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With "Baidu Inside," the Chinese firm takes aim at hardware market

Written By kom nampuldu on Selasa, 22 April 2014 | 16.01

Printers, air quality monitors, and weighing scales aren't exactly in the realm of Baidu, China's largest search engine. But that's starting to change under a new company initiative that seeks to bring Baidu technology to smart devices, including household appliances.

Called "Baidu Inside", the company's latest project is to offer hardware vendors access to Baidu's technologies in cloud storage, voice assistants, facial recognition, and mapping, among others. And already, the company is promoting a growing number of products.

On Monday, one of Baidu's partners, electronics maker Haier, demoed an air quality monitor that can synch remotely with a smartphone over a Wi-Fi connection. Other products shown include fitness wristbands and a wireless printer built using Baidu tech.

The "Baidu Inside" project comes at time when increasingly more household electronics makers are turning to smart devices. Through sensors, modems and software, the products can be controlled remotely via smartphones and also be used to track user's habits.

It represents a potentially big market for Baidu. Besides its search engine, the company also offers a wide range of Internet services such as online video, mapping, and music streaming. In addition, the company wants to become a top site for users to download mobile apps.

But Baidu has struggled to expand in China's mobile Internet market, according to analysts. Many of the most popular apps come from rival companies and Google dominates China's mobile operating system market with its Android OS.

By launching its "Baidu Inside" initiative, the company could be trying to corner a growing sector of the Chinese market. Some of the products displayed on Monday were prototypes, but others are already on sale including a weighing scale that can track a user's health.

Although some of the products on sale come from little-known vendors, Baidu has also partnered with larger players like Huawei, ZTE, Asus and Canon.


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Google Hangouts for Android merges conversations

The new Android version of Google communication tool Hangouts will allow users to merge SMS and Hangout conversations.

Hangouts conversations include instant messaging and audio chats as well as video conferencing.

In the new Hangouts 2.1 for Android, SMS and Hangout conversations with the same recipient are combined into a single conversation, Mike Dodd, an Android software developer wrote in Google+ post Monday.

Users can control if they want to send a message via SMS or Hangouts with the flip of a switch, he said, adding that different message types will be easy to tell apart in the conversation. Conversations can always be unmerged and merged, he added.

Other new features include a simplified contact list that arranges contacts into Hangout and phone contacts, which makes it easier to use for SMS, Dodd wrote. A new homescreen widget allows for quick access to recent conversations, and there are several performance improvements, including better quality video calls, he added.

The new Hangouts app for Android will be rolled out on the Play Store in the next few days.


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NEC launches face-recognition protection for PCs

NEC has launched a biometric security program that uses face recognition to unlock access to PCs.

NeoFace Monitor is being billed as an alternative to passwords, which can be forgotten, stolen or guessed. Users simply look at a webcam on their PC to unlock it.

The system uses face-recognition technology that NEC has been developing for some 20 years.

It's a software package that uses a computer's webcam to verify the identity of a user by matching facial features to those in a stored image.

"We have been working on biometric technology for police forces, and now we want to provide it to meet the security needs of business clients," spokeswoman Naoko Ozeki said.

NEC said it has the most accurate face-recognition engine in the latest evaluation by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) known as the Multiple Biometric Grand Challenge.

The manufacturer's error rate in the Multiple-Biometric Evaluation Still-Face Track test, which measures the ability of the algorithm to compare compressed standard face images, was 0.3 percent, compared to 2.5 percent and 3 percent for the closest competitors, NEC said.

In several demonstrations at a press event Tuesday at NEC headquarters in Tokyo, NEC staffers sat down at laptops equipped with webcams. The system recognized their faces in about half a second and granted them access to their desktops. When the staffers left their seats, the laptops automatically locked.

NeoFace Monitor uses image-processing algorithms to track facial features such as pupils, the lower part of the nose and the corners of the mouth. NEC would not reveal exactly how many points on the face are tracked.

The program can recognize a subject even if he isn't facing the camera directly, has grown a beard or is wearing glasses.

But the surgical-style masks that many Japanese wear to guard against airborne pollen and germs are a problem for the system, NEC admitted, and users have to remove them to be authenticated.

Though user face images are stored on a server, the system can also work offline by using a PC's cache.

NeoFace Monitor works on Windows 7 and 8, and makes use of Microsoft's Active Directory to manage users. NEC is considering adding support for Android as well as smartphones in the future.

NEC is aiming to sell the system to about 400 companies and government agencies in Japan, North America and the rest of Asia over the next three years. NeoFace Monitor is basically priced at ¥10,000 (US$97) per PC.

NEC Hong Kong recently launched a compact device that uses the NeoFace engine to identify customers who walk into stores, banks or hotels. The Mobile Facial Recognition Appliance is being touted as a tool to offer "VIP treatment" to customers.

The spread of face-recognition technology has fueled concerns about privacy, but NEC said the NeoFace Monitor data will be protected on client servers.

"Since the facial features that are identified using this system are expressed exclusively in numerical data, a person's physical features cannot be restored/generated based on those numbers, thereby ensuring that the recognition of a person's image is not at risk," an NEC spokesman said.


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Survey: Americans aren't keen on drones, Google Glass-like devices

Written By kom nampuldu on Senin, 21 April 2014 | 16.01

Let's face it: A lot has changed in the past few years. Smartphones! 3D printers! Drones! Face computers! Self-driving cars! It almost feels as though we're living in the future. According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, Americans expect this rapid pace of change to continue over the next 50 years.

And while most of those surveyed think all this new tech will be a good thing, there are a few things the populace is wary about.

The Pew survey found that 56 percent of respondents "are optimistic that coming technological and scientific changes will make life in the future better," while 30 percent have a more dystopian view of the not-too-distant future.

Amazon has a bit of work to do to convince Americans that delivery by drone is a good idea.

But despite the generally positive outlook, 63 percent think allowing personal and commercial drone aircraft would be "a change for the worse." Along the same vein, 53 percent are wary of the notion of "implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them" becoming commonplace. 

Put another way, most Americans are not yet ready for Amazon's plans to ship products by drone and Google's dreams of ubiquitous Glass. (Of course, by some measure, a smartphone is a device that constantly shows information about the world around you, so in that sense the future nobody wants is already here.)

So much for dreams of taco delivery by quadrocopter, huh?

No word on whether the public has similar misgivings about robotic housekeepers.

Also unpopular is the notion of modifying the DNA of an unborn child to make them "smarter, healthier, or more athletic,"with 66 percent saying we would be worse off with this technology. The same goes with robotic caregivers for the sick and elderly: 65 percent think this would be a bad idea. No word on whether the public has similar misgivings about robotic housekeepers.

As many as 81 percent of those surveyed expect that scientists will be able to grow new organs in a lab with in the next half century, while only about a third expect humans to colonize other planets in that time. And less than 20 percent of respondents expect humans to be able to "control the weather." 

google self-driving car

As for trying new things, about half the respondents would be OK with riding in a self-driving car. On the other hand, the idea of lab-grown meat isn't too popular: Only about 20 percent of those surveyed are willing to give it a try. 

Of course, these responses are mostly speculative at this point: So far, Google Glass is still in a trial phase and it isn't yet legal to use drones commercially, so nobody quite knows what the impact of those sorts of technologies will be just yet. It'll be interesting to see how responses evolve over the next few years. Hop on over the the Pew website to see the full results.


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Blame Heartbleed: HealthCare.gov requires users to change their passwords

If you have an account with HealthCare.gov, you can expect to change your password the next time you log in. And you can thank Heartbleed for it.

According to the website, all HeathCare.gov users will be prompted to change their passwords the next time they log into the site. According to the site, "HealthCare.gov uses many layers of protections to secure your information," and there's no sign that any Healthcare.gov user information has been compromised, so this is mainly a precautionary measure.

The Associated Press notes that the US Government is reviewing al of its sites to see if they're vulnerable to the Heartbleed bug, so it's possible that users of other government sites may have to change their passwords in the not-too-distant future.

HealthCare.gov recommends using a password that's unique to your Healthcare.gov account. Some password managers, such as 1Password, can generate and store unique passwords that you don't need to memorize.

But you don't need a password manager to devise stronger passwords: There are some tricks you can employ to create strong passwords that you can actually remember. See Alex Wawro's guide to creating stronger passwords without losing your mind for one approach. And visit HealthCare.gov for more on that site's mandatory password change requirement.


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Activists want net neutrality, NSA spying debated at Brazil Internet conference

A campaign on the Internet is objecting to the exclusion of issues like net neutrality, the cyberweapons arms race and surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency from the discussion paper of an Internet governance conference this week in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

A significant section of the participants are also looking for concrete measures and decisions at the conference rather than yet another statement of principles.

The proposed text "lacks any strength," does not mention NSA's mass surveillance or the active participation of Internet companies, and fails to propose any concrete action, according to the campaign called Our Net Mundial.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about the surveillance programs of the U.S., which allegedly included real time access to content on servers of Internet companies like Facebook and Google.

The Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, also called NETmundial, released Thursday a document to guide the discussions starting Wednesday among the representatives from more than 80 countries .

An earlier document leaked by whistle-blower site WikiLeaks proposed international agreements for restraining cyber weapons development and deployment and called for the Internet to remain neutral and free from discrimination. WikiLeaks said the document was prepared for approval by a high-level committee.

Dilma Rousseff, the president of host country Brazil, has been a sharp critic of surveillance by the U.S. after reports that her communications were being spied on by the NSA.

Though the Brazil discussion document does not directly mention NSA surveillance, it refers to the freedom of expression, information and privacy, including avoiding arbitrary or unlawful collection of personal data and surveillance.

The meeting's call for universal principles partly reflects a desire for interstate agreements that can prevent rights violations such as the NSA surveillance, wrote Internet governance experts Milton Mueller and Ben Wagner in a paper. The Tunis Agenda of the World Summit on the Information Society also called for globally applicable public policy principles for Internet governance.

"But there have been so many Internet principles released in recent years that it is hard to see what the Brazil conference could add," Mueller and Wagner wrote.

Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, wrote last week in a letter to NETmundial that she continued to strongly believe "that the outcomes of NETmundial must be concrete and actionable, with clear milestones and with a realistic but ambitious timeline." She identified a number of areas where "concreteness" could be achieved, including the globalization of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration said in March it plans to end its 16-year oversight of ICANN. The move appeared to be in response to criticism of U.S. control of the Internet. ICANN's president Fadi Chehadé has also called for greater accountability for his organization.


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Moebius: Empire Rising review: A point-and-click 'adventure' against the game itself

Written By kom nampuldu on Minggu, 20 April 2014 | 16.00

A dastardly conspiracy? Historical guess-who? Shadowy government agency?

Don't worry! Malachi Rector is on the case. Who's Malachi Rector? Why, he's a world-renowned antiques appraiser of course—a career I can only assume he was saddled with the same day his parents gave him that awful name.

You know, before his mother was eaten by a lion.

Moebius: Empire Rising

You thought I was joking, didn't you? Admit it.

This is Moebius: Empire Rising.

Don't get too excited

I'm afraid with that sort of intro, I've already oversold this game. "Holy $!&@, his mother is eaten by a lion? Is this a so-bad-it's-good masterpiece?" Unfortunately not. See, while Moebius does have a certain pulp, dime-novel quality to its story, it's just not very good.

Moebius is the latest point-and-click adventure game from Jane Jensen, creator of the famed Gabriel Knight series of yesteryear. For a Kickstarter-funded game, there's a pedigree behind Moebius that should be exciting--which, frankly, is why it's so surprising the game is an utter chore to play.

Moebius: Empire Rising

You're the aforementioned Mr. Rector (geddit?), a man with a personality as lively as a dead peacock. Rector jets around the world telling people the expensive antiques they're about to buy are actually forgeries. In return he makes a lot of money.

Except one day there's a new client: an undercover government agency known as FITA. The agency wants Rector to investigate the murder of an Italian socialite. Turns out history repeats itself in certain patterns, and Rector's actions could help usher in a period of unprecedented prosperity for the United States. You know, after Obama wrecked the entire country, or whatever the subtext is here.

There's basic point-and-click action here. You explore environments, interact with objects, and talk to people. There's also a half-baked logic puzzle where you match people up with their historical counterparts, but it feels less like you're a genius when you solve them and more like you just ran down a list of checkmarks.

Moebius: Empire Rising

These match-characters-to-history sequences have a lot of potential, but the puzzles feel half-baked.

You'll also occasionally make judgments about people you encounter, which you'd think would play into how Rector approaches his conversations with that person. Not really—as far as I could tell, these judgments were for score purposes only and had no real effects in-game. There's also an awkward amount of condescension implied in most of them—a woman wearing a bright-colored shirt is, at one point, labeled "sexually frustrated" for no apparent reason.

Moebius: Empire Rising

Again, not kidding.

The story's not great, by any means. As you've probably gathered, it's jam-packed with cliché and outright silly situations, plus an awful sexual tension between Rector and his sidekick that feels outright forced. But for all that, it was enjoyable enough. By about the third or fourth chapter I was hooked, and at least wanted to see it through to the end.

But oh wow, actually playing Moebius. The bad comes in two forms: baffling design choices and bugs.

Infinite loop

Parts of Moebius just feel dated and/or confusing. For instance, the game has an honest-to-god maze. And it's unskippable. And it's right at the climax of the story. Mazes weren't fun in 1994, let alone 2014. We can let mazes die forever. It's allowed.

Rector also has this obnoxious trait where he won't pick up any item that he doesn't specifically need yet. Collapsible boat pole hanging on the wall? "Well, if I need one at least I know where to find it," says Rector. The result is an obnoxious amount of back-tracking through environments, each of which takes a few seconds to fade up from black.

Moebius: Empire Rising

Doesn't need the wire hanger yet. But he will. When it's least convenient to go back and get it.

It's also frustrating when you've already figured out the solution to a puzzle, but haven't triggered something in the environment yet to allow you to pick up the objects for the solution. I was stuck for half an hour in Chapter One because I knew exactly what I needed to do next, but could not pick up the two objects I needed for the solution. Turned out I hadn't clicked on a totally extraneous environmental trigger yet so Rector would say "Oh, that's what I need to do next." I, the player, knew what to do, but apparently Rector was too stupid to get it.

Throwing this type of roadblock in front of the player is unacceptable, and destroys the pacing of the game. You eventually resort to clicking each item every time you re-enter a room, just in case circumstances have changed and you need it now. It's more realistic, sure—why would you pick up the boat pole if you didn't know you needed it in real life? But as a game mechanic, it's a hurdle.

Moebius: Empire Rising

I don't even have a pithy comment for this one.

And then there's the technical side of things. Listen, it's Kickstarter. I'm not expecting the game to look like Crysis. But if it does look like a game from six years ago, it damn well better run smoothly on my machine. Cursor disappearances, sluggish animations, stuttering, unresponsive character or environment triggers that leave you wondering whether the game locked up, and quite possibly the slowest walk of any character in any game ever make Moebius an absolute mess.

Bottom line

I'm a history fan and the underlying core of Moebius really appealed to me even with the two-dimensional, archetypal characters and pulpy story.

However, Moebius doesn't let you experience the story. The charm of point-and-clicks is that the mechanics get out of the way. You solve a few puzzles, but by-and-large you get to enjoy the story. Moebius, you're constantly fighting the mechanics up through the end. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself with whatever Jensen and Co. release next.


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Survey: Americans aren't keen on drones, Google Glass-like devices

Let's face it: A lot has changed in the past few years. Smartphones! 3D printers! Drones! Face computers! Self-driving cars! It almost feels as though we're living in the future. According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, Americans expect this rapid pace of change to continue over the next 50 years.

And while most of those surveyed think all this new tech will be a good thing, there are a few things the populace is wary about.

The Pew survey found that 56 percent of respondents "are optimistic that coming technological and scientific changes will make life in the future better," while 30 percent have a more dystopian view of the not-too-distant future.

Amazon has a bit of work to do to convince Americans that delivery by drone is a good idea.

But despite the generally positive outlook, 63 percent think allowing personal and commercial drone aircraft would be "a change for the worse." Along the same vein, 53 percent are wary of the notion of "implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them" becoming commonplace. 

Put another way, most Americans are not yet ready for Amazon's plans to ship products by drone and Google's dreams of ubiquitous Glass. (Of course, by some measure, a smartphone is a device that constantly shows information about the world around you, so in that sense the future nobody wants is already here.)

So much for dreams of taco delivery by quadrocopter, huh?

No word on whether the public has similar misgivings about robotic housekeepers.

Also unpopular is the notion of modifying the DNA of an unborn child to make them "smarter, healthier, or more athletic,"with 66 percent saying we would be worse off with this technology. The same goes with robotic caregivers for the sick and elderly: 65 percent think this would be a bad idea. No word on whether the public has similar misgivings about robotic housekeepers.

As many as 81 percent of those surveyed expect that scientists will be able to grow new organs in a lab with in the next half century, while only about a third expect humans to colonize other planets in that time. And less than 20 percent of respondents expect humans to be able to "control the weather." 

google self-driving car

As for trying new things, about half the respondents would be OK with riding in a self-driving car. On the other hand, the idea of lab-grown meat isn't too popular: Only about 20 percent of those surveyed are willing to give it a try. 

Of course, these responses are mostly speculative at this point: So far, Google Glass is still in a trial phase and it isn't yet legal to use drones commercially, so nobody quite knows what the impact of those sorts of technologies will be just yet. It'll be interesting to see how responses evolve over the next few years. Hop on over the the Pew website to see the full results.


16.00 | 0 komentar | Read More

Blame Heartbleed: HealthCare.gov requires users to change their passwords

If you have an account with HealthCare.gov, you can expect to change your password the next time you log in. And you can thank Heartbleed for it.

According to the website, all HeathCare.gov users will be prompted to change their passwords the next time they log into the site. According to the site, "HealthCare.gov uses many layers of protections to secure your information," and there's no sign that any Healthcare.gov user information has been compromised, so this is mainly a precautionary measure.

The Associated Press notes that the US Government is reviewing al of its sites to see if they're vulnerable to the Heartbleed bug, so it's possible that users of other government sites may have to change their passwords in the not-too-distant future.

HealthCare.gov recommends using a password that's unique to your Healthcare.gov account. Some password managers, such as 1Password, can generate and store unique passwords that you don't need to memorize.

But you don't need a password manager to devise stronger passwords: There are some tricks you can employ to create strong passwords that you can actually remember. See Alex Wawro's guide to creating stronger passwords without losing your mind for one approach. And visit HealthCare.gov for more on that site's mandatory password change requirement.


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Plastic computers taking shape, but won't replace silicon

Written By kom nampuldu on Sabtu, 19 April 2014 | 16.00

Can plastic materials morph into computers? A research breakthrough published this week brings such a possibility closer to reality.

Researchers are looking at the possibility of making low-power, flexible and inexpensive computers out of plastic materials. Plastic is not normally a good conductive material. However, researchers said this week that they have solved a problem related to reading data.

The research, which involved converting electricity from magnetic film to optics so data could be read through plastic material, was conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa and New York University. A paper on the research was published in this week's Nature Communications journal.

More research is needed before plastic computers become practical, acknowledged Michael Flatte, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa. Problems related to writing and processing data need to be solved before plastic computers can be commercially viable.

Plastic computers, however, could conceivably be used in smartphones, sensors, wearable products, small electronics or solar cells, Flatte said.

Samsung Curved OLED

One product area might be OLEDs, such as those used in televisions.

What would they do?

The computers would have basic processing, data gathering and transmission capabilities but won't replace silicon used in the fastest computers today. However, the plastic material could be cheaper to produce as it wouldn't require silicon fab plants, and possibly could supplement faster silicon components in mobile devices or sensors.

"The initial types of inexpensive computers envisioned are things like RFID, but with much more computing power and information storage, or distributed sensors," Flatte said. One such implementation might be a large agricultural field with independent temperature sensors made from these devices, distributed at hundreds of places around the field, he said.

The research breakthrough this week is an important step in giving plastic computers the sensor-like ability to store data, locally process the information and report data back to a central computer.

Mobile phones, which demand more computing power than sensors, will require more advances because communication requires microwave emissions usually produced by higher-speed transistors than have been made with plastic.

It's difficult for plastic to compete in the electronics area because silicon is such an effective technology, Flatte acknowledged. But there are applications where the flexibility of plastic could be advantageous, he said, raising the possibility of plastic computers being information processors in refrigerators or other common home electronics.

"This won't be faster or smaller, but it will be cheaper and lower power, we hope," Flatte said.

PLastic OLEDs

In the new research, Flatte and his colleagues were able to convert data encoded in a magnetic film from an electric flow into optics for an organic light-emitting diode (OLED). The LED was made out of the plastic, and connected to the magnetic film through a substrate. Plastics can't handle electricity; the data had to be converted into optics for communication.

"The plastic devices are very important in certain areas of light emission but have tended not to be important in communication," Flatte said.

mimo baby

Another possibility? Wearable baby garments.

The researchers were more concerned about making the technology happen—environmental concerns related to plastic are a completely different discussion, Flatte said.

To be sure, there are plastic devices with silicon computers in them already on the market, like a baby garment from Rest Devices, which has electronics to measure a baby's motion, temperature, breathing patterns and pulse. And before this week, basic transistors made out of plastic had been demonstrated. Now, this latest research establishes a method for plastic devices to read data from storage.

"The writing problem would have to be solved. But I think [reading] is an important step forward," Flatte said.


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