Saturday, April 29, 2006

30 April 1789: George Washington Takes The Oath of Office


Portrait of General George Washington in the Scottish Parliament
Portrait Archives.

Image source:

Via Wikipedia.

George Washington was elected unanimously by the Electoral College in 1789, and remains the only person ever to be elected president unanimously (a feat which he duplicated in 1792). As runner-up with 34 votes, John Adams became vice president-elect.

The First U.S. Congress voted to pay Washington a salary of $25,000 a year—a significant sum in 1789. Washington was perhaps the wealthiest American at the time; his western lands were potentially valuable—but no one lived on them as yet. He declined his salary. It was part of his self-structured image as Cincinnatus, the citizen who takes on the burdens of office as a civil duty.

Washington attended carefully to the pomp and ceremony of office, making sure that the titles and trappings were suitably republican and never emulated European royal courts.

More here.

00:01: Why It's Important

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed, or not, or even bothered to pay attention to the 00:01 stuff that I've been trying to publish on the blog since February, but I'd like to point out why it is so very important.

I've tried to limit the scope to technological events -- Nobel level landmarks, technological discoveries, landmark times in our world. And every so often, pointing out the things that change our lives. For better or worse.

Drop me a line or comment on this stuff and let me know what you think -- I'm always inspired by others, and by feedback. The 00:01 stuff that I've been doing here on the blog for a couple of months now has really been some of the "best of the best" instances of humanity, as well as the worst.

I'd love to know what you think.

If you'd care to do so, you can search for previous "00:01" entires in the blog by using the "search this blog" spot in the blue tool bar in the top of the blog.

And, one more thing -- thanks for your readership.

- ferg

Immigrants Across Texas Prepare for Monday Boycott

Via News8Austin.

Some immigrants across the nation say they'll stay home Monday to protest legislative proposals aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants.

Many immigrant advocates are promoting a National Day of Inaction, and some restaurants and other businesses in town will stay closed.

El Sol y la Luna on South Congress made the decision not to open to show support for immigrants seeking more legal status in the U.S.

"At least if anything, I think it's just something to show the government that action needs to be taken in some way or another," manager Nilda Delallata said.

More here.

Data Shows How Patriot Act Used

Richard B. Schmitt writes in The Los Anegeles Times:

The FBI issued thousands of subpoenas to banks, phone companies and Internet providers last year, aggressively using a power enhanced under the Patriot Act to monitor the activities of U.S. citizens, Justice Department data released late Friday showed.

The report given to members of Congress was the first to detail the government's use of a controversial form of administrative subpoena that has drawn fire because it can be issued by investigators without court oversight.

The Justice Department report also disclosed that its use of electronic surveillance and search warrants in national security investigations jumped 15% in 2005.

The data show that U.S. authorities are in some cases escalating their use of anti-terrorism statutes.

More here.

Gapingvoid: Will MySpace Kill

Via Enjoy!

In Leak Cases, New Pressure on Journalists

Adam Liptak writes in The New Tork Times:

Earlier administrations have fired and prosecuted government officials who provided classified information to the press. They have also tried to force reporters to identify their sources.

But the Bush administration is exploring a more radical measure to protect information it says is vital to national security: the criminal prosecution of reporters under the espionage laws.

Such an approach would signal a thorough revision of the informal rules of engagement that have governed the relationship between the press and the government for many decades. Leaking in Washington is commonplace and typically entails tolerable risks for government officials and, at worst, the possibility of subpoenas to journalists seeking the identities of sources.

More here.

User Friendly: A MySpace for Lies and Broken Promises


Click for larger image.

Pentagon Halts Contractor Clearances

Renae Merle writes in The Washington Post:

The Pentagon stopped processing security clearances for government contractors this week, potentially exacerbating a shortage of employees authorized to work on the government's most secret programs.

The Defense Security Service blamed overwhelming demand and a budget shortfall for the halt, which caught the government contracting community by surprise. Already, 3,000 applications have been put on hold, said Cindy McGovern, a DSS spokeswoman.

More here.

Friday, April 28, 2006

29 April 1992: Los Angeles Burns and Riots


Outrage: Truck driver Reginald Denny lies beaten in an intersection as his
assailant, Damian Williams, celebrates.

Image source: Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia.

The 1992 Los Angeles riots, also known as the Rodney King uprising or the Rodney King riots, was sparked on April 29, 1992 when a mostly white jury acquitted four police officers accused in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.

Thousands of people in Los Angeles, mainly young black and Latino males, joined in what has often been characterized as a race riot, involving mass law-breaking, including looting, arson and murder. In all 50 to 60 people were killed during the riots.

More here.

Office Space: The 'Slacker' Office Chair

Image source: Gizmodo

Dilbert would probably hate it. So would Lumberg. I'm not even sure I like it, but there it is.

Via Gizmodo.

For workers in a relaxed office environment, this “Slacker Chair” will make your entire workday like an afternoon in a bean-bag. Except you’re there in the morning too. And sometimes into the night. So it’s not really just an afternoon. You know what, just forget the whole thing.

What we want to know is, does this chair have a back, or is it just a beanbag on top of the frame? Because without a back, this is just a bean-bag on a stool — make one yourself for fifty bucks.

Texas DPS Worker Charged with Misuse of Information

Tony Plohetski writes in The Austin American-Statesman:

Authorities have charged a Texas Department of Public Safety employee and her boyfriend with misuse of official information after investigators said she shared material from a secure database with him.

The database includes names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, criminal histories and addresses, which authorities use to help with criminal investigations.

DPS officials said the database is a commercial operation run by the Dallas Computer System and is available to people for a fee. It may be accessed on any Internet connection.

"It is not a law enforcement-related database," DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said.

More here.

Real-Life Humor: Gates, N.Y. Times Tout 'Onscreen Reader'

Hmmm. I'm not sure if this is funny, sad, or just stupid. Or all of the above.

Remind me -- what's wrong with a browser again?

This is yet another shining example of how the New York Times just doesn't "get" the web.

An AP newswire article by Elizabeth M. Gillespie, via, reports that:

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates told a ballroom full of newspaper editors Friday he's developing "onscreen reader" software that will make reading news digitally a lot more like flipping through a paper.

It was a well-timed pitch, capping the American Society of Newspaper Editors' annual meeting, much of which focused on winning back the growing number of people who no longer subscribe to newspapers.

Gates brought Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., chairman of The New York Times Co. and publisher of the company's flagship paper, on stage to spill a few details about a service Microsoft and the Times aim to unveil early next year.

More here.

Verizon Plans 1,661 Job Cuts at MCI Call Centers

A Reuters newswire article, via eWeek, reports that:

Verizon Communications plans to cut 1,661 jobs in four U.S. customer call centers by June 30 as part of its plan to cut 7,000 jobs after its January purchase of MCI, a spokesman said on Friday.

Regional and long-distance telephone operator Verizon has about 250,000 employees. It said it expects to cut 7,000 jobs in the three years after the MCI deal as part of its effort to create more than $8 billion in savings.

The four affected call centers are in a suburb of Sioux City, Iowa; in Austin, Texas, in Springfield, Missouri and in Greenville, South Carolina, Verizon spokesman Bill Kula said.

More here.

Congress May Consider Mandatory ISP Snooping

I implore any readers to set up Tor nodes now, if you can.

Declan McCullagh writes in C|Net News:

Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a Republican, gave a speech saying that data retention by Internet service providers is an "issue that must be addressed." Child pornography investigations have been "hampered" because data may be routinely deleted, Gonzales warned.

Now, in a demonstration of bipartisan unity, a Democratic member of the Congressional Internet Caucus is preparing to introduce an amendment--perhaps during a U.S. House of Representatives floor vote next week--that would make such data deletion illegal.

Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette's proposal says that any Internet service that "enables users to access content" must permanently retain records that would permit police to identify each user. The records could not be discarded until at least one year after the user's account was closed.

It's not clear whether that requirement would be limited only to e-mail providers and Internet providers such as DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable modems. An expansive reading of DeGette's measure would require every Web site to retain those records. (Details would be left to the Federal Communications Commission.)

More here.

Feds Drop Bomb on EFF Lawsuit

Ryan Singel writes over on the new 27B Stroke 6 blog:

The federal government intends to invoke the rarely used "State Secrets Privilege" -- the legal equivalent of a nuclear bomb -- in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's class action lawsuit against AT&T that alleges the telecom collaborated with the government's secret spying on American citizens.

The State Secrets Privilege is a vestige from English common law that lets the executive branch step into a civil lawsuit and have it dismissed if the case might reveal information that puts national security at risk.

Today's assertion severely darkens the prospects of the EFF's lawsuit, which the organization had hoped would shine light on the extent of the Bush Administration's admitted warrantless spying on Americans.

The government is not admitting, however, that AT&T aided the National Security Agency in spying on American's phone calls and internet communications.

I'd venture to say that they probably are, though.

More here.

World of Warcraft Plans Upgrade to Fix Performance Woes

Via Netcraft.

World of Warcraft says it is planning to upgrade its authentication servers to address performance problems that have plagued the popular online game in recent weeks. With more than 6 million subscribers, World of Warcraft has been struggling with login problems since the game's authentication system crashed on April 7.

Many World of Warcraft users welcomed the announcement of impending upgrades, expressing relief that Blizzard was taking steps to address the login problems. Others noted that the upgrade had only been announced and not implemented, and were skeptical that improvements were imminent.

More here.

UK: BT Buys Online Retailer

Via The BBC.

Telecoms giant BT has bought online electronic products retailer for an estimated £30m.

With around 75,000 customers a week, specialises in computer related goods, but also sells other items such as LCD TVs and Apple iPods.

BT said the purchase would enable it to increase its online sales of computer and other digital products to both consumers and businesses.

More here.

Intruders Breach DoD Healthcare Server

Wade-Hahn Chan writes on

The Defense Department announced April 28 that someone broke into a Tricare Management Activity (TMA) public server and gained access to information. The compromised information included personal information about military employees, DOD officials said.

“As a result of this incident, we immediately implemented enhanced security controls throughout the network and installed additional monitoring tools to improve security of existing networks and data files,” said William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “Such incidents are reprehensible, and we deeply regret the inconvenience this may cause the people we serve.”

Investigators do not know the motive for the crime or whether the information has been misused. The Defense Criminal Investigative Service is participating in an investigation. DOD sent letters to employees who were affected by the intrusion to inform them of potential identity theft.

Tricare is DOD's Military Health System, which provides health care for members of the uniformed services and their families and for retirees. TMA oversees Tricare activities.

More here.

FBI Sought Info on Thousands Of U.S. Citizens Without Court OK

An AP newswire article by Mark Sherman, via Yahoo! News, reports that:

The FBI secretly sought information last year on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents from their banks and credit card, telephone and Internet companies without a court's approval, the Justice Department said Friday.

It was the first time the Bush administration has publicly disclosed how often it uses the administrative subpoena known as a National Security Letter, which allows the executive branch of government to obtain records about people in terrorism and espionage investigations without a judge's approval or a grand jury subpoena.

Friday's disclosure was mandated as part of the renewal of the Patriot Act, the administration's sweeping anti-terror law.

The FBI delivered a total of 9,254 NSLs relating to 3,501 people in 2005, according to a report submitted late Friday to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate. In some cases, the bureau demanded information about one person from several companies.

More here.

Yahoo! Denies Helping China Track Down Dissident

An AFP newswire article, via, reports that:

Internet giant Yahoo denied Friday a charge by a human rights group that it had helped the Chinese government track down a now-imprisoned cyber-activist, Wang Xiaoning.

"We are unaware of this case," said Yahoo spokesperson Mary Osako in a statement.

We condemn punishment of any activity internationally recognized as free expression, whether that punishment takes place in China or anywhere else in the world."

More here.

MasterCard 'Following' Potential UK Breach

Dan Kaplan writes on SC Magazine Online:

MasterCard International said today it is responding to a "potential" security breach at a U.K.-based retailer – but would not confirm whether any of its cardholders were affected.

"Because this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot disclose specific details regarding the incident or comment, other than to say that we are cooperating and we have notified the banks that issue MasterCard cards to monitor for any suspicious account activity and take the necessary steps to protect cardholders," read a MasterCard statement issued today.

According to a report, a security breach occurred at a U.K. online retailer, leading to thousands of MasterCard and Visa holders to cancel their credit cards. As many as 4,000 U.K. MasterCard customers were affected, the report said.

A MasterCard spokesman would not comment on that, and a Visa spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

More here.

American Express: Beware Phony Log-In Screen

Ryan Naraine writes on eWeek:

American Express card holders: Beware that pop-up log-in screen, even on the company's secure Web site.

The credit card and travel services company has issued a warning about what it calls a false "security measures" pop-up screen that appears when users log in to its secure site.

In an alert posted online, the New York-based company included a screenshot of the pop-up, which tries to lure the user into entering name, social security number, mother's maiden name and date of birth.

"Please note that this fraudulent activity may be the result of a computer virus and is not a part of the American Express website. If you received this pop-up box, your computer may have this virus," the company warned.

More here.

Business Software Alliance: Texas Among Top Software Thieves

Via The Austin Business Journal.

The Business Software Alliance -- a group representing the nation's leading software manufacturers -- says it will offer Texas residents cash rewards of up to $200,000 for qualifying software piracy reports starting May 1 through June 30.

From 2005 to now, Texas has accounted for more than 10 percent of the alliance's leads -- second only to California, which weighed in at 17.5 percent.

More here.

Enough is Enough: Coinstar Lets You Trade Change for iTunes Music

Image source: Gizmodo

Via Gizmodo.

Coinstar, the company’s whose coin counting machines transform loose change into cold hard cash at grocery stores across the country, recently introduced a program that allows patrons to cash their coins in exchange for gift cards and eCertificates redeemable at various retailers, including Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

The program also has the added benefit of not charging the usual 8.9 percent processing fee, allowing users to obtain the complete value of their coinage. Other retailers included in the Coinstar program include, Borders, Hollywood Video, Virgin Digital and Starbucks, ruler of Earth. Only certain Coinstar machines are capable of dispensing the gift cards, so be sure to check the company’s Web site for participating Coinstar machine locations.

Quoted: 'Our Beta Site Loved The Software'

That was Number 9...

Props to John Murrell over on Good Morning Silicon Valley, for this pointer to Guy Kawasaki's list of the Top 10 Lies of Engineers.


Rhode Island Embarks on Statewide Wireless Network

Richard C. Lewis writes for Reuters:

America's smallest state is seeking to become its first to offer a wireless broadband network from border to border.

Backers of Rhode Island's $20 million project say it would improve services and make the state a testing ground for new business technologies.

It also comes at a time when Rhode Island's capital of Providence is stepping up efforts to lure business from Boston, about a 50-minute drive away, in neighboring Massachusetts, where office rents are among the nation's most expensive.

More here.

Submarine Sonar Responsible for 400 Dolphin Deaths On Coast of West Africa?


Hundreds of dead dolphins washed up along the shore of a popular tourist destination on Zanzibar's northern coast, and scientists on Friday ruled out poisoning.

It was not immediately clear what killed the estimated 400 dolphins, whose carcasses were strewn along a 2.5-mile stretch of Nungwi, said Narriman Jidawi, a marine biologist at the Institute of Marine Science in Zanzibar.

In the United States, experts were investigating the possibility that sonar from U.S. submarines could have been responsible for a similar incident in Marathon, Fla., where 68 deep-water dolphins stranded themselves in March 2005.

And U.S. scientists on Thursday said Navy sonar may have caused a group of whales to strand themselves in Hawaii in 2004.

A U.S. Navy task force patrols the East Africa coast as part of counterterrorism operations. A Navy official was not immediately available for comment, but the service rarely comments on the location of submarines at sea.

More here.

Rockers Sue Sony Over Download Royalties

Image source:

Charles Duhigg writes in The LA Times:

Two of the bigger rock bands of the past are suing over the future of their music.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in New York, the Allman Brothers Band and Cheap Trick allege that they and other groups are being shortchanged by Sony Music, a division of music giant Sony BMG, as digital music downloads explode. The suit seeks class-action status.

Both bands contend that when Sony Music sells downloads of their songs through such services as iTunes, it amounts to the licensing of their music, not its distribution, entitling them to more generous royalties. Currently, the lawsuit says, Sony Music accounts for such sales as "physical phonorecords," deducting a 20% fee for packaging even though downloads are electronic.

The suit also alleges that Sony Music deducts 15% of revenue for "breakage" as it would with a CD or cassette.

More here.

Crimeware Contagion Breaks Records in March 2006

Phish Reports at All-time High in March 2006
Image osurce: Anti-Phishing Working Group

Frank Washkuch writes on SC Magazine Online:

Phishing was at record-high levels in March, taking advantage of the April 15 tax-filing deadline, according to a recent report [.pdf] by the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG).

For the first time, the organization reported more than 18,000 unique phishing reports within a month, collecting 18,480 for all of March. The study also noted 9,666 unique phishing sites received during the month. Last March saw 12,883 reports of unique phishing attempts.

More here.

Mozilla to Issue Firefox Security Fix

Nate Mook writes on BetaNews:

The Mozilla Corporation plans to rush out a minor update to Firefox, numbered, in order to address a denial-of-service vulnerability in the most recent version of the open source Web browser. The move comes despite the flaw being rated "non-critical" by security firm Secunia.

The security issue involves an error in the handling of unexpected "contentWindow.focus()" JavaScript calls. A malicious Web site could be used to "corrupt the memory and cause a crash by calling the "contentWindow.focus()" method on a container with specially crafted content," according to an advisory.

More here.

Lawsuit Aims to Block Spectrum Auction with Cell-Phone Radiation

Jeffrey Silva writes on RCR Wireless News:

A health-related lawsuit filed against Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin and other agency members seeks to block the scheduled June 29 start of the advanced wireless services auction.

The EMR Policy Institute, a watchdog group concerned about health implications of cellular phones and wireless transmitting towers, said the purpose of the suit is to halt the AWS auction until the FCC complies with the National Environmental Policy Act and conducts an environmental impact study on the effects of long-term exposure to low-intensity radio-frequency radiation.

More here.

Siemens to Cut 1,000 Jobs from Communications Unit

Joni Morse writes on RCR Wireless News:

Siemens AG announced plans to cut about 1,000 jobs in Germany from its largest division, Communications. The wireless and wireline telecommunications equipment unit has struggled to rake in profits in the face of biting competition that has forced equipment vendors to lower their prices.

During the first half of fiscal 2006, Siemens laid off 1,500 employees. The latest reduction in work force amounts to approximately 2 percent of Com’s 54,500 employees.

More here.

Political Toon: New Spin Zone

Click for larger image.

Got It On 'E'-bay

Via The Smoking Gun.

Memo to those considering entering the exciting field of Ecstasy production: It's probably not a good idea to set up your illicit drug lab via purchases on eBay, which apparently is being closely monitored by nosy Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

Federal investigators this week raided a New York City home after spending months monitoring online purchases of laboratory equipment and chemicals used in the manufacture of the popular club drug. According to a search warrant affidavit filed under seal this week in U.S. District Court, the eBay items were bought by a "Carlos Legrand" and delivered to a Queens home, where they were accepted by members of a family living there. Beginning last year, "Legrand" began purchasing flasks, chemicals, a "motorized tablet press," thermometers, a hotplate, and a "melting point apparatus" from assorted eBay sellers (some of the actual equipment is pictured below in images from recent eBay sale pages).

More here.

Haywired: Some NPR, Christian Radio Listeners Hearing Stern

An AP newswire article, via The Globe and Mail, reports that:

Some commuters hoping to ease into their day with U.S. National Public Radio or Christian broadcasts are hearing shock jock Howard Stern instead.

Their favourite stations aren't broadcasting Stern's show, which has moved to satellite radio provider Sirius. Instead, poorly installed or defective satellite radio units, which act as mini-FM transmitters, are being blamed.

Some of the units use FM signals to broadcast the satellite signal to the car's audio system, using frequencies low on the FM band such as 88.1, often reserved for noncommercial, religious or educational stations. The signal from the satellite system can sometimes override broadcasts from those stations for listeners in nearby cars.

Anthony Brandon, president and general manager at 88.1 WYPR, a National Public Radio affiliate in Baltimore, said he has sent 60 complaint letters to the Federal Communications Commission, which says it is investigating.

More here.

Startups Try to Make the Case for Mobile TV

Yeah? Keep trying'...

Carmen Nobel writes on Light Reading:

The business of delivering TV programs to mobile devices got a little more interesting this week: Armed with a swath of spectrum, another player entered the mobile broadcast fray. But are separate networks dedicated to mobile TV really worth it? Most carriers have yet to make the plunge.

The new player, HiWire Mobile, is an asset marriage between spectrum owner Aloha Partners LP and satellite operator SES Americom , a division of SES Global SA . Aloha owns 12 MHz worth of U.S. spectrum, while SES operates 43 satellites worldwide, 17 in the U.S.

HiWire plans to launch a broadcast trial in Las Vegas this fall with up to 40 mobile TV channels -- first with a technical trial and then with a customer trial by December, says Scott Wills, president and chief operating officer of HiWire. The company plans to announce a carrier partner before the trial.

More here.

Vonage Seeks $2.6 Billion Valuation in IPO Filing

A Reuters newswire article, via eWeek, reports that:

Internet telephone service company Vonage Holdings Corp. may offer up to 31.25 million shares for between $16 and $18 a share in an initial public offering, according to a regulatory filing on Friday.

The offering, expected to be underwritten by Citigroup, Deutsche Bank Securities and UBS Investment Bank, would value the Holmdel, New Jersey-based company at about $2.6 billion, according to the filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company has applied for a New York Stock Exchange listing under the symbol "VG".

More here.

EFF Honors Craigslist, Gigi Sohn, and Jimmy Wales with Pioneer Awards

Via The EFF.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will honor craigslist and its leaders, Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster; Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge; and Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia at its 15th annual Pioneer Awards ceremony. The presentation is at 7pm on Wednesday, May 3 at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference (CFP).

This year's award winners all represent vital, community-building organizations dedicated to spreading knowledge in or about our digital world. They were nominated by the public and then chosen by a panel of independent judges for their innovations in the realm of information technology.

More here.

MI6 Looking for a Few Good Geeks

Dan Ilett writes on C|Net News:

MI6, the intelligence agency for overseas operations, is looking to recruit IT and technology experts to gather data and spy on computers in other countries.

A job ad appeared in Thursday's Times newspaper as part of the organization's latest public-recruitment drive.

"It's about keeping up with what the other sides are doing and making it better so they can't break into our [systems]," a spokesman for MI6, otherwise known as the Secret Intelligence Service, told "This is the first in a series of ads that will appear."

MI6 said security professionals and people with "interception qualifications" are highly sought-after.

More here.

Qualcomm Signs First Patent Deal for WiMAX Product

Nancy Gohring writes on NetworkWorld:

Qualcomm has signed its first licensing agreement for patents it owns covering broadband wireless technology, the company said Thursday in an announcement some WiMAX observers have been dreading.

Qualcomm signed the deal, which covers OFDM,/OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing/Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplex Access) technologies, with Soma Networks, a developer of broadband wireless and WiMAX equipment.

Qualcomm acquired the technology along with Flarion Technologies in an agreement that closed earlier this year. At the time of the acquisition, some vendors began to worry if Qualcomm, known for its vigorous defense of patents covering Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, had acquired technology crucial to WiMAX.

More here.

Canada: Protection Laws Urged on Electronic Banking

A Canadian Press article, via The Globe and Mail, reports that:

Citing more than 1,000 mistakes a day in preauthorized bank debits across Canada, a coalition of consumers' groups is calling on Ottawa for consumer protection legislation on electronic payments.

The Canadian Consumer Initiative, a six-member coalition that includes the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, says a coming review of the Bank Act is an ideal opportunity to develop comprehensive legislation governing a practice that has grown substantially in recent years.

Nearly 500 million preauthorized payments were processed in 2003, almost a sevenfold rise from 1990. An Environics survey the coalition commissioned in March suggests 12 per cent of bank users in Canada have reported problems with preauthorized payments in the past two years. That translates to 900,000 preauthorized debit problems in two years, or more than 1,000 a day.

More here.

Australia: Police to Get Smartcard Data

James Riley and Simon Kearney write on Australian IT:

Intelligence agencies and police will be given access to a vast database of "biometric" photographs of Australians to be created for the new health and welfare smart card to fight terrorism and more general crime.

ASIO and the Federal Police will be allowed routine access to the smart card database on national security issues, while state police will have restricted access for general crime investigations.

The Prime Minister said this week government would proceed with a $1 billion plan to issue Australians with a health and welfare smart card, but ruled out developing a compulsory national ID scheme.

The card would have a highly accurate photograph, with the detailed information about the person's face recorded on the computer chip embedded in the card.

The photo and the chip would be checked against a central government database.

More here.

Gapingvoid: The Death of Friction

Via Enjoy!

Sharman Networks CEO in Sydney Court

An AP newswire article by Mike Corder, via ABC News, reports that:

The chief executive of the company that owns the Kazaa file-sharing network on Friday denied hastily selling her multimillion dollar Sydney mansion and sending the proceeds to the tax haven of Vanuatu to make sure record company lawyers could not get their hands on it.

The denial capped more than four hours on the stand for Nikki Hemming at the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney. She was cross examined on two affidavits she wrote detailing her assets ahead of a possible court order for damages against Kazaa's owners for authorizing widescale copyright breaches by users of the so-called peer-to-peer network.

Hemming's appearance marked the first time such a senior executive linked to Kazaa has taken the stand in a long-running legal battle between Australian record labels and Kazaa.

More here.

Bush Backs Plan For Dubai Firm To Take Control of Military Equipment Plant Operations

An AP newswire article, via The Washington Post, reports that:

President Bush on Friday approved a deal for a Dubai-owned company to take control of some U.S. plants that manufacture parts for American military contractors.

"This was a transaction that was thoroughly reviewed and closely scrutinized," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in confirming the deal. "In the view of the committee, it does not compromise our national security."

As a condition of the president's approval, the company signed an agreement that promised an uninterrupted supply, McClellan said. The White House was in the process of informing key members of Congress of the president's decision.

More here.

Da Vinci Code Judgment Decoded

Chris WIlliams writes on The Register:

Disappointingly, the hidden message inserted by a High Court judge into his ruling on the Da Vinci Code copyright trial has already been solved. Mr Justice Peter Smith's code, reported yesterday, has been cracked by a London lawyer.

It reads: "Jackie Fisher, who are you? Dreadnought"

Rather than a clue to the lizard conspiracy that probably permeates every level of the judiciary, Smith's message actually promotes his personal hero from British naval history, a long standing hobby interest.

John Arbuthnot "Jackie" Fisher sailed the seven seas in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. He's considered a forgotten hero of naval history and is the Judge's pet admiral. Fisher was a big reformer and chairman of the committee that commissioned the groundbreaking battleship Dreadnought.

More here.

NSA Warrantless Wiretapping and Total Information Awareness

Bruce Schneier writes on his Schneier on Security blog:

Technology Review has an interesting article discussing some of the technologies used by the NSA in its warrantless wiretapping program, some of them from the killed Total Information Awareness (TIA) program.

Washington's lawmakers ostensibly killed the TIA project in Section 8131 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal 2004. But legislators wrote a classified annex to that document which preserved funding for TIA's component technologies, if they were transferred to other government agencies, say sources who have seen the document, according to reports first published in The National Journal. Congress did stipulate that those technologies should only be used for military or foreign intelligence purposes against non-U.S. citizens. Still, while those component projects' names were changed, their funding remained intact, sometimes under the same contracts.

Thus, two principal components of the overall TIA project have migrated to the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), which is housed somewhere among the 60-odd buildings of "Crypto City," as NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, MD, is nicknamed. One of the TIA components that ARDA acquired, the Information Awareness Prototype System, was the core architecture that would have integrated all the information extraction, analysis, and dissemination tools developed under TIA. According to The National Journal, it was renamed "Basketball." The other, Genoa II, used information technologies to help analysts and decision makers anticipate and pre-empt terrorist attacks. It was renamed "Topsail."

More of the Technology Review article here.

British Hacker Fears U.S. Extradition

Melissa Loveday writes on SC Magazine Online:

Gary McKinnon, the US government's most wanted IT geek spoke out at Infosecurity Europe yesterday against his possible extradition to the states where he will face charges of hacking into the US Military's computer systems.

McKinnon is accused of intentionally causing damage without authorization to computers belonging to the US government, including hacking into 97 Army, Navy, Department of Defense and NASA computers where he allegedly deleted files and installed tools used for obtaining unauthorized access to computers.

More here.

User Friendly: Wolf Woman


Click for larger image.

British Town's Pubs Scan Fingerprints to Spot Troublemakers

First the BioBouncer, now this.

An AFP newswire article, via, report sthat:

Revellers in a British town are to have their fingerprints scanned when they enter pubs and clubs in a scheme launched Friday aimed at weeding out drunken troublemakers, police said.

The "In Touch" project is the first of its kind in Britain.

Biometric finger-scanning machines have been installed at six venues in Yeovil, southwest England. Clubbers will be asked to have their right index finger scanned and show picture identification to register on the system.

The data is then stored on a computer network which other pubs and clubs in the scheme can access so that information on louts can be passed on quickly.

"It will identify those who have previously been intent on causing trouble," said Sergeant Jackie Gold, of Avon and Somerset Police.

More here.

Distraction: Borg'd Art

Le Ravissement de Mécanique by CCZ

Thanks to John Paczkowski over on GMSV for the pointer.


WCIT Austin: Free Wi-Fi Network Goes Live

Kirk Ladendorf writes in The Austin American-Statesman:

Starting today, Austinites can get a free high-speed wireless link to the Internet throughout part of downtown.

The free city Wi-Fi network is up and running in time for next week's World Congress on Information Technology, which is bringing more than 2,100 delegates from 81 countries to Austin.

Cisco Systems Inc., one of the event's corporate sponsors, is donating $700,000 in equipment for the network.

The network is expected to provide wireless Internet service during the event at the Austin Convention Center and after hours at downtown hotels and restaurants.

When the conference is finished May 5, the wireless network will remain as the WCIT's gift to the city.

More here.

Battlefield Tech: GIs Shoot Footage for New War Doc

The most harrowing Iraq footage yet may be in The War Tapes, which shows the lives of soldiers on the ground. It premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Image source: Wired News / SenArt Films

Jason Silverman writes on Wired News:

The best war journalism puts its audience in close proximity to combat. It's hard to imagine getting closer than The War Tapes does.

Shot by soldiers on consumer-grade digital video cameras, the documentary offers an immersive, sobering and often shocking slice of life (and death) in Iraq. It premieres this week at the Tribeca Film Festival and opens in select cities this summer.

Director Deborah Scranton described War Tapes as the result of a "virtual embed." She gave cameras to 10 Iraq-bound soldiers, and then used e-mail and instant messaging to provide them with advice on technique and technical issues.

By the end of their yearlong tour of duty, the soldiers, all from New Hampshire's National Guard, had sent Scranton 800 hours of what she considered thoughtful, often beautifully shot, footage.

More here.

MIT Web Page Upsets Chinese Students

An AP newswire article by Ken Macguire, via Yahoo! News, reports that:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology took down a history course Web page after Chinese students complained about a 19th century wood-print image of Japanese soldiers beheading Chinese prisoners.

The complaints led to an apology from one of the professors teaching "Visualizing Cultures," which uses images from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895.

The course was created by Pulitzer Prize-winning history professor John Dower and linguistics professor Shigeru Miyagawa, who posted an apology on his Web page.

More here.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Yahoo! Cited in 4th Jailing of Chinese Internet writer

Via Reuters.

Yahoo Inc. has been cited in a Chinese court decision to jail a dissident Internet writer for 10 years for subversion in 2003 -- the fourth such case to surface implicating the U.S. Internet giant.

Wang Xiaoning, born in 1951, was convicted of the charge of "incitement to subvert state power," the New York-based watchdog Human Rights in China (HRIC) said in a statement.

Evidence cited in the verdict included "information provided by Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. stating that Wang's "aaabbbccc" Yahoo Group was set up using the mainland China-based email address," HRIC said.

More here.

28 April 2003: Apple's iTunes Music Store Opens for Business


Via Wikipedia.

The iTunes Music Store is an online music service run by Apple Computer through its iTunes application. Opened on April 28, 2003, the Store proved the viability of online music sales. As of February 2006, the Store had sold over 1 billion songs, or more than 80% of worldwide online music sales. Downloaded files come with restrictions on their use, enforced by FairPlay, Apple's version of digital rights management.

It was also the first online music store to gain widespread media attention. Unlike previous services such as Rhapsody and MusicNet, Apple's store allows the user to purchase songs and transfer them easily to the iPod through iTunes. The iPod remains the only digital music player (besides some Motorola cell phones) that works with the iTunes Music Store, although some other digital music players work with iTunes.

The store began after Apple cut deals with all four major record labels, EMI, Sony BMG (which at the time was still the separate Sony Music Entertainment and BMG), Universal and Warner Bros. Music by more than 600 independent label artists were later added; the first was Moby on July 29, 2003.

More here.

Honorable Mention: In a true adventure saga, Thor Heyerdahl and five crewmates set out from Peru on the Kon-Tiki to prove that Peruvian natives could have settled Polynesia.

States Sue EPA Over Global Warming

An AP newswire article, via Wired News, reports that:

Ten states fired a new legal salvo at the federal government Thursday in a long-running court battle over global warming and pollution from power plants.

The states, joined by environmental groups, sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its decision not to regulate carbon dioxide pollution as a contributor to global warming.

New York, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin filed the lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

More here.

UCLA Egyptologists Launching Online Encyclopedia

A Reuters newswire article, via Yahoo! News, reports that:

Frustrated with the poor quality of many Web sites dealing with ancient Egypt, a professor at the University of California has decided to create a massive online encyclopedia devoted solely to Egyptology.

The UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, which will go online in 2008, will be peer-reviewed and will update constantly when there are new discoveries...

More here.

Soldier Found Dead After MySpace Suicide Note

An AP newswire article, via MSNBC, reports that:

A 20-year-old soldier was found dead in his barracks the day after an apparent suicide note was posted on his Web page.

The Army has not released the cause of Pvt. Dylan Meyer’s death on Tuesday at Fort Gordon, Ga.

But the last posting on the Tampa man’s Web page seemed to indicate that he had planned to end his life. said there is no way to determine whether Meyer wrote the message himself.

More here.

Studios, RIAA Target Student 'Piracy'

Daniel Terdiman writes on C|Net News:

The advocacy organizations for the film and music industries on Thursday unveiled their latest initiative aimed at staunching piracy on university computer networks.

To launch the initiative, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sent letters to presidents of 40 universities in 25 states informing them of piracy problems on their schools' local area networks and asking for immediate action to stop it.

The organizations say that college students are increasingly using programs such as Direct Connect (DC++), MyTunes and OurTunes to trade music across their schools' LANs without having to send or receive files across the public Internet.

According to a release [.pdf] issued by the RIAA and the MPAA, campus LANs provide an attractive way to engage in illegal file sharing without being subject to the consequences that come from doing so across the regular Internet.

More here.

Cogent Reports Internet Disruption

Of course, this first came to light this morning on the NANOG mailing list.

Marguerite Reardon writes on the C|Net Broadband Blog:

Cogent Communications, which provides Internet backbone services to large companies and Internet service providers, experienced an outage caused by a routing instability at around 9:30 AM east coast time on Thursday, the company said.

The problem affected approximately 10 percent of Cogent's customers, which include Internet service providers such as Time Warner Cable. As of 2 pm on Thursday, network service was restored for most customers, the company said.

More here.

Steve Jobs Not Interested in Joining Walt Disney

An AP newswire article by May Wong, via Yahoo! News, reports that:

Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs said Thursday he had no interest in becoming an executive at The Walt Disney Co., which will soon complete its acquisition of Jobs' other company, Pixar Animation Studios Inc.

In fact, Jobs told shareholders he plans to spend more time at Apple after he relinquishes his chief executive job at Pixar when the studio's merger with Disney closes in two weeks.

Disney's upcoming, $7.4 billion purchase of Pixar will land Jobs a seat on the Disney board and make him the company's largest shareholder.

More here.

Online Data-Broker Bill Passes in House

A UPI newswire article, via, reports that:

In a unanimous vote Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4709, the Law Enforcement and Phone Privacy Protection Act of 2006.

The bill introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, back in February 2006 would amend Title 18 to provide criminal penalties for fraudulent sale or solicitation of unauthorized disclosure of phone records.

The bipartisan legislation was approved by a vote of 409-0.

More here.

Walt Disney to Expand Cell-Phone Service

Image source:

An AP newswire article, via, reports that:

The Walt Disney Co.'s cell-phone service, scheduled to launch in the United States in June, will be extended to Britain this year, the company said Thursday.

The service, to be called Disney Mobile, will allow parents to control spending, Internet access and text messaging on their children's phones.

Sandra van Vreedendaal, a spokeswoman for the Walt Disney Internet Group, said that the company is also considering launching phone services elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world.

More here.

NASA Says Comet Fragments Won't Hit Earth

Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW 3)
Image source: M. Jäger and G. Rhemann (Austria)

Tariq Malik writes on

Chunks of a comet currently splitting into pieces in the night sky will not strike the Earth next month, nor will it spawn killer tsunamis and mass extinctions, NASA officials said Thursday.

The announcement, NASA hopes, will squash rumors that a fragment of the crumbling Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW 3) will slam into Earth just before Memorial Day.

More here.

Brazil Clashes with Google Over User Data

An AFP newswire article, via Yahoo! News, reports that:

A day after Brazilian police stopped a fight between rival football fans organized on a popular Google website, authorities clashed with the Internet giant over access to user information to prevent crimes.

Orkut, a Google online community website that allows friends to keep in touch and network, was at the center of the debate between Brazilian and Google officials appearing before the Chamber of Deputies' Human Rights Committee.

Brazilian authorities monitoring online messages for possible crimes want the US company to turn over users' personal information to help stop crimes an abuse like the street battle between the football fans.

Federal Police Commissioner Cristiano Barbosa Sampaio told the committee lawmakers needed to draft legislation allowing authorities to prevent such crimes.

More here.

UT Receives $5M Grant to Study Dark Energy

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope at The McDonald Observatory.
Image source: Marty Harris / McDonald Observatory

Via The Austin Business Journal.

The University of Texas has received a $5 million challenge grant to study dark energy at the school's McDonald Observatory.

Harold Simmons, a Dallas resident and UT graduate, gave the money to help fund the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment. Simmons is chairman of Contran Corp., and holds bachelor's and master's degrees from UT's economics program. Previously, he has donated to UT's athletics program and the McCombs School of Business.

More here.

Sprint Offering 'Router-to-Router' SLAs for Global MPLS VPN Service

Denise Pappalardo writes on NetworkWorld:

Sprint Thursday announced that it is now offering customers end-to-end service-level agreements over its global MPLS VPN service while also expanding the reach of its MPLS backbone.

The carrier says it is now offering a standard SLA for its Global MPLS VPN service, which guarantees 100% network availability, minimum packet loss, jitter, delay from local loop to local loop.

Sprint is also expanding the geographic reach of its MPLS network by setting up network-to-network interfaces (NNI) with other carrier’s MPLS backbones around the world.

More here.

California PUC OKs Broadband-over-Power-Lines (BPL) Test

Via Reuters.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved a plan on Thursday allowing providers of high-speed Internet services to test the use of electricity lines to deliver online access throughout the state.

CPUC commissioner Rachelle Chong, who drafted the plan, said broadband over power lines, or BPL, could become a new competitor to Internet services delivered via telephone, cable and satellites and help reduce prices for consumers.

More here.

Another Katrina Victim: FEMA

An AP newswire article, via Wired News, reports that:

Hurricane Katrina turned FEMA into a "symbol of a bumbling bureaucracy" so far beyond repair that it should be scrapped, senators said Thursday. They called for creation of a new disaster relief agency as the next storm season looms on the horizon.

The push to replace the beleaguered agency was the top recommendation of a hefty Senate inquiry that concluded that top officials from New Orleans to Washington failed to adequately prepare for and respond to the deadly storm, despite weather forecasts predicting its path through the Gulf Coast.

More here.

Specter Threatens to Block NSA Funds

Laurie Kellman writes in The Washington Post:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said Thursday he is considering legislation to cut off funding for the Bush administration's secret domestic wiretapping program until he gets satisfactory answers about it from the White House.

"Institutionally, the presidency is walking all over Congress at the moment," Specter, R-Pa., told the panel. "If we are to maintain our institutional prerogative, that may be the only way we can do it."

Specter said he had informed President Bush about his intention and that he has attracted several potential co-sponsors. He said he's become increasingly frustrated in trying to elicit information about the program from senior White House officials at several public hearings.

The amendment amounted to a warning to the White House from a powerful but frustrated Senate chairman.

More here.

DOJ Crackdown Leads to Piracy Charges Against Five People

Grant Gross writes on InfoWorld:

Five U.S. residents face criminal copyright charges for their alleged participation in the online "warez" file-trading community, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Thursday.

The charges come out of an ongoing DOJ crackdown against international online piracy groups that distribute copyrighted movies, software, games and music on the Internet. The five defendants are alleged to be leading members of the "warez scene," groups of Internet users who illegally distribute copyrighted materials online.

Kevin Fuchs, 25, of West Amherst, New York, and Cuong Quoc Trang, 35, of Parker, Colorado, were charged in an indictment with conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and copyright infringement, the DOJ said.

Matthew Alderman, 24, of Ashland, Oregon, was charged with criminal copyright infringement, and David Morvant, 35, of Thibodaux, Louisiana, and Michael Hays, 51, of Delafield, Wisconsin, were charged with conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement.

More here.

The Season of Bad Laws, Part 3: Banning MP3 Streaming

Via The EFF.

The Washington Post reports that Senators Feinstein (D-Cal.) and Graham (R-S.C.) have introduced S. 2644, dubbed the PERFORM Act, that is aimed at punishing satellite radio for offering its subscribers devices capable of recording off the air.

Buried in the bill, however, is a provision that would effectively require music webcasters to use DRM-laden streaming formats, rather than the MP3 streaming format used by Live365, Shoutcast, and many smaller webcasters (like Santa Monica's KCRW and Seattle's KEXP). The streaming radio stations included in iTunes also rely on MP3 streams (since Apple isn't about to license the Real or Microsoft streaming codecs).

Today, webcasters that want to transmit major label music are entitled to do so under a statutory license (administered by SoundExchange) set out in section 114(d) of the Copyright Act. So long as they follow the rules and pay a royalty, webcasters can play whatever music they like, using whatever streaming format they like.

Under the current law, webcasters are forbidden from helping their listeners record the webcasts, and are required to use DRM only if the format includes DRM.

Much more here.

Why Does HAL Sing 'Daisy, Daisy' in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Mystery solved.

Jason Kottke:

In 1962, Arthur C. Clarke was touring Bell Labs when he heard a demonstration of a song sung by an IBM 704 computer programmed by physicist John L. Kelly. The song, the first ever performed by a computer, was called "Daisy Bell", more commonly known as "Bicycle Built for Two" or "Daisy, Daisy". When Clarke collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey, they had HAL sing it while Dave powered him down.


A reader just reminded me that HAL may have been so named because each letter is off by one from IBM, although Arthur C. Clarke denies this.

More here.

Political Toon: New Line Item Veto

Click for larger image.

Finally: Freedom Tower Work Begins at WTC Site

New York Governor George Pataki, left, and New Jersey Governor John Corzine are followed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein as they walk by construction equipment at the Freedom Tower site Thursday, April 27, 2006 in New York.
Image source: MSNBC / Jason Decrow / AP

An AP newswire article, via MSNBC, reports that:

After spending months wrangling for control of buildings and money at ground zero, politicians and a private developer gathered Thursday as excavation trucks rolled out to mark the beginning of construction of the Freedom Tower, the symbolic skyscraper designed to replace the destroyed World Trade Center.

Hours after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owned the trade center, approved a broad new deal with developer Larry Silverstein that changes timelines and rebuilding strategies for lower Manhattan, Silverstein announced Wednesday that construction crews would report to the site Thursday morning.

Early Thursday, New York Gov. George Pataki, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Silverstein stood on the ramp leading to the site, shaking hands with about a dozen workers. Three large yellow excavating trucks then rolled down the ramp, driven by workers wearing hard hats emblazoned with the American flag and the words "Freedom Tower, World Trade Center."

More here.

LIRR Loses 17,000 Employee Records

Via The United Transport Union (UTU) website.

The Long Island Rail Road says it has lost personal information -- names, addresses, Social Security numbers and salary figures -- of virtually everyone who has ever worked for the railroad, according to the Associated Press.

Iron Mountain, Incorporated -- a Boston company -- employed by the railroad to warehouse and secure information at an undisclosed storage site, discovered the loss on April 6.

During a routine delivery between LIRR headquarters in Jamaica and the storage site -- an Iron Mountain driver noticed that at least one unmarked box was missing.

The LIRR said MTA Police and the NYPD were immediately notified.

On Monday, the railroad mailed a letter from LIRR President James Dermody to approximately 17,000 current and former employees, notifying them about the lost information.

The LIRR has about 6,000 current employees.

More here.

Campaign Manager Resigns Amid Wikipedia Flap

This is not the first time a political staffer groomed a Wikipedia entry.

Peter Hamby writes on CNN:

A Georgia gubernatorial candidate accepted the resignation of her campaign manager Wednesday after he was accused of changing the online Wikipedia biography of an opponent in the upcoming Democratic primary.

Secretary of State Cathy Cox's opponent, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, said Cox campaign manager Morton Brilliant altered an online encyclopedia entry to include a reference to Taylor's son being arrested for DUI after an accident that killed his passenger.

More here.

Avocent To Acquire LANDesk For $416M

Clint Boulton writes on

Avocent, which supplies network connectivity gear to various businesses, agreed to purchase management software maker LANDesk Group for $416 million in cash and stock.

The deal, expected to close in the next 60 to 75 days, will include $200 million in stock, $200 million in cash and $16 million in options. The transaction value may be increased by up to $60 million if LANDesk meets certain financial targets.

Avocent, which also reported today that sales for the first quarter increased 23.1 percent to $94.5 million, makes switches and certain pieces of software to connect hardware in a data center.

LANDesk, Intel's software and services unit until the chipmaker spun it out in 2002, makes security and management applications for desktops, servers and mobile devices.

More here.