19 February, 2012



Intel ups the ante on Moore’s Law with speed + low energy

Posted: 19 Feb 2012 08:00 AM PST

Intel is announcing several advances in chip technology today that show it is keeping up with the demanding pace of Moore’s Law, which predicts a doubling of semiconductor performance every two years.

Formulated in 1965 by Intel chairman emeritus Gordon Moore, Moore’s Law isn’t guaranteed. But today’s announcements show that the world’s biggest chip maker is still delivering on Moore’s prediction. The new advances include leaps in energy efficient computing, low-voltage processing, integrated digital radios, and efficient processor graphics. Intel is making the announcement through various talks at the International Solid State Circuits Conference, an engineering and science event that starts today in San Francisco.

“Energy efficiency has been Intel’s goal for many years now,” said Justin Rattner, chief technology officer at Intel, in a call with reporters. “We do it to minimize the energy impact on the environment but also to make Intel’s products more scalable across the computing continuum.”

That means Intel is creating energy efficient chips for low-power mobile devices all the way up to high-performance supercomputing chips. In contrast to past years where performance alone mattered, Intel’s chips are now designed to work within limited energy budgets. Various techniques now enable five-time to 10-time improvements in energy efficiency, or higher performance per watt of power consumption.

Intel’s latest advances include the ability to operate at “near threshhold voltage,” which balances fast operation and low power use and enables a five- to 10-time improvement in energy efficiency. Chips today have to be able to operate at a greater dynamic range, starting at a few megahertz and skyrocketing to a gigahertz or more for an urgent task, then returning to the megahertz level again. Intel’s experimental 32-nanometer chip, based on the original Pentium processor chip design from 1993, can operate at 3 megahertz at 280 millivolts and then shoot up to 915 megahertz at 1.2 volts.

Intel has also managed to reduce the amount of voltage required to run a memory chip as well as a processor-graphics combination chip.

In digital radios, Intel has integrated a WiFi radio into a system-on-a-chip package that includes two Atom processor cores. The 32-nanometer chip could drive down the cost and size of future mobile devices.

“That’s enabling Moore’s Law for RF (radio frequency) circuits,” which typically don’t scale well as you shrink the circuits from one generation to the next, Rattner said. “We are getting close to having the complete kit of digital radio building blocks.”

Normally, radio circuits create interference with other circuits, but Intel has successfully integrated the radio portion of a chip just millimeters away from other processor elements. The barriers to doing a commercial version of this kind of chip are falling rapidly, Rattner said.

“We’ve moved to rethink radio from a computational perspective,” Rattner said.

Over time, Rattner said Intel also hopes to build a cellular phone radio that can be embedded in an Intel processor chip.

Intel has also improved math with so-called floating point processing without compromising energy efficiency. This 32-nanometer experimental chip varies the precision of its floating point calculations in a dynamic manner. The chip uses 50 percent less power and is seven times more energy efficient than regular chips.

On a near-term basis, Intel is also talking about Ivy Bridge, the code name for a new processor that will be the first to use Intel’s new 3D Tri-Gate 22-nanometer transistor technology.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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SOPA author strikes back with Internet surveillance bill; no one is safe

Posted: 18 Feb 2012 06:48 PM PST

SOPA author Lamar Smith is sponsoring a new bill named the “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011″ (H.R. 1981). The bill is not brand new, mind you, but with so many other oppressive attempts by the government to invade privacy and control the Internet lately, it has managed to slip by relatively unnoticed until now.

The bill (which can be read here) would alter U.S. code Chapter 18 section 2703 “Required Disclosure of Customer Communications or Records” so that all Internet service providers would need to store your IP address for at least 12 months, along with any highly sensitive personal information such as credit card data.

IP addresses are assigned to devices connected to the Internet and used to identify and locate that device. Most users are assigned a dynamic IP address, which is only temporary. Static IP addresses, which are permanent, are much less frequent. H.R. 1981 would require all IP addresses to be stored by Internet service providers.

Not only does that treat everyone who uses the Internet (slyly referred to in the bill as “unregistered sex offenders”) like a criminal under the transparent guise of stopping child pornography, but it also puts your personal information at risk, while legally protecting service providers. Previously this information could only be obtained with a subpoena; that would no longer be the case.

Submitted last year, the bill is grabbing attention not only because of the potential breach of constitutional privacy, but also due to the existence of a Canadian equivalent, C-30, which has been making headlines lately.

Introduced by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Bill C-30 (the “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act”) extends the currently unlawful personal data archiving to mobile carriers. The bill also allows any police officer to access the data without a warrant under vague “exceptional circumstances.”

Public outrage was swift, with Twitter users worldwide trending the #TellVicEverything hashtag by spamming him with the minute details of their everyday lives. While Toews laughed it off and said he found it “very amusing,” he was a little less amused when an anonymous Twitter account started sharing his own personal data, including initimate details of his divorce. An investigation traced the Twitter account’s IP address back to the House of Commons (the Canadian version of the US House of Representatives).

In a recent interview, Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian called the Canadian bill “disingenuous,” referring to its alleged focus on child pornography. ”My guess is the reason they are doing this is because they don’t have a strong case and in order to engage the public and their support, they have to make it about the protection of our children,” Cavoukian said. ”It’s nonsense.”

“You can infer, by connecting the dots of the surfing habits online, a great deal of very personal information about an individual. And I object to that kind of information being accessible without a warrant,” said Cavoukian. She also pointed out that the bill would require service providers to install surveillance measures, which would ultimately raise prices for Internet users.

Cavoukian’s comments refer to Bill C-30 but can easily be applied to the virtually identical H.R. 1981 in the U.S.

I’m left wondering how long it will be before one of these bills slips through. It seems like every other week there’s another shady bill that’s somehow “worse than SOPA!!11!!” floating dangerously close to becoming a law. Are Reddit and Wikipedia and Google going to fight each and every one of them?

The fact that H.R. 1981 — where everyone who uses the Internet is treated like a suspect — even exists is mind-boggling, and more than a little scary.

Image via Threadless.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Cool private companies: Growing e-commerce firms

Posted: 18 Feb 2012 02:43 PM PST

As a software securities analyst for investment banking firm Canaccord Genuity, Richard Davis spends 200 days a year on the road visiting companies. He goes to public companies such as Oracle and Salesforce.com, but he also visits up-and-coming software companies he thinks will go public in the near future.

ChannelAdvisor: Aiding online retailers

I've known this company for several years, and during that time I've watched the firm mature and evolve. Several years ago, ChannelAdvisor was tightly focused on the eBay eco-system. Since then, the firm has emerged as a global aid for online retailers, helping them efficiently reach prospects.

This means ChannelAdvisor helps firms manage multi-channel outreach, whether that is down the street or on the other side of the globe. In 2010, the firm managed $2.8 billion in gross merchandise value from leading retailers like Saks, Dell, and Brookstone, and 30 percent of Internet Retailer Magazine's Top 500 online retailers. It seems to us that Channel Advisor is a company on the move. We plan to pay much closer attention to this firm over the next few years.

Approximate size: $50-100 million in revenues.

Chegg: Digital textbooks, book rentals, and more

Chegg is much more than textbook rentals. The firm offers e-textbooks, course information, reviews and in some instances notes from a few dozen colleges. In addition, the company offers homework help. Basically, the firm is emerging as a go-to source of content (books, notes, comments, grade distribution, etc.) and coursework help. That seems like a viable plan for a big business to me.

I caught up with a Chegg board member recently and we spoke a bit about how the firm is single-handedly saving students millions of dollars on egregious textbook costs. I know this is true from personal experience with my children at college; textbook prices are way too high for the amount of updating that occurs year to year.

Approximate size: >$100 million in revenues.

Gift Side Story: Helping guys buy gifts

I arrived at Buck's in Woodside a few minutes early for my breakfast with a long-time friend. I saw another fellow advance to the door at the restaurant, which was locked. He circled back, came up, and said hello. "Hey, I'm meeting some VCs around here for the first time and I was wondering if I should be wearing a suit or not?" I said no, unless he was a financial services software firm or he was going up to San Francisco proper where some people wear sport coats. He thanked me and I asked him what the name of his company was. "Gift Side Story," he said. His name was Ankur Jain.

Jain said his company was a website that helped guys figure out what gifts they should get for their wives or girlfriends. You fill out a brief questionnaire about your significant other’s preferences and the software provides you with recommendations. It has a self-learning component that is designed to formulate better results based upon the more information that is put into it in terms of questions and responses to actual orders. There is also a real-time chat function available if you get really stuck, which is a nice touch.

You pick an item from the recommendations and it takes you to the site's checkout page. Input your credit card info and presto, the gift wrapped item is on its way! The prices looked good with discount banners indicating 10-50 percent off deals.

Richard Davis is managing director of enterprise software for the brokerage firm Canaccord Genuity. Before joinging Canaccord, he spent 10 years as a senior analyst at Needham & Company. Previously, Davis was at Tucker Anthony, where he launched the firm's Internet and enterprise software coverage.

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Researchers create on/off switch for credit cards to prevent RFID theft

Posted: 18 Feb 2012 01:06 PM PST

Researchers are working on an on/off switch for the next generation of credit cards. No, not to stop you from spending money you shouldn’t, but to help protect you from theft and fraud.

Credit cards are moving away from magnetic strips to more modern, no-contact technology. Now, with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips or near-field communication (NFC) cards, you can just wave your credit card in front of a reader to quickly pay for a cup of joe.

However, this ease could open up the doors for a new type of criminal. In theory, shady characters with portable scanners can read the information off your RFID card by getting close enough to you that your card is in their reader’s electromagnetic field. This type of theft hasn’t taken off yet, due to clunky technology and minimal monetary gain (most RFID and NFC cards have low spending caps), but an on/off trick could be a smart preventative step.

Researchers at the Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering are working on a simple new technology that would require customers to place their finger on the card to turn it “on” when they pay. When you place your finger on a specific spot on the card, say a logo or icon, it would complete a circuit and enable readers to charge the card. If the circuit isn’t complete, the card’s NFC or RFID technology would be disabled.

“Our new design integrates an antenna and other electrical circuitry that can be interrupted by a simple switch, like turning off the lights in the home or office,” explains professor Marlin Mickle in a statement. “The RFID or NFC credit card is disabled if left in a pocket or lying on a surface and unreadable by thieves using portable scanners.”

The extra step would take very little time for the customer, and researchers think the technology would be fairly easy and inexpensive for credit card companies to adopt. They recently filed a patent application for the on/off card technology.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Apple files patent complaint against Motorola, asks for EU investigation

Posted: 18 Feb 2012 11:36 AM PST

Here’s the latest punch in the ongoing mobile-device patent brawl: Apple has filed an official complaint with the European Commission against Motorola Mobility for violating agreements to fairly license standards-essential patents. The action comes just days after the U.S. and E.U. approved Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion.

Motorola revealed the complaint Friday in its annual report with the SEC, which reads:

On February 17, 2012, the Company received a letter from the European Commission, Competition Directorate-General, (the "Commission") notifying it that the Commission has received a complaint against Motorola Mobility, Inc. ("MMI") by Apple, Inc. ("Apple") regarding the enforcement of MMI's standards-essential patents against Apple allegedly in breach of MMI's FRAND commitments. Apple's complaint seeks the Commission's intervention with respect to standards-essential patents. Apple's complaint seeks the Commission's intervention with respect to standards-essential patents.”

The Motorola patents in question are included in the 17,000 patents Google will get its hands on when its purchase of Motorola Mobility is complete. The patents are to be licensed on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. When a technology is classified as FRAND, the owner of the patent must license it to other companies for a fee, since the technology is considered essential to an industry.

Two days ago, Apple won a dispute with Motorola in German courts over its “Slide to unlock” feature. The courts said two Motorola phones were violating Apple’s patent and now Apple can push to have the devices removed from the market.

In a recent letter to the iEEE standards association, Google said it would continue to license all standards-essential patents under the same conditions as Motorola Mobility, and for the same maximum 2.25 percent royalty of the net selling price — that’s the full price of a tablet or smartphone before any subsidies.

If patent war play-by-plays are your thing, follow Florian Mueller’s exhaustively thorough FOSS Patents blog.

Fencing image via ShutterStock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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