Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. HP's Hot Spot
  2. Spare Cycles Against Malaria
  3. Hackers Widen Scope
  4. The Caveman's Disconnection
  5. Privacy Policy Advice
  6. Take Me Home, Country Roads
  7. Author

An inexpensive, wireless, battery-free microchip that stores documents, audio files, or video clips and can be pressed like a Post-it note onto just about any surface is potentially two to five years from market, according to its creators at Hewlett-Packard. The San Jose Mercury News reports these "memory spots," as HP calls them, can be placed on a photo to carry a voice recording, or a passport to carry fingerprint or iris scans, or on medical alert bracelets so health records can be viewed in an emergency. HP describes the spots as smarter, more secure, and much smaller than RFID tags. They can store more than 250 times as much data as RFID tags, and not only transmit data more than 20 times faster, but encrypt it as well. Analysts say it’s promising but would need to be ubiquitous to be marketable. The scanners that read and record more data onto spots could be built into new cell phones and digital cameras or plugged into existing PDAs. HP estimated a simple spot scanner could sell for less than $20 and the spot itself for less than a dollar if demand was great enough.

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Spare Cycles Against Malaria

Inspired by the success of SETI@home—the scientific experiment that corrals users worldwide to donate PC power to help the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence—comes a movement to harness PC power in the fight against malaria. Africa@home uses the downtime on millions of PCs worldwide to run simulations of how the disease spreads and the potential effect of new treatments. Malaria kills one million people a year in sub-Saharan Africa and is the biggest single cause of death in children under five. Researchers at the University of Geneva have developed a computer model for malaria epidemiology using 40 in-house machines for preliminary studies. But far more computing power is needed to validate such models and effectively simulate the full range of interventions and transmission patterns relevant for malaria control. For more information or to install the program needed to participate in the project, visit

"Driving while talking on a cell phone is as bad as or maybe worse than driving drunk."
—Frank Drews, assistant professor, University of Utah, where researchers used a driving simulator to compare the skills of motorists talking on cell phones versus those given vodka and orange juice to drink. Every incident of (simulated) rear-ending occurred with volunteers talking on the phone.

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Hackers Widen Scope

Finding and abusing the weaknesses of Windows doesn’t hold the allure it once did for many cyberintruders. Hackers today are branching out, scoping new vulnerabilities in popular software applications beyond the Microsoft label. Holes are turning up in Web browsers, anti-virus programs, word processors, spreadsheets, iTunes, and RealPlayer. USA Today reports the profit motive has never been greater to take control of a PC or hijack online accounts and commit identity theft. For example, a Russian-built program called WebAttacker is being planted on Web sites throughout the Net to check each visitor’s browser for weaknesses, then use one to take control. And Apple Computer, whose marketing message conveys security problems are not an issue with Macs, has issued patches for vulnerabislities 36 times since January 2005, including a bundle of 26 patches released in early August for holes in Mac OS X.

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The Caveman’s Disconnection

A blow to the anthropological theory that humans and Neanderthals share a bit of genetic code was dealt recently when the first extended sequence of Neanderthal DNA was analyzed using state-of-the-art bioinformatics software. Wired reports that geneticists Eddy Rubin and Savante Pääbo persuaded two museums to part with a few ounces of Neanderthal bone they later pulverized to begin the painstaking process of separating the likely Neanderthal DNA from 40,000 years’ worth of microbes using a method called metagenomics. This sifting process, impossible just a few years ago before vast and fast databases of gene sequencing were available, compared each strand of DNA, eliminating anything that did not look homid. Their controversial conclusion, which has drawn ire throughout the field of anthropology, is that humans and Neanderthals diverged into separate groups about 500,000 years ago with no indication suggesting admixture between them. According to Rubin, the Neanderthal DNA he analyzed was simply too different from the human genetic code to suggest a connection.

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Privacy Policy Advice

With security breaches revealing millions of personal records, new surveillance programs being adopted by law enforcement, and calls for ISPs to retain customer data longer, the dual role of privacy and technology has become a political hot button in the U.S. Privacy advocates have proposed the U.S. Congress enact a comprehensive privacy framework rather than address privacy issues in its typical ad hoc manner. ACM’s U.S. Public Policy Committee (USACM) has released a series of recommendations for this framework that focus on seven basic areas: minimization, consent, openness, access, accuracy, security, and accountability. For the complete statement and recommendations, visit usacm/Issues/Privacy.htm.

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Take Me Home, Country Roads

The landmark Bell Labs building—birthplace of the laser, fiber optic and satellite communications, touch-tone dialing, cell phones, modems, and microwaves among many other technological breakthroughs over its 44-year history—will soon be reduced to rubble. The six-story, two-million-square-foot structure on 472 blissful green acres in Holmdel, NJ has been purchased by Pennsylvania-based Preferred Real Estate Investments, which plans to demolish the old site and put up new office space, reports the New York Times. Company president Michael O’Neill claims the Bell Labs soaring lobby, surrounded on three sides by stacks of windowless concrete-walled cubicles may be perfect for scientists but is unappealing to any other type of office worker. "So many of these lavish old commercial buildings have a great history to them, and then one day their useful life is over," says O’Neill. In recent years sections of the Bell structure have been used by Lucent Technologies, which will distribute its remaining 1,000 employees to other Jersey-based offices. O’Neill says he does hope to keep the historic long approach from Crawford’s Corner Road and even the weirdly shaped water tower at the entrance—said by locals to resemble a transistor. "We want to keep the country-road feel."

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