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« August 2007 | Main | October 2007 »

PPX: Commissions Live

Commissions are now live. To recap, from now on PPX will charge a flat POP$0.25 per share on every trade. The charge will be deducted from the user’s cash balance. Happy trading.—The PPX Staff

PPX: Here Come Commissions

A few months ago, when PPX was but a wobbly infant, we tried out the idea of a one-percent commission on all trades, with the idea that this would keep the market more fair and accurate. Unfortunately, since there were only a few thousand traders at the time, the exchange came grinding to a halt, and we responded by removing the commission to encourage a fun environment with a high trade volume.

But now that PPX is more mature, with a community of over 16,000 members, we're ready to try the experiment again— in a new, carefully considered fashion. This time around, rather than charging a percentage of the trade value, PPX will charge a flat POP$0.25 per share for each trade. The commission will be instated at 3 pm EDT, tomorrow: Friday, September 28th. Our hope is that this policy will increase the accuracy of the predictions generated.

The Cliff's Notes version of this blog post: You have until 3 pm tomorrow to trade for free, so get those stocks while they're hot. —The PPX staff

Field Notes from the Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT

MIT's Kresge Auditorium, site of the conference

No big announcements or publicity stunts at the first day of EmTech, which is what Technology Review’s Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT is now being called. That’s certainly not to say nothing happened.

Yesterday I had the good fortune to watch small groups of geniuses take the stage and talk about, for example, the Human Microbiome Project, a “second human genome project” that aims to genetically catalogue every microbe found in the human body. (Our bodies are 90 percent microbes, by the way). I heard grown men who don’t work for NASA say things like, “Well, if you were on an outer solar system mission you could dip down into Jupiter’s atmosphere and use some of the kinetic energy to compress your fuel.”

So there are plenty of big ideas floating around, but this doesn’t seem to be the place for press-grabbing announcements. Rather, it’s about bringing together thinkers and researchers from disparate fields and letting them strut for one another—oh yeah, and potential investors.

Yesterday the conference began with a denim-and-Converse panel of Web 2.0 entrepreneurs, including Digg founder Kevin Rose. Then a trio of computing big shots from Intel, HP, Cisco. Then a keynote address from Charles Simonyi on the dysfunctional relationship from the business managers who commission software and the programmers they hire to write said software.

Along the way, attendees fumbled through live voting experiments using electronic nametags by nTag, which makes “the world’s first interactive name badge.” (As I write this, my nTag appears to have died….) 

In the afternoon, a panel on the “New Space Race” was notable for the sheer confidence of the panelists—Eric Anderson of Space Adventures, Franklin Chang Diaz of Ad Astra Rocket, Frank Taylor of SpaceDev, and George Whitesides of the National Space Society and Virgin Galactic—a bunch guys who don’t doubt in the least that the financial and logistical challenges facing privatized space flight are mere blips in the big picture, and that before long we’d be mining asteroids and taking honeymoon trips to see the rings of Saturn. “We live in an amazing point in human history,” as Whitesides put it. After listening to each give an impassioned sales pitch for their piece in the commercial space race, it’s hard not to feel the same.

Coming today: panels on biofuels, “engineering the brain,” and a closing performance by what may very well be the world’s geekiest band, Ensemble Robot. Stay tuned. —Seth Fletcher

Virgin America: Charming, but no Eden

Pkphotored I recently flew Virgin America, the new airline from Sir Richard Branson's Virgin group of companies. The airline is targeting the young and tech-savvy—power outlets adorn every seat; purple "mood lighting" attemts to makes your plane feel like the inside of a downtown lounge; and personal entertainment centers in the seatbacks let you play anything from DirecTV Dish Network (free), a good selection of movies ($8 each), or recent episodes of TV shows like 30 Rock ($2 each). You even order your food and beverages—paid for, like everything else, with a credit card swipe—through the entertainment center's touchscreen.

And that's where the trouble started. Though a recent post at Wired Science lauded the experience ("As I walked into their new Airbus 320 . . . all the stress of getting to the airport melted away," the author wrote), perhaps Virgin made sure not to fill the plane during that inaugural flight. Why? The airline has subscribed to the worst idea to hit the airline industry since Atlanta-Hartsfield became a hub: touchscreens in the seatbacks. Imagine sitting in front of a toddler who keeps kicking your seat throughout a six-hour flight, except that toddler is really a middle-aged sales rep who channel surfs. Every 30 seconds, a poke pushed me forward. Turn on the TV. >Poke< Order a drink. >Poke< Try to get a little sleep. >Poke< >Poke< It was incessant, and the unresponsive and sometimes frustrating interface the gentleman in back of me was trying to pound his way through couldn't have helped matters much.

I was eventually forced to get up and move from my aisle seat to a center seat that didn't have anyone sitting immediately behind. I couldn't relax, and it's not like you can politely ask the person in back of you to stop changing the channel. Maybe next time I'll bring $8 and offer to buy him a movie. A small price to pay for two hours of peace, mood lighting notwithstanding.—Michael Moyer


190738main_launch2330 Today, the deep-space asteroid-studying spaceprobe Dawn was successfully launched on schedule, satisfying the requirements of DAWNOK. After a few false starts, NASA's mission to study the origins of the solar system is now officially under way, headed for
the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The unmanned spacecraft will begin its exploration of Vesta in 2011, and Ceres in 2015. By comparing the two asteroids, scientists hope to learn more about how the solar system formed and why Vesta and Ceres failed to become full-size planets.

Back on this planet, our stock was halted at a price of POP$78.75, and will pay out at POP$100 immediately. Onward and upward! —John Mahoney and Dawn Stover

Sukhoi Unveils First Russian Passenger Jet Since the Fall of the USSR


Meet the Superjet 100 (in triumphant rendering form)—the newest entrant into the sub-100 passenger regional jet arena. This one's notable, however, for being the first new passenger jet designed and built in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Russia's legendary civil aircraft design bureaus—Mikoyan, Yakovlev, Tupolev, Ilyushin—just barely survived the chaotic privatization that followed the end of the USSR. Basically, they survived in name only, as none had the resources to focus on anything but military projects. The Superjet marks the latest step in the process to revitalize the industry—a process that began last year with the massive restructuring of practically every major Russian aviation firm into the monolithic United Aircraft Building Corporation, placing all of them comfortably back under the wing of the Russian government which will retain a 75% stake. Notably, one of President Vladimir Putin's likely successors, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, was picked to run the new military and civil aviation conglomerate, ensuring his financial health for the foreseeable future.

The Superjet 100 is expected to begin flight tests before the year is up before entering into what Russia hopes will be stiff competition with the regional jet leaders—Brazil's Embraer and Canada's Bombardier. —John Mahoney

The Breakdown: Bourne Edition

Picture_4 As far as meaty physics goes, The Bourne Ultimatum is a standout among action flicks. Compared with other pillars of the genre, like Mission Impossible and XXX, Bourne sustains some impressive dramatic excitement without succumbing to the patently ridiculous.

It's not hard to suspend disbelief during the movie's dizzying quick cuts, but Jason Bourne's Superman-like physical capabilities are a little suspect. He has astonishing reaction reflexes, infinite physical stamina, and the ability to withstand an amazing quantity of forceful blows, impacts and collisions without sustaining much more than a few scratches and an intermittently gimpy leg—pretty unlikely stuff, even for an elite assassin.

But we're not here to criticize the improbable. Why else do we go to action movies, after all? That said, there is one interesting physics moment that I feel obligated to point out: a motorcycle chase scene in which Bourne tries to prevent a CIA assassin from snuffing out the closest thing he has to a romantic interest. While taking a short cut, Bourne jumps his motorcycle over what appears to be a six-foot concrete wall. Fans of XXX may not bat an eye—Vin Diesel's grasshopper-esque, unassisted leaps over a 30-foot fence, a guard tower and a house, all without the assistance of a ramp of any kind, make Bourne's paltry six-footer look like a bunny hop. Nevertheless, it's worth taking a look at the numbers. Just how much force must he be capable of exerting on the ground to get him over the wall?

Continue reading "The Breakdown: Bourne Edition" »

One of Our Brilliant 10 is Now Officially a Genius


Just days after wrapping up our Brilliant Ten issue—in which we publish our annual roundup of the most impressive young scientists in the United States—PopSci learned that one of our picks (as well as one of our finalists) had become the recipient of a 2007 MacArthur "genius" grant. Yoky Matsuoka initially impressed our editors with the skill and finesse with which she handles one of the most challenging issues facing robotics today.

"Not only does she build advanced robots, she tackles the more difficult problem: making them work with us," says Executive Editor, Michael Moyer. "Her work on direct control of robotic limbs via brain waves is pushing robotics into a new generation of complexity and power." Below is an excerpt from our forthcoming article—learn more about Matsuoka and the rest of the Brilliant Ten when the issue hits newsstands next month.

Continue reading "One of Our Brilliant 10 is Now Officially a Genius" »


Far sooner than popularly anticipated, the PPX stock GASTRTY was halted and delisted this morning, for a payout of POP$100 per share. The proposition promised a payout if China and the U.S. sign a binding treaty concerning their greenhouse-gas emissions by 2009. Over the weekend, the two nations joined nearly 200 others in a deal to phase out hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) over the next 13 years.

Trading at $52.25 at close, the market was (just) predicting correctly. Slight ambiguity in the proposition's wording may have contributed to the lack of optimism—though a dangerous greenhouse gas, HCFCs form just a fraction of the total emissions. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, makes up over 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and is more likely to be the problem one might expect an international treaty to tackle. Nevertheless, an agreement concerning greenhouse gas emissions was signed by China and the United States, and, with the requirements technically met, the proposition paid out. Be on the lookout for a more expanded proposition on this subject.—Abby Seiff

Why You Need More, Scratch That, Less Sleep

800pxa_child_sleeping Worried that too little sleep might be impacting your health? Don't overdo it. Presenting their findings today to the British Sleep Society, researchers outlined a stark conundrum: lack of sleep can more than double the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, too much sleep doubles the risk for non-cardiovascular-related deaths.

Studying the sleep patterns of over 10,000 civil servants—and adjusting for myriad factors including blood pressure, employment level, and age—the researchers found that both increases and decreases in hours-per-night over a sustained period of time upped one's chances of dying. Though the risks associated with less sleep have long been known, increased mortality rates tied to more sleep came as a surprise: "No potential mechanisms by which long sleep could be associated with increased mortality have yet been investigated," noted Professor Francesco Cappuccio.

The solution? Sleep 7 hours a night and do it consistently. Sounds . . . awful.—Abby Seiff

Made in China

Latte_chumby_withmug Developers of the Chumby, an always-on device that will display information from the web, promise that it will soon be available, and at a cost of less than $200. In the meantime, check out Andrew "bunnie" Huang's blog on how the Chumby is being manufactured in China (below). Huang is Chumby's vice president of hardware engineering and one of the company's founders. His behind-the-scenes account not only highlights the impressive engineering skills found in Chinese factories today, but also the cultural differences between the U.S. and China. For example, when one of the Chinese women working on the Chumby asks what the device does, Huang discovers that she does not know what the Internet is, despite her considerable expertise at building and testing computers. In the end, he tells her it's a device for playing games.—Dawn Stover


Read more about the Chumby: Anything You Want in a Gadget

Images: Chumby Industries, bunniestudios.com

Caves on Mars

190126main_cave4330NASA says its Mars Odyssey spacecraft has spotted seven possible cave entrances on Mars. These dark features, several hundred feet across, have a more constant temperature from day to night than the ground surrounding them (as shown in the infrared images at center and right). If the "Seven Sisters" holes turn out to be caves, it's possible they could provide a protected niche for past or present life on Mars—or serve as underground shelters for future human colonization.—Dawn Stover

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/USGS

Google Moon

As11405875hr First there was Google Earth, now there's Google Moon, a lunar mapping platform anyone can use. The website has maps embedded with panoramic images and links to audio and video clips from moon missions.—Dawn Stover

Image: NASA

New Gear in New York

Fall Gadget Preview and Schmoozfest


It’s almost Christmas—if you work in the consumer electronics trade. Yesterday, September 19, I actually attended an event called “Holiday Extravaganza” where vendors showed off some new wares for the season. There wasn’t a whole lot of brand-new stuff, and most of it had already been announced in press releases, but this was a first chance to touch and play.

The following photos are all courtesy of one of the best toys there—Canon’s new EOS 40D digital SLR, which Canon loaned me a few days ago. (More on that one later.)

Moto_2 Motorola was showing its new Moto Q music 9m. this new version of the-love-it-or-hate-it smartphone has a new Jekyll-and-Hyde interface. As a studious Dr. Jekyll phone, it has the regular Windows Mobile interface, and now also Documents to Go software that lets you not just read but also edit Microsoft Office documents. Hold down a button on the new, firmer keyboard, and it switches to the rockin’ Mr. Hyde music interface (shown here). $300, Verizon only, available now.


Gephone_3 GE showed a different kind of phone – a cordless home model with long-range DECT wireless technology and an RSS reader. The base station plugs into a home router and pings the Net for news feeds that appear on the InfoLink phone’s kinda-tiny screen. Still, it fits three or four headlines, and the text-only stories are not too hard to read. Why would you want it? GE thinks that people will like to get quick bits of news—like weather reports or sports scores—without having to fire up the PC. The phone comes pre-configured with basic RSS feeds from sources including MSNBC, NOAA weather and the Department of Homeland Security. Keep your duct-tape in one hand and your GE phone in the other! You can also log into the phone from a computer to custom-configure your own feeds. $180, available in November.


Kleer GE also hawked another new technology – Kleer. Having seen the tortuous, decade long struggle to get Bluetooth into devices, GE decided it wants some of that suffering too and is including Kleer’s wireless headphone tech in its new Jet Stream MP3 player. Kleer does claim some benefits over Bluetooth. A higher data rate lets it stream uncompressed music (that is, uncompressed streams of the compressed MP3 music on the device). It did sound pretty good to me, but I couldn’t say for sure that it’s better than Bluetooth. Maybe a bigger benefit is the power savings. Kleer isn’t as hungry as Bluetooth, so the headphones don’t have to engorge a giant battery. These little guys run for ten hours, they claim. $139, available in October

Canon_2 And then there’s the lovely Canon 40D. Fans of the 30D won’t see much of a difference. But it is faster (shooting 6.5 frames per second), has inconsequentially higher resolution (10 megapixels, up from 8), the on-screen menu is easier too navigate, and it includes an ultrasonic shaker to knock dust away from the image sensor.

Autofocus felt very fast to me, too, though Canon says it’s not substantially swifter than the 30D. Maybe it’s good that the camera hasn’t changed much, since the 30D was already fabulous. After the show, I went to trivia night at a bar in my neighborhood. It was dark in here, the perfect setting for a Cannon SLR with its great low-light/high IOS performance. Most of these photos are as bright or brighter than what my own eyes could see. Check out the pictures after the jump and see for yourself.—Sean Captain

Continue reading "New Gear in New York" »

You Stole My Robot!

Negotiator Yesterday, iRobot Corp., the manufacturer of the Roomba and PackBots, went to a federal court in Boston and asked a judge to issue an order halting the production of a rival robot builder's machines. iRobot alleges that a former employee of the company, Jameel Ahed, designed the bots for his new firm, Robotic FX, using iRobot trade secrets. No, that's not a PackBot pictured on the left.

There's more than pride at stake here. Robotic FX just won a $280 million contract from the military last week. It looks like production at Robotic FX won't shut down, but this should be an interesting case to follow. Personally, I think they should just let the robots fight it out.—Gregory Mone

Via Boston Globe

A Relatively Toasty South Pole on Neptune

Neptunex At an average temperature of -392 degrees Fahrenheit, Neptune is a pretty chilly planet, but astronomers reported this week that it's south pole is a good 18 degrees warmer than the rest. Orbiting 30 times farther away from the Sun than Earth, Neptune only gets about a thousandth of the sunlight our planet receives, but this does makes a difference. At the south pole, the warmer air creates a channel for methane gas to escape, and leak out of the atmosphere. Still, it doesn't sound like that great of a place to live if we ever wear out this planet. Surely we're going to need something a little warmer than a few hundred degrees below zero.—Gregory Mone

(Image credit: VLT/ESO/NASA/JPL/Paris Observatory)

Six Figures for a First Class Seat

Airbus Talk about an aviation buff. A passenger reportedly bid over $100,000 for a luxury seat on the first commercial flight of the Airbus A380, on Singapore Airlines. The inaugural round-trip will run from Singapore to Sydney and back. Singapore Airlines opted for an aircraft with a 480 seat configuration instead of the 555.

The auction was conducted through eBay's Singaporean Web site, and the proceeds will go to charity.—Gregory Mone

(Image credit: Airbus)

DOT Moves to Clear Fuel Cells For Use Aboard Airplanes

Chip_2_copy We've been anticipating fuel-cell powered gadgets for a while now, and today a small but significant step was taken to bring them one step closer: the U.S. Department of Transportation moved to amend aviation regulations to allow for passengers to carry on methanol-based fuel cells when they fly. The proposed amendment would allow for one fuel cell unit and two methanol fuel cartridges to be brought on board per passenger. Although methanol is a flammable fuel, the electricity-generating reaction inside of a fuel cell does not require combustion—with carbon dioxide and water vapor being the only byproducts of the reaction. Similar rules amendments have already been made to the transportation regulations of several other countries, including Canada, Japan, the U.K. and China.

Mobion—the makers of one of the most promising methanol fuel cells for use in mobile technology (pictured above) and a Best of What's New Grand Award winner from 2004—are especially delighted by today's announcement. As am I—having just endured a lithium-ion-destroying 14-hour flight to Japan, an unlimited fuel supply for my laptop would have allowed for several more life-sustaining episodes of Freaks and Geeks in-flight.

With today's announcement, now might be a good time to check out our PPX proposition (FCELL) questioning whether or not a fuel-cell-powered laptop will make it to market by 2009. I'd say we're headed in the right direction. Buy! Buy! —John Mahoney

An Exoskeleton That Bears The Weight For You

Exoskeletonenlarged MIT engineers have developed a robotic exoskeleton that transfers most of the weight of a backpack straight to the ground. The add-on carries 80 percent of the load, and could prove beneficial for soldiers carrying heavy packs.

In the long run, Hugh Herr, the leader of the research group, also hopes the technology could evolve into assistive devices that could help anyone. Someone with a disability could use them to walk normally, for example. This sort of work has been done before, but the MIT team managed to develop a device that swallows much less power, and is therefore much closer to being practical. For now, they're focused in part on engineering it to allow for a more natural gait. —Gregory Mone

The Worst of the Hybrids

0605_2007_lexus_ls600h_445_01 Forbes just released a list of the least fuel-efficient hybrids, and though the fact that some of these supposedly green rides aren't exactly saving the planet shouldn't shock too many people, it's still nice to see the guilty called out. Just because your Lexus LS 600h has some batteries in it shouldn't make you feel all nice and environmental. The thing still burns up a gallon of gas every 21 miles. Even worse: A GMC Sierra model that gets only 16 mpg. Enough said. Here's the list.—Gregory Mone

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