Weekly tech bulletin for week ending 2015-05-17. Verizon buys AOL.

Published: Mon, 18 May 2015 by Rad

1. Using plants to generate energy: Chilean engineers to patent device

Published: May 11, 2015 mobile

The initial prototype was awarded in different contests and opens promising possibilities for energetic solutions friendly to the environment. Three young Chilean engineers designed a mobile phone charger taking energy from plants after six years of research and work.

Residential plants provide enough energy

E-Kaia, as the project was called, is a portable device using the residual energy of plants during photosynthesis and turning it into electrical energy. Different to other similar chargers which demand at least some 100 square meters of plants to generate enough electricity to charge a mobile phone, E-Kaia only needs one healthy plant.

The residual vegetable energy is captured by a biocircuit buried with outputs to the surface, reaching 5 volts and 600 milliampers, producing no damage to the plants. Under this circumstances, a mobile phone can be charged in just one hour and a half.

Although the exact details of the implemented technology are not public due to the patent being processed, the project has received numerous funds in innovation contests - such as in Jump Chile 2013 and the Avonni National Award to Innovation of 2014 - which give credit of its viability.

Follow   en.institutomanquehue.org to read more.

2. Bigger than Heartbleed, 'Venom' security vulnerability threatens most datacenters

Published: May 13, 2015 security

A security research firm is warning that a new bug could allow a hacker to take over vast portions of a datacenter - from within. The zero-day vulnerability lies in a legacy common component in widely-used virtualization software, allowing a hacker to infiltrate potentially every machine across a datacenter's network.

Security researchers say the zero-day flaw affects "millions" of machines in datacenters around the world.

The cause is a widely-ignored, legacy virtual floppy disk controller that, if sent specially crafted code, can crash the entire hypervisor. That can allow a hacker to break out of their own virtual machine to access other machines - including those owned by other people or companies.

The bug, found in open-source computer emulator QEMU, dates back to 2004. Many modern virtualization platforms, including Xen, KVM, and Oracle's VirtualBox, include the buggy code. VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Bochs hypervisors are not affected.

The flaw may be one of the biggest vulnerabilities found this year. It comes just over a year after the notorious Heartbleed bug, which allowed malicious actors to grab data from the memory of servers running affected versions of the open-source OpenSSL encryption software.

Follow   www.zdnet.com to read more.

3. Blocking pirate Sites is Ineffective against piracy,says European Union

Published: May 15, 2015 legal

Internet site-blocking and shutdowns have almost no effect against music and video piracy, new research from the European Union says. A new paper published by the European Commission's Joint Research Center concluded that copyright enforcement tactics, which include blocking of Web addresses to known illegal file-sharing and video-streaming sites, saw "significant but short-lived" declines in piracy levels.

Data retention will be a useful tool

The researchers examined Germany's former most popular pirate video streaming site Kino.to in 2011, which was shut down after police raided dozens of homes across Europe. Established in 2008, it became one of the most notorious illegal video-streaming sites in the world, allowing users to stream some of the latest movies for free.

But its shutdown by German police, though quick and effective, had a minimal effect on the black content market, the researchers say. Relying on clickstream data of more than 5,000 internet users across three countries, researchers determined that there was "little difficulty" for those users to switch to other sites.

When one pirate site was shut down, more emerged

When one pirate site was shut down, more emerged, turning a single site-blocking effort into a game of Whac-a-Mole. A number of governments, including Germany, France, and the UK, have enacted laws and fought cases in the courts to seek the shutdown of websites in recent years. A case against arguably the most famous piracy site, The Pirate Bay, at the UK's High Court resulted in the major Internet providers in the UK blocking access to the site. The block reportedly had little effect on the site's traffic, and remains one of the top 500 sites on the internet today, according to Alexa rankings.

Follow   www.globalhacknews.com to read more.

4. Wolfram Language Artificial Intelligence: The Image Identification Project

Published: May 13, 2015 software

"What is this a picture of?" Humans can usually answer such questions instantly, but in the past it's always seemed out of reach for computers to do this. For nearly 40 years I've been sure computers would eventually get there - but I've wondered when.

Excited to reach a milestsone. Probably much like the brain, the ImageIdentify neural network has many layers, containing a variety of different kinds of neurons.

Wolfram research is excited to be able to say that we've reached a milestone: there's finally a function called ImageIdentify built into the Wolfram Language that lets you ask, "What is this a picture of?" - and get an answer.

It won't always get it right, but most of the time I think it does remarkably well. And to me what's particularly fascinating is that when it does get something wrong, the mistakes it makes mostly seem remarkably human.

With ImageIdentify built right into the Wolfram Language, it's easy to create APIs, or apps, that use it. And with the Wolfram Cloud, it's also easy to create websites - like the Wolfram Language Image Identification Project.

What is image identification really about? There are some number of named kinds of things in the world, and the point is to tell which of them a particular picture is of. Or, more formally, to map all possible images into a certain set of symbolic names of objects.

We don't have any intrinsic way to describe an object like a chair. All we can do is just give lots of examples of chairs, and effectively say, "Anything that looks like one of these we want to identify as a chair." So in effect we want images that are "close" to our examples of chairs to map to the name "chair", and others not to.

Underneath, of course, it's just running code - with very simple inner loops that are pretty much the same as, for example, in my neural network programs from the beginning of the 1980s ...

It's a fascinating - and extremely unusual - example in the history of ideas: neural networks were studied for 70 years, and repeatedly dismissed. Yet now they are what has brought us success in such a quintessential example of an artificial intelligence task as image identification.

Follow   blog.stephenwolfram.com to read more.

5. The 'living concrete' that can heal itself

Published: May 14, 2015 science

It's the world's most popular building material, and ever since the Romans built the pantheon from it some 2,000 years ago, we've been trying to find ways to make concrete more durable.

Fix it's own cracks with a limestone-producing bacteria!

No matter how carefully it is mixed or reinforced, all concrete eventually cracks, and under some conditions, those cracks can lead to collapse.

"If you have cracks, water comes through - in your basements, in a parking garage. Secondly, if this water gets to the steel reinforcements - in concrete we have all these steel rebars - if they corrode, the structure collapses."

Professor Henk Jonkers, via cnn.com

"We have invented bioconcrete - that's concrete that heals itself using bacteria," says professor Henk Jonkers, of Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands. The bioconcrete is mixed just like regular concrete, but with an extra ingredient - the "healing agent." It remains intact during mixing, only dissolving and becoming active if the concrete cracks and water gets in.

Concrete is extremely alkaline and the "healing" bacteria must wait dormant for years before being activated by water. Jonkers chose bacillus bacteria for the job, because they thrive in alkaline conditions and produce spores that can survive for decades without food or oxygen.

Follow   edition.cnn.com to read more.

6. Russia now selling home-grown CPUs with Transmeta-like x86 emulation

Published: May 11, 2015 tech

The Russian company MCST (Moscow Center for SPARC Technologies) has released the Elbrus-4C, a reasonably high-performance quad-core CPU that may grant Russia some technological independence from American chip-making giants Intel and AMD.

Russia joins China in seeking technological independence from the US.

Despite the company's name, the Elbrus-4C uses the Elbrus ISA (instruction set architecture), not SPARC. Elbrus is a closed and proprietary architecture, so exact details are hard to come by, but we do know about one particularly interesting feature: x86 emulation. If you remember the Transmeta Crusoe, it sounds like the Elbrus architecture does something very similar: at run-time, x86 program code can be translated and executed through a virtual machine. This method isn't as fast as providing x86 support in hardware, but it gets the job done.

The Elbrus-4C, while highly advanced by home-grown Russian standards, is by no means a bleeding-edge chip; it's a quad-core part built on TSMC's last-last-generation 65nm process. It's capable of hitting a rather heady clockspeed of 800MHz, which equates to (a fairly decent) 25 gigaflops of 64-bit double-precision math.

Pricing on the Elbrus-4C is unknown, but a report by the Russian website Kommersant says the chip is "cheaper" than chips out of the US. In recent years, there has been a marked move by countries such as Russia and China to use home-grown chips, rather than continuing to rely on American technology.

Follow   arstechnica.com to read more.

7. The Next Big Thing Project, Affordable $9 Computer, Seeking Financial Funds In Kickstarter

Published: May 11, 2015 tech

Next Thing, a California-based start-up, is seeking funds in order to create the $9 (£6) mechanism in its simplest form. The company is in need of approximately $50,000 to be able to complete developing the Chip computer with a size comparable to that of a credit card. 19 days still to go, campaign already got nearly 27k backers and $1,4mil pledged!

The device will become one of the challengers of the currently well-known Raspberry Pi barebones computer.

The earliest version of the device comes with a 512 MB of RAM, 1 Ghz processor, and an onboard storage amounting to 4 GB. Chip contains some technical elements similar to that of Pi. One of these elements is that it is also built around an Arm chip. However, networking technologies have been incorporated in the Chip for improved performance. These include the Bluetooth 4.0 and wi-fi which are not customarily present in the configuration of a standard Raspberry.

The Chip is capable of running a Linux operating system. With the aid of a basic composite connector, the gadget is also capable of connecting to monitors and other display devices. A handheld version of the gadget called the Pocket Chip, is also being developed by Next Thing. The company plans to make this version commercially available at a price of about $49.

In his writing on Bit-Tech, a hardware news site, Gareth Halfacree stressed out that there will be a need to raise the price of Chip to $24 in the effort of matching Pi's graphical abilities. This cost is closer to the price of the newest version of Pi which costs $35, the Raspberry Pi 2.

Follow   www.dailytimesgazette.com to read more.

8. Verizon Will Acquire AOL For $4.4 Billion To Boost Cross-Screen Connection For Consumers

Published: May 13, 2015 tech

Verizon will acquire digital company AOL for approximately $4.4 billion, a move that could potentially boost the telecommunications giant's campaign on digital advertising and mobile platforms, based on the company's announcement last Tuesday.

The deal disclosed this Tuesday is projected to be completed this summer. Regulators will still need to approve this deal to be finalized.

Verizon will purchase every share of AOL at $50. AOL has been focusing on video advertising for the past months since their disastrous split with Time Warner back in 2000. Verizon will pay 17 percent more than the closing stock price of AOL last Monday, which is at $42.59.

Reports said Tim Armstrong, AOL's CEO and chairman, will remain in order to run AOL's operations after the acquisition.

AOL has a number of digital properties under its belt, which include the brands Engadget, TechCrunch and The Huffington Post, but the development of AOL's advertising was the trigger of the acquisition.

Follow   www.techtimes.com to read more.

9. 78% of companies say they run operations on open source

Published: May 12, 2015 open source

The 2015 Future of Open Source Survey, which analyzed input from a record 1300 C-suite and senior IT professionals, tells us that we've reached a tipping point of sorts. Open source has reached unprecedented levels of pervasiveness. While once regarded as a novelty, open source has now become virtually ubiquitous in its adoption - with a whopping 78% of companies reporting that they run part or all of their operations on open source, and only 3% saying they don't use it in any way.

That's a remarkable increase in usage in a relatively short period of time. In fact, it's doubled over the last five years, and has become a critical part of the way companies of all sizes work today.

Just for fun, I took a look at survey responses from 2007 to find that some actually labeled open source as a "gimmick," and a majority believed that a startup software vendor could ONLY be successful with a product/service that is NOT open source.

  • 78% run part or all of its operations on OpenSource
  • 93% said their organizatio's use of open source increased
  • 64% of companies currently participate in open source projects
  • 55% believe open source delivers superior security

Follow   opensource.com to read more.

10. Google Confirms Cops Can Wiretap Your Hangouts

Published: May 11, 2015 privacy concerns

In the wake of all the Edward Snowden revelations, a seemingly endless series of encryption apps, all promising some degree "NSA-proof" security, have come out trying to take advantage of this new anti-surveillance business opportunity. But despite some apps' relative success, the reality is that most people probably just use mainstream messaging apps like iMessage or Google Hangouts.

Google kept quite about end-to-end encryption

Google has been mostly silent regarding conversation encryption in hangouts - there have been no boastful public statements - about the security of its popular Hangouts service, which can be used for both text-based as well as audio-video conversations. In its support documentation, Google simply says that "when you message or talk with someone on Hangouts, your information will be encrypted so that it's secure," but there's no mention of end-to-end encryption.

That's why Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union and an expert of surveillance technology, took advantage of a Reddit AMA to try to get Google to clarify how secure and private Hangouts really are.

"Why has Google refused to be transparent about its ability to provide wiretaps for Hangouts?"

Christopher Soghoia asked Richard Salgado, Google's director for law enforcement, via www.reddit.com

But Salgado dodged the question, saying Hangouts is encrypted "in transit" and that "there are legal authorities that allow the government to wiretap communications." As a Redditor eloquently put it, "this means that Hangouts are only encrypted on their way between your computer and Google's servers. Once they arrive at Google's end, Google has full access."

Follow   motherboard.vice.com to read more.

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