Lost Packets: Networking news and trivia

The running of the iBooks

When the Henrico County school system in Virginia decided to sell 1,000 iBook laptops for US$50, it turned into a scene reminiscent of Boxing Day sales or the running of the bulls in Spain. The laptops were offered at a low cost because the county recently switched over to Dell notebooks. 5,500 people showed up at the Richmond International Raceway shortly after midnight to be one of the first in line to buy the four-year old iBooks. The August 16th sale started at 9 a.m. with some even urinating on themselves so as to not lose their place in line. When the gates opened, people were thrown to the pavement, beaten with a folding chair, strollers were crushed and someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd. In the end, 17 people suffered minor injuries with four requiring hospital treatment.

The sex lives of pandas

Zoologists in China are set to use satellite technology to spy on the sexual activities of giant pandas. A three-year joint venture with the U.S. Zoological Society of San Diego will use global positioning satellites (GPS) developed by the U.S. military to observe giant pandas in the Foping nature reserve in central Shaanxi province. Researchers said they are using GPS technology because “giant pandas are inaccessible for long periods of time and traditional observation cannot unravel the ecological mystery of the animals.” Researchers are hoping to find out why the animals are reluctant to breed by tracking their movements. Considered a cultural icon by China, poachers and destruction of their natural habitat have kept the panda population low. There are only about 1,000 at large around the world.

Keyboard sounds reveal secrets

Just when you thought it was safe to type that e-mail or document complaining about your boss, researchers in Berkeley, Calif., have figured out a way to decipher what exactly all the clacking and clicking on computer keyboards means. Using 10-minute recordings of people typing away and then feeding the information to a computer that used an algorithm to detect the subtle differences as each letter is struck, the software had a 60 per cent accuracy for characters and 20 per cent for words. The software learned to improve itself after researchers repeatedly fed back the same recordings and did spelling and grammar checks that resulted in a 96 per cent accuracy rate for characters and 88 per cent for words. However, the eavesdropping software is not perfect. It didn’t take into account the use of a mouse or the shift, control and backspace keys.

Tech helps increase class participation

It used to be class participation involved raising your hand but now it is just a click away. At York University’s Osgoode Hall Law school, students have been using remote control devices to answer multiple-choice questions during lectures. The clickers, using infrared or radio frequency technology, have been programmed with students’ individual identification numbers so they can earn up to five per cent of their grade for answering clicker questions correctly. Teachers said this technology helps them gauge how well students are grasping the material and for students it helps make lectures more interesting.

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