Software adapts based on users’ skills


Researchers at the University of Washington have developed Supple, a software system that adapts to a user’s vision and motor abilities. Users take a one-time assessment of their vision computer mouse and keyboard skills, including mouse pointing, dragging, and clicking. Based on the assessment results, the software calculates how long it will take users to complete computer jobs and automatically adjusts the interface to maximize speed and accuracy. For patients with cerebral palsy, for example, Supple could generate an interface with larger icons and lists to cut down on the need to scroll using a mouse. In a paper presented on Tuesday at a meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence in Chicago, test results showed that Supple narrowed the performance gap between able-bodied computer users and those with disabilities by 62 percent. (Science Daily)

Intel chips open to attack


A security researcher has identified vulnerabilities in Intel chips that could let attackers crash systems and gain control of computers locally and over the Internet. Kris Kaspersky (no affiliation with Kaspersky Lab) will demo the attacks and release proof-of-concept code at the Hack In The Box conference in Kuala Lumpur in October. At the conference, Kaspersky will show attack techniques using JavaScript, TCP/IP packet storms, and just-in-time (JIT) Java compilers. (ZDNet)

Department of Homeland Security mulls shock bracelets on flights


The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has solicited a written proposal for shock bracelets from a Canadian company. The bracelets would let flight crew incapacitate hijackers via an electro-muscular shock sent by radio frequency transmitters. The bracelets remain inactive until the flight crew identifies a possible hijacking situation. The jolt overrides the central nervous system, leaving a potential hijacker immobile for several minutes. Additionally, the bracelet would contain passengers’ personal information and flight information, eliminating the need for boarding passes. Responding to criticism over the proposal, the contractor involved in the development of the bracelets posted on its Web site, “We believe that all passengers will welcome deliverance from a hijacking, as will the families, carriers, insurance providers etc. The F-16 on the wingtip is not to reassure the passengers during a hijacking but rather to shoot them down.” (InformationWeek)

Google ordered to turn over user data


In July, a federal judge ordered Google to turn over YouTube user data—usernames, IP addresses, and videos watched—to Viacom as part of Viacom’s copyright infringement case launched in 2007. However, Google doesn’t have to provide its source code, which was in Viacom’s original request. The ruling limits Viacom’s use of the data to proving its case against Google and the company won’t be able to target individuals identified in the data. Several privacy advocates blasted the ruling, including Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He said the order “is a set-back to privacy rights, and will allow Viacom to see what you are watching on YouTube.” In response to the rising swell of concern from privacy advocates, Viacom released a statement that said it “has not asked for and will not be obtaining any personally identifiable information of any user. Any information that we or our outside advisors obtain … will be used exclusively for the purpose of proving our case against YouTube and Google… .” (CNet)

Trojan infects multimedia files and spreads via P2P

A sophisticated Trojan is spreading that infects MP3, Windows Media Audio (WMA), and Windows Media Video (WMV) files stored on users’ hard drives. Infection occurs after users visit a warez site and download what they think are activation codes for pirated software. Users spread the Trojan when they share their infected files via P2P. However, users who pass along the infected files are none the wiser because their files play without any indication of the Trojan. When P2P users attempt to open an infected file, they’re sent to a page that asks them to download a codec before they can play the audio or video file. However, the codec is actually the Trojan and, once installed, it infects their multimedia files. (Dark Reading)

Google wants to watch you over home networks

A Google researcher has coauthored a paper that proposes collecting data on users’ activities at home through their home networks. The paper suggests that monitoring could be beneficial to users by reminding them to take critical medicines or helping them recall important information. Also, such monitoring could recommend behavioral changes, such as reducing television viewing. (InformationWeek)

Yahoo opens up search API to developers


Yahoo has released the Build Your Own Search Service (BOSS) API, which will let developers use its Web services platform—search infrastructure and algorithms—to create customized search services. In exchange for access to its search tools, Yahoo retains the right to run ads next to the results from search engines built with the BOSS platform. Yahoo also plans to add revenue sharing in the future and take a percentage of the revenue the sites generate. Social search site Me.dium and natural language site Hakia are among those trying out the API. (Computerworld)

Unix bug fixed after 33 years


OpenBSD developer Otto Moerbeek has found and fixed a bug in Unix software that he traces back to 1975. The bug could cause large C++  projects to fail while compiling on the Sparc64 platform using a new version of malloc, a memory allocator. Moerback traced the bug to yacc, a parser generator that Stephen C. Johnson developed at AT&T in the 1970s. Moerbeek notes that the new malloc implementation triggered the bug because the allocator’s new features catch buffer overflows better. Moerbeek has released a fix here. (Techworld)

Researchers shrink chips down to 25 nanometers


MIT researchers have developed a new technique that uses nanotechnology to reduce the size of computer chips while making them stronger and cheaper. The researchers used nanoscale lithographic technology to make finer line patterns on the circuits and longer wavelengths to reduce the space between lines to 25 nanometers. The resulting pattern density lets the researchers pack the chips with wires, conductors, and transistors that make them faster and more powerful. The process, researchers say, might be able to produce chips even smaller then 25 nm. (Computerworld)

DreamWorks moves to Intel chips for 3D animation


Over the next 18 months, DreamWorks Animation studios will switch from AMD chips to Intel chips in its workstations and servers. The move will make 3D animation processing—which can take up to 16 hours for one frame—quicker, the studio said. The Intel chips that DreamWorks will use in its workstations contain eight processing cores while the servers will run chips with between 10 and 100 cores. Intel expects to release the workstation chips commercially by the end of the year and the server processors in 2009 or 2010. (The New York Times)

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