Satellite Surfing

Satellite Surfing

April 5 – 18, 2001

The sun is expanding and eventually the Earth will be toast. However, scientists have come up with a cunning plan….

Forget the ozone layer. If you thought global warming was caused by pollution and rampant deforestation, get set to be scared – Earth has a bigger problem.

The sun is expanding. The fireball that is mildly overheating us right now will toast us, then roast us to cinders, then engulf us. This isn’t a piece of apocalyptic astrology but the conclusions of a study by astronomers Don Korycansky of the University of California, Michigan University’s Fred Adams and Gregory Laughlin of NASA.

Luckily, the scientists have come up with an answer. As the sun gets hotter, all we have to do is move the Earth. They calculate that an asteroid 62 miles across, passing close to our orbit, would bounce us further into space like a billiard ball. It’s called the ‘slingshot effect’ and is the same high-velocity physics which saved the astronauts of the Apollo 13 mission when they used the Moon’s gravity to hurl themselves back to Earth. All we have to do is find the right asteroid and deflect it towards us. We’d better get the aim right, because if a 62-mile wide lump of inter-planetary rubble slams into Yorkshire, none of us will have to concern ourselves with global warming anymore.

Space isn’t all bad news. Two US companies – Starband and DirecPC – have satellite dishes which pick up internet signals. The dishes require a clear view of the southern horizon, so they’re little use to urbanites. But to Americans on farms or in the suburbs, the system represents affordable high-speed connection. Installation of Starband costs about £400, with a £40-plus monthly rental. DirecPC, launching later this year, could be cheaper. Users will get download speeds of upto half a megabyte per second – about 10 times faster than your average modem.

Signals travel 44,000 miles from the internet server, up beyond the atmosphere and into space, then back to your dish. That’s taking the long route, but at the speed of light, it’s a short trip of less than a second. The delay is to much for video-conferencing or even sophisticated gameplay, but it’s acceptable for long-distance phonecalls and irrelevant to email and online chat.

I predict satellite weblinks will soon be the norm, enabling anyone to connect at high speed to the internet wherever they are, even on the move.

The Alpine global positioning technology in my car can pinpoint my position to within a few yards anywhere in Europe – the same satellites could soon deliver websites at lightning speeds to my notebook. Oh, and don’t worry too much about those US astronomers and their expanding-sun-theory – the first effects aren’t expected to hit us for another thousand million years.

Skeletons in the cupboard

March 22 – April 04, 2001

A new computer suit promises to let man and machine co-exist in perfect harmony in order to wage war against fellow man

Imagine a suit that could lift a paralyzed child out of her bed and enable her to talk down the stairs. To walk to school and sit at her desk. To hold a pen, chase a ball or ride a bike.

That technology is on order, thanks to a $50 million US government grant. The deadline for trials to start has been set at 2005.

However, these suits will not be available to disabled children or adults. Only the fittest men – and perhaps women – will be trained to use an exoskeleton that could make every muscle ten times stronger.

The money is being put up by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the mission statement is clear : to increase human speed, strength and endurance in combat environments.

“Expected benefits,” says the DARPA website, “include increased lethality and surviuvability through increased firepower, ballistic projection, obstacle clearance and battlespace dominance.”

The chief argument against using women as frontline troops is a practical one – few females are as the average Marine. Exoskeletons could make this argument redundant.

Unlike medieval armor, military exoskeletons are designed to be swift rather than bullet-proof. So-called because they look like a kit of bones fused onto a radiation suit, they feature a night-vision visor which can also detect deadly chemicals.

Project Leader Dr. Ephrahim Garcia promises : “This programme will lead to self-powered, controllable, wearable devices and enable direct and seamless interaction between human and machine.:

DARPA projects can benefit everyone, not just elite forces. You probably log onto the DARPAnet everyday – though you know it as the World Wide Web. But if you want to try an exoskeleton without joining the SAS, maybe you could invest in a SpringWalker from Applied Motion. It’s still at the developmental stage but there’s a hilarious video of a prototype, loping along like an ostrich chasing a monkey. The monkey is the user, his flailing legs five feet off the ground.

I fought for the Israeli army in the Six Day War and I was pretty damn scared most of the time but I’d have been much more afraid on a computer-operated pogo-stick.

John Dick, president of Applied Motion claims : “We’ll have you trotting four-minute miles without tiring, and scrambling up a mountain like an all-terrain vehicle.”

The current version runs on rechargeable batteries with a range of about a mile. The cost ? As John Dick says, “If you have to ask…”

But what is IT ?

February 10 – 23, 2001

Whatever ‘IT’ is, millionaire inventor Dean Kamen’s mystery creation of that name is the world’s worst-kept secret. Within hours of news leaking out of his DEKA Research and Development Corporation, the net was buzzing that the ‘inventrepreneur’ had created a strap-on anti-gravity device. or a scooter that ran on water. Or a car that folded Lip into a briefcase.

Or a shopping trolley-hovercraft ? Or a one-wheeled pogo-stick stabiised by gyroscopes.

Even the President’s staff had a go. Tom Kalil, deputy director at the White House National Economic Council, said: I think the notion that IT stands for Individual Transport is the most plausible guess. Wouldn’t a jet-pack be cool?’

Kamen was fuming That the turnouts were abroad, following reports of a $250,000 deal for his book that would break the news. He was also aghast that speculation seemed to outstrip even his own rocket-powered imagination. “Expectations are beyond whimsical!” he complained, and has since said the invention is not as revolutionary as some suggest.

The excitement was stoked by Apple chief executive Steve Jobs, who declared: “If enough people see the machine, you won’t have to convince them to architect cities around IT.”

Bob Metcalfe, founder of 3Com hinted at the machine’s nature when he said: “If I invented metal and came out with the first spoon, which would be the big invention – the metal or the spoon?”

Kamen’s biggest invention to date is the iBot Transporter – a six wheeled mobility device’ for the disabled. It climbs stairs, crosses rocky terrain and even does a wheelie to help its user to stand upright. After $50 million and eight years in development, Kamen took an iBot to Paris, strapped himself in and climbed the Eiffel Tower.

Kamen used to live on North Dumpling Island in Long Island Sound, commuting by helicopter. The island has seceded from the United States – Kamen signed a non-aggression pact with President Bush. Clearly, this is a man who likes big gestures but who is also intensely humanitarian. The iBot was inspired by Kamen seeing a man trying to maneuver a wheelchair up a kerb.

Whatever IT is, I predict the technology that underlies it will be profoundly eco-friendly. Maybe Kamen has cracked the problem of running a hydrogen engine economically, inventing a motor where the only exhaust waste is distilled water. If that’s the case, Kamen will have to fight the oil cartels and the US car industry. Then the imagination really starts to boggle.

Read Uri Geller’s online novel, Nobody’s Child at Visit Uri at am email him at [email protected]

Sick of Love

January 27 – February 09, 2001

Uri asks why – despite the technological advancements of recent years – we still remain such fools for love.

On Valentine’s Day, don’t switch on your PC – pull the leads out at the back. Use the DVD drive as a cup holder and write your memos in ink.

Love and computers don’t get along. That’s hardly surprising, since passion and programming are opposites. Computer code is all about logic : black and white, 1 or 0. Love leaves logic in the dust/ Any matchmaker knows the hardest trick is to marry two compatible people. The incompatibles can’t keep their hands off each other – Montagues fall for Capulets, presidents woo interns. But when ordinary, unattached boy meets plain, single girl, the chemistry between them fizzles out in an instant. Love isn’t logical.

The worst virus to sweep the internet, wiping out billions of gigabytes, was created by a schoolboy hacker who had a cruel insight into human weakness. : write “I LOVE YOU” in the subject line of an email and recipients will be irresistibly tempted. They’ll peek at the attachment labelled “loveletter” – and once opened, the virus activates.

The virus code inside last year’s Love Bug was nothing new but it infected the planet like a strain of Venusian influenza, virulent and incurable, because of the psychological twist. The twist was love and it tied a naughty knot in the internet once more at Christmas, when a boastful lawyer called Brad thought he could trust a saucy little secret to the internet email system at his City law firm. A girlfriend called Claire had just sent him a very friendly email, praising his – well, let’s just leave it at ‘very friendly’.

Within an hour, their very private email was public, zapping like a virus between offices across Europe, the US and Australia. Claire’s compliments went viral and the whole planet caught this bug. It’s one of the internet’s most fascinating quirks – how one site or message can become an international obsession.

Hackers and marketeers try to copy the pattern but very few email viruses or spams last more than a few hours. When things go “viral”, like, or Mahir’s lonely hearts homepage, they infect us for weeks.

The laziness of email is one reason. Most of us forward our ‘funnies’ to a preset group of friends with one keystroke – instant gossip. But the central factor is chaotic : there is no way to predict what will go viral.

If you think it’s hard to tell the next Hollywood blockbuster apart from the flops, spotting the next net sensation is even tougher. There’s one common symptom : love is usually mixed in. For that virus there’s simply no cure.

War Games

January 13 – January 26, 2001

Uri Geller wonders about the damage that hackers can do to diplomatic relations in the deadlocked Middle East

Palestinian teenagers are showing their anger at the current political deadlock by taking to the streets with rocks and petrol bombs. Tragically dozens have been killed.

Israel has declared cyber warfare illegal, making it unlawful for hackers to break into Arab sites and festoon them with Jewish symbols. The law appears ridiculous. Parents should be delighted when their youngsters respond, not by rioting but by using their computer expertise to deface web pages. But in a region desperate for peace, any aggression – even one in parallel, virtual world – can have terrifying repercussions. When the world’s diplomats are struggling for solutions, teens with a talent for hacking are not welcome.

“We need to explain to the Israeli public that we are not a country of piracy and that children should not be declaring war,” said Michael Eitan, head of the Government’s Internet Committee. “We are not talking here about a game but rather about taking risks with the national and international infrastructure.”

He is not exaggerating. Israel has the most computer literate population on the planet, with the highest proportion of PCs to pupils. The Jerusalem Report quoted a hacker identified only as SfromtheSOUTH, who boasted : “There’s no internet service provider in the Arab world that couldn’t be knocked out in 15 minutes. In an internet war, the sky would be the limit.”

He added with relish : “Maybe you can all it the nerd’s revenge. The Arabs can blow up buses but nerds can blow up computers.”

Much of the nerd’s revenge is puerile – a web gateway based in Jordan was garnished with a picture of Yasser Arafat as a pig, in a situation that would even make a pig blush.

The response of Arab net-users was ferocious. Chain-letter emails went out to sympathisers in Europe and the US, demanding retaliation and calling for an electronic jihad or Holy War.

One claimed : “The more money the Israelis lose in fixing and strengthening their systems means less money to buy bullets and rockets for use against our children…maybe you can’t hold a gun and fight, but you can contribute to the struggle.”

The idea that a PC in the bedroom becomes a weapon of war is a chilling one. The net is our best hope of improving education globally – to abuse it for warfare is a crime worse than burning books.

Michael Eitan believes : ” The solution to the problem is that there will be an international pact that demands ther prosecution of anyone wreaking havoc on the net.” I call on the British Government to seize that lead. The nerd’s revenge threatens us all.

Radical Views #9;

December 28 – January 12, 2001

Computers have changed the way we view information and, as Uri discovers, this is set to change shape again.

To write this column, I printed out 27 sheets of tightly-packed type. Press releases, news reports, company mission statements – approximately 12,000 words and 20 documents.

With the papers fanned around my keyboard and a fistful of multi coloured highlighters, I marked the most intriguing paragraphs. Then I bengan scribling on post-it notes.

This isn’t how it’s meant to be. I’m writing about innovative software for the UK’s best-selling computer publication – the first time these words see paper should be when they appear in the magazine you’re holding.

But I can’t spread my screen across my whole desk. On this 19-inch VDU it’s impossible to view and highlight 20 documents at once or even 5 documents. All I can do is stack my windows up like a pile of dirty dishes.

Architect Mike Rosen has engineered a brilliant solution. His company, 2ce (Pronounced “to see”), is launching a three-dimensional web browser which displays multiple pages as though they were pasted all over the innards of your monitor.

The effect is like standing inside a cube. There’s a wall ahead of you, displaying your main document, and walls to either side. Above and below, more documents are on the ceiling and floor. One click and you turn to face the page behind you.

Rosen says : “When I was designing this, I knew the room metaphor would be very easy to navigate, and intuitive. It’s very architectural.”

The unnamed browser will be available as a free download from next year. It’s aimed chiefly at business users who want to keep an eye on two or three stock reports at once, while working on a spreadsheet and flicking through a diary or database.

But Rosen’s vision is for everyone to work in 3d, on six surfaces : When you turn on your PC in the morning, this is what you’llsee.”.

Browsers are the software which will link all our electronic devices, from TV’s to fridges to phones to stereos. Netscape, which gave the worldwide web it’s ‘magazine’ look with it’s Navigator browser, is developing a new browser called Gecko, which works in all kinds of wired-up ways.

Gecko will survey the supermarket shelves from inside your fridge, connect to e-stores from your TV, download the latest scores to your phone and pipe MP3 music into your stereo. All the applications already exist in different forms – Gecko simply unites them.

If browsing-by-cubes takes off, the next generation of Gecko browsers would be 3D. That means watching six channels simultaneously on TV, rolling around to dodge the adverts and flipping between shops to compare prices, just by turning your head.

Taking Tetris to bed

December 14 – 27, 2000

According to my encyclopaedia of divination, to dream of money foretells change. Dreams of failing revael hidden fears, dreams of flying accompany an escape from trouble and dreams of computer games foretell a major discovery in brain science.

Researchers at Harvard medical school in Boston who analysed the sleeping minds of 27 subjects found prolonged sessions of the classic game tetris flooded back as the players nodded off.

Anyone who has played tetris won’t be surprised. The simple and addictive puzzle stimulates hand-eye co-ordination, as coloured blocks tumble down to be slotted into place like a jigsaw.

In an inspired twist to the experiment, research leader Dr. Robert Stickgold included five amnesiacs among the subjects. These people had no short term memory because of brain damage sustained to the hippocampus. Within hours of logging off, they had no conscious recollection of having ever played tetris.

But as they dropped off to sleep, the PC images filled their minds.

Stickgold says that this proves that dreams draw on the subconcious rind of the brain, the neocortex, which is divorced from the hippocampus and it’s grip on time.

It explains why dream events seem magical – and why they cannot be contrlled from outside. It also suggests that when we gain skills at computer games, we are involving our whole brain- not just the conscious 10 percent that we use from day to day.

My recent piece about research at Eastern Virginia Medical School to reach children with attention deficit disorders by using video games provoked my biggest-ever mailbag from Computeractive readers. Now the harvard researchsuggests that any student can benefit.

Teachers know that few pupils absorb a spoken stream of dates and facts – and even fewer remember them after a night’s sleep. If information can be given in video-game format, however, the whole brain will absorb the information.

This type of learning ought to be second nature to humans. After all, Australian zebra finches can do it, according to University of Chicago scientists. A team monitored the brain waves of sleeping finches and discovered they were identical to the patterns of the birds’ minds when they listened to recordings of their own songs.

In other words, inches do their revision when they’re asleep. That’s a technique any human student would love to perfect.

Breaking in is easy to do

November 30 – December 13, 2000

Uri worries the microsoft hack-in may have been a dry run of something more serious.

Listen to me! Don’t look around! Raise the magazine closer to your face. We are being watched. I can’t see the spies. But as an Israeli intelligence operative once told me seriously : “If they’re invisible, you know they’re KGB.”

In post-Yeltsin Rssia, the state intelligence network is now called the FSB. In the economic chaos of the late 1990s, some FSB operatives turned to the more lucrative business of hacking. Hacking in Russia could soon be as commonplace as homebrewed vodka. Vladimir Levin is famous in St. Petersburg: he was caught transferring $10 million from Citibank customer accounts into another bank. Moscow Conservatory student Ilya Hoffman stole nearly $100,000 in a credit-card scam.

An underground magazine called Khaker details the best new sites for “script monkeys” – webpages where teenagers with lots of time and no money can download ready-made hacking packages. But something more complecx than a script-monkey code cracked Microsoft’s firewalls, the rings of electronic security that guard the systems of the world’s biggest software firm.

Executives at the Seattle company were stunned to discover a hacker operating from St. Petersburg had wormed into theirsystems. For three months he had been mailing out the source-code of Microsoft’s crown jewels, Windows and Office. Security experts say the break-in could have been effected with a “Trojan Horse” program such as QAZ, which uses email to open a back door into the target computer. But if FSB operatives were involved, the method

was probably more insidious : a Microsoft employee was bribed or even blackmailed to give access to the spies.

Chief Executive Steve Ballmer tried to put a good spin on the news. “I can assure you there has been no compromise o the integrity of the source-code and that it has not been modified or tampered with”, he said.

The hackers probaly didn’t want to rewrite Windows. The data could be held for blackmail, to force multibillionaire Bil Gates to pay a vast ransom or see his precious source -code published on the Internet. Or it could have been a stock-market scam.

Ballmer’s worst nightmare must be that this was just a dry run. Next time the hackers would try to plant a cookie in the source-code, and every keystroke in certain online functions wil be relayed to a remote server.

When you fill in a credit-card form online, for instance, the hacker’s software hidden in your standard-issue Microsoft program might instantly relay all yur details to an anonymous address in St. Petersburg.

Like the spy said…if they’re invisible, they must be KGB/

Read Uri Geller’s online novel, Nobody’s Child at Visit Uri and

New Life for old habits

November 16 – November 29, 2000

Uri discovers that computers can alow us to rediscover the satisfaction offered by old technologies

Old technology i making a comeback. Radio, telegrams, vinyl LPs and fiction published in instalments are all making an impact on my life.

I’m not getting retro for the sake of it. I love new stuff. But these old favorites are being delivered digitally, in handy formats, and I’d forgotted how good they were.

Tuning in to broadcasts from halfway round the planet on longwave radio thrilled me as a young man in Israel. A friend had a wireless set with an aerial twice as hih as a house, and we could pick up Voice of Americe an it’s Russian propaganda sister sation. Sometimes we een stumbled on broadcasts rom Africa or Eastern Europe. This week I downloaded tuner software from which gives me instant acess to 2,700 radio stations worldwide. The delicate tuning dial is replaced by point-and-click. I choose a map of any country and select a broadcaster from the list. Within 5 seonds I’m listening in.

My favourite is Antarctia’s Anetstation, beaming cool guitar sounds from the frozen base of the world. Sound quality is good, though I sometimes lose the signal for a ew moments.

My vinyl collection is being transferred to mp3, so I can listen to battered 70s LPs as easily as I can play CDs – and without the risk of damaging the vinyl further. I’m plugging my trntable and amplifier into the back of my PC, switching the mp3 software to ‘record’ and that’s it. An LP takes up about 40MB on the harddisk.

I’ve started sending text messages on my mobile. Until I tried it, I couldn’t see the point. I thought, if you want to pass on as message, say it over the phone; if you want to write, send an email. Then I tried ‘texting’ and realised that six words et the point across instantly. Phoning can be messy – in all that small-talk, the message gets lost. But text is uncluttered: ‘Flight delayed. Collect me at 6pm.’

It’s like a telegram; focusing on the core of the message in the fewest posible words. Like any tool that focuses the mind on what’s essential, ‘texting’ helps me think clearly.

But my major obsession right now is really old technology – the 19th century technique of publishing a book in weekly installments. My latest novel, Nobody’s Child, about a TV gameshow with a baby asfirst prize, is being seralised via email. Geting the database programming has been a headache, but at just 20p per chapter, I believe stories sent directly from writer to reader will revolutionise publishing.

Uri Geller’s novel Nobody’s Child is being published exclusively online at

Visit Uri at and email him at [email protected]

Memory in an instant

October 20 – November 3, 2000

Fingernail-sized chips with infinite memory could soon recall every moment of our lives, says Uri

Curious, but I remember the song that played on the radio as I waited in make-up, before my first BBC appearance on the Dimbleby show. It was Ringo Starr singing Octopus’s Garden.

That was long ago. Why do I remember it ? The moment was so important to me; the song was not.

Human memory, sometimes intense and crystal clear, sometimes flawed, often absent, is not fully understood by neuroscientists. There are some things you never forget : what you were doing when you heard of Princess Diana’s death; your outfit on your first date.

There are others you cannot remember, though they are familiar : try to imagine the face of a good friend…it’s difficult.

The mystery may soon be unimportant. Human memory is about to be superceded by something infinitely more powerful.

IBM’s resaearch group in Zurich has developed Millipede, a technology enabling 500Gb of data to be stored on a wafer of polymer one inch square. An array of 1024 white silicon needles jb holes in the square, creating a landscape of plateaus and wells. These are read as digital ones and noughts.

Project manager Peter Vettiger hopes to replace the silicon with carbon nanotubes, a single atom wide, which will enable the cards to be shrunk to the size of a fingernail. That could put the momry power of 100 PCs on th face of your watch or the buttons of your cellphone.

Kevin maney, technology editor of USA Today, predicts we will soon store every event of our entire lives on a single memory card. Microphones will pick up all our conversations. Bar-code scanners will recall every item we pick up in the supermarket. Every email we read, webpage we download, will be etched forever on a device weighing only a few grams.

Rick Rashid, head of Microsoft research, foresees problems : “Every conversation you’ve ever had…how would you index all that data ? Howwould you find it ?”

The prospect of losing a gadget detailing every waking moment is terrifying – even the most blameless life is full of embarassing detail. And the threat to civil liberties is incalculable : anyone suspected of a crime might have to prove the innocence of all their actions.

The benefits outweigh all these anxieties. Computer diagnosis of lifestyle patterns, coupled with DNA scanning for defective genes, could make almost any disease preventable. That would be an unforgettable breakthrough.

The Switching Factor

September 21 – October 4, 2000

Are humans turning into computers ? Have your say! Click once for Yes! Click twice for No!

The decision is yours.

Yes or No is also the PC’s choice. To your super-intelligent lump of silicon, everything is Yes or No, black or white. Simple choices. Software programmers call these choices Or and And, Nor and Nand, 0 and 1 : it all adds up to Yes and No.

Light switches are very simple computers. On or off, Yes or No. Think of your computer as a trillion light switches, flashing with incredible speed to form unimaginably complex patterns.

So when scientists discover a new, infinitesimal switch, made not from Silicon, but from rings of molecules called catenanes, their first question must be : can we use these in a computer ?

And yes, it appears we can. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) describe their discovery in tabloid terms. “A molecular computer”, predicts Professor James Heath, “will enable us to do things we cannot even imagine now, a million times more efficiently than silicon.”

Heath’s terms have already created hair’s-breadth films of catenanes, flexible and almost weightless. The molecules could soon be coated onto TV screens, clothes, spectacle lenses and ailine seats – computers as thin as a smear of oil, painted onto every surface you touch.

All that is missing is the wiring. Computer switches need to be connected, and catenane links are so small that conventional wires are too cumbersome. The UCLA team must chrink wires to about a millionth of their current size, so they are trying cylindrical molecules of carbon caled buckytubes.

Chemical switches, like silicon, don’t always work properly. Humans are proof – our unique DNA blueprints, more complex even than the net, are programmed by switches.

I found a simple – and heartbreaking explanation on the himepage of an American youngster with sight and hearing impairments.

Taryn writes : “Everyone’s body has about a gazillion little switches that make things work properly. They are also called genes. If your Mom had a switch for blond hair, yours might make you blond. Of course, if your Mom and Dad had some bad switches in them, you might get these as well.

“All people have switches, and all people have some that don’t work right. That doesn’t mean they are bad people or funny people or stupid people. It just means thier switches don’t work right”.

Modern Ghost Stories

Phantom atoms may give rise to limitless computing. So who you gonna call ? Uri Geller!

Do you believe in ghosts ? IBM does. It’s quantum physicists believe they have created phantom atoms which could one day act as the circuitry of a supercomputer that isn’t really there – the ultimate ‘ghost in the machine’.

Donald Eigler, at the labs in San Jose, California sums up the paranormal essence of his ethereal atom : “It’s a quantum mirage. It’s also a physical object.”

By fencing a pool of electrons on a copper bed, Eigler made a rippling oval droplet of sub-atomic particles. At almost 270 degrees Celsius below freezing, he fixed an atom of Cobalt at one end of the pool.

Electrons swarmed around it. They swarmed at the other end too, around an atom that showed up more faintly…because it didn’t exist.

Eigler and the IBM team admit they have no idea what is happening. Bu their results were striking enough to make the cover of Nature, the world’s most prestigious scientific journal.

The research may provide stimulus to the debate about the existence of ghosts. The latest psychological theory says ghosts are simply a side-effect of over-excitement in the brain’s temporal lobes. But atoms don’t have brains.

The IBM phantom could also be the key to quantum physics’ greatest challenge – how to look inside an atom without disturbing it’s mysterious balance.

Sub-atomic particles such as quarks, exist as a fuzzy cloud of possibilities, until an observer forces them to make up their minds. Before the intrusion of the outside world, a quark is here, there and everywhere…all at the same time.

IBM wants to harness that fuzziness and use it to replace plodding, slow, binary computing. Today’s’ microchips think in one or zero, yes or no. Quantum chips would be able to think of one, zero, and every possible state in-between.

Their computing power will be effectively infinite. Ralph Merkle at Xerox’ Palo Alto labs predicts he’ll be using a computer 1000 times more powerful than the average office PC.

Ghost atoms might give scientists a tool for examining the heart of quarks without touching the real thing, and for accessing the fuzzy cloud. IBM’s probes are not yet sensitive enough – the phantom is only 10 nanometres away from the original and that’s about one-hundredth of one percent of the thickness of a human hair.

But quantum physicists are used to the small picture. Eigler’s colleague Hari Manoharan is already talking about bonding real atoms to phantoms, creating molecules that he calls “half-ghosts”. It’s enough to send a shiver down my spine.

Armed with a mobile

Mobile phones may be irritating, but deadly ? Uri Geller warns of the cellphone terrorist

Mobile phones, you know, they make me edgy. For one thing, I never finish half the sentences I start – so many people have my mobile number that I am interrupted almost every time I open my mouth, whether I’m speaking or eating.

For another, the microwaves might cause cancer. I always wear an earpiece to avoid frying my brain, but what happens to those waves when the phone is in my pocket ? Are they cooking my kidneys ?

On aeroplanes, there’s a nagging awareness that the shifty guy with the DIY haircut two rows forward could be a terrorist. And he may have smuggled a mobile phone aboard.

Mobile phones on airliners can be deadly. When oil driller Neil Whitehouse scoffed and sent an “I love you” text message shortly after takeoff on a British Airways flight from Madrid to Manchester, he received a 12-month jail sentence. The jury heard Whitehouse was within 6 meters of 100 pieces of electronic equipment, with 15 radio systems close by. All were at risk of malfunction from his three little words on the mobile.

If a mobile phone could damage a jet, what could a highly-powered microwave weapon do ? Some conspiracy theorists believe TWA Flight 800 was accidentally downed in 1996 by a US military Electro-magnetic ray which was being tested too close to civilian flightpaths.

These weapons are being developed – that’s no mere theory. And they are devastating against every kind of electronics, not just in planes. The technology was discovered as a side-effect of atomic bombs – the nuclear blast produced a massive Electro-magnetic (EM) pulse.

A knockout EM pulse can be built into an ordinary TNT or Semtex stick bomb, the kind favored by terrorists in car bomb attacks. The explosive is cased in aluminum, with a loop of wire at the far end of the stick from the fuse. When the bomb explodes, a wave of Electro-magnetic energy is forced up the pipe and into the wire. It discharges like lightning, looking for a conductor to hit – a conductor such as a computer network.

These weapons will be used in terror attacks on financial centers and media stations. The US is already thought to have targeted EM devices against Serbia.

The possibility is that one day, without warning, the computer you rely on will be friend by an EM pulse. Just stay positive – this will probably do you less physical harm than using your cell phone.

A word in your ears

July 13- 26, 2000

It lacks a graohic accelerator. There are no third-party-plugin modules available. It is resolutely un-upgradeable. And yet the product you are holding in your hand is standing up to an electronic onslaught.

Paper-It hasn’t been called new technology since the pharaos but we’re using it more than ever. Paper still out-performs e-tech alternatives on every point : Lightweight, flexible, durable, cheap to manufacture, easy to replace, to store, to carry, to recycle. And you can’t fold a Trinitron Multiscan monitor into an aeroplane either.

So, Why has the book giant Barnes and Noble just spent $20m on an online library of digital texts?

The Mighty Words site features about 10,000 works, almost all of them guranteed loss-makers if made into books. Short stories, Essays, abridgements, first drafts, PhD papers, scripts, speeches, unperformed plays and forgotten novellas are all there for downloading, at a price.

The Logic is simple-if just three or four users in as many years pay to access a digital book, the title is a profit maker for Mighty Words. However obscure, however wordy or worthy, any book is a potential money-spinner.

And to a publishing world which expects losses on most publications, that sounds like good economics.

But how will we read them? On Ppaer ? Electronic paper is the most urgent goal of mega-budget resaerch and development teams at Sony, Apple and othes. Screens one single molecule deep are promised. These will be light, rollable, even foldable. But they won’t be cheap to begin with.

I predict voice synthesizers will be the first significant breakthrough. When an electronic actor can read a text aloud and make it sound interesting, we’ll all be downloading books to MP3-style portables and reading with our ears and not with our eyes.

Profits for top authors could be stratospheric. Horror writer Stephen King experimented earlier this year with a straight-to-internet story called Riding the Bulllet. The 67-pager was downloaded 500,000 in two days.

]Microsoft vice-president Dick Brass says e-books are currently stuck in 1908- the year before Henry Ford invented mass production for the motor industry with his model T. “Just like then, any person would rather have a well trained horse than a car, a book rather than an e-book. But soon, electronic books will be the principle beast of burden.”

Sign off with style

June 29 – July 12, 2000

In a lifetime of meeting people, I’ve probably signed a million signatures. Thanks to this, I’ve perfected a way of writing my name on the bowl of a bent spoon but you can’t do that with e-mail…yet. Electronic signatures are the future of all personal transactions. My indellible marker is about o become as outmoded as a flint axe or a paper chequebook.

Last year, the US Congress, waking up to the reality that online sales would exceed $50bn by 2001, rushed in a bill to give full legal status to virtual ID stamps. Most important were digital signatures – methods of signing electronic documents with something more personal – and less easily forged – than a name and a credit card number.

Finger and palm prints scanned by touch-sensitive screens would be one effective solution : press your hand against your monitor and your identity is instantly established.

Digital camera scans of your eyes may be simpler to introduce, since every human iris is a different kaliedoscope of flecks and speckles. We’re still waiting to see which technology will dominate, however.

Such high-tech solutions are useful when absolute confirmation of identity is needed for security. But or everyday communication with friends and colleagues, you don’t need to go to such lengths. Instead, to demonstrate your originality in email, you jus need a neat sign-off line. This should contain a pearl of wisdom or a nugget of wit. And, preferably, it should be something you didn’t write yourself, since there’s an air of knowing irony abou plagiarising someone else’s signature.

To assist you in this innocent little theft, sig collections are available on the web. You can even get a fresh sig suggestion mailed to your desktop daily from This archive of clever exit lines is filed in dozens of categories. There’s the inspirational “A good exercise for the heart is to bend down and help another up” and the bizarre “Whoever said ‘Nothing is impossible’ never tried slamming a revolving door.”

There’s also the poetical “I know you little, I love you lots/My love for you could fill 10 pots/15 buckets, 16 cans/Three teacups and four dishpans,” and there’s my faorite ever from a spiritual friend in Isael : “PS Please pray for my soonest, permanent, eternal, irrevocable, highest, immutable, pure, everlasting, perfect, immortal, supremest, divinest, now-and-forever-constant Nirbikalpa Samadhi God-Realization Cosmic-Consciousness Ecstasy. Aum!”

June 15 – 28, 2000

Paying for the name

Cybersquatting is pushing up the cost of web addresses, says Uri Geller. Got a thesaurus ?

How’s this for persistence ? An enterprising domin prospector, finding that a rival had stakd a claim to, went one better and registered Also, and

Then (They call it r7) and r8, r9 and r10. Even r11. Researching this column, I was surprised to find r12 still available. I left it that way, a glittering business opportunity for some quick-clicking ComputerActive reader.

It isn’t just ‘r’ which is so popular. It’s ‘a’, of course, and ‘b’, ‘c’, and ‘d’. Addresses involving the letter ‘e’ hae been swallowed up in every conceivable permutation. The adult entertainment people have taken all the ‘f’s.

In fact, the whole alphabet has been bled dry by cyber-capitalists. If you want a single-syllable domain name, you’ll have to move into hieroglyphics.

Domain name speculation appears to be attracting big bucks. At the auction page of a major British registration site I’ve just visited, the featured name among the 29,102 for sale is selfdrive – the owner wants £15,000.

But that’s pin money. We are asked or £50,000 for and £100,000 for,

If you want to register or get ready to say goodbye to £1m.

If that seems ambitious, then is n offer for £1m, and a Mr. Willaim Gates III of Seattle was recently heard wondering aloud innocently, “Who on earth would want to buy that ?”

I Big Bill isn’t interested in paying a ransom for his own name, who else would be ? A little imagination will enable anyone o side-step the most deious cybersquatter.

Bob Dylan is no longer able to register but I’m pleased to tell him that is still up for grabs.

The Gallagher brothers can’t use without popping a cork on another million dollars, but, inspired by an Oasis B-side, is still available for next to nothing.

Michael Palin will grieve to hear that someone is squatting on andnowforsomethingcompletely … but is his for the taking.

It’s just a matter of thinking bigger. You want ? No possible, except at a price, so why not register the more memorable ?

The possibilities are endless. Just like the English language. I’m off to register … will anyone offer me $1m ?

While you’re at it…

June 1-14, 2000

Size matters. And I don’t mean to boast, but at my fingertips almost two million megabytes of memory is throbbing away at 12 million megahertz. That’s 15,000 times more memory than the average computer and 25,000 faster than normal.

It’s not all on my desk, of course. In fact, I’d need around 40,000 desks and at least 80km of cabling, which is overkill for email. It’s overkill for anything, unless you want to computer 150-digit prime numbers or render animations which make Star Wars look like a kindergarten doodle.

Actually, I’ve signed up to distributed computing. My PC is one of thousands in a network which shares huge data-crunching operations, breaking the biggest assignments down into byte-sized chinks. When my machine would usually be idle, running screensavers or humming idly to itself, it can now be working for the network.

I’m no stranger to distributed computing. For two years, I’ve been involved in a vast project run by California’s Berkeley University. The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, involves 1.5 million home computers, all sifting data from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. We’re looking for signals amid the universe’s background noise, messages from other civilisations.

Frankly, I’m getting bored of it – my computer has yet to get a phonecall from even one alien. Since I know of at least eight claimed UFO sightings worldwide this year alone, I think the SETI telescope must be looking at the wrong constellation.

So my computer is switching to a different kind of distributed computing – the money-making kind. The ProcessTree network ( will pay me for every megabyte of data dissected.

Plus, I get a cut of everything earned by my affiliates – the people I signed up to ProcessTree. Forecasts suggest I might collect enough to cover my online charges. Now your computer can make money simply by being switched on.

Or it might, one day. ProcessTree is still at the test stage. Other network projects such as and are not based on profit, but run by enthusiastic amateurs.

So regard this as a wake-up call. Your computer is a hugely valuable link in a global brain-chain. A lot of companies will want a piece of it. Make them pay. And never underestimate the power of your processor.


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