20th > November > 2006 Archive
"We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Pakistan at this time due to the very high threat of terrorist attack and the unpredictable security situation." – Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade Luckily the UK Foreign Office is made of sterner stuff and simply recommends you stay near large cities and don't travel near disputed areas, unless you have the kind of armed retinue provided for heads of state and the like. But while Charlie glad-hands, and Tony trades additional aid for support in the war on terror, some of us are over there learning about the challenges of running a mobile phone network in a country where the biggest limitation on subscriber numbers is the innumeracy of the population: it's hard to sell a phone to someone who can't count. Pakistan is a country trapped between Afghanistan (chaos), India (the enemy) and China (an unlikely, but dependable, ally). Their history is short - the country was only set up in 1947, but they've been busy and managed four successful military coups in that time, each one apparently ousting a corrupt civilian government: this leaves them with little respect for democracy; and an all-powerful army. Pakistan has little in the way of natural resources, and no particularly successful industries, so survival has largely involved exploiting its location in the international theatre. Some rapid footwork by the current president, General Pervez Musharraf, made Pakistan a US ally in the War on Terror and right now it’s American money that funds the country. Against this background education has not exactly been a priority, and when funding was largely pulled from the state education system the slack was largely taken up by the faith-based schools that attract so much attention these days: which tend to emphasis religious instruction before numeracy and literacy. There are about 40 million mobile phones being used in Pakistan right now and the rate of expansion is disconcerting: Mobilink is deploying an average of eight new base stations every day. Unlike Europeans, who hide their transmitter sites, even to the extent of concealing equipment and disguising antennas, having mobile phone coverage in Pakistan is a status symbol: antennas are often painted in company colours, so coverage is clearly indicated. CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) is used for wireless-local-loop applications: fixed handsets in the home where copper is too expensive to lay, and gets stolen if it is laid. Only 25 per cent of homes have a fixed-line phone, and most of those are CDMA connections, but for mobile telephony GSM is the technology of choice. Mobilink is the largest GSM provider in Pakistan, and it will come as no surprise that 97 per cent of its customers are pre-pay, with only corporate customers paying monthly. What is more worrying is that 25 per cent of those customers own more than one SIM, and will use whichever network offers the cheapest tariff for a particular call. European operators long ago realised that competing on price was not doing any of them any good: much better to have tariffs which are almost unintelligible and compete on services or coverage. In Pakistan mobile phone companies complete largely on price, so profits are cut to the bone and calls are very cheap, especially if you switch networks to take advantage of every discount. Mobilink might have an Average Revenue Per User in single figures, compared to the $30 or $40 enjoyed by operators in Europe, but they don't have to bribe their customers to stay by offering them a subsidised handset every 12 months. Handsets in Pakistan are generally sold without connection, at a full retail price: the SIM comes from a different shop or direct from the operator. Churn isn't much of an issue yet, but with number-portability coming next year there is concern that it will grow. Power supply and fraud are the most serious issues in running a network in a country like Pakistan. Even in the capital city short power cuts are commonplace, and outside of towns the power grid cannot be relied upon. Backup generators provide for most of the transmitters, but that means a local tank of diesel which is an easy target for thieves. Equally problematic is fraud: cloning is almost as endemic as it was on the old analogue networks. SIM security is generally very good, but while the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority allows the import and export of licensed cryptography, some countries are reluctant to see decent cryptographic hardware anywhere in that part of the world: meaning that Mobilink SIMs don&'t use any cryptography at all. This makes them pretty easy to copy, so Mobilink is forced to run several servers constantly scanning for the same mobile phone number to appear twice on the network: a commonplace occurrence. But while pre-paid customers are swapping SIMs to get cheaper calls, and enjoying SMS at less than two pence a message, post-paid corporates have access to unlimited data tariffs and EDGE technologies, at least in the cities. And you're just as likely to find yourself speaking to someone whilst they check their BlackBerry as you are anywhere else in the world, and equally irritated too. Mobilink, like all Pakistani networks, is rapidly expanding both in terms of coverage and customers, but it expects to reach saturation by the end of 2008 when everyone who can count will have a mobile phone. For the rest of the population the future is uncertain, and few Pakistanis seem to hold out much hope that the enormous investment in basic education needed to increase their addressable market is going to come any time soon. ®
SC06SC06 SiCortex has bucked one of the more disturbing supercomputing trends - the disconnect between form and function.
Vodafone has been charging its pay as you go customers an extra 12p for texting premium rate numbers. Customers are usually charged 12p for the delivery of the message, and then the premium rate charge. However, it seems the mobile operator has been tagging on an extra 12p. The overbilling came to light when a customer complained to an aggregator after noticing the SNAFU. A Vodafone statement said: "Vodafone can confirm a charging issue affecting a number of our pay as you talk customers using premium rate SMS services. The issue continues to be investigated." Vodafone could have been netting about £360,000 per week through the overbilling, if it affected all its premium rate SMS', less if it's only hit PAYG customers. The question now is whether ICSTIS will come to the rescue. The premium rate services regulator is geared more towards aggregators than the networks themselves, so if Vodafone is misbilling it may well get away with it, or be given the chance to rectify the situation. An aggregator misbilling would inevitably lead to a fine, or worse. Vodafone could, of course, remedy the situation and go through all its billing records and credit customers who have been overcharged. Whether it will or not is another matter. The aggregators and content providers who utilise premium rate SMS may be unwilling to help sort out the situation, even though it's their customers who will be complaining. They do have a point as usually they are the first to get the "finger pointed at" and have to sort out billing issues very rapidly or get cut off from the networks - Vodafone is unlikely to cut itself off or stop providing premium rate short codes as they are hefty revenue generators - even more so it now seems. ® Related articles Vodafone UK overcharding on its shortcodes Operators: Mystery PSMS Charge
The market for large enterprise software is set to grow at up to nine per cent a year until 2010, but the software support service will suffer a slump in growth, according to market research company Ovum. Ovum's David Mitchell told technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio that in certain sectors the technology market would enjoy massive growth, but in others growth would slow to effectively zero. "By the end of this decade we'll be talking about a £6.44bn market for software in the UK, a really substantial market," he said. "Compared to 2003 you're getting close to a doubling of the market size in seven years." Mitchell was delivering a technology forecast based on Ovum research, and said large industrial-scale software such as that produced by SAP or Oracle was the business to be in. "In terms of some of the key growth areas within software, the business applications area is going to stay growing, that's going to make approximately nine per cent growth all the way through to 2010," he said. "Some of the areas that are growing less are the support services market. That's growing at about three per cent per annum through to the end of the decade; that's relatively flat. If you subtract inflation from those figures, that's a relatively static market," said Mitchell. Companies in that business should be thinking about producing products and producing and licensing intellectual property, he said. Mitchell was critical of the current fashion for convergence which sees IT firms, telecoms companies and software houses all offering each others' products and services. This would not, he predicted, be a strategy that is likely to meet with significant success. "The people for me who are doing best are those who stick to their knitting and do what they're good at," he said. "I'm counting convergence as one of those things that is a lot talked about, there's a lot of money being spent on it, but it's not one that I personally think that is one of the huge ones to watch for a lot of money to be made out of it." Mitchell was confident that social networking sites, currently the darlings of the investment community, would be able to earn out the large sums being invested in them. "I think some of these could prove not to be overpaid, but they'll need very careful engineering to ensure that the benefits come out," he said. "It does have some of the uncertainty of the late '90s but I don't think it has got some of the silliness of the late '90s yet." See: OUT-LAW Radio Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
The so-called big four global accounting firms, together with two of the major second tier firms, have recently proposed that the current historic reporting of corporate financial results, quarterly or half yearly, should be replaced by real time reporting.
Toshiba has announced what may be the world's second 8GB SDHC memory card. Alas, Pretec announced just such a product back in September, but Toshiba's card is faster. It's a Class 4 device - Pretec's was a Class 2.
It emerged over the weekend that media bounder Rupert Murdoch had bought up a slice of ITV, putting the kybosh on Richard Branson's dreams of moguldom. Murdoch's son James, who runs BSkyB, told the City on Friday he had bought out US investment groups Fidelity and Brandes, bagging a 17.9 per cent stake in the commercial broadcaster. Regulations prevent BSkyB from owning more than 20 per cent of ITV, so a full takeover is not on the cards. The covert swoop does cast doubt on ITV talks with cable operator NTL over a £9bn merger, however. NTL's biggest shareholder Branson had given public blessing to a tie-up with ITV. He netted 11 per cent of NTL in the Virgin Mobile deal. The move is being interpreted as BSkyB attempting to head off NTL's expansion into its content creation territory. The two firms already compete on broadband and TV service provision. German broadcaster RTL, the third wheel in the ITV carve-up, already owns Channel 5, itself thought to be a Murdoch target. ITV shares grab the high ground for BSkyB in that tussle too. In other news, Melbourne's Great Satan is in hot water stateside over one of his subs' publishing of outrageous O J Simpson opus If I Did It. The Guardian reports American media - including Murdoch's own Fox News - and bookstores have reacted with revulsion to Simpson's hypothetical graphic descriptions of his wife's not so hypothetical bloody murder. Wot he never done. Poor taste doubtless, but the prospect of a Murdoch-influenced ITV throwing O J into the I'm a Celebrity... mixer gets our backing. ®
The chairman and chief executive of Wachovia – the fourth largest retail bank in the US – is joining the board of HP. G Kennedy Thompson, known as Ken, is the first replacement after HP lost three directors in the wake of its spying scandal. He is not sitting on any HP committees and is apparently not a replacement for a specific job, but was hired because of his experience running a large and complex company. Thompson will be paid $50,000 cash each year and gets $150,000 in share options. In other news, HP revealed last week that it is now under formal investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. HP is still under investigation by the Attorney General of California, the AG of Northern California, and the House Committee of Energy and Commerce. It has also received requests for documents from the Federal Communications Commission. Read the HP press release here. ®
Intel may be set to slash the prices of its current Pentium 4 processors in January 2007, it has been claimed by Chinese PC manufacturer sources. The allegation essentially re-iterates claims we reported on back in September.
A trip to St John's in Cambridge (England) provides an opportunity to see innovation in action. And one of the pioneers of Cambridge Technology - Dr Herman Hauser of Amadeus - was there this year to explain how it all came about - and to take modest credit for the effect.
Nvidia will bring its DirectX 10-compliant unified shader graphics chip architecture to the mid-range and entry-level market segments in Q1 2007. That's the timeframe for the company's G86 and G84 GPUs, Taiwanese graphics card maker moles have alleged.
We're obliged to reader Spenno who this morning popped down to eBay UK and noted that the online tat bazaar was doing its bit for the BBC's Children in Need charity appeal. Good show, although we think the company might in future want to avoid this Featured Items juxtaposition: Oh dear, oh dear. Quite what Pudsey would make of it is anyone's guess. ®
Check Point has made a bid to acquire Protect Data, the holding company for mobile security firm PointSec Mobile Technologies, in a cash deal valued at $586m (SEK 4,152m). The offer is subject to the agreement of 90 per cent of Protect's shareholders, as well as regulatory approval. Protect Data has urged shareholders of the Swedish firm to accept the offer which values each share at SEK180, a premium of 39 per cent on the average closing price of Protect Data's shares over the last three months, but a less impressive 2.6 per cent premium on Protect's closing price on Friday of SEK175.50 per share. In the first nine months of 2006, Protect Data revenues grew by 92 per cent to $52.4m (SEK 370.8m). After tax profits over the same period came out at $8.3m (SEK 58.7m). PointSec Mobile Technologies is a leading provider of encryption and other security products for PCs, PDAs and smartphones. Check Point plans to plug this technology into its existing security architecture to offer its clients improved end-point security technology. The deal moves Check Point, best known for its firewall and other network security software, into the data security marketplace. ®
HTC today unveiled its latest smart phone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, this time driven by a spring-loaded mechanism. Dubbed the P4350, it appears to be the same device phone supplier Dopod announced earlier this month as the C800M.
Want to run Linux on the PlayStation 3 but can't be bothered with the hassle of installing it? Then head over to online auction site eBay where one of Sony's next-generation consoles is on offer pre-loaded with Fedora Core 5 Linux.
Adobe chief executive Bruce Chizen will not rule out suing Microsoft over the "save as pdf" feature of Vista, the operating system slated for arrival next year. Speaking to a German business paper, Chizen said the company was working with regulators but could take to the courts if this failed. He said there were two options – to take direct legal action against Microsoft, or to work with regulators. Chizen said: "We are doing the latter. Then we will see." More from Reuters here. Adobe was one of the companies which asked the European Competition Commission to investigate elements of Vista back in September. Chizen also told the Euro am Sontag paper that Adobe would offer some of its products online and paid for by adverts. ®
CommentComment True freedom is protecting Americans by letting the NSA monitor their email and phone calls by the millions without a warrant, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales explained to Air Force Academy cadets in a speech last week. It's a mistake to regard such Gestapo tactics as compromising freedom, he told the young officers in training. "This [antagonistic] view is shortsighted. Its definition of freedom - one utterly divorced from civic responsibility - is superficial and is itself a grave threat to the liberty and security of the American people". Only days earlier, vice president Dick Cheney had denounced an August court decision in Michigan that found the NSA wiretap program unconstitutional as "an indefensible act of judicial overreaching". It should surprise no one that the Bush administration is mounting a PR campaign to sell its illegal mass wiretap program, even though it's hardly a hot news item at the moment (the Michigan decision is being appealed). The sales job is directed toward the lame duck Republican Congress, in hopes of having the domestic spying program legalised after the fact, before Democrats take control of the Hill. As recently as February 2006, Cheney had sought to put a lid on public debate and news coverage of the illegal operation: "The biggest problem we've got right now, frankly...is all the public discussion about it. I think we have in fact probably done serious damage to our long-term capabilities in this area because it was printed first in the New York Times, and subsequently because there have been succeeding stories about it." But now he and Gonzales are reviving the debate, because this is the administration's last chance to get the legislation it needs to avoid an embarrassing confrontation with Congress, that will, at a minimum, involve long, tortuous public hearings. Back in February, Cheney confidently dismissed critics by declaring: "We believe...that we have all the legal authority we need." But Gonzales has softened this imperious message in light of the public's recent vote of absolutely no confidence. The new spin goes like this: "We believe the president has the authority under the authorisation of military force and the inherent authority of the Constitution to engage in this sort of program, but we want to supplement that authority," Gonzales explained. Obviously, if one already has "all the legal authority they need", it is quite unnecessary to "supplement" it. So Gonzales is really saying that the administration is aware that it has acted illegally and needs a friendly Congress to legitimise the spy program retroactively. This could prove quite interesting, as there is some doubt that Congress actually can legitimise the spy program. So even if there is to be legislation from the lame duck session, it will almost certainly be challenged on constitutional grounds before the US Supreme Court. Ultimately, it comes down to the Fourth Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Now, over the years, the Supreme Court has gradually made a mockery of this, prompting Justice William Brennan in 1984 (an interesting date) to declare that "the Court's victory over the Fourth Amendment is complete" (United States v. Leon). But perhaps he spoke too soon. Allowing the government to conduct secret, mass surveillance - without a warrant, or indeed, any meaningful oversight whatsoever - affecting any and all citizens, would be the ultimate victory. The current court, packed with right-wing activists, might relish the opportunity to affirm an Act of Congress which so clearly and so finally annihilates that pesky old Fourth Amendment. We would then have nothing left to hide. There's no point trying to keep secrets when surveillance cameras are inescapable, when our identification cards broadcast their data via RFID, when our cars are fitted with GPS gear, when our DNA is recorded, when business records can be obtained without a court order, and when any email memo or phone call may be monitored at will. We would, as the Attorney General points out, achieve true freedom at last. ®
Nintendo will next month ship software that will turn its DS Lite handheld games console into an MP3 player, the company's UK wing said late last week. The app will ship on 8 December - the same day the Wii goes on sale over here.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said that every user of the open source Linux system could owe his company money for using its intellectual property. The statement will confirm the worst fears of the open source community.
Taiwanese handheld maker E-Ten's Glofiish X500 PDA phone went on sale in the UK today even as the company gears up to announce its second Glofiish-branded device: the first model in the range to offer a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. E-Ten is clearly out to try and beat HTC at its own game.
Updated with videoUpdated with video Two Canadians last week won their 15 minutes of fame by standing in line for two days to splash out CAD550 on a 20GB PS3s - only to take the machine straight out of the store and destroy it with a sledgehammer.
Scottish telco Thus today told investors it is cautious about the broadband business in the current climate of fierce competition, as it revealed margins on its internet services have been squeezed down to 29 per cent from 44 per cent a year ago. Thus grew its broadband revenues in the six months ending 30 September 30 £10.2m to £43.6m. The growth included £10.9m from acquisitions though. Overall, Thus Group scraped a net profit of £23.4m, thanks to the £33.8m one-off sale of Demon Netherlands. Thus is now trying to offload Demon UK too. The group operated at a loss of £7m on revenues of £263.2m, up 49 per cent on the first half of the financial year. The inclusion of revenues from Thus acquisitions Legend and Your Communications bumped up the numbers. Big contract wins from HSBC, Scottish councils, and others helped too. The board promised investors they would begin operating at a profit some time in the next financial year. Thus has been promising it'll make an operating profit "anytime now" for ages. Back in 2004, it said it would hit the black in H1 2005. Thus chief executive Williams Allan said today: "Despite the net losses from Your Communications and Legend Communications at the start of the year...growth from new businesses and integration efficiencies more than compensated for these losses." The board expects to slash £30m in costs as it integrates Legend and Your Communications. At time of writing, shares in Thus were trading up more than five per cent on the London Stock Exchange.®
Virtual world Second Life was forced to shut up shop for around 15 minutes on Sunday to clean up after a computer worm attack brought servers run by parent company Linden Labs to a virtual standstill. The worm resulted in spinning gold rings, of a type that appeared in the popular Sonic the Hedgehog games of the late 1980s, appearing all over the virtual world. Attempts by users of the virtual environment to interact with these rings ran scripts that created more of the artifacts. This eventually put an extra load on the Linden Labs servers that proved to be unsustainable. After user complaints about server response times reached a crescendo, Lindon Labs suspended the service to all but its own clean up operators who rid the virtual environment of its infestation of so-called "grey goo". The grey goo attack came days after controversy regarding a recent flap over a tool called copybot that could be used to replicate virtual goods without payment. ®
NetApp is bringing its StoreVault line for small and medium-sized business to the UK in a distribution deal with storage specialist Hammer. The StoreVault s500, which scales up to 6TB, launched in the US earlier this year. NetApp says it has received a warm welcome, signing up 250+ value-added resellers. StoreVault gear will now roll out in the UK and Australia in January. Hammer will be responsible for recruiting resellers here, who'll be asked to punt the StoreVault S500 as the only true SAN-and-NAS-in-a-box accessible to small outfits. StoreVault will be exclusively flogged throught the channel here, starting at £3,500 for a 1TB box. The firm announced today it would be adding fibre channel support to the S500 through a deal with QLogic. It's also adding StoreVault Replication to the package, which brings NetApp's enterprise software for data replication and disaster recovery to its SMB punters. NetApp has been feeling its way down the storage food chain, having been known as a go-to-guy for whopping enterpise and supercomputing storage. Its tie-up with IBM has given it access to the mid-market, while setting up the StoreVault division puts it head-to-head with HP in the genuine SMB space. ®
Unlikely as it may seem, we have just acquired evidence that the cops in Western Australia have gone and got themselves a sense of humour. For proof, check out this search which reveals the mail server used by Australia's finest, viz: riggs.police.wa.gov.au. Nicely done. We were going to email the Aussie boys in blue for a comment, but thought better of it since any query is likely to be answered with: Well, what do you wanna hear, man? Do you wanna hear that sometimes I think about eatin' a bullet? Huh? Well, I do! I even got a special bullet for the occasion with a hollow point, look! Make sure it blows the back of my goddamned head out and do the job right! Every single day I wake up and I think of a reason not to do it! Every single day! You know why I don't do it? This is gonna make you laugh! You know why I don't do it? The job! Doin' the job! Now that's the reason! For the record, our DownUnder informant Peter Chance got no reply from missives addressed to murtaugh.police.wa.gov.au. ® ®
Fed up with the hours it takes to encode video into the iPod- and PSP-friendly H.264 format? If so, the answer, according to video peripherals maker ADS Tech, is an H.264 encoding accelerator and, by sheer coincidence, it has one it would like to sell to you.
Security researchers have highlighted how corrupt bank insiders might be able to obtain bank card PINs using as little as one or two guesses. The flaw, which involves the way ATM PINs are encrypted and transmitted across international financial networks (by switches), is far more severe than previous attacks which created a means for insiders to crack PINs using around 15 guesses. By design, it shouldn't be possible to guess a four-digit pin in less than an average of 5,000 attempts. Israeli academics Omer Berkman and Odelia Moshe Ostrovsky have published a paper, titled The Unbearable Lightness of PIN Cracking (PDF), which explains how the processing system used by banks is open to abuse. One of the attacks targets the translate function in switches. Another abuses functions that are used to allow customers to select their PINs online. In either case, the flaws create a means for an attacker to discover PIN codes, for example, those entered by customers while withdrawing cash from an ATM providing they have access to the online PIN verification facility or switching processes. “A bank insider could use an existing Hardware Security Module (HSM) to reveal the encrypted PIN codes and exploit them to make fraudulent transactions, or to fabricate cards whose PIN codes are different than the PIN codes of the legitimate cards, and yet all of the cards will be valid at the same time," said Ostrovsky, researcher at Tel Aviv University who also works for local security firm Algorithmic Research. “Even worse, an insider of a third-party Switching provider could attack a bank outside of his territory or even in another continent". The authors have passed on their research to credit card firm and banks, with little response, prompting their decision to go public with the problem. "One of the most disturbing aspects of the attack is that you're only as secure as the most untrusted bank on the network. Instead of just having to trust your own issuer bank that they have good security against insider fraud, you have to trust every other financial institution on the network as well. An insider at another bank can crack your ATM PIN if you withdraw money from any of the other bank's ATMs," writes security guru Bruce Schneier in a posting on the issue on his security blog. ®
InterviewInterview If Microsoft is aiming for a courtroom collision with the world of free software, it may be disappointed.
HP's freshest board member Ken Thompson won't need to take the company's Pretexting 101 course offering. As Wachovia's CEO, Thompson has become well acquainted with the legal concerns surrounding phone record fraud.
Silicon JusticeSilicon Justice Is this the dawning of the age of the defamation take-down notice? The Electronic Frontier Foundation seems to think so, based on its reaction to a decision last week absolving Craigslist.com from liability for discriminatory housing postings. Huh, you might ask? The EFF's side won (gasp!), and they're still bitching? Indeed they are, but for potentially good cause. The case involved claims by an Illinois civil rights group that Craigslist violated the Fair Housing Act by publishing housing postings expressing discriminatory preferences based on race, religion, ethnicity, etc. Craigslist argued that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act granted them immunity from the suit, and moved to have the case dismissed. The district court - the lowest spot in the totem pole of US federal courts - granted Craigslist's motion, but did so while adopting a new, limited interpretation of Section 230's scope. Until recently, all courts that have dealt with issues involving the liability of "interactive computer services" for information posted by others have followed an earlier case. That previous case read Section 230 as granting a broad federal immunity from liability for information posted on sites by users. That began to change when the 7th Circuit - the middle spot on the federal court totem pole, and the appellate circuit responsible for Illinois - opined in a non-binding portion of an opinion (what we lawyers pompously call dicta) that Section 230 does not create a broad grant of immunity at all. Instead, the court argued, it only exempted sites from liability for claims that required a publication element. Thus, the sites would remain immune from suits over defamation, discriminatory housings postings or other similar claims, but would remain liable for everything else. The district court, tipping its hat to its big appellate brother, chose to adopt this interpetation. This allowed it to dismiss the suit against Craiglist, while still advocating a narrow view of Section 230. At first glance, this seems fairly unimportant, since all the sites in question do is publish information provided by others, and the court's interpretation would still grant them immunity for any claims arising out of that activity. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, however, this new interpretation opens up the possibility of new regulations that would establish cumbersome rules for interactive websites. Moreover, these rules would be at the state level, and sites could potentially have to deal with 50 different sets of regulations and requirements. A broad grant of nearly absolute immunity in Section 230 prevents individual states from enacting laws protecting the interests of third-parties (eg, defamed individuals, or the subject of privacy-invading candid cameras), since any such law would conflict with the immunity and run afoul of Section 230's preemption clause. That clause prevents states from enacting any laws that are inconsistent with Section 230. Under the previous reading of the statute, a state law creating any type of liability would be inconsistent with the broad grant of immunity, thus a big no-no. Under the district court's interpretation of Section 230, states can now require sites to filter out content, mandate take-downs of any content that a user claims is defamatory or violates the right to privacy, or do anything else that doesn't revolve around an element of publication. Liability in these cases would result from the sites' failure to protect the rights of others before or after publication, and not from the actual publication itself. If this seems highly technical and confusing, that's because it is. To condense: the court here has gone against the weight of precedent in order to reduce the freedoms that websites currently enjoy under Section 230. Now do you see why the EFF is so pissed? The EFF may be crying wolf here, though. As we mentioned, this decision goes against the precedent of four appellate circuits, which makes it essentially worthless standing on its own. It's unlikely that this single decision will dramatically alter the internet liability landscape. Where it might get tricky is with the plaintiffs' appeal to the 7th Circuit. If that court chooses to affirm the dicta in its earlier case, it would create a conflict between the circuits, which would open up the possibility of a review by the Supreme Court. And at that point, it's anything goes, folks. ® Kevin Fayle is an attorney, web editor and writer in San Francisco. He keeps a close eye on IP and International Law issues.
SC06SC06 A couple of smaller time hardware players made a big impression on us during last week's supercomputing conference, showing their ability to extend out of just the high performance computing market. If you're in the market for speedy, compact x86 kit, then you want to check out both VXTech and Microway. VXTech – a division of Ciara – has jumped onto the personal cluster bandwagon in style with the eight processor Nexxus 4000. This pedestal box eats up 22.5 inches x 13 inches x 30 inches and is designed to sit underneath an engineer or scientist's desk. When outfitted with 2.4GHz dual-core Xeons, the Nexxus 4000 can crank out 250 Gigaflops of horsepower. The system also has 32 DIMM sockets, 8 hard disk drives, an ATI ES1000 graphics controller and support for both Linux (Red Hat and SuSE) and Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003. The VXTech box joins a growing list of so-called personal clusters that plug directly into standard outlets and give customers a ton of deskside horsepower. Orion Multisystems pioneered this market with its 96-processor cluster before folding earlier this year. Now, the likes of Tyan and Penguin Computing have picked up the torch. Tyan, for example has two Typhoon 600 Series systems. The highest end unit, running on Intel's latest four-core chips, can crank out 256 gigaflops while taking up 21 inch x 14 inch x 28 inches of space. So, the Tyan and VXTech boxes stack up pretty well, although VXTech is currently running on older processors and would seem to leap ahead of Tyan with "Clovertown" chips. VXTech doesn't have pricing for the Nexxus 4000 on its web site, while Tyan charges $25,000 for a full stacked Typhoon. Away from the personal clusters, VXTech also unveiled its Fusion 1200 box, which it bills as a RISC replacement style system. The Fusion 1200 ships as a 12- or 24-socket, wheelable unit with Scale MP's software added on for the Unix-like play. Customers can pick from both dual- and quad-core Xeons, up to 192 DIMMs and up to 12 hard disk drives. When turned on it side, the Fusion 1200 needs 6U of rack spice, but standing up it'll cost you 19 inches x 10.5 inches x 30 inches of desk space. Again, this is the type of product aimed at customers working with computational fluid dynamics, computational chemistry and the like, although it can be tweaked for more general purpose tasks. Had SiCortex not won our Top Flop award, one of these two systems would have taken the prize. The workstation whisperer Unheralded Microway also makes some pretty flash gear. Most impressive to us was the WhisperStation – an Opteron-based workstation. We put this puppy to the ear test, and it passed in muted style. This single to dual-socket box doesn't make a peep. No fans, no air flowing, no disks spinning – nothing. Apparently, engineers at the likes of Boeing and Goodyear have flocked to the workstation. Microway has also put out a new InfiniBand storage system that it claims to sell at half the cost of rival gear, some fresh Opteron gear and some combo Opteron/FPGA boxes. We've got to give Microway credit for dishing out systems that rival all the major players on price, design and cutting-edge technology. Those of you in the market for Opteron systems, in particular, will want to see what this hardware vendor has to offer whether or not you're in the high performance computing market. ®