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Rumor: DVD Player to be overhauled with Leopard (updated) I'm sure we all know many a Mac-using geek who absolutely loathes the DVD Player app that comes packaged with OS X. I use it just because it's there and it's simple, but I know many more who would rather stab their own eyes out with a rusty Zune than use DVD Player on the Mac. New rumors, however, say that DVD Player has gotten a major overhaul from Apple and will be shipping with Leopard when it gets released. DVD Player 5.0 will be "a significant upgrade" from the version included with Tiger, ApplerInsider's sources claim, and will sport improvements both in functionality and look & feel. There will supposedly be a totally new, fullscreen chapter navigation interface, and users will no longer have to exit fullscreen mode in order to navigate between chapters. If the user is watching a movie in window mode (as I tend to do on occasion, if I don't plan on paying 100% attention to the movie and am doing other things), the chapter navigation floats vertically on the side. Most excitedly, the new DVD Player 5.0 will supposedly have a time bar for visual scrubbing, and there will also be an audio equalizer added to the application. Other small improvements include the addition of a sleep timer and and an option to keep the viewer above other applications. Will this improve the DVD-watching experience in OS X? Sure seems so, although of course nothing can be said for sure until the application gets put to real use. Are there other features that you'd like to see added to DVD Player? Update: There are now reports that DVD Player 5.0 makes references to both HD DVD and Blu-ray: "sd dvd folder" = "VIDEO_TS"; "hd dvd folder" = "HVDVD_TS" ; "blu ray folder" = "BDMV";

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The story behind the hypothetical Ghostbusters video and game I was saving this for Viddy Well, but now that the whole story has come to light I figured it would be worth its own post. Here's the story: a video of what looked like footage from a Ghostbusters game popped up on YouTube, and suddenly the gaming sites went crazy with speculation about the title. The intriguing thing was how quickly this went around the Internet; it's clear that the Ghostbusters IP is still powerful. Those of us who remember the movies fondly from our youth would be very interested in a game based on the movies. Of course, that's only if it's done right. It turns out the footage came from the developer Zootfly, who really wants to make a Ghostbusters game. Gamespot asked them a few questions about the footage we saw, and while they don't have the rights to make the game yet, they're hopeful. GameSpot: The first obvious question is, why release these videos of a prototype Ghostbusters game to the public? Was it designed to drum up interest in the game? Bostjan Troha: We hoped the publisher would sort out the IP issue in a jiffy and we'd be recharging proton packs in no time. Unfortunately, they didn't push to untangle the IP hard enough and the whole thing stalled a bit. There’s actually no insurmountable problem with getting the IP. It's just that extra mile someone needs to stride to get it. As die-hard Ghostbusters fans we somehow felt obliged to share the early prototypes with the public. Also, we hoped to show that the fan base is enormous and that there’s a wide and genuine interest for a next-gen Ghostbusters game. Mr. Troha then went on to describe the response to the video as "unbelievable." These are some savvy businessmen: now we're all talking about a game they are working on but don't have the rights to, and now they can take these stories and the success of the video to the people who own the rights to the Ghostbusters name and prove that such a game would do well commercially. It was a clever use of YouTube and the gaming press, but only time will tell if it works.

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Apple’s record quarter: inside the numbers Yesterday, Apple Computer, Inc. reported record profits of $1.14 per share ($1 billion) on revenues of $7.1 billion, which was also a record. The earnings were a pleasant surprise for Wall Street given analysts’ expectations of around 78¢ earnings per share. Ars listened in on the entire quarterly earnings call to learn more about what Apple’s excellent quarter means for the future of the company. Can you hear the music? As usual, the iPod was the engine powering Apple’s earnings. The company sold over 21 million iPods during the quarter, up 50 percent from the first quarter of fiscal year 2006. Margins were strong as well—over 31 percent—due to better-than-expected component prices. Apple reported that iPod sales increased at a higher rate outside the US, but that it had 72 percent of the digital music player market in the US. The iPod also burst through the 50 percent market share barrier in Australia, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, and the UK. Music and video revenues from iTunes were up as well, 29 percent from the same quarter last year. Although sales of music and videos have significantly lower margins than the hardware sales, the good news for Apple is that the company continues to dominate the market. That’s especially true in the US, where the iTunes Store is responsible for over 85 percent of all downloaded music purchases according to Nielsen-Soundscan. Retail was strong for Apple too. The company set a new record with $1.1 billion in revenues, which works out to about $6.7 million per store while seeing heavy foot traffic—roughly 13,000 customers per store, per week during the just-ended quarter. Apple still makes computers, too In recent years, the performance of Apple’s desktops and laptop has been something of an afterthought given the success of the iPod. For the past few quarters, however, Apple has been enjoying hardware growth that is significantly ahead of the overall PC market. For the last quarter of 2006, Apple held the fifth spot in the US PC market. Gartner’s figures show that Apple moved 808,000 Macs in the US while Apple reported selling 1.606 million computers worldwide. According to Gartner’s figures, 67.35 million PCs were sold worldwide during that quarter, giving Apple 2.38 percent market share. That’s a significant jump—17.2 percent—from the company’s 2.03 percent share during the fourth quarter of 2005. This marks the eighth of the last nine quarters where Apple’s growth has outpaced that of the overall market. In the US, the difference is huge: Apple computer shipments grew 30.6 percent, compared with the -3.2 percent growth seen by the overall US market. Apple’s biggest winner on the computer side of the aisle was the MacBook. While Apple no longer breaks down hardware sales by product, they did say that laptop sales jumped 65 percent. The only bit of bad news for Apple came in the form of slower-than-expected sales of the Mac Pro, which Apple ascribed to a scarcity of professional apps than can run natively on the machine. Looking ahead Apple has managed to stay above the 5 percent market share point in the US for two consecutive quarters (they were at 4.8 percent for the second quarter of 2006). That’s a high-water point for the company this decade and its ability to grow much faster than the rest of the market bodes well for the future of Mac OS X as well as its desktops and laptops. According to Apple’s own figures, over 50 percent of its retail store sales during the third quarter of 2006 were to people who had not previously owned a Mac. That trend continued during the fourth quarter, as Apple’s research showed that over half of the Macs sold during that time were to people new to the platform. What’s driving Apple’s better-than-the-market growth? Various reports have cited the iPod halo effect, the switch to x86 hardware, the ability of Macs to run Windows, as well as more competitive hardware prices. It’s likely a combination of all of those factors working together, and barring any major missteps by the company, there’s little reason to believe that things will be different in the quarters ahead.

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Quarks, colored gluons, and quantum chromodynamics As most casual fans of modern physics should be well aware, there aretwo brilliant, exceedingly accurate theories that dominate the physicslandscape today: generalrelativity at the large end, and quantum mechanics at the small. Whilethey are both correct at their respective length scales, and they bothcollapsedown to what is considered classical physics under certain conditions,they are in complete disagreement with one another. Of the fourfundamental forces in the universe, quantum mechanics handles three ofthem—electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weaknuclear force—where as general relativity handles theremainingforce, gravity. General relativity aside, there is aninterestingquestion (well, many interesting questions) lying in the other forces.Have you ever thought about what holds the nucleus of an atom together?Classical electrodynamics, Coulomb's law in particular, states that likecharges repel one another, so how does a group of positively chargedprotons and neutral neutrons stay together? Theanswer is the strong nuclear force, more specifically my favorite namedsubatomic particles:gluons. Granted, this is a simplification. The details are contained ina sub-field of quantum mechanics, quantum chromodynamics (QCD). QCDstates that gluons mediate strong color charge interactions of quarksand are therefore indirectly responsible for the binding of protons andneutrons in an atomic nucleus. Clearly,this binding energy is strong, as it is capable of overcoming theelectromagnetic repulsion that two protons feel between one another,but this leads to another question, one that is unanswered in nuclearphysics today. Why does this strong attraction stop? What is keepingthis force from pulling all the quarks that make up protons andneutrons in an atomic nucleus from forming a big "quarkblob" as opposedto the individualsubatomic particles we observe everyday? For any one who has studiedphysical chemistry (or a related field) they should be aware of theconcept of interatomic potentials, equations that describe theforces or potentials between two atomic bodies. While there are amyriad of these potentials, for the most part they share a similarshape, as shown in the figure to the right. At very long distancesthere is little to no attraction, at medium distances there is a strongattraction between particles (which can be thought of as a bond), andat very short distances there is a very strong repulsion. It has longbeen empirically believed that the nucleon-nucleon—where anucleonis a neutron or proton—interaction has this general shape,wherethishard-core type repulsion at short distances would serveto keep the quarks that make up protons and neutrons from collapsinginto a large "quarkblob". Proving that a potential like this exists within the QCD framework isexceedingly difficult, however a team of Japanese researchers has donejust that. The research article on this work is available fromarXiv forfree, for the physically inclined to read. In order tocompute this potential, the researchers needed to create a pair ofnucleons on a computer from scratch and compute how the total energy ofthe system changed as a function of the distance between them. Eventhough QCD contains all the necessary physics to carry out thiscomputation, it is no easy task. At the simplest level (whichis about as far as I can intelligently discuss this topic), a proton ismade up of three quarks, two up quarks (u) and a down (d) (uud). While thisis not entirely accurate, ifsomeone could simulate the quark trio and let it equilibrate, theywould have made a proton. However, this glosses over much of theimportant details of the actual process which involves additionalgluons and quark-antiquark pairs appearing during the process. In thequantum mechanical reality, these would all exist simultaneously whichis something a modern computer could not handle. In order to study thisthe researchers used massively parallel computing techniques toconstruct and store all the potential configurations that would beneeded to create two nucleons. Using a technique known as latticequantum chromodynamics, and advanced algorithms the team was able toderive the nucleon-nucleon interaction potential by solving for awavefunction that satisfied the Schröedinger equation, in the properreference frame. What the team found was that this empirically known repulsion at shortdistances is indeed a direct consequence of QCD theory, and they wereable to quantify the nucleon-nucleon interaction potential in a waynever previously done. However, somecomputational limitations placed restrictions on values that thesimulations depended on: the masses of the u and d quarks werehigher than what is experimentally agreed upon. This results in thefinal results of the paper being slightly less quantitative, and morequalitative, yet it represents a huge breakthrough in the field ofnuclear physics and QCD. Beyond adding a definite answer to a decadesold problem, the methods devised can be applied to study exotic formsof matter not directly accessible in a terrestrial laboratory. Theauthors point out how this work can be used to study what are calledhyperons: particles that contain a valence strange quark (s) in place of a u or d quark. Matterlike this occurs in supernova explosions and within the centers of neutronstars, not something that is accessible by us. This work is another exampleof simulation and computational research that will let science gobeyond what is currently possible. However, as always work of thisnature must be viewed with care since this is such a rapidly evolvingfield. As Prof. Frank Wilczek of the physics department at MIT statesin his reviewof this work in Nature,"yesterday's sensation is tomorrow's calibration"—whichcoincidentally is one of my new favorite quotes.

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Balancing forces in the evolution of flight Birds may make it look easy, but flight is very stressful for them. Or at least for their shoulder joints, according to some recent research. Because the muscles and ligaments that stabilize the shoulder all reside close to the body, they have little leverage to hold the wing in place. As a result, one of the muscles (the pectoralis) in a pigeon's wing needs to exert a force of seven times its body weight simply to hold the wing steady while gliding, according to a model of the wing built by the authors. To actually pull the wing down for flight increases the requirement to 13 times body weight. This would all be easy if the muscle were pulling against a rigid joint, but a bird's shoulder needs to be open and allow a broad range of movements. As a result, unless the pectoralis's force were balanced, it would pull the wing right out of its socket. The authors of this report tested a number of other structures in the wing for their ability to counter-balance the force of this muscle and found that a ligament (the acrocoracohumeral ligament, or AHL) was ideally located to provide an opposing force. In fact, tests with the actual ligaments of dead pigeons revealed that the AHL could survive strains of nearly 40 times a pigeon's typical body weight. The authors ask what this ligament is doing when it's not stabilizing a wing? The closest living relatives of birds are the Crocodilians, which primarily flex their shoulders horizontally. In alligators, the ligament extends horizontally, and doesn't even seem to be put under stress during their normal stride—the force generated by the pectoralis seems to be counteracted by other muscles. This raises some obvious questions about how the ligament came to play such a key role in the wing. Fortunately, the paths and attachments of ligaments leave landmarks on bones which can be detected even in fossils. Ancestors of birds such as therapod dinosaurs and the Archaeopteryx appear to have an arrangement very much like an alligator's. But after that point, other fossil species on the bird lineage indicate that the adoption of a new orientation for the AHL and a more flexible shoulder joint occurred both very gradually and in tandem. The timing of these changes suggest that the last common ancestor of all modern birds (which lived well after their split with reptiles) had an intermediate shoulder where only part of the stress of a vertical wing was transferred to the ligament, but that the process was at least underway. It's a neat study that suggests that even mechanical engineers might have something to tell us about evolution.

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