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Puzzled Scientists Say Strange Things Are Happening On the Sun 342

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Robert Lee Hotz reports in the WSJ that current solar activity is stranger than it has been in a century or more. The sun is producing barely half the number of sunspots as expected, and its magnetic poles are oddly out of sync. Based on historical records, astronomers say the sun this fall ought to be nearing the explosive climax of its approximate 11-year cycle of activity—the so-called solar maximum. But this peak is 'a total punk,' says Jonathan Cirtain. 'I would say it is the weakest in 200 years,' adds David Hathaway, head of the solar physics group at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Researchers are puzzled. They can't tell if the lull is temporary or the onset of a decades-long decline, which might ease global warming a bit by altering the sun's brightness or the wavelengths of its light. To complicate the riddle, the sun also is undergoing one of its oddest magnetic reversals on record, with the sun's magnetic poles out of sync for the past year so the sun technically has two South Poles. Several solar scientists speculate that the sun may be returning to a more relaxed state after an era of unusually high activity that started in the 1940s (PDF). 'More than half of solar physicists would say we are returning to a norm,' says Mark Miesch. 'We might be in for a longer state of suppressed activity.' If so, the decline in magnetic activity could ease global warming, the scientists say. But such a subtle change in the sun—lowering its luminosity by about 0.1%—wouldn't be enough to outweigh the build-up of greenhouse gases and soot that most researchers consider the main cause of rising world temperatures over the past century or so. 'Given our current understanding of how the sun varies and how climate responds, were the sun to enter a new Maunder Minimum, it would not mean a new Little Ice Age,' says Judith Lean. 'It would simply slow down the current warming by a modest amount.'"

The End of the PC Era and Apple's Plan To Survive 549

Hugh Pickens writes "Charlie Stross has written a very interesting essay, ostensibly about the 'real reason why Steve Jobs hates Flash,' but really about how Jobs is betting Apple's future on an all-or-nothing push into a new market as Moore's law tapers off and the personal computer industry craters and turns into a profitability wasteland. Stross says that Apple is trying desperately to force the growth of a new ecosystem — one that rivals the 26-year-old Macintosh environment — to maturity in five years flat — the time scale in which they expect the cloud computing revolution to flatten the existing PC industry and turn PC manufacturers into suppliers of commodity equipment assembled on a shoestring budget with negligible profit. 'Any threat to the growth of the app store software platform is going to be resisted, vigorously, at this stage,' writes Stross. 'And he really does not want cross-platform apps that might divert attention and energy away from his application ecosystem.' The long-term goal is to support the long-term migration of Apple from being a hardware company with a software arm into being a cloud computing company with a hardware subsidiary. 'This is why there's a stench of panic hanging over Silicon Valley. This is why Apple have turned into paranoid security Nazis, why HP have just ditched Microsoft from a forthcoming major platform and splurged a billion-plus on buying up a near-failure; it's why everyone is terrified of Google,' writes Stross. 'The PC revolution is almost coming to an end, and everyone's trying to work out a strategy for surviving the aftermath.'"

The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning, and does not stop until you get to work.