The Downside of Ambition: Mozilla’s Crash, Teen Hacker’s Arrest

To kick off the final version of its newest Web browser, Firefox 3, Mozilla created a lot of hoopla about its goal to set a new world record for the most copies of an application downloaded in a single 24-hour period.

That really wasn’t very difficult, because there was no official record for that before — Mozilla was apparently the first outfit to call it in to Guinness. Anyway, Mozilla named the date and told the world to set its collective alarm clock for 10 a.m. Pacific time on Tuesday.

So, what happens when marketing people direct worldwide traffic to a site that promises a free new version of a trusted piece of much-loved and much-used software, and tells everyone to grab it all at once? Servers croak, that’s what. The Firefox 3 stampede trampled the big lizard, with users the world over reporting extremely slow downloads — or a crashed site.

OK, so getting Firefox 3 on Day 1 was no fun — but is the browser actually any good? It does look nice — the controls have been given a makeover, there are new bookmarking features, and security’s been tightened up a notch. And you can’t go wrong with a feature called the “Awesome Bar,” which aids in navigation.

Listen to the podcast (13:37 minutes).

Cracking and Entering

Sure, they’re just kids, but what two Orange County, Calif., teens are accused of doing is anything but kid stuff. The alleged mastermind, 18-year-old Omar Khan, is charged with 69 felony counts.

He’s accused of hacking into school computers to change his grades and the grades of several other students. He also is charged with breaking into his school to steal a test the night before it was administered. He was caught when he requested a copy of his transcript and school officials noticed the amazing improvement in his academic performance.

The allegations against Khan include burglary, identity theft, altering official records — a whole bunch of nasty stuff. Khan could go to prison for up to 38 years if he’s convicted and if a judge determines he’s enough of a menace to warrant consecutive sentences.

Otherwise, seeing as how he’s only 18 and probably never been to prison before, he’ll probably be put on probation for a week. Never mind that he likely won’t be graduating anytime soon, the kid may have a bright future as a black hat.

Not an Agency

In another blow to the search for millions of missing White House e-mails, a federal judge has ruled that the Office of Administration is not subject to the 41-year-old Freedom of Information Act because it’s not an agency.

The decision is the latest hurdle blocking a many-fronted effort to determine how an alleged 10 million Bush administration e-mails apparently vanished. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has appealed the ruling.

Public policy advocates say the decision is disappointing, but they insist it will have little impact on the larger case against White House, which is still pending.

Don’t Believe the Hype

If you’re tempted to believe the latest rumor about the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, his campaign hopes you’ll visit, a Web site dedicated to dispelling myths about him before they gain traction on the Internet.

FightTheSmears lists widespread rumors about the senator along with the campaign’s rebuttals. For instance, the site posts a much-whispered rumor that Obama’s wife, Michelle, is caught on tape uttering a racial epithet, referring to white people as “Whitey.” No such tape exists, the site insists.

Other rumors and gossip include reports that Obama has refused to make his birth certificate public — a copy can be viewed on the site — and reports that Obama is Muslim. He’s not.

FightTheSmears uses social media to spread the word about the candidate. Users can send pages to up to 10 e-mail addresses, and YouTube video clips are embedded. For his supporters, Obama’s aggressively proactive response to negative campaigning is heartening, especially in light of the damage caused to 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry by the swiftboat attacks. Kerry’s failure to defend his Vietnam War service record more assertively may have cost him the election.

Net’s Growing Political Role

Speaking of politics online, more Americans have turned to the Internet to get political news this year than in all of 2004, according to a new survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

To some extent, that fact can be attributed to a longer-than-expected and sometimes heated campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. But it is also indicative of the Internet’s growing role in politics.

About 46 percent of Americans have used some form of online media to learn about the candidates or share their opinions about them with others, according to the report. Voters are also increasingly using social media to supplement their typical news fare.

This year, 35 percent of adults polled by Princeton Survey Research Associates visited online video sites, social networking sites and online donation sites. That number is triple the visitors to those venues during the 2004 cycle, says Pew. Democrats are benefiting the most from these trends, especially Obama.

Fee Fighter

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is going after cell-phone carriers. Martin wants to tell them how much they can charge you to get out of your contract, a plan that’s not winning him many industry friends.

The fees, which were introduced back in the Dark Ages when phones were the size of your shoe and cost as much as a car, have grown a bit outdated, Martin argues. Furthermore, he says, the carriers are using them as a way to keep people locked into their contracts rather than as a legitimate means of recovering costs.

Martin’s plan calls for carriers to prorate the fees and to eliminate them when the contract is renewed. He also proposes that they limit the contracts to “a reasonable length of time.”

The carriers have been scrambling to change their policies on their own — just to prove they don’t need no stinking government regulations to get them to do the right thing. They just need the threat of government regulations to do the right thing.

Broadening Its Domain

John Brown, Laura Jones, David Johnson, and everyone else out there with an extremely common name: you may yet have a chance to get yourself an e-mail address that doesn’t require you to make up some obscure nickname or tack on a bunch of random numbers to turn your real name into a unique identifier.

Yahoo has added two new domains to its e-mail service — and It claims that the original domain is getting so crowded that new users have to do some pretty ridiculous lexical contortions in order to register a new account.

So, Joseph Smith, you can now have your mail sent to [email protected] instead of [email protected]. Maybe now people will take you a little more seriously.

Pop the Cork

Its developer community has been hard at work for 15 years, and now a stable version of Wine is available for download.

Wine allows users of other operating systems — most notably, Linux and Mac OS — to run Windows applications without the Windows operating system. It achieves this tricky feat by serving as a kind of translator between the application and the OS, making the app think it’s getting commands from Bill Gates when it’s actually Steve Jobs or Linus Torvalds talking.

Kind of like that Darth Vader voice box you had as a kid. Yeah, you know, the one you still use to mess with your brother-in-law every once in a while, but I digress.

Wine took so long to build, its developers say, because it had to adapt to a constantly changing landscape of applications, OSes and their various programming interfaces. Now the thing works with thousands of apps, but certainly not all of them.

Thin Is In

If you’ve got a fat wallet and you want a skinny computer, you’ve got choices. HP’s new Voodoo laptop is less than an inch thick, and of course Apple offers the MacBook Air.

Any smaller than that and you’re looking at the ultramobile PC category. But now Toshiba’s gotten into the thin laptop game with its new Portege R500-S5007V. That’s a name that really rolls off the tongue, huh?

Anyway, Toshiba’s latest comes in at point 77 inches thick and 2.4 pounds, and unlike the MacBook Air, it has a CD/DVD drive as well as three USB ports rather than one. To top it off, it comes with a solid state drive with 128 gigabytes of space, which is twice as much as most SSD notebooks offer. Also big is the price: 3,000 bucks.

Here’s a Chip in Your Eye

The goal of most microchip designers is performance, first and foremost. If it happens to be a processor for a notebook computer or mobile device, then a little power savings might be nice as well.

But when you’re designing chips for sensors, power efficiency is key. With that in mind, researchers at the University of Michigan developed Phoenix, a power-saving chip for use in sensors that monitor things like air quality, the structural integrity of a building, or even the pressure inside your eye.

The tiny chip uses 30,000 times less power when in a resting state than other, similar chips. And when it turns on every 10 minutes and goes through its list of commands, it still uses 10 times less power.

That allows the battery to be small and still last a long time without having to be replaced. Sounds like a great idea, especially if it’s in your eye.

Luddite Docs

When asked why they’re dragging their feet on introducing electronic patient record systems, doctors around the U.S. said, in effect, Show me the money. According to a new Harvard-led study, the vast majority of doctors aren’t taking advantage of electronic medical records, with many citing the cost of adoption and uncertain return on investment as significant barriers.

Just 17 percent of U.S. doctors have access to some version of electronic health records systems, and just 4 percent of physicians have access to what the study’s authors define as a fully functional e-records system. However, the tipping point for broader adoption may be on the horizon.

Forty-two percent of the surveyed physicians that haven’t gone down the e-record path said they either bought a system and hadn’t implemented it at the time of the survey or that they were planning to purchase and implement a system in the next two years.

Gee, Thanks, Sony

Speaking of brainy, users of Sony’s PSP can now do Google searches without going to Google’s site, saving them an entire step in the two-step process.

When it issued the most recent update to the PSP’s firmware, Sony included Google search functionality in the device’s menu bar.

Gaming fanboy sites jumped on the news with starry-eyed stories of Sony’s generosity, but we here at ECT simply couldn’t forget that this is the same company that invented the Rolly — a blinking, dancing egg of an mp3 player that costs 4 hundred dollars and holds a whopping 2 gigs of music. Now that’s a company that knows what its customers want.

Also in this week’s podcast: LinkedIn’s billion-dollar day, XM/Sirius approval, America’s R&D prowess.

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