Computer scientists unveil new computer graphics program

Computer scientists at the University of California-San Diego Thursday announced creation of a fog and smoke program for computer graphics, United Press International reports. Presenting in Crete, Greece, at Eurographics 2008, the researchers note that the program reduces the computational cost of making realistic smoky and foggy 3-D images, such as depicting beams of light from a lighthouse piercing thick fog. According to the scientists, their achievement will help cutting-edge graphics techniques transition from research labs into movies, and eventually to video games and beyond. UPI adds that “the work is part of a shift in the computer graphics, film, animation and video game industries toward greater realism through the use of ‘ray tracing algorithms’ that calculate how light in computer-generated images would behave in the real world, the researchers said” (UPI, 4/17/08). 

Red Hat says no plans to release Windows competitor to commercial market

Red Hat on Thursday announced that it does not plan to release a competitor to Microsoft's Windows operating system for PCs any time soon, Triangle Business Journal reports. Currently, North Carolina-based Red Hat sells and services a version of the Linux OS for corporate servers, and its low cost has made its the OS of choice for those big customers. Downshifting to the desktop computer market, where Windows dominates, however, would just be too risky and expensive, Red Hat officials note. Specifically, the company’s Desktop Team reported in a post to a corporate blog that, "as a public, for-profit company, Red Hat must create products and technologies with an eye on the bottom line, and with desktops this is much harder to do than with servers," adding that "the desktop market suffers from having one dominant vendor, and some people still perceive that today's Linux desktops simply don't provide a practical alternative" (Triangle Business Journal, 4/17/08).

Online calculator helps determine chances for premature infants

Researchers at the Neonatal Research Network of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development have developed a new online calculator that can help parents and physicians decide how much treatment to provide to extremely premature infants, the New York Times reports. Based on data from a larger study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday, the calculator takes into account traits, such as birthweight and sex, to generate statistics on the infant's likelihood of survival or disability. Specifically, the study included 4,446 infants born between 22 and 25 weeks' gestation at 19 hospitals in the Neonatal Research Network. One study author notes that the findings and calculator are part of an effort to provide more solid evidence for physicians and parents to make decisions. She adds that she did not know if the study or calculator would lead to more or less treatment of extremely premature infants (Grady, New York Times, 4/17/08). 

Microsoft to unveil subscription-based, low-end productivity software package

Microsoft recently confirmed that it plans to release a subscription service that combines the consumer version of Office with its OneCare security suite, CNet News reports. Code-named Albany, the product features a single installer that uploads Office Home and Student, OneCare and a host of Windows Live services onto a user's PC. Users are then entitled to the latest versions of the products for as long as they keep paying for the subscription. Once they stop paying, however, they lose the right to use any version. According to officials, the product targets consumers that want a simple way to access Microsoft's productivity suite and keep their computer protected. Microsoft’s group product manager notes that the company soon plans to introduce a limited beta version of Albany, with the aim of commercially launching the product later this year. He adds, however, that the company has yet to decide how much it will charge or how the product will be sold (Fried, CNet News, 4/18/08). 

Researchers publish guide to measuring nanotubes

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have published detailed guidelines for measuring single-walled carbon nanotubes, United Press International reports. According to UPI, the researchers suggest the guidelines constitute the current "best practices" for characterizing “one of the most promising and heavily studied of the new generation of nanoscale materials.” Nanotubes consist of cylinders of carbon atoms with a wall just one atom thick and a diameter of roughly two nanometers, but with lengths of up to several million times their diameter. UPI notes that “scientists say nanotubes' unique electronic, thermal, optical and mechanical properties make them ideal for a range of applications, including ultrastrong fibers for nanocomposite materials, circuit elements in molecular electronics, hydrogen storage components for fuel cells and light sources for flat-panel displays.” The new guidelines, available here, will likely help ensure more accurate, reliable and rapid measurement techniques, thus optimizing production processes and creating more nanotubes with fewer impurities. In addition, UPI reports that the techniques described in the guide have been proposed as the basis for international standards for nanotube characterization (UPI, 4/17/08).

Sun Microsystems announces new MySQL applications

Sun Microsystems this week released an upgrade of the MySQL open-source database and a new modeling and development tool called MySQL Workbench designed to help the computer maker expand the MySQL ecosystem, ChannelWeb reports. Announced at the MySQL Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., the new database will be offered in three editions: “the freely available MySQL Community Server, the MySQL Enterprise Server available from Sun for a paid subscription, and the commercially licensed MySQL Embedded Server for ISVs and OEMs,” according to ChannelWeb. Specifically, the software is designed to support a range of operating systems including Microsoft Windows, Macintosh OS X, and multiple versions of Unix and Linux. Available now, the MySQL Workbench offers data modeling, physical database design, database creation, change management and documentation capabilities (Whiting, ChannelWeb, 4/17/08). 

Chromium has magnetic properties, study finds

A new study published in the journal Nature suggests that U.S. physicists say have discovered the element chromium has magnetic properties,a finding they note may lead to new data-storage technologies, United Press International reports. According to study leader Yeong-Ah Soh of Dartmouth University, "the phenomena that we have discovered are likely to lead to new applications of chromium." During her study, she notes that she discovered chromium displays different electrical properties upon heating and cooling, adding that the differences reflect subtle internal rearrangements of the electrons and their spins. Specifically, she says that in ferromagnets—such as typical refrigerator magnets—the spins of electrons interact with each other leading to alignment, while in anti-ferromagnets the interactions between neighboring electron spins are opposed. Ultimately, she notes that the study "opens the entire new field of controlled electrical effects at a slightly-larger-than-quantum scale in anti-ferromagnets," adding that "the findings show that not only ferromagnets can be used in spintronics; there is a possibility anti-ferromagnets can also be employed to manipulate and store information" (UPI, 4/17/08). 

GAO Officials urge HHS to link infection databases

In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) official said that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies need to better coordinate their work collecting and tracking hospital-acquired infection data, Modern Healthcare reports. Specifically, the director for health care issues at GAO said that multiple agencies at HHS collect hospital infection data but that they are not making progress because the agencies only update each other about their independent databases, rather than collaborating on their respective work. Meanwhile, a GAO report released at the hearing recommended that HHS create links between its databases to better understand where and how hospital infections occur. Commenting on the hearing, GAO officials noted that HHS generally agreed with the agency’s findings (Lubell, Modern Healthcare, 4/16/08).  

Google unveils its Google Earth 4.3 with smoother 3D features

Google has updated its Google Earth mapping application, offering a 3D navigation system which the company claims is smoother and more natural for users, reports. The latest update adds new navigation tools including a modified zooming feature that ensures the 3D map view zooms in normally as users zoom in from a full-Earth view. As the view zooms closer to the ground, however, the perspective tilts in a manner that officials say simulates that of a person parachuting to the ground. And when the zoom level reaches ground, the program displays the 3D landscape in a view similar to that of a 3D game. Meanwhile, Google also has added a Street View feature to the Earth application, which was the subject of some controversy regarding privacy earlier this year. First introduced in Google’s online Maps application last year, the controversial application allows users to navigate by way of actual street photos. Additionally, Google Earth 4.3 will feature improved lighting for its 3D view, better rendering software designed to help the landscapes load faster, an image acquisition feature that lists the date when landscape images were taken, and an improved language pack that adds a further 12 translations (Nichols,, 4/17/08).

U.S. government agencies team with health care groups to boost public health surveillance

Federal agencies are increasingly working with health care organizations to bolster data collection and public health surveillance efforts, Health Data Management reports. For instance, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with the Philadelphia-based retail health clinic group Convenient Care Association to develop possible plans for syndromic data reporting. According to the association, many retail clinics use electronic health records systems and will likely serve roughly 3.5 million patients this year. Health Data Management suggests that this makes them ideal for both reporting syndromic data to surveillance systems, as well as perhaps distributing countermeasures in the event of an emergency. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is collaborating with U.S. insurer WellPoint to develop a drug surveillance system that will scan the medical records of more than 35 million members in an effort to identify potential safety problems linked to FDA-approved medications. The announcement follows a Congressional mandate passed in the fall requiring the FDA to upgrade to a new, more comprehensive computerized system capable of scanning tens of millions of patient records for medication problems. Citing Government Accountability Office data indicating that the FDA captures less than 10 percent of adverse reactions to medications, the Wall Street Journal notes that insurers increasingly have been analyzing patient records for potential drug safety problems, instead of waiting for government-issued warnings. However, rather than re-creating its own system, the FDA plans to rely on a network of insurer and health system databases to follow up on signs of potential problems that were evident in preapproval testing but not significant enough to delay approval (Health Data Management, 4/16/08; Fuhrmans, Journal, 4/15/08 [subscription required]; Berkrot, Reuters, 4/15/08).   

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