Downtime: Free-falling laptops get protection they deserve

The wacky world of IT

Free-falling laptops get protection they deserve

Here at Downtime we have always been shy of buying laptops for fear of breaking them within 48 hours by dropping them or spilling tea all over the keyboard. So, needless to say, we were delighted to read this week that a clever new widget from Fujitsu will soon be protecting us from one of these terrible fates.

Its "free-fall sensor" sounds like genius to us. It protects a laptop's hard drive in the event of a fall by moving the read/write head on a hard drive away from the disc itself - all in the split second that the laptop is still in mid-air and yet to make crunching contact with the ground.

Apparently, the sensor self-activates for falls from a height of about 20cm, but somehow also works for drops from lesser heights.

Our sketchy research has led us to the realisation that IBM already offers "sensor impact protection" on some of its laptop models, but we must say we like the sound of "free-fall sensors" even better. It sounds like an ejector seat for hard drives.

James Bond's boss M would surely approve.

To extradite or not to extradite is the question

It is only a small crumb of comfort, admittedly, but perhaps Nasa hacker suspect Gary McKinnon can take some solace from the results of a poll by Sophos, which has found that fewer than 50% of IT professionals want him extradited for his alleged crimes.

McKinnon faces the stark prospect of up to 70 years in jail if he is extradited to the US and ultimately found guilty of perpetrating "the biggest military hack of all time". Earlier this month he lost his appeal to the UK's High Court against a previous decision to approve his extradition, meaning McKinnon is fast running out of options.

The Sophos poll found that 48% of IT professionals support the plan to extradite McKinnon, with the remaining 52% firmly against the extradition (no undecideds here, it would seem).

"The IT community cannot seem to agree about what would be an appropriate punishment in this case," said Graham Cluley of Sophos.

"Irrespective of where he is tried, let's hope that if McKinnon is found guilty it will be based on reliable evidence and that he will be sentenced appropriately for the offences he is alleged to have committed."

Downtime, for one, cannot help feeling that 70 years seems a bit steep. How about 100 hours of community service? That should do it. He could spend the time reformatting hard drives for the greater good.

Rub-a-dub-dub, super realistic water in the tub

Question: how do you get non-specialists to appreciate the finer points of a mathematical model you have developed to simulate how materials behave in different environments?

Answer: Create a duck-themed computer game, of course.

Downtime has to hand it to a group of enterprising scientists at Sheffield Hallam University, who have created "the most realistic flowing water ever seen" in the said game, which features a gaggle of swimming ducks.

Chris Care, who works in the materials modelling group at the university, said that creating the computer game was a logical step to take, since much of the university's work involves developing computer programs that simulate the way different materials behave.

More to the point, the resultant game - Super Rub-A-Dub - allows players to assume the role of a mother duck roaming around a super-realistic tub of water as she attempts to free her offspring from bubbles and lead them to safety.

Now that's progress.

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