Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 31, 2003

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Issue 31, 2003

This week's headlines:

Economists reject European software patent proposals
August 27, 2003

A group of economists from around Europe has issued a scathing critique of the European Parliament's proposed law on software patents, arguing it would damage Europe's software industry, while benefiting almost no one except patent lawyers.

In an open letter to the European Parliament the economists urged that the proposed Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions be rejected in its current form when it comes for a vote on 1 September. The legislation would be a recipe for disaster, they said, and would encourage large companies to build up an arsenal of patents that they could use to fend off competition from smaller companies.

The patents initiative aims to harmonise the patent systems across the EU, making it easier to obtain computer-related patents that will be valid across Europe. Under the current system, many patents approved by the European Patent Office are invalidated by the patent regimes of individual countries.

Full story: Yahoo / ZDNet UK Back to top

Spam comes under fire from European industry body
August 27, 2003

EEMA, the European association for ebusiness, is throwing its weight - and that of its members - behind the battle to rid the web of spam.

The organisation is launching a consultation process next month inviting its members to voice their concerns about spam and share their experiences of combating the problem in the hope of finding a unified approach towards beating the menace of unsolicited email.

The EEMA said pressure from the organisation's members, which include BT, Barclays, Computer Associates, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Siemens and Unilever, had forced the consultation.

Findings from the consultation will be presented at a conference in December and and published in a paper on spam and email abuse management.

Full story: Back to top

Amazon throws the book at spammers
August 26, 2003 has filed 11 lawsuits against marketers that allegedly used its name when sending bogus e-mail. The web retailer filed federal lawsuits in the US and Canada aiming to bar 11 internet marketers from sending e-mail forgeries with Amazon's name. It is seeking millions of dollars in punitive damages.

The company is also working with the New York Attorney General's office to identify alleged spammers. The state law enforcement office said Tuesday that it settled civil fraud charges with one forger,, that was named in Amazon's suit. Amazon has reached a similar settlement in principle with Cyebye.

The suits are part of an initiative at Amazon to thwart e-mail forgeries of its name, or what is known as 'spoofing'. E-mail spoofing is the practice of concealing the e-mail senders' identity with that of a third party in order to make the e-mail more desirable to open and to deflect the ability to trace the sender.

Full story: ZDNet / CNET Back to top

Silent pump for water-cooled PCs developed
August 25, 2003

A new water-cooling system for computer chips has been developed that incorporates a clever pump with no moving parts. The system, developed by Californian start-up company Cooligy, aims to silently solve the problem that the faster chips get, the hotter they become.

Some water-based cooling systems already exist. But what makes Cooligy's approach different is that it uses a pump relying on electro-osmosis to move the water, meaning it has no moving parts and is silent. It consists of a disc of glass two millimetres thick and five centimetres in diameter. This is riddled with little tubes, about one micron in diameter, which pass from one flat side of the disc to the other.

Applying an electric charge across the disc interacts with charged layers on the surface of the pores and causes ions to migrate. These drag water molecules along in the process, creating a flow. Experiments have produced a flow rate of 200 millilitres per minute, which would be enough to cool chips that radiate 120 watts of heat per square centimetre, with hotspots of up to 500 watts.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Cellophane turns LCDs 3D
August 26, 2003

A University of Toronto researcher used cellophane and a pair of crossed polarizer glasses to turn an ordinary laptop screen into a 3D display. Tests verified that cellophane possesses the properties necessary to rotate the direction of white light polarisation 90 degrees. It is possible to rotate the polarisation of the light coming from one half of a laptop screen by simply covering that side with cellophane.

Showing two copies of an image that are polarised differently through a pair of glasses that blocks light polarised in different directions for each eye allows a viewer to see a different copy of the image with each eye. This creates the illusion of three dimensions because the human brain judges distances based on the differences in the views seen by each eye.

The colourless, 25 micron-thick ordinary cellophane was better than the commercial half-wave plates usually used for the job and 3,500 times less expensive, according to the researcher.

Full story: Technology Review / TRN Back to top

Researchers create switchable fluorescent molecule
August 25, 2003

Researchers from Kyushu University in Japan have constructed a fluorescent molecule that can be repeatedly switched on and off.

The molecule could eventually be used to store data. In such a storage device, the two states of the molecule - giving off light or not - would represent the ones and zeros of digital information. If a way can be found to switch individual, closely packed molecules on and off, fantastic amounts of information could be stored in very small spaces.

The researchers' molecule is a fluorescent compound that switches on and off by changing shape in the presence of certain types of light. Key to the compound's potential usefulness is that it remained stable even when switched repeatedly. Many fluorescent compounds are fragile.

The shape of the fluorescent form of the molecule is a split ring. Shining three seconds of ultraviolet light on the molecule closes the ring and prevents the molecule from giving off light. Shining visible light on the molecule for 10 seconds opens the ring again.

Full story: Technology Review / TRN Back to top

IBM finds ally for supercomputer-on-a-chip
August 27, 2003

IBM and the University of Texas at Austin plan to collaborate on building a processor capable of churning out more than 1 trillion calculations per second - faster than many of today's top supercomputers.

Researchers at the university conceived the TRIPS (Tera-op Reliable Intelligently adaptive Processing System) chip architecture. At the heart of the TRIPS architecture is a new concept called 'block-oriented execution', IBM said. Whereas most chips can handle just a few calculations at a time, a processor based on TRIPS architecture will be able to perform large blocks of them simultaneously.

A chip capable of performing 1 trillion operations, a tera-op, will not emerge from the project until 2010. However, researchers are readying a prototype chip with four processor cores - the computing units inside a processor - that is expected in less than three years.

Full story: CNET News Back to top

Tool sketches quantum circuits
August 27, 2003

Computer chips are manufactured using photo lithography - a technique that employs light and chemicals to etch microscopic features into silicon. Researchers routinely use electron beam lithography, which uses beams of electrons instead of photons, to etch even smaller devices, like the quantum dots that trap single electrons to form the building blocks of quantum computers. This is a very slow process, however.

Researchers from Cambridge University in England and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a lithographic technique, dubbed erasable electrostatic lithography, that allows a quantum device to be drawn in a few hours rather than a couple of weeks.

The researchers modified a scanning tunnelling microscope so that they could sketch charge patterns onto the surface of a piece of the semiconductor gallium arsenide and erase the patterns using red light. The surface charge, which draws from a subsurface sheet of electrons, defines working quantum components. The researchers have used the method to define quantum wires, dots and hills.

Full story: Technology Review / TRN Back to top

Hidden trails to 'pirates' revealed
August 28, 2003

The music industry's methods of tracking down suspected music pirates have been revealed for the first time. Using digital fingerprints, or 'hashes', investigators say they can tell if an MP3 file was downloaded from an unauthorised service. The industry also tracks 'metadata' tags, which provide hidden clues about how files were created.

The details were given by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in a legal case against a suspected pirate. The association is trying to force a woman from Brooklyn, New York, who is accused of distributing almost 1,000 songs over the internet, to reveal her real identity. She is currently only known by her screen name, 'Nycfashiongirl', and wants to remain anonymous.

In court papers, the RIAA said it could use the hashes to tell whether a file was recorded from a legitimately-bought CD or whether it was downloaded from the internet. They can be used to track songs that were downloaded using the Napster service as far back as May 2000.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Computer game 'boosts hearing'
August 27, 2003

A simple computer game can dramatically improve children's listening skills by teaching them to distinguish between sounds, new research suggests. The game is said to boost children's hearing by the equivalent of two years in just a few weeks.

Phonomena was devised by Professor David Moore at Oxford University as an aid for children with language problems. But the latest trials show it can help any child. Moore believes playing Phonomena can enhance general language ability in the same way that catching a ball improves hand-to-eye co-ordination. The game aims to improve a child's ability to distinguish between different phonemes, the basic sounds that form the building blocks of language.

In the latest trials, 18 children aged eight to 10 played the game three times a week for three weeks. The team found a dramatic improvement in the group, whose listening skill equivalent ages were raised an average of 2.4 years compared with 12 children who did not play the game.

Full story: BBC News / New Scientist Back to top

Hi-tech tome takes on paperbacks
August 24, 2003

A new gadget could spell an end to books as we know them. Researchers at Hewlett Packard have developed a prototype electronic book which can hold a whole library on a device no bigger than a paperback.

The brushed metal device is about one centimetre thick and looks like an oversized handheld computer. The technological tome is dominated by a screen and a series of touch sensitive strips that allow the reader to navigate through the book.

The developers were keen to retain features of traditional books that people like. To keep page turners happy, the researchers have fitted the e-book with a small but powerful computer that animates a turning page when the reader is ready to move on. The pages are turned by running a finger along one of the strips. Stroking the strip at different speeds allows the reader to speed read or casually browse the book. Particular pages can also be assigned a bookmark or an electronic finger allows you to flick between two chapters immediately.

Full story: BBC News Back to top