2008年9月30日 星期二

Suit to Halt Big Collider in Europe Is Dismissed

Suit to Halt Big Collider in Europe Is Dismissed

Published: September 29, 2008

A federal judge in Honolulu has dismissed a lawsuit trying to stop the running of a giant particle accelerator outside Geneva, dodging the issue of whether it could actually cause the end of the world.

The judge, Helen Gillmor, said in her ruling Friday that the court lacked jurisdiction over the Large Hadron Collider, which is located on the Swiss-French border and was built by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, with help from the United States and dozens of other countries.

When it is operating at full steam, the collider, which started circulating protons earlier this month before a series of mishaps shut it down for the winter, will accelerate protons to energies of seven trillion electron volts and slam them together in search of particles and forces not seen since the early moments of the Big Bang.

Last spring, Walter Wagner, a retired radiation safety officer who lives in Hawaii, and Luis Sancho, a science writer and professor in Barcelona, filed the lawsuit, claiming that the collider could produce a black hole that could eat the Earth or cause some other calamitous effect. Predictions of such outcomes have been refuted in safety studies.

This summer, for example, a report by a panel of physicists appointed by CERN concluded that the collider would not produce anything that billions of years of high-energy cosmic collisions had not produced.

Mr. Wagner and Mr. Sancho sued CERN, the United States Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Federal District Court in Hawaii. The Energy Department and the science foundation have contributed about $531 million of the collider’s estimated cost of $8 billion.

Judge Gillmor decided that the fraction paid by the United States was too small for the collider to constitute a “major federal action,” as defined by the National Environmental Policy Act, and so the court lacked jurisdiction on environmental grounds.

In an e-mail message, Mr. Sancho said, “The lawsuit was an unbelievable success in that it put the collider issue on the intellectual agenda.” Mr. Sancho also said that the most recent and thorough safety report would not have been done without their pressure. “The study was not perfect, but at least the safety factors on which CERN is relying are not quite as bad,” he said.

Judge Gillmor said the claim of planetary apocalypse was “a complex debate” of concern to more than just physicists. Noting that Congress had approved the money for the collider, she suggested that arguments about its effects would be more appropriately aired in a political arena than in a judicial one.

“Neither the language nor the history of NEPA,” she wrote, referring to the National Environmental Policy Act, “suggest that it was intended to give citizens a general opportunity to air their policy objections to proposed federal actions.”

The 'thinking cap' that could unlock your inner genius and boost creativity


《每日郵報》報道,科學家正在研發一種"智慧帽子",希望可以用以開啟人類腦袋的非常潛能。 報道說,這個帽子使用微弱的磁脈沖來改變腦袋工作的方式,在測試時產生了奇特的結果。 據稱,戴上這個像自行車頭盔的帽子幾分鐘,能改善藝術能力,並能促進校對的技能。 報道說,如果這項技術證實成功,這個器材將以帽子的形狀推出,在靈感低落時,戴上它能促進創作力。

The 'thinking cap' that could unlock your inner genius and boost creativity

By Fiona Macrae
Last updated at 8:39 AM on 30th September 2008

There is a theory that the spark of genius lurks hidden within all of us.

Now scientists are developing a 'thinking cap' that could turn that theory into practice and unlock the amazing potential of the human brain.

The device uses tiny magnetic pulses to change the way the brain works and has produced remarkable results in tests.


Wearing the hairnet-like cap for a few minutes improved artistic ability and proof-reading skills.

If the technique is perfected, the device could be marketed as a cap slipped on to boost creativity when inspiration is low.

The Australian experiments are inspired by savants, people who, like Dustin Hoffman's character in the film Rain Man, have amazing skills or talents despite a severe mental disability.

Some have mind-boggling calculating skills or 'internal calendar' that can almost instantly work out the day that any given date fell on.

Brain wave: Different parts of the brain are responsible for different thinking processes - and Prof. Snyder believes his cap can boost creativity

Brain wave: Researchers used a cap with a magnetic coil to 'zap' the left side of the brain

Others are exceptional artists or can master a complicated piece of music after hearing it only once.

Around 10 per cent of people with autism are savants. Now scientists have shown it is possible to temporarily bring out such talents in others.

The Sydney University researchers used a cap equipped with magnetic coil to zap the left side of the brain.

This side generally sees the 'bigger picture' and suppresses the detail-hoarding right side.

In one experiment, volunteers were asked to draw a dog, horse or face from memory before and after being zapped for ten to 15 minutes.

Four of the 11 volunteers produced more natural pictures after wearing the cap.

Two also spotted written mistakes in pieces of text that they'd overlooked earlier, a Royal Society conference heard on Monday.

In a third experiment, the device boosted the ability to quickly estimate the number of dots shown on a screen.

However, the flashes of brilliance were just that, with the effect wearing off within an hour.

The technique, known as transcranial magnetic stimulation, has previously shown promise in treating depression and schizophrenia.

thinking cap
Allan Snyder

The 'thinking cap' can improve artistic ability and proof-reading skills after a few minutes, left, and Professor Allan Snyder who hopes to be able to produce creativity on demand

While it is not exactly clear how it works, careful targeting of the magnetic pulses allows over or under-active parts of the brain to be calmed down or jump-started.

In this study, it is thought it 'switched off' the part of the brain that deals in whole ideas, allowing detail that has been unconsciously filed to shine through.

Researcher Professor Allan Snyder believes the experiments show we all have hidden talents, we just have trouble tapping into them.

He has said in the past: 'I believe that each of us has within us non-conscious machinery which can do extraordinary art, extraordinary memory and extraordinary mathematical calculations.

Rain Man

Enigma: Dustin Hoffman, right, in Rain Man as autistic savant Raymond Babbit, who has exceptional memory recall. The Sydney study was inspired by savants, who have amazing skills or talents despite severe mental disabilities

'We don't normally access these skills because they are the machinery behind our daily lives and everything we do.

'We are only interested in the answer, not the working that went on to produce the answer.

'When you make complex decisions, or even catch a cricket ball, you are not aware of how your brain is performing all these complex tasks.

'My theory is that there is a lot happening and maybe you could see it by shutting off that conscious part of the brain.'

His ultimate aim is to produce a thinking cap that would unleash creativity as and when required.

'Imagine if I could temporarily give you a child's look at the world,' he said.

2008年9月29日 星期一

Discovering an Operant Learning Gene

Spectrum | 30.09.2008 | 04:30

Discovering an Operant Learning Gene

For the last 80 years, there’s been a scientific debate over two forms of learning - classical and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning was made famous by the Russian physiologist Pavlov, who trained dogs to salivate in response to a bell. About 20 years later, the American psychologist Skinner trained rats to press a lever for a reward, and this is known as operant conditioning. Despite the differences between the two procedures – where Pavlov’s dogs were passive while Skinner’s rats had to do something to get the food - scientists thought that maybe the animals could be learning the same thing.

A team of scientists lead by neurobiologist, Dr Björn Brembs at the Institute of Biology at Berlin’s Free University believe that they may have solved this 80 year old debate through their experiments on genetically engineered Drosophila fruit flies. Brembs and his team believe they have discovered an operant learning gene, and may also have stumbled upon a way to block addictive behaviours.

Cinnamon Nippard in Berlin investigates.

The Stonehenge Mystery

Spectrum | 30.09.2008 | 04:30

The Stonehenge Mystery

British archaeologists say they have taken a major step towards solving one of the UK ’s deepest mysteries: when and why was Stonehenge built?

The prehistoric stone monument has been an object of fascination…and bafflement for centuries. But now - using the latest technology – scientists have come up with some answers. They have found that the site isn’t as old as was originally thought. And they say Stonehenge may not have been primarily a burial ground…but an ancient hospital instead. Stephen Beard reports.

2008年9月27日 星期六

「世紀汽車」 福特T型車100歲啦

「世紀汽車」 福特T型車100歲啦

福特的T型車(Model T)就要在10月1日過100歲生日。T型車是世紀汽車,也是改變世界的一部車。




又稱為Tin Lizzie,Flivver的T型車所以能夠大放異彩,與亨利‧福特從事數項革新措施有關,最為人稱道的是以流水裝配線大規模作業,代替傳統個體手工製作。




2008年9月23日 星期二

Baidu Caught In Backlash Over Tainted Milk Powder

Baidu Caught In Backlash Over Tainted Milk Powder

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Chinese Internet-search giant Baidu.com Inc. has become embroiled in a public backlash over tainted milk, in a sign that fast growth and market dominance have a flip side for a company sometimes called the 'Google of China.'

The Beijing-based company has repeatedly denied speculation online that it censored information about tainted milk powder, which has killed four infants and sickened more than 6,200 in recent weeks, and accepted payments from dairy companies to keep negative items from appearing in its search results.

Baidu this week said it had been approached by several dairy producers but said it has 'flat out refused' to screen out unfavorable news and accused rivals of fanning the flames.

'Baidu respects the truth, and our search results reflect that commitment,' it said in a statement.

China's government has said contamination of baby formula with melamine, an industrial chemical, caused the deaths and illnesses. A Chinese manufacturer and local-government officials declined for weeks to disclose the discovery that a popular baby formula contained a toxic chemical even while the maker was recalling the product.

There is no proof that Baidu played a part in concealing the discovery. But observers of China's lucrative Internet business said Baidu's online antagonists present another challenge for a company that is already grappling with tighter privacy restrictions and increasingly vocal competitors.

It also shines a light on Baidu's business practices. Unlike Google Inc., which places paid search results outside of the main search listings, Baidu allows advertisers to pay their way up to higher positions within search results.

'Google is under much more international scrutiny and needs to be responsible,' said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting, a Beijing-based Internet and technology firm. 'In terms of market practices, [Baidu] definitely takes more liberties.'

Baidu declined Thursday to comment on the practice.

The Chinese company integrates paid advertisements into its regular search listings to a greater extent than most search engines, though it started adding a small two-character tag to identify the ads after users complained. Baidu doesn't use a different background color as Google does to distinguish paid ads, and for a popular search term such as 'mobile phone,' paid results take up almost the entire first page.

Industry analysts said the practice leads some of China's more educated and experienced urban Internet users away from Baidu. 'There's a limit to people's patience,' said Mr. Natkin, though he added China's young Internet market is more forgiving than in the West.

Baidu does 'make a lot of money, and they don't lose as many clients as one might expect them to in a more sophisticated market,' he said.

In the second quarter of this year, Baidu held 64.4% of China's search-engine market by revenue, up from 60.7% in the first quarter, according to research firm Analysys International. During the same period, Google's share of the market fell to 26.1% from 26.8% in the first quarter, Analysys said. Baidu, which is listed on the U.S.'s Nasdaq Stock Market, has a market capitalization of $8.7 billion. Its second-quarter profit rose 87% to $39 million, while revenue doubled to $117 million.

Auction site Taobao.com and its parent, Alibaba Group, are facing major challenges from Baidu's plans to introduce its own e-commerce businesses. These will include business-to-business and business-to-consumer sites that would compete directly with Alibaba.com; an online-auction site that would compete with Taobao; and an online-payment system to rival Alibaba's Alipay system.

That dynamic has played into a brewing dispute between the companies over online privacy. On Sept. 8, Taobao.com blocked Baidu's Web-crawling search software, known as 'spiders,' from accessing Taobao's listings to collect and index data. Other search engines such as Google and Yahoo are partially blocked from accessing Taobao, though to a lesser extent than Baidu. Yahoo China is owned by Alibaba Group.

Alibaba said the measures are being taken to protect consumers from fraudulent sellers who may try to manipulate search-engine results. 'Taobao blocks search engines to varying degrees depending on the search engine's trustworthiness,' Alibaba spokeswoman Christina Splinder said. 'What Taobao has found was that traffic coming from Baidu was of low quality and very few of the clicks from Baidu converted into actual sales for merchants on Taobao.'

Robin Li, Baidu founder, chairman and chief executive, attributed Taobao's blocking of Baidu to 'concern over our upcoming launch of a competing service.'

Other Chinese Internet companies are starting to realize the value of user-generated content by making their information off-limits to others who might try to reap its benefits. Several popular Web sites, including Sohu.com Inc.'s blogging service and Xiaonei.com, a Chinese version of Facebook, have also moved to block spiders. Spokeswomen for Sohu and Xiaonei each said that the measures applied to all search engines and were intended to protect the privacy of their users.

Mr. Li remains unconcerned. 'This is nothing new and has never had any noticeable impact on any search engines, including Baidu,' he said.

Sky Canaves


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國網絡搜索巨頭百度公司(Baidu.com Inc.)因毒奶粉事件而受到公眾的強烈質疑。這顯示出這家不時被稱為“中國谷歌”的企業有時也會因其高速增長和市場的主導地位而受到拖累。






這也讓更多人瞭解了百度的業務規范。同將付費搜索結果放在主搜索列表之外的谷歌(Google Inc.)不同﹐百度允諾廣告客戶在付費後可以上提其內容在搜索結果中的位置。

總部位於北京的互聯網及技術企業Marbridge Consulting的董事總經理馬克•納塔金(Mark Natkin)說﹐谷歌面臨更多的國際關注﹐因此需要更加負責。從市場規范上來說﹐百度顯然更加隨意。


百 度在將付費廣告加入到普通搜索結果方面比大多數搜索引擎都要走得遠﹐不過在有用戶表示不滿後﹐百度開始在這些廣告下方添加“推廣”兩字以方便識別。百度並 未象谷歌那樣使用不同的背景色來區別付費廣告﹐比如像“手機”這樣的熱門搜索詞﹐付費廣告的結果幾乎佔據了整個第一頁。



研 究機構易觀國際(Analysys International)的數據顯示﹐今年第二季度﹐按收入計﹐百度在中國搜索引擎市場的份額達到了64.4%﹐高於第一季度的60.7%。易觀國際 稱﹐同期谷歌的市場份額從第一季度26.8%下降到了26.1%。百度在美國納斯達克市場上市﹐市值為87億美元。第二季度該公司的利潤增長了87%﹐至 3,900萬美元﹐收入增長一倍至1.17億美元。

拍賣網站淘寶(Taobao.com)及其母公司阿里巴巴集團(Alibaba Group)面臨著百度計劃自己推出電子商務業務的嚴峻挑戰。百度這一業務將包括直接與阿里巴巴網站(Alibaba.com)競爭的B2B和B2C網站 ﹔同淘寶競爭的網上拍賣網站﹔以及同阿里巴巴的支付寶(Alipay)競爭的網上付費系統。

這一動向很快演變為這些公司在網絡隱私權方面 的爭鬥。9月8日﹐淘寶封鎖了百度的網頁搜索軟件(即網絡爬虫)﹐不允許其進入淘寶的目錄中搜索和編錄數據。谷歌和雅虎(Yahoo)等搜索引擎也受到了 淘寶的部分封鎖﹐但程度低於百度。雅虎中國(Yahoo China)是阿里巴巴集團的子公司。

阿里巴巴表示﹐採取這些措施為了保護消費 者不被試圖操縱搜索結果的不良商家所欺詐。阿里巴巴發言人斯潘林達(Christina Splinder)稱﹐淘寶對搜索引擎的封鎖程度取決於搜索引擎的信譽。淘寶稱﹐它發現來自百度的流量質量較低﹐來自百度的點擊很少能轉化為淘寶商戶的實 際銷售。

百度創始人、董事長兼首席執行長李彥宏(Robin Li)將淘寶屏蔽百度歸因於“擔心我們即將推出與其競爭的服務”。

其 他中國互聯網企業也開始認識到其用戶所創建內容的商業價值﹐為了不使其他企業從中獲益﹐它們開始限制這些企業獲得此類信息。包括搜狐(Sohu.com Inc.)博客服務和中國版Facebook──校內網(Xiaonei.com)在內的多家網站也開始採取措施封鎖網絡爬虫。搜狐和校內網的發言人都表 示﹐將對所有搜索引擎採用這些措施﹐以保護其用戶的隱私權。


Sky Canaves

TI,半導体の新研究所「Kilby Labs」を設立へ

【日經BP社報導】 美國德州儀器公司(Texas Instruments Incorporated)宣佈,將成立新的半導體實驗室“Kilby Labs”。Jack Kilby發明IC距今已有50週年,TI期待半導體能夠有所創新,因此決定成立該實驗室。


  發佈資料中還提到了TI的Rich Templeton(主席兼CEO)的觀點。“對我們的生活有重大影響的技術對於我們的業務也極為重要。TI時刻都在思索如何利用半導體,使世界變得更健 全、更安全、更環保且充滿歡樂。而這種思路因Jack Kilby製成全球首枚IC而成為可能”。

  還有,TI研究員Ajith Amerasekera將擔任Kilby Labs總監。Ajith Amerasekera此前是ASIC部門的CTO,擁有28項專利和4本半導體著作。(記者:小島 郁太郎)

米TI,半導体の新研究所「Kilby Labs」を設立へ

2008年9月21日 星期日

Martin Tytell loved typewriters

Martin Tytell

Sep 18th 2008
From The Economist print edition

Martin Tytell, a man who loved typewriters, died on September 11th, aged 94


ANYONE who had dealings with manual typewriters—the past tense, sadly, is necessary—knew that they were not mere machines. Eased heavily from the box, they would sit on the desk with an air of expectancy, like a concert grand once the lid is raised. On older models the keys, metal-rimmed with white inlay, invited the user to play forceful concertos on them, while the silvery type-bars rose and fell chittering and whispering from their beds. Such sounds once filled the offices of the world, and Martin Tytell’s life.

Everything about a manual was sensual and tactile, from the careful placing of paper round the platen (which might be plump and soft or hard and dry, and was, Mr Tytell said, a typewriter’s heart) to the clicking whirr of the winding knob, the slight high conferred by a new, wet, Mylar ribbon and the feeding of it, with inkier and inkier fingers, through the twin black guides by the spool. Typewriters asked for effort and energy. They repaid it, on a good day, with the triumphant repeated ping! of the carriage return and the blithe sweep of the lever that inched the paper upwards.

Typewriters knew things. Long before the word-processor actually stored information, many writers felt that their Remingtons, or Smith-Coronas, or Adlers contained the sum of their knowledge of eastern Europe, or the plot of their novel. A typewriter was a friend and collaborator whose sickness was catastrophe. To Mr Tytell, their last and most famous doctor and psychiatrist, typewriters also confessed their own histories. A notice on his door offered “Psychoanalysis for your typewriter, whether it’s frustrated, inhibited, schizoid, or what have you,” and he was as good as his word. He could draw from them, after a brief while of blue-eyed peering with screwdriver in hand, when they had left the factory, how they had been treated and with exactly what pressure their owner had hit the keys. He talked to them; and as, in his white coat, he visited the patients that lay in various states of dismemberment on the benches of his chock-full upstairs shop on Fulton Street, in Lower Manhattan, he was sure they chattered back.

A drawer of umlauts

His love affair had begun as a schoolboy, with an Underwood Five. It lay uncovered on a teacher’s desk, curved and sleek, the typebars modestly contained but the chrome lever gleaming. He took it gently apart, as far as he could fillet 3,200 pieces with his pocket tool, and each time attempted to get further. A repair man gave him lessons, until he was in demand all across New York. When he met his wife Pearl later, it was over typewriters. She wanted a Royal for her office; he persuaded her into a Remington, and then marriage. Pearl made another doctorly and expert presence in the shop, hovering behind the overflowing shelves where the convalescents slept in plastic shrouds.

Mr Tytell could customise typewriters in all kinds of ways. He re-engineered them for the war-disabled and for railway stations, taking ten cents in the slot. With a nifty solder-gun and his small engraving lathe he could make an American typewriter speak 145 different tongues, from Russian to Homeric Greek. An idle gear, picked up for 45 cents on Canal Street, allowed him to make reverse carriages for right-to-left Arabic and Hebrew. He managed hieroglyphs, musical notation and the first cursive font, for Mamie Eisenhower, who had tired of writing out White House invitations.

When his shop closed in 2001, after 65 years of business, it held a stock of 2m pieces of type. Tilde “n”s alone took up a whole shelf. The writer Ian Frazier, visiting once to have his Olympia cured of a flagging “e”, was taken into a dark nest of metal cabinets by torchlight. There he was proudly shown a drawer of umlauts.

Mr Tytell felt that he owed to typewriters not only his love and his earnings, but his life. In the second world war his knowledge of them had saved him from deploying with the marines. Instead he spent his war turning Siamese keyboards into 17 other Asian languages, or customising typewriters for future battlegrounds. His work sometimes incidentally informed him of military planning; but he kept quiet, and was rewarded in 1945 with a medal done up on a black, familiar ribbon.

Each typewriter was, to him, an individual. Its soul, he reminded Mr Frazier, did not come through a cable in the wall, but lay within. It also had distinguishing marks—that dimple on the platen, that sluggishness in the typebars, that particular wear on the “G”, or the “t”—that would be left, like a fingerprint, on paper. Much of Mr Tytell’s work over the years was to examine typewritten documents for the FBI and the police. Once shown a letter, he could find the culprit machine.

It was therefore ironic that his most famous achievement was to build a typewriter at the request of the defence lawyers for Alger Hiss, who was accused in 1948 of spying for the Soviet Union. His lawyers wanted to prove that typewriters could be made exactly alike, in order to frame someone. Mr Tytell spent two years on the job, replicating, down to the merest spot and flaw, the Hiss Woodstock N230099. In effect, he made a perfect clone of it. But it was no help to Hiss’s appeal; for Mr Tytell still could not account for his typewriter’s politics, or its dreams.

PTC(Positive Train Control)

車內信號- Railtech Wiki

PTC(Positive Train Control)是由以往依靠路線設備運作改為由OCC透過數碼列車無線方式來提供信號指示到車內再透過車載電腦來控制列車。PTC結合了GPS技術來感知列車 ...


Blind man at the brake

Sep 19th 2008
From Economist.com

A little automation could save lives

TIME and again, evidence shows computer-controlled vehicles have fewer accidents than those driven by people. Still, we have a pathological reluctance to surrender control. We seem to find all-too-frequent deaths caused by human carelessness somehow preferable to the obscure possibility of death by bloodless automaton.

The rail crash on September 12th—America’s deadliest in 15 years—would have been wholly preventable had an electronic controller been allowed to intercede. Instead, a Metrolink commuter train heading north from Los Angeles with 220 people on board collided head-on with a southbound Union Pacific freight train, killing 25 people and injuring 135 more.

AP All too human

The Metrolink’s driver, who died in the accident, ran through three yellow and red signals warning of an approaching train, and overrode a switch that would have diverted one of them. Investigators have subpoenaed his mobile-phone records, following reports claiming he was texting trainspotters just before the crash.

Metrolink has one of the worst safety records in America, chalking up 74 fatalities over the past decade. Only New Jersey Transit, with 80 fatalities, is worse—but at least New Jersey’s trains cover four times the miles and carry five times the passengers annually than trains in Los Angeles.

Providing automatic train controls that warn a driver who fails to notice a signal or exceeds a speed limit—and then take command if the warning goes unheeded—is not rocket science. Airliners have had collision-warning and prevention systems since the mid-1980s. Providing them for a fixed network on the ground should be even easier. The National Transportation Safety Board has endorsed a technology called Positive Train Control (PTC), but only 4,000 of America’s 140,000 miles of track use it.

Amtrak trains on the Northeast Corridor between Washington, DC, and Boston have been upgraded. Union Pacific has done likewise on a stretch of track between Chicago and St Louis. New Jersey Transit is installing a PTC system on some of its commuter lines, and Alaska Railroad is a testing a PTC system that will eventually be introduced throughout the state.

At its simplest, PTC relies on three basic components—equipment in the cab, a control centre elsewhere, and a wireless link between the two.

A sat-nav receiver in the cab gets the train’s precise location from signals broadcast by GPS satellites overhead that are refined by positional data from a network of ground-based transmitters. This so-called Nationwide Differential Global Positioning System can pinpoint objects on the ground to within one metre, compared to anything up to 20 metres for conventional GPS.

Using the wireless link in the cab, computers at the control centre collect location data from all the trains on the network and issue “limits of movement authority” (LoMA) and speed limits for each individual train.

Back in the cab, an on-board computer compares the PTC-dictated LoMA and speed limit to the train’s location and speed. The computer warns the driver when the train approaches its speed limit or nears the border of its LoMA. If the driver takes no action, the computer applies the brakes.

But PTC is more than just an emergency brake and messaging system. It can “pace” the engine to adjust the headway between consecutive trains, thereby increasing the capacity of the line. One of the largest benefits of PTC is a reduction in equipment cost, thanks to a 5% to 10% increase in the speed it allows freight cars to travel.

In addition, PTC can keep an eye on wayside equipment like track switches, and even take control of them if disaster looms. It can also tell the control centre how the train is performing, and diagnose the wear and tear on the locomotive’s components.

It’s hard to see why the majority of American railways resist PTC. Apart from providing a greater level of safety, PTC will save them money. Pilot tests done a decade ago show PTC saves at least 5% on labour costs alone—a $250m annual saving for the industry as a whole. Meanwhile, speeding up shipments is expected to bring the railways an extra $560m a year.

Sure, the technology is far from mature. Signals can get lost in tunnels or narrow canyons. But the technology has improved greatly since it was first mooted more than 30 years ago. And it’s got cheaper, too.

Still, the railways balk at the cost. They fret that each of their 20,000 front-line locomotives would need to be equipped with GPS, an on-board computer and a data link. They would also have to invest in radio repeaters and other trackside gear for monitoring switches. And additional hardware and software would have to be bought for the control centres.

The overall cost, says the Federal Railroad Administration, could range from $2.3 billion to $4.4 billion spread over five years, depending on whether the installation was an “overlay” on existing signalling systems or a completely new system. But once it was up and running, the industry could be reaping benefits to the tune of $2.2 billion to $3.8 billion annually. That’s an internal rate of return of 44% to 160%, say consultants.

Meanwhile, foot-dragging by the industry has stalled legislation that would require PTC to be adopted nationwide. A bill proposed by the House of Representatives requires America’s main railways to install PTC by 2014, but does little to ease the financial burden. By contrast, the Senate bill would not take effect until 2018, but focuses on heavily congested areas—like Los Angeles where freight and commuter trains share busy single-track lines and have to contend with lots of level crossings.

Railway safety officials have identified almost 1,000 accidents over the past dozen years that PTC would have prevented. The time has come, say critics, for the congressional timetable to be shortened, and for the government to come up with matching funds so PTC can be installed before another deadly accident occurs.

2008年9月18日 星期四



NTT DoCoMo森谷就分子通信發表演講
NTT DoCoMo正在研究開發的分子通信系統
NTT DoCoMo設想的最初用途
  NTT DoCoMo、資訊通信研究機構(NICT)、慶應大學在正在召開的“2008年電子資訊通信學會綜合大會”上舉行了以分子通信為主題的指導演講會。





  分子通信不使用電磁場,而是利用了生物體內的化學物質運輸機構作傳送介質。從2003年開始研究該項技術的NTT DoCoMo先進技術研究所先進技術研究部門研究主任森谷優貴表示,按照最初設想,該技術將首先用於通過檢查汗液實現半即時健康診斷的手機。

  檢查及診斷生物體物質的技術還有由電晶體技術和生物感測器組成的“DNA晶片”等。森谷指出,作為分子通信的特徵,“在生物體物質從‘發送’位置運送 到‘接收器’附近的過程中,因為可以過濾多餘的化學物質,並且按照化學物質分配,所以生物感測器的壽命長,效率也比較高”。


  分子通信從2005年開始作為重要的研究課題在世界廣泛湧現。“2008年2月,美國NSF(National Science Foundation:國家科學基金會)為分子通信下撥款”(森谷)。但海外大多開展的是理論研究,“很少有我們這樣實際製作系統並進行操作的先例”(森 谷)。(記者:野澤 哲生)


【CEATEC】伸手就可通信! 配備人體通信功能的手機等亮相



2008年9月15日 星期一

Interview: Microsoft CIO Tony Scott

September 15, 2008 4:00 AM PDT

Interview: Microsoft CIO Tony Scott

SAN FRANCISCO--Last week, Microsoft Chief Information Officer Tony Scott was in town for an environmental conference and he took some time out to chat with me about his still relatively new role.

Tony Scott is CIO of Microsoft.

(Credit: Microsoft)

Since I hadn't had a chance to talk with him since he moved from Disney to take Microsoft's top IT job earlier this year, I was excited to get some time to get his thoughts on how he likes being a guinea pig for every new Microsoft product that comes down the line.

One of Scott's main missions--and that of his predecessors--is a process called "dogfooding" in which Microsoft becomes a major customer for every new product that comes down the pipeline.

Scott said he doesn't see that mission changing, but he did say he wants to shift that role so that Microsoft's experience, at least some of it, better reflects what its customers go through. Here's an edited transcript of our conversation:

Q: You've been in the job for a few months now. I'm curious to get your thoughts on what it's been like.
Tony Scott: It's been an interesting transition. I was CIO at Disney for three years before coming to Microsoft. I thought I would be there forever. So this all came about kind of suddenly.

The CIO at Microsoft really has three roles. One is to do all the classic IT stuff that probably every CIO at every company does. There's the role of working with our product groups where we do the "dogfooding." And then there's working with our customers because everyone who comes to Microsoft wants to know 'How does Microsoft do it?'

What I am trying to do is improve our world in all three areas. On the dogfood side, I think this is where maybe I bring some value as an outsider. I've been going to Microsoft for years...What I was always disappointed in was the relative degree to which Microsoft could talk to us as external CIOs about what the upgrade experience was like.

It turns out the reason why most of the former CIOs couldn't talk about that is that, internally, Microsoft used a very different process than what customers would use.

We never historically went from production bits to production bits in terms of the upgrade process. We went through a series of betas.

One of the changes I am trying to bring is--we'll still do all the dogfooding*; we'll still do all the betas--but we are going to take some segments of the company and use them to experience what customers experience and go through the normal upgrade process. I think by doing that we can be more relevant to the ultimate consumers of Microsoft's products.

*[Microsoft, Netscape] Interim software used internally for testing. “To eat one's own dogfood” (from which the slang noun derives) means to use the software one is developing, as part of one's everyday development environment (the phrase is used outside Microsoft and Netscape). The practice is normal in the Linux community and elsewhere, but the term ‘dogfood’ is seldom used as open-source betas tend to be quite tasty and nourishing. The idea is that developers who are using their own software will quickly learn what's missing or broken. Dogfood is typically not even of beta quality.

Everybody thinks Microsoft runs all on Microsoft and there is no other stuff there. That turns out just not to be true. We're predominately Microsoft but not exclusively. I want to take some of the learnings we have in those other environments...and make those experiences relevant to our customers. I'd say what I am trying to do is small changes like that. This isn't a sharp right turn in terms of IT strategy but it is trying to make what we do inside Microsoft more relevant to our customer base.

What was the biggest surprise when you actually got into the job versus what you expected?
Scott: I think the complexity of the company was startling. Disney was a very big company. I thought of Microsoft as a big software company and I expected it to be more like General Motors was or maybe even Sun when I used to work there. I didn't fully appreciate all of the complexity of the company--the breadth of products, the different ways in which the company markets itself, distributes, supports, consults...There was just a lot more complexity there than what I realized as an external customer.

Some of your predecessors also had to run Microsoft Online, selling services. You don't.
Scott: It's an interesting model. We run all of Microsoft Mail on the services we sell to customers. So, I have very few people in the IT organization that directly work with the mail, although it's a service we obviously provide to all Microsoft employees. Right now, the mail that we use is kind of an outsourced-but-insourced model. We're going to also launch soon the mail-in-the-cloud service which will be even more mail as a service versus mail as a hosted sort of thing. We'll put substantial numbers of Microsoft employees on that.

When will that happen?
Scott: We're doing it internally first. I think we have some limited customers on it now, even. But we have lots of billing things to create and lots of other systems to create before we roll it out as a big scalable service to end customers.

When you were at Disney or any of your past IT roles, what was your biggest pet peeve about Microsoft?
Scott: We hear from customers all the time, the complexity of our licensing models. It remains a big issue for, I think, most customers. There's just a lot of products there. It's just constantly a topic of discussion and I think that's something we have to just go tackle.

What are some of the big projects you are working on?
Scott: The big ones right now are a lot of investment in enterprise data warehouse strategy, also in what we think of as our core CRM (customer relationship management) underpinnings. Those two are probably the big bets right now. Emerging as a platform is PLM (product lifecycle management) or product management capability, which would include licensing simplification and some of those things.

Are things like mobile devices big? What are the kinds of things the average Microsoftie is clamoring for?
Scott: The pressure is to make things more mobile, more portable. I think you see it even surface in our products, Outlook Anywhere and Outlook Web Access--the degree of fidelity that you now have in terms of that mobile experience is just one indicator of the pressure that is on.

Also, I think when you think about where the next billion customers come from to Microsoft. What is it that they are going to buy? Increasingly it's likely to be gaming platform, phone platform...devices that look different maybe than what today's customers' (devices) look for.

What do you think is going to be taking up the bulk of your time when you look out?
Scott: It's probably three things. One is the continued simplification of our infrastructure and application portfolio. We have the legacy of richness of too many applications that are too fragmented across the company on a global basis. Simplification and consolidation onto globally scalable platforms--I think I will be doing for years and years--it's a big deal. The second is developing a set of apps that Microsoft will need two, three, four, five years out to engage in the businesses we want to engage in. We're in the middle of thinking through all of that right now. The third is just developing people.

You are here for an environmental conference, EcoForum. I'm curious what is going on in that area? I know power is a big issue
Scott: Most CIOs have come to recognize that both their employees and the customers of the company want to know that the company that they are either working for or buying products from is acting in an ecologically responsible way and that you take these issues seriously. From a Microsoft standpoint, we have some great products on virtualization. We're also here talking about that and here learning what other companies are doing.

In our own space we've gone from 8 percent to 25 percent virtualization in our data centers in just a year. Next year we think we are going to hit 50 percent. That's as dramatic a progress as I've seen, any company anywhere.

One of the things I am convinced of is that the entire technology community is going to have to come together to solve some of these issues. I came out of automotive. There was a day when if you wanted to know car gas mileage you had to write down the mileage, then drive and write down the mileage again. Then you went to the gas station and did long division to figure out what your gas mileage was. Eventually as the world got interested in this a chip got built in every car. Most cars have a chip built in to tell you what your miles per gallon is.

We don't have the functional equivalent to that in the IT world. As a CIO, you really want to know, what is this app costing me, all up? It's the people resources and the energy costs. The tools to do it are emerging but we are not there yet.

It shouldn't be that hard. If the technology community works together and develops the right standards and interfaces, one day you will be able to say here's my compute factor or my miles per gallon in terms of the technologies we use. With that we should be able to do a better job of managing our resources. I'm hopeful we could get that done.

Lavender scent calms dental patients

Lavender scent calms dental patients
15 Sep 2008, PR 187/08

LavenderA study by researchers at King’s College London has found that people exposed to lavender oil scent before having dental treatment were then less anxious about going to the dentist.

Metaxia Kritsidima, an MSc Dental Public Health graduate, working with Dr Koula Asimakopoulou Lecturer in Health Psychology, from the Dental Institute at King’s, presented their results at The British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology and European Health Psychology Society Conference at the University of Bath last week.

British Psychological Society press release

Metaxia Kritsidima explained: ‘A substantial number of people avoid going to dental surgeries because they are ‘scared of the dentist’, which can have a significant impact on their dental health. The anxiety experienced by these patients once they get to the dentist is stressful not only for them, but also for the dental team.

‘Working under a state of increased tension may potentially compromise their performance, as well as lengthening appointment times. This is why finding a way of reducing dental anxiety is really important.’

In this study, researchers investigated the effects of lavender scent on dental anxiety. The dental anxiety levels of 340 adult patients were measured while they waited for a scheduled dental appointment. Some patients were exposed to a lavender scent while the rest were not.

Patients who were exposed to the scent reported feeling less anxious than the control group. This significant effect was present regardless of the type of dental appointment (e.g. routine check up, drilling). However, the exposure to lavender had no effect on the patients’ anxiety regarding future dental procedures.

Metaxia Kritsidima concludes: ‘Our findings suggest that lavender could certainly be used as an effective ‘on-the-spot’ anxiety reduction in dentists’ waiting rooms.’

Dr Koula Asimakopoulou, comments: ‘This is a significant difference and it was present regardless of the type of dental appointment.’

More than 700 psychologists from the UK, Europe and further met at the University of Bath from 9 - 12 September 2008 for the joint European Health Psychology Society and British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology Conference 2008.

The conference, themed ‘Behaviour, Health and Healthcare: From Physiology to Policy’, will look at how psychology can be applied at individual and group level to promote health, and even prevent illness, at a national level.




而倫敦大學國王學院(King's College of London)的一組研究人員在經過340例臨床實驗後發現,熏衣草的香氣也可以起到為口腔病患者治療前安定精神的效果。






負責領導這項實驗的科學家梅塔莎﹒克里希迪馬(Metaxia Kritsidima)表示:"很多牙病患者由於害怕牙醫使用的器械而選擇有病也不治療,這就是為什麼找到一個能夠緩解病人緊張心理的方法非常重要。"

另一位參與實驗的科學家庫拉﹒阿希瑪科普魯博士(Dr Koula Asimakopoulou)也表示:"無論病人來接受哪一種治療,聞到薰衣草香氣均起到比較顯著的放鬆作用。"


2008年9月13日 星期六



http://www.sina.com.cn 2008年09月13日 12:31 eNet硅谷动力




  研究者们在今年5月共进行了800万次测试,他们综合研究了上传和下载速度,还有数据延迟时间-指数据包从源头到目的地所用时间。上述所有数据被整合为“宽带质量记分”(broadband quality score)。







2008年9月11日 星期四

New Particle Collider (CERN)




《獨立報》的報道用了"90億美元的問題",文章說今天人類所進行的是一場最偉大的試驗,其規模大,耗資多,而因此的發現也可能是巨大的, 但文章說這一切都意味著什麼呢?



Protons and Champagne Mix as New Particle Collider Is Revved Up

Published: September 10, 2008

BATAVIA, Ill. — Science rode a beam of subatomic particles and a river of Champagne into the future on Wednesday.

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Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press

The entrance to the CERN laboratory near Geneva. After 14 years of labor, scientists activated their new particle collider.

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Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times

Some scientists at the Fermilab in Batavia, Ill., showed up in pajamas on Wednesday for the activation of the collider near Geneva.

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After 14 years of labor, scientists at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva successfully activated the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest, most powerful particle collider and, at $8 billion, the most expensive scientific experiment to date.

At 4:28 a.m., Eastern time, the scientists announced that a beam of protons had completed its first circuit around the collider’s 17-mile-long racetrack, 300 feet underneath the Swiss-French border. They then sent the beam around several more times.

“It’s a fantastic moment,” said Lyn Evans, who has been the project director of the collider since its inception in 1994. “We can now look forward to a new era of understanding about the origins and evolution of the universe.”

Eventually, the collider is expected to accelerate protons to energies of seven trillion electron volts and then smash them together, recreating conditions in the primordial fireball only a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Scientists hope the machine will be a sort of Hubble Space Telescope of inner space, allowing them to detect new subatomic particles and forces of nature.

An ocean away from Geneva, the new collider’s activation was watched with rueful excitement here at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, which has had the reigning particle collider.

Several dozen physicists, students and onlookers, and three local mayors gathered overnight to watch the dawn of a new high-energy physics. They applauded each milestone as the scientists methodically steered the protons on their course at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Many of them, including the lab’s director, Pier Oddone, were wearing pajamas or bathrobes or even nightcaps bearing Fermilab “pajama party” patches on them.

Outside, a half moon was hanging low in a cloudy sky, a reminder that the universe was beautiful and mysterious and that another small step into that mystery was about to be taken.

Dr. Oddone, who earlier in the day admitted it was a “bittersweet moment,” lauded the new machine as the result of “two and a half decades of dreams to open up this huge new territory in the exploration of the natural world.”

Roger Aymar, CERN’s director, called the new collider a “discovery machine.” The buzz was worldwide. On the blog “Cosmic Variance,” Gordon Kane of the University of Michigan called the new collider “a why machine.”

Others, worried about speculation that a black hole could emerge from the proton collisions, had called it a doomsday machine, to the dismay of CERN physicists who can point to a variety of studies and reports that say that this fear is nothing but science fiction.

But Boaz Klima, a Fermilab particle physicist, said that the speculation had nevertheless helped create buzz about particle physics. “This is something that people can talk to their neighbors about,” he said.

The only thing physicists agree on is that they do not know what will happen — what laws and particles will prevail — when the collisions reach the energies just after the Big Bang.

“That there are many theories means we don’t have a clue,” said Dr. Oddone. “That’s what makes it so exciting.”

Many physicists hope to materialize a hypothetical particle called the Higgs boson, which according to theory endows other particles with mass. They also hope to identify the nature of the invisible dark matter that makes up 25 percent of the universe and provides the scaffolding for galaxies. Some dream of revealing new dimensions of space-time.

But those discoveries are in the future. If the new collider were a car, then what physicists did Wednesday was turn on an engine that will now warm up for a couple of months before anyone drives it anywhere. The first meaningful collisions, at an energy of five trillion electron volts, will not happen until late fall.

Nevertheless, the symbolism of the moment was not lost on all those gathered here.

Once upon a time the United States ruled particle physics. For the last two decades, Fermilab’s Tevatron, which hurls protons and their mirror opposites, antiprotons, together at energies of a trillion electron volts apiece, was the world’s largest particle machine.

By year’s end, when the CERN collider has revved up to five trillion electron volts, the Fermilab machine will be a distant second. Electron volts are the currency of choice in physics for both mass and energy. The more you have, the closer and hotter you can punch back in time toward the Big Bang.

In 1993, the United States Congress canceled plans for an even bigger collider and more powerful machine, the Superconducting Supercollider, after its cost ballooned to $11 billion. In the United States, particle physics never really recovered, said the supercollider’s former director, Roy F. Schwitters of the University of Texas in Austin. “One nonrenewable resource is a person’s time and good years,” he said.

Dr. Oddone, Fermilab’s director, said the uncertainties of steady Congressional financing made physics in the United States unduly “suspenseful.”

CERN, on the other hand, is an organization of 20 countries with a stable budget established by treaty. The year after the supercollider was killed, CERN decided to build its own collider.

Fermilab and the United States, which eventually contributed $531 million for the collider, have not exactly been shut out. Dr. Oddone said that Americans constitute about a quarter of the scientists who built the four giant detectors that sit at points around the racetrack to collect and analyze the debris from the primordial fireballs.

In fact, a remote control room for monitoring one of those experiments, known inelegantly as the Compact Muon Solenoid, was built at Fermilab, just off the lobby of the main building here.

“The mood is great at this place,” he said, noting that the Tevatron was humming productively and still might find the Higgs boson before the new hadron collider.

Another target of physicists is a principle called supersymmetry, which predicts, among other things, that a vast population of new particle species is left over from the Big Bang and waiting to be discovered, one of which could be the long-sought dark matter.

The festivities started at 2 a.m. Chicago time. Speaking by satellite, Dr. Evans, the collider project director at CERN, outlined the plan for the evening: sending a bunch of protons clockwise farther and farther around the collider, stopping them and checking their orbit, until they made it all the way. He noted that for a previous CERN accelerator it had taken 12 hours. “I hope this will go much faster,” he said.

Twenty minutes later, the displays in the control room showed that the beam had made it to its first stopping point. A few minutes later, the physicists erupted in cheers when their consoles showed that the muon solenoid had detected collisions between the beam and stray gas molecules in the otherwise vacuum beam pipe. Their detector was alive and working.

Finally at 3:28 Chicago time (10:28 a.m. at CERN), the display showed the protons had made it all the way around to another big detector named Atlas.

At Fermilab, they broke out the Champagne. Dr. Oddone congratulated his colleagues around the world. “We have all worked together and brought this machine to life,” he said. “We’re so excited about sending a beam around. Wait until we start having collisions and doing physics.”

2008年9月10日 星期三


【日經BP社報導】 台灣力壓南韓和日本,登上了液晶面板產值全球第一的寶座。自台灣液晶產業的領頭羊——友達光電(AUO)和奇美電子(CMO)宣佈涉足個人電腦用大尺寸液 晶面板業務,到今年剛好10年。雖然最初台灣的實力落後於日本和南韓,但後來憑其迅速的投資決斷和成本競爭力在業務規模上超越日本,開始與南韓勢均力敵。

  由於面板價格驟跌,液晶行業正面臨著一場考驗。有人對台灣廠商的前景表示擔憂。然而,台灣液晶廠商高層卻意氣昂揚。表示雖然最近持續減產,但液晶電視 市場真正的增長才正式開始,所以這些廠商建設新工廠和擴大產能的熱情反而愈發高漲。台灣液晶面板廠商究竟有多少勝算?記者就此採訪了各公司的高層官員。採 訪內容將陸續公開。(記者:田中 直樹)

·第一章 友達光電:堅持增長戰略不動搖,還將開拓50吋級市場(友達光電總經理暨運營長 陳來助)

·第二章 奇美電子:啟動第8.5代、強化第6代,規模擴大戰略不變(奇美電子總裁 何昭陽)

·第三章 群創光電:顯示器工廠滿負荷運轉,加快建設新工廠以涉足電視機業務(群創光電首席首席財務官 許嘉成)

·第四章 中華映管:為實現進一步增長,下注聯盟戰略(中華映管銷售與行銷總部副總裁 李學龍)

·第五章 瀚宇彩晶:發揮“5.3代”工廠的生產率,為中型面板業務尋求活路(瀚宇彩晶副總裁、新聞發言人 周志豪)

·第六章 元太科技:將收購的Hydis變成創造利潤的公司(元太科技總裁 傅幼軒)


Brave New World of Digital Intimacy By CLIVE THOMPSON


Brave New World of Digital Intimacy

Peter Cho

Published: September 5, 2008

On Sept. 5, 2006, Mark Zuckerberg changed the way that Facebook worked, and in the process he inspired a revolt.

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Zuckerberg, a doe-eyed 24-year-old C.E.O., founded Facebook in his dorm room at Harvard two years earlier, and the site quickly amassed nine million users. By 2006, students were posting heaps of personal details onto their Facebook pages, including lists of their favorite TV shows, whether they were dating (and whom), what music they had in rotation and the various ad hoc “groups” they had joined (like “Sex and the City” Lovers). All day long, they’d post “status” notes explaining their moods — “hating Monday,” “skipping class b/c i’m hung over.” After each party, they’d stagger home to the dorm and upload pictures of the soused revelry, and spend the morning after commenting on how wasted everybody looked. Facebook became the de facto public commons — the way students found out what everyone around them was like and what he or she was doing.

But Zuckerberg knew Facebook had one major problem: It required a lot of active surfing on the part of its users. Sure, every day your Facebook friends would update their profiles with some new tidbits; it might even be something particularly juicy, like changing their relationship status to “single” when they got dumped. But unless you visited each friend’s page every day, it might be days or weeks before you noticed the news, or you might miss it entirely. Browsing Facebook was like constantly poking your head into someone’s room to see how she was doing. It took work and forethought. In a sense, this gave Facebook an inherent, built-in level of privacy, simply because if you had 200 friends on the site — a fairly typical number — there weren’t enough hours in the day to keep tabs on every friend all the time.

“It was very primitive,” Zuckerberg told me when I asked him about it last month. And so he decided to modernize. He developed something he called News Feed, a built-in service that would actively broadcast changes in a user’s page to every one of his or her friends. Students would no longer need to spend their time zipping around to examine each friend’s page, checking to see if there was any new information. Instead, they would just log into Facebook, and News Feed would appear: a single page that — like a social gazette from the 18th century — delivered a long list of up-to-the-minute gossip about their friends, around the clock, all in one place. “A stream of everything that’s going on in their lives,” as Zuckerberg put it.

When students woke up that September morning and saw News Feed, the first reaction, generally, was one of panic. Just about every little thing you changed on your page was now instantly blasted out to hundreds of friends, including potentially mortifying bits of news — Tim and Lisa broke up; Persaud is no longer friends with Matthew — and drunken photos someone snapped, then uploaded and tagged with names. Facebook had lost its vestigial bit of privacy. For students, it was now like being at a giant, open party filled with everyone you know, able to eavesdrop on what everyone else was saying, all the time.

“Everyone was freaking out,” Ben Parr, then a junior at Northwestern University, told me recently. What particularly enraged Parr was that there wasn’t any way to opt out of News Feed, to “go private” and have all your information kept quiet. He created a Facebook group demanding Zuckerberg either scrap News Feed or provide privacy options. “Facebook users really think Facebook is becoming the Big Brother of the Internet, recording every single move,” a California student told The Star-Ledger of Newark. Another chimed in, “Frankly, I don’t need to know or care that Billy broke up with Sally, and Ted has become friends with Steve.” By lunchtime of the first day, 10,000 people had joined Parr’s group, and by the next day it had 284,000.

Zuckerberg, surprised by the outcry, quickly made two decisions. The first was to add a privacy feature to News Feed, letting users decide what kind of information went out. But the second decision was to leave News Feed otherwise intact. He suspected that once people tried it and got over their shock, they’d like it.

He was right. Within days, the tide reversed. Students began e-mailing Zuckerberg to say that via News Feed they’d learned things they would never have otherwise discovered through random surfing around Facebook. The bits of trivia that News Feed delivered gave them more things to talk about — Why do you hate Kiefer Sutherland? — when they met friends face to face in class or at a party. Trends spread more quickly. When one student joined a group — proclaiming her love of Coldplay or a desire to volunteer for Greenpeace — all her friends instantly knew, and many would sign up themselves. Users’ worries about their privacy seemed to vanish within days, boiled away by their excitement at being so much more connected to their friends. (Very few people stopped using Facebook, and most people kept on publishing most of their information through News Feed.) Pundits predicted that News Feed would kill Facebook, but the opposite happened. It catalyzed a massive boom in the site’s growth. A few weeks after the News Feed imbroglio, Zuckerberg opened the site to the general public (previously, only students could join), and it grew quickly; today, it has 100 million users.

When I spoke to him, Zuckerberg argued that News Feed is central to Facebook’s success. “Facebook has always tried to push the envelope,” he said. “And at times that means stretching people and getting them to be comfortable with things they aren’t yet comfortable with. A lot of this is just social norms catching up with what technology is capable of.”

In essence, Facebook users didn’t think they wanted constant, up-to-the-minute updates on what other people are doing. Yet when they experienced this sort of omnipresent knowledge, they found it intriguing and addictive. Why?

Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye. Facebook is no longer alone in offering this sort of interaction online. In the last year, there has been a boom in tools for “microblogging”: posting frequent tiny updates on what you’re doing. The phenomenon is quite different from what we normally think of as blogging, because a blog post is usually a written piece, sometimes quite long: a statement of opinion, a story, an analysis. But these new updates are something different. They’re far shorter, far more frequent and less carefully considered. One of the most popular new tools is Twitter, a Web site and messaging service that allows its two-million-plus users to broadcast to their friends haiku-length updates — limited to 140 characters, as brief as a mobile-phone text message — on what they’re doing. There are other services for reporting where you’re traveling (Dopplr) or for quickly tossing online a stream of the pictures, videos or Web sites you’re looking at (Tumblr). And there are even tools that give your location. When the new iPhone, with built-in tracking, was introduced in July, one million people began using Loopt, a piece of software that automatically tells all your friends exactly where you are.

For many people — particularly anyone over the age of 30 — the idea of describing your blow-by-blow activities in such detail is absurd. Why would you subject your friends to your daily minutiae? And conversely, how much of their trivia can you absorb? The growth of ambient intimacy can seem like modern narcissism taken to a new, supermetabolic extreme — the ultimate expression of a generation of celebrity-addled youths who believe their every utterance is fascinating and ought to be shared with the world. Twitter, in particular, has been the subject of nearly relentless scorn since it went online. “Who really cares what I am doing, every hour of the day?” wondered Alex Beam, a Boston Globe columnist, in an essay about Twitter last month. “Even I don’t care.”

Indeed, many of the people I interviewed, who are among the most avid users of these “awareness” tools, admit that at first they couldn’t figure out why anybody would want to do this. Ben Haley, a 39-year-old documentation specialist for a software firm who lives in Seattle, told me that when he first heard about Twitter last year from an early-adopter friend who used it, his first reaction was that it seemed silly. But a few of his friends decided to give it a try, and they urged him to sign up, too.

Each day, Haley logged on to his account, and his friends’ updates would appear as a long page of one- or two-line notes. He would check and recheck the account several times a day, or even several times an hour. The updates were indeed pretty banal. One friend would post about starting to feel sick; one posted random thoughts like “I really hate it when people clip their nails on the bus”; another Twittered whenever she made a sandwich — and she made a sandwich every day. Each so-called tweet was so brief as to be virtually meaningless.

But as the days went by, something changed. Haley discovered that he was beginning to sense the rhythms of his friends’ lives in a way he never had before. When one friend got sick with a virulent fever, he could tell by her Twitter updates when she was getting worse and the instant she finally turned the corner. He could see when friends were heading into hellish days at work or when they’d scored a big success. Even the daily catalog of sandwiches became oddly mesmerizing, a sort of metronomic click that he grew accustomed to seeing pop up in the middle of each day.

This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” as Haley described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life.

“It’s like I can distantly read everyone’s mind,” Haley went on to say. “I love that. I feel like I’m getting to something raw about my friends. It’s like I’ve got this heads-up display for them.” It can also lead to more real-life contact, because when one member of Haley’s group decides to go out to a bar or see a band and Twitters about his plans, the others see it, and some decide to drop by — ad hoc, self-organizing socializing. And when they do socialize face to face, it feels oddly as if they’ve never actually been apart. They don’t need to ask, “So, what have you been up to?” because they already know. Instead, they’ll begin discussing something that one of the friends Twittered that afternoon, as if picking up a conversation in the middle.

Facebook and Twitter may have pushed things into overdrive, but the idea of using communication tools as a form of “co-presence” has been around for a while. The Japanese sociologist Mizuko Ito first noticed it with mobile phones: lovers who were working in different cities would send text messages back and forth all night — tiny updates like “enjoying a glass of wine now” or “watching TV while lying on the couch.” They were doing it partly because talking for hours on mobile phones isn’t very comfortable (or affordable). But they also discovered that the little Ping-Ponging messages felt even more intimate than a phone call.

“It’s an aggregate phenomenon,” Marc Davis, a chief scientist at Yahoo and former professor of information science at the University of California at Berkeley, told me. “No message is the single-most-important message. It’s sort of like when you’re sitting with someone and you look over and they smile at you. You’re sitting here reading the paper, and you’re doing your side-by-side thing, and you just sort of let people know you’re aware of them.” Yet it is also why it can be extremely hard to understand the phenomenon until you’ve experienced it. Merely looking at a stranger’s Twitter or Facebook feed isn’t interesting, because it seems like blather. Follow it for a day, though, and it begins to feel like a short story; follow it for a month, and it’s a novel.

You could also regard the growing popularity of online awareness as a reaction to social isolation, the modern American disconnectedness that Robert Putnam explored in his book “Bowling Alone.” The mobile workforce requires people to travel more frequently for work, leaving friends and family behind, and members of the growing army of the self-employed often spend their days in solitude. Ambient intimacy becomes a way to “feel less alone,” as more than one Facebook and Twitter user told me.

When I decided to try out Twitter last year, at first I didn’t have anyone to follow. None of my friends were yet using the service. But while doing some Googling one day I stumbled upon the blog of Shannon Seery, a 32-year-old recruiting consultant in Florida, and I noticed that she Twittered. Her Twitter updates were pretty charming — she would often post links to camera-phone pictures of her two children or videos of herself cooking Mexican food, or broadcast her agonized cries when a flight was delayed on a business trip. So on a whim I started “following” her — as easy on Twitter as a click of the mouse — and never took her off my account. (A Twitter account can be “private,” so that only invited friends can read one’s tweets, or it can be public, so anyone can; Seery’s was public.) When I checked in last month, I noticed that she had built up a huge number of online connections: She was now following 677 people on Twitter and another 442 on Facebook. How in God’s name, I wondered, could she follow so many people? Who precisely are they? I called Seery to find out.

“I have a rule,” she told me. “I either have to know who you are, or I have to know of you.” That means she monitors the lives of friends, family, anyone she works with, and she’ll also follow interesting people she discovers via her friends’ online lives. Like many people who live online, she has wound up following a few strangers — though after a few months they no longer feel like strangers, despite the fact that she has never physically met them.

I asked Seery how she finds the time to follow so many people online. The math seemed daunting. After all, if her 1,000 online contacts each post just a couple of notes each a day, that’s several thousand little social pings to sift through daily. What would it be like to get thousands of e-mail messages a day? But Seery made a point I heard from many others: awareness tools aren’t as cognitively demanding as an e-mail message. E-mail is something you have to stop to open and assess. It’s personal; someone is asking for 100 percent of your attention. In contrast, ambient updates are all visible on one single page in a big row, and they’re not really directed at you. This makes them skimmable, like newspaper headlines; maybe you’ll read them all, maybe you’ll skip some. Seery estimated that she needs to spend only a small part of each hour actively reading her Twitter stream.

Yet she has, she said, become far more gregarious online. “What’s really funny is that before this ‘social media’ stuff, I always said that I’m not the type of person who had a ton of friends,” she told me. “It’s so hard to make plans and have an active social life, having the type of job I have where I travel all the time and have two small kids. But it’s easy to tweet all the time, to post pictures of what I’m doing, to keep social relations up.” She paused for a second, before continuing: “Things like Twitter have actually given me a much bigger social circle. I know more about more people than ever before.”

I realized that this is becoming true of me, too. After following Seery’s Twitter stream for a year, I’m more knowledgeable about the details of her life than the lives of my two sisters in Canada, whom I talk to only once every month or so. When I called Seery, I knew that she had been struggling with a three-day migraine headache; I began the conversation by asking her how she was feeling.

Online awareness inevitably leads to a curious question: What sort of relationships are these? What does it mean to have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook? What kind of friends are they, anyway?

In 1998, the anthropologist Robin Dunbar argued that each human has a hard-wired upper limit on the number of people he or she can personally know at one time. Dunbar noticed that humans and apes both develop social bonds by engaging in some sort of grooming; apes do it by picking at and smoothing one another’s fur, and humans do it with conversation. He theorized that ape and human brains could manage only a finite number of grooming relationships: unless we spend enough time doing social grooming — chitchatting, trading gossip or, for apes, picking lice — we won’t really feel that we “know” someone well enough to call him a friend. Dunbar noticed that ape groups tended to top out at 55 members. Since human brains were proportionally bigger, Dunbar figured that our maximum number of social connections would be similarly larger: about 150 on average. Sure enough, psychological studies have confirmed that human groupings naturally tail off at around 150 people: the “Dunbar number,” as it is known. Are people who use Facebook and Twitter increasing their Dunbar number, because they can so easily keep track of so many more people?

As I interviewed some of the most aggressively social people online — people who follow hundreds or even thousands of others — it became clear that the picture was a little more complex than this question would suggest. Many maintained that their circle of true intimates, their very close friends and family, had not become bigger. Constant online contact had made those ties immeasurably richer, but it hadn’t actually increased the number of them; deep relationships are still predicated on face time, and there are only so many hours in the day for that.

But where their sociality had truly exploded was in their “weak ties” — loose acquaintances, people they knew less well. It might be someone they met at a conference, or someone from high school who recently “friended” them on Facebook, or somebody from last year’s holiday party. In their pre-Internet lives, these sorts of acquaintances would have quickly faded from their attention. But when one of these far-flung people suddenly posts a personal note to your feed, it is essentially a reminder that they exist. I have noticed this effect myself. In the last few months, dozens of old work colleagues I knew from 10 years ago in Toronto have friended me on Facebook, such that I’m now suddenly reading their stray comments and updates and falling into oblique, funny conversations with them. My overall Dunbar number is thus 301: Facebook (254) + Twitter (47), double what it would be without technology. Yet only 20 are family or people I’d consider close friends. The rest are weak ties — maintained via technology.

This rapid growth of weak ties can be a very good thing. Sociologists have long found that “weak ties” greatly expand your ability to solve problems. For example, if you’re looking for a job and ask your friends, they won’t be much help; they’re too similar to you, and thus probably won’t have any leads that you don’t already have yourself. Remote acquaintances will be much more useful, because they’re farther afield, yet still socially intimate enough to want to help you out. Many avid Twitter users — the ones who fire off witty posts hourly and wind up with thousands of intrigued followers — explicitly milk this dynamic for all it’s worth, using their large online followings as a way to quickly answer almost any question. Laura Fitton, a social-media consultant who has become a minor celebrity on Twitter — she has more than 5,300 followers — recently discovered to her horror that her accountant had made an error in filing last year’s taxes. She went to Twitter, wrote a tiny note explaining her problem, and within 10 minutes her online audience had provided leads to lawyers and better accountants. Fritton joked to me that she no longer buys anything worth more than $50 without quickly checking it with her Twitter network.

“I outsource my entire life,” she said. “I can solve any problem on Twitter in six minutes.” (She also keeps a secondary Twitter account that is private and only for a much smaller circle of close friends and family — “My little secret,” she said. It is a strategy many people told me they used: one account for their weak ties, one for their deeper relationships.)

It is also possible, though, that this profusion of weak ties can become a problem. If you’re reading daily updates from hundreds of people about whom they’re dating and whether they’re happy, it might, some critics worry, spread your emotional energy too thin, leaving less for true intimate relationships. Psychologists have long known that people can engage in “parasocial” relationships with fictional characters, like those on TV shows or in books, or with remote celebrities we read about in magazines. Parasocial relationships can use up some of the emotional space in our Dunbar number, crowding out real-life people. Danah Boyd, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society who has studied social media for 10 years, published a paper this spring arguing that awareness tools like News Feed might be creating a whole new class of relationships that are nearly parasocial — peripheral people in our network whose intimate details we follow closely online, even while they, like Angelina Jolie, are basically unaware we exist.

“The information we subscribe to on a feed is not the same as in a deep social relationship,” Boyd told me. She has seen this herself; she has many virtual admirers that have, in essence, a parasocial relationship with her. “I’ve been very, very sick, lately and I write about it on Twitter and my blog, and I get all these people who are writing to me telling me ways to work around the health-care system, or they’re writing saying, ‘Hey, I broke my neck!’ And I’m like, ‘You’re being very nice and trying to help me, but though you feel like you know me, you don’t.’ ” Boyd sighed. “They can observe you, but it’s not the same as knowing you.”

When I spoke to Caterina Fake, a founder of Flickr (a popular photo-sharing site), she suggested an even more subtle danger: that the sheer ease of following her friends’ updates online has made her occasionally lazy about actually taking the time to visit them in person. “At one point I realized I had a friend whose child I had seen, via photos on Flickr, grow from birth to 1 year old,” she said. “I thought, I really should go meet her in person. But it was weird; I also felt that Flickr had satisfied that getting-to-know you satisfaction, so I didn’t feel the urgency. But then I was like, Oh, that’s not sufficient! I should go in person!” She has about 400 people she follows online but suspects many of those relationships are tissue-fragile. “These technologies allow you to be much more broadly friendly, but you just spread yourself much more thinly over many more people.”

What is it like to never lose touch with anyone? One morning this summer at my local cafe, I overheard a young woman complaining to her friend about a recent Facebook drama. Her name is Andrea Ahan, a 27-year-old restaurant entrepreneur, and she told me that she had discovered that high-school friends were uploading old photos of her to Facebook and tagging them with her name, so they automatically appeared in searches for her.

She was aghast. “I’m like, my God, these pictures are completely hideous!” Ahan complained, while her friend looked on sympathetically and sipped her coffee. “I’m wearing all these totally awful ’90s clothes. I look like crap. And I’m like, Why are you people in my life, anyway? I haven’t seen you in 10 years. I don’t know you anymore!” She began furiously detagging the pictures — removing her name, so they wouldn’t show up in a search anymore.

Worse, Ahan was also confronting a common plague of Facebook: the recent ex. She had broken up with her boyfriend not long ago, but she hadn’t “unfriended” him, because that felt too extreme. But soon he paired up with another young woman, and the new couple began having public conversations on Ahan’s ex-boyfriend’s page. One day, she noticed with alarm that the new girlfriend was quoting material Ahan had e-mailed privately to her boyfriend; she suspected he had been sharing the e-mail with his new girlfriend. It is the sort of weirdly subtle mind game that becomes possible via Facebook, and it drove Ahan nuts.

“Sometimes I think this stuff is just crazy, and everybody has got to get a life and stop obsessing over everyone’s trivia and gossiping,” she said.

Yet Ahan knows that she cannot simply walk away from her online life, because the people she knows online won’t stop talking about her, or posting unflattering photos. She needs to stay on Facebook just to monitor what’s being said about her. This is a common complaint I heard, particularly from people in their 20s who were in college when Facebook appeared and have never lived as adults without online awareness. For them, participation isn’t optional. If you don’t dive in, other people will define who you are. So you constantly stream your pictures, your thoughts, your relationship status and what you’re doing — right now! — if only to ensure the virtual version of you is accurate, or at least the one you want to present to the world.

This is the ultimate effect of the new awareness: It brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business. Young people at college are the ones to experience this most viscerally, because, with more than 90 percent of their peers using Facebook, it is especially difficult for them to opt out. Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who has closely studied how college-age users are reacting to the world of awareness, told me that athletes used to sneak off to parties illicitly, breaking the no-drinking rule for team members. But then camera phones and Facebook came along, with students posting photos of the drunken carousing during the party; savvy coaches could see which athletes were breaking the rules. First the athletes tried to fight back by waking up early the morning after the party in a hungover daze to detag photos of themselves so they wouldn’t be searchable. But that didn’t work, because the coaches sometimes viewed the pictures live, as they went online at 2 a.m. So parties simply began banning all camera phones in a last-ditch attempt to preserve privacy.

“It’s just like living in a village, where it’s actually hard to lie because everybody knows the truth already,” Tufekci said. “The current generation is never unconnected. They’re never losing touch with their friends. So we’re going back to a more normal place, historically. If you look at human history, the idea that you would drift through life, going from new relation to new relation, that’s very new. It’s just the 20th century.”

Psychologists and sociologists spent years wondering how humanity would adjust to the anonymity of life in the city, the wrenching upheavals of mobile immigrant labor — a world of lonely people ripped from their social ties. We now have precisely the opposite problem. Indeed, our modern awareness tools reverse the original conceit of the Internet. When cyberspace came along in the early ’90s, it was celebrated as a place where you could reinvent your identity — become someone new.

“If anything, it’s identity-constraining now,” Tufekci told me. “You can’t play with your identity if your audience is always checking up on you. I had a student who posted that she was downloading some Pearl Jam, and someone wrote on her wall, ‘Oh, right, ha-ha — I know you, and you’re not into that.’ ” She laughed. “You know that old cartoon? ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog’? On the Internet today, everybody knows you’re a dog! If you don’t want people to know you’re a dog, you’d better stay away from a keyboard.”

Or, as Leisa Reichelt, a consultant in London who writes regularly about ambient tools, put it to me: “Can you imagine a Facebook for children in kindergarten, and they never lose touch with those kids for the rest of their lives? What’s that going to do to them?” Young people today are already developing an attitude toward their privacy that is simultaneously vigilant and laissez-faire. They curate their online personas as carefully as possible, knowing that everyone is watching — but they have also learned to shrug and accept the limits of what they can control.

It is easy to become unsettled by privacy-eroding aspects of awareness tools. But there is another — quite different — result of all this incessant updating: a culture of people who know much more about themselves. Many of the avid Twitterers, Flickrers and Facebook users I interviewed described an unexpected side-effect of constant self-disclosure. The act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It’s like the Greek dictum to “know thyself,” or the therapeutic concept of mindfulness. (Indeed, the question that floats eternally at the top of Twitter’s Web site — “What are you doing?” — can come to seem existentially freighted. What are you doing?) Having an audience can make the self-reflection even more acute, since, as my interviewees noted, they’re trying to describe their activities in a way that is not only accurate but also interesting to others: the status update as a literary form.

Laura Fitton, the social-media consultant, argues that her constant status updating has made her “a happier person, a calmer person” because the process of, say, describing a horrid morning at work forces her to look at it objectively. “It drags you out of your own head,” she added. In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself.