27th > January > 2006 Archive

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Xbox dearth takes edge off Microsoft's record quarter

A shortage of components for the Xbox 360 took some of the shine off Microsoft's record second-quarter business results. Revenue came in below Wall St expectations at $11.83bn - analysts had anticipated $11.93bn - for the period to December 31, the all-important holiday shopping season. Microsoft sold 1.5m Xbox 360 consoles, lower than expected due to the parts shortage. The company also cut its forecast for units sold during the first 90 days to 2.5m, down from an expected three million, due to capacity constraints. Problems meant the Xbox business lost $293m compared to a $55m profit for the same quarter the previous year. Soleil Securities analyst Jamie Friedman said. Microsoft had failed to meet even his reduced expectations and lost more money on the Xbox than he'd expected. Despite these problems, an upbeat Microsoft promised analysts it would hit its previously promised sales targets of 4.5m to 5.5m for the full year. "We believe this is a short-term manufacturing challenge," Microsoft said. Supply and manufacturing on the Xbox was the one black spot in an otherwise predictably glorious quarter. Microsoft announced a 5.4 per cent jump in income to $3.65bn on a 9.44 per cent jump in revenue to $11.83bn, the highest quarterly revenue in its 30 year history. Driving revenues were server and tools and the PC client business, with strong sales in Visual Studio 2005 and Dynamics Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that were both launched during the quarter. Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) - home of Dynamics CRM - and Mobile and Embedded hit profitability for the first time. MBS scored $10m operating income, with the mobile unit on $20m. Separately, Microsoft refused to confirm reports that Office 12 has been formally christened Office 2007. A company spokeswoman said Microsoft had not yet picked a name. ®
Gavin Clarke, 27 Jan 2006

Canadian music giant funds battle against RIAA

Canada's biggest record label, publisher and management company is helping out a family sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)for copyright infringement. The privately-owned Nettwerk Music Group is intervening, it says, because the songs downloaded by the Gruebel family include Avril Lavigne, a Nettwerk management client. Nettwerk will fund the Gruebel's defense. "The current actions of the RIAA are not in my artists' best interests," said Nettwerk chief executive Terry McBride in a statement. "Litigation is not 'artist development'. Litigation is a deterrent to creativity and passion and it is hurting the business I love." Chicago lawyer Charles Lee Mudd will defend the Gruebels. Mudd said the RIAA has "misapplied" the law and that lawsuits should be a "shield, not a sword". The RIAA has demanded the family pay a $9,000 penalty, reduced to $4,500 if they pay up promptly. Nettwerk has vowed to foot the legal bill if it loses the case. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Jan 2006

Cingular applies to patent smileys :@

Cingular, the United States' largest mobile phone network this week applied to patent emoticons, better known as smileys. The application refers to selecting emoticons on mobile phones or handheld devices over a wireless, and makes 35 claims in all. Although it uses the word 'emoticon', the application doesn't acknowledge that mutant punctuation has been livening up online communications since at least 1961. As seems to be the practice these days, the specific 'method and system' proposed is not disclosed. But all your favorites are present and correct, including - and we quote verbatim: ) Smile ;-) or ;) Wink :-D or :D Big smile :-)) or :)) Very happy :0) Big nose smiley |-) Cool! >:-) or >:) Evil grin >;-> or >;> Evil grin with a wink :-X or :X My lips are sealed }:-) or }:) Devilish :-{circumflex over ( )}) or :{circumflex over ( )}) Tongue in cheek :-P or :P Sticking out tongue :-& or :& Tongue tied :op Puppy face 0:-) or 0:) Saint :-)8 or :)8 Happy wearing a bow tie 8-) or 8) Happy with glasses #-) I partied all night %-) or %) Drunk :-###.. or :###.. Being sick %-( or %( Confused :-0 or :0 Shocked :-o or :o Surprised :-| or :| Indecision :'-( or :'( Crying :'-) or :') Crying of happiness :-( or :( Sad We guess that "brick of enlightenment falling on patent examiner's head" has yet to join the smiley dictionary. You can find the outrageous application here. Emoticons surely owe their ancestry to Victor Borge's phonetic punctuation, which older readers may remember. And the most delightful commentary ever written about the practice of using emoticons, Geoffrey Nunberg's celebrated radio piece A Wink is as Good as a Nod - where Nunberg imagines the literary greats employing the technique. As ASCII gave way to multimedia, we're proud to say that The Register has been at the forefront of developments. We've attempted to bring the practice up to date, with our 2001 proposal of Humour Tags. A suggestion borrowed more recently - but alas, without any apparent irony - by earnest "citizens journalists", with the idea of Honour Tags. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Jan 2006

Fishing for POI

Have you ever needed to create a Microsoft Excel or Word file from Java? If you have, did you try to do it from scratch yourself? If you were working with Excel, did you end up creating comma-separated data in a file (CSV files)?
John Hunt, 27 Jan 2006

Wanadoo faces ad slap over 8MB service

Wanadoo UK is facing a slap from the advertising watchdog over ads for its 8MB broadband service. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received more than half a dozen complaints including three from rival ISPs (BT, Bulldog and Tiscali) as well as those from members of the public. Although the exact details of the complaints have yet to be revealed, El Reg understands that they centre on claims about the speed of the service and its availability in the UK. While Wanadoo UK has been advertising its 8MB service widely, it is only currently available in a limited number of areas where the ISP has invested in local loop unbundling. A spokesman for Wanadoo UK confirmed that the ASA "is currently investigating our up to 8MB TV and press advertising", and that it would "comply with any recommendations" made by the ASA. The full ruling by the ad watchdog, which is expected to uphold four out of five complaints, should be published within the next week or so. ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Jan 2006

HTC Q4 sales, income rocket

Taiwan's HTC saw sales leapt 66.2 per cent sequentially during the fourth quarter of FY2005, according to the PDA-phone maker's provisional, unaudited financial results. For the three months to 31 December 2005, the company realised revenues of TWD27.53bn ($862.32m), well up on the previous quarter's TWD16.56bn ($518.71m). Then, HTC reported a net income of TWD2.78bn ($87.08m) before tax - for Q4, the figure had risen 84.5 per cent to TWD5.13bn ($160.69m).
Tony Smith, 27 Jan 2006

AMD quad-cores to use DDR 2-oriented Socket F interconnect

AMD's quad-core server processors, due to be demonstrated later this year, will be based on the chip maker's upcoming Socket F infrastructure. So says Marty Seyer, the head of the company's server products operation, in an interview with US publication CRN. He didn't mention the unannounced Socket F, of course, but he did say the quad-core parts will be compatible with AMD's next generation of dual-core Opterons.
Tony Smith, 27 Jan 2006

Google cache not a breach of copyright

A US district court has ruled that Google’s cache feature, which allows users to access snapshots of web pages taken when they were viewed by Google robots, does not breach copyright in those web pages. The ruling could help its Google Print dispute.
OUT-LAW.COM, 27 Jan 2006
Western Digital Scorpio 120GB HDD

Western Digital ships 500GB desktop hard drive

Western Digital (WD) has upped the capacity of its Caviar Serial ATA desktop hard drive range to 500GB, pitching not only the part's storage but also its low power consumption and low operational noise level - features it also highlighted for its new 120GB Scorpio 2.5in notebook drive. The 500GB Caviar SE16 runs at 7,200rpm and delivers a 300MBps data transfer rate, WD said. There's 16MB of cache on board and the drive supports Native Command Queuing (NCQ) for improved read/write efficiency.
Tony Smith, 27 Jan 2006
channel

Researchers say rootkits are headed for BIOS

Insider attacks and industrial espionage could become more stealthy by hiding malicious code in the core system functions available in a motherboard's flash memory, researchers said on Wednesday at the Black Hat Federal conference. A collection of functions for power management, known as the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI), has its own high-level interpreted language that could be used to code a rootkit and store key attack functions in the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) in flash memory, according to John Heasman, principal security consultant for UK based Next-Generation Security Software. The researcher tested basic features, such as elevating privileges and reading physical memory, using malicious procedures that replaced legitimate functions stored in flash memory. "Rootkits are becoming more of a threat in general- BIOS is just the next step," Heasman said during a presentation at the conference. "While this is not a threat now, it is a warning to people to look out." The worries come as security professionals are increasingly worried about rootkits. Earlier this month, a security researcher warned that the digital-rights management software, which experts say resembled a rootkit, used by music giant Sony BMG remained on hundreds of thousands of servers. Last year,the first rootkit for the Mac OS X was released to the Internet. While some attacks have attempted to affect a computer's flash memory, most notably the CIH or Chernobyl virus in 1998, the ability to use the high-level programming language available for creating ACPI functions has opened up the attack to far more programmers. One rootkit expert at the conference predicted that the technology will become a fundamental part of rootkits in the near future. "It is going to be about one month before malware comes out to take advantage of this," said Greg Hoglund, a rootkit expert and CEO of reverse engineering firm HBGary. "This is so easy to do. You have widely available tools, free compilers for the ACPI language, and high-level languages to write the code in." The firmware on most modern motherboards has tables associating commands in the ACPI Machine Language (AML) to hardware commands. New functionality can be programmed in a higher level ACPI Source Language (ASL) and compiled into machine language and then flashed into the tables. However, the ability to flash the memory depends on whether the motherboard allows the BIOS to be changed by default or if a jumper or setting in the machine setup program has to be changed. Security professionals at the conference disagreed over how many machines would have the ability to write to flash memory turned on by the manufacturer. While Hoglund believed that most computers would not have protections against writing to flash memory turned on by default, NGSSoftware's Heasman thought otherwise. "The obstacles to deployment are numerous," Heasman said. "Almost all machines have a physical protection, such as a jumper on the motherboard, against flashing." However, an insider attacker could flash their laptop before they leave a company and then use the rootkit, which would survive reinstallation of the operating system. The insider could then gain access to the corporate network at a later time. Because the amount of memory that could be used by an attacker in the BIOS firmware is small, it is unlikely that an entire rootkit will be stored in the motherboard's memory. Instead, only specific functions and bootstrap code would likely be hidden there. Another benefit of programming to the ACPI Source Language is that, for the most part, the code can be ported easily to any platform. "This is platform independent," Heasman said. "We can write a backdoor for Windows that will elevate privilege, and turn around and use the code on Windows." This article originally appeared in SecurityFocus Copyright © 2006, SecurityFocus
SecurityFocus, 27 Jan 2006

Insurance underwriter trips over accident claim forms

An insurance underwriter who tripped over a stack of accident claim forms at work has won compensation for the "pain and loss of earnings" caused by the incident, the BBC reports. Linda Riley, of Newburgh, Scotland, was working at Norwich Union's Perth office three years ago when she "tripped over files which had been left lying on the floor by another office worker". She sued Norwich Union parent company Aviva PLC claiming the former "had a duty to provide a safe system of work and the untidy files presented a danger". She said she had suffered "pain in her left ankle, lower leg and foot, and needed a course of physiotherapy" as a result of the fall, had "lost wages as a result" and was "still suffering from pain three years after the accident". She claimed £5,000 compensation at Perth Sheriff Court. The matter was settled out-of-court for an undisclosed sum. ®
Lester Haines, 27 Jan 2006

Malaysians seek jungle Big Foot

The Malaysians have confirmed they will mount a dedicated expedition to track down the legendary local "Big Foot" - 3m-tall "King Kongs" covered in black fur and known as Hantu Jarang Gigi, or "ghosts with widely-spaced teeth", as the BBC puts it. Malaysia has been gripped with Big Foot fever since last November when three fishery workers in the state of Johor said they'd spotted a whole Hantu Jarang Gigi family that "left footprints up to 45cm long". Indigenous people in the same area also claimed sightings. Johor's chief minister Abdul Ghani Othman has now announced an expedition which will go in search of the elusive beast in "likely locations", including Endau Rompin National Park. Othman stressed it was vital not to harm or frighten the creatures. ®
Lester Haines, 27 Jan 2006

Jobs axed at Telstra Europe

Telstra Europe axed 19 of its staff earlier this week, sources have told The Register. Details are still sketchy, but insiders have told us the job losses are across the whole company and include techies as well as legal and finance staff. In a statement the London-based arm of Australia's incumbent telco said: "Telstra Europe can confirm that a small number of staff have recently left the business as a result of the scheduled completion of a number of integration projects following recent strategic acquisitions." Telstra Europe - which has more than 200 workers in the UK - has been operating in Europe for more than 14 years and offers voice and data services to SMEs and corporations in the UK. In August 2004, Telstra Europe bought the UK business of ISP PSINet Europe for £50m. At the time, the telco said the acquisition would enable the enlarged group to provide data services as well to meet "growing demand for converged voice and data services". ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Jan 2006

Sony's Stringer kills (robot) dog

Sony has killed off its Aibo robo-doggie, the consumer electronics giant reported yesterday. The computerised canine was one of many victims of the company's attempt to get back into profitability. Aibo won't disappear just yet: while the development of new models of the mechanical mutt has now ceased, Sony said production of the current version is targeted to stop by the end of the company's current fiscal year - it comes to a close on 31 March. After-sales support will continue, Sony said, so there will still be help to be had for misbehaving droids.
Tony Smith, 27 Jan 2006
Click here for the full BOFH range

BOFH: Automated attendant abuse

Episode 4Episode 4 "Uh... " the Boss says, sneaking into Mission Control "...there's been a complaint." "A complaint?" I respond. "It may not be about you. It's about a phone call that came from your phone."
Simon Travaglia, 27 Jan 2006
Intel Presler and Prescott

Intel Core Duo: no balls, just bumps, says analyst

It's official: Intel's latest 65nm dual-core desktop chip, 'Presler', shipping as the Pentium D 9xx series, has no balls. Neither, it seems, has 'Yonah', the chip giant's 65nm dual-core mobile part aka Core Duo. The verdict comes from Canadian chip analyst Chipworks, and it's not as harsh as it might at first sound. While Intel's 90nm Pentium 4 chip, 'Prescott', used tiny solder balls made of a lead-tin alloy to connect the die to the chip package's pins, Presler instead uses copper structures called 'pillar bumps'. So does Yonah.
Tony Smith, 27 Jan 2006

Google pulls 'we don't censor' statement

UpdatedUpdated Google's support centre has pulled an answer to the topical question "Does Google censor search results?" Since the answer clearly stated the company "does not censor results for any search term", and given the company's recent foray into the lucrative Chinese search engine market, it seems fair that the internet monolith would probably want to review that particular stance and relegate the offending item to cache. Yup, democracy is not a word you want to be flashing about when you've just opened a big fat Yuan bank account. For the record, Google's justification for agreeing to censorship of search results on Google China is, as Sergey Brin put it: "We ultimately made a difficult decision, but we felt that by participating there, and making our services more available, even if not to the 100 percent that we ideally would like, it will be better for Chinese Web users, because ultimately they would get more information, though not quite all of it." Chinese news website Xinhua kicks off its "China welcomes running dog lackey imperialist search engine" piece with: "By creating a unique address for China, Google hopes to make its search engine more widely available and easier to use in the world's most populous country." It does, however, quickly move on to a refreshingly frank analysis of Google's real motivation: "China already has more than 100 million web surfers and the audience is expected to swell substantially — an alluring prospect for Google as it tries to boost its already rapidly rising profits." Don't be evil? Don't make us laugh. ® Update Reuters reports that Google and other internet companies have been "called" to attend a "Congressional Human Rights Caucus hearing on Wednesday and a February 16 session of the House of Representatives subcommittee on Global Human Rights". The latter invitation is at the behest of New Jersey Republican and subcommittee chairman Chris Smith, who said in a statement that Google "would enable evil by cooperating with China's censorship policies just to make a buck." Cisco, Microsoft and Yahoo! will also join "State Department officials and press freedom watchdog groups" at the 16 February shindig. Whether Bill Gates will attend is unkown, but he today weighed into the debate by declaring: "I think [the internet] is contributing to Chinese political engagement. Access to the outside world is preventing more censorship. Speaking In Davos, Switzerland, Gates added that concerns about censorship or widespread piracy in China should not deter firms from doing business there.
Lester Haines, 27 Jan 2006
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ChoicePoint fined $15m over data security breach

Data broker ChoicePoint was yesterday fined $15m over a data security breach that led to at least 800 cases of identity theft. ChoicePoint agreed to pay $10m in civil penalties (a record fine) and $5m to compensate consumers as part of a settlement with US consumer watchdog the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It also agreed to maintain a revamped security program, featuring regular third-party security audits until 2026, and promised to ensure it provides consumer reports only to legitimate businesses for lawful purposes. Fraudsters got the opportunity to purloin credit reports, social security numbers and other sensitive information of more than 163,000 consumers on ChoicePoint's database after scammers successfully made bogus applications to establish accounts with the credit reference firm. Given the potential for abuse the number of ID thefts has actually been quite low, but this does not excuse ChoicePoint of data security incompetence. Fraudsters gained access to the records by making bogus applications to set up more than 50 ChoicePoint accounts, which then allowed them to trawl ChoicePoint's database. ChoicePoint acts as a credit reference agency whose legitimate clients include landlords, the US Government and credit card firms. The FTC alleges that ChoicePoint failed to screen prospective subscribers and turned over consumers' sensitive personal information to obviously dubious subscribers. ChoicePoint approved the applications of individuals who lied about their credentials and used commercial mail drops as business addresses. Scammers reportedly used the same fax machines at public locations to send multiple applications for purportedly separate companies, a factor the FTC reckons ChoicePoint ought to have picked up as suspicious. Worse still, ChoicePoint failed to tighten up its application procedure even after receiving subpoenas from law enforcement authorities alerting it to fraudulent activity going back to 2001. The FTC charged that ChoicePoint violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by furnishing consumer credit histories to dodgy subscribers without properly checking their identity. ChoicePoint was further accused of making false and misleading statements about its privacy policies. ChoicePoint agreed to settle these charges for $15m without admitting any wrongdoing. "The message to ChoicePoint and others should be clear: Consumers' private data must be protected from thieves," FTC chairman Deborah Platt Majoras said. "Data security is critical to consumers, and protecting it is a priority for the FTC, as it should be to every business in America." ChoicePoint's shares closed $3.35 (or 7 per cent) down at $29.95 on news of the FTC settlement on Thursday. ®
John Leyden, 27 Jan 2006

BT's VoIP service goes titsup

BT is keeping its fingers crossed that its Broadband Voice VoIP service is working again after its went titsup earlier this week. Thousands of BT punters have struggled with the service since last week when the broadband telephony service started to drop calls after around three minutes. Problems got worse at the weekend when users found the service was completely dead and they were unable to get a dial tone. A spokesman for the UK telco giant was unable to say how many of its 22,000 Broadband Voice punters had been hit by the glitch, but admitted that it would be in the "thousands". He denied BT's VoIP service had been floored by increased demand and instead blamed the snafu on a "platform problem". A patch was put in place on Tuesday which should have resolved the issue although it's possible users might still be facing problems. Asked whether this was an embarrassment to BT, a spokesman for the UK's dominant telco told us: "It's just one of those things." ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Jan 2006
T-Mobile US' MDA and SDA smart phones

UK file-sharers told to pay more than £20,000

The English High Court has ordered two men to pay a combined £6,500 in damages after deciding they illegally distributed music through P2P file-sharing networks. The two cases were brought separately by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the UK's equivalent of the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA), and are the first of their kind in the UK. Both men were offered the opportunity to settle, but neither chose to do so, the BPI said. Neither man was named.
Tony Smith, 27 Jan 2006

Framework Design Guidelines

Book reviewBook review While Framework Design Guidelines: Conventions, Idioms and Patterns for Reusable.NET Libraries hardly rolls off the tongue, it has the obvious virtue of faithfully describing the contents. And while the subject of coding and design guidelines might not get the juices running in the same way as a tome on the latest scripting language or a fancy new web technology, it’s also true that a solid grasp of the subject is likely to be of more long term value to a developer.
Dr Pan Pantziarka, 27 Jan 2006

Aramiska pulls plug on sat broadband service

Satellite broadband firm Aramiska is pulling the plug on its service today leaving businesses in rural parts of the UK without high speed internet services. In a shock announcement, which gives customers little notice to make alternative arrangements, the firm said that it would not be providing broadband services after today. A short statement emailed to customers Aramiska said: "We regret to inform you that Aramiska and its services are shutting down and the company will be unable to provide you with internet access after today, 27th of January 2006." The Register has so far been unable to make any contact with the company for further comment. One reader who contacted El Reg summed up the effect of Aramiska's announcement: "This will have profound implications for small business users who depend on the service for electronic trading in rural areas where landline broadband access is not available." Another told us that phone lines to Aramiska are jammed but he believes staff were unaware that today's announcement was coming. "I've been on to their technical staff about an email problem for the last two days, and I didn't get the slightest hint the staff knew what was coming (i.e. they were happy and helpful)," he told us. "Their network seems to have already started disappearing because we are losing access to different sites," said another. "This was a real bolt out of the blue for a Friday considering that we have had no prior warning. We, like probably a lot of their customers are now trying to get emergency measures in place. Although in a remote location, satellite is the only option." ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Jan 2006

HP confirms iPaq hw6900 series

HP has tacitly admitted it has plans to ship the rumoured iPaq hw6900 Mobile Messenger PDA phone family by posting a document on its website that declares the devices conform to a variety of European Union and other regulations. The successor to the current iPaq hw6500 series, the hw6900 line comprises at least two models: the camera-less hw6910 and the camera-equipped hw6915. Both hw6900s are listed in a variety of SKUs for a number of European countries, along with Russia and South Africa.
Tony Smith, 27 Jan 2006

UK immigration intros compulsory tags for asylum cases

The UK Immigration Service is now imposing electronic tagging without the subject's consent in a range of immigration cases, including asylum seekers, overstayers and illegal workers, following a rule change last year. The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) reports that it has been contacted recently by a number of asylum seekers who were fitted with ankle bracelet tags after visiting the Immigration & Nationality Directorate's offices at Lunar House, Croydon to claim asylum. Tagging, carried out under the Immigration and Asylum Act 2004, was previously used only with the consent of the individual. In a Home Office statement issued on November 8 last year, however, Immigration Minister Tony McNulty announced that policy had been changed. Impressively, McNulty's announcement refers to a commitment made when the Act was being debated by then Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes, that tagging would take place "only with the consent of the individual". This, McNulty says, was "re-iterated when her successor Des Browne wrote to the Joint Committee on Human Rights". "However, consent is not a statutory requirement but was introduced as a matter of policy in recognition of the novel use of electronic monitoring in the immigration context." So they were only kidding, but that's all right anyway, apparently. Although asylum cases tagged without their consent are only coming to light now, and the change was only announced to Parliament in November, the statement refers to the introduction of a pilot scheme in October, and appears to suggest that the threat of detention for non-compliance with electronic monitoring was being used from July. The change was made, McNulty explained, because "asking for the subject's consent is inconsistent with any other area of contact management" (contact management" is how IND categorises its dealings with immigration cases). From the Home Office's perspective, electronic monitoring with consent was unsatisfactory because the system had no teeth. If the individual declined to be monitored or breached the monitoring regime after consenting, there wasn't anything that IND could do to them (apart, we presume, from all the usual stuff). Orwell fans might care to pause briefly and savour what McNulty's complaining about here. According to his statement "the need for consent left us with very little recourse if the individual failed to give it", i.e.the problem with letting them volunteer was that we couldn't force them to volunteer if they didn't volunteer of their own free will, so now we're compelling them to volunteer. The Home Office currently talks of using three forms of electronic monitoring - voice recognition systems, where the monitored individual has to be at home at specified times to answer automated phone calls, tagging, where a tag enforces a similar form of curfew in conjunction with a base station in the individual's home, and tracking, using a GPS system. Voice recognition is historically likely to have been the most widely-used, but it's fairly easy to fool, and this may have influenced the decision to go for more widespread tagging. Although McNulty's statement referred to tracking, it's highly unlikely that IND will be deploying this. The UK's 'most dangerous terror suspects' (allegedly) seem not to have rated more than basic home tagging last year, so one would only expect asylum seekers to rate something more sophisticated if the Home Office felt they were a useful subject for experimentation. Which, to an extent, it does. The Home Office suppressed a highly unfavourable report on its tagging pilots last August, but nevertheless remains wedded to the notion that tagging can make a major contribution to the criminal justice system. The central difficulty is that tagging really only works on people who're willing to co-operate. If you want to ditch the tag and run for it you can, always, and if you want to subvert the system by fooling the tag you can, so long as your personal investment in subversion exceeds the Government's investment in failsafes (NB, formula edited for brevity here). A tagging system is likely to work to some extent in the area of immigration (even on a voluntary basis) because subjects will tend to fear the consequences of making trouble or failing to co-operate, for as long as they feel they have a chance of achieving some form of leave to remain. Immigration subjects however will tend to cease to be co-operative when they see deportation as being inevitable. They have nothing to lose by absconding, so they will. One would therefore expect that short term piloting of the new tagging regime would produce the positive results McNulty reports, but that the results would be less favourable (favourable from IND's point of view, we mean of course) over the entire lifespan of immigration applications and as the number of subjects increased. Nor does tagging make any obvious change to the dynamics of the 'classic' asylum and immigration case; individuals whose application has a chance of success have an interest in not getting lost, so they don't need tagging. Those with no chances left have every reason to get lost, so there's no point in tagging them. IND's innate talent for losing asylum seekers and overstayers needs little help from the individuals concerned (last year, for example, the Home Office reported 30,000 asylum appeals pending when the real figure turned out to be 42,000), and it has been having trouble with its Blair-imposed mission to deport more failed asylum seekers than the number of applicants with an "unfounded claim" by the end of last year (new deadline, February). Tagging may have some impact on IND's ability to locate and deport failed asylum seekers, but probably not a great deal, for the reasons we've explained. Despite being a Blair totem, asylum seekers also only represent a small part of the total immigration landscape. Asylum applications are running in the region of between 5,000 and 7,000 a quarter, while Government estimates that there may be up to 570,000 illegal immigrants in the UK. And in the first year since EU enlargement, 293,000 workers from new EU countries registered under the Workers Registration Scheme (but they're legal, as are - sort of - all the other ones who didn't register). But you can see the virtues of focusing on a small number of asylum seekers, from Government's point of view. By their nature, asylum seekers come into the country then turn themselves in, so you know where they are, at least briefly. And as you don't where the ones who don't turn themselves in are, you can hardly tag them, can you? Tricky - so let's concentrate on the easy ones, then... (Thanks to Ideal Government for spotting this. NCADC can be found here. ®
John Lettice, 27 Jan 2006

FujiFilm FinePix F11 Zoom digital compact camera

ReviewReview FujiFilm's F11 Zoom steps into the company's line-up alongside the F10, its predecessor. It addresses a few issues with the F10 that were not exactly problems, more just missing features, such as a manual shooting control. So, the camera boasts more or less the same design and control layout of the F10 but with a smorgasbord of options...
Doug Harman, 27 Jan 2006

97% of readers say surveys are rubbish

LettersLetters Surveys - where would we be without them? A lot better off, many of you reckon, but more of that a bit later. First up, a couple of fun-sized snippets from the mailbag, starting with two more missives on Thomas C. Greene and his Steve Gibson bashing, as previously discussed in letters: Your readers seem quite correct that Thomas C Greene has a personal vendetta against Steve Gibson. Here's a Reg article back from 2001 when he was spewing his armchair critic vitriol against Steve Gibson even then. It's sad to see that Thomas C Greene is listed as an associate editior of The Reg and is allowed to use The Reg like this. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/10/26/winxp_firewall_defeats_gibson_nanoprobes/ Mark Samson Bud Jamison writes: "The author obviously has a personal agenda, and little or no experience that would help him understand the exploit, and how dangerous it really is. " Erm, actually, it's Steve Gibson that appears to have no understanding of the exploit and a frankly appalling ignorance of the fundamentals of computer programming techniques. And I don't have to attempt to mind-read anyone's motives or deduce anyone's hidden-or-otherwise-agenda here: I can demonstrate by quoting a single sentence that Mr. Gibson is massively technically incompetent. So here we go: one of the main things that SG finds suspicious, in his own words, from the full-length article at http://www.grc.com/x/news.exe?cmd=article&group=grc.news.feedback&item=60006: "What you would expect is that when Windows is reading a WMF file, and the MetaFile ESCAPE code is encountered, followed by the SetAbortProc subcode, there would be an argument specifying a Device Context and a second argument pointing to a user-provided function that is to be executed in the event of a printing abort." No, Mr. Gibson, that's not what you would expect. That's something that only someone whose mindset is stuck in the mid-80's era of the 8-bit micro could possibly expect. That's something that nobody who has had any experience of programming in the last twenty years could conceivably think of doing; it's utter nonsense, I was dumbfounded when I read it, and if Steve Gibson (or anyone else) ever came for a job interview at my firm I would bring it to an immediate close the instant they said something like that. Non-programmers might not see what's so wrong with that statement, so I'll explain: putting either pointers or handles to device contexts into a file would be not merely utterly useless, but massively broken: it could never possibly work. A pointer points to an area of the computer's memory, during the execution of a program. Once the program exits, the memory is freed, and the address that the pointer used to point to no longer has any meaning or relevance, because there's nothing _in_ that memory once the program has exited. The layout of data and code in the computer's memory will be different every time you run a program, and different between every different version of the same program, and will bear no resemblance whatsoever to the memory layout of any other program. So, what possible use could a pointer be, in a supposedly portable file-format? It would cripple it: a file written out by one version of one program could not even be loaded into another release of the same program, let alone viewed in a different viewer altogether, as none of the code would be in the same places, so the pointer would point to random different garbage in every different viewer and on every different invocation of the code. The same goes for the device context. A DC is represented in windows system calls by a 'handle', which is pretty much the same as a pointer in this context: it's a dynamically-allocated object that cannot be expected to ever be in the same place twice. The first time you run a viewer and it opens a DC to render that WMF file, it'll get one handle-value referring to it; the next time you open the same file, the viewer will have a different handle to a different DC. Or in other words, to suggest that there would be any use in storing references to dynamically-allocated objects in a permanent file in a supposedly portable file-format is nonsense. Utter meaningless gibberish. Baby programmers wouldn't make this kind of mistake. Computers have had multitasking and virtual memory since the late 60s to early 70s in the Unix world, since the mid-80s in the home computer world, and anyone whose skills aren't up-to-date with this reality is simply not a programmer. I'm lost for words. It is really beyond credence that anyone with the least computer programming knowledge could write those words without them leaping off the page, ringing alarm bells, and generally screaming "wrong wrong wrong WRONG WRONG!" at the writer as they wrote them. It is because of this statement that I think it is fair and right for Thomas Greene to attack Steve Gibson as robustly as he likes... And yes, please feel free to forward this to both him and Bud Jamison and Thomas Greene and anyone else in the world, because it's the plain and simple truth based on unarguable technical facts, regardless of anyone's opinion or vendetta. Steve Gibson knows nothing, and we have it from his own words. QED. cheers, DaveK Right, did you get all that? The Gibson debate is now closed, ta very much. A complaint regarding our .eu piece. Seems UK companies have not been falling over themselves to lay their hands on this new, exciting domain: Come on Reg! http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/01/26/eu_domains_update/ is plainly a thinly-veiled puff-piece for NetNames! I mean, world+dog knows that trademarks prevent others from damaging your brand via domain registration. The news is simply that Germans like .eu suffix more than .de - not that British businesses are sticking two fingers up to the carpetbagging name sellers. Kevin Hutchinson No, really, you and your family are at risk of serious injury or death if you do not move immediately to secure your .eu domain. Anyone know a company which can help? Now, survey number one: evolution. Always guaranteed to get you lot going. No exception yesterday, either, with a rather suspect BBC poll into Darwin versus God. Before getting to the meat, though, let's straighten one point out: "Asked which of the three theories should be included in school science lessons, 44 per cent said creationism should be on the agenda, 41 per cent voted for intelligent design, while 69 per cent backed evolution." That doesn't add up to 100% either someone's got their figures wrong or people were voting twice. Sebastian Clarke Yes, they were indeed voting twice - clearly because some Brits think their kids should be offered a range of options from which they can then choose their fave theory. A dangerously liberal concept? Possibly. What kids really want is absolute certainty: This letter is to inform you that I teach a class on Genesis to science teachers. The title of the course is "Moses & Creation: Biblical Reality". It is a 15-hour class that tells the truth about the first three chapters of Genesis, so that the teachers won't be speaking in ignorance about what Genesis is saying to mankind. Neither theology nor secular science are anywhere close to knowing what advanced scientific knowledge is contained in Genesis. My name is Herman Cummings. I am the foremost terrestrial authority on the book of Genesis. Due to the current pseudo controversy between what is written in Genesis and the conclusions of secular science, I believe my services are most needed. I would come the site designated by the local school or district to conduct the class. I am the only person I know or ever heard of presently on this Earth that is qualified to teach Biblical Creation. However, "creation" is not the counterpart of the doctrine of evolution, as most of humanity believes. Biblical Creation is the doctrine that God created our Earth & universe (4.6 billion BC) and deposited original life on this planet at that time. Since Genesis does not tell us how the Earth was created, "Creation" can't be taught. It would be the counterpart of the "Big Bang" theory. However, Evolution is the doctrine that simple life began to evolve (from an unknown beginning) into complex life forms over many millions of years, into the forms of life that we have presently in our world. The counterpart of evolution is the correct interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis, which tells of the past appearance and demise of various life forms over the course of time, and the history of modern mankind. This is called the "Observations of Moses", or "OM". Many school districts are grappling with the doctrine of "Intelligent Design". Unfortunately, "ID" is an inept and shallow doctrine that merely says that life on Earth is too complex to have developed by chance. It tells nothing about the 600 million year fossil record, and how ancient life forms appeared, plus when and why many became extinct. The student is now left in a state of confusion because of what unqualified people have "said" what the Bible teaches, and what secular science has discovered. In reality, the doctrines of evolution and "OM" are explaining the same thing, acknowledging the same geologic periods of time, but "OM" explains what happened and why it happened, from 4.6 billion years ago until 4267 BC. There is agreement on when the life forms perished, but new information is given in the class about when those, and additional unknown, life forms were born. After completing this course, the schoolteacher will be able to resolve the conflict in students' minds about what they read in Genesis, and scientific reality. The teachers will also be able to answer most any question atheists or theists can think of to ask. The course covers the periods of time before Earth was created, the advents of prehistoric mankind, up until the appearance of modern mankind. The students receive "closure", and become more receptive to instruction, because they don't feel like they are only being taught false conclusions. This is not a course on teaching "creationism", but how to convey the scientific information that Genesis has for mankind. I've asked that the U.S. Department of Education be proactive and sanction the issue of certificates for science teachers in an effort to be reasonably sure that all teachers teach the same material to all students. I've already written the governor and members of the education committees of every state legislature. I have hope that officials will introduce legislation that will free the public schools to teach all viable theories of origins, and explanations of the ancient history of life on Earth, removing the threat of (atheist) lawsuits. Sincerely, Herman Cummings As a Christian I beleive there can be reconciliation between evolution and creationism, I beleve God intended for there to be evolution. People who think that the bible is literal are mad. How could human beings, even prophets, ever hope to comprehend Gods work? It's my experience that many Christians (there are many prominant scientists who are beleivers) are of the same mind. Secondly, I'd like to point out that 'Intelligent Design' sounds quite cool and scientific, and I suspect many put it down simply because it sounded like the right thing, although I'm still uttery shocked by the whole thing. Thirdly, it can be argued that creationism = intelligent design making the figures even more shocking. Fourthly (and lastly) teaching of the subject is fine, it's only the part about 'science lessons' which is tricky. I wonder how many people really read and understood this survey. Finally (I lied before) survey stats really are just a load of old bollox aren't they? Adrian 2000 people... such a small population to be making clames about the rest of us. was it 2000 people fresh out of church on a Sunday or 2000 people in Tesco??? 2000 is not enough to survey a small town let alone a country. And they are going to make a TV show about it as fact. Whats going on with the BBC??? they seem to be devolving at an alarming rate. Thinking Guiness advert rates. Matt Wow, another bullshit article about facts that are complete bollox, Look at this fucking moronic show - 'Horizon: A War on Science - this is evidence that "more than half the British population does not accept the theory of evolution"' I mean for fuck sake, the study was of 2000 people, last time I looked Britain had around 60 million people in it, not 2000. Why do people still create articles when stats like these are released? All this shows us is that 2000 British people think blah blah, not the whole of the UK. See, me and the other 2000 people in a random UK warez irc channel think downloading movies is fine, does that mean the whole of the UK enjoy copyright infringment? no, it means *2000* people think so. All you are doing is spreading more bullshit facts, in the future please have a *BULLSHIT STATISTICS* tag at the top of the article so I can quickly skip it. Michael William All these surveys are bunkum, people make up answers on the spot, everyone knows that. The biggest surprise is that so many people admitted "don't know, don't care".... and the Intelligent Design high score can be attributed to numbskulls trying to sound intelligent by giving the answer that had the word "intelligent" in it. I am sick of the BBC and countless other "news" outlets throwing these flimsy statistics around in such a cynical and misleading manner. It is so obvious that the "man in the street" doesn't know anything at all until you hold a clipboard and ask him about it. And what percentage of people lied? We don't know. GRRRRRRR people will talk about this "statistic" round water coolers as if it is fact, further muddying the waters in this and many other debates. Great. Democracy. Working. Fine. Education. Education. Education. Mark Splinter The assumption that because many people chose the option "Don't know", the majority do not believe the theory of evolution, is a very big leap. Not understanding anything scientific is a very common trait amongst the borderline moronic masses, who really don't care about anything besides what's on TV, who won the match, what Jane said about Mary, and the like. Anything scientific was best left behind in school and thankfully can be forgotten. I would speculate that "Don't know" could well be replaced with "Really don't care. Now bugger off." I bet that answer was not an option. Cruiser So, where is it all leading? We'll conclude with Nick L's thoughts on the matter: Nice article, Lester. I watched the programme yesterday in abject horror - the president of the world's most powerful country is advocating intelligent design, and saying "we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom". This is the same country that is constitutionally bound to distance religion from politics? What on earth is going on? I then watched the news to see Hamas is in control of Palestine, and shook my head as the factions started fighting amongst themselves. Nettanyahu then wandered over to say that they'll not deal with Hamas, who are terrorists. Sharon is, in my opinion, dead some time so it looks like Israel'll be getting a new hard line leader. Rarely have I felt so concerned for the future of our planet. If we're not careful, we could be heading for dark ages of science. Survey number two. Europeans don't like nuclear energy, says an EU poll. Pah! say readers: When are people going to get wise to the provision of bulk, sustainable, electrical power supplies? I'm sure that if the pollsters had included "Asking the fairies to provide their electric power needs" in their list of options, there would have been a substantial number voting for this. Rod Goslin The bbc have a section called "Have your say?" which has featured the nuclear power question a couple of times. The general opinion there was pro nuclear so Either this poll didn't ask many from the UK or is more like the case asked certain groups of people they knew would answer with a no. There are white lies, damn lies and statistics. I know my company works with them. Robert Neve So, to put it another way 52% of people objected to solar energy, 69% objected to wind power, and 88% to nuclear. I imagine there is a majority against continuing to burn fossil fuels too. Maybe all these people who object to every source of energy should be forced to hook a generator up to the back of a bicycle and pedal for their electricity every night until they decide which is least evil. Alex King They may want to modify the poll to something useful like, Would you like to a) Convert to and rely on solar power, but have to reduce your power consumption at night and rainy days for heating, lights, etc. Good thing you don't have either of these in the UK. b) Convert to and rely on wind power, but have to randomly your power consumption at during the day(heating, lights, etc) c) Continue to invest in coal power, but have to spend more on pollution control but never have to worry about loosing power d) Continue to invest in Nuclear Power and have to spend more on steel drums and ships containing the byproducts so that we can dump it into the sea, but again you will not have to worry about loosing power Ken Most of the europeans voted "Nein" for nuclear power. However, what your article omits is the fact that most also ix-nayed *paying more for the energy* .. So punters want horribly expensive solar/wind power at nuclear/coal power rates, please. Olli Männistö I think this poll is slightly misleading. If you go back to the original source, you'll see that the poll was conducted back in October and November -- More than a month before the recent continent-wide cold snap and Russian disruption of European natural gas supplies. Back in the 1970s here in the U.S., nuclear energy essentially displaced oil-fired electrical generating capacity. As we go forward, an expansion of nuclear energy could allow it to displace natural gas-fired electric generation -- freeing supplies up for home heating and industrial applications. One could make the case that if the poll were taken now, that the results could very well be different. Eric McErlain, Nuclear Energy Institute, Washington, D.C. USA And before we all run screaming to the pub, one last comment on our recent description of the sun-kissed paradise that is the Isle of Man: I Protest! 70,000 alcohlics clinging to a rock? Isle of Man? Rubbish! When I moved to Bermuda, it was described to me in exactly the same terms! And I would like to point out that Bermuda, being only 21 miles long by 1 mile wide resembles a rock far more than the comparative behemoth that is the Isle of man... After four years of living there (the locals refer to Bermuda as 'The Rock') I can attest to the fact that the name is well justified - try a Bermuda rum Swizzle and see what I mean. I have now returned to blighty as my liver has been punished enough... Thank you, Rob Marsh (ex ex-pat) We'll drink to that. Cheers, and have a top-notch weekend. ®
Lester Haines, 27 Jan 2006

Seven cough to copying Star Wars DVD

The loan of an illicitly obtained pre-release copy of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith has left seven friends each facing up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000 (£56,000). Albert Valente, 28, took a copy of the final Star Wars film from the Los Angeles post-production facility where he worked last May, a week before its theatrical release.
John Leyden, 27 Jan 2006

Auction planned for 1,000 patents

An estimated 1,000 patents spanning software, hardware and networking are destined to be sold to the highest bidder in San Francisco by a merchant bank this spring. Ocean Tomo is hosting the first in a series of two planned patent auctions this year, in a move the company believes will help - not hurt - innovation in IT. The bank expects 300 attendees to attend its April auction, with patents being donated by a mixture of Fortune 500 companies, universities and venture capitalists who own defunct portfolios. Eight hundred patents have so far been submitted with the final tally expected to reach 1,000, according to Ocean Tomo. Ocean Tomo president and chief executive James Malackowski told The Register the auction would help innovation and that the industry has been calling for such an event. "Patents are a constitutionally protected right and they have been an engine of innovation and economic development in this country." However, news of the auction is likely to unsettle open source advocates and anti-patents campaigners, who believe that the existence of patents in software, in particular, hurts innovation because they lead to costly and frivolous patent litigation. For example, open source risk assessment and compliance service Open Source Risk Management (OSRM) last year claimed there are 15,000 patent issues in the popular Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/Python software stack. Defending against patent claims - either genuine or frivolous - typically costs $2m, according to the US American Intellectual Property Lawyers' Association. For its part, Ocean Tomo participated in the controversial fire sale of patents owned by defunct e-tailer Commerce One in 2004. That auction saw Novell pay $15.5m for 39 patents to prevent them from falling into the hands of companies - branded patent trolls - who might charge vendors and end-users for their use. Commerce One's patents are used in XML Common Business Library (xCBL) and Universal Business Language (UBL) from the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). Ocean Tomo, though, believes the auction process is the best way to protect users and developers, as patent trolls are actually priced out. Malackowski said: "Our theory is in the efficiencies of the market. We believe the highest and best use for any patent is with an opportunistic company and that the trolls will be priced out of the market." He added: "The trolls have told us they are not coming [to the auction] and it's not going to work."®
Gavin Clarke, 27 Jan 2006

Authorities search German anti-piracy group

German authorities searched the offices of the German Federation Against Copyright Theft (GVU) this week following a world-wide series of raids on warez operations. But the group, a federation commissioned by the film and entertainment software industry, has rejected claims it is being investigated for bribing administrators of warez release groups to facilitate the raids. Local and federal police, along with Interpol, raided over 300 homes and offices this week in Germany, Austria, Holland, Poland, Israel, the Czech Republic, Canada and USA and arrested 35 individuals, some of whom were responsible for releasing King Kong hours before it was released in European cinemas. In Baden-Wurttemberg alone, 150 law enforcement authorities took part in raids. Several FTP servers owned by release groups such as Knights, TFCiSO, Cinemaniacs and German-Friend were closed. The GVU in particular was proud to have stopped Klapsmühle (formerly known as "Paradise Beach") in Vienna, Austria, where 28 independent hard drives offered a storage potential of four Terabytes. German news site Heise Online suggested earlier this week that GVU paid at least one administrator in Frankfurt several times to obtain IP addresses and server logs. Other publications wrote that the GVU provided the groups with actual material. "We do have paid informants in the warez scene," GVU spokesperson Diane Gross told The Register. "It is even legal to provide those groups with material, however, we are not disclosing details of this particular case." She admitted that the State Attorney of Ellwangen investigators did search the Hamburg office of GVU earlier this week. "They needed more evidence against four pirates; at least this is what they told us. "We believe they may have had doubts about the evidence we provided, but that's all speculation. We would have given the requested material if they had asked for it. The search is unrelated to the modus operandi." To some, the German case sounds all too familiar. Last year Swedish anti piracy organisation Svenska Antipiratbyrån (APB) admitted it had used a paid informant, dubbed Rouge, to place illegal material on servers of Swedish ISP Bahnhof, which unknowingly facilitated warez groups. In the end, however, both sides agreed to cease any legal actions against each other.®
Jan Libbenga, 27 Jan 2006

Government outlaws Photoshopped passport pics

Since the UK Passport Service started to go digital last year, some applicants have run into a little Rise of the Machines-related trouble. Maybe your skin's the wrong colour (which takes you back, but they don't mean it in the old sense), or your baby's too shiny, or for some reason won't look straight at the camera. People who look like people as far as other people are concerned do not always look like what the UKPS photo digitisation system thinks people ought to look like. Hence, the photo is rejected and the applicant is encouraged to try to look more like the UKPS' concept of what they should look like. It seemed clear to us when the new photo guidelines were announced that the sensible thing to do would be to snap yourself digitally and then give yourself a quick Photoshopping, adding or subtracting tan as necessary, matting yourself up a tad and knocking your teeth out, should the raw image exhibit an excess of Jenny Agutter (only a machine could conceive of such an "excess" being possible, surely). Obviously we didn't mention this at the time because if it came to the Home Office's attention that it was poised on the brink of a nightmare philosophical argument about art, images and representation, it would put a stop to it right away. Which it now has. According to Home Office Minister Andy Burnham guidance was updated in December to advise "customers" that "the digital enhancement of photographs was not recommended." Actually the guidance was updated in the old news announcement, which hardly anybody's going to read now, but seems not to be present in the standard guidance that most people will consult. Joined up government in action. No matter, because it's a bit of a cop-out anyway. Given that UKPS remains happy about receiving pictures taken by digital cameras and produced by digital printers (1200dpi or better recommended), we really need a better definition of what it means by digital enhancement. If the enhancements are part of the camera's standard processes, then is that OK? Shouldn't whatever it is that UKPS' systems are doing to the picture count as digital enhancement, and if so, why is it OK for them but not for you? Is it just a case of you not being supposed to make yourself look prettier (e.g. spot removal)? Would it be OK to make yourself uglier (digital degradation)? The announcement has, as you see, merely postponed the Home Office's long overdue debate on the nature and purpose of representative art. Perhaps someone should ask Culture, Media and Sport instead. ®
John Lettice, 27 Jan 2006
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UK goes into reverse on VAT fraud fight

The UK government plans to overhaul the VAT regime in an attempt to clamp down on missing trader scams which are costing it over £1bn per year. HMRC has asked the European Commission to let it to move to a “reverse charge” procedure for VAT on certain items, such as mobile phones, computer chips, and other high-value electronic items, to reduce the opportunity for fraudulent VAT claims. This will mean suppliers of goods do not account for the VAT on sales to other VAT-registered firms. The end purchaser assumes responsibility for accounting for VAT, and recovering any rebate. This should remove the opportunity for fraud in the trading chain, and mean HMRC is not put in the position of having to make VAT repayments to purchasers “where the corresponding tax on the purchase has not been paid.” Customs’ move comes amidst growing concern over the level of VAT fraud - which though to be high enough to skew government figures on the balance of trade. In such frauds, scammers import goods VAT free, then sell them on at a VAT inclusive price. However, the VAT is never paid to the authorities, and the scammers disappear. Sometimes goods are recirculated by multiple scammers in what are dubbed “carousel” frauds. The end purchaser is then left trying to reclaim the missing VAT. HMRC had frozen VAT rebates to a number of firms who were unwittingly caught out in missing trader frauds, leaving them in dire straits. A European Court decision earlier this month ruled against this tactic. ®
Team Register, 27 Jan 2006

Astronauts turn spacesuit into satellite

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will next week chuck an empty spacesuit out of the airlock and thereby create the world's first "SuitSat". The Russian Orlan suit features "three batteries, a radio transmitter, and internal sensors to measure temperature and battery power," as Frank Bauer of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center explains. Bauer adds: "As SuitSat circles Earth, it will transmit its condition to the ground." Yes indeed, all you need is "an antenna (the bigger the better) and a radio receiver that you can tune to 145.990 MHz FM" to catch the 5-10 minute flyby as SuitSat passes over (you can calculate your next scheduled visit here). What you'll hear is a 30-second transmission, followed by a 30 second pause followed by the message: "This is SuitSat-1, RS0RS" and a prerecorded greeting in five languages. The transmission ends with an English-language report on "telemetry: temperature, battery power and mission elapsed time". The SuitSat idea is aimed mostly at kids and students. The multi-lingual message contains "special words in English, French, Japanese, Russian, German and Spanish for students to record and decipher". There's also Slow Scan TV picture tacked onto the end of the broadcast. Awards are on offer to correct decipherment of the words and identification of the picture. More details on that at the end of the NASA blurb. SuitSat is due to be cast adrift on 3 February. There's more background technical info here. ®
Lester Haines, 27 Jan 2006

Norway accuses iTunes of consumer-rights violations

The Consumer Council of Norway (CCN) has accused Apple's iTunes Music Store operation of violating the country's Marketing Control Act, and it has asked Norway's consumer ombudsman to intervene on behalf of digital music buyers. It also asked the ombudsman to investigate three other download services.
Tony Smith, 27 Jan 2006
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Kama Sutra wipeout

Windows users are been urged to make sure their systems are clean from an email worm which is programmed to overwrite user's files on 3 February. Blackworm (AKA Nyxem, MyWife or Tearec) has infected more than 300,000 systems worldwide, based on analysis of logs from counter web sites used by the worm. Blackworm arrives as the infectious payload of email messages with spoofed sender addresses claiming to offer obscene pictures or pornographic movie clips. Subject lines used in the malicious emails include: The Best Videoclip Ever, Fw: SeX.mpg, Miss Lebanon 2006 and Fuckin Kama Sutra pics. The worm only affects Windows PCs. If activated, Blackworm tries to disable security software. It also tries to harvest email addresses from infected PCs in a routine designed to draw up a hit list of targets for infection. Blackworm is programmed to download updates of its code onto infected PCs. Its behaviour is little different from standard email worms apart from the fact it is programmed to overwrite DOC, XLS, MDB, MDE, PPT, PPS, ZIP, RAR, PDF, PSD and DMP on 3 February. The worm creates and opens a ZIP archive in the Windows system directory, potentially giving away its presence on infected systems but don't rely on this. Windows users are advised to run scans for infected using up-to-date anti-virus signatures. The worm attempts to disable most anti-virus products so if you hit trouble on this score it's a good idea to either reinstall software or run web-based anti-virus scanners, such as Trend Micro's free House Call service. ®
John Leyden, 27 Jan 2006

Lara Croft, Ally McBeal or Missus Beaton?

Do-gooding social engineers have bungled an attempt to get more women into sci/tech industries with a TV soap that depicts them making a success of careers traditionally pursued by men.
Mark Ballard, 27 Jan 2006

Los Angeles sues Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas makers

Los Angeles has taken the makers of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to task over the game's infamous but now deleted "hot coffee" sex scenes. LA City Attorney Rockard J Delgadillo this week filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court against GTA:SA developer Rockstar Games and publisher Take-Two Interactive, alleging the two firms made misleading statements when marketing the game and engaged in unfair competition, both violations of sections 17200 and 17500 of the state's Business and Professions Code. If found guilty on both counts, the firms face fines of up to $5000 each.
Tony Smith, 27 Jan 2006

CBN steps in as Aramiska crashes

Dozens of community broadband networks and hundreds of businesses are busy looking for new broadband providers today following the shock announcement that Aramiska is pulling the plug on its satellite service - effective, today. The exact scale of the problem is not yet known but wireless ISPs, community broadband networks and businesses in remote areas not served by DSL or cable that relied on Aramiska, are frantically looking for alternative broadband suppliers. The suddenness of the announcement has only served to make matters worse, with concerns that some people could be without broadband for weeks or even months. Community Broadband Network (CBN), which offers help and advice regarding alternative broadband services, has already begun gathering and co-ordinating information on those affected as well as talking to other suppliers to see what help can be provided to Aramiska customers. CBN's Lindsey Annison told The Register that Aramiska's decision to shut he service was "very disappointing" but she stressed there are alternative suppliers that should be able to step in and help. However, she admitted Aramiska's decision not to give any warning meant many wireless networks would be left in the dark over the weekend and beyond. Holland-based Aramiska launched its two-way broadband satellite service in the UK early in 2002. ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Jan 2006
fingers pointing at man

Insight holding out

Insight Enterprises, the IT mail-order giant, has reported a decline in year on year earnings of 64 per cent. Net sales were up 3.4 per cent to $832.9m for final quarter of 2005, most of the increase appearing to come from the SME business in the US. But a mealy-mouthed press statement said: "Growth rates in our large enterprise business were clearly affected by a very competitive pricing environment." Make of that what you will. Non-GAAP earnings were up 9 per cent to $16.8m. The difference in GAAP and non-GAAP operating margins was just over one per cent. Restructuring helped it reduce costs by three tenths of a percent. Insight UK reported gross profit as a percentage of sales of 13.8 per cent, a slight increase nudged up by inventory write-downs. The growth was reversed to a slight decline in the conversation to dollars though, with final reckoning at $109.6m sales for the quarter. ®
Mark Ballard, 27 Jan 2006
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Police collar AOL phishing suspect

A California man who allegedly duped AOL users into handing over credit card details to a fraudulent website has been arrested in the US. Police charged Jeffrey Brett Goodin, 46, of Azusa, with wire fraud and other charges over allegations he masterminded an aggressive phishing scam. Goodin allegedly sent thousands of emails that posed as messages from AOL's billing department warning customers needed to update their payment information or risk losing access to their accounts. Prospective marks were directed towards a fraudulent website and invited to hand over sensitive personal details including credit and debit card information that Goodin allegedly used to make fraudulent purchases. Phishing frauds are becoming an increasingly popular scam. According to the latest available figures from the Anti-Phishing Working Group, 17,000 such fraudulent attacks were launched in November alone. ®
John Leyden, 27 Jan 2006

Cingular emoticon grab not so serious :-) say experts

LettersLetters Cingular's attempt to patent emoticons isn't as bad as it sounds, expert readers. European patent attorney John Cooper writes: The exclusive rights that a patent application seeks to secure are defined by the "Claims" of the application. These are usually amended during examination of the application so as that the terms of the claims in the finally granted patent are "novel" and "non-obvious" (or "inventive") over the prior art (i.e. whatever relevant information was in the public domain before the application was filed). In this case the claims are all directed to the use of a dedicated key on, e.g., a mobile phone, to access a selection of predefined emoticons. I can't say offhand whether that is novel or inventive, but it's a far cry from patenting the use of emoticons per se. There are enough genuine software patent horror stories around without inventing spurious ones. Adds reader Anne: The patent application is over a one-key way of accessing emoticons ... not requesting a patent over emoticons themselves! I appreciate that doesn't make quite such good copy, though :) We consider ourselves corrected. But as Deborah Swinney points out, this is hardly grounds for claming an invention. This is rather like claiming a patent for putting an 'A' on a keyboard. The letter was there, the device needed it. Where's the invention? Indeed, and Cingular's patent application is much broader than a simple emoticon key. The application makes claims for providing the mobile user with a palatte of emoticons from which to choose. Chris O'Shea adds that such smiley helpers already exist, such as on his Sony Ericsson P910i: While composing a text message, I have a bar of icons displayed, one of which is a smiley and clicking on it presents a range of different emoticons to be inserted in my text message. That seems to match one or more of their claims He asks if this was on predecessors of the phone, and we believe the answer's yes. And about a zillion of you pointed out Despair.com's attempt to patent the frowny, which you can read about here and here. http://www.lovedungeon.net/humor/dave/emoticons.html Related link Dave Barry's Emoticons (thanks to Stefan).
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Jan 2006

Verizon numbers show some fiber

As expected, Verizon edged even closer to cellular leader Cingular in the quarter ending December 31. Verizon added 2 million net mobile subscribers, 200,000 more than Cingular, bringing the total to 51.3 million. That's an addition of 7.5 million over the year, 17.5 per cent up. For the final quarter of FY 2005, Verizon booked $19.3bn revenue, up 6.7 per cent year-on-year, and $1.7bn in earnings. The company is a formidable money-making machine: the operating profit for the year was $22bn on revenue of $75bn. If you combined the revenues of Intel, Apple and Google, Verizon will still be almost twice as large. The emphasis on subscribers took the attention away from an average revenue per subscriber (ARPU) statistic which is heading in the wrong direction. Verizon ARPU fell by 1.9 per cent year-on-year, to $49.36. That's comparable to Cingular but far below rival Sprint. But Verizon, which launched an over-the-air digital music download service V CAST in the quarter, pointed to growing data revenue from younger users. And all the Stateside carriers are aware that they've barely begun to tap the potential market, compared to the European carriers, where ARPUs are almost ten times that of Verizon and Cingular. The much-watched FiOS, or fiber-to-the-premises data service now reaches three million homes, nine months after launch, with a take up rate of 14 per cent, claimed Verizon. Verizon says it's setting aside $550m in the current quarter for integration expenses related to the MCI merger. Fourth placed carrier T-Mobile, which reports on March 2, yesterday said it had added 1.4 million net new customers in the final quarter of 2005, bringing the total to 21.7 million, up 25 per cent. The Deutsche Telekom subsidiary said it had reduced churn on pay monthly accounts to 2.3 per cent. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Jan 2006

Cellcos and senate vs social engineering

New legislation proposed by Senator Chuck Schumer (D, NY) and backed by heavyweights from both major parties, seeks to criminalize both the practitioners and the dupes of "social engineering". That's just a fancy way of smooth-talking someone out of some information they shouldn't normally impart, but it has been the most effective technique for fraudsters, hackers and private eyes over the years. Schumer's bill, the proposed Consumer Telephone Records Protection Act of 2006, makes disclosing a subscriber's phone records an offence. It specifically outlaws making false statements or providing phoney documentation to a phone provider in order to obtain the records, and accessing an account over the net without the subscriber's authorization. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center EPIC, over 40 websites including celltolls.com and locatecell.com have been trading in a black market in call records. The legislation has kicked the carriers into action. T-Mobile and Verizon filed suit against the sites and the information brokers who provide them with the records. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Jan 2006