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Archive for January, 2006

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January 31st, 2006

Robots ride out

Robots ride out

A bizarre video clip on the BBC’s website shows how ‘robot jockeys’ are being used in the Gulf to spare young children from the untold dangers of competitive camel racing.

Loop the movie to your favourite old skool drum and bass soundtrack and imagine how much better Formula 1 motor racing would be if a robot was allowed to drive around in the Ferrari instead of Michael Schu… Aha!

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January 30th, 2006

Virus writers target PR industry..?

Virus writers target PR industry..?

Virus writers are good at persuading people to open their messages by teasing them with the promise of illicit content. But how about this for social engineering? This email claims to be from a major newspaper that wants to publish my photo. All they want is for me to open the photo and check it’s okay… Oh, hang on a minute…


Your photograph has reached editing stage as part of an article we are publishing for our February edition of the Guardians business section. Can you check over the format and get back to us with your approval or any changes?

If the picture is not to your liking then please send a preferred one. We’ve attached the photo with the article here.

This looks like a new variant of a virus that was unleashed last November to exploit the weaknesses introduced by Sony BMG’s evil DRM software.

The email signs off with the name of an editor and the wrong website address for The Guardian. This is quite convincing, especially for those in media circles. Remember kids, if someone asks you to open an unexpected attachment. Just say no…

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January 30th, 2006

Vinyl Solutions

Vinyl Solutions

My name is Dave, and in the eighties and nineties I was an insatiable vinyl addict.

In the new millennium I may be getting older and fatter myself, but the equipment I now use to play music on is modern, svelte, and as completely incompatible with my old long players as I now find myself to be with the Top 40.

All of my vinyl is stacked in dusty boxes, taking up loft space alongside various generations of record players and ‘music centres’. But it remains the best music I’ve ever owned, and it’s frustrating to replace it piecemeal with painfully trawled digital downloads each time the old tunes spring to mind.

And I’m not alone – many of my friends, even the really geeky ones, bemoan the loss of their vinyl memories and complain that legal download sites simply don’t encode the range of music they’re after. All this despite the fact that deep down they know that with a PC, an old Hi-Fi and a suitable tangle of cables there must be a simple solution out there.

This featurette from BBC Technology digs deeper, unearthing the GF-350 turntable / CD-R combo from Teac that just screams ‘birthday present’, as well as discussing the dark art of hooking up phono pre-amps and record deck outputs to boost record signal levels. Be careful how much of the advice you follow though – Sonic Solutions for example is in the business of removing all the hisses, crackles and pops from analogue transfer, and surely those are some of the best bits?

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January 24th, 2006

Mobile Phone Web Server

Mobile Phone Web Server

Looks like those Finns have been at the vodka again – as if the idea of using a mobile phone as a web server wasn’t far out enough for them, they also decided the best way to achieve this would be to port Apache to the Symbian OS which is used by many smart-phones. Apache (an open source web server used by millions) is of course a great piece of software, but you normally expect to find it running on a decent sized computer with lots of processing power, storage and bandwidth – the polar oppisite, in fact, of a mobile phone. Still, to their credit the guys at Nokia Research Center pulled it off and even managed to include mod_python so the device can run Python scripts.

Easy to laugh at this – but when you think about how fast the bandwidth and processing horsepower available to mobile devices is increasing, the idea starts to look intruiging. Imagine a world where everybody carries around their own web server, it raises some interesting prospects.

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January 23rd, 2006

Devices on standby waste power

Devices on standby waste power

Perhaps leaving the TV on standby is a guilty pleasure that you allow yourself, so that you can flump down in front of it and get it to come alive for you quickly later on. But according to the BBC, we could do without two power stations if we would only turn the telly off properly.

The story says:
To put it another way, the entire population of Glasgow could fly to New York and back again and the resulting emissions would still be less than that from devices left in sleep mode.

Possible solutions include forcing manufacturers not to include a standby button or rating TVs for energy efficiency in a similar way to how fridges are rated now. Until then, we’ll all just have to take a few steps across the living room to turn the telly off properly.

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January 23rd, 2006

Happy birthday PC virus, happy birthday to you!

Happy birthday PC virus, happy birthday to you!

Guess what? The first PC virus was born 20 years ago, possibly to the day.

If you’re a grumpy old man like myself, you can now add “Eeeh, I’ve got computer viruses older than you!” to your list of cantankerous mutterings reserved for policemen, traffic wardens, CTOs and the like.

In case you were wondering, the very first of 150,000 PC viruses (at last count) was discovered in the wild in 1986 and was called Brain. It wasn’t particularly nasty though, and could only travel about on 5 1/4 inch floppy disks. [Remember those? Oooh, this Internet lark was all fields etc… etc…]

Brain is of course still alive and self-propagating happily in her special hermetically sealed enclosure in a quiet corner of Whipsnade.

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January 13th, 2006

Apple spies on iTunes listeners

Apple spies on iTunes listeners

The latest update to Apple’s iTunes music management and playback software incorporates a feature that sends Apple details on the music on your computer. The ministore suggests other music you might like to buy when you select tracks on your computer, even if they’ve been ripped from CD. Apple insists it deletes information on a user’s music after making the recommendation, but some bloggers have criticised
Apple’s abuse of its own privacy policy.

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January 12th, 2006

Big Bother for George!

Big Bother for George!

George Galloway, the controversial MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, is coming under increasing criticism from his constituents for appearing on Channel Four’s Celebrity Big Brother, and rightly so. To say that he is in a house with celebrities however, all depends on one’s definition of ‘famous’. For me it is simply a house full of people who have little left to play for and thus are trying to raise their almost non-existent profiles through the fading magic of Big Brother. Jim Fitzpatrick, a fellow London MP, perhaps hit the nail on the head when he recently accused Galloway of being a “C-list politician with an A-list ego who has chosen a ‘celebrity graveyard’ over his constituents”.

It is no surprise then that his constituents are up in arms over this apparent abandonment and are starting to voice their unrest with a little help from the Internet. The majority of Galloway’s constituents are Muslim and feel that by entering the Big Brother house, their MP has gone against many of their values and traditions. One particularly discontented constituent has now set up a website called: Why isn’t he at work? at which visitors are able to sign a petition for his eviction, and see how much George Galloway’s stay in the house has cost the taxpayer so far. This website is proving to be quite a success, with the owner claiming that it has received over 25,000 hits since it was set up last Friday. On another website, pledgebank.com, a correspondent promised to write to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to complain about the conduct of the MP, if 100 others would as well.

Big Brother may be watching, but more importantly for Mr Galloway, so are the constituents who voted him into office, and can hold him accountable and kick him out of a job as effectively as the rest of the population can boot him out of the BB house!

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January 12th, 2006

Symantec uses malware cloaking technique in its own software

Symantec uses malware cloaking technique in its own software

As Sony BMG settles a class action lawsuit for its use of rootkits on computers, another company admits doing the same. This time, it’s antivirus vendor Symantec, who should know better. We expect antivirus companies to protect us from stuff like rootkits, which can be used to hide malicious software on PCs. In the story at Eweek, Symantec claims it used a rootkit to stop people accidentally deleting files.

As Mark Russinovich, the discoverer of the Sony rootkit, points out: “When you use rootkit-type techniques, even if your intentions are good, the user no longer has full control of the machine. It’s impossible to manage the security and health of that system if the owner is not in control.”

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January 10th, 2006

Video games do make us violent. Or so they say.

Video games do make us violent. Or so they say.

Once again, new evidence has been wheeled out to prove that violent video games make us aggressive and antisocial. But this time the boffins involved monitored gamers’ brains, so it must be true.

The more balanced response to previous research into the subject has always been that people who play such games are more likely to be aggressive simply because violent people are more likely to be drawn towards such games. It doesn’t necessarily mean violent games breed violence, cynics would argue, but sure, it stands to reason that people who are violent in any case would undoubtedly get off on shooting and maiming pixel-people in the safety of their bedrooms. Doesn’t it?

But now according to the New Scientist, a team from the University of Missouri-Columbia has conducted a more grounded study into violent gamers which monitored the brain activity of 39 game players, and apparently detected a causal link. Researchers measured a type of brain activity they call the ‘P300 response’ which they claim reflects the emotional impact of an image. When shown images of real-life violence, people who played violent video games were apparently found to have a diminished response.

Check out a fuller picture of the findings for yourself, and let us know what you think of it all. We’ll get back to you after a few rounds of Battlefield II and San Andreas

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January 6th, 2006

Starbucks Economics

Starbucks Economics

For an interesting read on marketing, pricing and an invisible item on the Starbucks menu, read this article at Slate.com: Starbucks Economics. It talks about an unadvertised ‘short’ drink you can order that’s cheaper and stronger than the ones on the menu. The story explains why its hidden availability makes economic sense to the fashionable coffee chain. Secret item might be US-only. Leave comments if you discover otherwise…

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January 5th, 2006

Vegas technology jamboree!

Vegas technology jamboree!

If high-tech entertainment is your life, then this week Las Vegas is the place to be, and not just because of the usual opportunities to gamble your life away in opulent surroundings.
The annual consumer electronics extravaganza that is the Consumer Electronics Show has flung open its doors once again, with over 2,500 exhibitors and 130,000 visitors expected to flock to CES 2006 to see all that is new and exciting in the world of electronica.
Big name keynote speakers such as the bosses of Microsoft, Sony, Google and Yahoo! will be strutting their stuff, so it’s sure to be a high-profile informative event as always.
The show will see plenty of product plugging and must-have gadgetry to lust over for next years’ Christmas wish list. A fair chunk of floor space will be taken up by Panasonic and Philips, for example, who will each be showcasing new high-definition television screens that most of us will only be able to dream of for a few more years to come.
But be warned, before you pack your bags and rush to buy air tickets to Vegas, CES 2006 is not open to the general public (which hardly seems fair to the average ‘consumer’),
I guess that’s me out then!

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