Tech Today w/ Ken May

Archive for July 6th, 2017

OneDrive has stopped working on non-NTFS drives

Posted by kenmay on July - 6 - 2017

Enlarge OneDrive users around the world have been upset to discover that with its latest update, Microsoft’s cloud file syncing and storage system no longer works with anything other than disks formatted with the NTFS file system. Both older file systems, such as FAT32 and exFAT, and newer ones, such as ReFS, will now provoke an error message when OneDrive starts up. To continue to use the software, files will have to be stored on an NTFS volume. While FAT disks can be converted, ReFS volumes must be reformatted and wiped. This has left various OneDrive users unhappy. While NTFS is the default file system in Windows, people using SD cards to extend the storage on small laptops and tablets will typically use exFAT. Similarly, people using Storage Spaces to manage large, redundant storage volumes will often use ReFS. The new policy doesn’t change anything for most Windows users, but those at the margins will feel hard done by. In a rather odd statement made to OnMSFT , Microsoft said that it “discovered a warning message that should have existed was missing when a user attempted to store their OneDrive folder on a non-NTFS filesystem—which was immediately remedied.” The company’s position, apparently, is that OneDrive should always have warned about these usage scenarios and that it’s only a bug or an oversight that allowed non-NTFS volumes to work. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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We’ve seen the venerable Kodak and Polaroid brands slapped onto smartphones before, but RED — makers of those pricey digital cinema cameras — is trying something a little different. The company just revealed its plans to release the Hydrogen One, a high-powered, unlocked Android smartphone with prices starting at an eye-watering $1, 195. That gets you an aluminum phone with some crazy looking grips; the titanium finish will set you back an extra $400. And here’s the really crazy part: if RED can actually deliver what it promises, the Hydrogen One may actually be worth the asking price. The company’s bombastic press release claims the phone will pack a 5.7-inch holographic display capable of displaying in normal 2D media, stereo 3D stuff and RED’s special “4-view content” (whatever that is). That extreme display flexibility is all thanks to some sort of RED nanotechnology that the company didn’t feel the need to explain in any way. You’ll also find full support for augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality, because why not? The goal was to create a phone that didn’t additional glasses or headsets to take in all this rich media — we just wish they tried to elaborate on the tech more. Anyway. RED is obviously best known as a camera company, so it’s little surprise that the phone can also be used to create those 4-view .h4v files and share them with others who have the right hardware. Beyond that, though, the company says the phone will integrate into its existing line of digital cinema cameras to act as a controller and external monitor. Oh, and the phone is modular, too: part of the Hydrogen foundation is a special data connector that allows for external add-ons to capture “higher quality motion and still images.” So yeah, RED is basically promising the moon here. The company’s press release does get pretty candid at times, though: it very clearly states that you should not expect on-time order fulfillment after the first batch goes out, and that there’s no guarantee these prices will actually stick. Candor is great, but clarity would’ve been nice. The only other things we really know about the phone is that it has a USB-C port, takes microSD cards and has a headphone jack. Given RED’s lofty ambitions and lack of experience in building phones, it’s hard not to be skeptical — so very skeptical — about all of this. The thing to remember is that the company basically came out of nowhere years back and became a serious player in cinema along the way. We’re not expecting an Apple-level success here, but the RED pedigree gives us hope that the Hydrogen One could be more than just a render and a laundry list of buzzwords. Source: RED

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Shortly before Apple’s most recent developer conference, rumors began to circulate about the next generation of its watch. Sources suggested that the device would demonstrate a form of noninvasive glucose monitoring — a way to check blood sugar levels without breaching the skin. If possible, the Apple Watch Series 3 would become an essential product for 29 million American diabetics, overnight. It came to nothing, of course, but people are still wondering if there’s a way for smartwatches to sniff our blood and tell us their findings. Thing is, there’s already a watch that professes to do a similar task: the controversial Healbe GoBe . In order to see what the future of medical wearables could be like, I’ve spent the past few weeks with the new GoBe 2 strapped to my wrist. The device was soft-launched to a group of pre-order customers a few months ago, with more going on sale at some point this fall. If the name tickles a synapse at the back of your brain, it’s because Healbe burst onto the scene in 2014. The company launched an Indiegogo campaign to build a watch that could track how many calories you’d eaten each day. Not your blood sugar, but close enough. Imagine it: You’d never have to think about logging your calorie intake again; your watch would do it all for you. The claim was ridiculous, but the company managed to secure more than $1 million in backing. Medical professionals and journalists weighed in, saying that the idea was about as feasible as capturing a unicorn fart. Thanks to sites like PandoDaily , the name Healbe became synonymous with companies that tried to sell you a dream and run off with your cash. A post shared by Healbe (@healbe) on Apr 11, 2017 at 2:37am PDT The device finally launched a year later, with its signature tracking feature kinda sorta working, but not very well. When we reviewed it , we felt that the watch had too many rough edges to justify people buying it, despite its vastly superior sleep and fitness tracking features. Perhaps the company rushed its first release in response to public pressure, which ostensibly explains why it failed. Now, Healbe believes that its second-generation device is finally ready for prime time and able to do what was promised. As for the science, Healbe claims that it uses a piezoelectric impedance sensor to push high- and low-frequency signals through your wrist. Shortly after eating, the cells in your bloodstream begin releasing water as they absorb the new glucose. The device, so the company says, can use the impedance signals to look at the size and shape of the cells, and track the change in water. From there, it’s just a case of using fancy math to calculate the amount of food you’ve noshed in a sitting. One thing that Healbe’s representatives went to great pains to explain is that the human body isn’t as simple as you may expect. The initial pitch mistakenly hinted that, at some point after you’d eaten a sandwich, the watch would simply ping and tell you that you’d consumed 233 calories. But most meals take between four and six hours to digest as the slurry of chewed food churns through our bodies. Rather than looking at the micro, I was told, I needed to see the GoBe 2 as a way of understanding the macro . The device itself is a little more elegant than its predecessor, although that’s not saying much. It still just fits under a shirt sleeve, although you’ll be unable to pretend it’s anything but a clunky-looking wearable. The new model’s case is all black, and gone is the top layer of metal that demarcated the display in the first generation. A single button activates the display and cycles through the various screens, from telling the time to measuring your calorie balance. Most of the interesting bits are contained within its companion app, which elegantly shows off your vital statistics. It’s broken down into five subsections: “Energy Balance, ” Hydration, Heart Rate, Sleep and Stress. The first one combines activity tracking and calorie monitoring to provide you with a single figure, showing whether you’re in calorie credit or deficit each day. It’s calculated by subtracting the activity you’ve completed against the food you’ve consumed, so, depending on how good you’ve been, it’ll be a plus or minus figure. The Healbe GoBe 2 Dashboard Daniel Cooper As for the calorie counting itself, you get a series of figures breaking down the calories taken in, and how many are fat, carbs and protein. A graph then shows you absorption over the past day, running from midnight to midnight. It’s good to note that you’ll see spikes in calorie burn in the small hours of the morning too, as your body works through the day’s food. Unlike the first-generation GoBe, you don’t need to tell the device when you’re going to eat; it does it all automatically. So looking at the graph for an average day, there’s a lot of burning as I sleep, and then a big spike shortly after I eat breakfast. Then the graph spikes shrink through the morning before shooting back up again at lunchtime, and so forth. While I wasn’t expecting a constant and precise record of my consumption, I found the tracking to be pretty close to my handwritten notes. Hydration is another issue, and the watch is obsessed with ensuring that I get enough fluids, even though I thought I was a good drinker. It will often buzz at me, instructing me to take on more water, even if I’m on the cusp of falling asleep — at least until I’d set its reminder window to remind me to drink only during daylight hours. After all, at one point I was full to bursting after I chain-drank the better part of three liters of green tea, and I was still being advised that I needed to drink more. Similarly, the sleep tracking is some of the most accurate I’ve seen, outlining periods of REM sleep, stress and anxiety through the night. Similarly, it’s the first “stress”-counting wearable that has actually worked, vibrating with the warning “Emotion” during a particularly fractious conversation with my other half. It all adds up to a device that actually kinda does what was promised, which is probably the biggest surprise of all of this. The questions that linger are simple: whether Apple will adopt a technology like this in a future version of its watch, and if it can be tweaked to calculate blood sugar. On the first point, the biggest obstacle to its use would be the GoBe’s atrocious battery life — it lasts 24 hours between charges. The Watch itself has an even shorter lifespan, and it would take a radical redesign to make it practical. As for whether the technology could be used to track blood sugar levels, that will come down to how well the algorithms can be tweaked. If Healbe’s Flow technology is legitimate, and it does turn out to be capable of tracking food consumption, then it’s entirely plausible and possible. Although Apple will be held to a vastly higher standard than Healbe, especially given the latter company’s lack of credibility. Testing this device, I expected very little from it, believing that its signature feature was simply too impossible to work. But the Healbe GoBe 2 is a very good health and fitness tracker, offering insights and proactive advice that I appreciate in a wearable device. It offers lifestyle metrics that other companies would dream of being able to offer, and reading my stats has become a mild obsession. As a consequence, the company has earned a second chance at a first impression. Source: Healbe

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France plans to ban fossil-fuel-powered cars by 2040

Posted by kenmay on July - 6 - 2017

France’s ecology minister has laid out an ambitious plan that would see the nation effectively ban the sale of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles by 2040. Nicolas Hulot, as quoted by the Financial Times , claims that France is announcing the “end of the sale of gasoline and diesel cars” by the deadline. As Le Figaro adds, it’s not clear how the country will enforce the transition, but Hulot says that the “conditions are there.” France doesn’t have a bottomless sovereign wealth fund like Norway , for example, that it can use to finance a transition to cleaner energy. But, what France does have in its favor is a sizable stake in both PSA, the owner of Peugeot and Citroen, and Renault. As a consequence, it can exert plenty of pressure on some of the world’s largest auto manufacturers to help accelerate the process. In addition, Hulot is planning some sort of financial incentive as a lever to push buyers toward hybrid or electric vehicles. That could take the form of an extra pollution tax on older vehicles, or a tax break (or other subsidy) to encourage the purchase of newer, cleaner cars. Although the details are still hazy, France will also establish itself at the forefront of the fight against climate change by instituting a carbon tax , which would be upward of 100 euros per tonne of carbon. In addition, the country will stop issuing new licenses for oil exploration and make a bigger push for renewable energy. Right now, all of this is just a plan, but given that France’s current government was given a huge mandate by voters, it’s hard to see where any opposition would come from. It’s not the first piece of good news this week for folks who don’t want the Earth to boil away in the next few years. Volvo has pledged to stop producing vehicles with entirely gasoline or diesel-powered motors by 2019. Instead, each new car, from that point, will be hybrid or entirely electric and, in addition, Volkswagen believes that it can sell three million EVs by 2025. Source: Le Figaro , Financial Times

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Enlarge (credit: National Police of Ukraine ) The third-party software updater used to seed last week’s NotPetya worm that shut down computers around the world was compromised more than a month before the outbreak. This is yet another sign the attack was carefully planned and executed. Researchers from antivirus provider Eset, in a blog post published Tuesday , said the malware was spread through a legitimate update module of M.E.Doc, a tax-accounting application that’s widely used in Ukraine. The report echoed findings reported earlier by Microsoft , Kaspersky Lab , Cisco Systems , and Bitdefender . Eset said a “stealthy and cunning backdoor” used to spread the worm probably required access the M.E.Doc source code. What’s more, Eset said the underlying backdoored ZvitPublishedObjects.dll file was first pushed to M.E.Doc users on May 15, six weeks before the NotPetya outbreak. “As our analysis shows, this is a thoroughly well-planned and well-executed operation,” Anton Cherepanov, senior malware researcher for Eset, wrote. “We assume that the attackers had access to the M.E.Doc application source code. They had time to learn the code and incorporate a very stealthy and cunning backdoor. The size of the full M.E.Doc installation is about 1.5GB, and we have no way at this time to verify that there are no other injected backdoors.” Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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NASA Seeks Nuclear Power For Mars

Posted by kenmay on July - 6 - 2017

New submitter joshtops shares a report from Scientific American: As NASA makes plans to one day send humans to Mars, one of the key technical gaps the agency is working to fill is how to provide enough power on the Red Planet’s surface for fuel production, habitats and other equipment. One option: small nuclear fission reactors, which work by splitting uranium atoms to generate heat, which is then converted into electric power. NASA’s technology development branch has been funding a project called Kilopower for three years, with the aim of demonstrating the system at the Nevada National Security Site near Las Vegas. Testing is due to start in September and end in January 2018. The last time NASA tested a fission reactor was during the 1960s’ Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power, or SNAP, which developed two types of nuclear power systems. The first system — radioisotope thermoelectric generators, or RTGs — taps heat released from the natural decay of a radioactive element, such as plutonium. RTGs have powered dozens of space probes over the years, including the Curiosity rover currently exploring Mars. The second technology developed under SNAP was an atom-splitting fission reactor. SNAP-10A was the first — and so far, only — U.S. nuclear power plant to operate in space. Launched on April 3, 1965, SNAP-10A operated for 43 days, producing 500 watts of electrical power, before an unrelated equipment failure ended the demonstration. The spacecraft remains in Earth orbit. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Today, Lyft announced that it’s now providing over one million rides per day. The company announced the milestone in a blog post , which highlighted some of its other achievements as well. Lyft noted that for the last four years, it has shown 100 percent year over year growth and it has launched in 160 new cities so far this year. That brings the company’s reach to 360 communities and 80 percent of the US population. While the continued growth shows Lyft is holding its own, it still has a long way to go before it catches up with Uber. Founded three years before Lyft, Uber reached the one million rides per day mark in 2014 and as of a year ago was giving an average of 5.5 million rides a day. Uber just recently surpassed its five billionth ride . But Uber has taken a hit recently. Business Insider reported last month that Uber’s market share fell from 84 percent earlier this year to 77 percent by the end of May and Lyft saw a substantial jump in activations in the week after the #DeleteUber campaign . Lyft has continued to adjust its service in order to make its ride-sharing more convenient for customers. And like its rival , Lyft is also working on self-driving cars . The company said in a post, “Since day one, we’ve worked to embed hospitality in everything we do. As more and more people choose Lyft and we continue to grow, we’ll remain focused on providing the best experience to our passengers and drivers.” Source: Lyft

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In a bid to make its armed forces look even more intimidating, Russia has taken inspiration from science-fiction to create some futuristic-looking new combat suits. Developed by the state-owned Central Research Institute for Precision Machine Building, this very Star Wars-esque combat armor features a powered exoskeleton, ballistic protection from bullets and shrapnel and a heads-up display. While just a concept at the moment, the suit’s designers hope it will enter full production in the next few years. While they haven’t detailed what the heads-up display would be used for, the combat armor’s powered exoskeleton helps the wearer carry heavy loads, bearing some of the brunt to lower the soldiers’ fatigue. While its designers have clearly spent a lot of time playing video games, we’ve already seen that Russia’s not alone in its bid to create an army of Master Chiefs . Now, taking that idea one step further, a U.S program called Tactical Light Operator Suit (or TALOS) is underway, which is creating an Iron Man-esque suit for American special forces. With exoskeleton-powered soldiers and flying Volvos on the horizon, at this point we’re just patiently waiting for the first real-world superheroes to reveal themselves. Source: Reuters

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