Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Girl starved to death while parents raised virtual child in online game

Now here is a warning shot across the bow of viritual 'life games' such as Second Life - the possibility of escapism from real life with threatening consequences:

South Korean police have arrested a couple for starving their three-month-old daughter to death while they devoted hours to playing a computer game that involved raising a virtual character of a young girl. The 41-year-old man and 25-year-old woman, who met through a chat website, reportedly left their infant unattended while they went to internet cafes. They only occasionally dropped by to feed her powdered milk.
"I am sorry for what I did and hope that my daughter does not suffer any more in heaven," the husband is quoted as saying on the asiaone website.

According to the Yonhap news agency, South Korean police said the couple had become obsessed with raising a virtual girl called Anima in the popular role-playing game Prius Online. The game, similar to Second Life, allows players to create another existence for themselves in a virtual world, including getting a job, interacting with other users and earning an extra avatar to nurture once they reach a certain level.

"The couple seemed to have lost their will to live a normal life because they didn't have jobs and gave birth to a premature baby," Chung Jin-Won, a police officer, told Yonhap. "They indulged themselves in the online game of raising a virtual character so as to escape from reality, which led to the death of their real baby."

Read original post - 'Girl starved to death while parents raised virtual child in online game'


Monday, March 29, 2010

Hacker Disables More Than 100 Cars Remotely

Wired has an interesting post on 'hacking cars', which could point to future 'issues' if/when manufacturers start to install remote disabling devices into cars... hackers know how to get their own back!

More than 100 drivers in Austin, Texas found their cars disabled or the horns honking out of control, after an intruder ran amok in a web-based vehicle-immobilization system normally used to get the attention of consumers delinquent in their auto payments.
Police with Austin’s High Tech Crime Unit on Wednesday arrested 20-year-old Omar Ramos-Lopez, a former Texas Auto Center employee who was laid off last month, and allegedly sought revenge by bricking the cars sold from the dealership’s four Austin-area lots.

“We initially dismissed it as mechanical failure,” says Texas Auto Center manager Martin Garcia. “We started having a rash of up to a hundred customers at one time complaining. Some customers complained of the horns going off in the middle of the night. The only option they had was to remove the battery.”

The dealership used a system called Webtech Plus as an alternative to repossessing vehicles that haven’t been paid for. Operated by Cleveland-based Pay Technologies, the system lets car dealers install a small black box under vehicle dashboards that responds to commands issued through a central website, and relayed over a wireless pager network. The dealer can disable a car’s ignition system, or trigger the horn to begin honking, as a reminder that a payment is due. The system will not stop a running vehicle.

Read more at - 'Hacker Disables More Than 100 Cars Remotely'


Friday, March 26, 2010

Looks can't kill but might control your phone

Now here's a scenerio: 'we may have to get ready for another odd sight: people who quickly flick their gaze sideways and roll their eyes for no apparent reason. They'll be controlling their phones or their music players'. Yep...and  this was demonstrated at the Mobile World congress in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010:

They'll be controlling their phones or their music players. NTT DoCoMo has created headphones that sense . For instance, you can look from right to left to pause your music. Look right, then right again, to skip to the next track. Roll them clockwise to raise the volume.

The headphones look much like regular earbuds, connected by a cable to a phone. They sense the movements of the eyeballs by measuring tiny changes in electric charge. It turns out that the cornea, the outer surface of the eyes, has a positive charge. When you look left, the resulting shift in the electrical charge can be detected as far away as the ears. And no, this is not the source of the expression "electrifying gaze."

Read more at 'Looks can't kill but might control your phone


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Global Social Network Without The Language Barrier!

Now here's a really smart idea...transgressing the main barrier hampering social networks - the language barrier. So why not just translate each other in real-time? Well..... it looks like a solution has arrived:

The Mojofiti website, now in its second round of Beta testing, allows you to build a profile, make friends, form groups, and start a blog – your standard social networking tools. The twist is in a series of tabs on the left of the screen bearing the flags of different nations. Click on a flag and everything on the site is instantly translated into any one of 27 different languages. That blog post you just wrote, it’s in French now. Or maybe you want to read your friend’s profile in Korean. Easily done. The real innovation, of course, is not that you can arbitrarily translate your text into another language, but that you have access to thousands of other users without having to worry about their native language. I type in English, you type in Tagalog, our friend types in Farsi – it doesn’t matter. We each read in our own native language as our content is translated automatically in real time. Mojofiti uses text translation to pry open social networking and fit the world inside.

Now, Mojofiti is really a compilation of different technologies all rolled into one. The website harnesses the power of Wordpress, Buddypress, and Google’s machine dictionaries. Yep, let’s make that very clear, Mojofiti uses Google text translations to power its site. That means that Mojofiti has all the same limitations (and capabilities) of the Google tool you’ve come to expect. Great speed, great range, but sometimes there’s trouble with slang, idioms, subtlety, and precise intent. It’s a good tool, I use it all the time, but Google translation does have its imperfections and you can expect them to carry over to Mojofiti. That being said, after exploring this new social network I never felt like I ran into any more problems with language than I would on any other site. The occasional sentence poorly translated into English was indistinguishable from how people write on the Internet anyway.

Read more at - 'A Global Social Network Without The Language Barrier – Mojofiti'


Monday, March 22, 2010

Augmented Identity

Technology Review has a post on a new phone application that 'lets users point a smart phone at a stranger and immediately learn about them premiered last Tuesday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Developed by The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), a Swedish mobile software and design firm, the prototype software combines computer vision, cloud computing, facial recognition, social networking, and augmented reality.'  Now there's a combination! It's a confluence of mobile technologies to frame each identity:

"It's taking social networking to the next level," says Dan Gärdenfors, head of user experience research at TAT. "We thought the idea of bridging the way people used to meet, in the real world, and the new Internet-based ways of congregating would be really interesting."
TAT built the augmented ID demo, called Recognizr, to work on a phone that has a five-megapixel camera and runs the Android operating system. A user opens the application and points the phone's camera at someone nearby. Software created by Swedish computer-vision firm Polar Rose then detects the subject's face and creates a unique signature by combining measurements of facial features and building a 3-D model. This signature is sent to a server where it's compared to others stored in a database. Providing the subject has opted in to the service and uploaded a photo and profile of themselves, the server then sends back that person's name along with links to her profile on several social networking sites, including Twitter or Facebook. The Polar Rose software also tracks the position of the subject's head--TAT uses this information to display the subject's name and icons for the Web links on the phone's screen without obscuring her face.

Read more on 'Augmented Identity'


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cyberwar declared as China hunts for the West’s intelligence secrets

It seems that cyberattacks coming out of China have been rapidly escalating...and the West is starting to get concerned over secret intelligence:

Urgent warnings have been circulated throughout Nato and the European Union for secret intelligence material to be protected from a recent surge in cyberwar attacks originating in China. The attacks have also hit government and military institutions in the United States, where analysts said that the West had no effective response and that EU systems were especially vulnerable because most cyber security efforts were left to member states. 

Nato diplomatic sources told The Times: “Everyone has been made aware that the Chinese have become very active with cyber-attacks and we’re now getting regular warnings from the office for internal security.” The sources said that the number of attacks had increased significantly over the past 12 months, with China among the most active players. 

In the US, an official report released on Friday said the number of attacks on Congress and other government agencies had risen exponentially in the past year to an estimated 1.6 billion every month.

Read original article - 'Cyberwar declared as China hunts for the West’s intelligence secrets'


Friday, March 19, 2010

English into Spanish as you speak

Speaking in foreign tongues is now a pretty slick reality, thanks to this new iPhone application:

Jibbigo is a new iPhone app that can translate English speech into Spanish—and the reverse—all without going online. You simply launch the $25 app and speak into your iPhone's microphone and the translation is played over the speaker. It's like having a live interpreter in your pocket, without requiring that said interpreter also be a contortionist.

On the iPhone 3GS, the app can handle translating both languages simultaneously, to facilitate conversations. Users of earlier iPhone models need to choose which direction they'd like to translate when they launch the app, and restart it to switch. As a slick bonus, the app handles all its translation duties on the iPhone itself, and doesn't need an Internet connection at all.

According to the developers, the Jibbigo app isn't limited to certain phrases and expressions; it's armed with a dictionary of 40000 words, and performs well if you limit yourself to one or two sentences at a time.

Read more at - 'New iPhone app translates English into Spanish as you speak'


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

DARPA kick-starts flying car program

More on the military pursuit of their ideal terrain and air vehicle.... but will it ever take off?! (yes - pun intended!)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will this month hold its first Proposers' Day Workshop in support of a flying car program it will begin this year known as the Transformer (TX).  The goal of the TX will be to build a flying vehicle that will let military personnel avoid water, difficult terrain, and road obstructions as well as IED and ambush threats by driving and flying when necessary.

DARPA said the vehicle will need to be able to drive on prepared surface and light off-road conditions, as well as support Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) features. The TX will also support range and speed efficiencies that will allow for missions to be performed on a single tank of fuel. DARPA said the TX will "provide the flexibility to adapt to traditional and asymmetric threats by providing the operator unimpeded movement over difficult terrain. In addition, transportation is no longer restricted to trafficable terrain that tends to makes movement predictable."

Read more - 'DARPA kick-starts flying car program'


Monday, March 15, 2010

Sat-nav devices face big errors as solar activity rises

The BBC has an interesting post on the potential disruption to satallite navigation due to increases in solar activity (sun flares). Now that we live in a global infrastructure that is vulnerable to communication 'impacts', such issues are worth considering:

The Sun's irregular activity can wreak havoc with the weak sat-nav signals we use.
The last time the Sun reached a peak in activity, satellite navigation was barely a consumer product. But the Sun is on its way to another solar maximum, which could generate large and unpredictable sat-nav errors.It is not just car sat-nav devices that make use of the satellite signals; accurate and dependable sat-nav signals have, since the last solar maximum, quietly become a necessity for modern infrastructure...

...So as the Sun builds up to its peak in a few years' time, be aware that your sat-nav may for a time give some strange results - or for a short while none at all.

Read more at - 'Sat-nav devices face big errors as solar activity rises'


Friday, March 12, 2010

Digital doomsday: the end of knowledge

NewScientist has a post examing the vulnerability of digital knowledge, in the light of future storage and transmission. Is our digital information safe for future generations?

Even as we are acquiring ever more extraordinary knowledge, we are storing it in ever more fragile and ephemeral forms. If our civilization runs into trouble, like all others before it, how much would survive? Of course, in the event of a disaster big enough to wipe out all humans, such as a colossal asteroid strike, it would not really matter. But suppose, however, that something less cataclysmic occurs. The increasing complexity and interdependency of society is making civilization ever more vulnerable to such events. Whatever the cause, if the power were cut off to the banks of computers that now store much of humanity's knowledge, and people stopped looking after them and the buildings housing them, and factories ceased to churn out new chips and drives, how long would all our knowledge survive?

Read more - 'Digital doomsday: the end of knowledge'


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why you won't recognize the 'Net in 10 years

Security on the Net has always been a problem...but will it continue to be a problem...? Not, apparently, if the boffs have their way:

As they imagine the Internet of 2020, computer scientists across the country are starting from scratch and re-thinking everything: from IP addresses to DNS to routing tables to Internet security in general. They're envisioning how the Internet might work without some of the most fundamental features of today's ISP and enterprise networks.

Their goal is audacious: To create an Internet without so many security breaches, with better trust and built-in identity management. Researchers are trying to build an Internet that's more reliable, higher performing and better able to manage exabytes of content. And they're hoping to build an Internet that extends connectivity to the most remote regions of the world, perhaps to other planets...

 ... This high-risk, long-range Internet research will kick into high gear in 2010, as the U.S. federal government ramps up funding to allow a handful of projects to move out of the lab and into prototype. Indeed, the United States is building the world's largest virtual network lab across 14 college campuses and two nationwide backbone networks so that it can engage thousands – perhaps millions – of end users in its experiments.

Read more - 'Why you won't recognize the 'Net in 10 years'


Monday, March 08, 2010

Global supply of rare earth elements could be wiped out by 2012

Many news sites are missing this piece of information, yet I feel it is vitally important. Why are 'rare metals' important? Well, much of the western world depends on the supply of these metals - especially in the motor industry. So read on......

It's the bubble you've probably never heard of: The rare earth bubble. And it's due to pop in 2012, potentially devastating the industries of western nations that depend on these rare elements.

What industries are those? The automobile industry uses tens of thousands of tons of rare earth elements each year, and advanced military technology depends on these elements, too. Lots of "green" technologies depend on them, including wind turbines, low-energy light bulbs and hybrid car batteries. In fact, much of western civilization depends on rare earth elements such as terbium, lanthanum and neodymium.

So what's the problem with these rare elements? 97 percent of the world's supply comes from mines in China, and China is prepared to simply stop exporting these strategic elements to the rest of the world by 2012.

If that happens, the western world will be crippled by the collapse of available rare earth elements. Manufacturing of everything from computers and electronics to farm machinery will grind to a halt. Electronics will disappear from the shelves and prices for manufactured goods that depend on these rare elements will skyrocket.

These 17 rare earth elements (REE) -- all of which are metals -- are strategic resources upon which entire nations are built. In many ways, they are similar to rubber -- a resource so valuable and important to the world that many experts call it the "fourth most important natural resource in the world," right after water, steel and oil. Without rubber, you couldn't drive your car to work or water your lawn. Many medical technologies would cease to work and virtually all commercial construction would grind to a halt.

Read more at - 'Global supply of rare earth elements could be wiped out by 2012'


Friday, March 05, 2010

The Oil Crunch: A wake-up call for the UK economy

Here is an important report just released. A new report by a United Kingdom industry taskforce predicts steep oil price rises and gasoline supply shortages by 2014-2015, which will put the global economy at similar risk to the 2007-2008 rapid rise in oil prices that helped trigger the Great Recession. According to their site:

"The time period would be 2014-2015 when the oil market would be starting to experience rapidly rising prices and tightening oil supplies...It is notable that the CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, is already warning of such an outcome in the 2014/15 period," says the report, "Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security," funded by Virgin Group, Arup Engineering, Foster and Partners, and Scottish and Southern Engineering

According to their press release:

The Taskforce states the impact of Peak Oil will include sharp increases in the cost of travel, food, heating and retail goods. It finds that the transport sector will be particularly hard hit, with more vulnerable members of society the first to feel the impact. The Taskforce warns that the UK must not be caught out by the oil crunch in the same way it was with the credit crunch and states that policies to address Peak Oil must be a priority for the new government formed after the election.

The report issues a range of recommendations including:
General policies:
  • Government, local authorities and business must face up to the Peak Oil threat and put contingency plans in place
  • A package of policies are required to deal with the economic, financial and social impact of potential high oil prices
  • There is a need to accelerate the green industrial revolution
  • Government support should be boosted for alternative technological solutions and associated infrastructure, such as electric vehicles
  • Policies and fiscal measures to support and incentivise a shift from the traditional car to more fuel- and carbon-efficient modes of transport to be established
  • Government investment in public transport must be maintained

 Obviously, a recommended read. See main page here

Download pdf report - 'The Oil Crunch: A wake-up call for the UK economy'


Thursday, March 04, 2010

World Stats

A new website does a good job of listing changing world stats - such as energy being pumped, CO2 emissions, diseases and deaths, population, etc.

It's called Poodwaddle - try it out!


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The next hacking frontier: Your brain?

In this intriguing post from Wired they ask whether the trend in brain-wireless interfaces may not create a market for... wait for it.... Brain-Hacking! Well, read on......

"Hackers who commandeer your computer are bad enough. Now scientists worry that someday, they’ll try to take over your brain"

In the past year, researchers have developed technology that makes it possible to use thoughts to operate a computer, maneuver a wheelchair or even use Twitter — all without lifting a finger. But as neural devices become more complicated — and go wireless — some scientists say the risks of “brain hacking” should be taken seriously.
“Neural devices are innovating at an extremely rapid rate and hold tremendous promise for the future,” said computer security expert Tadayoshi Kohno of the University of Washington. “But if we don’t start paying attention to security, we’re worried that we might find ourselves in five or 10 years saying we’ve made a big mistake.”
Hackers tap into personal computers all the time — but what would happen if they focused their nefarious energy on neural devices, such as the deep-brain stimulators currently used to treat Parkinson’s and depression, or electrode systems for controlling prosthetic limbs? According to Kohno and his colleagues, who published their concerns July 1 in Neurosurgical Focus, most current devices carry few security risks. But as neural engineering becomes more complex and more widespread, the potential for security breaches will mushroom.

For example, the next generation of implantable devices to control prosthetic limbs will likely include wireless controls that allow physicians to remotely adjust settings on the machine. If neural engineers don’t build in security features such as encryption and access control, an attacker could hijack the device and take over the robotic limb.
 Read more - 'The next hacking frontier: Your brain?'


Monday, March 01, 2010


Now here is something very 'smart'....and it's also been described as 'responsive' and 'elegant' too.... yes, it's the new 'Copenhagen Wheel'.... and what is that? Well, it's a new emblem for urban mobility. It transforms 'ordinary bicycles quickly into hybrid e-bikes that also function as mobile sensing units. The Copenhagen Wheel allows you to capture the energy dissipated while cycling and braking and save it for when you need
a bit of a boost. It also maps pollution levels, traffic congestion, and road conditions in real-time.'

How's that for both sense and fun?  Read on....

Controlled through your smart phone, the Copenhagen Wheel becomes a natural extension of your everyday life. You can use your phone to unlock and lock your bike, change gears and select how much the motor assists you. As you cycle, the wheel’s sensing unit is also capturing your effort level and information about your surroundings, including road conditions, carbon monoxide, NOx, noise, ambient temperature and relative humidity. Access this data through your phone or the web and use it to plan healthier bike routes, to achieve your exercise goals or to meet up with friends on the go. You can also share your data with friends, or with your city - anonymously if you wish – thereby contributing to a fine-grained database of environmental information from which we can all benefit.

See the website here

Thanks to Katarina for the link!