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Did the Earth move for you?

A few months ago there was an earthquake, rated at 6.2 on the Richter scale, which hurt a few people and scared the daylights out of a great many more in Seattle, Washington, USA. One aspect of this quake which seems to have been overlooked by the mass media is that the quake occurred only a couple of days after the Department of Justice began its counter-arguments in the Microsoft anti-trust appeal.

Coincidence? We think not. Our theory is that Microsoft, sensing that it might lose the appeal to prevent being broken into two separate companies, began preliminary steps towards planning for such a breakup. Unfortunately, as soon as it attempted to divide the applications and operating systems arms of the company, the ground opened beneath the Redmond campus, sending shockwaves to nearby Seattle. All we can say is, thank goodness they didn't try to get IE out of Windows, or who knows what might have happened.

Microsoft refused to comment on this theory, but if it had, it might have said, "If the DoJ leaves us alone, no-one has to get hurt."

The wrath of the demo gods

There are few things more embarrassing for a company exec or spokesperson than getting up in front of a crowd of potential customers, competitors and media to demonstrate your product, and finding it does not work. It happens more rarely than you might think, actually, thanks to careful preparation and rehearsals undertaken before the big event, in which people who know the quirks of the product extremely well teach the demonstrator how to avoid said quirks.

A company called Digital Ink was typically careful when preparing a recent demonstration of its product, a wireless pen device that, when traced over text written in regular ink, translates this into electronic text.

Once on stage, the ordinary biro pen they were using for the rehearsals and the demo promptly ran out of ink. And in this age of palmtops and SMS, no-one had thought to bring another. nThe end of pre-history

One of the historical icons of the World Wide Web, a Webcam that actually predates the Web itself, will soon be no more. Way back in 1992, a few clever computer geeks at Cambridge University in the UK set up a primitive frame-grabber on their local-area network and pointed it at the coffee pot outside the student common room, known as the "Trojan Room" (try not to snicker). The idea was simply that users in remote parts of the building would be able to find out easily when there was fresh coffee.

The Coffee-cam became legendary, and with the advent of the Web it became a very popular legend. A new frame-grabber, a Web server and other new goodies were added (including a new coffee pot), but the Coffee-cam remained resolutely greyscale (the British are big on tradition). In the next few months, however, the Cambridge computer lab is moving to new premises, and the powers-that-be have decided that the Coffee-cam will not be coming with them. For one thing, they'll now have the resources for more than one coffee pot. See it while you can, at www.cl.cam.ac.uk/coffee/coffee.htmlNo DVD is safe

Last year, clever hackers broke down the main barrier to using DVD drives and viewing DVD movies on Linux systems: the Content Scrambling System (CSS) that encodes data on the discs. The DeCSS program then became the centre of a storm of controversy, with its advocates saying it did not promote piracy of DVD movies, but merely allowed Linux users - who don't have an "official, authorised" application for viewing DVD movies on their systems - to do what Windows and Mac users are merrily able to do.

The hackers have moved on, of course. Now, the task is not so much to crack CSS, but to crack it with maximum efficiency in as few lines of""code as possible. In early March, a seven-line Perl script appeared on the Web that did just what DeCSS did, but in a mere 472 bytes of code. Within two weeks, a hacker called Charles Hannum bested that, with a CSS breaker only 442 bytes long. A prominent advocate of CSS-breakers was quoted as saying, "this code is small enough to write on a napkin, commit to memory, knit on a scarf, whatever."

While we can hardly wait to see scarves for sale with the code knitted in to them (fashionable), we wonder about the claim that the C source code can be committed to memory. Purely in the interests of allowing you to find out if you can, here it is. There will be a test:

/* efdtt.c Author: Charles M. Hannum */

/* */

/* Usage is: cat title-key scrambled.vob | efdtt >clear.vob */

#define K(i)(x[i]^s[i+84])<<

unsigned char x[5],y,z,s[2048];main(n){for(read(0,x,5);read(0,s,n=2048);write(1,s,n))if(s[y=s[13]%8+20]/16%4==1){int i=K(1)17^256+K(0)8,k=K(2)0,j=K(4)17^K(3)9^k*2-k%8^8,a=0,b=0,c=26;for(s[y]-=16;--c;i/=2,j/=2)a=a*2^i&1,b=b*2^j&1;for(j=127;++jy)a^=a>>14,a=a>>8^(y=a^a*8^a<<6)<<9,b=b>>8^(z=b^"b/8^b>>4^b>>12)<<17,i=s[j],i="7Wo~'G_\216"[i&7]+2^"cr3sfw6v;*k+>/n."[i>>4]*2^i*257/8,s[j]=i^(i&i*2&34)*6^z+c+~y;}}

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