Google Glass: The flip-side

July 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Articles, Blogs

So Steve Mann went ahead and got himself into an odd situation. Again. Back in 2002, airport security broke some of his equipment causing over $50,000 of damage. What equipment, you might ask? His wearable computer system. Yes, that’s right. Designed to augment his memory & keeping a check on his life-sustaining signs, while at the same time enhancing his vision, he wears electronic sensors & a computer wherever he goes. And back in 2002, while on the way to Toronto via St. John’s International Airport in Newfoundland, he went through a three-day ordeal where he was searched & stripped of his contraptions by security personnel. By the way, Steve Mann is the pioneer of wearable computing and a professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto. And recently, he was all over the news again. Apparently, the guys at a French McDonalds restaurant didn’t approve Mann sporting his own custom made Glass, Google’s Augmented Reality headset. Yes, the head mounted device that sports an augmented reality display. Talk about zombies, and this is what comes to my mind. Oh well, that’s just me. Anyway, the incident back in 2002 might have been strange or far fetched to many of us, but to think that Google is releasing it’s own augmented reality gear for mainstream consumers in 2014 makes me think that the possibilities are not that far away. But at what cost?

Is the world ready for augmented reality head-gears? You walk around, wearing the thin & transparent eyepiece, ducking and moving around nooks and corners, eying everyone that comes to your focus. And if I was at the other end of it, knowing that it might be some sort of a privacy invading device (it has a camera, who knows if its recording, right?!) I wouldn’t be too happy about it. The point is, the rest of the society has to be ready for such a device, or else you might end up losing it, or worse, hurt your wallet. To think that Mann had paperwork from his doctor explaining the need for such a contraption, and yet having his gadget pulled from his head (which is permanently attached by the way) is a stark reality to the flip-side of this cutting edge technology. Makes you think doesn’t it?

Yes, even though sousveillance is generally accepted, how troublesome might it be when we have a permanent camera hanging from our faces? It’s just not a matter of dropping your phone into your pocket after quickly sending a tweet, or taking a shot. The augmented reality is a persistent thing; and to think that you are trying to do it to the whole world! There will be a level of perceived detachment between the ones using it, and the ones that are not. Each new technology brings with it an adoption life-cycle… who knows how long it will take the laggards to catch up to the early adopters. And it is similar to this case too: it will be interesting to see how the old schemas gets challenged, and maybe forced into acceptance. It’s a brave new world out there folks. It’s time to get into the “zombie-groove.”

Facebook monitors conversations for unlawful activity

July 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Articles, News

Scanning for unlawful activities, the social-networking giant detects suspicious behavior, flags the content, and informs the police if need be, reports CNET. Joe Sullivan, the Chief Security Officer of Facebook, in an interview with Reuters shed some light into it.

Excerpt from the interview: “A man in his early 30s was chatting about sex with a 13-year-old South Florida girl and planned to meet her after middle-school classes the next day. Facebook’s extensive but little-discussed technology for scanning postings and chats for criminal activity automatically flagged the conversation for employees, who read it and quickly called police. Officers took control of the teenager’s computer and arrested the man the next day.”

Members, having a loose relationship on the network are paid more attention to by the monitoring software, looking in to conversations for data mining. Particular attention is paid to instances when two users are not friends, have a significant age difference, have no friends in common and located far from each other.

Chat records that have been found previously from criminals aids the software to look out for phrases. Before a Facebook employee decides to alert the authorities, the phrases and the relationship analysis have to match. Sullivan continues, “We’ve never wanted to set up an environment where we have employees looking at private communications, so it’s really important that we use technology that has a very low false-positive rate.”

It is a well-known fact that Facebook cooperates well with the police authorities. However, the existence of a monitoring technology might raise privacy concerns among the users.

Microsoft Office 15: Expected soon

July 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Articles, News

The next version of Microsoft’s productivity suite, Office 15, is expected to be shown off at an event in San Francisco, reports PCWorld. It is unclear whether a public beta will be available, or whether later in the summer. The technical preview of the latest version of Office has been available to a select group of users since January.

There are also many reports claiming that Office 15 will not run on Windows XP & Windows Vista. This leaves only Windows 7 & the upcoming Windows 8 to support the newest productivity suite. In addition to that, there are speculations that Microsoft will bring out Office for the iPad, with native support for Excel, and PowerPoint apps.

There has been no confirmation on Microsoft’s side as to whether the suite will be offered as a touch-only Metro version on Windows 8. The only versions that have appeared on the web are the desktop UI ones. The version for the ARM slates, Office 15 for Windows RT, is also being built by Microsoft.

According to the online leaks, Office 15 will have a predominant look like Windows 8 & Windows Phone (the Metro look). Integration with cloud services like SkyDrive, Hotmail, Facebook will also be featured.  The vice president of development for Office, PJ Hough, said in January that office 15 is to be “the most ambitious undertaking yet for the Office Division.”

Windows SkyDrive updated with a new logo

July 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Articles, News

The new version of SkyDrive for Windows tells the user how it is behaving by offering a new status window. After many users requested for a simple way to check this function, SkyDrive provides a small status window when clicked (in the system tray). The status informs the user about the time SkyDrive was updated, with information in regards to megabytes & the files being transferred.

Neowin also reports that, for SkyDrive power users, some features have been added: options like “View sync problems” and “Report a problem” are now shown as options in the context menu. These make it a lot easier to diagnose/solve problems in the system. However, Mike Torres from Microsoft says that most of these changes are not visible to users in this update. As reported in the Windows Blog, Mike Torres mentions in regards to the updates, “this one improves performance, reliability, and compatibility of SkyDrive,” enabling the users to confidently auto-sync files.

Additionally, the SkyDrive logo was also updated. “With the upcoming release of Windows 8, the time was right to redesign the SkyDrive logo. The refreshed logo is a natural evolution of the work we’re doing across Microsoft to deliver a more consistent experience across all of our products,” said Mike Torres.

The app can be downloaded from the SkyDrive website.

Betaworks buys Digg for merely $500K

July 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Articles, News

Once the most talked about social linking website, Digg has been acquired and will now known as news.me, reports SocialTimes. This is in sharp contrast to the days four years ago, when then CEO Kevin Rose tried to sell the company for two hundred million dollars. Now, a New York technology firm, Betaworks, has acquired it for only five hundred thousand dollars.

Before making the deal, Digg did consider other offers too, and some higher ones in fact. However, the consensus was that Betaworks had a better plan to revitalize Digg. The sharp decline in the user activity surfaced when Digg had updated to “Digg 2.0” platform. Nobody had guessed that the damage would be so much in regards to the insignificant sales numbers.

There are two reasons how their attempts to commercialize the site failed. Firstly, they ignored users’ concerns that had made it clear that they would leave the site if the front page was commercialized. Secondly, the revamped model was ineffective. Part of the new design was to let the companies design their own pages & feed the front page. This destabilized the democracy of the site. Users, who supported the new design, were confused if the site was functional when companies flooded the front page with their own links.

It seems the acute mistake on Digg’s part was not to listen to its users – they had lost when everything was in their hands.

BBC Olympic App: on Android & iOS

July 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Articles, News

This year’s Olympic fans can stream the games live via apps released by BBC, together with text commentary and with guides to various sporting events. Because BBC is the only one who has the rights to broadcast the games in the UK, the games can be broadcasted to only users in the UK. However there is an international edition of the app as well that will have some of the treats, reports Slashgear.

The app, by determining a users location, will offer localized updates. It will quickly allow keeping tabs on the events that one is really interested in. If a user wishes to sort countries relevant to the updates & headlines, it is possible too. Besides offering schedules for the various events, the app will also generate statistics and information of the various athletes in the games and the text commentaries will aid a user in case he/she does not have enough bandwidth for the video. The app is now available in both Google’s Play & Apple’s App Store.

PC sales stalling because of Windows 8

July 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Articles, News

PC sales have slowed down in anticipation of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 8, and customers are waiting to decide whether they want the new operating system according to an IDC report. Windows 8 is expected to be launched this fall, in time for the holiday season.

PC World reports that until they get more information regarding Windows 8 or its devices, a major chunk of these prospective buyers may hold themselves from buying a new PC. Jay Chou, an IDC analyst says, “The announcement of a Windows 8 launch date, as well as broader communication of new features in the OS, are key steps that would help to address uncertainty about new product availability and help consumers and channels plan their purchases.”

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, said that the new operating system & the Surface tablets that support it, will be available in October. Moreover, the RTM (Release to Manufacturing) of Windows 8 is expected next month, further solidifying the plans for a release. This would also mean that potential buyers will have a chance to tinker & play with the operating system in its almost-final form before deciding to buy one. The current Windows 8 version, available to public (free), for testing is the Release Preview.

The research director for personal computing at IDC, Davis Daoud says, “We don’t expect PCs using Windows 8 to boost growth significantly until the fourth quarter, which leads to a conservative outlook for the third quarter.” Other reasons behind sluggish PC sales are market saturation for notebooks, a longer adoption cycle among enterprise users and of course, the slow economy & low consumer confidence.

Antivirus for Smartphones: Should you be worried?

July 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Articles, Blogs

Antivirus programs play a significant role on the desktop. The security issues that pop up are sometimes too scary to imagine, and having a trusted antivirus program surely makes it a lot easier – and safer of course. And if that wasn’t enough, we now have to worry about having antimalware apps for our smartphones too… The fear of compromising the data in your smartphone is a dodgy affair.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise that when antimalware apps started appearing for Android, we snapped them up. Well, you can’t blame us really. That’s what we have been fed ever since the antivirus companies came in to existence. Trojans… Spywares… Botnets…

Furthermore, corporate security is a vital issue. Most of the administrators and IT pros do not give the computer without completely securing it. In order to secure computers, antivirus companies provide extensive suites, with a centralized system. But the question that arises now is this: What about smartphones? The trend is changing. As platforms like iOS & Android become popular by the day, employees are no longer considering the standard company issued phones just to be a ‘communication’ device. From downloading documents, to reading email attachments, we even use VPNs inside the company firewall. These issues naturally raise concerns as to how the integrity of the data is being preserved.

Now one has to understand how the smartphone functions before answering the question, and how it is fundamentally different from the typical computer. A program has the ability to access all the system resources on a normal system, gaining entry to hard drive contents, the unprotected RAM and so on. Therefore, if a malicious software gains access to your computer, it has ability to scan the hard drive, read your keystrokes, and then send it back via your network.

On the other hand, current smartphones do not work that way. Each of the apps running is given their own work environment, sort of like each app running in its own virtual machine. This in itself is a very secure environment for the apps to run, where no malicious software can do much harm. Moreover, apps for platform like Android must be downloaded from their official store, like Play. Google revealed a security feature, called ‘Bouncer’, which is designed to automatically scan the entire Android market for malware.

Because the foul play is greatly reduced, you have to now think whether antivirus apps can do much. You know where this is going: any antivirus software that you install will not be able to access any other app, or the data that is used by it. Yes, if you Jailbreak your iPhone, or Root your Android, the scenario maybe different. But who does that? Some of us may think that we are intentionally opening up our devices so that they are more vulnerable to exploits due to ‘Rooting’ or ‘Jailbreaking.’

So now, back to the question: Should you be worried? There haven’t been any major malware outbreaks on modern smartphones. The threat, however, is different. Rogue apps have been known to infiltrate the Android Market, and siphon data off of users’ phones. But so far, there haven’t been any malware that would manage to access the data from other apps. But who is to say that they will not evolve? We always have to take security issues with a pinch of salt…

There are many other functions that security apps provide besides ‘scanning for malware.’ There’s remote access: the ability to track and remotely erase devices. Next, the most basic of them all: having a passcode that erases the device if there are unsuccessful attempts to gain access. These are some of the features that are available in the modern smartphones nowadays, and are also being implemented by IT administrators.

I believe the security apps are barely affective. It uses system resources, & battery life. I wouldn’t be worried about the issue so much as of now. But yes, due diligence is important. Download apps from the official stores, and do not use confidential data if there is no dire need to. Backup the phone data on a daily basis so that a crisis like losing it can be averted. Use password protection on SD cards if you have one. And more importantly, enjoy your smartphone.

Microsoft Word 2013 to have PDF editing

July 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Articles, News

Office 2007 had an add-on to save files in PDF; and Office 2010 had it natively. Now, Neowin reports, that the upcoming Word 2013 will let you edit the PDFs too.

PDF editing is a feature that everyone felt was missing. Paul Thurrott’s site, WinSuperSite, claim that users will be able to skip Adobe’s own reader and Acrobat software to display PDFs, because Word 2013 will have a PDF reader too.

This new offering from Microsoft could change the way people interact with PDF. The format is particularly difficult to handle, for it is usually used for reading and not editing. Because eBooks can be read in readers such as Amazon’s Kindle, the editing functionality can bring about possibilities that users have yearned for many years in terms of having home-made books. Additionally, some book layouts can be changed to suit eInk displays more effectively in the future with the additional functionality.

Built right into Firefox: Facebook, Twitter & Gmail

July 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Articles, News

By building social tools into Firefox itself, Mozilla is working on ‘liberating’ users, reports Softpedia. They believe that these are “basic web functionality, identity and authentication.” An example of this would be the Firefox add-on, Firefox Share, which is still being developed and is in its experimental stage.

Users will be able to share via a feature in the Firefox 16 (Nightly built), which is to be released later this week. Practically, a user can share a link via Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Gmail etc. Although it is not clear as to what other platforms Firefox will support initially, the attempt is to add as many as possible.

Moreover, Mozilla plans to add support for notifications into the browser, expanding the social features in Firefox. Thus, users will be able to know what tweets arrive in the feed, if someone comments on anything in Facebook, or any new e-mail that has arrived.

Moving along, there are plans for a unified newsfeed with chat feature, letting users to do everything on Firefox itself, rather than on Twitter or Facebook itself, for instance.

This, it seems, will be a lengthy endeavor, and will be made possible using the Social API. Mozilla hopes that this will be the standard way to integrate social sites & their functionality into browsers.

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