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Friday, November 22, 2013

New Haptic System Uses Ultrasonic Vibration

A UK research team created a system designed for use in public spaces that lets people feel what is on a device’s display without needing to touch a separate haptic-feedback object in the process, as is the case with most haptic approaches. University of Bristol scientists designed UltraHaptics, which , uses ultrasonic vibration to provide multiple users with mid-air haptic feedback. The system works with a phased array of ultrasonic transducers, which emit high frequency sound waves. These provide the force that generates haptic sensations for users as they view the screen. The researchers are presenting their work at the 26th annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology this month in St. Andrews, UK. (PhysOrg)(Bristol Interaction and Graphics, University of Bristol) 

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Survey Identifies Best Paying Companies for Software Engineers

Juniper Networks tops a newly released list of US companies currently paying the most to its software engineers. The 2013 list of the 25 highest paying companies for software engineers compiled by Glassdoor—which runs a US-based job and career website—ranked the networking-equipment maker atop its list with an average annual base salary of $159,990. The firms ranked second through tenth were LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google, Twitter, Apple, Oracle, Walmart, Facebook, and Integral Systems Development Corp. The list—based on various surveys and reports compiled by Glassdoor—ranks only salaries without taking into account factors such as benefits or job location. (Information Week)(GlassDoor)

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

US Security Officials Use Government, Private Databases to Prescreen Airline Passengers; Privacy Advocates Worry

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has expanded its airline-passenger screening by gathering information from various government and private databases, including those that the Department of Homeland Security maintains. Privacy advocates are concerned about the intrusive nature of the program, which was likened to a “pre-crime assessment every time you fly” according to a consultant to one of the groups opposing the program. Edward Hasbrouck said, “The default will be the highest, most intrusive level of search.” TSA agents are now accessing data such as car registrations, tax identification numbers, previous travel information, and material gathered by law-enforcement or intelligence officials for all travelers, not just those entering the US. The TSA has not publicly released many details of the new program. “The measures go beyond the background check the government has conducted for years, called Secure Flight, in which a passenger’s name, gender and date of birth are compared with terrorist watch lists,” noted the New York Times. (SlashDot)(The New York Times)

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Is Google Behind the Mystery Afloat in San Francisco Bay?

A large structure being built on a barge docked in the San Francisco Bay appears to belong to Google, but its purpose is a mystery. Reporters following the paper trail say the firm that owns the barge, By and Large, has ties to Google. The structure consists of cargo containers stacked atop a barge, which pundits suspect may be a floating data center. Google holds a 2009 patent for such a structure. A similar structure has also been seen off the coast of Portland, Maine. That barge is owned by the same company. One report, from CBS San Francisco affiliate KPIX, contends it is a floating store for the Google Glass wearable computer that will be towed to San Francisco’s Fort Mason area and then float from city to city. Google has not commented on the matter. (CNET)(The Telegraph)

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Monday, November 18, 2013

British Citizen Charged in Numerous US Hacking Incidents

US officials have charged a UK computer hacker with breaching thousands of computer systems, including US military and government networks, and stealing confidential data. They charged Lauri Love, 28, with one count of accessing a federal agency’s computer without permission and one count of conspiracy. US attorneys filed their case in New Jersey, the location of one of the servers that Love allegedly used. Love was arrested on 25 October in the UK. Between October 2012 and October 2013, Love and others allegedly placed back doors in networks they breached, which allowed them to re-enter and take data. They reportedly hacked networks including those run by the US Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency, the US Army Corps of Engineers, NASA, and the Environmental Protection Agency and allegedly took budget information and personal data on military and government personnel. Love faces US and UK charges related to other incidents. (Reuters)(Associated Press @ Washington Post)

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Study: Chromecast Users Circumventing Network TV Viewing Restrictions

A new study finds a third of Google Chromecast owners are using the digital media streaming adapter daily to download and watch television shows on their TVs—rather than other devices such as computers, smartphones, and tablets—in violation of network viewing restrictions. Typically, broadcasters specify the types of devices on which consumers can watch downloaded content for free or for a fee, based on licensing agreements with content providers. However, in an August 2013 online survey of 3,000 broadband households, market research firm Parks Associates found that Chromecast owners are watching current TV shows on their televisions via the Hulu online servicefor free, designed for viewing via conventional computers, instead of paying the service’s subscription charge for viewing televised content via Internet-connected TVs, mobile devices, and game consoles. They are also using Chromecast to view sports events that are streamed online but not broadcast, noted the Parks Associates researchers, which also violates viewing restrictions. “Chromecast is giving people in Hollywood headaches right now,” stated Parks Associates’ director of consumer analytics John Barrett. “All the wrangling over licensing restrictions doesn’t mean much if consumers can simply circumvent them.”  (The Los Angeles Times)(Mashable)(Parks Associates)

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Apple Is Now the World’s Most Valuable Brand

Apple is now the most valuable brand in the world, displacing Coca-Cola from the top spot it held since the report’s inception 13 years ago. According to Interbrand—a corporate identity and brand consulting company that has compiled its Best Global Brands report since 2000—the Apple brand’s value is now $98.3 billion, up 28 percent from last year, when it ranked second. Google is second place in the new report, followed by Coke, IBM, Microsoft, GE, McDonald’s, Samsung, Intel, and Toyota. (The New York Times)(CNET)(Bloomberg Businessweek)(Interbrand) 

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Verizon Vulnerability Left Subscribers’ Texting Histories Accessible

A vulnerability in Verizon Wireless’ Web-based customer portal let anyone with subscribers’ phone numbers download their complete short-message-service history, including the phone numbers of people with whom they communicated. The Verizon website failed to verify that the number entered into the application actually belonged to the person entering it. Once a number was entered, the person could download its SMS message history. A Verizon customer reportedly discovered the vulnerability and reported it to the company. Verizon then took more than a month to resolve the issue and another month to publicly disclose it. Verizon issued a statement to Engadget stating “we addressed this issue as soon as our security teams were made aware of it. Customer information was not impacted.” (SlashDot)(ThreatPost)(Engadget)

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Researchers Use Lasers to Transform Material Properties

MIT scientists have conducted research that could let them shine precise laser beams on substances to create new materials, change their electronic properties, and turn them into semiconductors. The researchers accomplished this by developing a way to produce and measure photon and electron coupling on a topological-insulator material – a material that has both an insulating interior and a conductive surface. This work could enable scientists to create new kinds of electronic states in solid-state systems. The researchers shone a polarized laser beam at bismuth selenide crystals and found they could change their bandgap—the energy difference between it’s a material’s nonconductive and conductive states—and turn them into a semiconductor. They add  that, although they have only experimented with bismuth selenide, the technique might be useful with other materials. They published their work in Science.(SlashDot)(MIT News Office)

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

France Seeks Sanctions against Google for Flaunting Privacy Laws

Google faces financial sanctions in France after failing to obey with an order to bring the way in which it stores and shares user data in compliance with the nation’s privacy laws. The company faced scrutiny by various European data-protection authorities after changing its privacy policy in 2012. Google was ordered on 20 June 2013 to comply with French privacy laws within three months, but it has reportedly did not do so by the time the deadline passed.  Google faces a maximum fine of €150,000 (US$202,562) for a first offense with an additional €300,000 for a second offense. It could also be ordered to change aspects of how it processes personal data for three months. (SlashDot)(CMO)(C.Nationale de L'Informatique et des Libertes)

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Curved Displays: Latest Smartphone Innovation

Curved displays are the newest hardware feature planned for next-generation smartphones. LG Electronics has announced that it is ramping up mass production of its six-inch curved smartphone displays to launch in November, although devices with the screens may not be commercially available until 2014. Samsung Electronics, the global leader in smartphone sales, says its curved displays will be available this month. Users could bend or fold curved displays, which might eventually result in innovative, new designs for mobile and wearable devices that observers say could potentially transform the market for high-end smartphones. The challenge in making curved displays is manufacturing the screens in volume so that they are affordable, thin, and heat resistant. Curved displays are already commercially available on large-screen televisions, which both Samsung and LG Electronics began selling this year. Global shipments of devices with flexible displays will reach nearly 800 million by 2020, predicted market research firm IHS earlier this year. (Reuters)(USA Today)

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Monday, November 11, 2013

HarperCollins, Scribd Strike e-Book Distribution Deal

The Scribd digital library has entered into a deal that will add HarperCollins Publishers’ back list e-books to Scribd’s subscription service. This arrangement with a major publishing house is a big move for Scribd, which already offers books from smaller publishers including Workman and the Indiana University Press. Scribd plans to also sell e-books from the full HarperCollins catalog, including new titles. Scribd has a customer base of 80 million users per month. (Tech Crunch)(The New York Times) 

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Symantec Disables Portion of Resilient Botnet

Security vendor Symantec has disrupted part of the ZeroAccess botnet, freeing 500,000 of the 1.9 million infected computers from the malicious network’s control. Symantec researchers took advantage of an undisclosed flaw in the network’s peer-to-peer updating to poison 256 peer computers that were part of the botnet. The researchers then injected their own IP addresses into the botnet to gain control of them. They tried to wrest control of ZeroAccess’ entire command-and-control mechanism. However, because the botnet distributes its instructions peer to peer, rather than via centralized servers, this frustrated the researchers’ attempts. In addition, the botmasters subsequently updated the malware they use to control computers to eliminate the vulnerabilities that Symantec exploited. The company is working to free victimized computers that don’t have the update. Symantec researchers call ZeroAccess “one of the most menacing botnets in current circulation.” The botnet operators use the computers they control to distribute malware, and commit advertising fraud, specifically click fraud, and online currency fraud through using the compromised computers for Bitcoin mining. The advertising fraud alone reportedly nets about $700,000 per year from roughly 1,000 clicks/day per computer. (BBC)(Computerworld)(Ars Technica)

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Company Says its AI Algorithm Cracks CAPTCHAs

AI start-up Vicarious claims it has created software able to successfully solve CATPCHAs (completely automated public Turing tests to tell computers and humans apart). The system reportedly has a 90 to 99 percent accuracy rate, depending on the type of CAPTCHA used, whether it must recognize and then type in displayed letters, numbers, or else those with symbols whose shapes have been distorted and sometimes placed on distracting backgrounds. The company is not releasing many details about how the technology solves CAPTCHAs, but does say the system can be trained with moving and static images. One possible benefit of such technology, according to MIT’s Technology Review website, is in accelerating the digitization of degraded texts and improving optical character recognition. Vicarious plans to build a vision system as well as artificial intelligence that can be used in robotics, medical image analysis, and several other applications based on this technology. (Reuters)(Forbes)(Technology Review)

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Microsoft Halts Updates for Windows RT Users

Microsoft has temporarily removed the Windows RT 8.1 update, designed to enable the user to update from Windows RT to Windows RT 8.1, from the Windows Store after users reported that it rendered users’ Surface tablet computers useless. Microsoft has not indicated when the update will be available again, nor has it indicated what specifically caused the devices to be bricked. Windows RT is an operating system for mobile devices using ARM microprocessors. (ZDNet)(SlashGear) 

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Study: Individuals Increasingly Push Back against Technology

University of Washington researchers have identified a trend in which a growing number of people want to resist constant connectivity with technology and disengage from the online world. They examined personal blogs and websites, popular media sources, and academic conferences and journals to determine the motivation for what they call pushback. The researchers originally speculated the trend would be driven by frustration with devices, as well as the cost of obtaining new technologies and discomfort with having to learn new technologies.  However, they found it was the result of users’ feeling that technology was not meeting their needs and expressed emotional dissatisfaction, even anger. Others expressed political, religious, or moral concerns – such as wanting to adhere to “beliefs that encourage selfless behavior and face-to-face interaction with others” --, as well as the desire to better control their time and energy. The researchers found people reducing technology use are taking steps such as limiting online activities, reverting to voice-only phones, or, in a few cases, going offline completely. They will present their findings at the iConference in Berlin in March 2014. (SlashDot)(University of Washington)(S. Morrison and R. Gomez, “Pushback: the growth of expressions of resistance to constant online connectivity.”)

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Huawei, BT Test New Broadband-over Copper Technology

Telecommunications companies Huawei and BT are testing a combination of two technologies that promise to provide faster broadband speeds over existing copper-based telephone infrastructure. They are working with G.FAST, a fiber to the distribution point technology designed to replace fiber to the curb technology. It is faster than DSL, offering data rates up to 1 Gbit per second over copper wiring over distances up to 250 meters. The G.FAST standard is designed to eliminate the need to install fiber between the service distribution point and the user’s home. BT is holding its G.FAST trial for potential implementation in the UK on its own network at its R&D facility. The British government’s Broadband Delivery UK initiative has a goal of 99 percent broadband coverage in the country by 2018. (SlashDot)(Tech Week Europe) 

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

EU May Be Nearing Antitrust Settlement with Google

The EU and Google may be nearing an agreement in the antitrust case brought against the search giant. EU commissioner for competition Joaquin Almunia said in a speech before the European parliament that a set of commitments that Google recently proposed could result in a legally binding settlement between the parties by the spring of 2014. Without a settlement, Google faces a fine of up to 10 percent of its global revenue, which is about $5 billion. The EU has accused Google of unfair business practices, specifically using its market position to continue dominating the European search market. For example, European officials say Google gives preference to search results involving its own products, such as Google Maps and YouTube. The commission is seeking to end unequal treatment of third-party search engines, as well as advertising restrictions it places on other companies. Google now proposes that its rivals’ results will be prominently displayed with their logo and explanatory text. The page position of competitors’ results within the returned Google search results will be selected via an auction system still under development, which would allow competitors to bit for placement in search results. Google currently has about 90 percent of the European Internet search market. (The Guardian)(Information Week)(European Commission)

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Monday, November 4, 2013

New Smartpen Works with Mobile Devices

Mobile-computing vendor Livescribe has released a smartpen that can work on small devices such as tablets and smartphones. The Livescribe 3 smartpen uses a mobile machine’s microphone to record directly on the device. It also has a capacitive stylus, which can be used to write on the smartphone or tablet, opposite the ink pen tip. The smartpen has a mobile app that can record and playback audio, organize data, and add photos to notes, which users could share via e-mail or save to applications such as Evernote and Dropbox. (Venture Beat)(Engadget)(Livescribe) 

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Microsoft yet to Patch Threatening Browser Exploit

Code that hackers can use to exploit an unpatched vulnerability in all Internet Explorer software has been released into the wild, potentially causing an uptick in threats against users. The CVE-2013-3893 exploit has been released in the Metasploit open source testing tool. The tool is designed for use by security professionals, but cybercriminals often use such publicly available code in their exploit kits. Most of the attacks to date using the Internet Explorer vulnerability have been against targets in Japan and Taiwan. The vulnerability can be triggered to execute code if an Internet Explorer user visits a compromised or malicious website. Microsoft has not yet released a permanent patch for the vulnerability, only a temporary “fix it.” The company’s next set of regular updates is scheduled for 8 October 2013. (CNET)(PC World)

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