22nd > November > 2005 Archive

IPTV gets cool reception in UK

Broadband TV has yet to take off in the UK despite the fact that it is regarded as one of the oldest IPTV markets in Europe. Stiff competition from satellite giant Sky and the soon-to-merge cablecos NTL and Telewest has meant that the UK has failed to jump onto the IPTV bandwagon, according to a new report from ScreenDigest. With just 30,000 IPTV subscribers by the middle of 2005 - the vast majority of whom receive their service via local loop unbundling (LLU) operator VideoNetworks Limited (VNL) and its Homechoice service - the UK is losing ground on its European rivals. And with so much competition on offer it will be tough for new entrants to gain a foothold in the sector. BT is due to unveil its broadband TV service next summer while ISPs Wanadoo, Tiscali and Bulldog are all planning to let punters access TV via their broadband connections. Despite this, Screen Digest predicts that the number of IPTV subscribers in Europe is set to rise to almost nine million by 2009 up from 658,000 today. Indeed, the number of IPTV subscribers in Europe has increased 66 per cent so far this year. With more services set to come online, 2005 should see a 200 per cent increase compared to last year, according to Screen Digest's latest report into the European IPTV market. Looking ahead, by 2009 IPTV will have a 9.4 per cent share of the European pay TV market with France, Italy and Spain leading broadband TV nations. Said Report author Daniel Schmitt said: "Although some technical and content issues have yet to be resolved, the combination of compelling, competitively priced triple-play offers that include true video-on-demand will prove a winning formula. Many traditional pay television providers are finding that they too must adopt IPTV technologies in order to remain competitive." ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Nov 2005
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Lads from Lagos set up Anfield branch

Fraudsters are posing as representatives of a lottery sponsored by Liverpool Football Club in an attempt to defraud gulliable net users. The spam messages claim that recipients are one of 40 lucky winners to have won £500,000 in a lottery supposedly run by Liverpool FC. The emails say that LFC's financial success exceeded expectations (thanks to last season's Champions League win), making available a total of £20m as an "end of year promotion", and that the recipient has been randomly chosen by a computer as one of the winners. Why the club hasn't earmarked this money towards securing a much-needed goal scorer1 when the mid-season transfer window opens in January isn't explained. Some of these emails ask recipients to provide their personal details in order to claim the prize money. Whether marks will be eventually asked to hand over bank account information or simply tricked into stumping up fees to process the collection of non-existent winnings remains unclear. UK-based security firm Sophos says it has blocked around 200 copies of the Liverpool FC lottery scam emails in its UK spam traps and a smaller number in its Italian traps. It hasn't seen the scam emails elsewhere in the world suggesting that scammers are targeting UK-based surfers. The spam run was sent out via a Texas-based machine (which may or may not be compromised) via a Yahoo! UK email address, according to Sophos. The latest scams comes less than two months after a different campaign posed as a winning lottery notification from FIFA, football's international governing body. The Lads from Lagos also tried to reel in suckers via claims they were forming a Irish football squad in, of all places, Bangkok. ® 1Coming from a Manchester United supporter, Liverpool fans should feel free to treat this remark as biased. But with Peter Crouch yet to hit the back of the net a third of the way through the season - even via the penalty spot - they ought to concede I might have a point, especially when strike-partner Morientes has scored only one goal in domestic competition.
John Leyden, 22 Nov 2005

Texas puts Sony BMG in its sights

The Attorney General for the state of Texas filed a lawsuit against Sony BMG Music Entertainment on Monday, calling the media giant's copy-protection technology "illegal spyware".
Robert Lemos, 22 Nov 2005

What does your MP think about the price of eggs?

The people behind TheyWorkForYou.com and WritetoThem.com have launched a new site aimed at encouraging dialogue between the public and their MPs. The idea behind HearFromYourMP.comis in line with much of the rest of MySociety's work, which in the words of the group's founder, Tom Steinberg, is to "unite in holy matrimony the British public with its MPs". If people are interested in hearing their MPs views on life, the universe and everything, all they have to do is register on the site. As soon as 25 people from an MP's constituency have signed up, HearFromYourMP.com will email the MP asking them to get in touch. The MP's message will be distributed by email to those who signed up. Steinberg stresses that the MP will not have access to the list, or to the names on the list. The site handles that side of things for them. A copy of the MP's email will also be posted to a forum where any registered constituents will be able to post their own comments. The forums will be carefully moderated for abuse, and the site restricts the number of postings any one person can make in a day. Although commenting will be restricted, the discussions will be viewable by anyone. Steinberg says the moderation is necessary to make MPs feel confident and comfortable about engaging with their constituents in a semi-public forum. "We are very confident we can keep it high level and constructive," Tom Steinberg said at the launch in London yesterday. "Our mission statement is 'Don't be an arse'." For Steinberg, the site is not about instant gratification, but more about the long haul. He anticipates that eventually it will to grow to the point where MPs will not be able to ignore the opportunity of engaging their constituents in discussion. "MPs at some point will decide it makes no sense not to talk to a large portion of their electorate," he said. Prior to the launch more than 5,500 people registered with the beta site, and 30 MPs went above their 25 registrants threshold. All of those were invite to take part in trials of the site. Of the eight who agreed, Steinberg says the idea has been met with "cautious approval". ®
Lucy Sherriff, 22 Nov 2005
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Intel preps two-stage 'Napa' retail roll-out

ExclusiveExclusive Intel Celeron M processors based on the upcoming 65nm 'Yonah' core will appear in Q2 2006, according to the chip giant's latest roadmap. Separately, internal Intel retail documentation seen by The Register reveal the next generation of Centrino, aka 'Napa', will debut in January as anticipated, but be followed by a second-stage roll-out in March.
Tony Smith, 22 Nov 2005

Telcos united on anti-patent laws

Vodafone, Orange, T-mobile and other big telcos are joining up to tell Europe's main standards body to tighten up its rules on intellectual property. The telcos will tell the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, the body behind the GSM standard, that current rules leave companies at risk of "excessive" demands for royalty payments. The group warns that the benefits of standardisation are at risk unless rules are changed. The European Commission has already asked ETSI to sort out rules to stop members carrying out a "patent ambush" - where one company gets its technology sneakily included in a standard before sending out large invoices to companies forced to use its technology. Mobile handset makers complained last month that Qualcomm used its 3G patents in this way. The group wants ETSI to set a cap on maximum royalty payments because failure. Vodafone refused to comment on this story and Orange and T-mobile were unable to comment at press time.®
John Oates, 22 Nov 2005

Initial Xbox 360 reviews good not great

The latest from the UK’s leading games blog - Games Digest. From the makers of Tech Digest and Shiny Shiny. Initial Xbox 360 reviews good not great The US launch of Microsoft's new console, the Xbox 360 is minutes away. And while it's still nearly a fortnight away from launch in Europe (Decemer 2 is the date), many US bloggers and commentators have their machines and games already. And the ones who do haven't been shy of letting us know their opinions. Chris Morris, the influential and intelligent games expert for CNN Money seems to have captured the overall feeling excellently, with a feature headlined, "good, but not great". Summarising his points and US reviewers in general, the hardware is good, the new online "Marketplace" is excellent, and possibly the future of game distribution, but the let-down is the initial line-up of games. Microsoft is missing that "must have", like Halo was on the Xbox, for instance. The launch line-up is mainly shooters and racers, which won't go down brilliantly in Japan either. And none of the games do anything except tune graphics up to the level of the average current PC game. But as Morris says it's "worth waiting a bit", because games will be along in 2006 that actually use the power of this new machine. Games and films do go together The relationship between games and films has been problematic historically. Uwe Boll, from the Hollywood side of the fence, has recently been butchering a series of games, turning them into dreck movies. But that's a tradition that goes back to the 80s with Street Fighter and Mario turkeys. On the other side, games of films are almost universally dreadful. The notable exceptions so far have been James Bond 007: GoldenEye on the N64, probably the only good Bond game ever. And The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay on the Xbox. Possibly the only game of a film where the game was better than its source material. With the film not out until December, it's too early to say whether the film of King Kong will beat its game, just out. With director Peter Jackson at the helm, the film will probably be great. But his direct involvement with the game and choice of working partner in Michel Ancel, the French creator of the massively under-rated Beyond Good & Evil, have meant he's set himself a high bar. Peter Jackson's King Kong The Game is, in short, brilliant. And the reviewers are going... ape crazy for it. 80 games year – most of them sequels Screen Digest's report into the future financial state of the games industry is a depressing read. Games companies still haven't worked out the golden formula to ensure that good games make money. So instead, expect them to stick to the current formula with ever-increasing fidelity. And that is "go safe". Licensed games and franchises sell on average 23 per cent more than new, original games. So don't expect too many of them on next-generation consoles. Other top stories Ladbrokes offer odds on number one Xmas game PS3 controller remains a banana... for now First accessories for Xbox 360 Metal Gear Solid 4 demo could run on Xbox 360 admits creator
Tech Digest, 22 Nov 2005
Motorola HS500 Bluetooth Headset

Motorola bundles Bluetooth for Skype

Motorola has begun shipping its first Bluetooth headset co-branded with VoIP service Skype, punting the pack into the US retail market through RadioShack. The bundle - dubbed the Motorola Wireless Internet Calling Kit - comprises the Motorola's H500 headset and its P850 Bluetooth dongle for PCs that lack this kind of wireless connectivity. Skype's contribution is a copy of its software and 30 minutes of call time for dialling numbers outside the Skype network.
Tony Smith, 22 Nov 2005

Suits predict another bumper e-Xmas

Festive shoppers have already been busy flashing their cash online, according to accountants KPMG. Its survey of Christmas spending habits found that each of us will fork out on average £333 on pressies this year. And it seems we've already been out and about spending around £104 of our budget so far. And the beancounters discovered that some four in ten shoppers have already used the Net to order or buy some of their presents. "We can surmise from this that it is the early shopping trips that are being replaced not only by online searching this year, but by early online buying," said the research. "Perhaps this is in wake of the memory of scares of late delivery last year. Very interestingly, it is 30-50 year olds that have been most active in early on-line shopping, not the younger generation." Predictably, sales of electrical gear is set to lead online sales although fashion items are reportedly already experiencing strong growth. Etailing trade group IMRG predicts that online sales in the eight weeks to Christmas are set to jump 40 per cent to £5bn from £3.5bn this year. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Nov 2005

419ers break world's shortest email record

God alone knows what happened to Liberia's Charles Taylor and his distraught widow plus mewling and orphaned infants boarding a Red Cross plane to Nigeria where the former dictator had thoughtfully deposited $23,000,000 (TWENTY-THREE MILLION DOLLARS) in a safe deposit box in Lagos just waiting for some willing business partner to receive the funds into the bosom of his bank account, but it appears the Lads from Lagos have decided it's time to cut the crap and get straight down to it: -------- Original Message -------- Subject: [SPAM] GOD BLESS YOU Date: Sat, 19 Nov 2005 20:55:04 +0200 From: smith nguessan To: smith1@jmail.co.za Hi I need help smith the_familyhome@yahoo.fr (0022507849902) Marvellous. Our informant, Sam Fold, notes that 00225 is the international dialling code for the Ivory Coast. No doubt if you give smith a bell he'll give the full run-down on the former oil executive tragically killed in an air crash and the $34,000,000 in unfulfilled petroleum contracts currently languishing in a tin box in Abidjan.®
Lester Haines, 22 Nov 2005

LSE clarifies ID Card cost claims

The London School of Economics (LSE) has issued a statement clarifying its position on its National ID card research. The announcement follows press reports that project costs could go as high as £40bn. The LSE says that its original estimate of a £19.2bn high watermark stands and no other figure should be attributed to them. The original figure, published in its June report, The Identity Project: An assessment of the UK Identity Cards Bill and its implications, was more than triple the government's £5.8bn estimate, a number qualified by a report from international consultancy firm KPMG, which concluded the Outline Business Case for the scheme was "robust and appropriate". The government has recently published extracts from this report in response to the LSE estimate. The cost of a stand-alone ID card was put at £30 and £93 for a passport and ID card package. Recent press reports have suggested that the cost of the compulsory document may reach as high as £300. The LSE believes that, the true cost to the taxpayer may be higher than the Home Office estimate, because the figure encompassed "design costs." Factors such as implementation or interaction and integration with other public sector bodies were not taken into account. The School is unwilling to put any further figures out at this point and draws attention to the fact some costs may even go down given the Government's huge existing investment to upgrade its IT infrastructure over the next decade. Professor Ian Angell of LSE's Information Systems department has written to Andy Burnham the Home Office minister responsible for rolling out the ID card scheme seeking a detailed response on integration and cost points so it can update its research. The June report was the result of a six-month study guided by a steering group of 14 professors and involving extensive consultations with nearly 100 industry representatives, experts and researchers from the UK and around the world. In its conclusion, Patrick Dunleavy, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, said, "The Home Office... has not yet justified its [£6bn] estimate in detail. By contrast, we recognize considerable uncertainties ahead with such a novel, high tech scheme and we show how these uncertainties might affect costings." The three-way spat between the LSE, the government and the media comes in light of reports that Tony Blair is facing a fresh rebellion from the House of Lords. Rebel peer are unhappy about the uncertain cost of the cards to taxpayers and seem set to win amendments requiring a vote in both houses before the scheme is made compulsory. The figure of £40bn has been dismissed as 'nonsensical' by the Home Office. Related link LSE Report: The Identity Project: An assessment of the UK Identity Cards Bill and its implications (PDF: 2.48MB) Copyright © 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.
eGov Monitor Weekly, 22 Nov 2005

Apple iTunes slams into top ten music retail chart

Apple's iTunes Music Store is now one of the US' top ten leading music retailers, market watcher NPD has claimed. NPD based its chart on unit sales made during Q3, counting every 12 downloaded tracks as the equivalent of a CD purchase. Apple's online shop is in seventh place, up from position 14, which it held in Q3 2004.
Tony Smith, 22 Nov 2005
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Exploit code unpicks IE flaw

Hackers have created a potent exploit for a six-month old vulnerability in Internet Explorer which was previously believed to be only a Denial of Service risk. A fresh exploit posted on computerterrorism.com proves that the security bug can be exploited to gain system access, even on systems running Windows XP with Service Pack 2. The flaw stems from a failure by IE to properly handle requests to the window() object. Successful exploitation involves tricking a Windows user running IE into visiting a maliciously constructed website contain hostile JavaScript code. Users of both IE 5.5 and 6.x are potentially at risk. "Currently, the only way to protect against exploitation of this vulnerability is by disabling active scripting or by using another browser," said Thomas Kristensen, CTO of security notification firm Secunia. Microsoft's holding statement on the issue can be found here. ®
John Leyden, 22 Nov 2005

No corporate sponsors for Darwin exhibition

The evolution vs. creationism debate in the US is now so contentious that the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York has been unable to find a sponsor for its new exhibition detailing the life and discoveries of Charles Darwin. With American companies apparently unwilling to be seen to be taking sides, the whole of the $3m bill for the exhibition has been met by donations, large and small, from private individuals, The Telegraph reports. The Museum will not reveal which companies it approached for sponsorship. It says it sent a list of forthcoming exhibitions to a range of potential sponsors, but that none expressed an interest in backing the Darwin exhibit. New Yorkers are not impressed. A trustee of another city museum told the Telegraph: "It is a disgrace that large companies should shy away from such an important scientific exhibition. They tried to find corporate sponsors, but everyone backed off." The wide berth given to the exhibition is being widely interpreted as an indication of just how powerful the creationist movement is becoming in the country. Growing numbers of Americans support the idea of teaching creationism in schools, and in a recent CBS News poll, 51 per cent of respondents said they rejected the idea of evolution*. The AMNH said that one of the exhibition's goals was to redress the balance between the science of evolution and the creationist movement. "This is the evidence for evolution," said Nile Eldredge, the exhibition's curator. ® *Yes, we realise that statistically, a news poll like this can't be interpreted in terms of major national trends etc.
Lucy Sherriff, 22 Nov 2005
Asus EAX800 Silencer

VIA unveils multi-GPU AMD chipset

VIA today introduced its long-awaited AMD-oriented desktop chipset with multi-GPU support, the K8T900. It's a high-end part pitched as pro, gamer and enthusiast buyers. It's these kinds of users who will appreciate the chipset's RapidFire technology, VIA reckons. RapidFire reduces latency in the connection between card and controller and, according to VIA, boosts signal quality. It manages both while also reducing power consumption.
Tony Smith, 22 Nov 2005
homeless man with sign

Vienna goes Oh! for open source

The city of Vienna's move to open source is going well but will never embrace every desktop machine. Vienna's IT director Erwin Gillich told the Reg: "It's all going well. We carried out a study two years ago looking at how many desktop machines we could move to Linux. The percentage is higher now but still not 100 per cent." Gillich said the council would ignore some desktop machines which would be too difficult to move to Linux. Gillich said some applications would not work properly on Linux. Gillich told us: "SAP's Business Warehouse needs Microsoft Excel to work properly and our electronic filing system is not totally able to run on Linux." Although the move to the Linux operating system is going slowly, interest in applications, specifically Open Office, is growing faster. Some 2,500 users are now running Open Office against 200 running the Linux operating system. Vienna's IT department charges users a maintenance or service fee rather than a licence fee. Gillich said charges for Microsoft and Linux were the same because the amount of maintenance required was the same. Charges vary according to type of machine and could be as high as €1,500 a year. Users moving to Open Office get a €62 discount, and those running it on Linux get an extra €31 discount. Vienna is using its own version of the Debian distro for the project. Some more on ZDnet here and lots more detail from Vienna's IT department here.®
John Oates, 22 Nov 2005

Baffled cops probe sex of bald flasher

We know that the UK's police forces are currently pushed to the very limits of their resources, what with combating alcopop-deranged, binge-drinking hoodies and enduring long stints behind the radar gun, but surely someone down at Hull constabulary can made an educated guess regarding the sex of this flashing ne'er-do-well, currently starring in the UK's Most Wanted? As reader Mark Walker points out, although the victim of this outrage is most certainly shocked and upset, she must surely have had a fairly good idea of what was being flashed to her and to which sex it is generally attached? The photo might also offer officers some clue. Failing that, they might take a lead from the text, which states MALE on no less than three occasions. Carry on, Sergeant... ®
Lester Haines, 22 Nov 2005
Asus EAX800 Silencer

Asus offers no-noise graphics card for Xmas

Asus will shortly ship what it dubs as "zero noise" - 'silent' to the rest of us - graphics card that eschews buzzing fans in favour of a "large" heat-sink. The heat-sink feeds a secondary cooler through a heat-pipe. The cooler is mounted on an adjustable bracket to allow you to position it perfectly within your PC case's airflow.
Tony Smith, 22 Nov 2005
For Sale sign detail

Microsoft opens file formats

Faced with increasing pressure from public bodies worried that storing documents in proprietary formats could lead to future problems Microsoft is submmitting its file formats to a European standards body. Massachusetts recently cited concerns about its future ability to access documents as a reason to move away from Microsoft products. It is asking all agencies to move to applications supporting OpenDocument standards by 1 January 2007. Earlier this year Massacheutts got a special licensing deal out of Microsoft covering Word and Excel documents - more info here. Microsoft will submit its Office XML format technology to standards body Ecma International. It will also "make available tools" to ensure old documents are accessible. Microsoft is "fast-tracking" the application, according to the International Herald Tribune, which may result in the standard being accepted by the ISO next year - before Microsoft's next big Office launch. The move is supported by several Microsoft pals including Apple, Intel, NextPage and the British Library. More from Microsoft here and there's a Q&A here.€
John Oates, 22 Nov 2005

IXEurope to open third London datacentre

IXEurope plans to open its third datacentre in London in January to meet increased demand from the corporate sector. The firm has already signed up new punters for the site in West London flogging around 20 per cent of the 30,000 square feet facility. The site is currently undergoing a major refit ready for its opening early in the new year. "This acquisition is part of a Europe-wide expansion plan which we are executing over the coming months at IXEurope with the aim of maintaining our industry-record annual year-on-year revenue growth of over 35 per cent," said chief exec Guy Willner in a statement. Last month IXEurope snapped up its third datacentre in Germany forking out more than €14m for the facility north of Frankfurt. IXEurope has ten sites across Europe in the UK, Germany, France and Switzerland. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Nov 2005

Google wants your culture

Stretching its promise to "Do no evil" to near breaking point Google is backing a plan from the Library of Congress to digitise and store the world's culture. This is not a yoghurt factory but an attempt to extend the Library's existing project "American Memory" to the rest of the world. The "World Digital Library" aims to do the same thing for sundry other nations - the only trouble is that at the moment, like baseball's "World Series", it is an all-American shop. James Billington, librarian of Congress, said now that the US has rejoined Unesco maybe they could get wider support for the World Library. Google is donating $3m to the project. This will look at technical issues such as likely resources needed as well as standards and metadata required to organise the collections. The search giant has already digitised some 5,000 books from the Library of Congress collection as a pilot - it worked out processes for handling delicate manuscripts and developed specifications for the completed scans. More details on Google's press release here and the opinion piece from James Billington in the Washington Post is available here.®
John Oates, 22 Nov 2005

Eclipse broadband no longer titsup

Eclipse Internet says its broadband service is now back to normal after going titsup yesterday evening although punters may have to reset their kit to restore their connection. Engineers at the Exeter-based ISP - which has around 60,000 broadband users and is owned by Hull-based Kingston Communications - worked into the evening to resolve the problem which left thousands of users without net access. But one business punter who contacted El Reg was disappointed at the way the outage was handled. "We are still without ADSL Internet access 16 hours after a failure at Eclipse. We are extremely disappointed by the lack of effort that Eclipse have made to keep their customers informed about this issue. Their customer services number is unobtainable and technical support gives a brief recorded message and then cuts off." In a statement the ISP told us: "There was an outage on Eclipse Internet's ADSL platform 16:53 on Monday 21st November affecting a large proportion of our broadband customers. Service has now been restored. "During this period call volumes to our help desk have been high and we apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused. "Engineers will continue to closely monitor the platform throughout the day. Some users may find authentication slower than usual and may need to reconnect. Users who are unable to connect following this issue are urged to reset their ADSL hardware." ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Nov 2005
Hauppauge WinTV HVR-900 USB tuner

Hauppauge hails Flash drive-sized Freeview tuner

Hauppauge Digital today launched what it calls the "TV stick" - a digital television tuner compressed into a compact, USB Flash drive-sized package. The WinTV HVR-900 requires only a spare USB 2.0 port, from which it draws power, so there's no need to lug a power adaptor around as is the case with plenty of other USB-connected tuners. Into the other end, you plug the bundled high-gain aerial.
Tony Smith, 22 Nov 2005
graph up

Fayrewood bid talks terminated

Fayrewood's mystery suitor is suiting no more: the AIM-listed computer distie announced today that takeover talks, announced on 26 August, have been terminated. Fayrewood sweetened the news with an upbeat trading statement and a commitment to increase dividend payments. Turnover in its core distribution business increased by more than 20 per cent between 1 July and 31 October, comopared wit hte same time last year. On the back of this, it expects sales for the last six weeks of the quarter to help it meet profit expectations for the full year. In 2006 it will accelerate plans to integrate its three European businesses - "where appropriate". Now for a canned quote, from David Kleeman, non-exec chairman. "We are confident that the Group will meet expectations for the current year,and are optimistic about our prospects for 2006. This strong performance provides the Board with confidence to adopt a much more generous dividend policy." ®
Team Register, 22 Nov 2005
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Black Box to avoid software crashes

Imagine if you will the following situation. A customer of yours phones to report that his system has failed in a mysterious way. You are given a good error report with details of the transactions. So you try to replicate the problem. Nothing happens. You even go to the extent of making a site visit and you chat to an intelligent operator who tells you which keys were pressed, the mouse actions and even the recent history; all to no avail. I have often heard engineers say, “it is just one of those things.” Perhaps they mean that the problem does not really exist. However, there is a simple dictum and it should be emblazoned in ten foot letters by every help desk. “If a customer reports a problem then a problem exists but it is probably not the reported problem.” The trouble is that operators just cannot remember what they have done. This is nothing against operators. Any programmer knows the embarrassment of chasing down a bug in initial testing only to discover that it was totally down to finger trouble. Let’s get back to our scenario. We know there is a problem but we do not know how it was caused and we only have a rough idea of the circumstances that caused it. This is where Identify can help. Identify’s AppSite Black Box does what it says. It works just like a black box flight recorder in an aircraft. The information that can be stored is configurable but it can include external events such as keyboard presses and mouse movements, as well as the synchronised source code statements that are being executed. You can configure internal events within Black Box that can direct the recording The recording uses the endless loop technique. You set the time you want recorded, say four hours, and earlier records are discarded. Consequently, although you have a large log file it remains manageable. When you have an error, you will have the last four hours recorded in exquisite detail. If that is not enough then you can always increase the time loop but generally, the last 10 minutes contain enough information to solve the problem—even if the real fault occurred yesterday. I was lucky enough to see Black Box in action. Admittedly, it was an artificial situation because the operator knew what the problem was and what sequence of keys was needed to cause the fault. I, however, did not. On examining the log, the immediate cause of the error was instantly apparent. It then took me about two minutes to deduce the real cause of the problem. In real life, on discovering the cause I would have to start laying out hypotheses as to what the operator did to cause the error. With Black Box I think it would have taken about an hour to complete the process and test them. Without Black Box, I think I would have been in trouble. Because I now know the problem, I can work out how my real life solution would have gone. It would have been about a day to hit on the immediate error and another day to test hypotheses to find the underlying cause. Sixteen hours hit and miss reduced to one hour straightforward procedure. I like that ratio. Identify only claim a 60 per cent reduction in solution time. So in the above example my one hour with Black Box should have taken three hours without. I have been reviewing recent software problems that have engaged me. Black Box would not have helped me with some problems, but they were the easy ones. When I consider the horrors, then we have a completely different scenario. I think that Black Box would have cut down my solve time by nearer 10 to 1. AppSight can be used for .NET as well as J2EE applications. The logging module can be added to deployed applications in the field without having to add software instrumentation to them. I cannot think of a more useful tool for solving software errors. ©: IT-Analysis.com
Tel Hudson, 22 Nov 2005
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PwC warns of WEEE complexity

Consultants at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) are warning their clients that forthcoming WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive will be more than just another regulatory hoop to jump through. The legislation, which should come into force in the UK in June 2006, presents significant challenges, the company says, not least dealing with different interpretations of the directive in different member states. In broadest terms the WEEE directive seeks to make manufacturers responsible for disposing of and recycling their products at the end of their life cycle. It was due to be implemented in the UK some time ago, but has already been pushed back several times, with the new start date likely to be June next year. Marco Amitrano, a partner at PwC points out that while UK companies have until at least June next year to comply, the same is not true across other countries in Europe. "If [a company] is selling products into Germany for example, they need to be complying with German WEEE now as its legislation has been implemented," he said. "Local country laws are different across the EU and these impact warehousing, transportation, manufacturing and destination sales." Companies also need to address the question of exactly who is liable for the goods under the act. PwC says that this will have to be thrashed out clearly with suppliers, since the directive regards a company as responsible for the disposal of products if it is either a producer of equipment, or an importer of same in one or more EU states. "While complying with the new regulatory environment will be critical, significant attention needs to be given to the wider legal, accounting and risk management implications," Amitrano continued. "Data capture, cost modelling and tracking compliance are just some of the important considerations," he said. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 22 Nov 2005
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Feisty Mercury comes out fighting

Mercury Interactive marketing chief Christopher Lochhead was in London on Monday to reassure investors, customers and employees that the company remains on track despite a US fraud investigation that prompted the departure of three of its most senior executives. The enterprise software vendor's chief executive, general counsel and chief finance officer resigned earlier this month following an investigation into irregular allocation of stock option grants between 1995 and 2002. Former chief executive officer Amnon Landan has left the company he founded, with Anthony Zingale stepping up from chief operating officer to lead the business technology optimisation firm. Mercury has delayed its Q3 financial results and said it would have to re-state historical results as a consequence of the misdated stock grants. Lochhead said the investigation is focused only on stock options, not on Mercury's historical revenues or cash position which remains strong. Mercury markets a suite of software and services that help corporations achieve good IT governance and comply with regulations such as Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX). The stock options under question date from before the time Mercury launched IT governance products, which in any case are nothing to do with stock option grants, Lochhead said. Landan's replacement by Zingale was due to take place next year, according to Lochhead. "This doesn't change our strategy." he said. "The restatement of our financials will occupy our new CFO but the rest of the business will operate as normal. This won't be a distraction." IT firms in the midst of financial investigations (something Lochhead claimed is no longer out of the ordinary) normally keep their head below the parapet but Mercury has come out fighting. One has to admire its bravura. Mercury competes with CA, IBM, HP, BMC and CompuWare though not as head-on competitors. "Our financial reserves are strong. We will continue to invest in research and development and work on our acquisition roadmap... to expand our footprint in IT governance and application optimisation," Lochhead said. "The value of what we do and our financial operation remains just as strong as they were three weeks ago." Rival sales teams out to exploit Mercury's forced management changes to swing sales ought to be beware. "My advice to them is pack a launch because we're going to crush them," Lochhead told El Reg. ®
John Leyden, 22 Nov 2005

Punters angry as Eclipse admits still suffering ADSL probs

Customers have reacted angrily to assurances made by ISP Eclipse that its broadband service is up and running again. Yesterday, the ISP's broadband network went titsup leaving thousands without high speed net access. Today it issued a statement saying that the "service has now been restored". But this did not chime with the experiences of many readers who've contacted The Register to say that they still cannot connect to the net. One reader told us: "No customers that I know of are yet able to get back on line, including myself...Eclipse are refusing to give an estimate...they are still very much 'titsup'." Another said: "Please be advised that Eclipse now accept that there is still a problem. I was without ADSL from 5pm yesterday until 10:00 today; seven of my friends on Eclipse are still down, despite numerous router-reboots. Throughout the night the Eclipse Service Status page proclaimed that 'all was well', which clearly it was not." Indeed, within minutes of El Reg publishing its story earlier today, Eclipse updated its own status page with a report which appears to contradict the statement issued to us earlier. "Following extensive monitoring this morning, we have identified that some customers are still unable to connect following a reset of their ADSL hardware. Engineers continue to work towards a full resolution ASAP," it said. This was followed half an hour later by this one: "We have now identified a limited number of users that have ADSL connection sessions 'stuck' within BT's network. Eclipse Engineers are currently liaising with BT to resolve this ASAP." A spokesman for the ISP - owned by Kingston Communications - said Eclipse's platform was sorted but that broadband users were stuck in "broadband limbo". ®
Tim Richardson, 22 Nov 2005

The World Summit in pictures

WSIS TunisWSIS Tunis Since the Internet is a multi-faceted beast, we felt it only right that we also make use of its ability to displays photos. As such here is a brief pictorial review of the World Summit in Tunis this week:
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Nov 2005
cloud

SANS compiles Top 20 security vulns list

Bugs in anti-virus scanners and web-based applications joined flaws in Microsoft and Cisco networking products in a list of the 20 most serious vulnerabilities discovered this year. The list - compiled by the SANS Institute in co-operation with security vendors such as Qualys and government agencies in the UK and US - highlights the 20 most critical vulnerabilities currently facing organisations. Vulnerabilities that are easy to exploit and where a large number of unpatched systems existed were highlighted in the report. In addition to identifying vulnerabilities in Windows and UNIX systems, this year's Top-20 list also includes cross-platform applications and networking products for the first time. Various flaws in Internet Explorer and Microsoft Windows Services (such as Plug and Play) make the top 20 list. These are joined by anti-virus product glitches and back-up software. Vulnerabilities to Oracle database and application software products also make the SANS Top 20 list. The flaws are all well-documented. The idea of the Top 20 is to draw people's attention towards particularly serious problems that might have been overlooked. Starting earlier this year, the SANS Institute moved from an annual to quarterly update of its list, now into its fifth year, to reflect the faster evolution of internet threats. It's still doing the annual round-up though with this year's Top 20 launched in Europe at a high profile event in London on Tuesday featuring speakers from SANS, the DTI and the National Infrastructure Security Coordination Centre (NISCC). ®
John Leyden, 22 Nov 2005
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EDS coughs up over Tax Credit debacle

EDS is to stump up £71.25m to settle its dispute with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Revenue over the disastrous system the services giant built to support the UK’s Tax Credit system in 2003. EDS said the settlement, under which it will make an upfront payment and hand over “additional amounts over time”, would not impact its earlier financial guidance for Q4 05 or full year 2006. The system EDS put in place to support the Tax Credit system was widely regarded as a complete and utter shambles. Poor families were overpaid to the tune of £1bn, only for HMRC to claw the money leaving them in worse financial straits than ever. At the end of 2003, EDS was forced off the contract, although some fingers were also pointed at the revenue itself. Still, EDS can console itself with the stacks of contracts it has signed with the likes of the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions, Offender Management Service, and the Ministry of Defence.®
Team Register, 22 Nov 2005
hands waving dollar bills in the air

FBI warns over Sober worm

The latest variants of the prolific Sober worm series pose as messages from either FBI or CIA investigators in an attempt to dupe Windoze users into opening infectious attachments. The trick was last used in February. On Tuesday, variants of the worm had accounted for over 65 per cent of all viruses reported to UK-based security firm Sophos, making it the most prevalent virus currently spreading across the world. The FBI is so concerned about the messages that it has issued a warning on its website. The FBI has urged users who receive the viral emails to report them to the Internet Crime Complaint Centre (ic3.gov). If the attached "Zip file" is run, the worm will scour an infected user's hard drive for other email addresses, in its hunt for fresh victims. Standard defensive precautions apply: avoid opening unsolicited attachments, even when they appear to come from people you trust; update AV tools to detect the worm. If you think your PCs might be infected by Sobber or another virus then our guide to cleaning up PCs may come in handy. ®
John Leyden, 22 Nov 2005

Cybermen solve plane door crisis with gaffer tape

LettersLetters Two IT related letters and a whole load of rambling thoughts on topics as diverse as cybermen and airplane doors. But let's kick off with the tech. Microsoft hands its file formats over to the European standards body, Ecma International. Yah boo sucks, you said: Interesting story, but your coverage is sadly inadequate even for a quick look. You fail to note the critical points that 1) Microsoft hasn't given open access to implementing the patented XML schemas central to their file formats, and 2) it's by no means clear that Microsoft is disclosing the binary components included in the schemas. The implications of these circumstances are that there's far less here than meets the eye. Without royalty-free access to the XML schemas, no Open Source implementation to read and write them is legally possible -- and Open Source implementations are THE important competition. And without documentation of the binary black-boxes in the XML, meaningful file compatibility will be impossible in any case. And this doesn't even begin to consider the behavioral question of whether Microsoft will *actually* adhere to these formats, or will tinker and revise and tweak them every year so that any "compatible" implementation is forever out of date. Past and present performance suggests that the worst assumption about Microsoft's behavior is most likely to be accurate. Regards, Steve Hersey Well, you have to give it to Microsoft - their move is brilliant. They can own the office application market again in no time. If you are interested, there is already Open Document format published by OASIS (http://www.oasis-open.org/). That's the XML format used by the OpenOffice suite (http://www.openoffice.org/). Of course, Microsoft would not use that format, oh no, how they would control the specification then? Of course, they need their own format with their own quirks so that their office suit remains the "most compatible" with their spec. Would you expect anything less? And the reaction time of Microsoft management is impressive. OpenOffice is only about to begin the climb towards displacing MS Office but Microsoft is already moving in to kill. Unfortunately, I can see nothing one could do in this situation. Microsoft is a legitimate Ecma International member and they are in their right to submit their own specification. And, no doubt, they will have support from their friends to make sure it happens fast. Where is Sun Microsystems when you need them? Albert And back to the important question of just how dangerous it isn't to try to open a door on a plane. While it's flying. At 30,000ft. Sounds scary, but in fact: The idea that someone could open door inflight is just a myth. The cabin pressure is something like ten times higher than the outside pressure. By the inside pressure the door is pushed outwards, and must be move inwards to open. so one cannot open the door inflight even he would be the strongest man in the world. I think it is comparable to somewhat like lifting a car. I like your magazine, but please do not try to push things up like " and was only prevented from enjoying her last cigarette by a sharp-eyed flight attendant" there was no danger at no time at all. - Michael She musta had some REALLY good CRACK before she took the sleeping pills !!! Oliver Endangering the safety of an aircraft?! She wouldn't have open the door if she tried. It's designed to be opened by being pulled in, an act sadly prevented by cabin pressure. The doors, after all, are meant to be used once the airplane has crash landed (seeing as your seat cushion can't be used as a parachute). This has been the default way all doors operate ever since that guy escaped police by parachuting from his hijacked airliner with a bag of cash (and a whole bunch of others thought they could copy him). It's retarded to punish her anyway. What, the prospect of death isn't deterrent enough? Alex I have an issue with national dialects to bring up here. I'm not sure how this could have escaped your editorship, seeing as I didn't think it was strictly an Americanism, but the word that you use in many articles to refer to cigarettes, "fag," is a very offensive term for homosexual males here in the States. If this isn't common usage in the UK, I'm surprised no one has brought it to your attention before (especially with Ashlee Vance in California all the time). If it is, then why do you persist in propagating one of the most bigot-flavored words in English? The fact that it can also (apparently) mean "cigarette" or "bundle of wood" doesn't excuse the term or eliminate its ugliness. I'm sure you can think of other offensive words, perhaps targeting other minorities; words you wouldn't dare imagine putting in print even if they had secondary, morally neutral meanings. So please extend the same courtesy in this case. Mike Mike, Mike, Mike. In the context of the article, it very clearly means cigarette. Unless, of course, you are proposing that the phrase "smoke a fag" could, in this context, be interpreted as meaning that at 30,000ft the woman in question was overcome by an urge to shoot a gay man she had spotted clinging to the wing of the aircraft. Airliners typically cruise with about an 8PSI pressure differential between inside and outside. It saves having the passengers wear pressure suits and oxygen masks. Let's guess that an airliner's entry door opening is 32 X 74 inches. That's 2730 square inches, times 8PSI holding the door into its tapered gasket seat, or nearly 22,000 lb (10,000Kg for the metric fans). It would be a bit of a struggle to pull the door INward, as is required to open it. Even if the passenger's nicotine addiction were strong enough, the door handle probably isn't. Ray (Commercial Pilot/Flight Instructor) Next, a bit of football banter, inspired by news that lottery scammers are targeting Liverpool: I can take the criticism of Liverpool's goals record this season, and I don't mind that it has come from a Manchester United fan... I'm just agog that we've found one that can string a sentence together... Well done, mate. Maybe you could teach your mate Wayne a few tricks... CJM Man Utd. supporter?! Pfft. Get it real. Halifax Town is where its happening. None of this Premiership 'honest, I support them, I do' malarkey, just proper football! :-) We are 5th in the conference you know! ;) Jamie Typically Chelsea raises the stakes - apparently I was one of 20 lucky winners of £1,000,000. I’m a bit miffed they sent my personal notification via the Linux Kernel mailing list. Now lots of people know. Rod 3 words: Champions Of Europe Jedfarr There is apparently no sympathy for the poor Swiss, who despite being in charge of making great chocolate and hoarding lots of money for people, are not allowed the perk of a .eu domain. The reason why is very simple: Switzerland isn't in the EU: re: No .eu domain for the Swiss Tough shit, frankly. If you don't want to join the club, you don't get to use the facilities. If these countries want the domain so badly, they can open an office in the EU and throw some jobs our way - it's only polite. Colin what a load of scaremongering rubbish. as if nestle and swatch don't have subsidiaries located within the eu... Jon So let me get this right.... The swiss who decided not to be part of the EU when it suited them now want to be able to get .eu domain names which are for eu members only. Can the multi lingual Swiss say 'members seulement'. (excuse my french). It is difficult to feel sorry for the swiss, they have always done really well at looking after themselves no matter what is happening to their friends and neighbours (nazi gold, early european financial integration around the time of the ERM), so now they loose out, what a shame.... guess they can just stick it in their fondue pot and suck it up!!! Jez Ooer, missus. And where have all the physics teachers gone? You had some ideas: I'll tell you were they have bloody gone! Since HM Gov brought in the National Curriculum in 1982, and lumped Physics Chemistry and Biology into "Science" (and specifically the "Double Award" GCSE), all teachers of the subject are officially "Science" teachers. And so the schools are filled with two-a-penny Biologists (no offence, some of them are lovely) who, of course, are all Intelligent Design advocates. (Actually, that last bit was a lie, but it seems the only way to get a letter mentioned in El Reg is to include ID somewhere...) Stuart There could be a solution to the lack of interest in science. Simply associate each science with subjects of interest to teenagers - as well as a slight re-direction of the law. What disaffected youth could resist the subjects, Sex (Biology), Drugs (Chemistry) and Blowing Things Up (Physics) as A Levels. In the US an admirable attempt by teachers to move in this direction has been made already, several of which have made public recognition by going to prison for their experiments with students (sex), as well as the well meaning, but poorly thought out decision of one Floridian teacher to teach his students how to make bombs. As for the slight re-direction of the law well 1/Sex with students should probably remain illegal, but sex between students seems ok. 2/Feeding drugs to students should probably remain illegal, but teaching them how to produce some of the more benign varieties seems ok - as long as all assignments are collected before the class leaves, RE on acid could prove troublesome for the next teacher. 3/Limiting experiments to those involving gunpowder, as opposed to MIT's open door policy on its nuclear reactor seems a more sensible approach. Andy Lets face it Lucy, Physics is a rubbish sport and that's why nobody wants to play. All the kids are interested in is basketball and soccer. Seriously, if the FA (ok PhA) want to increase the number of players they must: Get rid of the safety specs - nobody wants to look like Brains any more; Replace the white labcoats with something a bit more contemporary (hello Lycra, GoreTex) - with an iPod pocket; Reduce the speed limit to something more achievable than "the speed of light" - SMART objectives fellas; Stop all this "in a vacuum" nonsense - or at least get corporate sponsorship - the Dyson clyclone challege for example. Just some ideas - I'm here to help, Mark A belated return to Doctor Who's Cybermen, and their sartorial savvy: Is it me or does our new cyber villan look a tad camp! Just a thought? Pete As a serious Cyberman fan (Spike Milligan did for the Daleks with his comic sketch "Pakistani Daleks"), I was well chuffed with the new look of the Cybermen. Never thought of the Troughton era Cybermen as fetish friendly though, I shall have to have another look at those stories! The moonboots and Duncan Fearnley batting gloves from the 1980s were a bit cringeworthy, especially when you have both items at home. Add in a decorating oversuit and hey presto - home made Cyberman! Looks like the flares thing is back again, they were wearing them in Revenge Of The Cybermen. It is a bit hard to look menacing when wearing flares... Jamie And in related news, Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics at Reading University, is suing the BBC for copyright infringement over an image produced to illustrate his vision of future human/ technology hybrids. Erik Am I the only one who's noticed that your Cyberman seems to have indulged in a bit of Beckham-esque thong-related cross dressing? Rod And finally, a mini flame. Not deserving of its own FoTW award, but funny nonetheless. The story that prompted it is almost irrelevant: > Placing gaffer tape on the edge of a CD may make it ... What the man said - if you hadn't exposed your ignorance of roll-based adhesives by suggesting "gaffer tape" you might have got away with it. Gaffer tape - not to be confused with the proprietary "Gaffer's Tape" - is a heavily gummed, low residue, cloth based tape with a pvc backing you DOLT! There are many suitable foils that would not be problematic for 1x read speeds. Anon Shame on us for our lack of knowledge about tape. We are rightly chastised and will punish ourselves for our failures. OK? Now we're off to the pub to begin the punishment session with several lagers. Whose round was it again? ®
Lucy Sherriff, 22 Nov 2005

Sony unsinged by rootkit CD fiasco

AnalysisAnalysis What next for CD buyers? For all the lawsuits, over-the fold-coverage in mainstream print and on primetime TV, and howls of anguish from the blogosphere, Sony Music has sailed through the rootkit CD fiasco largely unharmed. The only figure that matters - the bottom line - appears to be unaffected by the fiasco. CNet's John Borland reports, and as retailers confirmed to The Register, that Sony hasn't lost sales from popular titles infected with the notorious XCP copy-restriction technology. The poorly written software leaves a PC wide open to hackers, and attempts to remove it can disable the CD drive. Sony Music reluctantly announced a recall and exchange program for XCP-infected CDs last week. But the CD buying public doesn't seem to care. One large retail store, Amoeba Records in tech savvy Berkeley hasn't seen a single infected CD returned to the store. Chart rankings and Gracenote lookups don't reflect a fall off in sales for the affected CDs. Far from being a historic turning point in the public's perception of nefarious DRM tactics, that many hoped, it's proof that the CD buying public is impervious to technology warnings, or at least extremely slow to cotton on. We may have feared as much. One in four PCs connected to the internet in the UK is "owned", in other words, fatally compromised by malware. And yet good technology advice isn't hard to find: news stand magazines and part-works offer lucid explanations, most newspapers feature weekly PC advice columns, and much more information is only two clicks away on the internet. So more information in itself isn't the answer. Will the lawsuits succeed where education has failed? Yesterday the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the state of Texas duly filed suit against Sony. Don't hold your breath. For all the angst in the US about 'tort reform' and the prominence given to excessive damages won by 'ambulance chasing' lawyers, the effect is negligable. If the Microsoft trial taught corporate America a lesson, it's that litigation can be considered a minor operational expense. Business treats it like a spot fine for littering. Sony Music can also take heed from the limitations of internet based activism. The New York Times reports that over 700 Amazon.com reviews pointed out the dangers of XCP DRM, and that "... snarky Internet shoppers have quickly turned Amazon.com's tagging system into digital graffiti" - attaching the 'rootkit' warning tag to Sony XCP CD titles. Why, then, has the saturation and uniformly negative coverage of Sony's DRM failed to harm sales? Your guesses are as good as ours, but it's hard not to conclude that the WiReD myth of a 'Rip Mix and Burn' population has been somewhat overstated. Only a third of CD purchasers actually play music on a PC. And a vanishingly small number of them appear to want to take their music anywhere other than where it's directed to go by the manufacturer. If a CD plays in the home stereo and the car, then that's quite enough digital freedom already for most people. This may have less to do with a public acceptance of artificial restrictions such as DRM than the fact that music tends to stay in hardware 'silos', and digital music tends to stay where it's bought, largely through apathy and forgetfulness. And given an atomized tech savvy population, tagging and bleating in the safety and comfort of their own PCs, Sony's nefarious tactics have failed to harm the business. Ultimately, there's little to change our view that DRM restrictions are an expensive and economically inefficient stop-gap, an absurd attempt to replicate the inconvenience of physical product in a digital form. But equally, the 'Chicken Little' scenario of DRM as the means of introducing a vast lock down is a paranoid fantasy. Sony now knows it only need keep the CDs playing in home and car stereos, and it can swat away the digital rights lobby like flies. A better analogy, and one we've made many times, is that we're in a Prohibition era: this is a transitional age, one where the inconveniences of DRM are borne by a minority of the population. That happens to be us. Ominously the Recording Industry Ass. of America president Cary Sherman congratulated Sony Music for its ethical behaviour, comparing it favorably to software companies. "The problem with the SonyBMG situation is that the technology they used contained a security vulnerability of which they were unaware," Sherman told a forum of student journalists. "They have apologized for their mistake, ceased manufacture of CDs with that technology,and pulled CDs with that technology from store shelves. Seems very responsible to me. How many times that software applications created the same problem? Lots. I wonder whether they've taken as aggressive steps as SonyBMG has when those vulnerabilities were discovered, or did they just post a patch on the Internet?" Note the semantic redefinition of XCP as bad coding, simply a bad implementation of a good idea. Expect more XCPs. You only have to follow the money. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 22 Nov 2005
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CTO hole plugged at Novell

IBM and Lucent Technologies' veteran Jeffrey Jaffe has been named as Novell's next chief technology officer following an eight-month search. Jaffe will be responsible for technology direction and lead Novell's product business units, reporting to recently appointed president and chief operating officer Ron Hovsepian. Jaffe joins Novell having spent five years with Lucent, where he was president of Bell Labs Research and Advanced Technologies. Prior to Lucent, Jaffe held a variety of positions during a 20-year tenure at IBM, including head of IBM's security, directory and networking software business. Directory was recently ordained one of Novell's core business areas, following a restructuring decision. Hovsepian said Jaffe's "superior intellect and business acumen" will increase the strength of Novell's management team and serve customers and shareholders well. Previous CTO Alan Nugent left Novell in March to take up a position at Computer Associates International (CA), as vice president and general manager of CA's Unicenter business. Nugent is working under Jaffe's former IBM colleague John Swainson who joined CA as chief executive in late 2004.®
Gavin Clarke, 22 Nov 2005

On the true meaning of Holidays™ Inc.

Seasonal LettersSeasonal Letters Last week we brought you the story of how a Wal-Mart employee gave a heroically inappropriate technical answer to a question from a customer concerned that the company had replaced "Christmas" with "Holidays" in some of its promotional material Wal-Mart is the United States biggest retailer, and under fire from both church and secular groups for its socially destructive employment practices. The email prompted threats of a boycott from a group which claims to represent Catholics. Wal-Mart caved in, and sacrificed the employee. The secular left swung into battle, responding that it was an urgent duty to end poverty and provide the poor with medical insurance ensure the word Holidays was respected. It's apparent that to be represented here, you must be represented by your lunatic fringe. Your emails show how much you enjoyed this tale, but first, a picture treat. It was news to us that in the United States you can buy a commercially themed Christmas Tree Holiday Season Decoration, and even more of a surprise that you can buy it in a Las Vegas theme. And here it is. And here you are. So what was it that Bing Crosby was dreaming of, then - a white "holiday" ? Mike Whittaker You wrote: "We just need to loosen a few sphincters" The last thing we need is more American shit dumping on the world. Dave Bell Apparently, Havant Council decided that they weren't going to switch on the Christmas Lights next week, they were going to have a "Festival of Light" instead. Such a shame that there really IS such a festival, it's Hindu, and it happened last month (if I've got my dates right). Oh yes - the Hindus were up in arms about the "Christmas Lights" being cancelled, too. Anthony Youngman The fireworks were to celebrate Diwali (a Hindu festival.) Eid involves less glamorous activities - like feasting and visiting the graves of loved ones - to celebrate the end of Ramadan (a month of fasting, abstinence and general reflection carried out during the hours of daylight.) As a Muslim I'm used to Islam being confused with all kinds of things. Quite nice on this occasion, however, for it to be something fun rather than the usual fun-damental howlers like arranged marriages, honour killings, suicide bombings, subjugation of women, etc, etc... Happy Holidays to you! Ian I have to admit that after several recent visits to the USA it is getting to be a paranoid place, expecially in the cities. Everyone seems to be scared to interact with anyone else for fear of upsetting them. During my last visit a friend and I indulged in one of our banter-battles in the Outback Restaurant in San Jose. He refered to me as a lardarse (note spelling ;-), I called him a fat slob - we are both well over 300lbs - then we ordered an Awesome Blossom each. :-) The people in the next booth were horrified and seemed convinced that we were about to start shooting each other. They spent the entire meal looking over their shoulders at us. You have too many people trying to protect others from everything including themselves. You need to tell these "protectors" to butt out. Dave Bell "The United States takes the separation of church and state [...] with a scary earnestness." Hence, presumably, the presence of "IN GOD WE TRUST" on the currency and the phrase "One Nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. But then, no-one ever accused the US of being morally consistent. Jon Green The Holidays Season™ is madness, but I guess it's just an extension of the Joe Public American's lack of awareness of history. I do have to say though, it does still bring a huge smile to me when the most Christian nation on the planet goes completely all-out to celebrate the Pagan festival of Halloween. But shh, don't tell the bible belt... Dom "The United States takes the separation of church and state...although it's nominally a Christian country" Where does this keep coming from? This argument has been used to justify everything from slavery to invading foreign countries. The upshot is that it is entirely false; This country is in no way, shape, form, or function (well, maybe function) a christian country, and I defy you to prove otherwise. The only legitimate argument for this is the fact that, as our esteemed criminals- er, I mean republicans- would have it, Benjamin Franklin once suggested opening the meetings of the constitutional congress with a prayer. They keep leaving out the fact that the suggestion was soundly rejected, never even came to a vote, and the only comment in the record was George Washington's: "No, this is a job for men." When they stop lying, I'll stop nit-picking. "'Christmas is actually a continuation of the Siberian shaman and Visigoth traditions,' Kirby replied." I guarantee that "Kirby" knew that she would get fired for giving this response. In fact, I would wager that she was counting on it. The only people in this country who would raise a ruckus over changing "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays" are going to be hard-core, snake-handling wackos, and telling these people that their celebration of their mythological deity's birth is actually taken from pagan religions is a sure-fire way to cause apoplexy, only exceeded by telling them that their religion evolved from Judaism or selling beer on sunday. Also, Kirby was wrong; Christmas actually evolved from the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, which in turn came from an ancient Mithran holiday celebrating his birth. "We just need to loosen a few sphincters, but the USA is a tense place these days." You ain't just whistling dixie. Ethan Hays How correct you are about the weird traditions here - makes me want to celebrate Christmas in London. Please understand that as an American I am not one of them - I do not say Happy Holidays to people I meet - I find out what they celebrate at this time of the year and wish them a fun whatever and wish them peace for the next year. Peter Cook It wasn't "the Catholics" who "came to the rescue" in this whole fiasco, it was a self-appointed "Catholic civil rights organization" consisting of a bunch of (ultra) conservatives who called for the boycott. These people have no official standing within the Church and do not speak for the Church - only for themselves. Any official statement from "the Catholics" would have to come from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (or directly from the Vatican) which simply didn't happen. Which is not to say that there aren't a number of reasons why Catholics might wish to consider avoiding shopping at Wal-Mart - their treatment of their own employees and their exploitation of workers at suppliers in China and elsewhere hardly hold up well to the social doctrine taught by the Catholic Church, for example - but using the term, "Holidays" instead of the term "Christmas" sure isn't one of them! Bill Meahan Doesn't Wal-Mart subscribe to Jimmy Swaggart's particular brand of Klan-approved religion? Catholics used to be right up their with "colored" people on the cross burning list as I recollect. Pretty much everything Kirby said is factual and should not have been cause for her termination. I hope she will retain a lawyer and sue the "titsoff" Wal-Fart for wrongful termination and religious persecution. Some of your readers might want to "have their say" especially the Wiccan and Druid contingent. Here's the "Feedback" link at Walmart's website. Give'm hell! http://walmartstores.com/GlobalWMStoresWeb/navigate.do?catg=221 Dan Paul The United States is not nominally a Christian country. It has not been so named, which is needed for the word "nominally" to apply. For contrast, I believe that Queen Elizabeth II is nominally the head of both the UK state and the UK state religion. On the other hand, perhaps she's *literally* the head of both. I think you may have meant something closer to "the United States is populated mostly with nominal Christians." "Nominal" applies in this case because the persons in question identify themselves as Christians, even though they often reject the ethics taught by Christ. But boy, do they ever throw a hissy fit when they feel their dominance over non-Christians is threatened... Paul Your "christmas letter" article was interesting, but I think you've been listening to some very vocal voices too much. They may be passionate, but they're also misinformed. The US is _not_ a nominally Christian nation. The framers of the Constitution debated inclusion of religious references to a "creator" and the like, but they decided against it. They also explicitly prohibited any religious test for public office. This was undoubtably a response to the UK requiring (or having required?) membership in the Church of England for the same. Anyway, I highly recommend this article at Daily Kos for a historical perspective. On the second point, the Bill of Rights only applies to the government. The Christmas we know today is a Victorian invention, it was not a federal holiday until 1870. (See this for more interesting facts.) That's nearly a century after the adoption of the US Constitution, I find it hard to believe that the framers cared about a then-minor Christian holiday. (They didn't have Thanksgiving either. :-) On the other hand stores can do whatever they want, modulo civil rights laws (e.g., refusing to sell to Jews solely because they're non-Christian). If they want to insist it's Christmas and nothing but Christmas, it's their right. Calling it "Happy Holidays" (to include Hanukkah -- few people know or care about the winter solstice) is a marketing decision to avoid alienating patrons who would otherwise go elsewhere. BTW, don't jump too quickly to the assumption that all non-Christians want "Happy Holidays". I don't know how widespread the sentiment is, but some Jews are concerned that well-meaning Christians are blowing Hanukkah out of all proportion just because it happens to fall near Christmas. I haven't noticed an effort to recognize Yom Kippur in government or civil life. Full disclosure: I was raised as a Protestant but now self-identify as a Buddhist. I have nothing against Christmas per se, and ironically agree with the Christians who feel that the commercial juggernaut has completely overwhelmed the religious celebration. Where we disagree is the belief that Christmas _alone_ should be recognized. Total aside: last year the television section of the local newspaper referred to the "unusually secular" Charlie Brown special. My friends and I were boggled by this - we couldn't think of any other Christmas special that explicitly read from the Gospel. There's only one non-Biblical reference, and the Christmas tree has been a Christmas symbol for centuries and found in every Christian church in this country. That shows just how deep the disconnect has become - Santa Claus and Rudolph - the latter originally a marketing ploy to drive patrons to Montgomery Wards (iirc) have the "Christmas Spirit", but the Gospel story does not. wtf?! Bear Giles So long as they call the Christmas Season "The holidays", somehow that makes having presidential candidates hand-picked by religious fundamentalists is still ok. Interestingly, the UK which requires a religious assembly at least once a week in schools and a permanent head of state who is also the head of the church seems to produce the most reliable source of atheists in the world! I'll take the results over the packaging any day! Mike Birch Andrew, cracking article. Made me smile. However, we all need to get away on time on a Friday. So in future we would be most pleased if you could reduce the word count a tad. Suggested revised text for your article: "(Most) Americans are so far up their own arse you can't see their feet ENDS" Many thanks Andy Harrison And finally, we ought to be careful not just about the "Holidays", but about the "Happy" too. That's going to offend someone... As the word 'Happy' may be offensive for depressed Goths and what not, I conclude by wishing you a politically correct "So-so Holiday". Or should that be a "So-so Period at the End of the Year, at least according to the Gregorian Calendar"? Trond Roaas What can we say? Hmmph, Hmmph. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 22 Nov 2005
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RSS 'extensions' published by Microsoft

Microsoft has released details of a set of proposed extensions to Really Simple Syndication (RSS), billed as making it easier to receive and share data. A draft of Simple Sharing Extensions (SSE) version 0.9 for RSS 2.0, and Outline Processor Markup Language (OPML), has been published under the Creative Commons license by Microsoft. SSE has been primarily devised as a way to improve the way data, like calendar or contacts information, is delivered to different devices, and shared or replicated. Microsoft said SSE could be used to replicate RSS-enabled calendar entries among groups or to enter new appointments when users are not online. If this sounds familiar to those using IBM's Lotus Notes, it should. SSE was conceived after Microsoft's recently recruited chief technology officer Ray Ozzie brainstormed with members of the Exchange, Outlook, MSN, Windows Mobile and Messenger Communicator product teams shortly after he joined. Ozzie is the father of Lotus Notes, groupware and collaboration technology that pioneered the concepts of pushing and replicating data to different devices and distributed users. Microsoft spent the latter half of the 1990s trying to unseat Notes in businesses, launching Exchange Sever as its groupware alternative. News Microsoft was tinkering with RSS first emerged in August, with plans to re-name RSS as "web feeds" in the next version of Internet Explorer (IE), for use with Windows Vista and Windows XP. Any attempt to "extend" RSS will be greeted with concern that Microsoft is trying to interfere with a popular standard or technology rather than throw its full corporate backing behind the existing industry standard. Past examples of such behaviour include Microsoft's "optimization" of Sun Microsystems' Java and "extensions" added to the Kerberos security standard that was implemented by Microsoft in Windows 2000. In its defense, Microsoft said SSE defines the "minimum" extensions necessarily for loosely coupled applications that use RSS to share information. Product groups within Microsoft have already begun building prototypes of SSE, but Ozzie said it was "too soon" to say where SSE would be used. Additionally, Microsoft said SSE is "distinct from other work within Microsoft related to RSS", including RSS support for Windows Vista and Simple List Extensions to RSS, for web sites to publish lists.®
Gavin Clarke, 22 Nov 2005
Cat 5 cable

These supercomputers could be yours

SC05SC05 It often feels like AMD receives an inordinate amount of hype for the Opteron processor. Without question, the chip runs great, and AMD has gained market share on Intel as a result. Still, however, Intel owns such a massive portion of the server processor market that AMD remains a relatively minor player.
Ashlee Vance, 22 Nov 2005

Get a Reg logo on Google maps and win $10,000

Those of you who want to take Google ads to the next level may be interested in a deal offered by Los Angeles radio host Phil Hendrie. The comic has put up a large lump sum to anyone who can have their banner spotted from space by Google maps.
Ashlee Vance, 22 Nov 2005