Spinal injury breakthrough
In the future, spinal injuries might be stopped by an injection in the ambulance.
Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: In the future, spinal injuries might be stopped by an injection in the ambulance.
New research suggests that shutting off a single gene can help stop the cascade of damage that can paralyze people with spinal injuries. Dr Marc Simard of the University of Maryland is currently working on a drug which has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of spinal injuries, stroke and brain hemorrhage.
Simard's drug is being developed in association with Remedy Pharmaceuticals. It works by combining a generic diabetes drug with a gene silencing technique.
Interview: Kate Laycock
Study: Brain Exercises Don't Improve CognitionYou've probably heard it before: the brain is a muscle that can be strengthened. It's an assumption that has spawned a multimillion-dollar computer-game industry of electronic brainteasers and memory games. But in the largest study of these games to date, a team of British researchers has found that healthy adults who undertake computer-based "brain training" do not improve their mental fitness in any significant way.
The study, published online on Tuesday by the journal Nature, tracked 11,430 participants through a six-week online study. The participants were divided into three groups: the first group undertook basic reasoning, planning and problem-solving activities (like choosing the "odd one out" of a group of four objects); the second completed more complex exercises of memory, attention, math and visual-spatial processing that were designed to mimic popular brain-training computer games and programs; and the control group was asked to use the Internet to research answers to trivia questions. (See different workouts for your brain.)
All participants were given a battery of unrelated, benchmark cognitive-assessment tests before and after the six-week study. These tests, designed to measure overall mental fitness, were adapted from reasoning and memory tests that are commonly used to gauge brain function in patients with brain injury or dementia. All three study groups showed marginal — and identical — improvement on these benchmark exams.
But the improvement had nothing to do with the interim brain-training, says study co-author Jessica Grahn of the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, Mass. Grahn says the results confirm what she and other neuroscientists have long suspected: people who practice a certain mental task — for instance, remembering a series of numbers in sequence, a popular brainteaser used by many video games — improve dramatically on that task, but the improvement does not carry over to cognitive function in general. (Indeed, all the study participants improved in the tasks they were given; even the control group got better at looking up answers to obscure questions.) The "practice makes perfect" phenomenon probably explains why the study participants improved on the benchmark exams, says Grahn — they had all taken them once before. "People who practiced a certain test improved at that test, but improvement does not translate beyond anything other than that specific test," she says. (See a Q&A on the future of brain enhancement.)
The authors believe the study, which was run in conjunction with the BBC television program Bang Goes the Theory, undermines the sometimes outlandish claims of brain-boosting websites and digital games. On TIME.com in 2009, Anita Hamilton wrote about HAPPYneuron, a brain-training website that invites visitors to "give the gift of brain fitness" and claims that its users see "16%+ improvement" through exercises such as learning to associate a bird's song with its species and shooting basketballs through virtual hoops. Hamilton also took note of Nintendo's best-selling game Brain Age, which promises to "give your brain the workout it needs" through exercises like solving math problems and playing Rock, Paper, Scissors on the handheld DS. However, "the widely held belief that commercially available computerized brain-training programs improve general cognitive function in the wider population lacks empirical support," the Nature paper concludes.
Not all neuroscientists agree. In 2005, Torkel Klingberg, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, used brain imaging to show that brain-training can alter the number of dopamine receptors in the brain — dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in learning and other important cognitive functions. Other studies have suggested that brain-training can help improve cognitive function in elderly patients and those in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, but the literature is contradictory. (See a potential test to predict the presence of Alzheimer's disease.)
Klingberg has developed a brain-training program called Cogmed Working Memory Training, and owns shares in the company that distributes it. He tells TIME that the Nature study "draws a large conclusion from a single negative finding" and that it is "incorrect to generalize from one specific training study to cognitive training in general." He also criticizes the design of the study and points to two factors that may have skewed the results.
On average, the study volunteers completed 24 training sessions, each about 10 minutes long — for a total of three hours spent on different tasks over six weeks. "The amount of training was low," says Klingberg. "Ours and others' research suggests that 8 to 12 hours of training on one specific test is needed to get a [general improvement in cognition]."
Second, he notes that the participants were asked to complete their training by logging onto the BBC Lab UK website from home. "There was no quality control. Asking subjects to sit at home and do tests online, perhaps with the TV on or other distractions around, is likely to result in bad quality of the training and unreliable outcome measures. Noisy data often gives negative findings," Klingberg says.
Brain-training research has received generous funding in recent years — and not just from computer-game companies — as a result of the proven effect of neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to remodel its nerve connections after experience. The stakes are high. If humans could control that process and bolster cognition, it could have a transformative effect on society, says Nick Bostrom of Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute. "Even a small enhancement in human cognition could have a profound effect," he says. "There are approximately 10 million scientists in the world. If you could improve their cognition by 1%, the gain would hardly be noticeable in a single individual. But it could be equivalent to instantly creating 100,000 new scientists."
For now, there is no nifty computer game that will turn you into Einstein, Grahn says. But there are other proven ways to improve cognition, albeit by small margins. Consistently getting a good night's sleep, exercising vigorously, eating right and maintaining healthy social activity have all been shown to help maximize a brain's potential over the long term.
What's more, says Grahn, neuroscientists and psychologists have yet to even agree on what constitutes high mental aptitude. Some experts say physical skill, which stems from neural pathways, should be considered a form of intelligence — in that case, masterful ballet dancers and basketball players would be considered geniuses.
Jason Allaire, co-director of the Games through Gaming lab at North Carolina State University says the Nature study makes sense; rather than finding a silver bullet for brain enhancement, he says, "it's really time for researchers to think about a broad or holistic approach that exercises or trains the mind in general in order to start to improve cognition more broadly."
Or, as Grahn puts it, when it comes to mental fitness, "there are no shortcuts."
— With reporting by Tara Kelly / London
Inside Europe | 24.04.2010 | 07:05
Romeo and Juliet get a twitter makeover
The actors are improvising their tweets from a day-by-day guide storyline. They say they will also be reacting to news events, such as the upcoming election, and interacting with the public. In this week's Postcard from Europe, Carol Allen assesses whether there ever was a story of more woe than this twitter of Juliet and her Romeo.
Web Coupons Know a Lot About You, and They Tell
Published: April 16, 2010
For decades, shoppers have taken advantage of coupons. Now, the coupons are taking advantage of the shoppers.
A new breed of coupon, printed from the Internet or sent to mobile phones, is packed with information about the customer who uses it. While the coupons look standard, their bar codes can be loaded with a startling amount of data, including identification about the customer, Internet address, Facebook page information and even the search terms the customer used to find the coupon in the first place.
And all that information follows that customer into the mall. For example, if a man walks into a Filene’s Basement to buy a suit for his wedding and shows a coupon he retrieved online, the company’s marketing agency can figure out whether he used the search terms “Hugo Boss suit” or “discount wedding clothes” to research his purchase (just don’t tell his fiancée).
Coupons from the Internet are the fastest-growing part of the coupon world — their redemption increased 263 percent to about 50 million coupons in 2009, according to the coupon-processing company Inmar. Using coupons to link Internet behavior with in-store shopping lets retailers figure out which ad slogans or online product promotions work best, how long someone waits between searching and shopping, even what offers a shopper will respond to or ignore.
The coupons can, in some cases, be tracked not just to an anonymous shopper but to an identifiable person: a retailer could know that Amy Smith printed a 15 percent-off coupon after searching for appliance discounts at Ebates.com on Friday at 1:30 p.m. and redeemed it later that afternoon at the store.
“You can really key into who they are,” said Don Batsford Jr., who works on online advertising for the tax preparation company Jackson Hewitt, whose coupons include search information. “It’s almost like being able to read their mind, because they’re confessing to the search engine what they’re looking for.”
While companies once had a slim dossier on each consumer, they now have databases packed with information. And every time a person goes shopping, visits a Web site or buys something, the database gets another entry.
“There is a feeling that anonymity in this space is kind of dead,” said Chris Jay Hoofnagle, director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology’s information privacy programs.
None of the tracking is visible to consumers. The coupons, for companies as diverse as Ruby Tuesday and Lord & Taylor, are handled by a company called RevTrax, which displays them on the retailers’ sites or on coupon Web sites, not its own site.
Using coupons also lets the retailers get around Google hurdles. Google allows its search advertisers to see reports on which keywords are working well as a whole but not on how each person is responding to each slogan.
“We’ve built privacy protections into all Google services and report Web site trends only in aggregate, without identifying individual users,” Sandra Heikkinen, a spokeswoman for Google, said in an e-mail message.
The retailers, however, can get to an individual level by sending different keyword searches to different Web addresses. The distinct Web addresses are invisible to the consumer, who usually sees just a Web page with a simple address at the top of it.
So clicking on an ad for Jackson Hewitt after searching for “new 2010 deductions” would send someone to a different behind-the-scenes URL than after searching for “Jackson Hewitt 2010,” though the Web pages and addresses might look identical. This data could be coded onto a coupon.
RevTrax works as closely with image-rich display ads, with coupons also signaling what ad a person saw and on what site.
“Wherever we provide a link, whether it’s on search or banner, that thing you click can include actual keywords,” said Rob O’Neil, director of online marketing at Tag New Media, which works with Filene’s. “There’s some trickery.”
The companies argue that the coupon strategy gives them direct feedback on how well their marketing is working.
Once the shopper prints an online coupon or sends it to his cellphone and then goes to a store, the clerk scans it. The bar code information is sent to RevTrax, which, with the ad agency, analyzes it.
“We break people up into teeny little cross sections of who we think they are, and we test that out against how they respond,” said Mr. Batsford, who is a partner at 31 Media, an online marketing company.
RevTrax can identify online shoppers when they are signed in to a coupon site like Ebates or FatWallet or the retailer’s own site. It says it avoids connecting that number with real people to steer clear of privacy issues, but clients can make that match.
The retailer can also make that connection when it is offering coupons to its Facebook fans, like Filene’s Basement is doing.
“When someone joins a fan club, the user’s Facebook ID becomes visible to the merchandiser,” Jonathan Treiber, RevTrax’s co-founder, said. “We take that and embed it in a bar code or promotion code.”
“When the consumer redeems the offer in store, we can track it back, in this case, not to the Google search term but to the actual Facebook user ID that was signing up,” he said. Although Facebook does not signal that Amy Smith responded to a given ad, Filene’s could look up the user ID connected to the coupon and “do some more manual-type research — you could easily see your sex, your location and what you’re interested in,” Mr. Treiber said. (Mr. O’Neil said Filene’s did not do this at the moment.)
The coupon efforts are nascent, but coupon companies say that when they get more data about how people are responding, they can make different offers to different consumers.
“Over time,” Mr. Treiber said, “we’ll be able to do much better profiling around certain I.P. addresses, to say, hey, this I.P. address is showing a proclivity for printing clothing apparel coupons and is really only responding to coupons greater than 20 percent off.”
That alarms some privacy advocates.
Companies can “offer you, perhaps, less desirable products than they offer me, or offer you the same product as they offer me but at a higher price,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the United States Public Interest Research Group, which has asked the Federal Trade Commission for tighter rules on online advertising. “There really have been no rules set up for this ecosystem.”
此文誤將 pro publica 寫成 propublic 差很大
Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting: Deadly Choices at Memorial
Few forms of writing are more difficult than the reconstructed narrative. It is hard enough to craft a compelling story when you have observed the events yourself. It is harder still when you must rely on witnesses trying their best to recall what happened. But the greatest challenge arises when a writer seeks to assemble a narrative against the wishes of key figures who face possible legal jeopardy if the truth is revealed.
That was the situation Sheri Fink faced when she set out to tell the story of what happened at a New Orleans hospital cut off by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina.
Fink was unusually qualified to attempt such reporting. A medical doctor who also holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience, she had delivered aid in combat zones and reported on how medical professionals cope with catastrophe in places like war-torn Bosnia.
The experiences of doctors and nurses during Katrina, she recognized, were emerging at the center of a quiet national debate certain to resonate in the decades ahead: What legal and ethical standards must doctors meet in a disaster such as a pandemic flu or terrorist attack? Who should be saved first? Who decides? To understand the pressures doctors and nurses faced, readers needed to know exactly what it felt like to be trapped in a sweltering hospital in a city that had descended into chaos.
When Fink began working on the story, a New Orleans doctor, Anna Pou, was leading a national campaign for laws that would shield medical professionals from legal liability for their conduct in disasters. Pou had been investigated for mercy killing at the hospital, Memorial Medical Center, after a large number of patients died there during the flood. A local grand jury declined to bring charges, and Pou was pressing state lawmakers and the American Medical Association to learn the lessons of Katrina.
But what were those lessons?
Fink tried to interview Pou and others who figured in the investigation. They refused to talk about what had happened, so she set out to find others familiar with events at Memorial. There was an abiding sense among many in New Orleans that Katrina was a miserable experience best left unexamined, complicating the reporting task even more.
Over many months of slow, painstaking pursuit of sources and documents, Fink began to assemble a new account that called into question Pou’s arguments for looser standards as well as her version of what had happened. Several health professionals from Memorial acknowledged that they had deliberately injected severely ill patients with lethal doses of drugs. They described scenes of chaos, in which sleep-deprived doctors and nurses trapped in a building without electricity or running water improvised plans for triage.
Fink reported this story over more than two years, first as a freelancer working as a Kaiser Media Fellow and then as a reporter at ProPublica. She interviewed more than 140 people, most of them multiple times.
On the fourth anniversary of Katrina, the New York Times magazine published “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,’’ a 13,000-word chronicle of what happened when the floodwaters rose, the generators failed, and the hospital was cut off from the world. The article was dramatic yet understated. Fink depicted the deepening confusion that gripped the hospital as it waited for help to arrive, reconstructing the decisions that ended with the injections of ill patients as the helicopters arrived to rescue them.
Remarkable in these days when so many hide behind the shield of anonymity, every source was quoted by name. One doctor, Ewing Cook, acknowledged that he had ordered a nurse to give a lethal dose of morphine to a patient. “It was actually to the point where you were considering that you couldn’t just leave them; the humane thing would be to put ’em out,’’ Cook told Fink.
The article had immediate impact. The New Orleans coroner launched a new investigation of the death of Jannie Burgess, the patient of Cook’s who was given the morphine. Days later, the article went to members of an Institute of Medicine panel who were crafting national guidelines on how to deal with shortages of life-saving equipment in case of a major medical emergency, like a 1918-style flu pandemic. The resulting IOM report, which was widely distributed to local, state and federal officials, included recommendations directly influenced by the article.
A confessed Apple fanboy gets finger time with the iPad -- and face time with Steve Jobs
Apple's iPad tablet is here. It's hot. But what on earth is it for? TIME reviews the new device
這WePad為iPAD 的對台幽默不過據某評論家說 由於APPLE公司花重金開發自己的晶片 所以很難超越之
Innovation, by Order of the Kremlin
Published: April 9, 2010
Natalia Kolenikova/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
James Hill for The New York Times
The New York Times
AROUND the time that Apple Computer was making it big in California, Andrey Shtorkh was getting a first-hand look at the Soviet approach to high tech: he guarded the fence keeping scientists inside Sverdlovsk-45, one of the country’s secret scientific cities, deep in the Ural Mountains.
Ostensibly, the cities were closed to guard against spies. Its walls also kept scientists inside, and everybody else in the Soviet Union out. While many people in the country went hungry, the scientific centers were islands of well-being, where store shelves groaned with imported food and other goodies.
Security in these scientific islands was so tight, though, that even children wore badges. Relatives had to apply months in advance for permission to visit. “It was a prison, a closed city in every sense,” recalls Mr. Shtorkh, then a young soldier.
Today, he is the publicist for an improbable new venture. The Russian government, hoping to diversify its economy away from oil, is building the first new scientific city since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even more improbably, it is modeled, officials say, on Silicon Valley.
The site, still nameless and near a village outside Moscow, is conceived not as a secretive, numbered city in Siberia but as an attempt to duplicate the vibrancy and entrepreneurial spirit of America’s technology hotbed.
Russia’s rich scientific traditions and poor record of converting ideas into marketable products are both undisputed, cited as causes for the Soviet collapse and crippling dependence on mining and petroleum. Not surprisingly, then, its leaders look longingly at Silicon Valley.
“The whole country needs some sort of breakthrough,” Viktor F. Vekselberg, the Russian business oligarch appointed co-director of the project, said in an interview. Mr. Vekselberg was chosen in part because of his investments in solar power, an unusual venture for one of the oligarchs who made fortunes in commodities. “The founding of the innovation city, in form and substance,” he says, “could be a launching pad for the country as a whole.”
He calls the city “a test run of business models” to rebuild Russian science for the capitalist era.
Once developed, the site is intended to incubate scientific ideas using generous tax holidays and government grants until the start-ups can become profitable companies. Its backers in government and the private sector describe it as an effort to blend the Soviet tradition of forming scientific towns with Western models of encouraging technology ventures around universities.
Skeptics see a deeper strain of Russian tradition: trying to catch up with the West by wielding the power of the state. Looking askance at the incongruous blend of the Kremlin’s will and the openness prized by Silicon Valley, they refer jokingly to the new city as Cupertino-2.
“We should not expect the same mechanisms that work in Silicon Valley to work in Russia,” says Evgeny V. Zaytsev, a co-founder of Helix Ventures, a life sciences venture capital company based in Palo Alto, Calif., and a member of the advisory board of AmBar, the Russian business association in the real Silicon Valley. “The government will be involved, because that is the way it works in Russia.”
Indeed, the new city was conceived by what is called the Commission on Modernization, deep within the Kremlin bureaucracy.
The Russian government, though, has a long and conflicted relationship with entrepreneurs and scientists. There is still a thriving tradition of government crackdowns on private business with capricious enforcement of the tax laws, making entrepreneurship difficult.
For now, Russia’s hoped-for Silicon Valley is a panorama of muddy fields, birch groves, warehouses and storage sheds belonging to a state agricultural institute. The site was chosen for its proximity to another ambitious project, the Skolkovo business school, housed in a futuristic building financed by millions in donations from the oligarchs, including Mr. Vekselberg.
While similar ideas have been bandied about for years, this one was approved — and blessed with $200 million in government money — within a month of a visit in January to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by senior Kremlin leaders, including Vladislav Surkov, the powerful deputy director of the presidential administration. Mr. Surkov says the new city will isolate new businesses from the bureaucracy that handcuffs the Russian economy today.
A government-financed foundation will build and run the city. Directors of existing state-financed tech companies — including Rusnano, a nanotechnology fund headed by Anatoly Chubais, a leading architect of Russia’s controversial post-Soviet privatization — will serve on the board and contribute money. Separately, a scientific council will decide which companies can locate at the site. The infrastructure should be in place within three years, Mr. Vekselberg says.
Mr. Zaytsev grew up in the Siberian city of Barnaul, got an M.B.A. at Stanford and worked for venture capital firms before founding his own. He approves of the experimental spirit of the new city. But he is skeptical that bureaucrats will be able to channel the money in ways that will transform Russia into a competitive force in consumer technology. Rusnano and the other state-financed venture businesses have had few successes thus far.
“The less control, the better,” Mr. Zaytsev says. If the government “controls the venture funds, no real venture funds will come.”
FOR a time, the Russian elite embraced petroleum as the ticket to restore the country’s domestic economy, its standing in the world and its power in regional politics. Vladimir V. Putin, then the president, took to citing the stock price of Gazprom as a national accomplishment.
But Gazprom, a company that inherited title to the world’s largest natural gas reserves, is now valued by investors at well below Apple, a company that sprang from a garage.
Indeed, the Kremlin’s sensitivity to its trailing position in the wired world was on full display this year at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland. Mr. Putin, now the prime minister, and Michael S. Dell found themselves on the same discussion panel, and Mr. Dell asked in passing how he might help Russia develop its information technology sector.
Mr. Putin answered icily: “We don’t need help. We are not invalids. We don’t have limited mental capacity.”
For nationalistic Russian officials, it only rubs salt in the wounds that Silicon Valley companies so easily recruit bright Russian scientists. AmBar, the Russian business association, estimates that 30,000 to 60,000 Russian-speaking professionals work in the San Francisco Bay Area.
A marquee name in the high-tech world, the Google co-founder Sergei Brin, immigrated to the United States from Russia with his parents when he was a child. Had Russia been a different place, perhaps Mr. Brin might have started Google there instead of in Silicon Valley.
Russia is hardly the first country to seize on the idea of copying Silicon Valley. In Malaysia, for example, a jungle has been cleared for a computer city called Cyberjaya that is a self-declared effort to imitate the south Bay Area. China has a cluster of high tech in Tianjin, outside Beijing, and France in Sophia Antipolis, near Nice, all created with an infusion of government aid — and all eventually successful in attracting and fostering private business.
In the midst of the oil boom, Russian officials suggested luring back Russian talent by building a gated residential community outside Moscow, designed to look like an American suburb. What is it about life in Palo Alto, they seemed to be asking, that we cannot duplicate in oil-rich Russia?
The new effort, though, goes well beyond good housing. It also embraced the idea of encouraging new companies to commercialize the work done at university laboratories.
Russian officials looked at Asian techno-parks with favorable tax treatment and established four of their own — in Tomsk, Dubna, Zelenograd and St. Petersburg. Three were based in former closed scientific cities.
The visions for Russia’s Silicon Valley, though, are grander still. A proposed law would liberalize a host of tax, customs and immigration rules in ways that businesses have wanted for years. For example, the planners say they have studied the role of streamlined immigration rules in drawing talent to Silicon Valley.
President Dmitri A. Medvedev appointed Mr. Vekselberg the co-director of the project, a position that will probably evolve into one of two directors of the foundation to manage the new city. As a first order of business, he is to recruit a foreign businessman to co-direct the city with him; he has so far sent out about 100 letters to foreign business contacts who are potential candidates.
For now, his own money is not tied up in the site. But Mr. Vekselberg’s Renova group, whose primary assets are in metals and oil, has a significant investment in solar energy through a 44 percent stake in Oerlikon, a thin-film solar panel maker based in Switzerland.
Mr. Vekselberg said he was surprised by his appointment but is now a true believer in the project and would like to attract a mix of start-ups, established companies and academic institutions. Mr. Medvedev, in a televised meeting about the new city, emphasized commercialization: “The new technologies which we are creating are not toys for eggheads,” he said.
The new town is intended to advance five scientific priorities laid out by Mr. Medvedev — communications, biomedicine, space, nuclear power and energy conservation — and to encourage cross-fertilization among disciplines. Property will not be owned, but rented, and the government will offer grants for scientists who struggle to find private financing.
“In California, the climate is beautiful and they don’t have the ridiculous problems of Russia,” Mr. Shtorkh said. To compete, he said, Russia will form a place apart for scientists. “They should be isolated from our reality,” he added.
Officials have painted the Russian Silicon Valley in sweeping ideological terms. Russia, they say, will again be defined by the depth of its scientific talent, rather than by its mines and wells. The government has appointed as scientific director a Nobel laureate in physics, Zhores Alferov — whose discoveries in the 1950s were cited by the Nobel committee as paving the way for cellphones (which the Soviet Union, incidentally, never made).
HIGH-TECH entrepreneurs who stayed in Russia are more skeptical. Yevgeny Kaspersky, founder of the Kaspersky Lab, an antivirus company, says that he is pulling for the site to succeed but that the government should confine its role to offering tax breaks and infrastructure.
He started his own business in Moscow in the 1990s, working nights on his hobby of capturing and studying computer viruses, but he benefited from a special economic zone for start-ups only when he opened an office in Tianjin in 2003. The Chinese government gave him free office space for a year and a tax holiday.
“Russia has a lot of talented software engineers but not a lot of successful businesses,” he said. “People still have an iron curtain in their minds.”
The old scientific cities were entangled with the military, but they also reflected futuristic and utopian strains in Soviet thinking. Isolating scientists in Siberian enclaves — removed from the struggle for groceries that defined many other citizens’ lives — and provisioning them with laboratories yielded results in the Soviet nuclear weapons and space programs. With talented, low-cost work forces, the cities remain attractive, even to foreign investors: I.B.M., Intel and others have opened offices and labs in formerly closed Russian cities.
The problem, critics say, is that the government today intends to corral Russian engineers and scientists without knowing what it wants. The model, instead, should be maximum exposure to competition and the vagaries of consumer demand.
“They don’t understand what they need,” said an adviser to the Kremlin, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “They don’t need another atomic bomb, and they don’t need new televisions.”
The planners, meanwhile, are looking for a name. One suggestion was “Innograd,” for Innovation City, echoing with a self-deprecating humor the boisterous Soviet nomenclature for new ventures like “Magnitogorsk,” or Magnetic Mountain — the name given to a gigantic steel mill in the Ural Mountains.
Another option was “Gorod Solntsa” or Sun City, a reference to the nearby Moscow neighborhood of Solntsovo. This suggestion, though, may undermine the idea of turning a new page, as Solntsovo is also the name of a famous organized-crime group from the 1990s that got its start in the area.
Mr. Shtorkh, the former closed-city guard, prefers an Apple-esque iteration: iGorod.
- APRIL 3, 2010
Ed Roberts: 1941–2010
PC Pioneer Inspired Microsoft Founders
The January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics featured on its cover a box with switches and blinking lights called the Altair 8800, considered by many to be the first personal computer.
Ed Roberts, who died Thursday at age 68, created the Altair, the computer that brought Microsoft Corp. founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen into desktop computing. His machine inspired a legion of hobbyists who became the foundation of a vibrant new industry.
"Ed Roberts was in the Air Force and ended up at the base in Albuquerque. In his spare time he started a company to sell kits for things you would put on rockets–something to take the temperature when it gets to the top or take a photo. He called the company Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems and it did a small amount of business. Then he came up with a kit calculator and that sold in significant volume and made money. Read more.
Then he walked away and became a country doctor.
"Ed deserves to be called the father of the personal computer," says Bill Gates in an email.
An Air Force trained engineer who had designed electronics for Christmas window displays, Mr. Roberts and a colleague in 1969 founded MITS Inc., in Albuquerque, N.M. The company's name was an acronym for Micro Telemetry Instrumentation Systems; it initially built equipment for model-rocketry hobbyists.
MITS soon began building kit-based electronic calculators, which were then considered new-fangled, high-tech and expensive. But by 1973, MITS was losing money because of competition from Texas Instruments and other manufacturers. With several years of experience producing electronics kits for hobbyists, Mr. Roberts decided to stake his small company on a programmable computer, something that he had long envisioned.
Despite the fact that few knew just what to do with a computer that lacked a keyboard, display or storage, MITS was overwhelmed with orders after the Altair appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine. Two attentive readers of that issue were Messrs. Gates and Allen, who had been working on a version of the programming language Basic.
Ed Roberts with the Altair 8800 computer in 1997.
"I grabbed it off the shelf, I looked at it and I bought it and I ran back to Bill's dorm," Mr. Allen said in the 1996 PBS documentary "Revenge of the Nerds." (Mr. Gates was a student at Harvard at the time.)
Mr. Allen ended up flying to Albuquerque with a preliminary version of the program, which later shipped with each Altair. Mr. Gates dropped out of Harvard, Mr. Allen quit his job and the two young programmers moved to Albuquerque. There they founded Microsoft to provide software for the Altair.
"MITS was the pioneer of a lot of things—helping to create computer clubs, getting a software library going, lots of new additions to their personal computer including the disk," says Mr. Gates.
The Altair garnered 5,000 orders in its first year, with the base model selling for $397.
"He was a seed of this thought that computers would be affordable," says Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer Inc. Mr. Wozniak credits an Altair demonstration at the first meeting of the storied Palo Alto Homebrew Computer Club for convincing him that microprocessor-based computers, as opposed to mainframes, could be worthwhile.
New companies soon opened to provide circuit boards and other peripherals that made the Altair more useful. The Altair helped inspire some of the first computer magazines and conventions, and also the first clones—copies built on the same design principles around the same Intel Corp. chip.
Mr. Roberts in 1977 sold MITS to Pertec Computer Corp. of Los Angeles, a manufacturer of disk drives. He took up farming and later attended medical school.
In the late 1980s, Mr. Roberts moved to rural Cochran, Ga., where the town's only doctor had recently died. He set up a clinic with a modern laboratory, built a local network to link the office's computers and wrote record-keeping software.
He said he had few regrets. "I think I'm making a fairly substantial contribution here," Mr. Roberts told the New York Times in 2001. "Maybe not to the wider world, but I think what I do now is important."—Email