Boon-docks may get digital cable, high-speed Internet via WiMAX

Pace Micro Technologies, a developer of digital TV technologies, announced today that it has developed a solution which provides cable TV, internet, and phone service to people who might not otherwise be in range. Once content is delivered to the home, 802.11n technology will distribute it throughout the whole house. HangZhou Night Net

Pace's solution is based on WiMAX, which is part of the IEEE 802.16 standard. WiMAX is the solution of choice for a number of reasons. First, it has range. The WiMAX Forum claims that it can carry acceptable throughput up to 30 miles, but admits that realistically, "service ranges up to 10 miles are very likely in line of sight applications," and that ranges beyond ten miles are possible but not "desirable for heavily loaded networks." Second, WiMAX has the throughput that would be required in order to deliver cable, phone, and high-speed internet; WiMAX is expected to deliver about 75Mbps of throughput per channel, although the rate drops as range increases.

Pace worked with Metalink, a wireless and broadband silicon solutions provider, on its 802.11n technology. In order to receive content, each home will be equipped with a server unit, which then connects wirelessly to a WiMAX base station by using Pace's Connections Suite Software. Once customers are connected to the station, they can spread the signal throughout their home using Metalink's WLANPlus, an 802.11n compliant technology that claims to provide "a reliable foundation for the provision of wireless triple-play and entertainment networks with multiple simultaneous HD video streams and extended coverage." I imagine this "technology" is simply an 802.11n router with some form of password protection so that your neighbor doesn't leech your video feed.

Of course, many would argue that the throughput rate of 802.11n or WiMAX is not nearly enough to deliver a full uncompressed 1080p video stream, so the company's dreams may be a bit far-fetched. Pace also isn't the first to consider WiMAX as a solution; Clearwire announced in June that it was planning to do the same thing. Still, Pace's plan should certainly help people out in the country that currently have no way of getting high-speed internet.

Get your Grooveshark on: new P2P service will give users a cut of the sales

A new peer-to-peer music service developed by a "team of enterprising college students" has a novel twist on the music sales business: give users a cut of the sales. Grooveshark is currently in beta and claims to have signed a number of independent labels up for its service. All the sales traffic will go over a P2P network, and users will be "rewarded" for sharing their music. HangZhou Night Net

P2P-based music stores are nothing new. Indeed, a number of P2P networks have tried to go legit after running afoul of the RIAA, none with any notable success. The most recent example is LimeWire, which recently announced plans to begin selling MP3s encoded at 256Kbps. LimeWire has managed to sign on a couple of notable distributors, including Nettwerk Productions, home to Avril Lavigne, Sara McLachlan, and the Barenaked Ladies, among other acts.

There are a couple of significant differences between LimeWire and Grooveshark's business models, however. First, LimeWire will start out as a direct-download site, with the P2P component coming later. Also, Grooveshark's virtual tip jar feature appears to be unique among the P2P music stores.

Grooveshark is banking on users being attracted to the idea of getting a cut of the action when someone downloads a track from their PC. At 99¢ per non-DRMed MP3, the user's cut isn't going to be much more than a few cents after the artist, label, and Grooveshark take their share, but it may be enough to convince some music fans to sign up for the service and share some of their bandwidth.

It's a novel concept, but it may have a difficult time gaining traction. Those looking to scratch the indie music itch have many other options, including the very popular eMusic, which has a large selection of DRM-free MP3 files available, as well as the upcoming Amazon DRM-free music store. The loosening of DRM restrictions from the likes of EMI and Universal gives consumers who are looking for music that will play on the devices of their choosing without restrictions new alternatives. It also makes life for upstarts like Grooveshark that much harder.

AMD sees price leaks, public support from Dell in run up to Barcelona

This week has brought a whole raft of AMD stories with all sorts of headlines swirling about the company in the run-up to next week's make-or-break Barcelona announcement. Here's a brief look at the very latest in AMD news before the big day on Monday. HangZhou Night Net

Dell sticks by AMD

In a speech at the 14th Annual Citigroup Technology Conference, Dell CEO Michael Dell insisted that his company would continue offering AMD processors. Dell cited the need for diversity in processor suppliers, as well as the complementary strengths of Intel's quad-core "Clovertown" Xeons and AMD's quad-core Barcelona. Dell, who could be citing either real in-house benchmarks or someone's marketing materials, claimed that Barcelona has a 30 percent lead in floating-point performance over Clovertown, while Clovertown has a 30 percent lead in integer.

These are all good reasons to stick by AMD, but there's another factor behind Dell's newfound love of Intel's archrival that you won't be hearing about from company executives. Namely, the fact that Dell no longer gets the steep discounts and advertising subsidies that it allegedly once received from Intel when it was an Intel-only company. In the post-Conroe world, Intel has cut prices across the board for its processor lineup. So whatever discount Dell may still get, it's not worth losing any potential business over.

AMD serves up Barcelona prices

Someone in the channel squealed, and now DailyTech has its hands on the launch prices and clockspeeds for Barcelona. In line with previous announcements, Barcelona's launch speeds top out at a piddling 2.0GHz across the board, in both two- and four-socket variants. On the two-socket side, there's the 2.0GHz (95W TDP) Opteron 2350, a processor that sells for $372 (presumably in lots of 1,000). There's also a 1.9GHz 68W part for the same price, as well as a 1.7GHz (68W TDP) for $206.

The four-socket Opteron 8000 series is significantly pricier, with the top-end 2.0GHz model going for $1,004, and the bottom-end 1.8GHz model going for $688.

AMD officially pries open ATI driver code

First on the list of AMD headlines is the major announcement that the chipmaker has finally reversed ATI's long-standing and much-hated stance toward Linux support. AMD announced on Wednesday that they would at long last provide Linux support for the HD 2000 series of GPUs by bringing the Catalyst 7.9 drivers to Linux. The company also had previously promised to support the development of an open-source driver by releasing specifications and the source code for a basic driver, a promise that it delivered on today with a formal announcement.

Today's official open-source announcement states that next week, following the Barcelona launch, AMD will not only provide the tools and information necessary to develop open-source drivers for the HD 2000 series, but the Radeon X1000 series will be supported as well. AMD also got Novell's SuSE engineers to contribute to the initial release, which the open-source community can then build upon.

As ZDNET points out, the HD 2000 series' DRM-enabling features, like the High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) protocol and others that I described in my launch coverage, won't be exposed to the open-source community. This means that support for these features will come only after a hefty bout of reverse-engineering and hacking—something that ATI users on Linux are used to anyway.

AMD miscellany: 32nm production; dissed by marketing types; a new gaming site

Theo at The Inquirer reports that AMD and Qimonda have talked the German Ministry of Research and Education into footing the US$12 million bill for some next-generation process research. The idea is for AMD's and Qimonda's engineers to work together with young German engineers in order to look at ways to simulate chips at 32nm and smaller process nodes.

Speaking of the Europeans and AMD, Frenchman and former AMD marketing exec Henri Richard has announced that after leaving AMD he's headed all the way across the street to Freescale. He can do the same thing at a different Texas semiconductor company, and he won't even have to buy a new chateau.

Also leaving AMD's marketing department prior to Barcelona's launch is VP of worldwide sales, Richard Hegberg.

I hope the seeming exodus of marketing VPs at AMD in the run-up to Barcelona isn't indicative of serious problems at the company, but I'm not going to worry about it unless a third one goes. Like they say in the military: once is bad luck, twice is coincidence, and three times is enemy action.

Last on the list of AMD news bits is the company's new gaming site, which is aimed at selling you AMD hardware. They even have a handy system upgrade tool that tells you that you need to buy new AMD products to play X or Y game, along with various community features like clan sites, forums, etc.

My favorite feature of the gaming site has to be the gray tabbed browsing box on the right, which has little white icons that you can click to move to a new tab. Where have I seen this before….?

Schizophrenia may be a side effect of complex brains

A naive view of schizophrenia might leave someone wondering why it persists in human populations. The disease has a strong genetic component, and it strikes individuals during their peak reproductive years, radically reducing their ability to function socially. Selective pressures would be expected to have reduced its incidence, yet it persists at a prevalence of nearly one percent in a broad range of societies. A new analysis in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that the disease may simply be a consequence of genetic features that are useful in building and maintaining a complex brain. HangZhou Night Net

The clearest models for this sort of behavior are the mutations that affect the hemoglobin genes, such as the one that causes sickle cell disease. In these cases, mutations that can be debilitating persist because they provide a strong selective advantage—resistance to malaria. The researchers set out to find out whether some of the genes implicated in schizophrenia were also under positive selection by looking for evidence of both selective sweeps and positive selective pressure on protein sequences. The authors looked at a panel of 76 genes that have been linked to schizophrenia; a set of 300 neural genes acted as controls. They also looked broadly at primate evolution, comparing values across the human/chimp split, those two vs. other primates, and among primates in general.

Fourteen of those genes showed signs of having undergone a recent selective sweep; this was about double the rate of the control set of neural genes; a few others showed signs of more ancient sweeps that occurred prior to humans forming a distinct lineage. One gene, DISC1, also showed powerful evidence of positive selection at the protein level. Just this week, evidence was published that suggests that this gene helps new neurons integrate into the mature brain, something that might help make sense out of the adult onset of the symptoms.

Assuming these figures hold up as more information comes in, the lingering question is what positive things these genes are doing in healthy populations. The authors explicitly suggest that the schizophrenic mind is at the extreme end of a spectrum of increased creative thought; that schizophrenics are simply thinking too far outside the box. I don't find this entirely convincing, especially given the sickle cell model, where the feature under positive selection has nearly nothing to do with the actual disease state. I expect that each gene will have its own evolutionary story, with no general theme. Still, the data look good, and the general model makes a reasonable suggestion as to why the human population is burdened with a high rate of schizophrenia.

Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2007. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2007.0876

ISO reforms proposed in response to OOXML shenanigans

Late last month, evidence emerged indicating that Microsoft has used financial incentives to influence the outcome of Office Open XML (OOXML) fast-track approval in various national standards bodies. Although ISO ended up voting against fast-track approval for OOXML, the company's efforts have created doubts about the reliability of the standards process. In response to these revelations, Freecode CEO Geir Isene has proposed several ISO reforms and calls for an "investigation" to determine if OOXML "was unduly put on the ISO fast track." HangZhou Night Net

Isene argues that Microsoft's ability to influence the standards process at the national level reflects fundamental problems in the standards process itself. In a blog entry, Isene outlines some of the problems that have emerged in countries where Microsoft allegedly manipulated standards approval bodies, including Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, and Malaysia. "Even if this is the tip of an iceberg," writes Isene, "the examples should warrant a thorough examination of the national processes."

Isene's first suggested reform is establishing a clear process for national standards bodies. "The fact that ISO enforces no standard for national bodies opens the standardization process for manipulation or corruption," Isene argues. "I strongly urge ISO to adopt a strict policy for its members detailing the rules for how a national body shall determine its vote in ISO and that it enforces such policy vigorously." The JTC1 procedural directives already provide some guidance on the matter, but individual national standards bodies are given much latitude in choosing how they determine their vote.

The problem with mandating a consistent process for all ISO member countries is that countries have very different governmental structures and different industry dynamics. Allowing the national standards bodies to choose their own processes for determining their vote is probably necessary because no single process will work for all countries.

Isene also calls for reevaluating "the one country one vote principle." He implies that the vote of large countries—like China—should potentially carry more weight than the vote of small countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Columbia, and other latecomers.

Finally, Isene suggests that ISO "would greatly benefit from adopting the IETF requirement of two independent reference implementations for passing a standard." Obviously, this isn't applicable to all ISO standards (there are ISO standards for paper sizes, for instance), but it does make sense for technical formats and programming languages. Indeed, having support for a particular format in products created by two separate vendors before the format reaches the standards process would answer a lot of questions about the viability of the format as a standard. The question, however, is how complete the implementations would need to be before they count.

"The strength, integrity and scalability of ISO have been tested," writes Isene. "The organization's agility and adaptability will now be measured." Indeed, the ISO fast-track approval process for OOXML has revealed some weaknesses in the standardization process and illuminates the need for potential reform. The viability of Isene's reforms are debatable, but national standards bodies certainly need to make an effort to reduce the potential for direct manipulation.