Microsoft Readying High-End Xbox 360

Several news outlets are citing various sources saying Microsoft plans to release the Xbox 360 Elite, a high-end limited edition console that would retail for $479 USD and include an HDMI connector, IPTV capabilities, and a 120GB hard drive.

The Redmond company is not confirming the rumors, although it has been reported that a Microsoft XNA framework developer may have unintentionally confirmed the HDMI functionality in a company forum for the technology.

Still missing from the rumored unit is a built-in HD DVD drive, say sources. While the company has said it plans to eventually build the technology into its consoles, Microsoft is apparently waiting for production costs to come down before it does so.

“It is interesting that Microsoft hasn’t added the HD DVD drive as a permanent feature,” Dean Takahashi of the San Jose Mecury News wrote of the news. “The format war with Blu-ray is still going on, and that drive would add considerable cost.”

The motherboard of the new Xbox 360 would also be redesigned to take advantage of new 65-nanometer technologies, which would also bring down the manufacturing costs of the console. This could open up the door for a price cut before the holidays, and put pressure on rivals Nintendo and Sony.

Analysts say it is unclear whether or not the other consoles would see a price cut immediately as a result of the new model’s unveiling. However, the addition of IPTV would give the Xbox 360 an edge over the PlayStation 3, which does not have the capability but costs more.

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Judge rules COPA unconstitutional

Congress’ efforts to muzzle pornography on the Web were dealt another serious setback on Thursday, when a federal judge ruled a 1998 law was unconstitutional and violated Americans’ First Amendment rights.

U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed in Philadelphia permanently barred prosecutors from enforcing the Child Online Protection Act, or COPA, saying it was overly broad and would “undoubtably chill a substantial amount of constitutionally protected speech for adults.” The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Even though politicians enacted COPA nearly a decade ago as part of an early wave of Internet censorship efforts, the courts have kept it on ice and it has never actually been enforced. The law makes it a crime for commercial Web sites to make “harmful to minors” material publicly available, with violators fined up to $50,000 and imprisoned for up to six months.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said on Thursday: “We’re still reviewing the court’s opinion and we’ve made no determination what the government’s next step will be.” The Bush administration has the option of appealing its loss to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Because of an odd legal legal twist, COPA has been bouncing around the legal system without a final resolution. The law already has been reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court once–which agreed with a temporary ban on enforcement–but the justices said they wanted more information about the current state of filtering technology and stopped short of a definitive ruling on its constitutionality.

Reed’s 84-page opinion (PDF) appears to be intended to provide ample grounds for the Supreme Court to strike down the law for good. The opinion includes a detailed review of the filtering technology’s state of the art and concludes the programs are “fairly easy to install” and are “more effective than ever before.”

The almost-forgotten law found its way into the headlines last year after Justice Department attorneys preparing to defend COPA in Reed’s Pennsylvania courtroom sent subpoenas to Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL asking for millions of search records. Only Google fought the subpoena in court, and it managed to persuade a California judge to limit what information prosecutors would receive.

The Justice Department gave excerpts of the search engines’ databases (and, in some cases, anonymized search terms) to its expert, a Berkeley statistics professor named Philip Stark.

In response, Stark and a colleague prepared a report that said 1.1 percent of the Web sites cataloged by Google and MSN are sexually explicit. They also found that, in response to Web pages returned in response to the most popular search terms, AOL’s filter performed the best and blocked 98.7 percent of sexually explicit Web pages. Some filters, however, blocked less than 90 percent of such pages.

In his ruling on Thursday, Reed cited the testimony of one of the ACLU’s witnesses, Carnegie Mellon University professor Lorrie Faith Cranor, who found that filters generally block 95 percent of sexually explicit material. He also said that two congressionally-mandated studies “have confirmed that content filters can be effective at preventing minors from accessing harmful materials online” and are therefore more effective than criminal penalties.

First Amendment precedent makes this a crucial point: Anti-porn laws can only be upheld as constitutional if they’re the least restrictive and most effective way to shield minors from salacious material. Otherwise, they’re viewed as unconstitutional.

What if the Bush administration wins?

If the courts eventually uphold COPA as constitutional, a wide variety of Web publishers–from news to sex education to adult pornography–would have to revamp their sites or face criminal prosecution.

“Teaser” images on U.S. porn sites would likely vanish, since COPA says Webmasters who employ measures such as credit card verification or require an “adult access code” can’t be prosecuted because such mechanisms would typically keep out minors. Other sites would simply move overseas, where U.S. law doesn’t apply.

But COPA’s use of the term “harmful to minors” is broad enough to sweep in more mainstream publishers as well. The term is defined as material that lacks “scientific, literary, artistic or political value” for minors and that is offensive to local “community standards.”

That’s why plaintiffs in the COPA case include the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Salon.com, ObGyn.net, Philadelphia Gay News and the Internet Content Coalition. CNET Networks, publisher of News.com, was a member of the now-defunct Internet Content Coalition.

Reed acknowledged that Congress “apparently intended” COPA to apply to commercial photographers. But he ruled that the actual wording of the law is broad enough that mainstream publishers could “fear prosecution.”

When Congress was debating the law a decade ago, anti-pornography groups identified it as a key political priority and lent strong support to conservative Republicans such as Ohio’s Michael Oxley, COPA’s co-author, who is no longer a member of the House of Representatives.

The American Family Association once called COPA “Congress’ latest attempt to protect innocent children from the devastating effects on Internet pornography.” The Family Research Council filed a legal brief calling the Internet the “most intrusive, pervasive medium of communication ever created,” which can offer a “particularly dangerous method of transmitting” pornography.

COPA represents Congress’ second attempt to restrict sexually explicit material on the Internet. The Supreme Court in 1997 rejected the Communications Decency Act, which targeted “indecent” or “patently offensive” material, as unconstitutional.

Nokia’s E61i, up close and shiny

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Not a whole lot more info than we had last time around — in fact, zero more info for anyone keeping track — but we haven’t managed to get close to the E61i before now. No real surprises here, and this is just a dummy unit, so we don’t even have any screen brightness to assess, but hey, beggers can’t be choosers, and those additional smart buttons and spiced up d-pad look promising, even if the phone for the most part seems relatively unchanged.

Kabron the Spider

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Kabron the Spider, originally uploaded by zxo2000.

Thought i would share a recent pic of my spider…

She is a Metalic Pink Toe, native of Colombia…

How do you like her???

Microsoft admits OneCare flaws

Microsoft has promised to try harder, after its new OneCare anti-virus software failed a benchmark test often considered indispensable by the industry.

“The recent detection numbers were not stellar,” Jimmy Kuo, a member of the Microsoft security research and response team, said in a company blog.

“We missed capturing a VB100 [Virus Bulletin 100] in the last test because we missed one virus,” he wrote. “As a result, we have adopted new methodologies to … look more closely at families of viruses that have been found to be ‘in the wild,’ [those] found actively spreading among users.”

Early last month, Virus Bulletin, a UK publication whose VB100 tests are considered one of the anti-virus industry’s benchmarks, put 15 Vista security programs up against January’s WildList, a master list of all viruses, worms, Trojans and other on-the-loose malware. Five titles failed the test, including Microsoft’s Windows Live OneCare 1.5.

“We will keep on working to acquire the VB100 Award each time we are tested by Virus Bulletin,” promised Kuo.

Kuo said that the company’s developers would come up with signatures able to detect entire families of malware, something security vendors have been doing for years. Kuo also said that Microsoft would put more resources into identifying what he called “truly important malware.”

OneCare has been called into question by other tests in recent weeks. Earlier this month, AV Comparatives, a non-profit site that pits the most popular anti-virus products against nearly half a million pieces of malware, placed OneCare dead last in a list of 17 programs.

“You will see our results gradually and steadily increase until they are on par with the other majors in this arena,” pledged Kuo.

Kuo, who prior to joining Microsoft’s security team last September was a 10-year veteran of McAfee’s AVERT research lab, is probably best known as the researcher who tracked down the hacker who wrote 1999’s Melissa virus.

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Review: Toshiba Satellite P105 gaming notebook

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For a long time, the notion of a “gaming laptop” was a contradiction in terms. After all, everyone knew that notebooks had to compromise on features and performance to achieve maximum portability, right? And even with advances in chips that make it possible for today’s laptop PCs to outpace the desktops from 12 minutes ago, you’re still faced with awkward controls and a screen that’s too small. Am I right?

“Dude, you’ve been misinformed,” is what Toshiba would say to that. The notebooks in the company’s Satellite series are designed with gaming in mind, as the P105-S9722 shows. It sports a 17-inch widescreen LCD monitor (1,440 x 900 pixels) and some serious multimedia hardware, including an Nvidia graphics card with 256 MB of memory and dual-core processing power. We’re way beyond Pong here.

Not everything’s in the specs, though. When it’s all said and done, the P105 has one simple mission: Convince me that a laptop can serve as a primary gaming platform. After all, if you’re spending 2 Gs on a rig, it damn well better not be a “secondary” one. Let’s see how it did.

Flat Tax

Turning on the Toshiba for the first time, I was greeted by a dialogue box asking me if I wanted to disable CD burning in case I wanted to record on DVD-RAM discs, obviously referring to the built-in SuperMulti drive, which can write data to any of the five recordable DVD formats floating out there. Um, awesome, but I’m not interested in burning DVDs right now, thanks. Let’s just hit Cancel. Oh, you mean that box is always going to come back to greet me every time I restart? Great. Although I’m sure there’s a way to remove it permanently, who wants to bother with this right out of the box? In fairness, this is more of a Windows problem (XP, not Vista) than a Toshiba problem, but it sure made me immediately long for my MacBook.

One way-cool perk on many of Toshiba’s Satellites is the built-in fingerprint reader to the right of the mousepad. After you set it up, it provides a nice way to speed up any logins and add security to your computer. It also has the effect of making you feel like James Bond for a few seconds. Even though it sometimes took two or three swipes to work, I’m a fan.

A bit further down my list of “noteworthies” is the Dual Mode mousepad, which adds some extra functionality via a few “virtual” buttons. They light up when you touch the pad in a specific spot and do things like call up Outlook or a turn up the volume. Three of the buttons are customizable, though they can do only simple stuff like launch applications or skip tracks in a media player. I was hoping I could make them do fancy gaming actions like switching weapons or skipping a turn (depending on which game I was playing), but not so much. Plus the pad is just kind of small — or maybe it only looked that way right next to that brightly colored sticker touting the P105’s features. Nope, it really is tiny. Strike three: the pad seemed to click things from time to time when my finger hadn’t gone anywhere the mouse button. Yeah, not a fan here.

Game Time

Okay, the gaming. After a quick install of Guild Wars: Nightfall, I was ready to save the people of Elona with my party of warriors while accepting a quest… you get the idea. To fully get your war on, the Guild recommends a 2-GHz Pentium 4 processor, an Nvidia GeForce FX5700 graphics card, and a gig of RAM to play. Since the Toshiba is equipped with a pair of 2-GHz Centrino chips, an Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS card, and 2 GB of RAM, I think I was well covered. And with a colossal 200-GB hard drive, you’ll never run out of room for saving games.

Gameplay was as silky smooth as you’d expect from such a system. Guild Wars is an action-packed fantasy role-playing game; not only does it have a lot of elements moving at any moment, but also a fully customizable “camera” view that you can change on the fly. The P105 handled every spear throw, axe strike, and magic spell deftly. To be completely honest, when my party came to a village with dozens of online players present, there were some hiccups, but this was probably due to the speed of the network connection, not the hardware.

The only issue I had was that tiny mousepad. It could be just my style, but it was just too small and awkward to play a dynamic game like Guild Wars as effectively as I’d like. And, hey, if the monitor’s widescreen, why doesn’t the pad match its aspect ratio? Sure, you could hook up an external mouse, but then you might as well have a desktop. Whether or not this is a deal-breaker depends if you think you could get used to it. For me, it would take a while.

At the End of the Day…

There’s no question the Toshiba P105-S9722 has tools to impress. It’s no Dell XPS tower, but the guts of this baby will run most anything you can throw at it — even Vista. The performance is impressive given the price tag. A big, bight screen and other perks help to make you forget it’s a laptop, although eventually you’ll run into some inherent limits of portable computers. Stil, if you need to ditch the desktop for a notebook, the P105 won’t stop trying to win you over. Given enough time, it may even succeed.

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