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Tech News: Facebook Is Tinkering With a New Design


Plus, JC Penney's Oracle move, SpaceX's successful launch, and how your idle computer can help in the search for aliens and cures for rare diseases.

Facebook Is Testing a Redesign to Timeline in New Zealand

For anyone who thinks the two-column system on Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) timeline is unnecessary, this comes as good news. The company is testing a new design, with updates, posts, and comments on the right-hand side, and a sampling of personal information on the left (see a screen shot here). The redesign is being tested with select users in New Zealand, where Facebook does quite a bit of its prototyping and testing.

Also in development at the social network is the much-touted graph search; you can join the wait list for the beta version here.

JCPenny's New Oracle Strategy May Come Too Late

After announcing disastrous 4Q results, with same store sales down 31.7% and a fourth quarter net loss of $522 million ($985 million for 2012) JC Penney (NYSE:JCP) recently had to enter damage-control mode and resorted to issuing coupons. Despite a gloomy outlook for the retailer, CEO Ron Johnson, best known as the former head of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) retail business, was enthusiastic at JC Penney's conference call, explaining the company's new Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) based strategy. As he said:

We are so excited about our Oracle strategy. Over the next three years, we will completely overhaul our information systems and be 100% at state-of-the-art Oracle systems and with systems from a handful of other partners that will augment that. And so we will have state-of-the-art systems.

Johnson claimed the new strategy would benefit financial, merchandising, planning, and allocation systems. The question is, will the company have enough time to see the new IT Strategy take effect? With the company's latest answers, the fate of a major IT overhaul over the next year is questionable.

SpaceX Succesfully Launces Another Dragon

At 10:10 AM, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched, carrying its Dragon spacecraft with 1200 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station. The mission, CRS-2, is the second of 12 planned by SpaceX as part of its Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. It is the fourth flight of the Dragon spacecraft and the fifth and final flight of the two stage Falcon 9 v1.0 launch vehicle.

After the launch, Elon Musk, the company's founder, tweeted that there had been an issue with the Dragon's thruster pods. That was at 10:56 a.m. At 11:08 a.m., he tweeted that the ship's solar array was currently on hold while SpaceX worked to bring thruster pods online. At 11:39 a.m., Musk tweeted, "Thruster pod 3 tank trending positive. Preparing to deploy solar array."

Musk, also the founder of electric car company Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA), solar power company SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY), and PayPal (NASDAQ:EBAY), obviously believes in the power of technology, given his lofty goals with SpaceX (see also: Next Year, We May Be Investing in a Mission to Mars), but also, with his adept and informative use of Twitter to update the public on the progress of the launch.

Distributed Computing Creates Global Super Computers for the Greater Good

When your computer is not in use, just sitting there, running idly, not using its technological power for anything, it could be helping in the search for extraterrestrial life throughout the universe, or for developing drugs and vaccines for the treatment of rare diseases. Through distributed computing programs lile Seti@home (the search for ETs) and the new brand new Quantum Cures (the search for molecules to assist in treating rare diseases), hundreds of thousands of computers can work together to created a distributed super computer. And though such a network would not be as fast as a Top500 supercomputer, it is often much faster than what the majority of researchers have access to.

These programs began in 1997, but became popular among computer users in 1999 when the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institiute (SETI) released its Seti@home project. The software the company distributes, Berkely Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), is the most popular method for distributed computing. With 2.5 million users, the BOINC cluster, if taken as a whole, is the world's fourth fastest supercomputer.

The newest distributed project to call on public computers is Quantum Cures, a push to research "orphan diseases," or diseases that are too rare to recieve substantial mainstream funding. It will be made available by the end of June on a limited basis.

If you are interested in this collaborative, efficient technology, here is a list of distributed projects in which your idle computer can take part.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
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