AOL acquires U.K. social networking site

AOL announced plans to purchase U.K.-based social networking site Bebo, a Facebook and MySpace rival, for $850 million, the Washington Business Journal reports. Founded in 2005, Bebo has 100 employees operating out of its headquarters in U.K., as well as San Francisco and Austin, Texas. According to the statement, the company plans to launch in five countries this year. Meanwhile, the Journal notes that the merger is part of the AOL's “transition away from dial-up Internet as it aims to get a slice of the competitive social media market and to grow internationally” (Killian, Washington Business Journal, 3/13/08).

Bill Gates urges U.S. lawmakers to help boost wireless Internet access

Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp. on Thursday called on U.S. communications regulators to free up vacant television airwaves that could be used for wireless services such as broadband Internet access, Reuters reports. Appearing before a Northern Virginia technology group, Gates said the so-called "white space" spectrum could be used to expand access of wireless broadband service using Wi-Fi technology. Responding to one question, Gates noted that the change could help Wi-Fi “explode in terms of its usage, even out into some of these less dense areas [of the United States] where distance has been a big problem for Wi-Fi." U.S. broadcasters and makers of wireless microphones, however, oppose the idea, citing fears that Wi-Fi devices would cause interference. A spokesperson for the National Association of Broadcasters said that the "broadband penetration could be drastically improved through a fixed, licensed service without interference to TV reception. Unfortunately, Microsoft continues to push for an unlicensed technology that simply does not work" (Kaplan, Reuters, 3/13/08).

ICF to support EPA’s clean-air division

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently awarded ICF International Inc. a five-year, $42 million contract to provide modeling and analyses services for EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division, Washington Technology reports. According to Washington Technology, the Clean Air Markets Division develops market-based regulations and creates emissions trading systems that aim to cost-effectively reduce air pollutants. Under the contract, ICF will perform modeling and analyses of potential climate change policy in the electric utility sector. In addition, ICF will use its power sector modeling tool—the Integrated Planning Model—to “examine the costs and market effects of alternative carbon trading policies and programs and their impact on consumers, businesses and industry,” according to Washington Technology. ICF also will provide expertise in climate change, acid rain, mercury deposition, sector-based energy and air emissions initiatives, and other areas (Hubler, Washington Technology, 3/12/08).

Heart implant could be hacked, study finds

A team of U.S. computer security researchers found that a heart defibrillator-pacemaker combination is vulnerable to hacking, United Press International reports. The New York Times on Wednesday reported that University of Washington and University of Massachusetts researchers were able to reprogram the device to shut down and deliver potentially fatal jolts of electricity. In addition, researchers said they could intercept patient data by "eavesdropping" on signals from the wireless radio embedded in the implant designed to allow doctors to monitor and adjust the device without surgery. Published on Wednesday at www.secure-medicine.org, the study suggests that the hundreds of thousands of people with implanted defibrillators or pacemakers should not worry about hackers, particularly because the experiment required more than $30,000 worth of lab equipment and a continuous effort to interpret the data from the implant's signals. Additionally, the device the researchers tested—a Medtronic defibrillator-pacemaker—was proximate to the test gear. Commenting on the study, the researchers said results indicate that developers should pay more attention to security in medical implants with communications capabilities (UPI, 3/12/08).

Wisconsin to host World Stem Cell Summit in September

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle on Wednesday announced that Madison later this year will host a world gathering of stem cell researchers, advocates and investors, The Business Journal of Milwaukee reports. Touted as the preeminent gathering for the entire global stem cell community, the World Stem Cell Summit on Sept. 22-23 will bring together preeminent researchers, advocates, investors, and other industry leaders to advance human embryonic stem cell research and the resultant technologies. The summit also will provide critical tools for leadership and advancements for the future of regenerative medicine. According to the Journal, regenerative medicine and stem cell technologies will likely become $500 billion industries across the next 20 years (The Business Journal of Milwaukee, 3/12/08).

Microsoft acquires software developer Kidaro

Microsoft Corp. recently announced plans to purchase Kidaro, a desktop virtualization technology developer, the Puget Sound Business Journal reports. Officials say they plan to combine Kidaro’s technology with its desktop management tools, which enable a computer desktop—including its operating system, applications, tools and data—to work as a virtual machine "that can operate as an isolated workspace on any computing platform," according to Kidaro. The general manager of Windows product management at Microsoft notes that incorporating Kidaro into its Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance "delivers a powerful new tool to help enterprise customers optimize their desktops" (Puget Sound Business Journal, 3/12/08).

Aetna plans to roll out online, personalized health research service

Health insurer Aetna on Wednesday is unveiling a new Web-based health research service to employers that provide employee health benefits through the company, the New York Times reports. The free service, called SmartSource, was first piloted for Aetna’s 35,000 employees and will roll out to other employers nationwide in August. Designed to help beneficiaries better manage their own care, SmartSource uses an online medical search engine and information from Aetna insurance claims to create medical profiles for each user. Participants will be able to access relatively personalized information that relates to their illnesses, diagnostic tests and frequent searches. Some industry experts, however, suggest that claims data provides a limited and even outdated view into individuals’ care and health concerns, noting that more useful data would come from physicians and hospital visits. Aetna’s vice president for online programs, meanwhile, says that tapping physicians and hospitals for the personalized information is part of the program’s end goal to ensure individuals are “as engaged as possible in managing [their] health care” (Freudenheim, New York Times, 3/12/08 [registration required]).

Hulu Internet television service goes live for U.S. users

News Corporation and NBC Universal on Wednesday expanded access to their free online television Web site Hulu.com, the AFP reports. After a successful five-month private "beta" testing phase, the now public service boasts an expansive library of TV shows, movies and clips supported by advertising. Hulu said its content partners include Warner Brothers and Lionsgate film studios along with television and cable networks. The site features complete episodes from more than 250 television series including "The Simpsons" and "The Office," as well as 100 full-length films (AFP, 3/12/08).

Computer screens affect a child's posture

A study published in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society suggests that students' posture is affected by the height of classroom learning materials such as computer screens, United Press International reports. For the study, researchers from Curtin University of Technology in Australia presented an interactive task to 24 children ages 10 to 12 of normal height. The researchers recorded the children's movements and measured 3-D posture and muscle activity in the neck and upper limb for the high-, mid- and book-level displays. They found that a high computer screen display resulted in upward bending of the upper neck, but the mid-level display promoted a more upright and symmetrical posture and lower average muscle activity than either the high- or the book-level position. In addition, they found that of the three positions, the low book-level display caused the most strain on muscles and joints (UPI, 3/10/08).

NASA seeks supersonic research projects

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently released its "Research Opportunities in Aeronautics 2008" list, soliciting research in support of its supersonics project, United Press International reports. The project, detailed at http://nspires.nasaprs.com, aims to “address technical challenges associated with supersonic flight over land and to develop technologies required to build future high mass entry systems to enable the exploration of Mars and other planets,” according to UPI. NASA officials say they expect educational institutions, non-profit organizations and industries engaged in fundamental research to be the primary research award recipients (UPI, 3/12/08).

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