8th > February > 2007 Archive

NAO attacks UK.gov £13.3bn savings claim

UK government claims of multi-billion pound savings achieved through an efficiency drive has come under fire from the National Audit Office. The Government purports to have found £13.3bn savings from an annual public spend of about £120bn since the 'Gershon' efficiency drive began in 2004. It and has to save 'only' another £8.2bn by next March to have met its target. This sounds impressive, and so thinks the Office of Government Commerce, which is responsible for finding the cuts. "It speaks of confidence and credibility," an OGC spokesman told The Register. But in a report published today, the NAO found the government's calculations decidedly murky and called for more transparency in how they are acccounted. The NAO could be certain of barely a quarter (£3.5bn) of the savings claimed by the Government. Some £3.1bn of the claimed savings couldn't be trusted at all, while £6.7bn were tainted with "measurement issues and uncertainties". For example, only four of ten central government departments had subtracted the cost of finding cost savings from the actual savings claimed. The Public and Commercial Services Union, which has fought job cuts across the public sector, noted that HM Revenue and Customs had found it could save £105 million with job cuts after it spent £106 million on consultants. The NAO urges government auditors and the like ought to challenge departments' claims more vehemently to avoid being fobbed off. Its third recommendation revealed what departmental auditors might have told us if they were doing their jobs properly, which was that the government's reporting systems are so inadequate anyway, that it's hard to fathom what's really going on. So why did the Government claim last November that it had made £13.3bn of Gershon efficiency savings, when the numbers were bogus? What the Treasury called efficiency savings back in November was actually job cuts. These account for very little of the savings the government can account for, according to the NAO. Most of its savings (£5.5bn of them - while savings in excess of 10,000 job cuts were too low to note) came from reform of government procurement (which meant in practice consolidating contracts to get bulk pricing), while most of the efficiency projects examined by the NAO were already underway before Gershon got involved. Even the job cuts were massaged. The NAO found that in the 2006 Budget barely half of the new efficiency gains was supported by any detail. These had to be verified in individual departmental accounts, which were just as murky. One of the Gershon tenets was that efficiencies could be claimed only if services did not suffer, but the NAO found that quality measures could be lacking or unfavourable - though there had been improvement since last summer when the OGC gave departments better guidelines for doing their efficiency measurements. The OGC hadn't done a bad job, considering, said the NAO. Shame for them then that the broader efficiency programme has just been subsumed by the Tresaury. The OGC is being paired down and left to deal with procurement. Perhaps they can advise the Treasury where to procure some honest accountants. ®
Mark Ballard, 08 Feb 2007

ACLU slams SF's data hoarding Wi-Fi network

The American Civil Liberties Union became the latest group to criticize a city-wide network San Francisco has proposed building with EarthLink and Google, arguing that the deal would compromise user privacy. In a letter sent to members of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, an official with the Northern California chapter of the ACLU said the group is "very concerned that the final municipal wireless contract with Google and EarthLink does not include adequate safeguards for privacy and free speech." Topping their concerns, were plans by Google and EarthLink to gather information about users in order to recoup costs of the service, some of which will be delivered for free. "The business model of a municipal wireless system should not include tracking and profiling user activities in order to sell or trade data or develop targeted advertising based on user information and online activities," an attachment to the letter argued. "Such a business model creates an incentive to collect as much data about an individual and maintain it for as long as possible in order to create profiles about users." Mayor Gavin Newsom, who earlier this week became the latest US politician to blame his flawed judgment on a drinking problem, faces a growing group of naysayers wagging their fingers at his plan to blanket the city's 49 square miles with free or affordable WiFi. While the populist mayor says he's only doing it to bring net access to the underprivileged, critics complain the plan is built on cronyism (they point to plane rides the jet-setting mayor took with Sergei and Larry) and obsolete technology and that it hands over valuable public assets to EarthLink for little in return. Under the plan, EarthLink would provide 1Mbps of downstream service for $22 per month and Google would shoulder the costs of providing 300Kbps for free in exchange for being able to do what it does best - gathering, storing and crunching a myriad of data on those who use its service. The city would agree to lease its utility poles for free under the plan in exchange for EarthLink investing from $6m to $10m on the infrastructure. While at least one supervisor has said he will not approve the proposal unless it is modified, most say it's too early to tell how they'll vote. In a city where peace, love and radicalism are a part of its bedrock, the ACLU's pooh-poohing could spell doom for Newsom's noble experiment. Then again, maybe not. The city's police commission last month unanimously approved the expansion of a public surveillance program despite ACLU warnings that it would surely end freedom as we've known it. ®
Dan Goodin, 08 Feb 2007

RIAA urges Apple to spread DRM far and wide

The RIAA has seized on the weakest part of Steve Jobs' anti-DRM manifesto by banging on Apple to license its FairPlay technology to other companies. "Apple's offer to license FairPlay to other technology companies is a welcome breakthrough and would be a real victory for fans, artists and labels," the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) said. "There have been many services seeking a licence to the Apple DRM. This would enable the interoperability that we have been urging for a very long time." This statement from the music labels' trade group serves as a weak, although well targeted, response to Jobs' letter issued on Tuesday. In the online letter, Jobs called for music labels to give up their crusade to lock down digital music with DRM technology. By opening up the tunes, the labels could benefit from a more vibrant and competitive device and music service market, Jobs argued. The letter from Jobs follows complaints from European legislators about Apple tying songs bought through its iTunes store to the iPod. The likes of Sony and Microsoft follow a similar practice by using their own DRM technology to trap songs on their own music playing devices. Rather than abandoning its insistence on DRM, the RIAA would prefer Apple to make the first move and let iTunes songs play on a wide variety of devices. Jobs permitted such an attack by the RIAA during the only really unpersuasive part of his letter. The second alternative is for Apple to license its FairPlay DRM technology to current and future competitors with the goal of achieving interoperability between different company’s players and music stores. On the surface, this seems like a good idea since it might offer customers increased choice now and in the future. And Apple might benefit by charging a small licensing fee for its FairPlay DRM. However, when we look a bit deeper, problems begin to emerge. The most serious problem is that licensing a DRM involves disclosing some of its secrets to many people in many companies, and history tells us that inevitably these secrets will leak. The Internet has made such leaks far more damaging, since a single leak can be spread worldwide in less than a minute. Such leaks can rapidly result in software programs available as free downloads on the Internet which will disable the DRM protection so that formerly protected songs can be played on unauthorized players. The RIAA went after Jobs' logic, saying that "a technology company as sophisticated and smart as Apple" could make an industry-wide DRM pact happen. So now the pigopolists want Apple to protect the DRM that protects their songs. It's a large request but not one out of Apple's reach. Surely the company that gave us an unhackable operating system and Jobs - he who bestowed the iPod on man - could craft a DRM system capable of outpacing the cracks of witty coders. Apple wouldn't whine away a challenge. DRMed if you do, DRMed if you don't The RIAA has never been able to show a real link between declining CD sales and the trade of unfettered songs online. CD sales slumped during a broad decline in the US economy that affected a wide range of goods - goods not at all touched by the scourge of P2P networks. And, in fact, it now seems that DRM is slowing the growth of online music. Few customers want to sign up for all-you-can-eat subscription services when their songs can only be played on a limited number of devices, a limited number of times and will disappear if they stop paying for the service. Both the RIAA and Apple are fighting with each other from tremendous positions of power. The music labels have the tightest of grips on the way music makes its way to consumers and don't want to let go of their anachronistic largesse. Apple wants to push online sales forward at a time when it has a stranglehold on the super-lucrative digital music player market, making every dime off consumers it can before a real challenge to the iPod emerges. The squabble between two organizations with such rich history in restrictive blowhardness should be quite the show. ®
Ashlee Vance, 08 Feb 2007

Facebook defends teen security tricks

RSARSA Facebook has defended its privacy protection despite the possibility that this has been circumvented for the first time by an alleged sexual predator. The teen-tastic site's chief privacy officer Chris Kelly told security experts Facebook offers a robust system to protect identities of its 16 million participants and to exclude pedophiles. Facebook uses a combination of algorithms to spot dodgy traffic with "real-world" social techniques. He rejected employing technology such Zephyr at MySpace, which enables parents to track their children's name, age and sites visited in MySpace, and objected to emailing Facebook participants about potential dangers online and safety steps as tantamount to spam. Kelly, speaking during an RSA Conference panel on youth and the internet, offered his re-assurances despite an Illinois man having been arrested the day before for allegedly using Facebook to lure a 15-year-old boy while posing as a teenage girl. He told the Chicago Tribune this was the first time Facebook has been used to contact a minor for predatory reasons Facebook, of course, made its mark as a network for college students, with participants using university-based email address to access the service. The site is broadening its catchment pool to include school kids. As most schools don't offer pupils email networks, Facebook has introduced a system where new members can be invited to join - presumably by other students. Highlighting this system's inherent weakness in keeping out adults, Kelly suggested one way for anxious parents to keep an eye on their teens would be to get their own Facebook profile and "befriend" their child online. But reports that one in seven children are sexually propositioned online has now propelled politicians to act on social networking sites. Bi-partisan legislation was last week introduced by senators John McCain and Charles Schumer that would force offenders to submit their email addresses and online identities and that would allow social networking sites and law enforcement to detect screen out sexual predators. Facebook, like MySpace, are backing the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators (KIDS) Act of 2007. In the meantime, Facebook is working on a set of tips for online safety for use by schools.®
Gavin Clarke, 08 Feb 2007
1

Oracle disappoints on identity news

RSARSA It was with more of a whimper than a bang that Oracle Wednesday handed a framework for building standardized regulatory compliance systems to the Liberty Alliance Project.
Gavin Clarke, 08 Feb 2007
channel

Intel, IBM, AMD and Sun look to core each other

Intel, lBM, AMD and Sun Microsystems will go coring mad next week as the vendors reveal some of their most impressive future chip designs at the ISSCC (International Solid State Circuits) Conference in San Francisco.
Ashlee Vance, 08 Feb 2007

RIM defeats patent appeal challenge

Research in Motion (RIM) has defeated an attempt by a European intellectual property licensing company that the BlackBerry maker had violated a patent for accessing the internet on mobile devices.
Tony Smith, 08 Feb 2007
arrow pointing up

Watford Electronics / Savastore sold

Watford Electronics, the elephant's graveyard of great channel names like Carrera, Time, and Tiny has been sold to Globally.
John Oates, 08 Feb 2007

LG cooks up updated Chocolate phone

LG extended its Chocolate phone line-up this week, though the launch of the Chocolate Platinum was cast into shadow by yesterday's debut of the company's Shine handset. The Platinum offers features absent from earlier Chocolates, LG said.
Tony Smith, 08 Feb 2007
fingers pointing at man

Lords will not hear Macrossan patent appeal

The House of Lords has rejected Neal Macrossan's application to appeal against a ruling that his software was not patentable in the UK.
Lucy Sherriff, 08 Feb 2007

Apple to spin down iPod HDDs in favour of Flash?

Apple may be planning to drop hard drives from it iPod line-up, if claims made by a financial analyst are to be believed. The move would see the company canning its next iPod revision in favour of a Flash-based model, Prudential Equity Group analyst Jesse Tortora wrote this week.
Tony Smith, 08 Feb 2007

Yorkshire website to aid SMEs in phish fight

A new website has been developed to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) protect themselves from cyber crime. Named Yorkshire-Safe, the regional pilot has been been developed to provide guidance and an online tool for businesses to check the security of their systems. It also features learning modules to support SMEs in developing their own secure systems. The pilot was announced on 7 February and the website will eventually be rolled out across England and Europe. Partners include the four Yorkshire police forces, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, Sheffield Hallam University, the Department of Trade and Industry, Mid-Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Yorkshire Forward, and People United Against Crime. The site is multilingual and can be translated into Urdu, Bengali and Polish at the touch of a button. It will soon be available in German, Spanish, French and Italian ready for its European launch. Dr Babak Akghar, reader in informatics at Sheffield Hallam University and technical leader of the project, said: "Small businesses are keen to take advantage of everything that online business has to offer, but often don't know how to protect their businesses from the risks that this opens up. However, with this new site they will be able to arm themselves with the latest facts on e-security and learn about the security implications of e-business" South Yorkshire Police chief constable Meredydd Hughes, one of the forces involved with the project, said: "Tackling this issue (e-crime) requires a joined up approach, which is why I am thrilled that the four police forces in Yorkshire are working together, alongside regional and national organisations to respond to this growing problem. This is a model for the way that a collaborative approach in policing can make a real difference." This article was originally published at Kablenet. Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.
Kablenet, 08 Feb 2007

Vodafone and Orange to share UK radio access network

Orange and Vodafone are to combine their radio access networks, effectively allowing customers of each to roam between the networks in the UK. The deal, once completed, will create a single 3G network accessible by customers of both companies, who will maintain separate responsibility for quality of service, customer issues, and application portfolios. This idea has been mooted in the past, but distinct technical problems have prevented any adoption. On 2G networks Vodafone and Orange operate at distinctly different frequencies, and while this agreement states that combining of 2G networks should be explored it only expects that to happen "as technical solutions become available". Combining 3G networks is technically easier, though there are still significant barriers to overcome. Vodafone sources its 3G equipment from Ericsson, while Orange uses a mix of Nortel, Nokia Siemens and Alcatel equipment. Many of those boxes will remain, but everything at the cell site, and backhaul, will be need to be integrated and rationalised to achieve the cost reduction this plan should enable. For Orange this deal will slightly increase their coverage, but for Vodafone it is really just a cost-reduction measure: managing cell sites is a significant drain on resources and with 3G technology making it possible to share the network there seems little reason not to. The details of who will run this combined network have yet to be decided; a new company will likely be formed, with Orange and Vodafone as its customers. Both companies are also free to expand their own networks beyond that managed by the third party, such as providing additional coverage for a big corporate customer. The deal raises the prospect of other networks seeking to combine their radio connectivity in the same way. In the UK this seems initially unlikely, but there are many countries where similar deals could work well and if Orange and Vodafone manage to achieve integration without too much trouble then the idea is likely to spread.®
Bill Ray, 08 Feb 2007

Intel roadmaps 6MB L2 Core 2 Duos?

Intel's anticipated notebook-oriented 45nm Core 2 Duo processors, derived from the 'Penryn' core, have begun to appear on the chip giant's roadmap, debuting in Q1 2008, according to the latest leak. Some versions may incorporate 6MB of shared L2 cache.
Tony Smith, 08 Feb 2007

BT maintains growth record

BT shares jumped four per cent this morning after another set of strong quarterly results. The telecoms giant grew pre-tax profits in the three months ended 31 December by 13 per cent to £643m on the back of revenues of £5.1bn, up five per cent. Investors saw earnings per share reach 5.8 pence, up 14 per cent. The numbers follow the pattern for the firm over the past couple of years; the profits hike was delivered by strong uptake of broadband, with BT retail broadband bagging 34 per cent of new high speed punters, and wholesale doing nicely too. BT said it expects to continue to drive profits up into 2008. The Global Services division, which has led BT's charge, grew steadily this time round at four per cent, but that was offset by a one per cent growth of the retail division - its first in four years. The traditional fixed line business shrank slightly, but at one per cent, the drop-off was smaller than in preceding quarters and overall BT was able to squeeze each household for an extra £4 on average. Running the business became more expensive for BT, as its operating costs increased 6 per cent to £4.5bn because of investment in its much-trumpeted 21st Century Network - BT said it has now upgraded 10 per cent of the national network - and is hiring staff to support its growing IT service contract venture. A trial of ADSL 2+ began in Cardiff, which included a high definition IPTV broadcasts of Torchwood at up to 24Mbit/s. ®
Christopher Williams, 08 Feb 2007

OGC still under fire on consultants' bills

John Oughton, the out-going head of the Office of Government Commerce, had his knuckles soundly rapped by the Public Accounts Committee at a hearing on Tuesday this week. Oughton came under fire for failing to curb central government's huge bill for external consultants, as revealed in a report (pdf) from the National Audit Office last December. In the last three years, the amount of public money going to big firms like PriceWaterhouseCoopers, has risen by a third to £2.8bn annually. The vast majority of that cash is being paid to just ten large firms. The OGC says there are plans afoot to force departments to consider a much wider list of consultants, including many smaller agencies. Conservative MP Richard Bacon went so far as to accuse the senior civil servant of failing to achieve anything in the last 13 years. He noted that 13 years ago, Oughton had put together a report for the Cabinet Office in which he decried the government's over reliance on external consultants, and made recommendations for best practice that could reduce that dependency. He told Oughton: "You must be extremely frustrated....you don't figure out whether you can use your own staff properly, you don't procure properly, you don't project manage properly, and then there's not a proper project review. But you were saying all that years ago." Oughton argues that his department has not had the power to enforce its recommendations on best practice, but that with the new powers it has (as laid out in the Treasury report Transforming Government Procurement), it will do so in future. According to the NAO report on which Oughton was being quizzed, not only is the amount of money spent on consultants increasing, nobody knows for sure what the consultants are actually doing. The report states: "Departments rarely collect any information on what has been achieved." Iain Wright, Labour MP for Hartlepool, called the situation "a disgrace", and asked Oughton what plans the OGC has for weaning the civil service off consultants. "I worry about that," Oughton replied. "If we are employing external support advisors, or whatever title you want to give them, it is important that we get both the job they do and the time, but the skills rub off on our own staff, I absolutely agree with you about that." He offered no explanation as to why any major consultancy would allow their skills and expertise to "rub off" to such an extent that they would not be hired again. Oughton also had to concede that it is unacceptable that many government contracts are not put out to competitive tender, and pledged that the OGC would stop being "polite" about making sure departments followed best practice guidelines on this, and other issues. Wright also pressed Oughton on the rules governing the jobs senior civil service staff take once they leave government employ. He asked for a list of those who have move from the civil service to take up senior positions at consultancy firms, and of those who leave consultancies to join the civil service. Although no list is held centrally, Oughton said he'd get the information. We'll keep you posted. ® For the truly dedicated, a recording of the hearing can be found here.
Lucy Sherriff, 08 Feb 2007

Asus specs up second-gen Lamborghini laptop

Asus announced its second-generation Lamborghini-branded laptop, the VX2, back in January. It didn't much about the spec or when the machine will ship. Today, the company spilled the beans on the notebook's internals.
Tony Smith, 08 Feb 2007

Nokia to free route-planning app, maps

Nokia will this weekend begin giving its Smart2Go satellite navigation software away free of charge, first for "select" Series 60 (S60) and Windows Mobile 5.0 devices, but later for other mobile platforms, including S40 and Linux, too.
Tony Smith, 08 Feb 2007
channel

Danger UPX

Trend Micro is urging users to update their anti-virus software following the discovery of a bug in its scanning software that might be misused to either crash vulnerable systems or load malware.
John Leyden, 08 Feb 2007

'Mobile eCash' could change the face of commerce

Cash or plastic? From starting with seashells, gold coins, and rewarding soldiers with salt, payment systems have evolved to keep lowering the cost of making each transaction, and separating the real item of value from the point of the transaction. Bank notes came to represent the value of gold held somewhere else and were far easier to carry, and credit or debit cards helped to identify an individual and link them to their remotely stored pot of gold, bank balance, or debt. The anonymity, flexibility, and lack of an attached age limit makes cash still a compelling payment instrument, but in the networked age it limits payment to direct contact, and is getting increasingly expensive to process and handle. The dangers of fraud or counterfeiting on the one hand, and the costs and risks of theft or "shrinkage" on the other make cash an increasingly dangerous commodity. The answer, at least from the smartcard industry, was to move cash to stored value on plastic - e-cash, or some form of prepay system. There have been any number of e-cash deployments, but success is often constrained to a closed group of users or narrow set of transaction types for a limited range of goods or services - transport tickets, or mobile phone calls, for example. However, as more discrete solutions appear, we will all rapidly end up with a wallet full of e-cash cards to add to a range of credit or debit cards and a plethora of loyalty cards. At one time, smart card vendors offered the promise of universal multi-function cards. However, although the technology is willing, widespread deployment is hindered by the need to bring together diverse commercial agendas such as branding and customer ownership onto a limited piece of plastic real estate - and then there are the infrastructure costs. There is another problem. If the card itself stores value, how much is on the card at any moment in time? The user might like to know, as although the smart card might have integral security, the anonymous and stored value nature means that once stolen or mislaid, the cash value is lost. Some solutions have pocketable readers with numeric displays, others rely on web portals and user access to the internet. Neither is appealing in a multiple service scenario. The mobile phone probably is more appealing and is capable of serving such multiple requirements. Alongside their security and payment instruments - a set of keys and wallet or purse - the mobile phone is one of the three items most people are likely to take out with them. Adding payment to the phone would seem a logical step: after all, there is the payment system in place with the operator, either billed monthly or pre-paid. However, much as mobile operators would like to expand the scope of that payment system, they are not banks, and are limited in scope by transaction value, the cost of processing, and their universal acceptance by merchants as a payment system. A number of attempts have been made to provide a more uniform, network-independent payment system, along the lines perhaps of the online model for Paypal, but online levels of ease of use rarely translate well enough to a simple mobile experience. There are also software solutions that place an application on the phone, but the varied nature of the software platforms on mobile phones makes this a challenge. A solution is required that is independent of individual network providers, and broad enough to accommodate multiple payment and receipt instruments in a single phone. While not reliant upon a particular technology, there is an idea to extend the phone hardware that makes this simple enough to be a hit with consumers - providing it can become widely deployed sufficiently quickly. The current buzz around the edge of the mobile industry is Near Field Communications (NFC), which is essentially the same idea as contact-less smart cards where the user taps or waves their card next to a reader. Companies already use contact-less cards for security access passes and some for employee catering payment systems. Travellers in London or Singapore/HongKong use the Oyster and Octopus cards this way and some users of Mastercard's PayPass in the US will also recognise the concept. Putting NFC in a device with a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) and the computing, communications and user interface capabilities of a mobile phone does several things. It provides a wallet for multiple payment systems, a screen to display balances, and the brand identity of the system currently in use, and a way to enter a PIN code to secure use. It also provides the cellular communications link to acquire, update, monitor and securely manage the payment systems. To put such a solution in place requires skills from the payment services and telecoms industries. It also requires complete interoperability and acceptance by a wide range of companies of standards and common principles. There are already moves afoot to build this consensus, an NFC forum which brings together one group of diverse interests, and a consortium led by Motorola involving a European Commission co-funded initiative. Still early stages and, as yet, the mobile operator community is not as involved as it should be. However, unlike many of the proposed "killer" applications for mobile phone users - TV, music, internet - which appeal to specific segments of the mobile phone wielding community, the potential appeal of a simple to use "Mobile eCash" is far, far more universal. As the mobile industry approaches its annual festival of hype at 3GSM in Barcelona, NFC may not be one of the short-lived concepts getting all the (hot) airtime, but as an enabler for financial transactions that everyone could easily use, its impact in the mobile industry and beyond is likely to be far more significant. The utopian dream of one, personally carried item that safely fulfils our needs for secured access - keys - securely supports our commercial interactions - credit cards, cash, tickets - and our need to communicate with friends and the world in general - the mobile phone - is taking a step closer. Copyright © 2007, IT-Analysis.com
Rob Bamforth, 08 Feb 2007
10

Want to cross the road? Don't ask Google Maps

Here's the scenario: you're in Oz's fine city of Sydney and you need to get from the Shelbourne Hotel at 200 Sussex Street to Google's headquarters across the road at 201 Sussex Street. Naturally, this being a potentially complex manoeuvre, it's probably best to consult Google Maps Australia to get the optimum route. However, if you thought that the best way to cross a street is proceed in a straight line from one pavement to the other, think again: Blimey. Click on the pic above for a bigger version of the full, 10.4km road-crossing route which involves crossing the Harbour Bridge twice and copping a $3 toll for your trouble. Google estimates its journey time at 18 minutes, while the The Sydney Morning Herald reckons the ambulatory straight-line alternative as a "30-step, 30-second trip". We should note at this point that Google Maps Australia has only been up and running since Tuesday, so we're inclined to cut it some slack on this one. Until, that is, it recommends that the best way from Sydney to Perth is via Tasmania - a suggestion which would, of course, require the use of the legendary Oz flying car. ®
Lester Haines, 08 Feb 2007

Samsung to decant 2007 Bordeaux LCD TV line overseas

Samsung is to introduce its Bordeaux wine glass-styled - it says here - LCD TV set series into Europe and the US next month, the South Korean giant revealed this week following the introduction of the latest version of the telly in its home market.
Tony Smith, 08 Feb 2007

Samsung launches would-be iPhone beater

Samsung has formally unveiled its bid to be the leading purveyor of iPhone-alike handsets with the Ultra Smart F700, launched today but which will get its first public outing at the 3GSM show next week in Barcelona.
Tony Smith, 08 Feb 2007
5

NASA announces psych testing review

NASA says it will re-evaluate the psychological screening it does for its astronauts, after Shuttle pilot Lisa Nowak was arrested this week on charges of attempted murder, attempted kidnapping, and battery. The space agency told reporters late yesterday that there had not been the slightest hint that anything was up with Nowak. She finished work as usual on the Friday before donning a nappy and embarking on the 1,000 mile drive from Houston to Orlando over the weekend. Deputy chief administrator Shana Dale said NASA would also go back over Nowak's records to see if there were any "red flags" that were missed. Dale said NASA needed to be sure the screening was adequate, both in terms of frequency and thoroughness. The psychological screening procedures will be reviewed internally, but NASA says Lisa's arrest, and the events leading up to it, have prompted enough concern within the agency to involve outside experts as well. Nowak is accused of attempting to kidnap and murder fellow NASA employee Colleen Shipman, who police believe she saw as a rival for the affections of fellow astronaut William Oefelien. Her family say the charges "infer too much" from her actions. Nowak allegedly lay in wait for Shipman at Orlando International Airport, before trying to talk her way into Shipman's car. When she failed, police say she sprayed Shipman with pepper spray. On searching her car after her arrest, police say they found a variety of weapons, as well as rubber tubing and rubbish sacks. Shipman is seeking a restraining order, claiming she was stalked for two months before the incident. Nowak is currently on a 30 day suspension from NASA, and has been relieved of her mission duties while the incident is being investigated. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 08 Feb 2007

Radio RTFM: Vista, iPhones and hot Valentine's Day luuuurv action

Well, Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and we're delighted to announce that Radio RTFM has set up a Vulture Central House of Luuurv voice message board giving lonely listeners the chance to connect with like-minded social inadequates. This month's sonic discharge features full details of the service plus selected messages already left on our ansafone. So, if you're looking for a 25-year-old Libran who wants to potentialize her multiple synergies, a noted UK space boffin seeking a permanant dock with a nice country girl or fancy taking a bite out of Jade's juicy kebab, then this is the place for you. Futher items for your listening pleasure include a US demonstration of exactly how to execute a man with dignity and your views on Vista - described by breathless analysts as "hotter than a blast furnace packed with Sony laptop batteries". Oh yes, and there's lots and lots of plugs for Apple's iPhone, the recent announcement of which we describe as "second only to the first coming of Christ". Enough said. You can download the full episode here, or hit the player below for instant gratification. Please note that RTFM is most certainly NSFW. Episode 3 in all its glory And when you've recovered from that, you can get your favourite bits in bite-sized portions below: Dying with dignity The London cabbie Happy Valentines Vista: the people have spoken Credits Writer/director: Lester Haines Logistical support: Phil "Philipe" Mitchell (VP of Thrust, Synergy and Evolution, El Reg Strategy Boutique) Voice artists: Hils Barker and Silas Hawkins Sound technician: Phil Corran at Cut Glass Studios Archive Radio RTFM Episode 1 Radio RTFM Episode 2 RSS feeds Point your news aggregator in the direction of our Radio RTFM RSS feeds as follows: www.theregister.co.uk/odds/rtfm/headlines.rss and www.theregister.com/odds/rtfm/headlines.rss. You'll get the latest episode delivered straight to your doorstep as an enclosure.
Lester Haines, 08 Feb 2007
fingers pointing at man

EDS nigh-on doubles profits

Outsourcing firm EDS reported a hike in profits on Wednesday evening, almost doubling its take from the same period in 2005.
Christopher Williams, 08 Feb 2007

Tech firms tangle with Tories on ID cards

The IT industry has found itself in a handbagging spat with shadow home secretary David Davis over the Conservative party's plans to ditch ID cards should they win power from Labour. Davis' "official warning" to government said a democratic clause should be written into contracts with ID system suppliers so they could be scrapped if the electorate demanded so. John Higgins, chairman of IT trade body Intellect, promptly wrote to Davis warning him that the IT industry held such sway over the British economy that the Conservatives would be foolish to mess with them. Davis's response, sent yesterday, upbraided industry over its creepy anticipation that it would get lashings of gravy from a government project designed to encroach on people's civil liberties. Higgins had argued that the interests of big business should take precedent over the will of the British electorate. "It is highly likely that the manner of this intervention will undermine the confidence of the supplier community in any future Conservative government honouring other contractual commitments which may have been entered into by previous administrations." In other words, should the Conservatives win an election on a promise to ditch ID cards, the previous government's contractual obligations to the IT industry should prevent the new manifesto from being implemented. Davis retorted: "Your claim to be neither for or against the policy of introducing ID cards in the UK, given the clear commercial interest of a number of your members, is simply disingenuous." Intellect is not unused to playing politics itself, despite its latest predictable tribute to the eminent efficacy of commerce. By Higgins' reckoning, there is no place for empathy in politics, only cold reason. "It will potentially make companies wary of entering into any public sector contracts at all," he said. What actually might happen, should the Conservatives get a democratic clause written into the ID contracts and should the electorate subsequently vote to have them abolished, is that the government could spend its money on something more useful, and industry would adjust its seat and suckle on a different teat. But that wasn't all. Higgins warned that the contractual uncertainty of a Conservative electoral win would put undue risk on suppliers and force them to compensate with higher prices, which would "result in a less favourable environment for the taxpayer". Davis dismissed this "thinly veiled threat" and suggested Higgins might benefit from reading the work of the Public Accounts Committee on the best way to run IT projects. And industry hadn't appreciated the "parameters of the public debate" or the "depth of opposition" to ID cards. Davis said Higgins' position was "incredible and insulting". He didn't answer Higgins' invitation to join Intellect's cosy little coterie - a rare privilege indeed. ®
Mark Ballard, 08 Feb 2007
channel

Royal Bank of Scotland picks Morse for mobile banking

The Royal Bank of Scotland has chosen Morse to provide its mobile banking service, which already counts HSBC, First Direct, and Alliance and Leicester as customers.
John Oates, 08 Feb 2007

BT wins £36m NHS deal

BT has won NHS contracts worth £36m to create "communities of interest" for five primary care trusts. BT will create Internet Protocol networks for Kent and Medway Health Informatics Service, North Merseyside Health Informatics Service, Peterborough and Stamford Hosptial NHS Foundation Trust, Sussex Health Informatics Service, and United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust. The networks will provide voice, data, and video transfer using the national N3 network - the £530m network also built by BT. The N3 network already connects 96.6 per cent of GPs' surgeries, according to the telco. Lincolnshire Trust programme manager Merrill Hayes said the trust was making significant savings through a digital X-ray system which can transfer X-rays in seconds, rather than the days required to ship film around the county. ®
John Oates, 08 Feb 2007
chart

US Disease Control website catches malware cold

Officials at the US Centers for Disease Control were left dealing with a different kind of outbreak last week after hackers planted a virus on the agency's website Unspecified malware hidden among legitimate audio and video clips and planted on the agency's podcast site had the capability to infect visiting surfers. The podcast site was taken down after the attack was discovered last week, AP reports. Early indications are that hackers had no access to sensitive information and did no mischief apart from planting malicious files on a site that normally provides audio and video material on public health issues. "Several hundred people" visited the podcast site in time between the malware was uploaded last Thursday and the time the site was taken down a few hours later, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told AP. Surfers who visited the site recently are urged to scan their PCs for viruses as a precaution. ®
John Leyden, 08 Feb 2007
1

Be a composer

It's not programming any more - it's composition. At least this is what Andy Bailey, VP of global marketing at Attunity, argues. With the release this week of version 2.1 of InFocus, Bailey says Attunity has introduced 'the first iteration of developer tools' which will enable customers to build their own applications on the InFocus platform.
Phil Manchester, 08 Feb 2007

Sky comes back down to earth

Sky has announced plans to provide a terrestrial digital TV service in the UK; allowing reception of Sky's pay-TV services over a normal TV aerial. The service will need a new set-top box, and will use the spectrum currently occupied by Sky's three Freeview channels. By using MPEG4 encoding the service won't conform to the DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting) standard, which mandates MPEG2, but it will be able to deliver four channels where Sky 3, Sky News and Sky Sports News currently live. Using different encoding will mean selling new set-top boxes, but Sky obviously believes there are a significant number of users who want access to Sky but can't, or won't, fit a satellite dish. Sky's move into terrestrial digital tackles the satellite dish issue, and although the company's taking a risk by rolling out its own technical standard, it's shown in the past that keeping prices low makes its products attractive to consumers. Sky will still need approval from Ofcom, and National Grid Wireless (transmitter of Sky's current terrestrial channels) might raise technical issues. ®
Bill Ray, 08 Feb 2007

RIM, Samsung settle BlackJack brand brawl

Research in Motion and Samsung have come to an arrangement over the South Korean giant's use of the name BlackJack, a brand a tad too close to 'BlackBerry', the push email pioneer had alleged in a lawsuit filed late last year.
Tony Smith, 08 Feb 2007
the black xbox 360? no, an artist's impression

MS preps black Xbox 360 as PS3 spoiler?

Is Microsoft preparing a spoiler for Sony's PAL-region PlayStation 3 launch on 23 March? According to one report, Australian store chain Myer has been told to expect a black Xbox 360 complete with HDMI port an 120GB hard drive round about that time.
Tony Smith, 08 Feb 2007

Israel bonds with US over online betting ban

Israel has officially joined the online betting prohibitionist club, led by staunch ally the United States and the collaborationist French. According to the online edition of the Globe, Judge Abraham Heiman ruled last week that a foreign company may not take online bets from Israeli citizens, regardless of where it is headquartered or its servers are located. Israeli authorities had previously focused on stamping out that notorious threat to public morals, playing online backgammon for money. The real threat is to the Israeli government’s gaming monopoly, which provides drastically lower returns to players. Although Eran Shendar, Israel’s top prosecutor, had already made it clear in December that online gambling was considered illegal, the detention of Victor Chandler CEO Michael Carlton last week opened a new front in the government’s war on online gambling. Following America’s lead, Israel has now thrown down the gauntlet to those offering services from abroad. Judge Heiman even cited two New York state court rulings as precedent for establishing jurisdiction over Victor Chandler, a British company. Jurisdiction over the internet has proven to be one of the thorniest issues for the online gambling world, a point noted with some frustration by Judge Heiman. Although your reporter is an American attorney, not an Israeli one, the troublesome issue cited by the judge appears to be common to both American and Israeli law- namely, that transactions over the internet (or the telephone, or through the mail) are considered to have taken place wherever received. This is due to a well established principle of sales law, and it was what tripped up Jay Cohen, founder of the World Sports Exchange, whose case has been covered here previously. Cohen returned to the US to fight the DOJ under the belief that since his business and all of its servers resided in Antigua, where the transactions were processed, he should not be subject to American jurisdiction. The DOJ sidestepped that problem altogether by going to great lengths to establish that the WSE had marketed itself extensively to the American public, thereby availing itself of the American market and American law, and Jay Cohen ended up in prison. This concept originally was developed to protect the little guy or gal - a little old lady in California, for example, defrauded by mailings from a New York insurance company that cashed her check in New York, could be protected by California law due to the fact that the company had “purposely availed” itself of California jurisdiction. This principle gets considerably spookier, however, when the federal government is the one invoking it. According to company filings, Israel was Victor Chandler’s 2nd biggest market in 2006. Apparently the massive marketing campaign by Victor Chandler in Israel last year, including ads run on public buses, paid some dividends, and proved a bit much for Judge Heiman to overlook. ® Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office.
Burke Hansen, 08 Feb 2007

Wal-Mart online service misfires, as iTunes readies video for Europe

AnalysisAnalysis There are so many things wrong with Wal-Mart's attempt to break into online video downloads this week, that we're not sure whether to write a long diatribe denouncing it, or if we should just list a few details and get it over with.
Faultline, 08 Feb 2007

As iPhone fever subsides, the world asks will there be a Zune phone?

As reporters and analysts run out of things to say about the Apple iPhone, they naturally need to keep the debate rolling, and have this week turned to the possibility of Microsoft's involvement in MP3 phones, by inventing the Zune phone.
Faultline, 08 Feb 2007