Google Self-Drive Car Dings Bus

A Google self-drive car was involved in a minor low-speed accident with a bus in California, however unlike previous occasions this does appear to be the fault of the Google vehicle. There were no injuries.

Various Google vehicles have already logged many miles driving autonomously, and the few accidents that have occurred usually been where some other driver rear ends or side swipes a Google vehicle. This recent incident was a first.
In a report on the matter, Google says its vehicle did just that but encountered some sandbags blocking its path near a storm drain. As such, it needed to merge back into "traffic" to go around it which is when the accident happened.

Outta my way, meatsack!


More Unnerving Robots From Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics has been working on various mobile robots for DARPA and others for the past several years. They are getting quite good at it too, and when I say "good" I mean good at evoking something that gives me the willies.

The following video shows the bipedal "Atlas" walking/stumbling around outside in the snow, picking up and stacking boxes and (in a typical Boston Dynamics ploy) being harassed by a human with a stick. One hopes these beasties are thoroughly programmed to not to hit back.

One one level, what the Atlas robot is doing appears pretty simple, and yet when you think of the balance, motor control (literal motors in this case) and decision-making involved, it's quite involved and impressive.

The creepiest thing for me though, oddly, was when it opened the door to walk outside - it just looked so much like a regular person opening the door.


Breaking Down Intel's CPU Lineup

I have not actually built a PC in over a year, and I recently realized how out of touch I had become in just that short ime. Looking at the current Intel processor lineup, I know that there are Core i3, i5 and i7 - but there are still Pentiums and Celerons too, and it's not always clear what you getting as far as performance vs value (and I love value especially).

Ars Technica to the rescue, then - writer Andrew Cunningham has done the legwork and presented the results in very readable article. Nice job!

Ah, old skool


And Now, Mouse Jacking

Mouse Jacking is a hacking method exploiting the poor security used by many wireless keyboard and mouse accessories (although not Bluetooth in this particular instance). A nearby miscreant is able to potentially take over the victims computer within a radius of more than 100 yards.

An attacker could, from 100 meters away or more, use the attack to send mouse clicks and key strikes to the targeted systems and by opening windows and issuing commands, essentially take control of the victim's computer, Chris Rouland, founder and chief technology officer at Bastille, told eWEEK.
“It really only takes a $15 dongle and about 15 lines of Python code and you can get complete control of the target system,” he said.
Cheap and easy, just the way they like it.


SlySoft Folds, Hollywood Wins

DVD and Blu-Ray rippers have one less tool to enable them to back up their media. Of course, not all ripping is for the primary purpose of backing up a purchased disc, but it appears to be a victory after several years of wrangling with SlySoft, makers of AnyDVD. SlySoft has shut the doors and turned out the lights.
AnyDVD therefore enabled users to rip content from DVDs, and later Blu-ray disks, bypassing the endless time-wasting adverts and admonitions against piracy they typically contain.
Blu-ray, however, proved to be a tougher nut to crack. SlySoft claimed in November 2007 to have been the first to crack the BD+ security built in to Blu-ray disks.


Fast Radio Bursts - They Really Matter

The universe is full of mysteries, not least of which is that there appears to be quite a lot of it "missing". That sounds ominous, but it's just that observations don't quite match up to the theory, while the theory otherwise makes sense. Scientific types understandably don't like that kind of discrepancy.

In this instance, the detection of elusive "Fast Radio Bursts" allowed observers to make some calculations and account for the formerly "missing" matter - kind of A Big Deal.

The gravity in the universe is far greater than can be accounted for by what we observe. Astronomers believe that most of this is accounted for by dark energy, which makes up 70 percent of the universe, and dark matter, which makes up 25 percent of the universe.
The remaining five percent is ordinary matter, and it's what everything we see is made of.
But all the observed ordinary matter, from all the stars and galaxies and planets and nebulas, only adds up to about half of what should be there if this model of the universe is correct.



Extremely Lame Nissan Leaf Hack Reported *updated*

When I say a lame hack, I mean one that is so dopey it really should not exist; one of those "Aw, c'mon!" sort of oversights. This one involves the Nissan Leaf's VIN number (which by law is displayed for all to see). Fortunately, this particular vulnerability falls under the category of "stupid/bothersome" rather than "dangerous".

*update - Nissan has now disabled this feature in light of the discovery*
As renowned security researcher Troy Hunt recounts in the video above, a student in one of his security workshops discovered a way to gain access to Nissan's electric Leaf without using the company's mobile app. Further research confirmed the vulnerability that allows a user to retrieve data from a Leaf and control the HVAC system even if the car isn't on.


Inside The 555 Timer IC

In another life (it seems) I breadboarded and soldered my way through many electronics projects, a time I still recall with great fondness. One of the very fundamental building blocks of a lot of projects was the 555 timer chip, providing the heartbeat to many things that flashed, squawked and counted.

Ken Shirrif has a fascinating teardown of this mini rockstar of the integrated circuit world - what it does, how it does it, and how it's used. Talk about a blast from the past.
The 555 timer has hundreds of applications, operating as anything from a timer or latch to a voltage-controlled oscillator or modulator. The diagram below illustrates how the 555 timer operates as a simple oscillator. Inside the 555 chip, three resistors form a divider generating references voltages of 1/3 and 2/3 of the supply voltage. The external capacitor will charge and discharge between these limits, producing an oscillation.
Ken Shirrifs Blog



There Are No Safe Hoverboards

Great Scot - there are currently no "safe" so-called "hoverboards" for sale to the public, so says Underwriters Laboratories Consumer Safety Director John Drengenberg; none have yet to pass that safety certification, regardless of what labels may be on the device.

The current crop of hoverboards, which appear to be segues with no handle, have been subject to a rather alarming number of fires and severe overheating.
Imports could be seized upon entry in the US and those already sold locally could be recalled. That applies to all hoverboards at the moment, since no model has passed muster yet. Swagway, one of the biggest brands, has told customers to stop using its boards in the meantime.
Marty could have told you...


Long Ago, In A Galaxy Not So Far Away...

...George Lucas began producing revised versions of the original Star Wars trilogy. While he was certainly entitled to do that, and invested his creative energies, time and money into the effort, the changes he wrought definitely did not please everyone - from "Greedo shot first", random CGI beasties plastered everywhere, and other nips and tucks to the beloved movies.


Driverless Car Conundrums

The self-drive, autonomous, or driver-less automobiles that we are expecting to start popping up on our roads pretty soon have quite a few interesting questions surrounding them. It's the old "onion" analogy; when you peel off one layer, another appears.

Who is responsible when a fully autonomous car crashes (or when two crash into each other)? Who is responsible when a semi-autonomous car crashes (one with "driver assist")? How will auto insurance approach all this - will premiums increase, decrease, head off in wild directions? Is the car's Artificial Intelligence considered the driver, in the way a human driver would?

A lot of questions, many of which don't have answers yet.

"If you have a catastrophic failure of a product, you can sue the bejeezus out of a company," said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, "if the product causes the crash."
Google has said that, yes, it understands that dynamic and the possibility it could be held accountable for crashes where its cars are at fault. Driverless cars could therefore expand the range of Google's future legal responsibilities in a very real way.
Washington Post


SimpliSafe Wireless Home Alarm PIN Problem

A wireless security system you can install yourself sounds pretty good; a wireless home alarm security system that sends the PIN in the clear - not so much. Unfortunately, this was the finding of Dr. Andrew Zonenberg, senior security consultant at IOActive after testing the SimpliSafe system. Disappointing, to say the least.
It appears SimpliSafe's systems send messages unencrypted in the clear over the air. That means it's trivial to send spoofed sensor readings – such as back-door closed – to fool alarm control boxes into thinking no break-in is happening, and replay PIN codes from keypads to activate or deactivate security systems.
A thief just has to loiter near a home with some radio equipment, pick up the unencrypted PIN messages transmitted from a keypad to the control box, and later replay the messages to deactivate the alarm when the homeowners are out.


Best 3D Printers

3D Printers continue their rise in popularity, and the field is expanding rapidly with devices in all sorts of categories and price ranges. If you are familiar with the basics of 3D printing hardware and have a price range in mind, 3D Printing Geeks has a new article with descriptions and reviews of many models, with more to come. A good one-stop shopping resource to search for the right equipment to fit your needs.
We use criteria like user reviews, price, value, reputation, warranty, features, company history, community, cost to operate, ease of use, ease of setup, software options, print quality, print failure rate to judge all the models you see here.
3D Printing Geeks

Yeah, that's not creepy at all...


The Robot Problem

Robots are coming, and how about a prediction that they put half of the worlds' working population out of a job in the next 30 years, when machines are able to do pretty much everything a human can? Will we all be traipsing around in flowing white robes wearing placid expressions and studying music, philosophy and Zen Buddhism? 

Hmm, "work" - no, I'm not familiar with the term.

Adobe Creative Cloud Bug For Mac Users

Complex software leaves many nooks and crannies for bad stuff to lurk and make mischief. Such is apparently the case this time with Adobe Creative Cloud for Mac.
Adobe Systems has stopped distributing a recently issued update to its Creative Cloud graphics service amid reports a Mac version can delete important user data without warning or permission.
The deletions happen whenever Mac users log in to the Adobe service after the update has been installed, according to officials from Backblaze, a data backup service whose users are being disproportionately inconvenienced by the bug. Upon sign in, a script activated by Creative Cloud deletes the contents in the alphabetically first folder in a Mac's root directory.
Ars Technica

Per Apple Insider, "In the meantime, Creative Cloud users are advised not to install the version update or, for those who have already done so, not to log in. For users who need immediate access to Creative Cloud, Backblaze suggests creating a sacrificial folder and assigning it a name assured to be first alphabetically."



Netflix Content Floats To The Amazon Cloud

Streaming content provider Netflix just completed moving all its data to rival streaming content provider Amazon, or at least to their cloud storage company Amazon Web Services. This finalizes a move several years in the making, as Netflix moved content from it's own data centers to AWS.  The strange bedfellows may both benefit, though:
Netflix's success is Amazon's as well, with the former encouraging people to ditch cable, which Amazon can piggy-back onto into people's homes. Secondly, the company must be making some serious bank from Netflix's vast user base, so it's win-win for Jeff Bezos.

Yep, they are smiling


First Direct Evidence Of Gravitational Waves

The recent past has been quite dramatic for the scientific world, with the confirmed detection of the elusive Higgs Boson (the so-called "God particle"), and now the first direct detection of gravitational waves, something long predicted by Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

This is stuff that will go down in the history books for sure, and speaks to the huge advances in measuring bind-bogglingly small variations in Nature.
It completes his vision of a universe in which space and time are interwoven and dynamic, able to stretch, shrink and jiggle. And it is a ringing confirmation of the nature of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits from which not even light can escape, which were the most foreboding (and unwelcome) part of his theory.
More generally, it means that a century of innovation, testing, questioning and plain hard work after Einstein imagined it on paper, scientists have finally tapped into the deepest register of physical reality, where the weirdest and wildest implications of Einstein’s universe become manifest.


Drone Racing League Takes Off

Let's see; you have small, fast, agile remote controlled aircraft that can be flown indoors and outdoors. Add competitive individuals, and the ability to fly the craft at high speed though colorful courses via a first person view (as if you had a tiny cockpit on the front of your drone) - the result is the Drone Racing League.
There have been two league races thus far—a preseason event in an abandoned power plant in New York, and the first regular-season event in Miami’s Sun Life Stadium—attracting competitors from Brazil, Mexico, Australia, and across the United States. There’s no real “hotbed” for drone racing, DRL founder and CEO Nicholas Horbaczewski says. Drone fever is pretty much everywhere he looks.
“Usually, you have a regional interest in a sport and it grows from there,” says Horbaczewski. “This kind of racing originated in Australia, but now there’s some form of organized drone racing in most countries I’ve looked at.”


In The Future, How Much Will Reality Matter?

The virtual world is beckoning; we can see the beginnings of now, although dimly as in a grimy reflection. Even so, some of it still looks quite alluring - how might it look in 10 years? Microsoft's Hololens Superbowl ad gives a look at enormously interactive TV, all souped up by augmented reality.

At some future point reality my not even matter.  That is the future of something like the Hololens because what you are currently seeing is far from what this technology will become. Years in the future you may just plug the device into your head and it will interface directly with your brain and, in the interim time, it will get smaller, lighter, more powerful, and less expensive because that is the nature of technology. 


Kickstarter, Strippers, and Booze - Oh My

If you have ever put down some of the green stuff into a Kickstarter campaign, there is surely a little voice somewhere in the back of you mind wondering if the money will be wisely spent. While the wise use of funds can be debated in any case, you probably would not expect your contribution to be spent on restaurant visits, drinks and strippers.

Sadly, it looks like that scenario did come about in one recent case, causing a lead programmer to quit the project in protest.
Over the weekend, lead programmer Eric Tereshinski resigned from the project after finding out his business partners “were secretly stealing company money.” 
More specifically, “They had secretly spent the overwhelming majority of both our Kickstarter money and the Ant Simulator investment money on liquor, restaurants, bars, and...even strippers,” says Tereshinski. 


Google's Gmail Exceeds 1 Billion Active Users

Needless to say, a billion of anything is a lot, and a billion users of a web email service is no less impressive. Google just confirmed that their Gmail platform has more than one billion active users (there are around 7 billion people alive on Earth right now).
With this, Gmail joins six of Google’s other popular projects, including Search, Chrome, Android, Maps, YouTube and Google Play that all also have more than a billion active users.