Mobile Phone security - worth doing.

Here is something worth knowing if you have a mobile phone ....

Have you ever wondered why phone companies don't seem interested in trying to prevent the theft of mobile phones? If you have ever lost, or had one stolen, and if you are on a plan, you still have to pay the plan approximately up to
24 months, and you have to buy another handset and enter into another contract. This is more revenue for the phone company.

There is a simple way of making lost or stolen mobiles useless to thieves and the phone companies know about it, but keep it quiet.

To check your mobile phone's serial number, key in the following on your phone:

star-hash-zero-six-hash ( * # 0 6 # )

and a fifteen digit code will appear on the screen. This is unique to your handset. Write it down and keep it safe. Should your mobile phone get stolen, you can phone your service provider and give them this code. They will then be able to block your handset, so even if the thief changes the sim card, your phone will be totally useless.

You probably won't get your phone back, but at lease you know that whoever stole it can't use / sell it either.

If everybody did this, there would be no point in stealing mobile phones.

Will Doug Bowman Make Google Beautiful?

Good news folks… Enough for me to get out of bed, put my back at risk and write a blog post - Doug Bowman, uber designer has joined Google which means, a likely end to the mishmash, drab and boring user interfaces from Google. Yeah!

On a more serious tip, with the acquisition of Measure Map, Google got some good people from Adaptive Path who know a thing or two about web design and UI. Bowman is another design ace. What it leads me to believe that with an increase in the number of offerings from Google, the search giant has realized that it needs to put its UI house in order. Bowman’s post on his blog pretty much says it all.

After a bit of negotiation and a lot of internal debate, I recently accepted an offer to join Google as Visual Design Lead, a position that did not previously exist there. I’m charged with helping the company establish a common visual language across all their collaborative and communication products. This includes products I’ve already had some hand in like Blogger and Calendar. But it will also include other highly used products like Gmail, Writely, Page Creator, and other projects in the pipeline.

Pakistan Plans Mobile WiMax Network Rollout

"Pakistan is apparently ready to move ahead of the USA in the deployment of a mobile wireless network." From the article: "The deployment is a milestone in the spread of WiMax, a superfast wireless technology that has a range of up to 30 miles and can deliver broadband at a theoretical maximum of 75 megabits per second. The 802.16-2004 standard, which is used in fixed WiMax networks, is being skipped in favor of a large-scale introduction of 802.16e, which was only recently agreed upon by the WiMax Forum. 'We made the decision 18 months ago to jump over (802.16-2004) and go straight to 802.16e,' Paul Sergeant, Motorola's marketing director for Motowi4, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. 'We've been working on it for a while, which is how we're able to ship so soon after agreement.'"

Marriage And Great Science Dont' Mix

Several years ago, Satoshi Kanazawa, then a psychologist at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, analyzed a biographical database of 280 great scientists--mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and biologists. When he calculated the age of each scientist at the peak of his career--the sample was predominantly male--Kanazawa noted an interesting trend. After a crest during the third decade of life, scientific productivity--as evidenced by major discoveries and publications--fell off dramatically with age. When he looked at the marital history of the sample, he found that the decline in productivity was less severe among men who had never been married. As a group, unmarried scientists continued to achieve well into their late 50s, and their rates of decline were slower.

"The productivity of male scientists tends to drop right after marriage," says Kanazawa in an e-mail interview from his current office at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom. "Scientists tend to 'desist' from scientific research upon marriage, just like criminals desist from crime upon marriage."

Kanazawa's perhaps controversial perspective is that of an evolutionary psychologist. "Men conduct scientific research (or do anything else) in order to attract women and get married (albeit unconsciously)," he says. "What’s the point of doing science (or anything else) if one is already married? Marriage (or, more accurately reproductive success, which men can usually attain only through marriage) is the goal; science or anything else men do is but a means. From my perspective, scientists are no different than anybody else; evolutionary psychology applies to all humans equally," he adds.

The Marriage Toll on Women

Marriage has also been shown to have an adverse impact on the careers of female scientists. Data from the National Science Foundation show that female, doctoral-level scientists, and engineers are less likely to be married than are their male counterparts (66% versus 83%). Among those married, however, women are more likely to confront problems accommodating a two-career marriage--one reason being that they are twice as likely as men to have a spouse who works full-time.

Add children to the mix, and the problem is compounded. Research by Kimberlee Shauman, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis, found that time off for birth and child rearing poses a significant, often irreversible, impediment to a woman’s career.

Marriages That Enhance Careers

Is marriage truly and inevitably a scourge for male and female scientists? Or can it help advance scientific careers? To hear some real-world viewpoints on the impact of marriage on a science career, I raised the issue on the ScienceCareers Forum.

Several forum contributors saw marriage as a source of emotional and financial stability rather than a dangerous undertow. David, a molecular biologist, met his wife while both were in graduate school. Now married for 6 years, David "wouldn’t change anything. I cannot even imagine trying to get through all that I (we) have without her as a partner."

"Having a working spouse in graduate school or as a postdoc can be a tremendous advantage since you’re no longer trying to make do on the single, low-level salary," says Rich, an engineer. "In my case, it’s also helped that I’ve been very good at making sure my career is part of my life--and not the other way around."

"I’m a final year Ph.D. student," says another. "We both are in medical research, and she’s got a master's degree and believe me, it helps to be married. We both don’t have enough money, but there’s a lot of happiness as each day is exciting, a great future to think about."

Kristen married her closest colleague 6 months before completing her dissertation and is satisfied with what she calls her "in-lab" and "at-home" collaboration. "One major advantage is that we are both scientists, in a similar field of research, and we understand the drive and passion that is part of the profession. Having someone who understands you and supports you wholeheartedly is a great asset through grad school, the postdoc years, and beyond."

Last month, when I attended a writers' conference in New York, one of the speakers was Sreenath Sreenivasan, an assistant professor and dean of students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. A scene he described from his marriage evoked a vivid image in my mind. He was sitting against his pillow in bed with his laptop in hand. His busy, multitasking wife (a management consultant and mother of twin toddlers) was also working on a laptop, seated right beside him. The two were tending electronically to their demanding jobs, but they were also instant messaging each other, obviously on the same emotional "bandwidth" in their devotion to both career and marriage.

Marriages That Fall Apart

Some marriages aren’t strong enough to withstand the strains of a scientific career. "I was always hoping it would get better--after graduation, after the postdoc, after tenure," says Chris, a second-year postdoc in Canada. "Unfortunately, nothing improved. If anything, it got worse (more committees, more conferences, more papers, more students, more grants, more reviews, and more frustration). I would say if you are the scientist, yes, get married. If you are the scientist’s partner, think long and hard if you can live with that in your relationship," he says.

Rewton, a tenured associate professor with a 9-year-old child, couldn’t agree more about the personal challenges posed by a scientific career. "The balance of work and home life has always been an issue in our marriage. There is a certain scientific culture that is difficult to relate to for a non-scientist," he says. "It was a more serious issue earlier in my career when I was jockeying for faculty jobs, etc., but it is still an issue."

"I was married to a fellow scientist, but the relationship deteriorated after I got a faculty position (and he didn’t). My new job forced us into a long-distance marriage (300 miles) which didn’t survive," says Elizabeth.

Nasif, the principal in a Mexico-based organization called Biology Cabinet, recounts that over 30 years of marriage, his wife was jealous of the time he devoted to his career. As his work continued to increase, she became bitter and finally left. He doesn’t blame her. "What bothers our wives is neglect. Buy her a rose bouquet each week, when you purchase scientific supplies for yourself like a book, a microscope, a Petri dish, etc."

Marriages That Never Happen

Many scientists complain that the very nature of a science career limits opportunities to find a partner. "Much of science is disproportionately male," says Chad, an engineering trainee. "There were weeks during graduate school where I literally did not speak to a female. I also remember attending parties of 50 people or more, yet you could count the women on one hand; all of whom were taken."

"The moving-around issue is a huge problem," he adds. "Even if I found my dream girl, which is unlikely given the intense workload, why would she be interested? Fewer things are a bigger downer than telling a date that you’ll be moving to a distant place in the near future."

"To be honest, I was one of those people who put everything on hold through my scientific career," says Os. "However, I wouldn’t suggest others do this because meeting people and starting relationships just gets harder."

"It’s like Noah’s Ark, and you’ve missed the great pairing up," says Kelly.

According to a recent article in the German newspaper Die Zeit, it’s not only finding a partner but also starting a family that is made more difficult by a scientific career. The article reported on a study of scientists ranging from doctoral students to assistant professors. It found that a whopping 73% of 37- to 42-year-olds had no children. Explaining the phenomenon, the article noted that it is so difficult for scientists to find a permanent position in Germany that those below the age of 40 are often forced to take short-term employment without any financial or residential stability.

Making It Work

Unfortunately, the academic climate often exacerbates the problems inherent in scientist marriages. "The situation of young families can be especially problematic given the long road (from undergraduate to graduate to postdoc to junior scientist) that certainly extends through a woman’s fertile years," says a postdoc, who is also a parent of a young child. "The Whitehead Institute, Caltech, and Stanford have made steps in the right direction, but the current training environment is not 'family-friendly', " he adds.

This postdoc then rattles off his wish list: more liberal leave programs that allow graduate students and postdocs time off; small grants to hire technical or institutional support staff to help manage experiments when a sick baby has to be picked up from daycare; assistance in defraying the costs of childcare; loan assistance for postdocs; options for part-time work; and comprehensive administrative, financial, and legal assistance.

Other trainees note that juggling science and marriage often requires sacrifice as well as flexibility: giving up a job opportunity to allow a partner to remain in his or her lab, missing a family event to keynote a conference, or being late for work because of taking care of a sick child, for instance. "In a perfect world, you could have it all, never sacrificing anything for either marriage or career," says Liz. "The world isn’t perfect. Is it worth it? Every minute."

"Sacrifice is a two-way street. Sometimes you sacrifice time in the lab to spend with a girlfriend or a wife, … but I can tell you it’s well worth it. In the end, when your friends get married and have their own families, your parents pass away, and families move apart and you grow older, your gel box isn’t going to be there for you on the holidays and those moments when you need someone for support," says Bob. "Really, what’s the point of discovering the greatest thing in the world if you have no one to tell it to when you come home?"


Welcome to Google Checkout, that will be $3.14

From ZDNet

The first time I looked up the domain "" it appeared that someone other than Google had it registered. A trip down memory lane takes us to my very first article that describes how I determined is in fact owned by Google, despite what it looks like on the surface.

Well, by the same logic I have found that a brand new set of domains appearing to be registered to someone else were actually registered by Google on May 25th.

The domains (.com is owned by someone else at the moment) have all been registered to a company called DNStination, Inc. Don't be fooled, the registrar is MarkMonitor — a company that prides itself on the protection of your corporate identity. There is no way they would let just anybody register a domain with "Google" in it — especially since Google is one of their clients.

Then who is this DNStination, Inc. then? Googling the address of this "company" tells us exactly who it is. The address maps directly to none other than MarkMonitor itself.

Since we know Google is behind it's registration, what is Google Checkout going to be? I think it will be a shopping cart system to help websites accept payment for their items online. The money site owners make will be deposited into a holding account at Google — just like AdSense works.

Isn't this starting to sound a lot like PayPal? Who knows, they could even offer a Google branded Mastercard "debit card" like PayPal's ATM/Debit Card — after all, the domain is registered to Google too.

If this is indeed what they are planning, it would make sense for Google Checkout to tie into Google Analytics so website owners can easily track with certainty how their AdWords campaign is directly affecting sales — right through the checkout process.

Maybe one day Google will even provide an inventory management solution with an API so websites can have their inventory in Google Base and on their own website without double entry.

Gmail to get prices

In my latest source code inspection, I found more snippets code that foreshadow upcoming features in Gmail. As far as I know, these features aren't available in the current version — I couldn't reproduce them and there is no documentation in the Help area.

As many of you probably know, depending on the content of email recieved through Gmail, special links are displayed above the advertisements on the right. Google currently tracks packages for UPS, gives us maps and lets us add events to our calendars with these links — but it looks like that list is about to get bigger.

In addition to it's current functionality, the code suggests FedEx and USPS (United States Postal Service) tracking numbers will be detected by Gmail to further satisfy your package tracking needs. This might be old news, but I don't recall hearing about it or seeing it in action. I wonder how long it will take for others like DHL and Purolator to be included in this list?

oe["oa"]="Map this";
oe["ou"]="Track UPS package";
oe["osp"]="Track USPS package";
oe["ofd"]="Track FedEx package";

The piece of code that really caught my attention though was the line directly below these that says "Get prices". When Gmail detects a product within an email, I'm guessing it will soon display a link on the right that takes you to a Froogle result page for that item. I was unable to reproduce this behaviour in the current version of Gmail, so it must something they are working on. The icon that will be used for this feature is here.

oe["op"]="Get prices";

This could open up a huge can of worms for Google. For example, if a company sends a legitimate promotional email to a customer about a product, Google now makes it easy for that customer to find cheaper prices from right inside that email. Gmail users won't complain, but it could leave a sour taste in the mouths of some retailers. For features like these, is it possible to not be evil for both users and businesses?

"Made in India" phones set to tap global markets

India, already the world's fastest growing wireless services market, is set to become a handset manufacturing and export hub as giants such as Nokia and LG churn out millions of phones to tap voracious demand.

Global handset firms are knocking on the door of Asia's third-largest economy because of its established software industry, a booming domestic market and they want another manufacturing stronghold to offset the possible risk of operating plants in China.

"There is no question that everybody is planning for India to become a hub for (exporting) mobiles to the Middle East, neighboring countries and even Europe," said Rajiv Kochhar, chief executive at Mumbai-based Avista Advisory.

The consulting firm helped Elcoteq SE (ELQAV.HE), Europe's largest contract electronics maker, to set up a unit in Bangalore, India's silicon valley.

It is also assisting several suppliers to Nokia (NOK1V.HE), the world's largest handset maker, to set up plants in Bangalore, Pune and the southern port city of Chennai.

"Software design capabilities are a big factor in setting up a shop -- and India has them in abundance," Kochhar said.

More than 40 percent of the software that goes into Motorola Inc.'s (NYSE:MOT - news) iconic and ultra-thin RAZR handset is developed in its Indian R&D facility.

Nokia, which controls nearly half the $2.5 billion Indian handset market, and its suppliers are investing about $150 million in its Chennai unit, which makes a few million handsets a month and has already exported phones to south east Asian nations like Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.

Jukka Lehtela, Nokia's director for Indian operations said the firm had earmarked 30 percent to 40 percent of its annual Indian production for export.


"The growing markets are here -- India, the Middle East and Africa. India is in the middle of these geographically and for us the transportation from India was easier and cheaper than from China or Europe," he said.

Two of Nokia's suppliers -- Aspocomp group (ACG1V.HE) and Perlos Corp. (POS1V.HE) -- are investing $70 million and $12 million respectively to set up a printed circuit board unit and a mechanics factory.

South Korean conglomerate LG Electronics Inc. (066570.KS), for its part, operates a plant in the western city of Pune that will churn out 20 million GSM and CDMA handsets by 2010, roughly half of which are earmarked for export.

"We are already exporting in excess of 10,000 units a month and we can see it growing to 50,000 a month in less than a year," said H.S. Bhatia, product group head for GSM phones at LG.

"India is also emerging as a second base apart from China, to distribute risk. Handset firms, having already established their initial manufacturing bases in China, are now looking at other locations, for which India is the obvious choice due to its growing domestic base."

Fourth-ranked LG exports handsets made in India to Bangladesh, the Middle East, Nepal, Africa and Sri Lanka. LG's larger rival Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (005930.KS) has also begun producing handsets in the country.

India's domestic market, forecast to grow to $5.8 billion by 2010, is expected to consume about 55 million handsets this year, up 71 percent from 2005. Between 4 million and 5 million new users are coming into the market each month, attracted to the world's cheapest local mobile call rates of as low as 2 U.S. cents a minute.

There is still room for growth as mobile ownership is just 9 percent in India where the population is more than a billion and networks, even though they are expanding rapidly, are still largely city centric.

Analysts expect India's user base to rise to 278 million by 2010 as the low call rates lure customers. At 93 million, now it exceeds the combined population of Germany and Belgium.

"The domestic market is going to be huge -- 80 percent of handsets will be consumed locally and the (remaining) 20 percent will get the advantage of economies of scale and lower cost of production," Bhatia said.

"The scale of production that India will attain in two years will give it a similar edge as China has in many other industries."

Dell With Google, Yahoo with eBay. Microsoft: Left Outside Alone?

If the last week should have been dedicated to talks concerning Windows Vista Beta 2 and Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2 as well as other things Microsoft presented at WinHec, things eventually took an unexpected turn as the Internet giants decided that it was time to come up with a series of striking alliances.

Google signed a surprise partnership with Dell – one of Microsoft's traditional allies – a partnership which doesn't cirectly concern online search, as one may have expected, but installing Google software products on the Dell PCs. In other words, a frontal attack aimed at Microsoft and, why not, a response to the fact that MSN is the default search engine in Internet Explorer 7.

Yahoo didn't wait too long to admire the future Windows Vista Beta 2 either, but it rushed forward to a deal with eBay – an alliance whose main purpose is to offer a counterpart to Google, but which also has any chance to pose a threat to MSN Search as well.

All these changes in the Portal Wars leave Microsoft facing a complicated question: who are they going to ally with? If, aside from the enormous beneficial influence to their image, the Google-Dell partnership means only a small part compared to the hardware producers which will enroll under the Windows Vista flag, when it comes to web services it will be the Yahoo-eBay combination which will probably affect Microsoft more.

As for the online searches, all studies agree: Google is placed first, with a percent almost double compared to Yahoo, while MSN fights for the same 11 percents it's been having for some time. If thanks to eBay Yahoo now has a chance to win back some grounds from the distance separating them from Google, Microsoft has to find an alliance or a wonder-solution to help them raise – or, at least, maintain their level – his percents a bit in the online searching domain.

As redoutable as the Yahoo-eBay combination may be, Google has a good enough position in the race to be able to take time in searching new solutions. From its aspiring position, MSN search can't afford that luxury. Under the pressure made on the one side by Google-Dell, which shows Microsoft that they don't hold exclusivity in matter of preinstalled software, and on the other side by Yahoo-eBay, Microsoft has to look for more solutions – many and good.

The tendency is quite clear and the web services are leading. And no matter how much Windows Vista will be delayed, it's quite certain that it won't change the situation of Microsoft's desktop supremacy in a radical way, but Microsoft is in danger of missing the start in matter of web services. The efforts that the Redmond-based company is making with their Windows Live platform are remarkable and demonstrate that Microsoft has the abilities it takes. But will they managed to face all by themselves the attack unleashed by Google and Yahoo?

Microsoft shows off JPEG rival

If it is up to Microsoft, the omnipresent JPEG image format will be replaced by Windows Media Photo.

The software maker detailed the new image format Wednesday at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference here. Windows Media Photo will be supported in Windows Vista and also be made available for Windows XP, Bill Crow, program manager for Windows Media Photo said in a presentation.

"One of the biggest reasons people upgrade their PCs is digital photos," Crow said, noting that Microsoft has been in contact with printer makers, digital camera companies and other unnamed industry partners while working on Windows Media Photo. Microsoft touts managing "digital memories" as one of the key attributes of XP successor Vista.

In his presentation, Crow showed an image with 24:1 compression that visibly contained more detail in the Windows Media Photo format than the JPEG and JPEG 2000 formats compressed at the same level.

Still, the image in the Microsoft format was somewhat distorted because of the high compression level. Typically digital cameras today use 6:1 compression, Crow said. Windows Media Photo should offer better pictures at double that level, he said. "We can do it in half the size of a JPEG file."

Not only does compression save storage space, which is especially important for devices such as cell phones and digital cameras, a smaller file can also print faster, transfer faster and help conserve battery life on devices, Crow said. "Making a file that is smaller has all kinds of benefits."

The compression technology is also "smart"--it is possible to process only part of a huge, picture file to show a smaller version, Crow said. Additionally, Microsoft's new image format allows such things as rotating the image without the need to decode it and subsequently encode it again, he said.

The new image format was received with cautious enthusiasm by some of the WinHEC attendees. Ralf Mueller, an application planner at mobile phone maker Sony Ericsson, said he would look into the new format just as his company looked into supporting Windows Media Audio and Windows Media Video.

"Considering our development cycle, I could not see us supporting Windows Media Photo before 2008," Mueller said.

Steven Wells, a part-time professional photographer, said he sees promise in the new file format. "The JPEG artifacts make it almost unusable for professional photographers," he said. "Windows Media Photo is possibly the first viable compression format."

Yet, success will depend on adoption, Wells said. Microsoft will need to get players such as Adobe Systems and Apple Computer on board to win over the graphics professionals, he noted. A major unknown is licensing, which Microsoft has not yet addressed. "Licensing can kill this," Wells said.

Windows Media Photo was developed by the same people who worked on Windows Media Video and Audio, Crow said. The image format takes a new approach to compression as well as color space and color conversion, he said. Furthermore, it gives a lot of flexibility, including in the pixel format and bit rate, Crow said.

Microsoft has finished the first official version of the "porting kit" software needed to build support for Windows Media Photo into devices and platforms other than Windows. It should be available soon, Crow said.

Licensing details for the technology are still being ironed out. These could be a concern, Crow acknowledged, but "the philosophy has been that licensing should not be a restriction" to adoption, he said.

Honda says brain waves control robot

In a step toward linking a person's thoughts to machines, Japanese automaker Honda said it has developed a technology that uses brain signals to control a robot's very simple moves.

Free Image Hosting at

In the future, the technology that Honda Motor Co. developed with ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories could be used to replace keyboards or cell phones, researchers said Wednesday. It also could have applications in helping people with spinal cord injuries, they said.

In a video demonstration in Tokyo, brain signals detected by a magnetic resonance imaging scanner were relayed to a robotic hand. A person in the MRI machine made a fist, spread his fingers and then made a V-sign. Several seconds later, a robotic hand mimicked the movements.

Further research would be needed to decode more complex movements.

The machine for reading the brain patterns also would have to become smaller and lighter — like a cap that people can wear as they move about, said ATR researcher Yukiyasu Kamitani.

What Honda calls a "brain-machine interface" is an improvement over past approaches, such as those that required surgery to connect wires. Other methods still had to train people in ways to send brain signals or weren't very accurate in reading the signals, Kamitani said.

Honda officials said the latest research was important not only for developing intelligence for the company's walking bubble-headed robot, Asimo, but also for future auto technology.

"There is a lot of potential for application to autos such as safety measures," said Tomohiko Kawanabe, president of Honda Research Institute Japan Co.

Asimo, about 50 inches tall, can talk, walk and dance. It's available only for rental but is important for Honda's image and has appeared at events and TV ads.

At least another five years are probably needed before Asimo starts moving according to its owner's mental orders, according to Honda.

Right now, Asimo's metallic hand can't even make a V-sign. {Y! News}

Sony May Try To Stop PS3 Game Resales

A story claiming that Sony is preparing to stop the potential sale of pre-owned PlayStation 3 games is being met with some skepticism by industry insiders.

According to a UK news source, citing retail contacts, Sony is preparing to make it illegal for consumers to sell used PS3 games. The plan would involve Sony adopting a licensing system whereby gamers would agree that they are purchasing a license to play a game, rather than the game itself.

If true, such a move would be a massive boost for publishers and developers which do not profit from the lucrative and damaging retail trade in used games. In fact, many publishers are furious that they have to spend support money on consumers who have not actually contributed a dime to the company's coffers.

In turn, it would be a catastrophe for retailers, which make a significant proportion of margin from used games. Consumers would likely be less than overjoyed.

Sony, which is refusing to comment on the story, does have a patent on technology which would tie a piece of software to an individual piece of hardware. But technology and desire are not the only parts of the puzzle. Whether the company would be prepared to take on retail, consumer goodwill and, most likely, the U.S courts, is another matter.

One expert in retail law told Next-Gen.Biz, "Sony can theoretically sell a license to play the game, but the user would have to acknowledge acceptance of the license. You've seen this when you install software on a PC. I'm not sure that the license agreement is enforceable if the licensee doesn't agree to it.

"Also, even if the agreement is enforceable, it's hard to preclude subsequent sale of the disc. The consumer could theoretically agree that he doesn't own the right to transfer his license, but why couldn't he sell the medium that held the license (the disc)? Sony can't enforce the agreement against a third party, as it lacks privity with the third party.

"Stated differently, I don't believe Sony can keep someone from selling a disc, even if they create a license agreement. The only way that this can truly be effected is to require registration of the disc with a specific PS3 console. Sony has a patent on such a technology, and could render a disc unplayable once registered. That would accomplish their goal (if they really have such a goal). In summary, I don't believe this is real."

A senior games publishing source told us, "Sony and the rest of us would love to put an end to this damaging trade, but actually making it happen looks like a fight that's beyond even Sony. I can't see it happening, but i hope I'm wrong."

Another senior manager at a third party publisher said, "I know that Sony is very upset about the used games market. But this story seems a bit far-fetched." []

Google to shut down Orkut communities

Google Inc. said Wednesday that it has agreed to shut down some communities on its popular Orkut social networking site because the Brazilian government says they advocate violence and human rights violations.

Google agreed to shut down any sites that violate Orkut's terms of service, which forbid "any illegal or unauthorized purpose," after the company met Tuesday with a Brazilian human rights commission, which presented evidence that Brazilians have been using the invitation-only networking site to promote crimes and violence.

Fusion reactor work gets go-ahead

Seven international parties involved in an experimental nuclear fusion reactor project have initialled a 10bn-euro (£6.8bn) agreement on the plan.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) will be the most expensive joint scientific project after the International Space Station.

Wednesday's agreement in Brussels gives the go-ahead for practical work on the project to start.

Fusion taps energy from reactions like those that power the Sun.

The seven-party consortium, which includes the European Union, the US, Japan, China, Russia and others, agreed last year to build Iter in Cadarache, in the southern French region of Provence.

Cleaner energy

The parties say fusion will lead to a cheaper, safer, cleaner and endless energy resource in the years ahead. {BBC News}

AMD Adds Virtualization, New CPUs To Desktop Line

Advanced Micro Devices officially launched its "AM2" socket upgrade on Tuesday, as the company tied its microprocessor products to next-generation DDR2 memory and added support for virtualization technology.

In support of the launch, AMD also added two new chips: an AMD64 2.8-GHz FX-62 processor, priced at $1,031, and an AMD 2.6-GHz 5000+ processor, priced at $696. Both prices represent lots of 1,000 units.

The new processors represent a true switch for AMD; the socket shift is a top-to-bottom transition made across all of AMD's desktop product lines, and neither the current 939-pin nor the older 754-pin processors will be able to connect to AM2 motherboards. According to David Schwarzbach, a product manager for AMD, Socket 754 chips will be phased out by the end of the year, and Socket 939 chips will be stockpiled until about the second half of the year, mainly for large corporate customers.

"This is really part of our rolling thunder strategy…as we work our way into the [Taiwan] Computex show in the first week of June," Schwarzbach said. The announcement follows the creation of AMD's energy-efficient processor line last week; another announcement tied to AMD's AMD Live! platform is expected before the show.

While the processors do include the first implementation of AMD's "Pacifica" virtualization technology, the chips themselves are just the first part of what AMD sees as an involved, complicated solution. Although the new processors are designed to support the operation of virtualized operating systems, other components, especially I/O peripherals such as disk drives, will need driver and O/S support to create a truly virtualized system, Schwarzbach said.

The chips will ship with embedded logic firmware that enables virtualization at the chip level, but will be designed to offer system designers the ability to offer virtualization just at the CPU level. "It's a walk before you can run strategy," Schwarzbach said. "IT will get the benefit immediately at the CPU level. It's the beginning of the enablement path, which will eventually move downstream to consumers. But first we need to get more work done, such as I/O virtualization. All devices that interface with the CPU need virtualization, and need drivers."

The new socket, tied to the new integrated DDR-2 controller, provides some performance headroom that will be filled up as AMD ramps faster processors. Although AMD's low-end Sempron will likely never use up the available bandwidth, Schwarzbach said that the shift was being made to accommodate board suppliers.

Between 15 to 30 boards in each performance segment – covering the Sempron, Athlon 64, Athlon X2, and Athlon FX lines – will be made available from AMD's board partners, including Abit, Asustek, ECS, Elitegroup, and others. Third-party chipsets, including Nvidia's first 500-series nForce chipsets, have also been launched in support of the new parts.

"Rather than a phased approach, which we could have done, which would have monopolized design resources over an extended basis, we decided to manage complexity by offering a simplified approach," Schwarzbach said.

Google to Distribute Online Video Ads

Google Inc. will begin distributing online video ads for the first time later this week, continuing the Internet search engine leader's effort to diversify beyond the static written messages that generate most of its profits.

The video expansion, announced late Monday, will affect thousands of Web sites that rely on Google to post ads related to the surrounding material on a page. For instance, a news story about housing might prompt Google to display an ad for real estate agents.

Google isn't allowing the video ads to appear on its own Web site — a heavily trafficked destination that produced 58 percent of its $2.25 billion in revenue during the first three months of this year.

Despite that restriction, Google's push into online video advertising represents a significant step for the Mountain View, Calif.-based company as it explores new ways to propel its rapid earnings growth. Google began distributing graphical ads two years ago and during the past year has been dabbling in print and radio marketing.

None of the new initiatives so far have paid off like the austere blurbs that Google has been distributing across the Web since 2001. Those commercial snippets, usually consisting of a sentence or two, have accounted for the bulk of the $13.6 billion in revenue that has poured into Google during the past 4 1/4 years.

Piraha (Another World-Diff Maths-Diff Language)

A study appearing today in the journal Science reports that the hunter-gatherers seem to be the only group of humans known to have no concept of numbering and counting.

There are really only three numeric words in Pirahã - "one," "two," and "many." To add to the confusion, "one" doesn't always mean exactly one - it could mean one fish, a small fish, or only a few fish.

Not only that, but adult Piraha apparently can't learn to count or understand the concept of numbers or numerals, even when they asked anthropologists to teach them and have been given basic math lessons for months at a time.

Their lack of enumeration skills is just one of the mental and cultural traits that has led scientists who have visited the 300 members of the tribe to describe the Piraha as "something from Mars."

Daniel Everett, an American linguistic anthropologist, has been studying and living with Piraha for 27 years.

Besides living a numberless life, he reports in a separate study prepared for publication, the Piraha are the only people known to have no distinct words for colours.

They have no written language, and no collective memory going back more than two generations.

They don't sleep for more than two hours at a time during the night or day.

Even when food is available, they frequently starve themselves and their children, Prof. Everett reports.

More than 60 years ago, amateur linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf argued that learning a specific language determined the nature and content of how you think.

That theory fell into intellectual disrepute after linguist Noam Chomsky's notions of a universal human grammar and Harvard University professor Steven Pinker's idea of a universal language instinct became widely accepted.

Piraha's language has a grammar so radical that it could possibly disprove the theory that certain principles of grammar are shared by all languages– the universal grammar theory.

Of more interest to linguists is the discovery that the Pirahã language does not allow for one phrase to be embedded inside another, which means the language is not recursive.

They communicate almost as much by singing, whistling and humming as by normal speech.

They frequently change their names, because they believe spirits regularly take them over and intrinsically change who they are.


One might think that this unique way of life would disappear if introduced to modern life, but this is not the case. They do not live in isolation; they have been in contact with other Brazilians for over two hundred years, and they have sold goods to traders for quite a while. Rather than being absorbed by their neighbors, they resist. The reason for this is because the Pirahã see themselves as intrinsically better than the people around them, and so they do their best to avoid being like others. Maybe they resisted progress so fiercely that they have succeeded in keeping their culture different from those around them. Then again, maybe they really are superior, and we just lack the mental faculties to realize it. [hB]

Google leads search, Yahoo wins portal wars

While Google is storming ahead of rivals in the search arena, it isn't faring so well in its non-core offerings, according to figures revealed on Monday.

Newly compiled US statistics from online traffic analysts at Hitwise suggest Google reigns supreme in terms of searches and seems to be increasing its lead. Based on surveying last week's internet usage, Google receives over 47 percent of search traffic, while Yahoo gets 16 percent and third-place MSN receives just 12 percent.

While Yahoo's dominance in search has waned considerably in recent years (only a few years ago Yahoo had 40 percent of searches), it is by no means out of the way in the web portal stakes. For example Yahoo's News & Media service garners a healthy 6.3 percent of news traffic while Google's 1.9 percent news share ranks fifth for news behind Yahoo, the Weather Channel (5.6 percent), MSNBC (4 percent), and CNN (3.95 percent).

Yahoo's mail service, Yahoo Mail, also leads the e-mail rankings, recording 42 percent of all visits to mail sites last week, followed by Microsoft's Hotmail with 23 percent. Somewhat surprisingly, new boy MySpace Mail received nearly 20 percent of all mail site visits with Google lagging at the back of the class with just a 2.5 percent share for its Gmail service.

More than half of all internet visits are to business and finance sites and in this category Yahoo Finance and MSN Money Central are way ahead with 35 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Google Finance lies 40 rankings behind leader Yahoo with only 0.29 percent.

Looking at maps online is a growth area of the internet. Mapquest is the segment leader with 56 percent of this traffic followed by Yahoo Maps at 21 percent. Google Maps comes a credible third place with 7.5 percent while MSN Virtual Earth gets 4.3 percent of armchair explorers, and Google Earth receives 2 percent.

The figures were posted on the blog site of Hitwise analyst Bill Tancer on Monday and have created a mass of speculation already. Commentators are suggesting that Google has received a lot of press over its non-search capabilities but users have not changed over from established portals such as MSN and Yahoo due to familiarity rather than cost. Based on comments from Google spokespersons in the US media the search giant does not seem fazed by its low figures in its non core area and expects growth in the future.

Does light have mass?

The short answer is "no", but it is a qualified "no" because there are odd ways of interpreting the question which could justify the answer "yes".

Light is composed of photons so we could ask if the photon has mass. The answer is then definitely "no": The photon is a massless particle. According to theory it has energy and momentum but no mass and this is confirmed by experiment to within strict limits. Even before it was known that light is composed of photons it was known that light carries momentum and will exert a pressure on a surface. This is not evidence that it has mass since momentum can exist without mass. [ For details see the Physics FAQ article What is the mass of the photon?].

Sometimes people like to say that the photon does have mass because a photon has energy E = hf where h is Planck's constant and f is the frequency of the photon. Energy, they say, is equivalent to mass according to Einstein's famous formula E = mc2. They also say that a photon has momentum and momentum is related to mass p = mv. What they are talking about is "relativistic mass", an outdated concept which is best avoided [ See Relativity FAQ article Does mass change with velocity? ] Relativistic mass is a measure of the energy E of a particle which changes with velocity. By convention relativistic mass is not usually called the mass of a particle in contemporary physics so it is wrong to say the photon has mass in this way. But you can say that the photon has relativistic mass if you really want to. In modern terminology the mass of an object is its invariant mass which is zero for a photon.

If we now return to the question "Does light have mass?" this can be taken to mean different things if the light is moving freely or trapped in a container. The definition of the invariant mass of an object is m = sqrt{E2/c4 - p2/c2}. By this definition a beam of light, is massless like the photons it is composed of. However, if light is trapped in a box with perfect mirrors so the photons are continually reflected back and forth in the box, then the total momentum is zero in the box's frame of reference but the energy is not. Therefore the light adds a small contribution to the mass of the box. This could be measured - in principle at least - either by an increase in inertia when the box is slowly accelerated or by an increase in its gravitational pull. You might say that the light in the box has mass but it would be more correct to say that the light contributes to the total mass of the box of light. You should not use this to justify the statement that light has mass in general.

It might be thought that it would be better to regard the relativistic mass as the actual mass of photons and light, instead of invariant mass. We could then consistently talk about the light having mass independently of whether or not it is contained. If relativistic mass is used for all objects then mass is conserved and the mass of an object is the sum of the masses of its part. However, modern usage defines mass as the invariant mass of an object mainly because the invariant mass is more useful when doing any kind of calculation. In this case mass is not conserved and the mass of an object is not the sum of the masses of its parts. For example the mass of a box of light is more than the mass of the box and the sum of the masses of the photons (the latter being zero). Relativistic mass is equivalent to energy so it is a redundant concept. In the modern view mass is not equivalent to energy. It is just that part of the energy of a body which is not kinetic energy. Mass is independent of velocity whereas energy is not.

Let's try to phrase this another way. What is the meaning of the equation E=mc2? You can interpret it to mean that energy is the same thing as mass except for a conversion factor equal to the square of the speed of light. Then wherever there is mass there is energy and wherever there is energy there is mass. In that case photons have mass but we call it relativistic mass. Another way to use Einstein's equation would be to keep mass and energy as separate and use it as an equation which applies when mass is converted in energy or energy is converted to mass as in nuclear reactions. The mass is then independent of velocity and is closer to the old Newtonian concept. In that case only total of energy and mass would be conserved but it seems better to try to keep conservation of energy. The interpretation most widely used is a compromise in which mass is invariant and always has energy so that total energy is conserved but kinetic energy and radiation does not have mass. The distinction is purely a matter of semantic convention.

Sometimes people ask "If light has no mass how can it be deflected by the gravity of a star?" One answer is that any particles such as photons of light, move along geodesics in general relativity and the path they follow is independent of their mass. The deflection of star-light by the sun was first measured by Arthur Eddington in 1919. The result was consistent with the predictions of general relativity and inconsistent with the Newtonian theory. Another answer is that the light has energy and momentum which couples to gravity. The energy-momentum 4-vector of a particle, rather than its mass, is the gravitational analogue of electric charge. The corresponding analogue of electric current is the energy-momentum stress tensor which appears in the gravitational field equations of general relativity. A massless particle can have energy E and momentum p because mass is related to these by the equation m2 = E2/c4 - p2/c2 which is zero for a photon because E = pc for massless radiation. The energy and momentum of light also generates curvature of space-time so according to theory it can attract objects gravitationally. This effect is far too weak to have been measured. The gravitational effect of photons does not have any cosmological effects either (except perhaps in the first instant after the big bang). There are far too few with too little energy to make up any noticeable proportion of dark matter.

The fight against V1@gra (and other spam)

To the antispam researchers at MessageLabs, an e-mail filtering company, each new wave of a recent stock-pumping spam seemed like a personal affront.

The spammers were trying to circumvent the world's junk-mail filters by embedding their messages--whether peddling something called China Digital Media for $1.71 a share, or a "Hot Pick!" company called GroFeed for just 10 cents--into images.

In some ways, it was a desperate move. The images made the messages much bulkier than simple text messages, so the spammers were using more bandwidth to churn out fewer spams. But they also knew that, to filters scanning for telltale spam words in the text of e-mail messages, a picture of the words "Hot Stox!!" is significantly different from the words themselves.

So the bulk e-mailers behind this campaign seemed to calculate that they had a good chance of slipping their stock pitches past spam defenses to land in the in-boxes of prospective customers.

It worked, but only briefly. Antispam developers at MessageLabs, one of several companies that essentially reroute their clients' e-mail traffic through proprietary spam-scrubbing servers before delivering it, quickly developed a "checksum," or fingerprint, for the images, and created a filter to block them.

Advances in spam-catching techniques mean that most computer users no longer face the paralyzing crush of junk messages that began threatening the very utility of e-mail communications just a few years ago.

But spammers have hardly given up, and as they improve and adapt their techniques, network managers must still face down the pill-pushers, get-rich-quick artists and others who use billions of unwanted e-mail messages to troll for income. "For the end user, spam isn't that much of a problem anymore," said Matt Sergeant, MessageLabs' senior antispam technologist. "But for the network, and for people like us, it definitely is."

Shortly after MessageLabs created a filter to catch the stock spams, the images they contained changed again.

They were now arriving with what looked to the naked eye like a gray border. Zooming in, however, the MessageLabs team discovered that the border was made up of thousands of randomly ordered dots. Indeed, every message in that particular spam campaign was generated with a new image of the border--each with its own random array of dots.

"That was kind of cool and kind of funny," said Sergeant, a soft-spoken British transplant who spends his days helping to douse spam fires from his home office outside Toronto.

During a recent meeting at the company's New York office, in Midtown Manhattan, Sergeant and a colleague, Nick Johnson, an antispam developer visiting from MessageLabs' headquarters in Gloucester, England, expressed both amusement and respect over the sheer creativity of the world's most prolific spammers, who continue to dump hundreds of millions of junk messages into the e-mail stream each day.

"It was almost like they knew what we were doing," Sergeant said.

Several surveys--from AOL, the Pew Internet and American Life Project and others--have indicated that the amount of spam reaching consumer inboxes has at least stabilized.

That is true for users whose networks are protected by off-site, third-party filtering services like MessageLabs', as well as those protected by network software or in-house equipment that filters messages before they hit a company's e-mail server.

If individual users also have personal spam filters installed on their computers, their in-box spam count can be reduced to a trickle.

But spam continues to account for roughly 70 percent of all e-mail messages on the Internet, despite tough antispam laws across the globe (including the Can-Spam Act in the United States), despite vigorous lawsuits against individual junk-mail senders and despite the famous prediction, by Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum in 2004, that spam would be eradicated by 2006.

The continuing defiance of spammers was demonstrated last week when one of them forced Blue Security, an antispam company based in Israel, to shut down its services. The company gave customers the power to enact mob justice on spammers by overloading them with requests to be removed from mailing lists. A spammer in Russia retaliated by knocking out Blue Security's Web site and threatening virus attacks against its customers. Blue Security said it would back off rather than be responsible for a "cyberwar."

While there are some indications that the growth rate of spam has plateaued or even slowed, experts say that spikes are always looming. That is partly because spammers can hide themselves or their operations in countries where law enforcement is lax, from Russia and Eastern Europe to China and Nigeria. Because some spammers can churn out 200 million or more messages a day, and because less than 1 percent of those need to bring responses from naïve, click-happy users to turn handsome profits, there is little incentive to stop.

"That's really just the daily battle," said Sergeant, who routinely shares intelligence on individual spammers with other antispam organizations and with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. "That 1 percent is the wall, really--it's the spammers creating something new that we just haven't seen before. And for us it's a matter of how quickly we can deal with it."

There is plenty to deal with. Most spam is still just, well, spam: low-rent pitches for stocks and penis-enlargement pills. But there are also the more immediate menaces, including attempts to trick consumers into giving up bank and credit card information--or the use of spam to deliver viruses and other malicious software.

From an industry perspective, antivirus and antispam scanning are virtually inseparable, and MessageLabs is among many companies jockeying to position themselves as full-service contractors, offering to filter, scan, scrub and archive both incoming and outgoing mail.

It's a lucrative strategy.

IDC, the research firm, estimates that the global market for "messaging security" will grow to $2.6 billion by 2009, from $675 million in 2004. The category consists mostly of antispam services, but also covers outbound filtering--something that employers now demand and all vendors include, according to Brian Burke, an IDC analyst.

IDC estimates that the larger market for "secure content management," which folds in virus protection, Web filtering and spyware protection, will grow to $11.4 billion by 2009 from $4.8 billion in 2004.

In 2005, about 60 percent of businesses were using software to combat spam, with the rest split between using managed services and antispam hardware, according to Osterman Research, which conducts market analysis on the messaging industry. But the percentage of businesses moving to managed services is expected to double, to almost 40 percent, during the next two years.

In that context, it may not be surprising that Microsoft recently acquired FrontBridge, the third-largest provider of managed e-mail services. MessageLabs and Postini, based in San Carlos, Calif., have long been the leaders in the category.

While much growth in this field will be driven by the threat of viruses and other bugs attached to messages, the wave of simple but inventive marketing spam remains a big concern--and, in many ways, is the harder thing to catch. Consider the stock spam using random dots in the borders.

"We actually developed some technology to detect borders in images and figure out the entropy--that is, to figure out if the border was random," Sergeant said. "So that was fine." Of course, shortly afterward, "they decided to stop using the borders," he added.

From there, the senders began placing a small number of barely perceptible and, again, randomly placed dots--a pink one here, a blue one there, a green one near the bottom--throughout the images. Then they shifted to multiple images, with words spelled partially in plain text and partially as images, so that the content, when viewed on a common e-mail reader like Outlook or AOL, would look like an ordinary message.

"There are loads of different kinds of obfuscation," Johnson said. "They've realized that people are looking for V1agra spelled with a '1' and st0ck with a 'zero' and that sort of thing, so they might try some sort of meaning obfuscation, like just referring to a watch as a 'wrist accessory' or something like that. So they say something like, 'Drape your wrist with this elegant accessory.'

"Any way not to say 'Rolex,' " he added, "so it's quite cryptic."

Sitting in a windowless conference room, Sergeant alternated his gaze between the conversation at hand and the streams of filtered e-mail subject lines slithering down his laptop screen.

The lines were feedback from the company's "radar" system, which allows team members to test a new "rule" or "signature" that they have devised on a slice of the incoming torrent of spam. If the rule is too broad and general, legitimate e-mail messages--dreaded "false positives" in the parlance of spam assassins--will begin showing up on the radar.

Johnson plugs into the radar himself and highlights a common obfuscation technique he calls "gappy text": words with spaces between the letters, to fool filters designed to look only for whole words. The example was in a message advertising a work-at-home opportunity out of "T u l s a , O k l a h o m a ."

"That's something that we might consider signaturing, that whole line there, with the spaces," he said, "because it's not very common behavior for someone to want to write like that."

Johnson began reading from a customer testimonial included in the same message: "I was skeptical at first. I made money. I couldn't believe it!"

Sergeant erupted in laughter.

"It's a classic joke in our office," Johnson said. "If it's advertised in spam, it must be true."

Johnson described another trick that a spammer had recently deployed so that messages peddling Viagra would move into recipients' in-boxes.

By default, most modern e-mail software can display messages that are written with the same text formatting code used to create Web pages--known as hypertext markup language, or HTML. Like viewers of Web pages, e-mail users never actually see the underlying code, or "tags" used to make some words appear, say, bold or italicized. But spam filters scan this code, too, looking for "spammy behavior," as Johnson put it.

In this instance, a clever spam writer slipped a Viagra message past many filters by spelling the word with several I's, then using HTML code to shove all of the I's together. "Whenever you view this in your e-mail program," Johnson said, "the letter spacing is set to minus-3 pixels, so it will show all these I's on top of each other, and it will look like one I.

"That was quite an impressive one, actually," he said.

And vexing, Sergeant added. Without a special rule created by the team, it would have been virtually impossible for a machine to examine the source code of a message and determine that this was the word "Viagra."

"The word appears on screen as it should," Sergeant said. "But if you actually are examining the HTML, you just couldn't pull out a word from it. So while a computer can't figure out what the words are in the e-mail, the human eyes can."

A company like MessageLabs tries to avoid examining messages at this level. Instead, it prefers to stop much of the junk at the door, using what is called IP blocking. This prevents the receipt of messages from a particular Internet protocol address already identified as a spamming source.

This technique is sometimes frowned upon by Internet purists, because it can punish innocent users by blacklisting a whole range of addresses from a single host. But Sergeant said that IP blocking had become more refined since the early days of spam fighting. "It's very, very important to us," he said. "It's our first line of defense, really."

Still, spammers can often get around this by turning to zombie bots. These are vast networks of personal computers that have been surreptitiously infected with malicious software, permitting a spammer to use their computing power, without the owners' knowledge, to spew or relay spam, viruses, keyloggers, phony "update your bank account" messages and other dark payloads.

Zombies now deliver half to three-quarters of all spam, according to a Federal Trade Commission report to Congress in December on the state of the spam problem. Among the zombies' many advantages is an ever-shifting collection of IP addresses.

Another trump card was handed to spammers just over a year and a half ago, when VeriSign, the security and services company that controls the dot-com and dot-net network domains, unveiled a quicker way to update domain names.

Although a boon to people setting up their own sites, the new system decreased the time needed for a newly registered domain name to be activated, to 5 minutes from about 12 hours. That put spammers, armed with stolen credit cards and a willingness to buy and quickly abandon domain names, at a new advantage.

VeriSign updates its domain information every 12 hours. "But a spammer can register a new domain and have it live within 5 minutes," Sergeant said. "So he's got a big window where nobody has any information about his domain. They make use of that window."

MessageLabs' filtering database tries to discover new zombie bots by studying the behavior of e-mail messages from new addresses. Normally, for instance, a machine looking to deliver a message to another machine essentially says "hello" by passing an identifying string of code. Most legitimate mail servers will say "hello" with the same string over and over, for every message.

"When a machine communicates with us in two, three, four different ways within a small time frame," Sergeant said, "that makes the sending machine look kind of weird." That behavior can indicate "it's not a real machine, it's just one of these drone armies."

Some low-end spamming software, too, may leave characteristic fingerprints--for instance, the telltale way in which it forges the header information--that spam fighters gradually add to their cumulative antispam wisdom.

For all the algorithmic derring-do, however, sooner or later the game turns not on IP addresses or software fingerprints, but on the content of the message. It's the approach that MessageLabs researchers like least, but one that spammers constantly force on them.

Nigerian e-mail scams are a particular nuisance in this regard. Familiar to any e-mail user, these are the ones seeking an advance payment from the recipient to help rescue a deposed prince or to collect a percentage on some elaborately portrayed fortune. They are difficult to weed out because the senders often use Web-based e-mail services like Yahoo or Gmail, so I.P. blocking is impractical.

The language used in the e-mail messages, too, is often common enough that no particular string lends itself to safe rule-making; the risk of filtering out legitimate communications would be high.

MessageLabs has spent a year compiling a database, "Scam DNA," of 15,000 Nigerian scam messages, and used pattern analysis to build a family tree of the scams. It has found that most of the pitches are derived among a few hundred templates.

"Scam DNA basically codifies this into an algorithm," Sergeant said, "where, hopefully, we can detect this going on and find new scams based on the old scams."

But even if it works, the amount of spam it would eliminate from the overall deluge would be negligible by almost any measure, and Sergeant and his team will still be forced into encounters with "C i a l i s" and "st0x" and "Viiiiagra." The researchers are certain that the last, with multiple I's shoved together, is the handiwork of Leo Kuvayev.

Kuvayev is No. 3 on the list of the world's most prolific and notorious spammers, maintained at, a London-based watchdog group. The listing is not undeserved.

In Massachusetts last October, a Suffolk Superior Court judge, D. Lloyd MacDonald, levied $37 million in penalties on Kuvayev and six other people after deciding against them--in absentia--in a lawsuit brought by the state's attorney general, Tom Reilly.

The suit contended that the defendants, who once worked out of Newton, Mass., and Boston, used "a complicated web of Internet sites and domain names selling a variety of illegal products," including counterfeit drugs, pirated software, pornography and phony designer watches.

Spam watchers say they believe Kuvayev is now in Russia--still very much in business and employing a team of spam writers to continue poking holes in the world's filters.

"They must be pretty good HTML gurus," Sergeant said, "who must really know their stuff."

Sergeant said that just two men--Kuvayev and Alex Blood, a Ukrainian who is rated the No. 1 junk mailer by Spamhaus--hammer the world's e-mail systems with five million messages an hour. "You're talking about being responsible for something like 10 percent of all e-mail on the Internet," Sergeant said, "from just two guys."

Two guys who, along with plenty of others, may keep antispam outfits like MessageLabs in business.

"A lot of people would say, 'Why would you want to have these spammers prosecuted and why give information to the F.B.I., because surely you want there to be more spam?' " Sergeant said. "But with the volumes these guys are sending, it would actually help us more if there were less of it.

"We're just not going to kid ourselves and say we believe that spam is ever going to go away," he added. "It's always going to be a problem."

Scientists say they have cleared technical hurdle in fusion research

Physicists working in the United States believe they have cracked an important problem facing man-made nuclear fusion, touted as the cheap, safe, clean and almost limitless energy source of the future.

In fusion, atomic nuclei are fused together to release energy, as opposed to fission -- the technique used for nuclear power and atomic bombs -- where nuclei are split.

In a fusion reactor, particles are rammed together to form a charged gas called a plasma, contained inside a doughnut-shaped chamber called a tokamak by powerful magnetic coils

A consortium of countries signed a deal last year to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in southern France as a testbed for an eventual commercial design.

But many experts have been shaking their heads at the many challenges facing the ITER designers.

One of them is a phenomenon called edge localised modes, or ELMs.

These are sudden fluxes or eddies in the outer edge of the plasma that erode the tokamak's inner wall -- a highly expensive metal skin that absorbs neutrons emitted from the plasma.

Erosion means that the wall has to be replaced more often, which thus adds hugely to costs. Eroded particles also have a big impact on the plasma performance, diminishing the amount of energy it can deliver.

Writing on Sunday in the British journal Nature Physics, a team led by Todd Evans of General Atomics, California, believes that the problematic ELMs can be cleverly controlled.

They found that a small resonant magnetic field, derived from special coils located inside a reactor vessel, creates "chaotic" magnetic interference on the plasma edge, which stops the fluxes from forming.

The experiments were conducted at the General Atomics' DIII-D National Fusion Facility, a tokamak in San Diego.

Nuclear fusion is the same process used by the Sun to radiate energy. In the case of our star, hydrogen atoms are forced together to produce helium. On Earth, the fusion would take place in a reactor fuelled by two istopes of hydrogen -- deuterium and tritium -- with helium the waste product.

Deuterium is present in seawater, which makes it a virtually limitless resource. Tritium would be derived from irradiating the plentiful element lithium in the fusion vessel.

The 10-billion-euro (12.8-billion-dollar) ITER scheme entails building the largest tokamak in the world at Cadarache, near the southern French city of Marseille.

The partners are the European Union (EU), the United States, Japan, Russia, China, India and South Korea.

It is designed to be a test bed of fusion technologies, with a construction period of about 10 years and an operational lifespan of 20 years.

If ITER works, a prototype commercial reactor will be built, and if that works, fusion technology will be rolled out across the world.

Other problems facing fusion technology include the challenge of creating a self-sustaining plasma and efficiently containing the plasma so that charged particles do not leak out.

In the various tokamaks, no one has achieved a self-sustaining fusion event for longer than about five seconds, and at the cost of using up far more energy than was yielded.

A huge jolt of heat, of nearly 100 million C (180 million F), is needed to kickstart the process, which then has to be sustained by tiny amounts of fuel pellets.

.xxx registry sues US government

"ICM Registry LLC, the company behind the proposed .xxx internet porn domain, is to sue two departments of the US government for access to documents it claims show the US pressured ICANN into rejecting the domain. The Florida-based startup will sue the Department of Commerce and the Department of State to get them to release documents that they redacted when they responded to a Freedom Of Information Act request that ICM filed last year." -

Microsoft reveals Vista enabled PCs

Microsoft has revealed how powerful computers must be to run Vista - the new version of its Windows operating system.

It has given advice on the basic specifications to run the software as well as the higher capabilities needed to get the most out of it.

Also available is a downloadable tool that lets people know if the PC they own now will run the system.

Microsoft has said that Vista will go on widespread release in January 2007.

Spec check

Vista, formerly known as Longhorn, is Microsoft's long awaited update to the Windows family of operating systems and makes some big changes to the way that the software works.

Typically every release of Windows kicks off a round of PC buying as companies and consumers buy machines that can make the most of the novel features included in the new version.

Click here to see hardware checklist

Microsoft has released "minimum" and "recommended" specifications for Vista.

The minimum means that the operating system will run but some new features will be disabled. Recommended means that this is what is needed to get the most basic configuration of the whole package working.

For instance one of the big changes in Vista is the graphical look of the interface itself - dubbed Aero. In Vista the familiar boxes, windows and icons on the desktop are modelled as 3D objects - just like in many computer games.

Only those machines with a graphics card that has a significant amount of memory will be able to use this 3D display.

Other big changes in Vista include the way it handles sound and networking with other machines.

Microsoft has also prepared a Vista "Get Ready" website that can help people work out if their PC can run Vista unaltered, if they need to upgrade their main memory or graphics card, or if they need a whole new computer.

Also available is a software download called the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor that can check a PC and advise about the action needed to run the new version of Windows.

The situation is also complicated by the fact that Microsoft is set to release Vista in six separate versions. Three will be aimed at home users, two at companies and one for emerging markets.

Many PC makers are already selling machines that they label as "Vista ready".

There is no information yet about the abilities of Intel-based Apple Mac computers and whether they will be able to run Vista.


Minimum Recommended
Processor 800MHz 1GHz 32 or 64 bit
System Memory 512MB 1GB
Graphics card DirectX 9 capable Runs Windows Aero
Graphics Memory - - 128MB
Free space on Hard Drive 15GB 15GB
Source: Microsoft [thru BBC News]

Nuclear-powered Car

The Ford Nucleon was a nuclear-powered concept car developed by Ford Motor Company in 1958. The car did not have an internal-combustion engine, rather, it was powered by a small nuclear reactor in the trunk of the car. The vehicle featured a power capsule suspended between twin booms at the rear. The capsule, which would contain radioactive core for motive power, was designed to be easily interchangeable, according to performance needs and the distances to be traveled.

The passenger compartment of the Nucleon featured a one-piece, pillar-less windshield and compound rear window, and was topped by a cantilever roof. There were air intakes at the leading edge of the roof and at the base of its supports. An extreme cab-forward style provided more protection to the driver and passengers from the reactor in the rear. Some pictures show the car with tailfins sweeping up from the rear fenders.

The drive train would be integral to the power module, and electronic torque converters would take the place of the drive-train used at the time. It was said that cars like the Nucleon would be able to travel 5,000 miles or more, depending on the size of the core, without recharging. Instead at the end of the cores life they would be taken to a charging station, which research designers envisioned as largely replacing gas stations. The car was never built and never went into production, but it remains an icon of the Atomic Age of the 1950s.

The nuclear reactor in the back of the modified De Lorean sports car used in the movie Back to the Future bears at least a passing resemblance to one in the Nucleon.

The mock-up of the car can be viewed at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, MI. [Wikipedia]

Report: Ozone Hole May Disappear by 2050

The ozone hole over the Antarctic is likely to begin contracting in the future and may disappear by 2050 because of a reduction in the release of chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-depleting gases, according to a team of Japanese scientists.

The findings are based on a series of numerical simulations carried out by Eiji Akiyoshi of the National Institute for Environmental Studies, near Tokyo, using projected emissions of chlorofluorocarbons and other gases blamed for the ozone hole.

According to a report posted Friday on the institute's Web site, the hole is at its largest now but is likely to gradually start contracting around 2020 and disappear by around 2050.

The team's findings are in line with research by other scientists.

Some, however, have suggested the hole won't heal until much later because old refrigerators and air-conditioning systems — many in the United States and Canada — are still releasing ozone-killing chemicals. Both countries curbed those chemicals in newer products.

Satellites and ground stations have been monitoring the ozone hole over the South Pole since its discovery in the 1980s.

Chlorofluorocarbon levels in the earth's atmosphere have been declining since the mid-1990s due to international efforts to reduce emissions. [Yahoo! News]

Market Punishes Intel For AMD's Win

Intel Corp. shares fell to a three-year low Friday after No. 1 personal computer maker Dell Inc. said it would begin using chips from smaller Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc., whose shares surged.

Dell said that for the first time in more than two decades, Intel will no longer be its sole provider of computer microprocessors, the brains that run computers.

It's a big coup for AMD. Until the company came out with its Athlon and Opteron processors, it had been largely regarded as a maker of cheaper, lower-performing Intel clone chips.

Intel shares traded for as little as $17.94 early in the session, their lowest level since April 2003. At midday they stood at $18.18 on Nasdaq, down 2.5 percent. AMD shares gained $2.60, or 8 percent, to $34.95 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Dell said late on Thursday that it will use AMD's Opteron microprocessors in some high-end corporate server machines. That announcement sealed a long-running on-again, off-again courtship between the two companies.

The pact, announced as Dell reported its quarterly results, only applies to a category of powerful business computers known as servers. The agreement does not end Intel's coveted status as Dell's only provider of microprocessors for desktop and laptop personal computers.

"The question on everyone's mind today will be what the relationship implies for additional AMD business at Dell," Merrill Lynch analyst Joe Osha said in a note to investors. "The most likely outcome is a tough fight between the two companies for Dell's business, especially in desktop."

Merrill Lynch expects AMD's share of the market for server microprocessors will rise to 26 percent by the end of the year, up from 16 percent a year earlier. AMD's share will continue to gain next year and could hit 30 percent, Osha said in his note.

Intel, struggling to regain market share and kick-start profit growth, is overhauling its product line this year, promising chips that use less electricity while performing faster.

Analysts have said that so long as Intel comes through on its promise, AMD's deal with Dell shouldn't be a big blow.

Before the market opened on Friday, some analysts warned that Intel's stock could fall to about $16 within a few days on fears the Dell decision will propel AMD to greater market share gains, according to Tim Ghriskey, who manages more than $1 billion for Solaris Asset Management.

"That's a very bearish scenario," he said. "It's sort of a worst case."

Solaris owns AMD shares but hasn't held Intel for about a year. Ghriskey said he was considering buying Intel after Friday morning's drop. "We're salivating at today's decline. It's quite a gap," he said before the stock market opened.

Jim Huguet, president of Great Companies LLC, said Dell's decision to go with AMD for some server chips was not a "devastating blow" for Intel.

"Intel still has a lot of business and a lot of customers," said Huguet, whose firm manages about $1 billion. "Smart people are running the company, but I'm sure they'd rather not have that happen."

"Pay Per Click" fraud botnet discovered

PandaLabs has detected a network of computers infected with the bot Clickbot.A, which is being used to defraud ‘pay per click’ systems, registering clicks automatically and providing lucrative returns for the creators. According to the data collected so far, the scam is exploiting a global network comprising more than 34,000 zombie computers (those infected by the bot).

The bots are controlled remotely through several Web servers. This allows the perpetrators to define, for example, the web pages on which the adverts are hosted or the maximum number of clicks from any one IP address in order not to arouse suspicions. Similarly, the number of clicks from the bot can be monitored as well as the computers online at any one time. The system used can evade fraud detection systems by sending click requests from different, unrelated IP addresses.

“Renting and selling of botnets has become a genuine business model for cyber-crooks. The scam we have now uncovered exploits infected systems to generate profits through ‘Pay per Click’ systems, instead of by installing spyware sending spam,” explains Luis Corrons, director of PandaLabs. “Given the proliferation of these networks, it is highly advisable for users to scan their systems with fully up-to-date anti-malware solutions, as bots like those involved in this case can be perfectly concealed on computers”.

The Clickbot.A mechanism consists of two parts. The first is an executable file that launches a dynamic link library on the system, which later deletes itself. The second is a component of Internet Explorer that notifies the attacker that computer is infected, even allowing the control components to be updated. The bot then registers in the database of the control system, checking that the creator has given authorization to start clicking, and if so, will request the list of addresses from which to click.

Bots represent one of the fastest growing threats on the Internet, given that they adapt perfectly to the new malware dynamic in which threat creators are no longer searching for notoriety, but for financial returns. With this in mind, they try to ensure their creations are installed without arousing the suspicions of users or security companies.

“The current situation requires the use of proactive technologies, which can detect unknown threats by examining their behavior and complements traditional antivirus products. For example, our TruPrevent proactive technologies have detected more than 46,000 examples of new malware since first released in 2004,” adds Corrons.

In the Fight Against Spam E-Mail, Goliath Wins Again

Eran Reshef had an idea in the battle against spam e-mail that seemed to be working: he fought spam with spam. Today, he'll give up the fight.

Reshef's Silicon Valley company, Blue Security Inc., simply asked the spammers to stop sending junk e-mail to his clients. But because those sort of requests tend to be ignored, Blue Security took them to a new level: it bombarded the spammers with requests from all 522,000 of its customers at the same time.

That led to a flood of Internet traffic so heavy that it disrupted the spammers' ability to send e-mails to other victims -- a crippling effect that caused a handful of known spammers to comply with the requests.

Then, earlier this month, a Russia-based spammer counterattacked, Reshef said. Using tens of thousands of hijacked computers, the spammer flooded Blue Security with so much Internet traffic that it blocked legitimate visitors from going to, as well as to other Web sites. The spammer also sent another message: Cease operations or Blue Security customers will soon find themselves targeted with virus-filled attacks.

Today, Reshef will wave a virtual white flag and surrender. The company will shut down this morning and its Web site will display a message informing its customers about the closure.

"It's clear to us that [quitting] would be the only thing to prevent a full-scale cyber-war that we just don't have the authority to start," Reshef said. "Our users never signed up for this kind of thing."

Security experts say the move marks a disheartening development in the ongoing battle by computer users, online businesses and law enforcement against those who clutter e-mail inboxes with a continuous glut of ads for drugs, porn and get-rich-quick schemes. According to Symantec Corp., maker of the popular Norton antivirus software products, more than 50 percent of all e-mail sent in the latter half of 2005 was spam.

Alan Paller, director of research for the Bethesda-based SANS Institute, a computer security training group, said extortion attacks have exploded in the past few years. With Blue Security, Paller said, the attackers' extortionist demands were that the company merely stop interfering in a multimillion-dollar spam operation.

"We're hearing from federal law enforcement that they are getting more than one new case of online extortion each day," Paller said.

The spammer's counterattack generated so much Internet traffic that it also affected other sites, including Six Apart Ltd., a San Francisco-based company that runs millions of Web sites through its TypePad and LiveJournal blogging services. The attack also shut down operations for roughly 12 hours at Tucows Inc., a Toronto-based Internet services company that helped manage Blue Security's site.

Tucows chief executive Elliot Noss called the attack "by far the largest the company had ever seen," and said that only a handful of companies have the infrastructure in place to withstand such an assault, much less a more powerful one.

"This attack really was like trying to take out a mosquito with an atomic bomb," Noss said.

The FBI is investigating the attacks, according to Six Apart, but agency officials would not confirm a federal investigation yesterday.

Todd Underwood, chief of operations and security for Renesys Corp., a company that monitors Internet connectivity, called the attack against Blue Security "unsurprising but sad."

The innovative approach in the fight against spam caught the attention of investors in 2004, when Blue Security received more than $4 million in venture capital, but critics questioned whether the company could win such a massive battle.

"When the company's founders first approached the broader anti-spam community and asked them what they thought of the idea, everyone said this was a terrible idea and that they would eventually cause a lot of collateral damage," Underwood said. "But it's also extremely unfortunate, because it shows how much the spammers are winning this battle."