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Mark Ward | 15:50 UK time, Friday, 7 May 2010

RyzomOn Tech Brief today: Ships with skirts; open-source gaming, the net predictions; Flash costs, Flash conversions.

• Cargo ships are heavy. Very heavy. When they plough the oceans, half the energy from their engines is lost overcoming friction. German scientists think the hairs on the hydrophobic water fern might be able to help:

"In their study published in Advanced Materials, the authors found that the very tips of the fern's whiskers are actually hydrophilic, meaning they attract water. As the hair ends dive into water, they essentially pin the liquid away from the rest of the plant at regular intervals. The layer of air is then trapped."

The trapped air forms a "gauzy skirt of air" that could cut fuel costs by 10%, they suggest.

• World of Warcraft is the Google of online games. So much so that some massively multi-player games are trying novel ways to drum up players. Alec Meer at RockPaperShotgun explains:

All MMOs are rubbish, blah blah blah. World of Snorecraft, blah blah blah. Well, make your own bloody MMO, then. How? With the complete source code and art assets from fantasy monster-biffing game The Saga of Ryzom. It's had player content-building for a while, but this is extraordinary. The devs have just made the whole kit and kaboodle open source, free to use and modify for anyone.

• Even before the forerunner to the net was built, some were predicting its existence. Sir Maurice Wilkes, creator of the pioneering Cambridge Edsac, came up with the idea of the World In A Box for a 1964 New Scientist series on the future. The tech may look wrong but the predictions about its effects are eerie:

"The work of commercial and professional organisations will be transformed. There may be no very clear distinction between authors, scholars, publishers, librarians, television producers or anyone else who can be called an information mediator - but it will be their task to save mankind from drowning in its own information."

• It is not just Apple that has a problem with Flash. Document-sharing site Scribd (think YouTube for text) has declared its dislike too. Speaking at the Web 2.0 conference, Scribd boss Jared Friedman said it had scrapped its use of Flash in favour of HTML 5. The reason, he said, were Flash's drawbacks:

"It boils down to the fact that you're putting the content inside a separate application. This leads to a browser-in-a-browser problem where we end up duplicating functionality in the user's browser ourselves.
"This is one, a lot of work, and two, almost incessantly a bad user experience."

To emphasise his point he demonstrated the Flash-less Scribd working on an Apple iPad.

• Instead of using Flash for video, many want to switch to the H.264 specification. Many bloggers have pointed out that this is not an open standard but is owned by a huge number of tech firms. Will they use that to squeeze royalties from web firms? At ZDNet, Ed Bott thinks not:

"What guarantee do licensees have that MPEG LA won't raise royalty rates by some outrageous amount when the royalty schedules come up for renewal? The current rates are fixed for five years, till the end of 2015, and are renewed again every five years for the life of the patents."

If you want to suggest links or stories for Tech Brief, you can send them to @bbctechbrief on Twitter, tag them bbctechbrief on Delicious or e-mail them to

Links in full

Melissa Mahony | Smart Planet | Riding waves to better fuel efficiency?
Alec Meer | Rock Paper Shotgun | DIY MMO: Ryzom's Open Sauciness
Nigel Calder | Calder's Updates | The Internet anticipated in 1964
Cade Metz | The Register | Scribd ditches flash for html5
Ed Bott | ZD Net | H.264 patents: how much do they really cost?

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