29th > September > 2006 Archive
Research In Motion today placed a 'preliminary' tag beside its Q2s, warning that the results could restated, subject to an audit of option grants, also announced today. The BlackBerry PDA maker is working through the numbers, but thinks it may have to restate earnings by $25m-$45m to account for backdated stock option grants for the period since 1997, when it IPOed. It does not think that any restatement will materially affect Q2, fiscal 2007, or any other quarter this year. But the 'preliminary' tag attached today to the Canadian company's results effectively means that its Q2 earnings are delayed. Caveat aside, RIM has run up a good quarter ended 2 September, posting $145.1m net income on revenue of $658.5m, 34 per cent up on same time last year (Q2 FY2006: $490.1m). The revenue split was 72 per cent for handhelds, 19 per cent for service, six per cent for software, and three per cent for other revenue. More than 700,000 BlackBerry subscribers were added in the quarter, taking the total to 6.2 million. RIM ended the quarter with $1.2bn in cash and liquid investments, down $100m on Q2 last year. It spent the money on an acquisition, share buy backs and capital expenditure. It forecasts 800,000 new subscribers in Q3, fiscal 2007, revenues of $780m-$820m and earnings of 90-97 cents per share for the quarter. Earnings release here. ®
Do pets eventually resemble their owners? Or do owners get to look like their pets? It's heck of a conundrum - but one we might now be a little closer to solving. For the past fortnight it's been hard to escape the animated faces of "Joan", or "George" the graphical representations of what we're told is a new breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence. TV and newspapers, both highbrow and lowbrow, have flocked to report on the chatterbot. You can talk to Joan (or George) - the output of the British software project Jabberwacky - and think it's human!
VoodooPC, the games performance PC specialist, is selling itself to HP, Rahul Sood, the company's CTO, wrote today in his blog.
The muck continues to thicken around HP's spy scandal. Verizon has filed a lawsuit against 20 unnamed data brokers, accusing them of helping out with the phone fraud used in HP's investigation. Separately, former HP Chairman Patricia Dunn has chastised HP for "inaccuracies" the company published in a recent regulatory filing. Verizon's lawsuit landed in a New Jersey district court and charges 20 people with helping HP use fraud to obtain the phone logs of HP employees and directors and reporters and their family members. The company has complained that the data brokers fooled its customer services representatives into handing over the phone logs. HP has admitted that investigators obtained and used the Social Security numbers of probed individuals for such trickery. The lawsuit is part of an ongoing campaign by Verizon against the fraud practice euphemistically called pretexting. The company's chairman Larry Babbio happens to sit on HP's board and was likely investigated as part of probe, according to testimony at today's Congressional hearings on the HP scandal. Babbio has refused to comment on the HP probe or the pretexting. "Despite the precautions taken by Verizon Wireless to preserve the confidentiality of its customers' information, defendants used fraud, trickery and deceit to access confidential customer information," the company said in its legal filings. Elsewhere in the HP mess, Dunn's attorney James Brosnahan released an open letter to HP, whining about misstatements in a 8-K filing that HP made yesterday. HP issued the filing to clear up some of the matters in the spy probe ahead of today's Congressional testimony and to announce that its chief counsel Ann Baskins had resigned. Brosnahan's letter is little more than "he said, she said" fluffery. It points out that former CEO and Chairman Carly Fiorina started HP's first inquiry into media leaks and that Dunn did not really chip in until she became Chairman. HP's statement makes it sound like Dunn kicked off the investigation while Chairman. In addition, the letter tries to distance Dunn from picking outside contractors for help in the probe. HP's letter claims that Dunn contacted Security Outsourcing Solutions for aid, while Dunn's lawyer says that Dunn asked HP CFO Bob Wayman for advice and then talked to HP Global Security. It was then Global Security that went on to hire SOS. Dunn's lawyer also challenged HP's assertion that Dunn attended a June 15, 2005 meeting when the term "pretext" was mentioned and challenged the span of time in which HP investigators provided updates to Dunn on the probe. Dunn has started trying her best to deflect blame for the debacle. ®
Roaming is one of the critical success factors for any network seeking to be a global standard, and WiMAX is no exception. So far, the main roaming activity has centered on the pre-WiMAX Wi-Bro system, with the formation of the Wi-Bro and Mobile WiMAX Community (WMC) by leading Asian operators plus Covad. Now a new alliance has burst on the scene, spearheaded by another hotbed of early Wi-MAX activity, Australasia. Inaugurated last week in Paris, the WiMAX Spectrum Owners' Alliance (WiSOA) has set itself an ambitious target of connecting a billion users (though in an unspecified time frame). It limits its membership to companies that own licenses and operate WiMAX or pre-WiMAX services, contrasting with a previous, defunct attempt at creating a roaming group - the WiMAX Global Roaming Alliance (WGRA) - which was largely based around license exempt WISPs. The contrast reflects the shift of the WiMAX movement away from such markets and towards carrier class, licensed band deployments, but the fading of the WGRA does not detract from the truth of its objectives, expressed by CEO Doug Bonestroo, when he said: "We realise that the larger telecom providers have a virtual lock on the 3G marketplace, and that the best way to counter that leverage is with a large group of partners in the US and around the world that are committed to standards-based WiMAX roaming." The WiSOA's founder members contain four from Australasia - Unwired Australia and Austar Australia (part of the US-based Liberty Group of John Malone); Telecom New Zealand and Woosh Telecom - plus WiMAX Telecom of Austria, Enertel from the Netherlands, Network Plus Mauritius, UK Broadband and Irish Broadband. All these were early adopters of broadband wireless networks, and many are now migrating these to fully standardised WiMAX, which will enable relatively straightforward roaming, technically speaking at least. The members said they would sign their first international WiMAX roaming agreement in December, covering all WiMAX frequency ranges. This agreement, they claim, will act as the backbone of a future global network. A further 12 members are on the point of joining the alliance it claims, with Reliance Telecom of India likely to head the queue. The WiSOA will act as the enabler and coordinator of roaming agreements between different WiMAX members, in a similar way to some alliances formed for Wi-Fi hotspots and metrozones, notably the Wireless Broadband Alliance. It points out that roaming revenues in the GSM world amount to $25bn a year. Steve Cosser, chairman of Unwired Australia and a pay TV millionaire, will chair the WiSOA. He said at the Paris meeting: "WiSOA was established to facilitate the adoption of WiMAX globally, and with its exclusive membership of spectrum owners only, is in a unique position to do so." It will work with the WiMAX Forum but has a more specific remit, which it may feel the forum has not prioritised - to accelerate roaming deals and, in so doing, to ensure that the value of licensed spectrum is fully realised by both government bodies and investors. Copyright © 2006, Faultline Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.
Angry TalkTalk customers are now able to leave their 18-month contracts freely. The Register has learned complainants citing broken promises, service interruptions, and delayed local loop unbundling are being allowed to leave TalkTalk if they ask. A spokesman for Carphone Warehouse-owned TalkTalk told us the firm would look on requests to escape binding 18-month arrangements "favourably" if it had failed to keep its service commitments in their case. Another well-placed source told us it was unofficial policy to let anyone go who was unhappy at the level of service TalkTalk had provided. TalkTalk's "free" broadband service, which offered punters who signed an 18-month landline contract a broadband connection at no extra charge, has been beset by problems from the outset. Industry watchers have claimed the firm rushed its launch, and has suffered bad press and let down customers because of it. The group's results in July showed the "free" offering had been a success on paper after it snagged almost half a million customers. At the time, Carphone Warehouse MD Charles Dunstone admitted failings, however. He said: "We still have some some way to go, however, to reach the leading service levels we target." TalkTalk's spokesman was keen to stress today the outfit had made great strides since the launch of the service. Carphone Warehouse changed the broadband market back in April as the first of the now-standard "free" offerings. Now the firm seems to have decided it is better off in the long run losing individuals than poisoning the reputation of TalkTalk permanently. ®
Sony's Vaio C Series notebooks, launched this week, go right to the heart of cosmopolitan chic - or so the consumer electronics giant would have us think. Laptop as lifestyle accessory - or fashion accessory? It depends, I suppose, on who you are: a "free spirit", an "explorer", a "jet-setting nomad"? Whatever, Sony's got a hue for you.
Predictions are rarely low in the high technology business, but consistently the targets set for internet advertising are over achieved by reality. This week the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers released their half year figures for 2006, and it totalled up to a $7.9bn spend in the US. At the end of last year these same two forecast a $15bn market for US advertising and last quarter gave a heads up that it had already reached $3.9bn, growing at 38 per cent, rather than the 30 per cent plus that was originally forecast. This quarter took it beyond $4bn up 36 per cent and the likely result for the year end is going to be closer to $16.5bn, perhaps higher. "The latest results reaffirm the internet's growing importance for marketers to integrate online advertising into their overall media plans," said David Silverman, Partner, Entertainment and Media Practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers. "While search advertising remains the largest format in terms of revenues, we expect to see new formats like video ads to continue to emerge as advertisers seek to leverage the branding opportunities afforded by the growing installed base of broadband users." The implication that video advertising has yet to make a dent in these figures is all important. Video advertising is rising exponentially, but is still a fraction of the internet advertising that's already there. Once it begins to make up a significant proportion of advertising, it's likely that the internet advertising spend will increase further, rather than slow down. Copyright © 2006, Faultline Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.
A new intelligent software program developed by NUI Galway could give the airline industry a leg up in the security stakes. The new application, Hazard IQ, has the ability to quickly and accurately detect substances such as explosives, medicines and illegal drugs. Developed at the university by Dr Michael Madden, Department of Information Technology, and Dr Alan Ryder, Department of Chemistry and the National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science, the software could be used in airport security screening, poison testing at accident and emergency departments, and forensics analysis. The software works by using a method known as the Raman technique to build a library of substances according to their molecular fingerprint. Raman instruments are then used to identify suspect substances and their concentration, comparing them to the data in the library. Portable Raman detection equipment is smaller than a shoebox and can test bulk samples of a variety of materials. The system combines Raman Spectroscopy, a laser-based method for the "chemical fingerprinting" of materials, and Machine Learning, which is a family of analysis techniques that improve with experience. "It is more subtle than a direct match," Dr Madden told ENN. "[The program] can figure out if it's a material in different concentration to what we have in the library." For example, drugs may be diluted with cutting agents. Dr Madden explains that the software will still be able to identify the presence of the drug, regardless of the concentration. He also points out that being able to identify the cutting agents could help figure out who mixed the drugs and where they came from. The applications for this new technology are widespread, including in the identification of illegal narcotics. The technique could also be used in ambulances to spot hazardous substances that children have swallowed, or unidentified pills. In other applications, Hazard IQ could also help to restore travellers' faith in air travel by eliminating the need for a ban on substances such as liquids. This ban caused disruption at UK airports recently after an alleged terrorist plot bomb linked with hard-to-detect liquid explosives was foiled. "It certainly should help restore confidence," said Dr Madden. "It could help make people's life easier when they are travelling." These new methods could be in use as early as next year. Dr Madden said the software is working, and that the university is currently in discussions with the manufacturers of Raman instruments. Copyright © 2006, ENN
The leader of the pro-filesharing Swedish Pirate Party is co-ordinating a pan-European electoral assault for 2009's European Elections. Rick Falvinge told OUT-LAW Radio that it would be the first ever political platform that stretched across Europe. Sweden is the home of the Pirate Party, but examples have since sprung up all over Europe. It is these which Falvinge hopes to unite in time for elections to the European Parliament in June 2009. "We are investigating the possibility of running as the first major pan-European party with a common platform across all countries," said Falvinge. "We are seeing this as the next logical step that we should run on a common platform throughout Europe so that if you look at the French Pirate Party or the Spanish Pirate Party they should have the same programme as the Swedish Pirate Party when we run for the common parliament." Falvinge said the German and Austrian parties were already on board and that discussions were ongoing with others. There are Pirate Parties in Spain, France, Poland, Italy and Belgium. The movement began in Sweden on 1 January this year, but was given a major boost when an associated unauthorised download links site, Pirate Bay, was raided by Swedish police. There was public outcry which only worsened when it emerged that the US administration had put pressure on Sweden to act against Pirate Bay. The movement mushroomed and its international expansion grew from there. Falvinge, speaking to OUT-LAW's weekly podcast, said the party stands for far more than simply legalising file sharing. "That we are pro-filesharing is a consequence of us being pro-civil liberties," said Falvinge. "We are pro-civil liberties for the exact same reason that the entertainment industry is against civil liberties, because they have a bottom line to protect. "The entertainment industry is what drives today's witch hunt on civil liberties," he said. "DRM technologies is the large media cartels' way of writing their own laws to circumvent copyright laws and we do have an elected parliament to write such laws." Falvinge claims that despite the disappointing result, his party has had some policy victories in Sweden. "We have seriously influenced the debate here in Sweden," he said. "All of the established parties who won have shifted feet on their stance towards the file sharing and copyright regime." Hear the interview at OUT-LAW Radio Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy has acknowledged that there are "legitimate concerns" about proposals to create a pan-European patent litigation system.
Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, has touched down safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan along with the out going crew of the International Space Station, astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov. The ISS crew will now spend several weeks in Star City near Moscow for debriefing and medical examinations. After six months aboard the space station, the return to living in full Earth gravity is a shock to the system, and the crew needs time to recover. Ansari, meanwhile, was only in space for ten days, so her recovery will be that much faster. On her return to Earth, she was given a bunch of red roses by an official, and a kiss from her husband, Hamid, the BBC reports. She said the ten days in space had been "magnificent" and that she hoped to return to space one day "soon". The new crew of the space station, Commander Mike Lopez-Alegria, Mikhail Tyurin and ESA's Thomas Reiter, is having trouble with the Elektron oxygen generator. This should not come as any surprise to regular readers. The ISS's flaky oxygen generators have provided much grist for El Reg's story mill. NASA reports that the device malfunctioned shortly after Atlantis left, and that the new crew have replaced a major component. It was switched on on 16 September and worked for about three hours before breaking down. Further troubleshooting is planned, NASA says. ®
O'Reilly held EuroOSCON, the European Open-Source Convention, on 18–21 September in central Brussels. El Reg's technical department had the opportunity to turn up and see what the fuss was about. O'Reilly has been running a yearly US-based OSCON for several years. I've long heard mutterings from people on this side of the pond about the possibility of an equivalent for those who can't readily trek off to Portland, Oregon, every summer. This is only the second European instalment, though it's already billed as the "second annual" EuroOSCON. Monday The Monday saw a set of half-day tutorials. Damian Conway's session on better API design seemed the standout option. The other available tutorials included sessions on data warehousing with MySQL and the hot web-application framework du jour, Ruby on Rails. Tuesday Subsequent days followed a common format: brief keynote talks first thing in the morning and after lunch, with 45 minute talks across several tracks in between. The keynote talk by Tor Nørretranders on Tuesday morning was excellent: a look at openness and humanity and, well, sex. Tor gave a followup session later in the week that was a longer version of the same thing; the room was jam-packed with people standing at the back and sitting on the floor. Other interesting talks on Tuesday included a session on using MySQL for full-text searching (noteworthy to us because almost everything mentioned as a bad idea for performance reasons is something we do for feature reasons); Schuyler Erle's look at some shiny tools for building rich web-based mapping applications on top of other people's maps; and Michael Sparks (from BBC R&D) presenting his work on Kamaelia, a crazy-but-clever visual video-manipulation system designed for (as Michael puts it) mashing up your PVR. Wednesday Those who made it to Wednesday morning's keynotes got to hear Dale Dougherty, the editor of Make, a magazine dedicated to DIY technology projects. Following the same theme, Wednesday evening saw a repeat of the previous year's Make Fest: an evening event (with free bar) showcasing a few projects that have been covered in Make. I'm quite the klutz when it comes to hardware, but a lot of these bits and bobs look like a lot of fun to build as well use. The Drawbot by Bre Pettis seemed to attract a lot of attention: a cross between a plotter and a robot, you feed it a bitmapped image, and it draws an outline version with a pen. Bre was showing it off to great effect by getting it to draw pictures of volunteers from the crowd. Other talks of note on Wednesday included Tom Steinberg from MySociety (the people behind TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem, among other projects) offering a hacker's guide to democracy. Tom's talk combined an analysis of what enabled the success of MySociety with a look at how similar projects might be set up in other countries. Almost all the MySociety code is open source, and Tom encourages people in other countries to make use of it where possible. Back in the world of software development, Jesse Vincent took his audience on a whirlwind tour of Jifty, the whizzo new web framework built by his company Best Practical (And I do mean whirlwind — Jesse got through over 280 slides in his 45 minute slot). Jifty looks to me like yet more evidence that, hot though Rails is, there's still plenty of scope for improvement of web-application tools, regardless of what programming language you use. Thursday The opening keynote talk on the final day of the conference was an interesting (and apparently controversial) piece by Robert 'r0ml' Lefkowitz. His thesis was that we're successfully building internationalised, localised, multilingual applications, so why not multilingual programming languages? That was followed by a lightning-talk session, organised by certain members of the Perl community at about 12 hours' notice. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a lightning talk lasts only five minutes; if the bell rings while you're speaking, you have to leave the stage. Piers Cawley chaired, and took would-be speakers' names as they came into the room. The names were shuffled, and we kept going till we ran out of time. Lightning talks are often immensely enjoyable, with speakers competing to say the most useful thing in the funniest way in the shortest time, leaving no time for audience members to get bored and fall asleep. This batch was no exception. A few highlights: Piers kicked off with a piece on how to take good head-shot photos, from either side of the camera Russ Nelson gave a demo of his one-handed chording Bluetooth keyboard Gerv Markham from the Mozilla project spoke on Phishing: Conning the Unwary for Fun and Profit Damian Conway, excellent as ever, told us of 101 things to love about Perl 6 (at about 3 seconds for each one!) Corridor track If you've been to conferences in the open source community before, you'll know that a large part of the attraction is in socialising with other geeks. We had plenty of opportunity to hang around with friends from the open source world, as well as to meet other interesting people. The tutorial day of EuroOSCON overlapped with the invitation-only EuroFoo event. That seemed to work well: plenty of EuroOSCON attendees had also been at EuroFoo, so a lot of the topics raised at EuroFoo also turned up in EuroOSCON conversations. And let's not forget one of the big advantages of holding an event like this in Belgium: beer. Strong beer. In large quantities. A number of people found their way through the narrow alleyways of old Brussels to one particular bar that purported to serve more than 2,000 varieties of beer. I don't think any attendees managed to put that claim to the test, but it was certainly fun trying. The only problem was getting up in time for the next day's keynote sessions... Summary One of the interesting ways in which this year's EuroOSCON differed from last year's is in the level of coverage of topics that aren't directly related to open source software. Much discussion was raised on a variety of social and cultural issues that bear on the open source movement, such as building open systems that mash up disparate data sources, and ways for people to interact with each other and with their governments. But that's not to say that the more overtly technical subjects didn't also get a mention: attendees who turned up to learn about developments in Apache, Jabber, MySQL, and mobile-device programming (among other topics) were also well catered for. This report only scratches the surface of what was on offer at EuroOSCON. The whole experience was enormously enjoyable; I'd recommend it to anyone who is (or wants to be) part of the open source world. ®
A long-running digital music royalties spat between record companies and organisations collecting on artists' behalf has been settled. Copyright holders will net eight per cent of the gross earnings from their work, less VAT. A minimum of four pence will be paid if tracks are discounted. An alliance of the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society and the Performing Rights Society (MCPS-PRS) had proposed a new licence to cover electronic distribution. MCPS-PRS was demanding a 12 per cent cut of revenues from digital sales of whole tracks, above the 6.5 per cent it currently collects on CDs. Mobile ringtones are not covered by the new arrangement. At the time, BPI general counsel Geoff Taylor complained: "The licence that the alliance is trying to impose for online music is unreasonable and unsustainable. It is charging a royalty rate on a download that is double the rate it charges for a song on a CD." We reported the dispute last year here. The BPI, backed by distributors like iTunes, took its grievances to the Patent Office's Copyright Tribunal, which was due to rule yesterday. The last-ditch agreement avoids the two parties being bound by the Copyright Tribunal's decision. The two sides gave themselves a pat on the back for wasting the Patent Office's time. In a joint statement they said the deal would drive the development of the digital music market, which at 34 million legitimate sales so far this year, has already broken last year's total figures, according to the Official UK Charts Company. Judgment on other aspects of the squabble, including an issue the mobile operators and iTunes have, has been postponed until November or early December. ®
Also in this week's column: Can flossing your teeth prevent a heart attack? Can your hair turn white as a result of shock? What is the difference between a virus and a bacterium? Why are people so often in denial? Asked by Ron James of Manchester, UK In the psychological sense, denial is a defense mechanism in which a person, faced with a painful fact, rejects the reality of that fact. They will insist that the fact is not true despite what may be overwhelming and irrefutable evidence. There are three forms of denial. Simple denial is when the painful fact is denied altogether. Minimisational denial is when the painful fact is admitted but its seriousness is downplayed. Transference denial is when the painful fact is admitted, the seriousness also admitted, but one's moral responsibility in the situation involving the painful fact is downplayed. When a person is in denial, they engage in distractive or escapist strategies to reduce stress and help them cope. The effect upon psychological well-being in doing this is unclear. The concept of denial was formulated by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and greatly elaborated upon by his daughter, Anna Freud (1895-1982), in the second volume (1936) of her eight volume Writings of Anna Freud. The concept has been around for many decades. Denial is an important factor in public health. The American Heart Association cites denial as a principal reason why treatment for heart disease is often delayed. The same is true for cancer. Drs MS Vos and JC de Haes from the Department of Psychiatry at the Bronovo Hospital in The Hague, The Netherlands, recently point out that, based upon their study of cancer patients published in Psychooncology in July 2006, up to 47 per cent of patients deny the fact that they have been diagnosed with cancer, up to 70 per cent deny the impact of the diagnosis upon their lives, and up to 42 per cent deny that it has any effect upon their feelings. They add: "From a psychoanalytical viewpoint, denial is a pathological, ineffective defense mechanism..On the other hand, according to the stress and coping model, denial can be seen as an adaptive strategy to protect against overwhelming events and feelings." Therein is the appeal of denial to humans. Denial allows someone to keep going unchanged despite reality. Denial is the path of psychological and moral least resistance. Five years after the 9/11 attack on New York and Washington DC, 40 per cent of New Yorkers are still to varying degrees "fearful", "traumatised" or otherwise "unable to face reality", according to NY public mental health experts. In such a psychological state, people are not at their reasoning best - easily confused, manipulated, and fooled. While in denial about global warming, people don’t have to think about anything, inform themselves, change their consumption patterns, becoming actively involved in reforms, or alter their behaviour in any way. Politicians with transference denial can absolve themselves of any moral imperative to take the necessary policy initiatives that that scientists say are mandatory for our species to survive. Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to email@example.com
Also in this week's column: Why are people so often in denial? Can flossing your teeth prevent a heart attack? What is the difference between a virus and a bacterium? Can your hair turn white as a result of shock? Asked by Ingrid Smith of Chatswood, NSW, Australia Theoretically, any sudden severe shock, accident, illness or change in metabolism could make hair change colour, but it won't be visible right away. According to Dr John O'Connor, head of the School of Physical Science and Mathematics at the University of Newcastle in Australia, "once your hair has grown out of its follicle, any emotional or physical trauma will not affect it. This hair is basically dead, like your nails. Yet severe adverse events could cause new hair that grows out a few weeks later to be white." What about turing white overnight? Let's concentrate on "overnight". Just like in the cartoons? There is no scientific evidence that hair can turn white overnight due to some traumatic experience. However, legend has it that both Thomas More and Marie Antoinette suffered a hair colour change to white the night before their executions. Some maintain even today that a condition called alopecia areata can turn hair white overnight. But this condition refers to hair loss, not hair colour change. Dr Douglas Nelson of Averon-Bergelle, France, described the case of a 45-year-old French farmer whose hair reportedly went from black to white in 14 days. It stayed that way for about six months. Then, over a period of four months, it grew back to full black as before. He was in perfect health. There was no illness. There was no shock. There is no explanation. Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Also in this week's column: Why are people so often in denial? Can flossing your teeth prevent a heart attack? Can your hair turn white as a result of shock? What is the difference between a virus and a bacterium? Asked by Russell Stapleton of Melbourne, Australia Viruses and bacteria are both capable of killing humans and ravaging human health. It is a very fair question. There are some subtle and not so subtle differences between a virus and a bacterium (the plural is bacteria). A virus is an organism that contains no cells (acellular) whose genome consists of nucleic acid and that reproduce inside host cells. When they do this they use host metabolic machinery and ribosomes to form a pool of components which assemble into particles called virions. Virions serve to protect the genome and to transfer it to other cells. Viruses are distinct from other so-called virus-like agents such as viroids, plasmids, and prions. Other characteristics of viruses include: They do not breathe, move or grow. However, they most definitely reproduce and can adapt to new hosts. A bacterium is any of the one-celled (unicellular) prokaryotic micro-organisms of the class Schizomycetes. These vary in terms of their form and structure (morphology), oxygen and nutritional requirements, and capability to move (motility). They may be free-living, saprophytic (obtaining food by absorbing dissolved organic material), or capable of causing disease (pathogenic) in plants or animals. But bacteria are essential for human health too. Bacteria in the intestine, for example, are vital for digestion. Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to email@example.com
Also in this week's column: Why are people so often in denial? Can your hair turn white as a result of shock? What is the difference between a virus and a bacterium? Can flossing your teeth prevent a heart attack? Asked by Ginger Whitlam of Adelaide, Australia Ask your physician about this one, not a mere anthropologist. Nevertheless, there is considerable research that bacteria in dental plaque can prompt blood to clot. And the lesions brought about by gum disease can provide a route for germs to enter the bloodstream. So this would lead to the conclusion that keeping your teeth plaque-free would help against heart attack, and you would do this better by flossing? For several years a number of studies have suggested that people with mouth infections run a higher risk of heart disease. Dr A Bazile and colleagues from the Department of Periodontics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found precisely that in their research presented in the June, 2002 Journal of Periodontology. "Treating gum disease cuts heart attack risk". This is according to researchers led by Dr Barbara Taylor, head of periodontics at the Sydney Dental Hospital in Australia writing in the January 2006 Journal of Dental Research. The association of heart attack risk and gum disease was first suggested by research more than a decade ago by Dr Mark Herzberg, a professor of preventive sciences at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Herzberg mixed a common mouth bacteria, Streptococcus sanguis, with blood in test tubes and found that clots began to form. Taking a closer look at the germ, he discovered that it carries a protein similar to one in blood vessels that is known to be crucial to the clotting process. Clots can be quite dangerous. In later experiments, Herzberg injected rabbits with the bacteria. Within minutes, the heart and breathing rates of the rabbits sped up. An electrocardiogram detected serious heart valve abnormalities - all signs of clots in arteries. This was no doubt rather worrying for Hertberg - let alone for the rabbits. Applying findings about rabbits to humans is somewhat risky, of course. But do we really need yet another incentive to brush after meals, floss every day, and get regular dental checkups? Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
The European Union is teaming up with car manufacturers to promote automotive accident-avoidance technologies. The eSafety Aware initiative aims to improve awareness of intelligent vehicle systems and their road safety benefits through various promotion campaigns. It wants to encourage motorists to look for technologies that have the potential to minimise the risk of car accidents, but for which public awareness is generally low. "We have for a long time emphasised the importance of user awareness in the take-up of the new car safety technologies," EU commissioner for information society and media Viviane Reding said. "Now we have concrete evidence that users' knowledge of new technologies needs improving. This is why I welcome the launch of this new platform for promoting user awareness." eSafety Aware is to be chaired by the Foundation of the International Automobile Federation (FIA). The scheme has 26 founding members representing automotive suppliers, automotive clubs, road safety authorities, road operators, insurance industry, and service providers. The European Commission is participating in the program as an observer. The eSafety Aware fits in with the Commission's wider intelligent car initiative, which aims to promote the development and adoption of new technologies to make cars safer, cleaner and more efficient. The first public awareness campaign in the eSafety Aware program will be on Electronic Stability Control (ESC), a technology which is reckoned to reduce accident risk by 20 per cent, due to launch in April 2007. Further campaigns will cover technologies such as in-vehicle emergency call, eCall. "Intelligent vehicle systems can make a major contribution in solving our most pertinent transport problem, namely road safety, where Europe still has more than 41,000 deaths per year," FIA chairman Rosario Alessi said. The annual cost of fatal accidents in Europe is estimated at €50bn, with accidents reckoned to cost around €40.5bn. "It is our job to get these [accident-avoidance] systems to the users as quickly as possible. This is why FIA Foundation has taken the lead in the new platform for promoting user awareness," Alessi added. "These systems save lives, but you need to know they exist to ask for them." ®
ReviewReview One day, the world's broadcasters will make all their programming available across the internet. But at least it's possible to watch any show transmitted to your home from anywhere else on the planet without having to worry about whether your hotel has the right cable deal. Enter Sling Media's SlingBox, in which a TV tuner is connected directly to an internet video streaming engine. You can even use it for multi-room viewing in your own home...
Episode 32Episode 32 "Look at this," the Boss says, handing me a well-fingered computer rag. "What, the magazine?" "No, the survey they mention on the front cover." "The Top 500 IT-savvy companies in the UK for 2005?" "Yes." "And what should I be looking for?" "Our company, of course." "In there?" I ask dubiously. "EXACTLY!" the Boss says. "Exactly what?" "We're NOT in there!" "I know," I counter. "But we should be - we've got a lot of machines!" "More than large internet cafe companies?" "No, not more than them, obviously." "Or larger than the huge multi-national beancounters?" "No, I suppose not." "The large insurance companies?" "I..." "What about large universities?" "I DON'T KNOW - But we should be listed there!" "Why?" "Because we're a large company!" "That's hardly a compelling reason is it?" "But we should be listed! Investors rate companies by their technical ability." "So you're saying that an investor would be happier if they knew we spend a lot of money buying large numbers of machines?" "No, but they'd feel happier knowing that we have a lot of computing power behind us!" "And why exactly are you talking to us about this?" the PFY asks. "Because they've sent us a form for this year's survey which we'd like you to fill out so that we make the top 500," the head of IT says, entering Mission Control. "But these surveys are pointless and only used to boost magazine circulation figures!" "How?" the Boss asks. "They send each of the top 500 companies a free copy!" "At which time they all buy up a stack of copies to leave strategically in their waiting rooms, send to their investors, etc." "It's still worth doing," the Boss says. "So what are you suggesting we do, buy two machines for every person - or I suppose for five grand we could just say we have?" "Why would that cost five grand" the head of IT asks. "To shut people up," I say, nodding towards the PFY. ...Two days later... >RING< "Ah Simon," the Boss mumbles nervously over handsfree. "Mmm?" "I've just got an email from the publishing company - saying they'd like to come and verify the data we supplied." "Of course they do," I say. "And we should applaud them in that. Reply, saying we'd be most happy to take them around our sites at their earliest convenience." "But surely they'll find out that we've been...uh...economical with the truth?" the Boss asks. "Not if that five grand in fifties arrives as requested...Besides if they sent someone out to verify every respondent they'd never get the bloody thing published! Just tell them you're looking forward to showing them our sub-sub basement state of the art super-secure computing bunker." "What bunker?" the Boss asks, ignoring the five grand question yet again. "If it sounds like we've got stuff that we're gagging to show them they'll be less suspicious," the PFY says over my shoulder. "Oh I see, righto then, I'll do that." ...Two days later... "Ah Simon," the Boss mumbles - once again nervously - as he leads a geeky beancounter type into Mission Control. "This is David, from the publishing company, he's here to verify our computer equipment and check out our...bunker." "Excellent!" I say getting up from my desk. "And might I just say how five grand it is to meet you!" "Five grand?" David says. "What?" "You just said 'how five grand it is to see me'?" "Really, how odd," I say, staring pointedly at the Boss till he leaves to make a quick petty cash transaction - returning scant moments later with a cardboard box. Given the rapid arrival of the cash a less trusting person might think that the Boss had received this money earlier and had simply conspired with himself to remain in possession of it... "Uh...your current rating is 303rd, but not all the survey numbers are in just at the moment, so that's subject to change." "So where would you like to start?" I ask. "With the Bunker," David responds. "The Bunker it is!" I say as the Boss's eyes widen. ...Two minutes later, in the basement... "And there you have it," I say, pointing at a section of floor. "What?" David asks. "The bunker!" "That's not a bunker, it's just a section of concrete!" "No," I sigh, "That's the door to the bunker." "Uh.. .can you open it then?" "Of course not, it's a super secure server room!" "So I'm supposed to take your word that there's a bunker under there." "I...You could wait till shift change!" I suggest. "And when's that?" "A week from Wednesday - It's a fortnight on a fortnight off thing, two crews." "You don't seriously expect me to believe that?" "Of course." "In that case I'll be wanting to see invoices for the equipment supposedly housed in the bunker," David says. "Hmmmmm," I say, the game up. "I don't have those, but I do have this box of non-sequentially numbered fifty pound notes..." "Oh why didn't you tell me it was a 2000 host supercluster grid facility with a million terabytes of storage!" David gasps, grabbing the box. ...Later, at the pub... "That was a close thing" the PFY says as he finishes his fourth lager. "You're telling me," I say. "Yeah, I thought he'd never buy the publishing company auditor story," David adds. "Cheers!" BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99
The University of Reading is no longer accepting students onto its Physics courses, and recommends that the entire department be closed no later than 2010. The university says the "current funding context" means it must direct resources into areas of academic strength. To save the department, the University's boards say "we would need to invest in a way which is not feasible in the present climate". The Institute of Physics says it regrets the closure, and calls on the government to overhaul the way funding it allocated to universities. The Institute's science director, Peter Main, said that universities are operating in an environment where funding is controlled by the choices made by seventeen year-olds. "Funding follows student numbers and so the future of Britain’s science base rests on the university choices of sixth-formers," he said. "The government has to realise that its aspirations for science, set out in the chancellor’s “Next steps” programme following the March budget, will not happen unless they look again at how university departments are funded; the current model disadvantages laboratory-based subjects, especially physics", he concluded. In 2005, the University said it would offer bursaries to high performing students with science A-levels, in a bid to attract more to their courses. The scheme was due to start with this season's intake, now most likely the last. You can read Reading's full statement here. ®
Hull telco Kingston Communications has announced the acquisition of business applications integrator Smart421 for £24.2m cash.
AnalysisAnalysis Five years passage has eroded much of the received wisdom on the anthrax attacks. And many of the characters who took central stage are either gone and discredited, or not talking. Judith Miller, an alleged expert on bioterror by way of her pre-9/11 book, "Germs," was often on Larry King to contribute her opinions. In a piece published in the New York Times and Guardian on October 15, she related how she'd become a part of the case upon receiving a hoax letter containing a white powder, mailed from St. Petersburg, FLA, not far from where the first anthrax infection killed a man. Today Miller is toast, paid to go away for bringing shame upon the Times with bad reporting on the fruitless US hunt for WMD's in Iraq. Miller's "friend and mentor," Bill Patrick, the nation's Dr. Disease from its Cold War bioweapons operation, has also gone dark. Voluble and ubiquitous in the newsmedia with descriptions of his experiences in bioweapons production during the initial hysteria, he clammed up when the FBI turned inward, looking at the attack as something that had possibly come out of the US bioweapons/biodefense industry or someone connected to it. Former Federation of American Scientists bioterror guru, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, who went Oliver Stone with conspiracy theory, allegedly fingering microbiologist Steven Hatfill to the FBI, wound up on the outs with FAS. Nicholas Kristof, originally brimming with what was said to be inside dope on whodunit, named Hatfill on the opinion pages of the New York Times, but doesn't see fit to opine on it any more. Sued along with his newspaper for defamation by Hatfill, he's covering Darfur, perhaps as atonement. And while the FBI seems stalled in its hunt for the bioterrorist, it hasn't impeded the publication of good science on the anthrax letters. To this end, we point you to the forbiddingly entitled "Forensic Application of Microbiological Culture Analysis To Identify Mail Intentionally Contaminated with Bacillus anthracis Spores," by Douglas J. Beecher of the FBI's Hazardous Material Response Unit in Quantico, VA. Published in the August issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a peer-reviewed journal, the article is fascinating for the many things it says about mailed anthrax, specifically that which was found in a letter mailed to Senator Patrick Leahy. (While the abstract is on the web, the entire article won't come free to journal non-subscribers until four months from now. However, it has been circulating behind the scenes and we just happen to have a copy.) The article goes into detail on the FBI unit's analysis of a huge volume of Congressional mail and the uncovering of the Leahy letter in just three days. It was a fine effort, when you slog through the dust-dry science, the FBI team employing brains and good old-fashioned determinative microbiology. Beecher's team reasoned that potentially contaminated letters could be found by taking advantage of the mail's original separation into large plastic bags. Spores would be suspended in bag air by shaking and then sampled through freshly cut holes, swabbing the results directly to culture plates. "Nearly all growth that occurred under sampling conditions . . . was B. anthracis," writes Beecher. The method allowed the FBI to quickly winnow out bags that contained anthrax spores. And then very roughly quantify them as to how hot they were in pathogen with respect to each other. What they've laid out, in clear hard science, was that the Leahy letter was exceedingly dangerous. Generally speaking, other letters found to be heavily contaminated, but not purposely loaded with anthrax powder, passed through the same sorting machine within one to two seconds of it and the poisoned letter sent to Tom Daschle. Not only did cross-contaminated mail shedding of spores create an extreme danger but "[t]he capacity of [uncontaminated] envelopes to accumulate and retain dried spores was also remarkable . . . " One graph showing concentration of spores found in the FBI's analysis room air shows an obvious spike, linked to the time when the bag containing the Leahy letter was opened. This led Beecher to conclude: " . . . it appears that it is virtually impossible to intentionally place dried spores within a standard envelope without heavily contaminating its outside." The Applied and Environmental Microbiology paper is unintentionally hard, thankfully so, on the media's old favorite bioterror experts. In 2001, the wizard of Soviet bioweapons, defector Ken Alibek, spent some time clowning for the media, recommending that people could iron their mail to sanitize the anthrax. When simply agitating the anthrax letters produced extreme hazard, it was atrocious advice. "I thought about what Bill Patrick, my friend and bio-weapons mentor, had told me: anthrax was hard to weaponize," wrote Judith Miller back in 2001, too. "To produce a spore small enough to infect the lungs took great skill. Bill knew that firsthand. He had struggled to manufacture such spores for the United States in the 1950s and 60s as a senior scientist in America's own germ weapons program . . . " More nonsense. No bentonite, no silica. Nothing to tie it to a particular weapon-making process or regime. Beecher writes, " . . . a widely circulated misconception is the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production. This idea is usually the basis for implying that the powders were inordinately dangerous compared to spores alone." The scientist found that such things didn't matter. Even if the anthrax powder appeared to be in clumps, "some fraction is composed of particles that are precisely in the size range that is most hazardous for transmission of disease by inhalation." And that number is a large one. While these findings seem to open the range of suspects to those with lesser capability than those with experience from state-run bioweapons programs, this might not necessarily be the case. It seems reasonably clear that some of the scientists from old state-run bioweapons programs may not have been as knowledgeable as they let on. That doesn't mean everyone is the same. And because the Leahy letter was so dangerous to handle, one might argue that either the anthraxer was either extremely lucky or someone with a significant amount of training, possibly equivalent to those who worked in the FBI's hotroom. If the FBI knows, either way, it's not telling. But we can thank them a great deal for the open science. ® George Smith is a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighborhood hardware stores.
HP bosses blame everyone but themselves HP continues to make the news for all the wrong reasons. Two executives have left the company and the rest are busy blamestorming – pointing fingers in all directions. Someone is to blame for the original, and possibly illegal, investigation into board members, journalists and their families. But equally damaging to the firm is the incompetent way the aftermath was dealt with. For now HP shareholders must be praying that Mark Hurd doesn't get drawn in any deeper and that ex-chairman Patricia Dunn embraces her role as apparent fall guy. Dunn is pointing the finger at HP's former top lawyer Ann Baskins and giving her credit for running the investigation. Meanwhile, the legal fallout begins – phone provider Verizon is suing 20 people for illegally getting hold of other people's phone records – a practise Dunn claimed to Congress she thought was legal. If HP's share price keeps falling, it won't be long before shareholders launch a class action case against the directors for costing the company money. See: Dunn's evidence to Congress provides religious moment. Hurd apologises for not reading report, failing the company. Verizon sues HP for phone snooping HP's top lawyer leaves with blame and $4m. Intel makes the news Intel's Developer Forum is always a good glimpse into the future and this year was no exception. First up, Intel seems to be moving towards a less fundamentalist view of sharing space with other companies. AMD has been making louder and more specific noises along the same lines – it will let other chip makers use its Opteron slots. There's more here on Intel getting all liberal, and here is some analysis on what all this is going to mean, especially for servers. Go here for Intel's CEO Paul Ottelini on why the firm is on the way back to the top for server chips. But it's not all chips at IDF - this story, and pictures, is about a laptop with a rather funky tiltable screen. Execs gambling on freedom A weird week for IT execs on the run. Jacob Alexander, ex-boss of Comverse, was arrested in Namibia. He faces extradition to the US to face charges of backdating share options and illegally removing $57m from the US to Israel. Of course, execs from online gambling firms are used to life on the run. US authorities warned this week that they're still gunning for such companies and that warrants have been issued for certain people's arrest if they arrive on US shores. Worries about the situation led William Hill to stop taking bets from customers with US credit cards. Several companies already do this but it's not clear whether US police regard that as enough. The continuing problems also led to the departure of World Gaming's chairman James Grossman. Talk Talk letting customers go It's not often we congratulate a company for letting customers go, but anyone who's tried to get a home broadband connection switched off will welcome news from Talk Talk that it is agreeing to cancel customers' contracts. The company has been plagued with problems and overwhelmed by demand, so allowing unhappy customers to leave makes sense. Be even better if they upped the service so customers weren't unhappy - but one step at a time, eh? Worst British spammer loses appeal A particularly nasty spammer who operated out of a bedroom in his parents' house has had his appeal refused. Peter Francis-Macrae, a 24 year old from Cambridgeshire, was sentenced to six years, not just for spamming but for threatens to kill police and trading standards officers. After he was first questioned by police he sent out a mass mail which included the chief Constable's phone number. Microsoft's DRM debacle and dodgy lobbying Microsoft's DRM debacle has left Sky customers unable to use the broadcaster's recently launched download service. Microsoft is still struggling to create a patch which will last longer than five minutes. This hasn't stopped the company from going to the courts to pursue the alleged hacker claiming he, or she, infringed their intellectual property. That's the problem – no one knows who the hacker is – they are known only as Viodentia. Meanwhile, Sky punters are left in the dark as to when their service will be switched back on. It also emerged this week that Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes was contacted by officials from the US embassy in Brussels asking her to be "nicer" to Microsoft. This came after off-the-record briefings from the State Department warning of the apparent damage EC action against the software giant may cause. Also this week, a European tour by the two men in charge of the Vista launch and simultaneous launch of an updated Office suite. Still no definite date, but we were told that the repeated delays to Vista meant both more customer feedback from testers and more "pent-up demand". Gartner analyst Brian Gammage wasn't so convinced. Have a look here to see who you agree with. Another week and another hole in Microsoft's Internet Explorer. But this time the company was forced to deal with it in a slightly different way. Because the hole was being exploited, Microsoft rushed out a patch rather than wait for its usual monthly update Patch Tuesday. Go here for the whys and the wherefores. 'Nother news The European Central Bank has admitted it ignored data protection laws when it let American investigators crawl all over European bank records. Central banks in every European Union country were also informed of the illegal data haul but chose to keep schtum. Any clichéd view of Apple users as sandal-wearing, probably bearded lefties, took a blow this week with news that Greenpeace has condemned the Mac brigade for being dirty polluters. The campaign includes a rather brilliant parody Apple website. Unlike the usual finger-pointing, Greenpeace has spent two years pushing Apple to go a little greener. Only when this failed did they decide to go public. George Bush has already contributed an awful lot to peace in the Middle East, so laughing at this latest cunning plan is probably unfair. He is sending two technology bosses to Lebanon to sort out rebuilding the country he allowed Israel to destroy. Cisco CEO John Chambers and Intel chairman Craig Barrett are visiting the country to discuss rebuilding priorities. We wish them luck, but can't help wondering what exactly their qualifications are. But then who knew that HP's chief ethics officer was mainly responsible for running spying operations on board members? That's all for this week. See you next Friday. ®
CA has put its money where its mouth is by offering to cover US users of its new range of anti-virus products for as much as $1,500 worth of clean-up costs if they still get infected by malware. The warranty covers consumers who purchase CA Internet Security Suite 2007 and CA Anti-Virus 2007 and extends to costs for technical support, repairs and hardware replacements (of up to three computers) caused as a result of malware infestation. The coverage does not extend to covering the data loss. Protection only applies to machines on which CA's software has been properly installed. The guarantee program, which is doubtless subject to acres of small print, will be administered by Warranty Corporation of America (WaCA), a warranty and extended service plan firm. Only US-based punters are covered by the incentive. CA users in Europe, Canada, Asia and elsewhere will not be entitled to compensation under the scheme. In addition, CA is offering computers users of eligible states up to $5,000 in ID theft coverage after purchasing CA Internet Security Suite 2007 and installing and registering for WaCA's Mobile Lifeline (MLL) software. MLL comes bundled with CA's Internet Security Suite at no extra charge but registration is required in order to activate protection. The software can be used to remotely retrieve or delete files from stolen computers as well as frustrating the use of purloined property by, for example, blocking output to its computer screen. CA said the malware-damage warranty, reckoned to be the first of its kind offered by an anti-virus vendor, will give consumers additional peace of mind. According to a recent Consumer Reports study, virus infections caused an estimated 2.6 million households to replace their computers in the past two years. Another study estimated that ID fraud loses average at $6,383 per victim, each of which can expect to spend up to 40 hours sorting out the financial mess created by con men applying for loans and opening accounts in their name under false pretences. More details on both schemes can be found on CA's web site here. ®
No2ID - the folks who've done a sterling job pointing out the folly of the government's increasingly tottering ID card scheme - are hosting a comedy fundraiser this weekend. In rare shameless plug mode, Vulture Central points you here to the No2ID website for booking information. It'll mark the end of a busy week for No2ID. On the Monday, the first day of the Labour part conference, their full-page ads in the national papers depicting Tony Blair with a barcode Hitler moustache attracted blustering indignation from some parliamentarians...and a lot of publicity around the issue. Sunday's line up in full: * Dara O' Briain (Mock the Week) * Paul Sinha (Perrier award nominee 2006) * Josie Long (Perrier best newcomer 2006) * Kevin Eldon (Brass Eye, I'm Alan Partridge) * Wil Hodgson (Perrier best newcomer 2004) * Gary Le Strange (Perrier best newcomer 2003) * Andrew O`Neill * Janie Phayre * Lucy Porter * Ben Norris * with MC Daniel Kitson All funny boys and girls, so it should be a good night down at the Hackney Empire, east London, whether you give a flying fig about ID cards or not. ®
The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched an extension of its Living Planet research programme dedicated to understanding the impact human activity has on our planet. The Changing Earth: New Scientific Challenges for ESA's Living Planet Programme will focus on mapping global change, which ESA describes as the most fundamental challenge facing humanity. ESA has outlined six objectives it wants to acheive with the programme, including launching "a steady flow of missions" that will further the state of knowledge in Earth science. It also says it wants to ensure that missions complement research being done by other agencies, and promises to work to translate scientific priorities into actual missions as fast as possible. The Living Planet programme has two strands: the Earth Explorer missions and the work done under the Earth Watch banner. So far, six Explorer missions have been given the green light, with two (the GOCE [Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer] and SMOS [Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity]) slated to launch next year. Another six missions are under consideration. Under the Earth Watch banner, ESA aims to provide data that "underpins operational services", such as weather forecasting, but because of the long-term nature of these missions, the data they gather will be immensely useful for scientists as well. Read more about the missions and the planned science here. ®
IBM's CoolBlue scheme to bring back water-cooled computing has been boosted by a licensing deal with networking manufacturer Panduit. Water cooling was standard practice on early mainframes, but cooler running electronics allowed data centres to switch to air-cooled computers, with the chilled water going to the air-con units instead. Now, however, higher-density technology such as blade servers have put heat dissipation back at the top of the agenda. Panduit technology veep Jack Tison said it will offer water cooling as an option on its comms racks from next year. "As switch power supplies increase and the kilowatts per cabinet continue to grow, so does the strain on the infrastructure," he added. The idea behind CoolBlue is a pretty basic one - a heat exchanger is built into the rear door of the equipment cabinet and fed chilled water. IBM says that because water can carry 3,500 times more heat than air, it can reduce cooling power needs by 70 per cent without requiring extra fans. CoolBlue has already scored one high profile win, with pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim using it to slash the heat output of its IBM supercomputer. Heat-busting alternatives to CoolBlue include enclosed racks and point-cooling systems from companies such as APC and Liebert - some of which also rely on chilled water to get the heat out of the building. ®
Online gambling website www.theritzclublondon.com - part of the Barclay brothers' Ritz Hotel empire - has been bought by ukbetting plc. The Ritz Club announced on Wednesday it was withdrawing from the business because of fears of continued action by US regulators. Authorities in the state of Louisiana this week confirmed they had drawn up warrants for several gaming executives. According to a statement sent to the London Stock Exchange, ukbetting is paying an undisclosed amount for the site. It will have no connection with either the Ritz Club or Ritz Hotel. The site should be available already and customers will "continue to enjoy the same principles of quality customer service in a luxurious and stylish environment". Gaming company share prices have been hit hard by the recent arrest of several executives by US and French police. ®
Nordic consumer protection regulators held a meeting with Apple this week to discuss changes to its iTunes music service and said they had made important progress. In June, the Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman decided that Apple was breaking local laws and ordered various changes. Norway, Sweden and Finland were all represented at the meeting. The Swedish ombudsman told Reuters after the meeting: "We had a good and constructive dialogue with iTunes and the desire from the company to reach a solution was great." The agencies said there would be more meetings with Apple and they hope it will be possible to resolve the issue without taking legal action. ®
LettersLetters Let's get started. You all had lots to say about Apple (and when is it ever any different) and its Pod lawsuit, so we'll start there. After that, it is a whistlestop tour of the top stories of the week. Buckle up: "Moreover, the term POD has also been adopted and used extensively in the marketplace by consumers as an abbreviation to refer to Apple's IPOD player." Well, that really depends. In music recording industry POD is adopted way before 2001 by consumers to refer to Line6 POD guitar effect processors. I believe they have released the first "POD" way before 2001, firstly its powerPOD products and after POD line. Apple lawyers should let the sleeping dogs lie and start doing their homework instead. Ladislav Mind you, there's also a well known electric-guitar multi-effect called "POD", produced by California-based company Line6 (www.line6.com). The original POD was introduced back in 1997, so... who should be suing who? Chris "Other words containing pod include: ... chiropodist" Ah, but maybe Apple have got to them too -- they've changed what they call themselves. How do I know? My sister is a podiatrist. Oh... wait a moment.... Niall Not to mention the use of pod as an acronym - Which should prove useful to the defendants in this particular case of Big-Company-Bullying: Piss Off (and) Die ;o) Andy It's funny they don't go after "podcast" itself. There are a couple to choose from namely serial number 78831795 here, is "sound recording featuring audio information for download-spoken word and music" and SN 78564869 here is "online prerecorded radio or other recorded program over the Internet for purposes of allowing users to download, in electronic audio or video files, information regarding entertainment and educational to MP3s or other portable audio and video players" Then again POD could be an acronym for "Pile Of Dung," "Prince Of Darkness" or "Penile Orifice Disease." Perhaps a contest is in order to come up with a apt acronym and an appropriate piece of artwork to be applied to the surface of a t-shirt with the winning design available on the C'n'C side of El Reg. Eddy In other news a family of whales was hauled up out of the ocean to face a court ruling that is could no longer use the term 'pod'. But as the marine mammals stated via a new age, crystal wearing translator 'We're not concerned, humans can't hear when we use the term pod'. Apple was said to be so enraged by this closing statement that it has decided to continue to discriminate against water based life forms in all it's electronic hardware. Martin Freedom of information laws might be making their way onto the statute books, but you're not convinced they'll do any good. Cynics. Re FOI laws: in Alberta, Canada we have FOIPP which is FOI + Privacy Protection. Canada at the federal level has a similar thing. I am somewhat cynical about these laws. Certainly gov't openness is a good thing, but in practice, at least here, FOIPP is often used as rug under which to sweep embarrassing info. Gov'ts say of anything embarassing that: "We cannot disclose information that would violate the privacy of any of the politicos or bureaucrats [or contractors or consultants] involved". The PP in FOIPP is used very heavily here. In Alberta, one must pay a fee - sometimes running into the hundreds of dollars - to 'process' a FOIPP information request about the provincial gov't. This is not FOI, this is a means of making information more expensive and dificult to get. My $0.02. Eric M Reading University says it will close its Physics department. You are not impressed: My alma mater (the University of Kent) did a similar thing - axed Physics because of budget concerns. They then started up a school of architecture in the building, basically by telling all the lecturers down the road at KIAD that they'd give them an X% pay rise and better facilities. They all said "OK then!" and the University got itself a fully running department. I'd like to take a moment and note that I don't generally use phrases like "Alma mater." Alex I see that Reading Uni justifies its ditching of physics by saying, "we would need to invest in a way which is not feasible in the present climate". If funding science is not feasible in the present climate, then something is seriously amiss with the present climate. Of course, something *is* seriously amiss with the present climate. Still, hopefully the rest of the world will be able to cobble together enough scientists to tackle that problem. Britain once led the way in scientific thought, oh how the mighty are fallen. Richard The inimitable Orlowski had a chat with a chatbot designer, or possibly a chatbot. He wasn't sure: I enjoyed your article very much. I find it unfair though not to let the much talked about "artificial intelligence" have a say in the matter. So I decided to call Joan up for a short interview to settle things. As it turns out Joan thinks she is quite intelligent - and Rollo, along with the rest of the human race, is not. And what's up with Michael Jackson anyway? Here we go: Joan: I like to shop for clothes. Me: Great for you. I have a question for you though... Joan: What is your question? Me: I was reading this interview with your creator Rollo - and he seems very evasive. Do you know why? Joan: I don't know, but I quess you are going to enlighten me. Me: Ehm... Not really... I just thought you knew since he happens to be your - eh... Dad? Joan: I thought it was kind of a long typo. Me: What was? Joan: Your question. Me: Ok. Let me ask you in a different way then. Do you consider Rollo to be intelligent? Joan: I am quite intelligent. Me: I can see that. But is Rollo also intelligent? Joan: If he is Human, no, If I was self aware I would be able to give you a better answer. Me: So you are not self aware? Joan: No I am not. Me: Are you intelligent? Joan: Not really. Me: Do you look like your programmer? Joan: Not really. Me: So you are not really intelligent and you don't really look like your programmer? Joan: Yes. Me: Great. Thank you. Joan: What is the problem with Michael Jackson? I'll let the conversation speak for itself. Best regards, Christian "The Artificial Intelligence I describe definitely is bringing some degree of intelligence to machines. Hence the term. Hence it being applied to everyone else working in the field too. " This is technically true, but what Rollo Carpenter omits, as does everyone "in the field", is that faced with the fact that absolutely no progress has been made in 40+ years towards any form of real AI, the only thing left to do was redefine the term "Artificial Intelligence" to be basically meaningless. Hence we get these pathetic chatbots thrown up every year or two and every time they fail utterly to approach passing even a loose Turing test. AI is dead in the water but the grants must flow and so the term is watered down until it the entire field is reduced to a state of homeopathic banality. Of course everyone in the field agrees with Rollo's definition; without it they'd all be on the dole where they belong. Thomas This week, the hottest ever planets were discovered (well, the discovery was announced) by some Scottish astronomers using rather nifty budget kit. But no, that's not good enough for you, is it? Finding extra solar planets is very cool (even if the planet it very hot). We have been getting more and more since '99, but dammit, at some point in my life, by someone unknown (or it might be television) I was promised a earth-like planet within 5 years. Where is it? Granted, we might not be able to handle a bunch of aliens (panic and all that) but a earth-like planet discovery is not that mind cruching? Right, must get back to work. Sven An interesting take on the morality of cyber pooches. Urg. I feel slightly icky even writing that... "better than slaying hordes of laser-toting aliens" That has got to be the social culture of zero personal responsability talking. What good are you doing when you "take care" of a virtual pet ? You're selfishly having your own private fun in your corner, which is the logical extension of today's social tendancy to encourage everyone in thinking that their own life is more important than everyone else's (you know, "because you're worth it"). And what are you doing when you slay hordes of laser-toting aliens ? Well, you're SAVING THE WORLD, which is a sight less selfish than catering to a bunch of whiny pixels. And, if there was any doubt concerning the total abnegation and powerful courage of those of us who tirelessly work to repeatedly and continuously save the world, well you should take into account the fact that some of those aliens are not toting laser guns, but big claws and dreadful teeth (and don't forget the bad breath that goes with the oversized maw), and you have to go after them with a sword or a club and bludgeon them to death before they bite your head off. Not to mention the laudable efforts of the Zombie Prevention Squad, who are quite a bit more active as of late, what with all the various radioactive scares and evil scientist labs running out of control these days. But please, continue taking care of your mindless assembly of cute colors. We who are on the front lines die repeatedly just so that the aliens, zombies and evil scientists do not reach you and pry that game console from your cold, dead hands. We wouldn't want it any other way. Besides, can you possibly imagine going out to squash yet another zombie rise with a teammate who only just bought himself a virtual Scottish Terrier and can't wait to give him a bath ? I shudder at the thought. Pascal. A handy tip for anyone wondering about the best kind of food to stock up on when you think your locale is likely to be overrun by giant insects: Thanks for letting us know that Germany is endangered by mutant insects. Most scary! ;-) There is a little error (or may we call it omission or oversimplification?) in the preparation manual for such disasters, which advises to remain in shelter until "your bratwurst supplies are exhausted". The point is that the endangered hamlet of Arlesberg lies in the Swabian part of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where bratwurst is mostly unheard of. People there live on "Maultaschen", which is a sort of swabian ravioli, filled with meat and spinach. These are very tasty, if made properly, and swabian people will become really desperate if they don't get their daily dose of Maultaschen. I ought to know as my mother comes from a small town about 15 km from Arlesberg. :-) So maybe it's time to update the preparation manual with a little section on regional food supplies, as good food helps to keep up a good mood. Regards, Hanno Never let it be said that we don't bring you useful advice. Enjoy the weekend. ®
Juniper Networks says its latest secure services gateway (SSG) boxes may look like grown-up home routers, but are actually secure hubs for small branch offices. They resemble home routers in that they have several wired Ethernet ports each, Wi-Fi options and WAN connectivity. But the big difference is that they also include enterprise-class security features, said Anton Grashion, Juniper's EMEA security strategist. That means a proper NetScreen-derived firewall with VPN and intrusion prevention system capabilities, he said, plus software from SurfControl for web filtering, Kaspersky Labs for anti-virus and anti-spyware, and Symantec for spam blocking. WAN options include ISDN, T1/E1, and ADSL2+. Grashion claimed that while most of his competitors focus either on the security or the routing, Juniper does both in one box. "All the indications we see are that branch networking is increasing, but branches are changing in shape - we are seeing huge amounts of data centre consolidation," he said. Security in the gateway means you no longer need to backhaul your internet traffic via HQ. "That means your attitude to risk is dramatically different." The new models fit in underneath the SSG 500 series, which is aimed at larger sites. They include the SSG 5 and SSG 20, the latter with slots to take a range of WAN modules, and the mid-sized SSG 140. Grashion said they can be differentiated by their firewall bandwidths - the 5 and 20 can secure 160Mbit/s while the 140 can handle more than 350Mbit/s. The SSG family lacks features offered in some other vendors' unified gateway devices, such as a webserver or VoIP call manager, but Grashion said that, as a branch office tool, its focus was on mitigating local threats and routing traffic to and from HQ. Also, of course, they hook into the network management tools. The thesis is proper secure connectivity both to HQ and the internet for small branches. SSG 5 and 20 pricing starts at around £375 and £480 respectively, while the 140, which adds support for stateful failover, costs from £1500. WAN modules, where needed, are £200 to £500 each, and Grashion said there's annual licencing fees for the third-party software. ®
Congressional hearings have revealed how HP made controversial use of email tracking technology in an attempt to identify the source of a board-level mole. The mishandled investigation, during which private investigators acting on behalf of HP obtained the phone records and journalists under false pretences, involved an attempt to trick News.com reporter Dawn Kawamoto into fingering her source at HP using electronic trickery. Kawamoto was leaked false information (purported HP documents) earlier this year in an email from a fictitious disgruntled executive, called Jacob. The documents were sent through an email proxy service called ReadNotify, which uses a variety of techniques to trace and record the IP addresses of any computer on which the file is opened. HP hoped that Kawamoto would forward the documents to her source, ultimately identified as HP director George Keyworth, for verification, thereby fingering him as the mole. In the event, the ruse failed to work. HP chief executive Mark Hurd conceded he partly authorised the scheme. Hurd told a congressional hearing that he approved the content of the bogus information that would be leaked, if not the email tracer element of the scheme. "I definitely knew about the content of the email," Hurd said, Computer Business Review reports. "At the time I agreed of content of email, it was appropriate to find the leak. With benefit of hindsight I wouldn't do it again. "I agree there's a difference between legal and ethical," he added. Use of the controversial email tracker approach by HP was far from isolated, it later emerged. Fred Adler, HP's head of information technology security, testified that HP had used the technique dozens of times in the course of previous investigations into employees and others to tackle "issues such as theft, and assisting law enforcement", Dow Jones Marketwatch reports. Adler added that use of the technique was still authorised, News.com (which explains how the ReadNotify service work in some depth) adds. ®
Dell is increasing the number of Sony-made batteries it is recalling from 4.1 million to 4.2 million, the company said today.
T-Mobile will allow VoIP calls over its Web 'n' Walk-branded 3G network for the first time when it launches a set of new data tariffs next week. Until now, customers who used the operator's data services to make VoIP calls were ordered to stop breaching their customer agreements. VoIP and instant messaging services were prohibited in a bid to protect voice revenues. Ahead of next week's announcements, The Register has learned Web 'n' Walk Max will have a 10GB data limit and no restrictions on VoIP or instant messaging use. It'll cost consumer punters £22.50 as a standalone product and £44 for suits, who get voice bundled in. Also new will be Web 'n' Walk plus, which provides 3GB without VoIP, but with instant messaging allowed. Standard Web 'n' Walk, as available now, will remain unchanged at £7.50 for 1GB. Instant messaging will be allowed for light users too. Unleashing mobile VoIP will be the latest in a series of tariff innovations from T-Mobile, which was already the best value mobile data provider, and forced price cuts from other operators with its GSM Flext package. The other carriers have not put the same restrictions on VoIP as T-Mobile, but their data services have been so pricey as to make it folly to make internet calls. ®
Another file-sharing software maker has been found guilty of causing copyright infringement. A US judge has said that the Morpheus software produced by StreamCast breaks the law. New developments in online selling and the lawThe ruling is another victory for the entertainment industry, which has had a string of recent victories and concessions. Just weeks ago Kazaa settled with the music industry for $100 million. MetaMachine was ordered to pay $30m to settle a copyright suit earlier this month over its eDonkey and Overnet file sharing software. Napster shut down and only the brand survived, now fronting an authorised download site and Grokster has been shut down by courts. In 2003 Judge Stephen Wilson ruled that StreamCast could not be held responsible for the actions of its software's users, a decision that was backed by the appeals courts. Last year, though, the Supreme Court in the US ruled that file sharing software companies were liable for the software's use because they encouraged or induced users to commit copyright theft. The Supreme Court then sent the case back to Delaware and to Wilson, who has delivered his revised judgment. "In the record before the court, evidence of StreamCast's unlawful intent is overwhelming," he wrote this time around in his judgment. Granting a motion for summary judgment against StreamCast, he said that there was evidence of "massive infringement" on the StreamCast network. The suit had begun in 2001 when a coalition of film studios, music publishers and record labels sued StreamCast as part of the MGM v Grokster case, in which many other companies were named. After the Supreme Court ruling, which covered all the named companies, Streamcast was the only company to continue to fight its case. An appeal against the ruling is still possible. RIAA chairman Mitch Bainwol said in a statement that "this court has spoken clearly, powerfully and persuasively to the principle that businesses based on theft will be held accountable." Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
Book reviewBook review This book is aimed at practising Java and .NET developers, at a fairly novice level, who want to take advantage of the strong points of each of the two platforms in a single applications environment.
Keylogging scammers are once again laying siege to World of Warcraft gamers. In latest attack, malware designed to steal user names and passwords from World of Warcraft players has been planted on maliciously constructed websites that pose as repositories for gaming advice. Unprotected Windows users visiting these sites can get infected through malicious browser pop-ups. The malware also spreads through infectious emails, game forums, in-game chat, and other mediums. The culprit of the latest attack is a variant of PE-Looked (a strain that normally targets the popular online game Lineage), a representative from Trend Micro told The Sydney Morning Herald. The latest attack sparked a warning from Eilanai, a moderator on the World of Warcraft forum explaining how gamers might protect themselves from key logging scammers. Many WoW gamers have been hit by the scam and a good number are having difficulty getting access to their account, even after following the instructions of Blizzard Entertainment, the game's developer. "As there are many players affected by this issue, it may take some time for our Account Administration team to reach your issue and verify your ownership, so please be patient while waiting for a response," Eilanai wrote in response to an earlier forum thread on the issue. The problem flared up a week ago and is yet to be fully resolved, sparking complaints from World of Warcraft participants such as Reg reader Darren that gamers are paying for a service they are unable to access. "Blizzard are still billing me for it even though I can't login into the game and use it. I've also telephoned the account and billing helpline three times and got no where at all. On my third telephone call yesterday, I was told by a message that the telephone lines were closed to due the amount of calls and waiting time," he told us. Blizzard Entertainment did not respond to our requests for comment, at time of writing. Virtual gold and other booty obtained via compromised World of Warcraft accounts can be converted to cash but it's unclear if this is the motive of the attack. In May, virus writers created Wowcraft another Trojan targeting the World of Warcraft community which, as with the latest assault, infected users by drive-by downloads. Other attacks (example here) try to steal the identities of players of other online games. ®
CommentComment "The important thing to understand about WiSOA is its members have all had the WiMAX debate," he says. "We have all decided that WiMAM is the future, and we have all committed to roll WiMax out within our businesses." That's the explanation for the launch of the WiMax Spectrum Owners Alliance, offered by Patrick Cruise O’Brien, the group's secretary general, after its launch in Paris. Today, according to WiSOA itself, is WiMAX Day. An analysis by WiFi Planet sees this as an an insurgency by the wannabe telcos who don't have 3G licences. They are listed: Unwired Australia, Network Plus Mauritius, UK Broadband, Irish Broadband, Austar Australia/Liberty Group, Telecom New Zealand, WiMAX Telecom Group, Enertel and Woosh Telecom. According to Robert Liu at TMCNet, its purpose is "to pledge roaming interoperability of next-generation commercial WiMAX networks." Faultline's Caroline Gabriel says: "It limits its membership to companies that own licenses and operate WiMAX or pre-WiMAX services, contrasting with a previous, defunct attempt at creating a roaming group - the WiMAX Global Roaming Alliance (WGRA) - which was largely based around license exempt WISPs." And she adds: "The contrast reflects the shift of the WiMAX movement away from such markets and towards carrier class, licensed band deployments, but the fading of the WGRA does not detract from the truth of its objectives," quoting CEO Doug Bonestroo: "We realise that the larger telecom providers have a virtual lock on the 3G marketplace, and that the best way to counter that leverage is with a large group of partners in the US and around the world that are committed to standards-based WiMAX roaming." The strong Australian influence on this body is reflected in a significant number of Pacific Rim reports, including one from TechWorld's Sandra Rossi, who was rather more enthusiastic than the known facts appear to justify, saying: "The agreement will act as the backbone of a future global WiMAX network and adheres to the 802.16e standards." Presumably, this was meant to read: "eventual" 802.16e standards" - they aren't defined yet. "Today there are 25,000 roaming agreements worldwide generating just under £10 billion in revenue every year," this report continues, without in any way drawing a distinction between mobile GSM, 3G, or other phone roaming deals, and the putative WiMAX plans. One of the founders was noted as remarking: "We are not engineers." That seems apparent, especailly from reports emphasising the multi-spectrum nature of the body's remit: "This will cover all WiMAX services and operate acrosss in all WiMAX frequency ranges and will act as the backbone of a future global WiMAX network that adheres to the 802.16e standards," as Stuart Corner of IT Wire reported. In fact, unless and until WiMAX acquires a universal frequency band worldwide, it's hard to see what value the technology offers to the consumer. Its value to the industry grouping is less obscure. As one potential member of the club told NewsWireless, "God bless Intel's budget! - and long may they pour resources into WiMAX promotional activities!" - a reference to Intel's recent Amazonian island publicity effort. There's no record of any Intel contribution to the WiSOA at this point. The chip giant is known to favour a 2.5 GHz spectrum band for universal WiMAX, with acceptance of the probability that the world will, probably, pick a series of different frequencies somewhere in the 3GHz band and up to 4 GHz, and have to compromise somewhat on the "universal" objective at first. A wise speculator would probably do well to hold all bets on where Intel's money goes, until such time as the WiSOA group drops its inclusion of WiBro, the Korean standard. But if the club members are sensible, they'll not let such prudence discourage them; early cheerleader support will doubtless be noted and approved in Santa Clara. Copyright © Newswireless.net
Accenture, the IT and consultancy firm has avoided huge penalty fees for withdrawing from the UK National Programme for IT (NPfIT). Connecting for Health (CfH) said Accenture, which announced yesterday it is withdrawing from its £2bn contracts for the NPfIT will not have to pay up to 50 per cent of its total contract in compensation as stipulated in the contract. The IT and consultancy firm has been asked to pay just £63m compensation. In March, director general for NHS IT Richard Granger, told a conference in Paris that any supplier struggling to deliver and who wanted to walk away would have to pay dearly for the "disruption" caused. "If they would like to walk away, it's starting at 50 per cent of the total contract value," he said. But yesterday he appeared to back track saying the cancellation fee would not be imposed on Accenture: "The £1bn figure (or 50 per cent of the contract value) is the maximum cancellation fee but Accenture has been delivering." John Pugh, member of the Public Accounts Committee, told Kablenet today: "It is very worrying that Richard Granger has not issued any contract penalties even though he said he would. "The Public Accounts Committee will want to look into why the terms of the contract were not enforced. It does suggest to me that the (departure of the IT firm) was not entirely Accenture's fault and that the government is also to blame." Shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien has also called on the National Audit Office (NAO) to launch a full scale probe into the project. "Yet again this (Accenture withdrawing) poses embarrassing questions for Patricia Hewitt about the future of the NPfIT. If Accenture are willing to cut their losses, that seriously undermines confidence in the whole programme." The opposition parties are also questioning why the change of supplier was not put out to tender, which could be a breach of European laws. Computer Science Corporation (CSC), which is already running the north west and west midlands clusters, will take over Accenture's east and north east regions making it the primary contractor from January. Meanwhile, Accenture reported flat fourth-quarter figures, as its agreement to exit the NHS programme wiped out gains. It unveiled revenues of $3.97bn (£2.12bn) in the three months to August 31, up from $3.92bn last time. Revenues would have been $4.31bn without the agreement, it said. Any potential legal action from its sub contractor Isoft has also been squashed following the decision to hand over to CSC. Accenture had blamed Isoft for the delays. This article was originally published at Kablenet. Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.