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There are a couple of things I think are interesting this week. The first is watching Sun pass into history and weighing which company seems to be the biggest chúng tôi second is that Microsoft is experimenting with a reality TV program using Jack and Suzie Welch which, while interesting as a concept, seems to have too much reality and not enough entertainment value. It makes me wonder if the Welchs should have taken on the Sun merger problem for Oracle.

Unlike most companies that are doing or planning mergers at the moment, Oracle is an expert at doing them well.

However, this merger is not an acquisition of a company like PeopleSoft that is close to Oracle’s core competence. It’s the acquisition of Sun, a company that got caught in a transition between hardware and software, was clearly failing, and isn’t close at all to Oracle’s core competence.

That means while it may go better than AT&Ts acquisition of NCR, or IBM’s acquisition of ROLM, it will have more similarities to the problems associated to those out-of-competence zone acquisitions than Oracle’s typical work.

This kind of acquisition virtually never goes well despite the competence of the acquiring company, because there is simply too little understanding of the differences between the two chúng tôi watching mergers like this over the last several decades I’ve concluded that the problems are associated more with the similarities than the differences. That’s because they create a false sense of confidence that the problems are known when they are not – and the learning on the job costs kill the effort.

This doesn’t mean that Oracle won’t get at least some of the promised benefit from their acquisition of Solaris, Java and the related tools and support structures. These should enhance Oracle’s offerings though, as a platform vendor with Unbreakable Linux, their performance has been below lackluster, suggesting that even here it will not meet expectations.

In a good merger you want to see strong competencies in the related areas from the acquiring firm or their lack of competence is very likely to break what otherwise might be working reasonably well in the acquired firm.

Of course, given Sun’s financial performance, it’s a stretch to say they were executing well, particularly with Solaris, and Java really hasn’t been much of a financial engine for the firm even though it is well regarded and widely used.

This creates a problem for Sun customers. They know that Solaris is not a platform that is likely to be around long and that they will be pushed onto a platform, Unbreakable Linux, which they haven’t seemed to want up until now.

Many are not currently big Oracle customers either and, from their perspective, for good reason.

So where are they going?

The big problem is hardware as, anecdotally, it appears the Sun customers know they are on a bubble. Investing in additional Sun hardware would be very difficult to justify if, as expected, Oracle either abandons it or finds a buyer that is not acceptable to these Sun customers.

Sun’s class of product sells to a relatively conservative market, at least on the server side. Even aggressive discounting doesn’t seem to be eliminating much of the related chúng tôi x86 Workstations, which you would think would be the least risky, appear to be under heavy pressure. They seem to have dropped into the same bucket with white box systems because of concerns surrounding the continuance of the Sun brand.

What I think is interesting about this is that for most of the 90s Sun preyed on IBM accounts and bragged about how easily they bagged IBM chúng tôi appears that IBM is now going after Sun accounts with a vengeance using aggressive programs, targeted services, and focused partners and sales representatives.

The result, and this is all anecdotal at the moment, is that it appears that IBM may be capturing much of the business that is resulting from this merger and that has a Karmic element to it.

The reasons may be kind of interesting.

Next Page: Why IBM?

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A Guide To Sun Protection For People With Darker Skin

Overall recommendations on when and if to use sunscreen seem to be clear: always protect yourself from the sun, especially if you have a lighter skin tone. But for people with abundant melanin who often hear phrases like “Black don’t crack” or “Black don’t burn,” guidance around whether or not to wear sunscreen can be confusing.

The common misconception that people of color don’t have to wear sunscreen comes from the fact that high amounts of melanin, by way of its ability to absorb light, offers some degree of sun protection factor (SPF). Public figures have helped this belief take root—actress Angela Bassett (long revered for her seemingly flawless skin) said Black people have “natural sunscreen,” which might lead readers to believe her good looks come just from having dark skin.

But this is not the case. As Dr. Nada Elbuluk, associate professor of clinical dermatology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, explains it, individuals with medium to dark skin can often have natural protection equivalent to roughly SPF 8-15.

“This baseline SPF is not enough to provide adequate sun protection, which is why individuals of color of all shades still need to practice wearing sunscreen on a regular basis,” she says. (Bassett seems to know this, since she’s said she takes good care of her complexion, avoids the sun, and wears sunscreen every day.)

“There is also a myth that people with darker skin tones should not wear sunscreen because of vitamin D deficiency,” says Dr. Chesahna Kindred, associate professor at Howard University department of dermatology in Washington, DC. Studies show high amounts of melanin in the skin can prevent ultraviolet light from reaching the deepest layers of skin that create vitamin D, but in Kindred’s opinion: “The best source of vitamin D is in foods.”

Should people with skin of color wear sunscreen to avoid skin cancer?

Black don’t crack? It does though. And it ages, too. Reafon Gates / Pexels

Another misconception is that skin cancer prevention is the main reason everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, should wear sunscreen. But the relationship between the sun and melanin can’t be wrapped up in one tidy box that fits all groups, and many dermatologists specializing in skin of color are encouraging a more nuanced relationship with sun protection.

Though there is a clear link between UVB radiation (a type of UV radiation given off by the sun) and skin cancer in people with fair skin, this relationship is not as clear-cut in people with skin of color.

Unclear information regarding the conditions affecting skin of color doesn’t stop here though—multiple studies have shown that there is a significant lack of images for certain skin conditions as they manifest in people of color. This lack of representation can negatively affect clinicians’ and dermatology students’ ability to accurately diagnose patients with skin of color, as well as public health resources that allow people to spot and recognize potentially concerning skin conditions in themselves.

“The gross lack of awareness is the reason skin cancers are deadlier in patients with darker skin tones,” says Kindred.

Also, most skin cancers affecting people with skin of color aren’t caused by UV exposure, which, contrary to popular belief, means sunscreen will do little to protect them.

In Black people, for example, skin cancers caused by inflammatory conditions are much more common, says Dr. Jenna Lester, an assistant professor of clinical dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, and director of their Skin of Color program. Conditions such as Hidradenitis suppurativa—which affects hair follicles in typically unexposed areas like under the arms or in the groin—or discoid lupus, an autoimmune disease, can also cause skin cancers, and present a higher risk for Black patients than cancers usually caused by sun exposure.

To add a challenge to an already problematic situation, the majority of funding for dermatology usually goes to researching skin cancers caused by sun exposure, so the study of other skin cancer-causing conditions has become a struggle.

“Although these aren’t allocated to any specific race, this does mean that there is limited funding for skin cancer research in skin of color,” Lester explains.

How to find the right sunscreen for your skin

Physical sunscreens often leave a very unglamorous white cast upon application. Chemical ones are a great alternative. The Creative Exchange / Unsplash

The general rules for choosing the right form of sun protection are roughly the same across all skin tones. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher, broad-spectrum, and water-resistant. Kindred says you should also look for sunscreens with added antioxidants, which have been shown to be more effective that sunscreen alone in minimizing UV damage.

But when it comes to finding the right sunscreen for you, it’s helpful to know how it works.

There are two main types of sunscreen: chemical and physical. Physical or mineral sunscreens have ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that sit atop the surface of the skin and physically block out and reflect UV rays. Because they act as an actual barrier, physical sunscreens are easier to wash off with sweat or water, but they offer protection as soon as you put them on. Another major downside of physical sunscreens is the white cast they tend to leave upon application. This is especially noticeable on the darkest ranges of skin tones, and some people find it undesirable.

On the other hand, chemical sunscreens contain active organic compounds (usually avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and/or ecamsule) that are absorbed into the skin, where they convert UV rays to heat. A substantial benefit of chemical sunscreen is that since the compounds in them are smaller, they can be formulated to be thinner and easier to spread, making them more convenient for day-to-day use. However, the compounds in chemical sunscreens may cause allergic reactions, and oxybenzone has recently been banned in Hawaii after studies found that even very low concentrations can cause bleaching in corals.

Both types of sunscreen are okay and generally safe to use across skin tones. If you have skin of color and want to avoid the white cast of mineral sunscreens, chemical ones might be best for you. However, if you have sensitive skin and have noticed a reaction to chemical sunscreens in the past, some companies have made transparent physical sunscreens that won’t leave a ghostly white cast. Whatever you decide to go for, be sure to read some reviews, ask around, and see what looks best on your skin.

When and where should you wear sunscreen?

Just a friendly reminder that that delicious sunlight can penetrate the window and also your skin. Christina @ chúng tôi / Unsplash

When it comes to protecting yourself from UV rays, where and when to use sunscreen applies pretty consistently regardless of how much melanin you’re rocking, but many of us still don’t know when sunscreen is necessary, and when it’s not.

No matter what your skin tone, Lester says sunscreen should be worn wherever you’re exposed to UV rays. But that may mean something different than what you think. Though you might assume you can skip sunscreen when it’s cloudy out, it’s best to wear it regardless of the weather. Though thick cloud cover can generally absorb some UV radiation, rays still make it through, and studies have shown that light to thin cloud cover may have an enhancing effect on UV levels, making it even worse than a clear blue sky. Though we don’t definitively know why this is, it might be because thin clouds act like a lens, scattering solar radiation more strongly towards the ground, rather than diffusely into the atmosphere.

It’s also important to keep in mind that you can be exposed to UV rays in places and ways you wouldn’t normally expect. Lester notes that wherever you are exposed to sun rays, you are exposed to UV rays. So if you’re indoors by a window, you’re still exposed and should use sun protection.

To make things a bit more complicated, the risk for UV damage is not limited to solar sources. “Research shows that direct blue light from our devices is enough to cause skin damage. We’ve seen how this visible light can also trigger conditions like melasma, which people with darker skin are already predisposed to,” Lester says.

Not to worry though—recent research has also shown that wearing sunscreen can help mitigate the effects of UV exposure on melasma, and other hyperpigmentation conditions that disproportionately affect people with skin of color. And when it comes to UV protection, Lester notes that sun-protective clothing is also a great option.

When thinking about sun protection, it’s best to play it safe, so Kindred recommends her patients wear sunscreen “indoors, outdoors, rain, shine, winter, and summer.” And in the wise words of Beyoncé, “your skin shines and tells your story,” so be sure to care for it regardless of how much melanin you’re blessed with.

Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg On June Npd Xbox 360 Numbers

Aaron Greenberg: I think you’ve really got two stories here. There’s the one most people are going to talk about, which is just the month of June, another month of NPD sales and such. It was definitely a good month for us. The Xbox 360 saw system sales grow 9 percent year-over-year with 241,000 systems sold and great performance on the game side. It tends to be a repeat of what we’ve seen month after month. I mean, June, as we know, is a pretty slow month. For us what’s more interesting is that it’s a great time to step back and look at the entire half-year’s performance. For me that’s much more interesting.

So how did we perform over that six month period, how did that compare to the prior year, how are we doing relative to the competition when we match up side by side, and so on. As it turns out, it’s a real bright spot for us. In fact the first six months of the year we saw consoles sales grow 20 percent year-over-year, despite the fact that we were the first console to launch this generation. That speaks well of what we offer in terms of content and pricing.

AG: Our attach rate was 8.6 in June, compared with 6.8 for PS3 and 6.4 for the Wii.

AG: I show that we had more game sales in June than any other platform, over $177 million in software sales. Year-over-year, our software sales were flat, but by comparison, Wii sales in June were down 30 percent and PS3 sales were down 19 percent.

The other thing we disclosed is, we know we have 20 million Xbox Live members, but to give you a sense of what that includes, it’s both our Silver and Gold members. A lot of people are curious about whether those people are really transacting or not. So we’ve gotten specific and said 17 million of the 20 million users have downloaded content in the last year. That’s 85 percent of our total Live members downloading content right now from Xbox Live. That should give you a sense for the level of activity alongside the growth figure.

GO: You say “downloading content,” but how much of that content involves pay-for transactions versus free ones?

GO: Software sales of $177 million. Is that just retail or combined retail and online?

AG: That’s just retail, so that doesn’t include any of the online sales, which are obviously becoming more and more a part of our business.

GO: Do you have a number yet that you can share covering Xbox Live online sales?

GO: What are your plans for divulging that information going forward? I mean at some point don’t you have to?

AG: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean I think, there’s some…

GO: I’m thinking in terms of shareholders and such.

There’s two schools here, really. There’s one school that believes in full disclosure, that we should talk very openly about this, and personally I’m a fan of that. I think that just like NPD data’s reported for retail, we should be very open about what’s happening online. But it’s not just us. We’ve got a lot of partners selling stuff, and so we’re trying to be sensitive to their needs as well. Some people are more conservative or cautious about bragging about online revenue and that kind of thing for a variety of reasons.

It’s the same thing the music industry went through, and all entertainment industries make this transition. We’re going through it now, and I think we’ll get to the point where people are more comfortable with it. We’re definitely at the point where it’s growing and outpacing the retail space, but we’re not quite able yet to get into as much detail as we’d like.

GO: Let’s talk the big stuff coming in the second half of 2009. You’re listing Halo 3: ODST, Forza Motorsport 3, Left 4 Dead 2, and Splinter Cell Conviction. What I’m wondering, in the context of majors like BioShock 2 slipping from 2009 to 2010, is whether you’re concerned about more stuff bumping and killing momentum?

That said, if only look at big exclusive titles this holiday, we’re loaded up. There’s Forza 3, Halo 3: ODST, Splinter Cell, Left 4 Dead 2, Shadow Complex, and that’s just exclusives. Just this holiday. Then you add Call of Duty and The Beatles: Rock Band and all the other blockbuster games on top of that. Right now, the holidays look like they’re jam-packed. We feel great about the lineup we have from the games standpoint. Then you add all the stuff we’re doing with online and Facebook and Twitter and movies and I think we’re in good shape.

But yeah, I’m sure there’ll be more stuff that’ll slip. That’s the nature of the business. Even with a few more things moving around, I don’t think it’ll impact our performance.

GO: Analysts, publishers, and the press all seems to be aligning against Sony in the great should-they-or-shouldn’t-they debate about dropping the PS3’s price point. The latest estimates suggest it’ll finally happen sometime this fall. Is the Xbox 360 competitive at its current price point with a price-reduced PS3?

It’s also what we’ve done with online, with Xbox Live, building the online community, the entertainment offerings, and the way we’re really pushing the envelope I believe with all the new innovations we announced at E3. That’s just this holiday. Then you start to think about Natal, and where we’re going with the platform in terms of making it more appealing to more people.

At the end of the day, we’ll continue to compete with Sony whether they drop the PS3’s price or not. We’re at $199 today, and we’ll continue to add great experiences at an affordable price. That’s our strategy, and we think we’ll fare well, even if Sony does make a move.

For more gaming news, interviews, and opinion, follow


Reality Pro Launch And Pricing: Making Sense Of The Speculation

There’s been a lot of speculation lately about Apple’s Reality Pro launch plans, and also about the pricing of the device.

WWDC announcement

We’ve of course heard multiple reports that Apple plans to announce the Reality Pro in the WWDC keynote on June 5, though it won’t actually go on sale until later in the year. To me, this makes perfect sense.

It may be that xrOS does the heavy lifting here, and that the required developer workload is minimal, but I can easily envisage a situation akin to adapting iPhone apps for the iPad. Yes, you could run an existing iPhone app in 2x mode, but it wasn’t pretty! It seems likely that native Reality Pro apps are going to be far more compelling than minimally-adapted iPad ones.

So to me, it’s hard to imagine that Apple wouldn’t first announce the device at WWDC.

Reality Pro launch

However, some are arguing that a whole new product category is too big a deal to fit into a keynote presentation, and that it really requires a standalone event.

Apple wants the Reality Pro to have its own iPhone moment, and it doesn’t appear to be the right time for that to happen.

My own view is that the reasoning is sound, but the conclusion is wrong.

Yes, Reality Pro is absolutely something that needs a lot of time to introduce. Apple first has to make the case for such a device to exist in the first place, and then explain why the iPhone maker is moving into this field.

That’s a big ask, and it isn’t going to get covered in a single keynote presentation.

But that’s why it makes perfect sense that this is going to be a two-stage announcement:

WWDC: Reality Pro announcement

Later: Reality Pro launch

The former will give consumers the broad brushstrokes – what, why, when? Follow-up WWDC sessions will then give developers the hands-on experience and deep dive they need.

If this doesn’t convince you, there are another couple of strong arguments for a WWDC announcement. First, there’s this:

On Monday night, there will be the traditional Apple Design Awards keynote and then a mysterious Special Evening Activity “you won’t want to miss” at Caffè Macs […]

“Join us at the Apple Developer Center as we discuss some of the latest announcements. Choose from three different presentation times. Space is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Aka Reality Pro tryout session, followed by in-depth briefing once developers have experienced it.

Second, there’s the fact that a WWDC reveal is pretty much being reported as fact, and Apple is doing nothing to stop that. It would be a massive disappointment if it didn’t happen after all this hype, so I guarantee you that we and others would be receiving quiet (or loud) hints from Apple PR if the reports were wrong.

Reality Pro pricing

We’ve been hearing that $3,000 figure for a long time. That’s a huge amount of money, especially when nobody has yet made a clear case for why any of us would want to buy it.

Like many of you, I have a Meta Quest 2 sitting somewhere at the back of a drawer. I bought it because it was an affordable way to see what all the VR fuss was about. Having satisfied my curiosity, enjoyed riding a few roller-coasters, and let friends play with it, it was probably less than a few weeks before it was put away, never to resurface.

So it’s understandable to me that many would query the pricing.

That $1500 report debunked

Then there was that $1,500 report. There, said some, we told you it wouldn’t really cost three grand, it’s going to be half that.

Well, no. The $1,500 (actually $1,400) report was describing what’s known as the Bill of Materials. That is, the actual cost to Apple of the components needed to make one, plus assembly.

Even considering only direct costs, we still need to add packaging, warehousing, shipping, import duties, and miscellaneous handling costs. But then we need to add in the cost of marketing and selling it (Apple Store space needs to be accounted for), and the true all-in cost needs to also factor in the development costs – reported to be a cool billion dollars a year. That’s a big bill.

But there’s a wildcard

Apple knows this is a very expensive first-generation device, and it knows it needs to create a market for the more affordable models down the road. This model will be the crucial but short-lived LISA, ahead of the much more affordable Macintosh.

Bloomberg reported that the Cupertino company even considered selling the first-gen model at a loss, before deciding instead to sell it as a breakeven price.

We also need to consider that the Bill of Materials report was just an estimate of what the components might cost. We don’t know the actual components, nor the actual price that Apple pays for them. We do know the company drives a hard deal with suppliers, so rather than an under-estimate of real-life costs, the BoM might be an over-estimate of the true cost to Apple.

Finally, there’s the original iPad, which was widely rumored to cost a thousand dollars, and actually launched for half that. The smart money says that Apple leaked the $1000 price to make $500 seem like a bargain. The company could be doing the same thing again here.

So we may be pleasantly surprised

So there’s at least a possibility that the $3k pricing and $1.5k BoM was Apple disinformation, and that it will, after all, launch for $1,500.

That said, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Personally, I’m not expecting to buy one at either price – how about you?

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Our Sun Might Have Been Born With An Evil Twin Called ‘Nemesis’

NASA released this October-appropriate image of the sun last week, showing active regions that mimic a Jack-O’-Lantern’s toothy grin. It’s just a coincidence, but it’s nice to see old Sol getting in on the Halloween action. NASA/GSFC/SDO

Sunlike stars often come in twos and threes, and astronomers and astrophysicists have long wondered why. Are these pairs and trios born as multiple stars orbiting the same point, or do they meet up when the gravity of one star captures another?

A new analysis out of Harvard and UC-Berkeley suggests that, in fact, nearly all stars are likely born with a twin—including our own sun. The findings, recently accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, are based on observations of newborn stars in a large cloud in the constellation Perseus.

Stars are born inside egg-shaped clouds called dense cores. These dusty gas clouds block the light from the stars inside and behind them. But fortunately for us, radio waves can penetrate through the darkness. The Very Large Array recently used radio waves to map all the young stars in the Perseus nursery, and the researchers drew on this data to understand the relationships between stars of different ages.

They found that binary stars separated by distances of 500 AU or more—that’s 500 times the distance between Earth and the sun—were extremely young stars less than 500,000 years old. In these systems, the two stars tended to be aligned with the long axis of the egg-shaped cloud.

Slightly older stars, between 500,000 and a million years old, tended to be closer together—separated by about 200 AU—and had no particular alignment within the cloud.

The study authors came up with a variety of mathematical models to explain the stars’ distribution, and concluded that the only way it makes sense is if all stars with sunlike masses start off with distant twins. Over the course of a million years or so, about 60 percent of the pairs split up (the authors think) and the rest ease in closer to one another.

The results support computer simulations that previously suggested stars form in twos, as well as observations that younger stars are more likely than older stars to form binary pairs. But the authors caution that the findings need to be checked in other star-forming clouds, and that more work needs to be done to understand the physics of this phenomenon.

If the results can be replicated, they’ll provide new evidence that the sun formed with a (non-identical) twin located 17 times farther away than Neptune. And it might have been an evil twin to boot. Scientists call this long-hypothesized twin “Nemesis“, because they suspect it booted the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs into Earth’s orbit.

“We are saying, yes, there probably was a Nemesis, a long time ago,” co-author Steven Stahler of UC Berkeley said in a statement.

But Nemesis has never been found. If it ever existed, it must have escaped from the gravitational pull of our sun and run off into the Milky Way, never to be seen again. So much for family.

Sun Hones Its Collaboration Offerings

Sun Microsystems Monday unfurled another banner in its Sun One strategy for computer services on demand with the introduction of a platform that it claims will make workflow communications in the corporate sector more efficient, and ultimately, its users more chúng tôi Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, which recently reopened its corporate offices in Menlo Park, introduced the Sun ONE Collaborative Business Platform at the AIIM 2003enterprise content management event in New York.

The suite of software includes applications for e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging, search, unified messaging, and content management. Sun, looking to lure customers from entrenched platforms such as Microsoft’s Exchange and IBM’s Lotus, envisions a range of employees, partners, customers, students, faculty and citizens using the platform to perform multiple tasks, according to Patrick Dorsey, group manager for Sun One communication products.

The messaging services scale to over 10 million users and allow customers to integrate virus checking and document conversion and provide varying levels of delivery service based upon the identity of the user and a routing service. It also lets users convert e-mail to fax, e-mail to SMS wireless messages, or Word to HTML.

As for calendaring and scheduling, the platform lets users manage schedules, share resources, and schedule events or appointments, as well as access services that can monitor calendar changes, stock price thresholds or auction notifications, then deliver a notification to the relevant application or device. As for content management, the applications let users access unstructured content, such as text files, via search, browse and taxonomy management capabilities.

The software family also includes professional consulting services from Sun and its iForce partners, as well as the new Sun ONE Instant Messaging 6.0 software. Dorsey said the state of New Jersey, with over eight million citizens and thousands of employees and partners, has already endorsed the platform, using its e-mail, calendar, and instant messaging applications.

David Ferris, president and analyst of messaging and collaboration research firm Ferris Research, called the suite “impressive and innovative.” Ferris also said the portal boasts strong integration with messaging and collaboration.

Ferris said Sun is gunning for Exchange users in the corporate realm, but noted that this will be challenging.

“Its value propositions in this regard center around offering a more secure and scalable platform, avoiding the need for a big upgrade to Windows 2000 and Active Directory, and TCO savings,” Ferris explained in a research note. “We doubt these messages will persuade many corporations to switch. Nevertheless, Sun has a lot to offer IT organizations that see themselves as service providers to their users. Sun also has a lot to offer organizations in which most employees aren’t office workers, such as retail chains, transportation businesses, and educational establishments. Here, the kiosk- and portal-based approaches, with low provisioning costs, should be attractive.”

Still, he said the company’s messaging and collaboration business is large and profitable.

Available now, pricing for the Sun ONE Collaborative Business Platform varies on customer needs and deployment requirements. Sun ONE Instant Messaging 6.0 begins at $30 per user with a tiered volume discount. The software is cross-platform, running on Solaris, Windows and HP-UX today, with Linux support due by the end of 2003.

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