Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 11, 2002

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Issue 11, 2002

This week's headlines:

Microsoft makes moves to avoid Brussels fine
March 11, 2002

Microsoft has made its first concessions to the European anti-trust authorities in a sign that the US software giant is taking steps to avoid harsh punishment from the European Commission.

Microsoft said on Monday that it would make available to the industry two technical standards enabling rivals to make full use of its Windows operating software - an encryption language called Kerberos and an internet standard known as Common Internet File System

The Commission declined to comment, but competition experts said it was unlikely to be satisfied with the offer. In particular, the Brussels authorities could require concessions on Media Player - the video software that is the other focus of the Commission's probe.

Full story: Financial Times Back to top

Domain-name body agrees on need for reform
March 14, 2002

ICANN, the body that oversees the internet's domain-name system said Thursday that individual users should have a voice in the organisation. At a meeting in Accra, Ghana, ICANN, said that the 500 million people who use the internet should be given a formal role in helping to oversee the system that guides e-mail and web browsers around the internet.

But ICANN's board of directors declined to say how it would balance the interests of internet users with other groups, such as businesses and technical experts. Instead, the board set up a committee to come up with a specific plan by the time ICANN next meets in Romania in June.

Resolving questions Created in 1998 to take control of the internet's domain-name system from of the US government, ICANN has never fully resolved questions about how it should function and who should participate. The debate has heated up over the past year, with an ICANN-sponsored task force, a coalition of civil liberties groups, and ICANN's president all offering competing proposals.

Full story: CNN/ Reuters Back to top

Pay TV giants at war over encryption
March 12, 2002

The technology giants who make Pay TV pay are at war over encryption. French broadcaster Canal+, part of Vivendi Universal, filed a US lawsuit against NDS, which it accuses of 'sabotaging' its Mediaguard encryption system with 'sophisticated and well-funded effort'. NDS is controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which owns a number of satellite broadcasters.

Canal+ claims an NDS laboratory in Israel used electrical and optical equipment to prise the security codes from Mediaguard smart cards and that NDS then provided the codes to a website frequented by counterfeiters. Other websites mirrored the information and pirates used the codes to make fake smart cards that give viewers free access to Pay TV programmes protected by Mediaguard.

Canal+ is asking for a billion dollars in damages. However, NDS dubs the lawsuit 'outrageous and baseless'.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Open-source flaw threatens Microsoft code
March 14, 2002

A security flaw in open-source software used by Linux and Unix systems for compression may affect some Microsoft products that also use the code. Earlier this week it was reported that a flaw in the zlib software-compression library could leave much of the systems based on Linux open to attack.

On Thursday, researchers reported that at least nine of Microsoft's major applications-including MS Office, Internet Explorer, DirectX, Messenger and Front Page - appear to incorporate borrowed code from the compression library and could be vulnerable to a similar attack.

Microsoft said that its security response team is investigating the zlib flaw and confirmed that some Microsoft applications use code from that library. However, the team has not yet determined which applications use the library and whether those applications are vulnerable.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top

BT linking suit dealt a blow
March 14, 2002

An initial ruling by a New York federal judge has dealt a serious blow to British Telecom's claim that it owns the rights to hyperlinking. Last month BT sued Prodigy Communications for unauthorised usage of its hypertext technology.

The judge's ruling Wednesday carefully analysed the technological claims in BT's patent in an attempt to determine how valid the claim is. The ruling, according to legal experts, presents half-a-dozen strong points disputing BT's claims and little in its favour beyond allowing the case to continue to wend its way through court.

The most damaging point in the court's ruling is a question about whether BT's patent can legitimately be said to apply to an internet-based technology, since the patent specifies the use of a single computer terminal.

Full story: Wired News Back to top

Another browser war looming?
March 14, 2002

AOL Internet unit is expected to start testing soon a web browser using its Netscape technology, a source close to AOL said, opening up the possibility that AOL plans to drop rival Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

An AOL spokesman confirmed that the company has already shipped a Netscape browser in some test software for its discount internet service, CompuServe. The browser is powered by Gecko technology that was developed through an open-source project called Mozilla. The source said the same type of testing would be undertaken at AOL, which has about 34 million members worldwide.

The trial rekindles the debate over a possible 'battle of the browsers', with AOL dropping Microsoft's browser technology and turning to its own Netscape technology as the two giants vie for control over various areas of the internet. AOL bought Netscape in 1999, but the browser technology that it was known for has floundered. But news that AOL will soon be testing the technology suggests that AOL is not ready to abandon it.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top

Monkey thoughts control computer
March 13, 2002

US Scientists at Brown University, Rhode Island, have developed a device which allows monkeys to control a video game by thought alone.

During the game the monkeys chased a red dot around a screen with a purple one. At first, they used a joystick to move the dots around. But after a while the joystick was disconnected, and the animals - who had not realised this - continued moving the dots around by thought alone.

The scientists said this was possible because a small electrode had been implanted into the monkeys' brains. This recorded signals from their motor cortex - an area of the brain that controls movement - as they moved the joystick. The scientists then analysed the signals with a mathematical formula, 'translated' them and fed the signals directly into the computer, where they were reconstructed into directions.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Intel's incredible shrinking chip
March 12, 2002

Intel announced that its labs have produced memory chips that contain 330 million transistors, through manufacturing technology that will hit the mainstream next year. The experimental SRAM (static RAM) chips measure approximately 109 square millimetres and contain up to 52 million bits of data, making them the densest SRAM chips ever produced.

More importantly, the chips show that Intel is still comfortably meeting Moore's Law, as they were made using the 90-nanometer manufacturing process. Under Moore's Law, the number of transistors on a given chip doubles every 18 to 24 months, mostly because engineers find ways to shrink the size of the transistors.

Currently, the fastest chips are made on the 130-nanometer process. By shrinking the average feature size to 90 nanometers, Intel can put twice the number of transistors in the same area. The 90-nanometer chips are expected to hit shelves next summer.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top

'Smart' nanotubes first step to tiny machines
March 11, 2002

American researchers at Purdue University have created tiny carbon tubes that can assemble themselves into microscopic scaffolding. The tubes could be used in the future to build molecular wires and devices from the atom up.

The tubes can be made to form structures of a specific size and can take on different chemical properties. The researchers used principles of biology to create long chains of carbon atoms that form structures spontaneously when mixed together in water.

The system of tubes can be used to build new materials, nano-sized electronic devices, and even machines that can enter the body and deliver drugs.

Full story: CBC News Back to top

Locking out the hackers
March 13, 2002

Broadband users worried that their PC is vulnerable will soon be able to buy a 'black box' that watches over their net link to stop viruses and hack attacks. At the CeBIT technology fair in Hanover, anti-virus firm Trend Micro has unveiled its Gatelock device, which it hopes will prove popular with worried surfers.

Gatelock sits between a PC and the broadband box that connects it to the net. It regularly updates itself with the latest information about viruses and hack attacks and spots when someone is trying to subvert the PC. Gatelock owners will get a warning when they are being sent a virus or someone is trying to scan their machine for vulnerabilities.

The Gatelock also acts as a basic network hub and allows more than one PC to share a broadband net link. The gadget works with Windows, Linux and Apple computers.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Chilled PC 'is world's fastest'
March 14, 2002

PC tuning enthusiasts have long used various tricks to cool their machines down and squeeze out that extra last bit of zip. But the makers of the Vapochill PC, with an Intel processor clocked at 3 GHz, say their machine is the first commercially available PC to run at this speed.

The computer has a cooling unit designed by Danish company Asetek, which keeps the processor chip at 18 degrees below zero Celsius, far below the temperature of a conventional fan-cooled PC.

The Vapochill PC uses a 2.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor speeded up to the record-breaking pace. PCs which have been 'overclocked' in this way are often unstable, because the whole system, including the memory chips and the interface circuitry, is run well past its design speed. But the Vapochill takes advantage of the way that some computer circuit boards are designed to speed up only the processor and leave the rest of the system unchanged.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Digital cameras save artworks
March 11, 2002

Digital imaging is revolutionising the way classical works of art are being preserved for future generations. The National Gallery in London, UK, is leading the way in the use of this technology to make high quality digital reproductions of paintings.

For the past 10 years, it has been developing a system to monitor tiny changes in the artworks and build up a precise record of the colour of paintings to see if there are any changes over time. A special digital camera is used to capture each square metre of a painting's surface with a resolution of at least 10,000 by 10,000 pixels.

The imaging system enables researchers to monitor tiny changes in colour or surface texture without handling the painting. It means they can build up a permanent record of the state of paintings. Future images can then be compared to determine if there has been any damage caused to artworks in storage or when they are moved for exhibition.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

New phone technology to ease problem of ringing mobiles
March 13, 2002

A sensitive handset could reduce the problem of mobile phones ringing in quiet places.

IBM is patenting a phone that is aware of its location and adjusts its ringing mode accordingly. Owners will have to tell the phone how loudly they want it to ring, or whether it should vibrate or divert the call. The system would switch the ringing mode to the desired setting when the phone returned to a particular area. The handset uses global positioning satellite technology.

This procedure is designed to be repeated in several places so the phone will know how to ring without embarrassing its owner in a meeting at work, a church wedding service, or a quiet art gallery.

Full story: Ananova / New Scientist Back to top