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Virtual history

Technology | The New York Public Library is making art accessible via the web

Issue: "Curt Schilling: Never hide," March 19, 2005

The New York Public Library on March 3 opened a virtual museum featuring 275,000 historic images ranging from Civil War photos to illuminated manuscripts. Rare items previously visible only to researchers are now open to the public.

The NYPL Digital Gallery, located at http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/, is set to reach 500,000 images in the coming months. Downloads are free for personal use, although the library charges for big, high-resolution graphics.

Curators selected items based upon several criteria, including scarcity, condition, and public demand. A few of the unique finds include thousands of restaurant menus from the 1850s to the 1920s, 1,500 classic theatrical photographs, and 5,000 animal illustrations that span four centuries. New York City history is a key part of the database, of course, and the site boasts tens of thousands of historic photographs of the Big Apple.

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Archivists digitize each item with a high-resolution scanner, and then leave the resulting graphic essentially unaltered to preserve historic authenticity. Others then log catalog descriptions and keywords to enable searches. The entire collection sits on a 57-terabyte server network.

Even with its wonders unveiled to the world, the NYPL Digital Gallery represents only a fraction of the library's graphic treasures.

Power hungry

A new generation of PC technology will take prominence in the coming weeks when Microsoft releases a long-awaited version of Windows XP for 64-bit processors. The 64-bit chip can crunch more data at a time, providing better performance than today's 32-bit chips.

AMD rolled out the first 64-bit chips for PCs back in 2003 and Apple adopted them for the Power Mac G5 line last year. These chips can run standard 32-bit software, but work best with programs that take advantage of the extra power. But many initially complained that there was too little 64-bit software available to justify the added expense.

Intel, in fact, waited until last month to release a 64-bit chip for desktop PCs. (Intel is also trying to boost performance with dual-core chips, which means that processing power of two processors combines in one. This leads to slower chips that process more data while using less power.)

The arrival of XP for 64-bit processors should encourage developers to start writing software for the chips. It may also pressure PC owners to jump to a next-generation machine.

Bits & Megabytes

· Sony named former CBS executive Howard Stringer as its CEO last week, marking a rare example of a major Japanese company choosing a foreigner to run its affairs. The company is struggling with declining profits for its electronics and Mr. Stringer, a Welsh-born American, promises to help revive those operations. Despite its identity as one of Japan's powerhouses, only about a third of its workers and business are actually Japanese.

· Nokia dropped plans to develop mobile phones that run on new-generation fuel cells instead of traditional batteries, claiming the technology isn't ready yet. Fuel cells offer a useful boost, but they present logistical and regulatory issues, including the problem of carrying flammable materials in a handset. Other manufacturers are still developing such products for phones and PCs.

· Japanese developers late last month unveiled a facial recognition sensor for mobile phones and other handheld gadgets that lets them operate only for their owners. The security system, developed by the Kyoto-based Omron Corporation, works by having the user snap a headshot with a built-in digital camera. The user takes another picture when turning on the device, which the sensor compares with the original to identify the owner.

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