Thursday, June 7, 2007

Don't worry about US missile system, Mr. Putin, it doesn't work

President Putin need not worry about the US missile defense system as it does not work, according to a group of US scientists.

The Union of Concerned Scientists made this statement even President Bush prepares to meet with his Russian counterpart tomorrow in Germany.

"The defense system couldn't stop a Russian nuclear attack on the United States," Dr. David Wright, a physicist and co-director of UCS's Global Security Program said. "The defense system couldn't stop a Russian nuclear attack on the United States. It could be easily overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Russian nuclear arsenal, destroyed by an attack on the system at the same time Russia launched its own missiles, or foiled by decoys and other countermeasures."

In the days running up to the G-8 Summit in Germany this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been denouncing US plans to build a missile defense system in Central Europe and threatened to target Europe with Russian missiles if the plan went ahead.

"Because the system is vulnerable to decoys, it also wouldn't stop a missile attack from the Middle East," Dr. Wright added. "If Iran or other states in the region develop long-range missiles and deliverable nuclear warheads, they would certainly equip those missiles with countermeasures that could render U.S. defenses ineffective."

President Putin expressed his disappointment at the fact that while Russia has removed all of our heavy weapons from the European part of Russia and put them behind the Urals, Europe is being pumped full of new weapons systems.

He emphasised that for the first time in history there are elements of the U.S. nuclear capability on the European continent.

"How do they justify this?" Putin asked. "By the need to defend themselves against Iranian missiles. But there are no such missiles. Iran has no missiles with a range of 5,000 to 8,000 kilometres. In other words, we are being told that this missile defence system is there to defend against something that doesn’t exist. Do you not think that this is even a little bit funny?"

Russian military experts believe that this system affects the territory of the Russian Federation in front of the Ural mountains and Putin explained that he has no choice but to respond to the new threat posed by the US missile system.

"Russia's reaction may seem nonsensical, so does the U.S. decision to invite such a reaction by planning to field a system that won't work," Dr. Wright said. "Moreover, as long as the United States maintains a nuclear warfighting posture—keeping thousands of nuclear warheads ready to be launched within minutes at Russia's nuclear forces—Russia will find such defenses threatening, despite evidence they won't work."

Dr Wright urged Bush to have a bilateral dialogue aimed at reducing the nuclear arsenals of both the former cold war rivals.

"The best way to increase US security would be to take steps to dramatically cut US and Russian nuclear arsenals and reduce the chance they would be used," he said. "Instead, the proposed European missile defense site, by inflaming passions and strengthening hard-line Russian thinking, worsens a real threat while offering a false promise against a possible future one."

First free-trade deal in 6 years expected

Federal Trade Minister David Emerson is expected to announce Thursday that Ottawa is wrapping up free-trade talks with four European countries: Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, sources say.

He is also expected to announce that Canada is commencing similar negotiations with Peru and Colombia.

A successful conclusion of talks with Norway and its other three partners in the European Free Trade Association would mark the first free-trade accord that Canada has signed in six years.

It would also be a sign, however small, that Ottawa is serious about gaining ground in the global race to sew up preferential commercial partners.

Such an agreement would build on $11-billion of existing annual commerce with the four members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), all countries that have so far avoided joining the European Union.

Mr. Emerson is expected announce the conclusion of talks with EFTA at what the Harper government is calling “Trade Day” on Thursday.

The European Free Trade Association deal would be a boon for the Harper government, which will sell it as more proof — in addition to the Canada-U.S. softwood dispute truce — that it has succeeded where its Liberal predecessors have failed.

One obstacle the Conservatives must overcome is fear about the impact of an agreement on Canada's shipbuilding industry: the very hurdle that stalled late-stage EFTA deal talks in 2000 under then-prime minister Jean Chr├ętien's watch.

Under the Liberals, Ottawa was reluctant to scrap its 25-per-cent duty on foreign-made ships and wanted to retain the right to subsidize its domestic shipbuilding industry — a sticking point for Norway, an exporter of marine vessels.

To that end, the Conservatives have also scheduled a shipbuilding announcement for Thursday in Halifax, an event they are expected to use to help placate the marine construction industry.

Critics believe the Tories will have to steer work to domestic shipyards to placate anger should they lower or scrap the tariff on foreign ships.

Mr. Emerson's office refused to say whether they are announcing the EFTA deal Thursday.

The Conservatives quietly resumed negotiations with the EFTA countries last fall amid speculation that they were preparing to scrap the tariff on foreign-built ships, perhaps phasing it out over a period of years.

Mr. Emerson hinted earlier this week that Ottawa was close to clinching the EFTA deal.

“We are cleaning up a few fine points there, but I am feeling cautiously optimistic,” Mr. Emerson told reporters on Monday.

Nations are scrambling to sign up free-trade partners as multi-country talks to liberalize international commerce flounder, from the World Trade Organization's Doha round to the stalled Free-Trade Area of the Americas project.

Canada has signed only one free-trade agreement in the last six years, with Costa Rica in 2001. By comparison, the U.S. Congress has approved seven deals with 12 countries over roughly the same period.

Canada's shipbuilding industry has been in decline for years and operates at only about one-third of its capacity today.


Apple TV Cost Breakdown

BusinessWeek is reporting on research firm iSuppli's analysis of how much it is costing Apple to assemble the Apple TV.

According to the report, Apple's margins on the product appear to be uncharacteristically slim from a consumer electronics product. While Apple is used to margins in excess of 50% on such products, iSuppli estimates the 40 GB Apple TV's bill of materials at $237, leaving a margin of $62 (approximately 20%). The newly released 160 GB version of the Apple TV is estimated to have a better margin at 30%.

Of all component suppliers, Intel stands to make the most off the Apple TV. The Intel under-clocked Pentium M is the most expensive component at $40. Intel also supplies a chipset valued at $28, bringing Intel's material share to 28% of the total bill of materials.

iSuppli's numbers do not account for research and development or marketing costs, and actual material costs may vary depending on special deals Apple may have acquired.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thunderbird 2.0 email client goes gold

Mozilla today released the final version of Thunderbird 2, the next generation of the organization's open-source email client. Key new features include message tagging, message history, and a new function to search for content within messages, among numerous other enhancements.

The major new features, according to a Mozilla spokesperson, are:
  • Message tagging -- users can organize emails by assigning tags like "From Mom" or "Weekend Projects" to easily track and search for information; users can choose from default tags -- such as Important, Personal, To-Do, Later, and Work -- or create their own custom tags; users can also add as many tags as they want to a message

  • Message history – Thunderbird 2 offers message history navigation similar to Web browsing history navigation; users can move backward and forward through their messages and easily browse through their message history

  • Search -- the find-as-you-type pane speeds up searches within displayed messages, and a quick search feature starts showing search results as soon as users begin typing search terms; additionally, Thunderbird 2 saves users time by allowing the storing of searches as folders and facilitating the rerun of saved searches by clicking on the saved search folder in the folder pane

  • Easy access to Web mail services -- Thunderbird 2 lets users integrate and access popular Web mail services simply by entering their user names and passwords

  • Customization -- users can customize Thunderbird 2 with hundreds of free add-ons that change the look, feel, and functionality of the email client to suit their tastes; users can also create their own message templates to save time
Other Thunderbird 2 enhancements, according to the spokesperson, include:
  • Visual theme -- Thunderbird 2's theme and user interface have been updated to improve usability and maximize screen real estate

    Thunderbird 2 boasts an updated look and feel
    (Click for larger view)

  • Advanced folder views -- customize the folder pane to show favorite, unread or recent folders

  • Updates to the extension system -- the extension system has been updated to provide enhanced security and to allow for easier localization of extensions

Mozilla provides Thunderbird 2 for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X in a variety of languages. You can download Thunderbird 2 here.

Some additional screenshots, and an evaluation of Thunderbird 2 Beta 1 by columnist Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, are available here.

Related stories:

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Engineers Bring 'Invisibility' One Step Closer to Reality

Researchers using nanotechnology have taken a step toward creating an "optical cloaking" device that could render objects invisible by guiding light around anything placed inside this "cloak."

The Purdue University engineers, following mathematical guidelines devised in 2006 by physicists in the United Kingdom, have created a theoretical design that uses an array of tiny needles radiating outward from a central spoke. The design, which resembles a round hairbrush, would bend light around the object being cloaked. Background objects would be visible but not the object surrounded by the cylindrical array of nano-needles, said Vladimir Shalaev, Purdue's Robert and Anne Burnett Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The design does, however, have a major limitation: It works only for any single wavelength, and not for the entire frequency range of the visible spectrum, Shalaev said.

"But this is a first design step toward creating an optical cloaking device that might work for all wavelengths of visible light," he said.

Research findings are detailed in a paper appearing this month in the journal Nature Photonics. The paper, which is appearing online this week, was co-authored by doctoral students Wenshan Cai and Uday K. Chettiar, research scientist Alexander V. Kildishev and Shalaev, all in Purdue's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Calculations indicate the device would make an object invisible in a wavelength of 632.8 nanometers, which corresponds to the color red. The same design, however, could be used to create a cloak for any other single wavelength in the visible spectrum, Shalaev said.

"How to create a design that works for all colors of visible light at the same time will be a big technical challenge, but we believe it's possible," he said. "It is clearly doable. In principle, this cloak could be arbitrarily large, as large as a person or an aircraft."

The research is based at the Birck Nanotechnology Center at Purdue's Discovery Park.

Other researchers published findings in 2006 describing the mathematics generally required for the optical cloaking device. Those researchers include: John Pendry at the Imperial College in London, along with David Schurig and David R. Smith at Duke University, and simultaneously, Ulf Leonhardt at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

"These mathematical requirements were very general, and then we determined how to fulfill the requirements with a specific design," Shalaev said.

Leonhardt, a professor of theoretical physics, wrote a commentary piece about the Purdue paper appearing in the same issue of Nature Photonics. In the commentary, he compares the Purdue design to the Roman creation of "the first optical metamaterial," a type of glass containing nanometer-scale particles of gold. In ordinary daylight, a cup made of the glass appeared green, but then it glowed ruby when illuminated from the inside.

The Purdue research, Leonhardt writes, represents " ... theoretical simulations that show that a modified Roman cup based on modern nanofabrication technology will act as an invisibility device ... Any object you put inside will disappear as if dissolved in air, provided it is viewed through polarizing tinted glasses of precisely that colour."

Other researchers have developed concepts for cloaking objects smaller than the wavelengths of visible light and for objects detected in the microwave range of the spectrum, which are much larger than the wavelengths of visible light. But the new design is the first for cloaking an arbitrary object in the range of light visible to humans.

"What we propose is the cloaking of objects of any shape and size," Shalaev said.

Two requirements are needed to render an object invisible: Light must not reflect off of the object, and the light must bend around the object so that people would see only the background and not the cloaked object itself.

"If you satisfied only the first requirement of preventing light from reflecting off of the object, you would still see the dark shadowlike shape of the object, so you would know something was there," Shalaev said. "The most difficult requirement is to bend light around the cloaked object so that the background is visible but not the object being cloaked. The viewer would, in effect, be seeing around, or through, the object."

The device would be made of so-called "non-magnetic metamaterials." Meta in Greek means beyond, so the term metamaterial means to create something that doesn't exist in nature. Unlike designs for invisibility in the microwave range, the new design has no magnetic properties. Having no magnetic properties makes it much easier to cloak objects in the visible range but also causes a small amount of light to reflect off of the cloaked object.

"But this could, in principle, be offset by other means, for example, with antireflective coatings," Shalaev said. "The big challenge is how to make rays bend around the object, which we have described how to do in this paper."

A key factor in the design is the ability to reduce the "index of refraction" to less than 1. Refraction occurs as electromagnetic waves, including light, bend when passing from one material into another. Refraction causes the bent-stick-in-water effect, which occurs when a stick placed in a glass of water appears bent when viewed from the outside. Each material has its own refraction index, which describes how much light will bend in that particular material and defines how much the speed of light slows down while passing through a material.

Natural materials typically have refractive indices greater than 1. The new design reduces a refractive index to values gradually varying from zero at the inner surface of the cloak, to 1 at the outer surface of the cloak, which is required to guide light around the cloaked object.

Creating the tiny needles would require the same sort of equipment already used to fabricate nanotech devices. The needles in the theoretical design are about as wide as 10 nanometers, or billionths of a meter, and as long as hundreds of nanometers. They would be arranged in layers emanating from a central spoke in a cylindrical shape. A single nanometer is roughly the size of 20 hydrogen atoms strung together.

Although the design would work only for one frequency, it still might have applications, such as producing a cloaking system to make soldiers invisible to night-vision goggles.

"Because night-imaging systems detect only a specific wavelength, you could, in theory, design something that cloaks in that narrow band of light," Shalaev said.

Another possible application is to cloak objects from "laser designators" used by the military to illuminate a target, he said.

Leonhardt says in his commentary that creating a cloak for rendering total invisibility in the entire visible spectrum would require "further advances in optical metamaterials, new combinations of nanotechnology with highly abstract ideas ..."

The optical cloaking research is an indirect spinoff of research in Shalaev's lab that has been funded by the U.S. Army Research Office to develop metamaterials. In previous work, Shalaev's team created a metamaterial that has a "negative index of refraction" in the wavelength of light used for telecommunications, a step that could lead to better communications and imaging technologies. More recently, the researchers moved the wavelength for a negative refractive index material to the visible range.

Gunman warned 'Get out my way, pimp'n'

A man shot and killed his former girlfriend inside the CNN Center complex in Atlanta, Georgia, Tuesday afternoon before being shot by a security officer, police said.

Witness Charles Williams was riding up the escalator toward the Omni Hotel lobby when he saw the man pulling his victim by her hair with his left hand.

She was screaming and crying and holding on to her hair close to her head with both hands, Williams said.

"I was walking directly toward them and he and I were eye-to-eye, and so I started looking at his right hand to see if he had something," said Williams.

The suspect warned Williams, "Get out my way, pimp'n."

"I knew you don't say that to someone unless you got something," Williams said, so he tried to see if the man was holding a weapon but couldn't see the man's right hand.

Williams moved out of the man's way and quickly motioned for the nearest security officer to come to him.

"I was saying, 'Come here quickly, come!' " Then Williams lost sight of the man and woman as they turned into a hallway outside the newsroom.

The officer radioed in a disturbance report and soon other security officers were on the scene.

John Helton, a producer, had a direct view of the gunman through glass doors. "I saw him coming down the escalator pulling her along, around the corner. He ran into the plant and that's when they started struggling," he said. (Read more witness accounts)

"She seemed to be trying to wrestle free of him," he said.

Helton said the woman appeared to be shot at point-blank range. "He looked like he had the gun right on top of her head and shot her." (Gallery: Scenes from the shooting)

After the shots, writer Brad Lendon said, the gunman "looked around, his head turning in my direction. I don't know if he saw me, but at that moment the gravity of what I'd witnessed hit me. I turned away and tried to find the safest way I could out." (Watch Brad Lendon describe what he did next )

The gunman was then shot by Capt. Odell Adams, who joined Turner Security in 1996, according to a spokesperson for Turner, the parent company for CNN.

Preliminary reports indicate that the suspect was shot in the face, a law enforcement source said on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Investigators have not released a name, saying the man was not carrying any identification.

The shooting victim, 22-year-old Clara Riddles, was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital. Riddles died from her injuries.

The shooter was also taken to the hospital where he was undergoing surgery and was in "severely critical condition," the hospital said. (Watch suspect at gunpoint, wounded woman on floor )

Riddles was working Tuesday at the Omni Hotel where she had been employed for about a year, hotel spokesman Michael Sullivan said. She worked in the Honor Bar department restocking minibars in the rooms.

Riddles lived in the Atlanta suburb of College Park, according to Investigator Betty Honey of the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office.

The gunman has not been named, but Atlanta police called the shooting a "domestic situation," and said the gunman was a former boyfriend of Riddles.

The CNN Center was particularly busy Tuesday, following Monday night's NCAA championship game in the nearby Georgia Dome.

One woman, who was visiting the CNN Center, said she saw security officers running with their guns drawn.

"The kids were pretty shaken up and it was pretty scary. And it wasn't until we came back in after the fact and looked up on the CNN screen that we had learned what had really happened," she said.

The newsroom was temporarily evacuated. Some workers had already scrambled out of the building seeking cover after hearing shots.
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