Lost Packets Issue 8

WalMart mistakenly overcharges customers

The “oops” factor has struck again, this time affecting more than 800,000 WalMart customers in the U.S. According to reports, a computer hardware snafu was to blame for patrons to be double- and triple-billed on Mar. 31 while shopping at WalMart. The retail giant’s electronic payment provider, First Data Corp. of Greenwood Village, Colo., said the problem surfaced in reports the company generates to ensure quality control. While WalMart has refunded the overcharged amounts, the company is still asking customers who made Visa or MasterCard purchases on Mar. 31 to check their statements and contact First Data in case of discrepancies.

Fake passports — a thing of the past?

Forging a passport may be trickier to do than in the past thanks to new technology from Australia. The nation has developed a toaster-sized document reader that can tell in seconds whether a passport is a fraud and can identify travelers who might be included on terrorist watch lists. Called the iA-thenticate, the device is made by Imaging Automation Inc. of Bedford, N.H. The system ranges from US$5,000 to US$15,000 per unit and uses multiple light sources to examine hundreds of security features on travel documents. Many of the features, including the composition of ink, are invisible to the naked eye, the company said. Australia joins Canada, Hungary, Sweden, Finland and Nigeria among the countries using or testing the iA-thenticate system. For information, visit www.imagingauto.com.

Concept car to warn ‘drowsy’ drivers

Known for it’s commitment to safety almost as much as its “boxy” but good looks, Volvo plans to include new technology in a concept car, designed to help drowsy drivers stay awake. Volvo and its owner, Ford Motor Co., last month released results of a study on sleepy drivers at the New York Auto Show and announced plans for the technology to be included in Volvo cars and SUVs before the end of the decade. According to a Ford spokesman, the company tested computerized optical scanning and a variety of warnings including a vibrating steering wheel and a visual warning projected on the windshield. Researchers also tested an “active” system where the vehicle would actually adjust the steering automatically if it veered too far one way or the other. Still, the features are still several years from being offered in cars for sale, the company said.

Study says gamers make better surgeons

It appears that years of playing Nintendo and PlayStation are actually beneficial — for surgeons, that is. The study was conducted by researchers with Beth Israel and the National Institute on Media and the Family at Iowa State University and tested 33 fellow doctors — 12 attending physicians and 21 medical school residents — who participated from May to August 2003. According to the study, doctors who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37 per cent fewer mistakes in laparoscopic surgery (which uses a small camera to aid internal procedures) and performed the task 27 per cent faster than their counterparts who did not play video games.

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