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Submission NSA Codebreaker Challenge ->

mikejuk writes: NSA, the United States National Security Agency, is challenging university students in the US to exercise their reverse engineering and low-level code analysis skills while working on a fictitious, yet realistic, security threat.
The challenge consists of multiple tiers that become progressively harder. Last year, only 10 students solved the fourth and final tier problem but perhaps the fact that for this year's challenges prizes will be awarded to the first 50 students to complete all four tasks will attract more entrants.
"To solve these challenges, you will need to analyze the executable file with low-level tools such as a disassembler, debugger, hex editor, Linux binutils, etc"
You can only register for this challenge using a valid .edu address.
"Not every problem is the same. Each participant who downloads the problem receives a identifier with slight modifications to the problem, which gives everyone a unique experience."
The Codebreaker Challenge site FAQ points out that reverse engineering is a crucial skill for those involved in the fight against malware, advanced persistent threats, and similar malicious cyber activities and admits that:
"as the organization tasked with protecting U.S. government national security information systems, NSA is looking to develop these skills in university students (and prospective future employees!)"

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Submission It Is Programmer Day - Why So Apathetic? ->

mikejuk writes: Programmers Day comes around every year and yet each year it seems to be increasingly ignored. Why, when we are trying to encourage children to take up all things computing, is Programmers Day such a big flop? If you've not encountered it before, the idea is that on a specific day we celebrate computer programmers. It is designated to be on the 256th day of the year, which in most years is September 13th and this year, 2015, it falls on a Sunday. If you don't know why its the 256th day then you probably aren't a programmer and there is no point in explaining.
The usual suggestions for things to do on programmer day include telling jokes and other fairly lame stuff. How about instead:
Teach someone to program just a little bit.
Explain why programming is a mode of thought that is incredibly effective.
Point out to an assembled group of people what the world would be like without software.
Describe how much better the world would be if EVERYONE could think algorithmically so getting to real solutions rather than just expressing vague desires about "a better world".
So what are you going to do to stop this opportunity slipping by unmarked?


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Submission Firefox, Chrome & Opera Block Access To Routers ->

mikejuk writes: Due to a heavy-handed approach to security Firefox, Chrome and Opera are causing problems. They block access to routers with inadequate SSL reporting the cryptic message, "Server has a weak ephemeral Diffie-Hellman public key". Web browsers are becoming increasingly authoritarian in their approach to implementing security. The latest step to protect the innocent user is causing a lot of trouble for network administrators. Instead of offering a choice to proceed the browsers are blocking access and telling the user to get the server fixed. There is a way to temporarily make Firefox proceed with the unsafe connection, but so far no fix has been found for Chrome and Opera.
There are horror stories of users trying to get important documents from faulty servers and being unable to do so because of the block and suffering financial or even legal penalties as a consequence but the biggest problem in being caused when admins attempt to access network devices. In these cases the browser simply refusing to connect means that the devices cannot be managed and without access to the management interface they cannot be updated either. The only option is to find a browser that will connect- currently IE and Edge will both warn the user but continue with the connection if required. Even then there is often no way to change the connection security. This problem is affecting routers from a wide range of manufacturers including Netgear and Cisco. Some of the routers don't have a management option to change the security of the management connection and in this case the users have no choice but to drop Chrome, Firefox and Opera and work with IE or Edge.
The final blow is that often routers, vpn boxes, WiFi access points etc. are left alone doing their jobs for long periods of time until something goes wrong. When such a crisis happens the user is also immediately confronted with another problem in that they are locked out of the management UI and it couldn't happen at a worse time.
It is time that browser builders realized that they can and should protect innocent users, but they should not do so by force

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Submission Steve Wozniak "Steve Jobs played no role in my designs for the Apple I & II"->

mikejuk writes: In a recent interview with very lucky 14-year old Sarina Khemchandani for her website, ReachAStudent, Steve Wozniak was more than precise about the role of Steve Jobs.
"Steve Jobs played no role at all in any of my designs of the Apple I and Apple II computer and printer interfaces and serial interfaces and floppy disks and stuff that I made to enhance the computers. He did not know technology. He’d never designed anything as a hardware engineer, and he didn’t know software. He wanted to be important, and the important people are always the business people. So that’s what he wanted to do.
The Apple II computer, by the way, was the only successful product Apple had for its first 10 years, and it was all done, for my own reasons for myself, before Steve Jobs even knew it existed."
He also says a lot of interesting things in the three ten minute videos about life, electronics and education.

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Submission FlatCam - Who Needs A Lens? ->

mikejuk writes: Computational photography has more or less killed off the classic approach to photography. But a camera without a lens — surely some sort of joke?
The idea is to get rid of the lens completely and produce a camera that is as thin as the sensor. The way to make it work is to place a coded mask over the sensor. The input to each sensor element is then a known combination of light coming from different parts of the scene. As the mask is known, the outputs of the sensors can be unscrambled using linear algebra to produce an image.
This is how FlatCam, a project at Rice and Carnegie Mellon, works and they built light camera with the mask placed on top of the protective glass plate making the spacing 0.5mm. This produces a camera element that isn't much thicker than the basic sensor.
The researchers suggest that Flatcam could be used in clothes or more importantly wallpaper.
Consider this spy scenario — you look around a room for hidden cameras but do you notice the colored spot on the wallpaper. It's not a lens. However now no lens doesn't mean no camera.

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Submission Do We Need More Emojis?->

mikejuk writes: The Unicode Consortium has accepted another 38 emoji characters as candidates for Unicode 9.0, with new characters including bacon and a duck on the list. Why could we possibly need a duck?
Many of the new characters are the ‘other half’ of gender-matched pairs, so the Dancer emoji (which is usually rendered as Apple’s salsa dancing woman) gets a Man Dancing emoji, who frankly looks like a cross between John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and your dad at the wedding disco.Would Salsa Dancing Woman really dance with Dad Dancer?
I doubt it.
Other additions include carrot, cucumber, and avocado, and bacon.
How did the emoji world survive without a bacon emoji until now?
The list of additions is rounded off with new animal emojis. Some are the ‘missing’ zodiac symbols (lion and crab). Others are as baffling as ever – is there *really* a demand for a mallard duck? Sorry it's in fact a drake!

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Submission Now You Can Buy The Raspberry Pi HAT That Went Into Space ->

mikejuk writes: OK it hasn't actually got to space just yet but it is on its way. When the Sense HAT was announced everyone seemed envious that this multifunction add-on board was available to space men but not to us IoT men. Now it is and for just $30.
In case you missed it
this is a project that will see two Raspberry Pis, two Sense HATs and a lot of code written by UK school kids hosted on the International Space Station. It has joypad, an 8x8 color 15 bit color LED display, a pressure/temperature sensor, a temperature/humidity sensor and an accelerometer/gyroscope/magnetic field sensor. All run by a built in ATTiny88 which can be reprogrammed by the Pi.
This may be useful on the International Space Station but there are a lot more uses for it on the ground at $30. As the Raspberry Pi Foundation puts it — we are already imagining the birth of a million Pi-controlled stunt quadcopters.

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Submission Leaked Mozilla Tax Return Reveals $800K Top Salaries->

mikejuk writes: The Mozilla Foundation is a non-profit organization that is exempt from income tax. Even so it has to complete an annual return for the United States Internal Revenue Status. The completed form for 2013 was posted to an apparently recently commissioned server by an anonymous agent
It reveals that in 2013 Mozilla's top brass earned quite a bit more than its foot soldiers: Mitchell Baker, Chair of the Mozilla Foundation (total $801K); Brendan Eich, who back in 2013 was Mozzilla's CTO and a Director of the Board ($779K) and James Cook, Treasurer ($613K).
Mozilla portrays itself, not only as an open source community, but also as the champion of ideals of equality and morality — look at how it treated Brendan Eich. Sympathy for Mozilla's "fat cats" isn't helped by the fact it is currently seen as an organization which is failing its loyal community of users and volunteer developers.
Currently Mozilla Firefox is number three in the list of top browsers could it drop lower as its loyal users decide that it is no different from Google's Chrome or Microsoft's Edge?

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Submission Computer Finds New Pentagonal Tiling - With Some Human Help ->

mikejuk writes: A new pentagonal tiling of the plane has just been discovered. It is the first in 30 years and we still don't know if there are any more.
You can make pentagons fit together if you move away from regular pentagons — that is, use convex pentagons with different lengths of sides and angles.
As of the start of this year (2015) 14 such pentagonal tilings were known. The first five were found in 1918, three more in 1968 and it was claimed there were no more. A ninth was found in 1975 and then amateur mathematician, Marjorie Rice, found four more in 1976 and 1977. The set seemed complete with a 14th convex pentagon tiling found in 1985 and things went quiet for 30 years ... until this year.
Casey Mann, Jennifer McLoud, and David Von Derau have just discovered a 15th tiling using a computer program. The pentagon itself doesn't look that impressive but the pattern it makes when used to tile the plane is another matter.
The pentagon is the last of the n-sided tiling shapes to be holding out on us. You can tile the plane with any triangle or quadrilateral. There are known to be just three types of convex hexagon that tile the plane and that's it. No other n-sided convex objects tile the plane, but we still don't know how many possibilities there are for the pentagon — is the count closed at the fifteen we now know?
"The team will look for additional tiles by running a tweaked version of Von Derau’s computer program on Hyak, the high performance computers on the UW Seattle campus."

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Submission Your Phone's Battery Leaks - Your Id That Is ->

mikejuk writes: You can run, but you can't hide. It is amazing how innocent technological features turn out to have a hidden dark side. So it is with the battery API. Designed to help out with running out of juice, it now seems that it can be used to track you even if you don't want to be tracked.
The battery API was approved as part of HTML5 by the W3C and as it was intended to report your battery status no permission was deemed necessary to use it. This means any web site, app or 3rd party script can ask for your battery status.
What could possibly go wrong?
According to Belgian researchers a lot. They have found a way of using the battery status information to track you accurately for 30 seconds. This is enough time to identify you during a change from public to private browsing or clearing cookies and getting a new one. In some cases it is even possible to work out the capacity of the battery and this doesn't change quickly providing a way to track over longer periods of time.
A solution might be to ask user's permission to supply battery status — but most innocent users would simply agree. After all what harm can there be in a website knowing your battery level?

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Submission MORPHs Roam The Park Looking For Children To Play ->

mikejuk writes: Robots, taken at the widest interpretation of an active mechanism with some computer control, are getting cheaper all the time. This means you can start to think of using them for non-essential things like — fun and art. The MORPH — Mobile Reconfigurable Polyhedron — an octahedral robot has twelve actuated struts and moves by changing their length so as to overtopple in a determined direction. Let loose in a park a morph is free to roam around finding people to play with it. It resembles a mobile climbing frame and the idea that it might pursue small children and insist that they play with it is both amusing and spooky. Just wait until it manages to trap a small child in its actuators! See the video of it roaming a London park.
The current prototype is around 1.5 meters high and can withstand an imposed load of 30 kilograms and there are plans for a bigger version at twice the height. Now that will really be an autonomous roving climbing frame!
Let us hope it doesn't go rogue.
Just in case — I, for one, welcome our robotic climbing frame overlords...

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Submission Google Patents AI-> 2

mikejuk writes: Google may have been wowing the web with its trippy images from neural networks but meanwhile it has just revealed that it has applied for at least six patents on fundamental neural network and AI. This isn't good for academic research or for the development of AI by companies. The patents are on very specific things invented by Geoffrey Hinton's team like using drop out during training, or modifying data to provide additional training cases, but also include very general idea such as classification itself. If Google was granted a patent on classification it would cover just about every method used for pattern recognition!
You might make the charitable assumption that Google has just patented the ideas so that it can protect them — i.e. to stop other more evil companies from patenting them and extracting fees from open source implementations of machine learning libraries. Google has just started an AI arms race and you can expect others to follow.

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Submission Detecting Nudity With AI And OpenCV ->

mikejuk writes: AI gets put to some strange tasks. Not satisfied with the Turing test or inventing Skynet Algorithmia have put together a nudity detector. Take one face detector from OpenCV and use it to find a nose. Take the skin color from the nose and then see what parts of the body are skin colored in the photo. If there is lot of skin color shout NUDE! Actually the website lets you put in your ow photos and classifies them into Rude or Good and gives you a confidence estimate. Obama with his top off — no problem but the familiar image processing test photo of Lena the pin up girl rates a "Rude".
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Submission Amazon Opens Up Echo's Alexa To Developers ->

mikejuk writes: Amazon announced Echo. a wireless speaker with a built-in, voice-controlled, personal assistant called Alexa in November last year. Seven months down the line, Echo became available for purchase in the US and UK and will begin shipping on July 14th.In future Alexa will no longer be tied exclusively to Echo. Amazon has announced that the Alexa Voice Service (AVS), the cloud-based service behind Echo, is being made available for free to third party hardware makers who want to integrate Alexa into their devices.To propel developers and hardware manufacturers interest in voice technology and their adoption of Alexa, Amazon has also announced a $100 Million Alexa Fund, open to anyone, startups to established brands, with an innovative idea for using voice technology.
Could it be Amazon's Alexa that beats Siri and Cortana into the home in devices other than mobile phones and tablets?

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Submission Woz To Be Immortalized In Wax ->

mikejuk writes: Having already made wax figures of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, the Madame Tussauds museum recently put out a call for nominations for who should be next, with the stipulation that the nominees have a connection with the Bay Area. The shortlist was then whittled down to ten, including Google co-founder Larry Page, Tesla's Elon Musk, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo.
Any of them would look great as wax figures, but outcome of the public vote was a clear winner — Steve Wozniak. Once his statue is complete Woz will be on display next to Steve Jobs in San Francisco and an ideal setting for a selfie.

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Luck, that's when preparation and opportunity meet. -- P.E. Trudeau