Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2011

IBM Returns Money for Supercomputer Project

IBM has returned $30 million to the University of Illinois that was meant to be used for the Blue Waters supercomputer project.

The technology company announced last week that it would withdraw from the project because of apparent cost and technical concerns. The University of Illinois will give the $30 million back to the National Science Foundation, which is supporting the project. John Melchi, the senior associate director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, said that money will continue to be used as part of the Blue Waters project.

"We believe that this machine will be one of the first of its kind, and by that I mean one of the first to provide sustained-petascale performance on a broad range of applications," Melchi said.

Melchi said NCSA is searching for a new vendor, but he wouldn't say when that search is expected to wrap up. He said the Blue Waters supercomputer should be operational by fall 2012.

Categories: Education, Technology


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 15, 2011

Google Acquires Illinois-Based Motorola Mobility

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Google is buying Illinois-based cell phone maker Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in cash in what is by far the company's biggest acquisition to date.

Google Inc. will pay $40.00 per share, a 63 percent premium to Motorola's closing price on Friday.

The companies say the deal has been approved by the boards of both companies.

"Motorola Mobility's total commitment to Android has created a natural fit for our two companies," said Google CEO Larry Page in a statement. "Together, we will create amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers."

The deal gives Google direct control over the maker of many of its Android phones. In pre-market trading, shares of Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. are up 60 percent, or $14.72, to $39.19.

What Google likely wants from the acquisition is Motorola's trove of more than 17,000 patents on phone technology. Google recently lost out to a consortium that included Microsoft Corp., Apple and Research In Motion Ltd. in bidding for thousands of patents from Novell Inc., a maker of computer-networking software, and Nortel Networks, a Canadian telecom gear maker that is bankrupt and is selling itself off in pieces.

Motorola has nearly three times more patents than Nortel.

Earlier this year, Motorola Mobility's CEO announced the company would be staying put in Illinois thanks to a 10-year benefit package from the governor. Motorola Mobility has about 3,000 employees.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Categories: Business, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 12, 2011

Database Lets Anyone Track Outstanding Warrants in Cook Co.

A new online database lets people to see who has outstanding warrants in Cook County.

Sheriff Tom Dart said there are about 44,000 people in Cook County who have outstanding warrants. The new online database, he hopes, will help the office get some tips on the whereabouts of those people.

"This has a way of really flushing out the system, as well, and really doing a lot of very positive things because there's nothing good with having this many warrants in the system," Dart told reporters Friday.

Dart said about a third of the warrants outstanding are for traffic offenses and about 13,000 are for drug or theft charges.

The majority are not wanted for violent crimes, Dart said.

"There is a hope that there will be quite a few people who'll go to this website just, frankly, to check, maybe, theirself (sic) out," he said.

The sheriff said he's putting together a 500 most wanted list for the website, as well.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2011

Fuel Standards for Trucks Make Waves at Illinois-Based Navistar

The White House has announced new fuel standards for trucks and buses. They will require trucks built between 2014 and 2018 to drastically reduce fuel consumption.

The new standards mean big changes for companies like Illinois-based truck manufacturer Navistar International Corporation, said Basili Alukos, an equity analyst with Morningstar.

According to Alukos, trucks have mostly removed their dangerous emissions. Now, 18-wheelers at Navistar will get their turn at better gas mileage.

"They typically do about a 150,000 miles a year and they get roughly six miles a gallon," Alukos said. "So I mean, it's ridiculous. If your car got that it'd basically make you broke."

Certain big-rigs will be required to cut fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20 percent by 2018. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transporation, this would save four gallons of fuel for every 100 miles traveled.

Navistar has not yet announced what changes they will be making to their new trucks.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 08, 2011

IBM Withdraws from Blue Waters Supercomputer Project

IBM has dropped out of the Blue Waters Supercomputer project going on at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus due to apparent cost and technical concerns.

But the university's National Center for Supercomputing Applications said the company's decision is not expected to mean a setback for water-cooled supercomputer. The contract was terminated Saturday.

A joint statement released Monday by the company and NCSA stated that the technology ultimately developed "required significantly increased financial and technical support by IBM beyond its original expectations."

NCSA spokeswoman Trish Barker said efforts to replace IBM are already underway.

"We definitely need to identify a different technology, a different hardware that will be used in this project," Barker said. "At this point exactly what that will be, because obviously we're really early on in that process. But it will be a pretty quick turnaround to identify a different technology that will be used."

Barker said she still believes Blue Waters has the same timeline, and should be operational by summer 2012.

She said NSCA entered a dispute resolution with IBM in April, but could not come to a resolution. She said this does not impact other projects on campus involving the computing giant. IBM will be returning the $30 million it has received to date for the project, and NCSA will return equipment delivered by IBM as part of the contract.

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation. An IBM spokeswoman couldn't be reached for comment.

Categories: Business, Education, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 08, 2011

Comcast Rolls Out Internet Plan for Low Income Households

Comcast has unveiled a program, known as "Internet Essentials," to expand Internet access for about $10 a month to low-income families.

The cable and Internet provider wants to make the program available next month in 39 states, including Illinois, where the company's Internet service is offered. Comcast spokesman Jack Segal said eligible families must have at least one child receiving free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program. He estimates that lunch program is open to more than 4,500 students in Champaign and Urbana.

"Internet access is the great equalizer," Segal said. "It's great for people economically to have access --- kids especially to have access to the internet to do their homework, to learn, to dream, and to really, really participate in the world."

To qualify for the program, customers must not have any overdue bills with the company or unreturned equipment. They also cannot join Comcast's Internet service 90 days prior to joining the program.

The low-income families who qualify can purchase vouchers for a new computer valued at around $150. They can also sign up for free digital literacy training.

This is not the only internet plan coming to Champaign-Urbana. Organizers of the UC2B Big Broadband project are hoping to get high-speed Internet in the area by Feb. 2013. The University of Illinois has taken the lead in getting the more than $22 million federal grant and a $3.5 million state grant to support the project, but it is leaving much of the work to the cities.

The high-speed Internet plan would costs about twice as much for customers compared to the Comcast program and run up to 10 times faster, according Mike Smeltzer, the principal investigator of UC2B's grant.

"Our connection will be massively fast," Smeltzer said. "I think (Comcast's plan) is kind of like training wheels for our project. If somebody doesn't have Internet today, and they look at this and they say, 'Hey, this would be good for our kids that are in school, and we can afford the 10 bucks a month, let's get it.' It will only wet their appetite for something better."

Smeltzer also praised Comcast's reduced-price service, saying it will help connect people in areas where the UC2B project won't be available.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Categories: Economics, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2011

A Decade After TeraGrid, U of I Heads Up Digital Network

The University of Illinois is the lead researcher for a $121 million digital network funded by the National Science Foundation. The Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment, or XSEDE for short, is seen as an expansion of the TeraGrid project, which started in the late 1990s.

Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert spoke with project leader John Towns about how the focus has shifted to a larger partnership with more top-research universities.

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Categories: Education, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2011

Chicago-Based Groupon Faces Fierce New Competitor

Chicago-based Groupon is facing a fierce new competitor in the group discount market. Amazon.com is launching Amazon Local and promises to save consumers 50 percent or more on daily email deals.

Amazon Local has tip-toed into six markets around the US, and Chicago is its latest hold. With more than 140 million users across the globe, Amazon Local could become the industry's leader.

RJ Hottovy is a senior stock analyst with Morningstar. He said, "I think consumers may be more apt to open up the email or listen to the daily deal from Amazon, so it could have the potential to be a very disruptive force."

But at the same time, Hottovy thinks the scores of copy-cat deal sites could become a bad thing for featured businesses. "I feel like the market may be nearing saturation and it's going to be more and more difficult for rivals to have deals that stand out among consumers at this point," he said.

And in another nerve-wracking move for established internet companies, Amazon.com, Inc. announced Thursday that it reached an agreement with NBC Universal to license and stream movies.

So now online entertainment companies Hulu and Netflix are joining Groupon in the "what exactly does this mean for us?" waiting game.

Categories: Business, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 28, 2011

CUB Calls for Changes in Smart-Phone Data Packages

The Citizens Utility Board says most smart phone users are paying too much for their service, because of wireless data plans that are too big for their needs.

At a Champaign news conference on Thursday, CUB spokesman Patrick Deignan said an analysis they commissioned of Verizon bills nationwide showed that their average smart phone customer used less than 500 megabytes of data per month --- far less than what was provided by Verizon's lowest data plan. Diegnan said that industry-wide, the available data plans were either too big, or too small.

"Verizon, for example, their standard data plan for a smart phone is two gigabytes," he said. "AT&T and T-Mobile, I believe, offer 200 megabyte plans. But we're not seeing a plan to fit the average user, which is about 450 megabytes a month."

Deignan said that means many wireless customers are buying plans that are too big for their needs, causing them to pay for capacity they don't use. He said CUB is calling on the wireless industry to improve the situation for consumers --- by offering lower-tier data plans of 500 megabytes to 1 gigabyte, as well as family share plans and rollover data to help wireless customers make their money go further.

In the meantime, the consumer group is inviting smart phone users to run their wireless bill through CUB's online Cellphone Saver, to find out how where to cut unused data or unwanted services. Diegnan said that the Cellphone Saver program has analyzed more than 19,000 bills since its launch three years ago -- and found savings in 70% of the cases.

A spokesman for the wireless industry could not be immediately reached for comment.

Categories: Business, Technology

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