First time accepted submitter ozduo writes in with news about Australia's alleged involvement with the ongoing NSA spying program. "Intelligence expert Professor Des Ball says the Australian Signals Directorate — formerly known as the Defense Signals Directorate — is sharing information with the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA is the agency at the heart of whistleblower Edward Snowden's leaks, and has recently been accused of tapping into millions of phone calls of ordinary citizens in France, Germany and Spain. Mr Ball says Australia has been monitoring the Asia Pacific region for the US using local listening posts. 'You can't get into the information circuits and play information warfare successfully unless you're into the communications of the higher commands in [the] various countries in our neighborhood,' he told Lateline. Mr Ball says Australia has four key facilities that are part of the XKeyscore program, the NSA's controversial computer system that searches and analyses vast amounts of internet data. They include the jointly-run Pine Gap base near Alice Springs, a satellite station outside Geraldton in Western Australia, a facility at Shoal Bay, near Darwin, and a new center in Canberra."
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An anonymous reader writes in with a neat project Microsoft is working on to translate sign language with a Kinect. "Microsoft Research is now using the Kinect to bridge the gap between folks who don't speak the same language, whether they can hear or not. The Kinect Sign Language Translator is a research prototype that can translate sign language into spoken language and vice versa. The best part? It does it all in real time."
dinscott writes "During Social Engineer Capture the Flag contest, one of the most prominent and popular annual events at DEF CON 21, a pool of 10 men and 10 women, from diverse backgrounds and experience levels, tested their social engineering abilities against 10 of the biggest global corporations, including Apple, Boeing, Exxon, General Dynamics and General Electric. The complete results of the competition are in, and they don't bode well for businesses."
astroengine writes "Kepler-78b may be an exoplanet notable for being approximately Earth-sized and likely possessing a rocky surface plus iron core, but that's where any similarity to our planet ends. It has an extremely tight orbit around sun-like star Kepler-78, completing one 'year' in only 8.5 hours. It orbits so close in fact that the alien world's surface temperature soars to 2,000 degrees hotter than Earth's. Referring to Kepler-78b as a 'rocky' world is therefore a misnomer — it's a hellish lava world. But this is just a side-show to the real conundrum behind Kepler-78b: It shouldn't exist at all. 'This planet is a complete mystery,' said astronomer David Latham of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in a press release. 'We don't know how it formed or how it got to where it is today. What we do know is that it's not going to last forever.'"
Hallowe'en is my favorite holiday: I like seeing costumes (and walking around in my own), and seeing what people do to decorate their houses, yards, etc. For the second year in a row though, I've failed to come up with a really good scheme for making my own place appropriately spooky. So, in hopes of loosing some inspiration for myself and others, I ask today what you're doing to spookify your surroundings (or your person) tomorrow, especially if it means using technology in interesting ways. Sensor-activated scary sounds or lights? An Arduino or Raspberry Pi-controlled costume? Elaborate trap-door? Infrasonic hackle-raising subwoofer install? Maybe one year Alek Komarnitsky will switch to Hallowe'en instead of Christmas, and offer a webcam-equipped remote-controllable haunt.
Nerval's Lobster writes "It's not clear whether managers at Lenovo were too starstruck to say 'no,' or whether the once-respected PC maker is having so much trouble hiring technical help it genuinely intends to allow lowbrow-sitcom staple Ashton Kutcher serve as both celebrity spokesman and full-on product engineer. Lenovo announced that it had hired Kutcher as a product engineer who will 'work with the company's engineering teams around the world to develop and market the Yoga line of tablets by providing input and decision-making into design, specifications, software and usage scenarios.' Kutcher – former Calvin Klein underwear model, star of such quality entertainment as That '70s Show, Punk'd, current star of Two-and-a-Half Men and, most recently, portrayer of Steve Jobs in the biopic Jobs – has a successful track record of investing in tech companies, Lenovo's announcement said as partial explanation for the arrangement. Kutcher also studied biomechanical engineering as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa, which USA Today and other news outlets used to help bolster the idea that the star of Dude, Where's My Car? could function effectively as part of an engineering product-development team. Kutcher did list his planned major at the university as biomechanical engineering when he enrolled in 1996, but he dropped out during the 1997-98 school year. He did found A-Grade Investments, which has been involved in or funded tech companies including Spotify, Path, Airbnb and Uber, according to Lenovo."
MojoKid writes "Rumors around the what and when of Google's upcoming Nexus 5 smartphone have been plentiful, and ahead of the supposed release date on Halloween, a benchmark score for the handset has slipped out from Rightware, and it's downright impressive. According to Rightware's Power Board, the Nexus 5 delivered the second-highest Benchmark X gaming score among smartphones, behind only the iPhone 5S, making it the most powerful Android-based handset in the land. The LG-made phone shares a GPU (the Adreno 330) with the third-place Sharp Aquos SHL23 but bested the latter handset with a score of 14.27 to 13.10. A leaked user manual revealed that the Nexus 5 will boast a full HD 4.95-inch display, Snapdragon 800 processor (2.3GHz), 2GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB of onboard storage, and 8MP rear-facing and 1.3MP front-facing cameras."
stry_cat writes "Ed Bot makes the case against Gmail: 'Gmail was a breath of fresh air when it debuted. But this onetime alternative is showing signs that it's past its prime, especially if you want to use the service with a third-party client. That's the way Google wants it, which is why I've given up on Gmail after almost a decade.' Personally, I've always thought it odd that no other email provider ever adopted Gmails "search not sort" mentality. I've been a Gmail user since you needed an invitation to get an account. However Gmail has been steadily moving towards a more traditional email experience. Plus there's the iGoogle disaster that got me looking into alternatives to everything Google."
ananyo writes "A U.S. team that claims to have built the world's most sensitive dark matter detector has completed its first data run without seeing any sign of the stuff. In a webcast presentation today at the Sanford Underground Laboratory in Lead, South Dakota, physicists working on the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment said they had seen nothing statistically compelling in 110 days of data-taking. 'We find absolutely no events consistent with any kind of dark matter,' says LUX co-spokesman Rick Gaitskell, a physicist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Physicists know from astronomical observations that 85% of the Universe's matter is dark, making itself known only through its gravitational pull on conventional matter. Some think it may also engage in weak but detectable collisions with ordinary matter, and several direct detection experiments have reported tantalizing hints of these candidate dark matter particles, known as WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles). Gaitskell says that it is now overwhelmingly likely that earlier sightings were statistical fluctuations. Despite the no-shows at XENON-100 and LUX, Laura Baudis, a physicist on XENON-100 at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, says physicists are not ready to give up on the idea of detecting WIMPs. They may simply have a lower mass, or may be more weakly interacting than originally hoped. 'We have some way to go,' she says."
barlevg writes "The Washington Post reports that, according to documents obtained from Edward Snowden, through their so-called 'MUSCULAR' initiative, the National Security Agency has exploited a weakness in the transfers between data centers, which Google and others pay a premium to send over secure fiber optic cables. The leaked documents include a post-it note as part of an internal NSA Powerpoint presentation showing a diagram of Google network traffic, an arrow pointing to the Google front-end server with text reading, 'SSL Added and Removed Here' with a smiley face. When shown the sketch by The Post and asked for comment, two engineers with close ties to Google responded with strings of profanity." The Washington Post report is also summarized at SlashBI. Also in can't-trust-the-government-not-to-spy news, an anonymous reader writes: "According to recent reports, the National Security Agency collects 'one-end foreign' Internet metadata as it passes through the United States. The notion is that purely domestic communications should receive greater protection, and that ordinary Americans won't send much personal information outside the country. A researcher at Stanford put this hypothesis to the test... and found that popular U.S. websites routinely pass browsing activity to international servers. Even the House of Representatives website was sending traffic to London. When the NSA vacuums up international Internet metadata, then, it's also snooping on domestic web browsing by millions of Americans."
cagraham writes "Facebook is currently testing software that would track user's cursor movements, as well as monitor how often a user's newsfeed was visible on their mobile phone, according to the Wall Street Journal. The additional data from such tracking would potentially let Facebook raise their ad prices, as they could deliver even more information about user's on-site behavior to advertisers, such as how long users hovered over specific ads. In order to analyze the extra data, Facebook will utilize a custom version of Hadoop."
Trailrunner7 writes "If espionage is the world's second-oldest profession, counterfeiting may be in the running to be third on that list. People have been trying to forge currency for just about as long as currency has been circulating, and anti-counterfeiting methods have tried to keep pace with the state of the art. The anti-counterfeiting technology in use today of course relies on computers and software, and like all software, it has bugs, as researchers at IOActive discovered when they reverse-engineered the firmware in a popular Euro currency verifier and found that they could insert their own firmware and force the machine to verify any piece of paper as a valid Euro note. 'The impact is obvious. An attacker with temporary physical access to the device could install customized firmware and cause the device to accept counterfeit money. Taking into account the types of places where these devices are usually deployed (shops, mall, offices, etc.) this scenario is more than feasible.'"
karijes writes with news that the Middle End Lisp Translator extension for GCC has hit 1.0: "MELT is a high-level domain specific language for extending, customizing and exploring the GNU Compiler Collection. It targets advanced GCC users, giving them ability to hook on almost any GCC stage during compilation or interpretation phases. This release brings a lot of new things." New features include defmacro and changes to the antiquote operator.
An anonymous reader writes "The U.S. Senate confirmed Tuesday the nomination of a new chairman to the Federal Communications Commission. Wheeler is a former investor and head of telecommunications industry groups. President Barack Obama said, when announcing Wheeler as his choice in May, that 'for more than 30 years, Tom has been at the forefront of some of the very dramatic changes that we've seen in the way we communicate and how we live our lives.'"
Sockatume writes "The BBC is reporting that Dell's Latitude 6430u Ultrabooks have an interesting characteristic you won't find in any Macbook Air: the palm rest emits an odor like cat urine. An issue with a manufacturing process is thought to be to blame. Although Dell has assured potential customers that the issue has been fixed, reports in the Dell support forum indicate that units with the novel fragrance continue to ship out to users. Dell staff state that the palm rest will be replaced by Dell at no cost, but only if the unit is still under warranty."
SD-Arcadia writes "Mozilla Blog: 'Cisco has announced today that they are going to release a gratis, high quality, open source H.264 implementation — along with gratis binary modules compiled from that source and hosted by Cisco for download. This move enables any open source project to incorporate Cisco's H.264 module without paying MEPG LA license fees. Of course, this is not a not a complete solution. In a perfect world, codecs, like other basic Internet technologies such as TCP/IP, HTTP, and HTML, would be fully open and free for anyone to modify, recompile, and redistribute without license agreements or fees. Mozilla is fully committed to working towards that better future. To that end, we are developing Daala, a fully open next generation codec. Daala is still under development, but our goal is to leapfrog H.265 and VP9, building a codec that will be both higher-quality and free of encumbrances.'"
Sabine Hauert writes "GimBall is a new flying robot that can collide with objects seamlessly. Generally, flying robots are programmed to avoid obstacles, which is far from easy in cluttered environments. Instead, researchers from the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at EPFL believe that flying robots should be able to physically interact with their surroundings. Take insects: they often collide with obstacles and continue flying afterwards. Their robot uses a passively rotating spherical cage to remain stable even after taking hits from all sides. This approach enables GimBall to fly in the most difficult places without complex sensors."
ananyo writes "He founded two genetic-sequencing companies and sold them for hundreds of millions of dollars. He helped to sequence the genomes of a Neanderthal man and James Watson, who co-discovered DNA's double helix. Now, entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg has set his sights on another milestone: finding the genes that underlie mathematical genius. Rothberg and physicist Max Tegmark, who is based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, have enrolled about 400 mathematicians and theoretical physicists from top-ranked US universities in a study dubbed 'Project Einstein'. They plan to sequence the participants' genomes using the Ion Torrent machine that Rothberg developed. Critics say that the sizes of these studies are too small to yield meaningful results for such complex traits. But Rothberg is pushing ahead. 'I'm not at all concerned about the critics,' he says, adding that he does not think such rare genetic traits could be useful in selecting for smarter babies. Some mathematicians, however, argue that maths aptitude is not born so much as made. 'I feel that the notion of "talent" may be overrated,' says Michael Hutchings, a mathematician also at Berkeley."
itwbennett writes "Taiwan is demanding Apple revise its mapping software and remove a label that describes the island as a province of China, rather than as a sovereign state. The complaint was lodged after local media reports said that users on the island had noticed the change in Apple's latest iOS and Mac OS versions. 'The maps don't acknowledge Taiwan as its own nation. We voiced our disapproval, and hope Apple will make the change,' an official with Taiwan's foreign ministry said Wednesday. This isn't the first time such a mistake was made. Google also labeled Taiwan as a Chinese province in 2005."
Dorianny writes "The Treasury Department declared it would no longer support any new coal-fired power plants around the world. By leading a coalition of like-minded countries including several European ones that have already announced similar intentions, they will effectively be able to block the World Bank and other international development banks from providing financing for new coal-fired plants. The policy is unlikely to amount to any real change as 75 percent of proposed coal-powered plants are in China and India, which do not rely on outside financing. It seems to me that the poorest, most underdeveloped nations that contribute the least to global emissions are the ones getting the short end of the stick from this policy."
mrspoonsi writes "Engadget reports 'California is technology's spiritual home in the US, where Teslas roam free, and Google Glass is already a social norm. Well, unless you're a member of the San Diego law enforcement that is — as one unlucky driver just found out. That commuter was Cecilia Abadie, and she's (rather fittingly) taken to Google+ after being given a ticket for driving while wearing her Explorer Edition.'"
Daniel_Stuckey writes "DARPA is funding research into drone-mounted laser weapons. The project, called Endurance, is referred to in DARPA's 2014 budget request as being tasked with the development of 'technology for pod-mounted lasers to protect a variety of airborne platforms from emerging and legacy EO/IR guided surface-to-air missiles.' The budget explains that it will be the first application of DARPA's much-discussed Excalibur laser defense system, which developed lasers powerful enough to use as weapons. With the new program, DARPA is focused on miniaturizing the technology, as well as 'developing high-precision target tracking, identification, and lightweight agile beam control to support target engagement. The program will also focus on the phenomenology of laser-target interactions and associated threat vulnerabilities." In other words, DARPA hopes that drone-mounted lasers will soon be able to shoot missiles out of the sky."
Philip Ross writes "Astronomers have warned that our planet is long overdue for a defense plan against catastrophic asteroid collisions. When it comes to deflecting Earth-obliterating celestial bodies, short of a superhero capable of punching the approaching rock back into outer space, there is no single force dedicated to stopping cosmic bullies from striking our little blue planet straight in the eye. That's why the United Nations said it will establish an International Asteroid Warning Group to intercept and divert dangerous asteroids."
mask.of.sanity writes "Researchers have demonstrated how controller area networks in cars can make vehicles appear to drive slower than their actual speed, manipulate brakes, wind back odometers and set off all kinds of alarms and lights from random fuzzing (video). The network weaknesses stem from a lack of authentication which they say is absent to improve performance. The researchers have also built a $25 open-source fuzzing tool to help others enter the field."
mrspoonsi writes "The BBC reports that police in the U.S. are now using 'GPS bullets,' a device they can shoot at fleeing vehicles in order to track them. They're designed to make high-speed chases safer. The pursuing police car presses a button, a lid pops open, and a GPS bullet is fired which becomes attached to the fleeing car. The car can then be tracked from a distance in real-time without the need for a high-speed pursuit."
vinces99 writes "During spring break the last five years, a University of Washington class has headed to the Nevada desert to launch rockets and learn more about the science and engineering involved. Sometimes, the launch would fail and a rocket smacked hard into the ground. This year, the session included launches from a balloon that were deliberately directed into a dry lakebed. Far from being failures, these were early tests of a concept that in the future could be used to collect and return samples from forbidding environments – an erupting volcano, a melting nuclear reactor or even an asteroid in space. 'We're trying to figure out what the maximum speed is that a rocket can survive a hard impact,' said Robert Winglee, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, who heads that department and leads the annual trek to the desert. The idea for a project called 'Sample Return Systems for Extreme Environments' is that the rocket will hit the surface and, as it burrows in a short distance, ports on either side of the nose will collect a sample and funnel it to an interior capsule. That capsule will be attached by tether to a balloon or a spacecraft, which would immediately reel in the capsule to recover the sample. 'The novel thing about this is that it developed out of our student rocket class. It's been a successful class, but there were a significant number of rockets that went ballistically into the ground. We learned a lot of physics from those crashes,' Winglee said. The technology, which recently received $500,000 over two years from NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, could have a number of applications. It would allow scientists a relatively safe way of recovering samples in areas of high contamination, such as Japan's Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant, or from an erupting volcano, or even from an asteroid in space, in advance of a possible mining project."
littlesparkvt writes "A team of astrophysicists at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und- Raumfahrt; DLR), together with German and European colleagues, has discovered the most extensive exoplanetary system to date. Seven planets circle the star KOI-351 – more than in other known planetary systems. They are arranged in a similar fashion to the eight planets in the Solar System, with small rocky planets close to the parent star and gas giant planets at greater distances. Although the planetary system around KOI-351 is packed together more tightly, it provides an interesting comparison to our cosmic home."