newtley writes "Two days ago we discussed the earlier p2pnet report that the RIAA had fired MediaSentry (now called SafeNet). Now the Wall Street Journal is confirming this report. MediaSentry has been 'invading the privacy of people,' the WSJ quotes Ray Beckerman; 'They've been doing very sloppy work.' Beckerman cites MediaSentry's practice of 'looking for available songs in people's filesharing folders, uploading them, and using those uploads in court as evidence of copyright violations.' MediaSentry 'couldn't prove defendants had shared their files with anyone other than MediaSentry investigators.' The WSJ notes, 'In place of MediaSentry, the RIAA says it will use Copenhagen-based DtecNet Software ApS. The music industry had worked with DtecNet previously both in the US and overseas, and liked its technology...' "
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toomanyairmiles writes "The Times of London reports that the United Kingdom's Home Office has quietly adopted a new plan to allow police across Britain to routinely hack into people's personal computers without a warrant. The move, which follows a decision by the European Union's council of ministers in Brussels, has angered civil liberties groups and opposition MPs. They described it as a sinister extension of the surveillance state that drives 'a coach and horses' through privacy laws."
An anonymous reader writes "The Zune 30 failure became national news when it happened just three days ago. The source code for the bad driver leaked soon after, and now, someone has come up with a very detailed explanation for where the code was bad as well as a number of solutions to deal with it. From a coding/QA standpoint, one has to wonder how this bug was missed if the quality assurance team wasn't slacking off. Worse yet: this bug affects every Windows CE device carrying this driver."
John Mecklin sends in word of initiatives through which the digital revolution that has been undermining in-depth reportage may be ready to give something back, through a new academic and professional discipline known as "computational journalism." "James Hamilton, director of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University, is in the process of filling an endowed chair with a professor who will develop sophisticated computing tools that enhance the capabilities — and, perhaps more important in this economic climate, the efficiency — of journalists and other citizens who are trying to hold public officials and institutions accountable. The goal: Computer algorithms that can sort through the huge amounts of databased information available on the Internet, providing public-interest reporters with sets of potential story leads they otherwise might never have found. Or, in short, data mining in the public interest."
Several readers wrote in to mention that the copyright on the image of the character Popeye expired in the EU as the year began, 70 years since the death of its creator Elzie Segar. The US will have to wait until 2024, 95 years after Segar's death. Only Popeye's image is free of trademark in the EU; the name "Popeye" is still under copyright by King Features Syndicate. Popeye made his first appearance in a comic strip in 1929 and became hugely popular in the 1930s. The Times claims that Popeye now moves $2.8B of merchandise per year. Le Monde's coverage (in Google translation) mentions the real-life people in Segar's early experience who inspired some of the Popeye cast of characters. Popeye himself was based on the prize fighter Frank "Rocky" Fiegel.
Photographer Duane Kerzic was standing on the public platform in New York's Penn Station, taking pictures of trains in hopes of winning the annual photo contest that Amtrak had been running since 2003. Amtrak police arrested him for refusing to delete the photos when asked, though they later charged him with trespassing. "Obviously, there is a lack of communication between Amtrak's marketing department, which promotes the annual contest, called Picture Our Trains, and its police department, which has a history of harassing photographers for photographing these same trains. Not much different than the JetBlue incident from earlier this year where JetBlue flight attendants had a woman arrested for refusing to delete a video she filmed in flight while the JetBlue marketing department hosted a contest encouraging passengers to take photos in flight." Kerzic's blog has an account of the arrest on Dec. 21 and the aftermath.
The New York Times is running a story about Google engineer T. V. Raman, who lost his vision at age 14 but didn't let that stand in the way of his interest in technology. In addition to modifying a version of Google's search engine to give preference to pages that were more compliant with accessibility guidelines, Raman is now working on making cell phones easier to use without needing to look at them. "Since he cannot precisely hit a button on a touch screen, Mr. Raman created a dialer that works based on relative positions. It interprets any place where he first touches the screen as a 5, the center of a regular telephone dial pad. To dial any other number, he simply slides his finger in its direction — up and to the left for 1, down and to the right for 9, and so on. If he makes a mistake, he can erase a digit simply by shaking the phone, which can detect motion." Raman and a co-worker, Charles Chen, are also attempting to extend various phones' ability to read back scanned text to include signs that are anywhere in the phone's field of view.
On Elpeleg writes "The Perl Foundation has announced they are switching their version control systems to git. According to the announcement, Perl 5 migration to git would allow the language development team to take advantage of git's extensive offline and distributed version support. Git is open source and readily available to all Perl developers. Among other advantages, the announcement notes that git simplifies commits, producing fewer administrative overheads for integrating contributions. Git's change analysis tools are also singled out for praise. The transformation from Perforce to git apparently took over a year. Sam Vilain of Catalyst IT 'spent more than a year building custom tools to transform 21 years of Perl history into the first ever unified repository of every single change to Perl.' The git repository incorporates historic snapshot releases and patch sets, which is frankly both cool and historically pleasing. Some of the patch sets were apparently recovered from old hard drives, notching up the geek satisfaction factor even more. Developers can download a copy of the current Perl 5 repository directly from the perl.org site, where the source is hosted."
TRNick writes "What's the state of free software, 25 years after GNU's birth? TechRadar has an interview with Richard Stallman to find out. Stallman thinks free software is making good progress: 'Nowadays hardware developers are also increasingly likely to publish the interface specs so that we can develop free software that works with the hardware. Perhaps we are turning the corner, but we still have a big fight on our hands before all computer users have freedom.' But how many of us actually run an operating system that Richard Stallman would consider free? Many of the more popular GNU/Linux distributions, including Mandriva and Ubuntu, bundle proprietary code with their free software packages. Perhaps free software has reached a large enough install base that companies are happy to use it for their own gain, but aren't quite so willing to make their own commitments to free software development. How important this is to the success of free software depends on how strong your stance is on freedom is."
Amiga Trombone sends this quote from the beginning of a story at Bloomberg: "President-elect Barack Obama will probably tear down long-standing barriers between the US's civilian and military space programs to speed up a mission to the moon amid the prospect of a new space race with China. Obama's transition team is considering a collaboration between the Defense Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration because military rockets may be cheaper and ready sooner than the space agency's planned launch vehicle, which isn't slated to fly until 2015, according to people who've discussed the idea with the Obama team."
snikulin writes "My 6-year-old embedded software happily runs on kernel v2.4 on an XScale CPU. The software gets a bunch (tens of megabytes) of data from an FPGA over a PCI-X bus and pushes it out over GigE to data-processing equipment. The tool chain is based on the somewhat outdated gcc v2.95. Now, for certain technical reasons we want to jump from the ARM-based custom board to an Atom-based COM Express module. This implies that I'll need to re-create a Linux RAM disk from scratch along with the tool chain. The functionality of the software will be essentially the same. My question: is it worth it to jump to kernel 2.6, or better to stick with the old and proven 2.4? What will I gain and what will I lose if I stay at 2.4 (besides the modern gcc compiler and the other related dev tools)?"
theodp writes "Working as a NASA intern, grad student Erez Lieberman had a eureka moment, resulting in an algorithm that detects whether a person is standing correctly or is off balance. Unfortunately, MIT liked it so much they decided to patent it. Seeking permission to use his own idea for his iShoe startup, which develops products like insoles to address the problems of seniors, Lieberman was told no problem — as long as he promised a hefty royalty and forked over a $75,000 upfront payment. Whether or not students are aware of it, the NYTimes reports that most universities own inventions created by students that were developed using a 'significant' amount of schools resources. Colleges and universities once obtained fewer than 250 patents a year, but that was before the Bayh-Dole Act gave them ownership of inventions developed through federally financed research. Now they acquire about 3,000 a year, and in 2006 licensing fees and equity in spinoff companies totaled at least $45B — research powerhouses like Stanford and NYU pocketed $61M and $157M, respectively."
Z80xxc! writes "FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) has officially announced the 2009 FIRST Robotics Competition. This competition, started by inventor Dean Kamen, encourages high-school students to design and build robots to compete with and against other FRC teams. The competition overview video is available from NASA. This year's competition is called 'Lunacy.' The game consists of a series of 135-second face-offs during which the student-designed robots must pick up 9-inch game balls and deposit them in trailers hitched to the opposing teams' robots. The game field is coated with regolith, a slick polymer material, and special wheels are used to create a low-traction interaction with the crater's surface. Together, these combine to simulate the one-sixth gravity on the surface of the moon. For any readers who are interested in participating, FRC teams can always use more adult mentors."
Meshach writes "Ars Technica has an interesting run-down on the major open source victories of 2008. Some, like Firefox 3, we can probably mostly agree on. Others — KDE 4 comes to mind — will be more controversial. And Mono 2? What else should be on the list?"
An anonymous reader writes "ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes tested the latest Win7 build against XP and Vista and came to a surprising conclusion: Win7 performs better than the other 2 OSs in the vast majority of the 23 tasks tested. Even installation. 'Rather than publish a series of benchmark results for the three operating systems (something which Microsoft frowns upon for beta builds, not to mention the fact that the final numbers only really matter for the release candidate and RTM builds), I've decided to put Windows 7, Vista and XP head-to-head in a series of real-world tests...'" This review shows only a 1-2-3 ranking for each test, so there's no sense of the quantitative level of improvement.