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April 1st


15 Nov 2002
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Tracking chips to be put in your food
April 01 2005
by Will Sturgeon
Would you like chips with that?

UK food manufacturers are to launch a scheme to put miniscule radio
frequency ID tags in edible produce.

The chips, when eaten, are so small as to pose no health hazard to
shoppers but should enable supermarkets to track food through the
supply chain.

More interesting perhaps is what happens after the food is eaten.

The RFID chips will enable regional water boards to track sewage
through the system with the ability to identify blockages - where a
glut of chips builds up - and also identify trends and patterns to
create more effective waste management strategies.

The company behind the system, Trak IT-Tech, claims it may even give
rise to metered billing for sewerage with water boards able to
identify the source of waste down to the household of origin.

George ! Thompson, technical director of Trak IT-Tech, told silicon.com:
"This is a pretty unsavoury topic but not half as unsavoury as having
to go down into the sewers and check out blockages. This technology
will mean field engineers can monitor flow from the surface."

The scheme launches next month and Thompson claims many UK consumers
won't even notice the chips, which will be size of a pinhead, in their


Even monkeys wouldn't use a Mac
April 01 2005
by Will Sturgeon
Chances of a word perfect 'Hamlet'? Zero...

US academics have conducted research into the well-known phenomenon of
'Shakespeare's Monkeys' - which claims an infinite number of monkeys
using an infinite number of typewriters would eventually write the
complete works of the Bard - and have discovered it would not hold
true if the primates were typing on an Apple Mac.

Scientists at the University of Utah conducted experiments using 20
primates! over a three-month period and found that their subjects
largely sh unned the four Macs running OS X in favour of keyboards
attached to four machines running Windows XP.

The closest thing to a Shakespearian line typed on the Macs was 'Ham',
which the scientists recorded as three correct characters from the
title of Hamlet, however, one machine running Windows XP recorded "It
is the green-eyed m" - 22 correct characters from the text of tragedy

Dr Johan Klaas from the department of behavioural studies at the
University of Utah, told silicon.com: "We were surprised by the
results. The majority of the primates we used appeared to be far more
comfortable using Windows."

"The correct character comparison of 22 to three suggests the primates
were more than seven times more confident on Windows-based machines,"
he added.

Klaas told silicon.com that 124 keyboards were replaced during the
90-day experiment after they were damaged in various ways from being
beaten against the gro! und to being covered in faeces.

The primates' dislike of the Mac keyboard appeared even to manifest
itself here too, with the destroyed keyboard count numbering 93 to 31
in favour of those attached to the Windows machines.

Klaas told silicon.com: "Whatever people say about infinite outcomes
and infinite possibilities this research makes me think monkeys would
never write the entire works of Shakespeare using a Mac."

"But," added Klaas, "they'd sure break a lot of keyboards trying."

The most commonly opened application was also on the Windows PCs with
the primates appearing to develop a fondness for Outlook.


From Scientific American Digital:

Okay, We Give Up
From the April 2005 Issue of Scientific American.
Who said scientists had no sense' of humor?

There's no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics don't mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of such issues as creationism, missile defense and global warming. We resisted their advice and pretended not to be stung by the accusations that the magazine should be renamed Unscientific American, or Scientific Unamerican, or even Unscientific Unamerican. But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf, so there's no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong.

In retrospect, this magazine's coverage of so called evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we publi! shed articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it.

Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful case for scientific creationism? Why were we so unwilling to suggest that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved the Grand Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence.

Moreover, we shamefully mistreated the Intelligent Design (ID) theorists by lumping them in with creationists. ! Creationists believe that God designed all life, and that's a somewhat religious idea. But ID theorists think that at unspecified times some unnamed superpowerful entity designed life, or maybe just some species, or maybe just some of the stuff in cells. That's what makes ID a superior scientific theory: it doesn't get bogged down in details.

Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end! the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions.

Get ready for a new Scientific American. No more discussions of how science should inform policy. If the government commits blindly to building an anti-ICBM defense system that can't work as promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers' dollars and imperil national security, you won't hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration's antipollution measures would actually increase the dangerous particulates that people breathe during the next two decades, that's not our concern. No more discussions of how policies affect science either so what if the budget for the National Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, and not just the science that scientists say is science. And it will start on April Fools' Day.

Okay, We Give Up

THE EDITORS editors! @sciam.com


Cisco to merge with Nabisco
By Ashlee Vance in Chicago

Published Friday 1st April 2005 15:22 GMT

Cisco Systems and Kraft Foods shocked investors today with an unlikely mega-acquisition that will see Cisco buy Kraft's Nabisco unit for $15bn. Perhaps even more surprising, former RJR Nabisco and IBM CEO Lou Gerstner has come out of retirement to head the new firm tentatively called NaCisco.

Cisco and Kraft announced the deal as the US financial markets opened on Friday, triggering jitters in both the networking and snack food sectors. John Chambers, CEO at Cisco, worked to calm analysts and investors during a conference call, saying this was a natural expansion for a company with more than $16bn in the bank. Kraft chief Roger Deromedi tried to take care of his side by noting that the company had not got all it hoped out of the Nabisco brand. It has, in fact, been looking to unload the Nabisco edibles to "a possibly more suitable parent" for some time.

Cisco will pay $13bn for the Nabisco products, which include Ritz Crackers, Oreo Cookies and Nutter Butters, and cover $2bn in Kraft debt. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter, pending standard approvals.

"This really is a merger of equals," Gerstner said, during the conference call. "I wouldn't have come back to work for anything less than this fantastic opportunity. This lets me combine my two great loves - technology and biscuits."

Financial analysts working near The Register's Chicago desk were visibly shaken when word of the acquisition hit. The combination of Cisco and Nabisco struck many as anything but a merger of equals with observers struggling to figure out how this type of deal would benefit the companies, shareholders or investors.

"This is unusual," said Merrill Lynch's star analyst Steve Milunovich. "Cisco sells switches and routers and things. Nabisco sells cookies and crackers. I'm going to have to have an assistant think about this for awhile."

Gerstner moved to counter the skeptics by pointing to "obvious synergies," noting, for example, that system administrators were a demographic with a propensity to consume large amounts of fatty and salty instant snacks.

"Routers and Animal Crackers go together like cookies and milk," he joked. "Seriously though, we do envision a day where every Linksys wireless router ships with a carton of Nilla Wafers and vice versa. You need a Fibre Channel switch? Fine. Here's a crate of Wheat Thins for your IT department too."

Once the merger is completed, Cisco expects to cut close to 20,000 jobs, as it eliminates HR, sales and marketing duties that will be handled by Nabisco staff. The cuts will also be a result of Cisco moving much of its technology manufacturing, design and R&D efforts to Papua New Guinea.

"It's not an unpatriotic move," Gerstner said. "It's just that we want the US staff focused on cookies, crackers and the like, and our new Asia Pacific headquarters will be a lean, mean router-production machine. The idea is that when you see an Oreo you'll think Yankee Doodle Dandy, and when you see a Catalyst switch, you'll think whatever you want."

Gerstner, known to his friends as "the dancing elephant," left IBM in 2002 after finishing off one of the most remarkable turnarounds in US corporate history. Before IBM, he led RJR Nabisco, which was acquired in 2000 by Kraft parent company Philip Morris - now known as Altria.

"In my mind, Gerstner is the only man with an ego and set of balls large enough to make this work," Milunovich said. "I feel very lucid at the moment."

Current Cisco CEO John Chambers will become president of NaCisco, while Kraft's Deromedi will not be invited to be part of the IP-focused junk food behemoth.

A number of pundits speculated that this could trigger a wave of IT/food mergers. Some worry the activity could dilute the strength of sector-focused brands. Would you buy Windows Cola just because Microsoft or Coke told you to? Merrill Lynch's analyst, however, shrugged off such fears, citing consumer ignorance.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure people are that gullible," Milunovich said. "People will buy into anything if the label is pretty enough."

Rather comically, the idea for the Cisco/Nabisco merger arose during a round of golf shared by Gerstner, Chambers, Deromedi and Sun Microsystems' CEO Scott McNealy. Gerstner, despite what one source calls "liberal scoring," lost on the day. His three partners suggested he get back into the tech game as punishment and noted it would be funny if he headed up something like NaCisco given his past experience. We'll learn in the next couple of years whether this was a fortuitous game or a nightmare for cookie lovers. ®
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