11th > February > 2005 Archive

MPs heading for electoral online disaster

A huge number of MPs risk breaking electoral rules in May if they don't get to grips with the Internet. Under Electoral Commission guidelines, once Parliament is dissolved for the election - expected 5 May - they lose the right to call themselves MPs. As the Commission may clear in the last election in 2001, this also applies online, so the individual standing for election is not entitled to misrepresent themselves as an MP. That in itself is not too difficult to deal with - you only need remove any suggestion that they remain MPs. However, it is a bigger issue with domain names that incorporate the "MP" suffix. And there are now nearly 100 MPs that have personal websites that include the initials "MP". Most significant is leader of the Opposition, Michael Howard, who you can find at www.michaelhowardmp.com. But also under scrutiny will be the home secretary Charles Clarke and his pal Ian Gibson at norwich-labour-mps.org.uk, and 90 other members of Parliament including various high-ranking politicians. Last time round, we revealed that a number of politicians including Anne Widdecombe and Gavin Strang had been forced to take their sites offline. This list was then extended to cover another 11 MPs, some of whom had added disclaimers to the front of their websites and others who had failed to do anything at all. This May, the issue will be bigger thanks to the number of MPs that have discovered the internet in the intervening four years. And, considering the dirty tricks played so far, still two months away from the election, it's a good guess that MPs breaking electoral rules may crop up during the hustings frenzy. But maybe we are unfairly pre-empting them. As soon as Parliament is dissolved maybe every single MP will flick the switch on their site. We're not holding our breath though, and neither its a new website that has been setup to cover the election - Backing Blair. Despite its title, Backing Blair is doing the very opposite and has a wide range of amusing anti-Labour content including a constituency-by-constituency database that will advise you who to vote to have the greatest chance of ousting the Labour candidate. One of our favourite sites from the last election - Spinon.co.uk - is also apparently bringing itself out the deep freeze for another stab at enlightening the masses by making them laugh at stupid cartoons. In the meantime, keep an eye out for what the MPs' websites do. A full list is below, courtesy of Backing Blair. If you spot your MP and want to warn them or even cause them some trouble, your chance will soon appear. ® Related stories MPs forced to shut down their Web sites The Internet MP list of shame Related links Backing Blair Spinon.co.uk The full list of MP sites http://www.adrianbaileymp.org.uk http://www.alancampbellmp.co.uk http://www.alansimpsonmp.co.uk http://www.andrewmackaymp.com http://www.andrew-miller-mp.co.uk http://www.andrew-mitchell-mp.co.uk http://www.andrewsmithmp.org.uk http://www.andylovemp.com http://www.andyreedmp.org.uk http://www.angelaeaglemp.co.uk http://www.angelasmithmp.org http://www.annemcguiremp.org.uk http://www.annettebrookemp.org http://www.annkeenmp.org.uk http://www.annmckechinmp.net http://www.annwiddecombemp.com http://www.bobblizzardmp.co.uk http://www.briandonohoemp.co.uk http://www.brianiddonmp.org.uk http://www.bridgetprenticemp.org.uk http://www.chrisbryantmp.co.uk http://www.chrismolemp.org.uk http://www.daritaylormp.co.uk http://www.davidcameronmp.com http://www.davidruffleymp.com http://www.davidstewartmp.co.uk http://www.derekwyattmp.co.uk http://www.desmondswaynemp.com http://www.desturnermp.co.uk http://www.gavinstrangmp.co.uk http://www.georgefoulkesmp.co.uk http://www.giselastuartmp.co.uk http://www.gordonprenticemp.com http://www.grahambradymp.co.uk http://www.iantaylormp.com http://www.islandmp.org (Andrew Turner) http://www.ivorcaplinmp.com http://www.jacquilaitmp.com http://www.jacquismithmp.labour.co.uk http://www.james-sheridan-mp.org.uk http://www.jimfitzpatrickmp.co.uk http://www.jimmurphymp.com http://www.johnbarrettmp.com http://www.johnbattle-mp.org.uk http://www.johnhealeymp.co.uk http://www.johnhuttonmp.co.uk http://www.johnlyons-mp.com http://www.johnmannmp.co.uk http://www.johnmaplesmp.com http://www.johnpughmp.com http://www.johnrandallmp.com http://www.johnrobertsonmp.co.uk http://www.kalimountfordmp.org.uk http://www.kerrypollardmp.co.uk http://www.kevanjonesmp.org.uk http://www.lauramoffattmp.co.uk http://www.mariaeaglemp.com http://www.markfieldmp.com http://www.marksimmondsmp.org http://www.marktamimp.org.uk http://www.mconnartymp.org.uk http://www.megmunnmp.org.uk http://www.michael.fabricant.mp.co.uk http://www.michaelhowardmp.com http://www.michaeljackmp.org.uk http://www.michael-wills-mp.co.uk http://www.moraymp.org http://www.nickharveymp.com http://www.nickhawkinsmp.org http://www.nigelmp.com (Nigel Evans) http://www.norwich-labour-mps.org.uk (Ian Gibson and Charles Clarke) http://www.oliverhealdmp.com http://www.paulflynnmp.co.uk http://www.paulmarsdenmp.com http://www.prestonmp.co.uk (Mark Hendrick) http://www.richardspringmp.com http://www.robertsymsmp.com http://www.robertwaltermp.com http://www.roybeggsmp.com http://www.shona-mp.com (Shona McIsaac) http://www.simonburnsmp.com http://www.stephenhesfordmp.labour.co.uk http://www.stephenobrienmp.co.uk http://www.stephentimmsmp.org.uk http://www.stuartbellmp.org http://www.tonycunninghammp.org.uk http://www.tonylloydmp.co.uk http://www.tonymcwaltermp.org.uk http://www.vernon-coaker-mp.co.uk http://www.wingriffithsmp.co.uk
Kieren McCarthy, 11 Feb 2005

Cell chip critics hear Itanic seagulls

LettersLetters Readers have responded to the prospect of the IBM/Sony Cell chip with measures of skepticism and enthusiasm. The former by far outweighing the latter. "I haven't been so excited about a new chip architecture since ... Transmeta!" writes Bruce. "And look how that turned out!" Referring to the Cell chip's ability to scavenge for resources over the world wide web, Tzetan Mikov sounds a warning note, echoed by many readers. "This has very little to do with microprocessor or system architecture, but is almost exclusively an issue of software - OS, supporting tools, etc. Software that apparently doesn't still exist, and if it did, there is nothing preventing it from running on more ''conventional' hardware. "As we know, the success of any new computer hardware has always depended almost entirely on its ability to execute _existing_ software well. The idea that IBM, Sony and Toshiba will create an entirely new software paradigm, environments and tools and make them successful is ludicrous (as you point yourself, Intel attempted a far more humble undertaking with Itanium and hasn't quite succeeded yet). "Migrating a thread transparently across a network - that I sincerely doubt. I don't know what Cell is, but I am fairly certain that you are putting the wrong emphasis on 'massively distributed, global computing infrastructure'. This is a problem that will not be solved by a chip ! Zillion similar articles The processor I have in my desktop computer is the same kind of processor that's used in some supercomputer clusters, so I don't see the novelty, writes Tom Kerrigan. "Even if we had software that allowed a cluster to recruit my desktop's processor for a calculation, there would be no point, because of the communication overhead. Likewise, I have no interest in using a cluster to, say, compress a DVD, because by the time I transferred the 8GB of data to compress, I might as well have compressed it myself. "I read a zillion similar articles - about 14 years ago - about how the IBM-Apple PowerPC chip was gonna knock Intel and Microsoft into the toilet. Apple went from 30% market share [actually, 9% - ed.] to 1.75% in that time - and Intel and Microsoft are $40 billion/year companies today." "Speaking of which [writes one chip designer who must remain nameless] "am I the only one who finds a multi-core Itanic funny? I mean, the whole point of the architecture was to exploit instruction level and thread level parallelism in a single core with lots of execution units. Cell seems to do that in a more elegant way, with partitioning at run time rather than compile time." The whole idea of a global grid gets short shrift. "How many businesses actually need complex programs running on vast super computers? It seems to me that apart from oil, weather and stock market very few," writes Stu Paulin. "Manufacturing needs local process control of machinery, while most of the businesses in the world actually use computers for analysis and accounting. The 'analysis' does require grunt, but not necessarily (or even likely) a complex algorthrym that requires millions of processes. Present day stand alone boxes handle complex CAD, accounting, publishing, communications, graphic and sound manipulation. "Another issue is the cost of telecomunications, a significant offset to the cost of local processing. Sure the world had more need than '4 or 5 computers', but I think a belief that it needs the opposite, some kind of unlimited processing power, is equally absurd." So if they build it, they won't necessarily come. On the other hand, some readers welcome our new Cell overlords. "Consolidating cycles throughout our single office would, even if only 25% efficient compared to separate boxes, give us much more power," writes a user with 10 boxes to look after. "Also smoothing demand would also make it easier to plan adding capacity. Out in wild blue sky territory it'd be nice to rent out my playstations capacity for those hours when i'm asleep, at work, or otherwise having a life." Or not. Snake oil "The Cell sounds like Skynet to me... 50 million interconnected Playstation 3s will become self aware and destroy everything!" writes Franki. Several readers pick apart unsubstantiated claims in the article - and quite right, too. "You write that 'no American or European technology company has conquered the living room, or really made itself pervasive in any aspect of our lives except ... in computing itself' says Simon. "Surely you'd have to say Nokia and a few others have managed to make themselves pervasive in our lives - and precisely because of the two things you argue - that they worked out the user experience was important and that they were providing a service that met end user needs. Ie, talking to/messaging people on the move) rather than a platform." Touche. And Jim Gillespie debunks the comparison between outsourcing computing cycles and the West's dependency on oil. "To my mind at least, 'outsourcing' refers to an economic decision taken on the basis of competing costs: you do it if it's cheaper to hire someone to do something than it is to employ someone. Oil is a natural resource which just happens to be most concentrated in the Middle East. Nobody chose to put it there, and so to talk about it as outsourcing makes no sense and reduces the credibility of an otherwise interesting article." And completely off-topic, Dave Williams reminds us: "Jeff Goldblum didn't save the world because he was a hacker. He succeeded because he was using Mac OS 7.5.3 on his Powerbook, the most buggy and unreliable OS Apple ever released. Even an alien supercompuiter couldn't cope with such a pile of ****, and so Jeff and Will got to save the world, thanks to Apple." ® Related stories The Cell Chip - how will MS and Intel face the music? The Cell chip - what it is, and why you should care Multi-OS Cell CPU tops 4GHz
Andrew Orlowski, 11 Feb 2005

Google to Wall St: our CFO couldn't make it. So meet the Chef

The next time Google invites Wall Street analysts to a six hour financial presentation, it may as well direct them to a point in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Microsoft already has a wonderful MapPoint "drowning service" that will show them precisely how to get there. That surely was the unspoken sentiment behind Google's first ever analyst meeting in Mountain View this week, which left Wall Street's finest perplexed. CFO George Reyes gave a brief introduction, took a couple of questions, but didn't give a presentation, as is the norm. Instead Charlie Ayers, former Grateful Dead chef, described how he'd prepare a delicious lunch of grilled pork tenderloin. Executives gave nothing away. The slideshow can be found here, although we've distilled some of the essential banality of the day by capturing some screenshots, such as this one: This approach is consistent with the company's attitude towards accountability. While it's happy to see the Googleplex menu published ("Joaquin's Potato Salad - steamed fingerling potatoes, with red onion, English peas, basil, parsley and a lemon aioli - and Portabella Mushroom Pizza - Roasted portabella mushrooms topped with a roasted tomato sauce, kalamata olives, pepperonchinis and parmesan," to take one day's example), it won't publish a policy for Google News. "They had a formal presentation by their chef but not their chief financial officer," Mark Mahaney, American Technology Research told the New York Times. "I have never been to an investor day where the CFO didn't speak." However, CEO Eric Schmidt reprised his creepy line that he wants a "Google that knows you". Last year Schmidt told USA Today that he dreamt of a product "that... would have access to everything ever written or recorded, know everything the user ever worked on and saved to his or her personal hard drive, and know a whole lot about the user's tastes, friends and predilections." So Google plans to improve its search by making use of its users' personal data. All the time we thought Google was run by brilliant mathematicians, we were wrong. Data harvesting now appears to the preferred way forward. While we hold Wall Street's wisest in about the same high regard as Brin and Page evidently do, the company would be foolish not to pay heed to public opinion - especially now that Google is the custodian of $1.8 billion worth of other people's money. In a recent Google competition on the excellent Fark.com, at least half the submitted Photoshop entries were on the theme of 'Big Brother'. ® Related link Google investor webcast Related stories Google values its own privacy. How does it value yours? Google Desktop privacy branded 'unacceptable' Google plugs brace of GMail security flaws An open source Google - without the ads
Andrew Orlowski, 11 Feb 2005

Dell sets $80bn goal

Dell, the world's biggest PC maker, yesterday proclaimed its intention to become an $80bn a year business. In a conference call to accompany its Q4 FY05 results, CEO Kevin Rollins said he wants to reach the target within the "next several years". Dell has some way to go: for the most recent financial year ended January 28, it hit $49bn in revenues. Assuming that the company retains a similar business mix in the dash for growth [but with greater market share in more companies] an $80bn Dell would be by far the biggest computer hardware firm. By the time Dell gets to $80bn a year, HP - roughly this size now - will be either bigger again, or dismembered. Yesterday, Dell shares eased three per cent in after hours trading, after the company missed analyst sales forecasts slightly. But the company claimed its best operating quarter yet, with records for revenue, unit shipments, operating income and cash flow from operations. Revenues were $13,457bn for Q4 2005, advancing 17 per cent on last year (Q4 2004: $11,512bn). Pro-forma fourth-quarter net earnings were 37 cents per share, 28 per cent higher than last year. The company took a tax charge of $280m, equivalent to 11c a share, to take advantage of a US amnesty on repatriating overseas earnings. Dell statement. ®
Drew Cullen, 11 Feb 2005

PalmOne settles WLAN gaming patent clash

PalmOne has come to an out-of-court accord with Peer-to-Peer Systems (PTP), the technology holding company that sued the PDA pioneer in January 2003 alleging patent infringement. Terms of the settlement were not made public - or, rather, they'll tell you but you won't be able to tell anyone else. Back in 2003, PTP claimed that the ability of two or more PalmOne - then trading as Palm - devices to connect wirelessly for the purpose of multi-player gaming amounted to an infringement of US patent 5,618,045, which PTP maintains on behalf of Jerusalem-based inventors Michael Kagan and Ian Solomon. They filed the patent in 1995. It was granted two years later. It's a very general patent that covers pretty much any device that can connect wirelessly to another on an ad hoc basis for the purpose of playing games. When the PalmOne lawsuit was initiated, PTP was already in litigation with Cybiko, a designer of handheld games consoles. It recently reach a settlement with that company too. Again, the terms of the agreement are shrouded in secrecy. PalmOne has yet to comment on the settlement. ® Related stories Palm faces WLAN gaming patent infringement suit Sierra sued over 'flawed' Voq smart phone SMIC coughs $175m to settle espionage allegations Rambus sues four for GDDR 'infringement' RIM infringed NTP patents, appeal court rules Good Technology settles with Lawsuits in Motion Related links US patent 5,618,045: Interactive multiple player game system and method of playing a game between at least two players US patent 4,572,509: A video game network
Tony Smith, 11 Feb 2005

Real relaxes media player tech licence

RealNetworks has relaxed commercial license terms to encourage more device makers to support its technology, which would in turn widen the potential customer-base for its content services. Under the new licensing regime, third-parties are able to take any part of Real's Helix DNA playback system, including the various codecs and protocol stacks. To date, all these technologies have been available only as a single package - if you wanted the RealVideo codec, you had to take the player too. RealNetworks hopes that device makers and their software development partners will continue to take the single package. Nokia, for instance, this week upgraded its licence to take in Helix DNA Player, ensuring future Series 60 and Series 80 phones will play a range of audio and video content - not just the RealVideo material that the likes of the 6600 can only handle today. But for handset vendors which favour other playback applications, there is now the option to add support for Real-encoded content. Real hopes the licence changes will help it compete more strongly with Microsoft's Windows Media system and Apple's iTunes in the battle for mobile handset makers and network operators. All three want to attract more users to content services, run by themselves or their mobile partners. The bulk of Real's revenues come from content sales, rather than from the tools that enable the delivery of this content. ® Related stories Apple talks up mid-range Motorola 'iPod phone' Digital music download coin-op to offer 'all formats, all DRMs' 3G chiefs choose AAC for mobile music delivery T-Mobile to battle iPod with music smart phone Phone win for Apple Nokia moves to counter Apple-Moto music alliance Apple blasts Real DRM translator Apple licenses iTunes to Motorola
Tony Smith, 11 Feb 2005

Apple iPod Shuffle

ReviewReview Many people listen to their digital music in no particular order at all: album tracklists are becoming a thing of the past, 'shuffle' play (making random selections from a huge collection of hundreds or thousands of songs) is the norm, and to hell with imposed order. Apple, with the iPod Shuffle, says that's how life should be lived, and who are we to argue? The Shuffle could be seen as the regression of the species. It's just a USB flash memory stick, after all, and so not much bigger - though harder to masticate - than a stick of chewing gum, available in minty 512MB or 1GB capacities, both the same size, for £69 and £99, including VAT. The packaging poses some questions to ask yourself, if you're short of them. "How does it know which song to play next?" Because it has an algorithm, you twit. The shocking thing about the Shuffle is the size, and lack of weight. You can really get all that music into that? Battery life is claimed to be 12 hours, recharged from the computer, though subject to slow death through recharging. At the price, it undercuts the majority of its Flash-based rivals, who have dismissed it as first-generation product. To whit, the lack of a display. You realise after a bit that having a display would be useful, though there's also some pleasure in having a player you can put into the coin pocket of your jeans and forget. "Can it read your mind? Can it read your moods?" the packaging probes. Some people think their iPods can. Apple's marketing people insist that the lack of a display grew out of campus tests, that somehow it didn't seem necessary. But they're muppets. Likely it's more that, as with the Mac Mini, they're building down to a price, aiming for the biggest market possible. Apple already has a lock on the top and middle end of the existing digital music player market. First the top-end daddy iPod with its big scroll wheel. Then the mid-market girly iPod Mini, which puts the buttons into the scroll wheel. They can hold about 120 or 240 songs encoded at 128Kbps; I managed 220 on a 1GB stick with songs encoded at 160Kbps, still more than enough to get lost in music. Now the scroll wheel is gone, leaving just the buttons. If you've just ripped a CD, you won't know the track names, but the songs will play anyhow. The sound quality is like all iPods - so you'll either like or hate it - and you can play AAC, MP3, WAV, Audible files; CD format AIFF is out, which will disappoint audiophiles. iTunes will convert DRM-less WMA files to a supported format. The Shuffle is Apple's stab - a potentially deadly one for rivals - at the bottom end. If any of them introduced a stick-like minimalist MP3 player, they'd get laughed out of the shops. Apple does it and everyone swoons. Overall, you can see it's going to sell no matter what an objective analysis says. The Shuffle is priced within the reach of pretty much anyone. You'll have to plug it back into your PC, where in iTunes a column headed Last Played will reveal what the hell that catchy - or crap - song was called. But shuffling isn't obligatory. A slider on the back also lets the songs play sequentially, though you still won't know where you are in the 'order' - beginning, middle, end? A tiny light indicates when a button has been pressed (you can lock the buttons). The front controls are fingertip-sized, in contrast with some comparably-priced Flash memory players which shrink the controls too far, trying to do too much in too little space. Yet rivals can also justly claim to have more features for barely more money. However, they don't have the marketing message - go from sequential to shuffle with the click of a button on the back. As ever the product is only half the experience. Some computers' USB ports don't have enough clearance from the body for the shuffle to plug in, so Apple offers a 'dock' at a jaw-dropping £19;/$29 - far cheaper to get a USB extender cable for a couple of quid. The iTunes software lets you choose how much memory is devoted to songs, how much to data; a neat recognition of the stick's dual purpose. The whole idea of onboard playlists simply doesn't exist on the Shuffle. You either play it in order, randomly or not at all. And enjoy it, darn you, because everyone around you will. ® Apple iPod Shuffle   Rating 80%   Pros — Cheap; small; good software; doubles up for data storage.   Cons — No display; pricey extras; no playlists; won't play AIFF or WMA files.   Price £69/$99 (512MB), £99/$149 (1GB)   More info Apple's iPod Shuffle page Recent Reviews Apple Mac Mini Aigo P750 20GB MP3 Player HTC 'Magician' PocketPC phone Sony PlayStation Portable PSP-1000 Sanyo S750 3G handset ViewSonic NextVision N3000w 30in LCD HDTV Mattel Juice Box kids' portable media player NEC 338 3G mobile phone
Charles Arthur, 11 Feb 2005

US man cuffed over Valentine's net suicide pact

Police in the US have arrested a man on suspicion of arranging a mass Valentine's Day suicide via the net. Gerald Krien of Klamath Falls, Oregon, used an internet chat room to arrange the mass killing, said police. He was arrested on Wednesday and his computer seized for further examination. Thirty-two people across the US and Canada are understood to be part of the suicide pact including a mother who agreed to kill her two children. Police are eager to trace the children to ensure they are safe. Investigators say webcams and the net were to be used to co-ordinate the mass killing. CNN quotes Klamath County Sheriff Timothy Evinger as saying: "The scary part is with just a name and intent on the web, you can draw in people world-wide. It doesn't surprise me that we could be just scratching the surface...the tip of the iceberg here." In October, seven young Japanese found suffocated to death in a car were believed to have died as a result of an internet suicide pact. The seven - four men and three women - were discovered in the vehicle in Minano, near Tokyo. The deceased sealed the car windows from the inside and lit charcoal burners. They succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. ® Related stories Seven dead in net suicide pact Police to monitor chat rooms
Tim Richardson, 11 Feb 2005

Man charged in DEC hacking case

A London man has been charged over an alleged attempt to hack into the website of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). Daniel James Cuthbert, 28, of Whitechapel, east London, was charged yesterday with a single offence under Section One of the Computer Misuse Act. He's accused an "unauthorised access" on 31 December to the site of the organisation co-ordinating fundraising efforts to help support victims of the Asian tsunami disaster. Section One offences, the least serious under the Act, are punishable by up to six months' imprisonment. There's no suggestion any money was stolen and the Disasters Emergency Committee has issued a statement reassuring the public that the internet remains a safe way to donate money to victims of the 26 December disaster. Cuthbert is scheduled to appear at Horseferry Magistrates Court next Thursday (17 February). ® Related stories London man arrested over disaster relief site hack Fake tsunami appeal website terminated MPs urged to reform cybercrime laws
John Leyden, 11 Feb 2005

Lastminute.com loss statement boosts shares

Shares in Lastminute.com gained almost six per cent yesterday, as the company reported better than expected results for the quarter ending 31 December. Takings were up more than 80 per cent at £264.4m, and gross profit was £43.7m, up from £25m a year ago. The company reported a loss of £1.8m, more than the £1.1m in the same period a year before, but better than market watchers were expecting. Last year, the travel broker significantly expanded its operations across Europe through a series of acquisitions. Although CEO Brent Hoberman maintained that the expansion was necessary to allow Lastminute to compete in Europe, he acknowledged that it had also added to the cost base. This quarter, however, had produced a "solid set of results" he said. "We have delivered record TTV for the first quarter, partly achieved through acquisitions and partly through strong organic growth driven by enhancing the customer offering... our integration and cost reduction plans remain on track." But pulling a decent quarter out of the bag at Christmas is not likely to impress in the long term. Both Reuters and the BBC quote Peter Smedley, an analyst at Bridgewell Securities as saying: "While there may well be a relief bounce today, we would remind investors that the first quarter is seasonally the least significant. Progress in the first quarter is simply not sufficient at this point to give comfort on full-year numbers." ® Related stories Lastminute.com takes ad rap UK onlines sales surge Lastminute.com floored by increased losses
Lucy Sherriff, 11 Feb 2005

Sullivan tells of WorldCom fraud fears

WorldCom called off merger talks with Verizon in 2001 amid fears that its accounting fraud would be uncovered, former CFO Scott Sullivan has testified. Once again in the witness stand, Sullivan - who has already pleaded guilty to his part in the fraud - said both he and former chief exec Bernie Ebbers were worried the scandal would be unearthed if Verizon was allowed to check its books prior to a deal, reports AP. Sullivan further testified that he warned Ebbers of the dangers of Verizon examining WorldCom's financial standing. Ebbers - who is charged with orchestrating the $11bn (£5.8bn) book-fiddling that led to the financial collapse of WorldCom in 2002 - denies any involvement in the fraud. ® Related stories Ebbers failed to tell of book fiddling Ebbers 'drove Worldcom fraud' - Sullivan Sullivan fingers Ebbers in WorldCom fraud whodunnit WorldCom directors $54m lawsuit deal unravels Ebbers fortune at risk as share prices slid Former Worldcom directors cough up $18m Ebbers never made 'an accounting decision' - witness Ebbers feared fortune would be 'wiped out' Ebbers knew of financial fiddling Ebbers' financial know-how probed Gloves off in Ebbers WorldCom fraud trial Ebbers fraud trial kicks off Ebbers faces WorldCom court showdown Former Worldcom directors cough up $18m MCI breaks free from Chapter 11 WorldCom gets sums wrong by $74bn Bernie Ebbers faces criminal charges
Tim Richardson, 11 Feb 2005

MSI K8N Diamond SLI mobo

ReviewReview PCI Express has changed the world of computer graphics. It has also enabled Nvidia to resurrect an almost legendary graphics technology: SLI. Although Nvidia announced SLI many months ago, it still seems to be one of the most discussed technologies of the moment, writes Lars-Goran Nilsson.
Trusted Reviews, 11 Feb 2005

Dating scammers fined £68k

Five companies have been fined a total of £68,000 for running bogus telephone dating services. Some 400 people complained about the con after receiving a spam telling them they had an admirer. People were then invited them to call a premium rate number to find out who it was. Despite claiming that the identity of the alleged admirer would be revealed on calling the service, premium rate regulator ICSTIS found that this was not the case. Instead, callers were merely asked to input the mobile number of someone they thought might fancy them and would only be informed if they had guessed correctly. ICSTIS fined the companies - based in the UK, Malaga and India - a maximum of £15,000 each and blocked their services. ® Related stories Ofcom slaps premium rate industry US company fined for UK rogue dialler scam Scammers fined £125k for premium-rate fraud
Tim Richardson, 11 Feb 2005

Orange preps latest own-brand smart phones

Orange looks set to become the latest mobile phone network to rebrand HTC's 'Magician' compact PocketPC-based phone, according to its Dutch website. The network is also preparing to release the keyboardless version of HTC's 'Blue Angel' PocketPC phone, which Orange already offers as the SPV M2000, other sites suggest. It's not clear when the Magician-based handset, dubbed by Orange the SPV M500, is expected to ship, or whether it will be made available in other countries. Magician is already available from a number of phone vendors, such as i-Mate, which sells it under the Jam brand. It's clear from the specifications that the M500 is based on Magician, though the case design doesn't exactly match HTC's standard casing. The tri-band Windows Mobile 2003-based handset contains 64MB of RAM and a 1.3 megapixel camera, the Orange Netherlands site says. It's got Bluetooth and supports MMS, the site adds. Meanwhile, Orange is also gearing up to offer the SPV M2500, a handset based on HTC's 'Alpine' design, better known as the O2 XDA IIi, according to MoDaCo. The M2500 lacks the M2000's slide-down QWERTY keyboard, but features a higher specification: more memory - 128MB of Flash to the M2000's 96MB - a faster processor - 520MHz Intel PXA272 to the older models' 400MHz PXA263 - and a better camera - now at 1.3 megapixel from the old 300,000-pixel job. Both models sport a 3.5in 240 x 320 LCD and tri-band GSM/GPRS radio. The site also claims that i-mate is preparing a version of Alpine, to be called the PDA2. ® Related stories Group Sense preps Euro smart phone T-Mobile unveils Sidekick-styled 3G device O2 3G handsets go on sale O2 falls for Blackberry 'Charm' O2 unveils compact PocketPC phone Related reviews HTC 'Magician' PocketPC phone HTC 'Blue Angel' Wi-Fi PocketPC phone Mio 8390 smart phone
Tony Smith, 11 Feb 2005

Middle Earth for sale on eBay

Do you have unusually pointy ears, are your feet larger than average and slightly hairy, do you wander around caves, muttering to your self about nasty little hobbitses? If so, you might be interested in this lot, up for auction on eBay. Planet-Tolkien.com, the place where people dream in High Elvish, is up for sale. The seller, Tarrant Costelloe, offers the site, a year's hosting, its source code and member base of over 5000. He says that the site gets an average of 60,000 visitors a day, and that the income from advertising alone is worth more than the £3,000 minimum bid. The site is the UK’s largest leading resource on J.R.R. Tolkien, says Costelloe. Features include: Polls, forums, journals, local and council news, private messenger, e-mail, chat, buddy-lists, reviews, real-time weather system based on the areas in middle-earth (which directly effects their spending of Mithril, a virtual currency that is automatically given to members on each unique login), art galleries, biographies, profiles, poems and so much more! You're probably wondering why he is selling this Middle Earth paradise. Well, the time has come to move on, he says. "I am sorry to let her go, but, the time has come...for someone else with more energy to take over and give the members the new features and time they deserve." Costelloe will be on hand for a month after the sale to explain how things work, and iron out kinks in the transfer. The site is run by a team of volunteers, and Costelloe asks that they be allowed to stay involved with the site after it is sold. In his description of the site, he adds: "The website is massive, it’s very advanced and there is far too much for me to write everything down here, so, I have setup a telephone number 0845 658 69 21 and e-mail address for anyone who wants more information." There are four days left on the auction, so if you have an inner Gandalf who could do with a bit of exercise, get your browser over here. ® Related stories US couple seeks cash for Hobbit Hole Lord of the Rings domain fight enters realms of fantasy NI outfit promos 2GB email service Teens get classes in Tolkien's Elvish
Lucy Sherriff, 11 Feb 2005
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The BOFH guide to equal opportunities

Episode 5Episode 5 Things are looking good. It's a dull day with nothing on and I might even get to slide off home early, once I can get rid of this woman from the HR department who wants a favour… "..and so we'd like you to help with the selection and interview process of the new Consultant for the Finance area," the HR woman drones. "Really, what happened to what’s-his-name?" I ask "He'd only been here three weeks?" "Apparently he's been arrested under the new Anti-Terrorism laws." "Really, what was the charge - looking swarthy?" "I'm not sure, they wouldn't say. Meantime we need a replacement for him, so we placed some advertisements and need a little help selecting some suitable applicants." "Ok, I'm your man!" I say, renice 19-ing any remorse processes I might have running for overdosing the guy's coffee with tanning tablets and making an anonymous tip-off... "Good. I'll send you our literature on the short listing criteria, selection and interview process." "Roger!" Ten minutes later I'm looking through the pages and pages of crap that we're supposed to go through to put someone into a job. "This is bloody ridiculous!" I cry. "What is?" the Boss asks, wandering into Mission Control. "All the crap attached to choosing someone for a job!" "Oh yeah, apparently they tightened things up a couple of months ago," the Boss says. "But how bad can it be?" "How bad can it be? Look: 'The company prides itself of being an Equal Opportunity Employer'. What does that mean?" "It means that we we're not prejudiced in our selection techniques." "Of course we're bloody prejudiced! We want someone who can do that job!" "Yes, yes, but if two people came in and one of them was… er…" "A 54-year-old black lesbian hippo with one leg who worshipped chutney," the PFY suggests. "Er.. yes, then we would appoint the, er, them!" "Instead of the other applicant?" "Yes." "Why?" "Well because we're giving them an equal opportunity." "No I think you mean Affirmative Action," the PFY comments. "Equal Opportunities means that they'd both be considered regardless of who they were. Affirmative Action is intended to address a perceived lack of some group in a company for PR purposes.” "It's not for P.R!" "Right," the PFY says dubiously. "Well this flies in the face of my Unequal Opportunities Policy!" I say. "Your what?!?" "Unequal Opportunities Policy. Which is basically 'if you can do the job, you're in!'. Couldn't give a crap about age, sex, race, etc. It's a simple policy, but it seems to work. Unless…" "Unless what!?" "Unless you're a thicko. I can't stand thickos. No offence." "What do you mean?!" "Thickos, you know, people who can't... well.. tie their shoelaces without assistance. No offence." "What do you mean 'no offence'!?" "Well you know, some people get upset when you say something like that - especially if they're a complete 'tard. No offence" Five minutes later the Boss has company, in the form of the PR woman that'd spoken to me earlier. "Uh.. there's some problem with our appointments policy?" she asks, oozing diplomacy. "Well I was just saying that it's bollocks really. I mean down at our level no-one really gives a crap about the whole age/sex/colour/creed thing so long as you're good at your job. The thing we do have a problem with is people who are too thick for their role. No offence, No offence." "Are you implying that we're stupid?" "Uh... Lets see, how can I say this best? Ah! An intelligent person would not have needed to ask that question! No offence. No offence" "I have a Masters Degree in Gender Studies!" the HR woman snaps. "Ooooh, now there's a degree that's hugely marketable!" the PFY blurts sarcastically. "I've been published several times in the Journal of Employment Diversity!!" "And I'm sure both their readers enjoyed it," I add. "However I doubt that this means you have the wherewithal to properly administer a desktop machine." "What's that got to do with it?" "We're talking about the position of a desktop support person for the Finance area, someone who'll need skills in desktop support, minor administration, application installation and management, etc - all technical tasks requiring more than a little savvy when it comes to computing." "Ah," the Boss says. "You were talking about computing intelligence! I understand now. You see, the way you worded it made it appear like you were suggesting that I - and Sheree here - were, well, stupid." "Oh, I see what you mean," I say . "Unfortunately when you're in a position like mine you tend to see things in black and white as opposed to shades of grey. So whereas you might see yourself as in the upper 90 percents of intelligence, I might see you as in the lower 15s." "Because of our knowledge of the spheres of computing is much less than your own!" the HR woman adds. "Yes, that too," the PFY says. "What do you mean?" she asks, frowning. "Well, that, and because you're thicko," the PFY says. And there go the wheels from the going-home-early plan. ® BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99 Get BOFH Books here BOFH is copyright © 1995-2005, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.
Simon Travaglia, 11 Feb 2005

Lizard Army develops copulating robot

We're obliged this week to vigilant members of the neoLuddite Resistance Army (NRA) who have monitored with alarm the news that a South Korean professor claims to have developed artificial chromosomes which will eventually lead to emotional, self-reproducing cybersexpots. Kim Jong-Hwan of the ITRC-Intelligent Robot Research Centre says that once his chromosome software is installed in a robot within the next three months, the previously cold and distant machine will acquire reasoning and emotions - among the latter the overwhelming urge to indulge in torrid robo-rumpy-pumpy. Kim says: "Christians may not like it, but we must consider this the origin of an artificial species. Until now, most researchers in this field have focused only on the functionality of the machines, but we think in terms of the essence of the creatures." Christians may not like it? Good Lord: surely any right-minded individual - from Buddhist to practising member of the Snake Cult of California - can see where this one is leading. Kim himself warns: "Robots will have their own personalities and emotion and - as films like I Robot warn - that could be very dangerous for humanity. If we can provide a robot with good - soft - chromosomes, they may not be such a threat." By "soft" chromosomes we assume that Kim means the kind of DNA which compels a lust-and-cold-fusion-driven sex machine to thoughtfully provide chocolate and flowers after forcing his vile attentions on our wives and daughters. We have no doubt at all that the Lizard Army sees the impregnation of human females with cybersperm as essential to the production of a servile hybrid race condemned forever to mop out murderous cyberloos and run the occasional duster over self-aware domestic appliances. In fact, Kim himself hints at the solution to this burgeoning threat, ie, don't download the software, completely destroy the research centre using explosives and then lower yourself into molten steel to prevent this Mephistophelean knowledge ever again menacing humanity. One final thing: those readers who think that Kim Jong-Hwan is nothing more than a harmless crank after a bit of free press should note that it is he who established the Robot World Cup (aka "RoboCup"), the aim of which is "by 2050, [to] develop a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots that can win against the human world champion team in soccer". Yup, within fifty years, we have the prospect of massed ranks of RoboRonaldos with ball skills so advanced that not even a brigade of cloned Thierry Henris will be able to resist their inexorable march towards footballing glory. Consider yourselves duly alerted. And speaking of Thierry Henri - he of the hilarious "Va Va Voom" Renault Clio ads - we wonder if the talented Gunners' frontman is aware that his paymasters are themselves in the service of the Lizard Army, as recently proved beyond reasonable doubt by the Vel Satis terror kidnap ordeal shocker. Mercifully, the same cannot be said of Ford, which has been fighting a heroic front-line battle against homicidal motor vehicles. The company has recalled 800,000 units due to what is reported as "a problem with the cruise control deactivation switch on several vehicle models". The end result of this "problem" is cars spontaneously combusting, even while the ignition is turned off. Chillingly, however, Ford's contribution to the war against the Rise of the Machines™ came too late for one Houston family which saw its home reduced to smouldering rubble by a kamikaze Ford Expedition. The attack occurred at 8.30pm on Monday night when the parked Expedition decided to torch the carport adjoining owner Maria Gauna's house. A shaken neighbour recounted: "It looked like a tree was on fire. I came out and the closer I got, I saw the truck was on fire. By the time we got to the house, the flames were at the back door of the home." Gauna, who affirmed that she last used the car at 5.30pm, said: "We were all asleep. People started knocking on the door and screaming that the truck had caught on fire. We had to evacuate and get out of the house." She added that she had not received notification of the recall, arousing suspicion that the satanic Expedition may have intercepted her mail in anticipation of its planned contribution to the destruction of mankind. We await with spines a-tingle the expected confirmation from the US Mail that "one of our Houston postmen is missing". ® The Rise of the Machines™ We are Zogg: The Cuddly Menace Lizard Army invades Alaska London menaced by flaming DVD players Killer hoover attacks Scotsman Car self-destructs in assassination bid The rise of the rat-brain controlled android Japanese unveil trumpet-playing robot Boffins unleash robotic cockroach Ukrainian teen fights the Rise of the Machines Man in satanic Renault terror ordeal Killer cyberappliances: Satan implicated US develops motorised robobollard Killer cyberloo kidnaps kiddie A robot in every home by 2010 Cyberappliances attack Italian village Fire-breathing buses threaten London Cyberloo blast rocks Stoke-on-Trent Spanish cyberkiosks claim second victim Cyberkiosk assaults Spanish teenager Hi-tech toilet caught on camera Hi-tech toilet swallows woman
Lester Haines, 11 Feb 2005

UK firms warned of corporate hijack risk

UK firms are urged to look out for an emerging scam which specifically targets the Companies House database. Early Warning, the online fraud prevention group, says it is easy for fraudsters to change the registered office for the limited company whose details they have obtained. Armed with the details of a particular limited company, including the postal address of the head office and its registered company number, a fraudster can submit a form to change the address of a firm to a mailbox address or even a short-let residential property. The information to carry out this Corporate ID theft can be easily found on the internet. Once a "Form 287" is completed and submitted, Companies House will amend its database without getting confirmation; typically, conducts basic checks only . The fraudster is then at liberty to start opening trade accounts and ordering goods to be delivered to the bogus address. The innocent company whose details have been altered by the fraudster will only find out about the scam when the debt collectors arrive, or when legal action is initiated to recover the goods that have been fraudulently obtained. "Companies House cannot prevent hijacking. It does not have the power to investigate the contents and accuracy of forms sent to them for filing," said Andrew Goodwill, Early Warning's managing director. Goodwill knows of three companies (a Kent property company, an antique dealer and flooring company, both in London) who have fallen victim to the scam. Early Warning became aware of the scam two weeks ago when fraudsters posing as one of the victim companies ordered computer hardware from an Early Warning member. Fraud prevention A spokesman for Companies House said it was aware of company hijacking as an emerging problem. To combat such frauds, an electronic filing service with built-in safeguards, called PROOF ,(PROtected Online Filing) has been introduced. If a company signs up to PROOF, Companies House will accept specific statutory forms in electronic format only, and will refuse any paper submissions of the form. "The system relies on electronic codes - not signatures - and has greater built-in security," the spokesman explained. Firms still filing by paper have the option of using a Companies House monitoring service to keep tabs on documents filed with the organisation. An electronic version of this service was recently introduced. All very well - but shouldn't Companies House be checking more rigorously in the first place? Companies House says this is not practical: "We don't have the power and resources to go back and check 9m documents." Goodwill called for firms to show vigilance: "Every Limited company should check their registered office details on the Companies House website and this should probably be done every month or so. Companies House has no responsibility to validate the details contained in Form 287 and that it may even require legislative changes to get them to do so," he said. ® Related stories Two-in-one ID theft, fee fraud scam debuts Net fraudster nailed in East Ham Email scammers target Nochex users Forged cheque scam hits UK retailers Nigerian freight forwarding scam hits UK
John Leyden, 11 Feb 2005

Apple announces 'two for one' stock split

Apple will next week issue a second share for every single share currently outstanding, the Mac maker announced today. The two-for-one split will take place on Friday, 18 February after the close of trading on Nasdaq, with the shares re-entering the market on Monday, 28 February. There are currently some 900m AAPL common shares in circulation, rising to 1.8bn after the split. Apple shares were priced at $78.36 as we went to press. Earlier this week the stock hit a year-high of $81.99, just shy of the company's all-time high, $83.25, achieved in November 1999. Apple last split its stock this way in June 2000, when AAPL shares had risen to over $60 =after almost four years below $20). After the 2000 split, the stock slumped to below $20 and then oscillated around the $20 mark before starting, in Q1 2003, the growth trend that has taken the stock to today's levels. The increase comes largely on the back of the company's success with the iPod. In November 2004, the stock hit a four-year high. ® Related stories Apple shares hit four-year high Apple sued over share dealings - again Apple insider trading suit expanded Apple to shine through PC market gloom - analyst Apple shares slump Apple splits stock Apple shareholders OK two-for-one stock split Apple stock hits all-time high
Tony Smith, 11 Feb 2005

Verizon close to MCI deal - report

US telecoms giant Verizon Communications Inc. could be on the verge of buying MCI Inc., according to the Wall Street Journal. Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper reports that the two companies are nearing a deal although they have yet to finalise the acquisition price or the appointment of senior execs. Details of a possible deal between the two could be announced within the next couple of days, said the paper, coming hot on the heals of SBC's decision to blow $16bn (£8.5bn) acquiring former parent AT&T.. Last week there were reports that Qwest Communications International Inc. had bid $6.3bn (£3.3bn) for MCI - the telco formerly known as WorldCom which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April last year following its damaging $11bn (£5.8bn) accounting scandal. Coincidentally, when MCI was still called WorldCom the company held merger talks with Verizon about a possible merger. But at the trial of former WorldCom chief exec Bernie Ebbers, CFO Scott Sullivan testified that the proposed deal in 2001 was scrapped amid fears that Verizon would uncover the accounting fraud when looking over WorldCom's books. ® Related stories Qwest courts MCI for telecoms take-over Sullivan tells of WorldCom fraud fears MCI 'makes $5m a year from spam gangs' SBC to axe 13,000 jobs in AT&T merger
Tim Richardson, 11 Feb 2005

Real may or may not mature on Linux

Desktop SummitDesktop Summit In the coming months, Real Networks plans to float a new version of its media player for the Linux operating system that includes more of the features found in the standard player. This "experiment" will give Real an idea as to how practical its fully-fledged media services can be on the open source OS. Linux/Real zealots out there shouldn't get too excited. All you're going to see with the future version of Real for Linux are new radio stations. Real will separate out the radio service sold as part of its Rhapsody music subscription service and plunk it into the Linux player. You also shouldn't get too excited because Real is not sure it can pull off this plan. "We can't make any promises there," said Rob Lanphier, the Helix Troublemaker at Real. "The radio portion of Rhapsody is something we're investigating. It would bring a range of different stations. In part, what we are hoping to do is prove that a market exists. We'll put out the internet radio service and based on that initial success or failure decided what to move into the broader offering." In some ways, it's surprising that Real would even show up at the Desktop Summit here. Void of subscription services, the Linux desktop presents almost no revenue opportunity to Real. Real, however, wants to grab the attention of Linux developers, particularly those using the OS in the embedded market. "If it was solely about the Linux desktop, we probably would not be here," Lanphier said. "The idea is to get to the people making phones and car radios. Very few people want to be tied down to a humming beige box in their den. They want to take their music out jogging and watch movies on planes - all those kinds of things." To that end, Real yesterday announced a broader license for its open source Helix media player. The new terms allow embedded device makers to pick and choose which parts of the Helix stack they want to use. Real also announced stronger ties with Nokia. One of the perks about being a Linux on Real/Helix fan is that you can get a sneak peek into the features that will eventually appear in the mainstream player. "The new stuff flows to Linux where we can play with the code, and you can test it," Lanphier said. So far, licensing issues have hampered Real from bringing its standard content services to Linux. The open source world doesn't mesh terribly well with DRM (digital rights management) concerns of content owners. The free software advocates at the company hope the radio service will be the first step toward changing this situation. With a variety of media players around for Linux, a slow-moving Real isn't a huge concern. Although, if the Linux desktop is to end up in average consumers' hands, Real will need to be there in full force. Tempting server and embedded developers while stringing desktop developers along is a dangerous line to walk as well. Here's hoping to radio experiment works and Real takes the desktop more seriously. ® Related stories Real relaxes media player tech licence No DRM in Mr. Robertson's neighborhood Things to do online, when you are dead
Ashlee Vance, 11 Feb 2005

Nominet wins case against Domain Registry Services

Nominet UK has won its legal action against bogus invoicing scam outfit Domain Registry Services after the .uk internet domain name registry took civil action against Peter Francis-Macrae and his company Ultra Technologies Ltd. Francis-Macrae was found liable of copying and using records from Nominet's WHOIS database to send out fraudulent domain name renewal invoices under the name of 'Domain Registry Services'. He was ordered to pay Nominet costs of £81,000, with damages to be determined at a later date at a hearing at Huntingdon Magistrates Court. Nominet also obtained permanent injunctions preventing Francis-Macrae or his companies from causing any damage to Nominet's computer systems, harassing Nominet staff, misusing the .uk WHOIS database or trading under the misleading 'Domain Registry Services' name. He was ordered to provide Nominet with a full set of accounts and a list of names and addresses of customers obtained from the Nominet database. Lsley Cowley, Nominet chief exec, said the case "sends a clear and strong message to those that may be considering similar scams that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated now or in the future". Francis-Macrae remains in custody facing a number of other charges unrelated to the Nominet UK case. ® Related stories Alert over invoices from 'Domain Registry Services' UK's biggest spammer charged with more offences UK's biggest spammer in court UK's biggest spammer goes AWOL
Tim Richardson, 11 Feb 2005

Ariane 5 ECA launch is go

The European Space Agency's Ariane 5 ECA rocket has been greenlighted for blast-off tomorrow from Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. The 50m (160ft) high vehicle will carry an XTAR-EUR telecommunications satellite, the Sloshsat-FLEVO experimental mini-satellite - designed to "investigate the dynamics of fluids in weightlessness" - and a telemetry/video imaging package which will gather flight data. ESA rocketeers are hoping that the payload does not actually end up in the Atlantic - as happened during the last Ariane 5 ECA launch in 2002. The exploding rocket dumped £30m worth of telecoms kit into the ocean after exploding four minutes into its flight. The cause of the failure was later identified as a fault in the Vulcain engine nozzle's cooling circuit which resulted in the nozzle deforming. This, in turn, sent the rocket off course provoking automatic self-destruct. The Vulcain is the Ariane 5 ECA's main cryogenic engine which is supported by two solid boosters. Atop the main stage is the payload-bearing second stage - itself equipped with a cryogenic engine. The ESA says it has rectified the problem and has, moreover, given the latest Ariane 5 ECA more muscle than its unfortunate predecessor in the form of increased thrust from both the twin solid boosters and upper cryogenic stage. The maximum payload is estimated at 10 tonnes - impressive, but still three tonnes short of Boeing's Delta 4-Heavy. Nonetheless, the Boeing monster is earmarked for military ops, leaving Ariane a clear run at the civil sector. Much rests on the success of the mission. "Ariane 5-ECA will be the workhorse of our company, and of the European space industry as well, for the next 10 years," Arianespace's chief Jean Yves Le-Gall told the BBC. "So this launch is very important," he added with a certain degree of understatement. He has some cause for optimism - in 2004 a less potent Ariane 5 "Generic" successfully deployed a six-tonne comms satellite in a morale-boost for the programme. ® Related stories Space launches make kids sick NASA scramjet goes for Mach 10 burn Ariane 5 powers satellite into orbit
Lester Haines, 11 Feb 2005

Browser holes, hackers and rampaging botnets

LettersLetters This week we found out, all over again, that clicking on links can be a dangerous business. As John Leyden wrote on Monday, "A security loophole in Mozilla and Firefox browser could be used to spoof the URL displayed in the address bar, SSL certificate and status bar. The vulnerability also affects Opera and Konqueror." So what was behind the flaw, and is there anything to be done? According to one reader, we might be stuck with this problem: What a horror story! I tested Opera 7.54 at work, and sure enough, it functions correctly. That is, it follows the spoofed test link Secunia provide. Unfortunately, Secunia are absolutely wrong about there being a flaw in the browsers' International Domain Name implementations. There is no loophole in the browsers. They're doing precisely what they're supposed to do, and no-one has grounds for complaining to Opera A/S or any other of the browser writers. When I went to Secunia's site using Opera under Japanese Windows and clicked on their test link, the "problem" was immediately visible. Instead of an ASCII "a", the second "a" in the spoofed "paypal" is glaringly obviously a two-byte character ("full-width" in Japanese parlance, one-byte ASCII characters being "half width"). OK, so I've been wrestling with these horrors cropping up in supposedly standard English text for five years now, so I'm sensitised, but they really do look different, to me at least. Unfortunately, that's no guarantee that even I wouldn't be fooled too, unless I looked really closely. Two-byte letters can take some spotting at times, especially if you're not on the lookout for them. Now, my ancient old Acorn here at home doesn't have any form of support for 2-byte character coding, so it fails to follow the link. That's not because it sees http://www.payp&1072;l.com/ instead of http://www.paypal.com/ but because its version of the Fresco browser can't code it. It ignores the essential codes, so it breaks the otherwise valid url and goes nowhere. Of course, its failure also meant that the spoof couldn't work on me, either. The BIG BIG problem is not that there is a flaw in the browsers' IDN implementation, but that the dumbos who specified the IDN system (correctly) didn't spot that in the process they were handing on a plate to the malicious social engineers the best possible of all nasty tools. Someone didn't realise that you must look before you leap. The only "cure" I can imagine would be to break the browsers' IDN implementations so that they didn't display the valid 2-byte Roman letters (and Greek ones and Russian ones, and numerals, and punctuation marks), and so that they didn't do it in any of the Japanese, Korean and Chinese codings, plus EUC and Unicode too (that's over half a dozen coding sets) - without of course destroying the codings for Chinese characters, Japanese kana and Korean Hangul in the process. This would not only be tricky to do, it would be technically invalid, and would no doubt bring howls of protest from the standards bodies of all three countries (oh, and I think there are several other countries whose codings would have to be broken, too). Sadly, I don't think there's a cure, beyond a very loud litany of "USER BEWARE!" The genie is out of the bottle. Oh help! Oh bother! Regards Michael Poole A simple lesson in how to mess with adwords: In your article 'Botnets strangle Google Adwords campaigns' you describe what sounds like the first beneficial application of Botnets ;-) Raphael Though use of a Botnets is new, sabotaging online campaigns has been around for a number of years. Pay per click advertising has long been a target of those wishing to empty their competitors' marketing budget. Google's ad bid system just ads to the tricks that can be played. As you wrote, dropping the click rate to zero is one approach. Alternatively, the attacker can click ads. Since Google adword campaigns typically have a maximum spend per day, the attacker can quickly use up their target's budget. After the maximum per day limit is reached, Google will stop displaying the ad. Daniel "Beg pardon? You are going to sue people for what?" was the general tone of your responses to news that a games company is planning to seek legal redress from punters who messed about with stuff they'd bought. For no commercial gain, whatsoever. Should I be worried that I use non-standard counters for playing monopoly in place of the manufacturer's choices (aka a peanut and a button)? What about the alternative chance cards that we use ("finish your drink" etc)? Richard Hang on. I go out and buy a nice new Ford. I then add furry dice, bung on a spoiler and paint the whole car a lovely shade of mint green. Being sociable, I take some photos and upload to the Ford Custom website so that others can see what I've done. Do Ford sue me for changing the car they designed? These developers should get a life (if that's not an oxymoron...) Mat Everybody has an opinion about NHS IT, but no one wants to have their name linked to that opinion. Interesting... As a clinician (not a GP) working in the NHS and heavily involved in IT, I am always interested in articles about NHS IT and the particular slant being applied to it. What many people fail to mention (or understand) is that the NHS - and particularly Primary Care services - is more than GPs: what about opticians, pharmacists and dentists? GPs have been relatively pampered wen it comes to IT: historically, drug companies were falling over themselves to give GPs computer systems so they could get information on prescribing patterns, while the rest of the NHS was still using rocks and chisels. Other than GPs, Primary care has suffered from a lack of IT investment over the years and our nurses, health visitors, physiotherapists, podiatrists and all the other non-hospital-based and non-GP-based services badly need the tool of IT, while GPs are in the enviable position of having all the IT they could possibly want, so have no real need to support NPfIT. Articles like this reinforce the misguided opinion of many people (including some GPs) that the GP is the be-all and end-all of the NHS. They're not, and the GP opinion is one of many, the rest being regularly shouted down by the battle cry "I'm a GP" Perhaps it might be better if you didn't publish my name - I work with GPs and even have one myself :) I read with interest the GPs have no faith in £6bn NHS IT programme, and the survey results linked to the story. I work with what is called the "LIS" Team (who support projects for five Primary Care Trusts-PCT's) the as a member of IM&T department (which is the department mainly involved with all of the NPfIT stuff). As always, the results were a little skewed by Doctors not wanting to change the way things are and admit their own shortcomings. I have been in surgeries where paper based health records are stacked high and could easily be taken without anyone noticing. Surgeries are meant to keep paper records secure, but in the vast majority of ones that I personally have been in, if someone broke in, it would be easy to take records. One in particular had the reception door (which had a keypad) wedged open, with no one to be seen in there, I could have easily walked in and taken a few. When it comes to the computer based systems, most if not all require a site password and then a staff member password. Levels of access are granted, which means only certain things can be done or seen. This will still be the case with the NCRS (the NHS Care Register). People will only be able to see what is relevant to their role. As for people saying that they haven't been consulted with regard the whole of NPfIT, I know for a fact that all the PCT's I support have had "NPfIT awareness days", where presentations are made showing the direction it is taking. Hardly any Doctors attended, even though it was over multiple days at multiple locations throughout the PCT districts and their running was well known. Also there have been numerous leafleting runs and a few bulletins taken to surgeries about the changes. So, maybe the Doctor's should take up on the training and communication offered to them, instead of the old "I've done it this way for years, why should I change now" mentality that is rife with the majority of Doctors. (don't publish email address if you use this on the site) We're including this next letter for rarity value, but also in the interests of balance. Not everyone had a nightmare with tax returns: After all the bad press the UK government receives regarding IT and their failed or over budget projects I thought I'd quickly share my current experience. I submitted my tax return less than 25 minutes before the deadline without any major problems (a little slow, but hey). What surprised me was that they paid my tax rebate into my back account less than 3 days after receiving my return. £6000 straight into the bank without even a question or query and ready to draw on less than 3 days after receiving my submission is a pretty damn good turn around. I don't know if this is an 'average' result but I can't see any reason why I would be particularly blessed in this instance. I feel the budding of a slight tinge of trust that the eGov initiatives might not all be a gross failure after all. Seri Big phones for the hard of seeing. What a good idea. Presumably it will also make them easier to find when you drop 'em down the back of the sofa. What? You mean that wasn't the point? My parents would have appreciated this phone, if they could have got over not having a dial. The main bonus is having pushbuttons and display separate from the handset. (Of course most cell phones can take a separate headset.) But I'd like to see a domestic cordless version for landline users - there are still some of us left. How about wi-fi, did that go away or did people stop talking about it? And BT may deliver a cell/Bluetooth phone this year. Gap in market time. If it had a USB port, there would be a lot of money to be made by selling a plug-in rotary dial unit to operate the thing properly. I don't see why Dad should accept anything less for doing his SMS. They'll start producing those bogglevision square panel "whole page" magnifying lenses as used for reading the Daily Express, but specially made to fit the midget-sized screen, with very cheap suction caps on each corner for fickleness of adhesion. Otherwise, superb. Julian Please don't think I am just a grey haired old fogey but at the age of 49, my eyes are not what they used to be. That Czech phone is a great idea although I would just like the phone manufacturers to consider the design of regular "mobes" as you folks like to say. I have great vision when I am looking at something 36" away or further. However, looking at "little tiny buttons" the size of a pencil eraser with 4 alphanumeric characters on them and trying to drive while I dial my customers; has become quite challenging. For what it is worth, cell phone manufacturers have completely forgotten that most people lose near vision as they get older. Apparently these manufacturers also lost touch with the underlying reasons for "Ergonomic" design. I am quite dismayed that Nokia has decided that will discontinue the "candy bar" style of cell phone as this is the only type that is still readable to me. I have had to memorize the dialpad by touch, but I can still see where the buttons are, if not read them. Cell Phone Manufacturers will probably change their engineering practices after I launch a class action lawsuit under the "Americans with Disabilities Act". But since they are obviously "discriminating" against older people as well, perhaps we can go for the gold and get them for "Age Discrimination". My point is simple. Make the freakin' buttons larger, use brighter backlighting and allow the customer to choose when and how long it takes for the display and keypad backlighting to automatically turn off. Oh yeah, STOP MOVING THE DAMN BUTTONS AROUND AND PUT TACTILE REFERENCE BUMPS ON THEM! Either that or make every phone (including the "free" ones) numerically voice dial capable. The alternative is a new form of income for lawyers defending their clients against lawsuits for accidents when "dialling while driving". Everyone does it, manufacturers know and encourage the practice by selling mobile phones to begin with and they HAVE to design properly for it or they (and/or the service providers) are legally liable for their poor "ergonomic" design! The architect I.M. Pei once took LSD to understand how to design mental hospitals (Fun Job, eh?) I suggest that ALL design engineers be required to wear glasses that simulate the visual disabilities of their customers while they design devices that require "human input". (Not to mention Auto manufacturing designers being required to repair the cars they design before releasing them to manufacture) Cell Phone manufacturers seem to be "turning a blind eye" to the problem! Too bad, for old age, like death and taxes, is inescapable. Dan A small debate broke out this week about the importance of cell chip architecture. Our San Franciscan Vulture sent us a breakdown of events. Seems it all began when an interested party dropped him a line in response to the story. I think what you find is the Cell architecture will be fast, understandable, and useful for many applications. The cell could do as many as 1TFLOP per chip. This sort of speed in the hands of motivated developers all racing away from what they perceive as the new starting gate (no not gates) will result in a technical and economic reset. I predict true human level intelligence from cell based systems by 2008. Who knows what companies will invent with modeling and simulation at 100 times better cost performance. The Cell may turn out to be the biggest step change in technology ever -never to be repeated again. We may view history divided AC and BC :) I am getting involved. I never liked X86 architecture but used it. I have read the cell patent and all the reviews and from what I see, it will work. I also predict X86 will be out of production by 2008. I have put up www.cellsupercomputer.com plan to build Cell - PCI cards at first then stand alone systems as an OS etc develops Jim Andrew, ever the diplomat, wrote back: Jim, > I predict true human level > intelligence from cell based systems by 2008. Don't be silly. Jim retorts: The entire economy of the world will change over next 10 maybe 15 years.  People will no longer "do" anything. The absolute best that can be hoped for is people will "manage" intelligent systems which actually do everything. If you think I am crazy - then DARPA is insane Says Orlowski: "You must check out his website, for it has the ascent of man - from reptile, to ape, to computer operator." Um, right. Good. Moving on... So let me get this right, you're saying that the cell chip architecture can use it's broadband connection to offload processing cycles onto other cells. And in but a couple of years every other household will have one of these boxes quietly sitting in the corner of there homes. With there wireless network capacity anything in the home will open to communication with the playstation! Don't these fools know what they're doing? It's the rise of the machines all over again! All it'll take is a slight mis-programming in the next bit of online games AI and the world will be at the mercy of "Cellnet" I tell you. Ohh and withhold my name.. Wouldn't want to outside world to know I'm onto them... Yes, it is the rise of the machines, again. And there is more...as we reported, the Machines are now resorting to camouflage to infiltrate our homes. But, wait! There is hope: DO NOT PANIC! It is clear from a rigorous scientific investigation that the ZOGG invasion force will find their endeavour hampered by stupidity or at least flaky intelligence. According to page 5 of their manual (http://www.bitfurnace.com/TheCuddlyMenace/target4.html) they're expecting to increase the nitrogen content of the atmosphere by 900%. As any graduate of GCSE science will know, our atmosphere is approximately 78% nitrogen already, so a ninefold increase would involve the atmosphere being 702% Nitrogen, and therefore presumably around -600% Oxygen... Yours Sincerely, Dr. Thaddeous Munsch, Cos, Gem, Iceberg. And finally, you'd think we'd be safe with a reader survey, wouldn't you? But no. Our efforts to probe your views on Windows vs. Linux have got us into more hot water. First people wrote in complaining that we hadn't included Macs. (We had included a disclaimer to that effect, but maybe using a Mac makes you go blind...we're not sure. ) Anyway. It turns out even our disclaimer was a bad idea: As a gay mac user, I am distraught that not only have you not given me an option to support my platform, you've also insinuated that I'm more attractive to the opposite sex! Outraged of Wimbledon. :o) Enjoy the weekend. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 11 Feb 2005

Patch now against virus-writing clowns

F-Secure yesterday urged users of its anti-virus products to apply security patches following the discovery of potentially serious security vulnerability in 18 of its products. The security bug - unearthed by security researchers at ISS - involves flaws in the processing of ARJ archive files by an antivirus library that give rise to possible buffer overflow attacks. Desktop, server (Linux and Windows) and gateway version of F-Secure's security products all need attention. "We urge all affected users to apply the patch, before some clown virus-writer tries to exploit it," said Mikko Hyppönen, director of anti-virus research at F-Secure. "This hole is related to a bug in our routine that unpacks ARJ archive files. The bug would allow an attacker to execute code when his ARJ file is scanned." Update details are here. ISS's alert is here. Earlier this week ISS issued an alert over a similar but distinct vulnerability involving 30 security packages from Symantec. In that case, the vulnerability stemmed from a flaw in an antivirus scanning component involving the processing of UPX compressed files. ® Related stories Symantec anti-virus flaw hits 30 products F-inSecure mailing list spreads Netsky-B virus DoS risk from Zip of death attacks on AV software?
John Leyden, 11 Feb 2005

EMC preps iSCSI binge

EMC looks set to roll out a new fleet if iSCSI systems, but the boxes will arrive with an unflattering sales pitch - half the performance at all of the price. A sales document making its way around the web shows EMC prepping the Clariion AX100i and CX500i for sale in the near future. In March, it will also roll out the Clariion CX300i. The iSCSI-equipped boxes will complement existing Fibre Channel systems. While the arrival of new iSCSI kit is a plus for customers, here's the rub: "As iSCSI runs at 1 Gigabit Ethernet speed, EMC expects the new systems to provide approximately 50 per cent of the bandwidth performance, port for port, of the Fibre Channel versions," according to the document. But . . . "The CX300i and CX500i hardware platforms are priced the same as the CX300 and CX500 Fibre Channel versions." Ouch. Funny enough, EMC seemed to know this pricing would raise a question or two. "Question: I thought iSCSI hardware was less expensive than Fibre Channel?" EMC asks itself in the sales document. "Answer: The cost structure of CLARiiON iSCSI-array hardware is similar to that of the Fibre Channel versions. Customers can realize significant savings by deploying less- expensive connectivity components in an iSCSI SAN (e.g., Ethernet switches and NIC cards)." The AX100i will ship with two 1GHz processors, hold 12 drives and take up 3U of rack space. The CX300i will ship with two 1.6GHz Xeons, hold 60 drives and take up 4U of space. The CX500i will run on four 1.6GHz Xeons, hold 120 drives and take up 4U as well. At present, EMC will manufacture all of the systems, but close storage partner Dell could decide to build the AX100i down the road. EMC insists that customers cannot mix iSCSI and Fibre Channel in the same system. It's also not supporting much of the Clariion software, including MirrorView and SAN Copy, on the iSCSI boxes. The iSCSI protocol was designed, in part, to bring better performance and tools to IP-based storage networks, making higher-end storage available to more people. So far, the technology has not taken off terribly well, but the big players are all now lining up behind it. Network Appliance, which caught word of EMC's planned iSCSI moves, welcomed its competitor to the the party. "It's interesting to see other vendors now starting to enter the iSCSI space. NetApp has a history of firsts such as NAS and unified storage and in 2002 was the first major storage systems vendor to offer iSCSI protocol support. It appears that where NetApp goes, others follow!" ® Related stories EMC finds vacuum for backup software upgrades FalconStor wants to WORM your disk arrays IBM taps Emulex for cheap Fibre Channel
Ashlee Vance, 11 Feb 2005

Opera to MS: Get real about interoperability, Mr Gates

Last week Bill Gates got the interoperability religion. Allegedly - given Microsoft's long and sometimes less than constructive history in the field of interoperability, a certain amount of scepticism is perhaps appropriate. Hakon Lie, Chief Technology Officer of long-standing Microsoft competitor Opera Software, welcomes Gates' new-found enthusiasm for interoperability, but in the following response to Gates, has just a few suggestions about what Microsoft might do to actually achieve it. So, Mr. Gates, writes Hakon Lie, you say you believe in interoperability. Then why, pray tell, doesn't the web page of your interoperability communiqué conform to the HTML4 standard as it claims to? Why does the W3C validator diagnose 126 errors on your page? You say you believe in interoperability. Then why is your document served in different versions to different browsers? Why does your server sniff out the Opera browser and send it different style sheets from the ones you send to Microsoft's own Internet Explorer (WinIE)? As a result, Opera renders the page differently. You say you believe in interoperability. Why does the Hotmail service deny Opera access to the same scripts as Microsoft's own browser? As a result, Opera users can't delete junk mail. You say you believe in interoperability. So did your staff back in 1998. Here's what your trusted WinIE evangelist Thomas Reardon wrote: Microsoft has a deep commitment to working with the W3C on HTML and CSS. We have the first commercial implementation of HTML4, we were the first vendor anywhere to implement even portions of CSS, and we have put a tremendous amount of energy into seeing CSS mature to Level 2. We are still committed to complete implementations of the Recommendations of the W3C in this area (CSS and HTML and the DOM). So, why didn't you finish WinIE's CSS implementation? Why are significant parts of CSS2 still not supported? Why haven't you fixed a single CSS bug since 2001? There have been plenty of reminders. You say you believe in interoperability. Why then, did you terminate the Web Core Fonts initiative you started in 1996? You deserve credit for starting it, but why close down a project which could have given you yet much good will? (Verdana sucks, but Georgia is beautiful!) You say you believe in interoperability. Why did it take you so long to publish the WordML specification? And, when you finally did, why did you use the cryptic MSI file format which is unreadable by anything but your own software? And why does your XML evangelist Jean Paoli "clarify" the license term of that specification by saying: We are acknowledging that end users who merely open and read government documents that are saved as Office XML files within software programs will not violate the license. What does this mean? Does it mean that opening and reading non-government documents does violate the license? Who on this planet only opens and reads government documents? You say you believe in interoperability, Mr Gates. We'd like to believe you. But interoperability is hard work. It means writing test cases, discussing edge cases with other vendors, answering high school students, making the necessary bug fixes, and releasing upgrades. Writing the occasional email praising interoperability simply isn't enough. And your track record doesn't support your proclaimed beliefs. If you truly believe in interoperability, Mr Gates, here are some ways you can prove it: Fix your document! Start by looking at the source code. Get disgusted. Clean up the mess. (Like the MSN people recently did.) Fix Microsoft's web servers! It's childish to keep discriminating other vendors' browsers. (And we don't have time to keep releasing Bork browsers.) Fix WinIE! You still have qualified people on your staff who know the code. (Or, you can port MacIE to Windows.) Restart the Web Core Fonts initiative! Again, your own staff is highly qualified for the job. Alternatively, you could allow the web community to maintain the files. (Annoying, isn't it, that they keep adding Unicode characters?) Document your XML formats! XML is not, as you claim, "self-describing". XML is the ASCII of this century; it's a dependable basic layer for data interchange but in itself will not ensure interoperability. (Much too often it's a standardized way of encoding proprietary data.) Don't patent data formats! Software patents are private monopolies. Private monopolies don't foster interoperability. Make a donation to W3C! W3C saved you a bundle ($521M to be exact) by helping you invalidate the Eolas patent. Take a generous fraction of that money and donate it to W3C. Label the transfer "for diligent interoperability testing". Convince us. Deliver on your promises. Hakon Wium Lie, CTO, Opera Software
Hakon Lie, 11 Feb 2005

Linux maker sprouts MP3 server

Desktop SummitDesktop Summit If you can't beat them or join them, then do something weird. This appears to be the rallying cry accompanying the launch of Linspire Five-0. The operating system, due out this quarter, will ship with a number of additions you might expect from a version of Linux aimed at average consumers. Things such as improved music, photo and DVD applications, better Wi-Fi support and a fancy instant messaging product are there. What you might not expect - the weird part of the equation - is a new package called MP3beamer that turns any Linspire PC into a music hub for the home. "I think this is the product Linux needs to go mainstream," said Linspire CEO Michael Robertson, during a keynote speech here at the Desktop Summit. Robertson possesses an unrivaled well of optimism, but at least he's not touting a network-enabled watch that makes you pay $9.95 per month to find out what the weather is like. That would be ridiculous. Unlike Microsoft's pricey media centers that do a bit of everything, Linspire's MP3beamer aims square at the music market only. The concept is pretty standard. It's a music appliance. All the tunes in a home funnel back to the MP3 server, and the server connects to a variety of devices. Linspire has done a nice job of supporting a wide range of hardware with Beamer - a feat made possible by its focus on MP3s and not proprietary formats. Robertson demonstrated a MP3beamer server synchronizing music on a Windows PC running iTunes, on a Verizon cell phone, an iPod and a stereo system. Not bad. The MP3Beamer software even triggers its own folder to pop up in iTunes. In addition, the software makes ripping new songs easy. When a CD is inserted, MP3beamer goes to work on its own, adding the songs to the appliance and then looking out over the network to see what devices need the songs. Users can stream tunes from the MP3beamer server or download them to a device. The software also works well with that of Robertson's latest venture MP3tunes. No surprise there. You can have a look at the form MP3beamer devices will take here. It's your basic PC loaded with Linspire's software. Linspire will depend on partners for this type of customized hardware, but any customer can turn a regular PC into a MP3beamer just by installing the software. Linspire hasn't totally settled on the software's price. Customers will likely have to pay about $20 on top of the $50 standard price for the OS. Those who already subscribe to Linspire's CNR software download service will not receive a discount on MP3beamer. Away from MP3beamer, Linspire has cleaned up the look and feel of its OS with Version Five-0. The company added subtle changes to the GUI (graphical user interface) that make things such as distinguishing between menus easier. The OS also has the latest versions of OpenOffice, Lsongs, Lphoto, CNR and RealPlayer. Customers will be pleased to find a Wi-Fi manager that locates all available networks on its own and makes it simple to switch from one to the other. They'll also see a new Hot Words tool that provides a kind of universal spellcheck service regardless of what application is being used. Last but not least, is an instant messaging client that has a built-in free long distance VoIP tool. "We are easily the most polished Linux," Robertson said. Over the next year, Linspire hopes to sign up more retailers to help it move the OS. The software is a great answer for people who want to give Linux a try but don't have the technical know-how to deal with less fluffy distributions. "We want to bring it to the mainstream," Robertson said. "We want to do for Linux what AOL did for ISPs." This approach hasn't inspired many "true" Linux geeks who love to mess with code and battle through tough technical challenges. With any luck though, Linspire may find a way to add more choice on the OS front with the Five-O release. We have a beta in hand and will write up a review shortly. ® Related stories No DRM in Mr. Robertson's neighborhood MP3tunes cleared of DRM infection Dutch govt ends exclusive MS upgrade talks
Ashlee Vance, 11 Feb 2005