Android Saw Twice As Many Buyers As iPhone Over The Past 3 Months

Nielsen iPhone
Head down into the bunkers and lock the door, friends — there be flamewars a comin’.
Nielsen released a new mobile research report this morning, with at least one big landmark stat within: over the past 3 months, Android has pulled in twice as many new smartphone buyers as the iPhone.
The new-buyers breakdown, over the past 3 months:
  • 56% of those buying a new smartphone bought an Android device
  • 28% bought an iPhone
  • 9% bought BlackBerry
  • 6% bought “Other” (which contains Windows Phone, amongst others)
Of course, these stats really should have a little asterisk tucked somewhere inside. The iPhone is onephone (or two, counting the 3GS), by one manufacturer. Android is, at this point, hundreds of models, across dozens of manufacturers. That’s not said to knock Android in any way — but it’s worth noting that when the pie is split so many ways across so many manufacturers and models within, the iPhone is probably making exponentially more money for Apple than Android phones are for anyone.
Also worth noting, but immeasurable: how many would-be iPhone buyers held off with the knowledge that a new iPhone was not only on the way, but was actually behind its normal release schedule? It’ll be interesting to see these numbers for the next three months.

Google+ Now Lets You “Share” Your Circles With Other Users

Screen Shot 2011-09-26 at 2.03.22 PM
In case you’re still using Google+ (I kid, I kid, the other social network is doing well, apparently), the Google+ team has made it easy to “share” your Circles with friends today, by enabling an option to send other users a list of Circle members on your Google+ Circles page.
Users who want to “share” the contents of their meticulously curated Circles can now click on the Share button as well as Edit and Delete in the Circles options menu and then select the Google+ user or users they want to share the Circle with.
The share function doesn’t reveal the name of the Circle (so the fact that you put your boss into “People I am not friends with” stays with you) and doesn’t reveal any changes you make to the Circle after sharing.
Users receiving the Circle can then make their own private edits after the fact, like adding you to “People I am not friends with” even.
Says Google Engineer Owen Prater,
“One of my favorite parts about circles is how they help me control who I share with, as well as what I read. In fact, many of you have created lots of great circles around topics that interest you (like Photographers) to bring lots of great content to your stream. In these cases, we’ve heard that you actually want to share your circles with others. Both to save your friends some time, and to connect them with interesting people and content.”
The update should be rolling out to everyone in the next couple of hours, according to Prater.

Facebook To Form Its Own Political Action Committee

Facebook has filed to establish FB PAC, a political action committee intended to “give [Facebook's] employees a way to make their voice heard in the political process,” presumably over and above voting and contributing independently to campaigns and other PACs.
The company has spent about a million dollars lobbying over the last three years, according to Senate records and documented by OpenSecrets, with the sum spent increasing every year. For comparison, Microsoft spent around $9m per year through its own PAC at its peak, though that number has gone down to about a third of that now. Establishing a PAC will enable Facebook to make direct contributions to candidates and parties, and if it chooses, spend unlimited sums bankrolling secondary efforts like independent ad campaigns.
We can’t be too sure exactly who or what FB PAC will support, but its spending so far has been significantly concentrated in industry-related issues such as internet privacy, foreign regulations on internet access, and of course weighing in on copyright questions, which would directly affect its business. You can read their official spending report here (PDF). The theoretical spending cap for PACs is several million dollars ($5000 per candidate per race and some miscellaneous allowances), so there’s plenty of room for them to grow into.
Let’s not let partisan politics creep into this too much. Forming a PAC is mainly just another way for Facebook to make its presence felt in American politics, a natural tendency in large organizations. Participating in public politics can be a polarizing choice, though, and it may be that Facebook, being as it is a conglomeration of many differing political groups and philosophies, may have some fancy footwork to do in the future to keep its campaign contributions from riling its user base.
So far they have only filed the paperwork and formalized their intentions. and are registered but empty as of this writing.
Note: Microsoft reports and tracks its contributions and lobbying expenses differently from OpenSecrets. I chose the latter’s numbers for consistency purposes.

Second big satellite set to resist re-entry burn-up

Even if NASA's 6-tonne UARS satellite does not cause any injury or damagewhen it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere today, there is more space junk headed our way next month. A defunct German space telescope calledROSAT is set to hit the planet at the end of October – and it even is more likely than UARS to cause injury or damage in populated areas.
No one yet knows where UARS (Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) will fall to earth. Although most of the craft's mass will be reduced to an incandescent plasma, some 532 kilograms of it in 26 pieces are forecast to survive – including a 150-kilogram instrument mounting.
NASA calculates a 1-in-3200 chance of UARS causing injury or damage. But at the end of October or beginning of November, ROSAT – a 2.4-tonne X-ray telescope built by the German aerospace lab DLR and launched by NASA in 1990 – will re-enter the atmosphere, presenting a 1 in 2000 chance of injury.
The higher risk stems from the requirements of imaging X-rays in space, says DLR spokesperson Andreas Sch├╝tz. The spacecraft's mirrors had to be heavily shielded from heat that could have wrecked its X-ray sensing operations during its eight-year working life. But this means those mirrors will be far more likely to survive a fiery re-entry.
Incoming! <i>(Image: Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics)</i>
Incoming! (Image: Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics)

Broken mirror, bad luck

On its ROSAT website, DLR estimates that "up to 30 individual debris items with a total mass of up to 1.6 tonnes might reach the surface of the Earth. The X-ray optical system, with its mirrors and a mechanical support structure made of carbon-fibre reinforced composite – or at least a part of it – could be the heaviest single component to reach the ground."
At the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany, the head of thespace debris office, Heiner Klinkrad, agrees that ROSAT's design means more of it will hit the surface. "This is indeed because ROSAT has a large mirror structure that survives high re-entry temperatures," he says.
ROSAT was deactivated in 1999 and its orbit has been decaying since then. "ROSAT does not have a propulsion system on board which can be used to manoeuvre the satellite to allow a controlled re-entry," says space industry lawyer Joanne Wheeler of London-based legal practice CMS Cameron McKenna. "And the time and position of ROSAT's re-entry cannot be predicted with any precision due to fluctuations in solar activity, which affect atmospheric drag."

Solar swelling

US Strategic Command tracks all space objects and the US-government-run Aerospace Corporation lists both upcoming and recent re-entries on itswebsite. But ROSAT is not yet on the upcoming list because its re-entry time is far from certain.
The moment a craft will re-enter is difficult to predict because it is determined by two main factors. First, the geometry of the tumbling satellite as it enters the upper atmosphere, which acts as a brake. Second, the behaviour of the upper atmosphere itself, which grows and shrinks with the amount of solar activity, says Hugh Lewis, a space debris specialist at the University of Southampton, UK.
"Solar activity causes the atmosphere to expand upwards, causing more braking on space objects. The reason UARS is coming back sooner than expected is a sudden increase in solar activity. Indeed, we expect to see a higher rate of re-entries as we approach the solar maximum in 2013," he says.
But don't expect it to be raining spaceships – what's coming down is partly a legacy of 1990s space-flight activity. "Some of the re-entries we see today [with UARS and ROSAT] are a heritage of years with high launch rates, which were a factor of two higher than they are today," says Klinkrad.
"The trend is towards smaller satellites, with more dedicated payloads," he says, rather than "all-in-one" satellite missions on giant craft like UARS. That means debris from future missions should be smaller.

Hardy 6-tonne satellite falls to Earth

Update: NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell back to Earth early on Saturday morning. NASA says it has not yet determined the exact point of re-entry, but the vast majority of the satellite's trajectory at the time was over water. However, it also passed over parts of west Africa and northern Canada. There have been no reports of damage or injury.
Original article, posted 20 September 2011:
Hit the deck! A 6-tonne, abandoned NASA satellite with some particularly hardy parts is zooming towards Earth.
The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) was launched in 1991 to study chemical changes in the Earth's upper atmosphere and decommissioned in 2005. NASA says it will probably re-enter Earth's atmosphere on 23 September, give or take a day.
"This is the largest NASA satellite to come back uncontrolled for quite a while," says Nick Johnson, chief scientist for NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite will come home with a bang <i>(Image: NASA)</i>
The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite will come home with a bang (Image: NASA)

Most of the satellite's mass should burn up but the agency has identified 26 parts likely to survive, including a 150-kilogram instrument mount and three 50-kilogram batteries. In total, more than half a tonne of debris should crash on Earth in a debris footprint some 700 kilometres long.

Cow flat

Based on the number of pieces the satellite is expected to break into, the total area it could potentially hit and the number of people in those areas, NASA estimates that it has a risk of approximately 1 in 3200 of injuring somebody (pdf).
That's well above the risk of 1 in 10,000 that NASA now requires before it launches a satellite, but UARS was designed and launched before NASA drew up those rules.
Johnson points out that no one has ever been seriously injured by space debris, although there are anecdotal reports that a cow was killed by debris from the Skylab space station, which re-entered over Australia in 1979.
Hugh Lewis, an expert in space-debris modelling at the University of Southampton, UK, agrees that the risk is low. "You have to remember that over 20,000 objects larger than 10 centimetres wide have re-entered the atmosphere since the beginning of the space age - and there have been no reported injuries from these events," he says. "At 1 in 3200, the probability of the surviving pieces of UARS causing injury are remote"

Legal unknown

If people or property were to be hit by the UARS debris they would chart new legal territory, says Joanne Wheeler, a specialist in space law at CMS Cameron McKenna in London, since neither the UN Outer Space Treaty nor the UN Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects have ever been tested in court.
NASA has not yet said where UARS will hit, other than somewhere between 57 degrees north and 57 degrees south. That area spans northern Canada through to the southern tip of South America and most of Europe and Asia and so encompasses most of the world's 7 billion population, along with a huge swathe of ocean.
Any wannabe space-junk collectors, be warned. On its website, NASA says: "If you find something you think may be a piece of UARS, do not touch it. Contact a local law enforcement official for assistance."

Engineers can build a low-carbon world if we let them

The engineering solutions to combat climate change already exist. Politicians must be brave enough to use them before it's too late
One word sums up the attitude of engineers towards climate change: frustration. Political inertia following the high-profile failure of 2009'sCopenhagen climate conference has coupled with a chorus of criticism from a vocal minority of climate-change sceptics. Add the current economic challenges and the picture looks bleak. Our planet is warming and we are doing woefully little to prevent it getting worse.
Engineers know there is so much more that we could do. While the world's politicians have been locked in predominantly fruitless talks, engineers have been developing the technologies we need to bring down emissions and help create a more stable future.
Wind, wave and solar power, zero-emissions transport, low-carbon buildings and energy-efficiency technologies have all been shown feasible. To be rolled out on a global scale, they are just waiting for the political will. Various models, such as the European Climate Foundation's Roadmap 2050, show that implementing these existing technologies would bring about an 85 per cent drop in carbon emissions by 2050. The idea that we need silver-bullet technologies to be developed before the green technology revolution can happen is a myth. The revolution is waiting to begin.

Climate call

The barriers preventing the creation of a low-carbon society are not technological but political and financial. That's why at a landmark London conference convened by the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 11 national engineering institutions representing 1.2 million engineers from across the globe, under the banner of the Future Climate project, made a joint call for action at December's COP17 climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.
The statement calls on governments to move from warm words to solid actions. They need to introduce legislation and financial support to get these technologies out of the workshop and into our homes and businesses and onto our roads. Targeted regulation and taxation will also drive innovation. This will require bold politics, and spending at a time when money is scarce. It is far from unaffordable, however. The UK's Committee on Climate Change, which advises the British government, continues to support the view of theStern reportMovie Camera – an assessment of the climate change challenge in the UK – that the move to a low-carbon society will cost no more than 1 per cent of GDP by 2050.
Resistance to wind turbines and the power lines they feed, nuclear power and electric cars, as well as the economic costs, all make public opinion a powerful brake on change. However the alternative seems certain to be worse. It is not only the challenges of a deteriorating climate: with inaction comes a great risk to our economy in the long term. The green technology revolution, just like the industrial revolution before it, will give jobs to those countries which have created the right conditions for it to flourish.

China in front

Which countries these will be is still an open question. India, Germany, Australia and the UK were among the nations signed up to the Future Climate statement, whereas the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters – China and the US – were not. When it comes to investment in clean technology, however, that's not the whole story.
Although China is continuing to build coal-fired electricity plants at an alarming rate to power its rapid economic growth, the UN Environment Programme confirmed last month that it is now by far the world's biggest investor in renewable energy. Last year, China's wind, solar and biomass power industries received $49 billion of new investment, a third of the global total, and it now has the largest installed wind capacity in the world. When predicting who the front runner in this next great technological revolution will be, it is difficult to see past the emerging superpower to the east.
The US is going in the opposite direction. A natural gas rush driven by the development of controversial "fracking" techniques over the past decade has echoes of the oil rush that transformed Texas a century ago. The Financial Times reports that just one company, BHP Billiton, is investing as much as $79 billion in US shale gas fields – over three times the amount invested in all US renewables in a year. This will secure cheap energy in the short term, but it is a finite resource and ultimately a dead end. In due course we could face the interesting prospect of the US turning to China to acquire its wind turbine technology.

Nuclear elephant

Investment in renewable energy is vital for a prosperous, low-carbon society. However, decision-makers cannot ignore the elephant in the room – nuclear power. The enormous cost of implementing 100 per cent renewable power is not realistic for most nations, so nuclear offers our best chance of making a low-carbon society achievable and affordable. Yet the incident at Fukushimaearlier this year has reinforced some long-standing concerns.
Unlike road use or smoking, nuclear power stirs anxieties in many of us that are out of proportion with its true risks. This is not to be complacent about the potential danger of a nuclear plant, but it is striking that nuclear power has killed fewer than 5000 people in its entire history. Compare that with coal mining, which in just one year and in one country – China in 2006 – killed 4700.
Germany's decision to phase out all nuclear power as a result of Fukushima will most likely have unintended consequences. The Association of German Engineers has estimated that it will cost €53 billion every year in Germany to close down its nuclear generation and switch to 100 per cent renewable energy. It will be interesting to see how public opinion, now so clearly against nuclear power, responds as the economic costs become apparent.
Any technological revolution requires two crucial ingredients – engineers to design, develop and manufacture the technology, and politicians to help create the legislative, behavioural and societal environment that allows change to happen. Today's engineers have fulfilled their side of the bargain. It is time for our politicians to show their mettle.

Five easy mutations to make bird flu a lethal pandemic

H5N1 bird flu can kill humans, but has not gone pandemic because it cannot spread easily among us. That might change: five mutations in just two genes have allowed the virus to spread between mammals in the lab. What's more, the virus is just as lethal despite the mutations.
"The virus is transmitted as efficiently as seasonal flu," says Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, who reported the work at a scientific meeting on flu last week in Malta.
"This shows clearly that H5 can change in a way that allows transmission and still cause severe disease in humans. It's scary," says Peter Doherty, a 1996 Nobel prizewinner for work in viral immunology.
H5N1 evolved in poultry in east Asia and has spread across Eurasia since 2004. In that time 565 people are known to have caught it; 331 died. No strain that spreads readily among mammals has emerged in that time, despite millions of infected birds, and infections in people, cats and pigs. Efforts to create such a virus in the lab have failed, and some virologists think H5N1 simply cannot do it.
The work by Fouchier's team suggests otherwise. They first gave H5N1 three mutations known to adapt bird flu to mammals. This version of the virus killed ferrets, which react to flu viruses in a similar way to humans. The virus did not transmit between them, though.
A short journey from hens to humans <i>(Image: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty Images)</i>
A short journey from hens to humans (Image: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty Images)

Then the researchers gave the virus from the sick ferrets to more ferrets - a standard technique for making pathogens adapt to an animal. They repeated this 10 times, using stringent containment. The tenth round of ferrets shed an H5N1 strain that spread to ferrets in separate cages - and killed them.
The process yielded viruses with many new mutations, but two were in all of them. Those plus the three added deliberately "suggest that as few as five are required to make the virus airborne", says Fouchier. He will now test H5N1 made with only those five.
All the mutations have been seen separately in H5N1 from birds. "If they occur separately, they can occur together," says Fouchier. Malik Peiris of the University of Hong Kong, a flu virologist, says this means H5N1 transmissible between humans can evolve in birds, where it is circulating already, without needing to spend time in mammals such as pigs.
Peter Palese, a flu specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City who has expressed doubts that H5N1 can adapt to mammals, is not convinced.
"Ferrets are not humans," he says. "H5N1 has been around for a long time" and failed to mutate into a form that can jump between people.
"That it has not adapted doesn't mean it cannot," replies Jeffery Taubenberger of the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, who studies how a bird flu became the deadly pandemic of 1918.
"It simply means that so far it has not - luckily for us."

Resurrected ancient protein is a potent antibiotic

How clean is my pouch? <I>(Image: Tom Brakefield/Getty)</I>
How clean is my pouch? (Image: Tom Brakefield/Getty)

IF MODERN medicine cannot provide an answer to multidrug-resistant microbes, perhaps ancient animals can. Biologists have resurrected a mammalian antimicrobial compound that was last seen on Earth 59 million years ago when mammals were recovering from the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. Even now it is potent enough to destroy some of our most troublesome pathogens.
Last year the Infectious Diseases Society of America launched an initiative with the aim of producing 10 antibiotics to tackle multidrug-resistant bugs by 2020. The lower reaches of the tree of life are being explored for those antibiotics, says Ben Cocks of La Trobe University in Bundoora, Australia.
Already, promising molecules have been found in the tissues of primitive fish called lampreys (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1108558108).
Such an approach is effective because these molecules are so simple, says Cocks. Conventional antibiotics target precise flaws in a pathogen's armour, such as a particular enzyme. This is similar to how the adaptive immune system found in vertebrates works: it learns how to fight a new pathogen and then remembers the lesson for future battles. The trouble is that the pathogens patch their armour, requiring the immune system - and drug companies - to identify new weaknesses.
Cocks says this evolutionary arms race can be side-stepped by falling back on the cruder innate immune system that is found in all plants and animals - and which has largely been ignored in our fight with multidrug-resistant pathogens.
The molecules of the innate immune system use simple chemistry to target the lipids in cell membranes. They can either disrupt and weaken bacterial membranes, or subtly alter the properties of the host's healthy cells so that pathogens can no longer attack them.
But there's a problem: animals with the strongest innate immune systems tend to be so distantly related to humans that molecules taken from them can have toxic effects in humans. Cocks's solution is to study the mammals with the best innate immune systems, the molecules of which are more likely to be compatible with humans. His work has taken him inside the wallaby's pouch.
As marsupials, wallabies give birth to young at a much earlier stage in their development than placental mammals. For example, the tammar wallaby,Macropus eugenii, is born after 26 days, equivalent to a 6-week-old human fetus. The tiny wallabies then crawl into their mother's pouch to grow larger.
"It's not a clean environment," says Cocks. Bacteria closely related to the superbugs affecting humans in hospitals have been found in the wallaby pouch. But the baby wallabies are so underdeveloped that they lack an adaptive immune system to fight them; their survival depends on their innate immune system.
Cocks's team scoured the wallaby genome and found genes that code for 14 cathelicidin peptides, a component of the innate immune system. Lab tests revealed that many of the peptides could kill a range of multidrug-resistant pathogens - without damaging human cells.
The team noticed that genes in five of the cathelicidins were remarkably similar and probably evolved from a single ancestor. "We thought that the ancestral form would have a special broad-range activity," says Cocks.
Using the changes within the five peptides, Cocks and his collaborators at the University of Sydney, Australia, worked backwards to predict the genetic sequence that codes for the original peptide. His team then used it to produce a synthetic version of the peptide, effectively resurrecting it.
"The amazing thing was that it worked well against a broad range of pathogens," he says. Lab tests showed it destroyed six of seven multidrug-resistant bacteria, and was 10 to 30 times more potent than modern antibiotics such as tetracycline (PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024030).
"This is really significant," Cocks says. "Now we have access to ancient peptides for future drug development."
Damian Dowling at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, says some ancient and extinct peptides might be more effective than those found in living creatures because bacteria haven't been exposed to them for millions of years. "Even if the bacteria once developed resistance against the peptide, it has probably lost it," he says.

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