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Watching the World

Watching the World

 Watching the World

Costly Bug

Computer engineers heaved a sigh of relief as most computer systems successfully passed from 1999 to 2000. Certain analysts had predicted that many computer programs, unable to distinguish between 1900 and 2000 because of a programming technique that left off the first two digits of year dates, would crash and cause all manner of disruptions. (See the February 8, 1999, issue of Awake!, pages 21-3.) To prevent this, programmers labored to repair faulty systems before the fateful date. How much did this cost? According to an article in the French daily Le Monde, one finance group puts the figure at “between 300 and 600 billion dollars worldwide.” The United States spent about 100 billion dollars; and France, 20 billion dollars. In comparison, the Gulf War cost allied forces “between 46 and 60 billion dollars.” However, “history will repeat itself . . . with a parade of new computer-related number troubles to worry about,” states The Wall Street Journal. Fortunately, “none of these problems are likely to reach the heights attained by the Year 2000 Bug.”

Password Problems

Forgotten passwords cost U.S. businesses millions of dollars annually because of lost productivity and the need to provide technical support. “Twenty years ago, people had to remember only their Social Security number and maybe a phone number or two,” says The New York Times. But now, using passwords to gain access to computer files and E-mail services at work has become a way of life for many. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to accumulate dozens of passwords, access codes, and personal identification numbers. One network administrator reportedly maintains 129 active passwords. Some companies are therefore replacing password-based systems with fingerprint scanners and other hi-tech security devices.

Anger and Your Heart

“Anger-prone people [are] almost three times more likely to have a heart attack than those who are slow to become angry,” says a report in the Globe and Mail newspaper. Nearly 13,000 people took part in a six-year heart disease risk assessment. All participants were free of heart disease at the start of the study. Each person was asked a series of questions and rated as to whether he or she had a low, medium, or high anger index. Over the six-year period, 256 had heart attacks. The study revealed that those with the moderate rating were 35 percent more likely to have heart problems. The leading author of the study, Dr. Janice Williams of the University of North Carolina, says: “Anger could potentially lead to heart attacks, especially among middle-aged men and women with normal blood pressure.” Therefore, the researchers recommended that anger-prone people should consider using stress-management techniques.

Smoking Update

“After a century-long buildup in cigarette smoking, the world is turning away from cigarettes,” reports a Worldwatch Issue Alert. From 1990 to 1999, the consumption of cigarettes declined 11 percent worldwide. This downward trend has continued in the United States for close to two decades, with 42 percent fewer cigarettes smoked in the United States in 1999 than in 1980. The report cites antismoking campaigns, growing awareness of the dangers associated with smoking, and higher prices as reasons for the decrease. In addition, “the number of cigarettes smoked per person has dropped 19 percent in France since peaking in 1985, 8 percent in China since 1990, and 4 percent in Japan since 1992,” says the report.

Illness Ignored by Uninsured

A recent study in the United States showed that people who do not carry medical insurance are more likely to ignore signs of sickness and are less inclined to seek medical help, reports Reuters news service.  The study, originally published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was based on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics. Research showed that even when there were indications of serious sickness, such as blurred vision or the appearance of a lump in the breast, those without health insurance were much less likely to seek medical care than those who had insurance. The report stated: “It is ironic that at a time when our country is establishing a ‘Patient’s Bill of Rights’ we still have not established the right to be a patient.”

London’s Medieval Zoo

Excavations beneath the famous Tower of London have revealed new details of “a medieval menagerie which held an extraordinary array of animals,” reports The Sunday Times of London. Researchers say that there is evidence that 100 different species, including rhino, antelope, tigers, ostriches, snakes, and alligators, were once kept beneath what is now the West Tower. Experts have been aware of the zoo’s existence for some time, but new research in royal, university, and church archives, along with information gleaned from the dig, has clarified a number of points. The menagerie was founded about 1210 by King John and closed in 1835 when London Zoo was opened in Regent’s Park. Some animals were then transferred to the new zoo, while others were shipped to America. The longevity of the menagerie was mainly due to the interest of successive monarchs and the relatively stable state of the country. Geoffrey Parnell, chief archivist at the Tower, says: “It was clearly London’s longest-running show, which entertained both royalty and commoners for centuries.”

Instant Justice

Three judges in the state of Espírito Santo, Brazil, are testing a computer program that is designed to help dispense instant justice, reports New Scientist magazine. The program, called the Electronic Judge, runs on a laptop computer. When a minor accident occurs, police call a judge and a court clerk to the accident scene. The program is designed to help the human judge weigh the evidence and dispense justice right there on the spot. It does so by presenting the judge with a series of questions, such as “Did the driver stop at the red light?” or, “Had the driver been drinking alcohol above the acceptable limit of the law?” It then prints out its decision and the reasoning behind it. According to New Scientist, the program can also issue “fines, order damages to be paid and even recommend jail sentences.” It is hoped that the computer program will help human judges to be more efficient and thus help to reduce the burden of Brazil’s overloaded legal system.

Water as a Sales Incentive

Some merchants in India have been taking advantage of a recent drought to attract customers. They are offering free water with purchases of major home appliances. The Times of India reported that one retailer promised 130 gallons [500 l] of water four days a week for two summer months to any customer who purchased an oven, a refrigerator, a washing machine, or a television set. Another store offered ‘free water for the rest of the summer’ with any purchase of a refrigerator or a television. Reeling under one of the worst water crises ever, the northwest part of Gujarat State found that water was a much more enticing draw than gifts of gold, silver, or free holidays. In the city of Rajkot, businessmen claimed that offering water as an incentive had increased their sales threefold.

Diamond Mystery Solved

The hardest natural substance known to mankind, diamond, is formed when carbon is subjected to extreme temperature and pressure. But what does a diamond itself become when it is put under pressure? Scientists have been trying to answer that question for 40 years—that is, until recently. “It turns out that when enough pressure is applied at the proper angles,” reports The Buffalo News, “the hardest known natural substance turns into graphite, the same carbon . . . from which it is formed.” Scientists say that they hope to use what they have learned through their experiments to make better diamond tools.