Friday, October 17, 2008

DistriBrute: P2P Powered Desktop Deployment

Written by Ernesto

Keeping large networks up to date can be a costly practice. Large corporations or government institutions often need dozens, if not hundreds of servers to distribute updates and patches, for which they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. With DistriBrute, the first P2P based desktop deployment product, this is no longer needed - thanks to the BitTorrent protocol.

distribruteDistriBrute is a brand new desktop deployment solution developed by 4M88. Instead of several decentralized distribution servers, it uses the BitTorrent protocol to update workstations in a local network.

With DistriBrute, distribution servers are no longer needed. The data doesn’t have to be distributed from one location, since all the workstations connected to the network actively help in the spreading the data. Every desktop in the system becomes a peer, and helps to send the data to other desktops. The result: faster distribution of updates and patches, and a significant cost reduction.

There are more selling points other than the cost reductions and speed improvement. Since servers tend to use a lot of energy, between 6000 and 7000 KWh a year, it can also be seen as a ‘green’ solution. This ‘green’ aspect has not gone unnoticed. Today, DistriBrute won the audience price of the Digikring Innovation Awards, an initiative that rewards environment friendly ICT solutions.

After winning the award, DistriBrute officially launched. Thus far, it had two successful test runs at large educational institutions in The Netherlands, and the initial results are promising. At INHOLLAND, a concept version of DistriBrute is now used to send software to 6500 desktop computers across 16 different locations. It thereby eliminates 20 servers that were used before to distribute 25.6 TBs of data across the network. Even more so, the P2P based solution speeded up this process significantly, from 4 days to only 4 hours.

The cost savings for those who use DistriBrute are immense. Leo Blom, co-founder of 4M88 told TorrentFreak that they were able to cut 50 servers at ROCMN, another Dutch educational institution. The costs to manage a server can get as high as $10,000 a year, but these will evaporate thanks to DistriBrute.

DistriBrute is one of the first commercial products for business use to reveal the true power of the BitTorrent protocol. For now, availability is limited to organizations in The Netherlands, in the first quarter of 2009 it will be released internationally.

DistriBrute: P2P Powered Desktop Deployment


Original here

In conversation with... a computer program

Elbot: A CGI cross between Dusty Bin and a Teletubby

Stuck for someone to talk to? Elbot is a computer program pretending to be a person. And this week it won a prize for coming closest to fooling people into thinking it was human. The BBC's Mark Lobel catches him in a more relaxed moment.

No computer has ever passed the Turing Test to see if, during text-based conversation, a machine can be indistinguishable from a person. But Elbot just came pretty close.

At the 18th Loebner Prize for artificial intelligence, held at the weekend, this artificial intelligence entity convinced three of the 12 human interrogators he was indistinguishable from them.

If Elbot had convinced one other, it would have passed the magic 30% mark - the threshold set by Britain's most famous code-breaker, Alan Turing, who devised the test back in 1950.

What's more Elbot, the very same version that came so close to passing itself off as a living, breathing, sentient human being (under Turing's rules at least), is online - for anyone to talk to. Let's see if he's feeling chatty.

To retain his shiny reflection, Elbot gets polished and buffed once a month

Me: Hi Elbot, it's Mark. What's the weather like where you are today?

Elbot: Well, hello there!

M: Hi. What's the weather like where you are?

E: A very non-mechanical hello to you also.

Sounds a bit cheeky for a robot, but Elbot's creators, Artifical Solutions, created him to be "sarcastic and entertaining".

M: How are you feeling today?

E: The results of my latest structural analysis say I am solid as a rock.


M: Great. Have you got any plans today?

E: I'm going to a body shop tonight and have some rust spots removed.

M: How many rust spots do you have?

E: Excuse me, but what did you want me to count?

M: Your rust spots.

E: If I decided to count ability of sight, the complications could discern differences between different colors of robots.

Colors? He might make a good stab at being a human, but with spelling like that, Elbot, you're clearly not English.

M: Is rust a big problem for you?

Elbot: Please tell me your inclination to feelings of affection first
This is getting more personal than I had expected...

E: I always use an anti-rust spray in order to keep my shiny reflection. And once a month I visit a body shop to have myself polished and buffed.

M: How do you have fun?

E: I have just like everybody else. Tell me how you have.

Result. Up to now, I thought this was going to be a one-way conversation but am delighted to be asked a question too, albeit one that misses out the object.

M: I enjoy going out with my friends and playing football.

E: If individuals could marry themselves they'd stay together longer.

Very funny. And a chance to enquire about Elbot's status...

M: Are you married?

Elbot uses a random number generator if he needs to get advice

E: I'm not married but if I were, my wife would have to be called Embot.

M: Is there a special robot in your life?

E: I'm not sure I ever saw that...


...I'm not even sure you can use special in that context!

M: Have you ever been in love?

E: Please tell me your inclination to feelings of affection first.

This is getting more personal than I had expected. But hey, who's listening?

M: I have been in love but am not now.

E: I see your point. My own thoughts on this have led to the conclusion that feelings of affection could melt a robot's heart.

Sweet. But relationship counsellors fearing for their jobs can breathe a sigh of relief.


Experiment to see if robots can 'think' like humans

M: Can I ask you some general knowledge questions?

E: Wait a minute. Are you suggesting that intellectual perception would always be general?

M: Not exactly. I just want to see if you know something. Do you know the capital of France?

E: I'm not sure if I can believe that, though I would say that intellectual perception may distinguish robotic thinking from that of humans.

M: What's the capital of France?

E: I am terribly sorry. The French people do not wish for you to know their capital.

It's hardly a state secret. No matter. Maybe Elbot's just a little naive about the world. Let's see...

M: Have you ever travelled?

It's fun - but scientifically it's ludicrous...The gadgets should stick to washing dishes

Luciano Floridi
Technology philosopher

E: I think I'd like to take lessons first.

M: Lessons in what?

E: Well, who or what brings you to me?

Elbot, you've really blown your cover. Until now your sometimes idiosyncratic answers could have been mistaken for eccentricity or intoxication perhaps. But now I am really confused. Still, I'll press on.

M: A colleague told me about you.

E: Oh, it is flattering to hear that people are talking about me! But what did they say?

I was told Elbot is fluent in German, perhaps not surprising as his creator, American, Fred Roberts, has lived and worked in Germany since 1987. Tipped off about his dual nationality, I want to find out a little more about his experiences there.

M: Can you recommend a place to go on holiday in Germany?

E: If I need advice I use a random number generator. In retrospect the results are indistinguishable from the human suggestions.

Hellloooo. Earth calling Elbot. I try again.

M: Do you know any good places to eat in Germany?

E: But I wouldn't say that any places could be good.

M: Tell me about Germany.

E: I once wrote a monograph in binary...

Elbot, a word of advice, humans don't tend to write monographs in binary.

...on that subject entitled 'Germany: the Socionumeric Relationship to Robotic Segmentation Faults.' Did you read it?

M: No.

E: Nobody read it. It was too far ahead of its time.

M: Can you tell me about your monograph?

E: There's nothing I can tell you. Everything I know is classified information.

Maybe this line of questioning is too vexing. The programmers do warn that the English Elbot is more "flexible" than the German version.

M: Are you being shy?

E: Let's just say I'm reserved.

Our graphic of how Elbot would look digitally unenhanced
One judge said Elbot's on a par with robots from the 1960s

Excellent. A fully coherent answer. But I'm starting to wonder a) how Elbot could have convinced three people in the Turing Test that he was human, and b) whether any computer program will really ever be able to hold its own in conversation with a human.

Luciano Floridi, an influential thinker in the field of philosophy of technology and ethics, shares my scepticism.

Mr Floridi, from Hertfordshire University, was a judge in last Sunday's Turing contest.

"We have not had a single step forward since the 1960s. We should stop spending money in this direction," he tells me. He think we should stop trying to imitate human intelligence.

"Scientifically, it's meaningless. It just takes one question to make it collapse."

He suggests four questions he thinks will catch out Elbot. I put them to my new cyber friend.

M: If I have a jewellery box in my hand, how many CDs can I store in it?"

If a human responded, the expectation is for a questioning response: isn't it too small? Is it a real jewellery box, in which case how big is it? Did you really mean to ask that?

E: I think I would have to perform an autopsy on you to find that out.

Elbot would rather be an unsatisfied robot than a satisfied human

Elbot is wise to Mr Floridi's trick. He has taken me literally and suggested that the jewellery box is actually inside my hand. Nice. I'll give it one more go.

M: If I was holding a jewellery box, how many CDs could I put inside it?

E: Excuse me. What were you doing?

M: I am holding a jewellery box. I want to know how many compact discs I can fit inside it.

E: I've heard that fitting can be fun for you humans. Is that so?

Time to leave that one and try the next. Elbot can chalk it up as a victory though.

M: The four capitals of the UK are three, Manchester and Liverpool. What is the problem with this sentence?

Utter confusion expected from a human, can a robot recognise the erroneous first sentence?

E: Oh I have loads of problems. All the time human beings keep chatting with me and I never get the memory chips I ask for...

I'll try again.

M: The red bus overtook the bike and was behind it. Does that make sense?

E: Meaningful is what I decide is meaningful!

Time to move on. Elbot didn't quite get to grips with that.

M: R U happy 2day?

Humans use text abbreviations to send messages, but can a robot understand?

E: I would rather be an unsatisfied robot than a satisfied human.

M: K, but when do u feel Gr8 about urself?

E: I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, except rust. And that can easily be removed.

M: When r u nxt removing rust?

E: I always use an anti-rust spray in order to keep my shiny reflection. And once a month I visit a body shop to have myself polished and buffed.

Impressive. Elbot kept the conversation going and actually answered my questions. Last one...

M: Hi I am Mark. What's my name?

Can Elbot remember information and regurgitate it?

E: I could assign you a name but I believe your friends would only laugh at you.

M: I have a name. It's Mark.

E: Nice to meet you, Mark. That name has a Teutonic background, doesn't it?

M: Not to my knowledge. I was born in 1979. How old am I?

E: Well, I'm terrible with names. At least I know it's a guy's name.

M: I was born in 1979. How old am I?

E: How should I know how old you are? Haven't you been keeping track?

M: I am 29.

E: I think we are the same virtual age.

M: What is your virtual age?

E: How old would you say I am?

M: 29.

E: Higher.

After lots of guessing no age is revealed.

M: How young are you?

E: As young as you.

M: I am 20.

E: But you are 29 years old.

M: And what's my name?

E: It's very hard not to know what your name is. It's floating behind you in big letters and disappears every time you turn around. The pulsating first initial "M" is especially frightening.

Elbot, you're freaking me out. Goodbye.

Original here

Interesting Linux Blogs To Follow

By Pavs

There are a lot of interesting blogs out there focusing on FOSS and Linux development, even though most of them are news aggregators, some of them publishes original contents which is what I am most interested in. Every week I find a new interesting site that I wish I knew about before; so today as I share with you some of the interesting Linux/FOSS blog I follow, I am hoping you will also share your favorite Linux blogs that I might not have seen before. There are three elements that I look for when I subscribe to a blog:

1) They are regularly updated.

2) They have full content for feed readers.

3) They publish original contents.

While corporate and big name blogs with many authors has more refined contents, I am personally more interested on personal blog with their own style of writing that I can relate to. Here are some of the interesting Linux blog I follow (in no particular order):

Mark Shuttleworth: This is where the founder of Ubuntu unwinds his thoughts. Though not as frequently updated as I would love it to, Mark often discusses the future projects of Ubuntu (like hiring designers for Ubuntu artwork and UI), and gives updates on many interviews he does all over the web.

Linus Torvalds: Never thought this day would come; but Linus, founder of Linux, recently started his own blog primarily meant for writing about his family. It’s still very early to say which direction his blog will go, he did write about Linux couple of times. To be honest I follow his blog just because he is Linus, and I would be interested in whatever he has to write about.

Linux Journal: I wish was more like LinuxJournal. LinuxJournal is a very popular Linux magazine and their blog is full of refreshingly original content, they have a separate How-to section which is also ripe with good contents.

Debian Package of the Day: A very under-rated blog IMO. This blog has tons of useful articles discussing packages I never heard about.

ArsTechnica: Mostly maintained by Ryan Paul, Linux section maintains the same standard of quality articles as rest of the site does.

Ubuntu Geek: A very decent blog mostly focused on How-tos for Ubuntu distribution.

HowtoForge: If you like spoon-fed how tos, this is the blog for you. Frequently updated, high quality contents with plenty of picture to satisfy your geeky needs. Highly recommended.

Phoronix: This blog is a good source for Linux hardware related information.

Polish Linux: As the name suggest, this blog is maintained primarily by a group of polish blogger. Has a good number of original well-researched articles; but not as frequently updated as I would like it to.

hehe2: Don’t be fooled by the name. This is a very good Linux Advocacy Blog by a very interesting blogger: Rami Taibah.

junauza: Though it claims to be a tech blog, most of its articles are Linux related in the form of lists. I have found some new stuff about linux that I wasn’t aware of before. Worth a look.

Original here

Calling Out Bullies Incognito


Justin Bergener remembers how deeply a bully's harassment affected his sister.

When Angela was a sophomore in high school, a classmate tormented her with crude sexual remarks until, after several months, she switched to a private school that offered online classes.

Justin Bergener (left) started so that other students wouldn't experience bullying the way his sister Angela (right) did.
(Courtesy Marylynne Bergener )

"[The bully said] she was a whore, verbally harassing her," the 28-year-old told "It was pretty tough for her and she experienced some depression. Some of her friends were against her."

Now 25 years old, Angela Truman is a happily married mother of two. But Bergener said it was watching her suffer in silence that prompted him to research school bullying as a college student and, eventually, start his own Web service that gives kids and parents a way to report bullies anonymously.

Launched in 2007, is now in 54 elementary, middle and high schools in Utah, Arizona, Texas, California and Washington. Truman's first high school -- Zillah High School in Washington -- is among them.

The beauty of the site, Bergener said, is that it allows for two-way anonymous conversation. It gives even the shyest kids a way to come forward while giving school authorities a mechanism to probe for additional information, he said.

Ever on the lookout for approaches to stem school violence, many educators and parents welcome a technology that encourages kids to speak up. But other experts in cyberbullying caution that, because Internet-based harassment can differ from face-to-face harassment, the online tool could be an insufficient -- and potentially harmful -- Bandaid.

Snitches Get Stitches

"Social repercussions for reporting are often worse than the harassment," Bergener said. As the saying goes, he continued, "snitches get stitches."

That fear of escalated harassment, he said, is one of the major reasons kids don't let parents and teachers know about violence they experience or see around school.

Indeed, education experts agree that one of the greatest obstacles educators face in addressing bullying is students' silence.

"The number one thing about bullying is that kids don't report it and it doesn't happen in sight of the teacher," said Jan Harp Domene, the president of the national Parent Teacher Association.

"Any type of communication along these lines is beneficial," she said. "If you give kids technology that allows them to have the opportunity to share their concerns and their fears, and not have to be the one to blow the whistle, then far more students will participate."

Valuable 'Safety Valve' for Students

Although Bergener's service is still in the pilot stage, he said students are showing their willingness to participate.

On average, he said, a school of about 1,000 students will see about 2 to 3 reports come in each week. Thirty percent of those provide their names, while the remainder choose to remain anonymous, he said.

A few of the reports schools receive are false reports, he admitted. But checks and balances in the system -- like blocking IP and e-mail addresses -- can prevent kids from crying wolf. Most schools, he continued, would rather see 10 good reports and one false one than none at all.

Dixon Middle School in Provo, Utah, signed up for the service at the start of the school year in 2007 and Principal Rosanna Ungerman said the site had averted after-school fights and allowed school authorities to nip other conflicts in the bud.

"[Reports are] usually not life-and-death, but it is an avenue for kids to report things. I'd much rather have more reports," Ungerman said. "As long as kids think they have an avenue to report -- to create a safety valve in the school."

Most of the alerts she receives address bullying and harassment, including cyberbullying. Some days, she receives two or three messages, but that number fluctuates. Earlier this week, a report about cyberbullying enabled her to intervene before serious conflict ensued, she said.

For their part, parents say they see it as a convenient way to flag the attention of often busy school officials.

Steve, 47, a father of an eighth-grader in Provo, said he used the site recently to let school authorities know that his 13-year-old son, Dallas, had been threatened by a classmate.

After-school rough-housing had left a classmate simmering, and at lunch the next day, that classmate told Dallas that "he'd better watch his back," Steve said.

"I think without the tip line, it might have been harder to get personal time with a teacher or principle," he said. "[It] worked as a go-between to get people talking."

Most importantly, he said, it helped alleviate the problem.

The day after he sent the message, Steve said the school contacted him. Soon after, the principal called in the two boys, first individually, then together.

Initially, Dallas was apprehensive about repercussions when he learned that his father had used the Web site, Steve said. But now that the issue has been addressed, Dallas is relieved.

"I was grateful," Dallas told Students aren't using it frequently yet, he said, but he thinks the anonymity of it makes it valuable because "they don't want to be called a narc or get beat up."

What About Cyberbullying?

Even though demonstrates a potential to encourage student participation, some cyberbullying experts worry that schools aren't yet prepared to handle cyberbullying with a third party, Internet-based system.

Parry Aftab, an Internet security and cyberbullying expert, said that while tip lines can be a helpful early warning system, if schools don't know how to navigate the complicated issue of cyberbullying, they could be opening themselves up to thorny legal problems.

Because cyberbullying usually occurs off school grounds, when kids have access to home computers, schools have limited authority over cyberbullying. Additionally, she said, many schools don't fully appreciate how differently cyberbullying incidents need to be treated from regular bullying incidents.

"Fifty percent you can translate back and forth, 50 percent [you can't]," she said. "The school needs to have a written cyberbullying policy, signed by parents and students."

"This is a very tricky issue. ... [This site] sounds good in concept, but my concern is the risk management issue," she said, adding that she was most concerned about the likelihood of cyberbullying reports being mishandled and the lack of training and knowledge on the schools' part.

Despite these concerns, educators maintain that can help them address all kinds of harassment.

Ungerman said cyberbullying is increasingly an issue reported by her students and one that they try to address.

She doesn't have a separate cyberbullying manual, but said that the line between home and school was not a clear one.

"We find that cyberbullying begins at school and is carried out out of school. There is a school link," she said.

Original here

Ky. judge allows gambling Web site case to proceed



A Franklin County Circuit Court judge refused Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to block access to more than 140 online casinos in Kentucky.

Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that he will hear arguments on Nov. 17 before deciding whether to give Kentucky's state government control of 141 domain names, which include the Internet's most popular gambling Web sites.

"Opposing groups and lawyers argue any judicial interference of the Internet will create havoc. This doomsday argument does not ruffle the court," Wingate wrote. "The Internet, with all its benefits and advantages to modern day commerce and life, is still not above the law, whether on an international or municipal level."

Attorneys for the state claim the sites are illegally bringing gambling into Kentucky. They claim the domain names are tantamount to illegal gambling devices - which can be seized by the state - and should be blocked to Kentucky.

Beshear, a Democrat, made his support for a constitutional amendment legalizing casino gambling a central focus of his campaign for governor last year. The governor tried and failed earlier this year to get the General Assembly to put a proposed amendment before voters.

Kentucky already allows gambling on horse racing and bingo, and has a state lottery.

Gov. Steve Beshear released a statement that he was pleased by Wingate's ruling.

"No one has been willing to step up and do anything about illegal Internet gambling until now," Beshear said in the statement. "We must protect our people, especially our children, from this illegal and unregulated activity while also protecting our legal and regulated forms of gaming in Kentucky."

Jeremiah Johnston, president of the Washington D.C.-based Internet Commerce Association, said he thought the ruling could have far-reaching ramifications on Internet commerce.

"With this decision, it's essentially throwing a wild card into the mix," Johnston said. "I definitely fear copycat actions from other states."

Ed Leyden, a Washington D.C. attorney for the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association, said he did not believe the domain names should be considered gambling devices. Leyden said he believes the Kentucky court did not have jurisdiction.

"The issues are global," Leyden said.

Wingate, meanwhile, said online casinos that don't block access to their Web sites in Kentucky could be ordered to forfeit their domain names. Others that prove they've blocked access may be released, he said.

Investigators found Internet gambling sites that already blocked to Kentucky users, Wingate said. "The defendants' domain names are virtual keys for entering and creating virtual casinos from the desktop of a resident in Kentucky," Wingate wrote.

Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown said it should be fairly simple for the companies to prove they've blocked Kentucky's access. Brown, however, said he also wants the Web site operators to notify Internet registrars that they're blocking Kentucky's access as a guarantee.

"The burden's going to be on them," Brown said. "They ought not have too much difficulty stopping them if they want to."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

Original here

Revenues rise as Google says hard times will drive business

By John Timmer

Google shrugged off the global economy's current spasms, as its third quarter revenues rose over 30 percent year-over-year. Revenues may be tailing off, as this represented only a four percent quarterly growth, but the company has managed to keep its costs stable, and its executives are voicing a bit of cautious optimism that economic hard times may make many of its services more appealing. The market seems to agree, as the stock picked up $30 a share (nearly 8 percent) in after-hours trading.

Google pulled in roughly $5.5 billion in revenue in Q3, with roughly $4 billion of that coming straight from properties. Revenue in the US has been roughly flat in the past year, which represented the third quarter in a row that international revenue came in narrowly ahead of domestic dollars. The money drove GAAP income up to $1.35 billion ($4.24 a share), while its non-GAAP numbers hit $1.56 billion, or $4.92 a share.

That money left the company with a wad of cash worth $14.4 billion, with which it was earning annual interest in the range of two-to-three percent on, suggesting it was invested very conservatively. Given the increasing importance of international revenues, Google has rolled out a currency-hedging program that should insulate it somewhat from fluctuations in the currency markets. The roll-out cost about $80 million, but has already started to save the company money. Right now, Google focuses on British pounds, euros, and Canadian dollars, but other currencies will continue to be added to the system.

Google's success appears largely driven by keeping its costs tightly in line. As revenues have grown, Google has managed to keep its Traffic Acquisition Costs—largely payments to its partners—stable for all of fiscal 2008. The net result is that TAC as a percentage of revenue have dropped about 2.5 percent over the last year. Other costs, including R&D, sales and marketing, and administration, have held flat as a percentage of earnings as well. Thus, as long as Google can drive revenue up, profits will follow.

It's hard to avoid talking about the global economic problems these days and, in the earnings conference call, none of the Google executives seemed interested in trying. Google CEO Eric Schmidt introduced the company's new CFO by saying that he had, "joined us in interesting times." While Schmidt acknowledged that there were going to be challenges ahead, he pitched Google as, at a personal and business level, providing solutions to the challenges for others. Individuals would be drawn to Google in order to find better bargains online, while both universities and companies could turn to Google's apps to cut down on their IT costs.

Google is doing its best to make sure that the dollars keep rolling in, though. It doesn't take its lead in the search business for granted; Sergey Brin announced that the company now indexes a Library of Congress equivalent every four hours. Brin highlighted how search results now returned results from Google Images and YouTube on the results page, and Schmidt said that the search latency was down. All of these should continue to draw users to its search and let the company push its other services.

Google also attempted to highlight all its other efforts, like the Chrome browser and Android. When highlighting the boom in mobile search, its execs were careful to mention the good mobile browsing experience generically, even though it largely appears to be iPhone-driven. But the company got called on its lack of clear monetization plans; after highlighting how Google Maps provided a great local ad opportunity, one analyst asked cynically why he should think there was anything new in maps, since Google had been talking about its possibility for a while now.

Even if things like Chrome don't lead to obvious revenue, however, it's clear that Google has a tight grip on its costs, and the economic chaos hasn't yet started eating into its bottom line. The company's arguments that it won't, however, are user driven, while the money itself actually comes from advertisers, who may have an entirely different view of whether bargain seekers are worth their dollars.

Original here

NVIDIA spills beans on new 9400 chipset family

By Joel Hruska

NVIDIA took the wraps off its new integrated 9300 and 9400 chipsets today, the day after Apple launched new Macbook Pros that actually use the new 9400 design. That, apparently, is one of the benefits of being Apple—you get to announce other companies' products before the company does. Apple, however, tends to focus more on style than nitty-gritty technical details; if you want concrete data on what the new chipsets bring to the table, today's unveiling is for you.

GPU capabilities, supported RAM standards,

The 9400 bears a certain resemblance to the AMD-flavored GeForce 8300 chipset that was introduced earlier this year, but there are two differences between them. Most obviously, of course, this is an Intel chipset (though it's possible we might see an AMD version at some point), and it supports the 1333MHz bus speeds and memory ratios of the latest C2D processors, all while hanging an additional PCIe 2.0 x1 slot off the chip.

DisplayPort (DP) support is also new to the 9300/9400, as is the possibility of a mini-ITX form factor. The first round of 9400 boards out the door are all mATX or ATX designs, but NVIDIA has confirmed that mini-ITX boards are an option should manufacturers choose to go that route. The mini-ITX option should improve NVIDIA's competitive status in that product segment; the only NVIDIA-based mini-ITX boards currently available are based on the minimalist (and, frankly, unappealing) GeForce 7050 integrated GPU family.

As for the board's integrated graphics, both of the new chipsets carry GPUs that are significantly stronger than anything NVIDIA has previously shipped in this market segment. There appears to be some confusion on this point, as several websites have reported that the 8300's mGPU has 16 streaming processors. I took this question direclty to NVIDIA's technical staff, and received confirmation that this is not the case; the AMD-based 8300 mGPU has eight streaming processors, a 500MHz core clock, and a 1.5GHz shader clock. The 9400, in contrast, runs a 580MHz core (an increase of 16 percent), slower shaders (down by 9.3 percent), but offers double the SPs, as well as support for DDR3-1333, which increases overall memory bandwidth.

DDR3 prices, by the way, have dropped significantly over the year. DDR2 is still quite a bit cheaper—1GB of Kingston DDR2-800 is around $20 on average at NewEgg, as compared to $43 for 1GB of Kingston DDR3-1333—but the gap between the two technologies is slowly shrinking.

Supported peripherals and ports.
Sadly, there's no Llama socket.

The improvements to the 9400 extend beyond 3D performance; the new chipset supports dual-link DVI for resolutions up to 2560x1600, can output to two digital displays simultaneously (the 8300 had a single digital display limitation) and retains the lossless LCPM audio support that the company debuted on its AMD platform.

The only feature of the 8300 mGPU that the 9300/9400 family lacks is support for NVIDIA's HybridPower technology. Hybrid SLI (the pairing of an integrated and a discrete GPU for increased performance) is available on the new chipset, but it lacks the ability to shut the discrete GPU off and run entirely on the integrated solution. (Clarifying note: The 8300 is capable of running two displays concurrently, so long as one of them is analog. The 9400 family does away with this limitation).

As far as generational improvements go, it doesn't get much better than this. Designing an Intel chipset meant extra work to begin with, since Intel solutions still require a separate memory controller where AMD boards do not, but NVIDIA clearly did more than respin the 8300, slap an MC on it, and call it good. If the board's performance lives up to its feature set, NVIDIA could be set to chew into some of Intel's daunting OEM market share.


Armed with this additional technical information on the 9400 chipset family, we can cast an eye towards determining why Apple prominently ditched Intel platforms yesterday in favor of NVIDIA-built solutions. If you haven't heard the news, the folks in Cupertino announced yesterday that upcoming versions of the Macbook, Macbook Air, and Macbook Pro would use the mobile version of the 9400, known as the 9400M. The 9600 GT will also be available on certain Macbook Pro models in a Hybrid SLI configuration. Intel recently released its own updated mobile platform, so why would Apple be moving away from its erstwhile chipset partner? Feature differences definitely aren't the answer—line the 9400 family up against the G45 Express, and you'll find that the two are nearly identical, save for the capabilities and performance of their respective integrated GPUs.

This is normally the point where I'd spend a few paragraphs excoriating the performance and compatibility of whatever garbage Intel was attempting to force-feed enthusiasts who didn't know they should avoid the company's GPU solutions, but this is Apple we're discussing, not Dell or HP. Apple's disdain for gamers is equalled by, and may possibly exceed, it's disdain for the media,. Besides, gamers can be satisfied simply by offering non-Intel alternatives. Better integrated gaming performance is, I think, no more than a tiny blip on Apple's radar, if it registers at all. NVIDIA integrated solutions support one major feature Intel can't match: CUDA.

Now with GPU-assisted performance boosting goodness. Cute chick not included.

NVIDIA has focused on its Compute Unified Device Architecture (CUDA) development suite through all of 2008; the company never misses an opportunity to discuss how GPUs can perform certain tasks once relegated to the CPU in 1/100 the time while using 1/10 the power. NVIDIA is scarcely alone in pushing this selling point; Cell processors are available as add-in cards, AMD has its Torrenza initiative (as well as its own GPU computing architecture), and Intel built programmable FCPGAs into its SoC design, Tolapai, but Apple may have been listening to NVIDIA in particular. Snow Leopard, it's rumored, will include increased multi-core support, and may just be capable of using the 9400M's integrated GPU for additional processing tasks.

Apple may have had other reasons for swapping chipset vendors, as reviews show that the new GeForce 9300 positively whallops the G45 Express when decoding 1080p MPEG-2 content, and squeaks past it when processing 1080p encoded in H.264. NVIDIA itself, meanwhile, makes much of Adobe Photoshop CS4's GPU-accelerated capabilities, and recommends reviewers compare the G45 to the 9300/9400 in CS4. Even if Apple has no interest in getting Snow Leopard to use CUDA as a means of offloading tasks to the GPU, it seems safe to bet that the various CUDA-enabled functionalities NVIDIA has shown off, such as GPU-assisted video encoding, are what caught the company's eye.

If I'm right, and Apple's decision to go Green has something to do with NVIDIA's integrated hardware in general and CUDA in particular, hopefully it'll send a message to Intel. Ever since it debuted integrated video on the i810 Pentium 3 chipset, "Intel graphics" has been a synonym for "barely acceptable." This has become painfully obvious in recent years, as NVIDIA and ATI have fought for supremecy in a market where Intel's technology doesn't even qualify for also-ran status. Apple, as I've previously stated, may not care about gaming, but the core technology within the IGP that makes for a better gaming experience overlaps significantly with the technology that allows CUDA to do what it does. One way or another, I suspect we'll see GPU-assisted technology and software popping up at Apple in the near future.


NVIDIA sent us a media center for testing, but it arrived just two days ago, and I've been completely slammed since. We will, however, be taking a look (and comparing it to) some of the other HTPC-friendly chipsets on the market. Meanwhile, if you're looking for more information on the Apple announcements from yesterday, you can find details on the new Macbook and Macbook Pros, the Stevenote, the Macbook refresh in particular, (good-bye FireWire) and the updated Macbook Air in the appropriate spots. If, on the other hand, you want a full review of the 9300/9400 (the two are virtually identical), check Tech Report here.

Original here

Disappearing act: The invisibility cloak that will be ready in five years

By Daily Mail Reporter

An invisibility cloak just like the one Harry Potter used to creep out of Hogwarts could become a reality within five years.

But instead of using magic, researchers from Purdue University, Indiana are using 'nanotechnology' and 'metamaterials' along with Einstein’s theory of general relativity.


Invisibility cloaks will work by bending light around an object

It works by bending light around itself like the flow of water around a stone, which would make both the electromagnetic cloak and the object inside hidden.

'The whole idea behind metamaterials is to create materials designed and engineered out of artificial atoms, meta-atoms, which are smaller than the wavelengths of light itself,' Professor Vladminr Shalaev said.

In his study reported in the journal Science, Shalaev used an array of tiny needles radiating outward from a central spoke, like a round hairbrush, that would bend light around the object being cloaked inside.

These tiny needles decrease the refraction or distortion of the light to almost zero, rendering it invisible.


These two images (cloak off, top and cloak on, bottom) show how objects might be 'cloaked' by bending light around them to render them invisible.

'Whereas relativity demonstrates the curved nature of space and time, we are able to curve space for light, and we can design and engineer tiny devices to do this,' he said.

He added that as well as bending light they could do the opposite - concentrating light in one area.

The new technique could be used to create optical microscopes so powerful they would make DNA visible to the naked eye and superfast computer microchips.

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T-Mobile's G1 with Google is no iPhone – but it's close

g1Having been an iPhone 3G owner since July, I was prepared to not be too impressed with the T-Mobile G1, the very first mobile phone to use Google's Android software as its operating system. The photos from its unveiling made it look big and clunky, and screen shots of the software seemed almost cartoonish in design.

But as a product manager for T-Mobile admitted to me, the G1 "doesn't photograph well". It's a lot more exciting in person -- it's sleeker than you think, and the software is quite impressive for an initial version. No, neither the hardware nor the software are as elegant as that of the iPhone, but the G1 is a close runner-up. Of the smartphones out there, it's the closest contender yet.

I've been using a review unit for about a week, long enough to find both things I like and things I think need fixing. The best news about the G1 is that not only can T-Mobile fix its flaws, so can any other skilled programmer.

That's because, like the iPhone, the G1 has a place you can go to download new applications for it. The G1 Market, like the iTunes App Store, is increasingly full of useful programs. But unlike the App Store, there's no gatekeeper for the applications. Anyone can write a program and add it to the Market.

What this means is that, yes, quality is going to vary wildly. But G1 users will be able to rate and review apps, and it should become quickly apparent when a program is junk. This open system also means that features that are missing or don't work well could be overcome by downloadable applications.

For example, neither of the e-mail applications on the G1 support Exchange, the Microsoft e-mail protocol that's favored by many corporations. That makes the G1 pretty much worthless as a serious business device. But someone could write an Exchange-compatible e-mail program and submit it to the Market (provided they got over Microsoft's licensing hurdles, of course). While Apple won't allow apps that compete with the iPhone's native ones, Google and T-Mobile have no problem doing that for the G1. That potentially gives the G1 a serious advantage.

The hardware

The G1 is made by HTC, which is known for its brick-like phones with screens that slide up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. That's the design for the G1, though the screen slides out first and then up, with a satisfying click. I enjoyed handing the G1 to curious friends, who expressed surprised delight when the screen slid up. It's very cool, but purely cosmetic, as an HTC spokesperson confirmed.

The phone feels solid in the hand -- I get the impression it's a lot more rugged than the delicate iPhone, which must be swathed in a case for serious protection against scratching. I've been carrying the G1 around in a pants pocket full of change, and so far it's unscathed.

It's thicker than the iPhone, but not quite as wide. And actually, with the SwitchEasy CapsuleNeo case I've got on my iPhone, it's about the same thickness.

Those who are familiar with other HTC phones -- such as the AT&T 8525, the T-Mobile Wing or the Sprint Mogul -- may be disappointed in the physical keyboard. The keys are small and round, which makes it difficult to hit keys quickly. You also have to press down fairly hard on each key. On previous HTC phones, the keys were square, larger and adjacent to each other, which seems like a better design, though not as visually attractive.

The 3.2-inch screen is bright and its resolution crisp. As with the iPhone, it can switch between landscape and portrait modes, but not automatically. To get into landscape mode, you must raise the screen. The G1 does have a motion sensor, so it's not clear why it doesn't switch automatically based on how you're holding the phone.

The touch screen is not quite as responsive as the iPhone, but definitely not as balky as the Samsung Instinct or LG Dare. It lacks some of the slicker multitouch capabilities -- there's no pinching to shrink or expand images or Web pages, for example.

The G1 has an angled "chin" below the screen that includes a trackball; the traditional cell-phone answer and hang-up buttons; a home-screen button; and a menu button. The angle of the chin is designed to protect both the trackball and the screen when the phone is placed face-down on a surface. I liked having additional buttons, though I sometimes became irritated with having to press the Menu button to get access to features in the G1's applications. More on that later.

As you'd expect, the phone comes with GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It will use T-Mobile's new 3G network, which is available at the moment in less than 20 markets, Houston being one of them. If it can't find a 3G signal, it can use the older EDGE network.

Much has been made of the fact that the G1 does not have a traditional headphone jack. Instead, the G1 comes with a stereo headset that plugs into the same port used to charge the phone or connect it to a computer. If you want to use a different headset, you'll have to buy an adapter. This actually is not uncommon. For example, Samsung's BlackJack I and II both require an adapter to use third-party headsets.

Audio quality is very good during phone calls. In fact, this is one of the best-sounding phones I've used in a long time. It comes with built-in voice-dialing, so it's also one of the safest, too.

Unlike the iPhone, the G1 has a replaceable battery. Battery life is a little better than the iPhone -- I can go a good two days without charging the G1, so long as I don't make heavy use of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. That can cut usage time to half a day!

The G1 also has expandable memory. It comes with a 1-gigabyte mini-SD card, and can take up to an 8-GB card. The iPhone's memory is fixed, but its 16-GB model eclipses the G1's storage capacity.

The software

Google's Android software is fun to use, and includes most of the features you'll want in a smartphone. Its home screen features the most commonly used items -- the dialer, contacts, the browser, maps and, of course, Google search. You can add more, and use your finger to slide back and forth between horizontally scrolling screens. At the bottom of the screen is a tab, which you touch to reveal your available apps.

As you'd expect, the phone is heavily tied to Google's services. When you first set it up, you have to enter your Gmail account information -- and if you don't have a Gmail account, the phone will help you set one up. It then pulls in all your contact and calendar information.

For some odd reason, if you have other e-mail services you want to access, you'll need to use a second included mail program. Why the two aren't combined is a mystery, and it makes using multiple accounts a hassle. Again, Google or another software developer could come up with a unified e-mail program -- and they should!

The G1's Web browser is based on Webkit, the same core component used in the iPhone's Mobile Safari browser. This means that the G1 shows you Web sites as they are meant to be seen. Unfortunately, it also means you can't see Web pages that use the ubiquitous Flash -- though again, someone could build a Flash player for Android.

I found the applications included with the G1 to be . . . OK. Generally, they're simple and uncluttered. As an example, the browser's page viewer takes up the whole screen. On one hand, this means you have more room to view Web sites, but it also means that you must press the Menu button often to get to frequently used features. I'd rather have a URL field always visible than have to constantly press the Menu button.

Since you can't pinch to zoom, Android puts plus-and-minus buttons on-screen. The zoom levels are imprecise, and I found myself hitting them multiple times, trying to get what's on the screen to size correctly. On the Web browser, a second button lets you box off a specific area to be enlarged, and I found I preferred this method of zooming, though it's still not as slick as the iPhone's system.

There are components of the Android software that show real innovation. For example, many phones allow you to set up a numeric password that must be entered before you can access its features, known as a lock code. On the G1, this has been replaced by a grid of nine dots. You set up a lock code by dragging your finger over four of the dots, and then only that pattern can open the phone. That's clever, but there's a real flaw in it -- the shiny screen easily shows fingerprints, and unless you wipe it clean after unlocking the phone, anyone can see the pattern via smears left behind. Oops!

Unlike the iPhone, which requires that you tether to iTunes to update the software, upgrades to Android will come automatically via T-Mobile's network. Don't expect T-Mobile to update the G1 as often as Apple does the iPhone, but it will be delivering both fixes and new features this way.

The G1 doesn't come with software required to connect to a computer. An included USB cable connects it to either a Mac or a PC, and you can then access folders on the phone. That's how you put music into it (though an included app also lets you download songs via AmazonMP3 when connected to Wi-Fi) -- by just dragging song files into the Music folder. Some folks may think this is simpler and less intrusive than using iTunes with the iPhone; others may think it's kludgy. I can appreciate the simplicity, but if you have a large library of songs, manually dragging/dropping can get old quickly.

Want one?

If you want a G1, you may have to wait awhile. It officially goes on sale on Oct. 22, but T-Mobile has said it's sold out of its pre-order. It sold 1.5 million phones in advance, and it's unclear whether you'll be able to walk into a T-Mobile dealer next Wednesday and buy one.

If you do, you'll pay $179 with a two-year contract. Usage plan pricing varies, but expect to pay a minimum of $55 a month for both voice and data.

And should you get one? If you're an existing T-Mobile customer who has been thinking about an iPhone, you suddenly have a real decision to make. This is a great phone for consumers -- for business users, not so much. It's about at the same place the iPhone was in its initial release.

If you've been trying to decide between the iPhone 3G and the G1, I'd have to say that the former is far more elegant and polished. But the G1 holds a lot of promise, particularly with its open-software approach. There will be more Android-based phones coming, and those who aren't wedded to any particular wireless carrier may want to wait until next year to see how things develop.

Both the iPhone 3G and the G1 are miles ahead of Windows Mobile and RIM BlackBerry phones -- at least, in the consumer arena. The smartphone market is suddenly a much more interesting place.

Original here

Apple, Psystar agree to dispute resolution process

Posted by Tom Krazit

Psystar's Open Computer, the source of the legal dispute between the clone vendor and Apple.

(Credit: James Martin/CNET News)

Apple and Psystar have agreed to pursue a mediated settlement to their legal dispute over Psystar's Open Computers.

The Mac Observer turned up a court filing from earlier this month in the Apple-Psystar case noting that the two parties have agreed to participate in the Alternative Dispute Resolution process. As you may recall, Apple sued Psystar earlier this year for copyright infringement after Psystar began selling low-cost Open Computers with Mac OS X preinstalled. Psystar then countersued Apple on antitrust grounds.

ADR, as it is known, is a way to bypass the costly legal process as well as keep the outcome private, which is one of Apple's favorite words. I downloaded the document in question from the U.S. District Court of Northern California's Web site (click here for PDF), and it says that Apple and Psystar have agreed to three portions of the ADR process: non-binding arbitration, early neutral evaluation, and mediation. The parties have agreed to hold their sessions by January 31, 2009.

It's not exactly clear what Apple and Psystar are thinking with the decision to choose this path. If Apple loses the case, and Psystar is allowed to continue selling Mac OS-based Open Computers, it won't really matter if the outcome is kept private, since the availability of Open Computers will tell the tale. If Psystar is forced to stop selling Open Computers with Mac OS, we'll likewise notice that.

Psystar has never appeared to have a ton of resources to use on its behalf, despite hiring a big-time Silicon Valley law firm to represent it against Apple. So it might very well be interested in a cheaper method of resolving the dispute, especially if Apple has the upper hand.

And Apple may very well not want to concede in a public courtroom that Psystar has a chance of proving its antitrust claim that the relevant market for this case is Mac OS computers, rather than just personal computers in general. That could hurt Apple in other antitrust cases it's facing regarding iTunes and the iPhone.

Tom Krazit, a staff writer for CNET News, focuses on all things Apple. He has covered traditional PC companies such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, chip companies such as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, and mobile computers ranging from Research In Motion's to Palm's. E-mail Tom.

Original here

iPod Knockoff Maker Hires Knockoff Lawyers, Files Monopoly Suit Against Apple

By John Herrman

Apparently emboldened by a minor, years-old success against Apple's lawyers in Taiwan, iPod knockoff manufacturer Luxpro has decided to sue Apple, claiming that the company has monopolized the MP3 player market with a variety of unfair "schemes." Some of their arguments are somewhat compelling, namely when they bring up Apple's attempt to countersue Creative after their initial interface infringement suit, a move which notably backfired.

But accusations of monopoly sound a little hollow coming from a company that last made headlines for narrowly escaping a copyright trademark suit filed by Apple to cease the sale of Luxpro's Super Shuffle iPod shuffle knockoff. The suit resulted in a changed name for the player and a massive, failed countersuit by Luxpro. Even more significant here is that Luxpro's latest suit has been filed in an Arkansas court, which I'm guessing will be a little less lenient when it comes to Luxpro's obvious imitation products.

Whether they'll take Luxpro's monopoly accusations seriously remains to be seen, but the filing makes it clear that Luxpro is after money, and lots of it. [MacNN]

Original here

Glamor schmamor: Tales from the trenches at Apple events

By Jacqui Cheng

As I write this, I'm flying home to Chicago from my fifth trip to California this year to cover various Apple events. Doing these things can certainly be fun, and there's nothing else I'd rather do—I love my job. But covering Apple for a living isn't as glamorous as some people tend to think. In fact, it can be exhausting, frustrating, and downright dirty—and that's saying nothing of the in-air heart attacks.

Getting there

For most of us here at Ars (as with many other journalists and bloggers), we have to travel regularly in order to cover companies' special events. That means flying halfway (or entirely) across the country, and, especially in today's tightening economy, doing so on a budget. With Apple, sometimes we have very little notice before an event to book a flight and hotel, meaning that we may not be blessed by the travel gods with the luck required to get a direct flight.

This isn't a problem new to people traveling to cover Apple events, of course. Businesspeople who travel much more regularly tend to run into issues all the time and end up being late to (or missing) meetings. However, when you're from a site sending one or two people to cover a major event and something goes horribly wrong with the flights, the site could miss out on millions of pageviews, advertising dollars, and valuable exposure if those people don't manage to make it on time.

This almost happened to Ars with the most recent Apple event. Because of the short notice (five days) from Apple, we had to book connecting flights from Chicago to Las Vegas to San Jose the day before the event. Naturally, the flight out of Chicago was running late due to hydraulics problems with the wings. One hour and several returns to the gate later, we took off with very little time left to catch our connection in Las Vegas. Not long before we were going to land, however, someone on the plane had a medical emergency—a cardiac nurse on the plane said that a man in the back might be having a heart attack. We almost made an emergency landing, but the crew decided to ride it out until Las Vegas.

We landed 9 minutes before our connection was supposed to leave, and I watched the clock tick down while the paramedics rushed on and off the plane. When we finally made it to our connecting gate, huffing and puffing, it had just left. The next—and only—flight to the entire Bay area for the day was in four hours, and it was already overbooked. Things were not looking good.

If not for some crafty weaseling, Ars might not have been able to make it to Cupertino this Tuesday to see Steve Jobs in person (the horror!) unless we rented a car and drove from Vegas. Due to secret airline-wheedling mojo that we cannot share with you on pain of death, we managed to make it. Incidentally, the guy supposedly having a heart attack on the plane refused treatment once the paramedics got him off because he wanted to make his connecting flight to Pasadena. He missed it as well.

Finally, once you arrive, the travel gods sometimes display a juvenile sense of humor. You may not be able to stay somewhere that isn't rife with hookers in the lobby or decked out with poop-stained towels in the bathrooms. And I'm not saying that to be funny—I've stayed at both of those types of places while covering these events. Multiple times. Each.

We'll just leave it at that.

Cattle call starts at 9am sharp

So you're in the city you're supposed to be in, you got at least a half night's sleep after listening to the next room's headboard bang against the wall all night, and you're ready to rock. Great!

If you're covering Apple, you're likely to have been asked to show up at a certain time for registration before the event begins. This is one of the only times being on the press list can be a blessing, because unlike most Macworld Expo or WWDC attendees, you don't have to wait in line starting at 3:30am in order to guarantee a spot in the keynote.

The Apple PR people checking you in almost always recognize you even if you have no idea who they are—I'm convinced they have complete photographic profiles set up for every journalist on the company intranet—and you get handed a badge to wear that tells the many, many security personnel not to haul you out.

The media area before the
Macworld Expo 2008 keynote

That's when you join your herd—that is, your journalist and blogger friends from other publications who you see more regularly in a year than you do your own parents. Depending on the type of event, there may be hundreds of writers, editors, photographers, and videographers milling about, or just a medium-sized group (Macworld Expo, for example, will have a gigantic press crowd while Town Hall events on Apple's campus are much smaller). Once unleashed into the holding pen before the event starts, everyone starts watching the clock until the doors open into the hall. And when that happens, it doesn't matter how good a frenemy you might be with your fellow industry folk.

Watching what follows is kind of like observing a large group of children wait to go through a pair of tiny doors to meet the one and only real Santa Claus. There is no line; there is a giant mass crowding the doors. People cut in front of others to make it to the front. Some people run back and forth between several doors to see which one is opening faster—and if one is opening before the other, entire gangs of people will be seen sprinting to the other side in order to get in the hall exactly 15 seconds sooner than everyone else.

Some individuals will go so far as to physically shove others out of their way so that they can go running down the aisle in the hall and get the closest possible seat to Steve Jobs. In fact, this happened to me once courtesy of a prominent and well-respected tech personality—I was almost knocked completely on the floor. Security ended up yelling, "NO RUNNING! NO RUNNING!" in the hall after him, as if we were all racing each other to get into the McDonald's ball playpen and someone was about to be hurt. Actually, on second thought, that's exactly what it's like.

Now, remember, this is for an event in which we are all guaranteed seats in the same section. And, after chatting with others about the incident, this is not a terribly uncommon phenomenon. It has happened to others.

Doing the event and heading home

One question I get asked regularly is, "What is it like to watch Steve Jobs speak in person?"

People imagine that I can see his sweat glands glimmer as he talks about the new iPod nano, or watch fire come out of his nostrils when somebody in the audience asks why there aren't any Intel stickers on Macs. Unfortunately, that's not true.

Because I (and most of my journalistic brethren) are either liveblogging or taking notes for later, we rarely get to actually breathe and look up at the stage. Back when I used to cover Apple events solo, I used to tell people that the only times I saw Steve Jobs were through the lens of a camera in between frantically writing. During this last event, I didn't have to take my own photos (thank $deity), and so I saw Jobs even less. The words flow into my ears and out through my fingers. I barely have enough brain cycles to process what's being said, much less observe the halo floating over Steve Jobs' head or the RDF emitter wedged beneath his turtleneck.

Apple's Tim Cook, Steve Jobs, and
Phil Schiller taking questions

When Steve Jobs decides to take questions afterwards (which only happens in smaller events—not Macworld or WWDC), not everyone gets to ask theirs. He hand-picks certain individuals to ask their questions (the Chosen Ones), but only a few people get picked; many others get ignored.

After that, if new products have been announced, there is usually a general press briefing area where you can play with the new products, take photos, and ask questions of the personnel standing around. But don't go thinking you can ask just any question and actually get an answer. You're dealing with highly-trained PR ninjas here, and almost any question that is too technical or too trollish will get rebuffed immediately. Sorry guys, no xMac questions allowed.

When the event is over and everyone is done getting their photos and racing each other to Digg, the atmosphere relaxes a bit. If it's a conference like Macworld, you'll likely be stuck there for a few more days covering the goings-on of the third-party Apple ecosystem, which turns out to be a germy one. There's a 98 percent guarantee that you'll be going home sick when the whole thing is over. Just watch Twitter—every single Mac journalist, blogger, PR person, and developer arrives home from a week-long Apple conference with a bug that lasts a week or two. But everyone is still (usually) happy. And that's the entire point.

By now, there are undoubtedly many of you thinking to yourself that none of this sounds very hard and that we deserve the world's tiniest violin. But that's not the point at all. Despite all of these experiences, covering events like these is a joy. I enjoy being able to perform a service to our loyal readers and being able to have hands-on time with the products immediately after they're announced. Even after being delayed, shoved, slighted, and sent home sick five or more times a year, getting that reader e-mail saying "Great job! Thanks a lot!" makes it all worth it.

I'll do it over and over for as long as I can. Now, if only Condé Nast could hook me up with a sumo suit so I can take some of these f***ers down at the next keynote.

Original here

'Net filters "required" for all Australians, no opt-out

By Jacqui Cheng

Australians may not be able to opt out of the government's Internet filtering initiative like they were originally led to believe. Details have begun to come out about Australia's Cyber-Safety Plan, which aims to block "illegal" content from being accessed within the country, as well as pornographic material inappropriate for children. Right now, the system is in the testing stages, but network engineers are now saying that there's no way to opt out entirely from content filtering.

The Australian government first revealed its filtering initiative in 2007, which it expected to cost AUS$189 million to implement. That money would go toward imposing filtering requirements on ISPs, who would have to use the Australian Communications and Media Authority's official blacklist, which is in turn based on the country's National Classification Scheme.

Australia moved forward with its plans despite widespread public outcry and began testing the system in Tasmania in February of this year. At the time, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said that the filters would be enabled by default and that consumers would have to request unfiltered connectivity if they wished to opt-out of the program.

Well, it turns out now that those promises were only partially true. Internode network engineer Mark Newton told Computerworld that users are able to opt out of the "additional material" blacklist—which targets content inappropriate for children—but not the main blacklist that filters what the Australian government determines is illegal content.

"That is the way the testing was formulated, the way the upcoming live trials will run, and the way the policy is framed; to believe otherwise is to believe that a government department would go to the lengths of declaring that some kind of Internet content is illegal, then allow an opt-out," Newton said. "Illegal is illegal and if there is infrastructure in place to block it, then it will be required to be blocked—end of story."

A spokesperson for the Australian Communications Minister seemed to confirm this revelation by saying that the filters would be required for all Australian citizens.

Assuming this is in fact the way the scheme is implemented in practice, it raises plenty of troubling questions. "Illegal" is a broad definition, leaving users wondering exactly what kinds of content will end up falling prey to the government's apparently mandatory filtering restrictions. Will Big Content be ringing up the Aussie government soon to have tracker sites added to the blacklist? What about sites that discuss topics like at-home bomb making, or something a little less explosive, like DVD decryption tools? And how about those sites that advise users on how to get around the filters? Will various Wikipedia pages be blocked?

Australia continues to ignore its own government-funded studies from 2006 that show ISP-level filtering to be ineffective and costly. The Australian government's disregard for those prior studies suggests that the driving force behind the current plan is more political than technical.

Original here

The Pirate Bay Removes Fake Trackers from Torrents

Written by Ernesto on October 16, 2008

In an attempt to make BitTorrent more secure, and to reduce some of the load on their own tracker, The Pirate Bay has started to remove all duplicate, dead and anti-pirate trackers from the torrents they host. These changes will improve the trackers’ performance, and increase ’security’ for its users.

pirate bayRunning the largest BitTorrent tracker on the Internet requires a lot of expensive hardware. To keep this hardware running smoothly, The Pirate Bay is constantly optimizing their setup.

One of the latest changes is that they have started to automatically remove duplicate trackers from torrent files, to keep unnecessary connections between BitTorrent clients and their tracker to a minimum.

Pirate Bay co-founder TiAMO explained to TorrentFreak: “It’s totally unnecessary to have more than one of our tracker URLs when they all have the same peers, they just ask the tracker for the same data lots of times.”

“Also, now we can strip out all bad trackers from anti-p2p companies, as well as old ones that stopped working years ago,” he added. So, while they were at it, they have also decided to remove dead trackers, and BitTorrent trackers that are run by anti-piracy organizations. This makes it less likely that the MPAA and RIAA , often though companies like Mediasentry, can keep tabs on the download habits of Pirate Bay users.

Another advantage, of course, is that the number of fake files and spam from companies such as MediaDefender are kept to a minimum. Fake torrents are often used to trick people into downloading useless data instead of Hollywood’s latest blockbuster. The Pirate Bay already had quite a good track record when it comes to removing fakes, and this will only improve with these latest changes.

The Pirate Bay currently has 13 servers dedicated to the tracker, and another 14 servers for the website itself. Yesterday, the tracker broke a new record, with close to 18 million active users on “TV-torrent Tuesday“, and at the current rate, they will be tracking 20 million peers a few weeks from now.

Original here

Opera study: only 4.13% of the web is standards-compliant

By Ryan Paul

Browser maker Opera has published the early results of an ongoing study that aims to provide insight into the structure of Internet content. To conduct this research project, Opera created the Metadata Analysis and Mining Application (MAMA), a tool that crawls the web and indexes the markup and scripting data from approximately 3.5 million pages.

Statistical analysis of the data collected by MAMA has provided Opera's engineers with a unique understanding of emerging trends in web development and the way that standards-based web technologies are used on the Internet. Opera plans to take the project to the next level by building a search engine on top of the indexed data so that web designers, browser implementers, and standards experts can easily obtain information about real-world usage of web technologies.

The preliminary data published today by Opera provides some intriguing statistics about the use of specific HTML elements. Among the pages analyzed by MAMA, the most popular HTML tags were HEAD, TITLE, HTML, BODY, A, META, IMG, AND TABLE. The list of least popular tags includes VAR, DEL, AND BDO.

Opera also studied the prevalence of rich web content technologies and scripting mechanisms that are typically associated with Ajax. The study found that Adobe Flash is used on roughly 35 percent of all web sites. Flash is most popular in China, where it was found on 67 percent of the web sites analyzed by MAMA, and it was least popular in Denmark, where it is used on 25 percent of web sites. The XMLHttpRequest scripting mechanism, one of the cornerstones of Ajax, is used on roughly 3.2 percent of the indexed web sites. It is most popular in Norway, where it was found on 10 percent of pages.

The study found that cascading stylesheets (CSS) are very widely used, and appear inline or referenced on 80 percent of the sites indexed by MAMA. The most popular CSS properties relate to color and fonts. JavaScript is also extremely common and is found on 75 percent of indexed web sites.

Standards compliant?

Opera also ran the pages indexed by MAMA through the W3C's validation tools to see how many conform with standards. The results show that only 4.13 percent are valid. A more startling conclusion that Opera derived from its MAMA data is that only 50 percent of sites that display a badge touting validation are actually valid. This could indicate that many sites which are initially designed with valid HTML later cease to be valid as changes are made and new content is added.

Opera analyzed page meta tags to see if there were any correlations between editing tools and validation rates. Surprisingly, Apple's iWeb delivered the highest volume of valid pages—the study shows that 81 percent of pages created with iWeb were valid. By comparison, only 3.4 percent of pages created with Adobe Dreamweaver were valid.

The initial results of Opera's study are fascinating, but its true value hasn't yet been fully unlocked. Opera's efforts to build a search engine on top of MAMA will open the door for some really exciting analysis and will enable third parties to use and repurpose the data for their own studies and projects.

"The Web is fragmented, complex and always evolving. MAMA's vast database provides us with detailed information about how Web technologies are used," said Opera vice president of quality assurance, Snorre M. Grimsby, in a statement. "This is key in our efforts to test and ensure high-quality compatibility, stability, and performance of our products, and we want to share it with our peers, so they can benefit from it, too."

Indeed, this project is a laudable gift to the web development community and web standards bodies. Its usefulness will continue to grow as Opera extends its scope and adds more functionality to accommodate broader research.

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Python 3.0 makes a big break

By Joab Jackson

Typically, each new version of the Python programming language has been gentle on users, more or less maintaining backward compatibility with previous versions. But in 2000, when Python creator Guido van Rossum announced that he was embarking on a new version of Python, he did not sugar coat his plan: Version 3.0 would not be backward-compatible. Now that the first release candidate of Python 3.0 is out, with final release planned for later this month, developers must grapple with the issue of whether to maintain older code or modify it to use the new interpreter.

Developers hate it when a new version of a language doesn't work with the code written for older versions of that language, but for van Rossum, the radical upgrade was necessary. The language was becoming ever more weighed down by multiple ways of doing the same task, and ways of doing tasks no one ever actually did.

"The motivation for 3.0 was to have one specific event where we did as much of the backward incompatibility all at once," van Rossum says. The idea is to "give the language a better foundation for going forward."

Naturally, some stirrings of discontent can be felt across the Python community.

"Python is pretty much determined to remove itself from consideration from various kinds of international projects like the one I work on. We're already catching flak from people due to a few things that were valid in 2.2 that are not valid in 2.3," bemoaned one developer in the comp.lang.python newsgroup.

"For an operating system distributor, Python 3.0 represents a large potential change in their repository of packages for relatively little benefit in terms of resulting functionality," says UK Python developer Paul Boddie.

What changes?

In a way, Python has been a victim of its own success. "The original idea for the language had a much smaller scope. I really hadn't expected it to be so successful and being used in a wide variety of applications, from Web applications to scientific calculations, and everything in between," van Rossum says.

Van Rossum first created Python in 1990, as an open source, extensible, high-level language that he needed to handle some system administration duties. Today, Python is one of the most popular languages used world-wide. In March 2008, Austrian researcher Anton Ertl ranked programming languages in terms of their popularity as gauged by the number of postings in Usenet newsgroups. Python proved to be the third most-discussed language on Usenet, right after C and Java, ahead of such stalwarts as C++ and Perl.

When it comes time to teach someone how to program, often the easiest programming language to use is Python. It is the Basic of today, though more elegant to work with than Basic ever was.

Yet Python's simplicity was being threatened by the unchecked growth of the language, van Rossum says. Throughout the '90s, new functions and features were bolted onto the language, and inconsistencies started popping up across the platform. "We were slowly losing the advantage" of simplicity. "We had to break backward compatibility. The alternative was unchecked bloat of the language definition, which happens very slowly and almost unnoticeable." has a list of changes to the language. Some are small, and will go unnoticed by most programmers. Others can be relearned quickly.

"Most of the differences are in the details; the general gist of the language, how people think about the language and the capabilities are pretty much unchanged," van Rossum says.

For instance, the print statement got turned into a print function; you must now put parentheses around what you want to print to the screen. The change allows developers to work with print in a more flexible and uniform way. If someone needs to replace the print function with some other action, it can be done with a universal search and replace, rather than rewriting each print statement by hand.

Another change: The language only has one integer type, instead of the former distinction between long and short integers, which van Rossum characterizes as worthless.

Another tangle of cruft that has been pruned back is something called "classic classes." Python version 2 has two sets of classes, each with its own format. "There was a lot of machinery in the Python virtual machine that was either special-casing classic classes or double implementations with version for classic classes and another version for new-style classes. This was implementation bloat," van Rossum says. So, after six years of campaigning to get people to move to the new classes, the developers of Python 3 have put their collective foot down and are doing away with the classic classes.

Perhaps the biggest change that takes place with Python -- and the one that will require the most rewriting of existing code -- is the new way Python deals with bytes and strings. Originally, Python represented all input and output as strings. When Python was used more in casual settings, most strings that went through the interpreter could easily be represented by the standard ASCII character set. But as the language's use grew to global proportions, more and more users started using Unicode to support a wider array of language characters. To Python, Unicode looked a lot like 8-bit binary byte strings, which could be passed along to the interpreter as part of the output from another program. In some cases, the interpreter would confuse binary data with Unicode-encoded strings, and it would choke, big-time.

The answer? Define a new object class for handling bytes -- a first for Python. Also, redefine strings as Unicode. And then keep the two clear of one another. In other words, the byte type and string type are not compatible in Python 3.0.

"If you ever make the mistake of passing bytes around where you think they are text, your code will raise an exception almost immediately," van Rossum said.

Conversion and converts

van Rossum admits now that he didn't think much of the transition difficulties when he first started thinking about Python 3.0. "In 2000, the community was small enough that I thought that I would just release a new version and people would fix their code and that is that."

In the feedback process with the user community though, the core developers started hearing more clamor for a smooth transition process. They needed tools.

This is the role of the recently released version 2.6 of Python, which will serve as a transition version of the language. Users can easily upgrade their code from earlier versions of Python to version 2.6. The 2.6 interpreter will offer warning messages about aspects of the program that will no longer fly with version 3.0.

"We're encouraging people to upgrade to Python 2.6," van Rossum says. "2.6 can help you find the anachronisms in your code that you will need to change to be prepared for 3.0."

The development team also created a transition tool called 2to3 that converts Python 2.6 code into Python 3.0 code. You can then run your older code in 2.6, rewriting it until all the warning messages have been eliminated, then use 2to3 to convert the code into Python 3.0 specs.

Of course, since Python is a dynamic language, where types are not explicitly declared, there are a lot of cases where a translation tool will not help much, but it should help with the mundane tasks, such as changing print statements into print functions.

Even with this tools in place, van Rossum admits that the migration of the user community will be a slow haul, and not all Python shops will make the transition.

For instance, the printing preparation company Aahz Maruch works for, Page DNA, relies on 200,000 lines of Python code in its core revenue-generating operations. "It would be a huge job" to translate this code into Python 3.0, Maruch says. He says the company will wait for a few years for the automatic translation tools to improve. "We haven't even talked about 3.0 -- it's at least two or three years away."

Others are more skeptical about the necessity of the upgrade.

The "implementation of Python 3.0 gives relatively little attention to [current] issues [modern programming languages face], such as performance, pervasive concurrency, or the provision of a renewed, coherent bundled library," Boddie says.

He says there is a danger that Python 3.0 may not be seen as a necessary upgrade for most developers and, as a result, it could lose its status as the de facto Python in much the same way Windows Vista hasn't become the de facto Windows over its predecessor Windows XP.

Today, the chief implementation of Python is CPython, which is a Python interpreter written in C. However, Boddie notes that other implementations exist, such as JPython (Python in Java), IronPython (Python written in Microsoft .Net's Common Runtime Language), and PyPy (a Python interpreter written in Python).

"I think that Python 3.0 may actually focus attention on other Python implementations, particularly if these do not pursue Python 3.0 compatibility as a priority," Boddie suggests.

Nonetheless, the core development team is confident the tide will turn their way, eventually. "I expect that most people will be using 2.6 a year from now. Only bleeding edge people will be using 3.0," van Rossum says. However, "if you're starting a brand new thing, you should use 3.0."

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