Tech Today w/ Ken May

Featured entries

This worm eats plastic bags

Posted by kenmay on April - 26 - 2017

Humans discard a trillion single-use plastic bags every year. If you were a wax worm, this statistic would make you drool. The caterpillar loves to eat them. From Atlas Obscura : Frederica Bertocchini, a biologist at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology in Spain, noticed some wax worms had managed to eat their way through the plastic bags they were being kept in. While other organisms can take weeks or months to break down even the smallest amount of plastic, the wax worm can get through more—in a far shorter period of time. The researchers let 100 wax worms chow down on a plastic grocery bag, and after just 12 hours they’d eaten about 4 percent of the bag, according to findings published Monday in the journal Current Biology. That may not sound like much, but that’s a vast improvement over fungi, which weren’t able to break down a noticeable amount of polyethylene after six months. Image of wax worm: skeeze/Pixabay

Enlarge (credit: Countercept ) After Microsoft officials dismissed evidence that more than 10,000 Windows machines on the Internet were  infected by a highly advanced National Security Agency backdoor , private researchers are stepping in to fill the void. The latest example of this open source self-help came on Tuesday with the release of a tool that can remotely uninstall the DoublePulsar implant. On late Friday afternoon, Microsoft officials issued a one-sentence statement saying that they doubted the accuracy of multiple Internet-wide scans that found anywhere from 30,000 to slightly more than 100,000 infected machines. The statement didn’t provide any factual basis for the doubt, and officials have yet to respond on the record to requests on Tuesday for an update. Over the weekend, Below0day released the results of a scan that detected 56,586 infected Windows boxes, an 85-percent jump in the 30,626 infections the security firm found three days earlier. Both numbers are in the conservative end of widely ranging results from scans independently carried out by other researchers over the past week. On Monday, Rendition Infosec published a blog post saying DoublePulsar infections were on the rise and that company researchers are confident the scan results accurately reflect real-world conditions. Rendition founder Jake Williams told Ars that the number of infected machines is “well over 120k, but that number is a floor.” Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

AT&T’s faux 5G network launches in Austin

Posted by kenmay on April - 26 - 2017

At last, 5G wireless is here… sort of. As promised , AT&T has launched its pre-standard 5G network, starting with certain parts of Austin. So long as you have a Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus , you can get speeds that should leave LTE in the dust. Expect downloads about twice as fast on average, the carrier says. Indianapolis is due for the next rollout in the summer, and there will be 20 total areas covered (including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and San Francisco) by the end of 2017. And if you’re not inclined to Samsung hardware, you should see “numerous other devices” this year that take advantage of the new network. The launch will certainly give you some bragging rights if you’re an early smartphone adopter, but we wouldn’t quite call it the dawn of the 5G era. As we hinted earlier, the wireless industry is still hashing out the details of 5G . You won’t get “real” 5G until there’s a standard, and that could change both the performance you expect as well as compatibility with early pseudo-5G devices. This doesn’t mean your S8 will lose 5G-like speeds the moment there is a standard, but we wouldn’t count on full support. Arguably, AT&T is launching its 5G network to shout “first!” — it wants to one-up Verizon’s 5G plans and show that it’s ahead of the game, even if it’s only by a matter of a few months at most. Source: AT&T

Campy, live-action horror game ‘Night Trap’ heads to PS4

Posted by kenmay on April - 26 - 2017

After 25 years, a browser port and a failed Kickstarter , cult classic FMV (full-motion video) game Night Trap is finally getting making its way back to living rooms. Thanks to the folks at developer Screaming Villains and publisher Limited Run Games, the interactive tale of teenage girls stuck in a house under attack by vampires will be released on disc sometime this spring for PlayStation 4 . Based on the trailer below, the video footage isn’t pristine, but it looks about as clean as it probably ever will. Considering that watching video makes up a bulk of the gameplay, that’s pretty important. It isn’t up to the level of the Alien or Jaws remasters on Blu-ray, of course, but the source material wasn’t aiming for high art or box office glory. The “control room” UI (you’re a security guard monitoring the house remotely via closed circuit cameras) you play from looks super slick, too. Our Night Trap release will be available with three different covers, each based on one of the three US Sega CD releases. pic.twitter.com/4fascjPaBq — Limited Run Games (@LimitedRunGames) April 25, 2017 On Twitte r, Limited Run said that its version will be available with three different cover styles based on the trio of US Sega CD releases — replete with the diagonal stripes and off-center art placement. More than that, the cover art is missing one key thing: An ESRB rating. Along with Doom and the original Mortal Kombat , Night Trap and its “violent” content was partly responsible for Entertainment Software Ratings Board and its age-ratings for games. Currently, the remaster is rated T for Teen for violence, blood and suggestive themes. Pricing and an exact release date aren’t known, but based on Limited Run’s previous releases the disc shouldn’t cost more than $25. If you’re itching for something similar, maybe give Until Dawn a shot if you haven’t yet. It’s a slightly different take on teenage horror than Night Trap , but the PS4-exclusive dishes out scares and laughs while serving as a loving homage to the genre. Via: Limited Run Games (Twitter) Source: PlayStation (YouTube)

Quelli che il Calcio (That which is Football) is one of Italy’s top sports broadcasts and it is played in the country’s prisons; it has a ticker that you can send SMSes to that then show up on screen. (more…)

Waymo trials free self-driving taxi service in Phoenix

Posted by kenmay on April - 25 - 2017

Enlarge / One of the earliest self-driving trial families pose with Waymo’s minivan. (credit: Waymo) Waymo—Alphabet’s self-driving car division—is launching a “trial” of a self-driving taxi service in the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area. The Google spinoff’s fleet of self-driving cars is descending on Phoenix and offering free rides to anyone in its “early rider program,” which is currently accepting new members . The taxi service is not totally “self-driving.” Waymo notes that “as part of this early trial, there will be a test driver in each vehicle monitoring the rides at all times.” While the car will handle most of the driving duties, a driver will ensure nothing goes wrong if the car runs into a situation it can’t handle. While the trial will offer free rides to Phoenix residents, it will also serve as a research program for Waymo. The company’s blog post say it wants to “learn things like where people want to go in a self-driving car, how they communicate with our vehicles, and what information and controls they want to see inside.” To handle the load of a city-wide taxi service, Waymo is building 500 more of its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans , bring the total minivan fleet to 600. The minivans represent the latest in Waymo’s technology. In a recent talk at the North American International Auto Show, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said the vehicles would be the launch platform for Waymo’s “full-stack approach,” which combined Waymo’s software with a ” fully integrated hardware suite ” that is “all designed and built, from the ground up, by Waymo.” Most self-driving car programs stick to developing software using Velodyne’s LiDAR hardware . Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The technology of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek looked so far forward it could almost have been used as a visual aide to Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: technology so advanced, it’s indistinguishable from magic. Despite the fictional technological magic of transporters, replicators and warp drive, Qualcomm saw enough potential in the show’s medical tricorder to challenge the world to build one . Now, the Tricorder XPrize finally has a winner in Final Frontier Medical Devices’ DxtER. The result isn’t so much an all-in-one scanner as collection of noninvasive medical-diagnosis gadgets. Even so, its creators claim the DxtER package is better than Star Trek’s fictional tricorder. That isn’t to say that DxtER does more than the show’s magical medical scanner — unlike Star Trek’s tricorder, the winning XPrize entry is actually a small collection of specialized and smart medical devices that interact with the user’s tablet. This includes a compact spirometer that can measure the strength of a patient’s lungs, a Mono test kit, medical-grade heartrate and respiration monitors, and devices like the DxtER Orb, which doubles as a thermometer and stethoscope. These devices can’t scan patients at a microscopic level like Star Trek’s device, but Basil Leaf technology co-founder George Harris says it improves on the show’s tricorder in one key area: It’s designed for patients to use themselves. “One of the things about the tricorder in the show is that it always needed a doctor to interpret the results, ” Harris told Engadget, explaining that DxtER’s companion app helps users understand the medical data DxtER collects. “Our tricorder has the doctor built-in, so it’s both the tricorder and Dr. McCoy together.” He’s not wrong, both from a practical and narrative perspective — characters on Star Trek often didn’t fully understand what a medical scan meant unless the doctor explained it to them. Likewise, the average patient can’t accurately diagnose herself even if she has access to a wealth of medical knowledge. Just ask any hypochondriac with a WebMD addiction. Giving consumers the ability to diagnose themselves at home sounds nice, but it’s bigger than that. Harris says Basil Leaf and Final Frontier Medical Devices are working to make sure every component of the DxtER tricorder kit is FDA-approved — meaning results compiled in the kit’s app could be used by doctors with no need to rerun the same tests at the hospital. “You can take those results and take them to the ER or to your physician or whoever’s helping you, and they can build off those results, ” Harris explained. “They don’t have to start back at square one — they can jump off at that point and move on with their health care.” A consumer version is still probably years away, but Harris says the group is using the $2.5 million it received from winning the XPrize competition to help fund a 500-patient clinical trial, a key step to getting the suite of gadgets approved for use in the US and putting a “Dr. McCoy” in every home that wants one. But Harris is careful to point out that the device isn’t designed to replace a visit to the doctor’s office. “We’re not trying to replace physicians, ” he says. “We’re trying to help you, the consumer, understand their health care and also help those physicians make better decisions for those consumers.”

50 armed men in camou flak jackets driving armored cars cordoned off the roads leading to a transportation company’s office in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay (a “smugglers’ haven in the border region with Brazil and Argentina”), blew the entire face of the building up with demolition equipment, stole an estimated $40M and escaped by motorboat up the Panama River. (more…)

Bridgestone’s Non-Pneumatic Bicycle Tires

Posted by kenmay on April - 25 - 2017

Remember Ron Arad’s bicycle designed with sprung-steel wheels ? Arad’s crazy idea worked, though no bicycle manufacturer pursued the concept. In the years since, however, non-pneumatic tire designs have slowly become a reality for ATV s and John Deere mowers , and now Bridgestone reckons they might work for bicycles too. Previously Bridgestone had developed non-pneumatic tire concepts for four-wheeled vehicles, but this month they’ve announced they’re porting their ” Air Free Concept ” over to two-wheelers. The “Air Free Concept” is a technology that eliminates the need for tires to be inflated with air to support the weight, using a unique structure of spokes stretching along the inner sides of tires. In addition, the resins that are used in the spokes and rubbers help realize more efficient use of resources. Bridgestone Corporation and Bridgestone Cycle adapted the “Air Free Concept” to develop bicycle tires without punctures. The high flexibility for design granted by resin has also enabled proposals of next-generation bicycles which have never been seen before. Regarding that last sentence, we’re curious to see what these proposals are, but the company has opted not to include any information on them. If you were designing a bicycle meant to incorporate these tires, what would you do differently? Lastly I’ll say: Vandalism still being a problem here in New York, if you had one of these in Manhattan I think you’d never not find someone had stuffed garbage in between those spokes. The bright orange is just crying out for someone to mess with it.

Chain mail was an essential tool for medieval warriors hoping to avoid a quick (or slow) death by a sword. But NASA engineers hope a similar material , with a few modern upgrades, could prove to be just as useful for spacecraft and astronauts looking to survive the rigors of outer space. Read more…