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Monday, December 17, 2001
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Mobile masseurs

UNIVERSITY student Chong Yen Yin smiles during those long hours in hard-backed lecture hall chairs, it might be because of the tingling, relaxing backrub she's getting from an invisible masseur. Chong and her team of eight classmates at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University bagged a top prize this week in a school innovation contest with their vibrating massage vest, which uses old mobile phone vibrators to massage a wearer's back. The contest is in line with the Singapore government's drive to promote creativity and technopreneurship, Lynn Lee, Nanyang's assistant public relations manager, told AP. Chong said last week that her team scrounged eight old cell phone vibrator units from a local dealer and sewed them into a lightweight vest. The battery-powered vest delivers a gentle, buzzing massage along the sides of the spine. A wearer can adjust the intensity by turning a knob. Chong's team split Singapore $ 1,000 ($ 555) they won in the contest.

Website foxes

Intelligence officials across the Atlantic are nervously reviewing recent postings on an Islamist Website that features virulent condemnations of the USA and has links to recruitment pitches for 'martyrs,' a frequent euphemism for suicide bombers, AFP and PTI reports say. The US officials fear that the enigmatic site, Azzam.com, devoted to jehad, or holy war, is embedded with secret codes and instructions of use to militants, including affiliates of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. Shortly after September 11 attacks on the US, the site vanished from the Internet. Last month, the Website suddenly reappeared with a 'farewell message' exhorting Muslims to drop everything and support the Taliban. British and US intelligence sources suspect some of the site's lurid jehad photos and graphics contain secret messages embedded through a technology called "steganography," for which free software can be downloaded from the Internet.


Wearable PCs

Naoki Harasawa is a industrial designer; Ms Michie Sone is a fashion designer. The two have pooled their talents to create a range of wearable personal computers embedded in trendy everyday clothes. This meeting of fashion and electronics, in which Japan is a trailblazer, has been dubbed 'media fashion' by its creators, according to The Straits Times. "From now on, the computer will be transformed, not only in the respect of appearance in downsizing, but also in terms of improving its performance, and this leads to the idea of wearable PCs - media fashion," Michitaka Hirose, professor at Tokyo University's Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, said. He is a collaborator on the 60-million-yen ($ 8,76,000) project run by Ms Sone, with technical backing from Japanese consumer electronics company, Pioneer. "It is a three-year project that has been launched with 100 fashion and textile companies in Gifu prefecture, 250 km west of Tokyo, with the governor acting as a kind of tutor," Ms Sone said.

Soothing phones

Far from being a high-tech barrier, the mobile phone heralds a return to natural personal communication, a Hungarian expert said last week. "Despite fears to the contrary, mobile telephony...is not an artificial, alienating environment, but rather a return to humans' natural communicative persona," Kristof Nyiri, Professor of Philosophy at Budapest University, told Reuters. Nyiri, who coordinated a study of 21st century communications, said both anecdotal evidence and scientific data showed mobile communications were highly personal. "If we examine with whom we communicate via e-mail, mobile phone or SMS (short message service), these are clearly loved ones, friends or colleagues," Nyiri said. "Digital communications do not replace human relationships, but they broaden the scope, make communications continuous and more harmonic."