Thursday, December 8, 2011

The magic and madness of mobile technology

iPhone - Mobile Technology
Picture this. You're in the middle of the desert at the peak of summer months, your car has broken down and you don't know what to do. You have no clue where you are, and your prepaid mobile phone has run out of credit. It is a nightmare scenario that all of us living in the Gulf has imagined at one point or another. But thanks to the promise of the latest mobile technology, such scenarios could well be a thing of the past. In a world where a mobile phone is no longer just a phone and an essential device with which to do business, you can top up your prepaid credit, access GPS features to ascertain your location and even watch some television while waiting for the mechanic to arrive at the scene of your misfortune.

Today, advances in mobile have resulted in new services being launched almost on a daily basis.
The advent of new technology brings with it new issues and emerging risks.
After many years 3G has just taken off, WiMax has moved faster than predicted and is already set to become the newest addition to this slew of technology, and the latest buzzword is now of possible 4G technologies in the not so distant future.

And as the second-fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, the Middle East is ready and willing to adopt this technology as soon as it hits the streets.

With almost all mobile markets in the Middle East now liberalised (the last monopoly in Qatar is about to end), competition in regional mobile markets is heating up, leading to improved coverage and an increased number of improved features and services at affordable prices.

The advent of new technology and the emerging role of mobile phones, however, also brings with it new issues and emerging risks that we should all be aware of.

The gradual morphing of the mobile phone into a device akin to a personal pocket computer makes mobiles vulnerable to viruses or, as the techies call it, �malware' from hostile sources, and also creates data protection and security issues. The use of the phone as a camera also creates privacy issues. Access to
television and internet content over mobile devices increases the risk of exposing users, particularly minors, to unsuitable content, given the difficulties in filtering or the control of such content. These are just some of the potential landmines that may arise in the future, the problem is there is no easy solution to any of them.
Certainly, the answer is not to throw away your mobile phone and hide your head in the sand. This never helps. It does mean, however, that greater risk management is needed. Some possible solutions may be:
On the part of governments and regulators - new legislative or regulatory frameworks addressing risks posed by these new technologies or services should be examined carefully.

On the part of the huge array of mobile phone companies on the market - greater vigilance and a more proactive approach to protecting customers and preventing the misuse of their services should also be implemented and broadcasted.

On the part of employers - proper and rational guidelines to the use of mobile technology in the office space.
And on the part of consumers - better education on such technology and its risks.

Any features and products in the mobile phone you use would, if transported back in time, no doubt seem like magic rather than science. And even today, it still seems that way to many people.

It is true that new advances in technology can carry risks and risks we should be aware of, but if used sensibly, they may just herald a new way of business life.

Matthew Glynn is partner, head of IT & Telecoms, Middle East, South Asia and Africa at DLA Piper Middle East.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

LG Nitro HD Review

LG Nitro HD Review
LG Nitro
By on December 8, 2011

The new LG Nitro HD represents the company's premier Android smartphone in the United States. Without a doubt, it has a stellar spec sheet that includes 4G LTE data (AT&T), a 4.5-inch 720p HD resolution display, a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, and a 1080p HD video-capable 8 megapixel camera. It's also fairly thin, light, and attractive.

The Nitro HD should fear no other device when it comes to specifications.
But when it comes to real world performance, not all of its specs live up to user expectations. Yes, LTE data transfers are mind-blowingly fast, and the 720p display is drop-dead gorgeous. The 8 megapixel camera takes some of the best shots I've seen on a smartphone, too. But the phone is not without issues. Lag on a dual-core 1.5GHz processor equipped phone is not something I understand, and three hours of talk time from a massive battery is no easier to comprehend.

There is a lot to love about the LG Nitro HD, but all the 'oohs' and 'ahhhs' come with a couple of 'ughs' thrown in. Read on.

The HD part of the LG Nitro HD's name doesn't stand for the 1080p full HD video it can record, but rather for its gorgeous 4.5-inch, 720p HD (1280 x 720 pixel) capacitive touchscreen display. Photos look amazing, even the most tiny of fonts are smooth and crisp, and it's a solid performer in the viewing angle department. In spite of the phone's ferociously fast 4G ~LTE performance, the Nitro's HD display is its defining element.

In addition to the screen, there's plenty to like about the Nitro HD's hardware. The build quality is very solid. It's a big phone, at 134mm x 68mm x 10.3mm (5.3in x 2.7in x .4in), but it's still narrower than the Motorola DROID RAZR and it weighs an easily tolerated 136g (4.8oz). I'd prefer that the top-mounted power button be located on the right hand edge, in Samsung style, since the phone is so long, and I could certainly do without the cover on the micro-USB port. I wish an MHL adapter was not needed for outputting to an HDTV, but if I stretch any further looking for things to complain about, I'll sprain something.
So instead, how about something I love? LG has dropped the dedicated capacitive button for the search function that normally sits under the display on Android phones. Instead it integrated that into the menu button. Why is this great? Because now you really know where to press to get the function you want -- without looking. You can mash a thumb down anywhere near the center and get the home function, the right side is back, the left is menu/search. You don't have to be accurate, you just slam it and get what you expect. That's far better than the 4-button layout found on most every other Android phone. You do lose the ability to long-press the search button to access voice commands, though.

LG Nitro

The rear cover on the LG Nitro HD has a somewhat difficult to look at texture that I ended up liking for its feel. The cover has to be removed to gain access to the battery, SIM card, and microSD memory card slot. A 16GB card is pre-installed, which augments the roughly 2GB of available built-in storage.
While I find that the user interface tweaks LG placed on top of Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread are entirely usable, there are some issues with the phone as a whole. In spite of a dual-core 1.5GHz processor and a reasonable 768MB of RAM, the Nitro HD user is subjected to the occasional lag or stalls when navigating through the phone. It's not chronic, and won't leave you pulling out hair, but the phone just isn't as smooth as its peers from Samsung and HTC.

Apart from that, I really like the shortcuts for wireless settings and ringer mode that LG placed in the notification area, and I like the lock screen music controls quite a bit. Speaking of the lock screen, LG lets users drag down missed event notification icons on the lock screen to jump to the appropriate application, such as the SMS app or the call log, this works quite well. There's no real theme support on the Nitro HD, but LG pre-installs a number of system fonts that you can quickly switch between to customize the look of the phone beyond the normal assortment of wallpapers and home screen widgets. LG also lets you configure multiple home screen "layouts" and widgets that you can switch between easily.

LG Nitro

There are 7 home screens available. They can be viewed in thumbnail fashion with a pinch gesture, and the order of the screens can be easily changed from there - as can the default panel that appears when you press the home key.

Text input is handled by the Android Gingerbread keyboard (default) and the LG keyboard. Both are solid, and the large touchscreen makes hitting the right key easy enough. It also aids the use of the copy and paste functions which are pretty good. Voice input on the phone is overall accurate, and the surface of the touchscreen display is particularly well suited to swiping and scrolling. LG's homegrown social networking integration is decent, as it integrates status updates, text messages, and email into a tab on the the contact screen for each of your contacts. Twitter and Facebook are supported out of the box.

Calling / Data, Messaging, Browser
Calling / Data
At an LG-sponsored launch party in New York for the Nitro HD, the app reported 20Mbps downloads on my first run on AT&T's still-unannounced LTE network. That's the fastest I've ever seen on a phone, and faster than I saw on Verizon's LTE network when it was still closed to the public. Upload speeds typically ranged from 6 to 7.5Mbps as well, and all tests were performed with fewer than a reported "full bars" signal. That's some major speed. Even when on a regular HSPA+ network, download speeds in the 5 to 6Mbps range were reachable. The phone supports hotspot sharing mode (at an extra monthly cost), and naturally supports 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well.
LG Nitro

Sadly, voice calls on the Nitro HD are sometimes problematic. There appears to be something loose in the ear speaker on the phone that rattles under the right (wrong) circumstances - noticeably when speaking with women who tend to have higher pitch voices. At first I thought this was just a one-off problem phone, but some of my colleagues in the industry have had similar issues. Call volume is a bit low, as well, and the rattling problem would be even worse if the phone's volume were stronger. Outbound audio is very good, though. Signal strength is slightly weaker than on the HTC Vivid, but still reasonably good.

LG has equipped the Nitro HD with a fairly standard array of messaging applications. The threaded SMS/MMS application is simple and clean, but lacks any real style. It works as you'd want it to, though. The email client supports a cool split-screen view that turns the Nitro HD into what looks like a small tablet. It makes pretty effective use of the large, high-resolution display. LG pre-loads Twitter and Facebook applications on the phone and instant messaging through Google Talk, though apps for other systems can be found in the Android Market.

Apps / App Store
The LG Nitro HD's Android Market provides its users with access to hundreds of thousands of applications, many for free. AT&T has a number of its own apps installed out of the box, but many of them can be easily removed. The full suite of Google-branded apps: Maps, Navigation, Gmail, and YouTube, are available on the Nitro HD, as are some other gems, like the read/write version of Polaris Office. In spite of generally being a fair performer, Google Maps on the LG Nitro HD is terrible. The app hangs often when zooming and panning, as if it gets stuck for five seconds or so before continuing.

LG Nitro

The LG Nitro HD's web browser falls just short of being great. The display, large and sharp, lends itself wonderfully to web browsing, and the user interface on the browser, which differs greatly from stock Android, makes it easier to get around pages quickly. Even Adobe Flash content loads fairly quickly and runs smoothly. The problem is that the pages themselves just don't zoom and scroll/pan smoothly, and the double-tap zoom feature doesn't always zoom to the correct level. It often zooms too tightly and fails to re-flow the text. Turning Flash off helps a lot (with the smoothness, at least), but I just expected better performance from the Nitro HD.

LG Nitro

Camera, Battery Life, Conclusion
The camera found in the Nitro HD for AT&T is without doubt the best camera LG has ever put in a smartphone. The 8 megapixel camera records super sharp images even in low light, provided the autofocus cooperates. That can sometimes be a problem since it attempts to focus automatically instead of when you press the on-screen shutter button, but overall it works fine. The LED camera flash is well modulated, though perhaps a bit narrow in beam, but the white balances on the Nitro HD's camera is, by far, the best I have ever seen on a smartphone. It gets the colors right 95% of the time, at least.
LG Nitro color
LG Nitro color
LG Nitro color

While the Nitro's camera takes great stills, it only creates good videos. It's true that it can record in 1080p mode, but it appears to be saddled with a fixed focus point when doing so. The fixed-focus forward-facing camera can be used for stills or video, and can even record in 720p mode, which is a seldom seen feature.
The Nitro HD's music application is rock solid. It presents album art in a coverflow-like manner when the phone is held horizontally, and the wide selection of equalizer settings make it easy to tune the sound exactly the way you want it. The audio quality was very good, and the easy to access lock screen and notification area music controls kept the tunes easily within reach.
LG Nitro

The biggest letdown with the LG Nitro HD could be its battery performance. In spite of the fact that the phone contains a massive 1830mAh battery, the Nitro HD is rated for a measly 3 hours of talk time and could survive no more than 24 hours with reasonably light use, which means it will require daily charging for most people. This wouldn't be bad if the recent Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket and HTC Vivid, both LTE devices on AT&T, hadn't proved that true 4G phones could do much better than just make it through the workday.

LG Nitro

Final Thoughts
The LG Nitro HD has an awful lot going for it. It offers blazing data speeds, a great still camera, and one of the nicest displays on the market - all in a physical design that works. The phone is hamstrung a bit by weak battery life when compared with its peers, but it still is a really solid device. I can't say I love it as much as I expected to initially, but I really do like it a lot.

Pros: Beautiful display, blazing LTE data speeds (where available), solid hardware build, excellent camera, 3-button layout under display is easier to use.
Cons: Poor battery life compared to other LTE phones, call audio issues, some user interface lag.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Linux Mint 12 Released Today 8

Linux Mint 12
An anonymous reader writes "Linux Mint 12 was released today. It includes the new 'MGSE' (Mint Gnome Shell Extensions), a desktop layer on top of Gnome 3 that makes it possible for you to use Gnome 3 in a traditional way. MGSE's Gnome-2-Like experience includes features such as the bottom panel, the application menu, the window list, a task-centric desktop and visible system tray icons. MGSE is a 180-degree turn from the desktop experience the Gnome Team is developing with Gnome-Shell. At the heart of the Gnome-Shell is a feature called 'the Overview': 'The Shell is designed in order to minimize distraction and interruption and to enable users to focus on the task at hand. A persistent window list or dock would interfere with this goal, serving as a constant temptation to switch focus. The separation of window switching functionality into the overview means that an effective solution to switching is provided when it is desired by the user, but that it is hidden from view when it is not necessary.' The popularity of Mint 12 with MGSE may be an excellent barometer as to whether users prefer a task-centric or application-centric desktop."

Amazon Kindle Fire vs. Touch vs. Keyboard: Which E-Reader Is Right For You?

The Amazon Kindle is one of the hottest gifts this holiday season, but if you're looking to buy one, it might be daunting to decide which is right for you.

You know the basics of the Kindle e-readers: access to over 800,000 books, the lending library, borrowing books from a local library and the free Amazon cloud storage that comes with your purchase. But similarities aside, what are the major differences between the Kindles? And which one is right for you?

Amazon Kindle Fire

The Amazon Kindle is one of the hottest gifts for this holiday season, but if you're looking to buy one, it might be daunting to decide which is right for you. Should you get the Kindle Fire, the Kindle Touch, the Kindle Keyboard or the basic Kindle? 

We've broken down the Kindle by type - Basic Kindle, Kindle Touch, Kindle Keyboard and Kindle Fire - and then took a look at a few major differences to help you choose which Kindle you should call your own.

The Kindle by Type
Kindle Basic
The basic Kindle is not only the cheapest e-reader on the market, but it's simple, light and easy-to-use. If you're looking for a no frills reader that will practically pay for itself after a dozen book purchases, the basic $79 Kindle is the way to go.
It's less than 6 ounces, fits in your pocket, has built in Wi-Fi, a one month battery life, and has simple buttons that will make the interface easy to navigate. The screen is 6 inches of e-ink goodness and the Kindle can store around 1,400 books (2 GB), including access to Amazon's free cloud storage.  
If you plan to do a lot of typing or note-taking you may want to reconsider the basic alternative, because typing on this Kindle can be taxing without a keyboard.

Kindle Touch
The Kindle Touch is the newest addition to the family. The Touch is still an e-ink reader, but has a touch screen and only one "home" button. You can turn a page by tapping anywhere on the screen.
The Touch is $99 for the Wi-Fi only version and $149 for 3G. The Touch has a 6 inch e-ink screen, can go two months without a charge, has 4GB of storage and Amazon's free cloud storage and weighs less than 8 ounces.
The Touch is unique in that it has a new X-Ray feature, which allows you to look up characters, historical figures, or interesting phrases by tapping a word. Readers can access detailed descriptions from Wikipedia and Shelfari, Amazon's encyclopedia for book lovers. The Touch also has audio capabilities and can read books aloud to you.

Kindle Keyboard
The Kindle Keyboard is mainly targeted at readers who plan on taking extensive notes or like the ease of having an accessible keyboard. This Kindle is the only one that does not require readers to use a keyboard on screen.
Both the Kindle Keyboard with Wi-Fi only and the 3G alternative are $139. The Keyboard is slightly heavier and larger than its smaller counter-parts, but the screen is the same 6 inch e-ink reader. This version can also hold 4GB of books, lasts for two months on one charge, and weighs less than 9 ounces.
The Kindle DX, which is a big brother of the Keyboard, is ultimately the same model, but bigger with a 9.7 inch screen. It's over twice as heavy and over twice as expensive, but for readers looking for a bigger screen, the Kindle DX remains an option. The battery life of the DX is only 3 weeks.

The Kindle Fire
The Kindle Fire is very different from its cousins the basic, the Touch and the Keyboard. Although the Fire can be used solely as an e-reader, it's ultimately a tablet and can do much more. You can watch over 18 million movies, TV shows, use apps, play games, listen to songs, read books, newspapers, magazines and documents and listen to audiobooks.

The Fire is $199, comes with Wi-Fi, has a new Amazon Browser (Amazon Silk), sports a 7 inch LCD color touchscreen and weighs less than 15 ounces.
If you're looking for a multi-media machine, on par with the iPad 2 and other tablets, the Fire is for you. However, there can be some negatives to the Fire if you're looking primarily for an e-reader, which we outline below.

How to Choose Between Major Differences in Kindles
With or Without Special Offers
The "special offers" are ads that show up on the main screen of the Kindle and are your Kindle's background while the Kindle is sleeping. If you don't mind the distraction, then don't bother paying extra for a Kindle without the offers. In fact, many readers like the offers, which may give you discounts on books or other Amazon material. However, if you're easily distracted, or have no interest in seeing ads pop up on your home screen for mascara, spend the extra thirty bucks for an ads-free Kindle.

Our Vote: If you don't mind shelling out the extra cash, get the Kindle without the special offers.

3G or No 3G
All of the Kindles come with Wi-Fi and can be connected to your home network and open networks such as Starbucks. A free 3G Network is offered with the Kindle Touch 3G, the Kindle Keyboard 3G and the Kindle DX. A 3G Kindle is ultimately most useful for readers who travel frequently or would like to access and download material on the go. Because you can easily download a book (or one hundred) and store it on your Kindle, there are very few reasons the average person would need to be on the 3G Network. However, if you like to have the option of accessing the online store and downloading new material anywhere and at any time, the 3G is for you. The Kindle Fire does not come with a free 3G option, however you can join the AT&T 3G network by paying a monthly fee.
Our Vote: You probably won't need 3G.

At $79, the basic Kindle is by far the cheapest option. However, if you're interested in a more multi-media accessible experience, the Kindle Fire is the cheapest tablet on the market at $199 (less than half the iPad 2) and is definitely worth the price. In fact, Amazon seems to be selling the Fire at a loss.
Our Vote: The basic Kindle at $79 is the cheapest, but the Kindle Fire at $199 is the best deal.

Screen: E-Ink vs. LCD
The basic Kindle, Kindle Touch and Kindle Keyboard all have 6 inch, e-ink screens. (The Kindle Keyboard DX has a 9 inch e-ink screen.) E-ink is known to be easy on the eyes and is often considered the closest digital experience to reading on paper. However, e-ink means reading exclusively in black and white and it's impossible to read in the dark (so you'll need a reading lamp or clamp on light).

The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, has a 7 inch color LCD screen. It has a 1024 X 600 pixel resolution at 169 ppi, 16 million colors. The screen is sharp and beautiful for watching films, TV shows or playing video games, but will it hurt your eyes for reading? Most eye doctors say, no. LCD screens shouldn't harm your eyes, but they may make them temporarily drier if you aren't careful.
Reading on LCD screens is nearly impossible in direct sunlight because of the glare, but, on the flip side, you can read in the dark with no problem. Although the LCD screen on the Kindle Fire is bright, you can also adjust the brightness depending on how you're using the Fire and when reading you can change the background and font colors to what's most comfortable for you.
Our Vote: We're undecided.

If you plan to read a lot at the beach or for many hours at a time, you may want to stick with the classic e-inks. However, if you like to read in the dark and don't mind your computer screen, the color LCD offers more options.

What Kind of Material Do You Plan to Read?
If you're undecided about the screen type that works best for you, thinking about the type of material you hope to read on your new e-reader may help narrow the choices. If you plan to read predominantly books on the e-reader, the e-inks are significantly lighter and probably easier on your eyes in the long run.
However, if you plan to read magazines, children's books and newspapers, we highly suggest the Kindle Fire, because the color LCD screen will greatly enhance your experience. Since the Fire also has video and sound capabilities, you can have access to interactive content within a newspaper, magazine or book. Although many magazines and newspapers for the Kindle Fire at this point remain straightforward, we expect future developments will include a more interactive reading experience (as is already the case with the iPad 2).

Our Vote: The Kindle Fire gives you the most diverse reading experience, however if you know you only want to read books, then stick with an e-ink Kindle.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Play Sound file without importing winmm.dll or microsoft.visualbasic.dll

Q.) I am writing a program using Delphi prism. The goal is to be able run on windows and linux (mono) from the same project. So, at this point I need to have a way of playing a sound file for windows and linux(mono) without having to import winmm.dll or microsoft.visualbasic.dll.
Since I need this to work on mono also, I don't want to use visualbasic.dll. In the past, it gave me all kinds of issues.
Are there ways to play sound file without using these dll files?

No matter how the soundplayer is instantiated and used, it always works fine under windows OS, whereas on Linux under mono it sometimes plays and other times it just won't play at all.

First Version:
  var thesound := new SoundPlayer;

if Environment.OSVersion.Platform = Environment.OSVersion.Platform.Unix then
.SoundLocation := '/sounds/Alarms.wav'

Second Version

var sp := new SoundPlayer(new FileStream("/sounds/Alarms.wav", FileMode.Open, FileAccess.Read, FileShare.Read));
A.) You can use System.Media.SoundPlayer. This is implemented by Mono. 

What is the difference between System.Windows.Point and System.Drawing.Point namespace?

Q.) I want to draw a line using controlpaint.DrawReversibleLine method and tried to pass, but it wants system.drawing.point input. I am little confused. What are the differences between them? Or How are they different besides the noticeable differences?

A.) System.Windows.Point is a WPF structure, whereas System.Drawing.Point is a WinForms structure. In general, if you're writing a WinForms app, the don't use stuff from any of the System.Windows namespaces (except System.Windows.Forms). The resources in these namespaces are WPF specific, so unless you intend to interface WPF and WinForms, it would be best to avoid them.

Other answers:
  • System.Windows.Point is intended for WPF applications.
    The System.Windows namespaces contain types used in Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) applications, including animation clients, user interface controls, data binding, and type conversion
  • System.Drawing.Point is intended for WinForms applications.
    The System.Drawing namespace provides access to GDI+ basic graphics functionality.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Google TV 2.0 is all bling and no kerching

Google TV

Sill picking up pieces from hype bubble burst

It is easy to be rude about Google TV, but at the back of the mind is the feeling that one day, after successful tinkering, Google may get it right. Yet after initial hype and excitement around the launch, Google has struggled to recover from the dead weight of unfulfilled expectations that followed, and it will take something more than the recent revamping including an improved user interface to regain any sort of momentum.
It is little surprise that Google's actual announcement was overshadowed by the vapourware of speculation around Apple's impending TV launch expected sometime next year. That has been pitched as Steve Jobs' final legacy since he is said to have claimed to have solved the riddle of the connected TV shortly before he died. This is exactly what Google has also been trying and, so far, has failed to do.

Indeed part of the re-launch dubbed Google TV 2.0 is a plan, as yet undated, to launch around 100 new video channels on YouTube designed more for the big screen. These will be fed with supposedly original content from media outlets, and celebrities such as Madonna and Jay-Z.

But while YouTube can provide in effect a ring-fenced section containing content of high technical quality, the announced plans highlight the continuing dilemma for Google TV. That is how to attract truly premium content, and to persuade all the players of the ecosystem � notably smart TV makers � that it is worth participating in the venture.

So far Sony makes Google TVs, while Logitech makes set-top boxes that enable existing TVs to connect to the service. Neither have been selling like hot buns, but it could be that ironically Intel has done Google a favour by pulling out of the smart TV market. Intel had been one of the key Google TV partners, alongside Sony and Logitech, and pulled out at least partly because the service had failed to generate sales of chips. Now Google is no longer shackled to the Intel chipset and may be better placed to replicate on TVs the success Android has already enjoyed on smartphones with implementations on a variety of chipsets.
Indeed Google started pulling smartphones towards its TV service under Android in June 2011 by acquiring Sage TV, a Californian maker of a DVR with Slingbox-style placeshifting. The plan was to integrate this into Google TV so that broadcast content could be accessed remotely on Android devices. In this way Google hopes even to stump up some deals with a TV bundled in. Some mobile operators are already giving away smart TVs with contracts.

There are hints of this in Google TV 2.0, which alongside simplified navigation includes a customised home screen via an Android app. There is also a new TV & Movies app allowing users to browse a library of around 80,000 movies and TV shows from Amazon as well as of course YouTube itself.

Google also announced that the market for TV apps will be opened up to developers via the Android Market, so that existing mobile apps will start being ported across to the TV.

While none of these announcements will lift Google TV's immediate fortunes, they do signify that Google still has its eye on the box.

Copyright � 2011, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

New Materials Turn Heat Into Electricity

New Materials Turn Heat Into Electricity
New Materials Turn Heat into Electricity
A new material with a low-temperature nonmagnetic phase and a strongly magnetic high-temperature phase could potentially be used to help generate power
Most of today�s power plants�from some of the largest solar arrays to nuclear energy facilities�rely on the boiling and condensing of water to produce energy.

The process of turning heated water into energy was essentially understood by James Watt all the way back in 1765. Heat from the sun or from a controlled nuclear reaction boils water, which then expands, moves a turbine and generates power.

Why water? It is cheap; it absorbs a lot of �latent heat� as it turns into steam; it produces a lot of power as it expands through the turbine; and it is easily condensed back to liquid water using an environmental source such as a river.

Heat to electricity
Beginning from the fundamental research of Nicolas Leonard Sadi Carnot in 1824, engineers have learned how to manipulate the boiling and condensing of water, using this �phase transformation� between liquid and gas to generate electricity.

Adding heat to the water at the right point in the cycle and preventing heat exchange at other points during the cycle enables researchers to ultimately extract the most power from the steam. In this way, they carefully designed the cycle to maximize its efficiency, a mathematical concept that Carnot defined.
�This boiling and condensing of water requires massive pressure vessels and heat exchangers to contain the water,� said researcher Richard James, of the University of Minnesota.

James and his team of researchers want to substitute a completely different phase transformation to replace the boiling and condensing of water. They have been investigating that possibility using a family of metal alloys (specific mixes of different elements) called �multiferroic materials.�

Multiferroic materials
Multiferroic materials are materials that exhibit at least two of three �ferroic� properties: ferromagnetism (like an iron magnet, spontaneously magnetized), ferroelectricity (spontaneously developing two poles), or ferroelasticity (spontaneously strained). A natural way to exhibit ferroelasticity is by a phase transformation in which one crystal structure suddenly distorts into another, a so-called martensitic phase transformation.
Instead of water to steam, the James�s team�s idea is to use a martensitic phase transformation that occurs naturally in some of these multiferroic materials. Using a mathematical theory for martensitic phase transformations developed with National Science Foundation (NSF) funding, the researchers discovered a way to systematically tune the composition of multiferroic materials to be able to turn the phase transformation on and off.

Usually a metal�s ability to switch phases like this is impeded by a characteristic called �hysteresis,� which is how long it takes for the magnetism of the metal to catch up with the phase change. If it takes too long, it impedes the metal�s ability to switch phases back and forth.

Evolving alloys
�The key idea is to manipulate the composition of the alloy so the two crystal structures fit together perfectly,� James said. �When this is done, the hysteresis of the phase transformation drops dramatically and it becomes highly reversible.�

Even after the first low hysteresis alloys began to emerge, the strategy was all based on theory. �To be sure that the hysteresis dropped for the expected reason, it was critical that we actually see the perfect interfaces in tuned alloys,� James said.

For this purpose, James teamed with Nick Schryvers from the Electron Microscopy for Materials Science laboratory at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, a celebrated center for the study of phase transformations using electron microscopy. The resulting study, by Schryvers and University of Antwerp graduate student Remi Delville, revealed perfectly matching interfaces between the two phases.

Heusler alloys
The researchers pursued the concept in a family of alloys called Heusler alloys which are magnetic, even though the metals that make them up aren�t. Named for the German mining engineer Friedrich Heusler, who first noticed that Cu2MnSn (copper-manganese-tin) is magnetic even though the separate elements Cu, Mn and Sn are nonmagnetic, this family of alloys has a striking propensity to exhibit magnetism. As James notes, Heuslers are also loaded with martensitic phase transformations.

Working in James� group, postdoctoral fellow Vijay Srivastava applied the strategy to achieve low hysteresis, systematically changing the composition of the basic Heusler alloy Ni2MnSn and arriving at Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10.

�Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10 is a remarkable alloy,� said James. �The low temperature phase is nonmagnetic but the high temperature phase is a strong magnet, almost as strong as iron at the same temperature.� The researchers immediately realized that such an alloy could act like the phase-transitioning water in a power plant.
�If you surround the alloy by a small coil and heat it through the phase transformation, the suddenly changing magnetization induces a current in the coil,� said James. �In the process, the alloy absorbs some latent heat. It turns heat directly into electricity.�

Revolutionizing power plants
The consequences for the technology are potentially far-reaching. In a power plant, one would not need the massive pressure vessels, piping and heat exchangers used to transport and heat water. Since the transformation temperature can be adjusted over a wide range, the concept is adaptable to many sources of heat stored on earth with small temperature differences.

�One can even dream of using the temperature difference between the surface of the ocean and a few hundred meters down,� James said.

Together with Professor Christopher Leighton at the University of Minnesota, the researchers are also studying the possibility of making thin film versions of their devices. Those could work in computers, right on the chip, to convert waste heat into electricity to charge the battery.
James emphasizes that their demonstration is just one of many ways one can use martensitic phase transformations for energy conversion.

�Besides magnetism, there are many physical properties that could be different in the two phases and could be used to generate electricity from heat,� James said. �But how to develop these concepts and which ones will work best?�

�Even the criterion for �best� is unclear, since one does not pay for waste heat,� James continued. �Really, we have to rethink from fundamental principles the thermodynamics of energy conversion at small temperature difference.�

Image Caption: Materials engineer Richard James of the University of Minnesota heats a novel metal alloy sitting on a copper finger; the material suddenly becomes strongly magnetic as it goes through a phase transformation, converting heat to electricity. Pictured from left are Vijay Srivastava, Kanwal Bhatti, Yintao Song and Richard James. Credit: Vijay Srivastava, Yintao Song, Kanwal Bhatti and Richard D. James, University of Minnesota

Sapphire Pure Black X79 Motherboard Shows Off

Sapphire Pure Black X79
Sapphire Pure Black X79 Motherboard

Since a number of X79 motherboard were already previewed, it was only a matter of time before Sapphire leaked one of its own, so the Pure Black X79 definitely didn't go by unnoticed.

Then again, this isn't so much a formal preview on the company's part as it is an unofficial photo shoot, of sorts, carried out by VR-Zone. The X79 Express Chipset may or may not be supplemented by a PCI Express bridge chip.

The CPU socket is wired to four DDR3 memory slots, which means that up to 32 GB of RAM can be in a system at any one time,(4 x 8 GB).

Also, six PCI Express x16 slots are present, of which three are x16 electrical.

CrossFireX setups should be easy to set up (multi-GPU AMD card configurations), though SLI (NVIDIA) doesn't seem to be on the list of supported features.

The list goes on, though, with a significant degree of thoroughness as far as expansion capabilities go.

In addition to four SATA 6.0 Gbps ports (SATA III), Sapphire threw in the same number of SATA 3.0 Gbps connectors (SATA II).

Meanwhile, the back panel has a pair of eSATA connectors and four USB 3.0 ports (two more are available as headers on the motherboard), plus Bluetooth, 7.1 channel audio and dual Gigabit Ethernet.

Other specifications include UEFI BIOS, a debut LED, Power, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons, voltage read points and an active cooler on the chipset.

Like all the other X79 platforms, the Sapphire Pure Black X79 (obviously, it gets the name for the PCB) will reach stores in a week or so.

While the Intel Sandy Bridge-E CPUs will get to stores around mid-November, 2011 (14-15), the LGA 2011 motherboards should show up and start competing a bit sooner. Unfortunately, no price was mentioned.

Sapphire Pure Black X79
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Sapphire Pure Black X79
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Sapphire Pure Black X79
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Sapphire Pure Black X79

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chrome Remote Desktop Extension makes screen sharing free and easy

Chrome Remote Desktop Extension

When word gets out that you�re tech-savvy, you tend to get asked for help a lot. Helping people out can mean a lot of time spent on the phone, or driving over to someone�s house. That�s why having software that allows you to remotely control someone�s computer is a life saver. And now it seems you can do it from right within your web browser.

Google recently released the Chrome Remote Desktop Extension, which, as you can imagine, allows you to remotely control someone else�s computer. All you need to have them do is install the extension (assuming you already had them install Chrome), and have them click a button to generate an access code. They can then give you the access code over the phone, or in an instant message. After that, you�re all set. While this might not be the most robust screen sharing software out there, it does have one feature that you�ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. It is completely free to use, both privately and commercially.

Apple Acknowledges iOS 5 Battery Life Drain, Issues Beta Update to Devs

Apple fesses up to battery woes with iOS 5

Apple fesses up to battery woes with iOS 5
Apple fesses up to battery woes with iOS 5

Many Apple customers using iOS 5 compatible devices have been complaining of poor battery life after upgrading to latest version of Apple's mobile operating system. A thread over on Apple's own support forums regarding poor battery life on the new iPhone 4S has reached 215 pages and has over 3,200 replies.

Interestingly, numerous suggestions have been given by users and pundits to improve battery life including turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, disabling iCloud synchronization and some aspects of Location Services, and cutting down on alerts that appear in iOS 5's new notification center. However, disabling all of these features seriously cripples what is supposed to be one of the premiere mobile operating system on the market.

Now after weeks of silence, Apple is acknowledging that iOS 5 does in fact have a problem with battery life. Or rather, Apple in its typical language explains in a statement to the Wall Street Journal's Ina Fried that a "Small number of customers" were experiencing battery life problems. Whenever Apple encounters a problem with one of its products, this is typically the "scope minimizing" statement that it likes to release. The company goes on to explain, "We have found a few bugs that are affecting battery life and we will release a software update to address those in a few weeks."

Apple fesses up to battery woes with iOS 5
While customers may have to wait a few weeks to receive the update, developers have already been issued a beta of iOS 5.0.1 that corrects the battery life drain (among other updates). The release notes including with the beta state that the following issues have been addressed:
  • Fixes bugs affecting battery life
  • Adds Multitasking Gestures for original iPad
  • Resolves bugs with Documents in the Cloud
  • Improves voice recognition for Australian users using dictation
  • Contains security improvements
  • iOS 5.0.1 beta introduces a new way for developers to specify files that should remain on device, even in low storage situations 
For the time being, iOS 5 users that are having battery life issues can follow this guide to crippling your device to reclaim some runtime until the fix is released.

Sources: Apple Support Communities, TUAW, The Wall Street Journal/AllThingsD, Mac Rumors

Opera Mobile 11.5.2 and Opera Mini 6.5.1 for Android Now Available for Download

Opera web browser for Andriod

Enlarge picture Opera had a very busy week, as the company pushed lots of new major updates for all mobile platforms available on the market.

No later than yesterday Opera Software announced the availability of its new Opera Mobile 6.5 for BlackBerry, iOS, S60, and J2ME, as well as Opera Mobile 11.5 for Symbian S60 devices.

Although Android fans got their Opera Mini 6.5 version more than two weeks ago, it looks like the developers decided to push another update for both its

Android mobile web browsers, Opera Mobile and Opera Mini.

According to Opera Software, the Opera Mini 6.5.1 for Android devices is now available for download in the Android Market, and later today via developers' servers.

The latest version of Opera Mini for Android corrects several bugs, and brings some crash and stability fixes:

- Fixed problem with importing system bookmarks on some devices;
- Fixed problems with no feedback given to the user when shortcut couldn't be added to home screen;
- Fixed problems with star indication of bookmarked pages after device restart ;
- Fixed problems with download view not updated properly in some cases

Furthermore, the Opera Mobile 11.5.2 for Android update contains a lot more bug fixes, as well as a mjor change in Opera's behaviour.

Basically, a new enable/disable option that would block (or not) pages from redirecting to themselves.

According to Opera, redirecting webpages to themselves was causing site compatibility issues, so now it's been changed and users can bring the old behavior back from opera:config and enabling �Disable Client Refresh To Same Location�.

Other changes added with Opera Mobile 11.5.2 for Android include:

- Fixed problems with settings menu closing without user interaction;
- Fixed long startup time on some devices;
- Fixed problems with big Link accounts freezing Opera;
- Fixed issue that prevented users from changing already stored credentials;
- Fixed problems with cache being deleted at startup;
- Fixed problems with no feedback given to the user when shortcut couldn't be added to home screen;
- Fixed problems with star indication of bookmarked pages after device restart;
- Fixed problems with download view not updated properly in some cases

In addition, crash and stability fixes have been included as well, while the HTML5 audio problems have been patched.

Opera Mini 6.5.1 and Opera Mobile 11.5.2 for Android are available as free downloads in the Android Market.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Video: Microsoft's vision of the future

Microsoft Logo

Want to watch another concept video of what the future might be like? You�ve come to the right place. Two days ago, Microsoft�s Office YouTube channel released a video showing what productivity might be like in the future. Oddly, there aren�t many Office or Microsoft logos around and the interfaces of most devices don�t really look like Windows, though they all seem to use the Windows Phone fonts and simplistic style. 

In Microsoft�s vision, all screens are as thin as a sheet of paper, cell phones are just a slice of glass, everything has holographic displays, you can flick documents from one object to another, and even desks and car windows have built in screens. The question is, do we want to live in a world like this? It seems a bit sterile.