Speedy Magnetite Switch Makes Blink of an Eye Seem Poky

Researchers using the United States Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University have created an experimental switch that goes between on and off in one trillionth of a second.

This was done by blasting samples of magnetite with a laser to rearrange their atomic structure.

optical laser pulse

An optical laser pulse (red streak from upper right) shatters the ordered electronic structure (blue) in an insulating sample of magnetite, switching the material to electrically conducting (red) in one trillionth of a second. (Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC)

The scientists then used ultrabright, ultrashort X-ray pulses to measure how long it took for the switch to go from off to on.

The experiment is one of several undertaken by researchers worldwide to find an alternative to silicon as the semiconductor industry runs up against the limits of Moore’s Law, Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, told TechNewsWorld.

“We’re running up against size and cost limitations and will have to eventually move beyond silicon,” McGregor said. “What and when that will be is highly debatable, but by 2025 it may be a requirement.”

What the Researchers Did

The researchers first cooled samples of magnetite to -190 degrees Celsius to lock their electrical charges in place.

They then used a visible-light laser on the samples of magnetite to fragment their electronic structure at the atomic scale.

This rearranged the structure to form non-conducting “islands” surrounded by electrically conducting regions, which formed hundreds of quadrillionths of a second after the laser beam hit.


The scientists then used SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray laser to direct ultrabright, ultrashort X-ray pulses at the magnetite to study the timing and details of changes in the samples following the laser pulse.

Adjusting the intervals of the X-ray pulses let the researchers measure how long it took the magnetite to shift from an off state to an on state, and observe the structural changes that occurred when it happened.

Developing high-speed switches identifies the fundamental materials processes driving the switches, among other things, Herman Durr, principal investigator of the LCLS experiment, told TechNewsWorld. “There are often competing processes that happen on different timescales that can be studied and ultimately controlled this way.”

The Next Steps

The researchers are conducting follow-up studies on high-quality, ultra-thin structures of Vanadium dioxide, which demonstrates an insulator-metal transition above room temperatures, Durr said.

In other words, they work as on-off switches above room temperatures, which makes them more practical than magnetite.

Using oxides in transistors could make them more efficient, but the industry needs to go beyond semiconductors, Durr said. “My group, myself and many other researchers … want to understand the non-equilibrium phases that are generated by laser or electric field excitation of oxide materials. There, something new could happen that could be useful for IT, [and] our article is the first inkling of this.”


Australia May Tweak Copyright Laws to Knock Down IT Prices

Australia has recommended changes to copyright law that would allow Aussie citizens cheaper access to IT hardware, software and digital downloads after a parliamentary inquiry found no good reason for prices to be so high Down Under.

The inquiry sought to unearth why IT prices were so much higher in Australia than elsewhere. The probe kicked off last year, and in February the heads of some giant U.S. tech firms — Apple, Adobe and Microsoft among them — were summoned for a public hearing.

Prices for computer products are often 50 percent higher in Australia than elsewhere. Adobe has claimed that its products cost more because of local packaging and transports costs, while Apple cited copyright fees.

Those claims, however, seem to have fallen on deaf ears, as the investigation’s final report said that “price differences … cannot be explained by the cost of doing business in Australia.”

The report suggests a handful of potential moves to rectify the problem, such as removing restrictions on gray market imports and changing the Copyright Act to “secure customers’ rights to circumvent technological protection measures.” There is also mention of creating a “right of resale” for digital goods. [Source: The Register]


Man Arrested Following Twitter Harassment of Women’s Advocate

A 21-year-old in the United Kingdom has been arrested after he reportedly bombarded a feminist campaigner with Twitter harassment, including threats of rape.

The victim of the Web-based abuse was Caroline Criado-Perez, who had orchestrated a campaign for women to appear on British currency. Criado-Perez said the tweets began the same day it was confirmed that author Jane Austen would grace new 10 pound notes.

Criado-Perez went to the police after what she says was roughly 50 abusive tweets per hour for 12 hours.

British government officials complained that Twitter’s response — the company advised Criado-Perez to go to the police — was weak, claiming the social media platforms are responsible for such abuse.

An online petition was launched to coax Twitter into installing a “report abuse” button.

[Source: The BBC]

More than 8 percent of UK Web Traffic Goes to Porn

In the UK, 8.5 percent of all Web clicks last month were for legal pornography sites, according to The Guardian.

The 8.5 percent tally exceeds the share for shopping, social networks and news, the outlet reported.

The only categories to exceed the porn rate were search engines and arts and entertainment, which includes YouTube. Those two logged 15.7 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively.

The figures are particularly relevant in light of British prime minister David Cameron’s ongoing crusade to force Internet service providers to block pornography by default, thereby forcing the porn-viewing public to opt in for such pages.

The Guardian’s figures, which come from the Israel-based analytics company SimilarWeb, do not include mobile traffic. The figures only track clicks, not the total volume of Web traffic, and they omit illegal searches for child abuse.

More than 8 percent of Google UK searches over the past three months led to adult content, according to SimilarWeb.

The world average of porn-clicks is reportedly 7.7 percent, while the U.S. is at 8.3 percent.

[Source: The Guardian]

Apple’s New – and Old – China Problem

China Labor Watch issued a report saying that Apple is nowhere near rectifying the problems with its suppliers in China.

The report looked at three factories, two in Shanghai and one in Suzhou, which are integral to Apple’s operations. Excessive work hours, women being forced to quit during pregnancies and environmental pollution were among the problems found.

The factories that were investigated, owned by Taiwanese electronics manufacturing company Pegatron, also produce items for Nokia, Sony, Panasonic, Del and others. So it’s not like Apple alone is responsible.

[Source: Tech In Asia]

Google relaunches voice calling service on Gmail

The convenience of modern smartphones and the emergence of video calling services have all but made traditional phone lines an outdated technology. Although it has failed to garner the same media coverage as services like Skype, Google has offered its own internet-based telephone service in the past; a feature that has vanished with the recent redesign of Gmail. However, amid a flurry of public support, Google is bringing it back.

Alex Wiesen, a senior software engineer involved in the project, wrote, “For those of you who have taken the plunge and are using desktop Hangouts in Gmail, Google + and the Chrome extension, we’ve heard you loud and clear that you miss the ability to make calls from Gmail, so today, we’re happy to announce it’s back.”

Not only are calls to the US and Canada completely free of charge, but international calls are also extremely inexpensive. According to the announcement, several new features have also been added. Foremost, users can now add multiple people to a single chat or video call, and you can play nifty sound effects while on the line with Google Effects. For example, you can introduce a backdrop of applause or laughter if the moment seems right.

To access the call feature, you can either click on the phone icon in Gmail that’s located under Hangouts, or the “Call a phone” menu button that resides in both Google+ and the Chrome extension.

It’s quickly becoming apparent that Google is focusing its efforts on the Hangout platform, and its close ties to Google+. The company explained that, “Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice, and making and receiving calls is just the beginning.”

Currently, there has been no mention of the voice calling service coming to the mobile app. Nevertheless, this seems to be the next logical move.

Google to shutter Latitude on August 9 to focus on Google+

Google recently announced plans to shutter Google Latitude on August 9. The decision comes as the search giant updates its mapping experiences across Android and iOS devices and will help strengthen check-in and location-sharing features on Google+.

The closure will affect Latitude in Google Maps for Android, Latitude for iPhone, the Latitude API, the public badge, the iGoogle Gadget and the Latitude website at maps.google.com/latitude. Once the deadline arrives, users will no longer be able to share their location and will see their list of friends on Latitude disappear.

Additionally, applications that use the Latitude API will no longer be able to access a user’s location data but they will be allowed to continue to store data they have already received. Privacy and e-mail reminders will also be disabled as will check-ins from Google Maps for mobile.

The decision shouldn’t really come as a surprise at this point considering Google essentially pushed the service aside years ago to focus on Google+. Moving forward, location sharing has already been added to Google+ for Android app and will be arriving on iOS soon, we’re told.

There’s also a new version of the Maps app for Android and iOS that delivers new navigation information like detailed traffic reports as well as an explore feature that dishes up places you might like to eat, drink, shop or sleep. The app does, however, do away with offline maps but they can still be accessed without an Internet connection by entering “OK Maps” into the search box when looking at an area you want to save for later.



Verizon wants President Obama to intervene in AT&T iPhone import ban and other ITC issues

AT&T Mobility has an unlikely ally in Verizon Wireless. Though the leading wireless companies in the U.S. are also each other’s chief rivals, Verizon has called on President Obama to veto an ITC ruling that would ban AT&T from importing some Apple iPhone and iPad models. The ITC ruled that the Apple iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPad 2 all violate patents held by Samsung and should be banned from being imported into the U.S. The ban applies only to those devices on the AT&T network, but Randy Milch, executive vice president of Public Policy at Verizon, says that the president should intervene in the matter.

Milch penned a Wall Street Journal column detailing reasons that the ITC, which settles patent disputes by issuing products bans rather than lesser punishments, is not an ideal way to resolve disputes between rival companies. Milch notes that President Obama has the authority to overturn the ban, and he says such intervention should occur so consumers have more choices. Milch wrote:

“High-tech products can implicate thousands of patents. If the ITC finds that a product infringes even a single one, it can stop the product at the border. But that’s basically it. The commission can’t levy much in the way of a lesser penalty. In the end the consumer suffers when the use of such an enforcement tool is unwarranted.

By early August, the Obama administration must decide whether to veto the ITC’s decision to bar the devices alleged to have infringed on a Samsung patent. Should it?”

Verizon’s lead counselor stresses that he takes no position on whether Apple or Samsung is right in their lengthy court battles over patents, but Milch argues that the ITC is not the venue to settle these disputes. While it might seem odd that he would comment publicly on a matter concerning AT&T, it’s likely that Milch sees the writing on the wall. The number of cases before the ITC has increased steadily since 1998 and the highly competitive smartphone market will lead to more manufacturers using the ITC to have their rivals product’s delayed or banned. It could just as easily be Verizon forced to deal with an important ban in the future. Milch argues that White House intervention might discourage future cases from being filed.

Sony becomes first manufacturer to confirm Android 4.3 plans

Following Google’s announcement of Android 4.3 yesterday, existing Android smartphone owners immediately began wondering when their phones would receive the software upgrade. HTC and Samsung would say only that they are evaluating Android 4.3 in order to see how it will fit into their product plans. In other words, the companies said they aren’t making any promises and won’t provide any timetable for when Galaxy S 4 or HTC One owners can expect to get an update notification.

Sony, on the other hand, has at least decided to ease some fears and confirm which devices will get Android 4.3. The company is still working to upgrade the Xperia Z and Xperia ZL to Android 4.2 in August but Sony says those phones will also be in line to get Android 4.3. Sony has confirmed that the following devices will receive Android 4.3 at an undisclosed date:

– Xperia Z
– Xperia ZL
– Xperia ZR
– Xperia Z Ultra
– Xperia Tablet Z
– Xperia SP

Boeing Shows Off Space Taxi’s Sleek Interior

Boeing unveiled the interior of its Crew Space Transportation-100 commercial spacecraft Monday, giving the public a first look inside the craft and offering two NASA astronauts the chance to climb inside and test it.

Boeing CST-100 interior

This is an interior view of The Boeing Company’s CST-100 spacecraft, which features LED lighting and tablet technology. (Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz)

The company designed the CST-100 to be a safe, reliable and cost-effective way to send astronauts to Low Earth Orbit destinations, including the International Space Station.

The CST-100 is scheduled to take off in 2016 for a test flight that could help Boeing win a coveted NASA contract to deliver crew to the ISS. Boeing is one of three companies, along with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Sierra Nevada, competing for the job through NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program.


So far, NASA has awarded the three companies about US$900 million in contracts to design and build safe and cost-effective spacecraft for LEO travel. NASA has provided seed money, resources and personnel to assist and test the spacecraft the three companies envision and create.

Boeing did not respond to our request for further details.


Shaking Out the Competition

Boeing handled most of the design for the inside of the CST-100. The interior includes two rows of seats that can transport as many as seven astronauts, a touchscreen display, room for storage, shuttle switches, Boeing’s blue-tinted LED lighting and a freezer that could be used to carry materials for scientific experiments.

The 14.8-foot-wide vessel isn’t complete, however, as it lacks a waste containment system. The company is still considering ways to address that issue.

This assignment is a tough challenge for all the companies involved, said John W. Delano, Ph.D., associate director at the New York Center for Astrobiology.

“Boeing is a superb company with lean and mean operations, and they’ve done some great things in aeronautics,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s going to be a horse race to see whether these two upstarts can compete successfully with Boeing, but SpaceX in particular seems to be doing very well,” Delano observed. “Ultimately, NASA is not going to continue subsidizing three competitors, so there’s going to be a shakeout to see which company can make it. This operation has a short fuse.”

Public and Private Partnerships

Commercial initiatives are likely to play crucial roles in the future of space exploration, said Astronauts4Hire spokesperson Ben Corbin.

There have been other points in history when a partnership between public and private entities was the most cost-efficient and effective way to ensure exploration, he pointed out.

Exploration of the American West, for instance, was accomplished through collaboration between the government and private railroad companies, which shared resources and funding to advance westward expansion.

“We’re seeing funding for NASA decline, but at the same time the barrier to entry for the private [sector] is a little too expensive for those companies to handle on their own,” Corbin told TechNewsWorld.

However, “with the help of governments, frontiers have been open through public and private partnerships,” he said. “We have a lot of historical parallels that say that this is the right direction for space exploration.”

Ultimately, that type of partnership can free up funds for NASA to explore beyond LEO, where private companies have not yet ventured, said Delano.