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News Briefs

Novell Acquires Ximian


Computer networker Novell Inc. has acquired Boston-based Linux software maker Ximian in the latest move by Novell to establish itself as a major supporter of the freely available operating system that has become a popular alternative to Microsoft Windows.

Neither company would disclose the size of the deal, though Novell said that it paid cash for Ximian and that the purchase will have no material impact on Novell’s financial condition.

“It gives our customers a choice,” said Novell CEO Jack Messman. “They can now pick the operating system they want.”

Ximian specializes in the development of software to make Linux more desktop-friendly, such as GNOME, a point-and-click user interface, and Red Carpet, a system-management tool that allows central control of many Linux and Unix desktop machines inside a business.

Ximian’s chief technology officer, Miguel de Icaza, said the acquisition solves a couple of major problems for his firm. “A lot of times people have no idea how hard it is for a small software company to get its products distributed,” de Icaza said. Access to Novell’s established distribution network should fix that, he said, and also ease customer concerns that a small company like Ximian might go out of business and leave them in the lurch. “Having a company the size of Novell definitely helps there,” he said.

Ground Zero Air Pollution Suspected In Rise in Small Babies


Scientists say they have measured a slight but significant rise in the percentage of small babies born to women who were around the World Trade Center during or after the terror attack, compared with the babies of a large sample of pregnant women who were elsewhere at the time.

The researchers, from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, proposed that air pollution from the pulverized, smoldering wreckage was the most likely cause of the difference. But they and other experts said more work was needed to clarify any link.

The study revealed no other hints that exposure to the disaster site or to dust had affected pregnancies in any way. The findings are published in a research letter, a short initial report, in Wednesday’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

New York City health officials said the implications of this kind of study were limited by its size and methods, which among other things involved relying on the recollections of the women being monitored. In a statement, they also noted that the study “found no increase in infant mortality, premature births or low birth weights.”

Specifically, the researchers found that 8 percent of babies born to 182 mothers who were in or near the wreckage while pregnant were small for the length of their gestation, compared with less than 4 percent of more than 2,300 babies born in New York City to women who were not nearby. The condition is called intrauterine growth restriction.

But the infants born to women who were at or near ground zero were not any more likely to be below 5.5 pounds, a threshold for low birth weight used as an index of the quality of a pregnancy.

100-Mile Run Is a Labor of Love


It’s just before the 4 a.m. start for the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run, and the constellations above Smoke Rise Farm appear almost within reach. As the 290 runners descend to the dirt road starting line, fireworks light the Green Mountains and a well-dressed man plays the theme from “Chariots of Fire” on an electric organ. Ahead lie 100 miles with 14,000 feet of ascent and descent. The runners are like family. Their common goal is to run those 100 miles in 30 hours or less.

That’s almost four marathons tacked together. No television crews or cheering fans await them along the course or at the finish line. They will do this for no prize money, no acclaim. If they finish in 24 hours or less, they receive a belt buckle; 30 hours or less earns a plaque. After that, well, they can keep their blisters.

The runners have their blood pressure and weight checked at Miles 44, 68, and 83. If they lose 7 percent of their body mass, they are disqualified. Seldom does that happen.

“They eat like horses” at the 35 aid stations, says Hutchinson. “It’s like a 100-mile buffet.”

At Mile 68, handler Lee Remick asks runner Don James if he needs any blisters popped. She has an extra pair of shoes, clean socks, and T-shirt waiting. The average runner goes through four pairs of shoes.

Vultures Invade Virginia Town


The day the vultures arrived here was a moment made for Hitchcock.

No one can say why they came. No one really saw them arrive. They were just there one morning last November, sitting in pine trees near the center of town. Hundreds of them. Black, beady-eyed and slightly menacing. Smelly, too. Road-kill smelly.

“It would take your breath away,” said Thomas K. Adams, a local farmer whose girlfriend lived across the street from the vulture roost. “A barnyard smelled clean by comparison. They smelled like, well, dead animals.”

Every day for five months, city officials battled to uproot the roost, exploding fireworks, spraying the vultures with water and finally chopping down trees. Nothing seemed to work. And then, as suddenly and weirdly as they had arrived, the vultures left, scattering one March morning like huge flocks of steroid-fed starlings.

But they did not go far. Many of them are now in some woods nearby, nesting and lurking, and local officials expect them to try to retake the town in the fall. If they do return, like Capistrano swallows, the police intend to be ready with something more potent than a song: traps, and maybe shotguns.

“We’ve got to do something, because they’ll be back,” said David R. Fields, a former Marine who is the animal control officer for Radford, an Appalachian city of 17,000 in the New River Valley, near Roanoke.