Articles filed under Technology

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  • TV viewing apps increase usage, continue to increase offerings Feb 19, 2015 1:53 PM
    Kukec's eBuzz column features TV apps used by Comcast and AT&T customers help them view numerous channels on the go.

     
  • Elgin robotics teams make state championship Feb 19, 2015 5:30 AM
    Two Elgin-based robotics teams will compete in the state championship Saturday, and one of them would — literally — not be there without the other. The members of team got robot? helped organize and now mentors the younger members of rookie team Blue Box Bots. “It’s very cool,” Kristen McKeller, 18, of Elgin said. “I’ve been blessed with this very wonderful experience, and the opportunity to share that with others so they can avoid some of the pitfalls when I started.”

     
  • Naperville might offer Craigslist buyers, sellers safe place to meet Feb 18, 2015 4:36 PM
    Naperville soon may create a “Craigslist safe zone” similar to those popping up at police stations across the nation as law enforcement agencies offer space and a watchful eye to protect buyers and sellers using the online marketplace. Such safe zones have been established by police departments in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Kansas, and now Naperville is considering one after a city council member brought the idea to police Chief Robert Marshall.

     
  • ‘Connected cars’ that alert each other, you could be tested on I-90 Feb 18, 2015 6:04 PM
    Is the age of Knight Rider here? Tollway officials hope so. The agency may get involved in a government program to test out "connected cars" that warn drivers of upcoming hazards. But not all officials were on board yet.

     
  • Home devices that never turn off cost you a lot of money Feb 15, 2015 7:36 AM
    If your home has a smart meter, here’s an experiment: Log in to your power company’s website, and see how much electricity you use during the hour from 3 to 4 a.m. daily. You’ll likely find a significant amount of power being gobbled up. Meet the problem that energy researchers call MEL — the “miscellaneous electrical load.” Its name says it all: It refers to all the power use from miscellaneous electronics and other objects in your home that are not major appliances, lighting or heating and cooling.

     
  • Is your doctor’s office the most dangerous place for data? Feb 15, 2015 7:31 AM
    Those medical forms you give the receptionist and send to your health insurer provide fertile ground for criminals looking to steal your identity, since health care businesses can lag far behind banks and credit card companies in protecting sensitive information. The names, birthdates and — most importantly — Social Security numbers detailed on those forms can help hackers open fake credit lines, file false tax returns and create fake medical records.

     
  • Using drones to sell land and homes from the air Feb 15, 2015 7:33 AM
    Douglas Trudeau waited 177 days for the Federal Aviation Administration’s permission to fly his $1,300 drone. Last month, Trudeau became the nation’s first agent to receive an exemption under the FAA’s rules, a move that will allow him to capture the sweeping mountain views and scenic vistas around his Tucson clients’ homes, as long as he meets the agency’s 33 restrictions, including having a licensed pilot operate the drone and applying for a certificate of authorization before every flight.

     
  • FireEye is “first in the door” on big cyberattacks Feb 14, 2015 7:43 AM
    As hackers invade the computer systems of major companies with greater frequency and their corporate victims scramble to contain the damage and prevent future intrusions, these are boom times for cybersecurity sleuths. Perhaps no security specialist has benefited more than a small but fast-growing company called FireEye, which is based in Silicon Valley and staffed with a roster of former military and law-enforcement cyberexperts.

     
  • Study: Oklahoma’s small quakes raise risk of big ones Feb 14, 2015 6:10 PM
    This once stable region is now just as likely to see serious damaging and potentially harmful earthquakes as places east of the Rockies such as New Madrid, Missouri, and Charleston, South Carolina, which had major quakes in the past two centuries.

     
  • Are you a hack waiting to happen? Your boss wants to know Feb 14, 2015 8:26 AM
    Data show phishing emails are more and more common as entry points for hackers. Unwittingly clicking on a link in a scam email could unleash malware into a network or provide other access to cyberthieves. So a growing number of companies, including Twitter Inc., are giving their workers a pop quiz, testing security savvy by sending spoof phishing emails to see who bites.

     
  • What offensive tweets of Bush aide say about oversharing age Feb 14, 2015 7:33 AM
    At 31, Ethan Czahor is on the cusp of a generation that lived its teenage and young-adult years almost entirely online, where their antics were often public, regrettable and permanently archived. Myspace launched just as Czahor was turning 20, and Facebook went national in late 2006, when he was 24. Czahor was still in college in eastern Pennsylvania when he started his now-infamous Twitter account; at that point, only three years after the site’s founding, most users hadn’t figured out what Twitter was even for.

     
  • Robots can build cars; now they’re learning not to crush you Feb 14, 2015 7:36 AM
    Robots long ago earned a place in factories, where their pneumatic pumps and steel welding arms help manufacture everything from cars to planes. Now, they’re learning to behave around people, bringing them one step closer to the Jetsons-esque dream of automated servants that might one day serve you coffee or iron your shirts. While today’s robots are more agile than ever, they typically require a safety cage to keep them from harming the humans working around them. The world’s biggest robot makers — Switzerland’s ABB, Japan’s Fanuc and Germany’s Kuka — are rolling out new machines with a new generation of sensors that dramatically cut the risk of injury and help them better interact with workers. The latest robots in the $29 billion-a-year market are targeting the electronics industry, where factory automation lags behind businesses such as carmaking due to the intricate assembly process. The same sensors which ensure that a machine doesn’t crush a circuit board or co-worker bring the prospect of robots serving customers even closer, according to Kuka Chief Executive Officer Till Reuter. “We will have a time where there are far more robots at home — not just washing and cleaning robots, but other functionalities,” the executive said in an interview. The key is sensors that improve a robot’s awareness of its surroundings. Take YuMi, the torso-sized, dual-armed robot which Zurich-based ABB will start selling in April. Its built-in camera and pressure sensors allow it to mimic human movements to assemble small components for a watch or mobile phone, then physically hand them to a person alongside on the production line. ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer predicts robots will even soon be able to learn from humans. “There’s a fantastic opportunity,” the chief of ABB, which also makes power grids, said on Feb. 5, when the company said demand for its robots contributed to a 10 percent increase in orders last year. “A robot looks at you, sees what you’re doing and he copies you. Robots also become more intelligent in terms of understanding what he has in his hands and selecting what to do.” Kuka promotes its LBR iiwa robot, introduced last year, as an “intelligent, industrial work assistant” whose built-in protection mechanisms and safe torque sensors in every axis allow it to safely work next to humans on the factory floor. Kuka shares rose to the highest level in 19 years on Wednesday as rising demand helped the company to exceed its own forecast for sales and profitability. Revenue surged 18 percent to 2.1 billion euros while earnings before interest and taxes gained 18 percent to 142 million euros. The electronics industry, currently dependent on as many as 10 million factory workers in Asia alone, could need 500,000 robots by 2020, Reuter estimates. There are currently about 1.3 million industrial robots in operation globally, according to the International Federation of Robotics. The growth of the industry has attracted new players, ranging from software giant Google to online retailer Amazon.com and Chinese Web firm Alibaba Group. Robots present a “great opportunity” in the next 20 to 30 years, Alibaba chief Jack Ma said Feb. 2 in Hong Kong as he pledged “significant” investment in artificial intelligence. Google has snaffled up at least seven companies since 2012, ranging from the robot imaging systems of Industrial Perceptions, to Redwood Robotics’ humanoid robotic arms and to Boston Dynamics’ walking robot armies. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said in March that the Mountain View, California-based company is experimenting with automation in ways that will “replace a lot of the repetitive behavior in our lives.” Still, Kuka’s Reuter doesn’t see Google as a threat as the U.S. software company lacks the 40 years’ mechatronics experience of ABB, Kuka and Fanuc. He says the likes of Google could be business partners, fusing their software expertise with the traditional players’ hardware experience to offer consumer robotic solutions. Bot & Dolly, a company which Google acquired in 2013 and which provided robotic technology for the 2013 Oscar-winning film “Gravity,” already uses Kuka machines. An immediate competitor is Amazon, which bought Kiva Systems Inc. for $775 million in 2012, and has used the robotmaker’s technology to start automating its distribution centers. Amazon’s Kiva robots can pick up a shelf and transport it through a warehouse to an employee who then adds or removes the necessary objects. A similar logic lies behind Kuka’s December decision to buy Swisslog, according to CEO Reuter. “The next step will be not only to have a warehouse system, but a robot which can sort products,” he said, adding that Kuka’s robotic arms could fulfill that role. While Reuter predicts the consumer market will ultimately outgrow industrial robotics, the current cost of machines made by Kuka, ABB and Fanuc — starting at about 35,000 euros — makes that unlikely any time soon. Until that time, the companies will try to fill repetitive jobs in electronics manufacturing with their machines. “Most big companies producing electronics today, they can’t find enough people,” said ABB’s robots head Per Vegard Nerseth. “It’s not cost arbitrage — more and more it’s about finding people to do the difficult, delicate and dull jobs.”

     
  • App reviews: Outlook, DocuSign Feb 14, 2015 7:41 AM
    Microsoft has updated its Outlook app for iOS and Android devices, adding many productivity features that can improve the way you use email on your phone, especially your work email. If you don’t want to hunt down a fax machine or mess with scanners, consider adding your John Hancock via DocuSign’s mobile app.

     
  • Samsung said to plan three-sided screen in Galaxy smartphone Feb 14, 2015 7:32 AM
    Samsung Electronics Co. plans to release two new versions of its top-tier Galaxy smartphone next month, including a model with a display covering three sides, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. Both phones will have all-metal bodies and use Samsung’s most advanced processor chips, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details haven’t been released.

     
  • Let hackers in: Experts say traps might be better than walls Feb 14, 2015 7:34 AM
    Ever since the Internet blossomed in the 1990s, cybersecurity was built on the idea that computers could be protected by a digital quarantine. Now, as hackers routinely overwhelm such defenses, experts say cybersecurity is beyond due an overhaul. Their message: Neutralize attackers once they’re inside networks rather than fixating on trying to keep them out.

     
  • Modern cars are ripe targets for hackers, senator warns Feb 14, 2015 7:35 AM
    a new report from Sen. Edward Markey warns that the increasing technical complexity of vehicles is leaving drivers’ security and privacy at risk. “Drivers have come to rely on these new technologies, but unfortunately the automakers haven’t done their part to protect us from cyber-attacks or privacy invasions,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in a statement.

     
  • Report: Apple has hundreds working on electric car project Feb 14, 2015 4:58 PM
    he Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple has hired hundreds of people to work on a secret project — code name “Titan” — to develop an electric vehicle.

     
  • The case of the Facebook page that posts the same thing every day Feb 14, 2015 7:42 AM
    Once a day, every day since Aug. 21, some fan with a weird sense of humor has posted the exact same photo of Italian pop singer Toto Cutugno to Facebook. It’s not a new schtick, exactly: There is also a Facebook (and a Twitter, and a Tumblr blog) dedicated to a single photo of actor Dave Coulier. The amazing and unusual thing about this page, however, is that people really like it. A lot of people. Almost 50,000 people. And without fail -- once a day, every day -- the exact same unsmiling, heavy-browed photo of Cutugno gets approximately 1,500 of those little thumbs-ups, and a whole lot of bizarre comments. “It seems a little bit more somber to me today.” “The jacket was ironed better yesterday.” There are even pages about the page about Cutugno’s picture: One, called “I like posting the same photo of Toto Cutugno every day,” publishes regular, bizarre meditations on Cugno and his picture. Another, called “the same comment on the same photo of Toto Cutugno every day,” trades in weird Photoshops of the famed image. (No word as to whether that page’s creator actually posts the same comment on the same photo every day -- we’re not going down that rabbithole.) The whole thing is so bizarre and so surreal, in fact, that it attracted the attention of researchers at Italy’s IUSS Institute for Advanced Study, who saw more than an impenetrable in-joke in all those identical photos. For one thing, they noted, it’s highly unusual to have a page that posts the same thing every day. And it’s even more unusual that a novelty page of that type should attract such a large and varied following. To them, “The same photo of Toto Cutugno every day” represented an excellent opportunity to study how the actual content of a Facebook post influences its spread -- as opposed to the workings of the News Feed algorithm, the consumption patterns of groups of friends, or other things we generally associate with virality on the world’s largest social network. As it turns out, content has a lot to do with it: Pages with “heterogenous” content tend to see wildly varying numbers of likes and comments on their posts. But Toto Cutugno, which only posts one thing, is constant: 1,500 likes, 40-odd comments. Ogni giorno lo stesso -- every day the same. That’s important, says Alessandro Bessi, one of the authors of the study, because it could help researchers model how urban legends, conspiracies and hoaxes perpetuate on Facebook. In fact, that’s Bessi’s main subject of research: He’s interested in how misinformation spreads online. There’s plenty more research to do on that score, of course. But Bessi and colleagues may soon have more material to study. Since the Toto Cutugno page became popular in Italy, a number of (literal) copy cats have sprung up -- like the adorable “every day the same kitty.” “This page is madness,” one man wrote. “I like it.” Indeed. • Dewey writes The Post’s The Intersect web channel covering digital and Internet culture.

     
  • Apple is building a massive solar farm in California Feb 14, 2015 7:44 AM
    Apple chief executive Tim Cook said this week that the company is taking on an ambitious project: an enormous solar farm that will provide enough power for all of the company’s corporate offices, California stores, its forthcoming campus and more. The project will be done in collaboration with First Solar Inc. as part of that firm’s 2,900-acre California Flats solar project. Apple’s portion of the farm is 1,300 acres and will add 130 megawatts of new solar power to the state of California, First Solar said in a release. Cook made his comments Tuesday at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in New York; Apple streamed the remarks online. Cook said he expects the $848 million investment Apple makes in the solar farm will result in “significant savings” for Apple, because the firm can secure a fixed cost for renewable energy that is cheaper than traditional power. He called it the company’s “biggest and boldest” project to date, according to Apple Insider. Apple has not always had a stellar reputation in environmental matters. The company faced public criticism from Greenpeace in 2006 over the use of toxic chemicals in its products. But Apple turned a page in 2007 and aggressively committed to making itself greener. When it comes to energy use, Apple has walked the talk. All of the company’s data centers run on renewable energy sources -- solar, wind and geothermal. According to Apple’s latest company report on environmental initiatives, 73 percent of all its facilities are green. The company also hired former Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson to be its vice president of environmental initiatives in 2013. Tuesday’s announcement earned Apple quick praise from Greenpeace senior IT sector analyst Gary Cook (who is not related to the Apple CEO). “It’s one thing to talk about being 100 percent renewably powered, but it’s quite another thing to make good on that commitment with the incredible speed and integrity that Apple has shown in the past two years,” said Greenpeace’s Cook. “Apple still has work to do to reduce its environmental footprint, but other Fortune 500 CEOs would be well served to make a study of Tim Cook, whose actions show that he intends to take Apple full-speed ahead toward renewable energy with the urgency that our climate crisis demands.” The 25-year agreement between First Solar and Apple is believed to be the industry’s largest such deal so far. Construction will begin in Monterey County, California, this year and is expected to finish by the end of 2016, First Solar said.

     
  • Famed ‘Jeopardy!’ computer Watson now learning Japanese Feb 14, 2015 7:34 AM
    Remember Watson, the computer that won “Jeopardy!” in 2011 and made us all worry about the impending obsolescence of the human race? Have you ever wondered what it’s been up to since then? Well, like many sudden celebrities, Watson has dabbled in several interests. It visited Capitol Hill. It penned its own celebrity cookbook. And now, in partnership with the Japanese tech firm Softbank, Watson is going to lend its brain power to robots and take on one of the greatest challenges of its development cycle: learning Japanese. It’s a test of Watson’s technology, which — very simply put — is designed to take in huge amounts of information, process and learn from them in the same way the human brain does. Watson has already spent years picking up the weird phrases, nuances and quirks of English. But this is the first time IBM’s tried to teach Watson a language that doesn’t use the Latin alphabet. “This is a major step for us,” said John Gordon, IBM’s vice president for the Watson Group. IBM has fed Watson texts translated from Japanese before; he said it’s been hard to capture the “richness and depth” of the language, a process made even more difficult because Japanese has three different alphabets and thousands of characters. To accomplish that task, Watson will have to work to improve itself using essentially the same process that students learning foreign languages have for years, though on a much larger scale. It will get a bank of 250,000 words, and turn them into 10,000 diagramed sentences to identify the subject, object and verb. Then native speakers — yes! humans! — will read its first attempts at translations, correct them and feed the right sentences back into the system. Over time, Watson should be able to learn the language. “You give it homework problems, grade its homework, and it figures out what’s right,” Gordon said. Softbank was a logical partner for IBM here, Gordon said, because it has roughly 1,300 subsidiaries that specialize in everything from telecommunications to gaming to robotics. It has also signaled its interest in big data, partnering last year with General Electric to sell that company’s big data solution. The breadth of Softbank’s business opens plenty of applications for Watson beyond answering quiz questions. The companies have already dropped some of Watson’s technology into Softbank’s humanoid Pepper robot. That robot, which is designed to be empathetic and hold conversations, is due to go on sale in the coming months in Japan. (There hasn’t yet been any decision about U.S. sales.) Watson, in theory, could help Pepper better understand the context of questions and make it a better companion down the line. It also provides a good opportunity for IBM, which has never officially broken out its sales figures for Watson. A report last year from The Wall Street Journal said that Watson had totaled less than $100 million in revenue as of October 2013; IBM chief executive Virginia Rometty has said publicly that Watson should generate $10 billion in annual revenue within ten years. IBM spokeswoman Lia Davis refuted the report’s characterization of Watson’s success, noting that the company’s Business Analytics department — which includes Watson — reported revenue growth of 7 percent over the past year to $17 billion this year. That department also includes IBM cloud services and its mobile partnership with Apple. IBM is pretty confident that this type of “cognitive computing” — in which computers learn like people — will define the next era of computing. There’s a lot of information out there and having a machine to digest and process it all saves humans a lot of time and papercuts. To date, IBM has focused the Watson project on a few core industries such as law or health care to help professionals stay abreast of new literature to best inform their daily practice. Gordon said that the company has opened up its program to developers of all stripes to explore other ways that businesses can build on top of the Watson platform themselves. That could lead to future partnerships, and expanded revenue for IBM down the line. Gordon said that he’s enjoyed watching the applications for Watson grow, specifically mentioning a veterinary marketing firm and a group that’s used Watson to help people evaluate which charities will use their donations most effectively. The Japanese experiment will almost certainly lead to other partnerships — and other attempts to teach Watson new alphabets and languages down the line, Gordon said.

     
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