Sunday, July 12, 2009

Japanese railway workers take 'Smile Scan' test

Keihin Electric Express Railway Co. has introduced a "Smile Scan" system to evaluate the grins of its station staff.

The smile-measuring software has been developed by Kyoto-based precision equipment maker Omron Corp. The device analyzes the facial characteristics of a person, including eye movements, lip curves and wrinkles, and rates a smile on a scale between 0 and 100 percent using a camera and computer.

For those with low scores, advice like "You still look too serious," or "Lift up your mouth corners," will be displayed on the screen.

Some 530 employees of the Tokyo-based railway company will check their smiles with Smile Scan before starting work each day. They will print out and carry around an image of their best smile in an attempt to remember it.

"We aim to improve our services to make our customers smile," says a company official.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Identity Theft: Be Prepared

Reduce the info available about you in the public domain. Data you provide on the Net lasts forever and can assist someone in assuming your identity or targeting you for a crime. Keep personal info out of business profiles. Where you live, who you know, and what you do with spare time makes you an interesting person but an easy target.

Every time I watch the news, it seems a new frightening event is occurring. Swine flu, economy, identity theft and gun-carrying coworkers weren't things I used to worry about. How do you keep yourself safe in an increasingly chaotic world?

As I frequently tell my clients, I want you to be prepared, not just scared, about events you can't control.

I interviewed a security Relevant Products/Services specialist, Christopher Falkenberg, for tips on workplace safety. He's worked as a secret service agent and lawyer before starting Insite Security.

Falkenberg surprised me by pointing out that our risk for identity theft has gone down. He said the big problem now is identity impersonations. Apparently, Facebook and LinkedIn can be useful but dangerous because they can give the wrong people too much information.

I asked Falkenberg what he would advise readers to do. His hot tips included:

1. Reduce the information available about you in the public domain. Data you provide on the Internet lasts forever and can assist someone in assuming your identity or targeting you for a crime.

2. Keep personal information out of business profiles. Where you live, who you know, and what you do with spare time makes you an interesting person but an easy target.

3. Be wary of calls you get at work. Falkenberg said criminals are masters at pretending to be a close friend of someone they stalk. If in doubt, don't give out information about coworkers.

4. If a caller pressures you to cough up confidential corporate information, be suspicious. Falkenberg said con artists may use bits of information and pressure tactics to get what they want. Check out the identity of callers.

I was surprised to learn there's actually research on who survives a crisis. Turns out that pessimists fare better than optimists. Having a survival mindset means you have to imagine worst- case scenarios. If you're on a plane, have you counted the rows between you and the exit? If you're staying at a hotel, did you pay attention to the exit route? At work, have you asked about whether the organization has a plan for violence, disasters or pandemics?

Falkenberg said the biggest hurdle for people in a catastrophic event is not to freeze or act habitually. Did you know that most people in a plane crash actually slow themselves down by automatically getting their carry-on luggage?

Having more money or visibility actually increases your security risks (some comfort for the rest of us during this economy). Falkenberg recommends that those with higher income or visibility make certain they keep public information about them vague, business oriented and impersonal. He highlighted the need to do thorough background checks on anyone working for you.

[I] frequently point out that we can't avoid adversity but we can learn ways to handle it well. Falkenberg advises that denial is no protection against a crisis.

Go through your worst case scenarios, listen to your gut instincts, and don't ignore information that makes you uncomfortable.

Friday, July 10, 2009

NASA Launches Possible Astronaut Escape Vehicle

NASA successfully tested on Thursday an escape system for astronauts that may be used on the next generation of shuttle spacecraft.

The unpiloted Max Launch Abort System (MLAS) lifted off from a launch facility here just after sunrise and soared about a mile into the atmosphere before a mockup crew capsule separated from its bullet-shaped enclosure and parachuted safely to the ground.

The MLAS is being considered as an alternative means for astronauts to escape should trouble develop during or shortly after launch. It would eliminate the need for an escape launch tower, such as that used during the Apollo program, as well as attitude control engines.

The system is composed of four parts: a bullet-like fairing with four fins, the crew capsule, a motor cage, and "coast skirt" connecting the motor cage to the fairing. Weighing more than 46,000 pounds and more than 33 feet tall, the MLAS would sit atop an Ares I rocket. Should a problem occur during the early moments of launch, the motor of the MLAS would turn on, carrying the crew away from the rocket. The sections will separate and float to safety at the end of parachutes.

MLAS is not expected to replace an escape system already developed for Orion spacecraft, which will replace the space shuttle by 2012 as a means of traveling to the International Space Station and the moon.

--Wallops Island, VA (AHN)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Robot Teaches Itself to Smile

A robot has taught itself to smile, frown, and make other human facial expressions using machine learning.

To get the incredibly realistic Einstein robot to make facial expressions, researchers used to have to program each of its 31 artificial muscles individually through trial and error. Now, computer scientists from the Machine Perception Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego have used machine learning to enable the robot to learn expressions on its own.

“The robotic approach is the ultimate in helping us understand learning and development,” said social development expert Daniel Messinger at the University of Miami, who was not involved with the Einstein research but collaborates with the group on another project. “There’s so much we can learn by actually trying to make it happen instead of just watching kids try to move their faces — it’s like having a baby as opposed to just watching a baby.”

According to the researchers, who presented the project last month at the 2009 IEEE 8th International Conference on Development and Learning, this is the first time anyone has used machine learning to teach a robot to make realistic facial expressions.

To begin teaching the robot, the researchers stuck Einstein in front of a mirror and instructed the robot to “body babble” by contorting its face into random positions. A video camera connected to facial recognition software gave the robot feedback: When it made a movement that resembled a “real” expression, it received a reward signal.

“It’s an iterative process,” said facial recognition expert Marian Bartlett, a co-author of the study. “It starts out completely random and then gets feedback. Next time the robot picks an expression, there’s a bias towards putting the motors in the right configuration.”

After the robot figured out the relationship between different muscle movements and known facial expressions, it started experimenting with new expressions, such as eyebrow narrowing.

The robot’s expressions are still a bit awkward, but the researchers say they’re working on ways to make them more realistic, as well experimenting with strategies besides “body babbling” that might speed up the learning process. The group says its studious robot may even improve our understanding of how infants and children learn to make facial expressions.

“The idea is to try to understand some of the computational principles behind learning,” Bartlett said. “Here the computational principle is reinforcement learning and active exploration, which may also be behind learning motor movements in an infant.”

The next step is to get the Einstein robot to start socializing. Once the robot can mimic facial expressions in a social context, the researchers plan to use him in an “automatic tutoring” experiment.

“We’re putting facial expressions onto the robot so that he can engage with a pupil in a non-verbal manner and approximate one-on-one human tutoring as much as possible,” Bartlett said. “Studies have shown that human one-on-one tutoring improves learning by as much as two standard deviations — we want to know how can you try to approximate that with robotic tutoring.”

How a Denial-of-Service Attack Works

Investigators are piecing together details about one of the most aggressive computer attacks in recent memory -- a powerful "denial-of-service" assault that overwhelmed computers at U.S. and South Korean government agencies, companies and institutions, in some cases for days.
How does this type of cyber attack work? And how can people make sure their computers are safe?
Here are some questions and answers about the attack.
Q: What is a "denial-of-service" attack?
A: Think about what would happen if you and all your friends called the same restaurant over and over and ordered things you didn't even really want. You'd jam the phone lines and overwhelm the kitchen to the point that it couldn't take any more new orders.
That's what happens to Web sites when criminals hit them with denial-of-service attacks. They're knocked offline by too many junk requests from computers controlled by the attackers.
The bad guys' main weapon in such an attack is "botnets," or networks of "zombie" personal computers they've infected with a virus. The virus lets the criminals remotely control innocent people's machines, which are programmed to contact certain Web sites over and over until that overwhelms the servers that host the sites. The servers become too busy to respond to anything, and the Web site slows or stops working altogether.
It's different from what usually happens when you try to access a Web site. Normally, you just make one request to see the site, and unless there's a crush of traffic from something like a big news event, the servers respond well. Hijacked PCs, on the other hand, are programmed to send way more traffic than a normal user could generate on his or her own.
Q: How often do these attacks happen?
A: People try denial-of-service attacks all the time -- many government and private sites report being hit every day. Often the assaults are unsuccessful, because Web sites have ways of identifying and intercepting malicious traffic. However, sites really want to avoid blocking legitimate Web users, so more often than not, Internet traffic is let through until a problem is spotted.
Denial-of-service attacks are noisy by design, and they intend to make a statement. They're not subtle attempts to infiltrate a Web site's defenses, which can be much more insidious because that gives hackers access to whatever confidential information is stored there.
Often the attacks take a site out for a few hours, before Web site administrators can respond. What made the most recent attack notable is that it was widespread and went on for a while, beginning over the July Fourth holiday weekend and running into this week. It's not yet clear how the attack was able to last that long.

Q: Some organizations appear to have fended off these recent attacks, while other Web sites went down. How can this be?
A: The sites that went down probably were less prepared, because they are less accustomed to being hit or aren't sensitive enough to warrant extra precautions.
Popular Web sites, like e-commerce and banking sites, have a lot of experience dealing with denial-of-service attacks, and they have sophisticated software designed to identify malicious traffic. Often that's done by flagging suspicious traffic flowing into the site, and if there's enough of it, preventing it from ever reaching the site's servers.
Another approach is to flag suspicious individual machines that seem to be behind an attack, and ban any traffic from them from reaching the site.
That can often be difficult, though, because criminals use "proxy" computers to route their traffic, masking the source of the original requests. Proxy computers are often other infected computers that are part of a botnet.
Q: Is there usually evidence of who the culprits were? Or is the nature of the attack such that it leaves few fingerprints?
A: It's usually easier to stop a denial-of-service attack than it is to figure out who's behind it. Simply identifying where the malicious traffic is coming from won't get investigators very far, since the infected PCs that get roped into a botnet are owned by innocent people who don't know their computers are being used for nefarious purposes.
Pat Peterson, a security researcher and fellow at Cisco Systems Inc., says sophisticated attackers have also been adding a more subtle approach to evade detection.
Instead of directing huge amounts of traffic at a target site, they'll make more complicated requests one at a time that eat up more of the site's computing power , like trying to log in using bogus usernames and passwords. If enough of those requests are made, on a site that requires a lot of computing power, the effect can be the same, and the site gets knocked out.
This type of attack is trickier because it doesn't involve the sort of massive traffic surge that would normally tip off network administrators. This advanced tactic wasn't necessarily used in the most recent attacks. In fact there are signs the attacks were relatively amateurish. The programming code appears to have been patched together largely from material that has been circulating in the criminal underground for several years, according to Jose Nazario, manager of security research for Arbor Networks.
Q: If these attacks make use of compromised computers corralled into a "botnet," should I be worried about whether my PC is one of them? What could I do to prevent that or fix it?
A: If your computer is being used in a denial-of-service attack, you're likely to see a significant slowdown, because your processing power is being siphoned for the assault. But there aren't always obvious signs that your computer has been infected.
So the best thing is to focus on prevention, namely by having up-to-date antivirus software. In particular, make sure your antivirus software gets updated over the next few days.
If you're concerned your machine might be infected, it's wise to run an antivirus scan. Many antivirus companies offer a free scan from their Web sites.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Panasonic Unveils Robotic Drug Dispenser

Panasonic's first foray into the robot business is a machine that sorts and distributed medications to patients. It isn't developed to look humanoid -- it more resembles a cabinet with drawers, according to a company spokesperson. Pharmacists put drugs in, and the machine sorts and distributes them to patients based on stored medical data.
said Tuesday has developed a medical robot that dispenses drugs to patients, the Japanese electronics giant's first step into robotics.

Panasonic will sell the robot to Japanese hospitals next March and will market it in the United States and Europe later. Panasonic spokesperson Akira Kadota said the robot will cost several tens of millions of yen (hundreds of thousands of US dollars).

"This robot is the first in our robotics project. It sorts out injection drugs to patients, saving time for pharmacists," said Kadota.

The robot does not look humanoid. "It looks like a cabinet with lots of small drawers," he said.

Pharmacists put drugs into the robot, which stores medical data for patients. The robot will then sort out drugs for each patient and place them into respective drawers bearing the names of patients.

Osaka-based Panasonic hopes annual revenue from the robot and other medical robotics will reach 30 billion yen ($315 million) in the financial year to March 2016.

Japan boasts one of the leading robotics industries in the world, and the government is pushing to develop the industry as a road to growth. Automaker Honda Motor has developed the child-sized Asimo, which can walk and talk.

Earlier this year, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, a government-backed organization, revealed a walking, talking robot with a female face. However, it hasn't cleared safety standards and cannot yet help humans with daily chores.

Google to launch operating system ( Chrome OS)

Google is developing an operating system (OS) for personal computers, in a direct challenge to market leader Microsoft and its Windows system.
Google Chrome OS will be aimed initially at small, low-cost netbooks, but will eventually be used on PCs as well.
Google said netbooks with Chrome OS could be on sale by the middle of 2010.
"Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS," the firm said in its official blog.
The operating system, which will run on an open source licence, was a "natural extension" of its Chrome browser, the firm said.
The news comes just months before Microsoft launches the latest version of its operating system, called Windows 7.

"We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you on to the web in a few seconds," said the blog post written by Sundar Pichai, vice-president of product management, and Google's engineering director Linus Upson.

So at long last Google is making its move. It is poised to strike at the heart of Microsoft's software empire.
Tim Weber, Business editor, BBC News website

Charge of Google's light brigade
Both men said that "the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web" and that this OS was "our attempt to rethink what operating systems should be".
To that end, the search giant said the new OS would go back to basics.
"We are completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates.
"It should just work," said Google.
Google already has an operating system for mobile phones called Android which can also be used to run on netbooks. Google Chrome OS will be aimed not just at laptops but also at desktops for those who spend a lot of time on the web.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Silverlight Car Konfigurator

Although you may not speak German, the smooth experience of the Konfigurator comes through via the images and motion. You can check out a video of the Konfigurator in action or start using it to customize your own Mazda. Keep an eye out for the Deep Zoom of the interiors, which ends up being a great way to check out textures.

Configure your own car now here...

Multi-Touch Apps Without a Multi-Touch Screen

Multi-touch (MT) is a big part of Windows 7. MT is exciting and opens up new choices for UI interaction but the enthusiasm will quickly fade if you don’t have a multi-touch enabled monitor.
The good news is that there are multi-touch devices coming soon to your favorite hardware dealer. Hardware vendors like HP, Dell and Albatron want to have their products available before the October 22nd, 2009 release of Window 7. DigitTimes reports that a number of companies will be competing for a place on your desktop.

Touch panel makers, including eTurbo Touch, Mildex Optical, and Integrated Digital Technologies (IDT), are showcasing multi-touch technology supporting Microsoft Windows 7 at the ongoing Computex 2009.

The touch panel makers are introducing improved capacitive touch panels for medium- to large-size products, with prices 50-60% more than traditional capacitive touch panels and 60-80% less than projective capacitive touch panels, according to market sources.

One of the biggest obstacles in programming and testing a multi-touch (MT) application is enabling developers who don’t have MT computers to interact in a simulated MT way.

The Surface team solved this problem by creating a Surface emulator. Since the Surface has a five camera vision system buried in the depths of the table they needed to create a emulator that mimics that camera system on a normal PC.

It’s similar if you plan on adding MT to your Windows 7 application. For various reasons your dev team may not have MT devices for all team members. Both testers and developers need a way simulate user touches from their legacy hardware. Unfortunately there is no official emulator available from Microsoft. But there is a third party work-around that solves that problem.

Google's Gmail and More Finally Lose 'beta' Tag

First VLC, now Google. The kids are all growed up! Google has finally decided to ditch that pesky beta tag on several of its major projects. After five years of use, Gmail is apparently finally ready for prime time, along with Google Calendar, Google Talk, and Google Docs (in process).

The reason for dropping "beta" from the products seems to be largely political: businesses are reluctant to have their critical infrastructure depend on software that's perpetually in beta. By getting rid of the moniker, Google is aiming to convince more enterprises to consider its products as suitable for their business. And, of course, given that those are the people actually paying real money for the product--instead of us consumer leeches who pay only by having our eyeballs assailed with ads--that's a smart move on Google's part.

As Google's Matthew Glotzbach, the director of product management in Google Enterprise wrote today on the company blog: "We've focused our efforts on reaching our high bar for taking products out of beta, and all the applications in the Apps suite have now met that mark."

On a related note, Google is also adding some new features for those paying customers: email delegation and relegation, allowing businesses using Google Apps to easily comply with various data-retention laws.

Beta was once almost a mark of status for Web services, but it's become less so over the past few years, as they've become more and more popular. Even photo-sharing site Flickr got out of beta (and into "gamma," no less)--back in '06. Take that, Google!