Archive for December, 2010

S.Korea schools get robot English teachers

Almost 30 robots have started teaching English to youngsters in a South Korean city, education officials said, in a pilot project designed to nurture the nascent robot industry.

Engkey, a white, egg-shaped robot developed by the Korea Institute of Science of Technology (KIST), began taking classes Monday at 21 elementary schools in the southeastern city of Daegu.

The 29 robots, about one metre (3.3 feet) high with a TV display panel for a face, wheeled around the classroom while speaking to the students, reading books to them and dancing to music by moving their head and arms.

The robots, which display an avatar face of a Caucasian woman, are controlled remotely by teachers of English in the Philippines — who can see and hear the children via a remote control system.

Cameras detect the Filipino teachers’ facial expressions and instantly reflect them on the avatar’s face, said Sagong Seong-Dae, a senior scientist at KIST.

“Well-educated, experienced Filipino teachers are far cheaper than their counterparts elsewhere, including South Korea,” he told.

Apart from reading books, the robots use pre-programmed software to sing songs and play alphabet games with the children.

“The kids seemed to love it since the robots look, well, cute and interesting. But some adults also expressed interest, saying they may feel less nervous talking to robots than a real person,” said Kim Mi-Young, an official at Daegu city education office.

Kim said some may be sent to remote rural areas of South Korea shunned by foreign English teachers.

She said the robots are still being tested. But officials might consider hiring them full time if scientists upgrade them and make them easier to handle and more affordable.

“Having robots in the classroom makes the students more active in participating, especially shy ones afraid of speaking out to human teachers,” Kim said.

She stressed the experiment was not about replacing human teachers with robots. “We are helping upgrade a key, strategic industry and all the while giving children more interest in what they learn.”

The four-month pilot programme was sponsored by the government, which invested 1.58 billion won (1.37 million dollars).

Scientists have held pilot programmes in schools since 2009 to develop robots to teach English, maths, science and other subjects at different levels with a desired price tag of five to eight million won.

Sagong stressed that the robots, which currently cost 10 million won each, largely back up human teachers but would eventually have a bigger role.

The machines can be an efficient tool to hone language skills for many people who feel nervous about conversing with flesh-and-blood foreigners, he said.

“Plus, they won’t complain about health insurance, sick leave and severance package, or leave in three months for a better-paying job in Japan… all you need is a repair and upgrade every once in a while.

World’s Largest Floating Christmas Tree 2010 in Brazil set World Record

The Bradesco Seguros Christmas Tree, according to the Guinness Book of Records is the largest floating Christmas tree in the world, has been adorning the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon since 1996. It is a picture perfect site in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is now on display for its 15th straight year. With this year’s theme “A Story of Reunions,” the Christmas Tree is one of the three largest events in Rio de Janeiro, together with Carnival and New Year’s Eve.

The Tree was inaugurated this Saturday, December 4, during a spectacular event open to the public and attended by world class Brazilian singers including Milton Nascimento, Simone and Ivan Lins. Starting this Sunday and running through Epiphany on January 6, the largest floating Christmas tree in the world will be lit up daily at 7:30 pm.

The tree has a total of fifteen sequential patterns of lights and colors illuminated by 105 kilometers of lighted strands, 3.3 million miniature bulbs and 2,100 strobes that simulate twinkling stars. The overall effect is reproduced on a structure 85 meters tall, or approximately the same height as a 28-story building.

“The Tree reaching its 15th year is good reason to be proud. It is a monument, now part of Brazilians’ Christmas and an international benchmark that conveys peace, harmony and happiness,” said Enrique Adan, Marketing Director for Grupo Bradesco Seguros.

The electricity for the Bradesco Seguros Christmas Tree is supplied by six self-contained biofuel generators, which, at 2,130 kVA capacity of power, runs simultaneously in order to maintain the overall splendor. The generators have been certified in accordance with international quality and safety standards.

The inaugural event can be seen in real time on the site, including an English version, with internet users all over the world able to view details of the largest floating Christmas tree in the world and the beautiful Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon – all of this thanks to the use of 3D on Flash AS3.

The site also has 360 degree photos with views from within the Tree as well as outside, and a look back at prior editions, with photos and videos enabled for social networks (Twitter, Facebook and Delicious).

Internet users can capture an image of the Bradesco Seguros Christmas Tree from any angle of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon and send it as a virtual postcard, front and back included. News, agenda and photo download are available for everyone. iPhone, iPad and Android applications are addressed in the “Entertainment” section.

Smokers who successfully quit may enjoy yet another health benefit: improved cholesterol profiles. A boost in “good” cholesterol comes with quitting despite weight gain after putting out the last cigarette, hints a new study.

If confirmed in future research, the finding could shed light on the strong, yet somewhat mysterious relationship between smoking and heart health. Up to 20 percent of heart disease deaths are currently blamed on smoking, but researchers haven’t yet had a clear understanding of what lies behind the effect. Smoking likely affects the cardiovascular system in a variety of ways, including lowered oxygen levels and wear and tear on the heart itself.

Some small studies have also shown that smoking lowers good cholesterol (HDL) and raises bad cholesterol (LDL), lead researcher Dr. Adam Gepner of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, in Madison, said.

To test the impact of smoking on cholesterol levels more rigorously, and in a realistic setting, Gepner and his colleagues recruited more than 1,500 smokers representative of the current U.S. population, including its high proportion of overweight and obese individuals.

The average participant smoked about 21 cigarettes per day prior to the start of the study. After a year on one of five smoking cessation programs, 334 (36 percent) had succeeded in quitting.

The researchers found that those who stopped smoking experienced an average rise of about 5 percent, or 2.4 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), in HDL cholesterol.

Abstainers also experienced an increase in large HDL particles, which are important for lowering heart disease risk as well, report the researchers in the American Heart Journal.

The effects were somewhat stronger in women. However, it did not appear to matter how many cigarettes were smoked at the start of the study: heavy smokers enjoyed the same HDL benefit as lighter smokers after they quit.

One downside of kicking the habit can be weight gain. Sure enough, the group that quit gained an average of about 10 pounds compared to one or two pounds in the group that relapsed to smoking. Many participants were already overweight at the start of the study, with an average body mass index (BMI) of 29.6. (A BMI between 20 and 25 is generally considered healthy).

Adding pounds is known to hurt cholesterol levels, both raising the bad kind and lowering the good kind. As a result, the researchers think the weight gain might have offset some of the beneficial effects seen in the abstainers.

“Further benefits on cholesterol levels may have been actually masked by the weight gain seen after quitting,” explained Gepner.

“It is important to counsel quitters about weight gain and the need for a healthy diet and regular exercise during the quitting period,” he added.

The researchers caution that their results don’t prove that smoking cessation causes improvements in cholesterol. Further research is needed to rule out other possible explanations, including the role of changes in alcohol consumption, which is known to affect HDL.

Gepner also noted that it remains unclear exactly how smoking cessation might affect cholesterol levels, although it could have to do with changes in the proteins that control the breakdown of cholesterol. Smoking can damage these proteins.

Regardless, benefits were seen that might translate into better heart health.

Previous studies have shown, for example, that for every 1 mg/dL increase in HDL cholesterol, the risk of a cardiovascular event drops by up to three percent over 10 years.

Therefore, if the link holds, the improvements in blood lipids alone would decrease the average former smoker’s risk of a heart attack or stroke by up to 6 percent over the 10 years after they quit, said Gepner.

Nanotech create world’s smallest Christmas card

Nantotechnologists at the University of Glasgow have created what they believe is the world’s smallest Christmas card.

The card is so small it could fit on to the surface of a postage stamp 8,276 times.

The image, which measures 200×290 micro-metres, features a Christmas tree and is etched on a tiny piece of glass.

The team behind the project said the technology could eventually be used in products such as TVs and cameras.

The university’s school of engineering drew up the design to highlight its “world-leading” nanotechnology expertise.

Most expensive Christmas tree

The Christmas Tree Bauble from Hallmark Jewelers is made of 18 carat white gold with 1,578 diamonds encrusted on the surface surrounded by two red rings made of 188 rubies and is valued at $130,000 (£82,000) -which sets the new world record for the Most expensive Christmas bauble.

The world’s most valuable Christmas Tree Bauble is presented in a bespoke hand made wooden box complete with a stand. It is so valuable it is being kept in a steel-framed case surrounded by 6mm thick laminated glass.

The box is surrounded by a high tech microwave bubble, which sounds if it is broken, and even has an extra internal alarm which fills the shop with smoke if it goes off. The most expensive Christmas ornament took over a year to make. Just to give you an idea of the attention spent on it, over 130 hours were taken up just setting the gems in it.

The most expensive Christmas ornament is the brain child of Mark Hussy, owner of the Hallmark Jewelers family business. Steven Jordan FGA, DGA, who heads the team of valuers based at the London Assay Office and gave the bauble its astonishing price.

Creator and Hallmark Jewelers partner Mark Hussey, 38, says; “This is the second bauble we have created and our most valuable by far. As the name ‘Faberge’ has become synonymous with Easter Eggs, I hope the name of Hallmark Jewelers will be forever linked to Christmas.”

The National Association of Goldsmiths have independently valued the gold and diamond bauble to be worth £82,000.00.

“It is very important to highlight the craftsmanship and excellence this beautiful ornament represents. Luxury offerings should add value to the perception of luxury and quality. The Christmas Tree Bauble represents the highest quality of luxury to add a unique holiday experience,” stated CR Cataunya Ransom Lead Publicist of Mosnar Communications, Inc. The previous Guinness world record for the Most expensive Christmas bauble was £26,874.

GSM Technology

General Information

GSM is also known as Global System for Mobile Communications, or simply Global System for Mobile. A technology started development in 1985 by a French company formerly known as Groupe Spécial Mobile. It’s main competetor is CDMA, currently in use by Bell Mobility, Telus Mobility and Mobility Canada carriers.

Currently, only two main carriers in Canada are operating GSM networks. Microcell (Fido, Cityfone) and Rogers Wireless. Fido was the first carrier to start utilising this technology, followed by Rogers Wireless mainstream around 2001. Several companies in the United States have adopted GSM and it’s spreading fast among AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile.

GSM operates on 4 different frequencies worldwide. However, only two are which are used in Canada, which are GSM-850 and GSM-1900.GSM-850 and GSM-1900 which operate at 1.9Ghz.

GSM calls are either based on data or voice. Voice calls use audio codecs called half-rate, full-rate and enhanced full-rate. Data calls can turn the cell phone into a modem operating at 9600 bps. An extended GSM feature is high speed circuit switched data, allowing the phone to transmit upto around 40 kbps.


GPRS or General Packet Radio Service is an extended service of GSM Network adding the ability to surf the Internet on your phone at slightly higher speeds. GPRS Internet surfing is comparable to dial-up Internet service in it’s speed, operating at around 4 to 5 Kilobytes per second.

Surfing the net on your mobile isn’t exactly cheap compared to residential Internet services. It is generally billed by how much data you transfer and it can get costly!

We would not recommend the consumer use GPRS technology in place of a desktop computer with an Internet connection. It’s just too expensive