Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 38, 2002

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Issue 38, 2002

This week's headlines:

EU debates skills shortage
October 17, 2002

A two day eSkills summit organised by the European Commission kicked off in Copenhagen on Thursday to address ongoing concerns that the level of IT skills must urgently be addressed if EU member states are to compete on the worldwide economic stage. Organised in partnership with Cisco, Microsoft and IBM, the event brings together ministers, academics, public sector organisations and IT sector representatives to thrash out strategies for improving the level of technology skills across Europe.

Despite the economic downturn, member states are warned not take their eye off the ball if they are to make the shift to a digital, knowledge- based economy. Estimates from analyst IDC suggest that by 2005 western Europe will be one million skilled people short of the expected demand.

The summit will culminate in the signing of a declaration, emphasising, among others, the need to reduce the digital literacy divide; to attract and retain educated and highly skilled individuals and to make Europe the most attractive place for skilled people to live and work.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

France plots to evade EU rules over telecom debt
October 16, 2002

France is preparing plans to pump new funds into debt-laden France Telecom SA without breaching EU rules against state bail-outs.

Leaks in the French press suggest that France plans to create an 'ad hoc structure' to hold the government 55 per cent stake in the company, which could then borrow from banks to have the funds to participate in a rights issue to raise around €15bn. Because the money will be raised from the private sector, it hopes to satisfy the EU. In practice, of course, the banks will only lend to the new entity because it effectively has a government guarantee.

France Telecom's debts amount to €69.7bn. Ironically, the company was only able to build up debts of this scale, during a vast acquisition spree, because it was majority-owned by the French government.

Full story: The Register / ComputerWire Back to top

Non-profit net name gets new owner
October 15, 2002

The new owner of the .org net name has been formally chosen. A body called the Public Interest Registry is being set up by The Internet Society to take over the running of the domain. The new body will take over by the end of 2002.

The .org domain needed a new owner as part of a deal brokered by the net oversight body ICANN and registry Verisign which currently looks after the suffix. Verisign agreed to hand over the running of .org so it can hang on to the lucrative .com domain for longer than specified in its original contract.

The .org suffix has the fifth largest number of registered domain owners and counts thousands of charities and other non-profit groups among its users. More than 2.3 million organisations own .org addresses. By contrast the .com domain has attracted more than 21 million customers.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Intel loses patent court battle
October 12, 2002

A US district judge has ruled that Intel's high-performance Itanium chip infringed on patents held by services company Intergraph. But Intel's total liability is limited to $250m because of a previous agreement reached as part of another patent spat between the companies.

Intergraph claimed Intel's Itanium processor infringed on two patents related to parallel instruction computing. The judge found the Intergraph patents to be valid and enforceable. He added that Intergraph was entitled to an injunction that would halt the sale of Itanium processors, which Intel spent $1bn to develop over 10 years.

But under the deal reached in April, Intel agreed it would pay $150m to stay an injunction if it lost the case. If Intel appeals and loses, it will have to pay another $100m to license the technology. Intel is reportedly planning to appeal the decision.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Brain-on-a-chip technology devised to test drugs
October 16, 2002

An US biotechnology company has developed a way of keeping brain tissue alive for weeks, which will allow scientists to test new drugs for a range of psychiatric diseases including Alzheimer's and schizophrenia.

Using brain cells from rats and mice, scientists at Tensor Biosciences of Irvine, California have devised brain-on-a-chip technology that could speed up the development of new treatments for a host of neurological and psychiatric disorders, from Alzheimer's disease to schizophrenia.

The so-called mini-brain, which can survive for weeks at a time, will allow scientists to monitor the impact of drugs on brain networks instead of just individual cells. The glass chips contain thousands of interconnected animal brain cells suspended in a solution of artificial cerebral fluid. An array of 64 electrodes on the chip's surface monitors the overall electrical activity of the brain tissue, just like an EEG, to show the effect the drugs have on the tissue.

Full story: Yahoo / Reuters / New Scientist Back to top

Scientists unveil microfluidic chip
October 17, 2002

Microchips with pathways made of rubbery silicone with pressurized fluids running trough them have been created by researchers at the California Institute of Technology. These fluid-routing circuits are the building blocks for a new breed of microchips based on the fledgling technology known as microfluidics.

The microchips have passages the width of a human hair. The silicone pathways are honeycombed with individual chambers, each about the size of a few human cells, within which chemical reactions can take place. Thousands of minute micromechanical valves and many hundreds of chambers can be integrated on a single one-inch microchip. Separate operations such as mixing or purging can be controlled in the tiny chambers.

The microchips may find use in liquid display technologies and in drug-discovery applications in which thousands of potential compounds are screened simultaneously, according to the researchers.

Full story: New York Times Back to top

Lucent develops ultra-fast wireless chip for data
October 16, 2002

Lucent Technologies on Wednesday said its research arm Bell Labs designed two prototype chips that will allow users to surf the web via cell phones and other mobile devices at speeds more than seven times faster than the fastest connection today.

During lab testing the chips received data via an advanced mobile network at 19.2 megabits per second (mbps). By comparison, today's fastest networks offer maximum speed of roughly 2.5 mbps.

Lucent said the technology, which it calls BLAST (Bell Labs Layered Space-Time) uses multiple antennas in the device and base station to send and receive wireless signals at ultra-high speeds. One chip detects BLAST signals and the other chip decodes them. Lucent said the two chips are small enough and consume so little power that they could be used in cell phones or laptop computers with minimal impact on battery life.

Full story: CNET / Reuters Back to top

IBM's imprinted patterns boost storage capacity 200 times
October 12, 2002

The storage capacity of computer hard drives could skyrocket if a prototype device for magnetic data storage developed by IBM can be commercialised. The new system could offer 200 times the data storage capacity of current state-of-the-art systems.

IBM's patterned perpendicular magnetic film crams in 200 gigabytes per square inch. This leaps off the scale of the steadily increasing trend in hard-drive storage density of over the past couple of decades.

The film is made of a magnetic alloy of cobalt, chromium and platinum. With a finely focused beam of ions it is cut into rows of square magnetic islands each just 26 millionths of a millimetre across, lifting the storage density to 206 gigabytes per square inch. However, the new system is still far from the marketplace as it would require changing the hardware involved in recording data on a magnetic disk.

Full story: Nature Back to top

Software predicts user behaviour to stop attacks
October 12, 2002

New computer-monitoring software designed to second-guess the intentions of individual system users could be close to perfect at preventing security breaches, say researchers at Buffalo University.

Existing systems usually monitor the data flowing through whole networks and are typically between 60 and 80 per cent reliable, the researchers say. Tests simulating inside attacks indicate that the new software would be up to 94 per cent reliable once implemented.

The software generates a profile for each individual on a network by analysing the specific commands they enter at their terminal. It then monitors their activity and sounds the alarm on detecting suspicious behaviour. The finished product will do this in real time.

Monitoring simple user commands rather than network traffic means alarm settings can be different for each user, increasing security. It would also be much less computationally intensive. This means more data can be analysed, allowing larger systems to be monitored in real time.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Kodak and Sanyo show off organic flat-panel screen
October 15, 2002

Eastman Kodak and Sanyo Electric on Tuesday demonstrated a prototype 15-inch flat-panel screen that uses so-called organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology. Kodak is the pioneer of that technology, which relies on electrically charged chemical compounds as a source of light.

The image quality is better than that of currently used screens. Besides, the screen uses less power because it does not need a separate lighting source. Kodak envisions OLED technology as a replacement for bulky desktop computer and laptop LCD screens. The technology could also be used for flat-panel televisions.

Kodak says the 15-inch screen is a prototype and will not be on the market for two or three years.

Full story: Democrat and Chronicle Back to top

Scientists build musical search engine
October 17, 2002

Internet users will be able to source nagging tunes or half-remembered songs in the near future by simply humming to their PC, scientists at Queen Mary, University of London have claimed. The researchers have developed an on-line music recognition system that could become the musical equivalent of the popular search engine Google.

The OMRAS (On-line Music Recognition and Searching) system lets users find a piece of music in a polyphonic, symbolic collection using polyphonic audio as a query. Polyphonic means many sounds at once and allows people to retrieve complex recordings such as full orchestra rather than the sound made by a single instrument or voice.

The team said that computers in the future will be able to 'listen' to a piece of music and then produce sheet music. It will also be possible to synthesise the sheet music onto a computer, they predicted. Another prediction was that it will able to make comparisons between original music and music recorded by songwriters or DJs who lift unauthorised samples from other artists' tracks without their permission.

Full story: Yahoo / ENN Back to top

Teleworking is good for your health
October 15, 2002

More than 90 per cent of BT's teleworkers who responded to a EU-backed survey said they experienced less stress and that their productivity increased when working from home, and they enjoyed more leisure time. Respondents also included among the benefits the ability to multitask, the lack of commuting and the ability to choose when to work.

Drawbacks for teleworking included concern at increased working hours, and home-based teleworkers feeling isolated from 'social and professional interaction in the workplace' which, they said, can be demotivating and depressing. Some also said that teleworking made it more difficult to get visibility at higher management level - a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'. However, the overall feeling was that the advantages of working from home far outweighed the drawbacks.

Full story: CNET Networks Back to top

E-mail newsletters beat websites
October 16, 2002

A new study by Nielsen Norman Group suggests that the way to really connect with internet users is through their inbox.

'Newsletters feel personal because they arrive in your e-mail inbox, and you have an ongoing relationship with them. In contrast, websites are things you glance at when you need to find an answer to a specific question,' said Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group. But brevity is the selling point of a newsletter. Readers expect a quick read, with short items that are easily perused and linked to larger information sources when appropriate.

The study found, however, that only 23 per cent of newsletters were read thoroughly, while 27 per cent were never opened at all. The remaining 50 per cent were skimmed or partly read. The study also sees a danger of newsletters being misidentified as spam.

Full story: IFRA Trend Report / Editor & Publisher Back to top

Web has it all sewn up
October 17, 2002

Swiss engineers have hooked up a sewing machine to the internet. Bernina's artista 200E is believed to be the first sewing machine to be powered by Microsoft Windows CE and to connect directly to its own internet portal.

According to Bernina the machine allows users to link to an internet portal to download the latest stitches, patterns, and sewing tips. The machine has been designed with icons, pop-up messages and programmable sounds. Users can save or delete files, and view tutorials on an eye- level colour touch screen.

The machine was developed by Sarah Caldwell, a New Zealander who joined the artista 200E development team based at Bernina's Swiss headquarters 18 months ago. She told the Christchurch Press newspaper that the machine is the first of a new generation of sewing computers and that it uses the same technology platform as a handheld computer.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top