Computing Applications

News Track

  1. NSA's Data Overload Slows Intelligence
  2. Disaster Plans, Thanks to Y2K
  3. Simulating the Birth of the Moon
  4. Looking for a Few Good Hackers
  5. GPS for Plane Navigation
  6. Free Medical Journal Access
  7. Music to Live By
  8. Tracking Employee Trust
  9. Author
  10. Tables

An overload of information pouring into the U.S. National Security Agency’s most secret information-gathering program might have slowed the investigation into September’s terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, reports the New York Post. Echelon, a computerized interception program so powerful authorities don’t officially acknowledge its existence, has spewed forth so much information analysts can’t keep pace with the growing mountains of clues that may reveal terrorist tactics and hideouts. Intelligence experts say the backlog of intercepted communiqués from Middle East, Africa, and even the U.S. is drowning NSA agents in information as they sift through the past year’s data. Echelon, operating within Europe, is reportedly able to intercept, record, and translate any electronic communication—telephone, data, cellular, fax, email, telex—sent anywhere in the world.

“They spend too much time collecting information and not enough time deciphering and analyzing,”
—James Bamford, author, speaking about the NSA.

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Disaster Plans, Thanks to Y2K

Several people involved in the disaster recovery in New York’s financial district attributed the relatively quick resumption of the stock market and other financial institutions, at least in part, to a sort of dry run nearly two years ago—the Y2K computer bug. Although the glitch never produced the crisis many feared, it did produce a lot of corporate disaster plans. “It’s an astonishing tribute to the fact that the system works,” said Stephen Harbeck, general counsel of the Securities Investor Protection Corp., a federally chartered agency in Washington that safeguards brokerage accounts. “It has passed a very severe test.” The success of recovery has raised the visibility of a little-known group of companies whose business is data storage. The biggest by far is Iron Mountain, Inc., Boston, which stores both paper records and computer tapes at 650 locations around the world and played a critical role in getting Wall Street back up and running.

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Simulating the Birth of the Moon

A new computer simulation of how the Moon was formed indicates it is younger than previously thought, reports Nature. The simulation, the most sophisticated yet, was performed at the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, CO, extrapolates a Mars-sized body hitting the almost fully formed Earth around 4.5 billion years ago, ejecting debris that then formed the Moon. The new model is the highest-resolution computer simulation so far of the birth of the Moon.

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Looking for a Few Good Hackers

Government computer security heavyweights came recruiting for help fighting cyberterrorists at the DefCon 8 hacker convention in Las Vegas this summer. With Government computers annually sustaining some 21,400 unauthorized computer probes and attacks, according to Arthur Money, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence, panelists urged several hundred members of the computer underground to help battle computer-based attacks. Money invited “the best of the best” to join his team and help defend government computers against foreign attacks. “Don’t bother applying if you’re just average,” Money said. Based on the boisterous and largely negative reaction to many of the panel’s comments, they may get few takers. Most of the audience booed and hissed when panelists asserted the government’s need to restrict access to strong data encryption software in order to protect the public.

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GPS for Plane Navigation

A system that allows a global positioning system to provide nearly infallible signals for managing air traffic is almost ready for rollout. The new system (replacing the current radar-based system) uses 25 ground stations that constantly check the accuracy of the GPS signal. Software corrects glitches caused by such factors as atmospheric disturbances; the stations then beam corrected information to pilots via satellites. Raytheon, Lexington, MA, is expected to deliver the system by March 2003.

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Free Medical Journal Access

Researchers and medical students in nearly 100 developing countries will have free or low-cost access to electronic versions of about 1,000 pricey medical journals, reports USA Today. The six largest publishers of medical journals have agreed to provide Internet access at prices far below regular subscription rates, some of which cost $1,500 a year or more. Many scientists in poor countries rely on outdated medical texts and abstracts of current scientific papers that appear on the Internet. Prices will be scaled according to each country’s financial status.

“The industry suffers from overcapacity, overproduction, oversupply, overoptimism. We have to go on a diet. It’s an economic cycle, pure and simple.”
—Andrew Grove, Intel Chair

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Music to Live By

The human body is itself intrinsically musical, right down to the DNA in our genes. The idea that DNA and music might be connected follows from the work of Susumu Ohno, a geneticist at the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, Duarte, CA. Ohno assigned musical notes to the nucleotides of the four bases that make up DNA strands—do to cytosine, re and mi to adenine, fa and so to guanine, and la and ti to thymine—choosing a particular key and timing, as well as the duration of each note. After notating more than 15 songs of the DNA of a variety of living organisms, he found the more evolved an organism is, the more complicated the music. Listeners knowledgeable about music say human DNA-based compositions sound like the music of Bach, Brahms, Chopin, and other classical composers.

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Tracking Employee Trust

For retailers, the largest cause of missing goods and money is employee theft, not shoplifting. To counter the problem, stores have begun installing more sophisticated software and surveillance equipment.


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UT1 Table.

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