Monday, October 31, 2011

Android Powered Smart Watches Coming Soon

I'm Watch
First published as "Android Powered Smart Watches Coming Soon" on Technorati

A new generation of smart watches is ready to hit the market. Sporting Android OS, these watches do much more than tell time, they provide quick access to email, text, social networking sites, videos and even take phone calls.

Two start up companies are poised to enter the market. The "I'm Watch" from Italy does not support wifi, but will tether via bluetooth to your smartphone and provide web access using your existing data plan. Download music, videos and apps from the new "I'm Market", which is the I'm Watch online store.

The I'm Watch sports a curved 1.5 inch, 240 x 240 pixel multi-touch screen and weighs about 70 grams or about 2.5 ounces. It comes in a rainbow of colors and styles and is powered by a Freescale IMX233 CPU (454MHz) and 64 MB of memory. Its 450mAh battery can run for about 24 hours on standby and about four hours when running apps. Speaker and mic are included.  (specs are here: .pdf)

The I'm Watch starts at 299 euros or about 423 dollars. With 50% up front, delivery is expected in about 90 days.  It currently runs Android Donut 1.6 for its' lower memory consumption, but backports for Froyo and Gingerbread are available.

WiMM Labs is offering up a platform for a variety of small, Android powered devices which provide wifi and bluetooth connectivity, an accelerometer, magnetometer and vibrate alerts.

They envision a range of smart gadgets including wearable watches, pendants and belt clips. Other useful WiMM powered devices might include clip on bike models and usb powered mini-computers.

The WiMM powered watch features a 1.4 inch color, touch screen display. It supports up to 32 MB of memory, its water resistant and only weighs 22 grams or less than one ounce.

Use it to screen calls, texts and social media. It will come loaded with custom watch faces and handy apps for caller ID, Calendar, Weather and more.

No more digging through a cluttered purse or fumbling for a smartphone in your pocket. Get ready for a new generation of android powered mini devices which will make information, networking and social media even more accessible and useful than ever before.

DIY - Ghost Hunters Toolkit

Do you believe in ghosts? Millions of people do and stories of haunted places and the spirits that dwell there have persisted throughout history.

From the two thousand year old story of a ghost of an old man, complete with rattling chains, to the ancient Roman festival of Lemuria, which residents performed a ritual exorcism to clear their homes of evil spirits of the dead, ghosts have haunted our homes and dreams through the ages.

Studies show about one third of people believe in ghosts and millions have had experiences they cannot explain. TV shows like Ghost Hunters and Paranormal Witness are among many aimed at believers and the curious.

You don't have to be a professional ghost hunter to do your own investigation. The tools of the trade are widely available online and even as apps for your smart phone. Here's a roundup of the most common ghost-busting tech to liven up your Halloween.

Basic equipment should include a camcorder with a good quality microphone and night vision. Use webcams for remote rooms. Connect these to a central computer to record paranormal activity.

A digital camera with good resolution and an old fashioned 35mm camera for capturing ghostly images.

Cassette tape recorder. The analog method of recording sound can capture background noises which may be missed by digital recordings.

Motsha Ghost Detector
A classic ghoul finder, EMF Detectors register changes in the electronic and magnetic fields. These are relatively inexpensive and even are available as an app for your smartphone.

Check out Motsha Ghost Detector and Ghost Meter-PKE Detector, both free from the Android Market. iPhone users can try Phantom Radar or Ghost Radar among others.

A compass is handy as a backup EMF Detector. It will also respond to changes in the magnetic field.

A thermometer is essential for verifying temperature fluctuations and identifying hot and cold spots.

Finally, don't forget the flashlights and extra batteries for all your electronic equipment.

The stories have persisted for thousands of years. Finally, we can use modern technology to help answer that age old question, "Do you believe in ghosts?"

First published as DIY- Ghost Hunters Toolkit on Technorati by Michelle Blowers

ghost window image: 

Millions of Tons of Tsunami Refuse Could Reach US Coast

 First Published as "Millions of Tons of Tsunami Refuse Could Reach US Coast" on Technorati

Millions of tons of debris from the massive 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March, 2011 is making its way across the Pacific Ocean and will  eventually reach the west coast of the United States.

Following the record quake, crushing tsunami waves reached 133 ft (40.5 meters) in height and traveled up to six miles (10 km) inland. Nearly twenty thousand people were killed or have gone missing.
When the massive waves retreated, they pulled out to sea millions of tons of demolished houses, cars, furniture and the remnants of thousands of lives. Some of these items will sink as they move across the ocean, but many will not.

A staggering five to twenty million tons of refuse, containing everything from house parts, appliances and the minutia of peoples' lives will likely begin to arrive at Midway Islands, which lies between Japan and Hawaii, sometime this winter. The debris plume is estimated to be two thousand miles long and a thousand miles long.

Debris Plume image: US Navy
The mass of floating refuse will reach Hawaii in the winter or spring of 2013 and finally wash ashore in 2014 along the beaches of North America's west coast from British Columbia and Alaska through Washington, Oregon and California. It is not expected to contain radioactive material.

This prediction is the result of a model ( .pdf) developed by Nikolai Maximenko, a senior researcher at the International Pacific Research Center in Hawaii. He studied thirty years of ocean currents using data from thousands of buoys dotting the ocean. Recently a Russian ship passing between Honolulu and Vladivostock, Russia spotted the Japanese debris field just where Maximenko's model predicted it would be.  You can view an animation of the projected path here.

Whatever remains of this giant plume of trash and debris will eventually make its' way to the infamous 'North Pacific Garbage Patch' a giant vortex of mostly chemical and plastic garbage from the US and Japan which accumulates and is trapped by ocean currents in a huge area of the Pacific Ocean.

This marine garbage collection point was predicted in 1988 by NOAA and verified in 1997. Estimates of size vary greatly but range from  270,000 sq mi (700,000 square kilometres) to more than 5,800,000 sq mi (15,000,000 square kilometers). There is also a garbage patch accumulating in the Atlantic.

Massive Study Proves Climate Change is No Hoax

 First published as, "Massive Study Proves Climate Change is No Hoax" on Technorati

An independent review of more than one and a half billion temperature records from fifteen sources over more than a century  clearly shows that the planet is warming. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have confirmed previous reports that global temperatures have risen by 1 degree Celsius or nearly two degrees Fahrenheit overall.

The team included a 2011 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Saul Perlmutter and various climatologists and statisticians. Compiling a huge open database of temperature records, researchers found a striking correlation with earlier American and British studies and the data clearly supports the conclusions that warming is occurring.

This study is the most comprehensive and thorough to date and focused on some nagging questions about the debate. According to this statement:
" The most important indicator of global warming, by far, is the land and sea surface temperature record. This has been criticized in several ways, including the choice of stations and the methods for correcting systematic errors. The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study sets out to to do a new analysis of the surface temperature record in a rigorous manner that addresses this criticism. We are using over 39,000 unique stations, which is more than five times the 7,280 stations found in the Global Historical Climatology Network Monthly data set (GHCN-M) that has served as the focus of many climate studies."
Skeptics have long criticized the use of data sources considered of 'poor' reliability. However, the results remained surprisingly consistent regardless of the perceived accuracy of some reporting stations. Despite local variations, the overall trend remained the same as stations considered 'reliable'.
Researchers found that there is an 'urban heat effect' which is significant to the local area. However, as less than 1% of the global land area is urban, these 'heat islands' were not deemed significant to the planet's overall climate.

Confusing the issue is data that shows one third of stations, many in the US and northern Europe, reported cooling over the last seventy years.

These cooler readings could be due to local variations and expected background 'noise' in the data. It may also be evidence of uneven warming of the planet.
Changes in ocean currents, wind and storm patterns will undoubtedly cause some areas to experience colder, wetter winters and more severe storms. 

It also shows that in those areas experiencing warming, temperatures may have risen much higher than the global average of 1 degree Celsius.

In fact recent studies show temperatures at the poles continue to rise faster than other areas of the globe. Disproportional heating at the poles has contributed to the rapid disappearance of sea ice and thawing of permafrost, releasing even more CO2.

You can review the data here  and draw your own conclusions. The evidence seems overwhelming but a vocal minority of skeptics and a lack of political courage continue to thwart any action as temperatures rise and we move ever closer to a possible climate 'tipping point'.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Heads Up! Another Satellite is Falling to Earth

Article first published as Heads Up! Another Satellite is Falling to Earth on Technorati.

Pieces of another crippled satellite, this one the German ROSAT, are expected to fall to Earth this weekend, with perhaps thirty fragments surviving re-entry, including a one and a half ton, heat-resistant mirror traveling at 280 mph (450 kph).

The orbit of ROSAT takes it over the highly populated area between 53 degrees north and 53 degrees south latitudes. You can follow the current orbit here and view re-entry statistical animations.

Odds of someone actually being struck by a piece of the defunct ROSAT satellite are about one in 2000. Those are higher than the one in 3200 chances of being hit by the UARS satellite last month.

The six ton UARS (Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) fell out of orbit and plunged into the Pacific Ocean around midnight on Sept 23, 2011. It briefly captured the worlds attention and spawned sales of 'I Survived The UARS Satellite Crash' T-Shirts.

Earth's orbit is clogged with the debris of fifty years of space exploration. A cloud of space junk orbits our planet which consists of more than 370,000 items including chunks of old satellites and rocket booster engines. Occasionally, the orbits of some of these objects degrade to a point where they are captured by Earths' gravity and fall toward the ground. Most of these are small and burn up upon re-entry.

Scientists are concerned we may have reached a 'tipping point' where continuous collisions could make passing through Earth's orbit too dangerous, potentially ending space travel as we know it.
The problem reached a critical level when the Chinese tested an anti-satellite weapon in 2007 which may have added 150,000 new pieces to the debris field. This was followed by a collision of two orbiting satellites in 2009. These two events doubled the number of objects in the space junk cloud and may have brought us perilously close to being trapped on Earth.

This gauntlet of debris may pose too great a risk for astronauts to pass through, and recently forced six residents of the International Space Station to take shelter in two docked Russian Soyuz spaceships when a piece of space debris threatened to strike the station. 
United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) released a report in 2009 called 'Catchers Mitt' which looked closely at the problem.

Strategies to deal with this envelope of space trash have ranged from lasers, nets to giant space sweepers, but the problem continues to snowball and no action has been taken as yet.


European Space Agency:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Group-Think: Peer Pressure Shown To Alter Memories

Our memories are effected by what others think
 Article first published as Group-Think: Peer Pressure Shown To Alter Memories on Technorati.

Why is eye witness testimony notoriously unreliable? Why is advertising and propaganda so effective? Researchers have shown (.pdf) that our memories can be strongly effected by what we believe others perceive, and these memories can persist even when the manipulation has been disclosed.

Thirty adults watched a documentary style video in small groups. After three days, they were brought back individually and given a memory test to check their accuracy and confidence in what they had seen.

Four days later, they returned to take another memory test, but this time, first they were 'allowed' to see others' answers to the test questions. They were hooked up to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and shown false responses, supposedly by the other members of their small group.

The participants were tested again one week later and the results were striking. Over 68% of them had altered their memory of the event to conform with what they thought was the majority. Tests on control groups tested without social manipulation showed only 15% gave wrong answers.

Even after the full scope of the deception was revealed, more than 40% persisted in believing their falsified memory.

This shows how susceptible we are to group-think and peer pressure. It illustrates how easy it can be to manipulate someones' memories by convincing them that the majority saw it differently.

What causes this memory-shift? The MRI performed during the test on day seven provided some clues.

The MRI showed activity in the amygdala region of the brain, which effects how we remember social and emotional events. It seems to act as sort of a gatekeeper and influences the long and short term memories of the hippocampus.

This social and emotional influence over memory may have a survival component, allowing us to accept the guidance of the larger group, even when it conflicts with our own feelings.

Our tendency for 'herd mentality' may have contributed to the survival of our species, but we must guard against social memory-manipulation which could influence our opinions through advertising,  propaganda or tolerance for social injustice.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

No More Surprises: Cell Phone Companies Agree to Overage Warnings
 Article first published as No More Surprises: Cell Phone Companies Agree to Overage Warnings on Technorati.

In an effort to avoid regulation, wireless providers have agreed to notify customers who are reaching their limits on voice, data, text and international roaming charges.

In a joint statement with the FCC, Consumers Union and CITA, a large wireless industry association, the major cell companies announced they will provide free warnings that users are about to incur overage charges on these commonly used services.

CITA members include wireless industry heavyweights such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and TracFone.
Half these notifications must be working by Oct. 17, 2012, with the remainder up and running by April 17, 2013. This is good news for consumers.  According to this report, by the Wireless Consumer Association International, about 13.5 percent of customers will go over their plan's voice limit, and almost one in five (18%) will exceed their data limit.

Cell phone customers have long complained about 'bill shock', when unknowingly exceeding their plan limits. Companies have made billions off these charges, and agreeing to these notifications was only done to avoid mandates from Washington. The joint statement quotes President Obama,
“Far too many Americans know what it’s like to open up their cell-phone bill and be shocked by hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unexpected fees and charges... Our phones shouldn’t cost us more than the monthly rent or mortgage. So I appreciate the mobile phone companies’ willingness to work with my Administration and join us in our overall and ongoing efforts to protect American consumers by making sure financial transactions are fair, honest and transparent.”

The FCC and Policy Council for Consumers Union praised the agreement, saying more than 97% of wireless customers will benefit from the new rules and urged the companies to implement the notifications quickly.
CITA President and CEO said,

..."Today’s initiative is a perfect example of how government agencies and industries they regulate can work together under President Obama’s recent executive order directing federal agencies to consider whether new rules are necessary or would unnecessarily burden businesses and the economy.”

Because compliance is 'voluntary', the Consumers Union said, they are going to work closely with the FCC to make sure companies comply, "and we're pleased the Commission is keeping this proceeding open to help ensure compliance."

So, today cell phone customers enjoy a rare victory against surprise overages and Americans get a rare example of government, industry and consumer groups working together to protect users.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Broken Windows? Ubuntu Linux Saves the Day

Ubuntu Live CD Desktop
Article first published as Broken Windows? Ubuntu Linux Saves the Day on Technorati.

You may have heard about Linux. Perhaps you imagined it as a clunky DOS-like command line system, used by uber-geeks in dark basements and server rooms to perform their geeky techno-magic.

In truth, Linux has matured into an easy to use operating system, complete with a vast eco-system of free software that rivals Windows and Mac in simplicity and beauty. It rarely needs a reboot and viruses are virtually unknown.

Canonical has just released Ubuntu 11.10, it's latest version of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution. It calls itself 'Linux for Human Beings' and it aims to be one of the most newbie friendly Linuxes. It's innovative 'Unity' GUI (graphical user interface) is designed for simplicity and functionality.

Ubuntu is not shareware or spyware. It is a full-featured system which is provided free of charge through 'Open Source' licensing.

Open Source is a philosophy as much as a license. It gives developers the right to use and build upon the progress of previous developers. Unlike proprietary software, the source code is provided for review, modification and distribution.

This type of collaborative development leads to rapid progress and innovation. Linux runs everything from desktop systems and smart phones to toasters and super-computers.

You don't have to install Ubuntu to try it out on your computer. Many Linux distributions are offered as 'Live CDs/DVDs which run completely off your CD/DVD player. They come with a full library of software pre-installed for everything from a MS Office compatible Office suite to photo editing and email.
Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, but includes popular software, like Flash, Java and proprietary video drivers by default.

Simply download and burn the .iso (disk image) to a CD/DVD. Drop it in your computers' CD/DVD drive and reboot. Most everything works 'out of the box.' Video, sound, wifi, printers and networking. You can explore Linux and enjoy all the free software without risk. Simply eject the disk when your done and the computer reboots as before.

These live CDs are a great tool for malware infected Windows computers. In a pinch, they can provide you with a fully functional and secure system, loaded with the latest software and hardware drivers. Use them to back up files from a dying hard drive or fix a borked master boot record. At least you will have a working system until you can get Windows fixed (again).

Use a Live Linux CD to clean an infected Windows system yourself. Boot using a live CD and simply visit a reputable online virus scanner like TrendMicro, Bitdefender, Kaperskey, or use a free malware detection tool kit like the Kaspersky Rescue Disc.

If you choose to keep Linux on your computer, most Live CDs will walk you through installation, either completely replacing Windows or along side it (called dual-booting).

So head on over and download one of these great free systems. Explore thousands of free software titles from games to utilities.  Keep the live CD handy to rescue malware crippled Windows computers or retrieve data from an unbootable hard drive.

You don't have to be a geek to enjoy the freedom that Linux systems offer. They are simple to use, virtually virus free and solid as a rock.

And while you're at it, take a moment to remember Dennis Ritchie, a father of C and Unix, upon which most modern computing is based. He passed away last week, but these fundamental contributions will live on. RIP and thank you from all of us.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Large and Dangerous Volcano Awakes in Iceland

Katla eruption in 1918
Article first published as Large and Dangerous Volcano Awakes in Iceland on Technorati.

Airlines are nervously watching for another volcanic eruption in Iceland which could dwarf last years' eruption of closely related Eyjafjallajokull. In 2010, ash grounded planes and caused the most widespread interruption of air travel since World War II.  Katla, a much larger and potentially more dangerous volcano is showing signs of a possible imminent eruption.

Nearby Eyjafjallajokull erupted last year, disrupting air traffic over Europe, costing airlines almost 2 billion dollars and stranding passengers in airports all over the world. These neighbors appear to influence activity in the other and eruptions at Eyjafjallajokull have historically been shortly followed by eruptions at Katla.

The magma chamber inside Katla may be ten times as big as Eyjafjallajokull and in addition to spewing tons of gritty ash, it sits beneath the Myrdalsjökull ice sheet which has caused devastating flooding in previous eruptions. Earthquakes under Katla have been growing in strength, with a magnitude 4 quake recorded last week.

Katla has historically erupted approximately every 50 years, but it has been nearly a century since the last eruption in 1918. At that time, the eruption lasted over a month, blocked out the sun, killed off crops and livestock and sent a huge torrent of water over nearby farms.

An eruption of Laki in 1783 released plumes of toxic smog which rode the jet stream and killed thousands in the British Isles. Ash blocked sunlight causing temperatures to drop by 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit across Europe. North America shivered under one of the coldest winters on record in 1784, with reports of the Mississippi River freezing in New Orleans.

Iceland's history is one of fire and ice. It is home to more than 22 volcanoes, seven of which are active. Ice sheets and glaciers cover approximately 11,260 square miles or about 11% of the land.

Evacuation plans have been drafted and emergency housing for the displaced have been set aside, but officials are concerned that there may be very little warning, perhaps less than an hour, to evacuate the population if Katla blows.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How Do Viruses Sneak Into Your Computer?

 Article first published as How Do Viruses Sneak Into Your Computer? on Technorati. - CC
When was the last time you updated Java, Adobe Reader, Flash or Internet Explorer? These four programs are responsible for 95% of malware infections on Windows computers.

Researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies  have monitored over a half million infections over the past three months, utilizing 50 different exploits distributed by 44 different servers. Most malware attempted several different exploitation techniques, searching for known bugs in unpatched software.

The results showed that the vast majority of vulnerabilities in Windows computers were in out-of-date third-party software. The worst offenders were Java, Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash and Internet Explorer.

More disturbing is a whopping 85% of infections were the result of 'drive-by' downloads. These slip into the machine by simply visiting a compromised website or viewing infected .pdf or flash files.

Unsurprisingly, Internet Explorer exploits continue to be common intrusion methods, accounting for 10% of infections, and two-thirds of other infections occurred while using IE.

But don't think your safe just because you are using Firefox, Chrome or Safari. One third of intrusions occurred while using one of these other popular browsers.
Windows XP users accounted for 41% of malware infections, with Vista not far behind at 38%. Windows 7 is better, but still accounts for 16% of exploited machines.

Using a secure browser can help, but the real vulnerabilities exist in add-on programs. Worst is unpatched Java, accounting for 37% of infections. Out-of-date Adobe Reader is not far behind at 32% and old versions of Flash are responsible for about 16%.

Fewer, but still significant numbers of users have been exploited through Quicktime (2%) and disturbingly, Windows Help & Support HCP (3%).

The most important statistic in the study was that almost all exploits (95%) were the result of running out of date versions of one of four specific  programs: Java, Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash or Internet Explorer.

So when was the last time you updated these commonly used browsers or plugins? If your not sure, here are links to their update sites:

Adobe Flash
Adobe Reader
Internet Explorer


Is Bank of America's Website Under Attack?

10/05/11 Screenshot of B of A website
Article first published as Is Bank of America's Website Under Attack? on Technorati.

For nearly a week now, the Bank of America website has been experiencing 'problems' and the homepage warns of possible slow page loads,  "We value your business and appreciate your continued patience. Most of our site is working normally, but you may experience occasional delays."

Bank of America has denied they are being targeted in a coordinated attack but the timing is certainly suspicious.

Speculation is rampant that B of A is being targeted by a distributed denial of service' (DDoS) attack, where an army of compromised computers simultaneously and repeatedly flood a website with bogus page requests until it slows to a crawl or crashes completely. DDoS is a low-level attack, not actually a security breach. It simply overwhelms a website with traffic making it inaccessible.

The problems started soon after B of A came under heavy criticism for their new policy to charge debit card users a five dollar monthly fee. This has produced a strong reaction from users and throughout the blogosphere.

There is also the growing 'Take Back Wall Street' protest, which has spread from NY City, across the country. It expresses the frustration many feel toward the banking systems' roll in the financial crisis.

A prominent hacker group, 'Anonymous' has pledged to support the protesters by attacking NYSE on Oct 10 in retaliation for the arrests of hundreds of protesters.
Historically, computer malware has been used to steal credit card numbers and passwords, but recently, hackers have turned their bot-net army toward websites to make a political statement.

There is even a downloadable program circulating online to voluntarily join a botnet and participate in DDoS attacks against perceived hacker and free speech foes.

Pay-Pal and Mastercard were targeted after they refused to process donations for Wikileaks editor and Internet whistle-blower, Julian Assange.

Other prominent targets of politically motivated dDos attacks include the Music Recording and Motion Picture Industry websites and the US Copyright Office.
Bank of America's lack of transparency about the problem has fueled speculation and concern.  If this is a simple DDoS attack against B of A, and not an actual server compromise, you may have trouble accessing the website, but customers' data should still be safe.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Breakthrough Drug May Kill All Viruses

Article first published as Breakthrough Drug May Kill All Viruses on Technorati.

Influenza Virus -
Researchers at MIT have made a remarkable breakthrough. They have developed a new anti-viral drug that appears to kill every virus they have tried it against, without harming healthy cells or the patient.

They have successfully tested it against a wide range of viral ailments including the common cold, polio and Ebola.

The new drug is called DRACO (Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) Activated Caspase Oligomerizer) and works by inducing infected cells to kill themselves before the virus can spread.

When viruses invade cells they produce long strands of dsRNA (double strand RNA) which are not normally produced in people or animals. These unusual dsRNA strands are only found in virus-infected cells.

MIT researcher Todd Rider had the novel idea to combine two drugs: One identifies and attaches itself to these distinctive dsRNA strands and the other tricks the cell to 'commit suicide' (apoptosis). This is a normally occurring bodily defense against damaged cells which prevents cancers, auto immune and inflammatory diseases. In fact the average adult body destroys more than 50 billion damaged cells each day.

This combination of therapies, identifying infected cells and inducing them to kill themselves has produced a highly effective and wide spectrum drug that should, theoretically, work against all viruses.

So far it has been effective against all fifteen different viruses they have tried it on. Testing on mice showed DRACO totally cleared the H1N1 virus, cause of the 'swine flu' outbreak in 2009.

Rapid deployment of effective anti-viral drugs, even for newly discovered viruses, can be the difference between a catastrophic pandemic, like the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak that killed 50 million worldwide and a minor outbreak, quickly  contained and extinguished.

There are a few anti-viral drugs available today. They tend to be targeted to very specific viruses and are vulnerable to resistance through rapid generic mutations, common in viruses.

Viruses have been linked to serious and chronic medical conditions such as Type 1 diabetes and atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart attacks.

DRACO may revolutionize medical treatment for viral infections, much as antibiotics led to treatment of routine bacterial infections which were often fatal a century ago. In fact, life expectancy increased by eight years between 1944 and 1972, largely due to the availability of antibiotics.

Finally, real hope exists for the victims of viral infections, from the common cold to AIDS.

Press Announcement is here and technical details can be found here.

How Can You Contribute to Open Source?

Open source software is a group effort and requires the participation of everyone in the community including you.  How can you give back to your favorite project if you are not a programmer? There are many ways you can help including participation in the online community, writing and translating, donations or just spreading the word.
Open source projects depend on you. They count on users to help test the packages on a large variety of hardware configurations and software combinations. They rely on your feedback to help the project grow and mature. They depend on your participation in forums and IRC channels to aid end users. They need your expertise to create useful documentation and translations. They depend on your donations to cover the costs of hardware and hosting.

Previously we took a close look at Apport, the bug reporting program included with Ubuntu. It works with Launchpad to coordinate bug tracking and fixes and makes it relatively simple to perform this most basic and vital task to contribute to the community.

Besides bug reports, there are many ways of giving back to the open source causes. Participation in the projects  online community is a good way to start. You don't have to be an expert to visit the projects' forums  or IRC channel and offer suggestions on topics you are familiar with. There is almost always someone newer than you that will appreciate your advice.

Documentation is an on-going chore for developers and assistance is always appreciated. Contact the project maintainer and offer to write readmes or help articles for specific tasks. Create how-tos and tutorials and post them on your blog or youtube. Contribute to the projects' wiki page. Look here for some tips on writing software documentation.

Translators are needed to make software and documentation available in other languages. Contact the project maintainer and offer to help translate the interface or help files. Check out 'Open Source Tools For Translators' to help you get started.
Donating money to worthy open source projects is always welcome. Most developers receive very little compensation for all their hard work. Most supply their own hardware and bandwidth. Many pay for hosting project websites where they interact with end users via forums or message boards. Even small donations help keep the project running.

Here are a few worthy causes to get you started. There are many more:

Finally, advocacy is a powerful tool and just being able to share information about Linux or your favorite software package when the opportunity arises is perhaps the most important contribution you can make. Talk to your friends,  family and coworkers. Post comments in forums and social media.

Burn a few live CDs of a newbie-friendly distro such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint.. Keep them in your car with your music CDs. The next time someone complains about how their computer won't boot or is running so slowly it is barely usable, just pull out one of the live CDs and show them how it works.

Explain that it wont change anything on their computer and comes with a complete collection of software for common tasks. Show them how it can give them a secure, perfectly usable system until they can get Windows fixed, or if they choose to keep Linux, you will help to install it on their machine.

Even if you can't write a line of code, open source depends on you. They need your bug reports, community involvement and donations. They depend on you to spread the word through personal contact and social media. Contributing your time and skills to these projects will benefit you as the user and the open source ecosystem as a whole.

This article was originally published on

Monday, October 3, 2011

Discarded Computers Reveal Your Secrets

Article first published as Discarded Computers Reveal Your Secrets on Technorati.

Your old computer's hard drive is worth hundreds of dollars to criminals seeking your personal and financial information.

Discarded hard drives often contain valuable data, including credit card and banking information, medical records and passwords. The data is being harvested for identity theft, fraud and even blackmail.

Old computer parts, including hard drives with data intact, are shipped overseas and dumped in cash-strapped developing  countries with lenient or non-existent environmental laws.

Criminal organizations will pay up to $200 USD for old disks with data intact from workers who scour landfills brimming with dumped e waste from the US and other prosperous countries.

According to David Brown, manager of Tech Guys Computer Service in California, most people don't consider what happens to their data after the computer becomes obsolete. "We remove confidential information from donated machines every day," he said.

How can you be sure your private information is safe when you retire your old computer?

If you plan to donate the computer intact you should use a wiping program like the free 'Dariks Boot And Nuke'. DBAN is a Linux based system which boots off a floppy, cd or usb. It overwrites the old bits and bytes with random numbers several times over, assuring complete destruction of data.

If you don't plan to reuse the computer, pull out the hard drive (its usually just two screws) and physically destroy it. Perhaps the easiest way is to beat it with a hammer, or even a rock. You can drive a few nails through it for extra satisfaction.

Always ask for your old hard drive back when you take your computer to the shop for an upgrade. Donate your used machine to a reputable e-recycling shop which has earned a certification through the EPA for safely recycling and managing used electronics.

You can find a list of companies who have received this EPA approval by visiting the websites of 'R2 Solutions' or 'e-stewards'.

Protecting your personal information involves more than just using an anti-virus program and choosing secure passwords. You need to ensure it is safe from prying eyes even after the computer has been retired and has passed out of your control.

Tizen Consortium Takes On Android and iPhone

In a joint announcement on Sept 28, The LiMo Foundation and the Linux Foundation reported they are developing a new mobile operating system called 'Tizen'. It is a combination of the LiMo and MeeGo Linux-based mobile operating systems and will compete directly with Google's Android, Apple's iPhone and Blackberry from RIM. According to the announcement on their website:

 "LiMo Foundation is pleased to give its full endorsement of the Tizen initiative as an important step forward for the mobile industry. LiMo is confident that Tizen brings together the necessary critical mass of market and technology leadership so as to enable the establishment of a single, open and independent Linux-based platform for mobile devices."

Hosted by The Linux Foundation, Tizen is being developed by a consortium of major technology companies led by Intel and Samsung. They have worked to create an open, cross-architecture and standards based mobile platform. Tizen will  power smart phones, tablets, netbooks, smart TVs and vehicle entertainment systems.

LiMo brought together industry leaders including Motorola, NEC, Samsung, McAfee and others to help increase the adoption of Linux in mobile platforms. The Linux Foundation members include industry heavyweights such as Intel, IBM, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Oracle and Qualcomm.

Founded in 2007, the goal of LiMo was to create an Operating System which could unify the mobile industry and prevent continued fragmentation. It would provide a common computing platform which would simplify creation of third party applications by developers by using HTML5 and WAC API implementations and toolkits.

MeeGo was launched in February of 2010 and is also a Linux-based mobile platform. It is backed by Intel, Nokia and Novell. MeeGo was decended from Moblin, developed by Intel and Maemo from Nokia.

According to Morgan Gillis, Executive Director of the LiMo Foundation:

 "The most important thing about mobile Linux it that it's not owned by any one industry party, and therefore it can be adopted without any difficult business model conflicts."

Tizen holds to four basic goals: first, to use HTML5 and web standards for application development. Second, build a truly open software ecosystem. The third guarantees partners the opportunity to customize and individualize the system and finally, participation and support by many of the biggest players in the technology field.

Tizen is due to be released in early 2012 and the first Tizen-powered devices should be available to the public soon after.

Article first published as Tizen Consortium Takes on Android and iPhone on Technorati.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Using Apport to Report Bugs in Ubuntu

Open Source projects depend on an active community of users and developers to contribute their time and skills to improve individual projects and the open source ecosystem in general. All users can contribute to Ubuntu by using Apport to report bugs for fixing.

Ubuntu uses Launchpad for bug tracking and Apport for bug reports. It is designed to be easy for the user as it collects info about the OS, running processes and hardware during crashes. You don't need to be able to reproduce the bug to provide useful information for the developers.

Generally Apport supports two types of bug reports:

1) Launched when you experience a crash. Automatically opens apport and walks you through the reporting process.

2) Initiated by the user when bug is noticed during use of a program but does not cause a crash, for example an application option that does not work as expected or a problem with the user interface.

When a crash occurs Apport creates a persistent and detailed crash report in /var/crash which can be used to determine the problem, even for bugs which are difficult to reproduce. This report contains detailed information about system state and installed software. Apport uses package hooks to collect additional information from log and configuration files.

Sometimes crashes can be hard to attribute to a specific program or service so Apport uses the apport-symptoms package symptom based bug reporting. The UI guides the user through selection of symptoms and uses question and answer scripts to locate the offending package and determine what data to collect.

Bugs which affect large number of users may have already be reported many times and this can cause unnecessary work for developers and users. Apport uses 'Bug Patterns' to recognize specific recurring errors and instead of filing a new report, takes the user to the Launchpad bug page where they can review previous reports and determine if this a new or known bug.

Bugs in X drivers, sound and the kernel should always open a new bug report to be sure your hardware is included in any fix.

Following a program crash, a message will appear offering to help you report the problem. If you were entering confidential information when the crash occurred you should click 'Cancel'.

Most of the time crashes occur when you are performing routine tasks and these should be reported. Click 'Report Problem...' to begin collecting information about what your computer was doing when the crash occurred.

Apport will ask to 'Send problem report to the developers?' Click 'Content of the report' to view the data apport has collected or you can open the plain text document in /var/crash. If you would like to file the report later, you can navigate to this report and double click on it. Apport-gtk will open allowing you to file the bug report.

Click 'Send Report' to upload the report to Launchpad's bug tracking system. Your browser will launch and you will be directed to Launchpad to login or create an account. You are then taken to the packages' bug filing page.

Look over the list of 'hot bugs' and see if your bug is listed there. If the problem has been previously reported, click on 'Mark as Duplicate'. If it is a new bug, click 'Report Bug'.

Briefly describe the the problem and what caused it, if known. Launchpad will search for similar bug reports. If none are found to match your problem, you will be asked for further information. Be sure to include what you were trying to do, what actually occurred and the steps to reproduce the problem, if known.

If the bug is a security risk, click the box 'This bug is a security vulnerability.'

Click 'Extra Options' to add tags to this report, attach files such as logs or screen shots or even submit a patch for the bug.

When finished, click 'Submit Bug Report'.

Apport is launched automatically when a crash occurs as a result of segmentation violation, bus error, floating point exception, etc, but sometimes bugs occur in more minor ways that will not trigger apport. For example perhaps you find a menu item which does not work as expected or problems with the interface. These may not crash the program but need to be reported so they can be fixed.

First go here and check if a specific bug has already been reported for your version of Ubuntu.

Use Alt+F2 to open the 'Run Application' window and type ubuntu-bug <package name> or for a running application, open your System Monitor (System > Administration > System Monitor) and note the process ID number. Enter the process ID into Run Applications instead of the package name for example, 'ubuntu-bug 1664'.

When should you not report a bug? Bug reports are not for support or feature requests or non-Ubuntu packages.

Even small bugs can make software seem unfinished and immature. Each bug squashed contributes to the overall quality of all open source software and enhances its' credibility with the public.

Filing bug reports is an important part of being an involved member of the Linux community. Apport makes it simple to do your part.

This article was originally published in on Sept. 30, 2011