14th > September > 2005 Archive

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How PalmOS lost it - readers

You're not exactly backward in coming forward, are you? In the latest twist of PalmOS soap opera last week, Japanese mobile browser company Access bought PalmSource. Could Palm's fate have been any different, we asked. This selection of views contains pretty strong language - so be warned. Many Reg readers and Palm fans have pretty strong opinions of how Palm Source lost the plot - with developers and users equally well represented. Gene Cash, a former Palm fan turned very-reluctant Pocket PC user, is as forthright as any - "I hope Access buries Palm in a deep hole and shovels nuclear waste on top. And then pees on top of that." Once Palm had it all, he reminds us. "People wanted desktop PCs that fit in their pocket for $99, no matter how impractical or impossible that was. They wanted this all-singing, all-dancing device with features they weren't going to use anyway. Palm made its mark offering something VERY easy to use with a VERY well thought out user interface. I could buy gas and write it down in about 6 clicks. It was also quite cheap for what it did. It didn't do everything, but what it did (be an organizer) it did very well. Now all that simplicity is gone, and the Tungstens & Zires are a pain in the ass to use. "The original display was black-and-white, but you could read it outdoors just fine, unlike the current color displays that are totally washed out by sunlight and require a battery-eating constantly-on backlight. I go out to my bike, try to look at my grocery list and I can't even tell if my Zire 31 is on! I could go for 2 weeks of constant use without recharging my Vx. The Zire 31 needs to see the charger every other day or else!" Gene then lists a long list of design errors - no hard case for the Zire, disappearing buttons that compromised ease of use, glued-shut hard-to-repair cases, and models being discontinued - and consequently unsupported - too rapidly. "Still another problem is it's a bitch to write a Palm app. There's one decent book from O'Reilly, and all the good tools are hundreds of dollars. You can use GCC but it's really painful, and you have to just about glue the bits together by hand," he adds. He concludes - "No matter how much I love it, I'll NEVER buy another Palm device, and I tell all my friends not to buy one. I'm sure if they offer Linux, they'll trowel a proprietary interface layer on top of it w/o source, and I'm not playing that game. Now you CAN get desktop PCs that fit in your pocket, but it's $400 and a major pain in the ass to use, and the battery lasts about 8 hours. I'm even considering a Dell Axim now. Ugh. But only if I can slap Linux and Python on it. Hopefully my m500 will last another couple of years." Sava Zxivanovich sees PalmOS diminishing importance as part of a bigger trend, but blames the lack of technical investment - "As a PalmOS developer I really don't think it is a mature communication system and its support is non-existent. Compare it with any other communication/mobile OS and results is obvious and expected." "I love my Palm. I've found it enormously helpful over the 5 years I've had it," writes Ian Hooker. Ian blames two factors: perceived lack of Microsoft integration, and color screens. "The end product as sold to consumers wasn't well enough integrated with Microsoft Office. Sure you could always synch with Outlook and there was always Documents To Go, which was later bundled with the PDAs, but it was too little too late. Too many people were either ignorant of or sceptical of whether their expensive new toy would work with Office. "And in my organization, the IT guy bought Pocket PC devices because he only knows Microsoft software and wasn't willing to take a risk on something unfamiliar. Secondly, people liked colour screens. Colour screens cost a lot in battery life for little extra value over a black and white screen for most applications, but there it is. People like the bling bling. At a crucial point in the history of the PDA, Pocket PCs were a safe option with the bling bling. It might not have been true, but perceptions are as good or better than truth." It's striking from the mailbag how Palm Inc's poor hardware designs turned people off the "platform". Mike Panero is a good example - and he's even angrier. Comparing two broken machines - a Psion and a Palm - he also comes up with a unique neutron star-dense prose for which no translation is necessary. Bah, Palm any good? What about Psion? I had a real cheap Psion, which, of course BROKE So like a TWAT I got me a PALM Ha, paid £150 sold it one week later( yes it was FUCKING SHIT*) for £20, my bust Psion was still worth £50 even so you could buy it new for £80 PALM Came with a CD & a fancy kray-dole "Oh USB !== Unused Socket @ the Back" like F, that grafitee poo poo no S/S crap clock eats batteries (this is a 68K moto FFS, CMOS! HA!!) PSION 2xAAA== 1 MONTH, PALM 2xAA== 36 Hours !!! PSION, box no CD no nuddint but WORKS PALM box CD CABLES SHIT LOADS OF SHIT, worth, guess, SHIT!!! Indeed. (And someday, perhaps all computer histories will be written this succinctly) Eric Moon also blames the fact that Palm didn't grapple with early, 'Touchdown'-era design decisions. "You wrote: 'The decisions it took that year to bring 'Touchdown' - the original Palm Pilot - to market were exactly the limitations that made it a success.' "I wholeheartedly agree, and as you point out this is decidedly a two-edged sword. Thus, many years later, 3rd-party application developers who learned the original API can still churn out basic Palm OS apps quite quickly - but those wanting to write more involved apps have to jump through a lot of hoops, and the nature of the API somewhat discourages good engineering. "Every sufficiently large Palm OS app tends to devolve into spaghetti code. Also, the original API is very PDA-centric, assuming a square screen, a stylus interface, and a generally modal UI. None of this is very well aligned with a phone formfactor, particularly for cheaper phones. But Eric sees a bright side to the move to Linux, as he explains - "When Palm started licensing the OS to other hardware manufacturers -- and this was even before the PalmSource spinoff -- as they were then in the business of producing different "kits" for different audiences, 3rd-party developers still got the public API, but licensees got a much more configurable toolkit that they could use to customize the OS for their own hardware. The problem there was that this licensee toolkit was quite involved and, generally, licensees needed a lot of handholding and training in the vagaries of proprietary Palm OS internals. "The big advantage of the Linux move, as I see it, is that there are tons of embedded developers (particularly in Asia) who already know POSIX, the Linux driver model, etc., so the learning curve for customizing a release of Palm OS for Linux would, in theory, be a lot flatter."®
Andrew Orlowski, 14 Sep 2005

Teachers take timid approach to classroom tech

Teachers are generally reluctant to go high tech in the classroom, fearing that electronic white-boards and laptops could interfere with the teaching process. A four-year study of 1,500 UK teachers, conducted by researchers at the University of Bristol found that 30 per cent shun the shiny gizmos altogether, despite the government pouring a billion quid or so into IT in schools. And 60 per cent thought technology would interfere with genuine learning, especially in creative subjects. The report, InterActive Education: Teaching and Learning in the Information Age, describes the use of IT in UK schools as "sporadic [and] disappointing". The researchers concluded that many teachers lack confidence in using technology to support their subject teaching, preferring instead to use computers for routine admin tasks. But after spending time working with the researchers, many teachers had a change of heart. Professor Rosamund Sutherland, who led the research, told the Education Guardian: "After working with researchers they generally had a more positive view of technology and said that it enhanced their role as a teacher and had a beneficial impact on the learning environment." The study also noted that game playing by pupils led them to take computer simulations less seriously; but left to their own devices, students made good use of IT to investigate ideas and topics. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Sep 2005

Google and Microsoft both claim victory in court

The cliché that no one wins in court but the lawyers was turned on its head yesterday when both Google and Microsoft claimed victory in their ongoing fight over former Redmond employee Kai-Fu Lee. Microsoft was in court to stop Lee from joining Google China - in July it gained a temporary injunction to stop Lee taking up his post. Google employed Lee to set up and run its Chinese development centre. Yesterday the judge imposed an injunction on Lee: he can work for Google as long as he doesn't recruit other MS staff or use confidential information. Microsoft described this as wider than the original injunction and would happily end the case if Google accepted the restrictions as permanent. The statement says: "We are pleased with our victory in court today. The court entered an injunction that restricts the work Dr. Lee can do for Google, preventing him from working on speech, natural language and search technologies, as well as setting the overall research and development course for Google China." So far so clear. The situation gets more confusing when you look at Google's general counsel's blog (when did lawyers get blogs?). Nicole Wong, associate general counsel, says of Google's reaction to the court's decision: "We're thrilled, and he's excited to get right to work on several big things..." Microsoft's statement meanwhile says the injunction: "Restricts Dr. Lee to limited interviewing and site location activities." If you want to take your very own journey through the looking glass, Microsoft's statement is here and Google's here.®
John Oates, 14 Sep 2005
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CopperEye for the database guy

There are two points of view on databases. Database experts tend to be enthusiastic, as you'd expect, and point to excellent scalability; business resilience (including transaction processing and automated backup/restore) and the availability of utility programs that let you add functionality without programming. Others sometimes regard the whole idea as a con and point to the greater efficiency with which any single function can be coded with specialist code and a simple data structure such as ISAM (indexed sequential access method), although indexing can constrain scalability and flexibility. We come down on the side of the database – few data stores remain small and/or single use for long and a little investment in database technology now pays dividends with fewer unwelcome surprises later. But there are two or three caveats. To start with, many programmers don't understand database design or query efficiency. One benefit of a database is that you can always find your data – but you can easily find it with horribly inefficient queries. Part of your investment in database should include tuning tools, training and mentoring. Another issue is the upgrade cycle. Database functionality is complex and constantly evolving. Vendors like Oracle want you to upgrade regularly – which can be a nuisance if you are only using a little bit of database functionality, which hasn't changed since the year dot. This explains (partly) the popularity of Open Source databases, which largely remove the pressure for constant upgrade. If you go this route, however, remember there are alternatives to the excellent (particularly in simple web applications) MySQL – Pervasive Postgres, for example, or CA's Ingres having enterprise functionality rivalling Oracle or DB2. And, finally, remember that there is life beyond the big relational database management systems. Embedded databases such as Pervasive PSQL or Gupta SQLBase; or 4GL databases such as Progress OpenEdge, perhaps need less support than the big RDBMSs, as do alternative technologies such as the excellent Caché or FileMaker. You needn't think conventionally, and along that route here's an interesting new idea from Coppereye, which originally made its name by indexing large Oracle databases faster than Oracle could do it for itself. It has an indexing SDK for database developers and links with IBM for optimising Informix indexing but why not try a plug-in generalised product as well? So, it applies its proprietary indexing technology to very large flat files, such as you might find in compliance and RFID applications, where updating the underlying data is positively discouraged (leaving out update logic certainly streamlines indexing). Coppereye's Greenwich product targets write-once business event recording, characterized by high transaction rates and long retention requirements – and hundreds of terabytes of data – but only on the main UNIX platforms (including Linux). It doesn't alter or copy the underlying data, just indexes it, and presents a conventional SQL (ODBC) interface to other applications. So, you get fast indexed access that lets you retrieve specific data efficiently from a huge store – a small subset of the whole - which you can then process with comparatively cheap and simple BI software. OK, so people like SAS, BMC and Information Builders have alternative technology to do this, but the Coppereye approach deserves a look. It seems to have the merit of simplicity and should enable you to use analysis and presentation technology you may have already. "Proper" relational databases are good, but aren't always the only effective approach – and perhaps a clever high-performance index on a flat file is effectively some sort of specialist database anyway... ® Choice databases Caché a "post relational" database which presents alternative relational or object views into the underlying data. Coppereye Filemaker Pro the latest version of this popular Mac and Windows database has just been released. Ingres now a CA open source project, and the database underlying many CA management products). MySQL Pervasive PSQL the evolution of a useful database called BTrieve. Postgres (just one distribution of OpenSource PostgreSQL, an evolution of Oracle's original, and superior, competitor, Ingres. Progress OpenEdge: Progress OpenEdge is part of a 4GL platform). SQLBase from Gupta available for both Windows and Linux.
David Norfolk, 14 Sep 2005

Techscape: on Gore, Clinton and the internet

InterviewInterview Dean Laura Tyson of the London Business School (LBS) is a former University of California at Berkeley Professor of Economics, Dean of its Haas School of Business and ultimately President Clinton’s Economic Advisor
Bill Robinson, 14 Sep 2005

Uk.com wildcard raises Net stability worries

A decision by British company CentralNic to make all unregistered domains ending with "uk.com" direct to its own webpage has raised concerns over the future stability of the Internet. CentralNic owns a series of valuable dotcoms including uk.com, us.com, eu.com and de.com and sells third-level domains e.g. www.theregister.uk.com to anyone for £32.50 a year. It runs around 100,000 domains. However, no matter what domain you type in your browser (i.e. www.fskjsdkjkjsd.uk.com), so long as it hasn't been sold, you will redirected to CentralNic's own webpage, featuring advertising and an offer to buy that domain through its system. The benefit to the company is clear - increased sales and advertising revenue - but the system by which the redirection is carried out, called wildcard, has been criticised by the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) of Internet overseeing organisation ICANN as putting the stability of the Internet at risk. ICANN insisted that the owner of all dotcoms (and dotnets), VeriSign, pulls its version of the wildcard system, called SiteFinder, in late 2003 when it caused widespread disturbance across the Internet as email systems and spam filters stopped working. The resulting report by the SSAC lambasted VeriSign for introducing SiteFinder and made a series of findings and recommendations, the first being that "synthesized responses should not be introduced into top-level domains or zones that serve the public". Despite public claims by VeriSign that it will reintroduce the system, the method - created by making changes to the underlying DNS protocols of the Internet - was expected to become effectively blacklisted. However, while CentralNic said it had "carefully examined all the potential implications" of introducing a wildcard service, including the SiteFinder considerations, the company's CTO, Gavin Brown, told us he had not read the SSAC report and that the company did not consider itself under the same contractual constraints as VeriSign with regard to ICANN and the wider Internet community. "Given our relatively small footprint within the DNS system compared to, for example, any gTLD or ccTLD registry, and taking advice from our registrars, we concluded that introducing a wildcard under .uk.com would not have any serious implications for the stability of the Internet," Brown told us. The SSAC report recognised that some wildcard systems are in place on the Internet, albeit in "generally small and well-organised domains". However, it said there remained shortcomings in the approach and recommended that "existing use of synthesized responses should be phased out in TLDs or zones that serve the public... and where delegations cross organisational boundaries". Brown told us there had only been a very few problems since it introduced the system and most of them stemmed from wrongly configured Windows boxes trying to access the "uk.com" part of the Internet, rather than, presumably ".uk"or ".com". Since CentralNic does not run an email server on the main domains it owns either, email and spam problems have also not been the issue they were with VeriSign's SiteFinder. However, with a clear profit incentive to introducing wildcard systems, it may be that CentralNic could act as a spur to more and more companies, especially if companies remain unchallenged by ICANN. If large segments of the Internet start turning over to wildcard systems, there is a risk of the stability of the wider Internet being put at risk. And VeriSign is bound to argue for SiteFinder's re-inclusion if dozens of other companies are seen to benefit. ICANN would then face the impossible task of either defining which domains may or may not use wildcard, or ban the system altogether. Either way, it is not a smooth road. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 14 Sep 2005

New logo leaves Quark green at the gills

LogoWatchLogoWatch Quark has got itself into a bit of a rumpus over its new logo - described as "fresh, inviting, and open" by the company, but also as "indeed uncanny" by a Scottish Arts Council (SAC) spokesperson for its, well, indeed uncanny resemblence to the SAC brand frontage. Quark unveiled its new look on Friday. Here's the usual press release guff heralding the dawn of a new age, which is worth reprinting at length since it has more than a touch of the whalesong and joss-stick about it: New logo, new identity system The new logo is a combination of pure geometric forms that suggests a stylized “Q” in a vibrant green that evokes energy and vitality. “It’s fresh, inviting, and open,” said Glen Turpin, Quark’s director of corporate communications. “It’s radically different from our old logo. That’s why it’s the perfect symbol for the new Quark. Our company has changed dramatically. Like our new logo, once people catch a glimpse of who we are today and where we’re going, we’ll be impossible to ignore.” The logo was designed by SicolaMartin, a division of Young & Rubicam Brands. “This really was an incredible opportunity for us, as an agency. We specialize in high-tech clients, so usually we’re doing work that speaks to IT professionals. To get to actually target designers, art directors, and creative professionals was a really fun challenge for us,” said Steve Martin, senior vice president and executive creative director at SicolaMartin. “Not only that, but to have the freedom to re-brand such a well-known company as Quark — and to create a new logo for them, as well? We were excited.” Quark green In support of the launch of Quark’s new brand identity, Pantone Inc., the global authority on color and provider of professional color standards for the design industries, has dubbed PANTONE 368 as “Quark Green.” According to Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, renowned color psychologist, and author of five books on color, “PANTONE 368 was the perfect choice for an innovative company such as Quark. This yellow green, a symbol of growth, is invigorating and revitalizing, and breathes new life into a brand, in addition to drawing attention to it. By embracing this color for its new logo, Quark is giving its customers the connotation of the continuing growth of ideas and concepts, and that it is on the edge of new technologies.” “The green just came into being. I was looking for something that would take Quark in a completely new direction — a color that was friendly and inviting, but would also really help Quark stand apart. We wanted to help Quark break out of the visual ‘sea of sameness’ that lumps together so many corporate software companies,” said Chris Wood, creative director at SicolaMartin and designer of the new Quark logo. “It really was an evolution. The more I played with the green, the more it came to represent so many things that Quark has gone through: rejuvenation, growth, and rebirth. It just seemed to make sense.” Rebirth, eh? Well, according to Macworld, SAC is less than impressed with the new arrival. A SAC spokesperson said: "We are very proud of our logo which the design company first presented to us on 7 February 2001. Our logo was intensively researched, and then trademarked and launched in 2002." For its part, Quark says it's an honest mistake. A spokesman told Macworld: "At the end of the day, the logo is a 'q' - and there's a limited number of possible logo designs you can achieve with a single character." He added that the company carried out "extensive checks to discover any similar existing logos [but] we evidently didn't find them all". Evidently not. Regarding the "limited number of possible logo designs", we're sure that Quark must have a couple of different fonts to play with, in order to extract itself visually from the "sea of sameness" which so lumps together so many corporate software companies - and Scottish Arts Councils. ®
Lester Haines, 14 Sep 2005

Google blog search lives

Google has at last launched the beta version of its blog search engine. You can have a look here. The page is laid out in familiar Google style and results are brought up with headlines and paragraphs similar to standard Google web searches. There is a proper review of the site on searchenginewatch here. In other Google news a British company is threatening to take the search giant to court over use of the Gmail name for its email service. Independent International Investment Research claims it owns a trademark of "GMail". The two firms have been negotiating since April 2004 but now IIIR says there is no sign of a settlement so it is considering legal action. IIIR insists it has been using the GMail name for its own product since May 2002. IIIR has estimated the value of the trademark at £25m to £34m - but stresses it is prepared to negotiate. The company does not own, or claim, the gmail.com address. Another company has won a prelimary injunction to stop Google using the GMail name in Germany. IIIR is considering joining forces with this firm to fight Google. ®
John Oates, 14 Sep 2005

186K buys Mailbox

Business ISP 186k has snapped up London-based provider Mailbox Internet. Financial details were not disclosed but The Reg understands that 186k probably didn't get much change from a couple of million quid. Mailbox - a finalist in the best business broadband category of the UK's "ISPA" awards for two years on the trot - is one of the UK's oldest ISPs. Based in Fulham it employs 16 people and provides broadband services to around 10,000 business users in London and the south of England. The acquisition is part of 186k's strategy to expand its business by buying established ISPs. Within the last year or so it has snapped up Northern-based Elite Internet Services and acquired a major stake in Middlesborough-based Onyx Internet. Said 186k boss Dominic Marrocco: "The acquisition of Mailbox Internet will provide a key gateway to allow a greater penetration of 186k's services within the heart of London and Southern England." ®
Tim Richardson, 14 Sep 2005

Cassini spots its first spokes

Imaging scientists working on the data from the Cassini spacecraft have identified ghostly spokes in Saturn's rings. These faint, radial lines were first observed by Voyager, 25 years ago, and have also been seen in pictures from Hubble. But there had been no sign of them in pictures from Cassini's cameras until now. Originally, researchers had expected that the rings of Saturn would be uniform in structure, that collisions between the particles would smooth things out. It is not clear exactly how the spokes form, but they are relatively short-lived structures. The spokes can be seen to form and dissipate within hours. Scientists suggest electrostatic repulsion between ring particles may play a role, perhaps levitating finer particles above the main ring structure. Gravitational interactions may also contribute. In the new images, the spokes are about 3,500 kilometres long and about 100 kilometres wide. They are on the unilluminated side of the rings (most of Voyager's observations were on the sunlit side), and are in the same region as spokes that have previously been observed. Time lapse photography from Voyager is probably the most dramatic illustration of the phenomenon. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Sep 2005
hands waving dollar bills in the air

Intel chips cost $40 to make - report

It's not hard to see how Intel makes its money. According to market watcher In-Stat, the chip giant's average cost per die is a mere $40 - significantly less than it the prices it attaches to its processors. That figure, the researcher calculates, has remained consistent over the past two years and will continue through 2005. This despite rising fab and materials costs. In part, Intel has been able to maintain the cost per die by moving to 300mm wafers and by aggressively adopting new, smaller fabrication processes. According to In-Stat, Intel leads the market in manufacturing process development and fab capacity. It noted the chip giant will have four 65nm fabs ramping up output volumes next year. By contrast, AMD has a single 65nm fab, currently in development. The Dresden, Germany plant is its only facility capable of handling 300mm wafers. Still, AMD is broadening its capacity through foundry deals - Chartered Semiconductor will also be pumping out 65nm, 64-bit AMD processors - and, more importantly perhaps, working with other chip vendors to develop future process technologies and this spread the cost. In-Stat reckons Intel is one of a small number of chip makers who can do this kind of work on its own. But its aggressive adoption of new process technologies - which led to $1bn worth of savings in manufacturing costs last year - must not lose momentum, the researcher tacitly warned. To be fair to Intel, while its mainline x86 chips can run as high as $999, and Xeons and Itaniums can cost the equivalent of a decent second-hand car, it has plenty of parts on its mainline processor price list in the sub-$100 price bracket. That's not even taking into account older designs that have been adopted for the embedded processor market.®
Tony Smith, 14 Sep 2005
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Microsoft's delay to patch fuels concerns

Microsoft's decision to cancel a security fix after finding problems with the patch has security experts questioning whether waiting for the fix to come next month might leave them open to attack.
Robert Lemos, 14 Sep 2005
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OK to depict call centre workers as chickens

The Call Centre Association Ltd - an industry body representing 700 organisations - has failed to get a commercial depicting call centre workers as chickens banned from UK TV screens. The CCA - along with 80 other complainers - were upset by the ad for online insurance outfit Swiftcover.com. The ad showed a man phoning his insurance company and asking "not to be put on hold". It then showed a call centre staffed by chickens repeatedly clucking: "Won't keep you a moment" to callers. Frustrated at the way he was treated by battery-style workers, the man logged on to Swiftcover.com and completed his transaction online, before asking the missus what she was doing in the kitchen. "Just stuffing a chicken," she replied. "That's a coincidence," he replied. Of the 80 complaints, 51 were from viewers who worked - or had worked - in call centres. They claimed that the ads portrayed the industry - which employs more than half a million people in the UK - in a bad light and in a "a negative and insulting way". Four of those who complained said the ad was "likely to encourage abuse or disrespect of call centre workers" while one went further saying that the comment "stuffing a chicken" was particularly likely to do this. But the watchdog rejected the complaints ruling that the ad did not "denigrate call centres or encourage abuse of call centre workers". The CCA - which believes that the industry already has a poor reputation among the public - is considering an appeal. ®
Tim Richardson, 14 Sep 2005

Airgo third-gen Wi-Fi chip outperforms 100Mbps Ethernet

Wi-Fi chip maker Airgo today said it has begun sampling its third-generation, 'Gen3' MIMO chip, which it maintains will offer raw wireless data transfer rates of up to 240Mbps. That's almost three times as fast as rival "premium wireless" solutions, the company claimed, and clearly well beyond the 802.11g standard's 54Mbps. Real-world transmission rates, where interference, error correction and other overheads knock back the actual speed, are rather lower. But Airgo said tests using uncompressed data yielded an actual TCP/IP throughput of more than 120Mbps - higher than standard-speed wired Ethernet, though clearly some way off the increasingly commonplace Gigabit Ethernet. The third-generation part is a two-radio, single-chip solution, Airgo said. That, it claimed, yields a 20 per cent reduction on power consumption - good for notebook users, this - and, for manufacturers, a 15 per cent reduction in a wireless adaptor's overall components cost. The Gen3 part will ship under Airgo's True MIMO brand, so named because the company claims its products are the only ones that meet the formal definition of the Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO) technique. They should - the technique was pioneered by the company's founders during their time as Stanford University academics. MIMO is a sub-set of the Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) technique already used by many wireless technologies, including mobile phones networks, 802.11 a and g Wi-Fi, and WiMAX. MIMO used multiple antennae to harness multiple signal transmission pathways, created as the transmitted signal reflects off and refracts round objects causing what was once considered interference. With some clever signal processing, Airgo's chips leverage that interference to boost the WLAN's range and data transfer rate. Airgo launched its first MIMO chips back in 2003. Its first- and second-generation Wi-Fi chipsets can be found in wireless networking kit from Belkin, Buffalo, Netgear and Linksys. In June, Samsung said it would incorporate Airgo-based Wi-Fi adaptors in a number of its notebook PCs in place of Intel's Centrino wireless chips. Airgo said it expects Gen3 True MIMO parts to be incorporated into retail product by the end of the year. ®
Tony Smith, 14 Sep 2005

Fetish club sets up on Home Secretary's turf

A concerned Register reader from Norwich has got in touch with some disturbing news from the constituency of liberty-eating Home Secretary Charles Clarke. Despite Clarke's best efforts a fetish club is shortly to open in the East Anglian town. The Trample Fetish Club offers the citizens of Norwich, and beyond, the chance to be trodden on, sat upon or given a general beating by a variety of lovely hostesses. The local council granted planning permission despite objections from Clarke, the local MP, and 31 other people. The club, due to open soon, has a Trample room, a Crush room and a Smoothing room - that's having a lady sit on your face for those not up to speed with Norfolk's sexual mores. The Trample Scene website claims, probably correctly, to be "The only Trample Fetish Club in a 100 mile radius of Norwich." The final part of the club is the dungeon which sounds more like somewhere Clarke would like to send terrorist suspects for interrogation than a fun night out: The website promises: "Not for the fainthearted'!! - Our hostesses will whip you, kick you, stamp on you, punch you, walk all over you, chain you up and humiliate you. Will you survive our dungeon experience!!" Membership starts at just £125 a year for mid-week entry. Roy Singfield, the owner of the club, told the Reg: "We'll be opening on the 26th, with a bit of luck - the boys are still working hard to get it ready." He said around 150 people have already applied for membership. Many thanks to Register reader Jason Dagless who tipped us off. He said: "All the current hooha from Mr Clarke and his ideas for reducing our freedoms to stop terrorism. Well he is my local MP and recently a business man has asked to set up a "Fetish Trample Club" in the street opposite where I live (Prince of Wales Rd, Norwich). Many residents objected and even Mr Clarke apparently made his objections most clear. "However, the local council ignored him and the club is to go ahead. If Mr Clarke can't stop a few middle aged pervs, then what chance does he have against world terrorism?" What chance indeed. Dagless tried to contact Clarke via his website but it was down. More information available at the Norwich Evening News here and from the club's website, which is not safe for work unless you have a broadminded boss here There are historical roots to all this painful strangeness - Norwich was for many years the centre of "Norfolk wrestling" or shin kicking. Two men wearing hobnail boots would grab each others' arms and kick lumps out of their opponents shins. More on shin kicking here.
John Oates, 14 Sep 2005

Debutante Xena provokes planetary punch-up

A fight has broken out between two groups of astronomers over who exactly has the bragging rights over the discovery of the possible 10th planet Xena. In late July 2005, researchers in Spain and the US both announced, independently, that they had discovered a candidate tenth planet. At the time, the director of the Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center reportedly described the dual discovery as "sort of an awkward situation". Michael Brown, who led Caltech's research, conceded the discovery to the Spaniards, led by Jose-Luis Ortiz. He had originally planned to announce his findings in September at a meeting of the American Astronomical Union. The Caltech team had first seen the object in May 2004, much later than the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía group, who had pegged it as interesting way back in 2003. However, server logs at Caltech revealed that the day before Jose-Luis Ortiz made his announcement, someone at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía had accessed details of Brown's research. Brown had uploaded information about his team's observations of the candidate planet to the Caltech servers. Information in the abstracts, Brown says, could have been used to work out the position of the candidate planet at any time in the past or future. Brown says that he emailed Ortiz asking him about the server logs, but having received no reply, he submitted a formal complaint to the International Astronomers Union, alleging at the very least scientific dishonesty, and possibly even fraud, depending on what the information was used for. According to The New York Times the director of the IAU's Minor Planet Centre, Brian Marsden, is at a loss as to what to do. He says the IAU has no established protocol for dealing with a dispute like this one. Brown has posted what he calls the full story here.
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Sep 2005

US games watchdog orders hidden-content audit

US games software watchdog the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has told games publishers they must reveal any hidden content included in all the software they have released since 1 September 2004. The order was sent by email, a copy of which was leaked to games-oriented website Gamasutra this week. In the email, the ESRB expressed its concern that hidden content subsequently exposed by games modifications could undermine the ratings system. Since the ESRB is run by the games industry itself, it undoubtedly fears that any loss of faith in its ratings could lead to a potentially harsher, government-mandated certification system. To counter that threat, the ESRB told all publishers and developers they must formally detail any hidden material which the organisation has not already been notified about. "If you fail to notify us of previously undisclosed, non-playable, pertinent content by 9 January 2006, and such content becomes playable through a subsequent authorised or unauthorised release of code to unlock it, rendering the original rating assignment inaccurate, punitive in addition to corrective actions may result," the watchdog warned, without going into details. Any hidden material reported to the ESRB by that time will be used to consider whether a game should be re-rated. In future, the organisation said, if games companies don't want hidden content to be reflected in a game's rating, they shouldn't include it. The request follows the discovery of adult material in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas earlier this year. Although the content was never intended to be seen by players, according to developer Rockstar Studios, it was nonetheless exposed by a third-party modification posted on the Internet. That prompted the ESRB to raise the game's rating from Mature to Adults Only, which prompted a number of major US games retailers to pull the title from their shelves. The ESRB's rules have always required games publishers to notify it of hidden content intended to be exposed by special codes or, say, by sending game characters to certain locations. These so-called Easter Eggs are commonplace, but since the adult content in GTA: San Andreas was not included as an Easter Egg, it was not revealed to the ESRB. GTA: San Andreas is due to return to shops this week after its publisher, Take-Two Interactive, removed the so-called 'Hot Coffee' content in order to get the rating back down to Mature. ®
Tony Smith, 14 Sep 2005

O2 confirms 3G, Wi-Fi smart phone

O2 UK has formally announced the O2 XDA Exec, the network's own-brand version of HTC's Universal 3G clamshell smart phone. The device, which is based on Windows Mobile 5.0 and incorporates 802.11b Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 1.2 and GPRS connectivity in addition to 3G, was spotted in an O2 brochure earlier this month, though at time time O2 remained silent on the matter. Not now. Today, it touted the device's 520MHz Intel XScale PXA272 processor; 64MB of RAM; 128MB of Flash ROM; 3.6in, 65,536-colour, 640 x 480 display; SDIO slot for expansion; and its 1.2 megapixel camera with flash, alongside a second video-call camera. O2 said the Exec's 1620mAh removable battery provides sufficient charge for four hours' 3G talk time, eight hours' tri-band GSM talk time, 15 hours' usage as a PDA and 250 hours' stand-by time. Orange is expected to release its version of the Universal, which it's calling the SPV M5000, shortly. i-mate's version, the Jasjar, is already on sale, as is T-Mobile Germany's version, the MDA Pro. O2 has also announced the XDA SP, a tri-band candy-bar smart phone based on Windows Mobile 2003 Smartphone Edition Second Edition. Essentially, it's the HTC Hurricane, better known as the Orange SPV C550. The 102g handset sports a 2.2in, 65,536-colour display and contains 64MB of ROM and 32MB of RAM. There's a Mini SD slot for memory expansion, and it's got Bluetooth 1.1 on board. There's also a 1.3 megapixel digicam with 4x digital zoom. The O2 XDA Exec will retail at £400, depending on the monthly contract and tariff selected. O2 did not provide a price for the XDA SP. ®
Tony Smith, 14 Sep 2005

Apple iPod Nano

ReviewReview Unless you were hiding in a cave last week, you'll have heard about the latest changes made to Apple's iPod range. Out went the iPod Mini, which on the surface seemed like a strange decision. The Mini enjoyed a fanatical reception from the millions of style-conscious consumers who realised that they'd never fill a 20GB iPod no matter how hard they tried, while its smaller dimensions made it even cooler than the original white icon. However, when it comes to dimensions, the iPod Mini looks positively obese compared to its replacement, writes Riyad Emeran.
Trusted Reviews, 14 Sep 2005

Telstra sale given go-ahead

The Australian Government has moved a step closer to flogging its 51.8 per cent state in incumbent telco Telstra after winning a key vote earlier today. The Australian Senate backed plans to flog the Government's stake in the business despite a concerted campaign by opposition MPs and trade unions. The Government is set to raise around A$30bn (£14bn) from the sale of its share in the firm, which is expected to go ahead next year. In a bid to ease concerns about the future the Government has agreed to set aside more than A$3bn to help protect and improve services in rural areas. As part of the sell-off, the Government also plans to separate Telstra's retail, wholesale and network business to ensure that the telco "treats its wholesale customers fairly". Speaking last week Communications Minister Helen Coonan said: "We are now at a critical point in Australia's telecommunications history when consumers are looking for new advanced services and the industry is having to make major investment decisions." She said that the sale would help boost competition and improve services for customers. Opponents of the sale, though, claim that services will decline, especially in rural areas. And there are fears that as many as 14,000 Telstra jobs could be axed following the privatisation of the telco. The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) claims that details of the job losses and other cost-cutting measures are contained in a confidential document drawn up by senior execs at the company, something rejected by Telstra. ®
Tim Richardson, 14 Sep 2005
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More tech fails to exorcise security risks

Current IT systems are inherently insecure and growing complexity will simply increase these risks, a leading academic has warned. Users should rebel and demand vendors compensate them for security foul-ups, said pugnacisous Professor Klaus Brunnstein of the University of Hamburg Brunnstein told delegates to an IT security conference in London on Wednesday that attempting to protect against IT risks - such as hacking attacks - by increasing the complexity of systems is futile. "That would be like trying to expel the devil with Beelzebub," he said. The present wave of IT security incidents is caused by inherently insecure assumptions, including overly complex systems. The interoperation of these systems with other insecure technologies magnifies the problem, the applied informatics academic argued. He said more secure technologies will only be developed after a fundamental rethink involving building security into applications rather than adding it as an afterthought. Beyond saying that applications shouldn't delete valuable data when they failed, Brunnstein failed to elaborate on this key point preferring instead to criticise suppliers for resisting change. Brunnstein called on user groups to rebel and lobby for customer protection laws and compensation for security failures. "Manufacturers must be made to pay for damages. Certainly Microsoft has made enough money to do so," Brunnstein said. The professor made his comments during a keynote presentation at the Gartner IT Security Summit conference in London on Wednesday. ®
John Leyden, 14 Sep 2005
DVD it in many colours

Sun adverts promise to offend

Sun Microsystems is well known for being quietly-spoken and polite. So it comes as quite a shock to us at Register Towers to hear that some of their latest server adverts have been rejected by "top business publications" as just too controversial. Sun has had many enemies over the years but current Number One is Dell. So the psy-ops copywriters went to work. Four examples of textual subtlety on Sun's website include, "100% more bitchin than Dell", "Now that's what we call an ass-whoopin", "Rhymes with hell" and for those who find these slogans a bit too esoteric the simple, "Benchmark studies prove that Dell sucks." To reduce the chance of confusion all the slogans are in large, capital letters. Yesterday Sun hired a plane to fly over Dell's headquarters dragging a banner which read: "Sun's got a x64 server. WATCH OUT DELL." The website also includes some rather quieter adverts which have been accepted. One reads: "Given how hot and slow our competior's servers are, it's no surprise their name RHYMES WITH HELL". Now we are just simple hacks at the Reg not clever enough to work in marketing, except playing our small role in viral campaigns like this one, but isn't it bad practice to use your marketing budget to publicise a competing company? You can see the apparently rejected adverts here.®
John Oates, 14 Sep 2005

Researchers make twisted nanobelts

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have discovered a new, helical, zinc-oxide nanostructure that could be very useful to engineers working on nanoscale devices that rely on electromechanical coupling, such as sensors, resonators and transducers. Although the nanostructure looks like a spring, it is actually rigid, rather than elastic, and holds its shape even when it is isolated. They exist in both right and left handed versions. Production tends to split 50-50 between the two. The nano-helix is part of the nanobelt family of structures. It is based on a superlattice composed of alternating single crystal 'stripes'. These stripes, each around 3.5nm wide, are offset from each other by 5 degrees or so. This is enough to create twisting forces that curl the belts into the spring-like shape. Nanosprings, by contrast, are twisted by carefully balancing the electrostatic forces created by the electrical charges along each edge. Professor Zhong Lin Wang, from the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology explains that although the structure is brand new, the properties are very similar to those of existing nanobelt materials, in that they are semiconductors, and have piezoelectric properties which makes them good for electromechanical coupling. Wang noted: "From them we can make resonators, place molecules on their surfaces to create frequency shifts - and because they are piezoelectric, make electromechanical couplings." The Georgia Institute of Technology's press release has more details here. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Sep 2005
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UK council pays £7.7m to escape outsourcing deal

Bedfordshire County Council has paid business service provider HBS £7.7m to terminate its £250m, 12-year outsourcing contract prematurely. Details of the settlement reached last month had been confidential, but were disclosed by the Council under the Freedom of Information Act. According to newly-released documents, the local authority was "deeply dissatisfied" with HBS's performance and served a written termination notice on the company for alleged breach of contract. Bedfordshire later backed down to avoid an expensive and protracted legal battle. Under the terms of the 'clean break' settlement, it accepts that HBS was never in breach. The County Council has now paid HBS a one-off sum of £6.75m in what it calls an "extremely favourable" settlement. This includes £4.7m to buy assets such as IT, furniture and fittings which cost the company £6.7m to provide, as well as £2.05m to acquire HBS' goodwill, contracts and services. On top of this, the Council paid a further £949,784 for laptops which the company supplied to schools. Bedfordshire has also had to allocate £1m from its reserves to cover "transitional management and legal costs". The Council joined forces with HBS back in 2001 in a high-profile strategic partnership designed to transform the local authority's service delivery. Under the outsourcing deal, HBS was contracted to provide a wide range of support services, including IT, finance, payroll, pensions administration, contract management and communications. However earlier this year, public sector union UNISON produced a dossier of evidence to back up its claims that the quality of the council's services had suffered, not improved. Cllr Madeline Russell, leader of the council, said the decision to end the partnership as a "a critical step in our drive to Transform Bedfordshire". She commented: "We have terminated our contract with HBS not to save money, but to improve quality and performance and work towards our goal of excellence." A statement from HBS said: "During the four years of the HBS-BCC partnership, HBS had an excellent track record in meeting key performance indicators and played a significant role in improving BCC's CPA rating. "HBS is proud that it made a positive difference to the quality of the service that the people of Bedfordshire received." The company said its partnerships with other local authorities - which include Lincolnshire County Council, Middlesbrough Council and Bath & North East Somerset - would not be affected by the action. © eGov monitor Weekly eGov monitor Weekly is a free e-newsletter covering developments in UK eGovernment and public sector IT over the last seven days. To register go here. Related link Bedfordshire's statement and the settlement agreement in full.
eGov Monitor Weekly, 14 Sep 2005
cloud

Eatoni sues RIM over SureType

Predictive-text technology developer Eatoni Ergonomics has asked the US District Court of Northern Texas to ban Research in Motion (RIM) from selling its Blackberry 7100 smart-phone family, claiming the devices violate the small company's intellectual property rights. The legal battle has been brewing since April when Eatoni was granted patent number 6,885,317, but kicked off in earnest this week following a skirmish between the two companies over where the lawsuit will be heard. New York-based Eatoni wanted the case heard locally; RIM favoured Texas; RIM prevailed. Eatoni claims patent 6,885,317 - "touch-typable devices based on ambiguous codes and methods to design such devices" - covers text entry on small form-factor keypads that intelligently emulate a QWERTY keyboards. Mobile-phone owners who use the T9 system will be familiar with the idea, but Eatoni's dictionary-less, language-agnostic approach is significantly better. We know, we've tried it. So have plenty of cordless phone users - Eatoni's technology has been licensed to quite a few DECT-handset makers. You can try it yourself, here. RIM's 7100 devices, codenamed 'Charm', launched a year ago and introduced a new predictive text-entry system, dubbed SureType, which allowed the company to squeeze a QWERTY keyboard onto the devices, which are much narrower than its trademark full QWERTY units. That, claims Eatoni, falls slap bang within in the remit of its patent. When The Register spoke to Eatoni CEO Howard Gutowitz in July, he said the firm has alerted RIM to the alleged infringement and approached the push email giant with a view to licensing its technology. RIM, it appears, ultimately rejected its overtures. RIM's response has been to claim Eatoni's patent is invalid for a number of reasons, including lack of novelty, Eatoni said. A RIM spokesperson told The Register the company did not comment on pending litigation. RIM - aka Lawsuits in Motion - remains locked in a legal battle with US patent holding company NTP over the latter's mobile email intellectual property. Last month, the US Court of Appeal struck off a number of claims made by NTP against RIM, but reaffirmed lower court decisions based on other claims. From the original 16 claims made by NTP against RIM only seven now remain, while a recent US Patents and Trademark Office revocation of a number of NTP's patents is likely to reduce that to five. ®
Tony Smith, 14 Sep 2005

TV to become web-like

IPTV - TV that's beamed over the net - is set to become the next big thing for boggle-eyed couch potatoes everywhere. Within the next ten years, you won't have to leg it home early to settle down and watch the latest instalment of Eastenders or Corrie. Instead, you'll be able to stay out all night and watch it whenever you like. That's because TV shows won't just be broadcast over cable, satellite or via an aerial, they'll be accessible via broadband networks. And according to a report IPTV: Broadband meets broadcast by London-based Lovelace Consulting, TV will become more like the web, as traditional scheduled broadcast channels are elbowed to one side as viewers are given a choice of "millions of programmes" available on-demand or for download. IPTV (internet protocol television) - the delivery of digital television and other audio and video services over broadband data networks using the same basic protocols that support the internet - will "transform television", says the report. "New players will exploit the disruptive power of the internet and change the form and function of television forever," said Dr William Cooper, co-author of the report. "Broadband television will ultimately adopt the attributes of the web, providing access to an almost limitless selection of programmes." Co-author Graham Lovelace chipped in: "The 'pull' of broadband network television will replace the 'push' of traditional broadcast television. "In this new and massively fragmented environment, control will flow from the supplier to the consumer, as viewers construct their personalised schedules from a vast array of international providers, and watch programmes whenever and wherever they want." Last month a report by analysts at Informa Telecoms & Media predicted that the global IPTV market would be worth $10bn by 2010. There are around 2.5m IPTV subscribers at the moment but this figure is expected to grow tenfold to 25m by 2010, said the report. ®
Tim Richardson, 14 Sep 2005

Redbus and Demon founder appears in court

Internet pioneer Cliff Stanford yesterday went on trial at Southwark Crown Court on charges of unlawfully intercepting emails at his former company, Redbus Interhouse, according to reports. Cliff Stanford is a well-known figure in the internet industry. He founded Demon Internet in 1992 and sold it in 1998 to Scottish Telecom for £66m (Scottish Telecom subsequently re-branded as Thus), netting Stanford around £30m. Allegations surfaced in October 2003 that Stanford had been involved in hacking the email system of Redbus. He and another man, George Nelson Liddell, were questioned by police over the interception of emails between Redbus's former chairman, John Porter, and Porter's mother, the former Westminster council leader, Dame Shirley Porter. Both men were charged with offences under the Computer Misuse Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) of 2000. They deny the charges. The case, which went to trial yesterday, is expected to take two weeks. © Pinsent Masons 2000 - 2005
OUT-LAW.COM, 14 Sep 2005

Wobbly planet triggered massive methane burps

Three huge eruptions of methane 180 million years ago triggered a catastrophic increase in global temperatures, according to research funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The results, which are published in the current issue of Nature, could provide clues about the global warming process most scientists agree we are experiencing today. Geochemical analysis of mudrocks along the Yorkshire coast suggest that the methane was released when gas hydrate, a frozen mixture of water and methane, escaped from the seabed in huge quantities. The hydrate would have melted during one of the slight wobbles in the Earth’s orbit that bring our planet closer to the Sun. This can warm the oceans, enough to melt the reserves of hydrate. PhD student Dave Kemp explains that once the methane was released into the atmosphere, it would have reacted with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, a much longer-lived greenhouse gas. The CO2 would then have been responsible for the prolonged period of warming. The Open University's Dr. Angela Coe and Dr. Anthony Cohen, explain that the methane burps triggered an increase of around 10°C in average global temperatures, which in turn caused the extinction of a large number of species. Dr. Coe goes on: "We've known about this event for a few years through earlier work by our team and others, but there’s been a great deal of uncertainty about its precise size, duration, and underlying cause. What our present study shows is that this methane release was not just one event, but 3 consecutive pulses that occurred within a 60,000 year interval." Each individual pulse was very rapid, she continues, and although the release was very quick, global recovery took much longer, occurring over a few hundred thousand years. The researchers say that the work provides an accurate picture of how the planet reacts to a sudden increase of atmospheric CO2. "Today we are releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels. It is possible that the rate at which carbon dioxide is being added to the atmosphere now actually outstrips the rate at which it was added 180 million years ago," says Dr. Cohen. "Given that the effects were so devastating then, it is extremely important to understand the details of past events in order to better comprehend present-day climate change." Dr. Lorenz Schwark of the University of Cologne also contributed to the research. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 14 Sep 2005
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Eolas cashes in on Katrina

Eolas, the one-man software outfit which took Microsoft to the cleaners in a patent dispute, has given its new software launch a topical spin.
Andrew Orlowski, 14 Sep 2005