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Tip of the Week

Horror Hunter

It’s an oldie but a goodie, Hijack Hunterhas been around for a while but it is still a very capable freeware malware detector. It’s very though and after a scan that last 15 minutes or more it will provide you with a detailed report on all of the behind the scenes programs and services running on your PC. Most of them are supposed to be there and are perfectly harmless but even on the most carefully maintained computer there are bound to be a few undesirables, on things that have been forgotten or left behind and still using your PC’s resources. It also includes a number of tools for removing suspicious or harmful items; prune the startup list and a handy Restore feature for key system files. It’s not for absolute novices but used with care it can be another powerful weapon in your battle to keep the baddies at bay.


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News Briefs

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Cool Way To Make Electricity

There are many environmentally friendly ways to generate electricity but here’s one of the hottest, or coolest – depending on your point of view – that uses nothing more than plain old humidity – and there’s been no shortage of that lately. Researchers at MIT dreamt it up and the operating principle is incredibly simple, not to say elegant. Some materials strongly attract water (superhydrophyllic) and others repel it (hydrophobic). If you put a copper plate coated with a superhydrophyllic material close to one with a hydrophobic coating, the droplets of water that condense on the hydrophobic surface will jump the gap, and in doing so generate a tiny electric charge. Now don’t get too excited, we are talking about minute amounts of electricity at this stage, just a few picowatts per square centimetre but the MIT boffins reckon this can be increased to a microwatt or more, at which point it may be possible to build a device around 50cm sq, that could produce enough energy to charge a mobile phone in 12 hours. In theory humidity generators would be cheap to build, there are no moving parts, and the technology could be scaled up to become a potentially very useful source of power in parts of the world blessed (or cursed) with high levels of humidity. 


Rewritable Revival

Remember recordable CDs and DVDs? The older ones amongst you may remember that they used to quite popular a few years ago but now they’re in danger of becoming obsolete, what with low-cost solid-state memory and data streaming, but hang on, the technology may still have a trick or two up its sleeve. The materials used in recordable optical discs, including one called germanium antimony tellurium alloy (GST to its friends) have an interesting property called reversible phase change, which basically means they switch between two states when exposed to laser light or heat. Researchers have found a way of triggering the phase change electrically and create a super thin material that can be made to change colour. In short they have come up with the basis of a new optical display technology and potential applications include superfast, nanometre-pixel visual displays, smart glasses with variable transparency lenses, artificial retina devices, flexible displays for wearable tech and smart contact lenses. Sounds promising and we’ll file this one under worth-keeping-an-eye-on…



More Attractive Smartphones?

A team of researchers at the University of Oulu in Finland have developed an ingenious new short-range communication system for with smartphones, reports New Scientist. It relies on the fact that most models have a built-in magnetometer, basically a magnetic sensor, used by compass and map apps. It’s called Pulse and sends data as short bursts of magnetism. Don’t get too excited, at least not yet as it has a couple of limitations. Firstly it is rather slow, so far they have only managed to achieve a data rate of 40 bits per second, and second, it only works over short distances, just 2 cm, but that might actually be an advantage as it would be very difficult to hack, and it could work like current near field communication (NFC) systems, where the phone has to be placed in contact with a sensor. So far the developers have used it to send a wide variety of data types, from web addresses to MIDI music sequences. The bandwidth, or rather lack of it probably will make it difficult to use for sending useful amounts of data but the researchers suggest that it could be used as a secure switch, for an NFC link-up, so an exchange of data only occurs when the phone is in contact with a terminal and receives a magnetic pulse authorisation. We shall see…