Geek Stuff

Gyrocopter Pilot Appears In Court; Judge Bans Him From D.C.

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mpicpp writes The Florida mail carrier accused of landing a gyrocopter outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday was charged in federal court Thursday and has been barred from returning to the District of Columbia or flying any aircraft, officials said. Douglas Hughes, 61, was charged with violating aircraft registration requirements, a felony, and violating national defense airspace, a misdemeanor. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to three years in prison for the felony and one year in prison for the airspace violation. U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson also barred Hughes from the District of Columbia, except for court appearances, and said he must stay away from the Capitol, White House and nearby areas while he is there. He will also have to hand over his passport.

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MakerBot Lays Off 20 Percent of Its Employees

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Jason Koebler writes MakerBot fired roughly 20 percent of its staff Friday. Figures from 2014 placed the company's ranks at 500, meaning the cuts could equate to roughly 100 employees. The orders came from new CEO Jonathan Jaglom, Motherboard was told. Employees are apparently being led out of the company's Brooklyn office by security today. "It's about 20 percent of staff," a MakerBot representative, who asked not to be identified because she had not received approval to speak to the press, told Motherboard. "Everyone suspected that something would be coming with the new CEO, and that there would be restructuring coming."

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Exploit For Crashing Minecraft Servers Made Public

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An anonymous reader writes "After nearly two years of waiting for Mojang to fix a security vulnerability that can be used to crash Minecraft servers, programmer Ammar Askar has released a proof of concept exploit for the flaw in the hopes that this will force them to do something about it. "Mojang is no longer a small indie company making a little indie game, their software is used by thousands of servers, hundreds of thousands people play on servers running their software at any given time. They have a responsibility to fix and properly work out problems like this," he noted." Here is Askar's own post on the exploit, and his frustration with the response he's gotten to disclosing it to the developers.

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NailO is a thumbnail-sized Bluetooth trackpad (that you wear on your thumbnail)

Liliputing -

Say you’re cooking dinner while reading a recipe on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. You want to scroll down the page to see the next step, but your hands are tied up prepping food (or so messy that you don’t want to touch the screen and leave smudge marks all over it). Researchers at the […]

NailO is a thumbnail-sized Bluetooth trackpad (that you wear on your thumbnail) is a post from: Liliputing

Is This Justice? Charging an Eight Grader with a Felony for “Hacking”

EFF's Deeplinks -

A 14-year-old eighth grader in Florida, Domanik Green, has been charged with a felony for “hacking” his teacher’s computer. The “hacking” in this instance was using a widely known password to change the desktop background of his teacher’s computer with an image of two men kissing. The outrage of being charged with a felony for what essentially amounts to a misguided prank should be familiar to those who follow how computer crimes are handled by our justice system.

Usually, when it comes to bad laws related to computer hacking, or unauthorized access, the focus is the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). However, this instance highlights that many states have their own version of the federal statute, with their own overbroad and insensible language, including Florida.

In fact, the Florida statute is even harsher than the CFAA. A lowest level offense under CFAA (1030(c)(2)(A)) is a misdemeanor, but in Florida, the lowest level offense (815.06(2)(A)) is a felony. Furthermore, the Florida statue also neglects to define what “authorized” or “unauthorized” means, and under these facts a reasonable person may think they are authorized if the passwords had been widely used by students.

In explaining why felony charges were brought against the teenager, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco stated:

Even though some might say this is just a teenage prank, who knows what this teenager might have done...

The teacher’s computer reportedly had sensitive encrypted information related to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). However, the school and the sheriff have admitted that they found no evidence that the student tampered with or even intended to tamper with those files. Additionally, it has been reported that the school had terrible operational security where weak passwords, teachers entering passwords in front of students, and students regularly using teacher credentials, was prevalent. This further highlights the complications of using a statue to prosecute crimes that does not clearly define what it aims to criminalize.

Undeterred, the Sheriff goes on to say:

If information comes back to us and we get evidence (that other kids have done it), they're going to face the same consequences…

The arbitrary practice of how computer crime laws are applied is not just an exclusive feature of federal prosecutorial discretion, but local law enforcement also engages in such behavior. The idea of giving prosecutors and police discretion on charging decisions is generally seen as a good thing, but the plight of Domanik Green shows otherwise. The aggressive use of discretion here could have long-lasting consequences for a 14-year old child who will deal with the consequences of a felony­­—difficult job prospects, loss of voting rights, inability to carry a firearm, etc.—for a juvenile prank.

Charging decisions and punishment should be proportional to the harm a person causes. The only thing that “making an example” out of Domanik Green accomplishes is to make an example of how out of whack our computer crime laws—and the prosecutorial discretion that accompanies it—are. We call on Pasco County to do the sensible thing and not ruin Domanik Green’s life. This is not justice.

Related Issues: Computer Fraud And Abuse Act Reform
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Microsoft Open Technologies Is Closing: Good Or Bad News For Open Source?

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BrianFagioli writes When Microsoft Open Technologies was founded as a subsidiary of Microsoft — under Steve Ballmer's reign — many in the open source community hailed it as a major win, and it was. Today, however, the subsidiary is shutting down and being folded into Microsoft. While some will view this as a loss for open source, I disagree; Microsoft has evolved so much under Satya Nadella, that a separate subsidiary is simply no longer needed. Microsoft could easily be the world's biggest vendor of open source software, which is probably one reason some people don't like the term.

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When You're the NFL Commish, Getting E-Medical Record Interoperability's a Cinch

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Lucas123 writes: The NFL recently completed the rollout of an electronic medical record (EMR) system and picture archiving & communication system (PACS) that allows mobile access for teams to player's health information at the swipe of a finger — radiological images, GPS tracking information, and detailed health evaluation data back to grade school. But as NFL football players are on the road a lot, often they're not being treated at hospitals or by specialists whose own EMRs are integrated with the NFL's; it's a microcosm of the industry-wide healthcare interoperability issue facing the U.S. today. The NFL, however, found achieving EMR interoperability isn't so much a technological issue as a political one, and if you have publicity on your side, it's not that difficult. NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, who led the NFL's EMR rollout, said a call from a team owner to a hospital administrator typically does the trick. Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell once made the call to a hospital CEO, "and things started moving in the next couple of days," McKenna-Doyle said. "They're very aware of the publicity."

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Microsoft Office preview for Windows 10 phones coming in April

Liliputing -

Microsoft is splitting its suite of Office apps for Windows in two: there’s Office for Desktop and Office Universal. The next version of the desktop suite will be Office 2016, which will be the latest version of the company’s long-running office software with a new design and new features specifically aimed at power users. Office Universal […]

Microsoft Office preview for Windows 10 phones coming in April is a post from: Liliputing

Scientists Locate Sunken, Radioactive Aircraft Carrier Off California Coast

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HughPickens.com writes: Aaron Kinney reports in the San Jose Mercury News that scientists have captured the first clear images of the USS Independence, a radioactivity-polluted World War II aircraft carrier that rests on the ocean floor 30 miles off the coast of Half Moon Bay. The Independence saw combat at Wake Island and other decisive battles against Japan in 1944 and 1945 and was later blasted with radiation in two South Pacific nuclear tests. Assigned as a target vessel for the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests, she was placed within one-half-mile of ground zero and was engulfed in a fireball and heavily damaged during the 1946 nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll. The veteran ship did not sink, however (though her funnels and island were crumpled by the blast), and after taking part in another explosion on 25 July, the highly radioactive hull was later taken to Pearl Harbor and San Francisco for further tests and was finally scuttled off the coast of San Francisco, California, on 29 January 1951. "This ship is an evocative artifact of the dawn of the atomic age, when we began to learn the nature of the genie we'd uncorked from the bottle," says James Delgado. "It speaks to the 'Greatest Generation' — people's fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers who served on these ships, who flew off those decks and what they did to turn the tide in the Pacific war." Delgado says he doesn't know how many drums of radioactive material are buried within the ship — perhaps a few hundred. But he is doubtful that they pose any health or environmental risk. The barrels were filled with concrete and sealed in the ship's engine and boiler rooms, which were protected by thick walls of steel. The carrier itself was clearly "hot" when it went down and and it was packed full of fresh fission products and other radiological waste at the time it sank. The Independence was scuttled in what is now the Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary, a haven for wildlife, from white sharks to elephant seals and whales. Despite its history as a dumping ground Richard Charter says the radioactive waste is a relic of a dark age before the enviornmental movement took hold. "It's just one of those things that humans rather stupidly did in the past that we can't retroactively fix.""

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EFF's Podcasting Patent Win Highlights a Disturbing Trend

EFF's Deeplinks -

It's time to take a closer look at EFF's recent victory against bogus patents and highlight what we and others concerned about our patent system are up against. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), acting on our request for review, last week invalidated claims from a patent Personal Audio LLC was using to assert that it invented podcasting.  At stake was the right of bloggers, podcasters, and broadcasters to air content, including popular shows like "This American Life"  and "Stuff You Should Know," online and operate their websites free of costly "settle or we’ll sue" threats from Personal Audio. The USPTO's decision works to stop the self-described "holding company" from using these patent claims to go after more companies, after previously targeting comedian and podcaster Adam Corolla, CBS, and others with patent lawsuits.

Personal Audio claimed that it invented the process of updating a website regularly with new, related content creating a series or episodes—basically podcasting—in 1996. EFF proved to the USPTO that claiming ownership over this process was preposterous—putting a series of shows online for everyone to enjoy had been around since at least 1993. Early examples include Internet pioneer Carl Malamud’s "Geek of the Week," although the USPTO relied on publications discussing the work of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and CNN’s online news program.

Personal Audio’s patent is part of a disturbing trend involving claims of invention and ownership over obvious processes lacking the kind of innovation for which the patent system was created to nurture and protect. We’re seeing entities claiming they invented all types of technologies that are nothing more than a formerly paper-based task making the natural progression to the digital world.  These ''inventions'' include things like the screen that asks users ''are you sure'' before paying bills online. That patent’s claims, asserted by Joao Bock Transactions Systems, are written in vague terms describing a ''processing device'' that ''processes information regarding a banking transaction'' and ''generates a signal containing information for authorizing or disallowing the transaction.''

The Personal Audio patent we challenged described an ''apparatus for disseminating a series of episodes represented by media files via the Internet as said episodes become available.'' The company’s lawyer sought to convince the USPTO that CNN’s online news show wasn’t an example of  invalidating ''prior art''—patent lingo for the same or pretty much the same invention—because the CNN broadcasts were about different things,  such as saving whales one day and bad weather in California on the next. This, Personal Audio argued, meant that CNN didn’t show a system with episodes. Sound like a stretch? Here’s how USPTO Administrative Patent Judge Trenton Ward reacted to that reasoning at the December oral arguments hearing in our case: ''So are you saying an episode indicates a series that must be watched in a specific order?'' he asked Personal Audio attorney Michael Femal. ''You can watch them out of order if you would like to, Your Honor, but there is a given order to episodes,'' Femal said. Even a show like Twilight Zone isn’t episodic because each program tells a different story, Femal continued, to which Ward responded, ''Twilight Zone, no episodes in Twilight Zone?''

The judge may have felt he was entering the Twilight Zone as Femal then went on to argue that the earliest podcasters didn’t explain they were using servers to put their content online, and since the patent distinguishes that podcasting involves servers, that meant it invented podcasting first. CNN described its system as an internet newsroom ''accessed via the World Wide Web,'' Ward told Femal. ''It is your argument that a person of skill in the art reading that would not understand that that would require a server..?'' Ward asked. (A ''person of skill'' is patent lingo for someone familiar with the technology at issue. The concept is used to determine whether the technology is truly an invention or obvious to a skilled person.)  Femal said people would realize that a processor was involved but would have no idea ''what is behind the curtain.''

In their April 10 decision, Judge Ward and his two fellow patent judges rejected Personal Audio’s arguments that episodes must be in a given order and have the same theme and also ruled that claiming computers are used to post to the web ''would be trivial to'' a person familiar with how the Internet works. The fact that time and money is spent arguing these obvious points is part of what’s wrong with our patent system. Our fight to shield podcasting from Personal Audio’s bogus patent sword was supported by more than a thousand people who donated to our Save Podcasting campaign. The company tried to get a federal judge to force us to disclose the donors—but we successfully persuaded the judge to reject that request, and ultimately won our petition before the USPTO to invalidate the patent. The case highlights once again how badly reform is needed to fix our patent system so that true innovation is encouraged, rewarded, and protected and costly fights over whether the Internet relies on computers are a thing of the past.

Related Issues: PatentsPatent Busting ProjectPatent TrollsRelated Cases: EFF v. Personal Audio LLC
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Social Science Journal 'Bans' Use of p-values

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sandbagger writes: Editors of Basic and Applied Social Psychology announced in a February editorial that researchers who submit studies for publication would not be allowed to use common statistical methods, including p-values. While p-values are routinely misused in scientific literature, many researchers who understand its proper role are upset about the ban. Biostatistician Steven Goodman said, "This might be a case in which the cure is worse than the disease. The goal should be the intelligent use of statistics. If the journal is going to take away a tool, however misused, they need to substitute it with something more meaningful."

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Deals of the Day (4-17-2015)

Liliputing -

The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 smartphone is expected to ship in May, and we had been hearing that it would go up for pre-order next week for $250. But the company let us know that it’s already available for early pre-order for $200 if you order before April 21st. That seems like a decent price for a […]

Deals of the Day (4-17-2015) is a post from: Liliputing

FBI Accuses Researcher of Hacking Plane, Seizes Equipment

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chicksdaddy writes: The Feds are listening, and they really can't take a joke. That's the apparent moral of security researcher Chris Roberts' legal odyssey on Wednesday, which saw him escorted off a plane in Syracuse by two FBI agents and questioned for four hours over a humorous tweet Roberts posted about his ability to hack into the cabin control systems of the Boeing 737 he was flying. Roberts (aka @sidragon1) joked that he could "start playing with EICAS messages," a reference to the Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System. Roberts was traveling to Syracuse to give a presentation. He said local law enforcement and FBI agents boarded the plane on the tarmac and escorted him off. He was questioned for four hours, with officers alleging they had evidence he had tampered with in-flight systems on an earlier leg of his flight from Colorado to Chicago. Roberts said the agents questioned him about his tweet and whether he tampered with the systems on the United flight -something he denies doing. Roberts had been approached earlier by the Denver office of the FBI which warned him away from further research on airplanes. The FBI was also looking to approach airplane makers Boeing and Airbus and wanted him to rebuild a virtualized environment he built to test airplane vulnerabilities to verify what he was saying. Roberts refused, and the FBI seized his encrypted laptop and storage devices and has yet to return them, he said. The agents said they wished to do a forensic analysis of his laptop. Roberts said he declined to provide that information and requested a warrant to search his equipment. As of Friday, Roberts said he has not received a warrant.

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AMD exit “dense server” business, puts SeaMicro brand to sleep

Liliputing -

AMD may be best known for making processors and graphics cards that are used in some laptop and desktop computers. But a few years ago AMD acquired a company called SeaMicro which had been building “dense servers” that packed hundreds of small, low-power chips together to create high-performance, low-power servers. Now AMD is getting out of […]

AMD exit “dense server” business, puts SeaMicro brand to sleep is a post from: Liliputing

StarTalk TV Show With Neil DeGrasse Tyson Starts Monday

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An anonymous reader writes: Neil DeGrasse Tyson of StarTalk Radio and Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey has a TV show starting on Monday, April 20, at 11 p.m. ET/10 p.m. CT on NatGeo. Based on Dr. Tyson's prominent podcast of the same name, the hour-long, weekly series infuses pop culture with science, while bringing together comedians and celebrities to delve into a wide range of topics. Each week, in a private interview, Dr. Tyson explores all the ways science and technology have influenced the lives and livelihoods of his guests, whatever their background.

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Amazon pulls the plug on TestDrive (service for trying Android apps before downloading them)

Liliputing -

So long Amazon TestDrive. I’d kind of forgotten you existed. When Amazon launched its Appstore for Android, one of the most interesting features was the option to try apps in your web browser before downloading them. This could let you figure out whether a paid app was worth your money without spending a penny. A year […]

Amazon pulls the plug on TestDrive (service for trying Android apps before downloading them) is a post from: Liliputing

Breakthrough In Artificial Photosynthesis Captures CO2 In Acetate

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An anonymous reader writes: Researchers from Berkeley Lab and the U.S. Dept. of Energy have created an artificial photosynthetic process that capture carbon dioxide in acetate, "the most common building block today for biosynthesis." The research has been published in the journal Nano Letters (abstract). "Atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at its highest level in at least three million years, primarily as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. Yet fossil fuels, especially coal, will remain a significant source of energy to meet human needs for the foreseeable future. Technologies for sequestering carbon before it escapes into the atmosphere are being pursued but all require the captured carbon to be stored, a requirement that comes with its own environmental challenges. ... By combining biocompatible light-capturing nanowire arrays with select bacterial populations, the new artificial photosynthesis system offers a win/win situation for the environment: solar-powered green chemistry using sequestered carbon dioxide."

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Xiaomi Mi Note Pro smartphone pre-orders begin May 6th (in China)

Liliputing -

The Xiaomi Mi Note Pro is a smartphone with a 5.7 inch, 2560 x 1440 pixel display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. The company first introduced the Mi Note Pro in January, but it will finally be available for pre-order starting May 6th… at least for folks living […]

Xiaomi Mi Note Pro smartphone pre-orders begin May 6th (in China) is a post from: Liliputing

Scientists Close To Solving the Mystery of Where Dogs Came From

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sciencehabit writes: For years researchers have argued over where and when dogs arose. Some say Europe, some say Asia. Some say 15,000 years ago, some say more than 30,000 years ago. Now an unprecedented collaboration of archaeologists and geneticists from around the world is attempting to solve the mystery once and for all. They're analyzing thousands of bones, employing new technologies, and trying to put aside years of bad blood and bruised egos. If the effort succeeds, the former competitors will uncover the history of man's oldest friend — and solve one of the greatest mysteries of domestication.

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