Cingular’s Treo 750, Blackjack and 8525 get WM6 treatment

We had a chance to peep an “eyes-only” presentation from AT&T with the dirty details on WM6 for current and future devices, with the newly-branded Cingular apparently poised to introduce patches for three of its hottest handsets. The word is that the Treo 750, 8525, and the Blackjack will see downloadable updates released for current owners, and that WM6 will be pre-installed on all devices launched in 2007. In a separate tip, our peeps tell us that the Blackjack update should be in Cingular’s hot hands by May 26; with an expected eight week soak period for testing, this could hit by late July this year. We suppose that if the ROMs prove bulletproof, the cheering masses could theoretically get this update sooner, but until then we can only sit and wait. No word on timing for the other two devices, but we are seriously hoping that Blue has its ducks in a row and that they are on an similar schedule.

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Official Final T-Mobile Dash WM6 Upgrade Leaked

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Speaking of Windows Mobile 6, if you’re really in a rush to get the new OS onto your T-Mobile Dash, hit up the link at the end of the post to grab it. It’s the official T-Mobile release, so there shouldn’t be any compatibility problems from having another device’s ROM. And since it’s the official release, it probably has the T-Mobile branding in there as well.

Reader Jimmie tells us that he installed it just fine and his phone hasn’t been bricked. Nice work Jimbo. Now try and find the official MDA upgrade as well.

Download Link [Rapidshare via Gadgets on the Go]

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Halo 2 – Vista vs Xbox

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Over at Gamespot you can see some roll over screenshots that shows you the grapical difference between a Windows Vista installation and a Microsoft Xbox (including one Xbox 360 shot). This isn’t groundbreaking information as the Vista version runs on a much more powerful machine, but it’s still interesting to see the actual side by side (well, roll over) comparison.

Halo 2 – graphical comparison [Gamespot]
via [digg]

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The ‘Wal-Mart effect’ strikes again

By slashing prices on flat-panel TVs, the retail giant has clobbered another sector — this time, consumer-electronics stores.

Last “Black Friday,” for its annual post-Thanksgiving sales blitz, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT, news, msgs) decided to slash the price of one of the hottest electronics items for the holidays, the 42-inch flat-panel TV, to $988. The world’s largest retailer had staked similarly audacious positions before, in numerous product categories, as part of its quest to remain U.S. retailing’s “low-price leader.”

In turn, Wal-Mart’s move caused a free fall in prices of flat-panel televisions at hundreds of retailers — to the glee of many people who were able to afford their first big-screen plasma or liquid-crystal-display (LCD) model.

Now, it is becoming apparent that Wal-Mart’s calculated decision to break the $1,000 barrier for flat-panel TVs triggered a disastrous financial meltdown among some consumer-electronics retailers over the past four months.

he fallout is evident: After closing 70 stores in February, Circuit City Stores (CC, news, msgs) on March 28 laid off 3,400 employees and put its 800 Canadian stores on the block. Tweeter Home Entertainment Group (TWTR, news, msgs), a high-end home entertainment store, is shuttering 49 of its 153 stores and dismissed 650 workers. CompUSA is closing 126 of its 229 stores, and regional retailer Rex Stores (RSC, news, msgs) is boarding up dozens of outlets, as well as selling 94 of its 211 stores.

“The tube business and big-screen business just dropped off a cliff,” says Stuart Rose, chief executive officer of Rex Stores. “We expected a drop-off, but nowhere near the decline that we had.”

Clearly, these retailers are taking such drastic measures because they don’t see any respite in sight.

Since early February, when the companies first started closing stores and announcing layoffs, most of their stock prices also have been battered. Circuit City shares have fallen 24%, to $18.76, since the end of November, when the price war started. In the same period, Tweeter’s shares declined 32%, to $1.72, near a 52-week low, and Best Buy’s (BBY, news, msgs) stock is down 9%, to $48.73. Shares of Rex Stores have been flat, down 0.7%, to $16.98.

The carnage has one phrase written all over it: the “Wal-Mart effect.” For many electronics competitors, the experience with flat panels has been a replay of what happened in other sectors over the past two decades as Wal-Mart’s business stature grew dramatically.

Competitors caught off guard

The Bentonville, Ark., juggernaut’s entry into the grocery business in the late 1980s and its ability to offer deep discounts led to the bankrupting of dozens of regional supermarkets over the next 15 years, including Florida-based Winn-Dixie Stores, Eagle Foods from Illinois and Penn Traffic in Pennsylvania.

And Wal-Mart’s discounting of popular toys sent FAO Schwartz and KB Toys into bankruptcy.

Now, Wal-Mart has clearly turned its attention to electronics. “We recommitted to our customers that we would be their low-price leader, especially on those products that were rising in popularity, such as flat-screen and high-definition TVs,” says Kevin O’Connor, Wal-Mart vice president and general merchandise manager.

None in the industry doubted that flat-panel television prices would fall or that Wal-Mart would offer heavy promotions. But most expected the promotions to be limited to lesser-known brands like the Viore TV that Wal-Mart was selling at $988.

What caught competitors off guard was that Wal-Mart also cut the price of a top brand name — the 42-inch Panasonic high-definition TV — by $500, to $1,294. That sent dozens of retailers across the country scrambling, and many rushed to match prices: Circuit City offered the same Panasonic TV at $1,299, while Best Buy sold a Westinghouse 42-inch LCD for $999. Others tried to lure customers to larger TVs — CompUSA gave a $500 rebate on its 50-inch Panasonic plasma for $2,499.

Panasonic executives are still smarting from Wal-Mart’s decision to drop the price on its 42-inch model, although company officials won’t discuss the issue. “I’m not going to comment on what Wal-Mart did,” says Andrew Nelkin, president of Panasonic Professional Display in Secaucus, N.J.

‘It’s Econ 101’

Along with Wal-Mart’s determination to lower prices, two other factors played key roles in last winter’s 40%-to-50% flat-panel price drop and the ensuing turmoil.

For one, many more retailers such as Sears Holdings (SHLD, news, msgs) and CompUSA were starting to stock a wider selection of flat-panel TVs after seeing demand soar over the previous two years.

Also, manufacturers like Samsung, Sony (SNE, news, msgs), Panasonic and Westinghouse had ramped up production last year with new factories in Asia and the United States. They began flooding the market with new TVs in the latter half of 2006.

All these forces combined to make a commodity of what just six months earlier had been a solidly high-end, high-margin entertainment product.

“It’s Econ 101: Best Buy and Circuit City had seen fat margins from flat-panel TVs for a while, and as it happens with any product, eventually the margins come down and the music stops,” says David Abella, a portfolio manager at Rochdale Investment Management, which has assets of $2 billion.

Wal-Mart is the second-largest electronics retailer today, behind Best Buy, which has fared relatively well compared to many of its rivals. But, as CEO Brad Anderson admits, Best Buy has done so by imitating some of Wal-Mart’s best practices, most notably an efficient supply chain. It also has more diversified merchandise than other specialty-electronics retailers.

Despite its bold move last year, Wal-Mart currently is not the largest seller of flat-panel TVs. In fact, even though Wal-Mart set in motion the price drops, it has actually been a bit player in the high-definition TV segment. By most accounts, Wal-Mart had little to lose by dropping the price on the Panasonic TVs because it sold out its inventory nearly instantly.

Couldn’t be more uncertain

However, for Circuit City, which was in the midst of a turnaround and sells thousands more flat-panel televisions than Wal-Mart, the new price landscape represented a massive hit to its margins. The Richmond, Va., company lost $12.2 million in its fiscal fourth quarter ended Feb. 28, compared with a net income of $141.4 million in the same period last year. At Tweeter, where flat-panel TVs make up more than 51% of sales, the price declines hurt badly. Sales in its fiscal second quarter ended March 31 declined 12%, to $139 million. The Canton, Mass., company plans to release earnings on May 10.

“We desperately hope that sanity reigns and that the lessons of the past holiday season are not lost on anybody in the industry,” says Tweeter CEO Joe McGuire.

Despite shoppers paying lower prices, Circuit City CEO Phil Schoonover is hoping customers will continue to want their TVs installed and therefore will use the company’s Firedog service, a competitor to Best Buy’s Geek Squad. Sales at Firedog grew 80% to $200 million last year, and Schoonover says he expects them to double this year. He admits, however, that the environment couldn’t be more uncertain.

“I’m not here to say that we’re sure what the second half looks like because we have 96 suppliers of flat-panel TVs who market their products in the U.S.,” he says. “With production facilities all over the world and brands from China, we don’t know what their real marketing strategies are. We think it’s going to be a competitive marketplace for the flat-panel TV business.”

As new technology emerges and as LCD TVs with crisper images hit the market this May, some retailers are hoping to lure the technophiles. However, if consumer-electronics purveyors are hoping to maintain sky-high prices on new products, they’d better not count on it. After all, they have no idea what Wal-Mart has in mind.

This article was reported and written by Pallavi Gogoi for BusinessWeek.

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Coronal loops are generated by the Sun’s magnetic field

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News, Preston
Coronal loops are generated by the Sun’s magnetic field
Acoustic waves
Immense coils of hot, electrified gas in the Sun’s atmosphere behave like a musical instrument, scientists say.

These “coronal loops” carry acoustic waves in much the same way that sound is carried through a pipe organ.

Solar explosions called micro-flares generate sound booms which are then propagated along the coronal loops.

“The effect is much like plucking a guitar string,” Professor Robert von Fay-Siebenbuergen told BBC News at the National Astronomy Meeting in Preston.

The corona is an atmosphere of hot, electrically-charged gas – or plasma – that surrounds the Sun. The temperature of the corona should drop the further one moves from the Sun.

But, in fact, the coronal temperature is up to 300 times hotter than the Sun’s visible surface, or photosphere. And no one can explain why.

Fiery fountains

The coronal loops arch hundreds of thousands of kilometres above the Sun’s surface like huge fiery fountains, and are generated by the Sun’s magnetic field.

As solar plasma travels from the photosphere into the loops, it is heated from about 6,000 Kelvin (5,700C) to upwards of one million Kelvin.

Solar explosions called micro-flares can release energy equivalent to millions of hydrogen bombs.

These blasts can send immensely powerful acoustic waves hurtling through the loops at tens of kilometres per second, creating cosmic “organ music”.

“These loops can be up to 100 million kilometres long and guide waves and oscillations in a similar way to a pipe organ,” said Dr Youra Taroyan, from the Solar Physics and Space Plasma Research Centre (SP2RC) at the University of Sheffield.

The sound booms decay in less than an hour and dissipate in the very hot solar corona.

Professor von Fay-Siebenbuergen, who is director of SP2RC, said that studying how plasma is heated to such high temperatures in coronal loops could speed up the technological development of industrial-scale nuclear fusion on Earth.

‘Star on Earth’

Nuclear fusion is the same process which powers the Sun and other stars. Unlike the burning of fossil fuels, fusion reactions produce no carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas blamed by scientists for warming the planet.

Fusion works on the principle that energy can be released by forcing together atomic nuclei rather than by splitting them, as in the case of the fission reactions that drive existing nuclear power stations.

In the core of the Sun, huge gravitational pressure allows this to happen at temperatures of around 10 million Celsius.

At the much lower pressure that is possible on Earth, temperatures to produce fusion need to be much higher – above 100 million Celsius

In nuclear fusion experiments, powerful magnetic fields can be used to isolate hot plasma from the walls of a containment vessel.

This reduces the conductive heat loss, allowing the electrified gas to be heated to high temperatures.

The most promising magnetic confinement systems are ring-shaped; called a torus.

Professor von Fay-Siebenbuergen said a coronal loop could give clues to improving nuclear fusion because it could be regarded as a half-torus.

The Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting in Preston runs from 16-20 April.

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E Ink watch from Seiko

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If you want to take your timepiece to the next level, Seiko has unveiled an E Ink watch for women. This bracelet watch gives you two options for telling time: the efficiency mode is for those who want to see the time at a glance, while the mystery mode tells time in a more “artsy” fashion. E Ink requires very little power to display information, and because it’s a film, it can be warped into all sorts of shapes including this bracelet design.

Don’t worry about scratching or dinging this watch, the E Ink film is encased in a 360° sapphire crystal, making this one expensive timepiece. The Seiko E Ink watch will be available later this year for $2,000.

Wrist Dreams, via Techie Diva

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Shields up! British working on energy deflectors for spaceships

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If the British have their way, we’ll never have any superheroes created by cosmic-ray mishaps in space. Scientists from across the pond are working on a Star Trek-like energy shield that would protect spacecraft from harmful — and potentially superpower-bestowing — radiation.

The basis of the idea is to build around the ship a small-scale replica of Earth’s magnetosphere, which prevents the planet from getting showered with energetic particles. To create the deflector shield, the craft would have to first surround itself with a magnetic field, then fill it with plasma, which would be held in place by the field. When badass particles from things like solar wind hit the plasma, their energy is sapped and they slow down.

And presumably, if another spaceship were to fire, say, a high-energy particle beam at a ship equipped with one of these shields, it would sap the energy of that, too. Eat it, Ur-Quan! Less fictional applications might include a second layer of radiation protection for the permanent moonbase that NASA wants to build, so astronauts could make critical repairs during periods of solar-flare activity. Not quite as much fun, but useful nonetheless.

Via BBC

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