28th > March > 2005 Archive

This phone is stolen

A Dutch company has introduced a small downloadable program for mobile phones, called SimWatcher, which sends out an SMS message when someone steals a mobile phone and replaces the SIM card. The software reveals the number of the person who stole the phone and will also display a message on the stolen phone, saying tha it belongs to someone else. The software - a demo is available here (instructions in Dutch) - costs €10 and is available for almost every type of GSM phone. The software can be installed by sending a message with an attachment or by WAP. Some phone companies, including Vodafone, are already able to block a stolen cell phone by determining the mobile's International Mobile Equipment Identity, or IMEI number, a 15 digit unqiue code which is entered into the network's central database. Once reported stolen, the handset will be immobilised and deactivated across every network. ® Related stories Police offer stolen mobe insurance fraud amnesty Muggers refuse to nick crap mobile phone GSMA declares war on mobile phone theft Calling time on mobile crime Punters will pay for mobile phone anti-theft devices Mobile phone theft is far worse than we thought
Jan Libbenga, 28 Mar 2005

Using 3G wireless for domestic broadband

Vodafone and O2 have now rolled out the 3G-based home broadband service they promised earlier this year: prices look more aggressive than first expected. But can it succeed? Well, maybe, just maybe, in some apartment blocks. The device looks like an ordinary broadband connection, with a box on the wall. One socket is Ethernet for the home PC network. Another is USB, for a printer. And then there's the three-line phone outlets, so you can (suggests Matthew Haigh in Mobile News) plug in a phone, a fax box, and an answering machine. Vodafone's (German language site) Zuhause web service is giving "limited download" over its German 3G network to subscribers - five Gig of data a month - for twenty Euros a month. A comparable service, Surf@home from O2, will be a lot higher (German language site) priced, with some differences in the small print. Will it work? Initial reaction from Pyramid Research is dismissive. Pyramid Research analyst Joel Cooper asserts, “Do not expect a fixed-mobile revolution anytime soon. These services will have limited impact on the German telecommunications market. Cooper says they will not lead to widespread substitution of fixed-lines for two key reasons. His reasons are compelling: with a downlink speed of 384K max (until HSDPA equipment rolls out) 3G can't really match ADSL, especially with ADSL 2 being offered in homes near the exchange, at 2 megabits and more. Typical cable modem rates are now at least a megabit in the UK, and ADSL and cable prices are coming down. "2004 saw the price of DSL tariffs spiral downwards as ever more ISPs sought to differentiate on price. Price pressure has continued into 2005 and although showing some signs of slowing, on the whole looks set to continue throughout the rest of the year," adds Cooper. However, while he's spot on as far as "widespread substitution" goes, the service may, nonetheless, generate revenue for the two carriers, by providing broadband into some apartment blocks which refuse to allow cable or ADSL connections. It's also the case that these devices will be an easy way of getting broadband for short-term tenants who can't get landlord permission to install their own fixed line phone. The services are being sold to German householders as "six times faster than ISDN" which raises the question of whether "ethics in advertising" considerations may be raised. The peak download speed may compare well with ISDN, but ISDN is symmetrical; if you get 64 kilobits down, you also get 64 kilobits upload speed. For someone posting their holiday snaps onto a website, 3G upload speeds will be a significant obstacle, being actually slower than standard ISDN, and significantly slower than 128 kilobit ISDN. Full details in the Vodafone press release. © NewsWireless.Net Related stories WiMAX hype peaks Who needs 3G? 'Son of DAB' unleashes TV for phones WiMAX turns the screw on 3G
Guy Kewney, 28 Mar 2005
graph up

Dell gives Xeon servers a 64-bit injection

Dell last week juiced up the high-end of its server line with a pair of new 64-bit systems. To be accurate, Dell has done more announcing than juicing so far. It revealed plans to ship the PowerEdge 6800 and 6850 servers. Both boxes will hold four of Intel's x86-64-bit Xeon processors and sit atop Dell's server line, unless you count high-end but slow selling Itanium boxes. The new servers, however, are not available immediately. Dell said the kit will start shipping "in the coming weeks." Happy waiting. By talking up the hardware now, Dell managed to beat out rivals HP and IBM, which have yet to release four-way servers with Intel's 64-bit Xeon chips. HP does currently have a four-way Opteron box for sale, and IBM plans to have a comparable Xeon server by mid-May. Sun Microsystems also sells a four-way Opteron server today but is a much smaller player in the x86 market. Dell has said it will not go the Opteron route even though AMD looks to have dual-core server chips ready well ahead of Intel. This means HP and Sun should have some very attractive two-processor boxes by mid-year. "Like other Dell 8th-generation servers, the PowerEdge 6800 and PowerEdge 6850 offer the latest core technologies, including DDR2-400 ECC memory and PCI Express I/O, delivering performance that is up to 32 percent higher than previous Dell four-processor offerings," Dell said. The PowerEdge 6850 is the beefier of the two boxes and will start at $4,899. The less fancy 6800 will start at $3,999. Both of those prices are for very base configurations. Always desperate to placate software pal Oracle, Dell emphasized how well databases will run on the new servers. "Utilizing the 64-bit capability of the PowerEdge 6800 and 6850 servers, customers can be ensured of hardware investment protection as they migrate to 64-bit offerings of Oracle Database 10g and 10g, Real Application Clusters, and Microsoft SQL Server 2005 using Microsoft Windows Server 2003 64-bit Edition and Red Hat Enterprise Linux," Dell said. "Dell will offer these 64-bit operating systems and database applications on the PowerEdge 6800 and PowerEdge 6850 later this year." ® Related stories Novell gets suite on SMEs Reg 'invests' Dell stories - reader Microsoft's Sun server fetish revealed Intel's 100-core chip could power intelligent toilet IBM's Opteron ruse falls to long-term Intel love
Ashlee Vance, 28 Mar 2005

Billionaire backs P2P firm's battle with Hollywood

Technology entrepreneur, Dallas Mavericks owner, billionaire, blogger and sometime blowhard Mark Cuban has pledged to finance P2P software maker Grokster's legal war with the major record labels and movie studios. The Supreme Court tomorrow will hear arguments surrounding Grokster and StreamCast's dispute with the media companies. Hollywood is hoping the high court will overturn two lower court decisions that said makers of decentralized P2P software cannot be held liable for users who trade copyrighted files. Cuban, who owns movie theaters and the rights to numerous TV shows and movies, has gone against his peers by saying P2P software should have a chance to thrive. "We are a digital company that is platform agnostic," Cuban wrote on his blog. "Bits are bits. We dont care how they are distributed, just that they are. We want our content to get to the customer in the way the customer wants to receive it, when they want to receive it, at a price that is of value to them. Simple business. "Unless Grokster loses to MGM in front of the Supreme Court. If Grokster loses, technological innovation might not die, but it will have such a significant price tag associated with it, it will be the domain of the big corporations only." Hollywood is not only trying to shut down P2P software makers, but it's also trying to overturn an old Supreme Court decision that made VCRs and the like legal. It's this particular threat against devices that could potentially lead to the infringement of content copyrights that has many technology advocates up in arms. "It will be a sad day when American corporations start to hold their US digital innovations and inventions overseas to protect them from the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), moving important jobs overseas with them," Cuban wrote. "Thats what happens if the RIAA is able to convince the Supreme Court of the USA that rather than the truth, which is, Software doesnt steal content, people steal content, they convince them that if it can impact the music business, it should be outlawed because somehow it will.' With that in mind, Cuban vowed to fund the EFF's (Electronic Frontier Foundation) defense of Grokster. As always, Cuban was modest about his gesture and hatred of punctuation. "This is the big content companies, against me. Mark Cuban and my little content company." It's not entirely clear what Cuban will be paying for, since his grand move came just two days before the oral arguments - at publicity's height. Perhaps he'll be covering the Tuesday morning coffee and lunch of the EFF staffers involved. Here's hoping the funds are actually more substantial and cover some back costs. ® Related stories Supreme Court to probe P2P in March P2P promises economic Valhalla - Grokster et al Hollywood threatens to sue UK BitTorrent man for millions Top British boffin is a muppet Bush gets soverized on the Web Tom Greene is Satan
Ashlee Vance, 28 Mar 2005

DHS comes clean on CAPPS, lets self off hook

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has done a bit of institutional soul searching, and concludes that it did nothing wrong in demanding, and later disseminating, passenger data from JetBlue, Delta, and numerous other airlines, or in misleading the public and Congress about the extent of its data-mining activities and snafus. In a new report released Friday by Homeland Security Department Acting Inspector General Richard Skinner, we learn that between February 2002 and June 2003, TSA was involved in 14 transfers of data involving 12 million passenger records obtained from JetBlue, Delta, American Airlines, Continental, America West, and Frontier. Much of this information was used by companies competing for a contract to provide the now-defunct CAPPS-2 (computer assisted passenger pre-screening system), to test and debug their prototypes. Aside from the shenanigans of the various contractors involved, the report also finds that "TSA staff did not follow accepted privacy procedures in obtaining passenger data for internal use." For example, it failed to execute non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements with JetBlue before receiving its passenger data in May 2003. It also did not ensure that data security measures were in place during the data transfer. "As a result, passenger data was transmitted to TSA in unencrypted files without password protection," the IG notes. However, TSA got lucky: despite its "intermittent lack of sound privacy practices enforcement among its partners and its own staff, only one inappropriate public disclosure of personal information apparently occurred," the report says. This happened when Torch Concepts inadvertently revealed, during a conference, sensitive information obtained from JetBlue, enriched with data from privacy invasion outfit Acxiom and related to a particular JetBlue passenger. The information found its way onto the Net, and has proven stubbornly resistant to purging. The IG contacted all of the CAPPS II contract candidates, identified as: Ascent Technology, Inc.; HNC Software, Inc.; Infoglide Software Corporation; IBM; and the Lockheed Martin. None of these outfits was willing to be interviewed by IG staff, but most condescended to fill out a questionnaire, at least. One outfit, HNC Software/Fair Isaac, did not respond at all, so there is no information pertaining to its use or misuse of data. The company is the target of several class-action lawsuits, and cites this as an excuse for stonewalling. The parties who received the data report that "in all but three of these transfers," the data has either been destroyed or "is retained in a secured setting." "In its role in these transfers, however, TSA did not ensure that privacy protections were in place for all of the passenger data transfers. While TSA applied privacy protections in some contexts, shortcomings were also apparent in the agency's related contracting, oversight, and follow-up efforts." The list of recommendations is basically sensible, but it is also alarming, as it is equally a catalogue of the commonsense precautions that TSA has not been taking. Among the suggestions are a proposed auditing requirement that data be tracked from its source to its final disposition, a recommendation for minimum security requirements, and clarification of lines of authority and responsibility within the agency. The IG report wiggles out of legal responsibility, however, explaining that because TSA does not have a system of individual identifiers for the data it handles, it does not maintain a "system of records" as defined in the Privacy Act of 1974. Another problem, and one that TSA is not likely to fix even if it does put its own house in order, is cross-pollination among vendors and contractors. For example, Acxiom provided data from both JetBlue and its own data mining operations directly to HNC. There is little that TSA can do about these side-arrangements, except to disapprove and hint that it might not be inclined to do business with an outfit that doesn't play nice. It's the private sector that poses the most important problem here. It hardly matters whether a government bureau follows good privacy protection practices or not, when all the information it might ever wish to see is readily available, and for sale, cheap. ® Related stories ID theft is inescapable Uncle Sam demands all air travel records Airport snoop system thrown in $102m garbage can Airport security failures justify snoop system
Thomas C Greene, 28 Mar 2005
arrow pointing up

Dial N for Windows 'reduced'

Microsoft will brand the EU-antitrust-complaint version of Windows XP, "Windows XP [Home | Professional] N". Last year's provisional verdict from the Commission's antitrust division requires Microsoft to ship a version without Windows Media Player in the European Community. Agreement comes at the tenth attempt. Microsoft had proposed calling this "Windows XP [Home | Professional] Reduced Media Edition". EU officials had rejected nine of Microsoft's earlier suggestions. Microsoft maintains that this is wrong. The company says that it doesn't need a government mandate to produce a version of Windows that will confuse users, who discover that they can't play their media files as they could before. And it's quite correct, it doesn't. Microsoft is perfectly capable of producing a version of Windows that confuses users, who discover that they can't play their media files as before, entirely on its own. These days, all versions of Mac OS X and Windows are "reduced media" editions by default.® Related stories EU balks at Windows Reduced Edition Microsoft preps WMP-less Windows Apple de-socializes iTunes $5m daily fine beckons for bad boy Microsoft Gates drops in on Brussels
Andrew Orlowski, 28 Mar 2005
graph up

HP eyes 'younger man' for CEO post - report

After being Fiorinaless for almost two months, HP might introduce a new CEO as early as Tuesday, according to a report. BusinessWeek reckons that HP will dangle a fresh body in front of employees, customers, investors and analysts in the near future - maybe even tomorrow. The new top dog will be a "surprise choice, little-known, younger man" who runs a public company. That company was described by a source as a "mini-HP" that sells goods in a number of markets, the magazine said. Anyone else thinking Michael Dell? The latest names to appear on HP's supposed short list are NCR's chief Mark Hurd, former HP exec and current Quantum CEO Rick Belluzzo and current HP printer whiz Vyomesh Joshi. U2 lead singer Bono was also rumored to be in contention, according to a source inside the Pope's robe. The new executive will have a massive money printing and imaging challenge in front of him. HP needs to get its act together in the PC, server, storage and software markets and produce steady profits. It will need to do this while polishing a now tarnished image of the company as a technology repackager and not a R&D powerhouse. Fiorina sadly took the "invent" out of HP. BusinessWeek's Peter Burrows shared a byline on the CEO story and knows HP very well. ® Related stories World cools to big bad Wolfowitz Carly tipped for World Bank job HP whacks own storage software in favor of AppIQ Intel misses Itanium sales mark by $26.6bn HP serves up bland post-Fiorina Q1 Bye bye Carly, don't forget to write Carly's landing cushioned by 45m dollar bills Carly Fiorina quits
Ashlee Vance, 28 Mar 2005

MIT invents computer that runs away

MIT has taken the unfriendly computer interface to its natural conclusion: and created a computer that runs away from you. We've all had experiences with user interface elements that run away from us: toolbars in Windows, or the drive icons on the Mac OS X desktop, for example. But "Clocky" goes all the way - it's an alarm clock that has wheels. If you hit the snooze button, "Clocky" rolls away and hides. To make life doubly difficult, it will try and hide in a new place every day. And if you live in a 1970s sitcom, it poses a third challenge. Since it's covered in thick brown nylon shagpile carpet, Clocky might never be found. For now, it's simply described as an "academic" exercise, but a fully-blown fugitive PC can't be too far away. Inspired by kittens: Clocky It comes from - where else? - Boston's own version of Disneyland, MIT's Media Lab. If nothing else, Clocky should help restore the Lab's reputation as the world's most useless "research laboratory". Ten years of corporate gladhanding - the lab was entirely privately funded - have added nothing of note to the study of computer science, or even an iPod. But then the institution was never designed to. So long as the money kept rolling in, and the lab could produce a supply of fatuous, gimmicky demos for lazy media, everyone was happy. The lab's founder Nicholas Negroponte even helped start a glossy gadget catalog to help plug the demos: Wired magazine. Such an institution was bound to attract flakes, who obliged with Talking Oven Mitts, Chairs With Attitude, and all manner of cuddly bots and "responsive environments" seemingly designed solely to amuse Ralph Wiggum. All good, clean, harmless fun, you might think. But research money - both public and private - is a precious and dwindling resource, and there are many basic problems computer science must address. Good scientists are pessimistic people who think deeply about how these problems can be fixed. There are many problems that must be fixed if people are to trust technology. While the United States falls further behind its main rival in science funding and education, it's also developed a seriousness deficit and a frivolity surplus. That's bad timing. Take for example, the inspiration for Clocky. "I was in part inspired by kittens I've had that would bite my toes every morning," confides Clocky's designer Gauri Nanda. Clocky? Clucky, more like. The girl sounds positively broody. ® Related stories Strength through pessimism! Keeping your stuff safe Media Lab Europe goes titsup Robosnail: Science or sex toy? Recent RoTM™ stories...
Andrew Orlowski, 28 Mar 2005