Dec 30, 2008

Researchers unlock secrets of 1918 flu pandemic

Researchers have found out what made the 1918 flu pandemic so deadly -- a group of three genes that lets the virus invade the lungs and cause pneumonia.

They mixed samples of the 1918 influenza strain with modern seasonal flu viruses to find the three genes and said their study might help in the development of new flu drugs.

The discovery, published in Tuesday's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could also point to mutations that might turn ordinary flu into a dangerous pandemic strain.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin and colleagues at the Universities of Kobe and Tokyo in Japan used ferrets, which develop flu in ways very similar to humans.

Usually flu causes an upper respiratory infection affecting the nose and throat, as well as so-called systemic illness causing fever, muscle aches and weakness.

1,000 years on, perils of fake Viking swords are revealed

It must have been an appalling moment when a Viking realised he had paid two cows for a fake designer sword; a clash of blade on blade in battle would have led to his sword, still sharp enough to slice through bone, shattering like glass.

"You really didn't want to have that happen," said Dr Alan Williams, an archaeometallurgist and consultant to the Wallace Collection, the London museum which has one of the best assemblies of ancient weapons in the world. He and Tony Fry, a senior researcher at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, south-west London, have solved a riddle that the Viking swordsmiths may have sensed but didn't quite understand.

Some Viking swords were among the best ever made, still fearsome weapons after a millennium. The legendary swords found at Viking sites across northern Europe bear the maker's name, Ulfberht, in raised letters at the hilt end. Puzzlingly, so do the worst ones, found in fragments on battle sites or in graves.

The Vikings would have found it impossible to tell the difference when they bought a newly forged sword: both would have looked identical, and had razor sharp blades. The difference would have only emerged in use, often fatally.

Dec 28, 2008

Hobbyists are trying genetic engineering at home

The Apple computer was invented in a garage. Same with the Google search engine. Now, tinkerers are working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself.

Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering — a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories.

In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.

"People can really work on projects for the good of humanity while learning about something they want to learn about in the process," she said.

So far, no major gene-splicing discoveries have come out anybody's kitchen or garage.

But critics of the movement worry that these amateurs could one day unleash an environmental or medical disaster. Defenders say the future Bill Gates of biotech could be developing a cure for cancer in the garage.

Dec 26, 2008

Blood flow linked to Alzheimer's

A GRADUAL loss of blood flow to the brain over years or decades could be a major trigger for Alzheimer's disease, doctors say.

Up to now, what provokes the debilitating disease has remained a mystery, even if the mechanism causing the damage is well understood.

Research to be published today shows that an insufficient supply of sugar glucose, transported by blood, sets off a biochemical chain reaction resulting in the accumulation of the neuron-attacking proteins that cause Alzheimer's.

"This finding is significant because it suggests that improving blood flow to the brain might be an effective therapeutic approach to prevent or treat Alzheimer's," said Robert Vassar, a professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, and lead author of the study.

Exercising, reducing cholesterol intake and managing hypertension could provide added protection.

"If people start early enough, maybe they can dodge the bullet," he said.

And for people who already show symptoms of constricted arteries, taking vasodilators - drugs that boost blood flow - could help deliver nourishing oxygen and glucose to the brain.

Drawing from experiments with humans and mice, Dr Vassar and colleagues showed that reduced blood flow alters a protein called elF2alpha.

In its changed form, this increases the output of the enzyme that spurs production of the fibre-like knots of amyloid beta protein that form outside neurons and disrupt their ability to send messages.

The new study opens a path to the development of drugs designed to block elF2alpha, and thus the biochemical process leading to the disease.

Dec 25, 2008

Dementia campaigner hails Government plan

A DEMENTIA campaigner has given his support to new Government plans to support Alzheimer's sufferers.

Every GP in the country is to be trained to diagnose dementia under an ambitious five-year plan that will revolutionise treatment for sufferers.

Memory clinics are to be set up in all major towns to give patients and their families support, up-to-date care and help on a scale never seen before.

For the first time the NHS will make a priority of Alzheimer's sufferers with a promised boost to services that will put them on the same footing as heart and cancer patients, Government dementia 'tsar' Phil Hope, has pledged.

The news is music to the ears of 80-year-old Joe Grant, whose wife Blanche, 76, is an Alzheimer's sufferer.

Dec 22, 2008

Kiwi spammer nailed

A New Zealand man living in Australia has agreed to pay fines totalling $92,715 after admitting his role in an international spam email operation said to be responsible for sending out billions of unsolicited emails in recent years.

Lance Atkinson, 26, of Pelican Waters in Queensland, is also facing charges in the US where a court has frozen his assets at the request of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which also succeeded in having the spam network shut down.

New Zealand's Internal Affairs' Anti-Spam Compliance Unit found Lance Atkinson's operation responsible for more than 2 million unsolicited electronic messages that were sent to New Zealand computers between 5 September 2007 and 31 December 2007.

These emails marketed Herbal King, Elite Herbal and Express Herbal branded pharmaceutical products, manufactured and shipped by Tulip Lab of India.

Dec 21, 2008

Pfizer to Sell Penis-Straightening Drug


Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, has struck a deal to sell Xiaflex, a drug that cures curvature of the penis due to a buildup of collagen in the organ’s shaft. There’s just one drawback to Xiaflex — it’s administered by injection. This site and this site both suggest that the site for the injection needs to be the penis itself, a sure drawback to sales.

Bent PipeCurvature of the penis, called Peyronie’s disease, is caused by a buildup of fibrous plaque in the penis. It affects 1 - 4 percent of men. It can cause painful erections, leading to patients withdrawing from sex and becoming depressed. It is most commonly seen in males over 40. You can read a recent study on the drug here and a test of the drug in rat tails — I kid you not — here.

BNET’s take: Pfizer is spending only $75 million on this deal, which suggests that sales of the drug will be low, due to the small number of patients and their probable resistance to needle-based treatments. So why bother with the deal? Because patients with the condition also suffer from depression and erection problems, and Pfizer has a much bigger franchise in those categories, with Viagra and Zoloft. (Zoloft still sells $135 million per quarter).

Marketing Xiaflex — with branded or unbranded ads — will be a good way for Pfizer to drive men to the doctor who are depressed or who have erectile dysfunction of one sort or another, benefitting all three franchises. It’s a triple threat for Pfizer because the relevant demo — men over 40 — is a target for all three drugs.

Dec 17, 2008

No browsing!

Microsoft Australia has issued a plea to customers not to switch browsers in the wake of the Internet Explorer zero-day exploit, claiming it will have a fix ‘roughly’ within 24 hours.

The Redmond giant is responding to a wave of reports that suggest the exploit is worse than first thought, affecting not only IE7 but also all earlier versions.

“Microsoft teams worldwide have been working around the clock to develop a security update to help protect our customers and has [sic] just released the Advanced Notification Service advising customers that Microsoft will be providing a Security Update at roughly 5am, December 18th, to protect them from the vulnerability discussed in Microsoft Security Advisory 961501,” a Microsoft Australia spokesperson said.

“To date, the impact on Microsoft’s Australian customers has been minimal and Microsoft is not advising Internet Explorer users to switch browsers.”

Dec 16, 2008

DNA database of terror suspects up 400%

The Pentagon has cataloged 80,000 DNA profiles in an obscure database that holds genetic information on foreign terrorism suspects and detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to defense officials and documents.

The Joint Federal Agencies Intelligence DNA Database has grown by more than 400% since the end of 2006, when it held about 15,000 DNA profiles, Pentagon documents show. The Army, which maintains the database for use by the military, FBI and other intelligence agencies, has not previously disclosed its size or growth.

Pentagon officials would not provide any more information about the database, including details about the rapid growth in collected samples or how they were collected. Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, an Army spokesman, confirmed that "currently there are approximately 80,000 profiles in the database."

The database provides "information that you can actually use to prevent something bad from happening," said Kevin Lothridge, chief executive officer of the National Forensic Science Technology Center, a government-funded, nonprofit institute that provides forensic training and consulting for the public and private sectors.

Lothridge says DNA profiles could be used to identify an Iraqi detainee whose genetic profile links him to particular bombing incidents, or to identify potential terrorists trying to enter the United States with fake identification.

The database emerged from an initiative called Black Helix that envisioned "a secure depository and interactive database, which will focus on archiving, retrieving and interpreting biomolecular data for the identification and tracking of terrorist suspects," according to a 2007 report by the Defense Science Board.

The database is overseen by a working group comprising officials from the Defense Department, FBI and select intelligence agencies, Pentagon records show. The FBI, CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

U.S. law permits the collection and archiving of DNA from foreigners for law enforcement and national security purposes. And the Bush administration has sought additional funding from Congress to expand and better coordinate that process.

The Pentagon database includes genetic information taken directly from detainees and terror suspects, usually through oral swabs, as well as biometric data lifted from physical evidence, such as bomb-making materials, cell phones and other items collected in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, according to the science board's report.

Britain's DNA Database Violates Privacy: Court

Britain violated the privacy of two people by storing their DNA profiles, Europe's human rights court ruled on Thursday, a decision that calls into question rules governing the use of the country's DNA database. British groups campaigning for individual liberties immediately demanded a change in the law, which the government rejected.

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters)—Britain violated the privacy of two people by storing their DNA profiles, Europe's human rights court ruled on Thursday, a decision that calls into question rules governing the use of the country's DNA database.

British groups campaigning for individual liberties immediately demanded a change in the law, which the government rejected.

The case centered on a boy who was charged with attempted robbery aged 11 and later acquitted, and a man who was charged with harassing his partner before the case was formally discontinued.

Both applied for their fingerprints, DNA samples and profiles to be destroyed, but police kept the information on the basis of a law allowing them to keep it indefinitely.

The two individuals argued this continued to cast suspicion on them after they had been cleared of any wrongdoing.

"The court was struck by the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the power of retention," said the European Court of Human Rights, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg.

Google Chrome Web Browser Shines

No longer a beta, Google's Chrome Web browser is an able challenger to Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. Chrome offers strong new features, such as integration with Google Gears, a hybrid search address bar and solid security offerings. However, the search company's browser lacks some basic features found in IE, Firefox and Opera, and limits users who want to define settings and customize their browser. Despite its shortcomings, browser users should give Google Chrome a try.

Just a few short months ago, Google shocked the Web world with the release of the beta of Google Chrome, a new Web browser direct from the search giant itself.

And despite some jokes that Google Chrome would remain a beta for years—just like Gmail—the Chrome browser is no longer a beta and is now fully shipping.

So what does the release of Google Chrome 1.0 mean for the Web browsing world and the Web in general? Well, the simple fact that it is from Google has a major impact, and should put the browser in a good position to compete with Microsoft and Mozilla for market share.

But what about the browser itself? From a strict usability standpoint, Google Chrome is one of the most interesting and intuitive browsers I have ever used, and is probably the most impressive first version of a browser ever. Once a user gets over some of the quirks and differences from other browser interfaces (such as tabs at the very top of the window and no file menus), Google Chrome quickly begins to feel like the right way to surf the Web.

Google Chrome also has some other nice touches, such as a hybrid search address bar and integration with Google Gears to provide desktop Web applications. However, not everything about Google Chrome shines brightly.

To see eWEEK Labs' walk-through of Google Chrome, click here.

The browser lacks many features found in other browsers, especially when it comes to highlighting text in a Web page and carrying out additional actions, and it is very limited in terms of options for users to define settings and customize their browser. In fact, Google Chrome is without a doubt the least customizable Web browser available today. Also, at this time Google Chrome is only available for Windows XP and Vista.

Forget Sleepwalking, Study Reports First Case of Zzz-Mailing

A study published in the journal Sleep Medicine reports what's believed to be the first known case of a person e-mailing while asleep. According to the study, a 44-year-old woman, believed to be in a deep sleep, sent e-mails to friends asking them over for wine and caviar in what doctors believe is the first reported case of "zzz-mailing" or using the Internet while asleep.

The woman was taking the sleep medicine Zolpidem, sold in the U.S. as Ambien. Previous studies have found that some people taking Ambien have experienced side effects such as eating, walking and even having sex while sleeping. Doctors reported that the woman went to bed about 10 p.m. but got up two hours later and walked to her computer in the next room, Britain's Daily Mail newspaper reports.

She turned it on, connected to the Internet, and logged on before composing and sending three e-mails. Each was in a random mix of upper and lower cases, not well-formatted and written in strange language, the researchers said.

One read: "Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, 4 p.m., Bring wine and caviar only."

Another said simply, "What the ..."

The new variation of sleepwalking has been described as "zzz-mailing."

Dec 15, 2008

Study Underscores Role of the Brain in Obesity

And what we are seeing in obesity are a large number of common genetic risk factors with a relatively modest impact on disease. One of the most notable aspects of these discoveries is that most of these new risk factors are near genes that regulate processes in the brain. This suggests that as we work to develop better means of combating obesity, including using these discoveries as the first step in developing new drugs, we need to focus on the regulation of appetite at least as much as on the metabolic factors of how the body uses and stores energy," said Kari Stefansson, CEO of deCODE and senior author on the paper.
"Today's findings also underscore our ability to employ our population-based resources and statistical knowhow in Iceland as a cornerstone of large-scale multinational collaborations to identify and replicate the inherited causes of the most complex phenotypes. These new variants may point to valuable new drug targets, and we are already integrating them into deCODEme.(TM) We look forward to expanding upon our productive collaboration with colleagues in the US and Europe to continue to increase our understanding of the biology that underlies obesity," Dr. Stefansson added.

Obesity might be linked to genes

Many people who become overweight may be hardwired for hunger, according to the results of two major genetic studies.

Researchers identified several new areas of genetic variation in the brain linked to appetite control and obesity.

The findings add to the growing evidence that whether a person is slim or fat is largely due to brain-regulated food intake rather than metabolic functions, such as fat storage. People with a certain genetic make-up may be "hardwired" from birth or early childhood to eat too much, the results suggest.

Both teams of scientists carried out genome wide association (GWA) studies of many thousands of DNA samples.

This kind of research looks for correlations between the variations in the genetic code and particular traits.

An international group conducting one study, the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (Giant), analysed genetic information from more than 32,000 people of European ancestry.

The other study led by the Icelandic company deCODE genetics, which provides a personal service assessing the genetic risk of developing common diseases, looked at the DNA of more than 30,000 people from Iceland, the Netherlands and the US.

Giant highlighted six sites in the human genetic code associated with weight gain, and the deCODE study seven. In many cases the same regions of genetic variation were identified.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Genetics, may assist the development of new appetite-controlling drugs, say the scientists.

Dr Cristen Willer, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, US, a leading member of the Giant team, said the discoveries should change people's attitudes to obesity.

Dec 14, 2008

Jellyfish run amok

Huge swarms of stinging jellyfish and similar slimy animals are ruining beaches in Australia, Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean and elsewhere, US researchers reported.

The report says 150 million people are exposed to jellyfish globally every year, with 500,000 people stung in the Chesapeake Bay, off the US Atlantic Coast, alone.

Another 200,000 are stung every year in Florida, and 10,000 are stung in Australia by the deadly portuguese man-of-war - also known as bluebottles - according to the report, a broad review of jellyfish research.

The report says the Black Sea's fishing and tourism industries have lost $US350 million ($530 million) because of a proliferation of comb jelly fish.

The report says more than 1,000 fist-sized comb jellies can be found in a cubic metre of Black Sea water during a bloom.

Dec 12, 2008

Fat people should pay more to fly

EVERY time I fly, I have the same thought: people carrying extra weight should pay more to fly. And I don’t just mean pay for their heavy luggage. I’ll take a deep breath and say it: fat people should have to pay more to fly.

After returning home from overseas recently, I raised this idea with a group of friends. They nodded in furious agreement. They were sick of having to subsidise the bad lifestyle choices of so many obese people. While some obesity may be caused by medical conditions or genetic makeup, most is caused by the simple equation of too much food and too little exercise. It’s bad enough that obesity is causing a blowout of costs within our health system. “Why should we also have to subsidise the poor lifestyle choices of the obese when we fly?” asked my friends. I agreed.

Then something interesting happened. A couple of friends said this: “But, of course, you can’t write about ‘fat’ people. It’s too judgmental.” At least, suggested one friend, call then “tubby custards” instead of using the “f” word.

Surely, I wondered aloud, making rational judgements was not a bad thing for a society? Perhaps there would be fewer tubby custards and therefore less strain on our health system if we were more willing as a society to make judgements about patently bad lifestyle choices like overeating.

Similarly, the fear of hurting someone’s feelings about their self-inflicted weight problem should give way to some rational thought when it comes to flying. As airlines the world over have been getting tougher on imposing baggage weight limits and charging mightily for excess luggage, it makes sense they start taking a closer look at their passengers.

Hospital mistakes killed 28 people in Victoria this year

MEDICAL mistakes caused by hospital staff killed 28 Victorians in the past year, according to a report released today.
The Department of Human Services' annual Sentinel Events report shows the 28 people died in preventable circumstances.

Two were killed because they were given the wrong medication, too much medication or drugs were administered incorrectly.

But the report does not reveal how, where or why the other 26 people died.

The department's quality and safety director Alison McMillan said the details of these tragic mistakes are kept private to protect the families involved.

The number of deaths in Victoria's 173 hospitals has dropped from 38 in the previous year.

Dec 9, 2008

U.S. Is Losing Global Cyberwar, Commission Says

The U.S. faces a cybersecurity threat of such magnitude that the next President should move quickly to create a Center for Cybersecurity Operations and appoint a special White House advisor to oversee it. Those are among the recommendations in a 44-page report by the U.S. Commission on Cybersecurity, a version of which will be made public today. The bipartisan panel includes executives, high-ranking military officers and intelligence officials, leading specialists in computer security, and two members of Congress.

To compile the report, which is entitled "Securing Cyberspace in the 44th Presidency," commission members say they reviewed tens of thousands of pages of undisclosed documentation, visited forensics labs and the National Security Agency, and were briefed in closed-door sessions by top officials from Pentagon, CIA, and British spy agency MI5. From their research, they concluded that the U.S. badly needs a comprehensive cybersecurity policy to replace an outdated checklist of security requirements for government agencies under the existing Federal Information Security Management Act.

Dec 8, 2008

It's official: Men really are the weaker sex

The male gender is in danger, with incalculable consequences for both humans and wildlife, startling scientific research from around the world reveals.


The research – to be detailed tomorrow in the most comprehensive report yet published – shows that a host of common chemicals is feminising males of every class of vertebrate animals, from fish to mammals, including people.

Backed by some of the world's leading scientists, who say that it "waves a red flag" for humanity and shows that evolution itself is being disrupted, the report comes out at a particularly sensitive time for ministers. On Wednesday, Britain will lead opposition to proposed new European controls on pesticides, many of which have been found to have "gender-bending" effects.

It also follows hard on the heels of new American research which shows that baby boys born to women exposed to widespread chemicals in pregnancy are born with smaller penises and feminised genitals.

"This research shows that the basic male tool kit is under threat," says Gwynne Lyons, a former government adviser on the health effects of chemicals, who wrote the report.

Wildlife and people have been exposed to more than 100,000 new chemicals in recent years, and the European Commission has admitted that 99 per cent of them are not adequately regulated. There is not even proper safety information on 85 per cent of them. 

Many have been identified as "endocrine disrupters" – or gender-benders – because they interfere with hormones. These include phthalates, used in food wrapping, cosmetics and baby powders among other applications; flame retardants in furniture and electrical goods; PCBs, a now banned group of substances still widespread in food and the environment; and many pesticides.

Terrorists, Google advance

The terrorists who attacked several locations in Mumbai last week were reported to have used Google Earth images of the city to coordinate their attacks. Their use of technology did not stop there, according to Indian investigators and police who interviewed the only captured suspect. The attackers approached by sea making use of global positioning systems alongside Blackberrys, mobile phones with multiple SIM cards (reducing the likelihood of their calls being traced), and the CDs containing high-resolution satellite imagery from Google Earth. 

The revelations will spark protests by privacy advocates and national security advisors who claim Google provides too much information to civilians. It is not the first time Google Earth has  
been labeled as a potentially dangerous tool in the hands of terrorists. 

Indian and Chinese security agencies are concerned that the free download exposes their defense installations, and the Pentagon has expressed alarm that US military bases have been revealed. Defense department installations have been ordered to ban Google from taking photos of their bases for the Street View application (see Google eye too close for comfort, Asia Times Online, March 15, 2008). 

Government restrictions have a cap on commercial satellite imagery at a 50-centimeter resolution. Yet despite protests and potential national security risks to innumerable countries, Google is upgrading its satellite image data to even higher resolutions. The search giant’s GeoEye-1 is currently retaking satellite images of the Earth; it can reach up to 41-centimeter resolutions. GeoEye-2, which is planned for launch in 2012, will be able to take imagery at 25-centimeter resolution. So there will be no escaping from Big Brother Google.

New trojan in mass DNS hijack

Researchers have identified a new trojan that can tamper with a wide array of devices on a local network, an exploit that sends them to impostor websites even if they are hardened machines that are fully patched or run non-Windows operating systems.

The malware is a new variant of the DNSChanger, a trojan that has long been known to change the domain name system settings of PCs and Macs alike. According to researchers with anti-virus provider McAfee's Avert Labs, the update allows a single infected machine to pollute the DNS settings of potentially hundreds of other devices running on the same local area network by undermining its dynamic host configuration protocol, or DHCP, which dynamically allocates IP addresses.

"Systems that are not infected with the malware can still have the payload of communicating with the rogue DNS servers delivered to them," McAfee's Craig Schmugar writes here of the new variant. "This is achieved without exploiting any security vulnerability."

The scenario plays out something like this:
Jill connects a PC infected by the new DNSChanger variant to a coffee shop's WiFi hotspot or her employer's local network.
Steve connects to the same network using a fully-patched Linux box, which requests an IP address.
Jill's PC injects a DHCP offer command to instruct Steve's computer to rout all DNS requests through a booby-trapped DNS server.
Steve's Linux box can no longer be trusted to visit authoritative websites. Although the address bar on his browser may show he is accessing bankofamerica.com, he may in fact be at an impostor website.

The only way a user might know the attack is underway is by manually checking the DNS server his computer is using (e.g. by typing "ipconfig /all" at a Windows command prompt). There are several countermeasures users can take, Schmugar said, the easiest being hard-coding a DNS server in a machine's configuration settings.

(In Windows, this can be done by going to Start > Control Panel > Network Connections and right clicking on Local Area Connection and choosing properties. Scroll down to Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and click the Properties button. Then type in the primary and secondary for your DNS service. We're partial to OpenDNS, whose settings are 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220.)

Fears internet costs will soar

The national broadband network could see internet costs skyrocket under the proposed fibre to the node network, the head of a national internet service provider says.

The Government has received six bids to build the network, planned to deliver high-speed internet to 98 per cent of Australian homes and businesses.

Telstra, which analysts expect will win the bid even though the company's bid was not fully detailed, has proposed a fibre to the node upgrade to its existing network. Telstra says its network will provide millions of customers with broadband four times faster than today's entry level 1 megabit per second at no extra cost.

But Internode managing director Simon Hackett said consumer costs would inevitably rise under the proposed network.

Internode is part of the Terria consortium, including Optus and previously TransACT, which has bid to build the network in the ACT.

Mr Hackett will speak today at an international telecommunication conference in Adelaide, the major national meeting of researchers in information and communication technology.

''Consumer pricing is guaranteed to rise due to the removal of competitive tension from ADSL2+ providers,'' Mr Hackett said.

''[It] will also rise due to the need to recover the massive investment in building fibre to the node. Those costs can only be recovered from consumer price rises, and/or from paying the same price but receiving a worse outcome.''

Dec 7, 2008

World's first personal supercomputer unveiled

With its £4,000 price tag, the Tesla supercomputer is beyond the reach of most consumers, but is expected to revolutionise the way scientists and medical professionals carry out their work.

The gadget's power will allow doctors to process the results of brain and body scans much more quickly. This would allow them to tell patients within hours instead of days whether they have a tumour.

Scientists also believe that the supercomputers could help them discover cures for diseases, such as cancer and malaria, much more quickly than using traditional research methods.

This is because the device lets them run hundreds of thousands of simulations to create a shortlist of the drugs that are most likely to offer the potential for a cure.

Until now, supercomputers were massive systems made up of thousands of machines taking up entire rooms, which cost millions of pounds to build and maintain.

By contrast, Tesla personal supercomputers will cost between £4,000 and £8,000 and look much like an ordinary PC.

David Kirk, chief scientist at NVIDIA, the American company which has designed the new technology, said: "Pretty much anything that you do on your PC that takes a lot of time can be accelerated with this."

"These supercomputers can improve the time it takes to process information by 1,000 times.

"If you imagine it takes a week to get a result [from running an experiment], you can only do it 52 times a year. If it takes you minutes, you can do it constantly, and learn just as much in a day."

The new computers make innovative use of graphics processing units - a technological breakthrough, which the company claims could bring lightning speeds to the next generation of home computers.

They went on sale to British customers yesterday and will initially be sold to universities and to the scientific and research community.

The PC maker Dell, however, said that it would soon be mass producing them for the general consumer market.

Eric Greffier, a Dell senior executive, said: "Before mobile phones were reserved for the few, now we can't live without them. It will be the same with these supercomputers. They are the building block for the computing of the future."

Nov 30, 2008

I had surgery on my spine - and was awake the whole time


Lying face down, Gaynor Graham is receiving intravenous painkillers. The surgeon carefully makes a small incision into the skin above her spine and begins to probe.

Despite having what is considered to be major surgery, Gaynor, 42, a former endoscopy nurse, is awake.

It is a dramatic new operation that offered Gaynor a last hope of ending her chronic back pain.

Performed at BMI Huddersfield Hospital, the pioneering keyhole procedure known as minimally invasive surgery to the spine (MISS) is performed in 'the aware state' - where patients are sedated with painkillers yet remain aware enough to give surgeons vital 'in the moment' feedback about their condition.

Gaynor had suffered from three protruding discs in her back that made everyday life unbearable.

'I was bed-ridden, in indescribable pain and needed my sister to dress me,' says Gaynor, from Grimsby, whose back problems had been slowly worsening since a car accident 20 years ago.

'Two years ago I had to give up work as I just couldn't manage,' she says.

'I couldn't bend my neck forward to spit out toothpaste and eating was difficult. Holding a conversation required major concentration as I was in agony.'

Specialists had told Gaynor surgery was not an option. But in March this year, she contacted Martin Knight, consultant orthopaedic and spinal surgeon and pioneer of MISS on a friend's advice, and only then did she discover the technique that might help.

Swedish scientists find junk diet link to dementia

EATING junk food could increase your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, research suggests.

Scientists found that eating meals rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol triggered changes in the brain associated with the early stages of the debilitating disease.

Their study adds to the growing evidence that eating healthily can cut the odds of developing Alzheimer's.

The number of people with the disease is forecast to double within a generation, so any method of cutting the increase would have a huge impact on public health.

Sweden researchers looked at the effect of a junk food diet on mice genetically altered to be prone to Alzheimer's.

The creatures' brains were tested after they were fed a diet laden in fat, sugar and cholesterol for nine months.

Researcher Susanne Akterin, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said: "On examining the brains of these mice, we found a chemical change not unlike that found in the Alzheimer brain."

"We suspect that a high intake of fat and cholesterol, in combination with genetic factors . . . can be a contributory factor in the development of Alzheimer's," she said.

Nov 22, 2008

Pentagon declares war on USB drives

The US Defence Department has banned, at least temporarily, the use of external computer flash drives in the Pentagon because of a virus threat that officials detected on defence networks.

While defence officials would not confirm the ban, messages were sent to department employees informing them of the new restrictions. As part of the ban, the Pentagon was collecting any of the small flash drives that were bought or provided to workers by the department, according to one message distributed to employees.

Workers are being told there is no guarantee they will ever get the devices back, and it was not clear how long the ban will last.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman would provide no details on the virus on Friday, but he described it as a "global virus" that has been the subject of public alerts.

"This is not solely a department problem; this is not solely a government problem," Whitman said.

The Pentagon has acknowledged that its vast computer network is scanned or probed by outsiders millions of times each day. Last year a cyber attack forced the Defence Department to take as many as 1500 computers off line.

Nov 18, 2008

Will Dunham: Group therapy may extend lives of cancer patients

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Psychological group therapy for women with breast cancer may help them not only to cope better with their disease but also live longer, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

The idea that such therapy can extend survival in cancer patients has been controversial for two decades. Past studies have yielded conflicting results.

Researchers led by Ohio State University's Barbara Andersen studied 227 women with breast cancer. About half took part in a year of therapy in groups of eight to 12 patients led by two clinical psychologists, while the others did not.

After 11 years, the women who participated in the group therapy were 56 percent less likely to die of breast cancer and 45 percent less likely to have their cancer return, the researchers wrote in the journal Cancer.

"Survival is kind of the bottom line when it comes to cancer. So we have people being healthy, productive people for longer -- and that's a huge health outcome," Andersen, who helped lead the therapy groups, said in a telephone interview.

Michael Stefanek, an American Cancer Society behavioral research expert, expressed wariness.

Nov 17, 2008

How I got off my Facebook

AFTER a year and a half, I am free. No more posting, poking, searching and stalking. I have quit. Gone cold turkey. My Facebook days are over. How do I feel? Fine.

Better than fine. I expected at least a withdrawal pang or two. After all, the world's largest networking site is known for its addictive properties.

How else could it have attracted more than 110 million users in less than four years? Users craving their daily fix have made the company worth $8 billion. The phenomenon has spawned a book, and West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin is set to be scripting a film. In other words, it's big.

So big that for a while not having a Facebook was hard to contemplate. But in three weeks I have not once missed the posing, the voyeurism or the pointless "networking" all synonymous with the "Book".

Cop urges bottle ban to stop drunken violence

ONE of the city's top cops wants the power to ban glasses and bottles from troubled pubs and clubs to stop the explosion in drunken violence.

"Glassings" have hit a record high in Victoria as broken bottles, beer pots and wine glasses replace knives as weapons, according to figures obtained by the Herald Sun.

While knife crime has fallen, police have recorded a steady rise in broken-glass attacks - 639 this year, up from 485 six years ago.

From next month, Sydney pubs identified as hot spots for drunken violence will be banned from using glass after midnight.

Now, a chorus of victims is calling for a late-night ban on glass in pubs.

And they have won backing from Assistant Commissioner Gary Jamieson, inner Melbourne's top cop.

Mr Jamieson said authorities should have the power to order trouble spots to serve drinks only from plastic to combat glassings.

"The wounds inflicted are horrendous," he said.

Nov 16, 2008

The cost of losing yourself

The lapses came at a rate of one a week: hundreds of credit card receipts from a Bondi Junction chemist are strewn across Mascot Oval; names and dates of birth for 3500 customers of a Sydney restaurant are inadvertently attached to a mass email; detailed financial records for Aussie Home Loans customers are dumped in an unsecured bin; and, most worrying, a Tax Office CD of documents about 3122 taxpayers vanishes after reaching a courier.

And those losses of personal information, all from last month, were the ones made public.

October, though, was not alone as a bad month. A recent survey by the computer security company Symantec found 79 per cent of Australian businesses know they have lost sensitive information about themselves or their customers.

The survey of nearly 200 businesses with more than 100 employees shows data loss is anything but rare. Forty per cent of companies that lost information acknowledged six to 20 losses in the previous year. Eight per cent admitted 100 or more instances. Data losses cost one industrial company $8 million.

What is going astray? Everything from customer and financial details to employee records and competitive intellectual property. The biggest causes: lost laptop computers and mobile phones, and human error. Lower on the list, but still statistically alarming, are corporate espionage, hacking and insider sabotage.

"What the survey results show is this is not hype," Craig Scroggie, regional managing director of Symantec, says. "This is a real and present challenge."

Certainly it will assist the bottom line for Symantec, a seller of software to monitor documents and protect data, but the risks to companies and consumers are enormous.

Dramatic dro in SPAM

Global spam levels have dropped by as much as 75 per cent following the shutdown of a US web host that provided the backbone for most of the world's spam.

The bust has sent spammers scrambling and, although it occurred on Tuesday in the US, spam volumes remain down today, security companies say.

The web host, McColo, counted customers including "international firms and syndicates that are involved in everything from the remote management of millions of compromised computers to the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and designer goods, fake security products and child pornography via email", The Washington Post reported.

California-based McColo was unplugged by its internet service providers, Global Crossing and Hurricane Electric, following a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

US law enforcement has yet to announce any action taken against the company, which has gone to ground and has not returned calls.

Security researchers have criticised authorities for ignoring evidence presented by them over a long period, however it is not clear if McColo could be held legally responsible for its clients' activities.

Ditch the laptop and suit if you wanna stay alive, Mr Corporate

It seems likely that in the next few months most businesses in the world will go bankrupt – so, to make sure yours isn’t one of them, I’ve prepared a handy cut-out-’n’-keep guide on how to get ahead in the world of commerce. And stay there.

First of all, the laptop has to go. At present, the world’s businessmen are physically incapable of sitting down at an airport for a moment without flicking open the computer and pulling a serious face while pretending that the machine is actually doing something.

It isn’t. You spend the first five minutes waiting for the damn thing to stop making Brian Eno chiming noises and the next 20 discovering that it won’t connect to either 3G or the Edge, and that you cannot remember the password you chose for the T-Mobile hotspot. Then, by the time your son’s birth date has been e-mailed to an account and you discover you can’t access that either, they have called your flight and it’s time to go.

So instead of pretending to be an international mover and shaker who cannot be out of touch for a moment, leave the damn thing at home and spend the time either thinking about stuff or reading a good book. Both of these activities will ensure you’re a better, cleverer person, and that’s a good thing because most people would rather do business with a chap who’s read The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow than some nerd who reckons a widescreen iMac PowerTrip makes him look important.

Next. Your mobile phone. In the past few months I have spent a great deal of time in airports and I’ve noticed corporate types have started to hold the handset with one hand and use the other hand to shield their mouth. This is absurd. In a Robert Ludlum novel there are a great many industrial spies who can lip-read, but in real life nobody can. So pack it in.

You can go ahead and have a normal conversation because the fact is we are not interested in what you are saying. You might like to think you look like an arms dealer who’s negotiating with Kim Jong-il about the next consignment of nuclear centrifuges, but we know you aren’t because you are called Steve and your clothes are from Burton.

Which brings me to the next point. Don’t wear suits. It means you have to travel with a suit carrier, and that means you are shallow and stupid – ie, more concerned about the creases in your trousers than the goods or services that you are trying to sell.

Oh, and when at leisure on a business trip, do not tuck your polo shirt into your trousers. This will make you look like an American.

Furthermore, when you are in the business lounge, do not drink orange juice. It is not big and it’s not clever. Have a beer or some wine. In fact, since it’s free, have a lot. Nobody likes a teetotaller. I would certainly not do business with any man or woman who walked into my office and asked for a glass of water. It’s a sign that you are weak in the head.

And when staying in an international business hotel, do not go to the gym. Last week I was in Saigon, which is a fabulous city rammed with art, culture, bars and many restaurants where you can eat a snake’s beating heart and tip its bile sac into a shot of vodka. And yet my hotel’s gym was crammed with Steves lifting things up and putting them down again.

For the love of God, what do you think you are doing? Get out of your shorts and go and see some paintings. You are blessed with a job that lets you travel. So don’t waste your time drinking water, putting your stupid suit in a trouser press and lifting up stuff that’s far too heavy. I know that you think it’s a business thing to do, but it isn’t. Forget your body. Think only about your mind.

That said, if you do go out, do not try to pick up a girl. Quite apart from the itches that will almost certainly result, you will look like a colossal berk sitting at the bar with a 14-year-old Twiglet running her bony little hand through what’s left of your hair and claiming that you are a very handsome man.

Don’t be fooled. She will put her hand in your trousers, but only if she can subsequently get her hand in your wallet. Or, better still, your hand in matrimony and consequently a passport to come and live with you, briefly, in Guildford.

When you finally get to your meeting with the head of IT for i-IntelCorp (Far East division), don’t kowtow. When Johnny Chinaman goes to see an American businessman, he doesn’t wear a 10-gallon hat and ask the secretary to get him a Bud.

So why do western businessmen do all that bowing and taking business cards with two hands? First of all, you’re going to get the depth of your bow wrong, which is worse than not doing it at all. And worse, you’re not being polite. You’re being patronising. You might as well ruffle the man’s hair, for all the good it will do.

So stop it. And don’t sit on the floor. It may work in Japanese culture, but in this respect, Japanese culture is wrong. And don’t play golf either.

Ever since the 1980s there has been a code of conduct for businessmen, and the result is a decimated stock market and the prospect of many years in the economic doldrums.

This is because the people who should have been oiling the wheels of commerce have been in a gym or trying to impress their colleagues by owning an underwater laptop with millions of portals that connect to absolutely nothing at all.

There is a better way. Wear jeans. Read books. Talk normally on the phone. Make stuff that people want to buy. The end.

Nov 14, 2008

Asus Goes Green With Bamboo Series Laptops


Notebooks with cases that aren't some variation on grey/black have become more prevalent in recent years, but most still sport fundamentally the same materials on the outside. Asus' Bamboo series is a definite exception, using bamboo for a design approach that also claims a greater level of environmental friendliness than your typical hard-case machine.

The laptops are covered in "artisan-grade Moso bamboo panelling", a light, and durable, non-flammable and petrochemical-free material. Apparently, the design "is a cutting edge creation that incorporates innate, ornate aesthetics, each Bamboo Series notebook is organically unique and radiates a divine spirituality" -- those are Asus' words, not mine, obviously.

The notebook range actually looks better than the hyperbole makes it sound. Bear in mind that the machines are only partially degradable, with much debate about whether bamboo really is greener than plastic, and you'll still want a PC-friendly recycling centre at the end of its life. But anything that improves the green quotient for what's still a fairly toxic industry is a good step. The laptops -- which come in 11.1in and 12.1in models, sporting Core 2 Duo processors and Windows Vista -- should hit stores in December, with pricing starting at $3,499.

Smart driver license for Queensland

Legislation to introduce a new style of driver's licence in Queensland is before the state parliament. Updating the old laminated licences that have been issued since 1986 will improve security and help protect against identity fraud said the government.

The new credit card-sized plastic licence will feature an embedded computer chip. It will still carry an image and signature of the owner but both will be digitally stored and much harder to fake. The computer chip will also store details useful to identity thieves such as the owner's address.

Transport Minister John Mickel said this will bring Queensland drivers up-to-date with new technology. "Cards with embedded chips are increasingly being adopted around the world because they provide better security than the traditional laminated cards or plastic magnetic stripe cards," he said. "Fake driver licences can be used to commit a wide range of crimes, such as money laundering, creating false identities and identity theft."

Cut fraud

This week Visa announced it was piloting EMUE's technology at one bank each in Britain, Israel, Switzerland and Italy. The bank in Britain is Bank of America. "The interest in this solution in the industry has been overwhelming and we look forward to working with the banks involved in the pilots to gain greater insights into how effective this solution can be in the longer term," Sandra Alzetta, head of innovation and new products at Visa Europe, said.

Bureau of Statistics figures show 383,300 Australians lost an average of $1600 to credit card fraud last year. But the bureau acknowledged the true figure was much higher because its survey only recorded an individual's most recent loss.

Banks have struggled to stamp out credit card fraud because, no matter how secure their systems are, they can do little to prevent a customer from losing their credit card details. It is common today for viruses to send back a detailed log of everything the victim enters into their keyboard, including automatically pulling out credit card numbers with expiry dates and the three-digit security code.

Getting infected by such viruses only takes opening an email attachment or clicking on a malicious web link. Similarly, there is little banks can do if a merchant is hacked and its customers' credit card details are stolen.

Nov 12, 2008

Battery-powered credit supercard fights fraud

A small Australian tech firm believes it can stop up to $1 billion a year in credit card fraud with its new battery-powered supercard.

The card includes an alpha-numeric display, built-in microprocessor, a keypad and three years of battery power.

When a user enters a PIN into the card the display shows a one-time number with which to authenticate each online credit card transaction.

Each card costs about five times more than a regular credit card to produce and will be sold to bank customers during overseas trials for between $US18 and $US30 each.

The technology was developed over 2½ years by a small Deloitte-backed technology firm called EMUE Technologies based in Adelaide and Melbourne.

The two founders previously worked in banking security and technology companies.

EMUE's chief executive, Brendan McKeegan, said trials would begin with an Australian bank in the first quarter of next year.

This week Visa announced it was piloting EMUE's technology at one bank each in Britain, Israel, Switzerland and Italy. The bank in Britain is Bank of America.

"The interest in this solution in the industry has been overwhelming and we look forward to working with the banks involved in the pilots to gain greater insights into how effective this solution can be in the longer term," Sandra Alzetta, head of innovation and new products at Visa Europe, said.

Bureau of Statistics figures show 383,300 Australians lost an average of $1600 to credit card fraud last year.

But the bureau acknowledged the true figure was much higher because its survey only recorded an individual's most recent loss.

Banks have struggled to stamp out credit card fraud because, no matter how secure their systems are, they can do little to prevent a customer from losing their credit card details.

Mahesh Sharma: Telstra workers cry foul over Siebel

TELSTRA's troubled customer management platform Siebel is causing call centre staff to miss their sales targets and union officials are concerned that this could force hundreds of jobs offshore.

Call centre workers are also under increasing stress from angry customers, who are annoyed because of delays with the new system.

Some of the problems with the system include the inability to process orders quickly.

The latest call centre problems emerged in a survey of about 200 Telstra call centre workers conducted by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), after a spate of complaints that Siebel was hampering their work.

The workers blame the errors and delays on insufficient training in using the new system, introduced about three months ago, and having to repeatedly correct order and customer information.

The CPSU said over 90 per cent of respondents blamed errors with the new Siebel platform for increasing call follow-up time and increased length of average handling time for calls.

Mike Harvey: Why veins could replace fingerprints

Forget fingerprinting. Companies in Europe have begun to roll out an advanced biometric system from Japan that identifies people from the unique patterns of veins inside their fingers.

Finger vein authentication, introduced widely by Japanese banks in the last two years, is claimed to be the fastest and most secure biometric method. Developed by Hitachi, it verifies a person's identity based on the lattice work of minute blood vessels under the skin.

Easydentic Group, a European leader in the biometric industry based in France, has announced that it will be using Hitachi's finger vein security in a range of door access systems for the UK and European markets.

In Japan, thousands of cash machines are operated by finger vein technology. Hitachi announced today that it will introduce 20,000 finger vein authentication systems at shops and kiosks belonging to two Japanese companies, which will use the devices to protect the privacy of customer information by requiring storeworkers to authenticate themselves before accessing the customer database.

Nov 10, 2008

Cyber criminals target Facebook users

Facebook has been infiltrated by Nigerian scammers and other cyber criminals who use compromised accounts to con users out of cash.

Now that even non-tech savvy internet users know not to respond to, or click on links in, emails from strangers, online thieves have turned to social networks and are finding it is easier to trick people when posing as their friends.

On Friday, Sydneysider Karina Wells received a Facebook message from one of her friends, Adrian, saying he was stranded in Lagos, Nigeria, and needed her to lend him $500 for a ticket home.

Adrian used relatively good English but, after chatting further, words such as "cell" instead of "mobile phone" tipped Wells off that she was not talking to her friend but someone who had taken over his account.

Raisin consciousness

HAVE you ever looked at a raisin … really looked at it? Rolled it around in your fingers for a minute or so, explored its sticky ridges, even crinkled it next to your ear? It may sound far-fetched, but a technique learned through the close examination of dried fruit could lead to a breakthrough treatment to ward off serious depression.

A psychiatric research team from Monash University and Southern Health is testing a new method which modifies traditional cognitive behaviour therapy with meditation-like skills. The use of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, or MBCT for short, in the fight against depression has had too little scientific examination before now, says team leader Graham Meadows. "Some people call it 'raisin consciousness'," jokes Professor Meadows. The first lesson in the program uses the raisin as a way to learn meditation techniques that make you more aware of the physical world, and your own thoughts.

"In traditional cognitive therapy, you train to notice negative thoughts that might provoke depression, face those thoughts, debate them and try to change their content," Professor Meadows says

Damascus terrorism left 14 people dead

Very troubling was the confession of Wafa, the only woman among the group, who spoke with her husband Yasser Unad. They seemed the most disturbed among the group of terrorists. Wafa said her father received money transfers to conduct his military activities from the Future Movement of Lebanese parliamentary majority leader Saad al-Hariri. Her father never trusted Hariri, Abbsi implied, saying that he feared that the latter would "trade him" for a cheap price. Wafa, whose first husband was a Syrian killed on the Syrian-Iraqi border, came to Syria with her second husband - also a Syrian - and was arrested with the terrorist team after September 27.

Wafa's tale takes us back to an earlier argument made by veteran US journalist Seymour Hersh, who wrote in The New Yorker that Hariri, the US and certain figures in Saudi Arabia were responsible for creating Fatah al-Islam. Speaking to CNN International's Your World Today in May 2007, Hersh said that all three parties wanted a Sunni military group in Lebanon to combat Hezbollah - which was backed by Iran - in the event of an outbreak of Sunni-Shi'ite violence. While Hersh was speaking, violence was ranging in the infamous Naher al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon, between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army. Those battles, which lasted for weeks, led to the killing of about 400 people.

Nov 9, 2008

Apple Spanking

NORWAY is miffed with Apple, as the country expects services like Itunes to be able to download tracks to any music-playing device, not just the Ispod.

And yesterday, Consumer Ombudsman Bjoern Erik Thon said he would begin to bring formal charges against the toy-making outfit.

"Itunes has shown a lacking will to comply with our demand and we are now preparing to try this case in the Market Council," Thon said in a statement.

Apple had until November 3rd to open up Itunes to other music players.

The outfit murmured a bit about burning songs to CD and converting them to MP3s but the ombudsman isn't satisfied.

Since Apple is "unwilling to make changes to make music in the Itunes Store available to all music players," according to the Market Council, it's gonna get spanked

Sneaky software key to unlocking secrets

Few of us would care if our house keys appeared in a photograph of the family picnic posted on the internet.

But we should be concerned because advances in digital imaging and optics means any photograph of a key posed a potential security threat, Stefan Savage, a computer science professor at the University of California, warns.

Professor Savage and two of his PhD students have developed a software program called Sneakey that can clone a key in "two to three minutes" after analysing a digital photograph.

The algorithm is so sophisticated it easily copes with the low-resolution mobile phone images routinely posted on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.

"The software looks at the key, adjusts the image for any rotations or distortions, then produces a string of numbers that is appropriate for that key," Professor Savage said.

"Those numbers are fed into a key-cutting machine and it makes a perfect copy.

Nov 6, 2008

Google's browser labelled a 'digital Trojan horse'

Perhaps the biggest threat to Google's increasing dominance of internet search and advertising is the rising fear, justified or not, that Google's broadening reach is giving it unchecked power.

This scrutiny goes deeper than the skeptical eye that lawmakers and the US Justice Department have given to Google's proposed ad partnership with Yahoo. Many objections to that deal are financial, and surround whether Google and Yahoo could unfairly drive up online ad prices.

A bigger long-term concern for Google could be criticisms over something less tangible - privacy. Increasingly, as Google burrows deeper into everyday computing, its product announcements are prompting questions about its ability to gather more potentially sensitive personal information from users.

Why does Google log the details of search queries for so long? What does it do with the information? Does it combine data from the search engine with information it collects through other avenues - such as its recently released web browser, Chrome?

Data gathered through most of the company's services "disappears into a black hole once it hits the Googleplex," said Simon Davies, director of London-based Privacy International, referring to Google's headquarters. "It's impossible to track that information."

Google - whose corporate motto is "Don't Be Evil" - generally sees such concerns as misinformed. For instance, the company says it stores the queries made through its popular search engine primarily so it can improve the service.

But whether the criticisms are valid or not, they are likely indicative of the battles Google will face as it, like Microsoft in the 1990s, moves from world-wowing startup to the heart of the technology establishment.

The September release of Chrome illuminated the budding conflicts.

To Google, the new browser is a platform on which future web-based software applications might run most efficiently. It also is a sign that Google understands its growing power, since launching a browser is a direct challenge to Microsoft.

Panasonic reveals a Toughbook for the hospital


Panasonic has pulled the covers off a new Toughbook mobile computer called the H1 Mobile Clinical Assistant. As you can guess from the name of the product, it is aimed at workers in the healthcare field.

Panasonic says that the H1 is the first fully rugged mobile clinical assistant (MCA) and the first MCA to use the power-sipping Intel Atom processor. Many medical workers use their computer for 12 or more hours, straight making battery life one of the most important features of an MCA.

Panasonic equips the H1 with dual hot-swappable battery bays that together offer a six-hour battery life. The machine uses a magnesium chassis for strength and low weight. Integrated into the design are a 10.4-inch 1024 x 768 LCD that is viewable in full sunlight and supports touch screen functionality.

A contactless smartcard reader and RFID reader are built-in. The small 3.4-pound computer is rated for three-foot drops, meets MIL-STD-810F standards, and is IP54 compliant. The processor is the Intel Atom Z540 running at 1.86GHz and GPS is integrated to make the computer location aware.

Nov 5, 2008

Top Gear hosts sparks controversy

Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson has sparked a backlash in Britain after joking about murdering prostitutes on the hit motoring TV show.

Nearly 200 BBC viewers complained after hearing Clarkson's comments in the first episode of the show's new series, which aired on Sunday in Britain.

During the show, Clarkson joked about truck drivers, claiming they only cared about petrol prices and murdering prostitutes.

"This is a hard job and I'm not just saying that to win favour with lorry drivers, it's a hard job," Clarkson said as he was shown driving a Renault Magnum truck into a brick wall.

"Change gear, change gear, change gear, check mirror, murder a prostitute, change gear, change gear, murder.

"That's a lot of effort in a day."

Up to 188 people complained after the show went to air, believing Clarkson had been referring to infamous truck driver Steve Wright, who was jailed in February for murdering five prostitutes in Ipswich.

Britain's broadcasting watchdog Ofcom said it had been contacted by viewers angry at the remarks.

The BBC said Clarkson's comments were designed to "comically exaggerate and make ridiculous an unfair urban myth about the world of lorry driving, and was not intended to cause offence".

Nov 4, 2008

Russian scammers cash in on pop-up menace

Cyber criminals are earning up to $US150,000 a week selling fake anti-virus software to naive internet users, confidential documents obtained by a US security researcher reveal.

Computer users typically receive annoying pop-up messages telling them their computer is infected and they can clean their machine by clicking to buy a $US49.95 software package called Antivirus XP 2008 or Antivirus XP 2009.

The pop-ups are either delivered through ads on websites or, more commonly, directly to the user's computer if it has been infected with a virus and subsequently recruited as part of a "botnet" of PCs controlled by hackers.

With more recent "drive-by download" attacks, a computer can be infected just by browsing the web and when it is brought into a botnet, which could include thousands of machines, the hacker can surreptitiously control it and deliver the pop-up messages.

Joe Stewart, director of malware research at SecureWorks, said in an interview that while many hackers benefited from botnets by using them to harvest victims' bank and credit card details, it was now common for them to join affiliate programs selling fake anti-virus software.

One such program is run by a Russian outfit called Bakasoftware, which pays affiliates commission of between 58 per cent and 90 per cent of their sales.

For instance, if a hacker controls a botnet of 20,000 computers, they could earn up to $US225,000 just by tricking 5000 victims into buying the fake anti-virus software for $US49.95 each.

"For most people they might just be browsing the web and suddenly they don't know why this thing will pop up in their face, telling them they've got 309 infections on their computer, it will change their desktop wallpaper, change their screensaver to fake 'blue screens of death'," Stewart said.

"It goes to a lot of trouble to try and scare people into thinking they have a massive infection on their computer and they need to pay money to this software vendor to get it cleaned."

Jeremy Clarkson: If you like misery, climb aboard

Recently, various newspapers ran a photograph of me on a small motorcycle. They all pointed out that I hate motorbikes and that by riding one I had exposed myself as a hypocrite who should commit suicide immediately.

Hmmm. Had I been photographed riding the local postmistress, then, yes, I’d have been shamed into making some kind of apology. But it was a motorcycle. And I don’t think it even remotely peculiar that a motoring journalist should ride such a thing. Not when there is a problem with the economy and many people are wondering if they should make a switch from four wheels to two.

Unfortunately, you cannot make this switch on a whim, because this is Britain and there are rules. Which means that before climbing on board you must go to a car park, put on a high-visibility jacket and spend the morning driving round some cones while a man called Dave — all motorcycle instructors are called Dave — explains which lever does what.

Afterwards, you will be taken on the road, where you will drive about for several hours in a state of abject fear and misery, and then you will go home and vow never to get on a motorcycle ever again.

This is called compulsory basic training and it allows you to ride any bike up to 125cc. If you want to ride something bigger, you must take a proper test. But, of course, being human, you will not want a bigger bike, because then you will be killed immediately while wearing clothing from the Ann Summers “Dungeon” range.

Right, first things first. The motorbike is not like a car. It will not stand up when left to its own devices. So, when you are not riding it, it must be leant against a wall or a fence. I’m told some bikes come with footstools which can be lowered to keep them upright. But then you have to lift the bike onto this footstool, and that’s like trying to lift up an American.

Next: the controls. Unlike with a car, there seems to be no standardisation in the world of motorcycling. Some have gearlevers on the steering wheel. Some have them on the floor, which means you have to shift with your feet — how stupid is that? — and some are automatic.

Then we get to the brakes. Because bikes are designed by bikers — and bikers, as we all know, are extremely dim — they haven’t worked out how the front and back brake can be applied at the same time. So, to stop the front wheel, you pull a lever on the steering wheel, and to stop the one at the back, you press on a lever with one of your feet.

A word of warning, though. If you use only the front brake, you will fly over the steering wheel and be killed. If you try to use the back one, you will use the wrong foot and change into third gear instead of stopping. So you’ll hit the obstacle you were trying to avoid, and you’ll be killed.

Then there is the steering. The steering wheel comes in the shape of what can only be described as handlebars, but if you turn them — even slightly — while riding along, you will fall off and be killed. What you have to do is lean into the corner, fix your gaze on the course you wish to follow, and then you will fall off and be killed.

As far as the minor controls are concerned, well . . . you get a horn and lights and indicators, all of which are operated by various switches and buttons on the steering wheel, but if you look down to see which one does what, a truck will hit you and you will be killed. Oh, and for some extraordinary reason, the indicators do not self-cancel, which means you will drive with one of them on permanently, which will lead following traffic to think you are turning right. It will then undertake just as you turn left, and you will be killed.

What I’m trying to say here is that, yes, bikes and cars are both forms of transport, but they have nothing in common. Imagining that you can ride a bike because you can drive a car is like imagining you can swallow-dive off a 90ft cliff because you can play table tennis.

However, many people are making the switch because they imagine that having a small motorcycle will be cheap. It isn’t. Sure, the 125cc Vespa I tried can be bought for £3,499, but then you will need a helmet (£300), a jacket (£500), some Freddie Mercury trousers (£100), shoes (£130), a pair of Kevlar gloves (£90), a coffin (£1,000), a headstone (£750), a cremation (£380) and flowers in the church (£200).

In other words, your small 125cc motorcycle, which has no boot, no electric windows, no stereo and no bloody heater even, will end up costing more than a Volkswagen Golf. That said, a bike is much cheaper to run than a car. In fact, it takes only half a litre of fuel to get from your house to the scene of your first fatal accident. Which means that the lifetime cost of running your new bike is just 50p.

So, once you have decided that you would like a bike, the next problem is choosing which one. And the simple answer is that, whatever you select, you will be a laughing stock. Motorbiking has always been a hobby rather than an alternative to proper transport, and as with all hobbies, the people who partake are extremely knowledgeable. It often amazes me that in their short lives bikers manage to learn as much about biking as people who angle, or those who watch trains pull into railway stations.

Whatever. Because they are so knowledgeable, they will know precisely why the bike you select is rubbish and why theirs is superb. Mostly, this has something to do with “getting your knee down”, which is a practice undertaken by bikers moments before the crash that ends their life.

You, of course, being normal, will not be interested in getting your knee down; only in getting to work and most of the way home again before you die. That’s why I chose to test the Vespa, which is much loathed by trainspotting bikers because they say it is a scooter. This is racism. Picking on a machine because it has no crossbar is like picking on a person because he has slitty eyes or brown skin. Frankly, I liked the idea of a bike that has no crossbar, because you can simply walk up to the seat and sit down. Useful if you are Scottish and go about your daily business in a skirt.

I also liked the idea of a Vespa because most bikes are Japanese. This means they are extremely reliable so you cannot avoid a fatal crash by simply breaking down. This is entirely possible on a Vespa because it is made in Italy.

Mind you, there are some drawbacks you might like to consider. The Vespa is not driven by a chain. Instead, the engine is mounted to the side of the rear wheel for reasons that are lost in the mists of time and unimportant anyway. However, it means the bike is wider and fitted with bodywork like a car, to shroud the moving hot bits. That makes it extremely heavy. Trying to pick it up after you’ve fallen off it is impossible.

What’s more, because the heavy engine is on the right, the bike likes turning right much more than it likes turning left. This means that in all left-handed bends, you will be killed.

Unless you’ve been blown off by the sheer speed of the thing. At one point I hit 40mph and it was as though my chest was being battered by a freezing-cold hurricane. It was all I could do to keep a grip on the steering wheel with my frostbitten fingers.

I therefore hated my experience of motorcycling and would not recommend it to anyone.

Nov 3, 2008

Doh! Sensis concedes defeat to Google

Telstra's Sensis has given up on competing with Google in online search and mapping, announcing today it would provide its Yellow business listings to Google Maps and abandon its own search engine for one powered by Google. From the first quarter of next year, all of Yellow's business listings - the most comprehensive directory in Australia - will be stored in Google Maps. As well, Google's search engine will power the search feature and text advertising on Sensis.com.au.

The move is being viewed as an admission by Sensis that its own WhereIs online mapping site and Sensis search engine cannot compete with Google Maps and Google search. Announcing the agreement at Google's headquarters today, Sensis CEO Bruce Akhurst spun the announcement as a positive move for the company, as it would allow businesses advertising on Yellow to be found by the 2.5 million Australians who use Google Maps every month.

Akhurst laughed off suggestions the agreement was the first step in a possible takeover of Sensis by Google. "We do recognise that Google is the global technology leader in this area, they're experts with helping people find information online," Akhurst said.

"So consistent with our philosophy of partnering up with the best in the business, we now will be able to provide world-class search and sponsored listings on Sensis.com.au."

Google Australia general manager Karim Temsamani and Akhurst said Google and Sensis would share any revenue generated from the deal but neither would reveal the length of the agreement or specific financial terms.

Nielsen NetRatings figures show Google Maps has 2.5 million users, compared to 1.2 million for WhereIs. Google search is used by 9.3 million Australians, compared to just 184,000 users for Sensis Search. New features such as Street View, which provides street-level imagery of much of Australia, have allowed Google Maps to extend its lead.

In August, when Street View was launched, the number of Australians using Google Maps jumped to 3.3 million users. Temsamani said today that searches on Google for Google Maps-related terms jumped 5000 per cent after the launch of Street View. Akhurst said despite today's announcement WhereIs would continue to operate in its current form.

Sensis' search credentials took a hit in February when it was forced to admit that the search function on the Yellow Pages and White Pages sites was "performing below expectations". Sensis has since upgraded the site with a new platform that it says fixes many of the issues.

Nov 1, 2008

Dave Barry: So dumb it's criminal

Our educational system is failing. Our schools are producing students who are -- to quote from the conclusion of an 858-page report recently issued by a distinguished blue-ribbon Presidential Task Force on Educational Quality -- ``stupid.''

The drop in our national IQ has caused many problems, including Limp Bizkit, feng shui, the U.S. Department of Education and the growth of ''reality-based'' TV shows (''Tonight on 'Passion Farm': Nine complete strangers churn butter!''). But the most serious problem is that, as our population gets dumber, it becomes harder and harder to find qualified workers. Nowhere is this disturbing trend more evident than in the field of crime.

Not so long ago, American criminals ranked among the best in the world. Foreigners were terrified to come here because our criminals were so good at making our streets unsafe. Today, however, we are producing incompetent criminals who not only have allowed the crime rate to drop alarmingly, but who also, when they DO attempt to break the law, commit crimes of a quality that is, frankly, embarrassing.

Consider a story from The Capital, in Annapolis, Md., written by Brian Schleter and sent in by many alert readers. According to this article, an alleged parole violator was about to be taken into custody in the county courthouse in Annapolis when he suddenly ran from the courtroom. So far, so good; criminals are supposed to flee.

The suspect, pursued by sheriff's deputies, ran into the nearby Maryland Inn, where he hid in a closet. This is still acceptably competent criminal behavior.

But then, according to The Capital, the man decided to disguise himself by ''putting on a bunny suit.'' I am not making this up. For some reason, which is not explained in the Capital article, the closet contained a full-size bunny suit, with large pink ears, and the suspect climbed into it. Maybe he thought this would fool the deputies.

FIRST DEPUTY: He ran into that closet!

SECOND DEPUTY (opening closet door): Nope! There's nobody in here but a giant bunny!

FIRST DEPUTY: Darn!

But the deputies were not deceived, and they apprehended the suspect after a struggle. The Capital quotes an inn employee as saying: ``It looked like they were attacking the Easter Bunny.''

As pathetic as that criminal was, he was Albert Einstein compared with our next example, whose story is told in an Albuquerque Journal article written by Jeff Jones and sent in by several alert readers. This article states that a man armed with a knife held up a Taco Bell and got $2,300. The robber wore a ski mask to disguise his identity. This plan would have worked flawlessly, except that, during the robbery, the robber made one teensy mistake: He pulled one of the Taco Bell workers aside, lifted his mask and said, ``It's me, Tim.''

Yes. It turns out that the robber used to work at this Taco Bell, and he chose that particular moment to say hi to a former co-worker. This meant that the police had a pretty good clue as to the identity of the robber -- namely, his name -- and thus were able to apprehend him, which is good, inasmuch as a person of his apparent mental caliber should not be walking around with a sharp object.

Speaking of weapons, another excellent example of the modern criminal mind is reported in an article from the Billings Gazette in Montana, sent in by alert reader John Hauxwell, M.D. This article concerns a man who tried to hold up a Billings gas station by pointing his finger at the clerk. According to a police spokesperson, the would-be robber 'took off running when the clerk said `no.' ''

What a moron! You'd think our educational system would at LEAST have taught this man that, if he's going to scare people with his finger, he must demonstrate its menace by pointing it at the ceiling and going, ``Bang! Bang!''

I could give more examples, but you get my point: The once-proud American crime industry has become a joke. To turn the situation around, we need better-educated criminals; to produce them, we must give our schools more resources, in the form of money. That's why I want you to put cash in an envelope and mail it to me, so I can give it to the schools. I'm talking about ALL your cash. Do it RIGHT NOW. Or else.

Because this finger is loaded.

Oct 30, 2008

Google Android


British gadget fans will be able to get their hands on the first mobile phone powered by Google today, as the much-anticipated G1 goes on sale in the UK for the first time.

The G1, which is being sold by the phone network T-Mobile, will be available from the company's shops from as early as 7am – with thousands of people expected to queue in order be among the first buyers.

A T-Mobile spokeswoman told the Guardian that the company was not sure how great demand would be today, but said 25,000 people had registered their interest since the phone was unveiled in New York last month.

The G1 comes free with a £40-a-month contract and boasts a number of high-end features including global satellite positioning, wireless internet access and built-in support for a number of Google applications.

Hospital bungles leave trail of harm


About 260 people died or suffered serious harm from major mistakes in public hospitals, according to a new report that suggests such errors are on the rise.

The report also estimates that each year 200,000 Australians get infections such as golden staph associated with their treatment.

More than 1.5 million Australians experience problems with their medications annually, resulting in 400,000 visits to GPs, 140,000 admissions to hospitals and ''significant'' costs.

The figures are from Windows into Safety and Quality in Health Care 2008, a report issued yesterday by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.

The commission's chief executive, Professor Chris Baggoley, said there were clearly ''safety challenges in health care''.

''It would be nice to think that health care would be trouble-free but even ... our own illnesses are complex.

''What we need to do is take advantage of [the] best systems to improve that.''

Health departments report so-called ''sentinel events'' where procedures are performed on the wrong patient or body part, an inpatient commits suicide or patients need a second operation to remove instruments or material left inside their bodies during the first operation.

Other sentinel events are when babies are sent home with the wrong family, women die or suffer serious complications during childbirth, patients are given the wrong blood type or they die because of medication errors or gas embolisms in their blood vessels.

In 2006-07, public hospitals recorded 257 sentinel events almost 120 more than the figure for 2005-06.

Oct 29, 2008

Nick McKenzie: Money trail goes global

FEDERAL and state police are being outgunned by sophisticated crime syndicates, drug imports are rising and authorities must take on new crime-fighting techniques, according to a Federal Government report.

The Australian Government Jurisdictional Report — prepared for an inter-governmental meeting on money laundering held in Sri Lanka this week — delivers a damning assessment of the national struggle to combat "highly resilient" crime groups that funnel billions in dirty money offshore.

The report also warns of organised crime's infiltration of the sharemarket and the need for authorities to use new ways of "identifying the money trail".

The report says "investigations conducted by the ACC (Australian Crime Commission) suggest that most profit-driven organised crime-related activities continue to escape the detection of state, territory and federal law enforcement agencies".

"Most criminal proceeds also escape the detection of AML (anti-money laundering regulators) and there is a significant gap between the known values of proceeds of crime being transferred abroad and what is identified by law enforcement, AUSTRAC and the financial sector," the report says.

The amount of illicit drugs imported into Australia "may have previously been underestimated by a significant margin", the report warns, noting that cocaine trafficking is rising fast and ecstasy is in high demand.

The report was tabled this week at the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering in Colombo, Sri Lanka, whose co-chairman is Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty.

It was compiled by several police agencies, including financial watchdog AUSTRAC and the ACC, the nation's peak criminal intelligence agency.

In a swipe at traditional anti-drug law enforcement, the report says the recent work of the ACC and AUSTRAC "proves that intelligence-driven investigations into large-scale money laundering are highly successful", and has led to the arrest of criminals who had "previously been undetectable".

The report says a recent ACC operation focusing on criminals working with four money remitters in Sydney and Melbourne found that $300 million of drug money had been sent offshore.

"The value of funds currently being remitted to high-risk countries is today higher than immediately before the (operation's) arrest phase," the report says.

ACC modelling reveals that up to $12 billion in dirty money is being pumped overseas annually, much of it to Asian-based criminal syndicates.

The report says corrupt money movers are devising ways to circumvent Australia's new laws on money laundering and terrorist financing. The ACC has "serious concerns" about the self-reporting standards of hundreds of small money remitters.

The report warns that the Australian sharemarket can be illegally manipulated by organised criminals or terrorist financiers. The "money laundering and terrorism financing techniques (that) exist within the securities sector" include the use of front companies and pump-and-dump schemes, in which share prices are artificially forced up via assaults on stocks with criminal funds.

"In instances such as this, criminals may profit twice: once from their initial criminal activity, then again from the increased share prices."

The report also says the introduction of a carbon emissions trading scheme "will provide opportunities for exploitation by organised crime groups".

Among the case studies in the report are cocaine importers who created bank accounts in the names of their infant grandchildren to buy luxury cars and properties. Investigators also found that a drug trafficking group had used online soccer betting to offset their drug debts and earnings.

Google phone hits Australia via eBay

As with the first iPhone, eBay has created a grey market for Australians looking to buy the Google mobile phone, which is only available in the US with no clear local launch date in sight.

The HTC G1, the first phone based on Google's Android platform, is selling on the auction site for about $1000.

Mark Novosel, telecommunications analyst at IDC, said the devices bought through eBay, which are listed as being "unlocked", should work perfectly on local networks in metropolitan areas but would work only on slower 2G networks in regional areas.

The only exception is Telstra's Next G network, which isn't supported by the handset.

One seller shipping the phones from Hong Kong is offering them for $1025, while US-based sellers have them listed for about $940.

These prices are significantly inflated compared with those enjoyed by Americans.

The Google phones were launched in the US a week ago exclusively on the T-Mobile network for $US179 on a two-year contract. This week Wal-Mart announced it would be selling the phone at a discount for $US148.88.

Australian carriers Telstra, Vodafone, Optus and Three have said they are examining the device with interest following rave reviews from critics. But none have announced launch plans.

Industry sources said that Google, not HTC, had the power to decide when to launch the phone in markets outside the US, including Australia.

Google refused to comment, although other manufacturers are also working on Android-based phones, which could be launched in Australia independently of Google.

Novosel said the imported G1 phones would work on all Australian carriers if all that was required was slower 2G connectivity. For 3G connectivity, the G1 will work only if the carrier's network uses the 2100MHz frequency band.

"Currently Three's entire network is 2100MHz, Optus and Vodafone's in capital cities and major regional centres is 2100MHz, but rural areas and beyond is 900MHz, so it will not work on the 900MHz components," he said.

Telstra's Next G network runs on the 850MHz frequency so would not be supported either, Novosel said.

Dithering over the local Google phone launch could provide ample opportunity for other manufacturers to launch competing offerings.

Three is working on its own brand of smartphone called INQ, which will compete with the iPhone, Android and handsets from Nokia and Motorola. Three's local spokeswoman Sarah Virtue said the company planned to launch INQ in Australia "prior to Christmas".

Research released by Telesyte last week revealed Australia's annual smartphone shipments have grown almost 40 times from five years ago and that nearly three in 10 mobile phones sold this year would be smartphones

Microsoft Introduces Windows 7, Ending Vista Brand

Microsoft introduced what it said would be a slimmer and more responsive version of its Windows operating system on Tuesday, while unceremoniously dropping the brand name Vista for the new product. The new version will instead be branded Windows 7, because it is the seventh of a long line of operating systems for PCs developed by the company since the 1980s. The company did not say when it would sell Windows 7 to the public.

The company also said that it was planning to introduce a Web-based version of its Office programs, which is aimed at heading off a new wave of competitors like Google Docs and Zoho, which have deployed word processors, spreadsheets and presentation programs that run on a Web browser. The company was vague, however, about how it would price the programs and acknowledged that it would face skeptical Wall Street analysts who think the strategy would cannibalize the company’s profitable Office franchise.

After almost two years, Windows Vista is still getting a lackluster reception from consumers and facing a relentless marketing barrage from Apple.

Oct 22, 2008

Dutch teens convicted of virtual theft

A Dutch court has convicted two teenagers of theft for stealing virtual items in a computer game and sentenced them to community service.

Radio Netherlands reports that the two teenagers - a 15 and a 14-year-old - were found guilty of using violence to rob a 13-year-old classmate of virtual property in the multiplayer online game RuneScape.

The Dutch broadcaster's English language news services reported that the victim was coerced into transferring the item to the older boys after they "kicked and struck the victim and threatened him with a knife"on several occasions last year.

Only a handful of such cases have been heard in the world, and they have reached varying conclusions about the legal status of "virtual goods".

The Leeuwarden District Court said described the virtual goods as an amulet and a mask.

"These virtual goods are goods (under Dutch law), so this is theft," the court said on Tuesday in a summary of its ruling.

Identities of the minors were not released.

The 15-year-old was sentenced to 200 hours service, and the 14-year-old to 160 hours.

Oct 18, 2008

Internet fraudsters busted

A secret ring of internet fraudsters who bought and sold credit card details online has been smashed by police.

Officers from the elite Serious Organised Crime Agency arrested 11 people in Leics, Manchester, Humberside, South Yorks and London who were members of the DarkMarket site. They set up a forum offering guides on how to hack into a computer to steal account details and read the data in the magnetic strip on credit cards. They also sold passwords to virtual games, social networking and online email sites. The FBI estimated the scale of potential fraud and loss at £40million.

Nearly 60 people traced through the forum have been arrested in the US, Germany, Turkey and Britain. Soca deputy director Sharon Lemon said: "These aren't geeks we're talking about. These are serious and organised criminals."