Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 6, 2002

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Issue 6, 2002

This week's headlines:

Research shows mobile phone emissions affect living creatures
February 06, 2002

The safety of mobile phones is under fresh scrutiny following the discovery that their emissions have an unexpected effect on living creatures. Microwaves similar to those emitted by mobile phones have been found to increase the likelihood of nematode worms producing eggs.

The research by British scientists does not suggest mobile phones can affect human fertility, but the results are potentially far-reaching. The researchers say the effect is nothing to do with the way microwave radiation heats up cells, and they are still looking for an explanation. But the results provide the first clear evidence mobile phone radiation may have biological effects without warming tissues. Mild heating would normally make larval worms infertile as adults.

Until now, regulations designed to protect people from microwave radiation have been based purely on avoiding heating from the microwave radiation. There is no evidence that cellphone emissions have harmed people's health.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

EU decides antitrust complaints against Intel are unfounded
February 04, 2002

European regulators have dropped a yearlong investigation into accusations that Intel abused its position as the top computer-chip maker to keep rivals from winning market share, officials said Monday.

One of two complaints that Intel rivals filed with the European Commission, which enforces EU antitrust law, has recently been withdrawn, commission spokeswoman Amelia Torres said. After investigating the other complaint, the commission has 'come to the preliminary conclusion that the accusations made against Intel are unfounded,' she said. 'Our intention is to close the file soon.'

The EU investigation followed a similar probe by the US Federal Trade Commission, which ended in September 2000 with no legal action taken.

Full story: Nando Times / AP Back to top

US landmark decision in online copyright case
February 07, 2002

In an important decision for the application of copyright law on the internet, a US federal appeals court has ruled that while websites may legally reproduce and post 'thumbnail' versions of copyrighted photographs, displaying full-sized copies of the images violates artists' exclusive right to display their own works.

The case was brought by a photographer who sued search engine Arriba for carrying his pictures on its site. Arriba scours the internet for pictures and displays the results of a search request using thumbnails of the actual work. Clicking on the thumbnail leads the visitor to a page that uses a technology called 'framing' or 'inlinking', in which an image from another website is imported and displayed at full size.

From the user's perspective, the picture appears as if it were part of the search engine's own webpage, when in fact clicking on the thumbnail transports the user to the artist's website.

Full story: Newsbytes Back to top

White House seeks 8 per cent rise in IT spending
February 05, 2002

The US federal government, the world's largest spender on Information Technology, intends to raise IT investment by 8 per cent next year to $52bn.

If the proposals are passed by Congress, the increase would provide an important boost to the hard-pressed IT industry which has been pummelled by sharp cuts in investment by the private sector.

Most of the planned increase would be spent beefing up the country's war on international terrorism, home security and general efforts to improve government productivity. The IT budget would jump from $48bn this year.

In all, the White House plans to allocate $57bn to science and technology, a record high, and a 9 per cent increase on this year.

Full story: Financial Times Back to top

BT claim of hyperlinking patent heads to court
February 07, 2002

A US federal court will hear preliminary arguments next week to determine if the most elemental of internet activities - hyperlinking - is the property of one company, protected in the form of a patent. British BT Group believes it holds such a patent covering 'hypertext links'. On Monday, BT will go to court to try to cash in on it.

The company's first target is Prodigy, the oldest online access service, which dates back to 1984 and is now a unit of SBC Communications, the second largest US local telephone company. BT maintains that Prodigy, with its 3.6 million customers, is in violation of a hyperlink patent granted years before the internet as we now know it even existed.

BT is calling the trial a test case whose outcome will determine whether it can commercialise a potentially lucrative patent. If successful, BT intends to go after other American internet service providers, the lone jurisdiction governed by the patent.

Full story: ZDNet / Reuters Back to top

Broadband too expensive, say Europeans
February 04, 2002

The anticipated boom in European demand for high-speed internet access is unlikely to materialise until subscription prices fall, according to the research firm GartnerG2. Consumers in Europe's main internet markets - the UK, France and Germany - are not prepared to pay fees up to twice as high as the cost of traditional internet connections, GartnerG2 said.

Fewer than 10 per cent of households with internet connections said broadband provides good value, and few have plans to upgrade their connection over the next three years. This is partly because consumers do not know what broadband services are available. But, perhaps more importantly, there is relatively little content aimed at broadband users. Most businesses have concentrated on building e-commerce websites aimed at surfers with slower web connections, GartnerG2 said.

Prices must come down sharply to raise the proportion of households with broadband access above the 10 per cent mark by 2005, the firm said. Currently, less than 2 per cent of households in the UK, France and Germany have broadband connections.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Robot wars for real
February 05, 2002

Robots are being let loose in a colony of machines in an attempt to find out whether they can learn from their experiences.

For the experiment, which is done at the Magna science adventure centre in Rotherham in England, the robots have been divided into predators and prey. The prey robots are small creatures on wheels that get their energy by positioning their solar panels near sources of light. The larger predator robots get their energy by locating and hunting down the prey to extract their battery power.

The robots operate without any human intervention, and are designed to learn by themselves and evolve. Scientists hope the experiment will reveal that these robots have the ability to develop improved escape routines and more complex hunting strategies. The ultimate aim is to build robots for dangerous tasks like exploring distant planets, where machines might need to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Virtual supercomputer opens up vast physics database
February 07, 2002

A distributed computer project linking universities in the UK, the US and France is allowing particle physicists to analyse an archive of data of unprecedented size. The physicists will use the system to investigate millions of observations of sub-atomic particles called B-mesons collected at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre (SLAC) in California.

The observations from SLAC add up to more than 145 terabytes of data and over the next two years a further 300 terabytes will be added. It has not been possible to analyse this amount of data remotely before. The key lies in allowing people to access the data seamlessly through the internet, despite the data being stored in several different locations.

Raw data is split up and stored at different locations. To analyse a particular set of observations, the system's software locates the data at the same time as finding the processing power needed to perform the analysis. The custom software allows all the computers to share storage space and processing power as if they were one large supercomputer.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Plastic magnet may rewrite data storage technology
February 05, 2002

Scientists a the University of Utah have developed a magnetic plastic which nearly doubles its strength in blue light. Researchers think the different wavelengths of blue and green light cause the molecules to change shape.

The designers are not sure exactly what to do with it, but say it may be used in electronics or data storage. It is said to be the first material to team up the two cutting edge technologies of plastic magnets and light-responsive magnets. Experts say it may one day lead to a new system for writing and wiping data from computer hard drives.

The magnet works up to a maximum temperature of about minus 200C - which is high by commercial standards.

Full story: Ananova Back to top

Lindows offers a software sampler
February 05, 2002

Lindows, the start-up that is promising to merge the worlds of Windows and Linux to create an alternative to the Microsoft empire, has released a preview version of its controversial software.

LindowsOS is based on Linux and a technology called WINE, which is aimed at allowing Windows applications to run under Linux. Late last month the company released a 'preview' version of LindowsOS. One key feature is a streamlined installation for Windows users. Unlike conventional Linux installations, the user is not asked to make any choices during the installation process, which takes under 10 minutes, according to users.

Company founder Michael Robertson hints that Lindows will change substantially before its public release, scheduled for the first half of this year. 'LindowsOS is not ready for use as your everyday desktop, but hopefully (the) Sneak Preview demonstrates that we've shaken the vapourware label,' he said.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top

European researchers tackle the web's language barriers
February 07, 2002

Researchers from the Netherlands, France, Italy, Portugal and the UK have published best practice guidelines for designing multilingual websites. At present more than 80 per cent of all websites are in English. Only 43 per cent of the world's web users are native speakers, a number that is expected to have decreased to 35 per cent by 2003.

The BabelWeb project, led by applied research company Eurescom, has drawn up a 'cook book' of reliable guidelines for the design of multilingual web sites. BabelWeb developed a three-tier structure for the construction of multilingual sites, starting with a contents database, then the overall structure, and finally the presentation of the multilingual contents on the user's screen.

The project also found that the use of translation databases to support translators and website managers could lead to savings of up to 20 per cent in some areas.

Full story: EUbusiness Back to top

UN to dispatch experts to bridge digital divide
February 05, 2002

Bolivia, Mozambique and Tanzania will be the first countries to benefit from a new scheme to bridge the digital divide. The United Nations' Global Digital Opportunity Initiative will send teams of professionals to developing countries to advise on IT infrastructure.

Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and AOL Time Warner are among leading firms to have donated personnel and equipment to the project. The two-year scheme will be co-ordinated by the United Nations Development Programme and US non-profit group Markle Foundation. It is hoped that the equipment and expertise can bolster health and education services and business development within each country.

The initiative has already attracted requests for help from 45 developing countries. Ultimately 12 will be selected - Bolivia, Mozambique and Tanzania have been chosen first because they were the first to apply.

Full story: Ananova Back to top

'In silico' is the phrase we are all saying, apparently
February 04, 2002

Over the past 100 years, the defining word or phrase of the year has swung from Teddy bear to depression, from Blairite to economy class syndrome. In 2002, it could be the turn of 'In silico'.

According to dictionary publisher Collins, the creator of a compilation of buzzwords of current times, 'In silico' is one of the most used words of 2002. It means computer programming in virtual laboratories. 'Although these are the suggestions for 2002, it is still early days yet,' a spokesman for Collins said.

However, the competition is not exactly challenging. Pink Viagra, describing a pill for improving the sexual pleasure of women, is another of the bookies' favourites. It is joined among the front-runners in the competition by brain finger-printing (a form of lie-detection that works by monitoring brain waves) and dead tree edition (paper edition).

Full story: The Independent Back to top