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News Track

Not only are U.S. federal agencies making a concerted effort to recruit some of the most talented computer hackers, so too are Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. Mark Rasch, former head of the Justice Department's computer crime unit, notes an escalating trend in terrorist organizations trying to hire hackers to penetrate government and computer networks. And, according to Rasch, plenty of hackers seem willing to do the work. In an interview with Investor's Business Daily, Rasch said foreign governments are also in the market, citing recent cases with Chechen rebels and former Eastern bloc intelligence agents paid for their hacking skills. "Online attacks by themselves might not be that terrifying, but if they're coordinated with real-world attacks, they could do major damage," he said. In related news, Reuters reports U.S. federal officials not only attended the last Defcon annual hacker gathering, they participated in a "Meet the Feds" panel discussion designed to extol the benefits of government service. One such perk: Computer security students can have their tuition picked up by the U.S. government if they agree to work there when they graduate.

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Super Competition

Last month we noted here how Japan refused to take the U.S. supercomputing lead lying down, vowing to recapture the top berth by building the world's mightiest computer by 2010. Now China has entered the global race to reach the next milestone in supercomputing performance, determined to display its formidable technical and economic power in the form of petaflop-scale machines by the end of the decade. The New York Times reports China has 19 supercomputers ranked among the 500 fastest machines, and in the last two months reports from Japan and China indicate both countries are planning new investments in breaking the petaflop computing barrier. "Everyone appears to be in the race for a petaflop," says Jack Dongarra, noted supercomputing expert and computer scientist at the University of Tennessee where he maintains the Top500 list of the world's fastest computers.

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Blog Profiles

Blog visitors tend to be young, wealthy, shop online, use a broadband connection, and visit twice as many Web pages as the typical Netizen, according to a study by comScore Networks called "Behaviors of the Blogosphere." The findings may be paydirt for blog publishers hoping to boost revenue from sites. IDG News Service reports the study found blog visitors are 11% more likely than the average Net user to have incomes of $75,000 or more and 30% more likely to live in households headed by someone between the ages of 18 and 34. Compared to the common user, blog visitors viewed 77% more Web pages in the first quarter of 2005, spent 10 more hours per week online, and are 30% more likely to shop online.

Piracy has the very real potential of tipping movies into becoming an unprofitable industry. If that happens, they will stop being made. No studio is going to finance a film if the point is reached where their possible profit margin goes straight into criminals' pockets."—Filmmaker Peter (Lord of the Rings) Jackson, who contends one solution may be for studios to release new movies on DVD at the same time they are delivered to the cinemas.

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Improvements in Hand

A team of researchers from the University of Southampton in the U.K. has designed a lightweight prototype of a prosthetic hand that mimics the movements of a real hand better than any device currently available, according to BBC News. In fact, the goal of this effort is to ultimately create a hand that allows the sense of touch. The new hand—called the Southampton Remedi-Hand—uses six sets of motors and gears to allow each of the five fingers to move independently. The device is connected to muscles in the arm via a tiny processing unit that is controlled by small contractions of the muscles that in turn move the wrist. The next stage, researchers say, is to integrate the latest sensor technology to create a hand that senses how strongly it is gripping an object or whether an object is slipping.

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Tattooed Fruit

Apples and oranges are indeed similar when it comes to the coded information usually tacked onto their skins for selling and distribution purposes. But those annoying little stickers are now being replaced by a new technology that employs lasers to tattoo fruits and vegetables with their name, ID numbers, countries of origin, and other information that helps speed delivery. The New York Times reports that produce distributors are using lasers to burn the information onto the outer layer of the skin of their products and that these marks are visible to consumers and cashiers. The laser process has been approved by the U.S. government. The sticker-less technology also allows the industry to track the U.S. food supply at various stages of distribution—a protective measure often encouraged since 9/11.

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Love Lost

The love-hate relationship with math in the U.S. has been around for many a generation. A recent AP-AOL News poll found four in 10 U.S. adults say they "hated math" in school, a widespread contempt that complicates efforts today to catch up with Asian and European students. The Associated Press reports math was voted the most unpopular school subject, with twice as many people proclaiming greater disdain for it over any other subject in school. Recent studies show 15-year-olds in the U.S. lag behind their European and Asian counterparts in math; in fact, U.S. students tend to be stronger in math in elementary grades compared to these students, but that lead slips further behind as they enter high school. With no help or encouragement from the adult population, it is difficult for educators to turn the tide. When asked what subject they wish they had taken more of in school, the majority of respondents said "foreign languages."

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