Tech Today w/ Ken May

Archive for October 5th, 2017

An NSA contractor brought home highly classified documents that detailed how the U.S. penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyberattacks. The contractor used Kaspersky antivirus on his home computer, which hackers working for the Russian government exploited to steal the documents, the WSJ reported on Thursday (the link could be paywalled; alternative source), citing multiple people with knowledge of the matter. From the report: The hackers appear to have targeted the contractor after identifying the files through the contractor’s use of a popular antivirus software made by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab, these people said. The theft, which hasn’t been disclosed, is considered by experts to be one of the most significant security breaches in recent years. It offers a rare glimpse into how the intelligence community thinks Russian intelligence exploits a widely available commercial software product to spy on the U.S. The incident occurred in 2015 but wasn’t discovered until spring of last year, said the people familiar with the matter. Having such information could give the Russian government information on how to protect its own networks, making it more difficult for the NSA to conduct its work. It also could give the Russians methods to infiltrate the networks of the U.S. and other nations, these people said. Ahead of the publication of WSJ report, Kaspersky founder Eugene Kaspersky tweeted, “New conspiracy theory, anon sources media story coming. Note we make no apologies for being aggressive in the battle against cyberthreats.” Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module ( BEAM ) was only supposed to stay attached to the ISS for two years. It’s been performing well enough in its technological demonstration, however, that NASA now wants to extend its stint for three more years. Astronauts aboard the ISS installed BEAM in early 2016 as an experiment, with the intention of regularly checking its integrity, conducting radiation shielding experiments and collecting microbial air and surface samples from within its confines. The results of those tests prove that the module is tough enough to survive the harsh conditions of outer space for far longer than its original lifespan. While Bigelow Aerospace ultimately wants its expandable habitat to serve as living quarters, it’s way too early to expect astronauts to live inside the module. BEAM will instead serve as storage space to hold up to 130 cargo transfer bags used to transport supplies from a spacecraft to the station. Its new role will free up space inside the ISS for more experiments. It will also allow NASA to learn more about modular habitats’ structural integrity, thermal stability and resistance to space debris, radiation and microbial growth. The extended experimental period could bring us closer to the independent inflatable stations Bigelow Aerospace wants to send to low-Earth orbit. Based on the procurement filing NASA submitted, the new contract will overlap with the older one and will begin later this year. By the end of the new three-year contract, the agency could choose to extend it for one more year or to finally jettison and allow it to burn as it enters our planet’s atmosphere. Via: Ars Technica Source: NASA , Federal Business Opportunities

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Netflix raises prices on two of its most popular plans

Posted by kenmay on October - 5 - 2017

Netflix is raising its prices for the first time in two years. Its most popular plan, which costs $10 for HD and viewing on two screens simultaneously, will increase by $1, to $11 per month. Their premium plan, which currently is priced at $12 for 4K and streaming on four screens simultaneously, will cost $14, a $2 increase. The price of the basic plan, which allows for one screen and SD viewing, remains unchanged at $8 per month. The price change will take effect for current subscribers starting October 19, depending on their billing cycles. Subscribers will receive a 30-day notice before the higher prices take effect. New subscribers will see the price increase starting today. We’ve reached out to Netflix for more details on the pricing difference, which will likely be unpopular . However, as the streaming service is spending more money on original content , subscribers shouldn’t be surprised that it’s reflected in pricing. Source: USA Today

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A Rice University chemist found that a dding asphalt to lithium batteries allowed the battery to go “from zero charge to full charge in five minutes, rather than the typical two hours or more needed with other batteries.” The Rice lab of chemist James Tour developed anodes comprising porous carbon made from asphalt that showed exceptional stability after more than 500 charge-discharge cycles. A high-current density of 20 milliamps per square centimeter demonstrated the material’s promise for use in rapid charge and discharge devices that require high-power density. The finding is reported in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano .

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What a Bump Stock Does, and Why People Want Them

Posted by kenmay on October - 5 - 2017

Humans will always invent mechanical contrivances that help them solve particular problems. By shaping materials and assembling parts in novel ways, these contrivances increased efficiency, whether they’re eggbeaters, deli slicers or something more nefarious. Here we’re going to look at the bump stock, which Stephen Paddock used to murder 58 people and wound over 500 in Las Vegas, and why people desire them. The Difference Between Fully Automatic and Semi-Automatic With a bolt-action rifle, the operator pulls the trigger, firing a single bullet. The operator must then pull the bolt handle back to eject the shell casing, then move the handle forward to load the next round. With a semi-automatic rifle, the operator pulls the trigger, firing a single bullet. The recoil of the rifle then automatically ejects the casing and loads the next round. This is obviously far faster as the operator is not required to work a bolt handle. With a fully automatic rifle, the operator holds the trigger down and bullets are automatically fed into the barrel, firing for as long as the trigger is held down. This is a magnitude of order faster than semi-automatic operation. What a Bump Stock Does A bump stock replaces the standard stock on a semi-automatic rifle, and allows that rifle to slide backwards within the stock after each shot. Coupled with a forward handle grasped by the operator’s non-trigger hand, what then essentially happens is that the recoil of the rifle sends it backwards into the stock after a shot, and it then bounces back forwards, bumping the trigger into the operator’s stationary trigger finger. In other words, it renders the weapon automatic, firing bullets at a far faster rate than one could possibly pull the trigger. (By some estimates, between six and 12 shots per second. ) From a mechanical perspective, it is fiendishly ingenious. And incredibly deadly. How Do People Get Them? While machine guns are legal, bump stocks are perfectly legal and can be ordered online for as little as $100. That they are legal does not appear to make sense, but the Firearms Technology Branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has deemed them okay for technical reasons you can read in this letter posted by a bump stock retailer. Why do People Want Them? Automatic weapons are a boon to soldiers in combat. Where do they fit within the context of civilian life? Hunting? No. Even the most artless hunter would agree that fully automatic fire has no utility when one is killing an animal for food; venison isn’t much good when it’s riddled with 5.56mm rounds. Entertainment For some people, firing a fully automatic weapon presumably confers a thrill. This is why businesses like Machine Guns Vegas, a gun range that allows patrons to fire fully automatic weapons in a controlled environment, exist. “Machine Guns Vegas is the only Vegas-lounge experience that lets you fire the kind of kick-ass artillery you’ve seen in the hands of the highly-skilled SEAL and Delta Force teams, ” the company writes. From modern machine guns to historical handguns, you’ll get the real feel of what it’s like to clear a room with just a pull of the trigger. This isn’t a walk-in gun store or dimly-lit shooting gallery. Machine Guns Vegas is a sensory experience that will rock your thrill index with every shot you take. Following Paddock’s killing spree, even the co-owner of Machine Guns Vegas, Genghis Cohen, called for stricter gun laws. “One guy sat in a hotel room with 23 guns and managed to kill or injure 600 people, ” Cohen told The Guardian . “They say he was using 60 to 100 round magazines. Why does a 64-year-old man, who is not in the military or in the police department…need a gun that can basically fire fully automatically?” Cohen, who briefly closed the business after the shooting, was met with this: “The company has been targeted with ‘fuck you’ hate mail from seething gun enthusiasts who do not believe he should have closed for two days.” Fear It is important to note that there are otherwise law-abiding citizens in this country who actually believe that one day the government is going to attack them to take their weapons away by force. They believe this and will tell you so. Others cite the need to defend their homes and families, linking to YouTube videos of security footage capturing horrifically violent home invasions. Well-equipped weapons, they feel, will keep them safe. Something More Troublesome To understand the mindset of someone who wants to purchase bump stocks, let’s look at how Slide Fire, a bump stock manufacturer, markets them to its target audience. Listen carefully to the language: What is your reaction to that video? In my own limited experience, the people I have met that I could classify as hardcore gun enthusiasts, and their fervently anti-gun opponents, have little concept of the others’ beliefs. Without a grasp of these beliefs, however outlandishly one side views the other, I suspect that little can be accomplished within the sphere of reasoned debate or legislative adjustments. We will leave the topic of legislation to more politically-oriented websites. Here we looked at a technical solution to the “problem” of not being able to fire bullets fast enough. In the next entry, we’ll look at technical suggestions, supplied by design-minded readers, on how an attack like Paddock’s might be stopped in future.

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Enlarge (credit: Mark Walton) For those that game, there’s no better processor than Intel’s Coffee Lake Core i7-8700K. Where its predecessor, the Kaby Lake Core i7-7700K , offered little more than slightly higher clock speeds and a way to decode DRM-laden 4K video over 2015’s 6700K , the 8700K boosts performance with six cores, 12 threads, and a mighty 4.7GHz boost clock, the fastest out-of-the-box clock speed Intel has ever produced. The 8700K handles content creation admirably too, its high clock speed partly compensating for the two extra cores of AMD’s Ryzen 7 . But it’s not an outright smash. Much like Intel’s Skylake-X i9 processors, there are signs that the 8700K was rushed to combat a resurgent AMD, as well as to fill the gap created by the now delayed 10nm Cannon Lake architecture. Reaching such high clock speeds across six cores has dramatically increased power consumption, and made managing heat a headache. Overclocking isn’t for the faint hearted, or at least those without a substantial cooling setup. And, despite being based on an architecture that stretches back to Skylake , Coffee Lake requires a new motherboard, turning what might have been a compelling upgrade, even for Kaby Lake owners, into a far more considered purchase. The 8700K is undoubtedly a fine processor; those shopping for a mainstream system, particularly one with a top-of-the-line graphics card, should buy it. But, while more than stopgap solution, Coffee Lake merely paints over the cracks that emerged when Intel braved its way into a post-“tick-tock” world . It’s damage control, not an outright victory. Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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From a report: The HP Spectre x360 13 is already one of the most popular 360-degree convertible laptops, and it’s about to get faster and cooler, thanks in part to Intel’s latest 8th-generation Core CPUs. Announced Wednesday, the refreshed Spectre x360 13 also offers greatly improved thermals and other nice tweaks. The Spectre x360 13 will ship on October 29 with a starting price of $1, 150, including a color-matched pen. Best Buy will begin taking pre-orders October 4. Multiple configurations will be available, but we’re listing below the specs we were given for the higher-end model ae013dx: CPU: Intel 8th-generation Core i7-8550U, a quad-core CPU with a 1.8GHz base clock and turbo boost up to 4GHz. Core i5 CPUs will also be available. RAM: 16GB LPDDR3 SDRAM. Storage: 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Here at Ars, we have a minor obsession with modern discoveries of Easter eggs from relatively ancient games. That includes a timing cue in Punch-Out!! , debug menus hidden in Mortal Kombat cabinets , and the first-ever Easter egg found in a game from 1977 . But a Level Select Easter egg that involves physically hitting a Sonic 3D Blast Genesis cartridge —and the story behind it—is probably the weirdest such hidden feature we’ve ever heard of. In a new video explanation , Traveller’s Tales founder Jon Burt, who worked on 3D Blast and a number of Sega games back in the ’90s, details how the unintended “smack the cartridge” Easter egg really grew out of an attempt to get around Sega’s onerous certification requirements for Genesis cartridges. As Burt explains it, Sega’s certification process at the time took “a few weeks” and required re-submission for any failures, including crashes after the game was left running for days at a time. So Burt started catching any generalized, crash-worthy errors the game might trigger and disguising them as Easter eggs the player had stumbled on—such as a “secret time warp” that bounced the player around in Mickey Mania . As Burt recalls, “most things that were to crash the game just brought up the secret time warp, so Sega wouldn’t know it was actually a bug.” Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Networked self-driving cars are smarter and safer

Posted by kenmay on October - 5 - 2017

You know what’s better than one self-driving car on the road? Two, because then they can pool resources. Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication isn’t anything new, of course, but researchers at Switzerland’s federal institute of technology, EPFL , are taking things one step further. By wirelessly connecting the LIDAR, sensors and navigation systems of two cars in convoy, both can get a fuller picture of the world around them. Put simply, if two autonomous vehicles are driving down a road, then all they can “see” is the data from their own systems. But if you can connect your car, say, to the one immediately behind you, then both systems get a wider field of view and better situational awareness. In an overtaking situation, the car behind can use its counterparts systems to scan for hazards out in front, including cars in the opposite lane. The team at EPFL have worked to iron out the kinks in such a system using a pair of Citroen electric cars equipped with Mobileye sensors. Both vehicles had WiFi gear and computers in their trunks, which helped the pair co-ordinate with each other on the road. One big issue, early on, was that both systems would count the same obstacle twice, once from each data source. Now that those problems have been resolved, bigger issues, like the fact that all of this computation has to be done on the fly, can be tackled. The hope is that, eventually, every autonomous car on the road will be talking to one another to ensure that crashes and angry fights at merge points are kept to a minimum.

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Google Assistant will tell your kids a bedtime story

Posted by kenmay on October - 5 - 2017

Kids don’t quite have the diction that adults to, which can make it hard even for us humans to understand them. Google knows this and has tweaked Assistant and Home to better pick up what your munchkins are laying down. The search juggernaut has also partnered with a number of providers for kid-specific things like stories from Disney and Sports Illustrated for Kids among others, and simple games (like musical chairs, for instance). The just announced Family Link will let you setup Google accounts for your under-13 youngsters, too. The updates will be rolling out later this month. Follow all the latest news from Google’s Pixel 2 event here!

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