THE WIRELESS WAITRESS
In some European restaurants, waiters have abandoned their pencils and pads for handheld devices on which they message orders directly to the bar and the kitchen. Initially, the system didn't transfer well to the U.S. Most restaurants here offer many more choices, and prices change more often. San Diego software company Ameranth Technology may have solved the problem. Its wireless system allows communication between handhelds and fixed computers, so menus are instantly updated. Waiters can also process credit-card payments and print receipts right at the table--and even signal valet parking to fetch your car when you're ready to leave. Ameranth says the technology can be adapted to any service industry. It is launching a system to help hospitals dispense medicine.
A U.S.-Russia Rail Link?
Business and political leaders in the U.S., Canada and Russia are mulling a plan to build a railroad tunnel beneath the Bering Strait. A rail link, they say, could carry 30 billion tons of cargo a year and cut shipping time from Los Angeles to Vladivostok as much as two weeks. It's an attainable feat: the strait is only 60 miles wide at its narrowest point (twice as wide as the English Channel Tunnel, which took seven years and $15 billion to construct). But to make the Bering tunnel accessible on the North American side, connecting lines would have to be laid from the strait to Fairbanks, Alaska (about 750 miles of track), and then to British Columbia, Canada (an additional 900 miles). On the Russian side, at least 2,000 miles of track would have to be connected. All that track could cost as much as $60 billion.
The Silicon Steppe?
Russia's space program may be foundering, but its reputation as a mathematics-and-science powerhouse is paying off for its computer programmers. Companies like Intel and Sun Microsystems are increasingly setting up software-development labs there, positioning Russia as a competitor to India, the outsourcing leader for code-writing projects. Russia could gain the edge on highly specialized product development because its programmers usually have degrees in math and physics and a solid grasp of computer technology. "These are not classic coders. They are high-level mathematicians who work on complex software," says Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel, which opened a lab in central Russia last year. And at about $12 an hour, the Russians cost less than half as much as their counterparts in California.
Buy a Share of a Helicopter
In regional business travel, getting to the airport can take longer than the flight. So fractional-ownership schemes that made private jets more affordable are now available for helicopters. It takes only 120 minutes to chopper from New York City to Capitol Hill--without a rush-hour traffic battle at each end. Dallas to Fort Worth? Fourteen minutes. A commuter chopper is as comfortable as a jet, says HeliFlite Shares CEO Mark Ozenick, left. It's also as pricey. A 60-hour share runs about $400,000.
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