Tech Roundup

Revolutionary Technology

Something extraordinary happened at the nexus of social media and political action during the Arab spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, experts agree. But just what happened is less clear.

Certainly Twitter and other social media became "megaphones" that disseminated information and excitement about the uprisings to the outside world, according to researchers at The George Washington University who conducted a comprehensive study of Tweets about the Egyptian and Libyan uprisings between January and March.

The study found that more than 75 percent of people who clicked on embedded Twitter links related to the uprisings were from outside the Arab world. The number of people clicking on those links surged during major news events, especially during the run up to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, the researchers said.

The number of clicks from inside the Arab world was significantly smaller, but more sustained and less subject to the vicissitudes of the news cycle, they said.

"This obviously suggests that new media presents a tremendous opportunity to inform an international audience," GWU associate professor John Sides said recently at a series of panel discussions at the U.S. Institute of Peace. "But it also raises the question: 'Will they be there tomorrow?' "

Joseph Marks

Cloud Watch

A decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, security experts say cloud computing and other technological advances are needed to bridge the gaps remaining in the nation's terrorist watch lists.

The lists of suspicious characters that federal agencies use to screen individuals are culled from one central clearinghouse known as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE. Although the mechanism for vetting suspects has grown more robust, holes remain due to international privacy concerns, uneasiness about sharing sensitive information and challenges in updating the lists in real time.

Some security analysts said one way to allay security and privacy fears would be to encrypt identification data and then segment that protected information online, in the cloud, for instant sharing.

Janice Kephart, national security policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies, says she is "hopeful that there are many problems cloud computing, alongside dynamic keys" for decoding the encrypted data, will solve in terms of watch list upkeep.

Aliya Sternstein

Licensing Agreements

The Navy and Marine Corps are primed to save money through an enterprisewide purchase of licenses for Microsoft software and Navy Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen envisions a day when the entire Defense Department negotiates a single license for Microsoft.

This approach would allow Defense to drive economies of scale as one of the largest enterprises in the world using Microsoft operating systems and software, Halvorsen said. The department's workforce comprises 1.4 million active-duty personnel, 833,000 reserve and National Guard personnel, and 580,000 civilian employees.

Bob Brewin

What's Brewin: Advancing Brain Science

The National Institutes of Health Clinical Center is using an advanced medical machine from Siemens to diagnose and treat traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder among military service members and civilians.

The gizmo, called a Biograph mMR (molecular magnetic resonance) machine, combines the functions of a positron emission tomography scanner and a magnetic resonance imaging machine into one humongous package, which looks about the size of a small car.

Dr. David Bluemke, director of the NIH Clinical Center Radiology and Imaging Sciences, said the Biograph mMR "combines the two most powerful imaging tools . . . This will be a major change for many patients."

The purchase was made possible through a Defense Department-funded collaboration between NIH and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Bob Brewin

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