Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 20, 2002

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Issue 20, 2002

This week's headlines:

Napster chief and founder resign
May 15, 2002

The chief executive officer of embattled file-sharing company Napster has resigned. Konrad Hilbers stepped down as ongoing efforts to pull the company out of its financial woes have been unsuccessful. Shawn Fanning - the inventor of the Napster software and founder of the company - is also on the way out.

Napster continues to battle a devastating lawsuit filed by the Recording Industry Association of America, representing the major recording companies, that shut down Napster's service last year. It has also had a rough time to make deals with those labels to offer their music online. As a result, the company has indefinitely shelved its plans to launch a file-sharing service that complies with digital copyright laws.

German media giant Bertelsmann, which has already poured upwards of $100m into the company, made an unsuccessful bid last month to acquire the whole of Napster. That deal was turned down by Napster's board.

Full story: Yahoo / IDG / BBC News Back to top

EU to act on ink cartridge 'scandal'
May 16, 2002

The EU is investigating allegations of anti-competitive practices in the sale of printer ink cartridges. Companies such as HP, Lexmark, Canon and Epson are in the spotlight for using allegedly illegal tactics to force consumers to buy own-brand cartridges instead of cut price refills.

Under European law, companies cannot use their strong position in one market to restrict competition in another, and can be fined up to 10 per cent of turnover.

The action apparently follows complaints from angry consumers who have been saddled with the high cost of cartridges. An 'official' printer cartridge can cost nearly double that of a refill or 'unnamed' brand.

The printer companies claim that they have been forced to increase charges to make up for the huge inroads the refill market has made into their industry. It has been estimated that 11 per cent of the ink cartridge market is now controlled by the refill vendors.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Microsoft loses trademark court battle against Lindows
May 16, 2002

Microsoft has lost its court case against Lindows, leaving the small company free to sell its Linux-based operating system capable of running Windows applications. Microsoft had been pressing the judge to shut down and prevent the company from selling its product under the name LindowsOS.

Microsoft claimed that the name trod too close to its Windows trademark, but this week the judge threw the case out. In a seven-page ruling, Judge Coughenour wrote that the 'consuming public used the terms "windows", "window" and "windowing" to refer to a type of graphical user interface' and that through 'its own use of the evidence' Microsoft essentially admits that 'windows' is a generic term.

Lindows chief executive Michael Robertson said that Lindows would go ahead with a June release of preview software, and that the final version of LindowsOS will go on sale later this year.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Fujitsu claims disk drive breakthrough
May 13, 2002

Fujitsu has developed a new technology to squeeze more data onto 2.5in hard drives, and claims that it will increase storage on the drives by a factor of six within the next four years. The new read/write disk head enables recording densities of up to 300Gb per square inch, the firm said.

Current 2.5in hard disks can store around 30Gb per disk platter. According to Fujitsu, its technology will push this capacity to 180Gb per platter. The company explained that it ultimately expects to achieve capacity of up to 360Gb, enough to carry 76 high-quality DVD movies.

Fujitsu said that the new technology uses Current-Perpendicular-to-Plane mode Giant Magneto-Resistive (GMR) heads. Current heads use the Current-in-Plane mode but, by changing the angle of the head to the platter, Fujitsu says that it can achieve the increased capacity as the head becomes more sensitive to signals than existing GMR versions. This means that data can be written and read three times more compactly than with current technology.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

New web spyware eschews cookies
May 11, 2002

Researchers in Scotland are developing a new kind of web monitoring software that they claim can collect enormous amounts of data on web surfers while remaining nearly undetectable. The technology came to light when it was chosen as one of 40 technologies funded this year by the Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's economic development agency. The University of Strathclyde received the award last Thursday.

The Scottish Enterprise called the technology a 'breakthrough', outpacing any other technology on the market by allowing a more detailed profile of a web user's activity.

According to a statement, the technology traces internet use via 'sensors' rather than cookies, or bits of code that sit on computer hard drives that have long been used by websites to monitor people's travels on the web. The technology can be operated on any web server and can monitor internet use in real time. In addition, the software can block access to sites, e-mails and documents.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top

Clone attack on mobile phones
May 14, 2002

Scientists at IBM and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have found a way to copy vital information inside a mobile phone in 60 seconds. When used to make calls with another handset, this identifying information would mean the bill being charged to the phone from which it was stolen. Before now, cloning a handset took about eight hours.

Many 'crackers' attempt to unscramble data by repeatedly trying all possible variations of the numerical keys used to scramble information. But the researchers gained valuable information about the numerical key a phone uses to uniquely identify its owner by watching how the chip inside the phone processes information.

The team got clues about the unique ID number by timing how long the chip took to complete certain tasks and by measuring changing current flows across the chip. This information revealed what was being done to the numerical key.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Camera flash opens up smart cards
May 13, 2002

Researcher at Cambridge University have discovered that firing light from an ordinary camera flash at parts of a smart card microchip can assist an attacker in determining the sensitive information stored on the card. This might include, for example, the cryptographic key used to gain access to a building or to secure internet transactions.

The researchers removed part of the chip's protective covering and focused light from an camera flash on particular parts of a smart card's microprocessor using a microscope . This ionises the silicon and 'flips' the individual bits stored on different parts of the card allowing data stored on the card to be probed and altered. An ordinary smart card reader is used to monitor the process.

Another group at Cambridge University has developed a microchip design that could protect against the attack. The team has designed a more complex 'asynchronous' microprocessor that would not respond in the same way to light interference.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Scientists get atoms ready for a close-up
May 13, 2002

Scientists at Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs have developed a microscopy technique that can zoom in on individual atoms within a chunk of silicon. Scientists previously were able to take pictures of individual atoms only when they were sticking out on the surface.

The ability to spot individual atoms becomes important as electrical engineers continue to jam more transistors into computer chips. To tailor silicon's electronic properties, small amounts of other elements like antimony, which contribute electrons to conduct current, are diffused in. Because of the shrinking of transistors, it will become necessary to check that the added atoms are going in the right place.

The Lucent microscope shoots a narrow beam of high-energy electrons through a very thin sheet of silicon - about one one-thousandth as wide as a human hair - and looks at how the electrons are deflected. Antimony atoms are heavier than silicon and scatter the electrons at sharper angles, which gives away their positions.

Full story: New York Times Back to top

Study: phone shields do not work
May 16, 2002

Cell phone earpiece pads and shields are 'ineffective' in reducing the amount of radiation absorbed by the head, according to a recent study by British scientists.

After testing shields, antenna clips, hats and other devices marketed for reducing cell phone emissions, the Department of Trade and Industry in Britain found such devices do not work. And the few devices that do work, do so at the expense of good reception. To lessen the amount of exposure, the scientists recommended using a headset or ear bud.

British government officials were not the only ones to question the veracity of claims made by cell phone shielding manufacturers. US regulators recently filed a lawsuit against two companies that sold devices that claimed to block potential health risks from mobile phones. Full report (PDF) at:

Full story: Wired News Back to top

New ultrasound lets parents 'touch' unborn child
May 15, 2002

Expectant parents who cannot wait to feel their baby's touch soon may be able to preview that sensation while the child is still in the womb, thanks to computer software developed by US company Novint Technologies that adds a touch-like component to 3-D ultrasound technology.

The e-Touch software replicates the sensation of touch through a special stylus traced over the ultrasound image of the unborn child. The software also helps enhance the 3-D picture, according to the company.

Touch technology may have important medical applications. It could help in monitoring a foetus' development, evaluating breast tumours or colon polyps, reducing surgical errors by allowing a doctor to practice before performing an operation, or in the training of medical residents.

Used together with a CT scan or MRI image, the software lets a physician feel textures and surfaces of the patient's body, similar to what occurs once an operation is already under way.

Full story: Yahoo / Reuters Back to top

Researchers to study how children interact with Aibos
May 15, 2002

As toys imbued with artificial intelligence are becoming more ubiquitous, two researchers at Washington University are examining how children interact with robot pets. The idea is to study whether there may be a psychological impact.

The research is focused on Sony's Aibo robots, which have sold 100,000 worldwide. The researchers fear children may establish friendships that robots cannot live up to. They say early tests show while most children are aware robots are not actually alive, others do not. Some reason they must be living because they are able to learn how to respond to limited commands and move apparently independently.

The researchers expect to publish their results in about a year. Similar studies are planned to evaluate whether the robots interact positively with the elderly.

Full story: Ananova Back to top

Pentagon trains anti-terror sniffer bees
May 15, 2002

The Pentagon is all a-buzz about recruiting networked bees to sniff out bombs. The US government is hoping to use the wired up insects to sniff out minute residues of explosives and lead them to bomb factories and landmines. Each bee will carry a transmitter which can be tracked using a wireless connection to a laptop computer. The bees are trained to think that TNT contains sugar so that they make a beeline for it.

Pentagon researchers say that a trained hive could be put near security checkpoints to raise the alarm should a bomber try to cross. They say that bees are better than dogs at detecting some odours, and that their behaviour can be conditioned by rewards such as sugar-water.

By combining the scent of the sugar solution with tiny residues of TNT, scientists can train the bees to associate the 'molecular trail' of TNT with food. Pentagon researchers claim that they have already succeeded in getting bees to ignore flowers and swarm around explosives.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Nasa searches web for antiquated computer parts
May 13, 2002

The US space agency Nasa has begun trawling the internet for spare parts for its shuttles. Nasa is hunting internet sale and auction sites such as Yahoo and e-Bay for shuttle parts that are so antiquated, they would be unrecognisable to the average computer user today.

The agency is particularly short of a type of Intel computer chip known as the 8086. A chip similar to this was used to power the first PCs made by IBM in 1981 - the same year as the first shuttle launch. The shuttle operators also need eight-inch floppy disk drives that went out of fashion nearly 20 years ago, and have long since been replaced by much smaller disk drives and CD-Roms.

Nasa is looking for stockpiles of old parts it can buy in bulk to repair old machinery, as well as keeping some spare for future use. The parts will be needed for at least the next 10 years, with the shuttle due to remain in service until 2012 - and there is a possibility of that being extended to 2020.

Full story: BBC News Back to top