April 2001

Real World
Web-wide World
Wired World
Wireless World
Hard World
Soft World

Real World

  • Eversheds - a law firm specialising in IT legislation - has been bringing people's attention to the US Children's Online Privacy Protection Act 1998 (COPPA), which became effective this time last year.

    The law is stronger than UK Data Protection legislation, requiring that where a web site knowingly collects personal information about a child under the age of 13, it must post a privacy policy "and directly notify parents of their policy in relation to collecting personal information and get verifiable parental consent before they collect any personal information from [the] child."

    Any site which is accessible by US children, regardless of where it is hosted, is advised to ensure that it is compliant with this law.
  • Possibly the most important story of the month: a student at Brunel University has designed a toaster that's wired up to the Internet, and browns your bread with a picture of the day's weather forecast. Apparently he is now working on ways of etching more information onto toast, including SMS text messages. It can only be a matter of time before semi-naked women are made to appear - quite literally - on your daily currant bun.

    [note for non-UK readers - 'current bun' is rhyming slang for 'the Sun', a daily tabloid newspaper which combines pictures of topless women with support for old-fashioned family values.]

Web-Wide World

  • With the ongoing cull of dot-coms, it is interesting to note that e-Bay, the online auction house, in the last year increased its revenue by 79 percent, to $154.1 million. Of course, this may be a result of, rather than despite, the economic slowdown in America, since businesses like pawnshops notoriously do well in recessions.
  • WIPO - the World Intellectual Property Organisation - is the body that decides disputes over .com domain names. It is notorious for deciding in favour of the rich and powerful, even the shakiest of grounds. WIPO recently acted against type, however, when it decided that the Wal-Mart corporation was not entitled to take control of the domain name 'wallmartcanadasucks.com' from the individual who uses it to host an anti-Wal-Mart site.

    Wal-Mart has already successfully taken a number of '...sucks' -type domains from this individual, where these contained the letters 'wal-mart' or 'walmart'. The justification it used in these cases was that the Wal-Mart name, as signifying an established business, needs protection. It was refused the wallmartcanadasucks.com domain, however, on the grounds that the names were too dissimilar.

    Wal-Mart has also bought up other the sites with the word 'wallmart' in - wallmartcanadasucks.net, .org etc, in order to stop further embarrassment. However, the owner of wallmartcanadasucks.com has lodged an appeal with WIPO to take control of these 'wallmart' sites - on the grounds that his wallmartcanadasucks.com site is a legitimate business whose name ought to be protected...

Wired World

  • A significant vulnerability in the Windows 2000 web server IIS5 (Internet Information Server 5) has just been found, and several exploits (ways of using the vulnerability to hack the server) have been written. If you, or your Internet Service Provider, are hosting web pages on Windows 2000 boxes, then you should be sure that you're patched against hackers.

    So as you know which vulnerability we're talking about: it comprises a buffer overflow problem in the IIS5 printer ISAPI. Feel free just to repeat the phrase. Anyway, a patch has been posted by Microsoft at

    http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/MS01-023.asp
  • Following the rise of P2P (peer-to-peer) computing demonstrated by Napster, the Seti project, etc., DataSynapse is to introduce P2P computing to Wall Street. As the preeminent electronic exchange, Wall Street companies require huge computing power in order to process, track and analyse the billions of transactions that pass through it. The P2P approach provides the required processing speed by hooking up thousands of PCs to run in parallel.

Wireless World

  • The month of April was the cruellest month for mobile phone manufacturers, with poor first quarter sales leading to a frenzy of job loses. At the top of the job-loss table was Ericsson, who announced a planned cull of 12,000 jobs. The other contenders were: Siemens (around 8000) and Motorola (3000). Trailing some way behind was Nokia, who only found it in its heart to shed 300-400 staff.
  • As if they didn't have problems enough, two class-action lawsuits have been filed in Washington against major mobile phone operators. These allege that mobile phone radiation is associated with increased risks of brain tumours and genetic disorders. However, since the suits do not name particular instances of illness caused by mobile phones, it is supposed likely that these suits will get bogged down in a mass of inconclusive evidence.
  • BT Cellnet is to become the first telcom to introduce a consumer mobile service using GPRS (General Packet-switched Radio Service), on May 18th. In principle GPRS has two advantages over existing mobile networks, which are GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication). Firstly, they are 'always on' - no need to make a connection. Secondly, they promise much faster speeds.

    According to industry sceptics, however, the initial GPRS service is expected to be fairly poor, with companies unwilling to invest in the required hardware infrastructure after parting with billions of pounds for 3G licences (where 3G networks are a different type again). 3G trials are currently taking place in the Isle of Man (which can used as a testing ground because it doesn't fall under the UK 3G licences).
  • With the increasing trend for mobile phone users to download bleepy versions of the latest pop hits as ring-tones, the issue of copyright protection is beginning to be quietly raised. If said tunes are deemed to comprise a 'substantial' part of the original (where this can be a qualitative rather than simply a quantitative matter), then the copyright owners may be missing out on substantial royalties. And after chewing on Napster, the recording industry's appetites may be in need of a new target...

Hard World

  • A quick roundup of the two main PC chip manufacturers. The latest Intel chip is their 1.7 GHz Pentium 4, and the latest AMD their 1.33 GHz Athlon. Although the P4 is just under twice as expensive as the Athlon, it is still not giving the kind of performance boost that the difference in clock speed would suggest. The smart move is still to stick with AMD, where the money saved can be spent on improvements in other parts of the system, giving overall better performance.
  • Good news for gamers, with the release of the new GeForce3 graphics card. Where games are written specifically for this card (using the DirectX API, if you're interested), the card can be programmed like a standard processing chip. According to the hype, the card can even animate lifelike wrinkly skin in characters (which will be useful for the forthcoming 'Lara Croft: the Buspass Years').

Soft World

  • The main article in this section was supposed to be a focus piece on Microsoft's whole .NET project. In a fit of enthusiasm, however, the author has made it far too long. It will be made available shortly on the Softsteel website as a tutorial piece.

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