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Graphene to replace silicon in computer chips?

Posted in Tech/Sci News by Alex on March 25th, 2008

GraphenePhysicists at the University of Maryland have shown that graphene, a sheet of graphite a single atom thick, can conduct electricity at room temperature better than any other known material, including silicon.

Electrons can travel up to 100 times faster through graphene than silicon, making it perfect for the next generation of computer chips and sensors.

But it doesn’t end at that. Graphene also has a smaller resistivity than copper, providing 35% less opposition to the flow of electric current. That would make it the lowest resistivity material as well. However, impurities in graphene make copper better at transferring electrons at the moment. With some refinement, though, we could see graphene overtake copper.

It looks like graphene is just about set to replace silicon in computer chips. The only question left is: where will Graphene Valley be? [via Gizmodo]

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China to control weather during the Olympics

Posted in Tech/Sci News by Alex on March 25th, 2008

2008 Beijing OlympicsBeijing’s Weather Modification Office will be using supercomputers, airplanes, and artillery (and probably a bit of voodoo) in an effort to keep it from raining over the roofless 91,000-seat Olympic stadium, nicknamed the Bird’s Nest, in the city this summer.

The process involves three stages. First, the region’s weather will be tracked using satellites, planes, radar, and an IBM p575 supercomputer. This massive computing power will be able to model an area of 44,000 square kilometers accurately enough to generate hourly forecasts for each square kilometer.

Then, two aircraft and twenty artillery and rocket-launch sites around the city will shoot and spray silver iodide and dry ice into incoming clouds to flush out their rain before they reach the stadium.

Finally, any rebel clouds that manage to survive this bombardment will be seeded with chemicals to shrink droplets so that the rain won’t fall until the clouds have passed over the stadium.

It looks as if we’ll see whether humans have finally conquered Mother Nature this summer. We do wonder, though, if this rain-preventing business is bad for the environment. [Technology Review]

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Haptic feedback in touchscreen cell phones getting fancier

Posted in Gadgets, Tech/Sci News by Alex on March 24th, 2008

iPhone with haptic feedback (we wish)Sure, touchscreen phones look great, but when it comes to typing on the touchscreen most of the phones are lacking. Without having the feedback that a keypad provides, users often have to type slowly and frequently make errors on devices such as the iPhone.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow are trying to solve those problems by using actuators (the things that make your phone vibrate when a call comes in) to replicate the feel of a keypad.

Using existing haptic feedback software, the scientists are trying to squeeze more out of the actuators already present in cell phones. Their modifications provide a single pulse for the feeling of a button being clicked, a longer buzz to provide a “rough” feeling when the user has moved to a different key, and a buzz that ramps up and down when sliding a finger across a button to give that button a rounded feel.

The researchers found that users’ typing speed and accuracy were much closer to a standard keypad when using their haptic feedback software. The team will present their findings at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Italy next month, and hopefully we’ll see cell phone manufacturers picking up this software to make their touchscreen phones that much more usable. [via New Scientist]

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Sun wants to replace wires with lasers for faster computing

Posted in Tech/Sci News by Alex on March 24th, 2008

Sun wants to switch wires for lasersSun Microsystems has received $44 million in funding from DARPA to work on a way to connect multiple silicon chips using lasers instead of traditional wires.

Wires are a major bottleneck in multi-chip systems today because they slow down the rate at which the chips can communicate. Sun is now aiming to fix that problem by switching out the wires for tiny lasers. The company believes that if successful, the new technology could allow the chips to work up to a thousand times faster.

Unfortunately, Sun is only giving the project a 50% success rate, so we may not be seeing tiny lasers inhabiting our computers any time soon. Hopefully they can get it done though, because as Alan Huang says, “This would be a way of breaking Moore’s Law,” and we’d love to see some blazing-fast computers in the near future. [via New York Times]

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Fujitsu announces world’s first 320GB laptop hard drive spinning at 7200rpm

Posted in Tech/Sci News by Alex on March 24th, 2008

Fujitsu MHZ2 BJFujitsu has announced a world-record 320GB, 7200rpm 2.5-inch laptop hard disk, the MHZ2 BJ, to be available this June.

If you need the latest and greatest, or are simply running out of space on your current laptop HD and want one that works fast (very, very fast), this is the drive for you. The specs: 10.5 ms read and 12.5 ms write seek times, a 16MB cache, 2.3 W power consumption, and a 25 dB idle noise level.

That’s a lot of storage to fit into such a tiny drive running at these kinds of speeds. Hardware manufacturers are really pushing the limits of these devices, and laptops are quickly catching up to desktops in terms of speed and storage capacity. Advances such as Fujitsu’s new drive show why laptops are quickly beginning to outsell desktops. Hopefully we’ll see all of the major hard drive manufacturer’s follow suit, or even try to beat the new record. [via Engadget]

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Intel working to more accurately detect infected computers based on users’ real behavior

Posted in Tech/Sci News by Alex on March 22nd, 2008

Intel defending laptopsThe one-size-fits-all security software installed by IT departments is often not the best possible solution as it can produce false positives as well as miss actual attacks. Researchers at Intel Research Berkeley have recognized that problem and are working on laptop-based security software that adjusts to the way an individual uses the internet to better detect malicious activity.

“One reason security breaches are so rampant is that most of our machines look the same,” says Nina Taft, a researcher with the program. “When a hacker breaks into one machine, he can break into all of them… We’re trying to inject diversity into computers.”

Traditional security software has a preset threshold. When internet activity goes above that level, the software triggers an alarm suggesting that the computer might be infected. These kinds of infections are mainly due to botnets, which are enormous quantities of infected computers acting together to send out spam and do other malicious deeds. However, users who use the internet more than average could have to deal with frequent false alarms, and users who barely use their connection might never know if their computer got infected. Read more »

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Robotic AI on par with a puppy developed

Posted in Tech/Sci News by Alex on March 22nd, 2008

PuppyResearchers working on the COSPAL project have developed a new robotic AI that they claim is the most advanced of its kind.

They have created a robot that, using both learning neural AI techniques and traditional rules-based AI, can be trained like a small child or puppy.

The robot has already been able to figure out simple sorting tasks on its own. COSPAL aims to transform this AI into something that can be integrated with a car to adjust to unforeseen driving conditions.

Don’t worry though, robots are not quite ready to take over just yet. Michael Felsberg, a researcher at COSPAL, says that we probably won’t see adult-level AI based on this system in our lifetimes. It will be interesting to see if Felsberg is right, or if the recent prediction by Ray Kurzweil holds up. [via Engadget]

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Posted in Tech/Sci News by Alex on March 22nd, 2008

ServersSorry about the downtime yesterday night and this morning. Our lovely host decided to relocate their servers over a 12 hour period with absolutely no warning. Yes, we will be switching hosts soon to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Everything is back up and running smoothly now. Thank you for your patience.