All posts by Stephen Years

A comet bigger than the Sun!


From the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy:

Spectacular outbursting comet 17P/Holmes exploded in size and brightness on October 24. It continues to expand and is now the largest single object in the Solar system, being bigger than the Sun (see above). The diameter of the tenuous dust atmosphere of the comet was measured at 1.4 million kilometers (0.9 million miles) on 2007 November 9 by Rachel Stevenson, Jan Kleyna and Pedro Lacerda of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.


New Petaflop Super Computer From IBM

bluegene.jpgThe world’s fastest super computer is currently Blue Gene/L (pictured left) which is located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It is capable of performing 478.2 trillion operations, or 478.2 teraflops, a second. However, IBM (which built Blue Gene/L) has announced plans to build a petaflop (quadrillion operations per second) computer, which essentially will be twice as powerful as Blue Gene/L.

[The] computer nicknamed “Roadrunner” that will combine Cell processors, a family of chips found inside the PlayStation 3, and processors from Advanced Micro Devices.

Roadrunner, which will be delivered to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in summer 2008, will be capable of performing more than a quadrillion operations, or a petaflop, when it’s fully operational. IBM helped design and build the Cell chip and has been looking for ways to expand its commercial potential.

(Image credit: Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Bruce Sterling publishes new short story in Technology Review

sterling.jpgBruce Sterling has published his new short story Interoperation in the MIT Technology Review journal. Says Bruce on his Wired blog: “One of my better efforts lately, and a rare example of a science fiction work that belongs by its nature in TECHNOLOGY REVIEW.”

Yuri pulled his sons from school to watch the big robot wreck the motel. His wife had packed a tasty picnic lunch, but 11-year-old Tommy was a hard kid to please. “You said a giant robot would blow that place up,” Tommy said. “No, son, I told you a robot would ‘take it down,'” said Yuri. “Go shoot some pictures for your mom.” Tommy swung his little camera, hopped his bamboo bike, and took off. Yuri patiently pushed his younger son’s smaller bike across the sunlit tarmac. Nick, age seven, was learning to ride. His mother had dressed him for the ordeal, so Nick’s head, knees, feet, fists, and elbows were all lavishly padded with brightly colored foam. Nick had the lumpy plastic look of a Japanese action figure.

Genetically modified plants silence pest’s genes

corn.jpgScientists have already created genetically modified crops that produce proteins that are toxic to the pests that eat them. Now they have gone a step further and created plants that literally rewrite the genetic code of the insects that eat them. The genetically modified crops use a process called RNA interference:

RNA interference occurs naturally in animals ranging from worms to humans. It’s a process whereby double-stranded RNA copies of specific genes prevent cells from translating those genes into proteins. The new genetically modified plants carry genes for double-stranded RNA targeted to particular insect genes…

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Shanghai, made cotton plants that silence a gene that allows cotton bollworms to process the toxin gossypol, which occurs naturally in cotton. Bollworms that eat the genetically engineered cotton can’t make their toxin-processing proteins, and they die. Researchers at Monsanto and Devgen, a Belgian company, made corn plants that silence a gene essential for energy production in corn rootworms; ingestion wipes out the worms within 12 days.

Bug Labs creates “open source hardware”

bug_logo.jpgBug Labs is a start-up company in New York that is creating what they call “open source hardware.” The company is creating a Lego-like hardware platform that tinkerers and engineers can use to create their own digital devices. The idea is to take advantage of “long-tail economics” that will allow the creation of very specific, niche hardware devices for limited markets. The platform can also be used for rapid prototyping.

It starts with a BUGBase, which is a general-purpose Linux computer about the size of a PlayStation Portable, encased in white plastic. This has four connectors that plug right into the motherboard. The company will also make a variety of modules that can plug into the computer—like an LCD screen, a digital camera, a GPS unit, a motion sensor, a keyboard, an EVDO modem, and a 3G GSM modem. (There are also places to add USB, Ethernet, WiFi, and serial ports). Bug Labs is planning on making 80 modules over time, and hopes outside companies and developers will create their own.