Top 10 Accidental Inventions

No. 1 - Penicillin

As one of the most famous and fortunate accidents of the 20th century, penicillin belongs at No. 1 on this list.

If you've been living under a rock for the past 80 years or so, here's how the popular story goes:

Alexander Fleming didn't clean up his workstation before going on vacation one day in 1928. When he came back, Fleming noticed that there was a strange fungus on some of his cultures. Even stranger was that bacteria didn't seem to thrive near those cultures.

Penicillin became the first and is still one of the most widely used antibiotics.

No. 2 - Pacemaker

This list wouldn't be complete without at least one absent-minded professor. But it's not flubber clocking in at No. 2, it's a life saving medical device. That pacemaker sewn into a loved one's chest actually came about because American engineer Wilson Greatbatch reached into a box and pulled out the wrong thing.

It's true. Greatbatch was working on making a circuit to help record fast heart sounds. He reached into a box for a resistor in order to finish the circuit and pulled out a 1-megaohm resistor instead of a 10,000-ohm one.

The circuit pulsed for 1.8 milliseconds and then stopped for one second. Then it repeated. The sound was as old as man: a perfect heartbeat.

No. 3 - Mauve

Talk about strange connections - 18-year-old chemist William Perkin wanted to cure malaria; instead his scientific endeavors changed the face of fashion forever and, oh yeah, helped fight cancer.

Confused? Don't be. Here's how it happened.

In 1856 Perkin was trying to come up with an artificial quinine. Instead of a malaria treatment, his experiments produced a thick murky mess. But the more he looked at it, the more Perkin saw a beautiful color in his mess. Turns out he had made the first-ever synthetic dye.

His dye was far better than any dyes that came from nature; the color was brighter, more vibrant, and didn't fade or wash out. His discovery also turned chemistry into a money-generating science - making it attractive for a whole generation of curious-minded people.

But the story is not over yet. One of the people inspired by Perkin's work was German bacteriologist Paul Ehrlich, who used Perkin's dyes to pioneer immunology and chemotherapy.

No. 4 - Radioactivity

Two words that you don't ever want to hear said in the same sentence are "Whoops!" and "radioactive." But in the case of physicist Henri Becquerel's surprise discovery, it was an accident that brought radioactivity to light.

Back in 1896 Becquerel was fascinated by two things: natural fluorescence and the newfangled X-ray. He ran a series of experiments to see if naturally fluorescent minerals produced X-rays after they had been left out in the sun.

One problem - he was doing these experiments in the winter, and there was one week with a long stretch of overcast skies. He left his equipment wrapped up together in a drawer and waited for a sunny day.

When he got back to work, Becquerel realized that the uranium rock he had left in the drawer had imprinted itself on a photographic plate without being exposed to sunlight first. There was something very special about that rock. Working with Marie and Pierre Curie, he discovered that that something was radioactivity.

No. 5 - Plastic

In 1907 shellac was used as insulation in electronics. It was costing the industry a pretty penny to import shellac, which was made from Southeast Asian beetles, and at home chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland thought he might turn a profit if he could produce a shellac alternative.

Instead his experiments yielded a moldable material that could take high temperatures without distorting.

Baekeland thought his "Bakelite" might be used for phonograph records, but it was soon clear that the product had thousands of uses. Today plastic, which was derived from Bakelite, is used for everything from telephones to iconic movie punch lines.

No. 6 - Vulcanized Rubber

Charles Goodyear had been waiting years for a happy accident when it finally occurred.

Goodyear spent a decade finding ways to make rubber easier to work with while being resistant to heat and cold.

Nothing was having the effect he wanted.

One day he spilled a mixture of rubber, sulfur and lead onto a hot stove. The heat charred the mixture, but didn't ruin it. When Goodyear picked up the accident, he noticed that the mixture had hardened but was still quite usable.

At last! The breakthrough he had been waiting for! His vulcanized rubber is used in everything from tires, to shoes, to hockey pucks.

No. 7- Teflon

After all the damage they've done to the ozone layer, chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, are persona non grata. Back in the 1930s, however, they were (pardon the pun) the hot new thing in the science of refrigeration.

Young DuPont chemist Roy Plunkett was working to make a new a new kind of CFC. He had a theory that if he could get a compound called TFE to react with hydrochloric acid, he could produce the refrigerant he wanted.

So, to start his experiment Plunkett got a whole bunch of TFE gas, cooled it and pressured it in canisters so it could be stored until he was ready to use it. When the time came to open the container and put the TFE and hydrochloric acid together so they could react, nothing came out of the canister. The gas had disappeared.

Only it hadn't. Frustrated and angry, Plunkett took off the top of the canister and shook it. Out came some fine white flakes. Luckily for everyone who's ever made an omelet, he was intrigued by the flakes and handed them off to other scientists at DuPont.

No. 8 - Coke

There are many stories of accidentally invented food: the potato chip was born when cook George Crum (yes, really his name!) tried to silence a persnickety customer who kept sending french fries back to the kitchen for being soggy; Popsicles were invented when Frank Epperson left a drink outside in the cold overnight; and ice cream cones were invented at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.

But no food-vention has had as much success as Coke.

Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton was trying to make a cure for headaches. He mixed together a bunch of ingredients -- and don't ask, because we don't know; The recipe is still a closely guarded secret. It only took eight years of being sold in a drug store before the drink was popular enough to be sold in bottles.

No. 9 - Smart Dust

Most people would be pretty upset if their homework blew up in their faces and crumbled into a bunch of tiny pieces.

Not so student Jamie Link. When Link was doing her doctoral work in chemistry at the University of California, San Diego, one of the silicon chips she was working on burst. She discovered afterward, however, that the tiny pieces still functioned as sensors.

The resulting "smart dust" won her the top prize at the Collegiate Inventors Competition in 2003. These teensy sensors can also be used to monitor the purity of drinking or seawater, to detect hazardous chemical or biological agents in the air, or even to locate and destroy tumor cells in the body.

No. 10 - Saccharin

Saccharin, the sweetener in the pink packet, was discovered because chemist Constantin Fahlberg didn't wash his hands after a day at the office.

Prepare to get icked.

The year was 1879 and Fahlberg was trying to come up with new and interesting uses for coal tar. After a productive day at the office, he went home and something strange happened.

He noticed the rolls he was eating tasted particularly sweet. He asked his wife if she had done anything interesting to the rolls, but she hadn't. They tasted normal to her. Fahlberg realized the taste must have been coming from his hands -- which he hadn't washed.

The next day he went back to the lab and started tasting his work until he found the sweet spot.

Two-year-old with same IQ as Einstein

Oscar Wrigley, a two-year-old with the same IQ as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, has become the youngest boy in Britain to be accepted into Mensa.

Assessors at the Gifted Children's Information Centre in Solihull said Oscar, with an IQ of at least 160, is one of the brightest children they have every come across.

He has been ranked in the 99.99th percentile of the population and has been ranked off the scale as the Stanford-Binet test cannot measure higher than 160.

Oscar's father Joe, 29, an IT specialist from Reading in Berkshire, said: "Oscar was recently telling my wife about the reproductive cycle of penguins.

"He is always asking questions. Every parent likes to think their child was special but we knew there was something particularly remarkable about Oscar.

"I'm fully expecting the day to come when he turns around and tells me I'm an idiot."

Mother Hannah, 26, told The Daily Mail: "He amazes everyone. We knew at 12 weeks he was extremely bright. He was unusually alert."

Mrs Wrigley, a housewife, added: "His vocabulary is amazing. He's able to construct complex sentences.

"The other day he said to me, 'Mummy, sausages are like a party in my mouth'."

Dr Peter Congdon, who assessed Oscar, said he was a "child of very superior intelligence".

"His abilities fall well within the range sometimes referred to as intellectually gifted. He demonstrated outstanding ability," he said.

John Stevenage, Mensa's Chief Executive confirmed Oscar had been accepted aged two years, five months and 11 days.

"Oscar shows great potential. Converting that potential to achievement is the challenge for his parents and we are delighted that they have chosen to join the Mensa network for support", he said.

The youngest British child to join Mensa is Elise Tan Roberts, from Edmonton, North London, at two years, four months and 14 days, with an IQ of 156.

Ideas for surprise wedding proposals

When two people have been together for quite some time, questions about marriage and proposals start popping up from every corner. Parents and friends have begun to badger you about when you are planning on proposing. Maybe your partner has even started asking if the relationship will be taken to the next level anytime soon. Sure, you can grab your partner and start looking at rings together which would unofficially mark your engagement, but what fun is that? If you want to surprise your partner with a wedding proposal they will talk about for years to come, here are some ideas that might inspire you. If you suddenly take your honey out for a weekend getaway to an exotic location, she may figure out that something marital is amiss. This is why you want to aim for total and complete unexpectedness. Maybe you order out pizza and watch movies on Friday nights. Offer to pick up the movies alone. Get some wedding-inspired movies that she loves like “Steel Magnolias” or “Betsy’s Wedding.” Hide the ring box in the pizza box. When you get home, pop the first movie in and set the pizza down in front of you. When she sees which movie you have picked, she will be wondering why you picked it. For a slightly comedic touch, get down on your knee and open the pizza box as if it were the ring box.
Maybe you and your girlfriend love to see new movie releases. Speak to the theater manager beforehand and find out how much it would be to rent one of the slides from the slide show that usually comes on before the feature presentation. Seeing what the reason is for, they may even let you do it for free. With the help of the theater staff, come up with a design for the slide that will get the point across. Maybe you can have the slide read, “Sarah, will you marry me?” If you want to get a little more creative, have the sign read something like, “Sarah Goodman, report to the concession stand immediately.” You can be by the concession stand ready to propose. One romantic way to propose to your girlfriend is to send her on a scavenger hunt. Naturally, she might sense something is going on if you send her on a random scavenger hunt in the middle of the year, so try to schedule it on an important holiday like Valentine’s Day, your anniversary day or her birthday. This way, she will think the scavenger hunt has nothing to do with a possible proposal. The final clue will send her to you (pick a romantic destination like the site of your first date, a favorite restaurant or a special spot in a park) where you will be waiting ready to propose. If your girlfriend has a group of good friends where she works, get them in on the fun. Have her manager or boss call a group meeting that she must attend with the rest of her colleagues. The meeting can begin as most do with talks of new projects or the statuses of old projects. Once the meeting has truly become boring, the manager or boss can open up a Power Point presentation. One of the slides within should be a proposal from you to her. When she reads it and looks utterly confused, walk in and propose to her.

Must-Know Techniques for Faster Web Browsing with Leading Browsers; Mozilla Firefox & IE

Though all the browsers are designed to provide users a fast browsing experience; little tweaks here and there can go a long way in increasing the speed of browsers. As attractive an option as it seems, truth be told, in order to make whatever changes we need to improve the speeds of our browsers, we will have to compromise with original registry and browser settings.

Now, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea because modifying the windows registry without proper knowledge may lead on damaging your registry setting, which in turn would seriously affect your Windows Operating System. So, we strongly recommend our readers to backup your Windows registry data before going through any registry changes.

Let’s have a look at some of the leading web browsers regarding how we can optimize their speeds.

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox is generally considered to be the fastest of the browsers available in the market today. If you get to searching, you will find innumerable techniques, many of which can be quite complicated and may lead to data loss. Also most techniques available are for the broadband users. Here, we have not only kept the broadband users in mind but also those who use slower connections like a dialup. In saying so, we have tried to come up with most combinations of computers and the types of connections.

1. Reduce the amount of RAM Firefox uses for it’s cache feature
* Type about:config in the address bar in the browser.
* Click button I’ll be Careful, I promise!
* Enter browser.sessionhistory.max_total_viewer in filter box
* Set it’s value to 0.
2. Increase the Speed in Which Firefox loads pages
* Type about:config in the address bar in the browser.
* Click button I’ll be Careful, I promise!
* Modify the values for following entries
o Set network.http.pipelining to true
o Set network.http.proxy.pipelining to true
o Set network.http.pipelining.maxrequests to 12 or more depending upon your internet connection speed
* At last, right-click anywhere and select New > Integer. Name it nglayout.initialpaint.delay and set its value to 0.
3. Reduce RAM usage to 10mb when Firefox is minimized
* Type in about:config and then press Enter.
* Click button I’ll be Careful, I promise!
* Right Click in the page and select New > Boolean.
* In the box that pops up enter config.trim_on_minimize and Press Enter.
* Now select True and then press Enter.
* Restart Firefox.
4. Optional Configurations

Optionally here are some more options for your about:config (you might have to create some of these entries by Right Click –> New– > Integer (value 0 & 5) or String (for true & false)
* Create network.dns.disableIPv6 and set it to false
* Create content.notify.backoffcount and set it to 5
* Create plugin.expose_full_path and set it to true
* Create ui.submenuDelay and set it to 0

Internet Explorer

1. Increase the number of simultaneous HTTP connections & downloads that IE makes to a Web server

Internet Explorer 8 limits you to download one to six simultaneous downloads depending upon your internet connection speeds and Internet Explorer 7 and it’s earlier versions limits that number to one to two simultaneous downloads. If you have broadband internet connectivity, changing these setting will increase your Internet Explorer speed and browsing experience. Those setting for simultaneous downloads can be increased maximum of 16 connections by making changes on registry settings.

There is a “Microsoft Fix It” tool that will automatically fix this issue and increase the number of files that you can download at one time to 10.

2. Turn off Phishing Filter

Phishing filter is a feature that supposedly avoids tour system from accessing a website that disguises as an original website but isn’t so. This feature of Internet Explorer 7 will help you to protect from online phishing scams but this feature while enabled will slow down the loading time and speed of the web pages.

This feature can be disabled on IE7 from:

Tools > Phishing Filter > Turn off automatic website checking, there turn it off.
3. Turn off automatic checking for RSS feeds

Usually happens with IE7 and is known to reduce the speed of browser. This feature can be disabled on IE7 from if you really don’t use it:

Tools > Internet Options > Content > Feeds > Settings > Uncheck all the boxes shown there.
4. Turn Off Clear Type

“Clear Type” will render your texts in browser smoothly but there were a lot of people who doesn’t like this kind of font smoothing and using this feature obviously will use your system memory more than that of normal. So if you want to disable it:
* Open IE7
* Open Tool Menu
* Click Internet Options
* Click Advanced Tabs
* Under Multimedia, clear the Use ClearType or Always use ClearType for HTML checkbox
* Click Ok

Little girls are the new sex objects

PRESCHOOLERS turning themselves into sexualised "mini-adults" by wearing bras, nail polish and lipstick are requiring psychological help in increasing numbers.

Child development experts said young girls were now entering their "tween" years between being a child and a teenager at the tender age of six - five years earlier than previously.

Experts said that by age six, girls needed branded clothes, at seven they wanted styled hair, by eight they were beginning diets, at nine they were styling their hair and by early teens were engaging in sex or sending sexually explicit text messages.

The Daily Telegraph yesterday found crop-top style bras for toddlers aged two to three on sale at a major department store, sparking outrage from parents.

The alarming trend is taking a heavy psychological toll, Professor of Developmental Psychiatry at Monash University Louise Newman said.

"I've seen children suffering from clinical depression in primary school because they don't feel they are pretty enough or thin enough or able to be popular," Dr Newman said.

"The girls are worried they won't get boyfriends, girls have started defining their self worth in terms of themselves as a sex object."

Dr Newman said young girls had always played dress ups in their mothers' clothes but that this trend was different.

Dr Joe Tucci, the CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation, said unprecedented numbers of young children needed psychological help.

"In an unprecedented way this generation of children are being exposed to adult concepts far earlier than they are ready to understand," he said. "Kids as young as seven are worried about the way they look, whether they're attractive to boys.

"They lack self esteem and confidence. If they don't feel like they fit into those messages, they feel like they are not as good as other kids.

"An impact is depression and anxiety which we are seeing an increase of in unprecedented levels."

Child advocate Julie Gale was outraged to find bras for toddlers on sale at stores including Target.

Target defended the sale yesterday, arguing it was up to parents to choose whether they buy the baby bras. "It is totally unnecessary. A two-year-old doesn't need that," Ms Gale said. "They are tactically marketing eye shadows, make-up, nail polish and little bras. It is mini me."

Parents yesterday were horrified by a display of the crop-top style bras clearly marked for toddlers.

Mother of three young girls Luisa Franco said it was "shocking" how children were being targeted as sex objects from such a tender age.

Ms Franco's six-year-old Sienna showed the tiny bras to her mother and asked to have a "kids bra".

"There is no way I would let one of my little girls wear a bra," Ms Franco said. Her husband John Valastro said he was incensed by children being homed in on as the "newest consumers".

He believed it was robbing them of their innocence.

He said children were growing up before their time because there was so much available to them to turn them into "mini-adults".

"It horrifies us what is available to kids these days, bras, makeup," Mr Valastro said. "They hear about things at school and come home and tell 'such and such wears this or has that' . . . they are only kids."

Ten Most Populated Cities in the World

We live in a big world with a lot of people. With global population racing upwards of 6.8 billion and environmental issues taking the lime light, overpopulation is a growing concern. Even though no city in the United States ranks among the ten most populated cities in the world, it is the number one contributor of carbon emissions.

1. Shanghai, China
Population: 14,348,535

2. Mumbai, India
Population: 11,914,398

3. Beijing, China
Population: 11,509,595

4. São Paulo, Brazil
Population: 11,016,703

5. Seoul, Korea
Population: 9,895,217

6. Moscow, Russia
Population: 10,433,869

7. Dehli, India
Population: 9,817,439

8. Chongqing, China
Population: 9,691,901

9. Istanbul, Turkey
Population: 9,555,719

10. Karachi, Pakistan
Population: 9,339,023

A train ride worth Rs 1 lakh to be flagged off in January

Maharajas’ Express, the country’s first pan-India super-luxury train, in which a tourist has to shell out more than Rs 1 lakh per day, is all set to be flagged off from Mumbai next year.

The luxury train with 23 AC coaches will start its seven-day and six-night maiden journey, carrying 88 tourists to Delhi, covering Vadodara, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Jaipur, Ranthambore and Agra on the way from CST station on January 9. Equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, the train will return to Mumbai via the same route from Delhi on January 17.

While the minimum rate is being kept at $800, the maximum is $2500 per day, per person in the Maharajas' Express. All coaches of the train will have an individual temperature control system and environment-friendly toilet, a first in a luxury train. Besides, live TV, internet, in-house movies and direct dialling facilities are being provided in the train.

The bookings for the inaugural run from Delhi and Mumbai are overwhelming, a senior IRCTC official said, adding "the trial run of the train will be held in December."

There are four different categories of carriages in the train -- presidential suite ($2500), suite ($1400) deluxe cabin ($900) and junior suite ($800).
A joint venture between IRCTC and Cox & Kings, the super-luxury Maharajas' Express will travel Delhi-Mumbai-Delhi and Delhi-Kolkata-Delhi. The Delhi-Kolkata route will cover Agra, Gwalior, Khajuraho, Bandhavgarh, Varanasi and Gaya.

Tourists on both routes -- Kolkata and Mumbai -- may also have the opportunity to have a glimpse of tigers in forests. While Ranthambore falls on the Mumbai-Delhi-Mumbai route, Bandhavgarh national park is on the Delhi-Kolkata-Delhi segment.

"Maharajas' Express Kolkata journey is likely to be be in the last week of January or first week of February next year. The train will also return to Delhi on the same route," said the official.

There will be two restaurants -- Haveli and Peacock -- and a bar named Machan inside the train. "We have given the onboard hospitality service to a leading hotel group, so that five-star catering is maintained in the train," he said.

The trip from the western metropolis to the national capital will be christened as a "Princely India journey", while the return journey will be called "Royal India tour".

The Delhi-Kolkata route will be named the "Classical India journey", while the Kolkata-Delhi trip will be the "Celestial India tour".

The train will be operational from October to March and the rest of the year it will be used for chartered service, said the official.

6 Signs She Wants to be More Than Friends

1.) She’s wearing more makeup and/or dressing better than she used to around you.

I find it rather humorous that male animals have all the fancy plumage and whatnot in the animal world, because in the human world it’s the females who prance around in their finest finery upon identifying a desirable mate. Thusly, if your female friend has suddenly upped the wardrobe ante – that is, if she always looks like she has a hot date to get to or a cocktail party to attend – on nights she’s only hanging out with you, then it’s pretty safe to assume that she’s angling to reduce the distance between the two of you on the couch during your reality tv-a-thon. Think about it: if she didn’t want you to want her, then she wouldn’t get dressed up just to hang out at your apartment, she’d wear sweatpants and talk about farts with you. Ewwwww. But, yes.

2.) She no longer talks about other guys in front of you.

A sudden drop-off in your bff’s tendency to over-share about her romantic exploits is a pretty tell-tale sign that this particular girl friend wants to be your legit girlfriend. Most girls crave a reliable male perspective on all of their emotional entanglements, so a girl who views you as nothing more than a trusted friend will be quick to ask your opinion about every guy she ever meets, even if it’s just a dude who glances at her on the street. If she unexpectedly stops doing this, then it’s probably because she can’t ask you about the guy she’s currently sweating. Because it’s you. Haha! See how that works?! Magic.

3.) She texts back right away.

Infuriatingly, most people don’t respond to texts right away. They could be busy, or in jail, or trying to fish their phones out of the toilet. It happens. So when a friend who happens to be a girl suddenly happens to start responding to your texts immediately – and when she attempts to keep the textversation going – then there’s a good chance she’s been thinking about you and waiting for you to initiate contact. Texting alone isn’t a reliable indicator of interest (some people are just natural-born text fiends who really hate it that other people take their sweet-ass time to write a two-word response), but a sudden increase in her textability could mean a sudden increase in her desire to get naked with you. Proceed with caution, but proceed nonetheless.

4.) She gets super sensitive about things that used to be No Big Deal.

For a woman, one of the worst things about discovering Feelings for a certain guy is the tendency to become hyper-aware of every little thing he does and what it might mean for The Potential Relationship. I capitalize to signify importance, men, so pay attention. It’s like there’s a magic freak-out switch that gets flipped in the girl brain when emotions become involved. For example, your friend probably used to joke right along with you about her fugly man toes, but that was when you were Just a Friend. When you become a Crush and/or Potential Relationship Partner, she begins to worry that your innocent jokes about said fugly man toes mean you’ll never EVER be interested in dating her, and in fact think she’s a lot like Cameron Diaz’s character in Shrek. She might even go home and cry about it to her roommate.

5.) Her friends give you knowing looks.

This is like a subtler form of lionesses hunting, in which the prey, once identified, must be scrutinized by the entire pack to determine whether or not it is suitable for consumption (and weak enough to be slaughtered). That is to say, once a girl tells her girlfriends that she’s into a guy, they can’t help but stare knowingly at that guy (especially if they know him) both to size him up and, I think, to clue the poor bastard into what’s actually going on. I think it arises from the female desire to see happy couples have happy endings all the time, which brings me right back to where I started, stuck in a pit of despair because Dawson never got his crap together.

6.) She’s always making excuses to hang out with you alone.

Girls aren’t so different from you (aside from the extra anatomical features and slightly better smell). We don’t love hanging out in groups any less than you do, and we don’t want to waste time on people we don’t care about any more than you do. Just like you (probably) wouldn’t make a move on a girl until you got her alone, a girl who’s into you (especially one who knows you well) won’t even try to act on her feelings until she’s alone with you (and even then she’ll probably be wishing you’d just make the first move anyway). If the same female friend who’s exhibiting most or all of the above behaviors repeatedly looks for ways to hang out with you alone (as in, you suggest meeting up with other friends at a bar, while she offers to come to your place with a bottle of Jack and your fave stupid movie), then it’s time to make a move. Either that, or risk watching her drunkenly and awkwardly throw herself at you, or worse, miss a golden opportunity to get it on with your hot female friend. I shouldn’t have to say it, but neither of these are desirable options.

Getting pregnant in style (pics of celebs)

Here's a look at some of the Bollywood and Hollywood divas who have stylishly flaunted their baby bump.

Put the Power button on and your computer will start immediately

In the time it takes your computer to boot up, you can probably make some toast or a cup of tea before the thing is ready to use. In the near future, you might only have enough time to take a sip of that tea or check your watch.

Mindful of how frustrating the wait is, makers of PCs’ basic input/output systems (BIOS) are working on bringing instant-on computing closer to reality with promises of significantly faster boot time.

“People want PCs to be like their toaster. Push a button and it is ready,” says Steve Jones, vice-president and chief scientist of core systems at Phoenix Technologies, one of the biggest BIOS makers.

The BIOS is the first piece of code that a computer runs when it is powered on. Before Windows or Linux can start, the BIOS identifies, tests and gets system devices such as the video display card, the hard disk and other hardware up and running. But running the tests every time the machine powers on can be time consuming.

At Intel’s developer conference last week, Phoenix announced that the latest version of its BIOS could boot in just about a second by cutting out redundant checks and creating a smarter version of the firmware . Of course, that still leaves the time that it takes Windows to start up, but Microsoft has been working on that, too, and claims that Windows 7 starts up in about 20 seconds, compared to the 50 seconds or so for Vista.

The faster boot time will help users, says Nathan Brookwood, a research fellow at market research and consulting company Insight 64. But even with Microsoft’s improvements, he says, it is still nearly a minute before the user is completely up and running. “Every software application today wants to go out there and check for the latest version on boot up, which just gets in the way of what you really want to do And that is check e-mail,” he says.

Shrinking this digital annoyance is the new quest for PC makers. For most people, computers today have become as much a consumer electronics product as TVs, cellphones and DVD players. That means, consumers expect the same kind of instant response from their computers are they get from other electronics devices.

“If you pick up a phone, you expect to instantly hear a tone,” says Jones. “That’s the future for computers, too.”

Jones says the ‘I am ready for use’ signaling is an important psychological factor for consumers. “Bell Labs worked hard on this. They figured if you pick up the phone and didn’t hear something within 250 milliseconds, then you would be pretty uncomfortable with the device,” he says.

On PCs, that signaling time has been much longer. Boot-up on PCs is split into two chunks: the BIOS boot up, which is the time taken from pressing the power on button to the time BIOS finishes booting, also known as pre-boot, and the time taken for the operating system to load. Today, this can take anywhere from a minute to nearly three minutes. And that can feel like eternity for users.

“Lots of users today just press the power button and then grab a cup of coffee,” says Brookwood. “If the line at Starbucks isn’t too long, the system will be ready by the time they’re back.”

The BIOS has been part of PCs since the first IBM PC in 1981. The firmware initializes every computer to a point where an operating system can come along and with no knowledge of the machine start running.

“The BIOS is doing a lot more than waking up the machine and handing it a cup of coffee in the morning,” says Brian Richardson, senior technical marketing engineer, for American Megatrends Inc., a major BIOS maker.”It provides a layer so you can buy a PC take it home, wipe the configuration clean, change it and do it 100 times a day and your OS will still start up.”

Running the hardware checks takes time. About 15 years ago, the BIOS firmware in PCs would take up to two minutes to boot. Finding that customers were becoming impatient with the boot times, PC makers started pressing for PCs to be more like appliances with their ability to be switched on instantly.

“Electronics is not supposed to warm up anymore,” says Richardson. “So we have been trying to shrink the time it takes to get the machine ready.”

BIOS boot times can vary depending on configuration of the PC: More memory and more cards mean it will take longer. Increasingly, operating systems, such as Microsoft’s Windows, run initial checkups on boot to verify system details and ensure the most updated versions of the software is loaded. In other words, the OS is doing some of the work that the BIOS traditionally has done.

“Effectively what BIOS makers are saying is that if the OS is not going to believe us anyway, why bother?” says Brookwood.

That’s why PC makers are pinning their hopes on a new standard called Unified Extensible Firmware Interface. UEFI hopes to improve the intelligence of the BIOS so it doesn’t have to perform all checks every time the computer is powered on. Ultimately, the idea is to run fewer initializations as the computer boots.

Phoenix and AMI say there are some machines already whose BIOS is based on the UEFI standard for quicker boot but it will be late next year before a majority of PCs have it. And unlike the BIOS, which is tied to Intel’s x86 processor architecture, UEFI will not be specific to any processor architecture.

Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 7 operating system has also laid out some criteria for PC manufacturers to get hardware aligned in a way that they can meet the company’s standards. Microsoft has set a criteria of five seconds for BIOS boot time and 20 seconds for the operating system to boot.

That’s still nowhere near the instant-on computing dream and promises of faster BIOS risks setting unrealistic expectations among consumers, says Brookwood.

There’s a way to get instant-on. It’s called the sleep mode.

“People assume they get instant-on with their cellphones but no one reboots their cellphone everyday,” says Richardson. “So one form of instant-on is never to turn it off.”

Another route to quick boot is to do what Dell has done with its latest notebook. Dell’s newly launched Latitude Z offers instant boot to check e-mail, calendar, contacts and the web as part of a mode called ‘Latitude On.’ In it the PC boots from a special chipset running an ARM processor, the same kind of CPU that powers most cellphones, and a slimmed down version of the Linux operating system.

The Latitude On mode comes with its own power on/off button. Users can click on an adjacent power button to switch to Windows OS. That gives consumers options, says Robert Thomson, product manager for Latitude Z at Dell. “When you directly go to the Latitude On mode, you never bring up the main operating system,” he says “And when you turn it off, it goes into the suspend mode, which is not like that of Vista or XP but more like what you see in cellphones.”

At $2000, the Latitude Z laptop is a pricey answer to the problem of a two-minute boot up time for PCs. And it doesn’t give users access to all features and programs that run on Windows OS such as Microsoft Word or Power Point.

That’s why, Brookwood advocates just staying away from the power off button as much as you can.

“Most systems today have the ability to go to sleep as opposed to being turned off,” says Brookwood. “Too many users don’t understand that.”

ICC Awards 2008-09

Mitchell Johnson capped a tumultuous year by becoming the sixth winner of the prestigious Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy, after being named as the ICC World Player of the Year at cricket's annual awards ceremony in Johannesburg. Johnson, who shot to prominence during Australia's memorable series win in South Africa in February and March, claimed the title ahead of his fellow nominees, Gautam Gambhir, Andrew Strauss and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

India's star opener, Gambhir, was named as Test Player of the Year, after an impressive haul of 1269 runs at 84.60 in the eight Tests during the qualification period. "It's been a dream run for me. I never thought it could be like this but life has changed for me and I am very happy," said Gambhir. "As a unit we have played very well and I am just glad to contribute to the overall success of the team."

Mahendra Singh Dhoni retained his title of ODI Player of the Year, seeing off competition from his team-mates, Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag, as well as West Indies' Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Dhoni played 24 ODIs during the voting period, scoring 967 runs at an average of 60.43 and strike-rate of 86.63, and also claimed 26 dismissals as he led India to 17 victories including a 5-0 demolition of England.

Tillakaratne Dilshan was a worthy winner of the Twenty20 International Performance of the Year award, after capping a sensational World Twenty20 tournament in England in June with a show-stealing 96 off 57 balls against West Indies in the semi-final. His performance at The Oval, in which no other Sri Lanka batsman managed more than 24, included two sixes and 12 fours, and though Sri Lanka went on to lose the final to Pakistan, Dilshan was nevertheless named as the Man of the Tournament, with a total of 317 runs at 52.83.

Australia's fast bowler, Peter Siddle, was named as the Emerging Player of the Year, after claiming 49 wickets at 28.93 in the 12 matches since his debut at Mohali in October 2008, including five-wicket hauls against South Africa at Sydney and England at Headingley, both of which led to memorable victories. Siddle beat his fellow Australia seamer, Ben Hilfenhaus, to the award, as well as England's Graham Onions and New Zealand's Jesse Ryder.

New Zealand's cricketers were considered to have conducted themselves better on the field than any other nation in 2008-09, as they claimed the Spirit of Cricket award for the second time, having also won during the inaugural Awards ceremony at Alexandra Palace in London in 2004. The judgement was made by the ICC's umpires and match referees, in conjunction with the ten full-member captains, and Daniel Vettori accepted the accolade on behalf of his colleagues, only 48 hours after reversing a run-out appeal against Paul Collingwood in their must-win group match against England.

World Test Team of the Year: Gautam Gambhir (India), Andrew Strauss (England), AB de Villiers (South Africa), Sachin Tendulkar (India), Thilan Samaraweera (Sri Lanka), Michael Clarke (Australia), MS Dhoni (India, capt & wk), Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh), Mitchell Johnson (Australia), Stuart Broad (England), Dale Steyn (South Africa), Harbhajan Singh (India, 12th man)

World ODI team of the year: Virender Sehwag (Ind), Chris Gayle (WI), Kevin Pietersen (Eng), Tillakaratne Dilshan (SL), Yuvraj Singh (Ind), Martin Guptill (NZ), MS Dhoni (Ind, captain, WK), Andrew Flintoff (Eng), Nuwan Kulasekara (SL), Ajantha Mendis (SL), Umar Gul (Pak), 12th man: Thilan Thushara (SL)

Umpire of the Year: Pakistan's Aleem Dar.

Women's Player of the Year: England's Clare Taylor.

Associate Player of the Year: Ireland's captain, Will Porterfield.