Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Pubcast or Perish?
  2. Top 10 IT Disasters
  3. Decoding the Eye
  4. Mona Lisa's Smile
  5. How Scientists View Nano
  6. Out of the Box
  7. Author
  8. Footnotes, funded by the National Science Foundation, is the latest in a growing number of video-sharing startups designed to let scientists broadcast themselves working in the lab or delivering lectures. The media outlet encourages scholars with new research papers to make short videos, or pubcasts, highlighting their key points. The Associated Press reports fans of the niche sites say they help the public—and students—understand the scientific process, while allowing researchers to duplicate one another’s results and discourage fraud. Journal editors are quick to caution the leap to video will not displace the practice of reporting scientific results in peer-reviewed journals or at scientific conferences anytime soon. Most journals with online editions are taking a wait-and-see approach about YouTube-type videos, though many routinely add podcasts and other media to accompany papers. Says Stewart Wills, online editor of Science: "This is an area we’re extremely interested in, but we’re still in the embryonic stage."

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Top 10 IT Disasters recently posted the Top 10 IT-related disasters and failures of all time. While the list is subjective, and purposely omits incidents that resulted in loss of life, "it does illustrate where faulty hardware and software have cost organizations dearly, both financially and in terms of reputation." With number one being the worst, the list notes:

  1. Faulty Soviet early warning system nearly causes WWIII (1983)
  2. AT&T network collapse (1990)
  3. The explosion of the Ariane 5 (1996)
  4. Airbus A380 suffers from incompatible software issues (2006)
  5. Mars Climate Observer metric problem (1998)
  6. EDS and the Child Support Agency (2004)
  7. The Y2K problem (1999/2000)
  8. When laptops exploded (2006)
  9. Seimens and the passport system (1999)
  10. Los Angeles Airport flights grounded (2007)

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Decoding the Eye

A new chip densely packed with electrodes is the first step toward creating artificial retinas that approximate normal vision to the degree they enable people to read. While retinal prostheses have been used in human clinical trials, this new chip, developed by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, promises to add focus and clarity to what is now blurs of motion. Technology Review reports the new chip can stimulate and record from individual cells in retinal samples. The technology will provide insight into how the retina codes information and how to mimic that coding—lessons crucial to developing the next generation of retinal implants. In the future, some version of the technology might be used to send visual information down the optic nerve. The 512-electrode array (the gold circle in the picture) was modeled after the silicon microchip detectors used to capture particles in high-energy physics. Now that scientists have created a technology with such precise control, they are using it to study the language of the retina—one they hope implants will ultimately be able to understand.

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Mona Lisa’s Smile

The Mona Lisa, a perennial topic of lore, has been subjected to many experiments in an effort to unlock its mysteries. The latest comes from Paris where engineer Pascal Cotte spent much of the last two years working with cutting-edge digital scanning tools to reveal the true colors of the renowned painting. His results indicate Leonardo da Vinci’s original (finished around 1505) included eyebrows and eyelashes. Moreover, the painter not only repositioned the two fingers on her left hand but originally drew a more expressive smile. BBC News reports that Cotte scanned the painting in the Louvre’s laboratory in 2004 using infrared and ultraviolet sensors during the process. He has now spent more than 3,000 hours analyzing data from those scans and his resulting 240-megapixel scan reveals traces of facial hair obliterated by restoration, as well as that Mona was holding a blanket that has all but faded from view. "With just one photo you go deeper into the construction of the painting and understand that Leonardo was a genius," says Cotte.

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How Scientists View Nano

The unknown human health and environmental impact of nanotechnology is a bigger worry to scientists than to the general public, according to a report published in Nature Nanotechnology. Based on a survey of U.S. households and leading nanotechnology scientists and engineers, it appears that those with the most insight into the technology, despite its enormous potential, are also the most wary of the health and environmental problems it might pose. These findings are in stark contrast to controversies sparked by the advent of past technologies such as nuclear power and genetically modified foods, which scientists perceived as having lower risks than the public. In fact, the public is more concerned with the loss of privacy from new tiny surveillance devices and the potential loss of U.S. jobs.

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Out of the Box

Intel is looking to join a growing number of high-tech firms forsaking cubicle culture for new workplaces designed to save space and money while encouraging collaboration among co-workers. The San Jose Mercury News reports Intel has been testing three experimental work sites—in Arizona, California, and Oregon—where open areas, comfy armchairs, and extra conference rooms have replaced the cube-ism the chip giant helped popularize. Employees are logging onto a corporate network each morning using wireless connections; their phone numbers follow them wherever they go. Workers use whiteboards outfitted with electronics so drawings and business plans can be transferred to laptops and emailed to colleagues. Open seating and laptops reign; desks and filing cabinets are old school. Results of this three-month trial will determine if Intel rolls out the new design to the rest of the company. Cisco Systems’s San Jose site (pictured here) concluded its first cube-free year. Employees contend working without assigned seating takes getting used to, but the "team" approach to projects has certainly improved. Sun Microsystems, Google, Intuit, and Network Appliance have also adopted forms of the wall-less work environment, noting significant improvement in collaborative efforts.

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