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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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)

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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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Does a blog post count as “fair disclosure”?

Written by admin on 02/09/2019 Categories: 杭州夜生活

Christopher Cox, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, recently posted in the discussion thread attached to Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz’s blog. The posting was in response to a letter Schwartz had written (and made available on his blog) more than a month ago, asking if the SEC would be willing to update “Regulation Fair Disclosure” to allow companies to first share corporate information over the Web. Cox’s response: let’s talk about it.HangZhou Night Net

RegFD, as the rule is known, was designed to ensure that no one gets preferential access to important corporate information. It requires that earnings reports, merger announcements, and the like are publicly reported to numerous outlets at the same time, usually through a conference call or press release. Schwartz wants company websites and corporate blogs to count as public reports, and he argues that the traditional outlets for such corporate information have had their day.

“It is our view that proprietary news outlets are insufficiently accessible to the broad majority of Internet users and individual shareholders,” he wrote in a September 25 letter to Cox. “It is certainly the case that the Internet represents a broader user base than those able to afford subscriptions to traditional forms of media and thus usage of this or any other freely available company blog or website should be considered sufficient in satisfying the objectives of Regulation Fair Disclosure.”

Cox responded last week, posting a copy of his return letter to Schwartz in a discussion thread on Schwartz’s blog. He points out that companies are increasingly putting their information online, and notes that most of this is already allowed by the government. “Indeed, because information that is not ‘selectively disclosed’ or that is not material nonpublic information is not subject to the public dissemination provisions of Regulation FD, Sun and other public companies can already do this without implicating the provisions of Regulation FD,” Cox wrote.

Important corporate details need to satisfy a “widespread dissemination” requirement of the regulation, and Cox expressed his willingness to discuss the issue of whether publication to the Web should count. Before the SEC could sign off on such a plan, it would have to adopt rules designed to ensure that important bits of information are not released onto obscure webpages that only insiders know about or made available only to users of certain browsers.

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HPNA gets speed boost to 320Mbps

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The HomePNA Alliance, backers of a networking spec that works over coaxial or twisted pair wiring, has announced the release of the HPNA 3.1 specification. The big news comes in the form of a speed jump from 128Mbps to 320Mbps, which pushes it above competing networking standards HomePlug AV and MoCA (Multimedia over Coax) for the title of fastest networking tech outside of gigabit Ethernet and makes it a more attractive option for triple-play providers. (For an overview of all the competing technologies, check out our recent report "Propagating the triple play through the house.")HangZhou Night Net

The technologically savvy among us may prefer the likes of gigabit Ethernet or are looking forward to the final approval of the 802.11n WiFi spec and its 600Mbps speeds, but for many US users HPNA 3.1 and MoCA may be the best way to move content around the house. Both HPNA and MoCA can run over coaxial cable which gives them a leg up in newer homes where coaxial and twisted-pair copper wire are run to nearly every room in the house.

With its 320Mbps of bandwidth and ability to use either coaxial cable or phone wires, HPNA 3.1 can easily handle VDSL, ADSL, POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), and television simultaneously. Since it is capable of multispectrum operation, HPNA can also handle multiple networks over the same wiring, with up to 50 devices spread up to 1,000 feet apart on a single network.

HPNA is the technology of choice for AT&T in its U-Verse fiber-to-the-node installations and is finding favor with other IPTV providers. Verizon, which is in the midst of rolling out its FiOS fiber-to-the-premises network, is sticking with MoCA and its 135Mbps of throughput for the time being. MoCA is currently limited to coax and can handle voice, video, and data packets without any quality of service issues.

When you go to your local big-box electronics retailer or computer store, you’ll see little, if any, MoCA or HPNA networking equipment on the shelves. ABI Research director Michael Wolf told Ars that service providers are snapping up almost all of the equipment at this point. "We won’t see much in the way of retail products for MoCA or HPNA 3.0 during the next 12 to 24 months," remarked Wolf.

If you are looking for an alternative to running gigabit Ethernet through your house and don’t want to mess around with Draft N equipment that may or may not be compatible with the final 802.11n spec, your best bet is HomePlug AV. HomePlug AV products should be appearing on store shelves soon. Manufacturers Netgear and D-Link have recently begun shipping powerline networking products that use the competing DS2 powerline networking technology, which also offers speeds of up to 200Mbps. Our testing of a pre-HomePlug AV Netgear unit that had a maximum throughput of 85Mbps resulted in max speeds of only 18Mbps, but HomePlug AV gear may perform better.

With an estimated 45 million connections using either HPNA, MoCA, or HomePlug AV (which runs over electrical wiring) by 2011, the progress of these competing standards bears watching. If the 802.11n spec is ratified and comes to market in a timely matter, its 600Mbps bandwidth cap along with its ease of installation and use may change the story.

Further reading:Propagating the triple play through the house

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Mixed messages on science education in the election

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Efforts to limit the teaching of science in public schools occur at almost every level of government in the US, but the most prominent of them happen at the state level. Most states (all but one—what's up with Iowa?) have written standards that define the minimum information that students should be exposed to by the time they graduate. As such, these standards have often become battlegrounds for those who wish to keep the science of evolution out of the classroom, or dilute it with the nonscientific. Over the last five years or so, the states stuck deepest in this sort of quagmire have been Kansas and Ohio, where several members of the state school boards were up for election yesterday. HangZhou Night Net

Some of the drama in Kansas was eliminated at the primary level earlier in the year. But, as I noted then, two anti-science board members survived the primaries; it now appears that they are likely to have survived the election as well. That leaves the pro-science board members with only a slim majority of the existing board. Perhaps more significantly, it means that the next time there are state elections, the majority of the contested seats will be held by the pro-science folks. In short, Kansas is all set up to dive back into this mess in another two years.

Better news comes out of Ohio, though, as it appears that several candidates endorsed by local science groups have won. Most significantly, however, the most outspoken ID proponent has been sent home. Debra Owens-Fink made repeated attempts to revisit Ohio's science education policy after the rest of the board voted to remove the portions of it that were based on Discovery Institute material. She was notable for saying that the suggestion that there is a scientific consensus on the accuracy of evolution is "laughable" and calling the National Academies a bunch of "so-called scientists." She may continue to make outrageous statements regarding science, but it appears that she won't be doing so from a position where they will influence educational policy.

For all of these races, it's important to emphasize that scientific accuracy is just one of a number of factors that do (or should) come into play when voters make a decision—hopefully, it should at least provide an indication of a minimal competence for office. It seems to me that a similar thing could be said regarding the one issue that may have appeared to be purely about science: the Missouri ballot initiative regarding stem cell research. The initiative, which has passed, basically affirmed that any stem cell research permitted by the federal government could be performed in Missouri.

Since voters in Missouri weren't being asked to actually spend money on the research, the fight over the initiative was primarily regarding the ethical aspects of stem cell research, rather than their scientific merit. Over the last few weeks, as Michael J. Fox weighed in via commercials, the issue also became tied into what was a tight senate race, as well as a debate over the role of celebrities in politics. In the end, it seems that the actual science of stem cell research played a minimal role in the passage of that initiative.

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Skype 3.0 beta released

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Windows-using Skype fans can now download beta 3 of the venerable VoIP application. Skype 3.0 sports a handful of new features, including Skypecasts, Public Chats, Click-to-call, and a redesigned user interface.HangZhou Night Net

Public Chats allow Skype 3.0 users to create and join large text chatrooms that appear to operate much like IRC chatrooms. Moderators can direct conversation topics, kick users, and determine who can participate in chats and to what extent. Public Chat links can be included on web pages, allowing surfers to jump into conversations via Skype.

Skypecast began testing in May with a handful of Skype partners. Still in beta, Skypecasts are conference calls handled over Skype’s network that can handle up to 100 users. Like Public Chats, Skypecasts allow moderators to control the flow of the conference calls with mute and "eject" buttons. Like Public Chats, Skypecast links can appear on web pages to enable ‘Netizens to join calls.

Click-to-call is an extension of a feature first found on eBay. It works with both Internet Explorer and Firefox, using a phone number recognition feature to enable one-click Skype calls directly from a web page.

Other improvements include a redesigned UI, tweaks to some of the language files, support for the Lithuanian language, and improved video device detection. As of now, Skype 3.0 beta is for Windows only, and that will likely remain the case for the next several months. The official Mac OS X client just hit 2.0 last month, and Skype for Linux is currently at version 1.3.

We thought eBay’s decision to buy Skype last year was a bit of a head-scratcher, and it’s still unclear how the online auctioneer is going to recoup the $2.6 billion it paid for the company. Although Skype is still fighting a RICO lawsuit filed by Streamcast, the company’s prospects look good, especially for its users. Skype’s decision to make calls within the US and Canada free through the end of the year has, at the very least, increased interest in the application.

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Microsoft buying $240 million worth of SUSE Linux

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The agreement between Novell and Microsoft is actually three agreements, and one of them will see Microsoft buying $240 million of SUSE Linux certificates. New details about the deal surfaced yesterday in a Novell filing with the SEC, where the company spelled out the financial arrangements in detail.HangZhou Night Net

The two companies have actually signed three separate agreements: a Business Collaboration Agreement, a Technical Collaboration Agreement, and a Patent Cooperation Agreement. All three deals are designed to make virtualization simpler, something we suspected when the announcement was first made. The agreement on technical collaboration requires both companies to make sure that their respective operating systems run well as guest systems, and both have agreed to make it easy for each operating system to “command, control, and configure” the other OS in a virtual machine environment. The two firms will also work on interoperability between the ODF and Office Open XML file formats.

Interesting, to be sure, but what about the money? The Business Collaboration Agreement is the one that will have Microsoft buying $240 million of SUSE subscription certificates, which the company can distribute as it sees fit. Microsoft will also spend the least $12 million a year marketing the Windows/Linux combination and will pump $34 million into developing a sales force for the combined offering.

The Patent Cooperation Agreement means that both Microsoft and Novell agree not to sue end-users of either SUSE or Windows for potential patent violations found in the respective operating systems. Microsoft will make a one-time payment of $108 million to Novell, and Novell will turn around and pay at least $40 million each year back to Microsoft for a minimum of five years (the exact amount depends on sales of certain Novell products).

This last agreement has raised questions within the open source community among users who are concerned that it might violate Novell’s GPL obligations. The worry is that Novell has agreed to “license” patents from Microsoft that potentially cover certain aspects of Linux, but Novell stresses that is not the case. The agreement “does not include a patent license or covenant not to sue from Microsoft to Novell,” Novell said in a statement. “Novell’s customers receive a covenant not to sue directly from Microsoft. We have not agreed with Microsoft to any condition that would contradict the conditions of the GPL and we are in full compliance.”

Novell further asserts that there was no threatened litigation from Microsoft that caused it to cut the deal.

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