Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 30, 2002

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Issue 30, 2002

This week's headlines:

EU plans to enforce electronic data storage
August 21, 2002

Companies could be forced to keep e-mails and recordings of telephone calls for up to two years under plans to crack down on cybercrime to be discussed by European Union governments next month.

The proposals will require telecommunications and internet providers to store records of personal communications and pass them on to police and secret services if required. The proposed rules are part of the EU's attempt to build a united front against crime and terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks. At present, companies are only allowed to retain data for the limited period of time needed to compile bills.

The list of offences for which the retention of data would be required includes cybercrime, terrorism, child pornography, drug trafficking and fraud. Under the proposed plans, which will need the approval of the EU's national governments, criminal investigators will have to make a specific request to telecoms and ISPs for access to the data.

Full story: Financial TImes Back to top

Lindows backing away from Windows compatibility claim
August 21, 2002, the operating system maker, is being forced to re-evaluate its strategy to lure the average consumer away from Windows. The company has increasingly moved away from its original claim to fame - running popular Windows applications on a non-Microsoft platform.

A spokeswoman for confirmed that while some Windows applications will run on LindowsOS, this compatibility is no longer the company's top priority. Instead, will focus on making Linux applications easy to download and install. However, where there is no Linux-based alternative to a Microsoft application, LindowsOS will support ''some 'bridge' programs, file types and network devices to help people interact with the legacy Microsoft world'', the spokeswoman said.

The change has led some industry observers to question whether Lindows really has anything to offer that is not already available in existing Linux distributions.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top

South Pole scientists await internet benefits
August 21, 2002

The United States is inviting industry bids to build the first trans-Antarctic fibre-optic link.

Antarctica is the only permanently inhabited place on Earth that cannot see geosynchronous communication satellites, a fact that severely restricts communication with the base. The South Pole scientists currently rely on patchy voice connections available via communication satellites that have drifted from their intended orbits.

The planned 2000-kilometre cable will offer high-speed web access and a reliable phone link. The cable will also offer the ability for scientists to instantly transmit their research to the US.

The American National Science Foundation is confident the service will be in place by 2009, despite the considerable engineering problems involved. Temperatures of minus 50 degrees centigrade and the shifting of ice will place enormous strain on the cable.

Full story: Ananova / BBC News Back to top

Crypto lockdown secures lost laptop data
August 17, 2002

Stolen or lost laptops can now automatically encrypt all their data, thanks to new wireless equipment developed by researchers at the University of Michigan. When the owner is out of range, the laptop locks down, keeping the data from falling into the wrong hands.

A radio transceiver installed inside the laptop's casing is programmed to identify its owner by means of a small transmitter worn like a wristwatch. This lets the laptop know how far away its master is. Whenever separated by a set distance, automatic encryption of data is triggered. As soon as the user comes back within radio range, the computer will begin unlocking the computer.

To speed up the encryption process, most of the files are already encrypted and only a cached portion is automatically decrypted when the user is in range. This means it takes around six seconds to encrypt and decrypt data. Wireless communication between the laptop and wrist token are also encrypted so that messages cannot be intercepted by a snooper.

Full story: Yahoo / New Scientist Back to top

Researchers claim first steps towards creating life
August 22, 2002

Artificial intelligence experts in Switzerland are using computer-generated 'creatures' in their first step towards creating life. The researchers at the University of Zurich have created computer simulations with muscles, senses and nervous systems.

Each bit of organic life has been 'grown' from artificial embryos and given a string of random numbers representing its genome. The virtual cells are built with simulated chemicals that make them react in different ways. The scientists believe that tracking the evolution of these simulated creatures may show them how to construct real complex genomes.

So far none of the virtual charges have grown the equivalent of a brain, but the experts hope that 'brain-like regions' could develop.

Full story: VNUnet UK / New Scientist Back to top

Researchers turn metal scrap into strong nanocrystals
August 22, 2002

Researchers at Purdue University, USA, have discovered a process that utilises common metal scrap to achieve strong, metal nanocrystals in an inexpensive way. Nanocrystal applications include super strong levers and pulleys in nanodevices. Because of their ability to change state, nanocrystals also have applications in computer memory development.

The tiny nanocrystals - which in this case are actually the metal shavings produced by machining processes for parts in automotive and metal industries - are harder, stronger and more wear resistant than the same metals in bulk form.

The inexpensive nanocrystal production, which researchers said would work with silicon, may provide the tiny building blocks required for electronic devices that are only a few billionths of a metre in size. The nanocrystals have potential applications in electronics and computing, such as use in harder, more durable substrates for hard discs and miniaturised, high-precision bearings in disc drives.

Full story: Yahoo / Back to top

A new way to type with your eyes
August 21, 2002

British researchers have developed an eye-track typing system that could help disabled people almost double their typing speed. They plan to develop the system, dubbed Dasher, as an open-source software project.

Like other programs developed for the disabled, Dasher can be controlled by an eye tracker. However, instead of focusing on keys displayed in an on-screen representation of a keyboard, Dasher’s users scan a succession of moving and expanding boxes containing the most likely letters in a series. The movement more closely mimics the eye’s natural scanning behaviour. It also speeds the process up by anticipating which words the users are trying to write. Sometimes several words can be 'written' with a single glance, the researchers said.

Experiments show that with practice, Dasher can produce up to 25 words per minute. Users writing with other tracker-based techniques, using on-screen keyboards, can produce only 15 words per minute.

Full story: MSNBC Back to top

Bionic eye 'ready for human trials'
August 20, 2002

Australian inventors are looking for volunteers to start human trials of a 'bionic eye'.

The device consists of a silicon chip inserted into the eyeball and a pair of 'camera glasses' worn by users. Images from the glasses are broken down into pixels and passed to the tiny chip, which acts like a retina. The chip simulates the images and transmits a message to the retinal cells along small wires. A separate processing unit makes 'sense' of the images by looking for certain features, such as doorways of light. Current technology means the unit is only able to send 10x10 pixel images, but the researchers hope this will improve with time.

Tests on animals have been successful and the researchers now want to begin trials on a group of about five human volunteers. Volunteers must be profoundly blind. People with partial sight will be excluded because of the potential risk of visual damage.

Full story: Ananova / ABC Back to top

Special gloves may help deaf
August 22, 2002

An Australian scientist is developing a set of gloves capable of translating sign language, a move he hopes could ease communication for deaf and mute people.

Waleed Kadous of the University of New South Wales said the gloves would be connected to a computer that has been programmed to measure the movement of the wearer's hand and distinguish between different signs. It then translates the signs into written English on a monitor.

At a recent trial, the computer was able to translate Australian sign language with 95 per cent accuracy, said Kadous. He said his aim was to create a device enclosed in the gloves that translates signs as they are made and then 'speaks' the words through a transmitter to the person with whom the deaf or mute is communicating.

Full story: Yahoo / AP Back to top

High speed camera captures flying bullets
August 19, 2002

Today's technology makes computer animation tricks unnecessary in Hollywood action movies. A high-speed camera can capture real flying bullets in painstaking detail.

Capable of shooting 12,000 frames per second (fps), the Millisecond camera is five times faster than any system available and 30 times faster than any other camera capable of producing images of comparable quality. The faster the film moves, the slower the action appears.

The system was developed by Conniption Films, drawing upon camera technology used in scientific research, which produces a lot of data but not the best pictures. Instead of pulling film from one reel to another past a shutter, this camera uses a single strip of film (120 frames) and loops it around a drum that can spin up to 500 mph, or 12,000 fps. That makes it possible to capture a particular millisecond of action and slow it down on-screen, creating the ultimate in slow-motion sequences.

Full story: CNN Back to top

Police net Nigerian fraudsters
August 19, 2002

South African police have arrested 15 Nigerian men suspected of fooling thousands of people into sending them money by pretending to be the central bank of South Africa.

The alleged gang operated via email and promised to pay its victims a commission for looking after $10m. It directed them to a website which looked similar to that of the South African Central Bank. The fictitious site was then used to ask for advance payments to cover insurance and other costs. When the money was paid, it disappeared. The gang also diverted phone calls and created fictitious email addresses.

Reports of emailed Nigerian money scams, designed to obtain recipients' bank account details by offering to transfer large sums to them for safekeeping, rose by 900 per cent between 2000 and 2001, according to US consumer groups.

Full story: VNUnet UK / AP Back to top

Bible converted to SMS
August 19, 2002

The Bible is being rewritten in the language of SMS. Simon Jenkins, editor of Christian webzine has written the new translation, called 'r father n hvn', in a bid to appeal to youngsters using mobile phones.

The website states that he had the idea for the book after reading about a German pastor who preached a sermon to young people by sending them text messages. Jenkins said that many of the translations were written by visitors to the ship-of-fools website.

The new version of 'The 10 Com&ments' reads: 'God: ''Im No.1. No pix, plz. Uz my name nicely. Day7=holy. Take care of mum'n'dad. Don't kill, scrU round, steal or lie. Keep yr hands (&eyz) off wot isnt yrs.'''

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top