Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

No, it isn’t…

FCC Chair: Current Definition Of Broadband Isn’t Fast Enough

The FCC’s current definition of “broadband” Internet is 4Mbps downstream and only 1Mbps up. These were adequate speeds in a world where you occasionally watched a grainy YouTube video, but they don’t reflect the needs or uses of most consumers, and those benchmarks are only going to grow more irrelevant with each passing day. FCC Chair Tom Wheeler admitted as much to Congress yesterday.

“When a single HD video requires 5 Mbps of capacity, it’s clear that the FCC’s current benchmark for broadband – 4 Mbps– isn’t adequate,” wrote Wheeler in his prepared remarks before the House Committee on Small Business.

Earlier this summer, the FCC proposed that if broadband providers wish to receive Universal Service funds from the Commission — money raised through phone bill surcharges and disbursed to help deploy needed services — these companies would need to adopt 10Mbps downstream as the new benchmark.

“When 60% of the Internet’s traffic at prime time is video, and it takes 4 or 5Mbps to deliver video, a 4Mbps connection isn’t exactly what’s necessary in the 21st century,” Wheeler explained to the Committee. “And when you have half a dozen different devices, wireless and other connected devices in a home that are all going against that bandwidth, it’s not enough. What we are saying is we can’t make the mistake of spending the people’s money, which is what Universal Service is, to continue to subsidize something that’s subpar.”

Both AT&T and Verizon have come out against increasing the benchmark to 10Mbps, claiming it is a “casual, back-of-the-envelope calculation of bandwidth requirements of the highest-volume households that are simultaneously using multiple bandwidth-intensive applications.”

There Are None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See

New ISIS threat: America’s electric grid; blackout could kill 9 of 10

Former top government officials who have been warning Washington about the vulnerability of the nation’s largely unprotected electric grid are raising new fears that troops from the jihadist Islamic State are poised to attack the system, leading to a power crisis that could kill millions.

“Inadequate grid security, a porous U.S.-Mexico border, and fragile transmission systems make the electric grid a target for ISIS,” said Peter Pry, one of the nation’s leading experts on the grid.

Others joining Pry at a press conference later Wednesday to draw attention to the potential threat said that if just a handful of the nation’s high voltage transformers were knocked out, blackouts would occur across the country.

“By one estimate, should the power go out and stay out for over a year, nine out of 10 Americans would likely perish,” said Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.

At the afternoon press conference, Gaffney dubbed the potential crisis the “grid jihad.”

A lack of electricity would shut off water systems, impact city transportation services and shutdown hospitals and other big facilities. Fresh and frozen foods also would be impacted as would banks, financial institutions and utilities.

Pry provided details of recent attacks on electricity systems and said that ISIS could easily team with Mexican drug cartels to ravage America.

Nintendo Wii Balance Board could be useful to MS patients

NYDailyNews

Italian researchers say the Nintendo Wii Balance Board has therapeutic applications, provoking changes in brain connections associated with balance and coordination that reduce the risk of accidental falls.

 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system of which balance impairment is a defining symptom, and the Nintendo Wii could be a more practical tool for rehabilitation than physical therapy, allowing patients more independence.

 

This finding should have an important impact on the rehabilitation process of patients, suggesting that they need ongoing exercises to maintain good performance in daily living activities,” says lead author Luca Prosperini, M.D., Ph.D., from Sapienza University.

In the study, researchers worked with a unique form of MRI analysis called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) that allows close observation of the white matter tracts that send messages within the brain and to the body.

 

A total of 27 participants with MS used Wii Balance Board-based visual feedback training for 12 weeks under the researchers’ surveillance.

 

The scans showed changes in the nerve tracts important for balance and motion which correlated with marked improvements in balance.

 

“The most important finding in this study is that a task-oriented and repetitive training aimed at managing a specific symptom is highly effective and induces brain plasticity,” says Prosperini.

Weapons Can Be Carried Easily Through The TSA’s Full-Body “Naked” Scanners

 The backscatter technology might be completely ineffective

As it turns out, the scanners are actually pretty easy to fool.

On Thursday, security researchers from UC San Diego, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins presented results from a months-long study that show how someone can hide weapons from the scanners through a number of simple tricks. From using Teflon tape to cover an object or just strategic placement of an object around the body, to more cunning approaches like installing malware onto the scanner’s console, a person could get away with a concealed weapon or explosive with little trouble.

Although the scanners the researchers tested – the Rapiscan Secure 1000 machines – haven’t been used in airports since 2013, they are still widely used in federal buildings like jails and courthouses. It cost taxpayers over $1 billion to have them installed in more than 160 airports.

Wired has more details on the study. One of the more striking aspects is how the researchers approached their testing, which differs from past experiments:

Unlike others who have made claims about vulnerabilities in full body scanner technology, the team of university researchers conducted their tests on an actual Rapiscan Secure 1000 system they purchased on eBay. They tried smuggling a variety of weapons through that scanner, and found—as [blogger Jonathan] Corbett did—that taping a gun to the side of a person’s body or sewing it to his pant’s leg hid its metal components against the scan’s black background. For that trick, only fully metal guns worked; An AR-15 was spotted due to its non-metal components, the researchers report, while an .380 ACP was nearly invisible. They also taped a folding knife to a person’s lower back with a thick layer of teflon tape, which they say completely masked it in the scan.

 

New app helps teens calm anxiety

AnxietyBC.com

Anxiety disorders affect one in eight teens.

There are medications and therapies that can help alleviate symptoms, and now there’s even an app that can help.

The MindShift app aims to teach young adults how to combat everyday anxiety, panic, conflict and worry. Teens can input their symptoms and the app will create a plan to help reduce stress.

Created by two non-profit organizations, Anxiety BC and BC Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Mindshift app gives users the ability to customize tools like mindfulness, visualization and positive thinking.

The free app also includes articles, questionnaires and a tracking system to analyze results over time.

It was an idiotic law to begin with…

Congress Finally Passes Bill To Re-Legalize Cellphone Unlocking

Nearly two years after the Librarian of Congress decided to make it illegal for consumers to unlock cellphones and take them to a new carrier without getting permission from their current wireless provider, the U.S. Congress has finally signed off on legislation that will restore that right to Americans.

After passing easily through the Senate earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act.

In the fall of 2012, the Librarian of Congress bowed to pressure from the wireless industry and used his authority to reinterpret the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act to declare that because of proprietary software on cellphones, consumers never actually own their devices. Instead, the consumers have a license to use the software on their phones. And if a consumer wants to take that phone — even if he owns it outright — he needs to get permission from the carrier that licenses the software or be in violation of the law.

That rule went into effect in early 2013 and was subject to immediate backlash from consumers, advocates, the FCC, the White House and lawmakers.

This isn’t just a pain in the butt for consumers who found that wireless companies were less than eager to assist them in taking their devices to different providers. It also put the entire industry of wholesale phone reselling at risk, as buyers of used phones would have to somehow get permission from each individual carrier to unlock each device they resold, or only resell phones if they remained on the old carrier.

Regardless of whether it’s an individual looking to switch carriers without having to invest in a new phone, or a phone reseller looking to unlock used phones to resell for use on a network of the buyer’s choosing, the LOC’s decision meant that consumers had fewer choices for carriers and devices.

Is there anything that DOES work in this administration?

Social Security’s $300M IT project doesn’t work

The Social Security Administration, under acting-commissioner Carolyn Colvin, spent six years and $288 million installing a new computer system for disability claims, and it doesn’t work… which might make her upcoming confirmation hearings a bit awkward.

After spending nearly $300 million on a new computer system to handle disability claims, the Social Security Administration still can’t get it to work. And officials can’t say when it will.

Six years ago, Social Security embarked on an aggressive plan to replace outdated computer systems overwhelmed by a growing flood of disability claims. But the project has been racked by delays and mismanagement, according to an internal report commissioned by the agency.

Today, the project is still in the testing phase, and the agency can’t say when it will be operational or how much it will cost.

In the meantime, people filing for disability claims face long delays at nearly every step of the process — delays that were supposed to be reduced by the new processing system.

“The program has invested $288 million over six years, delivered limited functionality and faced schedule delays as well as increasing stakeholder concerns,” said a report by McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm.

Ya think?

New Surveillance Whistleblower: The NSA Violates the Constitution

John Napier Tye is speaking out to warn Americans about illegal spying. The former State Department official, who served in the Obama administration from 2011 to 2014, declared Friday that ongoing NSA surveillance abuses are taking place under the auspices of Executive Order 12333, which came into being in 1981, before the era of digital communications, but is being used to collect them promiscuously. Nye alleges that the Obama administration has been violating the Constitution with scant oversight from Congress or the judiciary.

“The order as used today threatens our democracy,” he wrote in The Washington Post. “I am coming forward because I think Americans deserve an honest answer to the simple question: What kind of data is the NSA collecting on millions, or hundreds of millions, of Americans?”

Executive Order 12333 is old news to national-security insiders and the journalists who cover them, but is largely unknown to the American public, in part because officials have a perverse institutional incentive to obscure its role. But some insiders are troubled by such affronts to representative democracy. A tiny subset screw up the courage to inform their fellow citizens.

Tye is but the latest surveillance whistleblower, though he took pains to distinguish himself from Snowden and his approach to dissent. “Before I left the State Department, I filed a complaint with the department’s inspector general, arguing that the current system of collection and storage of communications by U.S. persons under Executive Order 12333 violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures,” Tye explained. “I have also brought my complaint to the House and Senate intelligence committees and to the inspector general of the NSA.”

Ex-Googlers Building Cloud Software That’s Almost Impossible to Take Down

Because RainbowDB’ sounds pretty lame…

Cockroaches are some of the most resilient creatures on earth. They can live for 45 minutes without air and over a month without food. Cutting their heads off won’t even kill them—at least not immediately. Their bodies can live on for several days without their heads.

Now, a team of open source developers wants to make it easier for just about any company to build the sort of resilient cloud computing systems that run online empires like Google. They call their project CockroachDB, billing it as a database with some serious staying power. That may sound like an odd name for a piece of software, but co-creator Spencer Kimball—a former Google engineer—says it’s only appropriate. “The name is representative of its two most important qualities: survivability, of course, and the ability to spread to the available hardware in an almost autonomous sense.”

Like so many other open source projects designed to drive large online operations, CockroachDB is based on ideas published in a Google researcher paper, in this case a detailed description of a massive system called Spanner. Spanner is a sweeping software creation could eventually allow Google to spread data across millions of computer servers in hundreds of data centers across the world, and it took Google over five years to build. Even with Google’s research paper in hand, the CockroachDB coders still have their work cut out for them. But it’s a noble ambition.

Dropping the ball, Obama style…

White House warned about ‘antiquated’ VA scheduling system 5 years ago

Acting Veteran Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson assured Congress last week that the VA is working hard to replace its “antiquated” scheduling system, but the Obama administration first received clear notice more than five years ago about the need for an overhaul to reduce patient wait times.

“Excessive wait times are addressed by moving to a resource-based management system,” Veterans Affairs technology officials told the Obama-Biden transition team in a briefing report that included mention of VA’s “schedule replacement” project.

The Washington Times obtained the report through the Freedom of Information Act.

More than five years later, VA officials are hard pressed to explain their lack of progress.

It has taken the still-unfolding VA scandal into manipulated patient wait times — a metric the VA has used to award executive bonuses — to shine a light on the failings of the current system, which Mr. Gibson called “outdated” in recent congressional testimony.

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