GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT horizon.

by , / July 31, 2006
GIS in the Pen
The Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) announced in June 2006 that it will begin using a geographic information system (GIS) to track inmates in correctional facilities by the end of the year.

The Southern Nevada Correctional Center, where the new system will be set up, is one of the state's nine major correctional institutions. Nevada operates 21 detention centers of various categories. The NDOC expects the system -- TRaCE -- to pay for itself by letting officials immediately improve allocation of available human resources.

TRaCE provides wireless identification and location of inmates, correctional officers and staff members wearing the transmitters both inside and outside the prison buildings. The system also features officer-duress and man-down alerts that let officials know when correctional officers are in trouble.

This is the sixth TRaCE installation in the United States. The system is already being used in Minnesota, California and Ohio, and in some European facilities. -- Elmo-Tech

Iron Surgeon
In a few years, telesurgery performed by multi-armed robots remotely controlled by real surgeons located hundreds or thousands of miles away will become commonplace. Canadian doctors from the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery are developing the technology for NASA. Their goal is to build a portable robotic unit to be used in space missions, war zones and remote areas within five years. The experiments done so far in Canada and for NASA are extremely encouraging. -- ZDNet

Intelligent Mines
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is funding research into minefields that intelligently react to enemy actions.

A minefield is usually set up to stop enemy tanks from entering strategic areas. In the old days, enemy foot soldiers breached minefields by using mine-detection systems to clear paths for tanks. As a result, minefields consisted of both antipersonnel mines for the soldiers and regular mines for the tanks.

DARPA's Self-Healing Minefield uses "intelligent," mobile antitank mines connected to each other via a wireless network. The technology allows the minefield to reconfigure itself to prevent enemy attack.

Once scattered across an area, the mobile mines create an ad hoc, wireless network to establish their locations via geographic positioning system information, communicate with each other and monitor enemy attempts to breach the minefield. Once the minefield detects a breach, the mines calculate how to respond, and then individual mines hop to new locations to fill in the lane opened by the enemy. -- DARPA

Super Skeeters
Cramped housing conditions and air pollution in Athens, Greece, have given rise to a "super breed" of mosquito that's larger, faster and more adept at locating human prey.

Athens-based mosquitoes can detect humans at a distance of 25-30 yards unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the country that only smell blood at 15-20 yards. Unlike mundane mosquitoes, the super skeeters can also distinguish colors.

The "super mosquitoes" of the Greek capital also beat their wings up to 500 times a second, compared to 350 beats for other variations. -- Agence France-Presse

Inside Job
A government consultant, using computer programs easily found on the Internet, cracked the FBI's classified computer system, gaining 38,000 employees' passwords, including that of FBI Director Robert Mueller.

The consultant -- who was working on a computer upgrade project for the agency -- broke into the system four times in 2004 and accessed records in the Witness Protection program and details on counter-espionage activity, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. As a direct result, the bureau was forced to temporarily shut down its network and commit thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars to ensure no sensitive information was lost or misused.

Joseph Thomas Colon pleaded guilty in March to four counts of "intentionally accessing a computer while exceeding authorized access and obtaining information from any department of the United States." The government does not allege that Colon intended to harm national security. Colon said in court filings that he used the passwords and other information to bypass bureaucratic obstacles and help the FBI install its new computer system. He also said agents in the Springfield, Ill., office approved his actions. -- The Washington Post

Computer Failure
Although breakdown rates for desktop and notebook computers improved in 2005-2006 compared with 2003-2004, a recent Gartner survey still found that one in every six laptops needs repair within one year of purchase, and motherboards and hard drives cause most notebook problems.

VoIP Timing
Most U.S. broadband households will adopt voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone service in the next few years, but researchers differ on the timing. International Data Corp. projects there will be 44 million VoIP subscribers in 2010, while a Jupiter Research report, Broadband Telephony: Leveraging Voice Over IP to Facilitate Competitive Voice Services forecasts VoIP usage will grow to only 12.1 million by 2009.

Scandinavian Surfing
Web users in northern Scandinavian countries of Europe love to shop online more so than the rest of the continent, with more than 70 percent of Internet users in both Denmark and Sweden having purchased goods or services online, versus only 44 percent in both Spain and Italy, according to InSites Consulting.
Karen Stewartson Managing Editor