Remember Segways, those nifty electric scooters that resemble “lawn mowers on steroids”? The San Jose Mercury News reports that a key piece of legislation that would allow them on California sidewalks faces a showdown today in the state’s assembly. And the outcome could make or break the transporter’s future in the nation’s most populace state. Who opposes the proposed five-year experiment? Advocates for senior citizens, the disabled and pedestrians, who say the bill would turn California sidewalks into raceways. In support? Segway, naturally. Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr. And geeks from San Diego to Yuba City.
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.
In response to outbreaks of West Nile virus throughout the eastern U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pointed out that the best way to avoid infection is to avoid mosquito bites. West Nile virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, and in addition to humans can infect horses, many species of birds, and some other animals. Fortunately, most people who become infected with West Nile virus will have either no symptoms or mild ones. But on rare occasions, infection can result in West Nile encephalitis, a severe and sometimes fatal inflammation of the brain. (The risk of severe infection is higher for persons 50 years of age and older.) Officials in Washington D.C. have been getting the word out about protective measures people can take after West Nile virus infected a 55-year-old resident, who is now hospitalized with encephalitis. As of Thursday, state health departments around the U.S. have released information on 113 cases of human illness related to West Nile virus this year, including 5 deaths.
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 News.com 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.”
I don’t know why everyone’s getting excited about this crow being so smart. First, crows are woeful creatures that like as not’ll ruin my corn crop again this year. They trick Pete into giving them access to the tools — flashing fake badges, or telling Pete he’s needed on another part of the farm “pronto.” Then they harvest, bag and truck off the best of the ears. But that makes them smart? A half-bright bunch of third-graders could fool Pete. When a crow tells the president when the big one’s coming, or picks me the right lotto numbers, then, yeah, that’s pretty smart. But for now I’m just laughing. Hell, I can make bent wire tools.
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.
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.
Oh, to be as well-regarded and useful as recently departed polymer chemist William Mallow. Mallow, the man credited with inventing clumping cat litter and perfecting Liquid Paper, was remembered this week by family and friends as a scientist with a knack for practicality. In addition to litter and white-out, Mallow worked on the space shuttle’s heat-resistant tiles, developed a way to artificially age Scotch whiskey and improved the rubber skin used on robot dinosaurs at Walt Disney World, Reuters reports.
“He was a people’s chemist,” said Dr. Robert Bass, a colleague at the Southwest Research Institute. While at the institute, Mallow also helped Liquid Paper inventor Bette Nesmith Graham perfect the white goo. (Nesmith Graham, it should be noted, is the mother of former Monkees member Michael Nesmith).
Mallow’s latest project was a military-grade slip-n-slide gel called the Mobility Denial System. Meant to foil attacks on government buildings and control crowds, “it can be sprayed on any surface and causes people to slip and fall and prevents vehicles from getting traction.”
Mallow, a native of Akron, Ohio, died of leukemia at age 72 in a San Antonio hospital on Tuesday, Reuters says.
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.
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.
Dogs, it turns out, are a lot smarter than you thought. Unless you’re a dog, that is. In which case you probably figured you were clever all along. Researchers say they’ve found canines can perform rudimentary math and “speak” by modifying their barks situationally. Not surprisingly, the math trick was discovered using food treats. Shortchange Fido on a Scooby snack and he just knows. Regarding their speaking ability, dogs usually use high-pitched single barks when separated from their owners and a lower, harsher superbark when strangers approach, say the researchers. Playful woofs are high-pitched and unevenly spaced.