27th > October > 2006 Archive

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Sun turns in another Q1 loss

Sun Microsystems left its Bedazzler® back at the asylum during the first quarter with financial results less spectacular than the company's recent market share gains. That said, the server vendor managed to hand in a solid enough quarter to keep investors calm - a rare feat for the Solaris crowd. Buoyed by StorageTek and increased server sales, Sun brought in $3.19bn during its first fiscal quarter. That total marks a 17 per cent year-over-year increase from $2.73bn. The revenue uptick failed to translate into a profit, as Sun posted a $56m loss or a loss of 2 cents per share. In the same quarter last year, Sun lost $123m or 4 cents per share. Always a cash-conscious firm, Sun reported an influx of $157m, boosting its greenback hoard up to $4.7bn. "It feels great to continue growing," said Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz, during a conference call. Later, he added, "We are off to a great start for the year." Investors seemed pleased enough with Sun's results not to batter the company in the after-hours markets. At the time of this report, Sun shares were holding steady at $5.36 per share. As noted yesterday, Sun's shares typically begin their march back down to $4 after the company has disappointed its most gullible fans. But not today. For that, Schwartz deserves a gold star or whatever you give to a youngster these days after he's had a good run with the finger paints or pooped dead center into the toilet bowl. During the first quarter, Sun saw hardware and software sales rise to $1.96bn from $1.7bn last year. Services jumped as well, hitting $1.23bn - up from $1.02bn. Sun won't start breaking out its software revenue figures for awhile yet, Schwartz said. The company, however, declared that software revenue jumped 17 per cent year-over-year. So just make up a figure and have fun with that. On the hardware front, Sun's UltraSPARC T1-based boxes continued to surprise, reaching $100m in sales for the second quarter in a row. Sun's x86 business slowed but still grew 52 per cent and is now a $600m-a-year enterprise. Sun's SPARC sales rose 10 per cent. Apparently, IDC data "reaffirmed Sun's progress," although we're still not clear which piece of AI software the analyst firm uses to do its channel checks. The financial analyst crowd was unusually timid during its conference call with the Sun brass. One analyst asked Schwartz if he would like to discuss how much better the company's products are than those from competitors. He duly obliged. Even the gravel-throated Laura Conigliaro from Goldman Sachs barked out her questions in dulcet tones. There were no calls for mass firings, the CEO's head or more dinners at nice restaurants. With a bit of growth behind it, Sun's main problem is clearly that nagging red ink. Management insists that a "prudent" approach has been applied to the business and promises that profitability is in sight. So, if you're a believer, just squint real hard. ®
Ashlee Vance, 27 Oct 2006

Acer: Vista Home Basic is a lemon

Microsoft is effectively smuggling through a price hike for Windows Vista - by making the entry-level version so poor that no-one will want to use it. So says Jim Wong, senior veep at Acer, the world's number four PC maker, who told UK hack Jon Honeyball: "The new [Vista] experience you hear of, if you get Basic, you won't feel it at all. There's no [Aero] graphics, no Media Center, no remote control."
Drew Cullen, 27 Oct 2006

Apple cures MacBook shutdown... maybe

The Mac press has been full of tales lately of Macbooks inexplicably shutting down. Today, Apple announced a cure for this annoying habit, known oddly enough as MacBook Shutdown. In an advisory, the Intel OEM issued instructions to owners to install SMC Firmware update 1.1. Recommended for all MacBook owners, the update improves the "internal monitoring system and addresses issues with unexpected shutdowns".
Drew Cullen, 27 Oct 2006

Orange reports on the workplace of 2016

Orange's Future Enterprise Coalition has released a report discussing at the place and manner of work in 2016. "The Way to Work" is the second report published by the coalition. The first, "Organisational Lives", looked at how individuals might be using mobile technologies in the future. The coalition feels the way in which society approaches intellectual property is going to be a key: if large companies maintain a stranglehold on their IP, innovation will be stifled and the workplace of the future will be little more than a cubicle farm. But that is the least optimistic of the four scenarios proposed, with others suggesting a more flexible working environment becoming normal and the line between employee and freelancer becoming ever more blurred. This change will effect what companies are, with the days of reliable blue-chip monoliths being numbered, and even large companies having to become more flexible and less risk adverse. In a survey, commissioned by Orange, over 60 per cent of British workers said IT had given them more freedom over the last five years. For that trend to continue employees are going to have to take more responsibility for their own careers, as well as financial planning, and the report suggests that unions and other professional bodies might fulfill that role. "The Way to Work" also includes recommendations for companies planning to still be around in 2016, and is available as a free download (pdf) from Orange. ®
Bill Ray, 27 Oct 2006

Billing provider behind Fon de-cloaks, attacks MVNO enterprises

They say that before you launch a mobile billing company, you should have customers, or nobody will take you seriously. That's presumably why BlueTab has waited a year before revealing that it is a mobile billing company. The customer is a high profile one: Fon, the Spanish "social WiFi" network created with investment by Google and Skype, and billed as "The largest WiFi community in the world" at launch. Now, trading on an instant track record, founders Matthew Goodsall and Tom Uhart say they can help the new generation of tier 2 and tier 3 MVNOs and low-power GSM and convergence carriers set up a low-cost billing system, using Open Source technology. "We won't be taking on the two gargantuan giants of this business," Goodsall told NewsWireless. "But the point of our announcement is that there are an awful lot of tier 2 and tier 3 players in the market, who don't necessary have the budget and long lead times to engage with those vendors. if you are a new entrant with time to market very important, we can operate with you." The third founder, Jose Luis López, led the initiative on site at Fon in Madrid, while Goodsall admits to being a "closet geek" with a degree in computer science before his work in banking and venture capital with Vesta, and Tom Uhart is a telecom specialist. Until now, the company has presented itself as a transaction processing specialist. "We're not so much a new venture... the way to characterise our expertise, is 'we are experts in building transaction systems.' with a lot of experience in building billing solutions," said Goodsall. "What we're trying to say is that there's a particular opportunity in the UK and more broadly in Europe." His analysis of a number of developments in the UK telco market, suggests that finding cost effective billing solution is becoming increasingly an important thing. "Also the space is becoming increasingly competitive as convergence and new technology comes in. So billing is moving from a very boring part of the system and something you wouldn't want to think about... to being the differentiator. An MVNO mvno can't differentiate by network, so it's either pricing or competitiveness." Urhart says that the past confusion in billing isn't going to persist in the smaller markets. "There are some interesting trends in MVNO. One is that it is becoming affordable for them to have soft HLRs (home location registers). The real problem these operators face is not the billing information provided by the host. Their difficulty is that they are small, and don't really own the customers; they belong to the donor organisation, the host. One interesting development: soft solutions are emerging. So in the same way that the don't have to buy an enormous piece of HLR kit from Ericsson, but buy a Linux box, they can use Open Source billing solutions, too." Urhart concludes: "We're not in the operational support space; we're in business support. But because they can acquire operational support, so they can become independent of the billing structure of the host. We can build transactions, manage prepaid accounts, settle transactions, manage purchasing , manage Paypal, credit cards, and we have an ecommerce front end. We have an 'on-demand' model where by they can call up new modules and pay when they need them." These people, he says, "aren't looking to buy Amdocs for their billing any more than they want to buy Ericssson. We offer pay as you grow, we offer pay on demand. We can keep their costs down. We make it out of open source, and that's easier to manage as well as build." More from Bluetab's website.
Guy Kewney, 27 Oct 2006

Foundry punches out 65nm GPUs for Nvidia

Nvidia is already producing 65nm chips, the graphics specialist has revealed. We suspect it actually means it's sampling chip designs fabricated at that size. Certainly, AMD isn't expected to ship 65nm GPUs until H2 2007, and like Nvidia, it chips are made by TSMC.
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2006

Apple to ship 15.4in MacBook next May?

Apple is gearing up to launch a 15.4in MacBook next May, a year after the Intel-equipped consumer notebook first came to market. So claims a Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia analyst, who also names Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn - aka Hon Hai Precision Industry - as the manufacturer.
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2006

Skype users hang on for free calls

Skype user forums are filling up with angry customers who signed up to the Voice over Internet Protocol firm's free UK calls promotion. The only trouble is they are still being charged for calls. The cock-up has done little for Skype's reputation for "customer service". Punters who bought £10 of Skype credit were supposed to get six months of free calls to UK landlines, including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. But dozens of customers who paid their £10 are still waiting to have free calls activated. A statement from Skype said: ""We are really sorry to hear that some users have experienced problems with Talk for Britain. We are working extremely hard to resolve these issues and will update our website as soon as the problems are resolved." There's more in the Skype forums here and here. ®
John Oates, 27 Oct 2006

Ex-Microsoft man is next space tourist

The man who led the development of Microsoft's Word and Excel programs is about to be sent into space. This is not, as you might surmise, a one way trip paid for by hacked-off accountants and people who looked like they "might be writing a letter", but a voluntary trip he's paying for himself. In fact, Charles Simonyi, 58, is set to become the 450th person in space, and the fifth amateur cosmonaut to fly to the International Space Station (ISS). He also claims to be the first nerd heading for orbit. He is slated to take off on 9 March, 2007, provided he completes his training and passes all the medical tests. Simonyi told the BBC that he had three goals: "One of them is to advance civilian spaceflight, the second to assist space station research, and the third to involve kids in space sciences," he said. He says he plans to learn Russian as part of his preparation, and will also bone up on the workings of the rocket that will take him to the space station. "Learning about the systems is part of my engineering curiosity and makes the whole experience so much more interesting when I understand exactly what is going on and, for example, why the flight is safe," he explained. After the eight minute journey to orbit, on board a Russian Soyuz rocket launched from the Baikonaur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the software engineer will spend two days travelling to the ISS. He'll spend eight days on board before returning to Earth. As with other high profile space tourists, Simonyi has organised his trip through Space Adventures. The ticket to the ISS is thought to cost between $20m and $25m. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 27 Oct 2006

Samsung all a-glow over brighter phone display

Samsung has figured out how to increase the brightness of a handheld device's screen by more than 33 per cent without drawing more power: paint a blue LED white. OK, so it's a little more complicated than that: you paint it with a fluorescent material. Still, Samsung calls is a "white LED".
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2006
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Bug causes another delay to Vista

Vista has been delayed by a week because of a bug, according to reports. The oft-delayed operating system was due for release to manufacturers yesterday, 25 October, but this has been pushed back to 8 November because of a bug serious enough to require a complete re-install of the software. Cunning Microsoft, fed up with constant complaints about delays, has not made public exactly when the release date is - and without an official release date it can't be delayed. A statement from Microsoft said: "We have not announced our final plans for launch of Windows Vista and Office 2007. However, we are on track for business availability in November and general availability in January, although the exact dates are determined based on the product quality." There's more details on DigiTimes here and on Computerworld here. ®
John Oates, 27 Oct 2006

Shuttle ships gamer-friendly SFF PC

Shuttle today said it had managed to squeeze all the components necessary for a top-of-the-line gaming machine into one of its XPC small form-factor PC cases, claiming the result to be the "performance winner". It should be, for the price...
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2006

BitTorrent man jailed for five months

A US man has been jailed for five months and sentenced to a further five months of home detention for his role as a leading participant in the BitTorrent tracker site Elitetorrents. US District Court Judge James P Jones also sentenced Grant T Stanley, 23 of Wise in Virginia, to a $3,000 fine and three years supervised release. Stanley previously pleaded to "conspiracy to commit copyright infringement" and "criminal copyright infringement" violations of the Family Entertainment Copyright Act. The 23-year-old is one of three defendants convicted following an FBI orchestrated enforcement action dubbed Operation D-Elite that saw the closure of Elitetorrents and a number of arrests in May 2006. Another defendant, Scott McCausland, pleaded guilty to similar offences in the same crimes two months ago and is due to face a sentencing hearing on 14 December. McCausland is asking supporters to write a letter to the judge ahead of this hearing, Torrentfreak reports. EliteTorrents was singled out for enforcement action because it published a tracker for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith hours before the theatrical release of the film. This prompted the MPAA, which monitors BitTorrent sites, into pressuring the FBI to take enforcement action. ®
John Leyden, 27 Oct 2006

Naomi Campbell bailed over alleged assault

WSAWSA Naomi Campbell was yesterday released on bail after spending 10 hours in Belgravia police station following an alleged assault on her drugs counsellor, The Independent reports. Campbell was arrested on Wednesday at her London home "on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm" after her counsellor reported the alleged attack to police. Sources reported the victim had "walked into a police station looking 'quite shaken up' and with red marks on both cheeks". Campbell apparently spent much of her time in the cells "sleeping off jet lag" having flown into the UK to renew her US visa. Following her release, she returned to the police station to be bailed until December. A spokesman for the battling supermodel said: "We believe there has been a misunderstanding. Once police have investigated we are sure this will be resolved satisfactorily." Campbell is due in court in New York next month on a charge of assaulting her housekeeper with a mobile phone. ®
Lester Haines, 27 Oct 2006

Extra anus kills four-legged chicken

New Zealanders are today trying to come to terms with the tragic death of Forzie the four-legged chicken, stuff.co.nz reports. However, it was not the surplus legs which did for the month-old chick, owner Marlene Dickey believes. Rather, an extra anus has been fingered as the cause of his demise. Dickey said: "He developed two bottoms and I think he got glugged up." Dickey admitted Forzie was "a bit of a laugh", and confirmed he was currently in the freezer awaiting stuffing and donation to Auckland Museum. There's a fine pic of a pre-mortem Forzie strutting his stuff here. ®
Lester Haines, 27 Oct 2006

UK to expand battery recycling scheme

UK recycling quango WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) is to widen is battery collection programme. The scheme is still in a trial phase, but the expansion will see battery drop-off points placed in a number of high street shops and by post in partnership with the Royal Mail.
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2006
channel

BitTorrent embeds download manager

There are a lot of assumptions that have to be made about the news that BitTorrent has cut deals with three consumer electronic companies that will embed the BitTorrent download manager client directly into their devices. The devices include home routers and networked attached storage farms. We assume that the old BitTorrent and the new BitTorrent don't speak to one another? Or do they? If they did, existing illegal BitTorrent tracker sites would still allow these new CE devices to work with illegal copying sites, even though BitTorrent the company would not be endorsing that. When BitTorrent author Bram Cohen went legit last September and raised $8.75m in venture funding to develop commercial distribution tools for media companies, he foreswore the promotion of piracy, but by not articulating the detailed manner in which the company will block piracy using these devices, it suggests the door is half open at least. It could be that these devices will only be set up to hit specific remote web locations to get information about where the "legal" swarms of data for copyrighted material live. But we're pretty sure that it would be easy to subvert that and use this version for piracy. If the system now came with a filter, a piece of software that took a fingerprint of video and compared it with a database of signatures to establish that where it was copyrighted, a legitimate transaction took place to acquire it, then that might get around the problem. The fact that the three CE firms are companies we've never heard of in Asus, Planex and QNAP, makes us worry that bigger companies are steering clear to ensure they are not tainted with even the faintest whiff of piracy, even if it is by people subverting the way these new devices are supposed to work. But that doesn't stop the idea from being a good idea, bypassing the PC and going straight to a DVR or storage device with P2P. We'd just want to ensure that all CE equipment was a) set up with the same P2P system, and b) that it was one that had never been used to support piracy, for instance the system favoured by the BBC, AOL and BSkyB called Kontikki. Cohen has been in several negotiations with studios to makes films available through his new service, and has had some success and announced a few deals, but more than a year since forming his venture, Cohen does not yet have a live film service. Can't say we're surprised. 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.
Faultline, 27 Oct 2006

UK promises care record 'opt-out' - again

UK health minister Lord Warner has outlined how people will be able to "opt-out" of having their NHS medical records shared on a national database. Speaking at a Health Service Journal conference in London yesterday, Lord Warner said: "Patients will be informed in advance about new ways in which their information will be held and shared and they will be told they have the right to dissent - or 'opt out' - of having information shared." Those that do not instruct their GPs to withhold some information will be deemed to have given "implicit permission" for their information to be shared by "those legitimately treating them". The government has come under fire for its confused approach to the handling of sensitive patient information. Initially, it gave assurances that the choice to "opt-out" would be iron-clad, but later, appeared to back away from this commitment. Lord Warner acknowledged that there are concerns about electronic care records, saying the Care Records Taskforce had been set up to address these concerns. "It's important to note that we've put people on the taskforce who have concerns about the Care Records Service, and haven't just appointed supporters," he added. He also refused to support calls for another review of the technology underlying the National Programme for IT. He said he would rather staff were allowed to focus on making the system work, instead of being distracted by "another review". ®
Lucy Sherriff, 27 Oct 2006

BOFH: Goes virtual

Episode 36Episode 36 "Why," the boss asks us early one morning, looking thoughtful "don't we use virtual servers?" "What do you mean?" I ask, dreading the possible problems the Boss is about to bestow on us. "Virtual Servers - you know, ones which aren't real." "Oh, we've got a stack of those," the PFY adds. "Downstairs in the virtual bunker, remember." "I..." the Boss says, trying to avoid a topic that upsets him. "I mean that we should be able to use...virtual servers on a...blade...er...platform...to deliver thin client...uh solutions." I take a moment from wondering who the Boss has been speaking to in order to be impressed by his almost faultless delivery. Ordinarily, a sentence like that with it's multiple technical terms and seeming logic should have given someone of his mental capacity a couple of fatal memory errors trying to get that all out, but not this time... It's almost like he's been practising. "In theory it's a workable solution," the PFY responds. "But in practice we haven't got any thin clients." "Really?" the Boss asks. "Nah, they're a bunch of fat bastards who complain about the speed of the Mailserver or how we won't let them keep all their MP3s in the content management system. Whiney salad dodgers to a man!" "I was talking about a thin server clients," the Boss adds dryly. Honestly, it's almost like he knows what he's talking about!!!! While I'm looking out the window for one of the other signs of the apocalypse the PFY decides to get to the root of the problem. "Oh right," the PFY responds, faking a misunderstanding. "So why would we be wanting to install them?" "To make more use of our servers, of course!" the Boss explains. "We already make a lot of use of them." "Yes, but it seems to me that we just keep on buying machines!" he says. "What do you mean?" "Well, this for instance. You want me to sign off two new mail servers and yet I notice that my predecessors have approved over 20 new servers in this financial year alone!" "That's about normal," I say. "It's something to do with the fiscal advantages of an accelerated depreciation program. Apparently, it saves us money if we have a lowered expectation of server life due to the amount of work they do." "But it costs us money in buying new machines." "Well, I don't pretend to understand the workings of high finance," I say. "But what with that and the ongoing growth in use of all our services..." "But you already replaced the two email servers in the servers you bought earlier in the year!" the Boss gasps. I think quickly while mentally cursing the PFY for his poor research into a back story... "Again, nothing out of the ordinary in that - we're simply maximising the use of the machines by replacing them on the same schedule as the original machines were purchased - two in the first quarter and two in the third quarter. Replacing them all at the same time would mean outages and possible loss of communication channels which could affect our business reputation - and we definitely wouldn't want that." "No, I suppose you're right," the Boss sighs. "But surely we could consolidate all these servers into a single...uh...blade server and save ourselves some money?" "We could, but then we have service redundancy to consider and putting all our eggs in one blade basket, so to speak, could lead to a complete disaster. So it pays to have our services scattered on various servers in what appears - to the casual observer - to be a random and ad-hoc manner designed to increase our spend with a computing vendor so as to qualify for free conferences at holiday destinations." "Did you say free holidays?" the Boss asks, shucking off the dead weight of his principles. "Free conferences, at holiday destinations, yes." "Destinations like?" "Well, there's a conference coming up on the Spanish Coast in a couple of weeks - but I don't think our spend currently qualifies us for attendance." "What about with the two email servers?" he asks. "Almost, but I don't think it'll push us over the edge." "You could get a third one for...uh...redundancy," the Boss hints. "Yes, you're probably right," the PFY says, taking the order form from the Boss' hand and making some alterations. "Right, well, I'm glad we cleared that up," the Boss pinnochios, shakedown complete. "So I'll just pass this through to our financials people then. When do you think they'll be delivered?" "I think they've got some in stock," the PFY says, opening the Blade configurator. "In fact, I think they'll be here quicker than you can say Jack Robinson." "I don't think so!" the Boss chortles "Jack >CLICK< >CLICK< Robinson." ... BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99
Simon Travaglia, 27 Oct 2006

BT promises to improve local loop services for rivals

BT has been given permission by Ofcom to draft in extra engineers to help improve service levels at Openreach - the division charged with helping rival telcos get equipment into local exchanges. The telco is bringing in 150 engineers from another division - BT is restricted by regulators to stop it unfairly favouring its own retail division. Local loop unbundling has been hit, BT says, by high levels of demand. A spokeswoman for BT told the Reg: "Openreach has been experiencing problems with service levels. This allows us to allocate extra resources quickly. We are also asking Openreach engineers to work overtime and we're recruiting an extra 400 apprentices. Unbundling is the process by which rival telcos put their own equipment into BT's local exchanges. BT engineers are then required to connect the kit to individual landlines. The process has long been seen as crucial to injecting real competition into the market but implementation has been slow. The spokeswoman from BT predicted: "The level of resource should show in improved service levels in the next two months."®
John Oates, 27 Oct 2006

Can you judge someone's personality by the shape of their ears?

Also in this week's column: Does drinking alcohol really keep you warm? What is a post-lumbar puncture headache? What is a fistula? Can you judge someone's personality by the shape of their ears? Asked by Ronnie Lathrop of Evanston, Illinois A century ago the pseudo science of phrenology was flourishing. According to phrenologists, one's personality and character could be identified by examining the shape and contours of their skull. Phrenology has long been discredited. So the enterprise of having the same expectations from the ears, the mouth, the nose, or any other body part of the face and head seems equally doomed. But this is not the unanimous opinion of all experts. When it comes to determining personality and character, the ears in particular may give some modest but detectable indication. According to evolutionary biologist Dr John Manning, tiny swellings in a man's facial features can expose "miserable moods" or "a tired mind". And women could be signaling the way to the bedroom with similar, subtle changes that conspire to make them most attractive at their most fertile times. Dr Manning and colleagues at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Liverpool have blamed "cyclical asymmetery" for this. Cyclical asymmetry involve hormonal changes that make human tissue shrink or swell slightly out of proportion, thus subtly altering the way we look. As early as in 1997, as quoted by Reuters, Dr Manning said that "lying on top of bone is soft tissue and this is subject to changes in size because of hormonally-driven water retention and loss. It is in the face, nostrils, and particularly in the ears where you see this most clearly. It only takes a shift of a millimeter or so to change the symmetry. Symmetry is known to make us more attractive to the opposite sex". Dr Manning adds that closely matching eyes, ears, or legs signal strong genes that suggest the healthy, robust, and ideal partner. Dr Manning notes that women have a rush of the progesterone just after they ovulate putting them at their symmetrical peak once a month. But men are ruled by 24-hour hormonal rhythms. Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au
Stephen Juan, 27 Oct 2006

What is a post-lumbar puncture headache?

Also in this week's column: Does drinking alcohol really keep you warm? Can you judge someone's personality by the shape of their ears? What is a fistula? What is a post-lumbar puncture headache? Asked by Liz Downes of Las Vegas, Nevada, USA There are all sorts of unusual forms of headaches that most people have never heard about. The post-lumbar puncture headache is one of them. This form of headache occurs after one has a spinal tap (lumbar puncture). According to the Mayo Clinic, headaches of this kind are often accompanied by stiffness in the neck, ringing in the ears, light sensitivity, nausea, and hearing impairment. The headache generally develops within a week after the spinal tap and typically resolves within a week. Such a headache can be debilitating. A post-lumbar headache may start when one stands up and stop when one lies down. There is some debate as to what percent of patients who have a spinal tap also develop a post-lumbar puncture headache. An article by Heidi Moore in Pulmonary Reviews in December 2000 estimated that the figure was "[N]early a third or more". But a more recent review by Dr R Gaiser of the University of Pennsylvania and published in Current Opinion in Anaesthesiology in June 2006 suggests the figure is "approximately 50 per cent". Males are less likely to suffer post-lumbar puncture headaches than females. This is according to a team of doctors from Johns Hopkins University, led by Dr C L Wu, and published in Anaesthesiology in September 2006. The lumbar region is the lower back. Anatomically, it is located at the back between and the thoracic vertebrae and the sacrum. The lumbar region is sometimes referred to somewhat inaccurately as the loins. "Lumbar" is from the Latin lumbus and means "loins". Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au
Stephen Juan, 27 Oct 2006

What is a fistula?

Also in this week's column: Does drinking alcohol really keep you warm? Can you judge someone's personality by the shape of their ears? What is a post-lumbar puncture headache? What is a fistula? Asked by Terry Cardner of St Louis, Missouri The body grows all sorts of things. Parts of the body are connected in all sorts of ways. A fistula is an abnormal connection, such as a tube, between an organ, a vessel, or an intestine and another organ, vessel, or intestine. The connection can also involve the skin. Fistulas are usually the result of injury or surgery, but can also come from infection or inflammation. Anyone can develop one. Inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, is an example of a disease that promotes the development of fistulas. In such as case the fistula is between one loop of intestine and another. "Fistula" is Latin for "pipe" or "long narrow ulcer". Dr J M Draus and five colleagues from the Department of Surgery at the School of Medicine at the University of Louisville write in the October 2006 issue of
Stephen Juan, 27 Oct 2006
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Does drinking alcohol really keep you warm?

Also in this week's column: Can you judge someone's personality by the shape of their ears? What is a post-lumbar puncture headache? What is a fistula? Does drinking alcohol really keep you warm? No! So says the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Problems. If the legendary St Bernard finds you stranded in the icy Alps, you would be better off hugging the hound than downing the hooch of the pooch. Alcohol only gives a false sense of warmth, but the dog could pass along some lifesaving body heat. Even a little nip from the brandy keg will send your blood to the surface of your skin. You may feel warmer, but your blood will actually be cooled. Many heat sensing nerves are located near the surface of the skin. Drinking can make you temporarily feel warmer. In fact, while you get the feeling of warmth from alcohol, it is really unsuitable because it allows the cold to enter the body. Does drinking alcohol thin the blood? No! Alcohol is a vasodilator. It causes the blood vessels to expand. This is particularly true for the tiny capillaries located just below the skin's surface. The normal thermostatic control of the body is altered by alcohol ingestion. The blood vessel dilation allows a greater amount of blood volume to be brought to the skin's surface. This facilitates heat loss and also explains why your face looks flushed when you have been drinking. But alcohol does not thin blood. Why does drinking alcohol make you feel thirsty? Alcohol ingestion forces the body to metabolise it in order to remain chemically balanced for proper body functioning. In doing so, the body actually draws water from body tissues. This can cause a thirsty feeling. Drinking more alcohol only makes it worse. Is alcohol a big factor in accidents? Yes, in accidents with injuries certainly. According to Dr Gerhard Gmel of the Alcohol Treatment Centre at Lausanne University Hospital and Dr Jurgen Rehm of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto, writing in Alcohol Research and Health (Winter, 2003): "The research evidence indicates a high level of alcohol involvement in all types of unintentional injuries. The number of drinks consumed per occasion, especially when indicated by BAC [blood alcohol concentration], is strongly associated with the occurrence of injuries, independent of the usual frequency and quantity of alcohol consumed. Drinking may be less associated with workplace injuries for various reasons, but appears to play a role in causing falls, the second most common form of unintentional injury." Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au
Stephen Juan, 27 Oct 2006

'Mars', 'Jupiter' launches planned by O2, Asus

Cellco O2's new smart phone design and manufacturing partner is Taiwan's Asus, it has emerged after details of the upcoming XDA Zinc and Graphite - aka 'Mars 2' and 'Jupiter' - appeared, ahead of their launch, on the US Federal Communications Commission's website this week.
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2006

Meizu's marvelous Mini Player is Europe-bound

The Meizu Mini Player, the oh-so-cute iPod-esque tiny PMP that surface early last summer, is coming to Europe courtesy of French memory specialist Dane-Elec. The 8 x 5 x 1cm unit packs in a 2.4in, 262,144-colour display and up to 4GB of Flash storage. It handles all the usual media file formats, and works with Windows PCs and Macs. Dane-Elec will bring the device to market in December for €119 (1GB), €149 (2GB) and €199 (4GB). The Meizu will be available in black or white. ®
Register Hardware, 27 Oct 2006

Tandberg's troubled third quarter ends surprisingly upbeat

Tandberg Television finished what was supposed to be a troubled third quarter delivered revenues of $80.7m in 3Q06, up nine per cent compared to $74.4m in 3Q05. Three week's earlier it has warned that its revenues would be a full 20 per cent under expectations, due to losing out on two deals unexpectedly, so it would register revenues around $80m instead of $100m, with profit of just $7m, instead of $20m. At the time we speculated that the lost deals included the provision of Deutsche Telekom's head end technology for its nationwide rollout of IPTV, but the company said this particular loss had been known about for some time. In the event Tandberg managed an operating profit of $9.2m, down from $15.1m in the same quarter last year. Pre-tax profit before associate company results was $9.3m, but Tandberg also recognised a one-off net gain of $7.1m from the sale and writedown of associate companies, taking full pre-tax profits to $16.4m. The company, despite going on a mostly share based spending spree of late, has cash balances of $124.4m and added to that pile in the quarter, so things can't be too amiss. Net cash inflow in the quarter was $28.7m after cash received for the disposal of Tandberg's minority holding in GoldPocket Wireless and the completion of the acquisition of Zetools. Tandberg has now launched its second generation H.264 High Definition encoder which it says will provide bandwidth improvements of up to 50 per cent over its current system. It also said it secured a number of contracts in direct to home satellite and that momentum in the high definition TV market remains strong. It named deals with Telenor, MyNetworkTVand CanalSat as well as Croatia's T-Com, Latin America's IPTV Americas and America's Horizon Chillicothe Telephone in the IPTV market. To be fair to Tandberg, the hold up in HD set tops will have slowed its business artificially and it may well be positioned to pick up a lot of encoder business now that the chips for those systems are being shipped, which should be true of all HD encoder suppliers. 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.
Faultline, 27 Oct 2006

Verisign scraps padlocks and Larry storms into Linux

Free as in...bier Larry Ellison used Oracle's Openworld show in San Francisco to kneecap leading enterprise Linux distro Red Hat. Oracle will resell Red Hat's Linux - with the latter's trademarks removed - and offer three tier support starting at $99 per year, a third or more below Red Hat's rates. Support contracts are Red Hat's main income source. Oracle's rival program is called the Unbreakable Linux Network. But it could be a headache for the database giant. Oracle has vowed to add its own enhancements to "current, back and future" releases of Red Hat's distro - a daunting undertaking. But, the database giant does have deep pockets. So with an operating system in his pocket, Oracle now has a "full stack". Ellison denied trying to kill the open source vendor - but the markets didn't agree. Red Hat shares crashed 26 per cent. Oracle also unveiled a beta of the latest version of its eponymous database, and updated both its SOA suite the free developer product for its Application Server, and gave its portal a voguish, Web 2.0 makeover. That doesn't come cheap - the price of admission for Oracle WebCenter Suite is $50,000 per CPU. "So can I expense these make-up fees?" Cisco made a splash by unveiling a high-end video conferencing system. Its new TelePresense Meeting System delivers ultra high definition video "twice as good as HD", claims Cisco - so you can see every sweaty pore. HD TV, it has been suggested, will make several of today's Hollywood stars unmarketable, by revealing new levels of unsightly facial detail. Will it do the same for execs, or will they be obliged to hire make-up and wardrobe technicians? Either way, at $299,000 per conference room, it doesn't come cheap. Roaming in the gloaming A major mobile operator is biting the hand that regulates it - or trying to. In 2004, O2 was accused of abusing its market position by overcharging for roaming calls. The company, now owned by Spain's Telefonica, says the decision wasn't fair and didn't give O2 enough time to prepare a defence. O2's counterclaim of maladministration was taken up by European Ombusdman Nikiforos Diamandouros. BT snapped up security expert Bruce Scheier's company Counterpane for an undisclosed sum. Cisco went shopping too, paying $31m for 33 person Orative, which has a presence client for mobile phones. So you can maximise the inconvenience of your messages for when they're most busy. And if you can't buy 'em, hire 'em. Dell has snatched one of Hewlett Packard's key blade server executives. Rick Becker, VP and GM of blade systems in HP's software group, a Compaq veteran. All the gurus you want? Snapping up a security guru is one thing. Snapping up local loop unbundling engineers, now that is tricky. BT has had to ask Ofcom for permission to shift engineers from other units to its Openreach arm. Some of you may have noticed that LLU has not been plain sailing. Seems the engineers at Openreach, responsible for hooking up other providers' kit in BT Exchanges have been flat out. The telco giant is also recruiting 400 apprentices. But moving across staff from other divisions was a no no under telco competition laws. Go figure. It's nearly bonfire night... Worried the CEO's collection of old laptops is a fire hazard? You should be. Luckily, a trial scheme for recycling batteries is being expanded. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is to widen its battery collection programme. Big chains, including branches of PC World and Currys, will set up drop off points, with the firebricks, sorry, old batteries being recycled via a firm in the Midlands. First they came for the terrorists, then they came for the drinkers The United States is pushing to lay the groundwork for a global border database, we revealed this week. "It's about keeping out folks from countries, to have more of a global border per se," said the Department of Homeland Security's biometrics program manager. "Shouldn't like-minded countries be told when someone's been kept out of the US? That's a necessary next step [because] immigration has become a worldwide issue," said database program manager Troy Potter. Potter denied that the intention was to fingerprint "Joe Public". That isn't an option for boozers in Yeovil, however. The Somerset town is piloting a scheme which requires drinkers to surrender their pawprints before they can get a pint. The Register revealed that other towns, including the city of Liverpool, are keen try the scheme, but the Home Office disputes that funding is being made available. After the introduction of the Yeovil scheme, pub violence fell, but domestic violence increased. ID burglars use the back door Personal data on more than 8,000 customers of banks, and users of ecommerce sites such as eBay and Amazon, was snared by using a key-logging Trojan, police revealed this week. Meanwhile, a gang of ID thieves scammed US brokerages houses for $22m by creating dummy accounts. The goal of the sophisticated attack was to inflate the value of rarely-traded equities and then dump the stock. The Bank of Scotland is changing its online banking website in response to widely-publicised security flaws exposed last month. German tech publication Heise reported that six banks were vulnerable to a frame spoofing exploit, which enables malicious hackers to divert the login page to a site of their own, without the customer realising. The response from banks has been tardy and inadequate, says Heise. "Of the six banks found to be vulnerable to frame spoofing only two have been able to implement proper protective measurements during the last month. Four are still vulnerable to phishing attacks." And you don't need to go online to have your ID swiped. A Massachussetts professor has demonstrated how to read RFID-based credit cards through a purse or handbag - using cheap, off-the-shelf electronic equipment. The attack doesn't obtain the PIN, but it does divulge the holder's name and account details. No one writes to the kernel The war of attrition between Microsoft and the two biggest security client software security vendors continues. Symantec and McAfee claim that kernel security features in Windows Vista prevent them from doing their job. Microsoft promised to disclose more kernel details to the vendors, but McAfee rubbished the promise. Microsoft maintains that McAfee is making "inaccurate and inflammatory" statements. Smaller software vendors have stayed out of the scrap. And the perils of modifying the kernel were illustrated by a security researcher this week. Microsoft has plugged a potential vector first brought to light by Coseinc researcher Joanna Rutkowska at DefCon in August. The fix disables raw disk writes by certain processes - which may cause problems with disk maintenance utilities and recovery tools, Rutkowska says. After the padlock Mark the date: the successor to the web browser security padlock, extended validation, will be unveiled by Verisign on 24 January. An odd date, since IE7 has already been formally released. It promises wide ranging repercussions for ecommerce providers, who will need to fork out a premium for the green flash. Litigation Corner Who's suing who this week? GPS maker TomTom has appealed to a Dutch court to prevent the sale of two StreetPilot GPS models from US rival Garmin in Europe. TomTom claims Garmin copied its design at CeBIT in 2004; Garmin had earlier sued TomTom for patent infringement. Former Silicon Valley superstar SGI clambered out of bankruptcy last week, and immediately slapped a patent infringement lawsuit on ATI. SGI has already licensed the patent, which it was granted in 2003, and hinted more litigation was to come. The move raised eyebrows. In its glory years, SGI was notoriously lax about protecting its IP, settling key disputes with Nvidia and Microsoft. ATI is in the process of being acquired by AMD. That's all for this week. Thanks for reading. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Oct 2006
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Hacker hijinks impinge on US mid-term elections

Forthcoming US mid-term elections have been disrupted by hackers. The website of Ted and Fran Gianoutsos, a husband and wife team running for governor and lieutenant governor in Alaska, was infected by a computer worm last week. The website of the write-in candidates, tedandfran.com, was infected by the Gedza-A worm in an apparent prank that meant officially sanctioned campaign promises were replaced by pictures of Canadian songstress Avril Lavigne. "It's fairly innocuous other than the fact it tries to change your home page to an Avril Lavigne picture that is sitting out there on a server somewhere," Webmaster David Molletti told News.com. "So it's a nuisance thing, but it was plugged in there." After cleaning the site last week, the site was reinfected on Monday in a move that meant visitors to the site were warned that it was harbouring malware. The site was later hosed down and rebuilt with changed admin passwords. Ted Gianoutsos, who doesn't have access to an internet connection himself only became aware of the hack after he received phone calls from irate users. The attack hasn't been all bad news, however. Gianoutsos concedes that the assault has thrown the spotlight on his campaign, which features the controversial policies of opening up Alaska's wildlife refuges to oil and gas exploration, and reducing health care costs for Alaskans, particularly military veterans. Candidates in the Hood Elsewhere, the MySpace web page of San Jose council candidate Sam Liccardo was altered so his friends profile included wannabe gang members, young men and women in various states of undress, and people who used their forum on MySpace to make homophobic or racist rants, or contained references to drug abuse. The "Sam Liccardo for City Council 2006" MySpace profile was created by a campaign volunteer as a way to reach out to young voters. Liccardo, whose early career included prosecuting child abuse cases, was shocked by the unauthorised changes and acted to have the site shut down. He's asked MySpace to investigate what happened to his site which was, in theory, supposed to be screened by campaign volunteers. Liccardo suspects either a hacker he'd previously prosecuted or a political opponent was behind the attack. "I prosecute internet crimes against children," Liccardo told the Mercury News. "This fits the pattern of defendants I know who are computer savvy." ®
John Leyden, 27 Oct 2006
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Evesham Mini PC

ReviewReview Ever fancied a black Mac Mini? Well, the Evesham Mini PC isn't quite a Mac mini, nor is it exactly black, but on both points it comes close. Evesham's box is based on the tiny MP945-VXR chassis from AOpen, which has been out to out-Mini the Mac Mini for a couple of years now. The Mini PC measures 17 x 17cm and stands 6.1cm tall. Or perhaps that should be 6.1 cm low?
Leo Waldock, 27 Oct 2006
For Sale sign detail

Altiris makes security location-aware

Location-awareness will be the next big thing in device security, claimed Altiris as it became the latest vendor to jump into the increasingly crowded market for endpoint security software this week. As well as all the usual capabilities to control USB and wireless usage, block keyloggers and spyware, and so on, the Altiris software can apply rules that depend on the device's current location. "Organisations tend to try to control by saying that things are not allowed, but that doesn't work," says Altiris marketeer Chris Ewing. "So you need the ability to flexibly control policy depending on where the user is. "Our control is more granular than Vista's, for example. We can define locations, types of devices, the type of wireless networks to connect to the level of encryption required, and so on." So it might allow you to copy data to an encrypted USB stick, but not an ordinary one, enforce the use of a VPN on a public Wi-Fi hotspot, make a device read-only when it's out of the office, or block data transfers via infra-red or Bluetooth. The client security software works with other Altiris applications that set security policies, scan for viruses and security patches, quarantine out-of-compliance systems for fixing, and so on. Altiris also added software to centrally manage the administrator passwords for PCs. Ewing said that by generating randomised passwords and storing them in the main configuration management database, this avoids the risks inherent in admins using the same password for everything. She added that next week the company will introduce application control software that prevents unknown or unauthorised programs from running. As well as blocking malware and preventing users from installing their own software, this will allow different applications to run with different privileges on the same system. "You can demote privileges, for example to stop Internet Explorer running with admin rights, or promote older applications that need admin rights to run," Ewing said.®
Bryan Betts, 27 Oct 2006

TomTom to track phones for real-time traffic info

Vodafone and route-planning specialist TomTom will next year deploy what they believe will be the world's first commercial traffic data system based on tracking thousands of mobile phones in real-time, the pair said today.
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2006
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Anti-scam website hit by DDOS attacks

A website set up to help spread information about alleged scammers is suffering so many denial of service attacks that its current host has asked the site to find a new home. We wrote about stopecg.org when it was hit by a flurry of legal threats. Luckily, MEP Richard Corbett stepped in to help. But now the site has been hit by a series of distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks and its current host cannot cope. To continue his good work, site founder Jules Woodell needs your help. The site hosts information about several different guide scams - businessses are invoiced for inclusion in non-existent, or not distributed, travel guides. The site has been running since 2001 and has helped many businesses avoid scams. Legal threats have come to nothing, and Woodell believes some of the scammers have turned to hackers to get the information offline. The site has helped tens of thousands of businesses avoid this fraud, Woodell said: "We get between 100 and 200 hits a day. If only a fraction of those are from potentially defrauded businesses than we've helped tens of thousands of people." Woodell said he either needs someone to host the site or a donation of an old server which his previous provider is willing to rack and maintain for him. If any Reg reader can help with either hosting services or suitable hardware, please get in touch with Jules through his blog or through the site. ®
John Oates, 27 Oct 2006
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Australian spammer fined A$5.5m

An Australian firm and its director have been fined a total of A$5.5m (£2.2m) after it was held responsible for sending out more than 230 million spam emails, 75 million of which were successfully delivered, during a two year spamming blitz. Wayne Mansfield, and his company Clarity1, of Perth in Western Australia, fell foul of the Spam Act 2003, which came into effect in April 2004. The court action stems from an April 2006 raid of Clarity1's offices during which investigators seized computer equipment. According to court papers, Clarity1 ran its business under the name of Business Seminars Australia and Maverick Partnership. The defendants claims that recipients had consented to receive junk mail messages were rejected by an Australian federal court earlier this year, clearing the way for the first successful prosecution under the federal legislation. Federal Court Justice Robert Nicholson fined Clarity1 $4.5m and ordered Mansfield to pay $1m as punishment for their anti-social net activities, APP via The Age reports. The Australian Communications and Media Authority, which brought the prosecution, welcomed the outcome of the case, which it said would act as a deterrent to would-be Australian spammers. ®
John Leyden, 27 Oct 2006
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Vista vouchers, a Reg round-up

Any Reg reader considering their Christmas purchases and worried about what operating system they'll be cursed with can relax. We've rung round some of the major vendors and retailers. First up for vacuous marketing puff is Dell who gave us this statement: "Dell is very excited about Windows Vista. The new operating system is expected to deliver revolutionary changes in how customers use personal computers for entertainment and productivity. Dell will participate in Microsoft's Express Upgrade to Microsoft Vista programme and with Dell's Express Upgrade programme consumer and small business customers will easily be able to redeem their upgrade to Vista on select desktops and notebooks purchased between Oct 26 and March 15 2007. Dell-specific tools shipped with the upgrade will help customers easily install Vista when it becomes available." Rather more informative was HP. We spoke to Rob Crampton, consumer desktop manager for HP, who told us: "We've not seen much evidence of demand lagging, but it's good to avert people's concerns. Christmas is still the biggest spike for consumer demand and laptop prices now mean they are a Christmas present. From today there are two upgrade paths. From XP home to Vista basic will cost a royalty payment and shipping costs. For people buying media centres it will be a royalty-free upgrade." Crampton said HP was confident that support would be able to deal with any hassles people have with upgrading their machines. PC World is offering upgrades for anyone buying a computer costing more than £399. From yesterday until 15 March 2007 any machine costing more than £399 will get a free upgrade to Vista Basic Home Edition. Machines below this price will get upgrades for half the recommended retail price. Lenovo had the following to say: "Lenovo is committed to supporting the launch of Windows Vista and all our notebooks and PCs will be 100 per cent compatible with this new operating system. Lenovo's Express Upgrade to Vista programme, ensures all customers purchasing a Lenovo Vista capable or Vista Premium ready notebook or PC have the ability to upgrade to the new operating system once it is released Lenovo realises that customers do not want to wait until 2007 to purchase a new PC when the new operating systems is launched. Because many Lenovo PCs are Vista capable or Vista Premium ready, they are able to purchase a Lenovo PC with confidence that their PC can run Windows Vista, thereby protecting their investment. Further information about the Lenovo and Microsoft alliance can be found here". ®
John Oates, 27 Oct 2006

Wrinklies find Sadville

The relentless hype promoting the online game for sad people, Second Life, has unsurprisingly caused a spike in traffic for the site. And wrinklies are the demographic group that's most curious about the virtual landscape populated by giant penises and cross-dressing Guardian journalists. Traffic monitor HitWise reckons that searches for "second life" rose 73 per cent week on week, with over-55s increasingly curious. But the hype, which has prompted a handful of large corporations to establish an advertising presence in Sadville, almost certainly isn't justified. Searches grew just 219 per cent year-on-year: barely a tremor compared to the traffic growth for MySpace, Digg, or Facebook. There's always a winner when you aggregate losers, but the only winner so far seems to be Linden Labs, which operates Sadville on a subscription basis. HitWise was unable to provide us with traffic estimates, or the conversion rate from visitors to paid-up Sadville citizens. (Sadizens?) Former PR flak Daniel Terdiman, who boasted a reference from Linden Labs' CEO on his resume until El Reg noticed, has led the charge. Reuters has subsequently dispatched a full-time reporter to Sadville. There can't be very much happening in the world, because yesterday, one interviewed the other. You read that correctly: two journalists talking about a place that doesn't exist. Can Sadville get any sadder? ®
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Oct 2006

Kim Jong-Il: 'mad as cheese'

Pity poor Kim Jong-Il. Back at the dawn of the decade he was all ready to be bezzie mates; having visits from Madeleine Albright, talking food aid, expecting Big Willie Clinton himself to drop by at any moment. For an idea of how things have changed since then, try this from the CNN archives dated May 14 2001: "North Korea comes in from the cold". But due to events beyond his control, everything changed. The world's only Stalinist regime unwittingly became the third leg in a Tripod of Evil with a violent nationalist state and a fundamentalist Islamic republic. We heard about Kim's heartbreak at RSA Europe from Chris Patten. According to Patten, one of the few Western politicians to have actually met Kim, the Korean leader was baffled by the change in emphasis when the Bush administration took control of the White House. Even in a pre-9/11 climate, Kim was sensitive enough to notice his new American buddies weren't calling anymore. He just couldn't understand what he'd done wrong, the poor wee lad. During a seven hour audience with the world's most dangerous borderline midget, Patten had to explain at some length that there had been an election in the US. He said: "It was just not part of his world view." That conversation was part of an EU effort to reach out to North Korea in May 2001. As EU foreign affairs commissioner, Patten visited Kim with then Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson. Despite his quarters sporting an ensuite bathroom that would make your average indoor tennis court seem pokey, Patten had little to recommend the North Korean capital as a holiday destination. "Pyongyang is not a fun city...you don't see many stag parties." Despite his rudimentary grasp of democracy (no letters about the 2000 election, please) and current status as an oft-ridiculed hermit, Kim was apparently well up on global affairs. Accompanied by a lackey carting a stack of briefing papers, Kim had all the facts of the geopolitical scene at his fingertips. For a post-Iraq British statesman, Patten has somehow maintained rare clout on the world stage. Since 9/11 he has campaigned for constructive dialogue with Tehran and Pyongyang on uranium enrichment. Indeed, we reckon the Dear Leader's nuclear noodlings are a cry for attention: to borrow from the Reverend Al Green, Kim Jong-Il is just tired of being alone. We would of course qualify that with Patten's own assertion that Kim is "as mad as cheese". ®
Christopher Williams, 27 Oct 2006
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Dozy drivers fail to notice rudery

Drivers into the West Sussex town of Crawley were told to F*** off by council car park signs yesterday morning - and hardly anyone noticed. The signs normally say how many spaces are free in each car park, but were defaced by a hacker who broke into their control system at around 6.45am, substituting the rude message and a tag promoting the US totse.com forum. The messages were on display for more than two hours before council officers told the company which maintains the system - German-owned signage specialist Dambach - to remove them. The computer system has now been locked down and will have its operating system upgraded, according to a council spokesman. "We have no idea why Crawley was picked on," he added. "Only two members of the public reported it - I even drove past one of the signs myself without noticing it."
Bryan Betts, 27 Oct 2006

Identity, voting and missing fingers

LettersLetters There is a bit of a fingerprinted theme to today's letters page, but we have plenty of other stuff too, so let's get started.
Lucy Sherriff, 27 Oct 2006

UK students get 10Gig backbone

UK academia's new 10Gbit/s national backbone is up and running, and could be connecting schools and universities at up to 160Gbit/s within four to five years. Part of the Joint Academic Network, JANET - and imaginatively named SuperJANET5 - the fibre optic network core links 19 regional educational networks and 18 million potential users across the UK. Built by Verizon Business, which also provided most of SuperJANET4 via its purchase of MCI, the network is based on 10Gbit/s equipment with an upgrade path to 40Gbit/s. JANET's governing body UKERNA said that with traffic doubling year on year, only 40Gig channels could meet future needs without having to aggregate silly numbers of 10Gig lines. "JANET can be found at the heart of a diverse array of activities, from delivering e-learning and videoconferencing facilities to school children, hosting pioneering remote surgery techniques, to supporting research into global warming and the very beginning of life itself," extolled Tim Marshall, UKERNA's CEO. "SuperJANET5 will ensure projects such as these, as well as many others, continue to benefit from a truly world-class communications network." UKERNA will now move the regional JANETs over to the new backbone one by one. That process is due to be complete by the end of 2006, after which the old core - SuperJANET4 - will be disconnected.
Bryan Betts, 27 Oct 2006
For Sale sign detail

Appeal court ruling sets marker on UK software patents

The three judges of the UK Court of Appeal have ruled decisively that patents on pure computer programs may not be granted in the UK. The ruling came in the case of Macrossan vs the UK Patent Office (UKPO). Mr Macrossan, an Australian, was appealing against the UKPO's rejection of his patent application. He wanted patent protection for "a method for producing documents for use in the formation of a corporate entity using a data processing system". The UKPO had rejected his claim and today the UK Court of Appeals upheld that decision, saying: "We are firmly of the opinion that the patent is both for a method of doing business as such and for a computer program as such." The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) welcomed the ruling. A spokesman told us: "We were worried about how there had been a trend in recent EPO jurisprudence towards saying everything that runs on a computer is "technical", and so any identifiable improvement may be patentable. The judge seems to agree." Justices Chadwick, Jacob, and Neuberger also ruled that a patent held by Aerotel was valid because it created a new network infrastructure. This, the judges ruled, should be considered a hardware change, meaning that the patent was valid. In the judgement they wrote: "It seems to us clear that there is here more than just a method of doing business as such...the system is clearly technical in nature. We see no Art.52(2) objection to the claim." Article 52, clause 2, outlines items that do not qualify for patent protection, under European and UK law, and includes "schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers". The claim came before the court because of a claim of infringement by Aerotel against Telco, and a subsequent counterclaim challenging the validity of the patent. The FFII said because Aerotel and Telco had actually settled out of court before the hearing, there was no one from Telco to argue its case. "If it had been looked at more closely, we think Aerotel would have had a harder time persuading the court that a differently programmed computer on a network changes the network, and so makes it patentable," the spokesman told us. A spokeswoman for the UK Patent office told The Register: "We're still assessing whether or not it changes anything, but as the ruling is based on guidance from the [Patent] Office, our provisional view is that there will be no substantial changes [to the way we award patents]." You can read the judgment in full here. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 27 Oct 2006

How to make your MacBook Pro run cooler

Love your oh-so-quiet MacBook or MacBook Pro but hate the heat it puts out? Quite apart from the sheer discomfort of it, an overly hot MacBook may be to blame for the random shutdowns quite a few users have reported, now hopefully fixed with Apple's latest SMC Firmware update. Enter utility smcFanControl, a tool to help you take control of your Mac's temperature...
Tony Smith, 27 Oct 2006
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Security firm punctures Vista's Patchguard

AnalysisAnalysis Security vendor Authentium has discovered a mechanism to get around Microsoft's controversial Patchguard kernel protection technology, which is due to ship in the 64-bit version of its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system.
John Leyden, 27 Oct 2006

EU moots 'deep background' checks for racist-free border controls

Europe plans to avoid the routine discrimination against foreigners at border controls by using deep background checks of individual people to manage immigration. The EU hopes the plans will appease US doubts about the visa waivers it doles out almost indiscriminately to citizens of allied countries. The US approach, as demonstrated by the controversial PNR (passenger name records) stitch-up, demonstrates a desire to discriminate good immigrants from bad immigrants more effectively using detailed intelligence reports. The EU solution to this problem was presented to delegates of the Biometrics 2006 conference last week and bears some relation to border controls systems already implemented in the United Arab Emirates, Israel and along the Chinese border with Hong Kong, which gained its supposed predilection for biometric identification when it had identity cards foisted on its people by the colonial British administration in the 1940s. The Europeans are aware of the negative connotations, which is why their solution to the problem, the Trusted Traveller Programme, was recently renamed the Registered Traveller Programme. The implication of the old name was that European border controls intend to become more suspicious of people who are not fully paid up members of the omniscient state, which it does. It is, however, being presented as a means of avoiding discrimination against people coming in and out of Europe merely on the basis of their country of origin or the colour of their skin. Why tag nationality? A convincing argument along these lines was presented by Dr Frank Paul, head of large-scale computer systems at the European Commission's directorate of Justice, Freedom and Security, and the man responsible for implementing the biometric immigration systems across the continent. Europeans cannot say that all people from these countries are security risks, said Paul. Not only is this bigoted, but clearly impractical for airport security. "Why tag nationality," said Paul, "It's an abstract identity [that] has no relation to personal risk. So we'll have to do specific background checks on individuals." The Commission is conducting a feasibility study for this "person-centric approach" to immigration, which it will report next June. It is presenting this as a way of "facilitating" the travel of those people the state can trust without any shadow of a doubt. This will mean a two-speed Europe for all those people coming in and out of the continent's ports of entry - those people who have immaculate personal histories, sparkling curriculum vitae, will breeze through immigration via fast-track, biometric immigration gates. The background checks would be even more detailed than those provided to US officials in the US-VISIT biometric immigration programme. Though the details of how these checks will be assembled has not been decided, the approach being developed in Europe, as elsewhere, is one of data shared between immigration, police, intelligence and civil databases. European law doesn't allow this sort of routine data-sharing to happen right now, but the various biometric systems being built in Brussels are being designed with a common database. These systems will be designed so they are virtually separate - with Chinese walls, if you like. Should the legislation change, it would be easy for the databases to be merged to create a broader profile of people on the system. The basis of this is the Biometric Management System, the contract for which is being awarded any day now. This is where the fingerprints belonging to the subjects of the European civil and immigration intelligence system will be stored. Hanging off this will be the systems underpinning a variety of projects under differing stages of technological and legislative development, but which are typically begun before they are approved in the European Parliament and Council: the Visa Information System (VIS), the Eurodac database of asylum seekers, the Shengen Information System II for intra-European travel and a system that is as yet just an idea, the European criminal fingerprint database. These plans might bring Europe into closer alignment with US ideas of intelligence gathering and lay the foundation for the global immigration database that is already being discussed by the US and its allies. But its inception will be interesting politically, as was demonstrated by the trouble over PNR. Who blows up the planes? PNR, Paul told conference delegates, demonstrated the different approaches the EU and US take to privacy. "The trust issue is a US issue because there are members of congress who say, 'who were the people trying to blow up the planes in the UK? Were they third country nationals? No, they were UK citizens, so under the visa waiver programme they could have gone to the US," he said. The Commission's idea of person-centric border controls would appease the US, but might not please data protection authorities, which have been dismayed by PNR and other US activities concerning European citizens' personal data. On the European side, the trust issue is that the US have, by EU standards, inadequate legislation to protect citizens from abuse of data held on them by the state. But the EU's data protection authorities have a tentative hold over the matter anyway - because as a security issue it is not an EU legal competence. And the future role that data protection authorities will play in this issue is uncertain. Troy Potter of the US Department of Homeland Security has set out to encourage the US' allies to agree legislation to enable their planned global immigration database, and told The Register last week that the US was prepared to do bilateral deals if the EU couldn't get its act together to share its immigration data. There is also a British example being used to promote this idea amongst the faithful in Brussels. The idea is what some people call "positive discrimination" in immigration: taking people who do not suffer discrimination and making their lives even easier at immigration. It's what John Reid, the British Home Secretary, is calling "a revolution in border control", necessary to discriminate between those people likely to commit another 7/7 terrorist attack and those likely to do lots of shopping in Harrods. ®
Mark Ballard, 27 Oct 2006
globalisation

Is Google legal?

AnalysisAnalysis A Belgian court ruled against Google’s use of newspaper stories in early September. If you believe Google, it did nothing wrong and failed to defend itself because it was unaware of the publishers’ lawsuit. If you believe the publishers, Google is lying and infringes copyright on a colossal scale. The parties return to court on 23rd November in a case that finds legal uncertainty looming over the world’s leading search engines.
Struan Robertson, 27 Oct 2006
fingers pointing at man

Red Hat promises to keep charging customers double

Red Hat has struck out against Oracle's Linux support move by reassuring customers that it won't lower its prices.
Ashlee Vance, 27 Oct 2006

BBC abandons science

TVTV BBC TV's venerable science flagship, Horizon, has had a rough ride as it tries to gain a new audience. It's been accused of "dumbing down". That's nothing new - it's a criticism often leveled at it during its 42 year life.
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Oct 2006
hands waving dollar bills in the air

Takeover gossip boosts Marvell shares

The rumor mill helped Marvell buck a down day on the US market. Shares of the the chip maker jumped close to 5 per cent on speculation that it could be a takeover target via either TI or a leveraged buyout. "I've heard lots of things," BWS Financial analyst Hamed Khorsand told the AP. "I've heard there may be a leveraged buy-out, I've also heard that Texas Instruments may be interested in buying them. Any stock that has fallen as much as Marvell makes for an attractive takeout target, especially with its revenue growth." Marvell is well off its 52-week high of $36.84 per share. It ended trading on Friday up 4.5 per cent at $17.65. The buyout speculation, however, appears to be just that. A number of analyst comments floating around the internet back up the gossip, although we've yet to find a shred of real evidence that a deal is in the works. ®
Ashlee Vance, 27 Oct 2006