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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  SCI/TECH 9
TEHRAN TIMES INTERNATIONAL DAILY                                                                                                                                                                                                                     APRIL 18, 2011




       A BlackBerry tablet, but
                                                                           Where solar power can’t fly,                                                                                                                                            Sun’s storm
         where are the apps?
                                                                         artificial photosynthesis might                                                                                                                                           season finally
L
By David Pogue
         isten, I’ll be straight with you. I realize that tablets
         are crazy hot right now, that 2011 is the Year of the           An airplane was lifted into the sky by four
                                                                         nearly silent propellers. Its disproportion-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  heating up
         iPad Clone and that every company and its brother is                                                                                                                                                                                     After three years in a deep solar
rushing one to market. But I’m sorry. I’m not going to review            ately broad wings, 208 feet tip to tip, were
                                                                         covered in solar photovoltaic (PV) cells.                                                                                                                                sleep of historic proportions, the
every one of the 85 tablets that will arrive this year; it’s only                                                                                                                                                                                 sun is finally starting to wake up.
April, and I’ve already got Tablet Fatigue. I’m not going to             Those PV cells converted sunlight into
                                                                         electricity, powered the plane’s motors,                                                                                                                                     Sunspots — cooler regions
review the Electrolux tablet, the Polaroid tablet, the Sunoco                                                                                                                                                                                     fraught with intense magnetic
tablet, the Kellogg’s tablet.                                            and charged a battery. The plane flew for
                                                                         26 hours – its sun-charged battery power-                                                                                                                                fields — now regularly dot the
    The BlackBerry tablet, though, seems worth a look.                                                                                                                                                                                            surface of the sun, and the star
The tech world’s been hyperventilating over this thing. It’s             ing it through the night.
                                                                             The privately financed Swiss plane                                                                                                                                    has unleashed several powerful
called the PlayBook, and it’s a seven-inch touch-screen tab-                                                                                                                                                                                      flares in recent months, including
let ($500, $600, and $700 for the 16-, 32- and 64-gigabyte               – Solar Impulse – is an unprecedented
                                                                         achievement among a series of solar                                                                                                                                      a Feb. 14 blast that was the most
models).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          powerful outburst in more than
    The iPad, of course, is a 10-incher, but seven has its vir-          planes built over the past several decades,
                                                                         but it highlights a serious gap in renewable                                                                                                                             four years. All signs suggest that
tues. It’s much easier to hold with one hand, for example. In                                                                                                                                                                                     the sun has shaken itself out of
principle, you ought to be able to slip the PlayBook into the            energy.
                                                                             Despite a wingspan almost as wide as                                                                                                                                 its slumber, researchers say.
breast pocket of a jacket — but incredibly, the PlayBook is                                                                                                                                                                                           “Finally, we are beginning to
about half an inch too wide. Whoever muffed that design                  that of a Boeing 747, it carried just two pas-
                                                                         sengers and puttered along at just 45 miles                                                                                                                              see some action,” said Richard
spec should be barred from the launch party.                                                                                                                                                                                                      Fisher, head of the Heliophysics
    Still, the PlayBook looks and feels great: hard rubberized           per hour.
                                                                             Solar planes probably won’t replace the                                                                                                                              Division at NASA headquarters
back, brilliant, super-responsive multitouch screen, solid                                                                                                                                                                                        in Washington, in a statement.
heft (0.9 pounds).                                                       world’s fleet of high-speed, fuel-burning            Postdoctoral scholar Shane Ardo uses light to produce hydrogen gas (the bubbles) in water at the California
                                                                         jets. Even if electric thrusters capable of                                                                                                                                  In 2008, the sun plunged into
    Its software is based on an operating system called QNX,                                                                 Institute of Technology. There, at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, scientists are trying to harness
                                                                         pushing a plane at more than 500 m.p.h.             sunlight to generate chemical fuel, specifically by splitting water to generate hydrogen.                             its least active state in nearly
which Research In Motion, the BlackBerry’s maker, bought                                                                                                                                                                                          a century. Sunspots all but
for its industrial stability. (“It runs nuclear power plants,” says      existed, the power needed to run them               store energy, then why not turn sunlight di-               also a problem: Replacing Europe’s liquid
                                                                         would be prohibitive.                                                                                                                                                    vanished, solar flares subsided
a product manager without a trace of current-events irony.)                                                                  rectly intoThe challenge will be combining                 fuels with algae would require 29 million                 and the star was eerily quiet.
    Nor is QNX the only other company that lent a hand.                      Estimates suggest that a fully loaded           that hydrogen with carbon dioxide to form                  tons of fertilizer per year – twice what Eu-
                                                                         747-400 jet would need around 200 foot-                                                                                                                                      Quiet spells on the sun are
Palm and Apple were also involved, although they didn’t                                                                      hydrocarbons found in diesel or jet fuel.                  rope currently imports.                                   nothing new. They come along
know it. The PlayBook software is crawling with borrowed                 ball fields’ worth of state-of-the-art solar            It’s chemically possible, but might re-                    Algae farmers must reduce their costs
                                                                         cells to stay aloft.                                                                                                                                                     every 11 years or so, as part of
ideas.                                                                                                                       quire a dozen steps.                                       by 10-fold to produce fuel at competitive                 the sun’s natural activity cycle.
    For example, to remove or rearrange apps, you hold                       If it flew from New York to London by               “There are no established commercial                    prices. Companies need to make money
                                                                         battery, that battery would have to weigh                                                                                                                                But this latest solar minimum
your finger down on one app icon until all icons begin to                                                                     processes for doing that,” says Chunshan                   before they reach that tipping point. OPX is              lasted longer than usual,
pulse (hello, iPad!). And to close a program, you swipe your             a million pounds – roughly 10 times the             Song, a chemical engineer at Pennsylva-                    doing it with microbes that produce acrylic
                                                                         weight of jet fuel that such flights now re-                                                                                                                              prompting some researchers to
finger upward from the bottom bezel to turn all app windows                                                                   nia State University in University Park.                   acid, a chemical used in manufacturing                    wonder if it would ever end.
into “cards,” and then flick one upward off the screen (hello,            quire. The plane would have no capacity                The venture capital community has                       paints – and that sells at higher prices than
                                                                         for cargo or passengers.                                                                                                                                                     This year has started off
Palm Pre!).                                                                                                                  funded 100 or more companies looking for                   fuels do. Some algae-farming companies                    with a bang, as sunspots are
    There are no buttons on the front at all, and the top edge               The enduring problem is that liquid fos-        other paths to renewable fuels.                            are selling higher-priced carotenoids and
                                                                         sil fuels hold far more energy per ounce                                                                                                                                 crackling with activity. Earth-
has only On, Play/Pause and volume keys. Instead, you                                                                           OPX Biotechnologies, a Boulder, Colo.                   omega-3 fatty acids that are used in foods.               orbiting satellites have detected
navigate by swiping your finger from the black border, which              than batteries do.                                  start-up, is using genetically engineered                      Nathan Lewis, a chemist at the Califor-
                                                                             If the world is to switch to renewable en-                                                                                                                           two so-called X-class solar
seems unduly wide, into the screen itself.                                                                                   microbes to turn syn gas, an industrial                    nia Institute of Technology in Pasadena,                  flares — the most powerful
    Swiping upward reveals your app icons (and turns your                ergy while maintaining air transport, then          waste product containing hydrogen and                      has built PV cells that split water molecules
                                                                         new ways must be found to produce liquid                                                                                                                                 type — with one erupting on
apps into “cards”). Swiping left or right cycles among open                                                                  carbon monoxide, into heavy hydrocar-                      to generate hydrogen gas, a fuel. His cells               Valentine’s Day, while the
multitasking apps. And swiping down reveals an app’s tool-               fuels. Researchers have long understood             bons that it hopes to refine into jet fuel.                 convert sunlight into chemical energy 10 to
                                                                         this, but rising fuel prices now command                                                                                                                                 other occurred on March 9,
bar, if it has one.                                                                                                             Other companies are engineering algae                   40 times more efficiently than most crops.                 researchers said.
    Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing beforehand if a             the attention of the business community as          that churn out oils similar to diesel. The al-                “It’s reasonable to say that within our
                                                                         well.                                                                                                                                                                        Another event on March 7
toolbar exists, so you often swipe futilely and feel silly. Simi-                                                            gae can grow in salt water, so arable land                 first five years we will have working proto-                hurled a billion-ton cloud of
larly, if app icons completely fill the home screen, you can                                    Aircraft fuel                 and fresh water aren’t drawn away from                     types that can be manufactured at scale,”
                                                                             “Aircraft fuel is an expensive product                                                                                                                               charged particles away from the
swipe upward to reveal more — but you won’t know if there                                                                    food crops.                                                says Mr. Lewis.                                           sun at 5 million mph (8 million
are more until you swipe, because no scrollbar appears be-               and there is no substitute for it,” says Erik          The problem is that algae farming re-                      The challenge will be combining that hy-
                                                                         Straser, general partner at the venture cap-                                                                                                                             kph). This blast, known as a
forehand to let you know there’s more below the screen.                                                                      quires energy – for controlling water tem-                 drogen with carbon dioxide to form hydrocar-              coronal mass ejection, wasn’t
    The PlayBook can show two different things. On the TV,               ital firm Mohr Davidow in Menlo Park, Calif.         perature, harvesting cells, and supplying                  bons found in diesel or jet fuel. It’s chemically
                                                                             One emerging option is artificial photo-                                                                                                                              aimed directly at Earth, but it
the audience sees your slides; on the PlayBook, you get                                                                      the concentrated carbon dioxide that algae                 possible, but might require a dozen steps.                did deliver a glancing blow to
to see the traditional PowerPoint cheat sheet of notes and               synthesis – after all, if fuel is a better way to   need to produce high yields. Fertilizer is                      (Source: The Christian Science Monitor)              our planet’s magnetic field.
slide thumbnails.
    The PlayBook does two impressive things that its ri-                   Federal practices hamper study of Gulf dolphin deaths                                                                                                                      The off-center impact on
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  March 10 supercharged the
vals — the iPad and the Android tablets — can only dream                 BILOXI, Mississippi (Reuters) — A fed-                                                                       sea animal deaths in Gulf waters.                           aurora borealis — also known
about.                                                                   eral agency’s practice of returning weak-                                                                       “We are not able to conduct necrop-                      as the northern lights — creating
    The first cool feature has to do with loading the tablet              ened dolphins to deeper Gulf of Mexico                                                                       sies on these animals any more either,”                     magnificent displays as far south
with your music, photos and music. Unfortunately, there’s                waters is thwarting efforts to probe dolphin                                                                 Solangi said. “This is all because of the                   as Wisconsin, Minnesota and
no iTunes-like software to do this automatically. You have to            deaths after last year’s BP oil spill, scien-                                                                BP criminal investigation.”                                 Michigan.
drag files manually from your computer into the PlayBook’s                tists said on Saturday.                                                                                                     Dolphin testing                                  “That was the fastest coronal
folders (Music, Photos and so on). But once you’ve set up                    The National Oceanic and Atmospher-                                                                         The U.S. Justice Department is using                     mass ejection in almost six
this process using a USB cable, you can do it thereafter over            ic Administration, meanwhile, confirmed                                                                       dolphin testing in its investigations into the              years,” said Angelos Vourlidas
Wi-Fi — wirelessly. The PlayBook can even accept such                    that two dolphins stranded in low tide on                                                                    2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater                         of the Naval Research Lab in
wireless transfers when it’s in sleep mode, sitting in your              the Louisiana coastline were returned                                                                        Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers               Washington, D.C. “It reminds
purse or briefcase across the room.                                      to water deep enough for them to swim                                                                        and unleashed a torrent of oil that fouled                  me of a similar series of events
    Second, there’s a wild, wireless Bluetooth connection                away.                                                                                                        the shorelines of four states.                              back in Nov. 1997 that kicked off
feature called BlackBerry Bridge. In this setup, the PlayBook                “These animals had no signs of external oil and were deemed                     “I know that everyone thinks they are doing their best but we must                   Solar Cycle 23, the solar cycle
acts as a giant viewing window onto the contents of a Black-             healthy and robust,” NOAA spokeswoman Kim Amendola said, add-                    have answers and help every marine animal we can,” Solangi said.                        before this one. To me, this
Berry phone. Whatever e-mail, calendar, address book and                 ing that beach releases are a viable option in some circumstances.                  Fifteen of the 406 dolphins that have washed ashore in the last                      marks the beginning of Solar
 instant messages are on the BlackBerry now show up on                       The “animals were pushed to deeper water by our stranding net-               14 months had oil on their bodies, the oceanographic administration                     Cycle 24.”
the PlayBook’s much roomier screen — a live, encrypted                   work partner, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and            has said.                                                                                   The slow build-up to this
two-way link.                                                            swam off on their own,” Amendola said.                                              Deepwater Horizon oil was confirmed to be on six bottlenose dol-                      moment is more than just the
    (Another advantage of pairing the PlayBook with a                        Researchers said weakened and stranded dolphins should in-                   phins, one had an unknown oil and two have not been tested.                             “watched pot failing to boil,” said
BlackBerry: The tablet can get online using the BlackBerry’s             stead be rescued and tested.                                                        Meanwhile, wildlife biologists contracted by the National Marine                     Ron Turner, a space weather
cellular connection. You don’t have to pay another $15 or                    Moby Solangi, director for the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies            Fisheries Service to document spikes in dolphin mortality and to col-                   analyst at Analytic Services, Inc.
$20 a month for a tethering plan, as you do with iPhones                 in Mississippi, said returning the dolphins to deeper waters also was            lect specimens and tissue samples for the NOAA were quietly or-                         “It really has been historically
and Android phones.)                 (Source: The New York Times)        undermining efforts to determine who is responsible for the rash of              dered in late February to keep their findings confidential.                               slow.”       (Source: Space.com)




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