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04/15/2005 Archived Entry: ""

Gordon P. offers a summary and commentary on "Misc items from the 2005-Apr-09 issue of The New Scientist",,,

Sony wants to clone Apple's "i-Tunes" strategy by selling downloads of its top 500 movies to for viewing on screen-equipped cell-phones or game machines. The catch: Like i-Tunes, the downloads will only be viewable using _Sony_ products...

In a similar example of blatant "rent-seeking," a new Motorola patent provides Yet Another Reason To Hate RFID: An ID chip will be implanted into cellphone batteries, and the cellphone will refuse to function unless an "authorized" battery is used, thereby preventing customers from using cheaper non-Motorola batteries after the original battery wears out.

Northwestern University researchers have developed a reforming catalyst that can be directly bonded to the anode membranes of "solid oxide" fuel-cells, and which is not subject to "coking," thereby allowing the fuel-cell to burn octane directly at a record 50% efficiency. The catch: The catalyst is made out of "rare earth" elements that are, well, _rare_, and operates at the annoyingly high temperature of 800 Celsius, meaning that it will have to be housed in special high-temperature alloys, and will have to be brought to operating temperature using some other energy-source first.

Careful examination of early stone-age tools suggest that early Hominids 2.5 M year ago may have been much more "conscious" than previously thought, i.e., they were capable of visualizing complex goals and planning how to achieve them. "It's clear the hominids had some mental image of what they were trying to make. You couldn't make a stone tool this way [i.e., by `knapping', a procedure for chipping sharp-edged stone flakes from specific types of rock with the correct properties] by throwing a rock on the ground or hitting it a couple of times," said anthropologist Brian Richmond of George Washington University.

The W.H.O. is trying to stop experiments by U.S. Bioweapons researchers that are aimed at splicing Smallpox genes intorelated viruses. The experiments are being pushed by certain "highly politicized" scientific review committees within the Bushnev Admin.

Two new antibiotic-resistant and airborne "superbug" strains of Staph Aureus bacteria have emerged and are spreading both within and outside hospitals. One secretes a toxin that destroys certain types of immune cells; the other causes blood to rapidly clot in one's veins, reminiscent of the fictional initial symptoms of "The Andromeda Strain."

And finally, a new type of highly sensitive magnetometer based on laser-polarized potassium vapor rather that superconducting SQUIDs has opened up the possibility of hand-held MRI scanners that might cost as little as US$ 10,000. (Visions of Dr. McCoy's "feinberger" hand-held medical scanner inescapably come to mind...)

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