Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Ein Dateiformat für die Computer der Zukunft

Microsofts „Open XML“

Ein Dateiformat für die Computer der Zukunft

Von Carsten Knop

02. April 2008 Nach heftigem Streit mit Wettbewerbern und Kommunen wie der Stadt München ist das neue Dokumentenformat „Open XML“ des amerikanischen Softwarekonzerns Microsoft als Standard der internationalen Normungsorganisation ISO akzeptiert worden. „Dabei geht es um eine Antwort auf die Frage, wie Daten aus Dokumenten, die vor 20 Jahren von einem Computer gespeichert worden sind, auch in 40 Jahren noch lesbar sein werden. Das Open-XML-Format zeigt privaten Computernutzern, Unternehmen, aber auch öffentlichen Institutionen wie Archiven einen Weg, Daten zukunftssicher zu machen“, sagt Dorothee Belz, Direktorin Law and Corporate Affairs von Microsoft Deutschland.

Um die hiermit verbundenen technischen Schwierigkeiten zu lösen, braucht man standardisierte Dateiformate, die unabhängig von einem Programm eines Softwareherstellers funktionieren, den es möglicherweise an einem fernen Tag in der Zukunft nicht mehr gibt. Die meisten Bürodokumente der Welt sind mit einem Programm gespeichert worden, das vom weltmarktführenden Softwarehersteller Microsoft stammt, sei es mit Word, Excel oder Powerpoint.

Aber für diese Daten gab es bisher kein zukunftssicheres Standardformat. Der erste Standardisierungsversuch für das von Microsoft hierzu ausersehene „Office Open XML“-Format war im September 2007 gescheitert. Nach der jüngsten Abstimmungsrunde steht der Standardisierung durch das ISO nun aber nichts mehr im Weg.

Auch von Linux und Mac OS genutzt

Damit ist „Office Open XML“ nun wie „HTML“ (das Dateiformat des Internets) oder „PDF“ (als Standard für Dokumente, die von einem Betrachter nicht mehr verändert werden können) ein offener Standard für den Austausch von Dokumentenformaten. Die Anerkennung als ISO-Standard ist in den vergangenen Jahren zunehmend wichtiger geworden, vor allem weil Regierungen und Behörden im Rahmen ihrer Beschaffungsentscheidungen den Einsatz standardisierter Formate fordern.

Microsoft hatte das Format mit dem Dateikürzel „.xml“ mit dem Bürosoftware-Programmpaket Office 2007 eingeführt. Der Standard hat seither Verbreitung in der Softwareindustrie gefunden und wird von verschiedenen Technologieplattformen verwendet, einschließlich der Betriebssysteme Linux, Windows, Mac OS und Palm OS.

„Anwender und Regierungen profitieren“

Um die Anerkennung als ISO-Standard hatte es - wie in der wettbewerbsintensiven Technologiebranche üblich - in den vergangenen Monaten Streit gegeben. Ein Teil der Industrie um IBM, Google oder auch Sun Microsystems wehrte sich dagegen. Die Gruppe verweist darauf, dass das konkurrierende Format ODF („Open Document Format“) schon als ISO-Standard akzeptiert worden sei. Die Anerkennung von „Open XML“ sei daher unnötig und mache nur den Kunden das Leben schwerer, weil sich die beiden Formate nicht miteinander vereinbaren lassen.

„Open XML“-Dateiformate sind für die Übertragung bisheriger Dokumente des Microsoft-Programmpaktes „Office“ optimiert, was die Übertragung mehrerer Milliarden dieser Dokumente erleichtert. „Von dieser Entscheidung profitieren Technologieanwender und Regierungen, denn sie können das Dokumenten-Format wählen, das am besten ihren Ansprüchen genügt“, sagte Achim Berg, der Vorsitzende der Geschäftsführung von Microsoft Deutschland, im Anschluss an die Entscheidung. Durch die Anmerkungen von Fachleuten im Rahmen des Verfahrens habe der Standard auch noch deutlich verbessert werden können.

Text: F.A.Z.
Bildmaterial: dpa

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Phishing with Ease

Phishing with Ease

Ninja hackers vs. the lazy mobs who want your credit-card number.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
By Erica Naone

Billy Rios and Nitesh Dhanjani spoke about phishing today at the computer-security conference Black Hat 2008, in Washington, DC. (Phishers, who set up websites that resemble legitimate sites in order to gain access to personal information that can be used for identity theft, are searching for good folk who'll hand over their passwords and credit-card numbers when asked.) Rios and Dhanjani trace phishers, starting from their dangled sites, back through compromised servers, to the forums where identities are bought and sold for as little as 50 cents each. "Are these phishers really the sophisticated, Einsteinian ninja hackers that the media makes them out to be?" asks Dhanjani.

It's a good question. I swore off my cell phone this morning after seeing David Hulton of Pico Computing and a man known only as "Steve" show how their sophisticated ninja hacking could be used to listen in on my phone conversations, read my texts, and possibly even gain control of my cell phone's core, the sim card, and use it to spy on me through my phone's microphones even when I'm not actively making a call. But I'll be honest with you: I'm going to go home and return to business as usual on my cell phone. I doubt that David and Steve will be around the corner from me. And although they say their process--which can decrypt the security on voice and SMS signals sent through the popular Global System for Mobile communications network--will be open source and also available as a commercial device, a would-be spy is still looking at $1,000 worth of equipment to get into the business of listening to me talk recipes with Mom.

On the other hand, phishing kits--which can be used to compromise a server, set up a fake site, and e-mail sensitive information wherever you want it to go--are easy to come by, according to Rios and Dhanjani. By slinging a little lingo, Rios says that he convinced a phisher to give him a set of 100 kits, which, had he chosen to use them, would have allowed him to set up fake versions of, Bank of America, and a slew of other sites. The kits are so easy to deploy, he says, that a would-be phisher doesn't even need to be able to read the code in which they're written. The fact is made even more evident by the barely hidden back doors scattered through the kits, ready to return information to the phisher who provided the kits, as well as the phisher who sets them up. Rios and Dhanjani, working on their own time, found a network of people all too willing to sell them identities, give them phishing kits, and sell them devices to collect credit-card information from ATMs.

"We could have kept following the trails for 10 years," Rios says to a group of us after the presentation. Solutions are hard to come by, the two researchers say, as long as personal information remains static (such as in the form of social-security numbers). To even begin to make a dent, they say, companies must raise the bar a little, so that would-be phishers need a little more in the way of technical skills in order to pull off their exploits. For example, Rios says, it might help if sites requiring authentication put a cookie on the browsers of legitimate users and only allow users to log in if they have the cookie.

In the meantime, Rios says that he's gotten paranoid about using ATMs: he even feels for the skimmers that can be installed over the pinpad or the card swipers to steal data. That's a paranoia that could stick with me. I find that I view hordes of lazy phishers who want my credit-card number as a more immediate threat than a ninja hacker, against whom my only real defense is to unplug.

A New Memory Company

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A New Memory Company

Intel and STMicroelectronics have formed a joint venture that plans to commercialize phase-change memory by the end of the year.

In the era of iPods and smart phones, flash memory rules: it's small and rugged, and it keeps getting cheaper. But on the heels of flash comes faster, even more robust technology called phase-change memory, which is just starting to come out of the lab. Now Numonyx, a joint venture that combines the flash and phase-change memory efforts of Intel and STMicroelectronics, has officially launched its operations. In doing so, the company has taken a leading spot in the burgeoning phase-change memory industry. By the end of this year, Numonyx expects to commercialize phase-change memory, and by the middle of the next decade, the company hopes to make it increase its storage capacity to render it competitive with flash as a solid-state drive replacement.

Phase-change memory, which uses a glassy material, stores information via a change in its physical state, rather than using electrical charges, as in flash. A tiny electrode heats each memory cell; the cell's state depends on the manner in which it is heated, and it subsequently represents either a 1 or a 0.

At a press conference in San Francisco on Monday, Brian Harrison, CEO of Numonyx, said that phase-change memory has all the benefits of NOR and NAND flash technologies. (NOR is used in cell phones to execute code, and NAND has been used as a storage memory.) For instance, said Harrison, phase-change memory can have data read from it quickly like NOR flash, and data can be written to it as quickly as in NAND flash. In addition, phase-change memory doesn't wear out, losing bits of data over time, as flash memory does.

Next phase: This prototype phase-change memory chip has 128 megabits of capacity. Numonyx, a startup that combines memory technology from Intel and STMicroelectronics, will be manufacturing these chips later this year.
Credit: Intel

In the near term, phase-change memory could replace the expensive and energy-consuming random access memory in cell phones, and in a few more years, it could potentially become a cost-effective alternative to flash. A customer who uses a phone with phase-change memory might notice extended battery life, said Harrison. "Intel and STMicroelectronics have been working [together] on phase-change memory for more than five years," he said. "We have a product today that we are sampling, and expect to bring it to market this year. I believe it will be one to two years before it becomes widely available."

Numonyx is made of the combined memory assets of Intel and STMicroelectronics, which include intellectual property, fabrication facilities, and employees. With the announcement, the company becomes the leading provider of NOR flash memory, and the third largest provider of nonvolatile memory (technology that retains data when the power supply is off), with a combined revenue of approximately $3 billion. It trails both Samsung and Toshiba in overall nonvolatile-memory market share.

Making memory: Phase-change memory devices are mass-produced on silicon wafers such as the one above.
Credit: Intel

In February, Intel and STMicroelectronics announced a new type of phase-change memory technology that doubles the storage capacity of each memory cell. Edward Dollar, chief technology officer of Numonyx, suspects that this improved phase-change memory, which has been transferred to Numonyx, could be ready to be mass-produced by the end of the decade. By doubling the capability of phase-change memory, he says, "it starts to become competitive" with the type of flash memory used in solid-state hard drives.

Samsung is also developing phase-change memory. But Numonyx is in a good position to lead the industry in phase-change memory, says Jim Handy, an analyst at Objective Analysis, a market research firm. "In phase-change memory, there's really only a handful of companies who are dabbling in the technology," he says.

Numonyx is funded by $150 million from the Francisco Partners investment firm, and it makes use of more than 2,500 issued patents; another 1,000 patents are pending from its parent companies.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Inflation klettert auf Rekordhoch

Inflation klettert auf Rekordhoch

Von Philip Plickert

31. März 2008 Die Verbraucherpreise sind im Euro-Raum im März um 3,5 Prozent gegenüber dem Vorjahresmonat gestiegen. Das teilte das europäische Statistikamt Eurostat am Montag als Ergebnis einer ersten Schätzung mit. Im Februar hatte die Jahresteuerung 3,3 Prozent, im Januar 3,1 Prozent betragen. Die Europäische Kommission zeigte sich über den starken Preisanstieg beunruhigt. „Das ist keine gute Zahl. Das ist mehr, als wir erwartet haben“, sagte eine Sprecherin der Kommission in Brüssel. Die Inflationsrate von 3,5 Prozent ist die höchste seit Beginn der Währungsunion 1999. Nimmt man einen gewichteten Durchschnitt der Inflationsraten der teilnehmenden Länder, so war zuletzt Mitte 1992 ein so starker Anstieg der Verbraucherpreise zu messen. Besonders hoch war die Teuerung in den vergangenen Monaten in Slowenien mit mehr als 6 Prozent sowie in Griechenland, Spanien, Luxemburg, Zypern und Malta mit mehr als 4 Prozent.

Einzelheiten über die Ursachen des nun beschleunigten Preisauftriebs wird Eurostat erst in zwei Wochen veröffentlichen. Zum Teil ist er mit dem Anstieg des Ölpreises auf deutlich über 100 Dollar je Barrel (159 Liter) zu erklären. Der vom Hamburgischen Weltwirtschaftsinstitut berechnete Rohstoffpreisindex lag im Februar 15 Prozent über dem Vorjahreswert. Auch Nahrungsmittel haben sich in den vergangenen Monaten zum Teil erheblich verteuert. Ohne die höheren Energiekosten, die etwa ein Zehntel des statistischen Warenkorbes ausmachen, hätte die Inflation im Februar im Euro-Raum nur bei 2,5 Prozent statt bei 3,3 Prozent gelegen. Die Kommission warnte abermals vor überzogenen Lohnsteigerungen als Reaktion auf die höhere Inflationsrate. „Wir müssen Zweitrundeneffekte vermeiden“, sagte die Sprecherin. Eine inflationäre Spirale aus Löhnen und Preisen wäre nicht im Interesse der Verbraucher.

„Eine negative Überraschung“

Die verfügbaren Einkommen in Deutschland sind im vergangenen Jahr um rund 2 Prozent gestiegen. Die Verdienste der Arbeitnehmer nahmen jedoch durchschnittlich nur um 1,4 Prozent zu - weniger als die Inflation. Am Freitag hatte das deutsche Statistische Bundesamt die Teuerungsrate für März auf 3,1 Prozent geschätzt, nach 2,8 Prozent im Februar. Anders als Eurostat berücksichtigen die deutschen Statistiker in ihrem Warenkorb auch die Mieten für selbstgenutztes Wohneigentum, die einen dämpfenden Effekt auf die Preisentwicklung haben. Deutsche Bankvolkswirte hatten nicht mit einer so starken Beschleunigung der Inflation im Euro-Raum gerechnet. Die Zahlen seien „eine negative Überraschung“, sagte Christoph Weil von der Commerzbank. Die Europäische Zentralbank (EZB) gerate damit immer mehr in ein Dilemma, da neben der Teuerung auch die Konjunkturrisiken zunähmen. Nach den jüngsten Umfragen der Kommission hat sich die Wirtschaftsstimmung im Euro-Raum im März vor dem Hintergrund der Finanzkrise stärker als erwartet eingetrübt. Der Sammelindex zur Einschätzung der wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung sank von 100,2 auf 99,6 Punkte.

Ihrem Auftrag folgend, muss die EZB für Preisstabilität sorgen, die sie als eine mittelfristige Inflationsrate von knapp unter 2 Prozent definiert. Im vergangenen Jahr betrug die Teuerung durchschnittlich 2,15 Prozent. In diesem Jahr dürfte der Wert deutlich steigen. Die EZB-Ökonomen rechnen in ihrer neuesten Projektion vom März mit einer Spanne von 2,6 bis 3,2 Prozent. Im kommenden Jahr werde der Anstieg der Verbraucherpreise mit 2,1 Prozent wieder näher am Ziel der Preisstabilität liegen. Zugleich haben sich hochrangige Vertreter der EZB in den vergangenen Wochen immer wieder besorgt über bestehende Preisrisiken geäußert.

Text: F.A.Z.
Bildmaterial: ddp, F.A.Z.

Women’s attractiveness judged by software

March 31st, 2008
Women’s attractiveness judged by software

According to Haaretz, an Israeli team of computer scientists has developed a software that ranks facial attractiveness of women. Instead of identifying basic facial characteristics, this software has been designed to make aesthetic judgments — after training. The lead researcher said this program ‘constitutes a substantial advance in the development of artificial intelligence.’ It is interesting to note that the researchers focused on women only. Apparently, men’ faces are more difficult to grade. But read more…

But read more…

Rating women faces

The picture on the left shows how the system is initially calibrated: “Facial coordinates with hair and skin sample regions as represented by the facial feature extractor. Coordinates are used for calculating geometric features and asymmetry. Sample regions are used for extracting color values and smoothness.” (Credit: Amit Kagian, Tel Aviv University, Israel).

This software has been developed by Amit Kagian, a Tel Aviv University (TAU) student, for his master’s thesis in computer science. He has been supervised by Gideon Dror, an associate professor in computer science at the Academic College of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo and Eytan Ruppin, a TAU professor who manages the Complex Network Systems Lab.

This software has been developed by Amit Kagian, a Tel Aviv University (TAU) student, for his master’s thesis in computer science. He has been supervised by Gideon Dror, an associate professor in computer science at the Academic College of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo and Eytan Ruppin, a TAU professor who manages the Complex Network Systems Lab.

Here are some details about how the software was tested. “In the first stage, 30 human participants were asked to rate from 1-7 the beauty of several dozen pictures. Participants did not say why they ranked certain faces as more beautiful than others. The pictures were then processed and mathematically mapped. ‘We came up with 98 numbers that represent the geometric shape of the face, as well as characteristics like hair color, smoothness of skin and facial symmetry,’ Kagian explains. Participants’ rankings of the pictures were also input in the computer.”

But what was the second stage? “‘We input new pictures of faces into the computer and it graded them based on the information it had.’ Human subjects were then asked to rank the new pictures too. ‘The computer produced impressive results: the rankings were very similar to the rankings people gave.’ According to Kagian, the key achievement is that the computer operated according to certain perceptions of beauty that were not input into it, but learned by processing the data it received.”

For more information, the researchers published their latest results in Vision Research, an Elsevier journal, under the name “A machine learning predictor of facial attractiveness revealing human-like psychophysical biases” (Volume 48, Issue 2, January 2008, Pages 235-243).

Here is a link to the abstract. “Recent psychological studies have strongly suggested that humans share common visual preferences for facial attractiveness. Here, we present a learning model that automatically extracts measurements of facial features from raw images and obtains human-level performance in predicting facial attractiveness ratings. The machine’s ratings are highly correlated with mean human ratings, markedly improving on recent machine learning studies of this task. Simulated psychophysical experiments with virtually manipulated images reveal preferences in the machine’s judgments that are remarkably similar to those of humans.” And here is a link to the full paper (PDF format, 10 pages, 625 KB).

And here is a paragraph excerpted from the conclusions. “Our analysis has revealed that symmetry is strongly related to the attractiveness of averaged faces, but is definitely not the only factor in the equation since about half of the image-features relate to the ratings of averaged composites in a similar manner as the symmetry measure. This suggests that a general movement of features toward attractiveness, rather than a simple increase in symmetry, is responsible for the attractiveness of averaged faces.”

The same researchers presented their previous results at the Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) conference held in Vancouver, Canada, on December 4-9, 2006. Here is a link to
this presentation called “A Humanlike Predictor of Facial Attractiveness” (PDF format, 8 pages, 78 KB). Here is the first paragraph. “This work presents a method for estimating human facial attractiveness, based on supervised learning techniques. Numerous facial features that describe facial geometry, color and texture, combined with an average human attractiveness score for each facial image, are used to train various predictors. Facial attractiveness ratings produced by the final predictor are found to be highly correlated with human ratings, markedly improving previous machine learning achievements. Simulated psychophysical experiments with virtually manipulated images reveal preferences in the machine’s judgments which are remarkably similar to those of humans.”

As you can see, there some shared words between these two works. The figure above is featured in both papers.

Finally, why did the researchers limit themselves to women? Haaretz says men’s faces are more difficult to rank.

Sources: Ofri Ilani, Haaretz, Israel, March 21, 2008; and various websites

Apple has biggest impact on world consumers: survey

Apple has biggest impact on world consumers: survey
Mon Mar 31, 2008 7:18am EDT
By Rachel Sanderson

LONDON (Reuters) - The Apple brand has the biggest impact on the world's consumers, while Microsoft and the United States nation brand are those considered most in need of a remake, a survey showed on Monday.

The poll by online magazine asked its readers to identify the brands with the greatest impact on their lives, and say how they affected readers' behaviour and their view of the world.

The nearly 2,000 professionals and students who voted named Apple overwhelming winner. The creator of the iPod and Mac computer triumphed in six categories including most inspiring brand and the one readers cannot live without.

Microsoft, the world's largest software maker was also a winner, but it received the dubious honor of the brand most readers wanted to argue with, and the one they most wanted to revamp. Voted into second place in the category was brand USA.

"Apple has clearly captured the hearts and minds by leading across most categories. Others, such as the USA nation brand, which ranks highly as most in need of a rebrand, requires help according to our readers," said brandchannel editor Jim Thompson.

The poll does not take account of economic brand value, the murky science of assigning a financial value to brand, which regularly puts Coca-Cola Co's (KO.N) Coke in first place.

One of the more surprising results from the survey, was that few of the respondents -- who came from 107 countries -- thought that there was such a thing as a "green" brand.

The result comes despite millions of dollars spent by some of the world's biggest companies to rebrand themselves as "environmentally-friendly".
Discussing Apple, one anonymous reader said there was "never a dull moment" with the company "reinventing itself all along and providing, over and over again, a new perspective on what we thought was carved in stone".

At the other end of the spectrum, Microsoft had "gone from innovative and bold to stodgy and follower," said another unnamed reader.

After Apple, the most inspiring brands were Nike, Coca-Cola, Google and Starbucks, the survey showed.

The same brands, except with Virgin in place of Starbucks, were the brands most readers would "like to sit next to at a dinner party".

The rankings by were based on answers from almost 2,000 readers from 107 countries. The survey was conducted online from February 24 to March 9.

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)

ISO to announce Microsoft Open XML result Wednesday

SO to announce Microsoft Open XML result Wednesday
Mon Mar 31, 2008 1:14pm EDT

powered by Sphere Sphere

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) said it would reveal on Wednesday whether Microsoft (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research) had won the support needed to have its document format made into a global industry standard.

"Because ISO needs first to inform its worldwide membership of national standards bodies of these results, a press release on this subject will be issued on Wednesday, 2 April, 2008," ISO spokesman Roger Frost said in an e-mail message.

The results of the vote, which closed on Saturday night, had been on Monday.

Microsoft has pushed hard for international certification of Open Office XML (OOXML), the default file-saving format of Microsoft Office 2007, to improve its chances of winning government contracts and encourage developers to use the technology for new software applications and content.

The company did not get the two-thirds majority needed to clinch the standard in an original vote in September, but got another shot in a second ballot that closed on Saturday night.

Opponents of the Microsoft certification had argued that introducing a rival to the already ISO-approved Open Document Format (ODF), developed by Sun Microsystems (JAVA.O: Quote, Profile, Research), defeated the purpose of having standards.

Search engine giant Google Inc (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research), which uses the open ODF standard in its document and spreadsheet applications, also lent its weight to the anti-Microsoft camp, citing concerns about the dependence of OOXML on Microsoft proprietary formats.

The ODF technology allows users to save documents in a variety of formats, including Microsoft's. While OOXML originally did not allow saving text and spreadsheet documents as ODF files, Microsoft later made it possible to do so.

The ISO hosted a ballot resolution meeting last month to give delegations a chance to run through concerns raised in September and reconsider their positions. They had until midnight March 29 to change their votes.

(Reporting by Laura MacInnis and Georgina Prodhan, editing by Will Waterman)