Originally created 10/13/03

Techbits: Laptop gets hard drive defense



NEW YORK -- Cars can sense danger and puff up their air bags. Laptops, too, are getting a similar defense mechanism.

Two new models of ThinkPad notebook computers, unveiled this week by IBM Corp., come with a chip that can detect when the laptop is accelerating - such as when it has been accidentally nudged off a table and is plunging to the floor.

If the hard drive happens to be reading or writing data at the time, the chip tells the drive to temporarily stop. Hard drives are at their most vulnerable when reading and writing data, so IBM believes the crash-protection chip will help guard against such losses of important information.

The crash chips are found in IBM's new ThinkPad R50 and T41 models, which start at $1,529 and $1,649 respectively.

-Brian Bergstein, Associated Press.

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NEW YORK -- Just weeks after recording label BMG released a CD equipped with new copy-protection technology, a Princeton grad student has figured out how to defeat it.

His trick? Hit the "shift" key while inserting the CD.

Alex Halderman, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in computer security, posted his findings on the Internet this week after testing SunnComm Technologies Inc.'s MediaMax CD-3 technology.

Unlike past CD-protection schemes, MediaMax promises more flexibility. Music buyers can play protected CDs on computers and even burn copies onto blank CDs or e-mail trial copies to friends. But songs are coded so they can't be played if circulated widely over file-sharing networks.

In an interview, Halderman said it took him three days to figure out that the "shift" key disables the Windows "autorun" function needed to activate the protection.

BMG knew of the possibility, but "the reality is if we waited for the perfect solution, we wouldn't make any progress," BMG spokesman Nathaniel Brown said.

SunnComm president Bill Whitmore said the technology was more about enabling consumers' rights rather than preventing all copying. By offering flexibility, he said, "Why would you want to steal it?"

-Anick Jesdanun, Associated Press.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Advocates for the poor say they're glad to see Ohio dump so-called "smart cards" used to replace paper food stamps.

The system offers limited options to food stamp recipients because not all grocery stores had card readers in every checkout lane, said Lisa Hamler-Podolski, director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks.

The state said the current system is too expensive, costing $22 million a year, or up to four times as much as other programs.

The smart card is a plastic card with a computer chip capable of maintaining individual account information. The state installed 11,000 machines to read the cards at groceries and other stores statewide.

The state will seek bids for a magnetic-strip system instead.

-Andrew Welsh-Huggins, AP Writer.

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NEW YORK -- America Online is adding closed captioning to a limited number of its online video feeds.

Tom Wlodkowski, director of accessibility at AOL, likens the efforts to the early days of closed captioning on TV in the 1970s, when only a handful of shows offered it. Today, major networks regularly offer programming with closed captioning.

Though the main impetus is serving hearing-impaired Internet users, Wlodkowski said, other users should benefit as well. Internet users at work can hit the "mute" button and still follow video, and eventually they will be able to use it to search for text in video, he said.

AOL is initially offering closed captioning with a tutorial and a kids' cartoon series called "Princess Natasha." Later this fall, it will offer it on three of the dozen or so hourly news feeds that CNN produces for AOL each day.

Jim House, a spokesman with the nonprofit Telecommunications for the Deaf Inc., said he wants to ultimately see everything accessible "so we have choices - just like on TV."

"Major networks caption their newscasts on television, (so) why not on the Internet as well?" House, who is deaf, said via instant messaging.

-Anick Jesdanun, Associated Press.

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BANGALORE, India -- S. Appaji's small truck is his second home as he delivers goods to distant customers.

Formerly out of touch while on his rounds, the 34-year-old driver can now be reached any time - by cellular phone.

A status symbol for the rich and elite just two years ago, the mobile phone is now an essential tool for small jobbers, who earn less than $50 a month.

India remains far behind other nations in the use of mobile phones. Yet few countries add 1 million new customers a month, as India is doing now.

"Before I got this phone, my family would not know whether I was safe on the road," Appaji said in his native Kannada language. "My customers would give up on me because they couldn't reach me. But now, the phone has solved all those problems."

-S. Srinivasan, AP Writer.