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The DSL Forum, an international broadband consortium, told BBC News there were 78 million high-speed network subscribers worldwide at the end of June 2004; and expected the year-end total to reach 100 million. To appreciate the phenomenal recent growth rate, the consortium points out that four years ago there were only about one million subscribers worldwide, while the past year alone saw the addition of more than 30 million new subscribers. The greatest increase in subscriptions was in China, where the numbers doubled in less than a year to 13 million. Although China has more DSL lines than any other country, those lines still reach only 1% of its population. Ironically, China is believed to exercise greater censorship over the Net than any other country. Still, credit for the skyrocketing growth in network connections can be attributed to the blooming community of online gamers, as well as the push by Chinese authorities to use broadband options in education.

The dogs need a lot of time and energy. There are only four of us monks now.
—Brother Frederic, Augustin monk, St. Bernard's Pass, Switzerland, on how modern mountain rescue technology, like heat sensors and GPS devices, no longer requires the brethren to handle the centuries-old practice of breeding, housing, and caring for St. Bernard rescue dogs. The monks will sell the last 18 dogs only to owners who promise to bring them back to visit once a year.

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The U.S. government is offering images of its new $50 bill over the Net for artists, students, and others who discover their computers, scanners, or printers won't allow them to view or copy pictures of new currency. The Associated Press reports low-quality images, suitable for school projects and other consumer uses, are available free at, a Web site run by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. But anti-counterfeit technology built into many popular consumer hardware and software products at the request of government regulators and international bankers detects and blocks attempts to view, scan, or print copies of the recently redesigned $20 and $50 bills. Just how this Counterfeit Deterrence System works is a public mystery, as are the identities of the companies that have added the technology to their products. Although most of them have never publicly revealed to their customers that they've built counterfeit protections into their products, Kodak, Xerox, Adobe Systems, and Hewlett-Packard are a few of those known to use it. The technology was designed by a consortium of 27 central banks in the U.S., England, Japan, Canada, and across the European Union; indeed the EU is now considering a proposal to require all software companies to include it.

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Starting Over

Half of all Californians working in the technology sector in 2000 have left the field, according to a new landmark survey of one million workers. The San Jose Mercury News reports one-fourth of them have taken non-technology jobs that often pay less; another 28% have fallen off the state's job rolls completely, having fled the area, become self-employed, or joined the ranks of the unemployed. The survey, conducted by Bay Area research firm Sphere Institute, also found that higher-skilled tech workers were more likely to hang on through the shakeout, and that those who did survive saw their wages increase 8% to 14%, even during the bust years. Furthermore, one of every four tech workers endured a stretch of unemployment during 2000–2003. "It's not Armageddon," says Stephen Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy. "An industry built up, and a lot of people got laid off. Tech may come back, but those firms that went bankrupt aren't coming back, and the big firms that laid off people to improve productivity aren't going to roll back productivity."

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Bots Wild

Concern is growing among online poker devotees that advanced card-playing bots are being employed by commercial gambling sites to fleece newcomers, along with the strategy-impaired, and even fairly strong players. Widespread use of bots capable of beating the average player would pose a significant problem for the popular online poker sector—a market that is expected to top $1 billion in revenue this year. MSNBC reports that without some way to verify the identity—and humanity—of players, the business could be greatly undercut. "It's pretty certain that bots are playing online," says Gautam Rao, a 43-year-old poker pro who regularly plays three high-stakes online games simultaneously. "What we don't know is how strong they are."

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Creative Measures

Scientists, writers, computer programmers, artists, and the like hold the key to modern economic vitality, according to Richard Florida, the H. John Heinz III Professor of Economic Development at Carnegie Mellon University. His recent study of the competitiveness of 14 European nations relative to the U.S. measured three interlinked areas—talent, technology, and tolerance—then subdivided them to arrive at scores for high-tech innovation, opportunities for self-expression, scientific talent, values, and R&D, among other categories. The top 10 nations (and their scores) were: 1. Sweden (0.81); 2. U.S. (0.73); 3. Finland (0.72); 4. The Netherlands (0.67); 5. Denmark (0.58); 6. Germany (0.57); 7. Belgium (0.53); 8. U.K. (0.52); 9. France (0.46); and 10. Austria (0.42)

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By George!

It's an image straight from "The Jetsons": Commuters bounding into pod-shaped capsules that zip around town in traffic-free record time. Cut to Long Branch, NJ, where local officials hope to host the first SkyWeb Express—a futuristic personal rapid transit system featuring a series of oval-shaped vehicles moving along an elevated guideway 16 feet above the ground. The New York Post reports the project, intended to reduce traffic congestion, would connect riders to local buildings, businesses, and area beaches. Developed by Minnesota-based firm Taxi 2000, a 2.8-mile segment would incorporate computer-operated pods that reach speeds up to 80 mph. The vehicles would wait at a station, where a passenger would pay a fare, lift a hatch, and punch in a destination code to activate the capsule. The pod would then whisk the rider(s) away, without stopping to pick up others along the way. The Long Branch project could cost $10 million per mile, considerably cheaper that the billions it would take to build a subway line or light-rail system.

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