Issue: "Iraq: Bloody Ramadan," Nov. 29, 2003

Bold in blue

Add a new technology buzzword to your vocabulary: bluejacking. The term refers to a new type of junk message, sent as a text alert on PDAs and cell phones.

Bluejacking happens when people walking through a heavily populated area discover they've received an obnoxious message from an unknown sender. Unlike spam, the text is usually a personal note, not an ad.

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Messages range from "Hi, you've been bluejack'd" to "I like your dress" to something salacious. Senders can also fire off photos. The recipient is left wondering who contacted him unless the bluejacker decides to reveal himself.

The "blue" part of bluejacking refers to Bluetooth, the technology that lets wireless devices communicate over short distances, usually about 30 feet. Different Bluetooth-enabled devices can spot one another and exchange messages.

Bluejacking is more prevalent in Europe, because more people there use Bluetooth-enabled phones. Most bluejackers apparently see it as a harmless prank, while some use it as a social icebreaker with strangers.

The UK-based security software company Sophos said some bluejacking victims mistakenly believed their cell phones were being attacked by viruses. It advises users to turn off Bluetooth capability when it isn't needed.

Plastic power

A paper-thin slab of plastic could soon replace the compact disc and Compact Flash. Researchers this month announced that they had developed a new type of memory card that eliminates the expense of silicon chips and the mechanics of discs.

The new plastic cards could be sold commercially within five years. They resemble Compact Flash and other memory cards in that they require no moving parts.

Like CD-Rs, the invention stores data permanently and cannot be erased. People will collect more and more cards as they store more data, such as pictures, documents, and songs, with each card holding a gigabyte of information in a cubic centimeter of space.

A group of Princeton University and Hewlett-Packard researchers developed the card using a conductive polymer plastic known as PEDOT (polyethylenethioxythiophene). The technology promises to be cheaper than conventional flash memory, since it does not run on silicon chips, and it can store power even when the electricity is turned off. The creators want to make it run fast enough to store video and other high-performance data.

The researchers face several challenges before plastic memory is ready for consumers. They must figure out how the cards can be mass-produced and made compatible with existing hardware.

Microchip makers Intel and AMD are also looking into plastic memory, with each wanting to create a reprogrammable version.

Bits & megabytes

IBM is building the world's fastest supercomputer. Code-named Blue Gene, it uses 130,000 processors and runs six times faster than today's speediest machines. Engineers will install this marvel in 2005 at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in a space about the size of half a tennis court.

A new-generation Japanese train clocked a record speed of 347 mph during a test run outside Tokyo. The maglev (magnetically levitated) train uses magnets to lift the cars slightly off the ground and can outrun the bullet train's best speed of 275 mph. Proponents hope the technology will revive U.S. passenger railroads.

John William Racine II was fined $2,000 and sentenced to community service for hacking the Al-Jazeera website last March. He redirected visitors to a picture of an American flag and the words "Let Freedom Ring." The California Web designer had pleaded guilty to felony charges, saying he was reacting to the site posting photos of dead U.S. soldiers and American POWs in Iraq.

Former Gateway chief executive Jeffrey Weitzen and two of his ex-lieutenants are facing federal fraud charges. SEC officials claim they "fraudulently reverse-engineered" sales figures to mislead Wall Street. Gateway, which ousted the trio in 2001, was not named in the suit.


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