3rd > November > 2006 Archive
The bad news is raining thick and fast on Red Hat, the dominant Linux distro, what with Oracle last week seeking to undermine its server revenues, and Microsoft today seeking to undermine, its customer base, anointing Novell's SUSE as its Linux distro-in-waiting. Top executives from Microsoft and Novell convened in San Francisco today to proclaim a landmark deal that sees the companies improve interoperability between Windows and SUSE Enterprise Linux Server (SLES) on virtualization, Microsoft's Active Directory and Novell's eDirectory, and Microsoft Office and OpenOffice XML formats on the desktop. Microsoft will also promote SLES where customers pick Windows over Linux or decide to run Linux alongside Windows - a move clearly designed to exclude Red Hat from accounts. Microsoft sales staff will distribute 70,000 coupons for SLES. Furthermore, Microsoft will not prosecute developers and users of SLES over possible infringements of its intellectual property (IP) in SLES. A special Microsoft covenant will cover non-commercial developers and those contributing code to SLES. At today's conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made it clear that Novell is Microsoft's preferred Linux partner. "We want those customers who are coming to Windows and Linux to chose the Novell SUSE product line, and we are going to put our marketing behind that." Highlighting the importance of the IP covenant to SUSE customers and developers, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said: "Novell is the only company in our industry that is able to provide customers with the code to run Linux, the service and support and also the patent covenant from Microsoft." IP protection is unlikely to be the only factor in the minds of Windows customers when picking Linux, but will be a big plus that pushes them towards SUSE and pulls them away from Red Hat. "As of today, Novell is the only Linux vendor whose tackling interoperability, patent and the other issue that are really important to our customers," Ballmer said. Faustian pact Ron Hovsepian, Novell's CEO, apparently called on Microsoft in April by first contacting Microsoft COO Kevin Turner. The price of his Faustian pact? Novell pays an undisclosed royalty to Microsoft amount based on a percentage of revenues until at least 2012 - the deal's expected lifespan. Financial details were not revealed although Hovsepian said Microsoft is putting an "impressive" amount of its own money into the deal. Ballmer sees "upside" for both businesses. He sidestepped the question of whether Microsoft would consider a similar deal with Red Hat. He said Microsoft had been in discussion with "a number of players in the industry", but "Ron called and had some ideas about what he wanted to with mixed [open and "proprietary"] source." Hovsepian's thinking "dovetails with what we're thinking about," Ballmer said. The deal will no doubt be welcomed by many for helping open source because it protects developers from the possibility of IP litigation at the hands of Microsoft. Equally, it will dismay many Open Source advocates: Novell is open to the charge that it is protecting its own interests rather than working with others to safeguard the community as a whole from prosecution by big-name IP holders like Microsoft. With a few exceptions, Microsoft these days wants to be everyone's friends. Red Hat is one of those few exceptions, so for Microsoft the deal with makes perfect sense if only to help out my enemy's enemy. Novell may be a long-time enemy, but new-time enemy Red Hat presents a much more formidable threat. For Novell, today's deal is quite the turn-around. Microsoft was an unhealthy obsession for Ray Noorda, Novell's longstanding CEO, who frittered hundreds of millions on buying WordPerfect, in a fruitless attempt to take the fight to the company to the desktops. Novell's glory days are long gone, and its new new thing, basing a Linux business around SuSE, acquired in 2003, has not taken wing. It would not surprise us if Microsoft is better than Novell at selling SUSE software. ®
Totalitarian regimes teach us important lessons about the consequences of letting nosy state authorities use surveillance to keep their people in check, delegates were told at the Data Protection and Privacy Commissioner's conference in London yesterday. Stalinist Russia and the former German Democratic Republic, which suffered a stifling life under the surveillance of the Stasi secret police, were drawn on for examples to ignite the imaginations of people who remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, but might not be vigilant enough to spot where the surveillance state might be heading. "What happened to those countries could happen here," warned Dr Benjamin Goold, lecturer in law and criminology at the University of Oxford, noting how totalitarianism has a habit of creeping up on people. "We may end up with many of the negative effects if we continue down the path that pervasive surveillance seems to be on," he said. Democratic, constitutional states are no guarantee against totalitarian power, said Hans Altendorf, director of the Federal Office for the Records of the National Security Services of the former German Democratic Republic. People have to be vigilant against the state, he said: "I hope the experience of the surveillance states will not be without significance for the present. We must call on the bitter lessons of the past." Their stories tell us what it's like to live in a state where there is no privacy, delegates were told. Peter Schaar, Germany's data protection commissioner, reminded the audience that after the Berlin Wall came down people discovered that their spouses, parents and friends had been spying on them on behalf of the state. "We can only speculate how regimes in the past could have been, had they had the technology that's available to us today," said Richard Thomas, the UK's Information Commissioner. Goold said that in the GDR, people didn't feel able to trust the state because the state didn't trust people, while people where also taught not to trust one another. "The pervasive use of surveillance undermines or destroys the inter-related trust relationships that are fundamental to the operation of the state," he said. There might be many laudable ideas behind surveillance, like fighting crime, he said. "But there's an important tipping point where the number of people under surveillance is greater than those who are not." "When the state moves from trying to govern to trying to control, that's one of the trademarks of the surveillance state," he added. Providing further detail of how totalitarian regimes work, Goold described how the database state is starting to operate today. Information stored in databases creates a data double, which is used as a proxy for a person's identity. But there is a dissonance, he said, between a person's idea of who they are, and the identity ascribed to them by their data double. So Amazon might suggest to your data double that it buy a particular book. But you might notice that it was on a subject you where interested in 10 years ago. So what if it didn't realise you were more interested nowadays in building Robot Wars combatants than disarming house alarms? But what happens when this data double controls the way you can interact with the state, and much else besides. "There's a danger the state develops an ID that exists separate to the individual that trumps the individual's idea of themselves," said Goold. This distinction was a characteristic of totalitarian states, he said and likewise, "The marshalling of trivial details to create a picture of me that I don't endorse."®
BT Ireland is looking to woo SME customers away from Eircom with the launch of new all-in-one telecoms packages. The firm said on Thursday it was aiming to "shake up" the indigenous telecoms market by re-launching its Business Enterprise division in a bid to win further market share in the increasingly important SME sector. The division is headed up by managing director Anne O'Leary, who was formerly BT Ireland's director of major business, and has recruited 50 new employees over the past six months as part of a new growth strategy. To coincide with the re-launch of its Business Enterprise division, BT Ireland announced a new inclusive communications package known as the BT Business One Plan. This offers broadband, line rental, and a bundle of landline and mobile calls to Ireland and Britain from €79.99 a month (excluding VAT). BT's new package has been launched on the same day that thousands of Smart Telecom customers are due to be cut off unless they have found a new telecoms provider. Speaking to the Irish Examiner earlier this week, the Consumer Association of Ireland's chief executive, Dermott Jewell, warned Smart's customers to shop around for the best deals from Ireland's 19 home phone companies, rather than simply opting to return to the country's biggest telecoms operator Eircom. According to a study of over 550 businesses in Ireland conducted by Millward-Brown IMS on behalf of ComReg in May and June, over 40 per cent of business customers have switched telecoms service provider in the past, with almost 20 per cent switching in the past 12 months. However, almost half of those who previously switched fixed-line supplier later went back to their original provider. "Our research shows that SMEs are concerned about their growing communications costs, especially calls from landlines to mobiles, which can make up as much as 70 per cent of their phone bill," said O'Leary at BT. Two separate new packages are available to customers, both of which have a number of different options within them. Under the 1Mb broadband plan, customers receive 200 minutes of landline calls to Irish and UK mobile numbers; 1,000 minutes of local, national and British landline calls; plus line rental, for €79.99 per month. For €129.99, subscribers can get a further 300 mobile minutes and 1000 landline minutes, while opting for the €234.99 per month option means customers get broadband, line rental, 1,000 landline to mobile minutes and 3,000 landline to landline minutes. Under the 3Mb broadband plan SMEs can get 200 minutes of landline calls to Irish and UK mobile numbers; 1,000 landline to local, national and British landline minutes, and line rental, for €94.99. For €144.99 subscribers can get a further 300 mobile minutes and 1,000 landline minutes. Opting for the €234.99 per month option means customers get broadband, line rental, 1,000 landline to mobile minutes and 3,000 landline to landline minutes. Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheal Martin welcomed the launch of the package saying that it was positive news for Irish SMEs whose focus is on controlling costs while increasing productivity and efficiency. Copyright © 2006, ENN
Tony Blair is set to deliver a speech in Oxford today calling for Brits to "stand up for science", in a bid to make scientific careers more attractive to young people. He says although kids are interested in science, they only see it as leading to a career as a boffin, rather than as a way into corporate life. He will point to the increases in funding for science since Labour took office as evidence of his government's commitment to the disciplines, the BBC reports. He will also reiterate that a strong science base is fundamental to the economic success of the country. The speech is just one in a series outlining the Blair-vision of the future. He told The Guardian: "We've got to understand the importance of science to the future of the economy and to the future of society. In my view, for the next generation, development of science is as important as economic stability for future prosperity." He said failure to engage in rational debate was behind scientists being blamed for the BSE crisis, and contributed to the scare over the MMR vaccine. Having a scientifically literate population would be vital, he explained, for the public to understand and debate complex issues such as genetic modification. His remarks will inevitably attract criticism, set as they are against a background of falling numbers of science students, closing science departments, and a dearth of good science teachers. Speaking to the BBC, Liberal Democrat science spokesman Evan Harris summed up the situation, as he sees it: "An A-grade on funding has been thrown away by the prime minister by the squeeze on university science departments, causing several to close. A crisis in science teacher recruitment has led to a dearth of good applicants taking hard science at A-level and at university, reinforcing the shortage of good graduates to teach in schools." ®
The couples among you who feel you are not quite ready for the responsibility of children should pop down to Boots the chemist where they have a novel suggestion for how to avoid unwanted pregnancies: We can only assume that Sarah Jessica Parker's fragrance acts as a sort of priapic male repellent - you slap some on and your other half immediately loses wood and pushes off down the pub. This, of course, leaves you plenty of time to enjoy the solo delights of petting the beaver with copious amounts of Boots lube jelly. Lovely. ® Bootnote Thanks to Duncan Thomas for the tip-off.
World chip sales hit $21.4bn in September, up 4.2 per cent on August's total and 9.3 per cent on September 2005's tally, the US-based Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) said yesterday. The month's sales brought the quarterly total to $64.1bn.
The UK will set itself up as an online gambling haven but will extradite executives to the US if asked, according to Sports Minister Richard Caborn. The US effectively banned online gambling with a new law earlier this year, and Caborn and Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell outlined plans to welcome internet gambling companies to the UK and regulate them. Jowell criticised the US's stance, saying the UK will not follow suit. "We do not support the approach the United States has taken," she said. "The enormous risk of prohibition is that it forces the industry underground." Making unfavourable comparisons to the US's experience with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, Jowell said the UK would instead regulate the industry. She said outlawing it risked driving online betting consumers into criminal hands. The politicians were speaking at a summit of international delegates who agreed a framework to regulate the industry, agreeing protection for gambling addicts and plans to stop underage gambling. The Department of Justice in the US had long considered the 1961 Wire Act to outlaw all internet gambling, but a new law, which was rushed through under cover of a port security act, made it illegal for financial institutions to process payments to gambling sites. The impact on UK-listed gaming companies was severe. Share prices nosedived and Sportingbet sold its US business for $1, claiming that it released the company from $27m of liabilities. Speculation has mounted in recent days that 888 and PartyGaming would merge, and Ladbrokes has also been linked to a bid for 888. Two British senior executives of online gaming companies had been arrested in the US prior to the passing of the new law. Though Peter Dicks of Sportingbet was released, David Carruthers from BetonSports still awaits trial. Caborn said despite attempts to attract further business to the US, the UK would still respect extradition requests from the US in relation to online gambling. "People have to abide by the laws of particular countries," he said. "We will not acknowledge people who operate illegally." The US was said by industry sources to account for at least half of the revenues earned by online gambling worldwide. $6.7bn of the $30bn spent every year is spent in Europe, according to UK government figures. Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
Nintendo cocked a snook at Sony yesterday by announcing it will ship 4m Wii consoles around the world from the machine's US launch on 19 November to the end of the year.
Those among you concerned that your lovingly-crafted software may be vulnerable to malicious attack are advised to get straight down to McAfee's Free Tools page where you can avail yourselves of Hacme Travel 1.0: We're not entirely sure just how you get a bugger to overflow, and readers' suggestions on the matter are most certainly not welcome. ® Bootnote Ta very much to Arnie Owen for alerting us to the risks posed by bugger overflows.
NASA has confirmed plans to launch three Shuttle missions next year as it continues preparations for the final Shuttle launch of 2006. It looks like it is finally back to business as usual at NASA because, for the first time since the tragic loss of the Shuttle Columbia, the agency's launch announcements have not been accompanied by huge debate over the safety of spaceflight. Next year will see Atlantis take to the skies twice - with provisional launch dates of 16 March and 7 September. Meanwhile, Endeavour is scheduled to take off on 28 June. Discovery will not fly in 2007, but NASA's preparations to send the craft into space this year are gathering momentum. On Tuesday this week Discovery was rolled out of the Orbiter Processing Facility, where it was checked over and made safe after its previous flight, and into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). In the VAB, technicians started the process of attaching the fuel tanks and boosters. On Thursday morning, the so-called hard-mate was completed, meaning the external fuel tank is permanently attached to the shuttle. Next on Discovery's to-do list is the 4.2 mile journey from the VAB to the launch pad. This is scheduled for 7am on 7 November, a month ahead of the earliest possible launch date. The mission, STS 116, will see NASA's astronauts re-wire the International Space Station on two spacewalks so it can switch from its "temporary" generator to its newly installed solar-array. ®
CommentComment At IBM's recent Information on Demand conference (which was excellent, incidentally) the company presented its view of master data management (MDM). I am glad to say that this has advanced significantly since its Barcelona conference in May and the company has now recognised that you need to take a flexible approach to MDM.
The MOD has finally come clean about the car-molesting radar installation in Norfolk which made merry with passing motorists' electronics, the Evening Standard reports. Back in February, we reported that Trimingham Radar Station, on the coast near Cromer, was apparently provoking a range of alarming symptoms, including "engine and light failures and wildly fluctuating speedometers". Local garage owner Neil Crayford - a former RAF radar operator - said around 30 people had reported problems, and added he himself had been affected when "one night his own car's headlights and dashboard cut out for a few seconds as he drove past the dome in convoy with a colleague, who suffered the same fate". Mum of two Kerrie Maydew, 39, told the Daily Mail how her Nissan Almera had been targeted while on the school run when she "saw her dashboard instruments die". By the time she reached the local garage, "the electric windows and indicators had also failed". She then had to shell out £300 for a new main fuse box, and admitted she was "frightened to turn off the ignition in case the car packed in all together". At the time, an MOD spokeswoman said: "We are aware of claims that the remote radar head may be interfering with car immobilisers and we are investigating. There are other users outside the military that operate on the same frequency as the radar, but there is a possibility we could be causing some problems with cars." And so it turned out to be. A probe into the Type 93 radar showed it was "'out of alignment" for three months from November 2005. Specifically, "unserviceable phase shifters and drop in wave guide air pressure" were fingered at the cause. Defence expert Jonathan Levy explained to the Standard: "The phase shifters control the frequency of the radar. When this changed it could have moved the frequency close to the immobilisers of cars. The effect would be like disrupting a circuit by putting a magnet near it. "The wave guide air pressure refers to the focus of the signal going out. Most people know this as the beam sweeping round on a radar screen. Normally the radar would cover everything just over the horizon but it could have been hitting objects on the ground as well." The MoD confirmed it would "now consider outstanding compensation claims", although locals aren't certain their electronic woes are behind them. Neil Crayford said: "We have had a Nissan Terrano in here three or four times in the past week with the same sort of problems - dials going haywire and blacking out, which we had to re-set. "It was fairly obvious that something was wrong with the radar first time around. But it's very odd it is happening again when they say it has all been cleared up." An MOD spokesman asserted: "There is no known recurrence of the problems experienced last year." ®
Presumably having satisfied itself Hong Kong-based online games hardware retailer Lik-Sang.com is now safely out of the way, Sony has said the PS3 will go on sale in the territory on 17 November. Taiwan will get the next-generation console on the same day too.
Your organisation has a computer and internet use policy. Fine. It's been reviewed by corporate counsel, approved by senior management, and implemented over the years. The policy is comprehensive - it includes policies on expectations of privacy, employee monitoring, and the ownership of corporate electronic assets.
Microsoft has backed down to fierce criticism over proposed licensing terms for Windows Vista to allow users to uninstall the forthcoming operating system and install it on another PC. Previously the software giant was only going to permit one re-install before obliging users to re-purchase the operating system, if they wanted it to function properly. Terms regarding the license-to-device assignment of the retail versions of the OS (including Home Basic, Home Premium, Business and Ultimate) have been revised to state: "You may uninstall the software and install it on another device for your use. You may not do so to share this license between devices." News of the rethink came in a posting on the Windows Vista blog by product manager Nick White who explains that the software giant has come to realise that the original terms, geared to fighting piracy, were restrictive to the point that they might alienate hardware enthusiasts. "Our intention behind the original terms was genuinely geared toward combating piracy; however, it’s become clear to us that those original terms were perceived as adversely affecting an important group of customers: PC and hardware enthusiasts," White writes. "You who comprise the enthusiast market are vital to us for several reasons, not least of all because of the support you’ve provided us throughout the development of Windows Vista. We respect the time and expense you go to in customizing, building and rebuilding your hardware and we heard you that the previous terms were seen as an impediment to that - it’s for that reason we’ve made this change." In other Vista-related news, Microsoft has set 30 November as the release date for Vista (and Office 2007) to business users. The OS is due to become available to consumers on 30 January 2007. ®
The World Health Organisation has warned that there is no guarantee that a pandemic strain of the H5N1 virus will be less deadly to people. The report, published this week, contains the findings of a meeting of flu experts held last month. The method of change will determine how deadly the virus is, the report says. If the virus changes by exchanging genes with a human flu virus, a process called reassortment, a pandemic might not be too deadly. However, straightforward adaptive mutation would leave the virulence of the disease unchanged, the scientists warned. It also cautioned against regarding the anti-viral drug Tamiflu as a magic bullet, highlighting that some H5N1 viruses seem to already be naturally resistant to the effects of the drug. The report comes less than two weeks after the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in the UK issued a warning about the possible environmental effects of large scale use of Tamiflu. Dr Andrew Singer of the CEH said: "An antiviral drug has never been widely used before, so we need to determine what might happen. During a flu pandemic, millions of people will all take Tamiflu at the same time. Over just eight or nine weeks, massive amounts of the drug will be expelled in sewage and find its way into the rivers. It could have huge effects on the fish and other wildlife." A build up of the drug in rivers could cause the avian version of the virus to become resistant to it, which could lead to a new, resistant strain emerging in humans, Singer argues. He is calling for research into ways to safely break the anti-viral down once it is in the sewage system but before it reaches the public waterways. ®
Nvidia has updated its ForceWare 90 drivers package, it said yesterday. The company touted the new version's support for its PureVideo HD video-image processing system - essential, it said, for anyone keen to add an HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc drive to their PC. So far, PureVideo HD has been supported in pre-release beta drivers.
Episode 37Episode 37 It's early-ish morning and the Boss is stalking around the workplace on a mission. What that mission entails is anyone's guess but his stalking is purposeful, which means sooner or later he's going to end up here. The PFY and I know it's only a matter of time, but why rush into confrontation? I quietly lock the door of Mission Control, turn the lights out and fire up a quick game of FEAR against the PFY... Two hours later we're obliged to emerge due of the effects of the four cups of early morning coffee we downed. If we'd been thinking we'd have had a toilet installed in Mission Control ages ago, but the nearest we ever came to that was when the CEO brought his nephew's Archimedes in to have some software installed. In the PFY's defence what he installed was soft, just not exactly software... No sooner am I back than the Boss is in Mission Control ferreting around under tables and in cupboards. "Looking for something?" the PFY asks noticing the Boss crawling around under his desk. "No, no, I think I've found what I'm looking for," he says. "What's that then?" I ask. "This machine here," he says, pointing at an ancient desktop that the PFY uses as a footrest. "Yes." "What's it doing?" "It's a footrest," the PFY says. "And what's it used for?" "Resting my feet on?" the PFY sighs. "And when you've finished with it, what happens to it?" "You mean when it wears down to the ground?" I ask. "When it's no longer fit for use, what happens to it?" "It goes into the bin?" the PFY asks. "AH HAH!" the Boss shouts triumphantly. "So you DON'T ensure that the hard drive is erased or destroyed?" "It doesn't have a hard drive," the PFY says. "It's ancient." "Oh," the Boss says, slightly deflated. "So what do you do with your old machines then?" "We give them to schools," I lie. "...After first erasing drives with a bootable CD which kicks off an aggressive erase utility." Truth be known we sell them to the PFY's cousin who onsells them out of a car boot after "erasing" them with the latest pirated XP install, but we could do it properly if we wanted... "What about the rest of the company's machines?" "Each area is responsible for their own equipment disposals," the PFY says knowingly. "Just as I thought!" the Boss responds smugly, pulling a video tape out of his pocket and plugging it into our player. The video turns out to be a "news" item about corporate data being recovered from old hard drives. "Oh that," the PFY says dryly. "Has it been six months already?" "Six months?" the Boss asks. "Yeah," I respond. "Every six months or so on a slow news day they get a guy in a lab coat to buy a couple of machines off eBay and recover data off them and imply that it's some newly discovered threat to security." "But it IS real risk?" the Boss asks. "Only if you don't erase your disks properly" "And would each area in the company be erasing their data properly?" "They don't do anything properly..." the PFY replies. Quicker than you can say "we should have a company policy on this" the Boss has said: "We should have a company policy on this" to a number of people. ... "So what will happen is that everyone will ship their machines to you here," the Boss burbles. "You will erase them, then send them on for disposal." "But..." the PFY whimpers, echoing my own sentiments. "We replace a crapload of machines every year - we'll be inundated!" "I'm sure you'll cope," the Boss remarks dryly. ...three days later... "What's all this?!" the Boss asks as he navigates his way through the piles of old kit blocking up Mission Control. "It's all the replaced kit that you've said we're going to erase!" "Can't you store it in...the tape safe room?" the Boss suggests. "We filled that up yesterday," the PFY snaps. "So...I...was actually coming to see if you could install Service Pack 2 on my home laptop. I would do it from home but my dialup line is so slow that..." "You're kidding aren't you?" the PFY gasps. "I... No" "Here, I'll take care of this," I say to the PFY before he has a conniption, turning my attention to the Boss. "We've got no time so you'll have to do the install yourself. We're going to be spending most of the afternoon just clearing a path through to the tapes so that we can load the backup library." "Is it...complicated?" the Boss asks. "Nah, just boot your machine from this CD, say yes to the first question and yes when it asks you if you're sure." "And there's no other questions?" "Nope, it'll be off and running - takes a couple of hours." "Excellent!" the Boss burbles, wandering off happily. ... "So" I say to the PFY, "I seem to have accidentally mislaid that Auto-erasing boot CD of ours - where can it be?" "No idea," the PFY adds woodenly. "And we have such a lot of machines to get through. Should we do the responsible thing and call in a contractor to do the erasure for us." "Good idea," I respond. "You ring your cousin and I'll lock the door and fire up the FEAR server..." ... BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99
A judge in the northern city of Santander in Spain dismissed a case against an anonymous 48-year-old man who downloaded digital music from the net. Judge Paz Aldecoa of No. 3 Penal Court ruled that under Spanish law a person who downloads music for personal use can not be punished or branded a criminal. He called it "a practised behaviour where the aim is not to gain wealth but to obtain private copies". The ruling sent shockwaves through the music industry as the decision could be seen as allowing Spain's 16 million internet users to swap music without being punished. Spanish recording industry federation Promusicae says it will appeal against the decision. The state prosecutor's office and two music distribution associations had sought a two year sentence against the man, who downloaded songs and then allegedly offered them on a CD through email and chat rooms. However, there was no direct proof he made money from selling the CDs. Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopéz Aguilar says Spain is drafting a new law to abolish the existing right to private copies of material. Due to different regulatory regimes in Europe, the proceedings against downloaders and file sharers differ greatly in each country. However, most European judges tend to take a harder stance on file sharing. Twenty two people in Finland were fined €427,000 last week for illegally sharing movies, music, games and software, while courts in Sweden also fined two men who had downloaded movies and music for personal use. Over 100 students at Växjö University, southern Sweden, have been banned from using the institution's network in the past two years because they downloaded copyrighted material without permission in their apartments on the university campus. ®
Asus would been well-advised to check the brandname of its latest media centre PC system with a linguist before announcing the product to the world this week. According to Reg Hardware readers, Asus' Asteio brand means 'joke' in Greek.
Four "sexist and misogynist" urinals have been removed from a public toilet in Vienna and offered for sale on eBay, Reuters reports. The offending pissoirs - lovingly sculpted by local artist Rudolf Scheffel and installed in "toilet-bar Vienna", next to the National Opera - caused a bit of a rumpus during the run-up to the 1 October parliamentary elections when they were "used by political party supporters attending rallies nearby". Although the urinals had been in service for three years, this political exposure provoked women's groups to slam the offensive porcelain, which resulted in its removal. The seller promises: "Each urinal will, of course, be meticulously cleaned. The artist himself will sandblast it, brush the mouth's teeth, and give them a new varnish." Mick Jagger was unavailable for comment this morning. ®
Did you know you can buy a WMD on eBay? It's true. Right here. Those are rosary peas, seeds of the Crab's Eye weed, which is commonplace in Florida and known as ratti in India. It also contains the protein abrin, which is more toxic than ricin, another similar enzyme. Somehow mankind has muddled through, managing not to exterminate itself with rosary peas, which have been used in ornamental jewelry and ripped out of lawns by annoyed gardeners. That is, until the US-led war on terror, a war in which the incompetent concoct terror scenarios about weapons of mass destruction, scenarios which toss common sense and critical-thinking out the window. With GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow T-shirt on, it has been determined that this is done so that "readiness" may be practiced and the public convinced the tax dollars going to the Dept. of Homeland Security are well spent. By-lined FORT INDIANTOWN GAP (a dilapidated Pennsy US army post where Cuban refugees were once held and DD rode in an armored personnel carrier as a Boy Scout), the Lebanon Daily News reported a week or so ago: "With the early morning frost still coating the grass, the men raised their guns and slowly moved in. "Clad in white-and-blue HazMat suits, bulletproof vests and gas masks, the men split into three groups and waited for the signal. Then, with the sudden crash of battering rams smashing into doors, they sped into action. "The raid at the Gap was part of 'Exercise Wide Vigilance,' a bigger training simulation held yesterday by the South Central Pennsylvania Regional Counter-Terrorism Task . . . " And what was the terror plot that was being broken up? A lab said to be using rosary peas to make a weapon of mass destruction. "...Lebanon and Lancaster HazMat teams were also on hand to get a bit of practice dealing with a highly dangerous situation," reported the Lebanon newspaper. "According to Dr. David E. Marx, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton and the 'evil chemist' in yesterday’s scenario, the chemical being made in the [terror] lab was abrin, a close cousin of ricin and sarin, the latter of which was used in the bombing of a Tokyo subway in 1995. Abrin has no known antidote. Marx set up the faux lab to mirror what authorities could expect to find in a real lab. "'It’s as close as you can get without really doing it,' [Marx] said." "Terrorists planned to explode bombs at the two sites, sending the [abrin] into the air. Marx said that, according to his calculations and the size of the lab, enough of the chemical was made to kill 2,500 people." But abrin has never been used as a WMD. And it is not listed in the US military's blue book on chemical and biological warfare/terrorism, Medical Management of Biological Casualties. [NB, it is a statistic in an appendix of relative toxicities of natural poisons in the back of the book. But it is not handled as part of the threat spectrum with the other recognizable agents in the volume.] Capable of killing thousands of people, according to this clowning exercise, the rosary pea is more sensibly explained at this garden shop in Florida. Call the FBI! Summon the SWAT team! Get the emergency technicians and throw everyone's clothes into a burn bag! Without getting into the technical details, it's not possible to make rosary peas into a WMD. Technically speaking, it is possible to envision people being individually poisoned by abrin, if they were a target of a single assassination, or somehow mistakenly chewed and ate a couple rosary peas. Because of the latter, the FDA has been doing a small bit of work aimed at examining how to look for abrin in food. But the US government has gone well beyond this, constructing a public belief system in which demonic menace is said to lurk everywhere and where death by exotic means is easy to achieve. It's a system in which terror advisors and consultants simply make things up on a frequent basis. And they make such useless exercises up because it is a way in which to get paid by the government for aiding in alleged terror preparedness. "Yesterday’s exercise, the biggest of its kind in the region, was funded through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security" wrote the Lebanon newspaper. Readers of this blog may suspect that the addled concept of rosary peas as a WMD has filtered down from sources it has read of previously. Like the benighted chemical warfare recipes in the Afghan Manual of Jihad or Maxwell Hutchkinson's Poisoner's Handbook. And they're right! The Hutchkinson book, which has been responsible for so much trash belief re the capabilities of terrorists and their chemical dreams of mass death, does not disappoint. It furnishes the usual "wisdom" - wisdom in this case meaning the lack of it - on the subject. On abrin, from page 8, in a section entitled "precatory beans:" "Precatory bean plants may be purchased at nurseries nationwide. "Some years ago, a few very stupid people came up with the idea of using the attractive scarlet and sable beans for rosary beads... If your target is strongly religious, then these beads can easily be modified to kill." Hutchkinson continues with the advice to scarify the rosary peas so that the abrin might leak out and poison anyone who handles them. Since abrin is a protein, it can't be much of a contact poison, any more than you can eat a piece of meat by putting it on your skin, but Hutchkinson, of course, does not know this. He is more interested in poisoning the Pope. "As the abrin slowly kills your target, an interesting cycle will begin," he writes. "The worse your target gets, the more he will pray with his rosary beads, which will only make him worse... " "These items make wonderful presents for the religious target. We'd send one to the Pope, but he already has nineteen hundred years of Christian spoils to adorn himself with." So what is to be thought when a local government carries out a terror exercise in which the threat is based upon such wretched mythology? To paraphrase Hutchkinson, "Some days ago, a few very stupid people came up with the idea . . ." The abrin terror simulation and exercise was brought to you by the same people who furnished this one about two weeks ago. These are put together by an occupational safety consultancy known as Cocciardi and Associates, located in eastern Pennsylvania, a business which has been successful in selling to local governments. ® This article was originally published at Dick Destiny. 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.
Although famous for its direct sales model Dell has always sold a fair amount of kit through the channel - dealers and systems integrators. But not anymore. Dell will no longer discount bulk orders of Inspiron or Dimension machines. In fact it won't support any reseller who is selling to consumers.
London's Imperial College has opened a new incubator facility that will help its academic staff commercialise their research. Dubbed The Imperial BioIncubator, university authorities hope the centre will help develop the small companies that spin out of the institution. Based at Imperial's South Kensington campus, the Incubator will provide office space and labs for up to 15 start-ups. Imperial COO Martin Knight said although the college's scientists have a great deal of enthusiasm, they often don't have much commercial acumen, or business knowledge of how to take their ideas to a wider audience. The incubator, with its 12 wet laboratories, 16 private offices and suite of meeting rooms, is designed to provide both the research resources and business support needed. Advice and mentoring will continue to be provided by Imperial Innovations, which has so far handled the spinning out of eight companies from the university. Imperial Innovations CEO Susan Searle said she had no doubt the incubator would accelerate the development of the companies it housed. ®
Pond-dwelling crooks tried to trick users into visiting a website hosting Trojan keylogging malware via a spam campaign that claimed recipients had been fired. In a spoofed message purporting to come from the Dekalb Medical Center, workers at the US facility were told they were being laid off. The message - headed “Urgent – employment issue” - contained links to a site containing "career-counseling information" which actually pointed to a web site run by hackers. It's unclear whether other organisation were targeted by the attack, which preyed on workers' fears of losing their jobs in a bid to get them to respond to a message which (if written in less alarming terms) they'd likely ignore. After discovering the scam, which slipped through the organisation's small filters, Dekalb sysadmins implemented rules to prevent internal access to the malicious site promoted through the scam emails. Two PCs at Dekalb were infected by an unnamed Trojan keylogger as a result of the attack, Network World reports. ®
Microsoft's Linux moves It's been a weird couple of weeks for Linux. Last week we saw Larry Ellison's Oracle dive into the server business by offering to resell Red Hat server products for less than Red Hat itself sells them. This week we saw Microsoft get involved through a deal with arch rival Novell. Microsoft will work to improve interoperability between its products and Novell's SUSE Linux. As well as funding co-development of products, Microsoft has also promised not to sue developers for intellectual property infringements they might make while improving SUSE Enterprise Linux Server. An optimist would say Red Hat must be doing something right if Microsoft is attacking it. Who loves EULA? Reading software licenses is far too much fun for Friday afternoon so we blackmailed a bloke from Security Focus to do it for us. Scott Granneman has read the Vista licenses, and it wasn't pretty. Vista's licensing includes restrictions on benchmarking and the cheaper versions do not allow you to run them in virtual environments. And if you're installing the software on a device which subsequently needs a major hardware upgrade, you could be in for a world of pain. Go here to avoid the torture of reading the small print. Microsoft seems to have got the message - by the end of this week it was already backtracking on some bits of the license. Who runs the internet? These people... This week saw the first ever Internet Governance Forum in Greece. The start was overshadowed by the host government arresting a blogger, but things did improve. Among general uncertainty as to how it would work, this first meeting can be counted a success. It's early days of course, but the group does look like it might improve discussion of how, and who, should run the internet. For a UN meeting it was really quite friendly too. Ofcom neutral on net neutrality While we're talking internet governance, the Reg went along to Ofcom's annual lecture and heard what the boss makes of net neutrality. It's been a big row in the US, but Lord Currie described it as a confused debate. He said Ofcom would be staying well out of the row. CA's Sanjay Kumar goes to prison US accounting investigations continue to claim scalps. Computer Associates former chief executive Sanjay Kumar was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The judge said that although he was not a violent criminal his actions "did violence to the legitimate expectations of shareholders". Which is true, but 12 years is a long time for doing anything to someone's expectations. There are a long line of IT execs facing similar charges. YouTube sued by tube maker When Google bought YouTube many observers predicted a rash of lawsuits. But most people reckoned these cases would centre around copyright issues rather than actual tubes. But YouTube is being sued by tube manufacturer UTube. The company is fed up of bleedin' kids sending it happy slapping videos. Of course, the predicted lawsuits from copyright owners have been slower to appear – mainly because YouTube has been quick to do deals – offering companies shares in exchange for rights. But also because the film and TV world seems to have woken up to the fact that letting lots of people watching your promotion clips might even be a good idea. Home Secretary wants his ejector seat and he wants it now We at the Reg always welcome politicians getting involved in technology. Mainly, admittedly, because they talk such a lot of rubbish. And we've been missing the rants of ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett, so it's nice that the current Home Secretary John Reid is getting involved. This week the wee Glasgow hard man called on the technology industry to get cracking making better surveillance kit to keep us all safe – something along the lines of the Dambusters seems to be Reid's big idea. It also emerged this week that Reid's claimed number of people charged and convicted for terrorism offences is not nearly as high as he would have us believe. Reid claimed 367 people were charged for terror offences between 2001 and 2006. In fact, a brief look at the numbers shows that despite close to 1,000 arrests only some 25 people were actually convicted under the Terrorism Act of 2000. Here's the full maths lesson for the Home Office. While we're looking at government stuff, we learnt a little more about government plans to put fingerprints on passports this week Older people have experience? Like, wow! A report out this week finds older IT staff just as capable of adapting to change as their younger colleagues. Security means locking doors Level 3, and data centres alike, is meant to provide a entirely safe environment for keeping vital equipment in. So red faces all round this week with news that thieves got in and stole a load of live equipment. The lights went out at 6.30am when someone got in and helped themselves to live router cards. And it's not the first one either – two weeks ago Easynet was hit by a very similar theft. Usually such companies are happy to talk – to apologise to their customers, to warn other people who might be a victim, and so that anyone who's approached by a dodgy geezer with a Transit full of kit will call the police rather than restock their server room - but Level 3 was not so keen. Security round-up In other, non-robbery, news, if you've heard about the latest Windows firewall hole don't worry too much. Seen a lot more spam in the last few weeks? Here's why there's more junk email around. And we've got an update on the security bun-fight over Windows Vista. Microsoft's refusal to let security firms get into the kernel has already been cracked. Microsoft isn't happy and promises to fix what it considers a bug. Get gaming at the Science Museum And finally, we know the real reason you got into the IT industry was to play computer games. If you want to revisit those early games that, wrongly, set you on this career path get down to the Science Museum in South Kensington. We sent a reporter down to check out the exhibition - PacMan on a ten foot screen, apparently... That's it from us. Thanks for reading and enjoy the weekend. ®
Current network access control (NAC) technologies are not persistent enough, a security vendor has warned.
We really are getting worried about the Lads from Lagos. All of the joie de vivre seems to have gone from their previously entertaining efforts to part fools from their money: ----- Dear Sir/Madam I am Mrs. Minrada Subaja Rahul. I have a project I would like to execute with you. Kindly get back to me with your full details. Remain Blessed. Minrada Subaja Rahul Well, as spotter Oscar the Prophet notes: "Yeah, like I going to write back with my bank account number for that come on." Quite so. We demand the immediate return of the widow of the late Charles Taylor who, following her hubby's demise in a ghostly road crash, made a dramatic escape to Sierra Leone bearing a suitcase packed with gold bars. Come on lads, sort yourselves out...®
Also in this week's column: Why do I have an extreme fear of needles? Does TV watching in childhood trigger autism? Is it true that fewer boy babies are born in hard times? Asked by Jack O'Connor of Dublin, Ireland The sex ratio of boy and girl births is affected by severe stressors such as earthquakes, tsunamis, environmental toxin contamination, political and social upheavals, and even serious downturns in the economy. When society gets such a severe shock, the number of boy births falls and the number of girl births rises. A reduced number of boys are conceived and a higher number of boys die before birth. The theory behind this is that natural selection favours female births when times are hard because, on average, females have a better chance of mating successfully than males. This principle seems to be followed in animals. In 2003, evidence emerged that the same principle applies to humans. In an article in Human Reproduction that year, Dr Ralph Catalano, professor of public health at the University of California, Berkeley, presented an examination of birth records from Germany. Birth records reveal that in 1991, immediately following German reunification, the ratio of boys to girls in the former East Germany dropped to its lowest point since 1946, but then bounced back a year later. In the rest of Germany, where conditions were more stable, the boy/girl ration was unaffected. In the same journal in September 2006, Dr Catalano has shown that the same odd occurrence happened in New York City after 9/11. The sex ratio of male births in New York City dropped in the period 1 January to 28 January 2002. In addition, Dr Catalano has suggested that a male's life expectancy is affected by whether or not he was born in stressful times. In the American Journal of Human Biology (e-published 12 October 2006), Dr Catalano and colleague Dr T Bruckner evaluate two rival theories accounting for this reduced male fetal morbidity. The first is the "damaged cohort" theory. This theory holds that a mother's response to the shocks of stressful times can trigger "stress reactivity" in the fetus and thereby shorten the lifespan of males in utero. The second is the "culled cohort" theory. This theory holds that shocks of stressful times induce spontaneous abortions of frail male fetuses, but hardy male fetuses survive. Drs Catalano and Bruckner examine data from several northern European nations and conclude that there is more support for the "culled cohort" theory. 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 do I have an extreme fear of needles? Is it true that fewer boy babies are born in hard times? Does TV watching in childhood trigger autism? Autism is at epidemic levels. Authorities point out that 30 years ago estimates were that one in 2,500 children suffered from autism. Now the figure is one in 166. Could we be diagnosing autism differently today? Or is something else really happening? Researchers at Cornell University suggest a connection between early childhood television viewing and the onset of autism. In fact, they argue that "early childhood television viewing could be an environmental trigger for the onset of autism". Economist Dr Michael Waldman and colleagues from Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management claim that children from rainy counties in the US watch more television. When autism rates are compared between rainy and drier counties, the relationship between high precipitation and levels of autism is positive. The Cornell team also found that those counties that had earlier access to cable TV (in the 1970s and 1980s) also have higher diagnosis rates of autism. The team admits that their analysis is "not definitive" and more research needs to be done. But before jumping to their causal conclusion, there is another factor to consider. Those with earlier access to cable TV also are more affluent and probably more status-conscious. Parents from such status-conscious communities may feel that having a child diagnosed with autism is better socially than having them diagnosed as mentally retarded. Their doctors know this and try to please them with the autism, not mental retardation, diagnosis. 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: Does TV watching in childhood trigger autism? Is it true that fewer boy babies are born in hard times? Why do I have an extreme fear of needles? Asked by Nicole Rothman of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Belonephobia is the extreme fear of needles. If you have this, you fear getting medications via injections, vaccinations, even testing your blood. You are probably terrified of the prospect of having surgery performed on you. You may even have great difficulty going to the dentist because of what the dentist may do to your teeth and gums with needles. Belonephobia is surprisingly common. Up to 10 per cent of people suffer from some degree of belonephobia. This is according to Dr Louisa Yim, a general practitioner from Wantirna, Victoria, Australia. Dr Yim also writes in the Australian Family Physician (August 2006) of a skin cancer patient who needed minor surgery, but the patient was belonephobic and so avoided getting the skin cancer removed. The skin cancer doubled in size. Pregnancy poses great problems for a belonephobic since so many antepartum, intrapartum, and postpartum medical procedures involve needles. This is according to a team of five researchers from the School of Nursing at Western Michigan University led by Dr K Searing. They describe in the Journal of Obsteric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing (September-October 2006) the case of a 21-year-old woman who faced great difficulties dealing with both her pregnancy and her belonephobia. One of the more interesting theories as to why people develop belonephobia was put forward by Dr J G Hamilton of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Keele in Staffordshire, UK. Dr Hamilton writes in the Journal of Family Practice (August 1995) that the cause of belonephobia "lies in an inherited vasovagal reflex of shock, triggered by needle puncture. Those who inherit this reflex often learn to fear needles through successive needle exposure". Thus, belonephobia is both inherited and learned. Belonephobia often appears with both dental phobia and blood phobia (hematophobia). Belonephobia is from the Greek word "belone" which means "needle" - makes sense. The point's been made. Interesting facts Belonephobics face difficulties in many realms of life. For example, while driving and when stopped for suspected DUI, a driver may have to undergo a blood test. According to Drs M M Stark and N Brener of the Forensic Medicine Unit at the St George Hospital Medical School in London, writing in the Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine (March, 2000), courts are unlikely to allow belonephobia as legal grounds for refusing the blood test. Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you can do it with an iPod, you can do it with a music phone. Orange is pitching a stylish set of Bluetooth speakers at phone owners who want to be able to hear the music on their handsets out loud and not just through earphones. The set's made by speaker specialist Acoustic Energy, and it's easy to pair up your phone and begin playing. There's a regular mic socket round the back so you can still hook up an iPod or a CD player. The speakers go on sale this month for £90. ®
LogoWatchLogoWatch Ok, it's not a full-blown Powerpoint-driven attack of rebranding madness, but UK charity The Meningitis Trust has clearly been exposed to at least an quick burst of whalesong. Back in September, trust big cheese Philip Kirby was driven by his company's new brand frontage paradigm to explain: Our supporters have told us that we are protective, strong, caring, supportive, sensitive and enabling, and these values are reflected in the charity's new identity. The warm feather icon is a powerful symbol for the qualities we stand for, coupled with our strapline commitment to "Rebuilding Shattered Lives". With its strong spine the feather expresses each of our core values and our vibrant new colour reflects the brightening effect we hope to have on people's lives. Not bad, but to see how it's really done, try the Strategy Boutique sketch on our new RTFM audio discharge. In the meantime, we'd like to wholeheartedly agree with the anonymous Reading reader who spotted this minor outbreak of madness that The Meningitis Trust is "a bloody good cause". It is indeed, and there are details on how to make a donation here. ®
PreviewPreview The first iPod Shuffle was something of a surprise. Apple had already said it didn't think too much of Flash-based, low-capacity players, though that's just what the Shuffle was. It didn't even have a screen, unlike so many of its rivals, forcing many an observer to wonder who'd buy the thing. People did though, and the compact player proved remarkably popular...
Apple has followed its initial Product Red 4GB iPod Nano with a second model that offers twice the song-storage capacity of the first one. The upshot: buyers now have two 8GB colours to choose from: black and red.
It's a bloody funny movie, but Spinal Tap has a lot to answer for, specifically all that consumer electronics kit that attempts to appear cooler than it is by including a volume knob that goes up to 11, Tufnel-fashion. The latest in this ignominious list is DAB specialist Pure's Marshall Edition Evoke-1XT digital radio, modelled upon the ubiquitous rawk guitar amp, complete with black metal speaker grille and corner pads. Me, I'd rather connect a regular DAB to a real Marshall and freak the neighbours, but if you prefer the amp-look radio, it's yours for £100. ®
LettersLetters There was some serious news this week, but before we get to that, we must return to the stunning, nay, shocking news that Vista has been further delayed. By 18,000 years:
Seventeen members of an alleged international phishing and carding gang have been arrested in the US and Eastern Europe following an FBI investigation. Eastern European fraudsters are alleged to have run a series of identity theft scams targeting customers of major financial institutions between August and October 2004. These fraudsters sold on the personal details of marks to their US accomplices, who plundered compromised bank accounts and traded in stolen credit card information. The arrests in Poland and the US came as part of an ongoing FBI investigation code-named Operation Cardkeeper. FBI investigators worked with local police in Poland and Romania to investigate the trade of stolen credit card information online, obtained through various phishing scams. The alleged ringleader of the gang, a Pole called Mateusz Rymski (AKA Blindroot), is suspected of hacking into the systems of third party firms and renting out their web space to other fraudsters. So far four arrests have been made in the US and 13 in Poland as part of the investigation. Wired reports that three of the four US suspects were caught with cards and MSR-206 machines used to encode data onto blank credit cards. One was caught trying to flush counterfeit credit cards down the toilet. Investigators have identified tens of thousands of compromised credit card numbers and thousands of purloined identities in the course of the investigation. The extent of fraudulent losses caused by the gang remains unclear. Further arrests in the US and Romania, where three search warrants were executed, are expected to follow. The Romanians are suspected of creating the key-logging Trojan software used in the scam. ®
The persistent delusions of senior Republicans in Congress and the President have led to the leaking of sensitive documents on nuclear weapons via the Web, the New York Times reports. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (Republican, Michigan), and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (Republican, Kansas) were instrumental in establishing a Web archive called the "Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal". It was Hoekstra's, Roberts's, and apparently the President's, hope that by disseminating documents recovered from Iraq, some right-wing amateur researcher might eventually find a flaky shred of evidence suggesting that Saddam's regime had been involved in banned weapons production, which could then be trumpeted to the press. The problem with clinging to vain hopes in this way is that a number of the documents (since removed) were believed to be far too graphic in describing nuclear weapons technology to be suitable for public exhibition. One researcher quoted in the Times article characterised some of the portal's content as a nuclear weapons "cookbook". It appears that European researchers had become alarmed by the site's content, and tipped off the US media in hopes of attracting the publicity needed to initiate sensible action, which occurred yesterday with the site being taken off line for a proper review of its materials. Although the information might have proved useful to Axis of Evil cast members Iran and North Korea, a Hoekstra spokesman told the Times that the matter "didn’t sound like a big deal," and said that his office was "a little surprised when they pulled the plug." ®
Skype, the popular VoIP service, has been having technical difficulties with its SkypeIn service which enables Skype users to have a real phone number and receive normal phone calls through their Skype service. Users report that only a small proportion of calls to UK numbers are getting through, with voice mail failing and some users not receiving any calls at all. The problem seems to have surfaced in the middle of October, but has been getting steadily worse since, and is now so bad that Skype is mailing those who complain to apologise and promise compensation. But with business customers reporting lost clients, and personal users missing out on contacts, it seems unlikely that Skype will be able to satisfy many of the affected users. Only the SkypeIn service appears to be experiencing problems. SkypeIn allows incoming calls from the normal phone network which are routed to a Skype account, or it would do if it was working. SkypeOut, the service which allows Skype users to dial normal numbers, uses infrastructure supplied by BT and is working fine, and Skype-to-Skype calls are also connecting without any problems. In theory, any call experiencing problems connecting to a Skype account should instead be routed to the voice mail service. But some customers report that all their incoming calls have been routed to voice mail, regardless of their availability, while others have no voice mail functionality at all. Many users are realising that an unreliable phone service can be worse than no phone service at all, as callers receiving an unobtainable signal may well assume the worst. We tried hard to get a comment from Skype about this problem, but despite promises they've been unable to provide us any further information. We hope this is because all the engineers who understand the problem are busy fixing it, but telephony customers are notoriously fickle and, unless the problems are fixed soon, Skype may well find itself with no calls to route. ®
Why carry a huge, heavy personal video player when you can wrap one around your wrist? That's what Aigo want to know, and its ultra-light F029 video player is here at last to help you answer. It's not much good for telling the time, but hopefully you'll be so engrossed squinting at episodes of Torchwood you won't care anyway.
InterviewInterview Few people know the music industry better than Peter Jenner. Pink Floyd's first manager, who subsequently managed Syd Barrett's solo career, Jenner has also looked after T.Rex, The Clash, Ian Dury, Disposable Heroes and Billy Bragg - who he manages today. He's also secretary general of the International Music Managers Forum.
Cryoserver Ltd, the UK-headquartered email archiver, is in liquidation (See note, below*) The company was today clearing out of its London offices.
A computer virus that infected computers connecting the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) US-VISIT border screening system last year first passed through the backbone network of the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement bureau, according to documents obtained by Wired, following a year long legal fight. The papers - obtained under the Freedom of Information Act - highlight the DHS's ineffective response to the attack. Rather than protecting 1,300 US-VISIT workstations as a priority, it concentrated on patching desktop computers. The DHS resisted attempts to release documents on the crash, as it turns out, more to avoid public embarrassment than out of concerns sensitive information on its systems might be disclosed. The Zotob worm used using a vulnerability in Windows 2000's Plug and Play service to attack vulnerable machines. Microsoft released a patch for the flaw on 9 August, but many organisations have failed to apply a fix before Moroccan virus writers1 released a worm on 13 August. The DHS delayed patching US-VISIT workstations running Windows 2000 Professional over concerns that more testing was needed because of the amount of peripherals they supported and concentrated its efforts on patching desktop machines even as reports began to flood in about widespread infection of US-VISIT workstations. The infection led to long queues at airports, as border controls processed entrants manually or, in some cases, using backup computers. It took more than a day to bring the problem under a semblance of control. By the early hours of 19 August, a day after the outbreak flared up, 72 per cent of the workstations were patched. But if the update was applied on workstations at the same time it was applied to desktop PCs - 17 August - widespread problems could have been avoided. Wired has a full run-down of the outbreak, based on internal reports made within the DHS before and after the incident, which serves as a case history on mistakes to avoid in patch management and dealing with virus outbreaks. ® 1 Moroccan Farid Essebar (AKA Diabl0) was jailed for perpetrating the Zotob outrage back in September 2006. As well as the DHS other victims of the worm included CNN, ABC, the Financial Times and the New York Times.
A British company claims that its software enables users to at least double their reading speed by making use of the way the brain interprets text. It says reading speeds as high as 1200 words per minute (WPM) are possible, compared with a typical speed off the page of 150 WPM. BookMuncher uses a technique called Rapid Serial Visualisation Presentation (RSVP) which displays a document word by word mid-screen. The idea is that as the words flash by, your brain recognises their shape or outline, rather than trying to decode their sound or spelling. "The science behind it is word shape recognition, rather than the relationship between the letters," said BookMuncher development director Jon Bunston. "As you increase the amount you read, you recognise more word shapes and can read faster. It can get you reading at 300 WPM in hours or 600 to 700 within days." He added that as well as a £20 program for PCs, capable of handling Word or RTF documents and text files, BookMuncher has developed a version for mobile phones. He said the technology is a good fit for small screens which aren't well suited to displaying continuous text. "We think reading on your phone could become a mass market, like music on phones. On a mobile, the main advantage is accessibility rather than speed, though. Probably 300 WPM will be the limit." The software is the latest attempt to commercialise research done over the last two decades or so into reading speed. What the researchers found is that there are two blocks to faster reading - how long it takes us to move our eyes across the page or screen, and our tendency to subvocalise - reading the text silently to ourselves. RSVP breaks those blocks by displaying words sequentially at a speed too fast for us to read out. Bunston said that as well as letting you read technical documents faster, perhaps scanning chunks now and then as you get spare moments, BookMuncher works equally well for novels. It could also help dyslexics, he suggested. "It's not really reading, it's absorbing," he said. "The traditional way of reading left to right, top to bottom, goes out of the window. You don't subvocalise either - that's what limits us to 150 or 200 WPM." Other RSVP software includes RocketReader, ReallyEasyReader, a free downloadable applet for reading HTML files called FlashReader, Speed Reader Plus for PocketPCs, and a commercial multi-platform package called Rapid Reader. Bunston acknowledged that BookMuncher is not unique, but pointed out that none of its rivals had achieved a breakthrough in the market. He claimed that the key to that could be getting RSVP onto mobile phones, with e-books as downloadable content alongside games and MP3s. ®
With VMware's fully 64-bit versions of ESX Server and VirtualCenter gaining ground fast - and VMworld in Los Angeles just a weekend away - Russian software outfit Veeam said it has ported its VMware monitoring software to 64-bit Windows. The new version of Veeam Monitor can keep track of any 64-bit guest operating system running on VMware, whether Windows, Linux or Solaris. It provides administrators with CPU, memory, disk, pagefile and I/O performance data per virtual machine, according to Veeam's Maxim Ivanov. "This x64 edition was heavily demanded by our customers - people are starting to shift to 64-bit server platforms," he said. "As Veeam Monitor uses its own kernel driver to monitor the hypervisor, we had to re-write it for the x64 platform." Veeam says that its monitoring software solves a growing chore for system admins by providing an equivalent of the Windows task manager, but for virtual machines. It claims it can also help them redistribute physical resources among virtual machines to improve efficiency, and be used for planning and what-if analysis. Headed by CEO Ratmir Timashev, the Veeam team is the same one that founded Aelita Software (subsequently acquired by Quest Software), and more recently set up utility software developer AMUST. Veeam was started alongside AMUST to provide a home for the group's enterprise software, according to Timashev. "At the moment we are developing Veeam Monitor 2.0 for ESX, which will allow you to monitor remote ESX servers," Ivanov said. "It is an administrator console to monitor your full virtual infrastructure. It can draw a very detailed performance picture for every ESX server and all VMs running on it." A demo version of the x64 software is available for download, he added.
Hackers have hijacked links on a Wikipedia article to trick users into downloading malware. A piece on the German edition of Wikipedia was re-written to contain false information about a supposedly new version of the infamous Blaster worm, along with a link to a supposed 'fix'. In reality, the link pointed to malware designed to infect Windows PCs. Hackers then spamvertised a bogus warning about the new Blaster variant to German users alongside links to the fraudulent Wikipedia entry, in a bid to lend credibility to the bogus warning. The article was quickly edited to remove the bogus information and the attack is not thought to have claimed many victims, reports UK anti-virus firm Sophos. Nonetheless the assault serves to illustrate how Wikipedia's policy of openness, featuring few controls on who can create or modify articles, lends itself to abuse by malware authors as well as other kinds of mischief-making we've seen in the past. The incident also illustrates the constantly evolving nature of social engineering attacks employed by hackers, VXers and other riff-raff. ®
Leave it to a veteran technology reporter like the New York Times' John Markoff to start a conversation just right. "So, it seems like we've gone past being the walking dead," Markoff noted, as he sat down last night with Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz at a Churchill Club event in Santa Clara. "No offense taken," Schwartz replied. Just a couple of years ago, numerous pundits still referred to Sun as "the next SGI." They wondered how the company could hang on with its Solaris on SPARC play dwindling and only the low-margin realm of x86 servers to turn to for help. Sun still had billions in the bank as a type of life support system that SGI could only dream of, but it was hardly thriving. Of late, however, Sun has looked much healthier. The server maker has grabbed Unix server share from IBM on the high-end, while attacking all rivals on the low-end thanks to its flashy, mutlicore UltraSPARC T1 chip. Elsewhere, Sun continues to build out its now $600m a year x86 server business - largely at the expense of Dell. Schwartz went so far as to note that analysts used to ask him how Sun could be more like Dell, and that those same analysts now wonder how Dell can be more like Sun. Easy, kids, let's not get carried away just yet. While Sun's growth has been impressive, the company has yet to reach the one, obvious target of profitability. It's hard to take a company that pulls in $14bn per year seriously until the black ink starts to flow. That missing profit has cramped Sun's effort to expand its business, according to Schwartz. "When we show up with a GAAP loss that doesn't help," Schwartz said. "Acquiring the next customer has become quite difficult." CIOs and CTOs eye Sun's single-digit share price with a cautious eye. No one wants to bet their job on style lacking substance. To counter some of the market worries, Sun has turned to, er, blogs. Lots of blogs. Schwartz bragged that about 10 per cent of Sun's workforce wastes their time documenting horse births and bouts with diarrhea. Sun employs this globule army as a surrogate for an advertising budget. The CEO estimates that a million people are touched by Sun's blogs, which is almost like being touched by an angel except much creepier and sad. And, as you all know, Schwartz is a blogging pioneer within the CEO set. So, when Markoff asked what would happen to Sun if it fired 15,000 people as some analysts have demanded, Schwartz gave the natural reply. "No would answer the phone. My blog would be dark," he said. In all seriousness, Schwartz's take on layoffs is either inspirational or naïve. Sun appears to fund close to a bubble-sized workforce despite not having a real bubble with which to play. But, where so many companies decimate their workforce for a quick financial fix, Sun has bet long-term. "I don't believe employees are an expense," he said. "I don't believe they are a cost to be reduced." It's that type of attitude that truly seems to separate Sun from its competitors. Sun continues to believe that its current UltraSPARC T1 server line will drive new business, as customers test out the low-power, multi-core gear. It's also looking for new x86 systems to drive growth. The company, however, has yet to answer how it will keep midrange and high-end Unix sales increasing or how its Opteron servers will measure up against revitalized Intel hardware from rivals. IBM, for example, will roll out Power6 next year and almost certainly inject fresh life into its Unix line, while Sun will be strapped with a delayed chip from Fujitsu and promises that the Rock family of chips will come in 2008. Meanwhile, Sun says it can shift to Intel if need be, but its boxes are simply not built to handle Xeons today. So the move would take time. Sun, like other server makers, could survive such hiccups by cashing in on the larger hardware build out that seems to be underway at the moment. "I am actually not worried about demand anywhere in the world," Schwartz said, noting that customers like Verizon "can't build data centers fast enough." Sun has tried to service the server happy crowd with its new White Trash Data Centers. The WTDC consists of a shipping container packed full of servers, storage and networking. Customers won't actually be able to buy the WTDCs until next Summer. "If we wanted to take a purchase order now that would be no problem," Schwartz said, adding that large ISPs, financial services companies, oil and gas firms and the United Nations have all shown interest in the WTDCs. Just how optimistic is Schwartz? Well, he kept bringing up the bubble word. Although, he admits that he's not sure just how good things are at the moment. "Don't ask me to tell you what a bubble looks like," he said. "I only know what they look like when they end." We're guessing a profit might be one of the leading bubble indicators. ® Bootnote During the interview, Markoff dished some dirt on the HP scandal. Markoff was one of the reporters that HP spied on, and the company "won't stop apologizing" to him. Former Chairwoman Patricia Dunn even sent Markoff an apology from her pesonal Yahoo! e-mail account. "There was an ad at the bottom of her e-mail with the tagline 'How low can we go?'" Markoff said. "I sent a note saying that I hope she had a sense of humor. I didn't hear back."
The company formerly known as 180Solutions has been fined $3m for using drive-by downloads to smuggle adware on the PCs of unwary Americans and for offering no way to remove the software. Now called Zango, the adware firm has promised the Federal Trade Commission that it will ask consumers first before injecting software into their PCs. And it will provide the means for people to remove the hateful software from their computers. That could be a lot of people. According to the FTC, Zango/180Solutions software has been downloaded on American computers more than 70 million times and has pumped out more than 6.9 billion pop-up ads. Much of Zango's 'success' was down to rogue affiliates, who tempted consumers with offers of free software and then downloaded Zango software without their knowledge onto their computers. Canned quote time from Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Consumers' computers belong to them, and they shouldn't have to accept any content they don't want. If consumers choose to receive pop-up ads, so be it. But it violates federal law to secretly install software that forces consumers to get pop-ups that disrupt their computer use." FTC release is here. ®