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Archive for September, 2019

Game Review: Rainbow Six Vegas (PSP)

I'm going to cut right to the chase here: I love Rainbow Six: Vegas. As far as current-gen shooters go, Ubisoft's tactical thriller is easily my favorite. I've logged an exorbitant number of hours with the Clancy-fueled shooter. My problem with the game, though, was that it was tied down to my Xbox 360. I pined for the days when I could actually take it about with me and strategically frag while on the go. 苏州美睫美甲

Thus, the arrival of Rainbow Six: Vegas on the PSP seemed to be the answer to my prayers. Despite the relatively poor showing of FPS games on the PSP to date, I had hope that Ubisoft could impress me with their from-scratch handheld incarnation of the Vegas lineage. Alas, my prayers remain unanswered: Rainbow Six: Vegas is just not a good game, and the developers apparently learned nothing from the better shooters on the system like Medal of Honor Heroes and SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo.

Vegas on the PSP is a completely different game than its console counterparts. Unlike the console version, the PSP version focuses on Brian Armstrong and Shawn Rivers, who are working alongside the team of Keller, Park, and Walter (console versions) to save Vegas from terrorist activity. The campaign charges you with the task of switching between the two characters—one a field agent and one a sniper—to accomplish a variety of different objectives with the typical Rainbow Six gadgets and gear in tow. Each of the game's five levels takes place in Vegas as would be expected, though they are not the same as those seen in the console versions.

For the most part, the game plays similar to Medal of Honor Heroes, though the focus is of course on slow and methodical movement along with precise shooting. Unlike Heroes, though, Vegas on the PSP maintains the cover system of the console versions which allows you to temporarily switch the game to a third-person view to get a better vantage point from behind cover. Surprisingly, the cover system remains relatively intact and functions pretty well.

The real heart of the game's problems shows itself once you open fire. Vegas features a lock-on system that sounds like it would work well in theory but, in practice, proves to be more frustrating than any other system seen on the handheld before. Once you lock on to an enemy with the left shoulder button, you have to press the triangle button to target the head. Then, it's just a matter of luck whether or not you manage to pull off a head shot. You can adjust the lock-on's dominance, but the low draw distance makes manual precision shooting almost impossible. Given that Rainbow is a series built on per-bullet precision, Vegas on the PSP cannot and does not live up to its heritage.

The fact that the game has limited content doesn't help matters. With only five main campaign levels (each taking about 20-30 minutes) and a fairly limited online offering, Vegas feels quite a bit lighter than similar titles in the genre. Combined with the control woes, and the fact that the game looks drab and sounds horrible, the title really has nothing to offer for all but the most staunch Rainbow fans. I may love Vegas, but not enough to overlook this game's countless issues. Skip it.

Verdict: Skip
System: PSP
Price: $40 (shop for this game)
Rating: Teen
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Other recent reviews:

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Can baseball player names and statistics be copyrighted? Major League Baseball tried to make that case before a three-judge panel at the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit today. 苏州美睫美甲

Last year, Major League Baseball was sued by fantasy sports site CDMsports.com after MLB told the company that it could not use player names and statistics in its fantasy leagues without MLB's permission—and a royalty payment. CDMsports.com's lawsuit was intended to guarantee that it could continue using the data in the absence of an agreement with MLB. Further muddying the situation was MLB's decision to sever ties with smaller fantasy outlets in favor of larger outlets—and larger rights fees.

Last August, a US District Court judge agreed with the fantasy league, ruling in a summary judgment that First Amendment concerns trumped any "right of publicity" MLB might have. "The names and playing records of major league baseball players as used in CBC's fantasy games are not copyrightable," wrote Judge Mary Ann Medler in her opinion. "Therefore, federal copyright law does not preempt the players' claimed right of publicity."

In announcing plans to appeal the case, MLB decided that focusing on the stats was the wrong way to go. "We've agreed that the stats and names are in the public domain," MLB Advanced Media spokesman Gallagher said after the ruling. "But when you start to use team's logos and other images as CBC did, you need a license, it's that simple."

Instead, MLB's lawyers once again made the argument that publicity rights were of paramount concern, according to the AP. One of MLB's attorneys said that a fantasy league using names and stats without permission was analogous to a company printing posters or coffee mugs with pictures of players on them without permission. The judges appeared to be skeptical of MLB's arguments. "MLB is like a public religion. Everyone knows (the players') names and what they look like," opined U.S. Judge Morris Arnold. "This is just part of being an American, isn't it?"

Fantasy sports are a multimillion-dollar business, and MLB—and other professional sports leagues—are intent on protecting their properties in order to wring every last bit of licensing revenue out of them. If the appeals court upholds the ruling, fantasy sports will be one avenue of exclusivity closed to the leagues.

Ars Technica's Clint Ecker sat down with Gus Mueller of Flying Meat Software this past Wednesday to talk about his company, his products: Voodoo Pad, Fly Sketch, and Fly Gesture, as well as how the independent developer life is treating him and other topics. Click the play button above to watch the entire interview. 苏州美睫美甲

NB: This interview marks our first attempt to use an alternate recording method. While it did produce superior sound quality, it looks like we were having a serious issue with parts of the sound from the interview being lost from the device. In those instances when good audio was lost, we've attempted to replace it with the less-than-stellar audio from the camcorder. I apologize for the harshness of the transitions, but we felt that this was a good interview and some good audio is better than nothing.

Update (6/27/2007): Transcript has been added! Read the transcript after the jump.

CE: We're here with Gus Mueller for Flying Meat Software. Hi Gus.

GM: How it's going?

CE: Pretty good. We're going to be interviewing you today about your software Voodoo Pad, Fly Sketch, Fly Gesture and just talking about development in general.

So the first thing I want to ask is, Voodoo Pad is probably one of your biggest products, right?

GM: Yes.

CE: What did you set out to make Voodoo Pad? What was your goal for it? I know it's kind of evolved into a lot of different things to a lot of different people? How did you set out?

GM: When I originally started it, I was just playing around with some Cocoa technologies and I found out I could do links in the text widget and I said "This is pretty cool," and I had my own peronal wiki online. And I put one and one together and I was like "I'll just make a little wiki here," cause I like Cocoa so much better than having to click edit. And I started doing that and I had something that night working. And then a couple weeks later I added some more and sent it out and some people liked it and I said "Oh, feedback!" And eventually it just snowballed from there.

CE: So what do you consider the application to be? Do you consider it to be a Wiki or a text editor or…

GM: It's everything!

CE: It's everything.

GM: It's a text editor first. I've got all the rich text formating in there, you can have images, you can have tables and lists and stuff like that. The wiki stuff is a very, very, very close second to that.

CE: Okay. Building off that, what have you found is the most creative use you've heard of? I know I've heard of some creative things, I'm sure you've heard of a lot more.

GM: Well the ones that make me happiest are people doing research with it, like PhD students who just think it's perfect…

CE: …to link up all the different…

GM: Yeah, but people do some funky websites with it too, because you can export to the web.

CE: I actually used Voodoo Pad when you first came out with it in college to take notes and stuff. It really helped me out.

GM: Yeah, a lot of students use it.

CE: You went independent… two years ago?

GM: Yeah, it's just a little over two years ago.

CE: So how has that been so far? Is it still working out for you?

GM: Oh it's been great. Yeah, it's working out fine.

CE: Do you still think there's space for developers who haven't gone independent to still do that?

GM: Oh absolutely. There's so many more Mac users coming along every year. And just more of those people are buying software. And we're seeing a lot more of the same apps nowadays than we used to, but that's fine because there's more users. Competition is awesome.

CE: What would be the one biggest piece of advice, besides the goals thing you told us about, for people who are looking to make that crossover into independent development?

GM: Just make sure what you're doing, you're putting some passion into it. Cause that's going to make sure that you're not going to burn out that way and you're going to be able to make a good product that way.

CE: You have three pretty mature apps: Voodoo Pad, Fly Sketch and Fly Gesture. Do you find that it's more exiting and fun or interesting for you to have three mature apps and work on those day-to-day and adding incremental features, or to be in that stage where you're starting something from scratch like we talked about with Voodoo Pad, or working with new stuff and building it out from the beginning, but where it might not be as stable and you're working out a lot of bugs?

GM: Right. One of great things about having three apps is if I get tired of doing one thing, I can move to the other. I really do like starting out new apps, it's awesome. And even adding new features is like writing a new app sometimes. I love doing it, but eventually I get tired, but that's okay cause I can move onto this other thing. So it creates this nice little cycle.

CE: Do ever get a chance, like today, are you still coming up with new ideas and putting together little things?

GM: Yeah. My projects folder is littered with tons little things. And some of them are going to bubble up and make something.

CE: Cool. I think that's all the questions we have for today.

GM: Cool

CE: Thanks for talking to us.

GM: No problem.

VO: We'd like to thank Gus Mueller again for taking time out of his schedule to talk to us. Keep your eye on ArsTechnica.com for more updates from WWDC throughout the week.

Linux distributor Linspire is the latest company to enter into a collaboration agreement with Microsoft. Like the controversial deal between Microsoft and Novell and Microsoft's more recent deal with Xandros, the agreement between Microsoft and Linspire involves collaborative interoperability efforts and a covenant not to sue over patent infringement. 苏州美睫美甲

Linspire, formerly known as Lindows, has some bitter history with Microsoft. Back in 2004, the two software companies butted heads in an acrimonious trademark dispute that cost Linspire tens of millions of dollars and forced the company to adopt its current name. Under the terms of the new agreement, the two companies will now work together to develop software tools and frameworks that facilitate translation between Microsoft's Office Open XML format and the OpenDocument format. Linspire also hopes to improve interoperability by licensing Microsoft's instant messaging audio codec in order to incorporate support for Windows Live Messenger voice chat into the Pidgin instant messaging client. Linspire also licensed Microsoft's Windows Media 10 codecs, which will make it easier for Linspire users to view Windows Media files. Linspire also agreed to make Microsoft's Live Search service the default browser search engine for Linspire users.

"Linspire has always been about choice, and this announcement continues our tradition of offering options for improved interoperability, enhanced functionality and confidence," said Kevin Carmony, Linspire CEO. "Over the years, in an effort to expand choice, we have entered into dozens of agreements with commercial software vendors. It certainly made sense to collaborate with Microsoft, one of the most important partners in the PC ecosystem."

Like Microsoft's deals with Novell and Xandros, this agreement with Linspire also includes a controversial patent covenant. Critics of Microsoft's patent deals have expressed concern that Linux vendors are adding credibility to Microsoft's unsubstantiated claims regarding Linux patent infringement and undermining the principles of unrestricted distribution promoted by open-source software licenses. An upcoming revision of the widely used General Public License aims to block Linux distributors from making deals that include patent covenants. The latest draft includes a grandfather clause for Novell, but that won't apply to Linspire or Xandros. It is unlikely that the license will be altered again to extend the grandfather clause so that it covers and Linspire.

This agreement will make Linspire the latest company that will face an inevitable onslaught of criticism from a vocal faction of Linux users.

Watching the course of the PlayStation 3's life has been interesting. Things are getting much better for the system in terms of media playback, and we can now name a few must-have titles for the system such as Resistance: Fall of Man, MotorStorm, and Virtua Fighter 5. The problem is the hardware still isn't selling as well as its competitors; the 360 and especially the Wii are strengthening their lead month after month. This is bad news if Microsoft and Nintendo are able to use their higher installed base and deep pockets to woo away developers: something Microsoft has been trying when with Namco Bandai with great success. According to Level Up, Namco Bandai has just made a very telling move: the next-generation Katamari Damacy game Beautiful Katamari may be a 360 exclusive. 苏州美睫美甲

The original title was a PS2 exclusive, as was the sequel We Love Katamari. The portable version, Me and My Katamari, was only released on the PSP. While these games aren't exactly system-sellers, they are strongly tied into the Sony brand. Moving the next game over to Microsoft's platform is bad enough, but if N'Gai Croal's source is correct and the game is actually an exclusive, then Sony should begin to worry about their other star franchises.

Namco Bandai has already announced that Ace Combat 6 will be a 360 title, so the move isn't completely unprecedented. Pac-Man Championship Edition, the fun and competitive update to the classic Pac-Man formula, was also only released via the 360's Live Arcade service. While none of these games is a deal breaker or a system-seller by itself, together they give the 360 a strong roster of exclusive games from Namco Bandai and may cause long-time fans of these franchises to turn away from Sony.

Why would Sony have problems with developers? The answers are straightforward. By their own admission their platform is more expensive to develop for, the architecture is trickier, the online infrastructure isn't as strong or mature as Xbox Live, and the installed base is much lower. Until Sony sells many, many more PS3s or decides to write checks for games developers, we are looking at a platform with a higher cost of entry and lower possibility of sales. The PS3's early lack of momentum may be hard to overcome in this regard unless Sony is willing to dig deep into its pockets, a hard decision when the PS3 is already costing the company so dearly.

Success or failure for the PS3 may simply come down to how many developers and publishers are willing to weather this early rough patch, or how many will jump ship to the more accessible and profitable alternatives. Sony needs to start selling systems and writing checks, and it needs to begin soon.

Hardware revisions are "commonplace within the industry," an agreeable statement made by Microsoft in response to the recent spotting of the recent hardware revision that the Xbox 360 has undergone. In an attempt to provide additional cooling to the 360's Xenos GPU, new models of the 360 include a second heatsink. Both pictures and videos of the new model have surfaced this week, though it remains unknown if this is an effective solution to the 360's prevalent "Red Ring o' Death" issue. 苏州美睫美甲

Despite the improvement, though, Microsoft has remained tight-lipped about the update. GamesIndustry.biz spoke with a Microsoft spokesperson, who explained the company's approach to hardware revisions. "Regularly updating console components is commonplace within the industry and is a standard aspect of the business for a variety of reasons including cost reduction, improved manufacturability and improved performance," the spokesperson explained. As would be expected, when asked directly about the new heatsink, the spokesperson declined to comment.

No word yet on whether or not this new addition will become a standard inclusion in future 360 models, or if the fix will be incorporated into Microsoft's repair service. Unwilling to admit a mistake, the overheating and "red ring" issues that have made the 360 a fairly unreliable device continue without official comment from Microsoft.

I, for one, would think that publicizing a substantial hardware revision like this could only be good for the company. Either way, if the 360 becomes more reliable with this update, that should bode well for both Microsoft and 360 owners. Hopefully the new cooling solutions along with the 65nm process coming this fall will make the 360 a more reliable system going into the holidays.

Years of observation at the Japanese arcade on campus of the finger-gymnastics necessary to play Guitar Freaks and Beatmania have left me fearing the adored music games of today, but for whatever reason Harmonix's Rock Band seems to get more and more attractive with each additional development. The latest news on the title comes by way of a big preview in the latest GameInformer issue, which provides crucial details on the mechanics of each of the instruments and some other information about the game's "campaign." 苏州美睫美甲

Players will be able to play through the main mode with any of the four instruments alone, or with three others in a massive symphony of co-op. The first batch of "original master tracks" for the game's campaign and free-play were noted in the article. Here's some of what you'll be rocking out to when the game ships:

Weezer — "Say It Ain't So"Black Sabbath — "Paranoid"The Who — "Won't Get Fooled Again"Nirvana — "In Bloom"

Though the game's guitar and bass are similar to the ones found in Guitar Hero, there are some new functions that will fundamentally change what axe-masters are capable of. First and foremost, the guitar and bass will both have double the frets; a whopping ten buttons will be on each of the instruments which are apparently for the new "solo sections." In addition, a five way switch will enable the application of various effects, like Flange, Wah, Echo and so forth that can be purchased via the in-game store and the whammy bar and tilt-sensing return.

The microphone, too, is a bit of an evolution from the current models available with the likes of SingStar. You won't be able to cheat your way through the game by humming. Rather, the game has a "phoneme detector" that targets phonemes produced during human speech. As an added bonus, the microphone will also double as a tambourine for certain songs.

Lastly, the four-piece drum set will include four pads with stands and a kick pedal. One pad represents the snare while the rest represent song-dependent toms and cymbals. Included will be a set of wooden Rock Band drum sticks.

Also mentioned in the update was a character creation system, which will allow players to unlock new gear and customize their rocker. With some great tunes, and some great controllers, Rock Band is shaping up to be quite the rhythm game indeed. Rock on.

In early May we learned that the shortage of blue-violet laser diodes would soon be coming to an end, thanks to ramped-up production in East Asia. With that hurdle out of the way, it was only a matter of time before Sony cut prices on the PS3. While no cuts have been announced, Sir Howard Stringer, big bossman at Sony, is talking about the company's plans for price cuts in the only way a CEO knows how: by ruminating on them. 苏州美睫美甲

Speaking to the Financial Times, Stringer did a surprising thing: he answered a question about the PS3 by praising the Nintendo Wii. Asked if the PS3 was going to take off any time soon, Stringer said that "Yes, it is. I think I would be the first to say to you that Nintendo Wii has been a successful enterprise and a very good business model compared to ours." Your guess is as good as mine as to why Stringer brought up Nintendo, but the reporter jumped on it and instantly asked the obvious question: is Nintendo's success due to pricing?

Stringer said that it was due to pricing, and he dismissed the idea that the Wii is more fun. Saying that consumers clearly want to see a lower price, Stringer then said that, with regards to a price cut for the PS3, "That's what we're studying at the moment; that's what we're trying to refine."

The next bit of the exchange is a little confusing, but I understand it as indicating that Sony plans to make a move before Christmas:

FT: Will you come up with an answer [to the pricing] by Christmas?

HS: Yes, of course. PlayStation 2, meanwhile, gets lost on the radar.

The Financial Times reporter was clearly asking if the price cut decision would be made in time for Christmas, but it isn't entirely clear that Stringer understood the question. In any case, this is as close to talking about the cuts as Stringer got during this interview.

The end of the blue-violet laser diode shortage reportedly frees up approximately $100 of overhead in the manufacturing cost of the PS3. Should Sony make a cut, there's room to do so. Whether or not Sony truly needs to do this is a matter of interpretation, but our view is that the pricing of the console is still a major—if not the major—obstacle to wider adoption.

While we don't believe that the PS3 is in trouble, especially since recent updates have really transformed the console, we do think that Sony is losing valuable exclusives to the Xbox 360. Just this morning, Opposable Thumbs has reported that the next-generation Katamari Damacy game, Beautiful Katamari, will likely end up a 360 exclusive.

I've been using DEVONthink Office Pro for a few months now to organize and mine the massive amounts of information—PDFs, presentations, HTML archives, article drafts, images, notes, emails etc.—that I've accumulated and generated over almost a decade (yikes!) of writing for Ars. I learned early on that the program doesn't do that much until you just dump everything into one database and start to make use of the search and classification features that it provides. So now that all my Ars stuff is in one huge and still growing database, I can go back and find, for instance, the links and documents I used in doing background work on a particular news post, or what presentations I have that relate to a particular company, technology, or topic, and so on. In short, I now spend less time using Google to try to dig up stuff that I've already seen but just can't locate and more time doing actual research and writing. 苏州美睫美甲

As much as I love DEVONthink, it's not without its flaws. The interface needs an overhaul to make it easier for me to do more of my own organizing and filing; for example, tags, smart folders, more views, and better metadata manipulation in general would all be nice. My recent flirtations with EagleFiler brought home for me some of the shortcomings in the present incarnation of DT, and it got me wondering where DEVONtechnologies is taking the product. So, I fired off an email to the company requesting an interview, and DEVONtechnologies' president, Eric Boehnisch-Volkmann, was kind enough to indulge my questions.

Eric not only told me where DT is headed, but he also told me some things about the product that I didn't know. There are a few features tucked away in there that I wasn't aware of, features that will help tide me over until the next major release.

JS: Before I dive into details of some specific features I'd like to ask about, I'd like to start with having you articulate your big-picture vision for DEVONthink development. What general directions do you plan to move the product in?

EBV: For us, DEVONthink is a data hub, a central repository for all the documents and items one works with on a daily basis. Contrary to a simple file manager like the Finder, it knows about the documents and helps the user to work with them, e.g., by providing assistance with filing new documents, organizing them, and finding the one document that the user needs right at this moment.

In the future, DEVONthink will be easier to use and come with more functionality that enables the user to use it in a workgroup. Except for being a personal database it can then be used by multiple people to collect, share, and publish data.

JS: The most useful things about DT for me are definitely the search and sorting features. These set DT apart from similar applications. Can you tell us any more about how this "AI" component works? Is it pretty much where you want it to be, or are you still putting a lot of effort into refining it?

EBV: The AI is not a component but the basic structure of the database itself. All information that is stored in DEVONthink is therefore by default analyzed and classified in the very second is added to the database structure. We are constantly working to make the AI better, to increase its effectiveness, to reduce the memory footprint, and to improve the database structure. We are also developing new products based on our technology from which improvements will flow into DEVONthink.

JS: My biggest gripe about DT is the limited number of file formats that the dB supports. I use OmniOutliner and Mellel, and I really wish that I could at least drop those files into the dB for storage, just to have all my project files in one place. Any plans to open the dB up to different file formats in a future revision? [Apparently, I was missing an option in the Preferences panel.]

EBV: DEVONthink can store any file even if it doesn't know about the file format. The user can add the file and open it with a double-click in the default application for its type. We are also planning to add support for more file formats, e.g., OpenDocument or other XML-based file formats for which XSLT templates are available that allow us to read and render them.

JS: My second biggest gripe is the way that DT handles email. I've been playing around with EagleFiler recently, and it's great to be able to search on fields in the email header (from, to, subj., etc.). Any plans for better email header awareness in DT?

EBV: Yes, but this requires substantial changes to the high-level database structure. We will make these changes with DEVONthink 2.0, for which no release date has been fixed yet.

JS: On a related note, any plans for MailTags integration?

EBV: MailTags is already supported, tags and project information is copied into the Comments field in DEVONthink.

JS: What's your vision for the DT interface? Will it get more of an overhaul in the next version, and if so, can you tell us anything about it? Or will there be incremental improvements to it? Maybe a tagging feature, or other kinds of metadata-based improvements?

EBV: The interface will be an overhaul. It will be easier to use, look nicer, and hide more functionality that is not for Mr. Everybody. Tagging and customizable meta-data are on our list as well as many other new features that make the DEVONthink workflow smoother and elegant.

JS: Two words: live queries. One day, perhaps?

EBV: Yes, that will be possible eventually.

JS: Will DT be sticking with its .dtbase format?

EBV: Yes, because the .dtbase format is the basis of all the AI. But, DEVONthink 2.0 will store all documents also in their original format inside the database package and use the AI structure only as an index. This makes it possible to search the database also with Spotlight and easier integrate third-party file formats.

JS: Can you tell us what new features of Leopard, if any, you plan to exploit in DT?

EBV:That is hard to tell. We will definitely support full 64 bit as well as multiple processors and cores, but we may also exploit some of the user interface improvements as well as Core Animation.

Thanks again to Eric for replying to my questions. I'm sure he'll be monitoring the discussion thread attached to this post, so if you have feedback/questions of your own, drop in and ask them.

The National Academies of Science produces regular reports on the state of scientific research in the US. Their latest effort along these lines has just been released, and the academy has put the spotlight on physics in a report entitled Condensed-Matter and Materials Physics: The Science of the World Around Us. Despite the dry title, this is an area of physics that Ars readership cares deeply about, even if it doesn't realize it: advances in this field have produced the electronics revolution that we're relying on to read this page. 苏州美睫美甲

The report identifies six key questions that will represent the grand challenges that materials science will face over the coming decade: the ones most likely to produce the next revolution. But it also raises fears that those challenges will be met by researchers outside of the US. It highlights the fact that government funding has not kept up with the rising costs of research at the same time that the corporate-funded research lab system has collapsed. As a result, US scientific productivity has stagnated at a time when funding and output are booming overseas. The report makes a series of recommendations that it hopes will get US physics research booming again.

The grand challenges of materials science

Materials science, as the report notes, is not only a broad field of inquiry itself, but advances in materials science enable advances in many other fields, and its progress has a direct impact on consumers. Our understanding of the physical and chemical properties of materials has become essential to creating various processors, sensors, light sources, etc. As such, the grand challenges proposed in the report drift into areas such as biology and computer science:

How do complex phenomena emerge from simple ingredients?How will the energy demands of future generations be met?What is the physics of life?What happens far from equilibrium and why?What new discoveries await us in the nanoworld?How will the information technology revolution be extended?

The report suggests that meeting these challenges will be essential not only for our scientific understanding, but for future economic growth as well. The countries that do the most to meet them will benefit the most economically.

Although the US has dominated the field during the 20th century, a number of reasons are listed to suggest that it is poorly positioned to continue at this pace. As someone who has followed the funding situation in biology carefully, the problems facing physics appear to be essentially identical.

Stagnating research

The total grant money dedicated to the field has barely outpaced normal inflation over the last decade, but lab costs (especially salaries of students and fellows) have shot up at a much faster rate: grant buying power has declined by 15 percent as a result. Because of this, researchers are applying for more grants, sending the competition up and success rates down: overall funding rates have dropped from 38 percent to 22 percent. New investigators, who are generally thought to take more aggressive and innovative approaches, are faring even worse as their success rates have dropped by more than half and now stand at only 12 percent.

The net result is that the academic community is now devoting far more of its time to writing grants, a shift that has come at the expense of directing and publishing research. In the past, academics have had an escape route from the pressures to retain funding: the "blue sky" research labs run by major companies, such as AT&T's Bell Labs. But the report refers to these institutions as "once great," since recent years have seen them closed, sold off piecemeal, or refocused on product development.

Combined, these changes have caused US research output to shrink in comparison to the rest of the world. Based on publications in Physical Reviews B and E, the US contribution to papers has remained flat over the last decade, while papers originating from other countries have nearly doubled. The report predicts that this reduced output will ultimately exact a price on the American economy.

Money for new directions

Many of their recommendations for correcting the situation are similar to the proposed solutions for other fields of research. Grant success rates should be brought up to the neighborhood of 30 percent, and the funding amounts need to be adjusted to compensate for the fact that academic researchers are now paid semi-reasonable wages. Grants should be pushed towards small research groups, as these are the major source of innovations. More minorities and women should be brought into the field, and career flexibility needs to be provided so that researchers do not have to choose between career and family needs as often.

There are three recommendations that stand out as being distinct from those proposed for other fields. Two suggest restructuring the way grant money is currently allocated. The National Science Foundation currently lumps interdisciplinary studies and educational programs in with other grants, where they are evaluated by people who may not have an appropriate background to judge them. The report recommends that the NSF recruit expertise across fields (such as the physics/biology overlap) specifically to provide a decent evaluation of grant proposals.

It also suggests an emphasis on education and outreach programs, which are essential to increasing public understanding of science and attracting a new generation of researchers. These programs need to be targeted to both college and K-12 education, and the funding for them needs to be separated from general research funds. Evaluations of education grants need to be separated as well, as research scientists are often incapable of properly evaluating them.

But the most radical proposal is that the equivalent of the great industrial labs needs to be reestablished. It suggests that all interested parties, ranging from industry through the Department of Defense and Energy to the academic world, should meet and determine what's needed to recreate the research environment they once fostered. Unfortunately, beyond calling for these discussions, the report is remarkably vague about how to resuscitate these now moribund labs.

Prospects for change

Most of the recommendations of this report are very similar to those proposed for other fields of research. As such, they face a common set of financial and institutional problems. With the federal government expected to be in deficit for the indefinite future, it's not clear whether funding for science will outstrip inflation any time soon. Given that, any efforts to increase the value of grant money will have to come at the expense of the number of grants, a shift that would surely meet resistance from the scientific community. Similar resistance would be expected to greet changes that favored small research groups, as these will come at the expense of established investigators that wield the most political clout.

The educational proposals are in line with the general scientific community's recognition that it's facing a public that's poorly equipped to evaluate the scientific developments that affect them directly and are thus unable to make reasoned decisions regarding funding and research allocations and restrictions. It's hard to say whether they will be enacted, but the proposed changes would make for one of the better structured efforts at public outreach I've encountered.

In contrast, the proposal to return to the days of large labs that sit on the border between basic research and product development are frustratingly vague. I find it hard to imagine that anyone would view it as a bad idea, but in the absence of money, a plan, and a clear view of who would be involved, it seems to be an invitation to talk rather than action.

This is a shame, because it's hard to question the contention that they made huge contributions to science in general and materials science in particular. The report is right that materials science is likely to be key to both scientific and economic advances over the coming decade, and the lack of an achievable plan leaves the US likely to be left out on some of them.