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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tech Bytes

Count 'em: 4 billion phones

Largely because of the mobile phone boom in developing countries, telephone service has quadrupled in the past decade to 4 billion lines worldwide, according to a report from the United Nations telecommunications agency.

The International Telecommunications Union counts 1.27 billion fixed lines and 2.68 billion mobile accounts. The total number of people represented by those figures is unclear because many people, particularly in industrial countries, have both kinds of service.
The increase has been especially strong in developing countries that have been able to provide cellular phone service to tens of millions of people much more cheaply than having to wire homes and offices for fixed-line telephones.
-- Associated Press
Putting Wikipedia to the test

Because anyone can edit Wikipedia, the Web encyclopedia's reliability varies wildly. Now a computer science professor hopes to give users a better baloney detector: software that flags questionable lines in Wikipedia entries.
Developed by Luca de Alfaro and colleagues at the University of California-Santa Cruz, the software will color text some gradation of orange if there is reason to doubt its content. The deeper the orange, the more likely it is malarkey.
By diving into Wikipedia's open volumes of edit histories, the software counts the degree to which any given contributor's work survives subsequent edits by other people. In general, the less tinkering your work on Wikipedia engenders, the more trustworthy you are deemed to be.
-- Associated Press
Palm drops Foleo product

Palm has canceled plans to release a laptop-like gadget that was supposed to serve as a smart- phone companion, months after the product was announced and ridiculed by analysts.
The Foleo, which had been slated to ship this summer, looked like a small notebook PC with a 10-inch screen, full-sized keyboard and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities. It ran on a version of the Linux operating system and did not have a hard drive.
Analysts questioned why consumers would want to carry yet another device when they already have PCs that are getting smaller and cell phones that are getting smarter.
CEO Ed Colligan said early market feedback indicated there was still work to be done to make the Foleo a strong product.
-- Associated Press

Authorities suspect Aust bees carrying virus

The US Agriculture Department has pointed the finger at Australian bees as possible carriers of a virus that they say is causing the collapse of the honey bee industry in the United States and Europe.

The claims are likely to harm the Australian industry and could lead to a ban on the import of Australian bees.

The failure to find what has caused the honey bee crisis is an ongoing headache for the industry, which in the US is worth about $17 billion.

The name for the mysterious problem, Colony Collapse Disorder, sums up its devastating effects for beekeepers.

Daniel Weaver, the president of the American Beekeeping Federation says it is also causing alarm for producers in other industries.

"The farmers and orchardists that produce the fruits and nuts and melons and berries and all the other tasty things for the table that depend upon honey bees for pollination," he said.

He says the latest research on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) will harm Australian bee exports. Genetic research has found that Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus turned up regularly in hives affected by CCD.

The US Agriculture Department has also pointed the finger at Australian bees as a possible source.

Mr Weaver says Australian bees will not be quite as welcome in America now.

"It's likely that some beekeepers in the US who might have been contemplating using Australian bees might take a second look at that option now, wishing to avoid any excess risk," he said.

"So they may not import Australian bees that they would have otherwise imported without this report."

Questionable circumstances

Warren Taylor ships tens of thousands of Australian bees to Canada each year and he questions the conclusion that Australian bees may be the source of CCD.

"We've been shipping bees to Canada for 15 years," he said.

"There's been no colony collapse in Australian bees."

Mr Taylor, managing director of Australian Queen Bee Exporters, says he has very suspicious about the claims from the US.

"I'm curious as to whether there's some hidden agenda with the local bee producers," he said.

"In Canada, we don't have local bee producers, so we're not competing against anyone, but in the US there's a large number of bee producers and we're obviously competing directly with them."

He says the credibility of the claim is questionable.

"There's a lot of unanswered questions, and the Americans choose not to test colonies that haven't collapsed to see if there's any Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus in that."

There is irony in Australian bees coming under suspicion because beekeepers in the US have relied on honey makers from Australia to keep their hives alive.

The head of the Australian Honey Bee Council, Stephen Ware, says there is no support for the theory that Australian bees are to blame for.

"I'd certainly call it dodgy," he said.

"It's akin to a drowning man throwing off his life preserver and saying, 'the life preserver was why I was drowning'."

Exports in danger

The export in bees has grown to a $5 million industry since 2004 when the US started accepting Australian imports. Mr Ware says there is a risk US authorities may now ban Australian bees.

"Every chance that potentially there could be a ban on exports, and we certainly don't believe that's warranted," he said.

"We hope that cooler heads will take charge and that the analysis will be properly examined, and will be shown to be flawed."

Despite the findings of the US report, Australian bees are being defended by a leader in the US beekeeping industry.

Mr Weaver says the virus found in an Australian bee can not be solely responsible for the crisis.

"There is a strong correlation in the data that they've presented, but I think that much more work remains to be done," he said.

"They need to obtain additional samples of Australian bees. There is in fact only one direct sample of Australian bees that's part of that study, and a sample of one is not persuasive."

CSIRO bee pathologist Dr Denis Anderson says he is highly sceptical about the claims in the US report, and so is the Australian Government.

A statement from federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran says any trade restrictions imposed on the basis of the research would be inconsistent with America's trade obligations, because there is not enough evidence.

The issue is sure to cause a more than a buzz when it is discussed at the World Beekeeping Congress in Melbourne next week.

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