US Agency Reaffirms Drone-Use Limitations

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reaffirming its ruling that drones may not be used for commercial purposes, including the delivery of packages. Although Amazon and others have been working on concepts for drone-based delivery technologies, they will be barred from commercializing them according to a newly released document requesting public comment (www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=FAA-2014-0396). The document cites examples of acceptable and unacceptable drone uses. The unacceptable ones all relate to the use of drones for commercial purposes, including package delivery and real-estate agents using the aircraft to take aerial photos of properties. The only exception has been commercial licenses granted to energy companies for monitoring pipeline conditions in the Arctic. The FAA allows hobbyists to use drones for personal or recreational purposes. This is not deterring Amazon. “[The ruling] is about hobbyists and model aircraft, not Amazon, and has no effect on our plans,” Amazon vice president of global public policy Paul Misener, told the Fast Company magazine. “Our plan has always been to operate as a commercial entity to deliver packages to customers in 30 minutes or less through Amazon Prime Air and it has no effect on that.” In March 2014, a federal judge ruled that the prior FAA ban on using drones for deliveries was illegal because there was no public comment period prior to the rule adoption. The FAA is appealing the decision and will review the matter, possibly issuing new rules by the end of 2015. (SlashDot)(Ars Technica)(Fast Company)(The US Federal Aviation Administration)

MongoDB Adds New Cloud Service Capabilities

MongoDB is expanding its database’s cloud-service capability. After initial availability through Amazon Web Services, the database can now also run on the Microsoft Azure and Google Compute Engine cloud-hosting services. Currently, about 40 percent of MongoDB installations are running on Amazon. “Amazon continues to be the dominant place to run applications in the cloud, but there is a lot of interest, especially from Microsoft shops, in running MongoDB on Azure,” said Matt Asay, MongoDB’s vice president of marketing and corporate strategy. “And there is significant interest from developers in what Google has to offer.” Asay said the Google Compute Engine service is primarily intended for database developer use and designed so it can be deployed without needing supporting software. Developers are using it for working with Web applications, who are finding many of its features – such as dynamic schemas, which enables users to add a column into an existing table without needing to reformat existing data. The Microsoft Azure service is reportedly tailored for working with databases for processing transactions and also includes full MongoDB support. These new services were announced Tuesday at the MongoDB user conference in New York City. (Computerworld)(PC World)

MIDI-Based Interface Enables Programming via Musical Instruments

Got an old electronic keyboard gathering dust? Why not use it for coding? A new interface lets digital-piano users create a musical score and working code simultaneously. Engineer Yuriy Guts with ELEKS, a software-development services organization, developed Midichlorian, a Visual Studio extension that lets users program computers using MIDI-compatible instruments. A piece of code can be written letter by letter on a piano keyboard using Midichlorian, which translates the MIDI messages into computer commands. Although Guts contends the project was for fun, one of his colleagues composed a song which is both a melody in the key of C# minor and a valid C# computer program. Midichlorian is open source and open to contributions at Git Hub. (SlashDot)(ELEKS blog)(Git Hub)(Midichlorian)

Technology Political Action Committee Targets US Election Finance Reforms

A coalition of US technology executives are creating a Super Political Action Committee (PAC) called Mayday to solve the “big money problem” in Washington, DC, politics. The executives hope to raise $12 million to back candidates in the November 2014 elections who support election-financing reform. The group, which Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig and Republican political adviser Mark McKinnon founded includes luminaries such as Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, PayPal cofounder and libertarian activist Peter Thiel, and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffmann. Lessig said the group will consider both Democrats and Republicans when selecting the five political candidates it will support. Mayday isn’t targeting pro-Silicon Valley legislation, according to Lessig, who told Newsweek, “That wouldn’t be a very principled or interesting PAC. The only thing the Mayday PAC is trying to do is get legislation passed to change the way elections are funded. If we are effective … we will reduce the power of money.” If successful, the PAC plans to create a campaign in 2016 to change laws related to corporations’ political influence. So far, Mayday has raised $1.2 million via donations. (Reuters)(Newsweek)

Supercomputer Performance Improvements Are Slowing

Growth in the performance of the world’s most powerful computers, which has increased steadily for 20 years, is now slowing, according to the recently released Top500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers. An international research team releases the list, released by in June and November of each year at major supercomputing conferences. The report released this month showed that the combined performance of all 500 ranked computers increased to 274 petaflops from 250 petaflops in November 2013. Researchers deemed this “a noticeable slowdown in growth.” The Tianhe-2 at the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzho, China, remains atop the list, as it has for three consecutive reports, with a speed of 33.86 petaflops. (CNET)(PC Mag)(Top500 – 1)(Top500 -- 2)

Google Glass Goes Glam

Famed fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg is teaming with Google to launch designer frames for its Google Glass wearable computing device. The company hopes this will address consumer complaints that the original device appeared stodgy or even boring and attract more users. The DVF | Made for Glass line is available in a man’s and woman’s package for $1,650 and $1,800, respectively, including frames and other accessories. Items are also sold separately. (The Los Angeles Times)(CNET)

Oracle Purchases Hotel Technology Vendor in $5.3 Billion Deal

Oracle is buying hospitality and retail technology vendor Micros Systems for $5.3 billion to shore up its software offerings for industries that Micros serves. This is Oracle’s largest acquisition since it purchased Sun Microsystems in 2010. Oracle is offering $68 per share in the deal, which could be finalized in the second half of 2014. “Micros gives them a strong foothold in the hotel and hospitality industry,” Richard Williams, an analyst at Summit Research Partners told Bloomberg. “That will be an important asset for them and will tie well into their other systems such as their engineer systems and cloud-related offerings.” Oracle recently posted profits and sales that both missed analysts’ estimates, according to Bloomberg. Micros products can be found in restaurants, motels, hotels, casinos, and other businesses in more than 180 countries. Oracle courted Micros about six years ago, but the deal wasn’t consummated. (SlashDot)(The Associated Press @ SF Gate)(Bloomberg)

New Approach Tries to Wring Performance from Hardware

MIT researchers are working on technologies designed to squeeze more performance from chips. Their new network-on-a-chip approach aims to reduce the number of cycles required to execute tasks by allowing each core to easily connect with its neighbors. The design also gives data multiple possible paths, which allows it to bypass congestion. The technique enables more direct communication between the cores and the cache. A second “shadow network” allows the cache in specific cores to prepare for data packets’ arrival. Typically, a core must broadcast its requests for data temporarily stored across other cores. With the new approach, circuits arrange data transfers using specific, simple requests that the system can combine and pass along without the delays common when data must wait for a bus. This, says researchers, frees up bandwidth and reduces the overhead needed to execute tasks. By using the shadow network in 36- and 64-cores, the researchers say the performance improvements were 24.1 percent and 12.9 percent, respectively, compared to similar chips not using the technique. The researchers don’t plan to commercialize their technology but intend plan to conduct tests on real applications to determine whether the shadow network design can be scaled to hundreds and thousands of cores. Once these tasks are complete, they will release the blueprints for the chip design as open source code. The researchers presented their work at the International Symposium on Computer Architecture in Minneapolis. (Computerworld)(MIT News Office)

Google Responds to Heartbleed Flaw with BoringSSL

Problems associated with the Heartbleed Internet-security vulnerability discovered earlier this year continue with hundreds of thousands of servers still operating with unpatched problems in the open-source OpenSSL cryptographic library. To address these concerns, Google announced it is developing BoringSSL, based on OpenSSL, which is an open source implementation of the Secure Sockets Layer and Transport Layer Security protocols. Researchers discovered a flaw in OpenSSL that attackers could exploit to access an application’s memory, including sensitive data and private encryption keys. Google is developing BoringSSL, rather than just patching OpenSSL, because it can no longer keep up with all the patches. “As Android, Chrome, and other products have started to need some subset of these patches, things have grown very complex,” said Google software engineer Adam Langley, “The effort involved in keeping all these patches straight across multiple code bases is getting to be too much.” The company is now importing changes from OpenSSL into BoringSSL .Google plans to contribute its BoringSSL code to the OpenSSL open-source project. The new SSL fork should appear in Google’s Chromium repository soon and in the Android OS after that. (eWeek)(PC World)(Naked Security)(BoringSSL)

Judge: Tech Employee Settlement May Be Insufficient

A pending $324.5 million settlement related to an agreement between technology companies in the Silicon Valley not to poach one another’s employees may be inadequate, according to the judge hearing the matter. Adobe, Apple, Google, and Intel agreed to the settlement in April after that they colluded to place a ceiling on employee wages by agreeing not to hire one another’s employees. The companies were accused of the poaching practice, but settled before a final judgment was reached. Preventing employees from being able to move to other companies would keep employers from having to pay their employees more to keep them from moving. US District Court Judge Lucy Koh questioned whether the amount was fair to the 64,000 technology workers represented in the case but didn’t indicate what steps she would take at this point. The plaintiffs are predominantly engineers who claimed a secret pact between executives “restricted their mobility and drove down wages,” according to IT World. (SlashDot)(IT World)

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