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HIGH-TECH THIEVERY

Direct losses technology companies attribute to theft are now $250 million a year, and the industry spends another $750,000 a year on insurance and security measures, according to a study by the Rand Corp. The survey included 95 companies representing 40% of industry sales and found 1,700 incidents of theft in a nine-month period in 1997 and 1998; industry-wide estimates were extrapolated from the results. Losses to distributors, retailers, and customers were not measured, but Rand researchers speculate they are four times as much as the manufacturers' losses, putting the total cost of technology hardware theft as high as $5 billion a year in an industry that shipped about $235 billion of hardware in 1997. Theft from trucks is by far the most common. One useful deterrent: removing the company logo from the truck.

DIGITAL CINEMA

The digital age is bringing the biggest technological change to motion pictures since the advent of sound and color. Movies are increasingly being shot on film and then converted to a digital format, and soon will be shot entirely on digital cameras. The completed movies are then distributed from studio to theaters by satellite, over fiber-optic cable or on special discs, and are shown on a digital projector, a significant upgrade from the standard projector whose basic technology has barely changed since Edison's Kinetoscope. While the technology represents a boost in convenience, audiences are likely to see only minor differences in quality. In some respects digital movie quality is better than film, with cleaner, sharper images that won't show wear with repeated use. Money is the biggest issue theaters will have in converting; a digital projector costs about $100,000, compared to about $30,000 for a standard projector.

PROGRAMMERS UNITE

Some union officials at the Communications Workers of America in Washington, D.C., are eyeing computer engineers, programmers, and Web designers as potential union recruits, reports CNN Interactive. And in New York, an Internet executive and a labor advocate are pushing for a Net-only kind of union. A union catering to these workers would likely work to secure health-care coverage and retirement benefits for freelancers, as well as lobby for collective-bargaining rights to mediate contract disputes. It could also create a Web-based pipeline to alert workers about job openings. New York critics of the union idea maintain it would add layers to the costs of an already expensive place to do business. Some fear it could mean the difference between a New York firm winning and losing business.

PILL OF THE FUTURE

A sophisticated "micropill"--a dime-size silicon microchip that can release a combination of drugs on a preprogrammed schedule or by remote control--is in its prototype stages at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reports Nature. Researchers made use of techniques already developed for the manufacture of computer chips to carve individual compartments (for holding medication), each with a volume of 25 nanoliters--about a quarter of a grain of salt--in a silicon wafer that could contain medicine doses as small as 2 nanoliters. The difficult and as-yet-to-be-determined part of the system is figuring what kind of cap to put on the compartments. One idea: a lid made of a gold membrane three-millionths of a meter thick and removed with a small electrical charge. Researchers say much work remains to be done to go from their proof of principal prototype to actual use. Building the chip with biodegradable materials is also being considered. One researcher envisions the ideal application, saying, "Right now elderly patients have to take five or six drugs at different times of day. You might be able to take a single pill and put all the different dosages inside."

WEB SURGERY

A doctor in Washington, D.C., collaborated over the Internet with a surgical team at Ohio State University as the team performed laparoscopic surgery. Using wireless microphones and a miniature video camera, the doctors used the newly developed $500 million Abilene Network, the new super-fast data pipeline linking more than 30 research universities nationwide at speeds of 2.4Gbps. Organizers called the networks debut a "harbinger for extraordinary advancements in telemedicine, education, tornado forecasting, and entertainment." Although the remote doctor didn't actually perform the operation, researchers say remote surgery will one day be feasible using robotic technology. "The kind of video signals surgeons need to see clearly, to have accurate detail, true color--you couldn't send that over the existing Internet now," said one of the surgeons.

EMAIL PET

A graphical email environment using Al characters to deliver and retrieve messages has been developed by Japan-based Petworks and Sony Corp. Designed to appeal to Net novices, PostPet's candy-colored 3D animals live on your computer, displaying quirky personalities and varied lifespans. When sent out to deliver mail, the "pets don't return until someone writes you back." Over time they also learn to write their own notes to you and your friends. Check out www.sony.com.sg/postpet for more information.

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Title Annotation:News Briefs
Author:Fox, Robert
Publication:Communications of the ACM
Date:May 1, 1999
Words:832
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