- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2009

Stolen laptop? Now you can tell those thieves exactly what you think of them.

Front Door Software Corp.’s Retriever program displays your contact information as your computer boots up. There’s even space for a plea to a Good Samaritan — “$50 for my safe return,” maybe.

In most cases, that’s enough to help an honest person return the machine, said Carrie Hafeman, chief executive of the five-person company based in Evergreen, Colo.

In the darkest scenarios, however, Retriever takes off the kid gloves.

You can log on to a Web site and check a box indicating the computer is missing. Now during start-up, a big yellow-and-red banner appears on the screen, boldly declaring the laptop lost or stolen. This message is set to reappear every 30 seconds, no matter how many times the thief closes the window.

You can remotely switch on a second password prompt if you fear the thief has also stolen your regular Windows, Macintosh or Linux login.

Behind the scenes, Retriever uses built-in Wi-Fi to sniff out nearby networks, then what Internet service providers power them. With that information in hand, Ms. Hafeman said, you can file a police report and get help.

While waiting for law enforcement to come through, you can even let off steam by sending new messages to the nagging “Stolen Computer!” screen.

“You are being tracked. I am right at your door” was one, Ms. Hafeman said, adding that she could not bring herself to say others that came to mind. Customers have also tried to induce fear or guilt by switching their contact info to “Secret Service” and “Catholic church.”

The latest version of Retriever, which costs $29.95 for three years of use, is even more aggressive.

Now, when the “stolen” screen pops up, the laptop cries for help. Use a canned message (“Help, this laptop is reported lost or stolen. If you are not my owner, please report me now.”) or record your own.

“You can say, ‘Get your hands off me, you [expletive],’” Ms. Hafeman said.

British firm could deeply cut DNA scan cost

A British company’s new technique for reading DNA could move medicine a step closer to an affordable gene scan for every patient.

Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd. announced last week that it had successfully tested a system that can read DNA directly. That approach cuts out the expensive equipment, chemicals and lab time needed for current scanning methods, said Dr. Gordon Sanghera, Oxford’s chief executive.

The system described by Oxford in the current issue of Nature Nanotechnology sends DNA one letter at a time through a microscopic, biologically engineered hole, or “nanopore.”

This demonstration that you can distinguish among the four bases with a purely electronic signal I think is just an incredible advance,” said Jeffrey Schloss, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute’s sequencing technology program.

Backers of so-called personalized medicine say whole-genome scans will let doctors make better diagnoses, prescribe gene-specific treatments and predict health risks.

Oxford believes its nanopore sequencing could be a contender for the $1,000 scan. However, the company has used nanopores to read only individual DNA letters so far. The company is still working to improve its system to scan entire strands of DNA.

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