4th > July > 2006 Archive

Shiny rocks could hold evidence of Martian life

Researchers looking for evidence of life on Mars should be taking a closer look at a shiny coating that forms on rocks in the desert, according to scientists at London University's Imperial College (IC). The team is now calling for these shiny rocks to be added to the "Martian shopping list" on any sample-return mission to the red planet. The research, which is published in the July edition of the journal Geology, details how a coating known as "desert varnish" forms on rocks, capturing a record of life around it. On Earth, the coating binds traces of DNA, amino acids, and other organic compounds to the surface of rocks in the desert. Exactly how the coating forms has been a puzzle for many years. Charles Darwin even asked the geochemist Berzelius to investigate it. Now, the researchers at IC have been able to establish that the main component of the varnish is silica. In their paper, they describe how silica is dissolved from other minerals on desert rock surfaces and then gels together to form a glaze, trapping organic traces from its surroundings. This indicates that life is not integral to its formation, even if evidence for life is trapped within its layers. Dr Randall Perry, lead author of the research from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, commented: "If silica exists in varnish-like coatings in Martian deserts or caves, then it may entomb ancient microbes or chemical signatures of previous life there, too. Desert varnish forms over tens of thousands of years and the deepest, oldest layers in the varnish may have formed in very different conditions to the shallowest, youngest layer." Martian desert varnish would, he added, contain "a fascinating chronology of the Martian setting". ®
Lucy Sherriff, 04 Jul 2006

UK film biz hires piracy-busting 'cinema investigator'

UK film distributors have coughed up the cash to fund a "cinema investigator" to tackle the menace of ne'er-do-wells filming new releases direct from the silver screen and transferring the resulting footage to moody DVDs. According to the Beeb, the former police officer will "train cinema staff and examine incidents where recording equipment has been used in cinemas". UK Film Distributors' Association top dog Mark Batey said: "Films have never been more vulnerable to rip-off copying. We believe the appointment is very timely." Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) supremo Raymond Leinster elaborated: "In recent months it became apparent that the worldwide release strategy made films vulnerable to camcording in the UK. Pirates of the Caribbean, which has its premiere tonight in London, will be available to the public by Thursday. "The first copy is traditionally posted online. Digital infrastructure will, within many hours, disseminate that on a global basis." Fact claims film piracy generates an annual illicit revenue of £270m, and that the cinema industry "loses more than £810m per year in lost sales and cinema admissions from piracy and illegal downloads" - equivalent by our reckoning to around 80 Learjet 45s fitted with private screening room, hot tub and artisan-crafted coke-snorting mirror. ®
Lester Haines, 04 Jul 2006
fingers pointing at man

Man invents 'password-protected bullets'

A German inventor has developed an idea for "password-protected bullets". In a US patent, Hebert Meyerle outlines the concept of a modified cartridge that would only fire once a correct authentication signal is received. A transponder with matching codes needs to be worn in a ring on a shooter's firing hand before a gun using the invention would be capable of discharging a bullet. The "brains" controlling the operation would be housed inside the firing mechanism of a gun and its cartridge. Bullets themselves would be unmodified. Meyerle suggests numerous embellishments of his basic idea that are designed to present tampering. He reckons the invention provides a superior means to secure firearms against accidental or unauthorised use than biometric controls can provide. As a Brit who's never fired anything more threatening than an air rifle, your reporter is not in a position to say if Meyerle has hit on a commercially viable idea here. Readers can make up their own minds by reviewing his patent idea here. New Scientist's take on the invention can be found here. ®
John Leyden, 04 Jul 2006
channel

Yahoo!, MSN chat interop steps out

Yahoo! and Microsoft introduced new versions of their IM chat clients last month, and while flaky, show the first results of last October's interoperability agreement. Yahoo! chat users can now send messages to MSN chat users and vice versa. Or at least, it works if you're using Yahoo's Mac beta software and Microsoft's Messenger Live. The interoperability agreement pits AOL, with its AIM and ICQ services, squarely against the Yahoo! and Microsoft alliance. But even this limited level of interoperability is somewhat grudging, and doesn't provide full service features IM users expect. File sharing, let alone voice or video chat, are unlikely ever to be supported by either Microsoft or Yahoo!. Microsoft told IDG that: "We need to assure that the costs of interoperation are in line with the business benefits." Which translates as: "You must be joking." Not much incentive for users on Windows and the Mac to give up on Trillian or Adium, then. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 04 Jul 2006
cloud

LugRadio Live returns

After the success of last summer's bash, the founders of the geektastic* radio show LugRadio are holding another live event for the open source community. Again, the emphasis is on fun rather than sales pitches, as should be made clear from the fact that the entry fee is still a mere five of your English pounds. Once you're in, you'll be able to wander the halls of a non-corporate exhibition, join a LAN gaming session, meet with likeminded souls for birds-of-a-feather discussions, or retire to the all-day bar. Sadly, we are told that the beer is less free than the software. The organisers have also put on three tracks of speakers including Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu, Sun open source head Simon Phipps, and Stephen Lamb all the way from Microsoft. Among others, Tom Steinberg will be there to talk about the MySociety and Pledgebank websites, and Gervase Markham will also give forth on "How to Destroy the Free Software Movement". Presumably this is an ironic title rather than actual advice, but just in case, could someone distract Mr Lamb shortly before this session begins? LugRadio Live is scheduled for 22 and 23 July and will again be held in Wolverhampton at the University. More info, including how to get your sweaty paws on a ticket, can be found here. ® *Obligatory-tastic radio-speak.
Lucy Sherriff, 04 Jul 2006
graph up

Becta embarks on software review

Further education colleges are being urged to take part in a review of education software licences. British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) said it has teamed up with management consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) to find out if colleges and schools are getting the best "value" out of using the dominant educational licensing product, Microsoft Campus.
Kablenet, 04 Jul 2006

EU opens public consultation on RFID

Fears about new Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID), have prompted the EU to open a public consultation process. The commission has been holding discussions with government agencies and the private sector since March based on general themes of standardising RFID frequencies and formats across Europe, but now the emphasis has changed slightly to inform citizens on how the technology can improve quality of life without encroaching on individual privacy issues. With this in mind, the commission has initiated an online public consultation on its 'Your Voice in Europe' website. Radio Frequency Identification is a way of storing information on a small tag that communicates via radio frequencies with an electronic reader. It has been applied to hundreds of applications as diverse as tracking migratory birds, embedding information in a passport, to pictures in an art gallery. It does not need line of sight to operate and its distance range depends on the strength of the receiver. "We need to build a society-wide consensus on the future of RFID. We need to ensure that RFID technology delivers on its economic potential and to create the right opportunities for its use for the wider public good, while ensuring that citizens remain in control of their data," EU Commissioner for the Information Society and Media Viviane Reding said. She added that the commission intends to assume these twin responsibilities in December this year. A source within the supply chain industry - one of the main applications for RFID - said Ireland was slightly lagging behind other countries because a frequency range for RFID has not yet been set aside by ComReg. However, the same source added he was confident ComReg would specify the 865MHz to 868MHz frequency range this autumn. Due to a prior commitment the ComReg spokesman dealing with spectrum issues was not available to speak with ENN at the time of publication. The European Commission has until now been primarily concerned with avoiding a fragmented approach to RFID across the member states. It has concentrated on issues of interoperability, international compatibility, radio spectrum allocation, and the future of RFID standards. GS1 Ireland specialises in RFID and bar-coding technologies, and its business development manager, Diego Solorzano, agreed that the European Union's approach to allaying fears about the technology was timely. "The privacy issue is a big thing and people need to be informed to avoid misconceptions," he said. Soloranzo told ENN that a major misconception was that RFID tags will be attached to every product bought in supermarkets and that purchases could be tracked and consumer privacy interfered with. He said RFID tags were normally attached to goods at the pallet level and rarely to individual items. "It's the same with any new technology, take genetically modified foods, people tend to think the worst because of little knowledge." Solorzano said another concern he had come across was that people were worried about radiation from RFID chips embedded in goods or credit cards. "There's less radiation from RFID readers and tags then from a mobile phone placed against your ear. Therefore, it's important that the EU gets that information out there," he said. Digital Rights Ireland chairman TJ McIntyre told ENN the European Convention on Human Rights enshrined the right to privacy, and with regard to any new technology he said "it is important that steps are taken to protect that." Copyright © 2006, ENN
Maxim Kelly, 04 Jul 2006
homeless man with sign

World chip sales revive in May after April's dip

May's worldwide chips sales rose 0.7 per cent on the previous month's total, $19.61bn, to reach $19.75bn, the US Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) said last night. May's figure was up by 9.4 per cent on the May 2005's total, $18.05bn.
Tony Smith, 04 Jul 2006

If Orange is German, then it's buying AOL

Widespread enthusiasm for the Orange takeover of AOL's UK business has followed a speculative report in the UK's Sunday Telegraph - but reports from inside the bidding auction are now talking of "indignant German bidders" - and claiming that, in fact, T-Mobile's parent, Deutsche Telekom, will be the buyer. One report, which found the Orange/Wanadoo takeover puzzling, speculated that it was to prevent Sky taking it over - but since BSkyB already owns EasyNet, that is worth doubting. The Telegraph is (it says) aware of Sky's plans, and sees Carphone Warehouse as the main threat to the Murdoch empire. The link between T-Mobile and Carphone Warehouse is already established, however. And despite the dismal failure of Web'n'Walk so far, it's a given that T-Systems wants to expand, not pull out of, UK internet. A source close to German telco Deutsche Telekom told NewsWireless that the deal was done, and would be announced this week. But if the deal does go this way, it looks as if there will be tears behind the scenes, as Wanadoo has apparently been told by the organising bank, Citigroup, that its offer was the highest at the weekend. It isn't possible to find anybody in Deutsche Telekom prepared to say anything about the bidding process, and calls to Orange went unanswered by press time. But if T-Mobile's bid turns out to be higher than the weekend French bid, then there will be recriminations, and demands to know how the auction was conducted. And if it wasn't, then other questions will be asked. By the end of this year, all the major broadband ISPs will have had to forge a link with a mobile telco. The Virgin link with NTL will now become a major question for speculation, as T-Mobile currently provides the Virgin mobile network in the UK. That may now be re-evaluated. Copyright © Newswireless.net
Guy Kewney, 04 Jul 2006

Nvidia said to be readying HDCP-native GPU updates

Nvidia will soon ship versions of its GeForce 7900 GT and GTX GPUs with integrated HDCP support, it has been claimed. If true, the move will position the company's chips as a cheaper option than adding a separate chip to add-in boards with HDMI ports.
Tony Smith, 04 Jul 2006

Industries lobby EU Commission to cut copyright fees

At the same time as the EU Commission has launched a consultation paper with proposals to reform current copyright levies, the IT, telecommunications, electronics and digital industry associations have launched the Copyright Levies Reform Alliance (CLRA), campaigning for urgent reform of copyright levies. Copyright levies operate in all EU states, including the accession states, other than the UK, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus. The UK, Ireland and Malta only permit copying/recording broadcasts for home consumption. Luxembourg permits private copying. The legal position in Cyprus is unclear, and the USA allows certain private copying but does not impose such levies. In the 1960s, EU Member States began imposing levies on the price of copying equipment before the advent of copy protection technology to compensate copyright owners for the lost royalties from private copying of music, movies, text and images. They were charged on the prevailing technology of the time - blank audio and video cassettes, photocopiers and tape recorders. Now digital devices are the principal mechanism for copying and EU States operate national copyright levy regimes. Some EU States impose a levy on the purchase price of equipment and accessories as diverse as CD recorders, MP3 players, blank CDs and mobile phones. Some impose the levy on the media only. Some impose the levy on both equipment and the media. These levies are not paid to the copyright holders but are collected by national collecting agencies (ICTs), which variously provide management services to copyright holders or only administer copyright levies. These services are provided both to domestic copyright holders and those in other EU States. The services are and subject variously to the usual oversight ("interference") by National State bodies. Needless to say, the ICTs deduct fees for their services before any copyright fee reaches the holder. The fee structures vary. Some are negotiated with artistic bodies and some allocate a portion or all of the funds to social funds for the benefit of authors or performing artists. The issue has attracted attention because it is alleged the copyright fees across the EU states have risen from £341m (US$628m) in 2001 to £820m (US$1.5bn) in 2005, though some estimates are lower than this. iPods, mobile phones, and DVDs contribute substantially to these fee rises. Equally, these levies increase by as much as 50 per cent the cost of modern electronic equipment in EU States operating copyright levies. The chief objections are: This is a multiple payment scenario where consumers pay for permission to copy at the time of download, and are charged again in the purchase of devices used to play the content. Levies are also charged on scanners and printers and other devices at disproportionate rates to the cost of the equipment. The European Commission, in its consultation paper, is not seeking to abolish the levies. Rather, it is proposing that ICTs should ensure that copyright levies are calculated using objective criteria as well as ensuring that the products subject to levies are used for copying and the extent to which this actually occurs. "Copyright levies on digital products are an outdated form of taxation that penalises consumers, artists and industry alike," and "European lawmakers have an obligation to bring real benefits by establishing efficiency and transparency in the collection of levies while phasing out the levies system." However, this proposal may have a very bumpy ride. The levies provide substantial built-in subsidies to arts and culture in many of the EU states, as they are frequently channelled via national, social and cultural funds. Taxes, probably more transparent in application, would have to be substituted for the reduction in these levies. This would be "politically unpalatable in some of the major EU States". Copyright © 2006, IT-Analysis.com
Bob McDowall, 04 Jul 2006

Microsoft fines OK'd - reports

UpdatedUpdated The vote is (unofficially, and off the record) in. Regulators from the European Union's 25 member countries have, according to reports, unanimously found Microsoft guilty of non-compliance with the commission's landmark 2004 anti-trust ruling. The way is now clear for Microsoft to start paying a $2.51m a day fine backdated to December 15 for failing to meet the terms of the commission's ruling. In an eerie parallel, meanwhile, Microsoft has bowed to Korean antitrust officials by agreeing to pay a somewhat smaller $35m fine for abusing its market position locally. The ruling, in February, instructed Microsft to ship a version of Windows minus Media Player and Windows Messenger and a version that carries links to Web pages that allow customers to download competitors' software. Microsoft was instructed by European regulators to share its Windows communications protocols with competitors, and to also deliver a version of Windows for use in the EU without a bundled version of Media Player. The news comes as Microsoft last week took steps to prepare employees for the fact the commission is, after much reporting by the press, about to level a fine. Associate counsel with Microsoft's corporate and legal affairs department Horacio Gutierrez warned Microsoft's US and EMEA employees to prepare for the fact Microsoft will be fined billions for non-compliance. In an email published by MicrosoftWatch, Gutierrez said: "We have done everything that the commission has asked of us and more, and in our view any fines would be without justification and would impede the process [of reconciliation with the EC]. "I can assure you that we are continuing to work day and night with our 300 dedicated engineers to create documentation which is complete and accurate to satisfy the European Commission." Microsoft has, of course, insisted it is already in complete compliance having provided adequate documentation about is Windows communications protocols - a key aspect of the 2004 ruling - for competitors. An EC spokesman was unwilling to comment. ®
Gavin Clarke, 04 Jul 2006

Apple extends MacBook line-up

UpdatedUpdated Apple has begun shipping a pair of new MacBook configurations through its retail chain, bumping up the specification and upping the price accordingly, it has been claimed. The two new models sit, respectively, above the current white and black 2GHz MacBooks.
Tony Smith, 04 Jul 2006

Snow this week in Brum: official

The Brummie readers among you who are currently slumped semi-conscious at your desks encompassed by a semi-circle of fans as the mercury threatens to hit an all-time July high can take heart that you will only have to endure the intolerable heat-induced suffering until Thursday: Yes indeed, following the recent tropical storm in Belfast, Birmingham is set to enjoy some decidedly unseasonal weather this week. The outlook for Friday, btw, is scattered showers punctuated by the occasional devasting tornado. Enjoy. ® Bootnote Ta very much to Mark Jefford for spotting this piece of silliness.
Lester Haines, 04 Jul 2006

NTL:Telewest scores with Virgin

NTL:Telewest finally announced completion of its buy-up of Virgin Mobile today after getting the green light from the High Court. Virgin Mobile's shares have been delisted from the stock exchange. It'll continue serving its four million punters as a separate entity for a while, most likely until early 2007, NTL:Telewest says. Then, under the licensing arrangement which is a key driver behind the acquisition, NTL:Telewest will begin offering a quadruple-play of broadband, TV, mobile, and fixed phone lines to consumers under the Virgin brand. NTL:Telewest CEO Steve Burch said: "This...will create a formidable competitor in the UK's fast changing communications and entertainment industries." Virgin founder and beardy billionaire Sir Richard Branson said: "Today, we've created a unique organisation - a new, soon-to-be-branded Virgin company - which will offer the very finest in 'quadruple'. "Through our new company, our aim is to offer consumers the very best, most sought-after choice available. You ain't, as the saying goes, seen nothing yet..." Getting its hands on the Virgin name means NTL:Telewest will have a sexier market presence when the time comes to compete in the impending quadruple-play dust-up with the grunt of Murdoch's Sky, the power of France Telecom's Orange brand, and a still widely trusted household name like BT. The giants are all betting on people preferring to get one bill rather than four. Meanwhile, an ISP survey by Point Topic says consolidation is already the trend. In news which should give regulators at Ofcom food for thought, the top 10 ISPs are increasingly dominant, with 88 per cent of the market now in their vice-like grip. See the chilling bar chart here. ®
Christopher Williams, 04 Jul 2006

Next generation BI - Part two

CommentComment In the previous article in this series, I outlined some of the major features that you want to see in a next generation BI solution.
Philip Howard, 04 Jul 2006

German officials deny probe into Intel, Metro collusion claim

Germany's Federal Cartel Office (FCO) has rejected claims that it is investigating allegations Intel and local retail giant Metro agreed that the retailer's Media Markt and Saturn chains would not sell PCs based on AMD processors.
Tony Smith, 04 Jul 2006
Cat 5 cable

MI5 bumps off ambitious IT plan

The British Security Service (BSS) got itself into such a pickle with its IT modernisation that it has been forced to scrap one of its key projects. The service was supposed to get a new document and records management system in 2004, but last April the Intelligence and Security Committee reported that the project had been giving the BSS gyp for a couple of years. The 2005/06 annual report revealed that the project had been abandoned: "The original requirement for an electronic document and records management system was judged to be too ambitious and not deliverable within the budget and timescale agreed with HM Treasury." Instead, the service would make do with "only...upgrading the core desktop and messaging system". In other words, buy the latest versions of Microsoft Office and Outlook. The committee could not reveal how much money the service has wasted on the scrapped project, but echoed advice given to government about its IT projects long before MI5 embarked on this bodge: "The scope of any major project should be more clearly thought out at the outset." The project suffered, the committee said, because the secret service did not have enough project managers and IT experts "to manage all their IT and capital projects at the same time". These same problems are still besetting the BSS's other ambitious IT project - SCOPE, this one designed to securely link all 10 intelligence-related government organisations by way of a web interface. SCOPE was originally earmarked for completion in 2004. Then, phase one of the project, which involved installing computer equipment, was rescheduled for completion in April 2005. Now, this phase might be wrapped up by the end of 2006. Phase two, the linking of the departments, suffered security problems and issues with the quality of suppliers. Moreover, it suffered a common IT complaint - user acceptance. The departments on which the BSS was trying to foist SCOPE had not been consulted and were not happy with what they were given. As if that wasn't enough, the committee is concerned that the BSS's overstretched project and IT managers still have too much work on. SCOPE slippages mean that phase one and two will be running side by side. "It is not clear whether the SCOPE team or partner departments will have enough people with the right technical skills to enable both phases to progress simultaneously," the report said. To make matters worse for the BSS, there is also the upgrade of IT infrastructure and rebuilding of training facilities for the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6 - the James Bond outfit. What's more, GCHQ, Britain's communications listening centre, has also recently had two major IT modernisation projects subsumed into its larger SIGmod (signals intelligence modernisation) programme. ®
Mark Ballard, 04 Jul 2006

AMD posts dual-core tweaking tool

AMD has posted a software tool that it claims improves the video performance of games running on its dual-core Athlon 64 FX processor. The AMD Dual-Core Optimizer compensates for quirks in the CPU's time stamp system which can impact frame rates.
Tony Smith, 04 Jul 2006
Broken CD with wrench

Oracle stays mum over database glitch

Nominet has been forced to cancel a big update following a bug in its new Oracle software that the database provider has been unable, or unwilling, to help with. The domain registry had been due to upgrade to Oracle 10.2 this weekend. Techies were forced to put the plans on ice despite months of preparation when they uncovered a bug which froze them out of an entire section of the tag holder database. Deleting one user caused the lock-out. Contacting Oracle apparently brought a response along the lines of "we think we might have a fix", followed by a paralysis which precipitated Nominet's decision to cancel the update, leaving them "very disappointed". Nominet couldn't say when the update might go ahead now. Oracle refused to comment on the issue. ®
Christopher Williams, 04 Jul 2006

Sharp, Willcom unveil Nokia Communicator competitor

Japanese mobile phone company Willcom has unveiled a Windows Mobile 5.0-based handset to compete with Nokia's Communicator series - aka 'the brick'. Manufactured by Sharp and equipped with a 416MHz Intel XScale processor, the W-Zero3 WS700SH sports a 2.8in, 640 x 480 display and a slide-down QWERTY keyboard.
Tony Smith, 04 Jul 2006
homeless man with sign

NHS farce leads to lost data

ExclusiveExclusive Primitive backup procedures at Bexley Care Trust have led to the loss of email, contact, calendar, and schedule data across two NHS trusts. Bexley provided the Exchange email systems for itself and Greenwich Primary Care Trust (PCT) until the system went kaput last week. This would not have been a problem if Bexley had adequate backup procedures, according to sources. A spokeswoman for Greenwich PCT confirmed that data had been lost with the email system collapse, but said the system was "up and running now". She thought patient data had not been affected because the trust headquarters were run on a different email system to the one used by clinics and community centres, which handled the majority of patient data. One source told The Reg that Bexley knew its email was being run on an old system, and said he was not surprised to hear of the snafu. The battery in its uninterruptable power supply (UPS), which should protect the computers in the event of an unexpected loss of power, had run out of juice. "The exchange server was a vintage six year old computer, the heads on the tape backup were worn out and they were notified six months ago to change the battery in the UPS," he said. Warnings had been given, he said, and Greenwich PCT had been trying to get out of the contract that bound it to buy its email services from Bexley. "For many this is a complete disaster as quite a few use email to store documents, etcetera. Apparently, it will hit finance the hardest, although one wonders about patient records, appointments..." the source said. Bexley PCT confirmed there was a problem with their email but were unable to say by press time if any patient data has been lost. ®
Mark Ballard, 04 Jul 2006

Medion charts budget sat nav kit revamp

Medion, the company that revolutionised the European PDA market a few years back just by bundling GPS receivers and route-planning software with its PocketPCs, today unveiled its latest line-up of dedicated sat nav gadgets.
Tony Smith, 04 Jul 2006

Volkswagen unleashes 150mph self-driving car

You have to admire Volkswagen: while the French motor industry and national rival BMW are still feebly denying they are already controlled by the Lizard Alliance - despite chilling evidence to the contrary - the Wolfsburg tentacle of the German manufacturer has decided to cut literally to the chase and scrap even the merest pretence that you are in control of your shiny new automobile. Active neoLuddite Resistance Army (NRA) members already know the terrifying dangers of simply looking sideways at a modern car without first charging up your plasma pulse assault rifle - 125mph white-knuckle terror ordeals, breakdancing killer Citroëns and self-destructing satanic BMWs. Of course, the brilliance of the plan is that you believe you are driving the car, when it is in fact simply allowing you to indulge yourself while it waits for an opportune moment to lock the victim out of the vehicle's computerised control systems, hit the gas, and launch a merciless attack on Europe's motorway system. Now, however, Volkswagen is offering those resigned to the seemingly inevitable outcome of The Rise of the Machines™ - the complete subjugation of humanity and its hideous enslavement to the CyberDyson Corporation - the chance to get it over with as quickly and painlessly as possible: the self-driving VW Golf GTi. According to The Daily Mail, the souped-up Golf deploys "electronic 'eyes' that use radar and laser sensors in the grille to 'read' the road and send the details back to its computer brain", while a sat-nav system "tracks its exact position with pin-point precision to within an inch". It gets worse: "On a race circuit, it drove itself faster and more precisely than the VW engineers could manage - and can accelerate independently up to its top speed of 150mph," the Mail notes with admiration*. A Lizard Army spokesreptile declared via a Volkswagen subordinate: "It really is a self-driving Golf. It steers, brakes and accelerates. And it races through handling courses independently. It can accomplish this at full performance and at the limits of its capabilities." Enough. Suffice it to add that Volkwagen has dubbed its mephistophelean suicide vehicle "53 + 1" in honour of the number carried by veteran Love Bug "Herbie". As the Book of Revelation states: "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a reptilian Teutonic automobile; and its number is twoscore and ten and three. Plus one." ® Bootnote *That The Daily Mail considers the self-driving Golf a great step forward comes as no surprise to us in the NRA bunker who have been monitoring its editorial contribution to The Rise of the Machines™ for some time. Indeed, so panic-stricken has Middle England become at lurid tales of alcopop-crazed teen tearaways clubbing decorated war veterans with stolen mobile phones while dole-scrounging Albanian asylum seekers barbecue swans at the taxpayers' expense, that it is totally unaware that it is in fact murderous cyberloos and self-combusting DVD players which pose the real threat to our Sceptred Isle. The Rise of the Machines™ Police arrest satanic BMW victim Iraq grunts mourn loss of robot comrade Bendy bus attacks Leeds cake shop Captain Cyborg acquires Dalek capability Man survives satanic BMW crash-and-burn Second Freeview box signals alien invasion fleet Lizard Army fuses woman with black helicopter NRA probes Japanese sex android Androids launch minicab firm Beware the breast-examining hand of death Lizard Army Neo-Mech menaces eBay Vampire robonurses hunt in packs Captain Cyborg gives forth on CNN Cornell Uni develops apocalypse cube Sex android begats Armageddon machine Man executes Chrysler Rise of the man-eating cyberloo Sobbing Frenchman recounts Renault Laguna terror ordeal Fire-breathing bus attacks South London Dyson unleashes self-replicating hoover Battling teen crushes roboarm menace French join motorised Lizard Alliance Lizard Army develops copulating robot We are Zogg: The Cuddly Menace Lizard Army invades Alaska London menaced by flaming DVD players Killer hoover attacks Scotsman Car self-destructs in assassination bid The rise of the rat-brain controlled android Japanese unveil trumpet-playing robot Boffins unleash robotic cockroach Ukrainian teen fights the Rise of the Machines Man in satanic Renault terror ordeal Killer cyberappliances: Satan implicated US develops motorised robobollard Killer cyberloo kidnaps kiddie A robot in every home by 2010 Cyberappliances attack Italian village Fire-breathing buses threaten London Cyberloo blast rocks Stoke-on-Trent Spanish cyberkiosks claim second victim Cyberkiosk assaults Spanish teenager Hi-tech toilet caught on camera Hi-tech toilet swallows woman
Lester Haines, 04 Jul 2006
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Crash test dummies

Many firms are using live customer data to test applications. Almost half (44 per cent) quizzed in a UK survey admitted they used valid information to run systems through their paces, a practice that leaves them potentially liable under the Data Protection Act (DPA), which prohibits organisations from using data for purposes other than those for which it was collected. The survey, of 100 IT directors, commissioned by enterprise software firm Compuware, found ignorance about data protection legislation was rife among IT directors. Although the DPA was set up in 1998, 48 per cent of senior IT decision makers admitted to only being "vaguely familiar" with the legislation. Compuware reckons data privacy issues have grown harder for organisations to manage over recent years with the greater use of outsourcing. "Unless they [enterprises] have rigorous procedures in place, they run the risk of live data being leaked to third parties. This can have severe repercussions on customer confidence and company reputation, and ultimately affect the bottom line," Compuware worldwide enterprise solutions director Ian Clarke said. The common sense answer to data protection concerns is to use fictional data. However, desensitising data might invalidate some data input fields so an application is not properly tested. Compuware suggests a better approach is to disguise data by exchanging known values, such as addresses, with dummy data in the same format. ®
John Leyden, 04 Jul 2006
For Sale sign detail

Adobe frees software to win developers

Adobe Systems has shaken up pricing and packaging of its Flex rich web content creation software to increase its appeal among developers considering AJAX, while updating its ubiquitous Flash player. The company has dropped the price on its Flex 2 software development kit (SDK), previously only available as part of the Flex presentation server priced a hefty $15,000 per CPU. Adobe has additionally launched a free, single CPU version of its Flex Data Services, which provides message synchronisation and collaboration, normally priced at $20,000 per processor. Adobe, who inherited the Flex family with its 2005 acquisition of Macromedia, hopes it can increase the number of developers using its content creation and media software. Flex, launched in 2004, has benefited from some healthy cheerleading by Adobe. Customers include Bowing, Dow Jones Indexes, Samsung, and SAP. The advent of Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) accompanied by the slow but steady rise of standards-based technologies such as Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is posing something of a challenge to Adobe. One criticism of technologies like Flex and Flash in particular, despite the player's status as a defacto industry standard thanks to its presence on 600m PCs, is they are "owned" by Adobe. Adobe has, of course, attempted to ally Flex and Flash with AJAX using its Spry Ajax framework. Spry features interface widgets that link to Flash components and allow Flex to control Flash using JavaScript. However, by cutting its prices and using open source technologies - Flex Builder 2, also launched by Adobe, is based on Eclipse - Adobe hopes to gain greater acceptance. Two years into Flex, Adobe claims just 5,000 developers with its new goal to hit one million developers in five years. ®
Gavin Clarke, 04 Jul 2006

Samsung's snazzy snappers to ship September

Samsung today launched a stylish trio of flagship digital cameras the company hopes will win it a host of new fans when they ship in September. The luxurious-looking gadgets incorporate hi-res video shooting and multimedia playback.
Hard Reg, 04 Jul 2006
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A tech health check for SMBs

Quocirca's changing channelsQuocirca's changing channels The terms "high availability" and "disaster recovery" are most commonly associated with the requirements of large enterprises. But most small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are as reliant on their information technology (IT) and arguably more vulnerable to IT failure than their larger counterparts. This is because SMBs have fewer physical locations (maybe only one), which leaves them more exposed to total IT outage during a power failure, for example. Even for SMBs with multiple locations, a partial IT failure is likely to impact a greater percentage of a smaller employee base, with a consequent greater proportional impact on their business. IT applications are as likely to be business critical assets for an SMB as they are for enterprise. IT failure will impact service levels and lead to revenue loss whether you're an e-retailer with a web server for taking orders, a parcel delivery company with a message server to stay in contact with your couriers, or a portal that keeps a small business connected to the supply chains that it serves. In extreme circumstances, for an SMB, the impact can be severe enough to put it out of business. Many SMBs rely on resellers for advice on the safe and effective use of IT; so what advice should resellers give? The first is to make sure their servers are in a secure place. Few SMBs have a sophisticated data centre and, for many businesses, critical applications will be running on a server shoved under a desk with a pile magazines on top; probably a fire hazard and, therefore, a vulnerable IT asset. One of the most effective ways to mitigate such risks is to place servers off-site at a secure hosted facility. Some resellers may offer such a service themselves, but most will not. However, there are plenty of third parties that do; most having more than one data centre and, therefore, able to offer fully redundant back-up servers providing an additional level of resilience for those prepared to cough up the extra cost. Two specialist suppliers of hosted data centre services based in London demonstrate the different levels of service available. Telehouse Europe is based in Docklands with back-up data centres outside of London. It provides secure data centre space, but not IT management – you need to do that yourself, perhaps from afar using remote systems management tools. But to commission new hardware, you would need to show up in person. Globix on the other hand, with data centres in the City of London and the West End, will also manage your IT, in effect providing a fully outsourced IT department managing the IT assets of your choice (it has more experience of the more popular applications). Its data centres are far enough apart to offer protection against fire, terrorist attack, and other threats. All well and good, a hosted data centre service can provide a secure redundant IT environment for those SMBs prepared to pay for it. But this still leaves a problem for the e-purchaser, courier or supply chain partner. If there is a hardware failure, and a secondary redundant server needs to take over the job of running a particular application the user experience will be interrupted, existing processes will be dropped, contact will be lost, and business will be impacted. This can be avoided by going a step further and providing a continuous application service that automatically transfers current users to the secondary server without interruption. This is not an integral capability of most commonly used server software products, but a vendor called Neverfail provides such a capability as an add-on specifically aimed at SMBs or the departments of enterprises. Its products only operate in Windows-based environments (the most widely used in the SMB world) but will provide a seamless failover service for a range of applications including most Microsoft server applications, RIM's BlackBerry Server, IBM Lotus servers and Oracle databases. Neverfail only sells its products via resellers and provides a product called SCOPE Professional to resellers, allowing them to run a health check on their customers' servers. For Neverfail, this ensures that its product operates as it should, but for resellers it is also a chance to offer a server health check and the services to fix any problems identified. This in itself will lead to a more secure operating environment for the SMB regardless of whether they go on to deploy the full failover capability. If your customer is one of the minority of SMBs that do not rely on Microsoft based servers there are similar products out there that support other environments – XOsoft does so for Linux and UNIX servers as well as Windows. Whatever the underlying technology, most SMBs will not realise how reliant they are on it until the day it fails. Resellers might not persuade all their customers to move to 99.999 per cent secure, fully redundant, continuously available service tomorrow, but a server health check might just wake them up to some of the issues and set them on course for investing more in a more resilient IT infrastructure. Copyright © 2006, Bob Tarzey is a service director at Quocirca focused on the route to market for IT products and services in Europe. Quocirca (www.quocirca.com) is a UK based perceptional research and analysis firm with expertise in the European and Global IT markets.
Bob Tarzey, 04 Jul 2006

Mac Pro to sport case redesign for Intel era?

Apple's pro-oriented desktop Mac will not only sport a new name and a new Intel processor when it launches at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) next month but also a new case design.
Tony Smith, 04 Jul 2006

IT set to dominate European patents debate

The European Commission has published the initial findings from its public consultation on Europe's patent system, revealing deep divisions within the business community on how best to proceed, but also a consensus that something must be done.
Lucy Sherriff, 04 Jul 2006

Samsung to bring 'BlackBerry beater' to Europe

Samsung is to ship its BlackBerry-like SGH-i320 Windows Mobile 5.0-based phone in Europe later this month, the South Korean giant promised today. The device sports a 2.2in, 240 x 320, 65,536-colour display above a QWERTY keyboard.
Tony Smith, 04 Jul 2006

Judge slaps US Navy with sonar ban

The US Navy has been temporarily banned from using sonar. A federal judge in California slapped a restraining order on the military after environmentalist lawyers successfully argued that marine mammals could be at risk. The Navy had this week planned to carry out its anti-submarine training exercise, called Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) 2006, involving 40 ships, six submarines and plenty of high powered sonar equipment. It had been granted a special six month exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act by the government, specifically to carry out training exercises involving sonar. However, the judge's ruling was instead based on the National Environmental Policy Act. In her ruling, district court judge Florence-Marie Cooper said that she accepted the plaintiff's argument that proposed military training exercises could "kill, injure, and disturb many marine species, including marine mammals, in waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands", the BBC reports. The US government's lawyers are reviewing the ruling, and will have an opportunity to argue for the injunction to be lifted at a full hearing on 18 July. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 04 Jul 2006

Korean stem cell 'fraud' gives emotional testimony

Hwang Woo-Suk, the disgraced Korean stem cell scientist, has admitted in court that he fabricated data. During an emotional testimony in Seoul, he said: "It was clearly my wrongdoing, I admit it." If found guilty of misusing state funds Hwang could face 10 years imprisonment. Bioethics allegations against him carry a three year term. Asked if he had personally altered data in a landmark 2005 research paper, the former national hero told prosecutors: "I admit to the suspicion of fabrication." Hwang had conceded fault prior to the trial, but gave his most detailed account of the misconduct in court. He said he had personally manipulated a data sheet given to him by one of his researchers before showing it to an American scientist who was helping in the write-up. The sacked professor also defended his work, saying that some of the cloned patient-specific stem cell lines the university team claimed to have created deserve further investigation. He said: "We still want to believe the veracity of the stem cell lines, which we hope will be verified by a world-renowned lab, not some incompetent committee from Seoul National University." An investigatory panel at the university announced it had uncovered Hwang's fabrications in December. He also repeated claims he was duped by junior team members in several of the larger frauds. He said: "I believed the test results brought to me by researchers that supported the findings in the papers." He went on to deny the separate charge of violating bioethics laws by coercing female staff to donate eggs to his cloning programme. This was the second day of hearings after the trial began in June. The court will reconvene 25 July. ®
Christopher Williams, 04 Jul 2006

Eclipse comes last in quality vote

The increasingly popular Eclipse open source tools framework has finished in last place, with Sun Microsystems' NetBeans, in a developers' vote on quality of features. In a comment on the potential shakiness of new "community" projects and a tribute to the lingering power of centralised management, developers have given IBM's Rational Application Development suite top marks. Coming second in Evans Data Corp's IDE Scorecard were Microsoft's Visual Studio and Borland Software's Delphi suite. Evans polled 1,200 developers worldwide, asking them to rate 11 integrated development environments (IDEs). Also surveyed were Sun Microsystems' Java Studio, Oracle's JDeveloper, Borland's JBuilder, IBM's WebSphere Studio, Macromedia's Studio 8, and Sybase's PowerBuilder. IBM scored highest on modeling and design tools, documentation, making and build function, and the quality of support. "Rational was a powerhouse of development tools when IBM bought the company and IBM has handled the acquisition beautifully, not letting quality of Rational products slip at all," Evans said. Evans expects Eclipse and NetBeans to benefit from their open source nature in the long run. Eclipse has already taken a step to tackle quality through Callisto, an initiative to improve reliability and solve version compatibility problems between different Eclipse projects that have hampered individual developers and ISVs using Eclipse. Callisto, delivered last week, saw 23 Eclipse projects jointly updated and released, with Eclipse planning to expand its number of projects by the time of the next update in June 2007. Sun, meanwhile, is still at a rather early stage of donating code from its enterprise products to NetBeans in order to beef-up functionality. Sun in April put tools from its Java Studio Enterprise and SeeBeyond integration suite into NetBeans. These included Sun's two-way Unified Modeling Language (UML) modeler to architect and reverse engineer enterprise applications, XML infrastructure and visual editing tools, and service oriented architecture (SOA) orchestration tools from SeeBeyond. "The community behind them will look at the weaknesses as opportunities and they will be addressed in innovative and most likely powerful ways," Evans said. Aside from taking the shine off Eclipse and confirming NetBeans' lack of maturity, Evans' report will make unsettling reading for Borland as the highly rated Delphi is among a stable of products Borland is attempting to get shot of. Rather than try to monetise the existing Dephi customer base, Borland has decided to chase enterprise dollars by focusing its application and project management tools on the nebulous concept of business and technology "optimisation". More on the survey here.®
Gavin Clarke, 04 Jul 2006

MySpace, kids today and the NHS

LettersLetters So, who is responsible for what, online? This is the question of the moment, thanks to the whole MySpace furore. Some argue that the parents should monitor their sprolings' use of the internet, others that companies need to do more to make their chat pages safer places to be. Falling into the former category was Scott Granneman, over at Security Focus, who argued that we are : in the midst of a mass hysteria.
Lucy Sherriff, 04 Jul 2006
For Sale sign detail

Police probe Paris Hilton link in LexisNexis breach

US investigators have arrested five men on suspicion of involvement of hacking into the database of LexisNexis Group in a crime linked by prosecutors to a breach that led to the disclosure of the personal details of more than 310,000 people last year. Some of the quintet are further suspected of swiping photos and data from an account tied to the mobile phone of heiress Paris Hilton. The suspects used "stolen or illegally created accounts at LexisNexis subsidiaries to look up Social Security numbers and other personal information on dozens of other Hollywood celebrities," the Washington Post reports, adding that the five are likely to be charged with aggravated identity theft as conspiracy and computer hacking offences. The accused have been named as: Jason Daniel Hawks, 24, of Winston Salem, North Carolina; Zachary Wiley Mann, 19, of Maple Grove, Minnesota; Timothy C. McKeage, 21, of Woonsocket, Rhode Island; Justin A. Perras, 19, of New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Jeffrey Robert Weinberg, 21, of Laguna Beach, California. According to prosecutors, McKeage (AKA Krazed) broke in a computer run by police in Port Orange, Florida and used stolen credentials from this systems to access Accurint, a law enforcement database service, maintained by Seisint, a local subsidiary of LexisNexis. He subsequently used purloined system administrator credentials to allegedly create other user accounts that he shared with his co-defendants. Perras (Null), meanwhile, allegedly posed as a LexisNexis worker to obtain similar credentials with the Accurint law enforcement database, tied to police in in Denton County, Texas. The Accurint login credentials allowed the group to look up police records and other data on various high-profile celebrities. Among those targeted were California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and actors Laurence Fishburne and Demi Moore as well as Paris Hilton, according to an interview with three of the suspects conducted by the Washington Post. Perras, on of the accused, admitted involvement in hacking activities alleged by government investigators but denied identity theft. "There was never any malicious intent. We were just a bunch of kids goofing around. No one was planning on stealing anyone's identities," he said. Mann (AKA Majy) admitted accessing personal data on Laurence Fishburne and other celebrities but denied accusations that he and his cohorts did anything wrong. "I don't think what we did was that bad. We never used anyone's identity. Besides, don't you think it's wrong that a company like that has all this information that's available to anyone who's willing to pay for it?" The five are free on bail pending a pre-trial hearing at a court in West Palm Beach, Florida, scheduled for 12 July. ®
John Leyden, 04 Jul 2006