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TECHBITS: Bell book, Information overload, Russian GPS
[December 26, 2007]

TECHBITS: Bell book, Information overload, Russian GPS

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press

A new book claims to have definitive evidence of a long-suspected technological crime -- that Alexander Graham Bell stole ideas for the telephone from a rival, Elisha Gray.

In "The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret," journalist Seth Shulman argues that Bell -- aided by aggressive lawyers and a corrupt patent examiner -- got an improper peek at patent documents Gray had filed, and that Bell was erroneously credited with filing first.

Shulman believes the smoking gun is Bell's lab notebook, which was restricted by Bell's family until 1976, then digitized and made widely available in 1999.

The notebook details the false starts Bell encountered as he and assistant Thomas Watson tried transmitting sound electromagnetically over a wire. Then, after a 12-day gap in 1876 -- when Bell went to Washington to sort out patent questions about his work -- he suddenly began trying another kind of voice transmitter. That method was the one that proved successful.

As Bell described that new approach, he sketched a diagram of a person speaking into a device. Gray's patent documents, which describe a similar technique, also feature a very similar diagram.

Shulman's book, due out Jan. 7, recounts other elements that have piqued researchers' suspicions. For instance, Bell's transmitter design appears hastily written in the margin of his patent; Bell was nervous about demonstrating his device with Gray present; Bell resisted testifying in an 1878 lawsuit probing this question; and Bell, as if ashamed, quickly distanced himself from the telephone monopoly bearing his name.

Perhaps the most instructive lesson comes when Shulman explores why historical memory has favored Bell and not Gray -- nor German inventor Philipp Reis, who beat them both with 1860s telephones that employed a different principle.

One reason is simply that Bell, not Gray, actually demonstrated a phone that transmitted speech. Gray was focused instead on his era's pressing communications challenge: how to send multiple messages simultaneously over the same telegraph wire. As Gray huffed to his attorney, "I should like to see Bell do that with his apparatus."

_ Brian Bergstein, AP Technology Writer


Researcher: Info overload costs economy

NEW YORK (AP) -- Think twice before you copy someone on an e-mail or hit "reply all." Such practices have made today's workers less productive, a research firm concludes.

After years of naming a product or person of the year, Basex Inc. decided to forecast "information overload" as problem of the year for 2008.

"It's too much information. It's too many interruptions. It's too much lost time," Basex chief analyst Jonathan Spira declared. "It's always too much of a good thing."

Information overload isn't exactly new, but Spira said the problem has grown as technology increases societal expectations for instantaneous response. And more information available, he said, also means more time wasted looking for the right information, whether in an old e-mail or through a search engine.

Workers get disoriented every time they stop what they are doing to reply to an e-mail or answer a follow-up phone call because they didn't reply within minutes. Spira said workers can spend 10 to 20 times the length of the original interruption trying to get back on track.

He estimates that such disruptions cost the U.S. economy $650 billion in 2006.

Spira has a number of recommendations: Resist the urge to immediately follow up an e-mail with an instant message or phone call. Make sure the subject line clearly reflects the topic and urgency of an e-mail. And use "reply all" sparingly.

_ Anick Jesdanun, AP Internet Writer


Russia launches 3 navigation satellites

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia has launched three satellites to extend its version of the U.S. Global Positioning System to the entire Russian territory.

The satellites were sent into orbit on a Proton-M rocket that blasted off Tuesday from Kazakhstan, said Alexander Vorobyov, spokesman for Russia's Federal Space Agency. They are to join Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System, or GLONASS.

The system, which serves both military and civilian purposes, was developed during Soviet times and was supposed to have 24 satellites. Their number dwindled after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but the Russian government is trying to revive it by earmarking funds from windfall oil revenues.

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Tuesday's launch would bring the GLONASS satellite fleet to 18 -- the number necessary to provide navigation services over the entire Russian territory. He said the system would be available worldwide by 2010, for which it would need 24 satellites.

Europeans are also developing their own satellite navigation system, Galileo.

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