We receive far more letters than we can print on paper, so here's what we chose from. This week's topics include non-lethal weapons, ebooks, Apple's Wi-Fi, Slingbox, and science teaching. JS

Another frightening issue with this is that those at the head of a large crowd of demonstrators might be unable to step back out of range of the beam. Simon Horsborough

There are strong indications that laser weapons are being used in Iraq already. There are plenty of articles and documentaries on the subject which can simply be found by researching on the internet. It appears the article could be seen as a little slow in picking up what is already happening. Philip Moran, London

Thank you for the excellent article on Raytheon's microwave "less than lethal" weapons of intense pain. This was the best article I have read to date and I commend you for it. Many American citizens are concerned about the research and development by the US military in the area of directed energy weapons. From what is known, directed energy weapons, also referred to as "non-lethal" weapons, is the centerpiece of war technology for the 21st century. Generally, the terminology of "non-lethal" is misleading in that these weaponized technologies are only "less than lethal" when used at a lower than lethal setting. At a longer or more intense setting, it is instantaneously lethal, even incinerating a living being in the blink of an eye. Military personnel often demonstrate the Raytheon technology by incinerating sea gulls at a great distance. I've personally heard the same story of this from many different people who were strangers to each other.

Last, I would like to bring to your attention many claims that are being made concerning the use of this technology. It is my understanding that these weapons are prohibited from being used in war per International treaties that the US has signed. When those agreements were entered into, the authority for directed energy weapons were transferred in the US from the Department of Defense to the Department of Justice. The DOJ addresses only domestic civilian matters. Since these technologies have been developed for military application, the US government, in my opinion, needs to characterize it for civilian applications. The fact is that situations in the US where massive civilian crowd control is needed is very rare in our recent history. It is unlikely, given the current climate in the US, that it will be needed any time soon. What many people are perceiving is that the US merely wants to test the Raytheon microwave pain-inducing technology on civilians in preparation for justifying opting out of the International ban on the use of these weapons in war. That would be unfortunate, because there is more to these pain-inducing weapons than has been revealed. The minimalist application sounds reasonable and safe. However, these directed energy weapons will likely never be used at those levels. These are weapons that have the capability to dominate every single living organism within its reach and to cause death in the most painful and inhumane of methods. Again, thank you for your top notch report. R Beth Ross, San Diego, California

>> Add this to the widescale CCTV coverage we have in this country, and now a linked speaker system to bark out orders, and you have the possibility of the UK evolving into Airstrip One sometime soon. Of course, CCTV is far from unpopular given the twin threats of terrorism and street crime, leaving the majority of us as though crushed in a huge vice. Effectively they're all on the same side: intimidation. A battle for the minds and not the hearts. http://lowlyseer.blogspot.com/2006/10/complete-control.html

>>They've created a weapon that can fry protesters, or at least give protesters the impression that they are being fried. (See crudely added link below for more details.) I say we should fight fire with fire. The system they have created costs $10 million. A snip for your average despot, but beyond the means of, well, us. On the other hand, there are lots of us and I reckon most of us own microwaves. All we need to do is re-wire them so that they work with the door open, buy lots of lenses that will spread the rays, borrow some car batteries and surround the White House. http://hecklescakes.blogspot.com/2006/10/microwave-weapons.html

Sir Humphrey (Free Our Data)

I use the following example when teaching researchers, a bit dated now but still valid. When president Clinton addressed the joint Houses of Parliament his words were in the public domain from the moment he uttered them. Anyone can use them. Mr Blair's reply at the same event is different: his words are controlled by Crown Copyright and are subject to users obtaining permission from HMSO to reproduce them. The only exception is under 'fair use' by news organisations. In the land of the free, the USA, government publications, by any means including films, are in the public domain from the date of publication, free for all to use. The thinking behind this is that the Government is financed by taxes, so the American people have already paid for this material and collectively own it and therefore should have free access. In the land of the Mother of Parliaments, Britain, all Government publications are Crown Copyright and remain so for 125 years or in the case of the King James Bible in perpetuity. The thinking behind this completely opposite approach is that the Government is Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty owns all Government publications, not the people, who are merely subjects who taxed in the name of the her Majesty. Greg Dyke did make the BBC Archives freely available the academic institutions on the grounds that the licence fee had paid for the material. He ran into some trouble with his board of governors for doing this but then he was soon to run into greater trouble with his governors and Her Majesty's Government. Barry Coward, Beulah Audiovisual, London


I can only see gadget addicts buying these devices. The cost of the device is far too much in comparison to the cost of a paperback. With other technologies falling in price month on month, i.e. laptops now retailing below £400 with wireless and lots of processing power and RAM, the cost of these devices needs to be significantly lower as the functionality of such a device is so limited when compared to a laptop. OK, a laptop battery does not last as long and does not boot up immediately but the additional functionality outweighs the inconveniences. Also, I would not really be too bothered losing £8 worth of paperback, I would be slightly more miffed if I lost £200-£500 worth of ebook reader. Nathan Seery, Brackley, Northants

The statement, ""Consumers will be looking for a more flexible DRM so they can move content around ..." is woefully out of touch with reality. What consumers are looking for is NO DRM. The DRM measures end up being extraordinarily draconian when implemented and costly to develop. And yet, few (if any) consumers want any kind of restriction on what they can do with a published product they have purchased. The fact is, most people are honest and will abide by copyright. DRM punishes the honest and has little effect on those who would abuse the copyright. Furthermore, the pursuit of DRM has yielded the plethora of formats which the publishers are considering, using, or developing. However, most users simply want access to .doc (Word documents), .pdf (Adobe), .txt , html, and .xml. Ironically, the publishers also seem to want to recover the cost of developing their peculiar proprietary formats by pricing their ebooks accordingly. "Most eBooks are the same price as the printed version or lower, in some cases 50% cheaper." is perhaps the most telling statement in the article. Young consumers especially, are aware of what it takes to produce electronic media. A 50% reduction on the book price is only viewed as an obscene profit grab. A +95% reduction might be better greeted. Like the music industry, the publishing industry will have to come to grips with the fact that they must bring their prices into line with what the consumer thinks is fair. To do that they will have to stop spending money avoiding the obvious technological solutions ... and start treating consumers as honest people. Mike Bourassa, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

You forgot the one real reason that ebooks are doomed When I buy a book. its mine. its property, I OWN that book to do with as I please. When I buy an ebook for the same freaking price as the paper book I have absolutely nothing. NO rights NO ownership and terms that can change AFTER I have paid my NON refundable price and of which I will NOT be refunded if I do not like or decline the new "terms". It's the same reason that online music sales will eventually fail. Once people realize they are buying .... nothing. School textbooks. Do you have any idea how much text books cost? It's bad enough that they rape you trading in your books (better to resell yourself), it's bad enough that they change books more and more frequently to prevent you being able to resell your old books. With ebooks you have no right to resell that ebook so they can both stop changing the books saving them money and prevent us from reselling out old books dramatically increasing the cost of getting an education. Chew on that for a bit. eBooks as corporations see them are very very bad for the people of this country. eBooks that are totally unencumbered with DRM and with full ownership, as owning a real book, would be very good for the people of this country. Chris Taylor, Edgely, Pennsylvania

>> Wow. Seriously, write this date down. This is the start of deeply, deeply groovy. This is the future, people! http://highland-frog.livejournal.com/13235.html

Keeping abreast

Aleks Krotoski asked for an example of a female icon beyond Lara Croft. How about Jade from "Beyond Good & Evil"? She was awesome! Her sidekick pig wasn't bad either, but that's going off at a tangent. Bulent Yusuf, London

"How am I expected to adopt such a character, or watch as representations of my gender are minimised? Please don't mention Lara Croft. Give me another example - one who isn't a male in hypersexualised female clothing -- and then I'll talk to you." Jade from "Beyond Good and Evil". Thanks to Michael Ansel from sunny France for that one. Next question please! It's been done. It's /always/ been done - there's always a game out there that counters pretty much any argument. It's just that they don't sell, and thus people don't know about them. If Ubi had got the marketing right and if people had followed up on the rave reviews and actually /bought/ the game, we'd be on number three or so by now, and we'd have our prominent female role model that everyone talks about. But... it was released at the wrong time without enough marketing, and despite reviewers everywhere begging people to buy a copy, it pretty much flopped. The experiment failed, and the take-home message to a lot of interested parties was probably "female protagonists with B-cup breasts and realistically feminine personalities cause games to sell poorly". The state of today's market in relation to the opening quote is in this regard entirely unsurprising.) Matt Woodward, Devon


Oh dear. I suspect that the Slingbox people may be a little annoyed with Technology Guardian and Matt Dunn if they see this. I think that he has unwittingly provided a critique of his broadband connection and mistakenly blamed it on his Slingbox! Unfortunately many UK broadband providers are still shamefully trying to get away with providing upstream bandwidth of a pathetic 256kbps ... even on downstream connections of 8Mbps. I think Matt will find it is his 256K bandwidth which makes fast action unwatchable. If he upgrades to a decent 1M or 2M upstream bandwidth, I don't think he'd have any problems at all. I do think that Technology could do worse than start one of its little campaigns about this though: it is a bit of a scandal that BB providers are hiding 256K upstream connections behind 2M, 4M and 8M bandwidth claims. They really should provide at least 512K, 1M and 2M Upstream respectively for ADSL on those claimed bandwidths. Also, more and more broadband uses are requiring higher upstream speeds -- but the corporations are far happier when the infrastructure favours us buying their content than broadcasting our own. Don't let them get away with it. John Walters, Bexhill-on-Sea

Mac Wi-Fi

Actually, Occam's razor actually says there was a particular flaw in most Wi-Fi gear but not with the Apple hardware and drivers and the demo had to use third party gear on a Mac to demo the flaw. They used a Mac by their own admission ("We're not picking specifically on Macs here, but if you watch enough of those Get a Mac commercials...." etc) because they were ticked at the Macs claims of relative invulnerability. The various writers' dark implications of Apple putting pressure on them is hilarious. If they promised mot to disclose flaws, and then turned right around and publicly made statements about being leaned on, why bother to make promises? On the other hand, if you were called to task on your demo, it's easier to imply that you were being pressured without having to actually prove your claims. Philip Day, Langley, Canada

I haven't seen as perfect (and as brief) an analysis of the folderol surrounding the Wi-Fi exploit/weakness as yours. Great stuff. Some who have examined high-res versions of the Maynor/Ellch Black Hat video would disagree with this statement: "plugging a third-party Wi-Fi card into an Apple MacBook, and apparently hacking into it wirelessly from a Windows machine." They can see the interface MAC addresses in the high-res version, and determined that it appears that the built-in AirPort adapter was in use. Hard to follow, and we may never know. What's interesting about this statement you made -- "But Apple then launched its own internal investigation of its Wi-Fi drivers -- and found exploitable flaws" -- is that this is clearly the single worst security flaw in Mac OS X's history. The fact that Apple repaired it before anything occurred in the wild, no matter whether it was because it was reported or no, is good news. The particular kind of problem they fixed is hard to pin down as to whether it could be exploited. I've been comparing this to electrical faults. If Maynor and Ellch did what you suggest (and I believe), it's like telling Apple, "You have a short in your house's wiring somewhere, but we're not telling you where." Apple says, "Fine, we're going to open up all the walls, check all the wires, and fix what we find." And, like in most homes, they found some disturbing cases that needed to be rewired. But because of how they documented this, we don't whether you'd have to bring in the equivalent of a jet engine and plug it into wall voltage in order to burn down the house, or whether a toaster oven would do the trick -- if it were the right toaster oven. Glenn Fleishman, Seattle

Maynor found a weakness in Wi-Fi drivers, and decided to demonstrate it on a Mac. As a result, no one is reporting that this flaw exists in Windows and Linux, too. The Apple story is not news, as Apple has released a patch and a press release. News would be: What is the status of the Windows and Linux patches. Has Intel patched Centrino (Centrino was specifically mentioned by Maynor)? When will the Guardian print real news and answer those questions? Geniver Montalvo

Charles Arthur writes: "Occam's razor suggests the following: Maynor and Ellch found a generic flaw in the way that Wi-Fi drivers work. But they didn't demonstrate it on Apple's systems in a way that Apple accepted." Might I suggest that Occam's razor suggests nothing of the sort, but quite the opposite: it suggests Maynor and Ellch found nothing of interest? That might seem unwarranted, but consider. The original reports (by instance: www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1998452,00.asp) says: "Ellch, a well-known security expert who uses the hacker moniker Johnny Cache, made it clear that the issue is not specific to Apple's Mac computers. "This isn't an Apple problem or a Microsoft problem. This is something that's problematic across the industry," he said." Even Brian Krebs said in his article: "Again, the whole point of this story was not to pick on Macs, but to point to a security issue that affects multiple operating systems and one that is long overdue for some serious code review by the companies that OEMs rely upon to produce this software." Furthermore, Krebs specifically states that "Maynor said he and Ellch have been in contact with Apple, Microsoft and other companies [my emphasis] responsible for vetting the device drivers that power the embedded or third-party wireless card devices meant for those systems, and that both companies are working with wireless card vendors and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to remedy the problems" In addition, both Krebs and others (eg Ou, etc) suggests they know how the "exploit" can be carried out. "I spent more than an hour with Dave Maynor watching this exploit in action and peppering him with questions about it" (Krebs). Ou adds: "The transcript clearly reveals that Maynor had demonstrated the same exploit on a Mac without any third party wireless hardware!" Elsewhere, he says: "Speaking of Apple driver vulnerabilities, I had accurately pinpointed the driver issue last month when I reported on Atheros' non-role in this whole affai.r" So why cannot the exploit be shown or demonstrated? Where are the declarations by either the Wi-Fi card manufacturers or "multiple OS" providers or even security companies acknowledging either the hackers or SecureWorks for the information we are assured they provided? Some people assure us that cannot be done because "Apple and SecureWorks" have managed to compel Maynor not to speak. But any such compelling cannot be enforced upon Krebs, Ou or Ellch (or Microsoft or any of the Linux providers, never mind the many manufacturers of Wi-Fi cards) And those gentlemen reputation is as much in the line as that of Maynor. They assured us they knew an exploit can be carried out against "multiple operating systems". It is high time they prove it. Meanwhile, and according to the rules of Occam, we are entitled to think there isn't such an exploit. After all, everything is possible, even a chocolate ball autographed by all the best football players in history and floating half way between Mars and Jupiter. It is up to the ones who say that such is the case to provide the evidence. Jaime Cortez, Manchester


Your articles are brilliant for How Science Works -- an important new aspect of Science teaching for the new GCSE. I have being teaching the electromagnetic spectrum. Your article on Raytheon's security system was brilliant. I have given it to the class to read and asked them to come with views next lesson as to whether they reckon, given this information, they reckon it is safe. I also used the article, How can I find out where the nearest mobile phone base station is? They were all telling me their postcodes! The new GCSE aims to improve the general scientific literacy of the population so they can make informed decisions on articles they read in the paper. We are encouraged to have discussion on topics that are in the press. I will be using the GPS article when I do satellites, and get them to consider privacy. I will use "step in the right direction" when I do energy. You are providing a valuable resource. These articles really interest them and they see How Science Works, to use the in jargon! C Dunn, St Andrews

Read the TechGuardian over breakfast this morning (still prefer the paper). Targeting the pain business -- very chilling. Technobile -- very funny, more of that please. What happened after they killed the butler. Any chance you will be making an English language version of this available on your site? The "aircover" phrase made me (and I bet most other readers) wince. I would wince less if I drank a paint-stripper and cranberry juice cocktail. Also, the bit about "upside" -- if you have 5% of the market the only way might not be up. Still, it was entertaining to read; I just wonder whether a version of the interview will be appearing on The Onion soon. Well worth the 70p. Patrick D'Alton Harrison, Tring



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