|National Edition||Volume 15 #10||October 2005|
Around the world GIS Day (www.gisday.com) will take place for the seventh year on 16 November. Geographic information systems technology will take front stage on that date, as it will be celebrated by GIS professionals, students, teachers & many other interested people worldwide. The events on GIS Day will include:
GIS Day is held as part of the National Geographic Society’s Geography Awareness Week & the Geography Action program. ESRI, one of the world’s leading developers of GIS software, provides a GIS Day coordinator, Maria Jordan, firstname.lastname@example.org. The following organizations principally sponsor GIS Day in the US:
The California State Board of Pharmacy that is the governing body for the operation of all pharmacies in the state has approved the use of a machine for pickup & payment of refill prescriptions. This is believed to be the first approved use of the APM in dispensing drugs in the US. The use of the APM should revolutionize the will call process for pharmacy customers. They will be able to call in their refill prescription & then pick it up from the machine as well as pay for it at the machine. This should effectively free up the personnel that work in the pharmacy to spend more time on initial prescriptions thereby improving the safety of the dispensed drugs. The maker of the first approved APM for a pharmacy is Distributed Delivery Networks of San Diego California. The machine is designed to be either free standing or built into a pharmacy wall. If built into a wall access would have to be provided through the wall for the pharmacy personnel to refill the machine. The machine must identify the customer picking up their prescription refill from the machine before the drugs are dispensed. The customer would also be able to pickup a refill prescription during hours when the drug department in a large drug store was closed. The APM appears to be the wave of the future in the dispensing of refill prescriptions.
A new system from Iatrogen of Herndon VA could be a lifesaver. It is the first personalized system developed to provide assessment of possible adverse drug reaction (ADR) via either the Internet or on a portable USB flash drive. The system that was launched on 20 July of this year is named Rx Wise. Using the system a patient partners with their healthcare provider to personalize their risk-assessment for any new drug that they are prescribed to take. The Rx Wise system software will evaluate the potential risk for an ADR by actually analyzing a patient’s individual medical history or insurance claims-based information & checking it against the medication in question. The Rx Wise system covers a broad range of prescription, over the counter & herbal drugs. Once all data is entered into the system it will display all relevant potential risks that would be associated with use of the drug in question by the patient whose information was entered. ADRs are linked to the deaths of about 100,000 patients a year in the US alone. The system is designed to be simple & should primarily be used by the patient & not dedicated medical personal. The Rx Wise system is available either in the Internet version for $24 or in a shrink-wrapped package on a USB flash drive for $39.95. The company can be reached either at www.rxwise.com or at (866)799-4734.
The CEO & founder of Oracle, Larry Ellison, has agreed to donate $100 million to various charities in order to settle an outstanding lawsuit against him. The suit stems from a $900 million gain he made on a sale of stock at the time of the dot com bust. The suit revolves around the fact that Mr. Ellison & other top oracle executives predicted that the company would do much better than they did in the following months. Oracle’s stock price fell 52% in 2001 as their sales sagged. Mr. Ellison sold some of his Oracle stock based on projections that the Oracle sales were going to slow & that information was not available to the general public according to the suit. The exact terms of the agreement have not been made public. The settlement of the lawsuit based on the agreed terms would still require court approval to go forward. Larry Ellison is one of the richest men in the world & the $100 million would not mean very much to him but the lawsuit was a major embarrassment.
Federal antitrust regulators due to their Internet policies have sued the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The suit alleges that the NAR discriminates against Internet-based brokers at the expense of homebuyers & sellers. The Internet brokers claim that the NAR does not allow them access to all for-sale listings of their members. In last May the Justice Department threatened to sue the NAR over the access policy then in effect. It allowed their members to select which brokers would have access to their for-sale listings. In September NAR policy was changed giving their members a choice: either make their listings available to all Internet brokers or none at all. Officials at Justice said that this was inadequate & sued the NAR. Justice claims that the policy stifles competition. In defense the NAR claims that its members have no duty to provide their competitors any advantage. Internet based brokers usually charge less than the normal 5% to 6% that is charged by the NAR members to the selling party.
Hitachi has announced the first DVD recorder with terabyte-sized hard drive storage. The machine can record about 128 hours of high-definition (HD) digital video. The recorder is the first on the market to be able to record two HD programs at the same time. A terabyte is equal to 1 trillion bytes of storage. It is one thousand times a gigabyte, which is equal to one billion bytes.
A global race is under way to reach the next milestone in supercomputer performance many times the speed of today's most powerful machines. Beyond the customary rivalry in the field between the US & Japan, there is a new entrant—China—eager to showcase its arrival as an economic powerhouse.
The new supercomputers will not be in use until the end of the decade at the earliest, but they are increasingly being viewed as crucial investments for progress in science, advanced technologies & national security. Once the exclusive territory of nuclear weapons designers & code breakers, ultrafast computers are increasingly being used in everyday product design.
Today, driven by advances in parallel computing—with software making it possible to tie together arrays of hundreds of thousands of processor chips—the speed of future supercomputers is limited only by cost, adequate electricity supply & the ability to cool the systems. China now has 19 supercomputers ranked among the 500 fastest machines in the world. Recently there have been reports that both the Japanese & Chinese are planning new investments in breaking the petaflop-computing barrier. A petaflop is a measure of computing performance that describes the ability to perform 1,000 trillion mathematical operations a second, roughly eight times the speed of today's fastest supercomputer.
Currently the world's fastest computer is a machine installed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory late last year—and still growing—that has reached more than 136 trillion operations a second, or about 100,000 times the speed of a fast desktop PC. IBM built the machine, Blue Gene/L, & plans to double its speed before the end of the year.
Only small amounts of research funds have been spent so far on designing a petaflop supercomputer, an accomplishment that Japanese & American experts believe will cost nearly $1 billion. In the US, Cray, IBM & Sun Microsystems have begun work toward reaching a petaflop supercomputer by the end of the decade, supported by a development project financed by the Pentagon. The project, the High Productivity Computer Systems program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, was begun in 2003 with about $150 million. It was one of a series of US responses to the emergence of a Japanese supercomputer—the Earth Simulator, intended for climate research—as the world's fastest computer in 2002, displacing the US from the top of the list for the first time.
With significant financial support from the government, IBM, Cray & Silicon Graphics all built new massively parallel supercomputers, enabling the US to recapture world leadership in November 2004. In the most recent ranking of the world's 500 fastest computers, released in June 2005, the US holds the top three positions. The Earth Simulator has fallen to fourth place, with about a quarter the computing speed of the new leader.
Last month in China, Lenovo Group, which acquired IBM’s PC business last year, said it would join in a Chinese effort to build a petaflop machine by 2010 as part of a five-year Chinese government plan to advance the country's computer technology. Additionally two other Chinese companies have indicated they intend to develop petaflop-scale systems. A French military program, led by the French computer maker Bull, has plans to reach a petaflop in 2013. There is now discussion of frontiers beyond a petaflop. Several Japanese newspapers have reported recently that the Japanese government is expected to announce a commitment to developing a 10-petaflop supercomputer as a follow-up to the Earth Simulator in the near future.
A new technology being used by produce distributors employs lasers to tattoo fruits & vegetables with their names, identifying numbers, countries of origin & other pertinent information that helps speed distribution of the produce. The marks are burned onto the outer layer of the skin & are visible to discerning consumers & cashiers as well.
The process that is government approved & called safe by the industry may actually sound sinister to some of the general public. However: it was actually designed with the consumer in mind.
Laser coding could mean the end of those tiny stubborn stickers that have to be picked, scraped, or yanked off produce if the skin is to be used as it is on many items. Sticker-removal can sometimes be a difficult job. Some consumers will not purchase any produce until they are sure that they will be able to remove the stickers.
The sticker-less laser technology has a broader purpose, as well: it is part of the produce industry's latest effort to identify & track, whether for profit or for security, everything the US population eats.
Since September 11th the industry has been encouraged to develop track & trace technology to allow protection of the food supply at various stages of distribution. In addition, next year federal regulations will require all imported produce to be labeled with the country of origin.
The tattooed fruit & veggies are being sold in stores nationwide as other tracing methods are also being tested, like miniaturized bar coding & cameras with advanced recognition technology that can identify fruits & vegetables at the checkout counter. In Japan, apples have been sold with scan-able bar coding etched into the wax on their skin.
No one knows exactly when every piece of fruit will be traceable, but the trend is now quite clear. Wal-Mart is already requiring all pallets delivered to its headquarters distribution center in Bentonville Arkansas to be fitted with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags so that they can be tracked by a satellite.
But the primary carrier of information about fruits & vegetables in the US remains the tiny sticker called the PLU for price look-up. It is unpopular not just with consumers but with the industry itself. In order for the PLU sticker to be sticky enough to stay on the fruit through the whole distribution & sales process, they must be so sticky that the customer will have a great deal of trouble to get them off. Even after successful removal of the sticker the consumer is often left with a residue of glue on the produce.
But apart from the occasional load of locally grown produce, most supermarkets no longer accept fruit & vegetables that are not stickered. To producers, the stickers are messy, expensive & inefficient. The industry is now well aware that the days of the PLU sticker are numbered & that there will have to be new systems. Customers do not like them, & they don't hold enough information to keep the suppliers happy.
The new laser process etches the price look-up number & any other information the retailer or customer might desire directly into the skin of the fruit. The process permanently tattoos each piece of fruit, removing only the outer pigment to reveal a contrasting layer underneath & make the tattoo usually readable & scannable.
With the proper scanning technology the produce can even be bar-coded with lots of information: where it comes from, who grew it, who picked it, even how many calories it has per serving or per piece of produce. You could also sell advertising space on each piece of produce.
At this time some of the PLU stickers contain small ads. The major problem there being that due to the small size of the PLU sticker the amount of ad space is very limited.
The technology works the same way lasers work in surgery, cutting & cauterizing almost simultaneously. The skin of fruit that has been etched with a laser is still airtight & the mark is as permanent as a tattoo.
Some fruit such as some citrus will show the laser etching very poorly. In cases such as that some distributors are using blueberry-based ink on the fruit to create greater contrast. That has created another problem. Under very moist conditions the blueberry-based dye will run creating a very poor looking piece of fruit.
Whether on a sticker or in a tattoo, the numbers serve a vital purpose. The Produce Marketing Association & the International Federation for Produce Coding have established global standards for the price look-up numbers associated with all produce. Four-digit numbers denote conventionally grown produce; five digits beginning with a 9, organic; five digits beginning with 8, genetically modified.
One of the big questions for the industry now is if laser coding & beautiful fruit bowls can coexist? Many are saying that anything that permanently changes the fruit is going to be a hard sell. This will be especially true to buyers of organic produce. Time may have to tell if the consumer will be willing to pay a premium for produce that is not laser etched.
A French media watchdog said that information provided by Internet powerhouse Yahoo helped Chinese authorities jail & convict a journalist who had written an email critical of Chinese press restrictions.
The criticism from Reporters Without Borders (RWB) marks the latest instance in which a prominent high-tech company has faced accusations of cooperating with Chinese authorities to gain favor in a country that is expected to become an Internet gold mine.
Sunnyvale California-based Yahoo & two of its biggest rivals, Google & the Microsoft Network (MSN), previously have come under attack for censoring online news sites & Internet logs, or blogs, that include content that China's communist government has wanted to suppress.
RWB ridiculed Yahoo, saying it was becoming even cozier with the Chinese government by allowing itself to become a police informant in a case that led to the recent conviction of Chinese journalist. In a statement RWB asked if the fact that Yahoo operates under Chinese law free it from all ethical considerations? RWB further asked how far large corporations go to please Beijing?
The head of marketing for the Yahoo office in Hong Kong said that the company had no comment on the statement at this time. RWB said court papers showed that Yahoo gave Chinese investigators information that helped them trace a personal Yahoo email allegedly containing state secrets to journalist’s computer.
The journalist who is a employee of the financial publication Contemporary Business News, was sentenced in April to 10 years in prison for illegally providing state secrets to foreigners. His conviction stemmed from an email he sent containing his notes on a government circular that spelled out restrictions on the media.
This probably would not have been possible without the cooperation of Yahoo, according to a Washington DC-based spokesperson for RWB.
A number of Chinese journalists have faced similar charges of violating vague security laws as communist leaders struggle to maintain control of information in the burgeoning Internet era.
Yahoo & its major rivals have been expanding their presence in China in hopes of reaching more of the country's population as the Internet becomes more ingrained in the daily lives of the Chinese people.
Recently Yahoo paid $1 billion for a 40% stake in China's biggest online commerce firm, Alibaba.com. Meanwhile, Google & Microsoft are locked in a bitter legal battle over a former Microsoft engineer whom Google hired in July to oversee the opening of a research center in China.
An Australian court ruled that the popular file-sharing network Kazaa violated Australian music copyrights & ordered the company to modify its software to help prevent it. The ruling culminates an 18-month legal battle between the recording industry & the Australian-based owners of Kazaa, who said they planned to appeal much of the ruling.
The ruling also complemented a US Supreme Court ruling in June that Internet file-sharing companies like Kazaa could be held liable for copyright piracy. The Australian ruling was broadly consistent with the June ruling by the US Supreme Court that the makers of the file-sharing services Grokster & Morpheus could be held liable for contributing to the infringement of copyrights.
The US Supreme Court also rejected the argument that file-sharing services should be protected if they have some legitimate uses & sent the case back for trial to look at whether they encouraged users to steal copyrighted material.
The practical effect of both these rulings is to increase pressure on the makers of file-sharing software, who at best face escalating legal fees to stay in business & at worst may face debilitating judgments for damages.
In the face of these pressures, some file-sharing services are looking for deals with the record industry through which they will charge fees for copyrighted songs. But such a move might prompt some users to turn to public noncommercial file-sharing software programs already freely available on the Internet, which have no proprietors who could be sued.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) praised the Australian ruling. The suit, led by the Australian unit of the Universal Music Group (UMG), sued Kazaa's owners, Sharman Networks, saying the site enabled users to commit millions of copyright violations daily & cost the industry millions of dollars. Damages will be determined at a later hearing, the court said in its ruling.
Kazaa was the popular successor to Napster, the file-sharing network that in 1999 began allowing users to trade files over a central computer server. Introduced in early 2001 in the Netherlands, Kazaa kept on going when lawsuits forced Napster to shut down in July that year.
By 2004, Kazaa said that 317 million people had downloaded its software. Kazaa's software is free; the company makes money by selling advertisements that appear when the software is used.
Unlike Napster users, Kazaa users connect to each other directly without going through a central server, a so-called peer-to-peer (P2P) connection. They can then download files from other users & can opt to share files on their own computer with other Kazaa users.
The company encourages users to share their own files by offering reward points that can be traded for music files or used to enter contests. Faced with legal action in early 2002, Kazaa shut down & was bought by privately held Sharman Networks, which revived the service from its new home in Australia.
After its successful attack on Napster, the recording industry pursued another file-sharing service, Grokster, culminating in June's Supreme Court ruling that the company was liable because, as part of its business, it offered advice to customers on how to engage in illegal file-sharing.
Kazaa's lawyers argued that the company's software was no different in function from a photocopier & that Kazaa bore no responsibility for how its software was used by those who downloaded it. Kazaa's Internet site does not specifically advise users on how to share copyrighted music, & avoids referring directly to music files at all.
Kazaa users can share any type of files, music or otherwise. The site admonishes users in an end-user license agreement not to violate copyrights.
But in a summary of the case explaining his ruling, the presiding Judge said that most of the files swapped using Kazaa were copyrighted music & that Kazaa was aware of it but had done too little to discourage it. The company's boilerplate admonitions were inadequate, he said, & Kazaa had failed to undertake technical measures to curtail copyright violations using its software.
The judge conceded that it would most likely be impossible for Kazaa to completely prevent copyright violations by its users. However: he ordered Kazaa to alter its software so that its search function would not display files with names matching a list of copyrighted music.
He rejected allegations by the music industry that Kazaa had itself violated copyright laws or engaged in conspiracy to violate Australian antimonopoly laws. A representative of Sharman Networks has said that they will appeal those parts of the decision where they were not successful.
Google said in a surprise move that it would raise about $4 billion with a new stock offering. The announcement stirred widespread speculation in Silicon Valley that Google, the premier online search site, would move aggressively into businesses well beyond Internet searching & search-based advertising.
Google, which raised $1.67 billion in its initial public offering (IPO) during August 2004, expects to collect about $4 billion at this time by selling 14,159,265 million class A shares. In Google's usual whimsical fashion, the number of shares offered is the same as the first eight digits after the decimal point in pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter/radius, which starts with 3.14159265. Google’s class A common stock is now trading for close to $300 a share, which is more than double the IPO price.
The company, which had nearly $3 billion in cash as of the end of June 2005, said little about how it would spend the proceeds from the new stock sale, & it did not say how it would conduct the sale.
Google's filing for the stock issue with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) stated only that they may use the proceeds of this offering for acquisitions of complementary businesses, technologies or other assets.
That phrasing in the filing touched off wide speculation in Silicon Valley & on Wall Street about where the company might pursue its business. Some analysts said Google, located in Mountain View California, might be poised to match Yahoo's recent $1 billion investment in Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce site. Others said it could reach into telecommunications with a deal for a company like Skype, a provider of Internet-based telephone service.
With perhaps $7 billion in cash, Google could also consider acquisition of a media or digital content company, analysts said.
Many analysts also saw Google's new stock offering as preparation to take on its main competitors, Microsoft & Yahoo, both of whom are involved in a far broader range of businesses & investments. Microsoft currently has about $38 billion in cash, & Yahoo a little over $3 billion.
While Google's SEC filing stated that they have no current agreements or commitments with respect to any material acquisitions the move suggested to many Google watchers that the company was preparing to shift its business growth strategy.
There has, for example, been speculation that it was considering a Google telephone, to allow its search service to be accessible to mobile Internet users.
Thus far, Google has preferred to invest in internal growth & has made only a handful of very small acquisitions, usually to gain certain technologies & talent.
In its stock prospectus, the company said it expected its revenue growth rate to continue to decline. It also said it expected margins in the search business to fall. Both trends, Google said, were evident in the second quarter, which ended June 30. In the quarter, Google had $1.4 billion in revenue, up 98% from a year earlier but only a 10% increase from the first quarter of this year. Although net income of $343 million in the second quarter surpassed Wall Street expectations, that was down from earnings of $369 million in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, expenses are growing as the company hires hundreds of employees & increases investment in developing new products. It now has 4,361 employees, compared with 2,668 at the end of September 2004, a 63% increase in about one year. Expenses totaled $909 million in the second quarter, up 72% from a year earlier & up 12% from the first quarter.
Google has two classes of stock, A & B. The company founders, Sergey Brin & Larry Page, & the chief executive, Eric E. Schmidt, own most of the Class B shares. Since the initial offering, the three together have sold more than $1.7 billion in stock.
3. Not a cross between a Chia Pet and a Floppy Disc, but the next barrier in Super Computing
1. This old art form employs a new technology to help track fruits and vegetables