A motorist yapping away on a cell phone is seldom a welcome sight for other drivers, and those who do so in the UK will now face stiffer penalties for their multitasking British prosecutors instituted new guidelines yesterday for enforcing the 2003 ban on handheld use while driving, which include more serious charges against the offending driver and even the possibility of jail time.
Officials estimate that, although motorists could previously be charged with careless driving and fines of £60, up to half a million Brits violate the law daily. The new guidelines are meant to curb that behavior. "This sends a clear message to motorists: don't mix driving and communicating, just as you would not drink and drive," said the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety's Rob Gifford in a statement seen by The Telegraph. "This is long overdue. At last the law has caught up with the reality of the road, with too many people using their phone while driving."
Drivers now face unlimited fines and up to two years in jail if caught using a mobile device while on the road. Those mobile devices include cell phones, music players, GPS devices, or any number of things that could be distracting to a driver. The use of handsfree devices is okay, but police can still stop someone if they believe the handsfree device has impaired his or her driving.
Of course, not everyone agrees that the new guidelines will help curb dangerous driving. "This does seem over the top. I would never condone using a handheld mobile and would never do it myself. But existing laws cover it and there are plenty of other things which are distracting," Association of British Drivers spokesperson Paul Biggs told The Telegraph.
Others believe that the existing laws just need better enforcement—Sheila Granger for the UK-based RAC told Reuters that if more motorists had been stopped in the first place, more people would be deterred from violating the law.
But enforcing cell phone laws properly isn't exactly easy, as the city of Chicago has recently learned. Attorney Blake Horwitz has filed a lawsuit against the city, Mayor Richard Daley, and several law enforcement officials over the city's strict ban on using cell phones while driving, saying that the law has been improperly enforced. Horwitz, whose firm specializes in police misconduct, points out that there are no signs around the city warning drivers to avoid chatting on cell phones, meaning that unwitting suburbanites and out-of-state drivers could be ticketed for violating a law they didn't know existed. Horwitz says that the city is violating the two-year-old law, which means that the $2 million police have collected in fines are illegal and should be refunded.
Others disagree with Horwitz's assessment, however. A number of city officials told The Chicago Tribune (free subscription) that the current enforcement methods don't violate any laws, and that the signs are not required. They also lamented that there would be no place to put the signs ("We'd have signs on every pole in the city," said Alderman Bernard Stone) and that putting up signs would place a tremendous burden on the city.
Anecdotally, I know at least one person who was fined and had his license temporarily suspended for using a cell phone while driving in Chicago. This was on his first offense, so the punishment seemed a bit harsh (although, as Granger said above, it did scare him and the rest of us into being more careful). He was aware of the law at the time, but out-of-towners aren't—a handful of visiting friends-of-friends have been stopped since 2005 as well. Signs don't need to be on every single pole in the city, but one every so often would certainly help.
Yesterday we broke the story of the retail chain Slackers' shady dealings with their Wii supply. Basically, the owner of the chain orders systems for his stores, butinstead of selling them through his retail locations, puts the systemson eBay for $400. Since we ran the story, we've spoken to, and have been contacted by, numerous employees of the chain, confirming this practice, and offering more details of how it works.
One person claiming to be an employee created an Ars account to comment on the story. I asked him what Slackers tells customers when they ask if the systems are in stock. "We tell them we are out and we don't plan on getting any in the near future," he replied. But they aren't sold out; they have three in stock, according to their eBay page. But is that even true?
"Also, it may say we have three, but that is just to make it appear as though we don't have a stockpile," the employee said. "The actual number is usually much higher."
So how many systems are they scalping? One e-mail that claimed to be from another employee told usthey had twenty or so, so I asked the source in the comments. "Twenty probably wouldn't be too far off. I believe that they just received a considerable amount recently, but I can't confirm that." He then confirmed that it's the logic of the store to let systems trickle out onto eBay to make sure demand is high.
"I'm not defending anything. I'm simply giving you the facts," he said. While the economy of scale certainly allows a tidy profit to be made from this practice, it's unlikely that regular customers would be happy knowing they're being lied to while the store stockpiles systems in the back just toscalp them for a much higher price online. Rest assured, they have units in stock, they just don't want to sell them to their regular customers, and they don't want people to know what they're doing.
I wonder what they're telling customers now that everyone knows where the systems are going?
College students of yesteryear had to do their learning in the library and the lecture hall; college students of tomorrow may do theirs in something more similar to Second Life. That's one of the conclusions of a 2007 study of educational technology from EDUCAUSE and the New Media Consortium. Their 2007 "Horizon Report" (PDF) describes six key technologies that its authors believe will make an impact on education in the next one to five years:
User-created contentSocial networkingMobile phone integrationVirtual worlds for learningNew forms of scholarly publication, including wikisMassively multiplayer educational gaming
To quickly summarize the report: both user-generated content and social networking are expected to enter the educational mainstream within the next year. Already such tools are beginning to be used in college campuses across the US, although we hear from readers who are none too impressed with what their profs can do with the technology (exceptions exist, of course).
Mobile phones will become an "ideal platform for educational content and activities" in two to three years, as will virtual worlds, says the report. "The new scholarship" (publishing to wikis and blogs, for instance) will take root among scholars in four to five years. And massively multiplayer gaming, which we imagine will be like World of WarCraft with fewer orcs and more turtle-necked philosophers ("I hurl the +7 Derridean Argument of Deconstruction at your Unenchanted Shield of Rational Modernism!"), is also scheduled to come into its own within five years.
So will college classrooms soon look like a darkened Chinese gold farming operation with students pecking away desperately at their superpowered mobile phones? Will education consist solely of task-switching between chatting up friends, posting to blogs, and generally becoming a "part of the conversation"?
No. The report suggests that having students compare user-created content, for instance, "can give students a valuable perspective on their own abilities and inspire them to try new ideas or techniques." This is true, but in order to join the conversation, one needs something to say. If you've ever assigned groups of freshmen to give in-class presentations on course topics, you know that peer learning has its limits.
Most disciplines have at their core a huge body of source material and criticism; while this can be appropriated in many ways (iPods, for instance), it's simply not possible to replace the hard work of gaining all that knowledge. While the technologies discussed in the report will all play their parts in the educational process over the next decade, games, student-created content, social networking, and virtual worlds simply can't deliver that content well in its primary form (of course, there are some disciplines where this doesn't hold true).
To return to the user-created content example, the report points out that groups of students can successfully create reading and resource lists, and the example projects cover just this sort of ground. While this is certainly useful, it's really just organizing preexisting expert material; learners can't simply "generate" content in their discipline until they have mastered what's already out there. This is actually true of most of the technologies outlined in the report. Despite the hype surrounding such tools, they are useful for core learning in only a limited set of disciplines. For most programs, consuming and understanding large amounts of knowledge remains fundamental, no matter how much audiences today like to be in charge of their content or how many times Time magazine puts "You!" on the cover.
But the other key part of the educational process,thinking throughmaterial and debating it with others, seems perfectly suited to new technology. Such tools are good at creating all sorts of secondary learning opportunities: class discussion blogs, games that allow users to explore ancient Greece, or interdisciplinary networks formed via social networking tools.
For teachers, too, such tools will quickly gain prominence. Social networking helps professors link up with other interested researchers in their field. New publishing tools like blogging software and wikis are already producing fascinating new outlets for knowledge and argument, and one can certainly argue that good academic blogs are more helpful to the community as a whole than Yet Another Journal Article.
And of course there are certain disciplines where such technologies can play a more central role than in the sciences and humanities. Management courses, for instance, could make much greater use of social networking tools and role-playing in virtual worlds, while programs that focus explicitly on user-generated content (writing, photography, etc.) can make excellent use of tech tools like Flickr and Scribd and social networks. Archaeology can benefit from virtual worlds containing reconstructions of buildings and towns.
Educators need to be discerning in putting such tools to use. The report suggests, for instance, that virtual worlds might be useful as theatrical sandboxes, and it says that "productions from murder mysteries to westerns have [already] been staged in Second Life." Well, fair enough. One could use such tools to work on set design and blocking, for instance, but how much would someone learn about the craft of acting from sitting behind a computer? Is a college literature course that requires its students to build Second Life buildings in the syle of various cultures they have studied really doingthe best jobof teaching lit?Is modding Neverwinter Nights really the best way toteach students about investigative journalism?
Let's hope so, since if the report's conclusions are true, such tools will become far more common in the classroom over the next few years. Perhaps we have only a year or two before virtual worlds are common… three or four before edugaming is rampant. Start leveling up your turtle-neckedavatar now.
Props to the Chronicle of Higher Education for bringing the report to our attention.
Opponents of Australia's controversial Access Card received an early Christmas present earlier this month when the incoming Rudd Labor Government finally axed the controversial ID program. Had it been implemented, the Access Card program would have required Australians to present the smart card anytime they dealt with certain federal departments, including Medicare, Centrelink, the Child Support Agency, or Veterans' Affairs.
For reference, Medicare is the government agency responsible for the maintenance of Australia's universal health care system, Centrelink is responsible for the dispersement of social security payments, the Child Support Agency is responsible for the collection of child support from each parent in the event of a separation or divorce. Veterans' Affairs appears to be at least somewhat analogous to its US counterpart, minus the provisions for medical treatment.
Although the Australian government attempted to paint the Access Card system as a "Human Services Access Card," there's little doubt that it would've doubled as an effective national ID system. Information printed on the card was to include one's name, photo, signature, card, and DVA entitlements. Those particular requirements aren't any more onerous than what the US requires for a driver's license, but the Access Card didn't stop there. Each card would have been tied to an individual user via a specific card number and a corresponding PIN required to access the card's more detailed information .
Encrypted information contained within the card's RFID chip would have included a person's legal name, date of birth, gender, address, signature, card number, card expiration date, and Medicare number. Provisions were also included that would allow additional information deemed to be necessary for either "the administration or purposes of the Act."
Australians were unhappy about being forced to carry a unique ID card merely for the purpose of interacting with basic human and health services, and the proposal faced opposition from its very inception. The defeat of John Howard in the Australian polls was the last gasp of the Access Card program, which was killed off as one of the very first acts of the new Labor government, lead by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Australia's battle against the Access Card system echoes the active opposition in America to the REAL ID act. Although the two plans differ substantially in scope and implementation, critics of both argued against them on the same privacy- and civil-liberties-oriented grounds.
Although UMPC devices haven't taken off as fast as Intel would like them to, Intel may have a new fan of its upcoming UMPC platforms in Apple. Ars previously speculated that Apple was considering using Intel's Menlow and Moorestown platforms (particularly Moorestown) in future ultra-portable devices. An AppleInsider report has shed some further light on the subject; the site says that the Menlow platform will be coming to Apple products in 2008. Yes, it's a bit of an obvious rumor if you follow Intel, but it's worth taking a look at anyway.
The two companies have been thick as thieves for quite some time now, and began putting Intel processors into smaller devices with the launch of the Apple TV. The Menlow platform, specifically its Silverthorne processor, is apparently next on the list, and will be used for "multiple" Apple products that will be released in 2008. The Silverthorne processor is said to be much less powerful clock-for-clock than a Pentium M and uses far less power, and it can be stuffed onto a fairly small motherboard as well. Even better, the Menlow platform can include WiFi and 3G if manufacturers want it, and we all know how much Steve Jobs loves WiFi.
The big question is, of course, whether we'll be seeing something like a Menlow-based tablet, a Newton replacement, or some confluence of other rumors. Although the guesses are still a bit fuzzy, I'm voting for the Menlow tablet. The Menlow platform is still too big (and a bit too powerful) for inclusion in a phone, but it would we very well-suited for a tablet, particularly with WiFi or 3G included. An Apple UMPC could also be a possibility, perhaps something like a multi-touch Nintendo DS. As for the Moorestown platform, I suspect we'll see it used in iPhones a year or so from now. They're still just rumors, though, and are a bit useless without more details, so all we can do for now is keep our fingers crossed that Apple is indeed doing cool stuff with the upcoming Intel mobile platforms.
In the competition for customers between cable and satellite providers, one of the key selling points is HD. Who has more high-def channels? Whose HD programming looks the best? A Comcast ad campaign touting its HD picture as superior to DirecTV's led to a federal lawsuit last May; that suit has now been settled amicably.
The ad campaign in question was launched last spring. It cited a survey commissioned by Comcast in March in which two-thirds of the respondents said that Comcast's HD picture looked better. As the advertisements read, "Two-thirds of satellite customers expressing a preference between Comcast and DirecTV and between Comcast and Dish Network said Comcast delivered a better HD image."
DirecTV took issue with the ads, saying that the survey did not support Comcast's claims. "Comcast's advertising and promotional claims, including the aforementioned, are literally false," argued the satellite provider in its complaint. Comcast, in turn, cited the opinions of consulting firm Accenture and law firm Loeb & Loeb validating the survey and testing process.
Both companies say that they're "pleased" with the settlement, which is confidential. Comcast will be able to continue citing the survey results in future advertising, however, so it's unclear if DirecTV gained anything aside from a heap of legal bills.
The settlement with Comcast wraps up the last legal tiff between DirecTV and its cable competition. Last August, a lawsuit filed by Time Warner Cable accusing DirecTV of false advertising was settled. Time Warner took issue with DirecTV commercials starring Jessica Simpson and William Shatner that claimed "For an HD picture that can't be beat, get DirecTV." DirecTV was barred from running some of its advertising, while other ads were green-lighted. DirecTV had also sued Cox Communications for citing the Comcast study in its advertising; that case was settled last week.
A trial featuring experts testifying about the overall quality of each provider's HD picture may have been edifying, but for the majority of viewers, the HD picture from either satellite or cable will be more than adequate. For some customers, the number of HD channels may prove to be the deciding factor. It matters to me, anyway—our DirecTV HD TiVo just got demoted to the basement (SD) set in favor of a new DirecTV-branded DVR so that I could the full DirecTV HD lineup.
Right now, the satellite companies have the lead in terms of raw numbers of HD channels. That equation will change as cable providers begin using technologies like switched digital video and IPTV to deliver programming.
The NCAA this week released a new set of rules for bloggers at collegiate sports playoffs and championship events, and the new rules are already inviting both criticism and ridicule. While they may or may not turn out to be short-sighted, they're actually a step forward for the NCAA, which previously had a policy toward blogging that can only be described as "medieval." And not the cathedral-building, monk-beer-brewing, Aristotle-philosophizing "medieval," either; think Black Death and Fourth Crusade "medieval."
Back in June, the NCAA stirred up some negative press for each ejecting a Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) sports reporter from an NCAA super-regional baseball game. Staffer Brian Bennett had been blogging to the paper's web site as the game was in progress, despite an NCAA memo circulated in advance of the game that warned against blogging "between the first pitch and the final out of each game."
Bennett's press credential was revoked and he was kicked out of the press box. The newspaper's attorney later railed against the NCAA, saying, "Once a player hits a home run, that's a fact. It's on TV. Everybody sees it. [The NCAA] can't copyright that fact. The blog wasn't a simulcast or a recreation of the game. It was an analysis."
Six months after that incident, the NCAA has adopted an official "blogging policy" (PDF) for its championship events that allows every credentialed reporter to have the "privilege" of blogging during games. A number of minor conditions are imposed, but the most limiting one concerns the number of posts that can be made during a particular event.
Covering fencing, skiing, or rifle? You can blog a maximum of 10 times per event. Lacrosse? Three posts per quarter, with another allowed at halftime. Basketball gets five posts per half and another at halftime, while football (Division I-FCS and lower only; bowl games are run by the NCAA) gets three per quarter and one at halftime.
This all seems a bit silly; after all, who's going to sit around refreshing a blog in place of watching or listening to the game through an outlet that has paid the NCAA money for broadcast rights? (The NCAA wants to guarantee the value of its broadcast licenses, and it wants to keep control over the way such events are disseminated.)
But on the other hand, the limits seem pretty reasonable. If someone is blogging more than 11 times during a single basketball game (and they're free to post whatever they want both before and after the action), then it's at least within the realm of possibility that the sheer amount of material coming out of the game could be enough to keep some fans from tuning into other, paying media outlets.
Two other notes: this applies only to NCAA-sponsored tournaments, and it applies only to credentialed members of the press.
Blogging about NCAA sports shows passion for the events, and can help foster a community around certain sports. Marquee events like football, basketball, and baseball may derive little benefit from live-blogging, but the smaller events like fencing, rowing, and bowling certain could. The NCAA should be encouraging its bloggers, who aren't charging the NCAA a penny for promoting its offerings, not limiting them, especially for sports that still truly are the preserve of amateur scholar-athletes.
Our Child's Play drive has already been an amazing success. To get you up to speed on the effort, you can take a peek at the prize packages, as well as the classic RPG collection we're giving away. Chrono Trigger, Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy III and the rest… that's a pretty good package. That's literally days and days of classic RPGs right there. I'm not sure how we can top that, really.
Oh wait. Nevermind. Let's throw in Secret of Mana.
One very generous reader liked our drive and decided to donate his cartridge of Secret of Mana to make the big prize even tastier. I just received the game in the mail, and I thought that Christmas Eve would be the perfect time to make sure everyone knew that the biggest prize has become even bigger. I also want to let you know about our new goal.
We began not knowing how big this would get, and then after the first round of donations we set $5,000 as a goal. As of this writing we're up to a mind-blowing $8,248, making us a Gold Sponsor of the charity and far exceeding all of our expectations for the drive. Now, with this new prize added to the big collection it's time for one more big push: let's see if we can get this up to $10,000.
Everyone has already been amazing, and reading your e-mails talking about what the charity means to you and how you chose what games to give has been incredibly moving. I feel very honored to be part of such a community, and by how big of a success everyone has made our first drive.
You know the rules. Go donate. Send your receipt to [email protected] Hope to win a package that contains Final Fantasy III, Ogre Battle, Breath of Fire, Illusion of Gaia, Chrono Trigger, and now Secret of Mana. Even if you don't win, know that you've helped sick kids have it a little easier in a bad situation.
This has been an amazing experience guys, and I'm very thankful at the support that has been pouring in. Let's bring it in for the big finish.
Back in July, we covered the appearance of a sophisticated malware generator named Pinch Pro. Although not a trojan itself, Pinch Pro provided a framework for malware authors to create and design their own worms and trojans, each of which could be specifically tailored to report certain data, zombify the PC, or kill certain commands/files. Imagine something like Build-A-Bear, but designed for malware rather than fuzzy bear creation, and you've got the right idea.
Pinch became popular in Russia, which meant is also became something of a headache for IT services generally and government services in particular. In effect, the malware-builder proved a bit too popular for its own good, and ultimately attracted the attention of Russian authorities. According to Kaspersky Lab, the Russian FSB (Federal Security Service) has identified the two authors of the program, Ermishkin and Farkhutdinov, and will soon take expose them to the cheery Russian legal system.
While the arrest and prosecution of the program's authors is important, it won't do much to solve the underlying problem Pinch has created. The program's source code has been released into the wild—the authors only charged for customized software and support. As such, we can expect to see more variants of the malware creator program appear in the future. Kaspersky Lab has already identified over 4,000 variations of Pinch-created Trojans.
The customizations available to a Pinch designer speak to the tool's features—with the click of a button, the designer can specify his creation to perform a number of specific tasks, including:
SPY: Allows trojan to act as a keylogger, takes screenshots, capture IE data, and can search for certain files.NET:
Turns the PC into a botnet zombie, and allows for the opening of
specific ports, downloads and runs files, and can turn the system into
a proxy.BD: Opens a backdoor on the infected system.KILL: Deactivates certain services or processes.
The more serious threat that Pinch Pro is only a visible symptom of, however, is the ongoing commercialization of malware. Using malware to collect system information or harvest e-mail addresses has always had some inherent value, but the creation of the infectious program itself wasn't necessarily seen as a dependable profit source. Now apps like Pinch Pro, as well as open marketplaces for malware, are bringing the business side of trojans and viruses to the fore.