Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Compelling Email
  2. Lost and Found
  3. Double Digits
  4. Tops Again in Top500
  5. Collect Calls
  6. Family Feud
  7. Author

U.S. employers are now compelled to keep track of all email messages, instant messages, and other electronic documents generated by their employees, as per new federal rules that took effect last December. The Associated Press reports the legislation, approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, requires companies involved in federal litigation to produce "electronically stored information" as part of the discovery process. This change makes it critical for companies to know what e-records they have and where. Moreover, the IT employee who routinely copies over a backup tape could be committing the equivalent of virtual shredding, according to legal experts. Large companies will obviously feel a strong financial pinch from having to organize the corporate data to comply with these rules. Corporate lawyers will also no doubt charge more, as they will spend more time reviewing e-documents before handing them over as evidence. As a result, analysts predict the hundreds of e-discovery vendors who raked in about $1.6 billion in 2006 will likely see that revenue number double this year.

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Lost and Found

With fuller flights and heightened security forcing more luggage to be checked-in than ever before comes the downside for today’s traveler—more luggage lost than ever before. The bar code and 10-digit identifier that each checked bag is currently tagged with typically works when the code passes directly in front of the scanner. If the scanner is dirty, if the tag is wet, folded, smudged, or if the tag (or bag) is facing the wrong direction, the code is often rendered unreadable and the luggage becomes one of the hundreds of thousands of pieces lost by airlines each year, reports RFID tags would alleviate a great deal of the lost-luggage syndrome, but airlines have yet to embrace the technology, primarily due to the investment costs. Printed labels cost 2 to 3 cents each, whereas RFID tags cost 10 to 20 cents each. The cents add up for the major carriers, which fly more than 50 million passengers annually. Some major airlines and airports, however, now believe the RFID benefits are worth the investment and are moving ahead with plans to implement the technology. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas recently rolled out a RFID-based baggage management system; Hong Kong International Airport uses RFID to sort, route, and pull checked bags off a plane should their owners fail to board; and Asiana and Air France-KLM have RFID tests on tap. Aviation managers, however, contend RFID adoption will need to reach critical mass before its effects are truly felt by passengers.

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Double Digits

Police forces in England and Wales are testing a hand-held device that takes fingerprints of both index fingers of a driver to aid in quick identification. BBC News reports the pilot project, codenamed Lantern, allows officers to take these steps to further identify a driver they have pulled over should they be suspicious the name the driver has given them is not correct (about 60% of U.K. drivers stopped by law enforcement do not give their true identity). The digit-capturing device is slightly bigger than a PDA and designed to speed the time it takes for police to identify individuals at the roadside, say proponents of the project. The on-site fingerprint is voluntary (the alternative is a trip to the police station), and officers promise prints will not be kept on file. Still, the project has civil libertarians concerned over its "voluntary" aspect disappearing should the practice be accepted and laws mandate its use nationwide.

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Tops Again in Top500

IBM’s Blue Gene/L once again took the top spot on the list of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers. It is the Blue Gene system’s fifth appearance on the twice-yearly Top500, which measures the speed and performance of all the supercomputers in the world. The San Jose Mercury News reports Blue Gene/L, used at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to simulate the testing of the U.S.’s nuclear weapons stockpile, has 131,072 IBM Power processors and a sustained performance of 280.6 teraflops. Of the top 500, 239 were IBM systems, four were in the top 10. For a list of the top-performing supercomputers, visit

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Collect Calls

The sheer numbers tell the story. Add the estimated 980 million mobile phones sold worldwide in 2006, the projected billion-plus to be sold this year, and the estimated five billion handsets currently in existence, and these very small possessions equal one global-size environmental challenge. BBC News reports that mobile phones, as with all electronic equipment, contain a variety of substances that are harmful to people if not disposed of properly. Mercury, lead, and cadmium are present in mobile phones, especially in older models. These substances, and others, have been linked to human cancers and can have a devastating impact if released into the environment. The UN Environmental Program estimates up to 50 million tons of e-goods are discarded annually, most shipped from the West to developing nations. Although phones currently make up a small percentage of e-waste, leading manufacturers are now implementing eco-design aspects into their product lines, including reducing the amount of hazardous substances used in their products. Motorola, LG, Sony Ericsson, and Philips all report they’ve reduced the amount of hazardous materials in their products, however, industry analysts maintain that by rapidly developing new phone features and functionality, phone makers are always looking to stimulate demand for new handsets. "I don’t think there is any other consumer electronic device that is generally replaced every 12 months," says telecom analyst David McQueen.

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Family Feud

In a classic case of role reversal, an increasing number of children today set boundaries and household rules governing how and when their parents can play with their latest toy—a Blackberry or Treo. The Wall Street Journal reports the use of these gadgets is spawning a generation of resentful children fearing the consequences of their parents’ shortening attention span (to them) and growing obsession with their mobile email devices. Indeed, parents are routinely lying about their own usage, secretively rebelling against the household rules by hiding their Blackberries in the bathroom and closet for covert email checks. The familial tensions over the escalating use of handhelds—taking form in jealousies, tantrums, and family therapy sessions—have children constantly making mental notes of their parents’ device distractions. Indeed, engaging in near-constant Blackberry checking is similar to acts associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, with children searching for help for the adults. Mental health professionals report the intrusion of mobile email gadgets and wireless technology into the family life is a growing topic of discussion in therapy. Because these technologies bring the office into the home, the ballet recital, the soccer game, or the family vacation, disconnecting from work has become a discipline that must be learned, experts say.

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