Everybody needs a hobby, or so my great aunt used to tell me. I'm personally suspicious of the word 'hobby', but perhaps one of mine is the investigation, over a long period and a wide spectrum, of half a dozen little bays around Britain's coast. These bays, whose specifics I have no intention of revealing for selfish fear of rupturing their solitude, are remarkably similar in many ways: tiny, infrequently visited (though half of them are only a short scramble from busy highways), ringed by rocky terrain with varying types and degrees of short tough ground cover.
Scientific computing could soon be conducted in terms nearer to the problems that scientists would like to solve, thanks to the adoption of 'ontology-driven software development'. In philosophy, ontology is the study of the nature of Being and the essence of things. In the early 1990s computer scientists, particularly those in Artificial Intelligence, hijacked the term and gave it a new, but related, meaning. Modern computational ontologies are pragmatic data structures borne out of a need for computers to co-operate in sharing information and in solving problems.
Several problems in science have been classified as 'Grand Challenges', the solution for which is critical for scientific progress and technical advance. Among them are: protein folding; turbulence; catalysis at the atomic level; cosmic evolution; modelling climate and climate change; and drug design. To get insight into these phenomena, much more powerful computers are necessary than can be built today. The USA has a tradition of building and installing the most powerful supercomputers, beaten, for a few years, only by Japan with the Earth Simulator system.
Anyone who watches the TV show CSI will be familiar with the name Thermo - it appears on almost every piece of high-tech lab equipment the show's characters use.
This year could be the year that everybody finds out what Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is. In March, the world's largest retailer, Walmart, said that its top 100 suppliers were now attaching the tiny electronic 'tags' to all goods cases and pallets sent to the company.
The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, paraphrasing L.P. Hartley, has frequently remarked that 'the past is another country', but often it can be more like another planet. In 1991, William Gibson commented on the historical research for The Difference Engine, the alternative-Victorian novel he co-wrote with Bruce Sterling: 'When you go to the primary sources, you realise that history is filtered to make contemporary sense. Read the newspapers of the time, and you find an alien world.