Tech digest

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 August, 2005, 12:00am

Age of the podcast sermon
The vicar of a small rural church in Suffolk, Britain, has become a podcasting celebrity since posting his sermons on Apple's iTunes music store last month. The Reverend Leonard Payne, vicar of the St Nicholas church in Wrentham, said more than 2,000 people had downloaded the sermons, with demand so intense at one point that the church had to change servers to meet it. St Nicholas' orginally developed its own website,, to distribute the podcasts, but demand has surged since the listing in iTunes, the world's largest online music store. 'Six-ten began recording the sermons and putting them on its website for people who couldn't attend the service to download and listen at home,' Mr Leonard said. 'However, by re-engineering the audio stream we have been able to lodge it on iTunes, making us probably one of the first, if not the first, church in the UK to do so.' Nick Clarke, diocesan communications director, said: 'This is another example of how the church is embracing technology to keep its message relevant for a 21st century audience. It's about doing church differently for a diverse and obviously 'hungry' audience.'

Snow works in summer
The Bibai Natural Energy Research Organisation in Hokkaido, Japan, is using snow stored from the winter months to power air conditioners in the municipal government offices. A 30-square-metre section of the lobby has been set aside for the project. A pool loaded into a container holds a two-tonne block of ice and water, and the cooled water is sent to two separate cooling systems. A new snow block is put into the pool every Saturday. 'The air is not too humid and not too dry. It's comfortable,' one resident said.

All smiles for robotic jaw
Scientists at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, are developing a robotic human jaw as part of a wider study on the mechanics of chewing and food technology. A team led by John Bronlund and associate professor Peter Xu at the Institute of Engineering and Technology are mathematically modelling the muscles of the human face to reproduce jaw movement through muscle contraction and hope the prototype jaw will be ready in six months. Six actuators will drive the bottom jaw, while the top half of the human jaw remains fixed. Dr Bronlund said the ability of the jaw to mechanically replicate the chewing actions of humans has applications across medicine and food technology. Dental researchers can use the jaw to study the response of dental implants to the chewing of different foods and to evaluate the impact of impaired dentition on chewing efficiency. In the future the robot will be taught to adaptively chew food.

Super catcher
Scientists at the University of Tokyo have developed a robotic hand capable of catching a ball hurled towards it at 300km per hour, or 83 metres per second. Photo detectors embedded in the robot's palm can track the ball's trajectory at high speed, while image processing units stimulate the hand into action when the ball approaches. High speed actuators enable the robot's fingers to move through 180 degrees in 0.1 second, allowing the hand to catch the ball comfortably at high speed. 'The need for a robotic hand that works in the real world is growing,' Akio Namiki, a professor at the university, told the New Scientist. 'Such a system should be able to adapt to changes in its environment and we think the concept of high-speed movement with real-time visual feedback will become an important issue in robotic research.' The system is not yet sturdy enough to catch a hard ball, and was only tested with soft balls. But in other tests, the robotic hand could grasp varying objects, including cylinders.

Ufida launches hugely enhanced software suite
Ufida, the mainland technology company formerly known as UFSoft, has re-engineered its flagship business-automation software to kick-start an ambitious global expansion drive.

The Beijing-based firm's revamped NC Collaboration Suite, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system geared for large corporations and multinational businesses, was unveiled last week with what executives claimed were 1,200 'enhancements'.

NC version 3.1 features multi-accounting, multi-entity and multi-language support, and industry-specific operational systems. Its key modules include finance and accounting, supply chain management, manufacturing management, human resources management and business intelligence.

'This upgrade clearly affirms our commitment to capture the international market,' said Frederick Kong, Ufida general manager for Asia-Pacific operations, excluding Japan.

He said the much improved software suite was also designed for companies preparing to launch or maintain operations in China. Ufida claims to have more than 400,000 corporate customers, mostly in the mainland. Last month, Ufida formed a strategic partnership with Intel to collaborate in technology and business development in the mainland and various overseas markets.

Anti-spam service targets mischief at source
Security software supplier Trend Micro has unveiled a portfolio of network-based anti-spam services, derived from its acquisition in June of internet protocol (IP) filtering services firm Kelkea.

Marketed as Trend Micro Network Reputation Services, the offering serves as a first line of defence by stopping spam at source before it can flood the messaging infrastructure of an organisation.

Trend Micro corporate marketing director Tobias Lee said: 'These services verify IP addresses against the world's largest reputation database managed by the Trend Micro Threat Prevention Network, which rates the 'reputation' of 1.6 billion IP addresses for spam activity.'

The services include checking lists of suspect IP addresses from four databases - an open-relay list, open proxy list, a real-time black hole list and a dial-up user list. An advanced version consists of 'dynamic behavioural monitoring' of a list of suspected 'zombie' personal computers - compromised machines controlled by hackers.

Trend Micro plans to initially approach some of Hong Kong's large commercial network operators, such as broadband service provider Hutchison Global Communications. Existing customers, from the Kelkea acquisition, include America Online and Telstra.

Hitachi fashions tool for managing IT assets
Hitachi China last week launched its Job Management Partner 1 (JP1) Version 7i software, a business-automation tool designed for managing information technology assets in Hong Kong firms.

'Enterprises in Hong Kong have been adopting open platforms by using [a mix of] Windows and Unix servers, which may make their environment vulnerable to security risks and compliance issues,' said Yasuhiko Taniguchi, general manager of Hitachi China's information and telecommunication systems group. The company is a unit of Japanese electronics conglomerate Hitachi.

He said JP1 Version 7i solved the fundamental problem of efficient, across-the-board management of IT assets in diverse network scenarios, with a view to prevent network problems before they occurred and to reduce management costs.

The software's asset information manager feature integrates and manages IT assets - from hardware configuration and installed software to authorised licence usage throughout the enterprise.

JP1 has more than 20,000 corporate clients in the financial services, manufacturing, shipping, telecoms and government sectors across the Asia-Pacific.