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Daily Crunch: Propulsion

Posted: 15 Oct 2011 01:00 AM PDT

How To Enable 18TB Hard Drives? Just Add Salt

Posted: 14 Oct 2011 04:25 PM PDT


The continually increasing size of hard drives means we can all store more pictures, music, games, and so on, but as with the transistor counts in Moore’s Law, those increases don’t come easy. Companies like Toshiba, TDK, and Seagate are forever looking into ways to increase the number of bits they can store inside a drive. It’s already an astounding amount, but they always seem to find a way to improve it further.

Today’s advance comes from Singapore’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, where Dr Joel Yang has figured out a way to fit several times the number of bits in a given area. The secret? A little salt in the mix.

Hard disks have a surface covered in tiny magnetic granules, each only nanometers across. Groups of them clump together to form tiny, semi-regular islands. The hard drive head flies overhead and flips these islands one way or another to create 1s and 0s.

Those tiny granules are formed by exposing a certain solution to a nanolithographic process (but of course we all knew that already). Dr Yang found that by adding a bit of salt to solution, they were able to produce superior grains. They’re not actually smaller, but instead of having to clump a bunch together in an island, each individual grain can be manipulated individually into a bit storage unit. This means that the data density of the disk’s surface can be increased immensely.

They’ve demonstrated data storage at 1.9 terabits per square inch, which is about four times what the very best hard drives today are capable of. And they’ve made granules small enough that drives based on this new process could reach all the way to 3.3 terabits per inch. That means that your drives could hold as much as 18 terabytes in the near future.

Yang actually developed the salty solution when he was at MIT, but it looks like IMRE gets to reap the rewards, at least if they can commercialize it. We probably won’t see drives based on this tech for a couple years, but the improvement is notable regardless. The full paper can be read here.

The World’s Movie Camera Makers Have All Quietly Stopped Production Of Film Cameras

Posted: 14 Oct 2011 01:35 PM PDT


Most people reading this website will not be surprised to hear that the era of film is coming to an end. Even those of you who, like me, spent days in darkrooms perfecting your dodge technique, are likely unruffled at the notion. But in Hollywood film has been clinging tenaciously to life, if only out of a sort of traditionalist inertia. But this last year was marked by a sort of quiet final surrender by the film cadre: Arri, Panavision, and Aaton have all ceased production of film cameras. These companies have been driving the film industry for decades, and for them all to throw in the towel at once suggests that the end truly is approaching.

The story of the last few years of film is told extremely well in Debra Kaufman’s article at Creative Cow, which touches on the many people and industries which film moviemaking has both relied on and contributed to. To call its end a tragedy would be a sentimental overstatement, but the world rarely moves on without leaving some things behind, and it’s good to acknowledge that.

Practically speaking, there has been pressure for years on these film camera companies to switch entirely to digital, and a few things finally put them past the point of no return. While they have been doing good business in a way, the number of productions using film has been steadily declining, and the need for new film cameras hasn’t been strong in years. They’re phenomenally expensive, for one thing; even major production houses tend to only have a couple on hand or rent from a partner. Panavision and the others have been tweaking and repairing these cameras for a long time, but selling very, very few.

The competition from digital has also stepped up, even from within. Can Arri justify the cost put into their film department when everybody is crowing about the Alexa, which is by all accounts amazing? Then you have the upstarts like RED, whose totally new technology and research put the unwary old guard on the run, and Canon, whose 5D mk II has proven a popular option for filmmakers on a budget.

Changes in the industry, too, have portended film’s demise. TV production has made a sudden shift to digital, especially after labor disputes that led many actors and producers to join with the union covering digital productions instead of film. The earthquake in Japan flooded the one facility that makes a certain HD tape format, prompting a number of production houses to switch to all-digital. And of course the ongoing replacement of film projectors with digital continued to put pressure on the film ecosystem; in July, the National Association of Theatre Owners announced that fully half of their thousands of theaters were converted to digital, and they’re adding 700 every month.

What’s a film-based business model to do? Shut down quietly and with dignity, it seems. Film itself will likely be around for a while longer, though Kodak and Fujifilm are only going to continue production as long as it’s a good business decision. But with Kodak nearing bankruptcy and Fujifilm more and more embracing digital, the future isn’t looking bright for 35mm.

But will it disappear forever? It’s impossible to say, but the answer is a bit like that for books: they’ll remain in production for a long, long time, but will be marginalized to the extreme and bought only by collectors and traditionalists. As AbleCine’s Moe Shore estimates: “In 100 years, yes. In ten years, I think we’ll still have film cameras. So somewhere between 10 and 100 years.” Sounds reasonable. Some will say good riddance, and some will never convert, but that the industry is moving on is just a fact.

Whatever the specifics of the era’s demise turn out to be, here’s a modest salute to the film camera companies that have enabled so much creativity. They’re finally embracing the next wave with the humility proper to a venerable but truly outdated technology like film, and hopefully the next century will be as productive as the last.

ZiiLabs Demonstrates Their Jaguar3 Android Tablet Media Platform On Video

Posted: 14 Oct 2011 11:41 AM PDT


We’ve seen a few peeks of Creative’s Zii-powered Android tablets over the last couple months, but being rather spec-oriented, this reference platform didn’t get much attention. This video does a better job of showing off the advantages of having a general-purpose parallel CPU array like StemCell. It’s a special 48-core chip they’ve married to a 1.5GHz Cortex A9, and it’s dedicated to media processing.

It may not be that we ever see this guy in action: the Zii series of media players just couldn’t stand up to the iPod touch, and it could be that this augmented Android platform isn’t cost-effective or flashy enough to bring in sales. A hell of a lot of people are going to opt for something like the Fire, since they have no idea what WebM is, and don’t see why they would want to have 1080p playback on a small tablet that can’t even display that resolution. That’s why they have a Blu-ray player attached to a 55″ LCD. Who can blame them?

It does look like a nice little tablet, though, and having that big parallel array would probably be attractive to a lot of developers. But I don’t think the market is big enough right now for this to sell more than a few thousand units.

[via Fine Oils]

Motorola Reveals NFC-Packing ELITE Bluetooth Headsets

Posted: 14 Oct 2011 09:23 AM PDT


Motorola has pulled back the curtains on the ELITE Silver and the ELITE Flip, a new pair of Bluetooth headsets that pack a few novel goodies into some odd-looking packages.

Both headsets, for example, are fully compatible with your NFC-capable phone (you do have one, right?). Say goodbye to fiddling with your Bluetooth menu, as all it takes to pair is a quick tap.

They also pack support for Motorola’s Android-only My MOTOSpeak app, so the road-warriors among you will have quick access to your messages and apps while on the run.

The ELITE Silver looks unlike any other Motorola headset I’ve seen in years. If anything, it almost looks like Motorola has cribbed a few design notes from the Plantronics Voyager Pro, except they’ve excluded the fantastic boom mic. Motorola also claims that the ELITE Silver is capable of roaming much farther than your standard headset: up to 300 feet, instead of the usual 30 or so.

The Silver’s battery life is rated at a scant 5 hours, but it ships with a special case that charges the headset when you stow it. Other than that, it packs the usual A2DP streaming and Motorola’s dual-mic noise cancellation.

The ELITE Flip is far and away the less exciting of the two. Motorola has been using and tweaking their flip-open headsets for a long time now, and the Flip doesn’t bring much new to the table. It features the same audio streaming and noise cancellation functionality as its brother, but squeezes it all into a slightly more conventional package. At the very least it wins on battery life: users can expect 6 hours of talk time out of the gate.

If either the ELITE Silver or ELITE Flip have somehow struck your fancy, you can pick them up for $129 and $99 respectively come October 24.

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook Review: A MacBook Air For The Rest Of Us

Posted: 14 Oct 2011 09:10 AM PDT

Thinner than a pencil

The Aspire S3 is Acer’s first ultrabook. The notebook is almost unabashedly a MacBook Air clone with straight lines and a clean design but it’s also $400 less. There are some trade-offs when comparing this to the Air, sure, but for the most part the Aspire S3 is a fine ultraportible for the Windows crowd.

What Acer and all the rest of the ultrabook makers are building are by all accounts fine computers but will no doubt catch flack because of their similarities to the MacBook Air. The Aspire S3 isn’t a MacBook Air killer. Not alone at least. This notebook gives me hope that the PC isn’t dead and ultrabooks will be the genesis of this revival.

Lookin’ Good

It’s hard to dismiss the MacBook Air as the S3′s inspiration. It’s a virtual clone if you replace the MBA’s aluminum skin with plastic, ditch the backlit keyboard and replace the glowing Apple logo with a shiny Acer one. That’s fine with me. Acer got the major points right. The S3 is lightweight, surprisingly rigid and sports a quality multitouch trackpad.

The S3 is .51-inches thick. That’s .17mm thinner than the MacBook Air at its thickest point. But unlike the MBA or the recently announced Asus Zenbook, the S3 is nearly the same thickness throughout; it’s not tapered to a sharp point. But with a notebook this thin, these tiny details do not really matter. The S3 is just a touch thicker than two iPads 2. It also weighs a mere 2.98 lbs.

Acer pulled off a sort of coup with the S3. This ultrabook has perhaps the best trackpad I’ve ever used on a Windows notebook. The multitouch gestures simply work without a learning curve. The whole trackpad wiggles a bit in a way that’s not necessarily bad, but initially unsettling. The trackpad is so good that it tricks my brain and when I need to right click, my left hand constantly wonders up to the Ctrl and Alt button as if I was on a Mac – I forget this trackpad has a real right click button! I am thoroughly impressed with the trackpad.

Then there’s the screen. The S3 uses a rather low resolution 13-inch LED backlit display. The colors and clarity are just fine, but the 1366 x 768 resolution leaves me wanting more. That’s the same resolution used in the 11-inch MBA — the 13-inch uses a 1440 x 900 which lends greatly to its high-end feel. The S3′s low resolution screen is adequate just not exceptional. Plus, the viewing angle is poor and to make matters worse, the lid’s hinge is loose so it tends to fall forwards or backwards when jarred.

Think that’s bad? The S3 has a set of Dolby certified speakers, but you’ll get better sound out of a thrift store harmonica. They’re that bad, which frustrates me considering the Dolby logo printed right by the S3′s power button. Dolby seemingly sells licences more freely than George Lucas pimps Star Wars. If this is Dolby-approved sound, then Dolby clearly endorses horrible sound.

Battery Is King

Acer proudly touts that the S3 can last six hours on a charge. That claim puts the S3 on par with the MacBook Air’s 5-7 hour life. Unfortunately I never saw six hours of life during my testing. A day of normal activities consisting of mainly Internet browsing resulted in a 5 hour battery life. I only saw 3:30 hours when stress testing the notebook by playing 1080p movies over WiFi. (all of Mallrats and part of Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood)

The shorter than advertised battery life is to be expected, though. Where Apple takes great pride in advertising real-life battery stats, Windows PC makers seem to state lives that are only achievable when the notebook is at its lowest brightness and sitting near ideal. Still, the five-hour battery life is below average in the ultraportable scene even though it’s still a good amount of time.

Thin notebooks generally get toasty. The S3 does not. It stays at a comfortable temperature thanks to a fan that kicks on a few minutes after opening the lid. But even the MacBook Air has a fan. After all, there’s a good deal of powerful computing hardware crammed into an area measured by cubic millimeters. At this point ultraportables either have a fan or they double as an Easy Bake Skillet.

Intel Inside

The Aspire S3 rocks a mobile 1.6GHz Core i5-2467M CPU with 4GB of RAM. This little guy handled all my daily tasks that admittedly consists just of Google Reader and Reddit combined with a fair amount of YouTube videos sourced from both. Photoshop runs well enough for simple edits, but I wouldn’t want to compose a huge image — partly because of the low-res screen. Future versions in Acer’s ultrabook line will include Core i3 and i7 CPUs, which depending on your poison, will either provide better battery life at the cost of raw power, or likewise, a shorter battery life in return for faster CPU cycles.

Not surprisingly, the S3 isn’t a gaming machine but it runs less-demanding games like Portal and Starcraft just fine. Don’t expect to play BF3 on here.

Intel designed the ultrabook platform to be quick where it’s most obvious: system start-up and resuming. Acer took it one step farther and included several proprietary software packs to make it even quicker. The included SSD helps, too. It takes about 1 second to resume the system when opening the lid. A system boot took an average of 34 seconds from hitting the power button to seeing the WiFi reconnect. It’s clearly far from instant-on but it’s nearly an instant resume, which is more important to daily usage anyway.

Part of the quickness comes from a 20GB SSD that holds just the important system files. A traditional 320GB spinning disk hard drive handles file storage and additional software installations. This unconventional affair is hidden to the user and only one disk shows up in My Computer. Strangely, despite 3rd party confirmation of these hard drives from HD Tune Pro, only 283 GBs show as the total system storage — and that seemingly includes the Windows 7 install.

But This Is An Acer

Buy a Mac and you get OS X and several first party software titles. Buy an Acer (or HP, Dell or most others) and you get a computer loaded with unsolicited software. This notebook comes with at least a dozen bloatware titles including McAfee Internet Protection and Norton Online Backup. (side question: why does McAfee insist on running inside of Chrome as a plug-in? fear mongering) I’ve only had the computer a few days and I’m constantly bombed with software updates, required restarts and random program notification pop-ups. These sponsored offers allow computer manufacturers to sneak in extra revenue and keep prices low, but there has to be a better way that doesn’t require an owner to spend an hour uninstalling software on his new computer.

The S3 is a winner. It’s relatively low $899 price puts the ultrabook $400 less than a comparable MacBook Air. Plus it runs Windows, which, and I know this may be a shocker to some, is a big advantage for a large cohort of consumers. But the S3 isn’t the only ultrabook out there and if you need some extra power, it might do to wait. Nearly every computer manufacturer is launching a full line of ultrabooks. Acer has an early advantage of hitting retailers before Dell or HP who are expected to enter the game late this year or early next. But Lenovo, Toshiba, Asus, and Samsung are all launching ultrabooks in the coming weeks, so the competition is looming.

This notebook lives up to my rather high expectations. I’m a bit disappointed by the screen, but it’s far from a deal breaker in my opinion. The S3′s trackpad rocks, the notebook stays at a comfortable temperature and the long battery life makes it an all-day companion. I was quiet pleased and, in the end, it’s not just another MacBook Air lookalike.

Click to view slideshow.

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The Motorola Xoom Family Edition Hits Best Buy For $379, Comes Loaded With Extra Apps

Posted: 14 Oct 2011 09:07 AM PDT


Don’t let the name fool you. This isn’t just a special edition of the original Xoom. This is a new tablet that comes loaded with a bunch of family apps.

The specs are similar to the original: Android 3.1, a 10.1-inch IPS screen, dual-core 1GHz CPU, 5MP camera and 16GB of storage. The casing is different this time around though. The tablet is decidedly downmarket wherein the original clearly aimed at the high-end of space. Motorola clearly learned a thing or two from its first tablet. This time around it’s all about the software and user experience.

The Xoom Family Edition is packed with $40 worth of apps. Kid Zone Zoodles locks down the tablet and allows your youngsters access to only the apps you deem acceptable — like the preloaded SimCity Deluxe and Asphalt 6. Then there’s Netflix, Quickoffice Pro HD, all the Google apps, several Amazon apps, Motorola’s app showcase portal called MotoPack.

I’m still not convinced that the Android tablet scene is large enough to support special editions. For the most part they’re still niche products and the flagship products are barely selling. Still, despite the name, this is more of a new tablet than a special edition of the original.

Best Buy is the exclusive retailer for the Xoom Family Edition where it’s hitting at $379. Look for it in stores on October 16th.

Launch Date: October 15, 2011

Motorola Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: MSI) is a data communications and telecommunications equipment provider that succeeded Motorola Inc. following the spin-off of the mobile phones division into Motorola Mobility Holdings, Inc. in 2011. The company is headquartered in Schaumburg, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. Motorola Solutions is composed of the Enterprise Mobility Solutions division of the former Motorola, Inc. Motorola Solutions also previously had a Networks division, which it sold to Nokia Siemens Networks in a transaction that was completed on April...

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Video: Meet Kong And Wu, The Ping Pong Playing Robots From China

Posted: 14 Oct 2011 09:02 AM PDT

China Ping Pong Robot

The Japanese have them, the Germans have them, the Vietnamese have them, and now China has them, too: ping pong robots. A team of researchers at Zhejiang University in Eastern China has worked a total of four years to come up with two humanoids that can play ping pong with each other or against human players.

The robots, named Kong and Wu, are 160cm tall, weigh 55kg and feature 30 joints. A high-speed camera that can shoot pictures at 120fps makes sure the robots react in 0.05 to 0.1 seconds and with a precision of 2.5cm to balls coming their way.

Here’s a video showing Kong and Wu in action [CN]:

Via Plastic Pals

TCTV: Up Close With The Gibson Firebird X Robot Guitar

Posted: 14 Oct 2011 09:02 AM PDT

Guitar-maker Gibson has a problem on their hands. After nearly a century of producing some of the most storied guitars in existence for, from the Les Paul electrics to genre-defining acoustics, Gibson has taken a turn into the space age. With the launch of their latest creation, the Firebird X, however, fans have been up in arms about styling, gimmicks and, most important, Gibson’s embrace of the digital.

I sat down with Mark McCabe, a Gibson rep, to run through this new guitar and to discuss the company’s new product line. As an amateur player, I can assure you that this guitar is amazingly cool, especially the on-board controls and the Bluetooth-connected pedals. I understand why the naysayers would call this more a toy – in an era where electronica and Guitar Hero gets more notice than real guitar heroes, it’s hard to be a git-fiddle lover – but this is a new way to think about the guitar as more than just strings and a resonator. It’s a way for a new generation of musicians to play multiple licks in multiple styles on stage and in the studio and it offers a great way to model loads of effects that have usually been offloaded to expensive analog or digital pedals.

The Firebird X makes a lot of folks angry because it represents progress (it’s also kind of ugly). Mark showed us that this thing is more than a robotic string tuner and a Line 6 amp. The bad thing? This axe costs a little under $6,000.

monolith: iPhone 4 Case + Pocket Projector +Battery Rolled Into One

Posted: 14 Oct 2011 08:20 AM PDT

century feature

A Japanese accessory maker called Century started selling the “monolith” [JP] today, a case for the iPhone 4, a 1,900mAh battery, and a mini projector rolled into one (it’s still unclear if the device works with the iPhone 4S as well). The monolith is sized at 63.5×126.6×22mm and weighs 97g.

Century says that users can expect images sized at up to 60cm (in 16:9 format), in 640×360 resolution, with a 1,000:1 contrast ratio, and with 12 lumens brightness.

According to the company, the battery provides enough juice for 3 hours of projector usage and takes about 4 hours to fully charge. Without the projector, the in-case battery can add 50% to the life of the iPhone battery.

The monolith is available in black and white (price in Japan: US$260).

Watch Burning Man Appear And Disappear

Posted: 14 Oct 2011 07:47 AM PDT

I’ve sadly (??) never been to burning man, but this time-lapse footage of the playa over five weeks is pretty inspiring. First you see a small group of folks begininning to set things up and then, when the gates open, all heck breaks loose, creating a mini-city in the desert.

Then it all just goes away.

If Burning Man teaches us anything it’s that a) Burning Man is really expensive b) running around naked all day is probably not the best idea for the prevention of sand abrasion to the nether quarters and c) humans really can work together to make amazing things, even if it’s just for a week or two.

via Gawker

Sheer Magnetism, Darling: You Can Own James Bond’s Buzzsaw Rolex

Posted: 14 Oct 2011 06:33 AM PDT


Live And Let Die was one of the most gadget-filled Bond movies, featuring a Rolex watch with built-in high intensity magnetic bullet shield and buzzsaw as well as robotic voodoo figures and a taxi that enclosed the rider in a cage of bulletproof glass. Although the figures and taxi aren’t for sale, you can own that rocking Rolex.

The watch, found by our buddies at Hodinkee has been completely gutted and still contains the original motor and “buzzsaw.” It’s signed “Roger Moore 007″ on the back and there’s a tiny hole where the special effects folks connected Miss Caruso’s dress to the watch using invisible string so that old dog James could unzip it with magnets.

Christies will sell the watch at auction in November and it’s expected to reach $200,000 to $450,000. Want to see what else 007 wore? Check out this obsessive site. And you thought you were serious about your hobby.