Let’s get small, redux

Intel is set to disclose some of its plans in nanotechnology, sure to be key to the company's chips for decades to come. As reported by CNET's News.com, Sunlin Chou, senior VP of technology and manufacturing, will discuss some of the plans next week at the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose. Topping the topics likely to be covered: Carbon nanotubes and multigate transistors. Nanotubes are strings of carbon atoms tightly bonded together that show promise in manufacturing everything from tennis rackets to electronics. In computer chips, they can theoretically be used to replace the wispy metal wires that now define a chip's circuitry. That could make processors smaller and cheaper. Multigate transistors, meanwhile, are a way of addressing the conundrum faced by all chipmakers: The more powerful processors become, the more electricity must flow through them. But as chips shrink in size, the extremely small transistors that control this flow are growing overloaded, something like hooking up a fire hose to a Waterpik nozzle, as CNET puts it. One way around that is to give each transistor more than one gate, an approach that IBM is using in some of its products already. Although analysts say they doubt Intel will copy this entirely, the company likely has a similar approach up its sleeve.

Hunting: No role in controlling fox population

In Britain a central rationale in support of fox hunting has been challenged by a scientific study. Hunting advocates have long claimed that fox hunts keep the fox population from exploding, protecting livestock. But scientists from the University of Bristol said today that banning fox hunting would not cause an increase in the fox population. This announcement adds some concrete support to a debate that has been waging for years between hunting defenders and animal welfare campaigners. The scientists got the opportunity to test assumptions about the effects a ban would have because of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in Britain in 2001 that led to a ten-month ban on fox hunting. The British government is currently in a six-month period of consultation in search of a compromise on fox hunting between the House of Commons, who earlier this year voted for a full ban, and the House of Lords, who voted for licensed hunting.

Baby bye bye bye

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.

Sine o’ the times

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.

Dell embraces clusters

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.

Bioterrorism: Inexpensive, and built to stay that way

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.

Dude, computer science is so sophomoric

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.

Meteor girl one in a billion

The odds of getting hit by a meteorite are pretty slim. Say, one in several billion. But a Yorkshire girl looks to have been that lucky loner, and best of all, she wasn't killed or maimed in the process. As reported by the BBC, 14-year-old Siobhan Cowton was getting into the family car outside her home last Thursday when a stone fell on her foot from the sky. The stone, which was "quite hot, ? looked very unusual, with a bubbled surface and tiny indentations like volcanic lava," the teen said. She showed it to her dad, who was likewise taken by the heavenly descender. According to Dr. Benny Peiser, of Liverpool John Moores University, the stone could have come from Mars. After some testing, the Cowtons plan to have the rock mounted in a glass case so Siobhan can keep it for the rest of her life. "After all," says poppa, "it is not every day you get hit by a meteorite."

Reefs in trouble

Today a program called Reef Check at UCLA's Institute of the Environment released the results of a massive, five-year volunteer-run survey of the planet's coral reefs -- what may be the world's most comprehensive ecological study to date. Unfortunately the study reveals that the reefs around the world are in serious decline, and that the
">situation is only getting worse
. Overfishing has affected 95 percent of the more than 1,107 coral reefs monitored since 1997; at least four species of reef fish, hunted as food or for aquariums, face extinction, according to the study. So how do you monitor the coral reefs, which make up less than .09% of the area of the world's oceans and are spread around the globe? Volunteers, lots of them. Reef Check scientists taught teams of sea-worthy volunteers -- from recreational divers to village fisherman -- about reef ecology and scientific monitoring. About 5,000 scientists and volunteers contributed. According to Reef Check's founder, Gregor Hodgson, of the reefs surveyed, just one, near Madagascar, could be considered pristine. "What we have seen is coral reefs have been damaged more in the last 20 years than they have in the last 1,000," Hodgson said. "Suddenly, the pressures of overfishing and damaging types of fishing -- dynamiting fish and poisoning fish, particularly in Southeast Asia -- have taken off."

Sexy beast

Long, dark manes on male lions are more more attractive to females than shorter, lighter manes, researchers reported in today's issue of the journal Science. Peyton West and Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota set up dummy lions with different mane types at Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. While males were more inclined to approach dummies with lighter, shorter manes, females were drawn to the dummies with big, dark hair. There's good reason for this: blood tests revealed that males with darker manes tend to have higher levels of testosterone. But the most-wanted males pay a price for their looks: the dark hairs make the lions hotter, literally, and this extra heat results in a good deal of abnormal sperm.