27th > December > 2006 Archive
We began researching this piece long before the recent murders in Suffolk. That horror has served to remind us that forensic technologies are now often the first thought in any criminal investigation. The shiny power of DNA technology is in no doubt, but are we in danger of being dazzled by it?
2006 in review2006 in review 2006 was an important year for enterprise software and developer tools. The computing old guard trudged on with product updates, marketing hype, and the spinning of political schemes. New challengers, meanwhile, gained traction and credibility. We identify the big events and trends of 2006 that will reverberate for the next year, and look at how they will play out.
Health and Safety officials in a Scottish shopping centre were forced to issue their Santa with a hard hat after youths pelted the poor old boy with mince pies, the Daily Telegraph reports. The attack came from the upper levels of the Paisley Centre in Renfrewshire as Saint Nick was "handing out treats to customers" below. Mercifully, Santa was uninjured by the bombardment, and police intervention was not required. Paisley Centre manager Andrew MacKinnon said: "We are a multi-level centre, and have taken this somewhat drastic action to protect Santa from possible injury. The incident does give rise to health and safety concerns, and we take the safety of our staff very seriously." Local council big cheese Derek Mackay lamented: "Santa's visits to Renfrewshire have normally been controversy-free. It may not be in the spirit of Christmas, but I am sure it was just a one-off moment of madness." Maybe not. The Telegraph notes a further example of mindless violence against Santa - this time in Tipton, in the Black Country - involving "a series of attacks on a sleigh that has been collecting money for charity". We suggest the UK's councils next year consider issuing Santa with an armoured sleigh for street operations and a taser for personal protection against pie-launching ne'er-do-wells. ®
An undersea earthquake off the coast of Taiwan on Boxing day severely disrupted communications across east Asia by damaging cables. The tremor struck at 12.26 GMT yesterday, and was measured at 7.1 on the Richter scale by the US Geological Survey. Warnings of a one metre high tsunami headed for the Philippines were issued, but the wave did not make land. The BBC reports two people were killed and at least 42 injured on Taiwan. The island's biggest telecoms provider, Chunghwa Telecom Co., said damage to its undersea cables had cut off 98 per cent of communication with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong. Repairs are set to take up to three weeks, according to the firm. Japanese operators also reported trouble. China Telecommunications Group said its connections with the US and Europe had been disrupted too. It said: "Internet connections have been seriously affected, and phone links and dedicated business lines have also been affected to some degree." Slow internet services in the region are expected over the next few days. Trading on currency exchanges has been hit. ®
An Australian environmental group has asked the military to intervene in a last-ditch attempt to stop the inexorable advance of the cane toad on Darwin, Reuters reports. The introduction of the cane toad to Oz in 1935 - designed to combat native cane beetles - provoked an environmental disaster. Their numbers have rocketed to an estimated 200 million dedicated to the destruction of local fauna including snakes, goanna lizards and quolls (cat-sized marsupial). During their stay in the Lucky Country, cane toads have evolved longer legs to speed their progress. They now spread at around 40km per year, and have since 1935 advanced 3,000 km from Northern Queensland to threaten Darwin in the north. FrogWatch spokesman Ian Morris told Australian radio: "We need as many people on the ground as we can possibly get, and if the military can work out strategies for controlling toads on their ground, well that's fine with us." FrogWatch has been fighting a desperate battle to keep the cane toad from Darwin, enlisting local residents who participate in "Toad Busts" by trapping the animals in plastic bags "in a bid to slow their steady march westwards". Frog Watch's Graham Sawyer explained: "It's still early enough. We're not going to stop every single cane toad from getting in to Darwin, but what we'll do is get rid of them all as they arrive, and stop that build-up of toads." Quite what the military's role might be is anyone's guess, but we suspect it might require action such as that in the original film version of War of the Worlds, involving flying-wing aircraft and nuclear warheads. Sadly, we suspect that as the dust clears observers will be subjected to the chilling sight of the cane toad emerging unharmed from the blast zone. Other suggestions as to how to deal with the cane toad menace have entertainingly included a toad-busting audio killing machine, which "broadcasts the cane toad breeding call, thereby luring the little blighters to their deaths". ®
RZSLRZSL A woman aboard a small pleasure cruiser was seriously injured yesterday by a dolphin which leapt into the craft off the coast of New Zealand. The 27-year-old was watching the mammals near Slipper Island in the North Island's eastern Bay of Plenty when the attack was made. The dolphin smashed through the boat's windscreen and fell on top of the woman before flipping overboard again to swim away unharmed. As well as her injuries, the victim suffered a heart attack before being airlifted to hospital in Aukland. According to The Marlborough Express, she is in intensive care in a "serious condition". The dolphin apparently hadn't seen the boat as it leapt. A spokesman for Auckland Rescue Helicopters said: "I've never heard of a dolphin hitting someone on a boat. You can't even catch them on lures when you go game fishing. They're too smart." ®
Sharon Stone's legendary charms failed to wow the movie crowds during 2006, with Basic Instinct 2 taking just $5m at the domestic box office, Variety reports. Given that the movie cost $70m to make, it rated as the biggest flop of the year. Also included in the magazine's list of celluloid shame are All the King's Men ($7m revenue - $55m outlay), Poseidon ($60 million - $121m) and The Wicker Man ($23m - $40m). Of the ill-advised latter, Variety explains: Fans and even the original film's director were vocally dismayed by plot tweaks in Neil LaBute's remake of the 1973 cult horror pic that included swarms of killer bees and that had the film's lead (Nicolas Cage) turn into a pill-popping madman. As for tapping new auds, the $40 million film faced the dilemma of not fitting neatly into either the horror or thriller genre. And Cage's mopey face didn't make for titillating marketing. Warner Bros. tried to protect it by not screening for critics, to no avail. Unsurprisingly, Ridley Scott's A Good Year makes the list, despite the presence of Oz hardman Russell Crowe. The "light-hearted romp", Variety notes, "was not an obvious sell to Crowe's male fans and failed to capture the females". ®
Copy-protection features in Windows Vista make the operating system more bloated while giving few benefits to end users, according to a new security paper.
Hackers are shamelessly exploiting the festive season to spread malware. A Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzle game called Christmas_Puzzle.exe doing the rounds is actually a Trojan (Ardamax-E) that uses rootkit technology to hide its presence on compromised systems.
My central heating chose to pack up on Xmas Eve, as it does, and this nice man from British Gas came round to fix it. [As an aside, even in Midwinter, you don't actually need central heating, especially these days when winters aren't so cold - we're not actually freezing. Which is worth remembering, since central heating is probably a major contributor to global warming - woolly jumpers are OK, which gives us a nice warm feeling; even if all the wood we're now burning is more problematic.] We’re burning wood because, of course, he couldn't fix it on the spot - one of several control boards had failed. Which is becoming the story of our times, computer chips fail before the mechanics becomes unrepairable. No more vintage cars, say, because the vintage engine-control circuit boards (or chips) will be unavailable. Or, perhaps, a lucrative job for retired nerds recreating old circuit boards by hand? Is a vintage Mondeo going to be worth it?
ColumnColumn As the WiMax hype machine moves into high gear ahead of next month's 802.20 working group meeting in London, UK, workers on the various wireless standards are anxious to calm down negative reports about the problems they might have on making this family of wireless work in true mobile fashion.
Apple has updated a software repair tool for its first-generation iPod Shuffle that is said to now allow the Flash-based music player to work correctly with songs downloaded from the company's own online music shop.
AMD will ship the Athlon 64 X2 6000+ and release the single-core Athlon 64 4000+ next quarter, it has been claimed. Both with be the last current-generation chips, allowing AMD to focus on its next-generation architecture, due to launch in Q3.
Samsung has launched its ultra-thin 'super 3G' slider phone in Europe for the second time this year, having first touted the 13.8mm thick handset back in August this year. It's Samsung's first phone with Google search and Mail pre-installed.