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.