Hands on: Labmeeting’s social networking for researchers

Social networking is arguably one of the biggest Internet development over the past few years. From sites purely for fun like MySpace and Facebook to career networking like LinkedIn, new social networking operations are springing up to serve smaller discrete communities. One of the latest of these is Labmeeting, designed specifically for scientists. HangZhou Night Net

The site describes itself as being there to "help with those things that make doing science needlessly difficult," such as finding collaborators or competitors, rescheduling meetings, and sharing publications and protocols. Personally, I've not found any of those things needlessly difficult, but maybe that's just me.

You'll need an academic e-mail address to register, and the site is only really useful to those of us in life sciences; physicists, social scientists, et al need not apply.

The site lets you search for colleagues in the "search for people" text box. Trial and error revealed that some keywords also work in this box—by entering the names of my current and former institutions I was able to find a few people from both (although no one that I know), but it might behoove the site to disambiguate this a little.

The Papers section of Labmeeting

It feels like it could still do with some work in other areas. Although I was able to search for publications in PubMed, and eventually upload a file, the endnote library importer wasn’t working at the time of writing. If a publication you find has an author with the same lastname and first initial as you, Labmeeting allows you to identify yourself as one of the authors, and the paper is uploaded to your profile.

Finally there are tools that allow you to share documents and calendars with other lab members, but since there were only five individuals from my institution (including me) and none of them are from my lab, I was unable to put this to the test. While it's a nice idea, I'm a little dubious that it will really see widespread adoption. Firstly, you would need to have a Principal Investigator (PI) that knew about it, and then made sure everyone in the lab signed up; in reality, it's a lot easier to just e-mail everyone.

The online paper management seems more useful, although as a Mac user I'm an avid supporter of Papers, which might not store things online but is the best way to manage a literature collection I’ve come across.

Assuming Labmeeting can do a good job of making itself known to the scientific community, it might become more widespread. TechCrunch notes that the site has plans to offer its services to drug companies, biotechs and other industry types, for which it will charge a fee—although presumably only if they can make a case for being better than an intranet. There is stiff competition out there though, with sites like Nature Networks, SciLink, Epernicus, and even old timers like Web of Sscience. As with much else in science, peer review will make or break them.

NSF’s Internet GENI testbed gets money, Internet2 bandwidth

Last spring, the National Science Foundation announced the launch of a project, termed GENI, designed to be a testbed for the academic community. After several years of planning, the NSF awarded a contract to BBN Technologies (creator of ARPANET), which would oversee the development of a sandbox for computer science researchers to test next-generation networking technology and software. This past week has seen two big announcements from BBN: a first round of grants and lots of dedicated bandwidth. HangZhou Night Net

First, the money. Last week, BBN announced that the NSF had sprung a grant worth $12 million spread over three years. That money will be divided up among as many as 29 institutions, both academic and industrial, that have been chosen through a peer-reviewed application process. The grants will fund what BBN is terming "Spiral 1," a set of prototypes for the infrastructure of the GENI experimental network. Based on earlier planning announcements, these projects will likely focus on the creation of a programmable network infrastructure that's flexible enough to handle the experimental work that will follow.

All of that work would be in vain if there were no place to run the traffic, but the news for BBN is good here, too. Internet2, which upped its inter-institutional bandwidth to 100Gbps last year, announced an agreement with BBN in which 10Gbps would be set aside for use on GENI. Internet2 has always separated a fraction of its capacity for use in network research; it's not clear whether this represents an additional commitment to research, or whether the GENI work will subsume any earlier projects pursued by the group.

The science community has seen a number of major projects that were funded for part of the development phase, and then cut in the face of budget constraints. GENI appears to be safely navigating the funding process so far, which is good news for those who hope to see an improvements in both network infrastructure and the applications that run on it.

As we noted in our report on academic networking, however, it's important not to confuse these research networks with the Internet we'll be using a decade from now; the needs and goals are quite distinct. Unfortunately, the Associated Press appears not to have gotten that memo, as they termed the work "a massive project to redesign and rebuild the Internet from scratch," terminology they appear to have picked up from the title of a 2005 talk (PDF) that dates from when GENI was still in the planning phases.

Analysis: why Apple won’t drop Intel chipsets any time soon

A recent rumor making the rounds suggests that Apple will be switching from Intel chipsets for its products to using chipsets made by one of Intel's competitor, either AMD or VIA. I'm skeptical, but the rumor has gotten enough traction that it's worth taking a closer look at it. HangZhou Night Net

If Apple will use non-Intel chipsets, then the first question that must be answered is, where? In desktops, laptops, or both? Let's take the desktop chipset possibility first.

The only desktop chipset replacement for Intel that I realistically could see Apple using, given what I know of the company and its current preference for all things CUDA (look for some GrandCentral coverage before long) is an NVIDIA part, and the only reason I could see them using NVIDIA is to roll out a tower with dual-GPU capabilities. (Intel's Bloomfield will do SLI with NVIDIA GPUs, but probably not as well as comparable NVIDIA products.)

The NVIDIA SLI scenario is mildly plausible, given how seriously Apple takes data parallelism. The company has long had internal "GPGPU" efforts aimed at providing internal developers with ways to use the GPU to speed up their apps, and Snow Leopard will represent a leap forward in Apple's OS-level support for multicore and data-parallel coprocessors. So a Snow Leopard plus NVIDIA SLI combo could be a match made in media processing heaven.

The problem with this theory, however, is that Snow Leopard is scheduled to arrive sometime in the summer of 2009, which is also when Intel's Larrabee is set to launch. And I've heard from a source that I trust that Apple will use Larrabee; this makes sense, because Larrabee, as a many-core x86 multiprocessor, can be exploited directly by GrandCentral's cooperative multitasking capabilities.

But the real development that makes this chipset rumor implausible to me is Nehalem. Intel's Nehalem is due out at the end of this year, and if NVIDIA (or any other chipset maker) has a license for Intel's new QuickPath interconnect I'm not aware of it. So Apple would have to switch right back to Intel chipsets for their upcoming Nehalem towers. And indeed, those towers could very well be the mysterious margin-reducing products that Apple referred to on their conference call.

To turn our attention to mobiles, I can't think of a good reason for Apple to move away from Intel's mobile platform. The only possible exception here would be the MacBook Air, where Apple might like to pair Intel's custom-packaged Core 2 Duo with a more capable integrated graphics processor than what Intel's chipsets provide. I'm not sure if this is feasible, though, given that both the CPU and the chipset in the Air have special, reduced-footprint packages. NVIDIA would have to match this packaging effort, and that's unlikely.

Ultimately, I remain unconvinced by this latest round of speculation. Given what I know of Apple and Intel, and the two companies' software and hardware roadmaps, I'd expect them to get even cozier over the next year or two, not grow further apart.

New York Bar exam policy objects to Macs, Boot Camp

Macs may be enjoying new inroads and great sales records as of late, but there's one place you definitely won't find one of Apple's computers yet: The New York State Bar Examination. HangZhou Night Net

As our friends at TUAW have pointed out, April Dembosky at the New York Times reports that thousands of recent law school graduates are deep within the throes of their bar exam in New York. As recent as 2003, portions of the exam were opened to being completed on a notebook computer, though limited seating was offered only on a lottery basis. Last summer was the first time anyone with their own notebook could bring one in, though the board has a strict "can't blame it on the dog" policy when it comes to technology:

Technical difficulties may include hardware or software malfunctions, data saving or retrieval problems, operator errors, upload or download problems, or the loss of electrical power at the examination facility. In the event any technical difficulties occur during the bar examination, you must handwrite your essay answers in the answer books provided and no additional time may be allowed. If you choose to continue to use your computer to write your essay answers after experiencing technical difficulties, or when you have been instructed not to do so, you do so at your own risk.

To make matters worse for Mac users—even those who opt to set up Boot Camp and install Windows for the Microsoft-dominated law industry—the board's policy is just as strict on thinking different for the exam:

We do not support Apple products in any form including Intel-based laptops running Boot Camp — no exceptions.

The exam software uses various methods to lock out all other apps for the duration of the test to prevent Wikipedia from answering too many of the questions. Still, while the software is designed exclusively for Windows, the New York State Board of Law Examiners appear to be spooked out of their leather seats at the very notion of Apple hardware, despite the fact that some Macs run Windows just as well better than most PCs.

Judging from the rest of Dembosky's report, though, it sounds like the Windows software needs quite a bit of help before Mac-slinging law students can begin opining for a compatible version. Horror stories of software gone awry and nuking test answers during and after the exam have most students spooked, as only half of this summer's 12,000 candidates opted to forgo pen and paper.

Lord British wants to launch your DNA into space

Tabula Rasa has had some cool promotions. Not only did NCsoft send a number of lucky people on a Zero G flight, but now Richard Garriott is willing to digitize a select number of gamers' DNA and place it in a time capsule (dubbed the "Immortality Drive") that will be stored on the International Space Station when Lord British visits it in October. HangZhou Night Net

This project, dubbed "Operation Immortality," is Garriott's way of "saving" the human race by creating an archive of humanity's greatest moments, as well as giving gamers the opportunity to become a part of history… so long as they play Tabula Rasa. Players who register for the contest will be eligible to have their DNA sequenced and digitized, the theory being that if something awful happens to the human race, this archived genetic code could be used to help resurrect humankind. Anyone can go onto Operation Immortality's website and vote on what humanity's greatest moments are, and anyone with an active Tabula Rasa account will have their characters placed on the Immortality Drive, too. "This is your chance to leave your mark," said Garriott. "While everyone can participate in the polls… Tabula Rasa players will be the only gamers in the universe who can say that a piece of them is in space, since we're sending their in-game alter-egos, and for some, their DNA, to space with me."

Creating a "save game" for humanity is certainly a novel way of promoting the game, and it's definitely a neat way to involve people from around the world in creating a time capsule. The idea of voting on humanity's greatest achievements is definitely a nice touch, too, but I'm not entirely sure that aliens who find the capsule in a few thousand years are really going to be concerned about what our favorite movies and TV shows were….

Yahoo relents, gives coupons, refunds to music DRM captives

Yahoo is trying to make the best of a potentially ugly situation that would leave many of its customers stuck between a rock and a hard place come September 30. The company, which announced last week that it was shutting down the defunct Yahoo! Music Store's DRM authentication servers, now plans to offer coupons to users so that they can purchase their songs again through Yahoo's new music partner, Rhapsody. HangZhou Night Net

Previously, Yahoo had been selling both an unlimited subscription service and individual music purchases, all under DRM. Yahoo has been a longtime foe of DRM, however, which is why it came as no surprise when rumors began to spread in April that Yahoo might open its own DRM-free music store. That ended up not being true, though, and Yahoo inked a deal with Rhapsody to transfer all of its subscription customers over to Rhapsody's unlimited subscription service. In June, Rhapsody launched its own DRM-free MP3 store, so in a way, Yahoo's plans eventually became realized—just not through its own brand name.

In the meantime, Yahoo was faced with deciding what to do with its license servers, and decided that, if it was leaving the music biz, it might as well finish the job. Last week, the company said that it would be taking its DRM license key servers offline at the end of September. This meant that those who had purchased individual Yahoo tracks with DRM would no longer be able to authenticate it on any new machines in the future. They'd either have to commit now or risk losing their music for good. Oh, and they could go the lame route recommended by Yahoo and burn their music to CD, only to rip it back to the computer, too.

If this all sounds familiar, it's because the same thing happened earlier this year with MSN Music. Both events have served as a stark reminder of the risks associated with buying DRMed media—content providers and DRM creators can flip the switch on their authentication servers at any time, leaving you without your legally-purchased music and videos. Of course, Microsoft has since relented, and now plans to keep the DRM authorization servers up and running through 2011.

Yahoo must have decided that the cost of running the DRM servers for longer than a couple of months wasn't worth it, and that it would rather just take care of the "small number" of users who had issues with the decision. Most users will receive credit at Rhapsody's DRM-free store so that they can repurchase their music at no cost, although refunds will also be offered to those who have "serious problems with this arrangement," Yahoo said on its FAQ page about the Rhapsody migration.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which had been hounding both Microsoft and Yahoo to fix the DRM mess, applauded Yahoo's decision. "Yahoo's decision sets a good precedent for when this problem inevitably arises again," the group wrote on its website. "Vendors that sold DRM-crippled music must either continue supporting tech that no one likes—as MSN Music chose to do—or take Yahoo's path and fairly compensate consumers with refunds. It's the right thing to do."

Scrabulous goes for bonus points, relaunches as Wordscraper

When the creators of a popular Facebook Scrabble knockoff disregarded notices from Hasbro, the game's US copyright holders, they eventually were hit with a lawsuit demanding that the game be taken down. Clearly upset over Hasbro's move, hackers attacked the officially sanctioned Scrabble game on Facebook, but now the imitation version is back to test the boundaries of the board game maker's copyright. HangZhou Night Net

Scrabulous was taken down this week (reportedly by its creators and not Facebook), but yesterday, hackers attacked the official Scrabble version and took it down for most of the day, frustrating Scrabulous refugees. There's no word on whether the hackers were just upset users or a hit squad, but the Scrabble knockoff has now risen from the ashes (via Pulse 2.0) as Wordscraper, a Scrabble clone that could be just different enough to avoid Hasbro's wrath… maybe.

At its peak, Scrabulous had over 500,000 daily active users on Facebook. Official versions launched for US, Canada and international users a few weeks ago before Hasbro's lawsuit, and their combined active user count has risen to about 77,500 at publication.

Already, Wordscraper has over 3,500 daily active users, and its creators have been careful not to repeat their previous mistakes like linking Wikipedia's definition of Scrabble in their documentation. The defining aspect of Scrabulous' Wordscraper's return, however, is that it contains a new minigame and utilizes a slightly different design and color pattern that no longer directly rips off Scrabble's classic presentation.

Hasbro's copyright for Scrabble covers only implementations of the game, not the general concept of lining up letters to form words and scoring points based on the letters used and where they are on the board. Wordscraper's seemingly minimal changes may be just enough to keep it from stepping on Scrabble's toes. Considering its previously massive user base, the creators could once again enjoy steady revenues if Wordscraper can crawl its way anywhere near to what Scrabulous enjoyed.

With the official Scrabble versions now appearing at the top of a Facebook search, though, Hasbro probably won't have to lose much sleep over Wordscraper.

Review: Grimm: A Boy Learns What Fear Is (PC)

If one were to take the time and read some of the original Grimm's Tales, you'd realize that… well, they're grim. Themes like abuse, murder, betrayal, and cannibalism are just a sampling of the darker elements that make regular appearances in the stories' original versions, though they've often been toned down quite a bit. American McGee's Grimm seems intent on bringing the stories back to their darker roots, though, starting with A Boy Learns What Fear Is. A little over a month ago, Ben got to check out a near-final build of the game, and while things aren't immensely different from then, they seem a little more polished. HangZhou Night Net

Grimm, an evil little troll, hates how fairy tales are so joyful and decides to make them the little gems of horror that he thinks they should be. Each episode starts out with a puppet show telling the mainstream version of the Grimm Tale in question, after which Grimm himself goes through the story and changes things for the worse. After he has gone through the whole tale, a darker version of the puppet show is put on, this time with an ending far less joyful. Each of these revised fairy tales take roughly an hour to complete and will be released at a rate of one a week. Playing through A Boy Learns What Fear Is, it's hard not to be reminded of Katamari Damacy; instead of rolling around a ball of stuff, Grimm spreads a kind of spiritual pollution throughout each level.

At the beginning of each level, players start off with a basic "darkness" level that they increase by spreading darkness throughout the realm. Spreading this spiritual pollution causes the world to become twisted and icky, such as the playground that gradually turns into a graveyard. There are two ways to spread darkness: it spreads in a radius around Grimm as he runs about, but he can also perform a move knows as the "butt stomp" which causes an increased burst of darkness to radiate out. Certain roadblocks stand in the way, and they, in turn, can only be removed after Grimm's nastiness level reaches a certain point. Initially, there are characters who will undo Grimm's corruption of their environment, so the first few minutes of each new area are spent in a frantic race to actually create enough darkness in order to overpower these do-gooders and convert them to the darker side of things.

Even though this concept sounds potentially grotesque, it's nicely balanced out by the game's puppet-like graphics. As a result, the changes to the story's world come across as hysterical and strange rather than horrifying and grotesque. Combine this with the fact that the dialogue and voice acting (mostly provided by industry veteran Roger Jackson) are goofy and amazing, and the overall feel of the game never veers outside of comedic waters.

The frustrating thing is that it's nearly impossible to actually reach the highest darkness level. After three play-throughs of A Boy Learns What Fear Is, I came close to the maximum rank by running about and performing Grimm's butt stomp everywhere, but I always seemed to miss some hidden portion that was left unsullied. The other problem in the episode is that there are occasional clipping issues with characters partially walking through objects as they go about their rounds.

Overall, it's hard not to like the first episode of Grimm, because it's simultaneously goofy, child-like, and completely twisted. While it isn't perfect, it certainly is a lot of fun to play. For the first entry into a weekly episodic series, it's a nice premiere; if each episode's quality improves from here, gamers will definitely be in line for a treat. Plus, right now the game is free to play, so you have no excuse.

Verdict: Buy? Subscribe? Just go and play because it's free!
Developer and Publisher: GameTap
Platform: PC
Price: Free this week
Rating: NA
Other recent reviews:

Final Fantasy IV
Rock Band WiiChocobo's DungeonSong Summoner: The Unsung HeroesFinal Fantasy Tactics A2

Among the clouds: CherryPal offers unbelievably tiny desktop

Laptops and subnotebooks compete on weight and power consumption, but desktops join that fray only rarely, and pretty much never come out on top. A new, tiny desktop computer from a startup company will do exactly that. The CherryPal company's only product is the CherryPal desktop, a tiny device with a Freescale embedded processor that runs a stripped-down linux variant, including a variety of common apps, at a very appealing price. HangZhou Night Net

Hardware-wise, the CherryPal is nothing short of remarkable, in a weird sort of way. It packs a tri-core Freescale processor, 4GB of NAND Flash, 256 MB of DRAM, and all its other operating components into a ten-ounce package the size of a disappointing sandwich. The tiny device has the horsepower to display films, play music, word process, and browse the internet, and purportedly can handle flash applications like YouTube. According to CherryPal, all this hardware consumes only two watts of electrical power. On the back of this tiny device are two USB ports, VGA, NIC, and stereo ports. All this goodness can be had for a mere $250.

The CherryPal boots in twenty seconds, but its linux variant has none of the usual controls or settings—instead, it boots directly into Firefox and is controlled entirely through the browser. Indeed, this is cloud computing in a very real sense. The device itself has only 4GB of storage locally, but it comes with 50GB more in an assigned cloud storage account with lifetime access provided by CherryPal. Apps and software are updated automatically.

The tiny computer idea is an interesting one, but it's not clear the CherryPal meets the need. Its FreeScale processor, however rugged and capable, is not x86 compatible, so the device can never run a mainstream linux distro or any variant of Windows. This makes it utterly unsuitable for HTPC and other such applications. Also, while the device itself is tiny and can be carried around, it needs to be hooked to the Internet, monitor, keyboard, and mouse, which are not available together in very many places. Because of this, it seems unlikely it will actually be moved that often, in which case the purpose of making its hardware so tiny is not really clear.

CherryPal feels that environmental concerns and advertising can overcome these problems. The firm touts its device as a "green" computing solution, consuming less power and material than other computers, and lasting a considerably longer period of time, up to ten years. That's pretty doubtful, but then some of the firm's other reasoning is dubious. Since the 2W figure is small compared to the power needed by any conceivable display, the difference between this solution and one powered by Intel's more muscular Atom processor is insignificant. And, if CherryPal really wanted to save materials, they probably should have gone the subnotebook route and thrown their hat into that ring. Marketing based on sheer price runs into the sad reality of the $99 linux box special Fry's does on some black Fridays and the thriving market in used computers.

The device has some problems, and many users will prefer usability on the go, more muscular processors, and x86 compatibility when laying out money for compact computers. But, if CherryPal is right, consumers interested in simple, minimal, cheap, and green computing in the home may latch onto this new device. Users who want to pop their cherries will have to wait some time, though; CherryPal doesn't even plan to release the full details of its plans until the third quarter of this year.

Ancient herb may hold relief for osteoarthritis sufferers

Osteoarthritis (OA) afflicts over 20 million people in the United States alone. It is characterized by a painful swelling of a person's joints that can restrict movement and make carrying out daily tasks difficult. The typical prescription is some form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to reduce the swelling in the joint. New research shows that an old herb may have a surprising palliative effect. HangZhou Night Net

Research published in the open access journal Arthritis Research & Therapy has found that Indian Frankincense, Boswellia serrata, has a significant impact on patients suffering from osteoarthritis. The drug, named 5-Loxin is a concentrated extract of3-O-acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA) derived from the herb. The chemical is believed to be the most active ingredient in the plant and, according to corresponding authorSiba Raychaudhuri, "AKBA has anti-inflammatory properties, and we have shown that B. serrata enriched with AKBA can be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee."

The research consisted of a double blind study that involved 75 individuals who suffered from OA. The participants were split into three groups, each consisting of 25 individuals. One group received 100 mg/day of the drug, a second received 250 mg/day, and the third group was given a placebo. The study lasted for 90 days, with 70 people completing it. The patients were examined at 7, 30, 60, and 90 by using standard tests to evaluate their pain and physical functionality.

According to the results of the study, "both doses of 5-Loxin conferred clinically and statistically significant improvements in pain scores and physical function scores in OA patients." Those in the group who took the high dosage reported improvements at the 7 day evaluation exam. In addition to a reduction in the perceived pain, the researchers found that the drug reduced the amount of a proteinase present in the synovial fluid of people suffering from OA; this enzyme degrades cartilage and contributes to the progression of the disease. The authors of the paper believe that this compound is "a promising alternative therapeutic strategy that may be used as a nutritional supplement against OA."

Arthritis Research & Therapy, 2008. DOI: 10.1186/ar2461