16th > February > 2007 Archive

Bionic-boosted eyes go hi-def

AAASAAAS A new version of an electronic implant which restores visual capabilities in blind people holds untold promise, those gathered at a meeting in San Francisco heard today, as the technology behind the device is taken to the next level. Back in 2005, the news that a man who had been blind for 50 years had regained some sight with the help of an implant in his eye grabbed headlines worldwide. As we noted back then, the retinal implant proved more effective than the scientists had predicted. With just 16 pixels to work with, patients' brains have adapted to the point where they can distinguish a cup, a plate and a knife, as well as detect movement. The new version of the implant cranks the resolution up almost fourfold to a whopping 60 pixels. On Thursday, the team behind those original six groundbreaking subjects, five of whom still use the device, told reporters at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual get together they were ready to move on to surgery to insert the more advanced iteration. University of Southern California professor Mark Humayan explained: "What we are trying to do is take real time images and convert them into electrical pulses that will jump-start the otherwise blind eye." As first time round, test subjects will wear glasses with a discrete camera built into the nosepiece. The AM signal from the camera is sent to the implant via a processor which coverts the image so that the electrodes in place of the damaged retina can communicate it to the optic nerve. Humayan would not be drawn on what patients might be able to see, given that last time the expectation was for no more than the ability to distinguish light and dark, and at most rudimentary greyscale. The team, backed by commercial partner Second Sight, recently got FDA approval to go ahead with operations to insert the device into patients with retinal damage. The approach has no effect on cases where the blindness is caused by damage to the optic nerve by disease or trauma. Humayan said he hopes version two of the technology will be clinically available in two years, and its cost should be comparable to a cochlear implant for deafness, which is around $30,000. ®
Christopher Williams, 16 Feb 2007

BEA options re-statement hits $400m mark

BEA Systems will restate almost a decade's worth of earnings to the tune of nearly $400m thanks to misallocation of stock to employees. The middleware vendor plans to restate results for the years 1998 until 2007 - up to the first quarter - recording a charge for non-cash expenses of between $340m and $390m. The majority of the charge covers the years between 1999 and 2002. The final total has yet to be determined by BEA, external auditors and regulators. In further fall out, BEA's chief executive Alfred Chuang has agreed to pay tax on $2.4m profits he made when he vested options that were misawarded to him by BEA before he ascended to the chief executive's role in 2001. BEA's audit committee cleared Chuang of involvement in the misallocation, according to the company's latest 8-K filing here. BEA's vice president of business planning and corporate development Bill Klien has also agreed to pay back all gains on stock realized after tax. In a further wrap on the knuckles for Klein, the executive is being demoted as he was responsible for finance, administration and human resources - the units now being blamed for the misallocation of stock. Klein, who joined BEA in 2000 and was chief financial officer and EVP of finance and administration, is loosing his current EVP role but will remain as vice president of business planning and corporate development. Kevin Faulkner, BEA's head of investor relations, told The Register: "HR owned the process. HR reported to Bill in his role as EVP of finance and administration." All BEA executives have voluntarily agreed to have all outstanding stock options re-priced in line with dates they were granted, as determined by BEA's audit committee. BEA is expected to announce preliminary fiscal year and fourth quarter results next week, but totals will not be final until the full restatement is completed.®
Gavin Clarke, 16 Feb 2007

Employee fired for probing bad guys awarded $4.7m

A jury has awarded a former security analyst for Sandia National Laboratories $4.7m after he was fired for conducting his own investigation into computer attacks and taking his findings to authorities of a separate agency. The judgment was more than twice the amount sought by Shawn Carpenter, who was dismissed by Sandia in January, 2005, according to FCW.com and other news outlets. The jury said the termination was "malicious, willful, reckless, wanton, fraudulent or in bad faith." Carpenter initiated his investigation after detecting attacks on Sandia's network that originated from China, Romania, Italy and other countries and have come to be known as Titan Rain. After learning that similar attacks had been unleashed on Army bases and US contractors, Carpenter asked his superiors for permission to reverse-engineer the hacks so he could track down the perpetrators. His request was denied. But Carpenter investigated them anyway, partly at the request of the FBI. When Sandia officials caught wind of the unsanctioned probe, Carpenter was fired. A spokesman told us Sandia officials are disappointed and are considering whether to appeal. But he declined our request to discuss, even in the most general terms, their policies relating to the investigation of attacks that target their networks. The episode underscores the morass confronting those trying to secure some of the world's most sensitive networks. Limited resources and bureaucratic rivalries have long been a challenge in reining in organized crime and espionage, and the growing wave of ever more sophisticated computer-generated rackets is making matters worse. Notwithstanding some high-profile convictions against botnet ringleaders and other cybercrooks, much of the enforcement these days comes from self-appointed take-down groups such as PIRT (Phishing Incident Reporting and Termination), manned by individuals who donate their time and resources to help eliminate online menaces. Philip Davis, an attorney who represented Carpenter, told PCWorld the verdict was a "vindication of his decision to do the right thing and turn over the information he obtained to the proper federal authorities in the interests of national security". ®
Dan Goodin, 16 Feb 2007

Start-up throws Liberty, Integrity and HP at IBM's lawyers

AnalysisAnalysis A quick stroll through Platform Solutions Inc.'s (PSI) data center reveals why IBM has sued the start-up. There's a hulking HP Superdome system with a tiny PSI label on it, and this box promises to do much of a mainframe's work for a fraction of the cost. IBM and PSI have spent most of their public facing time pointing to IBM's Nov. 2006 lawsuit against PSI, and PSI's Jan. 2007 countersuit against IBM. The majority of Big Blue's gripes center on breach of contract and patent infringement claims, while PSI charges IBM with anti-trust violations and unfair competition. The involvement of HP doesn't tend to come up from either side.
Ashlee Vance, 16 Feb 2007

Mono on the Mac: Time to look beyond Linux?

As you’ll no doubt be aware, the Mono Project is an ambitious, open-source initiative, largely coordinated by Novell. The aim is to build a complete suite of ECMA- compliant .NET tools (C# compiler, runtime, class frameworks, etc) which work across all supported platforms, including Linux, Windows and Mac OS X. For more background on the project, check out “Mono (software)” on Wikipedia. As a keen Mac user, I’m always looking out for new development tools which not only provide a simple, efficient and intuitive API but also – hopefully – offer cross-platform capabilities too. From this perspective, Mono would seem to be ideal; not least, because I’m a fan of Microsoft’s .NET class frameworks which do such a great job of taming the atrocious Win32 API beneath! So, let’s look further... Mono on the Mac… Getting started with Mono is relatively straightforward; go to the Mono Project main page, follow the ‘download now’ link (cunningly hidden in the extreme top-right of the screen) and you’ll be able to obtain the Mono distribution appropriate to your platform. For the Mac, this is currently tagged as “Mono 1.2.3_1 Framework - Universal (Stable)”. Once you’ve downloaded and installed the framework, you’ll initially find … nothing! It’s at this point that Windows users start missing the Start Menu and it’s highlighted list of freshly installed goodies. Nothing in the /Applications folder either…hmm…. Though not blindingly obvious, Mono gets installed as a new framework. The full path is /Library/Frameworks/Mono.framework. The various command-line Mono utilities are accessed via aliases which are automatically placed into /usr/bin. This means that after installing Mono, you can fire up a Terminal window and type (e.g.) ‘mcs’. This will invoke the Mono C# compiler. Once you’ve got this far, there’s a lot you can do, provided you’re happy to stick with simple text-mode stuff and command line tools. Naturally, the quintessential C# program has got to be a variant on “Hello World” ! using System; namespace RegDeveloper { class Program { public static void Main (string[] args) { Console.WriteLine ("Hello RegDeveloper"); } } } Type this into a file called hello.cs, compile it with the mcs compiler and – voila! – you’ll end up with an executable called hello.exe. First thing to say is that the file is just as tiny as you’d expect from Windows development – around 3Kbytes in this particular case. The reason, of course, is that all the .NET class libraries are located in the aforementioned framework directory. What’s perhaps a little more surprising (at least from the perspective of an OS X purist) is that .exe suffix on the end of the file. If you try disassembling the code with any of the usual OS X tools (e.g. otool) you’ll be told in no uncertain terms that hello.exe isn’t a binary file. So what’s going on? The key point, if you haven’t twigged, is that the Mono development tools generate executables that are 100% binary compatible with Microsoft’s tools running under Windows. You can take that hello.exe file generated on a Mac, stick it on your PC and run it in the usual way. What you can’t do is run it “in the usual way” on your Mac because OS X doesn’t understand .exe files! Note: If you’re interested, there’s a new product out called CrossOver for the Mac here, which is based around Wine. This makes it possible to run Win32 applications under OS X fairly seamlessly, although I haven’t investigated whether this extends to the execution of Mono executables. Assuming you’ve still sitting at the Mac, and you don’t use CrossOver, you can run hello.exe by typing the following in a terminal window: mono hello.exe In effect, hello.exe gets passed as an argument to the Mono loader which takes care of the program’s execution. A bit klunky, but it works. The accompanying screenshot (Figure 1) shows a partial dump of the various System-prefix assemblies installed by Mono; obviously, all these goodies are accessible from any command-line tools you build using the C# compiler. X Marks The Spot… But what about GUI, I hear you cry? After all, System.Windows.Forms.dll is rather obviously present in that last screenshot. It turns out that the news isn’t quite so good here. The introductory link Mono web info has this to say: “Mono is primarily developed on Linux, and most of its users are Linux users, so it is the platform best supported” . You’d better believe it; although support for System.Windows.Forms is going great guns on Linux, things are by no means as positive where OS X is concerned. Yes, you can create graphical applications with forms, dialogs, etc. But it’s all based around X11. On my machine, I wasn’t able to successfully run a Mono GUI application unless I first started the X server running. This is because Mono’s System.Windows.Forms implementation is built on top of System.Drawing which, in turn, makes use of X11. The net result is that instead of seeing the drop-dead-gorgeous Aqua interface that Mac users take for granted (Jobs famously said that it was so attractive, you’d want to lick it) what you actually get is a kind of retro-looking interface that looks more like Windows 98 than anything else. If you don’t start the X11 server before running your Mono app, you’ll see a whole slew of exception errors. And if you want to do the whole thing properly, you also need to install GTK which in turn requires ‘fink’ which… Well, you get the idea. On the positive side, the Mono folks have written a small utility called macpack which packages up a WinForms executable into an application bundle, meaning it can be started from Finder in the usual way. But that’s quite a small positive when set against the overarching problem that the current state of Mono uses X11 rather than Core Graphics. Figure 2 shows a screenshot of MonoDevelop, a C#-based development system which will even run on the Mac, but it knows nowt about Cocoa. Spot the tell-tale ‘X’ icon in the Dock! There are a number of web sites around which give a somewhat rosier impression of the state of play as far as Mono development on the Mac is concerned. For example, a recent NewsForge article by Nathan Willis here suggests that Novell’s iFolder is based entirely around Mono. Is it? Well, uhhh..no. I eagerly downloaded iFolder from here, installed it and then sat back to enjoy my first experience of a turnkey Mono application running under OS X. Needless to say, the user interface looked suspiciously native, and a quick peek inside the application using my favourite spelunking tools revealed that – sure enough – the iFolder front-end is a perfectly conventional Objective-C Mac application written using Cocoa frameworks. So conventional, in fact, that it hasn’t even been converted into a universal binary: it’s a PPC executable! All the Mono code resides in the non-GUI back-end. Note: I should stress there’s nothing dishonest going on here; I subsequently discovered that the complete source code to iFolder is readily available from the aforementioned web site, and it bears out my findings. But, I do take issue with Nathan using iFolder as an example of a “100% .Net application”. If it is, then I’m Lady Godiva. (Private viewings by appointment only, please…) Similar considerations apply to Unity, a design tool for 3D game development that runs on both OS X and Windows, available for download here. Again, we’re told this is 100% .NET and again, it isn’t; it’s very easy to find the Cocoa classes and .NIB files inside the executable. The developers themselves make it clear that Mono is used by Unity – but as a scripting language. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense since, with little effort, game-engine developers get a powerful scripting language which executes at near native speed, thanks to the JIT compiler that forms part of the Mono bag o’tricks. In fact, the trend seems to be that several games companies are adopting C# through Mono as a scripting language for complex game systems on non-Wintel platforms. There’s got to be a joke somewhere in there about “Mono-gamists” but as with iFolder, the essential point is that the front-end GUI has nothing to do with Mono. As a little aside, I recently discovered that some folks are successfully using cross-platform tools to create Mac applications with a near-native look and feel. As one example, get thee hence to this site, and you’ll find a cute little application whose main aim in life is to automatically stitch together multiple images so as to create a seamless panorama. It works well, is fast, and currently supports Windows and OS X. (A Linux version is planned). Peek under the hood and you’ll discover a couple of embedded frameworks called QtCore.framework and QtGui.framework. Yes, it’s our old friend Qt, the cross-platform C++ library from Trolltech (see here, for more on this). So what’s the bottom line here? On the Mac, Mono is ideal if you need a powerful, efficient scripting language or want to create command-line tools that are portable to Linux and Windows. But if you’re looking to build great-looking GUI applications which are indistinguishable from native Cocoa apps, then I think we’ve still got some way to go. I’ve heard rumours that a Core Graphics version of System.Drawing.dll may be in the pipeline, but don’t hold your breath… Enter Cocoa# If that was all there was to say, things might be a bit depressing. However, let me introduce you to another interesting little open-source project variously called Cocoa#, CocoaSharp or Cocoa-Sharp depending on which Web site you visit. As the name (possibly!) suggests, Cocoa# is an interface between the world of Mono and C# on the one hand, and Apple’s Objective-C Cocoa framework on the other. The idea is that, with Cocoa#, C# developers get access to the rich functionality contained in the Cocoa libraries. More importantly, it means that Mono applications on the Mac automatically get the native look and feel that Mac users expect. In effect, Cocoa# is a Mono/C# binding for Cocoa. You can find more (but not much more) here. This suggests that Cocoa# is included with recent distributions of Mono, which it is – sort of – but the source code isn’t included and the binary is hidden away here: /Library/Frameworks/Mono.framework/Versions/ In any event, the included binary is old. A better bet is to go in search of the Cocoa Sharp Wiki – go to here and then click the wiki link in the right-hand corner of the Web page. This will provide rather more useful information and give you a download link for the version 0.9.1 source code which – again – is old. I couldn’t even get it to compile on my machine. Fortunately, I was rescued by Todd Schavey, who told me that a more recent version of the source is available via SVN at svn://svn.myrealbox.com/source/trunk/cocoa-sharp/ [this is a subversion (SVN) URL that you'll probably only find useful if you have an SVN client installed, which can use it to download the Cocoa Sharp source - Ed]. With his help, I was able to successfully build the Cocoa# assembly and even run some of the sample applications that are included. As far as we can tell, the current version is 0.9.4. Figure 3 shows the CocoaDoc sample, written in C#, running on my Intel iMac. Cocoa# works by exploiting the fact that Cocoa messages are essentially procedural at the level of the runtime library. In other words, regular messages map to a call to a runtime routine called objc_msgSend, “super” messages (to the immediate ancestor class) get mapped to a call to objc_msgSendSuper and so on. In both cases, the first implicit, hidden argument is a reference to ‘self’, just like the C++ or Delphi runtime models. If you want to see some really hairy C# code, download the Cocoa# sources and take a look inside the src/interop directory. Guaranteed to make your brain hurt! Slightly higher up the food-chain, here’s a little snippet from the SavePanel.cs file, which is part of the glue code providing access to Cocoa’s NSSavePanel class: public bool CanSelectHiddenExtension { get { return (bool) ObjCMessaging.objc_msgSend (NativeObject, "canSelectHiddenExtension", typeof (bool)); } set { ObjCMessaging.objc_msgSend (NativeObject, "setCanSelectHiddenExtension:", typeof (void), typeof (bool), value); } } On the positive side – joy of joys! – the Cocoa# implementation gives ‘real’ properties rather than having to faff around with two distinct accessor methods. On the negative side, it seems that nobody wants to spend their lives writing reams of glue code like that shown above – activity on this project is currently quite low. That’s a real shame since, in my opinion, of the various Mono initiatives around, Cocoa# offers the best hope for coming up with applications that be aesthetically acceptable to the notoriously finicky Mac community! While pondering all this stuff, I realised that it ought to be possible to come up with a tool for automating the generation of much of this glue code. There’s a popular developer’s utility called class-dump, which is able to peel apart a Cocoa framework or application, showing the names of all the classes contained therein, as well as the signature of each Cocoa message. I suspect that using something like class-dump, it ought to be possible to take much of the grunt-work out of creating the glue code. However, when suggesting this recently in the appropriate Apple mailing list, I was told it had been tried before without success. If at first you don’t succeed… Conclusions Arguably, I’ve been a bit unfair here. The real stomping ground of Mono is undoubtedly Linux and – to a lesser extent – the Win32 platform. That’s apparently where most of the development effort is being expended these days. As far as OS X is concerned, I fear that Mono is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, Cocoa-heads see no compelling reason to embrace a new and alien language while Mac purists (end users, in particular) will have no interest whatsoever in running strange-looking applications which won’t work until they’ve started the X11 server. On the other hand, Linux devotees aren’t particularly fond of OS X, partly because it’s a proprietary closed-source (in part) platform. Furthermore, any efforts expended in terms of building a more feature-complete implementation of Cocoa# would, in a sense, be wasted effort from a portability point of view since Cocoa is obviously only available on the Mac. What’s the point in writing your application using an ECMA certified, platform-neutral language when all you’re doing is making calls to a proprietary, platform-specific toolkit? Sounds a bit daft, doesn’t it? As regards the other issues I’ve raised, I expect some pundit will be along soon to assure me that if I just added a couple of lines of gobbledegook to this config file, changed a few environment variables here, and altered file permissions there, then it would be possible to get Mono running without X11. Great, and when my Auntie can do that blindfolded, Mono will be ready for the masses. For what it’s worth, I love both C# and Mono, but in terms of how/where they fit into Mac development, I think it’s time to step back and re-evaluate where we’re going. Further reading on Mono can be found here.
Uncle Mac, 16 Feb 2007

Wiki can link to controversial documents, judge rules

Drugs giant Eli Lilly has failed in its bid to restrict a wiki from linking to documents that could be damaging to its business. The ruling of a New York court said the court could not rule against the internet "in its various manifestations". Though Eli Lilly did obtain an injunction against individuals forcing them to return documents belonging to it and to refrain from disseminating them further, it failed to stop other websites from linking to copies of the documents in a case which is being seen as a vital test of free speech online. The documents relate to claims that Eli Lilly deliberately downplayed the side effects of its best selling drug Zyprexa, which is meant to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The side effects are said to include weight gain, high blood sugar levels and diabetes. The company faces a number of product liability law suits in relation to the drug, and has already paid out $1.2bn in pre-court settlements in other cases. One of the judges in one of the cases, Judge Jack Weinstein, had ordered not only individuals but websites to refrain from passing the documents on to other people. Weinstein has now reversed that decision in relation to the websites, one of which was a wiki, which is a collaborative online information source. It had published a link to the documents, and the possibility of an order for the link's removal was seen as a threat to user-generated content and the wiki publishing model as a whole. "A difficult issue is presented by Lilly's request to enjoin certain websites from posting the confidential documents," said Weinstein in his judgment. "Prohibiting five of the internet's millions of websites from posting the documents will not substantially lower the risk of harm posed to Lilly. Websites are primarily fora for speech. Limiting the fora available to would-be disseminators by such an infinitesimal percentage would be a fruitless exercise of the court's equitable power." "A more effective use of the court's equitable discretion is to impose restraints on the individuals who pose the greatest risk of harm to Lilly – those who have not returned the documents despite knowledge that they were illegally procured," said Weinstein. "Mindful of the role of the internet as a major modern tool of free speech, in the exercise of discretion the court refrains from permanently enjoining websites based on the insubstantial evidence of risk of irreparable harm. Restrictions on speech, even in the context of content-neutrality, should be avoided if not essential to promoting an important government interest. No website is enjoined from disseminating documents." The judge said the websites had published or linked to the documents before being told not to on 4 January, and none had broken that order. "This ruling makes it clear that Eli Lilly cannot invoke any court orders in its futile efforts to censor these documents off the internet," said EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann. "We are disappointed, however, that the judge failed to appreciate that its previous orders constituted prior restraints in violation of the First Amendment." Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 16 Feb 2007

Intel 'Bearlake' said to deliver 15% performance boost

Intel insiders have claimed that the combination of the chip giant's P35 and G35 chipsets - aka 'Bearlake' - and its Core 2 processors will yield a performance boost of 15 per cent at a given clock speed.
Tony Smith, 16 Feb 2007

Only some data thieves face two-year prison threat

The Government's planned two-year jail sentence for information thieves will not apply to people who steal or trade in personal information from most manual filing systems. Apart from some Government files, the penalties will only apply to electronic databases. The Department of Constitutional Affairs (DCA) announced last week that it will introduce jail terms for information thieves and traders, following calls from the Information Commissioner to punish privacy breaches with jail time. But the Information Commissioner's interpretation of a previous court ruling means the punishments will not apply to paper files. Michael Durant's was a landmark case in data protection, and part of that case involved paper-based, manual records systems. "Following the Durant case the Information Commissioner said that most manual filing systems will not be covered by the Act," said Dr Chris Pounder, a privacy specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. "Manual records are not covered by section 55 DPA unless they are held in relevant filing systems," said a DCA spokeswoman. "Consequently, the new penalties will not apply to public authority manual files, but it should be noted that neither do the existing penalties." The exclusion of most manual records systems was designed to alleviate the burden of cross referencing files in manual systems not designed for that purpose. Though it is easy to run a search for a person's name across a whole electronic database, it is much more difficult to find a reference to a person in an otherwise unrelated file without sophisticated cross referencing systems. Those sophisticated systems, known as relevant filing systems, are not exempt from the offences. "If private data was taken from normal files this new offence wouldn't apply," said Pounder. This means that someone stealing or selling information from such systems would not be sent to jail under the just-announced rules. "Some manual files are still protected, such as health, social work, housing and education records. Any other personal file, such as personnel records, are not," said Pounder. The plans to jail offenders were announced last week by the DCA as amendments to the Data Protection Act (DPA). There is currently no jail term for the offences. "People have a right to have their privacy protected from those who would deliberately misuse it and I believe the introduction of custodial penalties will be an effective deterrent to those who seek to procure or wilfully abuse personal data," said Lord Falconer, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. The penalties relate to an offence created by Section 55 of the DPA, which makes it an offence to sell or offer to sell personal data which has been obtained without the consent of the data controller. "More than 300 journalists are implicated in this illegal activity," a spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) previously told OUT-LAW. "We have given them a clear warning that we will not hesitate to take action if they are suspected in future of committing offences." "Information obtained improperly, very often by means of deception, can cause significant harm and distress to individuals," he said. Earlier this year News of the World journalist Clive Goodman was jailed for intercepting mobile phone messages belonging to staff of the Royal Family. Goodman was jailed under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) in connection with the telephone interception, rather than the DPA, but Information Commissioner Thomas has said he wants any dealing in information to be punishable by a jail sentence. The ICO's report, What Price Privacy Now?, revealed that most major newspapers had engaged in the buying of information from one raided investigations agency. The ICO published the names of the newspapers involved, and the list included broadsheet titles such as The Observer and The Sunday Times as well as red top tabloids. Falconer said the new penalties were vital because data sharing is a major Government policy and people must feel their information is well protected. "Greater data sharing within the public sector has the potential to be hugely beneficial to the public and is wholly compatible with proper respect for individuals' privacy," said Falconer. "One of the essential ways of maintaining that compatibility is to ensure the security and integrity of personal data once it has been shared." The changes come following a consultation launched in July last year. That consultation proposed the two year jail sentences and closed last October. At the time, Falconer said the jail term would not apply to Government staff who make honest errors. He said the changes will not result in penalties for front-line public sector staff who, while sharing data for legitimate reasons, make an error of judgement. Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons. Related links Information Commissioner names and shames newspapers, OUT-LAW News, 14/12/2006 Privacy chief demands stiff sentence for snooping journalists, OUT-LAW News, 30/11/2006 Government mulls prison terms for privacy breaches, OUT-LAW News, 24/07/2006
OUT-LAW.COM, 16 Feb 2007
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PowerColor preps 'golden pig' graphics card

Tul has marked the coming commencement of Chinese New Year with a limited-edition Year of the Pig PowerColor graphics card. The card's based on an AMD ATI Radeon X1650 Pro with a 600MHz core and 256MB of GDDR 3 video memory clocked to an effective 1.4GHz. The big difference, though, is the gold, pig-shaped cooling fan.
Tony Smith, 16 Feb 2007

Analyst sounds AMD cash-flow warning

A US analyst has expressed "increasing concerns" that AMD is heading toward a cash-flow crisis even a shareholders' ears prick to whispers that a private equity company is looking to buy a stake in the chip maker - or even the whole kit and kaboodle.
Tony Smith, 16 Feb 2007

EC earmarks €50m for online scientific data storage

The European Commission has set aside €50m this year to support the establishment of digital repositories for storing scientific data. The announcement was made at the beginning of a two-day conference in Brussels which focuses on scientific publishing in Europe. In addition to the funding set aside for establishing repositories, Janez Potocnik, the European Commissioner for Science and Research, said that a further €25m is being made available for digital preservation in 2007, while €10m is to be given by the commission's "eContentplus" programme to improve interoperability of and multilingual access to collections of scientific material. At the conference, which began on Thursday, the commission formally launched a new policy document aimed at examining how digital technologies can be used to increase access to research publications and data. The commission believes that easier access to scientific data has a significant role to play in driving innovation and maintaining the quality of research across Europe. "The digital revolution has dramatically improved the way in which scientific information is spread," said Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "But it also raises new questions about how to preserve scientific information for the future. Today's strategy outlines how Europe can best capitalise on the excellent work of its researchers." According to the commission, digital technologies are already reshaping how research information is viewed, analysed, and eventually published. It estimates that around 90 per cent of all science journals are now available online, although many of these journals are currently only available by subscription. The commission believes that providing free access to scientific research data opens the way to new types of uses and services, often through re-using past results as the raw material for new experimentation. However, it warns that online access does not guarantee its future availability because digital information has a limited lifetime and needs to be maintained over time. Therefore, the commission says better tools are needed to ensure digital preservation to prevent the loss of important scientific information. "New ideas are usually built on the results of previous research," added Potocnik. "We must make sure that the flow of scientific information contributes to innovation and research excellence in the European Research Area." Copyright © 2007, ENN
Charlie Taylor, 16 Feb 2007

Net vultures circle Joss Stone TV train crash

UpdatedUpdated The internet is a cruel mistress, and no messing. Pity if you will poor old Joss Stone, whose performance at the Brit awards earlier this week might have been consigned to the dustbin of history were it not for YouTube Joss, we should explain to those of you not familiar with the chanteuse's work, is from Devon. Which is not, nor has it ever been, part of the good old US of A. Joss could this morning been seen in a Brits clip* suffering from a nasty attack of Sheena Easton syndrome. Scottish-born Easton, older readers will recall, achieved fame in UK TV documentary The Big Time, and went on to have a string of hits including Morning Train and the theme to Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. In the process, she upped sticks to America and quickly developed a bizarre Caledonian/US hybrid accent which has never fully been scientifically explained. Easton's career did, however, survive the outrage provoked by her inexplicable Americanisation. It remains to be seen whether Ms Stone can do the same. Comments on her drawl range from the moderate "What the hell is with that American accent, what a dirty chav" to "Vile little so and so.. She can take her arse and her ugly attitude back to the US where she got it from". Our favourite, though, just about sums it up. As one viewer notes: "i can imagine her and christina aguilera having an argument about whos blacker". ® Bootnote For the record, plenty of TV viewers also complained about presenter Russell Brand's hilarious performance. Whether this is because they found references to the Queen's private parts offensive or simply because it wasn't funny, we know not. Update *The offending clip has now been removed from YouTube "due to a copyright claim by British Phonographic Industry Ltd". Those of you wishing to copy Stone's outstanding Yank accent can consider yourselves duly warned.
Lester Haines, 16 Feb 2007

Japan scrubs spy satellite launch

Bad weather has forced Japan to postpone the launch of a new spy satellite. Japanese space agency JAXA scrubbed the launch shortly before the rocket carrying the satellite was due to blast off from Tanegashima island. No new date has been set for the launch, which was already postponed once this week. JAXA says it hopes it will be able to get the satellite off the ground by the end of the month. The eye-in-the-sky is designed to help the island nation keep tabs on its cannoned-up and assuredly hostile neighbour, North Korea. Japan decided to start watching Kim Jong-Il and his countrymen after North Korea fired a ballistic missle over Japan in 1998. Understandably rattled by the experience, Japanese authorities decided they would be better off with a couple of optical satellites and a couple of radar satellites peering into their neighbour's backyard. The satellite, due to be launched yesterday, was to be the second of the radar observatories. Both optical satellites are already in orbit. The Japanese government says once all four satellites are up and running, it will be able to monitor any point on Earth at any time of day, to a resolution of about one metre. In the wake of North Korea's nuclear test last October, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe says the country needs to seriously consider relaxing laws that restrict its use of space to peaceful purposes. He argues that the country ought to be able to use space for non-agressive military activity as well. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 16 Feb 2007

MySpace for sports shoots out of the starter's block

Isporty.com is a MySpace for sports fans where you can set up a page for your team or sports club, or a personal page showing your sporting interests - whether it's football, fishing or darts. Speaking at the launch party last night, website founder Chris Ward said: "So much sports stuff is caught on digital camera or mobile phones these days that there is a need for a place like this to put it. We've got some serious backers like Terry Venables and NewMediaSpark so we hope it will be a success." Ward used to do PR for FriendsReunited and has started and sold two previous companies. After selling the last firm he concentrated on long distance bicycle races and running marathons. The Reg met someone at the party last night who was impressed when sweat-free Ward arrived at a meeting in Brighton having cycled from Kingston. The site offers pages for clubs or individuals to post photos, videos and text. It pushes all those Web 2.0 buttons of social networking, user generated content, and use of video - there's a video show rounding up some of the best content on the site. Check out the site here. ®
John Oates, 16 Feb 2007

Most spiked drink victims actually legless

Researchers at Wrexham Maelor Hospital who tested wobbly hospital patients who claimed their drinks had been spiked found most were simply legless, the BBC reports. A year-long study - "aimed to assess the scale of drink-spiking in the area and identify problems at specific clubs and pubs" - revealed that just one fifth tested positive for any drugs whatsoever. Of 75 people who reckoned they'd been targeted, 65 per cent were found to be twice the legal drink-drive limit, with an impressive 24 per cent clocking up three times the limit. Wrexham GP, Dr Peter Saul, told BBC Radio Wales: "There had always been a suspicion that people would say that their drinks had been spiked when perhaps they had misjudged how much alcohol they were taking. If you go home and your parents are there, and you are vomiting on the path, and you come in in a terrible state, you get sympathy if you say 'oh, my drink was spiked.' You don't get sympathy if you say 'we spent too long in the bar'." Cardiff-based surgeon Professor Jonathan Shepherd - who has conducted breathalyser tests on around 900 late-night drinkers in the city's centre, and reported a "sizeable minority who are drinking huge amounts of alcohol" - told the same programme: "It really puts to bed a myth that's very widely held that drinks are spiked when in reality they are not." He did, however, admit that spiking, often by drugs such as GBH, ketamine and Rohypnol, was "still a risk" and advised drinking from a bottle rather than a "large glass". ®
Lester Haines, 16 Feb 2007
iSoft logo

iSoft in talks with Aussie firm

Troubled health provider iSoft is in talks with Australian company IBA Health about a possible takeover, but says it is still looking at other options. A spokesman for iSoft told The Reg: "We are in dialogue with IBA but it is one of a number options we are considering."
John Oates, 16 Feb 2007

BOFH: The Brotherhood

Episode 7Episode 7 The boss is late and everyone's noticed. And when I say everyone's noticed I really mean no one's noticed, but it has been two days and when someone's been on a weekend junket then doesn't show within a day or so word gets around... ... It's day three before the boss finally wanders into work with the unpressed clothes and vacant expression that can only mean one thing... "Lost weekend syndrome!" I murmur to the PFY while the Boss works out which office is his. "Lost weekend syndrome?" "Yeah. It's such a beginner's mistake!" I comment, shaking my head sadly. "Going on a junket at a vendor's expense is a mistake?" the PFY asks, surprised. "In some cases, yes. Rule one of going on a Vendor Bender is always play on your home ground so you know how to get home - or at least where home is. At the VERY least you should be in a place where you can ask a local where your hotel is. Rule two, three and four are Never, EVER go to Amsterdam with a Vendor!" "I don't see how it would..." "Ok, so you're out with vendors. What are they going to do?" "Buy you drinks!" "Yes. And it's overseas, so they're going to buy you..." "...A LOT of drinks." "Right. And it's a weekend, so they're going to buy you..." "...An OBSCENE amount of drinks." "And when you've had a lot of drinks, what are you going to want to do?" "Chat up women?" "Yes...And..." "Go to the toilet?" "Excellent, one more bodily function to go..." "Have a curry!" "Precisely. So you're at a curry house - what will you need?" "Kingfishers!" "More drinks, right. And somewhere along the way, you're going to pay up and go back to your hotel. Only you won't remember where it was." "True..." "Or what its name was." "Right..." "And you're in Amsterdam, so you'll run into some kindly person who will mention the coffee shop just down the street, and you will think...?" "'I could go for a coffee!'" "Indeed. Three days later when your money runs out you'll leave the coffee shop and lie to the person at the airport about the family emergency that caused you to miss your flight and you'll get to Heathrow." "With no money." "Indeed. And you'll bludge a phone to call to the Mrs to pick you up and on the way home she'll ask how it went, you'll make up some pathetically unbelievable story because you can't remember, which will inevitably lead to..." "A fight!" "Yes, and she'll make up some equally unbelievable story about hearing some funny engine noise and pull over. You'll get out to check the engine and she'll drive off, leaving you on the M25 with tons of time to make up your mind about where you're going to walk to - work or home. "And work is nearer, and everyone there doesn't hate you at the moment for whatever it was you did in Amsterdam that you felt it necessary to lie about," the PFY finishes. "Correct." "And you can tell all this from his appearance Holmes?" the PFY asks. "Nah, he rang in to say he'd be late and it all came out. Still, it's a familiar story. Which is why I keep this on hand," I say, pulling a sports bag out of my cupboard. "?" "A towel, shaving kit, hotel toiletries, aspirin, a bottle of IRNBRU, 100 quid and the key to the sick room. Enough to clean yourself up, buy a cheap shirt and trousers, and get yourself into work state," I say, to the Boss, as I hand it over. ...three hours later... "That was a bit good of you. I have to admit I had you pegged as a kick-a-man-when-he's-down sort of person," the Boss admits. "Don't get me wrong," I respond. "If you're going to be kicking a man, then when he's down is probably one of the better times..." "Then why...?" "Because I've been there. I too went on an overseas junket which turned to custard, if I'm not mixing my desserts." "You?" "Yes, a Berlin 'Wall shout'. Started going pear shaped when the Absinthe came out just before lunch," I say, recounting all I know. "So we're okay?" "Indeed, welcome to the Brotherhood." "The Brotherhood?" "The Brotherhood of the lost weekend. It's your duty to refill the bag and hand it to the next person who needs it." "The next person?" "Yeah," I say, dropping my voice to a whisper. "I've booked the PFY onto a tour of a PC assembly company in Luton tomorrow which has a large number of shares in an Absinthe company in France." "Oooh," the Boss says. "So I'd better get a move on!" "Nah, five days should just about do it..." BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99
Simon Travaglia, 16 Feb 2007

Busty eBayer deploys mammary display stand

NSFWNSFW Thanks very much to reader Nick L for alerting us to a rather strange eBayer who has decided to deploy her not inconsiderable assets as a sort of mammary display stand. Try this "auction" for a Panasonic CD player front panel: Actually, it's not an auction at all, but rather a jub-driven come-one to get you down to lucys big boobs showcase, where the young lady has decided to ditch the hardware altogether and let it all (ok, then, most of it) hang out. The blurb explains: "hi.my name is lucy and iam here to show u my breasts please have a look and let me know what you think..." Apparently, Lucy does "pics on request", so we'll leave it to readers to imagine exactly what hardware might look best between her heaving bosoms. ®
Lester Haines, 16 Feb 2007

Samsung shows Mobile WiMAX kit

Samsung is getting ready for the day when Mobile WiMAX - also known as 802.16e - services become widespread an users want to connect their computers to the network. This week it demo'd a USB key that provides both WiMAX and 3G HSDPA connectivity.
Hard Reg, 16 Feb 2007

IP - it's complex, but it's here to stay

CommentComment Fifteen years ago a plethora of different network communications protocols were being used for computer communications. Getting computers to talk to each other was a complex business and vendors like Novell made a good living enabling them to do so. Things are different today – there is but one network protocol used for the vast majority of computer communications: the Internet Protocol or IP. This was the first round of "network convergence" that allowed any computer anywhere to easily communicate with another. Arguably, IP has been the most successful open computing standard ever.
Bob Tarzey, 16 Feb 2007

TomTom beats to the distant sound of whalesong

LogoWatchLogoWatch We here at El Reg like to think that our LogoWatch strand has done much to rid the world of Powerpoint presentation-weilding Strategy Boutiques - redefining brand frontage paradigms and delivery mission-critical synergistic solutions to better represent the brand proposition companies represent to their end user demographic while blasted off the planet on Bolivian marching powder. Well, it seems to be working, if the recent rebrand by GPS outfit TomTom is anything to go by. While the company has evidently heard the distant sound of whalesong, the blurb for its new corporate identity shows admirable constraint: TomTom, the world's largest navigation solution provider, today unveils its new corporate identity with a new logo. The new identity retains all of TomTom's unique brand values for consumers. At the same time it better reflects the full portfolio of navigation, tracking & tracing and traffic solutions that TomTom offers consumers, businesses and governments. The logo is an evolution of the current logo and consists of the word 'TomTom' spelled in black, capitalised letters and features TomTom's famous red hands embracing a transparent ball. "TomTom has become a well-established global company and the leading brand in portable navigation solutions in just a few years," says Alexander Ribbink, TomTom's Chief Operating Officer. "The new logo reflects these changes and symbolises TomTom's care for its customers, its hands-on mentality and its passion for the best, high quality navigation products and services. It also supports our continued expansion into new markets like fleet management and traffic solutions, whilst strengthening our position as the most preferred navigation brand by consumers." A faint whiff of joss-sticks, to be sure, but compare the above to Deloitte Consulting's ill-fated 2003 metamorphosis, when it rather brilliantly decided to rebrand as a kind of mineral water: In a few weeks, Deloitte Consulting will become Braxton, and with that change comes a new visual identity: a new logo, new colors, and a new corporate look. First, the new Braxton logo. The logo consists of two pieces: the Braxton wordmark, and the Braxton badge - a convex red shield containing an asymmetrical orange X. Where the lines cross is a yellow diamond-shaped "sweet spot." The badge was designed to convey a sense of belonging, symbolizing our strength and culture. When selecting colours, our branding department researched several colour combinations, looking at what would be appropriate for a management consulting firm; what, if any, negative cultural issues could arise; and what different colours convey. Our research found that subdued colours like blues, greens and browns are seen as conservative and old-world. In contrast, bright hues of red and yellow convey energy, optimism, and a sense of renewal. When the transition was first announced, we promised to add colour to the industry, and we have done so. Finally, the X. As you may have guessed, the asymmetrical X shape is an allusion to the X in Braxton. It also represents the intersection of several ideas: The fusion of strategy and implementation, business and technology. Our industry is polarising around technology companies and strategy boutiques, leaving one important, unfulfilled client need: business-minded consultants, focused on implementing what they recommend. Braxton will be the only firm focusing exclusively on this need. Collaboration between consultant and client. The X within our symbol is a direct representation of one of our key beliefs: that the most valuable breakthroughs occur when client and consultant collaborate on equal terms. The yellow diamond shaped "sweet spot" represents the optimum state in business - the intersection of strategy, implementation, business and technology, combined with the idea of complete collaboration between client and consultant. Yes indeed. You can thank LogoWatch for ridding the world of such drivel and making it a brighter, happier place where your children will not be exposed to the terrifying excesses of the Strategy Boutiques. ® Bootnote A free whalesong CD (including the hit track The Ross Sea Minke posse versus the Japanese whaleburger crew) to sharp-eyed reader Mat Butterworth.
Lester Haines, 16 Feb 2007

Aussie outfit to ship wristphone next month

Many, many wristphones have been announced, but few if any have come to market. According to Aussie company SMS Technology, that will change next month when it ships the M300, a tri-band GSM/GPRS wristwatch phone, in its native land.
Tony Smith, 16 Feb 2007

UK Treasury knew of US hunt through British bank data

The Bank of England told HM Treasury about the secret US surveillance of international banking transactions as long as five years ago.
Mark Ballard, 16 Feb 2007

Intertrust offers cut price DRM patents for OMA and Marlin

DRM intellectual property business Intertrust has issued a license price for its patent portfolio that is designed to totally undermine the existing MPEG LA patent pool for the Open Mobile Alliance DRM 2.0 system, although it’s being very careful not to say that out loud. An MPEG LA patent pool had initially issued a $1.00 per handset price, with a further $0.25 cents per user per year, and then reduced this to $0.65 per handset. The active members of the MPEG LA pools were Intertrust and its two parents Sony and Philips, plus Contentguard, now held by Microsoft, Time Warner and Thomson, with the final patent pool member being Matsushita. Contentguard feels it holds essential patents in regard to how rights are expressed, using a rights expression language (REL), though this is coming more and more into question, as there are other, simpler ways of expressing rights, for instance defining a prior domain through registering a family’s or a businesses’ devices and limiting acquired rights to these. But it is Intertrust’s pricing that is totally dismissive of the previous negotiations, which had outraged GSM Association members and led to the OMA washing its hands of the licensing process. Intertrust is saying that the program offers licenses to OMA or to its own DRM system Marlin in one of two ways. Either an active subscriber domain – which means a list of related devices belonging to the same individual or family – can pay €0.09 per year, which amounts to 12 US cents; or an operator can pay €0.015 per subscriber it has for 2007 rising gently to €0.030 (24 cents) in 2016 per subscriber per year, calculated against the total subscriber population of a service provider or network operator. There are two things to note here. Firstly that this price, for the core elements of technology that are required for OMA, is far less than the entire MPEG LA license and as such it is supposed to tempt those that feel they can manage without the REL and the Matsushita patents. Secondly it does away with the up front cost per device. CEO of Intertrust Talal Shamoon told us, “We engineered Marlin to work with OMA and to interoperate with it. So it makes sense for anyone doing a quadruple play to use Marlin on a PC and to allow it to create a domain that includes the cellphone, which is running OMA for DRM.” The Intertrust built Marlin is an off the shelf construction kit for making DRMs and it already has an interoperability bridge to OMA. The program provides a license to all patents from Intertrust, Philips and Sony for use with OMA or Marlin services for a single price. So far since the standoff between the MPEG LA and the GSM Association in May 2005, only Vodafone has moved to acquire an Intertrust license for its DRM technologies. Intertrust made it clear to us several times that it couldn’t say that licensing Intertrust was sufficient to license OMA, and that each cellular operator should decide for itself what patent licenses it needed for its own technology implementation. The implication is clear that some of them might find that Intertrust was all they needed. In April 2004 Microsoft agreed to pay Intertrust $440m in settlement of a patent infringement case, which gave Microsoft a license to the Intertrust technologies for a ten year period, but only on Microsoft platforms. This is almost certainly the reason that Microsoft has never come out with a DRM system for Symbian and Linux phones, because anyone that used it would still have to pay patent licenses to Intertrust. This week Microsoft also tried to answer the Intertrust announcement and put a bomb under OMA DRM with a new DRM system it is calling 'Playready'. Telefónica, O2, Verizon Wireless, Bouygues Telecom, and Cingular Wireless all came out in support saying they would use the technology, but of course once more it is only available on its own platforms including Windows Mobile 6.0, so there is still a desperate need for a broader based technology taking in Symbian, such as OMA. Microsoft says that this system, unlike Windows Media 10 DRM allows permanent copies as well as subscriptions, and files can be flagged as rental, pay-per-view or be based on "super-distribution". Playready is independent of file formats but contradicting this Microsoft says it supports Windows Media Audio, AAC and AAC+ and HE-AAC, Windows Media Video and H.264. Copyright © 2007, Faultline Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.
Faultline, 16 Feb 2007

Two defendants in German warez case admit charges

Two of the three main defendants in the FTPWelt trial, which opened this week at the District Court of Mühlhausen in Germany, have admitted that they offered bootleg software, games and movies through a high speed download service Ftpwelt.com.
Jan Libbenga, 16 Feb 2007

Logic3 i-Station Traveller portable speakers

ReviewReview Years ago, long before the iPod Revolution of 2001, somebody somewhere came up with the ingenious idea of packing portable speakers and then plugging their Discman in so they could listen to music in a hotel room, as very few hotel rooms had stereos of any sort.
Scott Snowden, 16 Feb 2007

Twenty Logic3 i-Station Traveller iPod speakers up for grabs

CompetitionCompetition Logic3's i-Station Traveller is the iPod-accessory maker's latest on-the-move out-loud audio offering. You can read Register Hardware's review of the gadget here, but why not try and win one too? We've got 20 of 'em Logic3 tells us we have to give away...
Register Hardware, 16 Feb 2007

3GSM rules the roost, alongside cockfighting Amazons

3GSM madness Once again, the Reg team has been hard at work serving up a banquet of tasty news from all corners of the world. Much of the focus this week was on the mobile convention 3GSM in Barcelona. While fighting for a place in the news there, T-Mobile announced to the world that VoIP would not affect its revenues, but would have a bigger effect on fixed line services. T-Mobile also halved charges for business customers who transmit data over its mobile networks in some countries. Sending and receiving data over a T-Mobile network will now cost £3 per megabyte of data transmitted instead of £7.50, the firm said in a statement. Motorola is trialling the use of wind and solar powered generators as an alternative to diesel power for remote GSM cell sites. MTC Namibia will run the alternative power system between April 2007 and July 2007 in what's promoted as the first-ever trial of the technology on a live network. Meanwhile, Vodafone chief Arun Sarin said mobile carriers risk being leapfrogged by new entrants unless they speed up the development of technologies such as mobile payments. "It takes us too long to deliver a new service," he said. "We have been talking about things like mobile payments for years...it's time to start delivering," And in brief: Mobile games developer Glu has signed a deal with Codemasters to get its games onto mobile phones. Warner Music Group is set to deliver music content to mobiles in Europe and Asia in a deal with Norwegian mobile operator Telenor. And Slingbox is reported to be unfazed by traditional broadcasters moving into video-on-demand because it offers a more personalised experience. Smoking can cause serious damage to your company Smokers could now be lambasted with blame for allowing criminals into company buildings, an IT security company has suggested. In a recent social engineering test undertaken by UK-based NTA Monitor, one of its staff accessed a building through a back door that was left open for smokers. Once inside, they gained access to the corporate network – a bit like in the Robert Redford movie, Sneakers. Sacked employee gets $4.7m for probing bad guys A US security analyst, who was fired in 2005 for attempting to stop such hacking antics, was this week awarded a large sum of cash by a jury after his firing was deemed "malicious, willful, reckless, wanton, fraudulent or in bad faith". Turkish hacker focuses on Kiwis The Turkish hacker iskorpitx has attacked websites of almost 600 Kiwi businesses and 300 international sites hosted by the same US-based web server. Vodafone owned ISP ihug was the worst hit, though several other ISPs are also thought to have been involved. "Hope for blind," delegates told... A new electronic implant which restores visual capabilities in blind people holds "untold promise" , delegates at a San Francisco meeting were told, as the technology behind the device is taken to the next level. Apparently, advances have been made in technology that allowed a man, blind for 50 years, to regain some eyesight in 2005. Reg readers get road rage over Blair's pricing plans Readers have inundated El Reg with their thoughts on Tony Blair's plans to introduce a new road-charging scheme. Blair apparently plans to put further strain on Number 10's creaking IT infrastructure, by emailing everyone who's signed the infamous petition against road charging to tell them more about the government plans. More than 1.4 million Brits have signed the online petition so far, with the servers handling the petition site buckling under the strain. Copyright cops come onto force While the government struggles to fight violent crime and manage its overcrowded prisons, it is reassuring to know it is to hire 4,500 people to police copyright infringement. The move comes as the Department of Trade and Industry passes responsibility for copyright enforcement to Trading Standards Officers. Trade and Industry Minister Malcolm Wicks said: "This will mean more surprise raids at markets and boot sales, more intelligence, more prosecutions, and more criminals locked up." Nationwide Building Society slapped with £980,000 fine The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has fined the Nationwide Building Society almost £1m for the loss of a laptop which contained "confidential customer data" on 11 million customers. The laptop was nicked from the home of an employee, and although he reported the theft, he apparently failed to tell employers what was on the machine until after a three-week holiday. Hoorah for Microsoft fixing its own mistakes Microsoft has distributed software patches for 12 vulnerabilities - six of them classed as critical. None of these were for the new OS Vista, which only hit consumers at the end of last month. Give it time though.... IBM to eat up more companies… IBM shows no signs of slowing its acquisition strategy. Last year the company spent $3.6bn on adding 12 companies, or just their assets, to its $18bn middleware business. Big Blue software head Steve Mills said the company would give a repeat performance in 2007. Fujitsu exec slams NHS project The multi-billion pound NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) is in danger of failing, lacks the leadership required to stop it drifting off course, and is in danger of morphing into "a camel", according to a senior figure in one of the main contractors implementing the project, a senior healthcare consultant at Fujitsu has said. Cockfighting mags taken off Amazon shelf Amazon.com has been issued with a lawsuit demanding that it remove cockfighting magazines and dog-fighting videos, Computerworld reports. The Humane Society of the United States filed the complaint in Superior Court of the District of Columbia with concerns over "The Underground Pitbull Breeders Association, StreetHeatDVD.com, and the publishers of The Gamecock and The Feathered Warrior. Grand designs for cow pat And finally, researchers at Michigan State University have come up with a new way to dispose of cow manure - use it to build with. Farmers in the US are currently under pressure to find new ways of getting rid of cow pat. It can cost $200 a year to process the production of a single cow, so some farmers are facing a very big bill every year. The academics now say sterilised cow manure could replace sawdust in fibreboard. Which makes a change from seeing companies built on corporate bull.... On which note, have a great weekend, and see you same time next week.®
Dan Ilett, 16 Feb 2007

Vista OEM 'Express' upgrades stuck at the gate

Europeans who bought a new PC in time for Christmas and were persuaded that they would get a Vista upgrade soon after the rollout by redeeming a voucher, are learning that demand for the upgrades far outstrips "supply". We don't think anyone should be in a hurry to embrace Vista, but people do tend to want what they've paid for.
Thomas C Greene, 16 Feb 2007

iPod spares nude model's blushes

Here's a Friday afternoon poser for you: what do you do if you're on a beach doing a swimwear shoot for Sports Illustrated and your bikini inexplicably falls off and you're left sprawling butt-naked on the golden sands with your ample charms exposed to the snapper's sweaty lens? Well, leaving your athletic form as nature intended is not an option. After all, this is Sports Illustrated, not Hustler. For the correct answer, we need to examine the case of Marisa Miller, who recently found herself in such a situation during the mag's Swimsuit 2007 shoot (NSFW). Nicely done. Ms Miller has effortlessly covered all bases while continuing to enjoy her favourite tracks. A word of warning, though, to any readers thinking of recreating this classy pose: fine Caribbean sand gets into the smallest crack and can play havoc with delicate mechanisms. This caveat also applies to the iPod. ®
Lester Haines, 16 Feb 2007

Lexar announces high-speed SDHC

Lexar's 4GB SHDC card isn't the first of its kind to be rated Class 6 for speed - Transcend won that accolade in October 2006 - but it's no slouch for that. Class 6 devices have a guaranteed minimum data transfer rate of 6MBps, and Lexar said its card has a minimum write speed of 20MBps - hence the 133x speed.
Tony Smith, 16 Feb 2007

Japanese whaler adrift in stormy seas

Japanese whaling vessel the Nisshin Maru - partially evacuated yesterday following an engine-room fire - is still wallowing powerless in Antarctica's stormy Ross Sea, the Daily Telegraph reports. The remaining crew have, with assistance from other whaling fleet vessels, been able to control the blaze and stabilise the 8,000-ton ship by pumping out excess water. Accordingly, a spokesman for New Zealand's maritime agency told Reuters the immediate danger of environmental damage caused by oil or chemical leaks had passed. Greenpeace has offered to send its vessel Esperanza, down in the Southern Ocean as part of a fleet dedicated to stopping the hunt of 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales, but the lifeline was declined. Greenpeace's expedition leader, Karli Thomas, said: "Our first thoughts are for the missing crewman and the rest of the people on board. This is not a time to play politics." Glenn Inwood, a spokesman for the Institute of Cetacean Research which is in charge of Japan's whaling programme, retorted to AP: "The whole Greenpeace offer is a red herring. Their assistance is not required and will not be accepted." It's not clear whether the Nisshin Maru's engines can be restarted, the Telegraph notes. One man is still missing, presumed dead, as a result of the fire. ®
Lester Haines, 16 Feb 2007

EU police database on Brussels agenda

The European Council has endorsed a pan-European police database that was established by a small club of countries outside the European framework last year.
Mark Ballard, 16 Feb 2007
Ingram Micro

Ingram Micro blames Brazil and Germany for so-so results

Ingram Micro made sales of $8.85bn in the fourth quarter ended 30 December 2006, an increase of 11 per cent on the $7.96bn the distie made in the same period of 2005. Profit for the period was $141.7m up from $131.7m in the same period last year. But profits in the quarter made up 1.6 per cent of revenues against 1.66 per cent in the same three months of 2005.
John Oates, 16 Feb 2007

Lights, camera, action

When it comes to preparing a pitch you can always go for the ‘Industry Standard’ PowerPoint, but these days you can also push the boat out and take a more integrated approach. It’s a bit like whether you drive a sensible family car or – like Jeremy Clarkson – yearn to drive something a little sportier. They both get you from A to B but with Mr Clarkson’s jalopy you get to travel with a bit more style.
Brian Heywood, 16 Feb 2007
Steve Ballmer

Ballmer downplays Vista sales

Steve Ballmer has played down the hype surounding Vista sales saying some analysts have taken an overly optimistic view. Speaking to financial analysts, Ballmer said he was pleased by the response to Vista, but warned: "People have to understand that some of the revenue forecasts I've seen out there for Windows Vista in fiscal year 2008 are overly aggressive."
John Oates, 16 Feb 2007

Designing intelligent petitions too taxing for Brits

LettersLetters Tony Blair has his finger on the button and is preparing to fire. Fortunately, there are no weapons of mass destruction, only emails of mass dissemination, as New Labour preps a reply to the 1.5 million people who don't want road tax priced by the mile:
Lucy Sherriff, 16 Feb 2007

Brocade intros McDATA-capable SAN switch

Brocade has introduced its first Fibre Channel switch that can be used within both Brocade and McDATA SANs. Available next month, the 4Gbit/s Brocade 5000 switch comes with 16 of its 32 ports enabled; more can be enabled by purchasing software keys. It will replace both the Brocade Silkworm 4100 and the McDATA Sphereon 4700, and will be pitched at about the same price, said Brocade systems engineering manager Simon Pamplin.
Bryan Betts, 16 Feb 2007

Genes offer excuse for beer fear

AAASAAAS Geneticists are shedding light on why some people can't handle their beer, or rather may eschew a noble chalice of foaming chestnut ale in favour of a less challenging sweeter beverage. The genetic basis of sensitivity to bitter compounds has a special significance in evolution - scientists hypothesise that the ability to distinguish bitter tastes, which are often associated with poisonous molecules, was crucial to our early ancestors. Scientists are approaching the question by investigating a gene called PTC, which confers either sensitivity or insensitivity on taste buds to phentlythiocarbamide. Tiny amounts of this synthetic compound are extremely bitter to people with one form of the gene, while those with the other experience little or no effect. This presents an evolutionary mystery: why hasn't natural selection eliminated genes for insensitivity to bitter tastes - which could render people unaware they were poisoning themselves - from the population? University of Texas professor Stephen Wooding found genetic signatures in the PTC gene which point to an evolutionary phenomenon called balancing selection. Balancing selection does exactly what you would expect; the push to delete the non-tasting form of the gene is balanced by the pull to keep it. Presenting the work at the AAAS meeting in San Francisco, Wooding said: "In the absence of this type of natural selection, you would expect one form to dominate. That hasn't happened here because for some reason, there is not a strong advantage of one over the other. It's an unusual situation." The source of the pull that kept the non-taster form of the PTC presenting early human populations is, for now, a matter of conjecture. Wooding said: "One explanation could be that, long ago, it conferred some sort of protection from a different compound in these people." Similarly, there is evidence that insensitivity to the bitterness of the quinine family of compounds, which are used against malaria, is more common in people from regions where mosquitos carry the amoeba which causes the illness. Nurture as well as nature plays a role in people's penchant for beverages which can be disgustingly bitter to friends though. Wooding said: "I think it would be an interesting question for psychologists." Indeed, it could be said that the Teutonic cultural sweet tooth was indirectly responsible for the destruction of the Austrian wine industry in the 1980s when it was found vineyards were adding antifreeze to their wines to up the sweetness. ®
Christopher Williams, 16 Feb 2007

Dell snakes Motorola's mobile man

Dell has done some Zandr poaching, grabbing Motorola's handset chief to run its consumer products unit. Ron Garriques worked at Motorola for nearly ten years, most recently as SVP and president of mobile devices. Now he'll report straight to Michael Dell as head of Dell's consumer goods. The latest executive move keeps Dell's brass door revolving. The most notable recent Dell management change was, of course, founder Dell returning to the CEO role as Kevin Rollins resigned. Also leaving Dell in the near-term are SVP of human resources Paul McKinnon and SVP of worldwide operations John Hamlin, who turned down the consumer products gig to head his own investment firm. These executives join CFO James Schneider who resigned in December, SVP of consumer products John Medica who will retire in April, SVP of the Americas Joe Marengi who will retire in March and SVP of marketing John Hamlin who has resigned. Dell this week tapped former Solectron CEO Michael Cannon to fill the head of operations post. A major executive overhaul could help Dell inject fresh life into its sagging Direct Model. The company has suffered from falling PC profits, slower server sales, customer service complaints, flaming laptops and a pair of accounting probes. Add in a stagnant share price, and you begin to understand the executive exodus. Garriques will oversee a new unit within Dell that manages everything from notebooks to peripherals. Hopefully for Dell, he didn't leave all his vowels at Motorola. ®
Ashlee Vance, 16 Feb 2007