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For a vision of war, it was almost elegant. The smoke and stink and deafening crack of munitions would be replaced by invisible beams of focused light. Modified 747 jets, equipped with laser weapons, would blast ballistic missiles while they were still hundreds of miles from striking our soil. “Directed-energy” cannons would intercept incoming rockets at the speed of light, heating up the explosives inside and causing them to burst apart in midair. And this wasn’t some relic of Reagan-era Star Wars visionaries. These were modern plans, initiated barely a decade ago, that would be realized not in some far-off future, but soon. Out in the New Mexico desert at the White Sands Missile Range, the U.S. Army’s Tactical High Energy Laser shot down dozens of Katyusha rockets and mortars. In 2004, Air Force contractors began test-firing the chemically powered beam weapon for a retrofitted 747, the Airborne Laser.

Then reality set in, and these recent efforts to wield battlefield lasers suddenly began looking as doomed as Star Wars. Generating the megawatts of laser power needed to detonate a missile required hundreds of gallons of toxic chemicals-ethylene, nitrogen trifluoride. The weapons grew bulky. Worse, after a few shots, the lasers would have to be resupplied with a fresh batch of reactants. The logistics of hauling those toxins either through the air or across a battlefield made generals shiver. And questions lingered about how effectively the beams would penetrate dust and rain. Last year, the Army canceled its Tactical High Energy Laser project, and some think the wildly overbudget beam-firing 747 may be next to go.

But don’t count laser weapons out yet. The ray-gun potential of weapons that fire with precision over tremendous distances is far too militarily appealing, particularly at a time when American soldiers are fighting guerrilla foes who melt quickly into the background. “If I could reach into a crowd and take out one or two targets without a puff of dust or a crack of a rifle-if I could fire for a long time, without ever having to reload,” says Marine Corps Major General Bradley Lott, “that’s something the United States Marine Corps would be very, very interested in pursuing.”

But if chemical lasers can’t cut it, what will make beam warfare a reality? The answer is twofold. First, the Pentagon is slowly realizing that if it wants results, it has to lower its expectations. Shoot down mortars first, for example, then missiles. More important, however, is the reemergence of two technologies of the Star Wars past-solid-state and free-electron lasers-in the energized, promise-filled labs of two former colleagues who thought their dreams of laser triumph had died years ago.

Jumping to Light speed

Lasers all work in pretty much the same way: Excite certain kinds of atoms, and light particles-photons-radiate out. Reflect that light back into the excited atoms, and more photons appear. But unlike with a lightbulb, which glows in every direction, this second batch of photons travels only in one direction and in lockstep with the first. And instead of shining in every part of the spectrum, laser light is all the same wavelength, which depends on the “gain medium”-the type of atoms-you use to generate the beam. Shine enough of the focused light, and things start to burn.

The first laser experiments in the 1960’s used ruby crystals as the gain medium. But solid-state lasers like these originally couldn’t produce more than a few hundred watts of power. That’s fine for eye surgery. Knocking down a missile-as the military first dreamed of doing-takes millions of watts of power, which is why researchers turned their efforts toward the ultimately failed chemically powered lasers.

There is another kind of laser, however, one that requires no bulky tubs of toxic chemicals, no crystals-no gain medium whatsoever to generate its beam. It’s called a free-electron laser (FEL), and it uses a turbocharged stream of electrons to kick-start its reaction. This form of laser dominated the Star Wars national missile-defense program; it was the almost mythical beast that scientists George Neil and Bob Yamamoto toiled on together for defense contractor TRW.

It was hamstrung by high power expections. But both Neil, the project’s chief scientist, and Yamamoto, a project engineer, were true believers. They thought that with enough research, a free-electron laser might really be able to stop a rogue missile. And the breakthroughs required in atomic physics, optics and superconductivity would have far-reaching benefits, even if an ICBM never got zapped. But after 10 years and half a billion dollars of investment, the free-electron laser in TRW’s lab peaked out at a meager 11 watts-a tenth of what a lightbulb generates.

Under the GUN

The ammunition in Yamamoto’s new solid-state laser is a set of four-inch square transparent slabs tinged with the slightest hint of purple. They’re exactly what you’d expect to find powering the cannons on board the Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon.

A magazine of these see-through slabs isn’t exactly infinite, though; for every 10 seconds they fire, they need at least a minute to cool off. But the slabs-ceramics infused with the element neodymium, the atoms that, when excited, produce the photons that eventually become the laser beam-can never be drained of their potency. And they’re a lot less hassle than bulky chemical tubs. They’re a big reason why Yamamoto’s machine squeezes into a single 30-foot-long lab. It’s not hard to imagine the whole thing packed into a small truck, knocking mortars out of the air. “I’ve been thinking about deployment for a long time,” Yamamoto says.

A solid-state laser like his could now make it to a war zone in part because the bar for energy weapons has been lowered. Blasting an ICBM from 100 miles away requires megawatts of light. Solid-state lasers might never get that powerful. But heating up a mortar from a mile away until the explosives inside detonate-that takes only 100 kilowatts.

Yamamoto is getting close. He shows off dozens of blocks of carbon steel and aluminum, each two inches tall and an inch thick. On all of them are burn marks and holes. One block, marked “6-6-05,” is almost completely warped by a pair of half-dollar-size depressions. A rope of formerly molten metal sticks out from the bottom. “Can you believe that?” Yamamoto asks, with a booming tenor and a big, boyish grin. He looks much younger than his 50 years. “It’s like shining a flashlight, and stuff is melting! It’s ridiculous!” The Livermore laser, pushed forward by larger gain-medium slabs and increased pulsing speeds, hit 45 kilowatts of power in March 2005. That’s more than triple what the laser could do three years before.

But there’s a nervous tension at the lab the day I come to visit. Each of the slabs is surrounded by an array of 2,880 light-emitting diodes, like the ones in a clock radio. When they shine, they excite the atoms in the transluscent ceramic composites and begin the laser chain reaction. The problem is that the more the diodes glow, the more that temperature disparities degrade the quality of the beam. The infrared ray-invisible to the naked eye-starts to lose some of its quality. Which is bad, because the Pentagon wants to see a nice, tight beam, as well as a powerful one. And the Defense Department’s team of testers is due here next Tuesday. The visit will largely determine whether the Livermore team will get the cash to make its next laser: a 100-kilowatt, weapons-grade machine.

So Yamamoto’s team is making last-minute adjustments to the “adaptive optics”-mirrors fitted with more than 200 actuators that bend them to compensate for distortions in the beam. Yamamoto is politely apologetic. “I’m sorry, but we’re under the gun,” he says as our meeting draws to a close.

Wiggling through

George Neil isn’t in such a hurry when I meet him a few days later. The thin, 58-year-old “death race” runner-he recently finished a 78-mile ultramarathon through the Canadian Rockies-has been pushing for a free-electron laser for more than a quarter of a century. It will be another few years before he’s got one as strong as Yamamoto’s solid-state machine. So he has some time to show me around his lab at the Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia.

The FEL’s “tunability” is what got the military interested in the first place. Most lasers lose strength as they move through-and get absorbed by-the atmosphere. A little rain only makes things worse. But an FEL could use whatever wavelength flows through the air the best. And there’s no emptying the “infinite magazine.” No wonder Los Alamos National Laboratory associate director Doug Beason calls it lasers’ Holy Grail. But can anyone pull it off?

After Star Wars, ultramarathoner Neil bided his time and paced himself, waiting for the technology to catch up. For five years, he worked here at Jefferson lab on a giant particle accelerator. The lab’s director promised that he could build the FEL afterward. Finally, in 1995, when it came time to put the machine together, Neil and his team designed a new FEL that would produce a single kilowatt of light-not the superstrength lasers promised back in the ’80s. In 1999 they broke the record power levels of the Star Wars”model FEL by 100-fold. In 2003 the new FEL hit 10 kilowatts, another record. “I always believed the technology would get there,” Neil says with a satisfied grin, “if we took manageable steps with reasonable goals.”

And now Neil has the military’s attention again. The Defense Department is investing $14 million a year in the machine. There’s talk of eventually equipping the Navy’s next generation of destroyers with free-electron lasers. Today the ships don’t have the precision weaponry to stop rocket and small-boat attacks, like the kind Al Qaeda used against the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. A laser might be able to handle the job. And only a free-electron laser could be tuned to cut through the briny ocean air.

In December, Neil gets good news. The Navy has committed to the im-proved FEL in a big way: $180 million for an eight-year, multi-team effort. “There’s many a challenge ahead,” he writes, “but at least we are started.”

Yet Neil’s feelings are a little bittersweet. The results have come in for the Pentagon’s solid-state laser competition, too-and his old friend and colleague Bob Yamamoto lost out. The money to build a weapons-grade solid-state laser in the lab is going instead to a team at Northrop Grumman.

Northrop’s design wasn’t all that different from Yamamoto’s, but instead of the four big see-through slabs at the core of Yamamoto’s machine, Northrop relies on several smaller crystals. Less energy is concentrated on individual crystals, so there are fewer imperfections in the beam. “I’m amazed how much power we’re getting out of a piece of glass the size of a stick of gum,” says Northrop program manager Jeff Sollee, a 30-year directed-energy veteran, most recently with the defense contractor’s last big chemical-laser program, the Tactical High Energy Laser. The Pentagon has given Sollee 33 months to bring his machine to battlefield strength.

Yamamoto, meanwhile, continues to quietly tweak his laser, despite the Pentagon’s decision against him. He’s learned that, in this business, anything can happen. “For now, we’re keeping an extremely low profile,” he says. “But we’re not done.”

Noah Shachtman edits defensetech.org_, a military-technology blog._

You’ll need the QuickTime plug-in to view this video (below). Download it here for free if you don’t already have it installed. If you are having trouble with the plugin, a direct link to the video can be found here.

by Courtesy Bob Hirschfeld

Bob Yamamoto holds a target showing the laser’s effects.

by John B. Carnett

The mirror assembly [shown here] is where 10 percent of the photons become the laser beam and 90 percent reenter the wiggler to sustain the process.

by Courtesy Bob Hirschfeld

Bob Yamamoto readies his solid-state laser for a test-firing.

by Courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

During an approximately quarter-second, five-pulse test-firing of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory solid-state laser, an aluminum target succumbs to a 10-kilowatt laser blast

by John B. Carnett

The laser’s wiggler, which converts 1 percent of the beam to light

Inside a Solid-State Laser

The solid-state laser is not as tunable as the free-electron laser, but it is simpler and uses less power. This system starts with light-emitting diodes [1], which flash at high intensities into neodymium YAG ceramics [2], the laser´s â€gain medium.†The interaction of the diode light and the neodymium atoms produces the photons that form the laser beam. A diagnostic system [3] evaluates a small part of the beam to ensure that it´s at high enough power and that the photon amplification is being properly maintained. If not, adaptive optics [4] make infinitesimal high-speed adjustments to keep the beam coherent. Finally, a 0.5-millisecond laser pulse [5], with a wavelength of 1,060 nanometers, exits the device and hits the target.

Inside a Free-Electron Laser

The free-electron laser is the most â€tunable†laser being developed. To generate its beam, scientists use light from a small laser to strike a superconductor inside the injector [1]. The interaction produces electrons that emerge as a beam and travel into an accelerator [2], where microwave power accelerates the beam, increasing the electrons´ energy. Moving at near-light speed, the energized beam enters the â€wiggler†[3], which uses an alternating magnetic field to shake the electrons. When electrons change direction, they eject photons-light particles that will become the laser beam itself. Once through the wiggler, the electrons are discarded into an â€electron dump†[4], and the photons, amplified by several passes through a mirror assembly [5] and the wiggler, emerge as a coherent beam [6], one powerful enough to melt metallic surfaces.

by John B. Carnett

To generate a 10-kilowatt laser, an accelerator [shown here] adds 115 megavolts of microwave energy to an electron beam, boosting its speed and strength.

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Attack In 2023 To Be Aware Of

10 Cyber Security Threats in 2023 To Be Aware Of 1. IoT Means More DDoS Attacks

Internet of things is destroying everything especially the Internet. As more and more devices are getting online the threat of Distributed Denial Service Attack is increasing.

IoT devices have a poor network of security that allows hackers to exploit them and bring a website down. DDoS attacks are simple and IoT devices are helping them to spread. Earlier this was not the case but today we have numerous smart devices ranging from smart fridges, TV, phones, cars to lot more help in creating havoc. By getting control over any Internet connected device the hacker can easily perform a DDoS attack.

2. Data Theft on Rise

Data has been the king that hackers desperately want to access. The more it is publicizing and contains financial details more it is at risk. Therefore, while storing and data on the Internet one must be cautious. As a data leak can cost you a lot. In 2023 more data was stolen as compared to 2024. So, you can very well imagine that this year things would get more worse.

3. Web Apps are Under Attack

No expertise is required to launch an SQL injection and spread malware or steal data. Web applications are an intelligent way to interact and collect customers information. We use them for subscribing a newsletter, paying bills, filling forms and other tasks. The more we use them more is the risk of cyber security attack. Therefore, before entering any personal and confidential information we should be cautious.

4. Increasing use of Ransomware

Also Read: What is Eavesdropping Attack- A Complete Guide

5. Is Biometric a Better Way?

Due to the increasing threat of password being hacked or stolen enterprises, have shifted to biometric access. But do you think it is safe and better than using strong and alphanumeric passwords?

6. Browser Plug-Ins An Easy Pass for Malware

Browser plugins are small codes that add features to browser and support video playback. But the most common of them Flash and Java can easily be exploited by hackers as they have fertile bug grounds. Therefore, while enabling a plugin or using it do check its usage. They are a gate pass for malicious code to get installed into the system.

7. Inside Threats

Employees are the biggest threat for an organization as a careless act performed by them may cost the company a lot. Therefore, before allowing them  to access anything online do keep security in check. Nothing can be more dangerous than the inside threat as they are the ones who leave the door open for hackers to exploit the system.

8. Phishing Gets Smarter

Hackers are getting smarter and are creating highly conniving and sophisticated phishing mails to trap users. Making it difficult to identify spam mails from the genuine ones. Usually cyber criminals attach a malicious code to the mail that can execute itself without user’s interference. So, once you open the mail the infection starts spreading and infects other machines on the network.

Also Read: Steps To Protect Your Financial Data

9. Https Will Become a Normal

Soon all sites will use Https: to prove their site is genuine and secure. So, if such a situation arises what will you do? Will you be able to identify the fake sites? In such scenarios, a strong security system and firewall system will help you stay protected.

10. Lack of Expert Help

We think that by running an antivirus program or firewall we are secure but this is not true. An expert help is must as they can can identify the loophole in security and fix them. Therefore, don’t overlook the need of an expert help.

To stay protected, be prepared and think secure, data is valuable and is at stake due to increasing cyber-criminal activities. Hackers infiltrate the network by using malicious code, phishing mails and tricking the user into downloading the malware. Therefore, to stay protected companies should take steps to educate their employees, share information. This will help to patch the system weaknesses and the social collaboration will help to take real time action to defeat any hacking attempt.

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New Map Shows The Oldest Light In Our Universe

This map shows the oldest light in our universe, as detected with the greatest precision yet by the Planck mission. The ancient light, called the cosmic microwave background, was imprinted on the sky when the universe was 370,000 years old. It shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities, representing the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today. ESA/Planck Collaboration

Blinding when it originated, eons before any eyes would have set upon it, the afterglow of the Big Bang now surrounds us, filling the universe with a cold, faint glimmer. Tiny fluctuations in the temperature of this background radiation are a glimpse into our universal origins. They reveal the seeds of what would eventually grow into the universe as we know it today. A new map of this ancient light, unveiled today, redistributes the ingredients of our cosmos, which will rewrite countless cosmological equations.

The universe is 100 million years older than scientists had thought, originating 13.8 billion years ago. It also has a little more dark matter, a bit less dark energy and a tad more normal matter than originally thought, according to the new results. Here’s the tally:

Composition of the Universe

These numbers result from the first all-sky observations from the Planck space telescope, which is staring at the radiation. It is known as the cosmic microwave background. The microwave background is remarkably consistent across the entire sky, except for some tiny splotches. These are the echoes of sound waves, triggered by quantum fluctuations in matter in the nanoseconds after the universe was born. These fluctuations, which show up as patches of color in Planck’s map, are the seeds of all the galaxies, stars and planets we have today.

“The variations tell us new things about what happened just 10 nano-nano-nano-nanoseconds after the Big Bang, when, in a gazillion times less time than it takes me to say this, the universe expanded by 100 trillion trillion times,” explained Charles Lawrence, U.S. Planck project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “That tells us about everything in the universe.”

Planck scientists also translated the telescope’s findings into frequencies that we can hear. This tone represents primordial sound waves that traveled through the early universe, and were later “heard” by Planck.

“Just 10 nano-nano-nano-nanoseconds after the Big Bang, in a gazillion times less time than it takes me to say this, the universe expanded by 100 trillion trillion times.”Like its predecessors, Planck has observed some weird aspects of these cosmic sound splotches. Cosmological theories hold that the sky is the same everywhere, assuming the universe expanded out in all directions with equal speed and force. But the light patterns are not symmetrical, meaning the universe is not, in fact, the same temperature everywhere. And there’s a big cold spot in the middle, faintly resembling a big Atlantic Ocean between continents, that is bigger than expected. Why? Scientists don’t know yet, and they may need some new physics to explain it.

“Our ultimate goal would be to construct a new model that predicts the anomalies and links them together. But these are early days; so far, we don’t know whether this is possible and what type of new physics might be needed,” George Efstathiou of the University of Cambridge, a Planck team member, said in a statement. “And that’s exciting.”

Earlier CMB measurements noticed some hints of this asymmetry, but it was largely ignored for a variety of reasons, noted Krzysztof Gorski, a Planck scientist at JPL.

“This feature is now proven real by Planck, and the shadows of doubt on that are fading,” he said. “Perhaps we could say that our universe has thrown us a curveball, and it rarely fails to surprise us.”

Along with refining the makeup of our universe, the Planck data tests some theories describing cosmic inflation, that dramatic expansion Lawrence mentioned. The new map suggests random processes were at play on quantum scales, which is interesting because it allows cosmologists to rule out some really complex inflation theories involving a “rigged” or organized universe. The early universe was considerably less rigged than several inflation theories would suggest, Planck showed. This was difficult to figure out without Planck’s super-sensitivity.

“We’re good at recognizing stripes, because stripes can jump out of the jungle and eat us. But we’re not so good at recognizing randomness, because randomness doesn’t eat us,” as Lawrence put it. “We have to learn how to study randomness.”

Planck’s Seeing Power

Planck is a space telescope launched in 2009 and named for German physicist Max Planck, who came up with quantum theory. It is a successor to the famed Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP, which created the first-ever map of the cosmic microwave background a few years ago. Planck is much more sensitive, scientists said.

“It’s as if we’ve gone from a standard television to a high-definition television. New and important details have become crystal-clear,” said Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics for NASA, which is a partner in the European Space Agency Planck project.

Complete results from Planck, which still is scanning the skies, will be released next year.

All Of The Matter

This full-sky map from the Planck mission shows matter between Earth and the edge of the observable universe. Regions with less mass show up as lighter areas, while regions with more mass are darker.

4G Wireless Speed Tests: Which Is Really The Fastest?

Wireless data speeds have soared: Since this time last year, the major wireless carriers, as a group, have increased their average download speeds for laptop-modem users by more than threefold, an apparent result of their urgent transition from 3G to 4G network technology. (We measured the best service we could get–3G or 4G–in each testing location.) Over laptop modems, the Big Four carriers now have a collective average download speed of roughly 3.5 megabits per second in our 13 testing cities, versus a nearly 1-mbps average download speed in those cities at the beginning of 2010, a remarkable improvement.

In our previous wireless-network performance studies, we measured the “reliability” of the data service, expressed as the percentage of tests in which we could obtain a good connection. But our test results show that network service has improved to the point where it’s rare to find an unusable signal or no signal at all. So we have retired our reliability measurement–another testament to the dramatic improvements of the past year.

Verizon’s 4G LTE is for real: Verizon’s 4G LTE service, which is now in 38 U.S. markets, was widely available in 12 of our 13 testing cities. (We didn’t go out of our way to test in areas served by Verizon’s LTE network; we haven’t changed our list of testing cities in the three years we’ve done these tests.) Our laptop-modem tests on Verizon clocked speeds that were far faster than those on competing 4G networks in the same tests (twice as fast as the second-fastest service, in fact). Verizon’s network had an average download speed of roughly 6.5 mbps and an average upload speed of 5.0 mbps.

T-Mobile smartphones are fastest: Verizon may have the fastest network for laptops, but in our tests T-Mobile had the speediest results for smartphones. The T-Mobile HTC G2 we used for testing produced a 13-city average download speed of almost 2.3 mbps; that’s about 52 percent faster than the second-fastest phone, Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G, which had an average download speed of 1.5 mbps.

And AT&T’s speed gains didn’t translate well to our smartphone-based tests: The average download speeds we measured on our Apple iPhone 4 (1.4 mbps) increased only 15 percent over the speeds we measured on the same device in early 2010. However, AT&T intends to launch its own 4G LTE network later this year, a move that might tip the balance of the 4G speed race in its favor once again.

Sprint needs more 4G: In the cities where Sprint offers its 4G WiMax service, customers saw large speed increases over the past year. Sprint’s average download speeds grew 170 percent to 2.1 mbps in our tests this year; the result would have been even better had the WiMax service been more consistently available throughout our test locations. But in cities such as New Orleans, Phoenix, and San Diego, where Sprint still relies on its 3G CDMA network for data service, download speeds have fallen, and remain well below the 1 mbps mark.

Next page: The test results, and our methodology

4G Speed-Test Results: Reading the Charts

We use Ookla, an FCC-approved Web-based speed test, to measure data rates on smartphones. Those results aren’t as precise for a number of reasons: we must use different smartphones on different networks, and the results necessarily reflect the limitations of the smartphone’s radio chipset, processor, and battery, and the test itself comes with a somewhat higher margin of error.

Speed-Test Methodology in a Nutshell

Our testing method is designed to approximate the experience of a real laptop-modem or smartphone user on any given day in their city. PCWorld’s testing partner, Novarum, tested in each of our 13 cities during the first six weeks of 2011. At each of our 20 testing locations in each city, we took a “snapshot” of the performance of each wireless service, testing for upload speed, download speed, and network latency.

We looked for the fastest signal available for each carrier, searching first for 4G service and then, failing that, defaulting to the carrier’s 3G service. In all, we ran 177,000 timed performance measurements from 260 testing locations in both urban and suburban environments. (See “How We Test” for additional information.)

Because we couldn’t test every city in the country, we chose 13 cities that are broadly representative of midsize and large wireless markets in terms of size and topography: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle. Because wireless signal quality depends to a large extent on variables such as network load, distance from the nearest cell tower, weather, and time of day, our results can’t be used to predict exact performance in a specific area. Rather, they illustrate the relative performance of wireless service in a given city on a given day. Each speed number has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

Verizon LTE Blazes, 3G CDMA Slows

“Verizon’s new LTE service smokes,” says Novarum CTO Ken Biba, who helped test the network. The speeds tell the story: Verizon’s 13-city average download speed for laptop modems is roughly 6.4 mbps, more than double the average download speed of our study’s second-place finisher, T-Mobile.

And that average includes Verizon’s result in Portland, the only city in our study that has no LTE service yet. Excluding Portland and looking at the performance of the LTE network only, Verizon’s average download speed jumps to almost 7 mbps. Only in Orlando did the network average less than 5 mbps, coming in at roughly 4 mbps.

Upload speeds were just as impressive. Overall, Verizon’s upload speeds averaged roughly 5 mbps in our 13 testing cities; average upload speeds reached nearly 9 mbps in San Diego and San Jose. LTE networks differ from older 3G networks in that they are designed to be symmetric–that is, the pipe going from the client device up to the network is as wide as the pipe going down to the client. In many of our 260 testing locations, the Verizon network delivered upload speeds that were faster than its download speeds. San Diego’s average upload speed was faster than its average download speed.

Such apps also depend on near-instantaneous response from the network, with minimal delay. For instance, in real-time VoIP calls, network delay is usually the cause of “lag” and echo. To have a natural-sounding VoIP conversation, you need network latency of less than 150 milliseconds, and LTE proved better at assuring that than other networks in our tests. In our 12 testing cities where Verizon’s LTE service is available, latency times averaged just 114 milliseconds, significantly shorter than latency times in the HSPA+ and WiMax networks we tested.

Verizon’s LTE network gives us a nice look at the future of wireless service, but only a minority of the operator’s customers are using the network at the moment. Verizon currently sells only two models of USB modems that can tap the network, and the company isn’t saying how many modems it has sold. New LTE phones aren’t likely to arrive until this summer. So Verizon’s LTE network currently handles nowhere near the number of devices it will have to support in the future.

“Verizon’s new 4G network is a screamer, but that’s partly because there’s hardly anyone using it yet,” says Craig Moffett, a senior analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

Moffett accepts that claim: “Even as [the network] begins to get loaded with the first smartphones this summer, it will probably keep the crown; as usual, theirs is the network to beat.”

Still, at present, Verizon’s smartphone subscribers rely on the company’s 3G CDMA network. And that network, as demonstrated in our tests, actually became slower over the past year.

In our January 2010 survey of 3G service, we measured average download speeds of around 1 mbps in almost all of our testing cities (the 13-city average was 1.078 mbps) on our Motorola Droid smartphone. In those same cities this year, we saw very similar performance on our Droid 2 smartphone–again, most speed results were grouped around the 1-mbps mark, but the 13-city average download speed was 7 percent lower than last year’s, at 1.008 mbps.

Did Verizon build its impressive LTE network at the expense of further upgrades to its 3G CDMA network? Are the majority of Verizon subscribers paying the price for the blazing speeds enjoyed by just a few? Verizon’s Pica says no and no. “We continue to invest in our 3G network and we expect our customers to enjoy the benefits of its quality, breadth, and reliability for years to come, as we continue to roll out 4G LTE.”

Next page: T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network offers competitive speeds

T-Mobile Walks the Walk

T-Mobile began to brand its HSPA+ network service and phones as “4G” this year. Its ad campaign promoting the offering–you know, pretty girl, polka dots, poking fun at AT&T–has been hard to avoid. But our test results show that the carrier has been spending its money on far more than ad campaigns.

T-Mobile more than tripled its download speeds in our smartphone tests since last year. In our smartphone tests using the T-Mobile HTC G2, we measured a 13-city average download speed of 2.3 mbps. T-Mobile’s 13-city average a year ago (testing on an HTC G1) was 0.72 mbps. In Denver and Seattle, our T-Mobile phone averaged download speeds of more than 3 mbps. We were able to achieve a connection speed of more than 2 mbps in 52 percent of our tests.

Upload speeds also rose dramatically from last year, improving from a 0.134-mbps average last year to almost 1 mbps this year. The T-Mobile network produced average upload speeds above the 1-mbps mark in five of our testing cities: Baltimore, Boston, New York, Orlando, and Seattle.

“PC World’s nationwide network test is more validation to how T-Mobile is delivering the fastest 4G smartphone performance on the market today,” said T-Mobile’s Chief Technology Officer, Neville Ray.

Next page: AT&T’s HSPA+ network delivers 4G-like results, but the growth of data speeds is slowing

AT&T Growth Slows

Following T-Mobile’s lead, AT&T began branding its wireless broadband service and phones as “4G” this year. And, like T-Mobile, AT&T’s HSPA+ service is definitely delivering 4G-like speeds. In our laptop-modem tests, the service produced an average download speed of 2.5 mbps in our 13 testing cities.

AT&T’s upload speeds were also strong, and similar to T-Mobile’s. Upload speeds in our laptop-modem tests grouped around the 1-mbps mark, with Baltimore hitting a high of almost 1.4 mbps. This is a substantial step up from AT&T’s 13-city average upload speed of 0.77 mbps in last year’s tests, if not as dramatic an improvement as we saw in AT&T’s download speeds.

AT&T’s HSPA+ network produced latency times that were very similar to T-Mobile’s. We measured an average delay of 169 milliseconds across 13 cities (T-Mobile’s average was 173 milliseconds); we saw the highest average latency scores in San Diego (273 milliseconds) and San Jose (226 milliseconds).

Yet the growth of AT&T’s data speeds has slowed. Last year we found that AT&T’s data speeds had increased 72 percent over the previous eight months. This round, AT&T’s speeds continued to grow over the past year, but not as rapidly, and certainly not as swiftly as its competition.

AT&T’s slowing growth was even more apparent in our smartphone tests. In our early-2010 study, we measured a 13-city average download speed of almost 1.3 mbps on our AT&T iPhone 4, an improvement of 54 percent over the previous year. In this year’s tests using the same phone, that number moved up to 1.5 mbps, an improvement of only 15 percent.

Some cities were better than others for AT&T smartphones: Chicago saw an average speed of 2.5 mbps while San Diego averaged only 0.8 mbps. Upload speeds improved dramatically, however, as our AT&T smartphone averaged 0.2 mbps in our 2010 tests and improved to just about 1 mbps this year.

AT&T believes that its new 4G smartphones (which weren’t available at the time of our testing) and other devices will better utilize the speed of its network. “AT&T has introduced two 4G phones–the Motorola Atrix and the HTC Inspire–and has announced plans for about 20 4G devices this year,” the company says in an e-mail. “Regarding network speed, thorough and expansive testing has concluded time and time again that AT&T operates the nation’s fastest mobile broadband network.”

AT&T plans to launch its own 4G LTE network, as well as some 4G LTE smartphones to match, later this year.

Next page: Sprint’s WiMax network offers good speeds, but inconsistent availability

Sprint Needs More 4G, Less 3G

The good news for Sprint is that the overall speed of its data service has increased significantly during the past year, about 170 percent, in fact. The bad news is that while Sprint offers its WiMax service in most of our test cities, actually connecting with the WiMax signal using our Sprint 3G/4G modem proved a hit-or-miss proposition. For instance, in San Jose, California, we measured download speeds of below (sometimes well below) 0.5 mbps in 8 of our 20 testing locations, a sure sign that no WiMax service was available in those places.

Sprint says no such slowdown has occurred. “The 3G speed results you saw do not match what we see, and what the independent third party testing our network has reported,” says Sprint spokesperson Stephanie Vinge-Walsh. “We haven’t seen any significant degradation in 3G from last year to this year; our 3G speeds remain in the same range and at the same high dependability levels.”

Sprint’s 13-city average download speed of roughly 2.1 mbps represents a mix of CDMA and WiMax–3G and 4G–connection speeds. Overall, we recorded throughput speeds of more than 2 mbps in about half of our tests. In the majority of our test cities where WiMax was available, we noted (anecdotally) a roughly 50-50 chance of connecting to the service. There were exceptions: In Baltimore, Boston, and Chicago, the laptop-modem speed results reflected that the 4G network was available throughout the cities, with a few exceptions.

Of its 4G WiMax service, Sprint says users should expect average download speeds of between 3 mbps and 6 mbps, with peaks of more than 10 mbps. Our tests left us skeptical of Sprint’s claim. We never saw a speed higher than 7 mbps, and we reached speeds of 6 mbps or more in only 5 of our 260 testing locations. The WiMax network produced a fair number of speeds within the 3-to-6-mbps window, but not consistently.

Sprint’s CDMA and WiMax networks, combined, produced the worst average latency score in our tests, at 214 milliseconds. Such network delay can begin to degrade the smooth operation of real-time applications like video chatting and VoIP calling.

The same disparities in Sprint’s 3G and 4G networks showed up in our smartphone tests. In locations where WiMax coverage was spotty or nonexistent, average download scores were well below the 1-mbps mark. In cities where we could regularly connect with the WiMax network (Boston, Chicago, and New York), we saw download-speed averages of 2 mbps or greater.

Despite its overall speed gains, Sprint’s service ranked last in both download speeds and upload speed in this year’s laptop-modem tests. Had Sprint’s WiMax network been widely available in all of our testing cities, the results would have been much different. The 4G network isn’t slow, it’s just not in enough places.

The 4G Cometh

An important transition from 3G to 4G is under way and will continue raising the bar for fast mobile broadband. If speeds continue increasing at the rate they have been over the past year, 3G data service (and speeds) will soon become just an unpleasant memory. Our tests show, conclusively, that the 4G wireless service the carriers now offer–if it’s available in your neighborhood–is already significantly faster than 3G service.

What will that mean? The 4G service will very likely speed up your consumption of Web-based content, and smooth the operation of services such as streaming video. In fact, 4G speeds are likely to let you do things with your mobile device that you simply couldn’t do with a 3G connection, applications such as video chatting, online gaming, and VoIP calling. 4G is the first incarnation of wireless broadband that might finally free people from the desktop, allowing us to manage our online lives whenever and wherever we want.

Next page: How we test mobile network speeds

How We Test

Our laptop-modem tests use a direct TCP connection to the network to test the network’s capacity–that is, the speed and performance that the network is capable of delivering to subscribers. To connect the laptop to the various networks, we used the fastest USB modem available, as suggested by the carriers themselves. We used the LG VL600 4G USB modem to test Verizon, the ZTE WebConnect Rocket 2.0 USB modem to test T-Mobile, the Sierra Wireless 250U AirCard to test Sprint, and the Sierra Wireless USBConnect Shockwave to test AT&T. Using the Ixia Chariot 4.2 testing tool on our laptop PC, we tested both the speed and the latency of the network.

To measure download speed, Chariot requests a number of large, uncompressible files from a server in the San Francisco Bay Area, then from another server in Northern Virginia. For each server, the software measures the speed of each transfer during a 1-minute period, and then creates an average of the results.

To measure upload speed, Chariot sends a number of files from the Chariot client on the laptop to the local and distant network servers, again timing each transfer during a 1-minute period. We report the average of all of these transfers, both from the local and distant server, at each location as the average for that location.

Our smartphone tests, which we run from the same locations as our laptop-modem tests, approximate the real-world connection between specific smartphones and specific networks. For the tests, we used AT&T’s Apple iPhone 4, Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G, T-Mobile’s HTC G2, and Verizon’s Motorola Droid 2.

On each phone we run the FCC-approved mobile-broadband performance test from Ookla. The test sends a large file back and forth between the smartphone and a network server, and then measures the speeds at which the data transfers. We perform three upload tests and three download tests at each testing location.

We tested all 13 cities during January 2011 and February 2011, using the same locations, methodology, and personnel we used to test those cities in our January 2010 tests. Maintaining a consistent methodology allows us to compare the performance of the networks over time and to look for evolutionary changes.

LTE

How To Build Trust At Every Stage Of The Customer Journey

Marketers often see the customer journey as a linear progression of four stages:

Awareness

Interest

Consideration

Purchase

But there’s one important thing most of us tend to forget – the customer journey is no longer linear. Gone are the days when you could easily walk alongside your customers, guiding them all the way to the checkout page.

Download our Free Resource – 10 common website customer experience mistakes

This guide reveals examples of poor website design from different sectors which are commonly seen, but best avoided.

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Today, your prospects can unexpectedly jump in or out at any point. Now, this doesn’t mean that the framework of the customer journey is no longer relevant. You should still think about these stages, but the way you approach them needs to change.

Your ultimate goal today should be to provide a cohesive multichannel customer experience that proves your business is professional and trustworthy at every stage of the customer journey. So, to change things up, let’s take a look at the four stages from a different perspective: building customer trust.

Every customer has different expectations and needs, so none of the suggestions below are set in stone. Some customers might find certain things important in the awareness stage, some in consideration stage. This is why you need to consistently test and adjust your efforts keeping your target audience in mind.

Awareness stage The visual appeal of the brand

Which of the two websites below would you trust more if you didn’t know either of the brands?

Penny Juice,

or Jus?

Maybe the Penny Juice is more delicious or healthier than Jus. But since you haven’t tried either and you’ve only seen their homepages, you’d probably find Jus more credible, simply because their website looks more professional.

Studies of user behavior have found that website design and navigation have the biggest influence on a person’s first impressions of the brand. This means you should choose your website’s images, colour schemes, and fonts wisely. You also want your website to load fast and be functional.

But that’s not all. Studies also show that 55% of customers discover new products and brands on social media. So go the extra mile to make your brand’s visual identity aesthetically pleasing and cohesive across all communication channels.

Domain name and social media handles

Most e-commerce platforms come with a default domain name along the lines of chúng tôi While there’s nothing particularly bad about these URLs, you’ll probably agree that they’re rather wordy and impersonal.

Default domain names work just fine for getting your store up and running. However, if you’re serious about your business, you should invest in a custom domain that will make your brand appear more professional and trustworthy.

Ideally, you want your store and domain name to be the same. Your social media handles should match as well. People are much more likely to remember one brand name than several variations of it. Besides, having consistent branding across different channels makes you look more put together.

Business emails

While we’re still on the subject of custom domains, let’s touch on the importance of having professional business emails.

When it comes to communicating with customers, you want to maintain professional and consistent branding. Seriously consider ditching your Google and Yahoo! emails and set up branded emails instead using your unique domain name and reliable business email providers like G Suite or Office 365 for Business.

Interest stage

So you’ve managed to leave a nice first impression and the customer has decided to browse your website, scroll your social media feeds or check out a few YouTube videos. Here’s what you should take care of next:

Product descriptions and photos/videos

An e-commerce user experience study found that 20% of purchases are abandoned as a result of missing or unclear product information. This proves you need to make an effort to provide clear and detailed product descriptions that will convince hesitant buyers.

Good product descriptions include important product details and explain why the product is unique. They should also read well and be attractive to your target audience.

Take a look at this on-point product description by the British clothing brand Whistles.

Photos and videos of your products are equally important. The shopping experience online is quite one-dimensional, so it can get difficult to grasp the feel and fit of a product. It’s good to use photos and videos that show your products from different angles, emphasize various details and have at least a few close-up shots.

Here’s how print-on-demand drop shipper Printful leverages different types of product photography and video to showcase their popular t-shirt:

But you need to think beyond your website. Take diverse product pictures and videos that you can share on your social media channels and emails, too.

Shared values

Studies show that consumers are more likely to trust a brand if they share the same values. For example, if a person is environmentally conscious, they’re more likely to shop at eco-friendly stores.

Take some time to define or review your brand’s core values. What do you believe in as a company? What’s the bigger picture of what you do? Once you have the answers, make an effort to articulate what you stand for as a brand to attract customers who share your beliefs. Start by incorporating it into your:

About Us page

Product descriptions

Learn from natural skincare and makeup brand Glossier, which aims to inspire people to enhance and celebrate their natural beauty rather than conceal it. From product descriptions to emails and social media updates, the brand always sticks to their beliefs.

You too should speak loud and proud about your core brand values and mission at every touchpoint of your customer’s journey.

Grammar and spelling

Everyone makes mistakes and one typo here or there won’t ruin your brand’s image. However, if incorrect spelling or punctuation is a pattern rather than an accident, you might be hurting your chances of making more sales.

Think about it. Why would customers trust you with their time and money if they see you’re not taking your own business seriously?

Following simple grammar rules and knowing when to use the right words can help you avoid looking unprofessional. If you’re not sure what you’re saying is grammatically correct, write it in different words or hire professional help.

Consideration stage

At this point, a customer is interested in your products, but isn’t quite ready to take the plunge and buy. They’re uncertain – evaluating available options, comparing prices and determining whether your product satisfies their needs.

While you can’t be constantly lowering your prices, or adjusting your products to individual needs, there’s something you can do to ease the anxiety of decision-making.

Social proof

As an online business owner, you need to provide social signals to your customers that your store is legitimate and trustworthy. We have plenty of those in real life – an empty restaurant somehow seems to be a potential health hazard, whereas a line in front of a movie theatre looks intriguing.

Depending on your goal and industry specifics, you can build social proof around your brand using:

Case studies

Product reviews

Testimonials

Influencer marketing

Data and numbers

User-generated content

Here’s how Urban Outfitter uses UGC to promote their colourful duvet cover and strengthen social proof:

The more content that is out there about your brand, and especially your products, the easier it is for the potential customer to trust business that’s already trusted by a number of people.

Clear returns policy

Shopping online might seem a little tricky as customers don’t get a chance to see the products in real life before opening their wallets.

A clear and well-structured refund policy gives the customer a sense of security, especially when they’re considering purchasing more expensive products. So go over your returns policy and double-check whether it explains:

The procedure for returns?

What items can be returned (e.g. food products or underwear are often non-refundable)

The number of days the customer has to return the order

Who pays for return shipping

Whether they’ll get a full refund or store credit

Personal data protection and online payment safety

No matter how often people shop online, the question of payment security is never off the table. Nobody wants their personal and financial information exposed, let alone used without permission.

Go through the payment process on your website to identify any possible payment security concerns for your customers. Are you sure your audience is familiar with the payment methods you accept?

For instance, your customers from the US or Europe would much rather pay using PayPal and Google Wallet instead of AliPay or UnionPay, simply because these payment options are known to them.

Another thing you can do to make your customers feel more comfortable with giving away their personal and credit card information is to permanently display SSL certificates and third-party logos in the footer and checkout pages of your website. Believe it or not, these badges can boost conversions!

Purchase (and post-purchase)

Customers that enter the decision stage are ready to take the plunge. At this crucial moment, a seamless shopping experience is key. After all, you don’t want to scare them off.

Smooth checkout

Once your customers reach the checkout page, your goal is to keep them there until they hit that “Confirm” button. This means you need to reduce the number of distractions or any unnecessary information. It’s not the time to surprise them with popups or clever product recommendations.

You also want the checkout process to be as easy and quick as possible. An overly complicated checkout may raise some questions – why does it have to be so difficult to buy a pair of jeans?

Take a good look at your website’s checkout process and see if it can be simplified. Ideally, it should have no more than three steps:

Delivery details

Payment details

Order review and confirmation

Keeping your promises

There’s something most brands tend to forget – the customer journey doesn’t end once the order is placed. In fact, the post-sale customer experience is as important as the shopping experience itself. Until the product is in the hands of your customer and they’re satisfied with it, you’re still fighting for a successful sale.

During this time customers are comparing the promises you made to the service they received. For example, if your website claims to have next-day delivery on all purchases, every order should reach your customer within the next 24 hours.

Remember that every broken promise hurts your reputation. And as we all know, regaining customer trust is far more challenging than building it in the first place. So don’t risk jeopardizing the trust you’ve earned – make promises you can keep.

Can customers trust your business?

Today, customers are more careful than ever before, especially when it comes to trusting an online business. So, building a credible image of your brand is crucial if you want to grow and succeed.

Hopefully, this article has given you an idea of how you can be even more transparent and consistent with your branding throughout every step of a customer’s journey to build this image for your brand.

Lawren Harris’ Landscapes Exhibit At The Museum Of Fine Arts Boston

Tribute to Canada’s Most Famous Artist at MFA Lawren Harris’ landscapes: dazzling depictions of Canadian North

Pic Island, about 1924, oil on canvas, by Lawren Harris. Image courtesy of McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. © Family of Lawren S. Harris

Although long considered by fellow countrymen to be Canada’s best-known 20th-century painter, Lawren Harris remains largely unknown to people outside of Canada. Now, a dazzling jewel-box of a show at the Museum of Fine Arts should help to rectify that oversight.

Titled The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, the exhibition comprises approximately 30 paintings by the pioneering modernist, most completed between 1920 and 1930, considered the apex of his career.

The intimate show, on view at the MFA through June 12, includes Harris’ iconic landscapes of the Canadian North, a vast expanse of mountains, tundra, lakes, and glaciers, and is broken down by subject matter: Lake Superior, the Arctic, and the Rocky Mountains. Many of the paintings are monumental in scale, rendered in a stunning palette of blues, whites, golds, and purples. The artist’s mastery of light and color is striking.

Harris (1885-1970) first traveled to the shores of Lake Superior in the early 1920s, making sketches and oil studies on site, in preparation for larger-scale canvases he completed in his Toronto studio. He returned each autumn for the next several years to capture the rugged landscape. In paintings like Pic Island and North Shore, Lake Superior, he imbues the landscape with a spiritual quality, a reflection of his deep belief in nature’s divinity. There is a sense of tranquility in Pic Island, the clouds’ shadows reflected on a calm sea. The landscape in North Shore, Lake Superior, is suffused in a golden light.

In 1930, the artist made his first and only trip to the Arctic, with friend and fellow artist A. Y. Jackson. They traveled aboard a government supply ship, the S.S. Boethic, making drawings from their room, the only light coming through the porthole window. Several of the Arctic paintings on view offer a tantalizing glimpse into how Harris refined his work. Two oils sketches of Mount Lefroy, a mountain in Banff National Park, appear alongside his finished oil, Mt. Lefroy, 1930. The mountain’s surface becomes more pronounced, the mountain peak more sharply rendered, in each iteration. And most notably, the clouds in the first study have been replaced by a flat, purplish-gray sky in the later study and reappear in the final painting, encircling the peak and drawing the eye upwards to the top of the canvas.

Harris began climbing the Canadian Rockies in 1924 and some of the show’s most sublime paintings resulted from these trips. Isolation Peak, Rocky Mountains, 1930, is an excellent illustration of the way he mixed real and invented elements in creating his landscapes. He was at ease adding a peak here or there, turning a river into a lake, and rearranging mountains for dramatic effect. The finished painting appears alongside an earlier oil study, Isolation Peak, about 1929, another striking example of how Harris refined his work as he went along. In the study, the sky is rendered in bands of light, but in the final canvas by a flat, deep twilight-blue sky.

Walking through the two galleries, visitors can’t help but be struck by the similarity in style between Harris and his better-known American contemporary Georgia O’Keeffe.

One of the exhibition curators is the comedian, actor, and banjo player Steve Martin (who happens to be a knowledgeable art collector), and the show was previously on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Hammer Museum of Art at UCLA. For the MFA exhibition, Martin helped put together work by several of Harris’ better known American contemporaries, including Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and O’Keeffe, in an adjacent gallery. These pieces, culled from the MFA’s collection, help put Harris’ contribution to 20th-century painting in context.

The exhibition, on the top floor of the museum’s Art of the Americas wing, can be viewed in under an hour. It closes June 12, so plan to see it soon.

The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, through June 12. Find hours and admission prices here (free to BU students with ID). Find directions here.

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