3rd > August > 2004 Archive

DARPA figures out how to run a $2m robot race

Hoping to make the $2m Grand Challenge live up to its name, DARPA officials have proposed a much more thorough set of qualification procedures and rules for the second running of the race. DARPA on Monday released its outline for the Grand Challenge II robot race to be held in October of next year. Prospective contestants have been asked to provide their feedback on the rules, which is just one of the welcome changes to DARPA's methods this time around. DARPA has also set up a lengthy but precise qualification schedule to separate the robot gimps from the true contenders, hoping to avoid this year's Grand Challenge I flop. "DARPA is committed to establishing rules that are easy to understand," said program manager Ron Kurjanowicz. "Feedback from the community is an important part of this process." Competitors in this year's race thought the Grand Challenge I rules were easy enough to understand until DARPA began changing them late in 2003. DARPA was hit with a flood of last-minute entries in the first race that made it difficult for the agency to decide which teams qualified to compete in the event, which requires unmanned vehicles to race across the Mojave Desert. In the end, DARPA made a controversial move to limit the field of contestants to around 25 teams that had submitted early papers outlining their vehicles' specifications. Many suggested this gave well-funded, well-publicized teams an advantage over smaller competitors. For the 2005 race, DARPA has set up a stringent qualification process. Step one of this process requires teams to send in basic team information, a vehicle specification sheet and video demonstration by March. DARPA will then select the teams who qualify for an onsite visit. From there, DARPA will judge competitors' technical papers and then conduct a live qualification event in September. These methods should up the level of competitors showing up for the race. In event earlier this year, only a handful of teams made it much past the start line with none of these teams making it more than 10 miles. DARPA has kept the race distance fairly consistent, setting it at 175 miles. The vehicles will still need to pass over natural and manmade obstacles such as ditches, water, boulders, barbed wire and power line towers. The teams will also have to pass through narrow corridors. No vehicle can be larger than 10 feet in width and 9 feet high or weigh more than 20 tons. Those familiar with the first race will recall that the vehicles are given a series of GPS points just moments before the race begins and must program these into their vehicles as a guide. The robots can use radar, laser radar and other sensing equipment to help guide them around obstacles. The first team to complete the course in under 10 hours wins the $2m prize - double the pay out from this year. Congress gave DARPA the go ahead to offer a cash prize, hoping to spur innovation in the autonomous vehicle field. By 2015, the US must have one-third of all its vehicles operate unmanned, according a federal mandate. The Grand Challenge event was picked as one way to reach this goal quicker by finding interesting ideas lurking in small companies and universities. Large military contractors have been seen as too inefficient to create the technology needed for autonomous road vehicles. It's amazing to see DARPA get its act together after largely flubbing the first race and angering many competitors. Many were surprised at how unprepared the agency appeared before and during the race. Hopefully, the competitors will also come to the desert with more gumption. ® Related link Grand Challenge web site Related stories Crash test dummies get date for DARPA Robot Run II DARPA doubles cash payout for second robot race Robot wars: One man's story of promotional monks and mechanical friendships DARPA's Grand Challenge proves to be too grand Final robot grunts picked for $1million DARPA race Robot grunts tumble in race for $1m prize $1 million Grand Challenge map leaked on Web DARPA quells robot road rage DARPA chisels little guy out of $1 million race DARPA's indecision threatens integrity of $1 million race
Ashlee Vance, 03 Aug 2004

SMEs slap hard cash on the IT table

While IT spending at the top end of the market has stalled in the last four years as enterprises attempt to drive greater efficiencies out of the infrastructure they acquired in the late 1990s, SMEs have continued to invest in technology and related services at a steady rate. The small and medium-sized enterprise sector has been largely ignored by the technology sector's big-hitting vendors. Software giants such as SAP and Siebel and IT services giants such as EDS and CSC are geared towards winning a relatively small number of high-value deals with Global 2,000 corporations. IT spending from SME companies is on the rise. The largest area of investment is expected to be in IT services but spending on networking, security and storage technology is also expected to show strong growth. Telecoms incumbent BT Group and PC giant Dell are repackaging their managed services in order to gain recurring revenue from their smaller clients, and to extend their relationship beyond basic product reselling. IBM chief Sam Palmisano announced last year that Big Blue would invest $100m in new programs to attack the SME space, and introduced scaled-down versions of its DB2 database, WebSphere, Domino, and Tivoli products geared to enabling smaller companies to build more flexible computing environments. BT Group has modularized its service offerings into pre-packaged components. The idea is that mid-market companies without the ability to invest in complicated contract negotiations and systems design can simply pick and choose the services they want. BT was one of a number of major vendors in the late 1990s that failed with application service provider initiatives designed to rent enterprise-level applications to smaller companies using hosted access. SMEs did not warm to these advances as a result of concerns about pricing, security and reliability. The IT supplier community targeting the SME sector remains hugely fragmented, particularly in areas such as IT services where local resellers and solutions VARs continue to play an important role. Major vendors such as IBM, Dell and BT might have strong brand names and large client bases for their products among the SME sector, but selling broader range of services on top of these products will not be easy. The sales organizations at many big vendors are not geared towards selling large numbers of small deals with shorter cycles, and the packaging and pricing of their services will have to be made more flexible. As part of its revamped strategy to target SMEs, IBM is working with its team of reseller partners to push its utility computing technology and services, and this may prove a sensible strategy. Many SME companies have strong relationships with their local VAR, and going after SME business in partnership with these companies could prove to be the best way for the big vendors to expand the client base. Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor Related research: Datamonitor, "MarketWatch: Technology Annual Subscription" Related stories UK small.biz blows £1.5bn on useless software Small firms to cash in on software bargain bonanza Broadband ISPs must wise up to small.biz needs
Datamonitor, 03 Aug 2004

Learning to use the C word

Site OfferSite Offer The C programming language is the father of most modern structured programming languages, with descendants such as Java, C++, and C#. It's currently enjoying a new life among small device programmers and game programmers, where its simple elegance makes it the ideal choice for small fast programs. Stephen Kochan' revised Programming in C has been thoroughly updated to the most recent C standard with current, updated and relevant source code examples. It offers detailed coverage of the C language, including 90 varied program examples. Register readers can get this up-to-date classic for just £20.29, a saving of 30 per cent. And don't forget that you can save 30 per cent on over 4000 other great IT titles at the Reg Bookshop. Free delivery for all orders to the UK and Europe. Sams Teach Yourself C in 21 Days RRP £28.99 - Reg price - £20.29 - Saving £8.70 (30%) Learning C is still considered the best way to gain experience with the core concepts of programming and for over a decade, Sams Teach Yourself C in 21 Days has been the fastest and best way for the beginner to learn how to program in C. Design Patterns in C# RRP £37.99 - Reg price - £26.59 - Saving £11.40 (30%) Allows the growing legions of Microsoft technology developers to apply traditional software approaches to frequently encountered problems. SWT - The Standard Widget Toolkit RRP £37.99 - Reg price - £26.59 - Saving £11.40 (30%) A guide for experienced Java programmers who want to use the Eclipse Project's SWT to build modern, GUI-based applications. This book provides a thorough tutorial for learning SWT, and a handy reference to refer to again and again. Networking Concepts and Technology RRP £38.99 - Reg price - £27.29 - Saving £11.70 (30%) For anyone considering or using Sun networking solutions, describes and explains how Sun differentiates from the competition in the networking arena. MCDST 70-271 Exam Cram 2 RRP £21.99 - Reg price - £15.39 - Saving £6.60 (30%) Concise and focused instruction for the 70-271 exam, one of two required to earn the new Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST) certification. The Tao of Network Security Monitoring RRP £37.99 - Reg price - £26.59 - Saving £11.40 (30%) Quickly develop and apply the skills needed to detect, prevent, and respond to new and emerging computer security exploits. Designing Software Product Lines with UML RRP £45.99 - Reg price - £32.19 - Saving £13.80 (30%) Take software design and efficiency to the next level by leveraging the promise of software product lines and the practicality of the UML. IBM® WebSphere® System Administration RRP £39.99 - Reg price - £27.99 - Saving £12.00 (30%) From IBM Press, the most comprehensive and authoritative guide to IBM WebSphere administration. Includes complete explanation of how to use the new WAS 5.0 JAVA admin APIs Enterprise Integration RRP £30.99 - Reg price - £21.69 - Saving £9.30 (30%) Written by respected industry experts, this is the first book to show IT Teams HOW TO manage their Enterprise Integration projects. Spider-Man 2™ RRP £9.99 - Reg price - £6.99 - Saving £3.00 (30%) This Official Strategy Guide provides indispensable features including: a highly detailed New York City map, to help players navigate through the game's incredibly immersive world, a comprehensive walkthrough for every Story Mission, expert boss tactics, and intriguing character bios. How to Wow RRP £29.99 - Reg price - £20.99 - Saving £9.00 (30%) Practical instruction and inspiring examples from the core of this Photoshop volume and best-selling author of The Photoshop Wow Book. Persuasion RRP £9.99 - Reg price - £6.99 - Saving £3.00 (30%) Persuasion is key to personal and managerial success, and the most cited communication skill that people wish to develop. Learn how. Project Workout RRP £25.99 - Reg price - £18.19 - Saving £7.80 (30%) Projects are an important strategic management tool and a way of life for every business person. But how do you get started and ensure a successful outcome? To browse or buy the other great discounted titles available to Reg readers, simply click on any of the links below: The Reg Bestsellers Last week at The Reg Great new releases This week's book bag
Team Register, 03 Aug 2004

Intel backs in-flight Wi-Fi initiative

An initiative supported by Intel is in the final stages of outlining a method to disable the radio transmitters of handheld devices during aircraft takeoff and landing. The development should help pave the way to greater freedom to use wireless-enabled mobile devices while in the air. The work has been carried out by RTCA, a non-profit organization that advises the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on communications technologies. The body also intends to define a universal symbol that can be used by mobile device manufacturers to indicate compliance. This may display onscreen or elsewhere when activated. The use of the symbol should aid flight attendants assessing the risk wireless devices present to aircraft control and communications systems. Many airlines take a dim view of today's crop of mobile computing devices. This is especially so where they also function as mobile phones which may be barred from use during flight, despite the fact that many such devices allow the radio to be disabled if required. Radio interference is considered a risk to essential control systems, especially when a plane is flying below around 10,000 feet, primarily during takeoff and landing. The low altitude leaves little time to correct problems or initiate backup systems if any interference from the devices affects control systems. "The way you need to think about what we're doing is that we're defining the master circuit breaker [for wireless devices]," Jeff Schiffer, manager of wireless research communications and interconnect technology with Intel and a prime mover in the RTCA's working group, told ComputerWire. Airlines such as Lufthansa already offer inflight Wi-Fi access on some routes, typically powered by the Connexion system from aircraft manufacturer Boeing. However, the importance of two-way communication onboard aircraft is growing, with the ability to enable wireless access in-flight extending beyond WiFi access and into applications such as Bluetooth-enabled network gaming. While Mr Schiffer is aware that the efforts will not completely stop the risk to airplanes from wireless devices, he is convinced the work marks an important step forward in improving safety. Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor Related research: Datamonitor, "MarketWatch: Telecoms Annual Subscription" Related stories Wi-Fi takes to the skies Boeing prices up in-flight Wi-Fi Airships to deliver broadband to rural areas
Datamonitor, 03 Aug 2004

Consumers want widescreen notebooks - analyst

The 15in widescreen-format display has emerged as the consumer's ideal notebook screen size, according to market watcher Current Analysis' latest stats from the US. The company's figures show increasing sales of 15.4in widescreen notebooks through the first half of 2004, apart from a slight dip in May. That month was also a momentary reversal of the decline seen in non-widescreen 15in models. At the start of the year, the latter accounted for 73 per cent of the US consumer notebook market. By the end of the June, that share had fallen to 35 per cent. By contrast, the proportion of 15in widescreen notebooks in the sales mix rose from 15 per cent to 48 per cent. Sales of other screen formats have grown through the year, though not to the same extent. Multimedia-oriented 17in notebooks have gone from around six per cent of the market in January to eight per cent in June, while 12.1in models pitched at users wanting a higher degree of portability than other sizes offer have grown from five per cent to nine per cent of the market. "Most of the major manufacturers are now competing in the widescreen space," said Sam Bhavnani, Current Analysis' senior mobile computing analyst. "HP has focused much of its energy on the widescreen segment since April, eMachines entire line-up is widescreen and both Toshiba and Sony have recently revised its consumer notebook strategy focus to on widescreen models." Inevitably, there's the question of whether consumers represent the chicken or the egg. Manufacturers are pushing widescreen notebooks hard, but is that in response to consumer demand, or are consumers simply buying more widescreen notebooks because that's what they're being sold. Either way, Bhavnani said he expects demand for widescreen models to increase through the rest of the year, particularly as we head into the holiday sales season. ® Related stories Euro notebook sales slowdown signals end of boom PalmOne extends world PDA lead Europe: we will buy your PDAs, smart phones Researcher ups world mobile sales forecast Nokia and co 'to ship 625m handsets' this year Hynix overtakes Micron in world DRAM chart Samsung chases Intel with 80% sales growth
Tony Smith, 03 Aug 2004

June world chip sales top $17.8bn

Global chip sales more than maintained their momentum during June, rising 2.8 per cent on the previous month and 40.3 per cent on June 2003's sales to $17.8bn, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), has revealed. During Q2, some $53.5bn worth of semiconductors were sold around the world, up 9.5 per cent on Q1's $48.8bn and well up on the $38.1bn sold during Q2 2003. The Asia-Pacific market again showed the strongest year-on-year growth, recording sales up 60.9 per cent, followed by the Americas at 29.7 per cent, Europe at 28.9 per cent, and Japan at 26.3 per cent. However, Europe continued its sequential decline, with sales down two per cent on May 2004's total. Sales in Asia-Pacific were up 4.9 per cent month on month, followed by Japan (three per cent) and the Americas (2.8 per cent). Strong DRAM sales - up over 100 per cent year on year - drove the industry's growth rate. Sales of wireless-oriented products were up 86.5 per cent over June 2003's total. Solid sales of digital cameras and camera-equipped mobile phones pushed sales of optoelectronics devices up 52.4 per cent year-on-year. Following bearish forecasts from Wall Street, the SIA admitted there was "some evidence of inventory accumulation in a few sectors", but it believes that customers are not going over the top and are "continuing to manage inventories very carefully". As a result, the organisation expects Q3 to show sales up 4-6 per cent on Q2's total. Q2 ended with an average capacity utilisation level of around 95 per cent. "With strong demand from most major end-use markets, we do not believe excess inventories will be a problem in most market sectors in the near term," the Association said. ® Related stories Chip sales soar in May Chip biz breaks quarterly fab spend record Hynix overtakes Micron in world DRAM chart Samsung chases Intel with 80% sales growth Chip foundries post positive Q2 gains Freescale posts Q2 profit on rising sales ARM Q2 profits swell AMD rides memory sales to solid Q2 Intel flashes investors with Q2 revenue jump Hynix reports record profit STMicro Q2 sales up despite shipment problems
Tony Smith, 03 Aug 2004

Pru pulls out of great Egg race

The Prudential has canned plans to flog its stake in UK Internet bank Egg claiming that it makes better financial sense to hang on to it. Today's announcement ends months of speculation that the Pru would cash in on its 79 per cent stake in Egg. A number of companies - including US investment bank, JP Morgan, MBNA, Capital One and the Royal Bank of Scotland - have all been associated with a possible acquisition at some time or other. Now, this long running saga of "will they, won't they" appears to be over with the Pru says it's "no longer in discussions regarding a possible transaction". Instead, execs at the Pru reckon that "retention of its 79 per cent stake offers better value to its shareholders than the sale of Prudential's interest". Said Jonathan Bloomer, group chief exec of Prudential: "We had an obligation to explore all the options for the business following the approaches we received. Our objective is to ensure that our shareholders benefit in full from the value inherent in Egg and we have concluded shareholders' interests are best served by retaining our Egg holding. "Egg has brought significant change to the market, with a track record of delivering innovative products and services to customers. It is a very successful business in the UK with significant potential to grow in value." The "potential" of Egg means getting the most out of its UK business while following through with plans to close its loss-making French business. And investors' response to today's news? The price of Egg's shares dropped like a sack of potatoes. In the first few hours of trading Egg shares were down 32p (22 per cent) at 112p. ® Related stories Egg still hasn't got a buyer Egg flees France Egg attracts interest from Capital One Egg punters up, losses down Lloyds TSB leads the great Egg race
Tim Richardson, 03 Aug 2004

Mercury mission blasts into solar orbit

The Messenger probe - headed for a rendevous with Mercury - lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida this morning on board a three-stage Boeing Delta II rocket. The craft was placed into a solar orbit just 57 minutes after launch, and at this point it automatically deployed its solar panels and began sending data back to Earth. Messenger has a long journey ahead of it: the 7.9bn kilometre journey will see it make 15 orbits of the sun. It will fly by Earth once, Venus twice and Mercury three times its final destination. When its journey is completed, seven years from now, it will be the first ever man-made object to orbit the solar system's innermost planet. The 1974 Mariner 10 mission flew past the planet three times, but was only able to photograph 45 per cent of the surface, and carried out no other scientific investigation. Messenger carries seven different sets of instrumentation that it will use to probe Mercury for its secrets. The mission is named for its purpose: Messenger stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, Geochemistry, and Ranging. Scientists will probe planet's composition, map its surface, and hope to discover whether any ice remains in its weird polar deposits. Mercury is also the only planet other than Earth that has a global magnetic field. Scientists hope to discover how this magnetic field is sustained, as it could shed light on how exactly our own field is generated. Dr. Sean Solomon, from the Carnegie Institution of Washington, leads a science team of investigators from 13 institutions across the US. Commenting on the mission, he said: "It took technology more than 30 years, from Mariner 10 to MESSENGER, to bring us to the brink of discovering what Mercury is all about. By the time this mission is done we will see Mercury as a much different planet than we think of it today." The launch, originally slated for yesterday morning, was delayed for 24 hours because of bad weather. ® Related stories Tropical storm delays Mercury mission NASA splashes out on shiny supercomputer Asteroid named after Dill Faulkes Mars rock found in Antarctica
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Aug 2004

One man and his dog and his laptop

ReviewReview Quocirca's man in the field, Jon Collins, takes a hands-on look at voice recognition. Armed with nothing more than a laptop in a rucksack and a dog, he gamely battles to bring you the following: This is an attempt to dictate a document using voice recognition. I am doing this slightly differently to how I would normally. For a start, I am also walking the dog. Therefore, it is not possible to look at my computer in the normal way, so I have put it in my rucksack. This makes it impossible to see the screen so I have had to resort to other means. I am therefore viewing my laptop screen via a wireless network connection from my Dell Axim PDA. From there, I am using a VNC (Virtual Network computing) software client to create a remote display of the laptop screen, on the PDA. When I require some mouse control, I have a Hand Track portable trackerball from Trust, or I can also use the touch screen of the PDA to control where I am on the laptop screen. The voice recognition software is Dragon NaturallySpeaking XP, running on Windows 98. And, guess what. It all works - well, mostly. This is by no means a perfect solution. The laptop is one of the first Sony PictureBooks, running only a 400 MHz processor with 128 Meg of RAM and Windows 98. All the same, it would appear to be adequate for the job. I would rather not have to walk around staring at a PDA, but it isn't that much trouble, the occasional glance is enough. The microphone I am using works well, as long as there is no wind. I confess that for this unplanned test I am not using a noise-reducing headset, but rather a cheaper Plantronics model that clips to my ear. For some reason, when the breeze picks up, the recognition starts to favour the words inward, wooden and women. Why exactly this is, I leave to your imagination, but I do know that I have achieved better results with a noise-reducing model. Not all of us would want to be staggering along with a laptop in their backpack in order to dictate an article, but this is clearly a possibility, and it does the job. It wasn’t easy to set things up – getting a peer to peer network between two wireless cards took an age (until I found an undocumented checkbox), and then there was the mucking around with the temperamental VNC client to make the screen viewable on the PDA. Everything came together in the end, but it wasn’t a job for the faint-hearted. Mobilizing the masses Perhaps what all of this illustrates is the power of integration, or the lack of it with mainstream vendors. If I could get things set up with old technology, why exactly have the big IT companies been unable to bring such capabilities to market? While Microsoft and Intel still struggle to deliver the perfect tablet PC with integrated voice recognition, an old PC with an old operating system and an old version of a software package were perfectly capable. Equally, while network operators and equipment vendors try to tackle the concepts of “mobility”, trying to turn it into some distant target that will make a great deal of money for whoever can crack the code, they missed the point. For the past five years, there have existed opportunities to mobilize the masses, and they didn’t require multi-billion, high-bandwidth infrastructures. Not everyone is going to want to use voice recognition, but let’s face it – the idea of people walking about chattering into space is no longer as unnerving as it was. And what if – just imagine – voice recognition turns out to be the missing piece in the entire mobility puzzle? Not that we should all be lugging laptops around, but many of us are doing this anyway. Ultimately, if it all boils down to integration, the biggest problem is that nobody is doing the integrating. There are lots of options out there – IBM has a version of its own recognition package ViaVoice that runs on Linux, so there would be nothing to stop someone porting it to a Sharp Zaurus PDA (though, truth be told, users of ViaVoice in general have met with varying levels of success). The PDA device I have in my hand has a processor equally powerful to the laptop in my backpack, at least if the clock speed is anything to go by. Perhaps a smaller laptop (there’s some great ones available in Japan), with a Bluetooth-integrated remote screen and microphone, rather than VNC over Wi-Fi? Great theory, but as anyone who’s tried to connect a Bluetooth headset to a computer will tell you, it just ain’t happening at the moment. There are lots of options, but each has to be tried and tested. Even if things did work as they should, the mass market of punters won’t be spending the time using computer equipment like Lego sets, and nor should they have to. Perhaps things have been moving too fast for even the vendors to stop and think. In our struggle to look for the latest and greatest gadgets and (and I confess, I have reverted from my new Nokia 6600 phone to my old 6310i because it was better at the basic job of making calls), it is possible to take our eyes off the ball. Or perhaps – but surely not – there is something more insidious going on here – the big guns don’t want us to have such capabilities just yet? A bit like dodgy accounting practices, maybe they prefer to spread out innovations over a number of years? Before the conspiracy theorists pick this up and run with it, they should recognize that the truth is a little more mundane – driven by fear and greed, even the biggest companies are still insisting on following technological rainbows rather than making existing products work together as they should. Networking with Bluetooth is a good example - rather than trying to fix existing “standards” they are already pursuing the next generation. Ultra Wide Band (UWB) will begin to appear next year (100Mb/s bandwidth to start going to 400Mb/s), not to mention the short-distance Wi-Fi version that's just been announced – hopefully somebody will treat the issue of compatibility at the outset, rather than leaving it down to the consumer to fix yet again. That’s not to say that new developments won’t be very welcome. Meanwhile, as I walk along watching the sunset, my faithful mutt off in some bushes, I think to myself how this was, without doubt, one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had writing an article. If this is the future of portable computing, I can’t wait. Making the effort So, given a bit of effort and a few old components, it is possible to start using technology in new ways. Clearly however, just because something works, that doesn’t mean anyone will want it, or be prepared to pay for it. There are a number of marketing criteria that the big guns like to apply, which boil down to basic questions such as – is it useful, is it usable, is it affordable and is it desirable? Before considering usefulness, I thought I’d tackle usability. The solution previously described had a large number of dependencies (you’d need both a PC and a PDA, for example) so I wanted to shorten the list a little. Picking up the mantle of integrator could be fun, I thought to myself as I browsed for head-mounted displays on the Web. A couple of phone calls later and I was heading to London-based high-tech reseller Inition for a visit. What had particularly caught my eye was a tiny screen (from a company called MicroOptical) that could be mounted on a pair of glasses. Inition had some other products that would slip comfortably into the “cool stuff” category, such as laptops with 3D displays, VR gloves and so on, but I tried not to get too distracted. The micro screen plugged into a standard VGA port on my laptop, and was self-powered from a camcorder battery, so within a short period of time I was ready to go. Frankly I was worried that the experience might be an anticlimax (“two hours on the train to London – for this?”) until, like Joe 90, I put on the glasses and my world was transformed. There, in the corner of my vision, was a computer screen. Small but adequate, it floated in space like real life with a picture in picture setting, which I suppose was exactly what it was. Five seconds later I had clipped on my microphone and I was dictating into the computer in my hand. A few seconds more and I could be browsing the Web, sending and receiving email, checking the traffic news or buying a pizza – I knew this as I had already played with the voice commands available in Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and I’d found them comprehensive enough. The little neon sign flickered on in my head – you know the one, bearing the words: “I want one”. I was sold. The whole experience gave me the impression that nothing would ever be the same again – once I could afford such a gadget, that is. But, was it really useful? The good people at Inition told me some of the reasons people used their displays – orchestral conductors reading music, surgeons consulting manuals – but the display/recognition combination seemed to have a more profound value. As I used the voice/display combination, it felt immediately apparent that this was not some niche application, but a core productivity tool. Consider for example, auditors and surveyors who create reports containing their observations. Surveyors, for example, already use voice recognition, however they usually use some intermediary recorder, which then requires to be played back and edited. How much faster could things be done if the report could be created, edited and delivered within minutes of the observations being noted? Indeed, there are plenty of workers who combine a dependency on the written word, with a reality that they are not always in front of a keyboard-driven computer. Meeting rooms and the corridors of power, not to mention airport lounges, planes, trains and automobiles, all so much dead time spent in transit, couldn’t this be better spent? To give you an example – following one meeting I used a twenty minute walk back to the station, to collate my thoughts and send some immediate feedback. Had I not had such a facility, the feedback would have been a couple of days, if it had happened at all. Alternative input mechanisms While it is clear that the computer keyboard will not be going away, equally, other input mechanisms remain largely unexploited. There are potential issues – is it safe to dictate while driving, for example, what of the eye strain, and perhaps people need empty time to keep on top of stress – but few would deny there are moments when moving from one place to another that we would love to be doing something more useful. I once told someone I was writing a report on when I was sitting at the beach at Nice. They said to me, of all the things to do on the beach at Nice, you write a report. I replied, of all the places to be writing a report, and where would you rather be but on the beach at Nice! That’s usefulness, usability and even desirability covered to an extent, but then comes the question of cost. At £1,200 a pop, head mounted displays are not going to hit the mainstream anytime soon. There are cheaper versions, but this is just one component: it is the integrated package that needs to be delivered at a reasonable price. iPod sales would suggest this needs to be the sub-£500 mark before any such package would register on peoples’ radar. If integration is the answer, then somebody needs to start integrating, and getting products out to the early adopters. This is of course the model applied by consumer networking companies such as LinkSys, as well as credit card companies such as MBNA. The issue is not whether it is the best product, but to get as many potentially useful products to market as cheaply as possible. In this way, the market can decide which are worth having and which are not. It should be possible to do it with old technology – indeed, given the bloated size of Windows XP, newer technology would push the hardware requirement back into the unaffordable so we’d be better with the old. Meanwhile, Microsoft has tried to achieve something similar with their tablet PC specification, but clearly something went wrong there. If this article illustrates anything, it is that we do not need some new and improved spec; instead, design shops should be concentrating on integrating what exists, and delivering it in a package that thinks more about function than form. Once this delivers a package at a price people can afford, then we might see a major advance in voice recognition use, and with it significant gains in productivity. All it needs is for the industry to get its act together. Copyright © 2004,
Jon Collins, 03 Aug 2004

Mozilla to pay bounty on bugs

Users who identify and report serious security vulnerabilities involving Mozilla are to be rewarded for finding bugs in the open source Web browser software. The Mozilla Security Bug Bounty Program, launched yesterday, promises a reward of $500 to anyone who finds a "critical" security bug in Mozilla. What constitutes critical will be judged by the Mozilla Foundation staff. Linux software developer Linspire and Mark entrepreneur Shuttleworth have issued seed funding to support the initiative, to be supplemented by donations from Mozilla supporters. The first $5,000 in community contributions will be matched dollar-for-dollar by Shuttleworth. Mozilla already has a good record of promptly fixing any security problems that arise. The Mozilla Security Bug Bounty Program seeks to further encourage the community's focus on security consciousness and responsiveness. The level of reward has been pitched quite low - if somebody found an exploit they'd doubtless make more money via security firm iDefense's controversial vulnerability contributor program - but that's not really the point. The Mozilla program is probably best viewed as a symbolic gesture of thanks to those who take the trouble to find and report bugs than as a way of providing a financial incentive to expand the number of people looking for problems involving Mozilla. "This program reflects our commitment to protecting consumers from malicious actors," said Mitchell Baker, President of the Mozilla Foundation. "Recent events illustrate the need for this type of commitment. While no software is immune from security vulnerabilities, bugs in open source projects are often identified and fixed more quickly. The Security Bug Bounty Program will help us unearth security issues earlier, allowing our supporters to provide us with a head start on correcting vulnerabilities before they are exploited by malicious hackers [crackers]." Users who identify security bugs in Mozilla software are encouraged to go to Mozilla.org/security, which links to more information about which flaws are eligible and how to claim the bounty. ® Related stories Mozilla takes bite out of IE Mozilla bug rears its head CERT recommends anything but IE Long-awaited IE patch (finally) arrives MS posts $250,000 MyDoom worm bounty MS' anti-virus bounty success Computer Security: a handbook for the ordinary user (book review)
John Leyden, 03 Aug 2004

Tyan samples 64-bit Xeon mobos

Tyan has followed the arrival of Intel's 'Nocona' 64-bit capable Xeon DP chips with four motherboards geared up to support the new processor. Two products - the Thunder i7520 and Thunder i7520R - are based on Intel's 'Lindenhurst' E7520 chipset and are aimed at tower and 1U rackmount form factors, respectively. Both provide two Gigabit Ethernet ports and can offer Serial ATA or SCSI Raid support depending on customer requirements, the company said. The i7520 supports up to 32GB of registered 333MHz or 266MHz DDR SDRAM, while the i7520R can take up to 16GB memory. Both offer PCI-X for expansion, but the i7520 also includes a PCI Express x8 slot and an old-style PCI connector. The ATX form-factor Tiger i7320 and its 1U rackmount sibling, the Tiger i7320R, both use the lesser-specced 'Lindenhurst VS' E7320 chipset. Again there's support for 32GB of registered 333/266MHz DDR SDRAM (the i7320) or 16GB of memory (the i7320R), PCI-X support and, in the i7320, legacy PCI provision. Both mobos ship with a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports on add-in PCI Express boards. The new boards provide support for Nocona's AMD64-like 64-bit x86 extension technology, EM64T, along with the CPU's 800MHz frontside bus. Their release follows Tyan's announcement in June of the Xeon DP-oriented Thunder i7525 which supports the 800MHz FSB, but not EM64T. Pricing was not disclosed, but Tyan said all four motherboards are sampling now and will go into volume production later this month. ® Related stories Tyan readies 64-bit Xeon mobo Tyan to ship Socket T mobos next quarter Tyan aims four-way Opteron board at supercomp makers Intel 'Nocona' Xeon to get 'no execute' support Intel feels more 'complete' with release of 64-bit Xeon
Tony Smith, 03 Aug 2004

Intel preps chip to link 3G, Wi-Fi networks

Intel is preparing a wireless chip capable of talking to both Wi-Fi and 3G mobile phone networks, the company has revealed, and is gearing up for a major announcement on Wi-Fi and cellular roaming in the coming months. The chip giant has also said it will ship a joint 802.11a/g product this autumn. The Wi-Fi/3G part emerged on a wireless products roadmap shown to analysts late last week. The part was simply dubbed 'WWAN' for 'wireless wide area network', and was flagged as a product Intel will pitch toward handset makers. Intel is preparing the MAC component - codenamed 'Hermon', according to an eWeek report, though we though that Hermon is Intel's Wi-Fi/3G handset reference design - which will hook up to a 3G PHY and perhaps radios tuned to other wireless data frequencies. An Intel spokesman said the picture may become clearer in two months' time, indicating an upcoming announcement surrounding the ability to roam from a Wi-Fi hotspot to a mobile phone network. That announcement is likely to be made at Intel Developer Forum, which opens on 7 September. A number of products are already available - typically mobile data cards for notebook PCs - that incorporate 3G or GSM/GPRS radios alongside Wi-Fi capability, and a number of firms are working on software that will allow the user to move seamlessly from one to the other as he or she moves within or beyond the range of am 802.11 hotspot. Such products already use multiple radios and controller chips, suggesting Intel is about to come up with some sort of unified part. Certainly, the company is working on a software framework, dubbed the Adaptive Radio Architecture, that will facilitate transparent switching between networks. ® Related stories Intel promises all-singing, all-dancing 3G phone Intel backs in-flight Wi-Fi initiative US Wi-Fi operators inch towards roaming Japan ponders Wi-Fi tax Intel 'delays' Centrino 2 chipset to Q1 2005 Intel: WiMAX in notebooks by 2006 PC Card maker touts 'seamless' Wi-Fi, 3G access
Tony Smith, 03 Aug 2004

Reg reader tackles Kodak digital print booth

LetterLetter Earlier this month we ran a short piece on UK pharmacy chain Boots' plan to deploy Kodak digital print booths in 1,000 of its stores across the UK. This provoked a flurry of correspondence questioning whether or not they they actually worked and/or represented good value for money. We're obliged, then, to reader Simon Prentagast who took the time to send us his personal experience of the man/machine interface: RE: Boots deploys digital print kiosks Having tried out the service just last night, I thought I'd let you have a user review of these Kodak kiosks. The first thing you realise (or maybe that's just the Yorkshireman in me) upon approaching the kiosk is that there's no where on it to pay for your pics. The system works entirely on trust. You can print away to your heart's content without paying a penny. But more on this later. The Kodak/Boots press release you reported on was right. The touch-screen system is quick and easy to use. An absolute doddle to use... granted I'm a little IT-savvy but, well, I think even my grandma could use it quite successfully. And the speed? Once you've chosen the prints you want they're out and ready in minutes. I'd selected 21 photos and they'd finished printing after about 3 minutes. Good quality too... but I'd have expected nothing less with 1600x1200 JPG images onto 6x4inch photos. There were also a number of nifty little features on the terminal too... options are available to crop, resize and "enhance" your photos, amongst other things. Especially useful if you wanted an immediate print from your camera without going via your computer. So from a "does exactly what it says on the tin" point-of-view, it's all fine and dandy. However, there were some rather concerning flaws with the whole experience, not least the cost. I'd decided I wanted to try out the kiosk anyway regardless (well, Yorkshiremanlyness not withstanding) of price and expected to pay a premium for the "instant" results but the prices are really quite high. The press-release price (i guess there was a very important "from" used on it) of 29p is if you want 50+ 6x4 prints. 20-49 will cost you 39p each, while 1-19 cost 49p each (The price of bigger prints increases accordingly). I paid just over £8 for 21 6x4' prints. Had I had the patience to wait an hour, Jessops, across the street would have done them for 25p each (20p if I'd managed to wait a day). Compounded to this is the fact (as I mentioned earlier) that I could have actually just walked away with my snaps. Nothing to stop me. You choose your photos, print a receipt and get your prints. then you're supposed to take the receipt to the counter and pay. On this occasion I was decent enough to walk over and cough up (despite the lack of receipt, "Error printing receipt: The printing device was not found. Please press try again or press cancel to continue without receipt"). As I paid I passed comment about the level of trust employed with the system. The girl behind the counter simply giggled "yeah, we get a lot of people just walking off". Maybe my £8 covers a percentage of the prints that leave unpaid for then? Anyway, onto the point of most concern. Having paid for my photos at the counter, i turned to leave the store, passing the kiosk again... only to notice the "Previous Pictures" button on the main display. Curious. I walked over and touched the button. Lo and behold, my photos. The kiosk copied them from my disk to print a copy... but you'd assume they'd be deleted afterwards. However, it seems they remain in a cache of some sort. Not all of my pictures were there, granted, but about half of them at least. Fortunately, there was a very obvious Delete button and I (hopefully) erased my remaining photos... not that I was bothered about people being able to see (and print??) these particular pictures. but what if I was a father and I'd printed some of my kids? a newborn baby in the family perhaps? Perhaps this cache only remains for a few minutes? perhaps it's available for hours? Or just until the next unsuspecting user comes along? Whatever, it was certainly potentially long enough for that next user to come along and see (and print) my pictures, if they so desired. Most worrying. It is. We contacted Kodak's PR outfit in the UK last week to ask for clarification on whether punters' pics were stored in the machine's memory. They have not as yet replied. ® Related stories Boots deploys digital print kiosks Get ready for the Net-ready photo booth Smile, you're online
Lester Haines, 03 Aug 2004

Small.biz faces higher broadband charges

SMEs will have to pay more for their ADSL after BT increased the wholesale cost of its business class broadband products. In a circular to ISPs yesterday, picked up by the most excellent ADSL Guide, BT said the increase to its BT IPStream Office and BT IPStream S products would come into effect on 1 September. The wholesale price rises, which exclude VAT, are: BT IPStream Office 500 up from £18 to £20.41 a month BT IPStream Office 1000 up from from £28 to £32.64 a month BT IPStream Office 2000 up from £43 to £57.00 a month BT IPStream S 500 up from £23 to £25.41 a month BT IPStream S 1000 up from £33 to £37.64 a month BT IPStream S 2000 up from £48 to £62.00 a month Said BT in the memo: "These are the first end user rental price increases we have made since the launch of our broadband portfolio and have been introduced to further define BT IPStream Office and BT IPStream S as business class products in the Standard pricing structure." A BT spokesman told us: "We didn't think it [the price rises] would be popular but it is something we had to do." Last month, research from Frost & Sullivan found that broadband providers simply don't understand the needs of SMEs and were missing a trick. The experts reckon the small and medium-sized enterprise (SMEs) market is largely untapped at the moment, giving broadband service providers a whopping opportunity to attract new business customers. Snag is, broadband service providers need to work a little harder and be more inventive if they want to sign up small businesses to high-speed Net access. And price hikes are unlikely to help. ® Related stories Broadband ISPs must wise up to small.biz needs BT cuts cost of SDSL Welsh small.biz urged to get wired Small.biz must embrace new technology
Tim Richardson, 03 Aug 2004

Tories say yah-boo-sucks to speed cameras

In a shameless piece of electioneering, the Tory party has launched a new assault on speed cameras by pledging to scrap all those shown not to reduce accidents - if it wins the next general election. The party says that the speed traps are merely cash generators, not life-savers, and accuses the government of "waging a war on drivers", The BBC reports. Shadow transport secretary Damian Green said that the Tories want to make driving less of a misery. He proposes increasing speed limits on motorways in exchange for a reduction in speed limits around schools and hospitals. "What we are proposing is a series of common sense practical measures which will get the government off the back of the sensible driver and restore confidence in the way we enforce the speed limit," he said. Green said that the cameras hauled in £15m for the Treasury last year, and claimed even more money went to the 42 "cash-guzzling" safety camera partnerships across England and Wales, organisations set up to manage the cameras, and the collection of fines. The government, meanwhile, maintains that 80 per cent of people support the use of speed cameras. On Radio 4's Today programme, transport secretary David Jamieson said that a government audit found that 95 per cent of speed cameras saved lives and reduced injuries. Michael Howard's party said drivers were often confused about what the speed limit was, and promised to post clearer speed signs on stretches where cameras are in place. It also said it would put more traffic police on patrol, emphasizing the policing of unsafe, untaxed or uninsured vehicles and of unlicensed drivers. ® Related stories When is a speed camera not a speed camera? Speed camera clocks motorist at 406 mph Home Office offers online help for thugs Team moots car alerts via SMS Mach 0.3 milk float goes for land speed glory
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Aug 2004

Wi-Fi 'sniper rifle' debuts at DEFCON

Conventional Wi-Fi aerials are all well and good but they don't really cut it if you want to impress fellow hackers and scare the general populace. Forget a modified Pringles can - what you really need at somewhere like last weekend's DEFCON shindig is something that looks like an M-16 but with its firing mechanism replaced by a 14.6 dBi Yagi antenna that can get you online at up to 10 miles (16.1 km). Yes indeed. Adapt this so that it fits into a briefcase and what you have is Day of the Jackal -style foldaway technology plus access to remote, insecure Wi-Fi networks. A must for every would-be Jason Bourne. Perfectly pitched towards the geekier members of the Michigan Militia, we doubt the US Secret Service would be as enthusiastic though - especially if they're on presidential protection duties at the time. As a spotter from website engadget notes the Sniper Yagi is as "likely to get you thrown in jail as logged onto a WiFi network", but if you're serious about putting the war back into war driving that's surely only a minor consideration. ® Related stories US wardriver pleads guilty to Wi-Fi hacks Ethical wireless hacker is innocent London Wi-Fi security better (but still not great) Of mad snipers and cyber- terrorists No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die
John Leyden, 03 Aug 2004

IBM gives code to Apache open sourcerers

IBM is donating half a million lines of code from its Cloudscape database to the open source community, care of the Apache Software Foundation. IBM said the move would spur the development of Java applications, The FT reports, acknowledging the contribution open source developers can make to corporate strategy. The move also suggests IBM is not taking the open source street cred it has gained from its fight with SCO for granted. Greg Stein, director of the Apache Software Foundation, said that open source developers would "improve on Cloudscape, build new tools and take it in directions that IBM either could not or did not think of". Cloudscape is a small-footprint Java database, designed to be embedded in handheld computers or point-of-sale terminals. It is a world away from IBM's core DB2 database business. IBM acquired Cloudscape when it bought Informix for $1bn in 2001. Informix paid $85m for the database in 1999. IBM will still offer its own version of the product, counting on a full tech support offering to attract customers. ® Related stories Mozilla to pay bounty on bugs Sun turns WSJ into Novell buy spin machine New date for SCO v IBM hearing
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Aug 2004

Treat yourself to a big plate of Java servlets

Register TrainingRegister Training This month's featured new course on the Register's Training Site is a comprehensive examination of Java servlets. Our training operatives have sent the following explanatory blurb: The Servlet API was developed to leverage the advantages of the Java platform to solve the issues of CGI and proprietary APIs. It's a simple API supported by virtually all Web servers and even load-balancing, fault-tolerant Application Servers. It solves the performance problem by executing all requests as threads in one process, or in a load-balanced system, in one process per server in the cluster. Servlets have been quick to gain acceptance because, unlike many new technologies that must first explain the problem or task they were created to solve. Servlets are a clear solution to a well-recognized and widespread need, generating dynamic web content. From corporations down to individual Web programmers, people who struggled with the maintenance and performance problems of CGI-based web programming are turning to Servlets for their power, portability and efficiency. Others, who were perhaps intimidated by CGI programming's apparent reliance on manual HTTP communication and the Peri and C languages, are looking to Servlets as a manageable first step into the world of Web programming. This course is essential for those who are interested in extending the functionality of a Web server e.g. to generate dynamic content. It is also helpful for CGI programmers, Server-Side JavaScript programmers and Java applet programmers. The course covers such technologies as Server Side Programming, Servlet Basics, Advanced Servlet Features like Session Tracking and Interservlet Communication. A prior Knowledge of: Core Java Programming and Applets & HTML Programming should be considered a prerequisite for this course. Alternatively, if you fancy studying something else to broaden your skills horizons, then we're certain that at least one of more than 490 online courses will be more to your taste. A year's access to the complete range costs just just £99 - or $149. The benefits of home self-study are legion: you can study as many courses as you want; choose from a wide range of topics and learning levels; download and print courses to peruse at leisure; learn at your own pace; and when the time comes, sit exams for selected courses and gain certificates of achievement. There's a full list of currently-available courses here. ®
Team Register, 03 Aug 2004

AMD Opteron noses into Euro x86 server sales

Opteron-based servers are finally starting to chip away at Intel's market share in Europe, market watcher Context has revealed, though the numbers are unlikely to cause a panic among the chip giant's employees. During Q2, Opteron kit took 0.45 per cent of x86-based server shipments made through resellers in Europe's seven biggest economies - the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands - Context said. The number is certainly small, Context admits, but it believes it nevertheless marks a "significant" development for AMD. The chip maker's server products have gone from "virtually nothing" in Q4 2003 to 0.23 per cent of the European x86 server market in Q1 2004. The Q2 2004 is an average - AMD's share peaked at 0.62 per cent in May, Context's sell-through figures show. It's not hard to see what has lifted AMD: the arrival of Opteron-based servers from HP and IBM. A higher proportion of IBM's server sales are AMD-based, but the overall volume of Opteron servers coming out of HP is higher, Context said. HP ships 65 per cent of the x86 servers sold through resellers in Europe, it noted. Of course, that reseller component dilutes AMD's overall market share, since Dell's direct, Intel-only sales don't appear in Context's numbers - or, for that matter, smaller server makers who do offer Opteron-based products but also sell direct to end users. However, the figures do show the importance of big-name support, and that AMD is starting to gain traction among European server buyers. Q3's figure will make interesting reading: will Intel's AMD64-like 64-bit x86 technology, now shipping in top-end Xeon DP CPUs, hinder AMD's momentum, or validate it? And what effect will Sun's Opteron line-up have? ® Related stories Sun's Opteron fleet finally goes on sale Sun staff give birth to 64-bit Solaris on Opteron Microsoft makes up for 64-bit delays with OS upgrade plan 64-bit Windows delayed Microsoft touts AMD, snubs Intel with Yukon beta AMD rides memory sales to solid Q2 AMD 'penetrates' Dell - again
Tony Smith, 03 Aug 2004

ATI unveils top-end AGP FireGL card

ATI will ship its latest workstation-class graphics card, the FireGL X3-256, later this month, the company said today. The successor to the X2-256T, the X3-256 provides the same 256-bit memory bus, connected to 256MB of GDDR 3 memory. The new GPU provides 12 pixel pipelines fed by six geometry engines, up from its predecessor's eight pixel and four vertex pipelines. ATI did not disclose memory or core clock frequencies, but it did claim that the new chip offers a 30 per cent increase in performance over the previous generation of FireGL products. The board on which the chip sits connects to the host across an AGP 8x bus. It provides two DIV ports with Stereo 3D support - unlike the X2-256T - and the ability to drive a nine megapixel display. ATI will be showing the X3-256 off at Siggraph next week ahead of the product's arrival at the end of August. It will be available through workstation maker, vendors and VARs, the company said. It doesn't come cheap mind: expect to pay $1099 for it. ® Related stories ATI unveils top-end mobile Radeon ATI breaks revenue record ATI Radeon X800 Pro morphs into X800 XT Nvidia NV43 spied on web Nvidia roadmap said to tout AGP at high-end well into 2005 Intel Grantsdale hitting demand for low-end GPUs?
Tony Smith, 03 Aug 2004

Ofcom to crack down on premium rate scamsters

Ofcom is to crack down on premium-rate phone thieves who rip off punters by conning them into racking up costly phone calls. The communications regulator's decision to beef up protection for consumers follows a surge in complaints from punters who've been tricked into connecting to dodgy premium-rate services. Announcing a consultation into the £1bn-a-year industry that will be carried out during August and September, Ofcom said it would examine options to strengthen the powers of ICSTIS - the industry-funded regulatory body for all premium rate services - as well as "any other actions necessary". Concerned at the escalation in this kind of fraud, Ofcom and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) have decided that industry rules need to be tightened. Recently, ICSTIS has been swamped with complaints about rogue Internet diallers which can be hidden in spam or Web pop-ups. These then connect punters to the Net using expensive premium rate numbers and can lead to frightening phone bills. Said Ofcom in a statement: "It is apparent to Ofcom, the DTI and ICSTIS that the internet dialler problem is the latest in a series of examples of unethical behaviour which have damaged consumer confidence in the premium rate industry. In order to strengthen consumer protection in the future, a more wide-ranging assessment of the regulation of premium rate services is therefore required." It went on: "Where potentially criminal or unethical activity occurs, there will often be several companies or groups of individuals involved, some of whose roles will be unwitting. Applying sanctions against instigators can be difficult in practice. If there is a cross-border dimension, the situation is further complicated by overlapping responsibilities between different types of regulator across the EU and beyond. "Ofcom will therefore seek to explore which additional measures may be appropriate to give consumers a greater degree of protection from misleading, fraudulent or inappropriate activity involving premium rate services." In June, MPs warned the UK's telecoms industry that it needs to weed out the fraudsters and scammers ripping off punters or face the threat of the plug being pulled on the premium rate industry. MPs called for the industry to put its own house in order but also recognised that the regulator was struggling to keep up with complaints. With ICSTIS handling some 2,000 calls a day at the moment with many more not getting through, Conservative MP Sir George Young, described the regulator as being in "meltdown". ® Related stories Swiss telco fined £50K for UK rogue dialling action Phantom phone scam hits another village ICSTIS in meltdown - MPs UK premium rate phone complaints rocket BT cuts off dialler scammers MPs slam premium-rate 'criminal scams' ICSTIS blames dialler scams for premium rate freeze BT's phone network hit by 'illicit access'
Tim Richardson, 03 Aug 2004

UK.gov deploys IT early warning system

UpdatedUpdated The National Information Security Co-ordination Centre (NISCC) - the UK government body that provides security advice to organisations responsible for critical services - is to team up with NGS Software in producing early warning notices about pending IT security problems. Information about security problems, along with mitigation advice, will be released before suppliers deliver patches. NISCC is stepping up its efforts to provide organisations that run critical services with more timely IT security advice by partnering with private sector companies. The deal with Surrey-based NGS Software (NGSS), a firm well known for its application security research, follows an earlier agreement to handle advisories from security firm Corsaire and distribute them through the UNIRAS reporting scheme. ® Related stories 'New' Internet vuln long ignored Taleban can't hack - UK govt Exploit Code on Trial Slammer: Why security benefits from proof of concept code ATMs, ISPs hit by Slammer worm spread UK.gov aims to demystify security for SMEs
John Leyden, 03 Aug 2004

Wanadoo seals distie deal with Time

Wanadoo UK - which changed its name from Freeserve in April - has signed a major distie deal with PC outfit Time Group. Sources claim Wanadoo UK edged out Tiscali and BT to win the dial-up and broadband gig although no one at the ISP was prepared to comment on the industry whispers. Neither was the ISP prepared to reveal the financial details of the deal. What is known, though, is that Wanadoo UK will have its software installed on more than a million PCs a year from Time and its associated companies. Plus, Wanadoo's Net access service will be plugged thoughout 130 of Time's high street shops. The Computer Shop's will also stock the Wanadoo Livebox, a recently unveiled "broadband gateway for the home". Said Wanadoo UK's head of Partner Marketing, Duncan Beard: "We are delighted to be partnering with Time Group. It provides Wanadoo with a hugely relevant customer base, as we seek to grow our Broadband customer base, and launch new services over the coming months." The deal with Time Group expands Wanadoo UK's distie channel - which also includes Index, Orange, Lloyds Pharmacy Group and Texaco, among others - to more than 4,000 stores in the UK. In February, AOL UK replaced Freeserve (now Wanadoo UK) in a distie deal with the Dixons group. As a resut, AOL UK's dial-up software is available in PC World, Dixons and Currys stores in the UK and pre-loaded onto PCs and laptops, replacing the spot once reserved for Freeserve. A similar arrangement punting AOL UK's broadband services will come into force from February next year. ® Related stories Wanadoo unveils wireless broadband gizmo BT's DSL market share carries on falling Wanadoo ties distie knot with Evesham AOL UK launches new ISP as Dixons distie deal kicks in
Tim Richardson, 03 Aug 2004

Shackling the email content beast

Email is such an essential tool that it is no longer sufficient to merely treat it as a means of communication. Instead, it is the lifeblood of an organisation - it is where our orders and complaints come in, and one of the main means by which we communicate our messages and business results to the outside world. Spammers know how important email has become because it is their communications mechanism of choice - for the moment. Over the past six months, probably longer, we've all become aware of the problem of spam. Some mailboxes are targeted with spam to such an extent that unwanted communications fill up as much as 90 per cent of inboxes on a daily basis, although the average is typically nearer to 65 per cent. Companies are increasingly turning to technology solutions to manage the entire content problem of emails. This includes security such as firewalls, anti-virus and intrusion prevention to keep unwanted threats out, encryption to guard communications in transit and storage, URL and content filtering to stop offensive or potentially damaging content being transmitted around networks, and management technology to enforce policies set by an organisation regarding required standards of behaviour. INSL is a company that has developed technology and consulting capabilities to help organisations with the problems of managing email communications and content management. With a background in technology and consulting services largely for the financial services sector, and having grown through technology acquisition, INSL's SpheriQ solution is an email content management platform that is tailored for the needs of specific organisations by the firm's consulting team. SpheriQ includes anti-virus, anti-spam and filtering capabilities but is in fact a comprehensive email content management solution. Its platform enables companies to enforce their email usage and security policies via what INSL director Ken Watt claims to be a unique numerical scoring system based on the characteristics that define whether an email is spam or not. It has a couple of other unique capabilities, including LDAP directory integration and image analysis functionality. Integrating with the customer's LDAP directory enables SpheriQ to check that inbound messages are destined for valid users and provides user authentication so that personal message quarantine services can be provided. It also allows organisations to define groups of users by such factors as business unit or country, with particular policies or disclaimers applied to specific groups. Further, it provides a means to deliver emails direct to a user's home mail server - potentially enabling cost savings to be made by making a layer of the customer's internet gateway infrastructure redundant. Shackling the beast The image analysis engine uses three basic approaches. The first of these employs advanced database capabilities that are used to match and identify emails that are known to be malicious or unwanted. This component includes a feedback mechanism so that the information in the database is constantly updated, meaning that its effectiveness will grow over time as it is used more. The second tool analyses embedded web URLs that may point the recipient of the mail to a category of web site that contravenes the company's usage policy owing to inappropriate content, such a pornographic or racist material. The third tool uses artificial intelligence to analyse the actual content of attached images - making decisions based on such factors as shape, proportion, texture and colour. This component also works with the advanced database tool so that previously scanned images can be matched without the need to run the AI analysis every time. This helps improve performance and accuracy. This approach has enormous potential for companies with large networks that are vulnerable to threats posed by pornographic, insulting or copyrighted content being transferred into, or outside of their firms. INSL quotes one of its customers, a leading ISP serving the education sector, which states that INSL's image analysis tool had a 97 per cent accuracy rate in recognising pornographic images. Managing email content and security is a problem that is growing every day. INSL has just held its annual US user conference, after which the CTO of one its customers told INSL that his firm had been getting 6 million email messages per month; eight months later, that had increased to 22.5 million - 80 per cent of which were spam, and of those spam messages, 20 per cent contained viruses. Using INSL's SpheriQ platform, the firm's escalating email management problem was solved. The business case for outsourcing email content management is getting clearer by the day as both email traffic and problems multiply. The cost of putting together an internal team to deal with all the problems associated with email - and resultant security threats, potential copyright infringements, data protection issues - is daunting for most companies. This problem is evolving and so are the offerings of technology vendors and service providers working in this space. Companies are paying more attention to the need to encrypt electronic information in transit as well as in storage. They also realise that it is not enough to employ technology at their perimeter alone since so many threats to an organisation originate from within. The further problem that is yet to be addressed - and which will increasingly become a threat to companies as legislation starts to bite with real test cases - is that of compliance. Many laws require emails to be stored - securely, that is - for up to seven years. If you don't start managing the email content, security and storage management problem right now, the costs are going to be enormous. © IT-Analysis.com Related stories The battle for email privacy America - a nation of corporate email snoops Spamming for Dummies
Fran Howarth, 03 Aug 2004

Trojan poses as Berg video footage

Virus writers have moved on from using Osama bin Laden's or Arnold Schwarzenegger's supposed suicides as a lure to trying a similar trick involving "footage" of slain American captive Nick Berg. VXers have seeded multiple Usenet groups with messages claiming Berg is alive and well in Iraq and pointing users towards supposed video footage from al-Jazeera. In reality this file offers only the Hackarmy Trojan. Last month virus writers used the same trick to try to con users into believing the same Trojan was either a suicide note from Arnold Schwarzenegger or photographs depicting Osama Bin Laden's supposed untimely demise. Hackarmy has been around for some months and the Usenet spamming ploy is been repeatedly used in an attempt to give the aging malware a second lease of life. Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, described the latest manifestation of the ploy as "despicable" and "insensitive". "The people behind Hackarmy are well versed in using morbid tricks to entice unsuspecting users - having recently claimed that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Osama Bin Laden were dead. This time, in an attempt to infect yet more PCs, they've resorted to claims that someone who was brutally killed is in fact alive," Cluley commented. Communications worker Nick Berg was beheaded by Iraqi insurgents in May. A video of Berg's gruesome death was posted on an al Qaeda-linked website. ® Related stories Trojan poses as bin Laden suicide pics Schwarzenegger virus terminated Virus writers deploy bulk mail software
John Leyden, 03 Aug 2004

US terror alert becomes political football

UpdateUpdate As we reported recently, the latest ratcheting up of the terror threat level in the United States was based on captured documents dating back some time. In that article, we observed that it was "not clear whether any of the information recently obtained relates to current or future schemes." We can now address that question with some confidence. According to the New York Times, "much of the information that led the authorities to raise the terror alert at several large financial institutions in the New York City and Washington areas was three or four years old, intelligence and law enforcement officials said on Monday. They reported that they had not yet found concrete evidence that a terrorist plot or preparatory surveillance operations were still under way." One may well wonder why the cities of New York, Washington, and Newark suddenly began burning taxpayer dollars to stage a grand security rain dance - guarding sites that might have been attacked during the past four years, or may be attacked four years hence. With such a vast window of opportunity, one must ask why there should have been a sudden rush to security starting on Monday of this week. It certainly sounded like an emergency, at least to hear Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge tell it. "The quality of this intelligence based on multiple reporting streams in multiple locations, is rarely seen, and it is alarming in both the amount and specificity," he said. Ridge also gushed about "the President's leadership in the war on terror," to which he conspicuously credited this lifesaving, four-year-old information. Predictably, President Bush and Senator Kerry went tit for tat on Monday, slagging each other and bickering over who can "protect us" better, and even answering each other in subsequent speeches. Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card staged a lengthy press conference with National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice to emphasize Junior's deep respect for the 9/11 Commission report, and in particular its recommendation that a cabinet-level coordinator of intelligence be created. No fewer than eight different "terrorism experts" were interviewed on CNN, MSNBC and Fox, which simply would not let go of the terror alert story, leading with it every half hour for over twenty-four hours. After her press conference, Condoleeza Rice later appeared on the NBC Nightly News to peddle her views on the fine job the President is doing to eradicate Al Qaeda and protect the Fatherland, and to explain why his new initiative on the intelligence coordinator is so crucial to that mission. Why now? If anyone is wondering why terrorism, and especially attacks at home, should have been so fully hyped on such thin evidence, it's useful to consider the news cycle. Last week, John Kerry did a surprisingly good job of introducing himself to the nation as a plausible replacement for Bush. Last week, a devastating car bomb claimed the lives of 68 Iraqis, just as US Secretary of State Colin Powell was in country to deliver several absurdly optimistic speeches. Christian churches in Iraq have for the first time become the targets of terrorist attacks, in which eleven lives have so far been claimed. And the infamous Abu Ghraib Military Police unit has just returned Stateside to answer charges of torture. Not to put too fine a point on it, last week sucked for the Bush Administration. It's no wonder, then, that a multi-city security rain dance should be choreographed - no wonder that police in paramilitary jumpsuits and helmets and boots should appear on the streets and in the subways with fully automatic weapons. It's no wonder that streets should be closed to traffic and cars stopped at random. The rest of the news is just too depressing. Practicalities One hates to rain on the Administration's parade of media misdirection, but practical matters do apply. Guarding these sites, which have been under careful surveillance by Al Qaeda for four years without incident, is expensive. The question is, when does one stop guarding them? Al Qaeda is renowned for its patience. If the security emergency is called off six months from now, then perhaps the sites will be attacked three years further on. Or perhaps they will not be attacked at all, since they're now under scrutiny. And perhaps a half-dozen unknown targets that have been cased thoroughly will be substituted for the ones we're now guarding so assiduously. Clearly, aggressive security will have to stand down at some point. But where is that point? How long should we maintain this posture? If we spend a fortune protecting the sites currently under protection for years to come, and inconveniencing citizens in the bargain, how will we protect the next fifty or sixty sites that may pop up on the radar as potential targets in the future? How will we manage our resources in that case? The enemy could easily use misdirection to tie up resources and hamstring security efforts in a cumulative manner. Furthermore, the problem with telling the enemy what you know is that you can't avoid telling it what you don't know. We've announced publicly the sites that we think need defending. Only Al Qaeda knows the target sites that we haven't discovered. From a security point of view, the exercise is pointless. The Administration should never have indicated the particular sites it's focused on. From a security point of view, the smart thing would have been to announce in vague terms that Al Qaeda attack plans have been discovered, and then to beef up security quietly and subtly in the particular areas that the information specified. Let the enemy guess what we do and don't know. Politics But this rain dance was not undertaken from a security point of view. It was concocted with a political motive, and its purpose was to distract the public from the additive disasters in Iraq, and the unexpectedly strong showing by the Democrats in Boston last week. It was designed to make Junior look like the "strong leader" that his cheerleaders insist, against all evidence, that he really is. (We note that the true Prince of Darkness, Dick Cheney, has been dutifully silent, and conspicuously absent, during the recent national security festivities, to vouchsafe the limelight to Junior.) But it would be unfair not to point out Democratic exploitation of the Republican exploitation. On at least two occasions Monday, John Kerry took the terror warnings at face value, rather than as examples of Tom Ridge's exceptional proclivity for crying wolf, and insisted that he would have overreacted sooner than Bush, and at even greater expense. And thus national security has become firmly established as a key campaign issue, and a dangerous political football that can only bring us harm regardless of who wins the election. ® Thomas C Greene is the author of Computer Security for the Home and Small Office, a comprehensive guide to system hardening, malware protection, online anonymity, encryption, and data hygiene for Windows and Linux.
Thomas C Greene, 03 Aug 2004

UK councils failing to meet e-services deadline

A survey of local authorities in the UK has revealed that more than half have yet to install any kind of customer relationship management (CRM) system as part of their efforts to meet the 2005 deadline for offering their services electronically. System integrators NDL, found that one of the main impediments reported was that CRM systems are too far geared towards generating new business and marketing: two areas local councils have little use for. In fact, 77 per cent of local authorities said they would have to tailor their CRM solution to fit council needs. Declan Grogan, NDL's MD, argued that local councils don't have the luxury of choosing to cut off difficult customers, but neither do they have to make a profit from their interactions. Standard CRM systems, then, are useful, but only to a point. The other major barrier respondents pointed to was cultural change. Angus Dunlop, spokesman for CRM supplier Northgate suggests that because councils have traditionally worked in "silos", the idea of sharing information across departments is unsettling to many staff. He says that it is the supplier's job to guide the council in its approach. All councils in the UK now have to have an "e-champion" - a person to take responsibility for driving the process of going online. Dunlop says that in the councils where this role was taken by someone at an executive level, progress was better than when it was left to IT alone to make the changes. The reason for this is not entirely clear, but Dunlop suggested that it was a matter of perspective. He argues that a project run by IT will start with what the technology can do, while someone outside IT will start with what kinds of changes they want to see, and what kinds of services they want to deliver and approach IT by asking "how can we make this happen?". He also acknowledged that it is often hard for IT staff to get managers to buy in to a project. He offers the Benefits Bus as an example of the kind of project that does not start with the technology, but would be impossible without it. This is a bus equipped with laptops and Net access that can tour remote areas bringing council services literally to the door of people unable to get into town. Without the system integration, it would be impossible to run. The survey also uncovered a bit of rivalry between councils to be ready for the 2005 deadline. Although just 35 per cent of those with a CRM system said that their installation was completed, 76 per cent gave their colleagues at other councils that their implementation was finished. "It is like teenage sex: everyone is talking about it, but far fewer are actually doing it," remarked Grogan. NDL interviewed the people responsible for IT systems and eGovernmewnt at 247 of the 442 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. The survey did not include councils in Northern Ireland. ® Related stories Your data online: safe as houses US wins David Blunkett Lifetime Menace Award What's the point of NHS IT? No one knows
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Aug 2004

Freelancers fret over tangle of EU red tape

The Professional Contractors Group (PCG) is worried that the UK's contractors could get tied up in a tangle of red tape if the Government signs up to proposed employment rules which would extend full employment rights to temporary workers. Under the proposed European Agency Workers Directive, temporary workers would benefit from the same employment rights as permanent workers once they had been in the job for six weeks. But there's speculation that the Goverment could cave in to union demands and extend full employment rights to workers from day one. The bosses organisation - the CBI - argues that this would do "irreparable damage" to the UK's temping market and ultimately destroy jobs. Trade unions insist that the proposed legislation is about securing equal pay and basic rights for all workers. The PCG - the trade body for the freelance small business community, many of whom work in IT - is also worried that the proposed legislation could damage the chances of professional contractors finding work. While the PCG supports legislation which would "protect vulnerable temporary workers and outlaw exploitation", it insistes that contractors and small business owners could lose out. Said PCG chairman Dr Simon Juden: "We fear that the burdens on client and contractor alike would be large and could therefore discourage the use of professional freelancers. We are not persuaded that these measures are necessary in this broad scope and feel that incorporated freelance workers should be excluded from such legislation." The PCG added that signing up to "one size fits all" legislation would be "inappropriate". ® Related stories Big.biz still keen to export jobs UK small.biz rejects outsourcing UK IT departments waste £165m a year PCG slams Abbey's India jobs move
Tim Richardson, 03 Aug 2004

Flash cards also invulnerable to Segway attack

LettersLetters We've never shied away from controversy, so, in keeping with the spirit of the fightin' Reg, let's kick off letters with a scoot through Segwayville, and see what you lot made of the Segway poll: You missed out; Toy for sad people with more money than sense. Usually bought by people who have a iMac, iPod, and think that they are being "alternative". Sinclair's C5 was far more fun to drive but both are dangerous anywhere near traffic, pedestrians, in fact anywhere outside an empty parking lot. You left the obvious entry off the poll "The Segway is a Sinclair C4 wannabe". Gregorie I'm concerned regarding your recent segway poll, or rather, the results thereof. You see, while I understand that it's pretty much a hush-hush thing, especially here in the states, with Segways lurking around, well, if not every corner, or even most corners, then at least a few of them. But only 10% of the respondents are apparently both aware and brave enough to admit that these fiendish devices are GOING TO KILL US A Ed Ed? Ed? are you there? Man-eating Segway on rampage etc... CowboyNeal is my Segway you insensitive clod! John Lester - I think the Segway poll is very funny and look forward to seeing the final results. While the Segway for most people is probably just a recreational toy, I think the earth-friendly aspects of the technology are exciting. My husband and I both own one and use them to get to and from work every day (making our car a very sad little car who never gets to see the light of day anymore). That being said, we also enjoy participating in a polo game or two, because it is just plain fun. Keep up the funny writing and enjoy the responses from owners. We are, like many other early adopters, passionate about technology and just want to see our beloved machines viewed in the best light possible. Pam "Mechanical representation of democracy." Did you mean it's a big disappointment or George Bush makes it fall over? Or perhaps you meant it's forced upon us by some self-righteous Americans, whether we want it or not... Adam Adam, you are just too clever by half. Bravo, the poll is brilliant! Just one problem...no catagory with Segway as a target on tires. I propose Segway target shooting as a new Olympic sport, right after shotgunning motorized traffic barriers and cyberloos. It's man against machine, and we have the firepower. Lets use it! We ought to start at the Chicago branch of Vulture Central and move south on the Dan Ryan Expressway or west on the Kennedy, or even north on the Edens. The only good Segway is a dead Segway! There was some discussion of equiping the Chicago PD with them (bad idea, no place for the donut and coffee). Cheers, John Mmmmmm, doughnuts.... Nope -- Ashlee was right. Segways are for ar*eholes. Frankly though the thought of wanting to see a load of bucked-teeth hillbillies trying to chase a little ball on a Segway is unhealthy at this point... Kevin Dear Sir, Given the usual healthy spirit of democracy, free speech and fair play usually present in your eseemed organ, imagine my disgust when I tried to exercise my democratic right to vote in the segway poll but was denied on the basis that someone else behind the same corporate firewall (i.e. with the same external IP address) as me had already voted. surely such a seasoned bunch of technophiles as yourselves would not be so short-sighted as to infer an isomorphic relationship between an individual voter and an IP address. It is clear to me that the only way to ensure a fair vote on this subject (and indeed to put right some of the atrocities incorrectly reported in the recent air guitar poll) is to ensure that each reg reader is uniquely identified and authenticated by means biometric or otherwise, to wit, some kind of identity card system. So please stop the madness and let's all work to get blunkett's scheme implemented with all possible speed, so that a fair and equal vote for all is available in future register polls. I remain your humble servant disgusted of doncaster We knew there had to be a credible argument in favour of ID cards out there somewhere... Tell you what, as soon as Captain Cyborg perfects the in-brain ID chip, we'll give it our full backing. Speaking of the Professor: In re Captain Cyborg and his chipped brain: He's no need to wait. I've got a Pentium 75 with the divide bug which I'll happily ram right into his brain as hard as he likes, right now. That'll make him sit up and take notice. Interesting point, actually; as the p75 has a divide bug, it could be used as a "control" experiment. We could ram the faulty chip into his brain (or into any other suitable orifice, actually), and then get him to catch a ball. Were he using the floating-point of the Pentium he'd miss, and if it made no difference it'd be obvious that the chip had made no difference. All assuming he's competent enough to catch a ball in the first place, of course. Yours Joe Ahh, so Dick Cheney really is a robot, err, cyborg. I guess the Weekly World News stands vindicated. This also explains much about American foreign policy of late: Dick Cheney is declaring war on humanity. Luckily, I know just where to find the terminator. He lives in a big house in Sacramento these days. Ed I misread that as Captain Cyborg risk to all for science :) Bridd Works for us as an alternative headline... Football loving Reg readers, brace yourselves. This is going to smart: How many England fans would really want to kick the ball? Unless they want to prove they are better than Beckham at Penalties. However I am sure a tour by the ball of Scotland, Wales, Ireland, N. Ireland could be a decent fund raiser :-p Niall Yes, well, thanks for that insight, Niall. Moving swiftly on... A quick clarification on the question of Mercury's magnetic field: A small point perhaps, but Mercury's global magnetic field isn't as uncommon as you suggest. It isn't the only planet apart from Earth to have a global magnetic field, but it is the only 'terrestial' or 'rocky' planet apart from Earth to have one (the terrestrial planet being Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars). All the other planets in the solar system that have been visited by spacecraft (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus Neptune) also have magnetic fields. So the interest in Mercury's magnetic field isn't because it's unsual for a planet to have one (far from it), it's because we don't know how it's generated. Anthony Cor, just as well Anthony listed the rocky planets for us: we were planning a hiking trip on Uranus...hee hee hee...[You're fired - Cheap Sexual Innuendo Sub-ed] So, the Mega patch has landed: I am viewing this in an un-patched version of Internet Explorer because the story makes Firefox crash. To be fair there's several lines on The Register causing this. Dunno why - possibly the adverts - but it's ironic. no? Chris I came to a client site this morning to find the main Active Directory server at the "Preparing to Shut Down Windows" screen that it's been at for about a day. They apparently had AutoUpdates enabled and the last entry I saw in the EventLog was windows will restart in 5 min........... the exchange machine followed suit and crapped out as well. Wondering if it's an isolated incident......my client would like to know too Thanks -Vic Looking for silver linings in viral clouds: The upside of this story is that it shows us that one person can make a difference in this great big world. Kevin And the "Glass Half Full" award goes to... A staggering 99 per cent of viral activity in the first half of this year can be linked to just one shoddy, bloated OS (in its various incarnations). The computer worms continue to spread despite the fact that the OS vendor pledged to not improve security by creating marketing terms like "trustworthy computing", and not reduce in any way the spead of these viruses and worms by trying to distract hackers with talk of improving support for "smart cards" devices to replace passwords. Mike Hmm, that is the "Glass Half Empty" award, then... In the tradition of all "And finally" stories, we'll leave you with a few of your ideas for other ways to test the duability of memory cards: What you need to use is an arc welder; I've got some videos I made of one being used on an old hard drive, but don't have it on me. If you want a copy, reply and I shall go dig it up. William In reference to your recent article, I've even had my CF card chewed relentlessly by a determined K9. It didn't seem to work afterwards, until I removed the metal casing (it seems the impacted casing was shorting several connections inside the card). With the casing removed, the card continues to function to this day. Oh yeah, the same card has been through the was and dry cycle several times. Timothy It's all an evil plot to find the best format for ID cards. After all, having an ID card with a zapped smart chip is going to inconvenience Mr Blunkett and his minions because they won't be able to identify you on the spot. Dave I assume the 6 year-old calmly returned the card explaining to the deluded reporter that it is unrealistic to attempt to create or destroy matter - the best achievable at home would be modified form. Steve I can also tell you the smartmedia survives being run over by a Ford Mondeo...... though the camera it was in didnt survive so well.. Wayne They've got that test all wrong; you need to tell the toddler to "look after" the memory card to guarantee it's destruction. William That's all for now. More letters on Friday, so keep letting us know what you think. As if we could stop you...®
Lucy Sherriff, 03 Aug 2004

The Merry Bloggers set out on 'Segway across America' trek

Back in the good old days, strong men such as Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey went screaming across the great American highways with heads hopped full of sour mash and benzedrine. They performed lewd acts, taunted the police, harassed the stiffs and produced great art. These days we're left with four twenty-something geeks traveling country roads at 10 mph with their Segways, iPods and blogs. Is the American Dream dead? It may well be. This Thursday four white-toast yuppies will set out on a 4,300 mile trek from Seattle to Boston. One of the four - Josh Caldwell - will be riding a Segway scooter for this entire journey backed up by Hunter Weeks, Pat Armstrong and J. Fred Keough in a support vehicle. The fearsome foursome plan to make an online documentary of the Segway journey, interviewing people along the road and blogging about the rigors of going up mountains on an upright, glorified wheelchair. "My american dream is to be an individual and to be the best person I can be with the talents that I have [Such as standing - Ed]," Armstrong says in a video promoting the Segway stunt. "And so that's part of what I like about this expedition is that I am just going to go out there and find out for myself and learn about it and hopefully come back and be able to make some sense of it." Right . . . Team 10mph will have two Segways and 16 batteries available during their grand glide. They've also set up a web site, asking people to donate their homes, money and broadband connections to make this endeavor a success. In total, the group plans to visit 46 cities and 17 states over 80 days, although we suspect the ride will take much longer. "We have about 50 or 100 people signed up to help so far," said Caldwell, in an interview. "We'll camp where we don't have places lined up to stay or see if hotels will sponsor us for a night." The Segway fans are all close to 26 years old and have unremarkable backgrounds. They apparently dabbled in online content production and have a non-profit organization. They profess to carrying on Segway inventor Dean Kamen's American Dream by traveling across the US in a scooter. "This is someone's dream," Caldwell said. "Kamen sees this as a device that cities will be built around someday. Our dream is to produce content. So they work well together." "We're going out there during a unique time in the US. This vehicle forces us to slow down life to ten miles per hour on average. It allows us to take time to tell stories along the way. It's a natural ice-breaker." It's unclear how a Segway makes it easier to stop and talk to people than say a car or bike also resting at a hotel or person's house. Caldwell, however, might be referring to the gripping conversations that take place after a passing 18-wheeler has blasted him 30 feet into a cotton field. After the driver is done swearing at the scooter rider, he may offer assistance and then recount his own vision of the American Dream. "The Segway is not a vehicle of the common man because of the price point," Caldwell admits. But surely the Average Joe can identify with a young man heading out on the open road on his $4,000 scooter and listening to his $400 iPod packed full of tunes and audio books. "Yeah, I can actually post to our blog from the Segway by sending text messages, and there is a web cam broadcasting a picture of me every thirty minutes." Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were also said to have debated the use of text messaging on their trip across in the US. In the end, however, they decided that a fridge full of acid-laced orange juice would be a more profound use of technology. For Kerouac, there was but a typewriter, gallons of red wine and meth. Caldwell hasn't done any special training to prepare for the trek. We suggested a rigorous NASA-approved muscle atrophy avoidance course or perhaps days on end pulling slot machines in Vegas for preparation. The rider, however, is pretty sure he is physically fit and looks to be seen as a kind of geeky Lance Armstrong. "I think the idea of having one person ride it is that it creates an icon," he said. "There is somebody out there that people recognize. Lance Armstrong could not do it without his team, but he's the one out there being seen. He's the face to that team." Well said. The two-testicled Segway icon. That's something people can get behind. A nut above Lance, if you will. The 10mph team is not afraid of being heckled or even assaulted along the way, although we urge all teenagers out there to consider how they want to spend their last days of summer vacation. Here's a form for following along with the race. We're checking on Segway hate-crime legislation at this very moment, but it looks as if taunting blogging rubes is completely acceptable. Go kiddies, go! (There's more information on beating Segway owners available here.) All mocking aside, these people have inspired us. The Register has started a funding search for the One Burger at a Time excursion to Mexico. This will require a bus, a couch on a trailer, 50 gallons of Tequila and Register readers lobbing Big Macs into the mouth of a giant, plastic vulture, which will then poop the burgers into our hands. That's our American Dream and one that's closer to that of the general public, we dare suggest, than a globule on a gimpy scooter. Sadly, Segway LLC has not responded to our calls for monetary support, but, hey, they haven't supported the 10mph team either. Good luck, boys. You'll need it. ® Related stories Flash cards also invulnerable to Segway attack The Segway: glorified scooter or democracy on wheels? Segways are brilliant, you idiots Segway owners beat each other with homemade mallets
Ashlee Vance, 03 Aug 2004

Internet addicts sent home from Finnish military

It used to take a bum leg or a penchant for same sex love to get out of the army. These days, however, young Fins are using Internet addiction as a means of avoiding required military service. Finnish "packet poppers" sent off for service have exhibited painful longing for their PCs - a longing so profound that military doctors have become concerned for the youngsters' condition. The Finnish Defense Forces, showing their kind hearts, have decided to excuse IP addicts from their six months duty all together, according to a report from Reuters. "For people who play (Internet) games all night and don't have any friends, don't have any hobbies, to come into the army is a very big shock," Commander-Captain Jyrki Kivela at the military conscription unit told the news service. "Some of (the conscripts) go to the doctor and say they can't stay. Sometimes, the doctors have said they have an Internet addiction." There are no numbers of just how many net-addled men have run back home where they can up their frag count in comfort. But 9 percent of the 26,500 men called up in 2003 were dismissed for medical reasons, Reuters said. If the youngsters can kick "the horse," they're allowed back in the military. "They get sent home for three years and after that they have to come back and we ask if they are OK ... they will have had time to grow up," Kivela told Reuters. By that time, however, they're probably making a good wage at Nokia and more interested in N-Gage bluetooth wars than real battle training. ® Related stories US terror alert becomes political football DARPA figures out how to run a $2m robot race MoD deploys £10m on virtual battlefield
Ashlee Vance, 03 Aug 2004

US looks to be master of Aussie IP

Australia has edged closer to embracing some of the least favorable aspects of US intellectual property law, including the DMCA, by agreeing to a trade agreement between the two countries. Aussie Prime Minister John Howard and US President George Bush today promoted the free trade pact that will remove tariffs on a number of goods, affecting sales of manufactured products, medicine, film and television and intellectual property Down Under. The IP issue is of particular concern to some technophiles who do not want Australia to be restricted by the DMCA, which is basically what the agreement requires. It is, however, the pharmaceutical and media issues that appear to have Australian legislators more concerned than the IP measures. Legislation to push the trade agreement through has already been passed in the lower house of Australia's parliament, but a battle is taking place in the upper house Senate. More radical labor types are concerned that the deal will raise drug prices by hampering a state-subsidized drug provider program and also fear that Australian television and radio companies will struggle to compete against US firms. The Labor party has proposed amendments to both of those items even though leader Mark Latham says the agreement is overall a good thing. PM Howard has agreed to look at the broadcasting issues but will not budge on the pharmas. Bush has already signed legislation to put the agreement into effect, and both the US Senate and House of Representatives approved the deal in July. Technophiles, however, are upset over provisions in the trade deal that require Australia to recognize US software patents and to extend the amount of time copyrights remain enforceable. In addition, Aussies must agree to large chunks of the DMCA. Aussies must block any party that "manufactures, imports, distributes, offers to the public, provides, or otherwise traffics in devices, products, or components, or offers to the public, or provides services that: are promoted, advertised, or marketed for the purpose of circumvention of any effective technological measure; have only a limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent any effective technological measure; or are primarily designed, produced, or performed for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of any effective technological measure." IPod, we're looking at you. Open source advocates and computer scientists also fear the wrath of these IP provisions and have posted an interesting paper here. One of their concerns is that the free trade agreement essentially nullifies existing legislation that is not as dramatic as the DMCA and that is currently under review by the government. All told, Australia expects to save billions via the free trade pact and do more trading with the US, according to advocates of the legislation. ® Related stories DrinkorDie suspect back in Oz jail Aussie judge sets Kazaa trial date US, UK and Australia sign anti-spam act
Ashlee Vance, 03 Aug 2004