Billionaire Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has a long-term plan: to build a clock that runs for 10,000 years. (Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com)
It looks out over the ruins of a spaceport, built by a rich man whose name was forgotten long ago.
Most of the clock is deep inside the mountain, below the ridgeline. To get there, you hike for days through the heat; the only sounds are the buzzing of flies and the whisper of the occasional breeze. You climb up through the brush, then pass through a hidden door into the darkness and silence of the clock chamber. Far above your head, in the darkness, a massive pendulum swings slowly back and forth, making the clock tick once every 10 seconds.
'In the year 4000, you'll go see this clock and you'll wonder, "Why on Earth did they build this?"' — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
No one knows who built it, or why. They built it well, and even now it keeps perfect time. All we know of these strange people is that they were obsessed with the future.
Why else would they build something that had no purpose except to mark time for thousands of years?
The rich man is Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, and he has indeed started construction on a clock that he hopes will run for 10,000 years.
For Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, the clock is not just the ultimate prestige timepiece. It’s a symbol of the power of long-term thinking. His hope is that building it will change the way humanity thinks about time, encouraging our distant descendants to take a longer view than we have.
For starters, Bezos himself is taking a far, far longer view than most Fortune 500 CEOs.
“Over the lifetime of this clock, the United States won’t exist,” Bezos tells me. “Whole civilizations will rise and fall. New systems of government will be invented. You can’t imagine the world — no one can — that we’re trying to get this clock to pass through.”
To help achieve his mission of fostering long-term thinking, Bezos last week launched a website to publicize his clock. People who want to visit the clock once it’s ready can put their names on a waiting list on the site — although they’ll have to be prepared to wait, as the clock won’t be complete for years.
It’s a monumental undertaking that Bezos and the crew of people designing and building the clock repeatedly compare to the Egyptian pyramids. And as with the pharaohs, it takes a certain amount of ego — even hubris — to consider building such a monument. But it’s also an unparalleled engineering problem, challenging its makers to think about how to keep a machine intact, operational and accurate over a time span longer than most human-made objects have even existed.
Consider this: 10,000 years ago, our ancestors had barely begun making the transition from hunting and gathering to simple agriculture, and had just figured out how to cultivate gourds to use as bottles. What if those people had built a machine, set it in motion, and it was still running today? Would we understand how to use it? What would it tell us about them?
And would it change the way we think about our own future?
The idea for the clock has been around since Danny Hillis first proposed it in WIRED magazine in 1995. Since then, Hillis and others have built prototypes and created a nonprofit, the Long Now Foundation, to work on the clock and promote long-term thinking. But nobody actually started building a full-scale 10,000-year clock until Bezos put up a small portion — $42 million, he says — of his fortune.
Last year, contractors started machining components, such as a trio of 8-foot stainless steel gears and the Geneva wheels that will ring the chimes. Meanwhile, computers at Jet Propulsion Laboratories have spent months calculating the sun’s position in the sky at noon every day for the next 10,000 years, data that the clock will use to correct itself. This year, excavation began on the Texas desert site where the clock will be installed deep underground.
And just last month, the Smithsonian agreed to let the Long Now Foundation install a 10,000-year clock in one of its Washington museums, once they can find someone to fund it.
It seems that the time for millennium clocks has arrived.
Making a clock that will run for 10 millennia is no small undertaking. In Texas, the builders have started drilling a horizontal access tunnel into the base of the ridge where the clock will live. They’ll drill a pilot hole, 500 feet straight down from the top of the ridge, until it meets the access tunnel. Then they’ll bring a 12-foot-7-inch bit into the bottom and drill it back up, carving out a tall vertical shaft as it goes.
Afterwards, they’ll install a movable platform holding a 2.5-ton robot arm with a stonecutting saw mounted on the end. It will start carving a spiral staircase into the vertical shaft, from the top down, one step at a time.
The clock, with massive metal gears, a huge stone weight, and a precise, titanium escapement inside a protective quartz box, will go deep into the shaft. A few years from now, the makers will set it in motion.
Some day, thousands of years in the future, when Bezos and Amazon and even the United States are nothing more than memories, or less even than that, people may discover this clock, still ticking, and scratch their heads.
Bezos says, “In the year 4000, you’ll go see this clock and you’ll wonder, ‘Why on Earth did they build this?’”
The answer, he hopes, will lead you to think more profoundly about the distant future and your effects on it.
The clock's escapement is a delicate-looking but durable contraption made mostly of titanium that ticks once every 10 seconds. It will be housed in a quartz box, to keep dust out. (Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com)
The team this year began excavation on a site in West Texas overlooking the Blue Origin spaceport. A spiral staircase will lead down to the 10,000-year clock kept underground.
The Long Now Foundation
About Long Now
The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996* to develop the Clock and Library projects, as well as to become the seed of a very long-term cultural institution. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide a counterpoint to today's accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.
MIND OVER MADNESS YOGA
On Tuesday, June 21st, yoga enthusiasts celebrated the longest day of the year with an all day yoga fest. Attendees were challenged to find tranquility and transcendence in the midst of the world's most commercial and frenetic place, Times Square.
Mahendra Kumar Singh May 30, 2011, 01.42am IST
SRINAGAR: The world's highest railway bridge -- five times the height of Qutub Minar and 35 metres taller than Eiffel Tower -- will come up over the Chenab river on the under construction rail link to the Kashmir Valley.
The bridge will rise 359 metres over the Chenab, 65 km from Katra, on the 73-km Katra-Dharam section of the ambitious Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link Project. This section alone will cost around Rs 5,005 crore.
Konkan Railway Corporation, with experience of building 179 major bridges on the path-breaking rail link through the Konkan region, will execute this particular section.
The world’s highest railway bridge -- five times the height of Qutub Minar and 35 metres taller than Eiffel Tower -- will come up over the Chenab river on the under construction rail link to the Kashmir Valley.
The 1,315-metre bridge will use up 25,000 million (???) tonnes of steel and will be an engineering marvel. "Work is going on in full swing," said Rajesh Agarwal, general manager, Konkan Railways.
The world's tallest rail bridge is on France's Tarn river and its tallest pillar rises 340 metres while the actual height at which trains run on the bridge is 300 metres. "The Chenab bridge will be the highest in the world," Northern Railway chief administrative officer Chahatey Ram said.
Observing that wind speed at the height of 359 metres may go up to 266 kmph, the engineers have decided not to allow trains crossing the Chenab bridge if the wind velocity is more than 90 kmph. The railways has designed the signalling system at the bridge in such a manner that it shows the stop light automatically when wind speed is more than 90 kmph.
Considering the inaccessible terrain of the Himalayan mountains, the bridge will get a special coat of paint with a life span of around 35 years to protect it from the tough weather.
Besides the steep topography and fragile geology, engineers constructing the Katra-Dharam line also have to factor in security concerns. While Railway Police (GRP) and Railway Protection Force provide security to engineers and workers implementing the project, the support of locals is coming in handy. "Only two incidents of terrorists targeting the project have been reported since work was started," said Shovkat Malik, SSP, GRP, Kashmir Range.
The railways has constructed a helipad to transport construction material and equipment. For the 73-km section which involves construction of 63 km of tunnels and 7.5 km of bridges, Konkan Railways is constructing 176 km of roads to access the project sites. Railways has already constructed 104 km of roads which is giving connectivity to remote villages which were till now inaccessible.
By Aaron Smith and Blake Ellis @CNNMoney May 25, 2011: 12:38 PM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- You will soon be able to pay your friend back for dinner or give your kid $100 by simply logging in to your bank account and entering their name and phone number. No cash, check, PayPal or silly app required.
Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) and Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) announced Wednesday that they will launch a system, called clearXchange, allowing customers to transfer money electronically through their existing accounts.
The new cash transfer system is a direct attempt to rival PayPal, owned by online auctioneer eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) and currently the dominant player in the person-to-person payment space. This kind of streamlined venture is rare among banks, who are constantly battling each other for customers.
"We call this a model of 'coopetition,' where we're actually cooperating with our competitors," said John Feldman, general manager of clearXchange and a former employee of Bank of America.
As more customers shift away from traditional check and cash payments, having an online transfer system will be crucial to keeping customers loyal, Feldman said.
Whereas PayPal and other systems require you to create an account separate from your bank account to transfer money, this new service will let customers simply log in to their existing bank account and enter the recipient's name and e-mail address or phone number.
The person they're paying will then instantaneously receive an alert that money is being sent their way.
"We are the air traffic controllers, taking the messages from the separate banks and transferring them to consumers," said Feldman.
For now, the person on the receiving end must belong to one of the three member banks, but they anticipate that other large financial institutions will soon join the venture, and that it will one day be possible to transfer money to anyone.
ClearXchange will charge each financial institution to use the service; each bank can then decide whether its customers need to pay a fee for using it. Currently, customers aren't charged.
Bank of America and Wells Fargo are testing the new service for customers in Arizona, and Chase will join the tests soon. Soon after completing the pilot in Arizona, the banks will expand the testing to a second region.
In about a year, the banks expect to be ready to roll out the service nationally.
ClearXchange says its system will be more convenient and secure, since it doesn't require consumers to provide checking account details like routing numbers. It will also allow customers to see just how much money they have in their account before they transfer money to someone else.
While PayPal is an obvious rival, the banks said traditional checks and cash are its biggest competitors.
"People are used to doing it the old-fashioned way, with writing checks or paying cash," said Mike Kennedy, head of payments strategy at Wells Fargo. "But there's a large and growing market for online person-to-person payments, and we think clearXchange is the best thing in the market for it."
First Published: May 25, 2011: 6:50 AM ET
Agencies Jun 7, 2011, 08.17am IST
No income tax return is required for salaried persons whose annual taxable income including salary and interest is up to Rs 5 lakh.
NEW DELHI: As many as 85 lakh salaried taxpayers whose taxable income, including salary and interest income, is up to Rs 5 lakh, will not be required to file income-tax return from now.
"No income tax return is required for salaried persons whose annual annual taxable income including salary and interest is up to Rs 5 lakh. We would shortly notify this," a Central Board of Direct Taxes official said.
However, he said this would not cover income from other sources like house property , capital gains and gains from profession and business.
The scheme would be applicable from assessment year 2011-12 onwards. This means that salaried persons eligible under the scheme would not have to file returns for the financial year 2010-11 in 2011-12 (assessment year).
Under the scheme, those salaried persons who want to claim tax refund, would have to income tax file return.
As per the Memorandum to the Finance Bill 2011, the government will be issuing a notification exempting 'classes of persons' from the requirement of furnishing income tax returns.
Under the scheme, the salaried person wants exemption from filing IT return, has to disclose about the incomes like dividend and interest to his employer for tax deduction. In the scenario, the Form 16 issued to salaried employees will be treated as income tax return. At present, it is obligatory for all salaried persons to file income tax return under the Income Tax Act, 1961.
The idea behind the move is that in cases where there are no other sources of income, filing of a return is a duplication of existing information.
Reuters Jun 10, 2011, 03.00 am IST
HYDERABAD: With its vast workforce, thriving chip design sector and burgeoning demand of electronics, India should be an attractive base for semiconductor makers, but its efforts to establish an international manufacturing hub have so far been a flop.
"Fab City", an industrial park on the outskirts of Hyderabad in southern India, was launched amid much hype in 2007, with the Indian government offering tax breaks and capital subsidies to chip makers to set up operations there.
Since then, the proposed investment has dwindled from $9.5 billion for planned semiconductor and solar cell plants to less than $3 billion, with no semiconductor makers left on board.
The site has shrunk from 1,200 acres to 1,075, of which 600 acres remain unused, and only one factory, making solar cells, is fully up and running.
In hindsight, Fab City was launched at just the wrong time. Global semiconductor revenues fell between 2007 and 2009 as the financial crisis hammered trade and companies cut back on capital spending to preserve cash.
Major investors SemIndia and Nano Tech Silicon India, for example, both shelved planned investments in Fab City of $3 billion and $2 billion respectively in 2008, leaving the site of India's digital dreams barren save for some paved roads, powerlines and dusty building sites.
"In 2007...globally the chip market was going down and this is a cyclical market," said Ajay Kumar, joint secretary at the Department of Information Technology.
The year 2007 "happened to be a bad time to have come out shopping for a fab. Right now we are in the period when things are looking up, the demand for chips is going up, foundries and other semiconductor companies are looking to expand capacity."
The logic behind Fab City, a fab is industry jargon for a fabrication plant making silicon chips for computers, cell phones and other electronics, remains sound. It explains why the Indian government remains keen to promote itself as a semiconductor manufacturing base to rival established hubs such as Singapore, Taiwan and China.
Many foreign chip makers, including Intel, AMD and Freescale, already have design operations in India. The Indian Semiconductor Association (ISA) predicts that the country's chip design industry will be worth $10.2 billion by 2012.
"We feel that we have put so much in there," said B.R. Meena, vice chairman of Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (APIIC), the state agency that runs Fab City. "We have put our own organisation's money in that and we are not able to get investors there, so we feel slightly disappointed at what is happening."
BOOMING PHONE SALES
A report from consultants Frost & Sullivan and the ISA said India's electronic chip market, an indicator of overall electronics consumption, grew 28 percent in 2010, thanks to booming mobile phone sales. Almost none of the $6.55 billion of semiconductors used last year were produced in India. That fact does not deter Kumar, who said India enjoys a demographic advantage over its Asian rivals.
June 16, 2011 12:30pm EST
By Samara Lynn
(Dr. Mark Dean-IBM Fellow)
Dr. Mark Dean is no stranger to accolades. He was named an IBM Fellow in 1995, the company's highest technical honor, and is a member of the IBM Academy of Technology. He also received a National Institute of Science Outstanding Scientist Award, was named the CCG Black Engineer of the Year, and was inducted into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame, among other achievements.
On the eve of IBM's 100th anniversary celebration, Dean sat down with PCMag to discuss why personal computing has become so ubiquitous, as well as his take on tablets, Watson, and the future of computing.
How did the original IBM PC come about, and why was it such a success?
About 13 of us sat down in Boca Raton, Florida and built what became the IBM PC. It was a fun time, a really great time, we had a good team. We had a sufficient number of applications to meet the needs of most people who wanted publishing, documentation, and ledgering.
I think [a reason] the PC was so successful was because we allowed other people to play. All other designs were proprietary. When we shipped the PC, we also shipped the logic diagrams and all the software you needed to build a duplicate one. We did that so repair people could repair the machines when they broke. We didn't hold it close to the vest. We said, "Here's how it was built. If you want to build something to attach to it, look at these logics. You just have to find the parts and put it together yourself."
That is the main reason the industry grew so large. We thought we would sell a couple of hundred—a thousand at best. We thought we'd be doing something else in a year. But the timing was right, the product was right, and we just hit it kind of right.
Are you amazed by the success of the PC?
No, I am not amazed that it has become such a common device. In fact, I think it took too long. For all our skills and capabilities—and this is just me talking—we could have and still need to deliver more capabilities to people in general. A lot of software and applications are designed for people who know computing. They weren't designed for people like my mother. While [the PC] has been a great tool, and useful and changed the way we do things, it still has very little effect on her... [although] she's starting to get access to things she hadn't before.
Will mobile devices replace PCs?
Now we have these tablets. In the developing world, the handheld is the device of choice. Tablets are transitional devices. I like them. I've always said if we are going to replace paper, we need something like this. The challenge is they are still one or two steps away from replacing paper. I think the handhelds will be the device of choice, [but] the challenge there is it's still in my hand.
I think laptops and PCs—while they will still be around— their growth is flattening out. The only thing keeping the PC as a viable tool is the way we input information. We have yet to replace the keyboard. So, if I still want to input a lot of information, the only way I can do that is by writing—which tablets are starting to be able to do—or use a keyboard. The format of information and how we do things will be driven by the handheld device. If I am going to shoot for growth in the next 10 years, I have to target those handheld devices. The fact is, if I target those handhelds, whatever I do will work on tablets so I am covered.
What does the future of computing look like?
We are going back to the way it was. IBM started it way back when we created personal storage capability with the PC, and now we are leading people back to to what we used do via the cloud. We enabled the mainframe, and we made it possible for people and enterprises to store a lot of information in a central location via mainframe, then local storage, and now they are saying it's more efficient to move back to the cloud.
With data in the cloud, you just need a small device and we can secure that better. We are working on technology that will essentially allow us to build a solid-state device that will have storage capacity of hard drives but the access time of DRAM. If I can get a terabyte of information on a device the size of a quarter, then I can change the way I build machines.
I think in the next 25 years I will stop carrying my wallet. A handheld device will have all my credit cards, driver's license, passport, my medical records, my pictures, music…I won't need my wallet. I may need a terminal or a kiosk so I can plug in if I want to do some typing or have a bigger display. Right now, if I lose my wallet, I have to call to turn off credit cards, I have to go to the DMV…it takes me weeks to recover. When the handheld device [is lost] it can be turned off. Those that provide my service will send me a new device, and it will be in my hands with everything I had on it.
What are some remaining technology challenges?
We've been building PCs for computation. The challenge for most enterprises is that they are data-oriented. Some point data will be like currency; corporations will be valued by the data they collect. Companies have yet to manage data insight—a system like Watson will allow that. Software needs to be more reliable with high-quality code. Analytics is the next big wave—capabilities beyond CRM and ERP.
We talk about computers becoming invisible. I shouldn't see the computer—then I can have a society be more productive. I don't need to know there's an operating system. I just want to be able to do what I want to do. We need to make [computer use] as common as putting on clothes in the morning or getting in the car and driving.
What's next for IBM?
We have done pretty well. Think of all the changes that have occurred in the past 100 years from mechanical to integrated circuits to vacuum tubes. We have made all these transitions. Companies that may have been dominant in one of those areas and did not make the transition are not around. At each transition, we had a leader willing to take risks.
Very few enterprises have industrial research operations with our breadth. Watson is a perfect example of research technology. I remember sitting in a conference room a few years ago and we agreed we would never be able to do what Watson did. We said if you can compete against a grand champion, you've got it. So the team ran off and they didn't know they couldn't do it. Same thing with building the original PC—we didn't know we couldn't do it.
By VERNE G. KOPYTOFF
Published: June 19, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO — In the rankings of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, a Japanese machine has earned the top spot with a performance that essentially laps the competition.
Haruyoshi Yamaguchi/Bloomberg News
Parts for a “K” supercomputer are assembled at the Fujitsu plant in Hokuto City, Japan.
The computer, known as “K Computer,” is three times faster than a Chinese rival that previously held the top position, said Jack Dongarra, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville who keeps the official rankings of computer performance.
K, built by Fujitsu and located at the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Kobe, Japan, represents a giant leap forward in speed. It will also undoubtedly be a source of national pride for Japan, at least among computer scientists, who take the race for fastest computer quite seriously.
“It’s a very impressive machine,” Mr. Dongarra said. “It’s a lot more powerful than the other computers.”
The latest ranking of the top 500 computers, to be released Monday, is determined by running a standard mathematical equation. The winning computer was able to make 8.2 quadrillion calculations per second, or in more technical terms, 8.2 petaflops.
The performance of K is equivalent to linking around one million desktop computers, Mr. Dongarra said.
Supercomputers are used for earthquake simulations, climate modeling, nuclear research and weapons development and testing, among other things. Businesses also use the machines for oil exploration and rapid stock trading.
Building supercomputers is costly and involves connecting thousands of small computers in a data center. K is made up of 672 cabinets filled with system boards. Although considered energy-efficient, it still uses enough electricity to power nearly 10,000 homes at a cost of around $10 million annually, Mr. Dongarra said.
The research lab that houses K plans to increase the computer’s size to 800 cabinets. That will raise its speed, which already exceeds that of its five closest competitors combined, Mr. Dongarra said.
“K” is short to the Japanese word “Kei,” which means 10 quadrillion, the ultimate goal for the number of calculations the computer can perform per second.
K succeeded in pushing the previous leader, China’s Tianhe-1A supercomputer, at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, China, to second place. Tianhe-1A had been the first Chinese computer to be ranked on top, signaling the country’s growing technological might.
The fastest computer in the United States, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Oak Ridge, Tenn., placed third.
Asian countries have made huge investments in supercomputing and now dominate the upper echelon of the field. Japan and China hold four of the top five spots in the latest ranking.
However, in terms of the top 10, the United States remains the leader with five computers. They are at government research facilities.
Japan’s top supercomputer ranking is its first since 2004. The United States and China are the only other countries to have held the title.
The rankings, which are issued every six months, change frequently and reflect how fast computer power is advancing. For example, the top ranked computer in June 2008, at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, is now in 10th place.
Mr. Dongarra said a computer called Blue Waters, being developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, may rival K in speed.
AP Jun 20, 2011, 11.18am IST
WASHINGTON: Coming soon to the internet: website addresses that end in ".bank," ".Vegas" and ".Canon."
The organization that oversees the internet address system is preparing to open the floodgates to a nearly limitless selection of new website suffixes, including ones in Arabic, Chinese and other scripts. That could usher in the most sweeping transformation of the domain name system since its creation in the 1980s.
More than 300 suffixes are available today, the bulk of them country-code domains, such as ".uk" for the United Kingdom and ".de" for Germany.
Coming soon to the Internet: website addresses that end in ".bank," ".Vegas" and ".Canon."
Hundreds or even thousands more suffixes could be created, categorised by everything from industry to geography to ethnicity.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers will meet Monday in Singapore to vote on its expansion plan for domain names. If ICANN approves the plan as expected, new domains could start appearing late next year.
The new system could bring innovative branding opportunities and allow all sorts of niche communities to thrive online.
But businesses worry that they'll have to grab their brand names before others do. New suffixes could also create confusion as consumers navigate a Web with unfamiliar labels.
It's also possible that the new names won't make much difference because many people these days rely on search engines and mobile applications to find what they are looking for online. Consumers don't type Web addresses into browsers nearly as much as they did 15 years ago when talk of a domain name expansion began.
"Most people don't pay a lot of attention to website addresses anyway these days," said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land, a website that covers the search industry.
From a technical standpoint, domain names tell computers on the Internet where to find a website or send an email message. Without them, people would have to remember clunky numerals such as "184.108.40.206" for "ap.org."
The monikers have grown to mean much more, however. Amazon.com Inc has built its brand on its website address, while bloggers take pride in running sites with their own domain names.
ICANN has already allowed two major expansions of the addressing system. In 2000, it approved seven new domains, including ".info" and ".biz." It began accepting new bids again in 2004. It has approved and added seven from that round, including ".xxx" for pornography sites this past March.
Under the expansion plan now before ICANN, future applications would be streamlined and open to all companies, organizations and individuals.
That has set off a virtual land rush.
Organisations that operate new suffixes will be able to collect registration fees from websites that want names. The fees could add up to millions of dollars a year if a website is popular enough.
A group of entrepreneurs in Las Vegas is vying to operate a ".Vegas" suffix. They have the city's endorsement and consider ".Vegas" a way to unify local merchants, entertainment venues, residents and even businesses beyond Sin City.
Former professional hockey player Ron Andruff is working with international sports federations to bid for ".sport." He expects sports leagues, teams, athletes, equipment makers and fans to want websites with a suffix that defines them better.
Big business will stake claims, too. Printer and camera maker Canon Inc plans to apply for ".Canon". Trade groups for bankers and financial-services companies are working together to explore bids for ".bank", ".insure" and ".invest" for their member companies.
New domains offer fresh branding possibilities for companies to identify themselves online in "a more relevant or a more localized" way, said Pat Kane, a senior vice president at VeriSign Inc., which operates ".com" and ".net."
Although suffixes added over the past decade haven't been as popular as ".com," there has been demand for an expansion because nearly all of the most desirable ".com" addresses have been taken. There are more than 94 million registered under ".com."
The thinking is that new businesses setting up shop online might prefer a simple name that ends in ".bank" rather than "TheBankDownTheStreetFromTheSupermarket.com."
The expansion plan before ICANN had been delayed, however, largely because of concerns that new suffixes could infringe on trademarks and copyrights. There's also worry that new suffixes could deceive consumers, create new platforms for hate groups or lead to website addresses ending in obscenities. ICANN spent years crafting guidelines and creating procedures for objecting to applications.
ICANN already has approved rules for some countries to claim suffixes that spell their names in languages other than English. The new plan opens that up to Chinese and Arabic versions of ".bank" and ".sport" as well.
It won't be cheap to operate a domain name suffix. The application fee is $185,000, and winners will have to pay $25,000 annually after that. Disputes are likely as different groups go after the same domain. ICANN may auction off domains if multiple parties have legitimate claims. Legal fees could also pile up as trademark owners and governments file objections to certain applications.
Trademark holders, in particular, fear they would have to register a lot of addresses they don't need or want simply to keep others from using them. Microsoft Corp, for instance, would not want websites addresses such as "Microsoft.software" and "Microsoft.computer" used to commit fraud or sell pirated goods.
Copyright owners, too, worry they would have to devote more resources to fighting online piracy with a proliferation of websites ending in ".movies" and ".music" that distribute copyrighted content illegally.
ICANN has crafted rules meant to give trademark owners a first shot at claiming their brands. It would also have a process to quickly disable addresses that are clear violations.
But Steven Metalitz, a lawyer for a coalition of movie studios, recording labels and other copyright holders, fears ICANN won't be aggressive enough in enforcing the rules.
Still, supporters of the expansion believe it will create opportunities.
Juan Diego Calle, whose company operates the existing ".co" suffix, said that with more alternatives available, more businesses and groups will see that they can set up shop online with a catchy, easy-to-remember website that doesn't end in ".com."
By GALTime.com, on Mon May 16, 2011 9:43am PDT
By GalTime Nerd Chick Andrea Eldridge
Does it feel like you can make a pot of coffee and clean the kitchen all in the time it takes for your computer system to boot up? Do you find yourself daydreaming of dropping it off the top of your office building while you’re waiting for web pages to load? If it seems like your computer is running slower every day, here are some things to do to get your “old reliable” running in tip-top shape. Of course, budget-savvy Nerd Chicks are always looking for ways to save some dough, so we’ve made sure they are all free.
1. Get Rid of the Nasties
Viruses and spyware don’t always break your computer, but they do always slow it down. They’re more common than you may think, and can hang out in your system, gumming up the works, without you even knowing it. Microsoft Security Essentials is a great, easy, all-in-one solution to keep your computer healthy and running in top form. Download it here.
2. Update Your OS
Windows issues updates all the time. These can patch holes in the software, closing vulnerabilities that viruses and spyware exploit, and generally make Windows run better. If you’re running Windows XP, right click on the My Computer icon on the desktop, select Properties and click on the Automatic Updates tab. Make sure you set them to download and install automatically.
3. Purge “Bloatware"
Still have that Norton Trial software installed from when you bought your machine three years ago? Get rid of it! Every time it pops up a window “reminding” you to buy it, I’m guessing a little voice in your head mutters unpleasant things. It’s also slowing down your system as the antiquated software runs in the background. Search for “Norton Removal Tool” (or “McAfee Removal Tool”) to make sure that you get the software fully uninstalled.
4. Speed Your Startup
MSConfig is a tool built in to most versions of Windows. Even novice computer surfers can use this tool to stop programs from starting automatically every time you boot up. While certain things are necessary for Windows to function, if your system is trying to turn on iTunes, your printer, and Adobe every time it boots up, the poor thing’s got a lot of things to get going before it can launch your Sudoku. Click the "Start" button. If you have a search option, type “msconfig” into the search field. If you don’t have a search option, but have a “Run” button on the startup menu, click that instead. When you do this, a window will appear on screen with the word "Run:" next to a blank text field. Type "msconfig" in the blank text field and press "Enter". Click the "Startup" tab at the top of the menu. Uncheck the boxes next to programs that you don't need during startup – but only programs you recognize! Click the "Apply" button, then select "OK", and restart your computer. I can almost hear your computer sighing in relief from here.
5. Defrag Your Hard Drive
Every time you save a file, or update software, your hard drive stores each new thing in chronological order. This means that when you launch Word, your system has to search all over your hard drive to find all the pieces that have been stored over the months, or years. Defragging simply means that your hard drive will take all the “like” things and put them together, allowing programs to launch and work faster. Windows 7 comes configured to defrag automatically, however Windows XP users will need to start the process manually. From the Start menu, right-click the “My Computer” option. Select “Manage” and choose disk defragmenter under the Storage section. Keep in mind that the process can take several hours, so set it to run at night. Also, remember to disable your system’s hibernate mode & screen saver before starting. When the process is complete, restart your PC.
6. Repair the Registry
Your system’s registry is like your hard drive’s table of contents. If there are incorrect entries, it can take your drive longer to find all the pieces of data it needs to launch and run programs. Glary Utilities is a great free application that you can install to quickly and easily fix registry errors and optimize your system’s performance. Download the free version here.
7. Clear Out the Cookies
Every time you visit a website, it stores little pieces of itself, or programs, on your system. The idea is that the next time you visit the site it will load that content faster. The problem is that it’s rare that we return to the same sites and see the same things over and over again. Instead, the process of digging through several MBs of temporary internet files will lead all websites to load more slowly. Clear out your cache with CCleaner , a top rated free software program for cleaning out temporary files and making your system run at its best. One tip: use the cookies tab to select cookies you want to keep from sites you visit often and/or want to continue to login to automatically (like your email, or your bank).
8. Clean it, No Really!
Your computer has a fan in it that draws in air to cool the CPU and components. If this fan or vent becomes clogged with dust, pet hair, or other nasties, your system can overheat, causing it to run more sluggishly and eventually break. Grab a can of air and take your PC outside for a field trip. Don’t just blow into the intake vent: open the case, don’t blow air too closely at the components, and blow dust away from the case.
9. Ditch Internet Explorer
There are many alternative browsers you can use to access the Internet. Most techies agree that Google’s Chrome is the fastest option that doesn’t compromise compatibility.
10. If all else fails…
A surefire way to ensure that your system is running as close to good-as-new as you can hope to get is to back up your data, format your hard drive, and reinstall Windows. Keep in mind that you will need to reinstall all of your software, including office. Don’t forget to install your anti-virus and anti-spyware before surfing the net!
Getting on a regular maintenance schedule will save you, and your trusty computer, much pain and suffering. Especially if these tips keep you from drop kicking your PC off the roof! If you’re struggling with any of these steps, or want more info, check out my website, www.callnerds.com.
Andrew Couts – Thu Jun 2, 9:14 am ET
Microsoft has officially unveiled some key new features of its forthcoming operating system. The next-generation OS, which may or may not be called “Windows 8” (its “internal code-name”), delivers a completely re-imagined user interface, with a heavy emphasis on touch-based functionality that takes a hefty helping of inspiration from the Windows Phone UI.
One of the first major design changes from previous Windows versions is the completely overhauled Windows Start menu, which has been replaced with a colorful tiled design that evokes the Exposé screen of Firefox, or other similar quick-screen-navigation features found in most new web browsers. Rather than web pages, however, the new Start screen shows both static program icons and widgets, called “live tiles,” which provide constant notifications and updates. Windows 8 also allows users to access all the files on their computer in the same visualized way that programs are accessed, which helps make the OS easy to navigate with touch alone.
Since Windows 8 is obviously designed with tablets in mind (but can be used with a standard mouse and keyboard), users switch from application to application by swiping left and right in a similar fashion to mobile phone OSs, like Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. Apps included with the OS, like a weather app, a stock ticker app, and a built-in news app, all take advantage of the entire screen. Fortunately, Windows 8 still allows for multitasking, and multiple apps can be viewed simultaneously on the same screen simply by dragging and dropping the app window onto the main screen.
Overall, Windows 8 looks like a step in the right direction for Microsoft, as it tries to compete with the touchscreen powerhouse of Apple’s iPad line and its iOS software. Windows 8 is still far from complete, however, and it is not yet clear when the software will be publicly available, though some guess a fall 2012 time frame. Check back with Digital Trends soon for the latest Windows 8 news.
Windows 8: What You Need to Know
Your questions about Microsoft's latest operating system, answered.
By Jared Newman, PCWorld Jun 3, 2011 8:40 am
Microsoft showed its first public demo of Windows 8 on Wednesday, and it's not at all like the Windows operating systems you've come to know over the past 25 years. The next version of Microsoft's operating system ("Windows 8" is just a codename) is a radical departure, designed around touch screens.
What Windows 8 features did Microsoft demonstrate?
Essentially, Microsoft showed how Windows 8 will work on both tablets and traditional PCs. The operating system's home screen is filled with big, touchable panels, like the live tiles in Windows Phone 7, and from there you can tap and swipe your way to other touch-based applications. But underneath that touchy layer is plain old Windows, with a task bar, file manager, app icons--everything.
Swipe across to multitask. (Click to Zoom)
How does the touch interface work?
From the start menu, which shows basic information like time and unread e-mail counts, users swipe upwards to reveal the home screen and its tiles. As with Windows Phone 7, apps can show some information within the tiles--users needn't click on the weather app to see the current temperature, for example. Swiping from the right bezel brings up a menu that can take users from an app back to the home screen.
Users can multitask between open apps by swiping across from the left bezel. And therein lies the coolest-looking feature of Windows 8: When swiping in a new app, users can snap it in place next to the app that's currently running. This allows users to view two apps at the same time--something that no existing tablet OS can do.
Windows 8 Weather App (Click to Zoom)
How will Windows 8 apps work?
Legacy apps and new apps can run side by side (Click to Zoom)
What about existing Windows apps, such as Office and Photoshop?
But what about Windows PCs running on ARM chips? Will legacy apps run on those devices?
It's conceivable that ARM-based Windows devices will be restricted to the touch-centric user interface in Windows 8, but Microsoft hasn't made any announcements on that front. In fact, Microsoft recently denied claims made by an Intel executive about which apps will run on ARM-based Windows machines. Intel's Renee James had said to expect at least four versions of Windows for ARM processors, and that none of these versions would be compatible with apps from Windows XP, Vista or 7. Microsoft said these statements were "factually inaccurate and unfortunately misleading," but didn't clarify the matter with any details. In other words, the question is still unanswered.
When's the Windows 8 release date?
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said that Windows 8 will launch in 2012, but the company hasn't been any more specific than that. Expect more details on Windows 8 in September, when Microsoft will hold the BUILD conference for developers. For now, check out Microsoft's first video of Windows 8 in action.
Significant advance in battery architecture could be breakthrough for electric vehicles and grid storage.
David L. Chandler, MIT News Office
A radically new approach to the design of batteries, developed by researchers at MIT, could provide a lightweight and inexpensive alternative to existing batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid. The technology could even make “refueling” such batteries as quick and easy as pumping gas into a conventional car.
The new battery relies on an innovative architecture called a semi-solid flow cell, in which solid particles are suspended in a carrier liquid and pumped through the system. In this design, the battery’s active components — the positive and negative electrodes, or cathodes and anodes — are composed of particles suspended in a liquid electrolyte. These two different suspensions are pumped through systems separated by a filter, such as a thin porous membrane.
A sample of 'Cambridge crude' — a black, gooey substance that can power a highly efficient new type of battery. A prototype of the semi-solid flow battery is seen behind the flask.
Photo: Dominick Reuter
The work was carried out by Mihai Duduta ’10 and graduate student Bryan Ho, under the leadership of professors of materials science W. Craig Carter and Yet-Ming Chiang. It is described in a paper published May 20 in the journal Advanced Energy Materials. The paper was co-authored by visiting research scientist Pimpa Limthongkul ’02, postdoc Vanessa Wood ’10 and graduate student Victor Brunini ’08.
One important characteristic of the new design is that it separates the two functions of the battery — storing energy until it is needed, and discharging that energy when it needs to be used — into separate physical structures. (In conventional batteries, the storage and discharge both take place in the same structure.) Separating these functions means that batteries can be designed more efficiently, Chiang says.
The new design should make it possible to reduce the size and the cost of a complete battery system, including all of its structural support and connectors, to about half the current levels. That dramatic reduction could be the key to making electric vehicles fully competitive with conventional gas- or diesel-powered vehicles, the researchers say.
Another potential advantage is that in vehicle applications, such a system would permit the possibility of simply “refueling” the battery by pumping out the liquid slurry and pumping in a fresh, fully charged replacement, or by swapping out the tanks like tires at a pit stop, while still preserving the option of simply recharging the existing material when time permits.
Flow batteries have existed for some time, but have used liquids with very low energy density (the amount of energy that can be stored in a given volume). Because of this, existing flow batteries take up much more space than fuel cells and require rapid pumping of their fluid, further reducing their efficiency.
The new semi-solid flow batteries pioneered by Chiang and colleagues overcome this limitation, providing a 10-fold improvement in energy density over present liquid flow-batteries, and lower-cost manufacturing than conventional lithium-ion batteries. Because the material has such a high energy density, it does not need to be pumped rapidly to deliver its power. “It kind of oozes,” Chiang says. Because the suspensions look and flow like black goo and could end up used in place of petroleum for transportation, Carter says, “We call it ‘Cambridge crude.’”
The key insight by Chiang’s team was that it would be possible to combine the basic structure of aqueous-flow batteries with the proven chemistry of lithium-ion batteries by reducing the batteries’ solid materials to tiny particles that could be carried in a liquid suspension — similar to the way quicksand can flow like a liquid even though it consists mostly of solid particles. “We’re using two proven technologies, and putting them together,” Carter says.
In addition to potential applications in vehicles, the new battery system could be scaled up to very large sizes at low cost. This would make it particularly well-suited for large-scale electricity storage for utilities, potentially making intermittent, unpredictable sources such as wind and solar energy practical for powering the electric grid.
The team set out to “reinvent the rechargeable battery,” Chiang says. But the device they came up with is potentially a whole family of new battery systems, because it’s a design architecture that “is not linked to any particular chemistry.” Chiang and his colleagues are now exploring different chemical combinations that could be used within the semi-solid flow system. “We’ll figure out what can be practically developed today,” Chiang says, “but as better materials come along, we can adapt them to this architecture.”
Yury Gogotsi, Distinguished University Professor at Drexel University and director of Drexel’s Nanotechnology Institute, says, “The demonstration of a semi-solid lithium-ion battery is a major breakthrough that shows that slurry-type active materials can be used for storing electrical energy.” This advance, he says, “has tremendous importance for the future of energy production and storage.”
Gogotsi cautions that making a practical, commercial version of such a battery will require research to find better cathode and anode materials and electrolytes, but adds, “I don’t see fundamental problems that cannot be addressed — those are primarily engineering issues. Of course, developing working systems that can compete with currently available batteries in terms of cost and performance may take years.”
Chiang, whose earlier insights on lithium-ion battery chemistries led to the 2001 founding of MIT spinoff A123 Systems, says the two technologies are complementary, and address different potential applications. For example, the new semi-solid flow batteries will probably never be suitable for smaller applications such as tools, or where short bursts of very high power are required — areas where A123’s batteries excel.
The new technology is being licensed to a company called 24M Technologies, founded last summer by Chiang and Carter along with entrepreneur Throop Wilder, who is the company’s president. The company has already raised more than $16 million in venture capital and federal research financing.
The development of the technology was partly funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). Continuing research on the technology is taking place partly at 24M, where some recent MIT graduates who worked on the project are part of the team; at MIT, where professors Angela Belcher and Paula Hammond are co-investigators; and at Rutgers, with Professor Glenn Amatucci.
The target of the team’s ongoing work, under a three-year ARPA-E grant awarded in September 2010, is to have, by the end of the grant period, “a fully-functioning, reduced-scale prototype system,” Chiang says, ready to be engineered for production as a replacement for existing electric-car batteries.
MIT Campus at Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA (http://web.mit.edu/)
By Mike Wall
Published June 17, 2011 | Space.com
NASA/The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
These new images of Mercury are causing scientists to reconsider how the planet was formed billions of years ago.
A NASA spacecraft circling Mercury is returning spectacular photos of the planet — and delivering some tantalizing surprises about the tiny, scorched world.
On March 17, NASA's Messenger probe became the first spacecraft ever to orbit Mercury. Since then, Messenger has already snapped more than 20,000 pictures and made observations that could help unlock long-standing mysteries of the solar system's innermost planet, researchers announced at a press conference today (June 16).
"We had many ideas about Mercury that were incomplete, ill-formed," said Messenger principal investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "Many of those ideas are now having to be cast aside as we see orbital data for the first time." [Latest Messenger Photos of Mercury]
Mercury has 'personality'
Messenger is photographing every inch of Mercury's surface from orbit, and some of its early pictures have revealed huge expanses of volcanic deposits near the planet's north pole. These features were detected by Messenger and NASA's Mariner 10 probe on previous Mercury flybys, but the new observations map them out in greater detail. [Infographic: The Messenger Mission]
"Now we're seeing their full extent for the first time," said Messenger scientist Brett Denevi of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). And that extent is impressive; the northern volcanic plains cover 1.54 million square miles (4 million square kilometers) — nearly half the size of the continental United States.
These new observations help confirm that volcanism has substantially shaped Mercury's crust and surface for much of its history, researchers said.
Messenger has been scrutinizing Mercury with more than just its camera gear. The probe's X-ray spectrometer, for example, has already discovered that the planet's surface is made of different stuff than the moon, which is dominated by feldspar-rich rock.
The spectrometer has also detected surprisingly high levels of sulfur at the planet's surface, which could help scientists understand the nature of Mercury's origin and volcanism, researchers said.
So far, the spacecraft's observations are putting the lie to the notion that Mercury is similar to the moon. In fact, the early returns indicate that it's also very different than the other terrestrial planets, in ways that are only just beginning to come clear.
"Mercury really is a world in and of its own," said Messenger project scientist Ralph McNutt of APL. "Just like the Earth, it's got its own personality."
Water ice on Mercury?
Messenger is using another one of its seven instruments, a laser altimeter, to map out Mercury's topography. The spacecraft has already taken more than 2 million laser-ranging readings, revealing the planet's geological features in great detail.
"We're seeing the broad shape of the planet for the first time," Solomon said.
One of the many questions Messenger hopes to answer is whether or not Mercury harbors water ice on its surface. That might not seem very likely, since average surface temperatures on the planet can top 842 degrees Fahrenheit (450 degrees Celsius). However, Earth-based radar observations from 20 years ago suggest large amounts of ice may lurk in permanently shadowed craters at its poles.
And the early results from Messenger, which is mapping those craters with its altimeter, support this idea. Thus far, the probe's data indicate that some polar craters may be so deep that their floors are in permanent shadow. Whether they actually contain ice will have to be confirmed by different instruments, researchers said.
"Stay tuned," Solomon said. "The very first scientific test of that hypothesis using Messenger data from orbit has passed with flying colors."
Magnetic fields and more
Messenger has also been investigating the nature of Mercury's global magnetic field, which is of interest partly because Mercury is the only rocky planet in the solar system to possess one, other than Earth.
Mercury's magnetic field was thought to be more or less a miniature version of Earth's, researchers said. But Messenger's readings are showing that's not the case.
For starters, Mercury's magnetic field is asymmetrical, with its magnetic equator lying significantly north of the planet's geographic equator. This surprising geometry suggests that Mercury's south polar region is much more exposed than the north to bombardment by charged particles from the sun.
Scientists don't fully understand the import of many of Messenger's early findings. The probe is just 25 percent of the way through its planned one-year science mission around Mercury, after all.
"There's a lot more to come," McNutt said. "All I can say is to keep following us — the best is yet to be."
A long trip to Mercury
The $446 million Messenger mission — whose name is short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging — launched in August 2004. It is designed to map Mercury fully for the first time and help answer several key questions about the planet. [The Greatest Mysteries of Mercury]
Mission scientists hope to learn, for example, why Mercury is so much denser than the other rocky planets. And they want to gain insights into how the planet's core is structured, the nature of its global magnetic field and other aspects of Mercury's composition and history.
Scientists hope all of this information will lead to an increased understanding of how our solar system — and solar systems in general — formed and evolved, researchers have said.
The spacecraft is now in an extremely oblong, or elliptical, orbit that brings it within 124 miles (200 kilometers) of Mercury at the closest point and retreats to more than 9,300 miles (15,000 km) away at the farthest point. Its orbital science mission is designed to last for 12 months.
While Messenger is the first mission ever to orbit Mercury, it is not the first spacecraft to visit the planet. NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft flew by the planet three times in the mid-1970s. Messenger itself also made three flybys of the planet on its long, circuitous space journey, snapping photos all the while.
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By Keith Barry May 31, 2011 | 1:05 pm
Volvo is experimenting with flywheel energy storage technology that it says delivers improved fuel economy without sacrificing performance.
The Swedish automaker has joined Jaguar, Ferrari and others in looking to kinetic energy recovery systems to provide additional power and fuel economy. The technology is familiar to F1 fans who have been witnessed the rise and fall and rise of KERS during the past few seasons.
But while Formula 1 systems use batteries and motors, Volvo’s is far simpler and cheaper.
“The flywheel technology is relatively cheap,” Derek Crabb, VP of powertrain engineering at Volvo, said in a statement. “It can be used in a much larger volume of our cars than top-of-the-line technology such as the plug-in hybrid.”
Volvo’s system features a 13-pound carbon-fiber flywheel fitted to the rear axle of a front-wheel drive vehicle. The flywheel, mounted in a vacuum to reduce friction, is 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) in diameter spins at up to 60,000 RPM during braking. When the driver hits the brakes, the combustion engine shuts off and energy generated during braking is stored in the flywheel. As the driver accelerates, the flywheel releases its energy through a continuously variable transmission, driving the rear wheels.
“The flywheel’s stored energy is sufficient to power the car for short periods,” Crabb said. “However, this has a major impact on fuel consumption. Our calculations indicate that the combustion engine will be able to be turned off about half the time when driving according to the official New European Driving Cycle.”
Volvo says the system allows a four-cylinder engine like that in the C30 (pictured) to accelerate like a six while reducing fuel use up to 20 percent. The system is most effective in stop-and-go traffic, when fuel economy typically plummets.
Other car makers have tried similar experimental drivetrains in production road cars. We’ve seen it in high-end concepts like Ferrari’s wild 599 Hy-KERS. Last year, Jaguar — which was Volvo’s sibling when Ford Premier Auto Group owned both marques — fitted an XF prototype with a flywheel system remarkably similar to Volvo’s.
Despite the recent attention flywheel hybrid systems are getting, the idea isn’t new. Switzerland, Belgium and the former Belgian Congo all saw flywheel-powered public transit with the gyrobuses of the 1950s, and Volvo even fitted a flywheel to a 240 diesel in the 1980s. Those earlier efforts largely failed because they featured heavy steel flywheels that sapped energy and added weight.
Volvo’s system uses a flywheel developed by Flybrid Systems and a continuously variable transmission from Torotrak. The project is funded through a grant from the Swedish Energy Agency. Volvo plans to begin road-testing the technology later this year.
“If the tests and technical development go as planned,” Crabb said, “we expect cars with flywheel technology to reach the showrooms within a few years.”
India Rising, Off the Grid: A booming suburb of New Delhi has become the symbol for development in India. It seems to have everything, except a functioning citywide sewer, reliable electricity or water, or decent roads.
By JIM YARDLEY
Published: June 8, 2011
GURGAON, India — In this city that barely existed two decades ago, there are 26 shopping malls, seven golf courses and luxury shops selling Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs shimmer in automobile showrooms. Apartment towers are sprouting like concrete weeds, and a futuristic commercial hub called Cyber City houses many of the world’s most respected corporations.
This is the first in a series on the messy and maddening road to progress in India.
Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
Gurgaon is part of the "new" India, but its vibrant private sector struggles with a lack of public services.
Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
Rush hour in Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi filled with upscale gated communities, multinational corporations, call centers and luxury high-rises that is privately built, powered by private power plants and effectively off the grid.
Ruth Fremson/ The New York Times
At a recent meeting, residents of Badshahpur, in the Gurgaon area, complained about the lack of services.
Gurgaon, located about 15 miles south of the national capital, New Delhi, would seem to have everything, except consider what it does not have: a functioning citywide sewer or drainage system; reliable electricity or water; and public sidewalks, adequate parking, decent roads or any citywide system of public transportation. Garbage is still regularly tossed in empty lots by the side of the road.
With its shiny buildings and galloping economy, Gurgaon is often portrayed as a symbol of a rising “new” India, yet it also represents a riddle at the heart of India’s rapid growth: how can a new city become an international economic engine without basic public services? How can a huge country flirt with double-digit growth despite widespread corruption, inefficiency and governmental dysfunction?
In Gurgaon and elsewhere in India, the answer is that growth usually occurs despite the government rather than because of it. India and China are often considered to be the world’s rising economic powers, yet if China’s growth has been led by the state, India’s growth is often impeded by the state. China’s authoritarian leaders have built world-class infrastructure; India’s infrastructure and bureaucracy are both considered woefully outdated.
Yet over the past decade, India has emerged as one of the world’s most important new engines of growth, despite itself. Even now, with its economy feeling the pressure from global inflation and higher interest rates, some economists predict that India will become the world’s third largest economy within 15 years and could much sooner supplant China as the fastest-growing major economy.
Moreover, India’s unorthodox path illustrates, on a grand scale, the struggles of many smaller developing countries to deliver growth despite weak, ineffective governments. Many have tried to emulate China’s top-down economic model, but most are stuck with the Indian reality. In India, Gurgaon epitomizes that reality, managing to be both a complete mess and an economic powerhouse, a microcosm of Indian dynamism and dysfunction.
In Gurgaon, economic growth is often the product of a private sector improvising to overcome the inadequacies of the government.
To compensate for electricity blackouts, Gurgaon’s companies and real estate developers operate massive diesel generators capable of powering small towns. No water? Drill private borewells. No public transportation? Companies employ hundreds of private buses and taxis. Worried about crime? Gurgaon has almost four times as many private security guards as police officers.
“You could call it the United States of Gurgaon,” said Sanjay Kaul, an activist critical of the city’s lack of planning who argues that Gurgaon is a patchwork of private islands more than an interconnected city. “You are on your own.”
Gurgaon is an extreme example, but it is not an exception. In Bangalore, outsourcing companies like Infosys and Wipro transport workers with fleets of buses and use their own power generators to compensate for the weak local infrastructure. Many apartment buildings in Mumbai, the nation’s financial hub, rely on private water tankers. And more than half of urban Indian families pay to send their children to private schools rather than the free government schools, where teachers often do not show up for work.
With 1.2 billion people, India is the largest democracy in the world, a laboratory among developing countries for testing how well democracy is able to accommodate and improve the lives of a huge population. India is richer than ever before, with rising global influence. Yet its development is divisive at home. It is experiencing a Gilded Age of nouveau billionaires while it is cleaved by inequality and plagued in some states by poverty and malnutrition levels rivaling sub-Saharan Africa.
The volatile contradictions of rapid economic growth ricochet daily through Indian life. Middle-class rage over mounting corruption is visceral. Frustration with the government is widespread. Leftists and other critics blame India’s landmark 1991 market reforms for failing to lift the rural poor out of poverty; business leaders warn that India risks slower growth or even stagnation unless those economic changes deepen and governing improves.
Today, Gurgaon is one of India’s fastest-growing districts, having expanded more than 70 percent during the past decade to more than 1.5 million people, larger than most American cities. It accounts for almost half of all revenues for its state, Haryana, and added 50,000 vehicles to the roads last year alone. Real estate values have risen sharply in a city that has become a roaring engine of growth, if also a colossal headache as a place to live and work.
The Birth of a Boom
Before it had malls, a theme park and fancy housing compounds, Gurgaon had blue cows. Or so Kushal Pal Singh was told during the 1970s when he began describing his development vision for Gurgaon. It was a farming village whose name, derived from the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, means “village of the gurus.” It also had wild animals, similar to cows, known for their strangely bluish tint.
“Most people told me I was mad,” Mr. Singh recalled. “People said: ‘Who is going to go there? There are blue cows roaming around.’ ”
Gurgaon was widely regarded as an economic wasteland. In 1979, the state of Haryana created Gurgaon by dividing a longstanding political district on the outskirts of New Delhi. One half would revolve around the city of Faridabad, which had an active municipal government, direct rail access to the capital, fertile farmland and a strong industrial base. The other half, Gurgaon, had rocky soil, no local government, no railway link and almost no industrial base.
As an economic competition, it seemed an unfair fight. And it has been: Gurgaon has won, easily. Faridabad has struggled to catch India’s modernization wave, while Gurgaon’s disadvantages turned out to be advantages, none more important, initially, than the absence of a districtwide government, which meant less red tape capable of choking development.
By 1979, Mr. Singh had taken control of his father-in-law’s real estate company, now known as DLF, at a moment when urban development in India was largely overseen by government agencies. In most states, private developers had little space to operate, but Haryana was an exception. Slowly, Mr. Singh began accumulating 3,500 acres in Gurgaon that he divided into plots and began selling to people unable to afford prices in New Delhi.
Still, growth was slow until after 1991, when the government barely staved off default on foreign debts and began introducing market economic reforms. Demand for housing steadily increased, followed by demand for commercial space as multinational corporations began arriving to take advantage of India’s emerging outsourcing industry.
Outsourcing required workspaces for thousands of white-collar employees. In New Delhi, rents were exorbitant and space was limited, and Mr. Singh began pitching Gurgaon as an alternative. It did have advantages: it was close to the New Delhi airport and a Maruti-Suzuki automobile plant had opened in the 1980s. But Gurgaon still seemed remote and DLF needed a major company to take a risk to locate there.
The answer would be General Electric. Mr. Singh had become the company’s India representative after befriending Jack Welch, then the G.E. chairman. When Mr. Welch decided to outsource some business operations to India, he eventually opened a G.E. office inside a corporate park in Gurgaon in 1997.
“When G.E. came in,” Mr. Singh said, “others followed.”
With other Indian cities also competing for outsourcing business, DLF and other developers raced to capture the market with a helter-skelter building spree. Today, Gurgaon has 30 million square feet of commercial space, a tenfold increase from 2001, even surpassing the total in New Delhi.
¶ “If the buildings were not there,” Mr. Singh said of multinational companies, “they would have gone somewhere else.”
Ordinarily, such a wild building boom would have had to hew to a local government master plan. But Gurgaon did not yet have such a plan, nor did it yet have a districtwide municipal government. Instead, Gurgaon was mostly under state control. Developers built the infrastructure inside their projects, while a state agency, the Haryana Urban Development Authority, or HUDA, was supposed to build the infrastructure binding together the city.
And that is where the problems arose. HUDA and other state agencies could not keep up with the pace of construction. The absence of a local government had helped Gurgaon become a leader of India’s growth boom. But that absence had also created a dysfunctional city. No one was planning at a macro level; every developer pursued his own agenda as more islands sprouted and state agencies struggled to keep pace with growth.
“We have to keep up,” said Nitin Kumar Yadav, the local HUDA administrator. “That is our pressure.”
Gurgaon had been marketed as Millennium City, yet it had become an unmanageable city. For companies that had come to India in search of business efficiencies, the inefficiencies of Gurgaon presented a new challenge they would have to overcome on their own.
It is 8 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, time for the shift change at Genpact, a descendant of G.E. and one of Gurgaon’s biggest outsourcing companies. Two long rows of white sport utility vehicles, vans and cars are waiting in the parking lot, yellow emergency lights flickering in the early darkness, as employees trickle out of call centers for their ride home. These contracted vehicles represent Genpact’s private fleet, a necessity given the absence of a public transportation system in Gurgaon.
From computerized control rooms, Genpact employees manage 350 private drivers, who travel roughly 60,000 miles every day transporting 10,000 employees. Employees book daily online reservations and receive e-mail or text message “tickets” for their assigned car. In the parking lot, a large L.E.D. screen is posted with rolling lists of cars and their assigned passengers.
And the cars are only the beginning. Faced with regular power failures, Genpact has backup diesel generators capable of producing enough electricity to run the complex for five days (or enough electricity for about 2,000 Indian homes). It has a sewage treatment plant and a post office, which uses only private couriers, since the local postal service is understaffed and unreliable. It has a medical clinic, with a private ambulance, and more than 200 private security guards and five vehicles patrolling the region. It has A.T.M.’s, a cellphone kiosk, a cafeteria and a gym.
“It is a fully finished small city,” said Naveen Puri, a Genpact administrator.
Actually, it is a private island, one of many inside Gurgaon. The city’s residential compounds, especially the luxury developments along golf courses, exist as similarly self-contained entities. Nearly every major outsourcing company in the city depends on private infrastructure, as do the commercial towers filled with other companies.
“We pretty much carry the entire weight of what you would expect many states to do,” said Pramod Bhasin, who this spring stepped down as Genpact’s chief executive. “The problem — a very big problem — is our public services are always lagging a few years behind, but sometimes a decade behind. Our planning processes sometimes exist only on paper.”
For many years, even Gurgaon’s commercial centerpiece, Cyber City, was off the public grid. “They were not connected to any city service,” said Jyoti Sagar, a lawyer and civic activist. “They were like a spaceship. You had these shiny buildings, and underneath you had a huge pit where everybody’s waste was going.”
Not all of the city’s islands are affluent, either. Gurgaon has an estimated 200,000 migrant workers, the so-called floating population, who work on construction sites or as domestic help. Sheikh Hafizuddin, 38, lives in a slum with a few hundred other migrants less than two miles from Cyber City. No more than half the children in the slum attend school, with the rest spending their days playing on the hard-packed dirt of the settlement, where pigs wallow in an open pit of sewage and garbage. Mr. Hafizuddin pays $30 a month for a tiny room. His landlord runs a power line into the slum for electricity and draws water from a borehole on the property.
“Sometimes it works,” Mr. Hafizuddin said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work.”
Even at the fringes of Gurgaon’s affluent areas, large pools of black sewage water are easy to spot. The water supply is vastly inadequate, leaving private companies, developers and residents dependent on borewells that are draining the underground aquifer. Local activists say the water table is falling as much as 10 feet every year.
Meanwhile, with Gurgaon’s understaffed police force outmatched by such a rapidly growing population, some law-and-order responsibilities have been delegated to the private sector. Nearly 12,000 private security guards work in Gurgaon, and many are pressed into directing traffic on major streets.
When an outsourcing employee was sexually assaulted after being dropped near her home in New Delhi, politicians placed the onus on the companies, even though the attack occurred on a New Delhi street. Outsourcing companies now must install GPS devices inside every private car and hire more security guards to escort female employees to their home at night.
The politicians “are basically telling me that the Delhi roads are my responsibility, which is not the case,” said Vidya Srinivasan, who oversees logistics for Genpact.
Yet outsourcing is thriving in Gurgaon, anyway. Last year, a leading Indian industrial association determined that outsourcing was directly and indirectly responsible for about 500,000 jobs in Gurgaon. Companies still gravitate to Gurgaon because the city’s commercial space is more modern, more abundant and far cheaper than that in New Delhi, while Gurgaon is also a magnet for India’s best-educated, English-speaking young professionals, the essential raw material in the outsourcing business. And there is the benefit of a concentration of expertise: in the past decade, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Motorola, Ericsson, Nestle India and other foreign and Indian companies have opened offices in Gurgaon.
Still, Ms. Srinivasan said, the lack of government support is frustrating. She recently returned from a new Genpact operation in the port city of Dalian, China. There, she said, local officials “are doing everything to keep companies like ours.” Asked if the government in Gurgaon was equally responsive, she shook her head.
“In India, it is not because of the government,” she said, explaining how things get done. “It is in spite of the government.”
Sudhir Rajpal, the wiry, mustachioed commissioner of the new Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon, has a long to-do list: fix the roads, the sewers, the electrical grid, the drainage, the lack of public buses, the lack of water and the lack of planning. The Municipal Corporation was formed in 2008, and Mr. Rajpal, having assumed the city’s top administrative position a few months ago, has been conducting a listening tour to convince people that government can solve their problems.
It is not an easy sell.
One recent morning, his audience was a few dozen farmers in Badshahpur, one of the villages absorbed into the sprawling new territory of the Municipal Corporation. Most are actually former farmers, having sold their land to the developers constructing the office parks and apartment towers now ringing the village. Many of them had bought new cars or new plots of land or invested in the new developments. They were now richer. Their frustration was their village. It was becoming an urban slum.
“The drains are broken and accidents are happening,” shouted one man. “Yet no one is answerable! There are problems and problems. Whatever water we get is dirty, but we have nowhere to complain.”
When India’s public and private sectors are compared, the contrast is usually stark: the private sector is praised for its efficiency, linear command structure and task-oriented ethos; the public sector is condemned for its opacity, lack of accountability and the fact that often no single agency seems in charge. Even as many Gurgaon residents hope that the Municipal Corporation can improve services, others worry that its authority is too limited, given that state agencies will maintain authority over licenses and infrastructure.
In Haryana, developers make campaign donations to politicians and exercise enormous power. Critics say graft and corruption are widespread. Many developers have disregarded promises to construct parks and other amenities. Meanwhile, state agencies like HUDA operate with little accountability. Civic leaders say more than $2 billion in infrastructure fees collected from Gurgaon have gone into HUDA’s general budget without any benefit to the city.
“They used that money somewhere else,” said Sanjeev Ahuja, a veteran journalist in Gurgaon. “The government thinks the private sector will take care of the city: ‘People are rich. If they need water, they can buy water.’ ”
Some people hope Gurgaon’s new municipal council, which was elected on May 13 to oversee the Municipal Corporation, will create a political voice for the city capable of forcing action. Eventually, the Municipal Corporation is expected to assume responsibility for providing services in all of Gurgaon, yet some residents are leery of the change.
Santosh Khosla, an information technology consultant whose family moved to Gurgaon in 1993, has services provided by his developer, DLF. He said DLF had broken numerous promises and did only an adequate job of delivering water and power. Still, adequate is tolerable.
¶ “I’m certain that if it goes to the government,” he said, “it will be worse.”
Citizens Speak Up
Col. Ratan Singh, his military beret placed neatly atop his head, has arrived at a busy intersection in the midday sun for what he calls “an agitation.” He is 82, an Indian Army veteran who has decided that private citizens need to incite a little conflict in Gurgaon. Demonstrations are common in Gurgaon, and he is leading a protest against shoddy work by a contractor.
“Every day some agitation is taking place,” he said, shouting above the din of traffic. “People are not satisfied.”
If people should be satisfied anywhere in India, Gurgaon should be the place. Average incomes rank among the highest in the country. Property values have jumped sharply since the 1990s. Gurgaon’s malls offer many of the country’s best shops and restaurants, while the city’s most exclusive housing enclaves are among the finest in India.
Yet the economic power that growth has delivered to Gurgaon has not been matched by political power. The celebrated middle class created by India’s boom has far less clout at the ballot box than the hundreds of millions of rural peasants struggling to live on $2 a day, given the far larger rural vote, and thus are courted far less by Indian politicians. This has made it harder to accrue the political power needed to correct Gurgaon’s problems. When middle-class civic groups in Gurgaon pushed state leaders to create a single government authority overseeing the city, they were flicked away.
Faced with so many urban headaches, though, civic activists like Colonel Singh are pushing the government for change, or simply making change on their own. Colonel Singh leads an umbrella group of residents’ associations that have started volunteer vigilance groups as watchdogs against crime.
Another civic activist, Latika Thukral, a former Citigroup employee, is involved in creating a biodiversity park. Ms. Thukral led efforts to clean up an illegal garbage dump and is organizing a campaign to plant a million trees this summer.
“If people like us don’t stand up for our rights, our country will not change,” she said. “The tipping point has come in India.”
Across India, Gurgaon is both a model and a cautionary tale. Other cities want to emulate Gurgaon’s growth and dynamism but avoid the dysfunction and lack of planning. Meanwhile, Gurgaon is trying to address its infrastructure woes; last year, the city was connected to the New Delhi rapid transit system, while a public-private project is under way to construct a link to Cyber City. Yet the state and local governments are still struggling to keep up, especially since Gurgaon is already building a industrial district and planning to create more commercial space.
“If Gurgaon had not happened, the rest of India’s development would not have happened, either,” contended Mr. Singh, the chairman of DLF. “Gurgaon became a pacesetter.”
A version of this article appeared in print on June 9, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Where Growth and Dysfunction Have No Boundaries.
By KATY DAIGLE, Associated Press – 1 day ago
ALIGARH, India (AP) — When Nasir Khan cried out at night from the searing pain of kidney stones, the entire slum could hear him.
(In this Feb. 4, 2011 photo, Nasir Khan writhes in pain from kidney stones, as his brother holds up an x-ray, and another uses a hot pan to keep his wound warm at their home in Aligarh, India. Doctors said Khan would need a fourth surgery, and already in debt over Nasir's past medical bills, his impoverished family saw no alternative but to sell the broken brick home where Nasir and his four brothers live with three wives and 11 children. Each year, the cost of health care pushes some 39 million people into poverty, with patients shouldering up to 80 percent of India's medical costs. That's about US$66 (3,000 rupees) per person on average, a crippling sum for the 800 million or so Indians living on less than US$2 a day. (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)
A magic healer promised an inexpensive cure through chanting while pinching his side where the kidney stones were lodged, but it only made it worse. His condition became life-threatening, and doctors said he would need surgery for a fourth time.
The operation cost him — and his extended family — their home.
Without insurance and unable to get a loan, they sold the broken brick shack in the industrial north Indian city of Aligarh for 250,000 rupees, or about $5,500. It had been home to the 35-year-old Khan, his four brothers, three wives and 11 children.
"There is no choice. It is my life," Khan said in gasps, writhing atop a crude wooden cot as his relatives hovered helplessly nearby. He screamed for his mother. He screamed for Allah. He screamed for anyone to deliver him from the pain.
His story is repeated so often across India it evokes little sympathy, yet it represents one of the biggest threats to India's battle to lift its poor up from squalor.
Each year, the cost of health care pushes some 39 million people back into poverty, according to a study published in the Lancet medical journal. Patients shoulder up to 80 percent of India's medical costs. Their share averages about $66 (3,000 rupees) annually per person — a crippling sum for the 800 million or so Indians living on less than $2 a day.
A diagnosis of asthma, a broken leg or a complicated childbirth can mean having to choose between medicine or food, spending on treatment or relying on prayer.
"We are too poor," Khan's uncle Bhuere Khan said. His aunt Rafiquan Mohammed offered another justification for selling the house, as if one were needed: "He has to live. He has small children."
While India boasts an economic growth rate near 9 percent, the wealth has done little to help millions burdened by poverty and disease. The poor, aside from struggling to afford care, also face extreme shortages of doctors and medicines.
The situation is particularly dire in rural areas, where more than 70 percent of the country's 1.2 billion people live. Some desperate patients resort to seeing quacks. Others pay bribes. Many simply don't seek help until it is too late.
The World Bank and other experts have warned that failure to address the country's health care woes could take a toll on long-term growth — especially as two-thirds of the population is under 35 and would form the backbone of India's work force for decades.
Yet India's government spends comparatively little on health care: just 1.1 percent of the country's GDP, a figure that hasn't changed much since 2006 when China was spending 1.9 percent; Russia, 3.3 percent and Brazil, 3.5 percent, according to World Health Organization figures.
"The political will is simply not there yet. We have to help realign the country's priorities," said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India and part of a government-commissioned committee recommending reforms.
Statistics that might highlight areas of need are scarce, thanks to erratic case reporting, few autopsies and a tradition of quick cremation that destroys evidence of disease. WHO reports often leave India out for lack of data. A recent study in the Lancet suggests malaria deaths could be 10 times higher than estimated.
India, which says hospital costs impoverish a quarter of all patients, has vowed to raise spending on health to 3 percent of GDP by 2015 and provide universal primary health care — but it's an unfilled promise that's been made before.
The Lancet, in a series on India in January, urged the government to double its pledge to 6 percent by 2020 or jeopardize its ability to shake off poverty.
"What is the point of economic success if there is nothing in it for the population?" Lancet editor Richard Horton said. "In a short amount of time you can do a lot — if you have the right leadership, the right administration and the public will. India has the people and it has the funds. We'll see if they can do it."
Meanwhile, India boasts a thriving medical tourism industry with shiny private clinics luring tens of thousands of foreigners for everything from bargain tummy tucks to experimental stem-cell treatments in an industry estimated to be worth nearly 100 billion rupees ($2.3 billion). The pharmaceutical industry is making lifesaving drugs at cut-rate costs, private hospitals are pioneering advances in open-heart surgery and medical schools are churning out physicians eager to work in the West.
For most Indians, however, this is happening in another world.
Uttar Pradesh, one of India's poorest states and home to the padlock-manufacturing city of Aligarh, is a land of barren rural landscapes pocked by crumbling mud huts, wandering cattle and roadside shacks selling potato chips and curry.
Its infant mortality rate — 96 of every 1,000 newborns die — makes it one of the worst places on Earth to be born. The average Indian rate is better at 63 but still grim compared with China's 15 deaths out of every 1,000 births.
The state's leader, Mayawati, who uses only one name, rose from India's lowest caste to power and prominence. She calls health care a top priority. Yet since taking office in 2007 she has spent just $224 million on medicines for the state's 195 million people, while spending $569 million to build memorial parks and statues of leading dalits — also known as untouchables — such as herself.
In rural India, the poor often have to walk kilometers (miles) to reach a clinic, with no guarantee of finding a doctor or the medicine they need. On any given day, at least 40 percent of government doctors are absent — often busy moonlighting for higher pay at private clinics. Drug supplies are also erratic; last year, India was short 35 million vaccine doses for diphtheria and 30 million for tetanus, a Health Ministry report said.
Many patients simply rely on traditional holistic medicine approaches such as ayurveda, or seek help from quacks, who have become so common the government uses them as information sources on everything from environmental contamination to polio outbreaks.
They advertise in graffiti scrawled across roadside buildings in rural Uttar Pradesh, promising treatments for venereal disease, erectile dysfunction, urinary tract infections — and charging according to what patients can pay.
Cities such as Aligarh, a three-hour drive east of New Delhi over potholed roads, are somewhat better off. They have hospitals, doctors and drugs — though often in short supply. The government says the nation needs tens of thousands of clinics and 700,000 more doctors.
At Aligarh's Mohan Lal Gautam District Women's Hospital, dozens of women line up each day for a free sterilization procedure that will spare them the risk and cost of having and raising another child.
"It is too much," said 32-year-old Pinky Devi, the frail wife of a rice farmer who said she paid about 20,000 rupees ($450) to have her second daughter in a hospital. "I want to educate my children well. I want a good life. That is why I am here."
The state hospital has only three doctors, who race each day through seeing some 500 patients giving birth, needing operations or seeking treatment for pelvic inflammatory disease and other conditions at subsidized costs. There are 10 vacancies for doctors, but it is all but impossible to find practitioners who will work for 20,000 rupees (about $450) a month when they can make at least double at a private clinic, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Poonam Sharma said.
"We cannot give the patients good treatment," she said. "They won't get the quality time, most maybe just three minutes." More than half of Aligarh's babies are still born at home, often in unsanitary conditions, Sharma said.
The medical community, eager to increase its numbers, has debated ideas such as training ayurveda or yoga practitioners to give basic care, offering bonuses for working in remote areas and recruiting from Africa.
In the meantime, private health care is booming, with clinics and insurance schemes multiplying and driving up costs.
There are piecemeal efforts to help: a national mission launched in 2005 to improve rural care, and some states offering to cover hospital bills for the poorest.
But patients like Ibne Hasan, diagnosed with HIV two years ago, say they have seen no such benefits.
Once employed in the packaging department at Aligarh's lock factory, 35-year-old Hasan has had to sell his two slum plots and all of his belongings save a threadbare armchair, a few tin pots, a worn mattress and a tiny room he shares with his wife and two children. The money has long been spent.
They are shunned by friends and neighbors. With no electricity or stove, they survive on food Hasan's wife brings from her housekeeping work, and use her monthly 1,100 rupee ($25) wage on AIDS drugs for Hasan and asthma medication for their 5-year-old son, who is far too small for his age and may also have HIV.
"When we can, we buy medicine. I haven't gotten one rupee in treatment," Hasan said, as the listless little boy huddled in the room. Laughing children threw pebbles at the shack from outside. "They make all these promises, but they are only promises. I have seen nothing."
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
(CNN) -- The food pyramid has been dismantled in favor of a simple plate icon that urges Americans to eat a more plant-based diet.
One half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables, with whole grains and lean protein on the other half, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Low-fat dairy on the side, such as a cup of skim milk or yogurt, is also suggested.
The new icon, MyPlate is designed to remind Americans to adopt healthier eating habits, in a time when more than one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese.
"It's an opportunity for Americans to understand quickly how to have a balanced and nutritious meal," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "It's a constant reminder as you look at your own plate whether your portion sizes are right, whether you've got enough fruits and vegetables on that plate."
Vilsack, first lady Michelle Obama and Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin spoke at a Thursday press conference to unveil the new plate icon.
Obama has led a national campaign for healthier diets and more physical exercise, called Let's Move, which aims to reduce childhood obesity in the United States within a generation.
The goal of MyPlate is to simplify nutritional information, Obama said.
"When it comes to eating, what's more useful than a plate?" she asked. "It's a quick simple way for all of us to be mindful of the foods we're eating."
She warned that the new icon won't end the obesity epidemic alone.
"It can't ensure our communities have access to affordable fruits and vegetables," Obama said. "That's still work we need to do."
She said kids still need to be active and that parents still need to be vigilant on making good food choices.
The plate also reflects another shift.
Grains, which had been featured prominently as the base in a previous food pyramid, are less dominant on the new plate. But that doesn't mean that there's less emphasis on all carbohydrates.
"Nutritionwise, carbs make up the bulk of our diet," said Marisa Moore, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Fruits are a source of carbohydrates and most starchy vegetables are carb sources in addition to pasta and rice. They'll still be represented. It's more of an emphasis on fruits and veggies."
The plate icon is consistent with the USDA's dietary guidelines released in January, which recommended consuming whole grains rather than refined grains, such as white rice or white bread, which are stripped of some nutrients such as vitamins, fiber, and iron.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommended consuming fewer calories, filling half of the plate with fruits and vegetables, reducing sodium, and drinking water instead of sugary drinks.
"The simplicity is the key," Vilsack said about the new symbol. "The food pyramid is very complicated. It doesn't give you as much info in a quick glance as the plate does."
With growing numbers of Americans obese, many have weight-related conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes -- which are leading causes of death, with an estimated annual $270 billion price tag in health care costs.
"We know that there are significant health benefits from consuming more fruits and vegetables, and that's an opportunity for us to sort of move away from some of the meals that we've been preparing in the past," Vilsack said. "It doesn't take a lot to put your plate with half fruits and vegetables. It doesn't necessarily even have to cost more money."
The USDA also introduced a new website, Choosemyplate.gov, designed to help Americans make better food choices. It will show families how to stretch their dollars while buying fruits and vegetables, Vilsack said. The website is also to contain recipes, tips and techniques on healthier meals.
"We need to give Americans choices, instead of telling them what they cannot do, what they cannot eat," Benjamin said at the press conference.
The new plate icon will replace the MyPyramid image as the government's primary food group symbol. The pyramids have been criticized as too confusing.
Food Pyramid Guide, now replaced with Food Plate (nlm.nih.gov)
(The U.S. Department of Agriculture's newest food pyramid guide, called MyPyramid, encourages consumers to make healthier food choices and to get regular exercise. Unlike the older model, food groups are arranged in vertically bands, instead of horizontal ones. Band width indicates portion size. The wider the band, the more food from that group you should eat.)
"We are people," said Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. "We don't eat pyramids. We eat off of plates."
She pointed out on her blog, Food Politics, that several health organizations, including the American Diabetes Association, American Institute for Cancer Research, and Canada's food guide have adopted plate symbols that urge eating mostly plant-based diets consisting of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Registered dietitians like Moore already have been using plate symbols to instruct patients on weight management, diabetes care and general wellness.
While the plate symbol is much simpler, she said, portion control is also crucial, even while eating healthy foods.
"You have to think about the size of the plate," she said. "Instead of a dinner plate, start with a salad plate, so you start with fewer calories."
"Research shows the more food that's put in front of us, the more we tend to eat," Moore said. "So we need to make sure we get the message that portion control is important, even when eating foods that are healthy for us."
The most recent food pyramid, called MyPyramid, introduced in 2005, didn't offer much information. It showed a stick figure walking up a staircase on the side of the pyramid.
Its predecessor, the first food pyramid, released in 1992, recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables. But these were secondary to the recommendation of six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta. It didn't differentiate between refined and whole grains.
"It promoted eating so many grain servings, it was promoting obesity," Nestle said.
Dr. David Kessler, author of "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite," agreed that the older food pyramid "didn't reflect best of the dietary guidelines."
"Refined carbohydrates should've never been the major part of the diet," he said. "It was never about eating refined carbohydrates. It's why it didn't work."
With the new changes, Kessler added, "Maybe now, we have a chance."
By Ars Technica Email Author
June 3, 2011 | 10:00 am |
By John Timmer, Ars Technica
Biological systems have caught the attention of computer scientists, who have been turning everything from RNA molecules to entire bacterial colonies into logic gates. So far, however, these systems have been relatively small-scale, with only a handful of gates linked up in a series. Today’s issue of Science leapfrogs past the small-scale demonstrations, and shows that a form of DNA computing can perform a calculation with up to 130 different types of DNA molecules involved. The system is so flexible that it’s also possible to use compilers and include debugging circuitry.
Before you have visions of DNA controlling Skynet, it’s worth taking a second to consider the system’s limitations: all those molecules were used to simply perform square roots on four-bit numbers, and each calculation took over five hours. Although they’re not especially useful for general purpose calculations, these DNA-based logic gates do have the advantage of being able to integrate into biological systems, taking their input from a cell and feeding the output into biochemical processes.
The authors of the Science paper (one biologist and one computer scientist, both from Caltech) had described their general approach in an open access publication. It relies on what they term “seesaw” logic gates, which we’ve diagrammed below. The central feature of these gates is a stretch of DNA that can base-pair with many different molecules, allowing them to compete for binding. Even once a molecule is base-paired, it can be displaced; short “landing” sequences on either side allow a different molecule to attach, after which it can displace the resident one.
This system lets the authors preload gates with a molecule, add a bunch of input molecules, and wait for statistics to do their thing—the more of a given input molecule that is around to start with, the greater the chances are that it will displace the molecule at the gate, which can then be read as an output.
On its own, this sort of gate/input/output system is pretty simple, but it’s possible to make molecules that extend past the portion that base pairs with the gate. For example, you can stick a tail on an output molecule that acts as an input molecule for another gate. You can also make sinks for different outputs (the authors call these molecules “fuel”). They can base-pair with an output in such a way that it is eliminated from further interactions, thus changing the dynamics of the situation. Multiple inputs and outputs can also interact at the same gate at once.
Pairs of gates can be used to create AND and OR logic based on the levels of output observed. When a pair of gates are both off, output is low; it’s higher for a one-on/one-off situation (OR) and reaches high levels when both gates are on (AND). Output is read using a DNA molecule carrying a fluorescent tag; output molecules carry a separate tag that quenches the fluorescence, allowing a signal to be detected.
Because the logical operations are so simple and the rules of DNA base pairing are so straightforward, the authors were able to generate a computerized “compiler” that told them what DNA molecules to purchase, as well as the order and concentrations needed to get the reaction to work. They added debugging abilities by watching the levels of some intermediate output molecules as the reaction proceeded.
To demonstrate that it worked, the authors constructed a system that calculated the floor of the square root of a four-bit binary number. This required 74 different single-stranded molecules of DNA (not counting the inputs). While the calculation was running, up to 130 different double stranded molecules existed in the same test tube.
Despite the presence of a compiler and a simulator, the authors still had to hand-tune a few of the base pairing reactions in order to get the whole operation to complete. Then there was the eight hours involved in waiting for that completion to take place (presumably, the simulator would have gotten the answer faster than the DNA did). So, although impressive, this technique isn’t going to revolutionize computation
Still, it does have its appeal. Various biomolecules, including DNA, RNA, enzymes, and small molecules, could all potentially be used as inputs. And it should be possible to link the outputs into relevant biological functions, including gene expression. Finally, the authors have a rather clever idea to speed things up. Instead of having all the gates floating loose in a test tube, they suggest that it might be possible to use large DNA scaffolds to assemble gates in close proximity to each other, ensuring that reactions take place quickly and require far less DNA to be used.
Images: Ars Technica. 1) With a few tricks of synthetic biology, researchers have coaxed DNA to calculate square roots. 2) An input (top left) can be added to a DNA logic gate preloaded with an output. The input starts base-pairing with the gate and can eventually displace the output molecule (right). That output can then be used as input to a different gate (bottom).
Source: Ars Technica
Lulu Qian and Erik Winfree.
Science, 3 June 2011, Vol. 332, No. 6034, Pg. 1196-1201. DOI: 10.1126/science.1200520
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)
What is DNA?
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria (where it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA).
The information in DNA is stored as a code made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people. The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences.
DNA bases pair up with each other, A with T and C with G, to form units called base pairs. Each base is also attached to a sugar molecule and a phosphate molecule. Together, a base, sugar, and phosphate are called a nucleotide. Nucleotides are arranged in two long strands that form a spiral called a double helix. The structure of the double helix is somewhat like a ladder, with the base pairs forming the ladder’s rungs and the sugar and phosphate molecules forming the vertical sidepieces of the ladder.
An important property of DNA is that it can replicate, or make copies of itself. Each strand of DNA in the double helix can serve as a pattern for duplicating the sequence of bases. This is critical when cells divide because each new cell needs to have an exact copy of the DNA present in the old cell.
DNA is a double helix formed by base pairs attached to a sugar-phosphate backbone.
June 6, 2011, 5:38 pm
By TARA PARKER-POPE
The debate about cellphone safety was reignited yet again last week when a panel of the World Heath Organization declared that it was “possible” the phones could cause cancer.
This is the first time a major health organization has suggested such a link, and it was promptly disputed by many scientists, who have been saying for years that there is scant evidence cellphones cause cancer and that it is biologically implausible to think they could.
So what do we really know about cellphones and health? Here are some answers to common questions about the issue.
What is the source of the latest claim?
The panel, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, acts as an adviser to the World Health Organization, focusing on environmental and lifestyle factors that may contribute to cancer.
Since 1971 the agency’s “monographs” program has evaluated more than 900 such factors, assigning each of them to one of five classification groups. It has found that 107 are carcinogenic to humans, including asbestos, estrogen and tobacco, and 59 are “probably carcinogenic,” including the human papillomavirus and night-shift work.
In addition, 266 agents — including certain industrial chemicals, coffee and now cellphones — are “possibly” carcinogenic. The panel has been unable to reach a conclusion on 508 agents, calling them “not classifiable”; these include chlorinated drinking water, fluorescent lighting and tea.
Only one of more than 900 factors studied — a nylon-manufacturing chemical found in drinking-water supplies — has been declared “probably not carcinogenic.”
On what did the panel base its cellphone findings?
Cellphones give off a weak form of energy called nonionizing radiation, and the panel said it performed an exhaustive review of numerous studies of this type of radiation in animals and humans.
The human studies all are observational, showing only an association between cellphone use and cancer, not a causal relationship. Some of the research suggests links to three types of tumors: cancer of the parotid, a salivary gland near the ear; acoustic neuroma, a tumor that essentially occurs where the ear meets the brain; and glioma, the aggressive brain tumor whose victims have included Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
All these tumors are rare, so even if cellphone use does increase risk, the risk to any individual is still very low.
The largest and longest study of cellphone use is called Interphone, a vast research effort in 13 countries, including Canada, Israel and several in Western Europe. The results, published in The International Journal of Epidemiology last year, found no overall link between cellphone use and brain tumors. But the investigators reported that study participants with the highest level of cellphone use had a 40 percent higher risk for glioma.
Another study, in The American Journal of Epidemiology, published data from Israel finding a 58 percent higher risk of parotid gland tumors among heavy cellphone users. A Swedish analysis of 16 studies in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed a doubling of risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma after 10 years of heavy cellphone use.
So it sounds as if the research has, in fact, found “possible” links between cellphones and cancer. Why do scientists dispute that?
The research is plagued by methodological problems. Over all, the Interphone study suggested that cellphone users are less likely to get cancer. Nobody believes that cellphones protect you from cancer, so the finding is considered an anomaly, attributable to biases and errors in the data. Critics say you can’t pick and choose. If one finding must be dismissed because of faulty data, then so must the others.
Moreover, if cellphones caused brain tumors, we should have seen a worldwide increase in brain tumors pandemic as the phones became ubiquitous. That hasn’t happened.
“If you look at brain cancer around the world over 25 years that cellphones have been in use, there’s no suggestion at all of any increase in rates,” said Dr. Meir J. Stampfer, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and a consultant to the cellphone industry. “In science, unlike math, we can’t have absolute certainty, but in the scheme of things, this is not a health risk I would be concerned about at all.”
But cellphones do emit radiation. Doesn’t radiation cause cancer?
The nonionizing radiation given off by cellphones is too weak to break chemical bonds or damage DNA. Scientists have said repeatedly that there is no known biological mechanism to explain how it might lead to cancer or other health problems.
That does not entirely close the argument. This year The Journal of the American Medical Association reported on research from the National Institutes of Health finding that less than an hour of cellphone use can speed up brain activity in the area closest to the antenna. The study offered a hypothetical mechanism for harm from low levels of nonionizing radiation: Perhaps it sets off free radicals or an inflammatory response in the brain.
What’s the story behind that Internet video showing cellphones popping popcorn?
In the video, four cellphones are pointed at a pile of kernels that soon begin popping. It has been widely forwarded and accepted as the real thing, but in fact it’s just a viral marketing campaign by the maker of Bluetooth headsets.
Speaking of headsets, are Bluetooth earpieces safer than putting a cellphone to the ear?
Bluetooth is a technology that allows electronic devices to communicate wirelessly. To do so, the device emits very low levels of radiation. Nobody has conducted research looking at the health effects of Bluetooth earpieces.
One concern is that even though the device emits less radiation than a cellphone, it goes directly inside the ear, closer to the brain. Short of not using a cellphone, the lowest exposure would come from using the speaker phone or a wired headset or ear buds.
That said, any risk from the electromagnetic fields emitted by a Bluetooth device is negligible, according to William G. Scanlon, professor of wireless communications at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. Bluetooth “is so low-power,” he wrote in an e-mail, that devices using it “would be well down the list of things to avoid (including anything with WiFi).”
If everyone says the risk is low, what’s all the fuss about?
Despite the reassuring data, it’s important to remember that all of the humans studied so far began using cellphones as adults. With an entire generation having now been exposed to cellphones since childhood, nobody knows the health effect of a lifetime of exposure.
“We’ve hit the point where today’s children are going to use a cellphone or something like a cellphone for most of their lives,” said Dr. Jonathan Samet, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California and the chairman of the panel that suggested the cellphone-cancer link. “We do need to understand if there is a risk of cancer or anything else.”
Cell phones and radiation: The 10 highest- and lowest-emitting models
By Brandon Griggs, CNN
June 1, 2011 4:07 p.m. EDT |
When it comes to radiation levels emitted by cell phones, all phone models aren't created equal.
(CNN) -- Cell phone users -- a group that, these days, means practically everybody -- are no doubt concerned about Tuesday's news that the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies cell phones as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."
The phones themselves aren't necessarily harmful. It's the radiation emitted by the phones -- and absorbed by the human body -- that troubles some doctors.
But when it comes to radiation levels, all phones aren't equal. Below are lists of the models available from major carriers that emit the highest and lowest levels of radiofrequency energy.
A quick explanation of the numbers: They refer to the "specific absorption rate" or SAR, a common benchmark that measures the rate of radiofrequency energy your body gets from the phone. The lower the number, the lower the radiation exposure. For a phone to be certified by the FCC and sold in the U.S., for example, its maximum SAR level must be less than 1.6 watts per kilogram.
But keep in mind that these are only ballpark figures. Your actual exposure will depend on how you use your phone, your carrier and network-specific conditions. For example, when your connection is weak, your cell phone needs to send out more radiation to reach the cellular tower.
And there's still no conclusive evidence that a phone with a higher SAR level poses a greater health risk -- or any health risk at all -- than a model that emits less radiation.
(These lists were compiled by the Environmental Working Group, a lobbying group that advocates on behalf of public health and the environment, based on data provided by the phone manufacturers. The data are up to date as of December, which means some newer models aren't listed. For the group's full list of phone models, click here.)
Lowest radiation levels:
1. LG Quantum (AT&T): 0.35 watts per kilogram
2. Casio EXILIM (Verizon Wireless): 0.53 W/kg
3. Pantech Breeze II (AT&T, AT&T GoPhone): 0.55 W/kg
4. Sanyo Katana II (Kajeet): 0.55 W/kg
5. Samsung Fascinate (Verizon Wireless): 0.57 W/kg
6. Samsung Mesmerize (CellularONE, U.S. Cellular): 0.57 W/kg
7. Samsung SGH-a197 (AT&T GoPhone): 0.59 W/kg
8. Samsung Contour (MetroPCS): 0.60 W/kg
9. Samsung Gravity T (T-Mobile): 0.62 W/kg
10. (tie) Motorola i890 (Sprint); Samsung SGH-T249 (T-Mobile): 0.63 W/kg
Highest radiation levels:
1. Motorola Bravo (AT&T): 1.59 W/kg
2. Motorola Droid 2 (Verizon Wireless): 1.58 W/kg
3. Palm Pixi (Sprint): 1.56 W/kg
4. Motorola Boost (Boost Mobile): 1.55 W/kg
5. Blackberry Bold (AT&T, T-Mobile): 1.55 W/kg
6. Motorola i335 (Sprint): 1.55 W/kg
7. HTC Magic (T-Mobile): 1.55 W/kg
8. Motorola W385 (Boost Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless): 1.54 W/kg
9. Motorola Boost i290 (Boost Mobile): 1.54 W/kg
10. (tie) Motorola DEFY (T-Mobile); Motorola Quantico (U.S. Cellular, MetroPCS); Motorola Charm (T-Mobile): 1.53 W/kg
Some other high-profile phones fared somewhere in the middle on the rankings. The SAR level of the Apple iPhone 4 was 1.17 W/kg (for the AT&T model; the Verizon model wasn't listed). Exposure levels for the dozens of BlackBerry models varied widely.
CNN.com's Jacque Wilson contributed to this story.
Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University
Varanasi 221005, UP