Archive for September, 2008
Monday, September 29th, 2008
Breaking with its preferred business model, Apple has released an unlocked version of the iPhone 3G in Hong Kong, allowing users to pick their preferred carrier.
The phones will go on sale in Hong Kong at prices of $695 for the 8GB model and $798 for the 16GB version. If those numbers look strikingly high, it’s only because Apple’s business plan has been to pair the iPhone 3G with a carrier in a given market–for instance, AT&T Mobility in the United States–which subsidizes the cost of the phone because customers are required to sign a service contract and pay for data plans.
Previously, the iPhone was only available in Hong Kong paired with a two-year service contract from Hutchinson, and included a $188 monthly fee. Now customers will be able to put their old SIM card into the iPhone and activate it in iTunes. It’s not clear whether this gamble will pay off, though it could put more pressure on Apple to unlock the phones in other markets.
Thursday, September 25th, 2008
Contrary to rumor, Microsoft will indeed give developers the alpha version of Windows 7 at next month’s developers conference, the company confirmed. Microsoft usually slips devs primitive copies of in-the-works operating systems to give them a heads-up on what to expect, what to work on, and how to take advantage of new features.
Developers attending Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference, set for Oct. 27 through 30 in Los Angeles, will leave with an alpha version of the software maker’s upcoming Windows 7 operating system (OS), the company confirmed Wednesday.
Microsoft has historically offered up early versions of upcoming OSes to developers. However, this recent promise dispels rumors that Redmond was planning to skip its traditional alpha release due to timing issues in developing Windows 7.
“This is common. It would have been a bigger deal if they had not given the people attending PDC the code,” said Michael Cherry, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft.
The rumor, Cherry told TechNewsWorld, stated “that [Microsoft] was not going to release it. Had they not, it would be taken as a sign that they were behind on their development plans. [Microsoft] can’t win. If they give people code at PDC, then everyone will evaluate it and start to comment on what they think Windows 7 will be. If they don’t give code, everyone will assume they cannot get it shipped. So they’re in a no-win situation. In this front, it is hard to be Microsoft.”
Developers heading to PDC next month now know they will be able to take a rough version of the next Windows OS for a test drive. However, Microsoft has divulged few details about what it plans to show off to developers, save that they will “see advances across the full range of Windows — including the kernel, networking, hardware and devices, and user interface.”
However, once they have the pre-beta code in hand, developers will have a wealth of information they will use to decide whether and how to optimize their software to function with Windows 7.
“Developers are just eager to see what things Microsoft is changing, but will wait for a more stable build before they begin their work. Others will be looking to see what this means in terms of what they can do with their applications — and whether to try and exploit Windows 7 with their applications,” Cherry explained.
Specifically, developers expect performance improvements to the .NET framework and more Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) controls, said Jeffrey Hammond, a Forrester Research analyst.
“I think support for new interaction model interests developers, and then specifically for ISV developers, there’s interest in being able to continue to take full advantage of frameworks like DirectX,” he told TechNewsWorld.
With the Windows 7 alpha code released, Microsoft hopes to receive feedback from developers on the OS.
“The more feedback they can get early in the process, the better. By the time you get to formal beta, it’s often pretty hard for software development shops to make real substantive changes — the feedback period becomes more about fixing defects and taking input for the next release planning cycle,” Hammond pointed out.
Something to Work With
Software developers are not looking for Microsoft to make a host of changes with Windows 7 but are interested in what their programs can take advantage of. Given Vista’s well-reported compatibility issues, they will definitely be looking to see that Microsoft has remedied the problem in Windows 7, Cherry said.
“Developers are looking to have their applications run wherever there are the most places for them to run. So right now, if your application runs on Windows XP and probably runs OK on Vista, you’re probably covering the largest set of places where an application can run,” Cherry noted.
What developers want is for Vista, and then Windows 7, to really take off — and pull their applications, designed to take advantage of the operating system’s features, with it, Cherry said. They want to know whether it will be worth it to optimize their applications to work with a particular version of an operating system.
Many developers need a larger installed base to sell their software to than currently exists with Vista. Meanwhile, with Windows 7, Microsoft needs to get developers to write software that takes advantage of new features to make the new OS attractive to upgraders, Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst, told TechNewsWorld.
For instance, many developers are increasingly making investments in rich Internet applications (RIAs). That makes the choice of desktop less important than choice of browser, noted Hammond.
“This is one of the reasons Microsoft is investing in Silverlight — to provide a consistent programming model for desktop apps and Web apps. This serves two purposes. It makes it easier for developers to move to rich client apps based on WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation), but it also gives Microsoft a .NET development play that is independent of the operating system,” he concluded.
Wednesday, September 24th, 2008
Microsoft on Monday announced its latest software release, Windows HPC Server, at the 2008 High Performance on Wall Street Conference in New York. The application, aimed at industries like financial services, marks Microsoft’s latest entry into the high-performance computing (HPC) market.
The software is designed to give firms an easy-to-deploy, cost-effective and scalable HPC solution during a time when companies are seeking more efficiency from their IT resources without undercutting their competitive position in the market, said Bill Laing, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Windows Server and Solutions Division.
The announcement comes in the wake of news last week that supercomputer manufacturer Cray and Microsoft have teamed to offer a deskside-sized supercomputer for less than US$60,000. Those machines will come preloaded with Windows HPC Server 2008.
HPCs on Deck
HPC Server 2008 picks up for Microsoft where Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 (CCS) left off. CCS was the first HPC cluster technology offering from the company, designed to enable businesses to deploy multiple computers in a high-performance compute cluster in order to achieve supercomputing speeds.
Based on Windows Server 2008, HPC offers administrators simplified deployment and improved productivity of systems administration and cluster interoperability. The software will also speed application development through its integration with Visual Studio 2008.
It also supports standard interfaces, including OpenMP, multiprocessor interconnect (MPI) and Web services, along with third-party numerical library providers, performance optimizers, compilers and debugging toolkits.
How Super, Really?
The term “supercomputer” has lost a great deal of its power lately since most “high-performance computing” is done with clusters of small computers that can be indistinguishable from those running non-HPC workloads, explained Gordon Haff, an Illuminata analyst.
“Microsoft and Windows have limited presence in ‘classic’ HPC — large pools of systems in academia or national research labs,” he told TechNewsWorld.
That said, however, more and more HPC workloads are being run in regular companies that design and build products, Haff continued.
“These are mostly smaller installations than you find at a Los Alamos [National Laboratory], but they’re still huge computing resources by historic standards,” he noted.
As Microsoft owns some 90 percent of the traditional desktop computing environment and offers users as well as developers a high level of familiarity, its push into the HPC market should start with those facilities, he said.
“Whether for reasons of familiarity, developer tools, or software compatibility, these sorts of sites are often more amenable to Windows than is the case elsewhere,” Haff concluded.
Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008
Scientists expect startup glitches in the massive, complex machines they use to smash atoms.
But the unique qualities of the world’s largest particle collider mean that the meltdown of a small electrical connection could delay its groundbreaking research until next year, scientists said Sunday.
Because the Large Hadron Collider operates at near absolute zero — colder than outer space — the damaged area must be warmed to a temperature where humans can work. That takes about a month. Then it has to be re-chilled for another month.
As a result, the equipment may not be running again before the planned shutdown of the equipment for the winter to reduce electricity costs. That means Friday’s meltdown could end up putting off high-energy collisions of particles — the machine’s ultimate objective — until 2009.
“Hopefully we’ll come online and go quickly to full energy a few months into 2009 so in the long term, this may not end up being such a large delay in the physics program,” Seth Zenz, a graduate student from the University of California, wrote on the site of the U.S. physicists working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN.
“It’s obviously a short-term disappointment, though, and a lost opportunity,” he wrote.
CERN spokesman James Gillies said the repair operation will last until close to the usual winter shutdown time at the end of November. There has been some discussion that the new equipment could operate through the winter, but no decision has been made, he said.
The melting of the wire connecting two magnets Friday would have taken only a couple of days to repair on smaller, room-temperature accelerators that have been in use for decades, Gillies said.
Gillies said particle accelerators using superconducting equipment at Fermilab outside Chicago and at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York state had similar problems starting up, but have been operating smoothly since then.
“Once they settled in they seem to be pretty stable,” Gillies said.
At the Sept. 10 launch of the collider, beams of protons from the nuclei of atoms were fired first at the speed of light in a clockwise direction though a fire-hose-sized tube in the tunnel. Then proton beams were fired in the counterclockwise tube.
Jos Engelen, CERN’s chief scientific officer and deputy director-general, said the startup showed that the LHC can handle complex operations.
“We have encountered a weakness in one particular connection during very final hardware commissioning,” Engelen told The Associated Press by e-mail. “It is tough, but it can happen. We will make the repair and resume the very successful operation of the accelerator.”
A transformer failed outside the cold zone about 36 hours after the collider’s launch. That was repaired and the machine was ready again a week after it was shut down.
But the goal of the LHC — shattering protons to reveal more about how the tiniest particles were first created — was still weeks away because the equipment has to be gradually brought to the higher energies possible at full power.
“This was the last circuit of the LHC to be tested at high current before operations,” Gillies said. “There are an awful lot of these connections between wires in the machine. They all have to be very well done so that they don’t stop superconducting, and what appears to have happened is that this connection stopped being superconducting.”
Superconductivity — the ability to conduct electricity without any resistance in some metals at low temperatures_ allows for much greater efficiency in operating the electromagnets that guide the proton beams.
Without the superconducting, resistance builds up in the wires, causing them to overheat, he explained.
“That’s what we think happened,” Gillies said. “This piece of wire heated up, melted, and that led to a mechanical failure.”
Gillies said experts have already gone down into the 27-kilometer (17-mile) circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border to inspect the damage.
“By Monday I suspect we’ll know more,” he said.
Gillies said there is plenty for scientists at CERN to do between now and the startup of experiments, including studying cosmic rays that pass through collider’s massive detectors.
Source: Associated Press
Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008
Microsoft has informed some of its partners that it has had to delay Windows Mobile 7, a much anticipated update to its cell phone operating system.
Although Microsoft has not publicly said when to expect Windows Mobile 7, partners who had expected to have a final release in their hands by early next year have been told now that it won’t be ready until the second half of next year, sources told CNET News.
The delay is a significant blow for the software maker, which has been counting on the next version of Windows Mobile to enable devices that better rival Apple’s iPhone. Among the features widely expected to be part of the release is advanced gesture recognition, perhaps along the lines of the iPhone, but possibly also using the camera as a means for reading gestures. Microsoft’s Tellme unit, which focuses on speech input, has also been working on Windows Mobile 7 features.
The delay also comes amid stepped-up competition. Google is preparing Tuesday to launch the first phone running its Android operating system, while Apple has its updated iPhone 3G, and new models are also debuting from BlackBerry maker Research In Motion.
Microsoft, for its part, declined to comment on its plans. In an interview, group product manager Scott Rockfeld noted that CEO Steve Ballmer and mobile unit head Andy Lees did meet with 17 of the company’s largest cell phone maker and carrier partners.
“They all expressed their excitement of what we are doing in the short term and the long term,” Rockfeld said.
Microsoft is not expected to have a major update to its core operating system ahead of Windows Mobile 7. However, other improvements are expected to debut sooner, most notably an improved browser that brings the rendering engine of Internet Explorer 6 onto Windows Mobile. That update, still expected this year, should pave the way for Windows Mobile phones to display rich Web pages, including those that are home to Flash content and Ajax applications.
In addition, a number of carriers and handset makers have been working with Microsoft to add new touch interfaces and other features, separate from Microsoft’s operating system updates. The T-Mobile Shadow was one of the first devices to benefit from such work, while more recent products from HTC also have their own custom interfaces above and beyond those included in the most recent version of Windows Mobile.
“Customers don’t have to sit back and wait,” Rockfeld said. “There’s tons of stuff coming from us and our partners.”
Rockfeld also tried to make the case that Microsoft’s business model is friendlier to hardware makers and cell phone carriers than those of rivals, including Google.
“The thing that they are trying to do is they are trying to own the services,” Rockfeld said, saying that is a move that has plenty of carriers worried. “They don’t want to sit there and just become a dumb pipe.”
Microsoft, he said, is willing to work with carriers to power their own services. “We’re happy sharing the limelight,” he said.
As for Windows Mobile 7, Microsoft has said very little publicly. Ballmer did make reference to it in a speech to enthusiasts in April.
During the speech, he talked about how Windows Mobile would outsell Apple and RIM during 2008. He then added: “And I think that certainly this should be a good year for us for sales, but the work we’re doing on Windows Mobile 7, which is the next major release of Windows Mobile, not just in the Windows Mobile team, but across Windows Mobile, in Silverlight, the development platform, the e-mail, the back-end, I think you’ll continue to see that as an area of major excitement and innovation for the company as we move forward.”
Monday, September 22nd, 2008
The FBI is investigating the son of a Democratic Tennessee state lawmaker as part of a probe into the illegal break-in of GOP vice-presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin‘s personal e-mail account.
David Kernell, a 20-year-old economics major at the University of Tennessee and the son of state Rep. Mike Kernell, a Memphis Democrat, had his apartment searched by FBI agents over the weekend, The Associated Press and Knoxville, Tenn., TV station WBIR report.
Unnamed witnesses to the search told WBIR that FBI agents broke up a party at the younger Kernell’s apartment near campus and issued subpoenas to three of his roommates. Witnesses told the station that Kernell and his friends “fled the apartment when the FBI agents arrived.”
The hacker, going by the screen name “Rubico,” made claims that he broke into Palin’s personal Yahoo e-mail account by tricking the system’s security software into issuing him a new password, according to Wired.com. Bloggers were able to connect the “Rubico” name to David Kernell’s university e-mail account last Thursday.
The hacker’s public, yet anonymous confession, apparently allowed authorities to focus on the Tennessee college student.
“He might as well have taken a picture of his house and uploaded it,” Ken Pfeil, an Internet security expert, told the AP.
Source: Washington Post
Sunday, September 21st, 2008
Apple is recalling the USB power adapters sold with the iPhone 3G in North America and Japan amid concerns they are prone to breaking.
The company announced the Apple Ultracompact USB Power Adapter Exchange Program Friday, which applies to iPhone 3G owners who bought the device in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, and selected countries in South America. Apple included a USB power block, shown at right, inside the box for the iPhone 3G in these countries, and the company has received reports that the prongs on that power block can break off and remain inside your wall socket, which is not good. The power adapters sold with the original iPhone as well as the ones sold in other countries are not included in this recall.
No injuries have been reported, but Apple is warning users of those power adapters to stop using them immediately until they obtain a redesigned adapter. Check the bottom of your adapter: if there’s a green dot, you’ve got the redesigned one and don’t need to do anything. If there’s no dot, it’s time to replace that unit.
You can get a replacement unit at your local Apple store starting October 10, or you can order one from Apple’s Web site here.
Saturday, September 20th, 2008
What your parents told you about taking candy from strangers applies to iPhone games as well. iPhone owners should be wary of e-mails purporting to feature a free game for the mobile device. What’s attached to that e-mail isn’t a game — it’s a Trojan. However, it won’t infect your iPhone, or even your Mac. The Trojan targets Windows PCs. It does nothing to the iPhone; it only uses the device’s popularity as bait.
Security firm Sophos issued a warning Thursday about e-mails purportedly offering free iPhone games. The missives profess to feature a free game for the smartphone, but the only thing those who download the attachment receive is malware designed to infect PCs running Windows.
The scam e-mails purport to include a file dubbed “Penguin.Panic.zip,” a supposed version of the popular “Penguin Panic” motion-based iPhone app game, in which a cuddly Penguin jumps from one iceberg to another while avoiding falling icicles.
In the subject line, the hackers tout the file as “Virtual iPhone games!” or “Apple: The most popular game!”, “Virtual iPhone toys!” and appeal to users to “Take a break!” or to “Beet (sic) my score! (7000 points).” However, the attached file, Troj/Agent-HNY, is a Trojan.
“It’s a regular Trojan horse, spammed out via e-mail attachments. If you run it on your Windows PC it installs itself and tries to download further malware from the Net. Unlike some other Trojans it doesn’t waste time with a celebrity theme or pretending to be a breaking news story — instead it pretends to be a hot game for the Apple iPhone,” Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, told MacNewsWorld.
Infection Via iPhone
It’s important to note that the malware does not infect the iPhone itself. Rather, it infects Windows PCs when the user downloads the attachment while checking e-mail on a computer, presumably expecting to load the game onto an iPhone after connecting the handheld to the PC. Sophos is not aware of any versions that will run on the Mac OS X operating system, the iPhone or other mobile devices.
“Why not Mac? Probably because the hackers believe they can be successful just infecting Windows — which is, after all, what most malware authors concentrate on. There’s no technical reason why they couldn’t write a Mac version too — but they clearly don’t think it’s worth the effort,” said Cluley.
“The hackers are using an iPhone-related disguise in the hope that people will be tempted into running the program,” he explained.
Perils of the Web
Although this latest Trojan does not execute on iPhones themselves, it uses the broad familiarity of the iPhone as bait, again underscoring hackers’ proclivity to lure in victims using whatever will attract popular recognition, be it a hot phone or a scandalous fake video of a political candidate.
Popularity also rules when targeting platforms to infect — they regularly set their sites on market-dominant Windows PCs. However, as smartphones become more popular, more sophisticated and more able to surf the “real” Web, the danger of cybercriminals manufacturing malware for them increases.
“The biggest weakness of the cell phone has been the inability to access the ‘real Web,’ cloistered instead in the mobile Web, having little functionality. The second problem has been the fragmentation of the technology, with hundreds of real-time operating systems. Those weaknesses, however, were the very things that made cell phones so unattractive to hackers,” David Chamberlain, an In-Stat analyst told MacNewsWorld.
“There will definitely be more interest by the bad guys, though, as more people use cell phones to access the real Web, and more smartphones — with their common operating systems — will be in use. That weakness, however, has prevented the bad guys from showing much interest in cell phones,” he continued.
In-Stat expects the number of smartphones in use to increase more than 50 percent over the next five years. The research firm calculates that more than 200 million smartphones will be sold in 2012 alone, an increase of over 40 percent from 2008. That will make the devices an appealing target for hackers.
“Viral attacks on operating systems is nothing new. We’ve seen it on other operating systems, whether it be Symbian, Windows Mobile — which gets it all the time — and Blackberry, so this is not new. We are not facing a brand-new threat,” Ramon Llamas, an IDC analyst, told MacNewsWorld.
In some ways, the standardization of phone operating systems is a hacker’s dream, explained Chamberlain.
“Think about it: For years, we’ve been hearing, ‘There are no Apple viruses because there aren’t enough Apple computers to make it worthwhile for the hackers.’ Cell phones have been incredibly fragmented with hundreds of different proprietary real-time operating systems. Somebody would have to write 100 or more variants to infect all of them. You get a big population of a single operating system, and you’ve got a target,” he added.
What’s In It for the Criminal
One possible reward for cybercriminals able to distribute such malware: The e-mail addresses stored on the handsets, according to Chamberlain.
“This malware is largely a way to steal live e-mail addresses and turn the computer into an outlet for spam messages. In that regard, perhaps they’re looking for access to other phone numbers and e-mail addresses to use for spam. The other things might be for personal information such as bank accounts and passwords and other financial rip-offs,” he pointed out.
However, smartphone-targeting criminals may also go after something other than lucre: good, old-fashioned bragging rights. If a hacker developed a viable bit of malware for the iPhone and released it into the wild where it was able to infect many of the devices, that person would also have substantial street cred within the hacker community, according to Llamas.
“A lot of it is the thrill of being able to say ‘I took down or crippled or put a virus out there and it caused mayhem and destruction.’ There really is no financial or monetary gain. There is notoriety, but that doesn’t translate into the dollars. It is the thrill of causing problems for someone else,” he posited.
Beyond that, putting out this sort of malicious software could be an effort to test the support system surrounding a device, Chamberlain noted.
“Perhaps [the] infection is only the opening volley. You make an inconsequential attack and wait to see what the response is. If the good guys spot it and react, you know you need to find another way in. This almost makes you wonder what else might be on your iPhone that hasn’t been detected,” he theorized.
Friday, September 19th, 2008
Microsoft’s big-budget effort to battle more than two years of Windows-bashing ads from rival Apple took a
new turn Thursday.
After two weeks of three teaser ads “about nothing” featuring Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and comic Jerry Seinfeld, the company launched a new TV ad that directly addresses the long-running Apple campaign that personifies its Mac as a young, hip guy and a Windows PC as a clueless geek.
The commercial opens with a real Microsoft software designer who looks like the PC character — and is dressed to match: “Hello, I’m a PC,” he says, “and I’ve been made into a stereotype.”
The ad then cuts to a series of upbeat “I’m a PC” testimonial clips of PC users doing what they do, including a shark-cage diver, a fishmonger, a fashion designer and celebrities such as actress Eva Longoria.
Microsoft employees and founder Bill Gates also appear to declare themselves “a PC.”
That ad and others to come will showcase the “diversity” of Windows users, says David Webster, Microsoft general manager of brand and marketing strategy.
“Our competition would have you think that PCs aren’t interesting and interesting people don’t use them,” he says. Microsoft had “to take back the PC brand and tell the truth about it.”
Webster says he’s not worried about reinforcing a negative image by mimicking a character and tagline created by its nemesis. “The overwhelming bulk of the ad” showcases a wide range of personalities, he says.
Other elements will include print, outdoor and online ads.
Microsoft also will tap “consumer-generated content.” Starting Thursday night, PC fans could upload “I’m a PC” testimonials, including photos and videos, at Windows.com. Microsoft will use select images on a Times Square video billboard, feature them in online banner ads and post them on Windows.com.
The new ads come two weeks after Microsoft launched the offbeat teasers with the unlikely pairing of Gates with Seinfeld. The TV spots — which have no clear plotline or overt Windows branding — showed them living with a suburban family and shopping at a discount shoe store. Those ads were meant to be an “icebreaker,” Webster says.
But mixed reviews from bloggers and ad pros stoked Web rumors Thursday that the new ads meant Seinfeld had been fired.
That speculation is completely off-base, says Webster. “We needed to move on and start to talk about Windows,” he says. “We’re ready for chapter two.”
They “don’t have any plans” now for more Seinfeld ads, but Webster wouldn’t rule out it out. “Down the road, it wouldn’t surprise me. … He really hit it off with Bill (Gates.)”
Souce: USA Today
Thursday, September 18th, 2008
WASHINGTON–Electronic waste is still being exported to other nations, a move that has negative environmental consequences and may run afoul of federal law, government auditors told Congress on Wednesday. Environmental Protection Agency regulations over e-waste exports are very limited, according to a new report (PDF) from the Government Accountability Office, and the existing regulations are not well-enforced.
E-waste is “a low priority for EPA,” John Stephenson, director of natural resources and environment for the GAO, told politicians on Wednesday at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs’ subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment.
The EPA’s e-waste regulations cover only old cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions and monitors. Meanwhile, other exported used electronics, such as computers, printers, and cell phones, “flow virtually unrestricted” into other countries, the report said. A substantial amount of exported e-waste ends up in countries like China and India, where it is improperly handled, potentially exposing people to toxins like lead, if the material is disposed of improperly.
Not only are the EPA rules narrow, but they apparently are poorly enforced and easily circumvented. The rules covering CRTs went into effect in January 2007, and since then, only one company has been fined for violating them. However, by posing as foreign CRT buyers, the GAO says it found 43 U.S. companies readily willing to ignore the regulations.
“The EPA told us there were no plans for an enforcement strategy,” Stephenson said.
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, a Democrat from American Samoa, said, “These companies essentially trick consumers into thinking they are doing the right thing by recycling their electronics.”
Faleomavaega claimed that the impending switch to digital-television broadcasting, scheduled for February 2009, could render millions of CRT televisions obsolete. (In reality, the DTV converter box works fine with analog televisions. Another option is for a broadcast TV viewer to sign up to receive cable or satellite TV on their old-fashioned CRTs.)
While it’s true that some materials used in manufacturing can be health hazards, the volume of e-waste is relatively small. EPA data show that it represents less than a 10,000th of the more than 30 million tons of solid waste produced by the United States each day.
In addition, the EPA has sometimes been overly pessimistic. One 2003 study performed by researchers Timothy Townsend and Yong-Chul Jang of the University of Florida tested soil from 11 actual landfills that included color TVs, monitors, and circuit boards. They found that concentrations of lead that were less than 1 percent of that which the EPA’s computer models had predicted.
Some politicians argued that exporting toxic e-waste to other countries–including CRT screens, which have a few pounds of lead used for shielding in each–will result in dangerous amounts of lead ending up in childrens’ toys.
“They are getting the raw material from someplace,” Stephenson said. (In reality, the Chinese also mine it. A report on ChinaMining.org says one company alone–not even the largest lead-mining outfit–will produce between 54,300 tons and 70,000 tons of lead this year.)
The GAO made three recommendations to mitigate the problem of exporting hazardous e-waste: the EPA should expand its definition of “hazardous” materials so it encompasses products that pose risk upon disassembly; the U.S. should improve its identification and tracking of imports to identify used electronics; and Congress should implement legislation to ratify the Basel Convention.
Stephenson said the first step is to “make it easier for recyclers to do the right thing, and make it competitive with illicit recyclers taking things overseas.”
There is significant economic incentive for recycling companies to export hazardous e-waste because the need for raw materials in countries like China is driving up the demand for used electronics.
Rep. Diane Watson, D-Ca., also said, “The U.S. fails to hold manufacturers responsible for the end-of-life management of their products that contain toxic materials.”
Not all companies are at fault, said Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill., pointing out that Dell and Hewlett-Packard have programs to safely refurbish and recycle e-waste.
Some relief from the e-waste problem has also come from the United States, said Stephenson, noting that 17 states have landfill bans on e-waste.
Yet the fact remains, Stephenson said, that “we have a serious problem.” Americans dispose of more than 300 million computers and electronics annually, “and this number is growing exponentially,” Stephenson said.
“Nobody knows what to do with these,” he added. “I have three used computers in my basement, and now I’m afraid to give them to a recycler.”