2nd > February > 2007 Archive
The Scottish National Health Service has postponed the launch of a new cervical smear screening system, after concerns were raised about the security of the service during a trial of the system. According to BMA News, the house magazine for British Medical Association members, Scottish Cervical Call-Recall System (SCCRS), allows anyone with password access - including many admin staff at GP practices taking part in the pilot - to access any Scottish woman's cervical screening records. Forth Valley GP Brian Keighley said: "This is unacceptable and quite possibly illegal and I don't think GPs should co-operate with this." The project, is being developed for the NHS National Services Scotland by Atos Origin. NHS NSS says the system will not launch until the problem is solved. Brian Robson, NHS NSS medical director for eHealth, said: "This is not an acceptable situation. I can give an assurance on behalf of National Services Scotland that SCCRS will not be launched until this is sorted out." The service was supposed to launch last December, but technical problems have already caused the launched to be pushed back until May of this year. This latest glitch could put that new launch date in doubt. NHS NSS says no real records have been compromised because the pilot has been run using "existing board systems", essentially, dummy records. ®
Romania's president delivered an encomium to software piracy during Bill Gates' world tour promoting Windows Vista. President Traian Basescu reportedly told Gates that software piracy helped build a vibrant technology industry in Romania.
The parents of three teens who impersonated their assistant principal in a MySpace profile filed a $3m suit that alleges school officials' disciplinary actions went too far. The sons of the three plaintiffs, at the time 16-year-old students at a high school in Brighton, Tenn., created an account in the name of the assistant principal. Three days and many satirical comments later, administrators finally learned of the prank and expelled one and suspended the others before giving them disciplinary hearing, according to the Commercialappeal. Separately, Samy Kamkar, the youth whose AJAX script pulled in a million MySpace friends in several hours, pleaded guilty in California state court, SC Magazine reported. He was sentenced to three years of probation and 90 days of community service. He was also prohibited for using the Internet for personal use for an unknown period of time. The dispute in Tennessee seems to be populated on both sides with vindictive characters making wildly exaggerated claims. School officials charge at least one of the teens, Christopher P. Barnett, assaulted the school official, even though we've heard no claims of a threatened or attempted physical attack. The parents claim the prank - which included the posting a picture of the assistant principal and doctoring his official bio to change the third person to first - was a parody that's protected by the students' First Amendment right to free speech. Evidently, impersonating a person online is as protected an act as Jonathan Swift's penning of A Modest Proposal, even if the act contains no commentary. While Barnett was expelled, the other two students, Kevin D. Black and Gary A. Moses, were admitted back to school. We suggest a summary spanking of parties on both sides and moving on. ®
CommentComment Neon beer sign enthusiasts beware: you're next. Two men have been arrested and arraigned for hanging the signs that started Wednesday's bomb scare in Boston. Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, have been charged with creating a hoax leading to public disorder and disorderly conduct by Boston's District Attorney. The hoax charge is a felony, the disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor. While charges formally came Thursday, the threatening signs had been hanging over the heads of Bostonians like little swords of Damocles for two or three weeks before anyone mistook them for al-Qaeda handiwork. City and state officials seem to want to continue unwittingly hitting this piñata of comedy. Boston mayor Thomas Menino at one point cited "corporate greed" as the culprit, while Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick took the ironic route of saying that Wednesday's events were "not funny". The only part of this debacle that lacks for humor is the manner in which blame is being assigned. While authorities are seeking remunerative compensation from Turner, so far no legal action has been taken against Turner or its advertising company for their enterprising guerrilla marketing campaign to promote the adult cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force. In recent weeks, identical devices were placed in ten American cities. But only Boston went ballistic. Instead of owning up to the fact that this was a monumental mistake by Boston authorities, every public figure involved seems to want to take the most punitive measures possible, against the two easiest scapegoats. In no case is this more prescient than Berdovsky's: he is a Belarusian citizen on visa who is applying for asylum in the United States. Heavy price Under federal law, a non-citizen convicted of any crime of moral turpitude or aggravated felony in the United States is subject to deportation, and asylum is generally not granted in crimes with terrorist implications. Even if Berdovsky were given some kind of court-authorized plea bargain which would allow him not to be convicted, acknowledgment of complicity in a crime is tantamount to a conviction under federal immigration statutes, and would still lead to deportation. The only recourse Berdovsky would have is to either go to trial and be found not guilty or to have the state drop its case against him entirely. Without even addressing the merits of Berdovsky's asylum case, this much is clear: asylum application is serious business. Often, those applying for asylum are only doing so because to return to their home countries would mean imprisonment, torture, or death. Here, because the state feels embarrassed, it is taking legal action against someone who, in all likelihood, had no intention of creating a hoax bomb scare. He was merely doing an advertising job that he was paid to do. This outcome probably never occurred to him. And in a knee-jerk reaction, state and local authorities are exacting what could be a heavy price over a misunderstanding. There is a deeper implication with regard to how a post-9/11 America reckons with its own identity. Boston has decided, even knowing the circumstances of this advertising trick, that the people who did this should be punished despite their more obvious intentions to promote a television program. It rises to a level above censorship, because now state and local authorities have decided that a human being's health and welfare should potentially suffer because he has unintentionally expressed himself in a way that might possibly be construed as dangerous. The trend that this shows in American thinking resembles McCarthyism, only stupider. The government has ceased with even the formality of asking questions, instead deciding to take the most punitive route possible before undertaking a half-hearted search for truth. What happened in Boston Wednesday is utterly amusing. Surely the road to Gitmo is paved with equally amusing anecdotes. ®
ColumnColumn I’m a fan of shell extensions – those plug-ins for Windows Explorer which provide easy right-click access to all manner of context sensitive actions. For example, my favourite ZIP compressor is WinZip: simply right-click on a folder and you can instantly create an archive containing everything within that folder. Magic! But having said that, shell extensions, like other things, should be used in moderation; they can seriously impact system performance if you invite too many of ’em to the party.
The Yorkshire and Humberside Grid for Learning (YHGfL) has rolled out open source web filtering to 700 schools in the region. Financial details have not been released. The system, built by OS services group Sirius, should prevent more than 200,000 school kids from accessing dodgy web pages. It is thought to be the largest such deployment in education so far, and is seen as something of a vote of confidence in the principles of open source software, by the educational establishment. Yorkshire and Humberside Grid for Learning said having access to the source code for future developments was one of the main reasons it opted for open source, rather than continuing with a proprietary system. It also cited scalability and value for money as reasons for its choice. The education sector could be a very lucrative place for open source to stake a claim, and the government has apparently been supportive. However, many in the open source community feel the pro-open source stance is disingenuous and that the support for OS is actually a pose, designed to give it a better negotiating position with the big software houses, like Microsoft. ®
Well done to all those Reg readers who donated cash to the campaign to release Iranian teenager Nazanin Fatehi, who secured her freedom on Wednesday. Fatehi was in January 2006 "sentenced to death for murder by court in Iran after she stabbed one of three men who attempted to rape her and her 16-year-old niece in a park in Karaj (a suburb of Tehran) in March 2005". A retrial spared her the rope, but she remained in prison until supporters could raise 400m Rials (approx $43,000) bail. Well, thanks to an extensive web and press campaign, the Help Nazanin site collected "$31,000 USD in online donations, $1,000 in cheques and $1,000 in Iran". Member of Canadian Parliament Belinda Stronach generously covered the rest of the amount, and Fatehi is now back with her family. Help Nazanin has an update here, complete with heartwarming pictures. All those who donated can award themselves a well-deserved pint. ®
Intel may claim its 45nm processors will be in production in H2, but it appears desktop chips may not actually launch until Q1 2008, if the latest roadmap to leak out of the chip giant is to be believed.
AnalysisAnalysis While British bobbies and Blakeys have installed more CCTV cameras than any other country in the world, the people have been "sorely lacking" regulation that watches the watchers, according to an academic paper that proposes the outline of a CCTV bill.
CommentComment The social networking phenomenon is upon us, and it seems that half the world (in reality, less than one sixth) is instant messaging, blogging, wiki-ing and generally collaborating and communicating in new and exciting ways.
Security advances in Windows Vista are unlikely to frustrate cybercrime investigation, according to a leading computer forensics firm. Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Vista include a feature that provides data volume encryption called BitLocker Drive Encryption. Suggestions that BitLocker contains a backdoor allowing law enforcement agencies automatic access to encrypted volumes have been robustly denied by Microsoft.
AMD's long-awaited 690 chipset family should ship by the end of the month, Taiwanese mobo-maker moles have claimed. The 690 members will be the first chipsets to be released under the AMD brand and not simply rebranded ATI product.
Web 2.0 pioneers are taking personal control of how online content is organised, according to new research. The study, conducted by the Pew Internet & America Life Project in December 2006, reports 28 per cent of US internet users have categorised, or "tagged", user generated content online. Tagging is effectively a new form of searching for content which allows users to mark, store, and then retrieve the web content they or other users found valuable. For example, photo sharing site flickr.com allows users to add labels to pictures. When a user searches for a photo with a specific label all the pictures that have been tagged with that term will be found. "Tagging lets us organise the vastness of the web using the categories that matter to us as individuals. You may want to tag, say, a Stephen King story as 'horror' but maybe to me it's 'ghost story' and to a literature professor it's 'pop culture'. Tagging lets us organise the net our way," said commentator David Weinberger, who has written a book on new classification systems. Tagging also allows social groups to form around similarities of interests and points of view. If you're using the same tags as I do, we probably share some deep commonalities," said Weinberger. Weinberger pointed out that analysing which tags are most frequently used, and how they relate, can give a new insight into online communities. He calls these patterns "folksonomies" - a play on taxonomy. "Folksonomies reveal how the public is making sense of things, not just how expert cataloguers think we ought to be thinking." Copyright © 2007, ENN
Slingbox maker Sling Media has begun inviting members of the public to sign up to test pre-release versions of the Palm OS incarnation of its SlingPlayer Mobile remote TV viewing application. The scheme is aimed at owners of the Palm Treo 700p.
Distie Tech Data is setting up a joint venture with Brightstar Corp to sell mobile and wireless devices across Europe. Called Brightstar Europe Limited the company will distribute mobile phones and other gadgets to dealers, operators, and retailers. The firm will use Tech Data's logistics and Brightstar's mobile experience. The firm will have headquarters in the UK and will start working in March. ®
Siemens has revealed that it is under investigation by the US Department of Justice over allegations that it paid out some €420m in bribes to help it secure telecoms contracts outside of Germany. The company, Europe's largest engineering firm, is also facing an informal investigation by the Security and Exchanges Commission, the Financial Times reports. Both investigations were disclosed in the company's first quarter report. Siemens is already being investigated by prosecutors based in Munich, Italy, Greece, and Liechtenstein over the allegations. The company has also hired a US law firm Debevoise to investigate the allegations on its behalf. It says it is prepared to share the results of the investigation with the DoJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission. It has also hired external auditors and an anti-corruption expert since the scandal broke. The news follows a bumpy AGM, where spokespeople for current CEO Klaus Kleinfeld were forced to deny rumours that the company is preparing to replace him, should his name be dragged into the scandal. Chairman Heinrich v. Peirer made a point of distancing himself from the scandal, which is alleged to have occurred while he was CEO. He told the AGM that he had taken steps to fight corruption within the company, and pledged his "unconditional support" for those working to clarify the situation, according to an IDG report. ®
Intel Corp has won a legal victory over a jeans maker in Indonesia selling trousers under the Intel brand. The chip maker had its complaint against the denim vendor upheld despite the fact that trousers and computer processors are fairly different products. The decision is seen as a positive step as Indonesia is seen as generally weak on protecting brands, the FT reports. Other brands available include Sony underpants and Rolex cigarettes. It is still difficult to enforce trademarks in Indonesia although the situation seems to be improving. John Matheson, Intel's group general counsel for Asia-Pacific, told the FT: "There's no doubt that Indonesia has made improvements in its system and the committment to improving IP protection seems to be real." Intel is continuing with a 13-year battle against another Indonesian company. ®
And now, Register Hardware is proud to present the eagerly-anticipated, desperately-sought-after sequel in our romantic round-up of Valentine's Day gadget gift ideas: this time they're for her...
Blu-ray Disc is catching up with HD DVD, at least in terms of US pre-recorded media retail sales, the most recently published figures from sell-through video sales tracker Nielsen VideoScan show. In the first two weeks of January, BD media outsold HD DVD.
If you were asleep this week, or on a nuclear sub, or trapped at the bottom on an icy crevasse, you may have missed the launch of Vista. And, more importantly the inevitable backdraft. So, for easy reference, here is a quick run down of the Week in Vista. Enjoy:
Humanity is "very likely" to blame for global warming and, regardless of what action is taken now, recent increases in atmospheric carbon will have a profound effect on the planet. In the first of a series of four reports to be published this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has fingered humans as the culprits in global warming, with a probability of more than 90 per cent. Climate Change 2007: the Physical Science Basis warns that by the end of this century we can expect sea levels to rise by between 28cm and 43cm, that increased temperatures (between 1.4°C and 4°C globally) would lead to more frequent and powerful tropical storms. Co-author Kevin Trenberth, director of climate analysis for the National Centre for Atmospheric Research said the warming of the planet "is not something you can just stop", and that in 100 years time the planet will have a very different climate. But Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society stressed that this is no carte blanche for politicians to elect to do nothing. He said: "The IPCC strongly emphasises that substantial climate change is inevitable – and we will have to adapt to this. It also highlights the enormous cost of not doing anything. This should compel all of us – world leaders, businesses and individuals – towards action rather than the paralysis of fear." The report, published today, is not the full scientific report: that is not expected until the summer. It is, in fact, a 21 page summary written by scientists and politicians and designed to inform policy makers. Register readers inform us that the science "has yet to be edited to agree with the conclusions", but we detect a slightly sarcastic undertone in their typing. Benny Peiser, a professor of anthropology at Liverpool University, and a vocal critic of the consensus view of global warming, said that regardless of the conclusions, there were still massive problems to be overcome before the issues raised in the report could be tackled. He told us: "What the report won't be able to do, however, is to come up with any consensus on what to do about climate change. The economics of climate change and climate policy remain - as ever - the most contentious problem." A paper published in the journal Science compared predictions about global temperatures from the 2001 IPCC report with what has actually happened. The IPCC said global temperatures would rise between 0.25°C and 0.35°C; they have actually risen by 0.33°C, close to the top end of the predicted range. Meanwhile, sea level has risen much faster than predictions, leading some to speculate that the IPCC scientists have been too conservative in their forecasting so far. ®
Gates comes to London to launch Vista Well, there was only topic on everyone's lips this week. Yes, exactly how many air miles did Bill Gates clock up touting Vista to a "whatever" world. As far as we can make out, between last Friday and Tuesday, Gates popped up in Davos, New York, London, and Scotland. Who knows, maybe he even made it home for a shower and a quick spin for his washing. No wonder he appeared a trifle tired when he pitched up at the British Library to launch Vista to consumers. And how did the long-awaited OS go down? Well, Microsoft may have shot itself in the foot publicity wise by launching it to corporates back in November. Plus, let's face it, anyone who really cares about these things has spent the last five years watching the feature set get pared down. So...within hours we were being treated to claims that the much vaunted/bitched-about DRM had been hacked already. On a more local level, British customers were complaining about Gates' tenuous grasp on the £/$ exchange rate when asked why UK punters are being charged almost double their US counterparts. We could go on. Or you could go here for a complete listing of our Vista stories. Yet another joker gets into the UK Meanwhile, a joker – literally – made fools of Dutch and British border controls. Robert Coleman, himself a security guard by profession, flew to the UK using his national ID card, in which he was made up as Batman's arch enemy. With a hat. Apparently, Coleman made it as far as 10 Downing St, but had his card confiscated on his return to Holland. More details here. Court rules on email harassment Speaking of jokers, the California Courts have given employers similar protections to ISPs when it comes to liability for emails distributed via their systems. The case centred on claims that an Agilent employee used his employer's email system to send threatening emails to workers at another firm. More here. (Please don't) Contact us Let's stick with email. A security firm warns how the "contact us" button many firms have on their websites can be used by naughty people to subject companies to a type of DoS attack. Worried? Check here to see if you should be. Halifax needs a little extra help... Remember how mail mergers used to be such an annoying part of every day life? They still are at Halifax Bank of Scotland. Someone must be taking some heat after a woman in Aberdeen received account details for around 70,000 customers after requesting a simple statement of her account. The bank is investigating. As is the Financial Services Authority. And so does Scotland Yard Feeling overwhelmed by security worries? So is the Metropolitan Police, which admitted last week it is unable to cope with cybercrime since a shake-up of the forces arrayed against e-criminals following the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. One stand out figure – demand for associated forensic services is expected to increase by 30 to 40 per cent next year. But Korea, Holland hit back There was some good news on the security front though. No, we're not talking about Vista. Two men were arrested in Korea on suspicion of being tremendously prolific spammers – we're talking 1.6 billion unsolicited emails. Meanwhile, two Dutch men who operated a botnet were handed jail sentences and fined. They both walked free, due to time already served while awaiting trial. If you love someone, set them free – including the boss They weren't the only ones who walked blinking into the light last week. Kevin Rollins' tenure as CEO at Dell has come to an end after just 30 months. Rollins is being replaced by...Michael Dell. Dell (the company, not the CEO) has been having rough time for the last couple of years. Some might be reassured that the man who dreamed up the Dell model is coming back to take the helm. Others might remember how erstwhile Dell wannabe Gateway went through some similar management moves. Meanwhile, Susan Whitney is to retire from her role as IBM's x86 server chief. Whitney is a 35 year IBM veteran – not including three stints as a Big Bluer while at college. Back in the UK, John Oughton is moving on from his role as chief exec of the Office of Government Commerce. His replacement will be sought through a "competition". What'll be second prize we wonder? GovIT? What a waste GovIT watchers will no doubt be heartened by the news that government IT projects have overrun by more than £260m in the last five years. Lower than you thought? Yes, we thought so too. It all depends how you slice and dice the figures, apparently. Either way, the LibDems condemned it as "chronic mismanagement on an epic scale". Pity they couldn't have been more direct. Prints all over the place Sticking with confusion in the corridors of power, the Information Commissioner said this week that schools should ask both parents and children for permission before swiping their dabs. Last September, it said only kids needed to be asked, as long as they were old enough to make up their minds. Though no one can make up their mind about when a child is old enough. It's enough to make you throw you throw up your hands – if you were sure someone wasn't going to grab a quick fingerprint. It wasn't all bad news for govIT though. British boffins proudly unveiled a database of shoe characteristics, to enable British police to track crims by their footprints as well as their DNA, dabs. Apparently they have over 1,000 distinguishing marks for Nike trainers alone. Offshoring? Not as cheap as you think Thinking of cutting your costs by offshoring? Think again, says analyst Clive Longbottom, as globalisation push up wages in China and India. Yes, globalisation isn't all Starbucks and McDonalds. Sometimes the locals get something nice out of it. Intel unveils trannys for a new generation While software, in the shape of Vista, dominated headlines, there were advances on the chip front last week. Intel unveiled its upcoming 45nm chip architecture, sprinkling round phrases like high-k dielectric, metal gates and leakage reduction. The technology will go into production this year, and you guessed it, this all means Moore's Law is safe for a few more years. IBM chimed in with details of its own advanced tranny technology. Except for saying when it would ship. While 3Com flashes its blade Now, for some hardware that you can get your hands on right away... 3Com has unveiled Linux-based blades for its 6000 Routers. It runs open source applications you know, and the company hopes to build an "ecosystem". Who doesn't? Meanwhile, Cisco used its annual beano in Cannes to unveiled a rake of Gigabit and Power over Ethernet kit. And IBM, BT, Symantec and Citigroup flash the cash Course, buying some new kit isn't enough for some. Companies signing on the dotted line this week include Softek which has taken the IBM shilling. Or should we say, an undisclosed sum? Symantec took control of Altiris, in exchange for $830m. BT boosed its North American operations by snaffling up International Network Services. And Citigroup pocketed Prudential's Egg online bank for a bargain £575m. Google underachieves Google failed to excite the markets this week, announcing a mere 176 per cent increase in profits for the fourth quarter. Honestly, talk about underachievers. eBay, meanwhile, upped revenues and profits by 29 per cent and 24 per cent respectively. Creative Technology's numbers also received a boost, as Apple took a license for its MP3 player patent – albeit unwillingly. And finally... Spare a thought for the Ohio student who stripped naked, covered himself in grapeseed oil and ran around his school's lunch hall. Taylor C Killian got a double tasering for his trouble. The local police said: "He said he was looking to create some excitement and get an adrenaline rush. Hindsight being 20/20, [he] should have ate a burger instead. Put a jalapeno on it. I don't know." Perhaps there's a lesson right there for the Microsoft marketing machine. See you same time next week. ®
The identity of the whistleblower in the Serious Fraud Office's (SFO) investigation of software firm Torex Retail was revealed on Friday as its suspended chief executive. Neil Mitchell told the Financial Times he had led a group of executives which had reported the firm to authorities. He said he would be seeking protection from Torex Retail under the 1998 Public Disclosure Act, which offers safeguards to whistleblowers. Mitchell was suspended on Wednesday.
Aficionados of the kind of quality programming for which Channel 4 is rightly reknowned will be disappointed to learn it has pulled its planned "wank week" - a series of three late-night programmes dedicated to bashing the bishop and petting the beaver. The short season was set to feature the London "Masturbate-a-thon" event, originally conceived in San Francisco as a way of undermining the very basis of US society through mass onanistic excess. The loss of wood on Channel 4's part seems to be "a bid to avoid further controversy in the aftermath of the Celebrity Big Brother racism row", as The Guardian explains. Furthermore, there's concern down at the channel about the negative publicity the wank week idea has already attracted. In August last year, former ITV big cheese Charles Allen used his MacTaggart lecture in Edinburgh to cite it as an example of falling standards at the nation's favourite TV controversymonger. There is hope, however: Channel 4 may in the future broadcast the three self-love documentaries - which also include insights into compulsive male masturbators and girls jerking their merkins - although not under the "wank week" banner. ® Bootnote We have no confirmation that Channel 4 has also cancelled plans for a Celebrity Come Dancing spectacular in which C-list male celebs crack one off while dancing the Rumba with Natasha Kaplinsky. Watch this space.
ObituaryObituary Second acts are rare in the computer industry but Jean Ichbiah, who died this week, managed it. Not only did he revolutionise software development for military computer systems with the Ada programming language, but he also devised a widely-used fast text-entry system for handheld computers. Ichbiah was an atypical programming pioneer in many ways. At a time when it was becoming fashionable for programmers to wear their hair long and sport polo shirts and sandals, Ichbiah opted for neatly trimmed hair and stylish suits. I met him in 1979 just after his team at CII Honeywell Bull had won the Ada contract and, having no idea what he looked like, thought the smart, unassuming gentleman who greeted me in the lobby of a London Hotel was the public relations officer. Fortunately, I managed to conceal my surprise as it became evident that this was the man I had come to interview. Given the complexity of negotiating with bureaucracy at the US Department of Defense (DoD), Ada's inventor needed to be a consummate diplomat and Ichbiah combined his undoubted technical skill with a master's degree in diplomacy. Even if he had realised I had mis-identified him, he was far too much of a gentleman to mention it. Ada went on to change the way the US military - and the rest of NATO - built embedded computer systems. More importantly, in 10 years Ada usage is reckoned to have slashed the number of high level languages used by the DoD by a order of magnitude. Ichbiah went on to found first Alsys - an Ada compiler development company - and, later, Textware - a company which develops text entry software for personal digital assistants (PDA). He was awarded the French Légion d'Honneur and a Certificate of Distinguished Service from the DoD for his work on Ada. He was also a member of the French Academy of Sciences. ®
Small form-factor PC specialist Shuttle hopped on the Windows Vista bandwagon with a trio of pre-configured systems that bundle Microsoft's latest offering. Shuttle said all three are compatible with Vista's Aero UI.
Florida, the epicentre of hopelessly confused US elections, is chucking touch-screen ballot machines in favour of optical scanners, the Associated Press reports. Governor Charlie Crist (Republican) announced the new initiative on Thursday, and called on the legislature to authorise the needed $32m in extra funds that the changeover will require. The legislature is expected to comply. The Governor's proposal would require all Florida counties to have a mechanism in place for establishing a voting paper trail in time for the 2008 national elections. Florida made world headlines during the 2000 elections by failing to perform a satisfactory recount, thanks to its now infamous punch-card "butterfly ballots". Overvoting was a serious problem, and it became necessary for officials to divine voter intent by examining the chads - the bits of paper encircled by perforation - to see which had been pushed farther, under a dubious assumption that more pressure on a chad must indicate a voter's greater desire to see the corresponding candidate in office. The butterfly ballots were confusing and difficult to read, and had to be aligned precisely in a template in order to work properly. Touch screens were meant to solve these problems with a much simpler interface and protection against overvoting. But voters found the remedy as bad as the original malady. The machines often malfunctioned, and in a situation where the data is suspect, the idea of a recount is preposterous: one can only read the same bad data twice. The machines were also deployed without any consistent security protocols in place, while numerous security snafus surfaced, further eroding voter trust. So now it's back to basics, with a paper ballot that can be marked clearly, verified by the voter, and collected for a recount. Of course, when one gets to thinking about it, one has to wonder: if a clearly marked paper ballot is the best insurance against mechanical snafus and uncertainties, why do we bother with the intervening technology in the first place? ®
LettersLetters Sad news this week as California coastguards were forced to call off the search for Microsoft researcher Jim Gray who has been missing since setting out in his yacht last Sunday. A respected IT personality and database developer, Google chipped in with an offer to use its high resolution satellite imagery to aid the search:
Broadcom has begun sampling what it claims is the first ever mobile phone chip to cram not only Wi-Fi and Bluetooth but also an FM tuner onto a single die. The part is fabbed at 65nm.
Buried deep in the bumf for Microsoft's new Vista release is a line that says it handles sound very differently. This kind of jolly PR spin is enough to chill the blood of those who rely on Windows running their audio production software reliably.
The managing director of one of the firms supplying fingerprint scanners to British schools has vowed to come clean to parents about the arguments against the use of such biometric technology on children. In an interview with The Register Alisdair Darrock, managing director of Softlink, a firm that sells fingerprint scanners to schools, said he would change his advice for parents so they can make an informed decision about whether they want the school to take their children's dabs. Darrock, who said he was opposed to ID cards, also accused parents campaigning against school fingerprinting of conducting a "false, nebulous debate" and challenged them to come up with coherent arguments against fingerprinting pupils. Softlink, which sells systems that help run school libraries, has been selling biometric scanners to track school lenders for seven years. In all that time it has supplied a standard letter that schools can use to tell parents about the fingerprint scanning. The letters are meant to give parents the power of consent over the fingerprinting of their children, but examples seen by The Register are biased in favour of using biometrics to regulate the behaviour of kids. "What we tell schools is under review at the moment," said Darrock. "Our letter - we don't make people aware of what the issues are. We might go some way to outline some of the issues. We should list the concerns and then address them." The standard letter that Softlink sends to schools that buy its fingerprint scanners dismisses the "media speculation" about school fingerprinting and claims that its own devices "do NOT compromise individual freedoms." It provides schools with a standard letter they can send to kids. It talks about the implementation of fingerprint scanners in the school library as though it were a done deal and makes a strong case for parents to accept it as such. "We are planning on having biometric devices in the school library to the improve the service," it opens. Though it does say parents have an "opportunity to decide not to be involved in the system", it does not help them understand why this unfamiliar technology has caused enough concern for other parents to launch campaigns against it. It does explain why parents should be as happy about having their children's fingerprints scanned into a database as the school head and governors are. Darrock explained how parents' concerns about his fingerprint technology, and how his own sense of duty, had always caused him to press schools to ask parents for consent before installing any fingerprint devices. But this has not always happened, and there are plenty of other suppliers of similar biometric devices for schools. A letter sent to David Clouter, who organises the Leave Them Kids Alone campaign, and other parents at his children's school, contains no mention of an opt out at all. A letter that stirred another parent, Pippa King, to campaign against the technology does explicitly ask for consent, but stresses that the Department for Education and Skills and the "Office of the Data Commissioner" have both endorsed the system - Micro Librarian System "I would encourage you to employ the system using fingerprint images," it had them saying. In a letter written to the MLS director Andy O'brien in October 2002, of which The Register has a copy, John Hopper, from the 'parental involvement in children's education team' at the Department for Education and Skills, applauded the advice MLS had given schools. "We also note with approval that your literature strongly recommends that schools contact parents before using the software," said Hopper. Robert Mechan, then an officer at the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO), said in another letter to O'brien in 2001, said he believed MLS's fingerprint technology did not "raise any data protection concerns." But the ICO has since grown more concerned about fingerprinting and said earlier this week it was concerned enough about the technology to advise schools to seek parental consent before installing any fingerprint scanners. The ICO did feel like it was too late to roll back the use of fingerprint scanners in schools, but since Hong Kong's Data Protection Registrar banned school fingerprinting because he thought it was like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, the UK's ICO will be under pressure to find a position in common with its cousin in the Chinese protectorate - not only does Hong Kong have similar laws, but data protection offices around the world like to harmonise their actions against the disproportionate use of technology.®
TV wit Stephen Colbert has had more fun at the expense of Wikipedia with another deeply ironic prank. Last year Colbert satirized the project's dependence on the consensus theory of truth - which for Wikipedians is a feature, not a bug. The project's guideline "WP:V" states, "The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth" [their emphasis] - and in practice this means that if you can can find a source on the notoriously reliable truth machine called the internet, then cobble up enough votes to support a notion, you win! Colbert last year on "The democratization of knowledge" On his show The Colbert Report, the comedian seized on news that Microsoft had paid a contractor to fiddle with an entry about open source file formats. (Strangely, this splendid development has been coolly received. By paying people for contributing to Wikipedia, Microsoft was monetizing previously unpaid labour. Since almost all of Wikipedia's 1,000-odd "administrators" receive no pay for their hard work other than the pleasure of power tripping - seeing nothing of the $14m of VC money Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has banked - it's a valuable economic contribution). Reality threatened by Californians There's a transcript below to save you wrestling with the Comedy Channel's user-unfriendly video player, but in short, Colbert urged viewers to amend the entry for "Reality" to read "Reality Has Become A Commodity". Viewers obliged, forcing Wikipedia's version of Reality to be locked down, with administrators - quite wisely - warning of the damage that Californians could do to reality. Here's Colbert's report. I read the headline last week, "Microsoft offers cash for Wikipedia edit." Apparently, the software behemoth hired an Australian computer expert so they would be more favourable to Microsoft's products. Now I know a lot of people don't trust Microsoft - just because they've been accused of bundling software to crush smaller companies like puppies in a pile-driver. But I'm sure people are going to start trusting Microsoft again if Microsoft just pays someone to write an entry in Wikipeda on how people are trusting Microsoft again. Of course Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said he was, quote, " ... very disappointed to hear that Microsoft was taking that approach" Boo hoo, Comrade! Open source software is like free trade - and the invisible hand of the market has the mouse now. Now others out there are going to say, "Can't Microsoft's competitors pay somebody to change it back?" Exactly. IBM can throw some of their money at perception and make their products "objectively better". Then Microsoft can fire their cash cannons back, and we're off to the races! This is the essence of Wikilobbying. When money determines Wikipedia entries, reality has become a commodity. And I'll give five bucks to the first person who goes on W and changes the entry on Reality to "Reality Has Become A Commodity". And to those who say "That's not what Reality is", I say "Go look up it on Wikipedia". Splendid stuff. ®
Serial entrepreneur Michael Robertson extended his Gizmo Project this week with a Flash-based browser plug-in. This means no installation is required, and the service offers five-minutes free calls to anyone in the world, or 10 if you register with an email address. A big "so what?" you might think - in which case you probably own the PC in front of you. But for much of Asia, which accesses the internet through shared terminals in the ubiquitous cyber cafes, it's quite a big deal indeed. As it is for backpackers - who keep their trust funds back at home intact by never spending any money when they travel. At Gizmo Call, you simply punch in a number and start talking. For $4 it also allows you to spoof a number - so stand by for junk calls from 419ers. We took the opportunity to catch up with Robertson his latest snapshot of the VoIP industry. Gizmo scored a coup last year when Nokia bundled it with the N80 Internet Edition - its mass market Wi-Fi phone. Robertson hinted at more deals to come. "We've been working for Nokia very closely for a year, on all kinds of things from usability to NAT traversal - all making it easy to set up and use," he told us. Robertson had nothing but praise for Nokia for fighting the carriers' refusal to include Wi-Fi on devices they sell. Most famously, Nokia's Blackberry clone the E61 was denuded of WLAN at Cingular's request, when it became the E62. "Where the majority of telco-related companies are figuring out ways to lock users in, Nokia is moving in the opposite direction," he says. If there's a silver lining, he hopes, in that it might raise awareness of SIM-less phones. "The idea of unlocked phones, where you swap out one GSM SIM and replace it with another, hasn't really been in the consciousness or reported in the press. But you're starting to see changes with that. The problem was that all the major US retail chains, such as BestBuy, Circuit City or Radio Shack, had each done an exclusive deal with one vendors, which dictated what they could and couldn't sell. How was he finding it deal with telcos, we wondered? A true VoIP service still needed to be able to terminate at a POTS line. "There's reasonable competition," he told us. "But you see a lot of sneakiness - you agree the tarriffs and then when you get the bill 45 days later there are all these extra telecomm charges. It's like your cellular bill!" "If you're not watching it like a hawk, lots of imaginary charges pop up, and the rates change all the time. There is competition but you have to be very diligent," he said. One Net Neutrality, Robertson joins with the engineer's consensus to leave well alone. Which is a little surprising for a VoIP provider. "I just see it as a natural struggle for dominance/profit in the free market. If you're Wal-Mart, you can go to manufacturers and jam them like crazy: it's all about dominance. So on the Internet a DSL provider goes 'I have these DSL lines', and a Google says 'I have all these people using my search engine'. This whole network neutrality debate is about sides of the debate getting the best government protection for their businesses." And the scares are overwrought, he reckons. "I can't see any scenario where a provider would black any services or meaningfully degrade them because we know what happens to walled gardens on the internet - they get driven out of the market." ®
A Dutch spammer who used compromised PCs to spamvertise web sites has been fined €75,000 ($97,000) by Opta, the Netherlands telecoms regulator.
Super-volatile shares of Rackable Systems dived more than 18 per cent during Friday's trading after the company disappointed investors with its fourth quarter results.
It might sound like a heavy metal band but NovaForge is actually European IT company Bull's internally-developed solution to manage distributed software development – and it’s now available to customers. As the self-styled 'architect of an open world', Bull has brought together a set of tried-and-tested open source tools under the umbrella of NovaForge to create what it sees as an industrial-strength development and project management tool.
New Congress - same old spanking of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Members of the House of Representatives grabbed LANL as a whole, its leaders and government overlords by the throats and didn't let go during a Tuesday hearing. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that LANL - the birthplace of the atomic bomb and one of the US's top research labs - has suffered far too many security lapses over the years, including the most recent incident where thousands of pages of classified material turned up in a contractor's trailer home. Despite a management change this year, the lab remains such a concern that some members of Congress questioned whether or not it should be shutdown. Bart Stupak (D-MI), chairman of the Oversight and Investigation subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, started the Los Alamos beating by asking, "What is so special about Los Alamos? Why do we need Los Alamos? What can't be transferred someplace else?" Then, to make his point very clear, Stupak added, "I am convinced that we may need just to tow the car." Over the years, LANL has emerged as one of Congress' favorite whipping boys. Members of the House berate officials for security lapses ranging from the infamous Wen Ho Lee incident to missing disks or files that sometimes turn up and sometimes turn out not to have been missing at all. LANL's poor reputation prompted the government to put its management contract - owned by the University of California for more than 60 years - up for bid. And, last June, new managers stepped in when a private consortium, Los Alamos National Security, composed of UC, Bechtel and a couple of government contractors took control of LANL. The management shift angered a number of employees who feared that the for-profit enterprise would fire workers, place less emphasis on science and secure unfairly high bonus fees from the government. But proving that new LANL looks a lot like old LANL, confidential documents turned up in a contractor's trailer home in October, during a drug raid by the local police. I never said never The new contractor LANS is very sensitive about its reputation. Spokesman Jeff Berger, for example, has chastised your reporter in the past for bringing up Congressmens' statements that the lab be shut down because of poor security. He claimed that your reporter was the first person that has "ever suggested a total shutdown is even a possibility - however unlikely". Although, back in 2005, Representative Stupak was asking the same questions about the lab. "Why do we have to have this place any longer," he wondered. And now even more representatives have weighed in on the matter. "It seems you can always hold a hearing on security lapses at Los Alamos," said Joe Barton (R-TX), during this week's hearings. "Well, enough is enough. This is not some fast food restaurant on the corner somewhere. I don't have words to explain how frustrated I am. "If there was a way to start over, I would say, 'Shut down Los Alamos. Fire everyone out there and a build a new laboratory somewhere else.'" Barton continued with a few choice words for LANS. "I also think the current contractor at Los Alamos apparently doesn't give a damn about this (security lapse). I hate to use that kind of language, but that is how I feel." Barton called for LANS to give up parts of its lucrative performance fees and to face civil penalties for the security issues. "I do reserve the right to request that we consider shutting down this laboratory." It should be noted that UC beat out the University of Texas for the LANL contract, and our man Barton comes from the great state of Texas. Although, it took another Texan to dish out the most reasoned perspective on Los Alamos. "The country needs a well-functioning Los Alamos," said Mike Burgess (R-TX). Burgess emphasized how bright and talented the researchers at Los Alamos are. The scientists perform some of the nation's most crucial jobs such as safe-guarding the nuclear weapon stockpile. They also engage in ground-breaking science across a variety of fields, including, physics, medicine, chemistry and high performance computing. From there, Burgess asked for LANS to be "penalized millions upon millions of dollars" so that "it will realize how serious the problem is." Burgess was one of the few representatives able to keep his grand-standing to a minimum. The representatives love to lash out at Los Alamos without ever addressing the really important problems facing the lab. They call for more security, more bureaucracy, more procedures, more manuals and more oversight. This was a tradition started by former director Pete Nanos who shutdown the lab for six months to "fix it". Somehow this culture of "more" is meant to lead an efficient, lean lab. But many of LANL's former top minds have already departed due to the "more" culture, which creates a difficult environment for top scientists. A leading Linux server software specialist shouldn't need a four-hour course on how to plug in a computer. Rather than attacking LANL for sport, the Congressmen should seek to add security oversight while maintaining Los Alamos as a productive lab. All parties' time during these hearings would be better spent trying to find such a balance - because it's the workers that matter in the end - than trying to come up with funny analogies that demonstrate just how much LANL's security sucks. ®
Episode 5Episode 5 "What's your opinion of this?" The Boss asks, handing over a brochure for a laptop. "Seems OK to me," the PFY says "Reasonably cheap, good enough specs. I'm surprised you're looking at getting one though as there's no fancy bells as whistles." "Oh it's not for me!" The Boss gasps, digging out yet another brochure from his briefcase. "Heavens no! Anyway, what do you think of this?" "Hmmmm, a 64 seat 56k Modem pool - how... er.. last century," The PFY says. "Last century?! But it's got data compression!" The Boss adds defensively. "So do most of my smutty pictures," The PFY says, without missing a beat. "But surely we should be living in the Now?" "Meaning?" "Meaning we'd expect our people to be using ADSL or broadband of some sort, not dialup." "And isn't 64 seats a little bit overkill don't you think?" I add. "I mean we'd be lucky to get ten people using the existing pool." "Yes, but if we implement the new work-from-home scheme those numbers would rise," The Boss burbles with a measure of triumph. "Work from home?" "Yes. The company's been considering it for a while now and the Head of IT's asked me to implement it." "Really, why?" "It seems that a lot of current research suggests that companies like ours can actually achieve performance gains and associated savings by allowing staff to work from home one or two days a week." "But surely that research could be reinterpreted to mean that companies like ours have a high proportion of staff who just arse around at work?" I ask. "I don't think so. The numbers are very positive - In fact in some cases productivity was seen to double!" "Twice nothing is still nothing," The PFY adds sagely. "HEY!" I cry, having a brainstorm. "What about if we implemented a work from work scheme?” "What do you mean by 'twice nothing'?" the Boss asks, ignoring me. "He means that some of our staff don't do anything anyway - but to look on the bright side at least with the work-from-home scheme they wouldn't take up office space." "And that's the main point," The Boss says. "We're paying very high rentals for our office space, power, cleaning, etc, and if we got staff to work from home for a day a week and implemented a deskless office we'd be cable to consolidate the office space and relinquish an entire floor" "Deskless office?" the PFY says "Ah” I respond before the Boss can get involved “An office where noone has a specific desk and people use available space combined with mobile & follow-me phone technology. It's very huggy feely with everyone being friends and sharing resources" "So it'll never work," the PFY says. "Not a chance." "But it makes perfect financial sense," the Boss Heimi Hendersons. "Suit yourself," I say. "So you're not actually averse to the ideal of trialling a work-from-home?" "On the contrary. I think it's a fantastic idea," I say. "Really?" the Boss chirps, happy that he's not going to have to defend the idea to anyone. "Sure! I mean if we get some of the deadwood working from home there's the distinct possibility their wives will catch them browsing porn for half the day and they'll get the kicking they so richly deserve!!!" “And everyone wins!” The PFY says. "I doubt that people waste that much of the day," The Boss says. "I think you'd be surprised. Some of our staff spend about three hours a day posting to a Hi-Tech audio blogsite." "There's nothing dodgy about that!" The Boss gasps. "It could be argued that there is when you spend about several hours every working day commenting on Class A & B amplifier design theory!" The PFY says. "But that's just a hobby, not pornography!" "Using that reasoning, if I called pornography a hobby could I spend three hours a day on it?" The PFY asks. "Of course not!" "Ah well, never mind. But back to the issue at hand. The company wants this to save money on rent, yes?" I ask. "Yes." "And they have no problem spending stacks of cash on the deskless office idea, laptops, mobile phone calling and ADSL subscriptions?" "No." "Which would still work out at less than they're spending on rent?" "Considerably less." "And it's better than just firing people?" "We can't do that and you know it. The unions would be all over us." "What about - and this is just off the top of my head - forming an offshoot company and giving everyone the option of 'transferring' to the new 'work-from-home' company which will lease out one of the floors we vacate." "The deadwood would be in there like a rat up a drainpipe," The PFY adds. "Then, in three months time say, just send the company bankrupt - or alternatively just let our beancounters run it into the ground..." "And as a result...we've saved rent and...reduced our non-performing workforce?" The Boss asks. "Hmm. How many people do you think we'll be able to get to go?" "I'm guessing most of the Beancounters, all of PR and Marketing, about half of the PAs and some business analysts. Maybe 50." "So we're talking 50 laptops," The Boss mumbles wandering off quickly to get the order in. "Fifty?" The PFY says dubiously. "Not a chance, so many middle and upper middle managers will apply that the idea'll be canned quicker than you can say constructive dismissal. Sure, we'll end up with a stockpile of brand new laptops which we will be unable to return because they'll be...shop-soiled..." "I swear it shall be done!" The PFY chirps. "Which just leaves..." "Listing them on eBay with a ridiculously low reserve," The PFY adds, grabbing the brochure the Boss left behind. "I'll get right onto it!" "Right then, if anyone wants me I'll be... " "Working from home?" "Exactly!" I say, leaving for the pub. BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99