Archive for January, 2007

Consumer Electronics Everywhere: Updates from CES & Macworld

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Yesterday was a huge day (probably the biggest of 2007… just 9 days in) for the announcement and release of Consumer Electronics, as we teased yesterday, at CES and Macworld Conference & Expo.

Of course, Apple takes the cake with three of the biggest announcements of the day:

The release of Apple TV which brings iTunes Store purchased music, television shows, and movies (over 350, now including many from the Paramount vault) to the big screen via your wired or wireless network.

The introduction of the iPhone, a product which will foreseeably revolutionize the mobile phone market. WIth over 200 individual patents to its name, when its released in June, the iPhone will be the most technology advanced mobile phone on the market featuring a full blown operating system, multiple wireless connection technologies (Quad-band GSM, EDGE, 802.11b/g, & Bluetooth 2.0 w/ EDR), and a huge 3.5-inch screen that utilize new multi-touch display technology.

The announcement that the company would know be known as Apple, Inc. rather than Apple Computers, Inc. While meaningless to most techies, the name change is akin to Apple screaming, "Bring it on" to consumer electronic juggernauts such as Sony, Motorola, or Nokia, representing its transition to a consumer electronics company and a willingness to take on a new industry.

Back at CES, Satellite Radio company Sirius announced, according to Sat Radio blog Orbitcast, that Dodge will be offering Sirius Backseat Television in some 2008 models. With multiple zones, Orbitcast notes, the Dodge set-up allows the driver to listen to the raunchiest bits of Howard Stern while the kids watch Spongebob. Coolness!


For those looking to watch TV themselves, The New York Times featured an article Monday about another major announcement from DirectTV, Sat-Go, which allows you to watch satellite TV anywhere. With an interesting genesis, partially invented by the man who produced CHiPS and The New Hollywood Squares, its a product that sure to be a huge hit in the right markets, even if there have been less elegant solutions in the past.

The News at CES and MacWorld

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

The 40th Annual CES (Consumer Electronics Show) kicked off yesterday in Las Vegas — and even if you’re thousands of frigid miles away (as we are), you can be there virtually by following Engadget’s live coverage of the event.

And if you want to duck out virtually, take this virtual tour of the Venetian, where the conference is being held. 

But we digress. The big news to come out of CES yesterday was DIRECTV’s announcement of their launch and carriage of 100 HD channels in 2007. 

The big news today? Well, it might actually come from the MacWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, where today may be:

… the day we find out whether all the rumors are true and the Applephone and / or solid-state ultraslim MacBook and / or iTV and / or true wireless-video-touchscreen iPod will be announced (we’re not holding our breath on any of the above), or whether we’ll spend another few months sorting through rumor, speculation, and bad Apple product mockups.

The keynote at MacWorld will be broadcast live beginning at 12 noon EDT today; you can tune in for a webcast and get other breaking news from both conferences on the Engadget website.

‘Plutoed’ chosen as ’06 Word of the Year

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

The AP reports that our dear former planet has found newfound fame in the slang of the hip:

 Pluto is finally getting some respect — not from astronomers, but from wordsmiths.

"Plutoed" was chosen 2006’s Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society at its annual meeting Friday.

To "pluto" is "to demote or devalue someone or something," much like what happened to the former planet last year when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto didn’t meet its definition of a planet….

"Plutoed" won in a runoff against "climate canary," defined as "an organism or species whose poor health or declining numbers hint at a larger environmental catastrophe on the horizon."

Other words considered: murse (man’s purse), flog (a fake blog that promotes products) and macaca (an American citizen treated as an alien).

Comet McNaught Streaks Towards Sun

Monday, January 8th, 2007

It’s our esteemed scientific opinion that global interest in astronomy would skyrocket (pun somewhat intended) if all comets and space objects had names as cool as Comet McNaught.

The comet was only recently discovered — on August 7th of last year

When Australian astronomer Robert McNaught announced Aug. 7 that he had discovered a faint comet on a photograph taken at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, it was a distant and inconspicuous object.  But its orbital motion at once made it clear that this comet, officially catalogued as C/2006 P1, might grow very bright right about now.

Comet McNaught’s orbit indicates that it will sweep to within just 15.8 million miles (25.4 million kilometers) of the Sun on Jan. 12.  This rather close approach—less than half the average distance of Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun—suggests the comet has the potential to briefly evolve into a bright object. The big question is, just how bright?

Recent estimates have ranged widely from magnitude +2.1 (about as bright as Polaris, the North Star) to a dazzling -8.8 (about 40 times brighter than Venus)!  

Just how brilliant McNaught gets remains to be seen over the next 4 days…. but it’s already dazzling the naked eye around the world:


A series of images of Comet McNaught can be found here; or click here for a video of McNaught’s orbit.

We encourage you to bring binoculars and a camera when viewing the comet, but never fear if you miss that great shot: 

Regardless of just how bright Comet McNaught becomes, beginning on Friday, Jan. 12 and continuing through Monday, Jan. 15, it will be passing through the field of view of the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory ("SOHO"); a spacecraft that was launched in 1995 to study the Sun.

Astronomers hope to get spectacular views of the comet by utilizing SOHO’s LASCO C3 camera, whose images can also be viewed in real time here.  

We’ll have more on McNaught when it’s closest to the sun on the 12th of this month. 


DIY Friday: WiFi Signal Amplifier

Friday, January 5th, 2007

This rocket scientist has recently discovered the joys of a Verizon Aircard while traveling. No more dropping $10 extra bucks in a $200 a night hotel just to get online, or wrestling with the credit card at the airport to check your email between flights. It’s liberating, and wonderful, and somewhat akin to magic.

That said,  my personal plan is $50+ per month, and whenever I use the wireless broadband these days, it seems there’s a freely availably wifi service just out of reach. If only my wifi receiver were better, I might be able to save even that dough.

Which brings us to today’s edition of DIY Friday, and that rugged little gizmo to the left, which looks like a cross between a Glade Plugin and the valve on my gas grill:


Most laptops nowadays have a mini PCI Wi-Fi card hooked to an antenna which is located inside a screen plastic cover on the laptop. I was browsing eBay recently and noticed that there were some Wi-Fi amplifiers available that promoted themselves as improving the reception of the signal. Sadly most of those amplifiers are designed to be hooked to a PCMCIA type card or a router! None of them seemed to be specifically made for a mini PCI card.

I decided to buy a Wi-Fi amplifier and hook it to my laptop. I have an ASUS A2H laptop with a Dell 1470 a/b/g Wi-Fi mini PCI card inside, I bought the card for $20 off of eBay. I bought the amplifier for $118, it is a 500 mw bi-directional amplifier called "turbo tenna", the amplifier was shipped from Hong Kong and I received it shortly after ordering on eBay.


 A nip and tuck of a wire here and there, and the author of the piece found "a dramatic increase in signal strength! More than -80dBm, and the speed of the connection is 24Mbps with signal strength 34% as compared to the same connection at 1% previously tested. You can also see more Wi-Fi connections around you, though of course they’re all password protected."

 But hey — it’s not $50 a month, either.

FCC Authorizes New NGSO Satellite System

Friday, January 5th, 2007



Several years ago, there were several companies who wanted to use the Ku-band in operating non-geosynchronous satellites (NGSO’s), causing an uproar among established GEO operators at the time.  As proposed, they’d interfere with high-value satellite services around the world. That wasn’t gonna happen.

Most of those interference issues were resolved via an agreement at the ITU. Now, via Doug Lung’s RF Report, we see the FCC authorizing one of those original applicants:

The commission allowed Virtual Geosatellite LLC to begin building a non-geostationary satellite system that will use a network of satellites with highly elliptical orbits. The system is composed of three sub-constellations, each with five satellites. Two of the sub-constellations track the Earth’s northern hemisphere and the third tracks the southern hemisphere. Each sub-constellation will have one spare satellite. To eliminate interference with satellites in geostationary orbits and terrestrial microwave systems using the same frequency band, Virtual Geo terminals and gateway stations will communicate with the satellites only when the satellites are above a certain elevation angle and the satellites in each sub-constellation will actively communicate with earth stations only when they are at an orbital position that is at a latitude greater than 45 degrees away from the equator in their respective operating hemisphere.

Virtual Geo was allowed to use 5925-6725 MHz, 12.75-13.25 GHz and 13.8-14.5 GHz for uplinks and 3700-4200 MHz and 10.7-12.7 GHz for downlinks. User-to-satellite links will use the 14.0-14.5 GHz band and satellite-to-user links will use 11.2-11.7 GHz.

Is this what’s left of Teledesic?

Meteor Crashes in New Jersey

Thursday, January 4th, 2007


One of my Brooklyn buds sent me this from the Asbury Park Press:

It fell from the sky! Mystery object hits Freehold Township house

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 01/3/07

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — The Federal Aviation Administration is currently investigating the origin of what appears to be a lump of metal that fell from the sky and through the roof of a home on Kentucky Way last night.

The metal object is about the size of a golf ball and weighs nearly as much as a can of soup, authorities said. Nobody was injured when the oblong object, weighing more than 13 ounces, crashed into the home.

Police received a call Wednesday morning that the metal object had punched a hole in the roof of a single-family home and damaged tiles on a bathroom floor below.

The object was heavier than a usual metal object of that size, said police Lt. Robert Brightman. He added that investigators with the Monmouth County Office of Emergency Management this morning brought in Geiger counters to determine if the object posed any radiological hazard to the homeowners or responders, and the object was found not to be radioactive.

Brightman would not immediately disclose the address or the names of the people who lived at the home, other than to say that a couple and their adult son live there. He said a man who lived at the home found the object at about 9 p.m. Tuesday after returning from work and hearing from his mother that something had crashed through the roof a few hours before.

The Federal Aviation Administration sent a team to the home this afternoon to check whether the object came from an airplane, said spokeswoman Arlene Murray.

"We won’t know what it is until our inspectors have a chance to look at it,” she said. If the investigators cannot identify the object on sight, it may be sent for testing, she said.


Meanwhile, over Colorado, there was a spectacular meteor shower. Fox31 has the video.

DIY Satellite Radio Merger

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

While the NYTimes confirmed rumors that the two were headed towards mergers-ville Monday, some hackers over in the XM fan forums have been discussing a joining of Sirius and XM that even the FTC can’t shut down. As with most two headed consumer electronic beats, the rig requires ignoring manufacturer claims that the doing so is impossible and leaving a mess of cables and random boxes in your trunk.



Hey, who said you needed to put groceries in there anyway.

[Adding XM to Sirrus]

Satcom: The Fiber Cut Remedy

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

Heard about that Pacific earthquake near Taiwan while taking a break last week. Read in the New York Times how data and Internet traffic was significantly distrupted:

The quake disrupted services in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, but a ripple effect was felt in other parts of the world. Many phone subscribers could not get through to Europe, regional telecommunications operators reported, as they raced to reroute their traffic to alternative lanes.

How prepared was everyone with mission-critical operations suddenly stopping? How vulnerable are these undersea fiber optic cables?


Was it really that bad? Seems like it was. The Korea Times reported that 6 of Korea’s 7 cables were cut, disrupting banking operations:

LG Dacom, which provides Citibank Korea’s dedicated data cables, said that the bank’s lines were cut by the 6.7-magnitude quake that struck the southern part of Taiwan.

Citibank Korea said the disruptions would not have happened if the bank had its own communication network in Korea.

"A network systems team in Taiwan oversees Citibank transactions in Korea. Severance of the submarine cable cut our connections with them, causing all the problems,’’ an official said, requesting anonymity.

HSBC Korea also relies on a foreign carrier for dedicated data lines, which are managed by its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong.

Officials at KT and Dacom, Korea’s fixed-line operators, which jointly manage with foreign partners the cables damaged by the quakes, said other data lines were affected.

"A total of 92 dedicated data lines were severed, partially disrupting the operations of 32 of our corporate customers,’’ a KT official, Park Hae-dong, said.

KT’s clients include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Reuters, AT&T Korea, Posdata and SK Telink. Among financial clients are Metlife Korea, Korea Exchange Bank and Kookmin Bank.

Dacom, Citibank’s service provider, said the quake cut 26 of its lines.

Fortunately, satellites over the Pacific act as back-ups for some, while others rely exclusively on space-based redundancy for their critical communications. Several intra-Asian satellites, such as those operated by AsiaSat, came to the rescue. You can bet you sweet bippy trans-Pacific satellites such as Telstar 18, NSS-5, IS-701, AMC-23 and PAS-8 got some business from this outage.

 With communications returning to normal, we may not know the extent of the damage for another 2 weeks.  I can tell one thing we’ll know in a couple of weeks. THE hot topic at the Pacific Telecommunications Council’s annual conference in Honolulu will be the race to build another cable across the Pacific.

2007: The Year of the Moon?

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

Is 2007 going to be the year of the moon?

In one respect, yes. A slate of robotic lunar explorers are set to head for our lone satellite in 2007 — though not from the United States. reports: 

This year, China is set to launch its first lunar orbiter, followed by the summer sendoff of a mega-powerful mooncraft from Japan.

Both nations are kick-starting a barrage of robotic survey ships that shoot for the Moon, including lunar missions by India and the United States in 2008.

As global interest in the Moon grows, so too does the call for multi-nation collaboration in robotic and future human exploration of Earth’s neighboring natural satellite.

China is wrapping up fabrication next month of Chang’e I to be sent spaceward atop a Long March 3A rocket.

The lunar orbiter design—based on their Dongfanghong III satellite platform—is reportedly headed for an April departure from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province.

According to Chinese news services, once Chang’e I circles Earth for nearly 8 hours, the spacecraft will then depart on its journey, taking 114 hours to reach Moon orbit.

While precise specifications about onboard science gear is not widely known, Chinese space planners have explained in broader terms the goals of the mission. The craft will yield 3D images of the Moon’s surface, probe the distribution of 14 “usable elements” on the Moon, gauge the temperature of the Moon, estimate the depth of the lunar crust, as well as study the space environment between the Earth and the Moon. The lunar orbiter is designed to carry out a one-year mission.