Brian Barrett at Wired has a good explainer on the challenges of scaling as the backbone of Moore’s Law. He goes over the transistor design that has helped keep the trend of price to performance going in the last few years as well as a new approach IBM is optimistic will keep the trend going for several more years. No mention in the article of where miniaturization reaches physical limits but that threshold is still out. Unlike this particular development, at a certain point the realities of physics at ridiculously small scales will required shifts away from transistors and silicon.
Slashdot links to some discussion originating out of IBM. Yu-Ming Lin, a researcher from Big Blue, explained in an interview that graphene transistors cannot be switched off in the same way as silicon ones. Slashdot and bit-tech both quote Yu-Ming’s explanation as saying:
… there is an important distinction between the graphene transistors that we demonstrated, and the transistors used in a CPU. Unlike silicon, ‘graphene does not have an energy gap, and therefore, graphene cannot be “switched off,” resulting in a small on/off ratio.
The quote is from an as of yet unpublished interview. It isn’t clear if the lack of an energy gap is a quality of graphene as a material or the current way transistors are constructed from it. Given the direct comparisons to silicon, I infer the former. If it were the latter, then the possibility would remain that a different approach could overcome this critical obstacle.
The article goes on to share some more optimistic thoughts from Yu-Ming on plenty of interesting applications within computer chips for graphene. A further quote from Mike Mayberry, Intel’s director of component research, suggests this all may still be theoretical, that more experimentation may be required before we can so confidently declare the practical limits of the material.
Graphene offers considerable advantage over silicon, a few are mentioned in the bit-tech article. I’ve discussed many of them in past posts here and on the podcast. It is intriguing to imagine graphene’s further use in computing, even replacing many of the materials in use today. Mayberry’s quote reminds us of how wide the gap is between such speculation and even tomorrow’s technology just in terms of what we know about silicon and don’t know about graphene.
Slashdot links to a Gizmag piece covering some research that covers one of the things I’ve always wondered about the amazing material, graphene. Being just a single atom sheet of atomic carbon, the material itself is environmentally sustainable but I’ve wonder if we could produce it without nasty chemicals involved or arising as byproducts.
Researchers at Rice University have made graphene even sweeter by developing a way to make pristine sheets of the one-atom-thick form of carbon from plain table sugar and other carbon-based substances. In another plus, the one-step process takes place at temperatures low enough to make the wonder material easy to manufacture.
The process they discovered is also versatile. The article doesn’t say if this is true of sugar as a carbon source, but using the original material, plexiglass, they could variously produce single, double and multilayer sheets. They also could alter the doping of the graphene. The additional of other materials is key to controlling the sheet’s resulting electrical and optical properties.
Graphene Can Be Made With Table Sugar, Slashdot
- USB dead drops, embedding the dark net in architecture
Slashdot and BoingBoing covered this project by Aram Bartholl over the weekend. He’s cemented USB sticks into walls and other fixtures at a handful of locations, with plans to set up more such dead drops. The idea is that rather than passing storage containers hand to hand, file shares can simply plug in and copy onto and from the drives what they want. The project seems more like an art installation than an IT effort, a way of weaving asynchronous, anonymous sharing into public spaces.
- Mobile mesh for wireless telephony
Duncan Geere cross posted this article to Wired and Ars Technica, it is about research that really is quite similar to other mesh network plans about which I’ve read. Why not make the cutely named body-to-body connections simply provide IP protocol carriage with telephony being just one application carried? I would think the growth of smart phones is what is crushing networks more so than mere phone calls. It will be interesting to see if this work which was done at Queen’s University in Belfast can make better progress on the challenges of making a mobile device based mesh as good as or better than the fixed mobile networks we have now.
- Facebook bans apps that sold user info to data brokers
Sarah Perez at ReadWriteWeb has the details of some positive privacy news from the dominant social network. I do wonder if this practice would have persisted if the Wall Street Journal had not exposed it, though. Also, why isn’t Facebook built in such a way to make this sort of thing much more difficult, if not outright impossible?
- Users sue Google, Facebook, Synga over privacy , Slashdot
- Justice department rules isolate gene sequences should not be patentable, Techdirt
- Google sues US government for only considering Microsoft solutions, Techdirt
- Researchers claim better quantum tunneling, EE Times
- Vans drive themselves across the world
Slashdot links to a Techeye piece describing the track of four driver-less vehicles that successfully re-traced the route of Marco Polo. Autonomous vehicles seem to be improving dramatically rather rapidly. The fact that these are not sedans but the smallest style of commercial vehicle reinforces my expectation that we’ll see this technology in regular use for long haul freight hauling before it becomes an up-class option on your next personal vehicle.
- Research suggesting an end run around scale limits of chip photo-lithography
Chris Lee at Ars Technica describes so new work that may give Moore’s Law, as seen with current techniques for making computer chips, a reprieve until more advanced replacements come into play. The effective threshold on current photo-lithographic techniques is how small a bit of light you can cast through a mask onto the chip. What researchers are now realizing is that they may be able to manipulate secondary effects to go beyond this diffraction limit, continuing to shrink the scale at which they can manipulate materials with light.
- Facebook adds friend stalker tool
Slashdot is just one of many places pointing to this developer driven feature recently announced by the social networking giant. It is difficult to know if this really exposes any more private information than any other page or feature on the site. What is clear is that by casting it into a new context, the interactions between two friends the observer selects, more expectations are likely to be violated about where and how this information is seen.
- Australian privacy commissioner slams data retention plan , Slashdot
- Israel to join list of nations with ‘adequate’ data protection plans, The Register
- Archive of Geocities being released as a near 1TB torrent, Techdirt
Apologies for the second day of just links. I was in a rush to get to the local CopyNight here in DC last night. I took a sick day from work today to try to final get over this cold and have been trying to keep blogging to a minimum, too, in order to maximize my rest.
Thankfully, tonight’s podcast is an interview I recorded last week so will got out with minimum effort as scheduled.
- Water may unlock a graphene based transistor , io9
- Judge blocks over broad child protection law in Massachusetts, Ars Technica
- Mozilla’s response to Firesheep, further urging to use SSL more broadly, Mozilla Security Blog
- B&N caught deleting customer’s files, blames user, Techdirt
- Mozilla delays Firefox 4 until early 2011, The Register
- Firesheep, a day later
On Hacker News, I saw this follow up post from Eric Butler, the author of Firesheep. It confirms my read on his motivations and shares the reaction so far. He also gives some good background material on the problem Firesheep is meant to highlight and confirms many of the suggested remediations. He debunks a few possible defenses, too, clearly explaining why they are not advised or less effective.
- Vintage TV spot on hacking fears in the wake of “WarGames” movie, Lauren Weinstein
- Court lets Amazon protect customer purchase info in North Carolina, Techdirt
- Speeding up self assembling of chips with microwaves, Slashdot
- China halting rare earth mineral shipments to the US
Slashdot links to a cluser of stories around China’s trade decision against the US, following a similar decision regarding exporting these critical minerals to Japan. A bit of recent listener feedback has me mulling over post-abundance computing, this seems to be suggestive of future concerns. Like news of limited recycling of these materials, I also wonder at the positive possibility of making the production of electronics more environmentally responsible and durable.
- DOSBox to get emulated 3D accelerator card
I used DOSBox to get an old game I still had on CD-ROM working a couple of years ago. Slashdot has news of the developers looking to add a “complete and faithful” emulation of the core chipset of the old 3dfx Voodoo Graphics card. I had one of those and it figures into some very fond memories of LAN parties back in the madness of the height of the dot-com bubble back in the nineties.
- Bendable memory from nanowire transistors , Technology Review
- Feds forced to admit it is legal to photograph federal buildings, BoingBoing
- Google rolls out Chrome 7, Slashdot
Slashdot links to an interview with Andre Geim at Nature News that discusses his Nobel Prize winning research. I am a big fan of graphene for its potential applications in electronics and computing. This research was clearly richly deserved of winning the prize.
The most curious part, though, as Slashdot calls out, is why Geim didn’t patent graphene.
You haven’t yet patented graphene. Why is that?
We considered patenting; we prepared a patent and it was nearly filed. Then I had an interaction with a big, multinational electronics company. I approached a guy at a conference and said, “We’ve got this patent coming up, would you be interested in sponsoring it over the years?” It’s quite expensive to keep a patent alive for 20 years. The guy told me, “We are looking at graphene, and it might have a future in the long term. If after ten years we find it’s really as good as it promises, we will put a hundred patent lawyers on it to write a hundred patents a day, and you will spend the rest of your life, and the gross domestic product of your little island, suing us.” That’s a direct quote.
I considered this arrogant comment, and I realized how useful it was. There was no point in patenting graphene at that stage. You need to be specific: you need to have a specific application and an industrial partner. Unfortunately, in many countries, including this one, people think that applying for a patent is an achievement. In my case it would have been a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Part of me really wanted the reasoning to be more enlightened, an embracing of a scientific commons of thought. Despite the stomach churning encounter with a clear patent mill, Deim is clearly not entirely deterred. Still, the narrowing of consideration to applications is at least more palatable than the rash of recent bad patents that completely preclude entire classes of inventions based on nothing more than basic research. For the rest of us, the encounter also paints a stark contrast between researchers just looking to help subsidize research with patents and corporations trying to completely own a space of interest.
Why Geim Never Patented Graphene, Slashdot
Once again, crushed for time so only offering up some links without comment. Going to see the favorite angry liberal of mine and my wife’s, Lewis Black, later this evening after a nice dinner out in the heart of DC.
- IBM demos single-atom DRAM, Slashdot
- First installment of Xiph.org’s digital video primer for geeks, Slashdot
- Mozilla Labs re-imagines the smart phone, ReadWriteWeb
- Public.resource.org secures funding from Google’s 10^100 grant program, O’Reilly Radar
- Nightly builds of Fennec, Firefox’s mobile sibling, improving rapidly, Wired