Technology News

Boeing Scoops Raygun Contract

New weapon won’t fall off the back of a lorry
Boeing is adding further to its extensive portfolio with the contract to build a 20-tonne truck housing a laser gun. It’s designed to be parked close to vulnerable facilities such as airports, where it would shoot down enemy projectiles such as rockets, mortars, or indoctrinated clay pigeons. The solid-state electrically-powered laser is a new departure from the ‘household’ version that uses highly-poisonous chemical fuel (rather than, say, diesel).

The High Laser Technology Demonstrator contract was won by Boeing last year but the project has been given a $36 million cash injection with the planes and arms manufacturer now being asked to act as systems engineer for the weapon.

Radioactive pigeons
Boeing has already developed chemical rayguns that can be mounted on aeroplanes to take out targets hundreds of kilometres away, but the literal fall-out from such a weapon going wrong makes an electrically powered version far preferable.

Rapid-fire automatic cannon systems have been used in the past for similar defence work but these are inevitably compromised in built-up areas by the fall out of fist-sized chunks of lead that hurtle from the sky towards the soft heads of those not actively practicing terrorism.

Shooting from the truck
Boeing raygun czar Scott Fancher said: ‘This contract award is an important win for Boeing because it supports a cornerstone of the Army’s high-energy laser program, HEL TD will... counter the difficult threats posed by rockets, artillery shells and mortar projectiles.’
It may also be used in those shooting events at which the US failed to win gold, though admittedly, there’s no evidence supporting this assertion whatsoever.

Facebook Hits 100 Million

Still trails MySpace by country mile
The Facebook phenomenon officially reached the 100 million milestone today – that’s almost the equivalent of double the population of England sitting at home conducting their social lives without whispering a word out loud.

It’s reached that figure in four and a half years – 50 per cent longer than MySpace took. And for all the coverage that Facebook garners, most indications suggest that MySpace is, in the words of one website: ‘Still kicking Facebook's ass in traffic’.

Traffic analysts Hitwise supports evidence of this drubbing. It says that MySpace recieved 72 per cent compared with Facebook’s 16 per cent during 2007 in the US. Bebo trailed in a very distant third with 1.09 per cent. With those figures, MySpace could afford to drop 8 per cent on the previous year and not worry too much about the 50 per cent rise of its main rival.

Facebook trails no-one in press coverage though, possibly influenced by the site’s reputation for attracting the yuppies of the social networking world. But even with an affluent demographic, the site still has to find a way of squeezing the cash from its well-heeled customers. In his self-congratulatory Facebook blog, founder Mark Zuckerberg says: ‘We spend all our time here trying to build the best possible product that enables you to share and stay connected, so the fact that we’re growing so quickly all over the world is very rewarding.’

You can’t put a price on the rewards of friendship and maybe that compensates for the dollars, euros and pounds Zuckerberg is thus far failing to extract from the users.

Applications, get behind me!
How many of those 100 million friends will notice this momentous occasion is hard to say. Only a fifth of the members have bothered to update to the new look site that will soon be imposed on the rest of them. Furthermore, the most anticipated new application is one that hides all of its predecessors.

You can host a party, but once the invites have been sent out you can’t control when the guests turn up and what they are going to do in the swimming pool. You can’t even make them like you. Still, we won't begrudge the site a congratulatory round of cyber cocktails on us. Bottoms up!

Greatest Cyber Heist In History

Or tabloid muck raking: you choose
Scottish tabloid, The Sunday Herald, has announced ‘the greatest cyber-heist in world history’ – claiming an Indian hacker stole a database with the details of eight million customers from a leading international hotel chain using a Trojan Horse program.

The report calculates that up to £2.8 billion could be scooped by wrong-doers on the basis that the average internet fraud costs the victim £356. Best Western International begs to differ. The hotel group reckons ten customers were affected from just the one branch in Berlin, in whose cyberspace the hack took place. It also says that the FBI has been called in along with other international crime-fighting agencies.

Oh, those Russians!
Technology editor for the Herald, Iain Bruce, says that the hacker accessed the personal information of all the customers who visited the 1,312 European-based hotels since 2007. His story went onto claim that the database was sold onto an underground network run by the Russian mafia.

Bruce has produced screen shots that appear to reveal the hotel’s reservation system along with the guests’ personal details accessed using a tool that was able to search records back to 2007. While Bruce is sticking to his story, he has offered no proof that millions of customers details have been compromised.

Substantiate that
Meanwhile, Best Western interprets his article as being ‘grossly unsubstantiated’ and ‘largely erroneous.’ The chain claims it removes its guest details within a week of their departure though this is no guarantee that the information cannot be accessed with the right technology in the wrong hands.

TechRadar will keep you up to date to establish if this really is ‘the greatest cyber-heist in world history.’ The relative infancy of the internet over the last five million years (see Evolution) suggests the tabloid is erring on the side of hyperbole.

With 4,200 branches worldwide, Best Western claims to be the largest hotel group in the world. As well as credit cards, it accepts payment in used notes.


Games Degrees Inadequate

Industry chiefs slate UK training
Training for the games industry in the UK is not up to scratch. So say several industry bigwigs who have criticised the graduate programs available. This has turned up in a(nother) report by The Daily Mail – a media organ known for the gimlet eye it keeps on the values and machinations of the gaming world.

‘Shocked and surprised’ was the verdict of David Braben, founder of Lost Winds studio Frontier Development, when he described the skills of many of the graduates, while Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios Europe vice president Jamie MacDonald said, ‘I can’t remember the last time I employed someone from them.’

Four degrees of less obvious education
Four degree courses are officially accredited by Skillset, which represents the creative media industry. Two of these are available from the University of Abertay Dundee and one each at the University of the West of Scotland, and the Glamorgan Centre for Art & Design Technology. According to the Mail, over 80 other such degree courses exist in the UK. That gaming degrees and the name ‘Mickey Mouse’ have been linked is no great surprise particularly when the connection is made by The Daily Mail, self-appointed protector of Middle England, and crusader against change in general, and immoral video games in particular.

More than 200 British firms are joining forces to promote ‘Games Up?’ – a campaign that aims to highlight the danger to the UK's share of this lucrative £18 billion industry. TechRadar will be keeping a close eye on these developments as will, no doubt, our friends and rivals at The Daily Mail.


Add More Cowbell To Your Music

Website lets you add that crucial ingredient to your MP3s
Is your music collection lacking that Ingredient X? Are thousands of MP3s sitting listlessly on your computer and PMPs, listless and forlorn? There may be a solution. Cowbells. And Christopher Walken. In the loosest sense, science has proven that these two factors can put the lead back in your music’s collective pencil.

Bunch of comedians
This was demonstrated by a Saturday Night Live sketch from back in 2000, which has been voted one of the show’s most popular ever. The long-running show is an American institution that features comedians in sketches that appear to have been written quickly in the preceding few minutes.

The skit in question featured Christoper Walken playing music producer Bruce Dickinson alongside Will Ferrell as a fictional cowbell player, showing the band Blue Oyster Cult's attempts to record a song.

From that momentous episode the term ‘More Cowbells’ was born and Walken finally ditched Russian Roulette as his game of choice for house parties.

The happiness which that skit brought to the free world, can now be replicated in bite-sized chunks thanks to – a website that allows you to add cowbells and Walken to the uploaded MP3 of your choice. Crucially, clever sliders allow you to adjust the level of Walken or Bell that suits your personal needs.

Scent Of A Laptop

How would you like your laptop to smell? Might odours labelled Floral, Cologne, Ocean or Grass draw you amorously towards your keyboard? Might turning your computer on have a whole new connotation? Is this the ultimate computer geek's substitute for flesh and blood? Asus thinks so. Or it’s possibly just having a laugh.

The Nature part
While the guts of this laptop are nothing to get overexcited about – it’s the gimmicks that will earn it the (minor) headlines. Not only will it smell of Karate perfume, pollen, salt, or your dog’s garden deposits, but it's got a patterned lid and a carbon fibre wrist rest. The wacky designs made an appearance in Las Vegas (now it’s starting to make sense) this week as part of Project 200 in Microsoft's Spotlight on PC Fashion. Aside from the four scents, it comes in either pink, blue, green or black too.

The Science bit
The ASUS F6V is the rather prosaic name for a hunk of metal trying to be anything but. It has a 13.3in screen, Core 2 Duo processor, 320GB of storage, ATI HD 3470 graphics card, fingerprint authentication, HDMI port, and 1.2MP webcam. It’s available from Amazon for $1,300. You want more? We’d advise you to check out the website. I mean – look at the headline – did you really think this was a review?


Palin Covers Digital Tracks In US Election

Pythonesque subterfuge over Troopergate
Hockey mum and US Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is not looking as transparent in her political dealings as she would like us to think.

The woman with whom Republican nominee John McCain hopes to lead the US in some direction or other is refusing to hand over more than a thousand emails in connection with an investigation into ‘Troopergate’.

The latest ‘gated’ controversy concerns her allegedly prominent role in the firing of her former brother-in-law, and his boss. Both appeared to be motivated less for professional reasons and more for the temerity of falling out with the Palin clan.

Let there be transparency!
Pro-reformer Palin is claiming executive privilege despite the fact that many of the emails were clearly nothing to do with sensitive state business. Using unofficial email accounts such as and devices such as BlackBerries, she is seeking to avoid letting the courts see them as public records.

This is a tactic that was taught by the angels of the lord, the Big G himself. We refer, of course, to White House aides protecting George Dubya from prying investigators over the allegedly political firing of government lawyers.

The same administration 'lost' millions of emails after an ‘upgrade’ to the White House system shortly after George Bush ‘won’ his first election. (We should point out the excessive use of qualifying speech marks here is entirely beyond our control).

Lipstick on an elephant
A lawsuit launched by Republican state legislators is designed to delay the Troopergate findings until after the election. The present brouhaha highlights the difficulties of holding people in public office to account when they know that leaving incriminating evidence on official channels could bring them down.

Admittedly, this didn’t stop Richard Nixon from recording his own dodgy dealings on the office tape recorder. But he was the exception that made the rule and had a few devious plans to back up his machinations such as getting his secretary to tape over the bad bits, and pretending not to understand the question.

Palin, who supports the teaching of creationism, and believes living in Alaska gives her a good grounding in foreign policy, will no doubt have ample opportunity to exercise her imagination even more in the coming months.


Deletionpedia: Makes Wikipedia Look Good

So you thought Wikipedia had no standards?
The internet, like space, is pretty much endless to the limited imagination of the humble human. The great random beast of subjective knowledge, Wikipedia, appears too to have an opinion on pretty much everything, even if, like the fickle humans it serves, it changes its opinions from time to time, or becomes an expert in some field in which it was once a mere amateurish hack. But you would be wrong to think this – much like the on-line encyclopaedia is often accused of being.

For there’s plenty of reasons and examples for material not making the site.

Rise of the eternal archivers
In his article for ars technica Nate Anderson says: ‘Plenty of user-generated content simply isn’t very good, or doesn't fall within established parameters, or violates copyright, or does something that gets it yanked from the sites that host such material, but sites like Deletionpedia and Delutube have sprung up to archive the deletions.’

And Deletionpedia is a 60,000 strong archive of material not considered good enough for Wikipedia. In his article, Anderson gives examples of some of the subjects nearly deleted from the world’s data banks. Weapons of the Imperium, for instance, a vast listing of the arsenal available to inhabitants of a computer game, was taken down from Wikipedia after a mere two and a half years.

It was resurrected by the faithful for Deletionpedia as was a list of bounty hunters from Star Wars. In the last week, Deletionpedia was itself close to being axed, in an twist that was almost lost to irony lovers forever.

Following the recent Wiki report on Vernon Kay being effectively ‘un-dead’, TechRadar news editor Patrick Goss warned of the folly of taking Wiki’s relatively uncollaborated word on anything without checking elsewhere too.

But then he would say that: he's still waiting for his profile to be posted up. Give it a week. And then check elsewhere.


Fusionman Flies Across Channel

‘If I get it wrong, I take a bath’
In a follow up to our story about Fusionman earlier in the week – Yves Rossy, the part Swiss, part eccentric ex airforce pilot – crossed the channel with nothing but the wing on his back. And those four jet engines placed a few scary centimetres from his soft, easy to burn flesh.
The flight, which was postphoned twice this week due to bad weather, was broadcast live on the National Geographic channel. Earlier in the week, Rossy was quoted as saying ‘If I calculate everything right, I will land in Dover. But if I get it wrong, I take a bath.’

The four engines powered him across the 22-mile stretch between Calais and Dover earlier this afternoon at speeds up to 125mph after being dropped out of a aeroplane 2,500m up over France. The eccentric, but fortunately, brilliant 49-year-old followed in the flying footsteps of Frenchman Louis Bleriot. Ninety-nine years ago, Bleriot was the first to make the trip in the relative luxury of an aeroplane, basic variety or not.


Eat his shorts, David Blane

It took Rossy just over 10 minutes, much as he had predicted, which was handy, as that's how long his fuel was due to last.

Rossy told the BBC that his flight felt ‘Great, really great. I only have one word, ‘thank you’, to all the people who did it with me.’ We like him so much we are going to count that as one word. And let's face it, I think even the backroom boys and girls would have let him take the credit for this one. Before landing by parachute, Rossy looped his rapt audience, always an impressive feat for a flying man with no way of steering beyond twisting his head and back a bit. Fusionman, we salute you.

All stories were written for TechRadar website.