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Hacker's soundtracks

Go for it, said the Secure Digital Music Initiative to computer hackers worldwide. Get around security measures intended to keep music files from being copied illegally and win a prize.

Gotcha! said a team of researchers at Princeton University, Rice University and the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, whose claims were among 447 filed during the challenge, which ended in early October.

We'll be the judge of that, countered the consortium of 200 music, telecommunications and consumer electronic companies, which says it must be able to replicate the methods before ruling on whether hackers were successful under the rules of the challenge. Results are expected within a few weeks.

Behind the challenge (www.hacksdmi.org) is the music industry's struggles to sell its products online in MP3 or other formats while preventing those digital files from being illegally copied and keeping the process simple enough that consumers aren't frustrated.

One method being considered to protect copyrighted music involves embedding a file with a digital "watermark," a hidden signal that communicates information about the file. Digital music players and recorders would look for the watermark to verify that the audio file was obtained legitimately. Any attempt to copy it would strip the watermark and prevent the copied file from being played.

As part of the challenge, the Secure Digital Music Initiative offered downloadable files with four types of watermarks embedded in them. The team of researchers (www.cs.princeton.edu/sip/sdmi/announcement) said it had defeated all four watermarks without damaging the sound quality of the file, a condition of the contest.

"It sounds about the same to a normal ear," said Edward Felten, an associate professor of computer science at Princeton. "You or I would not notice the difference."

Whether that's good enough is another matter. The Secure Digital Music Initiative plans to submit the hackers' altered audio files to tests using scientific measurements as well as to ask experts known as "golden ears" to give those files a hard listen.

Talal Shamoon, a spokesman for the Secure Digital Music Initiative, called the researchers' assertion that they had circumvented the watermarking measures a "fairly low-probability event."

Even if the hacks are ruled successful, the consortium said it would use them to bolster security for digital music files.

"The attacks themselves teach," said Mr. Shamoon.

That was some brief, huh?

It's not Maui, but barristers and other law junkies could find bliss nevertheless in a contest at FreeAdvice.com.

The consumer Web site plans to fly the winner and a guest to Washington, D.C., for four days to watch the U.S. Supreme Court in action. To enter the contest, open only to U.S. citizens, visitors to the site can click on the "Enter Sweepstakes" button.


Play me

RealNetworks is out with the newest version of its software for playing audio and video files over the Internet.

RealAudio 8 lets music companies encode higher-quality files in smaller sizes. This makes the files cheaper to send over the Internet. They also take up less space on a comptuer's hard drive.

The new software also is intended to improve the quality of sound reproduction.


Give it to me

Because DVD is a relatively new format for films, thousands of titles are still unavailable on the silvery platters. Here are the movies not out yet but most requested by Amazon.com's customers.

1. Star Wars

2. The Empire Strikes Back

3. The Godfather

4. Raiders of the Lost Ark

5. Return of the Jedi

6. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (pictured below)

7. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

8. Back to the Future

9. Forrest Gump

10. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


Televised auctionitis

The auction site eBay is kicking around ideas for a television show that would allow viewers to bid on collectibles, cars, jewelry and other items.

The premier auction site on the World Wide Web is in the "very, very early stages of discussion" with several TV networks, said a spokesman who declined to identify those networks.


He keeps that mouth flappin'

Get an earful from Foghorn Leghorn, the Looney Tunes cartoon character with a Southern drawl, at homepages.enterprise.net/mlang/fogquotes.html.


Compaq notebook battery recall

Compaq is recalling the batteries in 55,000 Armada E500 and V300 series notebook computers because of concerns that they could cause a fire.

The applicable model numbers are TCGK 00001-10500, TCGK 20001-21800, TCGK 40001- 83100 and TCHK 40001-44700. Compaq will give customers two new batteries for each one returned.

For more details on the recall, call 1-800-889-7613 or go to www.compaq.com.


Windows CE on the move

Microsoft has introduced the third and latest version of software for in-car computing devices. Windows CE software for vehicles can be used to control everything from a simple, push-button cellular service system such as GM's OnStar to an in-dash computer that also controls video entertainment for passengers.

Analysts predict that by 2006, nearly 50 percent of all new cars – and 90 percent of luxury vehicles – will have some kind of Internet capability. Thus far, vehicles with a computer running the Windows CE operating system number only in the thousands.


Netscape's new thing

Netscape has released Netscape 6 Preview Release 3, the third and final beta version of its new Web browser.

The new browser features a sharper appearance, with a subtly shaded toolbar and slightly less clutter around the browser window. It also has a new address book synchronization feature.

Versions for Windows, Macintosh and Linux computer operating systems are available for free download at www.netscape.com/download. The final version is expected before the end of the year.


Get the message

Sprint PCS is giving subscribers something to talk about: three new messaging services.

Sprint's AOL Instant Messenger lets users send real-time notes between wired and wireless devices, much like America Online's version for desktop computers version. The phone can show if anyone on the user's Buddy List is online and whose phones are prepared to get messages. An alert sounds when a new message arrives.

Instant Message provides typing shortcuts with 26 preloaded phrases, such as "Call me ASAP," a feature shared with the second new messaging service, Short Mail. Short Mail users can also transmit e-mail to the phones of other Sprint PCS subscribers through their phone numbers.

The third new service is a chat room for phone users only. Chat rooms can be set up by topic, with as many as 20 participants in each room.


What a card

New features at www.bluemountain.com and www.screengreetings.com give users the option of uploading their own artwork to add to online greeting cards.

Blue Mountain's service, called My Videos, lets visitors incorporate video. Up to 10 megabytes of video can be stored in the user's online account.

You-Cards is from ScreenGreetings.com. With the service, users can customize their own cards by writing their own text, picking the color of the text and background, and inserting their own still photos.

Users e-mail the finished cards, which are free from both companies, to anyone they wish.


Call for help

Cell Phone Anonymous? Could happen.

A Danish clinic that treats people suffering from pathological gambling and others who can't stay off the Internet has begun counseling people who chat incessantly using SMS, a cellular phone version of instant messaging services.

One of the clinic's first such patients was a 25-year-old chauffeur who drove at night and spent several hours per day chatting on SMS. On average, he sent 217 SMS text snippets per day, and his quarterly mobile phone bill had quintupled to $1,406.

About 50 million Europeans are expected to use SMS by the end of 2000.


By the numbers

•According to an annual survey by America Online, 53 percent of online households have moved furniture to make the computer and the Internet more accessible, 51 percent of respondents would be interested in checking e-mail through the television and 56 percent shop online, compared with 42 percent last year and 31 percent in 1998.

•7.4 percent of home Internet users saw a banner advertisement from Bonzi Software Oct. 16-22, making it the most-viewed ad of the week, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Bonzai's banner says: "Warning: Your Internet Connection Is Not Optimized."

The second-most-viewed ad was about Capital One's platinum Visa card (7.3 percent). In third place was BarnesandNoble.com's ad promoting $10 off purchases of $40 or more (5.3 percent).

•A survey by the nonprofit Online Computer Library Center found that the number of new Web sites grew 53 percent from 1999 to 2000, a lower growth rate than the 1998-99 increase of 77 percent.

A couple of caveats, though: The Web Characterization Project (wcp.oclc.org) did not measure the number of personal Web pages because those are often part of a larger site, nor did it gauge the amount of content at each site.
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