Downtime: Doctor, doctor, there's a sponge in my stomach

The wacky world of IT.

Just make sure you don't mix up the plus and minus

Since the digital camera we own here at Downtime seems to need replacement batteries after every half-dozen or so snaps, the idea that a plane could run on a few AAs seems particularly improbable.

However, last week Japanese scientists managed just that, getting a glider-like plane in the air for about a minute, powered by nothing more than 160 batteries.

The test flight was hailed by the Japan Aeronautic Association as officially the world's first manned flight powered by dry-cell batteries, but Downtime's advice is not to get too excited about the brave new world of battery-powered flight.

It still sounds like we have a way to go before we are all flying to Spain on nothing more than two Duracells and some spares in case the worst happens.

When old technology becomes an old friend

Last week's request for stories about emotional attachments to yesterday's technology prompted a chunky virtual mailbag, proving once and for all that you are a bunch of techno-softies at heart.

Matthew Smith at Siemens admitted that in a recent office move he was forced by his colleagues to finally bin the BBC Micro teletext adapter he had concealed under his desk for the past umpteen years. He never actually used the thing, since it was designed to display teletext pages on a BBC Micro computer he did not own, but mysteriously he found that did not stop him feeling choked at its passing.

Jon Arnold, an IT technician at a further education college in the West Midlands, said his department still keeps the original sealed sets of Win 3.1 floppies, which clearly has a whole lot more to do with nostalgia than the college's current desktop computing needs.

"Added to that, one of the lecturers still uses a 20-year-old Psion Organiser 1 and will not retire it. The sad bit is, every time the batteries expire he has to re-enter all his data and licence keys," Arnold said.

Doctor, doctor, there's a sponge in my stomach

As readers of Downtime will know, RFID tags are getting into some increasingly strange places (ATMs, anyone?), but Downtime was still struck last week by a bit of ingeniousness at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Doctors at the school have been testing if RFID-enabled sponges hold the key to stopping surgeons leaving medical instruments or supplies inside patients.

The test apparently worked well, though RFID sponges will not be coming to a hospital near you until the tags themselves get smaller. At the moment each one is nearly an inch across, and tends to get in the way of blood-mopping duties. Nice.

Now India is beating us at IT as well as cricket

As the UK's ID cards scheme struggles to get off the ground, maybe John Reid and co need to look further afield for a decent, practical solution.

Downtime noticed last week that the agricultural department of the town of Krishnagiri in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has successfully issued ID cards to eligible farmers to trade in the neighbouring town of Hosur.

Farmers reportedly trade more than eight tonnes of vegetables every day at the peak of the harvest season. So far, the state has issued cards to 750 farmers without a hitch, enabling them to trade only in the vegetables specified on their individual card.

Sounds to Downtime like these guys have got it cracked. Cue, surely, an expensive fact-finding mission involving a sizeable team of Home Office officials to see how their public-sector cousins in Krishnagiri have pulled it off.

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