As developers for tablets and smartphones we like to keep abreast of the latest mobile technology developments . This is a daily digest of mobile development and related technology news gathered from the BBC, the New York Times, New Scientist and the Globe and Mail to name a few. We scour the web for articles concerning, iPhone, iPad and android development, iOS and android operating systems as well as general articles on advances in mobile technology. We hope you find this useful and that it helps to keep you up to date with the latest technology developments.

Creative Solutions to Information Access from Chicago's Chief Librarian

There is a lot more to check out at the Chicago Public Library than just books and periodicals.

For starters, the library system through its 80 locations and “Internet to Go” service is the largest provider of free online access to Chicago’s 2.7 million residents. Students, small business owners and citizens of all walks of life who otherwise have no or limited connection to the information economy can now at least tap into this foundational infrastructure at any Chicago library. As digital innovations have advanced dramatically in the two decades since the debut of the World Wide Web, however, it is essential that citizens are provided with the tools to create and not just connect.

“Today, more people have more access to more information than at any other time in human history. But that access is not equal,” said Brian Bannon, who for nearly three years has served as Commissioner of the Chicago Public Library. Bannon’s remarks came during a presentation to civic leaders at the City Club of Chicago. He added that “for Chicago to compete in this borderless economic frontier, we must ensure that Chicagoans are informed, creative, entrepreneurial, and innovative. It also means that our children must become lifelong learners who are able to absorb and utilize new information.”

Prior to coming to Chicago, Bannon served as Chief Information Officer of the San Francisco Public Library. He possesses both a deep appreciation of a library’s role in the public sphere, as well as an immense understanding of digital information delivery systems. These attributes make him the perfect advocate to showcase emerging technologies like 3D printing and multimedia production within educational settings that are available to anyone.

I’ve had the opportunity to have several conversations with Bannon over the last few months about how all Chicagoans can benefit from information innovations. Here are a few of the key points we discussed.

What is the role for a public library in a time when much of the world’s recorded information is now literally available at our fingertips?

Brian Bannon: We recently surveyed 30,000 people and 95 percent of respondents said they had used their branch for books in the last year, and one in every four patrons have used the Library for programs. Of those who have used the Library, 79 percent said they were very satisfied or extremely satisfied with Chicago Public Library services. And 72 percent responded that the Library was very important in their lives. Chicago Public Library is adapting. With our expanded digital offerings — like our new website with (periodical distributor) Zinio and movie and music distributor Hoopla — and our Android and iPhone apps — you can quite literally take the Library anywhere with you. We are a wonderful balance of both a community hub for Chicagoans, and something that is still accessible for people on the go in a digital world.

The Chicago Public Library’s new three-year strategy launched earlier this year. Our timeless priorities are to provide access to materials, information ideas and knowledge to all, and to serve our patrons effectively by providing them books, programs and programmatic resources. This strategy will continue to respond to the current and evolving needs of patrons by focusing on three specific areas: nurturing learning for children, teens and adults; supporting economic advancement; and strengthening communities.

How can the library best serve individuals without reliable and regular home Internet access?

Brian Bannon: The Chicago Public Library is already the largest provider of free internet in the city of Chicago, offering computers and Wi-Fi access at 80 locations across the city. In 2015, we plan to go even further with our tech lending with our “Internet to Go” program thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation we received last year. Earlier in 2014 we submitted a proposal for Internet to Go to the Knight News Challenge and were one of the winners, receiving a $400,000 grant to pilot the project. The Internet to Go Program will lend out Wi-Fi hotspots to patrons for three weeks at a time.

While we aren’t ready to announce the locations at this time, we can share that we plan to pilot this program in three targeted neighborhood locations where internet access is particularly low. If the first three locations go well, we will expand to three additional locations. After that, we can explore how to engage this lending city-wide.

Describe examples of how specialists with deep access to technology and learning tools can take advantage of library resources.

Brian Bannon: Our Maker Lab offers access to digital technology, 3D printers, vinyl and laser cutters and even a robotic knitting machine. Some examples of people using the Maker Lab are:

A patron who comes in regularly uses the laser cutter to design jewelry to sell on Etsy. She draws the designs and then converts them to digital format and laser cuts them here.

A patron worked on a prototype for a dental hygiene instrument — he used the 3D printer to print out these prototypes.

A patron came in to prototype some guitar hardware pieces. He has been printing them in 3D so he can then have molds produced in order to mass produce.

A patron from a volunteer organization came in to laser cut name tags for the volunteers in her organization.

A doctor from a teaching hospital is creating an image of a patient’s skull in order to have a life-size model to see where the physical defects are in order to see how they will need to be repaired. It would cost many hundreds of dollars to have this done elsewhere.

Explain the motivation behind installing a Maker Lab within the Harold Washington Center.

Brian Bannon: The Maker Lab began as the first installation in a series of experimental offerings of our Innovation Lab. It’s a hands-on, collaborative learning environment designed to expose Chicagoans to 21st century technology. Patrons come together to share knowledge, design and create. In its first nine months, our Maker Lab had 42,000 visitors and will be open through June 2015 thanks to a grant from the Motorola Mobility Foundation through Chicago Public Library Foundation. The Library’s Maker Lab brings the latest in technology to patrons from all over the city — in a free and welcoming environment where they can master the skills needed to join the maker community.

These skills are essential in the advanced manufacturing world and skills needed to imagine the future. Inventables (a Chicago-based retailer and promoter of 3D Printing equipment) donated 3D printers to our Maker Lab prior to opening. Inspired by our Maker Lab’s success, Inventables will be donating 3D printers to other libraries across the United States.

Beyond providing access to knowledge and reading materials, libraries can serve as a place to foster social and collaborative learning. What is your approach to this, particularly for middle school and high school-aged students?

Brian Bannon: Opened in 2009, YOUmedia was the first space devoted to high school teens at the Chicago Public Library, occupying a 5,500-square-foot space on the ground floor of our central library, Harold Washington Library Center, in downtown Chicago. We now have expanded this program to 11 locations. The design of the space is based on the research of Professor Mizuko Ito and colleagues, Living and Learning with Digital Media (2008).

His ethnographic study of more than 700 youth found that young people participate with digital media in three ways: they “hang out” with friends in social spaces such as Facebook; they “mess around” or tinker with digital media, making simple videos, playing online games or posting pictures in Flickr; they “geek out” in online groups that facilitate exploration of their core interests.

We see the library as a node on a teen’s pathway to lifelong learning, and we connect teens to other learning opportunities that will lead to skill-building as well as college and career development. YOUmedia connects teens to mentors, 21st century technology, and a space where their social skills and learning can be cultivated in a safe environment.

YOUmedia operates as a drop-in, out-of-school learning environment for teens to develop skills in digital media, STEM and making. We encourage participants to create rather than consume, and teens are encouraged to learn based on self-interest through intergenerational and peer collaborations. Teens learn how to code, record music and videos, create art through different mediums and are encouraged to explore 21st century technology.

Reading as Construction – Part II: Humans vs. Machines

Last time, we were looking at what goes on inside our heads as we read a text, in hopes it might shed some light on how to emulate human reading proficiency in an automated knowledge-acquisition capability. More specifically, we looked at whether, and to what extent, readers actively construct and manipulate mental models of the entities and events they encounter in the text, versus whether they are content to simply skim over, without reflecting on, the words on the page.

If true, the latter alternative would certainly be far simpler to automate, but is it?

Judging by the pitched battles between “constructivists” and “minimalists” raging in reading theory throughout the 1990s, that question turned out to be more controversial than you might think. But when the dust settled, one experimental result, due to Leo Noordman and Wietske Vonk, seemed fairly well established — namely, that the harder the text, the less inferencing and/or mental modeling occurs while actually reading it. Rather, any such active (re)construction of a difficult text’s meaning only takes place after the fact, and even then only if readers are interrogated regarding the material.

More significant for present purposes, though, is the converse finding that people do deploy inferencing and modeling when reading “texts dealing with familiar topics”.

Why should familiarity with a topic enable readers to engage in inferencing on the spot? A review of Noordman and Vonk’s experimental design offers a clue: It turns out that, in those cases which gave rise to deferred, only-on-demand inferencing, “[t]he texts were chosen so that readers did not have the background knowledge underlying the inferences” [Noordman and Vonk 1993].

Crawling a bit further out on this limb, I’m going to interpret the above as implying that the reason the more difficult texts failed to evoke any inferencing on the part of their readers was that, in the absence of the relevant background knowledge, those readers had no basis on which to infer anything — at least not without considerable conscious, after-the-fact cogitation.

What Noordman and Vonk appear to have demonstrated, then, is that having a sufficient store of readily accessible background knowledge — a.k.a. common sense — on the subject matter at hand is prerequisite to performing the sort of immediate inferencing that enables a reader to actually understand a text as he or she is reading it.

What does all this say about knowledge-acquisition systems, though? Are they going to require background knowledge too? And, if so, –

How Much is Enough?

Even granting the assumption — which, as we’ve seen, is by no means rock-solid — that we have a relatively firm fix on how humans read and understand texts, would we necessarily need or want a computer program to do things the same way?

Take, for instance, the question of motivation: Would we want a machine that would read for the same reasons that we humans do? While it’s certainly not inconceivable that some post-singularity artificial intelligence might decide to curl up with a good book purely for purposes of personal enrichment or enjoyment, it’s hard to see this as a high-priority design goal on the part of its human architects. If anything, our current concept of a knowledge-acquisition machine seems closer to the state of affairs described by Ashwin Ram [1999, p. 258]:

People read newspaper stories for a reason: to learn more about what they are interested in. Computers, on the other hand, do not. In fact, computers do not even have interests; there is nothing in particular that they are trying to learn when they read.

Lacking, at least at the present stage of AI development, any innate goals of its own, all of a computer’s motivations for reading, as for any other task, must originate from the outside — from us. Machines read, if they do so at all, to serve our purposes, whether those purposes are answering questions about the text, or summarizing news articles, or collating reports for analysis, or, in the most generic case, producing some output in response to what has been input.

Note, however, that this wholly instrumental nature of machines’ reading has the effect of placing an even greater premium on their ability to accurately represent and reason about what it is they have read. After all, absent any internal imperatives, a tool’s only reason for being is that it performs its assigned task well.

(Not to put too fine a point on it, consider that a person who knew both Russian and English might enjoy reading War and Peace in the original, yet draw the line at writing it all back out in translation. Now contrast this case with that of a machine-translation system that likewise inputs War and Peace in Russian, and likewise produces no output. Clearly, although the person’s experience is entirely plausible and readily justifiable, a machine-translation program that stops halfway through the job like this would have no conceivable raison d’etre whatsoever.)

This, by extension, implies that, while knowledge-modeling and inferencing may or may not be optional for human readers, they are mandatory for any computer system that purports to read and understand stories. As we saw, humans encountering the description of a fatal fall — from either a fourteen-story building or the Bridge of San Luis Rey — might be forgiven for not intuitively making the connection to grievous injury or death. A story-understanding program that failed to do so, however, would be hard put to justify its very existence.

As an example of a system that would seem to flunk that test, we have James Meehan’s account of his travails in trying to program an understanding of this self-same phenomenon of falling into an early story-telling program called TALE-SPIN [Meehan 1981, p. 218]:

Here are some rules that were in TALE-SPIN when the next horror occurred:

… If you’re in a river, you want to get out, because you’ll drown if you don’t. If you have legs you might be able to swim out. With wings, you might be able to fly away. With friends, you can ask for help.

These sound reasonable. However, when I presented “X FELL” as “GRAVITY MOVED X,” I got this story:


Poor gravity had neither legs, wings, nor friends. …

As far as TALE-SPIN was concerned, gravity was lacking something much more important than just appendages and acquaintances: it was lacking access to any overarching framework that could integrate this fundamental force of nature meaningfully into the rest of TALE-SPIN’s microworld.

Such frameworks, or schemata, are in turn said to be (analogues of) the foundational constructs by which we humans come to grips with our natural and social environments. In their totality, they comprise that faculty of “common sense” which, as we saw above, is key to our ability to comprehend information on the fly.

As we have seen, it is this commonsensical or background knowledge, built up over the course of a lifetime’s experience in the real world, that story-tellers like Lawrence Sterne and Thornton Wilder take for granted on the part of their audiences — and that their silicon-based audiences have so far lacked. If endowing a computerized text-understanding system with the requisite constructive reasoning ability is truly what is needed for accurate knowledge acquisition, then this will involve explicitly encoding thousands (millions?) of propositions into a knowledge base, and providing mechanisms for rapidly matching them against the situation under analysis.

And even then the effort may prove unavailing. But that’s a story for next time.


Meehan, James (1981), “TALE-SPIN,” in Roger C. Schank, Christopher K. Riesbeck, eds., Inside Computer Understanding: Five Programs Plus Miniatures, Hillsdale NJ: Erlbaum, 1981.

Noordman, Leo G. M. and Wietske Vonk (1993), “A More Parsimonious Version of Minimalism in Inferences,” Psycoloquy: 4(08) Reading Inference (9). http://www.cogsci.ecs.soton.ac.uk/cgi/psyc/newpsy?4.08.

Ram, Ashwin (1999), “A Theory of Questions and Question Asking,” in Ashwin Ram and Kenneth Moorman, eds., Understanding Language Understanding: Computational Models of Reading, Cambridge MA: MIT Press, pp. 253-298, at: http://www.cc.gatech.edu/faculty/ashwin/papers/git-cc-92-02.pdf.

'Cyber bank robbers' steal $1bn

Up to 100 banks and financial institutions worldwide have been attacked in an “unprecedented cyber robbery”, claims a new report.

Could driverless cars own themselves?

A world where cars own themselves and even have kids

Watch Furbacca, A Furby Chewbacca, Sing The 'Star Wars' Theme

The Hasbro showroom at this year’s Toy Fair includes products tied to “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Ant-Man,” “Spider-Man,” “Jurassic World” and “Transformers,” but it’s the tiny Furbacca that was the biggest draw. The Furby version of Chewbacca from “Star Wars” has already been profiled by Mashable, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, io9, The Dissolve and Nerdist, and isn’t even out in stores until this fall. To see what all the fuss is about, HuffPost Entertainment took a tour of the Hasbro showroom on Sunday with the hopes of interacting with the little fuzzball. We succeeded: Watch below to see Furbacca sing the “Star Wars” theme (and then switch over to the “Imperial March” when it gets annoyed).

Hackers Steal Up To $1 Billion From Banks

NEW YORK (AP) — A hacking ring has stolen up to $1 billion from banks around the world in what would be one of the biggest banking breaches known, a cybersecurity firm says in a report scheduled to be delivered Monday.

The hackers have been active since at least the end of 2013 and infiltrated more than 100 banks in 30 countries, according to Russian security company Kaspersky Lab. After gaining access to banks’ computers through phishing schemes and other methods, they lurk for months to learn the banks’ systems, taking screen shots and even video of employees using their computers, the company says.

Once the hackers become familiar with the banks’ operations, they use that knowledge to steal money without raising suspicions, programming ATMs to dispense money at specific times or setting up fake accounts and transferring money into them, according to Kaspersky. The report is set to be presented Monday at a security conference in Cancun, Mexico. It was first reported by The New York Times.

The hackers seem to limit their theft to about $10 million before moving on to another bank, part of the reason why the fraud was not detected earlier, Kaspersky principal security researcher Vicente Diaz said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

The attacks are unusual because they target the banks themselves rather than customers and their account information, Diaz said.

The goal seems to be financial gain rather than espionage, he said.

“In this case they are not interested in information. They’re only interested in the money,” he said. “They’re flexible and quite aggressive and use any tool they find useful for doing whatever they want to do.”

Most of the targets have been in Russia, the U.S., Germany, China and Ukraine, although the attackers may be expanding throughout Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe, Kaspersky says. In one case, a bank lost $7.3 million through ATM fraud. In another case, a financial institution lost $10 million by the attackers exploiting its online banking platform.

Kaspersky did not identify the banks and is still working with law-enforcement agencies to investigate the attacks, which the company says are ongoing.

The Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, a nonprofit that alerts banks about hacking activity, said in a statement that its members received a briefing about the report in January.

“We cannot comment on individual actions our members have taken, but on balance we believe our members are taking appropriate actions to prevent and detect these kinds of attacks and minimize any effects on their customers,” the organization said in a statement. “The report that Russian banks were the primary victims of these attacks may be a significant change in targeting strategy by Russian-speaking cybercriminals.”

The White House is putting an increasing focus on cybersecurity in the wake of numerous data breaches of companies ranging from mass retailers like Target and Home Depot to Sony Pictures Entertainment and health insurer Anthem.

The administration wants Congress to replace the existing patchwork of state laws with a national standard giving companies 30 days to notify consumers if their personal information has been compromised.

New 'House Of Cards' Season 3 Teaser Hints At Marital Trouble

Those of us lucky enough to catch some of “House of Cards’” third season during this week’s Netflix leak have a rough idea of where the political drama is headed. But a new teaser for the show reveals that things aren’t at their best in the Underwood household.

Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) pose for an uncomfortable presidential photo in the latest teaser. She “recoils” from his touch, which can’t be good for the co-conspirator power couple who are always on the same page with their manipulative schemes.

Based on the vague episode descriptions we got a look at during the leak, we also know that (spoiler alert) season three will be about tensions with Russia, Claire’s involvement with the United Nations, and a hurricane. All of that sounds great, but like, where’s Cashew?

“House of Cards” season three premieres Feb. 27 on Netflix.

Even 'Doom' Uses Selfie Sticks Now

Here’s proof that there really is a special place in hell for people who use selfie sticks.

A well-known game modifier on Saturday released an add-on to “Doom,” the famous 1993 computer game in which a space marine battles an onslaught of demons. The new add-on allows the main character to take pictures of himself with a selfie stick.

The modification, titled “InstaDoom,” also comes with the ability to apply 37 Instagram-inspired filters to the game’s imagery. Cacodemons can now look just as beautiful as your avocado toast.

A space marine selfie in “InstaDoom.”

Though it’s more than 20 years old, “Doom” has a thriving community of fans who take particular pleasure in modifying the original game. InstaDoom creator Andrew Stine, who uses the name “Linguica” online, is one of the game’s best-known devotees. In 1998, he co-founded Doomworld, a site that has become a central hub for news and modifications relating to the game. Doomworld gained some media attention in 1999 for defending the game’s violent content following the shootings at Columbine High School.

Since then, video games have only become more realistic and more violent. But most don’t offer selfie sticks — which are becoming so popular that museums have recently started to ban them. So for now, this decades-old game still has a modern edge.

If you want to play “Doom” without digging up an old DOS machine, it’s available for $4.99 on Steam. You can download InstaDoom here.

Researchers Test Device That Lets Deaf Children Hear For The First Time

WASHINGTON (AP) — At age 3, Angelica Lopez is helping to break a sound barrier for deaf children.

Born without working auditory nerves, she can detect sounds for the first time — and start to mimic them — after undergoing brain surgery to implant a device that bypasses missing wiring in her inner ears. Angelica is one of a small number of U.S. children who are testing what’s called an auditory brainstem implant, or ABI. The device goes beyond cochlear implants that have brought hearing to many deaf children but that don’t work for tots who lack their hearing nerve.

When the ABI is first turned on, “she isn’t going to be hearing like a 3-year-old. She’ll be hearing like a newborn,” audiologist Laurie Eisenberg of the University of Southern California tells parents. She outlined the research Friday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The children don’t magically understand and use those sounds. “It’s going to take a lot of work,” Eisenberg cautioned.

Angelica cried when her ABI first was switched on, scared by the sounds. But five months later, her mother says the youngster uses sign language to identify some sounds — that was a cough, that’s a dog barking. And she’s beginning to babble like hearing babies do, as therapists work to teach her oral speech.

“It’s just so awesome to hear her little voice,” said Julie Lopez of Big Spring, Texas, who enrolled her daughter in the study at USC, where researchers say she’s progressing well.

Many children born deaf benefit from cochlear implants, electrodes that send impulses to the auditory nerve, where they’re relayed to the brain and recognized as sound. But the small fraction born without a working hearing nerve can’t make that brain connection.

The ABI attempts to fill that gap by delivering electrical stimulation directly to the neurons on the brainstem the nerve normally would have targeted. Here’s how it works: The person wears a microphone on the ear to detect sound, and a processer changes it to electrical signals. Those are beamed to a stimulator under the skin, which sends the signals snaking through a wire to electrodes surgically placed on the brainstem.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the device in 2000 specifically for adults and teenagers whose hearing nerves had been destroyed by surgery for a rare type of tumor. It doesn’t restore normal hearing, but can help to varying degrees.

Then about a decade ago, an Italian surgeon started trying the ABI in deaf children, whose younger brains are more flexible and might better adapt to this artificial way of delivering sound.

Now, spurred by some successes abroad, the first U.S. studies in young children are underway at a handful of hospitals. Hearing specialists are watching the work closely.

There are children “who are not being helped in any other way,” said Dr. Gordon Hughes of the National Institutes of Health, which is funding Eisenberg’s study. And cochlear implants proved “there’s a critical time window when the brain is very receptive to auditory stimulation and can develop speech communication in ways that are surprisingly good, if the stimulation is started early enough.”

The studies are small, each enrolling 10 to 20 children. Ages vary; the Los Angeles study will implant starting at age 2, while some others try earlier. Children then receive intensive therapy, to learn to hear.

The studies must prove safety, since the ABI requires delicate brain surgery in healthy children.

“We’re talking about real surgery to go into a deep area of the brain,” said Dr. Marc Schwartz, a neurosurgeon with the House Clinic and Huntington Medical Research Institutes in Los Angeles, who is part of the USC study. “This is a precise operation that requires exacting technique.”

In skilled hands, complications appear rare, said Robert Shannon, a USC professor of otolaryngology who helped develop the device. Post-surgery, stimulator complications can include non-auditory sensations such as tingling of the face or throat.

Next questions include who are the best candidates, and what benefit to expect — if children really will develop speech as well as with cochlear implants, and hear well enough to talk on a phone. Scientists know far more about how to stimulate the inner ear than the brain directly, Shannon noted.

“What we’re giving to these kids is something very different than what any normal system would be getting,” he explained. To untangle that scrambled pattern, “the brain is picking up the slack. It’s covering our tracks.”

VIDEO: Woz's wonderful watch (and more)

Steve Wozniak talks to the BBC about the future of the watch, and shows off his very own unique timepiece.

Proposed Drone Regulations Complicate Amazon Delivery Plans

(Changes “pilot” to “drone” in the third paragraph)
By Alwyn Scott
NEW YORK, Feb 15 (Reuters) – The U.S. aviation regulator proposed rules on Sunday for commercial drone flights that would lift some restrictions but would still bar activities such as the delivery of packages and inspection of pipelines that have been eyed by companies as a potentially breakthrough use of the technology.
The long-awaited draft rules from the Federal Aviation Administration would require unmanned aircraft pilots to obtain special pilot certificates, stay away from bystanders and fly only during the day. They limit flying speed to 100 miles per hour (160 kph) and the altitude to 500 feet (152 meters) above ground level.
The rules also say pilots must remain in the line of sight of its radio-control drone, which could limit inspection of pipelines, crops, and electrical towers that are one of the major uses envisioned by companies.
The FAA acknowledged the limitation but said those flights could be made possible with a secondary spotter working with the pilot of the drone.
“This rule does not deal with beyond line of sight, but does allow for the use of a visual observer to augment line of sight by the operator of the unmanned aircraft,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a conference call with reporters on Sunday.
The draft rules, nearly 10 years in the making, still must undergo public comment and revision before becoming final, a process expected to take at least a year.
If they survive in their current form, they would be unlikely to help Amazon.com in its quest to eventually deliver packages with unmanned drones, since they require an FAA-certified small drone pilot to fly the aircraft and keep it in line of sight at all times – factors not envisioned in the online retailer’s plan.
Huerta also said, “We don’t consider or contemplate in this rule carrying packages outside of the aircraft itself.”
Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, Paul Misener, said the proposal would bar the company’s delivery drones in the United States. Misener also urged the FAA to address the needs of Amazon and its customers as it carried out its formal rulemaking process.
“We are committed to realizing our vision … and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need,” Misener said in an emailed statement.
Other countries have taken a more permissive stance towards delivery drones. In September, logistics firm DHL said its use of drones to drop off packages to residents of a German island was the first such authorized flight in Europe.
“The United States cannot afford to lag behind other countries in technological innovation because of regulatory foot-dragging,” U.S. Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said in an emailed statement.

Huerta, who said the agency had tried to be “flexible” in writing the rules, said they set a framework and would evolve based on discussions with industry and technology developments.
The rules continue current restrictions against filming of crowds by news organizations, but Huerta said he expected those procedures to be developed as part of discussions with news groups.
Separately, President Barack Obama issued a memo outlining principles for government use of drones, covering such issues as privacy protections and oversight of federal drone use.
The FAA’s draft rules appeared less onerous in some aspects than the industry had been worried about. There had been concern, for example, that they would require drone operators to attend a flight-training school and obtain a certification similar to that of a manned aircraft pilot.
Commercial drone operators would need to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration. But they would not need to undergo the medical tests or flight hours required of manned aircraft pilots.
“I am very pleased to see a much more reasonable approach to future regulation than many feared,” said Brendan Schulman, a lawyer who works on drone issues at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel in New York.
The proposal would benefit U.S. farmers and ranchers as it would enable them to scout fields more efficiently, said R.J. Karney, director of Congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), also praised the draft. The group’s president, Brian Wynne, called it a “good first step in an evolutionary process.”
But privacy advocates were concerned there were not enough limits on when law enforcement agencies would be permitted to use drones for surveillance.
The proposal “allows the use of data gathered by domestic drones for any ‘authorized purpose’, which is not defined, leaving the door open to inappropriate drone use by federal agencies,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel at the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, in an emailed statement. (Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani and Susan Cornwell in Washington and Peter Rudegeair in New York; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Nick Zieminski and Frances Kerry)

Newly Discovered Exoplanet With Extreme Seasons Called A 'Real Maverick'

Two groups of astronomers working independently in Germany have discovered a massive new exoplanet that’s quite strange–for a few reasons.

The newfound exoplanet, dubbed Kepler-432b, was monitored by NASA’s Kepler space telescope from 2009 to 2013 and identified as a planetary candidate in 2011. Using the 2.2-meter telescope at Calar Alto Observatory in Andalucía, Spain and the Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands, the researchers are now confirming that, indeed, it’s a planet.

(Story continues below image.)

lllustration of the orbit of Kepler-432b (inner, red) in comparison to the orbit of Mercury around the Sun (outer, orange). The red dot in the middle indicates the position of the star around which the planet is orbiting. The size of the star is shown to scale, while the size of the planet has been magnified ten times for illustration.

Analyzing the data from both telescopes, the researchers discovered Kepler-432b is incredibly dense; though it’s around the same size as Jupiter, its mass is six times that of the gas giant. Its orbit around its host star, a red giant with a radius that’s four times that of our Sun, is also unusual.

“The majority of known planets moving around giant stars have large and circular orbits,” Dr. Davide Gandolfi, an astronomer at Heidelberg University’s Center for Astronomy in Germany and a researcher involved in the discovery, said in a written statement. “With its small and highly elongated orbit, Kepler-432b is a real ‘maverick’ among planets of this type.”

Due to the orbit’s elongated shape, Kepler-432b’s seasons are extreme, with temperatures ranging from 932 degrees Fahrenheit in winter to 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. A year on the planet corresponds to roughly 52 Earth days, according to the researchers.

And the planet is only one of five observed orbiting a red giant host star at such a close distance. Red giants are stars in their last stage of life. They can grow to become anywhere from 10 to 100 times their original size, and as they grow, any planets nearby are at risk of being devoured.

So though Kepler-432b has been able to survive near its star so far, it likely won’t be around for much longer.

“The days of Kepler-432b are numbered,” Mauricio Ortiz, a PhD student at Heidelberg University who led one of the two studies of the planet, said in the statement. “In less than 200 million years, Kepler-432b will be swallowed by its continually expanding host star.”

Two papers describing the discovery have been published in the January 2015 issue of the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Bank Hackers Steal Millions Via Malware

PALO ALTO, Calif. — In late 2013, an A.T.M. in Kiev started dispensing cash at seemingly random times of day. No one had put in a card or touched a button. Cameras showed that the piles of money had been swept up by customers who appeared lucky to be there at the right moment.

But when a Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab, was called to Ukraine to investigate, it discovered that the errant machine was the least of the bank’s problems.

The 5 Best Hotels For Free Wi-Fi

If you’re not able to unplug every time you travel (and let’s face it: most of us aren’t), then you’ll need to stay somewhere with great Wi-Fi. Some might assume that every modern hotel offers a free Internet connection, but sadly that is not the case.

And the best hotels for free wireless connections are not, in fact, what you might think: Best Western is a power player; Quality Inn’s connection is super speedy. And those swanky hotels? They’re not always what they’re cracked up to be.

It should be noted that sometimes not every hotel in a particular chain has free Wi-Fi, and sometimes free Wi-Fi may only be available in the hotel’s common areas, not in the rooms. But by and large, there are some brands that can be trusted when you need a speedy, free connection. Here’s the breakdown.


Of all hotel chains that advertise free Wi-Fi, Best Western is among the very best, according to a recent study from Hotel WiFi Test, a site devoted entirely to testing Wi-Fi service. The company’s research found that nearly all hotels in the Best Western chain have functioning, free Wi-Fi, and it’s faster than what you’ll find at Marriott or Sheraton.


Out of 26 hotel chains that Hotel WiFi Test studied, Quality Inn had the number-one fastest free Wi-Fi. Add a cup of their free coffee to the mix, and you’ll power through any business trip.


As of Feb. 14, 2015, Hyatt is offering free Wi-Fi at locations worldwide. No reports yet on how speedy the service is, but it exists. And THAT, dear friends, is a game-changer in itself.


Last year, Loews ushered in what will hopefully be a new era of luxury hotels offering free Wi-Fi. You’ll find free Internet at their super-swanky properties all over North America.


As far as budget hotels go, this is about as best as free Wi-Fi can get. Over 75 percent of Ramada hotels have free Wi-Fi available, Hotel Wifi Test found, which is better than many chains who advertise free Wi-Fi but don’t offer it in every location. Ramada’s free Wi-Fi is also incredibly speedy, beat out by just a few other chains.

Net Neutrality Is Now Just 'Net Ridiculous'

On Feb 26th, 2015, the FCC is supposed to reveal the full plans for Net Neutrality but Waiting for Godot is probably a better idea if you expect something to happen anytime soon.

What is ‘Net Neutrality’, ‘Title II’, ‘reclassification’, the ‘Communications Act’?

The FCC is supposed to be announcing a plan to ‘reclassify’ the network infrastructure and the Internet Service (ISP) that is delivered over it, as ‘Title II”, which is named for a section in the Communications Act of 1934 (amended in 1996), “Title II: Common Carriers”. The Agency has been nice enough to supply a ‘Fact Sheet’, and one the FCC Commissioners, Ajit Pai, also has put together his version of a ‘Fact Sheet‘.

However, Feb 26th, 2015 will most likely be remembered like the day the when the world was supposed to end, on October, 21, 2011 (it was originally May 21, 2011). I was on the subway at the very moment and there were even posters prominently scattered around the subway car to remind us, and they even included that this was to take place at 3PM, EST (if I remember correctly). When the time passed, while one older woman appeared relieved, most were laughing about it, which had started before the ‘fateful’ event.

Net Neutrality is now a traveling circus show — and it will continue for years and the date is, well, meaningless.

According to those who are friends of, or are funded by the phone and cable companies, (referred to as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or broadband providers) they have been ranting that the proposed plan by the FCC will raise rates, add new taxes, and apply new, odious regulation while it also harms innovation in services and applications, and slows, if not stops investment in infrastructure. My personal favorite is from FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai who told The Hill that it “could embolden foreign leaders in North Korea, Iran and other authoritarian states to increase the grip on the Internet…”. I’ll get back to this.

On the advocates side, they claim it is the best thing since sliced bread, it will ‘free the Internet’ and block harmful acts, while some believe it will even end world hunger and global warming, if applied properly (OK, I’m just kidding about ending hunger…).

I note that getting the FCC to actually attempt to use Title II as a solution is a small victory.

But all of these posturings, platitudes, rants, demands and denials, really don’t matter. Like greyhounds at the dog race, waiting to hear the ring of the bell — groups, companies, individuals, political parties, and boatloads of lawyers are going to sue the FCC to stop anything from being done. AT&T has said that this is the path they are taking, whatever shows up.

Ars Technica writes:

“AT&T seems resigned to the near-certainty that the Federal Communications Commission will reclassify broadband as a common carrier service in order to enforce net neutrality rules. But it isn’t going to let the decision stand without a legal challenge…”

Net Neutrality Rules, if Applied, May Kill Your Communication’s Rights Anyway.

While I’m all for the need of Net Neutrality rules, after going through the FCC Fact Sheet and examining the sections of the Communications Act that will be erased or ‘forebeared’, meaning that the rules are still in place but are not going to be enforced –we all lose if this fact sheet resembles the final order — and it were to be implemented.

The FCC claims that it is “Fostering Investment and Competition”, and yet it has decided to kill any hopes of serious competition, or lowering rates, and there will be no ‘data-trail’ for anyone to check to see how we get played yet again by the providers.

The FCC’s plan:

“To preserve incentives for broadband operators to invest in their networks, Chairman Wheeler’s proposal will modernize Title II, tailoring it for the 21st century, encouraging Internet Service Providers to invest in the networks American increasingly rely on.

The proposed order does not include utility-style rate regulation

No rate regulation or tariffs

No last-mile unbundling

No burdensome administrative filing requirements or accounting standards.

To put this into English:

a) “No rate regulation or tariffs” — Let the companies charge what they want and force customers onto contracts where they lose their rights — ‘tariffs’ are filed documents about the price of service and other specifics. Contracts are what the company decides are the rules. Today, you can not sue the wireless companies for harms; you have to arbitrate; and since they wrote the contracts…

b) Rate Regulation — is when there is no competition to lower rates, and the FCC or state ‘regulates’ the price of service to make sure that it is ‘fair and reasonable’. Since the FCC and state commissions have abandoned examining most communications bills and their charges, this would almost be moot, but for the fact that it is needed now because the networks are not open to direct competition.

c) “No last mile unbundling” means – Keep the networks closed to all forms of competition rather than open the network infrastructure which would foster the delivery of voice, cable TV and high-speed Internet services by competing providers. As we wrote elsewhere, Net Neutrality was caused when the FCC closed down the networks to direct competition. The Telecom Act of 1996 required that the local phone companies open the phone wires coming into homes and offices so that you, the customer, could choose your phone, broadband, Internet, and on upgraded networks, even cable service.

The networks were closed around 2004-2005 when the telco-cable plan was to get the FCC to block competitors and led by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who now runs the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the cable lobbying association, they decided to shut down competition in the US, killing off 7000 small ISPs and putting the two largest competitors, AT&T and MCI up for sale.

d) “No burdensome administrative filings” – means erase all data and information requirements. In 2007, the FCC stopped publishing “Statistics of Common Carriers” which started in 1939 and was the staple of financial information about the companies, including the state utilities, like Verizon NY, or AT&T California.

New Networks Institute’s reports about Verizon New York should have been done for every Verizon, AT&T and Centurylink state — but the states are not collecting adequate information and the FCC has been on a steady path to erase the obligations to supply information.

e) Removal of Section 214? — This section appears to be missing in the Fact Sheet. Section 214 of the Communications Act came into ‘view’ when Verizon filed after the Sandy storm in 2012 to essentially shut off or abandon areas of New York and New Jersey were the copper wires had been harmed. Verizon also gave customers VoiceLink, a wireless service that can’t handle data applications, like alarm circuits.

Bottom line: If this section is removed — If your line breaks — you’re screwed. Or if Verizon and AT&T want to shut off the copper and replace your service with wireless — they can without asking permission.

Forebear This

And the way the FCC is going to do some of this wholesale destruction of Title II is by using “forbearance” — I.e., the FCC will use Title II, but gut it, removing whole sections of the law.

The FCC writes


“Major Provisions Subject to Forbearance:

o Rate regulation: the Order makes clear that broadband providers shall not be subject to tariffs or other form of rate approval, unbundling, or other forms of utility regulation

o The Order will not impose, suggest or authorize any new taxes or fees – there will be no automatic Universal Service fees applied and the congressional moratorium on Internet taxation applies to broadband.

Elsewhere the fact sheet states:

o The proposed order does not include utility-style rate regulation.

PUNCHLINE: The FCC’s plan ends up with — the networks are NOT going to be opened to competition; you will have no choice of ISP, broadband provider or cable provider, except from the incumbent wired companies. There will be no price decreases because there is no competition or “rate regulation”, and if your line breaks — tough.

So, Verizon shuts off your wired phone service, and doesn’t upgrade it to fiber — to bad.

And there is nothing about fixing the communications bills, the deceptive advertising, the ‘made up’ fees that we detailed on our mark up of a Time Warner Triple Play bill, where the advertised price of $89.99 actually cost $190.77 after the second year — an increase of 112% above the advertised price.

I summarized some of the issues: “2015: The Trend Line for Communications Services — Phone, Broadband, Internet, Cable TV & Wireless – Sucks”

Contrary View: I Didn’t Know FCC Commissioners have a Sense of Humor.

Ajit Pai, is currently a Republican FCC Commissioner, but was also a “former associate general counsel” for Verizon Communications.

Pai also has strange bedfellows. In 2013, he spoke at an American Legislative Exchange (ALEC) event and congratulated the group on their good work. ALEC is an organization that is designed to allow corporations to create model legislation that is used by state legislators (most of which are funded by the very corporations through campaign financing or grant/foundation money for their area), to help the corporation’s agenda, over the politician’s constituents.

Commissioner Pai said:

“I am honored to be with you today to give the keynote address at this meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Task Force on Communications and Technology. It isn’t every day that a group comes to Washington, DC to advocate for a vibrant free market, limited government, and federalism….

“I congratulate you on the good work you’ve done on these issues in the past and look forward to working with you in the future. And going forward, please keep making your voices heard here in Washington. I know that the work can seem painstaking, but you have a lot to contribute as we enter the dawn of this new and exciting technological age.”

And he even noted that the ALEC Task Force developed ‘model legislation’, which was created at ALEC and was molded by the funders of ALEC’s telecom work, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner.

“The Task Force on Communications and Technology deserves special thanks for encouraging these reform efforts and for developing model legislation like the Advanced Voice Services Availability Act.”

ALEC’s bills include blocking municipalities from doing upgrades where the incumbents have failed to deliver, or erasing Title II laws through deregulation, which passed in the majority of the US state legislatures.

But it is Commissioner Pai’s stance on Net Neutrality that recently attracted attention. Pai stated that Net Neutrality is very bad. The Hill’s recent article’s headline reads:

“Net Neutrality will help foreign leaders control the Internet FCC Republican says strict Internet regulation would harm US credibility abroad.”

And it goes on to say:

“Tough net neutrality regulations in the U.S. could embolden foreign leaders in North Korea, Iran and other authoritarian states to increase the grip on the Internet…”

And if you want irony? Here is the man who called advocates “chicken little” because they are convinced the sky is falling.

“In the story of Chicken Little, an acorn falls on a young hen’s head, and she becomes convinced that the sky is falling. Some in Washington have had that same reaction to the IP Transition… I worry that we are well on our way to becoming like Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and the other characters who join in Chicken Little’s hysteria. All too much ink is spi

Show more