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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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January 28, 2008 9:43 AM

Back in a week

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'll be back at it in time to yack about Microsoft's New York analyst meeting on Feb. 4.

I wonder if that's when it'll finally buy Yahoo. The portal's layoffs might make it even more attractive to a buyer ...

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January 24, 2008 1:34 PM

MSFT beckons spooked investors, already back to $35

Posted by Brier Dudley

Talk about perfect timing.

With everyone wondering where to invest now, Microsoft says it's busting sales records and raising its full-year earnings forecast.

It's already up to $35 in after-hours trading.

It's also quieting Vista critics -- 100 million units have now shipped, and Windows Client sales were $4.3 billion in the quarter, up from $2.6 billion a year ago.

Xbox sustained profitability, online services trimmed its losses and Microsoft's eons of work building overseas markets is paying off.

So will MSFT finally approach $40?

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January 23, 2008 5:21 PM

Blodget on Google's plunge

Posted by Brier Dudley

On his Silicon Alley Insider site, Henry Blodget said exactly what I was thinking when Google fell today:

Continue reading this post ...


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January 23, 2008 3:56 PM

Vista opens on Windows 7

Posted by Brier Dudley

Like crocuses in the yard, hints of what's coming in Windows 7 -- the successor to Vista -- are starting to appear.

Enthusiast Web sites are reporting the Windows 7 tidbits as leaks, but I wonder if there's a deliberate seed-planting effort going on, to get software developers excited about the new stuff coming out of Redmond...

Continue reading this post ...


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January 22, 2008 5:37 PM

Mark Anderson's new gig, same as the old gig?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Friday Harbor tech commentator, consultant and newsletter publisher Mark Anderson has a new job.

Anderson announced today that he's now chief executive of Project Inkwell, a computers-in-education initiative spawned a decade ago by his Strategic News Service newsletter community.

Inkwell aims to be a standards body for computing platforms used in K-12 education. It also advocates for every student having a computer, with backing from companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Red Hat.

Anderson will continue to publish the SNS newsletter but he's been more involved with Inkwell for several months, since the departure of its previous chief executive, Bruce Wilcox.

"I thought I had no extra time and now I have two jobs,'' he said, adding that the job overlaps with his SNS role because both involve staying in touch with tech industry leaders and trends.

Anderson said he wants Inkwell to move faster. Although discussions of the project began a decade ago, it has lately been eclipsed by higher-profile education efforts such as the One Laptop Per Child project.

He said Inkwell is now starting a project in Utah and entering discussions with Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and state officials in Arizona.

How would Washington state pay for laptops for every student?

"It's not my job to answer that question -- that's above my pay grade," Anderson quipped.

Maybe Anderson should talk to Kal Raman, the former drugstore.com boss whose Bellevue education startup, GlobalScholar.com, today announced a partnership with the South Carolina Department of Education.

South Carolina plans to use GlobalScholar's technology to develop its online curriculum platform. The press release said the company's "online tools allow educators to communicate with parents and students regularly to illustrate work performed, note upcoming assignments and agree on clear objectives for each student."

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January 17, 2008 3:50 PM

PS3 busting out in 2008, IGN says

Posted by Brier Dudley

Media firm IGN's game analysis service, GamerMetrics, announced its "Early 2008 Preview" report today.

Highlights include the hedged prediction that Sony "could be on the verge of its long-awaited comeback." IGN says Sony ...

Continue reading this post ...


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January 17, 2008 3:18 PM

Want to write for video games?

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you're interested, check out the "Game Writing 101" session Tuesday night at Richard Hugo House on Capitol Hill.

A panel of industry vets will discuss "what video-game writing is and isn't, how they broke into the business, and what chops you need to do the work,'' the announcement said.

Panelists include ...

Continue reading this post ...


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January 17, 2008 1:00 PM

Fortune's must-read profile of Melinda Gates

Posted by Brier Dudley

Fortune's terrific Jan. 21 cover story offers buckets of details about Bill Gates' better half and the role she's played in the evolution of the foundation, Bill and even Microsoft.

Choice bits include Warren Buffett -- who was part of the suprise engagement sprung on Melinda -- speculating about whether he'd have donated the bulk of his fortune the Gates Foundation if Melinda wasn't there:

Continue reading this post ...


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January 17, 2008 12:51 PM

Oregon mom wins another round against record industry

Posted by Brier Dudley

Tanya Andersen finally won relief in her battle against the Recording Industry Association of America, according to a post by attorney Ray Beckerman, which was picked up by Ars Technica and others.

A federal judge in Oregon dismissed counterclaims by the RIAA and agreed that she should be paid attorney's fees. Ars said the decision also enables her to proceed with a class-action suit against the industry.

Andersen, a disabled single mother, fought back after being caught in a file-sharing sting, claiming that the industry used threats, intimidation and misrepresentation in its copyright investigations. Here's a Register story with her claim about the industry impersonating her 10-year-old's grandmother to get evidence.

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January 17, 2008 12:46 PM

Memorial for noted Seattle blogger Anita Rowland

Posted by Brier Dudley

There's a Jan. 26 event at Century Ballroom for Anita Rowland, who died of cancer last month at 51.

Her husband posted details of the event and an RSVP link here.

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January 16, 2008 10:02 AM

Party time at the Northwest Googleplex

Posted by Brier Dudley

The year is young, but so far the Seattle tech scene's biggest bash of 2008 was Tuesday night's open house/job fair/rave at Google's new Fremont office.

Companies looking for tech talent should have come with a big net. Engineers were cramming into the place like salmon at a fish ladder. At least 625 registered early and more lined up for signups at the door.

Surrounded by flashing disco lights and thumping music in the mostly unfilled first floor overlooking the ship canal, they clutched illuminated Google Seattle drink cups and crowded around demo stations, snack tables and potential new bosses.

Current and former University of Washington computer science profs were holding court. I talked briefly to Ed Lazowska, who's still at the UW, and Brian Bershad, who left to run the new Google office, but there was a stream of well-wishers, schmoozers and former students saying hello.

Amazon.com may be moving into new digs at the other end of Lake Union, but there were still a ton of Amazonians at the event. I tried to say hi to AWS evangelist Jeff Barr, who has been candid about Google's efforts to recruit him in the past, but he seemed to be constantly surrounded by bioinformatics types.

Microsoft was well represented, as was just about every other tech company in the region.

Here's what Ben Romano reported from the more staid shindig Google threw for local VIPs in the morning. As he noted, there's about 100 Googlers in Fremont, including around 75 in engineering and 25 in an adjacent sales office.

Some additional details I picked up:

-- There are about 10 dogs "working" at the Fremont office and so far there are few compatibility issues.

-- There is indeed a Googler named Jeremy Pack working on Google Pack, the company's bundle of PC applications. But he works in Kirkland, where the Pack was hatched, and joined after the project started. I was hoping he named it.

-- Unlike the current Kirkland office, Google's Fremont outpost will have an in-house kitchen eventually.

-- Google projects a loose and freewheeling spirit, but it seems pretty interested in seasoned project managers from Seattle's more mature tech companies. They are being courted heavily, as well as engineers and fresh university talent.

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January 16, 2008 9:38 AM

Sun takes MySQL off the market

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sun paid $1 billion for MySQL, the open-source database company and Microsoft challenger (and partner) that was mulling a public offering.

The deal also gives Sun a bigger engineering presence in Seattle, where MySQL used to have its U.S. headquarters and still employs about 30.

Here's Sun chief Jonathan Schwartz's blog announcement, a column I wrote last month that has some background on MySQL and some comments MySQL bosses made about Microsoft.

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January 15, 2008 3:48 PM

Mac Time Capsule: Almost the dream home server

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple's Time Capsule sounds nearly perfect.

I think it's the sleeper product announcement at MacWorld, the thing that might turn out to be just as hot as the thin laptop.

Everyone with multple computers wants, or should be seeking, a super simple system that constantly backs up all the data on their home machines.

That's the promise of Time Capsule, but it's missing a crucial feature -- mirrored hard drives, to protect against the inevitable disk failure.

Hard-drives -- even the "server grade" ones that Apple says it's using in Time Capsule -- might last five years if you're lucky. That's why its safer to store things on a system with multiple drives that make copies of each other, in case one of the disks fails.

I guess you could periodically backup Time Capsule using external hard-drives, but that's not a very elegant solution and it's probably too much of a hassle for most people.

Mirrored drives are common now on PCs and external storage devices, so it seems like a strange choice that Apple made. Maybe it was trying to keep the cost low, so it could undercut the Windows Home Server products that it's challenging.

Windows Home Server is a nice solution and it has an innovative system that mirrors data on multiple hard drives, as many as you want to plug into the system. It also offers online access to files.

But Windows Home Server is much more expensive, especially to window shoppers at big box stores comparing it with Time Capsule. Hewlett-Packard's 500 gig model is around $600 vs. $299 for the 500-gig Time Capsule. HP's 1 terabyte model is around $800 vs. the 1 TB Time Capsule's $499.

A better comparison with Time Capsule would be the single-drive external backup drives, such as the Western Digital and Seagate models that cost a bit less per gigabyte. Apple trounces them by adding touchless backup and wireless features.

Ideally, Time Capsule will push Windows Home Server manufacturers to bring their prices down and add nifty wireless features such as the 802.11n hub that Apple included.

The pressure will really be on after someone writes an application that automatically backs up Windows files onto a Time Capsule (right now it works with PCs as a wireless external hard drive; you need the Macs' Time Machine backup software to use it for automatic backups).

Maybe by then, Apple will add mirrored drives and we'll have the best of both worlds.

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January 15, 2008 3:14 PM

Mercent going national with new funding

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Seattle online marketing technology company will use its $6.5 million in series B funding to build up its sales and marketing teams, adding about six employees in Seattle and another six or so at major business cities across the country.

Mercent, which now has 25 employees, has been on a tear, with its services now touching 200 million Internet shoppers, but its client list is heavily local, with flagship customers such as REI, Nordstrom and Celebrate Express. Now it's attempting to raise its profile in the rest of the country.

"This financing will help us take that an expand into the national and potentially international markets," Chief Executive Eric Best said.

Best tapped his former employer, Amazon.com, for a business development expert, Todd Sherman, who will help lead Mercent's next phase.

The funding is on top of earlier financing of $2.75 million and $4 million, plus angel funding. Leading the latest round was San Diego-based TVC Capital, whose managing partner, Steve Hamerslag, will joing Mercent's board. Increasing their stake through the round were Madrona Venture Group and an affiliate of Pittsburgh's The Hillman Group.

Retailers use Mercent's platform as a sort of console to manage and optimize product placement and offers across multiple online shopping channels.

Madrona's managing director, Tom Alberg, said Mercent's making good progress and the firm likes its Web services model, providing software via the Web.

What about challenging conditions in the retail sector? Alberg said Mercent still has opportunity because retailers are seeing online growth and its technology helps improve their return.

"If you get into a recessionary time, revenue growth may slow," Alberg said, "but it's also a time you try to figure out 'how do I do better, maybe I need tools to do that.'"

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January 15, 2008 2:28 PM

Apple's laptop is lovely, but is it an "ultramobile"?

Posted by Brier Dudley

As usual, one of the most suprising things out of Macworld this year is the coverage.

There was so much expectation that Apple would introduce an ultra-mobile PC that some respected news outlets are calling Apple's new laptop an ultramobile.

Don't get me wrong -- the MacBook Air looks fantastic, it will be easier to carry than heavier laptops and it will breath fresh air into the PC market.

But it's ultrathin, not ultramobile. If it has a 13-inch screen, a full keyboard and a clamshell case, it's a laptop. Even Apple's calling it a "notebook" computer, which is its word for laptop.

Am I off base here?

Until the reporters fired up their MacBooks in San Francisco today, ultramobile referred to handheld computers with screens up to around 7 inches -- basically the machines that fall between the iPhone and small laptops.

Intel, which builds the engines used in Apple's new machines, initially framed the ultramobile category as devices with 5-in. to 7-in. displays. Last year it made that category even more specific, by adding a new category -- "mobile Internet device" -- referring to devices with 4-in, to 6-in. displays.

Microsoft and Intel used to have high expectations for UMPCs -- they expected 100 million to be sold in 2008. The takeoff hasn't happened yet in part because the devices have been somewhat eclipsed by Internet capable phones, such as Apple's iPhone.

I'm curious to know whether Apple is still developing the rumored touch-screen ultramobile. That's a category that desperately needs some fresh air and Steve Jobs' marketing genius, but maybe Apple decided there's not big enough market for the purse-sized machines.

Or maybe Apple's stuck like all the other OEMs waiting for new hardware, such as Intel's Menlow platform, that they need to build tiny computers that are reasonably priced and have enough power and battery life to finally make ultramobiles a must-have device.

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January 15, 2008 10:58 AM

Digeo's other shoe drops: CEO leaving, products killed, staff halved

Posted by Brier Dudley

Paul Allen apparently is expecting more from Digeo, his Kirkland set-top box company that's been unable to fulfill some of the big promises it made to the consumer electronics crowd.

Today, the company announced that it's scrapping plans for supercharged digital-video recorders for the consumer market that it announced a year ago at the Consumer Electronic Show. Instead it's focusing on a box aimed at cable companies that's now in testing and a next-generation box, details of which weren't announced.

Digeo's also laying off 80 of its 160 employees and replacing its CEO, former Sony executive Mike Fidler. Greg Gudorf, president and chief operating officer, will take Fidler's spot.

Something was clearly up at Digeo. The retail DVR was supposed to be available by November but was delayed, with no word on when it would be available. Digeo had a presence at this year's CES but abruptly canceled its press conference Monday.

"With our revised product strategy, it made sense to realign our leadership team as well," Fidler said in a release. "I remain very enthusiastic about Digeo's mission, its Moxi products, our partnerships and Greg's
leadership capabilities. While the new strategy is absolutely the right thing to do for Digeo's business, Greg and I both profoundly regret the personal consequences of this action for our employees who will be
affected."

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January 14, 2008 4:55 PM

Halo Warthog Hummer debuts at Detroit car show, sort of

Posted by Brier Dudley

The GM designer who penned the new Hummer HX concept denies it's a Warthog, but he told MLive's Tim Agne that he and other designers on the project are indeed "Halo" fans.

I guess it was subliminal.

Here's Bungie's prototype Hummer, disclosed last summer.

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January 14, 2008 4:28 PM

Cray built U.K.'s fastest supercomputer

Posted by Brier Dudley

The University of Edinburgh today unveiled the 63-teraflop XT4 system that's a centerpiece of its project Hector (high-end computing terascale resource) that will provide supercomputing for U.K. academic researchers.

Hector's getting two more Cray systems, including an X2 later this year and in 2009, the first XT5h "integrated hybrid supercomputer,'' according to Cray's announcement.

The Guardian did a nice walk-through story a few weeks ago, noting among other things that Hector's capacity is 3,200 times that of a 160-gigabyte iPod.

Also noted is the changing costs of the system. Building Hector was cheaper than expected, but its operating costs are higher than expected because of electricity costs, the Guardian story said.

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January 14, 2008 3:12 PM

Eight companies get Washington Technology Center grants

Posted by Brier Dudley

The state economic development group announced the recipients of eight research and technology grants totaling $528,978. It expects the grants to generate more than 400 jobs.

It's also taking applications for the spring round of grants; notices of intent are due by March 20.

Here's the list of recipients, pulled straight from the release:

Continue reading this post ...


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January 14, 2008 12:57 PM

Microsoft's Rob Short joins the exodus

Posted by Brier Dudley

No wonder Microsoft is rewriting Windows from the ground up -- all the old timers who understand its jumbled innards are retiring.

Mary Jo Foley noted today that Rob Short, vice president of Windows Core Technology, is also joining the alumni club.

A 20-year veteran and member of the hallowed original NT team, Short was an elder Windows wizard.

Short also delivered key testimony during Microsoft's antitrust trial, carefully explaining to District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly how the performance of Windows would deteriorate if bits and pieces such as Internet Explorer were stripped out of the system.

More recently, he manned the demolition backhoe for a ceremony starting the campus reconstruction along 148th Avenue Northeast.

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January 14, 2008 12:15 PM

Spy cam peek at the Wii Fit mats

Posted by Brier Dudley

At CES last week, I took a few photos of the Wii Fit accessories mentioned in today's column before a booth worker asked me to put down the camera.

The step controller is in the center, just to the right of the display, beneath a stack of the vinyl covers that Update Technology was hawking:

WiiFit1.jpg

Here are some links to information about Wii Fit, which Nintendo announced at E3 last summer, and to the companies mentioned in the column:

Nintendo's Wii Fit site

Update Technology (HK) Co. Ltd of Shenzhen

Alliance Sales and Distribution

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January 14, 2008 10:46 AM

Did PC makers' UMPC frittering set stage for Apple's little laptop?

Posted by Brier Dudley

While Apple fans are getting excited about the smaller laptop that Steve Jobs is expected to announce Tuesday, the PC crowd is wondering whatever happened to the Ultra-Mobile PC platform that Microsoft and Intel announced a few years ago.

Clunky first versions deflated the UMPC hype, but crowds at CES seemed excited by demonstrations of sleeker models built on Intel's "Menlow" platform that's coming later this year.

Apple's surely going to do something with Intel's new platform. If it follows the path of Casio, Lenovo, Toshiba and others showing at CES, it could roll out a thin (half-inch thick?) wireless handheld computing tablet with a touch-screen interface.

With Apple's higher price points, it could probably also afford to give its ultra-portable a big solid-state hard-drives that promise faster speeds and more durability.

Meanwhile, there's no consensus among PC makers around the ideal UMPC form -- or even a term to describe the devices -- so they're leaving it to Apple to tell consumers what they want. I don't know the inside baseball, but the initial platform work by Microsoft and Intel that produced some Apple-grade vision and reference designs seemed to taper off after Intel's announcement last April that it was working with companies building open-source versions.

The current muddle of UMPC options is explored today in a nice IDG story that Network World is running. Sorry to spoil the kicker, but it ends with a great quote from Hewlett-Packard's personal systems CTO, Phil McKinney:

"Let a marketing person loose for 10 minutes and they'll come up with a category. You can say UMPC or MID, what the hell's the difference?"

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January 10, 2008 4:47 PM

Sneak peak of cheap iPod touch, other Appleish goodies at CES

Posted by Brier Dudley

Not from Apple, of course, but Shenzhen Wintone Industrial Company Limited.

Check out the MP3 and MP4 players the Chinese company was exhibiting in the show's international pavilion. The Touch-like device has a 1.3 megapixel camera, 1 gigabyte of storage and sells for $58.

IMGP0095.JPG

Do you prefer the iPod Classic look, or perhaps the Creative Zen style?

IMGP0088.JPG

Dyne Telecom had this one over in the Korea section:

IMGP0098.JPG

Right in front of the China section was Shenzhen Rico Technology's selection of neo Nanos, such as the pink 1 gigabyte model in the back of the case that sells for $26:

IMGP0103.JPG

If you can't afford the new Mac Pro, how about a tiny version that's actually a six-inch-high network attached storage device? This one's from Taiwan's Power 7 Technology Corp.

IMGP0105.JPG

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January 10, 2008 1:32 PM

Raikes retiring, now who will be the next CEO?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seriously, I thought Jeff Raikes was the front-runner to replace Steve Ballmer. Maybe he decided he didn't need the brass ring after all.

Stephen Elop, the Juniper Networks COO hired out of the blue to replace Raikes as president of Microsoft Business Division, suggests Microsoft is getting serious about its battle with Adobe.

If you're trying to beat PDF and Flash, why not hire a guy who used to lead Adobe's sales group and run Macromedia?

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January 10, 2008 1:20 PM

A mobile CES moment in the sky

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sometimes the plane rides to and from CES are nearly as interesting as the show itself.

On the flight home last night, I sat between a guy who recently left Clearwire for a San Francisco startup and a woman from Microsoft's mobile devices group who demonstrated the Windows Live mobile search client at the show.

Before the crew told us to shut off our devices, she had loaded the client onto the HTC Tilt I'd brought to take photos and video and demonstrated its voice search capabilities, pulling up a list of Mexican restaurants in Seattle.

The three of us yacked about digital broadcasting, video services, DRM, the iPhone and other gadgets until we fell asleep, probably somewhere over southern Oregon.

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January 10, 2008 1:10 PM

It's now official: Sony BMG selling DRM-free tracks via Amazon

Posted by Brier Dudley

As Business Week reported last week, Sony's joining the Amazon.com MP3 store. The companies formally announced the deal this afternoon, just ahead of Macworld.

Amazon said the deal will make it the only outlet for DRM-free MP3s from all four major music labels. Sony tracks will be available later this month.

It gives the store more than 3.1 million tracks from more than 270,000 artists.

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January 10, 2008 11:50 AM

CES: The coolest car at CES? Take your pick

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- My vote is for the 2007 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder that drew a crowd at the Monster Cable booth. They should call it doppio, with that license plate:

lambo.JPG

I think this is the new Camaro:

transformer.JPG

How about the new Jaguar XF, souped up with a Bowers & Wilkins stereo:

jag.JPG

Check out the Tomcar that Azentek used to demo its new Vista dashboard PC -- I hope it's splashproof:

realtomcar.JPG

This Yamaha would have been perfect in "Terminator 2":

IMGP0047.JPG

A company called Treo Engineering brought a truck with wheel-well displays. Mud-flap monitors? They should stick to smart phones.

IMGP0050.JPG

Blaupunkt's Tesla seemed relatively tame:

IMGP0056.JPG

This Chevy Volt is still in beta:

volt.JPG

An old school Chevy Volt:

belair1.JPG

That '56 Bel-Air has an Xbox 360 inside.

IMGA0074.JPG

It even has a drawer to hold the controllers:

IMGA0076.JPG

These guys spent so much on speakers, they could only afford a first-generation PS2 (the game console is on the right, where the glove box was):

IMGP0079.JPG

Speaking of guys, an awful lot of them were taking pictures of car stereos at CES for some reason:

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Step inside and say goodbye to your eardrums:

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I guess you could say this Hummer offers sustainable decibels:

IMGA0094.JPG

For zooming across the flat world, how about the CNC Flowmotion V12 carbon fiber Benz in the booth of Zhejiang Tianle Digital Electric Co., China's biggest speaker parts manufacturer:

IMGP0068.JPG

Last but not least is the Vectrix 3W, an electric three-wheeler that the Rhode Island company will start selling in 12 to 18 months for $11,000 to $15,000.

It's made in Poland from U.S. components, weights 520 pounds and has a maximum speed of 62 mph. At 40 mph, it has a range of 65 to 70 miles on a single charge.

Especially tricky is its tilt-control technology. At speeds under 3 mph, its locked into an upright position. As it goes faster, the lock automatically releases.

IMGA0095.JPG

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January 9, 2008 4:03 PM

CES: A soldier's memorial hot rod (updated with pic)

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- At this crazy trade show in a make-believe city, it's hard to tell there's a war going on.

The first reminders I found were in the thump-thumping hall dedicated to car stereos and other automotive electronics.

Cutting through the noise was the sound of fighter jets that seemed to be flying through the hall itself, but it turned out to be a demonstration of a bank of speakers mounted on a ski boat -- just the thing for people who want that Lake Washington Blue Angels experience all year long. It was so intense people were ducking to get out of the way and plugging their ears.

Then there was the hot-rodded Infiniti G35 built by Nicholas Ashby, a 26-year-old National Guard gunner and demolition expert from San Diego. He spent a year at Fort Lewis in 2004 before heading to Iraq, where his group was with the 81st Armored Brigade.

To commemorate three buddies killed during his tour, he came home and built the car, dubbed "Fallen Heroes," starting about a year ago, complete with larger-than-life size portraits of them on the hood and doors. It's since been a hit in the custom auto world, appearing on magazines and even showing up at an event in Seattle last fall.

Ashby said he bought the car with money he earned in Iraq, and sponsors contributed to the custom work that he estimates would cost $250,000 to replicate. Highlights include Lamborghini-style gullwing doors and a supercharger.

He only trailers the vehicle -- he gets around in a lifted Ford F-150 pickup -- and he plans to auction the G35 and donate the proceeds to veterans causes.

Ashby's thinking about building two more commemorative cars with Army and California Highway Patrol themes.

"A lot more people are starting to get into theme cars,'' he said.

Here's a photo:

Soldier car

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January 9, 2008 3:42 PM

CES: Windows Vista finds a home in the dashboard (updated with pic)

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Vista in the dashboard? That's the thinking of Azentek, a Detroit manufacturer of in-dash computers and other electronics.

Azentek's European sales rep, Sander Richardot, said the company will sell "tens of thousands" Vista car PCs. He showed me the Atlas CPC-1200, an in-dash Vista Ultimate PC that it will begin selling in April after three years of development.

The company makes a chip to connect the system to controls such as steering-wheel buttons, but the primary way to control the PC is through its 6.5-inch or 7-inch touchscreen, depending on the model. You can also use a standard Bluetooth wireless keyboard, but that might be tricky while you're driving -- and it probably wouldn't jive with Washington's new law against texting while driving.

Another nifty feature is the ability to have the system start up when you use a remote entry key to unlock the car, warming up the PC while you get settled in.

Target customers include road warriors who can use voice recognition and commands to do e-mail on the road and families with a lot of kids. The system can stream four separate video streams at once, so everyone can watch a different movie on a different screen.

"We see this product mainly as a time saver to the road warrior, the guy whose on the road a lot. He can work his e-mails by voice, send out orders to his company, send notes to his secretary,'" Richardot explained.

At $2,799, it's not going to be for everyone. Road warriors may opt to simply open a $1,000 laptop on the passenger seat, for instance. Others wanting a Windows wagon may opt to buy a Ford with the Sync software option, which costs about $300.

But Azentek system is loaded: It has an Intel Core Duo processor, an internal GPS receiver, a digital TV tuner, 7.1 surround sound output, a DVD/CD-RW drive and a 120 gigabyte hybrid flash hard-drive. It connects to the Internet via 802.11b/g or 3G radios.

Sales will be through auto dealers and car stereo installers. Azentek has been talking to auto manufacturers, sales reps told me, but they don't have any deals to announce yet.

Here's a near-final version of the system displayed at the show:

dashvista.JPG

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January 9, 2008 9:42 AM

CES: A gallery of new TVs, displays

Posted by Brier Dudley

U.S. consumers are expected to spend $29 billion on televisions this year, up 13 percent, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

Unless they decide to wait for some of the cool new models on display at CES this week. Here's a sample, including images of some of the things I've written about the last few days.

Sony's betting this is the future - ultrathin, ultrabright organic light emitting diode panels such as this 27-inch concept set, a size that won't be available for at least a year:

sony oled side

The Sony from a slightly different angle:

sony oled less angle

Panasonic still favors plasma displays, which it's making thinner as well. Here's an inch-thick, 50-inch diagonal display coming in a year or two:

Panasonic 50x1

Panasonic also showed a 150-inch plasma, the world's largest (until next year's CES, when someone will probably bring a 152'' model ...):

big pan plasma

Here's the widgetized Internet TV, the Pansonic IPTV Viera going on sale this spring:

Panasonic iptv

As long as the TV and PCs are merging, why not give the TV touchscreen capability as well? Check out LG's 52-inch touchscreen display, shown here running Google Maps:

LG Touch 52

It will be a few years, or more, before we've got big, flexible television screens using the thin-film technology LG Philips is displaying at the show. It has a 4-inch color OLED display with VGA resolution, but larger versions won't be out until after 2009. Meanwhile 12-inch monochrome versions - the dimensions of a letter-sized piece of paper - will enter mass production in the fourth quarter of 2008. Here's a 14-incher with the dimensions of a sheet of legal-sized paper:

sony oled 27

Just for fun, there's the R2D2 digital video audio and video projector from Nikko America. It has a built-in DVD player, iPod dock and DLP projector that outputs 1024 by 769 video onto a wall or ceiling. Unfortunately this guy was unable to get this one to play audio from his iPhone; a sales rep said it was a display model and might not have been fully charged.

r2d2

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January 8, 2008 6:03 PM

CES: GM boss Provoqs gadget crowd

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- There wasn't a lot of news in GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner's keynote speech this afternoon, but the crowd patiently waited for the big draw that everyone was expecting: the first public unveiling of the Cadillac Provoq.

The Provoq is a concept fuel cell vehicle that puts GM's upcoming "E-Flex" power system into a crossover/wagon platform that's larger than the previous showcase, the still-not-ready Chevy Volt.

The Provoq uses a hydrogen fuel-cell system to extend the range of the plug-in electric vehicle. It also has a solar panel on the roof to power electronic accessories, and nifty touches such as grill louvers that close at high speed to improve aerodynamics.

Wagoner didn't give specifics about when the Provoq will be available or how much will cost.

It was the first unveiling of a concept car at CES, but Wagoner said the venue for his speech was apt because of the way GM is using "electronics to reinvent the automobile."

"If the automobile were invented today, I'm pretty sure it would debut right here at CES,'' he said.

Apparently trying to fit the groove, he played Scott McNealy and threw in a Bill Gates joke. He said Gates and Michael Dell were at CES arguing with show boss Gary Shapiro over whether the Earth was flat or round. God weighed in from above, saying Shapiro is right and the world is round and the fight appeared over.

"Not so fast, said Gates -- now it's two against two,'' Wagoner said, then added "just kidding, Bill."

Equally provocative were several topics he covered earlier in the speech, including a pitch for huge investment in ethanol production and future additions to the OnStar telematics system on GM cars.

After talking up the way OnStar has helped injured and stranded motorists and now sends more detailed crash information to emergency responders, he touched on more contoversial new features such as the ability of police to ask OnStar to override a driver's control and slow vehicles reported stolen.

Now GM's working on having the system communicate with other GM cars in the vicinity to reduce accidents. If a car a quarter mile ahead were to brake suddenly, the "V2V" vehicle-to-vehicle communication system could automatically start braking.

Eventually we'll have self-driving cars, expanding on technology that GM and Carnegie used to win the DARPA robotic car challenge in November, but it makes me want to hoard used vehicles that are fully under the control of the driver.

Here's a crowds-eye view of the Provoq:

IMGA0067.JPG

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January 8, 2008 2:25 PM

CES: Panasonic writing the set-top box's obituary

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Panasonic's getting attention at CES for its big, thin and wireless TVs. It's showing the world's largest plasma -- a 150-incher -- alongside dazzling, inch-thick by 50-inch diagonal models coming in late 2009. It's also highlighting a wireless system that beams full 1080p content from a Blu-ray player to a high-def screen.

But I think its sleeper announcement here is a line of Viera-brand Internet protocol televisions that it will start selling this spring in 40-, 42-, 50- and 56-inch sizes.

Continue reading this post ...


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January 8, 2008 1:57 PM

CES: Sony's Mii too PS3 press conference

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Before I said anything about Microsoft's skimpy Xbox news at CES, I should have waited until Sony's PlayStation 3 press conference this afternoon.

A huge line waited for what ended up being a demo of "LittleBigWorld," a quirky game that was unveiled last spring and goes on sale in the fall.

The game looks like Sony's flag bearer as it tries to draw a broader and younger audience onto the PS3 and its upcoming online game network. Highlights are the game's ability to build and share levels, customize your Mii-like sock puppet avatars and play with others online.

LittleBigWorld reminds me of a slicker version of Xbox's Viva Pinata (the demo even featured a bunch of pinatas, a clue?), blended with Nintendo's Wii Network and Microsoft Paint, all running on vivid PS3 landscapes.

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January 8, 2008 2:49 AM

CES: A new generation of boombox

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- I did a double take when I passed the booth of Lasonic, an Irwindale, Calif., company that sells stereos and other gadgets manufactured by a sister company in Taiwan.

I had to learn more about the giant boomboxes that dwarfed the iPods docked where the cassette tape used to go. New at the show is the $169.99 i-931 Boom Box, which in addition to docking and charging an iPod also accepts memory cards, in case that's where you've got your funky tunes saved.

IMGA0203.JPG

The Nikes and iPod aren't included.

I wonder if we're moving out of the headphone phase and into another amplified music era, just like the rise of boomboxes after the Walkman.

Check out Samsung's interpretation of the BFR, circa 2008.

Continue reading this post ...


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January 8, 2008 2:22 AM

CES 2008: Toshiba's Origami device

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Toshiba brought a passel of slick Vista-powered Ultra-Mobile PCs to CES this year. But it would rather you call them something else.

"We don't say ultra mobile PC, we say ultra mobile device,'' Yuchiro Kato, the engineer who designed its new interface, told me.

From the side, this one looks almost like a thick iPhone:

side view of toshiba umpc at ces

Toshiba wouldn't say when the devices will go on sale and what they may cost. For now they're part of a demonstration of new technologies, including the "eMotion Feel" interface that uses optical finger navigation, a touch sensor and a touch panel.

Models beyond this one may have new components Toshiba showed in the same display, including a 128-gigabyte sold-state hard drive, a Wi-Fi/WiMax/Bluetooth/3G radio set with an antenna printed on the case and a fuel cell power system.

We'll see if any are labeled as descendents of the Ultra-Mobile PC concept that Microsoft developed under the code-name Origami.

Here's a demo of the interface Kato and an assistant gave Monday. Check out how you can scroll by tilting the device.

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January 8, 2008 2:13 AM

CES wipeout

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- They've been shown before at CES, but the motion game simulators/control systems still draw a crowd. They're not exactly mainstream, with prices starting at $14,000 for this D-Box GP Pro-200 model hooked up to an F1 racing game, but they may be perfect for that rec room in Medina.


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January 8, 2008 1:45 AM

CES 2008: Forget the remote, wave your hand instead

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Here's a fun research project that Toshiba is demonstrating at CES. It's a home theater PC that can be controlled with gestures instead of a remote control. Instead of digging around the couch cushion when you need to change the channel, you just shake your fist at the screen.

A camera on the screen recognizes the gestures, but it was sensitive. The demonstration was done against a white backdrop, and it didn't work when I stood too close with a camera. Toshiba's demonstrator here is Meagan Lee Medick.

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January 8, 2008 1:01 AM

CES 2008: MSN Direct demos new Garmin device, services

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- It didn't make it into the Bill Gates keynote Sunday, but Microsoft's MSN Direct made some announcements on the opening day of CES, including new services offered on Garmin GPS devices. It's also now working with Avis to offer the Garmin devices as a $12-a-day option on car rentals starting in March.

Gates introduced MSN Direct at CES in 2003. The business focused initially on "Spot" watches that never really took off, so the group has been pursuing partners to use its data services, which are broadcast on networks formerly used for pagers.

This year the group also announced new partners, including Alpine and Pioneer, and the new Garmin devices going on sale this spring. It also demonstrated them on the road in a big red Avis Suburban.

Among the new services on the devices are local news, stocks and events. But the most interesting addition is a button called "Web favorites" that syncs with a user's PC to display information gathered online, such as addresses. MSN Direct will get exposure through Windows Live Maps, which is adding a button that users can click to add map search results to their GPS device.

Additionally, the service has added traffic information on more cities, including Vancouver, B.C., and expanded traffic coverage in others, including Olympia.

In this video it's hard to see the device's screen, but Joe Coco, product unit manager, runs through some of the features on a Garmin 780. It will list for $799.99 and come with three months of service before yearly fees begin ($50 a year, or $130 for the life of the device). Eric Lang, general manager of MSN Direct, also chimes in from the front seat.

It sounds like there will be announcements in a few months, perhaps involving HD broadcast services.

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January 8, 2008 12:20 AM

CES 2008: Chasing Amazon.com's Kindle?

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Some mocked the angular design touches and big side buttons of Amazon.com's electronic book, but not the Chinese electronics manufacturer Sungale.

Known around the Seattle area for its $29 DVD players sold at Bartell Drugs, Sungale displayed a prototype "E-Book" at the show with some Kindleish design cues. It hasn't entered production yet, but the company said it will accept SD memory cards and support English and Chinese.

Sungale E-Book

It doesn't have wireless at this point but Sungale's a big producer of Wi-Fi digital photo frames that work with Google's Picasa photo service, so who knows what's in store for its E-Book?

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January 7, 2008 10:17 PM

CES 2008: A painful PC race

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS == I love the Tiger Direct PC race, an annual CES event where tech journalists race to build computers that are donated to charities.

But this year it felt like I was back in the Seafair milk carton boat derby on Green Lake, where I raced as a kid. I was so far behind the pack, the support crew came to haul me in. At least this time the "important lesson" I was getting was obvious.

Continue reading this post ...


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January 7, 2008 4:43 PM

Back to the future at CES

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- After looking at the 500th high-definition flat panel TV on display at the Consumer Electronics Show, wondering who could afford this stuff with the housing market collapsing, I was feeling a little jaded.

Then I passed a guy from Peavey, the music equipment maker, who was practically skipping through the crowd toward a group of co-workers.

"It came through -- 35,000 units!" he beamed, literally rubbing his hands together.

I guess there are still plenty of buyers for the stuff on display at this crazy show, even if they may spend a little bit less this year.

The trade group that holds the show, the Consumer Electronics Association, expects industry sales to pass $171 billion this year, up 6.1 percent from the $161 billion sold in 2007, when sales grew 8.2 percent.

TV sales will grow even faster, the group expects, along with sales of videogames and navigation devices.

But the show seems to reflect the dip in overall sales growth, with many of the companies adding new features and capabilities to products that are otherwise familiar.

For instance, one product that received an innovation award at the show is a three-way surround sound speaker system Samsung demonstrated. Every company seems to have a wireless speaker product on display, many using the same Bluetooth wireless technology to play music stored on nearby MP3 players or phones. Samsung's is special, though, because it also uses Bluetooth to sense when a user approaches and automatically powers up the speakers and starts playing music.

Besides wireless media, another emerging theme at the show seems to be touch interfaces. Apple doesn't exhibit here but the influence of its touch-controlled iPhone is clear at Toshiba's booth, for instance.

The Japanese company is exhibiting a prototype mobile computer with a 5-inch screen, a hard-drive and the Windows Vista operating system, but its key feature is a touch-screen with gesture controls. It's basically a Windows Ultra-Mobile PC, but a software engineer working on the project said the company may opt to drop "PC" from the description and call it a "mobile Internet device" instead.

Toshiba also showed a gesture-control system for a home-theater PC -- a Webcam watches your hand and turns up the volume when you give thumbs up, for instance.

It also demonstrated a new system for wireless transmitting video from a high-definition DVD player to a flat-panel TV, one of several technologies presented here that finally seem to be making this feasible.

But a tiny little TV that Toshiba's rival, Sony, introduced may be the belle of the ball. The screen is only 11 inches in diameter, but it's about a quarter inch thick and uses and ultra bright organic light-emitting diode display. Not many people will buy the thing at its $2,500 list price but OLED feels like the future of television.

I'm guessing the future of newspapers and other print media was shown by LG and Philips, which will begin mass production later this year on a 12-inch flexible, paperlike display they are demonstrating at the show. The electrostatic screens are made of thin stainless steel foil that's 0.3 millimeters thick, or 0.6 millimeters thick with a protective sheet. A 14-inch color version looks like it may be ready a year or so later.

As a newspaper employee nervous about my industry's future, I felt like skipping and rubbing my hands together and ordering 250,000 units.

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January 7, 2008 11:30 AM

Yahoo heats mobile platform war, may "open" portal

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Look out Facebook.

Yahoo's opening itself up as a platform for developers that could challenge Facebook and other young Internet ventures making platform plays.

Chief Yahoo Jerry Yang also unveiled an impressive update to the company's "Yahoo Go" mobile software platform and partnerships with companies such as Motorola to preload the software onto phones.

I'll bet it pushes Yahoo toward the front in the three-way race among the Internet giants building ad-serving mobile software platforms. No wonder Google rushed out an early version of its "Android" mobile software platform. Meanwhile, Microsoft's expecting the number of Windows Mobile phones sold to double this year, reaching 20 million,

Continue reading this post ...


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January 7, 2008 9:06 AM

Allen's take on the Sonics

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- It's a little off topic here at CES, but since I ran into Paul Allen and we talked a bit about sports, I asked what he thought about the Sonics situation and whether he might get involved, perhaps with some sort of franchise swap or relocation to keep the team in Seattle.

"It's not in the cards at all," he said.

As the owner of both the Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, Allen's pretty familiar with the bare-knuckles lobbying for new facilities the Sonics have been doing. Allen said he'd be sad if the team left, but "these things do happen in sports."

Really, they've got a few years left on their lease and then either something will have to be put together to make the economics work in Seattle -- just like I had to commit a lot of money to get the Rose Garden [in Portland] back. You have to have something to make the economics work because otherwise you know you just lose money year after year. In a medium and small market, unless you have a great facility, which we do have in the Rose Garden in Portland, it's a tough situation for ownership there. You've got to have a better facility.

I mentioned speculation that another local billionaire such as Steve Ballmer will step in to save the Sonics, but Allen's perspective makes that sound like a longshot.

I'm not going to speak for Steve ... but it's an economic issue. Seattle's a fantastic city -- that's my main residence, I've been in Seattle all my life except in the early days of Microsoft when I was in Albuquerque for a couple of years, and Boston for a year and college at Washington State. It's a fantastic city and it would be a shame to lose a professional sports franchise, but these things do happen in sports. Until then, if you're ownership, you have to say, well, can I make something [there], after all the political things that have happened, is there a chance for a solution to keep going forward, or do you have to look at alternatives? I'm sure they're probably doing both things.

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January 6, 2008 6:22 PM

At CES: Paul Allen beaming about Hawks, wishing Bill Gates well

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- I almost didn't recognize the guy standing in the front row, waiting for Bill Gates to deliver his swan song keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show.

It's Paul Allen, who was yacking with, I believe, Viacom boss Philip Daumann until a nosey reporter horned in.

Allen has lost a lot of weight -- "I've got a trainer,'' he said.

I thought it was from all the cheering at Saturday's Seahawks game.

Allen said he's here to show support for Bill. Maybe the Microsoft co-founders will have more time to hang out after Bill finally cuts back on his Microsoft duties this summer, as Allen did back in 1983.

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January 4, 2008 2:52 PM

Greg Linden spotlighted for spooky Crash 2.0 post

Posted by Brier Dudley

Some commenters are calling it sour grapes, but Greg Linden's prediction of a rough year for Web companies touched a nerve ...

Continue reading this post ...


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January 4, 2008 11:29 AM

The big telescope: A quick Q&A with Simonyi

Posted by Brier Dudley

It took a little time to reach Charles Simonyi on Thursday, when word came out that he and Bill Gates were supporting a spectacular new telescope with $30 million in donations. E-mail was apparently a little spotty on the yacht, but he responded last night to a few questions about the LSST project:

Q: What attracted you to LSST versus other astronomy projects?

A:The LSST is simply the most important astronomy project we have today because of its fundamental and enabling nature. It has this unique quality the scientists call "wide-fast-deep". In normal camera terms we would say that it has a wide-angle lens, it can take pictures quickly one after the other, and it can take pictures of very faint objects.

Q: How did the arrangement with you and Bill come about? I have a vision of you two sitting on a beach, looking up at the stars and enjoying a bottle of tokaj ...

A: Nathan Myhrvold started the ball rolling. I've heard about the project first from Bill.

Q: A comment you made in the release stood out for me -- that the system could look for asteroids that could threaten Earth. Does LSST fill some sort of early warning service that governments have failed to provide?

A: The project will depend greatly on public funding so the government will do its part. But, yes, the data provided by the telescope is optimal for timely discovery of asteroids, including those that might threaten Earth. It also worth pointing out that the different uses of the telescope are not competing with each other, but are simply different processings of the regular data flow from the instrument. One university might be looking for asteroids in the terabytes of data; another might map the galaxies from the same data sets.

Q: The public-access aspect of the project is also interesting. What do you imagine the long-term effect will be of having this sort of data available to everyone?

A: It will mean a tremendous expansion of astronomical research. Much research will be done on computers that are affordable by smaller institutions as well. In terms of public understanding of astronomy, I am sure there will be videos on YouTube of the changes in the sky -- for example, the explosions of supernovae or the movements of thousands of Pluto-like objects around the sun.

Q: Do you plan to have any hands-on involvement in developing the system or in its operation?

A: The system is much too complicated for me to make meaningful direct contributions, but I will follow it very closely for the next decade or so.

Q: The thought of people building a machine that can capture and replay the entire night sky is amazing. We're also seeing big advances in deep sea mapping and photography. I wonder how mankind will change after it's able to map, render and manipulate images of these vast, mysterious spaces.

A: While the oceans are also fascinating, they are unlikely to harbor entirely new phenomena. A machine that is the most comparable to LSST in terms of its ability to produce terrabytes of interesting data which can be mined for new discoveries is the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), the giant international atom-smasher that is located near Geneva and which will start working in a couple of years. It is one of the most astounding developments of modern science that astronomy -- the science of the very large -- and particle physics -- the science of the very small -- are two sides of the same coin, so these two machines might give complementary evidence about the nature of the mysterious "black matter" for example.

Q: How are things going with Intentional Software -- are its tools being used for any major scientific projects?

A: No. We are working with CapGemini on financial applications, such as pension administration.

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January 3, 2008 10:14 AM

Simonyi, Gates funding ginormous Chilean space camera

Posted by Brier Dudley

The old Microsoft pals and Medina neighbors are donating $30 million to the Large Synaptic Survey Telescope project, a public-private venture building a fantastic telescope that will be installed on a mountaintop in Chile.

Apparently local billionaires have a thing for big space telescopes ...

Continue reading this post ...


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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.