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2006 Tech News

 

December, 2006

Dealing with toxic computer waste
An unfortunate by-product of today's fast-moving digital age is the obsolescent equipment that gets discarded in its wake.  One estimate suggests that by 2010, 100m phones and 300m personal computers will be thrown on the rubbish tip.  Most of these contain toxic cocktail of substances including lead, mercury and arsenic.  At the moment a lot of this waste ends up, often illegally, in dumping sites around the globe, especially in the developing world.  The European Union is working on new laws to encourage the safe disposal of what is called e-waste.  It is drafting a Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive that will ensure that more of the responsibility for dealing with old computers and mobiles will be placed on their manufacturers.  FULL STORY_ BBC 12/27/06

Microsoft opens digital library
Microsoft is gearing up to launch a new online book search service enabling internet users to find content from books, periodicals and other print resources.  The digital archive, which is due to go live on Thursday, will include books from the British Library, the University of California and the University of Toronto. Other institutions including the New York Public Library and Cornell University expected to come on board in the near future.  The new service will compete with Google's Book Search offering which was launched in 2005. That service has run into controversy due to the search engine giant's scanning of content, some of which may still be copyrighted. Last year, a number of organisations including the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Authors Guild initiated a lawsuit against the firm over its service.  Microsoft seems to be taking a more publisher-friendly route however. The company is only offering access to non-copyrighted works initially, although it is believed that in the future it intends to include copyright works that publishers have given permission to use. As with Google's Book Search service, out-of-copyright books will be available to download for free as PDF files.  FULL STORY_ Channel Register 12/8/06

November, 2006

Ancient calculator was 1,000 years ahead of its time

An ancient astronomical calculator made at the end of the 2nd century BC was amazingly accurate and more complex than any instrument for the next 1,000 years, scientists said on Wednesday. The Antikythera Mechanism is the earliest known device to contain an intricate set of gear wheels. It was retrieved from a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901 but until now what it was used for has been a mystery. The calculator could add, multiply, divide and subtract. It was also able to align the number of lunar months with years and display where the sun and the moon were in the zodiac.  Full Story  Reuters_ 11/29/06

UN warning on e-waste 'mountain' in Africa

The world's richest nations are dumping hazardous electronic waste on poor African countries, says the head of the UN's Environment Programme (Unep). Speaking in Nairobi, Achim Steiner said consumerism was driving a "growing mountain of e-waste". Unep estimates that up to 50 million tonnes of waste from discarded electronic goods is generated annually. Improper disposal of e-waste can release hazardous chemicals and heavy metals into the environment.  Full Story  BBC News_ 11/27/06

British computer industry 'faces crisis'

The president of the British Computer Society, Professor Nigel Shadbolt, has told BBC News unless steps are taken now, there will not be enough qualified graduates to meet the demands of UK industry. In his first major interview since taking charge this month, Professor Shadbolt warned that UK was in danger of no longer being a provider of "really major insights in the information age". The British Computer Society is a professional and academic association which acts as a conduit to information for IT practitioners and works to raise public awareness of IT. Professor Shadbolt has released previously unpublished research which shows that in the past four years demand for IT and computer graduates has doubled while at the same time the number of students studying the subject has declined by a third.  Full Story BBC News_ 11/17/06

Man jailed in Britain's first 'web-rage' attack; Insults were hurled over the Internet

Paul Gibbons, 47, from south London, was sentenced Friday to 2-1/2 years in jail. He admitted he had attacked John Jones in December 2005 after months of exchanging abuse with him via an Internet chatroom. Gibbons, who the court heard had previous convictions for violence, admitted unlawful wounding. Other charges of attempted murder and issuing online threats to kill four other chatroom users were not pursued but could be reactivated in future if he reoffends. "This case highlights the dangers of Internet chat rooms, particularly with regards to giving personal details that will allow other users to discover home addresses," said Detective Sergeant Jean-Marc Bazzoni of Essex Police.  Full Story Reuters_ 11/17/06

Look, Ma - no wires!

Electricity broadcast through the air may someday run your home.
More than a century ago, Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla dreamed of broadcasting electrical energy through the airwaves. Instead, to their surprise, a grid of metallic wires sprang up and encircled the globe, distributing power to homes and businesses nearly everywhere.  Now, as more and more people carry portable gadgets, from cellphones to laptops, iPods to PDAs, they want to eliminate any need for wires. The problem: Their devices need to be recharged, eventually, by plugging them into a wall socket.   But an age when wireless gadgets never run down may be dawning.  At a physics conference in San Francisco Wednesday, a group of researchers proposed a method that would allow cellphones, laptops, industrial robots, and other gadgets to be recharged simply by being within a few meters of an energy source. A system of "midrange" energy nodes, akin to the wireless "hot spots" that give computers wireless access to the Internet, wouldn't replace power lines. But they could someday result in entire buildings or other large areas in which wireless devices are automatically charged when they come into range. Other applications include sending power to electric buses along a highway, or charging microscopic nanorobots as they work, perhaps inside the human body.  FULL STORY_Christian Science Monitor 11/15/06

Hi-tech T-shirt turns air guitar into the real thing

Engineers in Australia - the home of rock legends including AC/DC and INXS - have developed a new T-shirt which enables the wearer to play air guitar and create real noise in the process.  Richard Helmer and a team of researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia's national science agency, fashioned the "wearable instrument shirt" out of an ordinary T-shirt fitted with an array of sensors. The built-in technologies measure the movements of the wearer, allowing them to "play" by moving one hand to mimic guitar chord patterns and using the other to pluck virtual strings. The shirt is hooked up to a computer that is able to read the signals and turn them into guitar sounds.  

FULL STORY_ Guardian Unlimited 11/13/06

Berners-Lee, universities launch 'Web science' initiative
With the Web now into its second decade, leading lights in the Web world want to turn it from a phenomenon into a science.  Representatives from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Southampton in the U.K. on Thursday announced the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI), a multidisciplinary project to study the social and technological implications of growing Web adoption.  "The Web is basically a web of people. It's a way that social people interact," Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the basic software of the Web and is director of the World Wide Web Consortium standards group, said. "Because it's something we created, we have a duty to make it better."

FULL STORY_ZDNet 11/2/06

Accelerating loss of ocean species threatens human well-being

In a study published in the November 3 issue of the journal Science, an international group of ecologists and economists shows that the loss of biodiversity is profoundly reducing the ocean's ability to produce seafood, resist diseases, filter pollutants, and rebound from stresses such as over fishing and climate change.  The study was based at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. NCEAS is funded by the National Science Foundation.  The study reveals that every species lost causes a faster unraveling of the overall ecosystem. Conversely, every species recovered adds significantly to overall productivity and stability of the ecosystem and its ability to withstand stresses.  "This study is the first to definitively link species losses in marine systems to their economic consequences for society, by choosing to measure the effects of species losses by their impacts on the things humans care most about: seafood production, clean beaches for swimming, coastal protection from storms, tourism revenue and absorption of our waste," said Kimberly A. Selkoe, co-author and postdoctoral researcher at NCEAS.  The four-year analysis is the first to examine all existing data on ocean species and ecosystems, synthesizing historical, experimental, fisheries, and observational data sets to understand the importance of biodiversity at the global scale.  "Our results indicate that the current trend for losing marine species could have drastic consequences for what people can get from the oceans, but we also found that protection of ocean areas can restore these services," said Benjamin S. Halpern, co-author and researcher at NCEAS. "In other words, it is not too late to help make things better."  FULL STORY_Press Release 11/2/06

October, 2006

U.S. climate research center's oversight up for bidding

For the first time in 46 years, management of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, perched on a ridge under the Rocky Mountains northwest of Denver, is up for grabs. Since 1997, National Science Foundation policy has required that all government research institutions be subject to a competitive bidding process when their contracts come up for renewal. Foundation officials say that a formal request for bids is imminent and that the competition will be open to all organizations — academic, nonprofit and for-profit. Since its founding in 1960, the atmospheric center, based in Boulder, has been run by a nonprofit consortium of 70 universities, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. The center's research on global warming and its forecasts of rising temperatures, fiercer wildfires and stronger storms have drawn the ire of some politicians. But officials in Washington say that politics will not affect the competition. The current five-year agreement to run the atmospheric center, which ends in September 2008, is worth $548 million. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who contends that human-caused global warming is a "hoax," wrote to the foundation in February to confirm it was putting the atmospheric center's management agreement out for bid. He also asked for lists of the roughly 1,000 employees of the center and its operating consortium, as well as the identities of such employees under contract with other government agencies or nonprofits.  Full Story Los Angeles Times_ 10/29/06 (logon required)

No prizes for space elevators

NASA didn't have to write any checks at this year's X Prize Cup competition in Las Cruces, N.M., after judges decided Sunday not to honor any of the competitors in a $200,000 space elevator competition. Ben Shelef, an executive with the Spaceward Foundation that organized the competition, said the entry by the University of Saskatchewan climbed a 200-foot-high carbon fiber ribbon in just two seconds over the time allowed. Shelef said the judges agonized over the decision, but finally decided it would be unfair to make an award to a team for simply coming close. The Space Elevator Games was one of three events offering $2.4 million in NASA prize money at a two-day fair in New Mexico to spur innovation in space technology. Video game designer John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace unmanned rocket ship failed to win the million-dollar prize to design a next-generation lunar lander after his craft crashed in the desert. Several teams also competed in another $200,000 challenge — to make a tether strong enough to carry an elevator to space. None won that event, either.  Full Story  Los Angeles Times_ 10/23/06 (logon required)

Physicists unveil first invisibility cloak

It might not seem like much compared with Harry Potter's magic garment, but the first functional invisibility cloak has emerged from a North Carolina laboratory. Microwaves bent by the concentric walls of a 1-centimeter-tall invisibility device circumvent the center area and emerge on their original paths as if nothing had been in the way. A team with members from Duke University in Durham, N.C., the Imperial College London, and the San Diego–based company SensorMetrix created the new device. Duke physicist David Schurig, who designed the device and his colleagues describe the work in a report released Oct. 19 online by Science. The first demonstration of 3-D cloaking in microwaves is still at least a year or two away, estimates Duke physicist and team leader David R. Smith. Cloaking at visible-light frequencies isn't yet feasible, Smith notes.  Full Story  Science News_ 10/21/06

Space elevator visions going up

The idea may sound like a sci-fi fantasy, but NASA is hosting a global competition and offering $150,000 to the winning team. A dozen prototypes from around the world are in the competition in the New Mexico desert for a device that could lift humans and cargo into geostationary orbit aboard a futuristic space elevator. The winner is the team that can lift the most weight to the top of a 200-foot tether in the shortest time. The machines must get their energy beamed onboard from sources such as sunlight, microwaves or lasers. Aerospace giants like Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. haven't taken the idea seriously, but NASA is seeking inspiration from the general public through its Centennial Challenge program. The origin of the space elevator seems to trace back to 1960, when Russian Yuri Artsutanov proposed hanging a ribbon from space to transport material into orbit, said Roger Gilbertson of the Spaceward Foundation, which is coordinating the elevator competition for NASA. The idea took off when science-fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke used it as the basis for his 1979 novel, "The Fountains of Paradise." NASA sponsored its first elevator games last year.  Full Story  Los Angeles Times_ 10/19/06 (logon required)

Teen repellent is Ig Nobel winner
A device that repels teenagers has won the peace prize at this year's Ig Nobels - the spoof alternative to the rather more sober Nobel prizes.  Welshman Howard Stapleton's device makes a high-pitched noise inaudible to adults but annoying to teenagers. Other winners included a US-Israeli study into how a finger up the rectum cures hiccups and a report into why woodpeckers do not get headaches. All the research is real and published in often prestigious journals.  Unlike the recipients of the more illustrious awards, Ig Nobel winners get no cash reward.  Nevertheless eight of the 10 winners this year paid their own way to receive their prizes in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Marc Abrahams, editor of science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research, which co-sponsors the awards, said: "The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative - and spur people's interest in science, medicine and technology."   The winners are given a one-minute acceptance speech, the time policed by a loud eight-year-old girl.  FULL STORY_ BBC  10/5/06

Agreement on EU science funding
The European Union's next round of funding for scientific research is a step closer to being implemented.  A common position has been reached by the European Council on adopting the so called 7th Framework Programme (FP7).  The text of the common position will be sent to the European Parliament, which will take a vote on the 50bn-euro (£34bn) plan.  It is hoped the funds available through FP7 will help stem the numbers of European researchers leaving science.  For the past five years, European research has been funded by individual national agencies and the EU's Framework 6 programme (FP6). It had an approximate budget of 19bn euros over the period 2002-6.  But FP6 was criticised widely for being over-bureaucratic, skewed towards big, complex collaborations and subject to political pressures.  One significant change made for FP7 will be the inauguration of a European Research Council (ERC) to support basic research across all disciplines.  FULL STORY_BBC NEWS 9/27/06

Is RFID tracking you?

Radio frequency identification has been heralded as a breakthrough in tracking technology, and denounced as the next Big Brother surveillance tool.  RFID sounds futuristic: A transmitter smaller than a dime embedded in everything from a T-shirt to human skin, communicating data over a short distance to a reading device.  The technology has been around for decades -- the British used it to identify aircraft as friend or foe during World War II, and factory warehouses have used it more recently to make shipping more efficient.  So why is it getting so much attention now? The short answer is that RFID has moved into more common corners of society.  Today, it can be used to identify missing pets, monitor vehicle traffic, track livestock to help prevent disease outbreaks, and follow pharmaceuticals to fight counterfeit drugs. Many of us start our cars using RFID chips embedded in the ignition key.  RFID chips, injected under the skin, can store a medical history or be used to control access to secure areas. The next generation of passports and credit cards are hotbeds for RFID. It could make bar codes obsolete.  However, hackers and analysts are exposing potentially serious problems. Hackers could disable a car's RFID anti-theft feature, swap a product's price for a lower one, or copy medical information from an RFID chip.  "The dark side of RFID is surreptitious access," said Bruce Schneier, a security expert with Counterpane Internet Security Inc.  "When RFID chips are embedded in your ID cards, your clothes, your possessions, you are effectively broadcasting who you are to anyone within range," he said. "The level of surveillance possible, not only by the government but by corporations and criminals as well, will be unprecedented. There simply will be no place to hide."  FULL STORY_CNN 8/31/06

Telescope set to reveal 'Big Bang'

An ambitious project to build the world's largest radio telescope high in the Chilean Andes looks set to give astronomers their best ever view of deep space -- and provide them with a dramatic window back through time to the formation of the universe itself.  The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), currently being built in the Atacama Desert, northern Chile, will enable scientists to observe sub-millimeter radiation waves, giving them a far more detailed picture of the universe than has previously been possible with either optical or infrared telescopes.  The telescope, which is due to be completed by 2012, will consist of 66 radio antennae spread across the Llano de Chajnantor plateau, 5,000 meters above sea level.  When combined, the data collected from the dishes will provide a level of detail some 10 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope.  FULL STORY_CNN 8/25/06

More than 95% of world's e-mail is 'junk': spam, error messages and viruses, say mail monitoring firms

Analysis of the contents of millions of e-mails has revealed that less than 4% is legitimate traffic. Further work has shown that most of this junk mail is originating on hijacked home computers. E-mail security firm Return Path said 99% of the computers it monitors that send mail have been taken over by spammers or virus writers. Typically these home computers are compromised by viruses sent in e-mail messages or by worms that trawl the net looking for vulnerable machines. Top of the list is the US as, according to Sophos, 23.2% of spam originates there. Number two is China (20%) followed by South Korea (7.5%), France (5.2%) and Spain (4.8%).  Full Story  BBC News_ 7/28/06

Geckos inspire 'super-adhesive'

Just one metre square of a new super-sticky material inspired by gecko feet could suspend the weight of an average family car, say its inventors. The plastic, known as Synthetic Gecko, has been developed by researchers at the UK's aerospace and defence firm BAE Systems. Like the reptile's foot, the reusable polymer is covered in millions of tiny mushroom-like hairs that provide grip. Future applications could include an adhesive to repair aircraft, skin grafts or even a Spiderman-style suit. "It would mean that your local window cleaner could dispense with his ladders and climb up the side of your house," says Dr Sajad Haq, a principal research scientist at the company's Advanced Technology Centre in Filton, Bristol.  Full Story BBC News_ 7/26/06

New washers, dryers send messages to PCs
The technology behind cleaning clothes has spun through more than a few cycles over the last century, from clunky hand-cranked machines to today's gleaming appliances that can detect a load's size and even how much grime is ground into the fabric.
Soon, those who delight in living the clean life could be awash in an even newer twist.  Washers and dryers that link wirelessly to Internet-connected home networks are being tested by consumers who are receiving updates on their dirty laundry via cell phones, computers and TV sets.  Messages not only indicate when a wash is complete but also can warn that a lint filter is clogged or a load is too large. Users can remotely command the machines to fluff dry clothes or start a load from a distance after being told — oops — they forgot to start the wash.  FULL STORY_AP 7/22/06

Solar-powered boat offers London lake cruise

It is slow and travels only a short distance, but builders of the Serpentine SolarShuttle say it is the most advanced passenger ferry on British waters.  Britain's biggest solar-powered boat debuted Tuesday on a lake in London's Hyde Park, opening what its developers hope is a door to the future of solar-powered transportation.  The Serpentine SolarShuttle -- powered entirely by the sun -- cruises at 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour ) and carries 42 passengers.  FULL STORY_CNN 7/18/06

Paralyzed man moves computer cursor through thought
A paralyzed man using a new brain sensor has been able to move a computer cursor, open e-mail and control a robotic device simply by thinking about doing it, a team of scientists said on Wednesday.  They believe the BrainGate sensor, which involves implanting electrodes in the brain, could offer new hope to people paralyzed by injuries or illnesses. "This is the first step in an ongoing clinical trial of a device that is encouraging for its potential to help people with paralysis," Dr Leigh Hochberg, of Massachusetts General Hospital, said in an interview.  "This is the dawn of major neurotechnology where the ability to take signals out of the brain has taken a big step forward. We have the ability to put signals into the brain but getting signals out is a real challenge. I think this represents a landmark event," said Professor John Donoghue of Brown University in Rhode Island and the chief scientific officer of Cyberkinetics. FULL STORY_   Reuters_7/12/06

June, 2006

Lighting the key to energy saving
A global switch to efficient lighting systems would trim the world's electricity bill by nearly one-tenth.  That is the conclusion of a study from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which it says is the first global survey of lighting uses and costs.  The carbon dioxide emissions saved by such a switch would, it concludes, dwarf cuts so far achieved by adopting wind and solar power.  Better building regulations would boost uptake of efficient lighting, it says.  "Lighting is a major source of electricity consumption," said Paul Waide, a senior policy analyst with the IEA and one of the report's authors. "Nineteen percent of global electricity generation is taken for lighting - that's more than is produced by hydro or nuclear stations, and about the same that's produced from natural gas," he told the BBC.  FULL STORY_   BBC 6/29/06

Computers 'set to read our minds'
An "emotionally aware" computer system designed to read people's minds by analysing expressions will be featured at a major London exhibition.  Visitors to the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition are being invited to help "train" the computer how to read joy, anger and other expressions.  Its designers say there are potential commercial uses, such as picking the right time to sell someone something.  But it may also help improve driver safety and help people with autism.  BBC_6/28/06

Bush admin to offer $170 M for solar energy
The Bush administration said on Wednesday it would offer $170 million to public and private partnerships to make solar energy more competitive with conventional electricity sources by 2015.  The funding would be for three years, beginning in fiscal-year 2007. It would require industry-led teams to match each dollar the government gives them toward the project, which could generate an additional $170 million.  The U.S. Energy Department said projects would need to focus on improving so-called photovoltaic cell technology which produces energy when exposed to light.  FULL STORY_Reuters 6/28/06

PC users 'want green machines'

Consumers are willing to pay up to an extra £108 ($197) for a PC containing fewer chemicals, a survey has found. People also feel manufacturers should take responsibility for the disposal of old machines, the research shows. So-called e-waste is a growing global problem, with 30 million PCs being dumped each year in the US alone. The nine-nation study by Ipsos-Mori for Greenpeace coincides with an announcement by PC maker Dell to phase out a number of toxic chemicals in its products.  Full Story BBC News_ 6/26/06

May, 2006

Rubber highway to beat congestion; Bikers and walkers concerned
A congestion-beating project that could lead to some of the UK's 9,000 miles (14,500km) of disused railway being paved with rubber, has been launched.  The flexible highways are made of panels of shredded car tyres laid over the existing tracks.  New thoroughfares could be shared by both cars and trams travelling at up to 50mph (80km/h) say Holdfast, the company behind the scheme.  But some users of disused railways do not support the scheme.  "We would like to see these routes converted into walking and cycling routes," said Gill Harrison, a spokesperson for sustainable transport charity Sustrans.  The charity has converted approximately 1,000 miles (1,600km) of disused railways into part of the National Cycle Network.  "More road space does not automatically mean less congestion," she said.  "More roads just get filled up with more cars. We're not saying that cars do not have their place, but ultimately we've all got to think about other ways of getting around." 

FULL STORY_ BBC 5/31/06

Converting trash gas into energy gold

Methane wells

The trash you toss in the garbage could end up powering your lights, computer and washing machine, because in the world of alternative energy, one man's trash is another man's treasure trove of fuel.  With the growing concern for U.S. dependence on foreign oil and recognition of shrinking fossil fuel reserves, new attention is being focused on renewable sources of energy.

One such source that already is being converted to electricity is landfill gas.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, every person in America produces an average of 4.5 pounds of garbage per day. Much of that trash goes into landfills, which are the largest human-related source of methane in the United States.  In 1994, the EPA formed the Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. LMOP Team Leader Brian Guzzone said since methane is both a pollutant greenhouse gas and a source of energy, it offers a good opportunity to reduce greenhouse emissions and provide energy.  The process of converting landfill gas into energy is relatively simple. A series of wells sunk into a landfill collect the gas, which is then used to burn in engines and boilers, heat greenhouses, fuel vehicles, etc. Guzzone said landfill gas can be used just as traditional fuels such as coal and natural gas are used. "It's comparable to natural gas," he said.  FULL STORY_CNN 5/25/06

Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee warns of 'dark' net

The web should remain neutral and resist attempts to fragment it into different services, web inventor Berners-Lee has said. Recent attempts in the US to try to charge for different levels of online access web were not "part of the internet model," he said in Edinburgh. He warned that if the US decided to go ahead with a two-tier internet, the network would enter "a dark period". The British scientist developed the web in 1989 as an academic tool to allow scientists to share data. The World Wide Web Consortium, of which Sir Tim is the director, believes in an open model. This is based on the concept of network neutrality, where everyone has the same level of access to the web and that all data moving around the web is treated equally. This view is backed by companies like Microsoft and Google, who have called for legislation to be introduced to guarantee net neutrality. The first steps towards this were taken last week when members of the US House of Representatives introduced a net neutrality bill. But telecoms companies in the US do not agree. They would like to implement a two-tier system, where data from companies or institutions that can pay are given priority over those that cannot.  Full Story BBC News_ 5/23/06

Impressive new tricks of light, all within the laws of physics

In the latest example of logic-defying tricks that physicists can now perform with light, Dr. Robert W. Boyd and his colleagues at the University of Rochester, demonstrated an optical fiber — a glass strand that transmits pulses of light — with a couple of odd characteristics:

A pulse of light shot into the fiber departs before it enters.

Within the fiber, the pulse travels backward — and faster than the speed of light.

Perhaps most amazingly, Dr. Boyd's results do not violate any law of physics. The effect is indeed predicted by the equations describing the propagation of waves. An article describing the experiment appears in the current issue of the journal Science. Dr. Boyd said this effect might find some application in speeding up optical communications, but it is, for now, mostly just an impressive trick of physics.  Full Story  New York Times_ 5/16/06 (logon required)

US House of Representatives passes $10M hydrogen prize

Scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs will be able to vie for a grand prize of $10 million, and smaller prizes reaching millions of dollars, under House-passed legislation to encourage research into hydrogen as an alternative fuel.  Legislation creating the "H-Prize," modeled after the privately funded Ansari X Prize that resulted last year in the first privately developed manned rocket to reach space twice, passed the House Wednesday on a 416-6 vote. A companion bill is to be introduced in the Senate this week. "This is an opportunity for a triple play," said bill sponsor Rep. Bob Inglis, R-South Carolina, citing benefits to national security from reduced dependence on foreign oil, cleaner air from burning pollution-free hydrogen and new jobs. "If we can reinvent the car, imagine the jobs we can create."  FULL STORY_CNN 5/11/06

Short film delivers nanotech for the masses

A baseball zooms through clouds, straight through a wall and into the waiting hand of actor Adam Smith, who is tricked out like a magician, complete with wand, tuxedo and top hat. "How do you do it?" Smith asks conspiratorially. "You just need a small enough ball, of course."  But Smith isn't really explaining a magic trick. He's talking nanotech, in the new short film "When Things Get Small." The 30-minute flick -- a collaboration between physicist Ivan Schuller of the University of California at San Diego and producer Rich Wargo -- is a corny romp through Schuller's research into building the world's smallest magnet.

Before becoming a scientist, Schuller studied theater in college, an avocation that sparked his passion for changing the way scientists communicate with the public. His shtick is science as entertainment, and "When Things Get Small" is his first film effort. It may not be high art, but it smoothly introduces physics concepts while poking fun at stuffy science stereotypes. 

FULL STORY_ CNN 5/6/06

'Cloaking device' idea proposed

The work brings science fiction closer to science fact - just a little
The cloaking devices that are used to render spacecraft invisible in Star Trek might just work in reality, two mathematicians have claimed.  They have outlined their concept in a research paper published in one of the UK Royal Society's scientific journals.

Nicolae Nicorovici and Graeme Milton propose that placing certain objects close to a material called a superlens could make them appear to vanish.  It would rely on an effect known as "anomalous localised resonance".  If the speck of dust is close enough it induces a very aggressive response in the cloaking material.  However, the authors have so far only done the maths to verify that the concept could work. Building such a device would undoubtedly pose a significant challenge. 

FULL STORY_BBC News 5/5/06

Exhibit salutes father of rocket science

He was a sickly boy, often bedridden with tuberculosis, who passed the time with fantastical stories by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells that made his mind imagine otherworldly exploration.  But for Robert Goddard, who would become the founding father of rocket science decades before men were sent to the moon, traveling to places far from Earth wasn't just the stuff of fiction. In "Lift Off: Reaching for the Stars," an exhibit on display at the Worcester Historical Museum through July 22, Goddard's influence on space travel is traced with photos and a narrative timeline from his boyhood dreams in Worcester to the science he developed to make them happen.  Full Story_ The Associated Press 4/19/06

March, 2006

US-UK chemists work on plastic to rival silicon

The invention could eventually slash the cost of flat panel screens and bring electronic paper into common use. The new material can also be laid down using simple printing techniques rather than the expensive and elaborate methods used to process silicon. The plastic, reported in the journal Nature Materials, is the work of a US-UK industrial and academic team.  Full Story BBC News_ 3/20/06

Hackers get Mac to run Microsoft's Windows XP; Let the games begin

The anonymous pair who managed the feat won $13,854 (£7,895) in prize money for their trouble. The success ends a competition started to see if the feat was even possible when Apple unveiled computers that used Intel chips. The software used to put Windows on the Mac is now being circulated so others can try to replicate the success. The rules of the competition stressed that to win hackers must get both Windows XP and Apple's OSX running on the same machine and neither operating system must conflict with the other. As late as 7 March, Apple technical experts were saying that the prize money was unlikely to be collected. Many people discussing the feat online stress that it is of more than casual interest. One of the many reasons that Apple machines have not proved more popular is because of the relatively small number of programs, in particular games, created for them. With work, many of the hugely popular programs for Windows may be able to run on Apple machines too.  Full Story BBC News_ 3/17/06

Research confirms Snuppy is world's 1st cloned dog
His creator has been discredited and controversy has long surrounded him but scientists confirmed on Wednesday that an Afghan hound named Snuppy is the world's first cloned dog.  A panel of experts at Seoul National University and researchers in the United States carried out similar DNA experiments using blood samples from Snuppy, the cell donor dog and the surrogate mother. They said the results showed he was cloned by researchers led by disgraced South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk. FULL STORY_Reuters 3/8/06

Purdue probes 'cold fusion' fraud claim

Purdue University is investigating complaints about a scientist who claimed to have achieved "cold fusion" using sound waves to make bubbles in a test tube, the university said.  Nuclear engineer Rusi Taleyarkhan's work has been controversial since he published a study in 2002 claiming to have achieved the Holy Grail of energy production -- nuclear fusion at room temperature. Nuclear fusion is the process that powers the sun.  If scientists can duplicate the results and harness the technology, tabletop fusion has the potential to provide an almost limitless source of cheap energy.  Many labs are working frantically to try to do so, but their efforts are difficult to substantiate and especially susceptible to being labeled as fraud.  Taleyarkhan, whose study was published while he was at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, now works at Purdue University in Indiana and has also been trying to replicate his earlier findings.  In his original report, published in the journal Science in 2002, Talayarkhan and colleagues said they created nuclear fusion in a beaker of chemically altered acetone by bombarding it with neutrons and then sound waves to make bubbles. When the bubbles burst, the researchers said they detected fusion energy.  FULL STORY_CNN 3/8/06

Deal done on .com domain future

The body that oversees net addresses has approved a controversial deal over the future of the .com domain.  The deal gives US firm Verisign control of .com until 2012 and lets it raise prices in at least four of the next six years.  The board of net overseer the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was split over the agreement.  Critics said the deal virtually granted Verisign an everlasting monopoly over the iconic net domain.  Full Story_BBC 3/1/06

MIT's fountain of innovation gets a new leader who's job is in the future

Frank Moss, who was named last week as the new director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: "My job is to live in the future 20 years from today." It will also be his job to keep persuading major companies to look upon the Media Lab, which was co-founded by Nicholas Negroponte, as an incubator for their future products and innovations. The Media Lab relies heavily on sponsors from corporate America to keep it running. And it must compete for the money with other universities — like Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and the California Institute of Technology — which have started similar research centers. Mr. Moss, who is 56, expects that technology will change society more profoundly in the next 20 years than it has in the past 20, by easing the burden of aging and improving communication, health care and education. The Media Lab's chairman, Mr. Negroponte, is stepping down to focus on One Laptop per Child, a nonprofit organization he started last year to create and provide $100 laptop computers to children, especially in developing countries. Full Story New York Times_ 2/19/06 (logon required)

Adventurer Steve Fossett breaks longest non-stop flight record in dramatic finish

Fossett, 61, took the record as he flew over Shannon in Ireland. In total he has flown 26,389.3 miles around the globe since lift-off on Wednesday. Generator failure as he descended to Kent prompted him to make a mayday call and divert to Bournemouth. On landing with limited visibility, two tyres burst, but Fossett was unhurt. He had planned to end his journey at Kent International Airport. Fossett said: "It was too exciting a finish." Fossett's 76-hour, 45-minutye flight broke the aeroplane distance record of 24,987 miles as well as the balloon record of 25,361 miles. He eclipsed the distance record set by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, who logged 40,212km (24,987 miles) during a non-stop, non-refuelled trip around the globe in their Voyager aircraft in 1986.   Full Story  BBC News_ 2/11/06

Fossett alters flight plan

Adventurer Steve Fossett on Friday altered his route over the Atlantic Ocean to make up for lost fuel and weak winds in his quest to break aviation's distance record.  Fossett originally planned to fly his lightweight experimental plane on a northeasterly path across the Atlantic that would allow Newfoundland to serve as an emergency landing site.  But the adjusted path has Fossett crossing Florida, where he began his nonstop trip early Wednesday, and taking a more southerly path on the flight's last leg to take advantage of better winds. He planned to land Saturday in Kent, England. Full Story_ CNN 2/10/06

Fuel leak could threaten distance record

A fuel leak, soaring heat in the cockpit and weak winds jeopardized adventurer Steve Fossett's quest to break aviation's distance record Thursday as he flew over Asia in his lightweight experimental plane.  Fossett's team had calculated that he would have 500 pounds to 1,000 pounds of fuel left at the end of the 3 1/2-day trip, but the loss of 750 pounds of fuel to a leak during takeoff at the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday left no margin for error, the team said on Day 2 of the voyage.  "The fuel loss will diminish the total number of miles it is able to travel," mission control director Kevin Stass said in a statement.  Full Story_CNN 2/9/06

U.S. aviator Steve Fossett takes off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in attempt at longest non-stop flight

His journey in the Virgin GlobalFlyer will take him around the world once and across the Atlantic twice, landing in Kent, UK. If the 61-year-old makes it, the 80-hour trip will eclipse the 1,126 km (700 miles) non-stop distance record set by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager in 1986. GlobalFlyer is a glider-like, graphite aircraft with a 35m (114ft) wing span. It is the first experimental plane built by the private sector to take off from Cape Canaveral. His plane is equipped with a parachute pack holding a one-man raft and a satellite rescue beacon, just in case.   Full Story   BBC News_ 2/8/06

Lighting the way to a revolution
The information superhighway owes its very existence to fibre optics. With a very thin tube, light and some engineering know-how you have the components for speeding information around the world. The communication revolution was set in motion 40 years ago, when a landmark paper was revealed to the engineering community. In 1966, Dr Charles Kuen Kao and George Hockman, both young research engineers from the Standard Telecommunications Laboratories, addressed a meeting at the Institute of Electrical Engineers in London with their exciting new findings on the possibilities of optical fibres.  Full Story BBC News_  2/6/06

China leads rise in international patent filings

A burst of international patent applications from China, Korea and Japan boosted global filings to a record high last year, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said. Chinese firms sought 44 percent more international patents in 2005 than the year before and filings from companies including telecoms equipment makers Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp. made China the 10th largest international patent seeker in 2005 -- ahead of Australia, Italy and Canada. The United States, Japan and Germany logged the most international applications last year. Netherlands-based consumer electronics group Philips was the largest individual filer with nearly 2,500 applications, WIPO said.  Full Story  Reuters_ 2/2/06

Western Union says telegram era over - STOP

For more than 150 years, messages of joy, sorrow and success came in signature yellow envelopes hand-delivered by a courier. Now the Western Union telegram is officially a thing of the past. The company formed in April 1856 to exploit the hot technology of the telegraph to send cross-country messages in less than a day. It is now focusing its attention on money transfers and other financial services, and delivered its final telegram on Friday. Several telegraph companies that eventually combined to become Western Union were founded in 1851.  Full Story AP/MSNBC_ 2/2/06

January, 2006

Intel makes first chip at tiny new scale
Intel Corp. said on Wednesday it had made the world's first microchip using tiny new manufacturing methods that promise to let the world's top chipmaker make more powerful, efficient processors.  The fingernail-sized memory chip is etched with 1 billion transistors that are only 45 nanometers wide -- about 1,000 times smaller than a red blood cell, said Mark Bohr, a leading Intel engineer.  "It will pack about two times as many transistors per unit area and use less power. It will help future products and platforms deliver improved performance," Bohr told Reuters in an interview.  Full Story_ Reuters 1/25/06

Korean cloning scandal shows system works: expert
South Korea's cloning scandal shows that the current research system can police itself and that governments don't need to crack down on scientific fraud, a stem cell expert said on Wednesday.  Scientist Hwang Woo-suk has been stripped of his titles at Seoul National University, and South Korean prosecutors have said Hwang's team did not produce any human embryonic stem cells in 2004 and 2005, as it had claimed in landmark papers.  The scandal has stunned scientists, who believed that Hwang had made a technological breakthrough in first cloning a human embryo and then making several more as sources of tailor-made embryonic stem cells.  "My biggest ... concern was that the public would blame all of science," said Dr. Evan Snyder, stem cell program director at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, California.  "Hwang's downfall carries two serious implications for the public's perception of science. First, it reinforces the view that scientists cannot be trusted. Second, it creates the impression that stem-cell biology has been discredited or that progress in this field has been brought to a standstill. Both conclusions would be terribly wrong," Snyder wrote in a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Full Story_ Reuters 1/25/06

Life without a Blackberry? Users shudder to think

The chance of a Blackberry-less future loomed more vividly this week when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a major patent infringement ruling against maker Research In Motion Ltd. Now, a federal judge could issue an injunction to block RIM's U.S. business. Many observers, however, suspect RIM may develop alternative technology or perhaps pay what some say could be as much as a billion dollars to settle with patent-holding company NTP Inc. So pervasive is the Blackberry culture, with some 3.65 million customers, that the device is nicknamed the "Crackberry" for its addictive allure. And it's blamed for woes ranging from rudeness to injury to obsession. The legal battle over Blackberry goes back to 2002 when NTP successfully sued RIM for using its patents. In a recent study of 1,700 e-mail users in Europe and the Middle East, 75 percent said they think it is addictive. Full Story Reuters_ 1/24/06

Web sites judged in a blink

Internet users can give Web sites a thumbs up or thumbs down in less than the blink of an eye, according to a study by Canadian researchers.  In just a brief one-twentieth of a second -- less than half the time it takes to blink -- people make aesthetic judgments that influence the rest of their experience with an Internet site. The study was published in the latest issue of the Behaviour and Information Technology journal. The author said the findings had powerful implications for the field of Web site design.  Full Story_CNN1/18/06

California home to 27 new species

Twenty-seven previously unknown species of spiders, centipedes, scorpion-like creatures and other animals have been discovered in the dark, damp caves beneath two national parks in the Sierra Nevada, biologists say. "Not only are these animals new to science, but they're adapted to very specific environments -- some of them, to a single room in one cave," said Joel Despain, a cave specialist who helped explore 30 of the 238 known caves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The discoveries included a relative of the pill bug so translucent that its internal organs are visible, particularly its long, bright yellow liver. There was also a daddy long legs with jaws bigger than its body, and a tiny fluorescent orange spider. 

Full Story_CNN 1/18/06

World's largest wetland under threat in Brazil
The world's largest wetland, Brazil's Pantanal, is being destroyed by increased farming, ranching and mining, according to a report by the environmental watchdog Conservation International.  The threat mirrors the more publicized situation in the Amazon, where ranchers and loggers have cleared vast areas of the rain forest at an alarming rate.  The Pantanal, an area of low-lying forests, marshes, and dry plains, covers about 77,230 square miles in the western Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul near the borders with Bolivia and Paraguay.  It is home to a huge variety of wildlife, including jaguars, anteaters, tapirs and crocodiles, and it floods in the rainy season.  The Conservation International report said deforestation had destroyed 17 percent of the natural vegetation of the Pantanal and if it continued unchecked, all the original forest would disappear within 45 years.   Full Story_ Reuters 1/12/06

World's biggest polluters create clean energy fund
Australia kick-started a climate change pact of six of the world's biggest polluters on Thursday by committing A$100 million ($75 million) for a clean-energy fund to tackle global warming.  The inaugural Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate meeting in Sydney aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions with the support of industry and without hindering economic growth.  But it also sets no targets on members to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases released by burning fossil fuels. Critics say the partnership is short-sighted and doomed to fail because it imposes no targets on members the United States, Australia, Japan, China, South Korea and India.  Australian Prime Minister John Howard stressed to the importance of maintaining economic growth, alleviating poverty and cutting greenhouse emissions.  Full Story_ Reuters 1/11/06

Singapore nets US cancer experts in biomedics drive
When top U.S. scientists Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins arrive in Singapore to set up a new cancer research project, they will bring some extraordinary luggage: thousands and thousands of mice.  The husband-and-wife team will bring 50 to 100 different strains of mice for their research into the most common types of human cancer when they move to the city-state in coming weeks. Their decision to relocate to Singapore -- which they chose over leading U.S. cancer research centers at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering and California's Stanford University -- is a coup for Singapore, where the government is spending billions of dollars to develop its biomedical industry.  "They are a big catch. They are prominent researchers, very successful in the U.S.," said Alan Colman, the British scientist whose team cloned Dolly, the world's most famous sheep.Colman himself is one of a cluster of star scientists that Singapore has lured in a bid to put the city-state of 4.4 million people on the map for biomedical research and drugs production.  Full Story_ Reuters 1/5/06

Past gives clue to climate impact
A rapid rise in global temperature 55 million years ago caused major disruption to ocean currents, new research shows.  Scientists found that the disruption took 140,000 years to reverse.  Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists say the phenomenon may be important for understanding the impact of present day climate warming.  Recent research suggests north Atlantic currents which bring heat to northern Europe may be weakening.  Full Story_BBC 1/5/06

Energising the quest for 'big theory'
'Theoretical physics' at a critical juncture

"We are at a point where experiments must guide us, we cannot make progress without them," explains Jim Virdee, a particle physicist at Imperial College London. "We must wait for the data to speak." Over a coffee in the lobby of building 40 at Cern, the sprawling experimental facility situated on the Swiss-French border, Professor Virdee says physics has reached a critical juncture.  In the 1970s, the theory known as the Standard Model was considered a triumph of theoretical physics, incorporating all that was then known about the interactions of sub-atomic particles. Today it is regarded as incomplete, a mere stepping stone to something else.  Full Story_ BBC 1/3/06

 

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