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September 13, 2003
[ News: One Victory For Ink Jet Companies ]

 Somewhat bizarre ruling from a U.S. jury in favour of what I think are some rather dodgy practices on behalf of printer manufacturer HP. The Herald-Sun reports that the jury concluded that the average consumer purchasing a Hewlett-Packard printer did not expect that the cartridges provided with the printers would be the same as full replacement cartridges. It also concluded that Hewlett-Packard adequately disclosed to the average consumer that the cartridges provided with the printers would be half-filled with ink. This despite the fact that the only disclosure is on the inside of the box, according to techdirt.
Similar lawsuits have been brought in 32 other states against Hewlett-Packard, and the company has won 13 of them, all before the cases went to trial. The trial in Orange County Superior Court was the first of the class-action suits that went to a full trial.

[ News: Phone Camera Jamming. It Sounds Like A Reggae Outfit ]

 From the It's Going To Have To Happen Dept comes news of a product that could "automatically switch off camera phones to protect industrial secrets and private areas." CNET reports that Safe Haven combines hardware transmitters with a small piece of control software loaded into a camera phone handset. When the handset is taken into a room or building containing the Safe Haven hardware, the phone is instructed to deactivate the imaging systems. The systems are reactivated when the handset is out of range.
The good news is that although the technology is designed only for disabling the imaging system, it could be adapted for a wide number of uses, such as blocking loud or annoying ring tones in a theater or even disabling text messaging in a school. Is there any way of administering electric shocks to folks who yap away too loudly in public on their phone. One guy totally ruined my reflexology experience the other day. Totally.

September 12, 2003
[ News: Is That A USB Drive In Your Pocket Or...? ]

 I don't have a link for this, but I'm amazed at how the price of USB thumb drives -- those little sticks on a key ring -- have fallen in price. Now in my local mall you can pick up one holding 256 megabytes for less than $60.
Given prices a year ago were not far off $1 per megabyte, and less than six months ago I paid that for a drive with half the capacity, that's quite a drop. There are hundreds of manufacturers out there making them now, so I wouldn't recommend any particular one. Don't entrust the only copy of your data to one, but it's great as a secondary backup you can carry around with you. They also make great gifts, and one or two people might still be impressed by them during lulls at parties.

[ Update: More Evidence That SoBig Was, Er, So Big ]

 Just in case you thought we were making all this virus stuff up, here are some interesting new statistics from MailWatch, "a leading Spam-blocking, virus-scanning and content-filtering service protecting corporate networks worldwide", which said they intercepted 24 times as many viruses in August than they did in July. This, needless to say, is something of a record for them. Needless to say, too, of those 7,132,102 viruses, 95% were the SoBig.F variant, the one that has been doing all the damage. Given that it was only discovered on August 18, that's some damage in less than two weeks.
Of course, all these press releases I received about all these viruses contain a fair amount of companies touting their wares. It doesn't mean the information is inaccurate, just that one shouldn't always take their prescriptions for the pain too literally. This one from MailWatch, for example, quotes Bill Fallon, Vice President of Product Marketing at EasyLink Services Corporation, the company that offers and operates MailWatch, as saying, "It's clear that dealing with attacks of this sort as well as the daily onslaught of Spam are now a part of the cost of being an Internet-connected business today. MailWatch helps businesses of all sizes dramatically reduce this cost." Sometimes I wish they wouldn't try so hard with their pitches. Not least because it's MailWatch that has the annoying habit of sending people emails informing them (usually incorrectly) that they're infected.

[ Software: More Search Options ]

 Talking of Outlook functionality, 80-20 have just come out with a new version of Retriever, a great search engine that integrates with Outlook (but also works from Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, System Tray and Task Bar.)
Definitely worth a look. Also, the folks at IdeaLab have come up with a new beta version of their search product X1, which they seem pretty excited about. If you're still looking for the perfect way to find stuff on your hard drive, give it a shot. There's a free version which may or may not come with Adware; I haven't checked what their policy is on this recently.

[ Update: Outlook Email Organiser ]

 A program I've raved about in the past, Nelson Email Organizer, or NEO, is planning a new version. NEO works atop Outlook to help you better organise and find emails, attachments and whatever. If you use Outlook, it's a definite boon.
Caelo say they're close to releasing Beta versions of NEO 3.0 and NEO Pro, which will deliver "a redesigned user interface, new global filtering capabilities, improved views with more flexibility for organizing and faster, more scalable searching with additional search parameters."
I have to be honest: While I loved the program I found in the end that Outlook just was not the email client for me. I use Courier, although The Bat is just into version 2.0 so I'll give that a try. Experiment. Email should be what you want it to be.

[ Update: How Anti-virus Companies Are Making Things Worse ]

 Fridrik Skulason, founder of anti-virus maker FRISK, has fired off a broadside about a problem I looked at in recent postings and my last Dow Jones column (sorry, subscribers only...): that some anti-virus companies are partly to blame for the recent e-mail flood generated by the Sobig.F worm. In an open letter, he wrote: "What I am referring to is the large number of incorrectly configured mail filters that respond by sending a "virus alert" to the ?From:? address. As Sobig.F falsifies the ?From:? address, these e-mails just clutter up the mailboxes of innocent, non-infected people. These messages cause unnecessary annoyance and worry, as they typically (and incorrectly) claim that people have sent out a virus."
He concludes: "I have only one word for this: Stupid!" Exactly. I believe this is a sign that many anti-virus manufacturers have not kept up with the developments of the past year, when viruses have become smarter. These companies should recognise this and either close their doors or wise up. It's not acceptable to add this extra layer of trouble, especially if they're charging for it. I'm going to start publishing names of the companies involved. Submissions welcome. This kind of thing makes me cranky.

[ Update: It Isn't Over Until The Fat Lady Starts Writing Viruses ]

 Fridrik Skulason's open letter draws attention to another point: that while Sobig.F was scheduled to die out on Sept. 10, we might just have been lucky this time. He compares the two recent attacks -- Sobig and Blaster -- and concludes that if the guy or guys who write the next version of Sobig look closely, they may combin the two and create a real monster:
"With Sobig.F scheduled to die out today, Sept. 10th, the problem might go away for a while - until the next similar worm appears. And this is the scary part. Sobig.F didn't really infect that many machines world-wide, maybe only 200.000 or so. This is only a fraction of the number of machines infected by Msblaster (Lovsan). Now imagine a worm combining the distribution method of Msblaster with the mass-mailing feature of Sobig.F. The flood of traffic might practically render the Internet unusable.
"Eventually, some virus author will create a virus like this, maybe this month, maybe in a few years, but it will happen."

[ News: An End To Non-Sleazy Spam? ]

 While we talk about spam a lot, we don't always acknowledge there are different kinds of spam: the incredibly sleazy stuff, and the less sleazy stuff. This second type is called opt-in, meaning that the spammers reckon they've asked your permission before sending you stuff. Sadly this is rarely the case: they just lie, by including some dodgy line about 'you agree to receive mail from us when you joined the Dodgy Goods Which Fell off the Back of a Pickup Network' or somesuch. I'd like to see these guys hounded as much as the sleazy underwear-to-work wearing spammers. A decision in the UK may make this the case.
According to out-law.com, a magazine exploring the legal side of e-commerce, the UK's Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that you need to check for explicit consent before using a marketing list for an e-mail campaign, even if you believe in good faith that the list comprises only those who opted to receive marketing. The case, out-law.com says, will resonate among e-marketers who face a major consent problem when trying to exchange e-mail address lists. Hopefully for us end-users, it may make a decline in this absurd pseudo-opt-in spam that's just as annoying as sleazy spam.

[ News: Spying On The Internet ]

 Sometimes I wonder what the Internet is going to look like a year down the track. Spam, viruses, and now the RIAA are changing the landscape. Here's what : network spying. ZDNet reports that the University of Wyoming and a company called Audible Magic are developing technology that looks inside students' file swaps for copyrighted music, with an eye toward ultimately blocking the transfer of such material.
Audible Magic's technology specialises in identifying songs by their digital "fingerprints", or acoustic characteristics. By joining up with a company called Palisade which provides network-security technology, the joint product is designed to intercept all traffic on a network, make a copy of it, and then make a running examination of that copy for items such as Kazaa or Gnutella traffic. When it finds digital packets originating from file-swapping software packages, it will compare the contents against Audible Magic's database of fingerprints. If it finds a match to a copyrighted song, it will stop the transmission of a song in progress, even if some of the file has already been transferred.
The software is aimed at networks like universities and ISPs, who can of course refuse to install it. But what happens when the music business starts sueing them, as well as end users?

September 11, 2003
[ News: Could Blogs Be The News? ]

 It's a familiar theme, but Steve Outing is always interesting to read on anything, so when he takes a look at how blogs could change news reporting, I'm all ears. His latest column suggests that, "It's time for increasing the speed of news sites -- to that of television news -- and Weblogs are the way to do it. And it's time to stop thinking of blogs mostly in the realm of feature and opinion content, and move the concept into breaking news." Interesting angle. I certainly think news organisations must take blogs more seriously, and realise that it's no longer enough to file stories through traditional channels, in traditional ways.

[ News: The Future Of Inflight Entertainment, From A Baggage Handler ]

 Nice, interesting story about an Alaska Airlines baggage handler who has come up with the digEplayer, a 2.4-pound, battery-powered unit can hold up to 30 full-length movies, hours of digital music, maps, cartoons, sitcoms, language courses and travel promotions. It's an inflight entertainment system that will start appearing on Alaska Airlines next month: The units, which cost a little more than $1,000, will be provided free to first-class passengers. Passengers in the main cabin will be able to rent the media players for $10 or reserve them before boarding for $8.

[ Update: The Dana Wireless Is Out ]

 As I noted earlier, AlphaSmart are upgrading their Dana keyboard (a PDA? a laptop? a word-processor?) to include Wi-Fi. It's now out. The Dana Wireless includes Wi-Fi (802.11b) connectivity and software applications for accessing the Internet. AlphaSmart are aiming at students and educators, professionals in healthcare, energy, social services, insurance, etc. which have Wi-Fi in their offices or campus. It may not be the best way to surf the net, but it would be great for sending emails and accessing basic data. Dana Wireless is a two-pound, highly durable laptop alternative powered by Palm OS® with a large screen and integrated full-size keyboard. It's not cheap: it sells for $429.

September 10, 2003
[ News: Spam In Court Defeat Horror ]

 Here's another bit of good news for the war on rubbish cluttering the Internet. Anti-spam activist Nigel Featherston has won a $250,000 default judgment in Washington State against a spam organization in Ohio known for sending millions of spam emails. This, according to his lawyers, could be one of the largest anti-spam awards in the history of the Washington spam law. Here's the rest of the press release, which actually makes quite interesting reading. 

[ News: Two Young Fellas Nabbed For The TK Worm ]

 Two young Brits have been charged in connection with the TK Worm (also known as Troj/TKBot-A), which appeared last year and caused an estimated £5.5 million worth of damage. Jordan Bradley, 20, of Bates Avenue, Darlington, and Andrew Harvey, 22, of Scardale Way, Durham, are believed by the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) to be members of a hacking group known as the "Thr34t-Krew" which launched the Trojan horse designed to break into internet-connected computers.
It's something of a roll for law enforcement folks. Recently, two other young men were named in connection with variants of
the Blaster internet worm.  Jeffrey Lee Parson was arrested by the FBI in late August, and a Romanian man is believed to be assisting police with their enquiries.  Meanwhile Simon Vallor, who served nine months in prison for creating three viruses, was released yesterday.

[ Software: See Ya Later, 'Gator ]

 Here's one way to get rid of spyware and adware -- software that's inveigled its way onto your computer and is phoning home on your browsing habits, usually to throw unwanted ads onto your screen. interMute, Inc. has released a new version of SpySubtract, that detects and safely removes spyware and security threats, which includes a special feature to wipeout software from Gator Corp. - a major Web pop-up advertising company that uses spyware technology to profile and target users.
SpySubtract's free version allows PC users to easily detect and remove spyware. For $29.95, users can upgrade to SpySubtract PRO, which provides spyware database updates to protect against newly discovered spyware and worms.

[ News: Type Anywhere, On Anything ]

 From the This Really Could Be Funky Dept: iBIZ Technology Corporation has introduced its Virtual Laser Keyboard and has promised to start shipping the unit by November for $99.00. The Virtual Keyboard is an infrared device that projects the image of a keyboard onto any surface, allowing you to type straight into a PDA, a desktop, a laptop or a cell phone running Windows and Palm's operating systems. See a picture here.

[ News: Beware Of Patches That Don't Patch ]

 From the This Doesn't Inspire Confidence Dept comes news that a patch recently released by Microsoft to fix a critical security vulnerability in its Internet Explorer browser does not work, according to security experts. CNET says that the vulnerability was discovered by eEye Digital Security around four months ago. The vulnerability in question can be exploited by crafting a malicious HTML file that, when viewed by an Internet Explorer browser, extracts and executes malicious code.
Two patches have since been released, but, according to eEye, neither fixes the vulnerability it is supposed to. If you're worried, disable active scripting in your browser until Microsoft updates the patch. (Go to Tools/Options/Security/Custom Level, and then scroll down until you get to Active Scripting.)

[ News: Another Shot In The Foot For The RIAA ]

 The RIAA PR dept may not like this, but then again, they must have been pretty busy the past coupla months: The New York Post reports that The Recording Industry Association of America is suing a 12-year-old New York City girl.
Brianna LaHara was among 261 people sued for copying thousands of songs via popular Internet file-sharing software ? and thousands more suits could be on the way. They could face penalties of up to $150,000 per song, but the RIAA has already settled some cases for as little as $3,000. The Post quoted RIAA spokeswoman Amy Weiss as saying, when asked if the association knew Brianna was 12 when it decided to sue her: "We don't have any personal information on any of the individuals."

September 9, 2003
[ News: Popups Are Legal ]

 Bad news for those of you who hate pop-up ads: A U.S. federal judge has rejected a lawsuit by truck and trailer rental company U-Haul which sought to ban software by Internet advertising company WhenU that launched rival pop-up ads when customers access U-Haul's Web site, Reuters reports.
The judge said the ads don't violate the law because WhenU's software didn't copy or use U-Haul's trademark or copyright material, and because computer users themselves had chosen to download the pop-up software. He acknowledged that pop-up ads are often troublesome and annoying. "Alas, we computer users must endure pop-up advertising along with her ugly brother unsolicited bulk e-mail, 'spam', as a burden of using the Internet," he wrote. I don't want to be rude to a judge, but I just don't buy that argument.

[ News: Invasion of the iPods ]

 Apple have also just released 20GB and 40GB models of its best-selling iPod digital music player. The new 40GB iPod holds up to 10,000 CD-quality songs in an enclosure that is lighter and thinner than two CDs. iPods are available in three models: a 10GB model for just $299 (US), the new 20GB model for $399 (US) and the new 40GB model for $499 (US); and offer the perfect combination of ease of use, storage capacity, audio performance and ultra-portable design. Pretty amazing, really.
(Because of sluggish Internet connections caused by recent worm attacks, I'm not including graphics in most postings for the time being. Normal service will be resumed when normal service resumes elsewhere.)

[ Update: Ten Million Songs, Sitting In The Download Queue... ]

 In case you didn't think there was a future in paying for music downloads, Apple have announced that music fans have purchased and downloaded over ten million songs from the iTunes Music Store since its launch just over four months ago, averaging over 500,000 songs per week. The ten millionth song, "Complicated" by Avril Lavigne, was purchased and downloaded at 11:34 p.m. (PDT) on September 3. Seems only yesterday I was writing about the one millionth download. Heck, it probably was only yesterday.

[ News: Spam The Website ]

 You know that spam has hit the big time when it gets its own website. Well, a corner of one: PCWorld.com yesterday released Spam Watch, a new section of its web site dedicated to the latest news, tips and tools in the war against online junk mail. PC World Spam Watch also features "Spam Slayer," an exclusive weekly column, the Top 5 Anti-Spam Downloads with the hottest freeware and shareware to help stop spam, and the latest information on legislation opposing unwanted e-mail.

September 8, 2003
[ News: A Positive Spin For RFID ]

 In case you haven't had enough of RFID tags -- tiny devices to track everything from car tires to clothing -- here's a long, positive piece from CNET. RFID, they say, "is changing how retail businesses work and could generate billions of dollars in revenue for software makers."
RFID tags could also create "huge savings for retail operations that currently use a variety of more labor-intensive means to track inventory. RFID also promises to deliver more accurate and detailed information. And as Wal-Mart and other retail giants buy into the RFID concept, software makers and other high-tech companies are salivating over the billion-dollar-plus prospects of this new market." Interesting, but I think we could see a bit more skepticism.

[ News: Have Phone, Will Report ]

 Interesting posting by the excellent Steve Outing about the rise of photo-phones as news tools: Göteborgs-Posten, Scandinavia's second-largest morning newspaper, today published on its website its first news photo taken by a mobile phone. After a collision between a tram and a truck in central Göteborg, reporter Ralph Källström reached the scene and filed a brief report to the news desk. Then he used his mobile phone to snap some pictures, picking the best and e-mailing it (via the phone) to the news desk, which added it to the web version of the story. His pictures turned out to be more dramatic than the official photographer who arrived later and filed much later. While in the print edition the photographer's photos will be used, on the website they're sticking with the reporter's photo-phone shots.
That's a great example, Steve concludes, of why news organizations should be replacing all reporters' mobile phones with photo phones. I agree, but I bet the unions will have something to say.

[ News: Three Hours Of Gaming A Night. Is It Enough? ]

 From the Give The People What They Want Dept, a survey by Gamer.tv, a provider of online gaming, "as well as compelling and entertaining TV video games programmes", said it had surveyed more than 1,000 young men and women in the UK and found that "respondents played an average of three hours of computer games a night and over 60 per cent were too mentally and physically exhausted for sex when they finally reached their beds".
In response to this, Gamer.tv says it has launched Gamer.tv Plus!, a premium online computer games content service aimed at casual gamers, both in and out of bed, offering exclusive editorial content, streaming videos, top-end browser games and access to a thriving casual gaming community through forums and chat rooms. "The fact that there is a trend of casual gaming becoming more popular than casual sex surprised us at first," commented Chris Bergstresser, CEO, Gamer.tv. "Still, if that's what the great British public wants then more power to them! Gamer.tv Plus! will cater for all their gaming needs."

[ Update: Microsoft Says It's Not Fair ]

  Microsoft is pretty upset about a plan by Japan, China and South Korea to develop an alternative operating system to Microsoft's Windows software, saying it would raise concerns over fair competition, Reuters reports. "We'd like to see the market decide who the winners are in the software industry," Tom Robertson, Microsoft's Tokyo-based director for government affairs in Asia, told Reuters in a telephone interview. "Governments should not be in the position to decide who the winners are," Robertson said.
Um, sure.

[ Update: Worms Still Worming ]

 Viruses still plague many networks and not everyone is taking it lightly: U.S. colleges are getting tough on students with infected PCs, unplugging them and fining them, Associated Press reports.
Back-to-back waves of devastating infections that spread quickly across the Internet during August crippled some college and high school networks just before the start of the fall semester. At the University of North Texas, technicians are removing viruses from roughly 16 computers every 90 minutes -- plus assessing a mandatory $30 cleaning fee. Vanderbilt University found infections in computers of roughly one-fourth its returning 5,000 students. Stunned technicians shut off connections to nearly 1,200 computers they determined were infected and gradually restored service over the next several days after ensuring each machine was clean.

[ Update: An RIAA Amnesty? ]

 Associated Press reports that the Recording Industry Association of America, which has promised to file hundreds of infringement lawsuits across the U.S. as early as this week, may announce an amnesty program for people who admit they illegally share music files across the Internet, promising not to sue them in exchange for their admission and pledge to delete the songs off their computers.
But the amnesty offer could serve to soften the RIAA's brass-knuckle image once the earliest lawsuits are filed, giving nervous college students and others an opportunity to avoid similar legal problems if they confess to online copyright infringement.

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

my columns appear in
The Far Eastern Economic Review and
The Wall Street Journal Online.
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