Oh well. It looks like ‘N Syncer Lance Bass won’t be making a trip into space after all. After failing to pony up the $20 million needed to participate in a trip to the International Space Station (ISS) after several deadline extensions, the pop star was asked to leave Russia’s cosmonaut training program, according to the Russian Space Agency. The Russians have a cargo container ready to go in Bass’s place. Bass had been training for the trip since July and was scheduled to go up to the space station by rocket on October 28. For a look at what Bass will be missing, visit NASA’s SkyWatch site to find out when the station can be viewed flying over your town.
Proving again that clever sloth trumps dull industriousness, a mischievous group of transistors at a British university has spontaneously converted itself into — of all things — a radio receiver.
No word yet if the transistors are next planning to materialize as headphones or a graphic equalizer. New Scientist reports that the recreating of century-old technology occurred at the University of Sussex in Brighton during an experiment that was unusual in its own right. Researchers took transistors, added an evolutionary computer program and were expecting to end up with an oscillator — a repeating sign wave signal.
Instead of forming their own waves, though, the transistors utilized a part on a nearby circuit board as an antenna and began receiving the oscillations from an adjacent computer. Somewhere out in the ether, Guglielmo Marconi ought to be proud. And slackers everywhere, too.
No one will begrudge Dell Computer its success in the marketing and sales realms. When it comes to getting companies and consumers to buy PCs, Dell sets the standard. But for such an accomplished firm, Dell has lacked the reputation for innovation and design smarts that companies like Apple, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have built. Apparently aware of that, wanting to make a change and still looking for the shortest possible path to a buck, Dell announced it will set up the Dell Centers for Research Excellence, a program that CNET’s News.com reports will acknowledge breakthroughs in PC clustering and take part in research with chosen universities. Clustering, for the uninitiated, is the process of linking several, sometimes hundreds of off-the-shelf PCs into one big computing leviathan. To kick off its effort, Dell unveiled Tuesday with the State University of New York at Buffalo a cluster of 2,008 Dell PowerEdge servers running Red Hat Linux. SUNY Buffalo researchers will use the cluster to study the structure and orientation of human proteins, CNET says, an important step in finding cures for many diseases. The Buffalo cluster is one of the largest of its kind, and in terms of sheer computing power makes the set-up one of the 500 fastest computers in the world.
The threat of bioterrorism is growing as more countries try to develop biological weapons, a CIA analyst told members of the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ Council on Public Health Preparedness. “Biological warfare is an attractive option . . . because it’s relatively inexpensive to develop,” said Kimberly Stergulz, an analyst at the CIA’s Weapons, Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center. A result, she said, is that countries such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and Syria, and a growing number of non-state groups, are pursuing the capability. As reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the CIA employee told the council that developing a biological weapons program could cost about $10 million, compared with $100 million to develop chemical weapon capability or $2 billion for nuclear capability. Stergulz presented the information at the first meeting of the council, a group of 21 health specialists and scientists who will advise the federal government on different aspects of potential public health emergencies.
Ford’s foray into the realm of pure electric cars tanked this week, as the company has decided to discontinue the golf-cart sized “vehicle.” A Ford spokesman blamed poor customer demand and lack of government support; ridiculous design was not mentioned. Ford sunk nearly $125 million into the failed project before pulling the plug. Get one last look at the “future” here.
The Washington Post takes a look at what effect the tech industry downturn has had on enrollment in undergraduate computer science programs. The short answer is that growth has ground to a halt. In 2001, CS enrollment dropped 1 percent, according to a report from the Computing Research Association. “And educators in the field say the trend seems to be accelerating, with some colleges seeing much greater drops as the new academic year begins,” the paper says. In its own backyard the Post found that at Virginia Tech, enrollment of undergraduates in the computer science department will drop 25 percent this year, to 300. At George Washington University, the number of incoming freshmen who planned to study computer science fell by more than half. Ironically, the Post notes, while near-term prospects may be a little dim, the U.S. Labor Department projects that software engineering will be the fastest-growing occupation between 2000 and 2010, with other computer-related industries trailing close behind.