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Wednesday, May 22, 2013


There’s a lot of consumer electronics news flooding out of CES in Las Vegas this week, but one of the more interesting technology stories we’re seeing is trickling out of Ontario, Canada, where Queen’s University researchers working with partners in the UK as well as at Intel Labs and Plastic Logic have developed a tablet computer that is both paper-thin and flexible.

And while we’ve seen concept prototypes for flexible e-ink screens and the like previously, what’s most intriguing about the so-called PaperTab is the user interface.

The idea behind PaperTab isn’t to make your iPad flexible, but to rethink the way we use tablet computers--and to make them more like the actual pieces of paper we shuffle around our desks. Designed to work in clusters of up to ten tablets, the user can control various screens at once, with one or more PaperTabs for each app in use.

So you can have several documents or apps running at once and work across several PaperTabs to execute tasks while moving things around between them. You can use several together to make a larger PaperTab display, or shuffle them around like you would actual paper documents. Touch two PaperTabs together and you can swap data between them (this is all far better explained in the video below).

Rather than relying on buttons or swipe gestures, PaperTabs respond to the flexing of the actual screen in certain ways--bend the right side of the display to page forward and the left side to page backward, for instance. And while it feels like this might be easier to master in theory than in practice, the folks in the video demo make it look pretty simple.

But the point is, PaperTabs create a really interesting workflow--something like taking the various windows on your PC desktop and breaking them out on your physical desktop while retaining the ability to quickly move data and programs around from page to page. Figure out how to untether these things from those unsightly cords (they’ll need a paper-thin, flexible battery) and this Queen’s U. team might be onto something here--if not a consumer product just yet, at least a very cool interface idea.

@ Global Info Center

Bionic Eye Vs Human Eye

You are blind but you now have an option to get a chance to see..

Previously blind patients who receive the recently FDA-approved Argus II bionic eye system will regain some degree of functional sight. The retinal implant technology, developed and distributed by Second Sight, can improve quality of life for patients who have lost functional vision due to retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes retinal cells to die. But the implant doesn't facilitate a sudden recovery of 20/20 vision.

Just as cochlear implants don’t have the sensitivity to accurately relay the complex mix of frequencies in music, bionic vision through the Argus II will be closer to a very grainy black-and-white film than an HD movie.

The multi-piece system starts with a digital camera mounted in eyeglasses. Images from the camera get translated into data through a miniature computer and sent via wireless transmitter to a computer chip on the side of the eyeball. From there, the chip activates an eyelash-thin electrode array implanted behind the retina, which then stimulates retinal cells to send visual information to the brain.

The eye’s retinal cells, commonly known as rods and cones, are split up into six types of receptors that detect contrast between light and dark, red and green, and blue and yellow. Electrical signals from the retinal cells travel through the optic nerve to the brain to form a complete picture of what the eye is looking at.

Instead of trying to imitate the activity of all six receptor types, Second Sight’s Argus II implant focuses on stimulating retinal cells to show light and dark contrast. For a blind patient using an artificial retina, being able to detect the relative darkness of a hole or an approaching wall is a lot more important to independently navigating than knowing whether that wall is painted red or blue.

In terms of acuity, the patient with the best result went from no useful sight to 20/1260 vision. This ratio means that to get the same amount of information a healthy human eye can discern from 1,260 feet, this patient would need to be standing 20 feet away.

Brian Mech, vice president of business development at Second Sight, reports that in clinical trials, all of the company's 30 patients had some degree of vision improvement after receiving the retinal implant. “Basically they see black and white, shades of gray and they’re getting somewhere between 50 and 60 pixels of information on average,” Mech says.

Mech admits this level of acuity is limited. “It is still pretty poor considering normal vision is 20/20, but it’s pretty amazing when you’re completely blind to begin with,” he says. But he explains that as research and testing continues, there is plenty of room to improve the system’s performance just by working on the external technology. Even color vision is a possibility with improvements to the video processor and wireless transmitter. “I don’t want to make it sound too easy,” Mech says. “There’s a lot of work to be done before we can do color vision, but the good news is that they won’t need a new implant for it.”

Second Sight is currently developing more advanced retinal implants, but the timeline is still unclear. Mech says it will be five to seven years or more before the next generation of implants becomes a reality.

@ Global Info Center

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nicki Minaj Is Out

American Idols were full of drama...  from the day one it being aired....

One week ago, veteran American Idol judge Randy Jackson announced that he will not be returning for the 13th season of the hit network TV show. Jackson was the last remaining of the original three judges on the show, which also included Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell.

Now, it appears that another current judge will not be returning for another year of American Idol.

According to an Us Weekly report, pop star Nicki Minaj will not be returning as a judge in the next season of the show.

The report cites an unnamed “insider” as saying Minaj will instead be cutting another album, touring, and accepting endorsements. It was also stated that she had only expected to judge on one season of American Idol.

Minaj’s stint on American Idol has been tinged with scandal.

The singer has had a not-so-secret feud with fellow judge Mariah Carey and Minaj last month taunted one of the contestants that had been recently voted off the show via Twitter.

So... Nicki Minaj is out of Americal Idol....

@ Global Info Center

Making Money Out Of Thin Air

In early 2010, Nish Bhalla sat down at his computer with one objective: steal a huge amount of money from a bank.

real ATM printed receipt
It wasn't a typical heist. Bhalla is the chief executive of Security Compass, a company that tests security systems at banks, retailers, energy companies and other organizations with sensitive data. His clients -- including the bank branch in the United States that he targeted in his 2010 attack -- pay him to break into their systems.

It can be easier than most people think. The alleged thieves who made headlines last week for their $45 million bank heist used a similar type of attack that "created" money out of nowhere.

Bhalla talked and explained his caper.

Here, in four easy steps, is how he made himself into a millionaire.

Step one, get access. Bhalla had one big advantage on actual thieves: His client gave him access to the bank's internal network. For real-world crooks, there are some surprisingly easy ways to get in.

It's possible, Bhalla said, to gain access in some places simply by logging on to the bank's wireless network -- an amenity more and more banks are providing as a service to customers. Once you're on the bank's Wi-Fi, the internal and external networks are frequently not segregated enough. It can be possible to fool the bank's other computers into thinking that your computer is a bank computer, a process known as "arp spoofing."

Another on-ramp: Someone posing as a janitor could insert a thumb drive into a teller's system and reboot it using a new operating system, which would enable them to access the hard drive of the teller's system. From there, user names and passwords are often readable. Because he could simply log straight into his client's network, Bhalla and his assistants skipped the "get physical access" step and dove straight into finding the money.

Step two, start exploring. Bhalla used "sniffer" software, available online for free, to map out which of the bank's systems were connected to each other.

Then he "flooded" switches -- small boxes that direct data traffic -- to overwhelm the bank's internal network with data. That kind of attack turns the switch into a "hub" that broadcasts data out indiscriminately.

The machines that the tellers use quickly became Bhalla's prime target. Again, the sniffer software was deployed to look for login information and passwords in the data flood. Eventually, one hit. He was inside a teller's machine.

Step three, move up the ranks. Amazingly, the information being sent between the tellers' computers and the branch's main database was not encrypted. This meant passwords and bank account numbers were all out in the open.

Step four, cash in. Rather than steal money from depositors' accounts, Bhalla just invented a new account for himself.

"We went into the database where the accounts are and set up an account with $14 million," Bhalla explained. "We just created $14 million out of thin air."

If he wanted to, he could have walked into any bank branch, transferred the money to an offshore account, and never have had to work again. Instead, he went to an ATM to print out a record of his ill-gotten wealth.

"The bank executives were extremely surprised," Bhalla said. "Their faces were shocked."

The bank promptly deleted Bhalla's bounty, he said, and took steps to shore up its network.

In the heist that came to light last week, federal officials say the thieves hacked into networks at firms that process transactions for pre-paid debt cards and created accounts with high spending limits. From there, it was just a matter of making physical debt cards for those accounts and going around to ATMs to withdraw the cash.

"They just updated the database with that debit-card information," Bhalla said. "That's how simple it was."

In many cyber bank heists, including the recent $45 million scam, it's hard to pin down who is ultimately liable for any losses. It's typically not individual customers. U.S. law protects consumer checking and savings accounts from losses stemming from fraud. Business accounts, though, have fewer protections.

Bhalla said some financial institutions have insurance to cover the losses -- but he noted that insurance companies are reluctant to issue policies with high coverage limits because the risks in this area area still poorly understood.

In the end, he said the losses are likely born by a combination of the company, insurance firms and governments.

@ Global Info Center

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Google Nexus 7 Second Generation Is Ready

Next week, search juggernaut Google will officially kick off Google I/O, its annual developer conference where it's expected to show off the latest and greatest Android developments. The event will be held at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco, the same venue where Apple and Microsoft are hosting their own respective developer conferences next month.

On the hardware front, Google may unveil a second-generation Nexus 7 to follow up the success of its first flagship tablet. After demonstrated that there's considerable interest for a $200 7-inch tablet, Google jumped right in.

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has made a name for himself by accurately calling Apple moves in advance. Kuo's supply chain sources now reiterate prior rumors that Google has switched from NVIDIA to Qualcomm for the brains of the new tablet. The next Nexus 7 might be powered by a Snapdragon instead of a Tegra this time around, and ship in June or July.

That's entirely reasonable, since NVIDIA made a conscious choice to push out its Tegra 4 schedule in order to pull in the Tegra 4i release. NVIDIA has been anxious to get into the integrated LTE game to challenge Qualcomm, and it was a necessary trade off that would inevitably translate into sacrificing some near-term design wins to accelerate the 4i's time to market. That strategic decision is largely why Tegra revenue dropped 22.2% to $103.1 million last quarter, and Tegra 4 sales aren't expected to ramp until the second half.

Asus is also expected to continue building the tablet. The OEM has benefited greatly from the Nexus partnership, with tablet volumes soaring ever since the Nexus 7 launched last summer.

Google is expected to bolster the display resolution to 1,920 x 1,200 for the 7-inch display. There should be some improvements in thickness and weight, and Google is likely going to stand pat at the $199 price point. That would translate into a loss of $5 to $10 per unit.

The iPad Mini is putting pressure on the low-end, but a Nexus 7 refresh could strengthen Google's defense. Apple isn't expected to release Retina iPad Minis until this fall, giving Google a couple of months. Microsoft is also about to move downmarket with a rumored 7.5-inch Surface, in recognition of the growing consumer preference toward smaller tablets.

@ Global Info Center
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