An idiosyncratic look at, and comment on, the week's net and technology news
by Alan Lenton
I note that there are reports (Reuters was the one I saw) of the semi-mythical being, Steve Jobs, having been seen at Apple GHQ this week. Apparently he was wearing jeans and a black turtle-neck top. There are also reports of Elvis being seen at the north pole, wearing a fur coat...
This week's issue is somewhat shorter than usual for two reasons. The first is that I have a real life work major shipment of software going out to our biggest customer tomorrow, and I need to do a final tidy up. The second is because the news stopped partway through this week. Some singer or other popped his clogs, and the media, electronic and otherwise, stopped reporting anything else.
The discussion about Microsoft installing an add-on into the Firefox browser without asking permission of the computer owner is (web meisteress permitting) up on my web site. Click here to access it.
The good news of the week was that a bunch of high level spammers/con merchants pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and to violate the CAN-SPAM Act. Among the defendants was the notorious spammer Alan Ralsky who also pleaded guilty 'to wire fraud, money laundering, and violating the CAN-SPAM Act.
The spammers used botnet based mass spamming campaigns to artificially increase the price of so-called 'penny stocks', enabling them to reap profits totaling millions of dollars. I have to say that it's nice to see spammers being put on notice, that, at least if they are based in the USA, they could go down for a long stretch and a substantial fine.
In an interesting move, the US Federal Trade commission (FTC) announced that it is going to start monitoring blogs to check for reviews that have resulted from the blogger being given free gifts. The sort of gifts mentioned in the article I read include free laptops, trips to Europe, US$500 gift cards, even thousands of dollars for a 200 word post.
This would be nice, since most people I know look on the internet for reviews before making up their mind, at least for items over a few tens of dollars. However, it's difficult to see how they could monitor the hundreds of thousands of blogs out there any better than the community at large does.
It is also difficult for those who write on-line. I get occasional freebies (nothing to do with Winding Down, I might add), but usually I don't review them unless I put a note to the effect that I got a free copy. That said, watch out for reviews of Susan Greenfield's 'ID' book, and Intel's 'Threaded Building Blocks' books soon - which I did get free, though neither of them were actually given to me specifically to review.
It's the end of an era. After 74 years Kodak is planning to kill off Kodachrome this year. Sadly the venerable colour film is a victim of digital photography. I guess it just goes to show that nothing lasts forever. Incidentally, here is some trivia for you... Did you know that NASA commissioned artists to paint oil based pictures of the Apollo program? We know from experience that oil paintings last for centuries, but film is, almost by definition, unstable, thanks to its silver based image components. The base materials like celluloid can also suffer from aging problems.
I can only quote from Paul Simon's homage to Kodachrome:
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, Oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away"
I note an incredibly stupid and annoying decision from Microsoft. It seems that anyone using Windows 7 on a net book will have to use Microsoft's choice of wallpaper. The Windows 7 Starter Edition, which netbooks will be using, blocks end users from changing the wallpaper supplied by Microsoft. And for good measure the license prevents netbook manufacturers from altering it either. So from now on your netbook will wear only a Microsoft approved uniform - unless, of course you opt for Windows XP, or Linux!
Finally, in this section, I note that TJX has come to an agreement with 41 states over the massive theft of credit card data it suffered between 2005 and 2007. The settlement pays out a total of US$10 million to the states concerned, which doesn't sound like much more than pocket change for a business the size of TJX. The settlement also doesn't seem to include any money for those who had their credit card details stolen. I assume, indeed I hope, that there is more litigation to come.
Because, if pitifully low payments like this become the norm, then there will be no pressure on the big companies to improve their security, because payments like this are small enough to count as part of the cost of doing business, and are just passed on to the customers.
Wanna know how crop circles are made on the island of Tasmania? Stoned wallabies, cobber, stoned wallabies. It seems that they grow opium in Tasmania. It's legal, because it's to provide the base for medical pain killing drugs. However, it seems the local wallaby population sometimes get into the poppy fields and get themselves stoned on the plant heads. Once this happens they hop round and round in circles, creating crop circles! There are rumours of sheep having the same problem, but I don't think we'll go there in this rag...
This is supposed to be for kids, but I'm sorely tempted to get one for myself. It's the
GeoSafari Digital Recording Lab. A snip at US$50, it's designed to teach kids the fundamentals of sound and electronics. All the bits are built into a sound mixer like console, so they can't get lost. In order to get such gems as a rhythmic sound generator, a digital voice recorder, and an electronic parrot (no dead parrot jokes here, please) all the geeklings have to do is to wire up the correct components, a bit like the old Heathkit analog computers of yore.
No soldering needed. I love it...
Scanner: Other Stories
Steve Jobs spotted (possibly)
Online shoppers leaving purchases behind
Why newsprint still beats the Kindle
Electricity industry to scan grid for spies
Thanks to readers Barb, Fi, Lois, and to Slashdot's daily newsletter for drawing my attention to material used in this issue.
Please send suggestions for stories to email@example.com and include the words Winding Down in the subject line, unless you want your deathless prose gobbled up by my voracious Spamato spam filter...
28 June 2009
Alan Lenton is an on-line games designer, programmer and sociologist. His web site is at http://www.ibgames.net/alan.
Past issues of Winding Down can be found at http://www.ibgames.net/alan/winding/index.html.