Author: Adamson Rust

Google brings Street View to Reina Sofia with Art Project

Google has launched Google Art Project, which allows users to virtually walk through museums and view artwork from around the world – in other words, Street View for art.

It took 18 months for Google to photograph the paintings and sculptures in 17 art museums, with a total of 486 artists from all over the world represented in the collections. Undoubtedly more will be added over time. Concerns have been raised in Austria over privacy, with Egon Schiele requesting his works in Österreichische Galerie Belvedere be removed. So far no Picassos have been stolen by a rogue engineer.

The technology used for the 360 degree virtual walkthrough of the museums is based on the same software for Street View and the entire project was started by some art enthusiasts at Google in their 20 percent personal projects work time.

Paintings can be viewed by clicking on them on the wall as you pass by or by selecting them from a drop-down list. The image loaded comes from a much larger and more accurate copy than the museum walkthrough, with the size up to 7 billion pixels, allowing very detailed zooming in and out.

An information tab is available on the right, which contains viewing notes, artwork history, a biography of the artist and other works by the artist

Users can also create a personalised collection of artwork they like and want to revisit later, effectively acting as a “my favourites” feature.

TechEye had a stroll through the National Gallery, admiring the artwork of Paolo Morando, Jacopo Bassano and Joachim Beuckelaer, among others. Initial fears that the artwork would be distorted like the odd image on Street View were unfounded and we found the zoom and information tab features to be extremely useful.

Colour-changing laptop, Areca RAID Controller, AMD GPUs

If you were ever on the lookout for a laptop that really stands out, check out the Toshiba Dynabook Qosmio T750, which has a colour-changing lid. HotHardware reported on the unusual device, which changes colour depending on the angle you view it in. When you’re done playing for hours with the psychedelic colours, it’s also a fairly reasonable machine on the inside, with a 15.6-inch display, 2.66GHz Intel Core i5-480M processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, 750GB of hard drive space, and the usual connectivity options like Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, eSATA and USB 2.0.

TweakTown reviewed the Areca ARC-1880ix-24 PCI-E x8 SATA/SAS RAID Controller with 24 Crucial RealSSD C300 solid state drives. It earned a rating of 93 percent, securing it the Best Performance award. Its high performance and multiple features were praised, while the lack of SSD-specific features was seen as a drawback. Price was also reasonable, given the high cost of SSDs, coming in at $1,110.

According to HardwareBistro, AMD is claiming that its Fusion accelerated processing units (APUs) will have a carbon footprint that is 40.3 percent lower than older products. The new APUs will only generate 40.2kg CO2e of GHG emissions, compared to 67.4kg of CO2e for previous models. While it may not matter for the performance enthusiast, who will be judging Fusion on other grounds entirely, environmentalists will be very pleased.

Tom’s Hardware checked out what two AMD Mobility Radeon HD 6970M 2GB graphics card were like in CrossFire on Eurocom’s Panther 2.0 gaming laptop. It rated pretty highly, almost bang on with two Nvidia GeForce GTX 480Ms in SLI, while costs were almost half. Even a single HD 6970M ran significantly faster than the Nvidia equivalent, giving AMD the crown of glory in this battle.

The Sapphire Pure Black X58 motherboard was reviewed by PureOC, which was seen as a bit of a surprise launch by Sapphire, given the older chipset employed compared to the popular P67 platform. Regardless, it was praised as a solid board, with a good design and layout, lots of features and connectivity options, a solid BIOS and “respectable” overclocking potential. Poor power design and lack of SLI were major drawbacks, however, as was the $300 price tag, which may simply not be justifiable for the lack of essential features, given cheaper options have filled those gaps.

Your TechEye also reviewed this today. Our one is here.

Intel finds bug in Sandy Bridge chipset

Intel has identified a defect in some of its chipsets and is implementing a fix for it, which will cost the company millions, lowering its financial outlook for the year.

The problem lies in the Serial-ATA ports of some of its Cougar Points, the Intel 6 Series of support chips, where the ports “may degrade over time”, resulting in lower performance of SATA connected devices. This chipset is employed with Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge processors, marking the first major setback for the Second Generation Intel Core processors.

Intel said it will work with its partners to ensure that returns of the defective models are accepted and that repairs and replacements will be offered.

The updated chipset, which contains a silicon fix for the design error, will ship in February and the replacements should be completed by April.

The stalled shipments, returns and replacements will have a significant negative impact on revenue for the company over the coming months. For the first quarter Intel expects its revenue to drop by $300 million, while total costs for discontinuing the current production line and issuing replacements will be in the region of $700 million.

Despite this, the acquistions of the wireless solutions business of Infineon Technologies AG and security software firm McAfee will help boost its revenue for the first quarter of 2011. Intel revised its forecast upwards slightly from between $11.5 billion to $11.7 billion, plus or minus $400 million.

Intel said that no other products are affected by the bug.

Sony secures restraining order against PS3 root key hacker

Sony has secured a restraining order against the lead hacker who revealed the root keys of the PlayStation 3, earning it a negative reputation among homebrew developers while rival Microsoft is working hard to keep everyone happy.

George Hotz, who goes by the name Geohot, discovered and publicly shared the root keys for the PS3 which allows anyone to circumvent the protection measures in the device for identifying legitimate game copies. This allows homebrew software to be utilised or pirated games to be played.

Sony sued Hotz and over 100 other defendants in the case and now the US District Court Judge Susan Illston ruled in favour of Sony for a requested restraining order on Hotz, on the basis that he has caused irreparable harm to the company by publishing the root keys.

The restraining order prohibits Hotz from “creating, posting online, marketing, advertising, promoting, installing, distributing, providing, or otherwise trafficking in any circumvention technology, products, services, methods, codes, software tools, devices, component or part thereof,” according to InformationWeek.

Hotz was also ordered to hand over his computers, hard drives, CDs, DVDs, USB sticks and any other storage device that contains the technology he used to circumvent Sony’s PlayStation 3 protection measures.

In stark contrast, Microsoft eventually welcomed the hacking of its motion capture gaming device, the Kinect, gaining a reputation among the homebrew community as a company that has taken a U-turn on its draconian stance to open source tinkery. While Sony is likely to win its case against the hackers, it may lose its case among homebrewers.

Time runs out for RIM in India Blackberry dispute

Problems for Research In Motion, the maker of the Blackberry, are mounting today after it failed to meet a deadline for providing access to its encrypted network to the Indian government.

RIM had until today, January 31, to meet the requirements, but it only offered partial access which the Indian authorities rejected.

Tensions have been mounting between RIM and India over recent months as it looks increasingly likely that the dispute will not be resolved. Earlier this month RIM said it would need two years to meet India’s demands. It also said it would not filter internet content and that it was impossible to provide India with the kind of access it was asking for. “There is no solution,” the company said.

The dispute is also carrying over to neighbouring lands, with Pakistan now calling for the same kind of access to encrypted information on the Blackberry network, citing similar security concerns, according to Reuters.

Minister of Home Affairs, Palaniappan Chidambaram, said that the government still wanted complete access to encrypted emails for security reasons and that it was likely that his Ministry would make a decision today on the fate of RIM in India.

RIM previously said it was confident that its service would not be banned in India. Today’s rejection of its offer by the Indian government may shatter that confidence.

Irish government party in trouble over unsolicited emails

Fianna Fáil, the political party that is in government in Ireland, is in big trouble with the Data Protection Commissioner over sending unsolicited emails out to people.

Complaints were lodged to the Commissioner by four people who had received emails looking for support in the upcoming General Election, which is only weeks away. The individuals said they were unaware of how Fianna Fáil got their email addresses and said that they never consented for their details to be used by the party.

The Data Protection Commissioner is not at all pleased, particularly considering it was only a few days ago that it warned all of Ireland’s political parties about their practices in the lead-up to the election, according to the Irish Examiner.

Some of these warnings included: “Do not attempt to obtain or use contact information from third parties” and “Avoid sending electoral messages to persons other than those — such as party members — who can reasonably be assumed to consent to receipt of such messages.”

The unsolicited emails were signed off by Micheál Martin, the new leader of the party after last week Taoiseach Brian Cowen lost the support of his coalition partners, the Green Party, and many politicians in his own party.

The messages outlined Martin’s goals for repairing the significantly damaged reputation of the party in the election campaign. This move is likely to further damage the party, however, which has fallen from the largest party in the country to one of the smallest in pre-election opinion polls.

The people who complained about the unsolicited emails are believed to be only a small number of those who received these messages and there are significant concerns over how the party got hold of their email addresses.

In the 2007 election 50 complaints were made over the same kind of unsolicited emails and it was discovered that parties were obtaining contact details from third party sources, such as friends, schools and sports clubs.

The Data Protection Commissioner contacted Fianna Fáil on Thursday and again on Friday, but so far has received no response. Now the Commissioner has given Fianna Fáil until later today to respond to its inquiries or it will escalate its investigation. If the party fails to comply, the Commissioner’s office can exercise powers for obtaining information.

“We expect an immediate response,” said Gary Davis, the Deputy Commissioner.

Facebook Places Deals tries to edge Foursquare out of Europe

Facebook is expanding its location-based service, Places Deals, to five countries in Europe, setting up some major competition for the likes of Foursquare and Groupon.

The the big five Zuckerberg’s gang is targeting are: the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Others will have to wait a bit longer before the service is available for them.

Two names that will be offering deals through the European service at launch are Starbucks and telecommunications operator O2, but this list is likely to expand rapidly over the coming weeks and months.

Foursquare already has a large presence in Europe, as does Groupon. In fact, they service many more European countries than Facebook is today – but the hybrid model and Facebook’s dominance as the social networking medium of choice for most means the new European service could really give rivals a run for their money.

Foursquare has previously claimed that Facebook Places was “boring” and not a threat, but when we look at the figures involved it paints a different picture. According to Bloomberg, around 200 million of Facebook’s half a billion members use Places Deals, suggesting that it is doing reasonably well. The fact that it was previously only available in the US means that this figure is likely to jump with the move into Europe.

Facebook claims that its service is very different to that of group buying website Groupon, because the location-aware element means that deals are offered based on the current location of the shopper.

Skype disappoints us, disappointingly

After experiencing first-hand what Skype’s attitude to fraud is, how it approaches its users’ security, and what kind of system is in place for refunding fraudulent calls made through its service – we’re frankly worried.

First, some background. On January 13 a number of fraudulent calls appeared on my account when I logged in. These were made to Indonesia and Egypt to numbers I did not recognise. They were also made when I was offline. Further calls were made when I was online, until I changed my password, which logged both me and the hacker out.

Not only was my Skype credit depleted as a result of the unauthorised calls, the Auto-recharge feature, which I had disabled, had been turned on and was used to charge the credit card which was stored in my Skype account – so that further credit could be bought and used without my permission.

Obviously fraud is something that happens, regardless of how safe we attempt to be or think we are, but what we do to prevent it and fix the situation when it arises is important. This is where Skype failed to such a large extent that a question mark was raised, at least for this scribbler, on the security of using its service and how well its customer support treats its paying customers.

When I reported the fraud to Skype, it was suggested that a keylogger may be on my computer or that I may have been the victim of a phishing site, which, while valid concerns, simply were not the case. Not only do I keep regularly updated antivirus, anti-spyware, firewalls and similar software, my passwords are all different for different sites and services, are difficult to guess or bypass through brute force, and are frequently changed. 

I ran all of my security software immediately after becoming aware of the hack and tried alternatives to see if a keylogger was on my computer, but nothing turned up. My email was not compromised, nor was anything else that I use, which means that the issue was with Skype alone.

Skype also refused to refund the fraudulent calls, saying: “Unfortunately, Skype is unable to refund any money that may have been lost because of this incident.” As you can imagine, this is not a satisfactory response for a customer – Skype was the vehicle through which the fraudulent calls were made. 

I pushed the matter further, asking numerous questions about Skype’s security, particularly why multiple people could sign into a single account at the same time. It was only after mentioning that I was a journalist that I got a “We’ve had to reverse your order” email three days later, refunding the charge to my card that was fraudulently made through Auto-recharge. 

However, Skype was still refusing to refund my initial balance, which was now wiped to €0. The log of the calls to Indonesia and Egypt was also now inaccessible, making it impossible for me to view them and calculate how much was spent on my account.

I decided to escalate the matter to Skype’s public relations team. Skype Support proved so unsatisfactory. I raised the point that since Auto-recharge could not be permanently disabled and since Skype allows credit card details to be stored within its system and charged via Auto-recharge, it appears that it is facilitating this form of fraud.

When coupled with the fact that Skype was so vehemently refusing to refund the amount, it also appeared that Skype was happy to take illicitly gained dosh from me.

TechEye spoke to Adrian Asher, Chief Information Security Officer at Skype, who denied this. “I can assure you that Skype does not profit from nor intends to profit from fraudulent activity,” he said. “We take instances of customer fraud very seriously and continue to invest significantly in anti-fraud measures to protect them.”

Asher also addressed a number of other concerns I raised over the security of using Skype. I was particularly concerned over multiple simultaneous logins to a single account and the inability to permanently disable Auto-recharge.

Skype Support told me that multiple logins to a single account is a “deliberate feature” and that “no security risk is posed”. It was not explained to me how this was safe, given another individual was able to use my account while I was online.

Asher gave a more detailed response on this concern. “Multi-IP log-ins are designed to allow a user to log-in to Skype from multiple devices no matter where they are. This is designed to be a feature that allows convenience and accessibility. Many Skype customers utilise this functionality to its full capacity. Our product teams continue to refine these features so that we can ensure situations like yours don’t occur. Auto-recharge is another example of an intuitive function designed to make life easier for customers with the aim to ensure that they have Credit readily available to make calls. Again, while there are pitfalls we want to fix them where possible.”

I’m sure this is a very useful feature for some, but my concern was that if I can log in from multiple locations, even at the same time, it opens more doors for abuse by hackers without it kicking you offline or telling them “You are already logged in.”

I pressed this issue further with Asher, asking why it never showed up on Skype’s fraud radar that I had logged in from Ireland and another location at the same time. He said: “Using geographical data to track log-in locations is an area that has been considered. However, the fact that a large percentage of our user-base travels between countries extensively means that we do not currently offer this functionality to restrict which country your account can be logged in from. Our security systems constantly analyse and attempt to identify any out of pattern behaviour to try and minimise any impact of a customer’s account being taken over.”

The problem with Auto-recharge I found was that, in my case, I had disabled it – but it was so easily re-enabled at the click of a button. A Skype spokesperson initially tried to suggest that this could only be accessed after entering your password, but if your account has been hacked your password has already been compromised and offers no additional layer of protection for setting up the service.

Why isn’t it possible to permanently disable Auto-recharge? On two grounds: to prevent this kind of fraud abuse and as a parental control system. For example, it could easily be used by kids using their parent’s Skype account to charge their parent’s card for calls to friends.

In response to this Asher said: “I understand the risk that you are detailing here and must admit that this is one of the first requests that we’ve had for this capability to be locked out. Auto-recharge has been developed, like all of our features, to meet customer demand. One way to achieve what you are describing would be to add your credit card to a PayPal account and then you can perform funding via this method. As long as you don’t set up a PayPal agreement there is no ability for repeat billing.

“As a parent of a ten year old boy I am all too aware of the potential dangers of the internet so I appreciate the scenario that you are detailing. Our advice in the first instance is always that young children should not be left unsupervised to use the Internet. That having been said, the balance of a child’s account could be provided via PayPal, which as before would remove the capability to auto top up.”

This is a kind of work-around which will disable Auto-recharge, but it also means that there will be PayPal fees involved. It’s also a particularly inelegant way to avoid the problems at hand, but at least there is an option available for those like me who would like to use Skype, but are concerned about storing their details and having them abused through Auto-recharge.

I was getting conflicting and contradictory messages from Skype Support and Skype’s public relations team. It should be noted that at this stage, after having contacted Skype PR, my Skype Credit balance was fully refunded for those fraudulent calls – despite Skype Support telling me it would not be refunded.

In fact, on the same day I contacted Skype PR I decided to contact Skype Support again about the issue of them not refunding me. It took two days for them to respond, by which time a refund was already given from contacting PR. Yet, Skype Support still told me: “Unfortunately we are not able to refund any money that may have been lost due to this incident.” We appreciate the help of the PR team but at the same time the average user is likely to lose out.

Interestingly, the reason for the delayed response from Skype Support given was: “We apologise for the delay in our response, due to an unexpected increase in the number of recent inquiries, it has taken us longer than usual to respond to you.” We can only guess what these “recent inquiries” are.

I asked Asher why contradictory messages on refunds were given from different departments within Skype, to which he responded: “We always intend to resolve every customer service issue to the customer’s satisfaction, regardless of who they are. Given that you were not satisfied with the outcome on this occasion we dealt with this case exactly as we would any other, and hope that you will continue to use Skype.”

As for whether or not I will continue to use Skype, I will. We use it at TechEye to share ideas, comments, and general chit-chat. What has changed for me is that I am no longer willing to store my credit card details in Skype, but will use PayPal instead. If a refund was not afforded, however, I would have been reluctant to buy Skype Credit – since it could easily have been wiped again.

I was also left wondering if this situation would have remained unresolved for me if I had not escalated it and if I was not a journalist. Skype Support proved unhelpful and uncooperative. I would like to think that an average customer would have found the same resolution as I did, with card charges and credit balances refunded and restored, because every customer deserves this kind of satisfactory treatment. I cannot honestly say that I believe this would be the case.

The question still hangs over the cases of other customers who were faced with the cut and paste “no refunds” policy.

MSI Windows 7 tablet, AMD HD 6990, Kingmax 4GB DRAM module

MSI has launched its Windpad 100W Windows 7 tablet in the UK, according to Device Magazine. It features a 10.1-inch touchscreen, a 1.6GHz Atom Z530 single-core processor, 2GB of DDR2 RAM, 32GB SSD storage, an SD card reader, USB 2.0 slots, mini HDMI port, and a battery life of over six hours. It has a price tag of around $650.

Tweaktown brings news of AMD’s upcoming Radeon HD 6990, a dual-Cayman graphics card that is rumoured to have 3072 stream processors and 4GB of GDDR5 memory over two 256-bit memory interfaces. It is also expected to have a dual-vapour chamber design, dual Crossfire connectors, a dual-slot cooler, and four mini-DisplayPort outputs. If the rumours are true it’s promising to be a beast of a card.

The Lian Li PC-X2000F chassis was tested out by PureOC, which labelled it as a “top-notch premium case”. The 140mm fans run quietly at different speeds and well-positioned. Custom water cooling is available through a radiator installation at a the front. The case also looks good, with a minimalist design. However, the lack of SSD mounting, limited air flow when using all of the hot swap bays, difficulty adding an optical drive, and overall price are a few of its drawbacks.

HardwareHeaven reviewed the PowerColor Radeon HD 6950 PCS++ graphics card, which earned a rating of 10 out of 10, along with a Gold, Performance and Value award, thanks to its increased performance over the standard model and its very reasonable price. Flawless performance while running 3D, high-definition movies, and top-end games sealed the deal.

Kingmax has launched a 4GB 2,400MHz DRAM module, according to HardwareBistro. It is aimed at overclocking enthusiasts and supports the Intel P55 chipset. It comes with nano thermal dissipation technology and 10 percent greater thermal performance over conventional heat sink options. It also features a lifeitme warranty.

Intel launches free Open FCoE software stack upgrade

Intel has launched Open Fibre Channel over Ethernet (OFoC), a free software stack that will speed up data centre traffic over unified networking.

The Open Fibre Channel over Ethernet technology can be run using Intel’s 10Gb Ethernet Server Adapter X520 range or Cisco’s Nexus 10Gb Ethernet switches, which can significantly boost speeds across the network.

Compatibility for Open FcoE is supported by a number of companies, including Cisco, Dell, EMC, Netapp, Oracle and Red Hat, all of whom have worked closely with Intel.

Intel claims it will also save companies lots of money and have a lower environmental impact. It estimated that infrastructure costs could be lowered by 29 percent and cable costs could be cut by 80 percent, while power usage could be halved.

In fact, Intel believes its new technology is so good that it can reduce IT spending throughout the world by a whopping $3 billion per year and that in the process 400 million feet of data centre cabling will be saved, which it claims is enough to wrap around the Earth three times.

Open FcoE is part of Intel’s aims for Cloud 2015 and part of its Open Data Centre initiative announced in October.

Those who have any of Intel’s X520 range of products can get a free update to Intel Open FCoE.