Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Thanks, But No Thanks
  2. Still Choking on Spam
  3. Cameras, Cameras, Everywhere
  4. Rat's Sense
  5. One Person's Garbage
  6. Easy Dot-Com and Go
  7. Author

Several major U.S. universities have refused federal contracts due to government caveats they feel restrict the integrity of their research programs. Some universities have walked away from federal contracts because the government has insisted on advance approval before research can be published, reports the Associated Press. MIT, for instance, recently turned down a $404,000 study because the government wanted to curb participation by foreign students. Other universities have rejected government demands that include checking research in the name of national security before allowing scientists to even talk about it. Cornell recently turned down government money when the Justice Department demanded approval rights prior to publication of a study on physical abuse of college women. Strings attached to federal financing have increased dramatically since 9/11 to the point many university leaders today fear the trend could jeopardize the U.S. tradition of open science that thrives on findings that can be verified and built upon by others.

When the Soviet Union tried to keep its research secret during the Cold War, their whole scientific apparatus atrophied."
—Sheila Widnall, MIT aeronautics professor

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Still Choking on Spam

The growth of unwanted email has reached such dramatic levels that experts predict by July it will overwhelm the regular email sent to corporate addresses. USA Today reports that Jupiter Research expects the amount of junk email received per average consumer will inflate from 2,300 messages per year to 3,600 between now and 2007. A Harris poll conducted at year-end 2002 found that 80% of online users are annoyed by spam, while 74% think spam should be outlawed. Spam filtering software, litigation, and legislation have yet to make much of a dent in deterring this trend. "The true problem is spam is effective," says Jupiter research analyst Jared Blank. Other analysts feel putting up roadblocks will encourage spammers to take different routes, particularly from overseas points of origin.

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Cameras, Cameras, Everywhere

Technical advancements in the art of surveillance have prompted a surge in the smart camera market. Whether installed in the home or for homeland security, these hot-selling cameras record data in digital form on hard drives so that viewing hours of surveillance is much easier, and distributing that data over the Net is possible, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Moreover, solar batteries let cameras run without risk of failing. The closed-circuit TV camera market generated about $1.5 billion in revenue last year. The market for the more sophisticated devices using Internet connectivity is growing at 30% a year, or twice the rate of standard security cameras. The market could top $500 million in the U.S. alone by 2005.

In other camera news, several health club chains in Hong Kong now ban the use of the new generation of cell phones that take and transmit video and still images over the Internet. The gym facilities are forbidding use of these devices in locker rooms for obvious reasons of privacy. In nearby Macau, use of the phone + camera devices is now forbidden in 11 of the territory’s casinos.

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Rat’s Sense

Georgia Tech professor Steve Potter recently introduced a new robot the size of a coffee mug that slides across a round meter-sized playpen in a chaotic fashion. If the image does not sound impressive in terms of robotic advancement, consider this robot is actually thinking with a network of neurons amassed from rat embryos sitting a few feet away on an electrode-activated chip. Technology Review reports the device, which Potter calls a hybrot, is a rat-controlled robot marking the first time cultured neurons have been used to control a robotic mechanism. The knowledge gained from this experiment could lead to computer chips modeled on biological systems and possibly to computers that incorporate biological components. By recording patterns of neural signaling over long periods of time using a high-speed camera, Potter looks for evidence the cells are learning from the system’s feedback. "The ‘brain’ is definitely developing," he claims. Such results may hold special promise for building self-healing computer systems.

I’m banking my whole career on the fact that there is a world of emergent properties in these neural networks that we don’t know anything about."
—Steve Potter, Georgia Tech professor of biomedical engineering and creator of hybrot

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One Person’s Garbage

Two MIT grad students bought 158 used disk drives just to see if the previous owners erased their information thoroughly before ditching them. In fact, the students found over 5,000 credit card numbers, financial and medical records, very personal email, and lots of pornography. Evidence also indicates there was little or no effort to erase data on 28 of the drives, while most of the other previous owners obviously believed "delete" meant "gone." Indeed, only 12 of the drives were properly sanitized.

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Easy Dot-Com and Go

Companies that have cast aside their once-hip dot-com names for more respectable, sedate appellations will likely find new life on Wall Street. A study by a group of finance professors indicates companies that have shed their dot-com names saw their stock prices jump an average of 15.8% the day the news hit the market and a total of 21.6% during the first 30 days following the switch. The Wall Street Journal reports companies still hanging onto names that reflect the abysmal state of Internet stocks would do well to rethink their corporate image. "The Name Game: Valuation Effects of Name Changes in a Market Downturn" (, written by professors from Purdue, the University of Virginia, and Wake Forest University, offers example after example of firms experiencing a market turnaround (albeit often short-lived) by dropping what may be viewed by investors as a painful reminder. Take, for example. With share prices down more than 75%, the struggling company watched its stock soar more than 40% upon announcing its new name: 1-800-Attorney.

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