Mars Mystery: Curiosity Rover Makes Big Discovery ?

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has apparently made a discovery "for the history books," but we'll have to wait a few weeks to learn what the new Red Planet find may be, media reports suggest.

The discovery was made by Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, NPR reported today (Nov. 20). SAM is the rover's onboard chemistry lab, and it's capable of identifying organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it.

SAM apparently spotted something interesting in a soil sample Curiosity's huge robotic arm delivered to the instrument recently.

"This data is gonna be one for the history books," Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, of Caltech in Pasadena, told NPR. "It's looking really good."

The rover team won't be ready to announce just what SAM found for several weeks, NPR reported, as scientists want to check and double-check the results. Indeed, Grotzinger confirmed to that the news will come out at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which takes place Dec. 3-7 in San Francisco.

The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover landed inside Mars' huge Gale Crater on Aug. 5, kicking off a two-year mission to determine if Mars has ever been capable of supporting microbial life.....

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International Space Station Opens Launch Pad for Tiny Satellites

Astronauts on the International Space Station have transformed their high-flying laboratory into a new kind of launch pad for tiny satellites in a bid to boost student interest and access to space.

This month, the space station's Expedition 33 crew launched five tiny Cubesats, each only a few inches wide, using a small satellite orbital deployer from Japan's space agency JAXA. They were the first Cubesat satellites ever launched from the International Space Station, coming 2 1/2 years after NASA announced the CubeSat program.

"This was a learning experience for everyone," said Andres Martinez, the NASA Ames project manager for one of the satellites.

The cubesats were launched from the station's Japanese Kibo laboratory on Oct. 4, which also marked the 55th anniversary of the world's first satellite launch in 1957 that placed Russia's Sputnik 1 in orbit and ushered in the Space Age. [Photos: Tiny Satellites Launch from Space Station]

"Fifty-five  years ago we launched the first satellite from Earth. Today we launched them from a spacecraft," space station commander Sunita Williams of NASA said on launch day to mark the moment. "Fifty years from now, I wonder where we'll be launching them from."

The JAXA satellite-deploying device arrived at the station aboard a Japanese cargo ship in July. Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide placed the deployer, which is about the size of a small rabbit cage, into a small airlock in the Kibo lab. Then, the astronaut sealed the airlock, opened it up to space, and commanded the station's Kibo robotic armto pick up the deployer and bring it outside for satellite deployment.

All told, the procedure took only four hours of astronaut time – with no spacewalk required.

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Regional Dust Storm Dissipating

A regional dust storm visible in the southern hemisphere of Mars in this nearly global mosaic of observations made by the Mars Color Imager on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 25, 2012, has contracted from its size a week earlier ( 
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

PASADENA, Calif. -- A regional dust storm on Mars, tracked from orbit since Nov. 10, appears to be abating rather than going global.

"During the past week, the regional storm weakened and contracted significantly," said Bruce Cantor of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. Cantor uses the Mars Color Imager camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to monitor storms on the Red Planet.

Effects of the storm on global air-pressure patterns have been detected at ground level by the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity.

"We are getting lots of good data about this storm," said Mark Richardson of Ashima Research, Pasadena, Calif. He is a co-investigator both on REMS and on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's Mars Climate Sounder instrument, which has been detecting widespread effects of the current storm on atmospheric temperatures.

Researchers anticipate that the unprecedented combination of a near-equatorial weather station at ground level, and daily orbital observations during Mars' dust-storm season, may provide information about why some dust storms grow larger than others.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project and the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Spain provided the REMS weather station for the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity.....

For more information about the missions of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, visit .

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Global Sea Level Resumes Long Term Upward Climb

A new NASA study finds that global sea level, which dipped sharply in 2010-11 due to a strong La Nina event, has recovered and resumed its long-term upward climb. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES

            For most of the past two decades, the NASA and European Topex/Poseidon, Jason-1 and Jason-2 satellites have tracked the gradual rise of the world's ocean in response to global warming. In August 2011, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and the University of Colorado in Boulder reported that global sea level rise had hit a speed bump (see "NASA Satellites Detect Pothole on Road to Higher Seas,": ).

The researchers found that between early 2010 and summer 2011, global sea level fell sharply, by about a quarter of an inch, or half a centimeter. Using data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft, they showed that the drop was caused by the very strong La Nina that began in late 2010. This periodic Pacific Ocean climate phenomenon changed rainfall patterns all over our planet, moving huge amounts of Earth's water from the ocean to the continents, primarily to Australia, northern South America and Southeast Asia.

Now, a new paper published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters documents the effects of the 2010-11 La Nina on global sea level and updates the measurements. The result: as predicted, by mid-2012, global mean sea level had not only recovered from the more than 0.2 inches (5 millimeters) it dropped in 2010-11, but had resumed its long-term mean annual rise of 0.13 inches (3.2 millimeters) per year. Results of the new study are presented graphically at: .

"The water the ocean 'lost' was compensated for rather quickly," said lead study author Carmen Boening of JPL. "The newest data clearly indicate that the drop in 2010-11 was only temporary."

JPL co-author Josh Willis added that, like clockwork, the long-term rise of the ocean marches on. "The dip in global sea levels, brought to us courtesy of a major La Nina event, was little more than a pothole in the long road toward a rising ocean and shrinking coastlines," he said.

"In 2011, we detected a lot of water that was temporarily stored over land, causing severe flooding in some regions," said JPL co-author Felix Landerer. "In 2012, we have seen much of this water find its way back into the ocean."

For more information on NASA's satellite altimetry missions, visit: . For more on GRACE, visit: .

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A Smog-Fighting Billboard

A Smog-Fighting Billboard For Los Angeles?

           Vermont may have helped to protect the aesthetics of its natural landscapes through its state-wide billboard ban. But in Los Angeles — and possibly cities all over the world — billboards may actually become part of the natural landscape, and help to improve urban air quality as well.

The Architect’s Newspaper reports that a group of architects and engineers called Urban Air has developed a technique for transforming existing urban billboards to living, suspended bamboo gardens. Embedded with intelligent technology — i.e., sensors and water misters that ensure the plants are properly hydrated, should rain prove scarce — the UrbanAir billboard creates an open space in the urban skyline, and a place set aside for nature, even in heavily developed areas.

The billboard becomes both a work of art and a symbol of the integration of the natural and built environment  – as well as, of course, a practical tool for scrubbing dirty urban air. While the collective’s ambitions are global in scope, they aim to start with a billboard adjacent to LA’s 10 Freeway. That project is seeking crowdfunding via Kickstarter, giving Los Angelenos tired of both billboards and smog (as well as interested parties all over the world) the unique opportunity to fight the latter using the former.

As of Nov. 21, the group had raised around $34,of its $100,000 goal, with 20 days left in its campaign.

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Imagine floating, globally connected urban forests growing where billboards stand. Artist Stephen Glassman and his team are doing it.


     UrbanAir transforms existing urban billboards to living, suspended bamboo gardens. Embedded with intelligent technology, UrbanAir becomes a global node - an open space in the urban skyline… An artwork, symbol, and instrument for a green future.
Urban Air has been designed, engineered, and has secured the billboard to carry the flagship project. With your help, Urban Air will be towering above the Los Angeles freeways in the new year.

The vision doesn’t stop there. Upon a successful launch, it’s our plan and intention to transform the steel and wood of outdoor advertising into the infrastructure of urban sustainability in cities around the globe – actively, publicly, and collectively generating a green global future.

What has been done so far

        Urban Air was born as an artwork in the LA studio of artist Stephen Glassman. The image immediately sparked the interest of key vanguard professionals in related fields – engineering, technology, advertising, planning and business – and the Urban Air development team was born.

Urban Air garnered its first international recognition when it received the 2011 London International Creativity Award. Summit Media – a Los Angeles based billboard company - then volunteered to lend their support and donate prominent billboards along major LA thoroughfares to provide the launch pad for the first Urban Air prototype.

Since then we’ve been working intensely with structural and environmental engineers, planners, technologists, billboard fabricators, bamboo growers, plumbers and outdoor advertising specialists to design and produce a full scale working prototype that assures not only a successful single prototype, but also generates a system “kit” that enables any standard billboard to be easily transformed to a green, linked, urban forest.


         Working creatively on a large scale in the public realm is always a challenge. Lead Artist Stephen Glassman has a long history and substantial portfolio creating and producing high concept, large scale, structural artworks in the public domain. He understands navigating this frontier.

Billboards are a unique territory. We are fortunate to have the support and partnership of Summit Media. Through Summit, we have been working closely with licensed billboard fabricators and engineers that are specifically equipped to engineer, permit, and install custom billboards. Their expertise will be augmented by structural engineer Bruce Danziger of Arup – a premier global engineering firm that has engineered break through architectural landmarks around the world – from the Beijing Olympic Stadium to Seattle's Public Library. Stephen has collaborated with Buce and Arup on a half dozen prior projects.

The environmental sensors and intelligent technology is also a cutting edge territory, and for this Arup’s participation is again invaluable. Russell Fortmeyer is Arup’s senior sustainability and technology consultant. The technology we will be incorporating is all existing – it is only the context that is unique. Russell and Arup have many colleagues in this field that are excited to contribute. UrbanAir producer Steve Reiss and advisor Deborah Marton have long histories in environmental charitable development, and have worked with several technology companies who are excited to participate.

Like any authentic and vital artwork, the greatest risk and challenge UrbanAir faces is to create something that has never before existed – to embrace the unknown and create something from nothing. The key to UrbanAir’s success is its remarkable team – years of experience and proven expertise in cutting edge, civic scale projects. They are vanguard professionals inspired by bold challenges, and committed to creating a better world.

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80,000 Person Colony On Mars

SpaceX Founder Elon Musk Hopes to Establish 80,000 Person Colony On Mars

Newt Gingrich may have been decried as a lunatic when he declared his intent, if elected, to establish a colony on the moon — but he didn’t have the astronautical chops of SpaceX founder Elon Musk. At a recent presentation to London’s Royal Aeronautical Society, Musk stated that he envisions a “future 80,000-person colony as a public-private enterprise” on Mars. Previously Musk—also the billionaire brains behind Paypal, Tesla and the proposed solar-powered Hyperloop train—has said that he hopes for flights to Mars to be available through his private space travel company at a cost of around $500,000 per person.

Earlier this year, Musk’s SpaceX company set a milestone in space exploration when it sent the first private unmanned spacecraft to the International Space Station. With cut-backs in government spending on space exploration, SpaceX has a sizable niche to fill – and in the past Musk made no secret of his intent to send craft (and people) to Mars.

He elaborated on these ideas in his lecture to the Royal Aeronautical Society. In a summary of his plans he suggested that early flights would consist of 10 people or less, carrying larger amounts of supplies. But once a colony and flights are established there would be the possibility of transporting 100 people or more at any given time—and he believes that there would be enough individuals interested in selling their earthly possessions and moving to Mars to make a reasonable business case for the missions......

A Practical Detonation Engine.

Exploding Engine Could Reduce Fuel Consumption
The military and GE have made strides toward a practical detonation engine.

          A new kind of engine under development, called a detonation engine, could save the military hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs every year. The technology, which military researchers are working on together with scientists at GE and other companies, could reduce fuel consumption at power plants, in ships, and on airplanes by as much as 25 percent. The Navy alone estimates that retrofitting its ships with the technology would reduce annual fuel costs by $300 to $400 million.

It could be over a decade before such engines are put to practical use. But DARPA, having finished detailed plans, is now in the middle of a $62 million program aimed at building the first full-scale demonstration of one version of the technology. (GE is involved in the project: see “GE’s Risky Research.”) Meanwhile, Navy researchers are using sophisticated simulations to advance a version of the concept that could make it far more practical.

Detonation engines would replace jet engines in airplanes and the gas turbines that run power plants and Navy ships. A set of rotating blades at the front of those engines compresses air, which is then mixed with fuel and combusted in a steady flame. That produces hot gases that do the work an engine is designed to do, whether it’s turning a propeller, propelling a jet, or spinning a generator to produce electricity.

Improving the efficiency of conventional jet engines has involved finding ways to increase air compression. But the cost and complexity of that approach is making it harder to realize improvements. Detonation engines offer another way to achieve high pressures. In a detonation engine, fuel combustion generates a shock wave that raises pressures to levels 10 times those inside a conventional engine. “It’s like an explosion or a bomb,” says Kazhikathra Kailasanath, a researcher at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. “If you burn something in an open flame, the pressure stays the same as the surrounding pressure. The big difference with a detonation engine is going from that to a confined type of combustion, where the pressure goes up and the combustion occurs more rapidly.”

The most highly developed form of detonation engine, which has been in the works for many years, is the pulse detonation engine, the type GE is developing. Whereas combustion occurs continuously in a conventional jet engine, pulse detonation involves setting off a series of detonations—say, 60 to 100 per minute.....

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Rotating Detonation Engines Could Replace Turbines in US Navy

Making Concentrated Solar Photo Voltaic More Attractive & Cost Effective

One Step Forward, One Step Back for Concentrated PV

CPV company SolFocus is up for sale, a reflection of rapidly falling solar power prices, while startup Semprius moves ahead on demo CPV system.

Solar collectors from Semprius use hundreds of very small solar cells with optics to concentrate light, a break with traditional CPV design. Credit: Semprius.

Many analysts and entrepreneurs foresee a healthy future for concentrated solar photovoltaic technology, but a massive oversupply of commodity solar panels is giving some investors cold feet.

Pioneering concentrated PV company SolFocus yesterday said it has restructured itself for a sale in the next few months and laid off most of its employees. The company, which has raised about $200 million, has a healthy pipeline of projects behind the 15 megawatts already installed. But its venture capital investors are unwilling to continue putting money into the company, which is not profitable.

A number of CPV companies have had to shut down or restructure because of severe downward price pressure for solar power. Startup GreenVolts said in September one of its investors, ABB, decided to pull out, which led to a sale of GreenVolts’ assets. Long-time CPV supplier Amonix earlier this year shut down a planned factory in Nevada because of soft demand.

But it hasn’t been all bad news for CPV. Startup Semprius said yesterday that Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne will install 200 kilowatts worth of its solar collectors at the Edwards Air Base in California for a demonstration program, a sign of confidence in Semprius’ novel technology

CPV panels traditionally use lenses and mirrors to concentrate sunlight to create the equivalent of several hundred “suns.” The light is focused onto high-efficiency triple junction cells, getting more electricity per area than conventional solar panels which have an efficiency of about 20 percent. Amonix last month said it achieved 33.5 percent conversion of sunlight to electricity. But these CPV systems, which only work in very sunny areas and require trackers to follow the sun, are more complex and costly to make.

The largest CPV plant in the U.S. is a 30-megawatt plant operated by Cogentrix in Colorado and analysts say the technology has advantages. IMS Research recently came out with a report predicting 1.2 gigawatts of CPV installed by 2016 because the technology has the potential to deliver a lower cost of energy than flat-plate solar panels.....

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Friction May Someday Charge Your Cell Phone

A nanogenerator made from inexpensive materials harvests mechanical energy and produces enough power to charge personal electronics.

The phenomenon that causes a painful shock when you touch metal after dragging your shoes on the carpet could someday be harnessed to charge personal electronics.

Researchers at Georgia Tech have created a device that takes advantage of static electricity to convert movement—like a phone bouncing around in your pocket—into enough power to charge a cell phone battery. It is the first demonstration that these kinds of materials have enough oomph to power personal electronics.

Excess energy produced when you walk, fidget, or even breathe can, in theory, be scavenged to power medical implants and other electronics. However, taking advantage of the energy in these small motions is challenging.

Zhong Lin Wang, a professor of materials science at Georgia Tech, has been working on the problem for several years, mostly focusing on piezoelectric materials that generate an electrical voltage under mechanical stress. Wang and others have amplified the piezoelectric effect by making materials structured at the nanoscale. So far, though, piezoelectric nanogenerators have not had very impressive power output.

Now Wang’s group has demonstrated that a different approach may be more promising: static electricity and friction. This is the effect at work when you run a plastic comb through your hair on a dry day, and it stands on end. The Georgia Tech researchers demonstrated that this static charge phenomenon, called the triboelectric effect, can be harnessed to produce power using a type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate, and a metal. When thin films of these materials come into contact with one another, they become charged. And when the two films are flexed, a current flows between them, which can be harnessed to charge a battery. When the two surfaces are patterned with nanoscale structures, their surface area is much greater, and so is the friction between the materials—and the power they can produce.

The Georgia Tech nanogenerator can convert 10 to 15 percent of the energy in mechanical motions into electricity, and thinner materials should be able to convert as much as 40 percent, Wang says. A fingernail-sized square of the triboelectric nanomaterial can produce eight milliwatts when flexed, enough power to run a pacemaker. A patch that’s five by five centimeters can light up 600 LEDs at once, or charge a lithium-ion battery that can then power a commercial cell phone. Wang’s group described these results online in the journal Nano Letters.....

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An Industrial Operating System For the Cyber War Era

Security Guru Pledges to Strengthen Critical Computers

Computer-security researcher Eugene Kaspersky says he is testing control software that won’t run malicious code.

           Stuxnet, a piece of malicious software discovered in 2010, targeted industrial software controlling Iran’s uranium-enrichment centrifuges. But the code got loose—and it continues to spread: Chevron, for example, said last week that its network had been infected by Stuxnet.

The prospect that malware like Stuxnet could infect and disrupt critical pieces of infrastructure worries government officials (see “Old-Fashioned Control Systems Make U.S. Power Grids, Water Plants a Hacking Target”) and computer scientists like Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of the Moscow-based antivirus company Kaspersky Lab. He has been talking about building secure operating systems for industrial systems, a subject he discussed with MIT Technology Review.

How far has Stuxnet or similar malicious software spread beyond the intended target? What damage or costs are known to have resulted?

I am sure there are more critical companies, critical to national economic and national security, infected by Stuxnet. Unfortunately I don’t have any hard data on this. Stuxnet had infected an estimated 100,000 machines in approximately 30,000 organizations in the month of September 2010.....

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Smoking May 'Rot' Your Brain

Researchers in London have identified several heart disease risk factors associated with the accelerated decline of memory, learning, attention, and reasoning.

                    Here's yet another reason not to smoke: Scientists say smoking "rots" the brain.

Researchers at King's College London analyzed information on almost 9,000 people over the age of 50 and found that smoking negatively affected their memory, learning ability, and reasoning capacity.

Researchers analyzed data on smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body mass index (BMI), as well as individuals' 10-year risk levels for heart disease and stroke based on risk categories developed by the Framingham Heart Study.

Participants were evaluated at four- and eight-year follow-ups, where they were asked to perform brain tests, like learning new words or naming as many animals as they could in a minute.

The study showed that of all the risk factors, smoking had the most consistent negative impact on cognitive performance in all three tasks designed to test memory recall, verbal fluency, attention, and other cognitive functions.

Those with high BMIs did worse on the memory task, while high blood pressure was linked to lower scores for memory and overall cognitive performance. Those at high risk of stroke were found to perform more poorly across all three cognitive assessments, according to a news release from King's College.

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MIT Developing 'Solar Energy Funnels'

MIT Developing 'Solar Energy Funnels' That Could Harvest More Electricity From Sunlight

        Researchers at MIT recently announced plans to create a “solar energy funnel” that could harvest energy from a much broader spectrum of sunlight than silicon photovoltaics are currently able to achieve. Ju Li, an MIT professor, and Xiaoteng Qian, a postdoc student, published a paper this week in Nature Photonics describing the funnel, which is made from a vanishingly thin material called Molybdenum Disulfide (MoS2).
Li and Qian’s solar energy funnel is much more sophisticated than your household funnel. The device is created by using a microscopic needle to poke a tiny hole in a thin film of MoS2 that is only a single molecule thick. This indents the surface and creates a funnel-like shape. The pressure exerted by the needle creates elastic strain, which is highest at the film’s center where it’s poked. The varying strain on the material created by this solar funnel changes the atomic structure just enough to “tune” different sections to different wavelengths of light – not just visible light, but also some of the invisible spectrum which happens to account for a great amount of the energy in sunlight.....

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Education Giant Adapts

Pearson is the world’s largest book publisher. Now it wants to be a one-stop shop for digital education.

Pearson should be among the walking dead of global media conglomerates, fatally wounded by the shift to digital media. Pearson is the world’s largest book publisher and dominates the market for textbooks, which are facing a competitive attack from inexpensive or even free course material online.

But education has been one of the last holdouts against the onslaught of computing and communications advances, and that’s given this 168-year-old company time to adapt. It grew sales in its education division by nearly 70 percent to $7 billion over the last four years, as profit margins also increased. That alone has lifted the company’s overall results as its other two main divisions—Penguin, a publisher founded in 1935, and the group that publishes the Financial Times—have grown more slowly.

Pearson pulled this off with a decade-long string of acquisitions that helped it shift its emphasis from selling books to selling education services. The London-based company styles itself as the “world’s leading learning company,” even if that learning isn’t delivered through traditional books. These days, Pearson is more like an IT department for classrooms and schools. It sells technology infrastructure, software, and consulting services to schools—services that in turn help deliver the vast stock of textbook content Pearson owns. The company says its revenue from online content and services will surpass those of the traditional publishing business this year.

The company says it thinks that nearly half of U.S. K-12 schools use at least some Pearson software, ranging from its student information systems that let schools track kids’ schedules to “learning management systems” that help teachers construct lessons.

Universities are also expanding their online course materials, offering courses over the Internet both for enrolled students and through free “massive open online courses” for anyone around the world. But setting up and running the required infrastructure isn’t a job colleges want to do themselves. So this fall, Pearson spent $650 million to buy EmbanetCompass, a startup with technology that helps universities launch online courses.

California State University, the nation’s largest four-year university system, with 427,000 students, hired Pearson to launch some distance-learning course options in 2013. Professors will use Pearson’s system to post class material for students who can’t make it to the lecture. The company, not the university, will field technical questions from students. The Cal State system, which has seen budgets cut by 40 percent in the past few years, is betting that technology will let it stretch its resources. Mike Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the chancellor’s office, says that by putting courses online, the California schools might reduce dropout rates and eventually admit more students.

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Most Important Education Technology in 200 Years

If you were asked to name the most important innovation in transportation over the last 200 years, you might say the combustion engine, air travel, Henry Ford’s Model-T production line, or even the bicycle. The list goes on.

Now answer this one: what’s been the single biggest innovation in education?

Don’t worry if you come up blank. You’re supposed to. The question is a gambit used by Anant Agarwal, the computer scientist named this year to head edX, a $60 million MIT-Harvard effort to stream a college education over the Web, free, to anyone who wants one. His point: it’s rare to see major technological advances in how people learn.

Agarwal believes that education is about to change dramatically. The reason is the power of the Web and its associated data-crunching technologies. Thanks to these changes, it’s now possible to stream video classes with sophisticated interactive elements, and researchers can scoop up student data that could help them make teaching more effective. The technology is powerful, fairly cheap, and global in its reach. EdX has said it hopes to teach a billion students.

Online education isn’t new—in the United States more than 700,000 students now study in full-time "distance learning" programs. What’s different is the scale of technology being applied by leaders who mix high-minded goals with sharp-elbowed, low-priced Internet business models. In the stories that will follow in this month’s business report, MIT Technology Review will chart the impact of free online education, particularly the “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, offered by new education ventures like edX, Coursera, and Udacity, to name the most prominent.

These ideas affect markets so large that their value is difficult to quantify. Just consider that a quarter of the American population, 80 million people, is enrolled in K–12 education, college, or graduate school. Direct expenditures by government exceed $800 billion. Add to that figure private education and corporate training.

Because education is economically important yet appears inefficient and static with respect to technology, it’s often cited (along with health care) as the next industry ripe for a major “disruption.” ....

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Technology of Massive Open Online Courses

Experts in artificial intelligence are leaving academia to bring online learning to the world. But their most radical ideas are still on hold.

The wave of enthusiasm for online education is unearthing some hard and interesting computational problems that Daphne Koller would love to solve. But first she has to find the time.

Last January, Koller and her colleague Andrew Ng took leave from faculty positions at Stanford University’s artificial-intelligence lab to create Coursera, a venture-financed online-education startup with offices five miles from campus.

Since then, Coursera’s growth has been rapid and all consuming. The company has posted more than 200 free classes taught by professors at 33 top universities, such as the University of Pennsylvania and Caltech. More than 1.5 million students have signed up, and about 70,000 new students—the equivalent of four or five Stanfords—join every week.

Koller, 44, now spends her average day “probably on a plane somewhere” headed to pitch Coursera to university administrators and faculty. The last 10 months have transformed her from a celebrated expert in statistics into the co-CEO of a large and complex educational website whose money-making plans are still nascent.....

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China Chip Advances

Loongson Chips May Compete with Intel Soon | The country's first homegrown microprocessor could be used in Internet servers and routers.
        The processors at the heart of computers and mobile devices today come in two basic flavors: Intel- and ARM-compatible. But since 2002 the Chinese Academy of Sciences has been working in a public-private partnership, BLX IC Design Corporation, to establish and third type of processor—designed and made in China. Early next year, the latest fruit of that project will be unveiled, reports ComputerWorld, a new chip in a family of designs known as Loongson that is intended to drive PCs, servers and supercomputers.

The latest chip, the Godson-3B1500, is said to have twice as many transistors on a chip the same size as its predecessor, launched in 2011, and to be 35 percent more power efficient. Earlier versions of the Godson chip family were used as the basis of the chips for China’s first fully domestically built supercomputer.

Despite that progress, Loongson chips are still far behind Intel’s technologically. The chip to be launched next year is made using a process that carves features as small as 32 nanometers into a chip, but Intel already sells processors with features as small as 22 nanometers. Loongson chips are also incompatible with Microsoft’s Windows operating system, which many consumers in China as elsewhere find synonymous with desktop computing. Read More :

Windows Phone 8 An Excellent Mobile OS

       For a smartphone operating-software maker whose name doesn’t rhyme with “Snapple” or “frugal,” success doesn’t come easy. The market is littered with companies that have succeeded in grabbing only a small number of users.

Microsoft approached its recent launch of Windows Phone 8 as a member of this brotherhood of stragglers. It had just 2 percent of the global smartphone market in the third quarter, according to data from IDC, compared with 75 percent for Android smartphones and 15 percent for the iPhone.

Fortunately for Microsoft, Windows Phone 8 is a strong effort. It’s snappy, easy to navigate and customize, and good-looking to boot—all traits that will help the company as it tries to surpass Research in Motion’s ailing BlackBerry and Nokia’s dying Symbian platforms.

But—and of course, there has to be a “but”—the operating system still faces an uphill battle to become a strong third-place player in the smartphone market, and the weakness of its app store won’t help.

If Microsoft wants to be taken seriously by consumers and app developers, it will have to make serious strides with its Windows Phone Store, which for now includes just a fraction of the apps available for Android and iOS. But Microsoft is an old hand when it comes to wooing developers, and Windows 8—its operating system for desktops and tablets—is designed to make it easier for developers to create software components that work on both mobile and conventional computers. So I’m going to bet they can do it, even if it may take some time.....

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Tablets In Public Schools

                Every fifth-grader at Barron Park Elementary School in Palo Alto has an iPad—and it’s not because their parents plunked down $499 apiece to buy them.

The students in Barron Park’s two fifth-grade classes are part of a pilot program that began this fall, supported by funds from a local tax measure. They use the tablet computers for solving math problems and making videos on field trips, checking the devices out each morning and returning them to their teachers at the end of the day. Soon, they’ll be allowed to take the gadgets home.

Educational technology teacher Smita Kolhatkar believes the tablets help students with lessons, improve memory and language skills, and cause them to act more independently. “It’s simply amazing to see the level of engagement and excitement with the children,” she says.

The excitement among tablet makers is almost as great. Research firm IDC says global shipments of tablets will reach 177 million this year, and 11 million of them were purchased by businesses or government agencies rather than consumers. Of those, IDC analyst Tom Mainelli says, the “vast majority” were sold to schools.

Mainelli thinks that within a few years all U.S. students will have some access to a tablet at school. With 55 million students in the country’s elementary and secondary schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, that’s a lot of potential sales. And it’s not just a one-time product push: beyond selling tablets to schools and districts, tablet makers see a chance to set up future sales by establishing brand loyalty with young users.

“All these guys see huge opportunities here,” Mainelli says.....

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