22 Dec 2011

The Top 11 in 11

Here is a brief survey of the top technology, gadgets and science articles that made headlines in 2011.  We could not include everything in this list, but here are the top 11 of 2011.

This list includes the iPAD2, CPUs that operate like a brain, the Higgs Boson, Neutrinos faster than light and the Kindle Fire to name a few:

Up first...

11.  iPad2 launched


Apple released its second-generation iPad.  It was nearly the same physical size as the first one but had a few enhancements worth noting:

  • Ram increased by two fold to 512MB
  • Dual-core 1 GHz A5 CPU
  • Rear-facing 720p camera
  • Front-facing VGA camera
  • Gyroscope

10.  NASA Curiosity Heads to Mars

We covered this story in November.  NASA has sent its next generation Curiosity rover to Mars to hunt for signs of past and possibly present life.  It began an 8 month journey and will arrive sometime around August of 2012.  It is one of the largest rovers ever sent.  This mission will pave the way for future manned missions.  NASA is also studying radiation entering the capsule during its trip to determine how radiation will affect future manned missions as well.  Incidentally, the United States is the only nation that has successfully landed a spacecraft on Mars to date.

9.  CPUs that learn

IBM and others created a chip that very closely mimicked the synapse functions of the human brain.  Computers are traditionally only linear thinkers based on procedures and functions.  Computer video cards can operate in parallel at say a few hundred operations at a time but nowhere near the millions of neurons that process data at the same time.  Hence enter the IBM CPU that contains hundreds of "learning circuits".  We won't see these in consumer applications for some time.  Terminator style thinking robots are a ways off still, thankfully.

8.  Higgs Boson may have been detected

Scientists were able to narrow down their search for the Higgs using data obtained from experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) this year.  Two experiments found hints of the "God particle."  The Higgs is the last piece of the puzzle that would complete the Standard Model of particle physics.  The standard model outlines how elementary particles and forces interact in the universe.  Particles range in size and can be larger or smaller than atoms.  For example, Electrons, neutrons and protons are subatomic particles of an atom.

Elementary particles called quarks and electrons are the foundation on which everything we see is constructed.  The elusive Higgs boson is what gives the particles their mass and fills this vacant hole in particle physics.

Something called a Higgs energy field, is a theory that states this Higgs field music exist everywhere, where by particles fly around in this field, interact with and attract Higgs Bosons.  The bosons gather around the particles in varying amounts.  The more "popular" particles will attract larger clusters of Higgs bosons, consequently the greater the mass.

The LHC is located 328 feet underground in a 17 mile wide tunnel in Switzerland.  It is currently operating at half power but will gain full power by 2013.  Scientists smash protons together at high velocities to "look" for the elusive Higgs boson, which is really only inferred from studying data, not directly observed.

Finding this piece of the puzzle will complete a 50 year search and could lead to a greater understanding of how the universe works, with a complete framework.  This will be a truly ground breaking find if it is proven to exist.

7.  IBM's Watson defeats humans on Jeopardy

Ken Jennings took a beating by IBM's Watson computer at Jeopardy.  It was an amazing spectacle to say the least.  Clearly world domination by computers that resemble Skynet is not far off, or not.

6.  Sony Playstation Network Breach


An hacker gained access to the personal information on the Playstation Network earlier this year.  The information included names, addresses and birth dates as well as possibly credit card information.  This caused their network to be down for a whopping 23 days.

5.  SOPA:  Stop Online Piracy Act

This bill was introduced in October in the U.S. House of Representatives and would give U.S. law enforcement the ability to get court orders to stop search engines, payment systems and other entities from associating with website that are accused of copyright infringement.  Copyright holders could obtain court orders to block these sites under certain conditions.  SOPA is a much wider bill than the Protect IP Act in the U.S. Senate.  Critics of the bills say they give the government far reaching powers to censor legitimate websites that may host infringing material as a way for companies to block competition, effectively eliminating due process as well.  So far neither bill has passed.

4.  Neutrino that moves faster than the speed of light

    Image Credit:  Cern/Science Photo Library

Earlier this year Scientists from CERN, the European particle physics laboratory, reported that they detected neutrinos travelling faster than light, which is not allowed by Einstein's theory of special relativity.  In central Italy scientists performed experiments at the Gran Sasso facility.  Researchers working on the Opera experiment, recorded the arrival times of subatomic particles called neutrinos sent from Cern on a 730km journey through the Earth to the Gran Sasso lab.  Opera stands for Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus in case you are curious).  A neutrino are defined as weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a small non-zero mass that can pass through ordinary matter unaffected and carry no charge.  They can be affected only by the weak sub-atomic force.  Neutrinos are created from certain forms of radioactive decay or nuclear reactions or via cosmic ray collisions with atoms.

The time to complete this trip for a beam of light would be 2.4 milliseconds.  They ran the experiment for three years and timed 15,000 neutrinos arriving.  It was discovered the particles arrived sixty billionths of a second earlier with a margin of error of 10 billionths of a second.  Hence this implies the neutrinos travelled faster than the speed of light by a fraction of 20 parts per million.  Scientists double checked their findings and couldn't find any errors.

One theory on how this could occur is one Alan Kostelecky, an expert on faster than light processes at Indiana University, proposed in 1985.  He predicted they could travel faster by interacting with an unknown field in a vacuum.  This would imply that light slows down in this medium, but neutrinos go faster.

Excitement is in the air, as if the result can be verified, it could lead to completion of the long sought grand theory that unites gravity and quantum mechanics.  One other scientist Heinrich Paes, a physicist at Dortmund University, thinks they are taking a shortcut though space-time via extra dimensions, making it look like they have travelled faster.

More recently, scientists have re-verified their results by conducting new experiments.  They tried to rule out sources of errors.  One was that the pulses of neutrinos sent by Cern were long, around 10 microseconds each, so measuring their exact arrival time at Gran Sasso would have large errors.  In the latest tests, they sent beams that were thousands of times shorter, three nanoseconds and with gaps of 524 nanoseconds between.  The conclusion after 20 neutrino events measured:  They are still arriving early.

More checks will be done in the future, such as using fiber optics to ensure that clocks are properly synced at each end, rather than using GPS as they do now.  The slightest variation in the time on the clocks at either location could be causing this to occur.

3.  Elder Scrolls V:  Skyrim

The next installment in the Elder Scrolls series came on 11-11-11.  Its wide open environment gameplay returned in this installment, for an even more immersive and exciting experience that just has to be found out in person.  The graphics are outstanding, less the character models, though the models are improved over Oblivion.  Overall its a fantastic experience, well deserving in the top hits of 2011.


2.  Amazon Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire has been a success so far, making an impact in the Tablet market.

It features these key points:

  • $199 selling price
  • Amazon
  • 7" Screen
  • Wifi
  • Multimedia playback ability

Under the hood its an Android powered device, but with a customized Amazon OS interface.  It has an OMPA 4430 dual-core ARM A9 clocked at 1GHz.  Its price point of $199 makes it attractive on many levels and to many different people.  Giving people who may not be able to afford the steeper $499+ iPad a crack at the Tablet realm.  See our previous article for more specifics here.


1.  Steve Jobs apple founder dies

Steve Jobs speaking in 2007 at the Worldwide Developer's Conference

The passing of an icon for Apple happened in 2011, as Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, died at age 56.  He used his creative spirit to market and design mobile devices and computers.  He was a key player in the PC era and a key figure in post-PC tech with mobile devices like the iPod and iPhone.  He was ousted from Apple in the 1980s, came back in the 1990s to help revolutionize animated movies and returned to Apple early in the 21st century to help drive Apple back towards the top again.

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