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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

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The speed of light, which travels through empty space at about 186,171 miles per second—the highest speed anything can attain—has been slowed to 38 miles an hour by Danish physicists, reports Nature. The medium used in slowing light by a factor of 20 million was a cluster of atoms called a "Bose-Einstein condensate" chilled to a temperature of roughly 50-billionths of a degree above absolute zero (that's zero on the Kelvin scale), far colder than the depths of space, and was then coupled with a brief pulse of tuned laser light. Although it may take 10 years before major applications are developed, the possibilities of laser-condensate combinations include ultrafast optical switching systems useful in computers that would operate using one light beam to control another light beam. Slow light could also filter noise from optical communication systems.

"I don't think Microsoft needs to be punished at all—it's obvious they are going to kill themselves just driving down the road."
—Don Stroud, MIS director of Plain Dealer Publishing in Cleveland, on whether Microsoft's performance in court is an indication of how well the company is run

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Hitting the Halfway point

The latest numbers are out: The total U.S. homes with a PC hit 50% in 1998, market research firm Dataquest reports. As prices have fallen and performance has increased, the percentage of homes with PCs has surged from 27% in 1995, says Dataquest. The 1998 figures were up 7 percentage points from 1997, when 43% of U.S. households had a PC. "There is evidence that first-time buyers are now from households in lower socioeconomic levels, however the increase in penetration is across all segments," says a Dataquest spokesperson.

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Lick It Up

An electronic tongue is being developed by researchers at the University of Texas, reports CNN interactive. The tongue's surface (made of silicon) contains beads analogous to taste buds and resemble little pyramids. Each "bud" is designed to latch onto specific flavor molecules and change colors accordingly. Researchers envision the tongue used in beverage assembly lines to taste for consistency. The device will hopefully go beyond the tastes of the human tongue, analyzing such substances as blood and various poisons in water. Developers have a long way to go, though: so far the e-tongue can only tell the difference between white wine and vinegar.

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Know Your Symbols

From a skull and crossbones on a jar of poison to Cro-Magnon imagery on cave walls, symbols have been a universal visual parlance from the beginning of human communication. Say you stumbled upon a door with a line drawing of a circle abutting a square, each with a circle inside? Would you know it was an American hobo symbol for "Here lives a man with a bad temper"? For a better knowledge of symbols there's, a Web site including more than 2,500 signs. With each symbol comes its meaning and a history of its origin. You can even execute an advanced graphics search based on single- or multiaxis symmetrics or lines soft, straight, crossing and noncrossing.

"What lies below the waterline are clever organized crime rings that have infiltrated e-commerce to defraud users of Internet auction houses and securities firms."
—Jay Valentine, CEO of InfoGuide, a company specializing in detecting Internet fraud.

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A Time to Pray

They gather together to pray. They gather to ask God for an answer. But most importantly, they seek God's help to smite the Y2K computer problem. There are dozens of gatherings and seminars scheduled this year by the Central Bucks Evangelical Churches, a group of 16 churches in Bucks County, Penn., to educate their parishioners and to ask God to give humankind the knowledge to solve the Y2K computer bug. Two ministers who run the Y2K services don't see the problem as God's plan of disaster and chaos as predicted in the Revelation, or as any other biblical sign. The church gives updated Y2K information at

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