European Union approves Oracle-Sun takeover

Oracle will be allowed to take over Sun Microsystems, the European Commission said today.

Neelie Kroes, the antitrust commissioner gave complete clearance to the deal – Oracle bought Sun for $7.4 billion.

She said she is satisfied that competition will be preserved by the takeover. But that’s come after months of investigation into the deal. Part of the worry was that the open source database MySQL would turn into a shadow of its former self, seeing that Oracle is primarily a database company.

American authorities had already cleared the deal, and late last year Oracle helped the EU process by saying that it would continue to develop MySQL and to keep it free.

That’s obviously allayed a lot of Ms Kroes’ fears.

Bill Gates defines unbiased news

Not only is Bill Gates active on Twitter, he’s also opened a website where he gives his musings on life, the universe, and the media.

Bill Gates courtesy WikCoGates Notes includes questions from readers that Bill might care to answer. One asks Bill where he or she can find unbiased news. A “UK based media executive” asks him what mass media outlets he reads.

Bill doesn’t watch much TV, but his taste in journalism is pretty conventional. He likes the Economist, Scientific American, New Yorker, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and the New York Times.

You may not be surprised to learn that he likes Slate too. He doesn’t proffer any opinion on online rags like ours. Maybe he just doesn’t want to say.

Right now he thinks we need innovation, not insulation. You can find Bill Gates’ Notes, right here.

Tim Berners-Lee opens government data to world

The man responsible for inventing the world wide web has opened a web site today that gives access to government data.

The site,, is intended to open UK government data up to people, and is being advised by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt. The site does not identify people or provide ways to identify people.

Tim Berners-Lee, courtesy WikiCommsIt’s been under development for several months and opens today to allow people accessing it to help towards making it better.

The government, the site says, is opening data for other people to re-use, and includes information like a list of schools, crime rates and the performance of  councils. It has government sanction.

On the front page are a number of applications including historic house price data from the Land Registry, ways to find your nearest chemist using GPS built into the iPhone, and finding NHS dentists.

The last is not easy, certainly in many parts of the country.

Other ideas proposed include distribution and expenditure of council tax.

Nokia introduces free Ovi Maps for Smartphones

Nokia has rolled out its Ovi Maps feature for free to ten existing handset models. The GPS service will also become a standard feature on all new smartphones.

Ovi maps will be the first serious rival for Google’s navigation on some Android phones, as well as taking on the in-car GPS systems like Tom Tom.  As with previous Ovi launches, Nokia is encouraging developers to create new applications using the mapping data.

The Ovi mobile mapping software has always been technically free, but if you wanted the live traffic info and turn-by-turn voice navigation you had to pay extra. Now these are included in the free package along with Lonely Planet guides to cities and Michelin food guides.

Nokia Ovi maps

Operators can still charge for data downloads. Meaning that although being able to pre-download maps to your phone for long journeys, so that you’ll be able to navigate without a data connection to save battery or when you’re out of service range, there may be a charge.

The GPS is also pedestrian friendly as will also be the option to take shortcuts, if the user is on foot, through pedestrian-only areas and parks.

Over 83 million Nokia handsets sold over the past couple of years will be able to use the service straight away, with more added soon. The popular N97 won’t be included until the end of the month.

Firefox and Opera open the champagne

Internet browsers Firefox and Opera have seen a huge spike in downloads since the security flaw in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) was exposed.

Big Cheeses in the Mozzarella Foundation claim they have experienced more than 300,000 extra downloads for their Firebadger product over a four-day period in Germany.

Opera sings that Germans have downloaded more than 18,000 in a day over last weekend.

FirefoxGoogle would not comment on whether or not it had experienced a surge in Chrome downloads.

The reaction follows the  Federal Office for Information and Security in Germany and French government owned Certa telling the great unwashed to use an alternative browser until Microsoft could issue a fix for the security problem.

Microsoft will be releasing a security update soon to help conquer the problem, but in the meantime its advising IE6 and IE7 customers to upgrade to IE8.

However the damage might be done.  One of the biggest difficulties the likes of Firefox and Opera had was getting people to try their browsers.  System admins once installing Firefox across a company are also less likely to want to install something else.

Iphone saved film maker's life

A US film maker who was trapped under the rubble in the Haiti earthquake claims that he owes his life to Steve Jobs and his iphone.

According to Wired, Dan Woolley was shooting a documentary about the impact of poverty in Haiti when the earthquake struck.

Haiti flagHe said that after being crushed by a pile of rubble, Woolley used his digital SLR to illuminate his surroundings and snap photos of the wreckage in search of a safe place. He hid in an elevator shaft, where he followed instructions from an iPhone first-aid app to fashion a bandage and tourniquet for his leg and to stop the bleeding from his head.

The iPhone warned Woolley not to fall asleep if he felt he was going into shock, so he set his alarm clock to go off every 20 minutes. We guess he didn’t have the battery to waste on listening to his extensive Coldplay collection or play games.  The network was down so he couldn’t contact anyone.

He was saved 65 hours later by a French rescue team.

Garmin-Asustek to show off Android smart phones

The alliance between Garmin and Asustek will be showing off the fruit of its labours at the  Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade fair.

Benson Lin, president of Asustek’s handheld device business unit said that the first thing made will be an Android-powered smartphone, followed by four or five new Windows Mobile or Android phones in 2010.

The products are expected to sell a million units, Lin added.

AndroidIn addition to the Android handset, Asustek will also show off its new Windows Mobile 6.5.3-based smartphone, the M10. The M10 is based on a Qualcomm 7224 600MHz processor and equipped with a 3.5-inch WVGA resistive touch panel and a 5-megapixel camera plus GPS functionality.

The M10 will hit the shops in early February with a suggested retail price of $434.4.

The glorious alliance is flat out designing shiny objects for the Chinese market.  It plans its first TD-SCDMA handset for the China market by the end of the year.

Swedes will open their networks for chocolate

It does not matter what security provisions you have on your network, your average Swede will reveal all their passwords to a Chinese hacker for a block of chocolate, a new survey has revealed.

The news agency TT sent out one of their hacks pretending to be a representative of an anti-virus company conducting a public survey on password habits.

Chocolate from WikiAfter being promised chocolate for taking part in the survey, many Swedes cheerfully disclosed their Internet passwords to the reporter, TT said.

While security experts have been extolling the virtues of keeping a tight lid on passwords, but it looks like 23 of the 34 Swedes will turn over the computer network to a complete stranger for something sweet.

A block of choc will get you passwords for both pay sites and social sites like Facebook.

Recently another survey, of 5,000 computer users found only 30 percent claimed they never forgot a password, three of four said they used one password for a number of sites, and two-thirds said they had not changed their passwords in over a year.

Boffins measure memory spin technology

Technologists working in smoke filled labs have  worked out a way to use electric fields to manipulate the spin  property of electrons to store data permanently.

The breakthrough could  improve random access memory (RAM) in computers, bring above a new  generation of gizmos and bring about peace in our lunchtime.

Image from Wiki CommonsThe new kind of memory uses  “tunnel magnetoresistance” or TMR.  This is basically two thin layers of a magnetic material are separated from each other by an insulator.

The insulator does not allow electrons to pass unless some of the charge carriers sneak from one side to the other, often disguised as something quirky and quantum.

It also takes advantage of the intrinsic angular momentum of all electrons, which physicists call “spin”.  According to physics there are two spin states an electron can be in: either “up” or “down”.

If most of the spins are oriented the same way in both magnetic layers of this TMR sandwich, then electrons tunnel much more easily than if one magnetic layer has mostly “up” spins and the other has “down” spins.

It can be used for rapid and repeated data writes, much like conventional memory, but also capable of permanently storing this data.

In the past TMR-based memory known as MRAM has needed strong magnetic fields to write data which means the powerbill suffers too much.

However boffins Vincent Garcia and Manuel Bibes changed all this with an insulator made out of barium titanate.  This is fairly obvious to hacks who all know that spin usually involves a bar somewhere.

Now another set of boffins,  Sergio Valencia and Florian Kronast have used X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) to study the chemical composition of the magnetic layers of this sandwich.

Armed with this information they can use an electric field to switch the insulator in a way that influences the electron spins in the magnetic layers either side of it, thereby influencing the electron tunnelling as well.

Since the insulator keeps the same switched state when all current is removed, this model could be used to build PC memory that draws very little power and still stores data permanently.  We are still not certain if the cat is dead or alive yet.

“Spiritual not religious” people just looking to get laid

Putting “spiritual not religious” in your social not-working site profile is a cunning plan to get sex, according to a new online survey.

The survey, conducted by Constantine Sedikides, a social psychologist at Southampton University, in Britain, claims that people subconsciously paint flattering pictures of themselves by revealing they have inner spiritual beliefs.

In the shrink mag Personality and Social Psychology Review, which we get for the Spot the Ego competition, he found a strong link between spiritual convictions and social attractiveness.

After testing 15,000 subjects she found that even those who attend conservative religious institutions are now so prone to say they’re “spiritual, but not religious.”

The trend is more noticeable in the United States and Canada, where apparently it is more important that people believe in God.  But if they get specific by saying “I am a Christian” or “Jeff died for your Sins” then desirability rapidly goes down.

Sedikides is unsure why this is the case.  He speculates that people believe the self-worth of a person rises if they believe themselves, or others, are valued in the eyes of a divine reality.

Others think that people assume, rightly or wrongly, “spiritual” people may be more trustworthy, believe in something beyond their own self-interest or are less likely to run off and shag someone else.

By calling yourself spiritual rather than religious you are saying that you are not just mindlessly following the dictates of a religious system.
However, personality profiles are more of a marketing tool for those on the dating scene.  It implies you have a bit of depth, think about the meaning of life, take time to wonder about the beauty of a flower or the smile on a baby’s face.  So… wot r u wearing?