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Technology

National | Cracking down on plagiarism, one arcade game that continues to thrive, and more

Issue: "George W. Bush: Gut check," April 24, 2004

MATCH GAME

Cheating is as easy as cutting and pasting these days, but a new plagiarism-detection software package purports to check suspicious text against billions of documents in seconds. A technology that started as a buffer for college honor codes is now spreading to business use.

About 2,500 high schools and colleges in the United States use a copy detector called Turnitin, created by Oakland-based iParadigms. This year, the company introduced a commercial version of its software called iThenticate.

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Business users pay a premium price for security: $1,000 a year and $10 for each page submitted for screening. Yet that may be cheap insurance against embarrassing publicity or a copyright-infringement suit.

Turnitin and iThenticate work like the virus scanners on PCs. They take a digital fingerprint of the text being scrutinized and run it against a huge database, looking for a match. Their new nonacademic clients include newspapers, police, and companies that produce technical manuals.

The online cheating crisis came into public view in 2001 when Louis A. Bloomfield, a University of Virginia physics professor, referred 158 students to the school's honor committee for alleged plagiarism. He also created his own plagiarism detector called WCopyfinder, a free program offering a more limited search.

NO HANDICAP

America's top arcade game is one that techies hardly notice and kids ignore. Golden Tee, a video golf game popular with older sports fans, thrives as it flies in the face of Silicon Valley convention.

Over 100,000 Golden Tee games collect quarters from players who use a track-ball to shoot a ball on a mock golf course. A full game can cost several dollars. Regular updates keep the game fresh and an online system tracks player statistics. As a grownup game, it is now a standby alongside pool tables and dart boards.

To keep players stimulated, about 25,000 Golden Tee machines hook up to servers that run ongoing 21-day tournaments, with players as the members of a huge virtual country club. Course conditions change every four hours to augment the challenge.

Golden Tee's survival is a classic example of niche marketing in a category many write off as dead. The familiar 7-foot-tall game cabinets that once filled arcades with flashes, beeps, and booms are becoming dinosaurs. Young players who once poured money into arcade games can now find better graphics at home.

Illinois-based Incredible Technologies, which makes the game, bills itself as America's top maker of coin-operated video games. Golden Tee dates back to 1989 and managed to survive as the arcade business collapsed under the onslaught of Playstation and Xbox. Its secret is that it appeals to older players, who play the game in casual restaurants that once carried pinball and Ms. Pac-Man.

BITS & MEGABYTES

Google and Yahoo are dropping online gambling ads aimed at U.S. users, after federal officials demanded that media companies quit "aiding and abetting" illegal casinos. While refusing internet casinos, the portals will still accept ads promoting legal establishments in Las Vegas and elsewhere.

The IRS estimates that electronic tax filing hit a record this year as more and more Americans abandon ink-and-paper calculations. One motivator may be the free tax-preparation software offered through the agency's website. The IRS faces a congressionally mandated goal to get 80 percent of returns e-filed by 2007.

CompUSA is rolling out dozens of ATM-like machines that sell software to customers who make selections on a touch-screen menu. The company hopes the experiment will cut shoplifting and reduce the number of bulky paper boxes that eat up shelf space.

Police and firefighters complain that cell-phone towers inadvertently jam their radios because both technologies share the same slice of the broadcast spectrum. While no major catastrophes are linked to such interference, federal regulators are expected to propose a solution soon. Nextel proposes that the 800 MHz band should be split in two, with one section going for public safety and the other for wireless phones.

Ford and Volvo are testing technology to save drivers who drift to sleep behind the wheel. Experiments include optical scans, sound effects, visual warnings, and steering wheels that vibrate and automatically adjust themselves. Volvo plans to introduce a few of these ideas before the end of the decade.

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