Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 20, 2003

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Issue 20, 2003

This week's headlines:

Unix developer stops Linux sales
May 14, 2003

Commercial users and distributors of the Linux operating system could face legal action from the key patent holder of Unix, which said Wednesday it will suspend sales of its own Linux products. SCO Group, formerly known as Caldera International, claims its intellectual property has been illegally included in all distributions of Linux.

SCO owns the rights to the Unix System V operating system technology, which was developed at AT&T Bell Labs in the 1960s. Over the years, Caldera/SCO also acquired ownership of various patents, copyrights and core technology associated with Unix.

On Wednesday SCO also posted an analyst report from Gartner entitled, 'SCO Lawsuit Sends a Warning to Linux IS Shops'. The executive summary of the report advises corporations to consider whether Linux is 'safe from legal encumbrances' before adopting the system.

Full story: Wired News Back to top

Apple's online music store sells 2 million songs
May 14, 2003

Apple Computer has said that more than two million songs have been purchased and downloaded at 99 cents each from its iTunes Music Store in the 16 days since it opened for business, continuing strong momentum for the service.

Apple said that, as seen during the first week, over half of the songs bought were purchased as albums, further dispelling concerns that selling music on a per-track basis will destroy album sales. The service, which has more than 200,000 tracks for sale, is integrated into its iTunes music software program and for now is available only on Macintosh computers. A Windows version is due by the end of the year.

However, there are indications of first cracks in the revenue model. Some Macintosh users have reportedly begun to circumvent Apple's copy-protection software and began to swap songs online - without paying.

Full story: Yahoo / Reuters / BBC News Back to top

Broadband is essential, says Europe
May 09, 2003

The European Commission has stated that the adoption of broadband and a wider use of security technologies are vital to achieving its e-Europe vision.

The Commission wants to establish by 2005 an environment that will give everybody an opportunity to participate in the 'global information society', providing modernised public services, more jobs and greater productivity.

The Commission is conducting research into all aspects of security and how to persuade businesses to pay more attention to the subject.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Entanglement reaches new lengths
May 15, 2003

A successful solid-state quantum computer will have to 'entangle' quantum bits - or 'qubits' - over macroscopic distances. However, entanglement in solid-state systems has only been observed on the micrometre scale so far. Now, researcher from the University of Maryland have entangled two solid-state superconducting qubits over a distance of 0.7 mm - a thousand times greater than ever before.

A quantum computer could, in principle, outperform a classical computer by exploiting the ability of a quantum system to be in two states at the same time. When two qubits are entangled, they behave as one system - the quantum state of one qubit directly depends on that of the other.

The researchers made their qubits from a Josephson Junction - a type of superconducting 'reservoir'. Under certain conditions the qubits can exist in a ground state or an excited state. When the two qubits are entangled, if qubit 1 is in the ground state then qubit 2 is in the excited state, and vice versa. The researchers measured the entangled states by applying microwaves to the system and recording transitions from the ground state to higher energy states.

Full story: Physicsweb Back to top

Nanotubes smash length record
May 13, 2003

Duke University researchers have found a way to make especially long, well-aligned carbon nanotubes. The researchers' method produces nanotubes as long as two millimetres, which is 100 times longer than previous efforts, according to the researchers. The nanotubes were 2.5 nanometres in diameter.

The key to making the straight, long nanotubes is a hot flow of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gases. The researchers used tiny clusters of iron and molybdenum positioned on a small rectangle of silicon as a catalyst; the long nanotubes formed in the direction of the gas flow.

The researchers also reoriented the gas flow to make cross-connecting grids of nanotubes. Such patterns of tubes could form the basic building blocks of nanoscale circuitry. The nanotubes' length make them easier to handle; a single tube could even form several electronic components.

Full story: Technology Review / TRN Back to top

Electricity extracted from grape
May 12, 2003

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have made a biofuel cell from a grape. The cell produces only about 2.4 microwatts which is enough power, however, to drive a silicon chip.

The biofuel cell should also get power from body fluids. It could drive a tiny, autonomous sensor implanted near a wound after surgery, for example, to sense fluctuations in body temperature that might signal inflammation and infection. Alternatively, mounted on plants, it could enable tiny sensors to monitor environmental variables such as light levels or gas concentrations.

The cell consists of two carbon electrodes, each thinner than a hair, a couple of centimetres long and a few millimetres apart. The cell taps into the metabolism of glucose and oxygen, which generates energy in all living cells. Metabolism involves the transfer of electrons from glucose to oxygen. In the biofuel cell these electrons flow through a circuit between one electrode where glucose is broken down, and the other where oxygen is converted to water.

Full story: Nature Back to top

DNA sensor changes colour
May 09, 2003

University of Rochester researchers have designed a simple, inexpensive sensor that can detect specific sequences of DNA on-the-fly. Their sensor chip contains hairpin-like stalks of DNA that straighten to expose fluorescent molecules attached to their ends when they combine with a given sequence of DNA.

The chip could eventually be used as a cheap, instant test for biowarfare agents and pathogens like strep throat bacteria, and could also be used in genetic screening, drug discovery and forensics, according to the researchers.

The method is sensitive enough that it does not require the usual, time-consuming step of making thousands of copies of a piece of DNA in order to have enough material to test. To use the chip, a scientist would place a drop of solution containing the DNA to be identified onto the chip and watch for a change of colour.

Full story: Technology Review / TRN Back to top

Puzzles could block mass computer attacks
May 14, 2003

Setting computers a puzzle could thwart a type of mass computer attack increasingly being used to target websites, say US computer researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks involve bombarding a server with a flood of faked requests which may bar legitimate requests from reaching the site and crash the server.

But forcing computers to solve a puzzle in return for access can control the number of requests a machine is able to send to a site, according to XiaoFeng Wang. The more requests a computer sends, the more time- consuming puzzles it has to solve, creating a self-limiting feedback loop. Wang also suggests that the more bandwidth a computer is requesting, the more difficult a puzzle it should be required to solve.

Another idea by Abraham Yaar, involves modifying data in the header of requests sent to a server as it passes through each internet node on its way to the target server. The string of data would be a less easily faked way of identifying the source of the request, meaning administrators could more easily throttle back overwhelming requests.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Innovative software receptionist blocks spam
May 09, 2003

Startup vendor Secluda is beta-testing enterprise software that takes an innovative approach for e-mail filtering. Instead of struggling to profile spam, viruses, and other unwanted e-mail, InBoxMaster makes it easy to build profiles of the software that you want to receive, and either reject or quarantine the rest for examination at leisure.

The server software is installed by the network administrator, but unlike other e-mail filtering technology, it is designed to allow both e-mail administrators and others to set and maintain their own settings. Rules can be set to examine inbound e-mail by e-mail address, text appearing within e-mail addresses, and by IP addresses.

The rules can be set for blacklists, to automatically reject mail, and white lists to automatically accept. The remaining mail is held in a quarantine queue for review. The software also monitors outgoing mail and can be set to automatically update the white list with the addresses that users send mail to. The software is written in Java, and is now in beta testing. It is expected to be available in two or three months.

Full story: Internet Week Back to top

Giving robots the gift of sight
May 15, 2003

An e-business consultant from the UK claims to have invented a breakthrough mechanized vision system with a wide range of potential applications, from robotics to handwriting recognition. Patrick Andrews said he has developed a shape-recognition system called Foveola that closely mimics the human visual system.

In contrast to current shape-recognition systems, Foveola is capable of recognising a broad range of objects, Andrews said. Most vision systems are designed for specific tasks, such as recognising text or industrial components.

Andrews said Foveola mimics the processing pathway in humans' upper visual cortex. In general, Foveola extracts shapes from a visual scene and assigns them a 'mathematical signature'. Like a neural net, the system has to be trained to recognise a shape, and should not be able to distinguish shapes it has not seen before. It can, however, make a best guess based on the numeric signature it assigns.

Full story: Wired News Back to top

Researcher suggests formula for perfect film
May 13, 2003

As the movie world's movers and shakers gather in Cannes for the annual film festival, a British academic believes she has found the holy grail that all Hollywood seeks - the recipe for making box office hits.

Sue Clayton from London University analysed frame by frame what elements were present in different film genres and what made certain films successful. She found that the blueprint for the perfect film is for it to have: 30 per cent action, 17 per cent comedy, 13 per cent good versus evil, 12 per cent sex/romance, 10 per cent special effects, 10 per cent plot and eight per cent music.

The study was based on watching and breaking down the components of a range of hits from Brit-flicks 'The Full Monty' and 'Notting Hill' to US blockbusters such as 'Die Another Day' and 'Titanic'. While the movie 'Shakespeare in Love' scored close to having the right combination of ingredients it could have done with more special effects, the research suggested. As for the film that matched the recipe closest, that honour went to 'Toy Story 2'.

Full story: Yahoo / Reuters Back to top