Merb could help Ruby gain programming language edge

A new open source framework, Merb, could bolster the rapidly growing Ruby programming language, reported. Merb 1.0, a Model View Controller, is in the final development stages and is targeted for release by the end of October. The framework is designed to give programmers more scalability and flexibility in the use of specific tools and libraries than the popular framework that influenced it, Ruby on Rails. But Merb still lacks some functions such as full support for SOAP. (

IRS systems have security vulnerabilities

Two internal IRS computer applications have security vulnerabilities that were known when the applications were deployed, according to a US Treasury Department report issued last week. The Customer Account Data Engine, a tax processing tool rolled out in phases beginning in July 2004, lacks adequate protection against malicious code, transfers information without encryption, and doesn’t have a sufficient timeout mechanism for user sessions, among other deficiencies. The Account Management System, a database of taxpayer information, has similar vulnerabilities, according to the report. According to NextGov, the IRS says it has already addressed 11 of the 22 listed vulnerabilities. (NextGov)

FireWire’s absence from new Macbook causes furor

Not long after Apple unveiled its new line of Macbooks on Thursday, customers flocked to the company’s support forums with complaints about the absence of a FireWire port on the lower-end model. In several hundred posts, users complained that without a FireWire port, they wouldn’t be able to hook up FireWire-only devices such as video cameras, audio interfaces, and external hard drives. Apple, which has dropped technologies in the past (it was the first to go without a 3.5-inch floppy drive), didn’t address the change in the official product launch. According to Apple Insider, Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs responded to one e-mail complaint by stating, "Actually, all of the new HD camcorders of the past few years use USB 2." (Computerworld)

Microsoft objects to informational use of Windows Update

Microsoft is attempting to fend off a legal request to use its Windows Update service to inform customers of a “Windows Vista Capable” class-action lawsuit against the company, according to a report in Computerworld. Calling the idea a form of spam, Microsoft said it has promised users that Windows Update would only be used for security patches and other updates and not for general information messages. Plaintiffs in the case made the request in an effort to notify other potential plaintiffs and direct them to an informational Web site. The suit alleges that Microsoft misled customers by  letting PC makers  put a “Vista Capable” sticker on  machines  capable of  running only  the Vista Home Basic version. (Computerworld)

Google’s Android has a kill switch

Google’s new Android smart phone has a kill switch  that lets the company  remotely remove third-party software from users’ devices, according to reports. The company  states in its terms of service that it can kill applications that violate distribution agreements, similar to how  Apple’s iPhone works. Apple’s kill switch caused an uproar when it was discovered by a hacker earlier this year, and chief executive officer Steve Jobs eventually admitted that Apple had  inserted it  to prevent malicious applications. (Information Week)

Millions of Internet addresses are unused

There are millions of unused Internet addresses in the current IPv4 protocol, and it  might be possible to reclaim those addresses ahead of the planned switch to the IPv6 protocol, a research team found. The findings are significant because IPv4 is expected to run out of available addresses  in 2010, and efforts to get ISPs to switch to IPv6 (which increases the available addresses exponentially) have been slow. In a paper titled “Census and Survey of the Visible Internet,” a team from the USC Information Sciences Institute detailed how they used pings to explore the Internet’s topography, including remote locations called “edge hosts,” and adjusted the results to account for hosts hidden behind firewalls. Whether those unused IPv4 portions are usable is debatable, because reclaiming addresses would be time-intensive and costly. “Reusing address space poses many, many challenges:  locating the space, proving it’s unused, moving it smaller blocks, etc.” associate professor John Heidemann said. “These challenges turn into real costs to manage IPv4 more efficiently.” But Heidemann also noted that there  hasn’t been an exhaustive survey of the Internet since 1982, and his research should help people decide whether to salvage parts of IPv4 or push ahead with IPv6. (Technology Review)

FCC tentatively approves use of white spaces

The use of “white spaces” for wireless broadband access could be realized by February after the US Federal Communications Commission gave its initial approval Wednesday for wireless devices to use that area of the spectrum. White spaces are unused portions of the spectrum held by television networks, which proponents say can be used for broadband access. Broadcasters oppose the use of white spaces, saying that it could interrupt their digital signals and reduce quality. But the FCC supports the idea, and the agency gave its approval to geolocation devices, which use GPS to ensure that they are on vacant frequencies. The FCC wants the use of white spaces to begin at the same time that television broadcasters begin their mandated switch to digital signals — February 17, 2009. However, the US Congress introduced legislation Wednesday to let broadcasters postpone the deadline, and it isn’t yet clear how that might affect white spaces. (PC Magazine)

Digital television switchover could be postponed

Acting on a survey showing that the US is unprepared for a mandated switch to digital television, Congress introduced legislation Wednesday that would let broadcasters  postpone the deadline, BetaNews reported. According to survey results from Nielsen Media Research, more than 21.5 million households aren’t ready  for DTV by the February 17, 2009 deadline. The bill would push back the deadline  “only to provide additional time for consumers to be educated about the DTV Transition and receive emergency information.” (BetaNews)

Botnets a threat to cell phones

Cell phones are next in line to become unknowing hosts for botnets,  researchers said at a security conference Wednesday. “At this point, mobile device capability is far ahead of security,” said Patrick Traynor, an assistant professor in the School of Computer Science at Georgia Tech. “We’ll start to see the botnet problem infiltrate the mobile world in 2009.” Smartphones could be attractive to botnet operators because they’re typically always on and have more security vulnerabilities – limited battery power prevents effective antivirus software from being placed in the devices. (The Associated Press)

Progress made in manufacture of 3D stacked integrated chips

Researchers at Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre in Belgium have made progress in developing 3D stacked integrated circuits using die-to-die technology, a significant step for  next-generation  semiconductors. The 3D IC circuits contain two chips that are stacked and vertically bonded into one chip, increasing speed and functionality. According to Eric Beyne, IMEC Scientific Director for 3D Technologies, the research center reduced the yield involved in rapid production of the stacked dies on silicon wafers, which is a “key aspect for the cost of the technology.” Beyne estimated that 3D ICs will get to market by 2012. (ScienceDaily)

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