Shooting for the stars Scientists in Australia launched a supersonic scramjet engine into space for the second time last week, as they develop a device which could revolutionise air travel. University of Queensland scientists launched the scramjet, which reached an altitude of more than 325km and travelled at about 7,500km/h. The launch, carried out with researchers from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, followed the first blastoff at the outback Woomera Rocket Range a week earlier. 'The rocket launch looked as expected, we had another clean liftoff,' designer Michael Smart said. Scramjet engines are hi-tech devices which fly above the Earth's atmosphere at several times the speed of sound. It is hoped they will ultimately see commercial flight times slashed and be used to cut the cost of launching satellites. The tests are designed to compare the differences between various engine shapes. Scramjets do not have to carry their own oxygen supplies for combustion and have the advantage of having no moving parts. But the launch of the engines is problematic as they only start working at about five times the speed of sound. Scientists are aiming to refine the engines to devise one which would be good enough to be incorporated into a vehicle.?Agence France-Press Rugged in Rajasthan\nIntel has launched a new 'ruggedised' PC platform to meet the needs of rural villages and communities in India. The Intel-powered community PC platform is equipped to operate in a community setting while accommodating the varying environmental conditions prevalent in the country, such as low power supply, dust, humidity and high temperatures. Intel also announced its Jaagruti (awakening) initiative designed to provide rural communities in India with greater economic and social opportunities and reduce the digital divide. By collaborating with business, government, education, online services and internet service providers, Intel's Jaagruti programme aims to support the spread of rural internet 'kiosks' to help accelerate access to information and communications technologies in villages across India. The kiosks are operated by local entrepreneurs and provide neighbouring communities with access to services such as e-government forms, including land records and marriage licences. RFID lifts lid on disasters Pasco, Bitcorn, and KDDI Network & Solutions last week announced that it will co-develop a so-called Intelligent Manhole System. RFID tags will be embedded in manhole covers to support critical tasks during disaster situations. The tagged manhole covers are used to provide information about items that are underground such as sewerage pipes. Since the system is linked to a local government's geographic information system (GIS), rescue workers can use a handheld RFID reader (possibly Bluetooth-enabled), mobile phones and PDAs to display the data stored in the tags, and the relevant information from the GIS system such as photo maps or scheme drawings of a city's infrastructure. The information should help speed up repairs. A tiny ray of light MIT researchers have developed a tiny light detector that may allow for super-fast broadband communications over interplanetary distances. At present, still images from other planets are difficult to retrieve. The new detector improves the detection efficiency of single photos to 57 per cent at a wavelength of 1,550 nanometers (billionths of a metre), the same wavelength used by optical fibres that carry broadband signals to offices and homes today. That's nearly three times the current detector efficiency of 20 per cent. The result will be a real-time collection of large amounts of data from space. The work may ultimately permit the transmission of colour video between astronauts or equipment in outer space and scientists on Earth. The detector can sense extremely low light or laser signals in the infrared part of the optical spectrum - down to a single photon, the smallest and most basic unit of light. That has not been possible using conventional optical systems. The work was funded in part by the United States Air Force. Dell recruits more mainland staff Dell, the world's largest personal computer maker, is adding 200 new jobs at its mainland operations this year, following the expansion of its China Design Centre. 'This expansion is an important next step for us to further enhance our global product innovation and to support our business growth in China and around the world,' said chairman Michael Dell. Dell began computer design work on the mainland in July 2000. Two years later, it opened the centre in Shanghai to enhance its development of desktop PCs. Engineers at the centre, an extension of Dell's global engineering network, are also innovating products and features for Dell's notebook computers and peripherals. The centre is also tasked to do component validation and software development. Last year, Dell purchased nearly US$16billion worth of technology components and other products from suppliers on the mainland to support its worldwide manufacturing. In January, Dell began shipping systems from its second manufacturing plant in Xiamen to meet growing demand on the mainland, in Hong Kong and Japan. Research firm Gartner reported Dell shipments to China grew 39.4 per cent to 1.504 million PC units last year, from 1.079 million units in 2004. That resulted in a market share of 7.8 per cent on the mainland. Gartner said the mainland's leading PC suppliers last year were Lenovo, Founder, Tongfang, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard. New business call service CPCNet, a wholly owned subsidiary of Citic Pacific, launched last week its new GlobalLINK international calling service for business users. The service allows users to make global calls three ways - using a software dialler, short messaging service or web interface - to connect with any mobile phone or landline anywhere in the world. Call quality is also assured. 'GlobalLINK uniquely allows users to make global calls anywhere from any source phone without the need to deal with two service providers,' said Stephen Ho Wai-chung, chief executive at CPCNet. 'We have also added a new 'Click-2-Conference' feature. With the software dialler, users can connect up to 99 parties around the world to a conference.' The new service is also designed for easy management. Corporate network administrators can update the configuration and monitor phone calls through a web interface. Customers are charged according to usage. Jockey Club bets on Oracle system Database software is surely not a favourite topic of conversation for sports and lottery punters in Hong Kong, but they have the technology to thank - win or lose. Oracle said the Hong Kong Jockey Club has recently adopted its TimesTen in-memory database system, which helps provide quick response time to the city's large community of punters in football, horse racing and the Mark Six lottery. 'Facing a massive customer base and a tremendous volume of transactions, we need systems to deliver and process data instantly, while at the same time maintaining stable and secure availability,' said Sin Kwai-sang, manager for information technology systems at the Jockey Club. Oracle's TimesTen product is a memory-optimised relational database that enables applications in industries such as telecommunications, capital markets, defence or gaming to provide instant response at very high data throughputs. The Jockey Club-run betting on football matches held outside Hong Kong is a case in point. 'With Oracle TimesTen technology, we are able to analyse the football pool continually and deliver key performance data under a second. The quick response time has given us a great advantage in managing and mitigating risk exposure from our fixed odds betting operations,' Mr Sin said. Cathay bookings get system backup\nCathay Pacific Holidays, a subsidiary of Hong Kong's international airline, has selected storage management software specialist Acronis to supply it with a corporate information technology disaster-recovery system. Gemini Wong, IT manager for Cathay Pacific Holidays, said: 'Our servers simply cannot be down. We have too many people depending on us to make sure their holidays are enjoyable, and too many partners that depend on us to ensure that their guests have a pleasant experience.' The Cathay Pacific Airways unit selected the Acronis TrueImage EnterpriseServer as the IT backup and recovery solution for its promise of zero downtime and shorter backup cycle.