Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Salt in the Wound
  2. Coming into Focus
  3. Study in Slime
  4. That's Courriel, S'il Vous Plaît
  5. A Healthy Spritz
  6. How Does That Make You Feel?
  7. Dial-A-Dolphin
  8. Author

Knowledge acquisition—a topic discussed frequently in this magazine in terms of the most effective ways for colleagues to share expertise and experience—is now being applied with a painful twist. A growing number of U.S. firms moving to outsourcing options expect their soon-to-be-pink-slipped tech employees to train their overseas replacements before they get the ax. The Associated Press reports the assignment, which many workers say they assume unwittingly or reluctantly, allows them to stay on the job a bit longer or secure a better severance package. The plight appears to be the unintended consequence of the U.S.’s non-immigrant visa program, particularly the L-1 classification that allows companies to transfer workers from overseas offices to the U.S. for up to seven years while they continue paying workers their home country wage. According to research firm Gartner, Inc., approximately one of 10 U.S. technology jobs will be overseas by the end of 2004.

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Coming into Focus

Several types of bionic eyes are being tested in an effort to restore some sight to vision-impaired patients. reports three people were successfully implanted with retinal prostheses and now wear glasses with miniature video cameras that transmit signals to the implants via wireless receivers embedded behind their ears. Results indicate some patients, all of whom once had sight, were able to detect movement and light in a room and could count discrete objects. For patients who have not yet lost total sight from blinding disease, a pea-size implantable miniature telescope embedded in only one eye is the basis of work done by VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies. By replacing the eye’s lens, the telescope projects images over the undamaged area of the retina and provides central vision, while the other eye handles peripheral vision.

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Study in Slime

MIT researchers have built a robotic snail to study how the goo from their living counterparts propels them. The project seeks to understand why the thicker the slime the faster snails move, while a thin trail presents more resistance. They also hope to observe how liquids behave on such a small, that is, microfluidics, level. Researchers put together the robosnail using an informal mix of plastic, gears, wire, and two forms of artificial lubricant. "It’s very much $5 science," says assistant professor Anette Hosoi, who points out a medical upshot may help advance "lab on a chip" technology to spawn miniaturized machines or methods for providing more targeted cancer treatments and other critical care.

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That’s Courriel, S’il Vous Plaît

The Cultural Ministry of France has banned the use of the term "email" in all government ministries, documents, publications, and Web sites, insisting the term "courrier électronique" (or the fused "courriel") is the more acceptable surfer lingo in France. Some industry observers suspect this is more a move to stem English terms from seeping into the French language. "Protecting the language is normal, but ’email’ is so assimilated now that no one thinks of it as American," says Marie-Christine Levet, president of the French ISP Club Internet. "Email has sunk into our values; courriel would just be a new word to launch."

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A Healthy Spritz

A computer sprayed—yes, sprayed—directly on the chests of heart patients will record their coronary health from the comfort of their homes and transmit the information back to a hospital computer. Scientists at Edinburgh University were awarded a $2 million grant from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council to develop spray-on semiconductor specks the size of a grain of sand that sense, compute, and communicate wirelessly. "At the moment, if you want to interface you need a keyboard or a mouse," says project leader D.K. Arvid. "With this (technology) you can take a pen and spray it, and it becomes an interface in its own right." The heart-monitoring nanocomputers should be ready by 2007, though Arvid points out hospitals, schools, and businesses could be employing the technology within the decade.

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How Does That Make You Feel?

Patterns in people’s online activity tell a good deal about their psyches—enough that an increasing number of leading tech firms are taking this angle on human motivation and behavior seriously. The move is strictly business. Tapping into what users are thinking helps reveal what makes them buy, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. HP researcher Joshua Tyler studies email rhythms by spending hours asking workers why they reply to certain email messages immediately while waiting days to answer others. "We found there’s a lot of subtle information conveyed in the timing of how people respond to email," says Tyler, whose HP team is led by a physicist and includes theoretical economists. Marc Smith, a social scientist at Microsoft Research, has been charting different types of behavior in Usenet groups, where he’s able to steer users to the kinds of groups that fit their needs using his team-created charting software Netscan. Adds Smith: "People like computers because people are in them."

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Scientists at a dolphin sanctuary off the west coast of Ireland will team with British telecom giant Vodaphone to transmit the underwater clicking and whistling sounds of dolphins over cell phones worldwide. The soothing tones are expected to work as a stress reliever as well as help scientists gain a greater understanding of dolphin life. "In theory, you could phone up and listen to dolphins while sitting in a traffic jam in Dublin," claims marine biologist Simon Berrow. Microphones will be installed in the Shannon estuary in Kilrush, County Clare, the only spot in Ireland where dolphins reside year-round. The only caveat, scientists point out, is that dolphins converse using a wide frequency band, only a fraction of which can be picked up by human ears.

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