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Clear the air

Technology | Major tech companies want country to switch from analog to digital television signals sooner rather than later

Issue: "Senate wars over judges," May 14, 2005

Microsoft, Intel, and several other major tech companies want Congress to hurry up and sign off traditional analog TV signals next year so the spectrum can be used for other purposes. The downside is that thousands of TV sets with no cable, satellite, or digital converter attached will become useless.

The official date for the "transition" in which traditional VHF and UHF channels stop broadcasting is Dec. 31, 2006, with a catch. The shutdown can't happen until 85 percent of homes are ready to receive digital signals.

Many doubt that the United States will cross that threshold on time, so the High Tech DTV Coalition, which also includes IBM, Dell, and other giants, wants the caveat removed. They say they need the spectrum for new inventions and services, which will create more jobs.

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A rapid handover should help emergency services, wireless broadband users, and rural residents by clearing out space on the 700 MHz band for data. "We have had 88 megahertz of spectrum lying fallow," said the coalition's Janice Obuchowski of the space used by broadcasters. The group also predicts that the government will reap $20 billion to $30 billion by auctioning off the spectrum.

Hacked off

Jerome Heckenkamp got a job as a Los Alamos National Laboratory computer expert while carrying a big secret: He had gone on a hacking spree during grad school, gaining unauthorized access to eBay, Lycos, Qualcomm, and other companies. Now he must pay over $265,000 in restitution and serve eight months in prison as part of a sentence handed down on April 25 in a San Jose federal court.

Mr. Heckenkamp also faces eight months of home confinement and must stay off the internet for three years, except with his probation officer's permission. The hacker, who was arrested back in 2001, made his case more difficult with a series of courtroom antics. Set free on $50,000 bond, Mr. Heckenkamp asked to be tossed in jail so the friend who posted the money could get it back. He denied that he was the person charged because the government's complaint listed his name in all capital letters. He also fired and rehired the same attorney several times and tried to represent himself.

FBI special agents spent several years on the case, making the point that federal authorities consider computer break-ins a serious crime, not just a prank. The hacker's other admitted targets were Exodus Communications, Juniper Networks, and Cygnus Solutions.

Bits & Megabytes

· Nokia is launching a new high-end phone that includes a mini-digital jukebox for music files. The $900 N91 handset, which will reach the United States later this year, includes a 4-gigabyte internal hard drive that can hold up to 3,000 songs. The company will also sell a similar model, the N90, with a

2-megapixel camera that includes autofocus, 20x digital zoom, and on-phone video editing features.

· Chinese tech giant Lenovo completed its historic $1.75 billion purchase of IBM's PC division, becoming the world's third-largest computer maker. Lenovo, which the Chinese government partially owns, was already the top computer manufacturer in Asia.

· AOL plans to replace its instant messaging software with a new platform called Triton that integrates audio, video, and text. One major change is the use of tabs to separate conversations, instead of opening every chat session in a new window. Triton will also include "IM Catcher," which is essentially a spam filter that catches messages from those not on one's buddy list.

· A rogue website uses a misspelling of "Google.com" to load nasty software that attacks visitors' computers. Techies at the Finnish security company F-secure counted six different malicious programs-including one that looks for bank information-on Googkle.com, and warn curious people NOT to visit it. They hint that Russian hackers may have created the site.

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