Computing Applications

News Track

  1. Flying the rails
  2. Logging online hours at work
  3. Top prize: embedded encryption
  4. Digital Nose knows
  5. Walking again via chip implant
  6. Cell-phone-free class
  7. Another node in the crowd
  8. Author
  9. Tables

Engineers in Japan are developing trains that can “fly,” reports New Scientist. Using the “wing-in-ground” (WIG) effect, in which a high-pressure cushion of air forms beneath flying objects as they approach the ground, they believe they can create trains that use only a quarter of the power required for magnetically levitated (maglev) trains. The WIG effect can be seen when you drop a sheet of paper and it scoots along the floor; the absence of friction (aside from wind resistance) on a train would mean that little power is needed to maintain forward motion. During tests, the Aerotrain, a government-backed maglev linear motor train project being conducted at the Tohoku University Institute of Fluid Science in Sendai, lifted off using the WIG effect after reaching speeds of 50kph. The Aerotrain has two pairs of wings; its track is flat and runs between containing walls on each side, making steering automatic. Unlike Russia, which for years has been pioneering WIG effects at sea, the Aerotrain project team claims the land-based Aerotrain will fly between 5 and 10 centimeters above ground surface.

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Logging online hours at work

People spend more than twice as much time online at the office as they do at home, a new survey finds. Highlights from the Nielson/Net Ratings survey of Internet usage for the month of January, based on a sample of 6,500 workers at small, medium, and large companies: Workers spend an average of 21 hours online compared to an average of 9.5 hours at home; Web users at the office take advantage of high-speed connections to access such broadband entertainment sites as and more frequently than at home.

Table. Where workers surf longest.

“You can’t characterize the people doing this as goof-offs. People would perform the same stuff at work using other methods. The Internet has just given them a more effective way of doing it.”
—Allen Weiner, vice president of analytical services at Net Ratings, commenting on the latest Net usage findings.

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Top prize: embedded encryption

A student who encrypted a secret message on a DNA strand won first prize and a $100,000 college scholarship in the Intel Science Talent Search, an annual competition held at the Science Talent Institute in Washington, D.C. and considered the Nobel Prize of science competitions for U.S. high school seniors. Viviana Risca, a senior at Paul D. Schieber High School in Port Washington, NY, submitted a data encryption technique that embeds a secret computer message within large amounts of relatively innocuous information. The secret message: “June 6 Invasion: Normandy.” Other top-10 projects involved partition function, molecular virology, and the brain’s perception of light and shape.

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Digital Nose knows

Several prototypes of an electronic nose that could help doctors sniff out tuberculosis by its odor are being developed by researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology. One prototype is a vibrating crystal—it looks like a transparent dime—that absorbs bacteria from the air. The researchers intend to plant one of these devices in a tuberculosis-detecting breathalyzer—a small bag with a tube you blow into. The challenge is making the artificial sniffer more sensitive. One way to accomplish this is to take large breath samples and condense them into a small cylinder. Possible benefits: diagnosis time cut to 10 minutes as opposed to six weeks.

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Walking again via chip implant

Using electrodes and a computer chip, surgeons in France performed a procedure that allowed a paralyzed man to walk again. More than 15 electrodes were implanted on nerves and muscles in the legs and pelvis of 39-year-old patient, Mark Merger. The electrodes are connected to a tiny computer chip in Merger’s abdomen. A remote control on a walking stick communicates with the chip via radio signals, which are converted to muscle impulses, then transmitted to his legs through the implanted wires. Merger can take several steps forward and backward. The groundbreaking operation, performed at Montpellier Hospital, brings hope to hundreds of thousands of paraplegics whose muscles remain alive despite damage to their nerves.

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Cell-phone-free class

An elementary school principal in Genoa, Italy, declared his school a cell-phone-free zone after pupils began ducking under their desks to call family and friends. Upon issuing the ban, the principal cited a case in which a girl who had been reprimanded by a teacher called her mother to complain. Kids were also sending keypad messages to other kids in class—modern-day note passing.

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Another node in the crowd

Overcrowding has crept up on cable companies as they upgrade networks and sign up customers for broadband service, including Internet access, cable television, and phone service delivered at high speed over a single line, reports the Wall Street Journal. Collectively, U.S. cable providers say their systems comprise about one million miles of lines, passing about 99 million homes. Only about half of these homes have been upgraded for high-speed services. To help solve the problem and continue to compete with telephone and satellite companies, most cable operators have begun adding “nodes,” the small cabinets containing electronic components that deliver cable to clusters of homes. At one time, 20,000 homes per node was considered adequate. Now most cable operators are busting down nodes sizes so each one serves 500 homes or fewer.

“The cable modem is the Internet equivalent of the old party line.”
—Bill Smith, chief technical officer of BellSouth Corp., one of the Baby Bells whose high-speed service is a rival to cable.

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UT1 Table. Where workers surf longest.

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