Author: Nick Farrell

Amazon is an illusion claims mystic Ballmer

SteveBallmerMouthAgapeIt seems that since he has left Microsoft, the shy and retiring former Vole Steve “there is a kind of hush” Ballmer has been taking some time out to consider the nature of reality.

Now when Buddha hit the same level in his meditations, he concluded that death and suffering was all an illusion, but Ballmer contemplated his navel, he concluded that the online retailer Amazon is not real.

Sharing his spiritual realisations on the Charlie Rose Show, Ballmer said that he didn’t  know what to say about Amazon before explaining why he’s wary of the company.

He said that the company made no money and in his world, you’re not a real business until you make some money.

“I have a hard time with businesses that don’t make money at some point.”

Amazon came up short of analyst expectations and on Thursday posted a $437 million loss for the third quarter, or a loss of 95 cents a share. That followed a net loss of $126 million during the second quarter. Its stock has fallen eight percent today as a result.

Ballmer said it’s OK for a company not to make money for a few years, but he’s perplexed with Amazon, which had yet to post a profit in two decades.

“If you are worth $150 billion, eventually somebody thinks you’re going to make $15 billion pre tax,” Ballmer said. “They make about zero, and there’s a big gap between zero and 15.”

Ballmer said that every business is expected to have is the capability to make money, and it requires  discipline and a certain kind of mindset.

“As a businessman, if you ask me what I’m proud of, I’m proud of the fact that I made $250 billion under my watch as CEO.”

So St Steve still has a problem working out that materiality is also an illusion.

Apple and Google Play blocked

onedollarIt is starting to look like the numbers of retailers who back Apple, Google pay is shrinking rather than growing, and that US retailers are rushing to set up their own system instead.

When Apple launched Apple Pay in September, the list of retailers who backed it was long, but in the weeks following the launch, some major retailers have blocked it in favour of a competing option set to debut in 2015.

Apple Pay was operational at NFC terminals at Rite Aid and CVS, both non-Apple Pay partners, but was reportedly disabled over the course of the last 48 hours.

A CVS employee said that the company disabled NFC payments over the weekend which would also prevent Google Wallet users from using NFC payments.

A leaked memo, revealed on Friday by Slashgear, suggested that the retailers have decided they want nothing to do with Apple Pay and are working with a group of large retailers to develop a mobile wallet that allows for mobile payments attached to credit cards and bank accounts directly from a smart phone. We expect to have this feature available in the first half of 2015.

The new payment system mentioned in the alleged leaked Rite Aid memo is a solution developed by Merchant Customer Exchange  called CurrentC. Other confirmed major retailers included in the system will be CVS, Kmart, Sears, Target, Walmart, Best Buy and 7 Eleven, the cream of the crop of mainstream retailers in the US.

The Tame Apple Press is screaming blue murder at the scheme which is likely to allow merchants to avoid paying credit card processing fees and give them more information about customers.  Everyone knows that this sort of data should be in the hands of technology companies rather than retailers.

But what this means is that Apple Pay may have the traction that the Tame Apple Press claimed.

Apple apologist hack hit by instant karma


Samuel Burke

Just when you thought that Apple’s super bendy, overpriced, low spec iPhone 6 could not be a bigger lemon, it turns out that using its Pay function will cost you an arm and a leg.

It seems that not just the design geniuses at Apple need firing for the iPhone 6, but the programmers should also get a written warning and a lecture from HR.

Jobs’ Mob’ much over praised Apple Pay double charges users for no apparent reason. Multiple users have reported being charged twice for a single purchase when using the new NFC-based mobile payments system, which just went live on October 20.

Fortunately, at least one person who suffered from having their bank accounts emptied by their shiny toys were the same people who had been praising it to the skies when the iPhone 6 was launched.

The Tame Apple Press’s appropriately named CNN Tech reporter Samuel Burke  who rushed to Apple’s defence during bendgate by insisting that the iPhone 6 did  not bend found himself dealing with some instant karma for telling people about how brilliant the product was.

Burke moaned he was billed twice for every Apple Pay purchase he made with his Bank of America card via Apple Pay. Multiple Twitter users reported the same problem, and most complaints are coming from those Bank of America cards.

The Bank of America claims that the problem is with Apple Pay and not the bank, according to Burke’s report, and said in a statement that all duplicate charges will be reimbursed.

Apple of course trotted out its usual line that only a small number of users were affected and insisted it was a Bank of America problem.

Tech firm paid IT workers $1.21 an hour

Oliver_Twist_-_Samhällsroman_-_Sida_005A San Jose based outfit, Electronics for Imaging paid several employees from India as little as $1.21 an hour to help install computer systems at the company’s Fremont headquarters.

The highly skilled workers, who could have earned more cash by sitting with a cup and dog on a string in the high street, worked up to 122 hours a week between September 8, 2013, and December 21, 2013.

Investigators from the division’s US Labour Department’s wage and hour division learned that the technicians were flown in from the employer’s office in Bangalore, India. The workers were paid in Indian rupees.

Susana Blanco, district director said: “We are not going to tolerate this kind of behaviour from employers.”

The $1.21 an hour was the lowest wage paid to workers that Blanco said she was aware of in the Northern California district. The record had been held by Bloom Energy which was ordered to pay back wages to 12 workers from Mexico who were being paid $2.66 an hour in Mexican pesos. The workers were repairing power generators.

Sylvia Allegretto, a UC Berkeley research economist and co-chair of the university’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics told the Mercury News that it was amazing that employers believed they could get away with this.

An anonymous tip prompted the US Department of Labour to investigate the case, which resulted in more than $40,000 in back wages paid to the eight employees and a fine of $3,500 for Electronics for Imaging.

Electronics for Imaging said it brought some IT employees from India temporarily to help its local IT team with the relocation.

Beverly Rubin, vice president of HR Shared Services with Electronics for Imaging said that during this assignment, they continued to be paid their regular pay in India, as well as a special bonus for their efforts on this project.

“During this process we unintentionally overlooked laws that require even foreign employees to be paid based on local US standards.”

The back wages were based on the difference between the $1.21 an hour that was paid and the California minimum wage of $8 an hour, she said. The entire $40,156 in back wages was distributed directly to the eight affected workers.

So an IT worker is hired at the same rate as someone who flips burgers.  Even at that rate, it is still economic for a company to bring in workers from India.

Google hires Oxford boffins to provide AI

oxford-robesGoogle is finding itself a little short on intelligence and has been seen snuffling around near the Oxford headquarters of TechEye.

When cornered, near one of the wheelie bins at the back of public house the Kite, a Google staffer explained that the search engine was expanding its artificial intelligence initiative. Apparently, they are hiring more than half a dozen leading academics and experts in the field and announcing a partnership with Oxford University to “accelerate” its efforts.

Apparently, Google will make a “substantial contribution” to establish a research partnership with Oxford’s computer science and engineering departments, and Oxford will return the favour by holding one of its famous dinners.

Google did not provide any financial details about the partnership, saying only in a post on its blog that it will include a program of student internships and a series of joint lectures and workshops “to share knowledge and expertise.”

Google is building up its artificial intelligence capabilities as it strives to maintain its dominance in the Internet search market and to develop new products such as robotics and self-driving cars. In January Google acquired artificial intelligence company Deep Mind for $400 million according to media reports.

The Oxford boffins will be joining Google’s Deep Mind team, including three artificial intelligence experts whose work has focused on improving computer visual recognition systems. Among that team is Oxford Professor Andrew Zisserman, a three-time winner of the Marr Prize for computer vision.

The four founders of Dark Blue Labs will also be joining Google where they will be will be leading efforts to help machines “better understand what users are saying to them.”

Google said that three of the professors will hold joint appointments at Oxford, continuing to work part time at the university.


Microsoft says it is still researching

2007_7young-frankensteinMicrosoft has not given up on research and development, despite closing its Silicon Valley lab.

Writing in his bog, Harry Shum, Executive Vice President, Technology & Research said that the recent shuttering of the Silicon Valley lab really hurt.

He said that no one at Microsoft felt good about the fact that a significant number of friends and colleagues were laid off.

“These people contributed to the success of Microsoft over many years. As one can readily imagine, the decisions made about how the cuts were implemented within MSR were extremely complicated and personally painful,” Shum said.

There had been some concern in the wider technology community that Microsoft would walk away from the huge amounts of research work it has done. However, Shum said that the closures did not mean that Vole had given up on inventing stuff.

“Microsoft Research still stands strong at 1000+ persons in labs worldwide, making it one of the largest research institutions of its kind in the world, either industrial or academic, “he said.

“Microsoft Research continues to be one of the very few organisations in industry that does true academic style open research. We will continue to collaborate with the academic research community not only in moving forward the state of the art in computing but also in developing computing talent around the world,” he added.

Microsoft results better than expected

SmaugMicrosoft reported higher than expected quarterly revenue, helped by stronger sales of its phones, Surface tablets and cloud-computing products for companies.

The cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street had been a little concerned that Microsoft might  suffer from am industry shift toward lower-margin cloud services.

Redmond shares, which have climbed 33 percent over the past year, rose another three percent in after-hours trading. You can pick up a good used share, with low mileage, for $46.36.

The Volish results fly in the face of negative earnings results from tech bellwethers Oracle, IBM, SAP, VMware, and EMC.

Big Blue’s miserable results were expected to be repeated by Microsoft  as all of them had made tentative inroads into the cloud, which generally yields thinner margins.

Microsoft did not disclose its cloud-based revenue for the fiscal first quarter, but said commercial cloud sales rose 128 percent, while sales of services based on its Azure cloud platform rose 121 percent.

Perhaps more importantly, it said gross profit margin in the unit that includes Azure rose 194 percent, despite rising infrastructure costs, which includes the huge expense of building and operating datacenters.

In the last four years, Microsoft’s gross profit margin has drifted down to about 65 percent from above 80 percent, largely due to its move into tablets and phones.

Microsoft is predicted to make $6 billion a year in cloud revenue soon, which would make it the industry’s largest cloud. However would still be only about six percent of overall expected revenue this fiscal year.

CEO Satya Nadella, in a conference call with analysts, said that Microsoft was the only company with cloud revenue that is growing at triple digit rates.

Nadella was keen to stress that Microsoft is more focused on selling higher-margin services via the cloud to its commercial customers.

Microsoft’s fiscal first quarter profit actually fell 13 percent, largely due to an expected $1.1 billion charge related to mass layoffs announced in July.

However it still collected a profit of $4.5 billion compared with $5.2 billion, or 62 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter. It easily beat Wall Street’s forecasts.

Revenue rose 25 percent to $23.2 billion, thanks to the phone business it bought from Nokia in April.  Lumia smartphones sales hit 9.3 million in the first full quarter since the close of the Nokia deal. Sales of the Surface tablet more than doubled to $908 million from $400 million last year.



Microsoft bricks Scottish FTDI clones

kirkhillyard2Hardware hackers building interactive gadgets based on Arduino microcontrollers are finding that a recent driver update that Microsoft deployed over Windows Update has bricked fake FTDI chips.

The Scottish outfit FTDI makes USB-to-serial chips.  They are very popular and every microcontroller and embedded device out there that can communicate over a serial port uses one. As a result there’s a vast number of knock-off chips in the wild that appear to be made by FTDI, but in fact aren’t.

FTDI develops drivers for its chips which are obtained directly from FTDI, or they can be downloaded by Windows automatically, through Windows Update. But the latest version of FTDI’s driver, released in August, contains some new language in its EULA reprograms counterfeit chips rendering them largely unusable. According to its license:

Use of the Software as a driver for, or installation of the Software onto, a component that is not a Genuine FTDI Component, including without limitation counterfeit components, may irretrievably damage that component.

Of course no one reads the licence, which is stored inside the driver files, but at least the owners of cloned chips were warned.

What is also happening though is that developers who thought that they had bought legitimate FTDI parts are suddenly discovering that their supplier has been ignoring design specs and using knock-offs.

The new driver reprograms the PID of counterfeit chips to 0000 which means that necause this PID does not match any real FTDI part, the FTDI drivers no longer recognise the chips, and block access. This PID is stored in persistent memory, so once a chip has been reprogrammed it will continue to show this 0000 PID even when used with older drivers, or even when used with Linux.

FTDI has recovery software that enables chips to be reprogrammed, and when used with some older drivers, it appears to be possible to reinstate the “correct” PID. If the chips are ever used with the recent drivers, however, their PID will once again be set to 0000.

While there is some amount of sympathy for a hardware company that is having its products so widely cloned, there is a great sense that FTDI has gone too far by rendering them inoperable.

More here


Microsoft soothsayers say “beware of zero day”

soothsayer-resized-600Software giant Microsoft is warning its users about a new zero-day vulnerability in Windows that is being actively exploited in the wild.

The vulnerability is a risk to users on servers and workstations that open documents with embedded OLE objects.

It is currently being exploited via PowerPoint files as some companies are still trying to use these in meetings to bore staff to death without actually helping the company develop.

Apparently these specially crafted files contain a malicious OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) object which can be exploited by cybercriminals. What makes this nasty is that the vulnerability affects the latest fully patched versions of Windows.

Microsoft points out that users have to be involved in the email attack scenario.

For this attack to be successful, the user must be convinced to open the specially crafted file containing the malicious OLE object. All Microsoft Office file types as well as many other third-party file types could contain a malicious OLE object.

The attacker would have to host a website that contains a specially crafted Microsoft Office file, such as a PowerPoint file, that is used in an attempt to exploit this vulnerability.

“In addition, compromised websites (and websites that accept or host user-provided content) could contain specially crafted content that could exploit this vulnerability. An attacker would have no method to force users to visit a malicious website. Instead, an attacker would have to persuade the targeted user to visit the website, typically by getting them to click a hyperlink that directs a web browser to the attacker-controlled website.”

A successful exploitation could lead to the attacker gaining same user rights as the current user, and if that means administrative user rights, the attacker can install programs; access, modify, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights.

The vulnerability affects all supported Windows versions, and there is currently no patch for it. Microsoft is still investigating the matter and deciding whether they will issue an out-of-band patch or wait for the next Patch Tuesday to plug the hole.

Otherwise, do not open Microsoft PowerPoint files, Office files, or any other files received or downloaded from untrusted sources.


Lufthansa sells IT infrastructure to Big Blue

lufthansa-history-1German airline Lufthansa is about to sell its IT infrastructure unit to IBM as part of an outsourcing agreement for the services.

Europe’s largest airline by revenue is undergoing restructuring and cost-cutting efforts to better position itself to compete with low-cost carriers and Arabic rivals

It earlier this year said it was seeking a buyer for the unit, which provides data centres, networks and telephony. Apparently, it is worried that it requires a high level of investment and economies of scale, which the airline could not afford.

Under the deal, Lufthansa will outsource all of its IT infrastructure services to IBM for seven years. The US firm will take over the airline’s IT infrastructure division, currently part of Lufthansa Systems.

The deal will result in a one-off pre-tax charge of 240 million euro for Lufthansa. It will allow Lufthansa to reduce its annual IT costs by around 70 million euro a year. It is not clear how much this will all cost in the end as this is still being ironed out.

Oracle, Microsoft and accused of copying Apple’s cartel ways

1159_tnOracle, Microsoft and have been accused of treating their staff in exactly the same way as the fruity cargo cult Apple.

The suit against Microsoft filed by former employees Deserae Ryan and Trent Rau charges, among other things, that Microsoft and other companies entered into anti-solicitation and restricted hiring agreements without the consent or knowledge of its workers.

Oracle, Microsoft and are facing suits alleging that they conspired to restrict hiring of staff. The suits are connected to a memo which names a large number of companies that allegedly had special arrangements with Google to prevent poaching of staff.

The document was filed as an exhibit in another class action suit in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose division over hiring practices. The tech workers who filed that suit alleged that Google, Apple, Intel, Adobe, Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar put each other’s employees off-limits to other companies by introducing measures such as “do-not-cold-call” lists.

Those seven tech companies had earlier settled similar charges in 2010 with the U.S. Department of Justice while admitting no wrongdoing, but agreed not to ban cold calling and enter into any agreements that prevent competition for employees.

Google, Apple, Adobe and Intel appealed in September District Judge Lucy Koh’s rejection of a proposed settlement of US$324.5 million with the tech workers, which she found was too low. Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar had previously settled for about $20 million.

Now it seems that former employees filing lawsuits against Microsoft, and Oracle have asked that the cases be assigned to Judge Koh as there were similarities with the case against Google, Apple and others.

The companies might try to say that since the DOJ did not see it fit to prosecute them before 2010 they must have been legal.

Oracle said that it was excluded from all prior litigation filed in this matter because all the parties investigating the issue concluded there was absolutely no evidence that Oracle was involved.

Microsoft said the employees omit the fact that the DOJ looked into the same claims in 2009 and decided there was no reason to pursue a case against the company.


American gamers tell Aussie women to get back to the kitchen

aussie minersCorrection: Sarkeesian cancelled a planned speech at Utah State University (USU), which is in Logan, Utah and is a different university than the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Apologies.

Women video game developers and critics in Australia are being threatened with rape and murder by American and Canadian gamers as the dispute that has gripped the global gaming community  goes global.

Sydney-based independent video game developer and critic ‘Sarah’ said she had received threats as a part of the movement after she voiced her opinion on an online gaming forum.  They were pretty blunt about what they were going to do to her for daring to make games that did not depict women as whores or sex objects.

“They were saying that they were going to rape me, they were going to kill me… They ran to friends of theirs, got them together … and started tweeting threats at me,” he said.

Sarah believed the perpetrators had set up a system that sent multiple threats to her account automatically.

Fortunately, they were not that clever. One posted a picture that allowed Sarah to figure out their name because they would screen capped it with their Facebook account in the background so I was able to find out the attackers name, and get a sense of who the other guys were.

They are all young, and they are all from the US and Canada and are all keen to spread their backward brand of misogyny to countries where women are treated a little more equally.

“That was almost a bit more terrifying – that they were this loose group of people that one of them could call up the others and they would attack.”

Unfortunately, because they were not Aussie misogynists they could not be arrested and charged with threatening behaviour.

The movement originated from a debate about whether video game journalists were too close to the industry, but then took a more threatening turn.

Earlier this month American feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian was attacked by people claiming to be from the gamergate movement shortly after posting an online video about the portrayal of women in games.

She was forced to cancel a speech at the University of Utah, after an anonymous threat from somebody who said they were planning to carry out a mass shooting at the event.

Medical gear hacked

hacking-medical-devicesThe US Department of Homeland Security is investigating two dozen cases of suspected cybersecurity flaws in medical devices and hospital equipment.

Under investigation is an infusion pump from Hospira , implantable heart devices from Medtronic and St Jude Medica.

There is no indication that hackers have been attacking patients through these devices, but the agency is concerned that malicious people may try to gain control of the devices remotely and create problems, such as instructing an infusion pump to overdose a patient with drugs, or forcing a heart implant to deliver a deadly jolt of electricity.

The senior DHS official said the agency is working with manufacturers to identify and repair software coding bugs and other vulnerabilities that hackers can potentially use to expose confidential data or attack hospital equipment.

Hospira, Medtronic and St Jude Medical declined to comment on the DHS investigations. All three companies said they take cybersecurity seriously and have made changes to improve product safety, but declined to give details.

The agency started examining healthcare equipment about two years ago, when cybersecurity researchers were becoming more interested in medical devices that increasingly contained computer chips, software, wireless technology and Internet connectivity, making them more susceptible to hacking.

The US Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the sale of medical devices, recently issued  guidelines for manufacturers and healthcare providers telling them to better secure medical gear.

The DHS review does not imply the government thinks a company has done anything wrong – it means the agency is looking into a suspected vulnerability to fix it.

This is not the first time that medical gear has fallen under the security microscope. In 2007, then US Vice President Dick Cheney ordered some of the wireless features to be disabled on his defibrillator due to security concerns. Unfortunately, this was done and Cheney was not bumped off by hackers sabotaging his defibrillator.

Xerox Alto source code made public

altoThe code that inspired generations of computer nerds has been made public by the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

The Xerox Alto computer was important because it was the first attempt and a making a machine that was visual rather than text based. It used a mouse and a WYSIWYG word processor. It was this beastie which was ripped off by Steve Jobs

Conservationists behind making the code available to the public had to archive it to nine-inch tape, before being transferred to eight-millimetre cartridges and then put on CDs.  Then they had to get permission to release the code.

The file includes the Bravo word processor, Markup, Draw and Sil drawing programs, and the Laurel e-mail program. There’s also the BCPL, Mesa, Smalltalk, and Lisp programming environments along with various utilities and the Alto’s Ethernet implementation.

Ethernet was developed for the Alto system using networking software, called Pup (for PARC Universal Packet).  This anticipated the Internet by allowing multiple Ethernet local area networks to be interconnected by leased phone lines, radio links, and the ARPANET (which at this time connected a handful of computers at ARPA research centres).

You can look at the software here 


Eat your heart out Dan Brown! Vatican puts archive online

vatican_library3The Vatican Apostolic Library has announced that more than 4,000 ancient manuscripts will now be available online as part of a digital archive.

Global IT service provider NTT DATA has developed the service, which displays high definition digital reproductions of the texts at the library’s website.

A special viewer built by the firm’s digital archive solution technology, AMLAD, enables manuscripts to be examined across a variety of devices, including tablets.

The release is part of a four-year project launched in March. NTT DATA had to establish the infrastructure for the long-term storage, safekeeping and viewing of digital specimens. The company also hopes to provide an efficient search function for the library’s digital artefacts by the end of the year.

Toshio Iwamoto, president and CEO of NTT, said that the firm was extremely excited to bring the collection to a wider audience.

Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, Monsignor Cesare Pasini added that the Vatican gladly adopts the use of innovative technologies in order to make “these treasures of humankind more widely known, in a profound spirit of universality”.

The digital archives can also be accessed via a portal site managed by Digita Vaticana, a foundation raising funds for the library’s preservation projects.

The Vatican Library is one of the oldest in the world and currently contains 75,000 codices, 1.1 million printed books and an estimated 8,500 incunabula. It was formally established in 1475,

In the 17th century, the Vatican Secret Archives were separated from the library at the start of the 17th century and are believed to contain an additional 150,000 items and it was these that Dan Brown made a big thing about in his books. Unfortunately, for conspiracy theorists, the “secret archives” is a mistranslation – it is actually a private library for private papers and it is allowed to be viewed by more than 1000 scholars.  No word as to when these will be made public.