2011年4月29日 星期五

Online reputations in the dirt

Corporate computing

Online reputations in the dirt

Serious glitches at Sony and Amazon have revived worries about the risks of handling data online

THEY are two of the biggest names in technology and each is grappling with a huge and highly embarrassing debacle. On April 26th Amazon’s finance chief, Thomas Szkutak, said the firm was still trying to get to the bottom of a glitch that caused numerous websites it hosts for other businesses to crash or run painfully slowly during the previous week. The same day, Sony of Japan revealed that names, addresses, passwords and possibly credit-card details of 77m accounts were stolen when hackers gained access to the network it runs in 60 countries for its PlayStation online-gaming system, as well as for Qriocity, a service offering music, films and television shows.

The two cases are different, but each has, in its own way, revived worries about the safety of storing and processing data over the internet—worries that have largely faded since the web’s early days, as countless individuals and companies have come to find that the benefits of doing things online greatly outweigh the risks. The two crises have also raised questions about the speed and quality of information provided by tech companies when confronted with systems failures.

Details of what happened at Amazon Web Services, which offers computing services and data storage over the internet “cloud”, were still emerging as we went to press. But it seems that a serious problem in a data centre in northern Virginia triggered an outage that affected some of the firms using that centre’s infrastructure, including Foursquare, a social-media company, and a number of other prominent start-ups. Some data seem to have been lost permanently. Amazon irritated its corporate customers with the vagueness of its early updates. Keith Smith, the boss of BigDoor, a gaming firm, complained in a blog post that these seemed to have been written by lawyers and accountants “rather than by a tech guy trying to help another tech guy.”

That is a black mark against a company that prides itself on being among the world’s most customer-centred. But none of this means the shift to cloud computing is about to go into reverse. Indeed, Forrester, a research outfit, reckons that the global market for cloud services could grow from $41 billion last year to $241 billion by 2020. One reason for this is that the savings that can be won by shifting computing to the cloud remain compelling; another is that Amazon-style snafus have been rare.

Yet another is that managing one’s own network is hardly a guarantee of reliability. Ask Sony, whose online-gaming system, albeit delivered through the cloud, is hosted on its own servers. Services were suspended on April 20th after an intrusion was detected, but Sony then took almost a week to admit the risks to users’ personal data. The company insisted it had taken this long for it to realise the seriousness of the threat. But this claim was met with scepticism; and Sony’s failure to encrypt all of its customers’ data may bring it lawsuits and regulatory penalties.

Sony’s slowness at warning customers is particularly damaging because it comes just as new versions of high-profile games such as Mortal Kombat and Portal 2 are being released for both the PlayStation and its rival, Microsoft’s Xbox 360. This was “really bad timing”, says David Abrams, the chief executive of Cheap Ass Gamer, a gaming-information provider in Tokyo.

Sony’s outage also interrupted third-party services delivered over its network, such as some of Netflix’s online film rentals. Netflix also uses the Amazon data centre that went on the blink, but avoided any problems as a result of this. The secret of its relative resilience is what the company calls its “Rambo Architecture”. Among other things, this means designing different parts of its system—say, the bit that recommends videos and the bit that lets users search for them—so they function independently of each other, making it less likely all will keel over at once. The firm also uses software it designed itself called “Chaos Monkey”, which randomly simulates failures in its cloud-based systems to see how robust they are.

Some firms bring in specialist advisers to plan, test and manage their technology set-ups in the cloud. Michael Kirven, the boss of Bluewolf, one such advisory firm, says that because Amazon and other providers have made it so easy for companies to shift their services to the cloud, some customers have been lulled into thinking they don’t need the same amount of backup protection as they would elsewhere. But as this week’s events amply demonstrate, although the benefits of doing things online still greatly outweigh the risks, it often pays to be paranoid.

2011年4月27日 星期三

WSJ 的 Technology

這是訂 WSJ 的 Technology 的部分資訊 多少反硬出科技產業的問題面貌
類似的資訊服務 美國各大報都有

April 27, 2011 -- 3:00 p.m. EDT
Jobs Defends iPhone Location Practices
Steve Jobs said Apple has "never transmitted" the precise location of iPhones to itself. The company said it would limit the amount of location information stored on its phones and fix what it called a software bug that led data to be stored even when location services were turned off.

Outage Hits Verizon's 4G Network
Verizon Wireless said its high-speed 4G data network was suffering an outage, a black eye for the carrier that prides itself on the quality and stability of its network.

Hacker Raids Sony Videogame Network
Sony said a hacker had obtained personal data, potentially including credit-card numbers, for 77 million people who play online games through its PlayStation Network.

AT&T Gets Court Win on Arbitration
The Supreme Court ruled that AT&T Mobility can enforce a cellphone contract provision that requires customers to arbitrate their disputes individually instead of filing class-action lawsuits.

Nokia to Shake Up Work Force
Nokia said it would reduce its global work force by 7,000, in part by transferring 3,000 employees to global consulting firm Accenture in an effort to save $1.46 billion in operating costs by 2013.

ABC, Fox Programs Added to Comcast On-Demand
Comcast said it is adding some ABC and Fox prime-time shows to its on-demand service.

Amazon's Spending Continues
Amazon's profits plunged 33% as the online retailer spent ferociously to build more fulfillment centers and expand its technology offerings.

2011年4月26日 星期二

Germany considers alcohol ignition locks for drunk drivers

Crime | 20.04.2011

Germany considers alcohol ignition locks for drunk drivers

The German government is considering introducing locks that prevent car engines from starting if the driver is intoxicated. Drunk drivers in Germany could keep their license if they agree to have the device installed.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition members have jointly proposed that the transport ministry test the use of so-called "alcohol locks," according to a report published on Wednesday in the daily Saarbrücker Zeitung.

According to the proposal, drunk-driving offenders would be allowed to keep their drivers licences if they agreed to have a lock system installed in their cars designed to prevent the engine from being started if traces of alcohol are detected on the driver's breath.

"We are open-minded about the voluntary use of alcohol locks," a spokeswoman for Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer said on Wednesday, adding that they could be "helpful to rehabilitate" offenders.

The spokeswoman went on to say, however, that the ministry was against compulsory installation of the devices, citing both moral and financial objections and adding that any wide-scale moves would have to be first cleared by the European Union.

Such legislation is already in place in the United States and Canada and has been considered by a number of European countries, including the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden.

Starting next year, drunk drivers in Sweden will be able to choose between having their license revoked and installing the alcohol ignition lock.

Stockholm began testing the scheme in 2008, with officials concluding that it contributed positively to the rehabilitation of repeat offenders and posed no greater danger to traffic safety.

Author: Gabriel Borrud (AP, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

2011年4月25日 星期一



前一陣子 核災現場的機械人
讓日本很丟臉 因為他們號稱此領域的機械人領先國

Japan readies own robot to probe crippled nuclear plant


photoEiji Koyanagi of the Chiba Institute of Technology shows the Quince rescue robot. (Seiji Iwata)

Recognized as the world leader in robotic technology, Japan will finally deploy its own robot at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after relying on U.S.-made versions to do all the work.

The Quince, equipped with an arm, a camera and sensors, is set to survey radiation levels, temperatures and other conditions inside reactor buildings.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has used PackBots, manufactured by U.S. company iRobot Corp., to measure radiation levels and other data in reactor buildings and take photographs. But Japan is known for its advanced robotic technology, and the current crisis at Fukushima No. 1 is a chance to utilize it and gain experience in a real-life disaster situation.

"TEPCO wants to use overseas robots because Japanese-made products do not have experience (in disaster scenes)," said Shigeo Hirose, a professor of robotics at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

The Quince has been improved to deal with the accident at the Fukushima plant. The distance over which it can be operated wirelessly has been extended to two kilometers, and the robot can now be used through a cable link as well.

The disaster rescue robot moves on five caterpillar-like crawlers via remote control. Its main body measures 66 centimeters long and 48 centimeters wide.

It was developed by Eiji Koyanagi, vice director of the Chiba Institute of Technology's Future Robotics Technology Research Center; Satoshi Tadokoro, a professor of robotics at Tohoku University; and other researchers.

Operators will manipulate the Quince wirelessly from two kilometers away via a relay robot. The Quince and the relay unit will be connected with a fiber-optic cable 100 to 200 meters long.

TEPCO employees and other workers will use the Quince after receiving training.

Japan has tried to develop robots for nuclear power plant work twice in the past.

In 1983, a project to develop an inspection robot started following the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. But it ended in 1990 after about 20 billion yen ($244 million) was spent.

Another project to develop a robot for a nuclear accident started after a fatal accident at JCO Co. in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1999. After several billion yen was spent, the project was ended in one year on the grounds that the government did not want to give off a mistaken impression to the public.

"(Authorities) perhaps thought that people would think that they were anticipating a nuclear power plant accident if they had developed robots for accidents," Hirose said.

(This article was written by Seiji Iwata and Nobutaro Kaji.)

2011年4月24日 星期日


其一主要材料是Kevlar - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - [ 翻譯這個網頁 ]
Kevlar is the registered trademark for a para-aramid synthetic fiber, related to other aramids such as Nomex and Technora. Developed at DuPont in 1965, ...
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevlar - 頁庫存檔 - 類似內容

防彈纖維(Bullet Proof Fabric):克維拉Kevlar)與克維拉(Dyneema ...

Kevlar的化學構造為聚對苯二甲酸對苯醯胺(po1y p-phenylene terephthalamide,PPTA)
是由對苯二胺(p-phenylene diamine)與對苯二醯氯(Telephthalloyl chloride)脫 ...

2011年4月23日 星期六

這是一篇不合格/不知所云的科技翻譯文章傳福島核爐超壓 致災情惡化


"國際/傳福島核爐超壓 致災情惡化

http://www.cdnews.com.tw 2011-04-23 17:22:01

 法新社華盛頓22日電:美國「華爾街日報」(Wall Street Journal)今天報導,日本核電廠的經營者讓電廠內反應爐壓力升高到遠超過設計所能承受的程度,這可能導致核能事故災情惡化。


 日本第1福島核電廠(Fukushima Daiichi power plant)在3月11日強震與海嘯中重創,附近居民被迫撤離家園,有8萬5000多人住在緊急庇護所內。


 「華爾街日報」報導,福島核電廠遭強震襲擊後,反應爐爐心週遭保護性結構體的內部壓力升高到原始設計所能承受的兩倍。 "




2011年4月21日 星期四

Illustrating Your Life in Graphs and Charts

Illustrating Your Life in Graphs and Charts

Daytum's website, left creates a dashboard that plots any information you want to track; TouchGraph can visually represent a social network.

About five years ago, Nicholas Felton had a cute idea: to create an annual report of his life filled with charts and graphs about the restaurants he had visited and the days he had traveled — just like the annual reports sent out by companies, but with personal details.

That idea led him to co-found Daytum.com, which makes software to help people tabulate whatever they do and turn it into a chart — a visual depiction of everything from blood sugar levels to how much beer they drink. Mr. Felton said he had even seen a woman use the service to track her irrational fears.

These days, Daytum has a lot of competitors offering services to help people graph data relating to their lives. They all tap into the desire of people to make sense of the explosion of information available on the Internet, and through technology like smartphone apps.

Many are simply new features to existing services. For example, LinkedIn, the social network for professional connections, recently introduced a tool that can draw a picture of a user’s network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. While the lines showing links between people look like a pile of spaghetti at first glance, the algorithm groups people who know each other so that the pictures have clusters showing which school friends might know which professional colleagues.

Ali Imam, a senior data scientist at LinkedIn, said he found that people would nod politely and smile when he showed them a picture of his network, but were much more interested when they could click on a button and see their own social network.

“It wasn’t as exciting unless I showed them their own,” he said. “That’s the key to it. They can tell their own story.”

Julie Inouye, a member of the marketing team at LinkedIn, said the service gave people the ability to understand connections among friends, and to find people she called the “key influencers” so that they could cultivate relationships.

“You probably want to rekindle that relationship or make sure you’re having regular coffee dates with that person because they’re probably well connected,” she said.

Facebook users also have a tool for building graphs of personal information. It was built as an experiment by TouchGraph, a company based in New York City that specializes in visualization tools.

“We started out with patents and medical documents, and we would look at how different companies were citing each other, how inventors were working together and how scientists co-authoring medical literature were co-authoring papers together,” said Alexander Shapiro, the chief executive of TouchGraph, which is not owned by Facebook. “We wanted to apply our software to Facebook just as a way of demonstrating the capabilities.”

To try the tool on Facebook requires sharing your Facebook network with TouchGraph by linking your account with the Web site at touchgraph.com/facebook. The tool displays a person’s network only with permission.

Mr. Shapiro said the tool allowed people to understand a network with a glance and offered the example of a disk jockey who might want to manage a collection of fans.

“A D.J. might see that they have some people who are not connected to other people,” he explained. “This is an untapped person, a person who they might want to cultivate because it will bring in whole new crowds.”

Other services function as a kind of library for data. For example, the GeoCommons, built by GeoIQ, lets people store information related to a location and then plot that information on a map. In a demonstration, the company shows how people can enter information about the location of, say, cycling injuries in Vancouver; this allows other users to see which streets in that city seem to be most dangerous for bicycle riders.

Another demonstration shows the results of restaurant inspections in San Francisco, allowing anyone to see what neighborhoods have the most highly rated, or lowest-rated, places to eat.

The service is built to be as open as possible. Anyone can look at the maps; if you contribute your own data, it can be analyzed at no cost as long as you agree to make it public. Users who don’t want to publicize their data must pay.

Sean Gorman, the founder of GeoIQ, based in Arlington, Va., said the site could display more than 500,000 details about locations in the world.

It is also possible to merge the charts so, for example, if someone entered cycling injuries in San Francisco, and then wanted to see the relation of those events to the results of restaurant inspections, they could do so with a click. This picture might reveal a pattern, perhaps caused by deliverymen on bicycles, or it might show nothing.

Many of the users of GeoCommons are working with disaster relief in Haiti or in Japan, Mr. Gorman said. Both countries suffered devastating earthquakes within the last 18 months.

“People are putting in the seismic activity and where’s there flooding and impassable roads,” he said. “People have been taking the GPS data from sensors and finding where the passable roads are.”

Such information, he said, might interest anyone visiting Japan or anyone who does not want to wait for the government to provide the information.

Other maps can be found at sites like Radiation.crowdmap.com or Rdtn.org. These projects collect data from individual users and bigger platforms like Pachube.com, a company that describes itself as a “real time data brokerage for the Internet of things.” Pachube links networks of sensors and other hardware like Geiger counters to follow, for example, the distribution of radiation.

“A lot of people have been pushing real-time radiation data in order to be able to share,” said Usman Haque, a founder of Pachube.com. “We’re managing and converting this data for people to use this.”

Other services, among them, Runnerplus.com, Dailymile.com, FitnessJournal.org, or RunKeeper.com, gather information from an expanding network of sensors like accelerometers in cellphones or shoes. Users can plot the data — like how far they have run or walked in a day — and see on a chart whether they are meeting their fitness goals.

Jason Jacobs, the chief executive of RunKeeper, which plots information related to fitness, said his company was working to expand its collection of data beyond speed and distance of workouts. New efforts would gather data from Wi-Fi bathroom scales and sleep monitors so runners could monitor their speeds in relation to their weight and sleep.

“There’s going to continue to be innovation with new, powerful data around the plumbing of the human body,” Mr. Jacobs said. “What everyone is starting to realize is that it’s great to collect data, but somebody needs to make sense of all of this data.”

2011年4月20日 星期三

Cancer breath test 'step closer'

Cancer breath test 'step closer'

Could a breath test detect cancer? Could a breath test detect cancer?

Related Stories

A breath test that can sniff-out cancer is a step closer to reality, according to a preliminary study.

Researchers found an "electronic nose" was able to identify chemical signals of cancer in the breath of patients with lung or head and neck cancer.

A cancer charity said it would take years of research to see if the breath test could be used in the clinic.

About 80 volunteers took part in the Israeli research, published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Of these 22 had various head-and-neck cancers, 24 had lung cancer and 36 were healthy.

The prototype breath test uses a chemical method to spot markers of cancer present in the breath.

The hope is that one day such a test could be used in a GP's surgery to give an instant diagnosis.

'Urgent need'

Researchers at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology - are working on a device called the nano artificial nose.

Head-and-neck cancer

Around 9,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with head-and-neck cancer each year

Cancers include those of the eye, mouth, voice box and food pipe

They looked at head-and-neck cancer, which is often diagnosed late, making it more difficult to treat successfully.

Lead researcher, Professor Hossam Haick, said: "There's an urgent need to develop new ways to detect head-and-neck cancer because diagnosis of the disease is complicated, requiring specialist examinations.

"We've shown that a simple 'breath test' can spot the patterns of molecules which are found in head-and-neck patients in a small, early study.

"We now need to test these results in larger studies to find if this could lead to a potential screening method for the disease."

Dr Lesley Walker, of Cancer Research UK, said it was incredibly important to spot the disease as soon as possible when it was easier to treat successfully.

She added: "These interesting initial results show promise for the development of a breath test to detect head-and-neck cancers which are often diagnosed at an advanced stage.

"But it's important to be clear that this is a small study, at a very early stage, so many more years of research with patients will be needed to see if a breath test could be used in the clinic."

More on This Story

Related Stories

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2011年4月14日 星期四


學者示警 日規模8地震 月內恐再發生


京 都大學防災研究所的地震地質學副教授遠田晉次警告說,全球衛星定位系統(GPS)測定的資料顯示,日本海溝東側的海底板塊內部,遭到拉扯的力量正在增強。 主要是三月十一日在三陸海域發生的規模九強震,已對相互擠壓的海底和陸地板塊交疊處造成破壞,施加在周邊地殼的壓力也因此出現變化,誘發東日本整體地區的 地震。遠田教授還表示,海底板塊的拉力,最快一個月內很可能還會發生規模八的海嘯強震。

任教於東京大學的美籍地震學教授蓋勒(Robert Geller),十四日也在英國科學期刊「自然」上發表論文指出,過去日本官方科學家,專注於日本的太平洋南岸可能發生大地震,這種「重南輕北」的態度, 導致他們錯估東北地區的地震危險性。蓋勒甚至表示,地震是無法預測的,呼籲日本政府應立即停止毫無效果的地震預測。

由於地震頻繁,由日本超 黨派議員組成的「危機管理都市推進議員聯盟」日前召開會議,呼籲政府應該加緊研究在東京都之外著手建設「副首都」,並提出大阪伊丹機場舊址、大阪萬博公 園、關西文化學術研究都市(京都、大阪、奈良)、愛知縣的愛地球博覽會紀念公園及名古屋機場舊址等五個副首都的候選地點。

2011年4月13日 星期三

You’ve still got mail 电子邮件未过时

2011年04月14日 06:24 AM

You’ve still got mail

I rediscovered my old AOL e-mail account this week and was taken down e-memory lane as the famous “You’ve Got Mail!” message boomed from the PC speaker as I signed in. After years of neglect and only spam in my inbox, it was like a voice from beyond the grave – and with the same old US accent they never localised for the UK with a British voice proclaiming: “Post Is Here!”

上个月,我重新找出了我的老AOL电子邮箱帐号,登录后,电脑音箱中传出一声大家都很 熟悉的“你有新邮件!”,将我带上了电子记忆的小路。这个邮箱已经被我荒废了好几年,里面只有些垃圾邮件,这声突然响起的“你有新邮件!”,仿佛自坟墓中 发出,而且还是原来的美国发音——AOL一直没有把它在英国本地化,用英式发音宣称:“邮件来了!”。

I had logged in because I was taking the pulse of e-mail in general. Its obituary has been written repeatedly by the media over the past 10 years – strangled by spam in 2003, smothered by social networks in 2007 and razed by real-time communication such as Google Wave in 2009, before predictions of being finished off by Facebook Messages this year.

我之所以再次登录这个邮箱,是因为我在给电子邮件把脉。过去10年里,媒体无数次为电 子邮件写下了讣告——2003年,被垃圾邮件掐死;2007年,被社交网络闷死;2009年,被谷歌波浪(Google Wave)等实时通讯工具压死;然后是今年,预言会被Facebook Messages干掉。

Spam is still a problem but more contained. Social networks give us peripheral vision of what our friends are up to but there is still a need for the e-mail equivalent of direct eye-contact. Wave, now cast adrift by Google, showed it was cool to see someone live-typing to you character by character, but it was never going to be the best way to organise your life. Facebook Messages looks promising for communicating with friends in new ways, but not for business use.

垃圾邮件的问题如今依然存在,但是已经不那么严重了。社交网络让我们可以从侧面了解到 我们的朋友们在干些什么,但电子邮件这种直接的目光接触仍然是必要的。现已从谷歌中独立出来的波浪,向我们展示了一种很酷的体验——看到对方把要跟你说的 话现场一个字一个字地打出来,但这绝不是管理生活的最好方法。在提供朋友间新的联络方式方面,Facebook Messages看上去很有前途,但却不适合商业用途。

E-mail services have fought back by absorbing all these new features. From my Gmail inbox page, I can reply to e-mail, check voicemail, send texts and ins­tant messages, call phones and videoconference through a Google Chat widget, tweet, update my Facebook page and catch up on Google’s own social network, Buzz.

电子邮件服务吸收了所有这些新元素,向对手展开了反击。从我的Gmail邮箱页面上, 我可以回复邮件、查看语音留言、发送短消息和即时讯息、通过Google Chat微件打电话和开视频会议、发送Twitter信息、更新Facebook主页、了解谷歌自己的社交网络Buzz的最新动态。

The inbox has become the Grand Central Station for knowledge workers, we were told at a Silicon Valley conference I attended recently, called Inbox Love. E-mail was very much alive, the speakers concluded, but its users were in a parlous state thanks to information overload – “You’ve Got Mail!” now invokes feelings of dread.

我最近在硅谷参加了一个会议,名叫收件箱之恋。会上有人说,电子邮箱如今变成了知识工 作者的纽约中央车站(全球最大、最忙碌的运输建筑——译注)。发言者的结论是,电子邮件依然生机勃勃,但由于信息过载,电邮用户们却处境堪忧——“你有新 邮件!”的声音现在激起的更多是恐惧。

For me, the e-mail offerings of internet service providers and the e-mail clients that many companies still rely on are the dead men walking. Such desktop programs – including Eudora, Lotus Notes, Outlook and Thunderbird – seem outmoded now that we want to check our e-mail all the time from all manner of devices.

在我看来,互联网服务提供商提供的电子邮件服务和许多公司依然倚赖的电子邮件客户端, 不过是即将临刑的死囚。那些PC端电子邮件收发程序,如Eudora、Lotus Notes、Outlook和Thunderbird,如今似乎已经过时,因为我们希望能够随时从各种设备上查看我们的邮件。

It is webmail services – led by Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and Gmail – that allow us quick access to e-mail, stored remotely in the internet “cloud”, from any computer’s browser as well as providing fast, richly featured versions for smartphones and tablets.

能够满足我们这种需求的是以Hotmail、雅虎邮箱(Yahoo Mail)和Gmail为首的网络邮箱服务,让我们能够在任何一台电脑的浏览器上快速访问通过“云”技术远程存储的电子邮件,同时还提供功能丰富而快捷的智能手机客户端和平板电脑客户端。

After moving over the years from AOL and Hotmail to Yahoo Mail and now Gmail, I keep things simple – settling on one service and inbox and setting it up to import mail from previous addresses automatically.


I abandoned my company’s Lotus Notes in 2008 by autoforwarding my FT.com e-mails to Gmail, quickly reducing an inbox with 10,000 messages to a few hundred by filtering and filing e-mails away under Gmail’s labels system. The fast search and un­limited storage meant I could confid­ently archive thousands of e-mails because I could find them again quickly.

2008年,我放弃了公司的Lotus Notes,将我的FT.com邮件自动转发到Gmail上,利用Gmail标签系统的过滤和分档,迅速将上万封邮件缩减到几百封。快速搜索功能和无限存 储空间意味着,我可以放心地将几千封电邮存在我的邮箱里——反正要用的时候我可以迅速找到。

Gmail is constantly being up­dated with features developed in Goog­le Labs, such as being able to undo sending an e-mail. Google says the service is growing rapidly and, certainly, its rivals have been prompted into more wholesale re­vamps – for instance, AOL has a Project Phoenix plan under way to improve its offering.

Gmail在不断添加谷歌实验室(Goog­le Labs)开发出来的新功能,比如说,Gmail现在已经可以撤销邮件的发送。谷歌表示,Gmail电邮服务发展得很快,当然,它的竞争对手们也被迫大举 更新——例如,AOL就在开展一个凤凰项目(Project Phoenix)计划,来改善它的电邮服务。

Hotmail has been transformed in the past year, with a much more attractive interface and deeper integration with other Microsoft products. Photos and Office documents can be uploaded to its SkyDrive “cloud” storage and linked to, shared and viewed in a pane in the inbox without cluttering it up with a big file attachment. Active Views e-mails, introduced in December, allows users to interact within an e-mail – for example, you can watch a video from Hulu or search for a hotel room within an e-mail from the travel service Orbitz.

过去一年,Hotmail发生了巨大改变,如今界面好看多了,与其他微软 (Microsoft)产品的结合也更为紧密。用户可以将照片和办公文档上传到它的SkyDrive云存储中,直接链接到收件箱供友邻分享和浏览,而不必 上传巨大的附件。12月问世的动态观看(Active Views)邮件功能,让用户能够在邮件内互动——例如,你可以通过Hulu观看视频,或者通过旅行服务网Orbitz搜索电子邮件中提到的酒店。

Yahoo Mail released a beta version last October that it claims is twice as fast as the existing version. It has also opened its inbox for third parties to add services – for example, users can choose YouSendIt to send e-mails with attachments of up to 100Mb in size. I also like OtherInbox, a third-party service that automatically sorts low-priority e-mails into folders to reduce the size of your inbox.

去年10月,雅虎邮箱发布了一个测试版,声称速度是现有版本的两倍。雅虎还向第三方开 放插件开发。例如,雅虎邮箱的用户可以选择第三方插件YouSendIt来发送邮件,附件可高达100兆。我也很喜欢第三方插件OtherInbox,它 可以自动将重要级别较低的邮件分拣到其他邮件夹里,从而给收件箱瘦身。

OtherInbox also plugs into Gmail, which has a couple of other plug-ins that I especially like, including TaskForce, which converts and groups e-mails into tasks, and Rapportive, which is similar to Xobni in Outlook. Rapportive adds a panel to an e-mail to show a picture of the person who has e-mailed and includes some biographical details and the latest social networking activity, all helping to put a face and much more to a name.

Gmail也使用了OtherInbox这款插件。它还有几款别的插件我也特别喜欢, 包括可以将邮件转换成任务并进行分组的TaskForce,以及功能类似于Outlook中的Xobni的Rapporttive——它会在邮件的发件人 处添加一栏,放上发件人的照片和简介及其最近在社交网站上的活动,这样一来,发件人就不再只是有个名字,而是“有头有脸”,含有丰富的信息。

Faces and people are what Facebook knows all about. Its Messages section became a more fully fledged e-mail service in November. The inbox is automatically confined to the people you know and communicate with. A list of names topped by the latest communication has no subject lines, just the top line of the message added. All interactions, from e-mails to texts and instant messaging, are included in one long thread with each person, and photos and videos can be attached.

头像和用户,这是Facebook最擅长的部分。去年11月,Facebook Messages开始成为一个更完善的邮箱产品——默认只从认识和有联系的人那里接受邮件。邮箱列表中,每个发件人名字上方只显示其最新邮件的第一行,没 有邮件标题。所有的互动——从邮件、短信到即时消息,都列在每个联系人的下方——长长的一串,还可以添加照片和视频。

It is a pleasant experience – viewing individual histories of pure conversations with just people you know.


That, if my spam-cluttered memory serves me right, is what we liked so much about e-mail before life became more complicated.



2011年4月10日 星期日

Google donates $12M to the science museums a

Google donates $12M to museums
By Mike Swift@mercurynews.com

Google (GOOG) is giving $12 million to seven prominent science museums, including two in the Bay Area, to thank institutions that inspired many of its employees to pursue careers in the computer sciences and engineering.

The donations from Google include $2 million for the Exploratorium in San Francisco, which will be used for the museum's future home on the waterfront at Piers 15 and 17. Another $2 million will go to the California Academy of Sciences.

The $12 million in donations from Google also includes grants to the Museum of Mathematics in New York, Science Museum London, the New York Hall of Science, the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago and the Museum of Science in Boston.

Although there was no formal competitive process for the grants, Jamie Yood, Google's philanthropic public affairs manager, said Google wanted to help museums that have strong ties to the company, such as those that have large numbers of Googlers as volunteers.

"We wanted to support museums in the community where Google has a strong presence," Yood said. "It's something we've been thinking about doing, because we have a lot of people at Google who cite their experience at science museums as part of their decision to become an engineer."

Although Google gave $150 million to nonprofit and
academic institutions in 2010, the gifts to the science museums are "really the first time we've really done it at this scale," Yood said. Google reported a profit of $8.5 billion in 2010.

The gift to the Exploratorium will be part of a $300 million fundraising campaign for the waterfront expansion, which is scheduled to open in 2013 and will double the museum's existing space. The expansion will triple the Exploratorium's capacity for teacher development. The museum reports that a current lack of capacity means that two of every three teachers are turned away from the Exploratorium's nationally recognized Teacher Institute.

"Google's gift greatly advances our ambitious $300 million fundraising campaign," Dennis Bartels, director of the Exploratorium, said in a written statement.

The Academy of Sciences plans to use almost all of its $2 million grant to help create a new 2014 exhibit on the importance of biodiversity and its relationship to human health. It will be developed in conjunction with the Smithsonian.

Yood said the company is not prepared to say whether the program will continue in future years, but that Google will continue to explore other ways that the company or its employees can help the museums. "We think our collaboration with these museums doesn't end with just signing this check," he said.

New Doubts About Turning Plutonium Into a Fuel

New Doubts About Turning Plutonium Into a Fuel

Shaw Areva Mox Services

The Savannah River Site in South Carolina, once devoted to making plutonium for weapons, now serves as a center for transforming America’s lethal nuclear surplus into commercial fuel.

On a tract of government land along the Savannah River in South Carolina, an army of workers is building one of the nation’s most ambitious nuclear enterprises in decades: a plant that aims to safeguard at least 43 tons of weapons-grade plutonium by mixing it into fuel for commercial power reactors.

Shaw Areva Mox Services

The sprawling plant, which is being built just south of Aiken, S.C., is intended to be bigger than eight football fields, and its construction currently employs nearly 2,000 workers.

Jiji Press, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The mox storage pool inside Reactor No. 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

The project grew out of talks with the Russians to shrink nuclear arsenals after the cold war. The plant at the Savannah River Site, once devoted to making plutonium for weapons, would now turn America’s lethal surplus to peaceful ends. Blended with uranium, the usual reactor fuel, the plutonium would be transformed into a new fuel called mixed oxide, or mox.

“We are literally turning swords into plowshares,” one of the project’s biggest boosters, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said at a hearing on Capitol Hill last week.

But 11 years after the government awarded a construction contract, the cost of the project has soared to nearly $5 billion. The vast concrete and steel structure is a half-finished hulk, and the government has yet to find a single customer, despite offers of lucrative subsidies.

Now, the nuclear crisis in Japan has intensified a long-running conflict over the project’s rationale.

One of the stricken Japanese reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant uses the mox fuel. And while there has been no evidence of dangerous radiation from plutonium in Japan, the situation there is volatile, and nuclear experts worry that a widespread release of radioactive material could increase cancer deaths.

Against that backdrop, the South Carolina project has been thrown on the defensive, with would-be buyers distancing themselves and critics questioning its health risks and its ability to keep the plutonium out of terrorists’ hands.

The most likely customer, the Tennessee Valley Authority, has been in discussions with the federal Department of Energy about using mox to replace a third of the regular uranium fuel in several reactors — a far greater concentration than at the stricken Japanese reactor, Fukushima Daiichi’s Unit No. 3, where 6 percent of the core is made out of mox. But the T.V.A. now says it will delay any decision until officials can see how the mox performed at Fukushima Daiichi, including how hot the fuel became and how badly it was damaged.

“We are studying the ongoing events in Japan very closely,” said Ray Golden, a spokesman for the utility.

At the same time, opponents of the South Carolina project scored a regulatory victory this month when a federal atomic licensing panel, citing “significant public safety and national security issues,” ordered new hearings on the plans for tracking and safeguarding the plutonium used at the plant.

Obama administration officials say that mox is safe, and they remain confident that the project will attract customers once it is further along and can guarantee a steady fuel supply. Anne Harrington, who oversees nuclear nonproliferation programs for the Energy Department, noted that six countries besides Japan had licensed the routine use of mox fuel. She accused critics of “an opportunistic attempt” to score political points by seizing on Japan’s crisis.

“Mox is nothing new,” she said.

Even so, the critics say there is an increasing likelihood that the South Carolina project will fail to go forward and will become what a leading opponent, Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, calls a “plant to nowhere.” That would leave the United States without a clear path for the disposal of its surplus plutonium.

A cheaper alternative, encasing it in glass, was canceled in 2002 by President George W. Bush’s administration. The energy secretary at the time, Spencer Abraham, is now the non-executive chairman of the American arm of Areva, a French company that is the world’s largest mox producer and is primarily responsible for building the South Carolina plant.

After the cold war, the United States and Russia were left with stockpiles of plutonium, and the fear was that one or the other would reverse course and use the plutonium to make new weapons, or that, in what the National Academies of Science called a “clear and present danger,” thieves could make off with it.

Plutonium is easy to handle because the radiation it gives off is persistent but relatively weak. The type used in weapons, plutonium 239, has a half-life of 24,000 years and emits alpha rays. They make the plutonium feel warm to the touch but are so feeble that skin easily stops the radiation. If trapped inside the body, though, alpha rays can cause cancer.

At the same time, plutonium is preferred over uranium as nuclear bomb fuel because much less is needed to make a blast of equal size. And while it is difficult to work with, it does not need to undergo the complex process of purification required for uranium.

The 43 tons of surplus plutonium in the American stockpile could fuel up to 10,000 nuclear weapons and even more “dirty bombs” — ordinary explosives that spew radioactive debris. Alternatively, they could fuel 43 large reactors for about a year.

After studying a range of options, the Clinton administration decided to build a mox fuel plant to dispose of a portion of the plutonium, awarding a contract to a consortium now called Shaw Areva Mox Services.

The rest of the plutonium was to be mixed with highly radioactive nuclear waste and immobilized in glass or ceramic blocks, making it difficult and dangerous for any thief to extract. The government judged the mox route to be more expensive, but the dual-track approach was seen as insurance should either fail.

That strategy also helped persuade Jim Hodges, the Democratic governor of South Carolina from 1999 to 2003, to sign off on plutonium shipments to the Savannah River Site. When the Bush administration canceled the glass-block disposal program, Mr. Hodges was furious.

His concern, he said in a recent interview, was that South Carolina would become a dumping ground if the mox program did not work out because of political or technical difficulties. “That site was never designed for long-term plutonium storage,” he said. “We were concerned about health and safety.” Now, he said, that dumping ground is in danger of coming to pass.

Mr. Abraham said that budget cuts had made it necessary to end one of the programs, and that with the Russians favoring mox, the administration had feared that going the other route would discourage Moscow from keeping its end of the bargain. (Only later, Mr. Abraham added, did he decide to join Areva in a largely advisory role.)

“The politics of it — both from a budget standpoint and in terms of the Russian comfort level — both argued for going to the mox-only approach,” he said.

If mox fuel was to be licensed for widespread use, though, Washington first needed to have it tested in reactors. Duke Energy agreed to use French-made mox. The government paid $26 million to prepare a reactor, according to the Energy Department. But a test in 2005 was aborted after the fuel began behaving strangely. Though the problem was ultimately traced to a different material in the fuel assemblies, Duke subsequently said it had no further plans to test or use the mox.

Along the way, the cost of the South Carolina project, originally about $1 billion, nearly quintupled. Energy Department officials said cost increases were to be expected because the original estimates were rough approximations. The sprawling plant, which is just south of Aiken, S.C., is to be bigger in size than eight football fields, and its construction currently employs nearly 2,000 workers.

For other countries, plutonium is seen as an opportunity rather than a problem. Nearly all reactors produce some plutonium as a byproduct of splitting atoms in two, and it can be gathered from spent fuel and mixed with uranium to make mox.

The United States, worried that plutonium recycling would contribute to the global spread of nuclear weapons, gave it up during the Carter administration. President Obama’s panel on America’s nuclear future is considering whether to recommend a return to recycling.

The Japanese government has followed the recycling path, despite citizens’ protests about possible safety risks. In the wake of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, officials at Areva, which supplied the mox fuel for Reactor No. 3 there, are cautioning against drawing hasty conclusions.

“Mox was not the cause of that accident, and the consequences of it have not been impacted by mox,” said David Jones, a vice president at Areva, which has been providing on-the-ground assistance in Japan.

There is no clear evidence that plutonium has been released by the mox-loaded Japanese reactor; small traces found at the site could have come from other sources or from the site’s other reactors. But Reactor No. 3 is one of three at Fukushima Daiichi that are judged to have undergone at least partial meltdowns, and experts are debating whether high radiation readings beneath the reactor vessels indicate that they have begun to leak. It would take full meltdowns, high heat and the rupture of a reactor’s containment vessel to loft substantial plutonium into the air.

The dangers vary depending on the chain of events that led to the accident and the concentration of mox in the reactor core. Even so, studies show that a nuclear meltdown and containment failure in a reactor that holds mox would result in more cancer deaths than one in a reactor fueled only with uranium.

In 2001, Dr. Lyman, a Cornell-trained physicist who has led the battle against mox, published a detailed study in the journal Science & Global Security that concluded the fuel could produce up to 30 percent more cancer deaths.

Energy Department officials do not dispute that there would be additional health consequences, but they see them as less severe than the critics have predicted. In any event, they argue, a major release of plutonium would require an accident so severe that the additional health effects would amount to a “sliver on top of a mountaintop.”

“It’s not that significant — 10 percent or less,” said Kenneth Bromberg, the department’s assistant deputy administrator for fissile materials disposition.

“Proliferation causes a far greater danger to a far greater number of people than highly controlled use of this fuel in a reactor,” said Ms. Harrington, his boss.

But critics say that in its efforts to move the mox program along, the government has undercut the nonproliferation benefits by allowing or entertaining exceptions to a number of its rules for safeguarding plutonium.

Disposing of plutonium by burning it in reactors involves moving and then storing mox fuel at a commercial site. Such a plan, they argue, could make the fuel vulnerable to theft before it is irradiated into something that would be too deadly to steal.

But at the request of Duke Energy, which had agreed to test the fuel, the government decided to exempt nuclear plants that burn mox from special security requirements imposed on other facilities that handled “strategic special nuclear material” like plutonium.

In doing so, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission overruled its own Atomic Safety Licensing Board, which had recommended a middle ground requiring some additional security. But the commissioners reasoned that mox encased in heavy assemblies would not be as attractive to terrorists as pure plutonium, and so did not require the same level of security.

Jeffrey Merrifield, one of the commission members who voted on the matter, now works for the Shaw Group, which is designing the mox plant with Areva. He said in a statement that he had not discussed jobs with the company until after the vote and that he works in a section unrelated to the mox project.

The Shaw Areva Group requested an exception to the government’s material control and accounting standards for plutonium. Though the company subsequently withdrew the request, it led the Atomic Safety Licensing Board to rule that more hearings were needed to determine whether the Savannah River plant was capable of keeping track of the plutonium that is expected to move through it and on to commercial utilities.

In a statement, Shaw Areva said, “We continue to believe that the mox project meets all the regulatory requirements for licensing, and we welcome the opportunity to present our case” in hearings this year.

Ms. Harrington said security at the Savannah River Site was so tight that “I’d defy anyone to walk in and walk out with any of our plutonium.”

Still, Mr. Abraham, the former energy secretary, says that given the crisis in Japan, he understands the hesitation of utilities to embrace mox.

“I can’t imagine any utility would say, ‘Yeah, we are going to ignore Japan,’ ” he said. “I think the dust has to settle here.”

2011年4月7日 星期四

Facebook Shares Server Design

Facebook Shares Server Design

Facebook Inc. said it would share details for its new server systems and computer rooms with other companies, hoping to set off what it characterized as an open movement for hardware design.

Editors' Deep Dive: IT Vendors Aim for the Data Center

Access thousands of business sources not available on the free web. Learn More

Many tech companies, such as Google Inc., keep key details about their computing infrastructure confidential. But Facebook said it will publish technical specifications for a new data center it built from scratch in Prineville, Ore.—including details of the computers, power supplies, server racks, battery backup systems and building design.

Facebook's move, which it compared to the movement to spur innovation through open-source software, comes as power and energy consumption have emerged as key hurdles for many high-tech companies. Facebook, at an event at its Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters, said systems it developed for its new Prineville operation are 38% more energy-efficient and 24% more cost-effective than the machines the social-networking giant has been using.

Associated Press

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, right, discussed the new design at an event in Palo Alto, Calif., Thursday.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said he hoped the unusual technology-sharing program, which Facebook is calling the "Open Compute Project" would encourage industry-wide collaboration around best practices for data-center and server technology. "By sharing this, we will make it more efficient for this ecosystem to grow," he said.

By sharing its designs, Facebook said other companies would be able to focus on applications and developing for social websites.

Forrester Research analyst Rich Fichera said Facebook's move could help Facebook benefit from volume economics as other companies deploy similar systems and order more components and systems that match this design. "At the bottom of this, the motivation is to try to foster a commercial competitive marketplace for the technology that they need going forward," he said.

Facebook's move comes as technology titans like Google, Apple Inc. and Twitter Inc. are scrambling to build vast new data centers so they can provide computing resources, data-storage capacity and software services to companies and consumers over the Internet. "We think it's time to demystify the biggest capital expense of an online business—the infrastructure," said Jonathan Heiliger, Facebook's vice president of technical operations.

Partners to Facebook's hardware initiative include Intel Corp., Advanced Micro Devices, Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

"Companies with extreme computing needs continue to seek innovative technology that extends the boundaries of what is possible today while challenging their partners to reach new lows in energy usage," said Greg Huff, H-P's chief technology officer for industry standard servers and software.

Dell's vice president for server platforms Forrest Norrod said his company was already shipping some systems to companies, including Facebook, that are based on the social network's new designs. "It means you get an open platform on which you can innovate," he said.

Facebook's move could put pressure on other Web giants to contribute, though many of those companies battle with Facebook over "openness" on a number of technical issues. "We're still familiarizing ourselves with the project, but in general we're supportive of initiatives that promote best practices and make it easier for businesses to implement energy-efficient designs," a Google spokeswoman said.

2011年4月2日 星期六

forensic modelings of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

From Far Labs, a Vivid Picture Emerges of Japan Crisis

For the clearest picture of what is happening at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, talk to scientists thousands of miles away.

Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force, via Reuters

Members of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force towed a United States military barge carrying water for cooling toward the Fukushima Daiichi plant on Thursday.


Thanks to the unfamiliar but sophisticated art of atomic forensics, experts around the world have been able to document the situation vividly. Over decades, they have become very good at illuminating the hidden workings of nuclear power plants from afar, turning scraps of information into detailed analyses.

For example, an analysis by a French energy company revealed far more about the condition of the plant’s reactors than the Japanese have ever described: water levels at the reactor cores dropping by as much as three-quarters, and temperatures in those cores soaring to nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to burn and melt the zirconium casings that protect the fuel rods.

Scientists in Europe and America also know from observing the explosions of hydrogen gas at the plant that the nuclear fuel rods had heated to very dangerous levels, and from radioactive plumes how far the rods had disintegrated.

At the same time, the evaluations also show that the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi escaped the deadliest outcomes — a complete meltdown of the plant.

Most of these computer-based forensics systems were developed after the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island, when regulators found they were essentially blind to what was happening in the reactor. Since then, to satisfy regulators, companies that run nuclear power plants use snippets of information coming out of a plant to develop simulations of what is happening inside and to perform a variety of risk evaluations.

Indeed, the detailed assessments of the Japanese reactors that Energy Secretary Steven Chu gave on Friday — when he told reporters that about 70 percent of the core of one reactor had been damaged, and that another reactor had undergone a 33 percent meltdown — came from forensic modeling.

The bits of information that drive these analyses range from the simple to the complex. They can include everything from the length of time a reactor core lacked cooling water to the subtleties of the gases and radioactive particles being emitted from the plant. Engineers feed the data points into computer simulations that churn out detailed portraits of the imperceptible, including many specifics on the melting of the hot fuel cores.

Governments and companies now possess dozens of these independently developed computer programs, known in industry jargon as “safety codes.” Many of these institutions — including ones in Japan — are relying on forensic modeling to analyze the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi to plan for a range of activities, from evacuations to forecasting the likely outcome.

“The codes got better and better” after the accident at Three Mile Island revealed the poor state of reactor assessment, said Michael W. Golay, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

These portraits of the Japanese disaster tend to be proprietary and confidential, and in some cases secret. One reason the assessments are enormously sensitive for industry and government is the relative lack of precedent: The atomic age has seen the construction of nearly 600 civilian power plants, but according to the World Nuclear Association, only three have undergone serious accidents in which their fuel cores melted down.

Now, as a result of the crisis in Japan, the atomic simulations suggest that the number of serious accidents has suddenly doubled, with three of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi complex in some stage of meltdown. Even so, the public authorities have sought to avoid grim technical details that might trigger alarm or even panic.

“They don’t want to go there,” said Robert Alvarez, a nuclear expert who, from 1993 to 1999, was a policy adviser to the secretary of energy. “The spin is all about reassurance.”

If events in Japan unfold as they did at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, the forensic modeling could go on for some time. It took more than three years before engineers lowered a camera to visually inspect the damaged core of the Pennsylvania reactor, and another year to map the extent of the destruction. The core turned out to be about half melted.

By definition, a meltdown is the severe overheating of the core of a nuclear reactor that results in either the partial or full liquefaction of its uranium fuel and supporting metal lattice, at times with the atmospheric release of deadly radiation. Partial meltdowns usually strike a core’s middle regions instead of the edge, where temperatures are typically lower.

The main meltdowns of the past at civilian plants were Three Mile Island in 1979, the St.-Laurent reactor in France in 1980, and Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986.

One of the first safety codes to emerge after Three Mile Island was the Modular Accident Analysis Program. Running on a modest computer, it simulates reactor crises based on such information as the duration of a power blackout and the presence of invisible wisps of radioactive materials.

Robert E. Henry, a developer of the code at Fauske & Associates, an engineering company near Chicago, said that a first sign of major trouble at any reactor was the release of hydrogen — a highly flammable gas that has fueled several large explosions at Fukushima Daiichi. The gas, he said in an interview, indicated that cooling water had fallen low, exposing the hot fuel rods.

The next alarms, Dr. Henry said, centered on various types of radioactivity that signal increasingly high core temperatures and melting.

First, he said, “as the core gets hotter and hotter,” easily evaporated products of atomic fission — like iodine 131 and cesium 137 — fly out. If temperatures rise higher, threatening to melt the core entirely, he added, less volatile products such as strontium 90 and plutonium 239 join the rising plume.

The lofting of the latter particles in large quantities points to “substantial fuel melting,” Dr. Henry said.

He added that he and his colleagues modeled the Japanese accident in its first days and discerned partial — not full — core melting.

Micro-Simulation Technology, a software company in Montville, N.J., used its own computer code to model the Japanese accident. It found core temperatures in the reactors soaring as high as 2,250 degrees Celsius, or more than 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to liquefy many reactor metals.

“Some portion of the core melted,” said Li-chi Cliff Po, the company’s president. He called his methods simpler than most industry simulations, adding that the Japanese disaster was relatively easy to model because the observable facts of the first hours and days were so unremittingly bleak — “no water in, no injection” to cool the hot cores.

“I don’t think there’s any mystery or foul play,” Dr. Po said of the disaster’s scale. “It’s just so bad.”

The big players in reactor modeling are federal laboratories and large nuclear companies such as General Electric, Westinghouse and Areva, a French group that supplied reactor fuel to the Japanese complex.

The Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque wrote one of the most respected codes. It models whole plants and serves as a main tool of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Washington agency that oversees the nation’s reactors.

Areva and French agencies use a reactor code-named Cathare, a complicated acronym that also refers to a kind of goat’s milk cheese.

On March 21, Stanford University presented an invitation-only panel discussion on the Japanese crisis that featured Alan Hansen, an executive vice president of Areva NC, a unit of the company focused on the nuclear fuel cycle.

“Clearly,” he told the audience, “we’re witnessing one of the greatest disasters in modern time.”

Dr. Hansen, a nuclear engineer, presented a slide show that he said the company’s German unit had prepared. That division, he added, “has been analyzing this accident in great detail.”

The presentation gave a blow-by-blow of the accident’s early hours and days. It said drops in cooling water exposed up to three-quarters of the reactor cores, and that peak temperatures hit 2,700 degrees Celsius, or more than 4,800 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot enough to melt steel and zirconium — the main ingredient in the metallic outer shell of a fuel rod, known as the cladding.

“Zirconium in the cladding starts to burn,” said the slide presentation. At the peak temperature, it continued, the core experienced “melting of uranium-zirconium eutectics,” a reactor alloy.

A slide with a cutaway illustration of a reactor featured a glowing hot mass of melted fuel rods in the middle of the core and noted “release of fission products” during meltdown. The products are radioactive fragments of split atoms that can result in cancer and other serious illnesses.

Stanford, where Dr. Hansen is a visiting scholar, posted the slides online after the March presentation. At that time, each of the roughly 30 slides was marked with the Areva symbol or name, and each also gave the name of their author, Matthias Braun.

The posted document was later changed to remove all references to Areva, and Dr. Braun and Areva did not reply to questions about what simulation code or codes the company may have used to arrive at its analysis of the Fukushima disaster.

“We cannot comment on that,” Jarret Adams, a spokesman for Areva, said of the slide presentation. The reason, he added, was “because it was not an officially released document.”

A European atomic official monitoring the Fukushima crisis expressed sympathy for Japan’s need to rely on forensics to grasp the full dimensions of the unfolding disaster.

“Clearly, there’s no access to the core,” the official said. “The Japanese are honestly blind.”

2011年4月1日 星期五

兩本費米(Enrico Fermi) 傳記

兩本費米(Enrico Fermi) 傳記

Enrico Fermi (1901-1954): pioneer in nuclear fission

在 一九二九年到三○年那幾年中,嶄新而具革命性的物理觀念,像是量子理論、波動力學,正激盪著許多大學生(至少是最好的大學生),其中還包括一些名人,像波 耳(Niels Bohr,1885-1962)、海森堡(Wenner Heisenberg,1901-1976)、薛丁格(Erwin Schrodinger,1887-1961),特別是費米(Enrico Fermi,1901-1954,以上幾位都是諾貝爾物理獎得主),他當時早已是義大利物理學界傳奇的年輕明星。聽著費諾講述有關量子、正電子、中子等令 人興奮的理論,我把物理學想像成一個令人神往的領域,也由於我完全不懂,反而更加強了它的神奇色彩。

*Henry Moore Sculpture - "Nuclear Energy"
Henry Moore Sculpture© Jennifer Roche
I have always found this sculpture by Henry Moore chilling. The bronze is titled "Nuclear Energy," and it commemorates the creation of the first sustained nuclear chain reaction, which was realized by a team of University of Chicago scientists led by Enrico Fermi. This knowledge eventually led to the creation of the nuclear bomb and, subsequently, to its use in Hiroshima. The sculpture was unveiled on December 2, 1967.

Ellis Avenue between 56th Street and 57th Street
Chicago, IL


關於那些大將軍們的影響力及其天賦 * ﹐據說 Enrico Fermi 有一次問了 Leslie Groves 將軍:「究竟有多少將軍可以說得上偉大﹖」Groves 回答說:「一百個中約有三個。」Fermi 又問:「到底一個將軍怎樣才算是偉大的將軍﹖」 Groves 回答說:「只要能連續贏得五次大戰役便可以很保險地說他是偉大。」此問答是在第二次大戰中。Fermi 接下來說:「我們考慮在大多數戰役中敵對兩方大抵勢均力敵﹐因此一個將軍打贏一次勝仗的勝算為一對二﹔連贏兩仗的勝算為一對四﹔連贏三仗為一對八﹔連贏四仗為一對十六﹔連贏五仗為一對三十二。所以﹐將軍你果然沒錯。大約每一百個中有三個是屬於機率所創造的將軍﹐而不是天賦。」


費米傳:原子時代的奠基人 香港:今日世界 1973--本書第一頁將"1942年"誤植為"1972年"/又
"sélf-sustáining"是"自足的" 不是自動的"....
  • Atoms in the Family: My Life with Enrico Fermi (University of Chicago Press, 1954)

  • -

    Emilio Segre 1970年所著的 "Enrico Fermi: Physicist" 一書的索書號
    分析如下: 依國會圖書分類法索書號為: QC16
         其中 Q  代表科學
             QC  代表物理學
            16   代表個人傳記
             .F46  代表被傳者Fermi的科特號
            S4     代表著者Segre的科特號
            1970     代表出版年

    Emilio Segre著《原子舞者:費米傳》翻譯錯誤多

    很巧,今天是費米(Enrico Fermi 1901-1954)的生日。

    費爾米傳/;7.08(1997年8月第1次印刷) (世界名人傳記叢書)
    Emilio Segre著《原子舞者:費米傳》
    (美)蘿拉•費爾米著《費米傳》(Atoms in the Family: My Life With Enrico Fermi 1954 )
    Emilio Segre著《原子舞者:費米傳》( "Enrico Fermi: Physicist" 1970) 上海科學技術出版社,2004
    Emilio Segre 的作品可以上網讀一下,也是我對照讀的根據:


    蘿拉•費爾米是健筆,寫過不少書,例如我們Simon University討論過的《美國傑出的歐洲移民》,他是費米的太太;Emilio Segre(1905-89) 也是諾貝爾物理學獎得主(1959)。

    Segre說他們寫的費米傳,觀照或重視的觀點不同(points of view),前者為devoted, loving wife (這翻譯成「忠實妻子」不盡好 p.1),後者為朋友、門下、同行科學家---所以「我們許多觀點不一樣」的翻譯,容易讓人誤會兩本書打架—事實恰相反,相輔相成,費米夫人還是go over《原子舞者:費米傳》的第一手呢(go over 翻譯成「撿查」也怪)!

    第2頁 信的shipment 不是「乘船」,該船被炸沉,所以信不是「遺失」(loss)。 頁末最後一句比較有問題:「我認為這是正常的,許多偉大的科學家的經歷也證明了這一點。」應該翻譯類似「我認為這是正當的,許多渴望(aspiring求知(了解傳主人格、個性))的科學家顯示的企盼可以為此作證、說明。

    第一章 第1頁 這些大戰中罹難的消息在年青一代慢慢傳開來(percolated),不是「承擔這些…..」;書兩處用tomes(大本書),卻只一處如此翻譯—他用一周的零用錢買(未翻出)。

    第一章 第2頁牽涉宗教,錯誤極多。
    天主教的Father 通稱「【人】 神父,教父,修道院長,師傅;告解神父 ( ( 尊稱 ) )」不是牧師;芝加哥大學的chapel 是著名的Rockefeller Chapel ,不是「小禮堂」(看圖應可容納數百人);網路上「萬物的讚頌歌」(The Canticle of Creatures)有數處可參考,例如http://www.sfac.edu.hk/schinfo/francis/BrotherSun02.html

    第一章 第3頁
    「維也納和約(the Peace of Vienna )」不是「維也納和平時期」(歷史上有兩同名之約,應該是1873年簽的)。
    「聰明又有野心,既偏狹又果斷」翻譯(who combined ambition and intelligent with a purposeful narrowness of mind),後半句翻得不準確。

    Stan Ovshinsky’s Solar Revolution

    Stan Ovshinsky’s Solar Revolution

    His inventions from 50 years ago enabled cell phones, laptops, and flat-screen TVs. Now, at age 88, he’s aiming to make solar power cheaper than coal.

    “The Institute for Amorphous Studies,” reads the simple black-on-white sign at a former elementary school in the leafy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. The sign represents a bit of nerdish humor: The scientists and engineers working here know that it might prompt a visitor to imagine a new-age Silicon Valley–style think tank. But this is southeastern Michigan, and the sign is also serious, reflecting Stanford R. Ovshinsky’s discovery half a century ago of amorphous materials, the science at the core of such diverse products as nonvolatile memory chips, flat-panel displays, and rewriteable optical discs.

    That discovery created an entirely new field of materials science, and Ovshinsky’s achievements have continued over the subsequent decades. Although his formal education ended with high school, he has written some 300 scientific papers; has more than 400 patents to his name for technologies that have improved daily life in myriad ways; and has been awarded dozens of honorary degrees, awards, and academic accolades. Now, at age 88, he has formed Ovshinsky Solar, a company with an audacious goal: to drive the unsubsidized cost of solar power below that of coal — to create, in effect, a Moore’s Law for energy.

    The automatic response to a man late in his ninth decade announcing such an objective is disbelief, perhaps tinged with amusement. Certainly the doors of venture capital firms do not open readily to octogenarians, no matter how accomplished. But Ovshinsky has spent his entire career ignoring the naysayers, and time after time he has proved them wrong the best way he knows: by overturning conventional scientific wisdom, creating breakthrough technologies, and building things that work. In this new endeavor, feeling he has no time to waste, he has assembled a small team of scientific and engineering talent to make low-cost solar power a reality as rapidly as possible.

    The Economist once called him “the Edison of our age,” and he has also been compared to Einstein. But Ovshinsky sees himself less as an inventor or a theorist than as a pragmatic problem solver. He views complex problems not as existential dilemmas or subjects for detached study, but as fundamentally comprehensible tasks lacking only an obvious solution. So global warming and foreign oil dependence are not cause for dissertations or despair, but simply tough equations to solve for multiple unknowns.

    It was perhaps coincidental that amorphous materials science, Ovshinsky’s pivotal discovery, was equally suited to energy technologies, such as the nickel–metal hydride batteries in the Toyota Prius, and to computer applications, such as memory chips that retain their data after the electricity is turned off, both of which are his inventions. But that duality inevitably shaped his career and his world view.

    “I picked energy and information as the twin pillars of our economy very early on, when I was quite young,” Ovshinsky says, touching on past times as a prelude to a proximate future. “If you change the energy equation to no use of coal and no climate change, you’re ending one era and opening an entirely different one. I’m an activist, but what I do is go out and do it, if I know how.”

    Ovshinsky keeps his office in the former school’s library, and sits at a wooden desk surrounded by scientific texts and the scholarly journals he still reads and contributes to avidly. Pride of place here, and in nearly every room at the company, is given to a large chart of the periodic table of elements, which colleagues say Ovshinsky knows the way a master pianist knows the musical scales. Time after time, when those colleagues have reached an impasse, he will point to the table and remind them that the answers to their questions are all there.

    He points to it today to explain why all his work, including his current focus on low-cost solar power, ultimately comes back to the primacy of the hydrogen atom. “We have a universe, and the first thing out of the Big Bang, which created it, was hydrogen, some helium, and a little bit of lithium. The hydrogen atom is what the whole periodic table is made out of. All matter that we know is, by far, hydrogen: a gas out in the universe that condenses into stars, and gives out energy by fusing hydrogen into helium. That creates the photon light particles that are absorbed onto photovoltaics to generate electricity.”

    Decades before green became a modifier for technology, Ovshinsky and his second wife, Iris, opened the doors of Energy Conversion Laboratory in a small Detroit storefront. This was his third company in less than 10 years, but it would be his primary focus for the next half century. It was 1960, yet already the Ovshinskys dreamed of a world free of the wars and pollution caused by dependence on carbon-based fuels and petrochemical products. Iris had the academic training that Stan lacked, including a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Boston University. Working as a team, they created breakthroughs in energy generation, energy storage, information systems, and atomically engineered synthetic materials, now known as nanotechnology.

    Indeed, when the clean-energy economy comes to pass, it will owe much to the holistic, practical, and dogged way Ovshinsky and his colleagues have pursued it over the decades. In Ovshinsky’s view, inexpensive solar power will make energy both plentiful and clean, eliminating the scarcity-driven conflicts and carbon-based pollution that have dogged humankind for centuries. Furthermore, he is confident that this transition, once begun, will occur rapidly, with the same relentless acceleration that has driven computers from mainframes to iPads in a scant four decades.

    Ovshinsky has a touch of vanity — he clearly delights in the svelte figure he still cuts in a well-tailored suit, and he takes a similar pleasure in countering skeptics by displaying patents, peer-reviewed publications, and functioning prototypes that prove his concepts work. The wispy-haired gentleman with the modest manner awaits your interrogation with a kind smile, knowing that you may have tough questions, but that he has the answers and the data to back them up.

    Birth of a New Science

    Ovshinsky grew up in Akron, Ohio, the elder son of working-class Jewish immigrants who fled eastern Europe in 1905. His father, Benjamin Ovshinsky, made his living collecting metal scrap, but he was also a liberal social activist who introduced his son to the Akron Workmen’s Circle, an organization focused on labor rights, civil rights, and civil liberties. In later years, Stan Ovshinsky marched in civil rights protests and hosted activists in his home.

    His first jobs were in machine shops around Akron, and his first inventions and first company, Stanford Roberts, were devoted to machine tools. The Benjamin Center Drive, an automated lathe he named for his father, was used to manufacture artillery shells for the Korean War effort. Accepting an offer from the Hupp Motorcar Company, he moved to Detroit in 1951, where he invented a technology for electric power steering. But Hupp’s president blocked negotiations with General Motors to complete the project, and it was shelved as the industry moved toward hydraulic power steering.

    But Ovshinsky was already moving on, pursuing his fascination with human and machine intelligence. He read deeply in the research literature of neurophysiology, neurological disease, and cybernetics. Despite his lack of formal education, he came to comprehend and make strides in these seemingly disparate and arcane disciplines with the same intuitive and iconoclastic bent he brought to precision machine tools. His own publications in peer-reviewed journals confirmed his insight and innovation in these fields.

    With his younger brother, Herb, a mechanical engineer, he established a small company called General Automation to research and develop energy and information technologies. Together they built, in 1959, a mechanical model of a nerve cell, a semiconductor switch they called the Ovitron, in the process pioneering the use of nanostructures. A year later, Stan and Iris opened the Energy Conversion Laboratory.

    The Ovitron itself had no practical application, but in developing it, Ovshinsky made a breakthrough that would define his career, and make the “Ovshinsky effect” a science textbook phrase. He discovered that certain types of glassy thin films, known as amorphous or disordered materials, turn into semiconductors upon application of a low voltage. Semiconductors, the foundation of modern electronics, are materials that conduct an electrical charge but can be regulated, unlike common conductors such as copper.

    At the time, in the early 1960s, scientists believed that semiconductors could be formed only from crystalline materials, such as purified silicon, in which all the atoms are arranged in a long-range order. Ovshinsky demonstrated that it was possible to form semiconductors from amorphous or disordered materials, like common glass or silicon alloyed with less-costly elements. Amorphous silicon made possible the production of devices that are now inexpensive and ubiquitous in computing and energy applications.

    “He invented the field of disordered materials,” says Hellmut Fritzsche, former chairman of the physics department at the University of Chicago. “It was so revolutionary at the time that people at Bell Labs and other major research labs said, ‘This man is crazy.’ Stan’s contribution was to say that [crystalline material] is not necessary, and it is too restrictive. You can make semiconductor materials in many ways when they are not crystalline, when they are disordered. Then you have a great freedom to alter their properties by chemical modification.”

    Soon a phalanx of physicists, chemists, and engineers were making a pilgrimage to the Ovshinskys’ modest Detroit lab, including a young Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, who were then planning a company to produce computer memory products, the future Intel Corporation. Many who came to scrutinize Ovshinsky’s work stayed on to collaborate, captivated as much by Stan and Iris’s lively warmth as by the novelty of the science. Fritzsche and others who have known him over the years say he always exuded a remarkable confidence in his own abilities.

    Ovshinsky made his major discovery while trying to develop an artificial neuron as the first step toward developing a cognitive computer, a working model of the cerebral cortex that he still dreams of completing one day. But he soon put the discovery to work. In September 1966, he filed the first patent on phase change technology, which enabled a new type of computer memory. The most common type of computer memory is dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, which replaced the magnetic core memory of the earliest digital computers. But DRAM chips lose their data when the power is switched off. Phase change memory, which Ovshinsky called ovonic unified memory, registers data by changing the physical characteristics of the semiconductor material, from amorphous to crystalline and back again, and that change remains in effect even without electrical current. When a cell phone user’s battery dies, but the phone retains her contact list, she has Ovshinsky’s invention to thank. The same basic technology underlies rewriteable optical discs, enabling consumers to download music onto CDs.

    Driven by the joy of discovery and their stated intention to use science and technology to solve serious global and societal problems, Stan and Iris kept the company small and nimble by licensing their technologies to major manufacturers. Profits were poured back into research, and growth came almost despite the founders’ intentions. Energy Conversion Laboratory licensed its phase change technology to Intel and STMicroelectronics NV, both of which continue to develop and improve such chips.

    The big change to the company came when Ovshinsky applied amorphous materials technology to solar energy. In 1983, when he first began to explore the field, photovoltaic cells were still the size of a thumbnail, and made of costly crystalline silicon in small volumes. To considerable skepticism, even within his own company, Ovshinsky insisted that photovoltaic materials should be made of amorphous silicon deposited on flexible plastics by the mile, like newsprint rolling off a press. The deposition process requires high vacuum and absolute isolation from outside contaminants that the manufacturing equipment of the day could not achieve. But Ovshinsky was first and foremost a machinist, so he designed and produced his own tooling. Reflecting its move into mass production, the company changed its name to Energy Conversion Devices, or ECD.

    With the success of its solar panels, ECD entered a rapid growth phase that took revenues from a few million dollars a year into nine figures, and the employee roster from perhaps two dozen close associates to more than 1,000. Ovshinsky was now a manufacturer and manager of a large corporation, two roles he had never sought, and for which his iconoclastic temperament proved an awkward match. Although his company had gone public two decades earlier, in the 1960s, its small size and relatively slow growth had kept it below Wall Street’s radar. With the growth and profitability of solar products came increased attention from securities analysts, as well as pressure to concentrate on cash generation. Ovshinsky simply ignored the pressures.

    Batteries and Betrayal

    For Ovshinsky, a clean-energy source begged for a clean-energy storage solution, but the batteries of the time were highly toxic, endangering workers’ health and the environment. He responded by inventing a rechargeable nickel–metal hydride (NiMH) battery, made of nontoxic and recyclable (and less expensive) materials. NiMH rapidly displaced nickel-cadmium cells in portable electronic devices, and in 1992 the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium selected the Ovonic Battery Company, a subsidiary of ECD, to scale up its NiMH technology for electric vehicles. Ovshinsky’s battery technology still powers the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrid cars, though more recent electric vehicles like the Tesla Roadster and Nissan Leaf use lithium-ion batteries, a newer technology developed for cell phones and laptops.

    In December 1996, GM began a limited launch of its EV1 pure electric car. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) then agreed to delay implementation of the first phase of a zero-emissions vehicle mandate that had been scheduled to go into effect in 1998, ordering that the seven biggest carmakers — the largest of which was GM — would need to make 2 percent of their fleets emissions-free by 1998, 5 percent by 2001, and 10 percent by 2003. Powered by lead-acid batteries, the first-generation EV1 had a range of 70 to 100 miles.

    What should have been Ovshinsky’s greatest triumph came when General Motors selected his tiny company over 60 other bidders to provide batteries for the second-generation EV1 in 1999. His battery doubled the EV1’s range to 140 miles. GM acquired a majority stake in the company, changing the name to GM Ovonics, and the future looked bright. Robert Stempel, who wrapped up a 37-year career at GM as chairman and CEO in 1992, joined ECD Ovonics as an advisor in 1993, and became chairman in 1995. Time magazine called Ovshinsky “a hero for the planet.” But General Motors was ambivalent about the EV1, and its small base of early adopters.

    As shown in the documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car? oil industry groups lobbied successfully to end California’s zero-emissions mandate. In the meantime, GM sold its stake in GM Ovonics to Texaco, which in turn was acquired by Chevron. Despite candlelight vigils by EV1 owners, GM recalled all its leased electric cars and crushed all but a few, which were donated — minus their drivetrains — to museums.

    “It’s a maze of betrayal,” says Ovshinsky. “We had an agreement that if Texaco was bought out, we could withdraw, but they lied to us. They said, ‘We’ll support you, make it happen.’ Within months it was obvious they weren’t going to do that. As soon as possible they got me off the board.”

    In fairness to GM, which has clearly made its share of mistakes, the arithmetic supports the company’s argument that the EV1 was not commercially viable at the time. GM based the leases for the EV1 on an initial vehicle price of US$33,995, with lease payments ranging from $299 to $574 per month, depending on state rebates. Industry analysts estimated the production cost of the car at as much as $100,000. In justifying its decisions, GM said some EV1 parts suppliers had quit, making it hard to guarantee future repairs and safety. Nonetheless, with the benefit of hindsight, and given the subsequent volatility of gasoline prices, some GM executives’ opinions of the EV1 have changed. Former chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner told Motor Trend magazine in 2006 that his worst decision during his tenure at GM was “axing the EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids.”

    The rest is history. Japanese automakers seized the lead in hybrid gas/electric vehicles using NiMH batteries, although only after Panasonic EV, a joint venture between Matsushita and Toyota, settled a patent infringement suit brought by Cobasys, the successor company to GM Ovonics.

    His treatment by “Big Oil” chastened Ovshinsky and made him wary of corporate partners, but he pressed on to develop the missing components of what he came to call the hydrogen circle, by making it possible to use hydrogen to power automobiles and other vehicles. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe and the most abundant potential source of clean energy; a car fueled by hydrogen is completely emissions-free. But on earth, all hydrogen is bound to other molecules. Separating hydrogen from carbon in fossil fuels, most commonly natural gas, requires reformation, which consumes energy and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, exacerbating the global warming that hydrogen-based energy is supposed to ameliorate. Transporting hydrogen requires chilling it to liquid form, which is energy-intensive and expensive, or compressing it under high pressure, which is potentially dangerous and requires heavy tanks.

    To produce abundant hydrogen gas that could be used to power vehicles, Ovshinsky invented a technology he named Ovonic BioReformation. It is a single-step reaction that produces carbonate, a solid widely used in industry, instead of CO2; takes place at low temperatures requiring less energy; and can be performed using a variety of fuels, including biomass. To tackle the transport issue, he developed low-pressure metal hydride containers, which absorb and release hydrogen like a sponge, and, for the U.S. military services, demonstrated a mobile refueling system requiring no costly infrastructure. This was typical Ovshinsky: No single invention stands alone.

    The next step was to develop a new type of hydrogen fuel cell, a device that generates electricity through reactions between a fuel and an oxidant, triggered in the presence of an electrolyte. Ovshinsky’s fuel cell operated at lower temperatures than others, and without the costly platinum catalysts commonly used in these technologies. For those not willing to wait for fuel cells, he installed one of his metal hydride canisters in an ordinary 2002 Toyota Prius and ran the internal combustion engine on low-pressure hydrogen. Colleagues recall a visiting Toyota engineer looking on in disbelief until he finally cupped his hands beneath the exhaust pipe and tasted the pure water it emitted. Interest in hydrogen fuel cells has waned with the reduction in U.S. government research funds and with the industry-wide move toward electric vehicles and hybrids. However, some auto executives still insist the fuel cell is the technology with the greatest future potential.

    In the midst of his technological advances, Ovshinsky ran headlong into an obstacle not described by the laws of physics: corporate governance regulation in the post-Enron age. He had always packed ECD’s board with Nobel Prize winners and world-renowned thinkers in diverse fields whose attendance was clearly more related to mutual intellectual stimulation than legal and regulatory compliance. After the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, he had to take on additional outside directors with government-mandated skill sets, who then pressured him to emphasize quarterly earnings at the expense of experimentation. He was also forced to impose a reporting hierarchy on the company, which had never known titles or more than two levels of separation between the lowest-paid employee and the CEO. The culture of the company, which had always been collegial, became more conventionally corporate. Longtime colleagues began to leave, and Ovshinsky found himself dreading days filled with meetings and administrative duties. When Iris died suddenly in 2006 at 79, after an apparent heart attack, he abruptly retired.

    It was not necessarily the board’s fault. ECD’s technological lead had never translated into sales leadership, and companies not distracted by forays into hydrogen research or other intriguing technologies claimed a greater share of the photovoltaic market. Although ECD’s sales continued to grow at a steady pace, its 2009 revenues of $302.8 million pale in comparison to the $2.1 billion of market leader First Solar.

    Ovshinsky says ECD would not have fallen behind had the board listened to him, and notes that the company’s share price has fallen only since his departure. In the later years, he says, he not only had to fight to preserve his research budget, but also had to battle his own executives to develop the 30-megawatt production lines that are now ECD’s greatest asset.

    “The ECD machine I developed is larger than a football field, runs 24/7, and makes miles and miles of photovoltaics,” Ovshinsky says. “When I said I was going to do that, we had only 5-megawatt machines. I lost Iris and I lost the company at about the same time. The company I could have absorbed, but Iris was a deep, deep part of me.”

    A Cultural Innovator

    Stan Ovshinsky always made a point of giving Iris equal credit for his insights and inventions, and longtime colleagues say she was also at least as responsible as he for the remarkably collegial corporate culture at ECD.

    Before Sarbanes-Oxley, formal titles, reporting hierarchies, and standardized appraisals were nonexistent. A promotion simply meant taking on more responsibilities, and new hires were constantly encouraged to work outside their specialties or to take on tasks that challenged their skill sets. Many a chemist discovered a flair for physics, and a clerical worker could rise to senior management. Although the Ovshinskys did not use the rhetoric of participative management or nonhierarchical organizations, ECD embodied both concepts.

    “My mom joined as a secretary when she was 35, after being a housewife forever,” recalls Joichi Ito, CEO of the Creative Commons, whose parents both worked for ECD for many years. (See “The Ambassador from the Next Economy,” by Lawrence M. Fisher, s+b, Autumn 2006.) Ito himself, now a globe-trotting venture capitalist and digital activist, began working at ECD as a teenager, and says that Stan Ovshinsky became a combination mentor and surrogate father to him after his parents’ divorce. His mother “quickly became head of personnel, then vice president of international sales and licensing, and then was sent to Japan to be president of the Japanese division, and became the chief negotiator with the Japanese clients who were the biggest slice of the royalty fees for the technology.”

    Although ECD’s growth over the decades gave many employees a comfortable nest egg, it was slow and steady and never generated the kind of intense, instant wealth that rewarded employees at firms like Microsoft, Google, or Facebook. Headhunters often recruited the company’s multitalented engineers with promises of rapid riches, and some accepted lucrative offers only to find they missed the ECD culture.

    “ECD was a reflection of Stan and Iris’s personalities, and each one of us was an integral part of the firm,” says Boil Pashmakov, who left ECD to work in the semiconductor industry and has now returned to work in Ovshinsky’s new company. “In Silicon Valley, it is all about the money.”

    But notwithstanding Sarbanes-Oxley, Ovshinsky sometimes showed a side of his character that suggests he should not have been at the head of a publicly traded company. Like many a high-tech entrepreneur, he might have prospered more by taking the role of chief scientific officer while handpicking a cadre of professionals to manage the company. “He truly has a different set of beliefs. He’s out to change the world, and he doesn’t care about the money,” says Patrick Klersy, another ECD veteran who has joined the new venture.

    Starting Over

    After his retirement, Ovshinsky languished for a year. He says he felt he was waiting for his life to end. Then in 2007, in short order he married Rosa Young, a Ph.D. physicist who had worked at ECD since 1986, and launched his fourth company.

    Rosa says that Ovshinsky’s proposal of marriage came as a surprise. She had already resigned from ECD herself, accepted a professor’s position in Sichuan province in southwestern China, where she was born, and purchased a small apartment there. But, she adds, Ovshinsky has been surprising her for nearly 25 years now, never more than when he hired her in the first place, and then put her in charge of projects far removed from her academic background.

    Few of Ovshinsky’s old colleagues were surprised, however, when he announced plans for a new company. Considering the spotlight on global warming and renewed concerns about dependence on petroleum products, he simply could not remain on the sidelines. President Barack Obama’s appointment of Steven Chu, a Nobel-winning physicist, as secretary of energy appeared to signal a fresh opening for sustainable energy development, and Ovshinsky felt he had to contribute.

    Ovshinsky bootstrapped Ovshinsky Solar with $3.5 million of his own funds, and is now seeking $16 million in new capital to move from proof of concept to a small production facility. He says he will need an additional $350 million to reach full-scale manufacturing by 2012. The goal is a machine capable of producing a gigawatt per year of solar capacity, which is more than the output of a typical nuclear power plant, and more than 30 times the output of the largest current production lines at any photovoltaic manufacturer.

    “Other people’s idea of a gigawatt is to do it serially — build one machine and then another and another,” says Ovshinsky. “If you look at all the cost and time of doing that, you are never going to get there. You can actually put a couple of our gigawatt machines in an ordinary factory. My costs will be lower than burning coal. That means pennies per watt. And that’s the world revolution that’s needed.”

    Increasing solar capacity requires improving the conversion efficiency of the semiconductor materials used or increasing the coating rate in production. It is presently impossible to have both high efficiency and high speed, and current manufacturing processes can be improved only incrementally.

    Characteristically, Ovshinsky says he has found a way to push both parameters at once, and by significant amounts. “Our technology is a transformational advance in photovoltaics, combining higher conversion efficiency with 100-fold faster deposition rates,” he says. Indeed, his tiny pilot plant recently achieved this milestone, sustaining a deposition rate of more than 300 angstroms per second, compared with 1 to 5 angstroms per second in state-of-the-art commercial photovoltaic processes. That increase alone would allow the building of a 1-gigawatt capacity plant, but Ovshinsky says he will also soon announce a commensurate increase in conversion efficiency from the current level of about 10 percent.

    Ovshinsky Solar currently has eight employees, all of whom had been at ECD for 25 years or more. They work in a tiny unmarked lab packed with elaborate instrumentation and prototype vapor deposition equipment of their own devising. A convoluted maze of stainless steel, the apparatus looks like a science fair project on steroids. The company has 14 patents pending, with more in the pipeline, but until they issue, Ovshinsky explains that he has to remain circumspect about exactly what he is doing. The breakthrough, he says, rests on the invention of an entirely new amorphous material — not a refinement of something he has done before — adding that his aha! moment came when he looked beyond the narrow science of solid-state physics as practiced today, much the way he did 50 years ago with the discovery of amorphous materials. “If you’re going to do something new, you have to overlap fields,” he says. “God didn’t make disciplines; man did.”

    The capital sums Ovshinsky is seeking are not big relative to the billions that venture capitalists are throwing at green energy startups, but he says he is not looking to them as investors. “Why don’t I go to the venture capitalists? They don’t care about the achievement; they care about getting out of it at the right time,” he says. “I think countries are better. All they want is for you to build the machines. I prefer to get money from groups that want to answer the problem, and that understand that it has to be revolutionary.”

    Ovshinsky won’t say which governments he is talking to about funding, but a glance at his calendar shows that he has been traveling a great deal, particularly to China. Chinese solar panels accounted for about half of total worldwide shipments in 2009, and that share is expected to grow. “China is doing the right things,” Ovshinsky says. “They have lots of good people, and they have a plan for energy. We do not have a plan for energy.”

    Silicon Valley venture capitalists say that although Ovshinsky’s achievements are well known to them, so is his reputation as a difficult partner for investors. And they caution that he would find Beijing and Sichuan investors no easier to work with than venture capitalists in northern California.

    “No matter what he’s come up with, people will pay attention because he has a track record of some pretty impressive breakthroughs,” says Sunil Paul, founder of Spring Ventures, a San Francisco–based fund that invests in and incubates clean-energy technologies and companies. “But Stan does have this complicated reputation; you want him to be Edison, but there’s a risk he’ll end up being Buckminster Fuller.”

    For longtime participants in the solar industry, Ovshinsky’s ability to deliver a breakthrough technology is not in doubt, despite the magnitude of the advance he is claiming. They say the economic and environmental case for low-cost solar power is so compelling that it is almost inevitable but building a 1-gigawatt machine is only the first step in a long road to market. “I don’t know what technology he’s using, but it’s not something we know anything about,” says Travis Bradford, author of Solar Revolution: The Economic Transformation of the Global Energy Industry (MIT Press, 2006). “It’s not a current-generation technology. And that next gen is five to 10 years away. Then there are business model problems, even if he can build a gigawatt line.”

    At 88, Ovshinsky is well aware of the actuarial tables, and though he plans to go on working for years, he has structured the new company so that it can function without him. But it’s also clear that he cannot function happily without a group of like-minded souls striving to take his concepts forward.

    “I never did this for awards, money, power,” Ovshinsky says. “I did it because it had to be done, and because of my social drive to make a better and more beautiful world. That’s what I started doing when I was knee-high, and I don’t expect to stop now.”