Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Optimus Maximus Keyboard Makes Me Wish I Was Richie Rich

Art Lebedev Studio, headed by Artemy Lebedev has come with a masterpiece. Or is it? Titled “Optimus Maximus” it’s a high end keyboard with 133 tiny OLED display keys. Now coming to the part where I wish I was Richie Rich. This keyboard costs a whopping $1,600. A bomb. Did some one say that it is the costliest keyboard on the face of the Earth? More on that later.

The trick here is each key can be individually programmed to display different tasks, like playing tiny movies, HTML codes, or your favorite websites. Let me break that down into common speak. There is a screen in each key that displays the function currently assigned to it. Each of its keys is a display which can dynamically change to adapt to the keyboard layout in use or to show the function of the key.

According to the company website, Optimus Maximus’s customizable layout allows convenient use of any language—Cyrillic, Ancient Greek, Georgian, Arabic, Quenya, hiragana, etc.—as well as of any other character sets: notes, numerals, special symbols, HTML codes, math functions and so on to infinity.

Optimus Configurator software allows programming every button to reproduce a sequence of symbols and editing the image separately for each layout.

Most of the reviews I came across on the internet criticized the keyboard for inordinately high CPU usage, slow response time, and buggy configuration software. Another grouse is that after plugging the keyboard to the USB port, one has to slog, programming the keys. The only talking points of this keyboard are that it lets you see the shortcuts visually and the level of customization it offers.

One can individually configure what each key does when it is depressed. Currently scripts, commands and few other functions can be programmed. The keys can display whatever you want it to display according to the guys at Gizmodo. They say that apart from static images, one can also play back a movie on one of the keys Wow. Is it Alien Technology?

Source: Art Lebedev Studio, Gizmodo, Wired.com

Lets Cha Cha Cha…...

A person sitting in front of a computer connected to internet has the entire gamut of search engines available with just a click of a button to seek out the information he seeks. Now picture the same person with a high end mobile phone featuring GPRS. Again the power of search is at the tip of his fingers. Now I picture myself holding a sub $25 cell phone wondering how am I going to find the nearest available gas station or a convenience store. I do not have the luxury of a computer connected to internet nor do I have a high end cell phone that can connect to the net. So am I stuck, helpless, looking for the nearest telephone booth to look up the places?

Well if it wasn’t for the ChaCha, the answer would be yes. ChaCha is a free mobile search service that allows you to get answers to any question you might have, right on your mobile device. You can ask about weather, stocks, directions, restaurants, shops, products... and all your questions are answered by real people.

One can get restaurant recommendations on the go, last night's baseball score, and even the average weight of an elephant! All one has to do is Call 1-800-2-ChaCha or text 242242 with your question. Your question will be sent to a ChaCha Guide who will research the question and send you a text back with your answer.

ChaCha is a free service currently available only in the U.S. Normal text or voice charges from the carrier apply and this service is available 24/7.

ChaCha has been voted as the best consumer mobile application “Best Application” at the CTIA Wireless 2008. It has also won first prize at the “My Search is Better than Your Search” competition at the Search Engine Strategies conference held in Manhattan and ranked the No. 1 Alternative Search Engine. ChaCha was also named “Top Ten” by Dow Jones’ VentureWire out of 70 presenters at “Web Ventures.”

Source: ChaCha, The Wall Street Journal

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hydrogen Bikes Anyone?

Continuing with the environment friendly initiatives on which I have been posting, this is a gem. The article is from BikeSite.com. Though I have not been able to determine the date, it’s still a must read for all those enthusiasts who have been waiting for and environment friendly bike to come along.

Intelligent Energy, British based company has developed a bike titled ENV. It stands for Emissions Neutral Vehicle. Intelligent Energy has partnered with Seymourpowell which has been working on this fuel cell technology for over 10 years to come up with this eco-friendly bike. The motorbike is powered by hydrogen cells. It has a top speed of 50 mph and a fuel range of 100 miles. The bike hardly makes any noise and is estimated to cost £3000 on the market. The cost might come down with the sops from the government. The design of the bike may not be to everybody's tastes according to the website.

Sadly, I could not find any pictures of this bike and further information was also scarce.

One can read the full article at Bike Site at the following link:


Cyclone Power To Ensure Our Planet Remains Green

Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) World Congress in Detroit, touted as one of the premier conferences of automotive engineers, executives and suppliers in the world saw some innovative ideas and concepts being showcased and discussed. One of them piqued my interest and I started digging for more information.

Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. has developed what it calls a Cyclone Engine. It is described as an environmentally friendly and highly efficient external combustion, heat-regenerative engine. It’s a water-lubricated external combustion engine that uses steam to power automobiles, lawn mowers and stationary generators. The company claims that the engine is capable of running on any liquid or gaseous fuel, including ethanol, bio-diesel and propane.

Developed by the company's President and CEO, Harry Schoell, the Cyclone Engine regenerates (or recycles) its heat, which allows it to run cleaner, cooler and more efficiently than traditional internal combustion engines. Charles J. Murray for Design News reports that according to Schoell, the engine doesn’t need a transmission, clutches, mufflers or catalytic converters. At the show, the company demonstrated a 100-hp version of the engine that weighed just 35 lbs. Schoell said the automotive version of the engine uses six cylinders.

The engine works by burning fuel in an external combustion chamber and sending its hot gases through three heat exchangers. The first of those three heat exchangers heats water to 1,100-1,200 deg F and raises the water’s pressure to 3,200 psi. The superheated water is subsequently injected into the cylinders where it expands by a factor of approximately 1,800, therefore generating rotary motion.

The engine is lubricated with de-ionized water instead of motor oil because it has no metal-to-metal bearings. Thus, it eliminates many subsystems like oil pumps, radiators, catalytic converters and fuel injectors. The Cyclone engines are expected to cost less to manufacture, operate and maintain and are highly scalable and sufficiently powerful for applications ranging from lawn equipment and small home generators, large stand-alone generators, to cars, trucks, buses, RVs, boats and ships, as well as earth moving equipment and locomotives.

Cyclone holds the U.S. patent, international patent applications, and exclusive commercial rights to the Cyclone Engine. But one sad thing is that no automaker has come forward to adopt this technology. Innovative technologies like these need outright support from major automakers that are now under pressure to make their technology green. Otherwise it would be an excellent opportunity lost to limit and prevent undue damage to our planet.

Source: Press Release, Design News

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Infrastructure: How Can We Improve The Traffic Condition In Our City?

Traffic condition and infrastructure. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea is yours truly from Bangalore ushering in the Blogathon. Since the late 90’s, Bangalore is been witness to the IT boom and the term “Bangalored” being coined with great apprehension by the West who feared jobs being shipped out. But Bangalore had to pay the price and is still paying the price with no respite from her citizens or the elected politicians.

Population increased with people pouring in for their share of the pie and so did the vehicles. However, infrastructure development could not keep pace with its counterpart, the economic development. The government had not foreseen the inevitable crumbling of infrastructure and hence the same old narrow roads resulting in congestion, traffic jams, grid locking taking place.

To cut a long and wailing story short, I am going to list out a few suggestions to improve the traffic condition in the city.

First and the most important one is Traffic Etiquette. People please wait for the signal to turn green before revving off. The pedestrian is always given the right of way. However motorists think the other way round here. Foot paths are meant for the people and not for some motocross adventure on bikes. Patience, is pretty short in supply here in Bangalore. I sincerely plead with all the motorists out there to stop honking. Use it only when it is absolutely necessary. These are some things which are in our control, and hence we can definitely follow them to make it a pleasant experience for our fellow road users.

Now the infrastructure. Finally the government woke up to the fact that the traffic infrastructure is crumbling and put in some old and time tested solutions which did not work. Making most of the city’s arterial roads into one ways and road widening. Oh, did I forget to mention the flyovers? What’s the point in cutting down the trees and widening the roads without asphalting them? By the time they come around asphalting them, the whole exercise would be obsolete because the number of road users would have increased exponentially negating that advantage of widening the roads in the first place.

Some stretches of the roads are so badly worn out; no wonder the motorists prefer the footpaths to the roads. There must be a definite cycle of asphalting that has to be carried out and quality checks to ensure the best possible mix of asphalt is used. I did come across an article that incorporating plastic into the asphalt will increase the shelf life of the asphalted road. Building flyovers dime a dozen will not solve the problem of traffic congestion. Please consult experts before embarking on building a flyover.

The public transport is woefully inadequate. More environment friendly busses should be introduced. Bus stops in most places are present right before or after a traffic signal. Please shift them, keeping in mind the inconvenience caused to the people, to avoid traffic snarls right at a traffic signal. Carpooling has not yet caught on, here in Bangalore.

There is a case in point about the government lethargy. The Bangalore Metro is almost a year into its construction phase and there is hardly any progress. I am pretty sure that by the time it is completed it would be obsolete and might be the cause of additional headaches. The blame game continues among the politicians, accountability is non-existent here.

The ubiquitous auto-rickshaws weaving in and out of lanes, cutting into other motorist’s paths, turning and stopping on their own whim. At this point I absolutely give up. I don’t know what to do.

The situation is not so bad that it’s gone to the dogs. It can be still salvaged. Only thing is that like minded people unite, spread awareness and make the government accountable.

Please feel free to comment, point out issues I have missed out and participate in the Blogathon.

Tags: blogathonindia, blogathonindia1

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Blogging Might Land You Your Dream Job

A particular day in 1992 comes to my mind when I had to accompany my neighbor to a nearby Employment Exchange. It was summer and I was enjoying my summer holidays when I was asked to accompany him. With boredom killing me I relented. My neighbor had completed his Bachelors in Engineering and the job hunt beckoned him. When we reached the agency there was a serpentine queue for obtaining the form. Youths had lined up in the hot summer sun, waiting patiently for their turn to get their hands on the form, fill it up and submit it to the Employment Exchange. Then the inevitable wait for the mail from the Exchange informing them about the job opportunities. This was what one had to do to net a job those days. Good old nineties.

Then a revolution of sorts happened. Online portals redefined the way youth approached the prospect of job hunt. Job sites where the user had to create an account and post his resume. The response in most cases was lightning quick.

Back to the present; Blogs have become the cynosure of prospective employers. Hours are being spent on the net to find a suitable candidate and cull out more information about him by going through the candidate’s blog postings. I did come across an article by Writankar Mukherjee writing for The Economic Times where Ma Foi Management Consultants CEO E Balaji is quoted saying, “Blog as a recruitment channel has gained credibility for technological talent. Several IT and BPO firms use it to their advantage. Even other sectors such as retail, banking, finance and insurance services (BFSI) are experimenting with it.”

Most of the industry experts have agreed that this exercise certainly brings down the recruitment costs by nearly 20-25%. However, everyone also agrees that people getting recruited by this method still remains a small number.

LinkedIn, a networking site for professionals, is also an excellent platform for people looking for jobs and cream of the talent pool can be found here.

Social networking sites like Facebook are not far away from this trend. Job vacancies are embedded so that users can check them out, refer jobs to friends and even make money if their friends take the job.

Job mania has even spread to Second Life where Accenture reportedly has opened an office.

Companies nowadays have an option on their websites to submit resumes. This knocks off recruitment agencies from the picture and they are not happy about it. They warn the companies that this would be additional work and the prospect of losing the right candidate is more as the companies might resort to automated resume filtering. They say that human touch is necessary and they provide it. Of course for a cost that is.

Well Bloggers keep blogging, who knows you might just land up with your dream job. Thanks to this wonderful idea called “Blogging.”

Image Source: PostJournal.com

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Policemen In Chicago Turn Into Killers…Of Cougars That Is…

Chicago Tribune has given premium coverage of an incident where a cougar which had strayed into the North Hoyne Avenue of the Roscoe Village neighborhood, Chicago was shot dead by the police. A pathetic reason that they feared the big cat might attack led them to pumping lead into the poor animal. If that wasn’t enough, people (some of them are writers for Chicago Tribune) defended the police action saying asking what one would do in a neighborhood where children where present. I quote Barbara Brotman who writes for Chicago Tribune, “I was sorry that a beautiful animal had been killed. But I was grateful, too.”

The cougar belongs to the cat family and is found in most parts of the North and South America. It is very territorial and solitary, avoiding even its own kind except to mate. It usually preys on deer, sheep, goats, and other similarly sized game. With humans’ ever expanding need for land, the easiest alternative is to encroach upon the wildlife habitat. This inevitably brings to fore the danger of human and wildlife confrontations and sadly most of the time it is the humans who emerge victorious.

What happened in Chicago happens every where. No one shows concern to the frightened and confused animal seeking safe shelter. When a cougar strays into the human habitat, it gets confused and frightened by the strange sights and sounds it encounters and looks to escape to a safe shelter. Attacking is least on its mind and it’s probably the last thing too. A little common sense would have saved the cougar’s life today. People could have given it a wide berth and animal control could have tranquilized it.

Chicago Police Capt. Mike Ryan said the cougar tried to attack the officers when they tried to contain it. Police said they could not tranquilize the animal because police officers typically do not carry tranquilizer guns.

Yeah…what would one expect when a big cat like a cougar gets cornered by 10-15 policemen? They could have given a wide berth for the cat and waited for the animal control to arrive and tranquilize it. After all the cougar’s sightings were reported throughout the day. Where was the animal control? They should have been there. With all with the technology these days how long would it take for the animal control to arrive at the site?

A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said Monday that the state's current wildlife code does not protect cougars because they are not considered a normal part of the ecosystem here. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the Eastern cougar as endangered. But police could not confirm whether the cougar shot Monday was an Eastern cougar.

Does it really make a difference whether it was an Eastern cougar or a Western cougar?

A witness said that the police brought down the cougar in about 10 gunshots.

I weep for the Cougar and I wonder whether I am alone?

Source: WhoZoo, Chicago Tribune.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Erasing The Guilt Of Humanity

The World is moving at a rapid pace in terms of automotive technological development. Inevitably development is achieved at the cost of Mother Nature. Therefore, a huge guilt of humanity exists in each and every one of us. The guilt of not able to provide better hospitable living conditions, for our future offspring’s is making mankind search for greener technology. At least, implement green technology in a symbiotic relationship with existing polluting ones. Try and erase some of the guilt. And how successful it has been! Billions of dollars are spent in the search for feasible green technology and finally thanks to the advancement in the cutting edge sciences such as Nanotechnology, Corporates across the world have come with concepts which they claim will significantly reduce the carbon footprint.

Renaissance Of The Wheel

The humble Wheel as we know has its origin most likely in ancient Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium BC. The invention of the wheel thus falls in the late Neolithic and may be seen in conjunction with the other technological advances that gave rise to the early Bronze Age.

But the Boffins at Michelin have given an entirely new functionality to the Wheel. Imagine if one could just strap on a pair of wheels to one’s favorite couch and couple it with a battery pack and a rudimentary steering mechanism, you are looking at the most advanced form of transportation. It does not require any engine to run.

Michelin demonstrated two intertwined concepts at the Challenge Bibendum 2004, held in Shanghai, China. One of the concepts was the Hy-Light, is a light vehicle that weighs just 850 kg and is fuel cell propelled. Besides being an almost pollution-free car, the Hy-Light integrates active wheels. The idea was remarkably simple. There is plenty of empty space in a tire, so why not fill it with something useful? So the active wheels of the Hy-Light contain a traction motor to turn the wheel and all suspension components such as springs. Michelin intends to share this technology with car makers and expects it should be integrated in our cars within ten to fifteen years.

A wheel equipped with Michelin's active wheel technology appears from the outside to be a standard wheel and tire package. But on the inside, it houses an active suspension unit, a drive motor and braking components. Voila! Complete mobility solution in a Wheel. Car makers in the near future will have to start building their cars around the wheel instead of the engine. What a difference that would make!

Electric motors not only turn the wheels, but can be used to slow and stop them, so traditional disc or drum brakes might eventually be eliminated, or at least reduced to smaller, redundant systems. And by using electric motors to turn the wheels, large and heavy transmissions and differentials become obsolete. These motors provide peak torque output of 1000Nm per wheel which enables phenomenal acceleration force of 1g. This kind of acceleration is seen in Formula 1.

With Michelin's active wheel system, vehicle designers could become more creative because suspension components that now intrude on interior space would be repackaged within each of the vehicle's four wheels, creating more room for people and cargo.

Challenge Bibendum 2007

With China's car use expanding as rapidly as its supercharged economy, Michelin decided to hold its annual Challenge Bibendum in traffic-choked Shanghai. The event, now in its ninth year, showcased the latest developments in green car technology.

Where 20 years ago the streets were full of bicycles, now the car is king and it is choking the city. Rather than trying to persuade people to drive cars less frequently, the solution proposed by the auto industry is to make cars greener.

Hybrids, it seems is the most popular solution to combat the problem of pollution and more importantly Global Warming. Any vehicle which combines two or more different sources of power to propel the vehicle is termed as a Hybrid. However, it is not that simple as it seems. There are different kinds of Hybrid implementations out there and each manufacturer touting that theirs is the best. Let’s take a look at the different types of hybrids out there in the market.

Electric-Internal Combustion Hybrid: These are the more ubiquitous ones found in the market. A petrol / diesel engine is mated to an electric motor. The electric motor is used to propel the vehicles from standstill especially at the traffic lights and the main petrol / diesel engine kicks in only when higher speeds are required. In lighter cars the electric motor is used to putter around the city at low speeds thus conserving the fuel and contributing significantly less to the carbon footprint. The electric motor also charges the batteries while braking through ‘regenerative braking’.

Fuel Cell Hybrid: It involves a hydrogen fuel cell generator teamed up with Lithium ion batteries. The generator powers an electric motor which is in turn coupled with a normal engine. However, auto manufacturers have come with concepts of stand alone fuel cell vehicles.

Hydraulic Hybrid: Hydraulic hybrids use an engine to charge a pressure accumulator to drive the wheels via hydraulic drive units. A hydraulic accumulator replaces the batteries.

Pneumatic Hybrid: This concept uses compressed air to power a hybrid car. The car runs on fossil fuel while the compressor refills the compressed air tanks.

Silicon Implants For Greener Tires

Now ladies, if this idea catches up you are looking at sky rocketing prices for silicon...ahem…silica that is. I guess that was bit of an over statement since silica is available abundantly in nature. Who would have guessed natural elements/products found in the nature would be used in technology to save nature from technology. Okay, my mind is spinning after that one. Here is the deal. Michelin in a never ending pursuit of reducing carbon footprint had come up with the Energy Tire. And it was a great success. However very few people were aware of it, me included. In 1992, Michelin came up with a concept of using silica in the tread of the tire to reduce rolling resistance to about 20% when compared to its normal tires without affecting performance and grip. If a tire has a certain degree of rolling resistance then the engine has to exert more energy to overcome the resistance. This means more fuel consumption. Thus, the Energy Tire with its reduced rolling resistance saves fuel consumption thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Overdrive magazine reports that Michelin Energy Saver (the new moniker for the tire) reduces 0.2 liters/100km. This equates to a reduction of 4g/km of CO2/km. In other words, Michelin invented a tire that prevents nearly one ton of carbon dioxide being released into the air.

Your Footprint Can Affect The Environment !

Footprint here refers to the “Carbon Footprint”. A Carbon Footprint is a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases we produce. It is measured in units of carbon dioxide. Burning of fossil fuels including domestic energy consumption, transportation, lifecycle of products we use (their manufacture and eventual breakdown) all contribute to our carbon footprint. We can reduce our carbon footprint by following some basic steps:

  • Use of solar water heaters can result in significant reductions in electricity and gas bills (especially in the metros).
  • Use bicycles to work. Does wonders for your fitness and stamina. Try walking for short distances. Carpooling and use of public transport where ever and whenever possible.
  • Big corporations can tap natural energy sources for their energy requirements.
  • Turn off lights, taps and computer monitors when not in use. Set water heaters to a lower temperature in summers (reduction in a couple of degree C’s will make a significant saving in electricity over the season).
Sources: Nick Mead for The Guardian, Larry Edsall, for The Detroit News, Overdrive Magazine, Michelin, Challenge Bibendum

Monday, April 7, 2008

Motorola Round Up

Icahn Triumphs At Last!

Motorola has caved in to Carl Icahn’s demands and has announced that that it will appointing Keith Meister as a non-executive and nominate William Hambrecht to the Motorola board at its annual general meeting. In return, Icahn will withdraw all pending litigation against Motorola. In addition, Motorola has also agreed to seek input from Icahn in connection with significant matters regarding the intended separation of the Mobile Devices business, including the search for a new chief executive to head the Mobile Devices business. This might probably bring to an end the 18-month squabble between Icahn and Motorola. Only time will tell.

Indians Flying High

After two of the legendary British marquees came under the management of Tata Motors, it was the turn of Videocon to express interest in acquiring a part of American heritage, Motorola. Motorola recently celebrated 35th anniversary of the world’s first cell phone. Standing at the corner of New York's 56th and Lexington 35 years ago on April 3rd, 1973, Marty Cooper placed the first ever cell phone call to Bell Labs engineer Joe Engel. Coming on the eve of the anniversary, many guffawed at Videocon’s interest to acquire the Mobile Handset division of Motorola. Some termed it as arrogant. Some said that it was impossible and immature of Videocon as it had no prior experience. Well Americans are yet to come to terms with “nothing is impossible” attitude of the Indians. Why don’t they ask the British?

Motorola Shuts Shop At Singapore

Motorola has announced that it will stop making mobile phones in Singapore by the end of the year, a move that will result in the loss of 700 jobs. According to a Motorola spokeswoman “The decision follows a strategic review of business operations, which includes a previously announced global $500 million cost-reduction initiative". However Moto will continue to base its headquarters for Asia-Pacific in Singapore where it also has units engaged in research and software development.

Axe Effect?

Motorola announced that it is axing a further 2,600 workers, thereby bringing the company's total employee cuts to more than 10,000 since last year. The company said that the cutbacks are being made across all divisions. In a filing, Motorola said that it will take a pre-tax charge of about $104m (£52m) in the first quarter to cover severance costs from the new layoffs. If we look back to 2007, Motorola had said that it would cut 3,500 jobs as part of a two-year cost-cutting plan to save $400m. Then again the company announced cuts of another 4,000 jobs in May last year with hopes of improving its financial and operational results. Statistics say that Moto has cut more than 10pc of its workforce since the start of 2007. The company will make public its full first-quarter financial results on April 24. Anyone willing to bet on the continuance of the Axe Effect?