Jan 31, 2007

Matt Moore: Intel head links technology, health care

New technologies are ready to be used to advance health care, while a plan to bring computers and fast Internet access to the developing world is being undertaken, the chairman of Intel said in an interview Saturday.

Craig Barrett said that using technological innovation to keep track of medical records in the health care industry was the next logical step, emphasizing the immediate modernizing effect for a traditionally paper-based system.

"When you go to a doctor's office, the first thing you see is rows of filing cabinets," he said. They could easily be digitized and made portable so that a person could literally carry their medical history on a USB flash drive, Barrett said.

Jan 30, 2007

Anti-depressant drug linked to suicides: Report

The BBC will be airing an expose in which various officials at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have expressed concerns about the usage of the company's anti-depressant drug Seroxat, which the officials feared could lead to suicides among teenagers.

GSK was forced to reveal its confidential internal archives after many families in the US had sued the company over the death of their children due to consuming the drug. Karen Barth Menzies, whose firm represents one of the families, said that GSK continued to say that the drug was safe for children even when results proved the contrary.

"Even when they have negative studies that show that this drug Seroxat is going to harm some kids they still spin that study as remarkably effective and safe for children", she said.

GSK conducted the biggest clinical trial of the drug, known as Study 329, in the US during the 1990s and invited child psychiatrist Dr Neal Ryan of the University of Pittsburgh to be the study's co-author.

During a lecture about childhood depression at a medical conference sponsored by GSK in 2002, Dr Ryan praised Seroxat saying that the drug can be safely used among children and in reality it reduced the number of suicides instead of increasing it.

When Panorama reporter Shelley Jofre searched the confidential archives, she was shocked to find many of the letters that she had sent to Dr Ryan asking about the safety of the drug among children. Dr Ryan had simply forwarded the mails to GSK officials asking for suggestions for the replies.

Jofre also found an email in which a public relations executive for GSK clearly said that the drug was not effective among children. "Originally we had planned to do extensive media relations surrounding this study until we actually viewed the results. Essentially the study did not really show it was effective in treating adolescent depression, which is not something we want to publicize", the email read.

Meanwhile a spokesman for GSK said that his company denies of any wrongdoing. "We are extremely concerned that Panorama will again, through a misleading and deliberately provocative commentary, alarm patients about using their anti-depressant medication, with potentially serious consequences. GSK utterly rejects any suggestion that it has improperly withheld drug trial information", he said.

Jan 25, 2007

Mobiles linked to brain tumours

SCIENTISTS have found long-term users of mobile phones are more likely to develop a certain type of tumour on the side of their head where they hold their handsets.

Britain's Daily Telegraph reports today that a large-scale study found that using a mobile phone for more than 10 years makes users 40 per cent more likely to develop tumours called gliomas.

Gliomas are tumours that form from glial cells in the central nervous system.

The findings of the study, which contradicts others which have failed to establish health risks linked to mobile phone use, will be published later this year in the International Journal of Cancer. The abstract of the research paper has been published online.

The Telegraph quoted Louis Slesin, the editor of microwavenews.com, which reported on the study, as saying: "We now have two tumour types found among people who use mobiles for more than 10 years shown by two different research groups."

The researchers refused to draw firm conclusions but said the findings warranted further investigation on the effects of long-term use of mobiles.

"The possible risk in the most heavily exposed part of the brain with long-term use needs to be explored further before firm conclusions can be drawn," the authors wrote.

Why Are Smart People Excluded from the Diversity Celebration?

Except in conservative circles, “celebrate diversity” is the 21st century’s unofficial motto.

Society’s main mindmolders--the schools, colleges, and media—relentlessly beat the diversity drum. School and college curricula magnify the contributions of women and minorities, and many newspapers and magazines even give cash bonuses to writers and photographers who do puff pieces on women and minorities.

The diversity celebration extends to have-nots of all races and both genders. The media endlessly trots out features about people from gritty (today’s politically correct word for slum) neighborhoods who now, for example, run a successful hair salon. Last week’s Time magazine featured a splashy spread celebrating that some Down’s Syndrome sufferers can work or marry.

Alas, The Diversity Machine stops celebrating when examining the far greater contributions of society’s haves. It’s well documented that high-IQ people have and continue to contribute mightily to society. Yet to get media coverage, high-IQ people must do much more than open a hair salon or get married. Unless they cure a disease, develop a life-enhancing product, or are a rock star, they usually must work in anonymity. Is not the run-of-the-mill physician who saves lives every day worthy of more coverage than a slum resident who makes decorative candles? Is not even the manager at an insurance company who ensures that the company provide an honorable product at a fair price while treating employees decently, at least as worthy as the student protesters enshrined in most social studies textbooks? I believe that if society’s mindmolders were to emphasize the contributions of its haves, we would be inspired to far greater accomplishments than with our current focus on deifying the have-nots.

I cannot end my excoriation of The Diversity Machine without pointing out that it claims to celebrate diversity of ideas, yet the celebration stops the moment an idea veers right of center. For example, I have no trouble getting published when I write politically correct things--I’ve had 500 articles published, most in major mainstream publications. But dare I, for example, argue that we should be spending more on gifted education and less on special education, let alone that affirmative action in practice is usually reverse discrimination to society’s great detriment, the media door slams shut. Indeed, I was fired from my long-held position as columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle because of two pro-male columns I submitted. I have written five critically acclaimed, commercially successful books. I was five for five. Yet I suddenly became unpublishable when I wrote my sixth book, the first politically incorrect one. The Silenced Majority painstakingly documents that today, white, and increasingly Asian men and boys are seriously discriminated against and yet are or feel constrained from speaking up. The manuscript was reviewed by the 30 most appropriate editors in the U.S., and all 30 responded similarly. The message was, “Great book. Can’t publish it. Feminists on the board would kill me and/or the mainstream media won’t review it because it’s politically incorrect and therefore won’t get the publicity it needs.” My colleague, Dr. Warren Farrell, who is probably the world’s most thoughtful expert on men’s issues, is having the same experience. When he was the first man to be elected three times to the National Organization for Women’s board in New York City, his work was routinely published, including op-eds in the New York Times. Now that he has seen NOW’s and the feminist movement’s anti-male strategies and is writing that the gender pendulum has swung so far it’s smashing men in the face, Farrell’s work is routinely censored, marginalized to small publishers where his work has no chance of significantly affecting the national discourse. The censorship by today’s liberal-dominated mainstream media dwarfs the McCarthyite censorship from the Right that the Left loves to point to.

How sad that in celebrating diversity, society’s mindmolders systematically shut out the high achievers, those who have most abetted our lives.

I applaud the celebration of tolerance, of diversity, but not a diversity that is hypocritical and exclusionary, setting different standards for celebrating women and minorities than for men and Mensans.

FDA: Pill Not So Trustworthy Anymore

The Food and Drug Administration is warning that modern day birth control pills, while safer than predecessors, are not as efficient. This means that while today’s pills do not imply risks of blood clots and cardiovascular complications, as earlier pills did, they are not as effective at preventing pregnancy either.

The Food and Drug Administration is asking a panel of experts this week to determine whether it should require new contraceptive drugs to meet a standard of effectiveness before they are approved for the market. According to a 2005 survey by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research group, more than 60 per cent of U.S. women between the ages of 15 and 44 use some sort of contraception. Of these, approximately 11.6 million choose birth control pills.

The FDA has posted documents on its website that discuss how newer contraceptives have been less effective than previous products. This could be due to manufacturers’ use of lower doses of hormones that stop ovulation. "The very first pills were very high-dose and carried risks of blood clots and cardiovascular problems that would be unacceptable to most women," said Amy Allina, program director of the National Women's Health Network. "Today most birth control pills are very safe for the vast majority of women.''

FDA officials have said they have seen higher pregnancy rates in recent trials. However, this can be due to lower hormone doses as well as to improper use, or other factors, yet to be identified. Birth control pills approved from 1960 to 1970 saw less than one pregnancy for every 100 women who took them for a year. In the past 10 years, however, some were approved with rates above two per 100 women. The agency did say in its statement that "the newer generation products are highly effective in preventing pregnancy.”

The FDA is asking the 14 members of its reproductive drugs panel whether that difference in performance is large enough for concern.

FDA spokesperson Karen Riley said yesterday the agency does not believe the effectiveness of different contraceptive drugs can be compared due to the way their clinical trials are designed, adding the FDA considers all contraceptives it approves to be safe and effective.

One particular concern is researching how well such products work for obese women - overweight women, smokers and those already at risk for blood clots are often excluded from company studies on the efficiency of such contraceptives. And their number is not to be overlooked. "These women, like all women, need contraceptives," said panelist Dr. Julia Johnson of the University of Vermont.

Panel chairman Dr. Charles Lockwood of Yale University, said the panel agreed "that real world testing is necessary." Panelist and Maryland physician Bruce Stadel said it was crucial for companies to "test what they propose to market in the people they're proposing to market to." "The purpose of this two-day meeting is to discuss clinical trial designs that reflect the diversity of users of hormonal contraceptives, expectations for efficacy and safety, and user acceptability of the newer generation products," the FDA said in a statement late on Tuesday.

Jan 23, 2007

Linux: no longer a winner?

I was thinking about the future of Linux when it occurred to me that one path for its future can seen as a simple consequence of what we mean by "winning." In other words, asking whether Linux will still be a winner in ten years leads first to the question of what we mean by "winner" and then to an answer about where Linux is going.

If by "winning" we mean making your software do what you want it to for your community of interest while seeing your ideas become widely influential, then the lessons of open source history are clear: winners either build in the academic tradition of humbly taking other people's work forward or roll history back to some branching and then set off in whole new directions.

Look at the history of widely accepted and extra-ordinarily influential IT product sets like those under the Apache, Perl, or BSD labels, and the most striking thing they have in common is that the originators set out to solve specific problems, used what other people in academia and open source had done in new ways, and judged the choices they made along the way in terms of the problem rather than in terms of the market for the solution.

If we define "winning" in terms of making money, then we're usually talking about people who monetise other people's work, most often by telling customers both that their products are uniquely wonderful and, at the same time, really -wink, nudge- not a copy of a proven but more expensive commercial product they're already familiar with.

Look at Microsoft's history: from QDOS to SQL-Server and the new Vista interface, every major product has copied someone else's earlier work and been offered to the public simultaneously as better than an existing product, as proven by users of an existing product, and as a way of grabbing the benefit offered by that existing product with less money and less learning.

Both of these forms of winning have legs, in the sense that I'm quite confident that twenty years from now somebody will be making money packaging second hand ideas for the uninformed, while academics and others will be advancing new ideas traceable to what's in place now.

There is a third kind of winning: one based on the fullfillment of somebody's political agenda and not directly related to either money or technology. Thus the GNU utilities are wildly successful despite being neither innovative nor second rate, largely because they express the Free Software Foundation's political objectives without forcing users to accept those objectives.

Linux kernel history, however, isn't that simple - Linux started as one thing, became another, and now appears to be avoiding some hard choices. Thus the kernel started as a classic academic effort to improve on another set of ideas, specifically in response to a disagreement about the value of using, or not using, x86 interrupts in the Minix kernel, but then got pushed forward in response to an unrelated political agenda by people who have since dropped it.

What happened was simple: the mid nineties mass media developed what I call "the Myth of Torvalds" to express their own political agenda: positioning Linus as the Robin Hood of software, single handled standing up to American multi-nationals to bring free computing to the common man. Great, except that IBM's later success in deputizing most of the merry men made it difficult for even the most dedicated fantasist to continue the charade - and the vacuum left when the hot breath of media support disappeared meant that Linux failed its tipping point sometime in 2002/3 and is now in apparent decline relative to Windows, Solaris, and the BSDs.

Jan 10, 2007

Blood test predicts heart attack

A blood test may give doctors an early warning that a heart patient's condition is about to get worse. High levels of a protein - NT-proBNP - may show when the heart muscle is damaged or under extra stress, even in apparently stable patients. The University of California team say the test may be useful to target existing patients for more treatment - but not to diagnose heart problems.

The study features in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The research involved almost 1,000 men and women, who, for a few years after their initial treatment, underwent the blood test alongside other regular checks. During that period, 26 of them either died or had a serious circulation 'event' such as a heart attack, stroke or heart failur
The researchers were able to link clearly the likelihood of one of these 'cardiovascular events' with the levels of the protein in the preceding months. Patients in the group with the highest levels of the protein were almost eight times more at risk of having an event or dying than those in the group with the lowest levels.

Ed Burnette: iPhone blows away expectations

Sometimes, the truth can be wilder than the rumors. Such was the case today at MacWorld 2007, where Steve Jobs unveiled the long awaited iPhone:

Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. One is very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple has been very fortunate that it's been able to introduce a few of these into the world. In 1984 we introduced the Macintosh. It didn't just change Apple, it changed the whole industry. In 2001 we introduced the first iPod, and it didn't just change the way we all listened to music, it changed the entire music industry.

Well today, we're introducing THREE revolutionary new products. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary new mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough internet communications device.

An iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator. An iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator…. these are NOT three separate devices! And we are calling it iPhone!

Joanne McNeil: The end of YouTube

Like Steve Carell, cherry cheesecake, and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle: the
awesomeness of YouTube is something we all can agree on. But everything good -- on the Internet, at least -- must come to an end, and a recent Brazilian court ruling seems to suggest that the much-loved website is rubbed and ready on the chopping block.

When a clip of Daniella Cicarelli having sex with her boyfriend on a beach rocketed to the top of YouTube, the Brazilian model went to court demanding $116,000 in damages for each day it remained online. The court went even further, ordering that YouTube shut down entirely unless it could completely purge the video from the site. Unsurprisingly, that request was ignored and the site has continued to serve up uninterrupted clips of dancing dogs, people getting kicked in the nuts, italo disco videos, or whatever it is these days.

In the U.S., YouTube is generally covered by the "Communications Decency Act," which protects websites against liability for content posted by their users. There's no equivalent in Brazil.

"The question for Brazil is, does the company have assets in the jurisdiction that they can seize," Harvard Law School professor John Palfrey said to Red Herring. "Next time [Google founders] Larry [Page] or Sergey [Brin] fly to Rio, will they put handcuffs on them?" That is exactly how the U.S. cracked down on British Internet gambling website executives last fall.

When it comes to international legal procedure, the rules have yet to be written.
Yahoo! still hasn't paid the $15 million fine France famously slapped on the website in 2000 for allowing Nazi memorabilia to be sold on its auction site, something that is banned in France. Yahoo! did, however, like Google, quickly comply with China's censorship requests.

But it's the copyright cops that present the greatest risk to YouTube's continuity. A few months ago, Mark Cuban predicted an Icarus decent, "This so reminds me of the early days of Napster. They were the first to tell you it wasn't illegal. They didn't host anything but an index to link to all the illegal downloaders. YouTube doesn't upload anything illegal and will take down whatever you ask them to. Sounds legit right?" he wrote on his blog. "Considering the [Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)] will sue your grandma or a 12 year old at the drop of a hat, the fact that YouTube is building a traffic juggernaut around copyrighted audio and video without being sued is like.... well Napster at the beginning as the labels were trying to figure out what it meant to them. With the MGM vs Grokster ruling, its just a question of when YouTube will be hit with a charge of inducing millions of people to break copyright laws, not if."

It may seem doom-and-gloom to anticipate a crack down on every Bar Mitzvah video with clear and complete audio of "Fergalicious," but we've seen worse. While international laws regarding information may be unclear, domestically the RIAA is not know for its ambiguity.

The U.S. might rule the net, but the world has omnipresent video and camera-equipped cellphones. So in the meantime, if you don't want the world to watch, don't do it on beaches.

Kelly Jane Torrance: Nurtured to Death

David Reimer committed suicide on May (2004). He was a blue-collar worker in Winnipeg, the Canadian city where East meets West. David lived a quiet life: fishing with his father, backyard barbecues with his wife and kids, tinkering with cars. If this were all there was to the story, his death would be sad but not tragic. Except that David Reimer -- born Bruce, later known as Brenda -- was sacrificed to the strange god of post-modern sexuality.

Bruce Reimer and his twin brother Brian were born August 22, 1965. At eight months, the boys developed urination problems, and doctors recommended they be circumcised. An April snowstorm kept the regular physician from making it to the hospital the day of the operation. The electric cauterizing machine the substitute used burned David's penis so badly that most of it was destroyed. (After the accident, Brian's penis healed without surgery.) Back then, reconstructive genital surgery was in its infancy. The Reimers were told Bruce could never live a normal life.

That was before the Reimers saw a CBC interview of John Money. A psychologist at Johns Hopkins University, Money was one of the world’s top "sexologists" -- he coined the term "gender identity." He spoke of the successful surgeries he had performed on hermaphrodites, children born with male and female sex organs, and those born with underdeveloped sex organs. His contention that "gender" was a "social construct," that a male baby could easily be raised as a female, seemed the answer to the Reimers' prayers.

They flew to Baltimore. Money persuaded them to raise Bruce as a girl, and he was castrated in July 1967. The Reimers were young, barely out of their teens. They had been raised on farms, and neither had even begun high school. Money did not tell them Bruce was a guinea pig -- no child born with normal sex organs had ever been given a new "gender."

But there was much John Money didn't tell the Reimers. The CBC interview didn’t mention that Money was a self-described "missionary" of sex who celebrated nudism, open marriage, bisexual orgies, and pedophilia. The Reimers had no idea to whom they had entrusted their son's future.

Money grew up hating his father, a relationship that seems to have twisted his mind. It is no surprise he made his living in part recommending that every child with ambiguous sexual organs be carved into females. "I wore the mark of man's vile sexuality," he once claimed of his genitals. "I wondered if the world might really be a better place for women if not only farm animals but human males also were gelded at birth."

GELDED-AT-BIRTH Bruce, now Brenda, grew up twisted as well. She rejected her re-assigned sex wholeheartedly. She hated dresses and refused to play with dolls, preferring her brother's trucks. Things got worse after she started school. There was simply nothing feminine about her: She walked like a boy and fought like a boy, enduring endless bullying. She later said she felt she must be insane to feel as she did. Thoughts of suicide possessed her even before puberty.

To the outside world, however, the John/Joan case, as it became known, was a triumph. Money, who examined Brenda and Brian annually, rarely gave a speech without extolling his experiment as proof that nurture trumped nature. Brenda had completely accepted herself as a girl, he claimed. And her twin brother, physically identical in every respect save one, served as the perfect control subject.

The world was more than willing to believe it. The theory of behaviorism, popularized by B.F. Skinner, was in the ascendant. In short, behaviorism posits that people do what they do based on how well their actions are received by others -- the ultimate "nurture" argument.

Of course there was a political agenda at work. As Time claimed in contemporary article, "This dramatic case provides strong support for a major contention of women's liberationists: that conventional patterns on masculine and feminine behavior can be altered." Feminists heralded the case as proof there were no significant differences between men and women.

The Reimers finally told Brenda the truth when she was 14. Her social construct disappeared, and she became a boy again. He rechristened himself David, after the giant killer and king. David underwent surgery to remove the breasts that estrogen treatments had produced and to replace the penis he had been robbed of.

The physical reconstruction made David happier, but his mind remained mutilated. He took a gun with him when he tracked down the doctor who had performed the botched circumcision. He left without harming him, but made his first suicide attempt after a girlfriend broadcast his bizarre history. On finding him unconscious, his parents considered leaving him to die as an act of mercy.

The other Reimers were mutilated as well. Brian, enraged by the continuous attention given to his twin, turned to petty crime in adolescence and was later treated for mental illness. Ron drank heavily, and Janet was plunged into depression.

BUT THEN THINGS GOT better for a time. David married a woman with three children of her own, providing him with the family he could never have himself. Brian made peace with David and his parents. David forgave his parents.

The truth about David was revealed to the world with the publication in 2000 of John Colapinto's excellent, engrossing book, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. David was inspired to tell his story after discovering that his case had inspired a sexual mutilation industry. Colapinto's book estimates the number of infant sex re-assignments at over 100 annually in the U.S., and perhaps 1,000 globally.

Colapinto shared his profits with David, and that and the sale of movie rights allowed him to quit his job at a slaughterhouse. But leisure was no blessing. "David was the last person in the world that needed to be sitting around thinking," Colapinto told National Public Radio after David's death. "His past was so horrific that when that seeped up into consciousness, only bad things could happen." David himself told Colapinto, "I'd give just about anything to go to a hypnotist to black out my whole past. Because it's torture."

A torture that was more than his mutilated mind could bear. David's wife left him; he lost thousands in a failed investment; and couldn't find new work. Brother Brian took his own life in 2002, overdosing on his schizophrenia medication. Two years later, in a supermarket parking lot, David blew his brains out.

And what of John Money? His brother Donald told the New Zealand Herald that John Money never expressed any regret for an operation that managed to leave two corpses. According to the Guardian, he has "no comment to make." Money remains an emeritus professor at Johns Hopkins, and no one has rushed forward to retract some of the honors he was showered with.

It is some small consolation that the John/Joan case proved that sexual identity is more than a "social construct." It is a pity that David and Brian Reimer had to die to prove what all sane people know already.

What Microsoft Windows Home Server can do

Today Microsoft took the wraps off its highly anticipated home server software, the brains inside several products that are expected to ship this year. I sat down with a company representative to get a first look at what Microsoft Windows Home Server can do. The demo system was HP's MediaSmart Server, which was announced here at CES and will be available in September.

At its core, Microsoft Windows Home Server allows home users with multiple PCs to manage system backups and share files. It also gives home users and invited guests remote access to the server. Windows Home Server lets users schedule backups from multiple PCs. Its Drive Extender feature allows multiple PCs to back up to the server without using too much storage space. Backups are incremental, copying only files that have changed since the last backup.

A Restore tool permits users to restore earlier versions of files from the server, even retrieving data that was backed up from PCs no longer on the network. The Windows Home Server console monitors drive status and health. In addition, a nifty diagnostic tool called Health Monitoring checks PCs on the network and indicates which systems may have outdated virus definitions or need better firewall protection.

Windows Home Server's remote access feature allows users to retrieve files from any PC on the network, and also provides virtual desktop access like that offered by GoToMyPC and PCAnywhere. Microsoft says it will work to offer domain names so that visiting a home server will be as easy as typing in a Web address.

The remote access feature also lets users make their media library available from any Internet-connected PC; through a public folder, users can share digital content with the world.
The Windows Media Connect feature streams TV shows, movies, photos, and music to PCs and Xbox 360 gaming consoles on the home network. Unfortunately, however, the Windows Media Server cannot stream content to remote users....

Microsoft's own prototype home server looks a bit like iRobot's Roomba vacuum cleaner.

Apple about to start 'nuclear war'

COULD it finally have arrived - a handphone modelled after the coveted iPod? 'Even if Apple does not announce a phone, just the threat of Apple's entry could spur innovation.' - Mr Avi Greengart, industry analyst. That's what gadget fans are hoping Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs will announce at the Macworld conference in San Francisco tomorrow, reported AP. Speculation has been rife that Apple will unveil a sleek hybrid device that will not only act as a phone, but also perform personal computer duties like playing music, handle productivity tasks and play games.

If such a device were to be released, experts say that it will pose a serious threat to major technology companies such as Motorola, Nokia, and Samsung. 'Apple is about to touch off a nuclear war,' Mr Paul Mercer, president of Iventor, a designer of software for hand-helds, told the New York Times. 'The Nokias and the Motorolas will have to respond.'

Jan 9, 2007

Milk 'destroys health benefits' of tea

BAD news for Britons: adding milk to tea ruins the drink's health benefits, according to a German study published today.

Tea has complex compounds called polyphenols which are believed to help the arteries to relax or dilate, thus enabling a smoother flow of blood.

Scientists at the Charite Hospital in Berlin tested black Darjeeling tea on 16 healthy female volunteers aged over 50, placing an ultrasound probe on their forearm to measure arterial response.

When the women drank half a litre of tea, their arteries relaxed significantly more than when they drank hot water or tea with milk (tea in which skimmed milk, comprising 10 per cent of the drink's volume, was added).

The results were confirmed in lab-dish tests on rat aorta.

The study, which appears online in the European Heart Journal, points the finger of blame at three casein proteins in the milk.

Clay Shirky: News of Wikipedia's Death Greatly Exaggerated

Nicholas Carr has an odd piece up, reacting to the ongoing question of Wikipedia governance as if it is the death of Wikipedia. In Carr’s view,
Where once we had a commitment to open democracy, we now have a commitment to “making sure things are not excessively semi-protected.” Where once we had a commune, we now have a gated community, “policed” by “good editors.” So let’s pause and shed a tear for the old Wikipedia, the true Wikipedia. Rest in peace, dear child. You are now beyond the reach of vandals.
Now this is odd because Carr has in the past cast entirely appropriate aspersions on pure openess as a goal, noting, among other things, that “The open source model is not a democratic model. It is the combination of community and hierarchy that makes it work. Community without hierarchy means mediocrity.”

Carr was right earlier, and he is wrong now. Carr would like Wikipedia to have committed itself to openess at all costs, so that changes in the model are failure conditions. That isn’t the case however; Wikipedia is committed to effectiveness, and one of the things it has found to be effective is openess, but where openess fails to provide the necessary defenses on it’s own, they’ll make changes to remain effective. The changes in Wikipedia do not represent the death of Wikipedia but adaptation, and more importantly, adaptation in exactly the direction Carr suggests will work.

We’ve said it here before: Openness allows for innovation. Innovation creates value. Value creates incentive. If that were all there was, it would be a virtuous circle, because the incentive would be to create more value. But incentive is value-neutral, so it also creates distortions — free riders, attempts to protect value by stifling competition, and so on. And distortions threaten openess.

As a result, successful open systems create the very conditions that require a threaten openess. Systems that handle this pressure effectively continue (Slashdot comments.) Systems that can’t or don’t find ways to balance openess and closedness — to become semi-protected — fail (Usenet.)

A huge number of our current systems are hanging in the balance, because the more valuable a system, the greater the incentive for free-riding. Our largest and most spontaneous sources of conversation and collaboration are busily being retrofit with filters and logins and distributed ID systems, in an attempt to save some of what is good about openess while defending against Wiki spam, email spam, comment spam, splogs, and other attempts at free-riding. Wikipedia falls into that category.

And this is the possibility that Carr doesn’t entertain, but is implicit in his earlier work — this isn’t happening because the Wikipedia model is a failure, it is happening because it is a success. Carr attempts to deflect this line of thought by using a lot of scare quotes around words like vandal, as if there were no distinction between contribution and vandalism, but this line of reasoning runs aground on the evidence of Wikipedia’s increasing utility. If no one cared about Wikipedia, semi-protection would be pointless, but with Wikipedia being used as reference material in the Economist and the NY Times, the incentive for distortion is huge, and behavior that can be sensibly described as vandalism, outside scare quotes, is obvious to anyone watching Wikipedia. The rise of governance models is a reaction to the success that creates incentives to vandalism and other forms of attack or distortion.

We’ve also noted before that governance is a certified Hard Problem. At the extremes, co-creation, openess, and scale are incompatible. Wikipedia’s principle advantage over other methods of putting together a body of knowledge is openess, and from the outside, it looks like Wikipedia’s guiding principle is “Be as open as you can be; close down only where there is evidence that openess causes more harm than good; when this happens, reduce openess in the smallest increment possible, and see if that fixes the problem.”

People who build or manage large-scale social software form the experimental wing of political philosophy — in the same way that the US Constitution is harder to change than local parking regulations, Wikipedia is moving towards a system where evidence of abuse generates anti-bodies, and those anti-bodies vary in form and rigidity depending on the nature and site of the threat. By responding to the threats caused by its growth, Wikipedia is moving the hierachy+community model that Carr favored earlier. His current stance — that this change is killing the model of pure openess he loved — is simply crocodile tears.

Andrew Orlowski: Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems

Encouraging signs from the Wikipedia project, where co-founder and ├╝berpedian Jimmy Wales has acknowledged there are real quality problems with the online work.

Criticism of the project from within the inner sanctum has been very rare so far, although fellow co-founder Larry Sanger, who is no longer associated with the project, pleaded with the management to improve its content by befriending, and not alienating, established sources of expertise. (i.e., people who know what they're talking about.) Meanwhile, criticism from outside the Wikipedia camp has been rebuffed with a ferocious blend of irrationality and vigor that's almost unprecedented in our experience: if you thought Apple, Amiga, Mozilla or OS/2 fans were er, ... passionate, you haven't met a wiki-fiddler. For them, it's a religious crusade.

In the inkies, Wikipedia has enjoyed a charmed life, with many of the feature articles about the five-year old project resembling advertisements. Emphasis is placed on the knowledgeable articles (by any yardstick, it's excellent for Klingon, BSD Unix, and Ayn Rand), the breadth of its entries (Klingon again), and process issues such as speed.

"We don't ever talk about absolute quality," boasted one of the project's prominent supporters, Clay Shirky, a faculty tutor at NYU. But it's increasingly difficult to avoid the issue any longer. Especially since Wikipedia's material is replicated endlessly on the web: it's the first port of call for "sploggers" who create phoney sites, spam blogs, which created to promote their clients in Google.

Wales was responding to author Nicholas Carr, who in a dazzling post on the transcendent New Age "hive-mind" rhetoric that envelops the "Web 2.0" bubble, took time out to examine the quality of two entries picked at random: Bill Gates and Jane Fonda.

He wasn't impressed by what he saw. "This is garbage, an incoherent hodge-podge of dubious factoids that adds up to something far less than the sum of its parts," he wrote.

Microsoft unveils Sync in-car computer system

He is the quintessential man who has it all: control of the world's offices and home computers, and a bank account that dwarfs the rest of the world. But Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has something else in his sights: your car. Speaking in Las Vegas, Mr Gates unveiled a new in-car computer system which will connect to other gadgets and could turn millions of cars into hi-tech computers on wheels.

In a high profile deal with car manufacturer Ford, Microsoft hopes to revolutionize the way people interact with their vehicles. Mr Gates told a crowd of experts at the huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas how better use of communication technologies could change the way we travel. "It's got to be simple, with safe ways to get the driver involved," he said. "We've been investing in this for some time."

The system, called Sync, will integrate the car directly with the gadgets carried in the pockets of passengers. Cars will automatically connect to music players and mobile phones, allowing the driver to control them using their voice.

Jan 8, 2007

Maggie Fox : Stem cells found in amniotic fluid

STEM cells nearly as powerful as embryonic stem cells can be found in the amniotic fluid that protects babies in the womb, US researchers have said.

They used them to create muscle, bone, fat, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells in the laboratory and have said they believe the placenta and amniotic fluid can provide one more source of the valued cells, which scientists hope will someday transform medicine.

They would also provide a non-controversial source of the cells, which are found with difficulty throughout the body and in days-old embryos.

Embryonic cells are considered the most malleable of the various types of stem cells, but these amniotic fluid-derived cells are a close second, said Dr Anthony Atala, of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who led the study.

"Our hope is that these cells will provide a valuable resource for tissue repair and for engineered organs as well," Dr Atala said.

"I feel these cells are pluripotent like human embryonic stem cells."

Pluripotent means the cells can give rise to any type of tissue in the body - blood, nerve, muscle, and so on. Adult stem cells, found in the tissues and blood of fetuses, babies and adults, are already partly differentiated and are less adaptable.

The use of human embryonic stem cells is controversial in some countries, including the United States.

US President George W. Bush has restricted federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, although researchers using private money can do as they please and Congress, even before the Democrats took over, was planning ways to encourage more research.

Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Dr Atala and colleagues described how they have spent seven years proving the properties of these cells.

"It has been known for decades that both the placenta and amniotic fluid contain multiple progenitor cell types from the developing embryo, including fat, bone, and muscle," Dr Atala said.

"We asked the question, 'Is there a possibility that within this cell population we can capture true stem cells?' The answer is yes."

They used discarded samples from amniocentesis, a test used to check fetuses for birth defects.

The cells come from the fetus, which breathes and sucks in, then excretes, the amniotic fluid throughout pregnancy, Dr Atala said.

Tests in mice showed the stem cells could be used to replace damaged brain cells, and could be "printed" onto structures using technology similar to that seen in inkjet printers to make bone tissue.

Like embryonic stem cells, they appear to thrive in lab dishes for years, while normal cells, called somatic cells, die after a time.

"They are easier to grow than human embryonic stem cells," Dr Atala said. And, unlike embryonic stem cells, they do not form a type of benign tumor called a teratoma, he said.

Dr Atala said a bank with 100,000 specimens of the amniotic stem cells theoretically could supply 99 percent of the US population with perfect genetic matches for transplants.

They are not found in cord blood, a source of a different type of stem cell used mostly to treat leukemia. But they could be banked in much the same way cord blood is now banked, Dr Atala said.

"This is early work," Dr Atala cautioned. "It is still several years away before we try this in a patient."

Jan 7, 2007

Hot Career for 2007

Forget about that image of librarian as a mousy bookworm. Librarians these days must be high-tech information sleuths, helping researchers plumb the oceans of information available in books and digital records. It's an underrated career. Most librarians love helping patrons dig up information and, in the process, learning new things. Librarians may also go on shopping sprees, deciding which books and online resources to buy. They even get to put on performances, like children's puppet shows, and run other programs, like book discussion groups for elders. On top of it all, librarians' work hours are reasonable, and the work environment, needless to say, is placid.

Jan 5, 2007

Clay Shirky; Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags

I need to provide some quick definitions, starting with ontology. It is a rich irony that the word "ontology", which has to do with making clear and explicit statements about entities in a particular domain, has so many conflicting definitions. I'll offer two general ones.

The main thread of ontology in the philosophical sense is the study of entities and their relations. The question ontology asks is: What kinds of things exist or can exist in the world, and what manner of relations can those things have to each other? Ontology is less concerned with what is than with what is possible.

The knowledge management and AI communities have a related definition -- they've taken the word "ontology" and applied it more directly to their problem. The sense of ontology there is something like "an explicit specification of a conceptualization."

The common thread between the two definitions is essence, "Is-ness." In a particular domain, what kinds of things can we say exist in that domain, and how can we say those things relate to each other?

The other pair of terms I need to define are categorization and classification. These are the act of organizing a collection of entities, whether things or concepts, into related groups. Though there are some field-by-field distinctions, the terms are in the main used interchangeably.

And then there's ontological classification or categorization, which is organizing a set of entities into groups, based on their essences and possible relations. A library catalog, for example, assumes that for any new book, its logical place already exists within the system, even before the book was published. That strategy of designing categories to cover possible cases in advance is what I'm primarily concerned with, because it is both widely used and badly overrated in terms of its value in the digital world.

Now, anyone who deals with categorization for a living will tell you they can never get a perfect system. In working classification systems, success is not "Did we get the ideal arrangement?" but rather "How close did we come, and on what measures?" The idea of a perfect scheme is simply a Platonic ideal. However, I want to argue that even the ontological ideal is a mistake. Even using theoretical perfection as a measure of practical success leads to misapplication of resources.

Now, to the problems of classification....

Adam Cresswell: Grant aims to cut out surgery awakenings

THREE patients every day wake during an operation, often forced to lie helplessly, unable to tell their surgeon they can feel every cut of the scalpel.
Waking too early is surprisingly common - recent figures show it affects about one in 1000 patients.

With more than 3000 operations on average a day around Australia, this means about three patients every day are waking up to potentially excruciating pain.

But a project by Paul Myles, of Monash University, aims to fix that. He is developing an Australian monitoring machine that can give doctors faster and more accurate assessments of a patient's level of anaesthesia.

The project is among about 300 research and development projects that will share grants totalling more than $60 million to be announced today by the federal Government.

Professor Myles said waking up during surgery was "a devastating complication" and while a US-built monitor could cut the incidence, the machine was little used in Australia.

"Our machine that we are developing we expect to be much more dependable, reliable and faster," he said.

The project, which has attracted a $413,000 development grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council, aims to help patients at high risk of waking up - such as those who have become resistant to anaesthetic drugs after having several operations, or others who cannot be given high doses for other reasons.

Other projects among the 326 approved will investigate the causes of, and better ways to treat, a range of conditions, including heart failure, obesity, skin cancer and other conditions.

Among the successful winners, Harry Georgiou, from the University of Melbourne, will receive nearly $200,000 to develop a new test to predict a woman's risk of premature labour.

Researchers from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research will receive more than $360,000 to study how genes affect the development of melanoma. And experts from Sydney's Garvan Institute will receive $61,200 to study the risk of subsequent fractures and death among patients who have already broken a bone due to osteoporosis.

Jan 4, 2007

Ben Cubby: Just wait a while

IT HAPPENS to everyone. You are in a glacial bank queue, stuck in an unmoving line for lunch, or waiting an eternity for coffee. And when you finally get to the counter, the attendant sighs sarcastically and says: "What?" Customer rage, when polite shoppers turn into rampaging rhinos, is on the rise.

A team of Sydney academics is studying the problem. "If we can predict the things that trigger customer rage, we can stop most of it from happening," said Paul Patterson, head of the school of marketing at the University of New South Wales. "The research has all sorts of implications for the recruitment and training of staff," he said. "Already we are seeing some patterns forming. There seems to be some correlation between someone's personality type and their propensity to fly into a rage."

The research team has conducted 50 interviews with victims and perpetrators of customer rage, with more to come. It found that most serious incidents occurred after a "double deviation", when customers felt they had been treated disrespectfully on successive occasions. The team will deliver its findings in 2008.

Justine Ferrari: Students ignore maths, science

THE number of school students studying science across the nation has dropped by one-third in five years, and the proportion of university graduates with a maths qualification is less than half the OECD average.

The National Report on Schooling for 2005, the latest figures available, shows the number of Year 12 students studying to enter a science degree fell from 147,000 in 2000 to about 107,000 in 2005.

OECD figures show only 0.4per cent of university students in Australia graduate with qualifications in maths or statistics, compared with the OECD average of 1 per cent.

Opposition spokesman on industry, innovation, science and research Kim Carr said the problem was exacerbated by a dramatic rise in the level of HECS fees incurred by science students. While science graduates in 1996 paid $3000 a year, they now faced a bill of $7118 a year. "We have the ludicrous situation where a science graduate working in a school classroom is paid the same rate as other teachers, yet faces a much higher HECS debt," he said. A survey by the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia found that 60 per cent of graduates with science and technology-based degrees intended to work overseas within three years of leaving university.

Association acting chief executive officer Geoff Fary said a large proportion never returned to work in Australia, with one study estimating the nation has lost about 20,000 such professionals during the past decade.

Jan 3, 2007

Rachael Barron: Building the Bionic Man

Every year the medical device industry steps up efforts to fix failing parts of the human body. Perhaps one day they can build a bionic man. Until that time, companies will continue to use their know-how on such mundane health problems as troubled hearts, obesity, and paralysis. On funding, 2006 looks like one for the books. VentureOne and Ernst & Young are expecting the U.S. medical device industry will haul in a record $2.44 billion from venture backing. That blows past the $2.17 billion from VC investment into the industry in 2000.

But before folks start popping the bubbly, let’s keep things in perspective. For venture-backed companies acquired this year, which came to 20 through the third quarter, the median buyout price was $36.7 million. Sure, that sounds like a good chunk of change for those being bought out. “But it required more investment on their part,” VentureOne representative Michelle Jeffers said.

LipoSonix aiming for non-invasive body sculpting

We're sure there's quite a few of you out there that have already vowed to make good use of that Nike+iPod kit you received this holiday season in order to shape up in 2007, but for those who just don't have the time (or adequate willpower), LipoSonix could help you fool everyone into thinking you actually kept your resolution. While liposuction has become frighteningly common here in the States, a Seattle-based medical device company is hoping to give folks a "less invasive" alternative to the messy methods currently used. Preferring the term "body sculpting," the company claims that its technology "works by focusing high-intensity ultrasound through the skin into precise locations within subcutaneous adipose tissue, which permanently disrupts the adipocytes without damaging the epidermis, dermis, or underlying tissues and organs." In short, a specially crafted ultrasound transducer can purportedly eliminate unwanted tissue quickly, causing "minimal downtime and bruising" to patients, and hopefully costing less than procedures done today. Although we can't promise this (admittedly bizarre) technology will be available by year's end, initial clinical testing has reportedly been quite successful, but until a few more guinea pigs have survived for an extended period of time, we'll be sticking with the tried and true "working out" method.

Jan 2, 2007

Study links post-traumatic stress to heart disease

A study of military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder found the more severe their anxiety, the greater their risk of heart disease, researchers said on Monday.

The link between stress and heart disease has long been recognized, and researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston found that relationship existed among nearly 2,000 Boston-area veterans.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, once dismissed as 'combat fatigue,' can also afflict people who experience traumatic events. It is characterized by anxiety, reexperiences of the event and avoidance of stimuli related to the experience.

Based on commonly-used measures of stress disorder symptoms used in the Harvard study, each step up in symptom severity increased the risk of a heart attack by 26 percent, the report said.

George Jones: Beyond dual core

What a difference a year makes. One year ago, we were dazed, dazzled, and beguiled by the arrival of dual-core processors. Offerings from Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) had analysts, journalists, IT pros, and enthusiasts all gushing with praise for a bright new multitasking future.

Amazingly, both Intel and AMD were able to deliver on the potential of dual-core processing. Throughout 2006, desktop PCs played host to a series of processors that, while slower at the clock-speed level, were faster in real-life usage, allowing for unprecedented amounts of multitasking with minimal slowdown. (For more about both companies' current lineup of desktop CPUs, see our CPU Buyer's Guide.)

As the calendar flips to 2007, we are firmly entrenched in the world of multi-core processors. And, based upon the confidential road maps of both Intel and AMD, it is clear that dual-core CPUs are only the launching point for the future of the microprocessor. In 2007, quad cores and even eight-core CPUs will be available. By 2009, there's a good chance that sixteen-core processors will be on the market.

Jan 1, 2007

Robot Suit: Fights Paralysis, Not Crime

Matsushita, a company out of Japan, has developed a suit with virtual muscles. While it won't help you lift semis one-handed, it will aid in the rehabilitation of stroke victims suffering from partial paralysis by moving their limbs. Slated for 2009 release, the suit will run about $17,000, but should become cheaper with mass production.

Gizmodo tip: pick one of these up before they hit stateside and no one needs to know the suit isn't powered by nuclear reactions, providing 500 tons of lifting/throwing power. Just try to avoid any real fights.

Ed Susman : U.S. heart disease kills 1 in 3

More than one of every three Americans die with cardiovascular disease as the underlying cause, according to new data form the American Heart Association (AHA).

The group`s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2007 Update will be published online in Thursday`s edition of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. [ http://www.americanheart.org/statistics]

The compilation of data from multiple governmental and private sources indicate that, in some areas, there is improvement, but there remains trouble on the horizon.

'We seem to be pretty good in being able to treat cardiovascular disease,' Raymond Gibbons, professor of medicine at the Mayo School of Medicine in Rochester, Minn., told United Press International Thursday.

'Where there is a potential for problems is in the rates of diabetes and obesity and obesity in children,' said Gibbons, also president of AHA.

A new program initiated by the group, called Get with the Guidelines, encourages doctors to treat patients with heart disease under evidence-based treatment algorithms. Data gleaned in the reports show that better than 85 percent of patients are getting state-of-the-art level care.

'These programs are showing positive indicators for improvement,' said Wayne Rosamond, chair of AHA`s Statistics Committee which prepared the update. 'One of the ways to improve the quality of care is to have a good system to monitor the care that is given; then you have an ongoing way to

identify areas that you want to improve. Get With The Guidelines is a way to follow quality over time and identify areas of improvement.'

No sex please, robot, just clean the floor

THE race is on to keep humans one step ahead of robots: an international team of scientists and academics is to publish a “code of ethics” for machines as they become more and more sophisticated.

Although the nightmare vision of a Terminator world controlled by machines may seem fanciful, scientists believe the boundaries for human-robot interaction must be set now — before super-intelligent robots develop beyond our control.

“There are two levels of priority,” said Gianmarco Verruggio, a roboticist at the Institute of Intelligent Systems for Automation in Genoa, northern Italy, and chief architect of the guide, to be published next month. “We have to manage the ethics of the scientists making the robots and the artificial ethics inside the robots.”

Verruggio and his colleagues have identified key areas that include: ensuring human control of robots; preventing illegal use; protecting data acquired by robots; and establishing clear identification and traceability of the machines.

“Scientists must start analysing these kinds of questions and seeing if laws or regulations are needed to protect the citizen,” said Verruggio. “Robots will develop strong intelligence, and in some ways it will be better than human intelligence.

Jennifer Kho: Clean Energy’s Big Year

It’s been a landmark year for clean energy, as solar and wind power blew past the records, despite supply shortages. Michael Rogol, managing director for Photon Consulting, in October estimated that global solar industry sales would reach $19 billion this year. That expectation was raised from $16 billion in March, and represents a 58 percent increase from 2005.

Global numbers for wind power aren’t out yet, but at least two groups are predicting a record year. The American Wind Energy Association estimates the wind industry will have installed a record 2.75 gigawatts of generating capacity this year, enough electricity to power the state of Rhode Island. The association in August said total U.S. wind energy installations surpassed 10 gigawatts, and the world’s largest wind farm, a 735-megawatt project in Texas, was also completed in the third quarter of 2006.

The British Wind Energy Association said the UK also had a record-breaking year. Wind power commissions grew 50 percent to 630 megawatts. Some 625-megawatts-worth of projects are under construction in the UK, and another 2,120 megawatts (2.12 gigawatts) have been approved. Clean energy made plenty of news this year:

Institutional investors were generous. Research firm New Energy Finance expects the renewable energy and low-carbon technology industries to set a record of $70.9 billion in investment this year, a 43-percent increase from 2005.

Of that amount, New Energy Finance expects venture capital and private equity investment to top $7 billion in 2006, a 167-percent increase from last year.

Numbers varied. According to a study by Dow Jones VentureOne and Ernst & Young, $761.4 million of venture capital was invested on a worldwide basis through the beginning of December, up 50 percent from $504.1 million invested during the first three quarters of 2005. In the United States alone, $585.6 million was invested in 60 cleantech companies during the first three quarters of 2006.

According to the Cleantech Venture Network, North America numbers were higher. Venture investment rose from $514 million in the first quarter to $843 million in the second quarter and $933 million in the third quarter, according to the Cleantech Venture Network. In Europe, investment grew in the first two quarters, reaching $268 million in the second quarter, then fell to $144 million in the third quarter.

Either way, it’s clear private investment is growing. Among other announcements, Virgin’s flamboyant Richard Branson said he would invest $3 billion in renewable energy technologies over the next 10 years, ethanol company Altra raised $120 million, and venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers said it would double their commitment to green technology, to $200 million.

IPOs were also notable. According to New Energy Finance, money raised in clean-energy-related IPOs more than doubled, reaching $10.3 billion in 2006, up from $4.3 billion in 2005 and $0.7 billion in 2004.

After a stock dip starting in May, clean-energy stock values are back up more than 30 percent from the start of the year, according to the WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index, which launched in January to track clean-energy stocks globally.

According to New Energy Finance, solar companies raised the most on the public markets, raising $4.4 billion, more than double the $1.7 billion raised in 2005 (see Trina Solar Has Rollercoaster IPO, IPO Watch: Hot, Crude, and Hertz, Chinese Solar Firm IPOs, Big Deals: IPOs).

Biofuels raised the second-most, raising $2.5 billion, more than 10 times the amount raised last year (see Ethanol Firm Plans $300M IPO, High on Ethanol). Wind IPOs raised $1.2 billion, compared with $1.1 billion last year.

While demand for solar continued to grow rapidly this year, the industry was constrained by a supply shortage of silicon, the material that turns sunlight into electricity in most solar panels. The shortage boosted prices and led solar manufacturers to strike long-term deals with silicon producers, which began installing new plants.

The shortage also sparked new interest in silicon technologies, as well as in silicon-efficient technologies like thin-film solar, a solar technology that uses little to no silicon, and concentrator technologies, which use mirrors and lenses to concentrate the sun into smaller solar cells (see Solar’s Going Thin).

Predictions about when the shortage will end vary from between 2007 and 2012. An ease in supply is likely to bring lower prices, and manufacturers have been investing in technology to hone their competitive edge once the shortage ends. Others have been looking at expanding into other solar services, such as installation and distribution.

Ethanol production grew as new plants came online. According to New Energy Finance as of September, 36 new commercial ethanol plants were financed worldwide in 2006, compared with 25 in 2005 and seven in 2004.

Ethanol from materials like corn stover, wood chips, and switchgrass, got a boost from high oil prices and government backing. Ethanol benefited from a mention from U.S. President Bush in February, a U.S. goal set last year to replace 30 percent of its transportation fuel with biofuel by 2030, and a declaration from Brazil’s government that it would reach energy independence through the alcoholic fuel this year (see The Fuel of the Future?).

A number of ethanol startups raised funding, including Mascoma, Iogen, and GreenShift. And cellulosic-ethanol companies announced a series of milestones, such as the first cellulosic plant in China and the world’s first “commercial-scale demonstration plant” (in other words, a plant that produces more than 1 million gallons per year).

Apple Faces Suit Over IPod-ITunes Link

As if its options woes weren't trouble enough, Apple Computer Inc. said Friday it is facing several federal lawsuits, including one alleging the company created an illegal monopoly by tying iTunes music and video sales to its market-leading iPod portable players.

The case, filed July 21, is over Apple's use of a copy-protection system that generally prevents iTunes music and video from playing on rival players. Likewise, songs purchased elsewhere aren't easily playable on iPods.

The plaintiff is seeking unspecified damages and other relief. The court denied Apple's motion to dismiss the complaint on Dec. 20.

Another lawsuit, filed Nov. 7, alleges that the logic board of Apple's iBook G4 fails at an abnormally high rate. The plaintiff is seeking unspecified damages. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Apple said its response to the complaint is not yet due.