Archive Month: April 2020
Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

When the wraps were taken off of the Origami tablet PC back in March, it was widely believed that the device was the demonstration version of Microsoft’s "Haiku" ultra-mobile PC project. Indeed, the Origami (or UMPC, as it is called now) has many things in common with the Haiku prototype, which was originally displayed by Bill Gates at WinHEC 2005. Both are small tablet designs, feature a touch-screen interface, run a customized version of Windows, and sport Asian-inspired code names. Yet the Origami—small as it is—is a bit bulkier than the Haiku demonstration unit, and lacks a couple of features. This can easily be chalked up to the limitations imposed by packing all of that technology into a portable unit—many final designs end up very different from their prototypes.HangZhou Night Net

It now appears that the UMPC is merely a fork, not the end result of the Haiku project. The real Haiku continues to exist on the drawing boards of Microsoft’s Ultra-Mobile PC group, and in the hands of Otto Berkes, general manager of that operation, who showed it off this week at the Via Technology Forum in Taipei.

As originally described by Gates last year, the Haiku should weigh about one pound or a bit more and possibly be as thin as a finger. Additionally, it would hold a full one-day battery charge, and include camera, phone, music player, and eBook reader, in addition to its computational capabilities. Berkes admits that technology has not yet caught up with the design, but believes that Haiku might make it to market "in a few years." That’s slightly less optimistic—but probably much more realistic—than Gates’ original prediction of 2007.

In all, the Haiku sounds like a groovy idea, and I have little doubt that given the pace of technological breakthroughs, we’ll see something like this on store shelves at some point in the future. Truth be told, however, it sounds less like a device and more like a very raw concept to me. It doesn’t take much to envision a tiny machine packed with technology and which does everything but slice bread. Similar to the rocket-powered flying car with submarine capability and heat ray that many of us daydreamed of around age 10 (or the Newton), the hard part is actually building the thing and making it work.

A device like Haiku represents the logical extension of portability and convergence that we’re seeing right now as mobile phones get more horsepower and laptops get smaller. Simple progress will certainly allow us to jam all of the aforementioned devices into one miniscule box, but with all those features, the company that produces the most usable design will probably be the most successful. That might actually be Microsoft, or it could be any other technology company with a good industrial design department.

Of course, there are two important questions that arise: first, will there actually be a market for something like the Haiku? With the UMPC really just starting to hit the market, it’s too early to tell whether the smaller-than-a-laptop-but-bigger-than-a-PDA concept really has legs. Second, assuming we see Haiku on the streets in a few years, what horribly lame name will Microsoft give it in place of "Haiku?"

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

Back when I was at university, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, computer security on the campus was not a concern for most of the students. Apart from having to remember your user name and password for the lab network in Comp. Sci class, there really wasn’t much to worry about.HangZhou Night Net

These days, with wireless Internet access, students toting laptops to class, and web-based forms for everything, security has become a major issue on campus. According to statistics compiled in the United States based on media reports, there have been 29 major security failures on college campuses since January, which compromised information from as many as 845,000 students and staff. This represented 30 percent of all reported security breaches according to ChoicePoint, a data collection firm based out of Georgia. Ironically, ChoicePoint itself has been the victim of data theft in the past.

Of course, what these statistics don’t tell you is the number of security breaches that go unreported. Many large commercial firms, particularly financial institutions whose business could crumble in the face of public distrust in their security measures, often try to cover up major breaches. However, one thing almost everyone can agree upon is that university campuses are becoming attractive targets for hackers.

“There are so many examples within the last year demonstrating that these universities are just real, true, vulnerable targets,” said Michael C. Zweiback, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles who prosecutes hackers. “All of a sudden, it seemed like we were adding on another university every week to look into.”

Part of the reason for this is the fact that universities, by their very nature, tend to be centers where openness of information is encouraged, and convenience of access to this information is seen as a positive thing:

“Students want to be downloading MP3s. Professors want a system for general research,” FBI Special Agent Kenneth McGuire said. “Whenever you have such large portals to information open, you’re going to have vulnerability to attacks.”

Examples of security breaches abound. The University of Texas reported in April that hackers had downloaded the Social Security numbers of 197,000 students, alumni, and employees. Sacred Heart University in Connecticut reported that both Social Security and some credit card numbers for over 135,000 people had been illegally obtained. In March, an 18-year-old from New Jersey was convicted of breaking into a dozen systems at San Diego State, exposing 200,000 Social Security numbers.

So is this just a US-specific problem, or is it happening all over the world? To find out, I contacted a friend of mine, Richard Sullivan, who is in charge of server administration for the Department of Zoology at the University of British Columbia, home of the first ever Unix installation in Canada. He agreed that attacks were on the rise, but did not seem to think that widespread data theft was occurring:

“What I usually see are ssh probes, but those get cut off quickly. More than two-thirds of the incoming mail is rejected as spam with a few viruses thrown in for good measure. Keeping ahead of that is a never-ending task.

The university is also very quick to detect machines that are not patched correctly (say when someone is reinstalling Windows) or are virus infected. Most of the attention and effort is expended to protect the Windows environment.

One thing that I am concerned about is the recent capability for staff and faculty to self-maintain their payroll and benefits via a web-login.”

So for those currently attending university or who have children who are, is there any cause for concern? Despite the ominous-sounding statistics, it seems as if universities are adapting to a new security-conscious landscape, just as the rest of the world has been forced to do in recent years. Still, don’t forget to keep checking your credit card statements carefully.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

With the World Cup ready to begin on Friday, fans around the world are hoping their nation is good enough to make it out of group play and into the knockout stage. (Note to FIFA: thanks for putting the US in the same group as the Czech Republic and Italy.) In the past, the only way to watch the cornucopia of football was to plop down in front of the TV in your house or at the local pub—unless you scored tickets to a match. This time around, viewing options abound. HangZhou Night Net

The BBC has announced plans to stream coverage of all matches broadcast on the network to residents of the UK. They are not the only ones making matches available to football fans with broadband. In Canada, Rogers will stream selected matches while in the US, ESPN will offer some of the contests online via its ESPN360 service. There will no doubt be an uptick in traffic due to the matches being streamed (along with the inevitable P2P traffic of capped games), but is it something to be alarmed about?

Not hardly. In the US, interest in the World Cup (and soccer in general) is a mere shadow of what it is in other parts of the world. Ditto Canada. Even in European nations with the infrastructure in place to deliver streamed content to broadband subscribers, the demands on the backbone should be minimal. The only ones that may have cause for concern are IT managers whose corporate networks are suddenly deluged with video traffic once a crucial match kicks off. Even then, it should be a relatively trivial matter for a company to clamp down on video streaming if it puts too much of a burden on the network.

On the other hand, FIFA (the governing body for world football) is very uptight about the possibility of unauthorized streaming. Late last week, popular blog BoingBoing was sent a warning from a large international law firm informing them of dire consequences should they engage in any "unauthorized streaming and downloading of FIFA World Cup matches." Naturally, FIFA could alleviate the problem by making the matches widely available via broadband. Given the entertainment industry’s track record at figuring out the whole Internet thing, I don’t see that happening before the next World Cup at the earliest.

What about mobile networks? This will be the first World Cup where fans will be able to watch matches—or at least highlights—on a portable device like a cell phone. A number of European cellular providers will be offering highlight packages to customers, and some are attempting to lure customers with free highlights. Given the relative newness of mobile video technology, demand is likely to be low—this time around.

By the beginning of the next decade, some analysts believe there will be upwards of 210 million mobile TV subscribers worldwide. If that’s the case, watching sporting events on a cell phone or other portable device while riding the train home from work will be more commonplace.

Here in the US, I’ve got my choice of English-language coverage on ESPN and ABC, the German feed on Setanta Sports (which is the only place for rugby in the US), and Spanish language action on Univision. I’ll probably watch most of the matches on ESPN and ABC, trying to change channels to Univision so I can catch Andreas Cantor yell "¡Gooooooolllllllllll!" when someone puts the ball in the net. How do you plan on keeping up with the World Cup? Watch the matches on TV in the comfort of your living room or the corner pub? Or will you be on the forefront of technology, surreptitiously watching streamed broadcasts in the office or catching match highlights on your cell phone? No matter what your choice, you’ll have plenty of company.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

iPod cases are a clearly a very personal decision, with choices running the gambit from luxurious to casual to downright questionable. Put your priorities where you will, but as I have a surplus of preschool-aged humans running about, I find myself drawn to items that are fairly indestructable. If you can toss in insanely customizable, you've made my day. So you can imagine my excitement at stumbling across ifrogz silicone iPod cases. HangZhou Night Net

Silicone cases are nothing new, but the ifrogz wins serious points in the design department. Their case comes in three parts and in ensembles of colors and patterns that would make even Polly Pocket feel inadequate. Transparent plastic "screenz" cover the iPod screen and clickwheel, silicone "wrapz" cover the body of the iPod, and matching "bandz" go around the edge to protect the buttonz—er, buttons and dock connector. Both the wrapz and bandz come in a large variety of mix-n-match colors (including a glow-in-the-dark one that I'm very excited about) and the screenz offer a choice of clickwheel-enhancing decals. For US$24 you can buy one of their 20 or so sets or for US$31 you can mix and match colors and decals to your heart's content to come up with something uniquely yours (no whining after you've ordered a bubblegum pink and lime green iPod case with a mohawk-sporting skull on the front!).

Not only does the plethora of choice make it easy to quickly distinguish your iPod from the millions of others out there, but with every surface covered, said iPod can then be chucked into a diaper bag (preschoolers, remember?) or other dangerously unprotected situation pretty guiltlessly. ifrogz even claims that a special anti-lint coating will keep your iPod's dust exposure to a minimum.

Now if only I could decide between My Little Pony Pink and Thomas the Tank Engine Blue.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

What is the first indication of life on earth? For a potentially exciting question, it makes for challenging reading in a recently released paper. A big part of the problem comes from the fact that the earliest creatures were almost certainly bacteria-like, and wouldn't be leaving behind any identifiable fossils. The second is the age of the most promising sites: over 3.4 billion years. Plate tectonics has ensured that there's not many places left on the planet that have rocks of that age left, and chemistry has turned much of what might have been biological material into nothing more than a carbonate deposit. HangZhou Night Net

The deposits in question, termed stromatolites, have been subject to a number of studies in the past that were somewhat inconclusive. The new study is based on a broad survey and classification of the various forms of deposits, and the researchers have discovered that they group into seven classes. Although some of these still get a "maybe" when it comes to a biological origin, some of these deposits can't readily be explained by either sedimentary or geothermal activity. The authors especially focus on a series of conical deposits, in which multiple layers are evenly deposited across the structure, such as the one pictured at right (from the supplemental data). They note that most normal geological processes are subject to gravitational effects, and would not deposit so evenly across a raised surface. So, they favor life as an explanation.

The paper also notes that these deposits are in what was a tidal zone at the time, and the modern equivalents are noted for their rich diversity. The authors suggest that the different types of deposits may represent different species.

If they're right, then fairly sophisticated communities of bacteria were already living in a ecological zone that we can currently recognize by about a billion years after the formation of the earth, which suggests that life got off to a pretty early start. The flipside is that it really stretches out the time between these potentially sophisticated cells and anything that's definitively multicellular, to something over two billion years.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

If you're not huge Front Row fans (and, really, are any of us as big fans as this guy?) then you're probably wondering what to do with that little remote that came with your Mac. Sure it looks cute dangling on the side of your Mac like a mismatched earring, but, not unlike the Intel chip, it can do so much more. Well, a bit more, at least. HangZhou Night Net

Enter Sofa Control. This handy little program promises to give your remote control over any application on your Mac, which I suppose comes in handy if you have a serious mouse phobia or keyboard allergy. Sofa Control has two modes which allow you to match your remote use to your needs. Sofa Mode allows you to use the remote exclusively to switch between applications, open files, and access menus. It's designed to come in handy when you're sitting on the sofa ten feet from your Mac. Auto Take Control Mode, on the other hand, works best when you're sitting at your computer. It recognizes what application you're using and excutes configured actions at the press of a button. Either mode seems potentially useful for presentations and I suppose it would be handy for turning a sleek, new Mac into this decade's WebTV, but to be honest, I'm a bit hard-pressed to think of what other computing needs I have while sitting on my sofa. Certainly it's never going to be the input device of choice in Photoshop and wouldn't be the most efficient way to write emails.

At any rate, Sofa Control is currently in free beta until June 16th and a lifetime license for future releases is avaialble for US$9.99. Remote Control not included, so if you've lost yours you'll have to pester Apple about that.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

The following story written with the aid of guest contributor, Brandon Pittman. HangZhou Night Net

Well, the unthinkable has happened. According to a recent survey by the Student Monitor that has been conducted twice a year for the last 18 years (that makes that 36 times, for us college grads in the house), Apple's ever-popular iPod has somehow managed to surpass beer in popularity on college campuses this year, which is only the second time in history that "beer" has managed to be overtaken by, well, something that's not beer. The last time? Nearly ten years ago in 1997, with "The Internet." God, we're all nerds.

The percentage of students surveyed who chose the iPod as the number one "in" thing on college campuses jumped 14 percent from last year, topping out at 73 percent this time around with a close second-place tie of "beer" and "FaceBook" (remember what I said about nerds up there?) at 71 percent each.

Though beer might soon regain its No. 1 spot, as it quickly did a decade ago, the iPod's popularity is still "a remarkable sign," Weil said. "For those who believe there's an excessive amount of drinking on campus, now there's something else that's common on campuses."

Most of us couldn't imagine a world in which beer (or in my case, straight shots of 151) and Facebooking that chick you made out with on Friday weren't the most important things in life. Sadly, college kids' priorities seem to be changing, at least for the short term. It's certainly a testament to Apple's increasing prowess over the digital music player market, but how long can they manage to milk it before things fall flatter than that two-day-old Natty Light?

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

If you happen to be running the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) tool on your PC, then you have probably already made the assumption that the tool phones home periodically, but are you aware that it makes calls to Microsoft every day? HangZhou Night Net

Yes, it's true, the WGA tool pings Microsoft's servers every day. Until now, Microsoft failed to reveal that nasty little tidbit, and now it claims that it needs to do a better job in letting users know when its software feels the need to check in with HQ. The question is why does the WGA need to run daily? Microsoft's answer is suspect at best.

According to David Lazar, Microsoft is concerned that the beta application could blow up and create an emergency situation where it would need to be stopped dead in its tracks.

Lazar said the company decided to add the safety measure because the piracy check, despite widespread distribution, is still a pilot program. He said the company was worried that it might have an unforeseen emergency that would require the program to terminate quickly.

Ahem, what? That's a horrific thought for those of us that have allowed the tool to have free reign on our machines. I would prefer to not have the WGA tool owning my system, and I wouldn't have even installed it had it not been for the weeklong nagfest wrapped in the little yellow shield that it put on for me, but I digress. The way I understand Lazar's explanation, Microsoft fears that the WGA could wrongly accuse a machine of being pirated, and well, shut it down or do some other evil to it. Of course, the tool is only supposed to nag the user about their copy of Windows being pirated, but who knows what's built into the WGA. Wait, I know one thing: apparently the ability to make a 911 call to Microsoft when all hell breaks loose.

While this news will have me promptly removing the WGA check from all my PCs, Microsoft has said that it is going to cut the check back to only calling out to Microsoft's servers once every few weeks. Every 90 days the software will also run validation on the operating system to ensure that it is still genuine.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

After recent allegations about the extent of the NSA’s spy program came to light, the Senate looked ready to hold an inquiry. The plan was to haul the telecom companies before Congress and get them to answer some hard questions about what they did with consumer data. Under pressure from the executive branch, however,that plan has now been put on hold.HangZhou Night Net

Vice President Cheney did not want the hearings to go forward (not before the November elections, at least), and he made it clear to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), head of the Judiciary Committee, that communications company bosses would be prevented from speaking about most operational aspects of the program for reasons of national security. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) served as the liaison between Specter and Cheney, and worked out a deal under which Cheney agreed to consider a new bill that would put the NSA program to judicial review in exchange for the hearings being scrapped. Specter reluctantly agreed.

“Sen. Hatch said that if I would defer action on the telephone companies, which look to me vacuous, then he would get the administration to accept my bill,” Specter said. “Now I don’t regard that as a guarantee or a warranty, but that’s what he said.”

Specter found a surprising ally for his decision to halt the hearings—Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who expressed sympathy with Cheney’s argument that open discussion of the issue could jeopardize national security. None of this pleased Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who has little love for Cheney.

“Why don’t we just recess for the rest of the year…and simply say we’ll have no more hearings, and Vice President Cheney will just tell the nation what laws we’ll have—he’ll let us know which laws will be followed and which laws will not be followed,” deadpanned Patrick Leahy, the committee’s ranking Democrat. “Heck, it’s a nice time in Vermont this time of year. That’d make my life a lot easier.”

The Senate has not abandoned oversight of the program altogether; Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will answer more questions about the NSA program next week, though he has not been especially forthcoming in the past. A new bill is also being introduced that would subject to the NSA program to review by the special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, The court, which meets in a windowless, secured room at the top of the Justice Department building, has a strong track record of supporting requests by the law enforcement and intelligence communities. Between 1995 and 2004, it received 10,617 wiretap requests and only denied four of them. The federal judges who make up the court are not just administration lackeys, though; one of them resigned in protest last December over the NSA program.

While review of the program by the FISA court is better than no oversight at all, this is not exactly the triumph of transparency. The court case will be closed to the public and decided in secret, and it’s not even clear that any groups will be allowed to make objections or present arguments that counter the government’s portrayal of the program.

This comes as excellent news to the telcos, who probably have little desire to testify about the matter in public, and it essentially gives them a free pass on the issue. Even if what they did was illegal, they can’t be prosecuted now that the government is claiming “executive privilege” to keep them from testifying to Congress and is asserting a “state secrets” privilege that will keep such cases out of court as well. Unless something dramatic happens, the telcos will suffer few consequences from their decision to cooperate with the government, and consumers may never find out exactly what happened (and is happening) to all of their information.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

Nintendo President Saturo Iwata spoke yesterday at a Japanese marketing event (Japanese source), revealing information about "virtual console" pricing and the Wii’s relationship with the DS. Iwata revealed that games for Nintendo’s "virtual console" that will allow Wii owners to play old titles on their consoles will be priced at ¥500 and ¥1,000, roughly US$4.50 to US$8.99. For reference, classic retro games for the Nintendo GameBoy sold for upwards of US$35 for some titles, US$19.99 for others. Uptake was understandably low, as gamers were reticent to pay that much for old content. HangZhou Night Net

Retro gaming may prove to be a big boon for Nintendo. Microsoft’s Xbox Live Marketplace has already captured the attention of many gamers with games costing 400 to 1,200 Microsoft "points," which translates to US$5 to US$12.50. Nintendo’s pricing is roughly competitive with Microsoft’s, but the ability to launch with a massive library of retro games could easily overshadow Microsoft’s service, which has been anemic in terms of new titles since launch (though we wait in anticipation for Paperboy, Contra, and others). Are gamers more likely to buy Zuma for US$10, or Majora’s Mask?

Iwata also talked about ramping up production of the DS Lite from 1.6 million units a month to 2 million. Demand for the system in Japan has been near insatiable, and with a June 11 launch in the United States, the added production will hopefully keep the system on store shelves so it can take advantage of the success of the New Mario Bros. and Brain Age. The system has been a license to print money for Nintendo, with ten games in Japan that have already sold over a million copies.

Iwata talked up the Wii’s capabilities in terms of DS connectivity, including the ability to share demos and the fact that the DS could also be used as a touch screen controller for Wii games. He also hinted that future DS games will be able to be played on the Wii, with added or expanded content as a teaser.

Downloading DS demos via the Wii is a nice touch, but not that surprising. Being able to use the DS as a touch screen for the Wii, however, offers up the possibility of being able to use the Wii to play DS games on your television. The GameBoy Player was a successful product for the GameCube, allowing gamers to play their GBA games on their televisions, and if the Wii features such an ability, Nintendo has a better chance of converting DS gamers into Wii owners.

From the picture Iwata is painting, it’s clear that the Wii is designed to profit not only from new games sales but also by working closely with the DS, and placing an emphasis on inexpensive classic games purchased online. It’s hard to underestimate the worth of Nintendo’s back catalogue, and the addition of classic Sega and Turbografx titles adds considerable appeal for gamers who cut their teeth on Nintendo’s early consoles.

Unfortunately, we still don’t know when the Wii will launch or how much it will cost. Iwata said the launch date and final pricing for the Wii will not be announced until September.

Update: other sources are claiming that Iwata only spoke about about "new" games, and that by this he meant games not yet in existence. We understood his comments to be about games "new" to the virtual console service, including classics.