A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Thanks, goober

For the fix to a Blogger glitch.
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You can run, but you cannot hide

You can bet that coming to a CSI episode near you there will be a totally flashy, super-high-tech way (involving latex gloves and a UV light, no doubt) of representing the use of a simple Google search to track down their latest criminal...

I saw this via Lifehacker, which is worth checking out, too - some handy stuff on there.
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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The end of file sharing?

Both Economist.com and NYTimes.com are running stories today about the US Supreme Court decision to allow a copyright infringement lawsuit against Grokster and Streamcast Networks.

The decision overturns a ruling by federal courts that the two companies were not responsible for the ways in which their customers used the file swapping networks.

It appears to be a win for the music and film industries over the tech industry and concerns have been raised over the effect this will have on technical innovation. To be honest though, the cries over all the good work that will be stifled by this heavy handed lawsuit remind me of my own defensive posturing in grade school when questioned about missing homework.

Roughly 90% of file sharing traffic is copyrighted music and movies. The 10% of legitimate files being transferred could probably be handled by a dressed up FTP service. These companies must be aware that without the free music and movies their user base, and thus advertising revenue, would be significantly lower.

But I could be wrong. Do any of you use Grokster, Morpheus, ShareBear, LimeWire, eDonkey, eMule or some other file sharing service to swap files legally?

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Monday, June 27, 2005

The Wonder Of Webcam!!

Normally when I leave work and go home I am completely "IT free", I don't indulge in anything work orientated or remotely IT related - I like to switch off.

This changed somewhat last week when my brother-in-law (in Australia) and I started discussing "the wonder of webcams" and whether we could get one "hooked-up". The end result was "lets give it a go" - £40.00 and a download of MSN Messenger v7 later, we spent the weekend "viewing/talking/laughing" with our relatives down in Oz.

It was great, we can now see and talk to our nephew (3) and our niece (1) and they don't seem too remote. It makes such a difference being able to see someone as well as talk to them. If you have friends or family abroad that you don't see that often it is definitely worth setting up.

The next step is to try and get my "techno-phobe" Dad a webcam in Spain!!!

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Spell with flickr

This is really neat.


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Excel does everything

I'm so glad that I'm not the only person that wonders why some people try to use Excel for, well, everything.

Lots more of interesting stuff about software linked from Brevity.org
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Google or a dog?

sectretGeek's Award for the Silliest User Interface: Windows Search. Nuff said.
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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

THE Return of the PVR

SO I got my PVR working although in a truly pants geek way.

I had to buy a new motherboard to get it working properly, which completely destroys the whole aspect of having a PVR for £50. But hey ho, I now have a pc hidden behind the tv and you can't see e.t.c which was a key thing for the lady of the house who already thinks a 32" tv is too big.

I tread carefully when putting big shiny white boxes with untidy cables hanging anywhere.

My only problem now is that I don't have enough scart slots on the tv to have all the things put in. I may need to get a cable switcheroo thingamijig. Are they any good? I want one with a remote, if they are not automatic, which will probably push me over the edge of my enforced acceptable levels of plastic in living room quota.

I love timeshifting and have decided that I'm going to use it for live sports and wait a suitable amount of time so I don't have to listen to half time babble about tunnel bust ups. The only problem here is if I here my neighbours cheering I'll know a goal is coming, this is slightly less horrific than the whole of Saturday night telling people not to tell me football results only to over hear how well "Terry Henry" did at the bar.

The horror of a ruined Match of the Day. Hopefully I have PVR va va voom.
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Phishing and Pharming

You've undoubtedly heard of "phishing," luring users (typically through email messages) to phony Web sites that imitate legitimate Web sites to try to trick users into divulging private information such as logon IDs, passwords, and account numbers. Phishing can lead to unauthorized monetary charges against your merchant accounts, unauthorized use of your services, and more. Tools such as CoreStreet's SpoofStick (at first URL below) and the Netcraft Toolbar (at second URL below) can help in some cases. Both tools are add-ons for Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and Mozilla Firefox that try to determine and display the real domain of the site you're visiting.
Recently, hackers are combining phishing with DNS poisoning or DNS hijacking--also known as "pharming." In a pharming attack, the attacker changes DNS records of the servers at an ISP or at the company that's the target of the attack or modifies a client system's HOSTS file or DNS settings. Obviously, protecting against such attacks means devising some method of establishing trust in DNS query results. The two tools I mentioned above don't help much against pharming.

Three ways to help prevent pharming attacks. The first method is for a company to use a service, such as one recently announced by MarkMonitor, to monitor the company's DNS servers for unauthorized changes. When unauthorized changes are detected, MarkMonitor alerts the company so that it can begin working to correct the situation. http://list.windowsitpro.com/t?ctl=CC3C:53DA7
A second method, which is also new, is to use Next Generation Security's (NGSEC's) AntiPharming tool, which works at the client level (rather than the server level) to prevent unauthorized changes to a system's HOSTS file and local DNS settings. It also listens on the system's network interfaces to capture DNS query responses and then doublechecks those responses against "three secure DNS servers." The tool comes with three DNS servers preconfigured, and you can modify those server addresses as you see fit. The tool is available free for personal use and requires a fee for commercial use. http://list.windowsitpro.com/t?ctl=CC36:53DA7
Another new solution, Identity Cues from Green Armor Solutions, works at the Web site level. The first time a user logs on to an Identity Cues-protected Web site, the product generates colored visual cues that will then appear each time the user logs on to the site. A spoofed Web site won't be able to generate the same cues, so a user sent to a spoofed site will immediately know that he or she isn't visiting the legitimate Web site. Identity Cues is definitely a novel concept. http://list.windowsitpro.com/t?ctl=CC3D:53DA7All three approaches sound like good ideas and would go a long way towards thwarting phishing and pharming.
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Monday, June 20, 2005

Sometimes bad design stinks

The site Snopes.com has not verified if this complaint (may need to right click and save as to view, else view from the site itself) is for real, but it just goes to show that whilst we work on various high tech. problems, seemingly simple ones go unsolved.
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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Apples for apples?

Or what's the difference between a VAX and an Alpha?

It went largely un-noticed when Apple announced recently that it would be switching to Intel chips that this could be one more nail in the coffin for RISC chips. The concept of a reduced intruction set computer was first put forward by John Cocke of IBM in the 1970s (Cray built systems that weren't known as RISC at the time but certainly had reduced instruction sets - the term RISC was later coined by David Patterson at the University of California in Berkeley). Cocke argued that computers only used 20% of the instructions built into the processor and that one with fewer instructions built in would be cheaper to manufacture and that it would get more done in a shorter time as each instruction would take the same amount of time to execute. Why was this the case? Bceause the processing of each instruction would be "pipelined" so that as soon as one had been executed execution of the next could start. This was not the case with a RISC processor where some instructions take longer to process than others. It was also apparant that the people that designed the processors hadn't optimised all the instructions and it was possible to perform some tasks quicker by breaking them down into their individual components.

The RISC concept was deployed in the first IBM PC/XTs and went on to be used in SUN Sparc chips and DEC Alphas as well as the Motorola 68000 and the PowerPC. The less frequently used 80% of instructions on a CISC chip (coined after the term RISC to highlight the difference) undertake complex tasks that match high level programming constructs such as "increment register by one and branch if zero". Having such instructions built into the processor meant that the code was smaller, took up less memory and ran faster. As memory became less expensive, this became less important and so a RISC chip could do the smae thing with the programmer writing multiple lines of code to perform what might take one line on a CISC chip. And so in the 1990s DEC regularly set the benchmark for clock speed (cycles and therefore analagous to intructions per second) with it's Alpha. I recall the veritable excitement at taking delivery of one of the first 333MHz machines in the UK at a time when the Pentium was clocking 100Mhz! The Alpha was a 64 bit processor too.

At the time RISC was seen as the future of computing, but the increasing dominance of the "Wintel" (Windows on Intel) platform at both eworkstation and server level has since nipped that vision in the bud. The Alpha architecture remains in Intel's Itanium, but it's future doesn't look that rosy with Intel compromising to ensure backward compatability with 32 bit apps.

The original Pentium chip was Intel's first stab at packaging a CISC processor in a RISC wrapper. What this means is that although the Pentium is a CISC processor at it's heart, it actually executes some complex instructions by using multiple simple instructions and performance is increased by the use of more than one instruction pipeline.

So is this the end for RISC? Not quite. Mobile 'phones, PDAs and game consoles (such as the new PSP) use RISC processors, so who knows?
What's also worrying is the support headache this is going to create for a mixed-environment of Macs running the "same" OS and Apps, but on different chip sets. I wonder how many companies will see this as too much pain and effort so bite the bullet and ditch their beloved Macs in favour of PCs? Could this be the end of the desktop religious wars and Microsoft's total domination of the desktop?
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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Humans beat machines!

Michael Jackson Acquittal Makes Yahoo! News Before Google - Search Engine Journal

I am not quite sure if this should be called a case of humans beating machines. Don't machines (in this case google spiders ) inherently rely on humans? Google Spiders can only look at stories that have already been posted by humans on the web. And they wouldn't move it to the top unless they find multiple similar stories. So unless they pick up similar stories from different sources, it would probably not move up to the top.

Another note: The article repeats its headline as the deck. Kinda redundant.
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Portable Drive Danger????

An interesting article on the BBC News Technology section (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4087240.stm) that raises awareness of the possible security implications when "allowing" employees to bring in and use portable devices such as iPods and USB key fobs.

However, employees have always had the ability to move data back and forth using initially floppy disk drives, and now on the new Dell PC's CD-R/CD-RW and USB keyfobs.

So is this just a case of scare mongering or are there really more concerns?????

Comments welcome.
I read this too. It seems that the concensus is that prohibition (at least one company uses superglue to prevent access to USB ports!) won't work. Systems such as DynaComm's i:scan log use of mass storage devices on PCs and can report unusual activity to an administrator or be used as an audit trail.
This system appears to be rather good - I guess the problem is having someone "dedicated" to checking the logs and alerts that come in.

I assume it will pick up the Computer Name of the PC used or account user name of the user logged in. If you were to connect your USB key to a different PC (other than your own) tracking down who has actually copied the data could prove tricky.
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Monday, June 13, 2005

Sugar not so suite for Salesforce.com?

SugarCRM offers Open Source CRM software (on demand too).
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The excellent PaidContent.org has picked up on a rumour that Yahoo! might partner with Skype.
I don't think it really makes sense for Yahoo! though. You can already do voice chat to an extent with the current Yahoo Messenger. The new version which is in beta has a much improved voice chat interface and also offers the ability to leave voicemail if the person you're calling is not available. The UK version of Messenger also already has the "BT Communicator" add on which works in the same way as SkypeOut - allowing you to make calls to normal phones. (SkypeOut is much cheaper than BT Communicator though)

The only type of deal I can see is if they make a deal so that Skype users can call Yahoo users and vice versa - not that there's much money in that for either side.

But I could be wrong...
But a couple of days later I read this article on The Regsiter which says Yahoo have bought a company called Dialpad who provide a way of dialling PSTN numbers from VoIP phones.

My guess is that they'll use this company to add PSTN-dialling functionality to the US version of Yahoo Messenger. As I already mentioned, the UK version already has a tie-in with BT to allow this, but it's not great for 2 reasons -

a) the charges are the same as what you would have paid if you picked up your real phone handset and dialled the number - most people would expect the charge for this type of call to be lower.

b) It relies on billing charges to your BT phone account. This is fine unless you don't have a BT account - if you have cable instead, like me for example.
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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Microsoft Office 2003 XML:

TechNet office is abuzz over the announcement of new Office file formats. In short, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will all get new file formats based on XML. The extensions will change from .DOC, .XLS, and .PPT to .DOCX, .XLSX, and .PPTX.
As noted by the Channel 9 team, this is a huge change for the Office team. For the first time, the default file format will be open and accessible by anyone. (In legal terms, the rights granted under the licenses for the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas are perpetual in nature, and Microsoft will provide non-discriminatory access to future versions of those specifications.)
Interestingly, the new file format is actually enclosed in a ZIP file. Change the extension name to .ZIP, double-click, and you'll be able to gain access to all the pieces of the new format. Best of all, the new file format will be usable on existing versions of Office. For more details, see the Microsoft Office XML page.
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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Sun has too much cash

"We have the cash, we have a strong financial position. We have committed to turning the huge cash position at Sun into profitable growth," said Sun's CEO Scott McNealy on the $4.1bn cash purchase of StorageTek. Reuters has more.

Sun had too much cash

that the acquisition was a little risky, "given the weak growth outlook for tape" and the fact that they've spent 40% of their liquid assets to make the purchase.
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Chris Martin a geek?

Marcus du Sautoy explains Coldplay's new album cover in The Guardian.
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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Publishers who needs them when we have the Web in 2014:

I don't know how old this is but my friend sent this to me and since we BLOG and work in a 'news' media, I believe this could be the future. It's very interesting and seems to be very believable. Mike this is right up your alley. If you ever wondered where Google is going.

Charlotte spotted this back in December. Interesting that it's doing the rounds again. It's well worth a look.
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Deep Throat outs himself

W Mark Felt who was second-in-command at the FBI at the time of the Watergate scandal has told Vanity Fair that he was Deep Throat. The Guardian reports on the article here (registration required). I wonder whether traditional journalists would be used by someone in a similar position now or whether a blogger would get the story. Recently, Apple won the first round of their case against Nick Ciarelli of ThinkSecret.com who broke the news of the impending release of the iPod in 2001 and the Mac mini this year before official announcements. This is being billed by some as a test case as to whether bloggers are journalists and therefore have the same rights to confidentaility of sources as Woodward and Bernstein perhaps did. The Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled in Apple's favour, saying that reporters who published "stolen property" weren't entitled to protections. No mention of any distinction between bloggers and reporters was made and so my take is that this isn't a blogger/journalist issue at all.

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