28th > September > 2007 Archive
First it killed Bambi's mother. And now it's decided to kill a fourteen-month-old wireless service. Today, the Walt Disney Company said it will soon shut down Disney Mobile, the US-based wireless service it offers on bandwidth rented from Sprint Nextel. Unhappy with life as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), the company has already put the kibosh on sales of Disney Mobile, and those already using the service will get the boot on December 31. Basically, the let's-rent-some-bandwidth model didn't pan out the way the company expected. "The MVNO model has proven, as we’ve seen with other companies this past year, to be a difficult proposition in the hyper-competitive US mobile phone market," said Steve Wadsworth, president of Disney's internet group. "In assessing our business model, we decided that changing strategies was a better alternative to pursue profitable growth in the mobile services area." What's the new strategy? The company still believes in Disney Mobile's Family Center suite - which lets parents keep close tabs on their kids - and it hopes to move the suite onto someone else's mobile service via a licensing deal. According to a company spokesman, recent changes in the mobile market made licensing far more attractive than MVNO. With the major carriers signing exclusive deals with big-name retailers, he told us, it became more and more difficult for Disney to compete. Verizon, for instance, has teamed up with Circuit City. "A lot changed while we were ramping up the service in terms of the distribution landscape. We came to the conclusions that given all the changes in the retail model of the major carriers, it didn't make sense for us to undergo the investment needed to overcome the obstacles that cropped up." This is hardly new territory for Disney. In February last year, the company launched ESPN Mobile, an MVNO service that dovetailed with its popular cable TV sports network/hype machine. This rental network was shutdown after just 11 months, and Disney stomached $30m in losses. Today, the company offers ESPN Mobile applications over the Verizon Wireless network. As it seeks a similar licensing deal for Family Center, Disney will throw some dough at current users and help them transition to other services. "We will be communicating directly with customers about reimbursement for their handsets and their accessories," the company told us. "We'll also assist them find a new service and port their content over - if they like." What's the financial damage this time around? Disney won't say. But it's fiscal year ends over the weekend, and an earning statement is just around the corner. ®
Next time you're in Chicago, say cheese. Chances are good your likeness will be captured on a futuristic video surveillance system the city is rolling out with the help of IBM and several other tech companies. Today, officials from Chicago and IBM announced the initial phase of Operation Virtual Shield, which they're trumpeting as one of the most advanced security networks in any US city. It will use IBM software to analyze in real time thousands of hours of video being recorded on more than 1,000 cameras that run continuously. The project, which has the ability to read license plates and zoom in on items as small as a backpack, comes three weeks after statistics released under a freedom of information request suggested that video surveillance cameras installed in London did little to solve crime in that city. Many professors also say there are no studies that show cameras reduce crime. While IBM officials refused to say how much the system will cost, they were quick to say it would be boon to the city. "Cities are faced with ever-increasing threats such as routine crime or terrorist activity and the only way to preventively protect citizens is through a truly sophisticated security surveillance system," IBM vice president Mike Daniels said. Thousands of security cameras are already being used in Chicago by businesses and police. At least some of them are connected by a unified fiber network and by a wireless mesh. But right now, there aren't enough eyes to monitor them all, and that's where the IBM software comes in. Big Blue says the software will be able to search throughout the network to locate cars or other items under suspicion. The project is being funded at least partially by the Department of Homeland Security. It is unknown when the system will be fully operational. ®
"This is the best thing to happen to me in a long, long time. Check my filings, sweetie." Gaming-crazed attorney Jack Thompson may be best known for suing 2 Live Crew and the makers of the Bully video game, but, as the good folks at GamePolitics noted yesterday, this tough-as-nails litigator still finds the time to cruise gay hardcore sites and dig up dirt on rivals. His legal career apparently hanging by the lightest of lashes, the all-purpose anti-everything Christian crusader last week filed graphic man-love sex photos in federal court in a futile attempt to discredit Florida state bar ethics and lunacy proceedings against him. Never one to be deterred by the swoosh of the oncoming black helicopters, Thompson's recent court filings (pdf) have taken on a conspiratorial tone. The Bar’s demonstrable mindset is that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend,” as indicated by The Bar’s enthusiastic, recidivist collaboration with Mr. Kent, over a twenty year period, at Thompson’s expense. Lunacy proceedings have been sought and secured, Bar complaints have recently been maintained for nearly three years. Although better known for his campaigns against violent video games, which he holds responsible for the DC sniper rampage a few years back, some serious hardcore man-on-man action apparently gets a rise out of Thompson, too. Norm Kent, a Florida criminal defense attorney and longtime Thompson foe, publishes the National Gay News website. Always angling to skewer his gay nemesis, Thompson laid into Kent in court filings last week for “distribution of hardcore porn to anyone of any age.” To prove his point, Thompson went to the site, found some especially hot links, stole the copyrighted material, and then filed the incriminating porn for all to see. Judge Adalberto Jordan was not impressed (pdf). The attached exhibit, which includes several graphic images of oral and genital sex between adult males, was filed electronically in the docket in this case, without prior permission from the court… To the extent that the other attorney’s alleged conduct is in any way relevant… there was no need for Mr. Thompson to file these graphic images in the public record. A simple reference to the website and its alleged links would have sufficed… Through his actions, Mr. Thompson made available for unlimited public viewing, on the court’s docketing system, these graphic images. For this reason, by October 5, 2007, Mr. Thompson shall show cause why this incident should not be referred to the court’s Ad Hoc Committee on Attorney Admissions, Peer Review, and Attorney Grievance for appropriate action. Thompson then went for the money shot. Never one to shy away from a little mano a mano legal wrangle either, the hardened activist took the turgid thrust of history in his own two hands - he grabbed His Honor by his own gavel, and hoisted him up for all to see. Thompson, speaking in the third person, responded thus to the rebuke: Thompson may have more to say in his own defense as to his alleged contemptuous behavior, but at this juncture, with all respect, he does not apologize for nor regret what he has done… if this court desires to throw Thompson into jail for trying to sound the alarm in this dramatic fashion… then Thompson is prepared to go there. Go where, again? Thompson is prepared to sacrifice his very liberty and experience the true meaning of hard time - all to establish our right to file pornographic photos with the court, and then submit to the stern crack of the law enforcement crop meted out thereby! Of course, Thompson's obsession with gay sex dates back at least as far as his lesbian-baiting face-offs with Janet Reno, and even made it into the court filings in the aforementioned ethics/sanity proceedings. You missed the gay sex… I’m sure the voters are going to love that. Go ahead, Judge. File your bar complaint. Make my day. We know Thompson wouldn't miss the gay sex. Explicit anal action could not be dismissed so cavalierly - clearly emboldened by his latest bit of legal swordplay, Thompson responded enthusiastically via email to GamePolitics's coverage of the latest brouhaha: I’m not the one in trouble. The judge found a certain lawyer’s material obscene. I absolutely love it. This is the best thing to happen to me in a long, long time. Check my [case] filings, sweetie. To submit to a court order or blow off a federal judge? Always thinking big, Thompson compared (pfd) himself to another, more famous midnight rider. To hold Thompson in contempt for alerting the federal court system to the criminal activity… is akin to arresting Paul Revere, in 1775, for “disturbing the peace” with his midnight ride… Whatever you say, sweetie.® Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office
Almost 90 per cent of home internet users in the UK now spend six hours or more online each week, according to new research. Analysis from Point Topic's most recent broadband consumer survey indicates that 86.6 per cent of residential internet users spend at least six hours online every week, up from 83 per cent at the end of 2006 and 50 per cent at the end of 2005. In addition, five per cent of respondents claimed to spend more than 80 hours a week online. The latest research reveals that 40 per cent of broadband users spend their time downloading music, while 16 per cent watch TV or streaming video. In addition, 90 per cent of high-speed internet subscribers go online to send emails while more than 60 per cent use auction sites such as eBay. The study shows that there's been an increase in the number of online Britons who shop on the web. However, most internet users are spending less money online than in previous years. In late 2006 just under 65 per cent of respondents said they had purchased from an online store. By June 2007 this had increased to 70 per cent. But, weekly spend declined during this period the study found, and this was matched with a percentage increase in user spending at the lower end of the scale (£1-£20 per week). "We believe the shift has a number of causes," says Dr Katja Mueller, research director at Point Topic. "One is that the fastest growing groups of online users are now at the lower end of the income scale and this is reflected directly in the amounts being spent online. Another is that people are increasingly using the internet to buy smaller items." Dr Mueller added that seasonal effects may also account for the decline in spending online in the UK. No comparable figures on time spent online are easily obtainable for Ireland, but according to Aileen O'Toole, managing director of the internet consultancy firm Amas, there is a link between broadband uptake and a rise in the number of hours that users spend on the net. Moreover, O'Toole suggests that as broadband penetration increases in Ireland, so does the percentage of people purchasing online. "The more people spend time on the internet, the better experience they have, which makes them more confident about buying online," O'Toole told ENN. According to Amas' State of the Net' report from last Winter, 24 per cent of Irish internet users shopped online, with one in every two claiming they were going to spend more on Christmas presents online last year than previously. © 2007 ENN
I don't know whether Register Hardware or its readers can help me. I'm having trouble synchronising my iPaq with my laptop. The error messages that come up are as follows...
I bought a new brand Asus laptop. It takes me about an hour to actually sit and carry out any operation in the computer. Sometimes while surfing the internet, it freezes and it stays like that for about half an hour.
Apple has posted the anticipated iPhone 1.1.1 update. The release, which adds support for the Wi-Fi connect iTunes Music Store, does indeed, as expected, returns unlocked handsets back to their AT&T-only status.
O2 is launching a flat-rate tariff on 1 October - sort of. Costing £7.50 a month, the bolt-on is being called unlimited, but in fact is capped at just 200MB. The launch was widely predicted, but the low cap comes as something of a surprise when the competition (3 UK) is offering a 1GB cap for £5 a month, though it is better than Vodafone's limp 120MB cap on its £7.50 a month service. If you really want more data (O2 reckons only a laptop user would do that), you can get O2's Web Max which caps out at 3GB, but will set you back £30 a month. Quite how both Bolt Ons can be described as "unlimited" when the only difference between them is their limits and the price, pushes marketing speak to a new low. But O2 points out that the caps are fair-use, and exceeding that will just result in a stern warning from O2. BlackBerry users get their own "unlimited! special tariff at £10 a month, which includes pushed email and 200MB of web browsing. ®
A project aimed at developing defences against malware that attacks unpatched vulnerabilities involved tests on samples developed by the NSA. The ultra-secretive US spy agency supplied network testing firm Iometrix with eight worms as part of its plans to develop what it describes as the industry's first Zero-day Attack Test Platform.
The regulars among you will have noticed that our cunning comments on stories plan has proved somewhat popular - at least as an arena for fanboy versus windows apologist slugfests, transcendental musings from amanfromMars and poor-quality quippery inevitably resulting in coat>door>taxi. Well, among the insanity there are from time-to-time comments which prick our interest, and this one from Jose Ramirez got us thinking: Thou shalt not quote Wikipedia and expect to be taken seriously. Jose tagged this as the "First rule of Reg Club", and we reckon there's a rich vein to be tapped here as to what the rules of Reg Club might be. Accordingly, we hand this one over to you, our beloved readers. The first rule of Reg Club is... ®
Manufacturer Mavizen has created a pendant-style Bluetooth music pick-up with a very unique selling point: it also includes a Muslim prayer alert.
Music and alcohol are like peas in a pod. The Bevy, from manufacturer Mophie, fuses both by combining an iPod Shuffle keyring-style carry case with a bottle opener, ensuring that the tunes and the drinks are always flowing.
The desperate Burmese dictatorship has shut down public internet access in the country today in an attempt to cut off reports of the violent crackdown on democracy campaigners. Footage and eyewitness accounts have fuelled the international outcry and piled pressure on the regime to stand down. The UN has sent special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to monitor events on its behalf. According to Reuters, phones at the only ISP in Burma are not being answered. London blogger Ko Htike wrote: "I sadly announce that the Burmese military junta has cut off the internet connection throughout the country. I therefore would not be able to feed in pictures of the brutality." As we noted yesterday, however, plenty of information on the monks' uprising and the military response still seems to be escaping Burma via other channels. Foreign embassies have access to their own internet connections, for example. ®
The South Korean defence ministry has cracked down on web-assisted draft dodging, according to reports. The country's military depends heavily on conscript manpower, but service is unpopular and there are various loopholes through which young men can avoid it. According to an AFP report yesterday, South Korean defence officials have contacted hosting companies and insisted that offending sites be taken down. "We have sent official letters to major internet portals such as Daum and Naver to ask for the closure of those illicit websites," said ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-Gi. All able-bodied South Korean men are theoretically liable for a two-year hitch, which helps to keep the republic's armed forces manpower at around 680,000. There are also more than 29,000 American troops stationed in South Korea to help the southerners garrison the Demilitarised Zone separating them from the totalitarian north. North Korea is perhaps the most powerful of the so-called "rogue states", with armed forces over a million strong and an arsenal of ballistic missiles. These last might soon threaten even the continental USA, and the north is also thought to be developing usable nuclear weapons. Despite this fairly serious threat, South Koreans normally prefer that somebody else guard the walls, and draft dodging is reportedly endemic. There is an exemption for those who work for 34 months or more at companies nominated by the government as being economically critical, and this is widely abused. AFP says "sons of the rich and powerful" bribe their way into the listed firms. Even if the South Koreans can arrest the tendency to bunk off time in uniform, demographic trends indicate falling military manpower in future. More automation efforts, such as the Samsung SGR-A1 automated gun-bot, may be deployed in future. ®
Palm has, as expected, announced its Centro smartphone with US carrier Sprint, though the new-design handset won't go on sale until the middle of October.
Episode 33Episode 33 "He seemed..." the PFY says, gazing out the window sadly. "...So normal." "I know," I respond. "But you never can tell what's going on in someone's head." "But he was such a good bloke!" "I know," I say again. "You think you know someone, then something like this happens..." "Something like what?" the Boss asks, entering both the conversation and the room without permission. "One of our... colleagues... I suppose you could say," I reply. "Seems to have turned out to be a complete basket case." "Had a breakdown?" the Boss asks. "Worse." "Hurt himself?" "Worse than that." "Is he dead?" the Boss gasps. "No, but he probably wishes he was." "You mean he hurt others?!" "Uh-huh." "He was such a quiet bloke too," the PFY says shaking his head. "Kept to himself a lot?" the Boss prompts. "Yeah, but he was an IT person, so that hardly counts," I reply. "So he was... a serial killer?" "What?! No, no. He was... uh... late... for a Linux users group last week... and so the geeks started to get a bit worried about him..." "And?" "And so they went round his place fearing he might have had an accident, you know, open chassis, high voltage, cup of coffee that sort of thing..." "Yes?" "So they broke in when there was no answer to the door..." "Yes?!" "And when they got to his front room they found..." "YES?!?!" the Boss gags. "..." "WHAT?!" "Macs. Stacks of them!" "Macs?" "Apple Mac 'computers'." "And?" "He was a MAC USER!" the PFY said. "For years he'd been living a lie!" "I don't see..." "He was a MAC USER!" I say. "I mean it's bad enough being an Apple user, but Macs as well! He'd been at it for years, too. When they broke into his basement they found Power Macs, Quadras... They even found... a Lisa." "No!" the PFY gasps. "It's true!" I say. "And it was still warm!" "So he wasn't just experimenting!" the PFY says in hushed tones. "Oh he inhaled alright! I talked to his family and friends, but none of them had any idea." "They're always the last to know," the PFY says, shaking his head. "So let me get this straight," the Boss says. "You're concerned because your friend..." "Colleague," the PFY says, but even that makes him twinge. "...Uses Apple computers." "I think you mean Apple 'computers'," the PFY says, inserting the missing quote marks. "And that's a problem?" "Look, for years he seemed like a normal person!" the PFY says. "He ate with us, drank with us - we thought he WAS one of us. But all along he was hiding a nasty secret!" "What's wrong with Apples?" "They're just not real computers," the PFY says. "They're the piano accordion of the computing world, entertaining, but not made for professionals." "Our Graphics people..." "Yeah, but they're not professionals. They'd be just as happy with crayons and finger paints!" "I... So what happened to your friend?" "COLLEAGUE!" "Er, colleague?" "Who knows?" I say. "He might have run away to join the circus or he might have handed himself in for deprogramming." "Deprogramming?" "Yeah," the PFY says. "They strap you into a wheely chair and play In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida at 11 through headphones to you while administering electric shocks - until you renounce your faith." "And they actually have places that do this sort of thing?" "Yeah, they're everywhere. All you need is a place where no-one will notice a geek twitching, screaming and occasionally wetting themselves in front of a computer." "In other words the gaming area of an internet cafe," I say. "...And this works?" "Who cares?" the PFY says. "They're filthy Mac users!" . . . "You'll have to forgive him," I say to the Boss once the PFY leaves to get himself a coffee (and hopefully some form of sedative). "But he has a pathological hatred of Mac users, always has..." "So you're not so concerned about them?" "No, no, I think they should burn in hell like the dirty heathens they are, but the PFY has an even deeper dislike of them. It's personal - almost as if he has some axe to grind." "I see," the Boss says, realising that this conversation will never get any better. "In any case what I ACTUALLY came to ask about was why my machine is dead." Sigh. "Lets take a look then," I say, following him to his office." . . . moments later . . . "It's dead because your PowerPoint is dead - see your desk phone and speakers are off too." "Oh." "We'll just go and reset the breaker and you'll be fine." . . . a few moments after that . . . >click-clack< "Hmmm." >click-clack< "What's the matter?" "The breaker is tripping when reset - something's using a lot of power. Hmm, the breaker info says it's just your office and the one next door." "That office is empty," the Boss says. "It was used by the auditors and hasn't been used since." "In that case I'm guessing they probably left their desktop machine on and its power supply has just shorted out," I say, making for the office concerned. "I'll just unplug the machine and bin it an we'll..." On opening the office door I can't help but let out a gasp of horror... the PFY hunched over the power supply of some ancient hardware... the smell of old, warm plastic... the owl logo on the keyboard... And suddenly the PFY's pathological hatred makes sense! "An Archimedes user!" I gasp. "This isn't what it looks like," the PFY gasps. "So you're not an Archimedes user?" "Well... I... It was ahead of it's time - with RISC, advanced gr.. >KZEERRRRT<" "Tell it to Iron Butterfly," I say, dragging the PFY's unconscious body over to a wheely chair... BOFH: The whole shebang The Compleat BOFH Archives 95-99
Dell's latest gaming laptop has blasted off to the sound of the manufacturer's yells that the XPS M1730 is the first notebook with an integrated physics processing chip.
Microsoft’s dream of a Vista only world moved farther out on the horizon yesterday as the software firm admitted it would extend sales of Windows XP by another five months.
Construction of the Italian ground control station for planned European sat nav constellation Galileo is underway, despite the controversy surrounding the project. The Italian station will be located in the central district of Fucino, and will work alongside a German facility to be built in Munich. Galileo has until lately been mired in a dispute over funding, with a planned private sector contribution to the construction phase withheld. Industry could not see a way to directly generate revenue from Galileo. However, nine days ago European officials in Brussels proposed a plan to fund the project from public coffers, largely by diverting it from "unspent" farm subsidy budgets. The Eurocrats' plan still has to be approved at the political level, but this will involve no great pain as the funds are already assigned to the EU by national governments. It now appears that Italian national aerospace firm Finmeccanica is confident Galileo will now move forward. The Fucino ground station is being built by Telespazio, a joint venture two-thirds of which is Finmeccanica's. The other partner is France's Thales. "The big problem at the beginning was to find funds, but now the European Commission (EC) has decided to take care of the financing," Finmeccanica CEO Pier Francesco Guarguaglini said. "If we proceed very quickly it will be worth it," he told reporters at the Fucino foundation-laying ceremony yesterday. "Otherwise, we will waste our money and our time." Guarguaglini was reportedly unconcerned regarding the commercial viability of Galileo, which could struggle to raise revenue as long as the civil signal of the US military GPS constellation remains available for free. Under the EC draft plan, commercial partners, including Finmeccanica, would still pay the running costs of the system after it is built with taxpayer cash. "The precision of this system is much better than GPS," he said. "At the end, we will have 30 satellites and 30 means more precision." In fact, at present GPS has 31 satellites, but the US Air Force is only required to keep 24 operational. Budget forecasts suggest the GPS constellation could thin out significantly as Galileo becomes operational, though user bodies have urged the US government to maintain a minimum of 30 sats. New Block III GPS platforms soon to come online will offer capability comparable to that of Galileo. In the end, of course, Guarguaglini and his fellow members of the European industrial consortium don't need to be too worried. European taxpayers will pay them handsomely to build Galileo, and if they can't make a profit running it afterwards nobody can force them to keep on taking a loss. And indeed, it seems unlikely that the governments of Europe would simply abandon their multi-billion hardware investment should such a situation occur. Reuters' report is here. ®
Miscreants are taking advantage of the international attention focused on protests in Burma to spread malware. Emails claiming to be a message of support for monks and other protesters in Burma from the Dalai Lama contain a malicious attachment that attempts to use software exploits to install malware onto victims' PCs.
The US Coast Guard has stoutly denied that its new National Security Cutters, currently under development, will be leaky - leaky in a wireless-security sense, that is. The US Coast Guard, a seagoing paramilitary organisation with rescue and enforcement responsibilities, is comparable in size to many medium-sized world navies. The planned "cutters" are actually 4,300 ton pocket frigates mounting 57mm cannon and radar-controlled Phalanx gatlings capable of shooting a missile out of the air. They can carry a brace of normal helicopters or as many as four Fire Scout droid choppers configured for surveillance or armed attack. A US Coast Guard "cutter". Hate to meet one of their big ships. The cutters are supposed to be capable of operating with US Navy and other military forces in the various Wars On Stuff, and they will thus be able to tie into the armed forces' comms and IT networks. This brings with it a requirement for military-grade security. In particular, the Coasties' new ships need to be compliant with the National Security Agency's TEMPEST certification. TEMPEST refers to a type of spying in which suitably equipped attackers can sniff electromagnetic emissions from unshielded electronics, even if that gear isn't designed to communicate wirelessly. If suitable precautions aren't taken, a team of knob-turners in a van parked on the jetty - or a "fishing boat" lurking nearby at sea - could conceivably tune into much of what was happening in a cutter's ops room or signals office, lifting the info unencrypted from the ship's internal systems. Serious electronic spooks aren't found on the payroll of the Coasties' day-to-day enemies - drug smugglers and such. But if a cutter is plugged in to the US Navy's net it will become a target for first-division players, so it needs to have suitable security. But, of late, reports have circulated that Coast Guard inspection teams have found that the new ships may not be TEMPEST compliant. But officials are now contradicting that version of the story, saying they were just trying to get on top of any problems at an early stage. "Everything will be done before the first piece of classified material ever runs on this ship," Coast Guard Admiral Ronald Rabago told Aerospace Daily yesterday. "We wanted to get ahead of any potential Tempest issues. This will all be resolved. We take Tempest certification very, very seriously. We are not going to operate a system unless it meets all the requirements." Michael Tangora, Coast Guard acquisition chief, said: "We'll probably find more stuff. This is a normal course of events, especially when you bring a first-of-class ship online. This is when you're learning all your problems." Tangora said some shielding of electronics cabinets might need to be sorted out. "We're taking tests on cabinets early, and we found emanations," he said. "But these are not classified emanations. We're just pumping electricity and signals through. If there are problems, we're correcting them." Tangora said the new warship-like cutter would be "the most capable C4ISR* ship the Coast Guard has ever built". ® *Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. Some people like to get a "Target Acquisition" in there too, for C4ISTAR. Anyone remember back when it was just Command & Control? ®
Evolution's evangelist Richard Dawkins was left steaming after creationist filmmakers used interviews with him and other prominent atheists in a film promoting intelligent design. According to reports, Dawkins and the others were invited to appear in a documentary called Crossroads, which was to be a debate about creationism vs Darwinism. But the film, now titled Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed and set for a 12 February US premier, takes a pro-creationist stance, leaving Dawkins et al. feeling as though they have been duped. Speaking at the Atheist Alliance convention in Virginia, Dawkins said: "I was never given a clue that these people were a creationist front," adding that he wouldn't have agreed to take part in the documentary if he had known its purpose. Here at El Reg we are not known as supporters of the creationist or intelligent design camps, and we'd love to swing into a full and hearty rant about the evils of those crazy god-bothering loons in the US etc, really we would (you should see the letters bag when we have a pop at them. Hilarious). But in this case, we can't really see that Dawkins has much to complain about. According to a letter Dawkins himself has made public, Mark Mathis, a producer for Rampant Films, the firm behind the documentary, sold the idea to one participant, Professor Paul Myers, as follows: "We are in production of the documentary film Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion... we are interested in asking you questions about the disconnect/controversy that exists in America between evolution, creationism, and the intelligent design movement." The title of the film changed, but there has been no suggestion from Dawkins that the interview did not proceed along these lines. Here is a quick media studies lesson: like it or not, journalists don't have to tell you the full scope of an article or documentary they are working on, and will sometimes try to keep the full picture from you if they think you might be hostile to the story you are trying to tell. It might be a little bit naughty, but it happens all the time, even here at El Reg. You're shocked, we know. Misrepresentation is another thing entirely. But we suspect Dawkins and his mates are upset because their participation in the film makes them look a little foolish. Dawkins, of course, has made programmes himself in which his "opponents" don't come off looking quite so hot, so perhaps this is a object lesson in karma, eh? (Not that this would exist in a completely random Universe) The filmmakers insist they did not mislead anyone, and that the film's name was changed on the advice of marketing experts. ®
Astronomers searching the skies for pulsars instead found a mysterious burst of radio activity, nothing like anything any of them had seen before. According to Reuters, the researchers were trawling through a back catalogue of data from the Parkes telescope in Australia when they came across the signal. It was five milliseconds long and might be the calling card of a single, highly energetic event such as a supernova, the team said. Although the burst was very brief, it was very strong. The team tracked it back to a point of origin roughly three billion light years away. Little green men are categorically ruled out: the burst is far too powerful, according to Maura McLaughlin of West Virginia University. "We think it has got to be some sort of catastrophic event happening in another galaxy - like two stars colliding and merging, or maybe a black hole. Something kind of exotic," she said. McLaughlin speculated that many more of these bursts could be happening everyday, but because radio telescopes typically survey a very narrow field of the sky, we could just be missing them. The work is published in the journal Science. ®
Selling out? It is, we said, like watching your dad try to dance at the prom. Yes, we're talking about the much hyped stories that Microsoft is thinking about taking a stake in Facebook. Rumours are that Redmond might take five per cent of Facebook for "roughly $300m to $500m". Standback as everyone tries to work out the value of each Facebooker. And while we're wheeling and dealing, this week also saw Echostar buy Sling. For those unfamiliar with the players, that is a satellite TV firm buying a IPTV gadget maker. The deal's worth $380m, to be paid in a mix of cash and EchoStar stock. EMC, apparently tired of sitting on its IPO cash, reportedly dropped $76m for web-based automated backup outfit Mozy. The service is one of dozens of start-ups offering online storage to consumers and businesses. And why not? When you have to have it, you have to have it. Patents under review The UK Intellectual Property Office has launched a public consultation on proposals to introduce a fast-track system for patent and trade mark applications, as suggested in the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property. Stateside, a pilot programme that allows people to alert the US Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) when they have found material proving an invention is not new is underway. The project manager says the scheme should be compulsory, or it will not work. Meanwhile, VoIP provider Vonage has lost another patent battle, this time with Sprint Nextel, which owns six infringed patents and stands to gain almost $70m in a court-ordered payout. Vonage has argued that the patent should never have been approved, and anyway its technology was nothing like it. The jury remained unconvinced. Is Big Brother watching you? If you happen to be in Chicago, the answer will soon be a resounding yes. The city is rolling out a futuristic video surveillance system with the help of IBM and several other tech companies. They're calling it "Operation Virtual shield". Here in the UK, meanwhile, the Daily Mail discovered that the government is using technology to keep tabs on citizens. And Scotland announces a review of the procedures for retaining the forensic data of those accused of sexual or violent offenses. Keeping the lawyers busy In court this week, the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) has filed the first US infringement case to defend the General Public License (GPL) version 2. The case has been brought against Monsoon Multimedia. No sooner had the legal sabre rattled, the start-up capitulated agreeing to abide by the terms of the license. A former Unix system admin at Medco Health Solutions, a big US drugs prescription management firm, has admitted to planting malicious code that would have destroyed massive amounts of critical patient information. He faces up to 10 years behind bars, and a fine of $250,000, if the judge is feeling particularly pissy. Meanwhile, Pirate Bay has filed a criminal complaint against entertainment firms over alleged attacks against the controversial file sharing tracker site. Should be one to watch, this. And the reality of poorly chosen creative commons licenses hits home for filmmaker Damon Chang. He uploaded a family photograph of his young niece Alison to Flickr, only to discover weeks later that it was being used by Virgin Mobile in an expensive advertising campaign. What can he do? Not much, is the consensus. The Microsoft dominance debate rumbles on First up, a nifty piece of analysis, considering why it is that Microsft's bundling of software is not a good thing, and why we don't need to keep a watchful eye on the beast of Redmond. Pay attention, young 'uns. This is for you. Meanwhile, Euro think tank the Globalisation Institute set out its anti-MS stall, calling on the EU to require all PCs to be sold without operating systems. It says this will not make consumers' lives more difficult, as they would simply be asked to insert an OS DVD when they first power the system. Perhaps they have a point: a French court just awarded a man €811 damages for the inconvenience of having bought a €599 laptop pre-loaded with MS wares. How many words can you make that include the letters OIP? VoIP provider Truphone can spell at least two: VoIP and iPhone. The firm announced a VoIP client running as a native application on the iPhone. Just a question of demand, now, it says. Staying with the iPhone, Apple's handset has triggered another burst of features upgrading from other makers. Nokia Beta Labs has launched Conversation, a free application for S60 third edition handsets that arranges one's messages by person, rather than date and time. This is a feature Treo and iPhone users have had for a while. Googling for a backdoor If you use Google to send email, organise photos, or help administer your website, take note. This Monday, doomwatchers catalogued three new ways to steal your data and compromise the security of your users. By Tuesday, another weakness had been uncovered. Won't somebody think of the Facebook generation? Facebook officials have been subpoenaed by New York's top law enforcement official after a preliminary review revealed "significant defects in the site's safety controls" designed to shield underage users from sexual predators. Meanwhile, eBay's "trust and safety" board went into emergency shutdown when naughty hackers brazenly used the forum, which is designed to prevent fraud, to post sensitive information including home addresses and phone numbers of 1,200 eBay users. Setting a thief? China has jailed four men convicted of involvement in a malware-fuelled scam that led to the infection of hundreds of thousands of Windows PCs across the country. But one lucky convict's prospects are looking rather rosier than you might expect. Li Jun, 25, played a central role in a malware-fueled scam. But now he's been offered a well-paying job by one of his victims. Perhaps this is a techno-variant of Stockholm Syndrome? Panic stations...oh, wait... Symantec ran a full scale internet fire drill this week, when it inadvertently warned enterprise customers of a full-scale internet meltdown. The firm mistakenly sent out an alert from its DeepSight facility, falsely warning that a devastating attack was underway. Oops. Close door, open window Virgin has closed Virgin Digital, its Windows Media-based alternative to Apple's iTunes. It stopped selling one-off downloads on Friday, though subscribers will still have access to their collections until their next monthly payment is due. Not to worry, Amazon has just opened its DRM-free music store for business. Songs are available for $0.89 per song, or $6 to $10 for an album. Files are fingerprinted, not locked, so exchanges can be backtracked, not prevented. Upgrading Great Britain BT has again hinted that it could be persuaded to upgrade the UK's aged copper and aluminium wires into homes and businesses to fibre-optic lines. Just as well, since Ofcom has just launched a consultation to work out who should fund such a move as part of the general modernising of our creaking infrastructure. Spinning out or carving up Pipex gifted us all with the news that the remainder of the group intends to demerge its WiMAX business, then flog itself. In the sales sense, not corporal punishment. The sale of the 570,000-strong broadband and voice base to Tiscali for £210m cleared regulatory hurdles earlier this month. And finally... The internet proves its worth as Burma's uprising takes place in full view of the world. The world is watching this time. Let's hope it matters. And no weekly news round up would be complete without something utterly silly. So, we bring you news that boffins in Japan have bred mutant albino frogs with transparent skin. The idea is that it will no longer be necessary to cut the slime-filled creatures up in order to examine their internal workings, making for less mess in school biology lessons. And less slicing and dicing for the frogs, of course. ®
ReviewReview Earlier this month, Apple announced the newest embodiments of various iPod lines. The new iPod, the Classic, doesn't look substantially different from its predecessor. The new Nano, which supersedes the second generation product is - on the other hand - a complete revamp.
Carphone Warehouse has leaked pictures of an upcoming handset re-branded by UK designer Ted Baker. The phone appears to be HTC's Touch, but offered in a selection of mode-of-the-moment colours.
Blighty is in danger of losing all its best stem cell boffins to America once George Bush departs from power, according to an official in charge of dishing out UK gov science cash. At the moment, top stem cell brainboxes flock to the sceptred isle so as to avoid the American president's chokeoff of federal boffinry greenbacks, which he won't have spent on embryonic stem cell research. "We have been very fortunate in attracting those individuals," said Leszek Borysiewicz, about to take over as head of the UK Medical Research Council. "But they require an infrastructure and support which is very heavy. We have got to be sure that it is maintained at the highest quality levels - that does not come cheaply, but we have to make sure it actually happens, because these people move on," he warned. Stem cells are hot among medical researchers, because they can be made to turn into any other kind of cell. This offers the prospect of culturing replacement bits for the human body, possibly leading to cures for Alzheimer's, heart disease, etc. Reputable commentators tend to stop there, but we would also suggest the chance of replacement organs, cyberpunk-style grafts of extra vat-grown muscle, extra legs, etc. A lot of boffins reckon the best source of stem cells is human embryos, though others prefer the human bollock or other sources. In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) procedures, widely used in wealthy countires to help childless couples conceive, result in substantial numbers of embryos being created only to be later disposed of. Scientists often argue that there is nothing unethical about using these embryos for research. However, fundy Christians in the US disagree, saying that every embryo is sacred. George Bush backs them, hence the unavailability of US research funding in this area and the exodus of top brains to the UK - though some go instead to California, where Arnold Schwarzenegger is dishing out plenty of state cash. "We are as powerful as any one can ever be on stem cell research," said the Governator last May (it has been theorised that the fleshy cloak he wears over his eternal metallic machine endoskeleton is wearing out, and he needs a new one grown). Mr Bush will step down next year, and all the front-running candidates to succeed him are thought likely to rescind his funding chokeoff. This, combined with the Californian lure, could see all of Blighty's best players bought away by US teams. According to the superbly named Stephen Minger, director of the King's College London stem cell laboratory, top brains are already headed Stateside - but he reckons Blighty is out in front. "[In this country] I think the advantage that we have had is a stable regulatory environment and strong governmental support for the last five years," Minger told the Guardian. "So I think we have a lead." ®
Dell customers hoping to bag an XPS M1710 laptop may find themselves twiddling their fingers for a very long time as they sit at home waiting for the doorbell to ring.
Networking gear nearly man 3Com has agreed to a $2.2bn buyout by an investment outfit backed by its former Chinese manufacturing partner Huawei Technologies.
Orange's exclusive deal to distribute the iPhone in France may not be as solid as claimed, with the handset strangely absent at the Apple Expo in Paris, and a French newspaper reporting that the revenue share details are still under discussion. The Challenges website reports (in French) that Orange's exclusive is far from a done deal, with the companies still in discussions over how large Apple's pound of flesh will be. It's certainly hard to explain why there were no iPhones at the Apple Expo otherwise, which could mean the French deal is still on the table, or perhaps Orange will successfully hold out for a more operator-friendly split. That could really annoy T-Mobile and O2, in Germany and the UK respectively, with their deals already inked and announced. Just when we thought all the secret launches and quiet network-building were done, Apple still manages to keep us guessing... or perhaps that's the idea. ®
A new technique has allowed researchers to extract genetic information from the hair shafts of ancient woolly mammoths. The team behind the breakthrough, based at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, says the method should also work on other well-preserved mammal specimens, the BBC reports. It is well known to all watchers of CSI, as well as the scientific community, that there is plenty of DNA to be found in the root of a hair. But the shaft was not thought to be a good source, until now. Knowing this, the team decided to crunch up lots of hair from each of their specimen mammoths on the off-chance it would work. "Basically, for every mammoth we tried, it worked. That blew us away," said Dr Tom Gilbert. Rather than bog standard DNA, the team reconstructed sequences of mitochondrial DNA. Previously, only two mitochrondrial genomes have been published. The team from Copenhagen has included 10 in the Science paper. The key to the DNA's preservation lies in the structure of the hair shaft. Gilbert told the BBC: "The reason we think hair is so great comes down to the fact that as a structure, hair is made out of this material called keratin. It's a kind of protein that in a very simplistic sense can be viewed as a plastic that the DNA gets embedded in and surrounded by and protected by." The team says the technique will be invaluable to researchers wanting to find out more about many specimens - other woolly mammals, like Rhinos, and even ancient humans, held in the vaults of the world's museums. ®
Halo 3 achieved record US sales of $170m (£83.6m/€119.8) within its first 24 hours on sale, Microsoft claimed today, boasting the figure makes its game the "biggest entertainment launch in history", eclipsing records set by the Spider-man 3 and Harry Potter movies.
Earth's atmosphere had oxygen in it 50-100m years earlier than anyone ever thought, according to new research from NASA. The scientists were studying kilometre long core samples from Western Australia, in a bid to understand conditions on our planet before the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere, known as the Great Oxidation Event. The core sample contains a continuous record of the conditions on earth, almost as if someone had left a giant tape recorder running, keeping a tidy record of the state of the planet throughout the ages. By analysing the abundance of various metals and sulphur isotopes, the team was able to confirm that the corrosive gas was floating around the atmosphere at times predating the GOE, something no one was expecting. "We seem to have captured a piece of time during which the amount of oxygen was actually changing - caught in the act, as it were," said Ariel Anbar, an associate professor at Arizona State University, Tempe, and leader of one of the research teams. Anbar and his team were tracking amounts of trace metals whose quantity in oceans and sediments is governed by the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. The other research team, led by Alan Kaufman of the University of Maryland, analysed sulphur isotopes, also a function of the abundance of oxygen. The notion that organisms started to produce oxygen a little earlier is not totally new. Some scientists support the idea that oxygen production began on a small scale, and that the quantities produced were quickly absorbed by volcanic gases and rocks. "What we have now is new evidence for some oxygen in the environment 50 to 100 million years before the big rise of oxygen," Anbar said. "Our findings strengthen the notion that organisms learned to produce oxygen long before the Great Oxidation Event, and that the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere ultimately was controlled by geological processes." ®
SkypeIn users are complaining of calls not coming in, with callers getting an unobtainable tone. The scale of the problem, and how long it's going to persist, isn't know, but users are reporting calls not being connected with no explanation and little response to on-line fault reports. It seems the lessons of previous outages haven't sunk in, with users still relying on Skype for their business needs. As one poster puts it: "This is my main business line and like others its costing me real money, Will skpe help me pay my mortgage at the end of the month ! I doubt it" It would be callous to suggest that depending on a real telco would have been a better idea, especially as the traditional telcos don't seem to be providing a much better service these days. Skype tell us they are investigating, and hope to have an update soon, but as least we didn't get an unobtainable number when we called them, so parts of their network are obviously working.®
Robo-vac and wardroid manufacturer iRobot has debuted a brace of new products today, in a move keenly anticipated among bot-lovers. Sad to say, the robot butler or Heinlein-style* Hired Girl™ mechanical scullery maid has yet to appear. The most interesting of the new iRobot offerings is the ConnectR, which is a refinement on existing IP webcam tech. Keen home networkers have been able for some time to install IP cams with built-in web servers in their houses or wherever. One can then log into the camera across the internet from a remote location, seeing and maybe hearing what's going on. Only the home router needs to remain powered up, rather than one or more computers as would be the case with a conventional USB webcam. ConnectR takes this technology and puts it on the same motorised chassis that iRobot uses in its line of Roomba autonomous floor cleaners. Absent parents and grandparents can thus vicariously roam about in the home, looking around at what's going on and holding two-way audio conversations with residents. Mmm, that hunky gardener's coming round. I'll just turn off Bill's bloody robot spy. Many IP webcams present certain security issues, and setup can be troublesome for unskilled users owing to the fact that a typical home broadband connection will have a "dynamic" IP address which changes from time to time. However, iRobot reckons it's dealt with these problems, using its own servers as intermediaries to deal with dynamic addresses and employing VPN tunnels for secure connections. "Today iRobot is delivering to customers practical home robots that are affordable, effective and easy-to-use," says iRobot CEO Colin Angle in the company release. "The future is now"
"and everyone can and should have a robot in their home today."
In the case of ConnectR, Angle means "everyone" in the sense of "everyone who has broadband, home WiFi and access to a Windows XP computer at the remote location."
The other new iRobot is the "Looj," which rather strains the definition of robot-ness. Looj is a small battery-powered machine designed to run back and forth along roof gutters and clean them out in a oner, rather than requiring repeated climbs up and down a ladder.
If the iRobot videos are to be believed, Looj is just the barber if you own a house with a lot of long gutters on it and don't care to hire a penniless wandering chimney sweep to clean them. Looj is on sale now direct from iRobot for $100.
As for ConnectR, that will go on sale next year for $500. However, you can sign up for a place as a beta tester right now; and if you're accepted you get your test ConnectR for $200.
Hmm. It remains to be seen whether the ordinary broadband household really wants a trundling, talking spybot roaming about in it under the control of possibility overly-inquisitive grandparents, absent but opinionated spouses, possible random hackers etc. Up to ten remote user accounts can apparently be set up for each droid, so all your friends and acquaintances can get in on the fun. Do make sure grandma doesn't leave her password lying about somewhere, though ...®
*The "Hired Girl" domestic-servant robot appeared in this book.
Well, from the start of October, we hand over Reg Developer to Gavin Clarke, who's a Register employee (we were freelance) and works from California, where he sits at the development tools coalface and gets first crack at the news. Be kind to him.
HP has released new servers based on the new Quad-Core Intel Xeon 7300 processor series, targeted at customers running data-intensive business applications such as databases, business intelligence, ERP, and large mail and messaging platforms in virtualized environments.
A former executive at NetApp has been charged with wire fraud for allegedly embezzling more than $90,000 for personal expenses. Bernadette Escue, 41, the former global transportation manager at Sunnyvale-based Network Appliance is accused of pinching from the company coffers between 2001 and 2003.
A laptop containing unencrypted personal information for 800,000 people who applied for jobs with clothing retailer Gap Inc. has been stolen. The computer contained social security numbers and other sensitive information belonging to residents of the US and Puerto Rico who applied online or by phone for jobs from July 2006 to June 2007, the retailer said in this list of frequently asked questions. Details for applicants living in Canada were also exposed, although they didn't include social insurance numbers.
NEC and Sun Microsystems are buddying up to attack the high-performance computing market in the US. The two companies said they inked the deal targeting mid-range HPC customers by leveraging Sun's factory integration expertise with NEC's software prowess in areas such as computational fluid dynamics, structural mechanics and chemistry and materials science applications.
Google and Microsoft went toe-to-toe yesterday on Capitol Hill, jawing over Google's proposed $3.1bn merger with online ad firm DoubleClick. Speaking before a Senate subcommittee that handles antitrust issues, Microsoft said that the merger would hinder competition in the online ad market and endanger the privacy of people everywhere, giving Google exclusive control over the largest database of user information ever assembled.
Extra fancy chip start-up Tilera has tapped a new CEO just a few weeks after emerging from semi-stealth mode. The company grabbed Omid Tahernia as CEO and President. Tahernia replaces Devesh Garg, who has returned to Bessemer Venture Partners to get his venture capitalist vibe going again. Tahernia arrives at Tilera from FPGA shop Xilinx where he was general manager in charge of the Processing Solutoins Group. Tilera grew out of a MIT research project and unveiled its first product in August. The company has targeted the networking and multimedia markets with a 64-core chip, which can crank through mutli-threaded software at a dramatic clip. ®
VMware has expanded its hardware certification program to include virtual storage devices. The company said it will let storage hardware makers get the green light with VMware Infrastructure to expand their customers choice of vendors.