Thailand’s education minister plans to award 1 million computers to students

The Thai Education Ministry on Thursday announced plans to purchase 1 million computers to distribute to underserved students, The Nation reports. According to the minister, the project was initially planned under the Thai Rak Thai Party during 2005election campaigns. One official said she believed the Minister was referring to a project initiated by the previous prime minister to purchase low-cost notebook computers designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for rural students, who do not have the same access to technology as those in urban cities. The Basic Education Commission (BEC) is expected to inform the new minister on Monday how many computers are needed for education, as well as help determine strategies for deciding eligibility for the computer project (The Nation, 2/8/08; The Nation, 2/8/08).

Harvard technology fund supports emerging technologies

Harvard University's Office of Technology Development on Friday announced its second launch of the Technology Development Accelerator Fund, a new initiative designed to propel emerging technologies originating from the university's biomedical and life science research community into the marketplace, the Boston Business Journal reports. Launched last year with $6 million in donations, the Fund is a new initiative that aims drive emerging technologies development within the university's biomedical and life science research community into the marketplace. Specifically, it is designed to bridge the so-called "development gap," an obstacle often encountered by scientists with promising early-stage discoveries. According to the Business Journal, inventions from the first group of Fund-supported research projects have been licensed to industry, demonstrating validation of the fund's core strategy (Boston Business Journal, 2/8/08).

Grants help New Orleans school-based clinics deploy EMR network

Two grants totaling nearly $970,000 will enable New Orleans-area school-based health centers to connect via an electronic medical records (EMR) system, the Associated Press reports. According to the Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI), the EMR system will help reduce medical errors, as providers will have access to updated treatment and medical history information. In addition, LPHI expects the system to facilitate data sharing in the event of a disaster and improve bill collection procedures. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the W.W. Kellogg Foundation have invested $745,000 and $222,952, respectively, to support system installation at 13 health centers that serve more than 14,000 students throughout the region. LPHI notes that other local medical and community sponsors including the City of New Orleans Health Department and the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center are contributing in-kind donations to support the initiative (AP/New Orleans Times Picayune, 2/6/08).

Wisconsin bill would ease privacy rules for health data exchange

Wisconsin lawmakers will soon consider a bill that would change the state's health data privacy rules to facilitate the sharing of medical records among health care organizations statewide, Government Health IT reports. Ultimately easing data sharing, the bill would allow all health information not covered under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to be shared without a patient's consent. Specifically, the legislation would allow information such as patient names, addresses, names of mental health providers, diagnoses and medications to be shared without consent. However, the founder of the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation calls the new law a "privacy destructive rule," noting its of particular concern for patients with mental illnesses. She added that many states are trying to strengthen privacy protections, as "privacy is not a barrier [to data sharing]" (Robinson, Government Health IT, 2/5/08; Plas, Wisconsin Technology, 1/30/08).

Gates Foundation awards $4.1 million to boost technology in N.Y. libraries

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded a total of $4.1 million to public libraries throughout New York to improve computer service in underserved communities, the Long Island Newsday reports. Granted through the foundation’s "Opportunity Online" program, the funding will enable 421 libraries to purchase more than 2,000 new computers. Under the grant agreement, however, libraries will need to provide matching funds for part of the purchases. According to Newsday, the foundation has been awarding Opportunity Online grants nationwide to help update technology for all U.S. libraries that serve underprivileged residents (Newsday, 2/7/08).

Nigeria to impose duty on imported old computers

Nigerian officials on Wednesday announced plans to charge duties on old computers imported for spare parts because much of the excess material is later dumped and causes toxic waste, Reuters reports. The strong local culture in Nigeria seeks affordable computers and habitually patches older systems up to keep them working for many years. Currently, importers at no cost can ship in old computers, which are gutted for spare parts. The unwanted pieces, however, are simply thrown away, causing waste disposal issues. According to Reuters, developed countries have increasingly turned to regulating the disposal of unwanted electronic appliances, but in Nigeria and other developing countries waste management is haphazard, with roadside trash burnings common throughout Nigerian cities, as well as the growth of massive dumps sites in densely populated areas. Nigerian officials note that "[old computers] will be banned completely later, but it has to be a gradual process to avoid our country turning into a dumping ground for scrap," adding that the tariffs "became necessary because [the computer parts] are found to have toxic waste that causes cancer and other hazards to health" (Reuters South Africa, 2/7/08).

Google expands team-based application suite

Google Inc. on Thursday expanded its free software suite, Google Apps, to enable employees or students to collaborate on documents, calendars or presentations and to chat via instant messaging, Reuters reports. Google Apps Team Edition adds collaborative features to the 18-month-old software, which initially lacked group management features required by businesses and allowed users to share documents only with other individual users. To use the latest upgrade, users sign-up with their work e-mail address and anyone invited to join with the same domain becomes part of the user’s team. Users can then decide who to share their documents with. And though the security features remain rudimentary, Google says it is moving rapidly to add powers (Auchard, Reuters, 2/7/08).

European agencies partner to produce air quality data

The European Environment Agency (EEA) recently announced it will work with a European Space Agency-led consortium to cull information on air pollution, United Press International reports. Under the pact, the EEA will use a service that merges satellite data with surface measurements from 29 European nations to deliver daily air-quality information. According to officials, the Integrated Air Quality Platform for Europe service is designed to provide end-users with information about air quality and creates forecasts for up to 72 hours at a resolution of roughly 30 miles. Specifically, the program includes data on ozone; nitrogen dioxide; and particulate matter, including dust, smoke and pollen (UPI, 2/6/08).

Virgin Atlantic Airlines to test biofuel-powered flight

Virgin Atlantic Airlines later this month will test a new biofuel-equipped Boeing 747 on a flight from London to Amsterdam, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The aircraft will use a new fuel blend consisting of 80 percent regular fuel and 20 percent biofuel, which the company says will not compete with food or freshwater resources. Though there will be no passengers on board the initial test flight, there may be applications for actual use if the test proves successful. Meanwhile, Boeing, Air New Zealand and Rolls-Royce in September announced a similar agreement to test a biofuel flight in the second half of 2008. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, aircrafts represent up to 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the U.S. transportation sector. While Virgin’s 80/20 blend will not significantly reverse the effects of global warming, some environmentalists say it’s not a bad start for the “world’s first biofuel-powered flight” (Raine, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/5/08).

Scientists tap genetic mapping to fight infectious diseases

According to a group of U.S. researchers, genetic mapping by computers can help fight infectious disease outbreaks that cannot be detected by modern medical tests, USA Today reports. In next month's New England Journal of Medicine, scientists will detail how computerized genetic sequencing tools that have mapped the human genome can identify viruses and bacteria more efficiently than standard methods. For the study, Australian researchers first tapped traditional methods to determine what had caused a cluster of deaths in Australia in 2007. When they came up empty, they involved U.S. researchers who employed bioinformatics tools including a computer algorithm to spot 14 DNA sequences confirming a new type of virus that went undetected by the standard tools. Ian Lipkin, one of the study's authors from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, says the same method can be applied to respond more quickly to everyday medical issues. Specifically, he notes that genetic mapping can be used to better screen patients, find infectious roots to common chronic diseases and identify bugs that kill people every day worldwide (Davis, USA Today, 2/6/08).

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