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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Verizon News : P2P Speed-Up Promised

While the likes of Comcast are trying to undermine peer-to-peer transfers, it appears that other are smarter and have thought of technologies to both speed up such file sharing transfers and minimize bandwidth consumption. Verizon has announced that it has been working with researchers at Yale University on new ways to enhance the peer-to-peer opportunity through faster downloads and lower costs for the ISPs.

Test results for the new technology will be presented by the company at the Distributed Computing Industry Association’s P2P conference in New York today by the association’s P4P division. "This test signifies a turning point in the history of peer-to-peer technology and ISPs," said Robert Levitan, chief executive of P2P developer Pando Networks, the Associated Press reports.

After achieving much faster than usual download and data delivery rates in a field trial with Verizon and Pando, the P4P Working Group is now looking at doing trials with other ISPs and P2P network providers, said Haiyong Xie, a working group member who is also a Ph.D. student at Yale.

In results unveiled today at DCIA's P2P Market Conference in New York City, the P4P technology was shown to enhance download rates by 205 percent over unmanaged P2P downloads, and to decrease the number of hops needed in ISP internal data delivery from 5.5 hops to 0.89 hops.

The trial made use of Xie's implementation of P4P networking principals, Pando's application plattform, and network topology data from Verizon.

Essentially, P4P is designed to speed up P2P downloads by localizing network traffic and reducing the numbers of routers and transfers needed for distributing data.

"Before doing this field trial, we'd conducted simulations. But results of the trial prove that P4P also works in the real world," said Laird Popkings of Pando Networks, co-chair of the P4P Working Group, speaking with BetaNews at the event in Manhattan.

A similar field trial is still under way with Pando -- a company which partners with NBC Direct, for example, on P2P content delivery -- and Spanish-based ISP Telefonica. Results from the Telefonica trial are expected over the next week or two.

"But different P2P networks have different properties, as do different ISPs," said Xie, during another interview with BetaNews at the event.

"We're also interested in seeing how the P4P technology works with other P2P networks and with other ISPs," according to the Yale researcher.

Scientists at Brookhaven Lab have discovered a state of two-dimensional (2D) fluctuating superconductivity in a high-temperature superconductor

A superconductor, like the one shown above, conducts electricity with no resistance.

Scientists at Brookhaven Lab have discovered a state of two-dimensional (2D) fluctuating superconductivity in a high-temperature superconductor with a particular arrangement of electrical charges known as "stripes."
The finding was uncovered during studies of directional dependence in the material's electron-transport and magnetic properties. In the 2D plane, the material acts as a superconductor - conducts electricity with no resistance - at a significantly higher temperature than in the 3D state.

"The results provide many insights into the interplay between the stripe order and superconductivity, which may shed light on the mechanism underlying high-temperature superconductivity," said Brookhaven physicist Qiang Li.

Understanding the mechanism of high-temperature superconductivity is one of the outstanding scientific issues in condensed matter physics, Li said. Understanding this mechanism could lead to new strategies for increasing the superconducting transition temperature of other superconductors to make them more practical for applications such as electrical transmission lines.

"As electricity demand increases, the challenge to the national electricity grid to provide reliable power will soon grow to crisis levels," Li said. "Superconductors offer powerful opportunities for restoring the reliability of the power grid and increasing its capacity and efficiency by providing reactive power reserves against blackouts, and by generating and transmitting electricity."

This research was presented at The March 2008 American Physical Society Meeting in New Orleans, La., March 10 -14

Microsoft to buy online ad technology firm Rapt

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 12, 2008, before the House Science and Technology Committee hearing on competitiveness and innovation.

Microsoft Corp. plans to buy Rapt Inc., plugging a hole in its suite of tools for Web publishers and advertisers, the software giant said Friday.
Microsoft did not say what it will pay for the privately held San Francisco company.
Rapt's software and consulting services help Web site publishers tweak how they package and price display-ad space.

Microsoft's Latest Ad Buy
Microsoft announced that it is purchasing Rapt, an advertising technology company specializing in sophisticated analytical tools. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Today's is the latest in a frenzied string of acquisitions by Microsoft and other Internet heavyweights looking to expand the reach and technology underlying their online advertising businesses. Most recently, Microsoft purchased YaData, an Israeli company specializing in behavioral targeting technology.

The Rapt buy is about helping well-funded Web publishers manage their advertising efforts with premium analytics and campaign planning features. Microsoft will fold Rapt's technology into its Atlas Publisher Suite (APS). Atlas is one of the brands Microsoft acquired through its purchase of aQuantive.

Consistently, Web publishers say that they want to focus on driving ad sales by improving their content and their users' experience, but that is only a small part of the equation, said Scott Howe, general manager of Microsoft's APS.

"Selling online advertising if you're a publisher is hard, and it's getting more complex as time goes on," Howe said.

Where many publishers need help is in the technical aspects of managing ad sales, such as pricing, forecasting and selling remnant inventory.

Rapt's Yield Advisor product, which Microsoft will begin promoting to publishers as soon as the deal closes, offers predictive tools for sites to plan ad sales around future-looking inventory estimates.

Pricing analytics are designed to help sales teams determine the optimal rates to charge advertisers, aimed at minimizing the amount of unsold inventory.

Microsoft expects the purchase to round out its suite of offerings for publishers.

"As a result of this acquisition, we feel like we have no gaps," Howe told "We can partner with the publisher very narrowly or very broadly."

The announcement comes just a day after Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced its first ad product following the close of the DoubleClick acquisition -- also a service for publishers to manage their ad inventories and sell remnant space on their sites.

In their latest ad moves, Microsoft and Google are both courting publishers. The principal difference is that Google's Ad Manager, a free, hosted service, is intended for small companies with marginal sales staffs, while Microsoft's acquisition of Rapt is geared for high-end publishers with large content networks and sales staffs. Among Rapt's clients are The New York Times Company, Fox Interactive Media, Yahoo and Microsoft itself.

"Our design here isn't for the long tail," Howe said. "It's for sophisticated publishers with sophisticated needs."

Rapt's products are designed to help online publishers improve the pricing and provisioning of online ads.
Microsoft is placing a broad range of products and services within APS, including its AdCenter search listings purchasing tool and agency services offered by Avenue A/Razorfish -- which was part of aQuantive. Microsoft acquired aQuantive last year for $6 billion.

The unit will also include services for advertisers looking to place spots within video games and other digital products that represent new frontiers for Madison Avenue.

Microsoft is making other moves to bolster its digital advertising business.

Last May, the company acquired Screen Tonic, a European manufacturer of software designed to connect online advertisers with users of mobile phones and other digital devices. In July, the software maker announced a partnership with under which customers of Microsoft's paid search programs will see their listings appear on sites operated by and its partners.

The moves are widely seen as an attempt to improve Microsoft's ability to compete against Google and Yahoo as a provider of search advertising. In its most recent fiscal year, Microsoft reported $2.47 billion in revenue in online services, including advertising -- an increase of 7.4% over the previous year.

Microsoft is also looking to buy Yahoo for about $41 billion. To date, Yahoo has rejected the bid. The Wall Street Journal on Thursday reported that the two companies held informal talks earlier this week to discuss the offer.

Electronic Gadgets Often Full of Computer Viruses

Computer consultant Jerry Askew shows how a digital photo frame he bought at Target was infected with at least four different viruse

From iPods to navigation systems, some of today's hottest gadgets are landing on store shelves with some unwanted extras from the factory — pre-installed viruses that steal passwords, open doors for hackers and make computers spew spam.

Computer users have been warned for years about virus threats from downloading Internet porn and opening suspicious e-mail attachments.

Now they run the risk of picking up a digital infection just by plugging a new gizmo into their PCs.

Recent cases reviewed by The Associated Press include some of the most widely used tech devices: Apple iPods, digital picture frames sold by Target and Best Buy stores and TomTom navigation gear.

In most cases, Chinese factories — where many companies have turned to keep prices low — are the source.

So far, the virus problem appears to come from lax quality control — perhaps a careless worker plugging an infected music player into a factory computer used for testing — rather than organized sabotage by hackers or the Chinese factories.

It's the digital equivalent of the recent series of tainted products traced to China, including toxic toothpaste, poisonous pet food and toy trains coated in lead paint.

But sloppiness is the simplest explanation, not the only one.

If a virus is introduced at an earlier stage of production, by a corrupt employee or a hacker when software is uploaded to the gadget, then the problems could be far more serious and widespread.

Knowing how many devices have been sold, or tracking the viruses with any precision, is impossible because of the secrecy kept by electronics makers and the companies they hire to build their products.

But given the nature of mass manufacturing, the numbers could be huge.

"It's like the old cockroach thing — you flip the lights on in the kitchen and they run away," said Marcus Sachs, a former White House cybersecurity official who now runs the security research group SANS Internet Storm Center. "You think you've got just one cockroach? There's probably thousands more of those little boogers that you can't see."

Jerry Askew, a Los Angeles computer consultant, bought a new Uniek digital picture frame to surprise his 81-year-old mother for her birthday. But when he added family photos, it tried to unload a few surprises of its own.

When he plugged the frame into his Windows PC, his antivirus program alerted him to a threat. The $50 frame, built in China and bought at Target, was infested with four viruses, including one that steals passwords.

"You expect quality control coming out of the manufacturers," said Askew, 42. "You don't expect that sort of thing to be on there."

Security experts say the malicious software is apparently being loaded at the final stage of production, when gadgets are pulled from the assembly line and plugged in to a computer to make sure everything works.

If the testing computer is infected — say, by a worker who used it to charge his own infected iPod — the digital germ can spread to anything else that gets plugged in.

The recent infections may be accidental, but security experts say they point out an avenue of attack that could be exploited by hackers.

"We'll probably see a steady increase over time," said Zulfikar Ramzan, a computer security researcher at Symantec Corp. "The hackers are still in a bit of a testing period — they're trying to figure out if it's really worth it."

Thousands of people whose antivirus software isn't up to date may have been infected by new products without even knowing it, experts warn. And even protective software may not be enough.

In one case, digital frames sold at Sam's Club contained a previously unknown bug that not only steals online gaming passwords but disables antivirus software, according to security researchers at Computer Associates.

"It's like if you pick up a gun you've never seen before — before you pull the trigger you'd probably check the chamber," said Joe Telafici, vice president of operations of McAfee Avert Labs, the security software maker's threat-research arm.

"It's an extreme analogy, but it's the right idea. It's best to spend the extra 30 seconds to be sure than be wrong," he added.

Consumers can protect themselves from most factory-loaded infections by running an antivirus program and keeping it up to date.

The software checks for known viruses and suspicious behaviors that indicate an attack by malicious code — whether from a download or a gadget attached to the PC via USB cable.

One information-technology worker wrote to the SANS security group that his new digital picture frame delivered "the nastiest virus that I've ever encountered in my 20-plus-year IT career."

Another complained his new external hard drive had malfunctioned because it came loaded with a password-stealing virus.

Monitoring suppliers in China and elsewhere is expensive, and cuts into the savings of outsourcing. But it's what U.S. companies must do to prevent poisoning on the assembly line, said Yossi Sheffi, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology specializing in supply chain management.

"It's exactly the same thing, whether it happened in cyberspace or software or lead paint or toothpaste or dog food — they're all quality control issues," Sheffi said.

While manufacturing breakdowns don't happen often, they have become frequent enough — especially amid intense competition among Chinese suppliers — to warrant more scrutiny by companies that rely on them, Sheffi said.

"Most of the time it works," he said. "The Chinese suppliers have every reason to be good suppliers because they're in it for the long run. But it's a higher risk, and we've now seen the results of that higher risk."

The AP contacted some of the world's largest electronics manufacturers for details on how they guard against infections — among them Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., which is based in Taiwan and has an iPod factory in China; Singapore-based Flextronics International Ltd.; and Taiwan-based Quanta Computer Inc. and Asustek Computer Inc.

All declined comment or did not respond.

The companies whose products were infected in cases reviewed by AP refused to reveal details about the incidents. Of those that confirmed factory infections, all said they had corrected the problems and taken steps to prevent recurrences.

Apple disclosed the most information, saying the virus that infected a small number of video iPods in 2006 came from a PC used to test compatibility with the gadget's software.

Best Buy, the biggest consumer electronics outlet in the U.S., said it pulled its affected China-made frames from the shelves and took "corrective action" against its vendor. But the company declined repeated requests to provide details.

Sam's Club and Target say they are investigating complaints but have not been able to verify their frames were contaminated.

Legal experts say manufacturing infections could become a big headache for retailers that sell infected devices and the companies that make them, if customers can demonstrate they were harmed by the viruses.

"The photo situation is really a cautionary tale — they were just lucky that the virus that got installed happened to be one that didn't do a lot of damage," said Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "But there's nothing about that situation that means next time the virus won't be a more serious one."

Astronauts aboard the international space station overcame a worrisome power problem

Astronauts aboard the international space station overcame a worrisome power problem with their new, partially assembled robotic maintenance man late Friday, sending a wave or relief through his Canadian design team.

The fliers also floated into a newly installed Japanese module for the first time, finding the enclosure ready to occupy.

Dextre , a $209 million robot, and the 14-foot-long module, the station's first Japanese component, arrived aboard the shuttle Endeavour earlier this week. Both were transferred from the shuttle's cargo bay to the station late Thursday and early Friday. That's when it was discovered that Dextre could not receive electrical power for internal heaters that warm vital electronic circuitry.

Friday's accomplishments set the stage for a spacewalk late Saturday in which astronauts Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman will resume Dextre's assembly by attaching two arms to his torso.

Dextre was developed to take on some of the space station maintenance work normally assigned to spacewalking astronauts.

"I guess I can say it's alive," Pierre Jean, the Canadian Space Agency's acting space station program manager, told a news briefing after the power problem was overcome. "A little bit of tension is relieved."

When fully assembled, Dextre will stand 12 feet tall with arms that stretch out 11 feet. The robot is so large, it must be stored outside the station, where the temperature swings are extreme.

"It was quite a relief, a real sense of success to see power applied," said Phil Engelhauf , NASA's chief flight director.

Efforts to begin the flow of space-station electricity to Dextre with a software patch early Friday failed to resolve the problem.

Working without a break, Canadian troubleshooters eventually tracked the source of the problem to a power cable within the pallet used to cradle Dextre's disassembled torso, arms and hands during Endeavour's launch.

The cable, engineers concluded, was not suited to handle both the flow of electricity and the exchange of data between the robot and a control panel inside the station.

As a workaround, Canadian engineers, decided to grapple the robot with the station's robot arm. The contact would establish a new path for electricity as well as the data exchange, they reasoned.

The strategy worked.

"Dextre has power," John Ira Petty, the commentator in NASA's Mission Control announced shortly after 9 p.m. CDT.

The pallet and the cable will return to Earth aboard Endeavour. Dextre will remain aboard the space station, plugged into one of several grapple fixtures like the mechanism on the end of the robot arm.

Also Friday night, three of the astronauts floated into the new module that will serve as an equipment locker for a larger Japanese lab called Kibo.

The Kibo lab is scheduled for launching aboard the shuttle Discovery in late May.

Station commander Peggy Whitson and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi led the way into the new module.

"This is a small step of one Japanese astronaut, but a giant entrance for Japan to a greater and newer space program," said Doi, who paraphrased the words spoken by American Neil Armstrong, when he became the first person to walk on the moon.

"We love our new room already," Whitson said. "We're very happy to have our new partner working with us more actively with the new module on board."

Japan becomes the last of the 15 nations involved in the American-led space station program to have a module added to the orbital outpost. When it arrives, the larger Japanese lab will house a variety of biology and physics experiments.

Doi, Whitson and Linnehan donned goggles and air masks as they floated in, garb to protect them from harmful dust and debris that may have been jarred loose during Endeavour's launch.

A third Kibo segment, an external experiment platform with a robot arm, is scheduled to arrive at the station in spring 2009.

Endeavour and a crew of seven astronauts lifted off early Tuesday on a 16 day mission, the longest shuttle assembly flight to the space station to date.


Robot Dextre up and running
The International Space Station's new robot, Dextre, finally came to life Friday night after two days of troubleshooting by scientists.

The Canadian-built $210 million robot was delivered to the space station Thursday by the shuttle Endeavour. When the robot was removed from the shuttle, however, ground teams ran into problems routing power to the pallet on which the robot is being assembled. The teams tried troubleshooting the problem with a software patch early Friday morning, but were not successful.

On Friday night, ISS crew members used the station's robot arm -- Canadarm2 -- to successfully power up Dextre, NASA said Friday in a release.

Once it is fully operating, Dextre is expected to aid astronauts with spacewalks and repairs, USA Today said.

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