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Nuclear Website Trawled by Spooks

anyrad.jpgWithin days of its launch www.anythingradioactive.com, the world’s first website devoted to the fun side of nuclear ionizing radiation attracted the attention of a impressive number of government agencies, security services, research establishments and international regulatory bodies. It is possible links to articles on how to build an atomic bomb (and how to defuse one…) may have caught their attention.

In just one day the site logged visitors from the Ministry of Defence, the FBI, British Nuclear Fuels, Porton Down Research, NHS, DHSS and many others who didn’t leave calling cards or used anonymous addresses. Several even made purchases, with ‘Toxic Waste’ mugs, Atomic Head sweets and key rings proving especially popular with the nuclear establishment.

The Anythingradioactive office, which also sells Geiger counters, glowing radioactive ‘uranium’ marbles and Trinitite (fused sand recovered from the test site of the world’s first atomic bomb test) on the web also received a visit in person from the local council Health and Safety department, who gave the site the all-clear.

Pirate Websites Double Jeopardy

malware.jpgAn investigation, sponsored by Microsoft and carried out by market research company IDC has found that a quarter of the web sites offering counterfeit product keys, key generators and key cracking tools try to infect the visitor’s PC with malware. Over 10 percent of the key generators downloaded form the web and almost 60 percent found on peer- to-peer networks contain malware or other nasties. The malware payloads these files carry -- usually Trojans, Worms and keyloggers are used to harvest data, which may be used in identity theft or fraud.

Watch This Space

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mp4watch.jpgNo prizes for guessing what’s at the top of my Christmas wish-list. The CDS-AD66 or ‘Watch MP4 Player 2Gb’ to give it is full name has a 1.5-inch 128 x 128 pixel/250k colour OLED screen, it supports MP3, WMA and MP4 (NVX) video formats and JPEG image files, displays time and date when it’s not showing movies, records, has 5 equaliser modes, super bass and 3D sound. It’s new, so new in fact that we’re not aware of any UK distributors but if you’re interested in becoming one you can contact the wholesalers and buy a sample for $101 or a 5-pack for $95.92 each, and if you do let me know, I want one!

msofficeaccount.jpgIt’s true, apparently, according to MS watcher Dan Richman. Microsoft is planning to give away Office Accounting Express 2007, a bookkeeping program for small businesses and an upgrade of Small Business Accounting 2006. So what’s the catch? Well, it’s an on-line product and you will need to shell out for some of the services, for example payroll services will set you back $169 a year, credit card processing works out at $9.95 a months and you can receive up to 300 credit reports for around $100 per month. The program has all of the usual accounting features, including processing invoices, sales orders, receive payments through credit cards and PayPal, produce reports and so on, and it also has the facility to sell products online through ebay.

Happy Birthday XP

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Amidst all the excitement and celebrations of the iPods’ fifth birthday we quite forgot to say many happy returns to Windows XP, which has also just reached the ripe old age of five. The operating system was already well behind schedule when it was finally launched on the 26th of October 2001 -- sounds familiar -- and I recall it being a fairly subdued affair coming as it was just a few weeks after the devastation of 9/11.

Five years on and despite its fair share of problems XP has aged quite well and for most users it is a reasonably painless experience, at least compared with earlier versions of Windows, which made moving to the new more stable OS an attractive proposition. It will be interesting to see what sort of impact Windows Vista will be having in 2011…

Windows Defender Goes Live

defender.jpgAfter what must have been one of the longest Beta trials in history Microsoft Windows Defender has finally been officially released. Defender, which began life five years ago as Giant AntiSpyware is one of the best malware cleaners around; it continues to be free to users of Windows XP and it will be included with Vista. Microsoft bought up Giant Software in December 2004 and rebadged the program as Microsoft AntiSpyware; soon after it released the first beta version for XP users and it was renamed Windows Defender in January 2006 when the Beta 2 version was released.

Throughout it has looked and performed like a fully functional program with very few problems reported, and whilst the extended beta test has theoretically allowed Microsoft to iron out the bugs, it also excused them from providing support. Being a free program support is still limited but XP and Server 2003 have now been granted 2 free ‘support incidents’. If you are using the Beta 2 release be aware that it will stop working on December 31st

Sneaky Changes in Vista Licence Agreement

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There are a few dedicated souls who actually read through the EULAs (End User Licensing Agreement) that pop up when you install a new piece of software but most of us simply click the I Agree button, life’s too short…. The ones that accompany Windows are amongst the longest and unless you have a degree in weasel-speak, they’re almost impenetrable.

However, Ed Bott at ZDNet has been reading through the one that comes with Vista and he has discovered small but subtle change in the bit that says how and when you can transfer the licence -- i.e. your copy of Windows -- to another machine. In XP there is no limit, which is good news for serial upgraders and system builders because it means they can transfer their OS’s to other PC as often as they like, provided it’s only on one PC at a time.

In Vista the EULA says you are only allowed to make one lifetime transfer, and it looks as though this will be enforced by Windows Product Activation. Of course it could all change when Vista finally hits the shelves in the next few weeks but if it doesn’t this could prove an expensive and very unwelcome burden for a lot of Windows users.

IE7 Is Coming, Ready or Not…

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It looks as though Internet Explorer will be coming to a PC near you, whether you want it or not, if your computer is set up for automatic downloads. Several possible dates have been mooted, the 18th is a hot favourite, but in any event it looks like it will be happening very soon. A blog on the Microsoft Higher Education site appears to confirm the prediction, saying ‘Microsoft recommends that Web sites and applications be reviewed and made ready for the release of Internet Explorer 7 this month’. If you can’t wait don’t forget IE7 is available for download at your convenience from the Internet Explorer 7 home page.

Fancy lunch in Venice, a quick trip on the canals and home in time for tea? It’s easily do-able, according the UK’s, and quite possibly the world’s first website devoted to Day trips to Europe. Many European cities are only an hour or two away by plane, train or even car, and an unforgettable day out is not going to break the bank. The site is crammed full of interactive features to help you plan your trip; click on images and links for panoramic views, aerial photos, weather forecasts, timetables and webcams of the destinations, which currently includes Amsterdam, Bruges, Toulouse and Venice, more are being added all of the time so check it out.

Ati_1 Here’s something that might be worth keeping an eye on. A US company called Peakstream has come up with a way of harnessing the raw computing power in high-end graphics cards or graphics processor units (GPUs). In theory a fast, well-equipped PC could be transformed into a Supercomputer.

Peakstream have teamed up with ATI to develop Stream Computing technology that will allow ATI graphics cards to work in concert with high-performance CPUs to solve the kind of big problems that require a lot of intense number crunching. In various simulations involving processing risk assessment, seismic model and disease research data speed increases of between 20 and 40 times have been achieved.

Legless Robot has a Ball

Ballbot Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have come up with a tall skinny robot that gets around on a single large ball. Ballbot, as it has inevitably been called, shown here with its creator, Robotics Research Professor Ralph Hollis, is faster and more manoeuvrable than legged or wheeled robots and work is underway to add a head and arms, to further improve stability. The ball balancing technology, which uses a PC to interpret messages from motion sensors and drive motorised rollers in contact with the ball, has been described as an  ‘inverse ball-mouse drive’ (you’ll get the idea if you remove the ball from an old ball type computer mouse…). When it is not trundling around it rests on three retractable legs. 

Uav The air could soon be filled with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or flying robots. Until recently they’ve mostly been used for aerial surveillance in war zones and trouble spots. Some of the larger ones have been adapted to carry weapon payloads. Spooks and the military are constantly working on ways to make them smaller and more unobtrusive, and no doubt they’re following developments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with keen interest.

Graduate researchers have built a fleet of mini UAVs, based on cheap off-the-shelf flying gadgets, and hooked them up to a PC network, which allows them to fly around autonomously, taking off and landing under computer control. They can even land and automatically recharge their batteries. During a series of test flights the researchers have also managed to get the UAVs to land on a moving vehicle using data from it’s on-board camera. Keep watching the skies; something up there is probably watching you…

PolarHere’s a chance to get in on the ground floor of what could be an exciting new Internet technology, or it could be a damp squib, either way you’ll be able to say you were there…  It’s called Polar Rose and it is a browser plug-in from a Swedish research group led by Jan Erik Solem at Malmo University. The idea is you will be able to search quickly through images on your PC, and on the web, finding people based on facial characteristics and a 3D model generated from data within a photograph. Could be interesting, the technology is currently in a closed Alpha test but it will be opened up for Beta testing soon and if you want to sign up then pop along to the Polar Rose website

 

Singlepix Researchers at Rice University in Houston Texas have developed a prototype camera that uses a single pixel image sensor. Actually that’s a bit of an over-simplification, and you needn’t worry too much about the technology coming to a digital camera near you anytime soon. The prototype takes up several square feet of a large laboratory workbench and each picture currently takes around 5 minutes to expose…

The process is called Compressive Sensing light and from an image is scattered using a digital micromirror device (DMD) and picked up using a single photodiode sensor. DMDs are used in video projectors, they’re tiny microchips covered in microscopic mirrors that can be tilted back and forth. In the prototype camera the mirrors are randomly oriented and a ‘snapshot’ of the scattered light is picked up by a photodiode. The process is then repeated several thousand times and the data from the photodiode is assembled, using a complex algorithm into an image.

Goocode Nothing to do with Da Vinci but yet another new search facility from the good folk at Google Labs and this time it’s for seeking out program code. Okay, so maybe it’s not much use if you’re into celebrity gossip and footy but if you’re a novice programmer or developer desperately looking for inspiration to solve a coding problem or finish off your latest whiz-bang app then this could be the place to find it. The search engine is geared towards publicly available and Open Source material, so don’t expect it to reveal any Microsoft source code.

Vmd UK based New Medium Enterprises has announced a new optical disc format, called Versatile MultiLayer Disc (VMD) which can store between 20 and 100Gb of data on up to 10 layers and read using conventional red laser technology. The big breakthrough, however, is the increase in yield, which has always dogged multi-layer disc production, the technology pioneered by New Medium Enterprises could bring the cost of manufacture of these high capacity discs down to within a few cents of conventional single layer DVDs, and significantly cheaper than the warring Blu Ray and HD-DVD systems. The format has been designed to be compatible with all existing high-definition systems, gaming and data storage. Players have already been developed and the first prototype disc production line is expected to be up and running early next year.

Hitblu Toyko’s Ceatec trade Fair provided the usual glut of must-have gadgetry, destined sooner or later for the shops and high on the list of interesting newcomers is this classy-looking retro styled Blue-Ray camcorder, according to a report on CNET News. No dates or prices yet but a target price of less than $1000 dollars and product on shelves some time in 2007 has been mentioned.

Turbine Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on a gas-turbine engine -- about the size of a ten pence piece -- that could fit inside a microchip and potentially produce enough energy to drive a laptop or mobile phone.

The turbine is part of a development project called MEMs or Microelectricalmechanical Systems and is built using etched silicon wafers -- using a similar process to that used to manufacture microchips. The engine is made up of a spinning turbine, compressor and combustion chamber housed inside a stack of 6 wafers. In theory the micro generator could produce upwards of 10 watts of power.  So far the MIT team have succeeded in fabricating the individual parts; the trick now is to put them together and see if it works, and presumably work out ways of keeping it cool (the gases it generates are hot enough melt steel), and where to put the fuel tank…

Powerpoint A newly discovered security loophole in PowerPoint has prompted Microsoft to issue an alert, which in itself is not unusual, but the fact that it was sent out on a Wednesday, rather than ‘Patch Tuesday’, suggests that this one is quite serious. It concerns a so-called ‘Limited Zero Day Attack’ vulnerability, which involves malicious code hidden inside a PowerPoint presentation. When executed it renders the infected computer vulnerable to attack, and it affects PowerPoint in Office 2000, Office XP and Office 2003 for both Windows and Mac OS X. There is no patch for it at the moment and Microsoft are warning PowerPoint users not to open presentation files from untrusted or unknown sources.

Vistanew If you missed out on the Windows Vista Beta test a few months back, and still want to get your hands on a preview copy of the new operating system, then you’ll be pleased to know that Release Candidate 1 (RC1) which was made available to testers in mid September has now gone public and you can download it direct from Microsoft. RC1 is as near as dammit the final finished product, and this is the very latest version (build 5728), which has a number of small tweaks and improvements. The download is in the form of an ISO file, so you will need a DVD burner and a ISO burning program like Roxio Media Creator, Nero Burning or the excellent freeware utility Imgburn. Just remember, you try it at your own risk so don’t use it on your Sunday best PC, and don’t get too attached, it will self destruct (or probably just stop working), probably around June/July time next year, and there may not be a way to upgrade to the commercial release.

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