GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT horizon.

by , / March 30, 2006
The Wasps Know
Trained wasps could be a low-tech, low-cost weapon in the war against terrorism.

Researchers at the University of Georgia-Tifton Campus created a handheld "Wasp Hound" -- five wasps, each a half-inch long, are placed in a plastic cylinder that is 15 inches tall. The Wasp Hound, which costs roughly $100, has a vent in one end and a camera that connects to a laptop computer.

When the wasps sense an odor they've been trained to detect, such as the chemicals from explosives or biological weapons, the insects gather by the vent -- a response that can be measured by the computer or actually seen by observers.

The researchers said their device is ready for pilot tests and could be available for commercial use in five to 10 years. The wasps, when exposed to some chemicals, can detect amounts as low as four parts per billion. -- USA Today

Snap Decision
It takes Internet users about 50 milliseconds -- roughly the duration of one frame of standard television coverage -- to form lasting impressions of Web sites, according to Canadian researchers.

A recent study shows that the brain can make flash judgments almost as fast as the eye can receive information. Volunteers got the briefest glimpses of Web pages previously rated as being either easy on the eye or particularly jarring, and were asked to rate the Web sites on a sliding scale of visual appeal.

Even though the images flashed up for just 50 milliseconds, viewers' judgments of a Web site were nearly the same as judgments made after a longer period of scrutiny. --

Book Report
Two Purdue University industrial designers have created a personal computer design that may change how people watch movies, listen to music, play games and read magazines.

The concept computer, called Bookshelf, targets digital copyrights and inconvenient accessibility. The device both physically resembles and functions like its namesake: Hard drive attachments containing movies, books, magazines and other content are placed on the Bookshelf for use. As attachments are added, the Bookshelf becomes its own multimedia library custom-built by its owner

The device won the $50,000 Judge's Award at Microsoft's Next Generation Windows PC Design Competition.

The Bookshelf's CPU is a 7-inch cube which operates hard-drive attachments supplied by digital service providers, allowing them to protect copyrights while still accommodating user convenience and portability. -- Purdue University

Less Taxing
Pinellas County, Fla., Tax Collector Diane Nelson will begin online tax certificate sales this summer. Tax certificate sales let investors purchase property tax liens on real-estate parcels whose owners have not paid their annual taxes. The process allows the county tax collector to collect virtually 100 percent of taxes levied and gives added time for the delinquent taxpayer to repay.

The tax certificate sale is conducted as a reverse auction, giving the investor who bids the lowest interest rate the right to buy the certificate. The intended outcome is to mitigate the burden so the delinquent taxpayer can eventually repay. -- National Association of Counties

City TV
The National City Network (NCN) officially debuted December 2005 at the Congress of Cities in Charlotte, N.C.

The NCN is designed to provide a gateway for cities and towns across the country to learn about municipal issues and share information with each other. The NCN delivers city-related content via a Web portal, with policy analysis from respected think tanks, upcoming events and topical news stories from sources across the country.

NCN TV creates a multimedia experience, with a video archive of feature stories about cities, teleconferences and news events. In the coming months, NCN will continue to add content to both its Web portal and video archive. Cities will have an opportunity to add to NCN content. A Pilot Cities Program will launch early in 2006. -- The National League of Cities

He Said, She Said
The percentage of women going online is quickly approaching that of their male counterparts, and according to Pew Internet & American Life Project, while men log on for entertainment, women use the Internet for communicating.

The demographic profile of U.S. male and female adults who use the Internet is as follows.

Online overall
Males: 68 percent
Females: 66 percent

Males: 80 percent
Females: 86 percent

Males: 76 percent
Females: 79 percent

Males: 63 percent
Females: 66 percent

Males: 34 percent
Females: 21 percent

Males: 70 percent
Females: 67 percent

Males: 67 percent
Females: 66 percent

Males: 50 percent
Females: 60 percent

Males: 72 percent
Females: 66 percent

Marital status
Males: 72 percent
Females: 75 percent

Not married
Males: 62 percent
Females: 56 percent

Networked Homes
The main motivators for those networking their homes are broadband Internet access and multiple PC ownership, according to the 2005 Canadian Technologically Advanced Family survey, which also found that 79 percent of U.S. households have a PC, while only 31 percent have two or more. -- The Yankee Group

Open Door Policy
Symantec's study of basic Wi-Fi security in neighborhoods in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston observed how well consumers are protecting their wireless networks and personal information.

The results? A large percentage of Wi-Fi users are leaving their doors wide open for hackers and crooks to steal their identities and personal information.

With a car, a laptop running free software and a simple antenna, Symantec logged thousands of wireless networks in four different markets.

The percentage of wireless access points detected in the following residential neighborhoods had no encryption whatsoever.

  • 45 percent in Los Angeles
  • 52 percent in New York
  • 38 percent in Houston
  • 35 percent in Chicago

    Cyber-Crime Continues
    Of 686,683 consumer fraud complaints filed with the FCC in 2005, the top categories were:

    Identity theft: 37 percent
    Internet auctions: 12 percent
    Foreign money offers: 8 percent
    Shop-at-home/catalog sales: 8 percent
    Prize/sweepstakes and lotteries: 7 percent
    Internet services and computer complaints: 5 percent
    Business opportunities and work-at-home plans: 2 percent
    Advance-fee loans and credit protection: 2 percent
    Telephone services: 2 percent
    Others: 17 percent

    Source: FCC's Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft Complaint Data report

    WIRED Competition
    A major component of President Bush's Competitiveness Agenda is the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) initiative, under which the U.S. Department of Labor will invest $195 million in 13 regional economies.

    WIRED's goal is to transform regional economies by creating long-term strategic plans that prepare workers for high-skill, high-wage opportunities in the future.

    The regional economies to receive $15 million over three years are:

  • Coastal Maine
  • Northeast Pennsylvania
  • Upstate New York
  • Piedmont Triad North Carolina
  • Central Michigan
  • Western Michigan
  • Florida Panhandle
  • Western Alabama and eastern Mississippi
  • North central Indiana
  • Greater Kansas City
  • Denver metro region
  • Central and eastern Montana
  • California coast

    Coerced Compensation
    The South Korean government plans to introduce legislation in September 2006, requiring financial institutions to compensate customers who are victims of online fraud and identity theft. The new laws cover virtually all financial losses resulting from online identity theft and account hacking -- even if the banks are not directly responsible.

    The Korean Ministry of Finance and Economy said the new laws will help alleviate the fears of 23 million Korean e-banking, phone banking and ATM users over incurring losses due to online identity theft.

    The move follows an incident earlier this year when Korea Exchange Bank refused to compensate customers who incurred losses from an online banking scam, unless they could prove the bank was at fault. --

    Surrender Your Searches
    Not everyone agrees that search engines should comply with a recent government order for information about citizen search habits, according to a national poll of 800 U.S. respondents. The views were as follows:
    Shouldn't turn over search queries: 50 percent
    Should turn over queries: 44 percent
    -- Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut
    Shane Peterson Associate Editor