Monday, December 22, 2008

Elevation gives Palm another hand

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Elevation gives Palm another hand


Struggling Palm now has the cash it needs to buy some time. Elevation Partners (the only VC group with a lead singer), which in mid-2007 plunked down $325 million for about 25 percent of the smartphone maker and brought in some Apple-flavored new management, has boosted its holdings with a fresh $100 million investment. The money will ensure that Palm has one more chance to get a firm handhold in a market dominated by Apple's iPhone and RIM's BlackBerry lineup.
Last week, Palm reported a quarterly net loss of $506.2 million, as its smartphone revenue sank 39 percent below year-earlier returns and unit sales fell 13 percent, but it urged investors to hang tight. "We're working through an undeniably difficult period," said CEO Ed Colligan, "but near-term challenges shouldn't overshadow the fact that we are on track to deliver a breakthrough new platform and products that will bring a truly differentiated smartphone experience to our customers and reestablish Palm as a leading innovator in the mobile industry." Palm is hanging its hopes on a new operating system called Nova, expected to be introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January, hoping to roll out handsets that can grab a chunk of what Colligan calls the "fat middle of the market," a hypothetical territory between the play-oriented iPhone and the work-oriented BlackBerrys. "The additional capital from Elevation Partners will enable us to put added momentum behind the new product introductions scheduled for 2009 and will provide us with enhanced stability in unsettled economic times," said Colligan. Palm's challenge is considerable — the iPhone is winning friends in the working world, the latest BlackBerrys have entertainment and social computing in mind, the parade of phones based on Google's Android platform is only beginning, and smartphone sales overall are under pressure from the general economic woes. But for now, investors are encouraged and Palm has a lifeline.
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Q  U  O  T  E  D

?Junkyards are great sources for parts. We have designs for pumps and a surgical aspirator that are based on car parts. The future medical technologists in the developing world are the current car mechanics, HVAC repairmen, bicycle shop repairmen. There is no other good source of technology-savvy individuals to take up the future of medical device repair and maintenance.?

-- Robert Malkin, director of Engineering World Health, sees great promise in projects like the infant incubator built from car parts by the Global Health Initiative at the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology.
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No shock -- authority still trumps conscience: So you're a decent person, right? Not perfect by any means, but well intentioned, with a sound moral code. You try to do what good you can and cause as little harm as possible, and you certainly wouldn't inflict pain on a helpless fellow human just because you were told to. Would you? That question got a lot trickier to answer after psychologist Stanley Milgram's experiments in the '60's, in which he found people disturbingly willing to give what they were told (falsely) were increasingly strong electric shocks to a person they thought was a fellow test subject, even as the victim's screams rang out, all at the instruction of an authoritative experimenter. "Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process," Milgram concluded. "Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority."
You may be disheartened, but you won't be surprised, to learn that human nature has not changed a whit in the intervening years. As part of a special section reflecting on Milgram's work, the January issue of American Psychologist is publishing the results of a similar test conducted by Santa Clara University psychologist Jerry M. Burger. Participants were told they were part of a study on the effect of punishment on learning, and that their role, under the authority of an "instructor," was to administer increasingly strong shocks to a "learner" who gave an incorrect answer. Burger found that 70 percent of the participants had to be stopped from escalating shocks over 150 volts, despite hearing cries of protest and pain. "The conclusion is not: 'Gosh isn't this a horrible commentary on human nature,' or 'these people were so sadistic,'" Burger said. "It shows the opposite — that there are situational forces that have a much greater impact on our behavior than most people recognize."
Elsewhere in the wide world of research:
* The iconography of the near-death experience is now so thoroughly entrenched in our culture that we're pretty much conditioned to expect a brightly lighted tunnel and greetings from departed relatives at that delicate transition point. But first-hand reports, common as they may be, are by their nature subjective and, for obvious reasons, difficult to confirm. That, however, will not stop scientists from trying. Twenty-five hospitals in the U.S. and U.K. that handle a lot of cardiac arrests are now participating in a study designed to test one of the most frequently mentioned aspects of the near-death experience -- the sense of leaving one's body and looking down at it from ceiling height. The test involves the use of "hidden targets," pictures placed on high shelves in hospital rooms, invisible to patients and staff, but easily spotted by someone floating at ceiling height. If you're skeptical, you have a lot of company. ?People can say they could have cheated, but if we have 50 or 60 of these cases where people leave their bodies and some see the pictures and some do not, then it looks like from the phenomenology that this does occur.?
* In previous attempts to see if octopuses enjoyed television (hey, don't look at me — it's science!), the subjects have shown a distinct lack of interest, and now Macquarie University marine biology researcher Renata Pronk has found out why — they prefer high-definition broadcasts, which has a higher frame rate and better suits their sophisticated eyes.
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Off topic: The video game systems of the 1983 Sears Wishbook, and a couple of holiday-themed diversions, the Flash puzzler Christmas Escape 2 and the hex-grid board game Elves Under Hoof, in which armed reindeer take on evil elves.
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