezing.

Click here for a 'Coffee Break Friendly™' slide show.

Thanks to John Nack for the link.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Wired reports: [edited]

With its tranquil ponds and rolling fields, the GTC Biotherapeutics farm in Charlton, Massachusetts, looks like a typical pastoral retreat. But its 1,400 goats don't produce butter or cheese. Instead, the animals are sophisticated drug incubators, with millions of dollars of potential profit accumulating in their udders each day.

GTC Biotherapeutics is perfecting the art of "pharming" - genetically modifying animals to churn out drugs for disorders like haemophilia and cancer. The first government-approved drug from transgenic animals, GTC's anti-clotting agent ATryn, was approved in Europe late last year, vindicating biotech's years-long quest to move animal husbandry in entirely new directions.

The technique offers a way to produce large quantities of drugs that are otherwise difficult to develop. It involves genetic modification of an animal embryo's genetic makeup, or genome. Just after fertilization, "pharmers" insert into the embryo a human gene that codes for a particular protein - usually one that's produced naturally in humans, but that's lacking in people who have certain diseases.

They attach that DNA code with a gene that codes for a sugar found in mammalian milk, insuring that the therapeutic protein will be expressed only in the animals' milk or eggs.

GTC's ATryn contains the human protein antithrombin, which helps prevent blood clots that could lead to a stroke or heart attack. About one in every 5,000 people has a genetic deficiency of this protein. The drug is also administered during surgery because excessive bleeding can lower blood levels of the protein, leading to clots.

Antithrombin is typically extracted from human blood plasma donations, but it's present only in very small quantities. That makes soliciting donors and extracting proteins from the plasma expensive and labour-intensive.

But now that GTC's goat herd has reached critical mass, the protein can be harvested in massive quantities. "Each of our goats can produce a kilogram of antithrombin each year," Cox says. "It takes 50,000 people to donate that same amount."

Catherine Willett, a science policy advisor for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, stressed the welfare issues.

"Genetic engineering is responsible for a skyrocketing increase in the numbers of animals being used in laboratory experiments," she said. "(and) is likely to have drastic long term ill-effects in the animals themselves."

But Origen scientist Marie Cecile Van de Lavoir said the potential human health benefits justify tinkering with nature's plan.

"If a transgenic animal produces a great cancer therapy," she says, "I won't hear anyone saying, 'You shouldn't do that.'"

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Homes for the confused & bewildered

Reached this old Newsweek article via Boing Boing: [edited]

Most people, in choosing a new home, look for comfort: a serene atmosphere, smooth walls and floors, a logical layout. Nonsense, says Shusaku Arakawa, a Japanese artist based in New York. He and his creative partner, poet Madeline Gins, [have designed] a small apartment complex in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka that is anything but comfortable and calming.

"People, particularly old people, shouldn't relax and sit back to help them decline," he insists. "They should be in an environment that stimulates their senses and invigorates their lives."

With that in mind, Arakawa and Gins designed a building of nine apartments known as Reversible Destiny Lofts. Painted in eye-catching blue, pink, red, yellow and other bright colors, the building resembles the indoor playgrounds that attract toddlers at fast-food restaurants.

Inside, each apartment features a dining room with a grainy, surfaced floor that slopes erratically, a sunken kitchen and a study with a concave floor. Electric switches are located in unexpected places on the walls so you have to feel around for the right one. A glass door to the veranda is so small you have to bend to crawl out.

You constantly lose balance and gather yourself up, grab onto a column and occasionally trip and fall. Even worse, there's no closet space; residents will have to find a way to live there, since the apartment offers only a few solutions. "You'll learn to figure it out," says Arakawa.

Ten minutes of stumbling around is enough to send even the healthiest young person over the edge. Arakawa says that's precisely the point. "[The apartment] makes you alert and awakens instincts, so you'll live better, longer and even forever," says the artist.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The floodgates open...

As the Apple faithful count the days until the iPhone is released, the predicted wave of 'flattery' has begun.

The Samsung Ultra Smart F700 promises:

- Touch screen AND a QWERTY keypad (why both?)
- Vibration feedback from the touch-screen
- Camera: 5.0-Megapixel with Auto-Focus
- Display: 262,744 TFT (440 x 240 pixels)
- MMS / Email / Java / WAP 2.0
- Bluetooth / USB (no WiFi!)
- Flash UI / Document Viewer
- Full HTML Browsing
- Expandable Memory: microSD
- Size: 104 x 50 x 16.4mm
- Weight: unspecified!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Religion in China

BBC reports: [edited]

The number of religious believers in China could be three times higher than official estimates, according to a survey reported by state media. A poll of 4,500 people by Shanghai university professors found 31.4% of people above the age of 16 considered themselves as religious.

This suggests 300 million people nationwide could be religious, compared to the official figure of 100 million.

The poll was carried out by professors at the East China Normal University in Shanghai. Their methodology was not made clear in the state media reports, neither was it clear whether people are becoming religious, or becoming more prepared to say so. But the official China Daily called their work the "country's first major survey on religious beliefs".

The survey found that Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Christianity and Islam are the country's five major religions - China considers Catholicism as separate to Christianity, which covers Protestantism.

About 200 million believers "are Buddhists, Taoists or worshippers of legendary figures such as the Dragon King and God of Fortune", the China Daily reported.

The survey also found a significant rise in Christianity - accounting for 12% of all believers, or 40 million, compared with the official figure of 16 million in 2005.

Professor Liu Zhongyu, who helped carry out the survey, attributed the rise in religious belief to growing freedoms in the country as well as the upheaval of rapid social and economic change. He said the average age of religious believers had fallen, with two-thirds of those in the poll who considered themselves religious aged between 16 and 39.

"This is markedly different from the previous decade, when most religious believers were in their 40s or older," he said in the Chinese-language Oriental Outlook magazine, which published the survey.

Friday, February 09, 2007

7 deadly sins, extrapolated

Boing Boing reports: [edited]

If you arrange the 7 Deadly Sins around a heptagon, label them A-G, and connect each corner, you get 21 secondary sins. For instance Sloth + Pride = Slackers.

And, as a comment indicates, it doesn't have to stop there. By using the binomial coefficient you could extrapolate 127 ways to put together any number of the seven sins. Or 120 ways, if you don't count each of the seven sins individually.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Concertina seating

Saw an article about an expanding piece of furniture on BoingBoing. Then Aaron emailed me to say he'd seen it as well. There was no information about it, but after a lot of Googling, I found a Chinese Engadget article, a Google translation follows: [not much edited it is]

"Want to plug the chair before you welcome the review of reproducing sofas, chairs iRocker rock and chairs robot. Underneath will introduce to you the products based on the winning design-paper nest chairs.

"This industrial design students from National Taiwan University of Science and Technology Design and Development, known as "wishful chairs" green paper chairs. and the honeycomb material is the main plank of paper recycling. Designers flexibility with the use of honeycomb paper is very good to resist pressure characteristics of this chair for the change is stretching the capacity. Wishful can normally chairs contraction into 30 cm size of small rooms that few would not be crowded. When a group of friends and family to visit the same time, the chair can be extended to a maximum of 720 cm. 16 adults sitting at the same time."

If you want to see the furniture in action, there is an entertaining video on YouTube.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Superbowl air traffic queues

Corporate aircraft traffic (i.e. private small jets) departing after the Superbowl, 10am EST, February 5, 2007, from Opa Locka, Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale to all destinations.

For a larger image click here

Panasonic DMC-FZ8

DPreview has just released an in-depth review of Panasonic's latest long-zoom compact.

As the introduction to the review states:

"Almost exactly a year after the introduction of the DMC-FZ7, Panasonic's popular compact super-zoom camera, comes its replacement; the Lumix DMC-FZ8. Where the FZ7 was a fairly major upgrade to the camera that came before it (the FZ5), the FZ8 is, perhaps inevitably, more evolutionary. The body design and operation is almost identical - no bad thing, given the huge improvements made over the FZ5 - and the only really big news is the inclusion of Raw shooting and a much better electronic viewfinder.

"More controversially the new model squeezes even more pixels onto a 1/2.5-inch sensor, and uses the latest Venus III processor, which has had - to put it kindly - a mixed reception from reviewers and users alike. We are assured by Panasonic that the Venus III has been tweaked for the new Lumix generation (based, perhaps, on the less than stellar reviews and comments), and that the noise reduction system and sensor in this camera are delivering significantly better output. So let's find out if Panasonic has got it right with the DMC-FZ8 - and if it really has solved the few (admittedly important) issues we had with its predecessor."

iPod to become the new CD?

Wired reports on an idea originally mooted by Jeremy Horwitz at iLounge: [edited]

On Monday, Apple Inc. and the Beatles' Apple Corps announced that a 15-year legal spat over the "Apple" trademark had been settled in Steve Jobs' favor.

The new contract clears the way for Jobs to sell iPods loaded with music. Imagine a whole range of inexpensive, special-edition iPods branded with popular bands containing a new album, or their whole catalogues.

Apple was prevented from doing this until now by the 15-year-old contract between Apple Corps, the Beatles' music company, and Apple Computer. This contract precluded Jobs' Apple from acting as a music company and from selling "physical media delivering prerecorded content".

That's why the U2 special-edition iPod ships with a voucher for downloading the band's catalog online. The Beatles contract prevents Apple from pre-loading the U2 iPod with U2's music.

Apple [could] also start loading sample tunes onto all new iPods, as Microsoft's Zune currently does. Getting a band's new single loaded onto a hot-selling iPod could prove so desirable that a new type of payola is born.

These album iPods could be sold at bus stations and airports: instant music, no computer required. Bands could sell pre-loaded iPods at concerts, maybe containing the concert they just played. There could be Broadway show iPods, movie soundtrack iPods and iPods burned at retail stores with custom play lists.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sony release iPod accessory - hell freezes over!

Yes, the unthinkable has happened, Sony has released an iPod dock/amp/speaker combo ('iPod not included', but look at the size of that transformer!).

Whatever next? A Sony-branded range of Nintendo DS and Wii accessories?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Create your own objects

New Scientist reports: [edited]

Rapid prototyping machines are already used by designers, engineers and scientists to create one-off mechanical parts and models. These create objects by depositing layer upon layer of liquid or powdered material.

These machines typically cost from $20,000 to $1.5 million, says Hod Lipson from Cornell University, US, who launched the Fab@Home project with PhD student Evan Malone in October 2006.

The standard version of their Freeform fabricator – or "fabber" – is about the size of a microwave oven and can be assembled for around $2400 (£1200). It can generate 3D objects from plastic and various other materials. Full documentation on how to build and operate the machine, along with all the software required, are available on the Fab@Home website, and all designs, documents and software have been released for free.

"We are trying to get this technology into as many hands as possible," Malone told New Scientist. "The kit is designed to be as simple as possible." Once the parts have been bought, a normal soldering iron and a few screwdrivers are enough to put it together. "It's probably the cheapest machine of this kind out there," he adds.

Unlike commercial equipment, the Fab@Home machine is also designed to be used with more than one material. So far it has been tested with silicone, plaster, play-doh and even chocolate and icing. Different materials can also be used to make a single object – the control software prompts the user when to load new material into the machine.

Adrian Bowyer, who is also working on rapid prototyping machines at Bath University, in the UK, agrees that the technology could have mass appeal once the equipment is cheap enough. One of his own machines can even make some of its own parts.

"Fab@Home is an interesting idea; it should be easy for anyone in the world to build," Bowyer says. "Once you've used one you never want to go back, it's liberating and enormously fun." Bowyer believes the technology could one day even replace traditional models of manufacturing.

Bowyer adds that the Fab@Home machine could probably already be used to make many cheap injection-moulded products already on the market: "I can imagine people swapping plans of things to make online, or paying to download them instead of going to the shop."

Friday, February 02, 2007

Broken bulbs

Kevin Tieskoetter has a day job working for Adobe, working on their new Lightroom program. In his spare time, he photographs the dying milliseconds of broken light bulbs.

In his own words: [edited]

I was inspired by a similar image I saw on and thought it would be fun to give it a try. I had the most luck with the candle flame shaped frosted bulbs, mostly because they have a more interesting design to their elements, they're dirt cheap, and I can break the bulb with a pair of pliers.

Once I lit the bulb, it would burn for 1-2 seconds, but the interesting shots were at the start of the process as the mushroom cloud was rising. An 8fps camera makes a big difference here.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Multi-monitor madness

Andrew Sabri reports: [edited]

Here {is] the new 50-monitor display prototype developed at the Gigapixel Lab at Virginia Tech. The display is comprised of 21" touch-screen monitors driven by a cluster of 25 shuttle PCs. The setup has a resolution of 12800 x 5120 (65,536,000 pixels).