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Tech wrecks

Technology | Are some people allergic to computer monitors?

Issue: "Rocks in their heads?," Sept. 11, 2010

You can be allergic to your cat, your houseplant, or even your dinner-but can you be allergic to your cell phone? Various surveys conducted by news organizations report that as much as 3 percent of the population suffers from symptoms like nausea, fainting, headaches, and tinnitus (ringing ears) in response to prolonged exposure to computer monitors, wireless internet, and mobile devices. The affliction even has a name: electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome (EHS).

Does EHS exist? Some researchers are doubtful, pointing out that several of the common symptoms, like difficulty concentrating, headaches, and memory problems, are simply common to many people. Some recall that in the past, perceived public health threats-such as raw tomatoes-have triggered widespread reports of illness, only to be disproved. Yet those who suffer from extreme symptoms that disrupt jobs and leisure time beg to differ: To them, EHS is real. Relatively little scientific research exists to substantiate EHS, so the University of Essex is in the midst of an experiment to research the effects of electromagnetic fields on 264 participants, half of whom claim EHS sensitivity. When the research is completed later this year, researchers hope that skeptics and sufferers alike will better understand the cause of these symptoms.

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Speak easy

The iPhone is designed to be easy to use, but it can still be tricky to type on that tiny onscreen keyboard, especially a long email or text message. Dragon Dictation, a free app made by longtime voice-recognition software specialist Nuance Communications, helps. Using the sophisticated dictation software, a user can simply speak into the phone, then use the built-in keyboard and word sug­gestions to correct any errors the app generates. Once the text is complete, the app makes it easy to update Twitter or Facebook, send an email or text message, or copy to a note.

Dragon Dictation's voice-recognition software isn't perfect, but it is surprisingly accurate, especially when the user speaks clearly in a relatively quiet environment. It also connects to the user's contact list and attempts to match any names to a specific contact's spelling. If a call comes in during dictation, the app saves the text for future editing.

Wave wipeout

Not long ago, Google released its Wave software to great media buzz. Heralded as everything from a nifty web widget to a game-changing collaboration tool, the web-based application-which blended email with instant messaging, document and link sharing, status updates, and video chat-was going to change the face of social networking. But a privacy bug scared some users, and others found that it simply wasn't useful for business purposes. Now, Google has announced that it will stop developing the free service, though parts of its technology will be integrated into other Google services.

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