Flashing Your SIM

It’s a logical move: marry the SIMcard with flash memory. Investor’s Business Daily reports that M-Systems is doing just that:

The company’s strike on the mobile phone market has a second front. It’s a new product, due to launch during the first half of 2006, that marries flash memory and a Simcard, which is used in 80% of cell phones. M-Systems calls it a Mega Simcard. <…> 
“We’re looking at the Mega Simcard as one of our biggest growth generators in ’07 and ’08,” Maor said.

This does seem to have been around at least a year as an idea (although the correct name seems to MegaSIM card) and it was supposed to have been launched by now. The card would hold up to 256 megabytes (this is according to a story a year ago; I think it’s grown by now).

I guess it’s not just about extra storage — although that would make backing up or transferring contacts a lot easier, since they tend to be split between memory and SIM — but about loading up extra programs. The provider, for example, could issue the SIM with extra software already preloaded. For companies it may also make it easier to keep data secure and swap handsets between employees. And if this product sheet (PDF) is anything to go by, it would also contain Digital Rights Management components.

This Week’s Column: Bacteria at Your Fingertips

This week’s (paid subscription only; apologies) column in the WSJ.com (which runs in the Personal Journal of The Asian Wall Street Journal) is about the gunk in your keyboard:

An exhaustive poll of my friends reveals that all sorts of stuff is being spilled over the average keyboard: biscuit crumbs, mango, fizzy beverage, the odd stray cornflake, nail varnish, rice, soy sauce, coffee, wine (red and white), hand cream. Under your keys lie a faithful record of every snack, lunch and beverage break you’ve had at your desk since you joined the company. It’s like typing on a pile of week-old dirty dishes.

Here’s the permanent WSJ.com home to Loose Wire columns.

Are Watches Dangerous?

Bruce Schneier points to a Guardian story about watches being a security threat:

At Labour’s Brighton conference in the UK, security screeners are making people take their watches off and run them through the scanner. Why? No one seems to know.

Bruce rightly points to the absurdity of the idea of a watch being a terrorist weapon — or a timer for one — but to me the bigger problem is about having security personnel check something without them knowing what they’re checking for. What is the point of instructing personnel to get civilians to take off their watch and put it through a security X-ray when they don’t actually know why they’re doing it?

It reminds me of the security officers in my country of abode, Indonesia, waving their metal detectors around the inside of a car without having a clue about what they’re doing. The longstanding joke is they’re testing to see whether the wand detector is on or not. “It’s beeping. It’s working. Great. Thanks for letting me check. You’re free to go now.”

The New Cliche: “It’s the Wikipedia of…”

You know something has arrived when it’s used to describe a phenomenon. Or what people hope will be a phenomenon. Here’s a sampling:

  • Laptops This from Nicholas Negroponte, describing his $100 laptop for the developing world (via Andy Carvin’s Waste of Bandwidth): “It’s the Wikipedia equivalent (of hardware),” he said, describing the spirit of the laptop initiative.
  • Gasbuddy  Poster at ezboard: “It’s the Wikipedia of Gas pumps. I use it whenever I need gas. I can’t believe I forgot about it until now.”
  • New York Times — This from a Xanga blogger: “It’s the Wikipedia of newspapers: great resource with plenty of interesting but useless content. For goodness’ sake, it’s a newspaper, not Cosmo Girl.”
  • The UK Good Food/Good Pub guide, described on Wikipedia chat as It’s the wikipedia of food guides”
  • Urban Dictionary — described by this blogger as “the Wikipedia of the streets beyach!”
  • Sushi World Guideit seems the community is still growing. It is the ‘Wikipedia of Sushi’.
  • Pure Energy Systems We will be the Wikipedia of alternate energy technology.”
  • Wondirhailed on the unofficial google blog as “the Wikipedia of answer sites”
  • Dermatlasdescribed here as the Wikipedia of dermatology atlases“
  • Math World — described here as “the wikipedia of math”
  • GuitarWikidescribed by a visitor as possibly becoming “the Wikipedia of the guitar world“

The Future of Editing?

The Irish Developer Network reports on

an Esquire editor who invited Wikipedia users to edit an article that will presumably appear in the magazine. Of which Wikipedia users reacted strongly to, with over 500 edits to WP:ITAAW before the article was frozen.

I love Wikipedia but it sounds like hell. When I’m an editor I curse reporters who don’t appreciate the effort we put into polishing their copy till it shines, and as a writer I get all tetchy when an editor suggests the smallest tweak to my pristine copy. Having a swarm of Wikipedians picking over my work I think would drive me over the edge. But could editing be outsourced in a way not unlike this? When was an extra pair of eyes not worth the candle?

The Poor Get Their Motorolas

I’m intrigued by this program to offer cheap handsets for the poor (from The Register), but I have my doubts. The Register says

Motorola has been selected by the GSM Association (GSMA) to supply the handsets for its programme to provide mobile telephony to people in developing countries. Motorola will commence delivery of these phones in the first quarter of 2006, as the second phase of the GSMA’s Emerging Market Handset (EMH) programme gets underway. The stated aims of the programme are to advance the social and economic development of emerging markets through mobile communications. It includes an initiative to provide mobile phones that cost less than USD30 apiece onto the market in poorer nations.

Where I live you can get a second-hand handset for less than that. Indeed, in Indonesia handsets are so cheap everyone, and I mean everyone, has at least one. Wouldn’t it make more sense to give developing countries (ok, ‘emerging markets’) second-hand phones from the developed countries (‘emerged markets’). Wouldn’t it be better just to give these things away?

Who Is Really Behind The Rogue Dialer Scams?

A tip from a reader (thanks, James) indicates we’re back on the trail of the rogue dialers. (Rogue dialers are pieces of software usually downloaded without the user’s knowledge, which then disconnect existing Internet connections and dial fresh connections via high-cost usually international numbers. The user doesn’t know much about it until the monthly phone bill arrives with a hefty jump.) A piece on TheWMURChannel (via AP) says Missouri’s attorney general has filed suit against a New Hampshire man, Michael Walczak,  and his businesses —  Phoenix One Billing LLC and National One Telecom Inc — accusing him “of charging Missourians for accessing pornographic Web sites they never visited”:

The suit accuses Walczak of demanding payment from at least 59 Missouri customers for long-distance calls to foreign countries that weren’t made and for accessing pay-per-view adult Web sites. Nixon said it appeared the charges sometimes came from auto-dialing software installed on people’s computers without their knowledge.

Walczak is accused of deception, fraud and unfair trade practices. Nixon wants the Jackson County Circuit Court to order the people wrongly charged be paid back, to block Walczak from engaging in unfair trade practices and to impose a fine of $1,000 per violation.

Walczak doesn’t sound like a big fish, although National One, one of the companies he is allegedly involved in, did catch some big ones. This article in the Union Leader describes him thus (go here for the full piece; the January original has been archived):

Walczak is a 2000 graduate from Manchester West High School and uses his parent’s Horizon Drive address in Bedford as his business address. He graduated from Daniel Webster College last year with a degree in information systems. John Zahr, a class officer of the West 2000 class, said Walczak was a smart kid who took advanced-level classes. “All I could really tell you, without trying to sound too harsh, was that he was perceived as your stereotypical high school ‘nerd,’ if you will,” Zahr said in an e-mail message.

In other words, if this account is correct, he’s barely into his 20s. Someone of his name is also behind this website, Candid Publishing, based in the same area, with the following DNS registration data:

 Walczak, M. webmaster@candidpublishing.com
 PO BOX 10007
 Bedford, NH 03110
 US
 1-866-422-6343

Different postbox, but same ZIP as Phoenix One Billing. And the company name happens to be the name by which National One Telecom’s DNS is registered. Candid Publishing’s website has nothing on it, but it looks cool, and promises services including “traffic auditing”. But it does seem to have been around a while: the Walczak of Candid Publishing has been using that company name since at least 2000. Oh, and there’s an interesting exchange here on the Tech Support Guy forums between angry users and a National One Telecom “customer service manager“. It’s more than a year old but entertaining and may shed some light on what this is all about. Could this particular scam have been dreamed up and carried out by small fry?

Apple, Nano, and the Cost of Silence

It’s been nearly a week since the first stories about problems with the Apple iPod Nano screen started to surface, and, according to The Register, they’re spreading:

More importantly, the post on Apple’s discussion boards discussing the issue has grown from 188 posts to 583 (at last count), and now includes people who have cancelled their orders. Ooooh dear.

Indeed, the screen-scratching problems don’t seem to be the only ones with the Nano. Some people have been complaining about wholesale screen failures and others about the battery life, which they say doesn’t match the claimed 14 hours, even when you follow Apple’s instructions (backlight off, no skipping songs). Except in the latter, Apple carefully claims “up to 14”, and some have managed more.

What worries me more than anything is Apple’s response. Or rather, its non-response. I had very little joy getting a specific response to my query to them about problems installing iTunes for a piece I wrote in last week’s WSJ.com (subscription only I’m afraid) and it seems they’re adopting the same position with the Nano problem, according to The Register:

So what, we asked Apple, is it going to do about those screens? The reply: “Apple has no comment at this time.” Stores will decide for themselves whether to swap scratched or broken machines.

In the long run this approach can only harm the company. In the case of software, end users can at least clamber to the assistance of flailing fellow users where the company’s own support staff don’t, but what happens in the case of faulty hardware? Inaction and silence merely give free rein to angry customers on Apple’s own discussion boards to lambast the company and persuade uncommitted customers not to buy. Can’t be good for business or Apple’s image.

What’s Safe?

Another example of why you can’t really trust software to tell you whether a website is dangerous or not. The Register reports that a Trusted search software labels fraud site as ‘safe’:  

Digital certificate firm GeoTrust’s launch of a search engine with built in trust features this week has been marred by the classification of a phishing site as genuine. Powered by Ask Jeeves, GeoTrust TrustWatch search aims to protect users against fraudulent behaviour and phishing attacks by giving web sites a verification rating. It’s a laudable aim, but the classification of a recently created phishing site as “verified as safe” raises serious doubts about the effectiveness of the technology. Such incorrect classifications create a false sense of security that can only play into the hands of would-be fraudsters.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, it’s more dangerous to offer a service that claims to warn you about phishing–related and other dodgy websites if you can’t guarantee 100% success, as it merely lulls a user into a false sense of security. Another reason why these things won’t work is the false positive, which EarthLink found to its (temporary) cost.

Recycling Publishers’ Rejection Letters

I’ve been looking at Printing on Demand recently — more of which anon — and was pleased to see there’s now a way to recycle publishers’ rejection letters By Printing Them On Toilet Paper:

Now, authors whose work has met similar rejection are getting the chance to put it behind them and simultaneously start to get even — thanks to a website that lets them print their rejection letters onto rolls of customized toilet paper.

Lulu (www.lulu.com), a site that enables anyone to publish and sell their own book, eBook, calendar . . . and now toilet roll, without some lofty editor first having to grant permission, is offering the groundbreaking new service — at http://www.lulu.com/tp — to highlight that it does not reject any legal and decent material.