Welcome to the ITBHU Chronicle, August 2008 Edition Chronicle Extra Section.
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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Japanese language website

English translated version website
About Flash Fabrica
This is a unique website from Japan. Flash Fabrica is free to play online games and Flash site. The site offers mind-boggling online games and puzzles to keep the brain agile. It can also show you your mental age based on your game-score. The site also offers flash    
installation and other services. The site has hundreds of never-ending games and new games are being published regularly. Among its popular games are: test brain age, jigsaw puzzle and tissue paper puzzle.
Some of the games require installing ActiveX and other additional programs in order to play and the site is full of online ads. Still, there is no parallel to this site in playing unique games, particularly for the exercise of brain. It has very clear online instructions about game rules, how to play and how to count score.


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Photo Gallery
Where Chittahs Roam
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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Fortune Small Business accompanied a small U.S. tour operator on a journey through Namibia, where animal lovers' tourism dollars help protect threatened species. Photographs by Sean Gilligan Photography.


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2008 Olympic Games in China
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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Fireworks light up the National Stadium in Beijing during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 8, 2008. [Agencies] 
Gold medalist Abhinav Bindra of India holds his medal on the podium after shooting in the finals of the men's 10m air rifle competition at the Beijing Olympic Games on August 11, 2008. (AFP Photo)




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Russia invades neighbouring Georgia
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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Dressing for movie stars
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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Dress Designer Aki Narula creates stunning dresses for stars of Indian movie Bachna Ae Haseeeno. Shown are: Ranbir Kapoor with Minissha Lamba, Bipasha Basu and Deepika Padukone.











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Your GMAIL might be insecure!
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 28, 2008
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The above issue is discussed in the blog of Animesh Pathak (CSE 2003), “Animesh Pathak’s Online Journal”

Animesh offers following suggestions:
According to this post [ref:./], your Gmail account credentials can be hijacked if you do NOT enable HTTPS for all transactions with Gmail.
So go to your Gmail Setting page now, scroll all the way down, and choose "Always use https" in your "Browser connection:" setting.
Click "Save Changes", sigh, and get back to email :).
To drive the point home, here is the text from this comment on /.
Unless you SET THE PREFERENCE, you are insecure, even if you MANUALLY type in https://mail.google.com/ [google.com] always.
Because, unless you SET THE PREFERENCE, Google will NOT set the session cookie SECURED.
This is what Mike Perry's tool does: It takes any of your OTHER connections, redirects it to http://mail.google.com/ [google.com] so your browser spits out the session cookie anyway, and then can redirect you back (so you don't know what happened).
Google's SSL mode for Gmail, UNLESS YOU SET THE PREFERENCE, offers you NO protection against an active adversary. And since someone snooping your traffic at Starbucks can just as easily inject packets, IT OFFERS NO PROTECTION EVEN IF YOU MANUALLY TYPE IN HTTPS ALL THE TIME, UNLESS YOU SET THE PREFERENCE!!!!
What are you waiting for, go secure your Gmail!
Additional Links
1) Gmail Account Hacking Tool
Hacking Truths (http://www.hungry-hackers.com) describes itself as “Hacking Truths is a resource blog for hackers, offering tips and tricks to help you to enhance your computer knowledge and make your life easy.”
2) Slashdot
Slashdot (www.slashdot.org) describes itself as “News for nerds, Stuff that matters.”
3) Animesh Pathak’s Online Journal
Animesh Pathak's Online Journal
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Pivotal Time for India-U.S. Nuclear Deal
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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Pivotal Time for India-U.S. Nuclear Deal
Companies like GE and Westinghouse, eager to help meet India's huge energy demand, are on the sidelines while France and Russia win business
by Mehul Srivastava


For the past three years, eager executives from U.S.-based producers of nuclear power plants have been making a beeline for New Delhi, meeting with Indian government officials and coming back to America to lobby for the passage of a controversial nuclear deal between the U.S. and India. The agreement, first announced in June 2005 but still awaiting approval by Indian lawmakers, would allow India—which has been subject to sanctions since testing a nuclear weapon 10 years ago—to buy and sell nuclear technology in the international marketplace in exchange for opening up its civilian reactors for inspections.
The prize for the American companies? More than $100 billion in new reactor construction contracts in just the next 10 years, in a market that has always been closed off to American companies such as GE Energy (GE), USEC (USU) and Westinghouse Electric. "Everyone knows that this is big," says GE's India CEO, Tejpreet Chopra. "At this point, we're just waiting to see how much capacity the government is willing to add and where."
The deal has been on hold for months, thanks to opposition from members of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition government. Singh's decision to continue with the deal plunged the country into a parliamentary crisis two weeks ago, as his communist allies withdrew their support, decrying the deal as American imperialism. The Congress-led coalition faces a confidence vote in Parliament on July 22. If the government survives—and it's expected to, having replaced the left parties with smaller regional allies—it will take the deal to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, which must approve it before the U.S. Congress can vote on it.
Waiting for India to Sign the CSC
The delays have taken their toll, though. For the U.S. executives who have been impatiently awaiting the deal's passage, it's becoming clear that when the Indian government finally hands out contracts for up to 30 new nuclear reactors of up to 1,200 megawatts each, U.S. companies might not be at the front of the line.
Instead, French and Russian companies like Areva NP SAS, Atomenergoproekt, and ZAO Atomstroyexport are already taking advantage of their long-standing ties with India's nuclear community, and the fact that India has yet to sign the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC). That's an international treaty that created a global pool of money to pay victims of nuclear disasters, and since India's not a party to it, any American-built reactors would have to shoulder their own civil liabilities—a cost that would likely prove prohibitive. Russian and French state-owned competitors wouldn't have that problem, since those companies could claim sovereign immunity in case of an accident. "GE may never sell a reactor to India if they don't get the civil-liabilities issues taken care of," says George Perkovich at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation.
Companies have had difficulty penetrating India thanks to sanctions that date back a decade. In 1998, India tested a nuclear bomb near the border with Pakistan. The resulting international trade sanctions, led by the U.S., starved India's nuclear reactors of uranium and its elite scientific institutes of superfast computers and other equipment that Washington deemed sensitive, or dual-use technology. The current deal, nicknamed the 123 Agreement, was championed by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a way to bring the U.S. and India closer, and also for India to do business with the cliquish club of international nuclear suppliers. India is supposed to open up its 14 civilian reactors to international inspectors, and in return will be allowed to buy and trade nuclear fuel, reactors, and spares with the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group. Its military reactors will stay off-limits.
For American companies, this sounded like a blessing. Governments in the U.S. have not approved a nuclear reactor for construction since 1979's Three-Mile Island accident, even though American companies have been involved in about 60 reactors in Japan, South Korea, Finland, and elsewhere. India's energy needs are vast—as its economy booms, the country plans to quintuple its nuclear energy production to as much as 40,000 megawatts by 2020. At an estimated $2.5 billion per 1,000 megawatts, the nearly 30 new reactors India will commission could signal the beginning of a "nuclear renaissance" that American nuclear companies have been waiting for, says the U.S.-India Business Coucil's Ron Sumers.
France, Russia Stand to Gain More
First, the deal needs to win approval in India's Parliament, though. India's Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government has had to swap out its communist allies with those from a smaller regional party. And the deal is no sure thing in Washington, either. The White House is pushing hard to get the deal on the legislative calendar in the House and Senate. For an embattled President, bringing India into the nuclear fold would be a rare foreign policy success for the Bush Administration.
Even if the deal does finally go through, it could be as late as 2009 when India finally gets around to signing the CSC; until it does, no American nuclear company can afford to take the risk of doing business in India. "That's the kind of protection that companies look for when they decide to invest in countries," said Omer Brown, a Washington-based lawyer who helped push the treaty on behalf of the Contractors International Group on Nuclear Liability.
Meanwhile, both Areva and the Russian companies have leaped to the front of the queue, Atomenergoproekt and Atomstroyexport are already helping India build a nuclear reactor in Kudankulam, in southern India. France's Areva has been in site-specific negotiations with the state-owned Nuclear Power Corp. of India, says a senior official at the Indian company who declined to be identified because of the political sensitivity of the deal; Areva has exploratory agreements in place that almost assure it of a site in western India.
The prospect of losing more lucrative contracts to the French and Russians has U.S. companies worried. "Signing the CSC would be a way for India to say that they are prepared to play a full role in the international nuclear renaissance," says Dennis Hays, vice-president of governmental affairs at Thorium Power, a specialist in nuclear-fuel design based in McLean, Va., that considers India to be crucial for growth. India has one-third of the world's known thorium deposits.
Large Enough Playing Field for Everyone
At the same time, the argument in India goes, why should India commission reactors from American companies that aren't even making sales at home? "I can easily see the Indians going for French or Russian reactors because they are seen as more advanced," said Padmanabha Chari of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, a Delhi-based think tank. "In the U.S., the entire industry has stopped growing, and they aren't into the most modern technology."
That's a misconception, say executives from U.S. companies, but it's one they have to fight hard against. Indian officials have tried to assure the companies that the pie is large enough that they will eventually get a decent-sized piece. "Irrespective of any understanding or quid pro quo, the current situation in India is that the demand for electricity is so large, that we can accommodate all countries," says RB Grover of India's Bhabha Atomic Research Center and India's chief negotiator for the nuclear deal.
There's more than just nuclear reactor business on the line. The deal is seen as a proxy for Indo-American relations, and if it survives, it augurs well for future strategic defense and economic ties. One defense deal delayed until the 123 agreement is signed is the nearly $11 billion purchase of 126 fighters for India's Air Force, a bellwether for U.S.-India military acquisitions. Both Boeing (BA) and Lockheed Martin (LMT) have horses in that race.

Srivastava reports for BusinessWeek from New Delhi.

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Google Launches Knol, The Monetizable Wikipedia
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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Google Launches Knol, The Monetizable Wikipedia


Jason Kincaid

Wednesday, July 23, 2008; 11:32 AM
Today Google has launched Knol, its Wikipedia alternative that holds authors accountable for the articles they write. Each article is created by a team of authors who receive attribution, and are allowed to take part in a rev-share for AdSense ads on their page. Other users can submit changes, but they have to be approved by the article's original authors before they go live on the site (it's basically a moderated Wikipedia).
Google says that it will allow multiple people to create Knols on the same subject. Knol allows users to rate and review Knols, and will likely include ranking as part of search results so we don't have to sift through countless articles on the same topics. You can see an example article (a Knol that tells you how to write Knols) here.
The big news here is that by assigning ownership and allowing authors to include AdSense ads on their articles, Google is effectively offering a monetary incentive to create good content. In theory, the best articles will get the most attention, and in turn the most revenue.
Unfortunately, this plan may backfire on Google. We're going to start seeing a flurry of articles on the most popular content - expect to see dozens of biographies on Barack Obama and John McCain in the next few days. For these popular subjects the system should work well - a few lucky (and hopefully credible) articles will rise to the top, and the rest will fade away. But for less popular topics there won't be any incentive for anyone to write anything.
Wikipedia works well because it's almost like a charitable organization. Everyone contributes what they can in the hopes of furthering the world's knowledge. Knol's community will likely be far more concerned with earning money than the general welfare, which may hurt both its credibility and the amount of participation it sees from the community.


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Special Report-The Education Race - When More is Worse
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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India's vast plan to build a bevy of new schools will fix only half the problem: quantity, not quality.


Manish Swarup / AP
Overwhelmed: Getting into Delhi University has never been harder
By Jason Overdorf | NEWSWEEK
Published Aug 9, 2008
Aug. 18-25, 2008 issue
On the sprawling campus of Delhi University, the fear in July was as palpable as the excitement. For several weeks, prospective students rushed from college to college desperately combing admission lists for their names. Never before has India offered a better chance at a comfortable life after graduation. But never has getting a seat at one of the nation's universities been so hard. And for those who do land a spot, the troubles are just beginning.
Although India's economy and its job markets are booming, the nation's university system, which has been struggling for years, has recently hit a full-fledged crisis. The country's post-secondary schools currently offer only enough spots for about 7 percent of India's college-age citizens—about half the Asian average—and face a crushing faculty shortage. Already 25 percent of teaching positions nationwide are vacant, and 57 percent of professors lack either a master's or a Ph.D., according to a recent regulatory report. Curriculums are outdated, forcing companies to spend millions of dollars on "finishing schools" for new employees. Infrastructure is crumbling even at top schools like the famed Indian Institutes of Technology, where once cutting-edge laboratories have grown obsolete. And incompetent (or, as many allege, corrupt) regulators have let fly-by-night colleges proliferate while keeping out elite foreign universities keen to break into a potentially lucrative education market.
There is one ray of hope: for the first time in decades, the nation's leader has finally recognized the gravity of the problem. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called India's university system "dysfunctional" and embarked on the boldest educational reform program since Jawaharlal Nehru. But hamstrung by India's unwieldy bureaucracy and by ideological opponents, Singh may manage to dramatically expand the size of the country's higher education system without addressing many of its underlying problems.
Singh, himself a former economics professor at Delhi University, has promised to open 72 new post-secondary schools over the next five years, including eight new Indian Institutes of Technology, seven new Indian Institutes of Management, five new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research and 20 new Indian Institutes of Information Technology. To fund them, he's promised to boost the government's higher education spending ninefold, to $20 billion annually, during the five-year period that began in 2007.
But these changes may wind up addressing India's quantity problem without affecting its quality crisis. Already up to 75 percent of India's 400,000 annual technology grads and 90 percent of its 2.5 million general college grads are unable to find work. That's not due to a lack of jobs, according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom)—it's due to a lack of skills. "For a long time after Independence, we were trying to solve the employment problem. Now we're trying to solve the employability problem," said Vijay Thadani, head of the Confederation of Indian Industry's committee on education. Loosening the purse strings will help Singh improve infrastructure and expand access for students, but it will take more than money to solve the faculty shortage, revamp outdated courses, encourage innovation and crack down on diploma mills. Indeed, rapid expansion could make these problems worse.
To be fair, Singh has tried to address the quality crisis. In 2005, he appointed a dream team of academics, planners and business executives to the National Knowledge Commission with a mandate to redesign India's entire education infrastructure by this October. Led by chairman Sam Pitroda—the architect of the nation's telecommunications network and thus no stranger to bureaucratic hurdles—the commission published a comprehensive set of recommendations in January 2007, focusing on "expansion, excellence and inclusion." Among its proposals, the commission advocated not only expanding the state university system but also diversifying sources of financing to include private participation, philanthropic contributions and industry links. It also suggested introducing frequent curricular revisions, moving away from the present system of standardized university-wide exams in favor of internal assessments of students by their professors, and setting up an independent regulatory authority. Yet while Singh's government has allocated a huge sum for building more universities and improving inclusiveness by expanding the quota system, it has yet to make progress on the crucial regulatory elements of the commission's plan.
That could prove disastrous. At present, India has no less than 16 different supervisory bodies for higher education, few of which are independent and all of which are of questionable efficacy. Mostly due to bureaucratic inertia, they've so far blocked attempts to modernize curriculums and methods of evaluation. They haven't done a good job at policing, either. Shoddy for-profit colleges have proliferated even as internationally respected foreign providers have been barred from opening up branch campuses and have struggled to get their joint programs certified. The All India Council of Technical Education, for example, has approved thousands of substandard private engineering colleges—many of them founded by profit-minded politicians. But it has refused to recognize the Indian School of Business, a private institution founded by former McKinsey & Co. managing director Rajat Gupta. And political wrangling at the parliamentary level (engineered by Singh's erstwhile communist coalition partners) has stymied legislation to allow foreign universities to set up campuses, even though Cornell, Columbia, and Stanford universities have all sent high-ranking delegations to the country on exploratory missions.
The will to reform remains strong, at least at the top. But the prime minister and his allies haven't succeeded in actually getting much done. In his introduction to the National Knowledge Commission's second report, published this January, Pitroda warned, "there is still resistance at various levels in the government to new ideas, experimentation ... external interventions, transparency and accountability, due to rigid organizational structures with territorial mindsets." If those obstacles can't be overcome, he wrote, "increasing resources could well result in more of the same." In other words, India could end up throwing good money—a lot of it—after bad, something this nation and its students could ill afford.
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INDIA: A crumbling system of higher education
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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INDIA: A crumbling system of higher education
Writer: Geoff Maslen
Date: 10 August 2008
FazalRizvi.png India's decision in the early 1990s to open its markets and fully participate in the global economy is widely credited for the nation's spectacular rate of economic growth over the past decade or so, says Professor Fazal Rizvi. But Rizvi says many within and outside India believe this rate of growth is not sustainable unless India overhauls its crumbling system of higher education.

In an address to a Unesco Centre for Comparative Education Research forum at the University of Nottingham last month, Rizvi said the rise of India as an emerging economic power was widely attributed to India's decision to open its economy in early 1990s, deregulate and privatise the key economic sectors, engage with global processes, actors and agencies, and better utilise its enormous pool of knowledge workers.

Rizvi is a professor in the department of educational policy at the University of Illinois and has written widely on theories of globalisation, education and cultural policy. He is currently researching higher education in India.

He said there had been widespread recognition of the role of higher education in sustaining high levels of economic growth and broader distribution of national wealth. Yet there were many indicators of a decline in the higher education system and these included:

* An inability of the system to meet the growing demand.
* Considerable evidence of poor teaching, especially in state universities.
* Ineffective quality control.
* Poor graduate outcomes with unemployment for most graduates from colleges.
* Declining research performance and productivity.
* Low status of Indian universities in international ranking.
* Widespread corruption in appointments of faculty and selection of students.
* Poor governance with cumbersome bureaucratic impediments to reform.

Many of these problems were caused by the structure of higher education in India and its colonial beginning in the mid-19th century, with a strong emphasis on disciplinary learning and examinations, Rizvi said.

Then there was the wide variety of types of institutions, with universities and affiliated colleges responsible for providing curriculum and overseeing academic standards, unitary universities without affiliated colleges and universities with constitutive and affiliated colleges.

A key factor, of course, is the sheer size of the Indian system, now the third largest in the world, after China and the US. India has nearly 18,000 institutions (348 universities and 17,625 colleges), that include a small elite sector of IITs, IIMs and IISs, 20 central universities, and the rest state universities, a large number of research centres and laboratories, and more than 10 million students (but less than 8 % of the age cohort).

As well, there are 26 private universities, 5,750 aided private colleges, 7,650 unaided private colleges and around 150 foreign institutions. Most private and foreign universities and colleges focus on business studies, engineering and IT.

The Indian government established a National Knowledge Commission in 2006 and it has released a set of recommendations for reforming higher education. These include:

* Creating many more universities - another 1,500 to attain a gross enrolment ratio of 15% by 2015.
* Changing the regulation of higher education by establishing an Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education.
* Increased public spending and diversifying sources of financing universities.
* Establishing 50 'national universities'.

As part of the reforms, existing universities would be reshaped, undergraduate colleges reshaped, improvements required to enhance quality, and would adopt a policy of inclusion that would ensure access for all deserving students along with a process of affirmative action.

Rizvi said among the issues that remained to be resolved were policy coordination between the different authorities responsible for higher education, the declining authority of the UGC, the complexities of Indian federalism, political and legal inertia, and the "politicisation of policy communication and implementation".

He said the government had promised some increase in public funding which would be sufficient for the knowledge commission's targets but that alternative funding sources were reluctant to invest in higher education and research. There were also problems with the allocation and distribution of funds.

Privatisation was occurring at a rapid rate without a coherent policy framework, Rizvi said. A Private Education Bill was still languishing in Parliament, yet the quality of private institutions was "uneven at best".

For the system as a whole there was no coherent quality assurance mechanism and India faced a decline in the role of professional associations in quality assurance, while the peer review systems by faculty and students was almost non-existent.

On the matter of access and equity, Rizvi told the forum that strong policy dictates for affirmative action were often ignored, a narrow conception of access existed and the educational outcomes for some minorities were deteriorating.



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The Nature of Glass Remains Anything but Clear
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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The Nature of Glass Remains Anything but Clear
glass.jpgMark Interrante
ENIGMA Molten glass being worked into an ornament. Understanding glass could lead to better products and offer headway in other scientific problems.
Published: July 29, 2008
Correction Appended
It is well known that panes of stained glass in old European churches are thicker at the bottom because glass is a slow-moving liquid that flows downward over centuries.
glassmolecule.jpgGraphic Glass, Up Close
glasscomplex.jpgBloomberg News, top, and Keystone/Corbis
COMPLEX Glass in sheet and molten forms. Glass transition differs from usual phase transition.
Well known, but wrong. Medieval stained glass makers were simply unable to make perfectly flat panes, and the windows were just as unevenly thick when new.
The tale contains a grain of truth about glass resembling a liquid, however. The arrangement of atoms and molecules in glass is indistinguishable from that of a liquid. But how can a liquid be as strikingly hard as glass?
“They’re the thickest and gooiest of liquids and the most disordered and structureless of rigid solids,” said Peter Harrowell, a professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney in Australia, speaking of glasses, which can be formed from different raw materials. “They sit right at this really profound sort of puzzle.”
Philip W. Anderson, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at Princeton, wrote in 1995: “The deepest and most interesting unsolved problem in solid state theory is probably the theory of the nature of glass and the glass transition.”
He added, “This could be the next breakthrough in the coming decade.”
Thirteen years later, scientists still disagree, with some vehemence, about the nature of glass.
Peter G. Wolynes, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, San Diego, thinks he essentially solved the glass problem two decades ago based on ideas of what glass would look like if cooled infinitely slowly. “I think we have a very good constructive theory of that these days,” Dr. Wolynes said. “Many people tell me this is very contentious. I disagree violently with them.”
Others, like Juan P. Garrahan, professor of physics at the University of Nottingham in England, and David Chandler, professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, have taken a different approach and are as certain that they are on the right track.
“It surprises most people that we still don’t understand this,” said David R. Reichman, a professor of chemistry at Columbia, who takes yet another approach to the glass problem. “We don’t understand why glass should be a solid and how it forms.”
Dr. Reichman said of Dr. Wolynes’s theory, “I think a lot of the elements in it are correct,” but he said it was not a complete picture. Theorists are drawn to the problem, Dr. Reichman said, “because we think it’s not solved yet — except for Peter maybe.”
Scientists are slowly accumulating more clues. A few years ago, experiments and computer simulations revealed something unexpected: as molten glass cools, the molecules do not slow down uniformly. Some areas jam rigid first while in other regions the molecules continue to skitter around in a liquid-like fashion. More strangely, the fast-moving regions look no different from the slow-moving ones.
Meanwhile, computer simulations have become sophisticated and large enough to provide additional insights, and yet more theories have been proffered to explain glasses.
David A. Weitz, a physics professor at Harvard, joked, “There are more theories of the glass transition than there are theorists who propose them.” Dr. Weitz performs experiments using tiny particles suspended in liquids to mimic the behavior of glass, and he ducks out of the theoretical battles. “It just can get so controversial and so many loud arguments, and I don’t want to get involved with that myself.”
For scientists, glass is not just the glass of windows and jars, made of silica, sodium carbonate and calcium oxide. Rather, a glass is any solid in which the molecules are jumbled randomly. Many plastics like polycarbonate are glasses, as are many ceramics.
Understanding glass would not just solve a longstanding fundamental (and arguably Nobel-worthy) problem and perhaps lead to better glasses. That knowledge might benefit drug makers, for instance. Certain drugs, if they could be made in a stable glass structure instead of a crystalline form, would dissolve more quickly, allowing them to be taken orally instead of being injected. The tools and techniques applied to glass might also provide headway on other problems, in material science, biology and other fields, that look at general properties that arise out of many disordered interactions.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 31, 2008
An article on Tuesday about the nature of glass described incorrectly the phase transition from water to ice. When water molecules are lined up into ice, energy (called latent heat) is released. The phase transition does not require energy to line up the molecules. (In the phase transition for glass, there is no latent heat.)
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106 mpg 'air car' creates buzz, questions
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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(CNN) -- You've heard of hybrids, electric cars and vehicles that can run on vegetable oil. But of all the contenders in the quest to produce the ultimate fuel-efficient car, this could be the first one to let you say, "fill it up with air."
 aircar.jpg                                    The compressed air car planned for the U.S. market would be a six-seater, a New York company says.
That's the idea behind the compressed air car, which backers say could achieve a fuel economy of 106 miles per gallon.
Plenty of skepticism exists, but with many Americans trying to escape sticker shock at the gas pump, the concept is generating buzz.
The technology has been the focus of MDI, a European company founded in 1991 by a French inventor and former race car engineer.
New York-based Zero Pollution Motors is the first firm to obtain a license from MDI to produce the cars in the United States, pledging to deliver the first models in 2010 at a price tag of less than $18,000.
The concept is similar to how a locomotive works, except compressed air -- not steam -- moves the engine's pistons, said Shiva Vencat, vice president of MDI and CEO of Zero Pollution Motors.
Gas still plays a role
The six-seater planned for the U.S. market would be able to reach speeds of more than 90 mph and have a range of more than 800 miles thanks to a dual energy engine, Vencat said. Watch what a prototype looks like and why the cars may take off in cities »
The design calls for one or more tanks of compressed air under the car's floor, as well as a tank holding at least 8 gallons of fuel.
Whether the engine uses just air or both air and fuel would depend on how fast the car is going. It would run purely on compressed air at speeds less than 35 mph, Vencat said.
Since the car could only go a short distance when using just air, fuel is needed to get the full range, he explained.
"Above 35 mph, there is an external combustion system, which is basically a heater that uses a little bit of gasoline or biofuel or ethanol or vegetable oil that will heat the air," Vencat said.
"Heating the air increases its volume, and by increasing its volume, it increases [the car's] range. That's why with one gallon of gasoline or its equivalent we are able to make over 100 mpg."
See what the engine looks like »
Vencat said an on-board compressor would refill the air tank while the car is running, or owners could refill it by plugging it into a power outlet for four hours.
Is it for real?
Experts aren't sure Americans will be zipping around in air cars and getting 106 mpg, or more than twice the fuel economy of hybrid-electric vehicles such as the Toyota Prius.
It is possible to power a car with compressed air, but the mileage claim is "at the edge of possibility," said John Callister, director of the Harvey Kinzelberg Entrepreneurship in Engineering program at Cornell University's College of Engineering.
He noted that such dramatic fuel efficiency is associated with tiny experimental cars, not bigger mainstream ones.
Who would build it?
• Production would be similar to a franchise business
• The cars would be manufactured by privately owned plants that could produce at least 4,000 vehicles a year
• The cost of a license to build the car in an "exclusive geographical area" in the United States is about $460,000
• Geographical areas are defined by 110,000 new vehicle registrations. For example, Georgia could have four plants at most, but there could be 15 in California
• The cost of a plant is $20 million
• The first plant is scheduled to be built in New York in 2010
Source: Shiva Vencat, vice president of MDI and CEO of Zero Pollution Motors
"No one's really proven a six-seater passenger car [can get] any better than 75 miles to the gallon. So this would represent a big step forward," Callister said.
"They would have to prove that before they can throw rocks at the Prius."
Another expert expressed concern about the amount of energy it would take to generate the required air pressure: 4,500 pounds per square inch, or more than 120 times the pressure inside the tires of a typical four-door sedan.
"That is above what you normally find even in an industrial setting," said William Bulpitt, senior research engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Strategic Energy Institute.
"That takes quite a compressor to do. ... It takes horsepower to compress the air up to that pressure."
If you count that energy, it's hard to believe the car would be that much more efficient than an electric vehicle, Callister said.
India shows interest
The compressed air car will get a chance to prove itself next year when it competes for the Automotive X Prize. The multimillion-dollar award will go to the team that "can win a stage race for clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 mpg equivalent fuel economy," according to the X Prize Foundation.
The air-car concept has also drawn the interest of Tata Motors, India's largest automaker. The company announced an agreement with MDI last year to further develop and refine the technology.
However, the cars have yet to hit the streets in India or anywhere else.
"The project is under progress. We do not yet have any timeframe for launch," said Debasis Ray, the head of corporate communications for Tata Motors.
Only prototypes exist at this point, Vencat said.
Light design
The body of the car planned for the United States would be built with fiberglass and injected foam. The chassis, composed of aluminum rods, would be glued together, not welded.
The design allows the car to be as light as possible, Vencat said.
For anyone who has doubts about its safety, he insisted computer simulations show that the vehicle would pass crash tests and meet all U.S. safety standards.
"Do you think somebody would actually put millions of dollars into making a car that will not pass safety regulations? There's no point in doing that," Vencat said.
Callister pointed out that there haven't been any lightweight, 100-plus mpg cars to pass crash tests but said it could be done through a "very clever design" of a lightweight frame.
A good prototype could dispel many of the doubts about the compressed air car, he added.
"I don't think we should discount this advance if it happens," Callister said.
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Inventor unveils $100,000 jet pack
Chronicle Editor @ Aug 21, 2008
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OSHKOSH, Wisconsin (AP) -- This isn't how a jet pack is supposed to look, is it?
An inventor demonstrated a personal jet pack this week at a Wisconsin air show. But will anyone want to buy one?
Hollywood has envisioned jet packs as upside-down fire extinguishers strapped to people's backs. But Glenn Martin's invention is far more unwieldy -- a 250-pound piano-sized contraption that people settle into rather than strap on.
As thousands looked on Tuesday, the inventor's 16-year-old son donned a helmet, fastened himself to a prototype Martin jet pack and revved the engine, which sounded like a motorcycle. Harrison Martin eased about three feet off the ground, the engine roaring with a whine so loud that some kids covered their ears.
With two spotters preventing the jet pack from drifting in a mild wind, the pilot hovered for 45 seconds and then set the device down as the audience applauded. Watch CNN's Miles O'Brien try it out »
The Martin jet pack can -- in theory -- fly an average-sized pilot about 30 miles in 30 minutes on a full 5-gallon tank of gas. The apparatus was unveiled Tuesday at AirVenture Oshkosh 2008, the annual aviation convention of the Experimental Aircraft Association in east-central Wisconsin.
"Wow, that went better than expected," Glenn Martin said afterward, his accent revealing his New Zealand roots. "People will look back on this as a moment in history."
That remains to be seen. Federal regulations limit the use of such devices, and it's unclear whether people will shell out $100,000 for a jet pack whose capabilities have been demonstrated on paper but not in the air.
The Martin jet pack is designed to conform to the Federal Aviation Administration's definition of an ultralight vehicle, which weighs less than 254 pounds and carries only one passenger.
Although the FAA could always change its mind, the ultralight designation means riders won't need a pilot's license.
But don't expect to see commuters rushing to work by air instead of land. Ultralights can't be operated over congested areas, according to FAA regulations, and are to be used "exclusively for sport or recreational purpose."
That's fine, Martin said. He predicts the jet packs will start out as toys for the wealthy. Then, as law enforcement officials become more familiar with them, Martin envisions jet packs used by the military, border-patrol officials and search-and-rescue teams.
His white jet pack with black trim stands on a brick-sized base with two legs sprawled behind it. The pilot steps backward into the straps of a shoulder harness, his shoulder blades resting against two wide upward-facing fans that provide the thrust.
There's an emergency parachute that's effective above about 400 feet, and an impact-absorbing undercarriage that can soften a rough landing or short fall, Martin said.
He's still refining the safety features for those heights in between.
"A lot of it comes down to how do you fly, at what speed, at what angle," he said.
Like Kent Couch, the Oregon man who flew 235 miles earlier this month with 150 helium balloons attached to his lawn chair, Martin always wanted to soar through the air. He quit his job as a pharmaceutical sales rep to launch his jet-pack company.
Martin says venture capitalists are backing him, but he didn't give names.
Reaction to the test flight was mixed. Attendees with aviation backgrounds raved, calling it an engineering marvel and saying the 45-second flight was fantastic proof that the idea works. Others who hoped to see the machine go higher and move in different directions seemed generally disappointed.
Martin began taking orders Tuesday for jet packs to be delivered at next year's AirVenture, though he's keeping his sales expectations in check. After all, other entrepreneurs who chased the idea for about 50 years were unable to get off the ground.
German scientists experimented with jet pack technology during World War II as a way to help soldiers avoid mines.
Then scientists at Bell Labs produced a version that ran on hydrogen peroxide and provided a few seconds of lift.
Later a California company spent six years and millions of the military's dollars on the 8-foot-tall SoloTrek Exo-Skeletor Flying Vehicle. During a disappointing 2002 test flight the machine hovered a few feet off the ground for 19 seconds.
Two other companies are trying to sell jet packs now. Tecnologia Aeroespacial Mexicana in Cuernavaca, Mexico produces a custom-made rocket belt that costs $125,000. It uses hydrogen peroxide to power 20-second flights, according to the company's Web site. The rocket belts are mostly sold for use in advertising and promotions, such as halftime appearances at football games.
Jet Pack International, based in Denver, produces two hydrogen-peroxide models and one $200,000 jet pack that runs on jet fuel. An average-sized pilot could travel about nine minutes and 11 miles on the 5-gallon tank, the company said.
Jet Pack has "hundreds" of people on a waiting list for its jet fuel pack, spokeswoman Kelly McLear said, but she wouldn't say when it would be available.
"Our No. 1 priority is safety," McLear said. "We're not going to put a product on the market unless we've checked it a million times over and worked all the bugs out."
No other major companies have revealed plans to produce jet packs.


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