14th > March > 2007 Archive

Comcast usage triggers Kafka-esque abusage

Promoters of Comcast Internet are fond of boasting their superiority over DSL and other types of connectivity, pointing to the cable service's "mindblowing speed" and "unlimited" usage plans. Here's what they won't tell you: Comcast has a secret cap on the amount of data users can download, and those going over the limit can find their accounts terminated with little notice. Just ask John Stith, a Comcast subscriber in Colorado, who downloads audio and other types of files to assist his legally blind stepson. Stith recently received a call from a company representative who said Stith was using too much bandwidth and would be terminated in a moment's notice if he continued to do so. He asked if it would make any difference if he restricted heavy usage to early-morning hours when bandwidth was more plentiful, or barring that, what the limit was so he could comply with the policy. The answers: no and we won't tell you. "This whole policy seems a bit two-faced when they promote activities like watching webisodes and listening to Internet radio," says Stith, who by no means is the only Comcast customer to report this type of treatment. In addition to another person we spoke with, we found plenty of complaints online, including this blog dedicated to one person's dispute. (The Boston Globe also has a story here.) Post Existentialism The runaround reminds us of the plight of Joseph K in Franz Kafka's The Trial. The protagonist is tried and ultimately executed for breaking a law that his prosecutors refuse to reveal. The posthumously published novel became an overarching parable for man's existential predicament in the 20th Century. Now it's become a model of how the cable provider, which operates as a monopoly in many regions, treats its customers. It also demonstrates internet cable's Achilles' heel. Yes, it may be faster than DSL (although with EarthLink and others offering speeds of 10 Mbps, that isn't universally true anymore). But, unlike cable, when you use DSL you can rest assured your next door neighbor's bandwidth won't come to a screeching halt as soon as you download a weekend's worth of DVD-quality films from Netflix. Stith detailed in painstaking detail his own ambiguous proceedings with Comcast. Unhappy with the nebulous information provided to him on the call, he asked to speak with a supervisor. The representative refused and also denied Stith's request for a street address where he could send a formal complaint. So Stith called, on two occasions, the local customer service center and relayed the conversation. He was assured the original call most definitely did not come from Comcast and was most likely a prank. Still uneasy, Stith mailed a letter to Comcast relating his experience. He received a call from a representative in Comcast's corporate office, who confirmed the original call did come from Comcast and invited him to take up the matter with Comcast's security center. A person in that department also refused to specify how much bandwidth Stith's $60-per-month subscription entitled him to, but warned him his account would be terminated without notice if he crossed this invisible line again. Another subscriber complaining of Comcast's secret usage cap is Cameron Smith, who said he was a Comcast subscriber in Tennessee until January. Shortly after receiving a warning similar to Stith's, he found his connection canceled. To add insult to injury, he was then billed for the the following month's service and was told that the charges wouldn't stop until he returned his modem. Bait and Switch Besides criticizing the unpleasantness of having his account canceled for violating an unspecified policy, Smith accuses Comcast of pulling a bait and switch. He says phone representatives in Comcast's sale department assured him the company permitted "unlimited downloads". Indeed when we spoke to a sales representative named David in Comcast's San Jose, Calif., branch he told us "there's no cap". A Comcast spokeswoman said in a statement that only 0.01 percent of company's subscribers fail to use the service as intended and that the usage policy is in place to ensure the remaining 99.99 percent get adequate service. Customers who are contacted about excessive usage "typically" consume exponentially higher amounts of data than average users "which would include" the equivalent of 13 million emails every month. She refused to say what the bandwidth cap was or explain why Comcast insists on keeping that detail secret. She also declined to say why the sales people say there are no caps. All of which brings to mind the howls of protest that would ring out if, say, a cell phone carrier refused to specify the number of minutes available in a subscriber's plan, or promised unlimited long distance and then disconnected users if they actually exercised that option. It makes us wonder if Joseph K hasn't been resurrected as the embodiment of disgruntled Comcast users everywhere. Or why DSL marketers don't pounce on this sad state of affairs at Comcast. ®
Dan Goodin, 14 Mar 2007

Don't Dodge this Viper

AnalysisAnalysis On the 6th Feb 2007 IBM announced Viper. Yes, we know that it announced Viper in July 2006, but this is a different Viper, it just happens to have the same name. Really, it all makes perfect sense; you just have to think like IBM…..
Mark Whitehorn, 14 Mar 2007
1

House hunting? Beware the Grim Reaper

Anyone who's ever sold a house knows there are a few tricks designed to entice buyers to part with their cash. For one, first appearences count, so move that dismantled Ford Cortina from the front garden. Second up, most buying decisions are made by women*, so make sure the kitchen and bathroom are 100 per cent. Thirdly, work to create a homely atmosphere - the smell of freshly baked bread is reckoned to do the trick. There are few absolute no-nos, too. The smell of animals is reckoned to be a turn-off for potential buyers, as are strong colours and quirky individual modifications, such as converting your flat into the Starship Enterprise. Accordingly, we think the sellers of one Bedfordshire desres (seen here) might want to rethink just what kind of welcome they're offering to visitors. Yes indeed, we can image the conversation: "Well, the curtains are lovely, and I do like a real coal-effect fire, but I'm not sure granny will be too happy settling down with a nice cup of tea to watch Richard & Judy with the Grim Reaper impatiently tapping his foot in the corner. Would you be willing to negotiate on price?" ® And before you cry foul... *I can back up this assertion with personal experience. A few years back, me and the missus were looking at a few properties. One highly-desirable terrace property at a knock-down price was rejected due to the colour of the bathroom suite (avocado, for the record), while a dingy flat in an area closely resembling Beirut, but considerably more dangerous, was voted dream home on account of an admittedly impressive beech kitchen worktop. In the end, a United Nations peacekeeping force moved in and we were able to negotiate a compromise: stay where we were and never, ever go househunting again. Bootnote Thanks to Duncan Reid for the tip-off.
Lester Haines, 14 Mar 2007
1

Cassini spies titanic lake on Titan

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has revealed giant lakes on Saturn's moon Titan, one of which - at 39,000 square miles - is bigger than Lake Superior. The features were captured by Cassini's radar near Titan's north pole. Although scientists can't be certain they're actually liquid-filled, "their dark appearance in radar that indicates smoothness and their other properties point to the presence of liquids", as the NASA press release explains. If that's so, then the lakes' contents are likely to be a mixture of ethanes and methane "given the conditions on Titan and the abundance of methane and ethane gases and clouds in Titan's atmosphere". Dr Jonathan Lunine, Cassini interdisciplinary scientist at the University of Arizona, said: "We've long hypothesized about oceans on Titan and now with multiple instruments we have a first indication of seas that dwarf the lakes seen previously." Cassini scientists are now planning a May flypast aimed at confirming the titanic Lake Superior is indeed filled with liquid. ®
Lester Haines, 14 Mar 2007
4

Video game legend hopes to change mankind

SXSWSXSW Video game god Will Wright thinks his latest creation might do far more than entertain. It may just save the planet. The agenda laid out by Wright, creator of SimCity and the Sims, today at the SXSW technology, movie and music festival goes beyond ambitious. He's looking for the upcoming game Spore from Maxis/Electronic Arts to help youngsters think about how their actions and the actions of groups of people affect the environment around them. The kind of teaching through experience present in Spore could aid mankind, which is notoriously bad at long-term thinking. We're not sold on Wright's vision but will present it as told. Spore looks like an almost certain blockbuster, giving users basically four or five games in one. The software aims to recreate the journey from a one-celled organism cruising through primordial goo to a sophisticated space traveler. The game does by beginning with a "Pac-Man" style game where the player guides his one-celled creature around, picking up food in the ocean and avoiding larger sea creatures. Once the creature has eaten enough food and the player has demonstrated a mastery of the game's basic commands, the second part of the game begins. The player creates a new creature using Spore's sophisticated design tools. You say how large the creature is, how many legs it has, what color it is and if you'd like to, for example, give it extra mouths where you might usually expect arms. Once the design is complete, Spore renders your creation and provides it with unique movements and characteristics. "You can do in a few minutes something a Pixar artist spent weeks creating," Wright said. Your creature then becomes a land animal and goes through life mating with other creatures, eating and trying not to be eaten. After your creature evolves and builds up intelligence, he eventually starts running the show. That third part of the game consists of managing an entire planet full of different species and civilizations. Your animals mature, build cities and then gradually craft more complex inventions such as spacecraft. And that's where the fourth part of the game kicks in when you blast off into space to see all the different worlds created by other Spore users and some automatically generated planets made by the game. Spore Spud Players can borrow Spore's design tools to craft very realistic objects such as the spaceship from Star Trek or the Millennium Falcon. "One of the things I want to see is an interstellar war betweens Care-Bears and Klingons," Wright said. The game stands as the most ambitious project of its kind to date, but Wright is thinking even bigger. He believes that children, and potentially adults, will use this world creation as a learning exercise. Wright describes Spore as a "philosophy tool" that will force people to spend extra time "contemplating the meaning of life" or considering the complex workings of civilizations. You might, for example, be forced to manage a planet battling global warming. Or you might come across other challenges that make you debate real life threats. "We are so bad at long-term thinking," Wright said, adding that the game might help "recalibrate our instincts." Spore War "Hopefully, this will allow us to change the world just a little bit for the better," he closed. Some might consider this kind of talk preposterous. And, as mentioned, we're not sure we buy it. As presented in demos, however, Spore does look to place higher demands on users than your typical brain-shrinking garbage such as Second Life or for that matter television. Wright worked to blend elements often found in so-called linear drama such as a movie with his interactive game. Through the process of building your creature and living through its evolution you experience something akin to a character arc and possibly also feel serious emotions for the animal. Overall, Spore could provide a much deeper experience for gamers and in fact deliver some of the tutelage Wright aspires to. And we wish Wright luck with his quest no matter how quixotic it might be. The game legend dreams big and more often that not comes close to pulling off his vision. ®
Ashlee Vance, 14 Mar 2007
1

German glues self to roof

A nonagenarian German handyman has continued the time-honoured Teutonic tradition of getting stuck to roofs, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Last year, 59-year-old August Voegl of Jennersdorf, Austria, nailed himself to a roof through his wedding tackle. This appears to have provoked an unnamed 91-year-old from Magdeburg to fly the flag for Germany by gluing himself to his own roof with bitumen. According to police, passers-by were initially "so shocked to see the elderly handyman working on the roof they first thought he was planning to commit suicide". No so, according to a police spokesman, who explained: "In fact he was just re-coating the roofing with bitumen. But then he slipped." He continued: "When we got there, he was like a beetle on its back, with his arms and legs sprawled out and completely glued to the roof. Due to his age, he couldn't free himself from his unfortunate situation." Fireman were able to separate the DIYer from the roof. He was reportedly unharmed but "sticky". ® Bootnote Tar very much to Warren Armstrong for the adhesive tip-off.
Lester Haines, 14 Mar 2007
3

Joss Stone pays price for Brits train crash

Joss Stone is apparently paying the price for her sensational appearance at this year's Brits, at which she adopted an inexplicable US accent and alienated just about everyone in the UK. According to Brit tabloid The Sun, this and other recent outrages have left her latest album Introducing Joss Stone wallowing at No 12 in the midweek charts "because British fans have shown her the door". The Sun explains just how Stone - who "left for America a few years ago as an innocent Devon schoolgirl - and returned a crazed Yankee diva with a dodgy red perm" - added to the woes provoked by her "ludicrous American drawl". She subsequently appeared on Chris Moyles' radio show and "alienated her hard-working fans by moaning about life as a multi-millionairess". In another interview, she boasted about puffing cannabis and then got booed off stage at a London gig after keeping fans waiting for over two hours. Accordingly, her album is taking a pasting from X Factor loser Ben Mills who's "sold nearly twice as many copies with his album Picture Of You". It's also getting a "stuffing" from Simply Red's Stay. As The Sun puts it: "When you lose to Mick Hucknall in a popularity contest you know it's time to pack your bags." ®
Lester Haines, 14 Mar 2007

Apple releases last pre-Leopard update for Mac OS X

Apple has updated Mac OS X to version 10.4.9, offering patches for both Intel and PowerPC versions of the operating system, taking in its server and client forms. The company has also updated its iPhoto application, and beefed up the security of Mac OS X 10.3.9.
Tony Smith, 14 Mar 2007

Corporate matchmaking was not illegal financial aid

A corporate matchmaker whose introductions led to one company buying another is entitled to its fee, the High Court has ruled. The company's contract did not breach the "financial assistance" clause of the Companies Act, the Court said. Corporate Development Partners (CDP) is a consultancy which will introduce companies wishing to expand by acquisition to other companies which are prepared to sell their businesses. It operates on a monthly retainer but makes most of its money through a fee that is a percentage of the total value of any subsequent deal. In 2005 it signed a contract to act for E-Relationship Marketing (E-RM), which was looking to grow its business. CDP introduced it to a company which it quickly became apparent was too large to be acquired by E-RM. In the end that third company, Red Eye, acquired E-RM. When that deal was concluded, though, E-RM said that it could not pay CDP because it had been advised that the contract the two companies signed was illegal. "On 5 October 2005, Mr Redding of E-RM wrote to Mr Littell [of CDP] advising him of Red Eye's acquisition of E-RM," said Mr Justice Rimer in his ruling. "He asserted that the clause in the February agreement entitling CDP to payment in consequence of that acquisition amounted to the provision of financial assistance by E-RM for the purchase of its shares. He said E-RM's lawyers had advised that such assistance was unlawful and that the relevant part of the agreement was unenforceable. In the circumstances E-RM could not and would not pay any transaction fee to CDP." Sections 151 to 153 of the Companies Act of 1985 prohibit a company giving financial assistance to another person to acquire that company. "Where a person is acquiring or is proposing to acquire shares in a company, it is not lawful for the company or any of its subsidiaries to give financial assistance directly or indirectly for the purpose of that acquisition before or at the same time as the acquisition takes place," says the Act. "Where a person has acquired shares in a company and any liability has been incurred (by that or any other person), for the purpose of that acquisition, it is not lawful for the company or any of its subsidiaries to give financial assistance directly or indirectly for the purpose of reducing or discharging the liability so incurred," it says. "E-RM's subsequent assumption of the payment commitment in clause (2) of the February agreement was by way of a reward for such introduction, or facilitation, and itself facilitated – or assisted in – the acquisition of E-RM," argued E-RM, according to Rimer's ruling. Rimer disagreed that this meant that section 151 of the Act had been broken. While he conceded that it might be possible to stretch the meaning of the legislation to include the acts in question, he said that previous cases had warned clearly against doing that. "In Chaston v SWP Group plc Arden LJ identified the general mischief against which section 151 is directed as follows: 'namely that the resources of the target company and its subsidiaries should not be used directly or indirectly to assist the purchaser financially to make the acquisition'," said Rimer. This, and another case, were adopted as the correct approach later by the Court of Appeal, said Rimer. "I must, therefore, identify the commercial realities of the February agreement and guard myself against straining to interpret it as involving the giving of illegal financial assistance if that cannot fairly be regarded as encompassed within it. I must also have regard to the general mischief against which section 151 is directed," he said. "My main difficulty in this case is, however, in understanding what section 151 has to do with it," said Rimer. "Even giving a broad interpretation to 'financial assistance', it appears to me unsound to describe E-RM's commitment to pay a transaction fee to CDP as amounting to relevant 'financial assistance … for the purpose' of the acquisition." "Since CDP was playing no role in the negotiation of the acquisition – and was neither intended nor required to – the commitment to pay it the transaction fee was not going to, was not intended to and did not in fact assist or advance the acquisition at all," he said. "The payment commitment was not a condition of the takeover; it would not serve to reduce Red Eye's acquisition obligations by a single penny; and it was neither intended to, nor did it, smooth the path towards any ultimate acquisition." Rimer disagreed with much of the case made by the defence, but said that he did not see the relevance of E-RM's section 151 argument, saying that there was "no substance" in it. Rimer ruled in favour of CDP. Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 14 Mar 2007
channel

UK banks leaving customer info on the pavement

The Information Commissioner has told 11 UK banks to stop dumping customers' statements in bins on the pavement outside branches. Consumer advocates complained to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) that identity thieves might be rifling through the rubbish bags for people's personal details.
Mark Ballard, 14 Mar 2007
1

UK patent rules to be overhauled

The UK Patent Office has proposed a new set of rules (PDF) which it says will modernise its processes. The rules are open for consultation until June. The Patents Rules are the procedural and administrative guidelines to the working of the Patent Office, and the current set of rules was published in 1995. "We suggest that it is time for a substantial modernisation of the 1995 Rules," said the Patent Office in its new proposal. "The most significant proposal is a completely new approach to the rules on litigation at the Patent Office, with a set of generic rules of procedure which better reflect current litigation practice. "Other proposals concern the removal of some fee-bearing forms, introduction of a Welsh language scheme, updating of some formal requirements (in particular to set out requirements in respect of sequence listings), and updating of provisions generally to reflect modern working practices – such as the availability of documents over the internet and the electronic filing of patent applications." One of the main changes is in relation to the rules for litigation. "At present, every type of dispute has its own collection of rules, which means that the structure of the Patents Rules is unnecessarily complex," the office's consultation document said. "Furthermore, many of the specific rules on litigation are very repetitious, with similar procedural points being repeated for each of the disputes which can arise. As a result these rules occupy a disproportionate amount of space in the Rules as a whole. "Most importantly, there is a significant range of matters on which the existing rules are largely silent, including the case management powers which the office is increasingly exercising in order to simplify and accelerate proceedings and reduce their cost to customers. Thus we propose to replace all these rules with a single, common set of rules that apply, so far as possible, to all types of dispute." Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 14 Mar 2007

SanDisk intros internal Flash drive for laptops

SanDisk has begun offering a 32GB solid-state drive to notebook makers less than a week after it was claimed Apple's rumoured sub-notebook will only contain Flash storage.
Tony Smith, 14 Mar 2007

GPs unable to track phone services

Primary care trusts are not adequately monitoring out of hours telephone calls, according to a committee of MPs. Out of hours telephone services delivered by GP surgeries are not being monitored because of a lack of equipment, says a report from Parliament's Public Accounts Committee. The report, which examines the effects of government changes to GP services at evenings and weekends, found that the percentage of primary care trusts (PCTs) meeting the requirements for call answering, clinical assessment, and consultation times was "extremely low". Only two per cent said they could comply with one standard, the report says. Quality performance targets set by the Department of Health include a number of requirements for calls to out of hours services. For example, all calls should be answered within 30 seconds, or 60 seconds if there is an interim recorded message. The committee says the inability to provide data remains a key problem for PCTs. Some trusts have had problems with their IT systems, especially call management technology. Financial constraints are preventing the roll out of technology to improve call management, says the report. Giving evidence to the committee, Gary Belfield, the Department of Health's head of primary care, said: "One of the problems with telephone answering is that if the out of hours provider does not have a call management system he cannot record how long people have been waiting, and that is something we need to address. "That is why sometimes it is found, for example in (my) own constituency, that no data has been supplied." Some nine million patients receive urgent primary treatment at evenings and weekends, but the committee found that the introduction of a new system of care has been "thoroughly mishandled". "To cap it all, the cost of the new out of hours service is around £70m a year more than expected. That's the last thing the primary care trusts need at a time of increasing financial pressure," said committee chair Edward Leigh. 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, 14 Mar 2007
4

£15k model Vickers Valiant crashes and burns

A 16 foot jet-powered replica of a Vickers Valiant which cost model-maker Simon Steggall £15k, two years' graft, and one wife, crashed and burned on its fourth flight, The Sun reports. Steggal, 45, of Manningtree, Essex, had already lost one missus to his "model planes obsession" when the second divorced him over the V Bomber project. Battling bravely on, he completed the unique model and had carried out three flights when he "he tried to show an examiner the remote-controlled plane was safe" in order to be allowed to carry out public displays. Unfortunately, just after take-off at an airfield near Ipswich, Suffolk, the Valiant lost power to one engine and, despite Steggal's attempts to make an emergency landing, crashed into trees and exploded. Steggal, who described himself as "devastated", recounted: "It looked like a real plane crash. I used my fire extinguisher to try and douse the flames but then we smelt fuel and I realised the kerosene in the tanks was about to blow. Both of us ran for cover and it exploded, showering hot fuel everywhere." He continued: "It was the only model Valiant in the world and cost me an absolute fortune to build. I had it insured for more than £15,000. It feels like I've lost a member of the family. But I'm not going to let this setback get to me. Luckily my new girlfriend loves my hobby." The Sun has pictures of the tragic accident here. ®
Lester Haines, 14 Mar 2007

GRISoft targets SMEs' security sweet spot

Czech anti-virus firm GRISoft is targeting the small and medium sized business market with revamped versions of its network security products. Versions of its AVG Small Business Server for Internet Security and Anti-Malware are designed to protect the file access and email servers of smaller firms from virus infestation and other malware risks. Both products include a remote administration tool (AVGADMIN) that, for example, allow sys admins to apply security updates with minimum fuss.
Team Register, 14 Mar 2007

Business travel bugbears

"Meetings, bloody meetings" - somehow the 1970s John Cleese management video appears even more relevant to business life today. While most workers have many forms of communication available, with the phone and email now the primary means for remote communication, there's nothing quite like a meeting to get the full emotion, meaning, and immediacy of the interaction, especially where several participants need to be involved. And nothing like a meeting to really waste a lot of time either. With organisations becoming widely dispersed, and more employees working with colleagues and external contacts in increasingly remote locations, the need for business communication is growing, with a consequent impact on business travel. Even if you're one of the lucky few for whom business travel means "business class", there are many challenges facing the frequent business traveller, not least the fact that - despite, or perhaps due to advances in technology - they are rarely out of contact while travelling. While driving, improved vehicle technology helps with many of the driving functions. Satellite navigation systems mean you can take your mind off working out the route for yourself and, within legal constraints, the mobile phone can provide a degree of contact. However, few of these tools really boost concentration on driving - and can lead to serious distraction, not only mobile phone users, but also those who hover and dither at junctions waiting for guidance from a little screen on their dashboard. In any event, any thought about work is more likely to be vying for attention alongside a CD or radio station. Rail travel does much to support work on the move, encouraging mobile communications - "Hello, I'm on the train" - and providing some facilities for laptop users. This varies across countries and rail operators. In the UK many trains are over crowded, seats are not guaranteed, and provision for power and wireless network access is patchy. Some train operators offer Wi-Fi on certain services and it is available at many stations, but the availability of high speed cellular data (sometimes voice) along the paths of even commuter trains is very variable. Elsewhere in Europe, more frequency of reserved seats, and better space in trains like the French TGV adds to the comfort, but again the network and power availability is still patchy. Flying can provide a similar experience to the train for the business traveller - waiting around to board, seat back tray tables for the small laptop user and plenty of seating without having to personally direct the mode of transport are benefits for both flying and rail travel. There has been much discussion about IT and communications aboard aircraft, but security and costs have dampened enthusiasm, perhaps alongside the wishes of many of those flying on business to have a quiet trip. Increasing horsepower, brighter screens, and the plethora of radio networks for connection - BlueTooth, Wi-Fi and cellular - means more drain on the battery, and while some vendors are having some success addressing this through power management, finding power while travelling is harder than finding a network connection. Some train and airline seats will offer a socket but, the cheaper the ticket, the less likelihood of power provision. Even at the destination, international travel brings another familiar set of challenges for the use of IT and communications technology - power and network. The first problem is the range of adapters necessary. Thankfully in many international locations an Ethernet or wireless connection is available, obviating the need to carry the bewildering collection of oversized telecoms connectors, but the real problem is power. The plug-to-socket adapter and even voltage differences at the mains socket end are now pretty well fixed, so all the industry brains need to address now is the connection into the mobile device. If you have a digital camera, MP3 player, laptop and mobile phone, the chances are you'll have a power adapter for each one. No wonder some pundits believe in the universal single device to do everything - it might not be sufficiently useable for each function, but it will drastically reduce the need to carry power cables and connectors. So have we really made productive use of that travel time to the meetings we thought were vital? Probably not, and the individual employee gets there feeling drained and tired, so is unlikely to be operating at full potential. All the glamour has disappeared from the experience - low cost carriers and affluence to thank for that - and employers won't want their employees to be wasting even more time extending their trips with expensive entertainment. It's no longer fun, and it might not even be very productive. What is the alternative to travelling to all these remote meetings? Don't travel in person, use the technology more effectively. Using the phone (fixed and mobile), email, messaging etc to their full potential is a start, but investing in collaborative technology - web conferencing, file sharing and video conferencing - should come higher up the strategic planning for many more organisations. This means tools to share information images and sound in real time - document sharing and visual communications like video conferencing. Why? Because we all know how unproductive too much travelling back and forth to meetings can be, and according to recent Quocirca research those organisations who have invested in collaborative conferencing solutions realise the main benefit is increased productivity, not just the travel cost savings they were expecting. Although given the increasing cost of travel on individual, organisation and the environment, that's not a bad reason either. The question "is your journey necessary?" should be broadened to "is it the best way to spend precious resources - fuel, budget and perhaps the most valuable of all, time?" A more detailed exploration of the impact and use of video in communications is freely available in the Quocirca report: Visual Impact - the emerging face of business collaboration. Copyright © 2007, Quocirca
Rob Bamforth, 14 Mar 2007

VIA launches 'most feature-rich' Nano-ITX mobo

VIA will soon bring to the built-your-own PC community what it claims is its most feature-packed ultra-compact Nano-ITX motherboard yet: the 12 x 12cm EPIA NX.
Tony Smith, 14 Mar 2007

Dell, Alienware offer 1TB single-drive upgrade

Dell and its Alienware subsidiary have begun offering buyers the chance to configure new gaming desktop PCs with Hitachi's 1TB hard drive - enough space to store an almost inconceivable quantity of digital stuff.
Tony Smith, 14 Mar 2007

Sony Ericsson launches Walkman W660, plug-in speakers

Sony Ericsson's latest 3G Walkman phone will reach consumers next quarter, the handset company said today. So will a pair of clip-on speakers - a bid to appeal to all those kids who don't like keeping their music to themselves.
Tony Smith, 14 Mar 2007

How to find stolen laptops

Mark Rasch discusses the legal issues behind the discovery and recovery of stolen laptops that use LoJack-style homing devices to announce their location, and the location of the thieves, anywhere in the world.
Mark Rasch, 14 Mar 2007
Sony Vaio VGN-UX1XN
3

Sony Vaio VGN-UX1XN ultra-mobile PC

ReviewReview The Sony UX1XN is quite possibly one of the smallest laptops ever. Think of the smallest laptop you've ever seen, and this will be smaller. Probably. Everything about it is dinky - it's barely bigger than a thick-ish paperback book, yet it packs a full Vista-touting PC inside its diddy dimensions.
Will Head, 14 Mar 2007
globalisation

Internet scams dominate UK card fraud losses

Card fraud in the UK fell three per cent from £439.4m in 2005 to £428m last year, according to figures from payment association APACS released Wednesday. Overall, card fraud has dropped £80m from a record high of £504.8m in 2004.
John Leyden, 14 Mar 2007
26

French succumb to Franglais

Our chums across the Channel are currently marking "French language week", but apparently have little to celebrate as English loanwords continue to pollute their beloved mother tongue, the Daily Telegraph reports. Indeed, according to Xavier North (whose job is to "guarantee the primacy of French on national territory" and to promote "the employment of French and favour its use as an international language"), "more English words have entered the French language in the past decade than in the preceding century despite desperate attempts to stem the invasion". To add insult to injuries such as "le weekend" or "fast food", the French are "even taking English words without giving them a French pronunciation", North admitted, offering "standing ovation" or "stock options" as examples. Alternatively, some English words do adopt a French flavour, and the spelling is altered accordingly ("pipole" for "people"). To battle the influx of unwelcome immigrant vocab, 18 government "terminology commissions" send a monthly list of "official" new words deemed acceptable for use by public sector workers in order to "make French a productive language apt at expressing modernity", as North puts it. Sadly, though, official offerings such as "sac gonflable" for airbag, "papillon" for post-it note and "bouteur" for bulldozer have met with a Gallic shrug of disdain. North advises citizens to remain "vigilant", but not to panic. He concluded: "In the 16th century, the same thing happened when Italian took French by storm. Many of the words used then were later rejected. Some we keep, some we spit out." In Spain, meanwhile... If the French think they've got it bad, they should spare a thought for Spanish language purists, pretty well buried under an avalanche of imported English. The very long list includes "chip" (electronic chip only, otherwise "patata frita" in case you're ever hungry in Torremolinos), "módem" (modem), "formatear" (format, verb), "internet" (alternatively rendered as "la red"), "link" (link and hence the nasty verb "linkear" - the noun is better expressed as "enlace"), and so forth. Being a world-class speaker of Spanglish myself, I have no objection to these terms. Mind you, there's one Anglicism which does irritate the hell out of me: "standing" (pronounced, and often spelt "estanding"), as in the billboard pronouncing "Pisos de alto standing" (Exclusive flats). I should note that the Spaniards don't blink an eyelid at the word, suggesting they're pretty well resigned to their linguistic fate. ®
Lester Haines, 14 Mar 2007
Dalek

South Korea to field gun-cam robots on DMZ

Technological colossus South Korea is pressing ahead with efforts to join Israel and America in the white-hot field of killer robots. Korean sources have announced that Samsung, a company better known for its consumer goods, is manufacturing the SGR-A1 sentry unit for deployment on the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between South and North Korea.
Lewis Page, 14 Mar 2007

Vodafone won't recognise union

Vodafone is still refusing to officially recognise the Connect union, which is so keen to represent its members it has taken Vodafone to the government's Central Arbitration Committee to force recognition. Over half the 200 people working at Vodafone's "Technology: Regional Operations North" office are already members of Connect, which means recognition can be forced on Vodafone to allow collective bargaining on pay, hours, and holiday. Connect has been fighting for recognition since November last year, and recently went to ACAS with Vodafone in an attempt to negotiate a deal, without success. Vodafone does not recognise unions in the UK, though its operations in Germany and Ireland do have representation. Vodafone said in a statement it has elected to "follow the statutory recognition route" - which translates as refusing to recognise any union until the law tells it it has to. "Vodafone continues to value open and direct communication with its employees" - The key word here being "direct", as in not via collective bargaining. Union membership in high-technology industries has, traditionally, not been very high - when employees can change jobs every month there seems little cause for collective bargining. But as the industry grows up and consolidation constrains the job market, union membership starts to look more attractive. Connect is currently recognised by BT, O2 and Kingston Communications, though it has members at most of the comms companies, so we can expect similar disputes over the next few years. ®
Bill Ray, 14 Mar 2007
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AXA grabs ink with business crime league table

Insurance company Axa yesterday released an intriguing survey of business claims by region, which has been widely reported. According to the survey, the UK's arson capital is Glasgow, accounting for nearly 11 per cent of all small and medium enterprise (SME) arson claims, while Edinburgh reportedly leads the nation in malicious damage.
Lewis Page, 14 Mar 2007
Apple

Apple megapatch fixes multiple flaws

Apple has released a security update to its Mac OS X operating systems to plug multiple security holes. Bugs in third-party components have also been addressed by the security update.
John Leyden, 14 Mar 2007

Testing web transactions

Generating comprehensive test data sets is always a pain - especially with transaction-based applications. Today's web-based applications are subject to widely-varied live transaction volumes where server traffic can go from one transaction an hour to 1,000 a second in the blink of an eye. So if you want to test them properly you really need to throw shed loads of data at them. Ross Systems International (RSI), a UK-based software services company, says it has the answer with Pira, its script-based testing tool. Pira, from the Greek "to test", is an intelligent generator tool which can create flexible test-sets for complex applications. It comes as a simple scripting language and Piralib, a set of C libraries. "The language goes through a two part process during executions, very similar to Java. It is first converted to a meta-language, which is held in a tree structure in the interpreter and then this is executed to produce the test records and actions," explains Rupert Stanley, RSI founder and director. RSI has a lengthy background in resilient computing in the finance and telecommunications industries and developed Pira originally to test applications in the HP (formerly Tandem) "NonStop" computing environment. Though the first version of Pira was built for the NonStop platform RSI recognised the growth of high-resilience applications on the back of the web and is now working to make the tool available to a wider community. "One of the problems with testing communications programs is there is a lot of variability and it is difficult to build comprehensive test sets. With Pira you can set up tests for every possible combination of data," he goes on. Users can tailor Pira to their own specifications through a set of user hooks which come as a part of Piralib. The result is an economical method of creating variable test data with only a few lines of script. Here is an example of simple Pira script to generate a small test data set: ["Hi 200 = " " PLUS 1 = " ]; ["Hi 400 = " " PLUS 1 = " ]; ["Finish, total count = " ]; Pira can generate both sequential and random test sets and vary the speed of test runs according to pre-defined conditions. If, for example, you are running a destruction test on a transaction processing engine, you can slow the test down as errors start to appear to make it easier to detect points of failure. "Most test generators are mechanistic so they can only generate relatively simple test scenarios. What we have done with Pira is to introduce a probabilistic element to test set generation, which is more realistic," explains Stanley. Pira produces results and statistics in standard formats so they can be fed into a test analysis program for further examination. Pira is currently available as part of RSI's suite of test programs. It is licensed on a monthly basis at £160 per CPU although there are discounts for multiple CPUs and for resellers. RSI will make Pira available for other platforms later this year. ®
Phil Manchester, 14 Mar 2007
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EMC and FSC extend their engagement

CeBITCeBIT EMC and Fujitsu Siemens Computers (FSC) have expanded and extended their 10 year old strategic alliance. The two will work together on advanced data centre architectures, while FSC will also provide services for the EMC midrange storage that it sells in Europe.
Bryan Betts, 14 Mar 2007
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Baseball legend slaps 'raging buy' on Intel

Do you want to take stock picking advice from a baseball player? Mmm, probably not. So beware of Lenny Dykstra's raging buy on Intel. Since retiring from the big leagues, Dykstra has turned into an entrepreneur of sorts, owning car washes, real estate operations, and a variety of other smaller businesses. Dykstra also manages his own stock portfolio and writes about the experience for TheStreet. And, while his columns are sometimes interesting, Dykstra's company assessment skills appear more than rusty with this week's note on Intel.
Ashlee Vance, 14 Mar 2007
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Happy Pi Day

Happy Pi Day to the Maths geeks of America. For today is March 14 or 3.14 in US date format. If you are in San Francisco, swing by the Exploratorium, join the school kids and "gather around the Pi Shrine to perform pi-related rites and eat ritual food - will it be apple pie or pizza pie or just pie in the sky? - in honor of this special number. Sing Pi Day songs, bead a pi string, and circumnavigate the pi shrine. It's all part of Pi Day celebrations, which culminate, appropriately enough, on March 14 at 1:59pm. That's the third month, the fourteenth day, at 1:59pm, corresponding to the first 6-digits of Pi." Can't get there? Celebrate if you must at the 'Splo, the online version of the Exploratorium on Second Life. Or check out this nice piece on Pi and Pi Day by the AP's Erin McClam. We were particularly taken by "average pi Nut Mike Keith, a software engineer in Virginia, who has written possibly the world's longest and hardest mnemonic, a poem to pi, or "piem". "To say that it is a something to behold is an understatement: It is nearly 4,000 words long - and the length in letters of each word corresponds to pi's digits," write McClam. And while you're at it, dive in to Kate Bush's Pi, from her most recent album Aerial. Her rendition is mathematically flawed, but none the less spirited for that. One more thing: take some time out to pity the poor Europeans who must make do with 22 July, or Pi Approximation Day. And raise a glass to Albert Einstein, who would have been 128 today, if he were still alive. ®
Drew Cullen, 14 Mar 2007

Blue Peter fakes phoneline winner

Another bastion of British innocence and decency crumbled today as beloved BBC Children's TV programme Blue Peter was implicated in a phone-in competition scandal. This particular scam wasn't quite as egregious as some, but is still a tale of shame. Last November, Blue Peter held a phone-in competition. The calls cost 10p, a trifle over 3p of which went to Unicef. The Beeb itself claims to have made no money from the compo. However, a technical hitch meant callers couldn't get through to the studio and thus participants couldn't be quizzed on air. Rather than cancel or postpone the event, a Beeb staffer simply roped in a passing child. The innocent nipper was easily corrupted, agreeing to pose as a caller and answer a question. This ringer was duly declared the winner and accepted the wages of sin, taking home "a prize chosen from a selection of children's toys". It seems that an alert viewer subsequently complained by email, and an internal Beeb investigation lifted the lid on the bribery. BBC Children controller Richard Deverell said the Beeb kiddie service "has a deep and genuine commitment to our audiences, and our relationship with them is built on trust". He had nothing to say regarding any possible need, in today's imperfect world, to occasionally pick a pocket or two. ®
Lewis Page, 14 Mar 2007
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MS quietly releases Win 2003 SP2

Microsoft has released a major update to Windows Server 2003 to make the enterprise software package more stable and easier to manage. The low-key debut of Win 2003 SP2 on Monday, which took some sys admins by surprise, contrasts with the high profile launch of Win XP SP2 in August 2004. So stealthy was the release that it's yet to be noted on Microsoft's product update blog.
John Leyden, 14 Mar 2007

Bruce Sterling gives blogs 10 years to live

SXSWSXSW Science fiction writer and professional pundit Bruce Sterling has cracked bloggers with the extinction stick, saying the plebs will crawl back into their ooze by 2017. "There are 55 million blogs and some of them have got to be good," Sterling said, during a speech here at the SXSW conference in reference to the slogan on blog search site technorati.com. "Well, no, actually. They don't." "I don't think there will be that many of them around in 10 years. I think they are a passing thing." The great blog nation seemed unthreatened by Sterling's comments, as they giggled away at his tone and language. Such satisfaction struck us odd given that most of the SXSW panels touched on blogging in one way or another and around 80 per cent of the attendees claimed to run a blog. The technology portion of the SXSW music and movie festival has been overrun by the easily impressed and gullible. A fine example of this comes from the constant obsession with Twitter at the show – an application that lets you tell the world when you've taken a pee or made a cup of coffee. "Packing for San Jose," Bwana writes, as we pen this story, while AlunR brags, "Wearing my twitter shirt." "It's like watching you get beaten to death with croutons," Sterling remarked about the daily diary/moment diary fads of blogs and Twitter. Sterling has serious concerns about the technology world's obsession with blogging and group think projects such as Wikipedia. He sees the technology emanating from a "a new world of laptop gypsies". "You are never going to see a painting by committee that is a great painting," he said. The gypsy idea plays on Sterling's notion that blogging and so-called community driven projects aren't really new at all. They're emerging from something close to tribal instincts of man passing down stories in an unregulated fashion outside of the mainstream. "It is really pretty old," he said. "It has just never been put into mass scale production. I don't call it a good thing. I think it's just a new thing." Still, Sterling sees this "commons-based peer production" as the "third world" of current economic development, following the first world of global markets and his second world that consists of all forms of governance. (Yale professor Yochai Benkler came up with the "commons-based peer production" idea to describe projects where people are willing to work on large scale projects outside of standard compensation and organisation models.) Make of that what you will. Along with blogs, Sterling proved concrete on his feelings about mashups where you can combine songs together. "People on the internet like to pretend this stuff is unbelievably great," he said. "Nobody is going to listen to mashups in another 10 years. They are novelty music. "Just because it is new and people with laptops can do it and get away with it does not make it an advance." Beyond bashing blogs and mashups, Sterling's commentary proved quite vague. He's not thrilled with technology fads, but thinks technology is shaking up the traditional business world. Time and again he stated that jobs which were once good enough to put your kids through college have disappeared as a result of the internet and pointed to Craigslist's rampage through newspaper classified sections as a prime example. And, while the rise of the web has given us 55 million blogs, Sterling insisted that the US charges after more bandwidth by taking wireless spectrum from the cold, dead hands of television broadcasters and handing it to organisations willing to saturate cities with high-speed wireless services. Sterling's admitted "rant" proved one of the most popular sessions at SXSW and closed out the "interactive" portion of the event. We were shocked to see hundreds of bloggers turn up for a berating, but get the feeling they're an S&M-type set. ®
Ashlee Vance, 14 Mar 2007

George Bush fingered as terrorist by US feds ...

A Texas-based software company is offering a free tool allowing web users to check the likelihood of a particular name being flagged up by US government's Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), the body which operates the infamous "No Fly" list. Lists of terrorist names have circulated widely in recent months, and it has also been reported by the Washington Post among others that various US agencies use the Soundex algorithm to assess names. Soundex-based software can be used to search a list of names – for example, an airline passenger list – and throw up possible matches. For example, "Osama" might be read by Soundex to match against "Osama", "Osamu" or "Osman." Thus, if any of those three names appeared on a passenger list – especially in combination with a surname such as "bin Laden" or "Binladen" the chance of the feds taking an interest would be high. Engineers at S3 Matching Technologies have put together their own Soundex-based engine and loaded in "a compilation of the best available data regarding suspected and known terrorists. Publicly available terrorist names from various reliable government and non-governmental sources were merged to create a comprehensive list." They claim that their website list is constantly updated, just like the TSA's. Users can put in any name they like. If both first and last names throw up a red terrorist-related connection, S3 reckon there's a sporting chance that an individual with that name will be on the TSA's Watch List. S3 are providing this service so as to publicise their alternative to Soundex, a proprietary system called TeraMatch. S3 naturally consider their kit to be much more accurate and less likely to throw up false positives. El Reg has naturally tested a few obvious names on the site. Ones which throw up a both-names indication of terrorist links include "George Bush", "Tony Blair," and interestingly, "Gordon Brown", Britain's chancellor of the exchequer. Names which seem to be in the clear include "Oliver North" and "Hugo Chavez". Either the terrorist conspiracy has gone deeper than anyone could have thought, or the American feds have gone loco, or perhaps the S3 guys are over-egging the pudding just a tad. Maybe all of the above. ®
Lewis Page, 14 Mar 2007
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Microsoft plays Show me, Tellme

Microsoft is amping up its voice recognition capability, with the acquisition of Tellme Networks, a 320-man firm based in Mountain View, Calif. Terms are undisclosed, but Microsoft is said to be paying more than $800m, making Tellme its biggest buy since 2002, Bloomberg reports.
Drew Cullen, 14 Mar 2007

US judges to learn computer forensics

A national computer forensics lab for the US has been established in Alabama. The facility, developed by the US Secret Service and partially funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division, will serve as a national cyber crimes training facility for prosecutors and judges as well as law enforcement investigators. Facilities will include classrooms, a computer forensic lab, an evidence vault, storage and server rooms, public education exhibit space, and a conference room. Training will be based on the current US Secret Service curriculum including basic electronic crimes investigation, network intrusion investigation and computer forensics. The establishment of the lab comes at a time when computer forensics techniques are increasingly applied to the investigation of a variety of crimes, not just those involving computers, as internet and mobile phone technologies become a pervasive part of everyday life. ®
John Leyden, 14 Mar 2007
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Viacom's YouTube lawsuit could test limits of DMCA

AnalysisAnalysis Viacom has launched a $1bn lawsuit against YouTube and its owners Google over copyright infringing videos hosted by the site. The case could test the limits of the 'safe harbor' protections for ISPs and influence other user-generated content sites. The entertainment giant said that its clips have been viewed more than 1.5 billion times without its permission and has sued the search giant and its video sharing subsidiary in a New York court for "massive international copyright infringement". If the case goes to trial it is likely to test the limits the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DCMA) of 1998. Google claims 'safe harbor' status for YouTube, which is a DMCA protection designed for search engines, web hosts and ISPs to shield them against liability for third party copyright infringements. Similar protections exist in European laws. The safe harbor was designed to protect such companies from having to monitor the activity of every internet user, something which was recognised as impractical. These companies do not have to prevent illegal use of their services pro-actively, but when properly notified that they host infringing material they must "expeditiously" remove or disable access to that material. There is presently no clear judicial authority on the speed of reaction that qualifies as expeditious under the DMCA. YouTube was built as a way of sharing videos made by users themselves, but a vast number of the videos posted and viewed are not created by the posters but are clips of television shows and music videos whose copyright belongs to entertainment corporations. YouTube and other sites which allow users to post material for sharing rely upon the 'safe harbor' provisions of the DCMA for their own protection. The Viacom case will test that protection. Para-Site "YouTube is a significant for-profit organisation that has built a lucrative business out of exploiting the devotion of fans to others' creative works in order to enrich itself and its corporate parent, Google," said Viacom in its suit. "Their business model, which is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content, is clearly illegal." "In fact, YouTube strategy has been to avoid taking proactive steps to curtail the infringement on its site, thus generating significant traffic and revenues for itself while shifting the entire burden – and high cost – of monitoring YouTube on to the victims of its infringement," said Viacom. Though some observers have predicted a pay-off for Viacom, which owns MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, Google said it will defend its DCMA protection. "We will never launch a product or acquire a company unless we are completely satisfied with its legal basis for operating," Alexander Macgillivray, Google's senior product and intellectual property counsel, told news agency Reuters. "This is an area of law where there are a bunch of really clear precedents, so Amazon and eBay have both been found to qualify for the safe harbor and there are a whole bunch more," he said. "We will continue to innovate and continue to host material for people, without being distracted by this suit." Viacom recently demanded that YouTube remove 160,000 clips which it said violated its copyright. YouTube removed the clips, but reports emerged that users immediately re-uploaded many of the clips almost instantly. There is a requirement in the DMCA that, if a subscriber or account holder is found to repeatedly infringe copyright, a company seeking to rely on the safe harbor provisions must remove that person from its network. This termination policy must also be written into the terms of use. YouTube's conditions comply with this requirement. They state: "YouTube will also terminate a User's access to its Website, if they are determined to be a repeat infringer. A repeat infringer is a User who has been notified of infringing activity more than twice and/or has had a User Submission removed from the Website more than twice." Repeat infringements The DMCA does not specifically address repeat infringements by different individuals, one of the biggest problems for content owners that object to their material appearing on YouTube. But it does provide an option for "such other injunctive relief as the court may consider necessary to prevent or restrain infringement of copyrighted material specified in the order of the court at a particular online location, if such relief is the least burdensome to the service provider among the forms of relief comparably effective for that purpose." Struan Robertson, a technology lawyer with Pinsent Masons and editor of OUT-LAW.COM said: "It's possible that if Viacom's case goes to trial, new guidance will be given on the safe harbor provisions and the expectations for sites that are built on user-generated content." A Supreme Court ruling against file-sharing firms Grokster and Streamcast in 2005 means that if Viacom can show that YouTube promoted the infringement of copyright by users, it would likely be liable for that infringement. But Robertson said this may be difficult to establish. "There are clear and prominent warnings in YouTube's upload process, not just its small print, that tell users not to upload copyright infringing materials." "The problem is that users can ignore the warnings," he said. "YouTube and Google know that and have been working on filtering technology to reduce the infringing material on its site – but clearly not fast enough for Viacom." "Viacom will no doubt argue that YouTube's failure to identify and block infringing uploads is tantamount to promoting them – and that would be a worrying result for any user-generated content site," he said. See: Safe harbor provisions of the DMCA Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 14 Mar 2007
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Red Hat aims higher with RHEL 5

CeBITCeBIT Red Hat today announced version 5 of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), its server operating system - but at the European launch in CeBIT the talk was not of all the technology inside, such as Xen virtualisation and JBoss middleware. Instead it was all about partnerships, packaging and support. In particular, Red Hat will now work with application developers, both to offer co-operative support and to recommend other open source software.
Bryan Betts, 14 Mar 2007
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Microsoft goes a bundle with Lenovo PCs

Microsoft's flagging search engine is getting a boost, thanks to an agreement that will make Live.com the default service on PCs sold by Lenovo. The pact, which will also see machines outfitted with the Live toolbar, is the latest to be forged in an ongoing campaign to clutter new machines with software that users are often better without.
Dan Goodin, 14 Mar 2007
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Adaptec unifies serial RAID

CeBITCeBIT System builders no longer need to choose between Serial ATA and Serial Attached SCSI when it comes to RAID, claimed Adaptec as it announced a family of five unified serial RAID controllers which support both SATA for capacity and SAS for performance.
Bryan Betts, 14 Mar 2007
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GigaStor to hunt zero-day breaches

CeBITCeBIT Your intrusion detection system (IDS) may have just downloaded a new security rule, but you have no way of knowing if your network has already been hit by the exploit in a zero-day attack, says Network Instruments.
Bryan Betts, 14 Mar 2007
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Charges dropped against former HP chairman

A California state judge has dropped all criminal charges against former Hewlett-Packard Chairman Patricia Dunn and paved the way to clearing three others caught up in the spying scandal, which was initiated to discover the source of leaks to the media.
Dan Goodin, 14 Mar 2007