WikiLeaks suspends publication in a fight for its life

WikiLeaks has been hit hard by the withdrawal of banking facilities and the refusal of VISA, MasterCard and PayPal to process payments. The limitations make it hard for supporters to make donations but WikiLeaks do still list seven different ways supporters can help. According to its website, WikiLeaks needs over $2m to cover its costs, the biggest chunk being for $1.2m legal fees.

WikiLeaks claim that they are victims of “a concerted US-based, political attack”. They further claim that the US government has said that there are “no lawful grounds to add WikiLeaks to a US financial blockade”.

Electric car charging network starts

Ecotricity and Welcome Break have launched the first of a planned 27 electric car charging points in motorway services. The charging point, at South Mimms services, may not sound like a major leap forward but it will mean that electric car drivers finally have a way of moving their vehicles further than a single charge or a tow truck allows.

The charging points can charge at either 13A or 32A. A full charge at 13A is likely to require an overnight stay but charging at 32A takes a more reasonable 2 hours.

Spotify to slash functionality of free music service

Spotify have announced a number of changes to Spotify Free (now known as Spotify Open) which will seriously impair the service for many users. After the first 6 months users will only be able to play individual tracks a maximum of 5 times and will only be able to use the free service for a maximum of 10 hours a month.

New users will get the current full functionality for the first 6 months. Existing users will have the new rules applied 6 months after they signed up. For those who signed up more than 6 months ago the new rules kick in on May 1.

The cuts to the service mean that although Spotify Free will still be a good way of exploring new music, users who have relied on it as a free online jukebox will be disappointed. They will have to consider whether to subscribe to the £4.99 a month ‘Unlimited’ or £9.99 a month ‘Premium’ services.

You couldn’t make it up – Japanese grid can’t solve nuke power loss due to 50/60 Hz split

Despite the West of Japan having a power surplus it can’t help the East, which is short if power thanks to the post-tsunami nuclear power problems.

Incredibly Japan is split by a 50 Hz/60 Hz incompatibility. The West based its power generation on 60 Hz American standards while the East uses ‘European’ 50 Hz. There are few interconnects and they can handle little power.

Neither choice explain Japan’s unique decision to standardize on 100 volt power rather than US 110 or EU 240 volts.

PCTV nanoStick T2 290e Freeview HD DVB-T2 tuner stick

Regular DVB-T tuner cards and tuner sticks will allow your PC to receive and record regular Freeview TV and radio programmes. Things are a bit more complicated if you want to receive Freeview HD, as it uses a new broadcast standard, DVB-T2. This is an improved version of DVB-T which can deliver 40 Mbps in a single channel, compared to a maximum of 24 Mbps from the original version. Another benefit is that it is far less susceptible to electrical interference, such as from tumble driers, heating thermostats or even Christmas tree lights.

The good news is that there are now a couple of DVB-T2 tuner products for PCs. Here at Infomania Towers we’ve been testing the PCTV nanoStick T2 290e. This is a single-tuner USB tuner stick which can tune in both regular DVB-T transmissions as well as DVB-T2. It comes with a software disk, remote control, a short USB extension cable and a puny stick aerial which will be of little use unless you happen to live right next to a TV transmitter.

Rather than install the software we decided to see how far we could get with Windows Media Center on a Windows 7 PC. Tuners for Media Center need to work with BDA drivers, which the PCTV stick does. Happily there was no need to do anything other than connect a TV aerial to the stick and plug it into a USB port. Windows got to work finding the stick and sorting drivers out. All we had to do was to start Windows Media Center, tell it our postcode so it knew which region to get TV listings for and set it up to tune the channels in. Although everything worked fine, tuning was a very slow process – far slower than any TVs we have come across. In fact we thought the software might have crashed except that occasionally the progress indicator did actually increment.

The HD signals in this part of the world are a little weak, as the region has not switched to digital yet. Fortunately the stick seems to be quite sensitive and we receive all the HD channels without a problem. Programme guide listing are another issue however. Microsoft haven’t yet added listings for the HD channels to the EPG. It is possible to get listings to show up for BBC 1 HD, ITV 1 HD and Channel 4 HD by editing the guide setup for those channels and telling the EPG to use the listings for the regular versions of the channels. No solution for BBC HD as yet but we are investigating.

So our experience to date is quite positive except for the missing BBC HD listings. We have been able to successfully view, record and replay HD programmes, although sadly Microsoft seem blind to the benefits of Blu-ray DVD drives so it doesn’t appear possible to transfer HD recordings to Blu-ray disc.

HTC Desire secret menu

The HTC Desire has a secret menu, which can be accessed by entering a special code as if you were dialling a phone number. The menu shows a wealth of interesting information including IMEI, phone number, usage statistics, wifi information, accurate battery voltage and signal strength (the latter being useful to see if you are suffering the ‘smartphone grip of death’).

The code for the secret menu is: 

* # * # 4 6 3 6 # * # *

As mentioned above, enter this into the phone keypad as if entering a phone number. There is no need to press ‘Call’.

NB The menu includes a number of tests and configuration options. DO NOT USE THESE as there may be a risk of misconfiguring or damaging your phone.

ASA to regulate website marketing from 1 March 2011

The UK print, broadcast and display advertising regulator is soon to expanding its online activities. Up to now the only online adverts the ASA have regulated have been display ads such as banner ads. From 1 March 2011 they will start regulating the content of advertisers’ own websites and in non-paid-for space ‘under their control’. So if you find you have been misled by the information on a company’s own website or on their Facebook page you will now have somewhere to complain to.

The ASA are offering support to website owners who need to understand the new rules. It is worth noting that the rules are not limited to websites with domain names. The ASA are also launching a Website Audit service on Feb 1.

For more infomation, including some useful FAQ, see the ASA website.

Add as a search provider in Internet Explorer (IE8)

Microsoft seem to have been making it harder to personalise the search engines used by the IE search box. There is a process for adding any search engine but it doesn’t seem to be as easy to find as it once was.

To add a new search provider, simply click on the link below and follow the instructions:

You can make any search engine the default option when it is added – by ticking the ‘make default’ box – or by the following process:

Click the little arrow by the search box and choose ‘Manage Search Providers’

Clicking on your chosen search provider

Then finally click the ‘Set as default’ button

Happy searching!

Has HDCP, the HDMI content protection system, been hacked?

According to a posting on Twitter by ‘Intel Global PR’, HDCP copy protection has been hacked. HDCP is used to protect data being conveyed between digital devices via HDMI cabling and was partly developed by Intel. The benefits of hacking HDCP are a little unclear as the video signal on HDMI is uncompressed and therefore runs at a very high bitrate – not easy to store or re-compress on consumer equipment.

There is as yet no confirmation of this exploit.

Apple iPad: when? how much?

Apple have still not announced details of UK iPad pricing despite the fact that the product is due to launch this month. Apple’s website currently says the WiFi iPad will be available in ‘late March’ with the 3G product following in April.

While the lack of a 3G product price may be down to negotiations with mobile networks there seems little reason for Apple not to have announced a UK price for the Wifi version. Perhaps they are counting up the US pre-orders to see if they can make the next price-break…

There is another secret Apple are keeping from us – how did they author the iPad product announcement page so badly that it slows even faster computers to a crawl? Whatever you do, don’t bother looking at it with a puny Atom powered netbook or you’ll be there forever.