A blimp-turbine to harness high-altitude winds

by evilviper@pipedot.org in ask on 2014-10-01 13:04 (#2T1F)

Think of it as a Goodyear blimp for the era of alternative power. A kind of giant tubular helium balloon with a three-bladed turbine inside, floating as much as 2,000 feet in the air so it can capture energy from winds that blow stronger and more steadily than they do at ground level. The system is designed to deliver energy to a ground station via one of the cables that would tether the balloon to Earth. It could be inflated, tethered to a ground station built on a trailer platform, then deflated and moved.

With the aid of a $740,000 grant from the Alaska Energy Authority — which is interested in power sources for the state’s many communities that are off the electrical grid — Altaeros is working on a commercial BAT that will house a 30-kilowatt turbine, which could power about a dozen homes. Later versions, Rein said, would be 200-kilowatt models, big enough to compete with generators that typically power remote mines and construction sites. “We’re not trying to replace wind turbines,” Rein says. “We’re trying to expand wind energy to places where it doesn’t work today.”


U.S. law enforcement officials urge Apple and Google not to encrypt smartphone data

by evilviper@pipedot.org in legal on 2014-09-30 18:27 (#2T14)

After Edward Snowden revealed the extent to which the NSA had unfettered access to corporations' internal networks, and several high-profile hacker data leaks, technology companies have stepped up efforts to shield their customers' data. Apple's IOS8 and Google's Android L both encrypt user data if the user selects a pass-phrase, making it inaccessible to 3rd parties.

But in a move reminiscent of the Clinton-era clipper chip initiative (which would have required all cryptographic software to provide the US Government with unfettered access to your encrypted data) US Law enforcement agencies are pushing back, calling for Apple and Google to weaken or eliminate the new security features. U.S. Justice Department and FBI officials are trying to understand how the new Apple and Google Android systems work and how the companies could change the encryption to make it accessible when court ordered.

This comes after years of the FBI, TSA, ICE, and police departments across the country routinely appropriating all the data on personal electronic devices, without a warrant, of anyone they stopped to search for any reason. Only recently have some of these warrant-less searches been ruled illegal by unanimous supreme court decision.

FFmpeg back in Debian

by seriously@pipedot.org in code on 2014-09-30 02:13 (#2T0R)

More than 3 years ago, January 2011, ffmpeg was forked by a part of the development team into libav. Then, by the end of that year, the fork had replaced FFmpeg in Debian's packages, with, notably, the binary in the ffmpeg package marking itself as deprecated and recommending users to use avconv instead. As the split didn't happen in the most friendly way (to say the least), these events sparkled a lot of debates and flames and it is quite difficult to find articles on the topic that are not biased one way or the other.

In November 2013, a bug report was filed for Debian to reintroduce an actual ffmpeg package and all the associated libraries. Fast forward to mid-September 2014, after some technical discussions and soname changes (all ffmpeg-related libraries with a libav* name have been renamed into libav*-ffmpeg), ffmpeg has been quietly reintroduced in Debian unstable and it might even be just in time to be included for release in Jessie.

Let's hope this solution where both versions can co-exist will help calm things down.

Nissan has built an Electric Pickup, and you can't have one

by evilviper@pipedot.org in hardware on 2014-09-28 17:47 (#2SZZ)

Anyone who doesn’t have a pickup needs a friend with one. The design’s utility is timeless, as is our occasional need to haul cargo. We’re still waiting for an electric pickup, but in the meantime here’s Sparky, a converted Nissan Leaf. Engineers Roland Schellenberg and Arnold Moulinet, eager to do a little team-building and create a cool way of moving stuff around Nissan’s 3,050-acre Stanfield, Arizona testing facility, led the project.

The front-half is original, but the bed comes from a Nissan Frontier pickup truck. The rear section of the cabin came from a junk Nissan Titan, complete with a power rear window.


Another option is the ultra-lightweight 275 lb (125 kg) GO-Easy trailer that the smallest cars, or even a motorcycle can easily tow. It also converts into a tent trailer for camping.


Packing for two years, off the grid in the Himalayas...

by evilviper@pipedot.org in ask on 2014-09-27 14:38 (#2SZE)

story imageWith a budget of just $1,200, and room for one carry-on and two check-in suitcases, both of no more than 60 kg (132 lbs), total, how would you prepare for living completely off-the-grid for two years in a remote village in the Himalayas?

That's the question asked by the Shortwave Listening Post, based on a user request, obviously with an intended focus on radio equipment and accessories. The necessities like food, shelter and warm clothing apparently being taken care of for you. Radio certainly would seem like the way to go for inexpensive entertainment and information in very remote areas, but answers that instead include satellite internet services (that stay within the budget with 2-years of service) could be equally interesting, if they are in fact available and practical.


The golden age of credit card fraud is drawing to a close

by evilviper@pipedot.org in security on 2014-09-27 14:36 (#2SZD)

The US is about to finally embrace the secure chip-based authentication system called EMV—the standard was pioneered by Europay, MasterCard, and Visa—that the rest of the world has already adopted. Pushed by mounting fraud costs, credit card companies have crafted incentives for merchants to switch to the sophisticated readers needed to accept the cards. “There was a lot of skepticism about whether it would ever happen in the US,” says Michael Misasi, an analyst with the Mercator Advisory Group. “All of the data breaches that have happened have woken people up, and progress has been accelerating this year.” The first serious milestone is October 2015. By 2020 the swipe-and-sign magstripe reader will be as hard to find as the credit card impression rollers they supplanted.

The end is nigh for online credit card fraud, too. Systems like Apple Pay and Visa’s newly announced Visa Token Service (something Discover, Bank of America, Citibank and American Express offered several years earlier) accomplish the same security goals as EMV, but also work online. They replace the static credit card number with a temporary token that changes every time.


What Linux users should know about open hardware

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in hardware on 2014-09-26 21:51 (#2SZ5)

Over at Datamation, Bruce Byfield opines, "What Linux users don't know about manufacturing open hardware can lead them to disappointment." Interesting stuff.
Both the manufacturing and distribution of digital products is controlled by a relatively small number of companies, whose time can sometimes be booked months in advance. Profit margins can be tight, so like movie studios that buy the rights to an ancient sit-com, the manufacturers usually hope to clone the success of the latest hot product. As Aaron Seigo told me when talking about his efforts to develop the Vivaldi tablet, the manufacturers would much rather prefer someone else take the risk of doing anything new. Not only that, but they would prefer to deal with someone with an existing sales record who is likely to bring repeat business. Besides, the average newcomer is looking at a product run of a few thousand units. A chip manufacturer would much rather deal with Apple or Samsung, whose order is more likely in the hundreds of thousands.
Off hand, it sounds a bit like the same problem independent authors have with big publishing houses: no one wants to buy or publish anything other than a guaranteed best-seller by a proven author, making it hard for the independent guys to get noticed. The article has some interesting insights into what Aaron Seigo and the Vivaldi (Linux-based open tablet) experienced before they abandoned hope for the project.

Bash vulnerabilities got you down? Harvard researchers propose: "Shill"

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in code on 2014-09-26 12:23 (#2SYV)

The worm and/or vulnerability they're now calling "Shellshock" has soured sysadmins on the Bash shell for the moment, and brought attention to a new point of entry for web-based server penetration attacks. Fortunately some researchers at Harvard have been thinking about problems like this and have come up with a solution.
It's a new scripting language called "Shill" and it's intended to limit the resources and privileges scripts have when running.
The language, called Shill, was designed to limit shell-based scripts so they can't access resources beyond what is specifically needed for the task at hand. "You want to give the script exactly the permissions it needs to get its job done," said Scott Moore, a computer science doctoral student at Harvard who is one of the contributors to the Shill research project, led by Stephen Chong, an associate professor of computer science.

The team is working on a version of Shill for the FreeBSD Unix operating system and is mulling the idea of porting it to Linux. The team will also present the technology next week at the USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation conference, in Broomfield, Colorado. Shill follows the principle of least privilege, which stipulates that software shouldn't posses more authority than what it needs to complete its job, Moore said.
Sounds like this might be useful for more reasons than simple exploit prevention, too!

Friday distro: Grml Linux

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in linux on 2014-09-26 10:54 (#2SYN)

story imageGrml Linux is a bit of a unique distro whose vision and focus have shifted over the past ten years. It represents the personalities of its developers, who prefer the zshell, focus on sysadmin tasks (deployment, disk cloning, backup, forensics, and rescuing borked systems). Lastly, one of the developers is visually handicapped. Thus: grml focuses on scripting, tools managed from the command prompt, and has chosen zsh as the basis for its innovations. Its Distrowatch page is here.

These days grml is a live CD or USB-stick based on Debian. You're not supposed to install it. It requires little more than 256MB of memory, and though it's intended to be mostly a command line environment, they've packaged Fluxbox and you can get there via startx. That's useful if you want to launch a browser to read up on a issue, but most of your day you'll be sitting at the command prompt in a zsh. Have a look at their zsh introduction page or their reference card then to get a sense of the shortcuts, command aliases, and scripts that help you administer your systems, or the dpkg package list showing installed packages.

I find the package list to be limited, and to my knowledge, there are no tools available that you can't find on other distros. But I find grml's advantage to be that they love and have put a lot of energy into the zshell, and if you're interested in the zsh this is a good place to see it showcased. It's also an easy distro to carry around on a USB stick if you're a command prompt warrior and want to quickly boot up to a useable command prompt from where you can do other things. For example, you simply run the grml-network script from the command prompt to discover, configure, and connect to a wireless network. And of course it's based on Debian's excellent hardware recognition and configuration system. This is a niche distro that won't appeal to everybody, but odds are better than average you'll soon find yourself at the ZSH Reference page looking into additional resources for using the amazing zshell (For starters, try the 429 and dense page ZSH Manual and this 14 page zshell reference card from the guys at bash2zsh. Have fun.

Soft robots and Kawaii Ball-bots

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in robotics on 2014-09-26 07:32 (#2SYG)

What's new in robotics? Depends where you are. Scientists at Harvard are putting their time and energy into the newish field of soft-robotics, a field that uses elastomer – a type of polymer similar to rubber – to perform behaviors such as grasping a human hand or crawling across the ground. Eventually, researchers say that soft robots may be instrumental in things such as physical therapy, minimally invasive surgery, and search-and-rescue operations. By using soft robotics, engineers have created projects like a pneumatic glove for rehabilitating hand movement, a cardiac simulator that mimics the precise movements of a human heart, and a device for thumb rehabilitation.

In Japan, meanwhile, scientists are putting a happier spin on swarm robots – small robots that can communicate and interact to achieve common goals – by rolling out cheerleader robots that use swarm technology to animate and entertain.
The Murata Cheerleading robots ... look like dolls, have glowing eyes and balance on steel balls. Unveiled Thursday in Tokyo by components maker Murata Manufacturing, each bot looks like a cartoonish girl sporting a red skirt and short black hair. A series of rollers under the skirt keep the robot balanced on a ball or rotate it in a particular direction to move around. Under the afro, meanwhile, nestles an infrared sensor and ultrasonic microphones that help the robot detect objects nearby. Three gyro sensors control motion from front to back, side to side and in rotation. A wireless network is used to control a group of 10 cheerleader robots. They can perform precisely synchronized dance routines, moving into formations such as a heart while spinning on their balls.

It's all very kawaii, and of course intended to generate attention among Japanese audiences and visitors to trade shows. "We designed the cheerleader robots to cheer people up and make them smile," said Murata spokesman Koichi Yoshikawa. "Their features can be summed up as '3S': stability, synchronization and sensing and communication."
Now, what could we do if we combined those two technologies?