Monthly Archives: November 2014

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Google’s Most Innovative Technologies of the Year Love it or hate it, Google is one of the few companies in the world that can claim world-changing dominance. From their dynamo search engine to cutting-edge technologies, there is seemingly no tech space that Google doesn’t have their pixels in. To prove it’s no exaggeration to call it the most powerful company in the digital space, ponder these stats: In August of 2013, Google suffered a five minute outage that caused global web traffic to plummet 40%. That is staggering. In 2006, the verb “to Google” hit the Oxford English dictionary. When your company name makes its way into common vernacular, you have most certainly made an indelible impact. 2014 saw a large myriad of updates and inventions from this tech giant; so much so it was hard to keep track. Below are the highlights of the year; some you will recognize, […]

The Next Big Thing You Missed: Tech Superstars Build ‘Startup Factories’ The startup world is driven by a familiar formula: you get an idea, you build a product based on your idea, you start a business to sell your product, your business succeeds—or, more likely, it fails—and you start all over again, looking for a new idea.Lately, however, a new formula has begun to take hold, one that challenges the very idea of how a business should be built. It plays out quite differently: you start a business, your business experiments with lots of ideas, many ideas fail but some succeed, you turn these ideas into new businesses, and the formula repeats on its own. Or at least, you hope it will. There are lots of names for companies that follow this formula. Some call them “startup studios” or “startup factories,” while others refer to this style of business building […]

Moving Walls Transform a Tiny Apartment Into a 5-Room Home Microapartments make living in a big city semi-affordable, but tiny, featureless boxes can hardly be called homes. When Madrid-based graphic designer Yolanda Pila decided to renovate her cramped chambers, she turned to PKMN Architecture (pronounced Pac-Man) to transform the tiny footprint into a homey abode. Instead of following the typical studio apartment floor plan and outfitting Pila’s place with a galley kitchen, closet-sized bathroom, and a bedroom the size of a prison cell, PKMN developed a solution that allowed her to have several spacious rooms—just not all at once. They outfitted her ceiling with industrial tracks, often used to support the rolling bookshelves at libraries, and fabricated a series of storage units that double as walls. The bespoke boxes weigh nearly a ton each when fully loaded, but can be moved relatively easily. Pila can create “rooms” by rolling these […]

Oops: After Threatening Hacker With 440 Years, Prosecutors Settle for a Misdemeanor Thanks in part to America’s ill-defined hacking laws, prosecutors have enormous discretion to determine a hacker defendant’s fate. But in one young Texan’s case in particular, the Department of Justice stretched prosecutorial overreach to a new extreme: about 440 years too far. Last week, prosecutors in the Southern District of Texas reached a plea agreement with 28-year-old Fidel Salinas, in which the young hacker with alleged ties to members of Anonymous consented to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of computer fraud and abuse and pay $10,000 in restitution. The U.S. attorney’s office omitted one fact from its press release about that plea, however: Just months ago, Salinas had been charged with not one, but 44 felony counts of computer fraud and cyberstalking—crimes that each carry a 10-year maximum sentence, adding up to an absurd total of nearly […]

11 Futuristic Ways to Improve Our Cities, From Robotic Rats to Talking Trash Cans City Hall. It’s traditionally the place where technology gets stuffed into a drawer and forgotten. But as budgets recover from the Great Recession and smartphone-toting citizens prod municipal officials, cities are now more Boston Dynamics than Boss Tweed. Soon the pols will be promising sensor-driven pots that cook the chicken for you, just the way you like it. 1. Graffiti-busting drones. The Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s railroad, is testing drones to see if they deter graffiti artists, after taggers did $9 million in damage to its railcars in 2012 alone. 2. Robotic sewer rats. RedZone Robotics makes a compact autonomous robot, Solo, that uses a 360-degree camera and lasers to inspect city sewers. 3. Pothole patrol. Teeth-rattling roads are nasty. In Boston, the Street Bump app uses your phone’s motion sensor and GPS to report rough rides—and […]

The Internet of Anything: A Smartphone App That Lets You Control Your Office Environment Those motion sensors that automatically turn on the lights when you walk into a corporate office? Vivian Loftness doesn’t like them. And she’s doesn’t like those thermostats that only answer to some computer sitting on the other side of the internet.“The trend is to take control away from users, because the thought is that users mess things up,” says Loftness, a professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University who explores the modern office through the university’s Robert L. Preger Intelligent Workplace project. “We don’t like this. We want to reverse that trend.” Loftness and her fellow researchers have built a mobile app designed to give office workers more control over their environments—without sacrificing what comes from automated tools. Known as IDO—short for Intelligent Dashboard for Occupants—it provides a way for office employees to take hold of […]

The Shadow Internet That’s 100 Times Faster Than Google Fiber When Google chief financial officer Patrick Pichette said the tech giant might bring 10 gigabits per second internet connections to American homes, it seemed like science fiction. That’s about 1,000 times faster than today’s home connections. But for NASA, it’s downright slow. While the rest of us send data across the public internet, the space agency uses a shadow network called ESnet, short for Energy Science Network, a set of private pipes that has demonstrated cross-country data transfers of 91 gigabits per second–the fastest of its type ever reported. NASA isn’t going bring these speeds to homes, but it is using this super-fast networking technology to explore the next wave of computing applications. ESnet, which is run by the U.S. Department of Energy, is an important tool for researchers who deal in massive amounts of data generated by projects such […]

Firefox drops Google as global default search provider, switches to Yahoo For almost the entirety of Firefox’s 12-year history, Mozilla — and thus Firefox — has been primarily funded by a lucrative deal with Google. Since 2004, Google has been paying Mozilla around $100 million per year — or about 85% of Mozilla’s total income — to keep Google as the default search provider. Today, that finally changes: Google is out and Yahoo is in. Kind of. The terms of Mozilla’s new deal are fairly complex. Yahoo will become Firefox’s default search provider in the US. Under the hood, Yahoo Search is still powered by Microsoft Bing. As part of the deal, Yahoo will once again abide by Firefox’s Do Not Track feature, for users who would rather Yahoo did not track their search activity. There will also be a “new enhanced Yahoo Search experience that features a clean, modern interface” specifically for Firefox […]

Finally, a New Clue to Solve the CIA’s Mysterious Kryptos Sculpture In 1989, the year the Berlin Wall began to fall, American artist Jim Sanborn was busy working on his Kryptos sculpture, a cryptographic puzzle wrapped in a riddle that he created for the CIA’s headquarters and that has been driving amateur and professional cryptographers mad ever since. To honor the 25th anniversary of the Wall’s demise and the artist’s 69th birthday this year, Sanborn has decided to reveal a new clue to help solve his iconic and enigmatic artwork. It’s only the second hint he’s released since the sculpture was unveiled in 1990 and may finally help unlock the fourth and final section of the encrypted sculpture, which frustrated sleuths have been struggling to crack for more than two decades. The 12-foot-high, verdigrised copper, granite and wood sculpture on the grounds of the CIA complex in Langley, Virginia, contains […]

How Smartphone Apps Can Treat Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia Bryan Timlin always carries an iPhone and an Android phone. The 57-year-old is an app and graphic designer with a Michigan company called OptHub, but he doesn’t carry two phones for work. He carries the iPhone because that’s what he likes, and he carries the Android because it’s what he needs. The Android phone monitors his behavior. Five years ago, Timlin was diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterized by four or more manic or depressive episodes a year. Some episodes, he says, can last as long as eight weeks. “Being bipolar is like jumping out of an airplane knowing you don’t have a parachute on,” he says. “You know you’re going to be hurt, but the high is so euphoric that it’s worth the risk. You can deal with the consequences later.” With his Android phone, he hopes […]

NYC’s New Pay Phones Will Provide Super-Fast Wi-Fi—And Super-Smart Ads By this time next year, if all goes according to plan, there will be a new fixture on streets of New York: hundreds of slim aluminum pillars, each providing some of the fastest free internet available anywhere in the world. The kiosks are part of the ambitious initiative LinkNYC, which earlier this week was chosen to replace the city’s aging and all but forgotten pay phones. Beyond blanketing Gotham in crazy-fast Wi-Fi, the pylons are designed to let people charge their gadgets and look up directions on touch screens. Eventually, they could broadcast emergency messages or provide a place where New Yorkers can provide civic feedback on various topics. Just as novel is the plan for how city dwellers pay for it. They won’t have to dig into their pockets for spare change or put up with still more taxes. […]

How People’s Political Passions Distort Their Sense of Reality Though people might disagree on how to solve a problem, they can at least agree that the problem exists. Or can they? A new study finds that deeply held beliefs can undermine rationality: When confronted with solutions that challenge deeply held values, people may be inclined to disbelieve the problem. Psychologists tested hundreds of American adults on their beliefs about climate change and violent crime after proposing solutions involving, respectively, government regulations and gun ownership. Spooked by legally mandated fossil fuel restrictions, conservatives were less likely to accept the best scientific estimates on global temperature changes. Conversely, after being told that looser gun control laws reduced violent crime, liberals were less likely to believe that crime is a problem. Solution aversion, as the researchers call it, seems to know no partisan bounds. “In any issue where people’s cherished beliefs and identities […]

US government uses fake cell towers, flown on airplanes, to harvest phone data and track down criminals Proving yet again that the US government can show a surprising soupçon of tenacity when it comes to gross invasion of privacy while occasionally catching a terrorist, a new report claims that, since 2007, the US Marshals Service has been criss-crossing the country with small airplanes equipped with fake cell towers. These small aircraft (fixed-wing Cessnas) intercept communications between your mobile phone and the carrier’s legitimate cell tower, allowing the US Marshals to find and triangulate the exact location of a target. Obviously, the primary target of the system is criminals — but the report says a lot of “innocent Americans” are also being tagged by the program. News of this US Marshals program comes from the Wall Street Journal. According to “people familiar with the operations,” the US Marshals Service has been flying fake cell towers […]

New Social Network Is a Lot Like LinkedIn, Only Actually Useful WeWork is red hot. Offering co-working spaces where startups and freelancers can feel like they’re part of something larger, it’s valued at $1.5 billion, and it’s on track to triple membership within the next 12 months. But it wants more. On Monday, the four-year-old company expanded its large and growing footprint even further with a new social network. It’s called WeWork Commons, and it could rival LinkedIn—except it might actually be useful. The goal is to bring the experience of working in WeWork’s physical offices to anyone, anywhere. It’s an online service where members—many of them entrepreneurs and tech workers—can trade stories and advice with other members, find local events, rent workspace, and get access to discounted business services. This is the kind of stuff WeWork’s more than 15,000 tenants have had access to all along. Now, the company […]

Two Dudes Prove How Easy It Is to Hack ATMs for Free Cash When a small-time Tennessee restaurateur named Khaled Abdel Fattah was running short of cash he went to an ATM. Actually, according to federal prosecutors, he went to a lot of them. Over 18 months, he visited a slew of small kiosk ATMs around Nashville and withdrew a total of more than $400,000 in 20-dollar bills. The only problem: It wasn’t his money. Now Fattah and an associate named Chris Folad are facing 30 counts of computer fraud and conspiracy, after a Secret Service investigation uncovered evidence that the men had essentially robbed the cash machines using nothing more than the keypad. Using a special button sequence and some insider knowledge, they allegedly reconfigured the ATMs to believe they were dispensing one dollar bills, instead of the twenties actually loaded into the cash trays, according to a federal […]