quantr writes: China’s central bank barred financial institutions from handling Bitcoin transactions, moving to regulate the virtual currency after an 89-fold jump in its value sparked a surge of investor interest in the country. Bitcoin plunged more than 20 percent to below $1,000 on the BitStamp Internet exchange after the People’s Bank of China said it isn’t a currency with “real meaning” and doesn’t have the same legal status. The public is free to participate in Internet transactions provided they take on the risk themselves, it said. The ban reflects concern about the risk the digital currency may pose to China’s capital controls and financial stability after a surge in trading this year made the country the world’s biggest trader of Bitcoin, according to exchange operator BTC China. Bitcoin’s price jumped more than ninefold in the past two months alone, prompting former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to call it a “bubble.” “The concern is that it interferes with normal monetary policy operation,” said Hao Hong, head of China research at Bocom International Holdings Co. in Hong Kong. “It represents an unofficial leakage to the current monetary system and trades globally. It is difficult to regulate and could be used for money laundering. I think the central bank is right to make this move.” Bitcoin prices plunged to $875 at 6:02 p.m. Shanghai time on BitStamp, an Internet-based exchange where the currency is traded for dollars, euros and other currencies. They closed at a record high of $1,132.01 yesterday. On the Mt.Gox exchange, the currency traded at $901, down from today’s high of $1,240. Prices dropped to as low as 4,521.1 yuan on BTC China, after rising as high as 7,050 yuan.
quantr writes: Over the last half-year, Google has quietly acquired seven technology companies in an effort to create a new generation of robots. And the engineer heading the effort is Andy Rubin, the man who built Google’s Android software into the world’s dominant force in smartphones. The company is tight-lipped about its specific plans, but the scale of the investment, which has not been previously disclosed, indicates that this is no cute science project. At least for now, Google’s robotics effort is not something aimed at consumers. Instead, the company’s expected targets are in manufacturing — like electronics assembly, which is now largely manual — and competing with companies like Amazon in retailing, according to several people with specific knowledge of the project. A realistic case, according to several specialists, would be automating portions of an existing supply chain that stretches from a factory floor to the companies that ship and deliver goods to a consumer’s doorstep. “The opportunity is massive,” said Andrew McAfee, a principal research scientist at the M.I.T. Center for Digital Business. “There are still people who walk around in factories and pick things up in distribution centers and work in the back rooms of grocery stores.” Google has recently started experimenting with package delivery in urban areas with its Google Shopping service, and it could try to automate portions of that system. The shopping service, available in a few locations like San Francisco, is already making home deliveries for companies like Target, Walgreens and American Eagle Outfitters. Perhaps someday, there will be automated delivery to the doorstep, which for now is dependent on humans. “Like any moonshot, you have to think of time as a factor,” Mr. Rubin said. “We need enough runway and a 10-year vision.” Mr. Rubin, the 50-year-old Google executive in charge of the new effort, began his engineering career in robotics and has long had a well-known passion for building intelligent machines. Before joining Apple Computer, where he initially worked as a manufacturing engineer in the 1990s, he worked for the German manufacturing company Carl Zeiss as a robotics engineer. “I have a history of making my hobbies into a career,” Mr. Rubin said in a telephone interview. “This is the world’s greatest job. Being an engineer and a tinkerer, you start thinking about what you would want to build for yourself.” He used the example of a windshield wiper that has enough “intelligence” to operate when it rains, without human intervention, as a model for the kind of systems he is trying to create. That is consistent with a vision put forward by the Google co-founder Larry Page, who has argued that technology should be deployed wherever possible to free humans from drudgery and repetitive tasks. The veteran of a number of previous Silicon Valley start-up efforts and twice a chief executive, Mr. Rubin said he had pondered the possibility of a commercial effort in robotics for more than a decade. He has only recently come to think that a range of technologies have matured to the point where new kinds of automated systems can be commercialized.
quantr writes: A company billing itself as one of Europe's biggest Bitcoin exchanges said it suffered a coordinated attack that succeeded in stealing almost $1 million worth of the digital currency, marking the latest in a string of high-stakes heists hitting companies that hold large sums online. Kris Henriksen, CEO of Denmark-based Bitcoin Internet Payment Services (BIPS), made that claim last week in a Web post that said the attack began as a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. Two days later, Henriksen said, the same attackers targeted the BIPS network again and managed to use the damage they previously inflicted to somehow tamper with the channel that connects BIPS data storage systems to company servers. "On November 15, BIPS was the target of a massive DDoS attack, which is now believed to have been the initial preparation for a subsequent attack on November 17 that overloaded our managed switches and disconnected the iSCSI connection to the SAN on BIPS servers," the CEO wrote. "Regrettably, despite several layers of protection, the attack caused vulnerability to the system, which has then enabled the attacker/s to gain access and compromise several wallets." The missing funds totaled 1,295 BTC, or about $1 million, according to a post on Coindesk, which cited this block in the official Bitcoin ledger. BIPS quickly closed its Bitcoin wallet service for consumers after discovering the theft. It advised existing users to transfer their bitcoins to competing wallet services and pledged to notify all users affected by the security breach. The BIPS attack is at least the third major heist to hit Bitcoin services this month. In early November, the founder of Australia-based inputs.io said the service was robbed of 4,100 bitcoins—valued at about $1.2 million—in two separate attacks. China-based Bitcoin exchange GBL reportedly vanished with $4.1 million worth of customers' digital currency. Another Chinese exchange, BTC China, has also sustained massive DDoS attacks that are costing it dearly, according to an article published Tuesday by Wired.
quantr writes: Google Inc. (GOOG) and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) are halting sales of the Chromebook 11 laptop after some users reported overheating power supplies, a setback for the devices that have been gaining momentum with consumers. The companies said in a statement yesterday that they are suspending sales of the laptop at Best Buy Co., the Google Play Store, Amazon.com Inc. and other outlets, and cautioned customers who have bought the laptop to avoid using the charger and get another one instead. The decision followed eight reports of overheating, some of which mentioned the charger melted, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public. There were no reports of fires, the people said. “We are working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to identify the appropriate corrective action, and will provide additional information and instructions as soon as we can,” the companies said in a blog post, without elaborating on when they would begin selling the device again. “We apologize for the inconvenience.” Chromebooks, often priced at less than $500, run Google’s Chrome operating system, which is software that emphasizes Web browsing, video and the company’s online software for word processing and other tasks. Google has been adding new manufacturing partners as demand rises for the laptops. The devices snagged 3.3 percent of the market for back-to-school shoppers in the U.S. between June 30 and Sept. 7, up from zero a year earlier, according to the NPD Group.
quantr writes: Apple is set for a replay of a court fight against Samsung Electronics in which the iPhone maker may seek to recoup more than the $411 million in damages a judge cut from a $1.05 billion jury award in 2012 over patents. Jury selection was under way Tuesday in San Jose, in a retrial over how much Samsung should pay for infringement of Apple's intellectual property. The original verdict in August 2012, which was the year's largest in the U.S. at the time, was found by a judge to be flawed because jurors miscalculated the period that the infringement occurred for some of the 28 Samsung devices on trial. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh will instruct jurors at the outset of the retrial that the previous nine-member jury found Samsung infringed five valid Apple patents and that their "sole job" is to determine the amount of damages Samsung must pay for the infringement of 13 Samsung products. While Apple hasn't said how much it will seek, this jury's revision of the damages to properly account for the infringement may result in more than the $410.6 million subtracted from the previous award, according to Carl Howe, an analyst with Yankee Group. "The argument at this point is simply about how much Samsung must pay Apple," Howe said. "In my view, there is no chance that the penalties assessed will be small; the argument is just over whether they will be big or huge."Apple is set for a replay of a court fight against Samsung Electronics in which the iPhone maker may seek to recoup more than the $411 million in damages a judge cut from a $1.05 billion jury award in 2012 over patents. Jury selection was under way Tuesday in San Jose, in a retrial over how much Samsung should pay for infringement of Apple's intellectual property. The original verdict in August 2012, which was the year's largest in the U.S. at the time, was found by a judge to be flawed because jurors miscalculated the period that the infringement occurred for some of the 28 Samsung devices on trial. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh will instruct jurors at the outset of the retrial that the previous nine-member jury found Samsung infringed five valid Apple patents and that their "sole job" is to determine the amount of damages Samsung must pay for the infringement of 13 Samsung products. While Apple hasn't said how much it will seek, this jury's revision of the damages to properly account for the infringement may result in more than the $410.6 million subtracted from the previous award, according to Carl Howe, an analyst with Yankee Group. "The argument at this point is simply about how much Samsung must pay Apple," Howe said. "In my view, there is no chance that the penalties assessed will be small; the argument is just over whether they will be big or huge."
quantr writes: Apple's maps have turned out to be a hit with iPhone and iPad users in the US — despite the roasting that they were given when they first appeared in September 2012. But Google — which was kicked off the iPhone after it refused to give Apple access to its voice-driven turn-by-turn map navigation — has lost nearly 23m mobile users in the US as a result. That is a huge fall against the 81m Google Maps mobile users it had there at its peak in September last year, according to ComScore, a market research company, which produced the figures from regular polls of thousand of users. The introduction of Apple's own maps with its iOS 6 software in September 2012 caused a furore after it emerged that they were littered with errors. A location in Ireland named "Airfield" was marked as an airport, Paddington station had vanished, and Helsinki railway station was — it seemed — a park. The company was panned, and chief executive Tim Cook made a public apology. But a year on, a total of 35m iPhone owners in the US used Apple's maps during September 2013, according to ComScore, compared to a total of 58.7m Google Maps across the iPhone and Android. Of those, about 6m used Google Maps on the iPhone, according to calculations by the Guardian based on figures from ComScore. That includes 2m iPhone users who have not or cannot upgrade to iOS 6, according to data from MixPanel. That suggests Google's efforts to offer a stand-alone app since December have gained little traction with iPhone users. "Google has lost access to a very, very important data channel in the North American market," commented Ben Wood, mobile analyst for CCS Insight, a research company based in London. "But Apple was adamant that it wasn't going to give up on doing its own maps, even when it had problems. This is a war of attrition."
quantr writes: You hear a lot about self-taught programmers. And sometimes you hear about self-taught hackers, kids with a knack for computers that turn to the dark side. But today we bring you the story of a woman who taught herself how to catch hackers. In one big jump, Ashley Hamilton changed careers from a line cook at a popular San Francisco eatery to a computer security guru. She didn't know how to program. She didn't know how to hack. But by studying books, using some free websites and entering contests, she learned. Today, Hamilton is an application security engineer for WhiteHat Security in Santa Clara, Calif. But in 2011, she was working at San Francisco restaurant Locanda. She went to culinary school and had been cooking for her whole career.
quantr writes: The internet is not going to save the world, says the Microsoft co-founder, whatever Mark Zuckerberg and Silicon Valley's tech billionaires believe. But eradicating disease just might. Bill Gates describes himself as a technocrat. But he does not believe that technology will save the world. Or, to be more precise, he does not believe it can solve a tangle of entrenched and interrelated problems that afflict humanity's most vulnerable: the spread of diseases in the developing world and the poverty, lack of opportunity and despair they engender. "I certainly love the IT thing," he says. "But when we want to improve lives, you've got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition." These days, it seems that every West Coast billionaire has a vision for how technology can make the world a better place. A central part of this new consensus is that the internet is an inevitable force for social and economic improvement; that connectivity is a social good in itself. It was a view that recently led Mark Zuckerberg to outline a plan for getting the world's unconnected 5 billion people online, an effort the Facebook boss called "one of the greatest challenges of our generation". But asked whether giving the planet an internet connection is more important than finding a vaccination for malaria, the co-founder of Microsoft and world's second-richest man does not hide his irritation: "As a priority? It's a joke." Then, slipping back into the sarcasm that often breaks through when he is at his most engaged, he adds: "Take this malaria vaccine, [this] weird thing that I'm thinking of. Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that's great. I don't."
quantr writes: After years of will they or won't they, the US Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finally given permission for airlines to allow passenger to use personal electronics for the entirety of their flights. Translation: You don't have to shut down your phone anymore. Finally.
quantr writes: Amazon is really rubbing it in. Notorious for its willingness to lose money to drive ever-increasing sales, the company said Wednesday that it is now giving customers the option to donate 0.5 percent of the price of many purchases to charity through a new project called Amazon Smile. The process is pretty easy: Customers go to smile.amazon.com and choose a charity.Amazon (AMZN) suggests a few, such as the American Red Cross and the Nature Conservancy. From that point on, the donations are sent automatically. There isn’t a cap on how much money Amazon will send to charities, but the program does exclude digital items such as Kindle books and recurring Subscribe-and-Save purchases or subscription renewals. “Nearly all physical products are eligible,” says a company spokesperson via e-mail. This cuts into Amazon’s profit margins, of course, or it would if it had them.
quantr writes: The former U.S. director of intelligence says the country is fighting a cyber-war and losing, and wonders if it will take a “cyber Pearl Harbor” to take the steps needed to protect crucial computer systems. Mike McConnell, now vice chairman of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., told a Bloomberg Government cybersecurity conference today that he has been giving the same speech for 20 years and still not enough has been done. “We’ll get it right, but it will be messy,” McConnell said. “We have the capability. We do not have the legal framework and we do not have the will.” Efforts to get businesses to agree to voluntary steps have failed because companies are concerned they could be subject to lawsuits demanding that those rules become permanent, McConnell said. In addition, privacy advocates want to limit the amount of information the government can collect, he said. “We can do amazing things,” McConnell said, “The problem is we have to solve the privacy issue. The debate will be privacy versus security.” Booz Allen employed Edward Snowden as a contractor to the National Security Agency. Snowden leaked top-secret NSA documents about electronic surveillance. Snowden was fired after reports based on the documents appeared in newspapers, and he has been indicted on federal charges of espionage and theft.
quantr writes: The international operation of CERN marked a monumental success in this respect. To prove the existence of the Higgs boson, which has been contentiously described as the “God particle,” required $9 billion, ten years of study, thousands of careers, and a seventeen-mile collider ring which bores out of the earth on the Franco-Swiss border. At fourteen Terraelectron volts (TeV), it is the most energetic super collider ever built, and also one of the largest, most complex scientific experiments in history. Many have called it a modern-day cathedral. And it should have been built in Texas. Five-thousand miles southwest of Geneva, just outside Waxahachie, Texas, are the remnants of a super collider whose energy and circumference—true to American sensibility—would have dwarfed those of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. Nobody doubts that the 40 TeV Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in Texas would have discovered the Higgs boson a decade before CERN. The collider’s tunnel would have entrenched Waxahachie in a topographical oval that curved east before the southern Dallas County line, then running southwest under Bardwell Lake and curving north at Onion Creek. Since Congress canceled the project twenty years ago, on October 21, 1993, Waxahachie has witnessed the bizarre and disquieting history of its failure.
quantr writes: True&Co.'s algorithm-built bra has hit the market. Its She Walks in Beauty (Light)collection is based on information collected from more than 200,000 women who have taken a "fit quiz" and on their personal responses after the at-home try-on and purchasing process. True&Co.co-founder Michelle Lam provided ample commentary to Fast Company this past week as part of the marketing blitz for the sexiest big data product ever. The company has identified 6,000 distinct body types (not good news for high school boys trying to work with their hands behind someone else's back). "Big data is not the answer to everything. But the design process is not just a machine spitting out a spec," Lam told Fast Company. Ladies and gentleman (but mostly ladies), welcome to the world of the "perfect" 34C.
quantr writes: The Justice Department for the first time has notified a criminal defendant that evidence being used against him came from a warrantless wiretap, a move that is expected to set up a Supreme Court test of whether such eavesdropping is constitutional. Prosecutors filed such a notice late Friday in the case of Jamshid Muhtorov, who was charged in Colorado in January 2012 with providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union, a designated terrorist organization based in Uzbekistan. Mr. Muhtorov is accused of planning to travel abroad to join the militants and has pleaded not guilty. A criminal complaint against him showed that much of the government’s case was based on e-mails and phone calls intercepted under a 2008 surveillance law. The government’s notice allows Mr. Muhtorov’s lawyer to ask a court to suppress the evidence by arguing that it derived from unconstitutional surveillance, setting in motion judicial review of the eavesdropping. The New York Times reported on Oct. 17 that the decision by prosecutors to notify a defendant about the wiretapping followed a legal policy debate inside the Justice Department. The debate began in June when Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. discovered that the department’s National Security Division did not notify criminal defendants when eavesdropping without a warrant was an early link in an investigative chain that led to evidence used in court. As a result, none of the defendants knew that they had the right to challenge the warrantless wiretapping law. The practice contradicted what Mr. Verrilli had told the Supreme Court last year in a case challenging the law, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Legalizing a form of the Bush administration’s program of warrantless surveillance, the law authorized the government to wiretap Americans’ e-mails and phone calls without an individual court order and on domestic soil so long as the surveillance is “targeted” at a foreigner abroad. A group of plaintiffs led by Amnesty International had challenged the law as unconstitutional. But Mr. Verrilli last year urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the case because those plaintiffs could not prove that they had been wiretapped. In making that argument, he said a defendant who faced evidence derived from the law would have proper legal standing and would be notified, so dismissing the lawsuit by Amnesty International would not close the door to judicial review of the 2008 law. The court accepted that logic, voting 5-to-4 to dismiss the case.
quantr writes: Argentine scientists have found a way to transform the gas created by the bovine digestive system into fuel, an innovation that could curb greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Using a system of valves and pumps, the experimental technique developed by Argentina's National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) channels the digestive gases from bovine stomach cavities through a tube and into a tank. The gases — which otherwise are commonly known as burps, or "eruptos" in Spanish — are then processed to separate methane from other gases such as carbon dioxide. Methane is the main component of natural gas, used to fuel everything from cars to power plants. "Once you get it compressed, it's the same as having natural gas," said Guillermo Berra, head of INTA's animal physiology group. "As an energy source it is not very practical at the moment, but if you look ahead to 2050, when fossil fuel reserves are going to be in trouble, it is an alternative," he told Reuters. Each head of cattle emits between 250 and 300 liters of pure methane a day, enough energy to keep a refrigerator running for 24 hours.
Argentina is one of the world's top beef exporters, with around 51 million heads of cattle. Gases emitted from those animals account for 30 percent of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions, according to INTA, with methane having 23 times the global warming effect as carbon dioxide.