Tag Archives: technology

Hackers devise method to take over wireless keyboards/mouses

Your modern wireless computer is not safe: Hackers have devised an attack that is capable of not only recording the keystrokes and mouse actions of wireless devices, it can also take over the computer, and it can do it from hundreds of feet away.

On Tuesday Bastille’s research team revealed a new set of wireless keyboard attacks they’re calling Keysniffer. The technique, which they’re planning to detail at the Defcon hacker conference in two weeks, allows any hacker with a $12 radio device to intercept the connection between any of eight wireless keyboards and a computer from 250 feet away. What’s more, it gives the hacker the ability to both type keystrokes on the victim machine and silently record the target’s typing.

The keyboards’ vulnerability, according to Bastille’s chief research officer Ivan O’Sullivan, comes from the fact that they all transmit keystrokes entirely without encryption. The manufacturers’ only plan against attackers spoofing or eavesdropping on their devices’ communications is to depend on the obscurity of the radio protocols used. “We were stunned,” says O’Sullivan. “We had no expectation that in 2016 these companies would be selling keyboards with no encryption.”

In other words, if you use a wireless keyboard or mouse, your system is very vulnerable and exposed.

I find this story amusing in a sense, since my friends constantly make fun of me for not upgrading to these devises. I however see no reason to spend money on a new keyboard when the old wired one I have works fine. Now I have good reason, when I do upgrade, to avoid the wireless route.

Swedish engineer test flies human-carrying drone

A Swedish engineer, in his garage, has built a flying vehicle using drones and gasoline engines.

You have to see the thing to understand how insanely simple, crazy, and cool this is. For example, the whole thing is essentially nothing more than a seat surrounded by eight drones, their spinning propellers rotating only about two feet from the passenger.

But it appears to work, though the design is without doubt not quite finalized. I have embedded a video of one of his test flights below the fold. This was fortunately an unmanned flight, because about three minutes in the vehicle goes out of control and crashes.
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Getting and Installing Linux – Part 5

Running Windows programs on Linux:

An overview of WINE and Virtual Machine

by James Stephens

In addition to all the software available for Linux, Linux also possesses the ability to run Windows software using either WINE or in a virtual machine. This can be valuable in many ways, from running legacy software to running Windows and Linux on the same machine at the same time.

WINE is the open source implementation of CrossOver, which Apple users may already be familiar. It is essentially a translator: WINE sits between a Windows application and the Linux system, presenting what appears to be a Windows system to an application and generating Linux instructions for processing. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s pretty good. It’s fast and efficient, requiring little more resources then the application itself, making it suitable for older machines. When properly configured, Windows applications install as if in Windows and run on Linux like any other application. The backward compatibility of WINE is actually better then that of Windows itself. So if you have beloved but outdated software you can run it again with WINE. In my case that is a Windows 3.1 controlled audio mixing console. A lot of people like to play the old Windows 95 games. For more information including a list of compatible Windows software and performance assessments go to www.winehq.org
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Flyboard Air company purchased

The company that designed the Flyboard Air jet hoverboard, featured here only two days ago in the Evening Pause, has been purchased by Implant Sciences, a company whose primary focus until now was explosive detection technology for the Homeland Security.

Implant Sciences is currently looking into the possibility of selling its explosives detection business, and the purchase of Zapata is subject to shareholder approval. Overall though, it seems pretty confident that the move could lead to big things. “We are beyond excited to have visionaries like Franky Zapata and his team on board and we are thrilled to allow for shareholders to benefit from the many breakthrough products he has already invented and the new innovations he will be unveiling in coming months and years.” said Implant Sciences president Robert Liscouski.

EPA’s gasoline efficiency tests are garbage

Our government in action: The tests the EPA uses to establish the fuel efficiency of cars are unreliable, and likely provide no valid information at all about the fuel efficiency of the cars tested.

The law requiring cars to meet these fuel efficiency tests was written in the 1970s, and specifically sets standards based on the technology then. Worse,

[T]he EPA doesn’t know exactly how its CAFE testing correlates with actual results, because it has never done a comprehensive study of real-world fuel economy. Nor does anyone else. The best available data comes from consumers who report it to the DOT—hardly a scientific sampling.

Other than that, everything is fine. Companies are forced to spend billions on this regulation, the costs of which they immediately pass on to consumers, all based on fantasy and a badly-written law. Gee, I’m sure glad we never tried this with healthcare!

Getting and Installing Linux – Part 4

The Software Manager

by James Stephens

A computer is nothing more than a toy unless it has the tools you need to get your work done, and Linux has a great set of tools. Most distributions come loaded with the tools most people use every day, a full office suite, graphics and media packages and so on. If you want more, a world of software awaits at your fingertips via the Software Manager. Think of it as the app store for your distribution, with tens of thousands of official titles vetted and available for download, most free of charge. No longer are you left to the wilds of the Internet to find what you need.

Most Linux Software is functionally equivalent to that of Apple or Windows. Most open source titles are ported to all platforms including Linux. So if you use an open source title such as Audacity or VLC media player, just type its name into the Linux Software Manager search bar and you will find it. For propitiatory titles such as Photoshop just define what it does, image manipulation for example, and the Software Manager will suggest Linux equivalents like GIMP or KRITA. In addition Photoshop and some other Windows software run great on Linux using WINE – the Windows compatibility layer. More about that later.
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Breakthrough on battery life?

New research might have discovered engineering that could significantly increase the efficiency of the batteries we use.

This is where Mya Le Thai’s magic gel comes in. Typically, a Lithium Ion battery can go through between 5000 and 7000 recharge cycles before it dies and will also gradually lose its energy storage capacity over time. When researchers applied Thai’s plexiglass-like gel to gold nanowires in a manganese dioxiode shell, it increased that number to over 200,000 and the battery didn’t lose any of its power or storage capacity over a period of three months.

Getting and Installing Linux – Part 3

UEFI and booting Linux on Win 8.1 & 10 machines

by James Stephens

Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is intended to be a modern alternative to BIOS. Ideally UEFI-(Secure Boot) blocks malware from being loaded when the computer is booted by using digital keys which software must possess in order to be booted onto the computer. UEFI supplants the traditional BIOS and it’s post screen, appreciably shortening boot times but sometimes adding a few more steps to set up a computer to boot into Linux. If necessary UEFI-(Secure Boot) may be disabled to allow access to the BIOS and the booting of non-UEFI complaint operating systems, such as 32 bit Linux or legacy Windows, and set up the computer to boot into Linux as I described in the previous post. But I recommend using UEFI if at all possible.
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Why I use Linux, part 3,453,333

A woman has won $10,000 in damages from Microsoft for its attempt to upgrade her computers to Windows 10, without her permission.

I suppose one could argue that this is a reason to keep Windows, as you’d have a chance to win a jackpot from them in court. I prefer to be able to do the work I want to do, without harrassment.

Why I use Linux

Linux can be a pain sometimes, and it requires a bit more hands-on work by the user to make it function, but overall in the ten years since I abandoned Windows and switched to Linux (first with the Debian operating system and now with Kubuntu) I have found my work on my computer to be far more satisfying and successful. I can mostly get things done the way I like to do them, not as dictated by some software geek working at Microsoft’s headquarters.

Which is why this story interested me: “I thought my daughter clicked on ransomware – it was the damn Windows 10 installer.” It describes a number of stories where Windows 10 took control of a person’s computer and imposed an upgrade, against their will.

This story, among many others, only confirmed for me that my decision in 2006 was a wise one. I will never return to Windows, and if I was certain that computer projectors could read Linux laptops I’d switch the laptop to Linux as well.

It is just a shame however that so many people still stick with Windows, as it often makes doing their work difficult, if not impossible. When a product doesn’t work for you, you find another product. That’s how freedom and competition work.

South Korea commits almost a billion dollars to AI research

In reaction to the recent Go victory by a computer program over a human, the government of South Korea has quickly accelerated its plans to back research into the field of artificial intelligence with a commitment of $863 million and the establishment of public/private institute.

Scrambling to respond to the success of Google DeepMind’s world-beating Go program AlphaGo, South Korea announced on 17 March that it would invest $863 million (1 trillion won) in artificial-intelligence (AI) research over the next five years. It is not immediately clear whether the cash represents new funding, or had been previously allocated to AI efforts. But it does include the founding of a high-profile, public–private research centre with participation from several Korean conglomerates, including Samsung, LG Electronics and Hyundai Motor, as well as the technology firm Naver, based near Seoul.

The timing of the announcement indicates the impact in South Korea of AlphaGo, which two days earlier wrapped up a 4–1 victory over grandmaster Lee Sedol in an exhibition match in Seoul. The feat was hailed as a milestone for AI research. But it also shocked the Korean public, stoking widespread concern over the capabilities of AI, as well as a spate of newspaper headlines worrying that South Korea was falling behind in a crucial growth industry.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has also announced the formation of a council that will provide recommendations to overhaul the nation’s research and development process to enhance productivity. In her 17 March speech, she emphasized that “artificial intelligence can be a blessing for human society” and called it “the fourth industrial revolution”. She added, “Above all, Korean society is ironically lucky, that thanks to the ‘AlphaGo shock’, we have learned the importance of AI before it is too late.”

Not surprisingly, some academics are complaining that the money is going to industry rather than the universities. For myself, I wonder if this crony capitalistic approach will produce any real development, or whether it will instead end up to be a pork-laden jobs program for South Korean politicians.

What next for the computer Go program?

Link here.

The software uses neural networks to learn from experience. For example, to train for its Go match the computer program studied 30 million Go board positions from human games, then played itself again and again to improve its skills.

DeepMind’s founder and chief executive Demis Hassabis mentioned the possibility of training a version of AlphaGo using self-play alone, omitting the knowledge from human-expert games, at a conference last month. The firm created a program that learned to play less complex arcade games in this manner in 2015. Without a head start, AlphaGo would probably take much longer to learn, says Bengio — and might never beat the best human. But it’s an important step, he says, because humans learn with such little guidance.

DeepMind, based in London, also plans to venture beyond games. In February the company founded DeepMind Health and launched a collaboration with the UK National Health Service: its algorithms could eventually be applied to clinical data to improve diagnoses or treatment plans. Such applications pose different challenges from games, says Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the non-profit Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle, Washington. “The universal thing about games is that you can collect an arbitrary amount of data,” he says — and that the program is constantly getting feedback on what’s a good or bad move by playing many games. But, in the messy real world, data — on rare diseases, say — might be scarcer, and even with common diseases, labelling the consequences of a decision as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ may not be straightforward.

Hassabis has said that DeepMind’s algorithms could give smartphone personal assistants a deeper understanding of users’ requests. And AI researchers see parallels between human dialogue and games: “Each person is making a play, and we have a sequence of turns, and each of us has an objective,” says Bengio. But they also caution that language and human interaction involve a lot more uncertainty.

It’s a sweep!

Google’s AlphaGo computer program today completed a three game sweep of Go professional champion Lee Sedol.

This might be the best quote from the article:

The algorithm seems to be holding back its power. Sometimes it plays moves that lose material because it is seeking simply to maximise its probability of reaching winning positions, rather than — as human players tend to do — maximise territorial gains. Jackson thinks that some of these odd-looking moves may have fooled Lee into underestimating the machine’s skills at the beginning of game 1 — which, I suppose, makes AlphaGo a kind of computerized hustler.

Study determines which light bulb type bugs like

Want to not attract annoying bugs? Use warm LEDs!

The research’s amusing discovery is that bug lights, which are designed to not attract bugs and were proved to work very well, had one failing: They did not repel two species, stink bugs and earwigs. Looks like warm LEDs (red or yellow in color) are the thing to get.

2014 Budapest Airshow highlights

An evening pause: Not only is the flying amazing, including some stunts under structures (which is usually forbidden in most cities), the music, a piece called Celestial by Audio Network, is great too!

Hat tip from both Edward Thelen’s, father and son.

A new lightweight and very strong metal

Engineers have developed a new superlight and very strong metal.

A team led by researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has created a super-strong yet light structural metal with extremely high specific strength and modulus, or stiffness-to-weight ratio. The new metal is composed of magnesium infused with a dense and even dispersal of ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles. It could be used to make lighter airplanes, spacecraft, and cars, helping to improve fuel efficiency, as well as in mobile electronics and biomedical devices.

Boeing’s 747 is finally heading for retirement

After 45 years of service, Boeing’s 747, the world’s first jumbo jet, is finally facing retirement as airlines consider more modern planes for their fleets.

The plane that so audaciously changed the shape of the world is now on the wrong side of history. Airlines are retiring older 747s – JAL no longer flies them – and Boeing’s attempt at catch-up, the latest 747-8 model, has had technical problems and is selling only very slowly. The air above my garden will not be troubled by 747s for very much longer.

The article gives brief but detailed outline of the 747’s history, and why passengers and pilots still love it. I love it because of this:

The 747 was America at its proud and uncontaminated best. ‘There’s no substitute for cubic inches,’ American race drivers used to say and the 747 expresses that truth in the air. There is still residual rivalry with the upstart European Airbus. Some Americans, referring to untested new technologies, call it Scarebus. There’s an old saying: ‘If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going.’

A comparison to the European Concorde is illuminating. The supersonic Anglo-French plane was an elite project created for elite passengers to travel in near space with the curvature of the Earth on one hand and a glass of first growth claret on the other. The 747 was mass-market, proletarianising the jet set. It was Coke, not grand cru and it was designed by a man named Joe. Thus, the 747’s active life was about twice that of Concorde.

Hackers demonstrate they can remotely take over moving vehicle

Does this make you feel safer? In a demonstration of the vulnerability of modern cars that are linked to the internet, two hackers took over the operation of an unmodified moving Jeep Cherokee.

A pair of Missouri-based hackers have put on an extraordinary demonstration by logging into a Jeep Cherokee remotely, while it was being driven by a Wired reporter Andy Greenberg, and systematically taking over the car’s functionality. First, they hit him with cold air through the air-con system, then they blasted Kanye West through the stereo at full volume, rendering the volume knob completely useless. They flashed up a picture of themselves on the car’s console and set the windscreen wipers going full blast, squirting cleaning fluid onto the windscreen and making it difficult to see.

But these were just warmups to the main event – next, they took over the engine and shut it off completely, leaving the driver powerless and coasting on the freeway as traffic flashed past around him. Then, once he was off the highway, they showed how they could completely disable the brakes, and take over the steering of the car – only at slow speeds and in reverse, but they’re working on unlocking new abilities every day.

This suggests to me that linking any car directly to the internet is probably a very bad idea.

Highlights from the just completed 2015 robotics conference in Seattle

Link here. The impression I get is of a very vibrant commercial industry now making a lot of money developing robots for a gigantic range of industrial and commercial uses. Most are industrial, but it is very clear that this technology is very steadily easing its way into public use.

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