Saturday, August 19, 2006

DHS Terror Research Agency Struggling

Spencer S. Hsu writes in The Washington Post:

The federal research agency in charge of countering emerging terrorist threats such as liquid explosives is so hobbled by poor leadership, weak financial management and inadequate technology that Congress is on the verge of cutting its budget in half.

The Homeland Security Department's Science and Technology Directorate has struggled with turnover, reorganizations and raids on its budget since it was established in 2003, according to independent scientists, department officials and senior members of Congress.

At the same time, the Bush administration's overriding focus on nuclear and biological threats has delayed research on weapons aimed at aviation, a controversial choice that was questioned anew after a plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners from London was made public Aug. 10.

More here.

Toon: The Best Thing Ever...

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Level 3 Signs Agreement with

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

Fiber network operator Level 3 Communications Inc. has signed a multi-year agreement to transmit Internet content, including video, for the popular social networking site, Level 3 announced Friday.

Level 3, which offers Internet capacity in 82 markets, will initially support MySpace in some markets, the company said in a statement.

More here.

Conservative U.S. Court to Hear NSA Appeal

An AP newswire article, via MSNBC, reports that:

The Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program, rejected by a federal judge, is heading toward an appellate court loaded with the president's own appointees.

However, veterans of cases before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals caution that the court's mixed record in a broad range of rulings makes it difficult to predict how it will view the surveillance the administration says is crucial to stopping terrorists.

"It is not a foregone conclusion that a conservative-dominated court is going to say, 'President Bush did this and we're going to uphold what he wants,'" said Robert A. Sedler, a law professor at Wayne State University. "There are many issues in this case. Conservative judges often have a very strongly libertarian streak."

More here.

Friday, August 18, 2006

U.S. Toll in Iraq

Via The Boston Globe (AP).

As of Friday, Aug. 18, 2006, at least 2,604 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,069 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

The AP count is three less than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Thursday at 10 a.m. EDT.

More here.

EE Times 2006 State of the Engineer Survey

Image source: EE Times

David Roman and Junko Yoshida write on EE Times:

The "EE Times 2006 State of the Engineer Survey" on salaries and professional concerns found that Indian engineers are confident, ambitious and anxious for better pay. With good reason: The mean base salary of Indian engineers is $38,300, less than half of what U.S.-based engineers earn.

At the same time, the climbing salaries of U.S.-based engineers can't suppress some dissatisfaction over compensation, management and overseas competition.

More here.

Dell Turns to Damage Control

Paul Thomasch writes for Reuters:

Dell is in the middle of a brewing image crisis, launching its biggest-ever product recall, reporting a sharp drop in profit, and disclosing an accounting investigation all in one week.

The world's largest personal computer maker must act quickly to control the damage with investors and customers alike, or risk back-to-school sales and the upcoming holiday spending peak season, say analysts and brand experts.

More here.

Toon: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

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SpaceX, Rocketplane Kistler Win NASA Spaceship Contest

Alan Boyle writes on MSNBC:

Two aerospace teams headed by SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler will share almost half a billion dollars set aside for demonstrations of new spaceships capable of transporting cargo and crew between Earth and the international space station, NASA announced Friday.

The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, or COTS, marks a dramatic departure in the way NASA does business and could give boost to the nascent private-sector space race — including space tourism for paying passengers.

More here.

Political Satire: How Right-Wingers See the NYT


Cory Doctorow writes over on Boing Boing:

I laughed aloud at this Huffington Post "How Right-Wingers See the New York Times" page, where you hover your mouse over the stories in the electronic edition of the NYT to get an idea of how the article will be spun by the Bushie astroturfers, talk-radio mouth-frothers, Fox, and the right-wing blogosphere.

More here.

Katrina Website Fraudster Indicted

Dan Kaplan writes on SC Magazine Online:

A Miami man has been indicted on charges he sold phishing kits that included software used to develop a phony American Red Cross-run Hurricane Katrina relief website.

Jovany Desir, 20, was charged with wire fraud in a five-court indictment handed up Thursday that also accuses him of setting up phony banking, auction and online payment sites with the goal of pilfering account information and passwords from unsuspecting visitors.

More here.

Your Brain Boots Up Like a Computer

Abigail W. Leonard writes on LiveScience:

As we yawn and open our eyes in the morning, the brain stem sends little puffs of nitric oxide to another part of the brain, the thalamus, which then directs it elsewhere.

Like a computer booting up its operating system before running more complicated programs, the nitric oxide triggers certain functions that set the stage for more complex brain operations, according to a new study.

In these first moments of the day, sensory information floods the system—the bright sunlight coming through the curtains, the time on the screeching alarm clock—and all of it needs to be processed and organized, so the brain can understand its surroundings and begin to perform more complex tasks.

More here.

Court Blocks TiVo injunction

A Reuters newswire article, via CNN/Money, reports that:

A federal appeals court on Friday blocked a lower court ruling that would have forced satellite television provider EchoStar Communications Corp. to stop selling many of its digital video recorders, EchoStar said on Friday.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia temporarily blocked an injunction issued on Thursday by a U.S. district court judge in Texas that ordered EchoStar to halt the use and sale of DVRs that infringed on TiVo Inc.'s patents.

More here.

Tibetan Wi-Fi Website Attacked

Xeni Jardin writes on Wired News:

Organizers of a community wireless mesh-network project in Dharamshala, India, say their website was attacked on Thursday, following publication of a Wired News article about their work for Tibetan refugee settlements.

Speaking to Wired News via Skype, project founder Yahel Ben-David said that while the distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack on the Tibetan Technology Center website appeared to come from IP addresses from a number of places around the world, they began immediately after scans from an IP address in China.

"There was no immediately evident single source for the attack, but it started right after an extensive series of China-based scans," said Ben-David.

More here.

Google Builds Star Trek Bridge at Cult Convention

Steve Greenthal (L), owner of "The Crew," a collection of wax figures from the original Star Trek series, shows his display to Richard Newman of Virginia, a member of the board of directors of "Star Trek New Voyages," at the fifth annual official Star Trek convention at the Las Vegas Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Image source: AFP / Getty Images / Ethan Miller

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

Google duplicated the bridge of the fictional Starship Enterprise and embarked on a mission in Las Vegas to recruit engineers, at a gathering of cultish Star Trek devotees.

More than 10,000 fans of the Star Trek franchise that began with a television series debut in September of 1966 were expected by organisers to make pilgrimages to the official annual convention at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Google Earth chief technologist Michael Jones, who quipped that his job was to make certain Google's mapping service was "the warp drive of computer graphics," commanded a booth modeled after the Enterprise bridge.

More here.

Sony to Spy on P2P?

Massimo Cotrozzi writes on

An attempt to patent an innovative file sharing system from Sony have been denied by the UK Patent office. In an answer from the patent office, after translation from a somewhat criptic language, unless you're an english lawyer, we understood that Sony is trying to introduce in the market a new media file sharing & social networking system which is supposed to collect information about the users collecting and redistributing the media, posing a big threat over the principle of p2p, anonymity.

We are talking about a system because it is probably related to some hardware device, as we could understand from the document. The patent was refused because it was not introducing "novelty" - whether you do it in software or in hardware, it's not something new, except for the programming that lies within, which is not subject to patent. While this seems to let us think Sony is about to release a new box (sorry, a new station) dealing with multimedia, and that it looks like Sony believes p2p will be at the heart of the future media market, some questions are rising among the community.

More here.

Interesting Times Ahead: Wiretap Ruling Threatens Telecoms

Catherine Holahan and Dawn Kopecki write in BusinessWeek:

Telecommunications and Internet companies accused of working with the Bush Administration's domestic eavesdropping program could be in for more legal headaches, after a federal judge ruled Thursday that the warrantless wiretaps violated the constitution.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit dealt a major blow to the White House in a 43-page opinion that said President George W. Bush exceeded his authority and that the program violated the First and Fourth Amendments protecting free speech and privacy. She ordered the National Security Agency to immediately halt a secret program that monitors telephone calls and e-mails of Americans that are in contact with suspected terrorists.

More here.

Judge: EchoStar Must Disable DVRs Due to TiVo Patent

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

A judge has ordered EchoStar to disable the digital video recorders used by several million subscribers to its Dish satellite TV service because they infringe on patents held by TiVo.

Thursday's ruling from U.S. District Judge David Folsom in Marshall, Texas, demands that within 30 days EchoStar must basically render useless all but 192,708 of the DVR units it has deployed.

The decision comes four months after a jury ruled that EchoStar should pay TiVo $74.9 million because it willfully infringed TiVo patents that allow for the digital storage of TV programming.

The judge also denied EchoStar's request that the injunction be stayed pending appeal, making it difficult for EchoStar to continue offering its subscribers' DVR functionality without striking a quick licensing deal with TiVo or another DVR maker.

More here.

Profile: EarthLink - A World Beyond Dial-Up

Matt Richtel writes in The New York Times:

Garry Beatty, the chief executive of EarthLink, has an expression he uses to talk about companies that, despite obvious flaws, enjoyed success during the Internet bubble: “Even turkeys can fly in high wind.”

The question is whether that maxim might now apply to his own company: do EarthLink’s investors have a turkey on their hands?

More here.

18 August 1992: Wang Laboratories Files for Bankruptcy


Via Wikipedia.

Wang Laboratories was a computer company founded in 1951 by Dr. An Wang and Dr. G. Y. Chu. The company was successively headquartered in Cambridge (1954-1963), Tewksbury (1963-1976) and Lowell, Massachusetts (1976-1992). At its peak in the 1980s, it had revenues of $3 billion/year and employed over 30,000 people.

The company was always directed by Dr. Wang, who played a personal role in setting business strategy and product strategy and thus must be credited both with the company's successes and failures.

More here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The FBI Computer System Upgrade That Wasn't

Dan Eggen and Griff Witte write in The Washington Post:

As far as Zalmai Azmi was concerned, the FBI's technological revolution was only weeks away.

It was late 2003, and a contractor, Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), had spent months writing 730,000 lines of computer code for the Virtual Case File (VCF), a networked system for tracking criminal cases that was designed to replace the bureau's antiquated paper files and, finally, shove J. Edgar Hoover's FBI into the 21st century.

It appeared to work beautifully. Until Azmi, now the FBI's technology chief, asked about the error rate.

Software problem reports, or SPRs, numbered in the hundreds, Azmi recalled in an interview. The problems were multiplying as engineers continued to run tests. Scores of basic functions had yet to be analyzed.

More here.

Hi Def to Cause Porn Shakeout?

Via Red Herring.

They aggressively pushed the VHS videocassette, led the change to DVDs, and were among the first to make money off the Internet.

No one could say that the adult film industry has shied away from new technology.

Adult filmmakers are once again grappling with the latest technology—high-definition DVDs. But HD video is so confusing and expensive to most sex film producers that some industry insiders suggest the technology could actually prompt a much-needed shakeout in an industry that has for decades only known robust growth.

More here.

Toon: Travel Fun

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Outspoken NASA Advisers Quit Panel

An AP newswire article by Mike Schneider, via The Boston Globe, reports that:

Three NASA advisers who spoke out against budget cuts to the space agency's science programs turned in their resignations this week, officials said Thursday.

Wesley Huntress, Charles Kennel and Eugene Levy each served on the NASA Advisory Council's science committee. Kennel resigned by choice but Huntress and Levy were asked to leave by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

More here.

John Gilmore Wants to Fly Without Showing ID

Nate Anderson writes on ARS Technica:

John Gilmore wants his day in court—the Supreme Court. Gilmore has waged a long legal battle against the government in an attempt to make them produce the regulation that requires airline passengers to show identification before boarding a plane. Because Gilmore refuses to do so, he does not fly, and has not since 2002. He also does not ride Amtrak or stay in most hotels. His stance even makes it difficult for him to enter the courthouses where his cases have been heard.

His court battle now goes before the highest court in the country, where a petition was filed by lawyers at Akin Gump. Supreme Court cases present a larger question that will be argued before the justices. In this case, the question is: "May the government keep secret a directive that is generally applicable to millions of passengers every day notwithstanding that it (i) has acknowledged both the directive's existence and its contents, and moreover (ii) has identified no special circumstance that nonetheless justifies secrecy."

More here.

U.S. Agencies Lagging on Data Breach Reporting

Mary Mosquera writes on

About one-half of all major agencies have responded so far to a request by House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) to report any loss or compromise of sensitive personal information since 2003.

Agencies were to deliver to the committee a summary of each incident by July 24.

Davis wanted a governmentwide picture of the risk from data breaches, and had given agencies two weeks to provide a list of compromises over the past three years.

More here.

UK Banks Investigated for Allegedly Dumping Customer Records in Trash Bins

Via The Guardian (UK).

NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland are being investigated for allegedly dumping customers' financial details in bins.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is looking into claims that data protection rules have been breached, following a complaint from the campaign group Scamsdirect. It said it had found customers' personal details in bins near two bank branches in Hampshire.

More here.

Human Tissue Act of 2004: Rogue DNA Testers Face Prison Terms

Bizarre story of the day...


A law that could send eBay directors to prison if they fail to remove listings for body parts will next month extend to anyone holding saliva or hair samples for paternity testing or other DNA analysis if they do not have proper consent.

The Human Tissue Act of 2004 regulates the removal, storage and use of materials that include human cells, including blood or tissue samples. Not all of the businesses caught by the legislation are obvious.

One of the Act's provisions, in force since October 2005, introduced a maximum penalty of a fine and 51 weeks in prison for anyone who publishes an advert for human organs, blood or tissue samples.

More here.

Unisys Offers $50K Reward for Missing VA Computer

Linda Rosencrance writes on ComputerWorld (via NetworkWorld):

Unisys, working with the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the FBI, is offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the recovery of a missing desktop computer that belongs to the VA.

The computer, which contains personal information on 38,000 veterans treated at VA medical facilities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, went missing from the Reston, Va., office of Unisys, the subcontractor hired to assist in insurance collection for those facilities. Unisys publicly acknowledged the computer's disappearance last week.

Unisys is now working with the VA's Office of the Inspector General and FBI officials to try to determine what happened to the computer.

More here.

InterNAP Power Outage Curse?

Om Malik writes over on his GigaOm blog:

InterNAP, the data center company which has been around for a while has been hit with a strange sort of a curse - curse of power outages. A few weeks ago, a power outage in LA caused one of their data centers to hit the deck, taking along with it MySpace, the social networking giant.

John Cook of SeattlePI points to a story about InterNAP being hit by another power outage, this time in Seattle’s Fisher Plaza facility. One more such outage, and it will seem like a trend. Maybe InterNAP needs some divine intervention to prevent that from happening! On a more serious note, these two incidents go on to show the fragility of the modern web infrastructure!

More here.

Williams-Sonoma Reports Stolen Laptop to Employees

Pia Sarkar writes in The San Francisco Chronicle:

About 1,200 employees at Williams-Sonoma may be at risk of identify theft after a laptop computer containing personal information was stolen from an auditor.

The San Francisco home-furnishing chain sent an e-mail to current and former employees earlier this month alerting them to the theft.

"Although the information contained on the computer was not encrypted, it was password protected," the letter stated. "Despite this level of protection, the potential does exist that your personal information may be accessed and/or disclosed by unauthorized individuals."

Williams-Sonoma said it has arranged free credit monitoring for its employees.

More here.

Quote of the Day: Kevin Fayle

"AT&T and other telcos had better unlock the file cabinets and brace for the backlash because the mother lode of wiretapping cases has just landed in unfriendly territory."

- Kevin Fayle, Attorney, in an article on The Register. Mr. Fayle is a web editor and writer in San Francisco. He keeps a close eye on IP and International Law issues.

Battlefield Tech: U.S. Boosts Military 'Chat' Capability

Via UPI.

U.S. forces in the Middle East will soon be able to communicate in a combat "chat room" environment thanks to a boost in Internet capabilities.

The Interim Capability for Airborne Networking (ICAN) system has been added to the E8-C Joint JSTARS planes used to support communications among U.S. Army and Air Force units stationed in the critical region.

The Northrop Grumman system serves as an IP platform for a variety of secure, real-time communications modes, including e-mail and a collaborative "chat room" environment in which ground commanders and the JSTARS crew.

More here.

FTC Receives Second AOL Complaint

Ed Oswald writes on BetaNews:

Just one day after the Electronic Frontier Foundation complained to the Federal Trade Commission over AOL’s release of search data, another interest group followed suit, telling the FTC that AOL’s breach was intentional. The San Diego, Calif. based World Privacy Forum alleged in its complaint that AOL was deceptive and engaged in unfair business practices with the release of the data.

The complaint demands that the FTC launch an investigation and fine the company. In its response to the latest action, AOL has defended itself by repeating its earlier claims that the release was a mistake and the fault of a careless researcher. The company has said it has launched an internal investigation to ensure that in the future information is vetted before it's posted publicly. The FTC has not announced whether it intends to investigate AOL.

More here.

MPAA Push-Polling the Public to Change Copyright Views

Anders Bylund writes on ARS Technica:

The MPAA seems to be employing tried-and-true political campaign tactics to sway public opinion of piracy and file sharing toward its own worldview. A few weeks ago, the association announced, a research forum where the MPAA can collect information about moviegoers, their habits and opinions, and what they might want out of the movie watching experience.

But the first poll actually conducted there is using highly leading questions that look designed to influence opinions rather than gather them, an unsavory practice known as push polling.

More here.

Toon: Freedom Isn't Free

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Federal Judge Orders End to Wiretap Program

An AP newswire article, via MSNBC, reports that:

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy.

“Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution,” Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion.

More here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Brazilian Prosecutors to Sue Google Over Orkut Users

Via Red Herring.

Prosecutors in Brazil said they plan to sue Google this week over the search giant’s refusal to provide user information from its social-networking site Orkut.

A Brazilian court decision determined Tuesday the Federal Prosecution Service could move forward with the suit, according to a report out of Rio de Janeiro from China’s Xinhua news service.

The social-networking site owned by Google is wildly popular among Brazilians living in Brazil and those in the United States. Like MySpace, the site is a big draw for the interactions of young people who share messages and photos with one another.

But crime on Orkut in Brazil became a concern in May. After a Brazilian human rights commission presented evidence that Brazilians had used Orkut for criminal activity, Google agreed to shut down some areas of the site, which were in violation of its terms of service forbidding illegal or unauthorized use.

More here.

NASA Gives 'Go' for Space Shuttle Atlantis' Launch on August 27


NASA senior managers on Wednesday unanimously voted to launch the Space Shuttle Atlantis on Aug. 27. Commander Brent Jett and his five crewmates are scheduled to lift off at 4:30 p.m. EDT on the STS-115 mission, which restarts construction of the International Space Station.

The launch date was announced after the Flight Readiness Review, a traditional meeting in which top NASA managers and engineers determine whether the shuttle's complex array of equipment, support systems and procedures are ready for flight and assess any risks associated with the mission.

More here.

Dutch Site Sues Google Over Alleged Porn Ad Links

Elinor Mills writes on The C|Net Search Blog:

A dating Web site for Dutch farmers--Farm Date--has sued Google for displaying what it says are sponsored links to pornographic sites when you type "Farm Date" into the Google search engine, according to the Agence France-Presse.

The sponsored links are "very damaging for Farm Date's reputation," the article says, quoting Dutch farmer union FNV Bondgenoten, which is defending the Web site.

Farm Date, which looks like your typical dating site, only in Dutch, bills itself as a "respectable meeting website for farmers."

More here.

Could the New U.S. RFID Passports Trigger a Bomb?

Laura Coverson writes on ABC News:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is expected to issue 13 million passports this year. And one group of security experts says the American passports could be used as potential bomb triggers.

The new e-passports, fitted with radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags for wireless processing when people pass through Customs, will be issued for the first time this week, starting at the Aurora, Colo., Passport Agency.

But experts at Flexilis, a Los Angeles RFID security firm, argue that the digital document could be used to set off a bomb. An e-passport containing stolen RFID tag data need not even come in contact with the bomb trigger. It only has to be nearby.

More here.

Voyager 1 Hits New Milestone

Artist concept of the two Voyager spacecraft as they approach interstellar space.
Image source: NASA/JPL


Voyager 1, already the most distant human-made object in the cosmos, reaches 100 astronomical units from the sun on Tuesday, August 15 at 5:13 p.m. Eastern time (2:13 p.m. Pacific time). That means the spacecraft, which launched nearly three decades ago, will be 100 times more distant from the sun than Earth is.

In more common terms, Voyager 1 will be about 15 billion kilometers (9.3 billion miles) from the sun. Dr. Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist and the former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., says the Voyager team always predicted that the spacecraft would have enough power to last this long.

More here.

NASA/JPL Voyager Mission site here.

Toon: Global Warming and Evolution

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Consumer Reports Slammed for Creating 'Test' Viruses

John E. Dunn writes on Techworld (UK):

A consumer magazine has been condemned for possibly adding to the virus problem by creating a series of "test" viruses just to review anti-virus scanners.

In an act that has long been considered technical taboo, US-based consumer affairs organisation,, decided to generate 5,500 "test" viruses to run, under lab conditions, against 12 leading anti-virus software products.

The organisation’s own website describes the methodology used: "To pit the software against novel threats not identified on signature lists, we created 5,500 new virus variants derived from six categories of known viruses, the kind you’d most likely encounter in real life."

The organisation said it had enlisted the help of Independent Security Evaluators (ISE), an external consultancy, to help design the tests and ensure they matched real-world conditions.

More here.

Satellite Providers Bow Out of U.S. Wireless Sale

A Reuters mewswire article, via CNN/Money, reports that:

A joint venture of rival satellite television providers DirecTV and EchoStar Wednesday bowed out of a government sale of valuable licenses for advanced wireless services.

The Wireless DBS venture initially showed strong interest in the auction and had paid the largest deposit of all 168 bidders that qualified for the sale, $972.5 million.

However, since Monday the group substantially reduced its participation. Media conglomerate Liberty Media was also part of the satellite television bidding consortium.

More here.

CIA Investment in Health IT Stokes Privacy Fears

M.L. Baker writes on eWeek:

Privacy advocates are worried that the CIA has invested in a company commonly used to help manage health IT records in the United States and Canada.

In-Q-Tel, a private venture group established by the Central Intelligence Agency, led a Series E investment round in Initiate System earlier this year. The group is charged with providing solutions to the CIA and the greater intelligence community.

More here.

U.S. Firms Under Fire for Spamming Children

Robert Jacques writes on

IT security experts today warned firms to check their email distribution policies after legal action was taken against two companies accused of sending unsolicited emails about gambling and alcoholic drinks to children.

The Attorney General of Michigan stated that RR Media of Cathedral City, California, and Data Stream Group of Bonita Springs, Florida, sent emails with the intention of enticing children to visit gambling websites and promoting alcoholic beverages.

The messages are said to have been sent to children's email addresses registered under Michigan's Child Protection Registry Act.

More here.

Pennsylvania Sued Over Electronic Voting Machines

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

Voter advocates filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to stop Pennsylvania counties from using "paperless" electronic voting machines, saying that such systems leave no paper record that could be used in the event of a recount, audit or other problem.

The suit asks the state's Commonwealth Court to decertify machines used in 58 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. The other counties use optical scanning systems, in which voters fill in bubbles on paper forms that are counted in scanning machines; the plaintiffs say such systems should be in use statewide.

More here.

Nine Planets Become 12 with Controversial New Definition

Robert Roy Britt writes on

The tally of planets in our solar system would jump instantly to a dozen under a highly controversial new definition proposed by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Eventually there would be hundreds as more round objects are found beyond Neptune.

The proposal, which sources tell is gaining broad support, tries to plug a big gap in astronomy textbooks, which have never had a definition for the word "planet." It addresses discoveries of Pluto-sized worlds that have in recent years pitched astronomers into heated debates over terminology.

More here.

16 August 1977: Elvis has Left the Building -- The King Kicks the Bucket

Elvis Presley

Via Wikipedia.

Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977), known simply as Elvis and also called "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" or simply "The King", was an American singer and actor.

Presley started as a singer of rockabilly, borrowing many songs from rhythm and blues (R&B) numbers and country which morphed into rock & roll. He was the most commercially successful singer of rock and roll, but he also sang ballads, country music as well as gospel. In a musical career of over two decades, Presley set records for concert attendance, television ratings, and record sales, and became one of the biggest selling artists in music history.

The young Presley became an icon of modern American pop culture, sometimes held to represent the American Dream of rising from rags to riches through talent and hard work, more often representing teen sexuality with a hint of delinquency. During the 1970s, Presley reemerged as a steady performer of old and new hit songs on tour and particularly as a performer in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he was known for his jump-suits and capes as well as massive attendance figures. Until the last years of his life, he continued to perform before sell-out audiences around the U.S. He died, presumably from a heart attack combined with abuse of prescription drugs, in Memphis, Tennessee.

His popularity as a singer has survived his death at 42.

More here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Need for Battery Power Runs Into Basic Hurdles of Science

Damon Darlin and Barnaby J. Feder write in The New York Times:

It always seems to happen: Long before it is time to stow your tray table, your laptop battery gives out, and you spend the rest of your cross-country trip reading the SkyMall catalog.

In the information age, people want their electronics everywhere they go, and they want them to be on all the time. But they rely on batteries that have not improved as rapidly as the devices they power. Moore’s Law, which offers a yardstick for the exponential advances in computer chips, has no counterpart in the world of batteries.

Researchers are certainly trying to improve the situation, in part because there is money to be made. Portable rechargeable batteries are expected to be a $6.2 billion market this year, and more than one billion batteries will be made by some of the largest electronics companies in the world: Sony, Sanyo, Matsushita and Samsung.

More here.

Google Launches WiFi Network in Mountain View

Om Malik writes on his GigaOm blog:

Less that a year after the search engine giant said that it would unwire its hometown of Mountain View, California, GoogleFi is now open for packets.

The Mountain View network that cost nearly a million dollars to build went live at 9pm PST today. In order to use the network, the users will need a Google login, and those who don’t have Google ID, will be given a chance to sign up for the service, company officials said in an interview.

More here.

Battlefield Tech: U.S. Space Commander Predicts Satellite Attacks

A Reuters newswire article by Jim Wolf, via The Boston Globe, reports that:

The Air Force's new top commander for space predicted on Tuesday future attacks on U.S. satellites and called for greatly expanded tracking and identification of payloads launched by other countries.

Currently, U.S. efforts are focused on determining if an overseas launch is a ballistic missile or designed to put an object in orbit, then cataloging it over a period that can take weeks, said Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, who heads the Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

More here.

Ohio Voting Problems Considered 'Severe'

An AP newswire article by Connie Mabin, via The Boston Globe, reports that:

Problems with elections in Ohio's most populous county are so severe that it's unlikely they can be completely fixed by November, or even by the 2008 presidential election, a report commissioned by Cuyahoga County and released Tuesday says.

A nonprofit group hired to review the county's first election with new electronic voting machines found several problems with the May 2 primary, the results of which were delayed six days because roughly 18,000 absentee ballots had to be hand counted.

More here.

UK: 10,000 Bags Misplaced at Airports

Via The BBC.

Around 10,000 bags checked in by British Airways passengers have gone missing at airports since the UK security alert began, the airline says.

It said half of them were still piled up at airports waiting to be delivered back to their owners.

A war of words has erupted between BA and airport operator BAA over who is to blame for the misplaced luggage.

More here.

U.S. Dept. of Commerce Executes Contract for Technical Management of the Internet with ICANN


The United States Department of Commerce has executed a new contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to continue to perform the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) function.

The IANA function includes Internet Protocol (IP) address space allocation, protocol identifier assignment, generic (gTLD) and country code (ccTLD) Top-Level Domain name system management, as well as root server system management functions.

The new contract for the IANA function is a five-year agreement, consisting of a series of one-year options. ICANN has held the contracts for this function since 1998.

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FAA: No Plans to Ground Laptops

Wayne Rash writes on eWeek:

The television images of flaming Dell laptops may be fun to watch, but to the Federal Aviation Administration, those laptops are not a significant problem for air travel.

Dick Hill, the FAA's program manager for Aircraft Fire and Cabin Safety Research, has been testing lithium ion batteries like those used in laptops to see how likely they are to catch on fire, and how hard they are to extinguish if they do start burning. Hill works at the William J. Hughes FAA Technical Center at the Atlantic City International Airport, in New Jersey.

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U.S. Court Dismisses ACLU Case Against FBI

Via UPI.

A U.S. federal court in the District of Columbia has dismissed a civil-liberties group's request against the FBI.

The ruling marked a defeat for the American Civil Liberties Union in its battle against alleged FBI spying on peace, political and religious activists, National Journal's Technology Daily reported Friday.

On Aug. 9, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle dismissed an ACLU request from the American Civil Liberties Union to review about 40 pages of redacted documents as part of a two-year crusade to shed light on U.S. government surveillance of Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and other organizations, reported.

ACLU attorney Scott Michelman claimed the ruling was the "tail end of a much larger litigation that has already produced thousands of pages demonstrating that the FBI has been spying" on activists.

In the filing, the ACLU asked the court to make sure the U.S. government was not redacting too much. Huvelle found that the FBI was "playing by the rules," but previous examinations showed that some information had been wrongfully withheld by the Bush administration, Michelman said.

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Picture of the Day: Firefox Crop Circle

Via The Oregon State Linux Users Group. Enjoy.

YouTube Suffers First Unplanned Site Outage

A Reuters article by Eric Auchard, via MSNBC, reports that:

Web video sensation, which serves up more than 100 million videos online a day, suffered a six-hour breakdown Tuesday — its first-ever unplanned outage, a company spokeswoman confirmed.

“We are experiencing a temporary site outage due to a database-related issue,” YouTube spokeswoman Julie Supan said in an e-mail to Reuters five hours after the outage began.

“To clarify and ensure accuracy, the site is not down for maintenance,” Supan said in a statement released shortly before the site recovered. “This was an unplanned outage.”

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Google Acquires Biometric Company Neven Vision

Marshall Kirkpatrick writes on TechCrunch:

Google announced today that they have brought biometric and photo recognition company Neven Vision into the Google fold. Neven Vision has patents on technology ranging from photo analysis to face recognition in video files to several patents for facial capture for avatar animation. Sounds like a fascinating partnership. The company is heavily focused on mobile phones and also offers a product to deliver coupons to mobile devices, something I was hoping would be included with today’s Google Maps coupon announcement.

Google was previously interested in aquiring photo recognition company Riya, but in the end did not. Riya has since expanded its focus beyond facial recognition.

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Startup to Challenge Botnets

Tim Wilson writes on Light Reading:

Somewhere, at an unknown location in downtown Atlanta, a stealth-mode startup company is listening in on bot conversations -- and developing a method to disrupt them.

Damballa, a new venture spun off from research conducted at Georgia Institute of Technology, is working on products that can recognize the online transmissions used to form botnets, according to reports. The technology is currently being delivered only to government agencies, but a commercial offering may eventually be in the cards, investors say.

Named after a powerful voodoo snake god, the startup received $2.5 million in Series A funding in June from several venture capital companies, including Sigma Partners, Noro-Moseley Partners, and Imlay Investments.

The company is being built on the research conducted by Merrick Furst, an associate dean at Georgia Tech's College of Computing and a widely-recognized researcher on bot behavior. Furst, who is president of the new company, worked with Wenke Lee, an associate professor in the same department, and David Dagon, another well-known bot expert who is also affiliated with Georgia Tech. The founders named a CEO earlier this year: Steve Linowes, who co-founded Web access software developer Encompass Inc. in 1999 and later sold it to Yahoo! Inc.

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Toon: Freedom... It's a Messy Business!

Click for larger image.

Syrian Internet Dissident Jailed for Three Years

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

A Syrian military court sentenced dissident writer Habib Saleh to three years in prison for having "published inaccurate information" on the Internet, a Syrian rights organization said.

"Habib Saleh was arrested in May 2005 after writing virulent articles on the Internet. He was sentenced today to three years in prison by a military tribunal in Homs," western Syria, the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria said.

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Software Glitch May Have Erased E-Mail Text in Enron Suits

Ben Halman writes on

The company handling electronic document production in the Enron civil suits says a software bug may have erased text in e-mails produced for discovery in the case over an 18-month span.

Applied Discovery Inc., a Bellevue, Wash.–based division of LexisNexis, says one client has reported a problem so far. And lawyers handling the Enron litigation said it was too early to predict the potential impact. But several of the lawyers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that if the problem was widespread and had corrupted the discovery process, it could cost tens of millions of dollars to fix and could foul up both pending and settled Enron litigation.

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U.S. Appeals Court Backs FCC on Fiber Line-Sharing

Via Reuters.

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday upheld a 2004 decision by telecommunications regulators allowing regional phone companies to deploy new fiber-optic lines without having to share them with competitors.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a legal challenge by Internet service provider EarthLink Inc. aimed at overturning a decision by the Federal Communications Commission.

The court said it was "permissible" for the FCC to absolve the dominant local telephone carriers, known as the Baby Bells, of sharing requirements when it comes to new fiber optic networks.

To promote competition, previous rules have required the Bells to lease access to their copper networks since they own the lines into most American homes. But the FCC so far has been reluctant to apply those regulations to new fiber lines.

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U.S. Toll in Iraq

Via The San Francisco Chronicle (AP).

As of Monday, at least 2,600 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

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UK: Police 'Decryption Powers' Flawed

Via The BBC.

The government faces criticism over plans to give police powers to make suspects produce readable copies of encrypted computer evidence.

The police say the powers are needed because criminals are increasingly using encryption to hide evidence.

They estimate that currently there are 30 cases in which encrypted evidence had stumped investigators.

But some peers, academics and cryptographers say the plans are flawed and risk being abused.

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Passengers Bound for the U.S. Are Wheels Up by the Time DHS Checks Watch Lists

Dennis Powell and Maddy Sauer report on ABC News' "The Blotter":

Airplanes bound for the U.S. from the U.K. and Europe are still not required to submit their passenger information to the Department of Homeland Security until they are wheels up and in the air.

That policy was changed temporarily in the wake of the heightened security alert and since last week all passengers on all flights from Britain to the U.S. were pre-matched to DHS terrorist watch lists before the planes took off. Now, there is a significant move to keep it that way.

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Criminals Will Use 'Point-and-Click Wiretapping'

Via C|Net News.

In a story about his efforts to secure Internet phone calls, e-mail security hero Phil Zimmerman says encrypting voice over Internet Protocol is especially important because computer networks are not nearly as safe as the public switched telephone network.

"You can have point-and-click wiretapping," he said. "And look at who's going to be doing it. It's not just going to be the major government agencies. It's going to be organized crime. It's going to be criminals on the other side of the world."

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United Nations and Sony Hacked by Turkish Cracker

Roberto Preatoni writes on

A few hours after the United Nations voted the resolution for the Lebanon peace keeping forces, the United Nation and Sony Philippines websites have been compromised by Turskish attackers Eno7, apparently in protest for the current Middle-East situation.

In the same defacements it is also announced an international crackers coalition featuring, for the first time ever, crackers from Cuba.

Mirror of the defaced site can be viewed here.

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U.S. DOT Reveals 2nd Laptop Theft in Florida Office

Christopher Lee writes in The Washington Post:

The inspector general's office at the Department of Transportation disclosed yesterday the theft of another laptop from one of its agents in Florida, the second such report in less than a week.

Barbara L. Barnet, the special agent in charge of the Miami office, discovered in April that her laptop had been stolen from a locked room during an agency-sponsored anti-fraud conference in Orlando, acting Deputy Inspector General Theodore P. Alves said yesterday.

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Gapingvoid: A Fun Job!

Via Enjoy!

Original NASA Recordings of Apollo 11 Moon Missions are Missing

The historic first human footprint on The Moon, made by Neil Armstrong.
Image source: NASA

A Reuters newswire article, via CNN, reports that:

The U.S. government has misplaced the original recording of the first moon landing, including astronaut Neil Armstrong's famous "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," a NASA spokesman said on Monday.

Armstrong's famous space walk, seen by millions of viewers on July 20, 1969, is among transmissions that NASA has failed to turn up in a year of searching, spokesman Grey Hautaloma said.

"We haven't seen them for quite a while. We've been looking for over a year and they haven't turned up," Hautaloma said.

The tapes also contain data about the health of the astronauts and the condition of the spacecraft. In all, some 700 boxes of transmissions from the Apollo lunar missions are missing, he said.

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San Francisco Cop Accused of Misusing Confidential Databases

Cicero S. Estrella writes in The San Francisco Chronicle:

A 17-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department was arrested Monday on 40 felony counts of misusing confidential computer databases, police said.

The district attorney's office charged Sgt. Andre Fontenot with accessing a computer network to wrongfully control data and using data from a computer system or network without permission. The 40 counts include two counts each for 20 victims whose information Fontenot allegedly accessed through databases, according to the district attorney's office.

Fontenot, 46, used the database information for personal reasons, according to the police department's Special Investigations Division, which conducted an 18-month investigation.

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15 August 1961: The Berlin Wall is Erected

Conrad Schumann leaping over barbed wire into the French Sector of West Berlin on 15 August 1961.
Image source: Wikipedia

Via The History Channel Online.

Two days after sealing off free passage between East and West Berlin with barbed wire, East German authorities begin building a wall--the Berlin Wall--to permanently close off access to the West. For the next 28 years, the heavily fortified Berlin Wall stood as the most tangible symbol of the Cold War--a literal "iron curtain" dividing Europe.

The end of World War II in 1945 saw Germany divided into four Allied occupation zones. Berlin, the German capital, was likewise divided into occupation sectors, even though it was located deep within the Soviet zone. The future of Germany and Berlin was a major sticking point in postwar treaty talks, and tensions grew when the United States, Britain, and France moved in 1948 to unite their occupation zones into a single autonomous entity--the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). In response, the USSR launched a land blockade of West Berlin in an effort to force the West to abandon the city. However, a massive airlift by Britain and the United States kept West Berlin supplied with food and fuel, and in May 1949 the Soviets ended the defeated blockade.

By 1961, Cold War tensions over Berlin were running high again. For East Germans dissatisfied with life under the communist system, West Berlin was a gateway to the democratic West. Between 1949 and 1961, some 2.5 million East Germans fled from East to West Germany, most via West Berlin. By August 1961, an average of 2,000 East Germans were crossing into the West every day. Many of the refugees were skilled laborers, professionals, and intellectuals, and their loss was having a devastating effect on the East German economy. To halt the exodus to the West, Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev recommended to East Germany that it close off access between East and West Berlin.

On the night of August 12-13, 1961, East German soldiers laid down more than 30 miles of barbed wire barrier through the heart of Berlin. East Berlin citizens were forbidden to pass into West Berlin, and the number of checkpoints in which Westerners could cross the border was drastically reduced. The West, taken by surprise, threatened a trade embargo against East Germany as a retaliatory measure. The Soviets responded that such an embargo be answered with a new land blockade of West Berlin. When it became evident that the West was not going to take any major action to protest the closing, East German authorities became emboldened, closing off more and more checkpoints between East and West Berlin. On August 15, they began replacing barbed wire with concrete. The wall, East German authorities declared, would protect their citizens from the pernicious influence of decadent capitalist culture.

The first concrete pilings went up on the Bernauer Strasse and at the Potsdamer Platz. Sullen East German workers, a few in tears, constructed the first segments of the Berlin Wall as East German troops stood guarding them with machine guns. With the border closing permanently, escape attempts by East Germans intensified on August 15. Conrad Schumann, a 19-year-old East German soldier, provided the subject for a famous image when he was photographed leaping over the barbed-wire barrier to freedom.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

MindTouch Partnering in $3M Domain Deal for

Marshall Kirkpatrick writes on TechCrunch:

Entrepreneur John Gotts has agreed to pay almost $3 million to purchase the domain

With skeptics saying that he’ll back out of the deal through a contract clause or that the purchase is a huge sign of a bubble, Gotts announced today that he has teamed with San Diego based wiki provider MindTouch to make a serious wiki play with the domain name at the center of their strategy.

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Advertisers Follow the Traces Left Behind by Internet Users

Saul Hansell writes in The News York Times:

If you use Yahoo’s Web search engine to learn about hybrid cars, the site will quietly note that you fit into a group of users it calls “Consciously Cruising.”

If you click on ads for moving van companies, you will join the “Home Hopping” group. Shop for wedding cakes and reception halls and you might be tagged as a future bride or groom.

Earlier this year, Yahoo introduced a computer system that uses complex models to analyze records of what each of its 500 million users do on its site: what they search for, what pages they read, what ads they click on. It then tries to show them advertisements that speak directly to their interests and the events in their lives.

Yahoo and the many other companies building similar systems say the systems are benign because they typically do not collect personal information like names and addresses.

More here.

NASA'S Spitzer Digs Up Troves of Possible Solar Systems in Orion

The "Sword of Orion"
Image source: NASA / JPL-Caltech / T. Megeath (University of Toledo)

Via the NASA/Cal Tech Spitzer Telescope Website.

Astronomers have long scrutinized the vast and layered clouds of the Orion nebula, an industrious star-making factory visible to the naked eye in the sword of the famous hunter constellation. Yet, Orion is still full of secrets.

A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope probes deep into the clouds of dust that permeate the nebula and its surrounding regions. The striking false-color picture shows pinkish swirls of dust speckled with stars, some of which are orbited by disks of planet-forming dust.

Spitzer, with its powerful infrared vision, was able to unearth nearly 2,300 such planet-forming disks in the Orion cloud complex, a collection of turbulent star-forming clouds that includes the well-known Orion nebula.

The disks -- made of gas and dust that whirl around young suns -- are too small and distant to be seen by visible-light telescopes; however, the infrared glow of their warm dust is easily spotted by Spitzer's infrared detectors. Each disk has the potential to form planets and its own solar system.

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Relakks: Swedish Pirate Party Launches Massive Darknet

Alice Hill writes on RealTechNews:

Today, the Swedish Pirate Party launched a new Internet service that lets anybody send and receive files and information over the Internet without fear of being monitored or logged. In technical terms, such a network is called a “darknet”. The service allows people to use an untraceable address in the darknet, where they cannot be personally identified.

“There are many legitimate reasons to want to be completely anonymous on the Internet,” says Rickard Falkvinge, chairman of the Pirate Party. “If the government can check everything each citizen does, nobody can keep the government in check. The right to exchange information in private is fundamental to the democratic society. Without a safe and convenient way of accessing the Internet anonymously, this right is rendered null and void.”

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Landing System Outage Hits LA Airport for Second Time in a Week

An AP newswire article by Gillian Flaccus, via, reports that:

An instrument landing system that guides arriving planes onto one runway at Los Angeles International Airport failed for the second time in a week Monday, reducing the arrival rate by nearly half, officials said.

The instrument landing system, which uses a beacon to guide planes to the runway, failed just before 10 a.m. and didn't come back on until 10:42 a.m., said Ian Gregor, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The same system on the same runway shut off on Aug. 7 for several hours, creating 90-minute arrival delays that rippled through the system and affected dozens of flights nationwide.

More here. Sued Over Spyware

Robert McMillan writes on InfoWorld:

The U.S. state of Washington has sued the owners of the, alleging that the company used spyware to strong-arm users into signing up for its paid movie download service.

Consumers who dowloaded's free three-day trial software would eventually be hit with frequent pop-up ads informing them that they were legally obliged to purchase the product, said Paula Selis, an assistant attorney general with the state. The tactics forced some consumers to give in and pay between US$19.95 and $100 for the service, she said.

Washington has received thousands of consumer complaints about, dating back to the end of 2005, Selis added. "We sued them because we were getting complaints from consumers who felt that they were being harassed and held over a barrel for payments that they didn't agree to make," she said.

More here.

Canada: Privacy Commissioner Launches SWIFT Investigation

Via The Office of The Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart, has officially launched an investigation of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a European-based financial cooperative that supplies messaging services and interface software to a large number of financial institutions in more than 200 countries, including Canada, to determine whether personal information relating to Canadians’ financial transactions is being improperly disclosed by SWIFT to foreign authorities.

The Commissioner has notified SWIFT of her intention to launch an investigation into the matter.

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Air Travel and Laptop Security

Via Red Herring.

Restrictions around carry-on baggage items at airports may have been relaxed a little, but some security companies said Monday they are betting on increased demand for products that can protect electronic devices such as laptops and PDAs during air travel.

Products such as asset-tracking software for laptops, rugged carrying cases for electronic devices, stickers, locks, and anti-theft tags could find increased favor among travelers, some of whom may be forced to check in their gadgets.

Until Monday, travelers out of the United Kingdom had to check in all luggage. Britain has now said it has relaxed a ban on airline cabin baggage and scaled down a security alert that was put in place last week after a plot to blow up airliners was discovered and foiled. To the relief of business travelers, laptops and electronic devices would be permitted on board, but they will be screened thoroughly. Concerns have been raised over lithium-ion batteries used in laptops in particular.

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CA to Cut 1,700 Jobs

Via Bloomberg News.

CA Inc., the world's No. 2 maker of mainframe computer software, said it will cut about 1,700 jobs, or 11 percent of its workforce, after first-quarter profit tumbled.

The cuts come on top of 1,600 reductions in the past two years as Chief Executive Officer John Swainson struggles to revive the former Computer Associates from a $2.25 billion accounting fraud.

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802.11n Standard Unlikely Until 2008

Ed Oswald writes on BetaNews:

A backlog of almost 12,000 comments on the first draft of the proposed 802.11n standard is pushing back the second draft, originally planned for late fall of this year. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) said late last week that it is likely that the second draft would not appear until January 2007.

The delay means that the final standard may not be approved until 2008, industry insiders say. While approximately half of the comments had to do with editorial changes needed in the document, the remaining 6,000 or so comments may lead to changes that put some of the pre-802.11n hardware in danger of being incompatible with the final standard.

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