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Showing posts from January, 2013

NASA To "Ping" Near-Miss Asteroid In February

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is set to fly by the Earth in mid-February; it's not huge (it would not produce an "extinction-level event" if it hit us), but neither is it just a "big rock". It's about half the length of a football field, and is thought to be similar to the one that exploded above a remote part of Siberia in 1908 - leaving a lake-sized crater and flattening trees for miles around. This latest asteroid is supposed to pass the Earth at a distance of about 17,000 miles (which is nothing in astronomical terms), and is within the "High Earth Orbit" range of some satellites. It's interesting that the 17,000 miles figure was revised downward from an earlier distance given by NASA as around 21,000 miles late last year, and that NASA is going to "ping" the asteroid daily by radar, starting Feb 6th. They do state there no chance it will impact earth, and almost no chance it will hit any satellites or other space debris.

The Internet Of (Broken) Things

The Internet of Things is that Shangri-La where toasters converse with blenders and TV's enjoy a tête-à-tête with refrigerators. Our stodgy, static appliances and entertainment devices will rise to their full potential and find a new, vibrant existence in an interconnected Nirvana thanks to the Internet. 
If this were an audio blog, this is where you would here that sound of a stylus screeching across a vinyl record.
Never mind exotic parings; apparently we can't even get something like UPnP connectivity to work in a moderately secure manner: According to the security team at Rapid7, technology used worldwide in both routers and standard networking equipment is making it possible for hackers to potentially infiltrate approximately 40 million to 50 million devices worldwide. CNET

Driverless Cars In AZ Hit Speed Bump

From the "Gee-what-took-them-so-long-to-figure-this-one-out" department; Arizona lawmakers debating the driverless car issue in their state wondered - if such a car is involved in an accident, who is to blame?

When there is no driver, the answer turns complicated, and the possible targets of lawsuits expand. Is it the company that designed the technology? The car's owner, or a passenger who should have assumed control? The auto maker that built the car? Concerns from the last group helped keep a bill introduced last year by Arizona State Rep. Jeff Dial from leaving committee. "Their concern is that somebody comes along and modifies their vehicles, and they could be held liable if that technology doesn't work," said Mr. Dial, a Republican. WSJ

Facebook And Instagram Need Proof!

In a somewhat strange move that smells a bit like a phishing scam, Facebook and Instagram have recently been demanding proof of identity by way of an official photo ID. Facebook is now the parent company of Instagram. This has only come up if accounts have been suspended due to unspecified activity that violates the Terms Of Services (TOS) of the services. I shudder to think that people will send in a photo of their driver's license with the SSN still on it.
"This is just a general practice for both Facebook and Instagram to request photo IDs for verification purposes depending on what type of violation may have occurred," said a Facebook spokesperson to Carl Franzen over at Talking Points Memo. "Unfortunately, I can't share more with you beyond that as we don't go into details beyond that." PCMag

Know-It-All Mac Computers

Did you know that your Apple Mac computer remembers everything you download, as part of a feature that quarantines dodgy files you try to download from the Internet? You can't readily "turn it off", and to purge the data you need to use the Terminal. From what I gather it is also backed up by default in Time Machine, but you can exclude it. The original story on OSX Daily is here, and an article on Macgasm goes into some more detail (and is a little less sanguine about this behavior). Some good comments on the Macgasm article too.

Nerds Get Medieval On Each Other!

When you have played fantasy role-playing games for hours and hours on end, sometimes it's just good to go outside with a few hundred other like-minded folk and wail on each other with foam swords and rubber spears for an afternoon. The Darkon Warngaming Club held just such a cathartic event over the weekend and it is chronicled in all its joyous, cheesy splendor in this ArsTechnica article. Nearly 500 participants were set to gather in a Maryland field for a weekend festival of virtual carnage. Darkon's officers hope that Bellum Aeternus will grow into an annual gaming event that draws fantasy and combat enthusiasts of all kinds from across the country—or at least from across the Mid-Atlantic, the cradle of padded weapon combat gaming.

Raspberry Pi Week At Lifehacker!

I have been looking forward to something like this, and Lifehacker has come through once again by devoting a week to projects using the little computer that could. Raspberry Pi is a teeny tiny computer on a small board that is a geeky dream for those of us who like to fiddle with stuff. True, there are other small hobby-type computers available for around the same money ($40), but for some reason (the cute name?), Raspberry Pi takes the cake.

Kim Dotcom Has Big Brass Ones

Kim Dotcom is a big fellow at 6 foot 7 inches; he lives large, and spends lavishly on luxury items. He has also demonstrated he has some big brass ones. While currently fighting extradition from New Zealand to the US to face trial after an FBI investigation into his Megaupload web site led to charges, he launched a new site called "Mega".

The Not-So-Smart Grid

The "Smart Grid" is the future for the power companies, where the electrical grid can be monitored with the promise of better service, more effective billing, and so on. However:
A hacker wearing a fake beard and dark sunglasses took the stage at a computer security conference in Miami on Thursday and showed a group of about 60 security researchers how to intercept the radio communications between Silver Spring Networks, a maker of smart grid technology, and its clients, which include major utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric and Pepco Holdings. Gee, a computer network that we understood (or assumed) to be secure that maybe isn't? Why, I'm shocked. Shocked, I say!

Space Is Big

As the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy explains:
Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the [drug store], but that's just peanuts to space. To assure you of the veracity of the above, I submit for your edification and enlightenment, two images courtesy of NASA. If you look up on a clear dark night, you may be able to see a ghostly wisp crossing the sky - that is the center of our Galaxy, the Milky Way; just one of many galaxies in the universe. We don't really know how many galaxies, but it's at least in the hundreds of billions. There are also several hundred billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.

A telescope can reveal the Milky Way like this:

Now, the "milky" part is actually more stars, as you can see from the enlarged image below of a section of the first image. Starting to get the idea? And that;s just a small area of one galaxy (and ours is a pretty m…

The (Red) October Surprise

ArsTechinca - Researchers have uncovered an ongoing, large-scale computer espionage network that's targeting hundreds of diplomatic, governmental, and scientific organizations in at least 39 countries, including the Russian Federation, Iran, and the United States.
Operation Red October, as researchers from antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab have dubbed the highly coordinated campaign, has been active since 2007, raising the possibility it has already siphoned up hundreds of terabytes of sensitive information. It uses more than 1,000 distinct modules that have never been seen before to customize attack profiles for each victim. Full Story

Computer Poem

What the heck is this?

<>!*''# ^"`$$- !*=@$_ %*<>~4 &[]../ |{,,SYSTEM HALTED
Well, if you emply the commonly-used names for the above symbols, you end up with a poem...sort of:

Waka waka bang splat tick tick hash, Caret quote back-tick dollar dollar dash, Bang splat equal at dollar under-score, Percent splat waka waka tilde number four, Ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash, Vertical-bar curly-bracket comma comma CRASH

Don't know who created this, but here's the original page.

FCC Tells ISPs To Get Their Finger Out

Julius Genachowski, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), wrote a guest post on imploring US Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to get it together and start aggressively rolling out high speed "Gigabit" broadband service. The US does well in fast mobile service, but comes up lacking when providing fast wired connections to homes in comparison to other countries. Making sure the U.S. has super-fast, high-capacity, ubiquitous broadband networks delivering speeds measured in gigabits, not megabits isn’t just a matter of consumer convenience, as important as that is. It’s essential to economic growth, job creation and U.S. competitiveness. Forbes

Dude, Chillax!

Being stressed out is not only unpleasant, it can make you physically ill. It's sometimes hard to be aware of it too, as it tends to creep up on you slowly, building and building, until - well, it's not good. Now you can get a friendly reminder from a device you can wear like a wrist watch (remember those?). Neumitra’s Bandu wrist device monitors various physical parameters and will offer "advice" when you start to get too close to the edge - actually, having a non-judgmental intervention might be just the ticket. Neumitra envisions the device used first and foremost for people with psychological disorders like PTSD, panic disorder, heart disease, asthma, irritible bowel syndrome, or even fertility problems as a way to recognize and minimize stress. Ecouterre

An MCTS In 4th Grade

If you attend Willow Elementary School in California and have a Windows computer problem, you could do worse that hook up with Pranav Kalyan. At 9 years old, he's currently the youngest Microsoft Technology Specialist (MCTS). I'm thinking the kid is *really* into computers. "As a toddler, Pranav was more fascinated by computers than toys. He started writing small software programs at the age of six," said his father Kalyan, who was born in Madurai and is settled in California. "He is capable of solving problems in differential calculus and integral calculus. His efficiency in mathematics helped him write programs," said Kalyan. TimesOfIndia

Here's The Secret...

C'mon Lady!

A older lady in Belgium begins a 93-mile trip to pick up her friend in Brussels. NINE HUNDRED MILES LATER, she ends up in Croatia - apparently because she blindly followed a wonky GPS in her car. I'm not pointing this out because the person is female, or Belgian, or old - it's just hard to conceive of such a trip if someone has even a handful of synapses still firing. Says Sabrina, the hapless driver: I was distracted, so I kept driving. I saw all kinds of traffic signs, first in French, then German and finally in Croatian, but I kept driving because I was distracted. "Distracted" for a couple of days, a couple of fill-ups and 900 miles? Were you knitting a sweater for your friend while driving to pick her up?? C'mon lady!

Ah, Crap - No Death Star

The White House, under President Obama, set up a "We The People" petition site "Giving all Americans a way to engage their government on the issues that matter to them". If a particular petition gathers more that 25,000 "signatures", then the White House will offer a response. Apparently, one of the issues that matters to us is the creation of a Death Star weapon, with funding to be secured and construction to begin by 2016. As this petition did reach the 25,000 threshold, a response was forthcoming from Paul Shawcross (Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget), titled "This Isn't The Response You're Looking For"...

Creepy Big Head Robot Baby

The title says it all, I think. Diego-san is a robot with a big baby face that is supposed to simulate the learning behavior of a one year old human child. "Its main goal is to try and understand the development of sensory motor intelligence from a computational point of view," [creator Dr. Javier Movellan] explained. "It brings together researchers in developmental psychology, machine learning, neuroscience, computer vision and robotics. Basically we are trying to understand the computational problems that a baby’s brain faces when learning to move its own body and use it to interact with the physical and social worlds."

Upgrading To Windows 8? Maybe Not...

Having a computer that is a few years old might mean a rough transition to Windows 8, even if it runs Windows 7 well enough - and meets the Windows 8 minimum requirements. In fact this article suggests upgrading anything more than just a couple of years old might be a hassle. In all honesty, this is not a particularly startling or profound revelation - it was ever thus. PC makers don't really want you to hang on to your old kit, they understandably want you to get nice shiny new model. To that end, they may not put much (any) effort into providing suitable drivers for Windows 8. I ran into this with a Sony Vaio laptop and Windows 7; it had a "designed for XP" logo, and was only a few years old, but I'd be damned if I could ever get it working properly with Windows 7. It worked just fine with Linux Mint though...

New Myspace - What IS It?

New Myspace is the old Myspace shaken, stirred, chopped, blended, sauteed, and put through a "Young Creative People" strainer. Remember Myspace, one of the first BIG social media sites - but fallen into disuse and disrepair over the years? Well, Justin Timberlake and others have taken it under their wing, fluffed it up, and now it's back. Matt Miller at Forbes has the low-down. It’s actually pretty exciting, the problem is, though, there’s nothing tying all of these ingredients together. I have no idea what the main goal of the New Myspace is. At first glance one would think it’s just a site to find and listen to music on. But then why does it have a radio and a video section? Why do I make connections with people and update a status and upload pictures and have a profile? Essentially, if you’re overwhelmed by all of Facebook’s features you’ll likely have an emotional breakdown looking at the New Myspace. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, which are pretty much aimed at …

Futuristic Tire And Wheel Designs

Wow, some of these are rather mind-blowing and I'd be curious how practical or effective they would be in use. Very cool though, to see what people are thinking about for the future.

Electronic Back Seat Driver

How would you feel if your car was able to warn you if it "thought" you were going to fast or driving too close - would it make you a better driver? Personally I doubt it, but Japanese engineers are working on a "safe driving promotion" system that can do just that. It's not just kicking in if you go faster than the posted speed limit, though; it takes into account other traffic by means of the sorts of sensors modern cars already have - such as radar - and "learns" your reaction times as time passes with you at the wheel. So it will still nag you like an electronic mother-in-law, but it will perhaps be more judicious in handing out criticism... NewScientist

All Women Cluster Computing Team

It's a shame this deserves a special mention, but the video below introduces the all women's Student Cluster Competition team from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA.
In this real-time, non-stop 48-hour challenge, teams of six undergraduate or high school students design and assemble a small cluster on the SC exhibit floor and race to demonstrate the greatest sustained performance across a series of applications. The teams have to partner with vendors to design and build a cutting-edge cluster from commercially available components, that does not exceed the 26 amp power limit.

Every Home Should Have One...

... a projectile-vomiting robot, of course - what did you think I meant? If you are studying a nasty virus that can be spread by the old "technicolor yawn", then obviously you want something that can barf on demand, so to speak. Hence, a projectile vomiting robot! Oh, and call it "Vomiting Larry" of course...
Norovirus is a fairly common viral infection that is sometimes known as the "winter vomiting bug" due to its increased prevalence in the colder months. Outbreaks are generally triggered when humans ingest contaminated food or water, but can continue when subsequent people come in contact with surfaces that have been contaminated by the initial patient's effluvium.How do surfaces become contaminated? That's the icky part. Fecal contamination is one way. Aerosolization of the virus through vomit is another, and that route of transmission is believed to have been responsible for many significant outbreaks.TheRegister

Ice, Ice Baby!

The band Shout Out Louds wanted to make a splash with their newest single. So they figured out how to make a playable record out of ice. The main problem with this is the grooves start to degrade immediately when the ice begins to melt. Hackaday