18th > August > 2006 Archive

Free mobile gaming for all

Newly launched website GameJump.com is to provide mobile games free of charge. The service, which went live on Wednesday, makes money from pop-up adverts that appear for a couple of seconds when the game starts and ends. Select a game on the site and you'll receive an SMS with a link to the download (if you're in the US). Otherwise, you can download the game to your PC and install it yourself. No registration is needed, and if you choose to download the games directly, you don't even have to give out your mobile number. As the site's FAQ puts it: "We think mobile games should be like the web and like TV: free and supported by advertising." UK readers may retort that TV isn't free, and some may feel that viewing advertisements is just another way of paying, but it is easier on the pocket. When you run a game from GameJump it connects to the internet to download new advertisements. So those paying for their data might incur a small fee, but the quantity of data is small and the saving should still be considerable. GameJump has signed up some serious content, including games from Handy Games that would cost more than a few quid elsewhere. It remains to be seen if it can make enough money from such short advertisements, so the best advice would be to download any games you want now, while they are still around. ®
Bill Ray, 18 Aug 2006

FaithMobile: providing inspiration on the move

Most Register readers will be aware of Good News Holdings, and its Christian-based content portal for mobile phones. Since January this year FaithMobile (slogan: "Have you talked to God today?") has pumped out Bible verses, ringtones, and inspirational audio and video to mobile phone-carrying Christians. It has now teamed up Crisp Wireless to offer subscription access to their content. Martha Cotton, director of FaithMobile, said Crisp will give the firm a wide range of options: "The whole idea of putting this type of content on the mobile phone is to make that device a portable sanctuary - and Crisp Wireless helps us do that." The enhanced subscription service starts on 8 September, and a portal aimed at teenagers (FaithXL) launches later in the year. ®
Bill Ray, 18 Aug 2006

Federal judge axes Bush mass surveillance

A Detroit federal judge has declared the Bush administration's warrantless wiretap scheme unconstitutional. Ruling on a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the government, US District Judge Anna Taylor said that the electronic dragnet violates the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, and the separation of powers mandated by the Constitution. "It was never the intent of the Framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights," she wrote. She added that the administration's actions also clearly violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The spy scheme, euphemized by the Administration as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program," uses the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on the phone call and email content of US citizens communicating overseas, without a warrant. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has appealed the ruling, and issued a press release complaining that the program is an "essential tool for the intelligence community in the war on terror." "In the ongoing conflict with al Qaeda and its allies, the president has the primary duty under the Constitution to protect the American people," the Department claimed. "The Constitution gives the president the full authority necessary to carry out that solemn duty, and we believe the program is lawful and protects civil liberties." The government complained that it can't prove its claims without revealing state secrets, and letting the terrorists win. The judge rejected that outright, claiming that the government's "arguments that they cannot defend this case without the use of classified information [is] disingenuous and without merit." The ruling will not be implemented immediately, to give DoJ a chance to appeal. ®
Thomas C Greene, 18 Aug 2006

OSDL accepts GPL proliferation

LinuxWorldLinuxWorld Delegates to this week's open source love-in left San Francisco pondering a a split over the next proposed version of GPL, which governs Linux. Stuart Cohen, chief executive of the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), has conceded developers will end up using two versions of GPL - the proposed version 3 license and existing GPL 2 - "for a very long time to come". OSDL is home to Linux creator Linus Torvalds who has publicly branded GPL 3 a "total disaster" and vowed to keep the Linux kernel on GPL 2. Cohen, speaking during a panel discussion at LinuxWorld in San Francisco, California, denied dual licenses could hurt the pace of Linux and open source work as developers wait to see which license prevails. "The market hasn't stalled... no body is holding [back] releases. A vast majority of developers are on GPL 2 projects", he said. Proliferation is certainly a concern to Hewlett Packard, already rattled at some of GPL 3's proposed patent provisions. Joining Cohen at LinuxWorld, Christine Martino, the vice president of HP's open source and Linux organization, said a single license would be "great". GPL governs hundreds of thousands of open source projects, not just Linux, and Martino thinks that vendors may face governance problems, if it came to monitoring which code is used. Eben Moglen, general counsel for the Free Software Foundation (FSF), pushing GPL 3, downplayed the prospect of license proliferation. He told LinuxWorld a compromise could still be reached during the next round of GPL 3 negotiations. "I believe his [Torvalds] objections like other peoples' objections can be discussed and discerned, and common ground can be found or at least near common solutions can be found," Moglen said. "In a negotiation when everyone's bottom line is clear the work of serous compromise beings. I believe we will have a successful outcome." Disagreement is not threatening to derail the FSF's timetable. Moglen committed FSF to finishing GPL 3 by March next year, expressing his view the work could be finished as soon as January. FSF has been working on GPL 3 for two years. Torvalds has stood out against GPL 3 since publication of the first public GPL 3 draft. His concerns center on digital rights management (DRM) and encryptio. GPL 3 is motivated more by FSF's political agenda against closed source than technical considerations, he argues Version 3 is the first update to GPL in 14 years. The proposed license appears to compel developers to publish their encryption keys, which would prohibit use of open source code under GPL 3 in hardware- and software-based DRM systems. A second public draft in July did not address Torvalds' issues and, in fact, led him to brand the license a disaster. He posted on Groklaw that the Linux kernel is "staying with GPL v2." He called the failure to address problems in GPL 3 "shortsighted." ®
Gavin Clarke, 18 Aug 2006

Cowboy DNA testers face prison terms

A law that could send eBay directors to prison if they fail to remove listings for body parts will next month extend to anyone holding saliva or hair samples for paternity testing or other DNA analysis if they do not have proper consent.
OUT-LAW.COM, 18 Aug 2006

Do IT vendors gamble with their marketing budgets?

There are plenty of opportunities to "invest" a marketing budget - advertising, mailshots, events, executive influence programs - but few guides to measure their relative value to a comparison of where best to place bets. Defining or demonstrating the success of a marketing program, except perhaps by the end result - how many sales were generated - is very difficult, and prone to the effects of many other influences. In theory then, measuring the market share or shipments would be a good indicator. The problem is this is a snapshot of a moment in time, providing only a historical record and not much of a view to the future. It does little to show momentum, future buying intentions or expensive purchasing mistakes that will not be repeated. It does not represent the buyer's thought process, only one end result. What else can be measured? During a campaign, it is possible to measure who might have seen the collateral used - eyeball share - whether this is looking at an online advertisement, counting the number of mailings dispatched, or the throughput of attendees at events. Hopefully, this is using independently audited figures, with broadly acceptable definitions of job roles. While useful in some respects, mainly for justifying further marketing spend, it does not give the more valuable indication of how much influence has been gained - mindshare. The value of mindshare or influence depends not only on the numbers of people encountered, and their understanding and buy-in to the messages, but also crucially on their responsibility and role in the decision making process. For IT investments, in particular, this has always been understood to be a complex issue. The needs of the business are tempered by the ability of IT departments to understand and deliver solutions that work, and by how the required level of financial commitment fits with the other priorities of those in control of the purse strings. Clearly, selling just to technologists is not the right approach, even though many IT companies still believe their new "killer" technical, competition-beating features will win the day. But there are other influences with significant involvement in the decision to invest in IT. A good marketing strategy should not rely solely on a scatter gun mass-mailing approach to stimulating demand, nor on executive contact on the golf course, but should try to understand the different groups in the decision making process, and how to effectively reach each of them. Findings from Quocirca research have reinforced the view that simply pursuing a sale at the technical level will often result in failure, as the most critical decisions are not taken in the IT function. The finance directors and managing directors are not only involved in approving individual significant IT investments, they are also more often those most likely to be prioritising and altering overall IT spend. Many sales opportunities that seemed only moments from closing will fail even though the right approvals have been gained, because budgets are re-prioritised outside the IT domain. So while the sales and sales support teams are working hard to win IT budget and the technical arguments, marketing should be trying to make their lives easier by providing positive influence in other areas in the customer. Clearly, the IT or technology management will play an important part, but more emphasis needs to be placed on winning over the finance director. The research highlighted how different sources and routes for information are valued differently by those with responsibility in finance and IT. It is important to recognise that outside the IT function there is generally a more conservative attitude to investment in IT, especially in those with financial responsibility. The lure is not the innovation or fascination with the technology, but what can it do for the business, and at what cost. That's total lifetime cost impact, not just the purchase price. From a product marketing lifecycle perspective it's like marketing to the whole spectrum from early adopters to laggards at the same time. So different audiences with the same organisation have to be identified, segmented, and communicated with appropriately for the marketing bets to pay off. It may still be a gamble, but at least an informed and well-targeted strategy will shift the odds more into the vendor's favour. For a more in-depth look at the decision making process, there is a freely available report on the Quocirca website, IT Investment Decision Making. Copyright © 2006, IT-Analysis.com
Rob Bamforth, 18 Aug 2006

Websites 'leaked' Microsoft Zune details, blurry pics

Details of Microsoft's Zune digital music player leaked out overnight to a variety of websites hot on the heels of EMI's announcement it will supply music and video content for the software giant to pre-install on the player.
Tony Smith, 18 Aug 2006

Shuttle launches 'fastest' SFF PC

Shuttle today announced what it said is the first ever small form-factor PC chassis designed for Intel's Core 2 Duo desktop processor family. It's also the fastest machine of its kind, the company claimed.
Tony Smith, 18 Aug 2006

NTL:Telewest offers free broadband for mobile users

British consumers are being offered a pair of Virgins to satisfy most of, if not all, their communications needs. Customers signing up for Virgin Mobile's SIM-only pay monthly tariffs are being offered a year's worth of up to 8Mbps broadband. The broadband service would normally cost £17.99, the two Virgins say. The deal is on offer for punters signing up for Virgin Mobile's £15 or £30 per month packages between now and 31 October. Once customers' SIMs are activated, they can get the free broadband service by calling an 0845 number. Virgin.net is by owned NTL:Telewest. Virgin Mobile, the MVNO that operates on T-Mobile's network also happens to be owned by NTL:Telewest. Last month, just weeks after sealing its takeover of Virgin Mobile, NTL:Telewest said customers of its existing TV, cable and broadband service could add the Virgin mobile pay monthly service for an extra tenner. ®
Joe Fay, 18 Aug 2006

Boeing departs in-flight broadband market

Boeing is ditching its in-flight broadband service, Connexion by Boeing, after failing to interest enough airlines in the scheme. The firm makes no mention of the recent ban on carry-on laptops on flights prompted by this month's arrest of liquid-explosive terror suspects in the UK. But this policy would surely have hit the prospects of turning a profit on critical trans-Atlantic routes over the short to medium term. In a statement, Boeing said it expected to take a charge of $320m on earnings in the second half of 2006 as a result of discontinuing the service. The likelihood of the charge was disclosed when the aircraft manufacturer announced Q2 earnings on 26 July. Boeing expresses the hope the 560 affected staff will find work elsewhere in the company. Dropping the service will boost its earnings by $185m starting next year, Boeing predicts. The decision to exit the in-flight broadband market comes after a review of its Connexion business that began in June. Hopes to sell the business, which is based on satellite technology, failed to materialise. Boeing said it would work with customers to achieve an "orderly phase out" of the service. Carriers stand to recoup some of their own investment through early termination fees. "Over the last six years, we have invested substantial time, resources and technology in Connexion by Boeing," Boeing chairman, president and chief exec Jim McNerney said. "Regrettably, the market for this service has not materialised as had been expected. We believe this decision best balances the long-term interests of all parties with a stake in Connexion by Boeing." Industry watchers estimate Boeing spent as much as $1bn developing the service. Although carriers such as Lufthansa, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, and Singapore Airlines took up the service, major US carriers, and development partners with Boeing while the technology was been developed, bailed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The high costs of the service ($10 for the first hour or $27 for 24 hours) also stymied its appeal, Unstrung reports. Any thoughts that the Boeing exit from the market signals the death knell for in-flight broadband could be premature. Unstrung notes that ground-to-air wireless services might still succeed where Connexion, which is based on more expensive satellite technology, failed. ®
John Leyden, 18 Aug 2006
Click here for the full BOFH range

BOFH: The computer whisperer

Episode 28Episode 28 "I can't believe it, I've been trying to get that thing to boot for hours!" the Boss says, shaking his head as the PFY steps back from his desktop. "Yes," I respond. "I have to admit the PFY has a bit of a silicon thumb when it comes to dodgy hardware - in fact, we call him the computer whisperer." "The computer whisperer?" "Yeah, like the horse whisperer except you don't have to show a horse a dogfood tin that needs filling..." "But you did point out where the problem started..." the PFY adds graciously. "Yes, how did you work that out so quickly?" the Boss asks suspiciously. "I just read the crash dump on the blue screen." "You mean that actually means something?" the Boss blurts. "To the right people, sometimes, yes. You know how in The Matrix the guy can look at all the numbers on the screen and it makes sense to him? Well, that's what a dump looks like to me. Or, for that matter, what the hex values of porn image are to the PFY here - he's got a sixth sense for it. Why, he could sniff a breast out of a compressed zip file in about 10 seconds!" "It's true," the PFY admits. "They think it's some autistic thing, I've pretty much always been able to do it. Like yesterday I was looking at a 'data file' and noticed #FFDAB96432FF127F43434378A19F76A166A1321F! The dirty slappers!" "I..." the Boss asks, before deciding not to pursue this conversation. "So what was wrong?" "It's faulty memory", the PFY says, undoing the screws on the lid of the Boss' desktop. "I disabled most of it and the machine started, which tends to indicate that some of it is faulty, so what we'll do is just start removing blocks of it till it boots ok "But how can it be faulty? How can memory fail?" "Things fail," I say to him. "Washing machines fail, cars fail, searches for weapons of mass destruction fail, it's inevitable!" "Yes, but it's failed four times!" "Four times?" the PFY asks, looking up from his work. "What do you mean four times? You've never called about problems before!" "No, well, I...uh...one of the accountant people was in the office when it crashed recently and he helped me." "You got a beancounter to fix your machine?!" "Yeah, well he'd done it a couple of times before." "Of course he'd done it a couple of times before, he's never done it properly! He's a beancounter! What a beancounter knows about computers you could tattoo on a DIMM with a jackhammer! So what did he say was wrong with it?" "He said I needed more memory, so he took some out of some old machines of theirs." "You used old F***ing memory?!" the PFY snaps. "It wasn't being used any more." "Neither are underpants at a thrift shop but you don't slap them on!" "He said it'd be ok - and he did seem to know what he was doing!" "Yuh," the PFY nods. "Next time someone seems to know what they're doing, get them to tune your car..." . . . >creak< "Ohmigoodness" the PFY gasps as he opens the box. "What?" I ask looking over his shoulder "What's the ma...Oh! I...It's not even matched! You're using about four different types of memory!" "It's a miracle it ever booted!" the PFY adds. "What an amateur!" "That's what he said about you buying expensive memory all the time." "Who cares what he thinks about me, he's a bloody cowboy!" the PFY shouts angrily. "Look, it's all ok, no real harm done" the Boss says soothingly. "I'll get you some petty cash, you can replace the memory and we'll get the accountant down here so you can tell him what the problem was, what you've done to fix it, and generally bury the hatchet" "I...I...uh...ok!" the PFY stutters. "Givvus 20 quid." "Really, is that all memory costs?" "No, that's what a hatchet costs," I add as the PFY stamps off, being abreast of the price fluctuations in certain retail hardware lines... ...10 minutes later... "He's hasn't really gone to buy a hatchet has he?" the Boss asks as we kill time waiting for the PFY's return by rebuilding the disk on his desktop machine. "Nah!" I reply happily. "Oh good." "No, there's a perfectly good hatchet in his top drawer." "You can't be serious!" "Of course not, he wouldn't do anything like that!" "Oh, you really had me going there" he sighs. >CLACK!< "Now that is more like what he'd do." "Why's it gone dark?" "You need the power off when you install some things." "What things?" "Hatchets mainly..." "I..." >CLACK!< "And there was light!" I blurt. "And your machine's booting sans extra memory...and it's crashed again because the disk is corrupt from the...uh...power failure" "So what does it mean?" the boss asks. "Strangely, that doesn't mean anything to me - it's just a bunch of hex." "Ooooh" the PFY says, returning to the Boss's office. "Where'd you get the dirty pictures?!" BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99
Simon Travaglia, 18 Aug 2006

Samsung turns out music-friendly pivot phone

You've seen clamshell phones and you've spied slider phones. But how about a pivot phone? Come October, you'll be able to get your hands on Samsung's latest rotator, the GSM-connected, music-oriented X830 handset with 1GB of on-board memory. It'll play all the usual music formats and the Linux-friendly Ogg. There's a 1.3 megapixel camera and Bluetooth too. ®
Tony Smith, 18 Aug 2006
homeless man with sign

Salesforce.com shares jump as it turns in a loss

Depite posting a loss for its second quarter, shares in Salesforce.com surged 19 per cent on Thursday, as the sales software firm beat Wall Street revenue estimates. Salesforce.com lost $145,000 on a GAAP basis, compared to a profit of $5m for the same period a year earlier. The firm's P&L shows that the sales surge was outrun slightly by stock option expenses and other spending to fuel growth. Revenue rose 64 per cent to $118m, topping analyst expectations of around $114m. Non-GAAP earnings per share were $0.06, two cents ahead of predictions. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff said: "While other software companies talk about an undefined on-demand future with undefined products that may or may not be available at some point in the future, Salesforce...is delivering the promise of on-demand services to nearly 25,000 customers with more than 500,000 subscribers around the world today." The comment was presumably a dig at Microsoft's CRM software and Oracle's Siebel venture. The firm netted 57,000 new subscibers to its services in the quarter, up 63 per cent on the Q2 2005 total. ®
Christopher Williams, 18 Aug 2006

What fluids should you drink when it's hot?

Also in this week's column: Will eating spinach make me strong? Do you feed a cold and starve a fever? What is amniotic fluid? What fluids should you drink when it's hot? Asked by Andrew Wiseman of Cambridge, United Kingdom The claim is that drinking a cold drink is better as the cold drink comes in contact with the tissues of the mouth, tongue, and throat thus soothing us, and it brings body temperature down since the body must warm up the drink to body temperature. On the other hand, some say drinking a hot drink is better as the body has to use more energy to reduce the temperature of the drink to body temperature. But this is contradicted by those who maintain that this body process only makes you hotter. People choose with their feet on this one (well, their mouths too). People prefer cool drinks much more often than hot drinks during hot weather for sensory reasons rather than body temperature reasons. The same is true with hot drinks being more preferable during cold weather. In fact, the temperature of the drink does not really matter unless a massive amount of liquid is being consumed or if the temperature of the liquid is extremely cold or extremely hot. If extremely cold, such an amount would probably make you sick and cause you to vomit and cramp. If extremely hot, it would burn your mouth. The fact that fluid temperature, cooler or warmer, doesn't much matter is due to the much greater mass of the body compared to the drink. Cold or hot, the temperature of the drink is transformed to body temperature without much of a lowering of body temperature at all. The body's system of temperature regulation (homeostasis) is not so easily fooled. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta stresses that during hot weather more fluids should be consumed. The CDC makes no recommendation as to the temperature of this fluid other than to "avoid very cold drinks" as these can cause stomach cramps. The CDC says that besides water, salts, and minerals also need to be replaced in order to avoid heatstroke. It recommends avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and drinks with large amounts of sugar as these can "actually cause you to lose more body fluid". Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au
Stephen Juan, 18 Aug 2006

Do you feed a cold and starve a fever?

Also in this week's column: Will eating spinach make me strong? What fluids should you drink when it's hot? What is amniotic fluid? Do you feed a cold and starve a fever? Asked by Elektra Filipo of Apia, Samoa Many people are confused about this. According to Dr Andrew Lloyd, an infectious disease physician in Sydney, Australia, "there is little medical evidence to support 'feed a cold, starve a fever'. In the context of an acute infection like influenza, the best treatment is for the patient to eat only if hungry." According to Dr Holly Muggleston, of the School of Health and Applied Sciences at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia, "you do need to feed a fever. That is, you should get adequate fluid to reduce the risk of dehydration. And, in some cases, you need adequate kilojoules in order to prevent weight loss. This depends on the fever's temperature and duration". So from the above, a non-physician standpoint of a humble anthropologist concludes that the way to go is "feed a fever" and "feed or starve a cold". Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au
Stephen Juan, 18 Aug 2006

What is amniotic fluid?

Also in this week's column: Will eating spinach make me strong? Do you feed a cold and starve a fever? What fluids should you drink when it's hot? What is amniotic fluid? Asked by Giulia Rossi, age 13, of Rome, Italy As any baby could tell you (if they could talk), amniotic fluid is the clear, yellowish liquid that surrounds the unborn baby. It is contained in the amniotic sac. The fluid consists mostly of fetal urine that bathes the developing fetus. The fetus floats in this fluid, which is warmed to the mother’s body temperature. The amniotic fluid increases in volume as the fetus grows. The amount of amniotic fluid is greatest at about 34 weeks after conception or 34 weeks ga (gestational age). At 34 weeks ga, the amount of amniotic fluid is about 800 ml. This amount reduces to about 600 ml at 40 weeks ga when the baby is born. Amniotic fluid is continually being swallowed and "inhaled" and replaced through being "exhaled", as well as being urinated by the baby. Not terribly tasteful to us in more ways than one. But the developing baby doesn't mind at all. It is essential that the amniotic fluid be breathed into the lungs by the fetus in order for the lungs to develop normally. Analysis of amniotic fluid, drawn out of the mother's abdomen in an amniocentesis procedure, can reveal many aspects of the baby's genetic health. This is because the fluid also contains fetal cells which can be examined for genetic defects. Amniotic fluid also protects the developing baby by cushioning against blows to the mother's abdomen, allows for easier fetal movement, promotes muscular/skeletal development, and helps protect the fetus from heat loss. Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au
Stephen Juan, 18 Aug 2006

Will eating spinach make me strong?

Also in this week's column: Do you feed a cold and starve a fever? What fluids should you drink when it's hot? What is amniotic fluid? Will eating spinach make me strong? Asked by Thomas Glass of Hartford, Connecticut, USA The Popeye Effect is the belief that eating spinach will give you big muscles. Unfortunately, this is a myth. Just eating spinach is not going to make anyone as strong as the cartoon character, Popeye. If it did, body-builders and athletes would be popping tins of spinach as often as Popeye did in his cartoons. Come to think of it, Bluto would be eating spinach too! The fact is that many other nutritional supplements build muscle bulk and strength faster and more effectively than spinach. However, it is often true that people with weak muscles have a variety of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. "Spinach" derives from the Latin word spina meaning "spine". Spinach is a vegetarian, low-calorie, non-animal source of iron and magnesium. Both are essential to muscle development. Spinach also contains vitamin C, vitamin B-9 (folate, folic acid), and additional antioxidants that the conventional wisdom in human nutrition claims helps prevent cancer. All of these are beneficial to the body. Dr Shawn Somerset of the School of Public Health at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, points out that a difficulty in over-relying upon spinach as a source of iron is that spinach is rather poorly absorbed by the body unless eaten with calcium. The type of iron found in spinach is non-blood (non-heme), a plant iron, which the body does not absorb as efficiently as blood (heme) iron, found in meat. The myth of the Popeye Effect dates back to a real scientific mistake. In 1870, Dr E von Wolf mistakenly misplaced a decimal point and wrongly estimated the iron content of spinach to be 10 times more than any other green vegetable. The mistake was corrected only in 1937. But by then it was too late. The first Popeye cartoons appeared in 1929 - and the spinach-muscles-strength legend was already born. Health benefits of spinach The idea that spinach makes you strong relates to its iron content. Iron is essential for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the muscles and for storing oxygen in the muscles. Health benefits of spinach include: Protecting against heart disease Helping prevent colon and prostate cancer Maintaining good eye health Reducing chances of brain damage after a stroke Helping preserve healthy bones Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au
Stephen Juan, 18 Aug 2006

Censorship, planets and googling searching the net

LettersLetters A parliamentary committee (that ever useful beast) published a report this week denouncing net censorship as "morally unacceptable". The cries of "hypocrite" could be heard across the net almost as soon as the ink on the pdf was dry... The whole issue of Net censorship runs straight into the ancient dichotomy of law and ethics. Western governments enthusiastically publicize their intention of censoring - and closing down - Web sites that they consider to be promoting child pornography, terrorism, or other such unspeakable crimes. But what it boils down to is that they seek to censor discussion of illegal activities. The Chinese government is doing nothing different: it, too, aims to stop illegal activities. It is just that different things are illegal in China. As has often been recalled, most of the Nazi government's acts in Germany were technically legal, because - being a government - it passed laws making them legal. So the question becomes one of ethics. Our governments are telling us that their laws must be obeyed meticulously and unquestioningly, but that the "bad laws" of "bad governments" should not be obeyed. Deep waters indeed. Tom Deep, murky, and quite possibly shark-infested. "The UK Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee recently issused a report in which it stated that "search engines' agreement to block the access of computer users to certain information (in China) was 'morally unacceptable'." That's so much crap - they'd be up in arms if Google/MSN/Yahoo! were to take the stance that blocking videos of "child pornography" or racial/cultural hate sites was "morally unacceptable" and therefore happily indexed them. The age of sexual consent varies in many countries so what might technically constitute child pornography in one may not in another. I'd imagine websites preaching anti-semitism are hardly going to be illegal in some countries. Since the web isn't governed by a globally agreed set of core laws (and it's unlikely to happen any time soon) then the wishes of the recipient country's government must determine what does, or does not, constitute morally reprehensible or illegal content in that country - no matter how disagreeable those decisions may be to western sensibilities. It's a cultural issue; apart from a few basic fundamentals (which even all of the major religions seem to agree on if you filter out the dogma), what is, and is not, legal or morally acceptable is determined by the culture in which you live. Drinking 20 pints of lager before eating a nice lardy kebab, throwing up in the taxi and sleeping in the gutter may be virtually a right of passage on your 18th birthday in the UK - you'd be in for a bit of a shock if you tried that in Saudi Arabia... or Utah. Chris It's OK claiming the moral high ground, but the UK government isn't exactly squeaky clean when it comes to freedom - and the US government even less so. What's that old saying about putting your own house in order ? Simon Speaking of putting one's house in order, Orange this week suspended an employee pending an investigation into a few comments he made in a blog entry. Needless to say, your Vulture-esque feathers were ruffled: didn't I read somewhere yet another article about the terrors of censorship in China? I may not like the guy or believe in what he says but damn, it's sad state of affairs when a guy can't take a side swipe without losing his job. It's not like he had "I'm a representive of orange" anywhere. It's like the professor who lost his hosting becouse he slated veggies. Matt So it's not enough that companies watch their employees' internet usage in the office but now they're responsible for what they do at home? I feel sick at the way our thoughts are being monitored to the point where any group can say "be nice to us or you're not allowed to earn a living". Can't we all be grown up and get on with life without calling for the head of anybody who doesn't like what we do and who may call us names? Taking criticism and teasing is a part of life - it happens. Richard People are being suspended from jobs for writing this?! People in Britain?!!! (Not in, like, China … or North Korea!). This IS the United Kingdom [natch] where we take the piss out of the Welsh for being Welsh. Deal with it. If they sack the bloke, my Orange phone will be turning some other colour, just as fast as I can make it happen. Sense of Humour Failure or not, there’s no need to be getting people (even Conservatives) the sack - just like voting in a democracy - humour can give one such legitimate satisfaction Andy Yet more horror stories of bad guys using MySpace to prey on the naive and unwary. You wondered whether this was really a technology issue: Interesting that "Girl raped after MySpace meeting" is seen by most media as a reasonable angle on this story; but would we ever see "Girl raped after phone conversation"? Fundamentally there would be no difference. This sad story has nothing to do with the internet, or MySpace, or "new technologies". It is simply about people doing bad things, which they will unfortunately continue to do whatever the intermediating technology might be. Duncan True, there would be no difference to the victim. However, the developing culture of the net, and how it affects the offline world is something we are interested in here at Reg Towers, so we'll keep reporting on the stories that grab our attention, just the same. A point of order, next, prompted by the news that Nokia is dabbling in video. "Nokia, the largest manufacturer of cameras in the world" Umm, you mean, mobiles? Bill writes: Depends on how you count 'em. If you take a camera to be something which takes pictures then Nokia comes out top; even if all of their cameras also happen to be phones. Scary, isn't it. That whole terror plot thing. Will the draconian luggage restrictions make plane journeys boring enough that we'll use Branson's guru texting service? "It would seem that in the future all we will be allowed to do in a plane is either get stinking drunk, or twiddle our thumbs" What happen to sleep, read a book, watch a movie... ? Can't anybody really think at anything more than yapping into a phone or punching keys on a computer anymore? Davide Er, you have been watching the news in the last few days? How did people survive before cellphones, text messaging and e-mail??? All of this B.S. about draconian measures to improve security for air travel smacks of utter stupidity. You'd think it was more important to be able to listen to your Ipod or B.S. on your cellphone than to NOT get blown out of the sky at 30,000 feet. People are such dumbasses that this stupidity would be hilarious if not for peoples outrageous ignorance. Oliver But people make plans and assumptions based on access to technology. That will have to change, and no one ever likes change... Google gets ants in its pants about people googling stuff. Apparently, we should all be Googling, with our capital letters intact: "Google is not alone in writing to media outlets: Band-Aid, Kleenex, Hoover, Perspex, Portakabin, Xerox, Frisbee and Jacuzzi are all still registered trademarks that battle against genericide." Becoming part of the language is the prize for wiping the floor with the competition. All your competitors would be happy to have your problem. (PS, you missed out Biro, and I vaguely recall IBM getting shirty about "PC" at one point, too. The fact that these examples didn't occur to you indicates just how likely Google are to win this particular battle. The phrase "pissing in the wind" springs to mind.) (PPS, Google can probably rely on the French Academy to keep "googler" out of the dictionary. Perhaps they should relocate.) Ken Google is telling us we can't Google? Publications that uses "Googling" as a verb will be told not to? Is Google bonkers? Or just googling Goofy? C'mon Google, it's WAY too late. You've already set a Googleish precedent. The world's been "Googling" its little heart out for a very long time. You've sat back and enjoyed the free publicity and the fact that you're so successful no one says "I searched for..." any more. They say "I Googled." Articles have talked about "Googling" and "Googled" for years with no objection from the Googlecorp. The Google-founders have even BRAGGED in interviews about Google being a verb. They've been asked repeatedly about "Googling" or used the word themselves. Did they care? Nope, not so long as there was lots of lovely Googlelollying lolly rolling in. And now you think you can just say "Stop."? Claim you had no idea anyone was "Googling", heavens, no, and it's threatening the Googlebrand? Tell us your corporate attorneys only recently discovered trademark law and said, "Oops, sorry, hadn't noticed that before"? Well, a thumbed nose to the Googlearchy. I'll google, you'll google, we'll ALL google if we want to. The Googlegal beagles might as well give up now. They don't stand a chance. Very Googly Yours, Cordwainer And a final comment on this story. As you know, we at Vulture Central love a reasoned argument, and we know you do too. So we present the following example, for your enjoyment: Genericide? I'd like to respond with a balanced argument, but your wretched article had drained all of my strength. So, fuck off you blood sucking wanker. Thanks, Richard Saints, or the ASA, preserve us all from smutty humour. The standards agency rules that a sex chat line should not be advertised with innuendo. No, really. Oh, my God! The sooner this generation of prudes keel over, the better. Preferably from a coronary induced by witnessing scenes of a sexual nature and rushing to their tele-moaning device which contains the ASA and ITC on speed dial. And as for the ASA; 1 complaint?! 1 complaint is all it took to move an advert with a not-particularly-offensive question, images of the female anatomy and a telephone number containing the numbers '6' and '9' in close proximity? Where were you bastards when the Crazy Frog was doing the nation's collective heads in, during every single advert break, for so long? How many complaints did that take, eh? I bet it was far more than 1! Get some perspective, people! Questions or images about sex, genitals, breasts, legs, arses and the numbers '6' and '9' are *not* things to get stroppy about. Really, they're not that bad! R. Smith Off-road Segways: The off-road segway sounds pretty special. Using your weight and balance to steer and accellerate is a great idea. If mr Kamen can refine the design a little further - stronger AI, the ability to generate it's own fuel from vegetation and legs - he'll have invented the horse. -ben Some bad jokes about plutons follow some very useful speculation about what should be considered a planet: Just thinking... surely a simple blob of discarded astronaut space-wee could be defined as a planet under their new definition ( if ejected from Earth orbit so it couldn't be defined as a satellite, and as long as it assumed hydrostatic equilibrium before it froze). Although you would also be considered a pathetic pedantic pillock for suggesting it, obviously. Probably slapped as well, and rightly so. Richard Regarding your article "Solar system to get new planets?": "As a result, you will probably start to see Charon being referred to as Pluto's companion rather than its moon." Is this a example of a strictly Plutonic relationship? Regards, Tom And just when you thought we couldn't get any sillier, and with just a million shopping days until Christmas, may we offer the following response to Dell's battery recall: Laptops roasting it's an open fire Acrid fumes assail your nose Melting chips smell like burning tires and Techs dressed in asbestos clothes Everybody knows short circuits in a battery Help to make the office bright End users with their cubes all aglow Will find it hard to work tonight They know a recall's on its way Before the desk is charcoaled in a blaze And every engineer is gonna spy To see if laptops really know how to fry And so I'm remembering this simple phrase like geeks from one to ninety two Although we dread it many times many ways Yeah, we're getting a Dell, Dude! Grant And that is more than enough. More next week. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 18 Aug 2006

Florida man indicted over Katrina phishing scam

A Florida man has been charged with setting up a phishing website that sought to cash-in on the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Instead of collecting money for victims, Jovany Desir, 20, of Miami, Florida, allegedly tried to trick sympathetic marks into handing over banking details through a bogus American Red Cross website. Desir is further charged with selling phishing tackle that allowed other ID crooks to establish bogus websites more easily for approximately $150 each. Desir was indicted over these alleged offences, as well as establishing phoney banking and online payment sites between July and October 2005, by a federal grand jury in Western Pennsylvania, AP reports. Targets of his alleged scams included PNC Bank in Pittsburgh, eBay, PayPal, and two Canadian financial organisations as well as the Red Cross, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review adds. Prosecutors allege one of the bogus Canadian banking websites, purportedly representing Banque Nationale, was visited 8,500 times by users apparently searching for the legitimate site. The five-count indictment omits an estimate of how much Desir might have gained through his various alleged scams. The prosecution is separate to the one against Gary Kraser, a Florida man who was charged with four counts of fraud after receiving $40,000 (£22,700) in donations to fund mercy flights to the victims of Hurricane Katrina he never made. Net security firm Sophos notes that Hurricane Katrina is far from the first disaster to have captured the imagination of bottom-feeding scammers. Earlier this year, the FBI warned of a scam website that sought to prey on Good Samaritans seeking to help the sole survivor of a mining accident in Sago, West Virginia to "pay medical bills". The January 2005 VBSun worm spread via emails posing as a plea for relief money to help victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami just days after disaster struck. If activated, the worm set about harvesting addresses for its further distribution as the infectious attachment of email messages while attempting to launch a denial of service attack on a particular German-based hacker website. ®
John Leyden, 18 Aug 2006

Elgato equips Macs with digital, analogue USB TV tuner

Mac-friendly TV tuner maker Elgato has announced EyeTV Hybrid, a twin-tuner - digital and analogue - dongle that pops into a USB port to deliver television programmes straight to your Mac's display.
Tony Smith, 18 Aug 2006

Thomson hires computers to write news

To date, advances in automation have favoured journalists and generally made our jobs easier. Voice recorders mean we don't have to learn shorthand, wordprocessors mean we don't have to be good typists...or spellers...and voicemail means that some of us can, allegedly, tap into the messages of others. But today my technological complacency was shattered on discovering that Thomson Financial, the US newswire, has hired computers to write articles. The old reporter's saw is that good news is no news, and this is certainly news to me. Thomson has built some computer programs at $150k-$200k a pop to deliver automated articles on US market news. The programs can publish a news story on, say, company financials, within 0.3 seconds of their release to the NYSE or NASDAQ. This is purportedly helpful to hedge traders and others of their ilk. Thomson's software compares the results with previous results held in its database, so the robot.txt can say if the company did better or worse than expected, the FT reports. "This is not about cost, but about delivering information to our customers at a speed at which they can make an almost immediate trading decision," Thomson's Matthew Burkley says. "This means we can free up reporters so they have more time to think." So it may free the hacks from drudge-work today. And we concede that Burkley is talking about US market news, which no-one reads anyway, except if they are paid to do so, sitting in front of their Bloomberg or Reuters terminals. But tomorrow? According to Burkley, the computer-generated story makers have not made any mistakes. But they are very standardised - just like most US journalists then. "We might try and write a few more adjectives into the program," he told the FT. Adjectives? Whatever next! Hacks, considered yourself warned. Hairdressers...you're next. ®
Drew Cullen, 18 Aug 2006

Brocade raises expectations for Q4

Execs at storage switch maker Brocade took a break from dealing with the company's high-profile stock option woes by reporting some decent Q3 results. Revenues reached a record $188.9m, up 55 per cent on the same period a year ago. Brocade had previously told Wall Street it expected to beat its previous revenue expectation of between $174m and $183m. GAAP profit was $24.5m, or $0.09 per share. The firm made a loss of $7.2m in Q3 2005. CEO Michael Klayko said: "Our results this quarter were outstanding and represent the third consecutive quarter of record revenues and the fourth consecutive quarter of increased profitability." High end enterprise director switches were in particularly strong demand, enjoying a 72 per cent sales spike. The business highlight for the quarter was the $713m acquisition of McData, though that won't appear in the accounts until the deal is sealed Q1 2007. Klayko said: "McDATA's strong presence in the mainframe connectivity, professional services and long distance solutions will substantially augment and diversify our current business." He defended the company against claims it had paid over the odds for its rival in a desperate bid to fend off Cisco's challenge, saying: "We believe that this acquisition will provide a wide range of compelling benefits for our customers, partners and shareholders, and that the value of bringing the two companies together is significantly greater than the roughly one times annual revenue that we paid for McDATA." The company's finance chief told investors the outlook will continue to grow brighter. Richard Deranleau said revenues for Q4 should be between $200m and $205m, beating analyst estimates, which have been around $191m. In post-Wall Street trading yesterday evening, Brocade's stock rose five and a half per cent to $5.71. ®
Christopher Williams, 18 Aug 2006

Losing stuff but finding buried treasure

Keep it safe out there This week we learnt the importance of backing up data. A boring task, but you don't half feel clever if it all goes wrong and you need it. But sometimes stuff gets lost. We've all lost photos of holidays, given mobile phones to the great pub gods, and parted company with sets of keys. But if you went somewhere really special you'd be careful to keep the snaps safe wouldn't you? So how the hell has NASA lost the original footage of the moon landings? Yes, the original footage of mankind's first steps on the Moon. Lost. NASA has spent a year looking for the tapes and hasn't given up yet. In the interest of fairness we should give the last word to John Sarkissian who's part of the search team: "I would simply like to clarify that the tapes are not lost as such. We are confident that they are stored at Goddard...we just don't know where precisely." A very familiar sounding excuse. Others learning this hard life lesson this week were several ISPs who thought back-up meant putting servers in one of those super-duper, ultra-safe, co-location places. You know the ones with uninterruptible power supplies and robot security guards. Unfortunately, this week Telehouse was unable to keep the lights on and the partial power failure hit several ISPs. Read a Reg Reader Study Downtime across a business is bad enough, but this week's Reader Study looks at the impact of the helpdesk - which works to stop individual users effectively having downtime. It is a thankless task being abused by users all day, and the study looks at ways of supporting the front line troops. Researchers spoke to over 2,500 Reg readers (and we know how clever they are), and there are some top tips and cunning plans for sorting out IT support. Big Blue brings big iron Big Blue is going a bit green. Announcing five new boxes based on AMD's Opteron chips IBM said they would include sfotware to monitor and control heat emissions and power usage - this year's hot summer in the UK has caught out many companies. The news comes at an odd time - just after Intel's announcement of its Xeon chips. Here's a more detailed analysis of the news. Linux license lightened One of the joys of open source software is not having to deal with tricksy proprietary licensing right? Well not exactly. Most open source software is governed under a General Public License. But a bit of a row has broken out over GPL v3 means many people are sticking with GPL 2. Including Linus Torvalds who described GPL 3 as a total disaster. We've got more on the impact of disparate licenses here. Zippo batteries cost Sony dear Also standing in the corner wearing the pointy hat this week was Sony, which is going to have to pick up the bill for Dell's record breaking recall of flaming batteries. Sony is keeping quiet on how much it will cost to recall, and replace, 4.1m batteries. US authorities are investigating batteries in other devices so things could get even worse. But we've collected together some of the best, and worst, guesstimates of what it will all cost. Dell itself reckons there won't be a "material" financial impact - unless customers turn their backs on the feature-rich firestarter laptops. Will AOL's "screw-up" mean better protection? And we can't resist revisiting AOL's blooper - last week it released half a million customers' searches. The damage might have been done, but the blogosphere and Reg readers are still finding new, weird, gems. Reading what other people have been searching for is strangely compelling, but mainly just strange. See some of our favourite weird AOL searches. The piece also looks at how this time the dull old data retention question might get the public interest - it's not nice getting a phone call from a reporter who starts reading out everything you've been searching for on the internet for the last three months. And, of course, AOL is not alone - it emerged this week that Amazon is on its way to creating the world's largest customer database. To make things worse, it is patenting the idea too. Pirate spammers buried treasure Not content with scarring our brains with such an intimate look at their customers' "minds" AOL also showed that it's not all dull being an ISP. It was in court this week seeking an order to dig up the garden of a convicted spammer. Why does it want to dig up a garden? Because it believes spammer Davis Hawke has buried treasure - proper treasure - bars of gold and platinum, hidden around his parents or grandparents' homes. AOL was awarded $12.8m in damages against Hawke and reckons his buried stash might be worth $500,000. His mum says she hasn't seen her son for a year and he's buried his pirate chest somewhere else. Irish phishers smiling Well, they might not be Irish, but they were targeting the Bank of Ireland this week. A new phishing scam fooled at least a few customers and just over €100,000 was lost. The bank issued a securty alert, but not in time to save everyone. Talking of bank security, we are still waiting to hear back from Barclays after we alerted them to a security hole in their online banking service. The flaw is being exploited to help make phishing scams look more convincing. Kirk's back Good news for Trekkies. This week we learnt that William Shatner is to return as Captain Kirk - not in a telly series, or an awful film, but in a video game that's due out in October. But Kirk better update his space maps - we've got a few more planets since the last time he graced our screens. To find out whether or not Pluto is still a planet, click here. Mobile vigilantes and lav chemists If you're off on holiday this week, make sure you don't use your mobile while driving near Portsmouth - more on the knife wielding anti-mobile vigilante here. And if you're flying anywhere and worried about the recent liquid explosives arrests, have a look at this nice reassuring story. Well, reassuring unless you think about the implications of our security services pursuing yet another red herring. By the time you've repacked your bag and queued up for six hours, you'll be too tired to be worried anyway. That's it for this week, thanks for reading. ®
John Oates, 18 Aug 2006
For Sale sign detail

Google mislays Tibet

We don't think Richard Gere is going to like this one bit: Google appears to have rather carelessly mislaid the whole of Tibet, the once independent state turned autonomous region of China.
Lester Haines, 18 Aug 2006

Twister unearths archaeologists

Five archaeologists were ripped from terra firma by a freak tornado that whipped its way through Lincolnshire yesterday. The archaeologists and archaeology students, working at a sand and gravel pit at Baston, were sheltering from the thunderstorm in a temporary canteen when the building was picked up and tossed 70 feet by the wind. Four of the group were taken to hospital with what the BBC describes as "minor injuries". All have now been discharged. ITV reports that youth worker Denham Hughes, 42, saw the tornado develop and said: "It went very dark and got a bit scary even before the rotating clouds progressed into a funnel and moved north. I could see sheets of metal and planks being sucked up 200ft into it as it got faster and faster and the bottom and top split and then joined up again." A spokesman for the Met Office told the Cambridge Evening News (CEN) that the tornado was a funnel cloud, "a tornadic development that doesn't make contact with the ground". "The weather conditions were just right for this phenomenon to occur," he said The thunderstorm also left 6,000 homes without power across the region. We're just surprised the BBC's forecasting arm, renowned for spotting weather extremes, didn't predict this one. ®
Tracey Cooper, 18 Aug 2006

eBay UK gets mobile with O2

Users of O2's Active service are able to access eBay using their mobile phones for the first time today. O2 Active subscribers can login to the auction site, search, bid, and keep an eye on items they are selling or considering bidding for. eBay has been available on i-mode since January this year, but will now be accessible through the main O2 mobile portal. O2 general manager of content Simon Dean said: "Our experience with eBay on i-mode has shown us there is a really strong demand for it from our customers who really want to engage with these types of services." ®
John Oates, 18 Aug 2006

Apple patches MacBook 'fan behaviour'

Apple has posted a firmware update for its MacBook consumer-oriented laptops, the latest in a series of "fan behaviour" adjustments made to the company's Intel-based computers. The patch adjusts the machine's System Management Controller (SMC), a device that monitors and manages Intel-based Macs' power-related functions.
Tony Smith, 18 Aug 2006

PayPal freezes out British user in 'terror' list snafu

PayPal has frozen Brit Mohammed Hassan's account and banned him from using the service if he refuses to fax the company a raft of personal information. The online payments service told him his name is "similar to or a match to" a name on the US government's anti-terror assets freezing list. The Office of Foreign Assets Control Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN) is operated by the US Treasury and designed to prevent money laundering and funding of illegal organisations. The SDN list is here (.pdf). It contains hundreds of names, including Osama Bin Laden and a Tunisian named Mohamed Hassan. Register reader Mohammed received the following email last week: Access to your PayPal account has been denied because your name is similar to or a match to an entry on the Office of Foreign Assets Control Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. We are required to further verify your identity. In order to regain access to your account, please provide the following documentation: 1. A copy of government-issued photograph identification (i.e. passport, driver's license). 2. A copy of a utility bill verifying your address 3. A copy of a document verifying your date and place of birth. Please fax the information to +1 303-395-2802, Attention: Compliance. The documents may also be mailed to the following address: PayPal, Attention: Compliance P.O. Box 45950 Omaha, NE 68145, United States Please provide the requested information within the next 30 days. If this information is not received within the next 30 days, your PayPal account will be closed. We contacted PayPal with a series of questions. They confirmed that in Mohammed Hassan's case, his account will be closed unless he faxes his passport to them - action he told us he is not willing to take on priniciple. Unlike banks, PayPal does not require identity verification to set up an account. PayPal refused to provide any details of how many customers the bans are affecting, or whether the policy had led to any genuine terrorist assets being seized. Mohammed works for the UK government, in a job which requires security clearance. He said: "I am not a terrorist or a criminal. How the hell can PayPal link me to that name on the SDN list, is it because my name is Arabic? Or is it because PayPal are just plain stupid?" ®
Christopher Williams, 18 Aug 2006

AllofMP3 suffers mysterious downtime

Controversial Russian music site AllofMP3.com has suffered more unexplained downtime. Back in May the site all but disappeared for three days, leading to fears it had been crushed by Russian authorities stung into action by the US. A group of US senators asked George Bush to block Russian entry to the World Trade Organisation unless he took a firmer line on intellectual property. AllofMP3 has been down for just under 11 hours today. It was down for three hours and 22 minutes yesterday. So far this month, it's been out of action for a total of one day, seven hours and 29 minutes. Its sister site alltunes.com has suffered the same outage time. Peter Alguacil, from monitoring company Ipwalk, said: "It's weird to have so much downtime during the day - last time it happened as they launched the new service. Maybe all the publicity has brought them a lot of visitors." More details on the downtime are available from Ipwalk here and here. The BPI has threatened to sue the site in the UK courts - although what impact this would have on a Russian company is unclear. For its part, AllofMP3 insists it is entirely legal within Russian law and makes regular royalty payments. ® Bootnote: Last time the Reg wrote a story about the site's absence from the world wide web, it reappeared within minutes...
John Oates, 18 Aug 2006

Vista joins MS patch treadmill

Microsoft has released a couple of patches for Windows Vista after realising that the pre-release OS is vulnerable to some of the security bugs addressed in its last (mammoth) Patch Tuesday update cycle. Of the seven critical Windows updates released in August, two (MS06-042 and MS06-051) also affect Windows Vista Beta 2 or later, prompting the release of additional patches. The most threatening of the Windows flaws addressed on 8 August (MS06-040) - the subject of active malware exploitation over recent days - leaves Vista untouched. The two necessary fixes for Vista have been released through Windows Update. Microsoft may issue additional patches for Vista, in response to future security threats, but there'll be a hiatus in patches between the end of the beta testing period and the final shipment of the OS, due early next year. "Windows Vista is the first major Microsoft product release that will be serviced with security updates throughout the beta process. We are committed to release Windows Vista updates for all MSRC critical class issues that may arise during the beta testing period. We strive to release any Windows Vista updates as soon as possible, but our priority will be to release the updates for Windows products that have been released to manufacturing," explained Alex Heaton of the Windows Vista Security team in a blog posting. In other Patch Tuesday-related news, Microsoft said it would release an Internet Explorer patch (MS06-042) next week after reported problems with the update for some IE users. Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack One systems were the focus of this glitch and the target of the forthcoming update, which leaves Vista Beta users in the clear...at least for now. ®
John Leyden, 18 Aug 2006

Terror charges axed in 2nd cellphone bomb plot

UpdateUpdate The spirit of Barney Fife is alive and well in small-town America, but that will hardly amuse the three men recently accused of terrorist crimes in the redneck backwater of Caro, Michigan. Adham Abdelhamid Othman, Louai Abdelhamied Othman, and Maruan Awad Muhareb, who were rumbled by a watchful Wal-Mart clerk when they bought 80 pre-paid TracFones, no longer stand accused of plotting to blow up the Mackinac Bridge, but are now, incredibly, facing counterfeiting charges instead. The men were discovered with nearly a thousand pre-paid phones, and a few pictures of the bridge, leading local authorities to suspect a dastardly, mass-casualty plot in which the phones would serve as detonators. For their part, the men claimed that they were planning to resell the phones at a profit to a merchant in Texas. Now that it's become clear that the terror plot was not to be, Assistant US Attorney Janet Parker is planning to help the Caro police save face by bringing charges of trafficking in counterfeit goods and money laundering. It would not look good for the men to skate free, after all that crying wolf about al-Qaeda mayhem. The counterfeit charge likely stems from modifications the men are alleged to have been making to unlock the phones, enabling them to be used on competing networks. Presumably, they would then cease to be "authentic" (however much improved). Although, when last we checked, it was still legal to buy a car, make performance modifications, and sell it at a profit. The money laundering charge appears to be even more of a stretch. Perhaps in a few weeks' time the charges will be lowered again, to the more realistic level of "creating a situation likely to encourage police officials to make fools of themselves". ®
Thomas C Greene, 18 Aug 2006

NASA hands out $500m for space wagons

Only NASA could award a $500m contract and bill the handout as "doing things on the cheap." The US space agency today announced that two companies - SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler - will split a first-of-its-kind $500m grant. The companies have been tasked with creating systems capable of delivering cargo and personnel to the International Space Station. NASA hopes that creating a market for this type of service will not only help it restock the space station at a reasonable cost but also inspire the private sector's efforts to push space commercialization. "If the commercial sector can do this safely, reliably and more cost effectively, then it is in our best interests to buy that service," said NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Scott Horowitz, during a press conference. NASA first announced the open Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program seven months ago. Twenty companies turned in craft proposals, and NASA then settled on six finalists - the two winners plus SpaceDev, Spacehab, t/Space and Andrews Space. The COTS program stands as Administrator Mike Griffin's biggest gamble since being tapped to run NASA in March of last year. Rather than bankrolling entire projects as its has in the past, NASA has embraced a quasi venture capitalist role with COTS. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX would earn $278m from NASA, while Rocketplane Kistler would pull in close to $207m. Both companies must meet quarterly performance objectives over the next few years to acquire their payments. Those payments, however, are meant to be just part of the investment made by both companies toward their spacecraft projects. NASA's funding gives SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler a helping hand and also guarantees a large customer, if the companies can meet their objectives. "This will be the commercial sector demonstrating that they can do the job," Horowitz said. SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler must conduct a series of test flights to prove the safety of their crafts. Both companies have settled on rocket-based designs where a cargo module breaks off, goes into orbit and then docks with the space station. Their ships will run on a mix of kerosene and oxygen. The new vehicles should start making their way to the space station in the next couple of years. NASA expects that about "half a dozen flights per year will be required on average" with the crafts needing to deliver about 10 metric tons of cargo to the space station. In addition, the COTS craft could assist with the the void created between 2010 and 2012 when NASA retires the space shuttle in favor of the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). The other competitors will have a chance to earn NASA's business during the second phase of the COTS program that kicks off around 2010. NASA will issue a another set of contracts for companies that can deliver crafts to fly to the space station on a "pay-as-you-go" basis. "We don't consider any of these companies losers," Horowitz said. "We are encouraging the others to continue, and they will have opportunities to bid on Phase II." NASA's picks could be seen as controversial given that SpaceX has suffered from an embarrassing past rocket failure, while Kistler is just coming out of bankruptcy. "In some cases, you may say failure is a good thing to have on your record because that learning is behind you," Horowitz said, putting the best possible spin on the situation. NASA chief Griffin has noted the obvious risks involved with COTS from both a technological and investment standpoint. Griffin will be hailed as a hero if this mix of government and private sector efforts works. NASA will lower its costs, while the public should benefit from a vibrant market for commercial space endeavors. If the COTS project flops, then Griffin will be crucified for wasting $500m in tax payer money. ®
Ashlee Vance, 18 Aug 2006