Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 23, 2002

This is the online version of UNU-MERIT’s I&T Weekly which is sent out by email every Friday. If you wish to subscribe to this free service, please submit your email address in the box to the right.

Issue 23, 2002

This week's headlines:



KPNQwest network to close on Monday unless bills are paid
June 06, 2002

Trustees for KPNQwest, the bankrupt European telecoms carrier, on Thursday appealed to customers to settle outstanding bills by Monday to prevent the shutdown of Europe's largest data network.

Trustees are battling for time to grind out what value they can from the group's assets. KPNQwest collapsed last week under the weight of widening losses and mounting debts. They warned that if sufficient funds had not come in from customers paying bills for May and June by the close of business on Monday, the network would close.

While the company has 100,000 corporate clients, most of its recurring revenue of €50m a month comes from a small number of blue-chip multinationals. The support of as few as 200 may prove enough to keep the network running.

Full story: Financial Times Back to top


Brussels adopts hard line on 3G phone licences
June 03, 2002

Europe's beleaguered telecoms companies face fresh disappointment from Brussels, which is set to reject industry pleas to allow changes to third generation mobile phone licences.

Last year, the European Commission said it would look at making life easier for the cash-strapped telecoms sector, which Brussels estimates has spent €110bn on 3G licences.

But a draft communication likely to be endorsed by the full Commission in coming weeks, says the licensing conditions for 3G should not be changed. It also says alterations in licence fees, as some have companies have suggested, would be 'clearly counter-productive'. And it has also rejected the case for extending the length of licences to help telecoms companies roll out 3G services.

Full story: Financial Times Back to top


Legacy ends as Napster files for bankruptcy
June 03, 2002

Napster, the troubled online music-swapping service that is selling its assets to Bertelsmann, on Monday announced it had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The US-based company, which enraged the recording industry and became one of the hottest new business models during the dotcom bubble, listed as much as $10m in assets and $100m in liabilities in the chapter 11 papers filed in the US Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

After a meteoric rise during the late 1990s, encouraging millions of internet users to swap songs for free online, Napster became mired in copyright lawsuits brought by the five leading record companies.

Last month Bertelsmann, the German media company, offered to buy Napster's assets for $8m. As part of the agreement, Napster was to file for bankruptcy protection and emerge as a wholly owned unit of the German media group.

Full story: Financial Times Back to top


Open source browser Mozilla 1.0 released
June 05, 2002

After nearly five years of work by thousands of developers the Mozilla.org open-source project, Mozilla 1.0 is ready to browse. The group released the software on the web for download Wednesday.

Mozilla 1.0 is based on the Gecko layout engine, which like Microsoft Internet Explorer's browser control, can be embedded in other applications and includes a set of core applications including an e-mail client and chat program. Mozilla 1.0's target audience is other software developers, who can use the code to build internet applications.

Mozilla has long claimed support for open standards as a core part of its mission. With Wednesday's release, Mozilla 1.0 supports World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommendations including HTML 4.0, XML 1.0, RDF, CSS1, and DOM1. It also offers partial support for CSS2, the Document DOM2, and XHTML. Other standards supported include SOAP 1.1, XSLT, XPath 1.0, FIXptr and MathML.

Full story: ZDNet / InternetWeek / VNUnet UK Back to top


Start-up develops screens thinner than a credit card
June 06, 2002

US start-up E Ink is demonstrating a prototype of a flexible computer screen that is half as thick as a credit card. The company's 'electronic ink' technology allows displays to be thinner and more durable than current active-matrix LCDs, used in cell phones and handhelds.

Electronic ink is based on a microcapsule: an electrically sensitive white chip that floats in a ball full of black dye. The chip rises or falls in the dye depending on an electrical charge. Many microcapsules are sandwiched between a piece of steel foil and a piece of clear plastic, and they do not need to be backlit for an image to be visible.

The absence of a lamp for backlighting, and the use of steel foil, are what allow the screens to be significantly thinner than LCDs, which typically use a lamp and two sheets of glass, the company said. Prototypes of the new displays are 0.3 millimetres thick. Traditional active-matrix displays are about 2mm thick, according to the company. The electronic ink technology also tend to consume less power than LCDs.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top


Researchers working on wireless sensors network
June 04, 2002

University of California at Los Angeles researchers are building what they claim will be a new, total communications system encompassing the world. UCLA's Center for Embedded Networked Sensing promises advances such as buildings that 'detune' themselves during an earthquake to prevent collapse, and water systems that can automatically detect sabotage and isolate the danger.

Both would be made possible by a new generation of wireless sensing technologies. The network will use tiny devices that can be densely distributed within a natural or man-made environment. The devices will monitor and collect information on subjects such as plankton colonies, endangered species, contaminants in soil and air, airplane wings, artificial structures, and even information about medical patients.

To make sure the network will be able to operate without constant human supervision, researchers said they will focus on developing devices that can organise and repair themselves and manage their own power consumption.

Full story: TechReview / UPI Back to top


Scientists develop robotic fly
June 03, 2002

The University of California in Berkeley has made a breakthrough in its programme to develop a robot fly weighing less than a paper clip which can leave the ground and hover in mid-air. Scientists have constructed a wing mechanism that can flap and rotate at 150 times a second.

Recent discoveries about the way flies use their wings have helped the project considerably. A real fly has a 'delayed stall' which enables the beating wings to have a high angle of attack and high lift at the same time. 'Wing rotation' at the bottom and top of the stroke gives the insect more lift, and 'wake capture' provides even more lift by swishing back through air it set in motion on the previous stroke.

The scientists' version of the wing is made from polyester and a stainless steel strut that flaps and rotates. Still to come is a lightweight power source, a gyroscope to tell up from down, and a light sensor. A microprocessor with a small operating system has already been developed. Eventually it would carry sensors chosen for a specific use.

Full story: Berkeley Campus News / VNUnet UK Back to top


Scientist computes limits of the universe
June 04, 2002

A MIT physicist has calculated what it would take for a computer to accurately simulate the entire universe. Seth Lloyd estimates that such a computer would have to contain 10 to the 90th bits of information and perform 10 to the 120th operations on those bits to model the universe in all its various incarnations since the big bang.

The second figure was drawn from Lloyd's idea that a fundamental particle's move from one quantum state to another can be seen as a computation, and that the universe itself can thus be viewed as a giant computer. The total information required to model the universe is 10 billion times greater than the number of elementary particles - neutrons, protons, electrons and photons - in the universe.

In 2000 Lloyd discovered that a laptop could theoretically store 10 to the 31st bits of information, about 100 quintillion times more than the 12.5GBs that today's laptop can hold. To achieve such capacity, the laptop would use Einstein's E=mc2 and turn all matter into energy.

Full story: ZDNet / Nature Back to top


Technology blamed for US obesity
June 06, 2002

A new culprit has been named as the reason for Americans becoming fat: technology. While most people thought it was down to the advent of 'super-sized' fast food, new research places the blame squarely on a double dose of innovation.

Researchers suggest that 60 per cent of the extra pounds Americans have put on may be caused by a decline in the physical demands of work brought about by the arrival of computers and the like. The other 40 per cent is due to technological innovation in agriculture which has driven down real food costs. This double whammy has left 60 per cent of Americans overweight and a quarter technically obese.

The researchers, economists Darius Lakdawalla of Rand Corp and Tomas Philipson of the University of Chicago, described the situation as a 'rising epidemic of obesity'. They pointed out that, in past decades, strenuous jobs meant that workers were in effect paid to exercise. Now workers with more sedentary jobs pay to exercise at the gym.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top


Computer crackers asked to unlock archive
June 05, 2002

The National Centre of the New Norwegian Language and Culture has asked computer crackers to help recover a missing password that would unlock a valuable archive. The centre acquired more than 11,000 books related to Norwegian linguistics in 2000. But an accompanying digital catalogue has been unusable, since the man who created the database died a few years before and left no record of the password needed to unlock it.

To rebuild the catalogue from scratch would take one person at least a year of continuous work. So finding the password would be very valuable. Therefore, institute director Ottar Grepstad issued a plea for help on Norwegian radio from anyone skilled in the art of password cracking.

The institute has already received 80 different offers of assistance. One of the most common methods used to recover a computer password is to use a customised computer program to try many different possibilities. Sometimes a 'dictionary' of possible words may also be used.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top


'Tiniest' website get big hits
June 06, 2002

A website which claims to be the smallest in the world has attracted around 100,000 visitors in less than two weeks.

The site, http://www.guimp.com, is no bigger than an on-screen icon but has four games including pong and space invaders. It also has five galleries - including an art gallery and a gallery of famous faces - a news page, a drum kit, a musical keyboard, a fruit machine, a search engine and even a web cam.

The website was put together by a designer who wanted to test the sharpness of his new computer screen. Alan Autten says he is constantly updating www.guimp.com and plans to add a Formula One racing game.

Full story: Ananova Back to top


UNU-MERIT