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     Jun 6, 2009
Tiananmen silence
By Martin J Young

HUA HIN, Thailand - China acknowledged this week's 20-year anniversary of the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square by cranking up their censors and throwing a blanket of silence over the web. The blockade of websites is far-reaching and includes Twitter, MSN, Hotmail, YouTube and Flickr. Information and discussion on the event have been removed from the eyes of Chinese web surfers as the People's Republic attempts to brush it under the digital carpet again.

As of Tuesday, people in China using Hotmail or the popular micro-blogging website, Twitter, were faced with a server time-out error message, which is a classic sign of censorship at a higher

level. As Twitter is limited to only 140 characters per message and is a very fast method of communicating, it would make selectively censoring it almost impossible. Blocking the entire site is the easy option.

Microsoft confirmed that its newly launched search engine, Bing, also fell foul of the great firewall and was not accessible throughout China. This may be a good sign for Microsoft as it marks some recognition of the search engine's effectiveness, especially at searching out video clips.

More than 400 blogs were taken offline or delisted from the popular Chinese search engine Baidu in the lead-up to the anniversary. A number of foreign blog sites hosted by free service providers at Blogspot and Wordpress have also been blocked.

Security companies and those offering workarounds for people living in countries with heavy-handed Internet censorship such as China, Myanmar, Thailand and Iran have seen a rapid increase in demand for their products. E-mail encryption services that mask the identities of the sender and recipient have seen an increase in use in mainland China, as have proxy servers that mask the Internet address (IP) of blocked websites, enabling them to be viewed.

Freegate, software that specifically circumnavigates Chinese web censors, has had a 20% increase in downloads from China this week and company executives claim that daily traffic records to their website are consistently being broken.

The censorship has not been limited to the Internet as reports indicate that TV stations have also seen blackouts.

It seems that even after 20 years, the Chinese government is still adamantly attempting to deny the tragic events of that fateful day in June 1989 and prevent its population from knowing the truth.

This year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, which ran from June 1 to 4 at the LA Convention Center, created a stir among gaming aficionados. All the big names in the digital entertainment industry were in attendance, showing off their latest and greatest offerings.

Microsoft unveiled its new control system for the Xbox 360, dubbed Project Natal. The hands-free control system will use facial recognition technology, biometrics and motion sensors to enable game play.

The revolutionary system will allow users to interact with the game using their entire body and facial expressions, as opposed to a hand-held controller. The technology will employ a camera, depth-sensor, multi-array microphone and custom processor running proprietary software.

The demo, featuring Steven Spielberg, showed a user interacting with a digital child in a virtual world without the use of any external controllers. It was almost like a scene from the 1992 sci-fi movie Lawnmower Man, which takes place in virtual reality. Spielberg said it was "a window into what the future holds. There is technology now that recognizes not just your thumb; it recognizes your entire person. The technology knows who you are."

Microsoft has yet to announce a release date for Natal, though it will definitely need to wait until there are a few games on the market that will work with the new technology.

Natal overshadowed Sony's demonstration of a prototype games controller for the PlayStation, while Nintendo said it was "flattered" over the attempts to imitate its ground-breaking Wii, which in 2006 was the first console to use motion detection. Nintendo's own offerings included Wii MotionPlus, an advanced upgrade to the existing controller offering greater sensitivity.

The battle for processor supremacy continued this week as combatants Intel and AMD unleashed salvoes in the server CPU market. A six-core Opteron processor dubbed Istanbul was released by AMD, and Intel announced plans for an eight-core Nehalem EX chip to be launched in the first quarter of 2010. Previous battles over performance and price resulted in both companies trying to squeeze more cores onto a single chip to boost benchmarks.

AMD has always been playing catch-up to Intel, which has the lion's share of the market with 89% of the global x86 architecture server chip supply - AMD has the remaining 11%. According to researcher IDC, the server chip market is expected to shrink 22% this year to US$4.45 billion from $5.7 billion in 2008, so the competition is likely to heat up even more.

Intel also introduced a power-saving CPU for ultra-thin laptops this week. The Pentium SU2700 has already been accepted by Taiwanese tech companies Acer and Asustek, which will build laptops with the new chip. The netbook or mini-laptop market is expected to grow this year despite the economic downturn.

Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.

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