BOSTON—Just over a month after its release, Google’s web browser, Chrome, may see its most attractive features undermined with the release of Mozilla’s Firefox 3.1, currently in the test phase.

This potential threat was released under the codename “Minefield,” and it can only be downloaded from a directory – a webpage that simply lists the files in an interface reminiscent of the early nineties Internet. Mozilla has kept this project a trade secret, and word of the early browser can only be found in scattered online forums.

Reports of the release have been traced to October 2 of this year, just three and a half months after they released Firefox 3.0, a software that established a Guinness World Record of over eight million downloads in one day. The Firefox 3.0 series is two to three times faster than the previous version, according to a guide released by Mozilla.

The manual stated that “the performance improvements are particularly noticeable in the case of complex web-based applications like Google Mail.” Perhaps not noticeable enough.

“That simplistic approach to Javascript engines isn’t enough anymore,” said Chrome developer Lars Bak in a Google press release. A global search giant, Google boasts a growing list of robust web-applications from interactive global maps to advertisement generators for websites. Although Javascript is a fast and lightweight programming language, too much of it can decrease the performance of computers and web browsers.

According to Google’s press statement, Chrome puts less stress on a computer’s processor by keeping things small and separated. The most innovative part about Chrome is that every new window or sub-window (called a “tab”) that users open becomes it’s own independent program. The windows can process webpages faster because each window and tab operates as completely independent programs. In the event that one tab stops working, it can be forced close without affecting the others.

In a telephone interview, social media expert Chris Brogan voiced his approval for both Chrome and Minefield, saying that there is still much more that Javascript can do. In his experience as vice president of the media marketing company CrossTech Media and as an award winning blog writer, Brogan said that the latest web trend is a desire to be “dynamic.”

“Everything is optimized to run a lot tighter now,” Brogan said, adding that the features that Chrome and Minefield have were explicitly meant to cater to the demands of complex websites. Browser development and website design push each other to the boundaries by either demanding compliance or offering space for creative innovation.

“It gives everybody else room to play a lot nicer,” Brogan said. Although familiar with both programs, Brogan said he uses neither Chrome nor Minefield, and instead relies on Mozilla’s current “stable” version of Firefox 3.0. His biggest critique, he said, was that he’d like to one day see browsers adapt some dynamic features, like widgets and customization, possessed by the high-performing websites they serve.

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Tai Chi Research Shows Advantages for Elderly

Dec 9, 2008 10:26 PM. All work by ,

PUBLISHED by the Fenway News

BOSTON—A new study reveals that the Chinese art of Tai Chi may enhance your sense of touch and increase the size of your brain. Catherine Kerr and her team of researchers at the Harvard Medical School are finding that the elderly benefit the most, Kerr says.

In a small library at Harvard’s Landmark Center office, Kerr presented her findings on the acute sensitivity possessed by a group of Tai Chi practitioners from Brookline. The data suggests that people who practice the Chinese martial art in conjunction with meditation have a heightened sense of touch, Kerr says.

“It was a fairly simple study, but I think it has important implications for understanding the benefits of Tai Chi,” says Kerr.

A better mood, stronger legs and increased flexibility are a few of the benefits of Tai Chi, and there are many more, Kerr says. According to her, elderly people who practice Tai Chi also have a lower chance of falling down. Related research suggests that muscle and immune system improvements may also come from practicing Tai Chi.

The next leg of the project will be determining whether the Tai Chi students have developed larger sensory organs because of their training. In her presentation, Kerr cited a 2006 study done in London that revealed that certain kinds of training permanently alter the shape of certain regions of the brain—a phenomenon called neuroplasticity.

“This gives us some clues why Tai Chi may be health-promoting,” Kerr says, “but it doesn’t yet tell us definitively.” Kerr says that past studies have yet to precisely measure exactly the benefits of Tai Chi.

The research has been inexpensive so far, says Kerr, but she predicts the next phase will require roughly $100,000 to complete. In order to prove that the brain is actually changing, Kerr says she will need costly brain scans done on each of her research patients. She and her team plan to finish this next step of their study within a year.

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BROOKLINE, Mass.—President-elect Barack Obama may owe his election success to his television campaign, former governor and 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis told a synagogue of community members last night.

In an informal lecture at the Congregation Kehillath Israel synagogue on Harvard Ave., Dukakis and three Harvard University faculty members engaged a greying audience in the effect that images have on politics. Recalling his experience with his own campaign, Dukakis said that society now depends on the media to present a candidate’s personality.

“I’m a backyard/living room kind of guy,” Dukakis said, alluding to different kinds of campaign methods. It is now harder for a politician to meet all his voters, Dukakis said, which is why a strong media image is so important.

“[Obama] ended up giving people a pretty good impression of who he was,” Dukakis said. In contrast, Dukakis noted that the publicity Republican candidate John McCain accrued worked against him as the election went on.

In contrast to Dukakis, Kiku Adatto, author of Picture Perfect: Life in the Age of the Photo Op, said that Obama’s biggest advantage came from the outlets he chose to promote his campaign. Several new media markets emerged during this election, which brought both opportunity and risk, Adatto said.

“Obama mastered the new medium,” said Adatto plainly, citing the rise of social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, as well as viral markets such as blog networks and the popular video host, YouTube.com.

“[Obama] came out of this a lot stronger than he went in,” Dukakis said about Obama’s breadth of political experience. He concluded, saying that the media has become, and will continue to be, a powerful force in election politics.

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Open Source Software Gains Recognition

Dec 4, 2008 2:22 PM. All work by

BOSTON—Experts at this year’s Gilbane Boston Conference on technology and social media conceded that open source software has a respected place amongst web programs.

Dozens of these Content Management Solution (CMS) experts pitched their company’s products to wandering investors at the fifth annual expo. While some of the booths offered $100,000 products, two companies, Hippo and Magnolia, became the conference’s first open source exhibitors.

“If I had my own company, I’d use [open source software],” said CoreMedia representative Arner Eichel. A powerhouse based in Hamburg, Germany, CoreMedia develops the most dominant CMS in Germany, Eichel said. Other clients include T-Mobile, Continental Airlines, and several other large global companies, yet Eichel admitted that their product isn’t for everyone.

CMS software have become the backbone of complex websites. A robust CMS offers an efficient way to organize files and information, as well as a simple interface for clients to add and change their web content.

“When I get proposals for projects,” Eichel said, “I always tell them to first look at open source.”

Open source software is free to use and edit, has a growing list of features and much of the troubleshooting is done by other people. It’s an appealing offer for those not ready to pay the average $500,000 and the annual maintenance fees that CoreMedia charges for their product, Eichel said.

Clients gravitate to a proprietary CMS, not in search of innovation, but for its dependability, Eichel said. The company’s latest product, a video-hosting service called CoreMedia Web TV, is similar to YouTube.com. Those familiar with the social network will find that it offers nothing new outside of increased control over content, but the service was built and launched in two days at the request of a client.

Where CoreMedia has avoided open source, other companies have integrated it. Jim Awiszus, an account executive from Quark, Inc., said the company’s latest product borrowed from open source. Quark is best known for it’s earliest software, QuarkXpress, which became a publishing standard in the late 1980s but fell out of vogue in the past five years, Awiszus said.

Quark has integrated an open source CMS from Alfresco, Inc. into their latest product, Quark Dynamic Publishing Solution (DPS), which Awiszus said will spell certain death for its rival application, Adobe InDesign. When told that CoreMedia’s CMS is priced at half a million, Awiszus was not surprised.

“Quark [DPS] starts at $250,000,” Awiszus said plainly. “We’re in it to do business.”
Awiszus’ interpretation of Quark’s mission could not be farther from that issued by Wordpress.org, a very popular open source CMS platform. The latter company’s website states that the software was “created by and for the community” in 2001 and has since taken off.

The application isn’t just for tech novices looking to make a quick webpage. Ford Motor Company, The New York Times and even Red Sox pitcher Curt Shilling have, with the help of hundreds of thousands of other users, altered Wordpress to perform like an expensive CMS.

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