Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Setting the Bar
  2. China's Café Count
  3. Portrait of Excess
  4. U.S. Visa Rules Relax
  5. Geek Letter Societies for $800
  6. Knock on Wood
  7. Author

An international team of scientists has joined to genetically identify—or provide a barcode for—every plant and animal species on Earth. The Barcode of Life Initiative promises to build the largest database of DNA snippets from every known (and heretofore unknown) species on the planet, linking them to photos, facts, and a variety of scientific data. "Our mission is to develop DNA barcoding as a scientific tool for rapid identification of species and to put that tool to work for both science and society," says Richard Lane, director of science at the Natural History Museum in London. Less than one-fifth of the Earth’s estimated 10 million species of plants and animals have been named. Researchers participating in the initiative (currently representing 25 countries on six continents) hope that genetically identifying all species in a globally standardized way will speed the discovery of new ones. The initiative begins with three projects: one providing barcodes for the 10,000 known bird species by 2010; another tackling the 23,000 types of marine and fresh water fish; and a third to genetically label the 8,000 kinds of plants in Costa Rica.

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China’s Café Count

Chinese authorities continue to crack down on Internet cafés, after closing 12,575 of them in the last three months of 2004. Net cafés are hugely popular in China, where the cost of hardware often makes online access prohibitive at home but where the government has always feared its influence. BBC News reports the closings are the latest in a series of steps the government has taken to restrict what it considers "immoral Net use." China’s Net cafés operate under strict guidelines, including limits on how close they can be to schools. Cafés are required to use software that controls what Web sites users can visit, and café owners must keep logs of the sites customers visit. The government also dictates the types of computer games patrons can play in an effort to limit the exposure to violence. Indeed, the Reporters Without Borders organization has reported that Chinese government technologies for email interception and Net censorship are among the most advanced and effective in the world.

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Portrait of Excess

A digital mirror that reflects what people could look like in five years should they consume too much alcohol and junk food and not exercise enough has been created by a team of researchers at Accenture Technology, Nice, France. New Scientist reports the system displays an image of a subject via a wireless camera, as a network of cameras peppered around the house or office feeds images of the subject’s daily activities to a computer running software able to recognize different patterns of behavior. Too much partying, too many hours lounging, too many visits to the refrigerator all add to the profile. Another software package then extrapolates how this behavior is likely to affect a person’s weight; and yet another one works on the face, displaying expected wrinkles and blotchy skin from over-imbibing. The research team wants the system to operate in real time, and the first prototype is expected in a few months. Although visualizing long-term behavior may prove effective, expecting consumers to invest in a system that might reflect a negative image may prove an even greater feat.

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U.S. Visa Rules Relax

The U.S. State Department is beginning to bend a bit on visa restrictions, no doubt in response to numerous studies indicating how other countries are reaping the benefits of scientific recruits due to the U.S.’s tightened measures over the last few years. The New York Times reports revised regulations now stipulate that many foreign students and scientists visiting the U.S. can extend the time they remain before renewing security clearances. (Clearances are required for foreigners working in government-defined "sensitive" areas, such as engineering and chemistry.) The change lengthens the validity of the clearance to up to four years for students and two years for working scientists. Prior to this revision, they had to reapply for clearance every year. "This change sends a clear message that the U.S. highly encourages those with great scientific minds to explore studying and working in our country," says Homeland Security Under-Secretary Asa Hutchinson.

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Geek Letter Societies for $800

Host Alex Trebek: "Geek Letter Societies for $800: ACM, The Association for Computing Machinery, dates back to this decade when the ENIAC came online?"

Contestant: "What are the 1950s?"

Trebek: "That is incorrect."

Excerpted from the February 14th episode of the U.S. television game show Jeopardy, where a second contestant answered correctly: "What are the 1940s?"

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Knock on Wood

The long-held image of George Washington as the grim-faced first president of the U.S. unable to smile due to painful wooden dentures is about to be drilled out of history. A group of researchers working in the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, MD, is using the latest dental technology and digital scans to dispel the reigning Washington portrait, and they have started by discovering his dentures were not wood at all, but a mix of gold, hippopotamus ivory, lead, and human and animal teeth (primarily horse and donkey). The team recently supervised laser scans on one of the four known sets of Washington’s dentures, carved in 1789. The Associated Press reports that scientists and historians plan to use the information to help create new, expressive, life-sized figures of plaster and wax to show the aspects of the 6-foot 3-inch president they consider underappreciated, namely that he was a man of action, a gifted athlete, a skilled horseman, and a great dancer.

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