Traditional versions of the iconic device are a thing of the past, but future iterations will have a long and vibrant future.


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I was recently cleaning out a closet and came across an interesting artifact: my first iPod.

It was nearly eight years ago that I was among the very first people in New York City to carry around the first-generation iPod. About the size of a pack of cigarettes, it was advertised with the tagline "A thousand songs in your pocket." I can even remember the song used in the first TV spot: Take California by The Propellerheads.

Since then, I've upgraded to a 2007 model boasting a 160-gigabyte hard drive that makes holding a mere thousand songs seem quaint. Before long, I will no doubt be waxing nostalgic about this music player as well—one that, at not even half full, holds 5,231 songs, 141 videos, and 228 podcasts.

First Quarterly Drop in iPod Sales

The iPod as many of us have known it is on the wane and giving way to a more feature-rich family of devices that in time will bear little resemblance to the trailblazing digital music players that helped Apple capture 70% of the North American market. Evidence of the iPod's decline came July 21, when Apple disclosed its first quarterly decline in iPods sold. In the three months ended in June, Apple (AAPL) sold 10.2 million iPods, versus 11 million a year earlier.

Anticipation of the drop-off is "one of the original reasons" Apple developed the iPhone and the WiFi-enabled iPod touch, Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said on a July 21 conference call with analysts. Apple is prepared for lower sales of what it calls "pocket products:" the iPod shuffle, nano, and classic.

At the same time, the iPod business "will last for many, many years," Apple believes. The company has good reason to want to extend the life of a product line that's generated $38 billion on sales of 218 million units, catapulting Apple ahead of SanDisk (SNDK), Microsoft (MSFT), Toshiba (6502.T), and others.

Flash Memory Is Cheaper

What will iPod's next generation look like? Most of Apple's energy is going to be devoted to the iPod touch, the most advanced and versatile version of the iPod.

My prediction is that one of the first casualties of Apple's emphasis will be the hard drive-based iPod classic. Flash memory is cheaper, consumes less power, and resists abuse better than hard drives, so future high-capacity iPods will most likely be based on flash.

I'm also betting those high-capacity models will look more like the iPod touch, and less like my iPod classic. If history is any judge, Apple will revise its iPod lineup in September, as it has every year since 2005.

A Mic Would Broaden Appeal

Besides a refresh of the iPod nano (it's been revised every fall since its introduction), you can also expect a more advanced version of the iPod touch. The next touch will come with 64GB of flash memory.

And since it runs virtually all of the same applications that the iPhone does, then it stands to reason that the touch will starting taking on more hardware features to accommodate applications. Aside from music and video, it's now already marketed as a handheld gaming machine, a communications device, and a handheld Web device. In a limited way it can even be used for navigation.

Over time, the touch will do even more. Consider its appeal if Apple were to add a microphone that lets you make calls on Skype (EBAY) or other Internet-calling services, without the need for the awkward headset that's required for such calls now.

You could talk on it as if it were an iPhone, and the mic would put in double duty for simple audio recordings like meetings, lectures, and voice memos.

How About a Camera?

The touch should really have a camera, too. And is there any reason why that camera can't be better than the one in the iPhone? The latest iPhone 3GS sports a 3-megapixel camera sensor, while the latest phones from Nokia (NOK) have an 8-megapixel sensor. Apple could split the difference and give the touch a 5- or 6-megapixel sensor, giving it the ability to take really gorgeous pictures.

And if the touch has a camera, then it should support video. All that added memory leaves plenty of room for clips, and the Wi-Fi connection makes it easy to send them directly to YouTube (GOOG) and other video-sharing sites. And while Apple has resisted adding memory-card slots to its handhelds in the past, now that the Mac has a slot for SD memory cards, is there any reason the iPod touch (and for that matter a future model of the iPhone) can't have a slot for Mini-SD cards for added storage capacity?

While we're wish-listing, why should the iPhone be the only device in Apple's lineup that can help you get from one place to another? Why not add a GPS chipset, and let the iPod touch become a full-fledged personal navigation device? The touch's limited navigation features currently only work when Wi-Fi is present. This is fine when you're in a city, but no help when you're on the road. With excellent personal navigation devices from Garmin (GRMN) and TomTom (TOM2.AS) selling for as low as $120—more than $100 below the entry-level touch—why consider navigation a premium, iPhone-only feature?

However Apple answers that question, what's clear is that traditional versions of the device are a thing of the past—and future iterations will have a long and vibrant future.

[Source: by Hesseldahl: reporter for]

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A robot that can open doors and find electrical outlets to recharge itself. Computer viruses that no one can stop. Predator drones, which, though still controlled remotely by humans, come close to a machine that can kill autonomously.


This personal robot plugs itself in when it needs a charge. Servant now, master later?

Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.

Their concern is that further advances could create profound social disruptions and even have dangerous consequences.

As examples, the scientists pointed to a number of technologies as diverse as experimental medical systems that interact with patients to simulate empathy, and computer worms and viruses that defy extermination and could thus be said to have reached a “cockroach” stage of machine intelligence.

While the computer scientists agreed that we are a long way from Hal, the computer that took over the spaceship in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” they said there was legitimate concern that technological progress would transform the work force by destroying a widening range of jobs, as well as force humans to learn to live with machines that increasingly copy human behaviors.

The researchers — leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and roboticists who met at the Asilomar Conference Grounds on Monterey Bay in California — generally discounted the possibility of highly centralized superintelligences and the idea that intelligence might spring spontaneously from the Internet. But they agreed that robots that can kill autonomously are either already here or will be soon.

They focused particular attention on the specter that criminals could exploit artificial intelligence systems as soon as they were developed. What could a criminal do with a speech synthesis system that could masquerade as a human being? What happens if artificial intelligence technology is used to mine personal information from smart phones?

The researchers also discussed possible threats to human jobs, like self-driving cars, software-based personal assistants and service robots in the home. Just last month, a service robot developed by Willow Garage in Silicon Valley proved it could navigate the real world.

A report from the conference, which took place in private on Feb. 25, is to be issued later this year. Some attendees discussed the meeting for the first time with other scientists this month and in interviews.

The conference was organized by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, and in choosing Asilomar for the discussions, the group purposefully evoked a landmark event in the history of science. In 1975, the world’s leading biologists also met at Asilomar to discuss the new ability to reshape life by swapping genetic material among organisms. Concerned about possible biohazards and ethical questions, scientists had halted certain experiments. The conference led to guidelines for recombinant DNA research, enabling experimentation to continue.

The meeting on the future of artificial intelligence was organized by Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft researcher who is now president of the association.

Dr. Horvitz said he believed computer scientists must respond to the notions of superintelligent machines and artificial intelligence systems run amok.

The idea of an “intelligence explosion” in which smart machines would design even more intelligent machines was proposed by the mathematician I. J. Good in 1965. Later, in lectures and science fiction novels, the computer scientist Vernor Vinge popularized the notion of a moment when humans will create smarter-than-human machines, causing such rapid change that the “human era will be ended.” He called this shift the Singularity.

This vision, embraced in movies and literature, is seen as plausible and unnerving by some scientists like William Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Other technologists, notably Raymond Kurzweil, have extolled the coming of ultrasmart machines, saying they will offer huge advances in life extension and wealth creation.

“Something new has taken place in the past five to eight years,” Dr. Horvitz said. “Technologists are replacing religion, and their ideas are resonating in some ways with the same idea of the Rapture.”

The Kurzweil version of technological utopia has captured imaginations in Silicon Valley. This summer an organization called the Singularity University began offering courses to prepare a “cadre” to shape the advances and help society cope with the ramifications.

“My sense was that sooner or later we would have to make some sort of statement or assessment, given the rising voice of the technorati and people very concerned about the rise of intelligent machines,” Dr. Horvitz said.

The A.A.A.I. report will try to assess the possibility of “the loss of human control of computer-based intelligences.” It will also grapple, Dr. Horvitz said, with socioeconomic, legal and ethical issues, as well as probable changes in human-computer relationships. How would it be, for example, to relate to a machine that is as intelligent as your spouse?

Dr. Horvitz said the panel was looking for ways to guide research so that technology improved society rather than moved it toward a technological catastrophe. Some research might, for instance, be conducted in a high-security laboratory.

The meeting on artificial intelligence could be pivotal to the future of the field. Paul Berg, who was the organizer of the 1975 Asilomar meeting and received a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1980, said it was important for scientific communities to engage the public before alarm and opposition becomes unshakable.

“If you wait too long and the sides become entrenched like with G.M.O.,” he said, referring to genetically modified foods, “then it is very difficult. It’s too complex, and people talk right past each other.”

Tom Mitchell, a professor of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Carnegie Mellon University, said the February meeting had changed his thinking. “I went in very optimistic about the future of A.I. and thinking that Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil were far off in their predictions,” he said. But, he added, “The meeting made me want to be more outspoken about these issues and in particular be outspoken about the vast amounts of data collected about our personal lives.”

Despite his concerns, Dr. Horvitz said he was hopeful that artificial intelligence research would benefit humans, and perhaps even compensate for human failings. He recently demonstrated a voice-based system that he designed to ask patients about their symptoms and to respond with empathy. When a mother said her child was having diarrhea, the face on the screen said, “Oh no, sorry to hear that.”

A physician told him afterward that it was wonderful that the system responded to human emotion. “That’s a great idea,” Dr. Horvitz said he was told. “I have no tim e for that.”


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The moon passed directly in front of the sun, causing a total solar eclipse that crossed nearly half the Earth - through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. Today's was the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century, lasting as much as 6 minutes and 39 seconds in a few areas. Despite cloudy skies in many of the populated areas in the path, millions of people gathered outside to gaze up and view this rare event. Collected here are a few images of the eclipse, and those people who came out to watch.

solar 4 

A partial solar eclipse is seen through clouds in Hyderabad, Pakistan on Wednesday, July 22, 2009. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)


In this handout image provided by National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the sun's corona is clearly visible during the solar eclipse on July 22, 2009, seen near Iwojima Island, Tokyo, Japan. (Hideo Fukushima/National Astronomical Observatory of Japan via Getty Images)



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iphone-macbook Apple wasted little time kicking Palm off its platform. When it was launched, the Palm Pre advertised the ability to sync with iTunes. A little over a month after Pre's release, Apple jammed that connection, though workarounds can still be done. Apple hasn't just been slapping rival devices, though -- it's wreaking destruction to the entire wireless industry's status quo, according to analyst Craig Moffett.

There's a lot of interesting activity to consider in the Apple-focused blogosphere this week, but three items in particular look like they might create some fairly long-range ripples.

One analyst says that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL)  and its iPhone are wrecking the cellular industry. For Palm (Nasdaq: PALM) , that may very well be true -- Apple cut off the smartphone manufacturer's easy (and unauthorized) Palm Pre iTunes syncing ability.

Finally, in a possible win for prosumers and computing pros alike, there's a rumor running around that Apple might actually give users an option to buy an anti-glare screen in smaller MacBook Pro form factors.

Apple as a Wrecking Ball

Most every tech watcher and smartphone users is well aware that Apple has shaken up the smartphone industry. But is it really wrecking the whole cellular industry?

The relationship between Apple and AT&T (NYSE: T) is like the one between Apple and music labels back when Apple had to play nice as it launched the iPod and iTunes, according to Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research, as reported by AppleInsider. Of course, once Apple became a power player, the CD-driven music industry certainly changed.

While Apple has driven new customers to AT&T in the U.S. with its iPhone, AT&T has started to take the brunt of feature criticism -- issues with 3G connection, data plans, MMS and tethering, for example. The shift in power to Apple means that Apple can dictate terms, and it gives the iPhone maker a powerful weapon: the threat that it could take its gloriously popular phone to competing service providers.

Also, as the U.S. government reportedly mulls whether to investigate exclusivity deals as being anti-competitive, that intervention might not be needed.

"In short, the iPhone seems to be doing just fine at wrecking the wireless business without the government's help," Moffet notes, as reported by

Still, not everyone agrees with the "wrecking" sentiment -- or even the notion that Apple has recast AT&T as the villain.

"Nonsense. AT&T brought that entirely upon themselves through incompetence. Apple gave AT&T the opportunity to be the hero and AT&T failed their customers by being late on MMS and tethering and failing to adequately prepare for the huge increase in data usage that they should have seen coming from miles away," commented Zweben on the post.

Others simply say it's an issue of figuring out what customers actually want ... and then finding a way to give it to them, rather than offering something else entirely.

"AT&T and all of the other cellular providers imagine an Internet with a toll booth at every entry point, on every device, and at every node or junction. Consumers want an internet with unlimited everything, one monthly charge per customer (not per device), no mention of terms like: Contracts, Kilobytes, Roaming Charges, Cancellation Charges, etc. What's really happening here is that Apple is giving the customers what they want but AT&T (and the other networks) are giving the customers the shaft (or to be nice, exactly what the customers don't want)," added davesmall.

Still, the iPhone is still just one phone in a very big industry.

"I think Apple has changed the wireless industry in the smartphone sector, and customers on all networks benefit from the advanced services; however, I don't think Apple will change the entire industry by any stretch -- just their share of the industry," Jeff Kagan, a telecom industry analyst, told MacNewsWorld.

While Apple has disrupted the industry because it brought amazing features to the marketplace that customers love, Kagan said, many of those features are now available on competing devices.

"The majority of the industry still does not use or does not want to use an Apple iPhone, as popular as the device is. The new features, available on other devices, are welcome," Kagan added.

Apple Tells Palm to Talk to the Hand

Apple's latest 8.2.1 iTunes update reportedly breaks the Palm Pre's easy iTunes syncing functionality. The new release notes in 8.2.1 spells it out:

"iTunes 8.2.1 provides a number of important bug fixes and addresses an issue with verification of Apple devices."

Some seem to think Palm is in the wrong in the first place with issue, but it remains somewhat sticky.

"Usually, I wouldn't want Apple to break functionality like this, but methinks since Palm knows the only way it can compete is by 'pretending' to be an iPod/iPhone, it makes it OK," zackisamazing commented on the The Unofficial Apple Weblog's post on the subject.

"I'm with the people that are surprised it took this long. While I don't think letting the Pre work with iTunes would have an adverse effect, it might encourage the behavior, which does dilute Apple's iTunes enterprise," added Christina Warren.

Nonetheless, the issue did manage to raise some hackles.

"Let me ask you guys this, what does allowing the Pre to sync with iTunes hurt? Nothing. This is anti-competitive behavior plain and simple. If Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) only allowed Zunes to use the Zune Marketplace (save your irrelevant 'Zune Marketplace sucks compared to iTunes' comments please) people would be all over them," added Christopher.

There's a Workaround

While Palm is advising customers not to upgrade to 8.2.1, there appear to be workarounds even for users who have updated. It just takes a little more work.

"There are many ways for users to get around this. It doesn't mean Palm Pre users are locked out. There's third-party free apps that allow you to sync devices with iTunes. What this does is it changes the iTunes syncing from being something for every Pre user to just savvy Pre users -- and that's going to be difficult for Palm to get around," Chris Hazelton, research director of mobile and wireless for The 451 Group, told MacNewsWorld.

"I disagree with where Palm has been going with this, using Apple's tools -- Apple uses iTunes as a differentiator, and they are well within their rights to block other devices," Hazelton said.

"The Pre is arguably the first competitor for iPhone in the U.S., so I think Apple is particularly conscious of the Pre. If Palm is going to be leveraging iTunes in such an open way, it's no surprise that Apple is going to block it. And Palm put itself in a tough position by openly touting the iTunes compatibility," he added.

Perish the Glare

Apple's move to mostly glossy screens on its laptops managed to annoy a niche group of prosumer and professional Mac users who depend on their machines to provide glare-free views day in and day out. A matte finish is much better than glossy when it comes to detailed photography and graphic design work. Right now, Apple only offers a matte finish screen option on its 17-inch MacBook Pro models, but according to an report, all that might change.

"Though speculative at this time, it would appear that the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros would be the most likely candidates to receive antiglare options," reports.

"Ouch! My wife bought a 13 inch MacBook about six months ago with no firewire and the glossy screen, both of which are problematic. I guess it will be eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) time when the next 13 inch pro comes out with a matte screen," commented Jerseymac.

"I never quite understood why Apple, a company claiming to offer BTO (build to order) computers had too many missing options. At some point the BTO rings hollow if you're proverbially telling folks 'you can have any color you want as long as it's Black,'" added hmurchison.

Some hope the matte options will extend to other monitors, or possibly the iMac.

"It's about time. I wonder how many monitor sales this idiot idea has cost Apple. I would have bought the 24 inch but went elsewhere," commented Ed Wood on the TheAppleBlog post on the subject.

Popular as matte might be among a certain type of buyer, the option could well end up costing the customer extra.

"I think it is wonderful that Apple is listening to its customers and possibly giving the option for matte screens; however, to add a (US)$50 premium to the choice seems more like a Microsoft practice than that from something designed in Cupertino," Sven Rafferty, Director of Internet Technology for hyperSven, told MacNewsWorld.


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Contact Me

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Posted on 2:59 AM, under

Space Invaders

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About Me

Posted on 2:56 AM, under

Suggested topics to get me into a conversation:

GOD. I am an Evangelical Christian and am active in the Youth, Music, and Dgroup ministries of Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF) in Malolos.

SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY. Hence, the blog. I am also taking up Electronics and Communication Engineering and am now in my fifth and last year. In the future, I see myself as a successful engineer working in a global company, or maybe building my own.

BASKETBALL. I am a HUGE basketball aficionado and a fan of Lebron James (as evidenced by my “King James” baller band I wear most of the time). I also play quite decently and I do so a few days a week (whenever I get the chance).

MUSIC. I play a variety of string instruments – acoustic guitar, bass guitar, violin. Favorite music genres include alternative and rock.

FOOD. I love all kinds of food. Special mentions include noodles, street foods, pizza, and seafood. However, any type of food will catch my interest. I’m not very fond of sweets, though.

MOVIES. I usually watch movies to pass time, when I don’t have anything better to do and when I just want to relax. Preferred genres include action, adventure, and comedy.

ASTRONOMY. Who wouldn’t be awed with the great mystery that is the universe?

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The purpose of the Apollo 11 mission was to land men on the lunar surface and to return them safely to Earth. The crew was Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, Command Module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module pilot.

After launch, the spacecraft was inserted into lunar orbit about 76 hours into the mission. After a rest period, Armstrong and Aldrin entered the Lunar Module preparing for descent to the lunar surface. The two spacecraft were undocked at about 100 hours, when the Command and Service Modules separated from the Lunar Module. The spacecraft landed in the Sea of Tranquillity at 4:18 p.m. EDT. Afterwards, they ate their first meal on the Moon and decided to begin the surface operations earlier than planned.

A Lunar Module camera provided live television coverage of Armstrong setting foot on the lunar surface at 10:56 p.m. EDT. Just as he stepped off the Lunar Module Neil Armstrong proclaimed, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Aldrin emerged soon after, setting foot on the lunar surface at 11:16 p.m. EDT. Aldrin evaluated his ability to operate and move about and was able to move about rapidly and with confidence. Forty-seven pounds of lunar surface material were collected to be returned for analysis. The surface exploration was concluded in 2½ hours, when the crew re-entered the lunar module.

After lunar ascent, the Lunar Module docked with the Command and Service Modules at 128 hours. The crew transferred into the Command and Service Modules, the ascent stage was jettisoned and they prepared for trans-Earth injection. Only one midcourse correction was required, and passive thermal control was used for most of trans-Earth coast. Bad weather made it necessary to move the splashdown point 346 kilometers (215 miles) downrange. Atmospheric entry phase was normal, and the command module landed in the Pacific Ocean at 195¼ hours. The landing coordinates, as determined from the onboard computer, were 13 degrees 30 minutes north latitude and -169 degrees 15 minutes east longitude.

With the success of Apollo 11, the national objective to land men on the Moon and return them safely to Earth had been accomplished.

Video: Youtube

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Japanese wireless carrier Softbank has planned tests that track the progression of a virtual disease using GPS-enabled cellphones belonging to schoolchildren as they go through a routine day of classes. The experiment in virtual epidemic monitoring is meant to find new ways to use Japan's well-appointed wireless data networking systems to inform the public and prevent the spread of real diseases. {continue..}


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The very idea of Apple beseeching Microsoft to lighten up on its laptop hunter ad campaign is hard to swallow. That's apparently what happened, though, and if Microsoft is reacting with glee, it's understandable. After all, Apple is the company that knows how to brilliantly market its brand and devastate the competition while it's at it, right? {continue..}


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The video game industry's losing streak continues.

June video game sales dropped 31% compared to June 2008, according to data from market research firm NPD Group. The drop marks the fourth consecutive month of year-over-year declines.

"This is one of the first months where I think the impact of the economy is clearly reflected in the sales numbers," said NPD Analyst Anita Frazier in a statement. "The size of the decline could also point to consumers deferring limited discretionary spending until a big event (must-have new title, hardware price cut) compels them to spend."

The trend can't be attributed to consumer interest, as 4 million new players have entered the market since last year, according to the NPD. "Certainly there is plenty of opportunity in the industry, but the rate of change in many areas of the industry presents a lot of challenge as well ," says Frazier.

All platforms suffered a decline compared to June 2008, with the exception of the Xbox 360, which sold 240,600 units. However, Nintendo continues to dominate hardware sales.

Nintendo DS: 766,500
Nintendo Wii: 361,700
Xbox 360: 240,600
PlayStation 3: 164,700
PSP: 163,500
PlayStation 2: 152,700

The big story in software might involve a game nowhere to be found in June's top 10. Wii Play, a collection of mini-games packaged with a Wii remote, failed to crack the list for the first time since its launch on February 2007, ending a 29-month run. "That's an astonishing record for this industry," Frazier notes.

Activision's open world action game Prototype topped software sales, as consumers scooped up 419,900 copies. UFC 2009 Undisputed continued its strong showing at retail, with the 360 version selling 338,300.

Meanwhile, Wii MotionPlus, the motion-control accessory for the Wii remote, posted a solid debut. The Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 bundle sold 272,400, while the accessory sold an additional 169,000 as a standalone item. The rest of the top 10 (publisher and platform in parentheses):

Prototype (Activision, 360): 419,900
UFC 2009 Undisputed (THQ, 360): 338,300
EA Sports Active (EA, Wii): 289,100
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 (EA, Wii): 272,400
Wii Fit (Nintendo, Wii): 271,600
Fight Night Round 4 (EA, 360): 260,800
Fight Night Round 4 (EA, PS3): 210,300
Mario Kart w/ Wheel (Nintendo, Wii): 202,100
Red Faction: Guerrilla (THQ, 360): 199,400
inFamous (Sony, PS3): 192,700

The overall June plunge is the greatest year-over-year monthly decline since September 2000, when the industry experience a 41% drop. Barring any release delays, Frazier remains optimistic. "Even with the industry down 12% year-to-date, with a strong back-half performance, full year sales could still be flat to slightly up to 2008's record-breaking performance."


[Photos: Wikipedia]

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Good news, folks. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has turned his attention to controlling the weather.

Five U.S. Patent and Trade Office patent applications, made public on July 9, propose slowing hurricanes by pumping cold, deep-ocean water in their paths from barges. If issued, the patents offer 18 years of legal rights to the idea for Gates and co-inventors, including climate scientist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Hurricanes, most famously demonstrated by the deadly intensification of Hurricane Katrina before its landfall in 2005, draw strength from warm waters on the ocean's surface. The patents describe a system for strategically placing turbine-equipped barges in the path of storms to chill sea surfaces with cold water pumped from the depths.

First requested by Gates and colleagues last year, the patents describe methods "not limited to atmospheric management, weather management, hurricane suppression, hurricane prevention, hurricane intensity modulation, hurricane deflection" to manage storms.

Given the scope of the applications, "I suspect these will have a lengthy stay in the examiner's office. They are talking about some interesting issues here," says patent expert Gene Quinn of

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Caldeira declined to comment on the patents.

"The bottom line here is that if enough pumps are deployed, it is reasonable to expect some diminution of hurricane power," says hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is not part of the patent effort. Cutting sea surface temperature by 4.5 degrees under the eye of a hurricane would actually kill a storm, he adds. "This would have to be done on a massive scale, but is still probably within the realm of feasibility."

Says climate scientist Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University in State College: "Needless to say, there is a whole lot of skepticism about this among tropical meteorologists. But it's not so ridiculous that I would actually dismiss it out of hand. There is certainly an important role of upper ocean mixing on tropical cyclone behavior."

Ocean water quickly grows colder with depth, reaching temperatures of 28 to 37 degrees (salty ocean water doesn't freeze at 32 degrees) about 500 feet down. The patents envision sail-maneuvered barges, with conduits 500 feet long, pumping warm water down to the depths and bringing cold water up. The average depth of the Gulf of Mexico is 5,300 feet.

"By cooling a region in the path of a hurricane (over 60 square miles), models suggest we could knock a half-a-category in wind speed out," says Philip Kithil of Atmocean in Santa Fe, an ocean-pumping firm mentioned in Gates' applications. "All the models indicate the path of the storm would be unaffected."

In the average year, six hurricanes develop in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico in a season that officially extends from June 1 to Nov. 30. Over the past century, the annual cost of hurricanes to the USA has averaged about $10 billion, according to a 2008 Natural Hazards Review study. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina killed at least 1,800 people and caused at least $81 billion in damage.

"From a scientific and political standpoint, (the Gates plan) looks fanciful," Quinn says. "But the physics is real and like a lot of things, the question is whether the damage you prevent is worth the money you would spend to develop something so massive."


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