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Businessweek Archives

Will Zip Codes For E Mail Be Next?

Developments to Watch


ELECTRONIC TRAFFIC COPS called "routers" ideally can zip messages around the Internet at a mind-boggling 1 billion bits per second. But in heavy traffic, even the fastest routers can bog down. Routers have to study the address on each message and match the portion pertaining to the next leg of the journey to route information in giant databases. That can take upwards of 100 nanoseconds--speedy enough in human terms, but an eternity in network time.

The problem will get even worse in a few years, says computer scientist George Varghese at Washington University in St. Louis. Today, each destination address is a fairly short string of 32 bits (4 bytes of zeros and ones). Within five years, as Internet traffic surges, these will all be replaced by 128-bit addresses.

Preparing for that day, Varghese and his colleagues have patented a mathematical trick to speed up router performance--a solution Varghese compares to playing a game of 20 questions. The router begins by dividing addresses in half and comparing one half to a database. It will keep it or discard it in favor of the other half, and then repeat the process. With this method, the router will find the needed info in no more than seven steps. Several large router makers are now negotiating licensing deals with Washington University.By Neil Gross EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top


INTERNET MOGUL James H. Clark caught the sailing bug after founding Silicon Graphics Inc. in 1982. Since then, his yachts have been growing almost as rapidly as his fortune, from a 55-footer to celebrate SGI's public offering in 1986 to a 92-footer just before Clark co-founded Netscape Communications Corp. in 1994. This fall, Clark's newest baby will be launched by Holland's Royal Huisman Shipyard.

Called Hyperion, she's a sleek, 155-foot yacht with a 187-foot-tall spar that will clear the Golden Gate Bridge with just 30 feet to spare. As might be expected, Hyperion is crammed with high-tech hardware: 25 high-power Silicon Graphics computers, 500 gigabytes of storage to log everything that happens 30 times a second, and 37 miles of network cables to control all essential operations, from trimming the sails to setting the rudder.

Streams of data feed five 20-in. flat-panel displays on the bridge. They show charts, radar scans, and readouts from a bevy of instruments--or movies from an onboard digital-video library.

And even when he's not aboard, Clark can still take the helm remotely--through a satellite link that would allow him to call up clones of the bridge displays.

Creating this floating Internet has occupied six electrical engineers for almost three years. Hyperion brings so much novel technology to sailing, says Clark, that the yacht just might be the jump-off for his next startup.EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top


THERE'S NEW HOPE FOR THE 40 MILLION AMERICANS WHO suffer from arthritis. Surgery and gene therapy--injecting an anti-inflammatory gene from a patient's own cells--may halt the condition. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) are midway in initial tests on nine patients. So far, there have been no negative side effects.

Approval for this new therapy will probably take years. But UPMC is also making headway with more conventional drugs, including a new anti-inflammatory one for arthritis. This drug--a cloned and bioengineered protein called tumor necrosis factor receptor fusion protein--is being tested on 600 patients. One goal is to compare its effectiveness with methotrexate (MTX), which treats the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis but does little to arrest the crippling disease. Moreover, MTX can cause severe side effects, including cirrhosis of the liver.

In earlier but smaller trials of the fusion protein, patients with advanced arthritis showed marked improvement and only minor side effects. It reduced morning stiffness and swelling at tender joints. Immunex Corp. hopes to market the drug by 1999.By Johanna Knapschaefer EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top

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