Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Political Lines
  2. Virtual Visions
  3. E-Earache
  4. Sensors on Ice
  5. Coke Promo Fizzles
  6. Author

A group of 4,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel Laureates, has called for the "restoration of scientific integrity in federal policymaking," charging the U.S. government with imposing strict controls on researchers who want to share ideas with colleagues in other countries. The Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report in July claiming current government policies could take years to undo and in the meantime frighten the best and the brightest from jobs in the National Institutes of Health and other government-run institutions. Building on similar charges the Union made last February, the report cites numerous examples of scientific roadblocks set up in the name of national security and economic strength. White House science adviser John Marburger rejects the Union’s claims, stating the "material resembles previous releases in making sweeping generalizations based on a patchwork of disjointed facts and accusations that reach conclusions that are wrong and misleading." Union chair, and Cornell University’s Emeritus Professor of Physics, Kurt Gottfried, told Reuters: "I don’t think one should simply assume the problem will go away if there is a new administration in office. What has happened under this administration is a cultural change. We have to address this cultural change and fix it."

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Virtual Visions

Psychiatrists are now able to gain a better understanding of patient hallucinations via a virtual environment created by researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia. MIT’s Technology Review reports the hallucination simulation software is a 3D environment resembling the game Quake. Researchers interview patients to get descriptions of real-life psychotic episodes, then depict them in the software. The prototype operates on a VR system that includes three projectors and a curved screen providing a 150-degree field of vision. Among the possible images may be an abyss where the floor should be, random flashes of light, or distorted mirror images of the patient. Abusive voices may occur simultaneously with the images on screen. The software may be used in cognitive behavioral therapy to teach patients to learn to ignore hallucinations. If it proves useful, a commercial tool could be ready in five years, say the researchers.

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Most Netizens would agree that spam is a routine annoyance and often offensive. But for the millions of blind and visually impaired Internet users around the world who use text-to-speech software as their sole means for checking email, spam can be a constant verbal assault. For many—particularly youngsters—having spam messages read aloud is simply no longer acceptable. reports blind users find they spend an inordinate amount of time sorting through junk mail, a process that has become so unbearable an increasing number are giving up on email altogether. Image-verification systems that some companies use to fight spam are typically not accessible to blind users. "If an anti-spam service is going to try to verify that I’m a human being and not software, those services should look at different ways of verifying human beings," says Iowa Department for the Blind field director Curtis Chong, who is blind himself. One solution recently installed at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind after students complained they received so much spam they could not get through their daily email messages in a 50-minute study hall period is a server-side filter from Barracuda Networks that reduces the amount of spam email by 90%.

We’re not motivated by the money; I don’t see a lot of it in this room, and I gave mine away."
—Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak on what makes a hacker at the Fifth Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) conference

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Sensors on Ice

In an effort to better appreciate how huge bodies of ice behave, glacier scientists are making use of innovative wireless "electronic pebbles" to help track and record changes from inside ice masses. BBC News reports it is the first time robust sensors have been inserted into glaciers to gather data and have their findings transmitted instantly over the Net. With growing concern over global warming and climate changes, researchers contend monitoring glaciers is vital, since melting will cause additional water to flow into the sea, raising sea levels worldwide, and changing ocean circulation patterns. An environmental monitoring research team, called Glacweb and based at University of Southampton, U.K., is leading this unprecedented effort, sharing data findings with glaciologists worldwide.

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Coke Promo Fizzles

Military bases across the U.S. are up in arms over the latest promotional efforts by soft-drink giant Coca-Cola, claiming its marketing scheme creates a threat to national security. Earlier this summer, Coke cans were specially rigged with cell phones and GPS chips that customers could activate by pushing a button on the side of the can. "Can" calls and GPS data, according to Coke officials, could be received only by the company’s prize center. Officials at many military operations are concerned about the eavesdropping potential of the cans; the Marine Corps, in fact, has advised all personnel to keep the cans away from secure areas. Coke representatives point out the rigged cans look dramatically different; they have a recessed panel and an obvious red button indicating it’s a cell phone device. Military officials contend it is not off-base to conclude such a device could be used for something it was not designed for. Paul Saffo, research director at the Institute for the Future, compares the Coke concerns to the CIA’s ban on Furbies, the stuffed toys that could repeat phrases. Says Saffo: "There are things generals should stay up late at night worrying about; a talking Coke can isn’t one of them."

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