NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2006
Tech News
By Sue Crane, Editor,
Big Bear Computer Club

scrane5@socal.rr.com (click to email author)

Ian Wright has a car that blows away a Ferrari 360 Spider and a Porsche Carrera GT in drag races, and whose 0-to-60 acceleration time ranks it among the fastest production autos in the world. In fact, it’s second only to the French-made Bugatti Veyron, a 1,000-horsepower, 16-cylinder beast that hits 60 mph half a second faster and goes for $1.25 million. The key difference? The Bugatti gets eight miles per gallon. Wright’s car? It runs off an electric battery. For a look under the hood, go here: javascript:openWindow(‘popups/2006/biz2/wrightspeed/frameset.exclude.html’,’728x445’,’toolbar=no,location=no,directories=no,status=no,menubar=no,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,width=728,height=445’ .

New security features in Windows Vista will largely eliminate the need to run separate antispyware or firewall software, according to a new analyst report. Vista does not include antivirus functionality; Microsoft plans to sell its Windows Live OneCare antivirus software separately starting next month. But while the changes in Vista should reduce the risk for most users, the security features mean upgrading won’t be easy. The annoyance would come from features such as User Account Control, which is to be enabled by default and lets users run Windows with fewer privileges. “Although the new security system shows promise, it is far too chatty and annoying,” wrote analyst Andrew Jaquit

Virtualization provides not only a way to use computers more efficiently, but it also offers a new, relatively painless way to install software. VMware and other virtualization advocates are working hard to promote the software distribution and installation technique. However, licensing constraints pose a significant impediment. VMware, long considered the market leader for virtualization software, potentially changed the virtualization software market by announcing that the upgrade to their GSX Server product would be renamed VMware Server and made available for free to anyone who wants it. Although VMware Server is free to download, test, and deploy, it may not be totally free to run in perpetuity. VMware plans to sell support plans for VMware Server that are anticipated to cost $350 - $400 per installation. These plans will be made available once VMware is out of beta and released.

A few small companies will start to offer services and products for converting hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius that currently get around 50 miles per gallon into plug-in hybrids that rely more heavily on electrical power and can get about 100 miles per gallon. But conversion won’t be cheap--at least initially. California’s EDrive Systems will charge around $10,000 to $12,000 to install the extra lithium batteries needed to turn a standard Prius into a plug-in hybrid when its service begins later this summer. At that price, and with gas at $3 a gallon, it would take around 160,000 to 200,000 miles of driving to break even. But some groups are looking to the do-it-yourself crowd for a cheaper solution. CalCars is working with independent inventors to bring the price of a DIY kit based around an open blueprint to about $3,000. Mass manufacturing, though, could lower the prices dramatically over time. Andrew Frank, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California at Davis said ”We can’t switch from where we are today overnight. It will take 20 years or more to take the PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) to get into our society,” Frank said. Nonetheless, “we can greatly reduce the amount of liquid fuel we use for transportation,”

The next energy source: Barnyard animals?Microgy, which has discovered that manure and other waste products from cows, pigs and other livestock is a largely untapped source of energy. The company builds industrial-sized “digesters” that, through heat and microbes, reduce mountains of waste into gas or electricity that can be reused on the farm or sold on the open market. The plant will start shipping natural gas (methane) in the third quarter and, when fully operational, will churn out an estimated 1 billion cubic feet of biogas a year.

AgraQuest is one of a rising number of companies promoting biopesticides--substances that kill bugs with selectively bred microorganisms, rather than chemical concoctions. A novel fungus called Muscador lives naturally in the bark of a type of spice tree found in Central America and other tropical regions, emits a cocktail of about 30 gases that kills a variety of pests. Muscador-based products will likely start coming out this year. Organic biopesticides comprise only a small fraction of the overall $30 billion pesticide market, but they are growing rapidly.

The DARPA plans to hold its 3rd contest for robotic vehicles in November 2007, with a first prize set at $2 million. The entrants will have to carry out a simulated military supply mission in a mock urban area. and complete a 60-mile course in less than 6 hours, autonomously obeying traffic laws while merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections and avoiding obstacles. A location for the finals of the DARPA Urban Challenge has not yet been named.

Lego expects to release software, hardware and Bluetooth developer kits. The firmware code and the developer kits should be available by August when Mindstorms NXT is publicly available. 114 Mindstorms fans have been taking part in an invite-only developers program. The idea is that they will be able to write books about Mindstorms, as well as create new software and designs for it. the developer program participants are now free to discuss their projects, and much of that work should begin appearing on the Mindstorms Web site http://mindstorms.lego.com/?domainredir=www.mindstorms.com soon. The Bluetooth developer kit details the Bluetooth protocol built into the NXT microprocessor. That should enable users to design programs allowing any Bluetooth device to interact with Mindstorms NXT robots

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

Click here to return to top