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Archive for May, 2019

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.