A long-hyped version of the Solaris operating system for IBM's Power processor appears close at hand. A posting on the Blastware.org site describes something called "Polaris." It's a version of the OpenSolaris kernel for the PowerPC architecture. Such an operating system could help push Sun Microsystems' OS into new markets beyond the SPARC and x86 processor families, as well as provide a boost for the OpenSolaris project. Initially, though, it looks as if the OpenSolaris port will run on the Freescale version of PowerPC but include support for IBM's G3 chips. "Ladies and Gentlemen, The OpenSolaris kernel for PowerPC has been built," the Blastware folks wrote. "It's only a matter of a little time and we will put GRUB2 together with PowerPC genunix and we will be running on the Genesi ODW. All the software at Blastwave will be ported in parallel and we will work with the SchilliX distribution to ensure that we have a framework for AMD64 and UltraSparc, as well as PowerPC, for community-based open-source software in general." Sun has been talking up the idea of a Solaris on Power port in earnest since mid-2004. "For example, as we continue porting Solaris onto IBM's Power architecture (demo coming soon!), the real issue we have to grapple with isn't the expense of moving our software over - it's the expense of requalifying all our, and all our ISV's infrastructure once the port is done," Sun's president Jonathan Schwartz wrote on his blog in August 2004. Lord knows what happened to that demo, as the "coming soon" never actually arrived. The port is no doubt sitting in a Sun lab somewhere. Meanwhile, the open-source community has moved on and finished up the crucial work. A Solaris on Power port would help Sun's efforts to force its way onto IBM hardware. In October, Sun revealed that Solaris x86 would run and be supported - by Sun - on IBM's x86-based blade servers. A similar move could be in store once the Solaris on PowerPC work is done, since IBM also sells PowerPC-based blades. Sun has long been looking to put Solaris on servers from the other Tier 1 vendors. Looks like all it needed was the open source folks to get the work done. ®
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has expressed his undying love for DEC's PDP computer in a very public fashion - he's created a website dedicated to the machine. PDP Planet went live today as a way to commemorate the venerable line of DEC systems. The site includes scintillating photos of PDP computers - some of which have their motherboards and backplanes exposed. In addition, the site has some racy restoration stories and allows you to "log-in" to a pair of PDPs that have been brought back to life. "Registered users from around the world can telnet into a working DECsystem-10 or an XKL Toad-1, create or upload programs, and run them - essentially stepping back in time to access an 'antique' mainframe," Allen said in a statement. "Demonstrating how computing was conducted before the convenience of today's powerful desktop, laptop and palm devices, PDP Planet will give users an appreciation of how it felt to be an early programmer." Here's hoping Allen never decides to set up a site to let users know how it felt to be an early Windows user, since the experience is bad enough for modern folks. Such barbs aside, we're always impressed to see Allen - and Bill Gates, for that matter - do their part to preserve computing history. Allen's online PDP site complements the awesome physical and virtual archive at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. The PDP stands as one of the great machines in computer and server history. It ignited a trend to put powerful computers in the hands of business of all sizes, instead of just government and corporate giants. It also freed up compute power to individuals. "PDP Planet fulfills my dream to find a way to preserve the achievements of early computer engineers," said Allen. "With running versions of these machines via the website, we now have a place that recognizes the efforts of those creative engineers who made some of the early breakthroughs in interactive computing that changed the world." We recommend looking at this article on the PDP-6. It's stored on the website of then DEC chief engineer and now Microsoft fellow, Gordon Bell - a man who has become synonymous with improving the price/performance of computers. You'll find PDP Planet here. ®
Logicalis, the South African-owned reseller, has added $100m-a-year revenues to its North American subsidiary with the acquisition of HP end-user specialist, Avnet Partner Solutions (APS). Terms are undisclosed. The acquisition, announced last November and completed today, brings Logicalis' US annual revenues to $450m and its American headcount up to nearly 400. Based in Tempe, Arizona, APS will improve Logicalis' US geographic coverage, particularly in the South-West and Central regions, where APS' 700 customers are largely based. The company is "recognized for its Wintel-based server consolidation practice and is one of HP's top enterprise partners", Logicalis says. It will also sit more comfortably with its new owner. For its old parent, Avnet, is also a major IT products distie, which is a sure-fire recipe for channel conflict. As part of the deal, Avnet has gained exclusive rights to supply Logicalis with HP and IBM enterprise products for an unspecified number of years. APS is the third US reseller bought by Logicalis in the last year - the others were IBM specialists. The company also bought three UK Vars in recent months, of which the best-known is Hawke Systems. Logicalis is part of the Datatec Group, which is quoted on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and which runs its international business out of London. The reseller claims post-acquisition turnover of $700m-a-year. ®
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is expected to announce this week whether it will appeal a court ruling which stopped the government from restricting the way in which married couples running their own business file their taxes.
Emails that initiated legal proceedings were ignored as spam by a shipping firm. It was a costly oversight: the firm lost the case without taking part and an English judge has rejected a late challenge, ruling that service by email is just as valid as post or fax. The significance of the case, decided 21st December, is limited: this was a maritime arbitration, not an English court action. That would be subject to different rules, rules that generally do not permit the service of writs by email. The case only came before the High Court when Bernuth Lines Ltd sought to challenge the validity of the arbitration ruling against it. The High Court ruled that, in an arbitration, effective service did not depend on the email address to which service was made being one that the serving party had been notified of as an address to be used in the context of the dispute. The dispute arose after Bernuth chartered a cargo ship to High Seas Shipping Ltd for a voyage from Miami to Nicaragua. The draught of the chartered ship – i.e. the depth of its keel below the surface – was found to be over the limit for one of the shallower ports on the voyage; so the captain felt compelled to unload the cargo onto another ship. A dispute ensued over payment of compensation. High Seas’ lawyers emailed Bernuth, offering to settle the dispute for $34,100. If no settlement was reached, arbitration proceedings would commence, said the email. The email sought Bernuth’s agreement to the appointment of an arbitrator. However the email address used by the lawyers – firstname.lastname@example.org – had not been detailed on any prior communication between the parties, although it was listed on the firm’s website and in the Lloyds Maritime Directory. Bernuth did not respond to the email – or to any of the others that followed during the arbitration proceedings – despite High Seas’ lawyers logging delivery receipts for all of the messages. Finally, on 29th July 2005, the arbitrator issued his final award in favour of High Seas. This time the arbitrator sent notice of the award by email and by post. He was contacted shortly afterwards by Bernuth’s lawyers who expressed surprise at the award. It transpired that the email@example.com address was used for Bernuth's cargo bookings. The emails about the dispute would have been ignored as probably being unsolicited email, argued Bernuth's lawyers. They wrote to High Seas' lawyers: "Our client is perplexed that the other channel of communication established through your client’s Miami lawyers appears to have been bypassed.” Bernuth asked the High Court to invalidate the award on the basis that the legal action had not been properly brought to the firm’s attention and that there had “been a serious irregularity affecting the proceedings which has caused or will cause them substantial injustice.” The Arbitration Act of 1996 allows awards to be challenged on such a basis. The ruling According to Mr Justice Christopher Clarke, the case hinged on whether the arbitration had been properly commenced or not. Under the Arbitration Act this depends on notice in writing being given, requiring the defendant to appoint or to agree to the appointment of an arbitrator. Such a request had been expressed in the first email to Bernuth, but questions remained over whether the notice had also been properly served. According to the Act, “A notice or other document may be served by any effective means.” In the opinion of the Judge, this provision has been made “purposely wide”. He explained: “It contemplates that any means of service will suffice provided that it is a recognised means of communication effective to deliver the document to the party to whom it is sent at his address for the purpose of that means of communication (e.g. post, fax or email). There is no reason why, in this context, delivery of a document by email – a method habitually used by businessmen, lawyers and civil servants – should be regarded as essentially different from communication by post, fax or telex.” According to Justice Clarke, service emails must be sent to the email address of the intended recipient and, where several email addresses are shown, it must be sent to the correct one. In this case, said the Judge, the email address had been held out as Bernuth’s only address and emails sent to that address had been logged as delivered. “The position is, to my mind, no different to the receipt at a company’s office of a letter or telex which, for whatever reason, someone at the company decides to discard," added Justice Clarke. "In both cases service has effectively been made, and the document received will, in the first instance, be dealt with by a clerical officer." The fact that the emails did not reach the relevant members of staff was an “internal failing” but did not affect the validity of service. Comment John MacKenzie, a partner at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said: "When email first emerged there were concerns about whether it was 'writing' at all. This case demonstrates the almost uniform acceptance of email as a form of communication." He said it also shows that if you have an email address, the inbox needs to be carefully checked. This includes generic addresses such as 'admin@' and 'info@', as in this case. "Not all court documents can be served by email due to specific court rules, but there can be other important notices that may be missed if the inbox is not checked," added MacKenzie. Scottish court actions cannot be served by email. In England, email service is possible but only when there is written consent to this from the other party in advance, according to the Civil Procedure Rules. Accordingly, if a British business receives a court action "out of the blue" by email, it could generally argue that service has not been affected. Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons. The ruling
Computacenter yesterday issued a statement explaining why it is not issuing a pre-close trading statement, as is its usual custom ahead of entering its close period following the year end. The reseller giant notes that it has been subject to an offer (from its founders and senior managers) since 18 November and "as a result, its ability to make such an update statement is constrained by a requirement to have the company's auditors examine and report". The company now expects to "provide an estimate of 2005 profits as soon as the auditors have completed their review, later in January 2006, together with an update on the progress of the offer discussions". ®
Business Systems Group warned the Stock Exchange yesterday that the loss of a £2m contract was likely to hit its profitability for next year. BSG said it was disappointed to be told yesterday that Mapeley Estates Ltd was not going to renew its current outsourcing contract when it expires in March. This will have no impact on this year's earnings, ending 31 March 2006, but is likely to hit profits next year. The group's board said it was surprised at the decision and that "the provision of managed services remains key to BSG's strategic direction". The board also said it was investing extra resources to boost sales in managed services to make up the shortfall caused by the lost contract.®
UMC chairman Robert Tsao and vice-chairman John Hsuan have been formally accused by the Taiwanese authorities of making illegal investments in mainland Chinese chip-maker Hejian. Prosecutors also indicted Tzeng Tun-chian, the president of UMC's venture capital division. Tsao and Hsuan have now quit their posts at UMC, the world's second-largest chip foundry, though both were immediately taken on as advisors to the board. In June 2005, Tsao told the company's shareholders he planned to leave the firm before 2007. Last month, he brought his departure forward to March 2006, but yesterday quit ahead of his indictment. UMC CEO Jackson Hu will assume Tsao's chairmanship. The allegations made against Tsao, Hsuan and co. centre on claims they invested in Hejian. The Chinese foundry was founded by a number of ex-UMC executives in 2001. Tsao maintains he simply advised the founders on business matters, and UMC says it has entered into no deal with Hejian, either to provide it with funding or technology. In Taiwan it is unlawful to invest in any Chinese technology-related company without first winning the approval of the Taiwanese Government. However, it has been claimed that Hejian staffers not only had access to UMC's intranet, but the company's fab incorporated UMC-patented technology, seemingly without protest from the Taiwanese company. It's alleged UMC tacitly licensed its technology to Hejian. Investigators from Taiwan's Ministry of Justice raided UMC's HQ and the homes of executives in February seeking evidence to support these allegations. UMC has said it would like to invest in Hejian, and in March 2005 put in place a scheme to put $110m into the company via the correct channels. Tsao had already said that UMC would be keen to acquire Hejian at some future time. The UMC-Hejian case has yet to come to court, though Tsao and 23 other executives, including Hsuan and Hejian chairman J. H. Hsu, were last year named as defendants when the case is eventually heard by Taiwan's Hsinchu District Court. Interestingly, yesterday's indictments did not include Hsu. UMC yesterday dismissed the indictments because of their “purely political nature” - it believes Taiwan's actions are more about maintaining a tough line with the Chinese Government than punishing real wrongdoing. ®
Last week, US mobile firm Verizon announced a deal with Microsoft to allow subscribers to listen to music on their phones. But it has now emerged that people signing up to the new service are losing the ability to play MP3s on their phones. The company said the decision was made to keep things simpler for users - one media player rather than two. If you transfer music from your PC to your phone the software will automatically convert the MP3s to Microsoft's WMA format. Unless you are trying to move music from a Linux or Mac machine, in which case the process may be more complicated.
AMD has begun shipping its first dual-core Athlon 64 FX gaming processor, the FX-60, hot on the heels of Intel's Pentium Extreme Edition 955. The chip-maker has also introduced a pair of top-end Turion 64 processors, the ML-42 and ML-44. The FX-60 is clocked at 2.6GHz, less than the 2.8GHz FX-57. Both are fabbed at 90nm and connect using AMD's Socket 939 pin-out. Both support up to 400MHz DDR SDRAM in dual-channel configuration. The FX-60 comprises 233m transistors to the FX-57's 113m. Each of the FX-60's two cores has 1MB of L2 cache.
Sales of Sony PSP consoles and software helped Game Group to an "outstanding" Christmas, the computer games retailer announced today. Reporting sales for the six weeks to Christmas, Game disclosed that total sales were up 37.5 per cent compared to the same period last year, while like-for-like sales were up 27 per cent. In part this was due to the firm securing a "much improved supply" of Sony PSP consoles particularly in the ten days leading up to Christmas. On the back of that Game also managed to flog a stack of PSP software and it goes without saying that it had no problems shifting supplies of the new Xbox 360 console. "Together with our creative promotion of established formats...[this] led to significantly improved trading over the Christmas period," said Game in a statement. Which is a turnaround from before Christmas when Game warned that reduced margins on existing consoles and software, combined with supply shortages of new ones, meant that December might not be quite so festive. "The significant price deflation on hardware and software as the current generation of consoles reach maturity, coupled with the tough retail environment, have resulted in ongoing like for like sales declines for our business," said the retailer in November. "Since our last update on 27 September, the retail trading environment has not improved and the anticipated pick-up in the like for like sales of mature format hardware and software has not materialised in recent weeks." Speaking today, though, Game chairman Peter Lewis said: "This outstanding Christmas sales performance has helped an otherwise difficult year as the industry transitions to the next technology cycle." Which suggests Lewis expects Sony PSP and Microsoft Xbox 360 packages to continue to fly out of stores ahead of the launch of Sony Playstation 3 and Nintendo Revolution in the second half of the year. ®
Has your mum ever noted your passing resemblance to Charlie Sheen? Did an ex-girlfirend once compare you to Hugh Grant - and not because she was bailing you from an LA jail where you'd just spent the night on a kerb-crawling rap? Well, we've just been informed of a simple and fun way to discover whether you really do have what it takes to weaken knees and moisten gussets - the MyPlayCity Star Estimator. Read on: Star Estimator service helps you to find the matching between you and Super Celebrities. What if you have a Star Twin? Just send your photo and the Star Estimator will show Celebrities portraits similar to yours. The service stores about 400 photos of famous people, and the database is growing up continuously. This service intends for the automatic comparison between your facial portrait and the photos of famous actors, models, sport personals, etc. By submitting the photo of your face, you enable the opportunity to estimate what is your other appearance and find out that you are the twin with Star Starring. The comparison is performed by the unique computer algorithm based on recognizing artificial neural network models, which resembles the human brain now realized in the computer environment. Therefore the estimation is absolutely independent, and it is not affected by someone's decision. Yeah right. As someone in the office nicely put it: "Unique computer algorithm my f***ing arse." And as for the stable of talent, well, 400 faces is hardly enough to satisfy a pre-Oscars red carpet paparazzi feeding frenzy. It's 399 more celebs than are currently appearing in Celebrity Big Brother, granted, but really... On the other hand, it's all harmless fun (we think) and there's the possibility of interaction with another of MyPlayCity's free games - Barman's Life: Serve with beer the clients of the bar as fast as possible to avoid a queue. Each client has a drink of his or her own color. It will turn out badly if you serve a wrong drink. As the queue gets longer, the clients become angry so that they can even punish you. Yup, once you've discovered - as this correspondent just did - that he bears an uncanny resemblence to Russell Crowe, you can nip down to the virtual bar and, when you don't get served immediately, club the hapless barman with a mobile phone while shouting "Don't you know who I am?" ®
These days it is not enough to be agile with your business. Now you have to be in the business of business transformation. Sounds impressive, doesn't it? But what does business transformation mean, exactly. Err... The Society of IT Management reckons it knows a thing or two about the matter, and it is running a one day-conference on Business Transformation in Birmingham on 20 February 2006. Headline speaker is Ian Watmore, former head of the e-government unit and now in charge of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit (which makes him sound rather like a jumped-up removals man). He will discuss the eGU's strategy document Transformational Government: Enabled by Technology and what it means for local government. Julian Bowrey will throw in his tuppence-worth from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister at a time when its "national local e-government programme is drawing to a close and emphasis is switching from delivery to take-up". The rest of the conference will highlight how "business transformation is already being achieved in councils of all types up and down the UK". So there you have it. Depending on who you are, the conference costs between £175 and £399. Booking is - very e-government this - online only. Head over to www.socitm.gov.uk. And take it from there. Can't make it? Socitm has 100 case studies on studies on transformation and e-government submitted by its members here. ® Bootnote Do you have a tech event you want to promote? Post details of your conference, seminar, training course etc. at Register Events. This is entirely free.
The Seoul National University panel investigating the work of disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk has partially exonerated him by declaring that his team did in fact produce the world's first cloned dog in 2005, as claimed. However, the panel said data regarding the production of tailored stem cells was "deliberately fabricated in papers", Reuters reports. It described the matter as "scandalous". An English-language statement said: "These individuals cannot be regarded to represent science in Korea." The damning final conclusion comes after a series of scientific shockers including the revelation that Hwang had "coerced" female team members to provide their own eggs for stem cell research. The tailored stem cells paper - as published in Science and now retracted by that august publication - could not be proved, the panel concluded. Seoul National University panel supremo, Chung Myung-hee, stated: "Hwang's team did not have the data for the stem cell lines in the 2004 paper, but fabricated it." Regarding "Snuppy" the Afghan hound, DNA evidence proved he had indeed been cloned. Hwang - who has been keeping a low profile since his resignation just before Xmas and could now face charges reagarding misuse of state funds - may make a statement today or tomorrow, Reuters says. ®
Ian Watmore, Britain's head of e-government, vacated his post yesterday after 18 months in the job, but will continue to influence on the e-gov strategy from his new billet at the Cabinet Office. He was much liked by two limbs of government that are not normally so supportive of central policy makers: suppliers and local authorities. IT suppliers declared him a breath of fresh air. This was despite his tenure coinciding with a nadir in relations between government and suppliers. He pulled this off in part by being believable, partly by scattering some of that management consultant magic he brought with him from his previous job as managing director of Accenture. Watmore did what all management consultants do best - he got everyone round the table for a nice chat. This gave suppliers embittered by recent blinkered steamrolling of policy by the Office of Government Commerce, the bit of government that manages supplier relations, some hope for the future. Whether their hope was justified will be borne out with the results of the current round of consultations one of Watmore's legacies, the government IT strategy. If nothing Watmore encouraged the sort of meetings where suppliers could get the opportunity to network with key civil servants. Presiding over such meetings, Watmore would be praised for his "dynamism". The same inclusive approach to relations with local government also endeared Watmore to local authorities. Steve Baker, chief executive of Suffolk Coastal District Council, said he was "charismatic", brought "focus" and "consensus" and, "more importantly to me, he brought local government into the equation." This is not just about keeping outsiders happy with central government so it can better impose policy. The dialogue between suppliers and government at all levels having been repaired, executives are finding they are learning important things from one another that help them do their jobs better. Surprisingly, it turns out they all have the same aim - building good government computer systems. That first step having been made, the next is to improve public scrutiny of these expensive public projects. Watmore made a statement yesterday to mark his departure for his new job as head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit at the Cabinet Office. Paraphrased, his deputy Andrew Stott will be taking over while they look for a replacement and his work will be carried forward by the CIO Council of civil service IT bosses, which had its first anniversary meeting last Friday. "I will still sit on this council," said Watmore. "Working closely with other council members and the new e-Government Unit Head who will replace me as Chair - to ensure we continue to make progress. I will maintain overall responsibility for the work of the e-Government Unit in my new role at the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit."®
ReviewReview The Athlon 64 FX, the pinnacle of AMD's consumer processor offerings, now has two cores, to more effectively run a modern OS. There's no surprise - the mystery of whether or not the next FX would be single- or dual-core was dashed a while ago, and really it was obvious if you think about it. Once you understood that it was dual-core, then going on to figure out the target clock frequency was a piece of cake, given Athlon 64 X2 4800+. With that information, extrapolating performance from the 4800+ is a fairly simple task, one which would at least get you in the ballpark. However, there are still a few important questions to answer...
The Hubble Space telescope has finally snapped a third member of the Polaris star group previously known only by its gravitational pull on its companion, thereby visibly demonstrating that the "North Star" is indeed a trio of stars. The group, made up of Polaris A, B and (new family member) Ab lies around 430 light years from Earth, more-or-less at our celestial north pole, as the left-hand frame here shows: Top right is Polaris A, and distant companion Polaris B - the latter first spotted by William Herschel in 1780. The two are separated by 240bn miles, and Polaris B can been seen through small telescopes. Not so Polaris Ab (bottom right), which is just two billion miles from Polaris A. As Smithsonian astronomer Nancy Evans put it: "The star we observed is so close to Polaris that we needed every available bit of Hubble's resolution to see it." Howard Bond of the Space Telescope Science Institute further explained that while Polaris is a "supergiant more than two thousand times brighter than the Sun", Polaris Ab is a main sequence star. Accordingly, the brightness difference between the two "made it even more difficult to resolve them". Bond noted: "With Hubble, we've pulled the North Star's companion out of the shadows and into the spotlight." Rather nicely, the blurb illustrates it thus: "The companion proved to be less than two-tenths of an arcsecond from Polaris — an incredibly tiny angle equivalent to the apparent diameter of a quarter located 19 miles away." The practical applications of the discovery relate to ultimately calculating the mass of Polaris A, considered vital because it is the nearest "Cepheid variable star" the brightness variations of which are used to "measure the distances of galaxies and the expansion rate of the universe". Evans concluded: "Our ultimate goal is the get an accurate mass for Polaris. To do that, the next milestone is to measure the motion of the companion in its orbit." ®
If you fancy taking a quick trip to the heart of a black hole be sure to allow plenty of time, since an international team of boffins has discovered that even the last leg of such a jaunt could take up to 200,000 years. Yup, according to an investigation of the "internal motions of gas surrounding the nucleus of the active galaxy NGC1097" (47m light years distant in the southern constellation Fornax), "material as it descends into the core of a galaxy hosting a large black hole... will take about 200,000 years to make a one-way trip through the inner regions of the galaxy and into oblivion." Or, in fact, longer than the average Northern Line tube trip from Edgeware to Stockwell, as our London readers will be amazed to read. The team behind this revelation - made up of Thaisa Storchi-Bergmann, UFRGS, Brazil; David Axon and Andrew Robinson, RIT, USA; Alessandro Capetti, INAF-Turin, Italy, Alessandro Marconi, INAF-Florence, Italy; Rogemar Riffel, UFRGS, Brazil, and Claudia Winge, Gemini Observatory, Chile - used Chile's Gemini South Telescope and "sophisticated spectroscopic techniques" to probe clouds of material within 10 light years of the galactic centre - presumed home of the black hole. Specifically, the scientists "measured the streaming motions toward the black hole by using two-dimensional spectroscopy to capture spectral data at several thousand points surrounding the nucleus of the galaxy". The technique is known as "integral field spectroscopy", which "takes light from many different parts of the telescope's field simultaneously and splits the light from each region into a rainbow or spectrum of light". The upshot of it is, as team member Thaisa Storchi Bergmann of Brazil's Instituto de Fisica put it: "The resolution of this data is unprecedented when you look at how we were able to isolate so many different points around the nucleus of this galaxy and acquire a spectrum for each point at once. "This paints an incredibly detailed picture of the region around the black hole and gives us a new glimpse at something we could only imagine before." Project top dog Kambiz Fathi of Rochester Institute of Technology further explained: "It is the first time anyone has been able to follow gas this close to the supermassive black hole in the center of another galaxy. "The work of our team confirms the main theories that have never been observationally confirmed at this level. We have been able to show that it is possible to measure these velocities down to these scales." The velocity in question is, the team reckons, 52 kilometers (31 miles) per second - the speed at which spiral arms were pulling gas towards the nucleus at around 1,000 light years from the centre. That's still a way out from the black hole's core, and a good few years from a final dateline with destiny. Fathi expands: "When we extrapolate our last data points, about 30 light-years from the black hole, this is where we find that it would take about 200,000 years for the gas to travel the last leg of its one-way journey to the supermassive black hole." There's more background detail to the team's work in the press release here. The research findings will appear in a future issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. ®
Here's a poser for all you IT hacks out there: you've been dispatched to CES in Vegas to check out the latest in 110m plasma widescreens and Skype-enabled Bluetooth mice when, suddenly, you find youself strangely drawn toward a bar, outside of which the porn industry's finest are parading along a red carpet on their way to the annual Adult Entertainment Expo next door. At that moment, your mobile rings. It's your editor demanding to know why you haven't filed that earth-shaking exclusive on the very cutting-edge of domestic media servers. What's your excuse? Well, if you're the BBC's Gareth Mitchell and producer Julian Siddle, it's pretty simple: "We tried to get out of the bar for two hours, but the bouncers wouldn't let us cross the red carpet, so we had to get legless while loads of top-quality, pneumatic totty and horse-endowed stallions strutted their stuff before our eyes." Or words to that effect. Check out the whole lamentable tale right here. As for us, we have spent the whole morning working on a comparable set of outstanding get-outs. And the current favourite for why we didn't come back to the office after a particularly robust lunch is: "We were just crossing the road when two armed men wearing balaclavas ordered us into a nearby lapdancing club where we were obliged to spend two hours and four grand on the company credit card." ®
US-based Mercury Computer Systems (MCS) has begun shipping a technology evaluation system centred on Sony, Toshiba and IBM's Cell processor - the heart of the PlayStation 3. Not that MCS is pitching the rig at games developers. Its Cell Technology Evaluation System (CTES) is aimed at companies keen to test Cell's suitability for future data visualisation systems - one of MCS' specialisms. (Well, gaming is sort of like data visualisation, we suppose...)
Christmas 2005 saw a new record set for downloaded music - with the last week of the year seeing more than 20m music tracks downloaded and paid for by US customers - three-times higher than the 2004 figure. This compares to the previous record set the week before Christmas of 9.5m downloads - suggesting a lot of Americans woke up to find new music players in their Christmas stockings.
LettersLetters Today's letters round-up is a rather airborne affair, containing as it does your feedback on the hyperdrive and the Google Earth Lancaster. We'll start off, though, with a quickie on the matter of EMC and its "rebalancing" of workers: In July I was "selected for a resource action". It took me quite a few minutes after my manager had called me in to talk to me to realise that this meant I was being made redundant. The language used these days to get rid of employees is really offensively circumlocutory. Duncan Ellis Yes it is. Try "selected for proscription" - an old RAF favourite. Now, we often get letters asking us to put writers' bylines next to the headline. Here's a good example: is there a way to ignore certain authors on the register? i typically get a good laugh from stuff at the register (bofh is probably the best). however, i can't believe this article - "Windows beats Linux / Unix on vulnerabilities - CERT" actually survived the editing process. it's upsetting to see this kind of reporting... i'm not sure whether Gavin Clarke just hasn't done anything outside the world of microsoft or whether it was simply that he didn't take the time to actually troll through the data that's available at us-cert. most of the things in both lists have nothing to do with their respective core (kernel & gui - for unix/linux, pick 1 of the guis)... i.e. the "3Com 3CDaemon Multiple Remote Vulnerabilities" under the windows list is a 3Com issue, not a microsoft issue. the "Apple Mac OS X Multiple Vulnerabilities" listed under unix/linux is an issue with a unix clone, but i've never had any of those "apple mac os x" issues on my debian & mandrake linux servers running on x86 hardware (same with the freebsd, gentoo, hp-ux, ibm aix, netbsd, openbsd, sco, etc bugs - they don't apply). normal users aren't even going to have to worry about half of non-microsoft bugs that show up (how many users use "aeNovo"?) as well as half the stuff on the unix/linux list. another issue is severity, but i won't bother going into that. this article reminds me of something 1 of the local news stations (i'm from kansas city) did a couple years back as an 'investigative report' as to which state was better - kansas or missouri. the entire 'investigative report' was based on the opinions & snide remarks that 2 store owners who's businesses were diagonal from each other at an intersection along the state line. at the end they were tied 2-2 & so for the tie breaker they had the 2 of them arm wrestle... um yeah... as that's typical for their 'investigative reporting' i no longer watch that news station anymore. Patrick Teague For the record, we rejected the byline proposal, but not because it would allow readers to avoid their particular non-favourites. Rather, we were afraid that it would encourage the sort of mass worship of cult Reg writers at the expense of less celebrated - but equally worthy - colleagues. It also allows us to slap headlines like "Firefox browser vuln kills family of eleven" on perfectly innocent stories, thereby attracting unwitting readers who might otherwise have been alerted to the less-than-sensational content by the author's name. And if you don't like any of that, sue us. You can serve writs by email, too: Oh well, I suppose I'd better get ready for all my lawsuits to be awarded against me before I hear about them. Has noone heard of whitelists (my spam filters all do their work silently - I'm not replying to spammers to tell them to try and work past my filters...) John I recall some years ago the approval of sending a writ by email by the High Court on the proviso that a read receipt was generated. Don't ask me to give the case number or any further details though! John Airey Here's a cautionary tale: if you're a Reg hack and most of your material is funny (or supposed to be), then this is bound to happen eventually: Previously you have featured letters from people who took lester haines seriously. I am aware that it is supposed to be funny but I can't see in what way. It's like my friend who claimed to be allergic to peanut butter but actually wasn't, why would you make this stuff up? bob thing It's the rather weird and wonderful hyperdrive we're talking about here. You don't have to make this stuff up, cos it's all true. Doesn't make it impressive, though: Great. We can get to Mars in three hours. Will my flying car be ready at the space port? Dan Halford Happy New Year. The niceties over, I will bet a very small amount of purely notional money that this is total b*******cks and should be filed alongside coldfusion. Tom Rutherford Well, let's stick with it a little longer, shall we? If Heim and Dröscher are right, the math (insofar as I can follow it -- and man is it some tough math!) implies specific values for the speed of light in the parallel spaces. The "parallel spaces" that Heim-Dröscher postulates are called n-spaces where n is an integer, and c (the speed of light) in those spaces is multiplied by n. So in the first parallel space, the speed of light is exactly twice that in the space we currently occupy. It's not clear to me that this theory is correct, but it looks very promising -- it has correctly predicted (to a very fine tolerance -- much finer than we are able to measure) the masses and lifetimes of all the current fundamental particles. And it is the *only* theory currently known which does so. The odds of this happening by chance are vaninshingly small -- something like 1 in 10 raised to the 64th -- a number so close to 0 that only God could tell the difference. With droeschers extensions, it encompasses quantum theory, General relativity, and maxwells equations also fall out of it. That means it has alot going for it. And with that recent paper by Dröscher and Häuser, it appears that it will be possible to experimentally test it. One problem I see with these parallel spaces is that while it seems that the math indicates that you will go into space n+1 with the correct energy input, it does not seem clear to me that you will come back to space n once the energy input is removed. This seems somewhat problematic to say the least :-) But then again, a significant portion of the math is flying above my head, through what little hair I have left :-) Ian Ameline I know many people will say something similar but I had this same idea about 4 years ago. I discarded it as practical because basically the coil HAS to be anchored to SOMETHING and push or pull, it will balance the effect of the whole thing thus leaving you stopped. So, I went down another path. There actually IS a way of doing this and it is not so different from their paper but it is different in the only way I have thus thought up that could possibly make it work and not return the energy to the ship itself thus cancelling the coil's effect. I want to thank you for printing this. I have put my idea to friends who I had thought may be far enough in to "out there thinking" to get the whole idea and the replies I have gotten have been negative to open eyed dismay because my friends just didnt understand what I was saying. So, I thought, I am either dead wrong and cant see it or there is no clear understanding of what I had though up. In the end your article pointed me in the right direction to find I WASNT crazy and there ARE others who believe what I do. The problem with their idea is that the push/pull is evenly balanced in relation to where you are in space so you dont get any drive out of it at all. I actually overcame that but you have to have a rather devious mind to do it. I know you'll think I'm a stark raving loony nutter but I honest to God wish I could put my ideas to the people mentioned in your article. They have been thinking what I have, for years, on my own. So I have no doubt they would understand it where physics professors I have put the same idea to didnt. I dont pretend to be a genius or anything so over the top. I just had an idea and I nutted it out. Thanks again. Oh and if you do happen to have contact email addresses for these people, if you would either forward them to me or forward mine to them, as your own thoughts decide, I would greatly appreciate it. Greg. One of the most interesting things that appears to validate that Heim's stuff is not completely barking is that it appears to accurately predict the masses of particles with exacting accuracty, something that other (QM/GR/SR) are unable to do. I really hope that this stuff proves to be right, because if it is then scifi just got a little bit closer to reality! The faster-than-light stuff would require shifting into another universe with a different value of c, and the chances must be 50/50 that it's slower than ours rather than faster. ;-) Oh, another thing - mars in 3 hours: how would anything survive the acceleration that would be necessary? This might be anti-grav, but I don't think it's anti-inertia. Nick L A good point, and you're not the only one to point out the obvious pitfalls here... "Scientists moot gravity-busting hyperdrive" left we wondering if anybody had worked out how the ship would slow down when it reached Mars in only 3 hours, or would it just carry on straight past? Simon Vickers I suspect there may be a problem here... Pilots in aerobatic aircraft can stand around 5-6 G.. An Air Force pilot in a G suit might stay conscious to 10-12G. Maybe. Given Mars' closest orbital locaton, 55x10^6km from Earth , the 3 hour transit time requires a constant acceleration for 1/2 of the trip and a constant deceleration for the other 1/2 of the trip of 192G..  The technology described involves accelerating not at a constant rate, but at an initial rate followed by a long cruise... Therefore the rate of acceleration will be FAR higher.. While an interesting article, the likelihood of man or machine actually surviving the 3 hour transit are, well, remote... 8^)=== Best wishes, Garry http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/marsfact.html To minimise the acceleration you'd accellerate uniformly to half way, then decellerate uniformly to mars, so the average speed will be half the maximum speed. Average speed = 55e9 / (3x3600) = 5.09e6 m/s Well under the speed of light, so that's OK. Accelleration = 5.09e6x2/(1.5x3600) = 1886 m/s^2 That's about 192 G. Hmmm, they may have a point. The Z-machine, though, we like the cut of its jib. Here's more: [b]*Roger Lenard, a space propulsion researcher at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico does think it might be possible, though, using an X-ray generator called the Z machine which "could probably generate the necessary field intensities and gradients".[/b] Of course, the Z-machine only fires for 1/50000th of a second and then consumes staggering amounts of energy. So, you want to build a teensy one [the current one is rather hard to fit under the bonnet of the Space Shuttle] and give it enough juice to crank out the energy amounts required for 6+ hours flight [assuming the intrepid astronauts also want to come back]. It has to carry itself, the hyperdrive, the powerplant to drive it and its payload. That's going to be an interesting challenge. If you can make this contraption work, you should allow Jonathan Ive, CBE, to design the thing. If it then doesn't go anywhere it will at least look good. Jorge Look good? Try this: If you haven't already, do a google image search for "z machine", or, here is a high-res picture: http://www.sandia.gov/news-center/news-releases/2004/images/jpg/z-machine.jpg Those things look more capable of warping space, shifting dimensions, or creating gateways through time, than any such machine dreamed up by Hollywood. :-) - Justin And concluding these reader musings on the hyperdrive, let's fire up a couple of black helicopters: Not so new! The Germans worked on a similar device during WW II. Reputedly, it devoured the entire output of a local electricity sub-staion, so was used at night. The structure still exists. It was fed with power from underground caverns where top secret work was underway. The caverns, themselves, are now partially flooded. The work was abandoned, most of the researchers are dead (although a few locals have vague recollections). Details of the project are either lost or siting in CIA/MI5 super-top secret files. Our lovely politicians deny all knowledge (well, they would and they aren't scientists, anyway). Pictures of the site were shown on British TV within the last few months. No myth! David Ever heard of the TR-3B space ship? Apparently, it's built in Area 51. Here's a text that describes how it works: http://www.rense.com/general30/yrb3.htm The point is: do you see a striking resemblance? Somehow, I think the government is slowly starting to feel ready to release it's information to the public by having certain scientist disclose early tests / models of the TR-3B until they actually tell us what some of us have been knowing all along: the TR-3B exists and here's how it works. The TR-3B exists at least since 1990. I know this for a fact : I saw one flying directly over me. When flying low, it doesn't make a sound and it has 3 rings at each of its ends which glow fiery orange when flying low, same as when you turn your stove top to high. It's a very large craft and I suspect that it's only visible if it flies directly above you. If you look at it at an angle, you probably won't see it, similar to privacy screens. The other thing I noticed by researching it, is that it flies only at night and it's black in colour. Pretty hard to notice something that doesn't have lights, that's black in colour and flies at night. Hey, take this the way you want my friend, but in ten years from now, I'll be saying to myself: I TOLD YOU SO. Yup, the black helicopters are airborne, make no mistake. Let's move on to the Google Earth Lancaster: An Avro Lancaster? Shows how old the images on Google Earth is :o) Rob I know Google Earth's pics are not always bang up-to-date, but you have to wonder what took the photo. A passing Messerschmitt, perhaps? James Pickett Somehow i have a problem finding the shadow of this Lancaster. The Lancaster is a sufficient large Aircraft to cast a noticable shadow. The plane itself does not appear to be flying extremely high if we compare the visible size of it and the houses and cars underneath. What looks like a shadow on first look in the gardens of the houses beneath the plane are actually hedges and fences that cast a shadow. The angles of these shadows also do not correspond to the look of the Lancaster (Lancaster is almost straight, while the shadows would suggest some more angled wings. If the shadows of the cars, houses, fences etc. are clearly visible the shadow of the plane should be visible as well. The position of the sun is easy to determine if we look at surrounding shadows. The time i would nail to sometime past 12PM as the shadows are rather steep (steep shadows suggest a time close to 12PM, long shadows either more morning or evening. Also the direction (from almost the south) is a dead giveaway. So where is the shadow or is Google taking the mick with mock-up sat images? Tom The relative size of the Lancaster and the ground features make me wonder if that's a satellite picture at all. The Lancaster was a large aircraft for its time, but I don't think it's wingspan was sufficient to cover several average suburban houses. Maybe it's a perspective effect and the aircraft is proportionally a lot closer to the photographer than would be expected if it was a real satellite image, because it's actually an image from a photogrammetic survey aircraft flying at a few thousand feet rather than a spacecraft at several tens of miles? Just a thought ... Mike Henderson You think that's a conspiracy? Scroll down the fine coast of Blackpool (my home town) and you'll find that of the three piers, only scummy South Pier has survived a (no doubt) government clampdown on revealing the secrets of these key defence structures. To wit, both North Pier and Central Pier have been cut off, replaced by generic wavey bits. Compare these pics if you like... http://www.compsoc.man.ac.uk/~nayfnu/north.kmz http://www.webbaviation.co.uk/blackpool/m28.htm http://www.compsoc.man.ac.uk/~nayfnu/central.kmz http://www.webbaviation.co.uk/blackpool/m33.htm ...and DESPAIR! Nath, Lancaster Good lord, he's right. Strange things are afoot, make no mistake. A couple of snippets to polish off this mailbag. First up, try this, which we think is about this story: The sky is falling, long live the sky. The events of last week took the varied chaotic elements that make up my thought processes and gave them an evil twist. Microsoft has a bug. (who wou'da thought.) Now onto reporting and fuzzy, fuzzy logic in general. This I read on the internet, so it all must be true. The bug is 2003 and XP only. . . But, 95, 98 ME and win 3.1 share the bug. But no, they don't But yes they do. Microsoft isn't saying, but refused to release a patch until presumably the ghost of Billy Gates' ethics dragged from a forgotten desk-drawer and rattled some change. (I think I trust Mr Guilfanov's patch more though) I was thinking buffer overrun, until I realized that it was very probably just one more stupid implementation of VBA; where do they come up with these ideas? I don't think we have experts anymore, not for windows, everyone is claiming to be a Mac expert or knows open source. To clarify the problem and scope. It is a WMF hack. It is not a GIF or JPG hack, (this time) although you can still spoof the machine with JPG stuck on the end of a WMF file. (And who's bright idea was that?) I have checked ME, and ME is not affected (but who besides me even has this OS running?) So, we will stop worrying about 98, 95, 3.11, DOS ect. NT is affected. (NT 4 and up, we will try to forget that NT 3 whatever existed and for you people still using it, never mind, like the Amish you will never see this screed.) In fact, NT 4 is where windows became a real OS, all grown up as it were. All of the DLLs were re-done, the API calls were moved around and evidently this is where the once and future bugs were inserted. I would assume the visual basic for applications was even implemented for windows solitaire at this time; because, you know, why have stand alone software that does one thing and does that thing correctly? Okay then. I have to work with windows, and I oddly, I do like the product. Much as you really might have a fondness for that special child being raised by the inbred neighbors down the block. I mean, sure the kid tortures puppies and pulls the wings off of flies, but evil? Naw, just misunderstood and unloved. Mr Gates, your kid is in trouble again. Icecycle And finally, hope for disgruntled customers everywhere in the form of the "Armenian Handshake": Re' 'Government minister beats workers with pistol'. I hope this applies to us ordinary humans too. If so, the North Western Electricity Board had better get their crash helmets on! Ketlan Ossowski Does he want to emigrate? We could do with more Immigrants like that coming over here. Might give British Gas and BT something to consider. As for your below-average builder I think it would do wonders. Hamish Lovely. While readers spend the next few days at their desks idly daydreaming of pistol-whipping somebody from [insert name of company], we'll get back to preparing another dose of your wit and wisdom for Friday's round-up. Carry on. ®
Linux distributor Red Hat will be working more closely with UK reseller Abtech to promote the use of Oracle 10g running on Linux. Abtech has been a Red Hat Advanced Partner for a year but will now work to create a range of configurations for small, medium and heavy users of Oracle software. The companies claim running Oracle on Red Hat offers "considerable cost savings over traditional proprietary UNIX systems", mainly because of the high cost of proprietary hardware.®
The no-questions-asked sale of phone call records by US data brokers has prompted a huge security flap. The disreputable practice forced the Chicago Police Department to warn officers that their call records might be easily obtainable - potentially exposing the identities of police informants to criminals. Privacy advocates are also alarmed at the effects access to call records through online sources might have on civil liberties. US Senator Charles Schumer is calling for laws to specifically criminalize phone record theft. He hopes the laws will be put in place while state officials in Illinois consider legislation to ban the sales of people's call records. All well and good, but what about putting more pressure on phone companies to keep records more secure? Dozens of data brokers in the US make a business from selling call records - sometimes obtained from phone company insiders or by deception - for about $100 per account per month. The chief market is private investigators, but an investigation by the Chicago Sun Times suggests the information is available to anyone who's prepared to pay. Little or no checks are applied over the identity of the person requesting information. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over these practices. It has also submitted a petition to the regulator asking it to act to make sure phone companies improve their security safeguards. Meanwhile, consumers are advised to ask their phone companies to install a password on their individual accounts in a bid to block unauthorised access. ®
The assets and business of controversial UK-based anti-virus vendor Avecho Group, which went into administration last month, has been sold to a new firm, Stylish Limited. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Avecho slipped into administration on 2 December, barely three years since the business was founded. The Essex-based firm created waves by claiming that its technology offered absolute protection against malware. Its methods were always a closely guarded secret. Competitors were dismissive, claiming that Avecho's systems cropped files such as PDF attachments that made it unsuitable for enterprises, a criticism partially borne out by our otherwise favourable review of its service. Approximately 500 SME customers bought Avecho's technology as a managed service. Its claims about the capabilities of its technology were never disproved. More importantly for its financial health, Avecho's attempts to license its technology to the likes of Microsoft and Cisco were frustrated by an insistence on secrecy. Microsoft UK, for example, insisted on knowing how Avecho's technology worked before engaging in any serious dialogue with the firm. A former strategic advisor to the firm told El Reg that as late as December 2004 it was still official policy not to file for patents because it did not have the money to defend them. Contradicting this, Avecho's founders claimed that though they had patents, they did not have the resources to defend their intellectual property in court. A spokeswoman for administrators Smith & Williamson said it was unable to comment on the financial difficulties that led up to Avecho's collapse into administration since it was in the process of compiling a report on the firm's finances. "We're compiling a report which will be made public prior to a creditor's meeting," she said. Users of the Avecho's service were informed that email retrieval will be limited from seven years down to two months following the service's relaunch on 6 January. Avecho's email delivery service was largely uninterrupted during its period in administration but services available via its web-site (such as email retrieval, account configuration and web-based email) have been severely limited. ®
Nokia and Kyocera have settled their differences over which of them owns what mobile phone intellectual property, thus resolving all pending litigation between them. The pair today said they had agreed to license each other their respective patents. Crucially, Kyocera will pay Nokia a royalty covering technology used in its CDMA, PHS and PDC handsets and systems. Nokia also gains access to Kyocera's "essential patents", as well as supplemental intellectual property "relating to all standards and covering all Nokia mobile phone, module and infrastructure products" the mobile-phone giant today confirmed. How much each company is paying to the other for all this wasn't made public. Nokia and Kyocera began their dispute in February 2004, the two companies admitted. The story didn't break until the following October, when Kyocera claimed that 36 Nokia handsets were infringing three of its patents. The companies themselves have kept remarkably quiet about the matter - until now. ®
e92plus, the UK security distie, has won exclusive distribution rights for SurfControl Web Filter on Celestix devices. The Europe-wide agreement will see e92plus distributing Celestix appliances running MS Windows Server 2003 pre-loaded with MS ISA Server 2004 and SurfControl Web Filter. e92plus has also finalised a deal with Celestix to distribute its MSA Security Appliance as a standalone offering. The firewall in a box acts as an "application-layer-aware firewall" which inspects internet protocols so it can detect threats missed by traditional firewalls. It can also be configured to block certain websites, block some types of material and remind users of company policies.®
CESCES ATI didn't say much about the future of its Radeon Xpress chipset line at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but it did indicate that the next generation of the product will support the HDMI interface. As our photo of the relevant part of ATI's CES stand shows, the company also suggested the part will offer "reliability, stability and performance", though it's not clear whether that's what the HDMI connector will bring, or it means the product as a whole.
An Ohio man who claims that he was humiliated by two other participants in an AOL chatroom has sued the two men for causing emotional distress and the ISP for failing to stop the alleged abuse, according to a report from Law.com. The case, which is due for a hearing in an Ohio court today, is said to be the first of its kind. According to Law.com, Medina County resident George Gillespie sued Mike Marlowe of Alabama and Bob Charpentier of Oregon after the two men began teasing him online. Reports suggest that the teasing then ventured out of the chat room and into the real world, with Marlowe travelling from Alabama to Ohio in order to disrupt Gillespie’s mail service by handing a change-of-address form into a post office. Other reports suggest that Gillespie was himself indulging in a little “banter” in the chatroom, making fun of Charpentier’s girlfriend, and posting a picture of Charpentier’s home online. "This guy is just a character, and his BS finally caught up with him," Charpentier told the Akron Beacon Journal. "This lawsuit is just another form of harassment." "I'm so flabbergasted with this because this has been blown out of proportion," Marlowe told Law.com. "We just made fun of the guy." AOL has not commented on the action, other than to point out that it has a code of conduct governing the behaviour of its members, and that this is strictly enforced. Commentators are sceptical as to the likely success of the action. In the US, ISPs such as AOL are generally immune from liability under a provision in the Communications Decency Act which grants immunity from suit to those who provide material on the internet that was written by others. While most of the Communications Decency Act has been struck down as unconstitutional, this provision survives. It is also very difficult to show that postings online have caused harm. Most of the US cases in this area relate to defamation actions. In one recent case, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling that a council official, suing over remarks posted online by an unknown blogger, could force the blogger’s ISP to reveal his identity. The official first had to prove that the remarks were capable of a defamatory meaning – which he failed to do, according to Chief Justice Myron Steele. “Blogs and chat rooms tend to be vehicles for the expression of opinions; by their very nature, they are not a source of facts or data upon which a reasonable person would rely,” wrote the Chief Justice. He added that plaintiffs harmed by a blog have an instant remedy available: blogging themselves. OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
Two dodgy anti-spyware operators have agreed to cough up $2m to settle charges brought by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The US consumer watchdog alleged that Spyware Assassin and TrustSoft used email and pop-up ads to drive net users to their websites for a "free spyware scan". The "scans" revealed that spyware was present on computers even when they were clean and went on to flog anti-spyware software to concerned punters for up to $39.95 a throw. In the case of Spyware Assassin, the FTC alleged that the free remote scan was "phony" and that claims that they had "detected spyware on the consumer's computer were deceptive". Regarding TrustSoft's SpyKiller "scan", the FTC alleged that the software "deceptively identified anti-virus programs, word processing programs, and other legitimate processes running on the system as spyware". Even though SpyKiller promised to remove "all traces" of particular spyware on consumers' computers, the FTC alleged that the software "failed to remove significant amounts of spyware, including specified spyware the defendants claimed to remove". In a ruling published last week, it was announced that Danilo Ladendoft and TrustSoft are to cough up about $1.9m to settle the charges brought by the FTC. "The settlement will prohibit them from making deceptive claims in the sale, marketing, advertising, or promotion of any goods or services and prohibits the specific misrepresentations used in promoting SpyKiller," said the FTC in a statement. Thomas L. Delanoy and his corporation, MaxTheater - behind Spyware Assassin - will pay $76,000. "Two operations that promoted spyware detection products by making bogus claims have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that their claims were deceptive and violated federal law," said the FTC. "The settlements require the defendants to give up a total of nearly $2m in ill-gotten gains, and prohibit deceptive claims." ®
The United States faces isolation from the cultural and culinary delights offered by French visitors because of a hiccup over US demands for new passports. France is one of 27 countries which is a member of the Visa Waiver Program. This has allowed them, along with Britain, to drag their feet over US demands that passports include biometric information, a digital photograph and a solemn promise not to overthrow the US Government, embarrass the president any more than he does himself or start any hurricanes. But, the FT reports, French plans have been scuppered by a devilish mixture of public-sector unions and the courts. The French Government was all set to outsource the making of the new passports to Oberthur Card Systems - a French smartcard maker. But courts have now ruled in favour of unions which say the passports should be made by Imprimerie Nationale - the French national printer. The court has ordered production to stop. Meanwhile, an anonymous US official has let their frustration show to the FT: "The US has been watching this as a train wreck in slow motion. The [French] Government has assured us and assured us and assured us that France would have the biometric passports." More details for those with FT subscriptions here.®
A Dutch-firm's plans to sell malware samples to corporates have drawn a barbed response from members of the anti-virus industry and a penetration testing firm. Dutch security Frame4 Security Systems plans to go live with a malware distribution project, dubbed MD:Pro, from 1 February. The service is promoted as offering "developers of security systems and anti-malware products a vast collection of downloadable malware from a secure and reliable source". The subscription-based service will cost from €1,000 a month and will be restricted to security developers involved in analysis, testing, research and development, according to Anthony Aykut of Frame4 Security Systems. Aykut said Frame4 had more than 6,500 files in its system and predicts it might have 120,000 downloadable malware samples by the end of 2006. It claimed many of the samples would be "undetectable" by anti-virus products Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at anti-virus firm Sophos, questioned the benefits of the service. He said that researchers in the anti-virus industry have worked closely together for years, sharing malware samples between trusted experts and analysts without ever charging money. "This has benefited internet users around the world as it means if one anti-virus company discovers a new threat it won't stand in the way of its competitors also having the opportunity to analyse the malware and produce protection from its customers." "The Malware Distribution Project is not that different from many of the VX [virus writer] websites that exist on the net. It presents itself as being available for research purposes, but mentions nothing about restricting access to trusted, responsible members of the security community. Indeed, its barrier for entry appears to be hard cash rather than trust," he added. Aykut countered that membership of MD:Pro will be restricted to corporate customers only. "It will be a closed list and applications will be checked. Members would not be allowed to distribute virus samples," Aykut told El Reg. "The samples come from a private collection and from a malware researcher, who wishes to remain anonymous. Virus writers are not involved in the business." He said MD:Pro would be attractive to developers of intrusion detection systems, along with large corporations and ISPs. "Why should the criminals be the only ones who have access to malware repositories?" "The anti-virus industry is too exclusive and keeping people outside in the dark. Corporate clients could use samples to test the security of their anti-virus defences," he added. Roy Hills, technical director of security testing firm NTA Monitor, is sceptical over these arguments. "I can't imagine this would be useful to corporates. If you need virus samples to do a penetration test, and that's something we hardly ever do, it's easy to get a zoo virus. It's doesn't need to be bang up to date and you wouldn't want to test against every virus out there," he said. ®
Wiliam Heath's Ideal Government blog has scored a coup with a post in the name of Home Office Minister Hazel Blears, who as far as we know has now become the most senior UK Government minister to interface with blogdom. The content - a justification of Home Office data retention policy - adds little to the sum total of human knowledge, but in this case it's the medium, not the message, that's significant. Pretend for a moment that the Home Office understands what it's doing, then consider the implications. Government policy is currently communicated, argued and implemented in a largely non-interactive, adversarial way. Government determines what it intends to do, puts forward its arguments and goes ahead. Its intentions and arguments will be questioned in Parliament, in consultations and in the press, but (as the experience of the past few years makes clear), it will usually respond to these by carrying on going ahead and repeating the same arguments as it does so. Don't knock it too hard though - irritating as it is to to see the same faulty logic and discredited arguments trucked out over and over again, it's a viable mode of Government, up to a point. It gets stuff done, and any personal dislikes you may have of the stuff that's getting done only become material when enough other people hate it enough for stuff to be modified, or not to get done. A politician "writing" (few of them really do) an article for the national press can be seen as an extension of this process. Policy is stated and arguments are made, but although there is scope for counter-argument (e.g. opposition responses and readers' letters) these are muted by the medium, and the debate remains largely adversarial. But what happens when Government attempts to extend this process into more interactive media? While you could see an article in, say, the Times as providing a platform for a Minister to state a case without direct or immediate challenge, by posting to a discussion-led blog like Ideal Government Blears is more properly offering up a topic for debate. In the particular case of Blears' post, the other half of the debate swiftly arrived in the shape of challenges from Spy Blog and Ian Brown. These challenges have been made previously, but they have not been answered previously; if however Blears is playing by the rules, it's now her move, right? There you see the difficulty. The Government currently has good reason to take notice of blogs, and to try to figure out what to do about them. But what can it do? If Ministers don't answer questions, address points and develop arguments openly and honestly in Parliament, they can't rationally do so in blog discussions, and they'd get fired if they tried. They can certainly make announcements to blogs, but as these will tend to result in immediate rebuttals which the Minister can't answer without being sucked further into debate, getting involved probably hurts more than it helps (see Cabinet Office Minister Jim Murphy's bloggings for an approach which retains some control of the playing field while dealing with a less controversial subject). So the Home Office didn't know what it was doing when it submitted the piece? It certainly knows what Ideal Government is, and it ought to know how it works, and therefore that by contributing it would be opening a debate rather than making a statement... But no, it quite probably it didn't. ®
Union officials are planning picket action at IBM offices across the US in retaliation for the firm's freezing of employee pensions. The Alliance@IBM arm of the Communication and Workers of America union is also hoping to drum up enough new recruits over the dispute to seriously consider seeking recognition. Linda Guyer, president of Alliance@IBM and a project manager at the IT firm, said: "We are talking of demonstrations at all the major sites." IBM sites in major cities would be the likely targets and could include: Burlington, Vermont; Austin, Texas; San Jose, California; Boston, Massachusetts; Raleigh, North Carolina and the headquarters in Armonk. CWA has not won recognition from IBM in the US to date, but its Big Blue chapter was formed after the last time the firm reneged on its pension commitments. Following the downgrading of IBM pensions in 1999 the CWU attracted 6,000 affiliates under the Alliance@IBM banner. With 125,000 staff in the US, the union has some way to go before it can expect to win 30 per cent favour in a vote for recognition. It may seek to ensure it can get 60 per cent backing before it commits itself. However, the union is drawing up reasonably sized bargaining units so that it can seek recognition in individual sites or corporate groups. Those 6,000 affiliates that there are have few members among them. Most are associates who do not have full rights, but have been adopted by the union anyway in the hope their numbers might help overall membership snowball. Guyer said a "couple of hundred" more IBM employees had signed up to the union since the pension freeze was announced last week. Job cuts across IBM world-wide, meanwhile, have left many employees fearful for their jobs, said Guyer: "Big layoffs happen all the time. Some of the sales people call them drive-by firings. You never know when your time might be up."
Why should 2006 be any different from 2005, 2004 or 2003? That's right. It's Dell using AMD chips rumor time once again. It took less than two weeks for 2006 to be pumped full of the same rampant speculation that has followed the Dell and AMD non-relationship. As usual, Chairman Michael Dell lands at the center of the rumor spill. Dell claimed there's a "distinct possibility" that his company might use chips from AMD, during a post keynote question and answer session at last week's CES. Dell, much more than CEO Kevin Rollins, likes to toss out these tidbits to mongrel hacks. We think this is one of the few pleasures the IT industry still offers the young billionaire. As so often happens, a financial analyst will push Dell's rumor fluffing one step further. Enter PiperJaffray pundit Les Santiago. "We strongly believe that Dell will start AMD-based system shipments as early as the second half of 2006," he wrote in a recent research note. "We further note that Michael Dell's recent comments noting the 'distinct possibility' of shipping AMD-based systems. Our conversations with sources further indicate that Dell's sales force is demanding Opteron-based server offerings to be able to better compete in the market." Silly analyst. If history has taught us anything, it's that Dell sees no problem ignoring the performance, price and power consumption benefits of AMD's Opteron chip in favor of the marketing dollars that come bundled with Intel's steamy Xeon. Dell's sales staff has been asking for Opteron kit for ages but to no avail. While Intel will trail AMD in overall performance for two to three years, it has likely done enough on the dual-core front to keep Dell loyal. Intel has a fine notebook chip lineup, a good desktop line and an adequate server chip line. That's all Dell asks. ®
MacworldMacworld Apple is shipping its first Intel-based Mac six months early and debuting its first Intel-based laptops. However, it seems that Intel technology does not herald Intel pricing. CEO Steve Jobs opened Macworld in San Francisco by previewing the MacBook Pro, a machine that supersedes the PowerBook G4 and introduces 4-5x performance gains with the insertion of Intel's Core Duo processor.
Sneaky Google nabbed Canadian mobile device software maker Reqwireless last Summer - and didn't bother to tell anyone about the acquisition. Like the rest of the hacks, we've just learned about it now. Google bought Reqwireless for an undisclosed sum in the hope of improving the search engine giant's various software products for cell phones and PDAs. Reqwireless used to sell packages for viewing email and HTML on mobile products and, in particular, did work for devices running Java (J2ME). Google, of course, has plenty of goodies such as maps, email and search applications that can be delivered to mobile devices. The Canadians have made a bigger deal of the acquisition, as is the nature of any Google-related items these days. They're claiming that Waterloo, Ont. - the home of Reqwireless - is becoming a major mobile IT hub. BlackBerry maker RIM has a large workforce in Waterloo. "Waterloo is also home to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, which was established with funding by RIM co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis," writes the Financial Post. "As well, the University of Waterloo has one of North America's leading computer science programs, attracting recruiters from large high-tech players such as Google and Microsoft Corp. "Google, which has recruited University of Waterloo graduates to work in Silicon Valley for several years, recently placed a job posting on its website looking for a mobile wireless application developer based in the southern Ontario city." The paper actually went on to quote a professor saying that working at Google gives people the feeling that they're "engaged in a great mission." That's quite the oversell for a company that displays text advertisements on web pages. We'll take an ad giant like Budweiser as our God any day over Googlor. ®
MacworldMacworld A week after Microsoft and MTV pitched the Urge.com rival to iTunes, Apple Computer upped the ante in online entertainment and services. Apple's chief executive, Steve Jobs, opened San Francisco's Macworld announcing an iPod deal destined to put iTunes in 40 per cent of US cars, additional content for the latest iPod, and escalating market uptake and sales. Jobs additionally unveiled software tools that simplify development and the hosting of websites incorporating podcasts, blogs and RSS on Apple's .mac internet service. US car giant Chrysler will integrate Apple's iPod with three million cars and Jeeps in the US - taking iPod out of its current luxury and European car niche. More than 40 per cent of US cars sold in 2006 would feature integration with iPod, Jobs claimed. Apple's chief executive laid out the scale of the challenge facing Microsoft and MTV, who detailed the Urge.com music download service at last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Jobs claimed 42m iPods have been sold, with 32m players shipped during 2005 alone and 14m during the fourth quarter of 2005 - the magic holiday shopping season for retailers and technology companies. iTunes, meanwhile, has sold 850m songs at a rate of three million songs each day, giving Apple 83 per cent market share. US comedy show Saturday Night Live, meanwhile, is the latest content to be made available from iTunes, following last October's launch of the video iPod. Eight million TV shows have been sold on iTunes since October. All this has, of course, buoyed Apple's finances. Apple recorded $5.7bn in revenue during the fourth quarter of 2005, a number that was boosted by $1bn in sales from Apple's 135 retail stores - a record according to Jobs. Apple is furthering its appeal among media and web-content creators. The company's iLife 06 software, launched Tuesday, introduces iWeb for drag-and-drop creation of websites featuring blogs, podcasts, iTunes and photos. Sites are created using a set of Apple-designed templates while HTML formatting and RSS feeds are generated by iLife. iLife 2006 also features changes to the existing Garageband iLife module to simplify creation of podcasts with the addition of pictures and music fades. Jobs also announced a new phenomena in podcasting - picture casting that is made possible through iLife 06's iPhoto module. Photocasting is the ability to post photo albums to .mac, which users subscribe to and which replicate changes when content is updated by the album's author. In a suspiciously Flickr-sounding twist, photocast pictures can be shared and used in areas such as birthday cards. ®