Originally created 12/26/05

Techbits: Apple growth, Solar purse and more



Apple's site among fastest growing

NEW YORK - Driven largely by the popularity of the iTunes music service and software, Apple Computer Inc.'s Web site was the fastest growing last month among the major brands, according to a study by Nielsen/NetRatings.

The site drew 30.8 million unique visitors in November, a 57 percent jump from the 19.6 million a year earlier. Google Inc. saw a 29 percent growth in visitors while Amazon.com Inc. had a 16 percent boost.

Yahoo Inc. remained the Web's leading brand with 104 million visitors, a 10 percent increase from November 2004. But among the Web's top 10 brands, Yahoo's growth ranked only seventh.

Comparing all sites with at least 1 million visitors in November, the PhotoBucket photo-sharing site saw the largest growth - a 16-fold increase to 15.6 million visitors, from 983,000 last year.

Social networking sites MySpace and Facebook had the second- and third-highest growth, respectively. Wikipedia, an encyclopedia that lets volunteers add and change entries regardless of their expertise, was ninth on the list, nearly quadrupling its traffic.

-Anick Jesdanun, AP Internet Writer

Solar purse can power small electronics

AMES, Iowa - Joe Hynek may get some guff for carrying a purse, but he says it's all in the name of science: He has designed a solar handbag that can power small electronic devices like cell phones.

Hynek, 27, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at Iowa State University, designed the Solarjo Power Purse during a handbag competition in an experimental garment design class.

The black, rectangular purse is covered with laminated solar panels, which resemble a very thin camera film separated by white lines. Clear plastic handles top the handbag.

The purse is designed to power any small device that uses an USB port, including cell phones, personal digital assistants, iPods, global positioning devices, voice recorders and small cameras.

There's extra padding in the purse for protection and a zipper for security.

Mark Bryden, a mechanical engineering professor at Iowa State, predicts the idea could bloom into other sorts of wearable items. Already, there are backpacks that convert solar energy into battery power.

Hynek wants to eventually market the purse to environmentally conscious consumers. Although materials can be costly, Hynek hopes to keep the retail price under $300.

"I don't want to make it so that it's an elitist kind of item," he said.

-Amy Lorentzen, AP Writer

WWW creator starts a blog

NEW YORK - World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee has started a blog just in time for the 15th anniversary of his invention.

In his first entry, Berners-Lee remarked on how the Web took off as a publishing medium rather than one in which visitors not only read but also contributed information.

"WWW was soon full of lots of interesting stuff, but not a space for communal design, for discource through communal authorship," he wrote.

That has changed lately with the growing popularity of blogs, which are online diaries that often let visitors submit comments, and wikis, which are sites in which visitors can add, change and even delete what they see.

Their popularity "makes me feel I wasn't crazy to think people needed a creative space," wrote Berners-Lee, who added that he decided to start a blog to get a chance to play with blogging tools.

Berners-Lee first proposed the Web in 1989 while developing ways to control computers remotely at CERN, the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research.

He never got the project formally approved, but quietly tinkered with it anyway, making the first browser available at CERN by Christmas Day 1990.

-Anick Jesdanun, AP Internet Writer.

Power-management appliances tested

RICHLAND, Wash. - Some Oregon and Washington residents are getting free dryers as part of a test of smart, power-saving appliances.

The idea is to have appliances sense stresses in the nation's power supply - caused by such things as a tree falling on a major electrical line or a power plant unexpectedly going offline.

The appliances could automatically reduce their power usage to help stabilize the system.

"It's not about saving power overall, but saving power when you most need it - at times of high pressure on the power grid," said Robert Pratt, a staff scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The dryer, for instance, could turn off its heating unit for a few minutes to momentarily conserve power, while still tumbling your clothes to avoid wrinkles.

There's also talk of a refrigerator smart enough to know when - and when not - to defrost the freezer.

"We want to show there are no hiccups with the technology," Pratt said. "But we're also trying to show that nobody notices if the heating element on their dryer is shut off for 5 minutes."

Researchers are conducting a pilot using a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department. They contend enough gadgets like these in public use could help to avert blackouts like the one that darkened the Northeast in 2003.

-Shannon Dininny, AP Writer.

Sweden backs unmanned combat plane

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - The Swedish government has agreed to join a French-led effort to develop an unmanned combat plane that will feature stealth technology and high-tech weaponry.

The decision had been delayed six months after Sweden's left-leaning Left Party and Green Party, which give the governing Social Democrats a majority in parliament, raised concerns about the project's price tag and need.

Under the plan approved this week, Swedish defense and aerospace company Saab AB, a key partner in the project, will contribute $76 million, with the government funding another $14 million. Initially, the government was to fund the entire amount.

Sweden's wobbling has threatened to cause massive delays for the so-called UCAV - Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle - launched in 2003 by France, which has already pledged $360 million to the effort. The project aims to develop a prototype of the unmanned plane, named Neuron, by 2009, according to Saab.

Defense Minister Leni Bjorklund said the project would help Sweden "keep and develop the aeronautic competence that is needed to sustain" the country's air force. It will also benefit Swedish space research, she said.

Saab is in charge of the overall design of the plane, as well as several of its flight functions. Swedish officials said Tuesday's decision only commits to a prototype, not deployment.

-Mattias Karen, AP Writer