Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Resizing America
  2. Little Shop of Software
  3. What Women Want in Wheels
  4. Virtual Autopsies
  5. Coming of Age
  6. Poetic Programming
  7. Author

White-light scanning technology used to map the human body as thousands of data points is helping create a sizing database of vital statistics for not only apparel manufacturers, but for the automotive, airline, and health care industries as well. Textile/Clothing Technology Corp. developed the size-extracting 3D body measuring system used on 11,000 volunteers in the U.K. in 2001 and again last fall on almost 11,000 volunteers across the U.S. willing to submit to a 10-second body scan in order to build a database that will ultimately improve the way clothes fit. As subjects stood grasping handles, the scanner registered every detail of their body measurements, which were then fed into the database. The eagerly awaited final report, scheduled for release at press time, includes data on men and women ages 18–66+, grouped by gender, age, and ethnicity. The complete report costs $20,000. It was expected that results of the survey will dramatically reflect the changing shape of the American adult.

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Little Shop of Software

Retail giant CompUSA will install ATM-like kiosks in all its 228 stores by May to dispense software like candy from a vending machine. USA Today reports the store’s SoftwareToGo system may profoundly change the way software is sold and distributed. The kiosk, already available in a handful of stores, allows consumers to shop for software using a touchscreen, first choosing an operating system, then moving to categories like business, education, and games. Once a title is selected, an order ticket is created; the consumer presents the ticket to a salesperson and pays for the software. The salesperson enters the information into an order-fulfillment station that burns the software onto a CD that is then packaged with instructions. The entire process takes about four minutes.

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What Women Want in Wheels

More women than ever are making the purchasing decision when it comes to cars. Indeed, women bought over 65% of the new cars in the U.S. in 2002, and it is statistics like these that prompted Volvo to pool its female employees to create a concept car by and for women. The car was developed in the shortest time frame (15 months) and the smallest budget ($3.3 million) of any Volvo prototype, according to the car maker. The team of 120+ was 80% women; though only 20% of Volvo’s entire work force is women. Men were recruited only when the team could not find a woman with a particular expertise, but male team members could not make decisions. The resulting silver coupe, to debut next month in Geneva, incorporates the most common requests from females: no hood (the car is designed to be virtually maintenance free, though the one-piece front-end can be lifted only by a mechanic); no gas cap (race-car style valve); lots of storage space; easy to clean (dirt-repellent paint and glass, machine-washable seat covers); easy to park (built-in sensor). Estimated sticker price: $25,000–$50,000.

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Virtual Autopsies

Autopsies may soon be performed with imaging and scanning technologies rather than sharp instruments. Michael Thali and colleagues at the University of Bern’s Institute of Forensic Medicine practice minimally invasive procedures that offer advantages in criminal cases since bodies are not cut up and juries view computer simulations rather than photos of cadavers. The Associated Press reports the practice involves advanced computer tomography (CT) scans for an overview of the body; magnetic resonance imaging to establish details of organs, muscles, and soft tissue; and 3D surface scanning to provide a picture of the outside of the body. All images are then digitally merged, offering investigators a complete picture that can be stored, posted, or emailed for a second opinion. A U.S.-based pathologist was skeptical about this practice catching on at many medical examiner offices, since the technologies involved are extremely expensive, and such scanning procedures take longer per procedure than most manual autopsies, thus risking backlogs.

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Coming of Age

One of first signs of life in the IT job market rebound in late 2003 was the rapid job gains in higher-level (and higher-paying) management and sales positions by workers 55 and older—an age group not long ago at the bottom of the opportunity barrel. In fact, the median job search time for unemployed managers and executives age 50 and older dropped 10 times faster than that of their younger counterparts last year, according to a survey by international outsourcing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Companies are adding workers who can begin contributing immediately without costly training, explains CEO John A. Challenger of the survey’s findings.

"Employers now see (older workers) as valuable assets in a struggling economy because their experience and skills make them better able to do the work of two or sometimes three younger, less-seasoned workers."
—John A. Challenger, CEO, CG+C outsourcing firm.

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Poetic Programming

Software that creates poetry by emulating (but not plagiarizing) the written words and rhythms of human poets is the latest brainchild of high-tech inventor Ray Kurzweil, who, in partnership with engineer John Keklak, recently received U.S. patent No. 6,647,395 for this cybernetic poet. Though the inventors do not expect it will rake in millions, they believe it may prove a motivating resource for creative types suffering from writer’s block. "It’s a useful aid to real-life poets looking for inspiration or for help with alliteration or rhyming," Kurzweil explains, pointing out his poetic device will be far more sophisticated than existing models. One recent haiku from the program:

  • Scattered sandals
  • a call back to myself,
  • so hollow I would echo

A free downloadable version of the cybernetic poet is available at The premium edition costs $29.95.

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