Handwriting on the Wall for Cursive
A supercomputer built by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University from 1,100 dual-processor Macintosh G5 PCs looks likely to rank with the five fastest machines in the world, despite costing a relative pittance.
Gartner has adjusted its estimate of worldwide PC shipments upward to 161 million this year, hitting a new benchmark for the industry, says Gartner analyst Kiyomi Yamada. Gartner recently rejiggered its method of accounting for unit shipments to include units previously overlooked, says Yamada. The error was revealed when Gartner noticed a discrepancy between the number of components, such as processors, and the number of finished PCs. The difference pointed to a previously unrecognized market for so-called white-box PCs -- machines that are usually assembled and sold by small companies. Gartner has since gone back and revised its PC unit shipment numbers for at least the past six years, boosting those figures accordingly. Meanwhile, IDC has predicted a 2003 unit shipment increase of 6.3% to 145 million, but analyst Roger Kay says the firm may revise those numbers upward, based on hot sales of notebook computers. (CNet News.com 14 Aug 2003) http://news.com.com/2100-1003_3-5063927.html?tag=lh (NewsScan firstname.lastname@example.org)
IBM has developed the world's smallest solid-state flashlight -- a carbon nanotube made by rolling a sheet of pure graphite into a single molecule. The light emitted by the flashlight is invisible to human eyes, but is ideal for fiber-optics cables. Although the advance is years away from any practical use, it represents a real scientific breakthrough, and chemistry professor Peidong Yang of the University of California-Berkeley calls it "a fantastic achievement." Phaedon Avouris, IBM manager's of nanoscale research, explains that the flashlight is notable because "it's very small, it's solid-state, and it's a transistor, which allows full control of its properties." (San Jose Mercury News 2 May 2003) (NewsScan Daily, 2 May 2003)
Almost two-thirds of American children between the ages of 2 and 17 logged onto the Net last year, with a whopping 205% increase among African-American children, according to a new report from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The disparities between higher and lower income children still exist, but the study found that 58% of African American children and 50% of Hispanic children now use the Internet from some location -- either home, school or the local library. The study, based on a series of surveys conducted last year by technology market research firm Grunwald Associates, also found that digital media use among children ages 6-17 is now approaching parity with television viewing. According to the report, children spend 3.1 hours per day watching TV and 2.9 hours a day surfing the Web, playing video games or using the computer for non-Internet activities. Among teenagers, computer use actually outstrips TV viewing -- 3.5 hours vs. 3.1 hours per day. An electronic version of the report "Connected to the Future" is available at cpb.org/ed/resources/connected. (Corporation for Public Broadcasting 19 Mar 2003)
Toshiba has figured out how to make a fuel cell capable of powering a laptop computer for five hours. The direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) generates between 12W and 20W of power and is electrically compatible with existing lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. Although fuel cell R&D has made great strides in recent years, producing a fuel cell battery capable of powering the GM HyWire car, for instance, the Toshiba effort is the first DMFC small enough to potentially replace laptop batteries. (The Register 5 Mar 2003) http://www.theregister.co.uk/
About the only good news for AOL recently has been its spectacular success with its instant messaging service, the world's most popular electronic communications tool. Every day, about 2.3 billion instant messages are sent via AOL, and about 40% of all Americans aged 14-24 use the AOL IM service. The only problem is, it's free. And while AOL isn't considering charging for its IM service or burdening it with advertising, company insiders are putting together targeted pitches to capitalize on the demographics of the AOL instant messaging community. At the same time, the company is pushing IM into the workplace, where employees often use the service to exchange messages without supervision from their company's computer administrators. "This is really an enormous untapped audience online," says Stephen Kim, research director of ComScore Media Matrix. "It is a big audience, and it is really active, but it is really hard to turn that into dollars." Nevertheless, AOL plans to keep on trying: "There is a very significant effort to build new revenue streams and businesses over the next one to two years," says a high-ranking AOL official. "If we have done nothing two years from now, we will have a problem." (Washington Post 3 Mar 2003) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/
A new national poll reveals that education is a top priority for American voters. Participants rated protecting and strengthening education of greater concern than health care, terrorism, national security, Social Security, and job creation, according to a national survey released today by Public Education Network and Education Week. The poll also reveals that voters believe state budget crises could slow the pace of school improvement across the nation. While many Americans favor the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), they are worried that the states cannot afford to implement it. Many voters say the federal government -- not the states -- should provide the necessary funds to implement NCLB. The poll shows voters want state and local lawmakers to know more about education, fight for more education funds, and hold schools accountable for performance. It also shows that -- by almost a two-to-one margin -- Americans would vote against lawmakers who fail to fight for adequate education funding. http://www.publiceducation.org/doc/
The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) has released its annual Computer Report Card comparing the environmental records of 28 high-tech firms, and reports that most U.S. companies lag behind their Japanese competitors when it comes to recycling equipment and safe disposal of hazardous substances used in the manufacturing process. Of the companies surveyed, only Fujitsu received a passing grade. It's one of a handful of Japanese companies that has sought to eliminate toxic chemicals by developing and using lead-free products. "The leadership continues to be by and large the Japanese companies, and the U.S. companies tend to be far behind," says SVTC founder Ted Smith. "A lot of (U.S. manufacturers') initiatives are piecemeal and not really designed to address the vast majority of consumer concerns. There is still an enormous amount of computer waste being exported to China." The Computer Report Card notes that some U.S. companies use a double standard when it comes to recycling. Divisions located in Europe and Japan, where safe recycling is mandated by law, have implemented programs but their U.S. operations have not. Meanwhile, Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) has introduced a bill that would require the EPA to create grants for private and governmental organizations to develop computer recycling programs and the National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative is working on a nationwide plan for recycling obsolete electronic devices. (Wired.com 10 Jan 2003) http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,57151,00.html (NewsScan Daily, 10 January 2003)Comment: The worldwide production of computers is approximately 130 million per year. In some sense, this is the tip of the iceberg. Think about cell phones, game machines, computers built into all kinds of products, and so on. The result is a huge and steadily growing environmental problem. Part of the solution is a top down approach, with manufacturers developing more environmentally friendly products. Part is a question of who pays for it. It is now a well developed (if not too widely accepted idea) that consumers should pay a fee at the time they purchase a product, with the fee going to pay for recycling of the product. Part of the solution is consumer education. Part of the solution is a grassroots approach to recycling. This can occur at the level of a school, a school district, or a town. This type of grassroots movement can be instigated by students, or students, their teachers, and their parents. The topic of recycling is certainly appropriate for project-based learning or problem-bsased learning in social studies and science courses.
Quoting from http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/wire/sns
Researchers in the United States, including some at the University of California, are developing a microchip that has the potential to restore sight to some who have lost it. The chip is implanted in the eye using a flexible silicon that stimulates undamaged retinal cells. Those cells transmit impulses to the brain, allowing the eye to "see." Researchers have started work on what they call a second-generation implant, with many more electrodes than the prototypes. The prototypes have 16 electrodes, sufficient for patients to detect light. The next-generation implant will have 1,000 electrodes, enough to discern shapes. Successful tests have been conducted three times on dogs, and those involved in the research said a human implant could be ready within three years. BBC, 7 December 2002 (Edupage, December 09, 2002).
Comment: Computers have been mass produced commercially available tools for more than 50 years. You might think that computer technology is now a mature technology, and that its applications have run their course. However, we have just scratched the surface of what computer technology will brig us. We can expect continued rapid progress in developing the underlying technology. And, we can expect a very long period of developing applications that make use of this technology. Aids to the blind and deaf are examples of such progress, and these applications are still in their infancy.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - International Business Machines Corp. Tuesday said that it had signed a $290 million federal government contract that includes a supercomputer called ASCI Purple that is 8 times faster than its current computer used for nuclear testing.
U.S. students have better access to computers than students in virtually all other industrialized countries, according to a report from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Five students in the United States share each school computer, on average; in other developed countries, the average is 13 students per computer. Source: CNN.com http://www.cnn.com/2002/EDUCATION/10/30/
Comment: The figure of one computer per five students may be somewhat low, as it is probably from data that is a year or so old. Studies such as this tend to be quite superficial in determining the effectiveness of use of such computing facilities.
Yale computer scientist David Gelernter is glad that the Microsoft trial is behind us, because "operating systems are lapsing into senile irrelevance," and we need to move on to the future. And what will the future be all about? "Every piece of digital information you own or share will appear (in the near future) in one universal structure" -- one to which you'll have access from any Net-connected computer anywhere. "I have time for only one screen in my life," says Gelernter. "That screen had better give me access to everything, everywhere." The universal structure, dubbed Scopeware, will be a narrative, 3D stream of electronic documents flowing through time. "The future (where you store your calendar, reminders, plans) flows into the present (where you keep material you're working on right now) and on into the past (where every e-mail message and draft, digital photo, application, virtual Rolodex card, video and audio clip and Web bookmark is stored, in addition to all those calendar notes and reminders that used to be part of the future and have since flowed into the past to be archived forever)." (New York Times 7 Nov 2002) http://partners.nytimes.com/2002/11/07/
Comment: Quoting from the brief news item: "I have time for only one screen in my life," says Gelernter. "That screen had better give me access to everything, everywhere." Gelernter feels that this is the direction that connectivity can and should be headed. The goal is to make the connectivity, storage, and retrieval aspects of the field of Information and Communication Technology much easier to use and much more useful. The system Gelernter envisions will be easier to learn how to use and easier to remember how to use.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Hewlett-Packard have taken the wraps off DSpace-- a new system for electronically archiving books, lecture notes and scientific data created by research institutions. MIT and HP hope that the DSpace project will lead to the creation of a virtual library that combines the collections of multiple research universities, and MIT is already in discussions with Cambridge and Cornell to link their libraries to the DSpace system. Corporations and government agencies have also been in contact with MIT, says DSpace project director Mackenzie Smith. Eventually, MIT's system, which currently can hold two terabytes of data, will contain more than a petabyte, or a quadrillion bytes of data. The project began about 18 months ago in response to the increasingly unwieldy volume of data that universities must catalog and preserve. "Part of the reason for doing this is that the faculty says, 'My stuff is too hard to find.' We began this to get some kind of territorial control over all of this research," says Smith. "If you're lucky, you can get some of it on Google, but most of the stuff we are talking about is not indexed in any way you can get it." (CNet News.com 4 Nov 2002) (NewsScan Daily, 5 November 2002)
Comment: A full length novel is about a megabyte in length. Thus, a terabyte can store a million long novels, and a petabyte can store a billion long novels. Of course, this does not allow for pictures and other graphics in the books. A different way of looking at this is that a petabyte of storage is far more than that needed to store all of the contents of the U.S. Library of Congress, which is the world's largest library. This rapid trend toward storing "everything" presents an interesting challenge to our education system. Students need to learn to make effective use of such massive collections of data and information.
Some have predicted that between 50 and 90 percent of the world's languages will disappear within the next hundred years. An initiative called the Rosetta Project aims to create an archive of more than 1,400 languages facing extinction. According to Doug Whalen, founder of the Endangered Language Fund, no digital technology has "a ghost of a chance of being taken as seriously archival" for the long term. The Rosetta Project will use technology created by Los Alamos Laboratories and Norsam Technologies that micro-etches text on a high-density storage disk. The disk is expected to last for 2,000 years and can be read with a 1,000 power microscope, ensuring that it will be useful and accessible for many future generations. For each language, the disk will contain vocabulary lists, grammar, numbering systems, and sample texts. Wired News, 4 November 2002 http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,54345,00.html (Edupage, November 04, 2002)
Comment: Storage on magnetic media may last 5-10 years. Even storage on a CD or a DVD may only last for 20 years or so. Thus, this brief news item is particularly interesting because of its mention of archival storage that is expected to last for 2,000 years.
Although their achievement is nowhere near any kind of practical application, IBM scientists have used individual carbon monoxide particles so develop the world's smallest logic circuit, less than one trillionth of a square inch (and therefore about 260,000 times smaller than state-of-the-art silicon transistors). Donald M. Eigler, head of the IBM team, says: "It hints at what our future has in store for us." (New York Times 25 Oct 2002) http://partners.nytimes.com/2002/
Comment: Some of today's palmtop computers have roughly 1/10,000 of the capability of the best supercomputers. Suppose that 20 years from now IBM and others manage to construct complete computer circuits out of the type of carbon components mentioned in the article. They it will be possible to construct a palmtop computer that is many times as powerful as today's best supercomputer. From an education point of view, it is important to keep in mind that we are educating students for a lifetime of continued rapid progress in the field of Information and Communications Technology.
Researchers at the University at Buffalo in New York have developed a nickel-based, magnetic sensor, measuring only a few atoms in diameter, that could increase data storage capacity 1,000 times through the use of spintronics -- a field that takes advantage of electron spin as well as charge. Current technology used in data-reading sensors is based on giant magnetoresistance (GMR), where sensor resistance changes in a magnetic field. The new sensor developed at UB creates an effect called ballistic magnetoresistance (BMR), which uses an electrical conductor only a few atoms in size. Researchers say the technology could ultimately make it possible to store 50 or more DVDs on a hard drive the size of a credit card, or enable military personnel to carry supercomputers the size of a wristwatch into the field. (NewsFactor 1 Jul 2002) http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/18446.html (NewsScan Daily, 2 July 2002).
Comment: One can now buy an 80 to 120 gigabytes disk storage system for $300 to $400. Roughly speaking, a megabyte is equivalent to a book, such as a novel. 100 gigabytes is thus roughly equivalent to 100,000 books. A further gain by a factor of 1,000 (suggested by the brief news item) would bring this to 100 million books. Imagine being able to store the entire US Library of Congress on your hard drive! More challenging, imagine educating students for life in a world in which such library access is routine.