Archive for the 'Computer' Category

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Get the most from your laptop battery

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In this world of revolutionary wireless technology, there is one thing still keeping you wired to the wall, and that’s your power cord.

Widespread access to wireless networks means that you can take your laptop with you and work most anywhere. But the lithium battery in your laptop only lasts a few hours. This means that you will inevitably find yourself searching your surroundings for a power outlet.

Recently, researchers at Stanford University have found a way to make a silicon lithium battery that will last 10 times as long as conventional laptop batteries. The secret is the use of silicon nanowires — small strands that are smaller than a human hair.

These silicon nanowires have the ability to soak up a great deal of lithium ions, meaning that you can store much more energy than in conventional lithium batteries. So far, the result has only been seen in the laboratory, but this new technology should find its way to the consumer market (and your laptop) before long.

IPS picks up where GPS leaves off

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Lost in the woods? If you have a GPS device with you, you can easily recover your path. But if you’re indoors, you’re out of luck. GPS signals cannot penetrate solid obstacles, making them useless inside most buildings. Here’s where local wireless networks may come to the rescue. An IPS, or indoor positioning system, uses ultrasound, infrared, or radio waves to obtain the position of an IPS device. This means you could strap on an IPS wristband, and your movements could be tracked, even inside buildings!

Cause for privacy concern? Certainly. If you were forced to wear a wristband, anyone with access to the network could track your movements. But just as GPS systems have helped to rescue stranded hikers in the wilderness, IPS systems could help firefighters navigate a burning building to find trapped victims. Hospitals are already using a similar ultrasound-based technology to help patients recognize the myriads of doctors, nurses, and other workers who attend to their needs.

A Step Towards the Bionic Eyeball

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A few decades ago, the idea of fixing your vision by putting a thin lens on your eyeball was the stuff of sci-fi movies. Today, contact lenses help millions of people to see with near-perfect vision.

The next horizon of contact lens technology might also seem like an episode of the Bionic Woman: scientists have created contact lenses with small integrated electrical circuits and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

What’s the purpose? Eventually, developers want to use LEDs to project artificial images onto the view of your surroundings. This could, in principle, overlay words, pictures, or even a web browser-like interface onto your normal vision.

The technology, created at the University of Washington, is just a small step toward creating a revolutionary new visual interface. The contacts are completely clear despite containing circuits with nanometer-sized components. The one thing the lenses don’t do is correct vision. But eventually, engineers hope to integrate prescription lenses with the LED display capabilities.

How Small Can You Go?

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You kick around a lot of numbers when choosing a computer, but silicon chip size is probably not one of them. However,this is a key figure that determines all the important numbers that you do care about. Computer speed and memory are determined by how many silicon chips you can pack into a small space. The more silicon chips you have, the more speed and memory are at your disposal.

To be precise, it’s not the size of the chip itself, but the feature size that is important. This is the size of the individual electrical components that are crafted out of the silicon. Current computers often use silicon chips with feature sizes of 65 to 90 nanometers. That’s several times smaller than one of the hairs on your head!

A big question in modern computing is how much smaller we can get. A quirkly principle known as Moore’s Law predicts that the number of features that can be squeezed into a given area doubles every two years. But we can’t keep halving the feature size forever — eventually we will reach a limit. Why? Once we get down to the size of bare molecules, we can’t scale down any smaller. And quantum physics effects will probably interfere with smooth operation long before we reach that level.

Read more about precision silicon chip technology at ScienceDaily.com.

Working Out the Wii Way

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It used to be that video games were for couch potatoes.

Then the Nintendo Wii came along. The Wii moved video gaming up a level in terms of physical action, using a wireless controller to simulate actions like throwing, punching, or swinging an object.

The first time you tried playing Wii Sports, you might have noticed that you were a little out of breath. You were having so much fun playing tennis, bowling, baseball, or boxing that you didn’t even notice you were working out!

Now, Nintendo has chosen to emphasize the physical benefits of Wii gaming by introducing the Wii Fit system. This system uses a small, flat box (the Balance Board) that senses your weight distribution and motions and wirelessly sends the information to the gaming box. While you perform exercises such as aerobics, dancing, and balancing, the Wii makes measurements and gives you feedback.

The bad news? Wii Fit is not yet available to American gamers. It has been a huge success in Japan, and Nintendo intends to release it in the U.S. this year.