USDA awards loan to spur rural broadband network

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development agency on Tuesday announced it is loaning satellite broadband company Open Range Communications Inc. $267 million to develop wireless Internet service for 518 rural towns in 17 states across the country, the Denver Business Journal reports. Awarded as part of the government's effort to help bring high-speed Internet services to regions outside the reach of DSL or cable Internet service, the loan marks one of the largest public-private partnerships formed in the agency's $1.6 billion program to extend rural Internet access, according to officials. Under the partnership, the Denver-based company must roll out the service within five years. In addition to the government loan, Open Range has lined up $100 million in private investment, according to the USDA (Denver Business Journal, 3/25/08).

Study reports more global warming evidence

U.S. researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center have discovered that, based on satellite imagery, a large part of the Antarctic ice shelf is disintegrating as result of climate change, United Press International reports. According to the scientists, satellite pictures indicate that a 160-square-mile portion of Antarctica's massive Wilkins Ice Shelf has started to collapse on Feb. 28because of rapid climate change in a fast-warming region of the continent. Though the area of collapse involves just 160 square miles, the lead researcher notes that a large part of the 5,000-square-mile ice shelf is now supported only by a narrow strip of ice between two islands, adding that "if there is a little bit more retreat, this last 'ice buttress' could collapse and we'd likely lose about half the total ice shelf area in the next few years." The study notes that, across the past 50 years, the western Antarctic Peninsula has experienced the biggest temperature increase on Earth, rising by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit per decade (UPI, 3/26/08).

Web 2.0 tools and Enterprise Social Software – Where Are We?

A new, large scale survey was launched last week to create a baseline map of how social software is being used in the enterprise. The research, which will be shared with participants under a creative commons license, will uncover experiences organizations are having as they plan and implement social software. Readers are encouraged to take the survey by visiting the website: The researchers, Mike Reid and Christian Gray, would like participants to complete the survey before March 21. Recently they have been writing about the topic for Searcher magazine. Data collection will include; types of implementations, plans and strategies for implementation, departments and functions served, vendors selected, criteria for vendor selection, budget, impetus for implementation, criteria for success, how users measure success, level of internal support, and the impact on the organization. The survey is targeted for a broad base of private sector, public sector, and non-profit organizations. It will be analyzed by researchers and data analysts with Sector Intelligence (, an independent market intelligence firm, and Datacollection-tools, an online survey implementer.

Method detects, predicts structural strain

U.S. scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Florida International University have created a software program that can predict stress fractures that occur in statues hundreds of years old, United Press International reports. Presenting last week in Honolulu during the International Conference on Computational and Experimental Engineering and Sciences, the researchers said they applied their technology to Michelangelo's David in an analysis that proved simpler, faster and more accurate than previous methods. The "Scan and Solve" program “takes 3-D sampled or scanned data of an object and calculates where points of weakness occur and how those points will be affected by forces acting on them, such as gravity in the case of David or activity in the case of a human bone,” according to UPI. The researchers note that by applying the technique to other objects, such as human bones, they also are gaining new perspective on the likelihood of other structures to fail, adding "this research is likely to result in a breakthrough technology for performing direct engineering analysis on physical artifacts in situ" (UPI, 3/24/08).

Yahoo, Google, MySpace partner for open application development site

Yahoo Inc., Google Inc., and MySpace Inc. on Tuesday announced plans to collectively form the OpenSocial Foundation to "ensure the neutrality and longevity of OpenSocial as an open, community-governed specification for building social applications across the Web," the San Jose Business Journal reports. Yahoo, a founding member of the new foundation, said the rapidly growing specification will help developers connect with more than 500 million people. The OpenSocial Foundation will be “an independent nonprofit with a formal intellectual property and governance framework,” according to the Journal, which adds that related assets will be assigned to the new organization by July 1. The companies also note that “the foundation will provide transparency and operational guidelines around technology, documentation, intellectual property, and other issues related to the evolution of the OpenSocial platform, while also ensuring all stakeholders share influence over its future direction." will serve as the community portal, offering information about OpenSocial and the foundation. Developers and Web site owners can now visit the site for the latest specifications, links to other resources and tips for getting involved (San Jose Business Journal, 3/25/08).

New Web site aims to deliver critical medication updates to physicians via email

The not-for-profit iHealth Alliance—owned by Medem Inc, a for-profit company created by the American Medical Association and six other medical societies—is launching an online network to email pharmaceutical alerts to participating physicians, the Wall Street Journal reports. Until now, physicians would only receive notices about drug warnings and label changes from pharmaceutical companies via U.S. mail—a method many consider inefficient. Under the iHealth system, participating physicians will receive email alerts tailored by specialty. The notifications, slated to begin within the next two months, will be limited to alerts about medication label changes, warnings and recalls, and will not include any drug company marketing materials. While drug makers will pay to use the system, physicians can sign up for free and will gain access to the Health Care Notification Network, which archives drug alerts for one year and tracks physicians’ site access. After receiving an email notification, participating physicians can access the network to see additional information and resources including suggested language for explaining the changes to patients and a tool to send feedback about patients’ reactions to drugs to manufacturers or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to the Journal, the site also may be used to alert physicians in the event of a major public health crisis. Meanwhile, other drug label information is available through the National Library of Medicine’s DailyMed Web site, and the FDA’s MedWatch email alert system, which sends out notices on various health and safety issues. Physicians can sign up for iHealth Alliance at, and consumers can create a personal health record at Medem’s to receive similar notifications about drugs that they are taking (Rubenstein, Wall Street Journal, 3/25/08 [subscription required]).

Researchers tap laser to help robot 'communicate'

U.S. researchers, led by Charlie Kemp, director of the Center for Healthcare Robotics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, have taught a robot designed to assist people with mobility impairments to fetch items selected with a laser pointer, United Press International reports. For the study, which was presented earlier this month in the Netherlands during the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction, the robotics scientists were able to instruct a robot named El-E (Ellie) to find and deliver an item by using a laser pointer as a manner of communication. The laser pointer interface developed by Kemp's team provided a direct way for people to communicate the location of interest to El-E, as well as complimentary methods that enable El-E to pick up an object without understanding what the object is or what it's called(UPI, 3/24/08).

Florida university launches masters in biotechnology

The University of Central Florida (UCF) this fall will begin offering a new master's degree in biotechnology, the Orlando Business Journal reports. Approved by the UCF Board of Trustees on March 18, the new two-year degree program will prepare students for biomedical careers in the new medical city that includes the university's medical school, VA hospital, Burnham Institute for Medical Research and Nemours children's hospital, according to the provost. Students enrolled in the masters of biotechnology degree who complete a third year will also be able to earn an MBA. As no new faculty will be hired for the degree, faculty from the existing doctorate program in biomedical sciences will teach the students (Orlando Business Journal, 3/24/08).

WiMax deemed a failure in Australia

WiMax technology, of which Intel has been a main backer, has been called insufficient after it deployed in Australia, the New York Times Bits Blog reports. According to the CEO of Buzz Broadband—a small Australian company that was an early WiMax adopter—WiMax has been a “disaster” that “failed miserably.” The technology only reached 2 kilometers, though it was touted as capable of covering distances as far as 50 kilometers, he said. He added that the service had trouble indoors at more than 400 meters from the transmitter, and the significant delays in the transmission made it insufficient for applications such as voice calls. The CEO notes that Buzz has since abandoned WiMax for a mix of other technologies (Hansell, New York Times Bits Blog, 3/24/08).

Trade pub lists the Web's best free stuff

InfoWorld editors have compiled their list of the “sparkling free gems” available on the Web. Their list spans productivity, file sharing, security, backup, maps and directions, desktop customization, news readers, games, and more (InfoWorld/Yahoo! News, 3/24/08).

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