All urchins, all the time

Written by admin on 02/01/2019 Categories: 杭州夜生活

Science has placed a large number of resources regarding the urchin genome, including some free content and links to its subscriber only articles, on a single page. If you wish to follow up on any of this information, that's the place to start. In the mean time, we can dive right in. HangZhou Night Net

As I mentioned earlier, echinoderms such as the sea urchin are among the most distant members of the deuterostomes, a group that includes all vertebrates. How distant? The deuterstome common ancestor dates from the pre-Cambrian, and echinoderms with tube feet and a water-based vascular system appear in the early Cambrian, well over 500 million years ago. Echinoderms we can recognize as having modern features became the dominant group following the great Permian-Triassic extinction 250 million years ago. So, the genome, in some ways, provides a glimpse into the distant past, as it reveals what the ancestor to all vertebrates had in its genome half a billion years ago.

Read on for the full story.

The process of obtaining of the genome itself took advantage of a few interesting new ideas in genome sequencing. Much of the sequence was generated with what's called a "whole genome shotgun," a technique that frequently leaves questions regarding the order of sequences and gaps in the final product. In this case, these problems were corrected by the use of large fragments of the genome cloned into bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs).

Normally, sequencing BACs is laborious, but the authors developed a technique that sequenced pools of BACs simultaneously, getting the process done in 1/5 the normal time, and at 10 percent of the usual cost. By arranging the BACs on a grid, they could pool DNA from the columns and rows and sequence it in batches; the source of specific sequences could be identified based on the intersection of the pools that shared the same sequences. The information generated by BAC sequencing was then integrated with the whole genome shotgun sequence by computer. The computer programs that assemble genome sequences had to be altered because the sea urchin population appears to be very diverse, with one base difference per every 50, a level that the assembly programs interpreted as sequencing errors. The authors suggest the diversity results from the urchin's reproductive strategy: they simply release eggs and sperm into the currents, limiting the probability of forming local, inbred populations.

Identifying the genes began before the BAC sequencing was complete. Four separate programs scanned the sequence for features typical of eukaryotic genes and similarity to genes in other organisms. Predicted genes were fed into a database that was accessible to a number of experts in sea urchin biology; they went through and evaluated and annotated the predictions, sharing their work on a listserve set up for the purpose. In the end, the sequence yielded a genome of 814 Megabases, carrying over 23,000 genes. The structure of many of these genes were refined by the use of a whole genome tiling array, which also revealed that nearly half of them are expressed during the first few stages of embryogenesis.

Well over 7,000 of the genes are shared with vertebrates, although a number that appear to be unique to the echinoderms were found. Many of these unique genes are involved in the production of the sea urchin's skeleton, which is composed of calcite, unlike the vertebrate skeleton. As none of other deuterostomes have skeletons, it appears that the formation of mineralized tissue has developed twice within the lineage.

Many classes of related proteins are encoded by multiple genes in vertebrates, in part because that lineage appears to have undergone two whole-genome duplications. Echinoderms seem to have kept a more ancestral genome (no duplications), and many of these proteins are present only as a single copy. In some cases, however, urchins have made up for this with smaller duplications of individual genes—one such case are the small GTPases (including Ras and RABs), which mediate many signaling processes and direct the motion of vesicles around the cell.

There's a few types of genes that sea urchins appear to lack entirely. These include part of the cell's skeleton called the intermediate filaments, as well as the integrins and cadherins which link these filaments to the cell's surface. They also lack the proteins that are needed to form gap junctions, the links between cells that allow electric currents to pass between them—this appears to limit the ways in which the nerves of urchins can propagate signals.

The nervous system in general had a few other surprises. It's been kown that each appendage in sea urchins has a local sensory-motor loop which manages its activities; overall coordination is handled by radial nerve bundles. There are no obvious sensory organs. But the genome reveals a huge number of receptors similar to the ones that mammals use to sense odors, balance, and noise, and there are six different light sensing proteins. Expression analysis shows that many of the sensory genes are expressed in the urchin's tube feet, suggesting a previously unrecognized sensory sophistication.

Some of the biggest differences are apparent in the immune system. The basic building blocks of the deuterostome immune system appear to be ancient: nearly all of the transcription factors and signaling molecules used by vertebrates are present in the urchin genome, including key signaling systems like the Interleukins and Tumor Necrosis Factor. But most of the urchin immune response appears to be based on what's called "innate immunity." Innate immunity typically uses a limited number of receptors that recognize a large number of pathogens. In the sea urchin, that limited number has been expanded to take up nearly three percent of its genes.

Sea urchins, like everything other than jawed vertebrates, don't appear to have the "adaptive immunity" arm of the immune system, which relies on antibodies and the T-cell receptor. Intriguingly, however, the raw material for antibodies may be present. The genes that catalyze the DNA rearrangements that produce unique antibodies, termed RAGs, are present in the urchin genome. Stretches of DNA resembling the raw materials of the variable regions in antibodies are there, too, although they lack the sequences that the RAGs need to generate mature antibody genes. These findings suggest that the production of antibodies isn't much of a vertebrate innovation, as was initially thought. The authors even raise the possibility that the RAGs are mediating the production of some other variable immune molecule—we just don't know how to recognize it yet.

It's hard to tell how to wrap a story like this up, because work like this is so far-reaching. It has answered some outstanding questions, it has removed questions that have lingered over the biology, and it has provided some answers about the genetic raw material that our ancestors had to work with over half a billion years ago. One other thing that's worth noting is that the money for this effort was almost certainly justified by suggesting we'd get exactly these sorts of answers. To me, at least, it appears that us taxpayers have had our money well-spent in this case.

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CCP and…White Wolf? Okay, I didn’t see that one coming

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CCP is a great company: from their customer service to their ability to stay focused on their one product (EVE Online) and really serve the community, I've always been impressed with them. Of course, they're a small company with a fanatical online following, so there isn't a lot of news about them that isn't EVE based. Until now. Did I really think I would wake up and find out that they merged with White Wolf? If I put on my analyst hat and sat down for a month or so to see what quirky mergers I could think of, that probably never would have made it on the table. I'm also going to have to admit in this post that in high school I used to play a lot of World of Darkness pen and paper games with my friends. There, my secret is out. I'm getting geekier by the day. I'm also excited about what this means: HangZhou Night Net

CCP is bringing a range of White Wolf's role-playing properties online, while the table-top publisher will develop card games, RPG systems, novels and more based on the EVE Online universe.

The EVE universe is ripe for this sort of thing, but CCP's access to the World of Darkness gets me all sweaty. The idea of online games with White Wolf's take on Vampires,Werewolves, Changelings, and all the other sundry monsters and backstories from the World of Darkness is enough to get any fan going. CCP's dedication in the online gaming world as well as their attention to detail make them a good match to see if any of this IP will work in the gaming world outside of RPG titles like Vampire: The Masquerade. I can't wait to see what these two companies come up with.

White Wolf and CCP…I just can't get over it. This makes me want to get out my old source books, order a large pizza or two, grab a bag of die, and spend a weekend giving those Sabbat punks a what for.

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Online education continues to grow in higher-ed

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According to a new report on the state of online learning in U.S. higher education, more students than ever before have been taking online courses. The full report, entitled "Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States 2006," estimates that nearly 3.2 million students took at least one online course during the fall 2005 term, an increase of nearly a million people from the previous year.HangZhou Night Net

Nearly three-quarters of those hopping online to learn are undergraduate students looking to complete either Bachelor’s or Associate’s degrees, while most of the rest are doing work towards a Master’s designation. Among undergrads, the majority of students are in Associate’s programs.

More than 96 percent of schools with more than 15,000 students offer some form of online courses. About two-thirds of the very largest organizations offer complete programs online which purport to allow students to complete nearly all of their degree work remotely. These figures, which have also increased from 2004, show that online education has definitely entered the mainstream as far as higher education is concerned. The overall percentage of schools who identified online education as a critical long-term strategy grew from 49 percent in 2003 to 56 percent in 2005.

Not all the news about online education is positive. Educators still have some concerns about the extra discipline required from online students compared to their in-class counterparts. In general, the report says, teachers believe that it takes more effort to teach a class online than face-to-face. However, the consensus among educators was that evaluation was no more difficult in online courses.

Just as important, the report says that college and university education leaders by and large believe that online education is as good as traditional face-to-face education, with nearly 17 percent saying that it’s actually better. Of course, those same leaders are in charge of developing and ultimately marketing their own online programs, which undoubtedly leads some of them to be bullish in their assessments.

Whatever the case, online education is indeed growing rapidly, but the overwhelming majority of students who use it are supplementing traditional face-to-face education, not replacing it. Will that change? According to the report, educators generally feel that it is the student themselves that are holding back online education, with nearly two-third suggesting that the biggest challenge facing students is their own discipline to complete an online course.

After all, at least with traditional face-to-face education, regular course meetings help to keep students on track, even if they show up to class only to hop on the Wi-Fi and surf the day away.

The study (PDF) was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group in partnership with the College Board.

Ken Fisher contributed to this report.

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US leads the world in phishing

Written by admin on 09/10/2019 Categories: 杭州夜生活

The United States leads the world in phishing sites, according to new results from PhishTank. The group has just released its statistics from October, and they indicate that the US hosted 24 percent of all phishing sites in the world last month. South Korea was next with 14 percent, and India came in third with eight percent.HangZhou Night Net

PhishTank is a service of openDNS, and it works by allowing users to suggest potential problem sites. These sites are then voted on by users, who can indicate whether a site is phishing for data or not. In October, more than 7,000 sites were submitted and 3,678 were “verified as valid.” PhishTank notes, however, that more than 2,500 sites went off line before anyone could vote on them, which indicates that there were actually more phishing sites in (brief) existence than the numbers show.

It comes as no surprise to anyone with an e-mail account that PayPal and eBay topped the list of targets. The other eight firms in the top 10 were all banks. One of these, the Volksbanken Raiffeisenbanken, has a truly wonderful name that I would love to see on a credit card (self to confused grocery store clerk, in bad German accent: “Entschuldigung, bitte, but vill you accept my Volksbanken Raiffeisenbanken Visakarte?” Clerk: “Um…”).

Data source: PhishFarm.com

Although the US had the most overall sites, the single largest host for phishing sites was Hanaro Telecom, a South Korean company that “flourishes to become your lifetime communication partner,” according to its website.

Phishing has become a worldwide scourge, bad enough that IE7, Opera, and FireFox now include optional phishing filters directly in the browser. As users upgrade to the new versions, some phishing attacks are likely to be thwarted. But with so much money at stake, you can bet the problem won’t disappear anytime soon.

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Coping with oxygen

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Life appears to have originated in an atmosphere devoid of free oxygen, which only appeared in significant quantities after the origin of photosynthesis. The sudden appearance of oxygen presumably came as a bit of a shock for the early life forms around at the time, as many cellular proteins can be inactivated by oxidative damage. One report we noted on life's adjustment to oxygen compared it to coping with having your house burn down. So, how did the organisms around at the time manage to adjust? HangZhou Night Net

A report just released online at PNAS suggests that the adjustment might not have been as difficult as once imagined. The researchers have characterized a number of enzymes that operate using two iron atoms to help catalyze their reactions. These enzymes perform a wide variety of tasks and, at the sequence level, they appear to have little in common. But as their structures have been solved, it appears that all of them contain a similar arrangement of atoms in which the iron is embedded in a bundle of helical protein coils. With that picture in hand, it became clear that the sequences that were close to the iron were in fact the same, with one exception.

That exception was very informative. In an enzyme that's involved with lipid metabolism, the position is occupied by an uncharged amino acid. In contrast, an enzyme that's used to neutralize reactive oxygen has an acidic one there. The researchers hypothesized that this change is essential for changing what the protein does. The tested this by swapping an acid into this position in the protein that works on lipids. This was enough to kill of its normal activity; it was over a thousand-fold less effective at modifying lipids. But the striking result was that the altered version was now capable of neutralizing reactive oxygen (albeit inefficiently).

Thus, in this case, a single amino acid change is capable of converting an enzyme that is already useful to a cell in anaerobic conditions into one that can help them survive oxygen-rich conditions. Even in this inefficient state, it's probably enough to allow the cells to survive, which is all they need for further changes to improve the enzyme's efficiency. These results make it clear that what may appear to be a huge hurdle for evolutionary change to cope with may not be all that difficult on the level of the actual biology.

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Adobe contributes Flash code to Mozilla

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Adobe has opened the source code of the ActionScript Virtual Machine, the high-performance ECMAScript implementation used in Adobe’s ubiquitous Flash Player. Adobe has made the source code available under three prominent open source licenses, and contributed it to Mozilla for eventual inclusion in Firefox. HangZhou Night Net

Mozilla has responded to Adobe’s contribution by creating the Tamarin Project. Named after a species of tiny arboreal monkeys, the project aims to develop a complete ECMAScript 4 implementation based on Adobe’s virtual machine. The Tamarin Project team includes developers from both Mozilla and Adobe, including JavaScript creator and Mozilla CTO Brenden Eich and Adobe’s VM architect Edwin Smith. Adobe’s virtual machine currently supports version three of the ECMAScript standard, but the company hopes that the involvement of the Mozilla developer community will facilitate accelerated development of new features described in the nascent ECMAScript 4 specification. The availability of an open source ECMAScript 4 implementation would promote adoption of the standard and could potentially stimulate use of JavaScript 2, which is based on ECMAScript 4.

The Tamarin project roadmap also involves integration of the new virtual machine into SpiderMonkey, the open source JavaScript interpreter used by Firefox. Developed from scratch by Adobe for the recently released Flash Player 9, the virtual machine features a unique Just-in-Time (JIT) compiler that converts ECMAScript bytecode into native machine code.

The JavaScript interpreter currently used in Firefox has been the subject of some criticism, and although it beats Internet Explorer in many benchmarks, it doesn’t even come close to matching the performance of Opera’s JavaScript implementation. The Tamarin Project developers plan to alter the SpiderMonkey compiler so that it can leverage the native code generation functionality of the new virtual machine, dramatically increasing the runtime performance of JavaScript in Firefox on many platforms. High-performance JavaScript execution facilitated by native code generation could enable web developers to produce rich web applications with an unprecedented level of sophistication.

A trend towards development of interactive web applications with dynamic scripting techniques has recently increased the relevance of JavaScript on the web. The Tamarin Project could have a significant impact on the way that developers construct web applications. Mozilla CTO Brenden Eich comments, “Adobe’s work on the new virtual machine is the largest contribution to the Mozilla Foundation since its inception. Now web developers have a high-performance, open source virtual machine for building and deploying interactive applications across both Adobe Flash Player and the Firefox web browser. We’re excited about joining the Adobe and Mozilla communities to advance ECMAScript.” Adobe’s senior vice president Kevin Lynch says that collaboration between his company and the open source Mozilla community is “a major milestone in bringing together the broader HTML and Flash development communities around a common language, and empowering the creation of even more innovative applications in the Web 2.0 world.”

Mozilla developers hope to integrate Tamarin into Firefox in 2008. Source code is already available in the Mozilla CVS, and independent open source developers are encouraged to participate. More information is available from the Tamarin FAQ and on the Tamarin mailing list.

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Modeling cells as porcupines

Written by admin on  Categories: 杭州夜生活

I am sure many have heard the old physics joke regarding modeling a
horse as a sphere to make the math easier, and while funny, it is often
very true. In order to fully simulate a system accurately,
you would need to get down and solve the quantum mechanical equations
that define each and every atom in the system… This quickly
becomes intractable, even in systems with a few electrons.
This becomes exactly impossible when you start to discuss
systems on the size of cells. So, in order to get around this,
physicists (and engineers and mathematicians) come up with simplified
models to make the math easier, but hopefully capture the important
physics of the system. This brings to mind a quote posted* in
my last simulation write up that is attributed to Prof. George E. P.
Box:HangZhou Night Net

"All models are wrong, but some are useful."

Very, very true words. A model need not have every last detail included to be useful or to help us learn from it.

Recent work from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and at the University of Heidelberg has illustrated this very nicely. Researchers there set out to study cell adhesion in blood vessels. Even with a lifetime of work, one can not fully model all the interactions that occur within a cell, or between a cell and the vessel wall. Instead they choose to use a simplified model of a cell, one that resembles a porcupine, to simulate this complex system. In the process, they identified what are key parameters for cellular adhesion.

Blood is the highway system of our bodies: it transports cells throughout the body via hydrodynamic forces resulting from our pumping heart. But these forces do not tell a cell where to exit; this is left to specific groups of specialized molecules called receptors that exist on the cellular surface. Receptor molecules work on a lock-and-key principle, e.g. the receptors on a certain cell will only fit into the receptors on its destination tissue, which ensures that the cell ends up where needed. The research team sought to understand what is most important physics in this process, what is it that causes cells to stick? This sticking process is critical in many biological applications. Malaria-infected red blood cells will stick to vessel walls to avoid destruction by the spleen, and white blood cells attach themselves at certain points to help fight off foreign bodies in adjacent tissues; therefore understanding the underlying physical mechanism is an important first step in exploiting it to our advantage.

By modeling the cell as a sphere with sticky knobs randomly placed on its surface, and the tissue as a plane with an even arrangement of similar sticky knobs, the researchers modeled the hydrodynamic flow of cells passing over this surface to see what stuck. It was found that higher flow lead to a higher number of cells sticking to the surface, since the increased flow would allow them to find a matching receptor on the surface more quickly. They found that increasing the receptor density on the cell itself increased the adhesion, but only to a point. The team found that beyond a few hundred receptors per cell, there was little gain in adhesion; this was because the receptor's effective areas would overlap each other due to the random thermal vibrations present in the system. Similar results were seen in the when the size of the adhesion areas was increased for similar reasons.

What was found to have a surprising effect on the adhesive properties was the height of the receptor knobs. The simulations showed that cells would have a large increase in adhesion rate from only a small increase in the height of the knobs. This phenomena is seen in nature as well: both white blood cells and malaria use this "porcupine spine" mechanism. What the researchers discovered is that this may not be limited to just a few systems, but rather is a feature of many other biological systems that exhibit similar behavior. This works emphasizes a point I made in a earlier article—we are living in interesting times, where experiments and simulations are now looking at the same thing, each bringing new information to light and helping advance science even more. No longer do advances in computational chemistry|biology|material science|engineering mean a trivial bit of information, but a real step forward in our scientific understanding of a system. This is just one of the latest examples of it.

*Thanks to rx_MD for posting Dr. Box's quote

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Game Review: WTF (Work Time Fun)

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Work Time Fun (or WTF) seeks to do what Wario Ware did so brilliantly: stick a bunch of minigames into one title and keep players occupied and happy for short spurts of gaming. It's a good idea and high-concept games like this are made for portable systems. Here's the thing though, Wario Ware sought to do this by actually making the minigames… well, games. You were supposed to be playing the goofy ideas of Wario as you went through the game. HangZhou Night Net

In contrast, Work Time Fun makes its minigames work, and the idea is so terribly bad that you have to wonder who gave this idea the thumbs up. "You see, we're going to simulate the work environment of many people by making the game tedious and repetitive!" It doesn't sound like a good idea, and it certainly isn't one in practice.

One game has you putting the caps on pens. Over and over. Sometimes you have to flip them to get the cap on the right side. I made one hundred pens or so before being convinced that was all there was to the game, and then got my $5 check. Gee. I'm having fun. I used that money to buy something at the vending machine, hoping to get another minigame or something else that's fun. Nope, I got a pencil eraser. You see, you collect trinkets, but they don't really do anything. Does this sound fun to you?

The other "jobs" can be taking orders at a restaurant, playing Rock Paper Scissors (most of the players use the same attack over and over, making the game mostly trial and error), or running across the street collecting mushrooms. You have to do these things many, many times to make any money to spend on your trinkets. This isn't fun, and it does feel like work. So I guess it's mission accomplished on the game design.

You can unlock more jobs, but it's never fun. You count people as they walk past, and you do this for a few hours, and you unlock some more trinkets. No thanks. There are also "tools" you can buy from the vending machines that do different things, such as a flashlight, or a pair of creepy eyes you can move around, or even a tool to help you split the bill at a restaurant. Fun for a few seconds, but again nothing that’s really going to help your enjoyment of the game.

The graphics are interesting, and the design work of the game is very strong. The "e-mails" you get from the main menu are also pretty funny. It’s clear that someone spent a lot of time making sure the game looked appealing and fresh. It's a shame that kind of work wasn't put into making the games actually fun. Of course, when you're modeling work, that may never have been in the cards.

Status: Skip

Price: $29.99

System: PSP

Developer and Publisher: D3 Publisher of America

ESRB Rating: Teen

Other recent minireviews:

Mercury MeltdownGrand Theft Auto: Vice City StoriesFatal Frame (Halloween Game Review)DS-XtremeBubble Bobble Revolution

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Disney to open new Wii development studio

Written by admin on 08/09/2019 Categories: 杭州夜生活

Nintendo’s new Wii console has the gaming community buzzing in anticipation of its release, but for many people the issue of third-party support remains an ongoing concern. Will there be a broad spectrum of support from other companies for the platform, especially given how different it is from the other consoles? Those worries should be lessened somewhat after an announcement today that Disney is founding a game studio specifically focused on developing games for the Wii platform.HangZhou Night Net

The announcement came from Disney’s Buena Vista Game unit, responsible for titles such as Cars, based on the popular Pixar movie. The new studio will be called Fall Line Studio, and will be based in Salt Lake City.

Disney CEO Robert Iger said last September that the company can earn more by developing its own games rather than licensing characters and content to other developers. The company wants to make 80 percent of its games internally, and have 80 percent of these titles based on Disney movies, TV shows, or other content. The company has been buying out other game development studios, such as Avalanche Studios and Propaganda Games, as well as starting its own game companies.

So why pay special effort to support the Wii? The new head of Fall Line Studio, Scott Novis, explained that younger children often find PlayStation and Xbox games technically challenging, with a multitude of buttons to master. The Wii’s simpler control scheme and lower price could make it a more appealing platform for Disney games. “It seems like with our brand, the Nintendo platform is a really good place to put our development effort and focus,” Novis said.

Will other companies follow Disney’s lead and create special teams to develop Wii games? Instead of merely porting titles from other systems, it’s possible that the Wii may end up having more unique styles of games written for it. Rather than simply taking existing games and adding support for the motion controller, companies may approach the platform like the handheld Nintendo DS, which has done well with “quirky” types of games like Brain Age and Nintendogs.

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Intel backs turnkey Web 2.0 package for business

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Web 2.0 mania has reached Intel, with the CPU maker announcing its backing of SuiteTwo, a new business Internet suite designed to help companies embrace collaborative computing models. Comprised of a combination of inward- and public-facing applications, SuiteTwo was developed in partnership with open source developer and integrator SpikeSource.HangZhou Night Net

The idea is simple. Package up a number of Web 2.0 "applications," make them work together, and unleash them on businesses. By bringing the applications together and marketing them under a single moniker, Intel is appealing to businesses that haven’t yet jumped on the blogging and RSS bandwagon. It’s a turnkey solution that will run on Windows, Red Hat Linux, and SUSE Linux. It features a single sign-on for users and what Intel describes as a "rich user interface."

SuiteTwo consists of four applications, but more will be added in the future. The inward-facing apps are Socialtext and NewsGator with SimpleFeed and Movable Type used for external collaboration. In simpler terms, we’re talking about blogging, wiki, and RSS reader and publication apps. Socialtext is targeted at companies wanting to use wikis for internal collaboration, and Intel claims that companies using it see faster project turnaround times and up to a 30 percent reduction in e-mail volume. NewsGator and Movable Type will be familiar to most of our readers as popular tools for RSS reading and blogging, respectively, and SimpleFeed is an RSS syndication tool.

"SuiteTwo demonstrates the benefits of bringing together individual Web 2.0 products into a solution for businesses," said Renee James, corporate VP and general manager of Intel’s Software and Solutions Group. "The Intel?Channel Marketplace will help bring this solution to the broader enterprise community."

SpikeSource will offer support for the suite, and will continue working on adding new applications and features. Pricing has yet to be officially announced, but sources tell Ars Technica that they expect it to cost around $15 per user, per month.

You can read more about the new suite at its new home.

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Rabbit-ears for your Mac (Americans need not apply)

Written by admin on  Categories: 杭州夜生活

Today, I came home from being a poll pest—that's precinct captain—to an exciting announcement from Elgato, makers of the EyeTV line of TV tuners for the Mac. It's for the EyeTV Diversity.HangZhou Night Net

And at first, I was really puzzled. What exactly is the EyeTV Diversity? Call me curmudgeonly, but I really dislike when I can't figure out what a product does from the first few lines of sales copy. So I dug down and all I got was alphabet soup: DTT and DVB-T with no definitions on what those are. But looking at the picture, I realized that all this excitement is about a pair of high tech rabbit-ears. Yes, rabbit-ears. In fact, if Captain Kirk had rabbit ears for his inter-gallactic TV, they would probably look like the EyeTV Diversity.

So now that we know what the EyeTV Diversity is, there's good news and bad news. The good news is: the EyeTV Diversity is a sexy little USB 2.0 dual TV tuner that gets signal inside and when you're moving around. It delivers regular TV signal on G4s and delivers 720p and 1080i HDTV on dual-G5s and Intel Macs. The bad news is that it only supports DTT (Digital Terrestrian Television) and DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcast-Television), which is mostly used in outside of North America. The US uses the ATSC standard. If you're still confused, here's a nice primer. So, what we have is a really nifty gadget, that can't be used in the US.

Please, someone lend me a container for my joy.

No, really, I'm happy for all the non-US, non-Canadian, non-Mexican readers that will actually have a chance to use this neato pair of rabbit ears. You Americans who aren't watching TV on your Macs, don't forget to vote er, Happy Election Day.

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Report: Outsourcing is here to stay

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Speaking at Stanford earlier this week, Rice University’s Professor Moshe Vardi said that IT is still a good, viable career choice despite increases in outsourcing by US companies. Based on a report issued by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in February, his comments reflect an optimistic attitude toward the current IT job market and describe "offshoring" as a symptom of an increasingly globalized economy. The report is the result of a one-year study surveying the global migration of software jobs conducted by a panel of over 30 economists, social scientists and computer scientists from the US, Europe, India, Israel, and Japan. The conclusion: with minor qualifications, the IT job market in the US is doing very well, and tech companies are even hurting for more IT workers in the US. HangZhou Night Net

Vardi and the report claim that "speculative data" about offshoring led to a fear among computer science students that once they finished their degrees, there would be no jobs, causing many students shying away from technology studies in school which has then caused something of a shortage of IT workers in recent years. This, the report says, is aided by the US’s current restrictions on student visas—thus driving foreign talent to neighboring countries—which the report claims can be helped by relaxing H1B policies to "help US companies find skilled workers," enrolling more of our own students in computer science, and making sure they all dutifully become dues-paying ACM members.

Critics are not quite as optimistic about the state of the IT job market as the ACM and Professor Vardi. UC Davis’s Professor Norman Matloff, a famed critic of H1B policies, told the SFGate in February that "the deans and the department chairs are absolutely panicked because enrollment is plummeting," adding that "satisfying" jobs in CS are most certainly not going up. The Bueau of Labor Statistics backs up this claim—while jobs in IT are generally going up, computer programming in particular is growing "much more slowly than that of other computer specialties."

Matloff also wrote in his offshoring newsletter that one of the panelists for the ACM report, Rob Ramer, contacted him directly, saying that the atmosphere on the ACM panel was rather discouraging to those with dissenting opinions:

"Our sub-committee was often seen as alternatively right-wing
or anti-business extremists…because we kept raising dissenting voices about
the pro-offshoring mantra. It was a pretty much a consensus among the rest
of the committees that we were the ‘spoil-sports,’ even though we repeatedly
stated that few to none of us were ‘anti-outsourcing’ in all situations, all
we were calling for was an examination of the problems as well as the glowing
success stories. Of course, factual examination is ‘spoiling the sport’ of
spin."

"Globalization of, and offshoring within, the software industry are deeply connected and both will continue to grow," notes the ACM report, which may be one of the only uncontested statements that can be taken away from it.

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Microsoft prepping its move into Voice over IP

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With Windows Vista heading off to production soon, and Office 2007 already on the way, Microsoft’s bigwigs are traveling the globe, making appearances and pontificating about the "advantages" offered by their forthcoming products. One of the advantages that we’re hearing about now for the first time relates to the tie-in of VoIP services with Windows Vista and Microsoft’s overall server strategy.HangZhou Night Net

In Tokyo this week for a Microsoft partner conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told attendees that Microsoft is planning on making a move in the VoIP arena at the beginning of next year. VoIP is currently white hot, with everyone and their grandmother basking in the glory that is dirt-cheap (or often free) calling across the globe. Ballmer and the folks at Microsoft are hoping that the buzz of a VoIP/Vista tie-in might help move Windows Vista a little faster.

VoIP, meet Vista

The crown jewel of the arrangement will be service and application-level integration of VoIP calling in Windows Vista itself. Microsoft has released few details regarding what the actual implementation might look like, except to say that it will unify email, VoIP, video chat, and instant messaging, and that it will be integrated into the operating system. Ballmer also noted that VoIP integration would be supported on the server level, as well.

We can make some educated guesses as to what Microsoft has up its sleeve. First, we would be extremely surprised if Microsoft was not using Live Messenger to push their strategy on the desktop. Live Messenger fits with Microsoft’s larger brand of "Live!" services that are meant to link the local desktop with the Internet and Internet services. Second, Live Messenger already has VoIP features, and the application plays a central role in Microsoft’s corporate Instant Messaging strategy (Office Communicator). Will they reinvent the wheel? We doubt it. They could slap a new name and face on an existing application, however.

The real question is where Live Communications Server (LCS) fits into all of this, and whether or not this will end up being a Vista exclusive. To date, Microsoft has focused its corporate collaboration energies on Office deployments, not Windows per se. In an ideal world for Microsoft, these Office deployments happen alongside supporting server components, such as SharePoint Server 2007 and Exchange. Normally one might expect a play like this to center around Microsoft Outlook, but Microsoft has focused on talking about VoIP and Vista. The upshot here is this: most of Microsoft’s moves in collaboration have been about Office sales, but right now Microsoft is talking about Vista.

As much as Microsoft would love to see a rapid adoption of Vista among businesses, it’s not going to happen, for reasons we have outlined. Office 2007 will also face quite similar challenges. That leaves Microsoft in the position of needing to support whatever VoIP aspirations they have with whatever they have on hand, namely a ton of Windows XP users who are also running older versions of Office. The question that Microsoft will need to answer: what’s more important? Building as big a VoIP business as possible by leveraging existing "seats," or spur uptake of new client and server software by using VoIP as a carrot at the end of the proverbial stick? The answer depends on how serious Microsoft is about wanting to be a real player in VoIP.

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