Downtime: Nanotechnology, good excuses, intelligent machines

Downtime was pleased to hear that post-grad electrical engineering students in Texas have come up with the best application of nanotechnology so far.

Now here’s an idea for all of you flag flyers...

Downtime was pleased to hear that post-grad electrical engineering students in Texas have come up with the best application of nanotechnology so far.

Jang-Bae Jeon and Carlo Foresca of the University of Texas have managed to create a likeness of the US flag that is less than one-tenth the width of a human hair, which sounds plenty big enough to us. Maybe all those US  households with 10-foot flags adorning their front gardens might care to adopt the students’ effort instead.

And if it takes off over there, perhaps by the next World Cup drivers could adorn their cars with nano-sized versions of the Cross of St George. So much more discreet.

Sorry, the dog’s eaten my business continuity plan

As we all know, IT lies at the heart of many an excuse for laziness or fecklessness, and Jeff Randall’s column on the subject in last Thursday’s Daily Telegraph turned up a couple of crackers.

Leading the way was Chris Carter, who managed to combine technophobia and the World Cup in his excuse for non-delivery of something or other (it hardly matters what).

“The sports channels had used up all the bandwidth over Germany and I couldn’t get a signal until 2am,” was his excuse par excellence.

At the more figurative end of the spectrum was Edward Vincent, who proffered, “My copy was late because one of my colleague’s extended metaphors caused a tailback on the information super-highway.”

Downtime is always looking for excuses. If you have any more e-mail them to the address below.

All very well, but can they wield barbecue tongs?

Ian Pearson, BT’s resident futurologist (we’re not kidding), has warned that machine intelligence is going to make men redundant over the next decade or two.

Pearson reckons that these ever-cleverer machines will take over many male-dominated “jobs that require intellect”, including computer programming. However, those with softer skills, such as PR and marketing, will be OK, he says.

To Downtime’s ears, it all sounds a bit woolly and stereotyped, but don’t say you haven’t been warned. Maybe it really is time to look into that course in Indian head massage.

Saving the planet is a brilliant job for Larry

Larry Brilliant has spoken for the first time about his plans as the man charged with spending hundreds of millions of pounds of Google’s wealth on good causes.

Brilliant has never struggled to live up to his name. He worked for the UN and was instrumental in eradicating smallpox from India. More recently, he was awarded a £55,000 prize to develop his idea for building a global early-warning system for disease and disaster.

All of which means he is a decent choice to lead Google’s charitable arm. Brilliant plans to tap into Google’s engineering expertise to have a crack at climate change, global public health and global poverty. Should keep him busy.

It’s a dangerous job but someone’s got to do it…

News from Japan that a Dell laptop burst into flames at a conference does not inspire confidence, but sitting at a desk tapping at a keyboard is still well down the list of dangerous occupations.

For the safety-conscious among you, the key career to avoid – in terms of the likelihood of dying on the job – is wood cutting. In the US, lumberjacks are 26 times more likely to die at work than the average worker. Other jobs to avoid are in structural metalwork and electrical power installation, both of which conjure up images of particularly grisly ends.

Contribute to Downtime: If you have a funny IT-related story, we want to hear from you. [email protected]



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