UpdateUpdate It's official: Sony has delayed the roll-out of the PlayStation 3 to early November from the late March timeframe the consumer electronics giant had originally pegged for the product's release. However, it confirmed the console will launch in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan simultaneously.
Apple appears to have begun - albeit in a very small way - full-length movie downloads. The Mac maker yesterday posted a Disney TV movie, High School Musical, on the iTunes Music Store, offering the 1h 40m, 487.1MB film for the best part of $10. The download appears to be a trial run for a Disney Channel video service.
Intel has begun shipping 'Sossaman', the 65nm Core Duo-derived low-voltage Xeon processor it announced in July 2005. The chip giant is pitching the part, which it claims consumes no more than 31W, at 1U-rack and blade servers, along with network-attached storage (NAS) and communication applications-oriented boxes.
Case studyCase study Go on, admit it; the mention of 'government' and 'applications of IT' in the same sentence often leads to a stifled yawn or, perhaps more likely, a loud guffaw. But away from the headline debacles there are things happening, and they may yet prove to be a good example of what Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) are meant to be about. One such is the deal between the Driving Services Agency (DSA), which deals with everything to do with driving tests, driving instructors and the like, and the IT services division of support services company Capita. The object is to provide a new level of integration between its different operations, as well as integration with the 'wider Government Village', as the division's Neil Marley put it. Capita has opted for an SOA-based solution, not least because integration across a wide range of legacy applications and functions is a core part of the task. It started the DSA program two years ago, and Phase 1 - integrating a multiplicity of databases - is due to go live in a month's time. Phase 2 will be to start on integrating core business processes, such as managing driving test bookings. These are all part of a phased migration plan to channel shift from call centre interfaces to end users on to the web. According to Marley, this should not lead to the obvious question of call centre staff 'rationalisations' because the centres are already overloaded with enquiries about driving test cancellations, which can be better handled via a web services interface. A key part of the solution is the choice of Amberpoint as the provider of the SOA management environment. According to Marley, two other unnamed vendors were considered, but lost out as the focus was on integration. "The others were looking up at the problem from the applications space, not down from the integration and management space," he said. This does raise an interesting issue for any user looking to go the SOA route. Amberpoint is one of those companies that is running counter-intuitively to the normal rules of IT software and systems vendors, which is to get as much of 'their stack' installed into a user's infrastructure as possible. This is an approach that has worked reasonably well for them up to now, but is arguably counter productive in any move to an SOA environment. The real world for most users is a collection of components from a multiplicity of stacks, so what is needed is a horizontal management system across all that is stack-agnostic. This is what Amberpoint would claim is its USP. As Northern Europe sales manager Steve Pope put it: "It is based on non-alliance to any single vendor and being the bridge between their different stacks. SOA is commoditizing many things, so it is more difficult for any vendor to argue that its widget is better than any other vendor's widget." "Everything is now about the business service provided,"Capita's Marley said. "At a technical level systems may be more complex, but users end up with a logical separation of services into 'black boxes' that can be consumed as appropriate. This is an approach which enables business change, not just responds to it." ®
Oprah using a Windows Vista-powered PC? Crazy you say, but anything is possible in the wacky world of Microsoft marketing. Remember the Windows 95 launch? Who doesn't - unless you're one of Microsoft's younger generation of engineers being instructed by management that Windows Vista is this decade's version of Windows 95. After fanning the hype that secured coverage on the front pages of the UK's leading national newspapers - this was the time "before" the internet, when the mainstream press didn't "do" tech stories - Microsoft's spin team claimed they'd never said Windows 95 was a "cure for cancer". It was just everyone else who got a little over excited. Oprah Winfrey is regarded by some as the most powerful woman in the US. So powerful, Texas cattlemen prosecuted her in fear that comments she made on TV in 1996 about mad cow disease would cause a stampede of loyal Oprah fans away from burgers. Her book club, meanwhile, influences the reading choices of 800,000 die hard fans. What Microsoft has in mind this time, according to reports, is getting Windows Vista on Oprah's influential favorite things list. And why not? BlackBerry, Dell and Sony made it. From the sounds of it, though, Microsoft's Windows Vista team could use a little of Oprah's star pulling power. Microsoft used last week's Intel Developers Forum (IDF) to announce some pretty stunning objectives for the delayed operating system. Microsoft is gunning for 400m PCs running Windows Vista two years after launch - that launch being planned for November, according to The Official Microsoft Connections Blog (read comments). Putting that into perspective, it took Microsoft two-and-a-half years to ship 130m copies of Windows XP and three years to hit 210m Microsoft also expects "more than half running some premium edition" of Windows Vista. Microsoft didn't exactly define what it means by "premium" but we can surmise that to mean Vista Business, Enterprise or Ultimate. The plans were revealed by senior product manager Dave Block, who is clearly jobbing for outgoing Windows chief Jim Allchin, who predicted in 2001 Windows XP would lift the PC from its sales funk. These are lofty targets in normal times, but these aren't normal times. Microsoft now faces an uphill struggle in getting customers to switch from Windows XP, which is - thanks to successive slips in the Windows Vista roadmap - nicely ensconced on millions of PCs. For many businesses Windows XP is doing the job they want it to, especially since XP Service Pack (SP) 2 battened down many of the operating system's security holes. These customers will see little practical need to move to Windows Vista. Indeed, Windows Vista's advances in security - notably the spanking new Windows Live OneCare annual, subscription-based anti-virus software service - don't appear to be living up to their promises. As Jupiter analyst Joe Wilcox pointed out this week: "A product like Windows Live OneCare has to work all the time, even in beta, particularly when the beta is widespread. No exceptions, no excuses." Windows Vista does offer some attractions to business users: advances in taking and managing images of Windows will save companies money while controls will let users connect to services without the need for having administrator-level privileges. For the consumer, the XML-based interface means a funkier look and feel and a browser that finally embraces security and tabbed browsing. Internet Explorer even goes a step further in its consumption of RSS. However, these are a long way from the bold vision that was unveiled for Windows Vista - then Longhorn - in 2003, and subsequently pruned back in order to hit slipping shipment dates. As 2006 progresses towards this November's planned launch the problem for Microsoft will be in deciding which market to put the most of an expected multi-million dollar marketing budget into attacking: the business or consumer market. Tricks that require little investment, like pitching Oprah, indicate a consumer push, but it's in the business market where Windows Vista faces the big challenges, in getting those millions of users - especially those on lucrative volume contracts - to dump Windows XP. Microsoft is apparently relying on a little SKU voodoo here. Windows Vista Enterprise will only available to those on its Software Assurance (SA) program. Problem is, SA has proven rather unpopular among users so Microsoft is hurting its own chances of success. That's not the only problem. Typically over-zealous market segmentation from Microsoft will likely confuse users and OEMs about which SKU to use. The six planned SKUs feature two home and two business editions - ok, that's fine - plus something called "Windows Ultimate". What's that? Microsoft describes Windows Vista Ultimate as something that: "Brings together all the entertainment features, mobility features and business-oriented features available in Windows Vista." Does that make it a replacement for Windows Vista home or business editions, or is it an alternative to both? And under what conditions will I want to shell out more for this product? Ironically, the strongest card Microsoft has to play is the very fact that Windows XP is getting so old: at five years of age, Windows XP is starting to exceed even the most conservative of business user's upgrade plans and that's when this becomes a hardware play. By now customers will need to update aging PCs running Windows XP and, as a result, Windows Vista will be introduced into companies' IT infrastructure through natural process. That means, though, it will take more than Oprah to deliver those sales targets. Microsoft will need to clearly explain to OEMs which version of Windows Vista suits which market, and then help OEM partners convince business users. ®
Sony's PlayStation 3 will require a hard disk drive, the consumer electronics giant revealed today. It indicated the console would ship with a 60GB 2.5in drive and that it would be upgradeable, suggesting the unit is removable - much like the Xbox 360's HDD.
An Israeli couple faces prison after confessing to the development and sale of a spyware Trojan horse that helped private investigators snoop on their clients' business competitors. Ruth Brier-Haephrati, 28, and Michael Haephrati, 44, have entered guilty pleas to industrial espionage charges over the Trojan horse case. Ruth was charged with a litany of offences including fraud, planting computer viruses, and conspiracy. Her husband, Michael, is charged with aiding and abetting those offences, Ha'aretz reports. Ruth faces four years in jail while Michael faces two years' imprisonment. Each also faces a suspended sentence and a fine of one million New Israeli Shekels ($212K) under a plea-bargaining agreement. Tel Aviv District Court Judge Bracha Ofir-Tom will rule on whether the Haephrati's plea is acceptable on 27 March. Investigators allege the duo developed and sold customised spyware or Trojan horse packages designed to evade detection by security tools to three private investigation companies in Israel - Modi'in Ezrahi, Zvi Krochmal, and Philosof-Balali. This spyware code was allegedly installed on victims' PCs by private detectives from a diskette or via email, as part of a spying scam that ran for up to two years. The malware sent stolen documents to an FTP site, allowing unscrupulous firms to swipe confidential documents from rivals. Each software installation allegedly netted the Haephratis 2,000 New Israeli Shekels ($425), The Jerusalem Post reports. According to court documents, Michael Haephrati developed the spyware Trojan horse, while his wife, Ruth, marketed it via a firm called Target-Eya. Firms suspected of using the malware include Mayer Motors (an importer of Volvo and Honda cars) against Champion Motors (an Audi and Volkswagen dealership). Satellite television company Yes is accused of spying on rival cable TV outfit HOT. Another alleged victim is a PR agency, whose clients include Israel's second biggest mobile phone operator, Partner Communication. The Haephratis are among 22 people arrested in Israel and the UK in connection with the case last year. ®
EasyGroup, parent of easyJet, easyMobile, easyCruise and many other 'easy' brands, has won a trademark for easy.com, despite objections that the term was devoid of any distinctive character and therefore ineligible for registration. Easynet, a large ISP that has no relationship with Stelios Haji-Ioannou's easy empire, objected to the application. Easynet said the proposed mark consisted entirely of the elements easy and .com, neither of which are distinctive and both of which are in common use. In response, easyGroup argued that it had been the owner of and had traded from the domain name easy.com since November 2000. In its opinion no other trader would legitimately want to trade as easy.com and there was a clear difference between the trademark and the elements that made it up. It claimed a brand identity had built up over the years in respect of the word 'easy' followed by a word or words relating to the service offered by the firm. According to hearing officer David Landau, in determining a trademark application it is often necessary to analyse the individual elements of a trademark, but once that analysis is made the overall impression must be taken into account. In this case the whole mark was found to be distinctive. When looked at as a whole, said Landau, there was no need to leave the words easy.com for others to use. "The granting of rights in easy.com is not the granting of rights in easy," he said. Lee Curtis, a trademark attorney with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, expressed surprise at the ruling. He pointed out that the application was made in October 2000, one month before the company started using easy.com. "The easy.com brand might be established today, but the decision should have considered the brand's recognition as at October 2000. EasyJet was known at that time, but easy.com had not been used." Although the hearing officer said the rights were given to easy.com and not easy, Curtis said a court would not necessarily see it the same way. "A court would surely find easy and easy.com similar. So if someone uses the word easy in the same field as Stelios, easyGroup has just won a powerful weapon to stop them." Curtis considered it unlikely that a court would bother to analyse the hearing officer's decision in the event of such a dispute. "Instead, it will focus on the simple fact that easyGroup has a trademark for easy.com," he said. "So easyGroup has been very fortunate here." See: The ruling (16 pages/54KB PDF). Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
Lastminute.com blamed an "error in judgement" after an ad plugging the sale of theatre tickets used a tasteless pun about disgraced pop star Gary Glitter and "kiddy treats". In an email for children's theatre and plays, the ecommerce giant featured the faces of two young boys along with the heading "DOING IT FOR THE KIDS". The email read: "Like Gary Glitter in a sweet shop, you too can have your pick of kiddy treats in London's theatre world. If you don't know what to do with your lovely sprogs, get them off the X-Box and into the theatre. These shows will definitely be their cup of Ribena..." The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the reference to Glitter, a registered sex offender, in an ad for children's theatre was "likely to cause serious or widespread offence". Gary Glitter, real name Paul Gadd, was convicted in 1997 in the UK for possession of indecent images of children. Earlier this month a judge in Vietnam jailed him for three years for molesting two young girls. A spokesman for lastminute.com said: "We regret that our recent newsletter has caused offence, and would like to reassure our customers that it has been withdrawn as of immediate affect... We aim to create advertising which makes us stand out, however, on this occasion we realise that there has been an error in our judgement, and the email was misguided and inappropriate." ®
A government's position on censorship used to protect its citizenry is dictated by who they are. The well-popularised censorship of internet content in China by Google and other big players, and criticism of this by the US government, is really just the tip of the iceberg.
The Police IT Organisation (Pito) is putting together plans to replace a national IT system used to respond to serious crime investigations and major emergencies, it announced on 14 March. Holmes2 (Home Office Large and Major Enquiries System) has been used in most large scale police operations, including the 7 July bombings and the Tsunami response, since it became available to all forces five years ago. The system, developed with supplier Unisys, helps collate and analyse the masses of information fed into police incident rooms. Pito is drawing up plans to upgrade the system as Unisys's contract ends in two years time, and forces have new requirements for handling data. Pito says it does not have a "central figure" for the value of the framework agreement with Unisys for Holmes2. The incumbent supplier is likely to retender for the new contract. It is hoped that the successor, to be known as Holmes 2020, will provide an IT infrastructure for a wider scope of investigations including fraud, serial crimes and traffic management. Pito also wants the new system to handle a wider range of multimedia evidence including CCTV pictures and mobile phone data. A business case for Holmes 2020 is to be drawn up later this year and Pito will be carrying out a scoping exercise with police forces to find out their requirements. Jon Stoddart, executive lead for Holmes 2020 said: "The police service faces a significant challenge in handling mass fatality incidents and major investigations. It is vital IT applications that support these operations reflect the business processes, rules and procedures involved to ensure a sophisticated approach to the management of large-scale incidents in the public's interest." Vanessa Baxter, Holmes2 project manager at Pito said that new forms of contracting could be considered. "The Holmes 2020 project presents the service with the ideal opportunity to explore alternative methods of purchase and supply to ensure local and national consistency of product versions and user practices. This will help Holmes 2020 to build on the operational success of Holmes2 with greater cohesion between forces using the system." This article was originally published at Kablenet.
Laplink, the maker of PC Mover - software which takes all your settings, documents and contacts from your old PC and puts them onto a new PC - has found some distribution partners. The company is working with various US computer makers to have its software included on machines. Intel is also offering discounts on PC Mover for customers buying certain dual-processor machines through Ingram Micro. The offer ends 22 April. Some 30 per cent of previous PC Mover customers would be more likely to upgrade their machines if the upgrade software was included.
Cisco’s approach to wireless standards has been to create its own platforms, and only fully support open standards once these platforms have gained such market share that openness is no real threat. This was seen in WLans, where Cisco has only recently backed interoperability between its products and third party access points – and is pushing a technology it acquired with Airespace as a standard for open switches. It made its EAP-Fast authentication protocol – a proprietary implementation that is an alternative to industry standard EAPs – into a de facto standard by allowing third parties to license it for free, and its Cisco Compatible Extensions program, which certifies compatibility of wireless hardware devices with Cisco’s key WLan range, Aironet, is also seen mainly as a way to create Cisco-controlled standards. Its market share means that third parties find it hard not to support its technologies, which can achieve more rapid uptake than IEEE or IETF official platforms. Unified Communication System But last week saw a major departure from this habit, with Cisco unveiling the Unified Communication System, a comprehensive converged IP framework based around industry standard SIP. This is a major breakthrough in terms of bringing better integration and coherence to the company’s wired and wireline portfolio, and also shows how SIP (Session Initiation Protocol, the basis of most future IP applications) has become an unstoppable force even for Cisco, the king of IP (of course, its position in the IP market means it will also be able to exploit one of its greatest hidden assets, its intellectual property, as IP networks take hold across the mobile and converged markets). SIP has been built natively into Cisco’s network operating system IOS, allowing it to support current Cisco IP products and openSIP versions simultaneously. This opens up the Cisco VoIP environment, with products such as CallManager, to SIP for integration with third party appliances, and server-based applications such as Microsoft Live Commuications Server. Growth in SIP support Until now, Cisco’s support for SIP has been lukewarm. As with other standards, it cited functionality compromises that it said went hand-in-hand with open platforms, and the slow progress of standards bodies compared to the pace of change required by enterprise customers. Of course, there was also an issue of protecting its own base, especially in key applications where it is dominant, such as corporate VoIP, and of giving itself leverage over its market share in those areas to build up similar strength in emerging sectors such as wireless convergence and mobile IP systems. Not that Cisco was the only one - SIP has been hyped for years, but full commitment by top vendors has been lacking, with 3Com, Avaya and Nortel among those hesitating to create pure SIP versions of their gear, citing feature limitations. Even disruptive VoIP force Skype developed its own protocol, claiming SIP has too many weaknesses. Now all the main IP telephony companies – Cisco, Siemens, Avaya, Nortel and 3Com - have promised SIP PBXs' based on Linux. This change of heart has been driven by enterprise demand for low cost solutions and by the increasing drive from the telcos and cellcos for SIP, as they look to converged wired and wireless, and voice and data/multimedia services to improve their own business models. In the multinetwork, multimedia world, no technology – despite the probably short term influence of approaches like Unlicensed Mobile Access – has emerged to challenge SIP, and carriers have less dependence on Cisco than their enterprise cousins. Their support has sparked a high level of applications development around SIP, which has, for all its limitations, become impossible to ignore. Cisco’s Unified Communication System (UCS) will focus initially on the voice application but has the potential and scalability to support a wide range of integrated IP functions in an enterprise environment, over wired and wireless networks. As such, it could also be adapted for the carrier market, especially for operatorsthat are not yet moving to the full IP Multimedia Subsystem as their convergence umbrella. The main initial components of UCS are CallManager 5.0, Unified Presence Server and Unified Personal Communicator, which will play to the rising trend for integrated messaging, combining voicemail, videomail, chat, email and messaging into a single interface and supporting presence and location awareness. Importantly to the enterprise market, Cisco’s own products in this area will also interoperate with Microsoft’s Office Communicator client, and its Live Communication Server presence and multimedia platform Cisco also plans to introduce integration with two other key partner platforms: Nokia's dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular handsets, which the phonemaker aims to turn into the "only handset an enterprise needs" for all its networks and applications; and the RIM BlackBerry 7270. Both devices will be able to run Cisco-based VoIP in Wi-Fi and cellular modes. Cisco has leapt ahead of its IP telephony rivals in its support for both wireless and wired access. Soon, the UCS umbrella brand will cover almost 60 new or revamped Cisco products, with special attention paid to increasing intelligence around call processing, presence and location, plus enriching the offering through third party applications and devices. Microsoft With regards to Microsoft, which sees Live Communications Server as a key strategy for getting into the wireless as well as the wired enterprise, Cisco has given with one hand and taken away with the other. Its endorsement of LCS and other Microsoft products further increases the momentum behind them, and reinforces the old situation where Cisco products worked best with Windows-based, Cisco-only environments, thus generating further pressure for large companies to stick with this well tested combination. But Cisco has also significantly stepped up its support for Linux in UCS, loosening its bonds with Windows somewhat. This is a Cisco that appears to be more open to standards it does not directly control, and to new partnerships, to ensure it stays king of the enterprise IP game as that expands its role into multimedia and mobility. It is also a Cisco that is continuing to play its trump card, its claim that no other vendor can match its breadth of products and provide a single-source converged solution. The weakness in that story has been that the huge range of elements has not always worked smoothly together. Cisco will not undermine its market share significantly by supporting SIP, but it would have done with an IP platform that was fragmented and hard to integrate. SIP support gives it a better tale to tell carriers and enterprise service providers, and also a far quicker route to full portfolio integration than a proprietary reworking would have done. Copyright © 2006, Wireless Watch Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.
Biometric data employed for identification purposes could be misused and lead to "function creep", the European Data Protection Supervisor has warned. In a comment this week, the EDPS, who monitors the use of public data, said the ease with which biometric information, such as fingerprints, could be shared with other databases across the EU would leave it open to abuse. The statement is in stark conflict with the UK government’s claims that biometric data used for its controversial ID card scheme will not be used for any other purposes. The EDPS Peter Hustinx said the accuracy of biometric data in uniquely identifying a person is "overestimated", and could in fact "facilitate the unwarranted interconnection of databases". Commenting on a European Commission paper last year on the interoperability of different databases across the EU, Hustinx said biometric data could not be guaranteed to provide the unambiguous 'primary key' required by most databases for identification. In many cases a primary key is a number unique to one individual. As a result it could breach EU principles of data quality, Hustinx said. A further concern is that because biometric data is not unique, it could lead easily be shared between different databases throughout the EU. Ultimately, Hustinx warned, this could lead to function creep when the interlinking of two databases designed for two distinct purposes provides a third one for which they have not been built. This is in turn would lessen the possibility of member state governments being able to supervise the protection of personal data. Overall, the EDPS also said the EC’s paper had not given a clear definition of interoperability and called for further analysis in order to ensure protection of data. He said: "The commission argues that interoperability is a technical rather than a legal or political concept. This is confusing and only serves to avoid fundamental issues. Interoperable systems increase the risks for citizens, if such systems allow for new access to their personal data. It is essential to examine this more carefully and not hide it as a technicality." Copyright © eGov monitor Weekly eGov monitor Weekly is a free e-newsletter covering developments in UK eGovernment and public sector IT over the last seven days. To register go here.
Microsoft is lowering the threshold for US businesses wanting to borrow its cash to pay for software and hardware purchases. Previously deals had to be worth more than $10,000 but that has now been lowered to just $3,000. US customers can get 36-month loans for some purchases - software, hardware and services - and can defer payment for 90 days. Microsoft Finance says its research shows small businesses are "intensive credit card users" most prefer to use third-party finance for IT purchases which typically cost between $3,000 and $10,000. It is not thought the company plans to extend similar largesse to its UK customers. More details on Microsoft.com here. ®
Sony is to launch a global content download service for its PlayStation Portable handheld games console, the company said today. It will also ship a PSP version of the hugely popular PS2 accessory EyeToy, and a GPS-module to enable not only navigation but location-specific game functionality.
Millions of pounds are to be spent converting the last 35 BT exchanges in Wales to broadband in a move to deliver blanket broadband coverage throughout the Principality. The Welsh Assembly has just inked a deal with BT to convert the last exchanges in Wales are to be wired for broadband - so a further 10,000 homes and business can hook up to high speed net access. These exchanges, not already converted to DSL because they were deemed not to be commercially viable, are due to come online in the summer. Welsh Assembly Government e-minister Andrew Davies said: "Currently, around 99 per cent of the Welsh population can access broadband technology...however, the Assembly Government is committed to ensuring that virtually every single individual and business in Wales has the opportunity to benefit from the advantages offered by this technology. "Today's announcement will lead to further growth in broadband uptake as these final unviable exchange areas are enabled." BT is understood to be footing around a third of the cost of the bill, believed to be as much as £13m, with the rest coming from taxpayers. But even with all of BT's exchanges broadband-enabled, there will still be plenty of areas within Wales unable to secure affordable broadband access. Which is why once these exchanges are up and running, officials intend to identify broadband blackspots to see what other technologies can be deployed to deliver high speed services. Last month, for example, the European Commission (EC) gave the go-ahead for plans by the Welsh Development Agency (WDA) to wire up 14 Welsh business parks in North Wales with broadband, previously unconnected due to their remote locations. But thanks to a scheme called "FibreSpeed Wales", the WDA is looking to hire a wholesale operator to construct an open, carrier-neutral, fibre-optic network linking all 14 business parks. Although the EC has agreed that such a project would not breach state aid rules, a final decision on whether the project can proceed is likely to be made later this year. ®
Specialist Computer Holdings has closed its grey market broker, Global Distribution, to keep HP sweet. The official word from SCC is as much a sign of how the times have changed as is the closure of Global Dis.
The first phase of a huge project to collect and analyse a vast array of biomedical data has been launched today. The Manchester pilot of the world-first UK Biobank is the start of a ground-breaking study which eventually hopes to recruit half a million volunteers aged 40 to 69. The study will examine in detail how genes, lifestyle and other environmental factors interplay to affect health long-term. As well as gene sequences, researchers will collate volunteers' questionnaires with measurements of on weight, height, body fat. Understanding the relative risk factors for conditions with multiple causes like heart disease and Alzheimer's will be a key aim. Links to individual genes are often made without knowing the contibution they make to the overall disease phenotype. It's unlikely that those participating will see any health perks. Principal investigator Professor Rory Collins said: "Taking part will be a bit like being a blood donor - you probably won't benefit, but others will." The University of Oxford man explained: "All studies to date have had limitations, which means we don't have a clear picture of how these different elements interact." UK Biobank is backed by £61m of funding from the NHS, the Wellcome Trust and other medical charities. The deficit in clincal information when compared to the glut of genetic, expression and molecular data produced by academic research is driving the effort. The Human Genome Project has so far produced barely a sniff of its much-vaunted medical bonanza. Some scientists have criticised the potentially cumbersome scale of the new research, however. A report by the Commons science and technology committee in 2003 dismissed Biobank for being 'speculative' and 'politically driven'. Collins defended Biobank: "Every possible detail has been gone through with a fine-tooth comb - rigourous scientific assessment, review by an independent ethics and governance council, Data Protection Act compliance, [and] stringent security measures to prevent unauthorised access to participants' data." The storage task facing the study has meant bespoke operations for handling the groaning weight of data and biological samples. Once up and running nationwide, a new robotic system will look after the 10m total samples that will be taken from 1,000 people per day at 10 assessment centres. ®
NASA has once again pushed back the launch of space shuttle Discovery. The first launch since last year's recurrence of the foam-shedding problem that caused the Columbia disaster now won't happen until July at the earliest, according to engineers. The problem this time is with a fuel tank sensor. Fixing it will take three weeks, meaning the scheduled May launch window will come too soon. Programme engineer Wayne Hale said: "We wish it had worked out differently, but it's first and foremost that we fly safely." The engine cut-off sensor coordinates timely shut down of the orbiter engines when the main fuel tank is empty. A fault could mean the shuttle fails to make it into orbit. The three 2006 launches NASA had hoped for, which we reported at the start of this month, now seem unlikely. NASA's new window to get Discovery off the ground runs from 1 to 19 July. ®
Poll resultPoll result We can only wonder what the 11k+ of you, our beloved readers, who took the time to vote in our poll (now closed) to determine the future of the word "lappy" on El Reg were supposed to be doing with your valuable time, but the results are in and the people have spoken. However, before the moment of truth arrives, we thought we'd share a few further thoughts on this and related buzzterms. Take it away Chris: I have had two laptops that I have given the name "Lappy" to and one small one that is known as "Lappia" that I gave to the misses. Suggestion: get out more. Onwards... This word has to go, quite apart from the fact that where I live in Zürich, 'lappy' is a term for an idiot! Adrian That makes perfect sense. Thanks for the enlightenment. Well, I'm guessing that Stuart Van Onselen isn't an Englishman (or Briton, or what ever we like to call ourselves these days), but I'd like to point out that El Reg is a British site (hence the .co.uk domain name), so any one complaining about the language used (colloquial or otherwise) should really come up with some proper and correct syntactic or grammatical criticism, or just keep their cake hole belted shut. Colloquial terms like "mobe" or "lappy", among other things, are what make El Reg "El Reg", so if they're all band by a bunch of plonkers who can see the fun of it, our favorite portal will just end up like another bland pit of IT news. If it carries on like this, the next thing will be a vote on colour vs. the dyslexic version "color". And then the world will end in a fireball of galactic proportions... Cheers! Dameon Wagner I can pick the phone up to some of our most IT illiterate users and use the phrase 'Lappy' with them knowing exactly what I mean. I've been using the phrase for the last 12 years with similar results. I wonder if Mr Van Onselen objects to the shortening of Telephone to 'phone? Would asking him to pass me the 'Remote for the Telly' have me fixed with a stern stare until I requested the "Remote Control Unit for the Television?" Would you be running the same poll if I wrote in to complain about the use of the phrase "Cell" to refer to mobiles just because it's common in the US? Whilst you're at it, can you not use 'Gas' to refer to petrol ever, as I now equate that with LPG. That'd be brill, 'ta. Chris Caines Right, that's enough lappy. Let's have a few more barbarisms which might benefit from the Vulture Central treatment: You think 'Lappy' is bad, you know nothing try 'Craptop' on for size!!! Fluffy. We'd rather not, ta very much. I thinks "crims" should be added to the list of no-no words. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/03/14/exploding_atm_attack/ Andy King And "blaggers"? Can you also ban the use of the word 'Punter'? Or at least restrict it's use to once per article. Mike Tree Let's do a deal - one per article unless its a UK broadband goes titsup story, in which case we'll allow a five-punters-per-piece limit... While your at it, could you please ban that bastard non-word in increasingly common usage across the atlantic: "webinar". thanks, jon lawrence Hideous. Mercifully, a quick search of our site reveals no results for this monstrous word. Like, I suspect, the majority of your readers, I really don't give a damn whether 'lappy' gets used or not - but offering us a chance to in any way screw with your writers' day is a red rag to a bull. Can we next have a vote on, say, adjectives beginning with a vowel? Tom Melly No, but we might have a one-day proscription on words beginning with "p" - which would be a right palaver carry-on for Tim Richardson were BT's broadband punters valued customers hit by a particularly especially problematic troublesome power electricity outage. And whilst we're banning the use of the word lappy kindly also denounce the use of spready as a former manager of mine used to call spreadsheets. Oft could be heard the call "have you updated the spready mate..." shortly followed by the tech staff tutting there shared disapproval and loathing James Gardner This disgraceful abuse of the language sounds a bit Oz to us, (Aussie, bikie, polly, etc, etc), although readers should be warned that the word tarpaulin is not - in Melbourne at least - abbreviated to "tarpie" or even "tarpo" making it the only English word Down Under which has no labour-saving two-syllable equivalent. Our favourite? Rhododendron, as in the phrase: "You've got a lovely display of rhodos there mate." But we digress. In case you're wondering, here's the alleged original of "lappy": Strongbad has been using a "Lappy" for years (his is a 486). See: http://www.homestarrunner.com/sbemail.html Before that he had a "Compy" 386, but it got broken.... Colin D. (and lots of other readers, thanks for the tip-off) Almost interesting. How about a word from the man responsible? Hey crap for brains, I invented the name "Lappy". Don't dis my vocabulary. StrongBad Crap for brains, moi? We'll do better than dis your vocab me old china, we'll airbrush it from history, and here's why: Should El Reg prohibit the use of the word "lappy"? Yes: 7,069 (62 per cent) No: 4,315 (38 per cent) Total votes cast: 11,384. So there you have it. As you read this, lexicographical death squads are trawling the Reg and throwing all examples of "lappy" into the back of a truck for later "disposal". Thanks to all of you who took part and remember: be vigilant. The forces of linguistic darkness never sleep. ®
First UK ReviewFirst UK Review It has now been a few days since Nvidia announced its latest range of graphics cards and stocks are already running low at most retailers. In Nvidia's defence, there were cards available to buy from day one, although some online retailers charged a fair amount extra for the cards. The first board to arrive at Reg Hardware's office is MSI's not-so-snazzily named NX7900GT-T2D256E, based on the GeForce 7900 GT GPU...
Surprising data from NASA's Stardust programme has revealed that comets have heat-formed components. Scientists analysing samples from the seven-year mission to collect material from the tail of comet Wild 2 found glassy particles that must have been formed at high temperatures. Stardust curator Michael Zolensky said: "It seems that comets are a mixture of materials formed at all temperatures, at places very near the early sun and at places very remote from it." The revelation means comets may not be as simple as the clouds of ice, dust and gases they were thought to be. The researchers compare the high temperature material to Hawaiian beach sand, with iron, magnesium, calcium, aluminum and titanium components. Stardust principal investigator Donald Brownlee spelt out the paradox of the finding: "The interesting thing is we are finding these high-temperature minerals in materials from the coldest place in the solar system." Stardust returned to Earth in the Utah desert back in January. Next for the international community of 150 scientists working on the samples is to examine the interstellar dust material the probe returned. ®
Geek entomologists stand by your beds: the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking for research proposals in the area of Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, aka HI-MEMS - remote-controlled cyberinsects capable of being "delivered" to within five metres of Osama bin Laden from a control distance of one hundred metres. This is not, btw, a "stick a chip on a fly" bodge-up, as the pitch explains: DARPA seeks innovative proposals to develop technology to create insect-cyborgs, possibly enabled by intimately integrating microsystems within insects, during their early stages of metamorphoses. The healing processes from one metamorphic stage to the next stage are expected to yield more reliable bio-electromechanical interface to insects, as compared to adhesively bonded systems to adult insects. Once these platforms are integrated, various microsystem payloads can be mounted on the platforms with the goal of controlling insect locomotion, sense local environment, and scavenge power. Ambitious stuff, to be sure. And there's more. A successful insect-cyborg "must remain stationary either indefinitely or until otherwise instructed" and must also be able to "transmit data from DOD relevant sensors, yielding information about the local environment". Naturally, at this point you're thinking: "Aha, quick, get me a couple of dozen dragonflies and my soldering iron," although DARPA reckons "hopping and swimming insects could also meet final demonstration goals". The al-Qaeda-busting spook grasshopper? We love it. Alternatively, might we suggest DARPA contact Vincent Price with a view to melding a miniature human head onto a fly's body? It's proven technology and you get the added advantage of a six-foot fly-headed monster as part of the process which can be used against the Taliban. ®
Microsoft has patched a variety of vulnerabilities in its ubiquitous Office suite which create a means for hackers to attack vulnerable systems. The critical (cumulative MS06-012) update, along with a security fix (MS06-011) to defend against an "important" privilege escalation flaw in Windows, form a brace of patches issued by Microsoft as part of its regular monthly Patch Tuesday update cycle. The update covers bugs in various versions of Excel including one involving the processing of files with a malformed range as well as a flaw in Office that creates a memory corruption risk when processing a specially crafted 'routing slip'. Security firm McAfee reckons that exploits targeting the Office vulnerabilities are highly likely. "Additionally, exploits targeting MS06-011 are already present that allow authenticated users to escalate their privileges remotely on affected systems," said Monty Ijzerman, manager of security content for McAfee Avert Labs. Other security experts point out that the Office update is largely a collection of previously available fixes. "The [Office update] is really a collection of several different fixes in one update including more "file format" problems that have been commonplace over the last six months. The good news is the updates are all available at the same time," said Alan Bentley, managing director of patch management firm PatchLink. "However, for organisations that are not using an automated patch management system to deploy patches, getting the exact patch required to the right system could prove to be a little frustrating and challenging. In this particular case there are 10 different download links to get the various applicable patches for Windows and Macintosh." ®
Local loop unbundling (LLU) operator Bulldog has unveiled two broadband and phone packages aimed at small businesses (SMEs) in a bid to expand its own operation. It has dug up some research to suggest that two thirds of SMEs believe their current voice and broadband providers "do not understand their business or just pretend to". A similar proportion of SMEs have resisted buying up more phone lines because the cost of additional lines is too high. And more than half of those SMEs quizzed reckon it would be a great idea to get both voice and broadband services from a single supplier on a single bill. Which is an amazing coincidence...because that's effectively what Bulldog is offering SMEs. Funny that. The two packages are "Bulldog Small Business" and "Bulldog Medium Business" which offer broadband speeds of up to 8 meg and multiple phone numbers as part of the ISP's unbundled service. Bulldog director of sales and marketing Carlo Soresina said: "Small businesses in the UK are faced with a communications crisis and are crying out for a solution. We understand the need for simple, reliable and supported packaged offerings and today's announcement represents the first phase of our 'Office-in-a-Box' vision for smaller businesses." Of course, SMEs that rely on communications for their business may be just a tad wary of Bulldog. Last year, the ISP faced an Ofcom investigation following hundreds of complaints from consumers about Bulldog's poor service. A similar cock-up would be seriously damaging for any business looking to switch. However, Soresina says he understands those concerns but insists the firm has made massive improvements since last year, including greater investment in support, to ensure that such problems are never again repeated. The firm has also introduced service level agreements (SLAs) to help provide additional assurances. Bulldog's decision to court small business comes as its owner - Cable & Wireless (C&W) - is ditching thousands of SME customers so it can concentrate on 3,000 or so core customers such as large corporates and public sector organisations. ®
It's good to see that guinness.com is taking a responsible attitude to underage drinking, what with the UK and Ireland's streets currently awash with alcopop-swilling tearaways laughing in the face of asbo-wielding coppers. That's right, you must be of legal age to enter the site, so if you were born in 1990 in England, here's how Guinness will give you the heave-ho: Sorry, we are unable to allow you access to our website due to regulations in your country of access Please leave the GUINNESS® website » Which, we have no doubt, even the most hardened council estate, joyriding ne'er-do-well will do without giving it further thought. Thank God our kids are being rigorously protected from the evils of stout. ® Bootnote We gather that some of you are having trouble getting into the site no matter how old you are - up to 106 years old, in this case. Sweden and Spain are apparently not allowed Guinness either, although we reckon this is an ActiveX problem on individual machines, since a quick random test showed Equatorial Guinea able to enjoy Guiness at leisure. Keep us posted.
Scottish firm Brand-Rex is celebrating today because its fibre optic cable is the first to be approved by the UK's Ministry of Defence. The cable is the only one to comply with MoD standard Def Stan 60-1 (Part 3) / 2. The tactical fibre cable is tougher, non-metallic and very flexible. It is already in use as part of the Army's troubled radio project, Bowman. The company hopes the accreditation will push sales not just for military use but for broadcast and other field applications too. ®
Producers of a TV spin-off of the Star Wars films reckon it will run for 100 episodes. Producer Rick McCallum told BBC Radio 1 that writing will shortly begin on the project, which will begin filming in 2008 ready for transmission in the same year. The series is set between Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars IV: A New Hope and covers the early years of Luke Skywalker. So, unless the writers decide to rewrite the Star Wars story arc, expect lots of scenes of farming on the desert world of Tatooine. Or perhaps not. McCallum said the series would introduce new characters and be "much more dramatic and darker" than the films. Which sounds a lot like the marketing blurb for Revenge of the Sith. The TV series is likely to feature a different cast from the actors who played in the films. This, plus the fact the project will kick off after Star Wars creator George Lucas has finished with a third Indiana Jones sequel, make the Star Wars TV series sound like The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Readers might be forgiven for thinking the project is inspired chiefly by the desire to extract more dosh from Star Wars fans than any artistic merit. Here's two reasons for thinking this for starters. The best film in the franchise, Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, was coincidentally not directed by George Lucas who gave us a film based around a tax dispute, the risible Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. It may well be that the world is hungry for more space opera. In which case, we can't help but think that resurrecting Firefly might be a better option than further troubling Mr Lucas' accountants. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith alone took £500m at the box office outside of the US, the BBC reports. ®
NSFWNSFW Last September we ran a shamelessly non-IT-related piece on UK sex toy e-tailer LoveHoney's online ejaculation pole* - a frankly preposterous survey of how many strokes it took Linux programmers to achieve explosive climax when indulging in a quick five-knuckle shuffle while perusing a Natalie Portman topless sunbathing snaps website. Well, the results are in and - although we really are ashamed of ourselves in giving this filth even more coverage - the average level of spam javelin worrying it takes the average male to go bang is... No, that would spoil the fun. Click here to get the full low-down, including the sensational revelation that left-handers can blow their load a full two strokes sooner then their right-handed counterparts - thereby allowing them vital extra time to enjoy post-monocoital pizza. One thing remains - we now demand that LoveHoney conduct a poll for women to establish once and for all how much petting the pink taco it takes for the earth to move. Get to it.® Bootnote *No emails please - we know how poll is spelt.
AnalysisAnalysis Over 20m pleas for help made to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) telephone call centres fell on deaf ears last year because it had a crap computer system and poorly trained staff, said the Public Accounts Committee today. Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the PAC, said in a statement that he was "pleased" with the "progress" the DWP had made with improving the services of its call centres, but that there was room for improvement. He was referring to just published the National Audit Office review of DWP contact centres serving pensioners, the jobless, the disabled and carers, which makes the point in their defence that most people would like to be able to deal with the government over the telephone when it suits them. Yet "old and inflexible IT systems" and "fragmented business processes" and "a lack of communication between legacy IT systems" have made life difficult for department staff and the citizens they are employed to help. This led to 21m people, 18.5m of whom were disabled callers, not being able to get through to government helpers on the telephone last year. Nearly half of all calls made to the DWP went unanswered. This appears to be because the service transformation has been done from the outside in. The merger of frontline DWP services into call centres was assisted by the implementation of customer relationship management (CRM) systems - that's the make-up, if you like: the IT system that prompts telephone staff say, "Thank you for calling Job Centre Plus, is there anything else I can help you with?" when the call is over. But the CRM systems were not integrated with the existing computer systems that are the bones of the department - those systems that store and manipulate important data about people and the predicaments the DWP is supposed to assist. So the beauty is only skin deep, as has been the case with the supposed e-government transformation of local authorities, most of which has involved the implementation of expensive CRM systems that have yet to be properly installed. Not only that, but the DWP transformation was managed by firefighters, as is usually the case with these projects. Take, for example, the Jobcentre Plus call centre, which was kitted out with a new CRM system. Staff weren't trained to use it because of the disruption caused by the programme of redundancies the DWP imposed as a consequence of moving everyone to the call centre in the first place (14,860 redundancies across the department). Elsewhere too, the organisational change necessary for the transformation was hashed. Call centre staff are made to follow scripts that are inadequate for all but the most average of enquiries. Calls cannot be passed between different areas of the department because they lack "common business processes". This will all sound very familiar to anyone who read the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee report of IT incompetence at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last week. It reported that the implementation of the PRISM computer system required considerable organisational change that was bodged. All this makes a nonsense of the government's recent habit of talking up its IT success stories at places like the Passport Office, as was done by the Home Secretary Charles Clarke in a recent Radio 4 interview. This was also the line taken by Tony Blair's transformation tsar, Ian Watmore, at a recent conference. He slated the press for their obsessive preoccupation with government IT failures. They were overlooking success stories like the passport office, he said. As it happens, expensive gremlins in the current passport system created such an embarrassment for the Passport Office that its boss was moved last summer to vow it would avoid making the same cock-ups when it starts installing its biometric system this year. Watmore has put a lot of schemes in motion that may one day rectify the problems in UK.gov, but transformation is being managed to a political timetable that leaves no time for public service managers to catch up. This is evidenced by the unending series of official reports on government IT and transformation bodges that say the same thing over and over again: the same mistakes are being made, which suggests a lack of honesty and cold scrutiny of unprecedented government expenditure on IT is doing taxpayers a disservice. ®
AMD is in talks with UK co-processor company Clearspeed in a bid to boost the performance of future multi-core x86 CPUs, it has emerged. It's not hard to see why. Clearspeed's current CSX600 design can provide a huge floating point boost.
Earlier this week we passed on the story of a customer phoning Dell Computers and asking for something to link two PCs. Dell sold them a server and is currently refusing all requests for a refund. Dell says orders placed through its business channel are not eligible for return or refund. We can now reveal that not only did Dell sell a server to someone who didn't know what a server was but they also sent a server with only one network slot and no cables. Additionally the kit was delivered when the office was closed and so was left with a nearby office. The mystery shopper, let's call her Kate as that is her name, rang Dell and explained she worked for a two person company and needed to buy two computers and something to link them so they could share a printer. After talking to two different sales people she was sold two PCs and a PowerEdge server. Once the kit arrived, and Kate realised there was only one network slot and no cables, she called Dell to complain but got nowhere. Kate then phoned a friend who told her she didn't need the server but Dell refuse to give refunds to business customers. Kate's friend Chris is currently chasing Dell for a full refund on the grounds that the goods were mis-sold under the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2003. Chris told us: "I want to get a full refund, it's a bit of joke but these are nice, trusting people who are regretting their decision to trust Dell and ask them for advice." More details on DigitalSpy here. And thank you to Reg reader Chris Rowe for the original tip-off.®
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Alan Johnson defended the Blair government's record on science at a Royal Society bash today to mark National Science Week. His colleage, Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, chimed in to trumpet the growth in the number of science, engineering and technology graduates under Labour. Committed Blairite Johnson claimed Labour's 1997 election victory heralded a "step change in government approach to science." He described the 10-year investment framework the government set out in 2004 as "a minimum". With annual funding rising from £1.3bn to more than £3bn he claimed: "The government's committment to science is not in doubt." With Chinese companies' wage bill just 5 per cent of UK firms', outsourcing is inevitable, the Secretary of State said, and Britain's only way to compete would be to concentrate on innovation. He added, "Protection has a false allure," perhaps an allusion to recent EU controversy around "economic nationalism". Johnson made the comments at the Royal Society in London, at its Celebrating British Science event, the centrepiece of the society's National Science Week activities. He was backed up at the event by Sainsbury, who reeled off a slew of statistics to the effect that Britain is producing more science, engineering and technology graduates than ever before. Their bullishness was tempered by concerns over the fall in applications to study subjects that are seen by young people as 'old economy'; chemistry, physics and engineering. Sainsbury tried to counter the negative news of Sussex University's plans to shutter its chemistry department with details of an upsurge in applications at Surrey. The senate at Sussex will consider the fate of the chemistry department on Friday. The pair said their would be a raft of announcements over the next couple of months regarding the government's science strategy, including a paper to "stimulate discussion" and an initiative to involve more universities in school teaching.®
A distributed computing project has successfully cracked the second of three unbroken Enigma intercepts dating back to World War II. The naval codes resisted the best efforts of allied cryptographers but are beginning to fall to the combined forces of the net community, brought together by the M4 Project. The second message to yield to the M4 Project fell on 7 March. A translation reveals little more than a routine observation report. Found nothing on convoy's course 55°, [I am] moving to the ordered [naval] square. Position naval square AJ 3995. [wind] south-east [force] 4, sea [state] 3, 10/10 cloudy, [barometer] 28 mb [and] rising, fog, visibility 1 nautical mile. Schroeder The first message to crack under M4, which fell on 20 February, was far more dramatic. The message corresponds with entries in the war diary of German Submarine U264. Forced to submerge during attack, depth charges. Last enemy location 08:30h, Marqu AJ 9863, 220 degrees, 8 nautical miles, (I am) following (the enemy). (Barometer) falls (by) 14 Millibar, NNO 4, visibility 10. So far efforts to break the remaining message have come to naught but project leaders remain confident it can be broken even though they are not certain which type of Enigma machine it was encoded using. A run through the entire search space corresponding to Army and M3 Enigma machines has failed to turn up any results. Computer users interested in getting involved can download a client onto their PCs which takes advantage of idle processing time to perform number crunching in much the same way as the popular SETI@Home screen saver was used to analyse radio telescope signals from space in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. The name of the code breaking project, which started on 9 January, comes from the unconfirmed belief that the signals were encoded using a four rotor Enigma M4 device. The signals analysed by the project were captured in the North Atlantic in 1942 and unearthed by amateur historian Ralph Erskine, who sent them off to journal Cryptologia in 1996 as a challenge to codebreakers. None of the messages are thought to be historically significant but all three set a formidable intellectual challenge to decipher. The secrets of the intercepts eluded the boffins at Bletchley Park because of the switch from the Hydra (Doplhin) cipher-system to more complex Triton (Shark) cipher-system and the introduction of a more complex version of the Enigma machine at the height of the war in north Atlantic. Wartime efforts to crack the messages tried all combinations available on German army and three-ring Enigma machines but not those used by the more complex four-rotor Enigma M4 device. ®
Cash'n'CarrionCash'n'Carrion Teaches Visual Basic .Net developers the concepts and skills necessary to write VB.Net database applications. This book touches on database design concepts but focuses on using ADO.Net to access and manipulate data in relational databases. While the book covers all data providers in ADO.Net briefly, the primary objective is to focus on using the OleDb provider for accessing Access databases and the SQL provider for accessing SQL Server databases.
PlusNet is to begin upgrading its customers to new 8 meg services from the end of the month, the Sheffield-based ISP confirmed today. It plans to upgrade its 200,000 or so broadband punters for free and without asking them to sign new contracts. PlusNet's speed shift is part of a nationwide speed increase from BT Wholesale which will see more than 5,300 exchanges across the UK upgraded to support services up to 8Mb. BT announced details of its ADSL Max service earlier this month with the faster speeds available for new orders from 31 March. However, it will take several months to regrade all DSL users, which is why BT is in talks with ISPs concerning the bulk migration of end users. Of course, once provided with an 8Mb line there are no guarantees that end users will reach such speeds. According to BT, eight in ten broadband users should be able to get 4Mb and above, while only those people closest to their BT exchange can expect speeds nearing 8Mb. For its part, BT Retail will be making its 8Mb service available to "some of its customers" from 4 April before rolling it out to all users over the following months. It also says it won't be charging extra for these higher speeds, "making it a free upgrade for our customers similar to when we introduced 2Mb speeds nationally". Elsewhere, local loop unbundling ISP Be is trialling a new faster upload service among some of its broadband users. The "Annex M" trials, as they are known, have helped boost average upload speeds to 1.9Mb. Once the tests have been completed Be intends to upgrade its Office product with no additional fee. ®
Dutch researchers have warned that RFID tags – small microchips, which can be used to tag products or animals - can be infected with computer viruses. A group under the guidance of Andrew Tanenbaum at the Amsterdam Free University made the world's RFID "malware" publicly available. "We hope to convince the experts that the problem is serious and better be dealt with,” the Dutch researchers say. As RFID chips only have a limited memory capacity, it was widely assumed they could not become infected with a virus, but researchers discovered that if certain vulnerabilities exist in RFID software a RFID tag can be (intentionally) infected with a virus, which could infect the backend database used by the RFID software. From there it can easily spread to other RFID tags, researchers explained today at the Annual IEEE Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications in Pisa, Italy. One possible target could be airports. From May 2006, RFID tags at Las Vegas Airport will be attached to suitcases to speed up the baggage handling process. If someone attaches an infected RFID tag to these cases, the entire system could be disrupted, researchers warn. They stress that developers must introduce measures to check their RFID systems and implement safety procedures to prevent widespread infection.®
Six drug trial volunteers who were given an anti-inflammatory drug at a private research unit based at London's Northwick Park Hospital are in intensive care after suffering a "reaction", the BBC reports. The six were given TGN1412 - "designed to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and leukaemia" - on Monday. Within hours they were hospitalised after suffering "an inflammatory response which affects some organs of the body", as Northwick's intensive care director Ganesh Suntharalingam put it. Suntharalingam explained that two of the men were in a critical condition, while the remainder were "serious but showing some signs of improvement". The girlfriend of one of the men described her 28-year-old boyfriend's face as so swollen he "looks like the Elephant Man". Myfanwy Marshall told the BBC: "His friends cannot even face seeing him. I have to stay there because I'm looking beyond all the wires and the puffiness. This is not leukaemia, this is not pneumonia, this is not something they know how to deal with." Parexel, the firm behind the trial, said it had followed guidelines and that such cases were extremely rare. The company's Professor Herman Scholtz said: "When the adverse drug reaction occurred, the Parexel clinical pharmacology medical team responded swiftly to stop the study procedures immediately." The drug's German-based manufacturer, TeGenero, said the reactions were "completely unexpected and did not reflect results from initial laboratory studies". The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), meanwhile, immediately withdrew the trial's authorisation and issued an international warning against testing. Its inspectors have visited the unit and are consulting the local health authority, Department of Health and police with regard to the matter. According to the BBC, the drug had already been tested on animals and cleared for human trials. ®
A small hardware start-up packed full of former Sun Microsystems executives has sued Sun. Azul Systems alleges that Sun has tried to bully it with the threat of legal action over patent infringement claims. The Azul lawsuit centers around numerous patents relating to server and software technology such as handling multi-threaded software and performing garbage collection tasks. In all, Azul has listed close to 20 patents that it claims sit at the heart of the beef with Sun. In the lawsuit, the start-up goes on to allege that discussions around the patents broke down after Sun suggested it would file a lawsuit against Azul and sought high licensing fees. "Sun has repeatedly threatened the company with litigation unless Azul granted Sun part ownership of the company, and agreed to pay exorbitant up-front fees and continuing royalties on the sale of Azul products," Azul said in a statement. "Attempts to reach an agreement failed when Sun gave Azul an ultimatum: accept its final proposal or face litigation." A few hours after Azul's statement hit the newswires, Sun chipped in with its own statement. "Sun has spent over a year trying to achieve a business resolution to Azul's unauthorized use of Sun IP," the company said. "During this period, Azul has repeatedly stonewalled and delayed. The latest example of this behavior is the filing of the present action despite an agreement the parties entered into allowing additional time for business negotiations to take place, and despite the fact the parties were exploring additional avenues of resolving this dispute. "It is unfortunate, but now that Azul has taken this litigious path, Sun has no choice but to fully protect and enforce its intellectual property rights." Azul's CEO Stephen DeWitt and Sun have a long and somewhat painful history. DeWitt led Cobalt Networks - a server appliance maker that Sun acquired during the height of the boom for $2bn. Sun only managed to push out a couple new Cobalt-style products before killing off the product line as interest in server appliances faded. DeWitt stayed on at Sun for a short time as an executive before leaving and taking the helm at Azul. Sun CEO Scott McNealy has mocked himself for doing this deal and when asked whether Sun planned to acquire Azul, McNealy once said that it was most unlikely that he would do business with DeWitt again. A number of other former Sun staffers, including former high performance computing chief Shahin Khan, now work at Azul. The start-up has created its own multi-core chip for the specialized purpose of running Java applications. In an interview, DeWitt charged that Sun refused to follow "Silicon Valley traditions" by finding a way to agree to acceptable licensing structures. "There is a very well established (cross-licesning) process that all of us tech companies go through," he said. "This is as an established practice as breathing. You collaborate with one and other and strike licensing deals." Of course, patent infringement cases are just about as much of a Silicon Valley tradition as cross-licensing arrangements. Azul's lawyers have gone over the patents in question and decided Sun's stance is "without merit," DeWitt said. In the lawsuit, Azul describes months of negotiations between the two companies. In May, Azul said it offered to conduct an "independent trade secret audit for Sun." Sun responded by saying in a letter that it did "not need a mediator or independent auditor to point out the obvious," according to the lawsuit. The suit also alleges that a high level Sun executive informed a member of Azul's board that Sun planned to sue and that the Sun executive had "seen a draft of the complaint." While DeWitt describes himself as abhorrent to the idea of litigation, he felt the company had no choice but to proactively sue Sun before the larger company could file a lawsuit. "You don't stand there when a 400 pound gorilla with significantly more market resources than you is threatening to fire," DeWitt said. "You defend your rights and that's it." ®
Emails purporting to prove that the recently deceased former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was killed contain a malicious Trojan, called Dropper-FB. Milosevic, whose trial on charges of genocide was nearing its conclusion, was found dead in his cell in the Netherlands on Saturday. Prospective marks are invited to open emails with subject line "Slobodan Milosevic was killed" and open a file which claims to offer an "image" purporting to prove the war crimes suspect was done in. If this attached file (actually an 16.5KB executable, compressed in the UPX format) is opened, a Trojan is downloaded onto Windows PCs. Online security firm BlackSpider estimates that more than 800,000 emails containing the new Trojan-downloader were sent to UK businesses before the first anti-virus software firm updated their software early this morning. Once an event - such as 2004's Asian Tsunami or the July 2005 terrorist bombings - dominate the news it's only a matter of time before virus writers release a topical item of malware. James Kay, chief technology officer of BlackSpider Technologies, said: "Virus writers are playing on morbid human interest and using a high profile incident to cause as much damage as they can to businesses." Slobodan Milosevic joins a long line of public figures whose names has been harnessed to bait malware attacks. Malware posing as the death pics of both Osama bin Laden (the Small-AXR Trojan) and Saddam Hussein (the Bobax-H worm) have hit the net over recent months. Offers of racy pictures of Jennifer Lopez and Anna Kournikova, among others, have also been used to tempt the unwary. ®
Scientists have discovered how Amolops tormotus, AKA the concave-eared torrent frog, makes itself heard above the gushing waterfalls of its habitat in east-central China: bat-style ultrasound. The discovery, detailed in today's issue of journal Nature, makes this particular crazy frog the first non-mammal known to use ultrasonic communication. Researchers have known for several years that the males produce high-pitched, birdlike calls that extend into the ultrasonic range. Whatremained to be tested was whether the sounds were a byproduct of the frog's sound production, or were actually listened to and responded to. The University of Illinois-UCLA team first wanted to know if the frog can hear very high frequencies. They recorded a male's call, split it into the audible components and ultrasonic components, and observed the responses of eight other males. The behavioural results showed they heard and responded. The finding was then confirmed by measuring electrical activity in the frog's mid-brain - where sound is processed. Since most frogs lack the concave-eared torrent frog's ear canal, the researchers say their findings bolster the idea that the canal evolved to detect high frequencies. The work was part-funded by the US National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Director James F. Battey explained the apparently tenuous link: "The more we can learn about the extraordinary mechanisms that Amolops and other animals have developed to hear and communicate with one another, the more fully we can understand the hearing process in humans, and the more inspired we can be in developing new treatments for hearing loss." ®
ExclusiveExclusive Ernst & Young has lost another laptop containing the social security numbers and other personal information of its clients' employees. This time, the incident puts thousands of IBM workers at risk. Ex-IBM employees are also affected. The Register has learned that the laptop was stolen from an Ernst & Young employee's car in January. The employee handled some of the tax functions Ernst & Young does for IBM workers who have been stationed overseas at one time or another during their careers. As a result of the theft, the names, dates of birth, genders, family sizes, SSNs and tax identifiers for IBM employees have been exposed. The husband of one IBM employee has provided The Register with an exclusive copy of the letter Ernst & Young mailed out to the affected parties. This particular letter did not arrive until 8 March - two months after the theft. Neither IBM nor Ernst & Young have returned calls seeking comment. Last month, The Register revealed that another Ernst & Young laptop theft had exposed the social security number and other personal information of Sun Microystems CEO Scott McNealy and an unknown number of other people. Since our story ran, a Cisco employee informed us that his data was on the same laptop as the one containing McNealy's information. The loss of the IBM data outraged Jeff Moran, the husband of the IBM worker told of the data breach. "Ernst & Young has a policy that this type of information is not supposed to be on a laptop," Moran said. "Yet, these guys download the data because it's convenient for them." "All of our information is out there, and they didn't bother to tell us until March. By that time, the thief would have already used the information. This is an outrage, but until Congress starts punishing these guys, nothing will happen." The letter from Ernst & Young states that the company does tax work for current and former overseas workers of IBM. In this role, the auditing firm needs information such as an employee's address, family size, US social security number and tax identification number. It then holds onto this information for at least seven years. "The employee whose laptop was stolen is part of a group in our tax practice that works regularly with historical data files, assisting our Global Mobility and other tax professionals with data conversion, formatting and analysis," Ernst and Young wrote in the letter. "In connection with his job, the employee ran reports, which result in files being created on the laptop. "We have determined that the laptop contained various personal information for a select number of IBM employees. Among the items of information included for some or all of these employees were name, address, US social security number, email address, and country where stationed." Nothing short of a nirvana for an identity thief. Ernst & Young has offered those affected a free, 12 month credit monitoring service provided by Experian. The service includes a hotline that IBM employees can call. Moran made such a call and found the staffer to be most unhelpful. "I left my name and number and no one called me back for ages," he said. "Then the guy says that this will never happen again in the future. So, I pointed out that they had lost McNealy's information after our thing happened. He didn't have a response to that." We called the Ernst and Young hotline for IBM employees and asked if it was the right place to ask about the IBM workers who had their data exposed via the laptop theft. The employee responded with a curt, "yes" but would provide no other information. Following the Sun/Cisco incident, Ernst & Young filed a police report in Miami, noting that it had lost four more laptops. Its employees left the systems in a conference room when they went out for lunch. A security camera at the conference center showed that it took all of about five minutes for two people to steal the laptops. Ernst & Young maintains that the laptops are password protected and do not pose a significant security risk. But such statements have not impressed security experts following the story. "For a big four firm consisting of auditors and compliance professionals to say such a thing is very revealing of their lack of understanding and ignorance of security controls (and how to defeat them)," wrote one Register reader. "I work for a information security consulting company and we routinely demonstrate to our customers how simple it is to circumvent/bypass/subvert security controls in order to gain access to personal computing devices -even those that are deemed to be secure as a result of the implemented security - BIOS password, hard drive password, OS password, strong authentication, etc." Other readers backed up this sentiment, saying that their experience with the big four accounting firms shows that the companies rarely encrypt data on laptops or use sophisticated security measures. Ernst & Young continues to avoid copping to these incidents in public, preferring for us and police blotters to expose the details. It's unclear how many more laptops have gone missing and have not been reported, and the company's security measures seem disconcerting to say the least for a company that specialises in accounting and auditing. Ernst & Young often gets paid to assess how well clients are complying with government policies around data protection and how forthcoming these clients are with discussing data breaches. Ernst & Young has yet to return our calls seeking information about what is being done to prevent future losses, whether this data should have been on laptops in the first place and if anyone has been held accountable for the string of breaches. ®