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     Volume 4 Issue 45 | May 6, 2005 |

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Knowing When to Log Off
David M. Levy, a computer scientist who loves technology and gets more than 100 e-mail messages a day, makes a point of unplugging from the Internet one day each week to clear his head. Even so, with all the e-mail messages flooding in, with academic blogs bursting with continuous debate and with the hectic pace set by an increasingly wired world, Mr. Levy says he cannot help but feel an occasional sense of information overload. And that, he says, is something to stop and think about. Levy, a professor at the University of Washington's Information School, is one of many scholars trying to raise awareness of the negative impact of communication technologies on people's lives and work. They say the quality of research and teaching at colleges is at risk unless scholars develop strategies for better managing information and for making time for extensive reading and contemplation. "We're losing touch with the contemplative roots of scholarship, the reflective dimension," says Levy. "When you think that universities are meant to be in effect the think tanks for the culture or at least one of the major forms of thinking, that strikes me as a very serious concern." He and other scholars have already started a dialogue on the topic. Levy hopes the conversations will grow into a new kind of movement focused on people's informational environments and on reducing data smog.

Sleepyheads can blame it on their genes
Sleeping too much or nodding off at exactly the wrong time, does not exactly mean you are lazy or dozy. It could all be due to a gene named "shaker". Researchers at the US-based University of Wisconsin Medical School have discovered that a single gene mutation in fruit flies could hold the key to new treatments for people who sleep too long - or too little. "Sleep in fruit flies is very, very similar to sleep in mammals," said one of the researchers, Chiara Cirelli. Like humans, they sleep anywhere from six to 12 hours a night. Most people need about eight hours to function properly but some - famously such as Margaret Thatcher and Madonna - get by with just three or four. Fruit flies are a model organism for research because of the similarities in their genetic make-up to that of humans and researchers found that mutation of the gene shaker enabled them to exist on a third of the normal amount of sleep. The mutated flies functioned normally when given a series of tasks, but did not live as long as other fruit flies.

Privacy and Search Engines
A new feature launched by Google, the Internet's most popular search engine, allows users to see all their past searches. But privacy experts warn the service could easily be abused. The service, called My Search History, is similar to, but more comprehensive than, the feature Amazon.com, Ask Jeeves and America Online have offered for some time. It is intended to help people who use Google locate the information they sought during earlier searches so they can avoid repeating past queries. "If you don't remember an exact search query, for instance, but do remember when you did the search, you can use My Search History's calendar feature to check the searches you did on a given day and navigate to any of them with a single click," the Google site says. People also can do a full-text search over their entire search history. This may sound interesting and useful, but computer experts said there are risks to privacy the technology has now generated. As long as Google holds up its end of the privacy policy, that information should remain safely on its servers.

Race to Human Stem-Cell Trials
Several scientists have used embryonic or fetal stem cells to help rodents with spinal cord injuries walk again. The researchers travel the country showing videos of rats dragging their hind legs, followed by clips of them miraculously hopping around following stem-cell injections. The question now, especially in the minds of the 250,000 people in the United States with spinal cord injuries, is: When will the research transfer into helping humans? The answer depends on who you ask. Some scientists believe it could happen as soon as the end of this year. Others say that is too soon, and data from larger animals such as dogs or monkeys is necessary before researching with humans. The controversy surrounding embryonic and fetal stem-cell research means the first human clinical trial using the cells will be under a microscope in more ways than one. If something goes awry, opponents of killing embryos for research will be poised to quash future research. Stem cells have the unique potential to self-renew and to become various cell types. Researchers believe those taken from embryos to be the most flexible kind. Adult stem cells, derived from bone marrow, blood, skin, hair follicles, nasal passages and the brain, come without the ethical quandary, but some scientists doubt they have as much potential as embryonic stem cells.

Will Your Music Hub Be a Phone?
Motorola Corp. is developing mobile phones with a novel capability: They can link a home computer, stereo and car sound system into a seamless, commercial-free music zone. The company plans to launch a service, dubbed iRadio, that allows the new phones to download songs and radio programming from an Internet- connected computer each day, then beam them to car stereos or home entertainment centres. The phones are not expected to reach the market until later this year, with the iRadio service due in December, said David E. Ulmer, a top marketing executive at Motorola. The company needs one or more mobile phone companies to sign on and none have publicly lent support. The increasing capacity of wireless networks and advancing mobile-phone technology have led carriers to experiment with an assortment of music offerings and other new services. The service will let customers load their phones with pre-recorded, commercial-free digital radio stations. The phones will connect via Bluetooth to specially equipped car stereos, enabling people to listen to the stations stored on the phones as if they were coming in over the air.

Source: IANS, LA Times, Wired and Webindia123

Compiled by: Imran H. Khan

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