Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 45, 2002

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Issue 45, 2002

This week's headlines:

Danish anti-piracy group invoices file swappers
December 04, 2002

A Danish anti-piracy group has sent invoices to hundreds of people it says illegally downloaded music and movies.

Copenhagen-based AntiPiratGruppen obtained the names of 150 private users, schools and companies by court order. It says it has targeted those who downloaded material from file-sharing sites last month. The move further demonstrates that copyright holders are becoming more inclined to go after individuals directly, rather than their ISPs.

The Denmark group tracked the users by examining their IP addresses. Each has been sent a bill detailing a settlement offer ranging from 1,000 kroner (€135) to 100,000 kroner (€742), depending on the number of files allegedly downloaded.

The users have been asked to pay by December 9 and told to delete the content from their computers or face a lawsuit. The group says so far around 75 people have paid.

Full story: Ananova Back to top

Court to rule on software that copies 'protected' DVDs
December 04, 2002

A court in California will this month rule on the legality of an ingenious new software package that makes perfect copies of movies on DVDs even if they are protected with the latest anti-copying technology.

The developer of the software, 321 Studios, says its DVDXcopy program does not violate the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it illegal to defeat copy-protection schemes. According to 321, the software is legitimate because it does not do anything that the DVD's copy protection is designed to prevent.

DVDXcopy works by intercepting the digital video code just after it has been legitimately unscrambled by the DVD player, but just before the unscrambled code is converted into a protected analogue TV signal. It then saves the unscrambled video on the PC's hard drive before copying it onto a blank DVD. 321 argues that its product reinstates the right of consumers to back up their discs.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Windows better value than Linux, says IDC
December 04, 2002

Windows 2000 represents a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than Linux over a five-year period, according to Microsoft-sponsored research carried out by IDC. The report concludes that Windows 2000 gives better value in four out of five selected categories.

It was the result of telephone interviews with 104 US companies, most of whom had Windows 2000/NT, Linux and Unix. In four categories - network infrastructure, file serving, print serving and security applications - Windows scored between 11 and 22 per cent better that Linux. For the fifth category, web serving, Linux came out ahead by six per cent.

The report found Linux staff costs to be as much as 30 per cent higher than Windows which tipped the balance in favour of Windows. Without the staff costs, Linux scored better in the majority of categories. In its conclusions, the IDC paper acknowledged that Linux was developing rapidly but questioned whether it could approach the Windows level of integration or match Microsoft's rapidly developing product suite.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Software system heals itself
December 04, 2002

A computer system usually has to stop what it is doing in order to recover from a virus or hacker attack, which can be very costly for a company. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University are working on a database system that automates the process of recovering from attacks, and keeps the database running during the recovery process.

Although it is difficult to prevent intrusions from unauthorised users, many intrusions can be detected soon after they occur. The key is to contain the damage so it does not spread. The researchers built a system that monitors its environment and its health status in real-time.

The self-healing system detects intrusions, contains the part of the database that has been damaged, locates the corrupted data, and repairs each corrupted data object by restoring its most recent undamaged backup copy. A key part of the system is that its algorithms only replace corrupted objects, and it allows the rest of the database to keep processing transactions while this takes place.

Full story: TRN News Back to top

Xerox scientist sees promise in plastic
December 03, 2002

Beng Ong, a research fellow at Xerox Research Centre of Canada, detailed how to create inexpensive semiconducting plastics that may finally fulfil the promise of reducing the cost of display technology for laptops, cell phones and other devices.

Ong's work described how to create organic polymers, which could, in a sense, be used as ink to print circuits that would sharply lower the cost of manufacturing displays. The researchers said this new material, polythiophene, is significantly better in performance, cost and durability when compared with the currently established polymers.

Polythiophene also presents a realistic challenge to silicon-based transistors for display technologies, which require expensive fabrication plants with ultra-clean room environments, high-temperature vacuum systems, and complex photolithographic processes.

Full story: CNET Back to top

Pirated engineering software aids terrorists
December 02, 2002

Rogue nations are increasingly able to pick up powerful scientific and engineering software from online piracy warehouses. The software can be used in a wide range of tasks such as designing rockets or nuclear reactors, and predicting the path of a cloud of anthrax spores.

These software programs cannot legally be exported to countries such as North Korea or Iraq, but the internet provides a way round any such restrictions.

Software industry experts have suggested that most of the illegal trade is carried out by Chinese companies which market the programs for a tiny price.

Full story: VNUnet UK / New York Times Back to top

Scientists see big potential for microscopic diamonds
December 03, 2002

Scientists at ChevronTexaco's Richmond research centre have found microscopic diamonds in crude oil, a discovery that could lead to new developments in pharmaceuticals and microelectronics.

At one-billionth of a billionth of a carat, the 'higher diamondoids' are so small that 1 million of them can be fitted across the diameter of a pinhead. ChevronTexaco plans to invite academics and other scientists to take part in researching the diamondoids.

The carbon materials come in a wide variety of shapes, conduct heat rapidly and are very rigid and stable Those properties - combined with their minute size - make the diamondoids potentially useful building blocks for molecular-size machines. They could also be used to make durable, heat-resistant coatings in computer displays and polymer-type materials. In the area of pharmaceuticals, the higher diamondoids have good properties for making drugs available to the human body.

Full story: SF Gate Back to top

Japanese radio promises easier listening for the elderly
December 02, 2002

JVC has revealed it is to market a new type of radio that will make it easier for the elderly to keep track of news broadcasts.

The device will work by recording announcers' voices first. When it plays back it employs voice signal processing technology to slow down the first part of each spoken sentence.

Broadcasts will still end at the designated time, because silent parts of the programme are eliminated to compensate. The device is expected to go on sale next month for around €280.

Full story: Ananova / Japan Times Back to top

Start-up develops tiny-camera chips
December 04, 2002

Smal Camera technologies, a privately held company formed in 1999 by three MIT professors, has developed an image sensor, which is the main chip a camera uses to turn light into data, as well as related components that allow manufacturers to produce working digital cameras the size of a credit card and about a quarter-inch thick.

Part of the reason Smal can enable such compact cameras is that the company sells a whole package of camera components, including a wafer-thin Lithium-polymer battery that powers the camera to snap at least 500 images on a single charge, according to Smal.

Smal says its components produce better images than the average low-budget camera. The company's image sensor captures 20 bits of data for each pixel, more than double the 8 bits per pixel most electronic displays can reproduce. The chip uses the extra bits to adjust exposure pixel-by-pixel before compressing the image for final storage. The result is a camera that can handle a wide range of lighting conditions.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top

Japan halts mobile porn scam
December 04, 2002

Japan's parliament has outlawed a scam where unsuspecting callers are tricked into calling sex lines, and then charged vast amounts for the call. Con artists have used computers to call at random up to 3,000 mobile phone users per minute, only to hang up after just one ring.

Curious phone users who ring back to try to identify the caller are played a pornographic message, or they are given information about pornographic services. They are then billed up to 20,000 yen (€160) for the information they have received. Many Japanese people simply pay these bills - too embarrassed to complain or too frightened to object.

It took the Japanese authorities almost a year to outlaw the scam, known as the 'wan-giri' or 'one-ring' ploy. From now on, anyone who call masses of people at random and hang up without speaking with them could face a year in prison or a fine of up to 1m yen.

Full story: BBC News Back to top