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News Track

A team of Hewlett-Packard scientists created a new computer chip design enabling an eightfold increase in the number of transistors on a chip without making the transistors smaller, reports the San Jose Mercury News. After a decade searching for new ways to boost chip performance as well as make elements of chips so small they measure on the atomic scale, the HP team said this advance would equal a leap of three generations of Moore's Law. The technology breakthrough, described in a recent issue of Nanotechnology, involved layering a nanowire crossbar above the silicon, giving the chip additional communication gates for circuits to move through. The researchers were also able to remove most of the circuit wiring from the core silicon, getting more transistors on the chip. The HP team plans to start manufacturing prototypes of the design later this year. The researchers also said they expect to see a high rate of defects in the finished products, but that they will be compensated for by the ability of the circuitry to quickly route around the failed circuits. By 2010, the size of the crossbars is expected to be about 15 nanometers and 4.5 nanometers by 2020.

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Beat the Heat

Several technologies developed through the U.S. space program have made their way to the public over the years. One of the latest is an ingestible thermometer pill now helping to prevent heat exhaustion in athletes, fire fighters, divers, and other professionals working in extreme temperatures. Heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, causing the body's heat-regulating mechanisms to falter or fail, which in turn can cause brain damage, organ damage, or death. In fact, heatstroke is the third leading cause of death among U.S. athletes. The CorTemp Ingestible Core Body Thermometer pill made for NASA was swallowed by astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn as part of his Space Shuttle Discovery mission in 1998 and is now manufactured commercially by HQ, Inc., Palmetto, FL. Less than an inch long, it has a silicon-coated exterior, microbattery, quartz crystal temperature sensor, telemetry system, and microminiaturized circuitry on the interior. Once the pill is ingested, the quartz sensor vibrates at a frequency relative to the body's temperature, transmitting a low-frequency signal throughout the body. A wireless handheld recorder reads the signal and displays a core body temperature and other vital statistics. After 18–30 hours, the pill passes through the digestive system. Although several professional and college teams, including track and field, soccer, cycling, and hockey, have used the pill to protect players from excess heat, its greatest use is among football players who, like astronauts, wear layers of heavy protective outerwear that can retain a dangerous degree of heat.

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Undercover for Vista Security

The security measures introduced in Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system have the National Security Agency to thank (or blame). The Washington Post reports the secretive agency, better known for eavesdropping on foreign communications, has confirmed it helped in Vista's security development, offering its expertise to protect the operating system from falling victim to worms, Trojan horses, and other computer attacks. Microsoft has not promoted the NSA contribution to its latest product but does acknowledge it has sought the security expertise of other U.S. government and international entities. Indeed, the NSA offered few specifics other than to say it used a "red team" to pose as technically competent adversaries and a "blue team" to help Defense Department system administrators with Vista's configuration. Industry observers suggest that both NSA and Microsoft have good reason to disclose their relationship, noting it may be viewed as a vote of confidence in operating system security.

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Mirror, Mirror

Successful clothing retailers have long known that purchasing decisions are often made in the dressing room. A new technology that allows "social retailing" now has retailers mulling over the idea of not only installing futuristic lighting and grander spaces but interactive mirrors that would allow shoppers to "model" their fashion picks to send to friends' computers or mobile devices. USA Today reports the mirror, created by Manhattan-based IconNicholson, would be placed outside fitting rooms and stream high-definition video of the shopper modeling clothes. The system will also allow friends to comment on the outfits and select other designs for the shopper to try on. The shopper will "try on" the selection by simply standing in front of the mirror in which it is reflected. Friends and family can vote (thumbs up/down) or add comments and suggestions. Retail experts say shoppers, particularly those in their teens and 20s, are greatly influenced by the opinions of others. Moreover, most shoppers would rather hear from their peers than from a salesperson. Experts contend the fitting room of the future will be about trying it out, not just trying it on.

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How Green Is The Valley?

More than half the start-up companies in Silicon Valley over the past decade were founded by people born outside the U.S., according to a new report by researchers from Duke University and UC-Berkeley. The San Jose Mercury News reports "America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs" traces the rise of immigrants from India, Taiwan, China, and other countries and the key roles they played in creating jobs and wealth in the once-struggling area. In many ways, the report notes, Silicon Valley's risk-taking ethos is a perfect match for immigrants who often chance everything to come to the U.S. "For those of us who have the guts to leave our country and our family, just settling for a job is not good enough," said Vivek Khuller, founder of Mountain View-based DiVitas Networks. The Duke study, which builds on the 1999 research of AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, evaluated 2,054 engineering and tech companies founded in the Valley from 1995 to 2005, finding that 52% of the start-ups had at least one immigrant as a key founder. "The valley doesn't care what your color is, what your origins are, and what your gender is," says Vish Mishra, of Clearstone Venture Partners in Menlo Park, CA. "As long as you have talent and are prepared to work hard, people don't care who you are."

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It used to be celebrities and politicians were the exclusive fodder of bad-behavior exposés, often capturing their most petty transgressions for posterity online for millions to watch. Today, however, the most trivial missteps by ordinary citizens are being exposed to the world as well, according to the Wall Street Journal. A proliferation of new sites dedicated to condemning such offenses as bad parking (, leering (, littering (, and rudeness ( is the latest trend in online outings. Indeed, a fast-emerging genre is capturing newspaper-stealing neighbors on video. Helping to propel it is a group of entrepreneurs who hope to sell advertising and subscriptions. One site that identifies bad drivers is about to offer a $5 service that allows members to register their license plate numbers and receive (private) notices if they are cited by other drivers. For those singled out, the sites can represent an uncomfortable form of street justice, with no due process. Embracing the Web to expose minor infractions in part represents a return to shame as a check on social behavior, notes Henry Jenkins, director of MIT's comparative media studies program.

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