Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 16, 2004

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Issue 16, 2004

This week's headlines:

Google sets $2.7 billion IPO
April 29, 2004

Google, the world's No. 1 internet search engine, filed for its initial public stock offering Thursday and promised to maintain its long-term focus even though it will soon face the intense scrutiny of Wall Street.

The company said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it expects to raise as much as $2.7 billion from the offering, which it will conduct in the unusual format of an online auction in a bid to make its shares more widely available.

Wall Street has been eagerly anticipating a filing from Google so investors could finally get a glimpse into the company's finances. In the filing, Google said that it generated revenues of $961.9m in 2003 and reported a net profit of $106.5m. Sales rose 177 per cent from a year ago although earnings increased by just 6 per cent. Google also revealed that it has been profitable since 2001.

Full story: CNN Back to top

EU's anti-spam laws in chaos
April 28, 2004

A study by the Institute of Information Law (IViR) at the University of Amsterdam has revealed that the EU's much-vaunted anti-spam legislation, Directive 58, is fast turning into a legislative disaster. The Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications was supposed to have been adopted by EU member states by October 2003, but so far only 7 of 15 have implemented legislation by the cut-off date.

A directive that was supposed to see spammers pursued under Article 13 of the Directive, could now witness the situation of members states themselves being fined by EU authorities for non-compliance. The report said that there was also uncertainty as to how and when new states joining the EU on 1 May would have to implement the directive.

Beyond the basic issue of compliance, the IViR's research found widespread confusion about defining the precise meaning of some of the legislation's main terms, and countries that have implemented the Directive were attaching widely varying penalties for offenders.

Full story: The Standard Back to top

Forgent sues over JPEG patent
April 24, 2004

US-based Forgent Networks has sued 31 major hardware and software vendors for allegedly infringing on its claim to an algorithm used in the popular JPEG picture file format. If the suits are successful, they could lead to an increase in prices for tools and software used to create and modify images - or even lead the industry to abandon the JPEG format altogether.

In use since the mid-1980s, the JPEG, or Joint Photographic Experts Group, format has become the de facto standard for sharing photo-quality images electronically. Although the most widely used version of the format is in the public domain, Forgent said it believes that a 17-year-old patent it acquired through the purchase of Compression Labs in 1997 can be applied to a specific algorithm in the format.

Full story: Wired News Back to top

DNA computer detects and treats disease
April 28, 2004

Researchers at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science have developed a molecular 'computer' designed to sniff out chemical signs of disease and pump out drugs in response. In the future, a doctor might inject trillions of the devices into a patient.

Molecular computers harness the software-like ability of DNA strands to store information. Enzymes 'read' chemical sequences on the DNA in a way that allows the computer to perform calculations. Such computers could become extremely powerful, given DNA's potential to store huge amounts of information.

The computer is designed to detect cancer by monitoring concentrations of certain molecules. If cancer is detected, the computer releases other molecules that interfere with a cancer cell's activities and cause it to self-destruct. The computer is autonomous it does not need supervision or added chemicals to make it work.

Full story: ABC News / AP / Nature Back to top

Faster circuits go for gold
April 26, 2004

One route to faster computing is to increase the number of connections between components in a circuit. But chip manufacturers are fast running out of room on conventional, flat circuit boards. Now, researchers at the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics have worked out a way to draw a three-dimensional circuit directly into a block of glass.

The secret was to add gold oxide to the glass, at a concentration of one part in 10,000. Then they focused short laser pulses on to specific points inside the block, to dislodge individual atoms of gold. When the block was heated to 550 ºC, the gold atoms coalesced into tiny globules. The blobs make up a dotty structure in the same way that newspaper photographs are made from many tiny points of ink.

The team's next goal is to make working circuits running through the glass. The researchers also suggest that the technique could be used for storing data. The presence or absence of a nanodot at each point within a three-dimensional grid could signal a bit of computer data, they say, although the method is unlikely to be cost-effective in the near future.

Full story: Nature Back to top

'Laser vision' offers new insights
April 27, 2004

US firm Microvision has developed a system that projects lasers onto the retina, allowing users to view images on top of their normal field of vision. It could allow surgeons to get a bird's eye view of the innards of a patient, offer soldiers a view of the entire battlefield and provide mechanics with a simulation of the inside of a car's engine.

The system uses tiny lasers, which scan their light onto the retina to produce the entire range of human vision. Microvision say the technology is safe because of very low strength of the laser used.

Potentially the system could provide three dimensional pictures in perfect colour, able to simulate near or distant objects with complete realism, which could provide gamers with an intense sense of reality. Within five years, such systems could be incorporated into mobile phones or hand-held computers and appear to the brain as a brightly lit widescreen TV version of what is on the device.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Green tea polishes hard drive heads
April 27, 2004

Green tea provides a more effective and environmentally-friendly method of preparing computer hard disks, say US scientists.

The read-write head inside the hard disk is used to magnetically impart and retrieve information from a spinning disk. The point of this head must be extremely smooth as it travels on a microscopically thin layer of air above the disk's fast-moving surface. Manufacturing a read-write head involves smoothing it using a diamond instrument and abrasive chemicals to remove any particles that still cling to the surface.

But the researchers developed a polishing mixture using tannins and other plant extracts from green tea. They say it is not only more effective than existing compounds, but also less environmentally harmful because it is biodegradable. The researchers combined chemicals from green tea with synthetic proteins and an abrasive chemical. It produced a mixture well suited to removing microscopic imperfections. By binding to these particles, the mixture gives them an electrostatic charge, causing them to be repelled from the platter's surface.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Microsoft cuts ribbon on EU research centre
April 26, 2004

Microsoft on Monday officially opened a research centre in Aachen, Germany, a move that makes the company eligible to take part in projects funded by the European Commission and by individual European countries.

The European Microsoft Innovation Centre will conduct research into web services, security and privacy technologies, and wireless technologies. It will focus on three areas: enterprise computing, embedded devices and the extended home. Projects will be developed jointly with European academia and industry partners.

The EMIC, which was set up earlier this year, is already a partner in several projects cofunded by the European Commission. EMIC currently has 12 staff members, which will be increased to 20 in coming months.

Full story: CNET News Back to top

IBM, Stanford launch 'Spintronic' research centre
April 26, 2004

IBM and Stanford University on Monday launched a joint research centre focused on an area of nanotechnology called 'spintronics'. Researchers hope to create fast-loading computers as well as other enhancements by controlling the spin of electrons within a computer processor.

IBM and Stanford announced the formation of the Spintronic Science and Applications Center, or SpinAps, at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. Spintronics research will be conducted at Almaden and at Stanford's labs.

Spintronics is a field within nanotechnology, which is the science of developing materials at the atomic and molecular level in order to imbue them with special electrical and chemical properties. Nanotechnology is expected to make major contributions to the fields of computer storage, semiconductors, biotechnology, manufacturing and energy.

Full story: TechWeb Back to top

Multinational team cracks crypto puzzle
April 27, 2004

RSA Security on Tuesday said that over three months of consistent effort helped an international team of mathematicians solve the company's latest encryption puzzle. The team of eight experts used about 100 workstations to crack the code that won them a $10,000 prize.

The contestants' task was to determine the two prime numbers that have been used to generate eight 'challenge' numbers, which are central to RSA's 576-bit encryption code. RSA's contest is designed to help test the robustness of the lengthy algorithms used for electronic security. The competition is intended to encourage research into computational number theory and the practical difficulty of factoring large integers.

The experts involved in the project represented the Scientific Computing Institute and the Pure Mathematics Institute in Germany, and the National Research Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science in the Netherlands. Number theorists from Canada, the US and the UK also participated.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top