New Social Network Takes on Facebook

A new social network originally intended for use by about 90 friends is now open to others and has generated considerable interest in what industry observers call an anti-Facebook backlash. The invitation-only Ello website -- https://ello.co/   —which has gained attention in part because it has no advertisements—is now receiving roughly 31,000 requests an hour from people wanting to join. Ello CEO and cofounder Paul Budnitz opened the site, which is still in beta, to those beyond his immediate circle of 90 friends on 7 August, but the site is still in beta. The site is spare and white, with plenty of space given to photographs. Ello plans to eventually sell users access to special features, which it has yet to develop, to generate revenue. (BBC)(TIME)(Bloomberg Businessweek)

US Agency Investigates Bitcoin Hardware Provider

The US Federal Trade Commission is asking a federal judge to grant a preliminary injunction against Butterfly Labs, which would place the Bitcoin-mining-hardware manufacturer in a court-appointed receivership and extend a temporary restraining order filed by the agency. The injunction alleges that Butterfly Labs used customer-ordered machines to mine bitcoins before shipping them, saying the practice was part of their testing, allowing the company to pocket Bitcoins that should have gone to its customers. The FTC says it is also investigating three of the company’s directors for spending company money on personal products and services while not fulfilling orders, thereby taking what amounts to interest-free loans from customers. Butterfly Labs is currently working under a temporary restraining order. The court previously allowed the FTC to seize Butterfly Labs’ assets and close its operations before the case goes to court. (Ars Technica)(CoinDesk)

 

Robots Test Authenticity of Thai Food

A robot able to discern the subtleties of authentic Thai food is being demonstrated by Thailand’s government. The e-delicious system has multiple sensors that send data to a computer with algorithms that determine a food’s chemical signature and thereby identify its aromatic and flavor attributes. The system compares this information to a “gold standard” that 120 taste testers have approved. For example, Thai green curry must have a specific balance of basil, curry paste, and coconut cream to be deemed authentic. The government will award dishes passing the e-delicious’ testing a seal of approval. Former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was removed from office in May by a military coup, conceptualized the e-delicious after experiencing poor Thai food in other countries. The government established the Thai Delicious committee and the National Innovation Agency funded the project.  Two robots have been built to date. (BBC)(United Press International)

Chinese Government Censors Websites Following Hong Kong Unrest

Following pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the Chinese government has blocked users in Hong Kong and China from websites showing and search results linking to images and reports related to the events. News outlets say this may be an attempt by the government to keep unrest from spreading to mainland China. The content blocked reportedly included some results on the Baidu search engine, and some images on Instagram and the Sina Weibo microblogging site, according to the BBC’s Beijing bureau. “It’s commonplace for China's internet censors to go into overdrive during politically sensitive events,” according to BBC Beijing correspondent Celia Hatton. Activists are reportedly using the Firechat messaging application—which works via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, not the Internet—to circumvent censors. (BBC)(PC World)

 

Cisco Invests $1 Billion in Cloud-Based Capabilities

Cisco Systems plans to invest $1 billion in its cloud infrastructure over the next two years. The company’s Intercloud network links datacenters and cloud providers worldwide, and is designed to help businesses process and manage data. The company says the money, provided through Cisco Capital, will be used to finance its customers’ and partners’ migration to “Cisco-powered clouds.” Cisco now has 30 cloud partners, including telecommunications service providers Deutsche Telekom and BT, system-integration company NTT DATA, and datacenter vendor Equinix. These partners give Intercloud access to 250 datacenters in 50 countries. (Reuters)(Bloomberg)(Cisco @ Marketwatch)

 

Crowdfunding Campaign Aids Ailing Hacker

A crowdfunding campaign launched by an anonymous fan is designed to assist legendary phone hacker John Draper—otherwise known as Captain Crunch—with bills from an extended hospital stay and ongoing medical problems. They have extended the QiKfunder fundraiser after surpassing its original $5,000 goal. Draper, 71, is widely acknowledged as being among the first phone phreaks to hack US phone networks. Draper’s initial claim to infamy was discovering a toy whistle given as a prize in Cap’n Crunch cereal boxes emitted a tone at 2.6 KHz, the frequency AT&T used to reset its trunk lines. Using the tone allowed phone phreakers—considered the forerunners of PC hackers—to make free long-distance calls. He shared what he knew with Apple cofounders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who considered him to be a pivotal influence on them. Draper went on to work for Apple, writing the EasyWriter word-processing program, and then for other Silicon Valley tech firms. In the 1970s, he served prison time for phone fraud. (BBC)(Reddit)(Ars Technica)(Gizmodo)

New Security Program Offers Keyless Cloud Security

A vendor has released a new open source security program designed to let users securely access cloud-computing resources without placing their private encryption/decryption keys in the cloud. CloudFlare’s Keyless SSL enables users to secure Web assets in the cloud by storing the private keys on an internal, rather than a public-facing, server. Typically, the private key resides on the same cloud-based server that handles Web traffic. Problems with this were underscored by the Heartbleed bug, which let hackers access private-key information. With CloudFlare’s Keyless SSL system, private SSL keys are maintained on customers’ hardware, not in CloudFlare’s network. Key-signing requests are conveyed—and the signing takes place—via an encrypted tunnel to the customer’s server. The key is thus never seen. CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince said companies, particularly financial institutions, expressed security concerns about using cloud services. (Bloomberg)(InfoWorld)

 

US Agency May Approve Drone Use for Filmmakers

The US Federal Aviation Administration is expected to grant permits to seven movie and television production companies allowing them to fly drones. This should, say proponents of the technology, be a key step toward commercial use of unmanned aircraft. Terms of the permits, which should be released 25 September 2014, may limit drones to use on closed sets and stipulate that a three-person team be employed for operating them. To date, the FAA has only issued a limited commercial drone operation permit to Conoco Phillips. Companies in various industries are increasingly interested in using commercial drones for inspection of facilities, including bridges, as well as pipeline monitoring and agricultural use. There are seven companies -- Aerial MOB, Astraeus Aerial, Flying-Cam, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision, Vortex Aerial, and Snaproll Media -- that have been working with the Motion Picture Association of America to gain the agency’s approval. Using video-camera equipped drones will enable directors to get footage they could never obtain using conventional equipment. There is concern the FAA may place restrictions such that the benefits possible could be eliminated by costs and other compliance issues. (The Associated Press)(The Washington Post)

Laser System Could Propel Self-Driving Cars

Technologies making self-driving vehicles possible have been fairly expensive and cumbersome, but a California company has created a small laser system that may eliminate those hurdles. Velodyne Acoustics – best known for the $85,000 Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system used on Google’s self-driving cars – released a small LiDAR sensor called the Puck. The $7,999 system has 16 lasers and is 4 inches tall and 1.3 pounds, which may help make autonomous autos more feasible for commercial release. The smaller number of lasers does limit the vehicle’s field of vision and resolution, but the technology has other features that make it attractive, including its low energy use as well as its cost. It may be some automakers would opt to place more than one Puck in a car to compensate for the limited field of vision based on the lower price point. Because it is smaller, the Puck can also be unobtrusively placed on a vehicle. The company is aiming to eventually have one of these units cost $1,000. The 3D LiDAR sensor can also be used in applications such as robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles. (WIRED)(Robotics Tomorrow)(Velodyne Acoustics)

All Eyes on Unlikely Kickstarter Phenom as Potato Salad Bash Becomes Reality

It started 3 July 2014 innocently enough as a joke by a guy asking for help making his first potato salad, but Zack “Danger” Brown and his $10 quest exploded in such proportion as to make him the stuff of Internet legend. Media attention fueled the month-long campaign further. There was no plan when the campaign launched, Brown told the Associated Press, “We said, ‘Here’s the joke; if you enjoy the joke, give us some money.’ And we made a ton of money.” By the end of his crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter, he earned $55,492 and had 4.1 million views, ranking it, to date, the fourth-most viewed Kickstarter project. Instead of keeping the money, he decided to use it for good once the backer benefits were delivered. Each backer who donated at least $3 was promised a half-ounce each of potato salad. Brown and some assistants are making 300 pounds of potato salad in preparation. The spuds are courtesy The Idaho Potato Commission and other corporate sponsors have contributed other ingredients to make it possible. PotatoStock 2014 takes place in downtown Columbus, Ohio, 26 September 2014. Long after the last bit of potato salad is taken, an endowment Brown established with The Columbus Foundation will assist area charities focused on combating hunger and homelessness. The endowment was started with $20,000 in post-campaign corporate donations. PotatoStock proceeds will also be added to the fund. (The Associated Press)(The Columbus Dispatch)

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