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Interesting snippets from around the globe

Finally, sunglasses you won’t lose


Here’s how it works -you finally find that perfect pair of sunglasses that don't make you look like a doofus, convince yourself to lay out an absurd amount of money to buy them... and then leave them in a public restroom, never to be seen again.

The folks at Tzukuri Eyeware now have an answer to the problem - iBeacon-powered shades that send an alert to your iPhone when you leave them behind.

Tzukuri's secret is a very small 3mm-wide Bluetooth low energy chip embedded in the temple of the acetate sunglass frames. Once you've paired your sunglasses with your iPhone, the Tzukuri app sends an alert once your phone gets 5 metres away from your glasses. Further alerts come in at 10 metres and 50 metres.

It also works the other way too. If you walk off looking cool in your shades, but leave your iPhone on the counter, the app will realise your phone is sitting still while your sunglasses move away, and trigger an extra loud ring from the abandoned phone. Luckily, the app learns when you're at home or work (It doesn’t say how it knows this. WiFi perhaps?), so you don't get blasted every time your phone and shades part ways.

And, you don’t even have to charge the sunglasses. A tiny solar cell on the sunglasses's Bluetooth chip keeps the transponder constantly juiced, and if it needs recharging a message will pop up on your phone telling you to put your sunglasses in the sun for an hour or so.

If you happen to somehow ignore all those safety nets, and end up more than a few dozen yards from your glasses, the app saves the last location where your shades and your phone were together, and lets you retrace your steps on the map.

Tzukuri says the glasses will be available around towards the end of this year. They’re not cheap but neither is buying a replacement pair.

(June ‘14)


Shard is London’s Eye-full Tower


Hotel guests at the newly-opened Shangri-La Hotel inside of the Shard in London are being creeped out by the bizarre effects of a simple design flaw – reflections of the inside of some rooms appear directly onto the windows of nearby guests at night.

It seems the architect, Renzo Piano, didn’t get the detailing quite right so guests are getting a perfect view into other rooms.  Unfortunately, those being watched don’t know it.

The problem is the edges of Piano's Shard jut out past the flat planes of the building's façade – a flourish that gives the building its crystalline appearance. But when the lights are on in any given room, the projecting glass edges act as mirrors beaming a reflection of one room's interior onto the windows of another.

The hotel's manager, presumably in a state of extreme panic, had the following to say about the issue, "In some rooms, due to the unique shape of the Shard, guests may be able to glimpse into a neighbour's room. For this, blinds are available for guest privacy." 

Sounds like a design feature to me.

(June ‘14)


TICSA – New Zealand’s Big Brother


While the rest of the world is scrutinising and dialling down mass surveillance of Internet users, New Zealand has done the opposite.

The Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act (TICSA) requires, from now on, network operators to register with NZ Police, have staff with security clearance and ask the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) spy agency for permission to change their networks and buy new gear.

The new law applies to everyone, from small ISPs to Facebook, Google, Microsoft and the telcos. Failure to comply could cost as much as $NZ500,000 in fines per day.

Registrants must tell the police their total number of connections, customers and size of their geographic coverage, and ensure that law enforcement agencies have access to customer data and connections when needed.

Somewhat illogically though, the NZ government pushed through the law combining mandated communications interception capabilities for law enforcement, with undefined network security requirements as decided by the GCSB. 

The government believes this will make it easier to intercept communications and to keep networks secure.

Yeah, right.

(June ‘14)


B-52 gets an IT upgrade


The US Air Force's 10th Flight Test Squadron recently took delivery of the first B-52H Stratofortress to complete a refit through the Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) program. It's an effort to bring the Cold War era heavy bomber into the 21st century or at least up to the 1990s technology-wise.

While the aircraft received piecemeal upgrades over the past 50 years of flying, CONECT is the first major information technology overhaul for the Air Force's B-52H fleet since they entered service in 1961.

CONECT effectively turns the B-52 into a flying network: using a wideband satellite link, it keeps in touch with other Department of Defense systems and can redirect smart weapons after they've launched. The new system also provides those onboard with the ability to control multiple systems at once, and to chat over a digital intercom.

If that doesn't sound cutting-edge, it's because it isn't. Controlling all this will be standard keyboards and trackball mice and Boeing has even ditched the old-school cathode ray tube, green-on-black screens for full-colour LCDs.

(June ‘14)


Spurious Correlations


In statistics, it is said that correlation does not imply causation. Just because two variables are related, it does not mean that one causes the other.

To prove this, a new website, Spurious Correlations, is posting daily graphs showing the surprising relationships between pairs of random statistics from the U.S.

Some are extremely unusual – “Honey producing bee colonies versus juvenile arrests for possession of marijuana”, “Per capita consumption of cheese versus The number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets”, “US spending on science, space, and technology versus Suicides by hanging, strangulation and suffocation”, or the inverse relation between “The divorce rate and Number of lawyers in Virginia”.

The website was created by Tyler Vigen, a student at Harvard Law School, using statistics from the US Census and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The site also has a generator so that users can create new spurious correlations by viewing two randomly related variables.

Very entertaining.

(June ‘14)


The future of mobile is not about phone calls.


The idea of using a mobile phone to actually talk to people already seems a little quaint to the younger generation. According to data in Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report, a biannual study of how the world uses phones, mobile phones will be used less and less for calls, and more for video.

The report contains some interesting items: voice traffic on mobile networks will peak in 2015, and then revert back to around 2011 levels by 2019. By the end of this decade, mobile phones will be devices used primarily to access the internet. Video, and everything else, will happen on the back of that connection.

Tech companies are already moving to make phone calls via mobile networks obsolete. Apps such as Skype and Viber are built for that single purpose. Google has long pushed Voice as a way to bypass telecom operators. And Apple has just announced that it will introduce a function allowing users to route iPhone calls through their desktop computers.

According to the report, by 2019, mobile data consumption for video will outpace all other data use put together.

(June ‘14)

Back to top


Life sentences for cyber hackers


The British government wants life in prison for hackers who cause disruption to computer networks, resulting in loss of life or threaten the country's national security.

From the article: "The UK government will seek to amend the 1990 Computer Misuse Act "to ensure sentences for attacks on computer systems fully reflect the damage they cause. Currently, the law provides for a maximum sentence of ten years' imprisonment for those who commit the offence of impairing a computer. A new, aggravated offence of unauthorised access to a computer will be introduced into the Computer Misuse Act by the government, carrying far longer sentences.”

(June ‘14)


World’s worst e-reader


It is almost an unspoken rule of military procurement that any IT or communications technology they get will invariably be years behind what is commercially available or otherwise technically hobbled to ensure security.

Dubbed the NeRD or Navy e-Reader Device, the U.S. Navy is providing seamen on submarines with a Kindle-like tablet that operates without any radio or external connections (beyond a power port) and comes preloaded with 300 contemporary, classic and educational titles.

Unfortunately, the titles can never be updated. Ever.

(June ‘14)


World’s first braille mobile


Touchscreens may have kicked-off a mobile computing revolution, but they didn't do much for the visually impaired.

OwnFone, which launched a customisable phone for kids and the elderly back in 2012 and is available in Australia for $AUS69, has now launched a stripped-down handset with braille or raised text contact buttons in the UK. It's now available in the U.K. for a base price of £60 plus additional charges for calling minutes.

The hardware lets you select up to four contacts that can be assigned to the device, making it ideal for emergencies and people who need to stay in touch with family or carers on a regular basis. This customisation has been made possible by 3D printers, which allow the company to make each case unique in an affordable fashion.

(June ‘14)


Fresh, leafy Fujitsu lettuce


Fujitsu, the tech giant, has repurposed one of its semiconductor plants into an organic lettuce farm in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture.

Blending agriculture, technology, and medicine in the former microchip factory, the company has developed a new variety of organic lettuce that is not only lower in potassium and nitrates than standard varieties, but is also radiation-free. Lower potassium means it is better for those with compromised kidney function. Lower nitrate levels mean it is less bitter and thus more appealing to children.

Fujitsu have said they have no intention of quitting the electronics business in favour of veggies.

(June ‘14)


A Guardian Angel for women


One push of a button on this necklace gives women an instant escape from awkward situations - the jewellery automatically triggers a call to a woman’s cell phone, so she has a convenient excuse to walk away from unwanted attention at the bar or a bus stop.

If things change from annoying to dangerous, holding down the button sends an emergency message with the victim’s exact GPS coordinates.

The Guardian Angel technology was designed by ad agency JWT Singapore, who were originally asked to create an educational campaign about date rape, but decided to go further than the usual series of ads and try to solve the problem more directly. While some cell phone apps can also fake a phone call, the jewellery might be a little easier to use discreetly. If the necklace is too obviously noticeable, or becomes so widely used that it's recognisable, the device can also be worn as a bracelet and tucked under a sleeve.

This might help young females navigate the bar scene and escape from drunken louts who are getting a little too amorous.

The necklace retails for $US120 with a free iOS app from the Apple Store.

(June ‘14)


Chat to your fridge or washing machine


LG, the South Korean electronics giant, has unveiled a text chat service that allows fridge owners to see what food is inside as well as controlling other home appliances.

LG's HomeChat appliances communicate with their users via Line, a popular chat app in Asia, and are designed to understand natural language requests.

The refrigerator features an in-built wide-angle camera that takes a picture of its shelves' contents each time its doors are opened and closed. As a result, one of the requests it can handle is to provide the latest photo so its owner can check if they are missing an item while visiting a shop. In addition, the fridge's Freshness Tracker software can provide information about items that have passed their expiration dates.

The washing machine can be remotely activated by texting it a message saying: "Start washing cycle," and real-time updates can be obtained by asking: "What are you doing?" And the oven can ask for recipe suggestions and then be instructed to preheat the cooker to the appropriate temperature for the chosen selection.

Currently, the app can only be used in South Korea, but LG said it plans to extend the service to other markets at a later date. Security could still be an issue though. Earlier this year it was reported that an internet-connected fridge had been hacked to send out spam.

(June ‘14)


Google’s latest driverless car


Google has revealed a prototype of its latest driverless car -- and this one doesn't even have a steering wheel. The car will only have a stop and go button.

No steering wheel, no pedals…and not even a stereo. The car can carry two passengers and has a maximum speed of 40 km/h.

Unlike Google's previous self-driving vehicles, which have been based on conventional cars like Toyota or Lexus adapted to navigate around without a driver, this model has been designed from scratch.

Google says the car's most important feature is its safety. "They have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections," according to Google.

Google said it planned to build around 100 prototypes, which it will start testing in a few months.

The company started developing its self-driving cars in 2005 and has done over 1 million kilometres of autonomous driving tests on the streets of California.

(June ‘14)



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