Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tellme for iPhone due by June

By Ina Fried, CNET

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Microsoft is indeed working on an iPhone application.

As I predicted, it is the company's Tellme unit that is actively developing a program for Apple's iPhone. Tellme offers voice-activated search for a variety of phones, including the BlackBerry.

Although the company created an early alpha program in a matter of weeks, senior director Dariusz Paczuski said it will probably be a couple of months before a public version is ready. He said that it will definitely happen within the current fiscal year, which runs through June.

"I'm not sure we can squeeze it out this year given everything we've got going on," Paczuski told me at last night's Churchill Club event.

The iPhone does present some interesting challenges. One of its big features is the fact that everything is done via a touch screen. But Tellme relies on a physical button to determine when to start listening to a query.

"You want a button," Paczuski said. Even on Sprint's touch screen Instinct, Tellme is able to use the call button to determine when a user is speaking. He said when the iPhone app launches there will probably be a big virtual button in the middle of the screen.

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Mozilla posts Firefox 3.0.3 update (with a new bug)

By Christian Zibreg

Chicago (IL) - Following the Firefox 3.0.2 update last week, Mozilla has posted another update yesterday. Firefox 3.0.3 eliminates a bug in the browser's password manager that refuses to fetch previously saved passwords in forms. The issue is now fixed, but it seems to have paved the way for another known bug, also in the password manager. For now, Mozilla offers a workaround and promises to patch the bug with Firefox 3.0.4.

Days after releasing Firefox 3.0.2 update last week, Mozilla posted Firefox 3.0.3, fixing a problem with the password manager. Firefox 3.0.2 brought "improvements" for the password manager, but the browser update also highlighted a bug which prevents users from retrieving saved passwords or saving new passwords. This is due to a known bug in the password manager that causes the browser to incorrectly read encrypted passwords and usernames in saved forms. However, many users are reporting that the issue is not fixed with the 3.0.3 update.

Mozilla confirmed the problem and said that there is another bug that resets the UTF8 converter after it encounters an invalid data entry. The developers promise that the issue will be resolved with Firefox 3.0.4.

For now, there is a simple workaround in case you experience problems with the password manager after you apply Firefox 3.0.3 update: Try logging in to any password-protected service using a bogus password. Save the password when prompted and restart the browser. Firefox should now store any following passwords correctly in its password manager.

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Camera sold on eBay contained MI6 files

By Jessica Salter

A bidder, who bought the camera for £17 on the auction website, discovered photos of terror suspects, their names and fingerprints and even images of rocket launchers and missiles.

The 28-year-old from Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, only found the secret images when he downloaded his own holiday snaps from the Nikon Cool Pix device.

He told local police about the find and was shocked when Special Branch officers arrived at his home days later to seize his new purchase.

Officers have made five visits to his home in the last week to quiz him and his family, The Sun newspaper reported.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman confirmed that the police were investigating but said she could not confirm or deny the intelligence service’s involvement in the probe.

She refused to comment on reports that the camera was sold by an MI6 agent.

Among the images which are reported to have been found on the camera is a document, marked “top secret”, which gives details of the encrypted computer system used by MI6’s agents in the field.

The material found on the camera is reported to be related to 46-year-old Abdul al-Hadi al-Iraqi, a high-ranking al-Qaeda officer, who was captured by the CIA in 2007.

Neil Doyle, author of Terror Base UK, said: “These are MI6 documents relating to an operation against al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq.

“It’s jaw-dropping that they got into the public domain.

“Not only do they divulge secrets about operations, operating systems and previously unheard-of MI6 departments, but they could put lives at risk.”

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The diskette that blew Trixter’s mind

Posted by Trixter in Software Piracy, Vintage Computing.

As an IBM PC historian, one aspect of my hobby is archiving gaming software. (You can take that statement to mean anything you want — whatever you think of, you’re probably right.) At the 2008 ECCC this past Saturday, a vendor wanted to offload his entire PC stock on me for $5, which I happily accepted since there was at least one title in there (Martian Memorandum) worth that much. When I got home, however, I found two additional Avantage (Accolade’s budget publishing title) titles that have not yet been released “into the wild”. This means there are no copies of these games floating around on Abandonware sites. For me, this was like finding actual gold nuggets in a collection of Pyrite.

The two games I got were Mental Blocks and Harrier7, so they join my third Avantage title Frightmare. I decided to archive all three properly, and it was when I got to Mental Blocks that I ran into something I’d never seen before: The manual for Mental Blocks claims that, for both C64 and IBM, you put the diskette in label-side up. I thought that had to be a typo, since every single mixed C64/IBM or Apple/IBM diskette I have ever seen is a “flippy” disk where one side is IBM and the other side is C64 or Apple — until I looked at the FAT12 for the disk and saw that tons of sectors in an interleaved pattern were marked as BAD — very strange usage.

The Incredibly Strange FAT of Mental Blocks That Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Formats

The Incredibly Strange FAT of Mental Blocks That Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Formats

A DIR on the disk shows that only about 256K of it is usable as space, instead of 360K. My Central Point Option Board’s Track Editor (TE.EXE) confirmed that every other track on side 0 cannot be identified as MFM data. So the manual is correct, and this truly is a mixed-format, mixed-architecture, mixed-sided diskette.

This diskette has officially blown my mind.

This is the very first time I have ever seen something like this. The data for the IBM program takes up more than 160KB as evidenced by a DIR. The C64 1541 drive is a single-sided drive; IBM’s is double-sided. Based on all this, we can deduce how this diskette is structured and why:

- The IBM version of the game required more than 160KB (ie. needed more than one side of a disk), probably because it has a set of files for CGA/Herc (4/2 colors) and another for EGA/Tandy (16 colors) and either set will fit in 160K but both won’t
- The C64 version required around 80K, based on the fact that every other track is unreadable by an IBM drive
- The publisher had the requirement of using only a single disk to save on packaging and media costs
- Not wanting to limit the game to either CGA or EGA, someone at Artech (the developer) built the format of this diskette BY HAND so that DOS would not step on the C64 tracks, and somehow the C64 would also read/boot the disk

I don’t know how the C64 portion boots since track 0 sector 0 looks like a DOS boot sector, but quick research shows that C64 disks keep their index on track 18. If anyone knows how C64 disks are read and boot, I’d love to know.

I think I need to go on a mission to discover who built the disk format(s) by hand to see what he was thinking. Did he work on it for weeks, feverishly trying to figure out how to meet the publisher’s demands? Or was he so brilliant that he did it all in a day or so, not thinking too much about it other than it was just another facet of his job? Fascinating stuff!

Just goes to show that you can still get surprises in this hobby after 25 years, even after being considered one of the top 20 “subject experts” for PC oldwarez. I guess you truly can never see it all.

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