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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

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A report finds that in the first quarter of 2001, a number of computer security issues, including incident and vulnerability reports, will top 2000 figures. The Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERT), a government-funded R&D center based at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, reported receiving 7,047 incident reports, from Jan. 1Mar. 31, putting 2001 on pace to eclipse the 2000 total of 21,756. First-quarter vulnerability reports tipped the scales at 633, closing the gap on the 2000 total of 1,090. Security notes were up, with three so far in 2001, compared to only 10 for all of last year. CERT sends such notices to its email subscribers when incidents occur and also posts them on its Web site. Computer users and companies should check the CERT Web site (www.cert.org) for the latest vulnerabilities and incidents, virus alerts, bug fixes, and patches made available by vendors.

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Robotic Insect

Engineers have test-flown a prototype of the world's first robotic insect with the hope that eventually the small craft would carry tiny spy cameras into buildings. AeroVironment, a California-based company, specializes in micro-spy planes. Its fixed-wing Black Widow, a tiny black pocket plane just six inches in diameter, is already being used by the U.S. military for outside surveillance behind enemy lines. But the Black Widow flies too fast to navigate inside a room. Enter the Microbat, an eight-inch-long robot that flaps its wings more like a bat than an insect, allowing for excellent mid-air maneuverability and the ability to carry an electric motor and battery into the air. AeroVironment designers admit, however, that when it comes to micro-flapping flight, they are at about the same stage as the Wright Brothers in 1903.


"We tested the quality, durability, and reliability of the product, but we didn't spend enough time testing them in the field or familiarizing the firefighters with their use."
New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, explaining why he pulled the plug on the department's new $33 million digital communications system


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Disposable Phones

In an age of disposable cameras, contact lenses, and telephone cards, disposable mobile phones are just around the corner. A New Jersey inventor claims to have perfected a palm-sized Phone-Card Phone with 60 minutes of prepaid airtime. A $9.95 model makes outgoing calls only; a $12.99 model accepts incoming calls as well. The phone is based on 22 patents, is made of computer chips implanted in coated paper, and can work on both U.S. and European standards. The phone's debut is scheduled this fall.

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Scientific Oath

The scientific equivalent of the Hippocratic oath has been called for by a leading British scientist, reports BBC News. Sir John Sulston, who led the U.K. effort to sequence the human genome, says such a move is required to ease public distrust of scientists and to prevent conflicts of interest arising where research is exploited for profit. Any scientist signing on to the code would have to promise "to cause no harm and to be wholly truthful in their public pronouncements."

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Simulating Dripped Drops

Scientists and mathematicians are making significant progress in dissecting the process that occurs when a simple drop of liquid forms, breaks away, and falls. This phenomenon is as complex as it is common, playing an important role in a wide variety of commercial applications like inkjet printing, pesticide spraying, and DNA testing, reports the New York Times. Physicists at Purdue University have come up with computer simulations that accurately reflect the behavior of drops from inception to fall. Enormously complex equations can predict the shape, volume, formation, movement, and break-off time of a drop, as well as its debris droplets, known as satellite drops. The Purdue models involve solving 50,000 equations simultaneously and have revealed interesting, previously unobserved characteristics of dripping; for example, drops flowing at the same speed behave differently depending on whether or not the faucet is being turned up or down.

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An Aviation First

An unpiloted plane crossed the Pacific Ocean, taking off from Edwards Air Force Base, in California, flew at 65,000 feet, and landed at a Royal Australian Air Force base near Adelaide, completing the 8,600-mile trip 14 minutes ahead of schedule, said an Australian spokesperson. The robotic U.S. spy plane, the Global Hawk, developed by the U.S. Air Force, is a long-endurance, high-altitude, unmanned aerial vehicle intended for multiple battlefield applications. Australia is interested in using the Global Hawk to patrol its northern coast. Developers of the reconnaissance plane say it is perfect for the task, since it can fly at high altitudes for extended periods of time, all the while using its high-powered cameras to image ground and ocean features.

Table. Latest wired country ranking

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Coffee-Cam to Go Black

It became one of those phenomenons, an attraction made meaningful by the very absurdity of its being an attraction. It became famous partly because, at the time researchers at the Cambridge University Lab set up the coffee-pot cam, there were few cameras on the Netthere wasn't even a Web. It began from simple convenience; researchers sharing the same coffee pot but who worked on different floors of the lab pointed a camera at the pot and connected it to the lab's computer network so colleagues could check their computer screens to see if there was enough coffee worth the trip. Then came the Web, and the coffee pot became a cyberdestination for millions around the world. Now the site is going black. The lab is moving this summer, and the computer network is becoming too difficult to maintain. Many are upset, believing the cam was a direct precursor of many things now taken for granted. "I'll probably write an epitaph on the Web site," said Quentin Stafford-Fraser, one of two scientists who designed the system. "It's had its day. It's time to move on."

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Tables

UT1Table. Latest wired country ranking

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©2001 ACM  0002-0782/01/0600  $5.00

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