News Briefs Archive 2007




Long-Range Wi-Fi

Here’s an interesting gadget that purports to allow you to access a Wi-Fi connection point at distances of up to 1000 or a little over 300 metres, which is around three times the range of most built-in wireless adaptors. The Wi-Fire sits on top of the screen and plugs into one of your laptop USB sockets, inside the box there’s a highly directional antenna and booster amp, which draws minimal power, so it shouldn’t be a burden on your battery. If it lives up to its claims it should reduce dropouts and improve download speeds, which could prove useful for travellers trying to get on line in airports, hotels and public hotspots. It on sale now in the US for around £40, no work on UK availability yet but you should be able to purchase one online



Toshiba Designs Micro Reactor

Here’s an idea for a green Christmas present that will give everyone a warm glow in 2009. Toshiba, probably better known for making big tellies and little laptops, is also involved in heavy industry, including the design and manufacture of nuclear reactors. However, with one eye possibly on the home market, it has just come up with a Micro Reactor, capable of generating around 200kw of power, more than enough to power an apartment building, a housing estate or two, or your mansion.


It’s automatic, will not overheat and the fully self-contained design fits snugly in a space measuring 6 metres by 3 metres x 3 metres or a decent sized basement or cellar. Just in case you’re worried it is failsafe too, using liquid lithium-6 as both the reactor control and coolant. The process is entirely self-sustaining and it should keep on generating heat and power for up to 40 years without the need for refuelling. According to the experts electricity generated in this way should only cost 2 – 3 pence per kilowatt-hour, though the payback on the initial outlay, likely to be several million pounds, could take a while....



Heads-Up on a new Wearable Camcorder

If you are going on the piste this winter or you are into mountain biking, skateboarding or off-roading then here’s a neat little widget – available soon -- that might interest you. It’s called Vholdr and it’s a self contained, wearable, armoured, camcorder measuring just 95 x 53 x 34mm and weighing only 136 grams and it works in snow, rain, mud and just about anything else you care to chuck at it.


It records audio and video (640 x 480) onto SD memory cards (50 minutes per gigabyte), and the lithium polymer battery lasts around 2 hours. A variety of mounting brackets are available, for helmets, goggles, handlebars, even roll bars, and it is designed to make it easy to upload and share your videos to sites like YouTube. No UK price as yet but we’ve heard rumours of a $350 price tag when it goes on sale in the US in a few weeks time.



Happy Birthday to the Transistor

If pressed to name the single most important technological development of the 20th century I would definitely plump for the transistor, which is the bedrock, basic building block, cornerstone and foundation – and I could go on -- of every modern electronic device.


The reason I’m telling you this is because the transistor is exactly 60 years old. The first one was developed on December 16th 1947 by two largely unsung heroes, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, who, whilst working for Bell Labs in the US created a device called the ‘point contact’ transistor. This ungainly looking collection of wires and crystals proved the theory, that it was possible to switch and control big voltages and currents using a very tiny voltages, and this apparently simple trick forms the basis of all of the switching and amplification functions that everything, from a humble transistor radio to supercomputer crammed fully of microchips relies upon.



Free Vista, Office or Money, but there a catch…

Well, three actually, but if you are over 18, live in the US and don’t mind Microsoft nosing around your PC and asking your lots of questions for three months then you might qualify for the Microsoft Windows Feedback Program.


The idea is you agree to fill out regular questionnaires and download a piece of monitoring software that tracks what you do and reports back to MS. In return you’ll be rewarded with software that could be worth up to $400. However, it’s not made clear on the signup what you get (hurry, offer closes December 31st), or that to qualify for the goodies you have to agree to participate in both parts of the program (filling out the forms and installing the software).


Microsoft say they’ll be using all the data to collect to improve their products and services, and they’re completely up front about the fact they it’s not anonymous, and they do know who you are. It’s debatable how realistic a snapshot of the real world they’ll be getting if the participant’s profile is going to be people who don’t mind installing spyware, mind even less that Microsoft is peering over their shoulder, and never, ever visit dodgy websites…



End of the Line for Back Projectors

Once, not so long ago, the only way to pack a really big TV screen into your living room was a back-projection TV. In their heyday there were some real monsters from the likes of Toshiba and Sony, but now it looks as though their days are numbered, with the announcement from Seiko Epson that it is to stop production of the projection gubbins that many manufacturers used to use.


You don’t have to look far to see why it has happened, these huge boxes, which were mostly filled with air, have been killed off by big screen plasmas and LCD flat screens. To be honest they probably won’t be missed by many; apart from the sheer bulk, viewing angles were narrow, they only worked in subdued lighting and they were swines to set up, with the colours going off bonk as they warmed up. Nevertheless, it’s the end of another little bit of TV history and if you have the room, I recommend putting one or two aside as they are bound to become valuable collectables in 20 years time… 



Apple QuickTime Vulnerability Exposed

A newly discovered security hole in Apple’s QuickTime medial player could be used to allow users to unwittingly download malicious software, according to Symantec researchers. The necessary code is now ‘in the wild’ and has been found lurking on at least one porn site. The code, which is been named ‘Downloader’ is currently rated as low risk, but once it finds its way onto a PC it opens a backdoor that allows other malicious programs to be downloaded. Users of QuickTIme 7 are advised to avoid downloading and watching naughty videos until a patch has been released. It’s also a good idea to increase your browser’s security settings, and if you know how, disable QuickTIme as an RSTP protocol handler.



XP Faster than Vista?

It’s what a lot of people have long suspected, Windows XP really is faster than Vista, at least that’s the headline results from tests conducted by a team of researchers at Devil Mountain, a Florida based software company, reported by CNet News. The truth is a little more complicated. XP and Vista went head to head on a pair of identical Dell 2GHz dual core PCs with 1GHz RAM and centred on a series of productivity tests using Microsoft Office. Now here is where it departs from the real world, XP was running a beta version of Service Pack 3, whilst Vista was equipped with the soon to be released Service Pack 1. The performance gains with XP were said to impressive, but Microsoft responded that both Service packs were still in development, which means this is not the end of the story…



November 07


Firefox 3 Testing Begins

The next version of Mozilla Firefox, codenamed Gran Paradiso, but better known as Firefox 3 is now entering the final phase of testing with the release of the Beta 1 software It’s still a bit early for everyday use but developers and geeks are welcome to give it a test run, and help Mozilla iron out any remaining bugs. It has lots of interesting new features, including Information about the site you are visiting – just click on the site’s ‘Favicon’  (the little icon that appears on the address bar, it has beefed up malware protection, better all round security, integration with anti-virus software (it alerts your AV program if it detects anything suspicious in a download), and there’s a ‘resume’ download feature if your connection is interrupted for any reason. Password management has been simplified, the useful Find toolbar now opens automatically and early reports suggest that it is faster and more stable than its predecessors and barring any last minute disasters the finished version is on course for release early next year.



Amazon’s Amazing e-book

It’s called Kindle and quite honestly it looks like something that was designed 20 years ago but as e-books go this one has got quite a lot going for it. To begin with it comes from Amazon, and if anyone is going to get the e-book market started it’s them. The actual display is every bit as good as rival designs from Sony and Philips, and the price at around £200 is on the right side of reasonable. As with other e-books the display draws negligible power – virtually none when a page is displayed -- it’s very easy to use, but the killer feature is built-in Wi-Fi, which means no messing around with PCs to download your favourite book, and with around 90,000 currently available, there’s bound to be something worth reading. So will it catch on? Difficult to say at this very early stage of the game, but it’s definitely starting to get interesting.



Watch What You Wiki

It’s tempting to lift stuff straight from the web and claim it as your own but apart from being incredibly lazy, you can be sure your sins will find your out. A book called ‘Black Gold, The New Frontier’ by George Orwel (no, not that one) was discovered to contain several paragraphs pinched almost word for word from Wikipedia, according to a report in CNet News. The Wikipedia article’s author discovered it; the book publisher’s response was that the passages were added to the book by accident and they’ve undertaken to provide correction and attributions in future reprints. Wikipedia, to its credit is not getting heavy –handed and is actually quite happy to be used as a reference but it would prefer to be given proper credit, and it would be obliged if you copy the licence statement as well, so just remember that when you’re doing that next piece of coursework….



Beetle’s Brash Box

Omigosh, yes it is a PC, and it has emerged from the hammer, chisel and paintbrush of one Valerie Beetle, from Pervomayske in the Ukraine. We’re not sure what’s inside the very heavily modded tower case, but it hardly matters, this wooden wonder looks spectacular and apparently Mr Beetle, who has been an avid chippy since childhood sells them in local shops, according to the report on the GizmoWatch website. Definitely one for lovers of kitsch and fans of Dungeons and Dragons…



Self-Tuning Robot Guitar

Being a spectacularly bad guitarist I had high hopes that  the new Les Paul Robot Guitar from Gibson would offer some hope for my disobedient fingers but it was not to be. Instead this new limited edition model, the result of 15 years of research, is designed to automatically tune itself, even if the strings are changed. Initially only 4000 models will be produced for the First Run Limited Edition model. This will go on sale December 7th, so you have a little time to save up the necessary $2500, otherwise if you can wait until January a cheaper ‘standard’ version should be available.



Time and Ink Running Out for Printer Cartridges?

News agency Reuters has reported that Tokyo based Recycle Assist, manufacturers of recycled ink cartridges, has lost a long-running court battle with Canon – it began in 2004 – over infringement of patent rights. Japan’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of Canon, dismissing an appeal in lower court and granted it an injunction blocking further sales and imports of cartridges. It will take a while for the implications of the judgement to become apparent but it could spell trouble for the hundreds of companies making and selling refilled, recycled and ‘compatible’ cartridges, and not just for Canon model, potentially it could have far-reaching effects across the whole industry. 



Google Android Bandwagon Rolling

Even though we have yet to see a working example let alone a prototype or even a mock-up, the announcement by Google on Monday of the Open Handset Alliance, which is behind the much-anticipated Android or ‘gPhone’, has sent a shiver of excitement through the industry. Thus far 34 companies have agreed to join the partnership to develop the phone, and there’s a speculation that one of them, Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, is especially keen to be on board as it would give them access to the very promising sounding Android software. This would be an ideal partner for Intel’s range of Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), which have been glimpsed in concept form at various industry tradeshows. MIDs are being touted as the missing link for gadget fans, as powerful and flexible as a notebook computer but no larger than a smartphone. Watch this space.



Eye Fi Top Buy For Digicam Owners

If you have a digital camera and it uses SD type memory cards you are going to love this little gizmo, called Eye -Fi. It’s a memory card with a built in Wi-Fi adaptor, the idea being that instead of messing around with cables and card readers you simply beam the images directly from the camera to your Wi-Fi enabled PC or laptop. The card has 2Gb of onboard memory so there’s plenty of room, enough for several hundred pix on most cameras. It’s also preconfigured for direct uploading to photo sharing sites like Flikr, Snapfish, Facebook and many more. Yes, I know several digicams have built in Wi-Fi, so it’s not exactly a new idea, but Eye Fi is for everyone who has an ordinary camera, and it’s just gone on sale for $99 in the US. No launch date for the UK but you shouldn’t have to wait too long; if you want to get your hands on one right now check out US online sellers like and Adorama



Leopard Flies Off the Shelf, But Glitches Reported

The long awaited and much anticipated launch of the latest version of the Mac OS X operating system, codenamed Leopard, has resulted in the usual round of craziness from Apple’s adoring fans. Early adopters camped outside stores to be first in the queue, and what a queue it was! Early estimates suggest that around 9 percent of OS X users upgraded to Leopard in the first couple of days of it going on sale, and at $129 a pop that’s a welcome boost to the Apple coffers.


There’s been a fair amount of excitement surrounding the launch but the claimed 300 ‘New’ features have been widely dismissed as hype, and one or two commentators have pointed out that a couple of them bear an uncanny resemblance to features in Windows Vista, which Leopard is clearly designed to challenge. One other less welcome Microsoft trait has been the inevitable slew of bug reports and glitches. In particular some upgrade attempt fail and result in a Windows-like ‘Blue Screen of Death’. Incompatibility with third-party programs have been implicated and there’s some helpful advice for sufferers on the Apple Support website



October 07

America, Home of the Brave, and Spam

Security experts Sophos have just published a list of the top twelve Spam relaying countries and at the top is the USA, accounting for a little over 28 percent. To be fair this doesn’t mean the US is necessarily the origin of all those Spam messages but US PCs infected with Spam-sending viruses is where most of them are coming from, which suggests that a awful lot of American PC owners are not taking enough care with security. For the record the rest of the dirty dozen are:

2. South Korea, 5.2%

3. China (inc. Hong Kong), 4.9%

4. Russia, 4.4%

5. Brazil, 3.7%

6. France, 3.6%

7. Germany, 3.4%

8. Turkey, 3.2%

9. Poland, 2.7%

10. United Kingdom, 2.4%

11. Romania, 2.3%

12. Mexico, 1.9%



Sharp and Thin

Congrats to Sharp for producing what is claimed to be the world’s thinnest liquid crystal display. Most of us are blissfully unaware that there’s a right old battle going on in the world of LCD panel manufacturing, to see who can make the thinnest screens, and until last week that honour belonged to AU Optronics, with a screen just 0.69mm thick. But now Sharp have taken back the lead with a 2.2–inch panel that measures, wait for it, only 0.68mm. Now this is clearly a big deal for those involved and probably came about as a result of all sorts of clever technical developments but it’s unlikely that 0.01mm is going to make a lot of difference to the rest of us, but it’s nice to know it can be done…



More Windows 7 Revelations

News of the next version of Windows, due out in 2010 and previously known as BlackCombe, then Vienna and now Windows 7 has been fairly thin on the ground since we last mentioned it back in July but a few more tantalising tid-bits have come our way recently. As expected it marks a significant change in direction for Microsoft with the emphasis on small, and compact and it has already been dubbed ‘MinWin’. According to one report the Windows 7 core or ‘kernel’, does away with all the fangly bits we associate with Vista and XP, resulting in slimmed down versions of that use only 25Mb of disc space (Vista takes up 4Gb of space). The idea is that unlike an all-singing, all-dancing operating system MinWin will provide a bare-bones base upon which developers and users will add the extra building blocks or layers they require, depending on the hardware and applications it is going to be used for.



Hitachi Paves Way for 4 Terabyte Hard Drive

Hitachi, best known for big tellies and DVD camcorders are actually one of the world’s leading hard disc driver makers and they’ve just come up with an interesting development, using nano technology to create the world’s smallest drive head, the bit that reads and writes data onto the disk. At first glance this might not sound especially interesting but the tech-heads at Hitachi reckons it opens the way to 4-terabyte (4,000 gigabyte) drives for desktop PCs and 1 terabyte drives for laptops by 2011. Still not impressed? Well, a 1-terabyte drive can store around 250 hours of high-definition video, 250,000 tunes or the text from 1 million books, more than enough to keep you busy for quite a while…  



The iHack’s Back

No sooner had we reported that the Apple iPhone had been hacked, to allow it to work on any network and install third-party applications when Apple released a software upgrade to counteract the hack. Needless to say that was like a red rag to a bull and now we have news of a new fiddle for the flashy phone, which will allow owners to use it on the network of their choice and install heir favourite programs and utilities. The new hack runs on phones with the recent released update and simply undoes the lock by rolling back the firmware to the previous version. As usual iPhone owners try it at their own risk, and Apple will have nothing to do with owners who fry their phones, but as an extra bonus, those who have tried previous hacks and been left with a dead iPhone may be able to resurrect it with the new hack. No doubt Apple will retaliate with another update but it is coming under increasing pressure to open up the phone to developers and in the end it may have to give in to public demand, or risk alienating its normally very loyal fans.



Don’t Get Sold A Pup!

Computer security experts at Sophos are warning of yet another email fraud doing the rounds, emanating from the ever-resourceful Nigerian scammers, this time involving a cute little puppy. The email purports to come from a Christian Missionary couple, offering their puppy for adoption. The email includes a phone number and email address and if you are daft enough to make contact you get a heart-wrenching tale that will have you revealing your credit card or bank details quicker than you can say 419 Advanced Fee Fraud (419 is the Section this crime comes under in the Nigerian penal code).


Needless to say if you receive one of these messages just bin it and if you want to see how a few dedicated ‘scambaiters’ have been getting their own back on these tricksters, and have a good laugh at their expense, then take a look at some of the hilarious pictures and stories on



iPod Hottest Gadget Yet?

At least the one belonging to airport worker Danny Williams is. Action News 2 in Atlanta is reporting that Mr William’s iPod Nano – the older model – burst into flames, burning a hole in the pocket of his trousers. The conflagration lasted around 15 seconds, not long enough for him to suffer any serious burns, thanks to some paper he had in his pocket at the time. The chief suspect is the iPod’s lithium ion battery pack, the same technology as the famous exploding batteries used in several brands of laptop. Apple offered to replace the Nano straight away but Danny William’s mum called the TV station with the story because she was worried about what would have happened if the authorities had seen the smoking player and thought Danny was a terrorist. This is not the first time it has happened and there have been several reports of iPods going up in flames whilst charging; not surprisingly Apple has decided not to comment on the incident… 



Dr Microsoft May Be Watching You…

You may recall a few weeks ago we mentioned a web application that lets you put your personal health records online, which could prove handy for travellers involved in a medical emergency whilst abroad. Well, here’s something for conspiracy theorists to mull over, Microsoft is getting in on the act with a similar idea, called HealthVault. At the moment it is limited to logging results from health monitoring gadgets onto USB flash memory devices but plans have been mooted for eventually you, your doctor or health insurance company to upload your medical records into a secure online storage facility and it can be accessed by a health professional anywhere in the world, with the appropriate permissions of course. I’ll leave it to you to guess the kind of response this will get, if it ever happens…



Sony Announce Super Thin OLED Screen

Start saving because Sony aims to be the first to introduce an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TV, in time for Christmas. Don’t get too excited, though, the XEL-1 is only 11-inches across, and initially only available in Japan, oh yes, and it’s going to cost the thick end of £600, but here’s the good bits. It’s only 3 millimetres thick, it is reputed to have a contrast ratio of 1,000,000 to 1 (many times better than most current LCD and plasmas), uses significantly less power than comparable LCDs, there’s no backlight to fail and none of the image ‘lag’ associated with low-end LCDs. There are some minus points too; scaling up the technology to a decent size is proving difficult, it is going to be expensive for quite some time, and the displays have a finite life. Sony reckon they’ll last around 30,000 hours, which isn’t as bad as it sounds  -- around 10 years with normal use – but this is something else that needs to be worked on before it hits the high street in a serious way. Nevertheless, OLED ticks al the right boxes and it may not be long before its giving LCD and plasma a good run for its money.



XP Stay of Execution until 2010

According to a report on CNET News Microsoft has been persuaded to allow manufacturers to continue selling PCs loaded with Windows XP after the January 31st 2008 deadline. In a further announcement Microsoft has also promised to keep some versions of XP in production until June 2010. The move appears to be a response to a strong ongoing demand for XP, almost 10 months after the launch of Vista. There are also reports of some manufacturers supplying software that allows their customers to ‘downgrade’ their Vista PCs to XP.



September 07

One Laptop Per Child Goes Public

The laudable One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project, which as we reported a few months ago is distributing its rugged XO laptop, eventually costing $100 to build, to children in poor countries. Apparently the take up hasn’t been as quick as the developers had hoped, which may be why the OLPC foundation is doing a bit of a U-Turn and offering the green machine to the public.


The offer, called ‘Give 1 Get 1’ is you buy two machines, for $400, OLPC donates one to a child in another country and you get the other one for your child. Originally OLPC said the XO wouldn’t be available to the public, despite the considerable interest shown in the Linux-based machine, which employs a revolutionary daylight viewable colour screen, built in wireless connectivity and all solid state storage. The offer begins on November 12th and will open to the first 25,000 purchasers; you can find out more on the Give 1 Get 1website.



New OpenOffice Bug Discovered

A newly discovered vulnerability in the suite that could allow hackers to install malicious code on computers, and here’s the really worrying bit, it’s not just Windows, this also affects Mac and Linux users. This concerns version 2.0.4 and earlier (the most recent release,V2.3, is not affected) and it involves modified TIFF image files.


So far this loophole hasn’t been exploited ‘in the wild’ and it has only been tested on the Linux release, but it follows hard on the heels of a real world infection called ‘Badbunny’ that has been found on Mac, Windows and Linux PCs running OpenOffice. OpenOffice comes from the good guys of the software world, it is a free Open Source application and includes an excellent Word-compatible word processor called Writer; it was thought to have escaped the unwelcome attentions of the virus writers who tend to concentrate their fire on Microsoft products but now it seems nothing is sacred.



Windows Updates Secret Updates Concern

I am indebted to the excellent Windows Secrets website for news of an alarming development last August involving Windows XP and Vista silently installing executable files, even though users had disabled automatic updates. So fare nine files have been identified, there may be more, and whilst the files appear to be benign it does raise the very serious question about Microsoft loading programs on PCs without users knowledge or permission


The file downloads occur when users select the ‘Let me choose when to install or notify me but don’t automatically download or install’ option in Security Centre. The revelation appears to have embarrassed Microsoft into issuing an explanation and guarded apology, which basically says that whilst deselecting Automatic Updates does indeed stop any new updates, it doesn’t stop Windows Update updating itself.


If you want to stop all updates and shenanigans like this from happening again then in XP you need to go to Start Control Panel > Security Centre, click the Automatic Updates link and select ‘Turn off Automatic Updates’. In Vista open Control Panel then Windows Updates’ under System and Maintenance, click Change Settings and select ‘Never Check for Updates (not recommended)’, then Continue. Windows will bug you to switch it back on again so right-click on the red shield in the System Tray, launch Security Centre and select ‘Change the Way Security Centre Alerts me’ and uncheck Automatic Updates.



Noxon 2 links iPod and 10,000 Radio Stations

If you were wondering what else could be crammed into an iPod dock then how about 10,000 Internet radio stations? It’s an impressive feat though the Noxon 2 Radio really doesn’t give much away, but the little rubber-duck antenna on the back might tell you something. It’s has built-in Wi-FI and once provided with the WEP or WPA key for your wireless router (or wired Ethernet LAN) it goes hunting for streamed web radio stations (most formats) and pod casts. Normally setup on this type of widget can be a chore but this one was completely painless and it was ready to run in just a couple of minutes.


After it has it’s finished scanning you can select a station by name, genre, country and half a dozen other criteria from the backlit display on the front. Plug an iPod into the dock on the top and you can listen to that with all of its functions (though strangely not ‘Shuffle’ play) controllable through a remote handset. There’s more, a USB port on the side lets you play music tracks direct from a flash drive, it also has a built in alarm clock and there’s an FM tuner for good measure. Sounds are heard through a pair of small speakers on the front and a compact sub, and it doesn’t sound half bad either; the stereo image isn’t very wide but it’s fine for a small to medium sized room. It’s a tad pricey at around £200 but it looks and sounds great and it’s really easy to use.



Presenting Google

Google has just added a presentation app to its free Google Docs online office suite. Comparisons between Google Presentations -- formerly known as ‘Presently’ -- and Microsoft PowerPoint are inevitable and here you have to be a bit careful, bearing in mind that it is a freebie. It is quite basic and lacks many of the eye-catching features of PP but it does the job, and because it is online it allows easy collaboration, so that two or more people can work on and share a project. If you are already a Google Docs user you will find it on the New menu, otherwise signup and find out what all the fuss is about at:



DivX Goes Mobile

DivX, the super-efficient compression technology and codec that brings high quality video to your PC and DVD player is about to make an appearance on your mobile phone. For phones that are not DivX certified (there’s a list of certified phones on the website) simply download the DivX Mobile Player onto your Windows mobile device, Windows PC or Symbian phone and use it to convert videos to DivX format and transfer and play movies on your phone. There’s a simple to follow installation guide covering a range of devices and systems. It’s still in beta form but by all accounts it is stable and works well. While you are at it you can browse a beta version of a video content website on your phone at



iPod Redistribution System

As you know probably know iPods are like a magnet to thieves and you wear the white earphones at your peril in some parts of the country. Indeed many ex-owners have come to grief whilst try to protect their expensive songboxes, so we were interested to see this product, which appears to get around the problem of putting your safety at risk.


It’s called the iXoundWear cap or visor, and it has a little pocket for your iPod Nano, Classic or Shuffle. Clearly this is a major breakthrough iPod knickers; there’s no messing around dragging cables out of pockets, and no need to threaten violence, just whip off the hat and away you go. Brilliant, and prices start from as little as $9.95… 



Inkjet Injections

Hewlett Packard has come up with a clever idea, based on inkjet printer technology that delivers medications via microscopic needles mounted on a patch. Up to 90,000 of the needles are crammed into each square inch of the patch and a tiny heating element pushes the medicine through the needle into the skin. A microprocessor built into the patch (see prototype opposite) monitors the dosage and could even deliver the medicine or combinations of medications in response to changes in the patient’s blood chemistry, heat rate or temperature. The medical patch has now been licensed to a specially created firm based in Ireland, called Crospon, for further development.



Apple Acts to Quell Price Protests

The announcement last week in the US that Apple would be slashing the cost of its 8Gb iPhone by $200, (from $599 to $399) bought forth a predictable storm of protest from miffed first-kids-on-the-block, some of whom had queued outside Apple shops to be first to own one the shiny black squark boxes. Apple has reacted with commendable speed to quieten things down by offering the early adopters $100 Apple Store credit vouchers. Details of how to obtain the vouchers will be posed on the Apple website later this week.



Time Running Out on Yahoo! Photos

If you have uploaded photographs to Yahoo! Photos picture sharing website then following the recent notice of the site’s closure, you have until September 20th to move your pix to another home or they will disappear into the ether.


Yahoo! will in future only support Flickr but it is making it easy for users to transfer their images and with a couple of clicks your album can be safely moved to Flickr, Kodak Gallery, Snapfish and Photobucket. There’s also the option to backload your pictures to your PC, or have them transferred to CD (for a small fee).



Pocket Rocket Digital Snapper

Prepare to rewrite your Christmas wish lists. At the top of mine will be an Estes Oracle Digital Video Camera Rocket. DIY rockets with film cameras have been around for years but this one has a tiny digicam that can take 30 seconds of video or a sequence of still frames. Assuming your can find it after it’s flight and (hopefully) gentle descent back to earth beneath a parachute, just plug the nosecone camera module into the USB socket of a Windows PC and review your movie or pictures.


There are a range of configurations – depending on how high you want it to go, but prices for a basic ready-to-fly starter outfit, capable of reaching an altitude of 600 feet, will set you back around £95.



Will Philips TVs get Glowing Reviews?

Buoyed by the popularity of its ‘Ambilight’ range of flat screen TVs – they’re the ones with the coloured back lights – Philips has just announced a new range of illuminated HD LCD TVs, called Aurea. This time the lights are surrounding the screen at the front, rather than the back and the idea is the colours enhance the mood and ambience of whatever is on the screen. I can’t say I was terribly impressed by Ambilight and with Aurea the coloured lights are even more in your face, but a lot of people seem to like it, so who am I to argue? Anyway, you can judge the effect for yourself on the Philips Aurea demo website, and check out the TVs that will be on offer later this month.


August 07


Standby For Vista Service Pack 1

It looks like the beta version of Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista will be released in the next few weeks to obliging volunteers and manufacturers. It’s not going to be on the same scale as the infamous Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, which included some major security upgrades and replaced large chunks of the operating system, but it is still fairly large, at a little over 45Mb, it covers quite a lot of ground and we are assured, will fix a few niggling problems.


What we know so far is that it will include support for a new file format called ExFAT, which is designed for use with flash memory devices. There will also be support for SD Advanced DMA, for faster file transfer and reduced CPU workload. SP1 will include improvements to drive encryption, there are some tweaks for speeding up and improving security on network connections, enhanced network diagnostics and an updated disc defragmenter. The official launch of SP1 for English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese versions of Vista is expected in November with the remaining 36 supported languages following in February 2008.



Cheaper, Thinner Solar Cells

As regular visitors may have gathered I’m a big fan of alternative energy and micro generation and as soon as someone comes up with a cheap enough photovoltaic (PV) solar cell I’ll cover my roof with them, but I’m still waiting.


Over the past few years we’ve looked at several possibilities but, alas, none of them have yet come to fruition, so I’m not going to get too excited over the news from Durham University, about a new research project for developing a cheaper ‘thin-layer’ PV cell.


The four-year programme will involve a series of experiments to identify less expensive materials that could be used in solar cell manufacture. The team will also be working on growing crystals in a thinner, more uniform way so all it sounds quite promising but it looks like I’ll still be relying on the grid for the foreseeable…



Quantum Computing for Code breakers

There’s been talk of optically driven ‘Quantum’ computers’ for a while now but a new research paper, published by Professor Duncan Steel of the University of Michigan suggest the latest research has bought these mathematical marvels a big step closer. The promise of being able to carry out zillions of complex equations in no time flat clearly has a multitude of military and security applications, not least the facility to crack powerful encryption systems in seconds, a task that would take conventional computers several years.

The technology that’s getting them so excited is called Quantum Dot. Brief bursts of laser light are used to blast microscopic particles – the so-called ‘dots’ -- causing them to add or lose electrons, creating an electronic switch, the basic element of a computer. As well as being fantastically fast, the technology is apparently relatively cheap, and very economical with each switch requiring only a billionth of a watt, which sounds promising when they get around to developing a quantum dot laptop...



Hot Wheels – Smoking X-Box Accessory 

Microsoft is acting swiftly over reports that around 50 XBox 360 wireless steering wheels have developed a fault that makes them overheat and start smoking, when powered form the mains adaptor. According to Microsoft none of them have actually caught fire or caused any injury or damage, so this is just a precaution but owners of said device are being urged to contact Microsoft for a free refit, to fix the problem. This follows a spate of troubles with the games console, most famously the ‘red circle of death’ when the box simply gives up the ghost. This prompted MS to extend the warranties of all XBoxes a move that to date has cost them a hefty $1 billion. Luckily Bill can afford it…



Magnetic Memory, Hot News

No sooner had we told you about the imminent arrival of a new generation of ‘Phase Change’ memory chips (see news 1308) than IBM and TDK come up with yet another whizzo memory technology called Spin-Torque Transfer RAM, (STT-RAM to its friends). This is a magnetic storage system involving tiny electric currents, which are used to change the polarity of microscopic magnets embedded in a chip. It turns out STT-RAM is a development of M-RAM (Magnetic RAM) but work ground to a halt when it came up against manufacturing difficulties. STT-RAM next generation 65 nanometer chip fabrication techniques, which translates into cramming a lot more components into smaller spaces. In addition to higher capacity chips STT-RAM also promises to be more stable and able to operate in a wide range of temperatures, so consider yourself warned!



Happy 25th Birthday First CD (slightly belated)

Twenty five years ago, on August 17th 1982 to be precise, the first commercially produced CDs began rolling off the Polygram production line near Hannover in Germany. The first disc was a recording of Herbert Von Karajan conducting the Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony. A few weeks later production began in the US and the first disc off the CBS presses was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street.

Philips developed the CD format jointly with Sony back in the late 1970s; Sony was largely responsible the digital encoding and decoding technology. The technical specification for audio CD, known as the Red Book, was published in 1980 and the first players went on sale in October 1983. At its peak, in 2001 more than 700 million discs were sold in the US alone.



It’s In The Air

Doubtless inspired by the wave-and point controllers used by the Wii games console, Logitech has come up with a PC variant, called the MX Air Mouse, that lets you control a number of applications with just a flick of the wrist. The MZ Air Rechargeable Cordless Air Mouse, to give it its full name, uses precision laser tracking technology to measure the users hand movements and gestures in three dimensions. For example, you can skip tracks or change the volume in iTunes of Windows Media Player with a simple wave to the left or right. There’s extra multimedia controls built into the unit, which looks a bit like a fancy remote control, and it’s powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery. The price? Well, it’s one helluva fancy mouse, so it’s not going to be cheap, so at £70 a pop, or thereabouts, it’s one for your Christmas wish-list.



End of the Line for Flash Memory?

News from the US suggests that production could be about to begin on a new generation of solid-state storage devices, called phase-shift memory. The report, in CNET News follows the Flash Memory Summit held in Santa Clara, California. Industry experts are now predicting that Intel and ST Microelectronics, who formed a joint venture to develop the devices, are planning to start manufacturing chips.


The big thing about Phase Change Memory is that you can cram more data into a smaller space, which is clearly a major benefit with today’s memory hungry gadgets and PCs. In fact the technology has been around for some time – the concept was first mooted back in the 1970s – but only recently has it become possible to actually make the chips on a commercial basis.


But why do we need a new memory technology, I hear you ask? Simple, based on the current rate of development NAND chip technology, which is what we use now is expected to reach its technical limits within the next 7 years, so now is the time to start work on its replacement



World’s First Blu-Ray Camcorder, from Hitachi

Next month in Berlin, at the IFA Electronics show, Hitachi will be unveiling the world’s first Blu-Ray camcorder, due to hit the shops this autumn. The BD70 will be no larger than its current range of DVD cams and it will be able to record for up to an hour of full HD quality on write-once or Rewritable Blu-Ray discs.


Hitachi is keen to stress the ‘Full HD’ bit as this is a genuine first, from the 5.3 megapixel image sensor, through the processor chip to the finished disc and HDMI output, the image remains in full 1920 x 1080 resolution. (Several other HD cams use processing tricks to fake HD resolution from sub HD image sensors). This model will be swiftly followed by a ‘Hybrid’ version (BD7HE) fitted with a 30Gb hard disc drive. The idea is you record your video direct to the HDD, then edit the footage in the camera and burn the finished movie to a Blu-Ray disc. The final price is still being worked out but a Hitachi spokesperson hinted yesterday that it would be ‘under £1200’.



Swedish Pensioner Downloads Movies in 2 Seconds

75-year old Swedish pensioner and Internet newcomer Sigbritt Lothberg has what is believed to be the fastest residential Internet connection in the world. It runs at a dizzying 40 Gigabits per second and the fibre-optic link uses a new modulation system allows data to be sent at blistering speeds over vast distances, without repeaters in between. When operating at full tilt it is possible to download a full-length movie in less than 2 seconds. The installation is experimental and at this stage just a very convincing demonstration of what the technology is capable of. Networking expert Peter Lothberg who devised the system -- yes, his mum is the lucky user -- says she isn’t using it to watch movies, just browsing newspapers on the web – what a waste…



Memories of an Expensive Power Cut?

If you think power cuts are just a nuisance then spare a thought for Samsung Electronics in Korea. Last Friday the world’s largest manufacturer of microchips experienced a power cut at its Kiheung plant, near Seoul. Six of its memory chip fabrication lines were out of commission for a little under 12 hours but early estimates put the cost of the damage at more than 50 billion Won (£27 million). Production was able to resume faster than expected and the cost was later revised to a little over £20 million. Much of this was due to chips that were part way through manufacture, which had to be scrapped. There will be knock on effects as there is currently a worldwide shortage of NAND memory chips. Prices could rise and shares in Apple dipped as it relies heavily on Samsung NAND chips for its iPod media player.



Death By Laser?

Time for a quick health-scare. According to an Aussie professor reported in CNET News, the toner particles used in laser printers are as harmful as tobacco smoke and restrictions should be placed on their emissions, especially in offices where the emissions can be quite significant. Toner particles work their way deep into the lungs and in sufficient quantity can cause respiratory problems, and some of them are potentially carcinogenic, so the next time you use your laser printer, try holding your breath, just in case it turns out to be true…



July 07

Windows Seven for Ten, or Twelve?

Here’s something to gladden your heart if you have just, or are about to take the plunge with Windows Vista, the next version of Windows is now definitely in the pipeline and it will be coming out in 2010, according to Microsoft insiders at a recent sales conference. Given Microsoft’s famously optimistic release schedules some time in 2012 seems more likely but here’s another interesting tidbit. Work on the successor to Vista has obviously been underway for some time and until now it has been referred to by the internal codenames 'Blackcomb' and more recently, ‘Vienna’ but now for some reason this has been changed, and from now on it’s going to be simply known as ‘Windows 7’.



Find out where you are Faster…

Global Positioning by Satellite or GPS systems are popping up everywhere but as anyone who has a hand-held device will know, it sometimes takes several minutes to pick up the satellite signals and figure out where you are.


This delay, and the higher power consumption of the GPS chips, has been cited as the reasons that it hasn’t been the runaway success some had predicted it would be when grafted onto mobile phones. Now, however, Nokia has demonstrated a new system that reduces the start-up time to less than a minute and it will make its first outing on the next version of its N95 smart phone, due out later this year.



Rent and go Green?

Here’s another interesting scheme for saving the planet, a ‘green’ PC that you buy for just $99, plus a $12.95 monthly rental fee. That gets you more than $2000 worth of software, unlimited support and online data backup plus free upgrades and replacement for as long as you subscribe. The big selling point, though, is that apparently so power efficient that the amount you save on your electricity bills – up to $10 a month -- goes a long way to covering the monthly fee.


It’s called Zonbu, it’s tiny and amongst the things you should know is that it uses solid-state storage instead of a hard drive, for near-instant booting and low power consumption. It runs a version of the Linux operating system so it is very secure. There are 6 USB ports, it has built-in Ethernet connectivity and it takes seconds to set up.


So what’s the catch? Well, you have provide your own keyboard, mouse and monitor, and the latter is not included in the power consumption budget, so it may be only a little bit greener than your existing PC. Linux is wonderful, but it’s still not fully housetrained, a bit teccy around the edges, and moving from Windows to Linux can be a trial. The $2000 worth of software is a bit misleading as most essential Linux applications are free plus when you add up the cost of renting over a period of two or three years, say, even with the promised energy savings, it might not look quite so attractive, compared with a cheapie Windows PC.



Moisture Proof Movie Maker

Provided you don’t take it deeper than a metre or so for longer than an hour you can now make underwater video movies with the Sanyo Xacti E1, the world’s first purpose-designed waterproof camcorder. It’s a solid-state model, recording up to 10 hours of medium grade video on a 8Gb SDHC memory card using H.264 MPEG-4 compression.


Other features include a 6megapixel image sensor still shooting, a 2.5-inch LCD viewing screen, anti-shake stabiliser, 5x optical zoom and super macro and instant start. It will be available in blue, white or yellow, all up weight is around 250 grams and when it goes on sale in the US next month it is expected to cost around £250.



Home Nuclear Reactor?

As you may know I’m a big fan (really!) of radioactivity, Geiger counters and all things atomic, it’s much underrated, loads of fun and seriously misunderstood -- so I was understandably fascinated by what appears to be an advertisement from the 1980s, for a home nuclear reactor.


Now I know for a fact that the Japanese did indeed experiment with small basement-sized  reactors a few years ago but sadly decided the public were just not ready for them. There was also a danger of them falling into the wrong hands, but that’s another matter, so although I’m sure this is a wind-up, the technology behind the joke is for real.


I think the name is a bit of a give-away, it’s called the ‘Chernobyl’, and it says it’s simple to operate, even for the young and elderly. Apparently a single fuel rod provides enough power for the average home for 6 months. There’s also a warning that says ‘if people near the device experience dizziness temporarily discontinue use.’  Sounds like good advice to me…



IE Gets Firefox into Trouble

Here’s something else for you to worry about. If you have both Internet Explorer and Firefox (version 2 or later) installed on your PC you could be vulnerable to the latest ‘Zero Day’ exploit, according to a security expert reported on CNET News. It’s a bit complicated; I’ll only say this once, so pay attention.


Apparently there’s a newly discovered security loophole in Internet Explorer, and if someone browsing an infected website using IE, clicks on a link it could instruct Firefox to download and execute some malicious code. It’s all a bit theoretical at the moment but the potential is there. There is a manual fix – I hope to have more on that when I’ve checked it out – and Mozilla and Microsoft are bound to be working on the problem as we speak, so I wouldn’t be too concerned, just avoid clicking links on dodgy websites if you can…



Faster, Hotter Hard Drives

Today’s new word is femtosecond, which is one quadrillionth of a second, and 40 femtoseconds is all is takes for a bit of data to be written to a new type of hard drive, developed by researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands.  According to a report in Science that’s around 100 times faster than a conventional hard drive, and this impressive feat is achieved using a laser to write data to the disc, rather than a magnetic recording head. Laser pulses, fired at the spinning drive reverse the magnetic polarity of microscopic spots or domains on the surface of the disc, each one representing a bit of data. It’s early days and one problem that still needs to be overcome is the size of each bit, which is currently around 5 microns, a good bit bigger than the bits on a conventional drive, so it’s a backwards step in terms of storage capacity, but as they say, they’re working on it…



iPhone Battery Shocker

Just days after the launch of the sacred Apple iPhone in the US, and amidst an unexpectedly mixed set of reviews, CNET News reports that owners of the highly desirable shiny black squarkbox will have to stump up $79 for replacement battery packs, plus another $7.00 for shipping back to Apple. That’s bad enough but the real problem is that all data on the phone will be lost and it will be up to users to back it up first. Apple claims the battery should be good for between 300 and 400 charge-discharge cycles before capacity falls to the point where it needs replacing. To be fair this is fairly typical for most lithium-ion packs, though on most phones, when it happens, you just buy a new battery and slot it in…



JVC First Off The Blocks with Dual-Layer DVD-RW

The Victor Company of Japan -- JVC to its friends -- has pipped the competition to be the first in to t6he market with a single-sided Dual Layer DVD-RW disc. Translated into English that means a re-writeable DVD with a capacity of 8.5Gb, or 1.8 times the space of a regular record-once DVD. Discs are rated at up to 1000 read/write cycles and have extra coatings to prevent scratches and improve long-term storage. The breakthrough is JVC’s ‘Inverse Stack’ fabrication process (opposing layer bonding, it says here…), which we take to mean that JVC has found a way to make lots of them, faster and more reliably and hopefully cheaper. At the moment they are only available in Japan but we have it on good authority that plans are afoot to market them in Europe later in the year, the price has yet to be announced.



At Last, The Washable Mouse!

Here’s something you never knew you needed, a washable mouse. That’s right, network device and PC accessory maker Belkin, clearly with time on their hands, have developed a mouse that can be hand-washed under the tap. How and why a mouse could become so dirty that it warrants a dousing isn’t explained, or why a wipe over with a damp cloth isn’t sufficient, but it’s there if you need it. Just in case you’re interested the F5L007-Scroll should be in the shops from late August onwards, it will cost around £20, it has a 1200dpi resolution, a nifty vertical or horizontal scroll pad, and connects to your PC via a USB cable



June 07


ebay Cracks Down on East European Fraudsters

It pays to keep your wits about you when buying or selling on ebay. It’s mostly safe but there’s plenty of tales of people who have been conned when buying or selling goods on the online auction site. However, within the past year or so there has been a big increase in fraud, and much of it can be traced back to a handful of East European countries and Romania in particular.  A variety of different techniques are now being used, from bogus ‘Second Chance’ offers to potential buyers who were narrowly outbid, to phishing emails asking ebay users to reveal their usernames and passwords. According to CNET News ebay has now formed a dedicated team of investigators and layers specially to combat Romanian scammers and already they have built up profiles of the worst offenders and are now equipping Romanian police departments with equipment and providing the necessary expertise and to date they have already managed to bring several hundred villains to justice.



Petaflops are in the Genes

So, you are feeling pretty smug with your new shiny, superfast top-of the range PC, well eat your heart out. IBM has just been road-testing its new Blue Gene/P supercomputer and when it’s fully dialled in it will be capable of a top speed of more than 3 quadrillion operations, or 3 petaflops each second. Even when idling, at a modest 1 petaflop, it has the equivalent computing power to a stack of laptops 1.5 miles high! (Where do they get these statistics from…?)


It’s not much to look at, and the test version comprises 72 6-foot high equipment racks but the numbers are simply staggering. Inside each rack there are 32 circuit boards, each fitted with 32 Blue Gene/P CPUs. These have four PowerPC cores running at 850MHz and each circuit board of is capable of carrying out more than 430 billion calculations per second. In all there are almost 300,000 separate processors and the whole system is linked together by optical cables. The 3-petaflop version will run on almost 900,000 processors, filling 216 racks. Given the current pace of development I have absolutely no doubt that 3 petaflop laptops will be in the shops by next Christmas…



Small is Beautiful

Just how small can PCs get? Space Cube is only 52 x 52 x 45mm (approx 2 x 2 x 2 inches), which makes it small enough to pop in your pocket. As you can see most of the outside is covered in sockets and slots, and it needs an external power supply as well, so it’s not exactly portable. It’s not to going to set any performance records either with a 333MHz CPU, but it does have a CF card slot, LAN socket USB 2.0, on-board audio, serial and standard video output. It’s designed for specialist applications and configured for Linux, it might just about run Windows too, though anything later than Win 98 will find it very hard going. No details on UK availability or price but if you can read Japanese you can check out the specs on the Shimafuji website.



Microsoft Opens Up Vista’s Desktop Search

The first service pack for Windows Vista is likely to include a change to the smart desktop search feature, which allows users to search their PCs for files and programs. It works as soon as you start typing a keyword, and very good it is too, but it has upset the likes of Google, who would also like to have a crack at providing a search tool for Vista. So now, according to CNET News, Microsoft has come to an agreement that will allow users to switch from the Widows default to third-party search programs. Microsoft's apparent flexibility may have something to do with the nasty battles it had in the mid 1990s and Browser Wars, when it was required to stop making Internet Explorer an integral component of Windows. The beta version of Vista SP1 is likely to be released towards the end of the year.



Getting Ready for ICC

Sharper crisper pictures with more accurate colours are coming to a PC browser near you. For a while now it has been technically possible to improve the quality of web images but there’s been a distinct lack of agreement amongst the main players.


Now things could be about to change. Firefox 3 – due out in beta form next month -- and the recently announced Apple Safari browser for Windows – out now, in beta form – both include support for ICC (International Colour Consortium), a set of colour management standards that should ensure more natural-looking colours and a better match between what you see on the screen, and hard copy prints. It probably won’t mean much to you right now but you can stay ahead of the game and check if your current browser supports ICC (it almost certainly doesn’t) on this ICC Test Page, then try it again on Safari.



Toshiba Develops 60GHz Wireless Chip

Whilst some of us are still getting to grips with 802.11b/g Wi-Fi technology, which works on a frequency of 2.4BGHz, in Japan Toshiba is busily perfecting new ‘millimetre wavelength’ wireless systems that operate at 60GHz. Tosh is working on new integrated circuit fabrication techniques and has succeeded in building receivers incorporating all of the electronic circuitry and the antenna on a single chip. The downside of millimetre-wave systems is short range, typically just a few metres, but eventually the chips could find their way into home computers, enabling lightning fast file transfers of up to 1 gigabits per second between PCs, and more interestingly, the facility to beam high-definition video around the home.



New Low Light Digicams from Kodak

Kodak may have finally solved one of the few remaining drawbacks of digital photography with a new range of cameras with image sensors that can take decent pictures in poor light, according to a report in CNET News. Of course normal CCD image sensors do operate in low light, but the results are often unsatisfactory, as they require long exposure times to compensate, so if there’s any movement in the scene, or camera shake, the result is a messy blur.


Kodak’s new image sensors, which will be appearing in cameras next year, allow exposure times to be cut by up to 75 percent, colour noise levels will also be reduced, resulting in sharper, crisper images.


The 12-megapixel sensors use what’s known as a Beyer-pattern of sensor elements with half the light sensitive elements responsive to green light – better for low light conditions -- and the other half split between red and blue light. Software algorithms correct and rebuild the colour components in the image.  



Sony Patents the PlayPhone?

Reuters reports that Sony has been busily filing patents in the US for a device that combines the functions of a mobile phone and a video game. Of course cellphones have had cheesy games for years, but Sony’s interest in this area clearly extends well beyond the boxy graphics of Tetris and Snake and the implication is they’re thinking about a fully-featured portable video games console arrangement. At the moment there are staying tight-lipped about actual product, but it’s a natural combination of technologies, and if anyone is going to do it, it will be Sony, currently the world’s largest manufacturer of video games, and fourth largest mobile-phone maker



Phone Mania Begins

According to CNet News in the next few days fully grown and apparently well-educated men and women are planning to set up camp outside the Apple Stores in the US to be first in the queue for one of Apple’s new $500 iPhones when it goes on sale on June 29th. Last week ‘presale’ ads for the new phones started appearing on ebay – even though it isn’t available yet – and bids of $830 were being placed, before ebay pulled the plug on the auctions. No doubt similar scenes of sad desperation will be played out on this side of the pond but drooling Apple fans will have to wait as a firm UK launch date has yet to be announced, and before you think about popping over to the States to bag one, the US models almost certainly won’t work on UK networks.



Eee PC Wee Laptop

There’s a rash of titchy laptops around at the moment. It began a year or so ago with OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) XO-1, a project to develop a $100 laptop with a 7-inch screens and very low power consumption for children in poor and underdeveloped countries. The XO-1 is actually very clever and the first ones have just been delivered, though they’re now costing around $175. Then Intel decided to get in on the act with the Classmate, another cheapie designed for underprivileged kids. There’s been a lot of interest in both machines with a lot of people asking where they can get one, now it looks like you can and it’s coming from Ausus (who are also making the Classmate) and it’s called – wait for it – the Eee PC. This cheap and cheerful little laptop is due for launch later this year. It has the 7 inch screen, Intel’s Ultra Mobile CPU chip, 2, 4, 8 or 16 GB of flash memory storage, built in Wi-Fi and Ethernet, camera, the whole caboodle in fact and all for a projected price of just $200 (£100-ish), for the basic model. Start saving now!



Price Cuts For Sony Blu-Ray

As surely as night follows day, sooner or later the cost of high-definition DVD players will tumble and they’ll be giving players and discs away in packets of Corn Flakes, but this time things are a little different.


Two formats – HD-DVD and Blu-Ray -- are still slugging it out and format wars are deeply unpopular with consumers. They cause confusion and doubt, which is probably why sales of high-def DVD kit has been rather slow to date. Now Sony is hoping to liven things up a bit by chopping $100 off the price of its newest Blu-Ray player, down to under $500, or half the price of its first generation players launched in the US late last year. The official line is that Sony is just passing on falls in production costs but it’s probably no coincidence that arch rival Toshiba has an HD-DVD player selling for less than $300.


It’s still anyone’s guess which way it will go and a few naively optimistic souls – me included – are still hoping for a truce or a compromise before it gets really messy. But just in case it turns into a fight to the death you can always hedge your bets with a dual-mode player from LG, and a couple of disc manufacturers are experimenting with double-sided hybrid discs, with HD-DVD on one side and Blu-Ray on the other.



Rubiks Cube in 26 Moves -- It's Official!

For those like me who never managed to defeat the accursed Rubik’s Cube, (unless you count rearranging the coloured stickers) it comes as no comfort whatsoever to learn that researchers at Boston’s Northeastern University have proved that it is possible to solve any scrambled cube – a possible 43 quintillion combinations -- in 26 moves. Mind you, it took a lot of fancy PCs with 7 terrabytes of storage capacity and a whole lot of new computing techniques and mathematical theories to do this. Back in 1997 mathematicians at UCLA had shown that most combinations could be solved in 18 moves, and there was a theory that it might be possible to solve all cubes in as few as 20 moves but they could only prove it could be solved in fewer than 27 moves.



Smile, You’re on Google Maps

I don’t know if you’ve looked at Google Maps recently but they’ve just added a new feature, called Street View, with images taken using 360 degree cameras, that are detailed enough to show peoples faces. You can look in shop windows, read street signs and zoom in and out and spin around. Ingenious stuff, but sooner or later someone is going to object to seeing themselves, picking their noses or having a crafty fag. There’s no need to get too worried, though, so far the trials are confined to the US, specifically New York, Las Vegas, Denver, Miami and San Francisco, so pop along while you may, click the Street View tab and look for the camera icon and see I there’s anyone you recognise.


May 07


Sims on the Big Screen

Here’s one to boggle your mind. The movie rights to the world’s most popular computer game, The Sims, have just been sold to 20th Century Fox, according to the people who know at show-biz mag Variety. For those of you who have been living in a cave for the last five years, The Sims lets you create and take god-like command of a virtual world on your PC, populated with simulated people and communities. Details about the proposed flick are a tad sketchy but we do know it will be scripted by Brian Lynch (Big Helium Dog and Scary Movie); it will be live action though we don’t know who’s going to be starring it in, or anything about the plot but by the sound of it it’s going to be big, and with world-wide sales of the game topping 85 million it promises healthy box office receipts. 



Portable Projectors a Possibility

The novelty of watching TV programs or movies on tiny colour screens tends to wear off after a few minutes, so wouldn’t it be great if your phone or PDA could project a larger image onto any handy white surface? Over the years there have been numerous attempts to develop portable video projectors but the problem has always been the light source. To get a decent sized image you need a very bright light, but up until recently that’s meant a power-hungry (and usually very hot) incandescent light. Now there’s an alternative, in the shape of laser LEDs, which have been getting brighter in leaps and bounds in the past few years, and the big advantage is they use very little power. However, whilst it is possible to make super-bright red and blue laser LEDs, green has proved a tricky nut to crack. But now that final hurdle has been overcome, following announcements by several companies, which have developed powerful green laser LEDs that can produce clear bright images, consume only modest amounts of power and take up very little room.  A projector that’s small enough to fit inside a cellphone and capable of producing an image up to 12-inches across is now a real prospect and first generation portable projectors, no larger than a packet of cigarettes could be available within the next year or so.



The End of Spam?

The influential Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a collaboration of major Internet companies including Cisco Systems, PGP and Yahoo, has given approval for a promising technology called Domainkeys, which can identify and eliminate fraudulent and phishing Spam messages.


It’s designed to be used by the large companies and financial institutions targeted by fraudsters, who send out millions of fake messages, asking the recipients to go to websites to verify their details by entering their PIN numbers. It’s elegantly simple, legitimate senders tag their emails with an electronic ‘signature’ that cross-matches the message with the company’s website. The idea is this will be picked up and checked by ISPs and if the signature is missing, or doesn’t match the message can be flagged as Spam or automatically deleted. There’s still a lot of work to be done and will be a while before anyone sees a reduction of junk in their inboxes but if as seems likely it gains industry-wide acceptance it could mark the beginning of the end for the Spammers.



New Solar CIGS Cells Delayed

A promising new solar cell technology, called Copper Indium Gallium Selenide, or CIGS has hit unforeseen production problems but hopefully only by a year or so. CIGS cells are actually less efficient that the current generation of Silicon-based cells, which typically turn around 20 percent of the sunlight energy hitting them into electricity. CIGS cells only manage around 10 percent efficiency, but they are significantly cheaper to produce, costing around as quarter as much as silicon cells, and they can be manufactured in a continuous roll and formed into flexible sheets, even incorporated into clothing. According to the report on CNet News efficiencies of only 6 to 8 per cent have been achieved but the hoped for target of 10 percent should be reached by the end of next year.  



Latest Wi-Fi Standard Begins Certification

Beginning next month the organisation responsible for developing and policing the technical standards for computer wireless network systems, the Wi-Fi Alliance, will start certifying products using the new 802.11n standard. Most of us have only just got used to the now de-facto 11g standard, and a few old timers like me are still using 11b kit, so what does the new system have in store?  The key selling point is speed, 11n products are up to five times faster than 11b and g, which means it can handle all current audio and video systems, and more importantly, high-definition TV and video, so you can see where this one is going. As an added bonus 11n products should have slightly better range, indoor operating distances of up to 70 metres are being touted.


All of the key components are now in place for streamed HD TV from PCs and high-def Blu-Ray and HD-DVD players. In fact several manufacturers have jumped the gun and started marketing 11n products, and this could cause problems as the standard may be liable to revision until 2008, when the official launch is planned, so it might be a good idea to wait a while for all of the kinks to ironed out.



Google Searches For Lefties

It’s worth popping along to Google Labs every so often to see what they are up to, and one of their latest wheezes is left-hand search navigation. The idea is a new set of related search links appears to the left of the main results column. These will include context-sensitive topics, such as patents, news items, products, images and so on, ranked according to importance and relevance. While you are there check out the new keyboard shortcut test page and there’s a new feature called Timeline and Map View, which pops up when you do a historical or geographically-linked search.



TV Over Power Lines, Again

This one is as old as the hills but US Satellite TV company DirecTV is planning to test a high-speed Internet and video on demand TV service using household mains cables as a means of distribution. This has been tried many times in the UK, with a notable lack of success, but DirecTV reckons it has cracked the problems and will begin testing in a major US city next year. Several hundred thousand volunteers will trial the service and if it proves successful it will be rolled out to other cities. If past trials were anything to go by there’s no need to get excited…



Hackers Target QuickTime and WinZip

Although it seem unlikely virus writers and hackers are going to give up looking for and attempting to exploit loopholes in Microsoft products, it seems some of them may be turning their attention to other popular applications.  According to security experts at Symantec the defences on one of its PC’s, used as bait to attract and trap virus writers, was breached through known vulnerabilities in Apple QuickTime and WinZip. These popular applications are installed on a very high proportion of PCs, and although the security holes have been known about for some time, it wasn’t thought they were being actively exploited. The attacks were carried out through dodgy websites, designed to resemble trusted bank and credit card sites. PC users are being lured onto them through links in Spam messages The sites were laced with a range of malicious hacking tools and unsuspecting. Patches and fixes for these problems are available and users are advised to make sure their software is kept up to date.



Yahoo Auctions Outbid by ebay

Yahoo’s online auction websites in Canada and the US will be taking their final lots on June 3rd and the gavel comes down for the last time on June 16th. This follows reports that ebay now accounts for almost 94 percent of all auction traffic on the web. Yahoo’s share was a meagre 0.19 percent, according to figurers from analysts Hitwise. It has also been suggested that the American tax authorities, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), has been taking a keen interest in sales taxes on Internet sales, which could make life more difficult, not to say more expensive for on-line sellers and auction sites. Yahoo Auctions is not completely out of the game, though, and its divisions in the Far East, in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan are as yet unaffected.



Minority Report A Reality?

If you’ve seen the movie Minority Report you’ll recall the scenes with Tom Cruise using hand movements to manipulate images on computers screens. What goes around comes around, and it turns out the ‘Gesture Technology’ featured in the movie was actually based on research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Soon we could all be waving frantically at our PCs. The G-Speak system, developed by a small team of computer engineers, led by ex MIT guru and movie science advisor John Underkoffer has come up with a glove that interprets hand movements. Apparently all you have to do is point at something on the screen, grab it move it around, or use a gesture to click a button to make something happen, and it’s faster and more intuitive than a mouse or keyboard. Funny thing, I’ve been shaking my fist at PCs for years, maybe soon they really will get the message…   



Synthetic Snot aids Robotic Nose

I know this is a little outside of our usual area of interest but I thought that you should know that researchers at  The University of Warwick and Leicester University have developed artificial nasal mucus (that’s snot to you and me) to improve the performance of the electronic noses they’ve been developing.


Our noses have more than 100 million sensors but the best electronic sniffers only have 50 or so, so they’re not as sensitive, or can recognise as wide a range of smells as we can. In a real nose a layer of mucus dissolves the chemicals in scents and odours, which separates out the molecules, so they reach the nose’s sensors cells at different speeds and this helps the brain to process the information more accurately. The artificial mucus replicates this process, it’s based on a polymer used in gas chromatographs and one example of its success has been the robot nose’s ability to tell the difference between the smells of milk and bananas, which, apparently they couldn’t do before…



Auction Watch for Firefox

If you’re using the Firefox browser and buying and selling stuff on ebay, and I suspect that includes a good many of you, then you might be interested in a new Firefox add-on that lets you keep an eye on the lots you are watching, bidding on, or selling.


It’s called the Firefox ebay Companion and you can set it to log on automatically when you launch Firefox. It appears as a sidebar on the browser window, with a Search box at the top and displaying thumbnails of the auctions you are following underneath. When you want to bid just click the button and the ebay page for the item opens. Ebay Companion is now in it’s Beta testing phase and they are looking for volunteers, just don’t bid on any of the auctions I’m after but feel free to go nuts on any of the treasure I’m selling…



Designer Time On-Line

My thanks to CNET News for alerting me to a website where you can design your own exclusive watch. It’s called and this Swiss-based company (where else?) lets you choose between a range of ready made styles, themes and collections, or you can start from scratch, specifying the movement, case, dial and hands, bezel, strap and so on, then personalise the back with an engraving. The designer page keeps tabs on the price as you add parts, and don’t forget, you will end up with as nears as dammit, a one-off design that you won’t be seeing on anyone else’s wrist.


April 07


Firefox 3 Release Date Announced

If you’ve switched to the Firefox browser then you are probably using version 2, which was released last October, but don’t get too used to it; Firefox 3 is on its way and should be with you by late summer.


Alpha test releases of the new browser, codenamed ‘Gran Paradiso’ are due to be sent out to selected testers any day now and a fully featured beta version is expected to be available by the end of July. New features are expected to include a revised bookmarking system, improved security, phishing protection and printing facilities



PS3 Owners Aid Alzheimer’s Research

No, it’s not what you are thinking, there is as yet no proven causal link between playing video games and degenerative aging  diseases, but PS3 owners in the US and elsewhere now have the opportunity to help with research into conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, by allowing their console’s spare computing capacity to be used to crunch some very big numbers for Stanford University.


It’s a development of the ‘distributed computing’ projects that many PC owners have participated in, whereby researchers send data to PCs via the Internet, for processing, when the PC is idle – usually when the screensaver is active. It’s an ingenious way for researchers to combine the power of hundreds or thousands of PC to do some very big sums, that otherwise would take ages to complete. The PS3 tie-in is included in the most recent software upgrade and is called Floding@home, so far 250,000 owners have signed up and new users will be able to donate their spare capacity by clicking through on the Network icon. PC owners can also join in and help; you’ll find a link to the download on the Folding@home site.



Blu-Ray Takes Early Lead

According to US sales figures first quarter results for the two rival high definition disc systems shows Blu-Ray has taken a commanding lead over its HD-DVD rival with a 70 percent share of the market. All of the top ten selling discs were on Blu-Ray, with Casino Royale in the top slot, selling almost 70,000 copies. This was followed by The Departed, which was released on both formats, selling 54,000 on Blue Ray and the rest on HD DVD. The report, in CNet News claims that around 1.2 million HD discs were sold up until the end of March. Blu-Ray’s lead hasn’t come as a surprise since it is supported by five of the six top movie studios (only three studios back HD DVD), and only one, Universal exclusively supports HD DVD.



Mac Hacker wins $10,000

A rather unwise offer of a $10,000 bounty to anyone who could hack into a MacBook was won last week by software engineers Shane Macaulay and Dino Dai Zovi. The event, held at a security conference in the US, involved the ‘hackers’ exploiting a security hole in Apple’s Safari browser. The hack took around 9 hours to write and the target MacBooks had all current security updates installed and were connected to a wireless router.



Major Security Update for Apple OS X

Okay, so Apple PCs are still a lot safer than Windows PCs, but the next time an Apple owner smugly reminds you of the fact, just ask him or her whether they’ve installed the security update issued in April 19th. This fixes no less than 25 security flaws in OS X and it includes three patches for ‘Zero Day’ bugs, and vulnerabilities that would allow hackers to gain access to data. So far this year Apple has issued at least one security update each month and whilst the level of threat and number of attacks are nowhere near the level PC owners have to put up with, it does appear that Apple owners may no longer be as safe as they once used to be.



Seeing the Light

You probably won’t have heard of Silverlight, but you will, if Microsoft has its way. Silverlight is the newly announced Microsoft alternative to Adobe Flash, the behind-the-scenes browser plug-in that adds animation and video to websites. According to a report on CNet News the Silverlight beta will be launched later this month. It will be available for Internet Explorer, Firefox for both Windows and Mac, and there will also be a version for Safari, the player download should be around 2Mb. The launch follows two years of development, previously known as Windows Presentation and Windows Everywhere. In case you are wondering what all the fuss is about, if Silverlight takes off – and there’s every reason to suppose it will  -- it means web browsers will have the facility to display Windows Media Video, and whilst it gives web developers a new toy to play with, it is going to cause some major headaches too, especially for Adobe.



New Green Solar Cell Technology

Massey University in New Zealand is pioneering a new solar cell technology that promises to generate electricity from sunlight for one-tenth the cost of current Silicon based photovoltaic cells. The new devices use a range of synthetic dyes made from organic compounds and titanium dioxide, derived from black sand found in abundance in New Zealand. The dye shown on the right, held aloft by the centre’s Dr Wayne Campbell, is synthetic chlorophyll, the energy conversion compound found in green plants. Other dyes being tested include one based on Haemoglobin, the red-coloured pigment in blood.


Prototype cells, measuring 10 x 10cm are now producing enough electricity to drive a small fan and the amount of light needed is significantly less than a silicon cell. Production cells will produce useable amount of electricity, even in overcast conditions. Researcher hope eventually to be able to incorporate the dyes into roofing materials and panels.



WiFly A Flop?

In spite of having more than 4,200 access points and covering 52 square miles, response to the world’s largest Wi-Fi project, covering 90 percent of the city of Taipei in Taiwan has been seriously underwhelming, according to a report on SFGate. The WiFly system has only 30,000 regular users, out of a population of more than 2.6 million, well short of the estimated 250,000 users expected when the system was started 15 months ago. Part of the problem has been a poor reputation for reliability but the system also suffers from serious competition from free hotspots. Taipei’s pioneering city-wide wireless system was seen as a role model for other similar projects, including Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul and the Google – Earthlink joint venture planned for San Francisco, a city that is already very well served by free and cheap hotspots.



Patch Tuesday, Back With A Vengeance

Following last month’s almost unprecedented lack of critical security updates from Microsoft – traditionally released on the first Tuesday of each month, known affectionately as ‘Patch Tuesday. Well, they’re back in strength this month, including a rush-release for zero-day ‘Cursor’ exploit that we reported on a few days ago. The new patches, reported by Microsoft include 4 for Windows that have been given the highest ‘Maximum Severity’ rating. There are also updates for the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool and a total of 6 non-security high-priority updates – it could be a busy day for the web…



Sun Storm Disrupts GPS

If you have a GPS (Global Positioning by Satellite) gizmo in your car, cast your mind back to December 5th and 6th 2006. If you got lost, or your GPS sent you into a river or the wrong way down a one-way street, blame the Sun!


Scientists and researchers around the world measured an unusually large solar flare and found that the enormous burst of radio frequency noise it generated was enough to cause many GPS receivers to temporarily loose signal lock. The burst was estimated to be more than 20,000 times greater than the normal emissions from the Sun and was the largest so far detected. Researchers are now busily figuring out the consequences of these unpredictable emanations, and what, if anything can be done to stop them upsetting critical navigational systems.



New Threat Targets Animated Cursors

Heads up for a new vulnerability in Windows XP and Vista. It concerns those animated cursors you see on some web pages or in an email. Some clever dick has found a way of implanting a piece of malware code in the cursor’s .ani file, and when you click on it an infection is downloaded onto your PC, or you are directed to an infected web site. Microsoft has known about it for a while but has only recently gone public, after details of the code were released into the wild. A patch is expected soon but if you are worried there is an interim fix which you can download from the eEye website



Mozilla and ebay Join Forces

Mozilla, who are behind the FireFox browser and the online auction website ebay are teaming up to make it easier to keep in touch with auctions, regardless of where they are on the web. The development is still shrouded in secrecy but since the main difficulty for ebay buyers is keeping track of auctions, especially during the closing minutes when bidding can get vvery lively. It sounds as though this could be some sort of browser plugin that tracks an auction and warns the buyer when it is time to place a bid. More news when we have it.



March 07

Vista iPod Patch Released

iPod users will be relieved to know that Microsoft has fixed a glitch in Windows Vista that had the potential to mess up their player’s data. It concerns the Vista ‘Safely Remove Hardware’ function, used to eject the player from the system and although the patch, which was released a few days ago, though the advice from Apple is to continue using the iTunes eject function. CNET News also reports a number of other updates to do with hooking devices up to Vista PCs, including one that could result in a loss of images when transferring image files from a Canon EOS-1D



20 Million Vista Licences Sold, and Counting…

Any lingering doubts that Microsoft would have problems shifting the new Vista operating system into the market have been swiftly dispelled by the news that over 20 million Licences have been issued in the two months since it was launched at the end of January. This figure includes boxed copies and pre-installed versions, and the free-Vista upgrade offered to purchasers of XP computers since last October, which tends to skew the figures somewhat. Even so it’s not a bad start and Microsoft are quite pleased with the early results and it is shaping up to become the fastest selling version of Windows to date.



Skype Users Under Attack

A new threat has been identified that targets the Instant Messaging (IM) facility in the free Internet phone program Skype. It’s called ‘Check this up’, and when users click on link in a chat message of the same name a malware file called file_01.exe is downloaded on to the users PC. The executable then proceeds to download other malware files and starts sending messages, containing a copy of itself to everyone listed in the Skype user’s contact list. 2603


Staying Cool, with Steam…

One of the biggest obstacles faced by PC designers is how to get rid of all the waste heat generated by microchips and components like hard drives, not to mention all of the other bits and bobs we stuff inside computers these days. The traditional answer has been to use fans to force cooling air around the inside of the box. Companies have come up with increasingly ingenious and elaborate solutions, including liquid cooling systems that resemble small refrigerators but a company called Celsia may have the most interesting idea to date, called a Nanospreader.


Essentially it is a thin metal structure that can conduct heat away from components faster than just about anything else. It can be formed into almost any shape, and the secret is steam! Nanospreaders are thin sandwiches made of copper and inside there’s a vacuum. The interior is separated into a series of chambers, in the ones that comes into contact with the heat source there’s an absorbent material impregnated with nothing more complicated than water. In vacuum water readily turns into vapour or steam when warmed and this rapidly conducts the heat away from the source so it can be dissipated to the atmosphere by a components, such as a radiator. It’s still early days but the cool, silent PC and laptop may not be that far away.



Microsoft Track Down Search Engine Spammers

According to a report on CNET News Microsoft have found a way of tracking down those incredibly annoying fake Search sites that pop up with almost every web search. Almost all of them are designed to redirect searches to advertising sites or fiddle web page rankings and they simply clutter up the web and waste everyone’s time. The Microsoft researchers have worked out a way to find them and hopefully this will lead to a way of getting rid of them.



Wi-Fi for Sewing machines

That’s right, you can now connect your sewing machine to your PC, and why not, just about everything else does these days…  Just in case you haven’t been keeping up with the latest developments in mechanised stitching you need to know that many sewing machines nowadays are equipped with USB ports. This is used to upload patterns from a PC but there’s a problem if your sewing machine and PC are not in the same room. That’s where StitchLink comes in; it cuts out the cable by providing a wireless link to the computer. It’s a bit like a wireless print server, in fact I wouldn’t mind better that it actually is one, in disguise, and if I had a suitably equipped sewing machine I would put this theory to the test, but if you are looking for a way to hook up your Singer top your PC then this would probably be the best place to start.



Yet Another IE7 Vulnerability?

Microsoft is investigating another newly uncovered potential flaw in Internet Explorer 7. This one, called ‘cross-scripting’ was discovered by Israeli security expert Aviv Raff who found that it would be possible for crooks to carry out ‘phishing’ attacks on IE7 users. The idea is the attacker creates a special resource link to a phoney website, PayPal, ebay and the major banks are the current favourites, when the unwary visitor clicks on the link they see a ‘Navigation Cancelled‘ page, the victim thinks there’s a browser error, refreshes the page and this time they’re taken to the fake page and IE7 displays what looks like a genuine URL. Raff’s advice is that until Microsoft sorts this one out do not trust sites that display the Navigation Cancelled’ warning.



Self-Encrypting Laptop Drives On Sale Next Month

Data stored on laptop PCs has always been difficult to protect. Passwords and PIN codes are worthless and easily sidestepped simply by stealing the whole machine and removing the drive. Data can be encrypted, of course, but this requires additional software, however, drive makers Seagate may have the best solution so far, a drive that automatically encrypts all data stored on it. The feature is called DriveTrust and it was first announced back in 2005 but it has taken a while to develop the technology and the first machines, fitted with the new drives, are expected to go on sale next month.



Patchless Tuesday

As you may know the second Tuesday in every month has become known as ‘Patch Tuesday’, it’s the day Microsoft normally releases security updates that are automatically downloaded onto tens of millions of PC’s worldwide. But guess what, according to the Microsoft website there will be no security patches on the 13th of March. According to CNet News this will be the first time it has happened since September 2005.


Does this mean the spammers, hackers and virus writers have given up? Well, no, not exactly, and there are still a number of critical vulnerabilities outstanding that still haven’t been fixed. There will be several non-critical releases to download on Tuesday, including and updated version of the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool, but it might suggest that things have quietened down a little, either that or they’re just too busy working on those outstanding updates or it might mean they’ve got their hands full dealing with the March Calendar Bug, which we reported on last month.



Shutdown Day, March 24th

Could you live without your computer for one whole day? If so then you might like to have a look at the Shutdownday website. Shutdown Day this year is March 24th, and people behind it say that it’s an experiment to find out how many people can go cold turkey, and if you want to join in the fun you can sign up or leave your thoughts on the site. Now the really odd thing is there doesn’t seem to be any good reason behind it. No mention of saving the planet, or even saving your soul, it’s just something to do, or maybe it’s a wind-up? You make up your own mind but since the 24th is a Saturday it’s not exactly going to be a big wrench for those who play along. Maybe if they tried it on a Wednesday, or Friday the results would be a little more ineresting…



Manchester and the World’s Smallest Transistors

Researchers at the University of Manchester School of Physics and Astronomy are working to develop transistors that are only one atom thick and 50 atoms wide. These size zero transistors could provide the solution to a problem that has been bugging chipmakers for decades, namely what to do when the current generation of silicon based semiconductors reaches the limits of miniaturisation, which it is now doing at a rate of knots.


The new technology is based on a carbon-based crystalline material called Graphene. First generation Graphene transistors didn’t work too well, but the Manchester team, led by Professor Andre Geim and Dr Kostya Novoselov have overcome the early problems and proved the concept works, though it will be some time before their processes can be refined and scaled up to a commercial scale.



Latest Laptop Battery Recall

Well, it’s been a few weeks since the last one so it was about time… This one comes from Lenovo, which took over the IBM laptop brand, and concerns a Sanyo made extended life Lithium Ion battery pack with part number FRU P/N 92P1131, which was used in the following ThinkPad notebooks: R60, R60e, T60, T60p, Z60m, Z61e, Z61m and Z61p. The battery itself is okay, but if the laptop were to be dropped the pack could be damaged, leading to overheating. According to the product recall upwards of 200,000 packs could be affected and if you have you have one you should stop using it and contact Lenovo for a free replacement.



Hitachi High-Definition Hybrids

Hitachi’s new Hybrid camcorders, which combine DVD and hard disc recording technologies have been storming the Japanese market and are now occupying the number two spot. Four models are planned for the UK this year, the three we definitely know about are the entry-level DZ-HS3000 which has a 8Gb hard drive that can capture up to 6 hours of video, which can be edited or copied in minutes to mini DVD (all machines have multi-format DVD drives). Next up is the DZ-5000, which has a 30Gb drive for up to 23 hours recording time and a 30x lens. But the star of the show is the tiny DZ-HS501, which also has a 30Gb drive but is smaller, and sharper with a 1.3megapixel image sensor for crisper stills.


All we can really say about the fourth model is that it will be a high definition machine and it may or may not look like one of these four concept models shown here. Personally I hope it’s the one on the right, some clever styling that pays homage to the classic ‘Arriflex’ professional movie camera.



February 07

Blair Urged to cut Cost of Vista

In one of the more bizarre twists in our democratic system the Downing Street Petition website – in the news recently for collectiing 1.6 million signatures against road pricing – is now being used to urge Tony Blair to pressurise Microsoft to reduce the price of Windows Vista in the UK. Okay, so Bill is doing the usual trick of upping the price for his wares in Europe and UK but this well-meaning petition ignores the fact that very few copies of will be sold at full retail. From now on Vista will be bundled with virtually all new PCs, and anyone who bought a PC costing more than £399 since last October may well be entitled to a free upgrade. Last week we also showed you how to slash the cost of Vista by installing the upgrade version, nevertheless, at the time of writing more than 2300 people felt strongly enough to add their names to the list. If you feel strongly enough give it whirl, you never know, though bear in mind your email address will be duly noted, and like the road pricing protesters, Mr Blair may send you a message…



Watching What You Say, part 2

You may recall back in November last year we brought you news of a new surveillance video camera that listens out for ‘aggressive’ sounds, which can alert the authorities to troublemakers in the street and shopping centres. Well, here’s something else to worry about, with overtones of HAL from 2001, a computer based video surveillance system that can lip-read.


Work is underway on a three-year project at the University of East Anglia in collaboration with the Home Office Scientific Development branch, into a computer based lip-reading system, for use in crime fighting. Just in case you think you’ll be able to fool the system by talking another language, they’re covering that as well. The research is still at a very early stage and it could be several years before a working system is developed. This is by no means the first attempt to get computers to recognize incredibly complex lip and facial movements, but you can be sure that sooner or later someone is going to crack the problem so if you have villainous tendencies, now might be a good time to start brushing up on your ventriloquial skills



Mr Remote Dies at 93

You probably haven’t heard of Robert Adler, and nor had I until a few days ago, when news reached me of his death at the ripe old age of 93. You will, however, be familiar with Robert’s greatest contribution to civilisation (he held more than 180 patents), as the co-inventor of the TV remote control, which he developed for the US TV maker Zenith back in 1956. It was called the ‘Space Command’ and unlike today’s button boxes, used ultrasonic sounds, to send commands to the TV, to change the channel and the volume.


His death is particularly poignant for me as I spent several years in the 1970s working for Ferguson, later Thorn EMI, where I became something of an expert on ultrasonic remote controls. In fact at the time I reckoned I knew just about all there was to know on the technology and was able to mimic commands and make TVs do amusing and unexpected things using a variety of household objects, including keys and cutlery. Unfortunately that was to be the ultrasonic remote control’s undoing and within a few years it had been replaced by more reliable Infra red systems, leaving my vast fund of knowledge high and dry.


So RIP Robert, sorry your batteries finally ran out (he suffered a heart attack) and the next time you pick up the zapper, press the pause button for a moment and if you are old enough remember what it used to be like to have to get up out of your chair to change channels…



Castro’s Cuba Switches to Linux

According to a report on CNET News Cuba has decided to switch most government computers and those used by educational institutions from commercial operating systems like Windows to Open Source software, more specifically Linux. Cuba’s Custom’s service has already made the change and several Ministries are about to move. They’re not alone, either, and other countries, including China, Brazil and Norway are thinking about switching, and it’s happening closer to home, as well, with local councils in Europe and the UK running pilot projects. The change to Open Source reflects a growing unease with the dominance of Windows, and the reliance on one company to provide software. Security concerns with Windows is another factor, though the cost of installing Linux, which is a fraction of the price of Windows on a large number of PC’s has obviously had a part to play.



Watch Out for March Calendar Bug

Whilst not exactly on the scale of the Y2K scare, you might like to make note of a potential bug in any PC based application or device that uses a clock or calendar, between March 11th and April 1st this year. In fact the most serious effects – if any -- are only likely to be felt in the US, but if you have any meetings scheduled with Americans between those date, be warned they might be an hour late...  


The problem arose in 2005 when the US decided that from this year the date the clocks ‘Spring’ forward (Daylight Saving Time) would move by three weeks, from the first Sunday in April, to the second Sunday in March (March 11th this year). Unfortunately many PCs and a lot of devices that need to know about this sort of thing (VCRs, DVRs, program timers and so) may not be updated or know about the change, so for those three weeks their internal clocks could be running an hour slow. It’s not going to have planes falling out the sky or nuclear reactors blowing a fuse but be on your guard nonetheless!



There really is nothing new under the Sun

So, you think that flashy new flat screen monitor you are staring at right now is cutting-edge technology? If you’ve been keeping tabs on developments in visual displays you’ll probably be aware that flat screens have actually been around for at least 25 years, but the idea is certainly not new. The illustration on the right shows what looks like a modern widescreen LCD monitor or TV but it’s from the November 1954 edition of Popular Mechanics. It’s a concept design by General Electric, but here’s the rub, the article suggests that this will be the shape of TVs ten years from then, in 1964.


But the idea of a flat hang-on-the-wall displays goes back even further than that. This second illustration is from the June 1922 edition of Popular Wireless magazine and it clearly shows a wall mounted flat-panel display with the man of the house firmly in control of the remote – nothing changes... The really amazing thing is that this was published 3 years before the first public demonstrations of Logie Baird’s mechanical television system, and ten years before the first electronic TV system.   



First $150 Laptops Delivered to World's Poorest Children

The OLPC or ‘One Laptop Per Child’ project, which plans to provide children in the world’s poorest and least developed counties with their own laptop computers comes one step closer to fruition with the announcement that the first machines will be delivered later this month to children in 8 countries. The design goal was to develop a portable computer that would cost less than $150 -- eventually as little as $100 -- and be rugged enough to withstand the often harsh conditions in the places where they will be used. The ‘XO’ machine is a power efficient design with a durable keyboard and a swivelling 7.5-inch dual mode LCD screen. It uses a custom variant of the Open Source Linux operating system and is based around an AMD Geode processor running at 366Mhz, XO relies entirely on solid-state memory, both to improve durability and save power. The distinctive lime green and white machine is being built in China and mass production is expected to begin in July when work starts on the first batch of 5 million machines. Eventually the non-profit organisation, founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology hopes to build and deliver more than 150 machines by 2010.



Comparing the Cost of Inkjet Printers

As you probably know all too well, drop for drop, the ink in inkjet printer cartridges is dearer than some of the most expensive French perfumes, so last week’s announcement by Kodak that its new range of printers will be 50 percent cheaper to run comes as welcome relief. That’s all well and good, but how do we know? Measuring printer cartridge life is a near impossible task, the problem is there’s no standard test, each manufacturer has its own way of determining the number of pages you can expect to get out of each cart. There’s no such thing as an industry standard test page or graphic, or at least there didn’t used to be.


Now a group of leading printer makers, including Canon, Dell, Epson, HP, IBM, Kodak Lexmark, Oki, Pitney Bowes, Ricoh, Spencer Lab and Xerox have got together support a standard, ratified by the International Standards Organisation (ISO). It’s known to its friends as ISO/IEC 24711, or to give it its full title: ‘Method for the determination of ink cartridge yield for colour inkjet printers and multi-function devices that contain printer components’. It’s going to take a while to filter through to the market but soon you will be able to compare printer running costs on a like for like basis, and about time too...



Roll Out of Roll Out Screen...

We’ve been hearing about and seeing the occasional tantalising glimpse of flat and flexible polymer screens for some time now but a division of Philips, called Polymer Vision, is set to unveil one of, if not the first practical application of the technology in the shape of a 3G PDA and e-book display called Readius.


The screen, which is normally rolled up inside the palm-sized device, pulls out to around 13 cm (5-inches), providing a paper-like monochrome display. Readius has both mobile phone and Wi-Fi connectivity, MP3 replay, PDA functions, it will be able to download and display e-books and other ‘printed’ material like newspapers and because of the screen’s ultra low power consumption battery life could be in the order of 9 to 10 days. No word on prices yet but it won’t be cheap, nevertheless Readius has been signed up by the Italian cell phone operator Telecom Italia Mobile and they are due to have it later in the year



New Chip And Pin Hack Exposed

Cambridge researchers and security experts Steven Murdoch and Saar Drimer have uncovered what they claim could be a security flaw in Chip and Pin cards debit and credit cards. It’s quite complicated, so pay attention. Basically it involves a crooked retailer, in a shop or restaurant say, with a fake card reader connected to a laptop. When a customer inserts their card and taps in the PIN the laptop relays the encrypted data by wireless to another crook, who has a laptop connected to a fake card -- by wire in the prototype – making a legitimate purchase in another shop. Crook number two makes a big purchase and uses the data from the genuine card to make the purchase. The difficulty with this trick is that both cards have to be in their respective terminals at the same time, and the two purchases have to be made simultaneously, which would obviously take some organising. The researchers speculate that the card could be connected wirelessly to the second PC by a Wi-Fi or RFID wireless link. From the sound of it, it’s not something we need to worry about just yet, but retailers be on your guard for shady characters with bulky pockets and odd looking debit and credit cards with lots of wires attached.



Google Second Earth?

We’ve been hearing rumours of super secret project by Google to create a virtual world based on Google Earth. Presumably it will be along the lines of Second Life, the phenomenally successful online world where between 1 and 3 million (depending who you talk to) players or residents meet and interact with other – well, it keeps them off the streets. Anyway, Google’s interest in this area is not as far-fetched as it sounds, Google Earth has been steadily evolving and recent additions to version 4, like Sketchup 3D graphics, which can be used to create buildings, makes it all sound quite plausible. It would certainly be a very attractive proposition for the search giant and the potential for advertising and cross-linking with its other services must be enormous. Of course, it’s still only a rumour but in the past they’ve had a habit of coming true, we shall see...



Dance Away The Pounds

According to a report on CNet News a 24-week trial carried out in West Virginia’s public schools has managed to help overweight kids shed the pounds, and keep them off, and reduce the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. The magic slimming treatment turns out to be a 30-minute session, five days a week, with the Dance Dance Revolution video game. The study followed 50 subjects aged between 7 and 12, a control group of 12 children, who didn’t play the game, were also monitored at the start and end of the trial.



January 07


Vista Launch, Turning the Pages

Well, it’s finally here and the official launch of the UK edition of Windows Vista yesterday in London proved to be a somewhat surreal event, peppered with appearances by Bill Gates and a turn from the band The Feeling (for no good reason that I could see...). Anyway, it was held at the British Library and Vista’s many and various features were ably demonstrated. I won’t bore you with the details of the new operating system, regular visitors will already have a pretty good idea of what it is all about and the media is bound to be stuffed with Vista stories, but one part of the launch that may not get the coverage it deserves was the simultaneous launch of Turning The Pages 2.0.


This is a development of the ingenious book and document viewer that quite literally lets you turn the pages and gets you as close to the experience of handling a real book or text as it is possible to get on a PC monitor screen. The Vista connection is two-fold, firstly version 2.0 has been developed for the Windows Vista platform, and secondly, Bill Gates and the British Library have been collaborating to unite two of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks or ‘Codecs’ for the first time in 500 years (Bill has the Leicester Codex, the British Library’s is called Arundel).


You’ll need reasonably nippy Vista-capable PC to see what it can do but there’s a pretty good Shockwave demo on the website that lets you get a feel for it. Putting da Vinci's codecs, and ultimately millions of other important and unique documents online in this way will make them more accessible and this is particularly useful for scholars and academics, who can use the software to add comments and annotations. You can expect to see and hear a lot more of this remarkable feature in years to come.



Nanodots, Storage of the future?

It might look like an out of focus photograph of your living room carpet but what you see on the right could be turning up inside PCs and laptops in a few years time. It’s a picture of a bunch of cobalt-palladium ‘nanodots’ just a few billionths of a metre across and quite possibly the next big thing in data storage.


Nanodots, which are being developed by researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are microscopic magnets, complete with North and South poles and they can be made to switch polarity by an external magnetic field, an effect that can be harnessed for storing digital data. The NIST team reckon it should be possible to develop even smaller nanodots, 10nm or less across, which could result in drives with 100 times the capacity of today’s biggest hard disc drives  



Intel Races Ahead with 802.11n Wi-Fi Chips

In anticipation of the 802.11n Wi-Fi specification being finalised later this year chipmaker Intel has started shipping ‘Next-Gen Wireless-N chips to laptop makers, including Acer, Gateway and Toshiba. The first products are expected to go on sale in the US in the next few weeks. Key benefits include much faster data transfer rates, better range and lower power consumption, though the increase in speed is not going to be much use until products like 802.11n routers and access points become available, and that’s unlikely to happen until the Autumn. In the meantime Wireless-N equipped laptops will still be able to connect to existing 802.11b and 11g networks  



Storm Warning

Check your inbox for emails with topical news stories in the subject line, including reports of the recent storms that battered Europe, the death of Fidel Castro and Chinese missile tests. There’s a very good chance these messages carry a Trojan virus called Storm Worm. The attack, which began last Friday has continued for the last few days and so far several variants of the Trojan have been detected by the security experts F-Secure. If the code in the message is executed it installs a piece of malicious software called a rootkit, which opens the PC to infiltration. Infected PCs then become part of a network, called a Botnet, which turns then into ‘zombies’ churning out copies of the original infection and Spam messages. Hundreds of thousands of PCs may have been affected but it is easily avoided by simply deleting suspicion messages and making sure your PC is protected by up to date anti-virus software and an effective Firewall.



Beware What You Type!

If you ever need convincing about the importance of having decent anti-virus and security software on your computer, and how easy it can be to catch a very nasty infection, take a look at this YouTube video.


Okay, so it’s a little dramatic and the music is a bit over the top, but you should get a good idea of what could happen if you make just a simple spelling mistake. Be warned, the website shown does exist and has been plying its evil trade for some time, so on no account try it for yourself, the big question, though, is why haven’t the authorities shut it down?



Phisher Nets 101 Year Sentence

45-year-old Jeffrey Brett Goodin of California is not looking forward to June 11th, that’s when he hears how long he’s likely to be banged up for his leading role in a sophisticated phishing scam targeting AOL users. Under the ‘Can-Spam’ Act of 2003 he faces up to 101 years in pokey for his villainy, which involved him conning AOL customers into thinking his messages were coming from the billing department. The emails threatened to cut off their service unless they updated their account by filling in their bank and credit card details



Tosh Announces First HD-DVD-R Laptop

Toshiba plans to launch the first laptop with a HD-DVD-R drive in Japan this February. The discs, which are being made by Hitachi Maxell go on sale at the end of the month and hold up to 15Gb of data. They will initially be available in ‘write-once’ format and are expected to sell for between £6 and £10 a pop. But back to the laptop, which is based on Tosh’s Qosmio G30 range. This will have a 2GHz dual core processor, a 320gig hard drive and 17-inch HD compatible widescreen display. It will run Windows Vista Home Premium and before you ask there’s no news on a UK launch and it will be expensive...



FBI Say Ignore ‘Hit-Man’ Threat

In amongst the usual crop of Spam emails for cheap Rolex watches, pre-approved loans, fake diplomas, dodgy pharmaceuticals, crap share tips and naughty Russian ladies, you may find one purportedly coming from a ‘hit man’, hired by someone you’ve ticked off, threatening to come round your house and bump you off. The email usually goes on to say that for a large fee, he will let you off the ‘contract’, but you have to respond to the email quickly with your details.


Needless to say it’s a pathetic scam, a phasing con, designed to extract information that could be used for identity theft, and just about everyone with any sense will delete it without a second thought, but it doesn’t end there. According to a report on CNet news there’s another one doing the rounds, this time allegedly from the FBI’s London bureau, claiming to have found your name on a killer’s hit list, again asking you to confirm some personal details. Of course it’s another phishing exercise and a sign that scammers are resorting to increasingly desperate tactics. The FBI’s advice is to forward the message to the Internet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3), who will hopefully look into it, track down these individuals and help them to see the error of their ways.



New Google Earth 4 Adds 3D Graphics

If you haven’t updated your copy of Google Earth recently you might want to do so now because version 4, available now, includes galleries of 3D graphics of famous buildings and cityscapes (just click Check for Updates on the Help menu and it will be automatically downloaded). The 3D graphics ‘Overlay’ is a development of the Google Sketchup utility, which we told you about a while ago, which allows anyone to create rendered 3D graphics and add them to Google Earth images. These are stored in the Google 3D Warehouse, which is now included with version 4 and features many famous buildings and landmarks around the world, including this rather boxy looking rendition of ‘Big Ben’ and if you think you can do better you can try your hand with Sketchup.



Monster 300Tb Drive for 2010

I’m really showing my age when I say I can remember buying spending a small fortune on a 10 megabyte hard disc drive, and wondering how on earth I would ever fill it up… More recently I recall road testing one of the first 400Gb drives on the market, and thinking pretty much the same sort of thing. News now filters through from plattermeisters Seagate of technology they are working on that will allow them to manufacture 3.5-inch drives with a capacity of up to 300 terabytes! The technology is question is called Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording or HAMR and it involves stacking data vertically in the disc structure, in this way it should be possible to accommodate upwards of 1 terabyte of data per square inch of disc. HARM works by heating the disc up with a brief laser blast, just before the data is recorded, in this way fewer magnetic particles are needed for each bit of information, and as it cools the data bits assume a more stable state and therefore less prone to corruption. Don’t worry; you have a little while to save your pennies, the new drives are not expected to go into production until 2010.



PDF Security Loophole Exposed

A new security flaw has been exposed in the pdf (Portable Document Format) file format according to a report on CNet News. PDFs are very widely used on websites to distribute illustrated documents and if an infected file is downloaded onto a PC the exploit could allow a crook to gain access to data stored on the drive. The risk appears to be very small at the moment and concerns the way the Adobe Reader program, used to read PDFs, allows links in documents to run JavaScript code, which can then be used to read files and execute malicious code. If you are worried the simplest solution is to upgrade to Adobe Reader 8, which is unaffected by the vulnerability.



Flash In Hard Out

Could this be the end of the road for hard drives in laptops? SanDisk has just announced a 1.8-inch 32Gb Flash Drive, designed specifically for laptops. The advantages of the SSD (Solid State Drive) are clear, there are no moving parts so they are very robust, they use a lot less power (0.4w, compared with 1w or more for a conventional drive) and they are blisteringly fast; in tests Windows Vista on a flash drive equipped laptop boots to a useable state in a little over 30 seconds.


Of course monster flash drives are not new, 100Gb and larger drives been around for several years but until recently they’ve been far too expensive for consumer applications. The new SanDisk drives are still expensive, though, and are expected to add around $500 to the cost of a new notebook, and with only 32Gb to play with it’s not going to suit power users but it’s a start. Prices should fall quickly and eventually it will allow laptop and notebook manufacturers to shrink their products even further, without sacrificing performance or battery life.



Searching The Natural Way

A couple of search engines are poised to launch in the next few weeks and months, ostensibly hoping to capture a slice of Google market, and who knows, if their technology is good enough Google might even want to buy them out…


The race is on to develop a search engine that can understand questions in plain English, so-called Natural Language Searching and leading the pack is Hakia, which is already up and running in Beta form. Soon it will be joined by Powerset. In both cases you simply type in your question, as you would say it and hopefully they will understand and find what you are looking for. It’s easy to see where this development is going, the next logical step is voice recognition and in the not too distant future you’ll simply tell your search engine what you want, and presumably it'll know what you mean when you tell it what you think of it when it gets it wrong…



IBM Crack the 6GHz barrier

Just when you thought it was safe to go out and buy a PC, because they are unlikely to get much faster not that we have dual and even quadruple core processors, IBM goes and develops a new CPU capable of running at 6GHz. Chip makers have been struggling against the heat barrier for some time, this limits the speed at which CPUs can run so they’ve come up with other strategies, like dual core, to get more out of their wares, but IBM’s Power 6 Processor gets around the problem by being smaller and using 65 nanometer fabrication techniques, which reduces the distance electrons have to travel and therefore create less heat as they do so.


The 341mm square chips pack in more than 700 million transistors and power consumption should be in the 100-watt range, which is comparable with existing high-end chips from rival manufacturers. Prototypes are expected to be demonstrated early in the new year but it will be a while before the technology finds its way into PCs and the first applications are likely to be in dedicated devices, like cell phones and video games


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