CMU researchers tap online games to boost computer performance

Carnegie Mellon University researchers on Wednesday launched a gaming site that aims to help computers grow “smarter,” the Associated Press reports. Featuring five games designed to help computers with tasks they can't automatically do, the site matches users age 13 and older with other players. One task, for instance, involves improving computer searches for images or audio clips. For example, a Web search for "sad songs" generally yields links to audio files that have the word sad in the filename. Games such as “Tag a Tune,” however, get people to describe audio clips as sad, and then researchers can improve searches for audio files (AP/Fox News, 5/16/08).

Indonesia joins new global bird flu monitoring database

Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari on Thursday announced that the country will begin sharing genetic information about the country's bird flu virus with a new global database, the Associated Press reports. More than a year after scientists and health experts called for bird flu data to be shared more quickly and openly, the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data’s (GISAID) free, online site went live on Thursday. According to the AP, Indonesia, China, Russia and other countries previously withheld bird flu samples and DNA sequencing information from international databases such as the World Health Organization's 50-year-old virus sharing system. Supari said that WHO's database, which required member countries to submit bird flu samples and data to the global body, was unfair to developing countries and that pharmaceutical companies could use the information to develop costly vaccines that would be inaccessible to people in Indonesia. However, countries that previously boycotted such databases said the new online site offers full transparency and basic protection of intellectual property rights (McDowell, AP/Washington Post, 5/15/08). 

Web-Based genome service partners with Parkinson’s researchers

23andMe, a Google-backed company offering personal scans of DNA to see how genetic variations might affect patients' health, has formed its first research partnership with the Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale, Calif., the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The consumer genome service 23andMe on Wednesday announced its plans to conduct a Web-based study based on genetic data of clinical trial subjects that could provide links between family health histories and Parkinson's disease. The institute will recruit 150 participants to enroll in 23andMe's genome service. Half of the subjects will have Parkinson's and the other half will be a control group. Under the agreement, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research provided the project with a $600,000 grant, which will cover the 23andMe fees for participants in the trials. One of 23andMe’s co-founders notes that, if the company is able to host large-scale groups of people with various illnesses, pharmaceutical companies could begin paying 23andMe to communicate their offers to participate in clinical trials. She added that the online service also can support clinical trials with database services and that patients could use the Web site as a forum to prompt research in areas they deem important (Tansey, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/15/08).

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 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).

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