28th > June > 2006 Archive

Child porn control goes too far, says privacy chief

The Information Commissioner advised the Home Office against a key measure of its recent Data Protection Act amendment giving banks the power to administer an account without the knowledge of the account holders. The measure has been put in place to prevent the re-use of payment cards to purchase child pornography and is explicitly limited only to that situation. Though the Information Commissioner's office mostly backs the change, it believes that it goes too far in one key respect. "We were not persuaded that the part about administering the account was necessary," a spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner said. The Commissioner was consulted by the Home Office on the draft of the Home Secretary's Order amending the Act. The draft Order says: "The processing of information about a criminal conviction or caution for an offence listed in paragraph (3) relating to an indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child is necessary for the purpose of administering an account relating to the payment card used in the commission of the offence or for cancelling that payment card." "We think it would have been enough to confiscate the card," said the spokeswoman, who confirmed that this would leave a person with an account but without the physical card that went with it. The term "payment card" in the legislation refers to credit cards and to debit cards, so the "account" mentioned could be a full bank account, and not just a credit card account. The measure has been established to prevent the use of credit cards to purchase child pornography at the request of payments body APACS. An APACS spokeswoman said the information could only go to the issuer of a card used for an offence. "There is nothing to stop that person going to another bank for another card," she said. See: Draft Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2006 Explanatory Memorandum to the draft Order (2 page/23KB PDF)  Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 28 Jun 2006

eBay.ie introduces 'Skype Me' function

Buyers and sellers cruising the dedicated Irish eBay site can now haggle using Skype free internet voice calls and instant messaging service. Sellers will be able to include a "Skype Me" button on the eBay.ie listings page accessible to buyers. By clicking the button, buyers can talk to sellers or use Skype instant messenger at no extra cost to ask about items and discuss arrangements for the delivery of goods. These "click to call" features through which eBay customers can contact sellers directly via text message or voice calls are perhaps the first manifestation of eBay's expensive $2.6bn acquisition of Skype in October. Users of eBay who wish to use the free voice call service will probably have to invest in earphones or microphones if their computer does not already have a Skype phone. Skype Me will go live on 4 July in Ireland, Britain, France, the United States, the Benelux countries, Canada, China, Taiwan and the Philippines. It is understood the service will be a pilot programme and used to evaluate Skype amongst different types of goods and user communities. The eBay.ie Skype service will be trialled in the art, antiques, stamps, coins, pottery and glass, sports memorabilia, real estate, baby products, musical instruments, and audio consumer electronics categories. A spokeswoman explained these categories had been chosen because of the high value of goods traded and the possible necessity of buyer and seller getting in contact to negotiate issues such as shipment. "This is a really exciting area of integration for Skype and eBay and will make it even easier for buyers and sellers to communicate," eBay Ireland customer development head John McElligott said. "We expect it will reassure buyers while dramatically increasing both the number and value of sales." A statement from eBay.ie said the introduction of Skype follows extensive research amongst buyers and sellers. Sellers felt the opportunity to communicate more with buyers and share information about their products would smooth the purchase process. Buyers agreed the service would help them learn more about both seller and product. Skype head of developer relations Len Pryor said in an interview last week that the company has been testing Skype integration with eBay in five small markets in Asia and Europe, including Belgium. eBay is not the only internet giant experimenting with internet telephony (VoIP). Google recently launched its Google Talk service, which allows users of its instant messenger program to chat over the internet. Microsoft has also got in on the act, acquiring small VoIP company Teleo, while rival Yahoo recently bought DialPad. Skype has become increasingly popular in recent months, as more users join the VoIP craze. According to a report from Analysys, up to 32m workers in Europe will be using VoIP by 2010, while spending in the sector will surge to €12bn within the next four years. In Ireland, eBay has 200,000 registered Irish users. According to the auction site, an item in the computing and music categories is sold by an Irish seller every four minutes, while an item of clothing or an object from the collectible category is bought every two minutes. DVDs and auto parts are also popular purchases for Irish buyers. Copyright © 2006, ENN
Maxim Kelly, 28 Jun 2006
globalisation

MySpace case opens security can of worms

OpinionOpinion A fourteen-year old girl is suing MySpace for £30m after she was allegedly assaulted by a man she met on the popular teen hangout site. Here's a great idea for all you harassed single-parent readers. Why not send the kids off to the pub? It's a social centre, with many intelligent, and also many interesting characters. And you can get on with some work, or sleep, or just catch up with your meditation! It's easy to condemn anybody who took that advice as "loony" - because, well, it's a loony idea. In the Texas girl's case, it's loonier than first glance makes it seem. Not only was she herself lying about her age, but the "predator" who "assaulted" her was only 19. The idea of a suit claiming $30m in damages for being caught snogging illicitly could probably only be taken seriously in America. But the absurdity of this case doesn't mean the danger isn't real. MySpace is a great, exciting place for teens to hang out, because of, not in spite of, the danger. The danger requires parents to be aware of the risks, rather than treating chatrooms as somewhere kids are going to be safe. Parents often think their teen is safe while using MySpace. It would be nice to see how long that argument lasted if your kids got into trouble in the local pub. The difference is that we know the pub is a dodgy place to be, and we don't let underage people go there unsupervised. So why are people trying to use the internet as a baby-sitting service? There are a lot of places where it isn't safe to leave unsupervised kids. The TV isn't a babysitter, the pub isn't a creche, and the internet isn't a safe place where innocent and naive people can be allowed to operate unsupervised either. Why are we trying to pretend it can be? It's been apparent to me that the internet is like the real world since the first online databases started up. It's full of educational stuff, and it's full of dangers, too. You can't let children roam the streets on their own; so why are we trying to be scandalised by the discovery that the net can't be sanitised? The lesson is one that doesn't need a sermon about this week's MySpace scandal to drive home. The world is a dangerous place, and if you want your children to be safe you have to keep an eye on them. Somehow, the seductive idea seems to have been accepted that the problem of dangerous criminals on the net can be solved by technology. A browser, people feel, can be programmed to ensure that innocent eyes see no naked skin - or at least, not skin covering certain parts of the body. Or a website can be programmed to check the birth certificates of people who claim to be 10 years old, and verify it. Like most instinctive, intuitive approaches to computer security, this is insane. What we know from studying security systems for large corporations is that a perimeter protection doesn't work. As soon as you have a stone wall you find yourself believing that everybody inside that stone wall is on your side. In social terms, that leads to absurdities. Like America prohibiting journalists from overseas entering the country, while steadfastly giving freedom of access to secure government sites by illegal immigrants; or preventing children with Muslim names from visiting the Smithsonian, while local-grown terrorists are welcomed. And we all remember the old days when strong encryption algorithms were being developed for American corporations in Cambridge, and after the software was sent to America for testing, it couldn't be sent back to Cambridge for debugging. These days, we're seeing security people advocating security systems which assume that malware can penetrate the firewall. Instead of pretending that intrusion can be prevented, the system has to deal with penetration, and respond robustly. This approach to social problems seems unthinkable. In terms of protecting children from paedophiles, obviously the most effective thing society could do would be to take all babies away from their parents until they (the parents) had been positively vetted, since by far the majority of child abuse takes place in the home (by an order of magnitude). Since we obviously can't actually do that, we seem programmed to run around in helpless circles saying that we will kill the sexual predators; and that if we can't, then we have to make sure our children never meet them. It can't be done. And paradoxically, the closer we get to systems that achieve a reasonable score in keeping evildoers out, the more vulnerable we are to attack from those evildoers who bypass our filters. So when the Attorney General of a US State speaks of requiring MySpace to achieve giant strides, it's worth suggesting that he's not only being unreasonable; he may even be making things worse. The simple argument is that if parents think MySpace is a safe place to leave their children alone, they are likely to leave them far more vulnerable to the predators who do break in, than if they recognise the reality of the situation. That reality is that predators will break in. The way to deal with it is to supervise and monitor, so that people know they are being watched - exactly the same way you stop fights in the school playground. It's not rocket science. ®
Guy Kewney, 28 Jun 2006
For Sale sign detail

NHS IT charade re-played

The £12.4bn National Programme for IT might not have been good value for money, said the National Audit Office on the publication of its report on the scheme only 10 days ago. This story had changed when the report's findings were quizzed by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee earlier this week. Sir John Bourne, auditor general, said he thought the controversial NPfIT contracts would deliver value for money because they refused payment to suppliers until they had delivered results. This appeared to contradict Chris Shapcott, director of health value for money studies at the NAO, who said it would not be possible to assess whether NPfIT had been value for money until a proper cost benefit analysis had been done and the project was finished in 2010. Bourne went further, however, saying it was well thought out, and well managed considering the challenge of such an ambitious scheme. The PAC hearing then unveiled a string of queries and revelations that appeared to support Shapcott's reserved view of the programme and less so what Greg Clark, conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells called the "most gushing" of 62 NAO reports he had read on he PAC. The committee heard how the management of the programme was haphazard. The wisdom accumulated from other bodged government IT projects holds that there should be one Senior Responsible Owner, or grand overseer. NPfIT had six SROs since 2004. NPfIT's vision had already implicitly criticised by the NAO in the one significant criticism levelled at the programme in its report, which was the lack of consultation undertaken with the system's users (clinicians) before the specification was drawn up, the contracts let and development commenced. Richard Granger, director general of IT at Connecting for Health, and Sir Ian Carruthers OBE, Acting Chief Executive of the NHS, both insisted there had been adequate clinical consultation; yet after the PAC hearing had shot holes in this defence, Granger asserted that consultation had been "ongoing" - on the fly, if you like. That also runs against the principles learned from past IT failures. Professor Peter Hutton, once a clinical lead on the project, said its early days was "like being in a juggernaut lorry going up the M1". "It didn't really matter where you went as long as you arrived somewhere on time. And when you'd arrived somewhere you'd go out and buy a product, but you weren't quite sure what you wanted to buy and to be honest I don't think the people selling it knew what we needed," he added. He found the consultation had been a "sham" after he rang at random ten people form a list of clinicians that Granger said had been consulted: "None have any memory of having any meaningful input into the programme." Dr Anthony Nowlan, another former programme deputy, said the project specification had been done at "breakneck speed" by grafting details from other reports: "It was not exactly the ideal process to commit this amount of resource," he said. Taking all the flack for this was Granger, the man brought in to do just the job he did: crack skulls and perform the miracle of pulling off the largest and most complex project of its kind ever attempted anywhere in the world, in record time. The fact that he hasn't pulled it off, that serious questions have been raised and must be taken further, should be answered by the senior responsible owner, if there had been one, or the chief executive of the NHS, had he not just resigned... The fact is that a project on such a scale, which had to assimilate the many disparate NHS organisations with their very different needs and approaches to IT, and which had the aim of completion in two and a half years (which was 18 months ago), cannot have feasibly consulted its users properly. In light of this, Sir Ian's explanation for the project's two-year overrun sounds rather disingenuous. The project's central nervous system, the care records system, was late because suppliers couldn't cope with the deadlines and clinicians wanted to pilot it first. Any project leader could have told you in the 70s that a system should be piloted before it's lumped on unsuspecting users. Then had users been able to take part in a thorough consultation in the first place and a proper specification drawn up, suppliers might have been set realistic deadlines. It follows that Sir John's admission that the programme should have had the "fullest possible" consultation before it commenced was even more damning than it sounded, because it appeared to concede that there was only so much such a hurried and ambitious project could do according to the book, and this one hadn't even done that. Even the budget fiasco exposed by the NAO on 16 June was a corollary of NPfIT's hurried start. The cost of development gave us the last official costing for NPfIT of £6.2bn. Implementation of the programme was being left to local NHS trusts, so those costs were discounted. Yet now the local NHS trusts have become a defence of NPfIT's "top down" approach to systems development - that is, consult users little and give them what you think they should want, or as close as you can get to it in the time given. When pressed on this approach by committee chairman Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, Sir Ian said that the development of NPfIT might have been done nationally but the implementation was being done locally. That's like saying you have a bespoke tailored suit when it's provided measured and cut, and all you have to do to finish the job is the stitching. All of these issues being examined by NPfIT would not be news to anyone who had acquainted themselves with advice laid down in numerous bibles of good practice for IT projects published around the turn of the millennium. "History tells us that all these rushes to catch up lead to a mess," said one of the committee members. And Granger appeared to to agree, in a way. It was ambitious, he said, in the "awful" amount of work that was being done "very quickly". "There's a shortage of capacity in the healthcare IT industry and we've had to bring in a lot of resources from abroad," said Granger. "And some things have unfortunately gone wrong as a consequence of that with some of those suppliers. We knew that was a risk when we started and it will continue. I thought it was going to be a big risk from day one".®
Mark Ballard, 28 Jun 2006

Germany registers 10 millionth .de domain

Germany has registered its 10 millionth domain name, making the .de top-level domain the second largest in the world following dotcom. The lucky registrant was huettenberger-case-fabrik.de - unwittingly demonstrating the scarsity of .de domain names - and was taken by a transport case maker from Linden, just outside Frankfurt, the company that runs the German registry, Denic, announced. "The registration of the ten millionth .de domain represents a major success for Denic," said Sabine Dolderer, a member of Denic's executive board who is in Marrakech this week at the ICANN conference. "It also shows that the organisation of .de as a self-regulated initiative has worked out well. Thanks to Denic's open structure in which restrictions have been kept down to the strictly necessary minimum, a highly diverse provider market has been able to develop." The news comes just a month after the UK's own Nominet announced it had hit the five million domain milestone, making it the fourth largest registry in the world, below .net. It is also expecially relevant at the moment thanks to the Internet community's increasingly impatience with US dominance of the Internet infrastructure. A battle over what information on domain name owners should be made public has become a battle between competing US interests that has dragged in the rest of the world. A fight is also going on between governments over what input they are allowed into the ICANN process - something currently dominated by a behind-the-scenes US Department of Commerce. And a large number of organisations across the world are complaining about what they see as unnecessary delays by ICANN - a US private company - in putting non-Western alphabet domain names into the Internet root. With five of the top ten Internet sites in the world written in either Japanese or Chinese, and with the German registry second only to dotcom, the international flavour of the Internet has never been greater.®
Kieren McCarthy, 28 Jun 2006

Apple patches Tiger

Apple has posted Mac OS X 10.4.7, the latest update for the Mac maker's 'Tiger' operating system. The list of tweaks is as long as your arm, and the update weighs in at a 131MB download for Intel-based systems and a more modest 64MB file for PowerPC Macs.
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 2006

Internet firms to crack down on child porn

A group of US internet giants have come together to form an alliance in a bid to combat child pornography. AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, EarthLink and United Online have teamed up to create a database of known child pornography images, with each image being assigned a unique mathematical signature within the database. The new technology coalition will also develop tools to help network operators and the authorities to prevent images in the database from being distributed online. The group aims to get the database up and running by the end of the year. Some $1m has already been promised by the companies for the campaign, which will be run as part of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. Each of the ISPs will use the database in different ways - AOL, for example, plans to scan email attachments for known child porn images. Future plans could include developing tools that will help scan other methods of communication - such as instant messaging - for the illegal images. In recent times, internet service providers have been coming under increasing pressure from US authorities to up the ante against child porn, and are facing tough new legislation to force them to do so. Copyright © 2006, ENN
Ciara O'Brien, 28 Jun 2006

Acer unveils 'pure, clean' laptop

Acer has unveiled its first all-white notebook, the MacBook-like TravelMate 3020. According to the company, the colour scheme conveys "images of pureness, cleanliness and maximum lightness". Apparently.
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 2006

The application migration market

CommentComment Data migration is usually considered to be a homogeneous market. It isn't. There are, in fact, two major types of data migration: migration from one database to another and migration from one application to another.
Philip Howard, 28 Jun 2006

Clowns attack US nuke missile silo

Three anti-nuke activists dressed as clowns broke into a Minuteman III facility close to the White Shield, North Dakota, earlier this week and set about a missile silo's cover with hammers, daubed a suitably pacifist slogan on said lid and then began to eat gravel when confronted by security operatives, Defensetech.org reports. The trio of Nukewatch members - including a retired Catholic priest and two "veterans" - launched their assault as part of "a call for national repentance" for the 1945 nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After making short work of the perimeter fence with bolt cutters, the three Krustys broke open the personnel entry hatch providing access to the warhead and "hammered on the silo lid that covers the 300 kiloton nuclear warhead", according to a Nukewatch statement. The statement continues: "The activists painted 'It's a sin to build a nuclear weapon' on the face of the 110-ton hardened silo cover and the peace activists poured their blood on the missile lid." All of this was done "while wearing face paint, dunce caps, misfitting overalls, and bright yellow wigs". The merriment soon ended, however, since guards "responded within minutes". When they arrived, the protesters "ate a lot of gravel", Defensetech notes. There is, of course, a symbolic meaning to the clown SWAT outfits. Nukewatch explains: "We dress as clowns to show that humour and laughter are key elements in the struggle to transform the structures of destruction and death. Saint Paul said that we are 'fools for God's sake', and we say that we are 'fools for God and humanity'. Clowns as court jesters were sometimes the only ones able to survive after speaking truth to authorities in power." Quite what Saint Paul would make of it all is anyone's guess, but the powers that be are in no doubt as to the seriousness of the matter, as AP reports: "The individuals were taken from the area and brought to the McLean County Jail. The three are being charged with criminal trespass and criminal mischief, both Class A misdemeanours, and bond was set at $500 each. The FBI is involved in the case and federal charges are pending." ®
Lester Haines, 28 Jun 2006

Intel ships top-of-the-line Core Duo

Intel has added the 2.33GHz Core Duo T2700 mobile microprocessor to its list of available CPUs after quietly launching the part this month.
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 2006

Nintendo preps pink DS Lite

Nintendo's Japanese staff are cruising for chicks, apparently. Certainly, the games console pioneer has women in mind as the audience for the latest DS Lite handheld. Having shipped white, and both sky and navy blue versions of the console, next month it will release a "noble pink" version.
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 2006

Spitzer spies jets of matter around neutron star

Researchers at the University of Southampton have discovered a neutron star* that is producing jets of matter at its poles. Previously, it was thought that this behaviour was exclusive to black holes, specifically those in X-Ray binary systems. An X-Ray binary system is one in which a collapsed star (a white dwarf, neutron star, or black hole) orbits a normal star so closely that its gravity pulls matter from the main star. This forms an accretion disk around the collapsed star, and as the material falls inwards, it emits X-rays - hence the name. Black holes in these systems are known to produce relativistic jets of matter from their poles, which are very visible in the infrared spectrum. Using the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope, the team spotted infrared jets coming from an x-ray binary system containing a neutron star, not a black hole. Physicists have long debated whether these jets are fuelled by a process unique to black holes, but this discovery makes it clear that whatever the process is, it must be at work in neutron stars as well. Dr Thomas Maccarone, of the University of Southampton, says that by comparing the behaviour of the relativistic jets seen from neutron star X-Ray binaries and black hole X-Ray binaries, astronomers could learn more about the mechanism that produces them, and the effect the jets have on the black hole or neutron star. "This discovery blazes the trail for future studies which should help reveal the nature of relativistic jets," he said. "[and help astronomers] to see whether these jets are extracting the black holes' rotational energy." ® *A neutron star is a collapsed star that was not quite massive enough to become a black hole. It is typically as massive as our sun, but the size of a city. Its gravity is intense enough to have collapsed all its matter into neutrons, making it as dense as an atomic nucleus.
Lucy Sherriff, 28 Jun 2006

State officials join net neutrality scrum

Two US states have been dragged into the net neutrality battle as the dispute widens to state-level officials. Later this week a Senate panel will vote on net neutrality legislation, and two state attorneys general have lent their support to a neutral internet. In a letter to the US Senate Commerce Committee, New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer has backed Google, eBay and other internet companies who are calling for a ban on ISPs cutting deals with some web firms to give them preferential access to users over their networks. California's attorney general Bill Lockyer has also backed the pro-neutrality side of the debate. A spokesman said although Lockyer did not endorse any specific bill, he supports net neutrality principles in general. The battle in the US is between those, largely Republicans, who want telecoms firms to be able to cut deals with internet firms to give them faster, preferential access to customers homes, and those who do not. Telcos argue they are entitled to charge firms for this treatment because they have invested so much in broadband network infrastructure. Others, largely Democrats, argue that the internet is based on a principle of equality of information and that telcos should be banned from offering improved information delivery service to those who can pay for it. A number of bills and amendments on the topic are currently under consideration by US lawmakers. The Communications, Consumers' Choice and broadband Deployment Act is due to be debated this week, but the proposed Freedom Preservation Act is likely to be offered as an amendment to it, outlawing the cutting of special data delivery deals. "Congress must not permit the ongoing consolidation of the telecommunications industry to work radical and perhaps irrevocable change in the free and neutral nature of the internet," wrote Spitzer in his letter. US states elect their attorney generals, who have party affiliations. Spitzer is a Democrat and is running for election as governor of New York this autumn. See: Spitzer's letter (3 page/118KB PDF) Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 28 Jun 2006

Killer asteroid hunter takes first snaps

The first of four powerful telescopes which will eventually be capable of locating 99 per cent of potentially-threatening near-Earth objects (NEOs) bigger than 300 metres has captured its first test images, New Scientist reports. The Hawaii-based PS1 telescope - part of the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) project, and seen here atop Hawaii's Haleakala volcano - packs a 1.8 metre mirror, and although it's currently kitted out with a small test camera, this will be upgraded to a 300 megapixel device in September and subsequently to a 1.4bn pixel beast in March 2007. All four PS telescopes should be deployed by 2010, after which they will "scan the whole sky visible from Hawaii three times per month". The grand plan is the response to a 1998 Congress mandate which required NASA "to identify 90 per cent of NEOs larger than 1 kilometre across by the end of 2008". In 2005, Congress upped the ante by requesting that NASA "extend the search down to objects 140 metres across"* by 2020. Nick Kaiser of the Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu declared that, once fully operational, PS1 will be "by far the most powerful survey instrument" in the world for pinning down NEOs. However, there is a catch, according to Brian Marsden, of the Minor Planet Centre at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Massachusetts. Because of its power, Pan-STARRS may be "the only game in town for a while", he explained. Accordingly, and because lesser instuments will not be able to track the orbits of newly-identified objects, the PS telescopes will have the additional burden of "doing their own follow-up work" in determining whether they pose a threat to humanity. ® Bootnote *For a moderately alarming simulation of how the impact of a 100km wide body on Earth would really put a downer on your day, check out this Japanese video. Crikey.
Lester Haines, 28 Jun 2006

AMD to back FB-DIMM when it's as cheap as DDR 2?

AMD will bring support for fully-buffered memory to its Opteron processor line-up in 2008, the timeframe it reckons the FB-DIMM products will have fallen in price to about what we pay for DDR 2 nowadays.
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 2006

Governments to decide future of net

ICANN MarrakechICANN Marrakech In an historic shift of power, international governments will this week argue that they should take the lead role in "public policy" issues on the Net - effectively deciding the future course of much of the internet. The request will come in an official communique from the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of internet overseeing organisation ICANN tomorrow. It forms part of an "enhanced co-operation" mechanism agreed in theory at the World Summit in Tunis last November. Part of the communique will state that the GAC "should identify issues where there may be public policy concerns... and bring them to the attention of other ICANN constituents". The GAC will also request that there is an "early warning system" from ICANN over any upcoming issues that may have a public policy element, and request that ICANN both extend its current 21-day public notice period as well as provide it with all relevant information 30 days before an ICANN meeting. The GAC will also suggest that a new working group, encompassing all of the different elements of the internet community, be created to improve communication across ICANN as a whole. And it will also ask that more material is made available in languages other than English. Many of the changes are no more than a reflection of how seriously the Internet is now taken by governments worldwide. It is an open secret that where in the past government officials were able to make decisions regarding the internet with a minimum of review, now many governments insist on high-level approval of any significant decisions. This process takes time and, the GAC argues, the system must be adjusted to account for new realities. However, the attempt to put the GAC at the heart of "public policy issues" - which in reality means anything that isn't purely technical - will worry many within the ICANN system who are used to sharing official equity in decision-making processes. ICANN CEO Paul Twomey - a former chair of the GAC himself - had made clear in the past that he sees any decision by the GAC as binding in anything but the most extraordinary circumstances. The significant risk by providing governments with the public policy remit however is that the GAC's tendency toward caution will end up stymying innovation on the Net. In return, the GAC is expected to promise a streamlining of the current decision-making process, although how much of that is expected to come from the changes themselves and how much from reviewing the existing system is unclear.®
Kieren McCarthy, 28 Jun 2006

Bad music and full mouths

ICANN MarrakechICANN Marrakech "Cause baby, I feel wonderful tonight..." The man singing this is lying. He doesn't feel wonderful at all. He feels like a musician who has been reduced to playing old-favourites to a small bunch of indifferent tourists, sat tapping away behind two sythesisers, only one of which he ever plays, but both of which are bathed in bright pink light. Welcome to Marrakech. Following ICANN around the globe, you get used to being in out-of-season hotels and grow oddly drawn to the peculiar mix of depression and relaxation that this brings. There is nothing quite like the bad service you get at times like these. It's because all the staff know that one day very soon they are going to be called into the office and will soon after have to find another badly paid job. The chef left off three weeks ago, so it's Paco, a kitchen helper who is expected to have learnt cooking by osmosis in charge of the kitchen. But, hang on, this isn't out of season. It's the end of June. And where are all the ICANN delegates? Well, the ICANN people have been here at least one night (unlike me) and having tasted Paco's delights have all, disappeared into central Morocco to sample the real stuff. I, meanwhile, stayed behind in the conference venue late, got to the hotel, took a shower, did a spot of work and then realised it was 9pm and everyone was already in town eating. I bet the bastards are eating cous-cous as well. Paco only knows Western fare: pasta, hamburger, pizza, pie. All cooked beyond repair. I go for the "fancy" veal escalope, which was beautifully cooked, or it has been in April. Since then it's been in and out of a fridge, freezer and oven, through a traumatic break-up and divorce, and eventually ended up cold and lonely on the Marrakech mean streets before finally being rescued and presented to some mug tourist. I asked for salt, pepper, and mayonnaise. It might help get the food into my gullet. The waitress took pity on me and brought tabasco, vinegar, mustard and ketchup. The flipside If there is a man greater in spirit and richer in life than president and CEO of the Public Internet Registry (PIR) Edward Viltz then please keep him away because I couldn't bear to see him shown up. Whenever Ed's around, I feel ashamed for spending so much of my time being a grumpy sod. Not that this joie de vivre came free. Mr Viltz, like most of the PIR team, has lived the tough corporate life, being slowly eaten away until each suddenly realised what life was all about and set about making it just that little bit easier for people with fewer choices. PIR is selling dot-org domains for $1 to the poorest countries in the world and it is telling them how they can use that $1 investment to communicate with the rest of the world. They just moved this programme to Ecuador and everyone went crazy for it. The local media attention meant that the message reached one million Ecuadoreans, Ed tells me with a delight that makes you want to move there just to take the offer up. Unravelling the veil There are two big, weighty issues - at least in terms of ICANN's existence and influence - at this conference. First, the "enhanced co-operation" deal. This is the mechanism by which the world's governments agree what role they will play and how they will communicate within ICANN. And secondly, the looming renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and the IANA contract with the US government in September. The enhanced co-operation will be largely agreed to in two days. And the USG contracts will be decided sometime between 26 July and 30 September (although you suspect 99 per cent of it is already decided). And yet, not a single soul is willing to talk about either process, except to confirm that they are happening. This is insane. I have personally asked 15 people for information on either topic. I asked ICANN staff, governmental staff, three chairmen, two diplomats and a waiter and none were able to provide solid information on these two vital issues. If I hadn't sat through I don't know how many meetings covering the exact same topics, only dressed differently, I would have concluded some kind of general conspiracy was afoot. The truth is far more worrying: no one can talk about it because there's nothing to talk about. When you are in a situation that just goes round and round so many times, you simply can't be bothered to explain to anyone else what has happened. Mostly because nothing has happened really. Well, that's the case with the enhanced co-operation. Faced with a brick wall of inconsequence, there is only one conclusion to draw: that discussion is entrenched in old and familiar patterns that can only ever be broken by intense, impending deadlines. This, it seems, is how governments work when trying to reach agreement. What does this mean in terms of "enhanced co-operation"? Brazil scores own goooooooooal! It means that Brazil is being incredibly stubborn and insisting on its fantasy view of the internet. It means the United States is being incredibly stubborn and refusing to budge an inch because it knows it doesn't have to. It means the EU is constantly trying to broker a deal but keeps getting caught up arguing with itself. It means China will occasionally speak up to warn people if they get too close to its red-lines. And it means it will be down to Pakistan or Singapore to save the day. The finished result will be that the US gets more power than it deserves and the Brazilians will move to the next on the list to attack the US with. As for the MoU: well, that's a whole different story. The ties between ICANN and the DoC (and both with VeriSign) have been drawn so tight for so long that their discussions are almost impenetrable. The only evidence we have is what has been pulled out by ICM Registry through a FOIA request. And even that has no details of what we know are fairly regular one-to-one meetings between ICANN's CEO and/or chairman and DoC top brass. What is going on with the MoU? No one knows. As insane as that sounds, there are only maybe five people in the world that know what they are planning to do with the internet. Twomey is one of them. And he's feeling very pleased with himself for some reason. What that means is that his worst fears haven't been realised, he can see the road ahead, and that much-needed reform of ICANN is going to be lost again. Hang the DJ, shoot the pianist I was pondering this sad state of affairs when I suddenly realised what the solution was. Only to have the thought cruelly dragged out of mind at the vital moment of resolution by the musician continuing to torture well-known tunes. He can't play. He simply can't play. My sister has Grade 4 piano. She got it when she was 15 but almost immediately afterwards stopped playing. She is now 29, and every Xmas, as a joke, we force her to play one of the tunes in her ever-diminshing repertoire, on a piano that hasn't been tuned since 1989. Yet the dreadful plunk-plonk that is emitted - which never fails to cause fits of hysterics - is *still* better that aural excrement being heaped upon on my already suffering slice of veal. Just when I thought it could get no worse, it ended, and the people on the table to the left of me started clapping. Not a slow clap either. The kind of clap that says "nice job - I'd like to hear more". And so, to my horror, that's exactly what happens. It slowly dawns on me that I have unwittingly entered a dark and dangerous world of the beige tourist. I pay the bill quickly and leave before the whole hotel is sucked into the depths of hell. And, you know what? There was not a single ICANN conference attendee in sight. The devil must still have need of these people. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 28 Jun 2006
chart

MS re-spins WinFS

The man who blogged that Microsoft is killing WinFS is back, applying some corrective spin to reassure developers that Microsoft has not lost its direction. Quentin Clark, Microsoft product unit manager, has insisted the company's vision for richer storage in Windows "is very much alive" with the much-hyped tools for desktop search "a good step towards that vision". These search tools have been introduced in a late, scrambled response to Google search and were not mentioned when WinFS was unveiled. WinFS was announced by chief software architect Bill Gates in 2003 as the "Holy Grail" of Windows Vista, itself billed - by Gates - as Microsoft's biggest release of the decade. Gates and Microsoft promised WinFS would provide logical, programmatic relationships, and synchronisation between different types of data - like text and multimedia - and finally break down silos of information. The architecture was conceived as uniting desktop and server storage and seen as a way for Microsoft to literally add database functionality to Windows. According to Clark's earlier blog on Friday, that vision has been - as with so much else pertaining to Windows Vista - scaled back. WinFS will now go the way of all good storage technologies by finding its way into the database - in this case the next version of Microsoft's popular SQL Server, codenamed Katmai. "More mature" elements of WinFS, according to Clark, are destined to appear in ADO.NET and Orcas, the next - at least it was the last time we checked - planned release of Microsoft's Visual Studio development environment, rumored to be Visual Studio 2007, which is integrated with SQL Server. Fielding flack for using his blog to announce the change rather than the recent TechEd, where Microsoft talked up WinFS, Clark claimed Microsoft had "not made the call" on the change in time for TechEd. "We did share the news as soon as we had the final word," he said. Sticking to the argument that the change is not an embarrassing set back in the developer world, Clark continued in PR style: "We believe that including some of the WinFS work in SQL will broaden which developers benefit from that database, and further we believe the ADO.NET for Orcas innovations will make using a database a lot easier for and more productive for developers." ®
Gavin Clarke, 28 Jun 2006

NHS mobile data security is pants

Sensitive medical and personal details are in danger of exposure because of lax data security among health sector workers, according to a new survey. The study, sponsored by mobile security firm Pointsec, found that almost two thirds of health sector workers use inadequate security. Half of those in the NHS use their own mobile devices to store data, a basic breach of security practice. The Mobile device usage in the health care sector survey carried out by Pointsec and the British Journal of Healthcare Computing & Information Management also found found that one-fifth of the devices used to store data have no security on them at all. A further 40 per cent have only password-controlled access that would be easy for a skilled hacker to defeat using a dictionary-style attack. Only a quarter of respondents used passwords in conjunction with other security features such as encryption, biometrics, smart card and two-factor authentication. The 117 participants in the survey included information managers, IT managers and medical professionals in the NHS. A quarter of those who took part in the study supplied equipment to the health care sector. USB memory sticks or cards (76 per cent) were often used to download data among health care pros, followed by laptops (69 per cent), PDA/Blackberry (51 per cent), smartphones (nine per cent) and mobile phones (two per cent). Almost half (42 per cent) of respondents owned at least one of the devices they used. These mobile devices were commonly used to store work contact details (75 per cent), but nearly two thirds stored corporate data, and one in five used mobile devices to store security details, such as passwords and PIN codes. About half of the medical professionals surveyed stored patient records on mobile devices, a potentially serious risk to patient confidentiality given that a quarter of respondents have admitted losing a mobile device. Pointsec says its survey is evidence that inadequate security procedures are allowing mobile devices to "fall through the security net". It advises wider use of mobile encryption technologies, a business Pointsec itself specialises in. ®
John Leyden, 28 Jun 2006

Beer better for you than wine: official

A beer specialist has told food scientists a swift ale is a better choice than fermented grape juice for health-conscious booze hounds. At the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting on Tuesday, Professor Charles Bamforth said: "Beer, if you looked at it holistically, is healthier than wine. But it is not perceived that way." He cited the soluble fibre, vitamin B12, folic acid, niacin and antioxidants present in The Drink That Built An Empire. He said the hard liquor component of beer has the same magic artery-unblocking prowess as in wine, too. Bamforth conducted a study of 325 visitors to breweries in the States. When asked which is the healthiest alcoholic beverage, naïve tipplers put red and white wine at the top of the list. Then came something called light beer (apparently popular in the New World), then normal lager, and finally dark beer. A paltry 39 per cent of those polled were aware of the miraculous nutritional fortitude of the glorious loopy juice. Even more chillingly, Bamforth says the custodians of our health are among those peddling misinformation about beer. He said: "I have a friend who is a doctor who says, 'don't drink beer because it has fat'. There's no fat in it at all." Bamforth is Anheuser-Busch endowed Professor of Brewing Science at the University of California. Funnily enough, Anheuser-Busch is responsible for rubbish rice-based brew Budweiser. ®
Christopher Williams, 28 Jun 2006

EC proposes massive telco shake-up

The European Commission (EC) could be on a collision course with Europe's biggest telcos after publicly backing the idea of breaking-up incumbent operators. Speaking last night, Viviane Reding, the commissioner responsible for Information Society and Media, said she planned to publish proposals that that would "for the first time consider the policy option of 'structural separation'" for Europe's biggest operators, giving rivals equal and non-discriminatory access to their networks. Reding cited the UK, where regulator Ofcom has already taken such steps with BT to create a new access services division - Openreach. She also pointed to the US where she argued that "the opening up of the telecom monopoly of AT&T" starting in 1984 had helped give consumers "a true choice". "Today, the EU rules in force do not foresee structural separation as a regulatory remedy on the telecom markets," said Reding. "But I see that the United Kingdom, which has opted for a form of structural separation at national level, has made good experiences with this remedy. "I believe that the policy option of structural separation could answer many competition problems that Europe's telecom markets are still facing today. Perhaps we have to be as radical as regulators were in the US in the 1980s to make real progress?" She went on: "Of course, we will have to find our own European solutions, adapted to the needs of our continent. But 'a European way of structural separation' is certainly a policy option that needs to be discussed intensively in the forthcoming months." Part of Reding's speech yesterday focused on how telcos are no longer restricted to operating within their own national boundaries and are instead creating networks across Europe. She also highlighted how current European regulations are not imposed evenly by every nation, leading to distortions across the EU. Her remedy for both of these, which has already drawn criticism, is the creation of a single European telecoms regulator. "The most effective way to achieve a real level playing field for telecom operators across the EU would of course be create an independent European telecom regulator that would work together with national regulators in a system, similar to the European System of Central Banks," she said. Such a move would mean that all EU rules and regulations would be applied "consistently in all Member States". A spokesman for the European Regulators Group, which represents the EU's telecoms regulators, played down Reding's comments by saying "if the system isn't broke, don't fix it". ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Jun 2006

Long argument lists - who needs 'em?

Long argument lists are a pain. Using them can be a test of memory or an exercise in guess work. In recent years, attention has increasingly been paid to the usability of user interfaces, exploring how users actually use — or work around — user interfaces in practice, tracking how long certain tasks take or how many errors are made in completing a task. Similar considerations should apply to programmatic interfaces. For example, to create a window using the Win32 API, the CreateWindow function takes 11 arguments. Using this argument list is made that little bit more interesting because, in terms of underlying types, any one of the arguments can be called with a zero value. Calls to such functions are often either cryptic or verbose. Position is significant and you have to remember what position has what meaning, so if you just write the call on one or two lines, and the arguments aren't suitably descriptive, you are left with something that is less than obvious. Which integer is which? Which handle is which? Which string is which? Sometimes, however, in attempting to deal with the problem, the resulting call is a less than compact ceremonial roll-call: each argument is passed on its own line, accompanied with a descriptive comment — 11 arguments take up 11 lines. Tools can to some extent alleviate the call-site problem: context-sensitive help can offer you a hint when you are typing out the argument list. The quality of such feedback, however, can vary greatly with the development environment and the called library in question. There is still a problem in that after the act of initially writing the call and being away from the tool, such as browsing the code in a lightweight editor or just as plain text, you are still left with the underlying problem unsolved. Just flicking quickly through some Java should not require me to fire up Eclipse. The question of readability is also not always obvious to the author defining — as opposed to calling — the argument list. In one example I came across, a method received five Boolean arguments that enabled or disabled various options. The author of the method wouldn't have noticed anything amiss as, in the body of the method, the role of each argument was quite clear from its name. At the point of call, however, you were typically left with a meaningless jumble of true and false literals — an example of code being written in, well, code. The JTree.convertValueToText method is a comparable example from a published API. One practical solution to the problem of multiple arguments with distinct meanings but the same declared type is to introduce meaningfully distinct types. In this case distinct enum types would make the call far more self-documenting and allow the compiler to catch any muddling of argument order. In the general case, using a distinct whole value, as opposed to a plain fundamental type, carries a lot more meaning and checkability. There is also a methodological observation to make here: had the author of the method actually used the code, such as in a test case, the usability issue would probably have come to light sooner. But if there is one thing that is more problematic with long argument lists than using them, it is maintaining their definition. Alan Perlis's epigram captures the problem succinctly: "If you have a procedure with 10 parameters, you probably missed some". CreateWindowEx, which takes 12 arguments, inadvertently demonstrates the point. What it adds to CreateWindow is the ability to use extended window styles. It also demonstrates how constrained your choices are when you have a published interface in a statically typed language that does not support overloading. Adding an additional function with a different name is about the only thing you can do. If the distribution of your interface is more restricted and you can access all the points of use, you can potentially retain the name and add the argument(s), updating all the existing calls in the process. This is not without problems, and there is certainly an element of shotgun maintenance with each interface modification leading to changes scattered across the code base. In addition to the question of usability, one of the issues we are dealing with here is that of interface stability in the face of change. If the language supports overloading you have more options available to you. Extended or modified argument lists can be accommodated by adding a new operation with the same name as the original but with an alternative argument lists. This ensures that the name and intent are stable, even if the detail of the argument list is not. The same mechanism can also improve the usability of the interface. One of the most common problems with long argument lists is that, for common case uses, many of the values passed in are default values of some kind. Overloading allows the common case to be captured more directly, without having to contrive unmemorable names for different functions. It is, however, possible to get carried away with this ability and create a different problem. The API can become overloaded (in the classic sense of the term) and the programmer is bombarded with many operations that are identically named but subtly different. Another tack is to address the core problem: reduce the number of arguments in the list. Remembering that one aspect of what we are dealing with is a question of stability — or, to be precise, a problem of volatility in search of a stable solution — we can think in terms of argument lists and cohesion. There are many criteria for cohesion, including common usage and stability, which can be used to guide how arguments are bundled together into coarser-grained parameter objects (also known as arguments objects). Some groupings are obvious from the perspective of domain modelling: three integers representing year, month and day combine to give a date type; four integers representing the x and y position of a corner plus width and height combine to give a rectangle type; an upper and a lower bound combine to give a range; and so on. Other combinations are not necessarily as obvious, such as combining multiple Boolean arguments into an options object fitted out with methods for enabling and disabling each option specifically or, in its simplest form, a bitset with each option corresponding to a particular bit. Likewise, information required pervasively across an application or by plug-ins can be captured in one or more context objects rather than through global variables, which are commonly disguised as Singletons. In terms of stability, consider an interface at the root of a class hierarchy that is declared to have a method that could potentially have many arguments. What is the effect of revisiting the decision to use, say, four arguments to add a fifth? This change will obviously touch the interface, but it will also break any code that depends on the interface, whether for usage or for implementation. This kind of ripple effect through a whole class hierarchy and its dependents is more like a tidal wave. Anyone overriding the method is affected, as is anyone calling it. In many cases a far simpler and more stable solution is to identify the grouping of certain arguments as more stable than the individual choice of arguments themselves. Any additions to such a parameter object leave the declared form of the method untouched and both clients and implementers unaffected. Long argument lists are a pain for both callers and maintainers. What qualifies as long depends very much on how distinct the arguments are and how obvious their grouping appears — in some cases this can be as low as three or four arguments, but it is normally safe to assume that by the time you've hit 10 that is long by almost any definition! It is possible to address many usability and stability issues through judicious use of techniques such as whole value types, overloading, and parameter objects. Language support for variable-length argument lists, optional arguments with default values and named, non-positional arguments offers further possibilities, some of which are beneficial and some of which come with their own problems. ®
Kevlin Henney, 28 Jun 2006

Dell probes incendiary laptop incident

Dell is investigating allegations that one of its laptops underwent spontaneous combustion in Japan earlier this month. Pictures purporting to show the machine in conflagrante, as it were, popped up on the internet last week.
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 2006
channel

Man cuffed in Bangalore call centre scam probe

Police in Bangalore say they have arrested a man allegedly involved in "financial scam" operating from an HSBC call centre, the BBC reports. Data operator Nadeem Kashmiri was charged with "hacking the computer system which allegedly led to money being stolen from customer accounts". Kashmiri allegedly supplied data to fraudsters which, according to HSBC, allowed them to empty accounts of £223,000. A "small number" of UK customers are involved, the bank says. An HSBC spokesman said: "We intend to pursue a conviction as aggressively as possible." The company added that any affected customers would have their funds reimbursed. This latest case of Indian call centre shenanigans comes amid growing concerns regarding offshoring security and customer service. Powergen recently pulled the plug on its Indian call centre "following complaints from customers". ®
Lester Haines, 28 Jun 2006

Antec Performance One P150 'super quiet' chassis

ReviewReview The way we all see our PCs has changed over the last three years. It's not all just the performance inside that matters, it's also about what's on the outside. The change in the chassis manufacturers' portfolios has seen the introduction of HTPC case as well as the newer generation BTX format...
Matt Davey, 28 Jun 2006

Beta Pictoris accused of harbouring planets

The Hubble Space Telescope has found circumstantial evidence for a Jupiter-sized orbiting nearby star, Beta Pictoris, in a new image showing two dust disks orbiting the star. Scientists have speculated that what appeared to be a warp in the main disk of dust was in fact a second disk. Confirmation of its existence has sparked new speculation that there is at least one gas giant in the stellar system. To see the second ring of dust, astronomers had to block the direct light from Beta Pictoris using the (currently offline) Advanced Camera’s coronagraph. The secondary disk, which is inclined at about four degrees from the main disk, is visible as far as 24bn miles from the star, despite being much fainter than the main dust belt. The best explanation for the disk is that a planet up to 20 times the size of Jupiter is sweeping material out of the main disk as it orbits the star at an incline, NASA said. "The Hubble observation shows that it is not simply a warp in the dust disk but two concentrations of dust in two separate disks," said lead astronomer David Golimowski of Johns Hopkins University. "The finding suggests that planets could be forming in two different planes. We know this can happen because the planets in our solar system are typically inclined to Earth's orbit by several degrees. Perhaps stars forming more than one dust disk may be the norm in the formative years of a star system." Beta Pictoris is 63 light-years away from Earth. The star is much younger that our sun, but it is twice as massive and nine times more luminous. Because of the age of the star, between 10-20m years, astronomers are confident the dust rings are caused by collisions between planetesimals. "The actual lifetime of a dust grain is relatively short, maybe a few hundred thousand years," Golimowski said. "So the fact that we can still see these disks around a 10- to 20-million-year-old star means that the dust is being replenished." Other observations from ground-based telescopes, suggest that a third, unrelated, disk of material orbits the star inside the other two, occupying a region the size of our solar system. This disk is tilted in the other direction, and could be home to other planetary bodies. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 28 Jun 2006

Tosh pledges 4GB SDHC card in September

Toshiba will next September release a 4GB SDHC memory card around the world, the Japanese giant said today. Based on the SD Card 2.0 spec, the 4GB card uses the FAT 32 file system and meets the standard's 4MBps Class 4 speed setting, though Toshiba said it will write at up to 6MBps.
Hard Reg, 28 Jun 2006
globalisation

IT's so hard, say SMEs

Small businesses are finding it hard keep pace with changes in technology. At the same time, though, SMEs accept that IT is of value even if firms are not even able to make full use of it. This mixed picture comes from a survey by Lloyds TSB Business and the Open University which found that Britain's small firms are proving sluggish in embracing new technology. The study found that a quarter of small firms find it hard to keep pace with technological change, while a fifth said that IT has taken the 'personal touch' out of working relationships. The study also showed that IT skills need to be improved. At the same time, two thirds of SMEs admitted they would not be able to operate without their current level of investment in IT, while almost half recognised that spending on technology was vital if their business was to remain competitive. Stephen Pegge, head of Communications, Lloyds TSB Business, warned: "If small businesses fail to invest for the future, they may not meet customers' expectations and could find they are soon overtaken by more efficient and more productive competitors. It's part of our responsibility as a bank to help small firms make the best use of technology to maximise their potential." ®
Team Register, 28 Jun 2006
globalisation

MS fixes phone-home nagware

Microsoft has patched a controversial nagware update that "phoned home" every time Windows started. Redmond has also issued an advisory with instructions on how to remove the software. The component was designed to enforce its 'Windows Genuine Advantage' anti-piracy program, by nagging users into a state of obedience. Every time the PC was activated, the "notifications" (Redmond-speak for nag) portion of WGA checked its state against a central server, and then invited users of non-compliant software where they could "learn more about the benefits of using genuine Windows software." Quite why Windows needed to phone home simply to remind itself to pester users is one of the more curious features of the program. But Microsoft's own channel fell foul of the warnings: two distributors said they'd received false positives for legitimate Windows installations. A year ago Microsoft made WGA mandatory for all Windows users seeking software updates or patches, and the Notifications nag was rolled out world wide on May 30, on what Microsoft describes a 'voluntary' basis. Today Microsoft says a new version of WGA will no longer make the daily "phone home" call. In a release titled "Windows Genuine Advantage Bolsters Frontline in Anti-Piracy Fight", Microsoft said it has also changed the End User License Agreement (EULA) with a General Availability EULA that makes its purpose clearer to users. And there's a new Knowledge Base advisory, over here, where you can learn how to both disable the nagware, or delete it completely. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 28 Jun 2006

Alienware beams in Core Duo laptop trio

Alienware today said it will soon ship a set of three new notebooks based on Intel's Core Duo processors available with 17, 15.4 or 14.1in widescreen displays driven by a choice of Intel, ATI or Nvidia graphics chips. LAN party-ready they all ship with 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet.
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 2006
channel

Exposed: techniques to silence Microsoft 'haters'

Embattled Microsoft partners have been issued a handy guide on how to deal with "grumbling" customers and address annoying questions about costs, security, and repeated delays affecting Microsoft products. A pro-Microsoft magazine has published a list of steps partners and certified professionals can take in order to defend Microsoft's brand and convince customers that buying Microsoft is in their best interests (thanks MicrosoftWatch for the pointer). A Microsoft Certified Professional Online article, thoughtfully titled "Dealing with Microsoft haters", exhorts that Microsoft has handed partners "a gift, but also a responsibility" to protect "what experts call the most valuable brand in the world" (that's Microsoft, in case you were at a loss). That reality check comes as MCP notes that "ongoing grousing" tends to focus on several key areas: costs of initial licenses and upgrades, security threats and bugs. MCP notes, though, the ongoing delays to Windows Vista is having a damaging effect on Microsoft's credibility. "Microsoft's decision to postpone the release of Windows Vista was among the biggest lightening rods of recent months." One marketing strategist, Jack Trout of Trout & Partners - in true Steve Ballmer style - tells trembling partners to basically suck it up. No one loves a leader, but leaders get respect, Trout barks. In this scenario, Microsoft is apparently the leader, despite suffering embarrassing product delays, losing the initiative on the internet and search to a generation of startups, and failing to have predicted, contained, or harnessed the threat to its business from Linux and open source. It's strangely ironic, that Trout's book Big Brands, Big Trouble claims to identify the problems other big companies have made and the lessons they've learned. For more on the meditations of Trout and reflections on customers' apparently baseless, and irksome concerns, go here. Among other gems: never apologise for the brand, always defend it. ®
Gavin Clarke, 28 Jun 2006
cloud

Ellison withdraws $100m Harvard gift

Following the resignation of Harvard president Larry Summers, Oracle boss Larry Ellison has decided not to donate over $100m to the university after all. Ellison's cash was to fund research into the quality of worldwide government healthcare problems, and according to Oracle's spokespeople, Ellison viewed Summers' participation as critical to the study. "In light of Summers' resignation, Larry Ellison has decided to reconsider his decision," a spokesman told Reuters. "There was never a formal agreement but it had been talked about." You might remember Larry Summers as the man who last year offered his views on why so few women work in scientific research, including "innate" differences between the sexes. His remarks sparked an often bad-tempered debate on the subject, with his opponents pointing out that the number of women being offered tenure at the university had dropped on his watch. However, his supporters said that his ideas were legitimate points for a debate. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 28 Jun 2006

What's happened to the wireless running bra?

A true running geek has a pulse rate monitor like any running freak; but it has to talk to a running computer. Normally, to do that, you have to wear a chest strap to hold the heart sensor. So the world's joggers got quite excited last August when Adidas and Polar announced that the heart monitor of the future would be fashionable. It would be your running vest itself - or your bra, if you wear one. That was August, and the promise was that these running gadgets would be available "in spring" which, admittedly, has been a bit late this year. But by any standard once the rainy season (Wimbledon fortnight) has started, it's summer. And where are the Adistar Fusion apparel items? Good question. "Be first..." says the special joint venture web site inviting you to give them your email. But that's about as close as you get, bar a few Flash movies. They're great movies showing young, athletic humans wearing relatively few clothes - but nothing about "buy them here" can be found. Yes, the joint website does have a link to both Adidas and to Polar. Again, you'll search those sites in vain to get merchant info. They simply aren't for sale. So, loving the idea of a wireless computer link to a vest and a running shoe, decided to use the phone and ask for more info. Polar's office rang straight through to a girly voicemail saying: "Leave a message." That was the marketing department for the entire UK. We left a message; we left our phone number. The phone stays silent. So we tried Adidas. After considerable hard work we found a customer service number. They put us through the Third Degree before they consented to reveal the Adidas head office phone number - where, they assured us, the press relations office worked. So we rang it. "The press office," said HQ, "is handled by Ketchum." We rang the Ketchum number. "Erm, I don't have that information," confessed the account manager. "Why don't you send me your email, and I'll pass it on to the right people?" Again, no response. It seems we're coming up to a momentous date. Either, the joint announcement of products and demonstrations is due any day! - or, the fashion for abandoning joint ventures (see Nokia-Sanyo) will overtake this worthy project, and it will be disbanded. So, which? Don't panic! The website for the joint project may be moribund (when we signed up for information, we got a blank email!) but the "small technical detail" which has been holding up the running computer launch has "been resolved", according to Hill and Knowlton, the PR agency in charge. And the official launch will be, definitely, in September. That gives you just three months to get fit enough to be seen in public wearing this cool gear... Copyright © Newswireless.net
Guy Kewney, 28 Jun 2006

Apple adjusts 17in MacBook Pro's fans

Apple has posted a firmware update for its 17in MacBook Pro. The patch adjusts the machine's System Management Controller (SMC), a device that monitors and manages Intel-based Macs' power-related functions.
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 2006

Nokia sues Chinese 'copycats'

Nokia is suing two Chinese phone manufacturers and a number of distributors for copying its designs. Nokia also issued a cease and desist request in an attempt to stop the sale and distribution of the phones immediately. The lawsuit was accepted on 12 June, and names manufacturers Shenzhen Telsda Mobile and Song Xun Da Zhong Ke Electronic, and distributors Beijing Tongwanbao, Beijing Xin Tongwanbao and An Wai Avenue. Nokia says the manufacturers copied the industrial design of its art deco style 7260 phone. After a sticky start - the Chinese authorities encouraged home grown phone manufacturers - Nokia now leads the Chinese market with 28 per cent market share. That's a little lower than Nokia's share of the global market, and considerably lower than its share of the Asian market, where it's dominated in recent years. You can browse Telsda's current range in English (sort of), here. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 28 Jun 2006

UV breakthrough promises cheaper chips

Researchers are claiming a breakthrough which could revolutionise how microchips are manufactured, potentially slashing their cost. A team at UCL says it has developed a new way to induce silicon to oxidise. Silicon oxide layers are a key in microchips, insulating and protecting the silicon, storing charge and controlling currents. It forms very slowly naturally, so chip makers heat their silicon to around 1000°C, a process which costs a lot in energy. Electronic engineers found a way to use less energy-hungry UV lamps to get the oxide to form by breaking apart oxygen molecules on the material's surface. Professor Ian Boyd, who led the research, said: "Our finding has the potential to completely overhaul the way that the microelectronic industry processes silicon. "This finding means that the industry's energy, and subsequent cost savings, could reduce the prices of electronic devices for consumers and, of course, create a positive environmental impact." ®
Christopher Williams, 28 Jun 2006

Palm pays $22.5m to end Xerox patent fight

Palm is to cough up $22.5m to Xerox to settle a long-running patent spat over who really owns the Graffiti character entry system Palm used to bundle with its PDAs.
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 2006
channel

Medical Excess loses records on 1m customers

Health insurance firm Medical Excess one-upped the laptop loss crowd by forking over an entire server with personal information on close to 1m people. Medical Excess - an AIG company - began notifying customers this month that a break in at one of its offices has resulted in the the theft of a camera, two laptops and a file server. That server happened to contain the names, birth dates and social security numbers of 970,000 people. Even worse, some individuals have had their medical and disability information compromised by the theft. "The investigation following the theft of the server was quite complicated because data that was equal to one hundred million typewritten pages was stored on the server, much of which had to be manually reviewed," Medical Excess wrote to customers, in a letter obtained by The Register. "As a result of our investigation, we believe that your name, Social Security number and birthday may have been included in a file saved on the stolen server. We are notifying you about this incident so that you can take action should someone misuse the stolen data." Medical Excess has moved to reassure customers by saying the server was password protected and adding that it doesn't think the information has been misused. Those who notice strange activity on their financial statements will also receive free access to "a toolkit of resources and hands-on support." Just lovely. EMC was one of the companies affected by the theft, The Register, has learned. A note sent by EMC to US employees notes that the server "may have contained information on nearly one million individuals from perhaps thousands of employers." Medical Excess didn't bother to notify EMC about the problem. Instead, EMC workers began calling HR on Monday to ask what was up with the funny letters they were receiving from Medical Excess in the mail. This data loss builds on a spate of recent laptop thefts that have affected workers at HP, Sun Microsystems, IBM, BP, Nokia, Cisco and others. The rising number of thefts and companies' inability to properly protect their data has started the inevitable discussion as to whether or not Congress needs to step in with harsh penalties for these types of incidents. ®
Ashlee Vance, 28 Jun 2006

Intel gives up on world's biggest chip market. Why?

CommentComment Intel's name looks forever to be associated with the PC, now that it's ended a nine year dalliance with the phone business. The firesale of its 1,400 strong XScale processor division, and the write down of its cellular investments, means that Intel has passed up the chance to play in the largest volume chip market of them all. There are 2bn mobile phones in the world, and in many emerging markets the phone is the only computing device likely to achieve ubiquity.
Andrew Orlowski, 28 Jun 2006

EC's big stick getting bigger

With unnamed sources once again leaking the European Commission is "close" to following through and actually fining Microsoft millions of dollars for breaching antitrust laws, it comes as a surprise to learn Microsoft could actually be getting off light. The Commission is increasing its fines to 30 per cent of total annual turn over for every year a company broke the law, adding that some offenders will end up paying even more as this number will serve as an "entry level" fine. The Commission has until now creamed 10 per cent from companies' revenues for each year of the offense. Companies that continue to break the law will also pay more. The EC is increasing these fines by up to 100 per cent, compared to today's 50 per cent. Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, explaining the increase said in a blunt statement that indicated how she really felt about being harried and castigated in public by Microsoft's blunderbuss-like legal team: "Don't break the antitrust rules: if you do, stop it as quickly as possible. Once you've stopped, don't do it again... if companies do not pay attention... they will pay a very high price." Microsoft is currently in line to pay the 10 per cent number, totaling $2.51m a day backdated to December 15 for failing to obey a March 2004 ruling ordering it to share Windows communications protocols with rivals, and also to deliver a version of Windows without Media player included. It is unclear whether Microsoft would qualify for the newer fines, but all signs indicate this will not be the case, as the fines will apply to law breakers caught after introduction during the next two months. A Commission spokeswoman told The Register a decision to impose Microsoft's fine would be taken "before the end of July."®
Gavin Clarke, 28 Jun 2006
cloud

IBM and HP monopolize Top 397 supercomputers list

The latest Top 500 list of super-computing wins for IBM and HP has been released. Okay, it's really meant to be the list of Top 500 supercomputers in the world by all vendors. In reality, however, the list has degraded into a showcase for the world's two largest server companies. The glory days when SGI, Cray, Sun Microsystems, NEC, Hitachi, DEC and a host of others battled it out for computing supremacy have evaporated. Today we learn that IBM owns 48 per cent of the Top 500 supercomputers with 240 wins, and HP takes 31 per cent share with 157 wins. If you're keeping track, IBM's wins are up slightly, while HP's wins edged down slightly from the November 2005 list. In a sign of the times, Dell actually stands as the third most prolific super-computing vendor with 4 per cent share and 22 wins. Hooray for the cluster. The story with the top ten systems is much the same this time around as it was in November 2005. IBM embarrassed its competition. IBM's mammoth 131,072 processor Blue Gene system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) remains the top supercomputer. And with three times the processors of the second place Blue Gene system at IBM's Thomas Watson Research Center that's hardly a surprise. A third IBM pSeries system is still the third Linpack dynamo and sits at LLNL as well. IBM took four of the top ten systems. The only major additions to the top ten spots came from Bull, which popped an Itanic-based system (Montecito-based) into the five slot, and Sun, which foisted an Opteron-based system into the seventh slot. Congratulations go out to the French government and to Sun for showing that it hasn't given up on high performance computing, as had been thought. The most used chip on the Top 500 list remains Intel's 32-bit version of Xeon. Of course, AMD's Opteron made large gains, as it now powers 80 of the systems up from 55 in the last list. IBM's Power edged up from 73 systems to 83 systems, while Itanium drooped to 37 systems from 46. So much for swollen floating point units. Have a gander at the Top 397 IBM and HP wins and filler here. ®
Ashlee Vance, 28 Jun 2006
channel

White House calls for improved laptop security

In BriefIn Brief Information security breaches over recent months have prompted the White House to issue recommendations calling for the encryption of data on laptops. New policy guidelines from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also call for agencies to introduce two-factor authentication in securing access to databases within 45 days. Government bodies will also be required to keep a log of information downloaded from databases and verify that redundant data is purged after 90 days. The policy initiative is designed to protect the personal data of millions of citizens held by federal agencies following a spate of data thefts and disclosures involving federal agencies, such as the theft of a laptop containing the personal details of millions of veterans in May and the loss of a portable computer containing social security numbers of IRS workers and job applicants in June. The guidelines are recommendations rather than mandatory instructions, the Washington Post reports. ®
John Leyden, 28 Jun 2006