Twitter, GPS useful for terrorists

Mobile phone GPS, voice over IP, and Twitter are emerging as viable communication aids for terrorists, according to a US Army report. “Twitter is already being used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives,” said the report, issued by the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion and posted on the Federation of American Scientists Web site. The report provided some examples of how Twitter has helped organizations, including protestors at  the Republican National Convention in September, who used the service to organize their activities and evade police.  It also theorized that terrorists could use Twitter to organize cell movement and aid in remote bomb detonation. (The New York Times)

Microsoft joins the cloud with Azure

Microsoft unveiled Windows Azure, a cloud computing platform that is intended to let developers build and host programs on its infrastructure, at its Professional Developers Conference on Monday. Developers can build applications using .NET and Visual Studio, but Microsoft also made Azure compatible with other languages such as Eclipse, Ruby, PHP, and Python. According to Computerworld, Azure has a Fabric Controller tool that manages the content in its data centers, enabling applications to be updated automatically and eliminating the need for application updates on every PC. “The Azure Services Platform, built from the ground up to be consistent with Microsoft’s commitment to openness and interoperability, promises to transform the way businesses operate and how consumers access their information and experience the Web,” said Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie, who introduce Azure at the conference. (Computerworld)

Nucleus key for quantum data storage

In an important breakthrough for quantum computing, an international team of scientists overcame a major obstacle by storing information in the nucleus of an atom for more than a second. That length of time is enough for scientists to use error-correction techniques to protect the data even longer, possibly years, paving the way for the creation of a working quantum computer. The findings were published in Nature. According to lead author John Morton of St. John’s College, Oxford, the team used pure silicon crystals and devised a way to transfer qubits (the quantum form of bits) from electrons to nuclei. The spinning electrons are useful for manipulating data, but become corrupted if they store data too long. That’s where the nucleus comes in. “The electron acts as a middle-man between the nucleus and the outside world. It gives us a way to have our cake and eat it – fast processing speeds from the electron, and long memory times from the nucleus,” Morton said. The information’s lifetime within the nucleus was about one and three-quarter seconds, thousands of times longer than previous studies. What’s more, Morton said the researchers could probably make that time longer, but were limited because their equipment wasn’t set up to handle longer times. Aiding the effort was a Princeton University team and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which developed the pure silicon necessary for the study. The breakthrough, however, may not be limited to silicon. Morton added that the team has already applied the technology to diamond-based quantum computing, and that it could be applicable in the various methods to build a quantum computer currently underway. “This is really a portable technology, as long as you’ve got two degrees of freedom,” Morton said. (EurekAlert, Berkeley Lab)

Linux distribution worth billions

The Linux Foundation estimated that the Linux kernel is worth about US$1.4 billion, basing its calculation on development time and lines of code, and that Fedora 9 would cost $10.8 million to build. That amount is a significant increase over the previous estimate that the study was based on – $1.2 billion for a typical Linux distribution, according to a 2002 report by computer scientist David Wheeler. The foundation used Wheeler’s Software Lines of Code program, SLOCCount, and included Fedora components such as the GNOME desktop environment and Firefox Web brower to make its analysis. (Internetnews.com)

Smaller, more powerful microprocessors possible

Taking another step in the application of Moore’s law, engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a way to improve optical lithography to create smaller and more powerful computer chips. The engineers used metal lenses to focus precise measurements of light, creating circuitry patterns 80 nanometers wide at up to 12 meters per second. “Utilizing this plasmonic nanolithography, we will be able to make current microprocessors more than 10 times smaller, but far more powerful,” said Xiang Zhang, UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering and head of the research team behind the development. “This technology could also lead to ultra-high density disks that can hold 10 to 100 times more data than disks today.” (UC Berkeley)

Apple wants to connect your gadgets

Apple has submitted a patent application for a new communications method that would create a network of gadgets, so your wristwatch could use your cell phone to call your iPod and change a song. The technology would use short-range RF protocols, such as Bluetooth, to connect with long-range communications devices and act as an interface for sending calls or e-mails. Apple envisions its patent being applied in several ways – RF modules could be placed in purse straps or clothing and personal area networks could establish connections at home, in a car, or at work. (Ars Technica)

Nanotechnology leaves big environmental footprint

The manufacture of nanomaterials has a larger environmental impact than previously thought, according to a special issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology. Scientists previously assumed that nanotechnology would be cleaner because the work is more precise and done on a very small scale, so by-products would be insignificant. But according to Reid Lifset, the journal’s editor in chief, the opposite is true. Nanotechnology requires more energy, and its intolerance for defects means there is more waste. “With current technology, the nature of manufacturing tends to be pretty dirty,” Lifset said. In one paper printed in the journal, “Identifying and Predicting Biological Risks Associated With Manufactured Nanoparticles in Aquatic Ecosystems,” the authors predict nanoparticles will accumulate in the world’s oceans and lakes, exposing organisms to metals such as iron, nickel, and cadmium. (Journal of Industrial Ecology)

Gates has new technology think tank

Bill Gates, who retired this summer as chief executive officer of Microsoft, has a new company called bgC3 that will act as a think tank for new technology breakthroughs, TechFlash.com reported. The company is headquartered in Kirkland, Wash., but Gates has been secretive about it and isn’t planning to devote his full-time attention to the venture. TechFlash noted that Gates’ interests include energy, biotechnology, and global economics, which could join computer science as areas the new company explores. (TechFlash)

Microsoft issues emergency update

Acting outside of its usual update cycle, Microsoft issued an emergency Windows patch Thursday to fix a flaw in its Windows Server service. The company didn’t release the code, but said attackers were already exploiting the vulnerability. Before the patch, Windows Server didn’t properly handle “specially crafted RFP requests,” so attackers could send malicious messages to take control of computers and spread  worms. (Computerworld)

TLD proposal would go beyond dot-com

ICANN has issued a series of papers to explain its new generic top-level domains (TLDs) system, part of its preparation for a November public meeting in Cairo to present the proposal and gather public comment. Calling the change necessary to allow more innovation on a global scale, ICANN plans to lift restrictions that limit registrars to 21 generic TLDs, such as .com or .org. Under the new rules, businesses would be able to reserve their own TLD, such as .ebay. According to The Associated Press, the cost of the new suffixes would approach US$200,000, making them prohibitive for individuals. Entirely non-English addresses could be created, but TLDs containing numerals won’t be allowed. (AP)

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