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IBM Canada and the University of British Columbia (UBC) recently turned loose a new supercomputer – code named Monster – that will help researchers predict and plan for avalanches, forest fires, earthquakes, cyclones and other natural disasters.

Located at UBC’s Geophysical Disaster Computational Fluid Dynamics (GeoDisaster) Centre in Vancouver, Monster is an IBM eServer xSeries-based Linux cluster that will deliver the most detailed weather mapping forecasts available to Canadian academic researchers. With a peak speed of 170 billion calculations per second, Top 500 – the organization that ranks the world’s supercomputers – lists this installation as the fourth most powerful computer in Canada, and 255th in the world. Rather than following the more standard supercomputing architecture of a small number of extremely powerful processors, Monster is powered by 264 Intel Pentium 1GHz processors, running very fast Myrinet 2000 Interconnect and Red Hat Linux version 6.2.

Windows XP security alert revised by FBI agency

The FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) has revised its recent security bulletin regarding Windows XP’s universal plug-and-play (UPNP) service. On Christmas Eve, the NIPC issued a bulletin advising Windows XP users to consider turning off the UPNP service to close a security hole that could allow hackers to break into a user’s computer. That recommendation followed the posting of a patch by Microsoft Corp. on its Web site.

Now, in an updated security bulletin, the NIPC has dropped the recommendation to disable UPNP. Instead, the Washington-based agency recommends that the Microsoft patch be installed to correct the security vulnerability.

Euro conversion goes smoothly, but tests for IT remain

European Union banks are reporting that the conversion to the new euro currency has so far gone smoothly. But experts say that the real test is ahead for accounting systems, databases, spreadsheets and back-end business IT systems.

Although the euro has been the virtual currency in 12 of the 15 European Union countries since 1999, the actual physical conversion to the new money didn’t take place until Jan. 1. Those adopting the currency include Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Those still on the sidelines are Britain, Denmark and Sweden. Europay International, the leading European electronic payments group representing MasterCard International Inc., Eurocard, Cirrus, Maestro and Eurocheque brands, said automated teller machine (ATM) and debit card withdrawals hit record levels in the first 24 hours after the euro’s release.

Popular file-swap programs had Trojan horse

Three popular file-swap programs for some time came with third-party “spyware” software that was installed even if the user opted not to, the software makers admitted recently. KaZaA, Grokster and LimeWire, free peer-to-peer (P2P) applications used by millions for exchanging files on the Internet, at one point came with a program called ClickTillUWin, a client for an online lottery. This client software contains a Trojan horse program that sends information to its maker, several vendors of antivirus software have warned.

A Trojan horse is different from a virus in that it typically doesn’t corrupt files or propagate itself. Trojan horses can, however, install backdoor programs that let hackers gain access to a computer.

Keyboard stroke capture okay, judge says

A federal judge in New Jersey rejected a defence motion recently to suppress computer evidence gained in a U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation case against an accused Mafia loan shark, possibly clearing a path for the government to use secretly installed keystroke logging tools to defeat encryption.

FBI agents acting with a warrant in May 1999 installed a keystroke logging device on the computer of Nicodemo S. Scarfo Jr., hoping to record a password for a file encrypted with PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) software. Scarfo’s attorneys hoped to suppress the evidence as unconstitutional, a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The defence also objected to the government’s effort to keep the workings of the keystroke logger secret. Prosecutors invoked the Classified Information Protection Act in August of 2000, asserting that the technical details of the computer keystroke logging tool must remain a secret in the interest of national security, a move more typically associated with protecting military or espionage secrets like those involved in the Wen Ho Lee nuclear secrets case or the spy case of Robert Hanssen, who was an FBI agent.

Gartner: It’s a CRM buyer’s market

Customer relationship management vendors are struggling to capture new business, and enterprises in the market for CRM software stand to benefit from their tribulations, according to a recent report by Gartner Inc.

“The global economic downturn has intensified its grip on the vendors within the CRM software market. The real winners are the buyers of CRM software,” said Gartner vice-president Thomas Topolinski in the report. Cash-conserving enterprises are focused on proven revenue-generating IT projects and therefore slower to commit to CRM software. This hesitancy – and its negative effect on vendors’ revenue – gives the enterprise buyer a leg up when it comes to licence negotiation. “Opportunity for the enterprise comes in the form of strong negotiating position in terms and conditions, including price,” Topolinski said.

Sun to drop Intel support in Solaris 9

Sun Microsystems Inc. said it will not support chips from Intel Corp. with the release of its Solaris 9 operating system this year, as the hardware maker looks to cut costs in a tough economic climate.

Most corporate Solaris users run the operating system on Sun’s own 64-bit UltraSparc processors, but a number of users have also worked with the software on servers with Intel’s 32-bit chips. Companies such as Dell Computer Corp. typically load Solaris onto Intel-based servers upon customer request, even though Dell does not directly offer Solaris as an option. This tradition, however, will come to a close with the release of Solaris 9 in the first half of this year. Sun decided the costs of support, such as bug tracking and software patches, for Solaris 9 running on Intel was not worth the cost to the company. Sun does not offer Solaris support for Intel’s 64-bit Itanium chips. Although Sun was once working on a version of Solaris that would run on Itanium, those efforts have ended. Both companies have pointed fingers at each other for stopping the effort.

Larger screens blamed for LCD shortage

Increased demand for larger LCD display screens is at the heart of a looming shortage that crosses all sizes of the product category, according to Larry Wei, president of CTX International Inc.

CTX is a monitor manufacturer based in The City of Industry, Calif., an a subsidiary of Asia’s Chuntex Electronics Co. Ltd. Wei said demand for larger LCD screens beyond the 15-inch range is causing manufacturers of LCD motherglass – the base material for LCD screens – to carve the motherglass into fewer pieces, ultimately yielding fewer units, thus driving an impending shortage. Wei added that margins for motherglass makers were better on motherglass cuts for larger LCD screens. Research by Austin, Texas-based DisplaySearch shows an increased appetite for larger LCD screens, with 17-, 18-, and 20-inch LCDs beginning to catch up with 15-inch LCDs, which still account for a majority of LCD units shipped. LCD screens larger than 15 inches now make up nearly 20 per cent of the almost 4.13 million LCD units shipped over the last year, according to DisplaySearch.