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):


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


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


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


512MB1GB1GB DDR2 (533MHz)


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


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.


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