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September 20, 2003
[ Update: Beware Swen The Virus ]

 MessageLabs, the email security company, are warning of a new virus, called variously Gibe or W32/Swen.A-mm. Initial analysis would suggest that this strain is a mass-emailing virus, and is similar to the earlier Gibe strain of viruses, however, there latterly may be sufficient differences to give rise to a new family and further analysis will be required. 
The emails appear to be different, and the attachment name may vary, but has a constant file size (106,496-bytes).
Some file names appear to have random letters in their filename, and others may include the following, in some cases with numbers appended): Install.exe, Patch.exe, Update.exe, upgrade.exe, q433137.exe, q478121.exe, q489667.exe, Q653143.exe, Q734269.exe, q762531.exe, Q818418.exe, Q944661.exe, q963681.exe.
Here's more info on Swen from ZDNet.

September 19, 2003
[ Software: An End To Driver Hell? ]

 From the Simple But Useful Dept comes news of software from China that helps you back up drivers -- software needed to run hardware -- so if something goes wrong, you don't end up rummaging through old CDs, cardboard boxes or floppy piles to find the right driver. Driver Magician can also back up and restore more items such as My Documents folder, Desktop, Registry, Internet Explorer favorite folder, Outlook Express mail files, Outlook Express mail rule, Outlook Express mail accounts and Outlook Express address book. Full version costs $25.

[ News: Software To Stop You Being Sued ]

From the Why Not Make A Buck From All This Stuff Dept comes software that warns you if your computer is being used to download music the RIAA may sue you over. SecureTunes works by disabling specific features of file sharing programs installed on your PC.
It also provides detailed reports on the file sharing activity on a computer and will launch each time a file sharing program launches. At $2 it may be worth a try. (I haven't.)

[ Updates: RSS And The Dailies ]

 Interesting to see how many newspapers are now offering RSS newsfeeds. (RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and started out as a way for folk to obtain updates from blogs like this one, rather than having to visit the website.) Here's a roundup from Editor & Publisher Online (via the OnlineJournalism.com Newsletter, the daily news Weblog of the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review).

[ News: More Bad News For Chat ]

 Bad news for those of us who use third party programs to collect all our instant messaging accounts. I use Trillian, which does a great job of allowing me to access ICQ, Yahoo, AOL and MSN from one window. Not for long, though: CNET reports that Yahoo is planning an upgrade to its instant messaging software that will block access via such third-party IM applications. The reason: to protect IM users from unwanted spamming from advertisers.
Yahoo's announcement, CNET reports, comes on the heels of similar news from rival IM software maker Microsoft that it plans to bar third-party client software from gaining access to its MSN Messenger IM applications. On Oct. 15 Trillian users will also lose access to the Microsoft IM client.
I think the spam argument is specious. I can well understand Yahoo and co not liking folk such as Trillian piggybacking their (free) chat services but to blame spam is just silly. To do in the same breath as suggesting they're in favour of some general standard that would allow folk from, say, ICQ, to chat with someone from MSN is also pretty pathetic. These services have been around for more than five years now, and that no such standard exists is absurd. That's why I've used Trillian and I'll continue to do so.

[ Mail: More On Searching ]

 First off, apologies for the silence the past couple of days: I was downed by 'flu. Anyway, here's some mail from a reader and fellow blogger, David Brake, Internet consultant & journalist, who runs http://davidbrake.org/ and http://blog.org/ on the subject of Searching.
I just tried out x1 and while like you I like the idea of a free local file search tool (remember Altavista used to do one?) the lack of Acrobat support in its basic version is a serious weakness, IMHO. In your discussion of various local search tools I think you under-state the importance of the fact that x1 is the only free version out there so far. This surely is a market Google should get into!
Since you are clearly interested in search might I suggest you write about "Dave's Quick Search Taskbar Toolbar Deskbar" 
which gives the functionality of the Google toolbar but lots more besides - a single search interface into dozens of translation, conversion and other utility websites. I also recommend Powermarks - for fast, easy to use and portable bookmark management - I now have > 5,000 bookmarks indexed and it still responds quickly.
Lastly (obplug) I have just finished a book for Dorling Kindersley - Managing E-mail - which was designed to be a simple non-technical guide, inexpensive enough to give to everyone in an organization ($7), that would nonetheless introduce workers at all levels to many of the key techniques they can use to manage email more effectively and the key security and legal issues they may face. There is also a companion website I have just created which I hope you will take a look at and (if you are so moved) comment on. Ditto my weblog.
Thanks, David. I understand from the folks at X1 that Acrobat support is in their next version. You're right, the free element is important, but I've found I'd rather pay for something as important as searching your hard-drive. Enfish went with free for a while, and it just made me nervous.

[ News: Beware The Zodiac Cometh ]

 After months of hype Tapwave have officially launched their Zodiac Entertainment Console, which looks a bit like PocketPC sideways.
The Zodiac, the blurb says, "addresses the on-the-go lifestyle needs of technology enthusiasts, providing both fun and function in a sleek, handheld product.  Zodiac was designed from the ground up for a high-performance mobile entertainment experience centered on games, music, pictures and video. It also offers the added benefit of running a Tapwave enhanced version of the Palm Operating System (5.2T) and provides immediate access to the more than 19,000 existing applications." Dude.

[ Apologies ]

Sorry for the lack of postings the last few days. Both I and Blogger appear to have come down with some kind of bug. I hope both are back on their feet later today.

September 16, 2003
[ Update: More On Word Orders ]

 Further to my posting yesterday about how we recognise words, here's something from Mike Masnick, who runs the excellent Techdirt blog:
I saw your other post on the mixed up letters, which I agree is absolutely fascinating.  I had posted something similar about a year ago. Which also didn't have a source associated with it, though, it appears to come from the same basic idea.  Someone posted a comment on that post recently, saying it was written in a letter to New Scientist.
At the time, I also wondered if such things could be useful as a sort of  Turing test to fool a computer, but still have a human know perfectly well what you were talking about.
Randomly, I also sent it to my parents when I first came across it.  When I  was a kid, they were very concerned with the way I learned to read, since I apparently would just look at the first two letters of a word and its length and then "guess" at what the word was.  Apparently, that might not be so weird...
Thanks, Mike. I reckon we're definitely onto something here. Sadly, the only use I can think of for it so far is for spammers, who already misspell words to fool spam filters. I can imagine their pitches: Wroreid aobut szie? Dpesresd by prferaomcne? Ok that took me a couple of minutes to do. This took me two seconds: Werorid by szie? Depersesd by prcaremfone?  Courtesy of a funky site called Lerfjhax which lets you type in text and get a scrambled version out. Watch out for another wvae of sapm.

[ News: Instant Messaging, The Productivity Killer ]

 A revealing survey by network security company Blue Coat Systems on instant messaging: Three quarters of British workers use it for personal purposes in the office, including abusive language (50%), conspiring against colleagues during conference calls (40%), sexual advances (nearly a third). Americans appear to be better behaved: less than one in five participants said they used IM to comment on senior management or to flirt. One explanation for the disparity, according to Reuters, is the Big Brother notion. Nearly 60 percent of British respondents did not believe or were unsure whether their IM conversations could be monitored by their employer while 71 percent of US respondents believed -- correctly -- that IM messages could be traced.
I'd love to see some good, cheap small network chat programs to replace ICQ and AIM in the workplace, but so far I haven't found a good one. Chat is a great way to communicate quickly; if users know they can be monitored, they'll keep their flirting, outrageous language and Byzantine plotting to a minimum.

[ News: Wi-Fi For Commuters, And Bus Drivers ]

  I know this sounds a bit Big Brother-ish, but I like the way a public wi-fi service can double as a facility for a public utility, in this case French buses. The excellent Wi-Fi Networking News blog carries a report from Paris about a bus route Wi-Fi network, Subscribers can use while they're on -- and presumably waiting for -- a bus. But the buses can use it too: equipped with cameras that automatically take pictures of cars that are illegally driving in the bus lane, they send the photograph automatically via Wi-Fi to bus headquarters, where the system automatically produces a statement of the violation.
I like it because it uses one network to do two things. Secondly, I hate cars parked in bus lanes, so I'm all for them being caught and given a good talking to.

[ News: How Not To Fight Spam ]

 From the How Does This Work Again Dept? comes news of a company that pays spammers to take your name off their list. But the whole thing depends on trusting spammers, which is too early in the morning to find a suitable analogy for. Wired reports that Global Removal charges subscribers a $5 lifetime fee to have their e-mail addresses put on a permanent do-not-spam list. Addresses on the list are then compared with, and removed from, mailing lists maintained by Global Removal's partnering businesses -- more than 50 known spammers and an equal number of legitimate e-mail marketers. The idea: unlike other attempts at creating do-not-spam lists, this will work because it gives spammers an incentive to cooperate. Money.
It's not a terrible idea, but it rests on a fallacy: that spammers are not interested in email addresses of folk who don't want to receive spam. I just don't buy that. Spammers usually work for other people -- they're just a delivery mechanism -- and they need to be able to deliver in bulk -- in other words, send the pitch to as many email addresses as possible. They'll be happy to take Global Removal's money as extra cash on the side, and remove a few email addresses, but they are not going to stop harvesting -- scouring the web for email addresses -- or guessing (obtaining an ISP's address, for example gormless.com, and then testing a telephone book full of regular names, from andy@gormless.com to zob@gormless.com to see whether they get through). So it means that you have no guarantee any other email addresses you have won't get harvested in this way. Unless all spammers sign up for the service, and agree to stop harvesting new email addresses, it won't work.
Lastly, the way spammers increasingly work is not through spam lists but by open proxy servers -- other people's computers, which are tricked into sending on spam, and in many cases, hosting the websites respondents visit -- meaning that it's very, very hard to trace where the spam came from. Global Removal will either have to offer forensic monitoring of the spammers signed up to its service to ensure compliance, or else it will only work with the (very, very small) number of spammers who are halfway legitimate, in that they do not disguise where their spam comes from, let alone comply with various state and country laws governing spam. Sadly, spammers are getting sleazier, and a service like Global Removal just adds another financial incentive for spammers to get into the game.

September 15, 2003
[ News: Browsers Hit A Legal Minefield ]

 From the This Could Change Everything Or Mean Nothing Dept come reports that Microsoft (and presumably others) may have to redesign their web browsers after a US court found that Internet Explorer infringes another company's software patent. The BBC reports that the World Wide Web Consortium, the body responsible for web standards, also released a statement saying that Microsoft "will very soon be making changes to its Internet Explorer browser software in response to this ruling." The patent concerned describes a way of "automatically invoking [an] external application" and "providing interaction and display of embedded objects" inside a "hypermedia document".
It's not easy to figure out what happens next. Like all software patents, the BBC says, it is written in a complex legalistic style which makes it hard to determine just what it covers. However there is a general consensus within the web community that it would include clicking on a link to load a Flash movie or a video player, controlling an external application through a web interface and downloading and running programs inside a web page.
This means that core web technologies, including plugins for multimedia websites, Java applets, and even Microsoft's own ActiveX controls, will be affected. Ouch.

[ News: Beware The Mobile Phone ]

 I have long believed that we use mobile phones too much, considering what little we know about the effects on our health. Why is why I like handsfree sets and SMS. Most studies that say they're bad for us have been pooh-poohed. Here's another one to throw out because we don't like what it says.
The Independent quotes a new study from Sweden as saying mobile phones and the new wireless technology could cause a "whole generation" of today's teenagers to go senile in the prime of their lives. Professor Leif Salford, who headed the research at Sweden's prestigious Lund University, says "the voluntary exposure of the brain to microwaves from hand-held mobile phones" is "the largest human biological experiment ever". And he is concerned that, as new wireless technology spreads, people may "drown in a sea of microwaves".

[ News: The End of Ebooks? ]

 Could this be the beginning of the end of eBooks (books in software form)? Barnes & Noble no longer sell them, according to a notice on their website: "B&N.com no longer sells eBooks. If you are a Microsoft Reader customer, you will be able to download your eBooks until December 9, 2003, through your Microsoft Library. If you are an Adobe Reader customer, you have 90 days from your date of purchase to complete the download via the email link you received."
B&N's rather shoddy press corner doesn't refer to the decision. My tuppennies' worth: I've never been a big user of eBooks, but you would think they would be a natural fit for someone like B&N. The only assumption I can make is that until the biggies feel the issue of copying and piracy is resolved, it just doesn't look profitable. Others disagree: an interesting look at the state of eBooks post B&N can be found at the teleread blog.

[ Offtopic: The Ogriin of Wrods ]

 I know this is not the usual kind of fodder for loose wire, but it's too interesting to pass up (and must have some application for PCs, no?): From Joi Ito's excellent blog:
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, olny taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pcleas. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by ilstef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
What I find particularly interesting about this is that no source is given, and yet the posting has already spread around the web like a bad smell. The Internet creates myths almost instantly -- and some are harder to knock down than others. One reader on another blog has suggested the research comes from two California researchers, but on closer inspection that appears to refer to speech, notthe written word. Another poster suggests it has more to do with the redundancy of many letters in the English language but I'm not convinced either.
My tuppenies' worth: we read logically. When we read, we narrow down the number of words that would make sense so by the time we get to a word, what that word could be is already quite limited. So if it's misspelled, chances are we know already what it should be. Sure, part of it is pattern matching, so that we read a word as a whole, but if the sentence doesn't make any sense, we quickly get lost.

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.
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