Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 47, 2002

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Issue 47, 2002

This week's headlines:

New EU law may hit printer makers
December 18, 2002

Printer makers could lose significant revenues and be forced to change the design and manufacture of their ink cartridges. The European Parliament on Wednesday gave its final backing to a law that bans companies from making products that cannot be reused because of specific design features. The law takes effect from 2006.

Proponents of the measure say this would outlaw ink cartridges with chips that prevent them from being refilled - a feature on many cartridges made by printer manufacturers. However, some EU governments, which have to implement the new law, have disputed the scope of its provisions, arguing it might not extend to cartridges.

Non-reusable cartridges make up some 90 per cent of the $30bn a year global market and account for a significant part of the printer manufacturers' earnings. The EU law could hit HP the hardest, because the US company depends heavily on revenues from ink cartridge sales and is the largest cartridge producer in Europe.

Full story: Financial Times Back to top

EU innovation performance still needs improving
December 16, 2002

The 2002 European Innovation Scoreboard, published this week by the European Commission, reveals that the EU's innovation performance is still lagging behind the US and Japan, despite encouraging trends in several areas.

Disappointing performance in business R&D investment and high-tech patenting, already diagnosed in 2001, persists and reinforces concerns for the future of technology-based innovation in the EU. However, trends on other indicators do show marked improvements for the EU as a whole and suggest that it may be catching up with its main global competitors.

The EU has made better progress than Japan in all areas. Performance in the EU has been improving faster than the US for five out of the eight comparable indicators and most significantly for home internet access.

The study was carried out by researchers from Maastricht-based MERIT and is available at:

Full story: EC press release Back to top

New internet domains on the way
December 16, 2002

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the web's oversight body, has decided to expand the number of addresses people and companies can use. ICANN pledged to endorse a limited number of new top-level domains at its annual open meeting in Amsterdam.

The two-day meeting also saw approval for the biggest reorganisation in ICANN's brief history. The reform will reduce the decision-making board to 15 from 18 members, and ends the system under which five board members were elected by the public via internet votes.

Under the reform, the 15 members are chosen by a complex arrangement of committees affiliated with ICANN. It has been facing mounting criticism from the US Congress as well as the internet community about its legitimacy and procedures.

Full story: Ananova Back to top

Russian firm acquitted in landmark DMCA case
December 18, 2002

A Russian software company accused of contravening a controversial US copyright law by creating programs to deactivate electronic book security features was acquitted by a California jury on Tuesday. In the first legal test of the law, the jury concluded that Moscow-based Elcomsoft did not deliberately contravene the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Elcomsoft specialises in selling password recovery software tools and was accused of deliberately breaching the DMCA by offering software to modify or deactivate the security built into Adobe's e-books.

The case began in July 2001 when the FBI arrested Elcomsoft employee Dmitry Sklyarov at a conference in Las Vegas. Sklyarov wrote the 'Advanced eBook Processor' sold by Elcomsoft. His arrest triggered worldwide protests from computer programmers and digital rights groups. After months in prison, Sklyarov was released in exchange for testifying against his former employer.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

MySQL security flaws uncovered
December 16, 2002

Several vulnerabilities have been found in the MySQL database system, a light database package commonly used in Linux environments but which runs also on Microsoft platforms, HP-Unix, Mac OS and more. German company E-matters discovered the flaws and has rated the vulnerabilities as 'Medium to Critical' in severity.

The security flaws range from Denial of Service (DoS) problems to more serious issues. The MySQL password check could be by-passed or arbitrary code executed, the company said. E-matters also found multiple vulnerabilities in the MySQL client libraries.

The flaws affect all versions prior to 3.23.53a and 4.0.5a. MySQL has released an updated version 3 (3.23.54) that is immune to the security bugs. It is not known when an updated version 4 will be released.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top

Linux tapped to be audiovisual aid
December 18, 2002

Audiovisual gear for the home, such as digital video recorders, could soon have a new version of Linux inside. Sony and Matsushita said that they will concoct a new version of the open-source operating system for consumer electronics devices.

The companies will collaborate to create a version of Linux that boots quickly and offers snappy performance for use in digital video recorders and other audiovisual devices. The operating system might also be used in portable devices, the companies said in a statement.

Sony and Matsushita will release their new operating system under Linux's General Public License, which essentially states that companies or individuals can alter the software as long as they also make those changes freely available.

Full story: ZDNet / Reuters Back to top

Noise threatens Moore’s Law
December 18, 2002

The semiconductor industry has obeyed Moore's Law for about 40 years and some experts believe that it will be valid for another two decades. However, Laszlo Kish at Texas A&M University believes that thermal noise - which increases as circuits become smaller - could put an end to Moore's Law much sooner.

In 1965 Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits would double every year. Kish believes that any further increase in the density of chips will soon reach a physical limit - due to thermal noise. He expects this limit to come into effect around 40nm and could cause problems as early as in six years time.

Thermal noise can induce 'false bit-flips' that occur randomly - making them difficult to identify and control. False bit-flips can only be avoided, says Kish, by halting any further increase in integration density. It is possible, Kish suggests, that these effects may already be having a detrimental impact on the most advanced integrated circuits.

Full story: Physicsweb Back to top

Cell phone warns of heart attack
December 17, 2002

A tiny device that reads a heart rate monitor and automatically sends a warning call to a predetermined cell phone number if the user is in distress, could soon aid people at high risk of cardiac problems. A team from IBM Engineering and Technology Services has successfully tested the relay device and is trying to turn it into a consumer product.

The device uses radio frequency wireless technology to read a heart monitor. When a predetermined heart rate that signals possible cardiac distress is reached, the device automatically sends a text message alert via cell phone to any pre-programmed cell phone number, such as a physician, care-giver or the emergency services.

In addition to its potential life-saving function, the device could send heart rate information from runners or cyclists to coaches or conditioning trainers for reference.

Full story: CNN / Reuters Back to top

Robot helper knows how you feel
December 19, 2002

Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, USA, are building a robot that is sensitive to emotional states of humans. The robot will have no emotions of its own but will be a sympathetic helper that responds to its owner's mental wellbeing.

The researchers are fitting volunteers with small wearable sensors that monitor their reactions while they play video games. The sensors capture information about heart rate to measure stress and anxiety levels. By combining the heart rate analysis with measurements of changes in skin conductivity and the amount of facial muscle movement, the researchers get a good idea of when someone is feeling stressed.

Information about these indicators of stress levels have been used to create a series of behavioural rules for a small mobile robot. When someone is feeling stressed, the robot responds by moving towards the subject and asking if it can help in any way. Now the researchers are designing new tasks to bore and frustrate their subjects in the hope of revealing reliable indicators for levels of these emotional states.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Philips hears sweet music for PCs
December 17, 2002

Philips is fine-tuning audio playback for PCs. The company announced on Monday its Sound Agent 2 software, designed to play music files on computers at the best audio quality possible by analysing the file type and hardware involved.

The software is particularly effective in restoring sound quality to compressed audio files, such as MP3 files, according to Philips.

Sound Agent 2 is available bundled with Philips' Dynamic Edge 4.1 and Sonic Edge 5.1 sound cards. The Dutch company is considering bundling the software with consumer-electronics devices as well as with PC hardware.

Full story: Yahoo / CNET Back to top

Virtual world will run on real cash
December 14, 2002

A virtual online world in which players can earn and spend real money will officially launch on 30 January 2003, when the final software download for the game is released. Project Entropia is a 3D futuristic game in which players must colonise a planet while overcoming various computer-generated obstacles, such as natural disasters and monsters.

Unlike other online games, there will be no charge for downloading the software needed to play Project Entropia. Instead, players must convert real money into the currency of the game - Project Entropia Dollars - in order to buy the things they need to survive. These items will degrade with time, meaning players will need to keep paying to keep playing.

But MindArk, the Swedish company behind the game, says players will also be able to convert things they acquire inside the game back into real money. Treasure chests, paid for through advertising within the game, will be hidden inside the virtual world. The game has a secure trading interface that will allow players to exchange items for money.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top