Silicon storage: That’s a lot of data!

Richard Feynman once said that all the information in all the books in the world could theoretically fit in a cube 1/200th of an inch on a side. Looks like he got it right, says Technology Research News. Reporting on advances in data storage, the magazine says researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison have demonstrated the successful use of single silicon atoms to represent the ones and zeroes that are modern data storage. The result, in theory, is the ability to store the equivalent of 7,800 DVDs in one square inch of material. Engineering limitations mean writing atomic bits is impractically slow at the moment. But the Madison work is a realistic analysis of bit stability and recording density, says one scientist who has examined the work.

Europe warns — correctly — of hack attack

The U.S. government Tuesday morning was monitoring attacks against U.S. Internet providers, hours after European authorities warned the FBI that such an onslaught was likely. A spike of data seven times larger than normal was aimed at East Coast ISPs and Web sites beginning about 2 a.m., the Associated Press reports. The attack then shifted to West Coast facilities. Because the campaign emanated from a relatively small number of computers, the targets were generally able to withstand the barrage by filtering data from the offending machines. Just before the data flood began, the FBI issued an extraordinary warning citing “credible but non-specific information that wide-scale hacker attacks” were planned against U.S. Web sites and Internet providers, the AP said. The European tip-off came from Italian authorities. No word on how they knew it was coming.

IBM (hearts) NY

IBM Wednesday opened a sophisticated semiconductor plant in East Fishkill, NY. The $2.5 billion facility is the single biggest capital investment the company has ever made, and presumably reflects an optimism that things will improve for the tech sector generally, and the beleaguered chip business in particular.

The new factory will make processors for everything from videogames and cell phone to mainframe computers. “The plant also will be the first to mass produce circuits thinner than 0.1 micron, or 1,000 times thinner than a human hair,” the Associated Press reports. “The old standard was 0.25 microns, with some chips now at 0.18 microns. The thinner lines, or conduits, allow chips to run faster and use less electricity.”

When it begins normal production next year, the factory is expected to employ about 1,000 East Fishkillers.

Powell to Congress: UUNET could shut down

FCC Chairman Michael Powell sent a good strong scare into lawmakers Tuesday when he testified that WorldCom might be able to shut down its UUNET subsidiary’s Internet backbone without government approval. UUNET is a major component on the Internet, and its loss could potentially have devastating effects, particularly on corporate and government clients.

“Mr. Powell said he was confident in the long-term health of the telecom industry,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “But in the short term, ‘there are question marks’ about whether the FCC can order a bankrupt company’s Internet subsidiary to keep its backbone operational. ‘I could hypothesize that (the company) would refuse to comply.'”

After Powell’s shake-em-up, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat, said he would introduce legislation to clarify the agency’s authority over Internet-backbone companies like UUNET. The Journal notes that the panel reacted positively to Powell’s request for Congress to strengthen the FCC’s jurisdiction over telecom companies that file for bankruptcy protection, to ensure it can stop them from shutting down essential services.

Three-way chip deal promises smaller everything

Computer chips have been shrinking for years. But who stops to consider that that’s only been possible because the stuff on the chips, like circuits, transistors and memory have shrunk too? To keep the trend going, Germany’s Infineon has joined Advanced Micro Devices and United Microelectronics Corp. to develop technology to produce the tiny structures needed inside chips. As the number of elements on a chip doubles approximately every year, “chipmakers are under pressure to develop new microelements to fit on (them),” Reuters reports. Currently, the size of the smallest element on a chip is 130nm. The three-way alliance will focus on developing a 65nm and 45nm manufacturing process.

Attention passengers, this is your car

David Hasselhoff would be proud. Under a deal signed with IBM, future models of the Honda Accord will let drivers talk to their car’s computer to locate nearby gas stations and restaurants. Better still, the car will answer back, using its stereo system to provide driving directions. The voice recognition system is based on Big Blue’s ViaVoice product, which the company says understands different speech accents and has a large vocabulary.

Come fly with me

Boeing has joined a small group of technology bigwigs trying to test a theory that would let engineers negate some of the effects of gravity. The American aerospace giant is using the work of controversial Russian scientist Yevgeny Podkletnov, who claims to have developed a device that can shield objects from the Earth’s pull. Other researchers claim Podkletnov’s work is hokum, but considering the cost savings such a device would represent for air travel, Boeing seems intent on getting to the bottom of it all. The Russian says he found that objects above a superconducting ceramic disc rotating over powerful electromagnets lost weight, the BBC reports. “The reduction in gravity was small, about 2 percent, but the implications — for example, in terms of cutting the energy needed for a plane to fly — were immense.”

Who says chickens can’t fly?

The Associated Press reports materials researchers have begun experimenting with chicken feathers and soy resin to craft future computer processors. Researchers in the University of Delaware’s ACRES program — Affordable Composites from Renewable Sources — looked to chicken feathers because they have shafts that are hollow but strong, and made mostly of air, which is a great conductor of electricity. The feathers and resin are crafted into a composite material that looks and feels like silicon, according to program director Richard Wool. In initial tests, electric signals moved twice as fast through the organic chip as through a silicon chip, researchers said. “The first time, Dr. Wool’s response was, ‘Recheck,'” said post-doc Chang Kook Hong, who headed the research. “I repeated the test three times with the same results. Then he said, ‘You have a hit here.'” Don’t expect feather Pentiums any time soon, however. The natural bumps and irregularities that come from using an organic base are a big impediment to commercial use. “The microchip industry depends on materials that are ultrasmooth and ultraflat,” said one researcher. “This was anything but that.”

Urban legends

Boy explodes from eating Pop Rocks with Coca-Cola. Girl summons vengeful spirit by chanting “Bloody Mary” while staring into mirror. Richard Gere checks into hospital, furry friend in tow. And once again, Apple plans x86-platform Macs. As posted on MacOSRumors, “Apple may be on the way to moving over to an x86-based platform, probably the AMD Athlon family of processors.”

Historically, this techno-legend was wishful thinking on the part of cultish Apple devotees in hopes that the Mac would rise up from its Amelio-era deathbed and strike a fatal blow to the Wintel camp. Today, there are several reasons why this rumor is feasible at this time in Apple’s history: Apple’s UNIX-based MacOS X seems an easy port to CISC-based processors; The Apple/Microsoft arranged union is soon to come to a close; rumors of Motorola’s processor shortages; and so on.

“Although Motorola sources have repeatedly stated that they do not believe Apple will be implementing Moto’s G5 family of processors as it is currently known — G4 processors “have legs,” according to those sources, and will power Apple computers for at least another year, they say — we do not believe that this means that Apple will not employ PowerPC processors significantly more advanced than the current crop. It may mean that Apple does not believe that the current G5 designs are suitable in terms of clock speeds, price, or reliable supply availability. In fact, this rumor that Apple isn’t going to implement the G5 may not be accurate at all.”

Consider that CISC-based processors are larger, consume far more power and run much hotter than RISC processors, which would not fare well in many of Apple’s newer, more compact machines that do not include processor-cooling fans. Additionally, Apple touts its PowerPC G4 with Velocity Engine processor“the chip that put supercomputing power on the desktop?can perform four (in some cases eight) 32-bit floating-point calculations in a single cycle ? two to four times faster than processors found in PCs.”

Loss of a troubled leader

Gene Kan, peer-to-peer file-sharing programmer extraordinaire, took his own life June 29, and Wired.com has a fine tribute to the troubled but brilliant 25-year-old. Kan’s professional life revolved around developing ways for people to swap information easily and quickly. As Wired notes, Kan was among the first programmers to create an open-source version of the file-sharing application Gnutella, which lets users search for and transfer files from computer to computer. “His ability to translate complicated technology into easily understandable terms quickly led to his becoming the unofficial spokesman for Gnutella in particular, and for file-sharing applications in general,” the new site says. “Gene was one of the first people to make hay with the idea that peer-to-peer file sharing wasn’t just about music, but about a powerful approach to problems in computer networking,” adds Tim O’Reilly, of O’Reilly Publishing. “It was Gnutella and Freenet, more than Napster, that got the attention of the technical elite and made us think more deeply about the way the Internet was evolving.” Kan’s death was not entirely unexpected, Wired reports. Friends had hoped Kan was winning his hard-fought battle against depression. “We did all the things you’re supposed to do,” said Cody Oliver, Gene’s business partner in peer-to-peer search technology gonesilent.com. “We got him on Prozac; we connected him to the suicide hotlines. He promised he wouldn’t do anything drastic. But now he’s gone. It’s a really rough time.”