NASA, Northwest team on mind-reading tech

This is something that’s been talked about for years, though before Sept. 11 it was always in the context of a bank or high-security government facility, not Northwest Airlines. The upshot of this Washington Times article is that NASA and Northwest are teaming to see if mind-reading technology is feasible, and if so, can it be used to mass-screen airline passengers. Opinion is mixed, and no one in this article addresses the pharmaceutical countermeasures that could potentially be employed to calm a guilt- or panic-ridden brain and heart. Still, plenty creepy.

Mice in the news

It has been a big week for the common lab mouse. Tests in mice showed that the deadly botulism toxin could be neutralized with an experimental drug. The drug, fashioned from two antibodies from mice and one from a human, could be mass-produced and thus could be used as a deterrent to the use of botulism toxin as a weapon. In other mouse news, scientists at the Universiy of Pennsylania have figured out that they can turn mice into goat and pig sperm “factories” by grafting testes onto their backs. The technique could be used in the future to make sperm for young cancer patients left infertile after treatment, to help human couples struggling with male fertility problems, and to preserve species close to extinction. The most amazing mouse news of the week? Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston created a transgenic mouse with Lance Armstrong-like capabilities, able to endure hard exercise for extended periods of time.

U.S. got its e-bomb on

New Scientist says that a military attack on Iraq could see the first use of an e-bomb designed to destroy electronics but not harm people. U.S. intelligence reports that Iraq has moved much of its military infrastructure underground or beneath civilian buildings like hospitals. As such, the magazine says, the role of non-lethal and precision weapons would be a critical factor in any conflict. The U.S. reportedly has in its arsenal High Power Microwave (HPM) devices that produce an electromagnetic field so strong they can destroy electronic equipment in hardened command, control, communications and computer targets. One mechanism for achieving this sounds like something out of “Back to the Future”: An explosive pumped flux generator. That device is essentially a bomb which with a combination of explosives and electronics, sends out an electromagnetic wave of up to tens of millions of Amps. By comparison, a typical lightning strike — which can wreak plenty of damage on its own — carries just 30,000 Amps.

Edsger Wybe Dijkstra: 1930-2002

John Mahoney writes: “Noted computer scientist Edsger Wybe Dijkstra died on August 6, 2002.” Here’s a link to what looks like a university obituary on Dijkstra and here’s part of what CNET’s had to say about him: “Dijkstra was on the committee that created Algol, the first block-structured programming language and one that introduced many ideas behind Pascal, Basic and C. His practical skills, especially in discerning and coding algorithms, were also remarkable–he wrote the first Algol 60 compiler. Other ideas he invented or helped define include structured programming, stacks, vectors, semaphores, synchronized processes and the notorious deadly embrace–feared by multitasking programmers the world over–where two processes both stop while they wait for each other to continue.”

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.