Friday, August 8, 2008

How Web E-Mail Became The Largest Corporate Security Threat

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 10 — Companies spend millions on systems to keep corporate e-mail safe. If only their employees were as paranoid.

A growing number of Internet-literate workers are forwarding their office e-mail to free Web-accessible personal accounts offered by Google, Yahoo and other companies. Their employers, who envision corporate secrets leaking through the back door of otherwise well-protected computer networks, are not pleased.

"It's a hole you can drive an 18-wheeler through," said Paul D. Myer, president of the security firm 8E6 Technologies in Orange, Calif.

It is a battle of best intentions: productivity and convenience pitted against security and more than a little anxiety.

Corporate techies — who, after all, are paid to worry — want strict control over internal company communications and fear that forwarding e-mail might expose proprietary secrets to prying eyes. Employees just want to get to their mail quickly, wherever they are, without leaping through too many security hoops.

Corporate networks, which typically have several layers of defenses against hackers, can require special software and multiple passwords for access. Some companies use systems that give employees a security code that changes every 60 seconds; this must be read from the display screen of a small card and typed quickly.

That is too much for some employees, especially when their computers can store the passwords for their Web-based mail, allowing them to get right down to business.

So far, no major corporate disasters caused by this kind of e-mail forwarding have come to light. But security experts say the risks are real. For example, the flimsier security defenses of Web mail systems could allow viruses or spyware to get through, and employees could unwittingly download them at the office and infect the corporate network.

Also, because messages sent from Web-based accounts do not pass through the corporate mail system, companies could run afoul of federal laws that require them to archive corporate mail and turn it over during litigation.

Lawyers in particular wring their hands over employees using outside e-mail services. They encourage companies to keep messages for as long as necessary and then erase them to keep them out of the reach of legal foes. Companies have no control over the life span of e-mail messages in employees' Web accounts.

"If employees are just forwarding to their Web e-mail, we have no way to know what they are doing on the other end," said Joe Fantuzzi, chief executive of the information security firm Workshare. "They could do anything they want. They could be giving secrets to the K.G.B."

Hospitals have an added legal obligation to protect patient records. But when DeKalb Medical Center in Atlanta started monitoring its staff use of Web-based e-mail, it found that doctors and nurses routinely forwarded confidential medical records to their personal Web mail accounts — not for nefarious purposes, but so they could continue to work from home.

In the months after the hospital began monitoring traffic to Web e-mail services, it identified "a couple hundred incidents," said Sharon Finney, DeKalb's information security administrator. "I was surprised about the lack of literacy about the technology we depend on every day," she said.

DeKalb now forbids the practice, and uses several software systems that monitor the hospital's outbound e-mail and Web traffic. Ms Finney said she still catches four to five perpetrators a month trying to forward hospital e-mail.

The Web mail services may also be prone to glitches. Last month, Google fixed a bug that caused the disappearance of "some or all" of the stored mail of around 60 users. A week later, it acknowledged a security hole that could have exposed its users' address books to Internet attackers.

Even the security experts most knowledgeable about the risks of e-mail forwarding to personal accounts acknowledge doing so themselves.

"Of course I do it; who doesn't?" said Kimberly Getgen Bargero, vice president for marketing at Sendmail, an e-mail software company in Emeryville, Calif. Ms. Bargero said she often used her Yahoo Mail account on business trips so she does not have to access her corporate network remotely.

It is difficult to quantify exactly how many otherwise model employees are opting to use services like Yahoo Mail or Google's Gmail over their company's authorized e-mail programs. Sophisticated users at the companies most lax about e-mail security can automatically forward all of their work e-mail to their personal accounts, hopscotching over the various requests for passwords meant to ward off intruders.

The more casual e-mail scofflaws send only the occasional message to their personal accounts — or just "cc" messages to their Web in-boxes to preserve them for later use — even when the messages contain sensitive company information.

Some companies frown on office use of any Web-based accounts, even for personal messages. At the business software maker BEA Systems, Anthony Bisulca, a senior security analyst, estimated that around 30 percent of his employees were using private e-mail accounts in the office, even though the company's Internet policy clearly prohibits it.

But it is not easy to wean people off of their online mailboxes. "Of course they scream," said Todd Wilson, an operations manager at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. "They look at me like I have three heads."

Mr. Wilson said that the use of the Web services had become a "huge concern," partly because copies of the forwarded messages sit untouched on the school's servers, taking up space.

Many corporate technology professionals express the fear that Google and its rivals may actually own the intellectual property in the e-mail that resides on their systems. Gmail's terms of service, however, state that e-mail belongs to the user, not to Google. The company's automated software does scan messages in Gmail, looking for keywords that might generate related text advertisements on the page. A Google spokeswoman said the company has an extensive privacy policy to ensure no humans at Google read user e-mail.

Paul Kocher, president of the security firm Cryptography Research, said the real issue for companies was trust. "If you can't trust employees enough to use services like Gmail, they probably shouldn't be working for you," he said.

Many companies apparently do not have that level of trust. In a survey conducted last year, the e-mail security firm Proofpoint found that 37 percent of companies in the United States used software to monitor office use of Web mail.

The Internet companies themselves are looking to take advantage of consumer preferences for Web based e-mail services. This year, Google plans to introduce a more secure version of Gmail for use in large companies.

But Microsoft and other providers of traditional internal e-mail systems, which the research firm Radicati says generated $2.5 billion in sales last year, are helping companies combat employee use of the Web services.

The new version of Microsoft's corporate e-mail service, Exchange Server, offers administrators improved tools to monitor the content of employee mail and block forwarded messages.

At the same time, upgrades to Exchange and Microsoft's e-mail program Outlook have made it easier for traveling employees to access e-mail on the corporate network from a Web browser. Microsoft also recently began urging corporate technology departments to give employees more storage space in their e-mail accounts.

But the Web services are improving as well, and employees will no doubt continue to find them tempting.

"We have as high a security standard as any company," said Ms. Bargero of Sendmail, "and sometimes it is just too difficult to access our e-mail."

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Website Explains How To Make A Nuclear Bomb

The US government posted on the Internet Iraqi documents that explain how to build a nuclear bomb, the New York Times reported on its website.

The Times said that officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency had complained to US officials last week about the postings of "roughly a dozen" documents from Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear research that contained diagrams, equations and other details for making a nuclear bomb.

The Times cited experts who said the documents "constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb."

The US government posted the bomb-related documents on a website set up last March to make available to the public a huge archive of Iraqi government papers, hoping that the public would help sift through the archive for useful information government translators did not have time to search for.

The Times said that earlier in the year UN arms control officials had complained about documents on the website that had information on producing extremely dangerous nerve agents sarin and tabun.

The Times said that the website, called the "Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal", was shut down Thursday after the newspaper made enquiries about the nuclear-related documents.

Chad Kolton, spokesman for US Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, told the Times in a statement that "While strict criteria had already been established to govern posted documents, the material currently on the website, as well as the procedures used to post new documents, will be carefully reviewed before the site becomes available again."

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Valentine's Day May Bring Viruses

Security experts are warning PC users to be on guard against viruses masquerading as Valentine's Day messages, which could damage computers.

"Computer users should keep a wary eye on any romantic messages received by e-mail, as many of them could contain malicious code," said US security firm PandaLabs after detecting an increase in a worm it dubbed Nurech.A.

The worm hides in e-mails with subjects like: "Together You and I," "Til the End of Time Heart of Mine."

People who open an attached file such as postcard.exe can end up infecting their computers.

Security firm Symantec said it had detected "large-scale spamming" of e-mails including a Trojan horse, a program that contains or installs a malicious program.

Symantec said the malware was a new version of Trojan, Peacomm or the "Storm Trojan."

"With Valentine's Day approaching, this time around the authors are attempting to tug on the heartstrings of unsuspecting users with romantic subject lines such as 'My Heart belongs to you,' said Symantec's Orla Cox.

"The Trojan is much the same as we've seen before, the only difference being that the authors have used a modified packer in an (unsuccessful) effort to evade detection by antivirus vendors."

"As a general rule, don't open any suspicious e-mail, regardless of what is says it contains," said Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs.

"Instead of going on instincts, let a security solution decide whether it's safe to open it or not," he said, urging users to scan any suspicious messages with an antivirus program.

Corrons said events like Valentine's Day and Christmas are often exploited by cyber-criminals to try and spread their creations by disguising infected e-mails as e-greeting cards.

This use of "social engineering" was used in the LoveLetter virus, which caused one of the biggest epidemics in computer history.

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Researchers Discover Adobe PDF Hack

Computer security researchers said Wednesday they have discovered a vulnerability in Adobe Systems Inc.'s ubiquitous Acrobat Reader software that allows cyber-intruders to attack personal computers through trusted Web links.

Virtually any Web site hosting Portable Document Format, or PDF, files are vulnerable to attack, according to researchers from Symantec Corp. and VeriSign Inc.'s iDefense Intelligence.

The attacks could range from stealing cookies that track a user's Web browsing history to the creation of harmful worms, the researchers said.

The flaw, first revealed at a hacker conference in Germany over the holidays, exists in a plug-in that enables Acrobat users to view PDF files within Web browsers.

By manipulating the Web links to those documents, hackers and online thieves are able to commandeer the Acrobat software and run malicious code when users attempt to open the files, according to Ken Dunham, director of the rapid response team at VeriSign's iDefense Intelligence.

Dunham gave this hypothetical scenario: an attacker finds a PDF file on a banking Web site. The attacker creates a hostile Web site that links to the bank's PDF file. Included is malicious JavaScript code that will run on the unsuspecting user's computer once the link is clicked.

"PDF is trusted and tried and true -- everyone uses it," Dunham said. "But instead of just viewing the file, you've initiated script that shouldn't be executed. All you have to do is click on the PDF and the ball starts rolling."

Representatives from Adobe did not return a call from The Associated Press on Wednesday night.

The flaw appears to target Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer 6.0 Web browser and earlier versions, and Mozilla's Firefox browser, the researchers said.

They recommended that users protect themselves by upgrading Internet Explorer or changing Firefox's user options so the browser does not use the Acrobat plug-in.

Researchers said it's unclear how pervasive or harmful any future attacks might be.

"Given that it is easy to exploit, I would expect that we will see this method used considerably in the coming days and weeks, until it is resolved," a Symantec researcher said in a posting on a company Web log.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Retooling of a Search Engine

OAKLAND, Calif., Dec. 3 — A replica of what looks like Han Solo of "Star Wars," frozen in carbonite, sits outside Jim Lanzone's office here. A closer inspection, however, reveals that the frozen body is that of another fictional character: Jeeves, the English butler best known in Internet circles as the mascot of the Ask Jeeves search engine.

For Mr. Lanzone, chief executive of, the prop is a reminder of what the Internet search company he runs has ceased to be.

Ask Jeeves was acquired by IAC/InterActiveCorp, headed by Barry Diller, in March 2005 for nearly $2 billion. A year later, IAC ditched Jeeves and renamed the search service "The reputation of Ask Jeeves was very poor," Mr. Lanzone said.

Now, Mr. Lanzone, who became chief executive in April, is ready to proclaim that efforts to transform that reputation are paying off.

Like every other major search company, Ask would like to narrow Google's huge lead in search and search advertising.

After losing a distribution deal with Dell Computer late last year, Ask actually gave up market share to other search engines. But Mr. Lanzone said that in the last four months, Ask has steadily regained ground, to grab the No. 4 spot — even as larger companies like Microsoft and AOL, whose search is run by Google, have seen their market share erode.

On Monday, is introducing AskCity, a service that integrates maps with information about local businesses, restaurants, concert and movie listings and reviews.

These so-called local searches already account for 10 percent of all Internet queries and are expected to grow faster than other searches. They are also seen as a way to tap into tens of billions in spending by small businesses, which have yet to switch much of their advertising dollars to the Internet.

Early reviews of the service by analysts are positive, and Mr. Lanzone said AskCity, which makes use of data from other IAC businesses like Citysearch and Ticketmaster, was just the kind of service that was slowly helping Ask build a top-quality search engine.

"Right now, the focus is almost entirely on improving the user experience," Mr. Lanzone said. "This is the product that, to date, we are the most proud of. It is going to have a huge impact for people who use Ask."

For his part, Mr. Diller said AskCity was a demonstration of Ask's role in helping tie together the disparate properties owned by IAC.

AskCity is "a really good service that is dependent on the information from all these IAC sites, which is the raison d'ĂȘtre of the company itself," Mr. Diller said, adding that over time, other IAC entities, which include HSN,, Evite and, will be more tightly integrated with Ask.

Accounting for 5.8 percent of all the searches in the United States in October, Ask has edged out AOL to become the fourth most popular search engine, according to comScore Media Metrix. By comparison, Google had 45.4 percent of all searches, Yahoo 28.2 percent and Microsoft 11.7 percent.

Data from Nielsen NetRatings, which measures only searches on, not on related sites in the Ask network, shows that Ask's use grew 25 percent in October from a year earlier, the second highest rate of growth among the major search engines, after Yahoo.

The turnaround of Ask began long before Mr. Diller acquired the company. After the collapse of the dot-com bubble, shares of Ask Jeeves dropped below $1 and the company was close to extinction. But in 2001, it sowed the seeds of its rebirth when it spent about $4 million to acquire Teoma Technologies, a small company in New Jersey that had developed well-regarded search technology. A year later, Ask Jeeves got a lifeline from Google, which cut a deal to place ads next to Ask Jeeves search results.

Other major search engines largely organize results based on the number of links a Web site receives from other sites. But Teoma's software first clusters sites based on content categories, then chooses the most popular sites in those categories.

That approach, known as Expert Rank, has allowed Ask to do a better job at finding specialty sites that may be the most authoritative on a given subject, even though they may not be the most popular.

Ask also has differentiated itself by giving users previews of the Web sites that appear in their searches and offering simple ways to narrow or expand search results. In a search for the keywords "California and wine," for instance, a set of options will appear next to the results allowing you to focus your search on, say, California wineries, California wine ratings or California wine prices. You can also expand your query to famous foods in California.

And Ask eliminated the emphasis on answering questions through Ask Jeeves, a feat it was able to accomplish on only a limited number of queries.

The steady improvements have earned Ask the praise of analysts, reviewers and even some competitors.

"They are doing a lot of clever and interesting things," said Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president for search products and user experience.

AskCity is getting similar praise.

"Over all, it is an impressive product," said Greg Sterling, founder of Sterling Market Intelligence, a research firm. Mr. Sterling said AskCity compared favorably with competing local search services offered by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

AskCity takes content from other companies, including some owned by IAC, and mixes it all into one site. If you search for a French restaurant in San Francisco, for instance, you will see a listing of all the restaurants alongside a map with the locations highlighted. A third pane allows you to narrow your search to a specific neighborhood, or immediately search for another kind of cuisine. It is also easy to view individual restaurant reviews through Citysearch or make reservations through a service called OpenTable.

You can also select one restaurant and then do a subsequent search for nearby movies, concerts or other events, and book tickets for those events right on the site through Ticketmaster or TicketWeb. AskCity will also display walking or driving directions from the restaurant to the movie theater or concert hall.

You can also annotate an AskCity map and e-mail it to others. You could, for instance, tell friends to meet at a certain location — say, Gate F at Monster Park, home of the San Francisco 49ers — mark the location with an X on the map, and send the map to friends who may not be familiar with the stadium. Or you could save a search of all the music clubs near your house and go back to it time and again to see what is playing at each location.

While other local search sites require users to jump from event listings to maps and other services, AskCity "has integrated all those disparate services into one common interface," said Jeetil Patel, an analyst for Deutsche Bank. "Ask has always been very good with the quality of its results, and this is another way to grow usage."

Mr. Lanzone is optimistic — perhaps overly so — about Ask's prospects. "There is room for a Pepsi to Google's Coke," Mr. Lanzone said.

For the foreseeable future, however, the Pepsi label would have to remain Yahoo's, as Ask is a distant fourth in the search engine race — and that is counting not just searches on, but also on sites like MyWay and iWon, which became part of Ask's network when the company acquired Interactive Search Holdings in 2004.

Even analysts bullish about Ask's prospects are more circumspect.

"My view is that people use Ask as a secondary engine," said Safa Rashtchy, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Company. But Mr. Rashtchy said that if Ask did nothing more than increase the frequency with which existing Ask users turned to the service, it could pay off.

"Search is a very lucrative and large market," Mr. Rashtchy said. "For them to increase the number of queries that users do on their site could result in a meaningful increase in profits."

Mr. Lanzone said there was another way that Ask could become an increasingly valuable property. The alliance with Google, which still serves up about 60 percent of all the ads on Ask, will end next year. Given that Google has paid huge sums to deliver ads on sites like MySpace and AOL, Ask should be in a good position to negotiate, Mr. Lanzone said.

"When that deal is up, we need to look for what's best for us," Mr. Lanzone said.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cisco beats Apple to iPhone

OTTAWA - It's all about timing.

After months of speculation that Apple Computer was about to add a cellular phone to its long line of ``i''-products, the giant computer maker has been beaten to the punch by Cisco Systems Inc.

Linksys, a division of Cisco, released the iPhone Monday. The new device is a telephone that works over the wireless network within a person's home to make cheap phone calls over the Internet.

Marketing analysts say the new product could pose problems for Apple _ which, until now, has had a monopoly on the ``i''-brand with popular items such as its iPod line of MP3 players.

``This is going to make it trickier for Apple to establish their own iPhone _ it's going to have to look, feel and sound very different in order to be distinguished from the Cisco one,'' said David Dunne, a marketing expert at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

``In business, there is a certain amount of first-mover advantage. People remember the first thing they see.''

With the announcement, Cisco revealed it's been holding onto the registered name of ``iPhone'' since it took over a company called Infogear in 2000. Infogear had released a previous version of the iPhone in 1997, but sales of the phone weren't impressive.

Dunne said Cisco's new product is likely a calculated attempt to benefit from the popularity of the ``i''-brand established by Apple.

``It looks as if they're basically trying to sew a little bit of confusion and defend their own franchise,'' Dunne said of Cisco, adding the company is also looking to benefit from Apple's copyright miscue.

``In hindsight, not locking in the trademark on iPhone seems like quite the misstep on Apple's part.''

Gadget lovers have been eagerly anticipating a phone offering from Apple for months. Aside from iPods, the company already has its iBook laptop computers, its iTunes music store, an iMac line of computers, and numerous ``i'' accessories such as the iSkin cover for iPods.

Dunne said Apple has been trying to plug its ``i''-products as a free-standing brand, but they may have to change tactics.

``They may have to reintroduce the Apple brand name,'' he said, noting the company could opt to trademark their own future phone as an ``Apple iPhone'' in order to differentiate it from the Cisco product.

While Apple has not confirmed it is working on a mobile phone, company chief executive Steve Jobs is expected to make an announcement about the company's move into cellular telephones at the annual Macworld Expo in San Francisco on Jan. 9.

Ottawa Citizen
© CanWest News Service 2006

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Cool Geeky Gifts, Part I

Instead of hunting for electrical outlets to power up my laptop on the road, I'd love to have my own power source. The Voltaic backpack has three solar panels that can generate as much as 4 watts of power, which is plenty. There are 11 adapters, plus built-in pouches for charging devices and slots for storing excess wires. What if it was overcast and my bag was sapped of energy? No problem: It can also be juiced with a car charger.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Scientists Discover How Memory Genes Work

Researchers at Zurich University have made an important step in improving understanding of how the human memory works.

They have for the first time been delving into the human genetic sequence to identify new memory-related genes.

One of their most important discoveries is the function of the Kibra gene, which helps regulate memory performance.

The scientists say the results of the study could help in the search for solutions to memory related diseases such as Alzheimer's and depression.

The research, headed by Andreas Papassotiropoulos and Dominique de Quervain from Zurich university's Division of Psychiatry Research - and done in collaboration with Dietrich Stephan from the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, United States - is published in Friday's edition of the magazine, Science.

"The main objective of our research group is to identify the molecular underpinnings of human memory because very little is known about how memory works," Papassotiropoulos told swissinfo.

"Our work was to establish a new way of looking at things based on new information about the human genome. We hoped to identify novel and as yet undescribed memory-related genes in humans."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mobile Loansharks

All I can say is unfuckingbelievable. How crazy is this? Mobile loansharks. Read this.

(REUTERS) Need cash to pay your next bill? Send us a text message, we'll send you the money in just a few minutes.

Such slogans are spreading in Finland and other Nordic countries, with barely a mention of the annual lending rates of up to 1,000 percent involved.

Lending cash to young people through SMS messages at rates banks can only dream of is becoming increasingly popular in Nordic countries, according to a survey conducted by Finland's financial watchdog.

"At least in the Nordics it's becoming more common. I think it's mostly due to the fact that cellphone usage is so widespread here, especially among youth," Paivikki Lehto-Sinisalo, a lawyer for the watchdog, told Reuters.

Finland is among countries where the number of mobile phone subscriptions exceeds the number of residents.

Dozens of companies have started to offer short-term loans for up to a few hundred euros each through text messages in Finland, and similar offers are cropping up in Sweden, Norway and the Czech Republic in central Europe.

The most active Finnish text message lenders give out several thousands of euros in loans each month, with most going to people in their 20s, the survey showed.

In Finland and 12 other EU countries these lenders are out of reach of financial regulators because they do not collect funds from the public, the watchdog said.

Those who accept a loan offer get the money transferred to their bank account just a few minutes after sending an SMS with their national identification number.

For a two-week loan of 100 euros ($128) the payback is 120 euros, equivalent to an annual lending rate of about 1,000 percent, which would be illegal in some European countries.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Motorist jailed for blowing up speed camera

LONDON (Reuters) - A British motorist who blew up a road safety camera which had caught him speeding was jailed for four months Wednesday, Greater Manchester Police said.

Craig Moore, 28, took his revenge on the camera, which had flashed him in the Hyde area of Manchester, in August 2005.

Although the camera itself was badly damaged, images of him speeding and returning to destroy the evidence were stored in recording equipment in its unscathed base.

More than 4,000 speed cameras are located across Britain, generating much cash and controversy. While supporters regard them as a useful tool to reduce accidents, critics see them as little more than a money-making opportunity.

While Moore's attack on a camera was not Britain's first, it may rate as the most extreme. Other aggrieved drivers have previously used axes or paint.

"Speed camera vandalism is reaching epidemic proportions, and the only solution is to scrap cameras," said Paul Smith, founder of Safe Speed campaign group which lobbies against the distinctive bright yellow devices.

"Apart from their total failure to deliver improved road safety, they push good people outside of the law every day of the week."

But the AA motoring organization said the system of speed camera enforcement in Britain was a lot fairer than other European countries where the cameras are often disguised or hidden.

"Matched against those practices, and the fact that each UK speed camera is painted yellow and sited where there is a proven road safety risk, the vast majority of prosecutions are a fair cop and cameras are supported by around 70 per cent of the population," said Paul Watters, head of roads and transport policy for The AA Motoring Trust.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

iPhone This

After several years of eager speculation among the ranks of Apple fans, it appears that Apple might be ready to make its long-awaited foray into mobile phones.

According to news reports published this week, Jesse Tortora, an analyst with Prudential Equities, told clients that Apple will be unveiling two iPhone models at January's Macworld Expo trade show.

"We have learned that one model will be a smartphone including integrated keyboard, video, and music capability, while the other model will be a slimmer phone with music capability," Tortora was quoted by the International Business Times as saying. "At least one of the models will include Wi-Fi."

Secret Is Out

The notoriously tight-lipped Apple stayed mum on the subject today, but many analysts were eager to join in the speculative fray.

"There's always lot of speculations with anything Apple might do, but it finally looks like they are ready to unveil iPhone models early next year," said Zippy Aima, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

Last month, Mac news outlet The Mac Observer ran a story quoting a note from American Technology Research analyst Wu Shaw, who told clients that Apple was working on a cell phone. Shaw said at that time that Apple had recently accelerated its efforts to release the product early next year.

iPhone Trademark

Another indication that things are ready to roll in Cupertino -- Apple's home base in California -- came when another Mac news outlet, AppleInsider, reported it located a trademark filing that Apple made on September 15.

The filing described iPhones as "handheld and mobile digital electronic devices for the sending and receiving of telephone calls, faxes, electronic mail, and other digital data; MP3 and other digital format audio players."

The trademark filing also suggested the devices might have video-game capabilities that could be related to the games Apple recently added to its iPod line.

Consumers Waiting

Frost & Sullivan analyst Aima said that whenever Apple eventually decides to push out the iPhone, there will be plenty of consumers waiting in line.

"It is not like this is a new company trying to enter the mobile phone business," she said. "They have established themselves as a 'cool' brand. No matter what they do, enthusiasts are going to give it a look."

Aima is also predicting the company will tie in the iPhone with iPod and iTunes.


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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why I don't believe Steve Jobs

For a company with a tiny share of the computer market and an increasingly perilous first mover advantage selling portable music players Apple punches well above its weight in coverage of its every move.

In January CEO Steve Jobs single-handedly distracted the attention of the world's technology press from the hundreds of announcements taking place at the Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by pulling out an iPhone on stage in San Francisco.

The recent settlement of the long-running dispute with Apple Corps over the use of the Apple name garnered thousands of column inches and millions of page views online as aging editors took yet another opportunity to hope that the 40-year old Beatles music they grew up with could top the charts once again.

And much of the attention focused on the possibility that Beatles songs would be available on Apple's iTunes Music Store rather than any of the other download services available, giving Apple even more coverage.

This was followed by widespread coverage of the UK versions of the Mac versus PC ads, with David Mitchell and Robert Webb sacrificing any comic credibility their characters may have had on the altar of commercialism.

Pronounce and proselytise

Columnists and bloggers queued up to pronounce and proselytise, and every one of them mentioned the Mac in the same breath as the PC.

Finally there was the brilliant coup of announcing that iPod users should not upgrade to Windows Vista because the iTunes software doesn't work properly on it, which generated even more coverage.

Since Vista has been available in some form for over a year and the production release of the business version took place two months ago we can only assume that Apple's legion of Windows programmers had better things to do with their time - surely they could not have intended to spoil Bill Gates' big day?

Yet instead of prompting criticism of Apple for not preparing for one of the most widely trailed software launches of the century so far this was seen as another problem for Microsoft.

Not bad for a company whose profitability depends on a music player that is having to compete in a fast maturing market, whose board is under a cloud after problems over share options, and whose charismatic CEO could be ousted if evidence emerges that he was aware of those issues.

The latest example of what has been called the "reality distortion field" around Steve Jobs came last week when the man joined Victoria Beckham in the illustrious list of celebrity bloggers.

Beckham posted about life in California, while Jobs limited himself to a meditation on digital rights management, or DRM.

DRM software like Apple's Fairplay or Microsoft's Windows Media DRM should properly be called digital restriction management, since its primary goal is to limit what purchasers can do with downloaded content.

Limit ability

Whether it's music, films, text or software, a DRM'd file will limit your ability to play, copy, transfer or take extracts from the material.

Fairplay is applied to any song downloaded from the iTunes Music Store and built into every iPod ever shipped.

Apple has refused to license it to any other service or hardware manufacturer and as a result songs bought from Apple can only be played on PCs and Macs running iTunes, and iPods. (Let's forget about the Apple/Motorola phone, shall we?).

It's a closed market, one that has attracted the attention of regulators around the world who fear that it could also be an example of unfair market manipulation.

In his post Jobs said that Apple only implemented DRM because the record companies made them do it, and that they were unwilling to license Fairplay because it would make it easier for skilled crackers to break the protection.

This ignores the fact that some of the music on the iTunes store is also available without FairPlay or indeed DRM of any sort from other, less restrictive, services like eMusic.

It also ignores the reality that Microsoft's widely licensed system has been cracked the same number of times as Fairplay, so the evidence would seem to indicate that Jobs fears are not justified.

Customary practice

Jobs also said that Apple would stop using DRM in an instant if they could.

I don't believe him. If Apple switched off Fairplay then they would probably sell a lot more songs, on which they make very little money, and a lot fewer iPods, on which they make a lot. I don't buy songs from Apple's store because I don't like DRM.

I prefer to buy CDs which I can copy myself, trusting to the fact that this has been customary practice for so long that any attempt to prosecute me under the UK's restrictive laws would fail in court.

But Jobs can see which way the wind is blowing, and he can see that the record companies are finally tiring of their painful, expensive and ultimately unsatisfactory relationship with DRM.

They have stopped trying to sell broken CDs that can't be ripped to disk, and as a result nearly all of the music that they so painstakingly control when sold over the net is available at higher quality and lower cost to anyone who cares to spend the time taking it.

They are actively exploring alternatives to rigid control of sharing, like flat-rate permissive licensing that would track usage and reimburse artists without limiting what fans can do.

And they are - like EMI - looking to set up their own music stores selling unencumbered tracks direct to fans.

Jobs has to position Apple for this brave new world, and he knows that his charisma is such that if he rushes to the head of queue and claims to be leading the charge then some, at least, will believe him.

Sadly he's likely to be crushed under foot by those who really understand the music business and didn't sell their souls to the record companies back in the days when they believed in DRM.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Immigrants Rule Tech Startups

SAN FRANCISCO — Foreign-born entrepreneurs were behind 1 in 4 technology start-ups in the United States over the last decade, according to a study to be published today.

A team of researchers at Duke University estimated 25.3% of technology and engineering companies started between 1995 and 2005 had founders, chief executives, presidents or chief technology officers who were born outside the U.S. That's striking, given that just 11.7% of the U.S. population is foreign-born, according to U.S. census data.

Immigrant entrepreneurs' companies employed 450,000 workers and generated $52 billion in sales in 2005, the survey says.

Their contributions to corporate coffers, employment and U.S. competitiveness in the global technology sector offer a counterpoint to the recent political debate over immigration and the economy, which largely centers on unskilled, illegal workers in low-wage jobs.

"It's one thing if your gardener gets deported," said the project's lead researcher, Vivek Wadhwa. "But if these entrepreneurs leave, we're really denting our intellectual property creation."

Wadhwa, a Delhi, India-born founder of two tech start-ups in North Carolina's Research Triangle, is Duke's executive in residence. "America's advantage is we can get the best and brightest from around the world," he said. "Let's make the most of it."

The study comes nearly eight years after an influential report from UC Berkeley on the effect of foreign-born entrepreneurs.

AnnaLee Saxenian, now dean of the School of Information at UC Berkeley, estimated that immigrants founded about 25% of Silicon Valley tech companies in 1999. The Duke study found the percentage had more than doubled to 52% in 2005.

California led the nation, with foreign-born entrepreneurs founding 39% of start-ups, compared with 25% of the state's population.

In New Jersey, 38% of tech start-ups were founded by immigrants, followed by Michigan (33%), Georgia (30%), Virginia (29%) and Massachusetts (29%).

Saxenian, also coauthor of the new study, said the research cast new light on the immigration debate, debunking the notion that immigrants who come to the U.S. take jobs from Americans.

"The advantage of entrepreneurs is that they're generally creating new opportunities and new wealth that didn't even exist before them," Saxenian said. "Just by leaving your home country, you're taking a risk, and that means you're willing to take risks in business."

Researchers polled executives at 2,054 tech start-ups, each with more than $1 million in revenue and at least 20 employees. They extrapolated the data to more than 28,000 engineering and technology start-ups founded nationwide between 1995 and 2005.

Immigrants were most likely to start companies in the semiconductor, communications and software niches. They were least likely to enter the defense sector.

One of the study's biggest surprises was the extent to which Indians led the entrepreneurial pack. Of an estimated 7,300 U.S. tech start-ups launched by immigrants, 26% have Indian founders, CEOs, presidents or head researchers, the study found.

Indian immigrants founded more tech start-ups from 1995 to 2005 than people from the four next biggest sources — Britain, China, Taiwan and Japan — combined.

Indians even emerged as the dominant entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. In Saxenian's 1999 study, Chinese immigrants dominated.

Rosen Sharma, 34, leads Solidcore Systems Inc., a company that employs 150 people in offices in the U.S., Britain, Canada and India. He came to America from India in 1993 and has since founded six companies.

"People who come from India are laser-focused on technology. They come here and they learn to tell a story and paint a vision," said Sharma, who has a green card and is raising his daughters as U.S. citizens. "Once you have those two things, you're off to the races."

In 1998, foreign-born inventors living in the United States without citizenship accounted for 7.3% of patent filings to the Patent Cooperation Treaty of the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization, which coordinates filing of patents that can be enforced worldwide. By 2006, the percentage had surged to 24.2%.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Flat Panel TV Wars


If his Olevia line of televisions was ever going to get any attention from consumers, Vincent F. Sollitto Jr. would have to do something big, splashy and, in economic terms, just plain crazy.

On the day after Thanksgiving, Mr. Sollitto, the chairman and chief executive of Syntax-Brillian, had 32-inch Olevia liquid-crystal display TV sets selling at Circuit City for $475, almost half its regular price.

Syntax almost certainly lost money on the TVs. The flat screen that makes up about half the cost of an L.C.D. TV is about $350 on its own. But Mr. Sollitto could not have been more pleased. The Olevias outsold Sony and other brands while they lasted. That forced the premium brands to lower prices throughout the holiday season and take notice of the upstart from Tempe, Ariz.

"I think we are being annoying to those guys at the moment," he said. "We are going to be on that radar screen soon if we aren't there already."

In the battle for market share in big-screen TVs, there is a lot of pain to go around as prices drop sharply. Circuit City, for instance, lured a lot of customers into its stores with the promotion. But last Thursday it said it would have to close about 70 stores because of slim profit margins on televisions and other products. Profits at almost all of the major TV makers are down.

The only ones not getting hurt are consumers, who enjoyed sliding prices on HDTVs in 2006. They are likely to see a rerun of the same action in 2007 as prices are expected to fall further by 40 percent or more. For that they can thank the low-price brands like Syntax's Olevia.

"It does impact the business," said Bruce Tripido, senior director of marketing for Sharp's entertainment products. "They've accelerated the price compression and the reduction in profitability for everyone across the board."

Of course, Olevia does not have the luxury of the name recognition enjoyed by Sharp and others. "A year ago we were nobody," Mr. Sollitto said. "We were just trying to get people to hear our story."

That is starting to change. Viewers of ESPN's high-definition cable channels and its other media outlets are more familiar with the brand after a spate of advertising. Consumer Reports magazine recently rated an Olevia a best buy, along with a Sony.

Mr. Sollitto, a 21-year veteran of I.B.M. who later worked at a succession of other high-tech companies, predicted that Olevia would become a top-tier brand.

Jonathan Dorsheimer, vice president of equity research at Canaccord Adams, said this was "an achievable goal" for the company. He said Syntax had already garnered about 4 percent of the United States market, even though until late last year its sales were confined to regional electronics stores and online vendors, which make up only about 40 percent of the total market.

The company could increase its share to 7.5 percent of the United States market as it moves into the big stores, said John Vinh, a senior research analyst at C. E. Unterberg Towbin.

This year, Olevia TVs are in Circuit City, Office Depot and Kmart stores and will soon be in Target's revamped electronics departments. Best Buy is experimenting with selling the brand online. The company expects to sell slightly more than a million TVs in the fiscal year.

There are about 80 brands in the crowded American market for L.C.D. televisions, most of them value-priced. Olevia's competitors include Vizio, which has had success selling through Wal-Mart and Costco, and a number of brands recycled from yesteryear, when the United States still made televisions: Zenith, Emerson, Sylvania, Westinghouse and Magnavox

With the exception of Zenith, which has become the value brand of the Korean company LG, these brands are used by "virtual companies" that, like Syntax, contract with assemblers to build the TVs.

Syntax, though, has attracted the interest of investors because it is the only publicly traded TV-focused company in the United States. Its shares shot up from $2.02 in May to a 52-week-high of $11.70 in early January.

It has fallen since then and dropped 15 percent on Thursday after Mr. Sollitto issued a more conservative forecast for revenue growth — a tripling of revenue in its 2007 fiscal year ending June 30.

Mr. Vinh said investors' expectations had run ahead of reality, and he brushed off the drop in price. He is forecasting that the shares, which closed at $8.11 on Friday, will go to $14 a share, and the handful of other analysts following the company remain optimistic. "The company is in hypergrowth mode," Mr. Vinh said. "That's a good problem to have."

Mr. Sollitto is essentially taking a ride on the falling prices of flat panels, the main component in the TVs, and the drop has steepened because of a glut. It owns no factories, but buys the panels and has contracts with four manufacturers to assemble the televisions. This keeps costs down but is risky because the company does not control the supply of parts.

Right now that does not matter so much. While there is high demand for L.C.D. TVs and only eight suppliers of the flat panels that are the main component of L.C.D.'s, many of the independent factories in Taiwan are not running at full capacity. To reach greater efficiency and better economies of scale, they offer a lower price to anyone who commits to buying a lot of panels.

For example, the price of a 37-inch panel has fallen to $476, from $690 a year ago. Sweta Dash, an analyst who tracks panel prices for the market information company iSuppli, expects them to drop to $375 by June, presaging even bigger discounting at the retail level for those TVs in the next few months.

The three biggest names in the business, Sony, Sharp and Samsung, which hold about a third of the market, declined to comment on Olevia. Jonas Tanenbaum, Samsung's vice president of visual display marketing, noted that "there has always been a disruptive force in the market." Indeed, 15 years ago Samsung was the scrappy company building credibility.

"The off-brands are residing in a price band where we are simply not going to reside," said Mr. Tripido of Sharp. His company has considered selling a value-priced TV, which would not carry the Sharp name.

Instead, Sharp's strategy is to produce panels in its advanced plants in larger sizes, like 46, 52 and 65 inches, where the value brands cannot compete. (It also has a 108-inch TV coming.) Then it prices aggressively.

"The pricing was incredible right out of the chute" with the new sets, said Eric Haruki, an analyst with IDC, a market research company. "The big guys made pricing moves on their own."

The result is a smaller price gap between the premium names and the value brands, creating a future risk for Syntax. Right now the average price of a 32-inch L.C.D. TV from a lesser-known brand like Olevia is $834, while a premium brand like Sharp sells for $1,217. Riddhi Patel, an analyst at iSuppli who tracks the overall market, predicts that by Christmas the prices will be more like $600 versus $850.

When the margin is only $150 to $200, Ms. Patel said, a shopper is more apt to shrug off the difference and choose the recognized brand name.

"We will be prepared for what's coming, and that's a very aggressive price reduction throughout the year," Mr. Sollitto said.

As consumers develop a sweet spot for even bigger TVs, Olevia is pushing to sell 42-, 47- and 52-inch sets, some of them in the higher-resolution 1080p standard.

Mr. Sollitto said brand recognition becomes more important as the price difference between a top brand and his brand narrows. "The advertising makes a difference," Mr. Sollitto said. "People are looking for a brand." That explains why Olevia spent $2.4 million on advertising in the last three months, a tenfold increase in its ad budget.

Syntax has lined up three factories in China and Taiwan to assemble 1.3 million TVs in 2007. It also has a contract factory in Ontario, Calif., operated by Solar Link Technologies of Taiwan, to more quickly deliver to retailers in the United States. It is now seeking the capacity to produce 1.2 million more TVs. Mr. Sollitto has been racing to arrange financing for all this growth.

"Our biggest concern right now is, let's not bite off more than we can chew," he said.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Numbers Out on How Rich the YouTube Deal Was

Everyone suspected that the investors, founders and early employees of YouTube made tidy sums when it was acquired by Google for $1.65 billion in stock late last year.

But until yesterday, few knew just how tidy those sums were. The answer, which Google delivered in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is now in: The sums are big enough to spark a new wave of envy across Silicon Valley.

The biggest windfalls went, not surprisingly, to the company's three founders and to Sequoia Capital, the main financial backer of YouTube, the popular video-sharing site.

A founder and YouTube's chief executive Chad Hurley received 694,087 shares of Google and an additional 41,232 in a trust. Based on Google's closing price yesterday of $470.01, the shares are worth more than $345 million.

Another founder, Steven Chen, received 625,366 shares and an additional 68,721 in a trust, for more than $326 million.

Sequoia Capital XI, the Sequoia fund that invested close to $11.5 million in YouTube from November 2005 to April 2006, was listed as having 941,027 shares, which are valued at more than $442 million.

The filing lists a Sequoia Capital XI Principals Fund owning 102,376 shares, valued at more than $48 million, and Sequoia Technology Partners XI with 29,724 shares, valued at nearly $14 million.

Sequoia, considered one of the most successful venture capital firms in the country, was also a principal investor in Google.

The third founder of YouTube, Jawed Karim, who left the company early on to pursue a graduate degree in computer science, received 137,443 shares worth more than $64 million.

In addition, several funds affiliated with Artis Capital Management, a San Francisco hedge fund managed by Stuart L. Peterson that was a co-investor with Sequoia, were listed as having received 176,621 shares, valued at $83 million.

When the deal was announced in October, YouTube was less than two years old and had about 70 employees. Several of the early employees are listed in the filing statement as owning thousands of Google shares.

The acquisition, the biggest in Google's history, put the Internet search giant in the leading position in the rapidly growing world of online video. But the acquisition has been clouded by threats that Google could be sued by movie studios and other content owners over the proliferation of copyrighted material on the YouTube site. Just last week, Viacom demanded that Google remove from YouTube more than 100,000 video clips it claimed to own.


Friday, May 16, 2008

General Motors Is Going Green

The biggest surprise at this year's Detroit motor show has been the Damascene conversion of General Motors (GM), the world's biggest car company, to green alternative fuels.

Green is very much the theme of this year's show, with every carmaker now keen to show that they care about the environment, even as they launch their latest 300 horsepower truck or SUV.

Journalists were handed out bottles of green-labelled mineral water made of recyclable materials as they picked up their press kits.

Even Ford chairman Bill Ford admits that something has changed in Middle America, the traditional home of the gas guzzler.

But it is GM who seems to have moved the furthest.

Electric motor

Only three years ago, the company abandoned work on its electric vehicle EV1 saying there was no demand for such a product.

This year everything changed.

In a snazzy presentation that managed to mention everything from the Renaissance to Thomas Edison, GM opened the car show by launching its Chevrolet Volt concept car, the first mass market prototype designed to operate purely using an electric motor.

The stylish car will be powered by new-style lithium batteries which will plug into your garage electricity socket, and could feature a range of supplementary power sources including hydrogen fuel cells and an ethanol-based petrol engine.

The head of GM, Rick Wagoner, says there is "now an irrefutable business case" for producing green cars.

Mr Wagoner told the BBC that in future, all cars would have to be flexible enough to run on biofuels, hydrogen derived from electric power, or batteries which plugged into the electricity power grid.

He warned that with the growth of demand for cars soaring in developing countries, it would not be long before the world ran out of petrol - at least at a price that car drivers could afford.

And this time GM seems to be putting its money where its mouth is, investing up to $100m (£52m) in the new technology.

But Mr Wagoner admitted to the BBC that they did not have a definite launch date.

Red-hot technology

Volt's chief engineer Nick Zielinksi told the BBC that the main stumbling block was the development of large enough batteries which would hold their charge and not overheat.

GM is putting out tenders for the development of a new lithium battery with the aim of developing enough power to allow drivers to go 40 miles (the average commute to work is 20 miles) without recharging or having to use a petrol engine.

But the technology is not quite there, and issues of "maintaining charge and temperature" - that is, avoiding bursting in flames - still remain.

Mr Zielinksi sounded remarkably bullish about the prospect of fuel cell technology as well, saying that his design teams were running neck and neck on lithium batteries and fuel cells.

And he held out the hope that China might become the first country to go straight to hydrogen technology instead of building more petrol stations.

Flexing muscles

Still, GM has not abandoned big cars altogether. Right opposite the Chevrolet stand and its Volt is the massive Hummer stand with its oversize vehicles - also owned by GM.

GM's bold move to put electric technology front and centre of its product offering, at least in theory, contrasts with the approach of the other Big Three US automakers.

Chrysler, the smallest and the inventor of the minivan, is betting its future on relaunching its Chrysler Voyager people carrier with more amenities and a bigger engine.

Ford, although introducing new versions of the smaller cars like the Focus, is mainly focusing on trucks, where it is the market leader, and rebranded "muscle cars" like a new four-door Mustang.

Even Toyota, the pioneer of green technology, decided to launch the show with a new Tundra truck with a 5.7 litre engine - directly challenging Ford in the heartlands.

Restructuring work

GM is taking its bold green move at a time when the company is in the midst of a massive restructuring designed to restore profitability to its North American operations.

The company has already shed 34,000 jobs and closed 14 plants, and faces a tough round of negotiations with the unions this year over its next contract.

Mr Wagoner says that its moves have already increased productivity and reduced its losses substantially, although he admits it may be a while before it returns to profitability.

The company has already sold its Delphi parts subsidiary and is considering a sale of its highly profitable GMAC finance subsidiary.

But as it cuts back production to stem its losses, GM is likely to be overtaken this year by Toyota - who is still expanding - as the world's largest car company.

GM has held that role for half a century, and perhaps it is the shock to the system that has precipitated its fundamental rethink of its business.

But whatever its intentions, whether it can implement its new green initiative well as Toyota - which is converting its entire range to offer a hybrid version - remains to be seen.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Internal memo blasts Yahoo

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Is Yahoo suffering from a lack of focus, entrenched bureaucracy and redundancy?

It's a theory that's been aired for some time by investors and Internet industry executives to explain the Sunnyvale Web portal's dimming fortunes against rival Google Inc., among others.

Now Yahoo executive Brad Garlinghouse has acknowledged the problems in a scathing internal memo published by the Wall Street Journal, dubbed the "Peanut Butter Manifesto." In it, he says his company has spread itself too thin and must undergo a major reorganization, including cutting up to 20 percent of its workforce.

Garlinghouse, a senior vice president who oversees Yahoo's e-mail, home page and instant messenger service, circulated the memo to colleagues in October after a disappointing year. Yahoo shares are down 37 percent since January amid slow growth and a delay in a key project to boost online advertising revenue.

At the same time, Yahoo faces stiff competition from Google. In fact, by one important measure -- online advertising revenue -- Mountain View's Google has a commanding lead, according to eMarketer, a research firm, based on estimates for 2006.

Yahoo is expected to generate $3.37 billion in online advertising this year, excluding commissions it pays to partner Web sites. Google will take in $5.5 billion.

Then there's the rise of social networking, where Yahoo has trailed. Internet users have an increasing appetite for sites such as MySpace, which was acquired last year by News Corp. and has since catapulted in popularity.

Yahoo did not address the memo directly Monday, but issued a statement emphasizing progress in a variety of areas, including recent acquisitions and partnerships as well as the positive feedback it's received from customers regarding the introduction of a search engine advertising system, dubbed Project Panama. The system is supposed to make search ads more relevant, an area that Google excels at.

In his memo, Garlinghouse said that Yahoo's problems stem, in part, from trying to do too much, saying his company lacks a cohesive vision, is reactive and is separated into silos that frequently don't talk to each other and fight to protect their turf. "We've known this for years, talk about it incessantly, but do nothing to fundamentally address it," he said.

"I've heard the strategy described as spreading peanut butter across the myriad opportunities that continue to evolve in the online world," Garlinghouse wrote. "The result: a thin layer of investment spread across everything we do and thus we focus on nothing in particular."

He added, "I hate peanut butter."

Yahoo's rise to the most popular Web site has been built on its wide array of offerings, including e-mail, maps and finance. But some areas should be eliminated, according to Garlinghouse, who listed several that he said were duplicative, such as Yahoo's Flickr photo-sharing service and the Yahoo Photos area.

As part of his memo, Garlinghouse said that Yahoo must cut its workforce, currently numbering 11,000, by up to 20 percent. The company, he said, can be more efficient with fewer people who can get more done, more quickly.

Yahoo declined to comment about job cuts.

Ellen Siminoff, a former Yahoo executive who is chief executive of Efficient Frontier, a Mountain View company that helps advertisers manage search engine advertising, said Yahoo is in a period of transition. She said it has done well in one key area, search, but has had the misfortune of being up against Google, which she said has "executed in the 99th percentile" in terms of market share, innovation and generating revenue.

"The reality is that Yahoo has always been challenged by focus," Siminoff said. "There have always been a lot of products at Yahoo and it has always been a complicated business."

Indeed, when chief executive Terry Semel joined Yahoo five years ago, he immediately went about simplifying the structure, which originally had 44 units reporting to him. He eventually whittled the number to four.

Recently, Semel has voiced disappointment with Yahoo's performance, saying during a conference call in October that "we are not exploiting our considerable strengths as well as we should be." He then pointed to several areas the company should focus on.

It's unclear where Semel stands on the specifics in the Garlinghouse memo -- which includes a segment holding mangers more accountable for success -- or whether Garlinghouse has the authority to make any of his ideas happen. In the memo, he said that he hopes merely to "get the discussion going; change is needed and it is needed soon."

Jim Lanzone, chief executive of, the Oakland search engine, said that other than the job cuts, the Peanut Butter Manifesto lacks details about how Yahoo would focus its products and business into "one nicely wrapped up strategy."

"Beyond e-mail," he said, "Yahoo has no obvious core."

"One of the reasons Yahoo is the No. 1 site online is that it is spread thinly," Lanzone said. "People use it for very disparate reasons, and that's a blessing and a curse."


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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Electronic Voting Machines Could Skew Elections

Cheryl Kagan, a former Maryland Democratic legislator, was shocked when she opened her mail Wednesday morning.

Inside, she discovered three computer discs. With them was an anonymous letter saying the discs contained the secret source code for vote-counting that could be used to alter the votes cast through Maryland's new electronic voting machines.

"My understanding is that with these disks a malicious person could skew the outcome of an election," Kagan said.

Diebold, the company that makes the voting machines, told ABC News, "These discs do not alter the security of the Diebold touch-screen system in any way," because election workers can set their own passwords.

But ABC News has obtained an independent report commissioned by the state of Maryland and conducted by Science Applications International Corporation revealing that the original Diebold factory passwords are still being used on many voting machines.

The SAIC study also shows myriad other security flaws, including administrative over-ride passwords that cannot be changed by local officials but can be used by hackers or those who have seen the discs.

The report further states that one of the high risks to the system comes if operating code discs are lost, stolen or seen by unauthorized parties -- precisely what seems to have occurred with the discs sent to Kagan, who worries that the incident indicates the secret source code is not that difficult to obtain.

"Certainly, just tweaking a few votes in a couple of states could radically change the outcome of our policies for the coming year," she said.

Worry That Elections Could Be Hacked

Computer experts and government officials have voiced serious concerns that if these machines malfunction, no paper record will exist for a recount. Even worse is the fear that an election could be hacked.

Princeton University researchers using an Accuvote TS -- a touch screen version of the Diebold machine -- showed how easy it would be to deploy a virus that would, in seconds, flip the vote of any election.

"We're taking the vote-counting process and we're handing it over to these companies -- and we don't know what happens inside these machines," said Edward Felten, a professor and a researcher at Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy, which ran the study.

Diebold called the Princeton study "unrealistic and inaccurate."

But many computer scientists, including cyber-security expert Stephen Spoonamore, disagree, pointing out that the Accuvote TS was used in the 2004 presidential election and is still used in at least four states -- including all machines in Georgia and Maryland. Spoonamore said the hack attacked the operating system layer of software and would affect any touch screen machine built by Diebold.

Diebold argues that the software from the 2004 elections has been updated to fix any possible security problems. But Spoonamore is not convinced, saying Diebold's "system is utterly unsecured. The entire cyber-security community is begging them to come back to reality and secure our nation's voting."

There is also the matter of computer glitches. In primary elections and test runs this year, there were glitches with electronic voting machines from Diebold and other companies.

Machines malfunctioned in Texas, where 100,000 votes were added.

In California, directions for voters with vision problems came out in Vietnamese.

And in Maryland, screens froze and memory cards went missing.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican running for reelection, advised residents to vote by absentee ballot because he had no confidence in the machines.

"I don't care if we paid half a billion dollars or $1 billion," Ehrlich said. "If it's going to put the election at risk, there's no price tag for a phony election or a fraudulent election."

Many are concerned about how the confusing technical issues will be handled by poll workers, who tend to be senior citizens and who are not necessarily tech-savvy.

Electronic voting machines were supposed to be the solution to the paper ballot problems from the 2000 presidential election. But to many critics, America's voting system has gone out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Copyright © 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

2006 Was A Great Year For The Gaming Industry

Every player in the next generation video game console battle is claiming victory after an industry-wide record-setting sales performance in 2006.

A strong holiday season capped off a year that resulted in total revenues of $12.5 billion spent on games, new console systems, handhelds and accessories, according to the industry's market tracker The NPD Group. The 2006 total represents a 19% increase over 2005's $10.5 billion mark, another record.

"Everyone was fairly negative about the industry at the end of last year," says NPD analyst Anita Frazier. "And it started out rocky this year, but within a few months everything started to fall into place. It kind of breaks the conventional wisdom of what a console transition year is like in the industry."

The largest portion, $6.5 billion, went to game software, a slight increase over last year. Revenue from game console systems - including the new Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 (both released in November) and Microsoft Xbox 360 - rose 87.5% to $2.9 billion from $1.6 billion last year.

Grabbing most of the attention in 2006 were new game systems - Sony's much-anticipated PlayStation 3 ($499-$599) and the lesser-regarded Nintendo Wii ($249). Consumers bought as many of each system as manufacturers could get to retail and demand drove the resale market on eBay and other online auction sites.

Sony, which earlier this week said that it had shipped 1 million PS3s to North America by year-end, sold 687,300 PS3s, according to the NPD Group's numbers. So far, the PS3 is selling at a faster pace than its predecessors, Sony's Jack Tretton said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Wii became a hit, too, selling 1.1 million units. "Once you get people to try it, you see them light up," says Nintendo's Perrin Kaplan .

Microsoft's Xbox 360 overcame its own supply problems by spring and sold 3.9 million units, pushing its installed base to 4.5 million - in December outselling PS3 and Wii combined. "The story as we see it is we won the vote with consumers this holiday season, due in part to the quality of our games," says Microsoft's David Hufford.

November's Xbox 360 release Gears of War is expected to surpass the 3 million sold worldwide next week and is tracking to join the industry's top selling games ever, Hufford said. With the third installment in the hit Halo series arriving later this year, "we are really right where we want to be heading in to 2007."

But quietly, two older systems, the five-plus-year-old PlayStation 2 ($129) and two-year-old Nintendo DS handheld ($129) were plugging along successfully, selling 4.7 million and 5.3 million, respectively.

Overall, Sony hardware and games amounted to more than $1.6 billion in December alone - a record month for the industry. " "Not only did consumers drive records for PlayStation 3, they also validated the excellent value represented by PlayStation 2 and the entertainment versatility of PSP (PlayStation Portable, which reached an installed base of 6.7 million )," Tretton said.

Nintendo, Frazier says, "managed to make (the DS) appeal older without abandoning its core customer, the kids" landing New Super Mario Bros. and Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day among the year's top 10 selling games.

At Nintendo, supporters of the Wii and DS feel justified by the results, Kaplan says. "As a risk-taking, innovative company we thought long and hard about bringing these kids of products out. We watched very closely what looked to be happening with players. The glimmer in their eye was not quite as bright (as in the past) and the excitement level was starting to tap out," she says. "Once the Wii and DS were finalized, we all felt like we really shouldn't be doing what we were doing if this didn't have success. It just felt really right."

Leading up to the NPD's release of its annual report, many analysts expressed concern that the performance of the lackluster PS3 could have ramifications for the industry. American Tech Research analyst P.J. McNealy offered that the system did not have many hit titles, might be priced too high and had not been marketed properly as a cost-effective high-definition movie player.

With Sony announcing earlier in the week that it had met its goal of shipping 1 million PS3s to North America and NPD's report suggesting that it had actually sold less than 700,000, McNealy said that "there is headline risk" of doom and gloom media coverage.

Arcadia Investment's John Taylor assessment had a similar tone, too. "The Wii buzz factor completely trumped the PS3," he wrote in a Wednesday report - may contribute to the slowing of the industry's expected PS3 adoption rate.

But Wedbush Morgan Securities' managing director of research Michael Pachter says that "talk of Sony's demise is premature. … Microsoft is growing their lead, but the question now is whether now that we are getting more supply, if we see the PS3 and Wii outsell it on a monthly basis."

Regardless, the situation at the beginning of 2007 appears much more promising than 12 months ago, Frazier says. "There's just a lot of good things going on," she says. "It was just much less volatile going into the transition that expected."

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Yahoo pipes out a challenge to Google

There is so much information circulating throughout the web in the form of XML feeds that it's hard to keep track of it all. However, Yahoo wants to make it easy for ordinary web surfers to pick the eyes out of it all and organize it into a custom made useful format with tools from a website called Yahoo Pipes.

As Yahoo says on its website, Pipes is a hosted service that lets you remix feeds and create new data mashups in a visual programming environment.

According to Yahoo, the usefulness of the huge volume of XML feeds available to web users has been limited because users are restricted to feed readers which can access the information from one feed. However, Pipes allows users to take the data from one or more feeds and use it to build new applications.

On its site, Yahoo provides examples, such as: Pasha's Apartment Search pipe, which combines Craigslist listings with data from Yahoo! Local to display apartments available for rent near any business.

It's basically an application that had to happen in the Web 2.0 environment in which bloggers and posters are becoming one person news sources and news aggregators are picking up all the information on specific topics as fast as it can be posted.

Yahoo Pipes aims to provide ordinary web users with the ability to take the plethora of available data and develop new information applications, such as Pasha's Apartment Search pipe, which will have value for a variety of segments of the global Internet community.

While there have been queries raised about copyright issues of using proprietary content to create new applications, Yahoo, like Google, appears intent on re-writing the rules of content and publishing in the virgin territory of the Web 2.0 space.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Crowd Wisdom vs. Google's Genius

by Catherine Holahan

Can the wisdom of crowds trump the genius of Google? The founder of Web encyclopedia Wikipedia believes it not only can, but it will. Jimmy Wales, the man behind Wikipedia, which ranks among the top 15 online destinations worldwide, plans to launch a new search engine in the first three months of 2007. He believes the project, which is called Wikiasari, could someday overtake Google as the leader of Web search.

Like Wikipedia, the new search engine will rely on the support of a volunteer community of users. The idea is that Web surfers and programmers will be able to bring their collective intelligence to bear, to fine-tune search results and make the experience more effective for everyone. "If you search in Google, a lot of the results are very, very good and a lot of the results are very, very bad," says Wales. What that shows, Wales says, is that mathematical formulas alone do not produce consistently relevant results. "Human intelligence is still a very important part of the process," he says.

People can contribute to Wikiasari in one of two ways. The first is by enabling ordinary computer users to rerank search results. When a user performs a search on Wikiasari, the engine will return results based on a formula akin to Google's own Page-Rank system, which determines relevance by counting the number of times other Web pages link to a specific page, among other things. Unlike Google, however, users will then be able to reorder the results based on which links they find most useful by selecting an edit function. Wikiasari's servers will then store the new results along with the original query. When the same query is made in the future, Wikiasari will return the results in the order saved by most users.

"Google-Killing" Potential

Web users with programming knowledge have a second way to contribute. Wikiasari's technology is based on Apache's open-source Web search software Lucene and Nutch, and Wales plans to unveil all the company's computer code to the outside world. This kind of open-source development is in sharp contrast to the approach of the leading search engines, which do not release their search ranking formulas. Yet Wales contends that his open approach will ultimately prevail, because anyone any place in the world can weigh in with tweaks to Wikiasari's code to help return more relevant results.

Google has proven to be a fearsome competitor, however, against some of the most powerful companies in technology. In recent years, Google has increased its lead in search over Yahoo! and Microsoft's MSN, despite vows from both companies to catch up. Google controlled 49.5% of the searches in December, up from 43% two years earlier, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Meanwhile, Yahoo has 24.3% of searches and MSN, the third highest ranking search engine, controls just 8.2% of searches. Microsoft's share of the search market has slipped from 14% two years ago, despite a technology revamp and a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. If the searches that Google performs for Time Warner's AOL and News Corp.'s MySpace are added to the equation, its lead is even greater.

Though the Wikiasari project is scheduled to debut in the first quarter of next year, Wales suspects it will take roughly three years of user input before it has enough information to become a real competitor to the top search engines. "I wish I could write a Google-killing project in three months, but it is going to take a little bit longer than that," says Wales. "We will have something up in '07, but it won't be very good or interesting. It will be a starting point for people to play with."

This Time, It's Profitable?

Wales bases his three-year timetable on the amount of time Wikipedia took to really take off. That project launched in 2001 with about 100 articles. It now has more than 6 million articles in a variety of languages, according to Wikipedia's own Wikipedia entry. Though the trustworthiness of its user-supplied content is hotly debated, at least one study showed it is now nearly as accurate as other encyclopedias and frequently used by scientists.

However, there is a key difference between Wikiasari and Wikipedia. While Wikipedia is a nonprofit, Wikiasari is a for-profit venture by Wales' company Wikia Inc. Wales has received some high-powered backing for his venture—$4 million in funding from Bessemer Venture Partners and Omidyar Network. Bessemer was one of the original investors in Internet phone phenom Skype, and Omidyar Network is the investment vehicle of Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay. E-commerce giant Amazon also put money into the company earlier this month. (Contrary to one published report, Amazon is contributing only money, not technology.)

Wikiasari will serve ads along the right side of the search results page, says Wales. Like Google, the ads will be related to queries and clearly marked as sponsored links. The presence of ads could make the kind of users who contribute to Wikipedia respond differently to Wikiasari. After all, contributing to Wikipedia is seen as something of a selfless act in support of a nonprofit that exists solely to benefit the Web community. Supplying information to Wikiasari, on the other hand, will benefit Wikia and its advertisers.

Other Community Experiments

Wales doesn't think people will care. As proof, he uses the example of Red Hat, a public, for-profit company that relies on Linux's free, open-source operating system and user collaboration. The company made $105.8 million in the third quarter of this year, up 45% year over year. "It's all about free licensing and sharing your work with others," says Wales. "They don't care about people making money; they care about people taking their work and locking it up."

Even if people do contribute, that doesn't mean Wikiasari will eventually become leader of the pack, or even one of the leading players. The major search engines know that links alone are not infallible indicators of the best results. Both Yahoo and Google have experimented with ways to involve the community to refine their own search products. Yahoo, for example, has its Answers property that relies on volunteer users to supply information related to specific queries. Similarly, Google has allowed people to vote on results by clicking on a smiley face on its toolbar for good results and on a frowning face for bad ones. Google shut down its own answers service, with real people responding to questions, in November.

Search's Next Level

Other companies have tried to incorporate human intelligence in search results. StumbleUpon, for example, has a toolbar that shows users which pages in Google, Yahoo, or any other engine's search results have been rated favorably by its community based on the users' interest. The 3-and-a-half-year-old company, funded in part by Ram Shriram and Rajeev Motwani, two of the investors who initially backed Google, has grown from 500,000 users to 1.65 million users in the past year alone. "Algorithmic search can only get you so far," says Dave Feller, StumbleUpon's vice-president of marketing. "The info from other people can get you to the next level."

StumbleUpon's ambitions may suggest what the future holds for Wikiasari. Feller says that the company would be open to partnering with a Google or Yahoo. With Google's $140 billion market cap, it could even buy such a toolbar company to enhance its own results. Wales may have dreams of taking on Google with his new Wikiasari project. But he may end up developing a search engine that will make Google—or one of its rivals—that much more effective.

Holahan is a writer for in New York.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How Clickfraud Works

Louise, a disabled housewife, plays a bit part in a ring of online fraudsters.

She spends her days at home in Ohio entering queries in obscure search engines and then clicking on the ads -- over and over again.

Louise's illicit clicks cost advertisers untold amounts of money. But she doesn't care because some of their losses eventually trickle into her pockets to help pay for her prescription medicine.

"All that mattered was that I needed the money," Louise said, explaining why she leaped into a career of fraud last year.

Louise, who asked that her full name not be used because of the questionable nature of her work, is not alone. Armies of average citizens have been lured into similar fraud rings by come-ons to earn money from home.

Their work is known as click fraud, a problem that has bedeviled Internet giants Google and Yahoo in recent years. Its rise has eroded confidence in the lucrative search advertising business, which is expected to generate more than $6 billion in revenue in 2006, according to eMarketer.

Internet advertisers pay companies like Google and Yahoo every time someone clicks on their ads. In addition to placing ads on their own properties, Google and Yahoo distribute them to other Web sites and share any revenue with the owners.

Some Web site owners try to inflate the money they collect by hiring others to surreptitiously click on the ads. The theory is that spreading the clicking between different individuals in different locations provides better cover from Google's and Yahoo's fraud detection software than automated iterations of click fraud.

Various studies have concluded that between 10 and 20 percent of all clicks are fraudulent. About half of them are never detected, costing advertisers a fortune, according to several online advertising executives.

An entire subset of Web sites has emerged whose sole purpose seems to be fraudulent. They tend to be obscure search engines, portals and Web domains for sale that feature mostly advertising.

Shadowy companies

Many rely on shadowy companies to provide the manpower necessary for the scam. These companies recruit Internet users, some of whom don't realize what they're doing is illegal.

Louise said she was lured into the world of click fraud because her back problems make a regular job impossible, and she was short of cash.

In all, Louise said she works with 20 recruiters. They send her up to 600 e-mails daily that include links to the search engines that she is supposed to visit and use.

"I have always been a search freak, searching for anything from computer wallpaper to illness symptoms to recipes," Louise said. "Now I just get paid for them."

The services automatically track how many search engines Louise visits. For each click, she earns a fraction of a cent, or around $6 per day.

She doesn't know who is behind the services, though she suspects that some of her bosses are in China. Others who have signed up with similar services said they appear to be operated from Turkey and Poland.

How much money the bosses make is anyone's guess. The potential could be enormous if they recruit enough members. They're notorious for failing to pay their members what they owe them and then disappearing.

Shuman Ghosemajumder, who handles trust and safety for Google, dismissed the idea that the mom-and-pop fraudsters are having much success bilking his company and its advertisers. The techniques they use, he said, are unsophisticated and present little challenge to his company's automated fraud filters.

Mountain View's Google maintains long lists of dubious Web sites and filters out suspicious clicks that come from them. The company routinely issues warnings to Web site owners and then exiles them from its advertising network if they don't change their ways.

Fraudsters use a number of techniques to stay under the radar. Routing their foot soldiers to search engines via e-mail is one of their tricks.

Ghosemajumder said that the fraudsters may be able to use such a technique to hide the fact that an inordinate amount of clicks is coming from a single source. But he insisted that his company monitors hundreds of other signals, any one of which could raise a red flag.

Smaller distributors of online advertising, Ghosemajumder suggested, may be more susceptible to fraud because they have invested less in counter measures.

His comments were echoed by Gaude Paez, a spokeswoman for Yahoo in Sunnyvale. Her company's filters are adept at detecting fraud and that it has discounted billions of clicks over the years that were suspect, she said.

Joe Rosenbaum, an attorney who leads the e-commerce practice for the law firm Bryan Cave, said that individuals who engage in click fraud risk criminal charges or civil suits. However, the law may not be so clear in other countries, where many of the ringleaders are believed to be based, he said.

In any case, Rosenbaum said, Internet companies are probably only interested in getting the big fish, not housewives making pocket change. But determining where the kingpins are located and getting local authorities to cooperate is an uphill struggle, even if there are laws that can be used to prosecute them, he said.

In the United States, Google is known to have sued just one company, Auctions Expert International of Houston, for click fraud, a case that was ultimately settled. Yahoo is not known to have filed any suits.

Transparency needed

Samir Patel, founder of SearchForce, a San Mateo maker of software that allows companies to manage their online advertising campaigns, said that advertisers are concerned about click fraud and think that Google and Yahoo can be more transparent about it. For now, little information is available to his clients, he said, even though some of them are spending $5 or $10 per click.

"Google and Yahoo can definitely do more," Patel said.

As it is, the only way for the advertisers to uncover the scope of click fraud is to go through their computer logs, line by line. If they see an inordinate number of clicks from obscure Web sites, they can ask Google or Yahoo for refunds.

The effort to shut down mom-and-pop fraudsters is being helped by a small cadre of volunteers. They do so out of duty and self interest.

They say the surreptitious work of the fraudsters taints a related but legitimate industry known as "paid to read." That industry has existed for years and revolves around companies paying Internet users small amounts of money to visit Web sites in hope that they will eventually sell them something.

Message boards devoted to the paid-to-read industry are a cacophony of accusations between members who claim to be the good guys and those who say that defrauding prosperous companies such as Google and Yahoo is fine.

Verne Kopytoff, SfGate.Com

Click Fraud : Judging the Scope of the Problem

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Can Think Of A Good Domain Name? Someone Can.

PickyDomains.Com is a perfect example of how to turn one's talent into a profitable business. With ever expanding Internet and tens of millions existing websites, finding an available domain name that's not already taken by cybersquatters can be a real nightmare.

But one man's problem is another man's solution. Rather than to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a domain name on the aftermarket, an increasing number of web entrepreneurs turn to professional "domain namers".

While most naming agencies charge a non-refundable fee that can be as high as $1500 for a corporate domain, one service that unites 17 professional domain namers from countries like United States, Russia, Australia and New Zealand, decided to offer a risk-free service that costs only 50 dollars per domain.

After 50 dollars are deposited, clients start getting a list of available domain names via e-mail for a period of 30 days. If they see a domain they like, they register it and notify the service about domain acquired. The individual, who came up with the name, gets $25, the other half going to the service. If no domain is registered, the money is refunded in full.

While the idea is brainlessly simple, it appears that PickyDomains.Com has no competition with its risk-free business model. But that is almost certain to change as more people find out that finding available domain names for other people can be a profitable business.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Why You Can't Shoot the Same Foul Shot Twice

In the late '80s and early '90s, before the Cleveland Cavaliers became Lebron's squad, the team's fortunes rested heavily on the back of the steadfast and reliable point guard Mark Price. One of Price's claims to fame: his run at Calvin Murphy's streak of 78 consecutive free-throws-made.

In April 1993 Price missed what would have been his record-tying shot from the charity stripe; later that month, Michael Williams of the Minnesota Timberwolves would end up breaking the record in a game against the Utah Jazz. Most scientists, who over the past decade may have hypothesized why the all-time NBA career free-thrower (he made 90.4 percent of his shots) missed that crucial attempt, would likely have blamed the inconsistency of so-called on-line movements--the neural activity and muscle contractions that occur after Price bent his knees and started his motion. A new study in this week's issue of Neuron, however, reports that another factor came into play: the brain does not plan the execution of a shot in exactly the same fashion each step of the way.

"The punch line with [our] paper," says Stanford University electrical engineer and neuroscientist Krishna Shenoy, "is that this is the first evidence that neural activity--brain activity that happens well before the movement ever begins--has a lot to say about the variability or the exact movement that you're going to get."

Shenoy and his team studied two rhesus monkeys as they made a simple, practiced movement--reaching to touch a target--to determine whether so-called "off-line" activity had any effect on the variability of each movement. First, the monkeys were trained to make a quick reach when they saw a green target and to execute a faster motion when they saw a red target.

As the monkeys performed these tasks, the researchers studied individual neurons in the premotor cortex of their brains (the outer layer of the brain responsible for higher functions, such as movement planning) to see whether each nerve cell increased its activity for slower or faster reaches. Once each neuron had been catalogued, the team monitored them while the monkeys made a series of reaches, varying each motion's speed naturally.

"What we did is record that preparatory activity way before the movement ever begins," Shenoy says, "and show that you can predict whether the upcoming movement will be slightly faster or slightly slower on average." In fact, the team found that the off-line neural activity was highly predictive of the speed of each reach.

Next, the group attempted to estimate what percentage of variability in a motion can be attributed to neural activity at the planning stage. They tested muscle activity during the same reaching exercise using electromyography to determine how well on-line variability correlated with movement variability. To their surprise, the results were similar to those in their study of off-line effects. "The bottom line is the neural recordings can explain upcoming velocity variability as well as muscle recordings can," says Afsheen Afshar, a graduate student who worked on the study. He adds that off-line activity probably accounts for half of movement variability, whereas on-line effects influence the other half.

Not all experts agree, however. Emmanuel Todorov, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, is skeptical that motor preparation is a major source of variability in physical motions. He says that the tasks performed were too simple to reach definitive conclusions and that more difficult activities (like crumpling paper), which require some sensory guidance once the motion has begun, would rely less on planning. "We should be careful not to overgeneralize," he warns. "The relative contributions of different neuronal mechanisms are likely to depend on the nature of the behavior."

Paul Cisek, a neurophysiologist at the University of Montreal, says Shenoy's work is important to the study of motion control, as consideration of the influence of off-line activity had all but been forgotten in recent years. "The precise fraction of influence that planning processes have on movement variability is not easy to calculate, but probably not terribly important," he notes. "Knowing that it is there and that it is not negligible is important, whether it is 30 percent, 50 percent or 70 percent. It suggests that computational models of motor control need to take planning variability into account."

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