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Published: Saturday, 6/25/2005

Fusion: Net control

NET CONTROL

The Iranian government has tightened its control over the Internet, increasingly blocking content in its national language of Farsi and restricting what citizens can publish through Web journals, Western researchers say. Iran shows a sophistication in filtering seen only in China and a few other countries, adapting its techniques as use of the Internet evolves, said John Palfrey, a Harvard University researcher who studied censorship in Iran for the OpenNet Initiative. Internet service providers are being ordered to prevent Iranians from reaching other Iranians directly, blocking them from posting messages containing certain Farsi keywords, Palfrey said. Users of Microsoft s new blog service in China get a scolding message when they use such words as democracy, freedom and human rights. Anti-censorship activists have found that if a user creates the blog in English, it bypasses such filtering, even if it is later switched to Chinese.

BIOMETRICS & LAPTOPS

Biometric technology is taking another leap toward widespread usage as Hewlett-Packard ships new laptops with fingerprint readers. The nx6125 notebook PC includes a fingerprint sensor made by AuthenTec, which says HP is the biggest computer maker to offer a biometric reader as standard equipment. The computer, aimed at the business market, sells for $1,000 and up. Fingerprint biometrics are a more secure and convenient alternative to passwords, which are often forgotten or stolen. But only in recent years has the technology s accuracy improved to the point where it could confidently be deployed in a wide range of consumer applications. Having computers ship with biometric capabilities built-in could prompt more Web sites to adopt two-factor authentication schemes requiring a second ID check beyond the simple password.

TOO FEW

Women and some racial minorities are significantly underrepresented in the U.S. technology industry, according to a new study from the industry s trade group. Women made up 32 percent of the tech work force in 2004, a drop from 41 percent at its peak in 1996. That s largely because of the shrinking number of administrative jobs in the tech industry, the Arlington, Va.-based Information Technology Association of America said. Hispanics were the most underrepresented racial group, according to the ITAA s analysis of data from U.S. Department of Labor. Hispanics made up 13 percent of the U.S. labor pool but only 6.4 percent of the tech work force. Asians and Asian-Americans were overrepresented by nearly threefold compared with the general U.S. labor force, the study found.

RED-LIGHT PRANKSTER

A tech-savvy prankster has been tampering with traffic lights in Sunnyvale, California, turning them off and rejigging wires so the lights flash red in all directions. The prankster also has surreptitiously turned traffic lights to face the wrong way, mixed up the audible crosswalk signals that help guide the blind and thrown off the timing of lights to delay drivers. City officials have launched a publicity campaign in hopes of thwarting the unknown crafty engineer, who has evaded the law for months. The trickster has been performing antics for three months and has used a key to open control boxes and reprogram the lights. Most audaciously, he or she recently used a cherry-picker truck to turn an overhead signal across a busy intersection but no residents or city officials reported any unusual activity. No one has been hurt because of the pranks.

APPLIANCE AS ART

Imagine owning a television set that looks and feels like a baseball, a cello or even the horse-drawn coach that whisked Cinderella to the ball. Hannspree, a Taiwan-based TV maker, is preparing to offer such designs as it launches U.S. operations this summer. As electronics companies flood the market with new plasma and LCD TV sets, Hannspree wants to stand out by offering appliances that appeal on the basis of style or just plain wackiness. Among the more than 100 designs are sets that look like a golf ball. Even the TV s stand looks like a tee. The baseball set is made of leather and features the same number of stitches found in a baseball. The cello set is made of rosewood. Other models look like apples, cows and sheep.

LURING BIOTECH

Several dozen Indian executives and government officials made that pitch to U.S. investors and scientists in advance of BIO2005, a major industry conference next week in Philadelphia. Their message: India s huge market and low manufacturing costs make it ideal for multinational drug and agriculture companies. India s biotech industry remains small, generating about $700 million in sales in 2004, mostly in generic drugs such as insulin and hepatitis B vaccines. But at a luncheon Monday at the Indian consulate, Kapil Sibal, India s science minister, said the government plans to invest heavily in biotech, with grants and low-interest loans available for new startups. India also will exempt research and development costs from taxes, he said.

LONGER-LASTING CAM

An inventor says he has come up with a better way to keep tabs on children, homes and other property: a wireless security camera that can go months without a change of batteries. Similar security cameras either need to be plugged into a power outlet or run continuously on batteries that last less than a day. The Mailbox Cam at $199.95, more expensive than many security cameras extends the life of its three AA batteries by letting users control the device remotely, turning it off and on at will. A built-in timer also ensures that the camera is not accidentally left on for extended periods. Scott Jezierski, president of Wireless Imaging in Lino Lakes, Minn., got the idea for the MailboxCam after seeing his wife s 88-year-old grandfather struggle to check his mailbox several times a day. Jezierski wanted a device that would monitor the mailbox and save the elderly man trips.

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