To This Issue.
Give your eyes a rest!
of the Week.
Cars are where it's at.
In The Nano-Fast Lane.
"Change the world
stuff" will affect almost everything!
Out of the Ether...
Readers explore human
knowledge, and machine friends.
Care In A Newly-XP World!
In The Intellectual Driver's Seat?
It's "us," right
"The Harrow Technology Report"
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computing] 'will be the fastest-growing market (for
processors) over the next couple of years.'"
"The mobile computing
market in general will continue to grow steadily, ... but
'really, vehicles represent the only platform with huge growth
April 11 News.com
It was only two issues ago when we found that Bell Labs
scientists had constructed working transistors 100 times
smaller than those in today's chips,
out of clusters of molecules (http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
Imagine -- we were talking about man-made things built
from "Clusters of molecules!"
But today, just one month later, readers Victor Panlilio
and others steer us to the truly startling news that these
same scientists have now created working transistors -- no
longer out of "clusters of molecules" -- but
out of "one-single-organic-molecule!"
(The entire "active channel" of the transistor is
composed of only one molecule - http://www.lucent.com/press/1101/011108.bla.html).
Small, And Cheap. And
Not only does this redefine "small," since ten
million of these transistors will fit onto the head of that
proverbial pin, but these transistors are also "cheap
to make" and can be "built" in ordinary
laboratories, without the hugely-expensive clean room
facilities necessary to make today's chips.
Note that the word "built" is in quotes, because
these transistors aren't "built" in the traditional
sense -- when Hendrik Schon and his team dip a
specially-prepared wafer into a solution of "conjugated
molecules," the single-molecule transistor forms itself!
According to Schon,
"Our experiment shows that
it is possible to realize transistor action in a single
molecule without sophisticated fabrication procedures."
But once we have such tiny, single-molecule transistors,
how do we "connect" them together, and to the
outside world? Can
we simply "wire them up" in the same way that
components on today's integrated circuits are "wired
Labs' Zhenan Bao explains,
"It is virtually
impossible to attach three electrodes to a microscopically
small molecule. We overcame this problem by letting the molecule find these
contacts, and attach itself to them; a process called
In the Nov. 8 SiliconValley.com (http://www.siliconvalley.com/docs/news/svfront/001866.htm),
Bell Labs VP Federico Capasso suggests that this may "become
the cornerstone of a new era," because aside from
packing FAR more computing power into tiny packages,
these single-molecule transistors may give rise to completely
new types of "smart material."
It's worthwhile noting that these single-molecule
transistors are not simply laboratory curiosities:
to prove that single-molecule transistors can actually
work together to perform more complex tasks, Schon's team has
already demonstrated them working in "inverter
circuits, with gain," according to the Nov. 8 Science
Not A Single, Tiny, "Flash In The Pan."
By the way, just in case we might be tempted to think that
this is an interesting advance, but one that might not pan out
(and so allow us to remain comfortable with "merely"
Moore's Law performance increases), it's important to realize
that this is just one of many diverse paths that researchers
are taking to change all the rules. For example, readers John Hock and Victor Panlilio point us
to other work, by Charles Lieber at Harvard, that
self-assembles tiny transistors in a very different manner (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/09/technology/09NANO.html
"Instead of carving
[transistors out of silicon], they build them up from
individual atoms. Out of a droplet of solvent saturated with
silicon or another semiconductor like gallium nitride, they
grow perfect, rod-shaped crystals less than a millionth of an
inch wide and several thousandths of an inch long.
A solution containing the
nanowires is squirted onto a silicon oxide wafer. A chemical
on the wafer guides the wires to the right place.
Each intersection, where one
nanowire crosses another, acts like a transistor, not much
different from the tens of millions of transistors in current
computer chips -- just much smaller...
The researchers have shown that
the nanowire transistors can be wired together to perform all
of the basic logic operations needed for computer
computations. To build dense circuitry, the researchers would
move the nanowires closer together. "Voilą," Dr.
Liber said. "You have a billion devices."
Similarly, Cees Dekker, at Delft University, has created
complex circuits out of transistors made of carbon nanotubes.
He says (http://www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20011004S0076),
"Molecular logic has been
one of the holy grails of nanotube research. Now we have done
Intrinsically, these circuits
will run anywhere from megahertz to terahertz speeds."
"[These nanomachines will be] the raw material for new
The point, of course, is that while one or more of these
nano-techniques might prove resistant to commercialization,
there are other approaches just waiting in the wings to take
us far, far beyond the course charted by Mr. Moore! (http://interactive.wsj.com/archive/retrieve.cgi?id=
Changing The World.
I suggest that this is "change the world" stuff,
even though devices made out of single-molecule transistors
won't show up in stores for this holiday season or for several
years thereafter -- you see, scientists can create and use
these tiny things, but they're not yet quite sure just how
they all work. But
that doesn't trouble me at all, since I rather suspect that
this reflects the learning curve when Bell Labs invented the
first, fingertip-sized transistor, 54 years ago.
As significant as the gains that nanotechnology promises
for "computing," it's important to view this
groundbreaking technology without traditional
for example, consider work in this field being done by the
National Cancer Institute's "Unconventional Innovations
are creating very tiny (20 billionths of a meter) chemical
"robots" that will seek out and destroy previously
inoperable brain tumors!
Brought to our attention by reader Kenneth LaCrosse, the
Sept. 28 SmallTimes (http://www.smalltimes.com/
how Raoul Kopelman and Martin Philbert at the University of
Michigan are creating "nanoparticles" that have a
magnetic core (so they show up on functional MRI scans), which
are housed within a biologically inert plastic shell.
These particles will circulate in the blood stream and
home in on cancer cells!
In this version, the nanoparticles don't deliver a
killing dose of poison to the tumor, but once they settle down
on the tumor, a surgical laser can target the particles, and
so zap the cancer cells surrounding them with minimal
A major benefit of this technique, which is expected to
begin clinical trials in three years, isn't necessarily to
search out and remove the main tumor, which can often be done
by conventional means. Instead, their intent is to provide a focused alternative to
the shotgun approach of chemotherapy and radiation treatments,
which are now used to kill individual cancer cells that have
metastasized to other areas of the body.
A second related research project is taking place at
Washington University, headed by Gregory Lanza and Sam
the nanoparticles seek out a protein generated by the special
capillaries that feed solid tumors.
When the nanoparticles brush up against these
capillaries, they release a chemotherapy payload right at the
tumor site to cut off its blood supply.
With this type of targeted action, the dosage of the
chemotherapy drug could be reduced by as much as 90%,
significantly reducing its negative effect on the rest of the
In a similar manner, these nanoparticles might also be used
to target blood clots that could lead to stroke, or to seek
out and destroy the plaque that narrows arteries and leads to
heart attacks, or...
How Far We've Come...
My, how far we've come in a half-century -- from single
transistors that I could hold and see and solder into a
circuit, to millions of them residing in an area the size of
the period at the end of this sentence.
And to machines that can target individual cells.
Indeed, how far we've come in just this past month!
And these incredible inventions, along with the ACCELERATING
SPEED at which they're being developed, are but the tip of
the virtual iceberg of technology's exponential curve!
We are, clearly, on the "E-ticket" ride of
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The Font Of Human Knowledge -- Prior to the invention
of the printing press, few people had access to books, and so
few people spent the time to develop the unnecessary skill of
reading. Gutenberg changed that (disturbing the monk economies in the
process), and suddenly literacy started to become important.
A few great libraries sprang up. Yet even
now, so many years later, most libraries store but an
infinitesimal fraction of "published" works, not to
mention the plethora of unpublished works.
The Internet, of course, has now changed all these rules, as
explored for us by reader David Sanders:
"It continuously amazes me
that we humans now have the capability to search, within mere
seconds, the percentage of human information that is publicly
available over the Internet.
It has become THE resource for me to find information
If you hadn't read or heard about it, Google has now
resurrected backups of USENET that go back to 1995, and are
searching for even more (http://groups.google.com/
Pretty soon that whole area of cultures and subcultures
will be catalogued for everyone to read. I can't even fathom how amazing that is, considering that
only 100 years ago a public library with a thousand texts was
pretty much the norm. It's
almost frightening to think where we will be at in 100 years
If you're a librarian, or anyone
else involved with the collection, storage, or dissemination
of information in any form, the Winds of Change are clearly
blowing through the stacks.
Trying to keep Pandora's Box closed will be exhausting,
and ultimately unsuccessful.
On the other hand, if you EMBRACE these changes...
Making Friends -- After reading our recent discussion
of how Sony and Toyota are putting the "emotion
engine" of Sony's Aibo pet robotic dog behind the wheel (http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
Richard Hart reminds us that "smart things" might
change things in ways we hadn't considered:
"Imagine how our life
might change if we needed to make friends with a new car
before we bought it!
An auto dealership might turn into a singles club where one
could enjoy the company of a few cars before choosing his or
her own special vehicle. Maybe this effort could be bypassed
if the mind of our old car could simply move with us to the
new one. Would the new car cost less if we brought our own
auto personality with us? Would the automobile personality
even want to leave the old, comfortable vehicle? What strange
directions our technology might take us...
And then again, how many nights
would we need to sleep over at a possible new house, in order
to see if the house was friendly enough, and if we were
compatible with the new house?"
And reader Jeff Coffield asks:
"What if your car is
stolen and taken on a high-speed chase, causing property
damage and loss of life, which traumatizes your car's
you then sue someone for "medical" fees for sending
your car to a psychiatrist?
Or would that be covered by your car insurance?"
And reader Dan Abbott reminds us
that the aging of the Baby Boom generation will present a
unique demand for "caring" machines; they will have
to interact with their charges in a far more "human"
manner than the computers we're used to:
"Aibo isn't important
because we can build an empathetic car, it's important because
we can build a much larger Aibo to take care of our growing
senior population (that's you n' me) with empathy and
emotion-like reactions. I understand Japan is full forward
with this concept; there just won't be enough of the young 'uns
to take reasonable care of all of us.
For example, if elderly care
facilities had several "Big Aibo's" that had an
ability to "learn" about each patient and do the
manual drudgery, the staff could do the important 'emotional
caring' part of nursing -- the part that gets cut out when
resources get thin.
Cars will always be 'Gee-whiz';
that's why we love them. But finding ways to use an
empathy/learning engine to help global society in a future of
diminished resources, will get us further than any car ever
Keep up the great work."
Hummm -- might we soon need new books on etiquette?
(After all, just what do you bring a prospective house
as a gift, or how much do you tip a robot valet?) How about weekly newspaper columnists offering help to
people having problems "dating" new smart things?
And could there be new opportunities for
psychotherapists, to help people who were rejected by a house
they had wished to buy...?
A cautionary tale, to save you from some XP-related
I began my XP upgrade project by running Microsoft's XP
Upgrade Advisor (http://www.microsoft.com/WINDOWSXP/home/
howtobuy/upgrading/advisor.asp), which dutifully
identified several pieces of hardware that wouldn't work
without new, XP-compatible drivers.
So I made the rounds of the various vendors' Web sites,
expecting XP drivers to be prominently displayed.
To my surprise, several relatively recent pieces of
hardware, including a wireless 802.11 network PCMCIA card and
a very nice scanner, both from prominent companies, did not
have XP drivers available.
And to make matters worse, the companies would not
commit that they will necessarily provide XP drivers for these
devices at all! I
do recognize that certain hardware designs might conceivably
preclude a device from working with XP, but I have to wonder
if it's more a matter of a vendor simply choosing not to put
the effort into providing upgraded drivers across their
product line, even for devices only one to two years old...
If I purchased a device during the past couple of
years, and the manufacturer leaves me high and XP-dry, I'm
unlikely to give them any future business.
In this same vein, if you're moving to XP, or if you even
think you MAY upgrade at some time in the future (and you
probably will, if not for XP's increased stability, then
because Microsoft will be phasing out support for older
versions of Windows, as described in the Nov. 15 LangaList -
you'll want to be very careful about what hardware you buy
from now on.
Which, I've found out, is not necessarily easy to do.
I was in a local office supply superstore yesterday
looking at new scanners, and I was surprised that none of the
descriptive cards indicated if the scanners on display were
supported by XP. When
I asked a salesperson, he had to crawl all over the boxes up
on shelves to see if XP was mentioned on the packaging -- and
in most cases it was not.
Although I would be tempted to assume (there's that
dangerous word) that contemporary products will work under XP,
that's clearly not necessarily the case.
If it doesn't say "XP" on the box, I won't
buy until I verify its XP status, by explicit model number,
with the manufacturer. (And
if I were a retailer who didn't want to annoy customers and
generate a lot of returns, I'd explicitly indicate XP status
in the showroom and on the Web site.)
Similarly, since I'm suddenly in the market for a
replacement wireless network card, I actually paid attention
to an online add that offered a card for $79 (I guess ads do
work, under the right circumstances). Unfortunately, nowhere in the information provided, nor
throughout the order process, did it indicate which operating
systems it would work with!
Nor, when I went to the manufacturer's Web site, was
there an explicit notice of which of their products worked
with XP. (Only
after I spent time on the phone with their pre-sales support
folks, did I find out why this card was being sold so
inexpensively -- it does not, and will not, support XP.)
So the moral of this story is that even though XP is
"out," the many things you might want to buy to work
with it -- won't, necessarily.
Don't "assume" they will, but check
My initial subjective experience with XP is very positive,
even though it would not succeed with an in-place upgrade and
I had to wipe the disk and begin anew.
And if, as it seems likely to do, XP does resolve the
frustrating instabilities of W98, it will have been well worth
the hassles and the unexpected replacement of some
like Santa, as I go about my upgrade process, I will be
"making a list and checking it twice" so that I
remember which companies support their recent products in a
newly-XP world, and which ones do not.
And I'll be buying accordingly in the future...
Finally, it may not be "us" at the top of the
heap for long, according to famed physicist Stephen Hawking in
a recent interview in Focus magazine (a shortened version of
the original article is at http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,300006902,00.html).
Brought to our attention by reader Victor Panlilio,
Hawking suggests that we should consider improving ourselves
through DNA modifications, in the same manner that we
continuously improve our computers!
"...we should follow this
road if we want biological systems to remain superior to
In contrast with our intellect,
computers double their performance every 18 months.
So the danger is real that they could develop
intelligence and take over the world."
Could such a Grade B science fiction movie plot actually
come to pass? I'm
not yet convinced, but it is worth noting the caliber of
people who are suggesting similar things, such as Hawking, and
National Medal of Technology winner Ray Kurzweil (http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/
As Hawking pointed out, biological systems generally improve
in a slow and linear manner, while we continue to improve the
capabilities of our machines exponentially.
And as we've learned from the past thirty-five years of
semiconductor improvements, exponential growth is NEVER something
So, again -- Don't Blink!