Saturday, May 26, 2007

Telephone Telepathy

Many people have experienced the phenomenon of receiving a telephone call from someone shortly after thinking about them -- now a scientist says he has proof of what he calls telephone telepathy.

Rupert Sheldrake, whose research is funded by the respected Trinity College, Cambridge, said on Tuesday he had conducted experiments that proved that such precognition existed for telephone calls and even e-mails.

Each person in the trials was asked to give researchers names and phone numbers of four relatives or friends. These were then called at random and told to ring the subject who had to identify the caller before answering the phone.

"The hit rate was 45 percent, well above the 25 percent you would have expected," he told the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. "The odds against this being a chance effect are 1,000 billion to one."

He said he found the same result with people being asked to name one of four people sending them an e-mail before it had landed.

However, his sample was small on both trials -- just 63 people for the controlled telephone experiment and 50 for the email -- and only four subjects were actually filmed in the phone study and five in the email, prompting some scepticism.

Undeterred, Sheldrake -- who believes in the interconnectedness of all minds within a social grouping -- said that he was extending his experiments to see if the phenomenon also worked for mobile phone text messages.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Segway recalls scooters for injury risk

By MICHAEL P. REGAN, AP Business Writer

Segway Inc. is recalling all 23,500 of the self-balancing scooters it has shipped to date because of a software glitch that can make its wheels unexpectedly reverse direction, causing riders to fall off.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is cooperating with Segway on the voluntary recall announced Thursday, said consumers should stop using the vehicles immediately.

Segway has received six reports of problems with the Personal Transporter, resulting in head and wrist injuries. The vehicles were previously known as the Human Transporter.

Segway is offering a free software upgrade that will fix the problem. The upgrades will be done at Segway's 100 dealerships and service centers around the world, according to Segway spokeswoman Carla Vallone, and the company based in Bedford, N.H., will pay to ship the devices to the appropriate center if need be.

It is the second time the scooters, which sell for about $4,000 to $5,500, have been recalled since they first went on sale in 2002. The 2003 recall involved the first 6,000 of the devices sold, and involved a problem that could cause riders to fall off the device when its battery ran out of juice.

Segway Chief Technology Officer Doug Field, who has been involved with the development of the device since its earliest days, said the problem that sparked the latest recall was found while the company was testing its new model. He said a very unusual and specific set of conditions can cause the problem.

The scooter's speed is determined by how far forward the user leans, and if the rider leans too far forward, a "speed limiter" pushes them back to keep the device at its maximum speed of 12.5 mph. The problem happens after the speed limiter tilts back, the rider steps off the device and then gets back on it quickly.

Field said the actions that would cause the problem are of "very low probability, but possible, which then made us go pull every reported accident in the company's history." After the company found the six incidents believed to be related to the problem, it notified the CPSC and got the ball rolling on the recall, Field said.

Field and Segway Chief Executive Jim Norrod would not comment on whether the problem has sparked any lawsuits, and would not give any details of the injuries sustained.

"Any injury is too much to us," said Norrod.

The most famous tumble from a Segway came in 2003, when President Bush tried one out at his family's estate in Maine. The device went down on his first attempt, but Bush stayed on his feet with an awkward hop over the scooter. He quickly got back onboard and was soon cruising around the driveway on the Segway.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Google's New Acquisition - A Garage Where It All Started.

Internet search leader Google Inc. has added a landmark to its rapidly expanding empire — the Silicon Valley home where co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin rented a garage eight years ago as they set out to change the world.

The Mountain View-based company bought the 1,900-square-foot home in nearby Menlo Park from one of its own employees, Susan Wojcicki, who had agreed to lease her garage for $1,700 per month because she wanted some help paying the mortgage.

Wojcicki, now Google's vice president of product management, didn't work for the company at the time and only knew the Stanford University graduate students because one of her friends had dated Brin.

During Google's five-month history there, the garage became like a second home for Page and Brin.

The entrepreneurs, then just 25, seemed to be always working on their search engine or soaking in the hot tub that still sits on the property. They also had a penchant for raiding Wojcicki's refrigerator — a habit that may have inspired Google to provide a smorgasbord of free food to the 8,000 employees on its payroll.

When Page and Brin first moved in the garage, Google had just been incorporated with a bankroll of $1 million raised from a handful of investors. Today, Google has about $10 billion in cash and a market value of $125 billion.

The company's astounding growth has imbued its birthplace with the same kind of mystique attached to other hallowed Silicon Valley spots like the Palo Alto garage where Hewlett-Packard Co. started in 1938 and the Los Altos garage where Steve Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak first began to build Apple computers in the 1970s.

HP paid $1.7 million for 12-by-18-foot garage that co-founder William Hewlett first rented for $45 per month.

Google declined to reveal how much it paid for its original home, but similar houses in the same neighborhood have been selling in the $1.1 million to $1.3 million range. That's a small fraction of the $319 million that Google paid earlier this year for its current 1-million-square-foot headquarters located six miles to the south.

Although the Google garage isn't considered a historic site quite yet, it already has turned into a tourist attraction.

The busloads of people that show up to take pictures of the house and garage have become such an annoyance that Google asked The Associated Press not to publish the property's address, although it can easily be found on the Internet using the company's search engine.

Google may use the home as a guest house, but nothing definitive has been worked out. "We plan to preserve the property as a part of our living legacy," said Google spokesman Jon Murchinson.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Census Bureau loses hundreds of laptops

By DOUGLASS K. DANIEL, Associated Press Writer

The Census Bureau collects the most personal information about Americans, from how much money they earn and where they spend it to how they live and die. It's all confidential — as long as no one steals it.

Lost or stolen from the Census Bureau since 2003 are 217 laptop computers, 46 portable data storage devices and 15 handheld devices used by survey takers.

Although the number of people affected isn't known, the Commerce Department reports that passwords, encryptions and other safeguards were in place. Nothing so far indicates a misuse of any information.

"The department takes very seriously these high instances of missing laptops, as well as potential breaches of personal identity data," Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez said Thursday in response to an internal review of Commerce Department computers.

"All of the equipment that was lost or stolen contained protections to prevent a breach of personal information," he said in a statement. "The amount of missing computers is high, but fortunately, the vulnerability for data misuse is low."

Several other government departments in recent months also have acknowledged the loss of laptop computers containing personal information, in some instances for millions of people.

A request by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, prompted the Commerce Department review. In addition, a media inquiry — the department would not identify the source — came via a Freedom of Information Act filing, Commerce spokesman Richard Mills said in an interview.

Commerce found that since 2001 the department's 15 operating units had lost track of 1,137 laptop computers. Most, 672, belonged to the Census Bureau. Of those, 246 contained personal information.

Thousands of Census field representatives — many of them temporary, hourly employees — use laptop computers to compile survey data. The department said half of the laptops containing personal information were stolen, often from employees' vehicles, and 113 were not returned.

Census data collected during survey periods were downloaded each day and removed from the laptops at the end of the survey periods, making it impossible to estimate how much personal information may have been on the computers, Mills said.

The department was in the process of contacting the 558 households with data recorded on the missing handheld devices, although the risk of data misuse was considered low, it said.

Among government departments recently reporting data thefts and security breaches, the Veterans Affairs Department suffered the biggest loss with the theft in May of a laptop and external drive containing information for 26.5 million veterans and active-duty troops. Burglars stole the equipment from the home of a Veterans Affairs employee, but the computer was recovered and showed no signs of having been accessed for the personal data.

Other departments reporting the loss of computers with personal information include the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, and Transportation. The Federal Trade Commission also has lost laptops with sensitive data.

Second only to the Census Bureau in missing laptops at the Commerce Department was the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It reported 325 missing computers, three of them containing personal data.

Among those stolen was one used by a NOAA law enforcement agent and containing some case file information. In July, a laptop containing Social Security numbers and other information on 146 employees and contractors was reported stolen after a fire in a NOAA facility in Seattle, the department said.

Gutierrez said the department was taking steps to protect against further missing laptops or potential breaches of personal identity data. Among them were inventory reforms, including creating a database for all departmental property, and "raising employee accountability standards."

"This review process has clearly pointed out the flaws in the department's inventory and accountability efforts going back many years," Gutierrez said. "We are viewing this process with the spirit of actively rooting out the problems and addressing them immediately."

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