Author: Nick Farrell

Decade old laser tech dusted off

laser1In a bid to save cash on expensive fibre optic lines, 10-year-old laser networking technology is being re-introduced.

The technology that uses parallel radio and laser links to move data through the air at high speeds, in wireless hops of up to 10 kilometres at a time. It is being trailed by three of the largest US Internet carriers and is being rolled out by one telecommunications provider in Mexico, and another in Nigeria.

AOptix, the company behind the technology, claims the system is cheaper and more practical alternative to laying new fibre optic cables because it does not require trenches to install fibre in urban areas.

However, it does face significant bureaucratic and physical challenges and because of its bandwidth is being seen as particularly attractive to wireless carriers.

According to MIT Review, the technology takes the form of a box with an infrared laser and a directional millimetre wave radio beside it. The two technologies form a wireless link with an identical box up to 10 kilometers away. A series of such connections can be daisy-chained together to make a link of any length.

It fixes the two problems associated with laser and radio. Laser beams are blocked by fog, while millimetre wave radio signals are absorbed by rain. Routing data over both simultaneously provides redundancy that allows an AOptix link to guarantee a rate of two gigabits per second with only five minutes or less downtime in a year, whatever the weather.

While fibre connection might be 10 or more times faster than that, due to the limitations of the radio frequency link. However, AOptix says the convenience of its technology makes up for that, and it could be increased to four gigabits or more in the future.

The radio and laser equipment inside an AOptix device move automatically to compensate for the swaying of a cell tower caused by wind.

Cameron: Free speech turns you into a radical

stupid cameronBritish Prime Minister David “one is an ordinary bloke” Cameron has come up with a new reason to censor the internet – he thinks that all this free speech radicalises you.

Cameron said that people were not radicalised by poverty or foreign policy, but by free speech online.

What is a little spooky is that deranged ravings like this are being backed by the UK’s major Internet service providers – BT, Virgin, Sky and Talk Talk – have this week committed to host a public reporting button for terrorist material online, similar to the reporting button which allows the public to report child sexual exploitation.

They have also promised that any terrorist and extremist material is captured by their filters to prevent children and young people being radicalised.

Of course it is based on the premise that people are so stupid that they only have to read something on the internet to want to start cutting off people’s heads in the name of Allah.

The other problem is that while images of sexually exploited children are obvious, what makes for extremist or “terrorist” material, on the other hand, is almost subjective. Personally I think anyone who calls for the abolition of free speech is a terrorist, but I doubt I would get much support from shutting down the Tory Party website.

Cameron said:  “we should not allow the internet to be an ungoverned space.” But regulation and rules do not automatically create a panacea. The human body works rather well without being legislated by government, and no one thinks that it would be better off if it were told how many beats per minute the heart ticked. In fact legislating the internet has as much point as criminalising aneurisms. No matter how many laws you have, they will still happen, and the internet will find ways around any rules.

However, what Cameron fails to get is that allowing people to speak their minds is one of the reasons we are supposed to be different from the terrorists in the first place. Radicalisation is born of ignorance of truth and a rebellion against perceived controls. Creating more ignorance and more controls is only playing into the hands of those you disagree with.

Cameron is refusing to look at the root causes of radicalisation, which would be something far less simple and more entrenched than reading something on the internet. Radicalisation is more likely to be caused by the very alienation and isolation which these sorts of moves engender. Cameron insists it can’t possibly be poverty or UK foreign policy:

“And let us be frank,” said David Cameron. “It’s not poverty, though of course our nations are united in tackling deprivation wherever it exists. It’s not exclusion from the mainstream. Of course we have more to do but we are both successful multicultural democracies where opportunities abound.

“And it’s not foreign policy. I can show you examples all over the world where British aid and British action have saved millions of Muslim lives, from Kosovo to Syria – but that is not exactly the real point. In our democracies, we must never give in to the idea that disagreeing with a foreign policy in any way justifies terrorist outrages.”

He claims the root cause is an “extremist narrative,” while ignoring that for such a story to be accepted it has to have a fertile soil for seed to be planted. By blaming extremist preachers and the Internet Cameron is avoiding how responsible he is for creating the problem.

If you would like to see your ISP install a David Cameron button so you can report instances of Cameronism we suggest you write to your local MP. If we are going to have censorship, we might as well censor those who would censor us.

US splashes out on two more supercomputers

15013The US is going to spend $325 million on two new supercomputers, one of which may eventually be built to support speeds of up to 300 petaflops.

Deeply embarrassed by the fact that China has been ruling the super computer league tables for a while now, the US government is taking steps to unseat them from the top.

The US Department of Energy, the major funder of supercomputers used for scientific research, wants to have the two systems, each with a base speed of 150 petaflops, possibly running by 2017. Going beyond the base speed to reach 300 petaflops will take additional government approvals.

The DOE also announced another $100 million in “extreme” supercomputing research spending.

The funding was announced at a press conference at the US Capitol attended by lawmakers from both parties.

The two systems, which will be built at the DOE’s Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, “will ensure the United States retains global leadership in supercomputing”.

Republican Chuck Fleischmann said, supercomputing was one of those things that that the US could step up and lead the world again,” he said. The Oak Ridge lab is located in his state.

Republican Bill Foster warned that the US’s technology lead is not assured and he blamed that most chip making was done over overseas.

Foster believed there is good bipartisan support for supercomputing research, but the research may face a problem if GOP budget proposals in the House slash science funding by double-digit percentages.

The US government is under pressure to abandon science funding because some constituents think it is better that people learn more about Jesus.

China has the top-ranked system, the Tianhe-2, at about 34 petaflops, and Japan and Europe have major investments underway in this area.

The new system to be built at Oak Ridge will be called the Summit. It will use about 10 megawatts of power, which is close to the power usage of Oak Ridge’s existing supercomputer, the Titan, which is ranked No. 2 in the world. The Summit will run five times faster than the Titan, despite using the same amount of power.

The new system to be built  at the Lawrence Livermore lab in California will be known as Sierra.

These systems will use IBM Power CPUs and Nvidia’s Volta GPU, the name of a chip still in development.

Microsoft now awarded number two slot

ToiletAwardMicrosoft is now the second most valuable company in the world, behind Apple after edging past Exxon Mobil in terms of market capitalization.

Exxon Mobil was neck and neck with Jobs Mob when Apple stuffed up their Apple Maps software. But Microsoft coming up and replacing Exxon is a little surprising.

Microsoft became a number two because their stock has had a particularly good run, especially in the past year that saw an increase of more than 40 percent since January.

Redmond now has an expensive market cap valuation of approximately $408 billion, which it uses to keep its little Voles snug in bed at night. This surpasses Exxon Mobil’s market capitalization of $402 billion.

Both of them are still pretty far behind the $670 billion market cap mark that is set by Apple, and while people are still dumb enough to buy bending phones which catch fire, there is no chance of Microsoft or Exxon catching up.

That is sort of the point. If the Apple Maps fiasco could temporarily put Exxon on top, then it is almost certain to happen again. So far, Apple has not come up with any new product that will keep it on top and its long-term outlook remains bleak.

Microsoft has similar problems; it desperately needs to establish itself in a new field. It could be, that in a few years’ time, we no longer have a tech company as the most valuable in the world.

Apple use makes it harder to evolve

evolutionFor a while now, the fruity cargo cult Apple has made it difficult for its customers to upgrade their expensive hardware going with third party updates.

However, with OS X 10.10 Yosemite, the company has taken another step down the path towards total vendor lock-in and effectively disabled support for third-party SSDs.

While third-party SSDs will still work, they will no longer perform the TRIM garbage collection command which means that an SSD’s real world performance will steadily degrade.

Hothardware said that tests from 2010-2011 show that performance could degrade up to 50% between a tortured SSD without TRIM and a drive where TRIM had run.

Apple had long had a history of only enabling TRIM for Apple drives by default. If you installed a third-party SSD, you had to use a third-party tool to enable TRIM functionality. This was not exactly rocket science but Apple did seem rather petty in forcing users to do it.

In OS X 10.10 Apple introduced kext (Kernel EXTension) driver signing, which means that at boot the machine checks that all drivers are approved and enabled by Apple. If a third-party SSD is detected, the OS will detect that a non-approved SSD is in use, and Yosemite will refuse to load the appropriate driver.

The Tame Apple Press claimst that Jobs’ Mob made this change to improve device security under OS X, but it is more likely that Apple made this change to sting its customers for more cash.

Apple charges $800 to upgrade a $1999 MacBook Pro from 256GB to 1TB of PCIe storage which is a fair bit more than a third party drive.

There is a way to disable the driver signing that causes this problem, but it means shutting off your entire security system.

It forces Apple power users to make full use of their hardware, the only problem with this is that Apple security is based on faith and praying a lot to the ghost of Steve Jobs. There is now a rise of attacks which use OS X as a vector. This means corporate users are locked into something that is more expensive, but even less secure. Chances are, many of them are not going to buy it.


Apple quizzed over health data

tim-cook-glareMore bad news for Apple’s iWatch vapourware – it looks like it has attracted the attention of a US privacy watchdog.

Apple’s iWatch has been blighted by product delays and the fact that even its hype has been outclassed by products its rivals have put into the shops. Now it seems that the US Federal Trade Commission is worried about how Jobs’ Mob is going to use the sensitive health data collected by its upcoming smartwatch and other mobile devices from being used without owners’ consent.

Jobs’ Mob representatives have met on multiple occasions with agency officials in recent months, to promise that it will not flog its users’ health data to third-party entities such as marketers or allow third-party developers to do so.

The fact that you have to trust Apple with all your health data and that it the fruity computer seller is secure enough to protect it is a cause for concern. After all as attractive actresses who placed their naked pictures on the iCloud found out, Apple security is not that great.

Apple developed its new HealthKit platform, which manages data from mobile health apps, to give consumers control over how their information is used and shared. “We designed HealthKit with privacy in mind,” Apple insisted.

It is not clear if the FTC intends to launch a formal investigation or inquiry into the matter, but the dialogue underscores the agency’s interest in how the increasing wealth of consumer-generated health and fitness data will be safeguarded.

The FTC is paying particularly close attention to Apple’s upcoming smartwatch, which can track a user’s pulse and potentially store health-related information.

The FTC found in a recent study that many developers share or sell health data. The study found that developers of 12 mobile health and fitness apps were sharing user information with 76 different parties, such as advertisers.

In fact Apple did not tighten its privacy rules until August of this year to ensure that personal data collected through HealthKit would not be used by developers for the purposes of advertising or other data-mining purposes. Apps that access HealthKit are required to have a privacy policy, although it remains to be seen how Apple will enforce this.


Oracle and SAP bury the hatchet

9545Oracle and SAP have settled their long-running copyright litigation for $356.7 million over improper downloads of Oracle files.

For those who came in late, Oracle sued SAP over its TomorrowNow unit, which the German company bought to provide software support to Oracle customers at lower rates than what Oracle charged, hoping to persuade them to become SAP customers.

In 2007 Oracle noticed thousands of suspicious downloads of its software. A California jury awarded Oracle $1.3 billion in 2010, but that amount was knocked down in subsequent judicial rulings. Earlier this year a federal appeals court said Oracle could either accept $356.7 million, or opt for a retrial against SAP.

Oracle’s general counsel Dorian Daley called the end of the case a “landmark recovery “ and was “extremely gratified that our efforts to protect innovation and our shareholders’ interests are duly rewarded”.

SAP said it was pleased that the courts “ultimately accepted SAP’s arguments to limit Oracle’s excessive damages claims and that Oracle has finally chosen to end this matter.”

SAP conceded that its employees were illegally downloading Oracle files, but it could not agree with Oracle on how much it should pay. The 2010 trial between the two companies was widely watched, as top Oracle executives Larry Ellison and Safra Catz testified.
There was also a criminal probe, which SAP agreed to pay $20 million to make go away.

Motorola discovers US does not rule the world

courtroom_1_lgIt appears that Motorola’s US court case against several Asian suppliers for alleged price fixing is coming unstuck.

A US appeals court appeared sceptical of mobile phone maker Motorola Mobility’s attempt to sue  AU Optronics, Chunghwa Picture Tubes, HannStar Display, LG Display, Samsung, Samsung, Panasonic, Sanyo, Sharp and Toshiba.

A three judge panel of the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals questioned whether the allegations had enough connection to the United States to be heard in US courts.

Motorola Mobility is now a unit of China’s Lenovo Group, but it sued the suppliers in Chicago federal court in 2009, saying some of its subsidiaries had overpaid for liquid crystal display screens because of a conspiracy in Asia. Some screens entered the US market, the lawsuit said.

Judge Richard Posner, a member of the appeals panel, pointed out that Motorola treated the foreign subsidiaries as separate for tax reasons, but for antitrust purposes, they are seen as part of Motorola.

Motorola Mobility lawyer Thomas Goldstein said the company should be able to sue under US law because a former Chicago-based parent negotiated its supply contracts.

Lenovo bought Motorola Mobility in October for $2.91 billion from Google which had bought it in 2012. Motorola Mobility says it paid the LCD makers more than $5 billion from 1996 to 2006.

The appeals court ruled against Motorola Mobility in March but agreed to hear the case again after the Obama administration said the ruling threatened its ability to prosecute global price fixing.

The US Justice Department, whose investigation of global LCD price-fixing led to more than $1.3 billion in criminal fines, asked the court to find that the conspiracy directly affected US commerce.

Belgium and Japan filed briefs criticising the reach of US antitrust law and urging the court to rule for the suppliers.

Ubisoft in face off over reviews

face offUbisoft’s PR and Marketing policy has come under the spotlight after it released a buggy version of its Assassin’s Creed: Unity game.criticised for widespread glitches

The game came out of the box full of more bugs than an ant farm which has evolved its own love cult.  The problem is that Ubisoft managed to keep people buying the game because it had silenced reviewers.

When the game was released, Ubisoft gave out review copies but only on the condition that the review did not come out until 18 hours of the US release. This meant that people everywhere frantically bought the game blissfully unaware that it should never have been released.

Ubisoft said that it is working on an update that will help address some of the specific problems  some players are having including: the hero Arno falling through the ground; the game crashing when joining a co-op session; Arno getting caught inside of hay carts; delay in reaching the main menu screen at game start, it said. PC users also have images of people missing part of their faces

Ubisoft insisted that its control of the reviews was nothing to do with censoring reviews that it knew were likely to be bad. It said that the complexity of creating a multiplayer title was the reason that the game had only became available for review relatively late in the day.

In fact, a patch to tackle “random crashes” and some animation issues beat many of the bad reviews to press.

Activision’s Destiny and Sony’s Driveclub also had post-release embargoes placed on them this year, while Sega did not send out any pre-release copies of Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal at all. All three received mixed reviews.

There are major questions as to how the software could have been released in such a state and no one saw it.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity is set in the French Revolution, and its simulation of Paris streets and buildings is more complex than anything attempted  before.

One suggestion was that the company had been under pressure to meet the titles’ scheduled release dates after announcing lengthy delays to other high-profile games: Watch Dogs, which ultimately went on sale about a year later than expected, and The Crew, which is running roughly nine months late.


Apple made into security lemon curd

LemoncurdAlthough the Tame Apple Press makes much of the security features of the iPhone, it is still the easiest phone to hack.

The Mobile Pwn2Own competition that took place alongside the PacSec Applied Security Conference in Tokyo on November 12-13 has a long tradition of knocking over the latest smartphones and always finds Apple smartphones the easiest.

If you believe the Tame Apple Press, the iPhone  with its sandbox technology was supposed to be super-secure. However it turns out that the iPhone continues to be a doddle. In fact, it has become traditional for the first day of the competition for Apple to be shown up.

In this case, members of the South Korean team lokihardt@ASRT “pwned” the device by using a combination of two vulnerabilities. They attacked the iPhone 5s via the Safari Web browser and achieved a full sandbox escape.

The competition, organised by HP’s Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) and sponsored by BlackBerry and the Google Android Security team, targeted the Amazon Fire Phone, iPhone 5s, iPad Mini, BlackBerry Z30, Google Nexus 5 and Nexus 7, Nokia Lumia 1520, and Samsung Galaxy S5.

Later in the day, Team MBSD from Japan hacked Samsung’s Galaxy S5 by using a near-field communications (NFC) attack that triggered a deserialisation problem in certain code specific to Samsung. Jon Butler of South Africa’s MWR InfoSecurity also managed to break the Galaxy S5 via NFC.

Adam Laurie from Aperture Labs hacked an LG Nexus 5 using NFC.  This was an interesting hack because it used a two-bug exploit targeting NFC capabilities on the LG Nexus 5 (a Google-supported device) to force BlueTooth pairing between phones.  This was a plot point on the telly show ‘Person of Interest’.

Kyle Riley, Bernard Wagner, and Tyrone Erasmus of MWR InfoSecurity used a combination of three vulnerabilities to break the Web browser on the Amazon Fire Phone.

Microsoft’s Nokia Lumia 1520 came out of the competition quite well with contestants only managing partial hacks. Nico Joly, managed to exfiltrate the cookie database, but the sandbox prevented him from taking complete control of the system.

Jüri Aedla of Estonia used a Wi-Fi attack against a Nexus 5, but failed to elevate his privileges, HP said.


Open sorcerers praise Microsoft’s change of heart

8246ad6f-df76-4aa3-98e5-3667af1d35fbMicrosoft is making huge gains into the hearts and minds of the Linux community, only a few years after describing it as software cancer.

‎Executive Director at Linux Foundation Jim Zemlin wrote in  that Microsoft moves to open sourcing the server side .NET stack and expanding it to run on Linux and Mac OS platforms were important.

“All developers will now be able to build .NET cloud applications on Linux and Mac. These are huge moves for the company and follow its recent acknowledgement that at least 20 percent of Azure VMs are running Linux,” Zemlin wrote.

He said that these sorts of changes made everyone keenly aware of how much the software business has transformed over the last decade.

Microsoft is redefining itself in response to a world driven by open source software and collaborative development and is demonstrating its commitment to the developer in a variety of ways.

A few years ago Microsoft was among the top 20 corporate contributors to the Linux kernel. It participates in the open SDN project, OpenDaylight, and the open IoT effort the AllSeen Alliance. This year Microsoft joined the Core Infrastructure Initiative focused on funding critical open source projects running the world’s infrastructure.

While Zemlin did not agree with everything Microsoft does the new Microsoft is a different organisation when it comes to open source.

Today most software is built collaboratively and open source development accelerate’s technology, which is why competition today is so fierce and things move faster than ever before.
Microsoft understands that today’s computing markets have changed and companies cannot go it alone the way they once did, Zemlin said. He didn’t seem to mention that Microsoft makes a bundle of money out of Linux and hardware and the like.

Microsoft loses ground in schools race

1920-track_field_bellcounty_30yd_dashSoftware giant Microsoft is losing ground to the likes of Apple and Google in the race to get its gear into schools.

According to consultant Pablo Valerio,  the reason is nothing to do with marketing to kids and parents, but because it is falling short when it comes to providing teaching apps and its licencing arrangements.

Apple’s Teacher Tools and Google’s Chromebook Management Console are fuelling the adoption of Chromebooks and iPads, leaving Microsoft behind.

The recent Microsoft TechEd Europe event showed that Microsoft was close to sorting out the lack of Apps with the upcoming Windows 10 operating system.

However, Microsoft has not solved the issue of having to purchase a licence for each user as each user that logs into a device will use a licence, so that license will be taken down and it would not go back dynamically.

This will cause a heavy bill for schools with limited numbers of computers and hundreds of students using them.

Google Chromebooks have Chrome OS with specific tools for schools to manage the devices, their apps and users. Its Chromebooks for Education program is helping schools deploy large numbers of devices with an easy management system.

While it is possible to buy a small Windows laptop for about the same price of a basic Chromebook, the associated management and support costs are enormous in comparison. Also Chromebooks are pre-loaded with apps such as Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, with similar functionality to Microsoft’s Office.

Apple is the leader in the education market thanks to having the biggest collection of education apps available today, plus some unique management tools, some by Apple and some by MDM providers such as AirWatch, he said.


Amazon Web Services has another bite at Oracle

giant-spider02Amazon Web Services is having another crack at kicking Oracle in its relational databases.

Aurora is Amazon’s relational database which it claims is just as capable as proprietary database engines and costs 90 percent less.

Aurora is the latest battle in a long war with Oracle which started with Amazon’s RedShift a few years ago.

The database will compete with MySQL, SQL Server, PostgreSQL, and yes Oracle on the company’s Relational Database Service (RDS) lineup. And it is compatible with MySQL, Amazon said.

Amazon has worked out that people have had a gutsful of Oracle’s cost structure and refusal to budge from older licensing models. The outfit has mostly saved itself because no one wants to dump their database.

To try to encourage the Oracle, Amazon has released a new AWS CodeDeploy, code-named Apollo, which the company said will enable rolling upgrades and ease deployments to multiple instances. It is available now and will work with customers’ existing toolsets.

Cisco e’st an escargot, get it?

Cooked_snailsCisco has predicted that it will have a current quarter profit below what the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street predict.

It is blaming capital budget cuts at telecom service providers and weak sales in emerging markets.

The move is surprising because Cisco had previously expected better revenue and profit for the first quarter.

Chief Executive John Chambers said on a post earnings conference call with analysts that the service provider is the big challenge. Two to three US service providers have dramatically slowed the order rates with us, he said.

AT&T, the No. 2 U. telecom services provider, said last week that it would trim its 2015 capital spending outlook to $18 billion from $21 billion.

Cisco has also struggled with sluggish sales and increased competition in emerging markets. The company said sales in China fell by a third in the first quarter.

The US service providers are not buying. Revenue from US service providers dropped 18 percent, although sales from emerging economies declined six percent.

The company forecast adjusted profit of between 50-52 cents per share and revenue growth in the range of 4-7 percent for the second quarter ending January. Analysts were expecting a profit of 53 cents per share.

However the better than expected revenue and profit is still on, thanks to an increase in demand for its new high-end switches and routers.

Total revenue rose to $12.25 billion from $12.09 billion and Net profit fell to $1.83 billion from $2 billion a year earlier.

AT&T sulks

parenting1AT&T is sulking about the FCC and the government not immediately doing what it says over the vexed issue of net-neutrality.

The outfit has said that it will stop investing in gigabit internet “until it has a better idea of what the government will do regarding net neutrality.”

President Barak Obama told the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband as a telecom service rather than an information service in its upcoming net neutrality rules. The move would give the FCC more power to regulate ISPs (like AT&T) and wireless carriers. The FCC said it would think about the issue a bit more and make an announcement next year.

AT&T’s move to demand its ball back is an indication how much pressure the US telcos are heaping on politicians to allow them to charge customers twice for the internet.  The telcos fear that they will have to stump up a huge chunk of their profits to pay for the network for an open internet.

Ultra-fast fibre is a carrot that AT&T is waving in the hope that users will demand the right to be charged an arm and a leg for their internet connection. It was supposed to be rolled out to 100 cities nationwide, including 21 major metropolitan areas.

AT&T Chief Randall Stephenson said during an appearance at a Wells Fargo conference  that AT&T can’t go out and just invest that kind of money, deploying fibre to 100 cities other than these two million [covered by the DirecTV deal], not knowing under what rules that investment will be governed.

Of course if it does not pull finger there is a chance that Google, along with the city councils of cities might start providing the backbone themselves – something else that the telcos have been pressuring their tame politicians to block.

The fact that AT&T is trying to cut its costs at the moment has absolutely nothing to do with it delaying the fibre scheme.