AT&T surprises with beachfront 700MHz spectrum purchase

AT&T announced today that it has purchased 12MHz of spectrum in the prime 700MHz spectrum band from privately-held Aloha Partners for close to $2.5 billion. Aloha purchased the spectrum in Federal Communications Commission auctions held during 2001 and 2003, but hasn't done much with the licenses since the auctions ended. 老域名购买

The licenses to the spectrum cover around 196 million residents of the US and 72 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, including the ten largest markets in the US. AT&T isn't divulging much in the way of specifics for the bandwidth, other than saying that the company will use it for voice, data, and video. "Aloha's spectrum will enable AT&T to efficiently meet this growing demand and help our customers stay connected to their worlds," said Forest Miller, AT&T's group resident for corporate strategy and development.

AT&T's purchase gives it more options in the upcoming 700MHz spectrum auction. Set to begin on January 16, 2008, the auction carries a combined reserve price of $10 billion. Bidding could significantly exceed that number, should significant competition for the licenses materialize. The hope of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin—as well as just about everyone who has been stung by the lack of broadband competition in the US—is that the auction will lead to the creation of a viable wireless broadband network.

With 12MHz of Aloha Partners' spectrum in hand, AT&T could choose to sit out the auction altogether, or bid strategically on particular licenses. (The spectrum offerings are broken up by wavelength and geographic location). With spectrum covering just under 200 million residents, AT&T could use the auction to simply fill out its geographic reach. Best of all from AT&T's perspective, there are none of the pesky open access or public safety regulations attached to this 12MHz of spectrum.

Should AT&T take a reduced role in next January's auction, there still may be plenty of action—especially if Google decides to jump in. While the search giant hasn't exactly said outright that it intends to bid, it has taken a keen interest in the FCC's auction rule-making process. Last week, Google attacked Verizon over the telecom's attempts to have some of the open access rules overturned. If AT&T decides to scale back its bidding or take itself out of the auction picture entirely after today's purchase, it opens the door a bit wider for a new entrant like Google.

Intel looks for “the next Google” with Web 2.0

Today Intel publicly unveiled its first foray into the world of Web 2.0—a bookmarking site where users can submit and vote on all kinds of software, from desktop applications to Web-based services. The idea behind the new Cool Software site, which Intel operated internally before opening it to the public today, is that it will provide Intel—both its research arm and its investing arm, Intel Capital—with an early glimpse of The Next Big Thing. 老域名购买

In a briefing, Intel's Innovation Acceleration manager, Dave McKinney, told me that "we want to find the next Google, before it becomes Google." But the problem that the company has in guiding its research and investing efforts is that the pool of potential future Googles is just too big. So Intel decided to "crowd-source" the task of identifying hot new ideas and companies by building an internal bookmarking site where the Intel folks responsible for keeping their fingers on the pulse of the software industry could collectively work to spot future Google (or future VMware) contenders.

The bookmarking site grew internally, as other Intel employees from different parts of the company began using it to mark their favorite software finds, and eventually the decision was made to open it to the public. Intel isn't quite sure what the public will do with the new site, which is based on the open-source Pligg project but has some proprietary modifications, but it's anxious to find out. Because the site already has a solid internal user base that has been using it successfully, the company can afford to just open it up and see what happens without too much in the way of concrete expectations. McKinney told me that it's possible that competitors could even use the site and mine it for trends.

Finding a way

One of the most fascinating and important stories that I've watched develop over the past four years is Intel's transition from hardware company that could pretty much dictate the pace and direction of technological advancement on the PC platform to a sort of hardware/software hybrid entity that, like the rest of the industry in the post-clockspeed era, is left to wonder about what kinds of things people will do with the ever more ubiquitous transistors that it makes. In short, the answer to "What's next?" in the PC space used to be, "Whatever Intel's labs are working on." But in the post-PC, post-clockspeed era, the answer to "What's next?" is, "Whatever some programmer in India or in China or in a dorm room is working on that's about to catch the world by surprise as the Next Big Thing."

Intel's Terascale research program, its open benchmarking consortium, its hiring of a horde of anthropologists who go out and profile how ordinary people in a variety of cultures use technologies—all of these efforts represent attempts by Intel to peer just a little further into the increasingly crowded and chaotic future of applications so that the company can build the hardware that will fit those applications. This new bookmarking site is just one more effort by another part of the company to look into this blooming software ecosystem and zero in on the species that are having the most success.

Because this software ecosystem expands dramatically every time a new process generation drives networked general-purpose processors into a new niche, Intel's success with making transistors and wireless networking cheaper and more ubiquitous has the direct effect of making its forward-looking efforts that much harder.

The next Copycrime: “making hearable” rings up ?200,000 copyright suit

Forget "making available" some songs on a P2P network—in the UK, blaring your radio too loud might make you a target for a multi-hundred-thousand-pound lawsuit for copyright infringement. The UK-based Performing Rights Society—a group that collects royalties for publishers, songwriters, and composers—has accused a car repair chain named Kwik-Fit of copyright infringement because mechanics were regularly found to play their radios loud enough for others to overhear the music. 老域名购买

The PRS claims that it has logged over 250 incidents of Kwik-Fit employees audibly playing music since 2005. "The key point to note, it was said, was that the findings on each occasion were the same with music audibly 'blaring' from employee's radios in such circumstances that the defenders' [Kwik-Fit] local and central management could not have failed to be aware of what was going on," the judge in the case, Lord Emslie, told the BBC. "The allegations are of a widespread and consistent picture emerging over many years whereby routine copyright infringement in the workplace was, or inferentially must have been, known to and 'authorised' or 'permitted' by local and central management."

The PRS insists that the fact that the music can be heard by others amounts to a "performance" of the music in public—something that is not allowed unless the business has the proper licenses to do so. Such a license would cost Kwik-Fit roughly £30,000 per year, the PRS told The Scotsman in June. When multiplied by the number of years that the business has allegedly been violating copyrights, the PRS says that £200,000 would make a reasonable sum.

In the UK, any business that broadcasts music—even if it's commercial, publicly-accessible radio—must obtain a license to do so, according to the MCPS-PRS web site. Of course, customers who accidentally overhear the radio being played by a Kwik-Fit mechanic could just as easily go home and turn on the same radio station within the bounds of British copyright laws. Conversely, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers allows businesses to play publicly-accessible radio or TV as long as the transmission is being received by a single unit (and not broadcast from room-to-room) and there is no admission charge to enter the establishment. In other words, the mechanics' actions would be permissible in the US, but not in the UK.

But what's at stake is not just Kwik-Fit's official policy on broadcasting music (in fact, the company says that it has a 10-year policy outlawing radios at the workplace), but whether employees at any company can play music aloud. What about office employees that play music in a shared office or a cubicle farm? Even at relatively low volumes, someone is inevitably going to hear what is being played in a close working environment. At what point is it no longer acceptable for an individual to play music out loud, with the fear that someone else might hear it in passing?

Kwik-Fit asked the court to dismiss the suit at a procedural hearing last week, citing its official, anti-radio policy. The judge refused to dismiss the £200,000 claim, however, saying that there was at least enough evidence such that the case should be heard. He made clear, however, that his allowance of the suit did not necessarily mean that he felt the PRS would succeed.

Hot, toxic chemicals drive bugs to pollination

Plants and their pollinators have classic mutualistic relationships. In return for helping with reproduction, the pollinators are typically lured to the plants with all sorts of "come hither" coloration, scents, and meals. But a paper in last week's edition of Science described an intriguing variation on the communications between plants and pollinators: a case where the plants signal insects that it's time for them to leave. 老域名购买

The plants in question, cycads, are interesting enough on their own. Cycads originated in the Permian era, roughly 300 million years ago. They have distinct male and female plants, and both produce large, club-like "flowers." There is, however, a key difference between them: male flowers provide nourishment to insects, which can eat the pollen, but female plants do not. So, from the plant's perspective, the key question is how to convince insects to leave the male flowers and take the pollen elsewhere, preferably to female plants.

The answer appears to be a form of chemical warfare. Females produce low and constant levels of a number of chemicals that can attract the pollinating insects. Male flowers produce similar levels of those chemicals for much of the day. But, at midday, when the temperature at the flowers heats up, male flowers start producing much more of these chemicals. They make such high levels, in fact, that insects are repelled from the male flowers—tests in the lab show that high levels can even be lethal to the insects.

Given that female chemical output doesn't change, the authors assume that the insects will move on to their flowers, bringing the pollen to its needed destination. As things cool down in the evening, male plants drop back to normal levels of the chemicals, and the cycle can repeat. The authors term this "push-pull" pollination, and suggest it represents an early step in the evolution of flowering plants. They propose that the cycads, which use the same chemical to both repel and attract, represent a transitional step in between earlier, defensive chemicals used by plants and the latter attractive aromas produced by flowering plants.

Science, 2007. DOI: 10.1126/science.1145147

Up to 20 percent of all Universal Service Fund fees distributed in error

The Universal Service Fund is collected from all US telephone users, so a tidy pile of cash is available for funding the four main USF programs. These help make Internet and telecommunications services affordable for 1) schools and libraries, 2) low-income families, 3) rural health care, and 4) rural phone companies that operate where costs are high. Sounds good, if the money's going to the right place. But is it? 老域名购买

The FCC oversees the USF program, though all administration is actually handled by the non-governmental Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). The FCC's Inspector General recently reviewed USAC's audit record to see how many payments had been made "in error," and the results are troubling.

Error is common in all four USF programs. It happened in a mere 9.5 percent of all Low Income program payments, and in a slightly more worrisome 12.5 percent of all Schools and Libraries transactions. But the High Cost Fund had a 16.6 percent error rate, and the Rural Health Care program managed to muck up a truly amazing 20.6 percent of all payments. (The High Cost Fund, being the biggest of the four, is probably the most worrisome number, as we're talking about billions of dollars a year being distributed by the program.)

Now, before you start oiling the torches and sharpening the pitchforks, some caveats: "errors" in payments don't mean fraud. Any time the rules aren't completely followed, the payment is in "error." The FCC also looked at a random sample of transactions, so these error rates may not be representative.In addition, all payments for which the auditors could not determine the status were classified as "errors." Some of these may well have been legitimate.

The point, though, is that we don't know. This has been a problem with USF for some time. As the Office of Management and Budget points out, USAC's charter includes no real controls or performance measures, and the four programs have no internal criteria by which effectiveness can be gauged. They might be helping, but who knows?

The FCC notes that "additional oversight of the management" of various programs may be needed. Despite the problems with oversight, some members of Congress hope to expand the program to subsidize broadband access as well, an idea that was proposed (unsuccessfully) in 2006 as well.

Climate change is costing lives

When the mercury tells me that the temperature is still in the 90s despite it being October, you'll forgive me if I start to think something is up. Of course, local weather conditions in the middle of America are more anecdote than data, unless you've been looking at them over a span of years, and that's just what Dr. Jeffery Rogers at Ohio State University has been doing. 老域名购买

Dr Rogers and his colleagues have found an increase in night time temperatures, resulting in a narrowing of the gap between the heat of the day and traditionally cooler nights. Using data going back over 120 years, the researchers found that temperatures remained fairly constant until around 1965, when they began to rise. Predating this was an increase in cloud cover that began in 1940, for reasons not yet understood.

But those findings, indicative as they are of increasing surface temperatures, are still just local. Sadly, looking at the global picture is no less depressing. The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, is a UN agency with the mission of coordinating relief management and humanitarian action across the world. As such, OCHA is well placed to make observations about extreme weather events, and last week, Sir John Holmes, the UN's emergency relief coordinator spoke out about the effects of global climate change: "All these events on their own didn't have massive death tolls, but if you add all these little disasters together you get a mega disaster."

So far this year, OCHA has issued 13 appeals for international disasters, and with the exception of an earthquake in Peru, all have been climate related. And despite having two months left on the calendar, 2007 has already eclipsed 2005's record of 11 disasters, only half of which were climate related. And that's not counting the other climate-related disaster-stricken areas that haven't asked OCHA for assistance.

Now, it should be pointed out that Sir John's remarks are his opinions as head of the UN's disaster relief coordination, and that he's not a climatologist. However, global climate models have predicted an increase in severe weather events in coming years, and since it's looking increasingly unlikely that the world community will be able to agree on meaningful reductions of climate change emissions, 2007 is could be looking like a harbinger of climates future.

J. Climate, 2007. DOI: 10.1175/JCLI4265.1

Hacker exploits forgotten eBay administrative system

A hacker infiltrated an eBay server and disabled accounts of several members on Friday. Representatives of eBay say that the hacker used vestigial components of an old eBay administrative system that has long been unused. The code exploited by the hacker has since been taken down, and eBay claims that no financial information was exposed. 老域名购买

An individual who identifies himself as Vladuz has taken responsibility for the hack. Many believe that Vladuz was behind a massive disclosure of user information in the eBay forums last month. Unlike the data disclosure of last month, in which the hacker used phishing tactics to trick users into supplying account login information, this latest attack was made possible by eBay's negligence.

An eBay Trust and Safety representative issued a statement in the eBay forums yesterday in response to the concerns expressed by users whose accounts were disabled by the hacker. "[T]he incident was also deeply concerning for us and it has been the top priority of our [Trust and Safety] team to react immediately, to investigate further and to continue to put safeguards and measures in place to prevent it from happening again," wrote the eBay representative.

"This fraudster found very old administrative functions that had not been deactivated several years ago when we changed the security of our internal systems. These functions were still accessible on public servers, while the rest of our functionality is now behind multiple layers of security. We immediately identified the functions that he accessed and deactivated, and we are undergoing an audit to ensure obsolete code that may still exist for other reasons is secure."

In addition to selectively disabling user accounts, Vladuz also sent insulting e-mails to his victims. Some of the affected users believe that they were targeted because they had previously criticized Vladuz in the eBay forums. Vladuz has also previously managed to hack the eBay forum system to make forum posts that appear to be from eBay employees. The real identity of Vladuz is unknown, but he is thought to be residing in Romania. Although eBay has not publicly confirmed that Vladuz is in fact responsible, the company's statement indicates that the perpetrator is a prior offender. "This is a known fraudster to us," wrote the eBay representative. "[O]ur Fraud Investigation Team is already assisting the global law enforcement authorities with their investigations to bring this fraudster to justice."

The tremendous amount of financial information stored by eBay makes the site a tempting target for hackers. Although the company claims that no credit card numbers or other financial information has been exposed, this latest breach reflects the potential privacy risks posed by inadequate web site security and reflects the need for more extensive code auditing.

Thunderbird still has potential to fly despite developers leaving the nest

Mozilla is in the process of creating a new subsidiary—currently dubbed MailCo—that will manage and direct the ongoing development of Mozilla's Thunderbird e-mail client. Although the goal behind the creation of MailCo is to give the Thunderbird project unprecedented room for growth, the only two full-time contributors have decided to leave the nest.老域名购买

Thunderbird engineers Scott MacGregor and David Bienvenu will be leaving the company to pursue other opportunities. Both developers have expressed an interest in continuing to contribute as volunteers, but neither will go to work for MailCo.

David Ascher, formerly the chief technical officer of ActiveState, has been selected to lead the new Thunderbird organization. In an open letter to the Thunderbird community published earlier this week, Ascher provides some insight into his plans for MailCo. "The bulk of the MailCo budget is expected to be spent on staff," wrote Ascher. "We're recruiting experienced developers now to focus specifically on Thunderbird and more broadly on improving mail and communications in general. Everyone involved full-time in the development of Thunderbird has been offered a role and we're moving forward as quickly as possible to hire additional developers."

Ascher is actively gathering community feedback and hopes to build a stronger community around the product independent of the Firefox community. Despite the predictions of doom that have emerged following the sudden departure of MacGregor and Bienvenu, Ascher expresses considerable enthusiasm for the project and voices an optimistic view of Thunderbird's future. "I'm (obviously!) convinced that Thunderbird is great, and can become even greater," wrote Ascher. "There's so much pent-up energy around the project, it feels as though it's about to take over the world."

In order to better inform the Mozilla community about the rationale behind the creation of MailCo, Mozilla Corporation CEO Mitchell Baker wrote several blog entries yesterday that provide insight into the process of the transition.

Baker cites the growing scope of the Thunderbird project as one of the factors that contributed to the need for change. "Increasingly other forms of web communications are developing. And Thunderbird the e-mail client is not the complete answer to e-mail needs," wrote Baker. "We had the team for developing to develop a stand-alone desktop e-mail application. But we didn't have the complete set of people to address both that and the larger issues. Without some new impetus, Thunderbird would continue in a status quo pattern."

The Mozilla Foundation Board concluded that organizational changes were needed so that a new group structure could emerge that would be more conducive to envisioning the full potential of Thunderbird. "[I]n late 2006 we started thinking very hard about creating a new organizational home for Thunderbird. A number of us came to the conclusion this was the best plan, including the Foundation Board and the key Thunderbird developers."

According to Baker, Mozilla is still deeply committed to ensuring the success of Thunderbird through the process of forming MailCo. "In the coming months a large set of Mozilla folks with be working on getting the new Thunderbird/mail organization organized and running, as well as serving Thunderbird users," wrote Baker. "We are also very eager to see Thunderbird become a broader product vision and to see a community with greater distributed authority. More people with the expertise and ability to authority to work deeply in the code will lead to a better product faster, and will spur the development of new experiments to improve mail."

Although some might see the departure of key developers and the formation of a new organizational structure as signs of trouble, there really aren't any indications that interest in the project has diminished. As with most other popular open-source software projects, new contributors join in to replace departing contributors, and the project benefits from a fresh infusion of new ideas and perspectives.

In a short but insightful blog entry, developer Robert Accettura reminds readers that Mozilla has succeeded despite massive Netscape layoffs that many mistakenly believed would lead to the end of the project. I'd like to conclude this article by echoing Accettura's words of wisdom: "Different doesn't mean something is dead."

ATI claims its upcoming 7.10 Catalyst driver will significantly boost game performance

Back in the early days of 3D accelerators, new driver releases were of significant interest to the gaming community. Such releases typically added
significant new features and/or offered genuine performance boosts across the board (think early Detonator drivers). In ATI's case, new drivers tended to focus on improved
stability, better compatibility, and (hopefully) a driver install/uninstall process that didn't involve having to manually delete files from your Windows
directory. Over the years, both NVIDIA and ATI have gotten significantly better at releasing stable drivers that work with virtually all games "out of
the box." This, in turn, means that any given driver release is less likely to deliver dramatic performance or quality boosts across the board. If ATI
is to be believed, however, their 7.10 Catalyst driver is set to significantly increase performance across entire product lines in a number of games.老域名购买

Dubbed the "Shoot Em Up" driver, ATI claims a number of improvements for Catalyst 7.10, including:

Call of Juarez DirectX® 10 Crossfire performance improves up to 42% and single card performance improves up to 34% on all ATI Radeon™ HD 2000 series
products.Company of Heroes DirectX 10 Crossfire performance improves up to 80% on all ATI Radeon HD 2000 series products and single card performance improves
as much as 31% on ATI Radeon™ HD 2900 and ATI Radeon HD 2600 productsEnemy Territory: Quake Wars Crossfire performance improves as much as 23% on ATI Radeon™ 1000 series products and single card performance improves as
much as 23% on both ATI Radeon HD 2000 and ATI Radeon 1000 series productsSupreme Commander Crossfire performance improves up to 30% on all ATI Radeon HD 2000 and ATI Radeon 1000 series products. The ATI Radeon™ X1650 and
ATI Radeon X1300/X1550 series products see even greater improvements of 82% or more.

No word yet on whether or not we'll see a simultaneous XP Catalyst 7.10 release, or if the same performance jumps will apply to both operating systems,
but it appears that ATI users currently running Vista are in for a treat. Granted, companies tend to give "best case" percentages when discussing driver
performance optimization, but ATI's numbers would still mark a solid improvement even if we cut the gains in half. If the upcoming Catalyst 7.10 drivers
perform as advertised, there'll be a lot of happy ATI users come release day.

OEM pricing for Windows Home Server comes into focus at below $200

Over the weekend, reports that Windows Home Server was now available for purchase from US retailers and Newegg trickled in, and it looks like our initial pricing estimates were right on the money, with the former selling it for $178 and the latter for $190. A search for Windows Home Server's SKU of #CCQ-00015 shows that several other retailers have it in stock, and their pricing is also in line with our sub-$200 ballpark figure. With Windows Home Server first released in Australia and New Zealand, followed shortly with availability in Europe, the pre-tax dollar conversion agreed with our numbers. 老域名购买

For those preferring to do it themselves, the release of Windows Home Server OEM is the way to go, while others who prefer an all-in-one solution will likely opt for one of the preinstalled hardware offerings from launch partners like HP and Fujitsu. Microsoft makes a point of noting that its OEM versions are targeted towards "system builders," as it hopes that inexperienced users will instead purchase a ready-made solution, but interestingly enough, the OEM version of Windows Home Server comes with more than just the license code and the installation disk. The package also contains significantly more documentation than its XP or Vista counterparts, along with additional CDs to help with various Home Server management and installation tasks.

There have been some would-be users voicing their unhappiness over what they feel is the high price of Windows Home Server's OEM offering, with some preferring price points around $150 and others favoring something around the $100 mark. This mirrors the public's reaction to the initial announcements of Vista's OEM pricing, and the price-sensitive can only hope that Microsoft follows its own example and announces discounts for Windows Home Server soon.

Our shipment of Windows Home Server arrived speedily at the Orbiting Headquarters, and we've been giving it a good going-over in preparation for our review. With several updates already in the pipeline, we've also seen most of our initial issues with the OEM version quickly addressed—an encouraging sign that the development team is listening to the end users. Watch for our review later this week.