25th > August > 2004 Archive

Major telcos and device makers go after Induce Act

A coalition of technology heavyweights, including SBC, MCI and Verizon, have taken a stand against the controversial Induce Act, offering up an alternative to the proposed legislation that would allow consumers and vendors to enjoy the culture they love in a more protected fashion. A number of organizations today presented a draft of the Do Not Induce act to the co-sponsors of the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004 or Induce Act. While it may seem like a tit-for-tat move, the Do Not Induce backers are responding to an earlier call for "alternative language" in the act made by the co-sponsors. The revised language drastically narrows the scope of what would be considered a copyright infringement violation and "provides complete exemptions from liability" for ISPs, venture capitalists, credit card companies and other groups. Those backing the Do Not Induce Act include MCI, SBC, Verizon, the American Association of Law Libraries, the US Internet Industry Association, the Consumer Electronics Assocation and the US Telecomm Association, among others. They sent their proposal to senators Bill Frist, Orrin Hatch, Tom Daschle and Pat Leahy. Senator Hatch has been the most vocal backer of the Induce Act. The proposed legislation creates a very broad definition of what would be considering a threat to copyrights. Apple's iPod, for example, would likely be considering in violation of the act if it was found to "induce" consumers into violating musicians' copyrights simply by placing their songs on the device. The Do Not Induce Act, by contrast, would only have the courts go after targets that violated copyrights on a massive scale and continued to do so after being asked to stop. Service providers or credit card companies, for example, that may be indirectly involved with the copyright infringer would not be held liable for their fringe roles. "In your letter to the Register of Copyrights, you expressed interest in a "technology-neutral law directed at a small set of bad actors while protecting our legitimate technology industries from frivolous litigation,'" the Do Not Induct backers wrote to the senators. "We have developed such an alternative that would address mass, indiscriminate infringing conduct while preserving the Supreme Court’s Betamax decision, the Magna Carta of the technology industry which is in no small measure responsible for our nation’s preeminence in technological innovation and entrepreneurship. We believe that the enclosed draft meets these goals and serves as the best platform for the discussion of the interests of all concerned parties." Just last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco also pointed to the Betamax decision in its defense of decentralized P2P networks. The court argued that, like the Betamax, P2P software can be used for numerous noninfringing purposes and deserves a place in the market. Technology that first appears to hurt a market often turns out to open new doors to both established and fresh players, the court said, warning against legislation such as the Induce Act. Funny enough, Senator Hatch once shared many of these same "give the little man a chance" beliefs - most notably in his pursuit of Microsoft, which was seen as stifling competition by its dominance. In the late 2001, Hatch even turned on the music labels for being slow to put up content online and urged them to work with the Napster music service in court testimony. "I think working together in the marketplace cooperatively will lead to the best result for all parties, the record labels, the online music services, the artists and the music fans," Hatch said at the time. "I hope the focus will be on the latter two. After all, without artists, there is nothing to convey, and without the fans, there is no one to convey it to. I think keeping the focus on the artists and the audience can help the technologists and the copyright industries find a way for all to flourish. And I hope this opportunity is taken before it is lost." And later Hatch backed up the idea of technology pushing innovation in the music scene. "Online systems provide a cheaper and easier method of self-publishing," he is quoted as saying in Joe Menn's All the Rave. So what made Hatch turn against the technology crowd? Well, in 2001, the RIAA managed to convince Natalie Grant to belt out one of his self-penned religious tunes called "I Am Not Alone." A short while later Hatch moved to the music labels' side. (Hatch has since gone on to sell tens of thousands of dollars worth of his songs every year.) If someone could find a librarian with an amazing voice to charm Hatch back to the technologists side, the Do Not Induce Act might stand a chance. ® Related stories Court tells RIAA and Congress to let P2P software thrive P2Pers: we can make file-sharing secure and outsell iTunes RIAA praises 'magnificent' P2P Hatch's Induce Act comes under fire Consumer groups rally against Hatch's Induce Act
Ashlee Vance, 25 Aug 2004

Xbox slayings take even more horrific turn

The gruesome Florida Xbox killings became even more revolting this week as gory details emerged around the methods used by the murders on their six victims. In a 15-count indictment, prosecutors stated that the victims had their throats slashed and were stabbed even after they had already died. In addition, one woman was sexually violated with one of the baseball bats used to beat all of the victims to death. A grand jury this week indicted the four men suspected of committing the murders, and State Attorney John Tanner vowed to seek the death penalty for all four individuals. The story surrounding the murders is as strange as it is disgusting. Florida officials have stated that they believe Troy Victorino, 27, recruited three other men to help commit the killings. Victorino had left his Xbox and some clothes at a squatters house and later found out that someone in the house had taken his kit. He is then accused of hunting down the woman he suspected of taking the Xbox and killing her and five other people in their sleep. Four officials were fired earlier this month for not arresting Victorino on a probation violation. He had punched a man in June and could have been brought in weeks before the murders occurred, but the probation officials did not file the necessary paperwork until the day after the murders. Victorino was on probation for beating a man almost to death in 1996. Three of the men suspected in the murders have confessed to the crimes, according to a local Florida paper, with Victorino holding out. The men are also suspected of kicking the house dog to death. ® Related stories Four Florida officials fired over Xbox slaying Stolen Xbox blamed as motive for mass murder Victim not killer owned 'murder manual' game
Ashlee Vance, 25 Aug 2004

Apple iPod team seeks Wi-Fi engineer

Apple is looking for two iPod hardware engineers both with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi experience, opening the possibility that the portable music player may be upgraded with wireless connectivity. The job applications - which you can view here and here - were posted on behalf of Apple's iPod division and call for candidates with "a consumer electronics background dealing with high volume, low power, high quality products". The iPod is certainly a good candidate itself for wireless connectivity. Its PDA-style synchronisation with not only iTunes but Apple's own PIM apps suits it to quick wireless data transfers. Bluetooth is probably not a suitable alternative to Firewire or USB 2.0, but Wi-Fi would be. But we suspect Apple has its eye on wireless not as an alternative to the cable connecting the iPod to a host Mac or PC, but to equip the device with the tools needed to communicate remotely with said host and Apple's AirPort Express music-routing Wi-Fi access point. Right now, there's no way of sitting in a living room in which an AirPort Express unit is hooked up to a hi-fi and to control what's being streamed off the Mac up in the spare room. If the computer's portable, you can bring it down, or you can pop into the other room and change iTunes' playlist. What's needed is a remote control. With its display and smart UI, the iPod is an obvious choice. What it needs next is AirPort support, along with a corresponding Salling Clicker-style remote control facility built into iTunes itself. Indeed, Apple may even be considering offering such software itself, for the smart phones and PDAs iSync operates with. They would be limited by Bluetooth's range, allowing Apple to offer a Wi-Fi iPod as the superior solution, for range, UI and performance. Alternatively, the iPod division may be behind the mysterious 'tablet Mac' we reported on recently, which has also been described as a possible iTunes/AirPort Express remote control unit. At the very least, Apple is keen on increased integration between Wi-Fi and iTunes, and there's a big hole in its product line here: the remote control system. Whether it has in mind something a simple as an 802.11-enabled iPod, a more complex tablet-style computer, or both, remains to be seen. ® Related stories Euro filing reveals Apple 'handheld computer' Delayed tablet Mac to launch next month? Apple contracts Quanta to build wireless display report A Bluetooth iPod (and three other Apple distractions) Macrovision: iPod support for lock-in CDs in Q4 Apple files 'chameleon' computer case patent Apple coughs up for iTunes Music Store patent MS to 'quietly launch' iTunes rival this week
Tony Smith, 25 Aug 2004

California green lights e-voting

California's election officials have approved the use of electronic voting machines in 11 of the state's counties. Kevin Shelley, California's secretary of state, said that the counties had improved the security of their voting machines so that they now comply with all conditions required for state certification. Four counties that remain unapproved are those using the controversial Diebold AcuVote-TSx Voting System voting machines. Shelley decertified the machines in April after problems with the March elections. Newcomers to the e-voting saga should probably be aware that Walden O'Dell, Diebold's chief executive, wrote to Bush Jr. last year pledging his commitment to "to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President". After the March elections in California revealed significant problems with electronic voting systems, Shelley accused Diebold of engaging in reprehensible and deceitful tactics and called on the attorney general's office to investigate. The findings of that investigation are expected to be announced on 6 September. Shelley gave 11 other counties, which have machines other than the AcuVote-TSx Voting System, time to upgrade their systems to include a method of producing a paper receipt for the voter. He issued a statement saying that he was "pleased to announce that all eleven counties using electronic touchscreen voting machines have met the conditions necessary for statewide certification of their voting equipment", according to Reuters. ® Related stories Server crash blitzes Florida's e-voting records E-voting terminals: gambling with data? We want our e-voting paper trail E-voting security: getting it right E-voting security: looking good on paper?
Lucy Sherriff, 25 Aug 2004

Olympic no-hopers immortalised online

There's nothing we Brits like more than a gallant loser and El Reg is delighted to report that those athletes who crawled exhausted from Athens' Olympic arena clutching a wooden spoon between their teeth have been immortalised online. Yes, if you fancy celebrating "Brunei Darussalam, whose single athlete finished last in his single event", then jog gently down to DFL - a blog created by Canadian Jonathan Crowe and dedicated to ensuring that even the most underachieving athlete can have his or her moment of sporting glory. Like Fumilay Fonseca of São Tomé and Príncipe, bless her, who finished 52nd in the Women's 20-km walk with a time of 2:04:54, which was 35:42 behind the winner and about 15 minutes behind the next-to-last finisher. As DFL notes: "Three walkers did not finish and two were disqualified, presumably for breaking into a run." Quite so. Or what about Margit Appelt of Austria, who came 68th in the individual equestrian eventing with 271.80 penalty points, whereas the winner finished with only 41.60 points? A world-class performance. And let's not forget Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan, who finished her 5,000 metres "14th with a time of 16:20.90, more than a minute behind the next-to-last finisher and about 95 seconds behind the leader". Of course, it's easy to sit in front of the TV with a beer and a bucket of chicken wings and mock these brave combatants' efforts. DFL's strapline sums it all up quite nicely: "Celebrating last-place finishes at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Because they're there, and you're not." Absolutely. Olympian anti-heroes, we salute you. ® Bootnote What does DFL stand for? Well, "The D stands for 'dead', the L stands for 'last', and the F is obvious", explains the author. ® Related stories HK feds bust illegal cricket fighting ring Singaporean sets SMS world speed record Mach 0.3 milk float goes for land speed glory
Lester Haines, 25 Aug 2004

Covent Garden gains Wi-Fi coverage

Notebook PC or PDA-equipped visitors to London's Covent Garden will now be able to access the Internet wirelessly through Broadreach Networks' ReadyToSurf service. Coverage comes courtesy of a co-location deal with Jubilee Hall Clubs' gymnasium sited in the heart of the old market building in the centre of the Covent Garden piazza. Broadreach installed a Wi-Fi access point for gym users, but its central location has the benefit of reaching out across the piazza, potentially out to the Opera House, Rock Garden café, the London Transport Museum and a wide range of other shops, bars and eateries. Last November, Broadreach installations within the Leicester Square area created what the company claimed was the UK's first Wi-Fi 'hotzone'. Since then, public access hotzones have opened in Cardiff and Preston. Other London areas, such as Soho, are gaining Wi-Fi coverage - though in this case, it's not for public use - as are other cities, such as Bristol. ® Related stories World warms to municipal Wi-Fi Central London Wi-Fi zone gets green light London gets UK's first Wi-Fi 'hotzone' Intel-backed Wi-Fi network calls it quits Opera festival tunes into Wi-Fi European workers take to the streets Intel to commit to Soho WLAN upgrades BT's Wi-Fi technology faces courts trial Aiirnet to blanket US city with Wi-Fi
Tony Smith, 25 Aug 2004

Linksys, Netgear prep soho VoIP kit

WLAN kit makers Linksys and Netgear have rolled out consumer and small-business oriented wireless access points with integrated Voice over IP (VoIP) support. Linksys' WRT54GP2 provides a pair of VoIP phone ports alongside the usual broadband, wired and 802.11g connectivity. The company also unveiled its PAP2 phone adaptor, which sits between the handsets and a regular router, wireless or otherwise. Linksys WRT54GP2 router and PAP2 phone adaptor Linksys has partnered with US VoIP provider Vonage, which will be reselling the Linksys kit. Vonage offers price plans ranging from $15 to $50 a month, depending whether punters want primarily local or long distance calls, how many inclusive minutes they want, and whether they are a consumer or business buyer. The devices support the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), along with a range of voice compression algorithms with echo cancellation and DTMF tone detection and generation. Both can handle FSK and DTMF caller ID, and FSK voicemail. The WRT54GP2 will ship "in a few weeks", Linksys said, but it did not provide a price. The PAP2 is available now for $59. Both products will only be sold in the US. Netgear will also partner with Vonage. It too will offer an 802.11g router with integrated VoIP support, along with a phone adaptor for existing routers. Both products will be based on Texas Instruments' VoIP and Wi-Fi chips, but Netgear was able to offer few other details. Both are expected to ship in the US in October. ® Related stories IP telephony tests go global Easy VoIP wiretaps coming soon FCC approves taps on broadband and VoIP New York warms to VoIP BT shaves a quid off VoIP service Verizon dangles cheap VoIP for US land grab US Net users want VoIP BT signs up VoIP with Yahoo!
Tony Smith, 25 Aug 2004

Inventory issues fail to hamper chip biz growth

Market watcher Gartner has upped its 2004 global chip sales forecast to $226bn, the company said yesterday. The tweak represents an increase in sales over 2003 of 27.4 per cent, up from Gartner's June figure of 25 per cent. The increases in inventory noted by industry players and observers at the end of Q2 are not sufficient to cause concern, Gartner said, entering only the low end of what it calls its 'caution zone'. Inventory growth accompanied by slowing sales would have been worrying, the researcher admitted, but its raised sales forecast suggests it sees no sign of such a slowdown. Gartner is sticking by its most recent forecast of 15 per cent revenue growth in 2005 over 2004, up from the 13.3 per cent it predicted in February this year. Market watcher IC Knowledge, meanwhile, yesterday reiterated its own 2005 forecast of 20 per cent - well beyond most predictions for next year. However, the company has lowered its 40 per cent plus forecast for 2004 slightly on the back of rising oil prices. ® Related stories June world chip sales top $17.8bn Intel takes axe to Pentium 4 prices AMD confirms 90nm CPUs ship AMD knocks up to 30% off Athlon 64 prices Merrill Lynch downgrades notebook makers AMD to overtake Intel in 2017... UK PC biz sees best growth for four years AMD Opteron noses into Euro x86 server sales Euro notebook sales slowdown signals end of boom Samsung chases Intel with 80% sales growth
Tony Smith, 25 Aug 2004

Sony talks up PlayStation Portable's chips

Sony yesterday spilled the beans on the chip it plans to use to power the upcoming PlayStation Portable (PSP). The PSP comprises a number of components: the CPU, a media processor, a 3D graphics engine, a security processor and a power manager. The PSP's MIPS R4000-based CPU will run at up to 333MHz, Sony chip designer Masanobu Okabe revealed at the Hot Chips conference in Stanford University, California. Its frontside bus runs at up to 166MHz, with both frequencies controlled by processor load, Intel SpeedStep-style. It contains a vector processing engine. Throttling back the core and bus frequency are accompanied by lowering the core voltage from up to 1.2V down to around 0.8V. The chip's power manager can also power down unused functional elements to further conserve battery life. The 6m-transistor chip will be fabbed at 90nm, Okabe said. The PSP's graphics sub-system will operate across a 512-bit bus and will be capable of rendering 664m pixels per second and 35m polygons per second. The core operates at 166MHz, half the speed of the main CPU, and included 2MB of integrated buffer DRAM. A further 2MB of embedded DRAM is dedicated to the PSP's media processor. The media engine - or Virtual Mobile Engine, as Sony calls it - has a 24-bit programmable data path to allow it to cope with different audio and video codecs, though it will primarily use the MPEG 4 H.264 codec. Okabe claimed the VME can be reconfigured in a single 166MHz clock cycle. Sony will also build in a dedicated security engine, which it hopes will eliminate game piracy and attempts to hack the system. Sony confirmed the PSP's support for USB 2.0, MemoryStick and "mobile" DDR SDRAM, 32MB of it. Previously, the company has discussed the device's infra red connectivity and 802.11 wireless networking support, but Okabe's presentation did not touch on this elements of the handheld's design. ExtremeTech has some good shots of Okabe's slide here. The PS will feature a 4.3in, 480 x 272 widescreen LCD, weigh 260g and measure 17 x 7.4 x 2.3cm. It uses a 1.8GB, 6cm optical disc system - dubbed 'Universal Media Disc' - for content storage. ® Related stories Sony to expose PSP insides at September show Sony shows wireless PlayStation Portable Sony to unveil PlayStation 3 early '05 Nintendo redesigns DS handheld console No mobile console for Microsoft
Tony Smith, 25 Aug 2004

Hollywood sues DVD-chip makers

The Motion Picture Ass. of America (MPAA) yesterday confirmed the organisation has begun legal proceedings against two makers of DVD chips. It alleges that the pair were rather more willing to offer their products more widely than they should be. The MPAA alleges that the two companies - Taiwan's MediaTek and US-based Sigma Designs - have sold chips designed to decode DVD's Content Scrambling System (CSS) to customers who lack a CSS licence. The two chipmakers themselves possess CSS licences, but under the terms of said, they must only offer their CSS decryption products to fellow CSS licensees, the MPAA claims. Specifically, the Association alleges that non-licensees to which MediaTek and Sigma have sold CSS decoders include makers of unauthorised DVD duplication equipment for content piracy. With Jon 'DVD Jon' Johansen's DeCSS code now widespread it's not like the lid has been kept on the CSS genie, and it's entirely possible for said equipment makers to come up with software and even hardware solutions based on DeCSS. The MPAA formally ended in January this year its legal action to block the distribution of DeCSS. That could well form the basis of the MediaTek and Sigma's defence - 'if we didn't sell them chips, someone else would have' - when they come to argue their case in the Los Angeles California Superior Court, should the MPAA's legal action get that far. Neither company has so far commented on the MPAA's lawsuit. The action against Sigma and MediaTek follows a similar case the MPAA brought earlier this year against ESS Technology. In July, the California court issued a preliminary injunction banning ESS from selling CSS decoder chips to anyone other than CSS licensees. ® Related stories Court tells RIAA and Congress to let P2P software thrive 321 Studios gives movie makers going away payout FCC awards small win to TiVo sharers, MPAA slips safety catch Who conducts the crappiest polls? Have you downloaded movies from the Internet? Shock therapy not used in movie downloading study - official RIAA wants your fingerprints Hollywood drops DVD lawsuit DVD Jon cracks Airport music streaming
Tony Smith, 25 Aug 2004

Polymer researchers probe self-healing fuel tanks

On the atomic scale, shooting particles at stuff to see what happens is a long established scientific principle. But a group of US scientists which applied the idea on a macro scale found that a commercial polymer has a very interesting property: when it is shot at, it immediately "repairs" the bullet holes. The polymer is currently used to coat golf balls, bowling pins and helmets, but the researchers think it could eventually be used to create self-healing fuel tanks for military aircraft, New Scientist reports. At the moment, bullet-proofing fuel tanks is a heavy business involving a layer of rubber sandwiched in several layers of shielding. When it is pierced, the rubber swells to fill the hole. Christopher Coughlin, a materials engineer at the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Maryland is leading the research. His team has shot a variety of bullets at 1.5mm thick sheets of the polymer and determined that large, blunt-tipped bullets would tear holes in the material, but holes produced by smaller projectiles with pointy tips healed over very quickly. The key to the material's behaviour probably lies in its melting point. Coughlin explains that the bullets speeding through the polymer - known commercially as Surlyn - heat it to its melting point allowing it to stick itself back together. "It's not going to self-heal if you just poke a hole in it with an ice pick," he remarked. The team is now working to better understand exactly how the material sticks itself back together again. They also need to find a way round the polymer's irritating habit of disintegrating on contact with jet fuel. However, if a fuel resistant variety of the polymer can be found, or if the research team can find a way to bond it to another fuel resistant material, it would offer a lightweight way to protect planes' fuel tanks. And as Coughlin points out, anything that saves weight on a plane is a real bonus. ® Related stories Eurofighter at risk of 'catastrophic failure' Plane-spotters recruited in War on Terror Honey, I shrunk the surveillance plane!
Lucy Sherriff, 25 Aug 2004

Sheep pine for absent friends: official

The Cambridge University team which discovered that sheep prefer happy, smiley people has once again pushed back the envelope of ovine understanding with the revelation that sheep cheer up when they see snaps of friends and relatives. According to the Telegraph (registration required), team supremo professor Keith Kendrick reckons that "seeing a face picture of a friend or family member would be the most effective way of reducing separation anxiety". The Cambridge sheep worriers proved this by locking their guinea sheep in a darkened barn and showing them various faces. Stress was monitored noting "the number of times each sheep bleated, its movement within the barn and its heart rate". This being real science, the sheeps' levels of cortisol and adrenaline were also recorded. The results of the experiment were apparently significant: "When the sheep were shown faces of sheep familiar to them, they became less stressed and showed fewer signs of agitation than when they were shown goat faces or triangles. The areas of the brain which control fear and the stress response also showed reduced activation," the paper reports. The implications of these findings for humanity cannot be underestimated. The researchers conclude that: "These results provide evidence that face pictures may be useful for relieving stress caused by unavoidable social isolation in sheep, and possibly other animal species, including humans." Kendrick added: "In this sense sheep may provide a comparison with us carrying around pictures of loved ones in our wallets, handbags and so on." So, to summarise, carrying around a pic of a loved one can help us stay more content, more rounded human beings. And the same goes for sheep who, while "apparently ruminating mindlessly, could be dwelling on long-absent flock mates, mothers or even shepherds". Yes, the image of a woolly lonesome pining for farmer Giles on some wind-swept Cumbrian hillside is an appealing one. We cannot help but feel that it is only a matter of time before the Cambridge boffins wow the world of science yet again with an eye-opening analysis of humano-ovine sexual yearning, and await the results with eager anticipation. ® Related stories Sheep like happy, smiley people: official Inside the mind of the gay sheep Could you be descended from a Shagger?
Lester Haines, 25 Aug 2004

EC launches Microsoft DRM probe

The European Commission will, after all, launch a probe of the deal between Microsoft and Time Warner to take joint ownership of a US DRM company, ContentGuard. The probe is warranted, the Commission announced in a press conference today, because the deal could lead to Microsoft extending its monopoly in operating systems to the locks and keys for the digital distribution of books, music, movies and third party software. "It appears to the Commission that the transaction might possibly create or strengthen a dominant position by Microsoft in the market for Digital Right Management (DRM) solutions," the EC's competition office said in a canned statement. ContentGuard's technology was devised at Xerox, and in April, Time Warner bought most of Xerox's share, while Redmond increased its holding in the company. The two are effectively joint owners. Sony is also a licensee. The investigation must report by 6 January next year. ® Related stories EC mulls MS DRM monopoly trawl Intertrust ready for DRM role Time Warner invests in ContentGuard Microsoft squares Intertrust DRM suit for $440m Sony, Philips to buy InterTrust for $453m InterTrust sues Microsoft (on just about everything) Sony buys in InterTrust DRM technology InterTrust asks court to ban Windows Browser wars suit ends with death knell for Netscape Mickey Mouse blesses Microsoft DRM Microsoft monopoly says Apple monopoly is too restrictive
Andrew Orlowski, 25 Aug 2004

Macrovision CDS-300 version 7 beta

ExclusiveExclusive Macrovision describes version 7 of its CDS-300 copy protection system as a major step forward in keeping P2P users' hands off copyright content for which they don't have the distribution rights. Having seen a demo of the alpha release, which performed as advertised, we were nonetheless pleased when a copy of the latest beta version turned up in The Register's mailbag.
Tony Smith, 25 Aug 2004

Small 'scope spots big planet

A new extra-solar planet has been identified orbiting a star 500 light years from our solar system. The discovery was made by a team using a four-inch diameter telescope to make their observations - a size of 'scope readily available and much used by amateur observers. The research was conducted at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), and suggests we are on the brink of a new age of planet discovery, the organisation says. Guillermo Torres, co-author of the study, says the results prove that "even humble telescopes can make huge contributions to planet searches". Like all the other identified extra-solar planets, the body found orbiting the star in the constellation Lyra is a giant. Also in keeping with other identified planets, it orbits very close to the star: in this case only four million miles away - sixteen times the distance from the Earth to the moon. Its orbit is just 3.03 days long. The planet was found during a survey of thousands of bright stars spread across the sky. The team hunted for planets using the transit method: watching a star for a dip in its brightness, indicating that something passed between the star and the observer. A planet the size of Jupiter, for example, would produce a one per cent drop in the amount of light reaching Earth - enough to be detectable. Looking for planets using this method is a bit hit-and-miss, and so requires that many, many stars be surveyed. This is because a planet will only cause a dip in brightness if is orbiting a star at exactly the right angle, from our perspective. If it is in the wrong plane, it will pass undetected. To survey so much of the sky, the team at the CfA used a network of small telescopes. David Charbonneau, who co-led the research, explains that although the equipment is easily available, the technique is cutting edge: "It took several Ph.D. scientists working full-time to develop the data analysis methods for this search program," he said. Despite these limitations, the transit method provides more precise information about the planet than the Doppler method by which most other planets have been found. The CfA explains that the Doppler method "detects a planet's gravitational effect on its star spectroscopically by breaking the star's light into its component colours". However, because the Doppler method provides no way of working out the angle of incline of a given system, it can only provide a lower limit to the mass of a planet. The signal produced by a high mass brown dwarf orbiting at a very high angle to our line of sight will perfectly match that from a smaller planet orbiting edge-on. "When astronomers find a transiting planet, we know that its orbit is essentially edge-on, so we can calculate its exact mass. From the amount of light it blocks, we learn its physical size. In one instance, we've even been able to detect and study a giant planet's atmosphere," Charbonneau commented. Once the initial discovery was made, the team passed the stellar details to the W. M. Keck observatory. This facility operates two of the biggest telescope on Hawaii, and these follow up observations were essential to confirm the find. ® Related stories Neptune shows off five new moons Jupiter and Saturn: chalk and cheese Astronomers probe star wrapped in comets
Lucy Sherriff, 25 Aug 2004

US cracks down on spam mountain

John Ashcroft, the attorney General of the US, is expected to announce on Thursday dozens of lawsuits against alleged spammers following a low key campaign against the practise across the US. The arrests have been made over the last few weeks as part of a coordinated effort to crack down on spamming, dubbed Operation Slam Spam. The New York Times reports that the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has given significant funds to the campaign. The DMA is wants to promote legal email marketing, and is clearly concerned that negative feeling about spammers will affect its own image. Yesterday, anti-virus company Sophos revealed that the US accounted for nearly half of all spam sent, and said that the CAN Spam act was not working. The CAN Spam act was widely criticised when it was passed, and in fact had the backing of many high profile spammers including Alan Ralsky. He said that the act "made my day". Anti-spam organisation Spamhaus says that the bill effectively legalised spam, but acknowledges that it does attempt to deal with the issue of blocking spam. The bill also makes it illegal to send mail out using false headers. It seems not to have much of an effect on the overall volume of spam, so far: Symantec says that when the act was passed in December last year, 58 per cent of all mail sent was junk. That figure now stands at 65 per cent. However, in May this year, the FBI said it was going on the offensive in the battle against the spammers, and was developing cases on 50 of the worst offenders. Operation Slam Spam worked with law enforcement agencies and non-commercial antispam organisations to build up a database of spammers. The investigators also played decoy online - buying products advertised in spam so they could track the source of the messages. According to the NYT the charges will include credit card fraud and computer crime. ® Related stories US tops junk mail Dirty Dozen - again ISPs gang up on spammer-run websites London schoolkids drown in spam tsunami
Lucy Sherriff, 25 Aug 2004

Server makers shift more boxes than cash in Q2

Strong sales of small one- and two-processor systems again pushed the overall server market higher in the second quarter, according to the latest data from Gartner. Total server sales hit $11.5bn in the period - a year-over-year rise of 7.7 percent. Dell enjoyed its familiar position as the fastest growing vendor, and IBM held onto its lead in overall sales. One surprise in the quarter came courtesy of Sun Microsystems, which showed the strongest uptick in units shipped of any vendor. "Overall, each region showed positive year-over-year growth in terms of revenue," said Mike McLaughlin, principal analyst for Gartner. "We also saw increased activity in the x86-64 market, as well as continued strong sales in the low-end server market." In total, revenue figures for the top tier vendors improved only slightly even though there was a significant increase in units shipped. This has been the trend for some time, as large customers still appear to be shying away from purchasing larger, expensive systems. IBM moved $3.5bn worth of servers in the quarter up from $3.2bn in the same period last year. HP took the second spot with modest 4 percent growth, hitting $3.2bn in sales. Sun captured the third position with $1.5bn in sales up from $1.46 the year before. Dell posted a healthy 20 percent growth up to $1.1bn from $944m, as it edges ever closer to Sun for the third spot. Fujitsu rounded out the top five with $518m in sales up from $484m. All of the major vendors posted strong unit shipment increases during the period. All told, the vendors moved 1.6m units up from the 1.3m shipped last year. HP's strong ProLiant server business again carried it to the leading position in total shipments. HP moved 463,000 boxes as compared to 377,000 last year. Dell grew at a slightly faster clip - 29 percent - to move 337,000 systems. IBM had the slowest growth among the top four vendors at 19 percent and shipped 238,000 boxes. Sun's shipments increased a whopping 38 percent to 90,000 units from 65,000 last year. "The past several quarters Dell has experienced the strongest growth rate among the top-tier vendors, however Sun exhibited the highest growth rate (this quarter)," Gartner said. "Sun benefited from an increase in demand from the telco sector for their Netra product line, as well as increased sales of high-end servers to the financial sector." Sun must be pleased to see its core telco and financial server markets come back. But, while shipments increased dramatically, Sun's revenue total barely moved, confirming the notion that the good, high-margin times have passed. Fujitsu again took the fifth spot with 17 percent growth and 47,000 boxes shipped. We'll break out the processor numbers when the data rolls in from Gartner. ® Related stories Sun salutes Microsoft for delivering Q4 profit HP maps growth path Intel's Itanium rockets to 64-bit shipment lead Life support kicks in for server makers in Q2
Ashlee Vance, 25 Aug 2004

Windows XP SP2 features security crater - report

Windows XP Service Pack 2 has a flaw that gives users a false sense of security - quite literally. One report describes the security hole as a 'crater'. The vulnerability lies in the web systems management interface (WBEM), which allows downloadable code to spoof firewall status information. It's a convoluted exploit, but in theory, a rogue application could wait until the firewall is down and then generate false system information indicating that the firewall is in fact up and working. That's because the WMI database - Microsoft's implementation of WBEM - is set to read/write, not read-only, reports eWeek. The magazine's labs used a simple script to generate false firewall status information. No known malware uses this technique, but a mysterious communique signed by malware authors in 144 countries vowed not to use the latest exploit regarding it as "unethical" and "unnecessarily disruptive". Of course we made that last part up. More usefully, if system administrators have a way of locking down the WMI database, we'll pass it right along to you. On Friday, the first Internet Explorer vulnerability of the SP2 era was discovered. ® Related stories XP SP2 über patch already needs fixing 200 apps clash with XP SP2 MS plugs 'moderate' Exchange vuln
Andrew Orlowski, 25 Aug 2004

China's 3G 'wonderchip' primed and ready

Chinese engineers headquartered in the heart of Silicon Valley have produced a dual band mobile phone chip that's sure to cause more heated debate when trade delegations from the two superpowers next meet. Spreadtrum Communications says it already has contracts from four manufacturers for its 'superchip' - as the state news agency calls it - based on its own TD-SCDMA 3G air interface. China has encouraged development of this standard, an alternative to both the WCDMA specification used in European and Japanese 3G networks and Qualcomm's CDMA2000, hoping to nurture the domestic market. It also has another reason for seeing TD-SCDMA prosper: it hopes to bypass the complicated royalty agreement that 3G chip makers must pay. Ironically, much of the engineering for the chip was carried out by Spreadtrum's Sunnyvale office, in the heart of California's Silicon Valley. But China is deadly serious about its home grown innovation. In a gritted-teeth compromise declared by the United States Trade Departement after trade talks in April, the Chinese pledged not to steer government-awarded 3G contracts to TD-SCDMA suppliers. But rejoicing Stateside was short-lived. A fortnight later the PRC's MII - the Chinese Ministry of Information Industry - was again touting the cost savings from the Spreadtrum superchip. Reports suggest that by favoring its own manufacturers and bypassing royalties it can produce phones a third cheaper than foreign rivals and save the country $10bn in import costs. What's not in dispute is that it's the PRC's first homegrown chipset; the silicon was helped along by investment from MII. Spreadtrum says Lenovo, Amoi Electronics, Hisense Electric and the Ningbo Bird Company have agreed to use the 3G chip. The trade dispute is sure to be watched with interest far beyond the world of cellular semiconductor companies. When Western "technological superiority" is based on the licensing of intellectual property, and when China refuses to play ball, advocating its own better and cheaper technology, what do companies that want access to the burgeoning Chinese market do? Grin and bear it, and lobby like ferrets, we reckon. ® Related stories China snubs US with 3G phone 'wonderchip' US trade pressure kills China's home-grown tech China agrees to drop WAPI wireless sec spec Trade Wars II: China shuns Qualcomm – no CDMA tax! EU frets over China's 3G plan Gang of Four set W-CDMA royalty cap Patent fees weigh down 3G uptake
Andrew Orlowski, 25 Aug 2004

US DoJ searches homes of P2P evil doers

The US DoJ (Department of Justice) today launched an assault on P2P file traders, using search warrants to investigate five homes and the offices of one ISP (Internet Service Provider). This is the first time the DoJ has applied such drastic measures against file swappers, and the move comes just one week after a California court reaffirmed that decentralized P2P networks are legal. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the raids during a press conference, saying individuals in Texas, New York and Wisconsin were all under investigation. These actions come as part of the ironically named Operation Digital Gridlock and target the trade of music, movies, games and other software over P2P networks. The government has long sided with the entertainment industry in its crusade to shut down P2P networks even though the most comprehensive study to date from Harvard has said the networks have almost no effect on entertainment sales. "When online thieves illegally distribute copyrighted programs and products, they put the livelihoods of millions of hard-working Americans at risk and damage our economy,” Ashcroft said. "The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing intellectual property laws, and we will pursue those who steal copyrighted materials even when they try to hide behind the false anonymity of peer-to-peer networks." It's unclear what false anonymity means or if Ashcroft consulted the higher power before using that phrase. The DoJ believes the individuals and ISP were operating five P2P networks that were part of a group known as The Underground Network, which is not to be confused with this or this. Each member of this network was required to have at least 100GB of files available for sharing, which is quite a bit of data. Once approved as a member of the network, the individuals were free to share files with each other. A first time offender for a copyright infringement violation could receive five years in the clink and a fine of $250,000. The DoJ also reminded the public that the illegal reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works costs US companies $19bn each year. Again, however, there has yet to be a conclusive study that shows any link between P2P file-trading and declining music or movie sales. In fact, the movie studios refuse to even investigate if downloading actually increases movie sales. The DoJ's actions today could be seen as a response to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' recent decision backing up the legality of P2P networks. The court warned the entertainment industry and Congress to steer clear of legislation affecting the advancement of P2P and similar technology. But while P2P software makers have been declared legitimate, individuals who choose to share copyright works are still under the gun for being infringers. The DoJ, long a friend of the entertainment industry, seems to be sending a message that it will step up attacks against these individuals given the Ninth Circuit's decision. Meanwhile, technology companies, who contribute far more to the economy than media moguls, are doing everything they can to keep Congress from stifling technology innovation via even tighter copyright laws. This is getting good. Isn't digital gridlock wonderful? ® Related stories Hollywood sues DVD-chip makers Major telcos and device makers go after Induce Act More red ink spills all over online college music scene Court tells RIAA and Congress to let P2P software thrive
Ashlee Vance, 25 Aug 2004

Music labels sue 896 more music lovers

The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has lobbed a fresh round of lawsuits at music fans. The music label mob announced today that it has sued another 896 file-swappers - an apparent retaliation against an appeals court ruling confirming P2P networks as legal. The latest lawsuits were aimed at 744 fresh P2P users and 152 users who had already been sued and then declined to settle their cases with the RIAA out of court. The pigopolists have now managed to sue close to 4,000 people for trading music online. The RIAA has yet to provide conclusive evidence that file-trading has played any direct role in declining music sales, and a Harvard/North Carolina study found that file-trading likely has no effect at all on music revenue. "We are adjusting and expanding our efforts to target illegal file sharing on additional platforms like eDonkey and others," said RIAA President Cary Sherman. "There will always be a degree of piracy, both on the street and online. But without a strong measure of deterrence, piracy will overwhelm and choke the creation and distribution of music." Sherman's opinion is almost the exact opposite of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which last week denied the RIAA's bid to shutdown decentralized P2P networks. The court warned the RIAA and others that pursuing litigation against P2P and similar technology could harm innovation. "The introduction of new technology is always disruptive to old markets, and particularly to those copyright owners whose works are sold through well-established distribution mechanisms," the court said. "Yet, history has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests, whether the new technology be a player piano, a copier, a tape recorder, a video recorder, a personal computer, a karaoke machine, or an MP3 player." The RIAA has proved unwilling to consider that its actions are actually cutting off a new market and alienating already disgruntled consumers. P2P backers have urged the music labels to cease litigation and work to create new distribution channels for music. ® Related stories RIAA sues 482 more unnamed file-sharers RIAA targets 493 more unnamed file-sharers Tennessee rejects Napster/RIAA tax RIAA tax could add millions to education fees RIAA withdraws prosecution amnesty
Ashlee Vance, 25 Aug 2004