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mercredi 22 septembre 2004

A cloud filled with simple molecules of sugar has been found 26,000 light-years away from us, near the middle of our Milky Way Galaxy. The 8-atom sugar molecules exist in a gas cloud named Sagittarius B2 at a temperature of only 8 degrees above absolute zero. Too far and too cold to bake your next cake! However, even if chemistry reactions on Earth and in this frigid sugar cloud are very different, astronomers think this "discovery suggests how the molecular building blocks necessary for the creation of life could first form in interstellar space." I'm not qualified to say if their claims are funded, but don't hesitate to tell me if they're right or wrong.

Please read the original article for more astronomical details or just enjoy the illustrations below describing how prebiotic chemistry -- the formation of the molecular building blocks necessary for the creation of life -- occurs in interstellar clouds.

Cold Sugar Cloud, Part 1 This illustration shows how processes may produce complex molecules in cold interstellar space. (Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF)
Cold Sugar Cloud, Part 2 And this one shows that prebiotic chemistry -- the formation of the molecular building blocks necessary for the creation of life -- occurs in interstellar clouds long before that cloud collapses to form a new solar system with planets. (Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

The above acronyms in the credits for the illustrations refer respectively to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Sources:, September 20, 2004; and various websites

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mercredi 11 août 2004

The online version of BusinessWeek carries a recent interview of Howard Rheingold, the author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, about the "new economic system" he thinks it's emerging "from such seemingly disparate developments as Web logs, open-source software development, and Google." If you read the interview, you'll see that "Rheingold is worried that established companies could quash such nascent innovations as file-sharing." He also says that the Nokias and the HPs of our world should give prototypes of their gears to 15-year-olds to discover what these creative young people can do with them, instead on relying on marketing people. And if you haven't done it before, don't forget to visit the Smart Mobs Weblog and to read a previous interview of Rheingold about the US presidential election of 2004, "A Major Change in the Political Equation."

Here are selected excerpts of what Rheingold says. The first one is about the way we are using Google or Amazon.

Google is based on the emergent choices of people who link. Nobody is really thinking, "I'm now contributing to Google's page rank." What they're thinking is, "This link is something my readers would really be interested in." They're making an individual judgment that, in the aggregate, turns out to be a pretty good indicator of what's the best source.
Then you look at Amazon and its recommendation system, getting users to provide free reviews, users sharing choices with their friends, users who make lists of products. They get a lot of free advice that turns out to be very useful in the aggregate. There's also Wikipedia [the online encyclopedia written by volunteers]. It has 500,000 articles in 50 languages at virtually no cost, vs. Encyclopedia Britannica spending millions of dollars and they have 50,000 articles

Rheingold adds that these trends will produce a new economic system, but that lots of companies, especially in the media business, will resist changes. But if U.S. companies don't embrace disruptive technologies, other countries will do.

BusinessWeek also asked him where these new trends will happen.

We now have a world out there where billions of people have in their pockets technologies for innovation that far surpass what entire industries had just a couple decades ago. If you're talking about the communications industry, your innovation is happening with 15-year-old girls. That was where [Japanese cellular network provider NTT] DoCoMo won big. I think the total number of text messages sent is approaching 100 billion a month. Of course, the revenues on that are only a fraction of a cent each, but multiply a fraction of a cent by 100 billion, and it begins to add up to real money.
You're seeing that now with the picturephones. People are not using them the way it was predicted. They're using them to share their days: Here's a picture of somebody's haircut. Here's a picture of somebody's melon. Look at this shoe in a store. It wasn't determined by an expensive R&D lab. It was determined in practice by young people who appropriate these devices in unexpected ways. There's nothing more inventive than a 15-year-old.
I don't think that's going away. If I was a Nokia or a Hewlett-Packard, I would take a fraction of what I'm spending on those buildings full of expensive people and give out a whole bunch of prototypes to a whole bunch of 15-year-olds and have contracts with them where you can observe their behavior in an ethical way and enable them to suggest innovations, and give them some reasonable small reward for that. And once in a while, you're going to make a billion dollars off it.

Here is the last exchange in this interview.

Some folks in the U.S. are worried about the competition from overseas that comes from that dispersal of knowledge.
We should have thought about it when we sold all those computers and chips overseas. These aren't just widgets. These are the building blocks of innovation.

Do I need to add anything else?

Source: Robert D. Hof, BusinessWeek Online, August 11, 2004

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jeudi 5 août 2004

A week ago, I told you that GPS-equipped pigeons followed highways. Now, the University of Queensland and mining company Rio Tinto Coal Australia (RTCA) are using satellite technology to track koalas from space. Their partnership, Koala Venture, started about 15 years ago to study the habitat and diet of the koalas living near the Blair Athol Mine. In a new stage of the partnership, koalas will be fitted with special satellite tracking collars. They hope to understand the way a koala sees its surroundings, and of course to better manage the koala population, their safety and security. Apparently, these koalas are lucky, because other studies say that they could be extinct in 15 years.

Koalas at the Blair Athol mine site near Clermont will be fitted with special satellite tracking collars in the latest stage of a long-term partnership between the two organisations, launched by Environment Minister John Mickel on July 29, 2004.
The partnership, known as Koala Venture, has delivered vital knowledge of koala habitat and diet which is then incorporated into the mine’s operations and rehabilitation programs.
"Koala Venture has been the longest running koala study in Australia and has delivered research findings promoting a broader understanding of koala ecology valuable to the conservation of this national icon," University of Queensland Vice Chancellor Professor John Hay AC said.
"In the next phase of our partnership we will employ this new technology and extend the horizons in which we are operating to provide data on the animals twenty-four hours a day."
A koala receiving a regular health check Here is a photograph of a koala receiving a regular health check as part of the Koala Venture program. (Credit: Koala Venture).

I haven't found anywhere the number of koalas living in this specific area, but apparently, they are in good hands.

In launching the partnership Environment Minister, John Mickel, congratulated Rio Tinto and the University of Queensland on their ongoing commitment to koala conservation.
"This partnership complements the work the Environmental Protection Agency is undertaking to protect and conserve koala colonies across Queensland," Mr Mickel said.

But koalas are not protected everywhere in Australia. For instance, you can read this article from Reuters, "Koalas face extinction, activists warn."

There are about 100,000 koalas in Australia, down from an estimated seven to 10 million at the time of white settlement in 1788. In the 1920s, three million koalas were shot for their fur.
Deborah Tabarat, executive director of the Australian Koala Foundation, said the major problem facing koalas was that the majority of Australia’s 20 million people and the majority of the koala population both call Australia’s eastern states home.
She said that with 80 percent of Australia’s east coast temperate forests destroyed and continued rapid urbanization, koalas along the eastern seaboard could be extinct in 15 years.

Sources: University of Queensland news release, July 29, 2004; Koala Venture website; Reuters, June 29, 2004

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lundi 12 juillet 2004

One of my readers just told me that a young French company has started to sell the Jackito, the first 'Tactile Digital Assistant' (TDA). This new kind of PDA has no stylus, doesn't offer handwriting recognition and has no keyboard. Instead, it is based on touchscreen technology and relies entirely on your thumbs for input -- which are harder to lose than a stylus. And as Jackito has two simultaneous touch points, you can operate it with your two thumbs at the same time, at least according to the company. For an entry price of $600, you'll get parallel-processing capabilities with 7 processors and plenty of brand new technology, including 3ActilOS, a multitasking OS, which is not even referenced by Google. So be warned before purchasing one! However, the approach is pretty unique and I wish them good luck. UPDATE: Even if I expressed some doubts in the above introduction, several readers think this is a scam for several reasons: the company is asking for money before accepting an order; and it accepts only money from PayPal accounts, which is more than suspicious. Please accept my apologies. And don't send any money to this company!!! NEW UPDATE on July 21, 2004: Since this column was written, I met the CEO and the CTO of the company behind the Jackito. And I used an early prototype. I don't know if this TDA will be a success, but one thing is sure: it's real. Check this new column for more, "Exclusive Interview With Jackito's Makers."

These two pictures will give you an idea about this new device (Credit: Novinit).

The Jackito hardware platform Here you can see that you just need one AA battery to use the Jackito.
How to use the Jackito And here is a picture showing how you potentially use this device.

Why this device carries this stiff price of $600? Here are the three answers provided by the company behind the device.

Because our touchscreen is based on patented technology, enabling it to work with all shapes and sizes of fingers. This technology relies on specialist materials and processes, which have been optimized for fully-automated production of at least 500,000 units of Jackito. We will reduce this price once we have manufactured 500,000 units. After one million units, the price will fall to around $100.
To optimize Jackito’s features (Finger-Touch Control, battery life, fast graphics, Multitasking, Real-Time Processing, etc.), we have had to incorporate Parallel Processing (seven processors) and a powerful Gate-Array. These are unrivalled technologies in the PDA arena, which explains the price.
Lastly, we have made our LCD Fingertip-Touchscreen much larger (60x100mm²) than a standard PDA display in order to optimize fingertip control and graphics.

For more information, please look at the Jackito website.

Source: Jackito website

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mercredi 26 mai 2004

It should be easy to do, according to this report from Cornell University, "Low hydrocarbon diet." Like some of us change diet to lose some weight, we also should change the way we're using fossil fuels. David Pimentel, Cornell professor of ecology, and his students, write that stopping subsidies to the energy industries will stimulate energy conservation. They estimate that the U.S. could reduce their energy consumption by 33 percent in ten years if the policies evolve, resulting in annual savings of $438 billion.

Let's listen to the arguments of these ecologists.

American taxpayers could save an estimated $39 billion a year by insisting that the government end subsidies to the energy industries, according to Pimentel. He adds: "The next time you're pumping gas or paying the heating bill, ponder this: As high as fuel prices are in this country, they would be even higher without government subsidies to prop up the industry.
Instead of paying at the pump, every American family is paying about $410 in taxes each year for subsidies that keep gasoline prices and other energy product prices artificially low. This policy encourages greater consumption and importation of more oil and natural gas. Ending subsidies and pricing energy at its true cost would stimulate the use of conservation and energy-efficient technologies, and result in net savings."

This study was done between 2001 and 2002 when gasoline was about $1.50 per gallon. Now it has broken the $2 per gallon barrier, their arguments are even more solid.

Here is the conclusion of these researchers.

Saving fossil energy is fully justified because it would help reduce American dependence on foreign sources of energy and improve national security, improve the environment, reduce the threat of global climate change and save approximately $438 billion per year, which would help support the U.S. economy.

If you're interested by this study, it has been published by the journal Environment, Development, and Sustainability (Vol. #6, Issue 3-4) under the name "U.S. Energy Conservation and Efficiency: Benefits and Costs." This issue is not currently online, but check this link in a near future.

Source: Cornell University news release, May 24, 2004

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dimanche 23 mai 2004

Here is a message I sent on May 23, 2004 to the Slashdot editors.

I saw yesterday this URL in the list of sites coming to my blog. It shows lots of comments -- about ten per day -- attributed to my name, but none of them is from me. Apparently, someone opened an account on Slashdot using my real name and issued posts looking as if they were written by me.
My user number on Slashdot is 644694 and here is my user page under the name "rpiquepa." The "anonymous coward" using my real name as user name is using the account number 780675. This person has even used my blog address as his URL, which of course, is even more confusing. This is a forgery.
To summarize, comments written by me are signed "rpiquepa" while those signed "Roland Piquepaille" have been written by someone trying to hide himself.
What can I do? Can you cancel this forged account with my identity, including all these false comments?
On a more general way, how can you prevent this kind of security breach? I haven't seen a way to report this directly to Slashdot, such as a address, used by other organizations. So I also reported the incident on SourceForge (ticket number 958635) yesterday evening.
Anyway, I'm pretty pissed off that someone is using my name to publish things I never thought or written. It could be highly damageable to my reputation.
Can you help?
Thank you in advance.
The "real" Roland Piquepaille.

Update on April 24, 2004 (8:54pm Paris time)

David Burley, from, informed me that his organization didn't provide support for usurped identities on He told me to look at a section of a FAQ from Slashdot, named "Someone is posting under a false identity, or an account designed to look like someone else." It's not terribly encouraging to read it.

There are many accounts in the system that were created for malicious purposes. There are dozens of variations on names like 'CmdrTaco' and 'Hemos' as well as heads of many corporations, writers, etc. We don't tamper with existing accounts though, so there's nothing we can do about it. Over the last few years, numerous restrictions have been placed on accounts to make this difficult (for example the system won't let you create an account named 'CmdrTaco' because there already is one listed) but that doesn't prevent any of the hundreds of existing ninnies from doing what ninnies do.
In most cases, these folks are caught by moderation, and they eventually get karma that is low enough to make it obvious that they are impostors.

So how long the fake Roland Piquepaille will continue to post comments under my name? It's anyone guess as of today.

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jeudi 13 mai 2004

Walter Mossberg, from the Wall Street Journal, has found a new $150 gadget to enhance video gaming and music listening. The ButtKicker Gamer is a device that you attach to the bottom of your chair and emits sound waves from your favorite games or music. These sound waves send vibrations through your body, starting from the bottom up. Mossberg gives us his impressions in this article (paid registration needed). He tells us that male testers enjoyed more the gadget than female ones. He also says that it is more an enhancement to videogames than to music.

Here is the story of the device.

The ButtKicker started as an onstage device to help musicians, especially drummers and bass players, follow the bass line at rock concerts. An expensive and very powerful home-theater version already is being sold in some Best Buy and specialty outlet stores for installation in couches, chairs and even floors.
On August 1, Guitammer will release a more mainstream version of its product: the ButtKicker Gamer. The Gamer is considerably smaller and lighter than the home-theater version and will be sold in a $149.95 package that includes its separate amplifier. Last week, my assistant Katie Boehret and I got an exclusive opportunity to try it out. We tested the ButtKicker Gamer with some input from friends and visitors around the office.
The ButtKicker has a clamp on one end and a bulging electronic piece on the other. The clamp portion resembles an extra-large wrench -- a nine-inch straight piece with a tightening clasp at one end. This piece wouldn't open far enough to screw onto the thick center posts of our office chairs, so Guitammer shipped a chair to us that had a thinner post and we used that. The company insists most office chairs and desk chairs people use with PCs at home have the thinner type of post.

Here is what the ButtKicker Gamer looks like.

The ButtKicker Gamer

Here are Mossberg's conclusions.

We did discover a gender gap in the reactions to the ButtKicker: Most of our male testers, regardless of age, were considerably more enthusiastic about it than most of our female testers. The women, including Katie, saw it more as a novelty, useful for videogames, but not something they'd buy or use daily with music. The men just thought it was cool and imagined using it all the time.
Katie and I both agreed that the ButtKicker was more of an enhancement to videogames than to music. But, while I liked it overall, she viewed it as primarily "a guy thing."

If you happen to be these days at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, please stop at booth #6347 to try the ButtKicker Gamer by yourself. You'll find some other details in The Buttkicker Is Coming to E3.

You can also visit the Buttkicker website for more information.

Source: Walter S. Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2004; and various websites

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