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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Big Freeze

With temperatures reaching new low in many parts of Europe and China, cities are covered in snow over the weekend.Mon, 21 Jan 2013

Heavy snow swept through many parts of Europe and China over the weekend, causing disruptions in flights and railway lines.

In Europe, cars parked by the roadsides were stacked with thick layers of snow, public transportations were delayed and many were also stranded in the airport as their flights were cancelled. The English Premier League match on Sunday was also affected and the players were reported to suffer from frostbites.

The extreme weather also hit China, especially the northern parts, breaking the records for the past 40 years, according to the local media.

Monday, January 21, 2013

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ever wanted to ride a giant robot?

Mechanical mammals are old hat - Jules Verne was writing fiction about a steam-powered elephant back in the 19th Century.
Giant robotic spiders, however, are a different story altogether.
Spencer Kelly gets the chance to drive a giant robotic spider around Las Vegas.

Audi does it again, and again

Audi, quickly emerging as something of a technology leader among German luxury brands, kept the heat on BMW and Mercedes-Benz on 14 January in Detroit.

The manufacturer also caught members of the automotive press flat-footed on at least one one of two vehicle unveilings. The RS7 Sportback will give Audi a foothold in the cohort of ultra-exclusive hatchback sedans masquerading as coupes, while the SQ5 will bring the momentum of Audi’s “S” performance line to its sport-utility vehicles.

The statistics on the RS7 flirt with Mercedes AMG levels of cartoonishness. With a twin-turbo, 4-litre V8 engine that sends 560 horsepower to all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission, the RS7 will rocket to 60mph in under 4 seconds and reach a top speed of 190mph, Audi claimed. The RS formula elevates Audi’s “S” line to a suitably higher level to cater to a clientele that expects maximum performance with no sacrifice in luxury.

And in what might be a sign of a recovering economy – or at least a strengthening global oligarchy – the RS7 has head-to-head competition for wallet-depleting prowess. The recently introduced BMW M6 Gran Coupe, Mercedes CLS63 and Porsche Panamera Turbo S are all members of an elite corps of sport sedans that offer at least 550 horsepower. Audi was mum regarding pricing, but its competition run at least six-figure tabs.

Upstaged by the RS7 was the SQ5, a quicker, sportier version of Audi’s small sport-utility vehicle. The “S” designation is synonymous with Audi’s sporting models, and makes its first sport-utility appearance on the Q5, which has been on sale for nearly three years.

The big news for the SQ5 is under the hood, where the upgraded 3-litre, supercharged V6 found in the S4 sedan and S5 coupe routes 354 horsepower and 346 pound-feet of torque through an 8-speed automatic transmission. The engine sits atop the Q5’s standard engine choices: a 2-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder unit and a less powerful 3-liter V6. At the 2012 Paris motor show, Audi showed off an SQ5 TDI destined for much of the rest of the world, whose torque figure of 479 pound-feet drew gasps of envy from the US automotive press. For now, it seems, that powertrain will not reach North America.

The transformation to SQ5 continues with the addition of Audi’s selectable drive system, which allows drivers to tune steering and suspension profiles to their individual liking. Cosmetically, the SQ5 will be distinguished from the Q5 by upgrades inside and out. A grey grille and model-specific badging keep styling updates in line with the rest of Audi’s “S” range.

While there was no word on an expected US launch for the RS7, the gasoline-powered SQ5 is slated to hit US dealerships late this year, and will also reach as many as 13 other markets.

The small business of 2063

Robots of all shapes and sizes could be our work colleagues in the future, writes Alastair Reynolds

These new technologies, combined with demographic shifts and globalisation, will have a profound impact on the future of SMEs.

Who would have thought that advanced machinery and electronics such as GPS navigation tools, which only a decade ago would have seemed completely science fictional, would now be a part of our everyday lives?

Even the tablet computer, prophetically shown in Kubrick's 1968 film 2001 A Space Odyssey, was a part of the fictional world.

But now we are more than familiar with the object, seeing it used for both business and entertainment purposes.

It is always hard to predict the impact of technological developments, but we are already witnessing how the way we work could be transformed in the near future.

Telepresence robotics
Many of the tasks we typically perform in the office today can also be done at home; we share and discuss documents seamlessly and have access to videoconferencing.

But beyond this is the exciting possibility of telepresence robotics.

These relatively simple systems - using cameras, microphones, speakers and screens - are already in use.

Alastair Reynolds believes telepresence robots will help us be 'in' work, even when at home
Surgeons use telepresence robots to place themselves "in" trauma wards thousands of miles away.

Some who have used telerobotics have even reported a strong sense of feeling "embodied" in the remote location, as if they were really there.

There will always be occasions when we would rather be somewhere in person, but telepresence robots could have truly world-changing consequences; a combination of 3D vision, tactile and proprioceptive feedback, and full-body telerobotic control could eliminate the need for physical travel altogether.

The virtual-physical high street
The traditional High Street's evolution has recently been accelerated with the collapse of many well-loved retail institutions around the world.

Some 37% of UK SMEs - small and medium enterprises - believe that in 50 years, traditional business centres will disappear and advanced telepresence could replicate many of the benefits of walking into a traditional shop.

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Cleaning robots are already patrolling Tokyo skyscrapers at night”

Indeed, robotics and augmented reality (AR) may open the possibility for hybrid High Streets, which exist in both physical and digital spaces simultaneously.

A small or medium-sized company (SME) operating without a fixed location could rent empty property on a street that it then occupies with virtual products and services.

Imagine a hundred customers in an empty shop at one time, all experiencing different AR consumer environments.

The temptation might be to assume that the High Street as we know it will be replaced by an entirely electronic presence, but we must appreciate that people generally like interacting with one another.

A virtual-physical hybrid High Street is therefore a distinct possibility.

Global trading and delivery of products
With the elimination of trade restrictions posed by currency and state borders, and the emergence of multilingual, multicultural telepresence workforces that may be spread across multiple time zones, it will seem prohibitive and unnecessary for many SMEs to be tied to a particular country, or to have anything resembling a head office.

We may have to get used to chatting to robots
This may have real risk implications in a business world, however, particularly where intellectual property (IP) is emerging as the source of lasting competitive advantage.

Secondary worlds will also continue to be developed over time, becoming more realistic and, above all, more intuitive to navigate.

Inevitably, the economies operating in these virtual spaces will become more complex, with their own institutions and laws.

One by one, all the remaining barriers to SMEs engaging in international trade will be eroded by technology.

Real-time voice translators are beginning to hit the market in the form of smartphone apps, and industrial-scale 3D printers, possibly incorporating elements of nanotechnology, may supplant much of our familiar manufacturing base, enabling complex consumer devices such as cars or washing machines to be 'printed'.

In 50 years, giant descendants of this 3D printer could have replaced traditional manufacturing
The US Army's Rapid Equipping Force is already delivering self-contained print labs to Afghanistan.

If every individual is able to order and "print" goods themselves in the near future, this is likely to cause extreme disruption to global manufacturing.

In addition, military research and development (R&D) is partly responsible for the increasing maturity of driverless vehicles.

Three US states have already legalised driverless cars, the use of which has huge implications for the supply of goods and services.

Artificial Intelligence
These advances are only part of a broader trend in which autonomous robot technologies will play an increasing role in our lives; cleaning robots are already patrolling Tokyo skyscrapers at night.

The robots of the future will probably evoke Robocop as much as Japanese super robot Kuratas
While there will always be tasks that people are better at, there is no doubt that robots will become an increasingly common feature of our lives over the next few decades (even if they are not quite as ominous as the pilotable Japanese super robot Kuratas).

Whether true AI - machines with actual consciousness and a sense of identity, rather than machines that give the illusion of intelligence - is on the horizon or not, no one can say.

In the end, we may find that the distinction is not so important, at least not to us. The machines, of course, may have different opinions on the matter.

Predicting the impact of future technologies is never easy, but if we start thinking about the future now and begin to understand the various risks and challenges that lie ahead, we may avoid being caught out when it arrives.

Alastair Reynolds is a best-selling science fiction author and former space scientist at The European Space Agency (ESA). He has been working with Zurich Insurance on the future for small and medium sized businesses.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

CES 2013: Looking beyond 4k to the TVs of the future

Screens with 33-megapixel resolutions, projectors that blend their output to go as large as you want and screenless displays hint at the future of TV at CES.

New TV tech has always been at the heart of the Consumer Electronics Show.

The focus of last year's event was smart TV interfaces, but attention has swung back to the screens themselves this year with Sony and others declaring 4k's time has come. The term "4K" refers to the horizontal resolution of such screens as they are all about 4,000 pixels in width.

Also known as "ultra-high definition", the format offers four times the resolution of the current 1080p HD standard and is best appreciated up close, or further away from a mega-sized screen.

There is a deluge of 4k displays on the show floor - some adding OLED (organic light-emitting diode) tech to offer richer colours, others slimming the screen's bezel down until it is almost not there. Samsung and China's HiSense have also made a splash by exhibiting sets with gargantuan 110in (279cm) images.

But the truth none of the manufacturers likes to talk about is that the challenge involved in packing so many pixels into a small space means their prices are likely to stay too high for most for a while longer.

Beyond 4k

Sharp's prototype 8k screen was best appreciated close up
So let's switch focus and explore what the next next-generation displays might be.

The most obvious bet can be found at Sharp's stall, where an 8k screen is on show. The 85-incher (216cm) offers more detail than a 33-megapixel photo. By contrast 1080p offers about 2MP.

Sitting at the back of a room our eyes simply aren't sophisticated enough to spot the difference, but close up the effect is startling. There's a real sense of depth without needing other 3D tech.

But bearing in mind most of us don't watch TV with our face centimetres away from our flatscreen, why bother?

"If 4k is the next great thing, then you can divide your screen into four sections and run simultaneous football games in full resolution on your 8k television," Sharp spokesman Brad Lyons says. "That has applications in bars."

Surgeons, he adds, would benefit from using TV equipment that can show up minute details hidden by current tech.

See-through TV
Samsung and LG' stalls have another hint of what's to come - the world's first curved OLED screens.

Samsung's Transparent Showcase
They're not quite the bendy TVs some had predicted, but the firms say the innovation should improve viewing angles.

Perhaps more exciting is a product that has just made it to market. Samsung's 22in (56cm) Transparent Showcase is a glass box big enough to contain a product - shoes in this case - that lets retailers float video promotions over the front panel.

Then at the end of the day, when unplugged, the glass turns black.

It hints at a time when TVs might be used as augmented reality devices, providing information about objects placed behind them.

"All LCDs are transparent anyway - they're a piece of glass," explains Don Hickey, Samsung's solutions architect for large format displays.

"We've just moved the electronics to get them out of the way.

"Going forward [larger versions] could be used in schools as a show-and-tell type of device... and it could be used at trade shows."

In the meantime HiSense also has a transparent 3D TV on show which it says should go on sale later this year.

BMW enjoys record annual car sales

Carmaker BMW has reported record annual sales, both for its core brand, and UK-based businesses Mini and Rolls-Royce.

Its group-wide sales in 2012 totalled 1.85 million cars, up 11% from a year earlier. Sales of BMW vehicles made up the majority of this total, rising 12% to 1.54 million.

At Mini, sales rose by 6% to 301,526. Rolls-Royce's sales advanced by 1% to 3,538, as had already been revealed.

BMW said the popularity of its brands had overcome "challenging" markets.

Ian Robertson, BMW's director of sales and marketing, said: "We enter the new year with positive momentum and despite the prevailing headwinds in some markets, we aim to achieve another record year in sales in 2013."

BMW said that its group-wide sales rose in all its global regions, ranging from 1% growth in Europe, to 33% in Russia, 32% in Asia, and 14% in the US.

The sales in Asia were led by China, where they jumped by 40%.

World's first subway marks 150 years in operation

Busy, congested, stressful. This is how the world’s first subway system was depicted by London newspapers in 1863. It’s a situation that would be familiar to nail-biting passengers of the present as the ‘Tube’ turned 150 years-old on Wednesday.

“The constant cry, as the trains arrived, of ‘no room,’ appeared to have a very depressing effect upon those assembled,” The Guardian newspaper reported on the public opening of London’s Metropolitan Line on January 10, 1863. The first stretch of rail had opened the day before, on January 9.

The line, the first part of what is now an extensive London transport network that has shaped the British capital and its suburbs, ran 120 trains each way during the day, carrying up to 40,000 excited passengers. Extra steam locomotives and cars were called in to handle the crowds.

Impact on the city’s design

Architectural historian David Lawrence said the rapid expansion of the subway network better known in London as the ‘Tube’ had a major impact on the city’s design. The ‘Tube’ helped lure people away from the inner city into new areas where new housing was being built near the stations.

The houses were built in a village style mocked by some historians as already dated.

“They were selling an England which had already passed by that time,” said Mr Lawrence, a principal lecturer at Kingston University.

In 1919, the Metropolitan company became directly involved in developing what came to be called “Metro-land” on surplus land. One of the company’s promotional posters displayed drab rows of inner city terrace houses and urged people to, “Leave this and move to Edgware.”

The pioneering Metropolitan Line sparked a new wave of underground development which today has grown into a 249-mile (402-kilometre) system carrying 1.2 billion passenger journeys each year.

Remarkable, efficient

Although Londoners love to complain about its sometimes sketchy performance, the ‘Tube’ and its related rail lines can be a remarkable, efficient way to move vast numbers of people in and out of the city, with roughly 3.5 million journeys completed each day. It provided nearly flawless transport during the recent London Olympics despite fears that it would buckle under the extra strain.

Charles Pearson, a lawyer who saw the line as a tool of social reform which would enable the poor to live in healthier surroundings on the perimeter of the city, began promoting the line in the 1850s.

Mr Pearson made a crucial contribution by persuading the Corporation of the City of London, the governing body of the financial district, to invest in the line.

Initial criticisms

Like many an innovation, the proposal to build a three-mile (4.8 kilometre) underground rail line from Paddington Station in central London to Farringdon on the edge of the financial district in the east aroused great scepticism and criticism when it was first proposed.

An editorial in The Times of London at the time found the concept repulsive- “A subterranean railway under London was awfully suggestive of dank, noisome tunnels buried many fathoms deep beyond the reach of light or life; passages inhabited by rats, soaked with sewer drippings, and poisoned by the escape of gas mains,” the newspaper declared.

“It seemed an insult to common sense to suppose that people who could travel as cheaply on the outside of a Paddington bus would prefer, as a merely quicker medium, to be driven amid palpable darkness through the foul subsoil of London.”

London’s Daily News took a more macabre view- “For the first time in the history of the world men can ride in pleasant carriages, and with considerable comfort, lower down than gas pipes and water pipes,” the newspaper said, adding, “lower down than graveyards.”

For the anniversary celebrations, Transport for London will run old-style steam powered trains underground but only on Sunday, so as not to disrupt its crucial people-moving function during the working week.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Top travel destinations for 2013 - according to the experts

Spring 2013 marks the opening of the all-singing, all-dancing ABBA Museum - dedicated entirely to the fame and fortunes of the 1970s hit pop group -€“ in the brand-new Music Hall of Fame on the island called Djurgarden, adding to this great city'€™s considerable charms.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Top 10 Enterprise Database Systems to Consider

Here is a shortcut to the research you need to determine which solution is best for you.
Sybase is still a major force in the enterprise market after 25 years of success and improvements to its Adaptive Server Enterprise product. Although its market share dwindled for a few years, it's returning with powerful positioning in the next-generation transaction processing space. Sybase has also thrown a considerable amount of weight behind the mobile enterprise by delivering partnered solutions to the mobile device market.

PostgreSQL, the world's most advanced open source database, hides in such interesting places as online gaming applications, data center automation suites and domain registries. It also enjoys some high-profile duties at Skype, Yahoo! and MySpace. PostgreSQL is in so many strange and obscure places that it might deserve the moniker, "Best Kept Enterprise Database Secret." Version 9.0, currently in beta, will arrive for general consumption later this year.

Have you ever heard of Teradata? If you've built a large data warehouse in your enterprise, you probably have. As early as the late 1970s, Teradata laid the groundwork for the first data warehouse -- before the term existed. It created the first terabyte database for Wal-Mart in 1992. Since that time, data warehousing experts almost always say Teradata in the same sentence as enterprise data warehouse.

Another IBM product in the list brings you to Informix. IBM offers several Informix versions -- from its limited Developer Edition, to its entry-level Express Edition, to a low-maintenance online transaction processing (OLTP) Workgroup Edition all the way up to its high-performance OLTP Enterprise Edition. Often associated with universities and colleges, Informix made the leap to the corporate world to take a No. 1 spot in customer satisfaction. Informix customers often speak of its low cost, low maintenance and high reliability.

Ingres is the parent open source project of PostgreSQL and other database systems, and it is still around to brag about it. Ingres is all about choice and choosing might mean lowering your total cost of ownership for an enterprise database system. Other than an attractive pricing structure, Ingres prides itself on its ability to ease your transition from costlier database systems. Ingres also incorporates security features required for HIPPA and Sarbanes Oxley compliance.

Top 10 Enterprise Database Systems to Consider

MySQL began as a niche database system for developers but grew into a major contender in the enterprise database market. Sold to Sun Microsystems in 2008, MySQL is currently part of the Oracle empire (January 2010). More than just a niche database now, MySQL powers commercial websites by the hundreds of thousands and a huge number of internal enterprise applications. Although MySQL's community and commercial adopters had reservations about Oracle's ownership of this popular open source product, Oracle has publicly declared its commitment to ongoing development and support.

Top 10 Enterprise Database Systems to Consider

Big Blue puts the big into data centers with DB2. DB2 runs on Linux, UNIX, Windows and mainframes. IBM pits its DB2 9.7 system squarely in competition with Oracle's 11g, via the International Technology Group, and shows significant cost savings for those that migrate to DB2 from Oracle. How significant? How does 34 percent to 39 percent for comparative installations over a three-year period sound?

Top 10 Enterprise Database Systems to Consider

SQL Server
Say what you will about Microsoft and its interesting collection of officers. It's profitability exceeds all other tech companies, and SQL Server helped put it there. Sure, Microsoft's desktop operating system is everywhere, but if you're running a Microsoft Server, you're likely running SQL Server on it. SQL Server's ease of use, availability and tight Windows operating system integration makes it an easy choice for firms that choose Microsoft products for their enterprises. Currently, Microsoft touts SQL Server 2008 as the platform for business intelligence solutions.

Top 10 Enterprise Database Systems to Consider

Oracle began its journey in 1979 as the first commercially available relational database management system (RDBMS). Oracle's name is synonymous with enterprise database systems, unbreakable data delivery and fierce corporate competition from CEO Larry Ellison. Powerful but complex database solutions are the mainstay of this Fortune 500 company (currently 105th but 27th in terms of profitability).

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