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Steven Warshak, the man behind the "natural male enhancement" product Enzyte often advertised on late-night TV, has successfully challenged the government's ability to access his e-mails without obtaining a search warrant or giving notification to Warshak. HangZhou Night Net

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the government had acted improperly in its wire fraud and money laundering case against Warshak and his company. As part of the case (which we reported on earlier), the feds secured a court order under the Stored Communications Act (SCA)that allowedthem to access Warshak's stored online e-mail.

A court order does not require the full "probable cause" level of evidence demanded by a subpoena, but it does involve some judicial oversight. Normally, a court order of this kind requires notification so that the subject of the order can challenge it, but in this case, the judge gave the government 90 days to look at the e-mails before it needed to contact Warshak. This is allowed under the SCA, but Warshak argued that gaining access to his e-mail without 1) a warrant or 2) a court order with notification was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The Appeals Court ruled in Warshak's favor. In the decision, the Court noted that the rules "still allow seizures of e-mails pursuant to a warrant or with prior notice to a subscriber" but that the ability to get the court order without notification was no longer allowed.

The court also responded positively to the idea that e-mails should be given the same privacy protection as phone calls. This means that getting access to an ISP's customer information database would be allowed without a warrant, but getting access to the actual text of the e-mails would not. In the telecom world, this is analogous to the "pen register" that grabs data about what phone numbers are being dialed but does not provide access to the content of the call.

The Court found that "individuals maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy in e-mails that are stored with, or sent or received through, a commercial ISP," dealing a blow to government attempts to get easier access to e-mails stored with an ISP than those stored on a suspect's own computer. Protecting the privacy of e-mail is "as important to Fourth Amendment principles today as protecting telephone conversations has been in the past."

"E-mail users expect that their Hotmail and Gmail inboxes are just as private as their postal mail and their telephone calls," said EFF staff attorney Kevin Bankston, who helped draft an amicus brief in the case. "The government tried to get around this common-sense conclusion, but the Constitution applies online as well as offline, as the court correctly found. That means that the government can't secretly seize your emails without a warrant."

With that important e-mail issue resolved, the case against Warshak will continue.

Gateway has announced that it is recalling 14,000 notebook batteries from laptops sold during the months of May and June 2003. The recall is in response to high temperatures that occur in lithium-ion batteries that could potentially cause a fire. The faulty batteries can be found in Gateway notebook models 400VTX and 450ROG and will be replaced for free. Not every model uses these batteries though, so here's how to find out if yours does. HangZhou Night Net

To find your battery number, you'll need to remove your battery from your laptop. Before doing this, make sure your LCD is closed, and your laptop is face down, back up. Unlock the notebook battery lock and slide open the battery release latch, then slide the battery out of the bay. On the battery you'll find two numbers: a serial number and a battery part number. If your battery has part numbers 6500760 or 6500761, then you have one of Gateway's faulty batteries. To exchange your battery for a new one, fill out Gateway's Battery Exchange Request Form.

Last year Sony issued a worldwide recall for Sony-manufactured lithium-ion batteries that shipped in Lenovo/IBM, Dell, Apple, and Toshiba notebook computers after battery malfunctions caused a Lenovo ThinkPad battery to burst into flames in a Los Angeles airport. Earlier this year, Lenovo recalled ThinkPad batteries for over 208,000 notebooks after overheating issues caused damage to a number of notebooks. Speaking of Toshiba, the company yesterday stepped up its own notebook battery recall after a laptop caught fire in Britain last month. Toshiba is currently in talks with Sony to discuss a reimbursement for the recall, which is expected cost Sony roughly $400 million when all is said and done.

A new battery standardization project hopes to make recalls a thing of the past. The Association Connecting Electronics Industries (IPC) Lithium Ion Battery Subcommittee said last year that the IPC expected to have a completed a lithium-ion battery standard for laptops and handheld devices by this time (it has yet to arrive). In December the IEEE said that it expected its revised IEEE 1625 standard to be completed by the end of 2007, at that rate though, we likely won't see the finished product until sometime in 2008.

Without an official standard for lithium-ion batteries, manufacturers like Matsushita have taken matters into their own hands. Last December Matsushita developed a safer lithium-ion battery for notebooks that uses a heat-resistant insulator between the cathode and the anode of a battery that prevents punctures from short-circuiting batteries.

After a few runs, I began to ask whether I was pushing myself hard enough. I could always try to up my personal best, but that isn't always the best indication of whether you are working as hard as you should be. Ideally, I would use a heart rate monitor, but that is significantly more money than I'd already spent. Second best would be a personal trainer to motivate me to work my hardest, but unfortunately that would be even more expensive than the heart rate monitor.HangZhou Night Net

So what am I (and you) to do? Luckily for us, Nike has us covered. On the iTunes Store, the shoe company has a variety of different workouts available to help keep your running steady. Today we will look at Improve our Endurance 1.

There is the saying "Nothing in life is free." Well, these workouts are no exception. Some might even consider them a poor value, but hold any judgment until the end. For $14.99, you get ten full-length songs from the hip-hop genre, including tracks by Obie Trice, Busta, and the Pussycat Dolls. You also get an additional track entitled the "Continuous Mix," which is the full workout track, and a digital booklet. The "Continuous Mix," which changes songs to go along with the speed in which you are supposed to run at any given time, also features a voiceover with training instructions (the continuous mix only works with iPod nanos, by the way). Here, the instructions say to do a ten-minute warmup, four sets of three-minute speed intervals, and then ten minutes of cool-down.

I know what you are asking: "If that's the workout routine, why not just do that? Why not just use music you already have and a stopwatch?" For some, that method might be enough, but for those of us that like the encouragement and time updates that a personal trainer, a coach, or a voiceover track provides, this workout works well. There is something to be said for a voice telling you that you are halfway there or that there are "only three minutes" remaining. The change of tempos and intensity throughout the workout does a lot for your mindset during your run, too. If the 42:49 running time seems like too much or doesn't fit into your schedule, you can always do what I do and tailor it to your ability or needs. For me that means not using the entire 42 minutes but instead using the track for a given distance.

Here is the bad: if you are to the point where you can run intervals more than twice a week, and this is the only interval training track you have, this music will get pretty boring pretty quickly. If you run this interval training once a week, it isn't so bad, but you will begin to feel some hatred for the Pussycat Dolls after a while. Be warned!

Fox Entertainment Group announced its intention to get into Internet broadcasting this morning through a partnership with Internet TV service Brightcove. The group, which carries Fox, FX, and SPEED, will be hosting targeted, ad-supported content on Brightcove, which will then allow users to share and embed that content wherever they please. The partnership also allows Fox to syndicate its content through affiliates' web sites as well as social networks. HangZhou Night Net

Brightcove, in some ways, is akin to a YouTube for major content providers in that it allows them to make content available via a web page and syndicate it through other sites. Unlike YouTube, Brightcove allows its partners to choose whether or not their content can be embedded by users and allows the providers to plant advertising in their videos. Although the companies don't specify whether the content from Fox will be in the form of full shows or clips, initial inspection indicates that clips will be the norm.

Fox Digital Media VP David Baron said in a statement that the partnership would help the company in its goal to deliver its content to consumers in as many ways as possible. "Brightcove's tools and services enable us to quickly and easily deploy broadband video on our network Web sites while retaining control over the quality, brand experience, and monetization of our content," he added.

Notice the word "control," for that's what this YouTube-ish plan is all about. Entertainment companies like Fox would prefer to keep as much control as possible, and that includes control over advertising placement. As streaming video grows online, Fox and others will always want the option of working ad deals across their distribution channels, as opposed to turning it over to another ad rep, such as Google's folks at YouTube.

Some of Brightcove's other broadcast partners include Sky Broadcasting, Discovery, National Geographic, and MTV. Brightcove also inked a deal with CBS last month that would make the company the main syndication platform for all CBS News online. Unlike the deal with Fox, however, Brightcove's deal with CBS does not involve a user-embeddable Flash player. Fox's move to include one signals a certain level of comfort in allowing their content to be rebroadcast nearly anywhere, outside of (some of) its control.

Brightcove VP of marketing and advertising Adam Berry told Variety that while other networks may be trying to offer Internet-based content through their own solutions, such an endeavor could be limiting. "They're basically limited by the capabilities of their tech team," he told the magazine. "What this does is let the media companies focus on what they do best, creating great content and marketing that content."

Fox's deal with Brightcove to syndicate content online in this manner is among the first from the major TV networks. The announcement also comes just before the launch of the much-anticipated video sharing network announced by News Corp. in March. Those plans also involve providing free, ad-supported TV content through a number of partnerships with various syndication channels, and will launch sometime late summer/early fall with a laundry list of popular TV shows and movies.

The FCC believes that television violence could be regulated in a constitutional manner, and a recent report on the issue laid out some possible ways this might be done. One of the popular solutions is "time channeling," or allowing certain kinds of content only during certain hours. But does time channeling still make sense in an on-demand world? HangZhou Night Net

Given that this was one of the FCC's major proposed solutions to the problem of violence on TV, it's a question worth considering. Robert Corn-Revere, a First Amendment legal expert, recently weighed in on the matter at a Progress & Freedom Foundation panel discussion in Washington, DC. The transcript from that event has just become available, and in it Corn-Revere draws a parallel between "time channeling" and the French Maginot Line.

The Line, as any student of World War II history can recount, was meant to stop a direct German invasion of France, but it did not cover France's border with Belgium nor the approach through the Ardennes Forest, which was considered impassable. Germany's attack, when it came, came through Belgium and the Ardennes; the immense fortifications of the Maginot Line were irrelevant.

"Requiring time channeling for broadcasting is a bit like an electronic Maginot Line," said Corn-Revere. "We live in a world in which people watching television at the time it's broadcast is an increasingly unrealistic phenomenon. In the age of TiVo, even in the age of VCRs, it isn't a solution to say you are simply going to make the program appear later in the evening if that means that people will simply watch it when they’ve taped it or recorded it on a digital video recorder to watch later."

Time-shifting has been possible for years, but the rise of the DVR, P2P file-swapping, and the willingness of networks to stream shows from their web sites has made the process much simpler than programming a VCR ever was. While this certainly doesn't mean that time channeling won't keep plenty of kids away from plenty of violent content, it does look like a solution bound to become increasingly ineffective.

The FCC might also find strict limits placed on any authority it gets to regulate violent programming. The agency currently has the right to regulate indecent material, but the definition of indecency appeals to contemporary community standards; as these change, it becomes harder for the FCC to enforce older rules. We saw this in the recent appeals court decision allowing fleeting curse words even on network TV. The court's argument suggested that if curse words are good enough for Bush and Cheney, they are good enough for Bono.

Any regulation will also need to pass constitutional muster, something that has been hard to do for legislation on violence in video games. Though the FCC is confident it can set up a constitutional system for TV shows, most video game laws have been struck down by courts around the country.

The FCC could run into similar problems with respect to regulating violence. Many parents do want to keep their kids away from violent content (FCC Commissioner Adelstein says in the report that his own children can be deeply troubled by trailers for horror movies), but the fact that so many people watch violent television shows and movies suggests that there's a pretty high tolerance for solving problems with a gun. That could mean that a "community standards"-based definition may actually regulate very little content.

Last week NBC/Universal general counsel Rick Cotton argued that law enforcement resources are "misaligned." Cotton says it's wrong to focus on real property theft and potentially deadly crimes when cops could be out enforcing intellectual property laws. HangZhou Night Net

Cotton wasn't finished. He filed a response on behalf of NBC Universal to the FCC's call for comments last week on the broadband industry and net neutrality which says, in effect, that net neutrality is a waste of time. The FCC should be focusing on… you guessed it, piracy!

Cotton had harsh words for the government's lack of involvement in shutting down P2P and BitTorrent file sharing. "It is inconceivable that the U.S. government would stand by mutely and permit any other legitimate U.S. business to be hijacked in this fashion," he wrote. "Would the government permit Federal Express or UPS to knowingly operate delivery services in which 60-70% of the payload consisted of contraband, such as illegal drugs or stolen goods?"

Cotton also argues that the entire net neutrality debate is essentially the result of unfettered piracy online, as he cites a study which claims that two-thirds of traffic online stems from piracy. Remove the pirates, and the congestion disappears, he suggests.

Cotton then argued that the DMCA, whose Safe Harbor provisions make sites like YouTube possible and also protects ISPs from piracy which occurs on their networks, is ill-equipped to handle today's P2P threat. Service providers apply the minimum amount of effort to meet the DMCA standard and sometimes even jeopardize that by failing to enforce their own user agreements, he argued.

The only solution, in Cotton's view, is to make ISPs take action against piracy on their networks, using any legal means necessary. "The Commission should make unmistakably clear, as part of its regulations governing broadband industry practices, that broadband service providers have an obligation to use readily available means to prevent the use of their broadband capacity to transfer pirated content," he wrote. Such efforts could include better takedown notification practices as well as "using increasingly sophisticated bandwidth management tools."

While Cotton didn't name AT&T in his filing, this kind of approach is exactly what AT&T is planning to implement at the behest of the nation's major entertainment trade groups, including the MPAA and the RIAA. Many people consider this to be synonymous with spying, and still others object to the notion that ISPs need to become copyright enforcement cops for the entertainment industry. One thing is certain: there is no "anti-piracy" switch that can be flipped. Technological means will snare innocent users and cross into very questionable privacy grounds.

Cotton is completely correct when he asserts that Congress didn't really know what they were getting into when they penned the DMCA. However, few in 1998 could have imagined that Congress would someday be asked to mandate that ISPs actively filter their network traffic for copyrighted material, yet this is precisely what Cotton seems to believe Congress should have done.

However, we need to look no further than US colleges and universities to see why this approach can be a big headache. College IT administrators already see themselves as starting a costly "arms race" with pirates who are always one step ahead of their technological tracking means.

The entire filing is available as a PDF.

Movie rental chain Blockbuster has decided to make Blu-ray the next-generation HD format of choice in its 1,700 corporate-owned stores. Starting in July, Blockbuster outlets will begin carrying over 170 Blu-ray titles and will add additional titles as they are released from the studios. HangZhou Night Net

Last November, Blockbuster began piloting HD rentals in 250 of its stores, offering discs in both HD DVD and Blu-ray format. According to the chain, Blu-ray rentals "significantly" outpaced HD DVD rentals. Rentals aside, HD DVD leads Blu-ray in terms of the number of standalone players sold so far, but when the Sony PlayStation 3 and its Blu-ray optical drive is added to the mix, the amount of hardware in the wild capable of playing Blu-ray outnumbers that of HD DVD. Combine the rental and hardware numbers with the greater number of studios backing Blu-ray, and it's an easy decision for Blockbuster.

"We intend to meet the demands of our customers and based on the trends we're seeing, we're expanding our Blu-ray inventory to ensure our stores reflect the right level of products," said Blockbuster SVP for merchandising Matthew Smith in a statement. In so many words, Blockbuster sees a brighter future for Blu-ray and has a finite amount of shelf space available in its stores for HD content.

Blockbuster's decision is not a indication of the imminent demise of HD DVD, but it doesn't do the format any favors either. While both next-gen disc formats will be available via Blockbuster's mail rental service, spur-of-the-moment HD rentals at the chain will have to be Blu-ray only.

Blockbuster is keeping the door cracked open for HD DVD. "While it is still too early to say which high-definition format will become the industry standard, we will continue to closely monitor customer rental patterns both at our stores and online, so we can adjust our inventory mix accordingly and ensure that Blockbuster is offering customers the most convenient access to the movies they want, in the format they want," said Smith.

Blockbuster's decision is a win for Blu-ray and bad news for HD DVD. Consumers considering plunking down some dough for an HD player will be hearing the message that if they want to be able to rent HD movies, Blu-ray is the only option. If that message takes hold, HD DVD price cuts and rebates may not be enough to convince consumers otherwise.

The Dock could have been a contender. There could have been extended menus everywhere, like the iTunes Dockling that allows for control of the application without giving it focus. There could have been application notification like Mail and its red badge of e-mail totals. Back in the early days of OS X, there were also Docklings for system notification, like Airport signal strength, but then came the great Menuling Revolt. Mac OS Graybeards screamed their spatial heads off for a clock in the Menu Bar, as if that could make up for what was done to the Finder in the basement of The Campus in Cupertino. HangZhou Night Net

It didn't, of course, but Menulings did kill the Dock. At least that's my conspiracy theory.

For whatever reason, the most basic and obvious functionality remains missing from the Dock to this day. While you can add folders, navigate them, and even drop files into them, there are still no spring-loaded folders for the Dock. When you insert a disc or mount a volume, it can show up on the Desktop and screw with your layout or appear in the Sidebar of the Finder, even when it's not mounted, like the iDisk. However, if you want to see a volume appear and disappear from the Dock, you are out of luck.

Until now.

Greg Weston has done what Apple engineers could not—or were not allowed to do—simply because he could.

So I was reading Macintouch on the morning of May
16, 2007, and saw someone complain about the hassle of getting at
volume icons that may be hidden under other windows. I thought a
solution might be a fun project. Here's the result. It's fairly small
and very focussed.

Volumizer is a nifty System Preference that has exactly two checkboxes: one to display volumes in the Dock and one to display volumes in the Menu Bar. When it resides in the Menu Bar, it has that ugly, little drive icon and a drop-down menu that lists mounted volumes. Select one and a Finder window opens. Hover the pointer and a tooltip showing the path appears.

Unfortunately, you cannot eject a volume from the Menu Bar list. If you want that kind of functionality, you might want to look at Ejector. However, if you want to be reminded that putting your computer to sleep while a share is mounted and a clean desktop, then Volumizer could be functionality you've been waiting on from Apple for seven years.

To quote Steve Jobs, "Boom." Just like that, your disk images, optical discs, iPods, and shares will finally be where they should have always been, in the Dock. The extended menu of each volume has an eject option too. Unfortunately, volumes can neither be navigated like folders in the Dock, nor can files be dragged and dropped on to the them. Also, volumes always appear from the right, left of the dividing bar, just like applications. This means that volumes will be interspersed with applications as they are opened and closed. Arranging volumes and keeping them in the Dock isn't a solution, either. Moving the iDisk to the left and keeping it in the Dock after ejecting first produced a faded icon with a question mark, then a normal icon, but one that could not be mounted by clicking. Besides, the whole point is to clearly see what volumes are mounted. Perhaps a future version could place volumes on the left or right automatically—hint, hint.

Nonetheless, Volumizer is awesome, and it's donationware. This means you can be a person of questionable ethics and get it for free, or toss a couple of bucks the way of a developer who has done what Apple should have done years ago.

The brains behind Joost aren't content to just serve up video to PC users. The company last week began talking about their plans for world domination via embedded consumer electronics support, which would include building Joost support into televisions, if the P2P Internet TV company gets its way. HangZhou Night Net

A move away from the PC to other consumer electronics would be attractive. Although Joost's channel lineup is impressive at this early stage, the service faces the same obstacles of other online video services: it's centered around the PC instead of the living room TV. Rarely is it enjoyable to sit around watching TV shows on a computer monitor while sitting in an office chair. We're all accustomed to watching TV in our living rooms while lounging on plush couches with refreshments. While there are people who can do the Internet-on-my-TV thing with home theater PCs, Joost knows that to really capture viewer's attention (and more importantly, advertisers' attention), bringing Joost into our living rooms is a necessity.

Joost's new CEO Michelangelo Volpi, hired earlier this month, told the New York Times that "Joost is a piece of software and it can reside on a variety of platforms… It could be on a television set-top box. Or potentially it could be embedded in a TV set with an Ethernet connection, or on a mobile phone, or in some alternative device that might come out in the future."

Switching rooms won't be Joost's only struggle. Akimbo, which offers video content to televisions and computers over the Internet, has been doing it for three years with investments from AT&T and Cisco, two companies already deeply rooted in telecom and internet communications. Other companies like Sling Media are focusing on ways to bridge the PC-to-TV gap by remaining media and service agnostic.

Of course, Joost is free and Akimbo and the Slingbox are not, so the company hopes to tackle the competition by making Joost software freely available on televisions and other consumer electronic products, similar to the way Skype was able to get its software embedded on devices made by Cisco (Linksys), Netgear, and Belkin.

This will be a difficult battle, however. Joost will need to convince Sony, LG, Samsung, and other TV manufacturers to include their software on a television, which is akin to asking for a free ride down the road to big advertising dollars. Presumably any Joost hook-up with the likes of Sony will require some kind of revenue-sharing deal, otherwise the door will remain closed until if/when Joost is so popular that supporting it becomes a "feature." Given the fact that Sony has its own plans for streaming Internet video, it's going to take a lot of money or interest to get them involved. Joost could have better luck with set-top boxes, DVRs and products like the AppleTV—the latter of just added YouTube as a feature.

Joost's move isn't just about getting its service on the TV, though. The beta program has run into quality problems as it ramps up, so the company likely hopes that getting more devices on the 'net that speak Joost-ese will help performance. Joost is P2P-based, much like Skype, and having more nodes can only improve performance. BitTorrent is working on consumer electronics support for largely the same reason. More on that later today.

Joost's new CEO comes with a background in selling network infrastructure equipment to major ISPs, so this move is really no coincidence.

Joost expects to release the full version of their software, which features channels ranging from Comedy Central to National Geographic, to PCs next year, and hopefully to other products shortly thereafter.

Further reading:

Would you watch Joost if it came with your cable box?Joost everywhere, embedded in hardware

Maine has become the first state in the US to pass network neutrality legislation, although the resolution that was finally passedis significantly weaker thanthe initial bill that was considered. HangZhou Night Net

The initial bill, LD 1675, had real teeth to it, laying down the conditions under which Internet service providers could offer products. Lawful content had been to be delivered in a nondiscriminatory fashion, though providers were allowed to charge different prices for different connection speeds or bandwidth caps.

That bill was amended, though, and the amendment rewrote the entire bill, turning it into a much weaker resolution that essentially does nothing but express concern and call for a report. The state will keep a special eye on the FCC and its actions regarding network neutrality but will do no actual regulating itself. The Office of the Public Advocate needs only to submit a report to the Legislature by next February.

Despite the major setback, backers of the bill considered it a victory. "Maine is once again leading the way in protecting the rights of its citizens," said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. "This resolution will help reestablish the internet as the free and open arena of democracy it was always intended to be."

Well, probably not. The resolution will actually do little, but it does show that the issue is on the legislative radar screen now, and next year's report could provide the impetus for actual legislation. Network neutrality has also been championed at the national level by Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican. Snowe introduced a network neutrality bill earlier this year in conjunction with Byron Dorgan (D-ND). That bill is currently sitting in committee.

As humans continue to burn through our non-renewable petroleum resources, researchers are continuously searching for a renewable petrochemical replacement. While there is much talk about the various forms of alternative energy, many non-energy related products also rely almost exclusively on the petroleum industry. New work published in last week's edition of Science carried out by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's (PNNL) Institute for Interfacial Catalysis reports on a way to use plants not as a direct biofuel—such as ethanol—but as a way to produce a valuable intermediate for use in a variety of traditional petrochemical applications. HangZhou Night Net

The work reportsa novel way to convert the sugars from biomass, specifically fructose and glucose, into a chemical known as 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). HMF is an important compound because it is "a versatile intermediate between biomass-based carbohydrate chemistry and petroleum-based industrial organic chemistry." HMF can represent both a replacement for petroleum based building blocks heavily used in the plastics and fine chemicals industry; and perhaps more importantly, is a key ingredient in a recently discovered process that produces liquid alkanes from renewable biomass.

Traditional methods for converting biomass to HMF have been limited to using fructose as the feed stock,employed acid catalysts, and are often done using water as the solvent. This led to problems since the acid catalysts would lead to a number of side reactions whose products were difficult to separate from HMF, and the water allowed other undesired reactions to take place. The difficult separation and low selectivity to HMF made these methods less than economically favorable, so they would never see the light of day in a full scale industrial process. The method discovered by Zhang and coworkers at PNNL used an ionic liquid solvent—specifically 1-alkyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride [AMIM]Cl, where alkyl was octyl, butyl, or ethyl—along with a metal catalyst (CrCl2) to produce high yields of HMF from feed stocks of both fructose and glucose. In addition to suppressing some of the unwanted side reactions that occur when water is used as a solvent, [EMIM]Cl is reusable and produces none of the polluted wastewater that result from other methods of converting fructose into HMF.

In addition to developing the process, the researchers attempted to answer the question of why the CrCl2 acts as such a good catalyst when the many other metal salts they tried did not fare as well. They were not able to come to a clear answer to this, but did put forth some chemical mechanisms that explained how the conversions worked in conjunction with the ionic liquid and catalyst. Even without a detailed understanding of the molecular why, this work opens a new way of using biomass to lessen our dependence on non-renewable petroleum. According to Zhang, "the opportunities are endless,and the chemistry is starting to get interesting."

Security researchers at Symantec have verified that a large-scale web attack targeting Italian web sites and their users is underway. The attackers exploited vulnerabilities at the ISP and web hosting provider level to add snippets of IFRAME code to hundreds of popular Italian web sites, including those of IT companies, car rental firms, tax services, city councils, and hotel and travel destinations. The compromised web sites attempt to use exploits in unpatched versions of Internet Explorer, QuickTime, Windows 2000, Firefox, WinZip, and Opera, in order to install malware packages on end users' computers. HangZhou Night Net

The attackers used a "commercial" malware kit called MPack, which is sold by a Russian gang. Currently at version 0.86, MPack provides would-be malware installers with a complete package that can be installed on any web server that runs PHP with an SQL database. The owners of MPack have been selling it to other criminal organizations for between $700 and $1,000 a pop, with additional exploit modules available for between $50 and $150. For an additional $30, the MPack owners will include a feature that helps prevent the malware from being detected by antivirus programs.

Once MPack is installed, the attackers need to compromise popular web sites (as was done in the Italian attack) in order to inject IFRAME code. The site's HTML files do not need to be directly compromised, as the code is added dynamically when the page is sent by the server—this makes it less likely that web site owners will notice that anything suspicious is going on.

The IFRAME code then adds a request to the MPack server itself, which analyzes the HTTP request header received from the user's web browser. It uses this information to determine which exploit it will try to use against the user. The MPack server stores data about which exploits have been tried and which were successful, and even provides the attacker with a handy "management console" to keep track of how many hosts have been compromised. MPack was first discovered for sale in a Russian forum in December 2006, and the security firm PandaLabs has provided a detailed analysis (PDF) on its web site.

The rise of off-the-shelf malware packages is another indication that compromising users' computers has become a huge business and especially attractive for criminal organizations. The risk of detection and capture is low: the attackers typically install MPack on a compromised web server, and the malware itself can be hosted on any number of servers. Even if an MPack server is discovered and shut down, any users who have infected by the exploits that MPack uses will continue to generate revenue from whatever spyware the attackers choose to install on the compromised systems.

The advent of directed attacks on popular web sites makes it harder for users to practice skeptical computing, as one does not typically expect to get attacked by a popular tourist destination's web site. The only solution is for both web site operators and end users to ensure that their software—including third-party software—is kept up to date.

New statistics from Net Applications, a company that measures browser, search engine, and operating system metrics, show that for the first time since January of this year, Firefox actually lost market share. Based on statistics from its own client base, Net Applications shows that Firefox fell almost a full percentage point to 14.54 percent—the largest drop in market share the browser has seen yet. HangZhou Night Net

For May, Firefox's loss may have been Internet Explorer and Safari's gain. Internet Explorer accrued roughly half of a percent (0.64) in market share while Safari rose from 4.59 to 4.82 percent. According to Net Applications' statistics, this is the first time since January that Internet Explorer has seen an increase in market share.

In the world of operating systems, both Windows Vista and Mac OS X/MacIntel saw jumps, rising from 3.02 and 6.21 percent to 3.74 and 6.46 percent respectively. Windows 2000 was also notable, ringing in at 4.31 percent. Not surprisingly, Windows XP is still leading the pack with 82.02 percent in May.

Now that Safari is running on Windows, the browser numbers may take some twists and turns in June. According to Apple, at least 1 million users have downloaded Safari for Windows, and that could add a little spice to what has been fairly predictable usage statistics. Do you think the "1 million users" will show in next month's numbers? Is anyone actually using the Safari beta on a regular basis? On a different note, how many of you have switched from Firefox to IE7? I've talked to several people who now prefer IE7 over the 'Fox, so I'm not surprised that Mozilla's starting to lose users.