Bluetooth chooses its ultrawideband future

Bluetooth SIG has announced that it is adopting the WiMedia Alliance version of ultrawideband (UWB) as its future standard, over that of the competing variant proposed by the UWB Forum. The group had previously announced that it would be embracing UWB, which is considered the next stage of short-range wireless technology. UWB can theoretically provide data transmission rates of several hundred Mb/s over short distances with very low power consumption.HangZhou Night Net

UWB works by sending out extremely quick pulses (on the order of nanoseconds) across a very wide bandwidth. The technology can be used not only for Bluetooth-style devices, but USB and TCP/IP protocols as well. It should be pointed out that the technology can also be used for wired data transfer, although wireless is obviously the area where Bluetooth SIG will be concentrating its efforts.

UWB has turned into a fairly quarrelsome issue between the two competing technologies, and with at least one analyst predicting 1 billion Bluetooth devices being produced annually by 2010, the Bluetooth SIG’s decision gives a big shot in the arm to the WiMedia Alliance. Depending on who is doing the talking, either proposal provides technological advantages over the other. The smaller UWB Forum—backed by Motorola and Freescale—has been looking to beat the competition to the marketplace, with the first products due in just a few months. However, Motorola aside, many of Bluetooth SIG’s member companies are also members of the WiMedia Alliance, making the Bluetooth decision largely inevitable.

Industry standards group IEEE had originally planned to accept either WiMedia’s MB-OFDM proposal or the UWB Forum’s DS-UWB proposal as a standard, but that organization was unable to muster the 75 percent vote among its own task-group members required for endorsing either technology, and it finally backed away from the issue completely in favor of letting the decision be made in the open market. An ongoing series of attempts to unify the two groups and their technologies also crashed and burned earlier this year.

Bluetooth has become very popular over the last few years as—among other things—one of the primary points of convergence between the computers and mobile phones. It is planned that the current Bluetooth standards will continue remain in place for lower-speed devices like mice, with the UWB version becoming available for devices that require faster data transmission, such as streaming video from a camera to a computer or television.

The FCC has reserved an area of the spectrum between 3.1 and 10.6 GHz for UWB, although parts of that region could prove problematic as some of it is already reserved for different uses in Europe and Asia. For that reason, Bluetooth SIG and the WiMedia Alliance plan to focus their efforts on the region above 6 GHz, which should streamline licensing issues around the world.

Bluetooth SIG says that the first products using Bluetooth UWB are likely to arrive in 2008.

Purchasing a new PC? Make sure it’s Windows Vista Capable

Microsoft hasn't been too specific, or specific at all for that matter, on what type of specifications that PCs will require in order to run the different versions of Windows Vista. The company plans on using the next few months to go into detail about what will be required of a very Vista-capable PC, but for now it has released a document that covers what constitutes a Windows Vista Capable computer. But don't get too excited because "Windows Vista Capable" only means two things: the PC can definitely run Home Basic Edition, and it gets to sport a pretty logo. HangZhou Night Net

The Windows Vista Capable program is intended to be used as a way to entice customers into performing an early upgrade to Vista. If a customer sees the "Designed for Windows XP—Windows Vista Capable" logo, then he knows that he can purchase that PC and safely upgrade to some version of Vista in the future. But what exactly are the minimum requirements for a capable computer anyway?

PCs must meet these requirements in order to display a Windows Vista Capable logo:

Be able to competently run Windows XPA modern CPUA minimum of 512MB of RAM A DirectX 9 class graphics processorOptionally support Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) to take advantage of Vista's improved graphics

Still, the requirements just mentioned are required for "good" performance. Nobody is happy just being "good." People want only the best, right? Here's what that's going to take:

DirectX 9 class graphics hardware that supports WDDM and Pixel Shader 2.0A minimum of 32 bits per pixelAppropriate graphics memory for specified monitor resolutions expressed as total pixels (X dimension multiplied by Y dimension)Graphics memory bandwidth, as assessed by Windows Vista’s built in system assessment tool WinSAT.EXE, of at least 1,800MB/s at 1,310,720 pixels on a desktop and at the native resolution on a mobile PC

With those features in hand, Microsoft says that you should be able to run Aero. According to a Microsoft spokesman, even if the hardware is able to run Aero, that still doesn't necessarily mean that it can run any version of Windows Vista.

"The Windows Vista Capable program does not represent minimum hardware requirements for the different versions of Windows Vista – we look forward to providing additional information regarding minimum hardware requirements for Windows Vista and the Windows Vista logo program in the coming months."

Like I said earlier, Microsoft is only intending to use the Windows Vista Capable program to inform its customers that a PC currently running Windows XP could be upgraded to Windows Vista in the future. While most of us don't need a logo to tell us if a PC can run Vista, this program can come in handy for plenty of other users.

As for Microsoft, the move is brilliant. Average PC users won't want to buy outdated equipment, so they will pick up a Vista Capable PC. At the time, they may not even know what Vista is. But mark my word, when Vista is released, it will be all over the news, and there will be that Windows Vista Capable logo staring all those average users right in the face letting them know that their PCs are now outdated. They'll start hearing phrases like "improved security", "tiered graphics experience", "anti-phising filter", and "stay connected." And then they'll grudgingly get their computers upgraded to Windows Vista.

Oh, and by the way, you don't have to wait a month to see the Windows Vista Capable logo in person. You can pick one up right now on eBay.

Ad Pomum: My favorite OS X apps

You know you're officially a member of the Cult of Mac when you have a roster of small, third-party applications that you just can't live without. In true Mac fashion, these are always apps that do exactly what you want in a simple, straightforward manner with no feature and interface bloat. HangZhou Night Net

Here's my list of favorite apps, followed by a nod to another few apps that I've recently discovered and am impressed with. Admittedly, this is a short list, but I'm not someone who loads the interface up with tweaks and Finder replacements and whatnot. I can't stand that stuff. (Heck, I even use the standard Apple desktop wallpaper. My one concession to customization is that my Dock is positioned vertically on the left, NeXT-style.)

BBEdit, by Bare Bones Software: Of the non-Web and non-email time that I spend on my computer, BBEdit probably accounts for at least 60%, if not 70% of it. Every single piece of my Ars content over the past six years or so has been written with BBEdit. It's like my right arm. In fact, of all the Mac apps that have gone through my life—from the other apps on this list to major software suites like MS Office, Adobe Creative Suite, Apple's iApps, etc.—BBEdit has been the one constant of my Mac experience since I bought my first PowerBook. I discovered in my first week or so of OS X usage, and I've used it daily ever since.

Chronosync, by EconSoftware: This program just works. It does exactly what it's supposed to do, without a hitch. It's also very easy to use, and even doing more involved stuff like scheduling and setting rules is a snap. Most importantly for me, Chronosync has always handled my usual SMB-based backups to FAT- and NTFS-formatted network drives with total ease. Chronosync would be complete perfection if it only had support for encrypting the destination folder. At any rate, I've been using it since its very earliest incarnation, when it was just about the only Cocoa-based backup tool for OS X, and I plan to keep using it. Besides, Econ never charges for upgrades, so you pay only once and you get free upgrades for as long as the company is in existence.

Mellel, by RedleX: If you're a classicist or someone who works with Semitic languages, you owe it to yourself to check out Mellel. I use both Hebrew and Greek regularly in my doctoral work, and this word processor is absolutely fantastic for that. I'm a fairly advanced Word user, and I have a lot of legacy document templates and workflow in Word, so I still haven't transitioned completely to Mellel for all my work. Nonetheless, I look forward to the day when I use it exclusively.

Minuteur, by some French guy: For about two weeks now I've been using David Seah's task progress tracker sheets to great effect. These sheets have progress bubbles to fill in in 15-minute increments. Thus I needed a good timer to track my progress. Some googling turned up Minuteur, which fits the bill.

I recently discovered xhead software, and I plan to purchase their bundle tomorrow. I definitely want their little recorder app, and some of their other stuff interests me so I'm just going to get all of it. I plan to use their Crypt.xhead tool to make up for the aforementioned lack of built-in encryption in Chronosync.

So what are the OS X apps that you just can't live without? Post links and mini-reviews in the discussion thread, and I'll check them out.

Saturday .NET links in action

There's nothing like a batch of programming links to help push down that third sausage gravy biscuit. HangZhou Night Net

Mike Zintel's blog has some really awesome screenshots of .NET code running on the Xbox 360. I hope that this whole .NET/Xbox attempt comes to fruition. In case you didn't hear, Microsoft is bringing C# programming to the Mac with WPF/E, which stands for Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere. On Tuesday, the company announced that it would be shipping the first version of WPF/E at the beginning of next year, and it would be shipping the device version in the latter half of 2007.Embedded.com has an overview of the B# language. B# is "a tiny, object-oriented, and multi-threaded programming language that is specially dedicated for small footprint embedded systems." It supports delegates, namespaces, abstract and concrete classes, and interfaces. On the embedded side of things, it supports boxing/unboxing conversions, multi-threading statements, field properties, device addressing registers, interrupt handlers, and deterministic memory defragmenter.At MIX06, the Internet Explorer team showed that IE 7 could indeed display standards-based designs. Using the CSSZenGarden site as a demo, the browser flawlessly displayed the website. Besides the demo, it was also announced that IE 7's layout is complete.Microsoft has released MSBee Beta 2. MSBee allows developers to write code in Visual Studio 2005 but still target the .NET 1.1 Framework.If you are looking for something similar to LINQ, check out Karmencita. It's a subset of the object query language and allows for querying structured data that resides in memory.If you are a developer, you know there are times when you get that huge feeling of relief because something you did actually works. Pingmag has tried to identify eight possible good feelings , at least in the case of web design. When you're writing code, what makes you let out a big sigh of relief?

Skratch Saturday: Denon’s new flagship digi-deck

It's still Saturday somewhere right? LOL. New digi-DJ gear this week. The DN-S3500, apparently the new flagship deck from Denon, is a tabletop CD player that also plays MP3 tracks. HangZhou Night Net

The player borrows it's spinning active platter design (translation: it actually moves just like a vinyl turntable) from it's older brother, the DN-S5000 and is equipped with a 12-pole Direct Drive motor. To put it into perspective, the S3500 can start up within 0.5 seconds with a 2.5 kg/cm of start-up torque, where as the industry-standard Technics SL-1200 MK2 vinyl turntable can start within 0.7 seconds with a 1.5 kg/cm torque. Not that much of a noticeable difference, which is a good thing, but a definite improvement from the DN-S5000's almost too powerful 0.2 start-up time.

The button, switch and fader layouts for many new CD tabletops can be a bit overwhelming for someone new to the digi-deck scene, but Denon does a good job of keeping things tidy and well organized. The usual suspects, such as the pitch fader, a reverse switch, and cue and play buttons are present along with flanger, filter, echo and echo/loop effects. The DN-S3500 also has a built-in sampler that can extend tracks indefinitely and is compatible with other cue points saved from other branded CD decks.

Looks pretty solid. For a flagship model, I don't see anything else that I'd want from a tabletop deck. I haven't seen it in the wild just yet, but T3 in the UK has it retailing for £700 (around US$1,200).

Take a sneak peek at Google’s new interface

A new search results interface is in the works at Google. Originally the domain of rumor sites, it’s now possible for almost anyone to get a glimpse of the new look. The existence of a simple trick that enables the interface for nearly any browser makes it all possible. HangZhou Night Net

The steps are as follows. First, navigate to google.com (or whatever Google search server you use, e.g., google.co.uk). Second, paste this string into your address bar, and hit enter (and ignore whatever message it spits back at you):

javascript:alert(document.cookie="PREF=ID=fb7740f107311e46:TM=1142683332:
LM=1142683332:S=fNSw6ljXTzvL3dWu;path=/;domain=.google.com")

Note: the string must be a continuous, single-line entry. Additionally, the portion "domain=.google.com" should be modified to whatever Google search server you are using (e.g., google.co.uk; we have verified that this works with the UK and US servers… it may work with others). Third, search away. You should now see the interface.

The tweaked layout.

And there you have it. As you can see, the changes are minimal, but they give some insight into Google’s plans. The biggest change is the relocation of Google’s search categories. Originally on top of the page in a horizontal layout, Google has now placed them on the left alongside visual representations of the search query’s relevance in these other categories.

Google’s intentions aren’t clear, but in the last day of using this interface, I’ve noticed myself repeatedly looking directly at the leftmost column. It’s where the results used to be, and perhaps more importantly, it’s a natural place to start scanning the page for left-to-right language types. Since the relocation surely serves a purpose, I’ll take a stab at what that purpose is.

First, the position is privileged for the reasons outlined above. Furthermore, by displaying a visual representation of your query’s success in these categories, Google is enticing users to explore. In short, the move is meant to draw more attention to Google’s niche search areas.

Two other side-effects can be noted. First, the relocation allows for the actual search results to start higher up on the page. This is good because it means that users can expect to see more per "window." It’s also "good" because this means that Google’s text ads can start higher on the page as well. Second, by displaying the categories in a column, Google has plenty of vertical space to play with when it comes to adding additional categories. Its previous placement was limited by horizontal space, and was pushing the page down. With this layout, Google has room to grow.

In all, the changes aren’t dramatic. Will they ever see the light of day?

Yet another missing link found

The popular press is abuzz with reports of a missing link in the evolution of modern humans. The find, coming out of the ethiopian region made famous for the discovery of australopithecus afarensis, dates to a critical time in human evolution: the period when modern humans developed from their more primitive precursor, Homo erectucs. The find appears to date from 500,000 to 250,000 years ago, while modern humans appear to have existed by around 200,000 years ago, so it may capture a critical period in this transition. DNA evidence suggests that the transition to modern humans took place in Africa but until now, all fossils dating from this era come from elsewhere. HangZhou Night Net

Unfortunately, at this point, details are extremely scarce. Most stories appear to be derived from the initial press release, and a full scientific report is currently unavailable. The details that this find can provide will be somewhat limited, since the bones are all from the cranium. Some indication of brain capacity, however, should be easy to obtain. The release simply states that the skull appears "intermediate", but gives no indication of how or why. As a big plus, there appear to be tools associated with the find, which may help scientists to evaluate the social sophistication of the population this individual belonged to.

Overall, given the lack of detail about the sample itself, it's hard to get too excited by this announcement. Given time for a thorough analysis, however, it has great potential for clarifying one of the major transitions during the evolution of modern humans. Hopefully, it also represents what is often the case at these sites: the first of many finds from a specific era.

Reading the patent tea leaves: PSP keyboard and cell phone attachments

A pair of newly uncovered patents have some people wondering what is next for Sony’s popular handheld console, the PSP. Filed in November 2004, and approved in the last month, the patents are both for PSP add-ons: one is a keyboard attachment and the other is for a cell phone. We originally saw the keyboard attachment back in 2004 at E3, when Sony lifted the curtain on the PSP for the first time in North America, but it hasn’t made an appearance since.HangZhou Night Net

Beginning with its launch in 2005, the PSP has gradually added on new functionality. Of particular interest given the two patents is the 2.0 firmware, which gave PSP owners a built-in web browser to go with support for MPEG-4 AAC and WAV files long with WPA-PSK wireless security. Browsing the web on the PSP, while cool, can be an arduous process given the lack of an easy-to-use text entry system.

The cell phone (top) and keyboard (bottom)

The add-on keyboard would go a long way towards solving the problem, and if paired with a decent e-mail client, could make the PSP a respectable portable web device.

When looking at the cell phone attachment patent, the first thing I thought of was Nokia’s ill-fated NGage. The cell phone/gaming console combination never caught on, due in no small part to some unfortunate design considerations on the part of Nokia. Obviously, the PSP is a different device altogether, as its primary purpose is gaming; the phone would be a secondary use.

At this point in time, the keyboard seems to be a logical add-on for the PSP. It would easily extend the handheld’s functionality, making it easier to take advantage of the built-in 802.11b functionality for surfing and possibly e-mailing. With the PSP slated to get another update with support for Flash and RSS, the keyboard is almost a no-brainer. The cell phone attachment, by contrast, may never see the light of day as there would likely be little demand for it. What would make perfect sense with the PSP is VoIP functionality similar to that which is planned in an upcoming software update to the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. That could be accomplished with a mere firmware update and a microphone attachment.

FEC releases draft rules for Internet political communication

After the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill last year, one big topic of conversation was how the Federal Elections Commission would attempt to regulate political speech on the Internet. Questions abounded about how the FEC would look at blogs that linked to a candidate’s home page and "grassroots" political activity on the ‘Net. HangZhou Night Net

In advance of a meeting scheduled for March 27, the FEC has proposed a new set of rules (PDF) that will govern poitical activity on the Internet. Most notable is a provision that would treat Internet advertising in the exact same manner as any other campaign advertising. The FEC’s rules would place Internet ads in the same category as traditional print, radio, and TV ads, meaining that the funds used to pay for them would be regulated by federal campaign laws.

The FEC’s proposed new rules come in response to a federal court ruling that held that the FEC’s definition of "public communication" illegally excluded all Internet communications.

Aside from paid ads, all other online political speech would be unregulated under the proposed rules. Citing the Internet’s "minimal barriers to entry," the FEC believes that it is an important platform for citizens to voice their opinions about and support for political candidates.

Through this rulemaking, the Commission recognizes the Internet as a unique and evolving mode of mass communication and political speech that is distinct from other media in a manner that warrants a restrained regulatory approach. The Internet’s accessibility, low cost, and interactive features make it a popular choice for sending and receiving information. Unlike other forms of mass communication, the Internet has minimal barriers to entry, including its low cost and widespread accessibility. Whereas the general public can communicate through television or radio broadcasts and most other forms of mass communication only by paying substantial advertising fees, the vast majority of the general public who choose to communicate through the Internet can afford to do so.

In the draft of the proposed rules, the FEC spends a fair amount of time discussing the role of blogs in election campaigns. The new rules will leave blogs almost entirely unregulated. In particular, bloggers will not have to disclose if they are receiving payments from candidates or campaigns. The FEC’s reasoning is that such disclosure is unnecessary since campaigns and political committees are already required to report such payments on publicly available reports filed with the Commission.

Given the amount of concern over the possibility of heavy-handed regulation of online political speech and advertising, the FEC’s draft rules are a relief. Trying to monitor the Internet to ensure bloggers, candidates, and grassroots organization were complying witha byzantine set of regulations would have been a nightmare at best. The FEC’s chosen path of limiting its regulatory reach to online advertising looks as though it goes a long way towards ensuring that the Internet remains a "unique mode of mass communication and political speech."

Denmark next in line to challenge Apple, DRM

Apple’s problems in Europe look to be getting worse, not better. Following on the heels of France’s legislative push for DRM interoperability comes word that Denmark is thinking along the same lines. Reportedly, Maersk and the country’s largest telecommunications company, TDC, are speaking out in favor of such interoperability. Maersk and TDC are not only two of largest companies in Denmark, but they are amongst the largest and most powerful in Europe. Both also operate online music ventures. HangZhou Night Net

Media attention has focused primarily on how the French legislation could affect Apple, and for good reason. The company owns both the world’s most popular online music store and the massively successful iPod. The legislation is not Apple-specific, however. Rather, France (and now Denmark) is pushing for general DRM interoperability that would eliminate customer lock-in. This has led Apple to lash out at the legislation, with the company going so far as to charge France with promoting state-sponsored piracy. The real issue is competition, however, and Apple clearly prefers that its iTunes+iPod lock-in remain untouched.

And as you might expect, Apple’s competitors would prefer otherwise. Henrik Olesen, product manager at Maersk’s Dansk Supermarked, told Danish-language Politiken.dk that interoperability would be a win-win situation.

"We would like to ask the politicians to follow the route they’re taking in France, so that it becomes as easy as possible for the consumers to purchase music legally. This will in the end mean larger gross sales for all music stores," he said.

Likewise, Gert Rieder, CEO of TDC, said that "We can only press for something like the French, because it gives the consumers as many opportunities to shop for music." In Denmark it is currently illegal to circumvent DRM.

Brian Mikkelsen, the Danish Minister of Culture, said that legislation addressing the matter would be introduced in 2007. He expressed optimism that DRM interoperability would be backed by the various record labels who are eager to see legal alternatives to piracy flourish online.

~Thomas Wesley Hinton contributed to this article~

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Introduction

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Publisher: 2K Games, Bethesda Softworks (site)
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
MSRP: $49.99—PC version (shop for this item), US$59.99—Xbox 360 version (shop for this item). Add US$10 for the collector’s edition
Platform: PC and Xbox 360
Rating: T for Teen (13+)HangZhou Night Net

In our minds the point of any open-ended RPG is to get you to think that you’re a part of the world you’re interacting with. You should be fooled into thinking the world is real and be given as many choices as you possibly can as to who you want to be in that world and how you interact with it. Doing this takes time, effort, and a whole lot of skill.

Morrowind came closer than maybe any other game at providing these things. The world was huge, detailed, and you could go anywhere and do almost anything. There were a lot of surprising things you only saw if you put a ton of time and effort into the game. It was no surprise therefore, that it was successful both on consoles and the PC

For some of us, the whole thing just seemed a little bit too big. While there may have been a central story, your quests became hard to keep track of as they piled up. Traveling often took too much time. I kept feeling like I was sliding off the sides of it and often felt overwhelmed and confused by the whole thing. It was an interesting experiment, but in many ways I feel like it failed. The console version had its share of bugs, and many of them were only fixed in the Game of the Year edition that came out much later. It also chugged on all but the fastest computers; I tend to look down on games that don’t scale well. It feels lazy to me.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has been hyped to… well, oblivion. It was supposed to be a launch title for the Xbox 360 but got pushed back in order to give the game some polish. I know more than one person who even cancelled their Xbox 360 preorder because of that. The 360 needed a good RPG, and in my opinion the PC could use one as well.

Bethesda most likely has a hit on their hands no matter what they do. Morrowind’s star has risen as the game has aged; computers have finally caught up with how demanding the game is and hundreds of player-created mods have improved the play of the game substantially. The sequel will have a lot to live up to.

It’s also interesting in that it’s launching simultaneously on the PC and the 360. A lot of people are going to be looking at this game as a way to bench their system against Microsoft’s new console. It’s a hugely ambitious game and will bring most computer’ to their knees. How will a US$400 console compare? Will one control scheme be better than the other one? This game is firmly in the forefront of the battle between consoles and computers, and the arguing between the two camps has been intense for the past few months.

Many of these screens could be masterpieces in their own right

For this reason we’re doing something different with this review. Instead of just me hogging the spotlight we’ve brought fellow Opposable Thumbs writer Rodney Quinn on board to talk about the game. I picked up the 360 version and he bought the PC version. We’ve had three days to play it, and for those three days we’ve done little else. While our character choices have been different, between us we’ve seen a lot of what the game has to offer, and there’s a lot go over. Did one version trounce the other? There’s only one way to find out.

See you in Tamriel.

System requirements (PC version)

Minimum system requirements Recommended system requirements Test system OS

Windows XP, 2000, 64-bit XPWindows XP, 2000, 64-bit XPWindows XP Media Center Edition 2005

CPU

2.0GHz Pentium 4 or equivalent3.0GHz Pentium 4 or equivalentPentium D 820 Dual Core (2.80GHz)

RAM

512MB1GB1GB DDR2 (533MHz)

Video

128MB Direct3D compatible video card and DirectX 9.0 compatible driverATI X800 series, NVIDIA GeForce 6800 series or higherNVIDIA GeForce 6800GT (256MB) (PCI Express)

Sound card

DirectX 8.1 compatible sound cardDirectX 8.1 compatible sound cardIntegrated 7.1 channel audio

Hard drive

4.6GB free4.6GB freeSufficiently large

Input device

Keyboard and mouseKeyboard and mouseKeyboard and mouse

Optical drive

8x DVD-ROM8x DVD-ROMDVD

Download the PDF
(This feature for Premier subscribers only.)

Monday Morning Bullets

As the week goes on and I collect potential stories, many of them are interesting, but not complicated enough to warrant a full writeup. I tend to hang on to them in the hope that some other story will flesh them out, and give me enough to write about. When that doesn't happen, but they still seem interesting, you get bullets. HangZhou Night Net

• Researchers have found that wasabi and other mustard derivatives all act through a single pain receptor. Aside from demonstrating that all us sushi afficionados are masochists, they're hoping that a better understanding of which pain receptors handle what stimulus will allow them to generate more targeted and less addictive pain medication.

• New research shows that 10 month old babies learn words for what interests them. The conclusion: "These findings suggest that parents might want to talk more about what their babies are interested in rather than what they, the parents, are interested in." The story suggests that babies eventually transition to being interested in what others are talking about. Unfortunately, they don't tell you when that second transition happens. I understand that period of being interested in what others are saying ends somewhere around 12 years old…

• Scientists working at Texas A&M have inserted interfering RNA genes into the genome of goats. Their target: the prion protein, which is the target of diseases such as mad cow and chronic wasting. Currently, food supply precautions seem to have limited the spread of the disease in agricultural stocks, but it's nice to know there's a fall back.

• I covered both the poor scientific literacy of some mainstream press, as well as creationist's new attack on evolution, critical analysis. So I'm happy to report a story where the regular press got a story about critical analysis absolutely right. The big surprise is that it's from the Tahlequah Daily Press somewhere in Oklahoma, not widely recognized for its journalistic impact. Go give it a read and support quality journalism by not blocking their ads.

• Meanwhile, the school board in Lancaster CA seems to have adopted some sort of philosophy of science statment that (surprise!) singles out evolution as being especially suspect. Details are extremely sketchy about what's been decided, and it's unclear whether this will actually impact anything in the classroom.

• Astronomers have spotted several globular clusters (aggregations of stars that are smaller than galaxies) that are leaving trails of stars behind as they move through the universe. They're hoping that detailed observations of the movement of the stars in the tails will let them infer mass in the cluster, and get a better grip on the dark matter that might be present there.

• Researchers have developed a new way to find the parts of the genome that regulate human gene expression: stick them in zebrafish. Fish are cheap to grow and easy to insert DNA into, and evolution has maintained the DNA sequences that mediate gene expression about as well as it has maintained the genes themselves.

A new lab rat to test general relativity

A central conundrum in physics is that general relativity
and quantum mechanics cannot both be right.
In general, quantum mechanics is only useful to describe properties on
very small scales, and as a result has very few consequences for the
macroscopic development of the universe.
General relativity is a theory of gravity, which is negligible at scales
for which quantum mechanics is applied.
However, physicists know that they can’t both be correct because general
relativity produces absurd results when considered at the same scale as quantum
mechanics. The only way to resolve this
issue is to gather data from experiments where both gravity and quantum
mechanics play a significant role.HangZhou Night Net

Researchers in Germany and France have identified* an experimental system* that meets these criteria. The experiment has its history in an anomaly observed in the field of superconductivity. When a superconducting ring is spun it will produce a magnetic field. The size of this magnetic field has been predicted by theory to an accuracy of 6 or 7 significant figures, thus when it was found that the magnetic field produced by niobium did not agree with that predicted, some new physics was in the offing. It was suggested that the difference was due to gravitational effects since general relativity predicts that a moving mass will produce a magnetic field, however this field is usually so small that it can generally be neglected. Nevertheless, a spinning superconductor, cooled below the critical temperature will produce a magnetic field due to both superconducting electron pairs and their mass.

Tajamar and Matos, set out to see if the gravitationally induced magnetic field could be accurately detected by measuring the acceleration fields surrounding a spinning superconducting ring. Their results have proven to be surprising; they have found that the acceleration fields are many times greater than those expected. Theoretically, these results can be explained by an increase of the mass of the photons that cause electrons to pair up and superconduct. This change in mass would bring a gravitational effect to the quantum world of superconductivity. If these results prove to be replicable and agree with the new theoretical predictions then physicists will have a new tool for testing general relativity at a scale where quantum mechanics can also be a significant factor. This might allow for the two to be brought into agreement with each other.

*=preprints

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