Tech Today w/ Ken May

Archive for May 9th, 2017

Ultrasonic beacons ( previously , previously ) let advertisers build an idea of when and where you use your devices: the sound plays in an ad on one device, and is heard by other devices. This way, they can associate two gadgets with a single user, precisely geolocate devices without aGPS, or even build graphs of real-world social networks. The threat was considered more academic than some, but more than 200 Android apps were found in the wild using the technique . In research sponsored by the German government [PDF], a team of researchers conducted extensive tests across the EU to better understand how widespread this practice is in the real world. Their results revealed Shopkick ultrasonic beacons at 4 of 35 stores in two European cities. The situation isn’t that worrisome, as users have to open an app with the Shopkick SDK for the beacon to be picked up. In the real world, this isn’t an issue, as store owners, advertisers, or product manufactures could incentivize users to open various apps as a way to get discounts. From the paper: While in April 2015 only six instances were known, we have been able to identify 39 further instances in a dataset of about 1,3 million applications in December 2015, and until now, a total of 234 samples containing SilverPush has been discovered. We conclude that even if the tracking through TV content is not actively used yet, the monitoring functionality is already deployed in mobile applications and might become a serious privacy threat in the near future Apparently it’s not very effective—consumer speakers and mics aren’t designed with ultrasonic use in mind and the authors say noise, audio compression and other factors “significantly affects the feasibility” of the technology—but the intent is clearly there on the part of advertisers and appmakers to make a stab at it. Annoyingly, there doesn’t seem to be a list of the apps that are doing this, but there is a reference to a McDonalds app. If an app asks for access to your device’s microphone, camera, etc., and you don’t know why, delete the app.

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Walking around your city, you might have noticed spray paint markings on the street and sidewalk. Clearly they’re there to mark something, but what? Turns out, construction workers aren’t just doodling for fun—those marks are there to protect you. Read more…

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Workhorse W-15 revealed: PHEV pickup with 80-mile range

Posted by kenmay on May - 9 - 2017

Not even a year after releasing renderings of its new range-extended electric truck , Workhorse has unveiled the real thing. As promised, the new Workhorse W-15 uses a pair of electric motors, one in the front and one in the back, for propulsion, along with a BMW gas engine and Panasonic batteries to supply power. Impressively, the truck is rated to go 80 miles on a full charge, and it will manage 32 mpg highway and 28 mpg city with the gas engine in use. While delivering these environmentally friendly numbers, the W-15 won’t be lacking in performance and usability. The dual motors produce 460 horsepower and deliver that power to all four wheels. As a result, Workhorse says it will go 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. The W-15 can also carry up to 2, 200 pounds of cargo in its bed, and it has a 7.2kW, 30-amp power outlet on the side suitable for running power tools. The only weak point in the truck’s capability is towing, which is rated at 5, 000 pounds. For comparison, a base, V6-powered Chevrolet Silverado will tow 7, 600 pounds , and a Ford F-150 with the smallest EcoBoost V6 can tow up to 8, 500 pounds . Of course neither is as economical nor as powerful. The W-15’s performance isn’t let down by the exterior, either. The exterior is chiseled and chunky, with no shortage of flat planes and sharp angles. It screams tough commercial truck . The look is carried inside to the custom dashboard, too, with lots of tough plastic in gray, white, and orange. The interior is quite spartan, with hardly any controls except a simple dial for shifting in the center. Instruments and infotainment are displayed on two LCD screens, with the infotainment one controlled via touch. Even though the truck is fairly barebones, Workhorse has included dual airbags , automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warning. The Workhorse W-15 is aimed primarily at the commercial market, and demand appears to be high. The company says it currently has 4, 650 pre-orders . Pricing hasn’t been announced, but Workhorse intends to deliver trucks next year. We think this truck could have some strong appeal to private consumers as well, however the company hasn’t announced plans for personal-use sales. Related Video: Source: Workhorse

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The one thing that helped me combat my irritation at being at an airport was the knowledge that airports are the great social equalizer: generally, it doesn’t matter who you are—rich, poor, famous, normal, whatever—you still have to check-in, go through security and get on the moving sidewalks to your gate. It sucks… Read more…

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Ice Energy A Santa Barbara-based company called Ice Energy has partnered with NRG Energy to deliver 1,800 “ice batteries” to commercial and industrial buildings served by electric utility Southern California Edison (SCE). The units are expected to reduce air conditioning bills by up to 40 percent and eliminate 200,000 tons of CO 2 over the next 20 years. Ice Energy has been building ice-based cooling systems since the early 2000s. Much like pumped storage or compressed air “batteries,” Ice Energy essentially stores electricity by drawing power from the grid at non-peak times to freeze water in a special container. Then at peak times, when the cost of electricity is high and grid operators are struggling to keep up with demand, Ice Energy’s systems kick in and use that block of ice to cool the space that the air conditioning unit normally serves. Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Scientists have been trying to replace retinas in otherwise healthy eyes to help people suffering from diseases like retinitis pigmentosa. Unfortunately, earlier efforts were only able to use rigid, hard materials , which are very different from the natural retina. A researcher at Oxford University, however, has created a synthetic retina made of biological materials to better match natural human tissues. The study, titled “Light-Patterned Current Generation in a Droplet Bilayer Array” was published this April in Scientific Reports . Your retina sits at the back of your eye collecting light and converting them to electrical signals for your brain. The research, led by 24-year-old Vanessa Restrepo-Schild, uses a retina made of soft water droplets called hydrogels and biological cell membrane proteins. These cells act like pixels to detect light and create a gray scale image. It can then generate electrical signals to stimulate the neurons at the back of your eye just like a natural retina does. The artificial tissues don’t contain anything other than natural, biodegradable materials, making it less likely that recipients’ bodies will reject the implant. It’s also far less invasive than devices that reproduce the system mechanically. While the new synthetic retina has only been tested in the laboratory, Restrepo-Schild hopes to continue her research to explore its potential with living tissues. That may still be a ways off, but it could surely become a more viable way than other efforts to restore sight to people with retinal issues. Via: MedicalXpress Source: Nature.com

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Microsoft tests a secured Edge browser for business

Posted by kenmay on May - 9 - 2017

If the idea of a more secure Windows browser appeals to you — and why wouldn’t it — then you might want to have a peek at the latest Windows 10 Insider Preview Build . That’s because it includes the Windows Defender Application Guard for Microsoft Edge, which was announced last September but is finally available for testing today. This Application Guard essentially encases your browser in a virtual machine, so that if your browser ever gets attacked by malware, it won’t affect the rest of your PC. To enable this, you need to use the “Turn Windows features on or off” dialog, and then mark the checkbox for “Windows Defender Application Guard.” Now when you open Microsoft Edge and click on the menu, you’ll see the option for a “New Application Guard window.” Click it, and a new special isolated browser window will appear. The whole thing is possible due to the Virtualization Based Security (VBS) made possible by Windows 10. The virtual PC created by Application Guard would keep the Edge browser separate from storage, other apps and the Windows 10 kernel. Other browsers offer “sandboxes” too, but Microsoft says that Application Guard is unique because there’s a hardware container that makes it impossible for malware and other exploits to seep through. There are a couple of caveats though. Running Edge in a virtual machine will likely slow it down, and since each browser’s session is siloed, all data and cookies are lost once you close it. It’s also only available for Enterprise users for now, presumably because their security needs are much higher than the average person. Still, perhaps it could be introduced as an optional feature later on for everyday users. Aside from Application Guard, the Windows 10 Insider Preview Build also includes an improved PDF Reader for Microsoft Edge and integrated Cortana settings.

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In the nearly 18 months since a CD-ROM-based “Nintendo PlayStation” prototype was first found in an estate sale , emulator makers and homebrew programmers have created a facsimile of what CD-based games would look like on an SNES . Efforts by hacker Ben Heck to get that kind of software actually working on the one-of-a-kind hardware, though, had been stymied by problems getting the CD-ROM drive to talk to the system. Those problems are now a thing of the past. In a newly posted video , Heck lays out how the system’s CD-ROM drive suddenly started sending valid data to the system literally overnight. “I was working on this yesterday and the CD-ROM wasn’t even detecting the disc,” Heck says in the video. “I came in this morning and jiggled the cables around and got ready to work on it some more, and all of a sudden it works… did a magic elf come in overnight?” Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Intel ) A remote hijacking flaw that lurked in Intel chips for seven years was more severe than many people imagined, because it allowed hackers to remotely gain administrative control over huge fleets of computers without entering a password. This is according to technical analyses published Friday. As Ars reported Monday , the authentication bypass vulnerability resides in a feature known as Active Management Technology. AMT, as it’s usually called, allows system administrators to perform a variety of powerful tasks over a remote connection. Among the capabilities: changing the code that boots up computers, accessing the computer’s mouse, keyboard, and monitor, loading and executing programs, and remotely powering on computers that are turned off. In short, AMT makes it possible to log into a computer and exercise the same control enjoyed by administrators with physical access. AMT, which is available with many vPro processors, was set up to require a password before it could be remotely accessed over a Web browser interface. But, remarkably, that authentication mechanism can be bypassed by entering any text string—or no text at all. According to a blog post published Friday by Tenable Network Security, the cryptographic hash that the interface’s digest access authentication requires to verify someone is authorized to log in can be anything at all, including no string at all. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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When director James Gunn revealed that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 would be the first movie shot with Red’s 8K Weapon camera , he triggered a bit of speculation: what prompted the move beyond the incredibly high resolution? You might have a better answer today. Red has posted a behind-the-scenes look at the movie that, to no one’s surprise, talks a lot about why the Vol. 2 team shot with such relatively exotic gear. And no, it’s not just about that picture quality. As director of photography Henry Braham summarizes: the Weapon is a “large format” camera that’s simultaneously “tiny.” That let the crew shoot very detailed imagery regardless of the shot — important for a CG-heavy movie, since it maintains a consistently sharp look. They could use the same cameras for handheld close-ups or unusual rigs, such as a spider rig that flies along a wire. In short, they didn’t have to switch cameras or resort to convoluted setups. The behind-the-scenes video is undoubtedly a puff piece meant to sell you on both the camera and the movie. However, it’s also a hint as to where movie technology is going. You can expect 8K digital cameras to become more commonplace, of course, but they also promise more elaborate cinematography that might have been difficult just a few years ago. Source: Red

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