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The need for speed

Technology | NASA says its new supercomputer can complete calculations in a day that once took years

Issue: "Bush's moral mandate," Nov. 13, 2004

NASA claims that it deployed the world's fastest supercomputer last month, a $50 million turbo-charged wonder that uses 10,240 processors. Scientists will use it to process global climate data, design space vehicles, and fix problems with the space shuttle.

Engineers at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., named the supercomputer Project Columbia after the space shuttle that crashed last year. They say that in a single day they can complete calculations that previously took years to compute.

Once an independent group verifies the speed record, Project Columbia will return the title of fastest supercomputer to the United States from Japan, where the Earth Simulator has led the pack since June 2002. The current champion runs at a sustained performance of 35.86 teraflops, or trillion calculations per second (cps).

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Project Columbia also faces an American competitor for the top spot: IBM announced the still unfinished Blue Gene supercomputer, which developers say is 150 million cps faster than the Earth Simulator.

.Post haste

Are all those .com and .net addresses growing old? An internet governing board wants to liven up domain names with two new suffixes: .post and .travel.

The additions-for postal services and the travel industry-could debut next year, depending on the slow-moving oversight panel known as ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (which the Commerce Department created in 1998). Other long-awaited domains, like .asia, .jobs, and .eu (for the European Union) are still under scrutiny.

The current domain name system debuted in the 1980s and consists mostly of suffixes for specific countries (such as .ca for Canada, .uk for the United Kingdom, and .fr for France).

Thanks to the dominance of .com, the demand for global domains remains high. ICANN approved seven such names in 2000, such as .biz and .info, but they were only moderately successful.

The Universal Postal Union in Bern, Switzerland, campaigned for the .post domain, envisioning an interconnected network of 650,000 virtual post offices worldwide. Meanwhile, the Travel Partnership Corp., a New York-based trade group, champions .travel to encourage travel agents, hotels, resorts, and other tourism-related businesses to expand their internet presences.

Bits & Megabytes

• Google gained a new search tool by acquiring Keyhole, a map software company that owns a database of pictures taken by airplane and satellite. The search giant says users will be able to search for streets, businesses, and other landmarks and view 3-D pictures of locations. They can tilt and rotate the image or zoom in to street level.

• The venerable music magazine Billboard adds a new chart this month: the top 20 ringtones purchased each week. These digital sound snippets for cell-phone ringers are fast becoming a major part of the music business, especially for song publishers.

• The recording industry began a new round of anti-piracy litigation late last month, targeting 750 computer users who allegedly distributed copyrighted music. It also sued another 213 people who failed to settle earlier cases out of court. This brings the total number of defendants to 6,191 people.

• America Online last month filed a federal lawsuit against numerous defendants for sending "spim," or spam sent via IM (instant messaging) and chat rooms. It also filed a new series of junk e-mail lawsuits in four states as part of the Anti-Spam Alliance, which also includes Earthlink, Microsoft, and Yahoo.


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