Sun Microsystems this week has gone through one of its sweeping product upgrades, freshening up its Opteron, SPARC and thin client lines. On the Opteron front, Sun has made the latest and greatest 156, 256 and 856 processors from AMD available. That gives Sun's server and workstation customers access to the 3.0GHz flavor of Opteron in addition to the older 2.6GHz chip. SPARC customers will find a new option as well. Sun has started shipping the Sun Fire T1000 box, which is based on the multi-core UltraSPARC T1 - aka Niagara - processor. The T1000 has been in the works for a long time, and is a 1U complement to the existing 2U T2000 server. The T1000 box starts at $2,995, while the beefier T2000 starts at $7,795. Sun has also confirmed the release date for the UltraSPARC T1 successor - the UltraSPARC T2. The chip has taped out and should ship in boxes by the second half of 2007. The company promised the UltraSPARC T2 will have double the performance of the UltraSPARC T1 and fit into multi-processor servers. Of course, we told you all this and more last year. The server maker continues to hawk thin clients as well and has chucked out two new products. Customers will find the Sun Ray 2 and Sun Ray 2FS systems for $249 and $499, respectively. The Sun Ray 2 is much smaller than previous models, while the 2FS system has special security tools such as a fiber optic network port for avoiding Ethernet. While Sun talks a good game with these products, some customers are struggling to get the company to deliver the gear. ®
Dave Givens knew a seven-hour roundtrip commute to and from Mariposa to Cisco's San Jose headquarters wasn't normal, but he didn't think it exceptionally unusual. Then Midas called. The auto repair firm this week handed Givens its "America's Longest Commute" award for his daily 372 mile trek. Givens had entered the contest on a coworker's suggestion and never expected to win. Now, the electrical engineer is giving the massive commute a rethink. "I was thinking that a few people would have a commute like this," he told us. "I really didn't think I had the longest one. "I am totally stoked about winning. But, on the other hand, it is really pointing out to me that it's quite the dubious award. It makes you wonder if this is right lifestyle." Givens, however, has no plans to change his routine any time soon after running the same route since 1989. With his family still sleeping, Givens heads out the door at around 4:30 a.m. from a horse ranch at the edge of the astonishing Yosemite National Park. On a good day, he can make the 186-mile trip to Cisco's sprawling offices in less than three hours. It takes about nine cups of coffee, XM satellite radio and audio books to make the drive tolerable. Givens then usually arrives home at around 8 or 8:30 p.m. This drive home through thicker traffic can take up to five hours some days. The glorious Yosemite country and horses make the commute worth the effort to Givens – who pounds more than 30 cups of coffee by the end of the day. "I could live a bit closer, but it would cost more and wouldn't be anywhere near as scenic," he said. As a winner of the award, Givens receives $10,000 in gas money and maintenance services from Midas. He beat out a 175-mile one-way Chicago man and a 164-mile North Carolina lass. Contestants had to provide the most direct route from their main residence to the office. What do you think? Is it worth it? ®
ATI has posted the latest version of its Catalyst drivers. Release 6.4 incorporates Linux support for the chip maker's Radeon X1300, X1600, X1800 and X1900 GPUs, and tweaks video quality on Windows systems courtesy of a few adjustments to the Avivo engine.
Capita has just three years to turn a "middling" IT department seconded from local government into a "world-class" player that can compete in the cut-throat world of private sector outsourcers. Birmingham City Council has roped Capita into doubling the quality standards in the IT department it sold to the services company as part of a joint venture agreement signed by the two firms on 1 April. Yet Birmingham has an old data centre, a network with unidentifiable "issues" and a lack of common standards in use among staff. Service Birmingham (SB), which is controlled by an approximate 70/30 per cent split between Capita and Birmingham, has been tied down with strict contractual terms in the delivery of £470m of IT services over the next 10 years. As set out in the report (90 page .pdf) by which Birmingham council Cabinet members voted to sign the Capita deal on 13 March, SB has committed to delivering services to the council at performance levels of between 80 and 100 per cent. Yet it was not known till now just how much of a job the hybrid had on its hands. Glynn Evans, who was IT boss at Birmingham until 1 April, and who now takes local charge of the "transformational government" strategy at the council, estimated that performance before the deal across Birmingham's IT departments rated about average. "We are probably middle of the range at about 50 per cent," he said. "This deal is to take us above the 90 per cent within three years...that's world-class IT." "I would say our service is adequate in most areas, excellent in a few and less than adequate in others. But adequate is not something I want for our council's IT services," he said. While reaching these targets, SB has to merge the council's disparate IT departments, which consist of about "six or seven" teams totalling 500-odd people that have been seconded to SB. It has to implement process standards defined by ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) within 18 months. Major infrastructure upgrades have been planned to deal with problems of a hoary data centre and dodgy network. Then it has to manage demands on application software development, implementation and support, run the data centre and security and manage networks, all of which will become tougher as Birmingham rolls out (as yet undeveloped) business plans for the transformation of all council services. As the catalyst for the government transformation, as set out in the Cabinet Office's transformation strategy, is technology, these will depend on the support of IT systems. All IT services that Birmingham needs will be delivered by the SB henceforward. Of 10 key performance indicators governing SB's work, seven are set at 99 or 100 per cent, and one each at 80, 90 and 95 per cent. SB has already got first dibs on running three areas of transformation for the council. Yet the contract with Birmingham stipulates that the Capita joint venture should not be guaranteed the commission of any transformation projects (of which 10 have got to the council's drawing board so far) because competitive tenders would be needed to guarantee a fair price. The Council Cabinet report made no mention of the SB's capacity to deliver. But it gave the joint venture the freedom to compete for business from other councils. Fortunately, the hybrid firm will have all significant management decisions vetoed by the council. ®
Civil unrest in Bangalore, India, has led to the closure of a call centre used by UK-based LLU ISP Be. A 24-hour government-imposed curfew kicked in yesterday evening at 5.30pm (UK time) leaving Be's broadband punters without any cover. In an email to customers yesterday evening the firm explained: "As you are aware, the majority of our Be agents in our call centre are based in India. "We have just been informed that there is a 24 hour government enforced curfew in Bangalore due to local civil unrest and, as a result, we are unable to handle any calls or tickets from there as of 5.30pm today. Unfortunately this unrest has affected not only our main call centre, but also our back-up sites. A spokesman for the ISP told El Reg that Be has drafted in a small team of contractors from the UK to provide emergency back-up. As for Be's outsourced call centre staff in Bangalore, they "will return to work as soon as it's safe to go back", he said. ®
iRiver will ship its latest hard drive-based MP3 players, dubbed the E10, into the South Korean market later this month, pitching the machine's 6GB capacity, 1.5in colour screen and 32-hour playback period against Apple's iPod Nano. It's claimed the device also operates as a TV remote control.
Paleontologists have unearthed an unprecedented cache of early human fossils in Ethiopia. The discoveries, reported in Nature, bone-up the story of our ancestors in the cradle of humanity. The remains belong to hominids – the collective term for humans and human-like apes – of the genus Australopithecus, a forerunner to our own, Homo. The international team toiled for five years alongside local people in the Middle Awash Valley, which lies in the Afar region. The finds, from at least nine individuals, are mostly teeth but include jaw, hand and thighbones. The hominid material had to be distinguished from monkeys and other mammals; our ancestors in the Middle Awash led a woodland lifestyle. Their brains were around the same size as modern chimps'. The most famous fossil in the world, “Lucy”, is an Australopithecus that lived in Ethiopia over three million years ago. Modern humans by comparison are a newbie on the hominid scene, having first stepped out about 150,000 years ago. At more than four million years old, the new fossils are even older than Lucy. They fill in a gap between Australopithecus and one of the candidates for their own even more ape-like ancestors, Ardipithecus. The origin of Australopithecus is one of the key questions in the descent of man; it seems there was a profusion of ambitious apemen in East Africa at the time. Research co-director Dr Berhane Asfaw said: “For the first time, we found fossils that allow us to connect the first phase of human evolution and the second phase” The particular species of Australopithecus they found, anamensis is not new to science. It is new to the Middle Awash however, and so fills in another page in the story, throwing weight behind Ardipithecus' claim on human ancestry. It either evolved from Ardipithecus on the spot, or evolved in one of the other areas where its bones have been found, and invaded the region. Either way, the region was the first skirmish of the evolutionary melee which Homo sapiens eventually emerged victorious from. The scientists say the shift from Ardipithecus to Australopithecus seems relatively rapid in evolutionary terms. The key differences were the development of a robust jaw for crunching tough but nutritious roots, and possibly the first emergence of upright walking. At a press conference in Ethiopia Asfaw took the opportunity to use the finds for a dig at creationists: “We have proved that one [species] is transforming into the other, so this evidence is important to show that there is human evolution. Human evolution is a fact and not a hypothesis.” Work continues in the region.®
Sony is close to announcing PlayStation price cuts, in the US at the very least. Stateside, the price will fall from $149 to $129 before April is out, an industry analyst forecast yesterday.
Reg Reader StudiesReg Reader Studies If you're involved in end user support and your end users can do without your support for about ten minutes, then we'd be grateful if you'd use that valuable time to complete out latest tap on the IT barometer, unenticingly but accurately titled: "Supporting the End User". You know the drill: enter survey, complete questions, award yourself pat on the back for having contributed in some small way to a better future for all our children. Get to it right here. ®
Fujitsu-Siemen's storage division is hawking a new tape storage solution for SMBs. It says its groovily-dubbed FibreCAT TX24 eliminates human error in the backup process. The TX24 has a capacity of 19.2 terabytes, running for five weeks without needing to change tapes. Data transfer rates for the machine's up to 24 slots are 24 MB/s (LTO-2) and 80 MB/s (LTO-3). Fujitsu-Siemens says this'll be boosted by a fibre channel connection available later in the year. If not all 24 are needed at first they say it can be easily up or downgraded. Storage VP Helmut Beck honked: “With the FibreCAT TX24, companies can enter the world of automatic data backup at a price they can afford and upgrade the system quickly and easily as their needs grow. At the same time, the system offers users an easy way to start media cloning, thus enabling a very high standard of data backup.” Other features of the compact rack-mounted unit include error logging via USB and automatic media cloning, where double copies are made in a belt and braces approach to data disaster tolerance. The FibreCAT TX24 is available now.®
DSG international (Dixons to you and me) has snapped up a 75 per cent stake in European etailer Fotovista Group for €266m (£185m). Fotovista is the Paris-based parent company of Pixmania, which flogs digital camera stuff and other consumer electronics products in 25 European countries. Its operations also include online digital photo services, a 250 store-based franchised photographic operation in France, and specialist photography services in France and Belgium. In the year to the end of March 2005 Fotovista generated consolidated sales of €354.1m and an underlying profit before interest and tax of €6.2m. In a statement announcing the deal the UK retailer said the acquisition of Fotovista brings a "fast growing, profitable and highly respected etailer of digital photographic and consumer electronics products with established operations throughout Europe" into the DSGi group. The deal forms part of DSGi's international expansion programme as it looks to enter new overseas growth markets. ®
Notebook specialist Averatec will ship its take on the ultra-mobile PC concept this autumn, offering a handheld Windows XP Home Edition-based machine with a keyboard that sits underneath a slide-out 5in, 1,280 x 1,204 touch-sensitive screen.
LettersLetters Black helicopters have been circling this week over the .eu domain landrush. The TLD has just been made available to the unwashed masses after a sunrise period for companies and organisations to stake their legitimate claims. Naturally, it's all gone titsup: I would like to give you the heads up on what really happened with the EU sunrise and landrush phases, and how the .eu extension has been stolen by underhanded US mega millionaires, who exploited every loophole the EURID left in the registration system. The worst thing is the EURID were worned beforehand but set back and watched it happen, it is begining to look like it was in there interest for the EU domain to look successful. 1. Sunrise: During this period 1000`s of false companies were setup to claim prior rights to every domain that had worth. Companies such as "ser & bia" who claimed rights to serbia.eu. Another company was setup using every letter of the alphabet ie. "a&b&c&d&e.....etc". They then set out to claim rights to every combination allowed of 3 and 4 digit names"....guess what they got them..... One illegal company in sweden even managed to claim the rights to the word "music" &" travel" and 15 other major domains. When we rang this company they weren`t in sweden they were in the US. Check out who was awarded the USA.eu domain over the US embassy??? A company setup called U&SA. 2. Landrush: Days before the landrush began the biggest scam in europes internet history was committed against all the rules of the eurid. The eurid states that registrars can only apply for names that were requested by actual people/ customers. Days before the landrush over 500-800 new eu registrars appeared on the eurid registrar list out of no where.....all the same guy. The scam was begining, none of these dummie registrars even had a website were you could register a domain name...sound odd??? against all the eurid rules, who were they requesting names for??? A US millionaire has his hands on most of the domains that were registered for every 5 names a genuine registrar got per second or so, this... got over 4000 - 5000. And were are all these names??? there going up for auction in coming days to the highest bidder.....the .EU domain extension has been stolen....and we as europeans have been rightly ripped off.....and even worse the EURID are keeping quite.....and it appears they are going to let this happen ...when they could put a stop to this but that would make them look like complete idiots.... someone needs to expose what has happened.......some of the worlds top registrars have complained to the eurid but they are white washing them because of the publicity they will get if they admit to it...the eurid is a complete shambles and right at the start of there job have made the biggest cock up......EXPOSE THEM! Want more info.....I even know the name of the US millionaire who done this.....and others who a sitting back laughing at europeans now after they made 10`s of millions if not 100``s selling our names back to us....Tucows even made compiaints about what they seen happen..... We have been ripped off of our own internet address...........made fools of.... James There's more on this whole sorry affair right here. An owlselling West African contacted El Reg this week looking to buy some laptops. Here's a bit of background info on how owlsellers do business: Mr. Haines, you and everyone at El Reg will be pleased to know that the limited run "All my money went to Nigeria and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" shirt was all the talk when I stealthy wore one to work at a U.S. telecomm shop. This was actually last year. I was going to be leaving this job a telephone relay service operator soon, so I figured, what the hey? I'll don the t-shirt, albeit under a sweatshirt as to not cause too much of a ruckus or prematurely lose my job. If you weren't aware, the 419ers have exploited relay service as a means of using stolen credit card numbers to buy things ranging from spark plugs to t-shirts and have them shipped overseas to West Africa. My corporation intentionally (ahem) had a limited response to the fraudsters, citing FCC regulations. Perhaps once their lawyers had been paid billable hours, they determined the FCC bylaws might contain implied consent for intervention against fraud. Once a policy was put in place, our friends from Nigeria were stopped for a while. If they asked to have something sent overseas, the speaking/hearing customer whom the 419er had called via relay was informed something fraudulent was afoot. Most times people promptly hung up and the call was disconnected after the 419ers were given a cold slap in the face. This made doing relay much easier, and freed operators from being complicit in the execution of credit card fraud. Having done enough calls, I can tell you that the 419ers must have had a call center somewhere much like the one we were performing relay calls from. Second, they had scripts. Too many lines were repeated over and over for there not to be written scripts. They also had supervisors. When something went awry with a call, there were often long pauses while the fraudsters tried to figure out what to do. Having fraud prevention in place meant the volume of fraud calls plummeted. But given the brains behind their operation, it would make sense that they could eventually find a hole in the fraud prevention policy. They figured out that when they asked to have an item shipped overseas, the calls were most often dropped. So they started to send the goods within the U.S., implying someone over here was helping them. Having quit the relay job in spring 2005, I was not around to find out if they revised the policy to make it easier to disconnect the fraudsters. Unfortunately, calls from bored teenagers who discovered relay was a great way to prank call their friends skyrocketed. And in some ways was worse than the 419 calls. The fraud calls are evil, sure, but they didn't get mean or personal, while the teens rather harassed their fellow youths. The 419ers just wanted their goods. And were relentless until the company finally tried to stop 'em. Oh, sorry, the "All my money" t-shirt -- I showed it to one person, and word quickly got around. Suffice to say it was a hit. The shirt provided a dose of the medicine of laughter, which was sorely needed on that job. Cheers, Jason Haas Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA And when the owlsellers get in touch, how do you respond? Try this: Hi Lester, I used to work for a e-tailer till last year. We were a very small tech team, so as it happens in our trade, the bossman agreed to take us for an Indian [goes without saying he also paid for 5 hour beer session before that]. As usual the bossman called his missus sometime at 1 in the morning, asked her to pick us up as he had a flat tire [how she fell for it is a different story] :) We go to his house to check the servers etc before a quick Playstation session and a few liquers to chill. We had an order come thro. The bossman reply to them is given below without any modifications. Guys, After a harsh, negative day at work in England, I have to thank you for bringing a little sunshine into my life. 4 years and 9 months after an Indonesian discovered how to place a fraudulent credit card order over the Internet, we get our first attempt from Turkmenistan. As a gesture of goodwill, I've tried to reciprocate by ordering two virgin goats from www.turkmenistanbabes.com with a credit card from Pennsylvania. Global peace and all that, remember, a sheep isn't just for Christmas. Name withheld by request Good show. Hope they got their goats safe and sound. Moving away from Planet Earth for a moment, NASA intends to crash a probe into the Moon's surface: So, instead of NASA trying to land things on planets/moons and crashing them into said planets/moons and suffering a bit of embarassment of failing, now they just announce that they're going to crash something into a planet?! Not sure if anything has really changed. -Rob I've said it before and I'll say it again.. Any NASA project that doesn't involve intergalatic space travel, laser guns or light sabres is a complete and utter waste of money. As a taxpayer I demand my money is spent on proper space stuff, not some crappy mission to collect space amoeba or whatever else these idiots think they can trick us into believing is extra-terrestrial life. Does it have 10 arms, blue-glowing skin and a transparent skull? No, then it's not a bloody alien, it's a bloody rock. I've seen rocks before, and they're no more interesting just because they come from a different planet. Does water from the Moon cure cancer or enable me to fly? No, then it's bloody tap water, and I'm having my tax dollars wasted filling up buckets with something my kids can collect at the bloody seaside. For Christ's sake, what don't these people get? If we wanted Moon water we'd have gone back to that boring, lifeless lump of rock decades ago. So get a bloody clue.. we want space aliens, holodecks and our own personal X-Wing fighters, not bloody rocks from Mars or water from the bloody Moon. In my somewhat out to lunch opinion, the greatest opportunity missed by NASA was not putting Gene Roddenberry in charge while he was still alive. But there is some hope, George Lucas is alive and well - and armed with your average Star Wars special effects budget he'll have space craft flitting between planets and astronauts duking it out with light sabres before the year is out. I may not have the guile of your average Nigerian Owlseller, but I'm personally going to see if I can convince NASA to do the right thing and hire someone who understands what a space agency should be doing. Andy Bright Well, if it's exotic tech you want, try the Israeli "Trophy" - an RPG-busting "force field". How it works, we're not quite sure, but here are a few possibilities: Regarding your apparent scepticism about this `invisible force field' - well, there are quite a lot of invisible force fields about. Gravitational, electrical, and magnetic for starters (not to mention strong nuclear force fields and suchlike, which don't really count outside the atomic scale). And while gravity is unlikely to be involved, using technology to produce a beam of invisible electromagnetic radiation is commonplace. One might think of a radar set, or a maser, or an invisible laser (UV or IR). Not to mention recent goings on in the terahertz region, although I gather all that stuff is far too low in efficiency to be worth considering for any high power work. The tricky bit would be to get enough power in the right direction at the right time, and of the right frequency to be able to overheat and presumably thereby destroy an incoming explosive round. On the other hand, `They' started to look seriously at `death rays' back in the 1930s (conclusion back then: possible in theory, but not likely to be practical any time soon), so I wouldn't be surprised if `they' had come up with something by now. And `They' have got electrical armour working:
so why not something similarly barking mad that works at a distance? The tracking and pointing problem was solved in principle years back: (Phalanx guns can apparently shoot down 4 inch shells) - all they really needed to sort out was how to produce enough power at the right frequency. Or at least, that's my guess.
This is very likely something like the Russian "Arena" Active Protection System, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arena_%28active_countermeasures_system%29 and links further from that article.
Or google APS Active Protection System....
Sounds like explosive reactive armour to me. The Israelis invented that stuff.
Modern armour-piercing munitions generally work in one of two ways.  something long and thin and pointy and heavy and travelling very fast. Armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds, perhaps made out of depleted uranium, are a good example here or  a suitably-shaped lump of explosive squishes a bit of copper or some other metal into a directed plasma jet travelling at perhaps 20x the speed of sound -- stick such an arrangement onto the end of a man-portable rocket and it should burn a hole in the armour plate at which you aimed it.
What the Israeli defence industry found was that if you covered your armour plate in blocks of a suitable explosive, the incoming pointy thing or plasma jet will cause said blocks to explode, causing either the pointy thing to not strike point-on and instead slide off, or to disrupt the plasma jet and make it burn a wide shallow non-penetrating hole. It worked well for them but has some drawbacks -- once an ERA block has gone off, there's a bare spot on the armour which is no longer protected; and being stood next to a ERA-protected vehicle when it is struck is to be stood next to lumps of explosive which are detonating -- this is Non-Fun.
Presumably the Septics are going to have their ERA blocks be triggered by radar rather than by impact, and anybody stood next to a vehicle when this occurs is going to be a 'raghead' (charming locution, I'm sure) and therefore Unimportant
Lee Harvey Osmond
It is based upon the "Metal Storm" gun the Austrailians developed:
"...it uses electronics to control the blast of projectiles, which can shred a target or throw up a defensive wall against an incoming missile."
In the USA, this gun has been profiled on television, either on Discovery or History Channel episodes about hi-tech weapons.
Using smaller caliber "tumbling" rounds, it creates a dispersing "wall" of metal which presents greater impact surface area than non-tumbling, "aimed" bullets to the incoming projectile. If it uses heavier bullets such as D-U, it has more kinetic energy to stop the incoming round.
re: RPG-busting 'force field' ... a 'beam of fragments' ...
IMO it's a shotgun.
Say you want gazillions of dollars to develop a big computer-controlled shotgun and they'll laugh at you. So spin it.
Yawn. The only outcome of the Trophy defence system will be the acceleration of the development of hypersonic Rail Gun weapons. An active defence system which can defeat a rocket travelling at 1500mph will not stand a chance against a rail gun projectile travelling at 13000mph.
So after billions in research the US military will have an armourerd vehicle that is immune to RPGs. Now the insurgents will have to make the correponding investment (i.e. zero dollars) of using an IED (i.e. bomb) instead.
Force field. Yes. Great idea. Because the obvious reason for Failure In Iraq (TM) is that the yanks weren't using a force field against RPG attacks. Now with this new force field, the war is almost over. Awesome! Maybe God and JC really are working for the Land Of The Free (TM).
I thought you meant a force field to stop people participating in role playing games.
now that really would be progress
Yes it would. We can only hope...
Penultimately, here's a quickie about the flashing NY subway perv:
I don't know why this pervert is complaining about being photographed, he got off lightly. Some years ago I worked in a UK university with an open campus and we had problems with a persistent flasher for 6 months. It all ended when he made the mistake of flashing the vice-captain of the women's hockey team on her way back from practice. She was a well built young woman with a powerful drive with a hockey stick, a skill which she promptly demonstrated on the flasher's genitalia. One hour later, but only 400 yards away from the incident, a sad figure was seen hobbling off campus, very slowly and doubled over, and we had no further flashing incidents after that.
To wrap up this nonsense, let's have a bit of light relief concerning near death experiences. Apparently, it's all about REM intrusion, or something like that:
And there was me thinking that the symptoms of REM Intrusion included shaving your head, supporing Democratic Presidential candidates and writing multiple songs about Andy Kaufmann...
Nicely put. And that's yer lot for the pre-Easter letters. We'll be back next Tuesday, suitably refreshed and ready for action. ®
Episode 14Episode 14 "Have you read the memo from those software people?" the Boss asks, tapping some paper on my desk. "It's in my In Tray, I just haven't got round to reading it yet." "It's on your DESK!" "Yes, and my desk is my In Tray." >Sigh< "Well can you read it now please?" "Sure." "RIGHT now please?" "It's that urgent?" "It wasn't two weeks ago when I put it.. on your.. In Tray, but it's urgent now." "Why?" "Because it's a special offer which expires today and they've just rung me about it and are going to call back in 10 minutes." "Oh really. Well how's about we have a gander at it then while we wander back to your office for the call.. Blah, blah, secret weapon, blah, blah German spies, blah, blah." "What the hell are you reading?" the Boss blurts, snatching the paper off me. "Secret weapons!?" "It's just something I say to myself when wading through weasel words," I say, wresting the paper back from the Boss. "What does it mean?" "It means they're trying to shaft us." "What? You haven't even read it all yet - there's more than one page!" "Yes, but it starts 'Dear Valuable VIP Customer'. They may as well say 'Please drop your pants and bend over the table by that unnecessarily large hammer action masonry drill'." "They're one of our software vendors, it's just a renewal notice." "That remains to be seen," I say, flipping the page. "Blah, blah, blah, royal shafting." "Where?" "There," I say, pointing to the last page of the renewal invoice. "It's just the bill!" "Yes, but see the little boxes for you to tick the products you want to renew with larger boxes for the number of licenses that you wish to renew?" "Yes." "And all the boxes are empty?" "Yes." "How do they get filled in?" "I suppose I fill them in." "With what?" "I tick the Boxes and enter the numbers." "Which boxes and which numbers?" I ask. "I DON'T BLOODY KNOW!" the Boss snaps, getting a little tired of the interrogation. "And there's my point. We don't even USE some of this software, so suddenly you'd start paying maintenance on software we don't have. More importantly, after we've been paying for... I dunno... three years, they'll say there's a major release and we need to pay for that, which we we'll do because we're paying maintenance on it so we must be using it somewhere. The best bit though, is the number of licenses. We're a Valuable VIP Customer..." "What does that mean?" "It means they think we're stupid and have lots of money to spend. If we're that valuable surely they'd REMEMBER the number of licenses we had and just prefill in the form for us." "So they're... ... ...?" "Wanting us to do one of two things - mistakenly fill in the form with an overly large number so they make a bit more cash. OR, mistakenly fill in the form with a low number so they wait a couple of months before saying that a routine license review noticed we underestimated our licenses by a certain amount and that because the expiry period has passed these licenses now cost an extortionate amount. 'Which would still be cheaper than involving the legal representatives of our two companies'..." "So how many licenses do we use?" "Who knows? The larger the company the more obscure the number of licenses held. When it's completely impossible you become a Valuable VIP customer." "So what are we going to do?" "Well you could go from room to room counting licenses." "I don't thi..." "Or we could force an application out to every desktop to report licenses - which would upset the civil libertarians who'd think we were spying on them." "I..." "Or you could let me talk to the vendor when they call." "I.. why don't I talk to them?" "Because you'll get flustered and sign up for 100 of everything." "I don't think that I'm tha..." "So you think that you're capable of talking to them without losing your rag?" "Yes I think I'm qu..." "And you won't get thrown off by technical speak?" "No, I thin..." "Even if they offer you confusing options which actually amount to exactly the same offer reworded?" "Yes, I'm.." "Even when you can't get a single question or statement out because they keep interrupting you?" "I CAN BLOODY DEAL WITH THEM!!!" "And that, your honour, concludes the case for the prosecution," the PFY mumbles. So it's decided that I'll talk to them - and not a moment too soon... >Ring< "Hi Simon here. Yes, he's here, but I handle our license renewals... Uh huh... Mmm Hmmm... Yes... Well how's about you people come back with the number of licenses you think we've got - you must have them in a database somewhere.... . . You don't? Well in that case we're not using any of your products anymore.... . . Oh, you think you might have found some 'historic' documentation of our license purchases... ... Uh-huh... ... Well I think we both know that those numbers are slightly inflated... Uh-huh... I still think were it to involve our legal representatives we might find that you're charging us for licenses... Oh, you think there might have been a 'spreadsheet error'?... . . .Yes, that's a much more realistic number.. Though it's just occurred to me that if it's happened now it's probably happened in the past - which would mean our legal representatives might.... a credit? Yes, that's probably a good idea.... ... Yes, made out to CASH, as in Johnny... And if you could just send the documentation to me in an email with a new invoice... Bye now." "How did it go?" the Boss asks. "They're sending us a revised license estimate and reducing our maintenance fee." "Did you mention a credit?" the Boss asks. "No." "I'm sure you said something about it." "Please! Would I rip off a Valuable VIP employer like you?" ® BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99
The Freedom of Information Act has produced wider access to information – but the legislation has been implemented in a way that hinders requests, and the Information Commissioner is partly to blame, a House of Commons committee has heard. Oral evidence was presented to the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. The Information Commissioner, when challenged by MPs on 14 March, rejected most of the complaints but claimed his office was under-funded. Maurice Frankel, chair of the Freedom of Information Campaign, gave evidence to the Committee on 28 March. He said that delays in dealing with FOI requests were "a problem at every stage" of the FOI process. He said user experience was characterised by a delay "in responding to request", a delay "in completing internal reviews" and lengthy delays "in getting decisions from the Information Commissioner". He also pointed out that "there is a nominal 20 working-day response period, but it is expandable for an unspecified reasonable period, whenever public interest is to be considered". Steven Wood, a lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University who runs a FOI blog, told MPs: "The longest [delay] I have experienced is 70 working days." He said you are often in a quandary as to whether you want to complain to the Commissioner because "if you take your complaint about the delay to the Commissioner, the Commissioner only investigates the delay". Thus if the public authority applies an exemption at a later stage "you then have to go back again" and complain to the Commissioner about the same request. In relation to "the Commissioner’s performance and, in particular, the backlog of appeals cases", Frankel said that problems existed with "the quality of the notices and the investigations". He was concerned that when the enforcement arrangements in the legislation were designed, people assumed "that the tribunal would be there to hold the Commissioner back" and that cases before them would relate to public authorities complaining about the release of information. In practice, he said, "what the tribunal are doing is pushing the Commissioner forward" saying that more of the requested information should have been released to the applicant. Wood also told the Committee that "a perception may be building up that the Information Commissioner perhaps lacks the authority to be able to get through these cases quickly", and that public authorities "may be downgrading their risk analysis to do with what they think the risks from the Act are to them". Frankel agrees. He added that there as a risk that some FOI applicants would ask: “What’s the point of this Freedom of Information Act if I can’t get a decision?” David Hencke, a journalist at the Guardian specialising in Parliamentary matters, told MPs that he had a "feeling that they [the OIC's office] are not very well organised" and that "I also rather wonder about the resources that they put aside" because "there seem to be far more cases coming up to them than they obviously anticipated". Dr Lydia Pollard, representing Local Authorities, told MPs that when public authorities have contacted the OIC for informal guidance, "They have been advised, that the Information Commissioner’s Office was not able to give that because it might prejudice a complaint". She added that in some instances "guidance has been slow to come out". But in his own evidence, Information Commissioner Richard Thomas rejected most of the complaints. The backlog of requests arose, he said, because of the Government's decision to implement FOI across all public authorities at the same time. He added that there was a "complexity and the lack of tidiness" in which cases for a decision were presented to him and this added to the work to be done. The result is that "each case is taking substantially longer than we had anticipated", he said. The Commissioner said that recruitment of suitably qualified staff was an issue. He told MPs that, as the starting salary was £15,000 a year for a complaints handling officer, "you will not get very many people at those sorts of salaries who have got extensive experience of working inside the public sector at a senior level". Thomas added that his Government grant for FOI work was inadequate and that he had put in a bid for an extra grant of £1.13m to add to his baseline funding of £5m per year. He said that if the full sum was granted, his office could clear the backlog within 14 months. In relation to the standards and quality of the work produced by staff, MPs were told that the OIC had "included in our recovery plans specific action to address the issue of training of staff, performance and knowledge management". The Constitutional Affairs Committee is expected to report in the summer. See: Transcript of Richard Thomas's oral evidence. Note: this is an unapproved transcript and neither witnesses nor MPs have had the opportunity to correct the record. The evidence of Maurice Frankel etc. can be heard on Parliament Live (for the next three weeks) and is to be published on the Committee's website soon. Search by date (28 March 2006) and you can access the recording from page two of the results. Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
BT has run out of broadband capacity in Hemel Hempstead. It means orders for new broadband connections have been put on hold while the UK's former phone monopoly installs new kit to meet demand. One business punter who was supposed to have a new broadband connection up and running at the beginning of the month has spent the last two weeks trying to get a straight answer from the giant telco. In the end, he was told that BT's Hemel Hempstead exchange would be without additional broadband capacity "indefinitely". As a result, he's now been forced to look to a local loop unbundling (LLU) operator for a broadband service. A spokeswoman for BT Wholesale - which provides wholesale broadband that is resold by ISPs - confirmed that it had run out of broadband in Hemel Hempstead. "We are installing new equipment at the exchange and this is planned to be installed and tested by the end of the month," she told us. "This does mean there will be a slight delay in meeting the orders on this exchange for which we apologise, but we are doing all we can to get this work completed as soon as is possible." ®
Samsung's upcoming ultra-mobile PC, the Q1, will be pricey enough when it hits the UK's shores, but buyers in the company's native land of South Korea will have to splash out even more if they want one. According to local reports, they will have to pay the best part of KRW2m - equivalent to $2,100/£1,198.
Lawyers for a Briton fighting extradition to the US on charges that he perpetrated the biggest ever hack against US government systems fear their client could end up in Guantanamo. Gary McKinnon, 40, might be tried under US anti-terror laws over alleged attacks on military and NASA systems between 2001 and 2002. A hearing in Bow Street Magistrates' Court this week over McKinnon's proposed extradition focused on an argument over Military Order Number One, an executive power that allows a US president to order a suspect's indefinite detention. Mark Summers, a lawyer acting on behalf of the US government, told the court that the US government had promised that McKinnon be tried in a federal court. Defence lawyer Edmund Lawson disputed this. He argued McKinnon's human rights were imperiled by the US government's desire to punish his client's alleged misdeeds. "The US government wants to extract some kind of species of administrative revenge because he exposed their security systems as weak and helpless as they were," Lawson told the court. District Judge Nicholas Evans will decide whether or not to extradite McKinnon at a hearing scheduled for 10 May. ®
Researchers working on organic light-emitting devices (OLEDs) have made a critical jump that could finally call lights out time for the humble bulb. Since OLEDs are transparent when switched off, the prospect is of whole surfaces like walls, windows, or even curtains flooding rooms with brilliant white light. University of Southern California Professor Mark Thompson said: “This process will enable us to get 100 percent efficiency out of a single, broad spectrum light source.” The American team's breakthrough was to make OLEDs able to emit the daylight-style white light needed in homes and offices. Previous efforts had had struggled to get the full spectrum of wavelengths required. OLEDs are made of four ultrathin layers; one for each of the primary colours, and one that does the actual light emitting as excited electrons fall back to their original energy state. The problem was with the blue phosphorescent layer, which wasn't as efficient as the other two and short-lived. Thompson's team switched the blue layer's phosphorescent chemical for a fluorescent one. The subtle difference in the speed of the electron's energy transitions between phosphorescence and fluorescence can be adjusted for, without losing energy. OLEDs do not produce heat like a traditional incandescent filament bulb, and are even more efficient that current energy-saving fluorescent bulbs. In a current fluorescent bulb the colours are all produced in a single layer, which causes some of the light to be lost by electrons combining with each other rather than radiating light. The only hurdle left for the technology, Thompson says is for the plastic coating to be improved so that water cannot degrade the OLED. They will only need replacing every five to ten years. The invention has obvious tech applications. Companies are already looking into it for mobile screens, and flat panel displays.®
UK digital radio company Oono will ship its first handheld offering, the iPod-esque MiniDAB, in June. The asking price? A mere £180, the company told Reg Hardware today.
Imagine CupImagine Cup Just a quick follow up to yesterday's entry, we mentioned ward sister Mel and her insights into friends, family and patients. We think it would be interesting to open the floor to you guys.
A number of technology companies in Bangalore, India, have shut up shop for the day following the death of the famous septuagenarian Indian actor Rajkumar. Thousands of people flocked to attend the funeral of Rajkumar, who died of a heart attack, and shops and businesses were shut down as a mark of respect. However, pockets of violence broke out with press sources reporting that rioters attacking , among other things, a building belonging to Microsoft. Other IT companies also understood to have shut down their operations during this time include Hewlett Packard and McAfee. UK ISP Be is another firm affected by the unrest. In an email to its customers Be said that a "24 hour government enforced curfew in Bangalore [had been imposed] due to local civil unrest". However, some readers familiar with the situation in Bangalore say no curfew has been put in place. ®
A Las Vegas hotelier is to test two one-third scale versions of an inflatable space motel, New Scientist reports. Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace has secured space aboard two Russian Dnepr rockets (converted ICBMs otherwise known as SS-18s) for his prototype low-Earth orbit habitats - dubbed "Genesis". The project is based on a scrapped NASA design dubbed "TransHab". The full-fat version offers 330 cubic metres of flying hotel, protected from space debris attack by a "30-centimetre-thick multilayered polymer and Kevlar hull". The whole thing apparently opens like a concertina when deployed, and it's this vital process which is the focus of the tests, as Bigelow's Mike Gold explained: "There has never been a system like this in microgravity and we need to know if it will work." The two structures will, all being well, orbit for several years to allow full testing and evaluation. Rather marvellously, the dates of the launches cannot be released "because the use of an ICBM means the information falls under US arms trade restrictions". ®
Review round-upReview round-up This week's no-holds-barred product assessments from around the web...
Last month, security researcher HD Moore decided to write a simple program that would mangle the code found in web pages and gauge the effect such data would have on the major browsers. The result: hundreds of crashes and the discovery of several dozen flaws.
ReviewReview These days there isn’t much difference between one manufacturer’s graphics card and another’s, mainly because the standard reference designs from ATI and Nvidia work just fine. That leaves card makers scrambling around for differentiators, and with ever increasing concerns about noise, some manufacturers are trying to figure out how to make their cards more quiet than their rivals...
Networking manufacturer D-Link is facing an escalating row over how its kit queries internet time servers. Critics claim the way D-link equipment polls NTP (Network Time Protocol) servers is impairing their operations, leaving operators to carry unsustainable excess bandwidth charges. NTP servers handle a variety of functions including, for example, helping to create a record of the timing of eBay bids. The row kicked off after self-confessed "time geek" Poul-Henning Kamp wrote an open letter to D-Link prompted by his frustrations in attempting to get the firm to acknowledge that a misconfigured implementation of NTP on its kit left him staring at a bill of around $8,800 a year. D-Link products worldwide query a small NTP server located at the Danish Internet Exchange, intended to service only 2,000 or so organisations in the country. Kamp reckons that between 75 and 90 per cent of the traffic hitting his servers comes from D-Link devices. Growing costs have forced Kamp to consider abandoning his time-keeping service. The address of Kamp's NTP server - which is run on a non-profit basis and allocated only minimal bandwidth resources - was hardwired into the firmware in various D-link products. A more flexible approach would have seen the products reconfigured remotely and redirected to a more appropriate NTP server. Kamp asked D-Link to take steps to reduce the impact of the problem. Acknowledging that a complete fix wasn't possible (because the "bad" bahaviour of D-Link's routers, switches and wireless access point was established by default configurations), Kamp asked D-Link to cover his excess costs. Since Kamp's open letter other NTP operators have come forward with similar complaints. D-Link is freeloading onto as 50 NTP time servers, critics claim. The BBC reports that US military Nasa and government groups worldwide are running NTP servers interrogated by D-Link kit. Security expert Richard Clayton, from the security research lab at Cambridge University, who first tracked back the source of unwanted international traffic sent to Kamp's Danish NTP server to D-Link kit, reckons D-Link would rack up $1,000 a month in bandwidth charges if it ran those time servers itself. D-Link, for its part, is hiding behind its lawyers. Instead of acknowledging it might have made an error, and operators say D-Link's attorneys have accused them of "extortion" or else demanded that disgruntled punters submit to Californian law. A D-Link spokesman said the firm was aware of the issue but said it wasn't prepared to discuss complaints publicly until its "legal counsel advises on the matter". D-Link may come up with a statement after Easter, El Reg was told. ®
Buffalo has upped the capacity of its TeraStation Pro network-attached storage (NAS) boxes to 2TB, an increase in data-archive space of 25 per cent. It also announced a 2TB version of its TeraStation Home Server (HS) unit, doubling the product's current capacity.
Sometimes we don't really see what our eyes are viewing. That's true with your computer screen, and it's true in nature as well. Oh sure, we can say what we think we're seeing, but we're missing the big story such as the man behind the curtain, to recall a famous phrase from an even more beloved movie.
iPod accessory specialist DLO has begun shipping what it claims is the first ever iPod dock that uses a TV screen to let you navigate through your player's music collection from a distance. In short, no more squinting at the iPod's screen.
Wall Street's fling with AMD officially ended today with investors deciding the company has milked all it can out of a performance, price and power consumption edge on rival Intel. AMD's shares dropped more than ten percent during Thursday's trading to $31.80. That's hardly the reception AMD had been hoping for after positing a 73 per cent rise in first quarter chip sales one day earlier. Past growth never does much for Wall Street, and investors appear nervous about AMD's future to a degree. Will AMD continue to gain share against Intel? Sure. Will AMD show large revenue gains in the second quarter? Yep. Will AMD keep making Intel look like the richest clown on the planet? Um, probably not. Financial analysts expect Intel to produce more competitive processors in the coming months, which should stop some of the defections to the Turion and Opteron camps. Even more alarming - to the Wall Street types - are the price cuts Intel has put in place and may well increase in the hopes of wounding AMD. Intel knows that many customers will likely pass on existing processors, waiting instead for product designed around its "Core" architecture due out in the second half of the year. Such chips will help Intel compete with AMD on pure performance and performance per watt measures in the desktop and server arenas. With that in mind, Intel has trimmed prices to try and move inventory and issued conservative near-term guidance to analysts. Insiders say that Intel has gone discount mad with low-end processors, and has offered major incentives to channel partners to push product out the door. Numerous analysts suspect these pricing actions will harm AMD and cut into its margins. So, AMD's gains will be slowed by pricing pessure in the near-term and better product from Intel in the longer-term. Not all shareholders agree with this line of thinking, but enough do to depress AMD's share price. AMD's shares had been as high as $42 earlier this year when it was busy pounding away on Intel in the press and in customer accounts. The stock slipped back a bit to the $41 to $37 range for awhile before dipping down to $32 this week. To get back to previous heights, AMD would need to demonstrate that the Intel pressure just won't slow growth that much. AMD will upgrade its products to offset Intel's changes and keep winning business from the likes of IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems, so the thinking goes. A successful Sun, in particular, is growth for AMD since the server vendor currently has a small x86 server business and doesn't buy chips from Intel. And, in fact, not all the analysts think Intel's pricing pressure will hamper AMD in the long-term. "We continue to see a fundamental shift in the nature of competition between AMD and Intel and expect to see Intel's monopoly continue to erode," wrote JoAnne Feeney, an analyst at Punk, Ziegel & Co., in a research report. "At the same time, we believe we are facing a heightened level of near-term uncertainty. "Over the longer term, even Intel’s forthcoming upgrades are unlikely to be able to reverse the flow of new AMD-based systems into the market. We see the recent design wins by AMD creating persistence in market share gains for AMD and see AMD growing relative to Intel in the microprocessor market. We believe high-end buyers discriminate more on quality than on price, and we expect AMD to continue to gain share over the course of the year, but the ride could be bumpy." (Feeney took minor exception with us calling her "fickle" in a story yesterday, noting that she maintains a $45 price target on AMD.) While we're not Wall Street wizards, we expect AMD will have a tough time boosting its share price to $45 and beyond anytime soon. AMD wowed analysts and customers by beating Intel to 64-bits, beating it to dual-cores and shipping a much better performing product in Opteron. AMD was more than happy to brag about these achievements well before it actually delivered them to market. These days AMD has gone largely silent on exactly how it will knock Intel's upcoming line of products. AMD now says it's bad business to reveal breakthroughs ahead of time. It also insists that Intel must talk about future product because its current product line isn't competitive. AMD would prefer to focus on the here and now. AMD's silence seems to be making investors nervous and with good reason. It's much easier to fall in love with a glorious future than a shining past. ®