7th > November > 2006 Archive
AMD has formally announced the ATI Radeon X1900 G5 Mac Edition graphics card that appeared on the company's website last week. The card is pitched at owners of the old, PowerPC-based Power Mac G5 desktop which originally shipped with lesser-powered cards.
The Cambridge-MIT Institute yesterday unveiled its SAX-40 "silent aircraft" - the result of a £2.5m project launched back in 2004 to produce a vehicle "whose noise emissions would barely be heard above the background noise level in a typical built-up area". The end result of the team's labours boasts a smooth "blended wing" design aimed at reducing noise caused by turbulent airflow. The SAX-40's tail-less aerofoil body provides sufficient extra lift to allow the designers to ditch conventional tail and flaps - both sources of irritating decibels. Landing gear is faired, once again cutting airflow-induced racket. The wing concept demonstrates two further noise-tackling ideas: a retractable drooped leading edge which increases lift at low speeds and is attached to the main wing surface by a flexible material which prevents air passing between the two; and "trailing edge brushes" which smooth the transition of turbulent air passing over the wing and non-turbulent air behind it. Engine design is, as promised by project manager Paul Collins back in 2004, based on conventional jet turbine technology, but with a difference. As the blurb explains: Each engine has a single core, driving three high capacity low speed fans. This distributed propulsion system is designed to ingest the boundary layer on the aircraft centrebody which reduces the fuel burn. The multiple small fan design is easier to embed in the airframe, and leads to reduced weight and nacelle drag. It also enhances boundary layer ingestion, thereby improving fuel efficiency, and the low fan tip speeds lead to low noise. These "GRANTA – 3401" powerplants also deploy "variable area exhaust" nozzles - allowing the aircraft to close the nozzles at cruise for increased fuel efficiency, and a vectored thrust capability to make sure the power's pointing in the most efficient direction for take-off and landing. The upshot of all this is a much quiter aircraft ("63 dBA outside airport perimeter...some 25dB quieter than current aircraft" - more details here), burning 35 per cent less fuel than anything currently in the air. Indeed, the team reckons the SAX-40 will carry 215 passengers for 5,000 nautical miles, giving "149 passenger-miles per UK gallon of fuel (compared with about 120 for the best current aircraft in this range and size)". This, the boffins estimate, is equivalent to the Toyota Prius Hybrid car carrying two passengers. All well and good, but the aircraft manufacturing industry will have to agree to a radical change in design direction to make the SAX-40 a reality. The technical challenges would be great, and the ongoing Airbus A380 tale of woe shows that even conventional airliner concepts can come seriously, and expensively, unstuck. ®
Nigeria is gearing up for the launch of NIGERIASAT-2, an Earth-observation satellite that will form part of the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC). The DMC is a series of small, low-cost satellites, owned independently and run cooperatively by Algeria, China, Nigeria, Turkey and the UK. The satellites are arranged so they can photograph any place on Earth on any given day. They are used to watch over disasters, such as the Asian Tsunami in 2004, and help coordinate relief efforts. The constellation was used after the Boxing Day Tsunami: it was able to provide rescue workers with detailed images of the affected areas, enabling emergency workers to focus relief where it was most urgenty needed. NIGERIASAT-2 is slated for launch some time in 2009. Its UK manufacturers, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), have signed a contract to supply not just the satellite itself, but the ground infrastructure, knowledge transfer and training needed to operate and manage the programme from the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) of Nigeria HQ in Abuja. The satellite will carry two imaging systems. One, SSTL’s latest high-resolution imager, collects data in strips 20km wide. The other, a 32m resolution multispectral imager, also capable of switching between four spectral bands, that collects data in strips 300km wide. The satellite, once operational, will produce between 100 and 400 geo-processed images per day over its 7-year mission lifetime. ®
The Taliban have evidently decided to add popular UK chanteuse Myleene Klass to the very long list of things they don't approve of - and last week demonstrated their commitment to rid Afghanistan of her ilk by shooting at the RAF aircraft taking her on a whistlestop, morale-boosting tour of that fun-loving nation. According to The Sun, the shaken 28-year-old brunette recounted: "I had to wear a protective helmet and flak jacket. As we flew into Kabul I could hear this massive 'thwack' on the side of the plane. Then I could hear this grinding noise, which I found out was defence shields being put up. It scared the living daylights out of me." The RAF quickly scrambled a fighter to escort Ms Klass to safety, which means the Taliban dismally failed to prevent her taking her place in the forthcoming series of I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here!. This will not, sadly, be set in Afghanistan, so TV viewers will not have the pleasure of seeing Klass whining miserably when challenged by the production company to flush 100 black turbans from the Tora Bora cave complex armed with nothing more than her musical assets. ®
Compel shareholders will hear this afternoon that the company is on track to hit targets for the year.
A galaxy of Indian scientists will meet today to discuss plans for a manned space mission, or even a quick jaunt to the Moon, New Scientists reports. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will ask 60 boffins for their feedback on its mission idea, and ask if it should "be to the Moon and whether it should be exclusively Indian". ISRO spokesman told the Indian Express: "There is now a feeling that 20 years down the line, other countries would have explored the Moon for minerals and India must not be left behind." He added: "Whether the mission will involve orbiting of the Moon will be decided only if we get a favourable opinion for a manned space mission." India's space programme has had mixed success. Back in July, the launch of a 2,000kg telecom satellite ended in crash-and-burn when the rocket veered off course and exploded. The launch was intended as "a proving ground for India's lunar ambitions", as we noted at the time. ®
Dell's European operation has extended the range of desktop systems it offers that are based on AMD processors. Following the September launch of AMD-based Dimension PCs, Dell has now begun selling AMD-equipped Optiplex machines too.
Card fraud losses fell by 5 per cent in first six months of 2006, according to the latest figures from banking association APACS. Total fraudulent losses fell from £219.5m to £209.3m over the first six month of 2006, a decline APACS attributes to the introduction of chip and PIN. However it's not all good news. Internet, phone and mail order fraud (card-not-present or CNP fraud) increased over the period, albeit at a slower rate than seen previously. CNP fraud now accounts for £95.3m (46 per cent of all losses) but grew by just 5 per cent year-on-year, compared to a 29 per cent increase between 2004 and 2005. APACS is also liaising with banks and systems vendors on an authentication system for potential use in both online and telephone shopping, which is due to go on trial next year. The system works via a cardholder inserting their chip and PIN card into a hand-held card reader, and entering their PIN. On validating the PIN entered, the reader generates a unique, one-time only passcode, which the cardholder supplies to a merchant for verification. Online bank fraud losses rose by 55 per cent from £14.5m in the first six months of 2005 to £22.5m in the same period this year. These losses primarily involved phishing scams, which typically involve consumers receiving bogus emails purporting to come from their bank that attempt to dupe consumers into handing over sensitive account information to fraudulent web sites run by fraudsters. Initiatives aimed at tackling these types of losses include automated cardholder address verification and security systems introduced by card issuers such as verified by Visa and MasterCard SecureCode to make online cardholder verification more secure. Sandra Quinn, director of corporate communications at APACS, said: "These latest fraud figures show that the industry’s efforts are making their mark. However, each and every one of us can also help defeat the fraudsters, and protect our cards and online accounts, by keeping our PINs, passwords and personal information safe and secure." Recent research commissioned by APACS shows that millions of Britons are still not aware of some basic security pitfalls, such as the importance of keeping their PIN private or sharing PINs between different cards. Tips on how consumers can fight card fraud can be found at cardwatch.org.uk and banksafeonline.org.uk. Although overall fraud losses are down, counterfeit card fraud losses are up 16 per cent to £53.0m. APACS reckons fraudsters have switched tactics. Instead of stealing cards they are increasing copying magnetic strip details using techniques such as skimming before using hidden miniature cameras to capture PINs at cash machines. Criminals then create fake magnetic stripe cards for use at cash machines and tills that have not been upgraded to chip and PIN. These losses are expected to decline in the UK in the second half of the year as all UK cash machines and the vast majority of tills get upgraded. On a more positive note, fraudulent losses in shops decreased 43 per cent to £42.1m, following on from a 35 per cent fall the year before, a trend credited to the introduction of Chip and PIN as a alternative to signatures as a means to authorise card payments. Card fraud abroad increased by 16 per cent as fraudsters - thwarted by the introduction of chip and PIN at home - targeted countries that have not yet upgraded to the technology. The European banking industry plans to roll out chip authorisation technology across the continent by 2010 in a bid to stem these losses. The UK itself was rather late to the Chip and PIN party itself, of course. Similar technology has been in use in France, for example, for years. Cheque fraud is down to £16m, compared to £21.6m during the first half of 2005, a decrease of 26 per cent. ®
Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome one of the world's smallest notebooks: Kohnjinsha's diminutive SA1F00A, an ultra-compact laptop fitted with a 7in, 800 x 480 display, up to 1GB of memory, a 40GB hard drive, 802.11b.g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, Ethernet and - unlike all those UMPC handhelds - in integrated, mechanical keyboard. And none of the Windows XP Tablet PC business, either.
Sony Ericsson has snapped up the UIQ mobile phone user interface, paying Symbian an undisclosed sum for the software and the subsidiary company formed to develop and maintain it.
The US may lift a 1992 ban on the use of silicone breast implants, allowing women to enjoy the "gummi bear" consistency sadly lacking in their saline replacements. According to Wired, Canadian regulators last October cleared "for sale and implantation" cohesive silicone gel breast implants manufactured by Inamed and Mentor. The US's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now pondering the matter. Press officer Heidi Valetkevitch said: "FDA is currently reviewing applications submitted by Inamed and Mentor for cohesive silicone gel breast implants. Canada's decision to approve standard silicone gel breast implants manufactured by Inamed and Mentor is consistent with FDA's determination in 2005 that these devices are 'approvable,' pending resolution of certain issues." Quite what those pending issues are is not noted. The ban on silicone implants came as a result of health concerns, and according to this cautionary report on the BBC, the effects of a leak can be "dire". Christine Williamson, for example, "lost breast tissue, chest muscle and lymph nodes when her implant ruptured and had to be removed". Saline implants, however, proved to be unpopular with users because of their "water bag" feel. Wired's reporter explains: "At the Plastic Surgery conference in September in San Francisco, implant makers displayed their wares in the conference's exhibition hall. To this reporter, the saline implant felt like a water balloon. The silicone implants displayed in the exhibit hall felt like a gel - a bit denser than hair gel." To demonstrate the new, improved silicone implants' safety, one was duly sliced open. "The gel did not run out. It was sticky to touch but stayed in place," the reporter confirmed. Which, as we all know, is not a proper test. We suggest fitting a willing volunteer with silicone Bulgarian airbags, putting her in a car and then crashing it at high speed into another vehicle. If the bags don't burst, we'll give them the thumbs-up. ®
Is Samsung's SPH-P9000 a phone or a UMPC? It runs Windows XP, has a 30GB hard drive, 256MB of memory and a 1GHz Transmeta processor. Then again it has CDMA EV-DO network connectivity and - a first for a mobile device? - Mobile WiMAX on board. It's got a 5in WVGA display and a 1.3-megapixel camera - front-mounted for webcam usage. Bluetooth's part of the package too.
In an effort to free stem-cell research from its dependence on donated human eggs, medical researchers in the UK have applied for permission to implant human DNA into cows eggs, effectively creating a human-bovine hybrid. Researchers from Newcastle University and Kings College, London, have applied to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for a three-year licence, the BBC reports. They want to implant human DNA into bovine oocytes, or eggs, whose nuclei have been removed. The resulting embryo, technically a hybrid of the two species, or a chimera, would then be grown for a few days, before the stem cells would be harvested and the embryo destroyed. The idea is that researchers could refine therapeutic cloning techniques using these hybrid embryos. Unsurprisingly, the plan has its critics, but its supporters say vital stem cell research should not be held up because of a "yuck factor". Just how much of a yuck factor the proposals present depends on how much information you have. The statement "scientists propose human-cow hybrid" is pretty "yucky". But the suggestion that scientists should use the "shells" of cows eggs to hold human DNA for a few days, is somehow less so. The proposal raises some serious ethical questions, nonetheless. In particular, Calum MacKellar, from the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, warns that the research could blur the human/animal divide. He said: "In this kind of procedure, you are mixing at a very intimate level animal eggs and human chromosomes, and you may begin to undermine the whole distinction between humans and animals." The problem is that stem cell research is still at a very early stage. Scientists say literally hundreds of human eggs, which have to be harvested from volunteers in a painful and invasive procedure, are neccessary to create a single successful stem cell line. They argue that using animals aggs to conduct this early stage research is a rational step, and would allow the research to progress much more quickly. Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, head of developmental genetics, National Institute for Medical Research, argues that researchers should learn as much as possible from "readily obtainable" animal eggs before moving on to using the much more valuable human oocytes. Dr Stephen Minger, from King's College London, added: "We feel that the development of disease-specific human embryonic stem cell lines from individuals suffering from genetic forms of neurodegenerative disorders will stimulate both basic research and the development of new medicines to treat these horrific brain diseases." Stem cell research has the potential, scientists say, the develop treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. ®
Italian police have seized a musical toilet which plays the country's national anthem when flushed, according to Ananova. Prosecutors claim the offending porcelain - produced by two local artists for the Bolzano Museum of Modern Art - should not give forth with the "Fratelli d'Italia" because it's "a national emblem which should be protected". The museum's defence team counters that "while the anthem has patriotic and sentimental value, it is not a national symbol". A court will rule on the matter later this week. ®
Sky staff have been venting their frustration after a lengthy wait for Microsoft to patch the flaw in its digital rights management (DRM) software, which led to the suspension of Sky By Broadband for many weeks. As a precaution BSkyB had suspended its movie download service on 31st August after Microsoft's DRM software - which is supposed to protect movies from being copied - had been cracked. Microsoft patched the software only to be hit by another security loophole. As a result BSkyB suspended its download movie service. For many weeks the service was unavailable to customers while Microsoft worked on yet another patch. The Sky By Broadband "free" service is exclusive to Sky Movie subscribers and provides popular media content including football clips and Hollywood movies. According to a BSkyB spokesperson “the service was reinstated at the start of October after consultation with Microsoft and with content partners." You might have been forgiven for missing the restart. Either way, it seems that the DRM debacle has left a bad taste in the mouth at Sky headquarters. One anonymous source who claims to work for Sky emailed El Reg and said “we at Sky are FURIOUS with MS's ‘look we'll get a patch to you in a few weeks’ attitude. It sucks.” He also sent in this alternative take on the George Formby ukelele classic When I’m Cleaning Windows, the source explained it’s “a song penned by someone at Sky and mailed round in frustration at MS, the studios and the other download services ...” "Now I go ripping content to my hearts content It's easy for a teenager with a technical bent Now it's a hobby that suits me If a Windows user I must be Then I will take what I want for free When I'm creaming Windows Even older people too can take stuff just like me and you Cos Fairuse makes it easy to just steal stuff from Windows You don't need a hacker's kit Just download stuff bit by bit Then give it any almighty rip With Fairuse for Windows Cos this hacking isn't hard I will never stop I'll rip any content And fill my hard-drive to the top These movies they just look divine But why pay through the nose each time When two clicks makes it yours or mine With Fairuse for Windows Now Steve Jobs he should lose the grin There's a version that's coming That makes light work of DRM On Macs - just like on Windows Cos this hacking isn't hard I will never stop I'll rip any content And fill my hard-drive to the top Now there's this famous Napster mob Whose music service costs a bob Let's hope they don't all lose their jobs Cos' Fairuse has fucked Windows Broadband gives me access to Every tune and movie too And I can give it all to you Thanks Fairuse for Windows! Turned out Shite again!" To which we can only add, er, that's all folks.®
The pressure is on at NASA to launch the next Shuttle mission on time, because if the launch date slips past December 18, a computer bug could keep the twelve-day mission grounded until January next year. The Shuttle was never expected to be in orbit as one year gives way to another, so the computers aren't set up to switch to a new "Day One". To the Shuttle, January 1 is just day 366. "The shuttle computers were never envisioned to fly through a year-end changeover," space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale explained. In itself, this wouldn't be a problem, but the computers on the ground work differently, and losing synch with mission control would probably be a Bad Thing. The onboard computer could be reset, but this would mean that the Shuttle would be flying blind, without navigation updates or vehicle control. Although simulations of the date switch have gone well, understandably, NASA would prefer to avoid this scenario in the real world. Hale says he thinks a launch in December is likely, though, because the weather in Florida tends to be "more benign" in December, lessening the chances of lightning or hurricane induced delays. Currently the Shuttle is set to launch on December 7, but NASA says it might move the launch date up to December 6. ®
Dimension Data Czech Republic has acquired Unreal Technology for an undisclosed sum. Unreal Technology – a network infrastructure specialist – had estimated revenues in 2005 of $4.5m.
ReviewReview Are you one of those people who live and die by your mobile phone? Or your PDA? Or your PSP? Does the world collapse around you when it runs out of power? Fret not, as from now on this is only a distant memory. Both Motorola and Exspect are now shipping mobile battery chargers, but are they all they're cracked up to be...
Slow take-up of new network technology in the United States threatens its national security, or so IP networking firms would have us believe. The feartastic claim, from the "combined talents" of Juniper Networks and SynExi, and is given some wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee PR backing by a survey of US government execs in which 86 per cent said the headstart on IPv6 adoption gained by Asia and Europe would have a "negative impact" on the US. The second biggest impact of a shortage of IP addresses would be on national security, just behind its impact on "technological leadership". Of the 1,000 surveyed, 62 per cent were convinced more digits in IP addresses will help Uncle Sam dodge Jihadist tyranny. We're concerned a fulsome exposition the minutiae of IPv6 might make us have a stroke, so we'll politely direct you to "What the hell is...IPv6". That piece is from way back in 2000, so we'd like to advance a new cast-iron thesis regarding the War on Terror: it's all about sluggish adoption of 128-bit address spaces by American local government. Shockingly, some 53 per cent of respondents to the survey, which included IT industry buyers, thought the Federal government should provide financial assistance to them for the transition to IPv6. Perhaps by diverting funds from the National Guard? In other news, a survey of Register journalists revealed unanimous support for government subsidies for the transition from traditional ballpoint Bic pens to smooth-glide gel-based ink. ®
Bill Gates and a Saudi prince are set to buy the Four Seasons hotel group. The surprise move into Bed & Breakfast probably won't absorb too much of the Microsoft founder's time. Gates's personal investment company Cascade is teaming with Saudi Prince Al-Waleed's group, Kingdom Hotels International, to make an offer of $3.7bn for the hotel chain. The chain has 71 hotels, mostly in the US and Asia and some in the Middle East and Europe. The offer values each share at $82 - 28 per cent higher than they were changing hands for before the bid was announced. The bid is being headed up by Four Seasons founder and chief executive Isadore Sharp. He will stay on as chief executive and stands to make $288m from the deal. Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is already a major shareholder in the chain. The management buyout needs regulator and shareholder approval. There's a press release announcing the deal here.®
Vodafone and Microsoft are collaborating on developing software to help users take their office with them while they travel. The agreement will see the companies co-operate so that applications available to Vodafone users, such as mobile e-mail, are able to work with Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system. The deal follows Vodafone's and Microsoft's announcement of the European launch of Windows Mobile for Vodafone in February. Users will be able to access the mobile versions of applications such as Microsoft Outlook and Office through the new combined platform synchronised with the standard Windows system they have on their PCs. This will allow Vodafone customers to use their mobile phone to interact with PC functions. Vodafone expects the agreement to lead to an increase in the number of applications available to mobile users and reduce the time it takes for these services to reach the market. "We believe that the collaboration between Microsoft Windows Mobile and Vodafone live will deliver a compelling and unique new alternative in the consumer mobile market," said Jens Schulte-Bockum, Vodafone's global director of Terminals. "We are very pleased with Vodafone's decision to adopt Windows Mobile as a preferred software platform for its mobile business," said Suzan DelBene, corporate vice-president of Microsoft's Marketing, Mobile and Embedded Devices Division. "Together we will deliver services which we expect will help Vodafone achieve cost-efficiencies, while delivering new propositions to its customers, thus making Windows Mobile an even more compelling platform." The first device that will use the software developed under the agreement is being produced with Samsung and is expected to be launched early next year. The Microsoft project is one of three operating platforms Vodafone is focusing on supporting over the next five years. In addition to Windows Mobile, the mobile operator aims to be compatible with Symbian and Linux platforms. "By focusing on these three core terminal platforms, Vodafone expects to be able to reap the benefits of a range of efficiencies such as reduced handset development costs, as well as the quicker and more cost effective roll out of new services," said Schulte-Bockum. "This initiative aims to ensure that we do not have to create a different set of software to provide services on a wide range of platforms, so that our customers benefit from enhanced yet simple-to-use services and lower costs." Vodafone holds a 48.1 percent share of the Irish mobile market with over 2.09 million customers and employs 1,900 people in Ireland. Copyright © 2006, ENN
Dutch intelligence service AIVD - the same organization that ruled 1,200 e-voting computers inadequate - has warned Dutch MPs to stop using the BlackBerry to access their email because their messages can be intercepted. In 2003 one hundred BlackBerry handhelds were given to leading politicians and campaign workers from the Dutch CDA (Christian Democratic) party. The idea was that they could access their e-mail wherever they were on the campaign trail. "Being able to react to and agree on things rapidly is essential," Jan Peter Balkenende, Premier of the Netherlands and leader of the CDA, told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf at the time. Now almost every Dutch MP owns a BlackBerry. However, last year Dutch intelligence service AIVD had already warned MPs not to discuss anything important through the device because theoretically every message can be intercepted, despite the fact that the BlackBerry is capable of using Triple DES encryption for data transmission. Unfortunately, end-to-end encryption (where both parties are secured) cannot always be guaranteed. The Dutch Department of Defense says it is using its own solution for securing data transmission on the device.®
Israel's major technical university, Technion, has joined the scientific sphere of the Galileo project. It is the first Israeli involvement with the GPS alternative, and the first contract awarded by the scientific arm of Galileo. Researchers at the technical institute are part of an international consortium that is developing a traffic management system for satellites. Dr Pini Gurfil of Technion’s Faculty of Aerospace Engineering explained: “Crowding in space has increased and the satellite traffic is intensifying. Therefore, there is a need for a ‘traffic cop’ who will prevent collisions between satellites in space." The Israeli researchers are developing the software for a receiver of Galileo that will gather information from every satellite. It will be able to calculate the position and relative speed of each orbiting body, to an accuracy down of a few centimetres. The rest of the consortium is made up of scientists from Chalmers University in Sweden, the Research Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Royal Meteorological Society in the UK, IFREMER – the French Research Institute for Exploration of the Sea and private companies Atos Origin and Starlab in Spain. ®
Nvidia has denied that it has recalled any G80-class graphics cards, less than 24 hours after admitting that... er... it has. In an email to Reg Hardware a company official today told us: "We're not recalling any boards - [it's] hard to recall something that's not announced."
A community project to identify and take down phishing sites has produced its first set of statistics. Submissions to Phishtank, a service run by OpenDNS, reveal that PayPal and eBay were the most targeted organizations in phishing attacks in October. UK bank Barclays ranks third in the list. Phishing sites are hosted all around the world but the US (with 24 per cent of recorded phishing domains) and South Korea (14 per cent) are the biggest single contributors to the problem. Only one in 25 (four per cent of phishing domains) are hosted in the UK. Phishtank also lists the telcos hosting verified phishing websites: Hanaro Telecom (469 phishing sites), National Internet Backbone (333) and TELESC Telecomunicacoes de Santa Catarina SA, Brazil (224) top this list. A detailed summary of Phishtank's findings can be found here. ®
AOL is pulling out of its call centre contract in Scotland, leaving it without UK-based customer support. Call centres will now be based offshore in the Republic of Ireland and India. A spokesman for the ISP told The Register the decision was motivated by the rapidly disappearing dial-up business. AOL's broadband expertise is at its Waterford facility in Ireland, he said. Sources at the call centre say the move was a cost decision. The 150 agents working on AOL accounts in Scotland cost "five times" what those in Banglore billed. AOL staff at Waterford have recently expressed annoyance at plans to cut customer retention bonuses. AOL's broadband customer base was recently snapped up by Carphone Warhouse, though the acquisition is yet to be approved by the competition commission. The decision to quit Scotland was taken some time before takeover talks. Carphone Warehouse retains most of its own call centres in the UK. In December 2004, AOL ended its relationship with its Bristol call centre operator ClientLogic, prompting job fears. The Airdrie call centre was run for AOL by outsourcers beCogent. In a statement, beCogent said AOL's withdrawl would not cause any job losses. The outsourcing firm declined to comment on reports received by The Register that staff were due to be kept in the dark until January 10.®
Police in Chile have arrested four people suspected of involvement in a hacking group that attacked Nasa and other high profile targets over recent months. The not totally fantastic quartet are alleged to have cracked into 8,000 web sites, including the US space agency, the Chilean finance ministry and Berkeley University in the US. The group also hit government web sites in countries as far apart as Venezuela, Turkey and Israel, the BBC reports. Early reports give no indication of whether the attacks were simple defacements or more complex and dangerous system compromises. One of the accused, who reportedly goes by the alias Net Toxic, is (according to investigators) one of the most prolific hackers in the world. The suspects were detained in raids in three cities in Chile at the end of an eight month investigation involving Interpol and intelligence services from the US, Israel and a number of Latin American nations. ®
Nortel turned in improved Q3 results today and promptly boosted its share price - but only by consolidating its stock. The comms giant brought in revenues of $2.96bn in the third quarter of 2006 compared to $2.52bn in the third quarter of 2005. But the company made a loss of $99m on this turnover in the quarter, down from a loss of $366m in the third quarter of 2005. The loss was blamed on a $43m charge for sorting out employee benefits, the $38m cost of settling shareholder legal action and charges of $25m for restructuring. The company announced a share consolidation program - every ten old shares will be combined into one new share. The scheme, which starts December 2006, is designed to make the stock more attractive to institutional investors. Or as the press release has it, "to increase investors' visibility into the Company's profitability on a per share basis The full results are available here.®
Amicus union members at Fujitsu in Manchester are to ballot for strike action calling for fairer pay deals, redundancy rights and better union recognition. The Amicus union representative at Fujitsu Ian Allinson said that he is confident that there will be a high turnout for the ballot, which closes on Thursday, and is convinced that it will result in strike action. There are approximately 390 Amicus members working at Fujitsu in Manchester, which is based at several sites in the city with a workforce totaling 850. In an official statement regarding the dispute with Fujitsu, Amicus said: “Either the company will succeed in undermining the union so that it can raise profits at the expense of employees, or we will succeed in defending and extending our rights.” Talks between Amicus members and Fujitsu management are planned for November 15 and Allinson said that if a settlement could be reached, strike action may be averted. However, he said that the likely outcome was that Fujitsu – described by Amicus as “anti-union” – will continue to “dodge the issue” and claimed that similar issues were first raised three years ago. The company backed down and agreed to make changes only to return to its original stance, he said. When asked by The Register about Fujitsu’s attitude towards Manchester-based staff regarding the ongoing dispute Allinson said: “They’re looking for their pound of flesh and unfortunately we’re that pound of flesh.” A Fujitsu spokesperson said that no jobs were under threat and that the company was “keeping an open mind” and continuing to discuss offers with Amicus. The outcome of the ballot is expected to be announced by Amicus on Friday.®
The German Supreme court has ruled that T-Online, one of the largest ISPs in Germany, has to delete all IP logs to guarantee the privacy of its customers when they ask for it. For now, at least. The court case was initiated by Holger Voss, who was charged over comments in an online forum about the 11 September attacks that he maintained were only sarcastic and satirical. Because Voss used a nickname, the public prosecutors in Munster started an investigation and tried to trace his IP-address. Ultimately, Voss was fined € 1,500, which he successfully appealed. But that was not the end of it. In court Voss argued that T-Online had provided his IP address unlawfully. He said IP addresses are irrelevant for book keeping and shouldn't be stored by ISPs. The district court, the regional court, and now even the Supreme court agreed. Experts believe that because of the ruling, anti-piracy organisations in Germany will have difficulty tracing the IP-address back to customers. After sharing music illegally, they could simply ask T-Online to erase the logs. In fact, a lawyer from Frankfurt has already put up a sample letter online to make this process effortless. Others say it won't be that easy. Even after a complaint, T-Online still has the choice not to comply and face a lawsuit. Also, Germany will have to comply with an EU directive mandating that logs be kept for at least 6 months. Therefore, experts believe, the German data protection law will soon be changed.®
Skype is blaming a bigger boy for the problems users are having making phone calls. The Register revealed last week that many users have been unable to receive calls using the SkypeIn service - which lets people on the normal phone network call Skype numbers. The service started having problems, again, in the middle of October and isn't fixed yet. The problems seem to be getting worse and Skype is now offering compensation to those who complain loudly enough. Skype told us via email: "We know that some Skype users have been experiencing problems with SkypeIn; this is due to an issue in the provision of services by Skype’s carrier partner. We have made the carrier aware of the problem and they’re working hard to correct the problem. We’re really sorry to all those who have been inconvenienced by the problem”. Which is nice. But Skype's excuse does sound a bit like this one from March and this one from back in May 2005.®
You guys don't have the luxury of looking at benchmark sites all day, so you probably missed the big news. A very small start-up - for the first time in a long time - has ripped a major database title away from the likes of IBM and HP. Panta Systems last month grabbed the clustered TPC-H (1 TB) crown and just about no one noticed. The server vendor's Opteron-based system running Oracle beat out a Xeon-based system running DB2 from IBM and an Opteron-based system running Oracle from HP. Best of all, Panta won out in performance and price/performance, and its clustered results compare well with the leading SMP (non-clustered) scores. Like you, we don't take benchmark results too seriously. They require a lot of fine-tuning and money to look just right. For those reasons, it's very rare to see a start-up go up against the big boys where prominent benchmarks are concerned. The start-ups usually don't have the funds, time, people or technology to rival the Tier 1s. Panta has bucked this trend by finding a friend in Oracle. The database maker wants nothing than more than to prove the worth of its flagship product running on Linux clusters. As it turns out, Oracle 10g flies on Panta's boxes. Panta fits into an emerging class of x86 SMP/cluster start-ups. We've profiled a couple of its closest rivals, including Fabric7 and Liquid Computing. (Incidentally, Liquid Computing appears to have given up its stealth marketing campaign and now has a healthy amount of information on its web site. You'll even find a man playing with his dinghy.) All of these start-ups have focused on improving the I/O performance of Opteron-based clusters, while adding a layer or two of virtualization software to their systems. Liquid Computing has pitched its gear more at the high performance computing crowd, while Fabric 7 and Panta are focused on big businesses. They're betting that customers will begin using x86 boxes for high-end business software instead of using Unix SMPs. Panta started out with some HPC customers and once had a broader big business play. Its solid Oracle results, however, have convinced it that going after the database market is the strongest short-term play. "We are still selling to the HPC market, but, as far as our solution focus goes, we are focusing on data warehousing for now," said Scott Rose, VP of product management. Customers buy the large, rack-sized Pantamatrix system and then outfit it 8U chunks at a time. Each 8U chunk can hold different components such as Infiniband switches, two- or four-socket blade servers, PCI-Express-based Nvidia graphics boards or storage. Those that choose to outfit an entire 8U chunk with dual-core Opterons can add up to 64GB of memory and can combine two blade servers at a time to create a 16-core SMP. Panta is still on Rev E for the moment, but will be moving to Rev F Opterons next month. The Pantamatrix system currently supports Linux. Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 support is coming next, and will be followed by Solaris x86 support. Along with this base system, Panta has start selling five data warehouse "appliances," but by appliance, the company does not mean a cuddly Cobalt Qube. Instead, you'll find the DM-2100 and DM-4100 lines. The low-end 2100 system starts at around $500,000 and supports four four-socket servers running Oracle RAC (real application clusters), 30TB of user data, 10 storage systems and two Infiniband backplanes. From there, Panta adds more servers, more storage, more networking and faster disks to support larger clusters. It will start shipping its two highest-end configurations once it can get enough high-end drives. Rose admits that Panta still has some software licensing kinks to work out with Oracle, which could affect the prices customers will see on these data warehousing boxes. The company, however, remains confident that it can obliterate the offers made by Tier 1s. "The current products from HP and IBM cannot come close to the products we are showing," Rose said. Panta has managed to acquire 15 paying customers. "Yeah, they've had a lot of time to practice," added one of our server sources familiar with the company. To our source's point, Panta has been around since 2002. It now has about 70 employees and a headquarters in Santa Clara. The top executives come from the likes of Veritas, SGI, Cray, HP and IBM. As far as we can tell, 15 customers might be about 15 more than Fabric7 and Liquid Computing have combined. We think Panta's apparent success over competitors stems from its focus and a solid balance between the software and hardware sides of the house. Of all the Opteron-based SMP start-ups, Panta seems the least fluffy. It has shown solid performance with Oracle and so decided to concentrate on mining Oracle customers. That's just the type of targeted approach that might be required to get some traction in this market. Panta, Fabric7 and Liquid Computing have an almost impossible task before them. They're asking customers to spend huge chunks of cash on untested start-up gear. That's a tough sell when HP, IBM and Sun all have strong Unix and x86 lines. That said, those customers in need of the highest performance will often give these types of companies a shot. If pressed to rank the vendors right now based on what we're hearing from engineers and industry watchers, Panta would seem ahead of Fabric7 with Liquid Computing well behind. ®
Often cast as the peacemaker in free software disputes, Bruce Perens is on the warpath. When we caught up with him, he wasn't in a mood to be charitable to Novell. On Friday the Utah company, which markets the SuSE Linux distribution, revealed that it was entering into a partnership with Microsoft. Redmond would pay Novell an undisclosed sum in return for Novell recognizing Microsoft's intellectual property claims. Novell received a "Covenant" promising that it wouldn't be sued by Microsoft.
LettersLetters Tony Blair has set out to defend his ludicrous and intrusive ID card and national identity register project with an opinion piece in The Telegraph. We'll not go into this in detail again, but suffice to say that you have (again) failed to be convinced by his arguments:
US privacy officials have made advances to Richard Thomas, Britain's information commissioner, about formulating an international data protection law for the era of globalisation. The US has been pushing for more widespread data sharing between governments so it can track people it thinks are not safe to travel. But privacy officials in Europe have already hindered US attempts to routinely collect intelligence from foreign commercial databases, such as the passenger name records it takes from airlines and the bank data it took from the Belgian firm SWIFT. US officials are fed up with being derided for having privacy laws that are too feeble restrain an administration prepared to put its mission to pacify the world before individual privacy. "Why don't we just all get together and sort out our differences?" US privacy officers are saying to the Europeans. They are also reminding people that their privacy laws might be complex, and of varying strength in different states, but they do exist. Federal privacy officers were making sure the US war on terror didn't trounce the civil liberties of ordinary people, Jane Hovarth, chief privacy and civil liberties officer for the United States Department of Justice, told the international conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners last week. "We have to make sure we help the balance and call them to task because that doesn't naturally come when they talk about safety sometimes," she said of the FBI's anti-terrorism efforts. Brave words, yet the US might have to bring its protections to European levels before it can get anyone else to join it in any treaty - and that's before Europe considers how outmoded its own privacy regulations have become. US and EU officials may agree on privacy principles, but the US falls down in practice, Peter Schaar, German data protection commissioner and head of the Article 29 Working Party that co-ordinates privacy regulators across Europe, told The Register. Harmonisation between the two will be tricky, and not just because the US is not for conceding in such matters. There's also little hope because its privacy might be impossible to tackle politically. US privacy officers are hopeful that if the democrats win the mid-term elections, there are bills that could be passed to address the inadequacies of their privacy rules. The element of this that would require corporations to respect individual privacy is likely to be passed into law because companies like Google and eBay are both backing the idea. They have to because they have been getting bad publicity about privacy under the current US regulatory system. There is even hope of a public sector data protection law, which might prevent diplomatic upsets like those over PNR and Swift. Yet with the democrats hoping to win a US election in two years, they would not risk trying to push through a bill that Republicans could accuse of weakening the homeland defences in the war on terror, said Gus Hossein of campaign group Privacy International. (That it was supposed to be a failure of intelligence administration and not intelligence gathering caused the US secret services to overlook the 9/11 attack, will be neither here nor there to US voters). Even private sector privacy laws in the US might not please officials in Europe. Though they commend US firms for their widespread use of privacy statements, and its legal system for prosecuting people for trade descriptions violations when they don't meet their declared level of service, the free market impetus only takes privacy so far. US agreements don't seek consent from subjects about the collection and use of their data. A private sector data protection law backed by industry is likely to concede only notification of data use, not consent. Data protection officials from countries outside the US also seem to assume that an international agreement would require the US to meet European standards. Whereas, their previous skirmishes with the US, and a desire among some Europeans to weaken data protection rules to allow less restrained anti-terror investigations, might require the EU take a step down.®
The Republican Party has been accused of underhand telephone marketing tricks in the run-up to today's US mid-term elections. Voters across the US (Pennsylvania and New Hampshire examples here and here) have been receiving calls from auto-dialers featuring pre-recorded messages that initially suggest the call is from a Democrat candidate. I If the recipient hangs up they receive repeated calls. It's only if voters listen to the end of the message that they realise the call has been made on behalf of the local Republican congressional candidate. Democrat candidates, such as Melissa Bean in Illinois, have been obliged to post statements clarifying that the annoying calls are nothing to do with them. The tactic is a violation of Federal rules that require a caller to be explained at the beginning of such messages. Some of the recipients of the calls are doubly aggrieved because they've submitted their names to national "Do Not Call" registers, so that they shouldn't have to sit through telemarketing calls of any kind. The $2.1m telemarketing campaign was run by Conquest Communications Group on behalf on the National Republican Congressional Committee. Challenged about the legality of the calls, particularly those to people on the "Do Not Call" registry, a Committee spokesman said that was a "complicated legal question that's not going to get adjudicated this weekend". ®
Just as HP today closes its Mercury acquisition, IBM has stepped in with an offer to steal Mercury customers.
Video sharing site YouTube looks set to expand from the web onto mobile phones, with speculation that a deal with telecoms firm Verizon is close to agreement. According to the Wall Street Journal, "advanced" talks are taking place between the companies to bring YouTube's videos to mobile phones and TV. Under the new deal, YouTube videos could become available as part of an on-demand TV service it plans to launch in the US, while Verizon's mobile customers will be able to view YouTube content through the V Cast service. This partnership could move both Verizon and YouTube into new markets and is yet another example of the increasing convergence between telecoms and the internet. YouTube, which has fast become a popular way to share video online, is having a good run of luck lately. After Google recently shelled out $1.65bn for the site, it has now been named invention of the year by Time magazine. The site scooped the award in favour of a vaccine to prevent a cancer-causing sexually transmitted infection, a T-shirt that simulates the feeling of being hugged, and the CrustaStun, a device that can electrocute a lobster in five seconds. According to Time, YouTube's popularity and sheer size has altered the way information is disseminated online, deeming it worthy of the award. Last year's winner was a cloned puppy called Snuppy. In more good news, Google's acquisition of YouTube was given the go-ahead on Monday, leaving nothing to stand in the way of Google taking over the website and expanding its video offerings. It seems to have been a case of right time, right place for YouTube, with the growth in popularity of blogs and the affordable nature of recording equipment such as mobile phones. According to Nielsen NetRatings figures, YouTube attracted some 27.6m unique visitors in September, an indication of just how popular the website has become. Since Google made its bid, the tech giant has put in some serious work to strike deals with Vivendi, Warner and Sony BMG in a bid to stave off possible lawsuits over copyright infringement on the site. However, it hasn't all been good news for the site. YouTube has recently come under fire for publishing footage of a vicious attack on a girl from Ballymun in Dublin, Ireland. The assault was passed around mobile phones for some time before it finally made an appearance in YouTube. The footage has since been removed, but not before it was downloaded thousands of times by the site's users. The amount of money paid by Google for YouTube has also been the source of much speculation, as YouTube - although hugely popular - could not be described as a money-spinning venture prior to the buy-out. This potential deal with Verizon, however, could boost YouTube's popularity even further. The possibilities for its parent company Google, it seems, are endless. Copyright © 2006, ENN
Borland Software has postponed its third-quarter earnings call by five days, indicating its exit from the developer tools biz could be imminent after 20 years. The Java and Windows tools company is now expected to tell Wall Street how its business fared during the last three months on November 14, instead of this Thursday. Borland did not give any reason for the delay other then sayings it is invoking a five-day extension permitted under Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules for filing 10-Q forms. But the dealy could indicate Borland has reached an agreement at last with a buyer for its integrated development environment (IDE) business, which has been on the market for almost a year. Previously, Borland had committed to announce a buyer by the end of its third quarter. Sources tell The Register that Borland was looking for a sale price of between $100m and $150m for the 300-person business, which includes JBuilder and Delphi. That could b3 a sticking point, in a market where tools providers are trying to overcome the challenge posed to license-based business models by open source and "free" software such as Eclipse. A delay to Borland's filing suggests the company is getting its paperwork together or in final talks, and will name the buyer either during the third-quarter call or soon after.®
Bumbling hardware maker Gateway has finally caught on to this Opteron thing. The company today announced three, new Opteron-based servers. It's safe to say that branding is not Gateway's strong suit. Customers will now see the 1U E-9422R, the 2U E-9522R and the 3U E-9722R. If you find the E-9622R somewhere, let us know. The 1U box ships as a two-socket, dual-core system with the 2000 Series Opterons and the Nvidia MCP55 Pro chipset. The box can also run on AMD's lower voltage Opteron HE chips. Gateway offers a few more features such as four 10/1000 GbE NICs, support for the 32GB of memory and up to four SAS or SATA II hard drives. Moving up to the 2U kit, Gateway offers the same versions of Opterons but adds up to six hard drives. Even higher up, you'll find the 3U, four-socket system with 8000 Series Opterons. The server can hold up to 12 hard drives and has support for dual system configurations. Gateway is taking orders for the gear now, and you can find the systems on its web site. The 1U box starts at $1,799, while the 2U system starts at $1,849. Gateway refused to reveal a price for the 3U server, although it might tell you how much the system costs if you call. Gateway is just about the last server vendor on the planet to add Opteron to its product line.®
Adobe Systems is prying open its ubiquitous Flash media player to improve interoperability with the increasingly popular Firefox browser.
The company which sued the maker of the BlackBerry for patent infringement launched a similar case against handheld computer firm Palm yesterday. Palm said today that it will defend itself vigorously. Canada's Research In Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry wireless email device, settled with US firm NTP in March, though it did not concede that it had infringed NTP's patents.
The US Republican Party could be risking fines and legal action for a telemarketing campaign intended to sink Democrat opponents ahead of today's elections. Election officials in the US state of Virginia have called in the FBI after voters received phone messages telling them to go to the wrong precinct. The Democrat Party, meanwhile, has said it will file civil suits over endless automated calls to voters - called "robo-calling" - which in some states could cost the Republicans as much as $5,000 per call. That means the Republicans will end up paying millions of dollars if successfully prosecuted. Democrats in New Hampshire have already pressured the State's attorney general to make the Republican's stop calling voters on the state's do-not-call list. Republicans estimated to have made 200,000 calls. Households in bitterly contested state races across the US are being bombarded with automated phone messages paid for by the Republican party and designed to confuse voters. Some homes are receiving dozens of calls per day. Calls are giving voters inaccurate information on where and how to vote or saying wrongly that they are ineligible to vote. Some messages are being phrased to convince voters the call is actually from a Democrat candidate with the result that angry voters are calling Democrat head quarters demanding they stop calling. The Democrats fear this will turn people off of voting for their candidate Robo-calling is a common practice in US elections and fund raising, with companies contracted to operate automated phone banks. It seems the bar has been raised this election, with Democrats claiming the Republican Party has spent $2.1m on robo-calling. The Republicans may have been overzealous, though. Aside from questions over whether robo-calling breaks states' do-not-call laws or FCC rules, there are questions over whether robo-calling can be counted as "voter suppression." In the past, voter suppression has consisted of simple letters and post cards sent via snail mail to households, and that provide misleading advice or have warned people with outstanding criminal convictions they'd be arrested if they showed up to vote. Meanwhile, e-voting machines are again causing election headaches. Machines are being blamed for polling stations staying open longer than planned thanks to long lines of voters. Problems are centering on inability to make machines work properly, and the inexperience of voters and poll officials in dealing with the devices.®
Overstock.com's collapse went into overdrive this week. The company posted a drop in third quarter revenue and a larger loss. In retaliation, investors clobbered Overstock, sending its shares down 17 per cent on Monday to their lowest point in three years. At about this time last year, we warned you that such a future might be in store - pardon the pun - for the online retailer. Your reporter had a horrendous experience with the company and then discovered that such experiences were common. Overstock's customer support staff also wrote to us, saying that the company's call centers were hopeless. Rather than looking at my complaints with concern, Overstock's CEO Patrick Byrne repeatedly described your reporter in unkind terms both in e-mails and on financial message boards. That seemed a bizarre way for a CEO to handle a customer service issue. As it turns out, Byrne specializes in the bizarre. He's spent months blaming a secret gang of short sellers for Overstock's woes. At least, that's who he was blaming until Monday. "This year we have been fixing business processes and systems integral to serving our customers," Byrne wrote in a note to investors. "The IT problem that developed last September, which we have discussed at length in prior communications, has had lingering effects that ran well into this year. In fact, while we viewed it internally as a 2005 Q4 - early 2006 Q1 problem (which is what it was technologically), I see now that in terms of affecting customer behavior it was more of a 2005 December - 2006 April problem. It has taken an enormous amount of work to recover, but our operations and infrastructure are now healthy and strong." And so, after denying evidence to the contrary, Overstock has admitted that its customer service systems and infrastructure needed a lot of work and that they had a negative, long-term impact on consumers. Overstock has moved to fix the problems, but it looks like the work may have been done too late. Overstock's Q3 revenue dipped to $159m in the third quarter - a 6 per cent fall and the first year-over-year revenue slip in company history. Meanwhile, Overstock's net loss expanded to $25m from $12m last year. "The Q3 financial results were poor," Byrne said. Shares of Overstock were down another 5 per cent today to $13.84, well off the company's 52-week high of $43.40. ®