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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

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Approximately 379 million people in 21 countries connected to the Internet from their homes in March, an increase of 6.8 million from February, according to Nielson/NetRatings. The latest figure is based on real-time monitoring of Internet users in countries such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and the U.K. Based on the Global Internet Index, South Koreans are the world's most prolific Web surfers, with home users each viewing an average of 2,164 pages during the month; Hong Kong was a distant second, with users clicking their way through an average of 1,123 pages during the month. In the U.S., the average was 687 Web pages a month per user, or 35 pages per Web-surfing session. Australia and the U.S. were the two countries with the highest viewing time per page: 54 seconds. South Koreans offered a clue as to how they managed to plow through more than twice as many Web pages as their counterparts in most other countries, registering an average of 28 seconds per pagethe lowest in the survey.

"South Koreans are studying remarkably high numbers of [Web] pages during each session and over a month, but they're barely pausing on each page."
Richard Goosey, chief of measurements science and analytics at ACNielsen

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Brush-on Smart Paint

Paint able to sense vibrations by using a fine powder of piezoelectric material has been developed by researchers at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the U.K. When this material, called lead zirconate titanate or PZT, is stretched or squeezed it produces an electric signal that is proportionate to the force being applied. Engineers could use the smart paint to monitor vibrations throughout the lifetime of a structure, allowing them to calculate when fatigue is becoming a problem and making possible the design of more elegant and cheaper structures. The paint is currently being tested on the Gateshead Millennium Bridge across the Tyne.

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Losses in the Face of Piracy

After a five-year lull, software piracy is on the rise, according to the findings of an annual study of illegally copied software. The Business Software Alliance, an advocacy group, reports the worst offenders were in Eastern Europe, where 63% of all software was bootlegged, and the Asian-Pacific area, where software firms faced losses of $4 billion in 2000. Overall global losses due to illegally copied software were $11.75 billion, slightly lower than 1999 due to cheaper software prices and increased demand.

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Losses in the Name of Quality

U.S. businesses lost nearly $100 billion due to defective software code in 2000 that resulted in high repair costs, downtime, and lost productivity, according to the market research firm Standish Group. Recent large-scale problems related to defective code include the complete shutdown of eBay, the online auction site, due to flawed Sun Microsystems software, and Nike losing $100 million because, it claims, its supply chain management software was flawed. Experts say the problem could get worse with the advent of Internet-based platforms such as Microsoft's .Net initiative, because such platforms will be open to a greater number of users, all of whom can be affected by software bugs.

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Hear the Earth's Patter

NASA scientists installed a very low frequency radio receiver on a tower connected to a computer that converts the signals to sound waves and sends out real-time streaming audio of the earth's eerie patter. Largely the result of lightning (lightning strikes somewhere on Earth about 100 times per second), these radio waves cause three of the most commonly heard radio noises: sferics, tweeks, and whistlers. These transmitted tones help scientists better understand the plasma of space. (The audio is available at

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Radio Frequency Fries Electronics

Two homemade weapons capable of frying electronics and crashing computers were demonstrated at the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, reports New Scientist. The weapons, cobbled together using electronics available in stores, catalogues, and over the Internet, were designed to pump out short but powerful pulses of electromagnetic radio waves. The smaller of the two prototypes did not work, but the larger devicewhich could fit inside a carcrashed computers, destroyed data, and disrupted the functioning of medical systems. Requested by the U.S. government, the tests were conducted to determine whether cheap but effective radio waves could be made with little technical know-how and used by terrorist groups to disable commercial or military computers, or even bring down planes.

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Click, Drag, Plagiarize, Gotcha

With plagiarism an increasing concern at colleges and universities in the age of the Internet and the Web's advancing search technology, a University of Virginia physics professor has decided to fight back by using a simple computer program designed to search out any similar six-word strings and phrases. After he set the program loose on his electronic database of 1,500 term papers, the prof's heart sank as his computer churned out one match after another, triggering University of Virginia's biggest cheating investigation in memory. "It was a little more common than I hoped," the professor, Lou Bloomfield, said. A total of 122 students now face possible expulsion. A blow to the university's famed honor code, the staggering number of cases is forcing the student-run disciplinary system to work overtime.

"Technology really is a double-edged sword when it comes to cheating. The means for detecting cheating are catching up with the means for cheating."
Thomas Hall, student chair of University of Virginia's honor committee

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Web as Close as Your Wrist

It's just a matter of time before Internet access will be as prevalent as the hours and minutes ticking away on your watch, reports the Washington Post. High-tech timepieces designed and marketed by such companies as Casio and Timex now have built-in GPS systems, cameras, and even receive email messages, pages, and other data. The next generation of these watches is sure to make James Bond, Maxwell Smart, or Dick Tracy jealous: they'll play MP3 files and function as a TV remote control; Samsung plans to release a wireless phone-watch in the fall.

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