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Tales from a Martian rock: Clues to planet’s history of habitability

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The surface of Mars was once wet, but no water flows there now. UC San Diego chemists and others took a close look at meteorite that may have been blasted from this huge rift across the planet’s surface. The image is a composite of hundreds of photos taken by NASA’s Viking missions in the 1970s. Credit: USGS, NASA

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] new analysis of a Martian rock that meteorite hunters plucked from an Antarctic ice field 30 years ago this month reveals a record of the planet’s climate billions of years ago, back when water likely washed across its surface and any life that ever formed there might have emerged.

Scientists from the University of California, San Diego, NASA and the Smithsonian Institution report detailed measurements of minerals within the meteorite in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last December.

“Minerals within the meteorite hold a snapshot of the planet’s ancient chemistry, of interactions between water and atmosphere,” said Robina Shaheen, a project scientist at UC San Diego and the lead author of the report.

The unlovely stone, which fell to Earth 13 thousand years ago, looked a lot like a potato and has quite a history. Designated ALH84001, it is the oldest meteorite we have from Mars, a chunk of solidified magma from a volcano that erupted four billion years ago. Since then something liquid, probably water, seeped through pores in the rock and deposited globules of carbonates and other minerals.

The carbonates vary subtly depending on the sources of their carbon and oxygen atoms. Both carbon and oxygen occur in heavier and lighter versions, or isotopes. The relative abundances of isotopes forms a chemical signature that careful analysis and sensitive measurements can uncover.

Mars’s atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide but contains some ozone. The balance of oxygen isotopes within ozone are strikingly weird with enrichment of heavy isotopes through a physical chemical phenomenon first described by co-author Mark Thiemens, a professor of chemistry at UC San Diego, and colleagues 25 years ago.

“When ozone reacts with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it transfers its isotopic weirdness to the new molecule,” said Shaheen, who investigated this process of oxygen isotope exchange as a graduate student at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. When carbon dioxide reacts with water to make carbonates, the isotopic signature continues to be preserved.

The degree of isotopic weirdness in the carbonates reflects how much water and ozone was present when they formed. It’s a record of climate 3.9 billion years ago, locked in a stable mineral. The more water, the smaller the weird ozone signal.

This team measured a pronounced ozone signal in the carbonates within the meteorite, suggesting that although Mars had water back then, vast oceans were unlikely. Instead, the early Martian landscape probably held smaller seas.

“What’s also new is our simultaneous measurements of carbon isotopes on the same samples. The mix of carbon isotopes suggest that the different minerals within the meteorite had separate origins,” Shaheen said. “They tell us the story of the chemical and isotopic compositions of the atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

ALH84001 held tiny tubes of carbonate that some scientists saw as potential evidence of microbial life, though a biological origin for the structures has been discarded. On December 16, NASA announced another potential whiff of Martian life in the form of methane sniffed by the rover Curiosity.

Carbonates can be deposited by living things that scavenge the minerals to build their skeletons, but that is not the case for the minerals measured by this team. “The carbonate we see is not from living things,” Shaheen said. “It has anomalous oxygen isotopes that tell us this carbonate is abiotic.”

By measuring the isotopes in multiple ways, the chemists found carbonates depleted in carbon-13 and enriched in oxygen-18. That is, Mars’s atmosphere in this era, a period of great bombardment, had much less carbon-13 than it does today.

The change in relative abundances of carbon and oxygen isotopes may have occurred through extensive loss of Martian atmosphere. A thicker atmosphere would likely have been required for liquid water to flow on the planet’s chilly surface.

“We now have a much deeper and specific insight into the earliest oxygen-water system in the solar system,” Thiemens said. “The question that remains is when did planets, Earth and Mars, get water, and in the case of Mars, where did it go? We’ve made great progress, but still deep mysteries remain.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – San Diego. The original article was written by Susan Brown. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Robina Shaheen, Paul B. Niles, Kenneth Chong, Catherine M. Corrigan, and Mark H. Thiemens. Carbonate formation events in ALH 84001 trace the evolution of the Martian atmosphere. PNAS, December 22, 2014 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1315615112

BlackBerry Classic Review: For Those in Love With the Past

 

Looking back at the road BlackBerry has taken over the past few years, we see a lot of bumps, detours and U-turns. The world has changed a lot since the Canadian firm was on top, and we’re now used to six-month refresh cycles and super-slim devices with insanely fast processors, super-crisp screens and phenomenal cameras. BlackBerry doesn’t have the sort of momentum it would need to compete at that level again, but even so, devices such as the Z3 and Passport have made it seem as though there is a competent driver in the seat again.

The BlackBerry Classic, as its name suggests, is a return to the old formula that made BlackBerries successful in the first place. Is it a sign that the company is desperate enough to throw out years of change in order to cling to whichever fans it has left? Do people still want the things that first attracted them to BlackBerry devices? We’re eager to answer those questions and also see if the Classic has anything to tempt new users with.

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Look and feel
First of all, this phone is bulky. Even by BlackBerry standards, it’s heavier, wider and taller than many of its predecessors and you’ll definitely notice the difference between this phone and the popular waifs of today from Apple, Samsung, Sony and others. That’s partially because of the keyboard and “utility belt” including an optical trackpad, but also because the screen is quite a bit bigger than the ones on the much-loved Bold and Curve series devices. BlackBerry clearly had to balance physical size with up-to-date features, and this is the result.

Unlike the Passport that came before it, the Classic doesn’t look very premium. It’s all plastic, including the grey band bordering the front. The rear has an interesting texture which makes it very easy to grip, but again makes the Classic feel more brutish than refined. This is the first device since BlackBerry released its BB10 platform to combine touch controls and the old-school trackpad, and you’ll see it in its traditional spot, front and centre.

The trackpad and its associated buttons were brought back apparently by popular demand, after having been dropped in favour of a touchscreen-only experience with the Q5 and Q10. We’ve pointed out before that BB10’s gesture-based interface is not the easiest to get used to, and it seems that the message has finally gotten through.

The keyboard is laid out flat, without the slight upward curve that many previous devices have had. Thankfully, it has four rows and pretty much the standard BB layout – not the three-row hybrid that BlackBerry created for the Passport. It’s comfortable and easy to get used to.

The Nano-SIM and microSD card slots are in individual trays on the right, while the volume buttons are on the right with a button between them that triggers the BlackBerry Assistant’s voice functions. The power button is right in the centre of the top, which we found inconvenient. The 3.5mm headset socket is also on top, and the Micro-USB port is on the bottom.

The rear panel is not removable and the battery is not accessible. A slightly protruding strip runs along the upper rear and houses the camera on one end. On the other is a rather overstated “Classic” logo. Overall, this phone doesn’t have the same kind of iconic appeal that previous models have had.

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Specifications
On the inside, BlackBerry has gone with a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm MSM8960 processor, the Snapdragon S4 Plus, which is now several years old. We’ve seen it before in the BlackBerry Z10 and that phone is old enough to make this very disappointing. It’s a far cry from the modern Snapdragon 801 in the Passport.

The screen measures 3.5 inches diagonally and is perfectly square. It has the same 720×720 resolution as the Q5 and Q10, but is a bit larger. It’s crisp and bright enough – definitely a step up from older models but not as sharp as the one on the Passport.

There’s 2GB of RAM and 16GB of built-in storage, though micro-SD cards of up to 128GB are supported. The battery has a 2,515mAh capacity. Wi-Fi b/g/n is supported along with Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC and even FM radio. BlackBerry states that LTE will work on Indian bands. The rear camera has an 8-megapixel sensor while the one on the front is 2 megapixels.

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Software and usability
The Classic ships with BlackBerry OS 10.3.1, which is much the same as the software that shipped with the Passport. The Amazon App Store is preloaded, and so you can download Android apps without any hiccups. BlackBerry World is still there too, and unfortunately you’ll have to go through both separately if you want to check whether a native app is available before downloading an Android version. When installing apps, a security mechanism called BlackBerry Guardian kicks in and will let you know if malware is detected or if apps have known compatibility issues with BB OS.

Common Android apps run well enough, considering the hardware available, but there will be scaling issues thanks to the square screen and compatibility issues with apps that use Google Play services. The Classic displays a message the first time you run an Android app informing you that you can change the scaling to fit the screen.

You can navigate around using the trackpad as well as the touchscreen. In most cases, it’s possible to avoid using the BB10 gestures altogether. Since this phone has physical Call and End buttons, the soft Phone button on all menu screens has been replaced by a Hub button. You can still reach the Hub by scrolling left from the first homescreen too.You’ll notice a blue highlight around controls and text fields when you skim a finger across the trackpad, and there’s even a little cursor that you can move around the screen in the browser. For the most part, direct-selection touchscreen conventions happily coexist with trackpad-cursor conventions and you can safely ignore either if you’re more comfortable with the other.

Running apps are still shown as tiles on the first homescreen, and you can use the Back button to kill them when selected. Up to eight tiles can be open but only four fit on screen. A little icon on the bottom shows you if there are more above or below the ones you can see. Swiping the trackpad first moves the cursor between elements on screen, and clicking the scroll bar on the bottom lets you flick between menu pages.

Typing should come naturally to any legacy BlackBerry user, and there are loads of predefined and configurable shortcuts too. When on any homescreen, you can press and hold keys to launch apps or speed dial contacts. Within the Hub, you can quickly move around and perform actions such as jumping to the top and bottom of your inbox list or a message body by tapping T and B respectively. R opens a reply and F lets you forward a message.

The End button takes you out of any app and back to the first homescreen. We could never quite get the hang of the swipe gestures required on previous BB10 devices, so we quickly became used to using that as a Home button.

Things like the Hub feel a little cramped on the 3.5-inch screen, but the tradeoff is a keyboard that’s actually quite good. However we aren’t sure how many smartphone users are still QWERTY loyalists – there were plenty who claimed they would never get used to touchscreens in the beginning, but are now happily accustomed to iOS or Android. BlackBerry doesn’t just have to be as good as its competitors – it has to be better than them.

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Performance
We found that the BlackBerry platform suffered a little in terms of responsiveness, attributable to the aged processor powering the Classic. It has enough power to for the OS itself to chug along, but that’s about it. Apps take a while to load, and there’s a long, annoying animation as you’re forced back to the first homescreen, a new tile appears, and then zooms to fill the screen.

Audio and video files play well, but you won’t enjoy movies much on the square screen. The Classic comes with a neat headset with flat tangle-resistant cables, a lapel clip, and replaceable fitted rubber ear tips. It sounds good, but is a bit too soft.

Call quality is predictably solid, but what impressed us most of all was this phone’s battery life. Despite having a perfectly ordinary battery, it lasted for a very impressive 14 hours, 54 minutes in our video loop test. This might not be directly comparable to other phones thanks to the non-standard screen aspect ratio, but it’s still a fantastic result.

As with the BlackBerry Passport, the Classic did not run most of our Android-based benchmarks, and even if it did, we wouldn’t count the results as comparable thanks to the software translation required. SunSpider and Mozilla Kraken, which runs in the browser, gave us scores of 1,285.9ms and 29042.1ms respectively, which are both considerably poorer than the Passport managed.

The camera takes 1:1 photos by default which fills up the screen nicely but doesn’t work all that well anywhere else. We found that the camera took way too long to lock focus – moving objects weren’t captured well. Tapping the screen rather than letting the Classic autofocus turned out better in most situations.

Photos looked oversaturated on the Classic’s screen but were more accurate when reviewed on a PC monitor. Quality wasn’t all that great – we noticed quite a lot of compression which made objects seem artificial. Low-light results were highly unpredictable in terms of noise and sharpness, and objects at even a slight distance were not captured clearly. Videos are recorded at 720p by default and are a little shaky, with predictably low detail levels even in bright daylight.

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Verdict
Maybe the Classic could have been a serious contender a few years ago, but like most things BlackBerry has done since its decline began, it’s just too little too late. The Classic could have helped the company maintain its momentum, but it won’t bring back users who have already moved on. Sure it has a physical keyboard, but people seem fine with Swype or Swiftkey if not iOS and Android’s stock offerings. Sure it handles email and messaging like a pro, but that isn’t worth the other tradeoffs. Sure it has world-class security features for ultra-rigid organisations, but it isn’t the only game in town anymore.

The BlackBerry Classic could still be a secondary work-only phone for a lot of people. Considering its official price tag of Rs. 31,990, it will appeal only to die-hard BlackBerry loyalists. The Samsung Galaxy S5, for instance, is available online for slightly less and comes across as a device that most people would be happier to own.

Further dampening its appeal, everything about this phone, from its looks to its capabilities, screams mid-range. Think of it more as a spiritual successor to the Curve series than the Bold series. BlackBerry clearly wants to reserve the big guns for devices it considers more modern. Maybe the Classic could be a stepping stone for legacy users who buy it for the hardware but eventually get comfortable enough with BB10 to move on to a Passport or other future device.

 

Optimistic people have healthier hearts, study finds

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]eople who have upbeat outlooks on life have significantly better cardiovascular health, suggests a new study that examined associations between optimism and heart health in more than 5,100 adults.

“Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts,” said lead author Rosalba Hernandez, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois. “This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health.”

Participants’ cardiovascular health was assessed using seven metrics: blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use — the same metrics used by the American Heart Association to define heart health and being targeted by the AHA in its Life’s Simple 7 public awareness campaign.

In accordance with AHA’s heart-health criteria, the researchers allocated 0, 1 or 2 points — representing poor, intermediate and ideal scores, respectively — to participants on each of the seven health metrics, which were then summed to arrive at a total cardiovascular health score. Participants’ total health scores ranged from 0 to 14, with a higher total score indicative of better health.

The participants, who ranged in age from 45-84, also completed surveys that assessed their mental health, levels of optimism, and physical health, based upon self-reported extant medical diagnoses of arthritis, liver and kidney disease.

Individuals’ total health scores increased in tandem with their levels of optimism. People who were the most optimistic were 50 and 76 percent more likely to have total health scores in the intermediate or ideal ranges, respectively.

The association between optimism and cardiovascular health was even stronger when socio-demographic characteristics such as age, race and ethnicity, income and education status were factored in. People who were the most optimistic were twice as likely to have ideal cardiovascular health, and 55 percent more likely to have a total health score in the intermediate range, the researchers found.

Optimists had significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels than their counterparts. They also were more physically active, had healthier body mass indexes and were less likely to smoke, according to a paper on the research that appears in the January/February 2015 issue of Health Behavior and Policy Review.

The findings may be of clinical significance, given that a 2013 study indicated that a one-point increase in an individual’s total-health score on the LS7 was associated with an 8 percent reduction in their risk of stroke, Hernandez said.

“At the population level, even this moderate difference in cardiovascular health translates into a significant reduction in death rates,” Hernandez said. “This evidence, which is hypothesized to occur through a biobehavioral mechanism, suggests that prevention strategies that target modification of psychological well-being — e.g., optimism — may be a potential avenue for AHA to reach its goal of improving Americans’ cardiovascular health by 20 percent before 2020.”

Believed to be the first study to examine the association of optimism and cardiovascular health in a large, ethnically and racially diverse population, the sample for the current study was 38 percent white, 28 percent African-American, 22 percent Hispanic/Latino and 12 percent Chinese.

Data for the study were derived from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, an ongoing examination of subclinical cardiovascular disease that includes 6,000 people from six U.S. regions, including Baltimore, Chicago, Forsyth County in North Carolina, and Los Angeles County.

Begun in July 2000, MESA followed participants for 11 years, collecting data every 18 months to two years. Hernandez, who is an affiliated investigator on MESA, is leading a team in conducting prospective analyses on the associations found between optimism and heart health.

“We now have available data to examine optimism at baseline and cardiovascular health a decade later,” said Hernandez, who expects to have an abstract completed in 2015.

Co-authors of the current study were Kiarri N. Kershaw of Northwestern University; Juned Siddique, Honghan Ning and Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, all of Northwestern University; Julia K. Boehm of Chapman University; Laura D. Kubzansky of Harvard University; and Ana Diez-Roux of Drexel University.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Center for Research Resources funded the research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rosalba Hernandez, Kiarri N. Kershaw, Juned Siddique, Julia K. Boehm, Laura D. Kubzansky, Ana Diez-Roux, Hongyan Ning, Donald M. Lloyd-Jones. Optimism and Cardiovascular Health: Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).Health Behavior and Policy Review, 2015; 2 (1): 62 DOI: 10.14485/HBPR.2.1.6

Large Asteroid to Fly (Safely) Through Earth’s Backyard

On Jan. 26, astronomers will be keeping their eyes peeled for a large space rock that is due to make a fast dash past the Earth-moon system. But never fear, the half-kilometer-wide asteroid 2004 BL86 will sail past safely, well beyond the orbit of our moon.

The asteroid may not be an immediate danger to life on Earth, but it is notable nonetheless. This will be the closest approach of a significantly-sized asteroid until 1999 AN10 (an asteroid that could be as wide as 1.8 kilometers, or 1.1 miles) makes its flyby in the year 2027.

“Monday, Jan. 26 will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get to Earth for at least the next 200 years,” said Don Yeomans, outgoing manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “And while it poses no threat to Earth for the foreseeable future, it’s a relatively close approach by a relatively large asteroid, so it provides us a unique opportunity to observe and learn more.”

2004 BL86 won’t come any closer than 3 Earth-moon distances, or roughly 1.2 million kilometers (745,000 miles), from our planet’s surface, but it will be close enough for us to zoom-in on the object and take precise measurements of its trajectory and its composition.

NASA is planning a microwave observation campaign using the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. All going well, radar images of 2004 BL86′s surface will be acquired. As previous radar imagery of other asteroids have shown, tiny features, down to boulders strewn across the low-gravity asteroid surface and even small craters, may be resolved.

But that’s not all, assuming you have clear skies, a powerful pair of binoculars should be enough to pinpoint the asteroid during flyby.

“I may grab my favorite binoculars and give it a shot myself,” said Yeomans. “Asteroids are something special. Not only did asteroids provide Earth with the building blocks of life and much of its water, but in the future, they will become valuable resources for mineral ores and other vital natural resources. They will also become the fueling stops for humanity as we continue to explore our solar system. There is something about asteroids that makes me want to look up.” Yeomans is retiring after heading the Near Earth Object Program Office since its formation 17 years ago. Team member Paul Chodas has been tapped to step into Yeoman’s role.

“When we get our radar data back the day after the flyby, we will have the first detailed images,” said Lance Benner, a radar astronomer at JPL and principal investigator for Goldstone radar observations of 2004 BL86.

“At present, we know almost nothing about the asteroid, so there are bound to be surprises.”

A radar image of asteroid 2010 JL33, generated from data taken by NASA’s Goldstone Radar on Dec. 11 and 12, 2010. NASA is planning to carry out a similar campaign on Jan. 26 when 2004 BL86 dashes past Earth.
A radar image of asteroid 2010 JL33, generated from data taken by NASA’s Goldstone Radar on Dec. 11 and 12, 2010. NASA is planning to carry out a similar campaign on Jan. 26 when 2004 BL86 dashes past Earth.

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech and Discovery.com

Get an Understanding of Computer Terms

If you’re upgrading your PCs, you might run into many IT terms and computer-related words and phrases that are difficult to understand. We’re to help you know what you’re getting!

Processor

Also known as ‘chip’ or ‘CPU’, the processor controls everything your computer does. It lets you do several things like work, email and surf – all at the same time. More powerful processors are better for more demanding tasks so get one that performs a little above your current needs.

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RAM

The computer uses random access memory (RAM) to process what the user is doing as they are doing it. This includes multitasking, writing a letter, editing a photo or browsing a web site. 4GB of RAM should be enough for most of your everyday needs, and you can always upgrade and add more RAM later.

Hard Drive

Think of the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) as your computer’s long-term memory. It acts as a filing cabinet for your documents, data, media files and so on. The size or capacity of a hard drive is measured in gigabytes. If you plan on storing a lot of videos and other big files, get a larger hard drive. Another option is to purchase an external USB 2.0 hard drive. Some new notebook PCs now use solid-state drives (SSD) with no moving parts, making them more resistant to shock, quieter and with faster information access.

Processor Number

Acting like a serial number, the processor number differentiates features within a processor family, with a higher number generally indicating more features. You can use this number to verify that your chosen processor includes the features you want. Keep in mind that processor numbers do not work across different processor families.

Intel® HD Graphics

Available as a built-in visual feature on selected Intel® Core™ processors, Intel® HD Graphics enables discrete 3D graphics performance without the added cost of a separate graphics card. You’ll enjoy crisp images with the highest frames per second for mainstream videos.00612012015

Intel® Quick Sync Video

Intel® Quick Sync Video accelerates hardware performance during video editing, burning and sharing to significantly reduce waiting time from hours to just minutes.

Intel® InTru™ 3D Technology

Watch Blu-ray videos in stereo 3D and full 1080p resolution on your computer with Intel® InTru™ 3D Technology.

00712012015Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0

A feature available on selected 4th gen Intel® Core™ processors, Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 automatically provides an even greater boost of speed to reduce lag time to meet the heavy processing demands of high-end apps.

Integrated Graphics

A graphics component needed to view images. Integrated graphics offers the performance for everyday tasks like watching HD videos, viewing photos and creating presentations. Standard in selected Intel® Core™ processors, integrated graphics improve graphics performance and notebook battery life.

Intel® Clear Video Technology00812012015

Intel® Clear Video Technology delivers higher visual performance for sharper images, richer colour and superior audio and video playback.

Intel® Wireless Display

This built-in visual feature allows you to wirelessly view your personal content, online TV programmes, films and videos on your home TV screen.

00912012015Clock Speed

Just like a stopwatch, clock speed measures how fast your processor performs one activity cycle. A faster clock speed enables your computer to execute instructions more quickly, benefitting most applications from spreadsheets to video editing and more. Clock speed rates are shown in gigahertz (GHz). (See GHz)

Gigahertz (GHz)

A unit to measurement commonly used to express processor speed, also referred to as clock speed. 1 Gigahertz (GHz) = 1 billion cycles per second. A higher number used to mean a faster processor, but advances in technology have made chips more efficient. For this reason it’s not advisable to compare performance based on GHz or clock speed alone. (See Clock Speed)

nm (nanometre)

A unit of measure, a nanometre (nm) is one-billionth of a metre. The transistors on Intel’s latest processors are just 32nm wide, with older models at 45nm and 65nm. The smaller size allows transistors to be packed more densely, leak less energy, produce less heat and switch faster, so processors run faster, use less power and are more energy-efficient.

Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology

Available on selected Intel® processors, Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology makes more efficient use of your processor so you can run demanding applications while maintaining system responsiveness. With this technology, multimedia enthusiasts can create, edit and encode heavy graphics files while running other applications, without losing performance.

Cores and Threads01012012015

Cores and threads go hand-in-hand. Multi-core processors are single chips that contain two or more distinct processors or execution cores in the same integrated circuit. Multi-threading allows each core to work on two tasks at once, letting you do more things at the same time for faster results.

Built-In Visuals

A group of technology features designed to enhance the visual experience delivered by the Intel® Core™ processors. Built-in visual features include Intel® Quick Sync Video, Intel® HD Graphics, Intel® Clear Video Technology and Intel® InTru™ 3D Technology.

Discrete Graphics

This graphics component comes as an additional graphics card. While ideal for high-end 3D designers and video editors, it doesn’t add much performance for most business users. It’s important to note that only more powerful processors can make full use of discrete graphics.

Intel® Smart Cache

A cache is a fast storage area where the processor keeps frequently accessed data. Intel® Smart Cache maximises this data storage. It allows each processor core to utilise up to 100% of the space and pull data faster, improving overall performance for rich media applications and games.

Courtesy: INTEL INDIA

Quantum optical hard drive breakthrough

This image shows quantum information being written on to the nuclear spins of a europium ion. Credit: Solid State Spectroscopy Group, ANU
This image shows quantum information being written on to the nuclear spins of a europium ion.
Credit: Solid State Spectroscopy Group, ANU

Scientists developing a prototype quantum hard drive have improved storage time by a factor of more than 100.

The team’s record storage time of six hours is a major step towards a secure worldwide data encryption network based on quantum information, which could be used for banking transactions and personal emails.

“We believe it will soon be possible to distribute quantum information between any two points on the globe,” said lead author Manjin Zhong, from the Research School of Physics and Engineering (RSPE) at The Australian National University (ANU).

“Quantum states are very fragile and normally collapse in milliseconds. Our long storage times have the potential to revolutionise the transmission of quantum information.”

Quantum information promises unbreakable encryption because quantum particles such as photons of light can be created in a way that intrinsically links them. Interactions with either of these entangled particles affect the other, no matter how far they are separated.

The team of physicists at ANU and the University of Otago stored quantum information in atoms of the rare earth element europium embedded in a crystal.

Their solid-state technique is a promising alternative to using laser beams in optical fibres, an approach which is currently used to create quantum networks around 100 kilometres long.

“Our storage times are now so long that it means people need to rethink what is the best way to distribute quantum data,” Ms Zhong said.

“Even transporting our crystals at pedestrian speeds we have less loss than laser systems for a given distance.”

“We can now imagine storing entangled light in separate crystals and then transporting them to different parts of the network thousands of kilometres apart. So, we are thinking of our crystals as portable optical hard drives for quantum entanglement.”

After writing a quantum state onto the nuclear spin of the europium using laser light, the team subjected the crystal to a combination of a fixed and oscillating magnetic fields to preserve the fragile quantum information.

“The two fields isolate the europium spins and prevent the quantum information leaking away,” said Dr Jevon Longdell of the University of Otago.

The ANU group is also excited about the fundamental tests of quantum mechanics that a quantum optical hard drive will enable.

“We have never before had the possibility to explore quantum entanglement over such long distances,” said Associate Professor Matthew Sellars, leader of the research team.

“We should always be looking to test whether our theories match up with reality. Maybe in this new regime our theory of quantum mechanics breaks.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Australian National University.Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Manjin Zhong, Morgan P. Hedges, Rose L. Ahlefeldt, John G. Bartholomew, Sarah E. Beavan, Sven M. Wittig, Jevon J. Longdell, Matthew J. Sellars. Optically addressable nuclear spins in a solid with a six-hour coherence time. Nature, 2015; 517 (7533): 177 DOI: 10.1038/nature14025

iPhone 6 Review: The Most Appealing iPhone Ever

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]pple finally gave the iPhone a much-needed rethink, and the result is a product that is more like its competition than ever before, but also stands out just as well, if not better, in a seriously overcrowded market. The big talking point is its screen size – months of leaks told us nearly everything we needed to know long before the actual launch happened – but there’s also plenty more to explore. As always, Apple has managed to deliver more power, better aesthetics, improved cameras, and all-new software.

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The iPhone 6 shares a lot with its larger sibling, the iPhone 6 Plus. They’re obviously designed to look similar, butApple has also made sure they’re very similar to use. The iPhone 6 is still just as much of a premium device as ever; not a lower-end version of a new flagship. A lot of what we’ve said in that exhaustive review of the 6 Plus will apply to the iPhone 6 as well.

Apple’s unique position lets it control and tightly integrate the hardware and software experiences of its products. We see all of this and more in this year’s new iPhones.

Look and feel
Gone are the flat edges and sharp angles of the iPhone 5s. The iPhone 6 feels smooth and slick, with a lovely dark glass front that looks like a pool of ink. The glass is raised above its rim and is curved at the edges so that it meets the metal in a smooth curve. It seems as though the glass could shatter very easily if this phone is dropped and lands on a corner, which is just one of many reasons to invest in a case of some sort.

Another good reason is that the rear of the iPhone 6 is one of the least attractive designs we’ve ever seen coming out of Apple. The plastic antenna lines intersecting the metal body are just too prominent. There’s a bunch of regulatory text and logos which we wish could have been less prominent, and then of course there’s the infamous camera bulge. The little nubbin really does stick out prominently, and we couldn’t help fidgeting with it when holding the iPhone 6 in our hands.

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The top is blank, because the power button has now been moved to the upper right side, just above the Nano-SIM card tray. This will be disconcerting for long-time iPhone users. The move was probably not necessary, given this phone’s still-manageable size, but it keeps things consistent with the design of the iPhone 6 Plus. The ringer mute switch and volume buttons are on the left edge per usual, and the Lightning port and headset socket are on the bottom. We cannot overstate the quality of Apple’s fabrication and machining processes; all the buttons have just the right feel, and even the charger’s Lightning connector slips into its port with a satisfying thunk.

This is a very satisfying phone to hold and to use. We didn’t think Apple needed to make its iPhones any slimmer, but we really like the iPhone 6 when we hold it in our hands. The weight and balance are also just right, so we’re glad Apple finally embraced the idea of producing a bigger phone.

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Specifications
The iPhone 6 uses Apple’s new A8 processor, designed in-house but based on the industry-standard ARM architecture. There’s a separate co-processor called the M8 for sensor input, which helps save battery life by allowing the A8 to go to sleep while physical activity is constantly detected and processed in the background.

The screen is of course larger than those on the iPhone 5 generation models but still a lot smaller than the one on the iPhone 6 Plus. The resolution isn’t a huge bump up from that of the iPhone 5 series, and the pixel density is exactly the same. We liked the crisp, bright display on the 6 Plus, and while the one on the iPhone 6 is just as good in terms of quality, it doesn’t feel very exciting. Competitors have long surpassed Apple in terms of resolution, and the difference between some of the current Android flagships and the iPhone 6 is definitely noticeable, if ultimately unimportant.

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There’s 1GB of RAM which seems stingy compared to Android devices today, though we didn’t find this to be much of a problem on the iPhone 6 Plus when we reviewed it. The fact that storage is not expandable is a constant frustration for us – iPhones are already expensive and it just hurts to have to pay a ridiculous amount over and above the starting price just to have enough space to actually use these devices to their full potential.

The relatively new high-speed Wi-Fi ac standard is supported, as is Bluetooth 4.0. LTE is supported on the Indian 2300MHz band and NFC is new to this iPhone generation, but only works with Apple Pay which isn’t available outside the USA yet.

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Software

A large part of the iPhone 6’s appeal lies in iOS – more specifically, iOS 8. Not all features work as well on older iPhones, so software alone is not a strong enough reason to upgrade from a device that’s less than three years old.

iOS 8 has lots of new features, big and small. Little things such as much-improved photo editing tools, Notification Centre widgets, tweaks in Safari and voice messages over iMessage all contribute to making the iPhone 6 a pleasure to use. App extensionsare usually subtle, but this feature represents one of the best new things about iOS, and developers will surely take better advantage of it over time. Custom keyboardswill be a game-changer for Apple, and some truly innovative apps have sprung up letting you do all kinds of things with messages. Improvements to mail handling and iTunes content management area also much appreciated.

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One of the most visible new iOS 8 features is the Health app. This is a little unintuitive to use – you can see an activity dashboard and entries for dozens of trackable metrics, but things only really take off when you download additional apps that use the Healthkit framework and populate all that information. The combination of Healthkit and the M8 coprocessor allow for some very detailed and impressive information gathering. There’s still a lot that could be improved. It’s very un-Apple to have so many things to track – things such as Molybdenum, Peripheral Perfusion Index and Selenium are not within the consciousness of the average user, but there are still ways to track all of them so it seems pointless to present them all right at the beginning.

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The Reachability shortcut, ie double-tapping the Home button to make the screen’s contents slide down towards your fingers, is pretty handy but you have to develop a habit of using it or you might forget it’s there. It’s going to take a long time for apps to be updated with the correct screen resolution and scaling factor, but those that have been optimised look great.

iPhone owners who also use a Mac and/or an iPad might also want to try out the new Continuity features. Some have limited appeal, such as being able to make voice calls from a Mac through an iPhone, whereas the ability to begin composing an email on one device and then just continue from anywhere on another could really improve the way people work.

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Camera
The rear camera is still 8 megapixels, but the lens and sensor have been improved to allow for better low-light shots and colour accuracy. Videos can now be taken with continuous autofocus and improved stabilisation. 120fps slow-motion, which was introduced with the iPhone 5s now coexists with 240fps slow-motion, and there’s a new time-lapse mode in iOS 8 that older phones can also use.

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Apple’s camera app is mostly barebones – there are no fancy special effects or multi-page menus of options. The new capabilities of the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 are thus easy to discover, but it’s beginning to feel as though Apple can’t decide whether to offer more options or keep its interface minimalist.

4K video recording is missing, and the iPhone 6 falls behind its competitors in this regard. Even if you don’t plan on shooting all your videos at such a high resolution, it’s nice to have the option to do so. The cap on storage space would also make it very difficult to store 4K videos.

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We were very happy with the iPhone 6’s camera. Images taken during the day were crisp with accurate colours and superb levels of detail. Closeups were brilliant, and even distant objects were captured very well. Low-light performance was also admirable – the iPhone 6 works very well indoors as well as outdoors, even with minimal artificial or ambient lighting. We were constantly surprised by how well shots came out – there was noticeable noise but details were still well defined when seen at reduced size on a screen. Photos came out looking as though they had been taken in far better light.

Performance
Once again, we’re reminded that numbers and acronyms on a specifications sheet can’t always be used to judge a device. The dual-core Apple A8 processor and its integrated graphics capabilities are more than capable of holding their own against quad- and octa-core products from leading competitors.

We had no problems with the iPhone 6, whether we were playing heavy games, recording high-speed video, multitasking, or just relaxing while browsing the Web. The phone is super-responsive, and unique features such as Apple’s Touch ID sensor just make the whole experience of using an iPhone butter-smooth. There are of course things that aren’t as flexible or functional as they are in Android, but overall, the iOS platform is a joy to use.

Benchmark scores were very, very good. Largely due to the fact that the powerful A8 processor doesn’t have to push itself to drive a very high-res screen, we managed to achieve some superb scores in graphics-intensive benchmarks. GFXBench produced a record high of 50.1fps, while 3DMark Ice Storm was maxed out in the regular and Extreme modes, but posted a score of 17,302 in the Unlimited mode. HD videos also played without a hitch.

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AnTuTu for iOS gave us a phenomenal score of 49,319 points which is practically the same as the 49,353 points the iPhone 6 Plus managed. The test still detects a resolution of 640×1136 though, which explains the similar scores and means they aren’t representative of either device at its native resolution.

Battery life was pretty good, but we were hoping for spectacular. Our video loop test ran for 7 hours, 40 minutes. This is a clear point in favour of the much larger iPhone 6 Plus. Call quality was superb, but we do with Apple could work on better speakers for its iPhones – the single mono speaker on the bottom isn’t very loud or rich, and competitors do much better.

Verdict
As we stated in our review of the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple’s two new devices are very similar in terms of the experience they deliver, with only the screen size setting them apart. Thus, users can choose the screen size (and physical size) that suits them better, without feeling as though they’ve compromised by picking a lesser device either way. In the Android world, larger phones tend to hog all the best features, and “mini” versions are almost always cut down.

That said, the iPhone 6’s relatively smaller body means that the battery is smaller, and the camera has to make do without optical image stabilisation. On the other hand, each iPhone 6 model comes in at Rs. 9,000 less expensive than the equivalent iPhone 6 Plus. We think most people would be better off with a 64GB iPhone 6 than a 16GB iPhone 6 Plus at the same price.

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Specifications shouldn’t fool you into thinking this phone is any less powerful than an Android flagship. If you’ve been waiting for a reason to ditch an old phone and jump onto the Apple bandwagon, the iPhone 6 is one of the best reasons to do so. If you’re thinking of upgrading from an iPhone 4S or earlier, you’ll absolutely love what the iPhone 6 has to offer. Naturally, the difference won’t be as stark for iPhone 5 or 5s owners running iOS 8, and they can easily stick with their current phones for another year or so unless they really feel like splurging.

If you aren’t sure whether you want to choose Android or an iPhone, there are quite a few options to choose from. This generation’s flagships, the Sony Xperia Z3, Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One (M8) and LG G3 are all larger but most of them are quite a bit less expensive and also offer value in the form of features such as expandable storage and 4K video recording.

One final note: when reviewing new flagship phones, we usually consider whether their own predecessors offer good value, considering how prices tend to fall. Amazingly, the iPhone 5s (16GB) is still officially sold for Rs. 53,500 which is the same price as the iPhone 6! If you can find a 5s in retail for less than Rs. 40,000 today, it’s still a great deal. An official 5s price cut is long overdue, at which point the 32GB model will be cheaper than the 16GB iPhone 6 – this will be a very tempting option indeed.

Courtesy: NDTV

Mars, too, has macro-weather: But trickier than on Earth

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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]eather, which changes day-to-day due to constant fluctuations in the atmosphere, and climate, which varies over decades, are familiar. More recently, a third regime, called “macroweather,” has been used to describe the relatively stable regime between weather and climate.

A new study by researchers at McGill University and UCL finds that this same three-part pattern applies to atmospheric conditions on Mars. The results, published in Geophysical Research Letters, also show that the sun plays a major role in determining macroweather.

The research promises to advance scientists’ understanding of the dynamics of Earth’s own atmosphere — and could provide insights into the weather of Venus, Saturn’s moon Titan, and possibly the gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

The scientists chose to study Mars for its wealth of data with which to test their theory that a transitional “macroweather” regime exists on other planets. They used information collected from Viking — a Mars lander mission during the 1970s and 1980s — and more recent data from a satellite orbiting Mars.

By taking into account how the sun heats Mars, as well as the thickness of the planet’s atmosphere, the scientists predicted that Martian temperature and wind would fluctuate similarly to Earth’s — but that the transition from weather to macroweather would take place over 1.8 Martian days (about two Earth days), compared with a week to 10 days on Earth.

“Our analysis of the data from Mars confirmed this prediction quite accurately,” said Shaun Lovejoy, a physics professor at McGill University in Montreal and lead author of the paper. “This adds to evidence, from studies of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, that the sun plays a central role in shaping the transition from short-term weather fluctuations to macroweather.” The findings also indicate that weather on Mars can be predicted with some skill up to only two days in advance, compared to Earth’s 10 days.

Co-author Professor Jan-Peter Muller from the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, said: “We’re going to have a very hard time predicting the weather on Mars beyond two days given what we have found in weather records there, which could prove tricky for the European lander and rover!”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by McGill University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Shaun Lovejoy, J.-P. Muller, J. P. Boisvert. On Mars too expect macroweather.Geophysical Research Letters, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/2014GL061861

Secrets of Mars’ birth revealed from unique meteorite

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap] Florida State University scientist has uncovered what may be the first recognized example of ancient Martian crust.

The work of Munir Humayun — a professor in FSU’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science and a researcher at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) — is based on an analysis of a 4.4 billion-year-old Martian meteorite that was unearthed by Bedouin tribesmen in the Sahara desert. The rock (NWA 7533) may be the first recognized sample of ancient Martian crust and holds a wealth of information about the origin and age of the Red Planet’s crust.

Humayun’s groundbreaking discoveries about the crust and what it reveals about the Red Planet’s origins will be published in the journal Nature.

In order to detect minute amounts of chemicals in this meteorite, Humayun and his collaborators performed complex analysis on the meteorite using an array of highly sophisticated mass spectrometers in the MagLab’s geochemistry department. High concentrations of trace metals such as iridium, an element that indicates meteoritic bombardment, showed that this meteorite came from the elusive cratered area of Mars’ southern highlands.

“This cratered terrain has been long thought to hold the keys to Mars’ birth and early childhood,” Humayun said.

While craters cover more than half of Mars, this is the first meteoric sample to come from this area and the first time researchers are able to understand Mars’ early crustal growth.

Using the chemical information found in pieces of soil contained in the meteorite, the researchers were able to calculate the thickness of Mars’ crust. Their calculation aligned with estimates from independent spacecraft measurements and confirms that Mars did not experience a giant impact that melted the entire planet in its early history.

Using a powerful microprobe at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, the team dated special crystals within the meteorite — called zircons — at an astounding 4.4 billion years old.

“This date is about 100 million years after the first dust condensed in the solar system,” Humayun said. “We now know that Mars had a crust within the first 100 million years of the start of planet building, and that Mars’ crust formed concurrently with the oldest crusts on Earth and the Moon.”

Humayun and his collaborators hypothesize that these trailblazing discoveries are just the tip of the iceberg of what continued research on this unique meteorite will uncover. Further studies may reveal more clues about the impact history of Mars, the nature of Martian zircons and the makeup of the earliest sediments on the Red Planet.

Humayun’s international team of collaborators include curator of meteorites Brigitte Zanda with the National Museum of Natural History (the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle) in Paris; A. Nemchin, M. Grange and A. Kennedy with Curtin University’s Department of Applied Geology in Perth, Australia; and scientists R.H. Hewins, J.P. Lorand, C. Göpel, C. Fieni, S. Pont and D. Deldicque.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Florida State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. Humayun, A. Nemchin, B. Zanda, R. H. Hewins, M. Grange, A. Kennedy, J.-P. Lorand, C. Göpel, C. Fieni, S. Pont, D. Deldicque. Origin and age of the earliest Martian crust from meteorite NWA 7533. Nature, 2013; DOI:10.1038/nature12764

Understanding Wi-Fi Speeds

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Wi-Fi speeds are designated by letter, not by number. Unlike the easy to translate number-as-network-speed designation we find with Ethernet the Wi-Fi designations actually refer to the draft versions of the IEEE 802.11 networking standard that dictates the parameters of the Wi-Fi protocol.

802.11b was the first version widely adopted by consumers. 802.11b devices operate at a maximum transmission of 11 Mbit/s but the speed is highly dependent on signal strength and quality—realistically users should expect 1-5 Mbit/s. Devices using 802.11b suffer from interference from baby monitors, bluetooth devices, cordless phones, and other 2.4GHz band devices.

802.11g was the next major consumer upgrade and boosted the max transmission to 54 Mbit/s (realistically about 22 Mbit/s accounting for error correction and signal strength). 802.11g suffers from the same kind of 2.4GHz band interference that 802.11b does.

802.11n is a significant upgrade to the Wi-Fi standards—devices use multiple-input multiple-output antennas (MIMO) to operate on both the 2.4GHz and relatively empty 5GHz bands. 802.11n has a theoretical maximum of 300 Mbit/s but accounting for error correction and less than ideal conditions you can expect speeds in 100-150 Mbit/s range.

802.11ac is a huge upgrade that brings wider channels (80 or 160 MHz versus 40 MHz), more spatial streams (up to eight) and things like beamforming, which sorta send the waves directly to your device instead of bouncing all around, making things much faster. How much faster? There are some models that can do one gigabit per second. It’s extremely fast.

Like Ethernet, Wi-Fi speeds are limited by the weakest link in the direct network. If you have an 802.11n capable Wi-Fi router but your netbook only has an 802.11g capable Wi-Fi module you will max out at the 802.11g speeds. In addition to the speed limitations there is a very pressing reason for abandoning the oldest popular Wi-Fi protocol 802.11b. You must use the same level of encryption on every device in your network and the encryption schemes available to 802.11b devices are weak and have been compromised (WEP encryption, for example, can be compromised in a matter of minutes by a moderately skilled child). Upgrading your Wi-Fi router and wireless equipment allows you to upgrade your wireless encryption as well as enjoy faster speeds. If you haven’t done anything to secure your router now would be a good time to read our guide to locking down your Wi-Fi network against intrusion.

Also like Ethernet, upgrading to the maximum speed—in this case 802.11n—is best suited for people moving large files and streaming HD video. Upgrading to 802.11n will have a negligible impact on your web browsing speed but will have an enormous impact on your ability to wirelessly stream HD content around your home.