Web-based tool maps England’s noise levels

The British government on Friday published online maps that display noise levels in towns across England as an attempt to reduce the disruption caused by factories, planes, trains and cars, Reuters reports. Residents in 23 towns and cities will be able to check how noisy their area is by visiting www.defra.gov.uk/noisemapping. According to Reuters, officials created the maps using data taken at industrial sites, roads, railways and airports. The maps in total cover 50,000 miles of roads and 3,000 miles of railways (Griffiths, Reuters/Yahoo! News, 5/16/08).

Dutch set new solar cell efficiency mark

Dutch scientists based at the Eindhoven University of Technology say they've achieved a new efficiency record for solar cells by adding ultra-thin aluminum oxide layer at the front of each cell, United Press International reports. Although the 1 percent improvement may seem minor, the researchers, who include Bram Hoex, Professor Richard van de Sanden and Associate Professor Erwin Kessels, suggest the change can enable solar cell manufacturers to significantly boost their products’ performance and ultimately reduce the cost of solar energy (UPI, 5/15/08).

Low-cost lap top to feature Windows operating system

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project and Microsoft on Thursday announced that the XO laptop will be released in both Linux and Windows varieties, CNet News reports. According to officials, the companies in June will begin selling a Windows-powered XO in five or six countries, with a broader release set for August or September. Meanwhile, OLPC officials say they ultimately aim to deliver machines that can boot into either operating system. Microsoft, however, notes that the first XO laptops with Windows that start rolling out in June will not be dual-boot machines (Fried, CNet News, 5/15/08).

Sprint, Samsung announce WiMax commercial rollout plans

Sprint Nextel Corp. and Samsung Electronics Corp. today declared high-speed wireless WiMax technology ready for commercial service, and Sprint announced plans to launch commercial WiMax in Washington and Baltimore later this year, Computerworld reports. In recent months, Washington and Baltimore joined Chicago in a "soft rollout" of the technology in which Sprint workers used and tested the service, according to a Spring spokesperson. However, today's announcement only concerned Washington and Baltimore and did not address a projected commercial rollout date for Chicago (Hamblen, Computerworld, 5/15/08).

Tech firm finds simple malware-service package for sale on Web

Tech security firm RSA’s Anti-Fraud Command Centre (AFCC) recently traced a new service that offers an all-in-one hosting server with a built-in Zeus trojan administration panel and infecting tools, allowing users to create their own botnet, Computerworld reports. According to the AFCC’s latest report, the service provides access to a "bullet-proof hosting server with a built-in Zeus trojan administration panel and infection tools...the service includes all of the required stages in a single package, meaning that all the fraudster now has to do is pay for the service, access the newly-hired Zeus trojan server, create infection points and start collecting data". One banking and finance specialist at RSA notes that such services with the Zeus package resemble what legitimate security vendors offer, but instead promote malware-as-a-service. Using the package, RSA notes that fraudsters can easily infect other individuals and create a botnet of compromised machines. In addition, the package is particularly enticing because of its easy-to-use Web hosting control panel, which is designed for use by virtually anyone (Hendry, Computerworld-Australia, 5/15/08).

IBM unveils technology to boost solar energy capacity

IBM has developed technology that will let solar cells withstand the heat of more than a 1,000 suns, CNet News reports. Specifically, the innovative research includes a new process for cooling concentrating photovoltaics (CPV)—a solar design where light is magnified onto high-performance solar cells. Currently, CPV cell efficiency “degrades at high heat and can damage, and conceivably destroy, equipment at extremely high temperatures,” according to CNet. With its liquid-metal cooling technique, adapted from high-powered computers' chips, IBM says it can refocus roughly three-quarters of the heat generated by a CPV system. While IBM has no plans to manufacture CPV devices, the company does hope to license its thermal interface layer to solar manufacturers, officials note. Meanwhile, IBM Research also is experimenting with "solution process" techniques for manufacturing CIGS cells, a method that could be an alternative to the slower evaporation process (LaMonica, CNet Green Tech Blog, 5/14/08).

Air Force leader calls on military to construct botnet for cyber attacks

A commentary in the May issue of the Armed Forces Journal suggests that the U.S. military should build its own "botnet," or network of remotely controlled computers, to prepare for responding to a cyber attack, the Associated Press reports. Written by Air Force Col. Charles Williamson III, the proposal calls on the military to use PCs it planned to throw away to create a botnet. The military could expand that botnet's computing horsepower by implanting its code on other government computers, according to the commentary. The AP reports that “Williamson's commentary has ignited a debate in the computer security community about the wisdom of building a military botnet — and the government's ability to control it.” Specifically, the proposed tactic is called a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, which is what hackers used last year to cripple government and corporate computer networks housed in the highly computer-savvy nation of Estonia (Robertson, AP/Yahoo! News, 5/15/08).

Intel, Chinese firm partner for targeted computer initiative

Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba.com is joining with Intel to develop a computer that will specifically help small and medium-sized Chinese businesses get online, IDG News Service reports. Marking the first step in a broader alliance between the two companies, the planned computer will feature Intel components and include Alibaba's e-commerce applications preinstalled and use, according to a joint statement. The companies, however, have yet to release details such as the specific Intel components that will be used in the PC. IDG News, meanwhile, speculates that the company's upcoming Atom processor, due to be launched next month, will likely be leveraged for the project, considering its planned use in other affordable machines (Lemon, IDG News Service/CIO, 5/15/08). 

Verizon joins Linux-based OS development group, set to rival Google

Verizon Wireless on Wednesday announced that it has joined a consortium to develop a Linux-based mobile operating system (OS), which will likely rival a mobile system being developed by a group headed by Google Inc., Reuters reports. The consortium, called the LiMo Foundation, currently has roughly 40 members including Verizon Wireless handset suppliers Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and LG Electronics Inc., as well as Korea's SK Telecom Co Ltd. According to Verizon Wireless, the company will join the foundation's board and expects to sell its first phones based on the LiMo OS in 2009. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the announcement comes just one month after AT&T Inc said it would support Android—the Linux OS being developed by Google and roughly 30 partners (Carew, Reuters, 5/14/08).

Experts say Internet use may interfere with wireless devices in hospitals

The Associated Press recently reported that hospitals and medical device makers are warning that the use of unoccupied television airwaves for high-speed Internet service could interfere with medical devices and disrupt the monitoring of patients' heart rates, blood oxygen levels and other vital signs. Specifically, medical device maker GE Healthcare last week requested that the Federal Communications Commission proceed carefully with its decision to allow broadband use in the idle TV channels ("white spaces"). GE asked the FCC for stricter standards to protect wireless patient-monitoring equipment from being affected by other equipment. In light of the issue, the FCC is conducting tests to determine an efficient way to use the spectrum for broadband without interference, however the AP reports that a number of trial devices have broken down or failed. The FCC in 2000 allocated channel 37 exclusively for medical monitoring equipment in response to a 1998 incident in which a TV broadcaster interfered with a hospital's low-powered heart monitors. Prior to 2000, hospitals had used other channels to operate unlicensed wireless patient-monitoring devices. Despite the change, however, some hospitals still operate outside the protected channel. Preceding this week’s filing, GE Healthcare had called on FCC to prohibit any operation within channels 33 to 36 until February 2010 to give hospitals more time to migrate to the new protected channel, according to one official. Moreover, he said that unlicensed, portable Internet devices operating in empty channels next to the channel dedicated for medical devices may be too powerful and "overload" hospital systems, which typically emit weaker wireless signals (Sarkar, AP/Chicago Tribune, 5/13/08).

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