Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Some highs and lows of high tech

Indulging my interest in high tech, let's consider some recent news items on that theme.

At the core of the matter :-)
We'll start with the teaser that "Intel and Micron Announce 'Revolutionary' Mystery Memory." Most everything these industry leaders have to say generally merits attention -- but when they talk about "a new form of nonvolatile memory that the companies say is 1000 times speedier than NAND Flash and ten times denser than DRAM," one really should take notice. I look forward to hearing more about the new technology -- and how (assuming it progresses to the product stage) it will impact computer architectures.

From the tiny domain of modern microelectronics, let's turn to the vast realm of space. Regarding the latter, a Canadian firm has proposed a new type of space elevator.

First step is a doozie
Traditionally (and here I quote myself from "Alien Adventures: Rising to the Challenge," in the October 2015 issue of Analog), a space elevator is "just what it sounds. Rather than rocket into space -- carrying fuel to carry the fuel to carry yet more fuel ... to carry a comparatively tiny payload -- creep up a long cable in an elevator car. The elevator ride will take days, not minutes, but it will be far more economical, and far more environmentally friendly, than rocketry. First proposed in 1895, the space-elevator concept was popularized by Arthur C. Clarke in his 1979 novel, The Fountains of Paradise."

Space elevators sound simple and elegant. So, you might wonder, why hasn't anyone built one? The most basic reason is we can't build the cable. Single-wall carbon nanotubes and diamond nanothreads are both strong enough -- but until someone can manufacture at least one of those materials in kilometer lengths, rather than centimeters, traditional space elevators seem unlikely to happen.

The new proposal? Build the elevator "only" to a platform extending into the stratosphere. Launching from there, high above the densest parts of the atmosphere, offers big advantages. That's not to say building a structure that extends into the stratosphere is easy. See "Inflatable ‘space elevator’ invented by scientists: Astronauts would ascend 12 miles into the stratosphere before taking off under new plans to build a space lift."

We've looked at items big and small. How about something that's sorta intangible? As if our modern, networked age didn't already confront enough issues, here's word of a whole new way to compromise our security: with sound. See "U.S. researchers show computers can be hijacked to send data as sound waves."

Here's how: "The attack program takes control of the physical prongs on general-purpose input/output circuits and vibrates them at a frequency of the researchers’ choosing, which can be audible or not. The vibrations can be picked up with an AM radio antenna a short distance away." Yes, the attack requires first getting attack software onto the target computer, but stranger things have happened ...

Do you trust your PC's (and tablet's, and phone's) security software? Maybe you shouldn't. Consider the report that "Russian antivirus firm faked malware to harm rival." (The firm is Kaspersky, if you hadn't guessed.)

It's enough to drive a person to drink. So in good news about potable beverages: " 'Drinkable book' could give millions access to clean water: With pages that can filter out bacteria, the drinkable book may solve a major public health problem for the 750 million people worldwide without access to clean drinking water."

Hackable at any speed?
Combining driving and computer (in)security, perhaps you noticed recently that "Hackers figure out how to seize control of a car from anywhere." The discovery led to "Fiat Chrysler recalls 1.4M vehicles to prevent hacking." And then other researchers discovered, of other vehicles, "Laser can 'disable self-drive car.' "

Perhaps it's time to seek out something stronger to imbibe than water ...

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