Google Shows Off Project Ara Smartphones

Google is releasing more details about its customizable modular smartphone known as Project Ara. Timed to a developer conference for the so-called “gray phone,” project leader Paul Eremenko claims the device should be on sale in January 2015 for roughly $50. “It’s called the Gray Phone because it’s meant to be drab gray to get people to customize it,” he said during an event at the Computer History Museum. The phone has an exoskeleton structure into which interchangeable modules can fit to easily provide a user with the desired smartphone features, such as sensors, cameras, and radio antennas. The phone exterior can also be designed by the user with options including colors and 3D printed texturized surfaces for the phone. The phone originated in Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects division. The company retained the division, once part of Motorola, when it sold Motorola to Lenovo. Regina Dugan, the former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), heads the unit. (San Francisco Business Journal)(CNET)(TechCrunch)

Computer Tinkerers Use Raspberry Pi to Resurrect Commodore 64

A group of Commodore computing enthusiasts are developing an emulator able to convert a Raspberry Pi system into a fully functioning Commodore 64. The goal is to create a native Commodore 64 operating system that can run on Raspberry Pi, complete with the ability to connect a joystick. Eventually, the developers want to add new features, including changing the emulation speed and new, modern graphics modes, to the system. The computer competed in the nascent personal computing market of the 1980s with the Apple II and was widely adopted based on its affordability. The project development is being carried out via GitHub. (SlashDot)(International Business Times)(Commodore Pi @ GitHub)

Toyota Replacing Robots with Human Workers

Although robots are widely used for industrial production, Toyota is replacing machines with human craftsmen able to teach new skills to their younger colleagues as well as improve the car-building process. The move is designed to help workers understand the processes involved in making car parts from scratch and also allows them to take that knowledge and use it to reprogram machines. Ultimately, this can help improve various processes. This approach is succeeding in the Honsha plant where crankshafts are now made by hand. The company reports this has reduced the amount of scrap by 10 percent, shortened the production line by 96 percent, improved production, and also reduced the costs associated with making chassis parts. Toyota still uses robots throughout its manufacturing operations. It uses 760 robots, for example, in 96 percent of the production at its Motomachi facility. (SlashDot)(Bloomberg)

Telefónica Proposes Changes to Secure German Mobile Company

Telefónica, the Spanish telecommunications firm, is offering to lease spectrum and provide network access to its market in order to court favor with European Union officials for its pending $11.59 billion purchase of E-Plus in Germany. This amends its preliminary offer after input from European Commission officials. Regulators are concerned this consolidation will further reduce competition in the German market and have been worried about consolidation throughout the European market. Telefónica says it would lease spectrum above 2 Gigahertz to mobile network operators, which would cover 100 German cities, and would provide access to mobile virtual network operators at wholesale rates. It has also proposed the sale of 10,000 cell sites and 50 retail outlets. Third parties can submit comments through 17 April 2014. A decision is expected by 23 June 2014. Telefónica has not commented on the matter. (Reuters)(Financial Times)

Study: Many NYC Tech Jobs Don’t Need Employees with Four-Year Degrees

A new study of “accessible” technology jobs in New York City finds 44 percent – about 128,000 jobs – don’t require candidates to have a Bachelor's degree. Kate Wittels, a director at HR&A Advisors, a real-estate and economic-development consulting firm, wrote the report, which assessed tech-specific jobs and those jobs supported by technology. Among the jobs not requiring a four-year degree are computer user support specialists, customer services representatives, telecom line installers, and sales representatives. The study did not examine who holds those types of jobs and whether people with those types of jobs are under-employed. Many people holding these types of non-degree jobs may have degrees. New York Computer Help, for example, says roughly 75 percent of its 25 Manhattan-based employees hold a Bachelor’s degree and half are in IT-related subjects. (SlashDot)(Computerworld)(The New York City Tech Ecosystems)

Supercomputer Models Aids Astronomers in Modeling Phenomena

Georgia Institute of Technology scientists are using various National Science Foundation-funded supercomputers for simulations, enabling them to better understand various astronomical phenomena. One of these is known as a tidal disruption, which happens when a star’s orbit moves too close to a black hole, causing it to be sucked into the black hole. The tidal disruption causes a bright flare that changes over time. Modeling the dynamics of various forces involved should help scientists better understand tidal disruptions as well as interactions occurring between stars and black holes. With computer simulations, they are able to look at sequences of events from various perspectives, repeating the process if needed. The researchers are using computing resources at the Texas Advanced Computing Center and the National Institute for Computational Sciences as well as at their home institution. Their work is already at the point where improved models are needed as the current research is reportedly outpacing the scientists’ current theoretical understanding of tidal disruptions and ensuring that such modeling will continue to inform their knowledge of these types of phenomena. (SlashDot)(National Science Foundation)

Microsoft Shareholder Sues Company for Mismanagement

A lawsuit filed against the Microsoft board of directors contends the company was mismanaged. The legal action is tied to how the company dealt with its Internet Explorer browser deployment in the European Union, which ultimately led to a record-breaking $731 million anti-trust fine against the company. Kim Barovic, a shareholder of the Seattle-based company, filed charges 11 April 2014 alleging directors and executives -- including founder Bill Gates and Microsoft’s former chief executive officer Steve Ballmer -- did not properly manage the company. She also alleges a subsequent investigation by the board of directors was insufficient and did not determine how the mistakes leading to the fine occurred. Under the terms of a 2009 agreement, the company was to have provided European Windows users with a choice for Internet access instead of providing the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser by default; however, updated Windows 7 software, issued between May 2011 and July 2012, did not give an estimated 15 million users such an option. Barovic, according to Reuters, claims “she asked Microsoft's board to fully investigate how that mistake occurred and to take action against any directors or executives that had not performed their duties.” Microsoft replied that its investigation found no such evidence. Both Ballmer and Steven Sinofsky, head of the Windows unit at that time, had their bonuses cut in 2012 following the incident. Microsoft issued a statement standing behind its decisions, adding that there is “no basis for such a suit." (Reuters)

US Tax Authority Misses XP Upgrade Deadline, Will Pay Millions for Security Patches

The 8 April 2014 end of support for Microsoft Windows XP poses a security risk for those still using the operating system, which includes businesses and government agencies that have failed to upgrade. Notable among them is the US Internal Revenue Service. Although the agency planned to migrate to Windows 7, in a budget hearing today, the agency said it needs $30 million to complete the task. Despite six years’ notice of the end of support, a mere 52,000 of the tax agency’s 110,000 Windows-powered computers have been upgraded to Windows 7. IRS commissioner John Koskinen claims this was but one of several IT projects worth a total of $300 million delayed because of budget issues. A portion of the $30 million needed to finish the task would be paid to Microsoft for Custom Support, a service providing help for customers with outdated software. Microsoft raised its prices for Custom Support from a cap of $200,000 per customer for the first year of service to an average of $200 per PC for the first year of service. Based on this, the IRS would pay Microsoft $11.6 million for a single year of Custom Support. The remainder would likely be used to purchase new PCs to replace the oldest systems. The IRS is not alone. The UK government has reportedly paid roughly $9.2 million for security patches for Windows XP, Office 2003, and Exchange 2003 covering them for the next 12 months.  (SlashDot)(Engadget)(Network World)

Market for the Wireless Skies Still Evolving

Wi-Fi may be ubiquitous on land, but the technologies available aboard airliners are still evolving.  Although the standards for satellite-based Wi-Fi -- Ku band and Ka band, which operate in different frequencies – are still evolving and the cost is steep, airlines are cautiously making investments. The US Federal Aviation Administration is credited with bolstering adoption after a November 2013 decision allowing passengers to use smartphones, tablets and e-readers throughout a flight. An estimated 40 percent of commercial aircraft in the US have some type of Wi-Fi service. Worldwide, the number of commercial airliners with some combination of Wi-Fi and/or cellular service should increase from 4,000 to 14,000, according to analysts with IHS. Despite this growth, only half of the worldwide fleet will be wired in 2022. One of those airlines waiting to see how the standards shake out its Hawaiian Airlines. The delay, according to chief financial officer, Peter Ingram, is because “We don't want to end up with a Betamax.” Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the German air carrier, knows the risks well. It spent millions on Wi-Fi with Connexion by Boeing, a service dissolved in 2006. Technology is evolving with satellite connections expected to increase to speeds of roughly 70 megabits per second, but it is worth noting the bandwidth is shared among all aboard the flight, which could be as many as 200 people. Airlines may eventually be able to use better Wi-Fi connections as well as availability as a selling point with frequent travelers. Lufthansa, which has now equipped roughly 90 percent of its long-haul planes with satellite connectivity, is slowly adding hardware to the remainder of its fleet, but must make a “triple-digit-million” euro investment to do so. The sticking point for providing wireless services on international flights, according to Conde Nast Traveler, is the expense and logistics associated with satellite Internet. Among them, regulations governing the radar dome that covers the antenna or radome. The US Federal Aviation Administration, in addressing concerns about its ability to weather being hit by birds  sought to insure any aircraft could still fly in the event the radome was hit with a four-pound bird traveling 400 miles per hour. LiveTV was the first provider with a radome able to pass testing. Companies in the sector include Gogo Inc., which has systems on about 80 percent of US commercial airliners with WiFi; Row44, which is owned by Global Eagle Entertainment, whose clients include Southwest Airlines; LiveTV, owned by French company Thales; Panasonic Avionics, a unit of Panasonic of Japan; and OnAir, a unit of SITA that is based in Geneva. (Conde Nast Traveler)(Reuters -- 1)(Reuters – 2)

Serious Web Encryption Vulnerability Affects Internet Users Worldwide

A newly discovered problem in a ubiquitous Web encryption technology leaves Internet users worldwide vulnerable to hacking and is being called one of the most serious security flaws uncovered in recent years. Researchers from Google and Codenomicon, a vendor of robustness testing tools, found Heartbleed, a vulnerability in OpenSSL, an open-source implementation of the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocols that has existed for at least two years. An attacker could exploit the vulnerability, bypassing SSL and TLS encryption to access sensitive data, including passwords, that Internet users transmit. Security experts say network administrators should change their online passwords and must patch their Web and email servers to prevent these problems. Codenomicon CEO David Chartier said, “I don't think anyone that had been using [OpenSSL] is in a position to definitively say they weren't compromised.” (Reuters)(The Associated Press)

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