Back from our summer break this issue's round-up of news contains articles too dirty to publish, so steamy its broken records - fireworks are guaranteed!

Web's 'most infected' list too dirty to publish

By James Hayes

Two new Web security reports have highlighted the Internet as a 'Wild West', with some of its dirtiest websites seething with up to 20,000 malware infections.

According to the 'Mid-year Trend and Risk Report' from IBM, Web threats are converging to create an "untenable risk landscape" that's akin to a Wild West where no-one is trustworthy. The company's X-Force research team reports that malicious infiltration of Web server, client, and content is increasingly affecting sites that formerly held 'trusted status', such as mainstream search engines, blogs, bulletin boards, personal websites, and online publications, where security has not been well implemented.

IBM X-Force also reports that levels of veiled Web exploits - PDF files in particular - are growing at an escalating rate, with the amount of suspicious, obfuscated or concealed content monitored by the IBM ISS Managed Security Services team nearly doubling between Q1 and Q2 2009.

"There is now no such thing as safe browsing," said X-Force director Kris Lamb. "Every website should be viewed as suspicious; every user is at risk."

Meanwhile, security solution firm Symantec has listed Summer 2009's 100 Dirtiest Websites: sites that have been found to host between 18,000 and 20,000 malicious threats each (compared to an average of 23). While 48 of the sites feature 'adult' content, the remainder cover a range of subject matter, including sites dedicated to catering, deer hunting, electronics e-tailing, figure skating and legal services.

"Being dirty is nothing new for three-quarters of the sites on the list, which have distributed malware for more than six months," said Symantec senior vice-president Rowan Trollope. "They represent the worst of the worst."

The company has named and shamed 30 of the offending sites (see link below); the remaining 70 are, Symantec said, too obscene to be named into the public domain.

Warning: E&T readers should not browse the listed sites.

Steam car sets double speed record

A British team has broken two world land speed records for a steam-powered car.

Driven by Charles Burnett III, the British Steam Car achieved an average speed of 139.843mph on two runs over a measured mile at Edwards Air Force Base in California on 25 August, beating a record that had stood for more than a century. Its speed actually peaked at 151mph on the second run.

From start to stop, each run was over six miles. FIA rules require that two runs are made within 60 minutes, with the average of the measured-distance times taken to obtain the official recorded speed.

After Burnett's achievement, test driver Don Wales piloted the car for the attempt at the kilometre record, averaging 148.308mph (238.679km/h) over the two runs. Both records are subject to official confirmation by the FIA.

"It was absolutely fantastic, I enjoyed every moment," said Burnett. "We reached nearly 140mph on the first run before I applied the parachute. All systems worked perfectly, it was a really good run. The second run went even better. The car really did handle beautifully."

Project manager Matt Candy added: "After Charles broke the record for the measured mile, we decided to have one more run with the car and attempt the kilometre record. We took some of the inhibitors from the boilers for this run and it helped get a bit more speed out of the car. The weather was perfect and the air temperature was just 62 degrees Fahrenheit [17°C], the team turned around the car in an amazing 30 minutes which is their quickest ever!"

Both drivers paid tribute to the hard work of the team over the last 10 years and their perseverance in overcoming problems.

The previous record of 127mph over a measured mile was set by an American, Fred Marriott, driving a Stanley steamer in 1906.

Phoenix controls fireworks competition

By Mark Langdon

Computer control was at the fore when six challengers competed to produce the most spectacular display in the British Firework Championships, held last month in Plymouth.

The winner was Sevenoaks-based Phoenix Fireworks. Alex Selby, the company's display manager, explained the judging system to E&T. "You get points for having all the correct paperwork and providing it on time. You also get points for presentation on the day itself, which involves your company all wearing a team uniform and things like that. For the fireworks side of it, it goes on the material - how good it was - the rhythm of firing - the noise and if you used it appropriately or not - and then there is originality."

Gone are the days when a man runs up and down lighting individual firework fuses; the systems nowadays are all computer-controlled. There are three principal systems on the market. Phoenix Fireworks has opted for FireOne, from the US.

"The FireOne can be used with or without a laptop, which is good because it means that you can remove Bill Gates from the scenario and the system will fire running on an internal program, which means it is almost faultless," explained Selby.

This is Phoenix's second title, after winning the British Musical Fireworks Championships in 2007. Putting fireworks to music can present its own problems, though Selby prefers it. "For me, Plymouth was harder than a musical display would be," he commented.

One issue to be taken into account when displaying fireworks to music is the difference between the speeds of sound and light. Anybody watching the display from outside the focus area might think that it is out of sync. "That is a problem at Southport, where the musical challenge championships are held, because the speakers are located where the fireworks are and not where the audience is. There is something like half a second difference between the light and the sound, so you have to put in a half-second delay on the fireworks," explained Selby.

Software highlights world's food safety hotspots

By Dominic Lenton

Software developed by UK programmers to analyse trends in the massive number of food safety alerts generated around the world has identified China as an increasing source of contaminated goods.

Warnings about possible contamination problems in 177 countries are distributed via the International Food Safety Authorities Network (Infosan), a global system managed by the World Health Organisation in collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Infosan was set up in the wake of a major forum held in Beijing in November 2007 which culminated in participants adopting the 'Beijing Declaration', an agreement that aimed to resolve food safety problems through collaboration rather than trade barriers. It urges governments to develop comprehensive programmes to improve consumer protection, and to share information on emerging problems.

However, different countries operate a range of food monitoring systems, with a small number responsible for the majority of data. In Europe, for example, EU member states and the EEA countries of Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland issue weekly reports through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed.

Developing countries tend to have less sophisticated measures for checking imports, and generate less information, but the result is still tens of thousands of food alerts each year that need to be filtered to identify where efforts should be concentrated.

Scientists at Kingston University in south-west London have responded by creating a computer program that monitors trends in food alerts to spot patterns of traffic in faulty goods and highlights countries that trade in and are responsible for detecting faulty foodstuffs

The prototype tool lets users analyse data based on specific parameters to generate interactive graphs focusing on specific countries and their links with other regions. For example, it can show the number of reports between two countries in either direction to give a clear visualisation of the so-called transgressor and detector indices.

This ability to generate a global snapshot by instantly analysing thousands of individual reports, the researchers claim, identifies the growing role of China in production of faulty foodstuffs.

"New systems are required to provide coherent, real-time and user-friendly analyses of alerts," said Kingston's Professor Declan Naughton. "Having a global picture of the trafficking pattern of faulty foodstuffs is very important to researchers and policy makers alike. This new programme is the first step toward this ambitious goal." [new window]

PD pumps gain high-end market share

By Bryan Betts

Newer types of positive displacement (PD) pump could replace many of the centrifugal pumps used today in process industries, claims market research company Frost & Sullivan. However, it warns that some pump manufacturers may resist this trend, because the greater durability of PD pumps will hit replacement sales.

Positive displacement pumps, such as peristaltic or rotary-lobe pumps, work by - in effect - picking up material and moving it, whereas centrifugal pumps add velocity to the fluid being pumped.

Frost & Sullivan research analyst Shantanu Kelkar said that, in most pumping requirements, PD pumps provide a cleaner solution with higher accuracy and durability than most centrifugal pumps. "These are vital attributes in a market that has to deal with stringent energy and safety regulations," he added.

Kelkar said that while PD pumps may have higher initial costs than other types, and won't suit all applications, their lower life-cycle costs are increasingly driving the likes of food and beverage, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, and chemical industries to install them.

"For a given application where both types of pumps are equally suitable, PD pumps tend to have higher space requirement and costs," he said. "Some PD pumps might also have higher maintenance costs. But they offset this by consuming much less power, and in life-cycle costs they surely outdo centrifugal pumps.

"Therefore, PD pump companies have been highlighting the reliability of their pumps and showcasing the life-cycle cost benefits of their products over other pumps."

The downside of this product durability is that it also lowers turnover rates, restricting replacement and resale. This issue of low replacement rates is compounded by pricing pressures, market maturity, and a harsh economic climate, Kelkar said.

PD pumps make up almost 35 per cent of the industrial pumps market and are showing a faster growth rate in this mature market than centrifugal pumps, he added.

"The major factors driving this growth are increasing energy-efficiency needs, life-cycle cost considerations and increased use of automation and technology in pumps," he said.

"Clean-in-place pumps with sensors and remote monitoring, auto shut-offs, self-monitoring, intelligence, and automation built into them will be the most popular."

World Cup football fans can phone a friend

Wireless communications business Andrew Solutions is ensuring that there is sufficient mobile phone capacity in five of the 10 South African stadiums to be used for the 2010 World Cup, which begins next June.

Vodacom, South Africa's largest cellular operator, chose Andrew through its South African affiliate, Systems Designs (Pty) Ltd, to supply its Intelligent Optical Network (ION) fibre distributed antenna system for indoor wireless coverage.

Major sporting events are challenging for telecoms operators, as the sheer number of mobile users invariably presents capacity issues.

Andrew is providing equipment to Vodacom at Moses Mabida in Durban, Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg, Vodacom Park in Bloemfontein, Mbombela in Nelspruit, and Loftus in Pretoria. System installation at three of the stadiums was completed in time for the recent 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup.

MoD attracted to magnetic propulsion

A company spun out from the University of Sheffield has signed a contract with the Ministry of Defence to develop its proprietary propulsion technology for possible use in naval vessels.

Under the six-figure contract, Magnomatics will perform a detailed design study of a magnetically geared propulsion motor based on the company's Pseudo Direct Drive (PDD). It will develop the technology at the megawatt scale so that the MoD can assess the potential for its use within Integrated Full Electric Propulsion systems in future frigates and submarines.

The PDD integrates magnetic gearing within a brushless permanent magnet machine. Magnomatics says it offers the potential for increased system efficiency in a significantly smaller package than other motor technologies for low speed, high continuous torque drive applications.

Magnomatics has also developed a mature range of gear technologies using permanent magnets to transmit torque between an input and an output shaft without mechanical contact.

The current contract is due to be completed by the end of March 2010, at which point the MoD will decide whether to put additional funding into the project.

Commission issues crash-alert ultimatum

By Lorna Sharpe

Car manufacturers, telecoms operators and public authorities in Europe may be forced to implement a system that automatically alerts emergency services to road accidents if they do not introduce it voluntarily.

The European Commission has warned EU member states that if no significant progress is made in rolling out eCall by the end of 2009 it could propose regulatory measures "to make this life-saving technology available all over Europe as soon as possible".

The eCall system automatically dials 112, the pan-European emergency number, when a car has a serious accident and sends its location to the nearest emergency service, which must be capable of processing the minimum set of data even when voice communication is not possible. The system could cut response times by 40-50 per cent depending on the location.

In 2008, more than 1.2 million accidents on Europe's roads caused around 39,000 deaths and more than 1.7 million injuries. The Commission says eCall could save 2,500 lives a year when fully deployed and mitigate the severity of tens of thousands of injuries.

ACEA, representing European automotive manufacturers, backs the Commission's call for member states to speed up their efforts. In a statement earlier this year it said: "For the industry it is important to get a lead-time of at least three years after all standards have been finally fixed, as developing new vehicles takes many years to accomplish. Furthermore, open legal (data protection, privacy, liability) and commercial issues have to be solved prior to implementation. Only then, eCall functionality can be offered for all new type-approved vehicles, as a customer option."

Although standards have been developed and the technology tested, eCall is not yet operational in any country. Fifteen EU members have agreed to prepare their phone networks and emergency services for rollout of the system in cars, along with non-members Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Six more have said they will sign up, but six others (Denmark, France, Ireland, Latvia, Malta and the UK) are holding back.

A Department for Transport spokesperson told E&T: "The UK has not signed the European Commission's eCall Memorandum of Understanding at the present time because of concerns over whether the benefits of eCall will outweigh the costs of implementation. The UK will continue to work with the European Commission on this matter and will review the case for signing as new information comes available.

"In the meantime, calls from vehicles equipped with eCall can currently be supported in the UK, provided certain principles are followed. UK Public Service Answering Points can handle such calls and manage the information provided."

European Commission information sheet on eCall: /049_eCall_august09_en.pdf [new window] 

Battery-capacitor combo wins US backing

By Lorna Sharpe

An Australian-developed battery for hybrid vehicles has won US government support to accelerate its development.

US manufacturer East Penn has been awarded $32.5m to increase production capacity for its lead-acid batteries and the UltraBattery for micro and mild hybrid applications. The grant is one of 48 awarded as part of $2.4bn in funding for advanced battery and electric-drive projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Developed by Australian research organisation CSIRO, the UltraBattery combines a supercapacitor and a lead acid battery in a single unit, creating a hybrid car battery that is said to provide comparable performance to current technologies used in hybrid electric vehicles, while costing considerably less.

It can provide and absorb charge rapidly during vehicle acceleration and braking, making it particularly suitable for hybrids, which rely on the electric motor to meet peak power needs during acceleration and can recapture energy normally wasted through braking to recharge the battery.

The system clocked up 100,000 miles last year during tests in a hybrid vehicle at the UK's Millbrook Proving Ground, arranged by the Advanced Lead-Acid Battery Consortium (as featured in E&T Vol 3 #2).

CSIRO has licensed the technology to Furukawa Battery Company for commercialisation in Japan and Thailand, and permitted Furukawa to sub-license it to East Penn for commercialisation and distribution in the USA, Mexico and Canada.

CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship director Dr Alex Wonhas said: "UltraBattery is an exciting product that could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector. CSIRO is thrilled to be working closely with East Penn to develop the technology in North America.

"The collaboration and UltraBattery's ongoing success reinforces the valuable link between quality research and commercial development."

Watchkeeper prepares for first UK flights

By Dominic Lenton

The Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) due to go into service with UK armed forces in 2010 will take to skies over the west coast of Wales towards the end of this year.

The latest series of trials of Watchkeeper and its various sub-systems will be the first in Britain for the vehicle and follow recent completion of what prime contractor Thales UK describes as "a key set of inaugural flights" in Israel.

That demonstration gave the Ministry of Defence, which has ordered 54 vehicles under an £800m contract, the opportunity to see the full system and its control and communications components in action. This included flights from a semi-prepared landing strip with rough ground and obstacles designed to show that Watchkeeper can operate away from conventional airfields.

Watchkeeper will be built in the UK by a joint company set up by Thales and Elbit Systems of Israel. Its design is based on Elbit's Hermes 450 UAV, equipped with a battery of sensors capable of providing high-quality imaging in all weather conditions.

This includes day/night electro-optic sensors and a laser target designator, as well as synthetic-aperture radar target indicator radar, which together deliver intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) information and images to mobile ground control stations. The system requires just two operators, one supervising the mission and the other tracking information from on-board sensors.

Thales said that with infrastructure and facilities at the Parc Aberporth technology centre ready and in place, the programme will begin transfer to the UK with flight tests beginning in late 2009. In parallel, work will continue on payloads, software, flight management and ground infrastructure systems.

View from Brussels

EC indicates 4G preference

By Pelle Neroth

Once again, politics has become mixed in with a new technology.

Two standards have been developed for new fourth-generation (4G) mobile communications. One, WiMax, has a slight head start in the roll-out compared to the other, LTE, which is slightly more technologically advanced.

Both LTE and WiMax offer the exciting potential of, eventually, speeds up to 100Mbit/s - which will make them competitive with broadband wired connections.

Ericsson predicts a new generation of devices, a cross between iPhones and netbooks, that will take advantage of the new mobile multimedia opportunities. Video-conferencing on the go, anyone?

People in the industry have predicted a VHS versus Betamax battle of standards - and, interestingly, last month, the European Commission (EC) gave the clearest indication yet that it was favouring LTE, with the promise of €18m for research into an enhanced version called LTE Advanced.

The EC's move is good news for a consortium comprising Nokia Siemens Networks, Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and others backing the LTE standard. Many operators, including T-Mobile, Orange and Telia Sonera are also on board, prepared to invest billions of euros in LTE by 2013.

The decision is bad news for Intel, which leads the WiMax venture. Intel is already in trouble with the EC for anticompetitive behaviour, earning it the biggest fine ever imposed by Brussels.

Others hit include the US carrier Sprint, Samsung, US Cisco and Clearwire.

Clearwire has already begun rolling out WiMax mobile broadband to cities in the US: Baltimore, Portland, Las Vegas and Atlanta, with dozens more to be added. Meanwhile TeliaSonera hopes to go live with LTE as a European first in Stockholm and Oslo by end of 2009. That move gets a boost by the Commission decision.

If all this sounds like a US vs Europe split, with the US favouring WiMax, it's not. US carriers such as Verizon have also opted for LTE.

The EU's tilt towards LTE and the contrasting attempts from the WiMax consortium prompt the question: will the patents required to develop 4G networks be available for the standard developers?

If the patent holder does not want to be part of the venture, the whole project could collapse.

Qualcomm holds many patents in the sector, and has been angering governments and mobile phone makers for years with what some regard as predatory royalty rates. Qualcomm holds several key patents to 4G standards - but, for now, it has sided with neither WiMax nor LTE.

EC officials have whispered that they have a negotiation advantage over Qualcomm to get it to make a deal with its favoured consortia - Qualcomm has been under investigation by Brussels since 2007 for allegedly abusing its dominant position while holding patents to develop the earlier 3G standard.

However, any fines imposed on Qualcomm are likely to be small change. The bigger issue is the patent system itself, which has become very complex and in great need of reform. Too many companies are taking out patents. Often the patents overlap, and the resulting effort to work out who owns what IPR often diverts huge amounts of money and resources from proper innovation. If the EC took on that, it would really have achieved something.

Google Moon prize

By Mark Langdon

A new contest is challenging small teams of children and adults to design, program, and construct robots that can perform simulated lunar missions similar to those required to win the $30m Google Lunar X Prize.

The X Prize Foundation, Google, Lego Systems, National Instruments and Wired's GeekDad launched the MoonBots challenge at National Instruments NIWeek 2009.

Participating teams from anywhere in the world will submit designs illustrating how they will build, program and operate their robots using Lego Mindstorms robotic kits. Those selected as finalists will be provided with free Lego components to build a large moonscape that will serve as the competition's 'playing field'. They will then construct, program and demonstrate their robots to be judged.

The MoonBots challenge will also raise awareness of the $30m Google Lunar X Prize - a race for privately-funded teams to land a robot safely on the Moon, travel 500m over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth. Entrants must be registered to compete by 31 December 2010 and the full first prize of $20m is available until 31 December 2012, after which it will drop to $15m. The second team to complete the mission objectives will win $5m. Another $5m will be awarded in bonus prizes. The final deadline for winning the prize is 31 December 2014. [new window]

Software tool pinpoints router delays

By James Hayes

Researchers at Purdue University and the University of California have proposed a software enhancement for routers that, they say, will enable IP routers to measure fine-grained latency fluctuations that can beset high-performance applications such as automated trading, videoconferencing, and online gaming.

Although there can be multiple contributory causes for latency loss, errors recurring within routers due to bugs or misconfigurations have been costly to find and fix.

The Lossy Difference Aggregator (LDA) is a measurement data structure that measures packet delay and standard delay deviation, and can help with fault localisation. It complements conventional probes used to monitor end-to-end applications performance, its designers say. Compared with alternative solutions, LDA is inexpensive to implement on existing devices, say the researchers, has a low processing and bandwidth-usage overhead, and takes advantage of unallocated transistors on next-generation 65-nm router chips. It can track latencies down to tens of microseconds and losses that occur once every million packets.

Operators of latency-critical networks are forced to use external monitoring mechanisms to collect enough samples to compute accurate estimates, the LDA researchers claim. Capturing these effects in live networks requires injecting a prohibitively high rate of probe packets; so operators employ external passive hardware monitors at key points in the network, which can be an expensive exercise.

The LDA aims at tracking packets that go awry within a router - between entry and exit - rather than during transmission between routing devices. The system randomly splits incoming packets into groups and then adds up arrival and departure times of each group separately. As long as the number of packet losses is smaller than the number of groups, at least one group will give a good estimate of the average delay with very little overhead - just a series of lightweight counters.

Data centre managers would be able to use the information to pinpoint underperforming routers.

The LDA research was authored by Ramana Rao Kompella, Kirill Levchenko, Alex C Snoeren, and George Varghese and presented at the SIGCOMM networking conference. It was supported by the National Science Foundation, and Cisco Systems. [new window]

Greener paint takes to the air

Boeing is beginning in-service trials of chrome-free primer and chrome-free exterior decorative paint on a number of aircraft, with the intention of making it a standard option in future.

Removing chrome from the paint and primer reduces environmental impact and eliminates the need for special handling of paint waste and clean-up and designated offsite disposal areas.

The first plane to fly commercially with the new paint is a 777-300ER delivered to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. It carries a special SkyTeam livery to mark the 10th anniversary of the airline alliance.

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