New Gmail Reply And Compose Feature

Google has announced a new method of composing and replying to emails; now a chat-like window will pop up and allow you to refer to existing emails and so on while you are composing, which sounds like a good idea. From the official blog:
The new compose pops up in a window, just like chats (only larger). This makes it easy to reference any other emails without ever having to close your draft. You can even do a search or keep an eye on new mail as it comes in. And because the compose window works the same way as chats, you can write multiple messages at once and minimize a message to finish it later.
We're rolling out a preview of the new compose and reply today. After we've added some finishing touches over the coming months, we’ll enable it for everyone. 


The Force Is Strong With...Disney?

Disney is buying Lucasfilm, Industrial Light and Magic, Skywalker Sound and the rights to the Indiana Jones franchise. At over $4 billion, that's quite a garage sale George Lucas just had. Disney also stated their intention to complete the 9-movie Star Wars story arc, which if I recall was Lucas' original intention. So, we should see a Star Wars Episode 7, 8 and 9 at some point. Wow!


Ubuntu 11.04 Officially Now Old Hat

If you are running Ubuntu version 11.04 (aka Natty Narwhal) then you, my friend, are using a relic - the Linux equivalent of Windows XP (eek!). The Ubuntu version that introduced the Unity interface is already "obsolete". By that I mean that the official support for this version is now finished, and to keep up with security and other updates, you should look to updating to 11.10 and thence to 12.04. From the official notification:

This note is just to confirm that the support period for Ubuntu 11.04
(Natty Narwhal) formally ends on October 28, 2012 and Ubuntu Security
Notices no longer includes information or updated packages for
Ubuntu 11.04.

The supported upgrade path from Ubuntu 11.04 is via Ubuntu 11.10
(Oneiric Ocelot). Instructions and caveats for the upgrade may be
found at Note
that upgrades to version 11.10 and beyond are only supported in
multiple steps, via an upgrade first to 11.10, then to 12.04.
Both Ubuntu 11.10 and Ubuntu 12.04 continue to be actively
supported with security updates and select high-impact bug fixes.


Gamers Relax: Windows 8 Works Fine

Computer games can be very demanding on a personal computer; almost everything is running as fast as it can, in order to provide an enjoyable frame rate while the game is being played. Tom's Hardware has done a comparison of 10 popular games running on the same hardware on Windows 7 and Windows 8. It's a detailed article as usual from the site, but the upshot is that everything is fine. The games generally run as well on one platform as the other. Additionally, as Microsoft has previously indicated, an unusually large patch collection is available now, and this will make some significant changes to the OS - so this may even help a little more.

Toyota's Human Support Robot

Japan seems to have a more open attitude towards the concept of having robots running around in peoples homes, and Toyota recently offered us another variation on the support robot, the Toyota HSR. This one can trundle around, pick up objects up to a few pounds in weight, open drapes and so on. It provides telepresence capability via the tablet it uses for it's "face", and is geared towards helping disabled or bedridden people with household tasks when another human is not available. It's more of the "trashcan on wheels" variety, rather than the "cute little guy" kind (like Honda's Asimo) - although I think Asimo is still more of a (admittedly impressive) proof-of-concept than a device with practical application (yet). Toyota also has an Asimo-like two legged robot known as the Partner.


Hobbit Halloween - LEGO Style

I admit, I don't quite "get" the whole LEGO thing. I mean, I loved playing with the colorful blocks as a kid, and I would probably play with them today, truth be told. However, I don't understand the apparent craze for doing LEGO versions of Star Wars and so on, or LEGO video games. Having said all that, I will now completely undercut my argument by posting a humorous LEGO Halloween riff on the Lord Of The Rings, with little Hobbit LEGO guys being silly:


Make Windows 8 NOT Look Like Windows 8

Already there are quite a few articles available along these lines - how to make Windows 8 look and feel more like Windows 7, or XP. Why? Because people are generally resistant to change, or at least don't necessarily like having it forced upon them. Now instead of buying a new PC running Windows 8, you could buy an Apple computer instead, or even one running a version of Linux. Of course you would have a bit of a learning curve there too, so we circle back to making Windows 8 a little more familiar. The article below is representative of the process, and uses a freely available product to "make the magic happen".

Windows 8 Modern-style desktop


Aussies Upside Down On IT Pricing

Our antipodean friends are getting royally screwed as far as the prices they pay form technology, including things like iTunes downloads. So much so that an Australian advocacy group Choice is encouraging all their croc hunting, beer drinking and surfing countrymen to "beat the system" by obfuscating their true IP addresses and thereby hide their physical location, and by using US mailing addresses and similar methods of subterfuge. It's reportedly so bad that a parliamentary IT pricing inquiry is underway there too.

Bugger off, iTunes!


CyanogenMod Firmware Faux Pax

Popular Android Firmware mod package CyanogenMod was discovered to have a means of recording swipe gestures used to unlock the screen - rather like recording your password. Firmware mods like CyanogenMod allow users to access features of the devices in question that may be blocked or disabled by the vendor selling the device. Developer Gabriel Castro discovered this embarrassing item and fixed it.

CyanogenMod code

Android User Smack Talk

Amusing, and actually pretty realistic!


Apple Fusion Drive May Not Be What We Think

At today's Apple event, a new hard drive option was mentioned by Apple's Philip Schiller (Senior VP, Worldwide Marketing) when discussing the latest version of the iMac. The Fusion Drive was described as a small solid state device "fused" with a larger traditional drive - which is cool, but not revolutionary. Except that this may not be a "traditional" hybrid drive, but more akin to something borrowed from the Enterprise - auto-tiering.
...Fusion Drive sounds similar. In a caching solution, like Intel's, files live on the hard disk drive and are temporarily mirrored to the SSD cache as needed. In an enterprise auto-tiering situation, and with Fusion Drive, the data is actually moved from one tier to another, rather than only being temporarily cached there.
Time will tell.

RIM Blackberry Dropping Out Of Favor

Two stories I noticed today really solidified the problems Research In Motion is having with their Blackberry Smartphones of late. Long looked upon as a more secure approach to mobile communication, even that advantage does not seem to be enough to keep existing corporate and government customers. Booz Allen Hamilton and the Department Of Homeland Security have both decided move away from the Blackberry infrastructure. Apparently even President Obama, a well-known Blackberry fan, now prefers to get his security briefing on an iPad. Ouch!


Computerworld Celebrates 45th Birthday

In celebration of it's forty-fifth year, Computerworld has a few timely retrospective articles worth a smile, a sigh or a titter. Technology can move at such a brisk pace that it's easy (it seems) for even the Titans Of Tech to say something foolish with the benefit of hindsight:

Ad favorites through the years

Tech predictions gone wrong

Even after all that, they still have ago with some predictions...

Opinion: Where will IT be in 5 years?


A $40 Tablet And Western Expectations

A pretty remarkable tablet computer from Datawind has had a tough time getting off the ground; they are aloft, but not yet soaring. After a very shaky initial product got bogged down by crazy demand and a lack of capability to quickly meet the orders, the company revamped the design, now called the UbiSlate 7ci, and is catching up with orders. It's not getting a big amount of positive press here, but then again the West is not really the target audience:

“The biggest problem we have with this device is that none of the decision makers, the reviewers, or the trend setters are our customer,” said Suneet Singh Tuli, the chief executive of Datawind. “Personal computers caught on in the U.S. when the price got to about 25 percent of the average person’s monthly income. In India, where people make $200 a month, that is about $50,” added Mr. Singh, who was born in India and raised in Canada.


Ubuntu's Windows 8 Zinger

Ubuntu Linux has a cheeky zinger to accompany the launch of their latest release, version 12.10 (aka Quantal Quetzal - the latest in a long line of semi-goofy version nicknames). The copy of their ads read "Avoid The Pain Of Windows 8" - no equivocation there, then. Considering Ubuntu Linux is available for no monetary cost if you download it yourself, it's a pretty sophisticated alternative for those free spirits among us who can't or don't aspire to the Windows (or even Mac) way.

Altoids Tins Spur The Imagination

Altoids are a perky peppermint candy that come in somehow fascinating metal boxes with a hinged lid. I say fascinating as these little tins have spurred a whole cottage industry of DIY projects from solar radios to well, whatever...

etc, etc.

Another Crack At The Chromebook

Google is not giving up on the Chromebook concept, despite a less than stellar start in 2011. The original Chrome OS lacked some pretty basic features, such as a proper local file browser (!) and the original Chromebook hardware was nothing to get too excited about. The new Chromebook notebook is again from Samsung, and features an improved version of the Chrome OS, and different ARM-based hardware. The cost is also down considerably to $249 - similar to budget tablets like the Nook HD - and for that you get a "chiclet" keyboard, a decent 11.6 inch display, WiFi and so on in a slim, lightweight package.

Halo 4 Live Action Teaser

Microsoft has a pretty cool-looking trailer for the fourth installment of their very popular Halo game franchise, featuring live action performances and a decidedly cinematic look, courtesy of Oscar-nominated director David Fincher (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).
Master Chief's mind is violated by a powerful new enemy, who in searching for Chief's weaknesses, finds the source of his strength.

Honey Boo Who?

As a baby-boomer who fumbles around with a couple of blogs, I sometimes find myself rather flat-footed on the subject of memes - those transient themes that show up in popular culture and that everyone talks about for a few days, weeks, or months. The latest one of these is "Honey Boo Boo". I had no frame of reference for the term or name (I didn't even know if it referred to a person or not), but I would hear it quite often. 

Well, like the poor sap who opens the closet door in the slasher movie, I looked up Honey Boo Boo. I haven't seen the "reality" show that brought HBB to prominence, and I probably never will, if I can help it. And please, I don't want to appear snobbish or dismissive of a southern mother who is trying to help out her family financially - but my gosh, in the pantheon of grotesques (inspiring both horror and empathy), Honey Boo Boo is right up there. My heart hurts a little now that I know...


4K Will Now Be Called Ultra HD

Getting their brand names in order, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) announced the so-called 4K high definition resolution format will now be referred to as Ultra HD, which is probably more descriptive to many consumers - if it's ultra something, it must be better, right? In this case, the Ultra HD standard is concisely stated thus:
To qualify as Ultra HD, a display needs to have a resolution of at least 3,840 pixels horizontally and at least 2,160 pixels vertically, the CEA said. Additionally, the product will require at least one 4K-capable digital input and display 4K content natively without upconverting.



"Goodnight Moon", Modernized

Most of us a probably familiar with the children's bedtime book "Goodnight Moon"; written by Margaret Wise Brown and published in 1947, it's soothing prose has lulled many a young 'un to sleep. Well skipping forward 65 years or so, we have an almost-as-cute parody "Goodnight iPad", by "Ann Droid" (actually author David Milgrim). Here's a gently animated video version:


Another Big October Tech Event

In addition to Apple's supposed iPad Mini introduction and the Windows 8 launch on October 23rd and 26th, we now have a Google Android event on October 29th. It's expected some Nexus devices, both smart phones and tablets from various makers. will be present. Coincidentally perhaps, the 29th is also the day of the Windows 8 phone launch....busy month!

Windows 8 RT vs iOS 6, A Different Approach

Microsoft's new Surface tablet (boy, are you gonna be sick of that name in a couple of weeks), along with similar machines from other vendors, will run Windows RT - a special version of Windows 8 developed for those low power devices and the hardware they run on. The base model of Surface machines come with 32GB of internal storage, which sounds like a lot compared to the 16GB of the iPad model at the same price point - twice as much, right? Well, yes and no. The Surface tablet does have more storage, but after you figure in that the Windows RT operating system takes up about 12GB compared to Apple's iOS 6 at 1GB, then you only get about 4GB more storage. Twelve times more code to do more or less the same thing...


TD Bank Misplaces A Quarter Million Customer Records

I have misplaced my keys from time to time - it seems to happen more and more with age - but at least they are my keys. I have also worked in a data center and been tasked with "rotating the tapes" on a backup device (15-40 tapes per day, if I recall). It's admittedly a mind-numbing job, but a vital one. However, when you are a regional bank, you surely don't want to misplace unencrypted backup tapes of customer data in transit, and then wait 5 months to 'fess up about it. Unfortunately, that's just what Toronto-Dominion Bank has apparently done:
TD Bank is unable to account for the disappearance of the tapes and has no clue where they might be. They simply vanished while being transferred between locations. Although its letters to States' Attorneys General acknowledge the possibility of a security lapse, TD Bank spokeswoman Rebecca Acevedo said the company isn't classifying the event as a breach. "No data has been lost," she said. Rather, it has merely been "misplaced" -- less than comforting words for those affected, we're sure.

NZ Government Computers Offer Up Personal Data

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" was a Ronald Regan quip that still seems quite appropriate when it comes to public-facing computers offered by the New Zealand government. By putting the computers in "Kiosk mode" they are locked down and can be used with impunity by the unwashed masses, right? Not if they have Open Office installed, and are on the network where unsecured documents are laying around, no. DOH!
Keith Ng decided to visit a Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) office himself and documented the problem. WINZ, a department of the MSD, provides "locked-down" kiosk computers for job applicants to search for jobs online and send in CVs to potential employers. Ng discovered that by accessing the Open File dialogue in Microsoft Office, he could gain access to many unsecured computers on the MSD's network and access files that were not explicitly secured.

DMCA Notices - Handle With Care

DMCA notices - notification to a web site or web hosting company of possible infringements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act - are causing quite a bit of churn these days, and the sometimes sweeping nature of the resulting accommodations can be drastic. In one recent example, educational publisher Pearson issued a DMCA request regarding a survey published in a page of an Edublogs education-related blog from 2007. Edublogs removed the page, but their web host ServerBeach apparently got squirrelly and pulled all the Edublogs content offline for a time (over a million blogs), reportedly to verify compliance. The original blog referenced by the DMCA notice has reportedly been marked as "spam" and is now unavailable.


The Spacejump Was Remarkable In Another Way

Apart from the fact that spacesuit-wearing Felix Baumgartner jumped from a platform over 24 miles up and broke the sound barrier on the way down, his remarkable feat is noteworthy for another, less obvious reason. There were some 8 million people watching a live YouTube stream of the event; and they were able to enjoy it without the buffering and stuttering we have come to associate with live streamed events if more that a few thousand folks show up to watch at the same time. It's a another sign of the maturation of the technology, along with the London Olympics and the recent Royal Wedding, where viewing online was actually a viable option compared to television.

Ready, set...


More Windows 8 Quirkiness

Microsoft seems to be intent on giving people a rough introduction to Windows 8. The TV commercials have started (see below), so folk should have some idea of what to expect, but when you sit down and try to do stuff, I think most people are going to be at least mildly irritated by many of the changes to the Windows environment (such as charms and swipes, particularly on non-tablet devices). The latest idiosyncrasy is that the Metro/Modern app version of IE 10 will reportedly not play Flash content on sites that are not whitelisted by Microsoft. Okay, but the really quirky part is that the other version of IE 10 (yes, there can be two separate versions, a desktop version and an app version) does not follow this behavior. Huh?

Black Mesa = Free Half-Life!

Half-Life was a well-loved first person shooter game way back in 1998, and was just the bees knees at the time. A lot has changed since then of course, but a team of around 40 (crazy?) Half-Life fans have come up with Black Mesa, a remake of sorts, featuring the same elements, characters and basic story, but with updated everything - and it's available to download and play for free. There have been a few "fan remakes" of favorite games over the years, including the King's Quest series, and you have to admire the chutzpa of anyone trying to undertake something like this. The article below also references how to set the game up, and frankly sort of reminds me why I drifted away from PC gaming 8/


How About If Google Scans Your Android Device?

If you have an Android device and download apps or games from the Google Play store, Google already scans those apps for malware. However, if you download from other sources, you are at a much greater risk of possibly downloading and installing an infected app, such as the recent fake Instagram app. If you don't use an antivirus on your Android smartphone or tablet (and 40% of users don't), Google may be planning to help out by scanning your device when you use an updated Google Play app to access the Google Play store in the future.


I have nothing to add.


A New Kia Batmobile - Wait, What?

Times may be tough at Wayne Manor, but never fear! Korean car maker Kia, working with DC and others came up with a more budget-friendly Kia Optima SX Limited. It's not a Tumbler, but leans more towards the Tim Burton batmobile  for inspiration.
According to Kia, this vehicle "signals the beginning of a 10-month partnership based on the iconic characters that make up the Justice League," so odds are good that we'll see more superhero-themed cars from the automaker over the next few months.

Just For Fun: Apple vs Android

Courtesy of

Apple Mini On Deck

The crack of the bat, the smell of pine tar...oops, getting carried away with my metaphors again. The Apple iPad "Mini", the smaller format sister to the iPad, looks to be getting it's time at the plate at an October 23rd invitation-only event. There has been some concern recently by Apple-watchers as the original debut of October 10th just sort of evaporated, and there have been reports of production difficulties. Apple obviously wants to get the thing out as soon as realistically possible for the holiday shopping season, and their latest quarterly report is out October 25th - so that would be nice too. As an extra bit of whipped cream on the pie, Microsoft's Windows 8 launch is October 26th...
iPad Mini mockup  (Credit: 9to5Mac )

Still Money To Be Made From Internet Ads

How much money do you think was generated in the first half of 2012 through internet ads? Try $17 billion. That's up noticeably from the previous year, says the IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report, with revenues from mobile and digital video leading the way. 

I myself made over two whole dollars last month from my blogs. Livin' the dream, baby, livin' the dream!


More Ca$h For Google Chrome Exploits

In an ongoing effort to squash security exploits in it's Chrome web browser, Google (like several other large tech firms) continues to hand out the green stuff for hacker reports on vulnerabilities in their product. This time, the award was $60,000 - more that the median annual household income here in the USA - nice work if you can get it. Of course, to get it you need to be a pretty sharp cookie. There's a part of me that would think (if I was a hacker) "Hey, why not earn some legitimate money rather than get caught up in a malware ring or similar, where I can actually end up doing some hard time if I get caught"?  


Windows XP Infected 2x More Than Windows 7! But...

Microsoft must be really sick and tired of dealing with Windows XP. The OS is ancient, in computer terms, it's falling behind in security features that can't readily be improved because of it's older technology, and Microsoft keeps having to support it because we won't give up on it! Any time they can point out how much better Windows 7 - or Windows 8 - is, you can bet your sweet bippy they will. To that end, their Security Intelligence Report for the first half of 2012 says the company had to remove malware twice as often from XP systems and Vista or Windows 7 ones. Ooof. 

Except it may be a little less dramatic than that, in reality. Microsoft's Malicous Software Removal Tool (from which the stats were pulled) only detects some malware, and is quite selective. So it's hard to know how accurate the information really is in a real life type of comparison. While the general premise is valid - that Windows 7 is "better" than XP, and more secure - I think Microsoft may be going to town here to try and cast off the XP albatross for good.

MIT Has Top Men Looking At Lithium-Air Batteries

Lithium-Air batteries hold great promise, as they can store four times more energy that conventional cells. Unfortunately, as of now, they don't recharge well and researchers are having a hard time figuring out exactly why. Enter MIT, who has Top Men working on this, using high intensity X-ray illumination to study the reactions at the surface of the electrodes to understand what is actually happening. This work is being done in collaboration with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratory.

I am using this illustration, hoping that you believe I know what it means...

Killing Cancer Cells With Magnetic Nanoparticles

South Korean University researchers have demonstrated a method of using nanoparticles activated by a magnetic field to precisely target cancer cells, and effectively have them commit suicide. This is without the use of anything other that the nanoparticles and a magnetic field.
The magnetic switch uses zinc-doped iron oxide magnetic nanoparticles (Zn0.4Fe2.6O4), combined with a targeting antibody for death receptor 4 (DR4, a protein on the surface of certain cells — in this case. of colon cancer cells).
See? Don't know why I didn't think of it.


Microsoft "Digits" Experimental Interface

Engineers at Microsoft's UK division are beavering away at a potentially interesting control device that uses input from hands and fingers. The video below shows some of the possibilities. As the narrator states, the device is currently assembled from standard parts - hence the clunky appearance. If this gets past the proof of concept stage, one could envision a sleek, lightweight device like a wristband or something similar. It's sensitive enough that it can "translate" sign language. I wonder if or how this would tie into the Windows Kinect controller?

Psst, Wanna Buy A $13 e-Reader?

Well, you may soon be able to do that, without lurking around in darkened alleyways in the sketchy part of town. German company Txtr is proposing just that with their Beagle eReader. They are marketing it more as a smartphone accessory rather than a Kindle-slayer, and they have used a few tricks to get the cost down - w-a-a-a-y down to around €10 (or about $13 US). It's small, with a 5-inch screen, uses AAA batteries, and has no Wifi or any of that guff - eBooks are transferred via Bluetooth from a smartphone using an app for the purpose.

The video below is mostly in German, but you will get the gist of it. The Engadget article has a different English promo video.

CD, We Hardly Knew Ye...

The once-ubiquitous CD turned 30 on October first, and after a pretty good innings - 30 years is impressive for any technology in this day and age - it's probably running out the clock now that digital rules. Now, of course, CD's are a digital medium -  the one's and zeros comprising the data are read from the media by laser. In it's heyday, everything was on CD - videogames, music, even camcorders would record on mini discs. And AOL - remember AOL install disks?? Now though, digital downloads, mp3 players and flash drives are king; even laptops tend not to have a DVD/CD drives anymore. Blu-Ray and other disk-based media and are the successors, but the technology is different enough that I think we can safely doff our caps to the old CD and wish it a happy retirement.

Microsoft Talks Up Windows 8 Apps

One of the "knocks" on Windows 8 prior to it's official launch is a conspicuous lack of apps for the platform - currently numbering around 3,000. Microsoft appears to be taking the bull by the horns on this one, as they are predicting (promising?) 100,000 apps available on the Windows store by the end of January 2013, a scant three months after the official launch. The apps are important, as they will feature integrated ads, and so could be an important revenue source in the future.

Videogames And Marching Bands!

Not a big college football fan, but Ohio State's Marching Band (The Best Damn Band In The Land) excelled themselves at last Saturday's winning game against Nebraska. They put on a visually stunning video game-themed half-time show, and luckily someone had the presence of mind and quick wits to record the thing - from an excellent vantage point.


Kinect For Windows Gets Updates, Improvements

The Kinect for Windows SDK (Software Development Kit) got some updates and improvements, as announced on the Kinect For Windows Blog. Kinect for Windows is a refinement of the Kinect controller system for XBox, but set up specifically for computer use. Kinect allows onscreen action or navigation to be performed by hand or finger movements (think "Minority Report"), and now by other means such as infrared sensors.

Badges? Badges? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges!

This is one of those things where you can kinda go along with it, but then the creep factor takes over. Why not just tattoo "666" on their foreheads and be done with it?
...Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, recently issued students at two of its campuses new badges with an embedded RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip in order to track their locations.
Without the badge, a student can't access the library and cafeteria, or buy tickets to extracurricular activities. The school district has threatened to suspend, fine or involuntarily transfer students who refuse to wear them.

DSL Modem Hacking in Brazil = Hookers?

A huge and widespread hacking scheme in Brazil that involved 40 malicious DNS servers and up to half of some Brazilian ISPs customers was revealed at the Virus Bulletin Conference in Dallas, TX last week. It was a very far-reaching effort, and as usual the motivation was money - and for at least one of the hackers, prostitutes. The details read like a crime or spy novel, and even if you don't necessarily know what all the terms refer to, you can still get a sense of the scope of the thing and the sheer chutzpah involved.

The Bees! The Bionic Bees!

Autonomous robots can be a tricky thing to get right; it would be nice, perhaps, if we could somehow gather the cognitive abilities of some simple but effective creature - a bug maybe - and build off that to create the artificial intelligence required. Engineers at a couple of Universities in England are attempting to do so - I had no idea we were even close to thinking we could do something like that!

Engineers from the schools are planning to scan the brains of bees and upload the data into flying robots with the hope that the machines will fly and act like the real thing.
The goal of the project is to create the first robots able to act on instinct. Researchers hope to implant a honey bee's sense of smell and sight into the flying machines, allowing the robots to act as autonomously as an insect rather than relying on preprogrammed instructions.


Internet Explorer 9 - Just For Fun

Microsoft has some Internet Explorer 9 ads, but they don't quite look like this...

Seniors vs Smartphones

Now this a Sony Eriksson commercial and it's played for stereotypical yuks by actors - but it's quite realistic on some level (which probably makes it funnier). If you give Mom or Dad a smartphone this holiday season, they're gonna need a little bit of orientation, folks.

Researching Neanderthal Nookie

Scientists can tend to get into weird little areas of research; perhaps the meticulous nature of the work lends itself to that. In any case, in an attempt to understand estimates that modern Europeans share between 1 and 4 percent of their genes with Neanderthals and that people outside Africa shared more genetic variants with Neanderthals than Africans. Africa is considered to be the cradle of humanity, where humans first became, well, human. So, the thinking is that early humans still engaged in the old bow-chicka-bow-wow with their Neandethal brethren after they migrated from the African continent, as recently as 37,000 years ago. Ah, science.


How Do You Milk Mice? Very Carefully

Mad scientists New Zealand researchers believe they have come up with a genetically engineered cow that produces less allergenic milk for human consumption. Two or three percent of infants have allergies to cow's milk. As seems to be the norm is these kinds of endeavors, they fiddled around with mice first (including milking them) in order to test the general concept, before moving onto easier-to-milk bovines. The first successful birth resulted in a female that was born without a tail - not a big confidence-booster, I would have to say.

Squeak, squeak.

Brainy Google Network Starts Work

Neural networks are not really new - the concept has been around for years. Google has managed to engineer such a network with more computing power behind it and is bringing it online to augment their existing technologies, such as voice recognition.

Other Google products will likely improve over time with help from the new learning software. The company's image search tools, for example, could become better able to understand what's in a photo without relying on surrounding text. And Google's self-driving cars (see "Look, No Hands") and mobile computer built into a pair of glasses (see "You Will Want Google's Goggles") could benefit from software better able to make sense of more real-world data.

Using NASA To Hunt For Dyson Spheres - Really?

If you are a STNG (Star Trek - The Next Generation) fan, you should recall the episode "Relics", where Engineer Montgomery Scott (from the original show) was rescued from a transportation buffer after being held there for many decades. Scotty then had to help the STNG crew get out of a problem concerning a Dyson Sphere. The concept of a Dyson Sphere was not a writer's plot device; it was postulated by  Freeman Dyson as a incredibly huge device that would surround a star and harness it's energy. 

Dr. Jason Wright of Penn State has been awarded funding from the John Templeton Foundation to use NASA's WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) to search for signs of these massive constructs - which would surely be a signature of a very advanced civilization. Apparently, SETI's search for radio waves is old hat these days.


iOS 6 "Features" Abound

The old saw that "It's not a bug, it's a feature." seems to be unhappily falling upon Apple's latest version of the iPhone and upon iOS 6. Now of course, every new version of anything has bugs - it's just that in this case, well, it's Apple and they are showing up rather quickly after the roll out (which surely means they should have been "caught" before the product's shipped, no?). So far we have had sub-par map software, some 4G LTE connection weirdness, odd purple flares from the camera, and a situation where Really Big amounts of data were being downloaded unbeknownst to the customers. This was quickly fixed for US Verizon customers, but apparently not for our Aussie brothers and sisters, some of whom were handed several thousand dollar data bills from their Telco's. Crikey!


UK National Grid Security Veep's Laptop Stolen

A work laptop computer belonging to the VP of Security for the UK National Grid was stolen last week from his hotel room. One hopes this was "just" a crime of opportunity, and that the bad guys don't realize what they may have. A statement issued by a National Grid spokesperson said "There is no sensitive information on the laptop that could cause any sort of security risk." 

I notice it didn't say that "the data on the laptop was encrypted anyway"...

14% Of Humanity Uses Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg announced this morning that one billion people are "using Facebook actively" each month. That's astonishing, if you stop and think about it - if the earth's population is 7 billion, then that's around 14% of the entire planet's human population...

This morning, there are more than one billion people using Facebook actively each month.
If you're reading this: thank you for giving me and my little team the honor of serving you.
Helping a billion people connect is amazing, humbling and by far the thing I am most proud of in my life.
I am committed to working every day to make Facebook better for you, and hopefully together one day we will be able to connect the rest of the world too.


Foursquare Extends Reach - To Mars

Hands across the ocean just doesn't quite cover it - NASA and Foursquare have teamed up so that the Curiosity rover can "check in" as it trundles around the Martian surface - kind of a cool idea to make the Martian adventures seem more immediate and tangible to us social media types.
Especially enjoyable is the fact that the Rover’s Foursquare account not only includes different check-ins across Mars, but it also includes tips for those who may be interested in visiting Mars in future, just as it would for any other location. For those interested, Mars is “cold, dry and rocky,” and things to consider bringing should you visit include “extra moisturizer and sturdy shoes… plus oxygen for those of you who breathe.”

Mt Sharp, Mars

Microsoft Makes Big Strides In Security...

...around their Richmond, WA campus. Terrorist threats? Nope, a new gaming console is on the way! The XBox team is apparently closing in on their latest and greatest platform, the XBox 720, and snoops are not welcome. Plus, they have some other stuff going on, with the Windows 8 Phone and such...
The software giant notified its employees this week about new physical security measures that will control employees access to four key Xbox and interactive entertainment business buildings to "ensure confidentiality of upcoming products", reports GeekWire web-site.

Phones Get Bigger, Tablets Smaller.

Have you noticed how the screen sizes of phones and tablets seem to be converging? While there are different ways of measuring screen size, and different aspect ratios (squarer, or wider), smartphone screens are getting bigger (the iPhone 5 for example, and Sharp is starting production on 5-inch true HD phone screens). At the same time, smaller seems to be "in" as far as tablets, with the Kindle Fire HD, Barnes and Noble Nook HD and Google Nexus all being recent examples of 7-inch displays, and there is even an iPad "mini" on the way... One could extrapolate that the devices may both end up at, oh, let's say 6 inches? Seems big for a phone, but maybe they'll just make bigger pants pockets to keep up...

Samsung Galaxy Note - it's a big 'un


Internet Explorer Security - By The Numbers

Computer security wonk Brian Krebs has an interesting article on Internet Explorer and it's security status. If you only count reported vulnerabilities, Internet Explorer fares well against Chrome, Firefox, etc. If you consider only vulnerabilities that are actively exploited, the picture is quite different. For example, Krebs calculated that in 2011 there were 297 reported vulnerabilities for Google Chrome, 97 for Mozilla Firefox and 45 for Internet Explorer.
If we count just the critical zero-days, there were at least 89 non-overlapping days (about three months) between the beginning of 2011 and Sept. 2012 in which IE zero-day vulnerabilities were actively being exploited.

For that same time period, I couldn’t find any evidence that malicious hackers had exploited publicly-disclosed vulnerabilities in Chrome or Firefox before those flaws were fixed.

A Windows 8 Phone By Microsoft

After a lot of speculation, and nothing really firm either way from Microsoft (good way to keep their name bubbling in the blogosphere), it looks like there will indeed be a Microsoft-made Windows 8 phone, similar to what Google does with their Nexus brand hardware products. Since Microsoft announced they would be selling Surface tablets, the natural questions was "Will we see a phone from them also?". As with the Surface devices, it's expected that Microsoft's partners, primarily Nokia in this case, will also make the phones.

Reinventing The Antivirus Wheel

Most virus scanning software works by comparing known virus "signatures" with what it finds during the scan process, and that can make it difficult to keep up with new exploits. AV software can also use heuristics to try to recognize virus-type behavior, which can help with detection (and sometimes lead to false positives). Startup company ZeroVulnerabilityLabs is trying something different, and while they are naturally being tight-lipped about exactly how they are doing what they do, they are offering an "exploit blocking" program that you supposedly install and forget about.

What it is not, for now, is whitelisting, blacklisting, sandboxing, nor does it fingerprint malware, an approach it rightly identifies as obsolete. Heuristics? The company seems not to like that term either in its online literature.“When ExploitShield detects a shielded application being exploited it automatically stops the malicious code from executing. Once stopped it will automatically close the attacked application,” the company said on its website.

MySpace Back from the Dead!

Whoa, Nellie - I guess MySpace is poised to make comeback! The once insanely popular social media site has floundered for years, but apparently was just pulling a Rocky and running up and down all those steps in preparation for the big event:

Camera Cooties Compromise Confidentiality

Here's a crafty scheme - come up with a smartphone app disguised as something innocent, but have it take photos under certain conditions (i.e. when it's not in your pocket) and send them for collection and analysis. You could find out all kinds of stuff like that, such as mapping the victims' surroundings. Well, we'll need to come up with something else Skippy, 'cos that one's been done. Researchers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center have a pretty good handle on this cunning ruse - sneaky buggers.
Malware called PlaceRaider...takes control of a smartphone's camera, relaying information about the target's physical environment back to the thief. The PlaceRaider malware could be hidden inside a custom-made, innocuous-looking app, something like Instagram or Hipstamatic that would be downloaded by a large number of users, the researchers say.


Awwwwkward SQL Injection Vulnerability

The H Security website reports a SQL injection vulnerability in - wait for it - Trend Micro's Control Manager. Trend Micro is a security company, and the Control Panel is a centralized interface for managing security software. Patches have been provided, but that's a wee bit embarrassing, no?

Why Is The Sky Dark At Night?

It's not as dopey a question as it sounds - if you think of all the bazillions of stars in the universe, shouldn't the night sky have at least a kind of silvery glow about it?