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Monday, December 3, 2007

Stepping back from the brink of war

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) has presented a consensus view of all 16 American security and intelligence agencies that Iran does not possess Nuclear weapons, nor does it currently have the capability to produce them.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence today declassified the findings from the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran. NIEs are the Intelligence Community’s most authoritative written judgments on national security issues and are designed to help US civilian and military leaders develop policies to protect US national security interests. The findings are as follows:
  • We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.

  • We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years.

  • We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.

  • We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon.

  • Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.
The report goes on to conclude:
"We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU [Highly Enriched Uranium] for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame. (INR [Bureau of Intelligence and Research] judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of
foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.) All agencies recognize the possibility that this capability may not be attained until after 2015."

Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Dr. Donald M. Kerr writes of the NIE findings:
"The decision to release an unclassified version of the Key Judgments of this NIE was made when it was determined that doing so was in the interest of our nation’s security. The Intelligence Community is on the record publicly with numerous statements based on our 2005 assessment on Iran. Since our understanding of Iran’s capabilities has changed, we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available. While the decision to release the declassified Key Judgments was coordinated in discussion with senior policy makers, the IC [Intelligence Community] took responsibility for what portions of the NIE Key Judgments were to be declassified. These unclassified Key Judgments are consistent with the findings of this National Intelligence Estimate."

Read more (pdf)

Brazil oil find poses challenges

The recently discovered Tupi oil field, 290 km off the Brazilian coast, holds between 5 and 8 billion barrels of oil and natural gas.

Analysts estimate that the deposit is worth US $60 billion and that by 2013 will elevate Brazil to the rank of 12th largest oil producer in the world. The discovery is not without its challenges, say Brazilian state oil company, Petrobras.

Tupi is the largest ever oil find in deep waters and Petrobras believes it may be the first of several new fields of over a billion barrels in size, termed "Elephants". This has prompted the Brazilian government to remove over 40 adjacent oil exploration blocks from an upcoming auction and draft new legislation to limit the role of private companies in oil exploitation in the area.

Petrobras has a reputation as one of the world's best at exploiting deep-sea oil deposits; even so the Tupi field poses significant engineering challenges. The oil lies a total of 7km (4.3 miles) beneath the ocean's surface — deeper than Petrobras has ever drilled. The sea bed is 2km (1.2 miles) beneath the surface at this point, and from there lies a further 2km of rock-hard salt, and 3km (1.8 miles) of rock, sand and silt. Much of Brazil's oil production currently comes from deep water, but none yet comes from below the salt layer, which can turn 'sticky' and clog drilling equipment.

"Despite all the difficulties, Petrobras will rise to the challenge," says Marcio Rocha Mello, president of the Brazilian Association of Petroleum Geologists

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Nanosolar - printable solar panels

Palo Alto based nanotechnology company Nanosolar has been working since 2002 on building low-cost "thin-film" solar panels that are literally printed onto flexible sheets; dramatically reducing production, distribution and installation costs.

Prominent Nanosolar investors

  • U.S. Department of Energy - $20M award
  • Benchmark Capital - VC behind eBay
  • Mohr Davidow Ventures - VC behind Rambus
  • Mitsui & Co
  • OnPoint Technologies - US Army equity fund
  • Stanford University
  • Swiss Re
  • GLG Partners
  • LGT Capital Group
  • SAC Capital
  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google)
  • Nanosolar's Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide (CIGS) thin film has comparable efficiencies to regular multicrystalline silicon cells. However, the cost per watt for CIGS will be about 1/5th that of regular solar cells, making it comparable in cost to grid generated power at under $2 per watt.

    Instead of using expensive vacuum based thin-film deposition processes, Nanosolar developed a nanoparticle ink that enables them to use a much simpler and higher yield printing process for depositing the solar cell's semiconductor onto a low-cost foil substrate; using a continuous roll-to-roll printing process. This enables the production of high-power high-current panels with significantly lower costs.

    • Ink

      Nanosolar has developed a proprietary ink that makes it possible to simply print the semiconductor of the solar cell. The homogeneous mix of nanoparticles in the ink ensures that the atomic ratios of the elements are correct wherever the ink is printed, even across large areas of deposition. This contrasts to vacuum deposition processes where the various materials sources have to be "atomically" synchronized.

    • Printing

      Printing is simpler, faster and more cost efficient than other semiconductor techniques. Using a process that can work in plain air without the need of vacuum deposition enables Nanosolar to significantly cut the costs of manufacture.

    • Substrate

      A thin-film solar cell consists of an absorber layer (the semiconductor) sandwiched in between a top and a bottom electrode layer. The thin films of the Nanosolar cell are deposited directly onto a highly conductive copper foil electrode, which is not only much simpler than electrodes used on glass or stainless steel substrates, it can carry 5-10 times more current than other thin-film cells.

    • Roll-to-roll processing

      Rolls that are meters wide and kilometers long can be processed efficiently with high throughput in equipment with significantly lower capital cost than current wafer-based methods.

    • Patents

      Nanosolar has over 180 patents issued, licensed, or pending regarding all critical aspects of nanostructured solar cell materials and relevant product and equipment designs.

    Saturday, December 1, 2007

    Oregon Attorney General rebukes RIAA, files counter discovery motion

    The Oregon Attorney General has filed a Reply Memorandum which very eloquently sums up the entire debacle of the RIAA—on behalf of the Recording Industry—filing subpoenas seeking universities to reveal the identities of students they allege to be involved in copyright infringement.

    Previously this year, attempts by the RIAA to intimidate Harvard University were met with a fiery rejoinder from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, which has seen the RIAA subsequently subpoena every other ivy league university in the US except Harvard.

    Now the Oregon Attorney General has stepped in to support the motion by the University of Oregon to quash the RIAA's subpoena in its case Arista Records LLC v. Does 1-17, which requires the university to disclose the identities of students allegedly involved in file sharing activities.

    The Memorandum of Response from the Attorney General is possibly one of the best pieces of legal narrative I have read and it certainly sums up the situation faced by a number of universities around the US. Here are the highlights:

    • The University of Oregon (University) currently finds itself on a battleground not of its own making. By challenging over-broad and burdensome subpoena from the RIAA (Plaintiff), the University has attempted to protect the fundamental privacy rights of its students, conserve limited public resources, and to provide pertinent information for the Court's consideration regarding whether Plaintiffs' discovery efforts are appropriate. Sadly, the University's efforts thus far have been met by accusations that the University is obstructing the process and even conspiring with law-breakers. Those accusations are not warranted. Certainly it is appropriate for victims of copyright infringement to lawfully pursue statutory remedies. However, that pursuit must be tempered by basic notions of privacy and due process. The record in this case suggests that the larger issue may not be whether students are sharing copyrighted music, but whether Plaintiffs' investigative and litigation strategies are appropriate or capable of supporting their conclusory allegations.

    • Before Plaintiffs may properly obtain the identities of the Doe Defendants through a compulsory discovery process, Plaintiff must support those allegations with evidence sufficient to establish a prima facie claim.

    • Since expedited discovery is a discretionary process, it follows that the Court may also consider information relating to Plaintiffs' conduct. If the record shows more intent to harass than anything else, expedited discovery is simply not appropriate. The same is true if the discovery is fairly characterized as a fishing expedition, causing needless expense and burden to all concerned. Such discovery runs counter to the important but often neglected Rule I of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires that all rules "shall be construed and administered to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.

    • The Plaintiffs only affiant, Mr. Carlos Linares, has no first hand information about the alleged misconduct and played no role in its investigation.

    • The "data mining" techniques used to investigate computer users really only prove that computer files associated with a particular IP address contain copyrighted songs and also contain software used to exchange data files, including but not limited to music files. The data mining does not indicate how the music files were obtained in the first instance (legally or illegally) or even whether the files were actually shared thereafter. It follows that Plaintiffs have shown only a potential for illegal file sharing; they have not shown that any infringing activity took place. The testimony also shows that the when the file sharing software is enabled on an individual's computer, with or without his knowledge, it allows copyright violators elsewhere to access his music files and copy them without his participation or awareness.

    • Other red flags are apparent. For instance, Plaintiffs' investigation practices probably provide the capability to "mine" private, confidential information unrelated to copyright infringement. Plaintiffs' expert, Mr. Jacobson, testified under oath that file-sharing programs Plaintiffs are accessing sometimes upload personal and confidential information of the user and make that information available for sharing unbeknownst to the user. It only follows that Plaintiffs' investigator, MediaSentry, has access to such information when it is stored in a file-sharing program that it is "mining." In conferral, Plaintiffs refused to answer interrogatories that would shed light on this obvious and legitimate concern.

    • Plaintiffs' third-party investigator, MediaSentry, is investigating in Oregon without a license. By investigating Oregonians without proper licensing, MediaSentry may be in violation of ORS 703.993(2), a misdemeanor crime.

    • The credibility of the Plaintiff in regards their investigation and
      their litigation tactics was highlighted in the case of Atlantic Recording Corp., et al. v. Tanya Andersen. Plaintiffs sued an Oregon woman for copyright infringement, based on the same theories and investigative techniques at issue herein. The Defendant actively contested the allegations and denied any unlawful activity. The Plaintiffs, and, rather than submit to discovery or oppose the motion for summary judgment, Plaintiffs abandoned their case. Tanya Andersen claims Plaintiffs' litigation strategy involves the use of collection firms, which apparently engage in debt collection activities in Oregon and across the country. Information in her Complaint suggests that Plaintiffs may use the judicial power of this and other courts to identify persons suspected of copyright infringement, and then, rather than pursue the litigation, use the collection firms to leverage payment of arbitrary sums of money, based on threats and evidence from the data mining.

    • Plaintiffs mislead the court by stating that the information they seek concerning the John Does is "directory information" and thus available under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act even in the absence of a subpoena. Plaintiffs seek the name, address and telephone number of students who were allegedly engaged in specific conduct at specific times. Clearly, when Plaintiffs seek the names of individuals with access to an IP address associated with a specific computer or a specific residence at a specific point in time, the information sought is personally identifiable information. Furthermore, the alleged directory information sought by Plaintiffs names, addresses and phone numbers-is clearly linked to non-directory information computer habits, an individual's physical presence at a specific location at a particular point in time-and thus cannot be released absent appropriate legal process.

    • And the coup de grĂ¢ce... While the University is not a party to the case, Plaintiffs' subpoena affects the University's rights and obligations. Plaintiffs may be spying on students who use the University's computer system and may be accessing much more than IP addresses. The University seeks the Court's permission to serve the attached interrogatories on Plaintiffs and conduct telephonic depositions of the individuals who investigated the seventeen John Does named in this lawsuit to determine 1) what their investigative practices are and 2) whether they have any additional information with which to identify the John Does. Plaintiffs have refused to provide the University with answers to these basic questions. If Plaintiffs have nothing to hide, they should be able to agree to these reasonable requests. Since Plaintiffs have declined to share any information about what they know and how they know it, the University seeks the assistance of the Court to obtain it.

    Read more (pdf)

    NASA to honor Gene Kranz

    On Dec 6th, NASA will honor Eugene "Gene" Kranz with the presentation of an Ambassador of Exploration Award for his involvement in the U.S. space program.

    The award is a moon rock encased in Lucite and mounted for public display as inspiration to a new generation of explorers who will help return humans to the moon and eventually travel on to Mars and beyond. The rock is part of the 842 pounds of samples collected during the six Apollo lunar expeditions from 1969 to 1972.

    NASA is giving the Ambassador of Exploration Award to the first generation of explorers in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs for realizing America's vision of going to the moon. NASA also is recognizing several key individuals who played significant roles in the early space programs.

    Kranz worked on NASA's Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions; and was probably best noted as the lead flight director during the Apollo 13 mission. An explosion aboard the spacecraft during Apollo 13 required Kranz and other team members to help resolve the crisis and safely bring the astronauts back to Earth. Kranz was a co-recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the Apollo 13 Mission.