Innovationthe historical inspiration of Silicon Valley and other tech centershas lost its spark in recent months given the bombardment of economic nosedives, market saturation, weak products, and government regulation. The Wall Street Journal reports venture firms and large companies alike are trimming their R&D budgets and taking on less risky projects, thus putting more innovative concepts on ice. The bursting of the dot-com bubble, instigated by too much investment in poor ideas, has led to tighter controls by content owners, distribution networks, and software companies, says Lawrence Lessig, Stanford University Law School professor, who fears this shortsightedness will indeed suffocate creativity in the future.
The level of telecommunications services in developing countries where only a paltry percentage of the population has access to a phone may get a big boost from a small wireless model that provides simultaneous voice and data communications. The CorDECT device is being used in a pilot program for phone applications in Kuppam, India, population 104,000. The device, which also provides Internet access speeds of 35 to 70Kbps, costs about $300 to install (depending on how remote the location) compared to $950 for a traditional phone line. CorDECT technology was developed by a U.S.-Indian partnership and is being considered in Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, and other countries.
A recent study suggests people can learn even when they are not paying attention, revealing a new dimension to the flexibility of the brain. Nature magazine reports researchers at Boston University conducted a series of experiments showing how individuals learn to perceive motion even when they are distracted or are not consciously aware of it. They asked test subjects to pay attention to letters flashing by on a computer screen while a group of dots danced in the background. A few dots slid in one direction, but few participants noticed their existence. After a month of exposure, they were tested again with screens featuring enough dots travelling the same way to allow them to guess the dots' direction of motion. The participants were consistently better at judging that direction than those who had not had the earlier monitoring test. BU researchers speculate that one way people may take advantage of this brainpower is to learn the sounds of a foreign language as an instructional tape plays quietly in the background, although they are not clear as to whether people can develop conceptual knowledge this way.
"Rovers like these may also play a role in establishing a space outpost for eventual human occupancy. They may be used to create buried habitats or utility trenches and to excavate resources to support life."
Brian Wilcox, supervisor of the Robotics Vehicles Group, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.
Tiny bulldozers may someday roam the planets scooping terrain, excavating sites, dumping debris, and most other 'dozer duties. NASA engineers have designed a prototype bulldozer rover that is lightweight (eight pounds), intelligent, and operates remotely. Its arms have tiny scoops to dig and dump soil into an overhead bucket. Working in groups, the rovers will create a communications network with a central control tower equipped with cameras for a 360-degree view of the terrain.
The latest Industrial Salary Survey of CS Research Laboratories from the Computing Research Association shows dramatic increases in lab salaries (www.cra.org/statistics/industrial). Fourteen organizations representing 1,189 researchers were asked to provide data about base salary and total compensation packages. Data was collected regarding minimum, average, and maximum salaries for researchers in their first year after graduation and for four additional five-year periods. The average salary of a full professor is $99,690; associate professor $76,997; assistant professor $68,628; and non-tenured teaching faculty $51,909. Compensation was strikingly higher, especially for the most experienced and most highly paid. The average maximum compensation more than doubled for researchers with six or more years of experience; for those with 16 or more years, the total package averaged $405,000.
On a sad note, IBM's recent budget cuts hit its company band on the downbeat. Big Blue's 86-year-old, company-funded band, made up of the musical talents of past and present employees, played its final gig under the clock tower IBM headquarters in Endicott, NY. The band was launched in 1915 by IBM founder Thomas Watson, Sr., to entertain employees. A rehearsal room was soon built and band members were paid a reportedly token amount for their efforts. But IBM "like every other business, is feeling the pinch," said IBM spokesperson Todd Martin, explaining the decision to focus resources on core programs benefiting workers and the community. The final bow ended with "I'll Be Seeing You," followed by the IBM rally song, "Ever Onward." Said IBM retiree Chuck Pettus, who joined the band on clarinet in 1956: "I can understand (the decision). We live in an age of change."
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