7th > November > 2005 Archive
Dr. Randall Mills, a Harvard medic by training, is claiming to have built a prototype generator that can produce 1000 times more heat than normal fuels, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper. The trick, he says, is the use of a new form of hydrogen - we can hear your collective eyebrows raising - which he calls the Hydrino. This has a single electron orbiting the nucleus of the atom more closely than it does in normal hydrogen. We'll just pause while that sinks in. Yes, he is suggesting that an electron can be more tightly bound to a nucleus than the ground state allowed by quantum theory. According to Mills, creating a hydrino is a simple process. Take some H2O and split off the hydrogen into H2 molecules. Next, split these into hydrogen atoms by passing them over a super-heated filament. Add a catalyst, such as strontium ions or potassium atoms, and out pops the hydrino. As the hydrogen ion collapses into a hydrino, energy is released. We're troubled by this. Surely, if a lower energy level than the ground state exists, wouldn't electrons prefer to sit in it? What on earth is keeping all the electrons in hydrogen atoms and ions sufficiently excited that they stay is their theoretically less stable 'orbit' in the ground state? We are not alone. Not everyone is in a big hurry to abandon quantum mechanics. Dr Roland Smith, Reader in Laser Physics at Imperial College, London is one of the sceptics. "Quantum Mechanics (QM) is a robust and incredibly well tested piece of physics," he told The Register. "A vast number of our everyday devices including lasers and computers are based on its predictions and they work 'as expected from QM theory' to incredibly high degrees of accuracy. "In contrast, the experimental evidence for the existence of 'Hydrinos' is very weak and has not stood up well to the acid test of scientific peer review and publication in mainstream literature." But despite the understandable mainstream resistance to the idea, Mills is quite happy to say that he is right and quantum mechanics must be wrong. He told the Guardian that he's done a lot of testing, and argues out that much of the theoretical work has been peer reviewed. He says resistance to the idea is the result of people's vested interests in the status quo. Of course, some of you will have heard about this theory before. Mills has been around a while, as has Blacklight Power, the company developing his research. The company claims to have huge investment backing it, and even NASA has expressed an interest in the past. Further reading Blacklight explains its technology here. Dr. Smith suggests anyone wanting to get a handle on the "entertaining history of the 'hydrino story' and its various meetings with the sharp end of the scientific process" should check through the archives of sci.physics.fusion. ®
AnalysisAnalysis It is not everyday that a vendor comes to Europe with the message that they offer a totally new concept in storage. Such an event occurred last week when Isilon announced that it would be offering its clustered storage solutions to the European market in partnership with Zycko. Isilon is not a name that is well known outside of the US where the company has been gaining recognition and customers over the last twenty-four months. Isilon was founded in 2001 with the explicit aim to help solve many of the problems associated with large-scale storage systems, especially in matters of scalability and the simplicity of installation and administration. In essence, the Isilon IQ Clustered Storage System provides storage for unstructured data in a single, highly scaleable storage pool. Starting from basic principles, Isilon designed its clustered storage architecture to be easy to run and very cost effective to own. The essence of its clustered architecture endows the solution with the ability to scale in an almost linear fashion as new nodes are added to the platform and to offer very high availability. This scalability allows the solution to avoid many of the performance bottlenecks common to other storage solutions as they scale. The storage is formed from clusters of nodes, each of which contains 12 disks. The minimum cluster comprises three nodes. At the heart of the solution lies OneFS, the software that combines much of the functionality associated with the three traditional storage layers of Raid, File System and Volume Manager. OneFS creates a single distributed file system whereby files are striped across all nodes. This delivers a high performance, fully symmetric storage pool complete with automated software to replace many manual tasks. The platforms in the current range include Isilon IQ 1920i, IQ 3000i, IQ 4800i and IQ 6000i. These offer maximum cluster sizes for single storage pools ranging from 80 Tb to 250 Tb. Each cluster may make use of either GigE or InfiniBand for the cluster interconnect; currently around 90 percent of solutions sold have taken the InfiniBand interconnect. OneFS provides functionality to replace many of the laborious tasks associated with storage management and even provides a sophisticated level of rapid self-healing. Capabilities provided include AutoBalance to automate Content Balancing, SmartConnect for client load balancing, SmartRead and a simple to use Web administration tool. OneFS provides N+1 protection and the solution offers one of the fastest drive rebuild times whereby a 250 GB disk can be rebuilt in as little as an hour. Another feature, FlexProtect-AP, allows protection changes to be made in real time so that data can be protected based on organizational needs that may vary over time. The software also ensures data availability in the event of disk or node failure. Further, Isilon IQ platforms come with SyncIQ Replication Software that delivers policy based asynchronous file replication. Isilon is faced with a considerable challenge to bring this new storage architecture to the mass market. However, it is very simple to deploy and use which, coupled with its excellent scalability and performance, will certainly attract the attention of organizations faced with the need to store large volumes of unstructured data. Indeed, its ease of use alone and transparency to users and applications should guarantee it an audience. The partnership with Zycko shows a shrewd selection amongst the potential channel partners capable of selling such a radically different yet simple platform. Zycko is rapidly growing throughout much of Europe and is making significant inroads as a supplier of storage, networking and communications solutions that understands customer issues and delivers the right answers. Zycko and Isilon are well placed to shake up large sections of the European storage market. Copyright © 2005, IT-Analysis.com
AnalysisAnalysis The recent emergence of two sets of serious security vulnerabilities in Skype, the popular VoIP communications software app, couldn't have come at a worse time for the firm. Disclosure of the security flaws came days after the publication of a security evaluation of the Skype that wrote about its security model in glowing terms. Dr Thomas A Berson, an independent cryptographer and computer security expert and author of the report (PDF), admitted in the document that his four month evaluation (which largely focused on cryptographic issues) was incomplete. This statement turned out to be too true after it emerged Security researchers identified two groups of potentially serious security vulnerabilities involving Skype. In the first case, a security bug in the Skype for Windows means the software can be crashed and forced to execute arbitrary code through a buffer overflow when presented with malformed URLs in the Skype-specific URI format callto:// and skype://. Skype can also be made to execute arbitrary code via the importation of a maliciously formated VCARD (an electronic business card format). A second security vulnerability covers a heap-based buffer overflow security flaw that is not restricted to Windows PCs and hits Skype across all supported platforms. Skype has published security updates designed to guard against both flaws. A series of unfortunate coincidences Kurt Sauer, director of security operations at Skype, admitted that the bugs - particularly the URL flaw - were critical. "It wouldn't be rocket science to build proof-on-concept code," he said. Although Berson found the Windows flaw, which stems from a bug in a Delphi package used to build the Skype user interface, he didn't spot the cross-platform flaw raising doubts about the how much weight can be attached to the report. The omission of any mention of the Windows flaw in Berson's security evaluation calls into quesiton its completeness and the timing of its publication. Sauer said it was "not appropriate to stop anything" because a coincidence between the timing of Berson's report and the emergence of security flaws it knew about, but wasn't ready to publically disclose, at the time of the publication of Berson's report. "We're not going to try to hide a serious problem," he said. Skype acted within days of notification of security problems to produce security updates but Berson's report would surely have benefited from mention of how the firm handled its first set of security bugs. It ought to have been delayed to allow this information to be appended. There seems to be no compelling why Skype needed to publish the evaluation last month other than dove tailing with an energetic PR campaign it mounted based on the report's publication. The practice of firms trying to gain publicity capital from security studies is akin to scientists trying to get the press interested in discoveries before submitting them to peer review. Marketing and security research are uneasy bed fellows at the best of times and this wasn't the best of times for Skype. Second opinion Sauer said he called in Berson because he wanted an independent researcher in developing a security framework that would guide the work of Skype's developers. "We didn't want to have a long engagement with a large lab which would cost millions. All we wanted was unvarnished advice from an outsider," Sauer explained. "Doing a Common Criteria evaluation would have involved a very large commitment of personnel and long lead times. There is no perfect scheme." The tone of Berson's report - which reads like that of a technically knowledgeable enthusiast rather than an impartial expert - and its apparent focus on cryptographic issues has been seized upon by critics but Sauer said the evaluation had been a success. "The report has helped us make changes to our already good design practice. Code review may not but Berson's forte but this report will help us improve. Our current processes failed to pick up last month's security vulnerabilities but these will be improved," he added. ®
Apple's notebook lines look set to spearhead the Mac maker's shift to Intel processors next year, with the launch of updated PowerBooks and iBooks coming in the Q1/Q2 2006 timeframe. So claimed "extremely reliable sources", cited by AppleInsider, though the report is short on detail. Updated PowerBooks are likely to be announced first. Expect a new 15in widescreen model first, based to an extent on the current design but with much-reduced thickness. The new 15in PowerBook is said to be 20-25 per cent thinner than the one you can buy today. That takes it down from 2.8cm to between 2.1 and 2.2cm. The sources claim the updated 17in widescreen PowerBook will appear a few months later. Alas, the report reckons there will be no replacements for the compact and Register-favoured 12in PowerBook G4. One ray of light is the anticipated widescreen iBook, which has been rumoured to be in the pipeline since April 2005, when Taiwanese contract manufacturer sources said Apple had been out looking for a partner to produce the machine. If AppleInsider's sources are correct, it will be an Intel-based job, shipping in time for the April/May US education market buying spree, and equipped with a 13in widescreen display. The sources suggest - though it's no great leap of the imagination given the recent iMac update - that the new iBook will incorporate a web cam. The new PowerBooks may well do so too. Apple announced in June 2005 that it would move to Intel processors from PowerPC technology during 2006, with the first machines due on the market by June 2006 and the range completely ported over by the end of 2007. On the notebook side, Intel's upcoming 'Yonah', not only its first 65nm notebook-oriented processor but also its first dual-core laptop chip, is due to begin shipping late 2005 with a formal debut in Q1 2006, which puts it within the timeframe suggested by AppleInsider's sources. Reports last week suggested versions of Mac OS X for Intel and for PowerPC processors are both at parity, suggesting Apple is ready to ship the Intel release when it feels the time is right. ®
A Hong Kong man has been jailed for three months for the unauthorised sharing of movie files using BitTorrent. Chan Nai-ming, 38, was sentenced on Monday after being found guilty of copyright infringement at an earlier hearing last month. He was found culpable for uploading three films - Daredevil, Red Planet and Miss Congeniality - onto the net using the popular file sharing program. Hong Kong police claim Chan is the first person in the world prosecuted over copyright offences as a result of using BitTorrent. The program enables large files to be distributed more easily by breaking them up into smaller component files and using peer-to-peer delivery. It holds no central database of files. Local authorities and the movie industry hope Chan's imprisonment will act as a deterrent to others, the BBC reports. ®
The auction to acquire Friends Reunited could be about to close after reports that ITV has agreed to stump up more than £150m to buy up the old school chum network. So, why is the UK commercial broadcaster so interested in Friends Reunited? Well, according to The Sunday Times, ITV wants to explore other revenue-earning opportunities and it reckons there's money to be made from the net. Last month ITV switched on a broadband TV service on the south coast of England. The service is aimed at viewers in the Brighton and Hastings area who will be able to tune into channels featuring local content including news, weather and entertainment guides via a broadband connection. Once this service is rolled-ot nation-wide ITV reckons the addition of Friends Reunited will make a splendid fit. If all goes to plan the deal could be confirmed this week leaving the likes of BT, News Corp and Daily Mail & General Trust - which all registered their interest in buying the business - to mull over what might have been. ®
Palm will push its Treo smart-phone family into the mid-range next year, according to one Wall Street analyst's report on the company's upcoming product plans. The $200 mid-range Treos will appear mid-2006, Caris & Co. analyst Susan Kalla wrote last week, according to a Forbes.com report this weekend. Nothing else is known about the devices, but given Palm's own suggestion that the Windows Mobile Treo will be a high-end beast, we suspect the cheaper model will run the Palm OS. Other reports from unnamed analysts suggest it could be codenamed 'Lowrider'. The Windows Mobile-based Treo is set to ship "in early calendar 2006", Palm has already said, exclusively through US carrier Verizon, at least until the middle of the year. Kalla reckons it will ship by the end of February, which also marks the end of Palm's Q3 FY 2006. The follow quarter, she reckons, will see the debut of the successor to the Palm OS-based Treo 650, which from the description sounds a lot like the Windows Mobile version. Like that model, the follow-up to the 650 will support EVDO, the 3G extension to the CDMA mobile phone network technology, and be made available through Verizon. There will also be a UMTS version for European 3G markets and some US carriers, such as Cingular, but not until toward the end of the year - essentially, the end of August, when Palm's FY2006 comes to a close. The Windows Mobile Treo isn't expected outside the US until H2 2006, Palm has itself said, so Kalla's timeline isn't out of the ballpark. "We had previously thought the product would ship in the third quarter," she wrote, "but believe Palm delayed it so it can concentrate on the Windows Treo release." Other analysts hint the UMTS device is codenamed 'Hollywood', and uses an antenna-less design. That will certainly help Palm in European markets, where antennae have been a thing of the past for many a year now, and handsets that sport aerials tend to be considered 'old tech'. Certainly, anecdotal evidence from our carrier sources suggest that the antenna has been putting off potential European purchasers. Two weeks ago, Palm opened an R&D centre in Ireland in part to develop its European 3G offerings. The Treo line is believed to be manufactured by Taiwan's HTC, which also produces its own line of Windows Mobile-based devices. Indeed, the Windows Mobile Treo has been claimed to be a joint effort between the two firms. However, an unnamed analyst report cited by Engadget claims Palm is turning to contract manufacturer Inventec to make the upcoming Palm OS-based Treos. ®
Lawyers in the Dover Intelligent Design case brought their arguments to a conclusion on Friday, leaving Judge John Jones to decide whether or not the teaching of intelligent design in public schools is allowed by the US constitution. In Dover, Pennsylvania, 11 parents are challenging in court the local school board's decision to allow intelligent design to be taught in science classes. Intelligent design holds that some living things are too complex to have arisen through natural selection, as suggested by the Darwinian theory of evolution. It states that there must be some intelligent agent involved in their creation. The parents argue that intelligent design is a thinly veiled cover for creationism, and is covered by the constitutional ban on the teaching of religion in public (state, for those in the UK) schools. In closing, the parents' lawyer Eric Rothschild said that the policy had been introduced by members of the school board with a religious agenda. He also accused witnesses for the defence of lying in their testimony that religion was not a motivating factor in introducing intelligent design to the school. He also said that they lied when the told the Judge they didn't know a text book expounding the principles of intelligent design had been bought for the school with money raised in a church. One witness, former school board member William Buckingham, had testified that he hadn't meant to advocate creationism in a television interview, describing himself as a deer in the headlights. Rothschild argued that Buckingham knew exactly what he was doing during the interview, saying: "That deer was wearing shades and was totally at ease", Reuters reports. Meanwhile, lawyers for the defence argued that intelligent design is a "legitimate educational objective", and described it as "the next great paradigm shift in science". Attorney Patrick Gillen said that while the individual members of the school board were religious, they were not trying to push a religious agenda. Judge John Jones says he wants to have made his ruling by the end of the year, early January 2006 at the latest. Meanwhile on Thursday, the Vatican issued a statement warning against ignoring scientific reason, saying that by doing so, religion risks turning into fundamentalism. Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture said: "The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines, and in particular between theology and the natural sciences, if we want to prevent similar episodes from repeating themselves in the future." He also argued that religion could act as the conscience of science, citing the atomic bomb and the possibility of human clones as scientific ideas devoid of ethics. ®
Microsoft looks favourite to take a slice of AOL, according to a report by The New York Times. Last week, Time Warner confirmed that it was holding "exploratory" talks with a number of operators over the future of its AOL internet division. Chief exec Dick Parsons admitted that the internet giant was "holding exploratory discussions with a number of strategic partners" concerning a "range of potential strategic relationships and transactions". A number of companies - including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and cableco Comcast - have all been linked to a possible deal that could see the creation of a joint venture operation or some kind of merger. Now the NYT reports that Microsoft has "emerged as the front-runner" although there's still a chance that this nag could fall anywhere between now and the finishing line. Neither should anyone rule out a late charge by one of the others since any deal is still likely to be some way off. ®
Tech DigestTech Digest Certified gadget obsessives Tech Digest and Shiny Shiny scour Gizmoville for the oddest digital goodies, Bayraider keeps tabs on the best and worst of eBay and Propellerhead answers your PC queries. Xbox to beat PS3 says analysts Analysts at Merrill Lynch believe that the Xbox 360 will win the next console war, because of pricing. The report states: "The PS3 will not only be significantly more costly than Xbox 360 at launch, but will continue to operate at a cost disadvantage for several years... The Xbox 360 could be selling at half the price of PS3 in the latter half of 2006. Taking Sony’s weakened financial condition and Microsoft’s deep pockets into consideration, we conclude that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 should emerge as the early winner in the next round of the game console wars." Merrill Lynch predict nine million Xbox 360 sales by end 2006. Luxury wind-up torch Wind-up torches are old hat, right? Fit only for filing alongside bog-standard solar bags, old school wind-up remote controls and pedal-powered mobile chargers? Well... no. Freeplay's Jonta one is actually a little special as it has a brilliantly bright beam capable of illuminating lost pennies and mice under sofas 50 metres away. This is the green torch equivalent of a Bentley and it works thanks to a combination of a super efficient LED and a rechargeable battery. 30 seconds charging gives 10 minutes of power and - when fully-cranked - you'll get 24 hours battery life on the energy-saving setting. Luxury comes at a price, of course: Freeplay's Jonta is £50 over at John Lewis. PC tip of the day from Propellerhead Personalising your PC Here’s a brilliantly simple little tweak to personalise your PC by putting an image and some words of your choosing into the Windows System Properties dialogue box that appears when you click System in Control Panel or use the keyboard shortcut Winkey + Break. It’s a two-stage process, the first thing you have to do is find your image, simple colourful images work best, as it will end up quite small. Open it in Windows Paint or your chosen picture editing program, go to Image > Attributes and change the size to 96 x 96 pixels then use Save As on the File menu to rename the file as ‘oemlogo.bmp’ (without the quotes) and save it as a 256-colour bitmap in C:\WINDOWS\system32. The second stage is to open Windows Notepad and type in the following 3 lines of text: [General] Manufacturer=Rick’s Computer Model=BootLog 1 You can enter what you like after ‘Manufacturer=’ and ‘Model=’, though keep it short as it can end up looking messy. When you’ve finished save the file as ‘oeminfo.ini’ in C:\WINDOWS\system32. It should work straight away - no need for a reboot - and you can check your handiwork by pressing Winkey + Break. Other top stories Sony adds super slim digital snapper Another ‘phone to eat iPod’ report Alternatives to MS Word World’s oldest Barbie Abba get serious Memory key pendant There's loads more of this stuff at Tech Digest, Shiny Shiny, Green consumer blog HippyShopper, and Bayraider, which highlights the best and worst of online auction sites.
Qualcomm today accused Nokia of patent infringement after filing a complaint against the Finnish phone giant in the San Diego US District Court on Friday. The allegation comes a week after Nokia and five other mobile phone, network and chip companies formally complained to the European Commission about Qualcomm's approach to 3G technology licensing. Friday's complaint was filed by Qualcomm and a subsidiary company, SnapTrack. Together they allege Nokia has used without permission methods outlined in 12 patents, 11 held by Qualcomm, the other by its off-shoot. Six of the patents are the basis for similar allegations made by Qualcomm against Broadcom in July 2005. Perhaps not co-incidentally, Broadcom is one of the six firms behind the EC complaint. Qualcomm said its patents, in part, cover technology that is "essential for the manufacture or use of equipment that complies with the GSM, GPRS and EDGE cellular standards". The company said it was pursuing an injunction to ban the sale of allegedly infringing Nokia products in the US. It's also after unspecified monetary damages. Qualcomm said it had been in negotiations with Nokia to discuss the alleged infringement, but the pair had been unable to reach a satisfactory, amicable resolution for both parties. Litigation, it said, was the only way to resolve the issues it has with Nokia. Nokia and Broadcom, along with Panasonic, NEC, Ericsson and Texas Instruments, allege that Qualcomm's WCDMA technology licensing policy runs contrary to European anti-trust regulations. They maintain that the US firm does not license its patented techniques on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, as it promised 3G standards-setting bodies it would. They also claim it uses pricing discounts to encourage customers to buy its chips on an exclusive basis and so "to exclude competing manufacturers of chipsets for mobile phones from the market and preventing others from entering". Qualcomm has said all the six's allegations are unfounded and without merit. ®
Samsung has developed a prototype notebook-oriented fuel cell which it claims last twice as long as rival systems. It's lighter and slimmer too, the South Korean giant said this weekend. Samsung claimed the cell squeezes 200 Watt hours of energy out of each litre of fuel it consumes, South Korea's Joong Ang reports. That, it said, beats the 100-130Wh per litre energy densities claimed by the likes of Toshiba and NEC - both Japanese companies - for their own notebook fuel-cell prototypes. The Samsung cell measures 23 x 8.2 x 5.3cm and weighs under 1kg, the company said. But while it's more compact that rival fuel cells, according to Samsung, it still represents quite a chunky addition to the back of anyone's notebook. The cell contains around 200 cubic centimetres of methanol fuel. Samsung said it yields up to 50W, with an average output of 20W. It can run for 15 hours. The company hopes to put the fuel cell into commercial production in 2007. Like other methanol fuel cells, the Samsung system uses a catalyst to react methanol and water at the positive electrode. This produces hydrogen and electrons, which combine at the negative electrode with oxygen to create water. The cell has to transfer some of the water back to the anode to continue the reaction and suck the hydrogen across to the cathode to enter into the water-producing reaction. The cell also produces CO2. ®
China is planning to send a manned mission to the moon as early as 2017, according to reports, to investigate the amount of helium-3 in the lunar soil. China first put humans in space in 2003, and has recently completed a second, longer, manned stint in orbit. Following the success of the latest mission aboard the Shenzhou 6 craft, Chinese space agency planners say that they are now developing another four space craft with a view to building a permanent Chinese space station, and eventually going to the moon. China says its first lunar orbiter could be ready for lift-off as early as 2007, Reuters reports. It also plans to launch its next manned mission in 2007, which could feature China's first ever space walk. The attraction of the moon is not purely scientific. Establishing a base of operations could potentially be very profitable. Helium-3 has great potential as a non-polluting fuel source, but there is virtually none on Earth. The moon, meanwhile is relatively rich in the isotope. In 2000 researchers reported they had proved helium-3 fusion could work, but acknowledged that it is still a long way from being ready to produce power. Although technology to exploit helium-3 is not yet in place, its value could be astronomical (no pun intended) as a replacement for oil and gas. ®
Two million Brits have been bullied at work during the last six months, the TUC has claimed - and UK biz loses 18m working days a year as a result, unions claim. A TUC survey uncovered a litany of abuse ranging from verbal to physical assaults. TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, told the BBC: "These figures suggest that there can be few workplaces in the UK without a resident bully. But although bullying can destroy lives and have a damaging effect upon workplace morale, the overwhelming majority of employers seem unable to stop bullies in their tracks." Further research by Unison and Acas found that "almost half of middle managers claim they have been bullied, mostly by their own bosses". Unions are demanding that the government act to outlaw workplace bullying as a compliment to its "Dignity at Work" scheme, launched last month and described as "Europe's biggest anti-bullying campaign". ®
Virus writers have created a Linux worm which uses a recently discovered vulnerability in XML-RPC for PHP, a popular open source component used in many applications, to attack vulnerable systems. XML-RPC for PHP features in many web application including PostNuke, Drupal, b2evolution, Xoops, WordPress, PHPGroupWare and TikiWiki. Most of these applications have been updated to address the security flaw. But unpatched systems are at risk from a Linux worm - called Lupper - which exploits the bug to load itself onto vulnerable systems. Anti-virus firms report few reports of the malware which is noteworthy mainly because of the rarity of malware strains targeting Linux systems rather than its risk factor, which is low. SAN's Internet Storm Centre has a comprehensive technical description of the threat (such as it is) here. ®
General Motors last week unveiled its vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) wireless comms set-up which allows cars equipped with the system to communicate and issue proximity warnings to attention-deficit drivers. The protype system, fitted to Cadillac STS sedans, uses a GPS antenna and wireless antenna to receive and broadcast positional and speed info between V2V-equipped automobiles within a quarter-mile radius. A computer system calculates the relative positions, speeds and course of the cars in this footprint and uses GM's "threat assessment algorithm" to issue "you're going to have a crash" alerts. One of these warnings is - in common with a similar wake-up call already deployed by Citroen - a vibration of the driver's right leg if, for example, he were to attempt to enter a right-hand lane unaware of the presence of another V2V Caddie bearing down on him. And just in case having your limbs molested by your motor isn't enough, an additional visual warning flashes up in the rear-view mirror. Of course, the success of the whole concept depends on GM persuading every car manufacturer to adopt the V2V system, as CNET and others rightly note. After all, it's all very well relying on your Cadillac to tell you you're about to hit a Buick if there's a Ford Focus manned by someone who does not have the benefit of vibrating trouser alerts about to intrude unannounced into your roadspace GM research engineer Priyantha Mudalige admitted: "We're trying to standardize the wireless communication between cars, and we hope other car manufacturers will follow. This would be the reinvention of the vehicle. Before this works, we need to have market penetration." In other words, it's a lovely idea on paper but almost certainly doomed to failure. Nonetheless, physical ("haptic"), visual and auditory warnings are the way of the future, some pundits claim. Oxford uni's Dr Charles Spence earlier this year explained the novel ways in which car manufacturers are looking to keep drivers on the case, and said that one Japanese car maker reckons all cars will have tactile warning systems by 2010. ®
A Welsh phone company has become the latest outfit to be fined £100,000 for ripping off phone customers with a dodgy prize scam. Mobile Entertainment Group, which is based in North Wales, had the plug pulled on its service after premium rate regulator ICSTIS received ten complaints from punters who had received an unsolicited phone call using automatic calling equipment (ACE) telling them they had won either £1,000 cash or a £5,000 reward. As in all these scams, all these lucky people had to do to collect their prize was to call a £1.50 a minute number. "These services are simply unacceptable and further undermine trust in premium rate services," said ICSTIS director, George Kidd. "These recorded messages are intrusive, misleading and almost certainly illegal. We have acted fast to stop this harm but we realise that we need to remain vigilant and use all our powers to stamp out this sort of behaviour," he said. News of this latest fine comes as the regulator reports that the number of investigations it is carrying out are on the increase. Many concern direct marketing services which are either "misleading in nature and linked, at worst, to services of little or no apparent substance". "As a result there was a marked increase in our use of the Emergency Procedure in the first half of 2005 as we dealt with spam marketing predominantly using Automatic Calling Equipment (ACE), and any residual dialler services found operating without permission or contrary to the terms of the permissions regime," it said. Even though ICSTIS is involved in some 800 investigations about premium rate services this year, it also reports that it has seen a massive fall in the number of complaints about rogue diallers. "By Autumn 2005 we had achieved a 99 per cent reduction in the enquiry and complaint levels linked to Internet dialler services. This was achieved through effective crisis management and partnership management with originating networks, Ofcom, DTI, trade bodies and others including the police," it said. ®
Creative has launched its bid to grab the attention of digital music player buyers this Christmas: the 20GB hard drive-based Zen Sleek Photo. The photography side of the story is told by the player's 262,144-colour OLED screen on which to display digital images - JPEGs only - transferred to the device. And to add a personal touch, users can select from one of at least eight colour themes for the player's UI, and apply a downloaded picture as the UI's backdrop. As a music player, the Zen Sleek Photo supports the usual MP3, WAV, WMA and WMA DRM formats. The sound-style can be adjusted using the integrated five-band equaliser or by selecting one of eight pre-set EQs. It also has an FM radio and a voice recorder. The player is controlled using a vertically oriented touch-sensitive strip of the kind seen on the original Zen Sleek and the older Zen Touch. The buttons have a blue backlight. The unit measures 10.1 x 5.9 x 1.7cm and weighs 157g. On board is a rechargeable battery capable of delivering up to 19 hours' continuous play time on a single charge, Creative said. The battery can be charged via USB. The player connects to a host PC via USB 2.0. The player connects to a host PC via USB 2.0, though the player's port is a proprietary design, so don't lose the bundled cable. A sign of an attempt to create an iPod-like ecosystem of dockable accessories? We'll see. For now, Creative said it's also offering a docking cradle as an optional extra. The Zen Sleek Photo is available from today for around £220. ®
ReviewReview Alienware is still fairly new to the UK market and up to now has stuck to its guns and produced only very high-end, and very expensive, PCs. But Alienware isn't only well known for its high-end, high-powered gaming systems, but also for its large, stylish cases.
Dutch record companies have refused to contribute to a uniform podcasting licence proposed by the Dutch collection organisation for composers, lyricists and music publishers BUMA. They are only interested if some form of DRM is in place, a spokesman for Dutch Association of Phonogram and Videogram Producers (NVPI) told Dutch news site 3voor12. So podcasters aren't allowed to use recorded music released by NVPI members. That agency represents most of the record companies in the Netherlands and abroad, including local offices of major record labels, such as EMI, Universal and Sony BMG. This summer, BUMA introduced a provisional licence that would allow podcasters to use officially recorded music in their podcasts. Commercial podcasters would have to pay a minimum of €85 and amateurs €35 per month for an unlimited number of songs on an unlimited number of podcasts. BUMA is one of the first music collecting agencies in Europe to introduce such a licence. However, BUMA's licence wouldn't cover the performing rights, only copyrights of composers, lyricists and music publishers. BUMA was hoping the record industry would join them for a uniform licence, but the record companies are afraid that they have limited control over the podcasts. Nor are they keen to grant a license for "unlimited use". Spokesman Wouter Rutten says there is little logic to the proposed license. "We simply don't understand why everyone has to pay the same amount," he said. ®
A 19-year-old pilot launched his own UK airline today as he took the controls of a BAE Jetstream 31 between Southampton and the Isle of Man - the maiden flight for a business Martin Halstead hopes will carry 75,000 punters in its first year. The "baby Branson" thought up the idea for Alpha One Airways while sitting in a coffee shop pondering his future as a commercial pilot, the BBC reports. He bought one jet and has leased another for the ticketless airborne outfit, although he does say that "complimentary in-flight refreshments will be included in the price", which makes a nice change for a "punch and kick your way to the best seats" operation. Halstead admitted: "I'm probably the only airline boss in the UK who will actually fly the planes," adding that he considers his age no impediment to making a go of it. "Age is just a number. I plan to bring an innovative, 21st Century approach to regional aviation and I also have an older, experienced team to call on," he added. Alpha One Airways boasts 26 staff and plans to fly between smaller destinations where the big boys decline to tread. The Isle of Man to Edinburgh and Cardiff are future planned routes, but for the time being the airline will operate twice daily between Isle of Man - Southampton and Isle of Man - Blackpool, from 21 November. ®
Enterprise software supplier Geac Computer Corporation has been bought by private equity firm Golden Gate Capital in an all-cash deal valued at approximately $1bn. The agreement, which is subject to standard closing conditions including the approval of regulators and Geac shareholders, is expected to close in the first calendar quarter of 2006. Geac shareholders are being offered $11.10 per share or a 27 per cent premium over Friday’s trading price. Crescendo, a dissident shareholder group that owns about 5 per cent of Geac, and which recently fought a heated proxy battle with the board, supports the deal, Reuters reports. David Dominik, managing director of Golden Gate Capital, which has more than $2.5bn under management said that Geac would be reorganised into two separate Golden Gate Capital portfolio companies. As part of this reorganization, Infor, an existing Golden Gate Capital funded company, will acquire Geac’s ERP software products – including System21, Runtime, RatioPlan, Streamline, and Management Data – and the workers who support them will move to Infor. Geac’s financial applications and the Industry Specific Applications (ISA) will operate under the name of a new (and as yet unnamed) company within the Golden Gate portfolio. Reorganising Canada-based Geac's business using this 'assembler' strategy will repeat a model used by Golden Gate in previous acquisitions. "Golden Gate Capital looks at acquisitions with a different perspective than most private equity firms. We seek to integrate companies that can grow significantly faster together than they could on their own. This strategy has been implemented successfully by Concerto/Aspect Software, AttachmateWRQ, Inovis and Infor," Dominik said. ®
While the edges of the glaciers are melting, the ice sheets in Greenland's interior are getting thicker, according to satellite data collected over the last 11 years. On average the ice sheets have got thicker by about six centimetres each year, the researchers say. The researchers, based at Norway's Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center (NERSC), say that this is probably because snowfall in the region has increased, due to a weather pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The research was conducted using the European Space Agency's ERS satellites. These carry radar altimeters that send 1800 radar pulses to Earth each second, and record how long they take to return to the satellite. The sensor can time this journey down to the nanosecond, ESA says, meaning that the instrument is accurate to within two centimetres. In total tens of millions of data points were collected. The results were then compared to the known fluctuations in the NAO over the period. The researchers found a strong relationship between changes in the height of the ice sheet and the strong positive and negative phases of the NAO. Professor Ola Johannessen of NERSC says that the results suggest that the role of the NAO in ice thickness is more significant than previously thought, making it something of a wildcard in climate modelling. "There is clearly a need for continued monitoring using new satellite altimeters and other observations, together with numerical models to calculate the Greenland Ice Sheet mass budget," Johannessen commented. It is just the kind of work that the CryoSat mission would have taken on, had it not been lost during its launch. The NAO was first identified in the 1920's, and is an imbalance in atmospheric masses between the high pressure of the subtropicals the low pressure of the northern polar regions. The size of the difference influences the weather across the whole of the northern hemisphere, and is much more important in the winter months. Finding out whether or not the Greenland ice sheet is shrinking overall is important because it is so large. While plenty of data has been collected on the retreating glaciers and thinning edges of the ice sheets, much less in known about the interior. If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt entirely, it would raise global sea levels by seven metres. The addition of such a large quantity of fresh water to the oceans would also disrupt familiar ocean currents, such as the gulf stream, which could have a huge knock on effect on weather systems. The research was published in Science Express late last month. ®
A recently-discovered asteroid in the Taurus constellation is to be named after a Bulgarian transvestite folk singer, Ananova reports. The reason? Well, it was a Bulgarian team which spotted the body and, as a spokesperson explained: "We want to name the asteroid after the folk singer Azis, who is quite famous here."
Pierre Danon - the former head of BT Retail and until recently COO of Capgemini - has got a new job. He's been named as a "senior advisor" with investment bankers JP Morgan offering advice to companies in the telecoms, media and tech sectors. In particular, his views of the industry will be sought as the sector goes through a period of consolidation and as M&A (mergers and acquisitions) activity is on the increase. "We are pleased that Pierre will be working with us as a senior advisor," said Walter Gubert, chairman of JP Morgan in Europe, "and believe that his 24 years of experience in the telecommunications, media and technology sectors will benefit clients as they face decisions amid an increasingly active M&A market." Danon left BT for Capgemini earlier this year. Although the move was spun as a promotion for Danon - who ran BT's massive customer-facing retail division - his departure had been linked with an internal power struggle and dogged by reports of a boardroom rift over the future direction of BT. His time at Capgemini ended abruptly last month after French newspaper Le Figaro ran a story saying that Danon was in the running for a top job at Accor Group and that he'd already had an interview. The IT services firm was not happy. Not happy one little bit. Announcing Danon's departure four weeks ago Capgemini said: "After having agreed with Mr Pierre Danon that Capgemini would not instantly react to this surprising announcement, then having accepted to make no further comment until the end of this week, the Group notes that the necessary conditions to maintain his leadership position in the Group could no longer be met, in spite of the wish expressed by Mr Pierre Danon to continue his work in the Group. As a consequence, it has been decided to bring to an end his functions as of today." ®
The link between alcohol and aggression is well studied, but did you know that you don't even need to drink the stuff for it to have an effect on you? According to research to be published in Psychological Science, just looking at pictures of alcohol is enough to increase aggression.
Microsoft is to re-christen its anti-spyware software, currently a beta product still in development, as Windows Defender. On debut the product will protect against a range of threats including rootkits and keystroke loggers as well as spyware applications, according to a posting on a Microsoft engineering teams' blog. Developers are priming the application for inclusion in Vista, the next version of Windows. The next pre-release version of the product will obtain signature updates from the Windows Update software distribution channels. The technology will to available to Win XP users as well as future Vista Feedback on the name change has mostly been positive but one wag couldn't help resist noting that since Hacker Defender is a rootkit then Windows Defender might not be the best name for a product to protect users from malware. For our part, we'd like to say Windows Defender has nothing at all to do with Defender, the popular '80s arcade game. ®
ReviewReview The Avant Stellar keyboard stands as a major throwback in a PC industry that thrives on making devices smaller, sleeker and quieter. Creative VisionTechnologies has created a keyboard that's clunky, loud and heavy. And it may be exactly what you're looking for, especially if reprogramming keys is your thing. Old-timers will remember the clickity-clack that once accompanied a typing flurry. Ancient keyboards let you know when you were on a roll. They let everyone in the office know. A certain satisfaction arose within the user from the audible response the keyboard provided. CVT's product revives this lost feature of keyboards. Every keystroke delivers a tactile and audible signal. Users can bang away on the Avant Stellar and be reminded of how the device used to feel before PC makers started delivering any old $10 junk to consumers. Users familiar with Northgate's OmniKey products will be right at home with the Avant Stellar. CVT bought the rights to these products and the Avant Stellar is a new revision of the kit. The auditory bliss, however, comes with the more troubling features also associated with older keyboards. The Avant Stellar weighs in at 5 pounds and has thick, spacious edges. The product - at about 20 inches long - will take up more of your desk that today's common keyboards, especially design-friendly products from the likes of Apple. Many might associate the weight and size with sturdiness and find the characteristics pleasing. This keyboard will not move around your desk, and if you drop it, keys aren't going to fly around the room. Others will dislike the chunkiness. Another old feature is that CVT ships the keyboard with a PS/2 connector only, and using a USB converter eliminates some of the keyboard's more interesting features. Features? Oh yes. The 116-key Avant Stellar ships with software for reprogramming the key functions to suit your needs. The Avant Stellar has 12 function keys across its top and another 12 running down the left hand side. But any key on the board can be configured to do whatever you like. Want your Fs to be Ps? No problem. Users can set up their own macros for the keys and simplify, for example, user name entry to take just one keystroke. This can be a real plus for gamers or programmers looking to automate a set of keystrokes. CVT ships the products with extra Control and Alt key caps and a tool for popping out keys. We're told that a number of users reprogram the boards for the Dvorak layout. You'll need a Windows machine to use the key reprogramming software provided by CVT. And, if you use a USB converter, CVT warns, "the Avant programming software will not function thru a USB converter." You can, however, still program the keyboard using a series of keystrokes to put the device in "record" mode, and CVT provides instructions for doing so. Keyboards are often a neglected bit of hardware. Users grow accustomed to banging away on sticky, unresponsive trouble keys that develop over time. Your hands get tired at the end of the day. You all know the drill. The Avant Stellar could help alleviate many of these problems. CVT has created a strong, sturdy and responsive device. There's nothing terribly new about the product other than it's old. It's exactly what you'll remember from 10 or 20 years ago. Many people may be put off by the price of the device. The Avant Stellar costs $189, while a smaller Prime Keyboard costs $149. You'll have to cough up another $14.95 for a PS/2 to USB convertor, $19.95 for an extended 5-year warranty and $19.95 for a protective covering. If you miss the sound and tactile response of older keyboards, then the price may be worth it. In addition, customers who want to reduce repetitive keystroke combinations will really enjoy the product. There's more information on the devices available here. ®
Punters are giving flaky mobile data services the cold shoulder, a survey has revealed. 64 per cent of those surveyed gave up after one or two attempts with the services, while only two per cent said they'd seek help from the carrier. Asked what would encourage them to use more mobile data, 53 per cent said lower pricing, 43 per cent cited greater ease of use, and 32 per cent better help and advice. The survey was conducted by NOP and commissioned by mobile infrastructure software supplier Olista, and polled 1,000 adults in September. An earlier Olista-commissioned poll found that 77 per cent of phone users have never tried any data service, and of those who had, only 12 per cent were happy with the mobile data experience. That's grim reading for the carriers, who need to invest more in ease of use and reliability, Olista CEO Oren Glanz told us. Olista sells network diagnostic tools to the carriers. "We've mapped hundreds of thousands of different problems with mobile data services," he said. "Some have different problems the second time they attempt to use a service." Amongst the most common problems were content not being accessible on specific handsets, and the failure of different service elements to interoperate. Glanz also said carriers should use more predictable pricing models. "When prices have been reduced it's not apparent that usage has increased. There's price confusion - a lot of the time you're not sure how you'll be charged. It's not like making a phone call." Mobile data services are often an impulse decision and need to work first time, he said. ®
Microsoft has finally launched updates to its Windows developer tools and database, using a worldwide event to challenge competitors and any perceptions you might have that Microsoft is still not "enterprise-ready". Microsoft's corporate point man Steve Ballmer presided over the launch of Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and the BizTalk Server 2006 community technology preview (CTP) on Monday, highlighting advances in integration and scalability to meet large business customers' needs. Ballmer claimed customers are "crossing the chasm" using Windows instead of mainframes for mission critical computing, while pointing to benchmark figures to claim Microsoft is beating Linux, IBM and Oracle on price and performance. Tackling up to two-years of delays for SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005, Ballmer - who laid out the company pitch following a live opening set from 20-year-old, rocker dinosaurs Cheap Trick - said Microsoft had learned from its setbacks. "A little bit less bake time and rapid cycle time would be more appropriate in the future. [But] we learned a lot about security, and I'd be darned if we aren't going to apply that learning whole heartedly in those releases," Ballmer said. Ballmer called the trio of products "version two or maybe version three" of Microsoft's .NET platform, unveiled five years ago. The products will extend the client and server into the 'cloud,' a strategy called "live software" that was announced by Microsoft's chief software architect Bill Gates last week. Integration is the key message, especially between Visual Studio, SQL Server and BizTalk Server, and between these products and software like Office 12, due in 2006, and Microsoft's customer relationship management (CRM) software. SQL Server 2005 customers can use Visual Studio to provide a common integrated development environment (IDE) when building and deploying applications across different runtimes and devices. Visual Studio 2005 also introduces Team System (VSTS) for integrated application design, development, teamwork and lifecycle management. Integration between Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006 means developers and business managers can work together to build business processes using drag-and-drop Visual Studio tools. Integration is extended through the phases of an application's development lifecycle, so errors can be detected before the software is rolled out, with load testing conducted and then the results reported to a project manager through integration with Microsoft's Outlook. Integration between SQL Server and Office 12 and Microsoft Dynamics 3.0 is also planned. Office 12 and Dynamics users will be able to display SQL Server data using Excel 12. As ever with a SQL Server launch, Microsoft stressed that the database is ready for mission-critical use through improvements to features and support for SAP. Microsoft is also using its relationship with SAP to challenge the companies' mutual competitor Oracle - 42 per cent of SAP installations run on SQL Server. SQL Server 2005 can support 93,000 concurrent users running on Hewlett Packard's Superdome with Itanium 2, more than 10 times the current largest installation of SAP on Microsoft's database. Microsoft has also signed a multiyear licensing agreement for SAP to offer SQL 2005 as a component with SAP. "We have programs... with SAP to take market share from Oracle as the application and database platform in the largest enterprise," Ballmer said. "There's no mission critical enterprise job today you should feel uncomfortable running on the Microsoft platform," Ballmer said. "There is no job that's too big to run on Microsoft and the Windows platform." Ballmer claimed a SQL Server 2005 and Windows Server 2003 stack delivered more than twice the transactions per second than a stack consisting of Oracle 10g, IBM WebSphere 6.0 and Red Hat Linux, according to an IBM benchmark used to measure the performance of WebSphere. Microsoft is also claiming "price parity" with Linux, to woo web-hosting companies. Active Server Pages (ASP) .NET 2.0 is "more" scalable while IIS can host up to 7,000 sites per server compared to the 2,000 in the previous edition. Microsoft said service providers can now afford to charge customers who chose to host on Windows between $3 and $5 per month, which is in line with Linux-based offerings. Overall, Ballmer encouraged customers to look at the integrated server software and developer tools as "the whole being bigger than the sum of the parts."®
Web portal Yahoo! is to launch an own-brand cellphone, according to a report in today's Wall Street Journal. Nokia will provide the phone, and Yahoo!'s DSL broadband partner SBC (soon to be AT&T) will provide the service through its Cingular network. It marks a change of strategy for Yahoo!, which has so far been happy to work on a carrier-by-carrier basis, and build out its public facing mobile services without feeling the need to put its branding on the handset itself. In spring 2004, Google was reported to be planning a Google-branded phone, but the project never came to fruition. The Yahoo! phone - hopefully without a yodeling ringtone - will cost around $200 to $300 and feature a 1.3 megapixel camera and removable storage, which suggests it's a Series 60 smartphone. The report doesn't suggest that the phone will be the springboard for Yahoo! to launch its own-brand cellular service, and become a mobile virtual network operator MVNO. Cingular has traditionally been hostile to the idea of being a network wholesaler, but given the success of Sprint's MVNO drive, appears to be thawing to the idea. Sprint allows Virgin and Disney, amongst others, to piggyback off its network. Last week Sprint also announced fixed/wireless bundles with Comcast and Time Warner Cable to sell its network. More concretely, Yahoo! today also announced a two-way partnership with TiVo. Yahoo! will make some of its services - starting with weather, traffic and photo sharing - available to TiVo subscribers, who will also be able to program their recorders through Yahoo!'s TV portal. TiVo is currently selling its PVRs at a heavy discount - $49 after rebates. ®
Sixteen application and technology adaptors for rivals' and partners' business applications are being bundled with the next edition of Microsoft's BizTalk Server. Microsoft has bundled adaptors for Oracle Database Connector, Oracle Application Suite, PeopleSoft and Siebel Systems with the BizTalk Server 2006 community technology preview (CTP), released Monday. Additional adaptors for PeopleSoft, Tibco and others are due in the next beta. Nine of the 16 were previously deployed or sold by third parties. The company called the bundling, with Enterprise and Standard editions of the business integration server, a "significant break" from the industry norm of charging additional fees for application and technology adaptors. "We are building on the growth of the most successful integration technology in history to deliver new value to customers," the general manager for Microsoft's connected systems division Robert Wahbe said in a statement. BizTalk Server 2006 is due for a second beta later this calendar year with final delivery planned for the first half of 2006. ®