Australians urged to take risks in business

In December, the federal government will release an innovation statement aimed at overturning what some see as an inward-looking corporate culture, but some in the industry are sceptical about what it will offer.

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Chief executives in the industry are concerned Australians might be losing sight of what true innovation is, amid the chatter of start-ups and technology.

Since being sworn in, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said innovation is at the top of his agenda.

His changes included appointing 25-year-old Wyatt Roy as Assistant Minister for Innovation, and calling for Australians to abandon a fear of the future and technology.

The innovation rhetoric has been similar for past two months.

The CEO of Sydney start-up Local Measure, Jonathan Barouch, has raised concerns about “start-up fever” and the level of community optimism in the lead up to the announcement.

“I think the word start-up and innovation and disruption are being used interchangeably by people in the community and the media.

“And I think we risk misinterpreting what a start-up or what a true disruptive innovation is. I mean it’s not the butcher or the baker or the florist, they’re completely vital to the Australian economy, but those are small businesses,” Mr Barouch said.

He added that differentiating between small business and innovative business will allow for smarter policies.

Mr Roy says more talk about start-ups and innovation can only be a good thing.

“Innovation has obviously become a cornerstone of what we’re trying to achieve… If people are frustrated that we’re talking too much about innovation then I must’ve done my job, I’ve hit my KPI, and it’s a very good thing for our country,” he said.

During question time on Wednesday Industry Minister Christopher Pyne hinted at the shape of the policy.

Commercialising research and raising capital were listed high on the agenda, but equally important was his emphasis on a culture shift- away from fear- which would encourage Australians to take risks and build entrepreneurship.

“The whole purpose of the innovation and science agenda in December will be about creating the kind of structure in the Australian economy that encourages innovation, technology, research and development, commercialiseing research, talents and skills,” he said.

The Great Mod Challenge announces winners

One of my favorite Apple-related contests of the year has not only come to an end, it has also announced the winners. The Great Mod Challenge, hosted by MacMod, wrapped up last week. While number of entrants seemed to be down this year, the quality and ingenuity did not.HangZhou Night Net

This year, the winner of Mod of the Year and two other awards (Most Creative Mod and Best Looking Mod) was the ElectroNumeroGraph, an almost purely aesthetic mod based upon a Quicksilver G4. It is pretty remarkable to look at and has some added bonuses. This includes fan speed controllers and volume, fan voltage, and CPU temperature meters. While I'm not entirely sure the blue lighting was the color to suit this mod, it is still very deserving of the accolades it received.

Runner Up and third place went to the "Black PowerMac" and "iPod Mix 'n Mash" respectively. The Wackiest Mod this year went to the "Apple IIg4" (a PowerBook in an Apple IIe), the Most Useless Mod went to the "Transformer iBook" (Transformer logo cut into an iBook's lid), and the Best Mod Guide went to the aforementioned "Black PowerMac."

With 11 mods in total, I'm not going to talk about them all (you should check out the iPod Video CF). However, my two favorites have to be the "iVHS" and the "Set Top 'Book." While the iVHS isn't the prettiest mod in the world, it brought me back to the days when the modifying community attempted to get a CRT iMac to run off an ATX power supply. It was a common problem in those days to have an iMac's analog board die and rendered lifeless, so alternative methods of powering the machines were hot topics. The mod guide details not only how to modify the iMac to run off an ATX power supply, but also how to convert the video to VGA. These were plans people charged for back in the day.

The Set Top 'Book is a mod based upon one of my favorite pieces of Apple kit: the prototype set-top box. I'll spare you the details, but Apple almost came out with a set-top box during the 1990s in partnership with telecom companies. The case is dead sexy and sturdy, made of black painted metal. While originally it sported a Motorola 6840 processor, the modern in this instance replaced the antiquated with a somewhat-less-antiquated iBook 500MHz G3 processor. While the mod is more or less just "stick the bottom of the iBook into a STB case," I still love it and have dreamed of doing something similar with a MicroATX board myself. Perhaps with a fabricated back panel and a third-party IR receiver mounted in the original IR receiver's spot, this could have been the winner.

Now go forth, look upon the modified machines, be inspired, and create. I love this stuff.

Russian crackers throw GPU power at passwords

Russian-based cracking "password recovery" company Elcomsoft hasn't really been in the news since 2003, when Adobe helped make "Free Dmitry" the new "Free Kevin" by having one of the company's programmers, Dmitry Sklyarov, arrested for cracking its eBook Reader software. But Elcomsoft has remedied the lack of press attention this week with its announcement that it has pressed the GPU into the service of password cracking. HangZhou Night Net

With NVIDIA and AMD/ATI working overtime to raise the GPU's profile as a math coprocessor for computationally intensive, data-parallel computing problems, it was inevitable that someone would make an announcement that they had succeeded in using the GPU to speed up the password-cracking process. Notice that I said "make an announcement," because I'm sure various government entities domestic and foreign have been working on this from the moment AMD made its "close-to-metal" (CTM) package available for download. The Elcomsoft guys didn't use CTM, though. They opted to go with NVIDIA's higher-level CUDA interface, a move that no doubt cut their development time significantly.

Elcomsoft's new password cracker attacks the NTLM hashing that Windows uses with a brute force method. The company claims that its GPU-powered attack speeds up the time it takes to crack a Vista password from two months to a little over three days.

Elcomsoft claims that they've filed for a US patent on this approach, but it's not clear what exactly they're attempting to patent. A search of the USPTO's patent database turned up nothing, but that could be because the patent hasn't made it into the database yet.

Ultimately, using GPUs to crack passwords is kid's stuff. The world's best password cracker is probably the Storm Worm, assuming that its owners are using it for this. As many as ten million networked Windows boxes—now that's parallelism.

Electronic Arts to undergo empire-wide restructuring, layoffs

When you're on top, the only place to go is down. In the face of stiff competition, EA's profits have begun to drop. Destructoid is reporting that job cuts and branch restructuring have already begun taking place, with extensive changes being made to many different studios under EA's umbrella, including Mythic. HangZhou Night Net

Word of these changes came from an internal EA e-mail. CEO John Riccitiello has begun taking precautions to ensure that the current state of affairs of his company doesn't continue. This follows a previous restructuring meant to rebalance staff across the many branches of the company. To quote the e-mail:

Given this, John Riccitiello, our CEO, has tasked the company to get its costs in line with revenues… Every studio, group and division of the company has been tasked to review its overall headcount and adjust its organization to meet the needs of the business moving forward.

The changes to Mythic appear to be only the first in what will be a long line of changes. Certain teams, such as the Ultima Online group, will be relocated. Competitive employment strategies will also be enforced to keep employees working hard if they want to keep their jobs: "attrition, performance management, stricter hiring guidelines, and layoffs" will purportedly keep workers in check.

Given the state of EA's multiplatform competitors, including Activision, which is set to release one of the assured hits of the winter in Call of Duty 4, and long-time rival Ubisoft, which is sitting on Assassin's Creed, the company will be pressed to start taking more risks like skate if it hopes to stay fresh in this increasingly competitive development scene.

Climate change mega-post

This week there seems to be a lot of climate news around, some good, some bad, and some that is just ugly. Rather than putting up a plethora of posts and getting accused of being Ars Climactica, we thought we would combine them into a single mega post for your consumption. HangZhou Night Net

The first paper, published in Science1, looks at the prospects for narrowing the range of estimates for the future climate. In doing so, they note that the climate is a system that consists of many physical processes that are coupled together nonlinearly. This has led to climate modelers focusing on physical mechanisms and fundamentals of nonlinear dynamics to understand and improve their models. Notably, the specific inclusion of many physical mechanisms has not led to a significant decrease in the range of climate predictions. Most of the blame for this has fallen on the nature of nonlinear systems. Essentially, to obtain a small increase in predictive ability, one needs a very large increase in the accuracy of the initial conditions. We are stuck because we can’t improve the accuracy of our ancestor’s weather stations and other methods, such as ice core samples, will only ever yield averages. But as our earlier coverage on the nature of climate modeling explains, this isn’t really the heart of the issue. Climate models use a range of initial conditions and measure the probability of certain climatic conditions occurring based on those modeling results.

Instead of focusing on the physics of the climate or the dynamical system, Roe and Baker look at the behavior of a simple linear equilibrium system with positive feedback. All the physics is replaced with a simple gain parameter, which describes how an increase in average temperature leads to a further increase in temperature. Although this does not describe the physics, it does encompass what we measure, so the model is valid for their purposes. They then explore how the uncertainty in the gain parameter changes the rate of temperature increase. The positive feedback system has the effect of amplifying the uncertainties (just like a nonlinear system), meaning that it is practically impossible to improve climate estimates. This is not really derived from the initial conditions (e.g., the starting climatic conditions) but rather focuses on the natural uncertainty in physical mechanisms, which is a major focus of current modeling efforts and includes such things as cloud cover. Basically, the amplifying of the uncertainties, and the timescales involved mean that the smallest uncertainties blow out to give the large range of temperatures predicted by climate researchers.

This news will not call off the search for parts of the environment that influence our climate because, if we are to mitigate global warming, then we must know which bits of the environment are the best to change. This obviously includes human behavior, but that covers a whole gamut from urban lifestyles through to farming practices. Part of this picture is soil erosion, which removes carbon from the soil and deposits it elsewhere. The question isn’t so much as where but what happens to that carbon on route and once it arrives. It was thought that perhaps soil erosion contributed carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by opening up new mechanisms for the decomposition of organic matter. Alternatively, it has been argued that soil erosion deposits organic carbon in places—like the bottom of the sea, for instance— where it is effectively stored. However, testing these hypotheses has been problematic.

Nevertheless, problematic is what a good scientist looks for, so, with fortitude and dedication to the cause, scientists from the EU and US have collaborated to measure the uptake and removal of carbon over ten sites. They report in Science2 this week that, like normal land, eroding land also acts as a carbon sink. They do note that in eroding landscapes, the carbon is likely to more laterally more, but is no more likely to enter the atmosphere as carbon dioxide than on healthy pastureland. Of course the amount of carbon stored is slightly less, so these soils are perhaps not as efficient as normal soils as carbon sinks. Some research is needed to determine if there are differences in the long-term destination of carbon between normal pasture and eroding soils—however, until that research is done, we can cross soil erosion off the list of things to worry about in terms of global warming.

On the bad news, rapid industrialization in the developing world and the lack of action in the developed world is now measurably increasing the rate at which we deposit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is the conclusion of a paper to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Essentially, they have looked at estimates for anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and compared that to the measured concentration in the atmosphere and determined from the time series that the natural carbon sinks are either already saturated or are nearing saturated. The conclusion from this is that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is likely to increase faster than predicted in most scenarios. This is especially true since most scenarios assume that we will take some action to keep the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (as a percentage) below the rate of economic growth (also as a percentage). Not the best news.

Possible UK P2P legislative crackdown faces privacy, technological hurdles

A Labour Party politician in the UK has threatened legislation to crack down on file-sharing if British ISPs don't take measures of their own. Concerned that ISPs aren't doing enough to stem the traffic in copyrighted video and music, parliamentary Undersecretary for Innovation, Universities, and Skills Lord Triesman believes that laws mandating a crackdown may be the only option. HangZhou Night Net

Lord Triesman's comments come in the wake of this week's arrest of the administrator of popular P2P site OiNK and the seizure of its servers. OiNK was shut down after a two-year investigation by the IFPI and UK music trade group BPI.

Lord Triesman holds out hopes that negotiations between rights holders and British ISPs will produce some sort of voluntary agreement in the near future. "Our preferred position is that we shouldn't have to regulate," he told the BBC. "If we can't get voluntary arrangements, we will legislate."

Predictably, the BPI is over the moon at the thought of tough copyright legislation. "We greatly welcome the government reiterating its view that ISPs should work with us to tackle the problem of internet piracy, or else face legislation," BPI CEO Geoff Taylor told the BBC.

At the other end of the spectrum, the UK-based Internet Service Providers Association is vehemently opposed to any such legislation. While pointing out that the group is opposed to copyright infringement, a spokesperson told the BBC that any such legislation would be infeasible. "ISPs are no more able to inspect and filter every single packet passing across their network than the Post Office is able to open every envelope."

Actually, it may not be that far-fetched. Deep packet inspection tools have become increasingly sophisticated. DPI products from the likes of Procera Networks and Ellacoya are capable of extracting IP addresses, filenames, and URLs, as well as filtering out BitTorrent traffic for up to 900,000 simultaneous users—all in real time.

P2P traffic blocking can be much more subtle than that, as the recent discovery that Comcast isdisrupting BitTorrent traffic indicates. Using a DPI tool from Sandvine, Comcast at times sends forced TCP reset packets, which have the effect of disrupting P2P transfers in certain situations.

There are difficulties standing in the way of the kind of monitoring envisioned by Lord Triesman, however. As is the case with the kind of video fingerprinting tools envisioned by a new copyright consortium, DPI tools can't tell the difference between legitimate and infringing content. There's also the matter of privacy. Although UK residents have proven themselves willing to accept a large degree of closed-circuit TV monitoring, the thought of having all of their traffic thoroughly checked by their ISPs for copyright infringement is likely to be as appetizing as a pub restroom on a Sunday morning.

Alternate Mac browsers get a bump: OmniWeb and Opera

Two Mac browsers became update buddies this week, bringing much joy to the growing contingency of Mac users who don't belong to the Firefox and Safari clubs. First, OmniWeb got a bump to version 5.6 yesterday. As noted by The Omni Mouth blog, users who have been running the sneak peeks may not be so impressed, but for everyone else, 5.6 brings a lot of welcome improvements. HangZhou Night Net

Most importantly, OmniWeb sports a new rendering engine thanks to being based on a new version of WebKit. There are a number of WebKit-related improvements too, including the use of the WebKit icon database, improved JavaScript and plug-in performance, and improved Flash performance.

OmniWeb users can now also see inline PDFs (woohoo), spoof themselves as the iPhone's browser (useful for seeing iPhone-specific pages), and a new software update interface. The release notes for 5.6 provide all of the gory details for those interested. There's a 30-day demo for those of you who want to try it out, but otherwise the popular software runs for $14.95 new, with a $4.95 upgrade charge. Oh yeah, and OmniWeb 5.6 is Leopard-ready.

The second browser that got an update this week is Opera. Opera's update isn't Mac-only, but for all versions of the browser—Mac, Windows, Linux, Mobile, Mini—you name it, Opera's got it. The major update to Opera is that it now carries a new feature: Opera Link. This syncs all of your bookmarks with the server so that all versions of Opera have all the same stuff. No longer do you have to keep your laptop and desktop updated manually to match each other, nor do you need to remember what that one site was from your Opera-enabled phone. It's all right there, all the time.

This functionality is mirrored in a number of extensions for other browsers, such as Google Browser Sync for Firefox. But if you haven't checked out Opera in a long time (I hadn't for several years, until this morning), it might be worth a look just to see what Opera has changed over the years. Personally, I kinda' like it.

Vonage, Verizon bury the patent hatchet

Vonage and Verizon have announced that they have reached a settlement in their patent dispute that saw Verizon win a $58 million judgment after a trial earlier this year. Under the terms of the agreement, the exact amount of the payout depends on how the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rules on Vonage's request for a rehearing on two of the three patents in question. HangZhou Night Net

Should the full Court decline to take up the case, Vonage will owe Verizon $120 million. If it agrees to rehear it, the payment will be capped at $80 million. Vonage currently has $88 million in escrow, meaning that its maximum additional liability will be $32 million.

Two of the three disputed patents cover translating between IP addresses and phone numbers; those are the two still in front of the appeals court. The third patent, which the appeals court remanded back to the lower court for a retrial, covers the concept of connecting a wireless device to a VoIP network. Vonage had argued that none of the patents would pass the new obviousness standard mandated by a recent Supreme Court ruling, but the settlement means that the obviousness of the patents may never be tested in court.

"We're pleased to put this dispute behind us and believe this settlement is in the best interests of Vonage and its customers," said Sharon O'Leary, Vonage chief legal officer. "This settlement removes the uncertainty of legal reviews and long-term court action and allows us to continue focusing on our core business and customers."

This marks the third patent dispute settlement for Vonage this month. A couple of weeks ago, the VoIP carrier and Sprint settled another patent dispute for $80 million. That agreement also gave Vonage full access to Sprint's voice over packet patent portfolio. Vonage also settled another infringement lawsuit in the last few weeks, this one filed by Klausner Technologies.

Unfortunately, Vonage is not out of the woods yet. Last week, AT&T decided to attempt to extract its pound of patent flesh from the VoIP provider, filing a multimillion-dollar patent infringement lawsuit. The AT&T patent in question covers a means of enabling access to an Internet phone system via a standard phone; Vonage may decide to try and settle this instead of taking its chances in court.

It's great for Vonage to get its IP mess sorted out, but with only $276 million in cash on hand as of June 30, these settlements are taking a heavy financial toll on the company. If the VoIP company is unable to stem its loss of subscribers and stabilize its operations, resolving the patent situation won't make much difference to its outlook.

1Password 2.5 lands with new UI, iPhone sync

After releasing a beta earlier this month with some slick new features, Agile Web Solutions dropped an official 2.5 update to 1Password today. The Keychain replacement and identity management utility packs a digital ton of new features and changes from the top down–so many that we're surprised this isn't a full 3.0 release. HangZhou Night Net

The most obvious changes on first run are 1Password's refreshed UI and a name change from 1Passwd to 1Password (we imagine 1Passwd was causing some confusion among those who don't play close enough attention). The app has a much more polished feel both for sidebar entries and individual item view. A new Wallet entry in the sidebar now handles storing credit card information (instead of storing card numbers in identities) at the request of many users who want the flexibility of using more than one credit card with their identities.

Just like we saw in the beta, 1Password 2.5 includes a clever new feature that can build a powerful, secure bookmarklet for the iPhone's Safari that contains all of a user's login and identity information. A new button in 1Password's toolbar makes setup a cinch, and the bookmarklet itself requires a password and auto-locks after a minute (for obvious security reasons). We've poked around with this feature and must say, it's pretty slick. It's definitely nice to have all that stuff while on the go.

For those who don't own an iPhone or prefer having web access to all this login and identity information, Agile Web Solutions will soon debut a new 1Password web portal called "my1Password." Users will be able sync their 1Password data for free and access all their items from any Internet-connected browser. my1Password isn't quite ready for prime time yet, but invites should be going out soon (hint hint guys!).

Plenty of other changes, including a reworked code base and a greatly-improved form filler, round out an impressive 1Password update. More information and a demo is available from Agile Web Solutions, while single and bundle licenses start at $29.95.

VMware Fusion 1.1 release candidate boosts Unity, (almost) Leopard support

Since this week is Leopard week, this is also software update week. The VMware crew released the 1.1 beta just a month ago, and now the 1.1 release candidate is ready for your grubby little hands. Or eyes. Whatever. HangZhou Night Net

New in the Fusion 1.1 release candidate, aside from obvious Leopard compatibility, are a number of improvements to Unity (the feature that allows you to run Windows apps seamlessly as if they were Mac apps). "My Computer, My Documents, My Network Places, Control Panel, Run, and Search are now available in the Applications menu, Dock menu, and the Launch Applications window," writes VMware. Performance to window-dragging and resizing has also been boosted, as well as support for 32- and 64-bit versions of Vista.

A number of Boot Camp compatibilities have been added too, including using Vista installed on Boot Camp as a virtual machine. 2D drawing performance on Santa Rosa Macs has been improved, and a handful of bugs have been fixed. "Fixed issue where VMware Fusion would use more memory over time." That's helpful. (Check out the whole list of improvements on the detailed release notes.)

VMware is careful to note that this release of Fusion 1.1 works well with pre-release versions of Leopard, and that the company plans to test it with the final version when it goes on sale tomorrow. This is Build 61385 by the way, for those keeping score. The release candidate is already ripe for download, but don't worry—if you don't own a copy of Fusion, you can get an expiring beta serial number to try it out. So go at it. It's 165MB, so that means if you're on my horrible Internet connection, it'll be a while.