In This Issue: Two Places at Once? NIST Shows It's Only for Atoms Presidential Initiative Seeks Funds to Squash Hackers On Balance, MEASUREnet.gov May Be Best New Thing on the Internet For California Confectionery, Life Is Sweet Once More If It's Warm Outside, It's Not Midweek New Registry Helps Developers Check IDs at the Door Tech Trivia
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Two Places at Once? NIST Shows It's Only for Atoms
Superpositioning. Being in two places at the same time. We'd all like to have the power with our busy schedules.
Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Boulder, Colo., laboratories proved in 1996 that superpositioning can occur at the atomic level. Four years later, the same team has shown that-unfortunately for humans-it only works in that tiny world.
In both experiments, the researchers isolated a single beryllium ion (an atom with one of its two outer electrons stripped away) in an electromagnetic trap, cooled it nearly to absolute zero with lasers and left it resting almost without motion. The ion's single remaining outer electron, which can have two internal quantum states, is considered in superposition if the two states both exist and are stacked upon one another. Until disturbed by an outside force, there is an equal probability that the electron is in either state, and thus it is considered to be in both states.
In the latest experiment, the NIST team separated the two states over a range of distances from almost overlapping to around 10 atomic widths apart. As they increased the distance between the two states, the environmental effects on the superposition increased exponentially, causing the separated ion to quickly collapse back into a single entity.
Fred McGehan (Boulder) , (303) 497-3246
Presidential Initiative Seeks Funds to Squash Hackers
Monday morning, Feb. 7, 2000. Web surfers hoping to use the Yahoo browser to search for information, check the latest news or shop for the upcoming Valentine's Day holiday, got a rude surprise. One of the world's best-protected web sites had been shut down by hackers-and would stay offline for three hours.
Over the following three days, seven of the Internet's top sites fell prey to "denial of service" attacks where the target is flooded with an overwhelming number of messages. The large scale-Yahoo claimed it was at times trying to process a gigabyte per second-made the attacks almost unstoppable. Worse yet, the use of multiple computers and falsified Internet return addresses hid the attackers well.
Ironically, the cyberterrorist activities began the day that President Clinton submitted his proposed fiscal year 2001 federal budget to Congress. Within that budget is a $60 million initiative for the National Institute of Standards and Technology to protect the nation's critical information infrastructure by: (1) establishing an institute to provide grants for research and technology development to protect critical infrastructures from attack or other failures ($50 million); (2) developing new measurements, standards, test methods and guidelines to better protect IT elements ($5 million); and (3) creating and fielding a team of computer security experts to help federal agencies identify and fix existing vulnerabilities in information systems and prepare for future IT security threats ($5 million).
Michael E. Newman , (301) 975-3025
On Balance, MEASUREnet.gov May Be Best New Thing on the Internet
Next time you place your apples on a grocery scale, stop and thank your state's weights and measures laboratory and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. You can be sure those scales, as well as the scales used to package foods and manufacture pharmaceuticals, are correct due to the efforts of the NIST Office of Weights and Measures and the National Conference on Weights and Measures, which represents the state weights and measures labs.
A new effort at NIST could further improve accuracy in our nation's system of weights and measures by leveraging the capabilities of the Internet. MEASUREnet. gov will link NIST to local government weights and measures laboratories in 10 states and Puerto Rico. It eventually could be expanded to all U.S. states and territories.
MEASUREnet.gov is an interactive Internet-video conferencing system intended to support training and collaborative work between NIST and state weights and measures laboratories. MEASUREnet.gov will enable NIST to provide technical assistance and training more frequently and efficiently and to develop standards in partnership with states. U.S. industry relies on the state weights and measures laboratories to calibrate standards for a variety of processes from manufacturing pharmaceuticals to filling cereal boxes. State laboratories provide more than 340,000 NIST-traceable calibrations to more than 19,400 customers each year. Ninety percent of those calibrations are for mass measurements.
Linda Joy , (301) 975-4403
For California Confectionery, Life Is Sweet Once More
Like the "I Love Lucy" episode where candy came down the conveyor belt faster than Lucy could package it, Marich Confectionery of Hollister, Calif., was having trouble keeping up with demand. Each year, the 37-employee company produces and ships nearly 4 million pounds of gourmet candies worldwide. But shipping on time was a major problem. The candy maker's efficiency also suffered from low employee morale, maintaining a sufficient supply of raw materials and losing control of finished products.
Marich contacted Manex, the northern California center affiliated with the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership, for help. Working with company executives and employees, Manex experts recommended a process improvement plan and a new manufacturing layout. Manex also showed the company how to use flow charts for scheduling, material planning and purchasing, and controlling inventory. As a result, shipments are made on time and in full, and employee morale and productivity has improved.
Small manufacturers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico can reach their local NIST MEP affiliate by calling (800) MEP-4MFG (637-4634), or through the World Wide Web at www.mep.nist.gov.
Jan Kosko , (301) 975-2767
If It's Warm Outside, It's Not Midweek
While researching techniques for extracting information from noisy electromagnetic signals, Kevin Coakley, a statistician at the Boulder, Colo., laboratories of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, noticed a surprising phenomenon relevant to meteorology as well as metrology.
To illustrate his statistical methods, Coakley analyzed the daily maximum temperature data collected at the San Francisco International Airport from 1949 to 1994. For each of the 52 weeks in each year, he recorded the day on which the weekly maximum temperature occurred. He found that the weekly maximum temperature occurs more frequently on the first (or last) day of the week compared to a day in the middle of the week. Even if the week is redefined to begin on Wednesday and end on Tuesday, the conclusion is the same.
Coakley argues that the phenomenon happens because temperature readings follow random upward or downward trends over short intervals of time. For instance, if it's warmer than average today, it probably will be warmer than average tomorrow. More generally, this apparent paradox can occur in any measurement process for which the random noise in the results is positively correlated (more alike than unalike) from one measurement to the next.
This work appears in the February 2000 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
Fred McGehan (Boulder), (303) 497-3246
New Registry Helps Developers Check IDs at the Door
Imagine your name is John Smith and you're at a party where everyone attending has that name. No one could get anyone's attention, conversations would be difficult and there would be no obvious winner for the door prize drawing. In other words, total confusion.
For years, software and web site developers have faced a John Smith dilemma of their own. Choosing identifiers-things that distinguish variables, filename extensions (such as .wpd for "Word Perfect document"), system call names, port numbers and the like in programming languages-wasn't as simple as it might seem. Developers could not easily determine if their identifier was a duplication of or in conflict with one already in use. The uncertainty meant a dangerous potential for software or web sites to run ineffectively or crash.
To solve the problem, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has established the NIST Identifier Collaboration Service, a free, online registry for identifiers. Users can browse the database for identifiers, determine that theirs is original and then add it to the repository. An added benefit of the NICS is that other developers can review the new identifier and comment on possible conflicts.
If the NICS becomes widely used, its creators feel that it will reduce software and web page development time significantly, lower development costs and increase reliability. Interested parties can get more information on the World Wide Web at http://pitch.nist.gov/nics.
Michael E. Newman, (301) 975-3025
In 1950, NIST performed some 250,000 tests and calibrations for industry and other federal agencies. The items evaluated included 9 million barrels of cement; 4 million light bulbs; 15,318 thermometers; 2,000 radium therapy preparations; 615 automotive spark plugs; and 266 beer meters (the devices that measure the total volume of beer produced by a brewery).
In 1949, Congress approved funds for "the construction and equipment of a radio laboratory building for the National Bureau of Standards." The Boulder, Colo., Chamber of Commerce raised $90,000 during the following year, purchased a 217-acre site within the city and sold it to the government for $1. The complex is now known as the NIST Boulder Laboratories.
In the mid-1960s, NIST used a sled-and-track device at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., to test the effectiveness of automobile belt and shoulder harnesses on anthropomorphic dummies and human volunteers. Results from the tests, conducted for the Department of Transportation, were cited as justification for mandating shoulder restraints in U.S. motor vehicles.