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Tuesday, March 22, 2011 by Abadi Askdg

Disassortative mating alert! A group of European scientists led by Oxford biostatistician Raphaelle Chaix has provided some of the most compelling evidence yet that we humans pick our partners based on how different their immune systems—or officially, their Major Histocompatibility Complexes—are from our own. The MHC is a large and super-important group of related genes that regulate what antibodies we produce. It is unusually polymorphous—that is, it differs quite a bit from person to person, even within genetically similar groups. Theoretically, it makes perfect sense that animals would choose to reproduce with someone with a very different MHC so that the resulting offspring will have immunity to as many disease-causing pathogens as possible. And it has long been known that a number of squirmy little creatures—mice, rats, frogs, and the like—prefer mates who have dissimilar MHCs. But the case for MHC-based mate selection in humans is not so clear-cut.
For the past ten years, it has seemed like every study that "proved" that we choose MHC-dissimilar partners was immediately contradicted by another bit of evidence. When University of Chicago geneticist Carole Ober looked at the Schmiedeleut Hutterites of South Dakota (a group of tremendously fertile Amish-like Anabaptists who isolate themselves on remote "colonies"), she found that an improbably low number of community members—who marry for love but are not allowed to divorce—chose mates with similar MHCs. The effect was so strong that when couples whose immune systems were too similar tried to have children, they had more trouble conceiving, and their fetuses were more likely to spontaneously abort. But later, two ASU biologists surveyed couples across 11 different Amerindian tribes in the Amazon Basin and discovered that similarities between the MHCs of men and women who had chosen to reproduce together were almost completely random. A series of gross-sounding "sweaty t-shirt experiments" performed at the University of Bern conclusively demonstrated that women prefer to smell the sweat of men who are MHC-dissimilar. But if the women were on birth control, their scent preferences were reversed.
The latest study, published on September 12, examined the genomes of fertile Mormon and Yoruba couples to see how exactly their MHCs differed. The results were both fascinating and conflicting. Chaix and her coauthors found that the Mormons were significantly more MHC-dissimilar than randomly chosen pairs of people. Even more interestingly, although the Mormon mates were genetically very close to each other (they're Mormons, after all), the genes in their MHCs were often very different. But (as usual in this area of study, there's a "but") they couldn't find any pattern at all in the MHC-dissimilarity of the Yoruba couples. This might be because Yoruba society is highly patriarchal and stratified, producing a lot of social pressure for genetically similar men and women to mate. Or it might be that in Africa, where modern medical care is less widely available, there is much more selection pressure for antibodies that will protect their carriers against a few especially devastating diseases. More research here is definitely necessary to tease out the precise relationship between histocompatibility and mating choices, and how social and environmental factors might affect this relationship. But if you're a European American woman, sniff hard next time you're at the gym; the best-smelling guy might just be your immunological soulmate.

by Abadi Askdg
This is actually a well-documented phenomenon, complete with hundreds of Yahoo! Answers queries (my favorite response: "well probly idk mayb there jus bored lol") and a book called, yup, Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex? Even Arianna Huffington has weighed in ("Men go to sleep because women don't turn into a pizza," Men's Health editor Dave Zinczenko informed her.)
There's no hard-and-fast consensus yet, and physical exertion probably plays a small-to-middling role in the post-sex snoozathon, but the chief culprit seems to be (as you guessed) the soup of hormones that men release after orgasm. Prominent among these is prolactin, which mediates a variety of physical responses, including sleepiness. Levels of the hormone are highest while we are sleeping, and mice deprived of prolactin are not able to get the amount of REM sleep that they should. Interestingly, prolactin also induces the sexual refractory period by suppressing the effects of dopamine, an arousal hormone. Actual intercourse produces about four times more prolactin than masturbation, which explains why men don't crash after a solo orgasm. (Check out the paper for more info on this interesting quirk of human sexuality.)
So there's a kernel of truth at the heart of this claim. But do men actually fall asleep after sex more often than women? Nobody knows; I certainly haven't been able to find any scientific evidence to back up such a strong assertion. The authors of WDMFAAS seem to think it has something to do with the extra work the male body does to produce an ejaculation. It's also possible that women get just as sleepy as men do after orgasm, but that they don't orgasm during sex as often as men do. Or maybe women fall asleep after sex just as often as men do, but men just don't notice or mind as much.
The verdict? Not precisely true, but not precisely bull.

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by Abadi Askdg

When it comes to contraception, women have their pick of techniques. In addition to sperm-blocking barriers and foreign objects in the uterus (IUDs), there are about a million ways to pump extra hormones into the bloodstream (pill, patch, ring, shot, or implant).

For men, it's always been pretty much condoms or a vasectomy.

But medicine is (finally) trying to even the burden. Popular Science has featured several up-and-coming techniques, but most of them are still in the lab, more useful for multiplying rabbits than the reproductive habits of humankind.

However, a recent large-scale clinical trial, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, features a method closer to real-world use. The results show that someday men may be able to temporarily put their sperm on hold. If they're willing to put up with a monthly shot. In the butt.

The study enrolled about 1,000 healthy men and their female partners. In a preliminary phase, docs gave men monthly time-release testosterone shots for a few months until exams showed that their sperm counts had dropped to sub-preggo levels. Then the couples mated at will, without the aid of other contraceptives, for two years. Those who stuck it out 'til the end of the two-year test period had nine "oops" pregnancies, a failure rate of 1.1 in 100 couples per year, comparable to perfect use of condoms or the pill.

The initial shots didn't lower the sperm counts enough for 5 percent of the men to try the method for contraception. Two poor fellows' sperm counts never recovered at the end of the trial. And about a third of the guys who enrolled in the trial dropped out before it ended due to a combination of going MIA, skipping injections, and rare side effects (skin rash, severe acne).

So, men, would you be willing to put up with this literal pain in the ass in order to keep the reins on impending parenthood? Ladies, would you ever trust a man with the future of your womb? Chemists and pharmacists, why can't testosterone work in a pill?
by Abadi Askdg

The Love Bug Cytomegalovirus is generally harmless unless introduced during pregnancy; British researchers now think the practice of kissing ones mate evolved as a means to spread and build immunity to the saliva-dwelling pathogen prior to a pregnancy.

It looks like your kindergarten gut reaction to kissing might have been correct after all: it really is sick. Or, more specifically, the practice is designed to spread sickness. British scientists say the human habit of kissing evolved for less-than-romantic reasons, but one that is nonetheless important to a healthy reproductive relationship: to spread germs.
Cytomegalovirus, which lives in human saliva, is generally innocuous, but when introduced during a pregnancy it can be extremely dangerous, killing unborn babies or causing birth defects like deafness or cerebral palsy. However, if cytomegalovirus is introduced to a woman in small doses before she conceives, she will build an immune resistance to it. Optimally, kissing the same male for six months prior to pregnancy gives the woman’s immune system the practice it needs to render cytomegalovirus impotent.

The escalation of a physical relationship also aids in the immunity-building process. That initial, innocent peck delivers just a small amount of the virus to the woman, reducing her chances of becoming seriously ill. As the relationship ramps up, so does the face time with her mate, delivering stronger and stronger doses as the snogging becomes more, ahem, passionate.

Ideally, by the time the stork comes calling, her mate has spent plenty of time dosing her heavily and her immune resistance is strong enough to ward off infection in her offspring. It turns out love really is infectious, and it’s a good thing too.

by Abadi Askdg

Most houses require hundreds of feet of electrical wire to connect light switches to a main power source, but not my eco-friendly dream home. I’ve installed a wireless lighting system called Verve that uses radio waves instead of copper wiring to command all the lights and outlets in my house. The system not only saves copper (imagine the savings in a skyscraper) but also lets me put switches wherever I want—beside the kids’ beds, in my

pocket or even on the dash of my car—without the need to pull out wires or rip up walls.

A small module inside each light switch harvests energy from the motion of turning the switch on or off and uses it to transmit radio signals up to 300 feet away to a central 10-channel controller that’s hardwired to my fuse box. Since the switches generate their own power, they require no batteries, wires or messy electrical channels carved into my brand-new insulated wall panels.

Strategically placing networked controllers around my house allows me to turn on or off every light switch from a few convenient locations. For instance, I can program the controller to let me turn out the lights in my son’s bedroom from the living room. I can even pull a switch from its wall-docking plate and use it as remote, turning all the lights off in the house as I’m pulling out of the driveway.
Other whole-home lighting control systems offer more programming options, but they’re also more expensive and cost more to install because of all the wiring. At $3,500, Verve runs me only a bit more than the price of a home’s worth of fancy dimmers. The downside? The system is designed mostly for new construction—retrofits get messy and costly because they require ripping out wires.
Next month: Building a graywater recycling system

The Specs

House: 3,500-square-foot, four-bedroom contemporary
Location: Greenwich, N.Y.
Project: Installing a wireless lighting system
Cost of materials: $3,500
Time to install: A few days

What's Inside Wireless Light Switches:
Transmitter Sends a radio signal to a receiver up to 300 feet away
MicroGenerator Harnesses energy from the press of the light switch to power the radio transmitter
Control Unit Capture radio signals beamed from light switches throughout the house to turn them on or off
 Peter Bollinger

Already Have a Home?

How to Make Your Lighting More Efficient

    Under-cabinet lighting can be hard to install and inefficient. Kichler’s Design Pro LED Linear lighting gives off a bright, warm glow from eight LEDs that last about 20 years and draw 75 percent less energy than a comparable incandescent bulb. The foot-long fixture is a cinch to install and uses just one easy-to-hide transformer.
    The government’s $10-million “L Prize” competition aims to find a low-energy replacement for the ubiquitous 60-watt incandescent bulb. The first entry, an LED bulb by Philips, consumes less than 10 watts while producing light quality equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent. Look for it on shelves next year.
    The organic LEDs in the new Orbeos lighting panel are thinner, lighter and more flexible than traditional LEDs. They also throw very little heat, so the 2.1-millimeter-thick panel can be hung just about anywhere. Unlike CFLs, the OLEDs contain no mercury and cast a bright, inviting light that lasts about 5,000 hours.
    The colored LEDs in this wall switch help you visualize how much power your fixtures use. Flip the switch, and when the very top LED is on, you’ll know your lights are drawing full power. Clicking the rocker switch down to dial back the amount of energy the light draws can save you up to $30 a year per bulb.

by Abadi Askdg

Paralysis patients could play music with their minds, using a new brain-control interface that senses brain impulses and translates them into musical notes.
Users must teach themselves how to associate brain signals with specific tasks, causing neuronal activity that the brain scanners can pick up. Then they can make music.
It’s a pretty unique use of brain-computer interfaces, which are already being used to do things like drive cars, control robots and play video games. The device was developed by Eduardo Miranda, a composer and computer-music specialist at the University of Plymouth, UK. A composer by trade, Miranda said he was captivated by the idea of using a musical brain-controlled interface for therapeutic purposes. “Now I can't separate this work from my activities as a composer,” he told Nature News.

Patients with neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s can use music to walk to a rhythm or even to trigger memories or emotions. But stroke patients or those with locked-in syndrome can’t interact with music beyond just listening to it. With this system, patients with physical limitations might be able to use music for therapy, too — truly making music the medicine of the mind.

Like other brain-computer interfaces, a user calibrates the system — and his or her brain — by learning to associate certain brain signals with a stimulus. While wearing an EEG cap, patients focus their attention on four small buttons on a computer screen, each of which triggers a series of musical notes. The user must direct his or her gaze at the target corresponding to the action he or she would like to perform, Miranda and colleagues explain.
Miranda and computer scientists at the University of Essex tested the system on a patient with locked-in syndrome, who learned the system in about two hours and was soon playing notes along with a backup track.
By varying levels of concentration, she learned to vary the amplitude of the EEG, which allowed her to choose among the different notes, like striking piano keys.
A future version of the system would not require calibration, relying on advanced algorithms to sense a user’s neuronal response to each button, the researchers say.

by Abadi Askdg

About 20 years ago, the static split-and-tilt ergonomic keyboard became the wrist-friendly standard. Today, Smartfish Technologies, a company founded by a former chiropractor, has a better approach: the Engage, a keyboard that periodically shifts its position. The goal is to constantly change your typing angle, thereby reducing the chance of repetitive-stress injuries. A motor inside the keyboard tweaks the separation (up to 1.4 inches) and tilt (up to 6 degrees) of each side in small increments every 2,500 keystrokes. You can also alter the frequency of changes.


The Test

We used an early model for several days, typing articles on a Windows 7 PC as the Engage adjusted itself automatically. We paid close attention to key feel and wrist comfort and maintained an upright sitting position (we didn’t want to sabotage any benefits by slouching).

The Results

The ever-changing keyboard was startling at first, but we had no problem acclimating to it. Each shift takes only about two seconds, so using the Engage for long periods is comfortable. The downsides: the motor is noisy, the keyboard a tad high (which can itself cause stress), and the keys a bit stiff. But the company is already working on a model that fixes these problems, along with an additional nonsplitting option that tweaks just your wrist angle.

Sunday, March 20, 2011 by Abadi Askdg

We’ve heard it said that electric cars make driving like using an iPhone app. It’s not true, but Ford’s choice of venue for the reveal of the Ford Focus Electric—the Consumer Electronics Show—probably won’t help change that perception.

The Ford Focus EV is part of Ford’s overall electrification scheme, which involves rolling out five distinct electrified models (ranging from the purely electric Focus EV to an plug-in hybrid whose details have not yet been officially announced) by 2013. The Focus Electric, which is schedule to enter 19 markets by the end of this year, is a five-door hatchback powered by a 23 kilowatt-hour, liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery. As with the Chevy Volt, the battery supplier is LG Chem. The Focus Electric will have a top speed of 84 mph and should reach a driving range comparable to that of its closest competitor, the Nissan Leaf, which gets approximately 100 miles on a charge. We don’t yet know how much the car costs, whether it will be leased, sold, or both, or how many cars Ford plans to make. We do know that it will be built at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, on the same production line as gas-powered Focuses—an arrangement that Ford says will allow it to adjust production volume to demand.

We’ve known about the Focus EV for quite a while, and in fact Ford has been giving journalists short test drives in hacked-up demo models for at least a year. Today’s two real pieces of news involve the charging time and the mobile smartphone control system.

First, the charging: Because the Focus Electric uses a 6.6kW onboard charger, it will be able to charge in about half the time of the Nissan Leaf—in three to four hours from a 240-volt docking station. (By contrast, the Leaf uses a 3.3 kW charger; we suspect Ford can get away with the faster charging because their battery, unlike Nissans, is liquid-cooled, so that the battery temperature can be carefully controlled during charging.)

Next, MyFord Touch mobile. This smart phone app will let you check the car’s state of charge, program its charging time, heat or cool the cabin remotely, find the car using GPS, and control various other functions. (The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf can both be controlled using similar apps.)

Expect more Ford news on Monday, the first press day of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
by Abadi Askdg

Pumping a body full of celldestroying chemicals sounds like a bad idea, but that’s what chemotherapy entails. The side effects of intravenous chemo for liver cancer, the third deadliest cancer in men, usually necessitate a four-day hospital stay with each treatment. As doctors try to target the chemicals by injecting high doses into an artery that feeds the tumor, the bloodstream inevitably carries them into the rest of the body. It’s an imprecise and painful process, but a plastic bead called a QuadraSphere could make it less so.

Made out of a sodium acrylate and vinyl alcohol polymer that soaks up drugs and slowly releases them, QuadraSpheres are injected into an artery close to the tumor. The microscopic beads block the nearby capillaries, starving the tumor and preventing the drugs from escaping elsewhere into the body.

In March, doctors began a $10-million study of 500 liver cancer patients. The results won’t be known until the study ends four years from now, but previous small studies suggest that the beads can shrink tumors with fewer side effects. QuadraSpheres allow patients to go home the same day, says David Liu, a interventional radiologist at Vancouver General Hospital. They could be approved for liver-cancer treatment by 2015.
by Abadi Askdg

The sex habits of mice have long been an intriguing subject for scientists. Now, mouse sex just got a lot more interesting for the rest of us.

A group of Korean geneticists has altered the sexual preferences of female mice by removing a single gene linked to reproductive behavior. Without the gene, the mice gravitated toward mice of the same sex. Those mice who retained the gene, called FucM, were attracted to male mice. (FucM is short for fucose mutarotase.)

The geneticists' study, published last week in the journal BMC Genetics explains that female mice without FucM avoided male mice, declined to sniff male urine, and made passes at other females.

Lead author Chankyu Park, of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, says this shows the absence of FucM tricks female mouse brains into functioning like male brains. "The mutant female mouse underwent a slightly altered developmental program in the brain to resemble the male brain in terms of sexual preference," he told the London Telegraph.

Park said he now wants to research whether this finding has any relevance for humans.

The fact that he is in South Korea, where bioethics are notoriously bendable may prove important as he goes forward. Research that gets anywhere close to searching for a gay gene -- even with animals -- has been highly controversial in the U.S., where opposition cuts across the political spectrum. Some still remember a 1995 study where scientists from the National Institutes of Health performed a similar procedure on male fruit flies, yielding what one journalist called "all-male conga lines." (For the record, the male flies became bisexual, not strictly gay.)

Even in South Korea, though, Park admits he may have trouble recruiting human volunteers for the next leg of his research.
by Abadi Askdg

Cryopreservation was once the domain of sci-fi novels and B-rate movies. (Think Encino Man.) But it’s increasingly real, as the recent birth of a healthy boy from a frozen embryo created 20 years earlier shows.

The birth, which is reported in a study in the online edition of the journal Fertility and Sterility, sets a record. Until now, no embryo frozen for this long has resulted in a live birth.

The 42-year-old mother of the boy, who is not named in the study, began trying to get pregnant using IVF ten years ago. At the time, she and her husband received embryos from a heterosexual couple who had themselves undergone IVF.

That couple had anonymously donated their leftover embryos after the woman successfully gave birth. Thing was, they did so in 1990 – meaning that the boy just born to the woman in the study has a sibling out there somewhere who was conceived at the same time but is 20 years older.

Frozen embryos are something of a new ethical frontier in IVF -- one that was not foreseen back in 1978, when Nobel Prize in Physiology recipient Robert Edwards and colleague Patrick Steptoe announced the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby. Because of improved fertility drugs and lab techniques, the average IVF cycle now yields more embryos than it once did. Many of those end up in the freezer, where they keep remarkably well.

But the ethical and practical implications of keeping potential humans on ice are now becoming abundantly clear. Increasingly, divorced couples fight over frozen embryos. And the preservation of genetic material – embryos, eggs, and sperm -- created by biological parents who may be well beyond their reproductive years gives others pause. In 2007, a mother froze eggs for use by her daughter, then seven years old, who was born with a condition that could make her infertile. If the daughter someday uses the embryos, she will give birth to her half-brother or half-sister.

And then there is the time lapse between conception and birth in this latest news item. Previously, the record-holder for longest time in the freezer was a baby born from an embryo that had been frozen for 13 years.
Saturday, March 19, 2011 by Abadi Askdg
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Thursday, March 3, 2011 by Abadi Askdg
Boston Dynamics--developer of the headless humanoid PETMAN and the equally creepy Big Dog robots--has landed itself two more DARPA robotics grants to the tune of several million dollars each. New to the production queue: another humanoid designed to traverse rough terrain and a fast four-legged design modeled on the Cheetah that aims to be the fastest legged robot in the world.
ATLAS, as the humanoid will be called, will be a Skynet-styled super-strong, super-agile human-like bipedal robot that will build on Boston Dynamics’ PETMAN program. DARPA wants it to be able to climb, turn sideways to sidle through narrow spaces, and use its hands to augment maneuverability.

Cheetah, on the other hand, has one defining characteristic: speed. The four-legged ‘bot is expected to move at a pace of 20-30 miles per hour, but researchers see no reason why it couldn’t eventually keep pace with its biological counterpart.

There’s no fundamental reason why it can’t go as fast as the animals (60 to 70 mph), but it will take a while to get there,” said Marc Raibert, Boston Dynamics’ president, in the Boston Herald.
DARPA is funding the initiatives out of its Maximum Mobility and Manipulation Program, which aims to create a framework for building robotic systems faster and enhancing their ability to move around and manipulate natural environments. If speed is what they’re looking for, the Cheetah is expected to deliver in more ways than one; the first prototype of the ‘bot is due in just 20 months.
by Abadi Askdg
For the first time, scientists have discovered evidence of a human DNA fragment in the genome of bacteria, shedding light on why this particular bug is so adept at surviving in human hosts. The bacteria in question is Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes gonorrhea.
Gonorrhea is one of very few diseases exclusive to our species, and is one of the oldest recorded diseases in human history. An ancient disease that resembles gonorrhea’s symptoms is even described in the Bible, according to Hank Seifert, senior author of a paper on the gene transfer.
The bacterium apparently picks up a genetic sequence from the host it is infecting, a novel ability that could help the bacteria adapt to its host, according to Seifert, a microbiology and immunology professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. This ability may enable it to develop different strains of itself, he said. The paper is published today in the online journal mBio.

The human genome has plenty of ghost DNA fragments, relics of viruses that entered after some past infection. Lateral gene transfer is pretty common between bacteria and multicellular organisms, according to several studies. But this is the first time that scientists have seen a bacteria pick up the genes, rather than depositing them.

“Whether this particular event has provided an advantage for the gonorrhea bacterium, we don’t know yet,” Seifert said in a NU press release.
Scientists discovered the gene transfer while they were examining the genomic sequences of several gonorrhea strains. Three of them had a piece of DNA wherein the sequence was identical to a sequence found in humans, according to NU. Further examination suggests this evolved relatively recently.
About 700,000 Americans and 50 million people worldwide are infected with gonorrhea every year. It’s curable with an antibiotic, but it developed resistance to several drugs over the past 40 years. Studying the bacteria’s human DNA fragment could conceivably help scientists find better treatments.
“The next step is to figure out what this piece of DNA is doing,” Seifert said.
by Abadi Askdg
The olfactory sense has long been thought to stem from the way a battery of chemical receptors in the nose interact with molecules based on their physical shapes. But a collaboration between MIT researchers and their Greek colleagues is nosing out a far more complex and potentially useful mechanism that enables sense of smell: quantum tunneling.
Quantum tunneling is the same mechanism that allows flash memory to store charge and scanning tunneling microscopes to form images. Simply put, tunneling is a well-defined process that lets a particle “tunnel” through a barrier even when its kinetic energy is less than the potential energy of the barrier. In the case of electrons, that means moving through non-conductive areas that, classically speaking, they shouldn’t be able to.

As it pertains to smell, the idea is that receptors in the nose can distinguish between two molecules of essentially identical shape by pumping current through them and identifying them via the resulting vibration rather than molecular shape. Further, when the receptor lacks a direct hookup to the odorant molecule it delivers electrons to it via quantum tunneling.

Using a series of molecules and their nearly-identical dueterated variants (deuterium is a heavier isotope of hydrogen--two molecules, one containing hydrogen and another containing deuterium in its place, are extremely similar in shape), the scientists ran several experiments using fruit flies. With significant regularity, the flies were able to distinguish between the molecules, suggesting that there’s more to smell than the shape of odorant molecules.
This vibrational theory goes beyond proving that fruit flies have a keener sense of smell than once thought. The finding could lead to a rethinking in the way scientists really understand our senses of smell. It could also lead to new kinds of artificial scents and better artificial noses. The latter, of course, can be used for everything from food inspection to national security to medical diagnostics.
by Abadi Askdg
Palm's WebOS operating system, seen on the Palm Pre and Pixi, is the great underdog of the mobile world: critically adored, but commercially ignored, to the point that Palm actually had to sell itself to HP to stay alive. Since we've last had a big WebOS announcement, Android has exploded in popularity, Microsoft entirely rebooted their platform, and the iPhone came to Verizon--so today's announcement of the new HP (not Palm) WebOS devices is a do or die moment for WebOS. The lineup that will decide that: The Veer mini-smartphone, the Pre 3, and the TouchPad tablet.

WebOS was announced back in January 2009, in a desolate post-iPhone world. Android was still in its clumsy early stages, BlackBerry was, well, the same as BlackBerry has always been, and Microsoft's Windows Mobile was dying. WebOS, and its first device, the Palm Pre, was a breath of fresh air: Maybe Apple's way isn't the only way to do a touch-based smartphone! Focused on multitasking, with a "card" based metaphor that would later be swiped by both BlackBerry and Nokia, as well as innovative features like a universal search, WebOS had a level of polish that matched the iPhone, and abilities that outstripped it.

But the Pre was hobbled with flimsy (though adorable) hardware, a small launch partner in Sprint, and a huge gap between its announcement and its actual release--by which time the iPhone 3GS had stolen all its thunder. Worst of all, Palm was slow to open up the app store to developers, so even though eventually WebOS would be a very developer-friendly environment, at launch it had 30 apps, and was maddeningly slow to expand. Despite all its strengths, the Pre was a sales failure, and eventually Palm had to allow itself to be sold.

In April 2010, HP purchased Palm, though what the company was really after was WebOS. But aside from the Pre 2 (which is basically a Pre with a faster processor), another ten months would go by before we saw a really update on WebOS. Today's announcement shows Palm's next line of WebOS devices--well, HP's, we should say, since the name "Palm" is nowhere to be found on any of these devices.

The HP Veer, pictured above, is probably the most curious of the three. It's in the original Pre shape--a pebble-inspired design with a vertical slide-out keyboard--but it's even smaller than the already-diminutive Pre. At only 2.6 inches, the Veer is (when closed) the size of a credit card, which is in direct contrast to the current trend of larger and larger smartphones. Despite its size, it's actually a very powerful device: It uses the same Snapdragon processor as the much bigger T-Mobile G2, and offers HSPA+, which AT&T and T-Mobile are calling 4G. (It's not, technically, and is slower than Verizon's LTE 4G, but it is significantly faster than 3G, so we're not complaining too much. Check out our 4G explainer if you're still confused.) It'll have a relatively small 8GB of storage, but 512MB of memory--the same as the iPhone 4. It'll be available in "early spring," which could be very soon.

If miniaturization isn't your thing, the flagship Pre 3 might be a better option. While the Veer is kind of a smushed Pre, the Pre 3 is stretched, pulled like saltwater taffy out to a generous 3.6 inches (with a 480 x 800 resolution, about the industry average these days). It's still a vertical slider, but it's got some guts that'd make the original Pre feel pretty outclassed. It'll have the next-gen Snapdragon processor, clocked at 1.4GHz, with 512MB of memory and either 8GB or 16GB of storage. On the camera side, it'll have a 5MP rear-facing camera for normal photos, and a front-facing camera (likely a 1.3MP sensor) for video chatting. It too will boast HSPA+ connectivity, so it looks like these two are destined for either AT&T or T-Mobile, at least at first (and we'd wager on the former). The Pre 3 will be available this summer, which is an awfully long way off. Hopefully it'll still be impressive and in our minds then.
What we were most anticipating from this conference is a WebOS tablet. WebOS is particularly suited to a tablet, with its full previews of apps, elegant multitasking, and non-intrusive notifications system, which is probably why BlackBerry was so heavily, um, inspired by WebOS with its new PlayBook tablet. But there's no beating the real thing, and HP's TouchPad tablet looks mighty impressive. It's a 9.7-incher, with very near exactly the same dimensions and weight as the iPad, but (as could be expected, given the iPad's age) it's much more powerful inside. The TouchPad boasts a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, 16GB or 32GB of storage, 1GB of memory (four times that of the iPad, and probably essential for this kind of multitasking), and all the usual accelerometer/compass/gyro sensors, along with both a front- and rear-facing camera for video chatting.

The TouchPad, along with the Veer and Pre 3, has full Flash support and, oddly enough, Beats by Dr. Dre audio technology (!). Basically, all of these devices should sound fantastic, which as any Android user knows is not necessarily a given on a smartphone. They'll all also use the Touchstone charger, which was a cool little feature that has long set WebOS apart. The Pre 3, Veer, and TouchPad all support inductive charging, which is a wireless protocol using magnets that enables you to charge a device simply by plopping it onto a specific surface (in this case, a stone-shaped magnetic charger).
What's really interesting about the TouchPad is how it interacts with the WebOS smartphones. They speak to each other in ways no other platform does--not Android, and not iOS. When a smartphone and the TouchPad are on the same Wi-Fi network, you can get text messages and phone calls on the TouchPad. Our favorite feature might be "Touch to Share." It's kind of similar to Google's "Chrome to Phone" feature, but even more intuitive. If you're, say, looking at directions on your TouchPad, and you're heading out the door, you can simply tap the TouchPad with a Pre 3 or Veer phone, and it'll send those directions right to your phone. Really cool stuff!
One of the best new features of the updated WebOS is the universal search, which has been renamed to Just Type--reasonably so, since it's not just search anymore. Essentially, you can start typing anywhere, and you'll get a list of options for what to do with what you're typing. Search on Google? Wikipedia? IMDb? Or maybe you wanted that to be a text message, an email, or a Twitter or Facebook update? It's all right there--no reason to open up an app first.
HP is making sure to emphasize app development this time around, showing off new apps from Facebook, Amazon (the WebOS Kindle app looks pretty great), Skype, various content providers (Dreamworks and some sort of magazine platform were shown specifically), and even the smaller developers who are so essential to a platform's survival--including everyone's favorite, Angry Birds.
We're still lacking some of the key specifics: Price, release date, and carrier. Given their HSPA+ compatibility, we know the Veer and Pre 3 are headed for either AT&T or T-Mobile here in the States, and it's a fair assumption that the Veer will come in cheaper than the Pre 3. The TouchPad is due for release this summer, but price is very pressing for a tablet these days--the iPad set the bar very, very low, and any tablet that costs more than $500 at base (we're looking at you, Motorola Xoom) is going to be fighting an uphill battle.
The devices look pretty great--WebOS looks better than ever, early impressions of the hardware are very positive, and the new slogan ("HP WebOS: Now Available in S, M, L") is cute. But there's still an issue with release cycles: HP/Palm has got to stop announcing things this way. We're excited now, but we won't see the Veer, Pre 3, or TouchPad for months, by which time there'll be a new iPad and more likely than not a new iPhone. Also, the impressive internals--dual core processors, lots of memory, new Snapdragons--will be merely the norm by this summer, rather than the hottest new thing. That'll all serve to dampen excitement somewhat, which isn't exactly what HP wants right now. Still, if HP can get its app situation under control, these will be some very competitive devices come summer.
You can check out more about the new WebOS devices at, curiously,, where apparently they haven't given up entirely on the venerable Palm name.

by Abadi Askdg
There was a time when you had to go down to the arcade or pizza shop and pump quarters into machines if you wanted to enjoy a video game experience. Then computers and home gaming consoles brought video game entertainment into our living rooms. Now Sega is cornering the niche bathroom gaming market with a gaming interface named “Toirettsu” in which the user controls the game by peeing on sensors in a urinal.
If you can’t go standing up, perhaps Toirettsu isn’t for you (sorry ladies, but your hands-free method allows you to play Angry Birds on the can anyhow). Toirettsu targets restaurant and retail environments, ostensibly in hopes that by giving users goal-oriented mini-games to focus on, their men’s room floors might stay a bit cleaner as gents have somewhere to aim. And, of course, it gives establishments (and Sega) somewhere to place an ad.
We’re not so sure that urinal gaming is going to keep floors any cleaner – in fact, it’s not difficult to imagine it making floors dirtier (ever thrown your controller during a particularly frustrating round of Halo?). But it will make peeing in public toilets more fun. Layer in a multiplayer, head-to-head (pun intended) function and pretty soon men will be going to the bathroom in pairs too.

by Abadi Askdg
Today’s high-def 3-D looks amazing, but those movie theater glasses are dull, dirty and wasteful. every year, tens of millions of theater-provided pairs are used. now, makers of 3-D glasses are letting you swap those frames for reusable polarized specs that look and feel more like sunglasses.





Military Grade

Gunnar’s lenses have an anti-reflective coating used in military binoculars to prevent flashes from revealing soldiers to enemies. They lose fewer rays to reflection, letting in 10 percent more light than most lenses for brighter, more vivid images.
Gunnar Midnight Onyx, $150;


Hot Curves

To create its wraparound lenses, which help viewers perceive shapes and distances more clearly, Polaroid uses heat and pressure to shape a lens (embedded with 3-D-enabling polarized film) into a curve.
Polaroid Premium 3-D glasses $30;


Double Vision

Keeping you from looking like a dweeb on a movie date, Marchon3D’s new EX3D line also works in the 2-D world. The circularly polarized lenses won’t distort linear outdoor light and are 100 percent UVA/B protective, so they can double as sunglasses.
Marchon3D EX3D $30-$35;



A leader in “activeshutter” 3-D, in which lenses flicker, Vizio (along with other TV makers) is trying something new: passive circularly polarized specs. Built to the same standard used in most 3-D cinemas, they work at the movies or at home.
Vizio Theater 3-D Glasses, From $30;

by Abadi Askdg
If it wouldn’t be completely ironic to do so, we could write at length about the value of elegance in simplicity. Instead, we offer by way of example this tentacle-like prosthesis designed by recent U. of Washington industrial design grad Kaylene Kau. It’s simple, both aesthetically and mechanically, and it solves a problem smartly.
Prodded by one of her professors to think differently about upper-limb prostheses, Kau found – perhaps not surprisingly – that prosthetics really work as assistants to the functioning limb. The resulting design is flexible and adjustable, providing a grip that changes to accomodate the object. The amount of curl in the arm is controlled by two buttons mounted on the prosthesis, which direct a single motor to either increase or decrease curl via two cables running the length of the arm.
It doesn’t measure up to the ambitious prostheses pursued by DARPA or DEKA Labs; it doesn’t plug into the nervous system or recreate the missing five-fingered hand synthetically. But it’s not trying to. What it does, at least in concept, is offer a feasible, immediate solution to problems faced by those missing a partial limb. And it does so without great complexity or expense. You won’t praise for virtues like simplicity and affordability often from PopSci (no one wants to take teleportation holidays to robot-populated moon cities as much as we do), but when something works, it works.

by Abadi Askdg
Smartphone makers, wireless carriers, and credit card companies have all proclaimed their love for near field communication over the last week. And we share their enthusiasm: NFC has a lot of exciting potential. Soon enough, we'll be able to make payments, unlock our houses, stop worrying about our cumbersome Wi-Fi passwords, and hop on the subway without a transit pass, all from our phones. Here's how.


What Is NFC?

NFC is a short-range, low-power communications protocol between two devices. One device, the initiator, uses magnetic induction to create a radio-wave field that the target can detect and access, allowing small amounts of data to be transferred wirelessly over a relatively short distance (in NFC's case, the distance must be less than 4 inches). If that sounds a lot like RFID, the tech used by, for example, wireless toll-collection devices like EZ-Pass and FasTrak, it's probably because NFC is pretty much an evolved form of RFID. The difference is that RFID is a one-way street: Your EZ-Pass transmitter beams your $4.25 toll to the tollbooth's receiver, and that's the extent of the transaction. But, crucially, NFC is two-way, allowing your NFC-enabled gadget to both send and receive information.
Compared to other wireless protocols like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, NFC is exceedingly slow, with a maximum data transfer speed of 0.424 Mbps, less than a quarter that of Bluetooth. But NFC has several key advantages over Bluetooth: It consumes a mere 15 mA of power (practically nothing for today's jumbo smartphone batteries), it has the possibility for greater security (more on that in a bit), and it forgoes the involved "pairing" process of Bluetooth entirely. Bluetooth needs to be configured; NFC is completely effort-free, requiring nothing more than a tap.

What Can You Do With NFC?

The three main concepts that the NFC Forum, the main association of companies promoting NFC, is pushing are "sharing, pairing, and transaction."
Transaction is the most obvious of the three, and the one we'll probably start seeing first. A smartphone with an NFC chip could very easily be configured to work as a credit or debit card. Just tap your phone against an NFC-enabled payment terminal, and bam, money spent, consumerism upheld, everyone's happy. But that's really only the start of what NFC can do in terms of transaction.
The other contents in your wallet aren't safe from NFC takeover, either, which is sure to enrage the formerly bulletproof wallet industry. NFC could work well for public transit passes, library cards, hotel room keycards, and office building passcards. Even government-issued IDs like driver's licenses and passports can be replaced or augmented with NFC, though the security concerns there could push such applications further into the future. But the point is, it's all possible, and relatively easy. Even keys could someday become a relic of the past, replaced by the tap of a phone to a lock.
"Sharing" is a little bit trickier, due to the limitations of the tech. Mostly, it'll be used much like QR codes--(the square barcode-like tags scannable by your cellphone camera--are used now, just without the need to open an app and take a picture. An active NFC-enabled device like a smartphone can interact either with another active NFC device or with a passive tag. That tag is basically just a little chip that's embedded with some kind of data to transfer--maybe it's in a printed ad, and provides a URL for more information. Those passive tags don't require power, either, instead relying on the RF field created by your phone, so you can just tap your phone to the tag and have a little bit of data--often a URL--beamed to your phone.
Debbie Arnold of the NFC Forum says "the concept of tag-reading is really exciting to me," as those passive, unpowered tags are very cheap and could be embedded in all kinds of places. Tap your phone against a tag on an appliance to get its warranty info, or on a pack of cigarettes to get some horrifying government-sponsored images of smokers' lungs. You know, for fun.
With its sub-0.5-Mbps speeds, you won't be beaming high-def video with your smartphone, so sharing of files will be limited to smaller items like photos, documents, and URLs (which, in our cloud-connected environment, is often all you need). But say you do want to send a fairly large file like a video. NFC can come in handy there too--as a bridge to a more intensive wireless protocol.
Which is where the "pairing" concept comes into play. Tap your phone to another phone to instantly configure a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection, without the need for passwords. Or tap your phone against your new router, and never again have to worry about that tiny scrap of paper with your deliberately complex Wi-Fi password that you could've sworn your roommate taped to the freezer. Or tap one phone to another to instantly exchange contact information, even when there's no available 3G connection.

Why Are Gadget-Makers, Bankers, Merchants, and Wireless Carriers So Gung-Ho About It?

NFC has some pretty amazing possibilities, but the reason every company from Google to Visa to McDonald's to T-Mobile is singing its praises has nothing to do with your ability to remember your router's password. In their eyes, NFC is always bracketed by dollar signs, with thoughts of direct advertising and real-time customer data causing their brains' mouths to mind-water (it's a serious condition). Pay for a purchase with your NFC-enabled phone, get a coupon. Tap your phone to an NFC-enabled movie poster, get a special offer for a 1PM Tuesday showing of Gnomeo and Juliet: The Squeakquel (this will be in the near future, obviously). Use NFC's mobile payment capabilities, and you're likely to get coupons, promos, samples, or other various digital perks beamed back to you in response.
But that doesn't explain why the business types are quivering in their business suits about NFC. The answer: It's all about advertising.
When Google's soon-to-be-ex-CEO Eric Schmidt recently took the stage at Mobile World Congress, he was barely able to contain his excitement. Google, let us recall, is in the business of ads and customer data. When you make an NFC purchase, your phone isn't just transmitting your bank numbers for payment. It can also transmit your buying habits and demographic information. That sounds terrifying, but for the most part that kind of information is already out there and being used every time you buy an app, or anything from Amazon, or search for a product on Google. NFC just has the potential to make that data available instantly and in real time, which is exceedingly valuable to marketers and retailers and other people who care that you prefer Five Guys to Shake Shack. And instead of coupons, you might get beamed advertising instead--intensely targeted ads tailored to your latest purchase.
Of course, it's unlikely that your personal data would be given to merchants without your knowledge -- at least by Google, which has a history of providing opt-out options for advertising like that. But if would certainly be possible.

Why Now?

At MWC, Schmidt said that "NFC has been around for a long time, but everything has just started to come together," which is mostly true. Magnetic induction for data transfer has been around for quite a few years, and mobile payments via magnetic induction have even become the de facto standard in Japan. The Mobile FeliCa (Felicity Card) has been in wide use in Japan, packaged into handsets from DoCoMo and Sony, but according to Debbie Arnold, spokesperson from the NFC Forum, systems like Mobile FeliCa "were more of a precursor to NFC." Mobile FeliCa is a one-way transfer card, a simpler form of RFID, that requires no power. "Nobody wanted to put up a product until NFC was ready," says Arnold, and it appears that it's ready now.
In late 2010, the NFC Forum finalized its first wave of technical specifications, as well as announcing its certification process for devices. Debbie Arnold notes that the program "gives manufacturers a means of confirming that their devices comply with NFC Forum specifications, and helps to ensure interoperability." It was only last year that tests and pilots were undertaken, which in turn led the banks, mobile carriers, and hardware manufacturers to jump on board and start really putting the web of NFC together.

What About Infrastructure?

It's generally assumed that the introduction of NFC into smartphones will require a massive infrastructure overhaul, but that may not be the case. NFC, as an evolved form of RFID, is actually compatible with existing RFID terminals, which are distributed by companies like Visa and MasterCard and are present in businesses from the international (McDonald's) to the local (my childhood sandwich purveyor, Wawa). For your bog-standard wireless payment, no fancy new hardware will be necessary.

Of course, those businesses that want to take advantage of NFC's more ad-friendly two-way abilities will need to install new NFC-powered point-of-sale devices. If McDonald's wants to know how many chicken nuggets you typically eat at a meal, they'll have to install a two-way NFC terminal. But the companies that really want that kind of data are typically not your mom-and-pop corner store, and are more likely to pony up for an NFC upgrade. The mom-and-pop store can still step up to a cheaper RFID reader, which works in the same system. You'll be able to find NFC-enabled devices by looking for the "N-Mark," pictured left, which alerts you that NFC-ing can be commenced.

In terms of phone hardware, you can expect to see NFC in the next generation of smartphones--basically, the ones after the ones that are about to hit the market. Google built some pretty elaborate NFC capabilities into the latest release of Android (version 2.3 Gingerbread), and the NFC Forum counts such high-profile companies as Sony, Nokia, LG, Motorola, Qualcomm, and RIM (BlackBerry) among their principal members. In the last week alone, we've gotten major commitments from Google, RIM, and Visa, with more surely to come. At the moment, only Google's Nexus S has an NFC chip (and that's fairly useless at the moment), but future Android, BlackBerry, and probably iOS devices will boast NFC abilities: rumors of an NFC-capable iPhone 5 have recently begun to surface.
According to a very recent leak, BlackBerry is partnering with Bank of America to offer NFC retrofitting as soon as this spring, and their solution is pretty clever: Instead of waiting for a new phone, BoA will simply provide an NFC-enabled replacement battery door for a few BlackBerry models, accompanied by a software update that will allow mobile purchases. That won't work for the iPhone and a few Android devices which lack replaceable battery doors (or, um, replaceable batteries), but an NFC-enabled phone case could accomplish the same feat.

Is This, Well, Safe?

Ah, security. NFC is inherently worrisome in that it promotes the transmission of very sensitive data through the air, like magic, and that data could theoretically be snatched. The NFC protocol itself has surprisingly few actual safeguards against data snatching--and the protections the NFC Forum does highlight are simply logical extensions of the physical nature of the protocol. For example, that 4-inch transmission zone would theoretically make it a challenge to steal data wholesale without a crafty plan. There's also the ability to simply turn NFC off when you're not using it, which could stem some piracy, if you remember to do it each time. But that's not really enough; it's like declaring a wallet generally safe just because it's difficult for a pickpocket to get close enough to snatch it undetected.
The NFC standard leaves any kind of advanced protection, like encryption or password protection, up to whoever uses it. You'll have to trust your bank to encrypt your bank info, you'll have to trust Google, Apple, or RIM to encrypt your account info, you'll have to trust your digital locksmith to encrypt your new space-age virtual house key, and so forth. It's relatively easy for any of these companies to embed encryption or a password, but they still have to do it. According to Debbie Arnold of the NFC Forum, "Applications may also provide their own security appropriate to the application," like encryption and password protection, and that "these security requirements can be tailored to the particular application."
That being said, point-of-sale security, using the ISO 14443 protocol, is already a standard, being used by the major credit card companies with RFID tech, and NFC won't change that. More advanced security like encryption, newly available for NFC, is to avoid eavesdropping, which the NFC Forum says is up to the developers. The NFC Forum's third-party solution isn't entirely satisfying--we'd much rather see an encryption standard embedded in the tech from the start.
Destruction of the signal is actually much more likely than eavesdropping, provided there's adequate software encryption being used. An RFID jammer can also ruin an NFC chip's ability to communicate, and there's no real way to counter such an attack. Of course, there's no real reason to jam a signal other than immensely irritating prankery.
I spoke to the Federal Reserve to find out about NFC's inclusion in the Truth in Lending Act, a piece of legislation that protects customers from having to pay bills of more than $50 that result from a stolen or otherwise unauthorized card. Though NFC is not specifically mentioned in the legislation (understandably so, given its newness), the Fed representative I spoke to noted that there are a few clauses to which NFC could be applied without much of a stretch. "I don't see why it wouldn't be covered under the Electronic Funds Transfer regulation," the rep told me. "It's still going to be an electronic transfer, and other wireless tech like magnetic transfers are already covered." Those "magnetic transfers" are referring to the RFID chips inside certain credit cards, already in use--and since NFC is essentially an evolved (and still magnetic) version of RFID, it seems a no-brainer that NFC would also be covered.

Will It Succeed?

NFC has tons of potential, and with backing from banks, hardware makers, and retail shops, it'll likely be widespread before long. Whether it's embraced smoothly will depend in large part on the implementation--Android's NFC functionality, from the brief glances we've seen, look kind of obtuse and complex, and NFC needs to be super simple for the public to understand and use it. But if it's done right, the days of crammed wallets and forgotten passwords may be coming to a close.
by Abadi Askdg
MacBook Airs Stacked
I'm going to keep typing after this first sentence, but before we begin something must be said: This review can be summed up in the single moment when, after using one of the new MacBook Airs for an extended period of time, you go back to your old laptop. And it feels like it has suddenly contracted elephantiasis.
My “old” laptop is a unibody 15-inch MacBook Pro with just under two years of mileage on it, which makes the contrast even more dramatic. Both machines share the same overall design language, and both feel modern, sleek and sexy, true to their maker. One just feels grossly, almost comically oversized.
Because after using the 11-inch MacBook Air for a week, a tiny axe-blade wedge of machined metal (that folds out into a computer, I had to keep reminding myself), it's hard to remember why I needed such a "huge" machine in the first place.
Here are my thoughts on the 11-inch; on the next page, Mike Haney stacks the new 13-incher up against the previous-generation Air.

What's New

Previously available only in the 13-inch configuration, the new 11-inch form-factor is the smallest Mac laptop ever made. Also new in both Airs is solid-state flash memory as the only storage option, in 64GB or 128GB sizes on the 11" (128GB or 256GB on the 13"). Graphics are handled by the same Nvidia GeForce 320M processor found in the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The cases have been slimmed and sharpened and an extra USB port has been added (the previous Air only had one).

What's Good

Speed: There hasn't been a Mac laptop with a clock speed as slow as the entry-level 11-inch Air's 1.4 GHz Core 2 Duo since mid-2005. But processors have changed a lot since then. Despite running at a slower clock, the Air's brain has two cores for more power. That doesn't mean number-crunching tasks like video encoding won't run significantly slower on this machine than every other modern Mac --for that kind of stuff, you'll be better served by something with more processing beef.
But what's amazing here is how little that matters for the other 95% of the every day computing tasks the 11-inch Air handles with effortless speed. Ditching a hard drive's spinning platters for flash memory is a huge reason for this--disk reads and writes are crazy fast (it scored a 229.47 on Xbench's disk test, compared to a 33.06 for my late-2008 MacBook Pro's 5400-rpm hard disk), which boosts the feeling of real-world speed immensely. Full restarts happen before you can even decide whether to get up and fix yourself a drink, and a new ultra-low-power mode can stay asleep for up to 30 days and still snap back to life just like a wake from regular sleep. Milquetoast web work, email and word processing feel as snappy as they are on a brand new Core i7 iMac. I was most surprised to find that even running imports and image processing with Aperture, one of the biggest resource hogs I use frequently, is done without the slightest choke (something I certainly can't say for my two-year-old 2.53 GHz MBP). It almost feels like you're being tricked.

No Compromises: You could look at the spec sheet and the tiny size and immediately cry "Mac Netbook," but the 11-inch Air shares none of that class of laptops' barebones sacrifices. The screen, while small, is a crispy 1366 x 768 pixels dense--plenty of room to work with. The keyboard, save for some skinnier function keys in the top row, is the exact same full-size keyboard on every other Mac laptop. Ditto for the glass multitouch trackpad. Everything feels like a real computer, shrunken in all the right places.

The Perfect Size:: It's not just that it's amazingly small. More importantly, its extremely low weight (2.3 pounds, just 0.7 more than an iPad) and crazy-thin profile (a hair over a tenth of an inch at its sharpest terminus) result in the perfect balance of durability, fragility and portability. Just like you imagine an ant could survive a ten-story leap from the roof of an office building, so too does it feel like you could safely give the 11-inch Air a pretty good manhandling. Not so with an iPad, which still feels fragile in my hands.

What's Bad

It Needs a Companion: I would so badly love to sell my MacBook Pro for this machine. It's everything i want in a portable computer, and is powerful enough to handle most of what I do at home. But that slow processor and a lack of storage space are still dealbreakers for this being my primary (and only) machine. I could probably plug in to a big external drive to store my media and a larger display to make things a bit more palatable when I'm at home, but the whole setup makes a lot more sense with either a huge network-attached storage drive acting as a media server, or another more powerful Mac to handle the more intensive tasks. Even though I haven't regularly used a desktop computer for over 10 years, it feels wrong for that primary home machine to also be a laptop. Maybe it's time to build that Hackintosh desktop I've been dreaming of?

The Price

$999 for the base 64GB/1.4 GHz configuration; $200 more gets you 128GB of storage for $1,199. Both trim lines can be brought up to 4GB of RAM for another $100, and the 128GB model can get a processor bump to 1.6GHz for $100 as well.

The Verdict:

I've wanted so badly to love the iPad when I'm traveling. But if I'm traveling for work, I'm often taking photographs and shooting quick videos with a DSLR, processing them, loading them along with words into our content management system--basically working with files. I can do none of these things easily with an iPad.

What can I do on an iPad that I can't with an 11-inch MacBook Air? Hmm. On the Air I can use the perhaps less design-y but equally if not more functional version of apps like my iPad's beautiful RSS reader, my beautiful note-taker, my beautiful weather widget--many in that old-fashioned thing called the web browser. It's just as portable, more durable, has a higher-resolution screen. I guess it doesn't make quite as nice an e-reader, but I'm still an old-fashioned book devotee. So, why do I need you again, iPad?
by Abadi Askdg
You can’t buy absolution—at least, not anymore—but $1.99 will help you get there. A new app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch has been “developed for those who frequent the sacrament and those who wish to return” in what is the first known imprimatur to be given for an iPhone or iPad app. Can we get an Amen?
Confession: A Roman Catholic App was developed by Little iApps to help walk the penitent through the sacrament of penance, a.k.a. confession. The app won’t impart absolution to you—sorry, but there’s no getting out of the actual act of confession—but it does help one organize his

or her sins into a handy list and maintain proper confessional decorum.

The app helps users examine their consciences by listing the 10 Commandments and asking users questions about their lives related to the fundamental rules of Christianity. Password protected profiles even allow the app to question a penitent soul about aspects of Christianity as they pertain to the person’s age, marital status, and gender, helping them to better enumerate their spiritual shortcomings and make sure nothing is forgotten when the get into the booth. Almost like a grocery list, except instead of general food items it lists all the ways you fall short of the glory of God.

It also helps users through the process of the confession itself, reminding them that when the priest says “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,” the proper response is “For His mercy endures forever.” It even contains the traditional texts of several oft cited Catholic prayers, so when the priest prescribes you a handful of Hail Marys and a couple of Our Fathers, you won’t be at a loss for words.
The app is a direct response to Pope Benedict’s January World Communications Day address in which he gave new media and social media the Papal stamp of approval as tools for helping parishioners find “meaning, truth, and unity” in their everyday lives. That is, of course, if it is used wisely.
No word on whether the Vatican considers Angry Birds a “wise” use of technology.
by Abadi Askdg
For a team of technology whiz kids at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, having a 3-D theater to work in just wasn’t enough. Using the curved 33-by-9-foot 3-D screen, a group there has created a touchscreen capable of more than 100 points of simultaneous contact.
To create their super-sized touch panel, the team converted the 3-millimeter dark acrylic screen panel into a touch screen by backlighting it with six full HD projectors. The rest of the hardware isn’t particularly high-tech; to create the touch sensitivity they used six Optitrack cameras, 16 inexpensive infrared emitters, and 1,000 LEDs.
Three computers (described by the team as “old”) are connected to the cameras (two cameras per computer) and feed data to the visualization system running on a fourth computer. Even with the old computers, they have enough processing power to detect 100 points of contact simultaneously with no delay. More points of touch are possible but the program starts to slow at that point, a problem that seems like it could be fixed with some better hardware.
See it work in all of its touch-sensitive glory below, scored to a soundtrack that Tim Burton would be proud of.