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Feline studies

Technology | Online school under investigation for awarding MBA degree to a cat

Issue: "Lavelle's wonderful life," Dec. 25, 2004

Colby Nolan is one of the strangest MBA recipients ever. He is only 6 years old and can neither read nor count-because he is a cat.

Pennsylvania investigators signed Colby up for a business degree at an Internet school named Trinity Southern University, which claims to have offices in Texas and Costa Rica. They claimed the pet cat took three community college classes and listed work history including retail management, babysitting, and a paper route.

For $398, Colby received a diploma, complete with an embossed gold seal, plus a transcript. The school claimed Colby earned a 3.5 average through a slate of courses that included economics, accounting, and finance.

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Soon after, Pennsylvania Attorney General Jerry Pappert filed suit against Alton and Crain Poe, two brothers who ran the school, claiming they tried to pass off Trinity Southern as a legitimate degree-granting institution with accreditation from a nonexistent university in Argentina. He says the pair forged e-mails from Pennsylvania State University, the Pennsylvania Senate, and dozens of businesses in his state to sell fake degrees and prescription drugs.

Mr. Pappert says Microsoft engineers cooperated with the investigation and helped track the spam to the brothers. The state attorney general now wants a permanent injunction, civil penalties, costs, and restitution.

DVD division

The biggest home electronics war since the Betamax-VHS feud is set to invade living rooms next year. Two competing high-definition DVD formats will soon appear side-by-side in stores, hoping to win the favor of customers buying new HDTV sets.

The major movie studios want to replace today's DVD discs because they have weak copy-protection and cramped storage space, but electronics makers cannot agree on a single standard. Sony, Panasonic, and Philips support the new Blu-Ray discs, while Toshiba, NEC, and an international trade group called the DVD Forum back the competition, known as HD DVD.

Both sets of DVD drives are set for release next year, and major movie studios are as divided as the electronics makers. Since both formats are a generation ahead of current DVDs, customers may not notice the difference between the two, but titles issued for Blu-Ray may not be available on HD DVD (or vice versa).

Both technologies will compete for buyers of PC drives, as well as stand-alone DVD players. Dell and Hewlett-Packard currently support Blu-Ray technology, possibly because it can hold 50 gigabytes of data on one disc, compared to 30 GB for HD DVD.

Bits & Megabytes

•Retired Gen. Tommy Franks has agreed to promote Teen Arrive Alive, which signs up families to use GPS technology in cell phones to trigger an alarm when youngsters drive faster than a certain predetermined speed limit. A chip updates parents about their child's location and speed and a bumper sticker lets others report reckless behavior.
•Mobile phones overtook traditional landlines this year, according to an International Telecommunications Union estimate, ending an era of dominance that dates back to the late 19th century. Wireless service now accounts for 1.5 billion of the world's 2.7 billion telephone subscriptions, due in part to explosive growth in areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America where conventional lines are scarce.
•Following Google's lead, Yahoo will release a new tool next month that searches users' hard drives. This program, licensed from a tiny startup named X1 Technologies, will quickly scour personal e-mails and other documents (in over 225 file types), looking for keywords. This free software differs from Google's product by keeping hard-drive searches separate from web queries; the developers say this helps separate old and new information.

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