Baidu is the Google of China and booming

Still from Baidu search engine Most news services concentrate, when it comes to search engines, on Google. But in China, soon to be the largest Internet market in the world, Google does not really rate. The company to watch is Baidu which is booming.Chinese Web search leader Baidu says its fourth-quarter net profits quintupled, but cautioned that revenue growth was likely to decelerate sharply in the first quarter of 2007. To look at a statement like that you can easily pass over that word ‘quintupled’. As in it became five times bigger. Not even Google in its best quarter came near that.

The Beijing-based company, known to investors outside China as ‘China’s Google’ which is a bit misleading because Baidu does what Google does but with a bit of Yahoo! and perhaps eBay thrown it. The expected first-quarter revenue of US$34 million to $35 million — shows a growth of 95% to 103%. Q4 net income for the Beijing-based company rose to $15.7 million, up from just $3 million in Q4 last year. That is staggering acceleration.

The illustration is of a movie advertised on Baidu. So it does connect to the story and it is better than yet another picture of the Baidu logo.

MIT researchers design stackable car of the future

CAMBRIDGE: will the car of the future be foldable?

 

 

That’s the vision of a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. With backing from General Motors Corp., they are building a prototype of a lightweight electric vehicle that can be cheaply mass-produced, rented by commuters under a shared-use business model, and folded and stacked like grocery carts at subway stations or other central sites.It’s called the City Car, and the key to the concept lies in the design of its wheels. Dreamers have been reinventing the wheel since the days of cave dwellers. But the work underway in “the Cube,” the Media Lab’s basement studio, may be the most ambitious remake yet.

The MIT team has transformed the lowly wheel into a sophisticated robotic drive system that will power the City Car. Embedded in each of its four wheels will be an electric motor, steering and braking mechanisms, suspension, and digital controls, all integrated into sealed units that can be snapped on and off.

And under the hood . . . well, there won’t be a hood on the City Car. Just an eggshell-shaped glass plate — part roof, part windshield — framing the modular cabin and stretching almost to the chassis.

“We’re eliminating the internal combustion engine,” said Media Lab research assistant Ryan Chin , studio coordinator for City Cars. He said the four electric motors will enable a more efficient use of power by also dispensing with the transmission and driveline. “We’re removing as much hardware from the car as possible.”

In its place will be software that sets passenger preferences, changes the color of the cabin, controls the dashboard look and feel, and even directs drivers to parking spaces. “We think of the car as a big mobile computer with wheels on it,” Chin said. “This car should have a lot of computational power. It should know where the potholes are.”

And like a computer, the car will start with the push of a button. Instead of a steering wheel, it has handlebars, akin to a scooter or motorbike. But the ride will be more like a traditional car, though smoother and quieter, Chin said. The body of the car will be made of lightweight composite material such as Kevlar or carbon fiber.

Among the car’s other design departures are its folding chassis, enabling it to be stacked at designated parking areas across an urban area, where it could also be recharged. It also has a zero-turn radius, courtesy of a wheel configuration that provides omnidirectional motion. For the City Car, the traditional U-turn will be replaced by an O-turn, ideal for fitting into tight spaces.

The concept of the City Car was hatched by the Media Lab’s Smart Cities group, as part of a strategy for reducing carbon emissions. The team is being led by William J. Mitchell , professor of architecture and media arts and sciences
Some of the Jetsonesque design of the City Car was inspired by the researchers’ work with pioneering architect Frank Gehry , a friend of Mitchell, and associates at Gehry’s architectural firm in Los Angeles. Gehry’s firm was initially a partner, but has since scaled back its involvement to an advisory role.

 

 

Media Lab researchers are planning to have their prototype completed by the end of the year.”I think we’ll be driving it around the interior of this building,” Chin said, “and hopefully ask the MIT police to let us drive it around a parking lot.”

The three-year-old project is moving forward under the watchful eyes of liaisons from General Motors, a Media Lab sponsor, and MIT researchers hope the automaker will build a City Car concept vehicle in 2008 to demonstrate at auto shows.

GM devotes a portion of its $6 billion-plus annual research-and-development budget on university projects such as City Car to help its own researchers think out of the box, said Roy J. Mathieu , a GM staff researcher in Warren, Mich., who visits the Media Lab twice a semester and keeps in close contact with Chin’s team.

“They’re a rich cauldron of ideas we can use to develop concepts for our future cars,” Mathieu said. “They’re trying to imagine how the car will fit into the city in the future. Their ideas are interesting and intriguing, and we want to see if any of them fit into our technology road map.”

Rebecca Lindland , director of automotive research at Global Insight in Lexington, said City Car is one of a number of futuristic designs being developed by automakers and independent labs to demonstrate new technologies and concepts at a time of growing concern about global warming, traffic, and energy efficiency.

“The existing infrastructures can’t support the population growth that we’re seeing, so we’re going to have to find viable alternative vehicles like the one MIT is designing,” Lindland said.

Unless the cars can prove crashworthy and meet government speed and emissions standards, however, their applications may be limited to gated communities and entertainment parks, she said.

Chin said the design remains a work in progress, and if necessary the team will reinforce the car to make it crashworthy.

As the MIT researchers envision it, the City Car won’t replace private cars or mass transit systems but ease congestion by enabling shared transportation in cities. Commuters could use them for one-way rentals, swiping their credit cards to grab a City Car from the front of a stack at a central point such as a school, day-care center, or office building.

“What you’ll be buying is mobility,” Chin said.

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com.

Microsoft Issues Free Virtual PC 2007

The long-awaited update to Microsoft’s virtualization software was released Monday. Virtual PC 2007 brings support for Windows Vista — as both a guest and host operating system — and takes advantage of new hardware virtualization technology from both Intel and AMD. Virtual PC enables users to run multiple operating systems on a single computer by creating “virtual machines.”

Both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Virtual PC 2007 are available free of charge; Microsoft made Virtual PC 2004 SP1 freeware last July and promised to release 2007 for no cost. The move to freeware ups the ante with rival virtualization companies such as VMware and new market entrant Parallels. Download Virtual PC 2007 from FileForum.

Former IBM Worker Sues Over Internet Addiction

An IBM employee who was dismissed by the company for visiting an adult-themed chat room while at work has decided to sue the company for $5 million. He claims he has become addicted to the Internet.

James Pacenza says his problems began after his stint in Vietnam in 1969. After his tour he developed post-traumatic stress disorder, and he frequented chat rooms to seek help for his condition.

Pacenza says the stress led him to a sex addition, and when the Internet became popular he began to develop an addiction to the Internet. However, his lawyers claim he never visited any pornographic Web sites while at work, and the firing was more about his age than the actual offense.

With the company for 19 years and 55 at the time of the incident, Pacenza would have been eligible for retirement in one year. IBM disputes this claim, saying the termination was for visiting sexual Web sites and had nothing to do with his age.

IBM testifies that it had warned Pacenza about his browsing habits and was only terminated after he was caught visiting “an Internet chat room for a sexual experience.” It is seeking to have the case dismissed.

A fellow employee had spotted that Pacenza was in the chat room after he left his workstation without logging off. He was fired the next day, but is arguing that the move was too extreme.

Even stranger is Pacenza’s defense, saying IBM had a lax policy on discipline for other offenses. Those with drug or alcohol problems are offered counseling. No mental health programs are offered IBM, and Pacenza says he was denied the right to appeal his dismissal.

IBM has declined to comment on the case.

Novell CEO: We’re Going to ‘Attack’ Vista

The ‘alliance’ between Novell and Microsoft got a bit weirder after Novell’s CEO indicated that he was pleased by Vista’s slow rate of adoption, and will continue to battle the company directly in the marketplace.

Ron Hovespian made the comments to reporters in Australia on Thursday. He mentioned that Vista took over five years to produce, while open source is much easier to develop for. Also, the agreement brings Novell closer to Microsoft’s customers.

Although many IT administrators will openly voice their dislike, the reality of the matter is most use the Windows operating system to run their servers. With Novell closer to the customer, the chance of migrating to Linux is much greater, he claims.

Hovespian defended the deal, saying that while the company itself did not have to do it, it was in the best interest of its customers. Additionally, he refuted the misconception that the two companies signed a patent cross-licensing agreement.

“We did not sign a patent cross licensing agreement, what we agreed to was not to sue any customers over patents,” he was quoted by news sources as telling reporters. Microsoft and Novell could still sue each other, he added.

Novell says that the agreement has proven to be a positive move for the company, citing some “big wins” it has seen. Following the agreement, the company sold about 35,000 SUSE Linux support certificates, one of the more lucrative parts of its Linux business.

Microsoft has also held up its end of the pact by hiring sales and marketing staff to support SUSE Linux. An interoperability lab is still in the works as well, Hovespian says.

But after all the good feelings, don’t expect Novell to take it easy on Vista. Hovespian said that Novell is “going to attack Vista” head on in the years to come.

US accuses Iran over Iraq bombs

The US military has accused the “highest levels” of Iran’s government of supplying increasingly sophisticated roadside bombs to Iraqi insurgents. Senior defence officials told reporters in Baghdad that the bombs were being used to deadly effect, killing more than 170 US troops since June 2004.

The weapons known as “explosively formed penetrators” (EFPs) are capable of destroying an Abrams tank.

US claims the bombs were smuggled from Iran cannot be independently verified.

The US officials, speaking off camera on condition of anonymity, said EFPs had also injured more than 620 US personnel since June 2004.

The weapons had characteristics unique to being manufactured in Iran

US defence official

They said US intelligence analysts believed the bombs were manufactured in Iran and secretly sent to Iraqi Shia militants on the orders of senior officials in Tehran.

“We assess that these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government,” one official said.

He pointed the finger at Iran’s elite al-Quds brigade, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards, saying that a senior commander from the brigade had been one of five Iranians seized by US forces in a raid in the Iraqi town of Irbil in January.

‘Flushing the evidence’

The defence official said that when the men were captured they had been tying to flush documents down a toilet and that one of them had been contaminated with explosives residue.

They had also reportedly shaved their heads to alter their appearance – bags of their hair were found during the raid.

US handout showing alleged Iranian mortars

US handouts showed weapons retrieved from attacks

Tehran has denied that the captured Iranians are members of the brigade, which Iran does not officially recognise, but which observers say reports directly to Ayatollah Ali Khamanei.

The US officials also referred to a raid in Iraq in December in which the security forces said they found inventory sheets of weaponry and equipment that had been brought into Iraq.

The US has claimed in the past that Iranian weapons were being used in Iraq, but it has never before accused Iranian government officials of being directly involved.

Tehran has repeatedly denied any involvement.

Weapons on display

The US officials said that as well as bomb-making technology Iran was supplying Shia groups in Iraq with money and military training.

The BBC’s Jane Peel attended the briefing in Baghdad, at which all cameras and recording devices were banned.

Examples of the allegedly smuggled weapons were put on display, including EFPs, mortar shells and rocket propelled grenades which the US claims can be traced to Iran.

“The weapons had characteristics unique to being manufactured in Iran… Iran is the only country in the region that produces these weapons,” an official said.

Truck bomb

Policeman in Baghdad

Police have frequently been the targets of attacks in Iraq

In the latest violence in Iraq , at least 15 people were killed when a suicide bomber drove a vehicle laden with explosives into a police station near the town of Tikrit.

At least 25 people were injured in the attack on the station in Adwar, about 175km (110 miles) north of Baghdad.

The casualties are reported to include prisoners held in cells at the police station, as well as civilian visitors.

Two US soldiers were killed by small-arms fire in Baghdad and north-east of the capital, the US military said.

Separately, the US military said it had no information on a helicopter that residents said came down near the town of near Taji, about 20km (12 miles) north of Baghdad.

US claims against Iran: why now?

In October 2005, the then British ambassador to Iraq William Patey told reporters in London that Iran had been supplying technology used to kill British troops in Basra.

US photo of bomb damage from an EFP - explosively formed penetrator

US photo of bomb damage from an EFP – explosively formed penetrator

He said he had complained to the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad about it.

The claim was that elements connected to the Shia militia in the south, the Mehdi army, had been using specially shaped charges, in which the force of the explosion is directed narrowly in one direction, thereby enabling it to penetrate armoured vehicles.

No evidence was produced, other than a suggestion that the Iranian-supported Lebanese group Hezbollah had also used such charges, so the common origin had to be Iran.

US officials have made similar claims over the last year. General George Casey, the then US commander in Iraq, said so in June 2006.

Evidence

In a briefing in Baghdad on Sunday, US military and intelligence officers finally laid out their evidence.

The question has to be asked as to why it has taken at least 14 months for this to happen.

So, why now?

If you take the claims at face value, the reason is that only now has the evidence become substantial enough to be made public. The number of attacks is said to have grown as well, so that is another explanation put forward for going public now. A trend has been identified about which information should be given.

According to this position, there is nothing sinister about the timing of the claim. It is the result of an evidence-based process which has only now reached the stage of producing a result. And after all, reporters have been asking for this evidence for months.

There are other possibilities as well.

Softening up?

For a start, the fear among some is that the US is softening up world opinion for an attack on Iran. Such an attack would be aimed at Iran’s nuclear facilities.

At the moment, the US lacks a casus belli and by claiming that Iran is responsible for killing USA troops, it could be laying the groundwork for a ‘self-defence’ justification, according to this theory.

Vehicle burning after roadside bombing

Iraq violence in figures

Timeline: US-Iran ties

The new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator John Rockefeller said recently: “To be quite honest, I’m a little concerned that it’s Iraq again.”

There is also the fact that the US is launching its ‘surge’ policy of moving extra troops into Baghdad. These claims are being made against Shia militias, including the Mehdi army, one of the main targets of the latest policy.

Blaming Shia Iran for supporting Iraqi Shia militias makes it easier for the US to sell that policy at home and abroad.

Blaming others

Then there is the old tactic of blaming someone else for your own problems.

Many people will not distinguish between the Shia militias that Iran is said to supply – and which have ties to the Iraqi government – and the Sunni insurgents who have been the cause of much of the violence.

The allegedly Iranian supplied bombs are said to have caused the deaths of 170 American soldiers, but overall 2497 soldiers have been killed in hostile incidents, most of them at hands of the Sunnis.

The claim serves the purpose of helping to lay the blame for the whole insurgency at Iran’s door.

There are also other possible reasons for this timing.

Council deadline

The UN Security Council has laid down that Iran must suspend its enrichment of uranium by 21 February. If it does not, and if the International Atomic Energy Agency confirms this, the resolution says that further economic sanctions will be considered.

The officials said such an assertion [that Iran was the source of components for the explosive devises] was an inference based on general intelligence assessments

New York Times

The US is preparing to argue for tougher sanctions, so making claims against Iran over Iraq might help it in its arguments that Iran is a threat.

On the wider front, the Bush administration is engaged in a campaign against the Iranian government in order to isolate it and eventually maybe see its end under internal pressure from the Iranian people.

The latest claims against Iran could be a part of that campaign.

The claims

What of the claims themselves?

They are based on physical evidence, from bombs and their effects. The bombs now even have their own name and acronym – explosively formed penetrators or EFPs.

Previously they had been lumped in the generalised description of IEDs – improvised explosive devices.

The implication is that now they are less improvised and more planned.

They are said to be provided by Iran in kit form and to be smuggled across the often-open border.

However the officials who presented the evidence could not make a direct link to Iran.

“The officials said such an assertion was an inference based on general intelligence assessments,” stated the New York Times.

They did make much of the detention in Irbil of five Iranians who were said to be members of the Quds force of the Iranian revolutionary Guards.

The Quds (the word means Jerusalem) force was said by the US officials to be controlled directly by the “highest levels of the Iranian government”.

That last statement is significant in that the US is now making a charge against the Iranian government itself, not just against its agents.

Scepticism

Against the inference that this all comes from Iran is the concept that Iraqis themselves would be capable of copying a design and therefore do not need to get bombs from Iran.

And there have been a number of news reports over the last year expressing scepticism, even among military personnel, about the link to Iran.

The Washington Post reported last October that British troops in the south doubted the claim.

A year ago, the London Times said that British officers in Basra had stopped making any such claim, saying only that the technology matched bomb-making found elsewhere in the Middle East, including Lebanon and Syria.

IAEA suspends Iran aid projects

The UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, says it has frozen almost half its technical aid projects involving Iran. The IAEA says its move is to comply with UN sanctions imposed on Tehran late last year over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

Twenty-two projects have been suspended, according to an IAEA report.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, is to meet EU diplomats at a forum in Germany on Saturday, despite earlier reports to the contrary.

European officials hope to hold informal talks with him on the nuclear stand-off at the top-level security conference in Munich.

‘Message of inducement’

The IAEA gives technical aid to dozens of countries on the peaceful use of nuclear energy in fields such as medicine, agriculture and power generation.

The nuclear watchdog has 55 projects that involve Iran.

Of these, 22 have now been frozen to comply with the UN sanctions, which call for an end to programmes that could be exploited by Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

The IAEA board is expected to formally back the move, recommended by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, when it meets next month.

The BBC’s Kerry Skyring in Vienna says that the IAEA has been under pressure from the United States to take a tough line.

A senior UN official told Reuters news agency the freeze constituted a “substantial cut” in technical aid to Iran.

“It is a message of inducement to Iran to reconsider its course,” the official said.

The US believes that Iran is working to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and has vowed to continue.