The Missing Native/Web App Link: Google Says Native Client Almost Ready To Go by MG Siegler

We’ve written a number of things about the contrast between native apps and web apps. The common consensus these days is that the two will eventually converge — but that has been happening more slowly than some have been hoping, particularly in the mobile space where native apps dominate. On the more traditional side of things, the transition is happening faster, but something Google has been working on could be the real missing link: Native Client. And according to Google, it’s getting close to being ready for primetime.

As a quick primer, Native Client allows developers to build web apps that execute native code inside the browser. This means that on top of traditional web-based languages like JavaScript, the browser will be able to execute things written in languages like C and C++. More importantly, it will make porting desktop apps to the web much easier.

And while the technology is fully open source, it’s clearly being driven by Google. They’ve not only worked the most on Native Client, but they’ve developed other tech such as the Pepper Plugin API (PPAPI) which is an evolution of the Netscape Plugin API (NPAPI), which pretty much all browsers use to handle browser plugins — well, all browsers beside Microsoft Internet Explorer which uses ActiveX. Pepper was made to address the portability and performance issues with NPAPI.

Anyway, in a post today on the Chromium blog, Google has announced that Native Client is “getting ready for takeoff“. Google has been working to get full Pepper support, and now they believe they’ve made Native Client “as portable and secure as JavaScript”. And thy’ve just unveiled a completely revamped SDK for the project.

Technically, this new SDK is called “Arctic Sea” and it requires Chrome 10 or above (which we just covered yesterday). Also worth noting, with the Pepper support (which is close to being “stable”), Native Client no longer supports NPAPI. You can read more about the new SDK here.

Apple shares Mac OS X Lion with security experts by Elinor Mills

Apple not only released a preview of its next operating system, Mac OS X Lion, to developers today, the company is also giving it to security experts for review.

“I wanted to let you know that I’ve requested that you be invited to the prerelease seed of Mac OS X Lion, and you should receive an invitation soon,” said a letter sent by Apple to an unknown number of security researchers. “As you have reported Mac OS X security issues in the past, I thought that you might be interested in taking a look at this. It contains several improvements in the area of security countermeasures.”

Dino Dai Zovi and several other researchers tweeted about being invited to try out the prerelease version of the new Mac OS. “This looks to be a step in the direction of opening up a bit and inviting more dialogue with external researchers,” Dai Zovi wrote. “I won’t be able to comment on it until its release, but hooray for free access!”

I asked Charlie Miller, another expert on Mac security, if this was the first time Apple had offered to show an OS preview to security experts, and what the significance is.

“As far as I know they have never reached out to security researchers in this way. Also, we won’t have to pay for it like everybody else,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It’s not hiring us to do pen-tests of it, but at least it’s not total isolation anymore, and at least security crosses their mind now.”

“I haven’t downloaded it yet, but if I had, I couldn’t talk about it,” he added. “Damn NDAs.”

Lion goes public as new MacBook Pros debut by Johnny Evans

In a product-based celebration of absent CEO Steve Jobs’ 56th birthday today, Apple fired a twin salvo, introducing its all-new MacBook Pros, and — to my mind far more interestingly — also releasing the much speculated upon Developer Preview of Mac OS X Lion.

New Macs
As expected, the new MacBook Pros implement the Apple/Intel-developed Light Peak technology, called “Thunderbolt I/O” by Apple. The Macs also feature incredibly powerful Core i5 and Core i7 dual-core processors running at up to 2.7GHz and Intel HD Graphics 3000. We’re also seeing the introduction of AMD Radeon HD graphics processors with up to 1GB of video memory in the more powerful MacBook Pro models. These machines are fast.

“The new MacBook Pro brings next generation dual and quad Core processors, high performance graphics, Thunderbolt technology and FaceTime HD to the great design loved by our pro customers,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing in a press release.

Bolt from the blue
“Thunderbolt is a revolutionary new I/O technology that delivers an amazing 10 gigabits per second and can support every important I/O standard which is ideal for the new MacBook Pro,” Schiller also said.

Apple has now conceded that Thunderbolt was developed by Intel with “collaboration” from Apple. This will be why an Apple Mac Pro was used as a demonstration machine when Light Peak was first demonstrated at the Intel Developer Forum in September, 2009.

 

This is an exciting technology, capable of delivering huge quantities of data to and from multiple devices at rapid speed — currently 10Gbps but set to rise tenfold within months.

Light Peak/Thunderbolt can run multiple protocols simultaneously over a single cable. This means you can connect multiple, different devices with a single cable, so drives, docks and displays, will cause less clutter in your digital den.

Thunderbolt supports two bi-directional channels which “delivers PCI Express directly to external high performance peripherals such as RAID arrays, and can support FireWire and USB consumer devices and Gigabit Ethernet networks via adapters.”

As previously reported, Apple has confirmed Thunderbolt supports DisplayPort and works with existing adapters for HDMI, DVI and VGA displays. The technology is being made available at no charge for implementation on systems, cables and devices.

Apple and Intel clearly have high hopes for the standard, saying they expect it to be “widely adopted as a new standard for high performance I/O”. We’ll hear more on this from Intel later on.

FaceTime any time
The new MacBook Pros also offer a FaceTime HD camera — it isn’t called an iSight any more, it is now FaceTime. Good thing: the resolution of the new cameras is triple that of the preceeding iSight cameras fielded in previous Macs. Now out of beta, FaceTime has today been made available for sale for $0.99 at the Mac App Store;

What we haven’t seen in this iteration is the introduction of built-in flash drives running the OS. I’m disappointed about this as I had hopes as explained yesterday, but it is worth noting that SSD drives remain available as a build-to-order option with capacities up to 512GB.


The roar begins
With WWDC set to take place in mid-summer Apple’s moving to accelerate development of Lion, which the company has previously promised will debut in the summer. I have been predicting a final version of the OS for September, and still consider that likely, but the introduction today of a developer preview of the OS is interesting, as it means development is on the fast track and Lion could prowl earlier.

Newly-revealed stand-out features in this build include a much-improved iPad-like Mail, a new Versions feature, a fantastic way to share files between Macs called ‘AirDrop’ and the addition of Lion Server within the OS itself. All these new features are rather splendid, AirDrop in particular is something we’ve always needed when collaborating on projects.

Versions and Resume
Versions is a new Lion feature in which the OS records a version of the document each time you open it and every hour while you’re working on it. Like Time Machine for projects, you can cascade back to a previous version of your project, copy and paste from previous versions or replace current versions with a previous version. This is rather cool, though the disk space miser in me does hope it works in conjunction with a remote drive, such as a Time Machine, external drive or, dare I say it, MobileMe.

Resume is an associated feature. Just as with an iOS App, when you open your Mac Apps in future they will restart exactly where you left them, project windows and all. I’m quietly thrilled also at Auto Save, which automatically saves your documents as you work. I’m not good at saving. I will have a happier existence as a result of this feature.

Auto Save boasts a lock feature which prevents inadvertent changes from being saved and automatically locks documents after two weeks. A Revert control lets you return the document to the state it was in when you last opened it, so you can make non-destructive changes on projects if you wish.

FileVault
I’ve hoped before for a way to find a Mac if it happens to be stolen. Apple isn’t promising this, but has introduced a new version of FileVault — and what a good version this promises to be. As predicted, FileVault “provides high performance full disk encryption for local and external drives”. Even more interesting is it offers the ability to wipe data from your Mac instantaneously. Will this become a remote feature?

Mail
I’ve preferred to access Mail on my iPad since I first took to the tablet. In Lion, Apple is introducing a new version of Mail which acts like it does on iPad. There’s new tools and the capacity to run Mail in full-screen mode. Those of us handling huge quantities of Mail will also benefit from the introduction of much-improved search facilities. There’s also support for new ‘Conversations’ mode, which groups messages from the same conversation, even if the subject changes mid-chat.

AirDrop
So useful you wonder why a seamless and simple way of doing file exchange between PCs hasn’t existed since the dawn of digital time (well, you could argue it has, but AirDrop is better). What it does: you can send anyone near you files over Wi-Fi. Everyone needs to be on the same wireless network and must also be running AirDrop on their computer. This makes me wonder two things: 1/ Will AirDrop be made available as a Mac App for Macs not running Lion? and 2/ Will AirDrop be made available as a utility for other platforms? This would be exceedingly useful for non-heterogeneous mixed platform computer work groups.

Apple says AirDrop works like this: “AirDrop doesn’t require setup or special settings. Just click the AirDrop icon in the Finder sidebar, and your Mac automatically discovers other people nearby who are using AirDrop. You’ll even see contact photos for those who are already in your Address Book. To share a file, simply drag it to someone’s name. Once accepted, the file transfers directly to the person’s Downloads folder. When you’re done with AirDrop, close the Finder and your Mac is no longer visible to others.”

Server, server, burning bright, in the Lion of the night
Forgive the doggerel. Lion isn’t just Lion, it is also Lion Server. This will be integrated inside the standard operating system and will be free should you wish to enable it. This will be very cool — you’ll be able to easily set up your own Mac as a server and “take advantage of the many services Lion Server has to offer”.

Oh and these services — support for named users and groups, push notifications, file sharing, mail, contacts, chat, Wiki Services. Will your Mac become a server proffering you up access to all the data you need via any device you care to authorize for access to the machine? The new server adds support for managing Mac OS X Lion, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices. I can imagine your home iMac becoming Mission Control for your entire family’s digital life. I suspect Apple can too:

“Lion Server delivers wireless file sharing for iPad. Enabling WebDAV in Lion Server gives iPad users the ability to access, copy, and share documents on the server from applications such as Keynote, Numbers, and Pages.”

I know I keep repeating myself in my insistence that part of the future of the OS includes an access anywhere model for your data. I think the introduction of Lion Server within Lion OS suggests another approach to this.

[UPDATE: Below video was removed, allegedly because someone, presumably Apple, complained over copyright. I won't dwell on what a petty and prissy move arranging for its removal was, but here's the link to the page where you'll find something, near the section marked 'Gestures and Animations']

 

Taking a look over at Apple’s developer site reveals some additional new interface features within the OS: Popovers, Overlay Scrollbar and Multi-Touch Gestures and Animations. Lion will use those discreet scroll bars you get on iOS, bars which appear only when used as an overlay on top of a windows content. You also get Popovers within the UI (image below). The AV Foundation framework provides essential services for working with time-based audiovisual media.

Sandboxing and Privilege Separation are new inherent Lion features which should boost security for users. Apple explains it thus:

“Limiting the capabilities of an app to just those operations that it needs to perform helps keep the rest of the system more secure in the event that an App is compromised. Privilege separation is another common technique for improving security where an App is factored into smaller pieces, each with their own distinct roles and privileges.”

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

Imagination Technologies partners drive mobile and embedded graphics to new level: Series5XT SGX543MP and SGX544MP powered #SoC debuting; first device announced with next generation POWERVR™ Series6 graphics

Imagination Technologies, a leading multimedia and communications technologies company, is enabling mobile and embedded graphics performance to reach new levels with high performance single and multiprocessor POWERVR SGX solutions now appearing in the latest generation of SoCs. Next-generation POWERVR technology, codenamed ‘Rogue’, is in advanced development and is already licensed by multiple tier one lead partners.

Imagination CEO Hossein Yassaie says: “Having evaluated the options the overall mobile and embedded market is increasingly committing to POWERVR as the de facto graphics standard, a fact reflected by the growing commitment of the primary players to our roadmap. POWERVR has established itself across smartphones, tablets, mobile computing and games consoles, attracting an extensive community of POWERVR developers and powering iconic and much-loved products.”

POWERVR delivers not only a clear technology advantage and exceptional roadmap, driven by one of the largest teams of graphics engineers in the world, but also an extensive ecosystem of third party developers which has created hundreds of thousands of apps optimised for POWERVR enabled devices to date.

Chips based on Imagination’s POWERVR Series5XT MP (multi-processor) graphics cores will be demonstrated at MWC 2011 by Renesas and have been announced by Sony as part of the forthcoming NGP handheld games console and Texas Instruments as part of the recently announced OMAP5 family of devices.

Says Jon Peddie, Jon Peddie Research: “Imagination is at the top of their game. The company has been expanding through acquisitions, capturing new customers, and developing new technology. And significantly, what is good for Imagination is good for the industry as a whole, pushing devices to new levels of graphics and multimedia capability and allowing applications, tools and cross-platform consistency to thrive and innovate.”

POWERVR Series5XT arrives in products

More than 10 SoCs utilizing Imagination’s latest multi-processor POWERVR SGX MP cores are currently in design or in silicon.

Texas Instruments’ OMAP5430 and OMAP5432 use multi-core POWERVR SGX544MP graphics accelerators to drive 3D gaming and 3D user interfaces.

Renesas SH-Mobile APE5R features Imagination Technologies’ POWERVR SGX543MP graphics.

Sony Computer Entertainment’s next generation portable entertainment system (codename: NGP) features SGX543MP4 graphics acceleration.

Clock for clock POWERVRVR SGX, which has been shipping in significant volume for several years, outperforms competitive solutions, many of which have yet to ship in any volume. SGX MP opens up a wider performance gap reinforcing POWERVR as the market leader for performance per mm2 and performance per mW.

Imagination’s unique and extensively patented Tile-Based Deferred Rendering (TBDR) architecture for graphics, together with use of advanced architectural techniques such as hardware multi-threading and substantial investment in production-ready drivers across all mobile and embedded operating systems has resulted in Imagination leading the market for performance per mm2 and performance per mW for all of its on-chip multimedia and communications solutions.

Next-generation in advanced development

Imagination’s next generation POWERVR Series6 architecture, codenamed ‘Rogue’, has now being licensed by multiple lead partners. ‘Rogue’ delivers unrivalled GFLOPS per mm2 and per mW for all APIs.

ST-Ericsson has announced that its new Nova application processors will include Imagination’s next-generation POWERVR Series6 ‘Rogue’ architecture.

Series6 GPUs will be fully compatible with Series5 and Series5XT GPUs, ensuring a smooth migration path for developers upgrading applications optimized for Series5 to the new architecture.

POWERVR Series5XT GPU IP cores are available for licensing for all partners now; POWERVR Series6 is being licensed to lead partners at this time.

Multiple other strategic partners have also licensed POWERVR Series5XT and Series6 cores and will be disclosed when they are ready to do so.

Will the Next Revolution be Stroomed? by Tom Grasty

When you think of the recent unrest in the Middle East, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube immediately come to mind.

Yet in an era where the revolution no longer need be televised — now it’s tweeted — wouldn’t a collaborative online video editing platform that allows producers, correspondents and reporters to create news reports in real time be a welcome addition to the insurgents’ arsenal?

Well, such a tool does exist. It’s called Stroome. And in a time when the journalist’s traditional role — to build and curate an informed public — is rapidly eroding as citizens now are able to inform themselves and one another, is it possible that video will soon replace text as the central means of communication? Could it be that the next revolution will be Stroomed?

An Email Exchange

It turns out, the idea just might not be as far-fetched as you’d think:

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2011 07:23:15 -0600 Subject: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogueHello Stroome team,

Would like to thank you first for a great application and social network your team has created.

I work for a non-profit organization with a mission to enable young people from the West and predominantly Muslim societies to have cross-cultural dialogues using new media technologies.

[H]ow can [we] include Stroome within our online community?

And so began the email that Stroome co-founder Nonny de la Pena and I received the morning of January 20, 2011.

The sender’s name was WilYaWil, and his request was simple: Would we work with his organization to facilitate dialogue between students with diverse backgrounds from around the world?

Considering collaboration is at the center of the Stroome experience, the connection was a no-brainer. Skype addresses were exchanged; a call was set for the following Wednesday.

Revolution Intervenes

But just minutes before the call was to take place, we received a second email from WilYaWil. Our conversation, it seemed, would need to be postponed:

Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2011 03:45:01 -0600
Subject: Re: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogue

Tom, sorry for the late reply. I hope we can postpone our meeting today. I’m in Egypt and we are living in exciting times with the start of freedom protests yesterday in Cairo and other cities around Egypt. I will be taking part today. I apologize for the short notice. I will get in touch with you and Nonny again on Friday to reschedule.

Frankly, I thought little of it. There was little in the tone of WilYaWil’s email to foreshadow the extraordinary events that were about to unfold.

As it turns out, I had very much misread the situation.

The following morning, I — along with the world — woke up to an Egypt in crisis. This was more than simply an “exciting time.” This was a revolution. Or at least it certainly had the makings of one.

By day’s end, a third email arrived, and we learned — again, just as the world was learning — that the Egyptian government had blocked Twitter and Facebook.

Egypt screenshot.jpg

Nonny quickly sprang into action. A group titled “Egypt Protests” was created on Stroome. Open access was granted so that anyone could upload and edit their first-person video accounts of the protests. And the participants on the email thread were notified immediately.

Internet Shutdown

Unfortunately, our impromptu workaround was thwarted when the Egyptian government shut down Internet access to the entire country. And while President Mubarak’s decision to plunge some 80 million Egyptians into the 21st-century of equivalent of “radio silence” would last nearly five days, it would be over a week before we heard from WilYaWil.

Then on Wednesday, February 9 — almost three weeks to the day from our first correspondence — WilYaWil resurfaced. Again, his tone was upbeat:

Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2011 13:21:00 -0600
Subject: Re: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogue

Hi Thomas and Nonny,

We are living in an exciting time here in Egypt. I’ve started using Stroome already, I’ve uploaded the videos I shot on Friday 28th January, I hope others find it useful and can remix it.

I would like us to meet soon so that we can discuss how [we] could work together. We can meet tomorrow or Friday anytime between 8pm – 10pm CLT / 10am – 12 noon LA time.

And while we had no way of knowing at the time, history was once again about to find a way of encroaching on our plans.

Thirty minutes before we were scheduled to connect with WilYaWil on Friday morning, CNN reported that Hosni Mubarak was going to make it formal: After more than 30 years in power, the Egyptian president was stepping down. Considering the momentous nature of the announcement, naturally I assumed the call would be pushed back once again.

Suddenly, the familiar “bing, bing, bing” signaling an incoming Skype call could be heard as a cartoon avatar of a young man wearing a pair of horned-rimmed glasses and neatly cropped brown hair appeared on my screen.

“This is a remarkable tool,” WilYaWil said of Stroome, his voice brimming with enthusiasm. “The ability to collaborate and work together with video. No one is doing it. It’s revolutionary. It’s going to change things.”

He was so passionate, so imbued with a renewed sense of purpose, so in the moment and excited about those “exciting times” in which he was living that I honestly think WilYaWil failed to grasp the irony of the words he’d just uttered.

I, on the other hand, caught every drop of it.

To see some of WilYaWil’s Egyptian video uploads, register at Stroome.com and type “Egypt” into the search bar.

If you would like to follow WilYaWil’s Twitter feed click here.

Listening and Learning: Takeaways From Gov20LA 2011 by Alan W. Silberberg

Gov 2.0 L.A. 2011 is now behind us. Such an amazing experience. Thought leaders and practitioners, entrepreneurs and government leaders all came together in one place, for an out of the box weekend filled with very smart people and ideas as well as collaboration and innovation.

My big takeaway as the Founder of Gov20LA:

The amount of listening and learning going on now at all levels of government, whether international or local, is vast. We learned from the Canadian, British and United States governments just how much active listening is occurring on the global social media stage right now. These countries are both pushing out content in their own and many other languages, but are actively listening and seeking engagement from citizens (not always their own) in other countries. This is a profound statement, and shows clearly the need for governments to create social media listening command centers (like Dell has for example.) At the same time, we learned from local leaders some of the challenges they face not just in listening but in creating actions out of the issues at hand. I must have heard the term “listening” from almost every panelist and speaker this weekend.

The other big takeaway is the amount of learning going on right now. Two, three years ago, the learning was “so what is this social media/gov 2.0 stuff anyways?” Now, that learning has leapfrogged to best practices, to what is working and not working, and to what lessons can be applied from the private sector into the public sector and vice versa. We have gone from “what is open source” to “which open source platform/software are you using and why?” The learning is going on from one level of government to another, from one country to another and from one person to another. Remember word of mouth? Social media just expands on that and creates a broader cycle and more rapid response to the word of mouth.

My third powerful takeaway: there is a quiet evolution occurring that is actually creating new companies, new jobs and new possibilities for the marketplace. The explosion of open data is creating new pathways for entrepreneurs to attack centuries old problems in some cases. The interest of the news media and society at large in social media as intensified in recent months due to the continued use of social media as a change agent in the middle east and due to the fact that social media is becoming ubiquitous in much of society. But we also have a very bifurcated social media arena globally. In the west social media means internet (mostly) based platforms and networks. But in many places in Africa, or Latin America, the only social media available is SMS based off of mobile platforms with no graphics or video. But yet these SMS based social networks allow for micro-finance banking to occur in areas where even just a few years ago there were no communications abilities let alone “banking” abilities. So the changes that these tools and technology are producing is profound already.

Did social media cause the events in Egypt, Tunisia? Most of the attendees seemed to agree (loosely) that while social media and mobility played a huge role in these events, it was not the social media itself that was the cause, but rather a highly efficient tool that was tactically and strategically applied in a chaotic situation. There has always been “viral marketing,” we have just moved from slower forms of communicating those ideas to instant delivery. What social media did do in those countries was provide a place for planning, strategy implementation and networking and recruiting. But it still took real people to make a real decision to put their real feet on the real streets. So social media was but just one part of a much larger picture driving these historical events unfolding in front of our very eyes.

We are way past rhetorical and ontological debates about “What is Gov 2.0″ or “what is Opengov.” We are now into the delivery phase of the good revolution we call loosely “Gov 2.0.” In fact anyone still spending time debating what “it” is has already benched themselves from the tremendous action and movement in this space now.

My most quoted statement from the weekend:

“*We* are the shareholders. *We* own this business called government.”

Follow Alan W. Silberberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Ideagov

Changing Congress’ Culture of Spending from US Congressman Jim Jordan

Conservatives are beginning to change the culture of spending in Congress, but President Obama still hasn’t gotten the message. While Americans are looking for Washington to get out of the way, the budget the President unveiled today imposes a $1.6 trillion tax hike on families and employers over the next ten years while sending the national debt over $26 trillion – dangerous ground for our economy.

Prosperity does not spring from government’s power to tax, borrow, and spend. It is created by families and businesses working to build a better life.  That’s why Republicans are working to reduce spending and put the country’s budget back on the path to balance.

This week, the House will debate and vote on H.R. 1, a bill to finish a job Democrats left undone by funding government operations through September 30, 2011. Thanks to the hard work of RSC members, the latest version of the bill saves taxpayers even more than when it was originally proposed. And since any member will be allowed to offer amendments (unheard of under former Speaker Pelosi), the final savings could be even larger still.

This week will set the tone for bigger spending fights to come. Here at the RSC, we will keep fighting to get Washington out of the way of prosperity and back on the path to a balanced budget.

God Bless,

Congressman Jim Jordan

Chairman, Republican Study Committee

New Material Provides 25 Percent Greater Thermoelectric Conversion Efficiency: The breakthrough reveals another example of the strategic importance of rare-earth elements by AMES Laboratory | Creating Materials & Energy Solutions

Contacts:                                                                           For Release: February 15, 2011

Evgenii Levin, Associate Scientist, Ames Laboratory, 515-294-0105

Rama Venkatasubramanian, RTI International, 919-541-6889

Steve Karsjen, Public Affairs, 515-294-5643

Automobiles, military vehicles, even large-scale power generating facilities may someday operate far more efficiently thanks to a new alloy developed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. A team of researchers at the Lab that is jointly funded by the DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, achieved a 25 percent improvement in the ability of a key material to convert heat into electrical energy.

“What happened here has not happened anywhere else,” said Evgenii Levin, associate scientist at Ames Laboratory and co-principal investigator on the effort, speaking of the significant boost in efficiency documented by the research.  Along with Levin, the Ames Lab-based team included: Bruce Cook, scientist and co-principal investigator; Joel Harringa, assistant scientist II; Sergey Bud’ko, scientist; and Klaus Schmidt-Rohr, faculty scientist. Also taking part in the research was Rama Venkatasubramanian, who is director of the Center for Solid State Energetics at RTI International, located in North Carolina.

So-called thermoelectric materials that convert heat into electricity have been known since the early 1800s. One well-established group of thermoelectric materials is composed of tellurium, antimony, germanium and silver, and thus is known by the acronym “TAGS.” Thermoelectricity is based on the movement of charge carriers from their heated side to their cooler side, just as electrons travel along a wire.

The process, known as the Seebeck effect, was discovered in 1821 by Thomas Johann Seebeck, a physicist who lived in what is now Estonia. A related phenomenon observed in all thermoelectric materials is known as the Peltier effect, named after French physicist Jean-Charles Peltier, who discovered it in 1834. The Peltier effect can be utilized for solid-state heating or cooling with no moving parts.

Image Image
Thermoelectric materials and technology have powered spacecraft for decades. But, thanks to advances in efficiency discovered at Ames Laboratory, thermoelectric materials may have new, broader “green” energy applications.

In the nearly two centuries since the discovery of the Seebeck and Peltier effects, practical applications have been limited due to the low efficiency with which the materials performed either conversion. Significant work to improve that efficiency took place during the 1950s, when thermoelectric conversion was viewed as an ideal power source for deep-space probes, explained team member Cook. “Thermoelectric conversion was successfully used to power the Voyager, Pioneer, Galileo, Cassini, and Viking spacecrafts,” he said.

Despite its use by NASA, the low efficiency of thermoelectric conversion still kept it from being harnessed for more down-to-earth applications – even as research around the world continued in earnest. “Occasionally, you would hear about a large increase in efficiency,” Levin explained. But the claims did not hold up to closer scrutiny.

All that changed in 2010, when the Ames Laboratory researchers found that adding just one percent of the rare-earth elements cerium or ytterbium to a TAGS material was sufficient to boost its performance.

The results of the group’s work appeared in the article, “Analysis of Ce- and Yb-Doped TAGS-85 Materials with Enhanced Thermoelectric Figure of Merit,” published online in November 2010 in the journal Advanced Functional Materials (see below).

The team has yet to understand exactly why such a small compositional change in the material is able to profoundly affect its properties. However, they theorize that doping the TAGS material with either of the two rare-earth elements could affect several possible mechanisms that influence thermoelectric properties.

Team member Schmidt-Rohr studied the materials using Ames Laboratory’s solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy instruments.  This enabled the researchers to verify that the one percent doping of cerium or ytterbium affected the structure of the thermoelectric material.  In order to understand effect of magnetism of rare earths, team member Bud’ko studied magnetic properties of the materials.  “Rare-earth elements modified the lattice,” said Levin, referring to the crystal structure of the thermoelectric materials.

The group plans to test the material in order to better understand why the pronounced change took place and, hopefully, to boost its performance further.

The durable and relatively easy-to-produce material has innumerable applications, including recycling waste heat from industrial refineries or using auto exhaust heat to help recharge the battery in an electric car. “It’s a very amazing area,” Levin said, particularly since many years of prior research into TAGS materials enables researchers to understand their nature.  Better understanding of the thermoelectric and their improvement can immediately result in applications at larger scale than now.

Additionally, the Ames Laboratory results – dependent as they were on doping TAGS with small amounts of cerium or ytterbium – provide yet more evidence of rare-earth elements’ strategic importance. Cerium or ytterbium are members of a group of 15 lanthanides,  deemed essential to just about every new technology from consumer electronics and cell phones to hybrid car batteries and generator motors in wind turbines. The Ames Laboratory has been a leader in rare-earth research going back to the closing days of World War II. Fears of shortages of rare-earth elements have caused these little-known materials to be a much-talked-about subject in the news lately.

For more information, see: E.M. Levin, B.A. Cook, J.L. Harringa, S. L. Bud’ko, R. Venkatasubramanian, K. Schmidt-Rohr, “Analysis of Ce- and Yb-Doped TAGS-85 Materials with Enhanced Thermoelectric Figure of Merit,” Advanced Functional Materials, 2010, in press. DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201001307; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adfm.201001307/abstract

Partial funding for this research was provided by the DARPA/DSO Program, along with the DOE Office of Science.

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science research facility operated by Iowa State University.  The Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions.  We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global challenges.

Operator innovation centers: Searching for solutions in the sandbox by Phil Goldstein

At a site in Plano, Texas, roughly 20 miles from its corporate headquarters in Dallas, AT&T (NYSE:T) today will formally open an innovation center, the first of three such facilities planned by the operator. And AT&T is not alone: Operators across the country have been opening the gleaming, multimillion-dollar facilities in partnership with vendors and other third parties at a rapid clip during the past year. The goal of of these centers is to foster never-before-seen products and services.

Innovation centers serve to showcase the promise of developing ecosystems such as machine-to-machine communications and LTE networks. Additionally, the centers give equipment vendors like Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) and Nokia Siemens Networks the ability to demonstrate to carriers that they are willing and able to be strategic partners and not just companies that sell hardware.

And yet even proponents of the centers agree: These innovation centers likely won’t produce many mass-market products, and that in order to be truly successful they must be partnered with open developer initiatives.

“It is a more agile way of adapting to a quickly developing marketplace, so that you can do things in a sandbox, you can leverage the community of resources that are all trying to do things in collaboration,” said Jason Collins, vice president of innovation of prototyping at Alcatel-Lucent.

Centers of experimentation

“The carriers themselves are putting an emphasis on trying to pull together standardized ecosystems in order to create greater efficiencies in how they deliver these services,” said Phil Marshall, an analyst at Tolaga Research.

No two innovation centers are exactly alike, and, indeed, AT&T, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) are all taking different approaches to how they operate their respective centers. The carriers also are setting up multiple facilities for different purposes. (T-Mobile USA declined to comment on its plans for an innovation center.)

But the common theme is a desire by carriers and their vendor partners to push the envelope on new mobile ecosystems like LTE and M2M, and engage with application developers and other players on new products, services, and, ultimately, business models.

“There are so many new applications and systems that are being developed by people across the board,” said Keith Shank, Ericsson’s director of advanced technology labs. “We are looking for what is the best technology, the best products that we can bring into a mobile environment that people want to use.”

Take an innovation center tour

 


AT&T

Sprint

Verizon

Sharing the benefits

Both vendors and carriers said that the centers offer an opportunity to build closer bonds.

“It gives us the opportunity to really work on opportunities that are relevant for the customer because you’re both directly engaged and have a faster time to market for those applications,” said David Lewis, the senior marketing manager for Nokia Siemens in North America.

“They’re under such huge amounts of pressure to deliver,” he added, referring to carriers. “I think this is just one of the avenues open to them to be able to deliver the applications that consumer want.”

Nokia Siemens has two innovation centers of its own, including a Smart Lab to test new products and applications and a Next Generation LTE Lab, both of which are in Irving, Texas.

There are benefits for vendors as well. “It gives them a forum and place to kind of expose their emerging technologies,” said  Peter Hill, AT&T’s vice president of ecosystems and innovation.  Vendors are constantly searching the market for new products and solutions, he said, and working with AT&T allows them to introduce those ideas efficiently and in a collaborative way.

Peter Jarich, an analyst with Current Analysis, said that when vendors work with carriers at these centers, it allows them to get closer to the operators on a more strategic level. “It allows them to say, ‘I’m responsive to their needs. I’m not just going to come in and sell you products, I’m going to come and help you with innovation.’”

The nature of innovation

Still, it remains to be seen whether these centers are mere showcases or actual places of innovation.

“I can certainly understand what they’re trying to do,” Tolaga Research’s Marshall said. “The problem that you have when you institutionalize innovation, across multiple companies with different agendas, different timelines and challenges in the market around them, the solutions tend to become suboptimum.”

Marshall said that instead of focusing on the “least common denominator” solutions that localize innovation, carriers should focus on fostering developer communities akin to smartphone OS communities.

And carriers and vendors agree the centers are not the only answer. “I think the innovation center by itself is subject to that criticism if you don’t couple it with a strategy of a more open developer community on top of a service provider as a platform idea,” Alcatel-Lucent’s Collins said. Indeed, Verizon has its Open Development Initiative for LTE and Sprint has an Open Device Initiative.

All of the parties said they expect the innovation centers to become more import in the years ahead. “With any new technology that you have and any new capability, these centers become very important,” said Brian Higgins, Verizon’s executive director for ecosystem development. “And I think these kinds of centers will evolve, like anything else, as new capabilities become available.”

Clearwire Retail Retreat May Draw Sprint Investment by Amy Thomson and Olga Kharif

Clearwire Corp., the provider of wireless broadband services, may be able to get additional capital from partner Sprint Nextel Corp. with a retreat from its retail expansion, analysts said.

Clearwire plans to stop putting money into new retail stores to concentrate on building out its network, a person familiar with the plans said yesterday. The company will continue to operate its existing stores said the person, who couldn’t be identified because the plans aren’t public.

Maintaining stores and its own brand has unnecessarily drained Clearwire’s already short cash supplies, said Jonathan Chaplin, an analyst at Credit Suisse Holdings USA. Cutting the stores also could persuade Sprint to contribute additional funds to its partner, he said.

“Our sense is that Sprint was willing to invest in Clearwire with a couple of conditions, one of them being that Clearwire gets rid of the retail business,” said Chaplin, who is based in New York and rates Clearwire “neutral.” “It’s a huge drain on capital.”

The retail expansion has bred tension with Sprint, which owns a majority of Clearwire stock, because it puts Clearwire into competition with Sprint for customers, said analysts including Sid Parakh of McAdams Wright Ragen. Sprint buys capacity on Clearwire’s network wholesale and then sells high- speed wireless service to consumers and businesses.

“Sprint’s preference is that Clearwire’s cash or financial resources be used primarily for building out the network, versus other purposes,” Dan Hesse, chief executive officer of Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint, said in an interview today. “That’s really where we want to see the money spent, building out the best coverage in the most markets.”

Short on Cash

Susan Johnston, a Clearwire spokeswoman, declined to comment ahead of the company’s earnings report next week.

“We’ve not announced a change in strategy,” she said. “We’ll provide an update on the business on Feb. 17.”

Clearwire rose 20 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $5.71 at 4 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The stock has added 11 percent this year. Sprint, the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier behind AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless, climbed 25 cents to $4.60 on the in New York Stock Exchange.

Clearwire has warned investors it’s short on cash, saying it would run out by mid-year before it raised $1.325 billion in bonds and exchangeable notes in December. The company probably needs another $3 billion to be free cash flow positive by 2014, even if it phases out its stores, Chaplin said. Cutting stores more aggressively, ramping up the closings by the second half of the year, could save Clearwire $1 billion, said Chaplin, who doesn’t own shares in either company.

Clearwire said in November it would suspend retail store openings in Denver and Miami and reduce sales and marketing spending, as part of an effort to conserve cash.

In addition, Clearwire may be close to a deal to sell some of its wireless spectrum to Deutsche Telekom AG’s T-Mobile USA unit, two people familiar with the talks said this month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amy Thomson in New York at athomson6@bloomberg.net; Olga Kharif in Portland, Oregon, at okharif@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net; Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net

Weapons in the battle: City tries new tactics in annual fight with potholes by Eric Moskowitz

In a typical year, the city of Boston fills about 19,000 potholes, with much of that work coming in the late winter and spring, when freeze-thaw cycles wreak havoc on pavement. Many of the repairs are only temporary patches, in response to road surfaces that are chewing up automobile tires and axles.

Convinced that there should be a better way, city officials are working on a couple of solutions to help them identify potholes earlier and fix them more efficiently. Today, the Department of Public Works will deploy a new truck, known as the Pro-Patch Pothole Patcher and purchased for $151,300, that is supposed to allow crews to fix potholes in a faster, more permanent fashion.

Meanwhile, Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, the team that launched the Citizens Connect iPhone app in 2009, is working on an application for smartphones that would automatically report potholes without the need for a driver to dial a number or send a text message.

Currently, most potholes are identified by DPW repair crews dispatched to drive until they find them, Boston Public Works Commissioner Joanne Massaro said. Roughly one in every six potholes that the city fills is reported by the public, via an e-mail, a call to City Hall, or a report made on Citizens Connect, which allows smartphone users to send the city pictures, descriptions, and locations of problems such as graffiti, potholes, and faded crosswalks.

But a new app, called Street Bump, would automatically report potholes to the city by sensing when a car has hit a bump. The app, in development, would be sensitive enough to identify cracks and divots, alerting the city to pavement problems before they become car-crunching craters.

The application relies on two components embedded in iPhones, Android phones, and many other mobile devices: the accelerometer and the Global Positioning System receiver. The accelerometer, which determines the direction and acceleration of a phone’s movement, can be harnessed to identify when a phone resting on a dashboard or in a cupholder in a moving car has hit a bump; the GPS receiver can determine by satellite just where that bump is located.

“We’re constantly looking for new ways to make sure that roads are as smooth as they possibly can be, and we believe that Street Bump is a first-in-the nation app,’’ said Chris Osgood, one half of the two-man Urban Mechanics office.

Osgood and Nigel Jacob, his New Urban Mechanics cochairman, have developed the prototype with Fabio Carrera, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Joshua Thorp and Stephen Guerin, developers from the Santa Fe Complex, a civic-minded technology and design think tank in New Mexico.

“It’s a new kind of volunteerism,’’ Jacob said. “It’s not volunteering your sweat equity. It’s volunteering the devices that are in your pocket to help the city.’’ He spoke just as Menino came through the door of a fifth-floor conference room.

“I want this app on my car,’’ Menino said, leaning on crutches as he recovers from surgery to repair a partially torn tendon in his right leg. “I want to find all these potholes and identify [which ones are] city, state, federal.’’

The prototype is not quite ready for that yet, but on a test drive yesterday afternoon, as a Ford Taurus stamped with the mayoral seal circled the Boston Common, Jacob’s and Osgood’s phones beeped, realtime graphs on the displays dancing, every time the car was jostled. Intensive testing this spring and summer should help calibrate the application to weed out noise — sewer grates, elevated crosswalks, and the like — and identify only potholes.

Soon the developers plan to launch a challenge through InnoCentive.com, opening the application to thousands of testers and offering a $25,000 prize, funded by Liberty Mutual, to the programmers who come up with the best ways to improve it.

The more immediate improvement to the city’s pothole patching efforts, the Pro-Patch truck, should allow use of hot asphalt year-round, normally only possible in warmer weather. The truck arrived last fall but has been used only sporadically since.

“We’re just kind of gearing up right now, because we’ve been focused so much on snow,’’ said Massaro. “This will kind of be starting it out in full force.’’

State officials are also increasingly focused on pothole repair after the series of snowstorms since Christmas. The Department of Transportation spends about $2 million a year on patching potholes.

“The highways really take a beating at this time of year,’’ said Luisa Paiewonsky, the state’s highway administrator. “We have crews out every day filling potholes. . . . It’s a battle worth fighting, but it is a battle.’’

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com.

HBR Blogs: The Importance of Organizational Design and Structure by Gill Corkindale

One of the wonderful things about being a coach is that I meet hundreds of executives who freely share their business and leadership challenges with me. As well as helping me understand how hard it is to run an organization, they show me how they are managing to adapt — or not — to changing organizational structures.

A constant theme during meetings over the last three years has been how globalisation and the economic crisis have forced organizations to rethink their strategies and change they way they operate. From what I can gather, much of this has been “on the hoof,” with companies switching their focus from markets to products or competitors, rather than looking at the big picture. This can result in lots of piecemeal change initiatives rather than looking at the overall organizational design.

I rarely come across leaders who advocate wholesale organizational redesign or use it as a way to support their people and business. When organizational strategy changes, structures, roles, and functions should be realigned with the new objectives. This doesn’t always happen, with the result that responsibilities can be overlooked, staffing can be inappropriate, and people — and even functions — can work against each other.

Often, I see little more than a traditional hierarchy flattening out, perhaps broadening into a matrix structure in parts of the organization. More often than not, though, the hierarchy remains embedded in the “new” structure, which can cut across its effectiveness and leave people confused. Worse, organizations rarely show people how to operate in a new structure, which can also undermine effectiveness.

Many of my clients tell me that they find it increasingly difficult to operate within outdated or dysfunctional structures. My prevailing impression is that organizations either overlook the importance of organizational design or simply don’t know what to do.

This isn’t surprising since the subject is complex and often poorly explained by academics and consultants, finding a practical approach to organizational design can be difficult, although some business schools are attempting to simplify things (pdf).

It is also a pity since structure dictates the relationship of roles in an organization, and therefore, how people function. An outdated structure can result in unnecessary ambiguity and confusion and often a lack of accountability. Structures can be complicated: one British bank where I coach has a clear hierarchy at the top but a complex matrix structure further down which, according to my clients, allows some managers to dodge their responsibilities while others can move troublesome staff around or “exit” them easily.

Poor organizational design and structure results in a bewildering morass of contradictions: confusion within roles, a lack of co-ordination among functions, failure to share ideas, and slow decision-making bring managers unnecessary complexity, stress, and conflict. Often those at the top of an organization are oblivious to these problems or, worse, pass them off as or challenges to overcome or opportunities to develop.

Here are some of the stories I have come across recently — if you have experienced anything similar or have different insights, it would be useful to hear them in the coming week. Any suggestions for pushing back or reshaping unnecessarily complex or outdated organizational structures are also welcome!

The “unworkable” job: a Swiss engineer told me that his boss had bolted on so many parts to his original role that it was becoming impossible to do his work as one part of his role contradicted the other. Moreover, he was stretched beyond his limits by the scope of the role and the fact that he had to operate across several time zones.

Politics: a Hong Kong retail executive said his role was “schizophrenic” because he was required to influence a group of internal stakeholders who had been instructed by their boss not to co-operate with him. The anomaly was the result of historical turf wars between his boss and his boss’ peer: the latter had used his influence to restructure the department and bring it under his control.

Over-regulation: a British banker explained how he was required to get approval from so many people for a major project that he wasted six months trying to get it off the ground, severely limiting his ability to compete in the market.

Applying for your own job: a French executive of an international food company explained how a new chief executive wanted to make his mark by restructuring the group. The exec made people apply for their own jobs, and determine who was redundant.

Cultural clashes: I once worked in a consultancy firm where a sizeable group of people still defined themselves by the organizational culture of a company that was taken over 20 years before. This group made a point of working against the new culture and subverted the company in small and far-reaching ways.

The Palantir Workspace in Your Local Language by Brandon

Awhile back we shared some screenshots of the Elvish Palantir Workspace. We’d like to give an update on our progress with real-world languages. Our internationalization work has enabled us to support menus, text, and buttons in any language, including complex languages such as Arabic and Dari. Also, multiple Palantir Workspace clients configured in different languages can work simultaneously on the same Palantir server.

Below you can see screenshots from version 3.1 of the login screen in Dutch, the Map in Arabic and in Dari, and the Graph in Spanish. Contact us if you want to know more about our internationalization work.

Dutch

Arabic

Dari

Spanish

Welcome to the Brave New World of Innovation Ecosystems by Paul Hobcraft

Will ecosystems replace simple ‘old’ innovation collaborations as we know them today? Open innovation has suddenly lost its pole position. Board rooms around the world will be thinking through the events that unfolded yesterday and I’m not talking about Eygpt.

Just get into the story that has been unfolding at Nokia in the recent weeks, it has been breathtaking but it signals a massive change in where innovation will be going. Let me summarize some of this story and add some of my own thoughts on what this means.

Firstly the famous burning platform memo within Nokia.

In early February Stephen Elop, the CEO of Nokia issued a ‘burning platform’ memo internally

  • We are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.
  • The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same
  • And, we have more than one explosion – we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.

While competitors poured flames on Nokia’s market share, what happened at Nokia? They fell behind, they missed out on some big trends, and they lost precious time to multiple competitors. They now find themselves years behind. So in a brutally honest assessment Nokia has lost market share, lost mind share and lost time. It needed something radical.

There are many other organizations that should be as honest as this. Automotives come to mind for example. Burning platforms are one of the best ways to galvanise and generate innovation. There are many burning platforms out there- Health, Government, Social Services, Age concerns, Poverty, Pharmaceutical, Automotive, Energy and Climate (and many others) are all burning platforms needing bolder solutions.

If leadership sees it, then disruption follows or rapid decline can set in. Competition in the world is getting mean.

The new war of ecosystems

To quote Elop: “The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems. In this case it is where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem”.

Today, the battle is moving from one of mobile devices to one of mobile ecosystems in Nokia’s case and perhaps many other global businesses.

Again Elop: “Ecosystems thrive when they reach scale, when they are fueled by energy and innovation and when they provide benefits and value to each person or company who participates”.

Back to Nokias CEO Stephen Elop brutally honest ‘burning platform’ memo.

“The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.”

“We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven’t been delivering innovation fast enough. We’re not collaborating internally. Nokia, our platform is burning.”

Overall, the communique laments Nokia’s lateral movement while Apple and Google have started eating its lunch on the mid- and high end and Shenzhen-based off brands have started to cut into its traditional dominance in emerging markets, leaving Espoo with virtually zero market leadership.

So enters Microsoft needing at least one solution to its own burning platforms .

A long term strategic alliance between Nokia and Microsoft was announced on Friday 11th February 2011, proposing to build a global ecosystem that creates opportunities beyond anything that currently exists. This ecosystem offers a serious alternative to the existing choices to operators, developers and consumers. Bringing together highly complementary assets and competencies will allow this ecosystem to achieve more than any other industry partnership could achieve. Welcome to the third ecosystem of mobile devises to compete with Apple and the Google’s Android.

Does it make sense or as one commentator commented “ Nokia: here’s why we jumped off the “burning platform” into the frigid North Sea by choosing Microsoft and its Windows Phone 7” as its smart phone platform.

  • Together Microsoft and Nokia have some of the most globally recognized and treasured brands on the planet. This can be leveraged for the benefit of the ecosystem and the products.
  • Nokia plans to help drive and define the future of the platform. That could include contributing expertise on hardware optimization, language support, customization of the software and helping bring Windows Phone to a larger range of price points, market segments and geographies.
  • Nokia operates an established, global supply and distribution network with the capability to bring products to almost every corner of the world. That provides the capability to take potential Nokia Windows Phone products and make them globally competitive.
  • Scale is critical to a winning ecosystem. Together, Nokia and Microsoft would bring unrivalled scale in global reach, brand identity and product breadth.

It seems a winning idea: world’s biggest handset maker plus most profitable software firm.

A turkey or an eagle has been raised with this strategic partnership

One further commentator (http://bit.ly/effPog) quoted:

“On paper, it looks like a simple win: the world’s biggest handset maker joins the world’s most profitable software maker, which dominates the PC platform. Why shouldn’t it be an open goal on mobiles? The problem is nobody thinks of Nokia or Microsoft when buying a “smartphone” because that means “apps”, for which everyone thinks of Apple (330,000 third-party apps) or, increasingly, Google’s Android (200,000 third-party apps). Developers know they can make money on either platform if they have a hit like Angry Birds or some other app, and companies know apps can drive commerce to their business.

By contrast, Windows Phone 7 offers fewer than 8,000 apps. And instead of courting developers, Nokia and Microsoft have undermined them: Microsoft by abandoning Windows Mobile a year ago, by unveiling Windows Phone 7; and Nokia abruptly announcing on Friday that its best-selling Symbian platform was in effect dead and would not be used in future smartphones. Symbian developers will probably retool to write for Apple or Android rather than Nokia. Without developers, you don’t have apps, and without apps you don’t have a reason for people to buy your platform over another. Open goal? More like closed doors.

It might mean many possibly heading fast for the exit. As an interesting question for a developer is, where best would it be to put their skills to write code for Windows Phone 7, for Android, or Apple’s iOS?

Rebuilding fortunes

Embattled mobile phone firm Nokia has now signed up to a “broad strategic partnership” with Microsoft in an effort to rebuild its fortunes. It is most likely to go beyond just smart mobiles.

Elop said the partnership meant the mobile market was now a “three horse race”, with Nokia-Microsoft competing strongly with Apple, and Google’s Android platform.

Let’s see how HP reflects on this; will they join this ecosystem or stay with their own efforts to battle on the hardware front? They might be forced to join one of the three ecosystems themselves as they will increasingly find it expensive to build another alternative.

So the battle of ecosystems becomes the necessary innovation platform.

Are ecosystems and platforms the global answer to innovation acceleration?

I don’t think this set of events is contained to one industry. I think we will see the rapid acceleration of ecosystems; new platforms and business models will suddenly transform many industries. Scale and scope will be seen differently from this move of Nokia and Microsoft.

Take a quick look at what these ecosystems can bring in this Nokia- Microsoft deal.

At present in what must be a fairly fluid strategic rethink, Nokia said it will continue to make phones running its Symbian operating system, thus “leveraging previous investments to harvest additional value”. Symbian, though, will be relegated to the status of a “franchise partner”. Third world phones suddenly have a fairly decent operating system at affordable prices perhaps?

MeeGo, Nokia’s Linux-based open source mobile operating system, will also continue – but with a focus on “longer-term market exploration”. This seems like picking the parts that are different and merging these into the Windows Mobile 7 platform in the next few years.

Further scanning the different commentary from yesterday that while the specific details of the deal are being worked out, here’s a quick summary of what we are working towards:

• Nokia will adopt Windows Phone as its primary smartphone strategy, innovating on top of the platform in areas such as imaging, where Nokia is a market leader.

• Nokia will help drive and define the future of Windows Phone. Nokia will contribute its expertise on hardware design, language support, and help bring Windows Phone to a larger range of price points, market segments and geographies.

• Nokia and Microsoft will closely collaborate on development, joint marketing initiatives and a shared development roadmap to align on the future evolution of mobile products.

• Bing will power Nokia’s search services across Nokia devices and services, giving customers access to Bing’s next generation search capabilities. Microsoft adCenter will provide search advertising services on Nokia’s line of devices and services.

• Nokia Maps will be a core part of Microsoft’s mapping services. For example, Maps would be integrated with Microsoft’s Bing search engine and adCenter advertising platform to form a unique local search and advertising experience.

• Nokia’s extensive operator billing agreements will make it easier for consumers to purchase Nokia Windows Phone services in countries where credit-card use is low.

• Microsoft development tools will be used to create applications to run on Nokia Windows Phones, allowing developers to easily leverage the ecosystem’s global reach.

• Microsoft will continue to invest in the development of Windows Phone and cloud services so customers can do more with their phone, across their work and personal lives.

• Nokia’s content and application store will be integrated with Microsoft Marketplace for a more compelling consumer experience.

The combination of these 800lb Gorillas will seemingly be impressive

Nokia’s history of innovation in the hardware space, global hardware scale, strong history of intellectual property creation and navigation assets are second to none. Microsoft is a leader in software and services; the company’s incredible expertise in platform creation forms the opportunity for its billions of customers and millions of partners to get more out of their devices.

So the war of ecosystems is upon us.

Stephen Elop made these comments yesterday:

  • There are other mobile ecosystems. We will disrupt them.
  • There will be challenges. We will overcome them.
  • Success requires speed. We will be swift.
  • Together, we see the opportunity, and we have the will, the resources and the drive to succeed.

Time will tell on this strategic partnership, it has a massive challenge to catch up and regain lost ground but it signals the ecosystem for innovation step change is upon us.

In my view innovation has just entered a new phase

The ecosystem becomes main stream for innovation delivery. Platforms, strategic partnerships, new business models all will be on the agenda of any serious global organization. Burning platforms are all around us, welcome to the new era of global innovation. Perhaps the bold new innovation frontier.

2011: The year hacking goes mainstream (these days, if you’re not a hacker, you’re probably being hacked) by Robert X. Cringely

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This will be the year of the hacker — or rather, the year hacking goes mainstream.

It’s been brewing for quite some time. According to McAfee, a team of Chinese hackers has been infiltrating computer networks for the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Nasdaq’s network was penetrated (though not the Nasdaq market — as far as we know). And the ongoing battle between Anonymous and the folks who are aiming to take it down is just heating up.

[ Also on InfoWorld, Cringely looks at the AOL-Huffington Post buyout and warns: The mediocre shall inherit the Web. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Before you fire up your email program or leap immediately to the comments to correct me: Yes, I know — “hacker” isn’t the right word for this kind of activity. Hackers are not necessarily criminals or even evil-doers. There are white-hat, black-hat, gray-hat, and the occasional houndstooth-hatted hackers.

And when hackers get tired of eating Doritos for dinner and have actual bills to pay, they grow up to be highly paid security consultants who are hired to do battle with their younger doppelgangers.

Case in point: The war between HBGary Federal, a security firm hired by the FBI to suss out who was behind the revenge attacks on assorted “enemies” of WikiLeaks and Anonymous.

Last weekend, HBGary CEO Aaron Barr made the fatal mistake of bragging to the Financial Times about how his firm had managed to infiltrate the computers of leading members of Anonymous. Per the FT:

Of a few hundred participants in operations, only about 30 are steadily active, with 10 people who “are the most senior and co-ordinate and manage most of the decisions,” Mr. Barr told the Financial Times. That team works together in private internet relay chat sessions, through e-mail and in Facebook groups. Mr. Barr said he had collected information on the core leaders, including many of their real names, and that they could be arrested if law enforcement had the same data.

You’d think he’d know better. But no. Sure enough, HBGary’s servers got hacked and Barr’s Twitter account got hijacked by, yes, Anonymous. They posted Barr’s address, phone number, and Social Security number on his Twitter feed, and sent out numerous taunting tweets on his behalf. They also hacked HBGary’s website and replaced it with this message, which reads in part:

You have blindly charged into the Anonymous hive, a hive from which you’ve tried to steal honey. Did you think the bees would not defend it? Well here we are, You’ve angered the hive, and now you are being stung.

Writing for CSO online, guest blogger Nick Selby sums up Barr’s boneheadedness:

I don’t know much about law enforcement, but I do think that, if you’re planning, say, to serve a felony warrant, it’s a bad idea to phone ahead and let the guy know you’ll be by in 15 minutes. … Criminals generally engage in criminal enterprises for the money (few people have a driving passion to establish, say, an industry-leading counterfeiting ring for the societal benefit), and those who stand between criminals and their goal risk the ire of the criminals. … Now, stating in a newspaper that you possess the secret identity of a criminal? This falls squarely into the category of “standing between a criminal and his goal.” That’s a tip, kids. Write it down. To paraphrase Wendy in A Fish Called Wanda, one only briefs the public on an upcoming law enforcement action if one is congenitally insane or irretrievably stupid.

Anonymous also published somewhere between 44,000 and 60,000 emails between HBGary and its corporate/government customers. And what was inside those emails was an eye-opener.

It seems HBGary was working with Bank of America on a plan to take down WikiLeaks — and, strangely, CNN and Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald, whom it deemed instrumental to WikiLeaks’ continued existence, along with a handful of other prominent journalists.

Glenn was critical in the Amazon to OVH [hosting] transition…It is this level of support that needs to be disrupted. These are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately if pushed most of them choose professional preservation over cause, such is the mentality of most business professionals. Without the support of people like Glenn wikileaks [sic] would fold.

What do you suppose they meant by “pushed”? As in, over a cliff?

That presentation suggests strategies such as sowing dissension within the WikiLeaks org, disinformation (submitting false documents to WikiLeaks in order to discredit it), cyber attacks against WikiLeaks’ service providers, a media smear campaign, and “using social media to profile and identify risky behavior of [WikiLeaks] employees.”

Does that last one sound like blackmail to you?

HBGary is trying to sell the idea that Anonymous falsified some of the documents, but I doubt anyone’s buying it. Palantir has already publicly apologized to Greenwald and severed its ties with HBGary, which suggests the information contained in that leak is accurate.

To recap: A massive U.S. corporation is targeting whistleblowing websites and mainstream American journalists, with the help of several data/security/consulting firms with strong ties to the U.S. government. It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood summer blockbuster. It’s not.

So tell me: Who are the white hats and who are the black hats here?

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to get a lot more bumpy from here on out.

Does all this corporate hacking hack you off too? E-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

Pelican Imaging Unveils Revolutionary Approach to Smartphone Cameras

Pelican Imaging Corporation, a venture-backed pioneer in computational imaging, today announced that it has developed the first prototype array camera for mobile devices. In addition, the company has announced its Technical Advisory Board comprised of three leading experts in computational imaging. The members are Professor Marc Levoy, Professor Shree K. Nayar and Dr. Bedabrata Pain.

The Technical Advisory Board leverages several decades of experience in helping guide Pelican Imaging‘s pioneering work building the industry’s thinnest high-resolution camera, targeting smartphones and tablets.

“We are excited about attracting some of the foremost experts to Pelican’s Technical Advisory Board. This relationship gives us a collaborative forum that leverages their unique insights and maximizes the potential of our architecture,” said Kartik Venkataraman, CTO and co-founder of Pelican Imaging.

Pelican Imaging has developed a computational camera array architecture and fundamental intellectual property with 12 pending patent applications in array optics, sensors and image reconstruction algorithms. Pelican’s camera improves upon image and video quality while allowing for thinner smartphones. New applications are also enabled by introducing features such as 3-D depth, gesture control, and the ability for users to interact with the image before and after capturing the shot.

“What Pelican has developed represents a paradigm shift in imaging and video that has the potential to overcome many of the inherent limitations of mobile cameras,” said Professor Shree Nayar of Columbia University. “Pelican’s expertise in optics, architecture and software algorithms uniquely positions the company to bring computational imaging applications to the mass market.”

Professor Marc Levoy, of Stanford University commented, “Pelican’s technology has the potential to upset the traditional tradeoff between the sensitivity and resolution of a camera and its thickness. It also brings new capabilities to cameras, including post-capture focusing, foveal imaging and programmable frame rates.  We have been investigating these aspects of computational photography in our laboratory at Stanford for a number of years, through the Stanford Multi-Camera Array, which is big, slow and expensive. Pelican’s solution is small, fast and inexpensive – which makes it a very exciting technology.”

“Pelican’s architecture relaxes key pixel design constraints, thereby enhancing pixel performance beyond those in legacy cameras. I am equally excited about its potential for early and cost-effective adoption of new sensor technologies. The next generation of mini- and micro-cameras is upon us,” said Dr. Bedabrata Pain, CEO of Edict Inc.

Technical Advisory Board Members Bio

Dr. Marc Levoy – Currently a professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, Dr. Levoy co-designed the Google book scanner and launched Google’s Street View project. In the 1970s, he worked on computer animation, developing a cartoon animation system that was used to make The Flintstones, Scooby Doo and other shows. His current activities include computational imaging techniques that extend the capabilities of digital photography. Dr. Levoy has been awarded the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator (1991), ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award (1996) and Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Fellow (2007).

Dr. Shree Nayar –Currently the T. C. Chang Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University, he co-directs the Columbia Vision and Graphics Center and heads the Columbia Computer Vision Laboratory (CAVE), which is dedicated to the development of computational cameras and vision systems. In 2008, Dr. Nayar was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Dr. Bedabrata Pain – Currently the CEO of Edict Inc., a technology consulting firm, he was previously a senior research scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech. Dr. Pain is a co-inventor of the active pixel sensor technology that resulted in the development of the world’s smallest camera in 1995 at NASA, and subsequently sparked the explosion in cameraphones. In 1997, Dr. Pain was inducted to the U.S. Space Technology Hall of Fame.

About Pelican Imaging
Headquartered in Mountain View, California, and founded in 2008, Pelican Imaging Corporation is a venture-backed software and IP start-up in the business of commercializing computational array cameras for the mobile market. Pelican’s array camera directly addresses the challenges posed by conventional camera design and small pixels. Investors include Globespan Capital Partners, Granite Ventures, InterWest Partners and IQT. For more information, go to www.pelicanimaging.com.

Muqtada al-Sadr and Iran Use “Soft Power” to Pursue Objectives in Iraq by Babak Rahimi ((( #5GW )))

The return of Muqtada al-Sadr to Iraq after more than three years of self-imposed exile and his unexpected January 21 departure for Iran only two weeks later have provoked speculation over the security implications of his activities in Iraq and his precise relations with Iran (Fars News Agency, January 22; Gulf News January 21; Tehran Times, January 23). In light of a recent series of terrorist attacks in the shrine-city of Karbala during the Arbain religious festival (marking the passage of 40 days after the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein), al-Sadr’s departure has raised concerns about the Sadrist militia and the possible re-emergence of the sectarian conflict that engulfed the country in 2006-2007 (al-Jazeera, January 21; IRNA, January 25). In many ways, the spate of bombings can be seen as the latest attempt by the Sunni militant factions to incite sectarian friction and perhaps provoke the Sadrists to retaliate. However, the security breakdown which followed with al-Sadr’s surprise departure to Iran could also be an indication of the extent to which the Sadrist movement as a political-military force continues to undergo a major organizational transformation, with its leadership base becoming more entrenched in Iran.

An Unexplained and Hasty Departure

From the perspective of his opponents, al-Sadr’s sudden trip to Iran can be explained in terms of evading legal proceedings related to the assassination of Sayyid Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a prominent Iraqi Shi’a scholar who was killed by a mob (believed to be followers of al-Sadr) at a Baghdad mosque in 2003.  It was after the issuing of a warrant for al-Sadr’s arrest in connection with the murder that his Mahdist militia came to his defense and engaged in a bloody war against U.S. and Iraqi government forces. Upon al-Sadr’s return to Iraq, the family of al-Khoei challenged the Iraqi government over its failure to detain the young cleric, accusing some members of the parliament and the judiciary of purposely avoiding enforcement of the criminal investigation process (Asharq al-Awsat, January 6). Al-Sadr’s supporters, however, argue that their leader left Iraq because of American attempts to assassinate him (Fars, January 22). According to one of his top representatives, al-Sadr left for Iran in order to kick off an important regional tour, which he has done several times in the last two years in order to bolster his image as a statesmen (Asharq al-Awsat, January 23). The puzzle is, then, why so many of his followers, including his top representatives, believed that after his return to Iraq al-Sadr would reside in Najaf, possibly studying under an Iraqi-based Grand Ayatollah (al-Hayat, January 13). Did al-Sadr have plans to stay in Iraq and supervise his movement’s return to power? If not, then what are the security implications of his return to Iran?

A careful review of reports from the earlier days of his return to Iraq shows that al-Sadr had plans to reside in Iraq with the objective of playing a more direct role in Iraq’s political and security matters (al-Quds al-Arabi, January 4). Despite claims by his representatives that he is in full command of his followers while studying in Iran, al-Sadr’s decision to reside in Najaf would have bolstered his influence as a regional political figure with religious authority (al-Alam, January 15). His departure to Iran, therefore, appears to be a sudden change of plan, perhaps a somewhat hasty response to the violence that erupted in Karbala, but more likely because of threats from splinter groups within his former militia.

The Mahdist Factions

Although Mahdist splinter groups have largely remained hidden from the sight of security forces, they tend to make abrupt appearances to remind observers of the internal challenges al-Sadr faces in Iraq. Examples of such threats emerged in 2010, when Jaysh al-Mahdi splinter groups with names such as “Guardians of Religion” and “Men of the Sword” began imposing codes of morality and controlling territories in various cities like Nasriya (Tabnak, August 16, 2010). The Ahrar faction, as another example, still remains one of the most formidable challenges to al-Sadr (Aswat al-Iraq, October 17, 2010). Although the cleric’s representatives have downplayed their significance, these splinter groups were likely displeased with the return of their former leader, especially his January 8 speech in Najaf where he talked about cooperation with the new government and peaceful resistance to U.S. occupation (al-Arabiya, January 8). Since most splinter factions began to emerge when al-Sadr began his collaboration with the government of Nuri al-Maliki in 2005 onwards, the Najaf speech only reconfirmed the view shared by many of his enemies that the cleric is a traitor for his ties to the U.S. occupiers and his links with Iran.

However, despite internal threats to his security, al-Sadr maintains considerable political capital in Iraq. The December 2010 deal to join the new coalition government secured his movement eight governmental ministries, most notably in education (considered a vital portfolio by Islamists), along with 39 seats in parliament (al-Jazeera, January 5). During his two-week stay in Iraq, al-Sadr showed significant political clout as Iraqi politicians, including President Jalal Talabani, travelled to meet him in Najaf (Fars, January 15). Among the many official meetings, the most important one took place on January 13 between al-Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Sistani (al-Sumaria, January 14; Fars, January 14). During this meeting, Sistani was reportedly impressed by al-Sadr’s populist agenda, particularly his support in the Iraqi parliament for public housing for the poor (al-Hayat, January 14). The meetings helped al-Sadr shed the image of a radical figure while solidifying his status as a major player in the new coalition government.

Exerting “Soft Power”

In terms of security implications, al-Sadr appears to underline his broader strategy by expanding his “soft power” capabilities (i.e. attaining objectives through attraction or co-opting the opposition rather than using violence) with the support of Tehran. The attempt to transform the Mahdi Army into the Mumahidun (“Those Who Pave the Path”) with a mission to provide cultural and public services to Iraqis set off a general re-structuring of the Sadrist movement into a political force in 2008. Al-Sadr’s latest attempt to bolster his cultural-political credentials may be viewed as part of a broader Iranian regional policy (see Terrorism Monitor, September 4, 2008).  Rumors of his close scholarly ties with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazadi, a hardliner cleric with a messianic outlook, seem to indicate al-Sadr has grown increasingly dependent on Iran since he left Iraq to pursue his studies in Qom in 2008 (see Terrorism Monitor, February 5, 2008).

Unlike 2003-2004, when he challenged Shi’a authorities in Najaf and Tehran, al-Sadr is now careful to mind the limits of his authority in public. This is perhaps intended to tame his younger followers by respecting the traditions of Shia orthodoxy, a far cry from his 2003 claims to messianic-like authority, which angered the clerical establishment. The long-term pursuit of becoming an ayatollah appears to be more important to al-Sadr than simply counting the immediate political gains he can enjoy by staying in Iraq. One can argue that despite his possible plans to stay in Najaf, al-Sadr is determined to become a recognized, high-ranking cleric in the Shi’a religious community with the benefit of access to major sources of financial capital primarily under the control of high-ranking clerics in Najaf. As his refusal to lead the Friday Prayer as a low-level cleric in Kufa indicates, he has no desire to challenge long-held traditions of the clerical establishment and transgress the authority of his clerical superiors and elders (Fars, January 15).

Al-Sadr’s soft-power strategy can be associated with Iran’s “Soft War” strategy, which became an integral part of Tehran’s regional policy in the months after the disputed 2009 elections (see Terrorism Monitor, June 12, 2010). As the Islamic Republic shifts attention to soft structures such as education and religious institutions to bolster its image and influence inside and outside Iran, al-Sadr also appears to follow a similar strategy with a new focus on building political and cultural blocks in Iraq, especially through the Ministry of Education his followers now control. It is also likely that some of his loyal former officers are taking up the task of software training activities in the cultural and educational domain under Iranian supervision. Since December 2010, three of the author’s Sadrist informants in Qom, all former Mahdi Army members, have been called on to return to Iraq after three years in Iran. [1] With the establishment along the nation’s borders of five new Iranian military bases charged with the task of countering new U.S. threats, it is likely that some Sadrist officers are undergoing training in an overhauled military structure (Mehr, January 22; Tehran Times, January 23). More remarkable is the way al-Sadr’s own security force is also undergoing some sort of training and even a refashioning under Iranian supervision. It is worth noting that during the Najaf speech, al-Sadr’s body guards wore grey suits, a distinctive feature of the Iranian security agents trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s (IRGC) special security forces.

Conclusion

The long-term challenges to U.S. interests by the Islamic Republic remain complicated by a range of problematic factors, one of which is the continuous transformation of Shi’a Iraqi politics as Washington vies with Iran for influence in Baghdad. Since the disputed 2009 Iranian election, the Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers have become more reliant on the paramilitary force of the IRGC to maintain domestic influence and continue to appear as a regional power. The increasing monopolization of power by the paramilitary-intelligence complex has underlined a major shift in Tehran’s foreign policy outlook that could entail new challenges to the U.S. presence in Iraq. Sadr plays an integral role in Iran’s regional policy ambitions, as leader of perhaps the only Iraqi faction with a major popular base of support in Iraq that could tilt the country toward the side of Iran.

Al-Sadr’s role becomes even more important when it comes to the U.S. presence in Iraq. As for the extension of the American military presence beyond 2011, there appears to be little room for Washington to re-negotiate these terms, as al-Sadr would have considerable leverage over al-Maliki’s government (Fars News, January 9). Despite his call for peaceful resistance against the United States, al-Sadr still upholds an uncompromising stance towards American occupation of Iraq beyond 2011, which ultimately serves Tehran’s interests in preventing the United States from attacking its nuclear sites from military bases in Iraq. This uncompromising posture could entail the re-militarization of the Mahdi Army and the return of militia politics to Iraq if (or when) the United States decides to extend its stay.

Note:

1. Fieldwork, Qom, Iran, December 10, 2008.