From: ZDNet.co.uk

European cell phone service providers T-Mobile and 02 are encouraging their customers not to upgrade their mobile handsets when their service contracts expire.

Previously, customers were offered new handsets with more up-to-date features, at nominal or no cost, as a perk to renew their subscription with their provider of record.

As ZDNet reports, T-Mobile and 02 customers will now have the option of keeping their old handsets and receiving a substantial discount on their monthly service charges.

T-Mobile says the new option addresses customers’ calls for ‘more affordable’ cell service.

One angle the ZDNet story does not address is the ‘green’ impact of the handset ploy: Millions of cell handsets are currently thrown away every year, when users upgrade to new sets on renewal of their service contracts or when they change providers. That constitutes a mountain of electronic junk, only a small percentage of which is reused or safely recycled.

If your smoke alarm started beeping for no reason, you’d probably head out to the hardware store and buy a new one. Indeed, as part of the City of Ottawa’s “Wake Up! Get a Working Smoke Alarm” program, residents are urged test their smoke detector and change the battery twice a year. But apparently it took a $562,000 fine to wake up City staff.

In this case, it wasn’t about smoke detectors but, rather, the alarm system that would have alerted staff as 764 million litres of sewage poured into the Ottawa river.

According to the recent report by Ottawa’s Auditor General Alain Lalonde, in August 2006 sewage continued to flow into the Ottawa river for twelve days after a storm ended. It only stopped when a staff technician noticed an anomaly in the flow monitoring data.

So what went wrong? City management blatantly ignored best practices. Nearly 40 years ago, the American Public Works Association (APWA) reported that the type of equipment used by the City required, “a continuous preventive maintenance program in order to function properly,” and and made two recommendations:

  • Inspections once per week and after each storm, and in no case less frequent than twice per month; and,
  • After each storm.

Despite these recommendations, in 2001, following Ottawa’s municipal amalgamation, inspections were reduced to once per month and none after rain events. And, as if ignoring recommended inspections wasn’t bad enough, the auditor general points out another shocking problem:

“The former Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton (RMOC) had a system of alarms on these regulators. The alarms were connected to the pagers of the program managers and supervisors in the sewer maintenance system. The alarms would go off frequently and a number of false alarms occurred. Shortly after amalgamation, the alarm system was allowed to fail and was never repaired. During interviews for the audit, the Manager, WDSD and Program Manager, Sewer Maintenance acknowledged responsibility for the decision to reduce the frequency of inspections and to not replace the alarm system.”

From a security perspective, this type of scenario is far too common: Best practices were ignored, security controls were removed and the combination resulted in a high level of risk that was not recognized until it was too late. While the managers involved should obviously have known better (and, since three of them were subsequently fired, it would appear that someone at the City agrees), incidents like this are usually indicative of a much larger problem — and that’s unfortunately where Lalonde’s report falls short.

If the City of Ottawa had a good risk management framework in place these critical changes would have triggered an updated risk assessment, the increased risk would have been immediately obvious and action would have been taken to reduce the risk. Accidents happen but this was no accident. The City of Ottawa failed its citizens on several levels. Hopefully, they’re awake now.

As Art Seidman reports, in the official Yahoo! Search blog, Yahoo! has released an updated and enhanced version of its popular Inquisitor browser plugin for Internet Explorer (IE) and Firefox.

Inquisitor 3.0 reportedly offers some significant enhancements over its predecessors. Among the new features, an enhanced search algorithm designed to return more personalized, targeted results. You can also add bookmarks to search results, now, allowing almost instant recall of items you’ve searched out (and tagged) previously.

Seidman adds, “Beyond these enhancements, the focus of Inquisitor, regardless of browser platforms, remains squarely on providing you with instant Web results that get you to your destination faster, the best query formulation assistance and a richer, more personalized search experience.”

Inquisitor was released for Apple’s Safari browser earlier this year. Version 3.0 is now available, free, for Safari, IE 7 and 8 and well as Firefox 2 and 3, via separate links from the Search Blog entry.

From: ZDNet

The kind of intrusive ‘hacker’ attacks common to desktop and portable computers have not yet appeared in the cell phone universe. But at least one computer security vendor is warning that they will soon.

Chia Wing Fei, Security Response Manager at F-Secure Labs, told ZDNet this week that conditions are ripe for the spread of malware attacks to spread to smart phones.

Various information security experts have noted that the increasing use of mobile devices for e-mail and other confidential communications, as well as emergence wireless transaction technologies, make smart phones increasingly attractive targets for cyber crooks.

“We haven’t seen much mobile malware development in the last six months … but the Apple iPhone has changed the whole mobile experience and is likely to change the threat level in due time,” Chia observes. “The mobile threat has become a ticking timebomb.”

Google has launched GMail Mobile 2.0, enhancing the mobile e-mail experience for J2ME-compatible cell phones such as the Nokia N95 and newer Blackberry models.

The update allows users to save multiple drafts of e-mails in their phone (storage space permitting) and users with QWERTY keyboards (such as the BlackBerry) get new keyboard shortcuts for a variety of mail-handling functions. In addition, messages can now be composed offline (when the user is unable to connect to the cell network) and send them later, when service is available again.

GMail Mobile 2.0 is free and available now from the GMail Web site.

A new survey by ABI Research indicates that the majority of those television viewers in the U.S. who still use an antenna to view television broadcasts direct from the tower will switch to cable, or satellite services next February, when all U.S. TV broadcasting goes digital. But a significant number of analog TV viewers say they will simply let their sets go dark — with the exception, we presume, of the occasional DVD movie or console gaming session.

The ABI survey revealed that some 15 per cent of all U.S. TV viewers still rely on a traditional antenna to receive direct-broadcast channels, while a whopping 85 per cent have already switched to cable or satellite TV services. Many of those still using antennas live in rural areas where cable service is not available.

Among the analog holdouts, ABI says 70 per cent will install a digital converter box between their sets and their antennas, and 10 per cent will spring for cable or satellite service. But a full 20 per cent say they will simply stop watching broadcast TV.

ABI Principle Analyst Steve Wilson notes,“Terrestrial viewers tend to be more likely to use alternative video entertainment forms such as DVD rentals and broadband video and the transition may push them further in that direction.”

Traditional analog free-to-air TV transmissions will cease in the U.S. on February 17, 2009.

Microsoft (MS) yesterday issued a ‘critical’ Windows patch — outside its regular, monthly Security Bulletin cycle. The last time that happened was back in April, 2007.

The MS special Security Bulletin describes the vulnerability being addressed as one of those flaws that could allow a hacker to take control of your computer.

The problem affects Windows XP and Vista, as well as certain versions of Windows Server and Windows 2000.

You can get the patch to fix this problem at the Windows Update site. Just click ‘Windows Update’ in your Start menu and follow the instructions at the site.

Observers say that, when MS issues a security update ‘out of band’ like this, it’s an indication that MS considers the problem it addresses very serious.

A paper products exec once boasted to anyone who would listen, at a cocktail party, that his company was recession-proof. The secret?

“Our disposable diaper manufacturing lines can be re-tooled in under two hours to make sanitary pads,” he explained. “People may stop using disposable diapers or disposable dusting refills or paper towels when money gets tight. But history proves that the last things women will give up are lipstick sanitary pads.”

But what technologies do people consider essential in these troubled economic times?

As the Winnipeg Sun reports, a new study by Toronto-Based Solutions Research Group discovered that the technology that’s most important to the average consumer is Internet access — followed, in order, by DVD rentals, phones and video games.

Among the things people were most willing to give up: concert and sports event tickets, movie tickets, magazine subscriptions and pay-TV services.

If you’ve given up trying to conquer your road rage, you can at least flip off other drivers more safely with this new device from PerpetualKid.com. But we hasten to add that there are lots of other, nicer, things you can use it for, too…

The Hand is a 9 in. x 6 in, flourescent pink, glow-in-the-dark hand that attaches to any window in your vehicle with suction cups and can be programmed to display any of seven different finger configurations via a handy (pun intended!) wireless remote which can be clipped to your visor for easy access.

“The Hand will create a attention-grabbing sensation wherever it is used!” the PerpetualKids.com Web site declares, in what some would consider a masterful understatement. The site also makes an oblique reference to checking local ordinances before deploying The Hand where you live. There are apparently jurisdictions where flipping someone the bird, even by remote control, can earn you a ticket…

Our only criticism of this innovative new product is, it doesn’t perform the Vulcan ‘Live long and prosper!’ salute. Maybe in the next version…

The Hand is available directly from PetperualKid.com for (US)$39.95 plus shipping and handling. It runs on four AA batteries which are not included.

Our thanks to TLP fan Erin Mills of Ottawa, Canada, for this New Product story tip!

It was rather insidious, how my four- and six-year-old sons became addicted to the computer. They’d been allowed on the computer for a year or so, and I’d noticed that their time spent online had been increasing. With a brand new baby in the house, though, it was just way too easy to let the computer be their chief source of entertainment. I’d rationalized, after all, that at least with the computer they were thinking and interacting — more than I could say about hours spent in front of the television. I further rationalized that our computer is in a central location in the middle of the house, so I always knew which websites they were on or which video games they were playing.

I’m sure that, at one point during the summer, they were up to a couple of hours a day online. An hour or so in the morning, maybe another mid-afternoon and another session after dinner. It didn’t take long to add up. I’d been aware of the problem and bothered by it, knowing they were on the computer too much but not sure how to effectively cut down online time without making everyone miserable. Which is right about when the motherboard died. With no notice whatsoever, toward the end of August, the whole thing seized up. Off to the big box retailer whence it came it was shipped for repairs — luckily for us, still under warranty. And that’s how my boys (and I) had to deal with quitting the computer cold turkey.

It was gone for a little more than six weeks. Seemed much longer. The first week, I thought my four year old would implode. The oldest has always been good at entertaining himself. With no computer, he’d draw and colour or build intricate star ships from Lego. The four year old was bereft. It was worse when school started and the oldest was away all day while the four year old only attended school in the mornings. Afternoons seemed endless with no playmate and no computer to play on, he turned to me for entertainment. I’m only good for so many games of Trouble and Concentration before my own head is ready to implode, not to mention the demands on my time and attention from his baby brother.

Funny thing, though. By the time the computer was fixed, we didn’t miss it so much. The four year old had discovered a love of jigsaw puzzles and even liked to go out by himself and ride his bike in the driveway. Computer time became a treat instead of part of the daily routine. The boys were even better at sharing their time online and collaborating instead of arguing.

They’re now down to a much more reasonable 30 to 60 minutes a day, and I’ve eliminated one more source of mommy-guilt. If only I could get my own online addiction under control…

Yahoo! is preparing to lay off 1,500 employees — a tenth of its total workforce — following news that the struggling Internet icon’s revenues slumped again in its most recent fiscal quarter. It’s the second time in nine months that the company has resorted to massive staff cuts to trim operating costs.

The layoffs are part of a plan to reduce the company’s annual (US)$3.9 billion expenditures by (US)$400 million. Other measures to be implemented over the next two months include outsourcing some jobs to less-extensive offshore workers and closing some of Yahoo’s U.S offices.

Yahoo’s financial difficulties date back over a year, during which time the company fought off an unwelcome takeover bid by Microsoft and courted Google in an unsuccessful merger bid.

Yahoo! fans — who feared, earlier this year, that their favourite search and e-mail provider might go down or be assimilated by another Internet superpower — remain cautiously optimistic about the future. Financial observers say the Yahoo! corporate downturn could last ‘well into next year’. But management remains positive that Yahoo! can weather the storm.

“I believe getting Yahoo! more fit at this time will provide the flexibility necessary for navigating current conditions and strengthen our position for the future,” Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang told analysts in a conference call earlier this week.

We’ll all just have to wait and see…

U.S. cell phone provider T-Mobile commenced retail sales of its new G1 touch phone yesterday in cities where the company’s G3 digital mobile services are available. Users in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco and Seattle were in on that party.

While tech reviewers generally agreed that the G1 offered little, design-wise, to distinguish it from other large-screen touch phones, they did enthuse over the Google Android cell phone operating system, which also made its debut on store shelves with the launch of the G1.

While acknowledging Android’s potential to revolutionize the “mobile data experience”, reviewers also agreed that the system is not quite there yet. How quickly the new OS develops and matures will depend, in large measure, on how quickly consumer business users embrace it en masse.

Earlier this week, Motorola announced that it was developing an Android-based touch phone (not yet named), which is expected to arrive at Motorola dealers of record in major markets across North America sometime in the fist quarter of next year.