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News Briefs

Gnutella-Based Search Engine Finds Way to Internet

THE WASHINGTON POST

A group of open-source developers quietly posted on the Internet last week a bare-bones search engine based on the technology behind the controversial software tool Gnutella, which lets users bypass central computing authorities and trade files directly among themselves.

So far, the search program is limited to five sites. It often becomes hung up. It sometimes crashes. It’s so shaky that one of the main links on its site is “examples.” But some computer experts who have examined the technology believe that it could someday supplement or even threaten the Yahoos and Googles of the world.

The new search technology makes traditional engines appear antiquated because it has the potential to scan every machine on a network, creating a snapshot of the system as it exists that moment, and display any type of file in response to searches. It could, for instance, show maps in response to queries about directions or the value of variables in a pair of quadratic equations.

In contrast, today’s popular search engines catalogue about 10 percent to 50 percent of the more than billion machines hooked up to the World Wide Web, according to various estimates, and can for the most part only return text files.

Devotees of Gnutella say the new program -- nicknamed “Infrasearch” -- is legitimizing a technology that some had dismissed as tools for creating black markets for copyrighted material. Tim O’Reilly, considered to be one of the grandfathers of computer science, said people may talk about “Napster-style hype about pirated data” but “ultimately, this is a technology, not a political movement.”

Geomagnetic Storm Sweeps Past Earth

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The first squalls of a geomagnetic storm described as “severe” by space-weather forecasters swept past the Earth Thursday.

The 1.6 million mph. impact by the cloud of ionized gas and electro-magnetic energy rattled electric power grids in the Northeast, and at least one commercial satellite briefly lost its bearings.

“On a scale from 0 to 9, we’ve moved into the 7s -- severe levels,” said David M. Speich, a space scientist at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Environment Center -- the space equivalent of the National Hurricane Center.

The storm began Tuesday with a pair of “X-class” solar flares, the strongest ranking. X-ray emissions from the flares blacked out shortwave radio communications for up to an hour.

The flares were followed by a “coronal mass ejection,” which blasted billions of tons of electrified gas and magnetic energy toward the Earth. The first shock from that blast rammed the Earth’s magnetic field Thursday.

Another blast was expected to strike the Earth, the result of a smaller flare and mass ejection Wednesday.

“It’s clearly something that bears watching over the next few days. There’s lots of junk in the pipeline from the sun at present,” said John Kappenman, of Metatech Applied Power Systems. The firm helps industrial clients prepare for solar events.

The disturbances are part of the sun’s 11-year cycle of activity.