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« July 2006 | Main | September 2006 »

Putting those micro-slaves to work

Japanese researchers have created a first bacteria powered micromotor.

The device is essentially a minuscule (20 micrometres, about one fifth of a human hair) version of a horse mill. The bacteria are locked up in a grove and surrounded by proteins that make them all move in the same direction. This forces them to push against one of six feet sticking into the grove, which is attached to a larger circular device.

Don't expect these bacteria to power your vehicle just yet. The current prototype does about 2 rotations per minute, which is still pretty fast given the bacteria's microscopic size.

On the video below you can see the engine in motion. Shot from the top, The green line is the groove in which the bacteria make their rounds. The flower-shaped device is what lies on top of the groove with the feet sticking out from underneat.

August 31, 2006 at 07:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Human resources Radioshack style

Nothing says "we appreciate the efforts of our employees" like a mass email informing them that they've been laid off.

That's what electronics store Radioshack did when it decided to lay off 400 workers at its corporate headquarters in Forth Worth, TX.

radIn all fairness, the retailer had previously said that it was looking to cut costs and drive up efficiency. Printing letters, sitting down with employees and showing human emotions is highly inefficient.

Many consumers meanwhile have found out the hard way that the Radioshack stores are highly inefficient, selling overpriced goods and plagued by an ignorant sales staff of bored high school students. But instead of voting with my feet, perhaps I should send the company an email?


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August 31, 2006 at 06:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Belgium goofs up on electronic passport, embeds chip in the wrong ID card

The manufacturer of the Belgium electronic identification cards Zetes has goofed up, embedding the wrong chip in it least two of the cards.

The error was discovered when 25-year-old Pam Helssen tried to check into a camping site in Spain, where she was told that: "According to your card, you're a boy," she was quoted saying in the Gazet van Antwerpen.

The information on the chip belongs to a Wesley Meynendonck, who was born in the same year and lives in the same village. His ID card has a chip with Helssen's information on it.

Local authorities claim that there are checks in place to prevent errors like this one, but those obviously have failed. It shows that even though technology can be perfect, humans will always make mistakes.


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August 31, 2006 at 05:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Reading into Eric Schmidt's Apple board position

Google CEO Eric Schmidt joining Apple couldn't  be merely about a smart guy taking on a board position for a company looking for input from smart guys (which is in essence what the board of directors is all about).

Googleapple_1 No, something bigger must be going on. Why? Because the world must have something to write about!

Other Apple directors include former vice president Al Gore, Intuit chief executive Bill Campbell, biotech powerhouse Genentech's Arthur Levinson and J Crew's Millard Drexler.

Yet nobody is speculating that Al Gore's position indicates that Steve Jobs is running for president. Intuit got big making book keeping software, but where are the rumours about the Apple Books application? J Crew must signal Apple's Steve Jobs clothing line of turtlenecks and blue jeans. And let's not even get into the obivousness of Genentech helping Jobs to clone himself.

But when Google's Eric Schmidt joins Apple, the iPod maker is suddenly contemplating a merger with Sun Microsystems (wait, wasn't Google supposed to buy Sun?).

Google has expertise in online applications, and Apple's internet strategy has holes big enough to fit a freight liner. So if you're going to speculate, at least mention something like a Mac that comes preloaded with Google's hosted applications (eventhough preloading online applications is contradictionary).

Or dust of the old checkerboard theory: everybody hates their neighbour (competitor), so my neighbour's neighbour is my friend. In other works: let's all hate Microsoft.

Enough already! It's much more obvious than everybody thinks.


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August 31, 2006 at 01:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Red Hat explores Oracle's Linux aspirations

Red Hat executive and Jboss founder Marc Fleury is taking a closer look at Oracle's plans to launch an Oracle Linux version, and argues that it will be an uphill battle either way.

Oracle's Larry Ellison floated the idea in an interview with the Financial Times in April.

"I would like to have a complete stack," he said. "We are missing an operating system. You could argue that it makes a lot of sense for us to look at distributing and supporting Linux."

The company later adjusted its rhetoric to argue that it could start offering support for the Red Hat Linux distribution.

Fleury quickly points out that the latter doesn't make any sense. Rather than buying a software box, enterprises purchase a Red Hat subscription that provides them access to the software, updates and support.

Given that Red Hat Enterprise Linux is available under the GPL license, Oracle could compile the code and sell it as Oracle Linux. But that still doesn't take care of the updates. And third party applications won't be certified for Oracle Linux, even if the code is 99.999 percent identical.

The problems are largely the same if Oracle would choose to build an Oracle Linux from the ground up, Fleury argued: the suite would suffer from limited third party certification and a lack of large engineering investments.

Fleury isn't only proven wrong by the rise of Ubuntu as a major Linux distribution, he also fails to address the reasons for Oralce to create its own Linux.

Controlling the full stack from operating system to end user application would allow Oracle to create a tightly integrated collection of applications that is also referred to as a software appliance.

Essentially it's the difference bewteen creating a home stereo set by buying separate components or getting one of those nifty integrated sets: it has fewer buttons and fewer needless features and cables. The majority of the users are perfectly happy with an appliance.

Oracle contender Ingres unveiled such a database appliance at Linuxworld earlier this month. Getting rid of all the unused Linux features allowed the company to strip down Linux to 20-30 per cent of its original size.

Ingres is relying on rPath/ to build its appliance. Oracle could ask Red Hat to create such an appliance, as Fleury suggests, but why bother? Oracle is big enough to create one itself and ensure the optimal level of integration.

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August 30, 2006 at 08:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

HP chief Mark Hurd goes on a customer safari

Who hasn't strolled into a store or shopping mall on a weekend shopping spree only to run into some company promotion team? Add some freebies to the mix and you have a guaranteed, although small scale, marketing success.

Except that a HP promotion at a Best Buy store last weekend in San Jose didn't feature some marketing type, but no other than the company's media shy chief executive Mark Hurd.

The visit was part of a regular "meet the engineer" kind of thing where HP employees volunteer to visit retail stores on weekends and talk about the technology that they create.

It shows the human face behind the corporate logo, allows HP workers to stay in touch with their customers and the store gets some free promotion. It could come straight from the marketing best practices handbook.

Mark Hurd had insisted that he too would like to meet some customers in the wild. And so it happened that unsuspecting Best Buy shoppers looking for free goodies were greeted by the HP boss last Saturday.


Hurd explains why you're a nobody on Myspace if you don't have a HP digital camera.

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August 30, 2006 at 01:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

iPod sweatshop hits back at reporters

Original equipment manufacturer Foxconn has frozen the assets of two reporters who broke the story of the deplorable working conditions in its factories.

Writing for the China Business News, the duo in June published a report about the harsh working conditions at the plant. Workers were paid less than $50 a month and had to work 60-hour weeks including Saturdays on a structural basis.

Apple investigated and found that the company violated its supplier code of conduct. Although claims that workers were underpaid were prove wrong, the company was found to engage in objectionable disciplinary punishment, allowed employees to work excessive over time and had an "unnecessarily complex" pay structure.

Foxconn however wasn’t happy. It publicly lashed out against the complaints, charging that its employees simply love to work overtime. But apparently it felt that a PR campaign itself wasn't enough.

The manufacturer now has gone after the two reporters' personal assets, demanding $3.8m in damages. In China's modern legal society, it's rather common that companies file lawsuits against publications, but it's rare for these suits to be filed against individual reporters.

Perhaps its time for Apple to intervene once again and explain Foxconn how to be a good corporate citizen instead of a furious capitalist.


Workers on a leisurely stroll on the Foxconn roof. It just looks like a military style drill.

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August 29, 2006 at 11:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

AOL ventures on the Zango route

When internet provider America Online said that it would start offering free services in an effort to increase its advertising revenue, few people would have guessed that the provider take it as far as they have done.

The initiative on Sunday issued a harsh warning against the website, claiming that the software acts as 'badware'.

Badware really is a politically correct term for malware or spyware. It's just that most badware makers don't want to be called malware or spyware and sue anybody who does (Zango maker 180solutions comes to mind).

In AOL's case, the software installs items without the user's authorization, it contacts AOL's servers without the user's knowledge and it fails to fully uninstall. There's no excuse for any of that.

AOL doesn't steal confidential information or do any of the horrible things that Zango is known for. And Sunday's warning should prevent the provider from wanting to take this any further.

Mission accomplished.

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August 29, 2006 at 06:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Welcome to the Google police state

Most democracies are based on solid principles to proect its citizens against bureaucracy and baseless legal claims, but don't bother looking for those at Google.

The online search provider last week decided to remove one of our videos. In an email, the provider said:

Google was notified that your video "Cisco on telepresence" allegedly violates the copyright of others. According to our policy regarding copyright complaints under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), we are removing the video in question.

You can find the offending video below (on Yahoo! Video). It features Cisco chief executive John Chambers discussing telepresence at meeting with reporters last June. We're utterly clueless as to the kind of copyrights this video violates... perhaps we weren't allowed to include the image of the plant in the background?

But the worst part isn't even that Google gets to act as judge, jury and executioner. It's the fact that it will act on seemingly anonymous claims and that it won't identify the person filing the complaint. But in the Google police state, I guess that we should be happy that at least we get to hear the charges, however baseless and frivolous they are.

We've protested the removal of the video and requested that Google disclose the identity of our accuser. I'll keep you posted.

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August 29, 2006 at 12:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Really, it's 2B1. Or how the OLPC naming nightmare illustrates the flaws of the blogging echo chamber

The One Laptop per Child project has settled on "2B1" as its launch name. Pronounced as 'To be one', the name refers to the project's goal of uniting children through technology, Walter Bender, president of the OLPC's software and content programme.

The change comes only weeks after the name "Children's Machine 1" started circulating in an reports.

The initial story failed to explain the origin of the CM1 name. But because the name is now publicly used, Bender on 17 August published a page which refers to the device as the Children's Machine 1 (CM1).

In a classical case of information getting malformed in the blogosphere, the Aljazeera story was picked up by the One Laptop per Child News blog. Last Friday it spread to Arstechnica which incorrectly states that the OLPC has "announced" the CM1 name. The Arstechnica copy advances to Slashdot.

The fact is that CM1 is an internal code name, Bender told us in an email. It refers to the B-Test units that will be shipped to prospective buyers this fall and was never intended for public use.

Looking to clarify the name changes, Bender over the weekend decided to unveil the "2B1" name on the OLPC wiki. The Daily Tech blog spots the change first, but incorrectly concludes that the wiki's headline "2b1: the children's machine" is the new name.

The OLPC News blog further added to the confusion, baselessly claiming that the CM1 name has been retired – and Engadget runs its blogging Xerox without bothering to check the information.

The OLPC project certainly could have done a better job at explaining its naming changes. But a lack of information is no excuse for baseless speculation.

Or to make a long story really short:
The OLPC project is using the CM1 moniker as an internal code name. The final units will likely be launched as 2B1.

Was that so hard?

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August 28, 2006 at 08:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack


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