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Satellite-Based Laser Hunts Woodpeckers From Space 53

University of Idaho scientists have figured out a more effective way to track woodpecker populations than following the incessant laughter. They're using a laser onboard NASA's Icesat spacecraft to determine where the birds might be living. From the article: "NASA's Icesat satellite was initially intended for measuring glacial surfaces at the Earth's poles but has proven to be quite effective in measuring vegetation also. The satellite's laser bounces off of forest canopies, tree trunks and the ground making important characteristics about the forest easily measurable. For example, forest density is determined by the relative amount of light returned versus that which is returned from the ground. Once ideal woodpecker locations are identified 'we actually conduct ground-based woodpecker surveys in these locations as well to verify it,' says team-member Patrick Adam."

Comment Already tried w/Keystroke Pattern Recognition (Score 1) 96

There has been research and even products made to do the same thing in recognizing the distinct patterns or each users' typing. I recall first hearing of this in the early 90s, and it probably goes back further than this. Here's two examples:

These passive biometrics are all great(TM) solutions -- they take advantage of highly idiosyncratic, repetitive, and difficult to forge characteristics of each individual, and use technology to accurately recognize these characteristics and authenticate their targets.

Except these solutions fail at unacceptable rates when they encounter real-world exceptions. As mentioned by others, gait and keystroke cadence are both consistent, but easily changed by injury, illness, drugs, varying clothing, and just mood.

At least this research group recognizes this and points to the need for a *suite* of passive biometric indicators. But, they think a 1% false positive error rate is acceptable -- one chance in 100 that the thief gets in!?! It needs to be at least 3 orders of magnitude better.

Looks to me like another example of technologists getting enamored of their technology and failing to actually solve the basic problem.


Govt To Bomb Guam With Frozen Mice To Kill Snakes 229

rhettb writes "In a spectacularly creative effort to rid Guam of the brown tree snake, an invasive species which has ravaged local wildlife and angered local residents, the US Department of Agriculture is planning to 'bomb' the island's rainforests with dead frozen mice laced with acetaminophen. While it might not seem difficult to purge an island of snakes, the snake's habit of dwelling high in the rainforest canopy has so far thwarted efforts to rid the island of the pest. Eradicating the snake is a priority because it triggers more than 100 power outages a year at a cost of $1-4 million and has driven at least 6 local bird species to extinction."

Police Investigating Virtual Furniture Theft 103

krou writes "Finnish police are involved in the investigation of up to 400 cases of theft from virtual world Habbo Hotel, with some users reporting the loss of up to €1000 of virtual furniture and other items. Users were targeted using a phishing scam that used fake webpages to capture usernames and passwords. There is no mention as to whether or not the thieves made off with the bath towels, gowns, shampoo bottles, and soaps."

Comment Completely backwards implementation (Score 2, Insightful) 423

When will manufacturers, especially software manufacturers, ever understand the concept that it is *MY* computer or device, *NOT THEIRS* ???

As noted above in all the "What could go wrong?" posts, this kind of central control is fraught with problems and unintended consequences..

If they simply take an approach to design and engineering that respects fact that it is not their device, all kinds of problems go away.

A proper approach would be for the lights to broadcast their status and schedule for the next few minutes (i.e., how long until the next change, how long will be the next red, etc.), and allow the vehicle and driver to decide what to do about it.

Sure, If we're at the beginning of a long red, then it is probably best to shut down. But, if we're making a right turn and/or trying to get someone to the hospital at 3AM, have paused to check that there is no crossing traffic, then we should drive on. If the hybrid motor is trying to recharge low batteries, the motor should keep running. Etc. We could even have a dashboard or heads-up display showing the status so the driver can make better decisions. Different car designers can code the best algorithm for *their* particular car design, e.g., a hybrid might use a completely different response pattern than a truck or a sportscar.

What is so hard about that? [Warning - oversimplification following] Decentralized systems are generally more flexible, and have shallower bugs than centralized systems. So, why do they persist in designing that way?

Comment Looks like an example of a smart regulation (Score 3, Interesting) 510

I'm glad to hear that at least one state is starting to implement a reasonable law. Between corporations too cheap to pay for systems that implement even a hint of real security, and perhaps a few lazy developers, we have a mess on our hands. I don't really understand the "yikes" exclamations in TFA. At least now there are some consequences for being so sloppy with your and my data.

My approach to coding web apps is that we are playing theater in the round -- playing to at least three audiences at once. In any pool of users, you have Group-1) probably 98% of users in various states of computer illiteracy for whom you need a very well thought-out UI that gets them through the app with no errors (and good recovery *when* they make errors, you have Group-2) 2% users that have a clue and want things really streamlined, and you have Group-3) a half-dozen bunches of malicious crackers.

All three groups are always present, and you cannot ignore any of them. Ignore Group-1, and you'll pretty much have no audience. Ignore Group-2, and you drive off the 'experts' to whom much of Group-1 looks for advice, and you'll consequently lose not only Group-2 but also a lot of Group-1. Ignore Group-3 and you'll get cracked and mess up a lot pf people's lives by losing their data, and/or you'll get embarrassed.

Unfortunately, too many buyers and devs of software ignore Group-3 because of costs, and the "it'll never happen to us" attitude. They need this kind of stick to nudge them towards doing the right thing.

I come from a very libertarian perspective, and I hate excess regulation, but I'm smart enough to know that the magic Market alone does not fix everything; it needs some smart regulation to prevent excesses or omissions, and appears to this is an example of such good regulation (presuming that they haven't screwed up the details).


Mass. Data Security Law Says "Thou Shalt Encrypt" 510

emeraldd writes with this snippet from SQL Magazine summarizing what he calls a "rather scary" new data protection law from Massachusetts: "Here are the basics of the new law. If you have personally identifiable information (PII) about a Massachusetts resident, such as a first and last name, then you have to encrypt that data on the wire and as it's persisted. Sending PII over HTTP instead of HTTPS? That's a big no-no. Storing the name of a customer in SQL Server without the data being encrypted? No way, Jose. You'll get a fine of $5,000 per breach or lost record. If you have a database that contains 1,000 names of Massachusetts residents and lose it without the data being encrypted, that's $5,000,000. Yikes.'"

Man Put On "No-Fly List" While In Air To NYC 300

An unnamed man flying from Nigeria to New York City found out he was added to a no-fly list somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean, when the plane stopped to refuel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Officials won't say what he did or why he was added to the list after he had already boarded a flight. He was not immediately charged with a crime and Customs and Border Protection will only say that he is a "potential person of interest." From the article: "The man, a citizen of Gambia, was not on the no-fly list when he boarded the aircraft in Dakar, Senegal, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly."

New Speed Cameras Catch You From Space 351

A new kind of speed camera that uses satellites to measure average speed over long distances is being tested in Britain. The "Speedspike" system combines plate reading technology with a global positioning satellite receiver to calculate average speed between any two points in the area being monitored. From the article: "Details of the trials are contained in a House of Commons report. The company said in its evidence that the cameras enabled 'number plate capture in all weather conditions, 24 hours a day.' It also referred to the system's 'low cost' and ease of installation." I can't wait to see the episode of MythBusters where they try to avoid getting a speeding ticket from a satellite.

How To Find Bad Programmers 359

AmberShah writes "The job post is your potential programmer's first impression of your company, so make it count with these offputting features. There are plenty of articles about recruiting great developers, but what if you are only interested in the crappy ones?" I think much of the industry is already following these guidelines.

Blizzard Authenticators May Become Mandatory 248

An anonymous reader writes " is reporting that a trusted source has informed them that Blizzard is giving serious consideration to making authenticators mandatory on all World of Warcraft accounts. The authenticators function the same as ones provided by most banks — in order to log in, you must generate a number on the external device. Blizzard already provides a free iPhone app that functions as an authenticator. The source stated, 'it is a virtually forgone conclusion that it will happen.' This comes after large spates of compromised accounts left Bizzard game masters severely backlogged by restoration requests."

Comment The right way for Facebook to do this... (Score 1) 260

The right way for Facebook to do this would have been for them to implement this with a payments system, and obviously, opt-in, instead of in by default and opt-out.

The advertisers should be paying for the use of the photos. The settings should be [Unavailable], and [Available / Price per View], with the price per view set by the user. The setting should be both for the full set of pics, with individual overrides for specific pics (e.g., pics that the user doesn't want used, or wants to set a higher or lower price). Obviously, better pics should command higher prices, and cheaper pics might get used more, and users wanting only fame could set the price to zero.

If properly implemented with accounting and logs (views, display, clicks, earnings, etc.), they'd actually be doing something respectable, instead of just pimping out all their user's property without their permission.

They also seem to have completely overlooked the issue of model's releases, which their vague TOS docs don't really cover. Of course, a good ecommerce/micropayments implementation would cover it properly as in if you set it to available.

Comment He's behind the curve - by definition (Score 1) 130

"Our secret plan is to watch what gets acquired and fund the next company."
Anyone who is following is, by definition, behind.
By the time any company grows and gets acquired, the ship has not only left the dock, it has arrived at its next port of call.
Even trying to "fund companies doing whichever the next-generation product would have been." is a hopelessly backwards-looking strategy. I've always had the impression that Andreessen is stuck in 1995, so I guess it is no surprise that he hasn't got the confidence to generate any new groudbreaking ideas himself, and the best he can come up with is A) watching what gets bought, and B) trying to fund 24-year olds as if they are wiser.
If this is the best he can think of, he's sunk, and the investors deserve what they will get, which is plenty of capital losses for their tax returns.

Comment Author is spot-on (Score 1) 386

I've been fortunate enough to have been involved as the lead tech/designer/architect/coder/whatever in co-founding, building and selling several successful software companies. I'm now in physical design manufacturing, and it is very satisfying, and there is a surprising amount of crossover.

Even those purely software ("information economy"?) projects benefited heavily from by earlier experience in physical/manual work through my HS/college years. I tended to strongly emphasize initial design to minimize coding and minimize machine loading before starting to code.

Possibly the biggest lesson transferred from physical work to software work was the lesson to work hard to avoid excess work. I found it worth it to spend many hours to AVOID writing code. This was not being lazy, as it is often initially faster to write code than to not write code. The basic lesson is: What takes time to run? Code. Where are the bugs? In your code. So, write no code that not absolutely required. Simplicity. It takes discipline and work, which is best learned from physical work, and not in a cubicle.

Especially in the late 90's, I became flabbergasted by the people that just wanted to start-writing-code and fix it later. Or, who wanted to just take the short-cut of sticking their fingers in everyone else's code and data structures. Fortunately, I prevailed in most of those debates, and in one company, in about 2yrs we were taking business from a much larger and better funded competitor who (surprise) had scalability problems that we (no surprise) avoided. When you work in the physical world, you learn well that short-cuts are almost always bad ideas, and that time spent sharpening the tool will more than pay off when it comes time to cut your material.

Since selling and leaving the last company, I did a lot of thinking about what to do next. Rather than doing another software business, I chose to start a business in advanced materials, which wound up mostly in composites (carbon fiber, Kevlar, etc.).

What I find remarkable is how much this feels like the computer industry did in the 1980s -- vibrant, interesting new developments and tools popping up all the time, good access to people who know about the tools and materials I'm using or considering (vs having to teach so-called tech support how to do their jobs just to extract an occasional clue). And, while it was really cool to see people happy to use software that we built that helped them do their jobs better, it seems even more satisfying now to build something physical with my own hands and see it used (but, maybe that is just because it is what I'm doing now).

This change, especially since the last economic crash, has also made me think even more how fundamentally bad an idea it is to oursource our manufacturing. It is an extremely dangerous and long-lived MBA fad (and I'm definitely glad to see the MBAs being properly skewered in Dilbert last week).

For our society, I only hope that the lesson is soon learned and that we can reverse the trend. Information Technology, and even management techniques, do have a place. BUT, that place is in support of the actual act of building something. If you never get around to actually building or growing something, you haven't done anything. And, one only need to glance at the trade deficits to see that we're building far too little.

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