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Science News: Bits and Bytes

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Summer is near

At 8:03 a.m. Sunday, the summer solstice will arrive. That's when the sun will be at its northernmost point in the sky. It marks the official start of summer.

To help folks understand the phenomenon, Hansen Planetarium will present a free half-hour solstice lecture starting at 12:15 p.m. Friday.

Those of a gloomy turn of mind might not find much to celebrate. After all, with the solstice the sun will begin heading south. Days will grow shorter. Winter will creep up on the northern hemisphere, month by month, until the winter solstice on Dec. 21 turns things back around.

A model heart

The University of Utah was named as one of five finalists in the Science category of the 1998 Computerworld Smithsonian Awards.

The U. was nominated for a project mapping the human heart titled "An Integrated Problem Solving Environment: Applications in Computational Medicine." The integrated modeling, simulation and visualization of human anatomy and biology enables significant breakthroughs in cardiology and neuroscience, advancing the frontier of medicine and improving patient care.

Finalists were honored during a June 8 black-tie banquet in Washington, D.C.'s historic National Building Museum.

Made-to-order

Personal Computer giant Compaq is playing to consumers' deference for off-the-shelf computer configurations with its new "Built for You" program.

Customers can now buy Compaq Presario PCs with made-to-order hardware configurations at major computer retailers. From a specially designed demonstration computer in the store, customers can see information on the base models and choose the upgrades they want for features like memory, processor speed or DVD-ROM. Compaq promises it will ship the ordered computer either to the store or to the customer's home within seven to 14 days.

The made-to-order flexibility is one of the features of online and mail-order that has enhanced the popularity of online and catalog resellers.

Handy games

Sony is making a handheld Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) game unit for the PlayStation that can detach from the mother ship.

The unit plugs into the existing memory card slot on the PlayStation game console and stores information from compatible software. Applications downloaded into the portable unit can be used separately, enabling the user to play on the fly and giving Sony the chance to grab some market share from Nintendo's GameBoy.

The PDA will have infrared functions, allowing two users to exchange game information and store game data. Sony suggests the portable unit could also be used as a message exchanger and run other PDA applications like personal schedulers and calendars, giving Sony a PlayStation competitor for popular PDAs like the Palm Pilot.

Sony Computer Entertainment is developing software and expects as many as 12 titles to be available when the PDA hits the market in Japan later this year and in North America next spring. The unit is expected to retail in the United States for $30.