Deeper impact

It's a case of virtual reality imitating art. Ads for Steven Spielberg's new movie "Deep Impact," in which a comet strikes the ocean off New York, show a massive tidal wave heading for Manhattan. Last week Sandia National Laboratories announced that it had used its supercomputer to produce a virtual reality model of a similar event— in this case an asteroid— with even more frightening results.

The asteroid hit would send superhot water vapor and molten rock into the air, which would rain down on the world before forming a global cloud that would lower the Earth's temperature. The shock wave would level New England. Spielberg didn't get all the details right, but the depiction of the tsunami in the movie, which opened Friday, looked on the money, the lab said.

Sandia wasn't just trying to show up Hollywood when it ran the simulation. The project was designed to test the complex software that the Energy Department will use to simulate the potency of aging nuclear warheads.

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The out-of-towner

Jerry Grochow, chief technology officer at American Management Systems Inc., recently recounted a travel experience to show how dependent businesses and agencies are on computers.

When he arrived at the airport to catch a plane to New York, the reservation system was down, and he was told to take any seat on the plane. (Grochow tried a seat in first class, but he soon discovered that "any seat" didn't really mean any seat.) Minutes later, the pilot announced that there would be a slight delay— 45 minutes— while the on-board computer system was rebooted. "What would take 45 minutes to reboot?" Grochow said.

The adventure did not end there. Grochow also experienced trouble when a new computerized taxi meter refused to work, forcing him to find another cab. And then the hotel's reservation system went down.

We wonder if he gets many people to travel with him.

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Speechless

A crowd of about 200 industry executives at last week's Global Air and Space '98 Expo in Washington, D.C., gathered for a presentation by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense John Hamre. However, an early-morning bomb threat at the Pentagon forced Hamre to leave his office before he could put pen to paper.

But Hamre, good sport that he is, didn't bow out at the last minute. Rather, he asked conference organizers at his table what they thought he should talk about.

Who knows— maybe all of the laptops at the Pentagon were signed out that day. We're inclined to give Hamre the benefit of the doubt.

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