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Tech News January-June 2005

June, 2005

100 million go online in China
Millions of Chinese go online via internet cafes

The number of internet users in China has risen above 100 million for the first time, according to reports in the country's state media.  Only the US now has more web surfers as young and old Chinese take to the internet in record numbers

China's economic boom is behind the dramatic rise as increasing personal wealth means more people are able to buy computers and go online.  Full Story_ BBC 6/28/05

Gates' millions to tackle disease in the developing world
British scientists have been awarded multi-million pound grants for research into tuberculosis, malaria and HIV by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.  Mr Gates is donating £240m to 43 projects world-wide designed to tackle some of the world's biggest killers.  Full Story_ BBC 6/29/05

Jack Kilby, inventor of integrated circuit, dies
Jack Kilby, inventor of the integrated circuit, the basis of the computer chip revolution and foundation of what is now a trillion-dollar industry, died of cancer on Monday.  Kilby, 81, made the discovery 47 years ago, when, as a recently hired engineer at Texas Instruments Inc., he was left to work alone in a laboratory while most of his 7,500 colleagues were taking a company-wide summer vacation leave.  "It was a very quiet time and he got a lot done," said Pat Weber, 65, a long-time colleague and friend of Kilby's, who retired as vice chairman of Dallas-based Texas Instruments in 1998.  Kilby, a seminal 20th-century inventor whom many place in the same league as Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2000 for his work.   Full Story Reuters _6/21/05

Nanotech delivers cancer treatment

Scientists using nanotechnology have devised a way of delivering cancer drugs that could make them up to 10 times more effective in combating the killer disease.  By attaching a chemotherapeutic drug to manmade nanoparticles, the team of researchers at the University of Michigan were able to smuggle it inside cancerous cells, delaying the growth of tumors in mice by up to 30 days -- the equivalent of three years in a human.  Professor of biologic nanotechnology James Baker, who led the research, said that the treatment might eventually turn cancer into a chronic but treatable condition.  Full Story CNN_6/21/05

Atomic ticker clocks up 50 years
The first atomic clock, which uses the resonance frequencies of atoms to keep extremely precise time, was born at the UK's National Physical Laboratory. Atomic clocks form the standard for Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which governs legal time-keeping globally. Even London's Big Ben relies on atomic clocks to keep it right. The first accurate caesium atomic clock was developed at the NPL in 1955 by Dr Louis Essen.  Full Story   BBC News_ 6/2/05

May, 2005

Machines' way with words

It has happened to most of us. The phone call you make to your bank is answered by a talking machine. It asks questions, you answer and then it asks more questions. Voice recognition systems are becoming more prevalent... and scarily efficient. There is no doubt that soon the androids will speak better than we do, and they are much, much cheaper... they are much, much cheaper... much, much cheaper.  Full Story  BBC News_ 5/28/05

Interactive 'Clickers' changing classrooms

"Clickers," handheld wireless devices to provide student feedback to questions posed by professors in the lecture hall, are being used on hundreds of college campuses and are even finding their way into grade schools.  They alter classroom dynamics, engaging students in large, impersonal lecture halls with the power of mass feedback. "Clickers" ease fears of giving a wrong answer in front of peers, or of expressing unpopular opinions. 

Full Story_ AP 5/13/05

DARPA says funding to universities rising

The Pentagon has not cut funds for university studies of fundamental science and technology in favor of projects with more of an immediate impact to the military, the director of the Defense Department's research agency affirmed.  The statement countered criticism from computer scientists who complained their funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been reduced at the same time the agency seems to be focusing more on near-term research projects.  In the past, military-funded basic research at universities has led - eventually - to the Internet, databases and other new computer technologies. Critics fear that the military's shift from "blue sky" research would undermine the nation's technological leadership.  Full Story_ AP 5/12/05

Indian firm unveils low-cost Linux-based PCs
Indian technology firm Encore Software will soon offer a low-priced Linux-based mobile computer.The new machine, called Mobilis, is powered by Intel's XScale PXA255 200/400MHz processor and has 128MB of SDRAM, the company said. It features a 7.4-inch VGA LCD screen, roll-up keyboard, touch screen with stylus input, six-hour battery life and a case that opens up as a desktop stand, Encore said. The machine weighs 750 grams, or about 1.6 pounds.  The basic Mobilis model will be priced at about 10,000 rupees, or $230, while the version with the TFT screen and integrated keyboard may be priced at about 15,000 rupees, or $347.  Full Story  _ CNet News.com 5/10/05

Small box 'to end digital divide'
A pared down "computer" to replace bulky, grey desktop PCs could help close global digital inequalities. The boxes mean small companies, schools or cybercafes can set up cheaply. Not-for-profit developers, Ndiyo - the Swahili word for "yes" - said it could open up the potential of computing to two billion more people. The sub-£100 box, called Nivo, runs on open-source software and is known as a "thin client". Several can be linked up to a central "brain", or server. Thin clients are not new, but advances have made them more user-friendly.  Full Story  BBC News_ 4/30/05

Solar firms say silicon shortage will stall growth

Takashi Tomita of Japan's Sharp, the world's biggest solar-cell maker, warned of what he called a "vicious spiral" in which the market could grind to a halt as rocketing silicon prices meant suppliers could not afford to meet demand. The solar market currently supplies a fraction of 1 percent of the world's energy needs and is worth an estimated $7 billion annually. The industry may increase that proportion to 8 percent by 2030, according to the European Renewable Energy Council. Silicon makes up most of the earth's crust, but it is very expensive to purify into forms such as polysilicon that are used in the high-tech industry.  Full Story Reuters_ 4/13/05

Nanotechnology's promise for global poor
Nanotechnology's biggest impact on millions in the developing world could be in better energy production and storage methods, according to a report. A panel of 63 specialists worldwide was asked by the Canadian Joint Centre for Bioethics (JCB) to identify the most promising areas of nanotech. The panel said nanosciences could also significantly improve agriculture, water treatment, disease diagnosis, drug delivery systems, food processing and storage, air pollution, construction and vector and pest control. The nanotech impact study is reported in PLoS Medicine, the US-based Public Library of Science.  Full story BBC News_ 4/11/05

Hide-and-seek alarm rousts sleepyheads from bed

A 25-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology student has invented a revolutionary alarm clock that makes sleepyheads find it to quiet it. Designed to overcome abuse of the snooze feature on most alarm clocks, Gauri Nanda's "Clocky" falls to the floor and rolls away on the first push of the snooze button. To turn it off, a person must get out of bed and find it.  Full Story Reuters_ 4/8/05

March, 2005

The music goes on Side A and the flip side is a DVD

Matchbox 20's lead singer Rob Thomas's "Something to Be," due April 19 from Atlantic, part of the Warner Music Group, is among the first albums by a major artist to be released only on DualDisc, a new format being introduced by the major labels that includes a traditional CD on one side of a disc and DVD content on the other. At a time when the music business is still suing illegal file-sharers whom, the industry claims, are causing them to lose sales, the major music labels are hoping the DualDisc format will give them a multimedia carrot that can be used along with the legal stick. Full Story New York Times_ 3/21/05 (logon required)

New computer mouse takes the tremor out of hands

The device uses similar "steady cam" technology found in camcorders to filter out shaking hand movements. People with hand tremors find it hard to use conventional mice for simple computer tasks because of the erratic movements of the cursor on the screen. Most commonly associated with tremors is Parkinson's disease, but they can also be caused by other conditions like Essential Tremor (ET). Full Story BBC News_ 3/14/05

Singapore topples US from top spot in world economies that make the best use of information and communication technology (ICT)
The report considers things like affordability of telephone services. The US has been outpaced by the advance of other nations, rather than any slow down in its own performance. The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) index placed Singapore, Iceland, Finland and Denmark above the US, with the UK up three places in 12th spot. Singapore was found to be the best performer in a number of categories, including quality of maths and science education, affordability of telephone connection charges and internet access, and government policy on ICT.  Full Story  BBC News_ 3/9/05

Nobel physics laureate Hans Bethe dead at 98

Bethe, who fled Nazi Germany and became a key figure in the development of the first atomic bomb, died at his home in Ithaca, New York, Cornell University said. He was 98. Bethe, who died Sunday, won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1967 for discoveries about energy production in stars. He was emeritus professor of physics at Cornell, which he joined in 1935 after leaving Germany. Full Story   Reuters_ 3/7/05

Adventurer Steve Fossett completes first nonstop, solo global flight without refueling

After nearly three days in the air, his single-engine jet-powered experimental plane touched down in Salina, Kansas, 67 hours after leaving the same municipal air strip. The last day of Fossett's flight was troubled by a fuel shortage that could have jeopardized its completion.  Full Story Reuters_ 3/3/05

Internet boom of '90s may never return to the Silicon Valley, says mayor of San Jose, California

Even if the region doesn't experience the same intensity of economic growth it saw in the late 1990s, the area is steadily rebounding, said San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales. The peak of the Internet boom in Silicon Valley centered around San Jose came exactly five years ago as many investors were convinced that even unprofitable tech companies could do no wrong. Many start ups fueled by venture capital eventually went bust and Silicon Valley lost 200,000 jobs and was one of the worst-hit regions in a nationwide recession.  Full Story  Reuters_ 3/2/05

Steve Fossett's attempt to fly solo, non-stop around the globe without refueling has fuel worry

His GlobalFlyer plane has reached China - half way around the world - but he has insufficient fuel to get him home to Kansas without favourable winds. Mission controllers will have to decide whether to call off the attempt before Fossett heads out over the Pacific. The adventurer left the US on Tuesday at 0500 GMT and was expected to return to the Salina airport on Thursday.  Full Story  BBC News_ 3/2/05

February, 2005

Jef Raskin, Mac interface expert, dies at 61
Jef Raskin, the human-computer interface expert largely credited with beginning the Macintosh project for Apple Computer, died Saturday of cancer at age 61.  Raskin, who named the Macintosh after his favorite fruit, joined Apple in January 1978 as employee No. 31. The Macintosh was launched in 1984, but Raskin left Apple in 1982 amid a well-documented dispute with Steve Jobs.   

Full Story  CNET News.com_2/27/05

Bank of America loses a million customer records

A "small" number of backup tapes with records detailing the financial information of government employees were lost in shipment to a backup center, Bank of America said.  The tapes contained information on the customers and accounts of the U.S. government's SmartPay charge card program, which has more than 2.1 million members and annual transactions totaling more than $21 billion, according to the General Services Administration. Reports have pegged the number of cards affected at 1.2 million. 

Full Story _CNET News 2/26/05

Report: 'Digital divide' narrowing fast

The "digital divide" between rich and poor nations is narrowing fast, the World Bank said on Thursday, calling into question a costly United Nations campaign to bring high-tech telecommunications to the developing world. The World Bank said in a report that telecommunications services to poor countries were growing at an explosive rate. 

Full Story_CNET News.com 2/24/05

Google's toolbar sparks concern
Search engine firm Google has released a trial tool which is concerning some net users because it directs people to pre-selected commercial websites. Users can switch the feature on or off. Google said the feature, available only in the US, "adds useful links". But some users are concerned that Google's dominant position in the search engine market place could mean it would be giving a competitive edge to firms like Amazon.  Full Story BBC News_ 2/22/05

Rays to nab nuclear smugglers
US researchers plan to use energetic particles called muons that shower Earth from space to detect smuggled nuclear material held in vehicles and cargo containers. By tracking the muons, the scientists can see through lead, steel and other heavy shielding that might be used to mask a radioactive source. The Los Alamos National Laboratory team discussed the plan at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Full Story BBC News_ 2/21/05

European Parliament rejects bill to patent software

The bill was backed by hi-tech firms that said they needed the protections it offered to make research worthwhile. Hugo Lueders, European director for public policy at CompTIA, an umbrella organization for technology companies, said only when intellectual property was adequately protected would European inventors prosper. But opponents of the bill said that it could stifle innovation, be abused by firms keen to protect existing monopolies and could hamper the growth of the open source movement.  Full Story  BBC News_ 2/17/05

PCs do 4,000 years work in three-month grid project for the Institute of Systems Biology

Grids let ordinary desktops play a big role in helping humankind. Since November, thousands have joined the World Community Grid (WCG) which uses idle computer time to help solve serious health and social problems. Over 4,000 "teams" have been running a simple program which processes proteins. The Seattle-based Institute of Systems Biology is working out the role of proteins in bodies. By the time the project ends it is predicted that more than 20,000 years of computing will have been done. Full Story BBC News_ 2/17/05

Microsoft plans new version of Internet Explorer: IE7 offers better security

The move is the latest in Microsoft's three-year effort to beef up security. Its products are the most-targeted by malicious programmers, and it has bought security companies recently, leading to speculation it may launch its own anti-virus program.  Full Story Reuters_ 2/15/05

Blind student at New York's Cornell University develops software that turns colourts into musical notes so he can read weather maps

Victor Wong, a graduate student from Hong Kong, enlisted the help of a computer graphics specialist and another student to do the programming work. The software assigns one of 88 piano notes to individually coloured pixels - ranging from blue at the lower end of this scale to red at the upper end. Mr Wong says the application is still very much in its infancy but he hopes one day it can give blind people access to photographs and other images.  Full Story  BBC News_ 2/14/05

Rogue code poses problems for Microsoft

Microsoft has urged customers to apply its latest security patches, after several companies published "proof of concept" attacks that exploit the flaws that the updates fix.  In a notice posted to its Web site, the software giant highlighted proof-of-concept documentation, or sample software code to illustrate how a flaw might be used to attack a system, from two security software makers: Finjan Software and Core Security Technologies.  Full Story_ CNET News 2/11/05

Google may host encyclopedia project

Wiki Media Foundation, the group behind the Wikipedia online encyclopedia project, announced that search giant Google has volunteered to host some of its content on company servers. Google representatives refused to confirm a deal.

Full Story_CNET 2/11/05

It's a warmer world, but does that mean armageddon?
When bears wake early from hibernation, Australia suffers its worst drought in 100 years and multiple hurricanes hammer Florida should we believe The End is nigh?  That's the nub of a debate over the human impact on global warming that pits scientists who say such anomalies are signs of impending doom against those who say they are evidence that the earth's climate has always been chaotic.

Full Story Reuters_2/11/05

Scientists say they often censor themselves
Some scientists are thinking twice about doing or reporting certain research, reacting to political and social controversy in addition to legal restrictions.  Controversy shapes what scientists choose to study and how they choose to study it, reseachers say. 

Full Story MSNBC_2/11/05

Evolution pioneer Ernst Mayr dies aged 100

The Harvard professor of zoology passed away at a retirement community in Massachusetts, US, following a brief illness, his family said. Amongst many achievements, Mayr may be remembered most for pioneering the modern definition of a species. Full Story  BBC News_ 2/7/05

Underground search in Switzerland for 'God particle'
At the foot of the Jura Mountains, where Switzerland meets France, is a laboratory so vast it boggles the mind. One hundred metres below Geneva's western suburbs is a dimly lit tunnel that runs in a circle for 27km (17 miles). The tunnel belongs to Cern, the European Centre for Nuclear Research. Though currently empty, over the next two years an enormous experiment will be installed here. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a powerful and impossibly complicated machine that will smash particles together at super-fast speeds in a bid to unlock the secrets of the Universe.  Full Story BBC News_ 2/4/05

January, 2005

In New Jersey, building contractors start to think 'green'

Some of the leading developers, architects and land use experts who favor conservation-minded, environmentally sensitive projects gathered at Rutgers University recently to chew over the issue, and delivered a somewhat surprising consensus: even in this highly built-up state, where the profit motive has long prevailed, the green movement is beginning to take root. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a voluntary rating and certification system developed five years ago by the United States Green Building Council. Points are awarded for various aspects of environmentally friendly design, and buildings are given bronze, silver, gold or platinum LEED ratings.  Full Story  New York Times_ 1/23/05 (logon required)

Global MapAid helps aid groups get real-time data, maps

With a combination of handheld computers, satellite phones and innovative software, Global MapAid can quickly draft and update maps that show the washed-out roads and altered coastline, the location of aid centers, even areas with contaminated water. After starting as a student project, Global MapAid has registered as a nonprofit organization. Its founder and chairman, Rupert Douglas-Bate, hit upon the idea years ago while working on a relief mission to Bosnia. Trained as a water engineer, he was assigned to repair drinking water systems that he couldn't find.  Full Story San Francisco Chronicle_ 1/17/05

IBM frees 500 software patents to encourage innovation

The move means developers will be able to use the technologies without paying for a licence from the company. IBM described the step as a "new era" in how it dealt with intellectual property and promised further patents would be made freely available. The patents include software for a range of practices, including text recognition and database management.  Full Story  BBC News_ 1/11/05

'Best in show' at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show

Everything from strange exercise equipment which requires the use of your entire body, to the largest plasma screen in the world which towers at 102 inches (2.6 metre), was on show. The BBC News website highlights a small selection of the products which caught the eye as the tech fair packs up for another year.  Full Story  BBC News_ 1/10/05

Physics goes in search of a language to engage a new audience
Einstein Year has been launched in the UK and Ireland to inspire the next generation of physicists. It is part of an International project - the World Year of Physics - and aims to demonstrate the relevance of the science to our everyday lives. It is also 100 years since Einstein put out three of the four papers that would change the way we viewed the Universe. Full Story  BBC News_ 1/5/05

Science and technology can tackle poverty - UN

A report for the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, on how to radically reduce poverty and hunger within 10 years says policymakers lack scientific inputs. The report, Innovation: Applying Knowledge In Development, was prepared by 27 international experts, the UN Millennium Project's task force on science, technology and innovation. It says science, technology and innovation have helped largely to eliminate poverty and hunger and have driven remarkable economic growth in much of south-east Asia and the Asian Pacific. Yet their potential for helping solve poverty and hunger elsewhere, most notably in Africa, is under-appreciated, the report says.  Full Story  BBC News_ 1/6/05

Top 25 technical innovations of the past 25 years: And No. 1 is ...

You'll have to wait until Sunday, January 16, to find out. But it's not the cell phone (No. 2) or the personal computer (No. 3) or the ATM (No. 14) or the space shuttle (No. 20). The top 25 list was created by a panel of technology leaders assembled by the Lemelson-MIT Program, which promotes inventiveness in teens.  Full Story  CNN_ 1/5/05

Electronics industry battles for the living room

Once the most technologically simple part of the average home, the living room is a high-tech battleground today as the consumer electronics industry seeks to digitize home entertainment and make it available anywhere, anytime. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) starting on Thursday in Las Vegas will set the agenda of what's in store in 2005 for the digital home-owner -- from ultra-high-definition television screens to music and video recorders and other networked appliances.  Full Story  Reuters_ 1/3/05

California sets fines for spyware
From 1 January, a new law, approved by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, is designed to safeguard people from hackers and help protect their personal information. Consumers are able to seek up to $1,000 in damages if they think they have fallen victim to the intrusive software. A recent survey by Earthlink and Webroot found that 90% of PCs are infested with the surreptitious software and that, on average, each one is harbouring 28 separate spyware programs.  Full Story  BBC News_ 1/1/05

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