Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 40, 2002

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Issue 40, 2002

This week's headlines:

ICANN approves election reform plan
October 31, 2002

During a meeting in China, the directors of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the group that oversees internet addresses, adopted a reform plan they hope will put to rest long-standing questions about how the group should function and who it should represent.

Internet users will still be allowed to participate in the reformed body, but board seats will be appointed by business and technical groups, and a special nominating committee that will include some public representatives. The new plan also carves out a greater role for national governments, requiring ICANN to seek governmental input on all issues that could affect public policy.

ICANN will next meet in Amsterdam in December to determine how to switch from its current operating form to its new version. The board will determine at that time the fate of the five public representatives.

Full story: ZDNet / Reuters / AP Back to top

Brussels to spend €250,000 on Linux migration study
October 30, 2002

The European Commission has awarded UK-based consultancy netproject a €250,000 contract to study the issues of migrating government computers in member states to a Linux / Open Source environment.

netproject has been hired by the Commission to draw up guidelines on a move to open source technologies and to help define EU IT strategy on desktop computing. The German state of Mecklenburg-Pomerania is to be used as a test bed in defining this strategy, which goes beyond the investigation of a switch between Windows and Linux PCs.

netproject plans to put forward an architecture for secure computing based on Linux in its report, which is due to be delivered in five months time, and will detail plans on how to take the project forward.

Full story: The Register Back to top

European Commission slaps €149m fine on Nintendo
October 31, 2002

The Japanese video games maker Nintendo and seven of its European distributors have been fined a total of €167.8m by the European Commission for rigging the market to keep prices high. The fine is the fifth largest ever imposed by the Commission for any anti-trust breach of European Union rules. Nintendo said it would appeal the decision.

The Commission determined the company and its distributors acted as a cartel between 1991 and 1998 to keep prices artificially high, and to keep out cheaper imports from other countries, in breach of EU rules. Nintendo was fined €149m. Distributors in Portugal, Sweden, Italy, UK, Greece and Belgium were also part of the cartel, acting together to prevent 'parallel' trade in Nintendo video games from cheaper sources.

Full story: The Independent Back to top

IBM's plan for the future: computing on demand
October 31, 2002

IBM announced it is investing $10bn in a business strategy aimed at getting corporate customers to pay for their computing power in much the way they now buy power from utilities: as they use it.

IBM's CEO Samuel Palmisano said IBM hopes to fashion a computing grid that would allow services to be shifted from company to company as they are needed. For instance, a car company might need the computing power of a supercomputer for a short period as it designs a new model but then have little need for that added horsepower once production begins.

Palmisano said the company is pursuing its $10 billion strategy through acquisitions, marketing and research, much of which has taken place in the past year.

Full story: Washington Post Back to top

Virtual hands reach across the ocean
October 30, 2002

Scientists on opposite sides of the Atlantic have shaken hands over the internet in the first public demonstration of the latest in touch technology. In a collaborative experiment, scientists in London and Boston showed how they can hold hands and co-operated on simple physical tasks, despite being separated by almost 5,000 km

Using force feedback devices, the participants could directly feel whether others are pulling, pushing or manipulating computer generated objects in a shared virtual world. The scientists used a computer and a small robotic arm instead of a more traditional mouse. The robot arm has on its end a device like a thick pen and is grasped by the experimenter to get a feel for what is happening in the virtual world. It also transmits their movements to other participants.

The arm, known as a Phantom, gives users the sensation of touch by exerting precisely controlled forces on the fingers. It allows a person to feel the resulting force, but it also provides a sense of the quality of the felt object, whether it is soft or hard, wood-like or fleshy.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Chips go optical to save power
October 30, 2002

A major breakthrough in chip design by European chip company ST Microelectronics could lead to a new generation of more powerful computing processors and more efficient automobile components as well as potentially higher-speed optical data-transmission systems.

The company has found a way to insert optical components into silicon chips. These components exchange signals through photons of light, and silicon chips usually contain wires that exchange signals through electrons. The quantum efficiencies achieved are about 100 times better than has been possible with silicon so far, the company says.

The new technology opens up many potential applications in which optical and electrical functions are combined in a single silicon chip. This was not previously possible because, although silicon is ideal for building memories, microprocessors and other complex circuits, it could not be made to act as an efficient light emitter. Engineering samples will be available by the end of the year.

Full story: VNUnet UK / New York Times Back to top

Roll-up TV screens to hit living rooms
October 28, 2002

Two British companies said on Monday they would join forces to become a world leader in the technology of glowing plastics, which by 2005 should yield the first roll-up computer screens and TVs.

Cambridge Display Technology (CDT) announced the acquisition of the Oxford-based research activities of rival Opsys, giving it control of another major method to create organic light emitting diodes (OLED).

Hopes for the technology are high because polymers that emit light do not require a backlight used for the current generation of LCD screens. It makes them energy efficient and much thinner - so thin they can be folded.

CDT expects that by 2005 the technology will be mature enough, and the price per display competitive enough, so that OLEDs will start replacing current LCD full-colour flat screens, which recently started replacing 70-year old cathode ray tube technology.

Full story: CNN / Reuters Back to top

Portable encrypted device fits on key ring
October 30, 2002

Research Triangle Software on Wednesday unveiled CryptoStick, a new portable data encryption and storage device that lets users transport secure files on a gizmo small enough to attach to a key ring.

About the size of a cigarette lighter, CryptoStick comes in a variety of colours and storage sizes - from 16 Gb to 2 Mb - and connects to any Windows 98/Me/2000/XP system equipped with a USB port.

Users load encrypted files - encryption and compression is handled by the pre-loaded CryptoBuddy application - to the Stick, walk it to the destination PC, plug it in, and retrieve the files from the storage device.

Full story: Techweb Back to top

How eyes move on the screen - study
October 30, 2002

Researchers from Stanford University and The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, USA, used eye-tracking technology to conduct the first known study of how readers read on the web.

They found that the web user's eyes go to text initially - not to photographs or graphics. They also found that banner advertisements do catch the attention of online readers. For the 45 per cent of banner advertisements looked at, subjects' eyes fixed on them for an average of one second, which is long enough to perceive the content of an ad.

The preference for text may be because many websites do not use photographs properly. Copying a newspaper page layout and incorporating it onto the narrower and shorter canvas of a computer screen presents photographs in such a reduced format that their impact is lost. An earlier study at the Poynter Institute on how eyes moved on a newspaper page did find that photographs were the primary entry point for readers.

Full story: Ifra Trend Report Back to top

Email greeting card hides spam software
October 28, 2002

An email 'greeting card' program that sends spam from an unsuspecting recipient's computer has sparked many complaints from victims, as well as alerts from anti-virus companies. Those affected are also bombarded with pop-up ads in their web browsers.

The program mimics the action of a computer worm carrying a concealed 'Trojan horse' application, and tricks its victims into agreeing to installation. Victims are sent an email telling them they have received a virtual greeting card at and must install a software 'plug-in' in order to view the message.

But as soon as the program is installed, it begins delivering pop-up advertising. The program also uses the email address book on the targeted computer to send out email advertising to contacts. The program's full capabilities are only revealed in the small print of two lengthy End User License Agreements displayed during installation.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Europeans are top of the e-shoppers
October 29, 2002

Europeans will spend more money online in the run-up to Christmas than anyone else in the world. According to analyst GartnerG2, Europeans will spend €16bn in the fourth quarter, with the North American region dropping to second place with €15.9bn in sales. Total online holiday sales worldwide are expected to rise 48.4 per cent to €38.8bn.

These gains in Europe are being fuelled by companies integrating their mail-order and web presence. Europeans are using multiple channels to shop, browsing printed catalogues and then ordering online.

The Asia-Pacific region is expected to experience modest growth for online holiday shopping. Sales are projected to reach €3.37bn in the next few months. GartnerG2 said it expects many more new internet users in the region - primarily in China, followed by India. The new users are much younger on average, with the vast majority being 15 to 25 years old, and therefore possessing lower incomes.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

There's something fishy about the search for alien life...
October 30, 2002

SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) is one of the highest- profile distributed computing ventures with an avid following worldwide. With the competition's close just two months away, observers believe that long-time leader ARS Technica-sponsored Team Lamb Chop (ATLC) will soon lose its lead to relative newcomer, SETI@Netherlands. Competition veterans and even SETI@Netherlands own manager think the team's late burst through the ranks is a little too good to be true.

Each day SETI@home serves millions of bytes of digitised space noise to the project's volunteers for decoding in chunks known as work units or WUs. The competition can be won by returning the most WUs.

ATLC has returned over eight million WUs. By May, ATLC had a three million WU lead over SETI@Netherlands. But since July SETI@Netherlands has closed the gap to under a million WU. According to IT professional Max Nealon this would mean that around 1,250 1GHz PCs are doing nothing but running the SETI@home screensaver. Nealon has contacted SETI@home concerning the cheating several times but is yet to receive a response.

Full story: Back to top