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July 19, 2003
[ News: You're a Bad, Bad Owner ]

 From the This Gadget May Well Tell More Than I Really Want To Know About My Pet Dept, a Japanese company that produced the world's first dog translator is working on a similar device for cats. An article at ComputerWorld's website says that Japan's Takara Co. Ltd. is working on a the Meowlingual, that "will have some of the same functions as the company's Bowlingual translator including the ability to "translate" cat calls into one of around 200 phrases that are displayed on a built-in LCD".
 
 
There will also be body-language analysis and medical-analysis functions, a new feline fortune telling function and other features that are still under development, said Takara on Wednesday. It is due to go on sale in November this year and will cost ¥8,800 (US$75). Bowlingual, which went on sale in Japan in September 2002, has sold around 300,000 units and an English version is due out in the U.S. in August. Here's a company that's already selling it.

July 18, 2003
[ News: Man Beats Donkey ]

 From the It Was a Silly Game But I Loved It Too Dept, Associated Press reports that a guy called Steve Wiebe has become the first player to get a million points on Donkey Kong Junior, the sequel to the original game.
 
 
Last week, the 32 year-old broke an 879,200-point record set last year by a New York man, which edged past one set nearly 20 years ago by Billy Mitchell, a Florida man generally consider the Don of the Arcade Game. The record was big enough news to video-game enthusiasts that they crashed the organization's Web site, said Robert Mruczek, chief referee at Twin Galaxies.
 
And this is what I didn't know: Donkey Kong means 'stubborn monkey' in Japanese according to Nintendo, who make the thing.
 

[ News: Blog Maps and the Art of Gathering ]

 
 Further to my posting about Friendster, here's more on how the net seems to be bringing people together physically. Brian Montopoli of Slate wrote earlier this month about 'blog maps', where "some industrious blogger posts a subway map of his or her city... and then organizes the city's blogs by the stop to which they are closest". These not only "help bloggers find each other, exchange e-mails, meet up for drinks, and then generally do the same things as neighbors who stumble upon each other in the real world" but also provide "an alternative city guide that enables a little point-and-click sightseeing".
 
Interesting.

[ Update: Consider Changing Your Email Software ]

 A few weeks back I reported on the revival of Calypso, an excellent email program, by the folks at Rose City Software. Their rechristened Courier does everything Calypso did, but it's got one or two features that may help tip the balance for those of you not sure it's worth the hassle switching. My favourite feature is its integration with POPFile, which, coincidentally, is my spam filter of choice (and now 99.18% accurate, I'm glad to report.) Anyway, this is the neat bit: Courier allows you to reclassify email that POPFile may have got wrong -- marking it as spam, for example, instead of legit email) just be rightclicking on the email in question. Superb.
 
One gripe for Rose City: Can we have better icons? I can't see the yellow envelope in the system tray, especially after a couple of beers.

[ Hardware: Sony Blurs The Boundaries ]

 Not sure whether this is a PDA or a notebook or what. PalmInfoCenter says that Sony Japan is expected to officially announce its new Clie PEG-UX50, its first with a mini laptop like design, swivel screen and built in keyboard. The device has a integrated in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless as well as a digital camera.
 
 
More details and an official US announcement are expected later today when Sony's handheld President, Masanobu Yoshida, holds a press conference in San Francisco. The UX50 will be available in Japan around August 9th, pricing and worldwide availability is not yet known.

July 17, 2003
[ Update: Friendster is a Noun. It's Official ]

 You know you've arrived when your website name becomes a noun or a verb (and people making fun of your name in school doesn't count, which rules me out). Friendster, the social-networking service I mentioned a few weeks back, will hit 1 million users this week, and is expanding at a rate of 20 percent a week, Wired reports.
 
 
So much so, that it quotes Danah Boyd, a U.C. Berkeley Ph.D. student researching online social networks, as saying the word "friendster" is entering common usage. Just as "googling" now means looking something (or usually someone) up on the Internet, "friendster" is now used to describe a person that someone meets or knows through the network. "A friendster is not exactly a friend, but rather an online acquaintance about whom a lot is known, thanks to the degree of disclosure in their social resume, which, of course, may or may not be true," Wired says.
 
Worse, or better, depend on whether you think this is a good way to get to cram your PDA address book, Friendster networks are popping up for sale on eBay. Friendster engineers are also working on an interface that lets users see their social networks as an array of faces arranged like a spider's web on their screens.

[ News: "You Can Do What You Like With Your Ink Cartridge in North Carolina" ]

 The North Carolina Senate has deliberated and its verdict is clear: You can pretty much do what you like with your Ford, so why not your printer cartridge? The Associated Press reported that the state House agreed Tuesday to Senate changes to a bill that would give printer owners the right to refill any printer ink cartridge, voiding purchase agreements that ban the practice. In effect it means that if you want, you can get your printer cartridge refilled elsewhere -- legally.
 
The bill was prompted by a lawsuit filed by printer company Lexmark International against Static Control Components of Sanford, which makes components for the laser printer cartridge industry, AP reports from Raleigh. Static Control makes computer chips that allow less expensive ink cartridges to be adapted to Lexmark printers. After Lexmark sued Static Control to try to stop it from manufacturing the chips, the Sanford company filed its own lawsuit, accusing Lexmark of monopolizing the toner cartridge market and falsely representing their products. The Static Control chips mean consumers don't have to send their cartridges back to Lexmark for refills. Many Lexmark buyers agree to return the cartridges to Lexmark's factory in Kentucky in exchange for a rebate. The agreement is found on the box or in paperwork inside.
 
 
(No, that's not an ink cartridge spill, it's Static's logo.)
 
Here's Static's view of the battle, along with a picture of the executives looking grim, undergunned, but determined. Here's Lexmark's, sadly without any grim-looking execs although they do have a picture, seemingly obligatory these days, of a corporate woman with glasses.

[ Update: The Citibank Robbery ]

  A bit more on that backdoor Trojan that made me think Citibank didn't like me anymore: Symantec's website says it's a brand new version, and seems to only appear in a Citibank form. No wonder I couldn't find it on Google. Symantec call it Backdoor.Berbew. Other names: 
  • Downloader-DI [McAfee]
  • TrojanProxy.Win32.Webber.10 [KAV]
  • Troj/Webber-A [Sophos]
I thought everyone had agreed to use the same names for all these things. My advice: watch out. Trojans are getting smarter, unlike the Monty Python Trojan Rabbit.
 
 

[ News: Hanging's Too Good For Spammers, Says Joe Public ]

 
 Just when you thought there was nothing more to say about spam, someone goes and says something. This time it's the turn of Harris Interactive, which has conducted two polls. (Neither seem to be on their website at the time of posting this.) Their conclusions?
  • 80% of online adults (whatever that means) now favor making mass-spamming illegal. Only 10% oppose doing so.
  • On average people online estimate that they receive more than 40 emails a day, including those at home, work or at other locations, and that 40% of these emails are spam.
  • The types of email which annoy the most people a lot are pornography (86%), mortgages and loans (71%), prescription drugs such as Viagra (60%), and investments (59%). Many, but fewer people, are annoyed a lot by spam selling real estate (51%), software (36%) and computer and other hardware (31%).
All that makes sense. But there are paradoxes. Those who favor making spamming illegal have increased (from 74% last December to 79% now). But those who find spamming very annoying have declined from 80% last year to 64% now, and somewhat fewer people (but still substantial majorities) are annoyed a lot by the main types of spam. Harris reckons that "while people may have become more efficient at identifying and deleting spam, this has not in any way reduced their desire to eliminate or reduce it". That, or people are getting used to spam.

[ News: Beware The Trojan ]

 I got my first password stealing trojan yesterday. My, they're good. I've never shopped at Citibank (sorry, Ditta) but for a moment I thought that maybe I had . This was what the email looked like:
 
Dear sir,
 
Thank you for your online application for a Citibank Home Equity Loan. In order to be approved for any loan application we pull your Credit Profile and Chexsystems information, which didn't satisfy our minimum needs. Consequently, we regret to say that we cannot approve you for Citibank Home Equity Loan at this time.
 
*Attached are copy of your Credit Profile and Your Application that you submitted with us. Please take a close look at it, you will receive hard copy by mail withing next few days.
 
The email came with all the right headers, and my virus checker didn't notice anything wrong, but the folks at Sophos have identified the attachment as a two component backdoor Trojan, specifically, Troj/Webber-A. The first bit attempts to connect to http://www.joro71.addr.com, download a file to rtdx32.exe in the Windows system folder and execute it. The second bit is a password stealing Trojan that attempts to extract sensitive information from several locations on the system and sends them to CGI scripts at http://weyrauch.addr.com. Yuck. Beware.

[ Software: Footballers Ahoy ]

 Electronic Arts Inc. has launched the 2004 version of NCAA Football 2004, the number two selling football game behind Madden NFL. It has 20 new mascots, over 150 new teams, new pre-game tunnel presentations, and an online competition for the PlayStation 2 version something called a "Talk in-game chat". I have no idea how that last bit works, but I thought I'd tell you anyway.
 

At the time of writing the website seems mighty slow; either EA are getting cheap or else folks have been awaiting this product for a while.
 
 
 

[ Site: PDA Reviews ]

  Interesting new website from BargainSpots.com, Inc., "a company devoted to helping consumers make informed decisions before buying handheld/wireless computing devices": PDAReviewSpot.com.
 
 
The site provides links to written reviews and price comparisons of the latest models of mobile computing devices by such manufacturers as Palm, Hewlett-Packard, Handspring, Sony, and Toshiba, among others.

[ Software: Messenger 6.0 Is Out! Whee.... ]

 The new version of Microsoft's Instant Messaging program, MSN Messenger, is now officially out. The new version comes with, wait for it, more than 60 new emoticons (smiley faces to you and me), including ones that come alive with animation (o horror of horrors), and the ability to make personal emoticons (even more horrors); dozens of background images and personal display pictures for the IM screen, online games such as Tic Tac Toe and Minesweeper which users can play at IM speed with friends (no wonder companies don't like their employees using chat programs at work), an integrated, easy-to-use Webcam service to share live video and voice with other users, easy ways to save your favorite IM conversations to a personal hard drive.
 
 
What's probably more interesting in the long run is MSN Messenger's closer integration with other devices, including cell phone, personal digital assistants (PDAs), MSN Direct watches or Tablet PCs. Clearly this whole IM thing is going to converge at some point with SMS or text messaging -- a mobile phone version of the same thing, really -- while the more fancy enhancements are, as Microsoft says, "to help the online network attain its long-term goal of providing broadband users a growing array of communications services". That's short for making messaging a serious tool in the work place (presumably with lots of self-designed smileys with it too).
 
I have not used Messenger ever since it tried to automatically load itself every time I use Outlook or Outlook Express. (If you have the same problem, try this). I prefer Trillian, which keeps my desktop free of little IM clients. But then I'm a grouch.

[ News: Netscape Is Dead, Er, Long Live Mozilla ]

 AOL has effectively killed off Netscape, the browser that started the whole WWW thing, laying off 50 developers and moving what is left of the project -- an open source version of the browser called Mozilla -- to a non-profit basis, Paul Thurrott of WinInfo writes in its latest newsletter. 
 
AOL purchased Netscape in November 1998 for a $4.2 billion (no, really) but last month signed a 7-year contract with Microsoft to use its Internet Explorer as the underlying technology in its AOL software, which pretty much signalled the depth of faith it had in its own browser. It really is the end of an era, or else the end of a very long funeral. IE now controls 95% of the browser market, pretty much reversing the situation about seven years ago.
 
Wired puts a more positive spin on the development, quoting Mozilla folk as saying this is the beginning of a new chapter, and saying that the Mozilla browser has "surpassed IE in terms of features and standards compliance. For example, the latest versions of Mozilla support tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking and junk-mail filtering -- none of which is provided by IE." This is Mozilla's own version of the event.

July 16, 2003
[ Mail: More on Pirates ]

 More mail about online piracy and the music industry. I wrote earlier:  
 
I agree with you about people being upset, but I'm not so sure about the recording off the radio bit. Digital versions don't have DJs interrupting before the end of the song, and they're perfect copies, and can be copied perfectly and distributed easily. I can give you my whole music collection on a CD or two. That makes it a different ballgame...
 
Here's Lynn Dimick again:
 
That's true. The question I have is this: Is music swapping costing the industry money? Now, on the surface anytime you have a product being given away for free it is going to take away from sales. But, if the product is being given to a consumer who cannot or will not buy it, even if it cost $1 then there is no lost sale. My suspicion is that the music industry is producing music that is appealing to those who have less money and less inclination to spend than before. Even if music sharing were not available they would not be buying CDs.
 
 I am 43. I have well over 200 CDs in my collection that I have bought. But I haven't bought a CD in the past 3 years. Why? Because they (the music industry) are not producing a product that I listen to. The demographics that I belong to (white male 40+) has more money than any other age group, especially the teenagers that seem to be doing all of the sharing.
 
I heard on the news this morning that Bruce Springsteen had a concert last night at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. 55,000 people came to see the show. He has 9 more dates there. Most of those attending are going to be my age and not teenagers. Who has the money and who is being ignored by the music industry?
 
Thanks for that. Thoughts, anyone? A friend recently forwarded me a piece from The Guardian on this very topic. My view is that the music world has splintered so effectively, hastened by the advent of the Net, that it makes it so much harder nowadays to find the music we want. There's some very appealing stuff out there -- my favourite of the moment is Lemongrass, for example -- but you're not going to find them in a CD shop. In a way this diversity is good but us busy folks (I'm no spring chicken either) don't have the time or energy to look too hard for this kind of thing. I've found a sanctuary of sorts in Emusic where at least one can experiment legally without blowing a hole in the housekeeping.

[ Software: OpenOffice Almost Open For Business ]

 OpenOffice, the free open source challenge to Microsoft Office, is in its last stage before general commercial release next month. It includes the usual -- a word processor, a spreadsheet application -- and can save in Office formats. This version can also export files in the portable document format (PDF) and in Macromedia's Flash animation format. OpenOffice 1.1 also supports non-Latin character sets, and is available in 30 languages. Maybe now is the time to try it out. You can download the 'release candidate' version here.
 
 
If money is a problem, it's a great solution. Am I using it? Er, no. But that's because I'm too lazy to get over the (admittedly rather gentle) learning curve involved in making the transition. This is professional software, and it's good enough for prime time.

[ Software: Morpheus Drops the Spyware ]

 Apparently not to be outdone by Grokster's new version, fellow file sharers StreamCast Networks, Inc., have announced a new, free, version of Morpheus, 3.2, free of spyware and laden "with new features, making file-sharing faster, safer and more secure".
 
 
This version is more than 50% smaller in file size from Morpheus 3.1, and offers superior global search capabilities, can use your own default media player, reduces traffice by up to half etc etc. It also helps users avoid the snooping of the folks at the RIAA: "users of the new Morpheus 3.2 software can link directly to third party websites that publish "blacklists" of IP addresses, believed by its contributors, to be among those that are used to snoop into the privacy of users. If a user chooses to click on any of these blacklisted IPs, those IP ranges will be blocked from the users computer". It also makes using proxy servers easier, preserving your anonymity.

[ News: Spam Stats Galore ]

  If it's one thing we're not short of, it's spam stats. Here are two more, fresh from the PR newswire:
 
Clearswift, "the world leader in managing and securing electronic communications" (I'll be honest, I hadn't heard of them until today), has this week launched a Spam Index, in which it has found that "in contrast to recent reports that have suggested pornographic spam
constitutes 60-80 percent of spam, Clearswift's Spam Index shows that pornographic spam is found only 22 percent of the time. Instead, the largest proportion of spam - 23 percent - was distributed by companies selling direct goods."
Also, a study released the same day by The Radicati Group Inc., "a leading independent market research firm" found that email traffic has grown 80% over the past year, most of which it blames on spam, which it said represents 24% of total corporate email traffic.
 
Email size, it says, is also on the rise.  Larger and more frequent use of attachments are the primary culprits for this trend. The full press release is only available in Acrobat PDF format.
 
My tuppence: Radicati's figure for total spam proportion seems way too low. And while I'd agree with Clearswift that porn does not dominate spam -- I'm not sure where they got their figures, but their website press release headline blames a "sensationalizing media" for it -- there seems to be a reason to be somewhat suspicious of their motives for telling us all this. Telling is a paragraph on their website press release that offers a spin on things:
 
Although it only takes one pornographic email to cause offence and land an organization in litigation for harassment, the level of unsolicited email that falls into the ?healthcare? and ?direct goods? categories suggests the problem of filtering spam is more complex than simply blocking profane and pornographic emails. Deciding whether or not an email is spam ultimately comes down to whether or not it is the result of a well executed and highly targeted email marketing campaign. The ability to deploy flexible spam filtering solutions that can take into account personal preferences will be vital in the fight against spam.
 
To be frank I'm not sure what this means. I think it means: not all spam is spam, some of it is " well executed and highly targeted email marketing campaign", and good spam filtering solutions deployed by corporates shouldn't block all of it because some people might want this stuff in their inbox. I would have thought a company would want to keep out any junk that's not specifically requested by an employee, especially if it's for anti-ageing cream or Viagra. Odd, very odd. Can anyone explain this?

[ Mail: Piracy and Poverty ]

 This in response to my posting about file sharing program Grokster offering an ad-free version, in which I asked:
 
I don't want to get into the ethics and legality of MP3 swapping, but it strikes me that if folk are exchanging music for free online, they're not likely to be the kind of folk to want to shell out $20 for software. And if they are, they can hardly plead poverty for their piracy, can they?
 
Lynn Dimick writes:
 
How many people are pleading poverty for piracy? It has been my experience that many people are upset with the music industry and their heavy handed price fixing methods. Right or wrong they feel justified in sharing music because they have been ripped off in the past. Also, is it really that different than recording songs off the radio like we used to do as kids?
 
I agree with you about people being upset, but I'm not so sure about the recording off the radio bit. Digital versions don't have DJs interrupting before the end of the song, and they're perfect copies, and can be copied perfectly and distributed easily. I can give you my whole music collection on a CD or two. That makes it a different ballgame...
 
 
 

July 15, 2003
[ Software: Grokster Goes Pro ]

 If you haven't heard of it before, it sounds like something painful that happens to a guy in his mid 40s, or a vital piece of plumbing under the sink, but Grokster is actually a file-sharing program, and it's going pro. From its haven in the West Indies, the company has released a $20 version "in response to a growing user demand and willingness to pay for a version of the software that is void of annoying pop-up ads and the cluster of optional software  programs that accompany all of the major P2P software clients on the market today." (In English that means the free version that everyone uses now comes with lots of pesky ads and snooping software to annoy you while you download pirated music illegally.)
 
 
Grokster last April won a suit brought against it by the RIAA and the MPAAand has, it says, "since secured its position as one of the world's most popular software programs and has established a brand name known around the globe, boasting users in every country on earth." I don't want to get into the ethics and legality of MP3 swapping, but it strikes me that if folk are exchanging music for free online, they're not likely to be the kind of folk to want to shell out $20 for software. And if they are, they can hardly plead poverty for their piracy, can they? Or am I missing something?

[ Update: No Dead Horses Around Here ]

  Further to my mention of Phlogging/moblogging, whatever you want to call it, just received an interesting email from Elan Dekel, founder of Fotopages. Elan reckons "we are experiencing a watershed moment. First of all the Internet is so accessible, even in dictatorships (we even have a fair number of Fotopages from Iran!), and digital cameras are so cheap, that (a) mass media has really become democratized - ie. everyone can get their message out to the world - and build relationships via the web with supporters and readers all over the world, and (b) it will be really hard for a dictatorship to keep its atrocities secret. Quite amazing in my humble opinion. In any case its fun to be a part of it."
 
 
Interesting stuff. And if you thought all this sending photos to a website was phlogging a dead horse (sorry, couldn't resist that), here are some sites that show something of what Elan is talking about (and his comments):
 
http://moja_vera.fotopages.com (an american soldier in iraq, who uploads photos from the "front line". I find it amazing - this is the first time that soldiers on the front line can broadcast their day to day experiences and their personal view of the situation, in real time).
 
http://salampax.fotopages.com (this is Salam Pax's Fotopage - the blogger from baghdad)
 
http://geeinbaghdad.fotopages.com (Gee - an Iraqi photographer).

[ News: Legal Eagles in MP3 format ]

  Interesting story on Wired about how a university is taking the original recordings of Supreme Court cases, converting them to MP3 and putting them online -- for free.
 
 
The Oyez project, run by Northwestern University, is aiming to convert nearly all the oral arguments recorded since 1955. So far it has done about 2,000 hours. May not beat listening to U2, but it'll make a change from an e-book.
 

[ Service: Phlog? Photog? Photblog? Phoblog? ]

 From my friend Rani in Singapore, I read with interest of a new service designed by two 19-year old twins Keng and Seng. It's called Phone Logger, or Phlogger, and it allows anyone (not just those residing in Singapore) to update their blogs (online journals called web logs, or simply blogs) via their handphone's Short Message Service, or SMS. Actually it utilizes the more advanced MMS, or Multimedia Messaging Service, which includes longer messages and photos. The service is free, and while testing has already got 340 registered users.
 
An interesting idea, and great that it's being developed in this part of the world. My main worry, apart from the less-than-mouthwatering name, is that it's already been adopted to mean Photo Logging -- see phlog.net, by a guy called Alan from Reading in the UK. Who was first? There's also moblogging, for mobile blogging, which is pretty much the same thing as Photo Logging, firing off photos from your handphone to a website. Fotopages is one example of this. Other terms still floating around: Photog, Photblog, Phoblog. I'd plump for moblog to mean any blog that's being updated wirelessly, whether it's pictures or text. Objections, anyone?

[ Software: A Different Kind of Browser ]

 Here's an alternative browser that promises to "take care of many routine and tedious tasks" so you "won?t have to scrape through a mess of web pages and application windows on your desktop, won?t have to wonder whether you have already accessed a particular site, and can forget about the tiresome task of having to click a bunch of web links one-by-one".
 
I haven't tried it out but it sounds interesting. iNetAdviser Professional 2.0 was launched this week, and costs $25.
 
 
 

July 14, 2003
[ News: Dodgy Viral Marketing ]

 The folks at Sophos antivirus are drawing attention to something I think is going to pose a real problem for more sincerely motivated companies: Dodgy Viral Marketing or DVM. It's nothing new, but it's back, and it works like this: receive an email which invites you to visit a website to view comedy video clips, such as one of Bill Gates being hit with a custard pie by Belgian anarchists. (Gratuitous picture of Bill Gates being hit with a custard pie by Belgian anarchists now follows):
 
 
Follow the link in the email, and you are invited to install an application called "Internet Optimizer" (IO) from a website run by Avenue Media NV, based in the Caribbean island of Curacao. An end-user license agreement (EULA) for IO is displayed, stating that by viewing the movie you are giving permission to send an invitation to view video clips to all addresses found in the user's Outlook address book and via instant messaging systems: "In consideration for viewing of video content, Avenue Media may send email to your Microsoft Outlook contacts and/or send instant messages to your IM contacts offering the video to them on your behalf. By viewing the video content, you expressly consent to said activity."
 
Whoa! Back up the cart a bit, Alfie! And that's not all. The EULA continues: "For your convenience, [IO] automatically updates itself and any other [IO]-installed software to the latest available versions at periodic intervals. In consideration for this feature, you grant Avenue Media access to your machine to automatically update [IO], add new features and other benefits, and periodically install and uninstall optional software packages." Great, excellent! Come on in!
 
Needless to say, Sophos is not happy about all this, and warns folk to read EULAs properly, and look carefully at what they may be installing. Sad thing is, folk like Plaxo, which I've talked about at length here, don't seem to get that they have to work really, really hard not to play similar tricks in their yearning to get viral. Lesson to marketers: Don't treat customers like idiots, just because, confronted by free software and the chance to see software billionaires being hit by Belgian desserts, we behave like them.

[ News: Tag Me Up, Scotty ]

 Interesting article from Wired on a technology called Hypertags from the UK. Starting this month, Londoners will be able to point their handphones or personal digital assistants (PDAs) at posters in cinemas and get back links to web pages. The idea is not a bad one, although I'm not sure how exciting that particular example is. A better use of the technology appears to have been last year's demo at the Tate Modern museum in London where visitors could download snippets of information about the exhibits as they looked at them. The smart tags can be attached to anything -- advertising panels, billboards or walls -- and customers wielding gadgets equipped with infra-red or Bluetooth can download a small program to utilize the service.
 
 
Hypertag promise improvements such as visual recognition, where users point their phone at a magazine or newspaper article and be linked to a Web page. TV viewers could point their phones at a television program, they say, and access related Web pages. Hmmm. I like the idea in general, in that it's theoretically less intrusive than the usual sort of phone pitching-at-you-where-you-are thing, but a) all this big content stuff depends on the phone becoming a virtual Internet browser and b) I feel they may be missing the bigger opportunity here. Surely this kind of thing should be used in shops where you can glean more information about what you're about to buy by pointing your device at it -- whether it's cabbages or a DVD burner -- and making the best use of the phone's selling points: its mobility, its size, its connection to instant data. Who wants to visit the movie homepage when you're in the cinema foyer? Or am I missing something?

[ News: Don't Laugh, Your Email's Coming ]

 
 Not sure whether to laugh or cry at this one. Or tiptoe quietly away. Researchers at Australia's Monash University, the New Scientist reports, are working on software that would that automatically log you onto the nearest computer by listening out for your voice, or laugh, or footsteps. Microphones on each computer, Rachel Nowak writes, would pick up a person's voice, or listen for familiar footsteps coming or going. The software would then recognise them and calculate where they are, using flocks of 'intelligent agents' - pieces of computer code that move from computer to computer. "The agents," she writes, "close in on those computers where the person's voice is loudest, until they pinpoint the nearest one."
 
The agents -- or sneaky little tattletales, depending on your point of view -- would, upon realising that you were heading towards the Mars Bar dispenser, deliver your email to the nearest computer, or, upon hearing your rich baritone laugh by the water cooler, administer a pithy reprimand and remind you that your expenses are horribly overdue. I'm not sure I'm ready for this kind of life. We already have an accounts department.
 
 

[ News: Trojan Smojan ]

 More from the Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid (No Really, I Mean It) Dept: Trojans are nasty bits of software and you're not necessarily safe, even with a firewall and a virus checker (my previous post notwithstanding). According to a white paper by U.K.-based software vendor GFI, previously unknown Trojans can slip past your defences even when you or your system techies are wearing rubber gloves and have multiple virus scanners working at once.
 
 
Now of course GFI, after scaring you silly with their white paper and a somewhat demented-looking woman on their homepage, want you to buy their software, but they have a point about the Trojans. Trojans are nasty beasts and they can inveigle their way on board surprisingly easily. Once there, they can do some serious damage, not just to your computer but your bank account, confidential data and general joie de vivre (that's French for 'what's a virus scanner?'). Here's what they can do or get hold of:
  • Credit card information (often used for domain registration or shopping sprees)
  • Any accounting data (email passwords, dial-up passwords, Web services passwords, etc)
  • Confidential documents
  • Email addresses (for example, customer contact details)
  • Confidential designs or pictures
  • Calendar information regarding the user's whereabouts
  • Using your computer for illegal purposes, such as to hack, scan, flood or infiltrate other machines on the network or Internet.
What to do? Well, check your techie administrator is not asleep at the wheel, because it is he/she who should be keeping all this stuff out. If you don't have one, you're the techie administrator or you're connected from home, run a firewall and a virus checker. Indeed, GFI recommend running more than one virus checker. I was always told that was detrimental, a bit like brushing your teeth twice. I'll ask around about that and get back to you. Meanwhile, read the white paper. It's actually quite useful.

about loose wire
musings, snippets, grievances and links on personal technology by dow jones columnist jeremy wagstaff. I want to hear from users -- technology-related stories, complaints, thoughts, ideas, brickbats -- so please email me

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The Far Eastern Economic Review and
The Wall Street Journal Online.
both are owned by Dow Jones.

see below for subscription links -- sorry, but the columns are only available to subscribers.

companies, PR agencies etc, please send relevant news, pitches, product review requests here. happy to hear from you, but I stress the word 'relevant'.

best of
Nigerian love affair
Old lady loose on the web
Terms for the rest of us
My wild night with Deep Purple

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