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Odds and Ends ...

Page turners

IF only a computer were more like a book. Even a giant step toward equality (see below) may seem small beside the book's superiority in all but the last of a dozen points of comparison listed in a recent New York Times op-ed article: (1) ergonomics, (2) contrast and luminance, (3) resolution, (4) weight and portability, (5) viewing angle, (6) durability, (7) cost, (8) life expectancy, (9) editorial quality, (10) intangibles, (11) power consumption, and (12) search capability, in which computer software was rated higher than a printed index.

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And now! ... The computer's long-promised bow to page turners instead of mouse clickers. The British Library has digitized a treasured Leonard da Vinci notebook, usually viewable only under glass, and put it on the computer screen. Touch the corner of a page on the screen and drag your finger across it. The page turns over as in a book. The prototype system can reverse Leonardo's characteristic mirror writing, changing it to run from left to right - "which leaves only the simple task of translating classical Italian," says the deadpan announcement.

Next, the beach-blanket version?

Considering all the high-tech that Leonardo imagined, he'd probably just smile a Mona Lisa smile.

Land-mine sniffers

A "nose" at the end of a long optical fiber could protect demolition specialists getting rid of some 120 million anti-personnel land mines (APLs) buried around the world. At present, according to the International Red Cross, one such specialist is killed and two are injured for every 500 APLs removed.

Personnel could stay as much as a kilometer away from mines being chemically "sniffed" by the artificial nose, say its inventors at Tufts University, who have received a $2.6 million grant to refine it for this use. If the nose is blown up, it is easily replaced. The computer and operator remain safe at the other end of the fiber.

Such a device would fit into the "two track" approach to technologies addressed by the Tokyo Conference on Anti Personnel Land Mines in March. The first track seeks the most effective mix of existing methods. The second track requires developing new technologies to improve the process of mine clearance.

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The tragic burden of APLs will linger until all nations take Britain's new initiative - banning trade in APLs and destroying its own stocks by 2005. Meanwhile, more inventiveness like that at Tufts can help.

Olympic greens

'WE are undoubtedly delivering the most environmentally friendly Games in the history of the Olympic movement," says Michael Knight, head of the Olympic organizing committee in Sydney, Australia. But some green and golden frogs may disagree. Their habitat is threatened, according to Green Games Watch 2000, an official watchdog group. It says construction to protect the rare creatures may instead divert them to a parking lot. Improvements here and in such matters as pollution will be needed to get a rating better than the "5 out of 10" given by the watchdog group in its recent first report.

Sydney's successful bid for the Games in 2000 marked the first time a city had included such a thorough environmental pitch. There is still time to go for the environmental gold.

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