Author: Nick Farrell

Apple and Intel: sheesh!

rejection-2One of the dafter silly season stories to cross our desk has been the bizarre claim that Apple will eventually drop Intel and use its own ARM based chips.

The source of this is a former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassee who wrote in his bog that the end is nigh for Intel on the Mac.

To be fair Gassee did not come up with this theory on his own.  He was quoting Matt Richman in a 2011 blog post titled “Apple and ARM, Sitting in a Tree” where he said that  after a complicated but ultimately successful switch from PowerPC chips to Intel processors in 2005, Apple will make a similar switch, this time to ARM-based descendants of the A4  chip designed by Apple and manufactured by Samsung.

Of course that was a long time ago and Apple and Samsung are no longer friends. The reasons both blogs give for a switch are low power usage and price.

“Dumping Intel for ARM would therefore allow Apple to offer ultra-affordable Macs while at the same time preserving their precious margins. In this scenario, Apple would be able to steal away even more market share from Microsoft while generating boatloads of cash in the process,” Gassee claims.

The other advantage is that Apple is a complete control freak and loves to control as much of the underlying technology in its products as possible.

If Apple moved to ARM, it would not have to suffer the expected humiliation of having to delay its new Macbooks because Intel has not made its Broadwell chip on time. While Intel CEO Brian Krazanich initially claimed that Intel’s next-gen processor would launch in time for the 2014 holiday season, it now looks as if Apple will have to wait until 2015 for that.

That is where the logic in the argument fails completely. The ARM chips are not as good performers as the Intel versions. That is not an insult; they are mobile phone chips which are not designed to do the same thing as a PC.

If Apple were interested in creating low power, “cheap as chips PCs” then it might have a chance at pulling it off, but that has not been Jobs’ Mob’s model ever.

What is bizarre about this rumour is how it has been seized on by the Tame Apple Press keen to show some superiority for Apple even as the shine goes off the company. Having told us for years that the world was moving to mobile, because Steve Jobs said it was, and that the PC was dead, they are now in the uncomfortable position of having to eat their words. They are also finding that their favourite PC maker is not the final solution in some technology fields.

PC chip design is one of them.

What is more likely is that Apple will stick to its Mobile ARM chips and look to Intel to provide its PC chips at least for the foreseeable future. About the only thing that might change Apple’s mind is that if AMD suddenly came up with some super cool chips.  They, at least, would be cheaper – not that Apple really cares that much about price.

Wackypedia in trouble over selfie

Picture thanks to Wiki Commons

Picture thanks to Wiki Commons

Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia is in hot water over a selfie picture which a monkey took of itself when it stole an English nature photographer’s camera.

Wackypedia claims that since the monkey took the picture it is public domain and the picture does not belong to photojournalist David Slater, who owned the camera. It had put the pictures in its Wikimedia Commons and Slater claims that is costing him money.

The black macaca nigra monkey swiped the camera from Slater during a 2011 shoot in Indonesia and snapped tons of pictures, incWluding the selfie and others at issue.

Wikimedia said that it had received a takedown request from Slater, claiming that he owned the copyright to the photographs, but it did not agree.

The image has at times been removed from the Wikimedia Commons by various site editors and keeps coming back.

Slater said the picture should not be in the public domain. While a monkey pressed the button, but I did all the setting up.

Wikimedia said that to claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they would only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image. This means that there was no one on whom to bestow copyright, so the image falls into the public domain.

Tektronix makes security own goal

Barbra_Streisand's_Greatest_HitsIt appears that the Tektronix company has a few problems when it comes to managing the press.

Last week a small site called hackaday ran a yarn which said that Tektronix application modules were designed with laughable security.

The theme of the post was a review of Tektronix modules that unlock the features in an oscilloscope chip. However, Tektronix designed a woefully weak system for unlocking these modules.

Tektronix was not happy about the details of its system being reviewed in the magazine, and even less so that it was described as being “laughable”.

But rather than ignore the review, take the editor out for a quiet chat, or ask nicely to have the thing taken down, Tektronix said the review violated its copyrights.

Its lawyers sent a DMCA Takedown Notice demanding that it remove the post because the story violated its copyright.

To put this in some perspective, if you review a product and you think it is insecure you are allowed to say why. The use of a DMCA though is a nasty tactic because it means that a less understanding ISP can shut your magazine down.

Tektronix said that the posting on the “Hack A Day” website concerning hacking of Tektronix’ copyrighted modules for use in oscilloscopes.

“Hacking those modules permits unauthorised access to and use of Tektronix’ copyrighted software by means of copying of Tektronix’ copyrighted code in those modules,” the company said.

The posting includes instructions for how to hack our modules and thereby violate Tektronix’ copyrights.

However Hack-a-Day said that is the point of its article. The product uses an EEPROM, a connector, and a plain text string of characters which is already published publicly on Tektronix’s  website.

“ If you were selling these keys for $2.99 perhaps this would be adequate, but Tek values these modules at $500 apiece,” the site said.

Now it would appear that Tektronix is suffering from a bad case of Barbara Streisand after all we would never have noticed Hack-a-Day’s story if it had not objected.

US spooks in Snowden panic

spyUS spooks have uncovered what they think is another Edward Snowden who has been secretly leaking classified info to the great unwashed.

The Secret Service is thinking of asking the US Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into the suspected leak of a classified counter-terrorism document to a news website.

A document which was published in The Intercept provides a statistical breakdown of the types of people whose names and personal information appear on two government data networks listing people with supposed connections to militants.

The Intercept is co-founded by Grenn Greenwald, the reporter who worked with Edward Snowden but the document was dated August 2013, after Snowden left the US.

Since Snowden is not thought to have had access to US networks after May, officials to suspect the drop may have come from a second leaker.

The document talked about the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database (TIDE) and the Terrorist Screening Database.

It said 680,000 names were “watchlisted” in the Terrorist Screening Database, an unclassified data network which is used to draw up more selective government watchlists.

The file also showed that 280,000 of the 680,000 people are described by the government as having “no recognised terrorist group affiliation.”

More lists include a “no fly” list totalling 47,000 people who are supposed to be banned from air travel, and a further “selectee list” of 16,000 people who are supposed to get extra screening.

The screening database is taken from TIDE, a larger, ultra-classified database which contains 320,000 more names.

This is not the first time the Intercept has a big scoop that has put the fear of god into the spooks. It has also published a lengthy document setting out the criteria and procedures by which names are placed into terrorist watchlist databases.

Hotel takes Basil Fawlty approach

fawlty2_2790315bA US hotel has been adopting a Basil Fawlty approach to bad reviews on the internet.

The Union Street Guest House in New York has worked out that the best way to keep negative reviews off Yelp and other sites is to fine guests who complain.

The hotel charges couples who book weddings at the venue $500 for every bad review posted online by their guests. The online police reads:

“Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our inn, your friends and families may not. “If you have booked the inn for a wedding or other type of event . . . and given us a deposit of any kind . . . there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review . . . placed on any internet site by anyone in your party.”

If you take down the bad review, you will get your money back.

Just in case anyone posts a bad review, the hotel owner has been aggressively posting “mean spirited nonsense,” and “she made all of this up.”

For example in one case a reviewer complained of rude treatment over a bucket of ice, the proprietors shot back: “I know you guys wanted to hang out and get drunk for 2 days and that is fine. I was really really sorry that you showed up in the summer when it was 105 degrees. . . I was so so so sorry that our ice maker and fridge were not working and not accessible.”

As Basil Fawlty once said: “Have you seen the people in room six? They’ve never even sat on chairs before.”

After the outcry the Hotel pulled its policy from the web, but it can be found on Go-Back. You can just remember this rant from Fawlty Towers which is more or less similar.


Child labour plant dogs Samsung

child_laborThe Chinese subsidiary of Shinyang Engineering has started supplying parts to Samsung a month after business ties were cut over child labour allegations.

Samsung halted business with Dongguan Shinyang Electronics after China Labor Watch found at least five child workers without contracts at the plant.

The kids were working on the assembly lines at Dongguan Shinyang and yet a month earlier an independent audit by Samsung found no child labour at the site.

Shinyang said that a third-party firm supplying workers had brought in child labourers around the end of June with forged identification.

There are no child workers at Dongguan Shinyang now and the children working at the plant have been let go.

Samsung suppliers have been under watch since 2012, when China Labor Watch found seven children younger than 16 were working for one of the South Korean firm’s China-based suppliers. Chinese law forbids hiring workers under 16.

Apple had a similar problem with some of its Chinese contacts and people objecting to Foxconn workers throwing themselves off buildings rather than making its shiny toys.

Handbags swing in HP/ Autonomy case

pearl-harborPundits are grabbing their popcorn as the opening rounds of handbag swinging between HP and the former owners of Autonomy begin in earnest.

HP wants to sue former Autonomy Chief Financial Officer Sushovan Hussain as he seeks to block HP’s settlement of three shareholder lawsuits over its purchase of the British software outfit.

Hussain wants to block the settlement, saying HP officials were wrongly absolved in the ill-fated acquisition of Autonomy for $11.1 billion in 2011.

HP wrote down Autonomy’s value by $8.8 billion a year later and accused Autonomy officials of accounting fraud.

Hussain said that is rubbish and it was HP’s mismanagement which stuffed up the company he used to run.

But what has triggered this round of handbag swinging was that HP reached a settlement with shareholders to end efforts to force current and former HP officials, including Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman, to pay damages over its Autonomy purchase.

Instead they have agreed to help HP pursue claims against former Autonomy officials such as Hussain and former CEO Michael Lynch.

HP said that the notion that Hussain should be permitted to intervene and challenge the substance of a settlement designed to protect the interests of the company he defrauded is ludicrous.

It now says that shareholders agree with HP that Hussain, along with Autonomy’s founder and CEO, Michael Lynch, should be held accountable for this fraud.

Hussain said in his court filing that the “collusive and unfair” settlement, if approved by a federal judge, would let HP “forever bury from disclosure the real reason for its 2012 write-down of Autonomy.

“This breathless ranting from HP is the sort of personal smear we’ve come to expect. As the emotional outbursts go up, the access to facts seems to go down,” Autonomy swung back.

“Meg Whitman is buying off a bunch of lawyers so she doesn’t have to answer charges of incompetence and misdirection in front of a judge and jury.”


Ooooohhh get her.

Boffins power gadgets with radio waves

mad-scientistBoffins from the University of Washington have emerged from their smoke filled labs with a new communication system that uses radio frequency (RF) signals as a power source.

It means that you can also use existing Wi-Fi infrastructure to provide Internet connectivity to these devices.

Dubbed Wi-Fi backscatter, this technology is the first that can connect battery-free devices to Wi-Fi networks.

It solves a problem that inventors were having with the unternet of thongs.  The devices have to be small, and that means losing or shinking the battery. It also means that people will be spending more time charging their shiny toys than they do using them.

Shyam Gollakota, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering, said that using this system it is possible to enable Wi-Fi connectivity for devices while consuming orders of magnitude less power than what Wi-Fi typically requires.

The researchers will publish their results at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Data Communication‘s annual conference this month in Chicago. The team also plans to start a company based on the technology.

There had been some work done before which showed how low-powered devices such as temperature sensors or wearable technology could run without batteries or cords by harnessing energy from existing radio, TV and wireless signals in the air. This work takes that a step further by connecting each individual device to the Internet, which previously was not possible.

The problem was that low-power Wi-Fi consumes three to four orders of magnitude more power than can be harvested in these wireless signals.

What the researchers developed was an ultra-low power tag prototype with an antenna and circuitry that can communicate with Wi-Fi-enabled laptops or smartphones while consuming negligible power.

The tags looking for Wi-Fi signals moving between the router and a laptop or smartphone. They encode data by either reflecting or not reflecting the Wi-Fi router’s signals, and slightly changing the wireless signal. Wi-Fi-enabled devices detect these changes and receive data from the tag.

The UW’s Wi-Fi backscatter tag has communicated with a Wi-Fi device at rates of 1 kilobit per second with about 2 meters between the devices. They want to extend the range to about 20 meters and have patents filed on it all.

Sony kills ebook reader

additional-oxford-dodo-bookSony has confirmed that it will not make any more eBook readers, not even in Japan where it can still sell them.

There will never be such a gizmo with the catchy title PRS-T4 and the Sony Reader PRS-T3 will be sold until it runs out. Since that was launched last autumn and only in the EU, Sony could not have have many left.

Sony pioneered the idea of an E-ink ereader in 2004 when it launched the Sony Librie in 2004.

The company worked with E-ink and Toppan Printing Co of Japan for several years to develop the first generation of the 6″ screen which was used in the Librie, and later the Sony Reader, Kindle, Nook, and other ereaders.

Sony released the first 6″ screen, it also followed it up with several cutting edge devices. It was also the first to adopt Epub, and to combine an E-ink screen with a touchscreen and a frontlight.

But Sony was largely aced by the Nook-Kindle price war in June 2010 and lost out in the price drop that followed.


Homeland Security wants to save Expendables

Expendables-3_Expendables-2US Homeland Security, which is supposed to be defending the country from terrorists, is using taxpayer money to defend the business model of Big Content.

The US Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement is investigating the piracy of the Lionsgate action flick The Expendables 3. Lionsgate made calls to several law-enforcement agencies to using their spying technology to locate the pirates, who are accused of leaking a full version of the pic on various file-sharing sites last week.

Apparently, it is not so unusual lately for the men in black, who you would think would be dealing with people with guns trying to bring down the government, to be defending big corporate interests. U.S. Customs was merged into USDHS, and it investigates illegally distributed copyrighted materials, including media content.

In the past, it has actually seized domain names of websites used to illegally distribute media content and/or counterfeit goods.

Lionsgate filed suit against the sites hosting the pic and the same day it dropped the final trailer (see it below) that opens wide August 15.

The digital copy was stolen from the Studio last week and news of the download surfacing wide by the time Comic-Con was in full swing last weekend. There were 250,000 downloads on that first day and an estimated two million afterwards.

Microsoft nukes Samsung

rage-explosionIt seems that Microsoft really has copied Apple in its treatment of the smartphone maker Samsung.

According to a company blog, Microsoft is suing Samsung over its version of Android software in the Southern District of New York.

David Howard, Vole’s Deputy General Counsel said that Microsoft did not take lightly filing a legal action, especially against a company with which it had enjoyed a long and productive partnership. However it appears the pair have fallen out.

“ After spending months trying to resolve our disagreement, Samsung has made clear in a series of letters and discussions that we have a fundamental disagreement as to the meaning of our contract,” he wrote.

Microsoft said that Samsung voluntarily entered into a legally binding contract with Microsoft to cross-license IP which was extremely beneficial for both parties.

Since Samsung entered into the agreement, its smartphone sales have quadrupled and it is now the leading worldwide player in the smartphone market and decided late last year to stop complying with its agreement with Microsoft.

When Vole bought Nokia Devices and Services business, Samsung began using the acquisition as an excuse to breach its contract, Howard alleged.

He added that Microsoft and Samsung had a long history of collaboration. Microsoft values and respects its partnership with Samsung and expects it to continue. It is simply asking the Court to settle the disagreement, and is confident the contract will be enforced.

Microsoft prepares to Sway

art.wozniak.courtesyThe dark satanic rumour mill has manufactured a hell on earth rumour which claims that Microsoft is preparing to launch a new product called Sway.

Microsoft has been a busy Vole registering some domain names that use the term CDN and Sway.

For those who came in late, CDN is content delivery network which means that Vole is getting into the entertainment biz.

Microsoft has registered a trademark for “Sway” with a fairly wide brief, covering computer software; computer application software; online computer software and software as a service.

What appears to be happening is that Microsoft likes the moves that Apple and Netflix have made to move content on to their own CDN services and away from those provided by third parties to improve content streaming to improve and better control the quality of service.

But there is a slight problem with the rumour. Microsoft already has its own CDN services and offers this as a service to third-party developers, via its Azure platform. In fact its existing product is something that Apple can only dream of.  Another theory is that Microsoft is planning a new marketing push to “sway” more developers to its platform and away from the likes of Amazon’s Cloudfront.

Another idea is that Microsoft wants to create a new streaming service. There have been mutters about Microsoft launching a streaming gameplay service. Vole has Twitch embedded in Xbox, but with a $1 billion acquisition of Twitch by Google all but confirmed, Microsoft wants to get a new product to replace it.

Conservative social network killed by trolls

ronald_reaganAn attempt by US conservatives to set up a social networking site has collapsed under a sea of trolls and spam.

Ohio Republican Janet Porter pre-launched ReaganBook – “Facebook for Patriots”. The move was a reaction against employees from the better known social media site took part in a LGBT rights demonstration in San Francisco.

To be fair it was more a reaction to those “evil homosexuals” thing rather than an attempt at a real site. But several “left-leaning sites” (for European readers that is the same as centre right) gave the site more attention than it was read for.

Soon the real social network’s members were drowned out by a flood of phony accounts including Vladimir Putin, Sarah Palin, and Manuel Noriega and more sock puppets than a Muppet Theme Park.

Even Conservative blogger Amy Jo Clark thought the idea was half baked. She said that they should not have used Reagan as a brand.

Many users posted profane criticisms of former President Ronald Reagan, while others posted pornographic images.

Porter, who is president of the anti-abortion group Faith2Action, pledged to cull out all the duff posts.

She is claiming that what users saw was actually the pre-launch which gave the site the chance to tighten our security for the real launch.

Porter said that the fact that so many leftists have invested so much time in the site, “it provides confirmation that we’re on the right track,” she said.

We would have thought that actually all she has done is given “leftists” an avenue to give conservatives a good kicking.

Attempts to weed out the trolls and socks proved a little different. In the end it looks like Porter gave up. The site was taken offline by Wednesday afternoon. All this happened about 24 hours after the site launched.

Without a shred of understanding the PR implications, Porter asked users to be patient while we make the necessary changes to keep the site free from obscenity, pornography, and “those intent on the destruction of life, liberty, and the family”.

She promised that when the site opened it would have additional protections in place. “As Reagan taught us, trust, but verify,” the site said.

Lords want end to online anonymity

house of lordsThe British House of Lords is gearing up for a campaign to remove online anonymity.

The Communications Committee of the House of Lords has now issued a report concerning “social media and criminal offenses” in which they basically recommend scrapping anonymity online.

What it wants is for web services to be required to collect real names at signup, but then could allow those users to do things pseudonymously or anonymously.

It means that their actions could then easily be traced back to a real person if the “powers that be” deemed it necessary.

The Lord’s report said it would be reasonable to require the operators of websites first to establish the identity of people opening accounts.

However it is also reasonable to allow people thereafter to use websites using pseudonyms or anonymously.

“There is little point in criminalising certain behaviour and at the same time legitimately making that same behaviour impossible to detect,” the Lord’s report said.

The report notes that the findings are “tentative” and that these recommendations might possibly “be an undesirably chilling step towards tyranny.” but they do not seem that concerned about it, or they would not have made the general recommendation in the first place.

If the scheme goes ahead it will mean that most people will be anonymous, but armed with a court order, or a warrant, the authorities, or libel lawyers can find out who you are.

Jesse Jackson calls for technology diversity

Reverend_Jesse_JacksonUS civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has called on the government to investigate the tech industry’s lack of diversity.

Jackson told USA Today  that the government has a role to play” in ensuring that women and minorities are fairly represented in the tech workforce.

He said the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission needs to examine Silicon Valley’s employment contracts.

Jackson said that the tech industry’s demands for foreign workers need to be silenced after data shows Americans have the skills and should have first access to high-paying tech work.

There was no talent shortage, but an an opportunity shortage and Silicon Valley “far worse” than many others such as car makers that have been pressured by unions.

Tech giants have largely escaped scrutiny by a public dazzled with their cutting-edge gadgets, Jackson said.

Jackson has lobbied nearly two dozen tech companies to disclose hiring data, and about a dozen have done so.

According to the figures, men make up 62 per cent to 70 per cent of the staffs of Twitter, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn, while whites and Asians comprise 88 per cent to 91 per cent.

Their dominance is highest in computer programming and other tech jobs that tend to pay the most.

Jackson said that work equality was the next step in the civil rights movement. Minorities represent a sizable share of tech consumers but not its workers. Of Twitter’s U.S. employees, only 3 per cent are Hispanic and 5 per cent black, but those groups along with Asian Americans account for 41 per cent of its US users.