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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Sun 19th Jul 2009

It is hard to appreciate the technical challenges involved in putting a man on the moon, but 1960s computer technology played a fundamental role.

By today's standards, the IT Nasa used in the Apollo manned lunar programme is pretty basic. But while they were no more powerful than a pocket calculator, these ingenious computer systems were able to guide astronauts across 356,000 km of space from the Earth to the Moon and return them safely.

The lunar programme led to the development of safety-critical systems and the practice of software engineering to program those systems. Much of this knowledge gleaned from the Apollo programme forms the basis of modern computing.

Apollo Guidance Computer

The lunar mission used a command module computer designed at MIT and built by Raytheon, which paved the way to "fly by wire" aircraft.

The so-called Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) used a real time operating system, which enabled astronauts to enter simple commands by typing in pairs of nouns and verbs, to control the spacecraft. It was more basic than the electronics in modern toasters that have computer controlled stop/start/defrost buttons. It had approximately 64Kbyte of memory and operated at 0.043MHz.

The instruction manual for the AGC shows the computer had a small set of machine code instructions, which were used to program the hardware to run various tasks the astronauts needed.

The AGC program, called Luminary, was coded in a language called Mac, (MIT Algebraic Compiler), which was then converted by hand into assembler language that the computer could understand. The assembler code was fed into the AGC using punch cards.

Amazingly, the code listing for the AGC program can be downloaded as a PDF file. There is also an equivalent program for the lunar lander.

The AGC was designed to be fault-tolerant and was able to run several sub programs in priority order. Each of these sub programs was given a time slot to use the computer's sparse resources. During the mission the AGC became overloaded and issued a "1202" alarm code.

Neil Armstrong asked Mission Control for clarification on the 1202 error. Jack Garman, a computer engineer at Nasa (pictured below, left), who worked on the Apollo Guidance Program Section, told mission control that the error could be ignored in this instance, which meant the mission could continue. Apollo 11 landed a few seconds later.

Experts cite the AGC as fundamental to the evolution of the integrated circuit. It is regarded as the first embedded computer.

The importance of this computer was highlighted in a lecture by astronaut David Scott who said: "If you have a basket ball and a baseball 14 feet apart, where the baseball represents the moon and the basketball represents the Earth, and you take a piece of paper sideways, the thinness of the paper would be the corridor you have to hit when you come back."

While the astronauts would probably have preferred to fly the spacecraft manually, only the AGC could provide the accuracy in navigation and control required to send them to the Moon and return them safely home again, independent of any Earth-based navigation system.

IBM computers on Apollo 11

Along with the APG, mainframes were also heavily used in the Apollo programme. Over 3,500 IBM employees were involved, (pictured below). The Goddard Space Flight Center used IBM System/360 Model 75s for communications across Nasa and the spacecraft. IBM Huntsville designed and programmed the Saturn rocket instrument unit, while the Saturn launch computer at the Kennedy Space Center was operated by IBM.

An IBM System/360 Model 75 was also used at Nasa's Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. This computer was used by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to calculate lift-off data required to launch the Lunar Module off the Moon's surface and enable it to rendezvous with Command Module pilot Michael Collins for the flight back to Earth.

At the time, IBM described the 6Mbyte programs it developed, to monitor the spacecrafts' environmental and astronauts' biomedical data, as the most complex software ever written.

Even the simplest software today would far exceed the technical constraints the Apollo team worked under. The Apollo programme was pre-Moores's Law: in 1965 Intel co-founder Gordon Moore wrote his vision of how the performance of computer hardware would double every 18 months for the same price.

That a USB memory stick today is more powerful than the computers that put man on the moon is testimony to the relentless pace of technological development encompassed in Moore's Law. However, the Apollo programme proved that computers could be entrusted with human lives. Man and machine worked in unison to achieve something that 40 years on, has yet to be surpassed.

Source: Computerweekly
All Images courtesy of NASA

 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 15th Jul 2009
Power sockets can be used to eavesdrop on what people type on a computer.

Security researchers found that poor shielding on some keyboard cables means useful data can be leaked about each character typed.

By analysing the information leaking onto power circuits, the researchers could see what a target was typing.

The attack has been demonstrated to work at a distance of up to 15m, but refinement may mean it could work over much longer distances.

Hotel attack

"Our goal is to show that information leaks in the most unexpected ways and can be retrieved," wrote Andrea Barisani and Daniele Bianco, of security firm Inverse Path, in a paper describing their work.

The research focused on the cables used to connect PS/2 keyboards to desktop PCs.

Usefully, said the pair, the six wires inside a PS/2 cable are typically "close to each other and poorly shielded". This means that information travelling along the data wire, when a key is pressed, leaks onto the earth (ground in the US) wire in the same cable.

The earth wire, via the PC's power unit, ultimately connects to the plug in the power socket, and from there information leaks out onto the circuit supplying electricity to a room.

Even better, said the researchers, data travels along PS/2 cables one bit at a time and uses a clock speed far lower than any other PC component. Both these qualities make it easy to pick out voltage changes caused by key presses.

A digital oscilloscope was used to gather data about voltage changes on a power line and filters were used to remove those caused by anything other than the keyboard.

"The PS/2 signal square wave is preserved with good quality... and can be decoded back to the original keystroke information," wrote the pair in a paper describing their work.

They demonstrated it working over distances of 1, 5, 10 and 15m from a target, far enough to suggest it could work in a hotel or office.

"The test performed in the laboratory represent a worst case scenario for this type of measurement, which along with acceptable results emphasizes the feasibility of the attack on normal conditions," they added.

The pair said their research was "work in progress" and expect the equipment to get more sensitive as it is refined.

The attack is due to be demonstrated at the Black Hat conference that takes place in Las Vegas from 25-30 July.

Source: BBC

 Windows 7 Goes on Pre-Sale in UK

So we're off...

Today at 12.01am Microsoft's next generation operating system, Windows 7, goes on sale in the UK at discount prices. In the company's own words however: "you'll have to be quick as prices are low, stocks are limited and it is first come first served!"

Microsoft hasn't quantified "stocks are limited" at this stage but, stock allowing, the offer will run from 15 July to 9 August and given you'll now find Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional available for £49.99 and £99.99 expect there to be a great deal of interest. At this stage there remains no sign of the triple licence Windows 7 Family Pack option recently outted in the US so bear in mind these editions cover a single computer only.

Also worth remembering is Microsoft's ongoing battle with the European Union has seen it strip Internet Explorer 8 from all EU versions, cancel upgrade editions and disable the ability for full versions to upgrade from any previous flavour of Windows (2000, XP, Vista, 7 Beta or 7 RC). Instead all users will need to perform fresh installs. All EU versions will be tagged with the letter 'E' to signal this, ie: Windows 7 E Home Premium, Windows 7 E Professional, etc.

Microsoft has also named participating stores during the discount period as Amazon.co.uk, Argos, Comet, Currys, Dixons, Ebuyer.com, John Lewis, Littlewoods, Micro Anvika, PC World, Play.com, Staples and Tesco. Many of which are expected to offer a secondary CD wi

 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 1st Jul 2009
The internet suffered a number of slowdowns as people the world over rushed to verify accounts of Michael Jackson's death. - BBC.co.uk

Search giant Google confirmed that when the news first broke it Discus Hosted Email Solutionfeared it as under attack.

Millions of people who searched for the star's name on Google News were greeted with an error page.

It warned users "your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application".
"It's true that between approximately 2.40PM Pacific and 3.15PM Pacific, some Google News users experienced difficulty accessing search results for queries related to Michael Jackson and saw the error page," said Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker.

It was around this time that the singer was officially pronounced dead.
Google's trends page showed that searches for Michael Jackson had reached such a volume that in its so called "hotness" gauge the topic was rated "volcanic".

Fail
Google was not the only company overwhelmed by the public's clamour for information.
The micro blogging service Twitter crashed with the sheer volume of people using the service.

Queries about the star soon rocketed to the top of its updates and searches. But the amount of traffic meant it suffered one of its well-known outages.

Before the company's servers crashed, TweetVolume noted that "Michael Jackson" appeared in more than 66,500 Twitter updates. Discus IT Support

According to initial data from Trendrr, a Web service that tracks activity on social media sites, the number of Twitter posts Thursday afternoon containing "Michael Jackson" totalled more than 100,000 per hour.

That put news of Jackson's death at least on par with the Iran protests, as Twitter posts about Iran topped 100,000 per hour on June 16 and eventually climbed to 220,000 per hour.

TMZ, the popular celebrity gossip site that broke the story following a tip-off that a paramedic had visited the singers home also crashed.

There was a domino effect as users then fled to other sites. With Hollywood gossip writer Perez Hilton's site was among those to flame out and also problems for the web sites of AOL, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and Yahoo.

Discus New Website

After 5 years of the same old website, Discus have now developed and designed their new site.Thank you for visiting your new site, we hope you like it! - let us know if you do.. simply email u2us@discus.co.uk

It will eventually become an essential tool for all customers with offers, competitions, customer login and other useful IT related tools.

Getting to know us...

Name: Andrew Guy
Married: No
Children: NoAndrew Guy joined Discus Systems in 2007 as Field Service Engineer. He is a keen supporter of Liverpool FC and is Captain of the Discus 5 a side football team.

He is to take part in the Great North Run in aid of the Stroke Assocation with Damien in September this year, if you wish to sponsor them go to www.justgiving.com/andyanddamien

If you wish contact Andrew then you can call him any time on 0800 880 3360 and email him at andrew@discus.co.uk

Football

Up to this point in the history of Discus Systems FC there has been one problem with the team.. That is.. Winning! however after a 20 game losing streak this season, finally, Discus have got their elusive win!Discus played Dynamo Chicken Kiev last Sunday (28/06/2009) which was the last game of the season and pulled off a history win for the team.

Discus took the early lead and doubled their advantage before half time.Dynamo came back strong to make it 2-1 but it was no match for Discus, as we then finished the game with another goal to make it 3-2.

Congratulations to Andrew & the team

 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Fri 19th Jun 2009

Your home or business PC could be being used and reused by multiple criminal elements behind your back, security specialists have warned.

 Cybercriminals are trading the digital assets of thousands of PCs online without users' knowledge, said Finjan. The security supplier has discovered a trading platform where criminals are buying and selling digital assets that have been stolen by cyber criminals.

The Golden Cash network is a trading platform that matches buyers and sellers. Finjan revealed this in the second issue of its Cybercrime Intelligence Report 2009.

On the buyer side there are cybercriminals that buy access to the PC that has been infected. Once a hacker infects a PC it can then be sold on the trading platform to the criminals.

Prices vary greatly. Finjan said in Australia 1,000 infections have been sold for $100, while the same number can be picked up for as little as $5 in other countries, but mainly in the Far East.

"These batches of 1,000 infected PCs will be resold in the market by the buyer," said Finjan.

"An infected machine is no longer a one-time asset for an individual criminal. It has evolved into a digital asset that the cybercriminal can trade online - over and over again," added Finjan.

The Golden Cash platform also offers information about how to send Malware and creating a botnet.

 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 15th Jun 2009
Power sockets can be used to eavesdrop on what people type on a computer.

Security researchers found that poor shielding on some keyboard cables means useful data can be leaked about each character typed.

By analysing the information leaking onto power circuits, the researchers could see what a target was typing.

The attack has been demonstrated to work at a distance of up to 15m, but refinement may mean it could work over much longer distances.

Hotel attack

"Our goal is to show that information leaks in the most unexpected ways and can be retrieved," wrote Andrea Barisani and Daniele Bianco, of security firm Inverse Path, in a paper describing their work.

The research focused on the cables used to connect PS/2 keyboards to desktop PCs.

Usefully, said the pair, the six wires inside a PS/2 cable are typically "close to each other and poorly shielded". This means that information travelling along the data wire, when a key is pressed, leaks onto the earth (ground in the US) wire in the same cable.

The earth wire, via the PC's power unit, ultimately connects to the plug in the power socket, and from there information leaks out onto the circuit supplying electricity to a room.

Even better, said the researchers, data travels along PS/2 cables one bit at a time and uses a clock speed far lower than any other PC component. Both these qualities make it easy to pick out voltage changes caused by key presses.

A digital oscilloscope was used to gather data about voltage changes on a power line and filters were used to remove those caused by anything other than the keyboard.

"The PS/2 signal square wave is preserved with good quality... and can be decoded back to the original keystroke information," wrote the pair in a paper describing their work.

They demonstrated it working over distances of 1, 5, 10 and 15m from a target, far enough to suggest it could work in a hotel or office.

"The test performed in the laboratory represent a worst case scenario for this type of measurement, which along with acceptable results emphasizes the feasibility of the attack on normal conditions," they added.

The pair said their research was "work in progress" and expect the equipment to get more sensitive as it is refined.

The attack is due to be demonstrated at the Black Hat conference that takes place in Las Vegas from 25-30 July.

Source: BBC

Windows 7 Goes on Pre-Sale in UK

So we're off...

Today at 12.01am Microsoft's next generation operating system, Windows 7, goes on sale in the UK at discount prices. In the company's own words however: "you'll have to be quick as prices are low, stocks are limited and it is first come first served!"

Microsoft hasn't quantified "stocks are limited" at this stage but, stock allowing, the offer will run from 15 July to 9 August and given you'll now find Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional available for £49.99 and £99.99 expect there to be a great deal of interest. At this stage there remains no sign of the triple licence Windows 7 Family Pack option recently outted in the US so bear in mind these editions cover a single computer only.

Also worth remembering is Microsoft's ongoing battle with the European Union has seen it strip Internet Explorer 8 from all EU versions, cancel upgrade editions and disable the ability for full versions to upgrade from any previous flavour of Windows (2000, XP, Vista, 7 Beta or 7 RC). Instead all users will need to perform fresh installs. All EU versions will be tagged with the letter 'E' to signal this, ie: Windows 7 E Home Premium, Windows 7 E Professional, etc.

Microsoft has also named participating stores during the discount period as Amazon.co.uk, Argos, Comet, Currys, Dixons, Ebuyer.com, John Lewis, Littlewoods, Micro Anvika, PC World, Play.com, Staples and Tesco. Many of which are expected to offer a secondary CD with either IE8 or a rival

 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 27th May 2009

 19-06-2009 - Approval of funds scam email

An email is being issued displaying the email address postmaster@hmrc.co.uk with the subject 'You are a winner of 168,240.00 GBP'. The email features an attachment and requests that personal details are recorded on the attachment and forwarded to info@lloydstsbprize.com.

10-06-2009 - Tax Rebate

HMRC is aware of a high number of emails being sent out offering a tax rebate. HMRC would not inform customers of a tax rebate via email, or invite them to complete an online form to receive a rebate of tax.

Do not visit the website contained within the email or disclose any personal or payment information.

Email addresses used to distribute the tax rebate emails include:

  • successful@gov.uk
  • customer.office@hmrc.customsoffice.gov.uk
  • tax-service@hmrc.customs.gov.uk
  • notify2@hrms.co.uk
  • refundtax@hmrc.gov.co.uk
  • TaxRefund@hmrc.gov.uk
  • service@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk
  • claims@hmrc.direct.gov.uk
  • notice@hmrc.gov.uk
  • hmrc@hmrc.gov.uk
  • admin@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk
  • info@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk
  • no-reply@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk
  • refund@hmrc.gov.uk
  • Refound@hmrc.gov.uk
  • IRS@hmrc.gov.uk
  • services@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk
  • service@HMRC.co.uk

HMRC does not send out emails using these email addresses.

An example of the tax rebate scam:

Example 1 (PDF 211K) (added 7 January 2009)

Example 2 (PDF 286K) (added 11 June 2008)

Example 3 (added 14 August 2007) (below)

HMRC are stressing that individuals should not visit the website contained within the email or disclose any personal or payment information. 

The email informs the recipient that calculations have revealed that they are legible to receive a tax refund and asks the recipient to click on a link and complete the tax refund request.

The link takes you to an official looking form which requests personal information including name address and also requests credit card details. Once the form is submitted the phishers have all the information they need to steal your identity and your money. 

General advice to avoid being phished.

Be wary of unexpected emails and ask yourself..

  • Do I know the person who has sent it?
  • Am I expecting an email and does the email make any sense?
  • Never go to a website from a link in an email and enter personal details
  • Always type in the address into the web browser and if in doubt, contact the organisation separately on an advertised number.
  • Keep passwords and pin numbers safe and secret
  • Be wary of disclosing any personal information to someone you don’t know.
  • Keep your PC Secure
  • Use up-to-date anti-virus software and anti-spyware, security patches and a firewall.

Discus offer a Hosted Email Solution to help prevent receipt of this kind of malicious email and also a Web Management Service to prevent access to questionable web sites.

Please call 0800 880 3360 for more information

| More

 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 1st Apr 2009

Damien Biddulph to leave Discus Systems plc...
After 8 years of service and being an important part of the support team we’re very pleased to say that Damien now leaves Discus at a later time than before! - You may already be aware that Discus have extended their support times to 8am until 6pm Monday to Friday.

April Fool!!!

Facebook...
Facebook Hey, you “old fogies.” Are you on Facebook yet? asked Lev Grossman in Time.com. The popular social networking site started out five years ago as a way for college kids to hook up and swap party pictures, but it’s rapidly being infiltrated by moms and dads. People between 35 and 54 are the fastest-growing group on Facebook—there are now 7 million of us, up 276 percent in the last half of 2008. Why are moms and dads following their kids’ lead? For us, the site acts as a magnet that finds “people you’ve lost track of,” and unlike teenagers, “we’ve gone through multiple schools, jobs, and marriages.” Fogies like me can reconnect with people from past lives, mist up over old summer camp and high school photos, and send friends—new and old—photos of our kids. So what are you waiting for?

Facebook, in fact, may be better suited to adults than to teens, said Peggy Orenstein in The New York Times. It’s one thing to network with old friends when you’re 40, and another when you’re 18 and heading off to college, having been on Facebook or MySpace since you were 12. College has always been the place where young adults reinvent themselves and shed their old family and high school roles. “Can you really do that with your 450 closest friends watching,” and reminding you every day—every hour—of your old self? Growth depends on introspection, which depends on loneliness. Transformation depends on experimentation, which depends on space. For young people trying to forge their own identities, Facebook may serve as a straitjacket.
I beg to differ, said Matt Labash in The Weekly Standard. Facebook is a straitjacket for people of all ages—a time waster that changes even the most likable people into “teenage girls,” with nothing better to do than talk about themselves. All of a sudden, my grown-up friends have all joined; refusing to have a Facebook page has become an anti-social act. To hell with that. I despise Facebook for its “steady, Chinese-water-torture drip of status updates,” as tedious people inundate their virtual “friends” with tedious details from tedious lives. Do you really want to know when your true love from grade school is cleaning up her cat’s hairballs, or that the balding guy you idolized in college is “glad it’s the weekend”? Down with Facebook, say I. It’s like the world’s worst high school reunion—a reunion you can never leave. - Most of the Discus staff are on Facebook.. Feel free to add us and we’ll be only more than happy to accept! 

Tip of the week: How to keep your job.

Regroup.
Find an excuse to “ask your boss for feedback.” See what your co-workers think of you, too. Then heed their advice,even if it’s difficult: “You (literally) can’t afford not to.”

Stand out.
Figure out what you can do to make yourself indispensable. Be enterprising and pitch new projects. “Companies need risk takers and innovators” now more than ever.

Plan for the worst.
Start expanding your skill set, “network” as much as you can, and seek out “potential employers.” If you’re in ahard-hit industry, start thinking about how you can “apply your experience” to a new field.

Don’t be stupid.
Even if you’re worried about your current position, don’t post a résumé online, unless the site has “airtight privacy.” If your employer gets wind of it, you could be automatically “kicked up to the top of the boot list.”

Getting to know us - Damien Edward Biddulph

Age: 25
Married: No not yet!
Children: Nope.. not yet
Hobbies: Damien enjoys various sporting activities. With circuit training and being a keen swimmer. He swims around one and a half miles a week. He’s reasonably fit!

What we do apart from lose at football..Discus systems plc was established in 1997 to provide independent business IT solutions in hardware, software and support. 

Our services range from designing complete IT infrastructures, through to support and maintenance visits, helpdesk and remote support. We can provide complete outsourced IT function or complement existing IT resources. 

 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Thu 1st Jan 2009

Embracing New Technology – Virtualisation
With VMware virtualisation you can reduce your IT costs while improving efficiency, availability, flexibility, and manageability of your infrastructure. No matter how large or small you are, the proven technology of virtualisation can rapidly transform your IT landscape. Discus is embracing this solution believing it to be the future for technology..

If you require further information please contact Chris - 0800 880 3360

SPAM, SPAM & SPAM - What is Spam?
Spam is usually sent indiscriminately to hundreds if not hundreds of thousands of inboxes using recipient addresses often obtained by illegal means. Spam is sometime referred to as “Junk Mail” although this should not be confused with legitimate e-mail shots sent to subscribed addresses.

Discus provide a proven email filtering service which will eliminate up to 99% of all Spam – speak to Damien about our hosted email service on 0800 880 3360 or send an email to damien @ discus . co. uk

Green IT
Most people now agree that being 'green' is the socially acceptable norm. A survey into public attitudes and behaviours found, rather than being an alternative lifestyle, the main motivation for an environmentally friendly lifestyle is guilt about harming the environment..,
It is said that an environmentally friendly firm not only saves money but can achieve an edge over its competitors with clients who look for corporate responsibility towards the planet rather than profiteering.

Here at Discus we try to do our bit. Damien makes sure we recycle cardboard, paper, plastic and tin. We also understand that Green IT is not only about the new stuff you buy; recycling PCs for use in the third world is an initiative every business should adopt. Second hand machines expand the use of computers and IT skills around the globe and without draining scarce resources producing a new machine. The EU’s WEEE - Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment – directive attempts to get businesses to dispose of electronic gadgets responsibly through recycling and reuse.

Getting to know us - Terry Biddulph
He founded Discus Systems plc in partnership with Dains at the end of 1997 after working in IT for the previous 15 years. 

Age : Top secret
Married : 26 Years
Children : 4 children and 4 grandchildren
Hobbies : Terry is a keen follower of Aston Villa, he enjoys music and is a bit of a veteran on the bass guitar with 35+ years experience. He also plays regualary for the bo dudleys...

 

Football
Did you know Discus now have their own 5 aside football team with our very own Andrew Guy as Player/Manager? We have now played a number of matches and our skills as a team improve with each game.
One of our recent games was against Rompey Pompey where we unfortunately lost 5-4 in the dying seconds of the match due to a controversial penalty!

 
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