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DEA Has A Program That Tracks Cars Moving Across The Country

January 29, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration program to track cars close to the U.S.-Mexican border has been gradually expanded nationwide and is regularly used by other law enforcement agencies searching for criminal suspects.

The extent of the system, which is said to contain hundreds of millions of records on motorists and their journeys, was disclosed in documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a Freedom of Information Act request. Much of the information disclosed to the ACLU was undated, making it difficult to understand the growth of the network, which is different from the cameras used to collect traffic tolls on expressways.

One of the undated documents said more than 100 cameras had been deployed in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey. The cameras snap each vehicle that passes, recording its license plate, the direction of travel and the time. Some cameras also snap a picture of the driver and passengers.

It was set up in 2008 and was opened to other law enforcement agencies in May 2009. Two years after it was launched, the system helped the DEA seize 98 kilograms of cocaine, 8,336 kilograms of marijuana and collect $866,380. Its use was also expanded to the hunt for cars being driven by suspects in child abductions, rapes and other crimes.

But it’s unclear if there is any court oversight of the network. The ACLU said that any federal, state or local law enforcement agent that had been vetted by the DEA could conduct queries on the database.

Records on cars that don’t generate a “hit” in law enforcement investigations are said to be stored for six months — a period the ACLU said was “far too long.”

 

 

Yahoo To Spinoff Shares In Alibaba

January 29, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Yahoo Inc plans to spin off its 15 percent stake in China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd , caving to demands to hand over to shareholders its prized e-commerce investment valued at roughly $40 billion.

The move to spin off the Alibaba stake satisfies a persistent investor demand, but could also ratchet up pressure on Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer to make quicker progress in strengthening Yahoo’s struggling media and advertising business.

“It’s not going to be easy from now on,” said B. Riley and Co analyst Sameet Sinha. “She has to perform now. There’s nothing shielding her.”

Shareholders feel that Yahoo and its stake in Alibaba would be worth more separately, as long as the Alibaba shares are not subject to the standard 35 percent tax rate that would be incurred from selling the shares.

Yahoo is worth approximately $45 billion. That includes its Alibaba stake of nearly $40 billion, meaning the current Yahoo share price assigns little value to the core business. Some investors believe the email, website and other operations are worth between $7 billion and $8 billion.

Yahoo, which is trying to reverse a multi-year decline in revenue, has faced increasing investor pressure more than two years after Mayer took the reins to lead a comeback plan.

Yahoo said its board of directors has authorized a plan to spin off the stake, tax-free, into a newly formed independent registered investment company. The stock of the company will be distributed pro-rata to Yahoo shareholders and the transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2015, Yahoo said.

The new entity will include Yahoo’s 384 million shares in Alibaba as well as an unspecified “legacy, ancillary” Yahoo business, the company said.

 

 

 

 

Facebook Testing New Stripped Down Version Of Its Mobile App

January 28, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Facebook is testing a scaled down version of its mobile app that requires far less data, which could boost usage of the social networking service among people with weaker Internet service or older phones.

Facebook “Lite” is available for devices running Android 2.2 and up. The size of the free app is 252 kilobytes, and it’s meant for 2G networks in areas with limited connectivity. Users can perform a bunch of basic functions like post status updates with photos, comment on people’s posts, message friends, have group conversations, and receive notifications. Posts from the news feed are meant to load quickly.

Early reviews on the Google Play store for the app have been positive, with many praising its low data and battery usage.

Facebook launched the app over the weekend in parts of Africa and Asia, said a report in TechCrunch. A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment further.

The Lite app appears to be related to Facebook’s Internet.org project, which seeks to provide free access to Facebook and other basic Internet services in developing countries. The Internet.org app is already available in a handful of countries such as Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Colombia. In addition to Facebook, the app provides access to other services like the weather, Wikipedia, and health and educational information. Carriers can charge users for paid access to other services. In addition to Facebook, other founding partners of Internet.org include Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung.

With the Lite app, Facebook might be testing people’s responsiveness to a set of basic Facebook services without the ancillary ones. It may also help Facebook learn how it could further improve the functions of its Internet.org app.

Facebook tested a different stripped down version of its site in late 2009 and early 2010, although only for the desktop. It was shut down in April 2010.

 

 

Dropbox Acquires Startup Pixelapse

January 28, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Dropbox, never one to shy away from an acquisition, has purchased startup Pixelapse, which provides a GitHub-like version control service for “tens of thousands” of visual designers. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

“Our new development efforts will be focused on bringing the same kinds of collaboration and workflow experiences that you’re used to in Pixelapse over to the core Dropbox product,” said the company’s traditional “hey we’ve been acquired” blog post about the deal.

The way Pixelapse works is simple and familiar to anyone who’s used a version control service like GitHub before: Visual design project files get stored in a dedicated folder. Make a change to a project asset, and those changes get synced to the cloud, where they’re viewable from a cloud interface. There’s even an activity feed to see who worked on what within a team.

If you or anybody else (the client you’ve shared the project with, the boss in charge of the project, or just the rest of the project team) wants, they can go back and view the entire history, comparing revisions and rolling back changes if necessary. You can even show off the history of a project to the public with an embeddable code widget.

If that sounds a lot like Dropbox’s existing version control, just tailored to a very specific vertical — namely, designers — collect your prize at the door. From Dropbox’s perspective, this is a shrewd move that enhances the platform’s appeal with a project management feature that developers love but designers could never access. The startup’s origins stem from co-founder Min Ming Lo’s time as a design intern at Google, where nobody had any idea what assets belonged to whom or how to give feedback.

For existing users, never fear. Pixelapse promises on its website that the service is safe for at least another year and that it’s still accepting sign-ups, which is a good omen given that so many similar deals of this type see immediate service shutdown.

 

 

New Internet Browser Vivaldi Launches

January 28, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Well known software developer Jon von Tetzchner has launched a new internet browser, offering an interface for high-volume users who “have problems fitting all their open tabs on one screen”, he said in a Reuters interview.

Known as Vivaldi and available on desktop computers from Tuesday, the browser’s initial launch covers the Windows, Mac and Linux platforms.

“A mobile phone and a tablet version are in the pipeline. We are working on it, but they won’t be out until they’re ready,” said von Tetzchner, who owns 90 percent of the company’s shares and has paid for the development.

“At some point it will need to fund it self and to reach that point we will need a few million users. I have no doubt that we will reach that number quite easily,” he added.

With features like personalized notes, bookmarks with small screen shots and speed dials with options for multiple groups and folders, Vivaldi hopes to attract high-volume users.

Despite tough competition from the likes of Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Apple’s Safari, Mozilla Corp’s Firefox and Opera Software’s browser, von Tetzchner believes there is still room for more.

“We welcome everyone, but this is first of all a browser for people who expect and need more,” he said. “There is without a doubt a demand for this type of browser even though I don’t expect it to take more than a few percent of the total market.”

Vivaldi has signed a few affiliation deals ahead of the launch and is in talks with several potential partners for functionalities like search and online shopping.

“We have made several deals and have started a dialogue with others. But because some of these are potential competitors, we’ve wanted to go live with the browser first.”

Named after the 18th century composer Antonio Vivaldi, the name carries an inescapable reference to von Tetzchner’s previous role as co-founder and long-time head of browser and mobile phone technology firm Opera Software.

 

Gas Stations Vulnerable To Cyberattacks

January 27, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Over 5,000 devices used by gas stations in the U.S. to monitor their fuel tank levels can be hacked from the Internet by malicious attackers.

These devices, known as automated tank gauges (ATGs), are also used to trigger alarms in case of problems with the tanks, such as fuel spills.

“An attacker with access to the serial port interface of an ATG may be able to shut down the station by spoofing the reported fuel level, generating false alarms, and locking the monitoring service out of the system,” said HD Moore, the chief research officer at security firm Rapid7, in a blog post. “Tank gauge malfunctions are considered a serious issue due to the regulatory and safety issues that may apply.”

Earlier this month, Moore ran a scan to detect ATGs that are connected to the Internet through serial port servers that map ATG serial interfaces to the Internet-accessible TCP port 10001. This is a common set-up used by ATG owners to monitor the devices remotely.

“Approximately 5,800 ATGs were found to be exposed to the Internet without a password,” Moore said. “Over 5,300 of these ATGs are located in the United States, which works out to about 3 percent of the approximately 150,000 fueling stations in the country.”

Rapid7 decided to run the scan after being alerted of the problem by Jack Chadowitz, the founder of Kachoolie, a division of BostonBase that provides secure tank gauge access services.

Chadowitz had already developed an online service where ATG owners, particularly those using “a Gilbarco/Veeder Root TCP/IP card or a TCP/IP to serial converter such as those commonly available from Digi or Lantronix,” can check if they are at risk.

Some systems provide the capability to protect serial interfaces with a password, but this functionality is not commonly enabled, according to Moore.

 

 

SAP Sees High Profit Potential In Cloud

January 27, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

European software giant SAP could eventually see its software delivered via the cloud deliver higher profit margins than its traditional packaged software, its finance chief told a newspaper.

“Such contracts become profitable over time. In the long term, they can definitely become more profitable than our classic license sales,” Luka Mucic told the Euro am Sonntag business weekly in an interview.

SAP said last week its push to deliver cloud-based products via the Internet – which allow customers to access powerful remote data centers for processing and storage – would dampen profitability until at least 2018.

Unlike the packaged software SAP has been selling for decades, for which clients pay a immediate license fee, cloud-based software is generally paid for by subscription over time, but most of the costs for the software provider are upfront.

Mucic said such contracts were loss-making for the first year of operation.

To strengthen its position in the fast-growing cloud market, SAP agreed in September to buy cloud-based travel and expenses software maker Concur for $7.3 billion in cash, its biggest takeover ever.

The company issued a triple-tranche, 2.75 billion-euro ($3.08 billion) bond in November to help finance the deal.

Mucic said SAP might add another, smaller tranche, perhaps as soon as the first half of this year, but said otherwise the company had no need for further capital.

“We are just examining whether this would be advantageous for us,” he said.

 

 

Cablevision To Launch Wi-Fi Phone Service

January 27, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Cablevision System Corp said that it would launch in February a wireless Internet phone service to give customers an alternative to more expensive data plans from cellular companies such as AT&T and Verizon.

The “Freewheel” phone service, which runs on any WiFi connection, is an attempt by Cablevision to retain and potentially add subscribers at a time when cable companies are losing out to lower-priced, bundled TV and Internet services from telecom firms.

Cablevision said the phone service was the first of its kind to be launched by a cable company and aims to tap users seeking to download unlimited amounts of data on their mobile phones using WiFi, which is less expensive than a cellular connection.

Such services could pose a challenge to traditional telecom carriers. Currently, carrier Republic Wireless and Massachusetts-based startup Scratch Wireless offer users similar services that use WiFi to control data costs.

“There has been a dramatic shift in how consumers use their mobile devices: today, it’s all about data, and WiFi is now preferred and clearly superior to cellular,” Kristin Dolan, chief operating officer of Cablevision, said in the statement.

Cablevision, controlled by New York’s Dolan family, has been investing in its “Optimum” WiFi network since 2007, setting up over 1.1 million WiFi hotspots or access points in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Cablevision’s WiFi phone service will be offered at $29.95 per month and $9.95 per month for subscribers of its “Optimum Online” service. It will be available exclusively on the Motorola Moto G smartphone that users will have to purchase, the company said.

The $180 Android phone will be sold to “Freewheel” users without a contract at a discounted price of $99.95, it added.

 

 

 

Box Riding High After Success IPO

January 26, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Box made a splashy entrance on the New York Stock Exchange Friday, opening at $20.20 per share, or 44 percent higher than the price it had set for itself the night before.

With 12.5 million shares for sale, the initial public offering raised some $175 million that Box can now use to invest in its business, and a market capitalization of $1.6 billion.

By Friday afternoon, the stock — trading under the symbol “BOX” — had reached as high as $24.73 per share, or 77 percent above its IPO price.

“It was unbelievable,” said Steve Sarracino, a founder and partner at Activant Capital, noting that current prices were giving Box a valuation on a par with the $2 billion it saw in its last private funding round in July.

“We were watching closely because for the first time it looked like the public market was going to impose discipline on the private market, but they blew right through there. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but it tells us the market is risk-on,” he said.

Wall Street’s warm reception can only come as welcome reassurance for Box, whose IPO journey has been a rocky one. After originally filing to go public last March, the company ended up postponing those plans, citing unfavorable market conditions.

Looking ahead, though, there’s no doubt Box will have to move quickly. Storage is a commodity business,analysts have noted, and Box will have to make sure customers see it as a provider of more than just storage.

 

 

 

NASA Test New Robotic Helicopter

January 26, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The robotic rovers navigating around Mars are limited by what their onboard cameras are capable of viewing.

If they could see further ahead, they might be able totravel three times as far in a single Martian day, enabling them to better find sites to explore and gather more information, faster, than they can today.

To speed up the rovers’ work, NASA is considering sending a robotic helicopter to Mars that could act as a scout for their explorations.

“So why would we want to put a helicopter on Mars?” asks Mike Meacham, a mechanical engineer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in a video presentation. “If I’m the rover right now, I can’t really see the terrain behind me. But if I had a helicopter with a camera on it, all of a sudden, I can see a whole lot more.”

Dubbed the Mars Helicopter, the robot could be an add-on to future Mars rovers. Weighing 2.2 pounds and measuring 3.6 feet from the tip of one blade to the other, the helicopter would be able to detach from the rover and fly on its own.

So far, JPL engineers have built a proof-of-concept prototype and have been testing it in a 25-foot vacuum chamber.

Because of the difference between the atmosphere on Earth and on Mars, the helicopter’s blades would have to spin at about 2,400 rpm to provide lift, NASA said.

“The system is designed to fly for two to three minutes every day,” said Bob Balaram, a chief engineer at JPL. “There’s a solar panel on the top and that provides us with enough energy for that short flight, as well as to keep us warm through the night. So in those two to three minutes, we expect to have daily flights of about half a kilometer or so.”

For now the JPL team is focused on relentlessly testing the helicopter.

 

 

 

 

Microsoft Unveils Hologram Visor

January 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Microsoft Corp surprised the tech world with the unveiling of a prototype hologram visor that can bring the Minecraft video game, Skype calls and even the landscape of Mars to three-dimensional life.

The veteran tech pioneer, which long ago lost the mantle of the world’s most inventive company, is making a bold play to regain that title in the face of stiff competition from Google Inc and Apple Inc.

Virtual or enhanced reality is the next frontier in computing interaction, with Facebook Inc focusing on its Oculus virtual reality headset and Google working on its Glass project.

Microsoft said its wire-free Microsoft HoloLens device will be available around the same time as Windows 10 this autumn. Industry analysts were broadly excited at the prospect, but skeptical that it could produce a working model at a mass-market price that soon.

“That was kind of a ‘Oh wow!’ moment,” said Mike Silver, an analyst at Gartner who tried out the prototype on Wednesday. “You would expect to see a relatively high-priced model this year or next year, then maybe it’ll take another couple of years to bring it down to a more affordable level.”

Microsoft does not have a stellar record of bringing ground-breaking technology to life. Its Kinect motion-sensing game device caused an initial stir but never gripped the popular imagination.

The company showed off a crude test version of the visor – essentially jerry-rigged wires and cameras pulled over the head – to reporters and industry analysts at a gathering at its headquarters near Seattle.

It did not allow any photographs or video of the experience, but put some images on its website.

 

 

ARM Develops IoT For Students

January 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

ARM has created a course to teach IoT skills to students at University College London (UCL)

The course is designed to encourage graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) to seek careers in IT.

The IoT Education Kit will teach students how to use the Mbed IoT operating system to create smartphone apps that control mini-robots or wearable devices.

Students are expected to be interested in building their own IoT business, or joining IoT-focused enterprises like ARM. The course will also try to limit the number of Stem graduates pursuing non-technology careers.

ARM reported statistics from a 2012 study by Oxford Policy and Research revealing how many engineering graduates (36 percent of males, 51 percent of females), technology graduates (44 percent, 53 percent) and computer scientists (64 percent, 66 percent) end up with non-Stem jobs.

The IoT Education Kit will be rolled out by UCL’s Department of Electronics from September 2015, with a week-long module for full-time and continuing professional development students.

The Kit comprises a complete set of teaching materials, Mbed-enabled hardware boards made by Nordic Semiconductor, and software licensed from ARM. A second teaching module for engineering graduates is being developed for 2016.

“Students with strong science and mathematical skills are in demand and we need to make sure they stay in engineering,” said ARM CTO Mike Muller.

“The growth of the IoT gives us a great opportunity to prove to students why our profession is more exciting and sustainable than others.”

UCL professor Izzat Darwazeh also highlighted the importance of Stem skills, saying that “many students are not following through to an engineering career and that is a real risk to our long-term success as a nation of innovators”.

Courtesy-TheInq

Rumors Say Samsung Is Quietly Seeking To Buy Blackberry

January 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

For a while, the rumor mill has manufactured hell on earth yarns claiming that Samsung is set to buy the Canadian smartphone maker Blackberry.

The deal always seems to fall through, and in any event has never happened.

However the Financial Post has found evidence that this time Samsung is actively pursuing a plan to take over or buy a significant stake in BlackBerry.

The story is still a rumour because both companies have denied such a plan may be in the works, but a document obtained by the Financial Post, prepared for Samsung by New York-based independent investment bank Evercore Partners, outlines the case for, and the potential structure of a possible purchase of BlackBerry.

The paper is a little elderly and was written in the last quarter of 2014, but a source familiar with the matter said that Samsung remains very interested in acquiring all or part of BlackBerry for the right price.

J.K. Shin, Samsung’s co-chief executive, told The Wall Street Journal that his company is in talks to use some of BlackBerry’s technology in the South Korean company’s devices, but is not interested in an acquisition. “We want to work with BlackBerry and develop this partnership, not acquire the company.”

But it appears that Samsung was caught off guard by a Reuters leak earlier this week. It had hoped it could move in quickly on BlackBerry, and the company’s share price would stay low. When the news went up and the share price rose its bid looked a little weak.

BlackBerry appears to have learned of the price Samsung was hoping to pay through the Reuters leak, before the company could make a formal offer. This is the sort of thing Samsung wanted to avoid.

In five years, BlackBerry thought the return on their turnaround strategy as implemented by John Chen was going to do better than the cash they will be receiving today.

Still, the source maintains that Samsung is still keen on making a deal happen. The talk earlier this week about Samsung extending its cooperation with BlackBerry, which was notably lacking in specifics, is “just setting it up,” the source said. “Samsung hasn’t walked away” from an acquisition. “They’re leaning towards it.”

Courtesy-Fud

Google, The Wireless Carrier?

January 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Google has put in place the framework for its own cellular service by acquiring capacity on the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile USA, according to news reports.

The sprawling search company would sell the service directly to consumers, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed sources. Tech news site The Information reported on the deals earlier this week.

Google is heavily involved in mobile through its Android operating system, the world’s most widely used mobile OS, as well as through selling mobile advertising, and is pushing to make more radio spectrum available for wireless services. But the partnerships with Sprint and T-Mobile would bring the company into the cellular business itself, offering Google phone plans directly to consumers.

The deals would make Google an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), a carrier that doesn’t build or operate its own network but sells services that run on the partners’ infrastructure. Sprint is the third-largest U.S. mobile carrier and T-Mobile is the fourth largest.

As a powerful and well-heeled newcomer, Google might disrupt the cellular industry, just as it has the wired broadband business with its Google Fiberservice. The U.S. mobile industry has been wracked by new business models and falling prices in recent years.

It’s not clear whether the company will launch a full-scale national effort or a more limited rollout. There are terms in Google’s contract with Sprint that would allow for renegotiation if Google draws a huge number of subscribers, the Journal said.

 

 

 

Facebook Going After Hoaxes, Fake News Stories

January 22, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc said it has put measures in place  to clamp down on “hoaxes” and fake news stories that can spread rather rapidly  on its 1.35-billion member online social network.

The company said it had introduced an option to allow Facebookusers to flag a story as “purposefully fake or deceitful news” to reduce the distribution of news stories reported as hoaxes.

Facebook said it will not remove fake news stories from its website. Instead, the company’s algorithm, which determines how widely user posts are distributed, will take into account hoax reports.

“A post with a link to an article that many people have reported as a hoax or chose to delete will get reduced distribution in the News Feed,” Facebook explained.

Facebook has become an increasingly important source of news, with 30 percent of adults in the U.S. consuming news on the world’s largest social network, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Facebook cited stories about dinosaur sightings and research supposedly proving the existence of Santa Claus as examples of fake news stories.

Facebook said “satirical” content, such as news stories “intended to be humorous, or content that is clearly labeled as satire,” should not be affected.