Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Security Holes
  2. Don't Look Back
  3. Developing PC Nations
  4. Hair Today; Brain Surgery Tomorrow?
  5. IMing at Work
  6. Now Speak
  7. Author

Fast on the heels of a U.S. Federal Trade Commission report indicating the incidence of identity theft is far greater than the government previously believed, comes a report from the General Accounting Office offering clear evidence how easy it is to obtain fake driver’s licenses throughout the U.S. Congressional investigators readily convinced DMV employees to issue official driver’s licenses based on information gleaned from false birth certificates, utility bills, and other fraudulent documents. Indeed, these investigators obtained valid licenses from every agency at which they applied. If they were initially turned away by DMV employees spotting problems with the paperwork, the investigators simply left the office, fixed the problem, and reapplied—often the same day—with success. "As far as driver’s license issuing is concerned, we’re no safer from terrorists than we were before September 11," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. The FTC survey estimated 3.3 million people were victims of full-blown identity theft in 2002; another 6.7 million were hit by credit card fraud and other account takeovers. Concrete evidence of such security flaws may reopen debate about national identity cards, say privacy experts.

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Don’t Look Back

Yes, it’s one of the latest eco-friendly gasoline-electronic sedans, but a big reason orders for the 2004 Toyota Prius more than doubled the expected number within two weeks of its debut earlier this fall: the car parks itself. The latest-generation Prius uses electronically operated power steering and sensors to help guide the car when reversing into a parking space; the driver never needs to touch the steering wheel. At its introduction, Toyota president Fujio Cho (who demonstrated the intelligent park assist system by waving his hands in the air as the car backed itself into a parking space) said he expects to sell 36,000 cars in Japan next year, another 36,000 in the U.S., and 5,000 more worldwide, citing the growing demand for environmentally friendly cars. Toyota, which predicted 5,000 orders the first month, reported Prius racked up 11,000 its first two weeks. The model sells for ¥2.15 million ($18,430); the optional parking system costs an additional ¥230,000 ($2,013).

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Developing PC Nations

The demand for PCs in developing countries will account for almost half the PC shipments by 2006, according to a report published in the Taipei Times. The increase is expected to see a growth in shipments from 20% in 1999 to over 40% by 2006. Selling to emerging markets will require different business strategies, often by focusing on government projects aimed at increasing computer use in schools and institutions. It will also require another generation of computers with price levels below $200—a feat expected to stimulate growth in mature markets as well.

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Hair Today; Brain Surgery Tomorrow?

A Houston neurosurgeon hopes to revolutionize the baldness industry with a robotic arm that implants hair plugs faster and more precisely than any human. The current painstaking procedure, which takes up to eight hours, involves slicing a strip of scalp off the back of the head, having a team of technicians divide the strip into up to 2,000 follicular units, and then having a doctor insert each unit individually. "It’s a stressful, tedious, repetitive motion, which makes it a perfect job for a robot," says inventor Philip Gildenberg, M.D., who told the New York Times the robotic techniques used for hair implant surgery would, in fact, be similar to brain surgery. For instance, a robotic arm could be used to insert an electrode in the brain to treat Parkinson’s disease in much the same way it inserts hair follicles. He thinks the cosmetically focused robotic device will lay the groundwork for life-saving medical techniques.

We’ve got 1,800 veterans dying each day and only 500 buglers. We needed to fill the void."
—Lt. Col. Cynthia Colin, on the U.S. Defense Department’s use of new digital bugles fitted with a battery-powered conical device that plays taps and, when held to the "bugler’s" mouth, looks and sounds as authentic as the live alternative.

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IMing at Work

A recent study of 300 firms in the U.S. and Britain—the world’s two largest instant messaging markets—found that foul language, gossiping, and office gripes are commonplace in IM missives; in fact, rarely are they used for actual business-related functions. Over 65% the office workers surveyed used IM for personal reasons during work hours; nearly 80% admitted to gossiping about coworkers; and 64% slammed or schemed against management. Almost one-third of the respondents admitted to making "sexual advances" over IM in the workplace. "While (IM) has proven itself as a productive business tool, our research validates that its free-flowing and unmonitored nature is creating enormous legal liabilities, and compliance and productivity issues for organizations worldwide," said Steve Mullaney, of Blue Coat Systems, a California-based secure proxy appliance vendor who conducted the survey. The findings also showed U.K. respondents are more blatant in their IM usage than their tamer U.S. counterparts, primarily because 71% of the U.S. workers believed (correctly) that their IMs could be traced.

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Now Speak

Ever wonder why Fido’s barking? The answer may be found in a new gadget that bills itself as the first dog translator. The palm-sized Bow-Lingual device recognizes the barking sounds made by a hound wearing a transmitter clipped to its collar. The sounds turn into digital voiceprints that translate to six basic emotions, including "Let me do what I want," "I’m hungry," or "Are you my enemy or my friend?" The New York Daily News reports Japanese scientists collected and analyzed thousands of barks from 80 breeds of dogs, recording bark samples along with footage of the context of the dog’s behavior. The effort produced programmable voiceprints that translate to similar emotions across all breeds. More than 300,000 units were sold in Japan during its first three months on the market. The gizmo was slated to hit the U.S. in mid-October with a price tag of $120. Should your dog refuse to bark? Translation: "I’m too embarrassed."

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