Sunday, February 26, 2012

3 Technology Link

3 Technology Link

France works with Microsoft to cultivate startups

Posted: 26 Feb 2012 01:23 PM PST

France works with Microsoft to cultivate startups

France works with Microsoft to cultivate startups

French minister Frederic Lefebvre and Microsoft on Saturday announced a partnership to cultivate promising Internet startups in France.

French minister Frederic Lefebvre and Microsoft on Saturday announced a partnership to cultivate promising Internet startups in France.

The US technology titan will work with the agency for the creation of enterprises (l’APCE) headed by Alain Belais to identify young French companies to join a Microsoft BizSpark program, Lefebvre said in a release.

The program will provide selected startups with Windows Azure storage capacity and free access to software offered by Microsoft as services in the Internet “cloud,” according to Lefebvre.

French Internet startups with “high growth potential” will be eligible to get two years worth of online services from Microsoft.

The development of small and medium enterprises in vital “to support innovation, value creation and employment in France,” according to Lefebvre.

Microsoft vice president for emerging business development Dan’l Lewin said in the release that the partnership fits with the Redmond, Washington-based company’s strategy of cultivating technology startups around the world.

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HTML5 spec editor slams Google & gang’s DRM bid

Posted: 25 Feb 2012 02:48 PM PST

HTML5 spec editor slams Google & gang’s DRM bid

HTML5 spec editor slams Google & gangs DRM bid

A draft proposal by Google, Microsoft and Netflix to introduce mechanisms for copy protection on web videos has generated strong opposition and a response that the proposal is “unethical.” Reaction has been strong against the powerful trio’s bid to see HTML5 carry digital rights management (DRM) tools.

On the opposing side, developers and supporters of open systems argue that the very idea of adding DRM protection to video goes against the spirit of HTML5.

"Any technology whose exclusive goal is to stop users from being able to make use of the content they have purchased is, in my opinion, unethical," said Ian Hickson, HTML specification editor, in an interview with CNET.

For Hickson, the Google-Microsoft-Netflix proposal is "just a plug-in platform in disguise."

The plan calls for proprietary plug-ins, called CDMs, or content decryption modules, which is not amenable to the open nature of HTML5, according to opposing arguments.

The whole point of HTML5 is to move away from plug-ins; the introduction of such extensions, Hickson argued, would be tantamount to keeping plug-ins around.

Specifically, Google, Microsoft and Netflix this week proposed a new web standard, in the form of the Encrypted Media Extensions proposal, and announced it on a W3C mailing list.

The draft spells out a framework for bringing forth a system that manages protected content on the web browser. The proposed Encrypted Media Extensions standard would add a new set of API extensions for the HTMLMediaElement. The latter defines specialized properties and JavaScript methods available on HTML audio and video elements. These extensions would introduce DRM capabilities to HTML5-provided video.

Whether some form of content protection is even necessary, leave alone ethical, is part of the present debate.

Digital rights management permits only authorized video and audio. A solution to unauthorized copying has been seen in browser plug-ins for DRM protection. Hickson said he would rather see copyright law, not proprietary mechanisms, governing the use of video. He said there was no need for technology to protect content; the presence of copyright law was adequate.

What next? Since the spec being proposed by the threesome is a draft, tech watchers see no guarantees that what the three propose will become an accepted standard, but at the same time there can be no guarantees that the debate will go south.

Pressure to add some kind of DRM to HTML5 video is likely to continue, writes Scott Gilbertson in Webmonkey. "With Hickson very adamantly against it and Mozilla unlikely to support it in its current form, it's not likely to move beyond the draft stage without some serious revisions."



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Stanford research team cracks animated NuCaptcha

Posted: 25 Feb 2012 02:45 PM PST

Stanford research team cracks animated NuCaptcha

Stanford research team cracks animated NuCaptcha

The research team from Stanford University, led by Elie Bursztein, that previously had cracked regular CAPTCHAs and then audio CAPTCHAs, now has also successfully cracked the animated version called NuCaptcha. Bursztein details how the team did it and offers suggestions on how to improve them in a post on the blog.

CAPTCHAs, as most are aware, are little boxes with numbers and/or letters displayed in them that users who wish to gain entry to a web site must decipher and type in correctly in order to gain access. They are used as barriers against bots that seek to gain entry for other purposes. Originally it was hoped that CAPTCHAs would prove to be sufficiently strong enough to keep out most any bot; unfortunately, as hackers found more reasons to overcome them (to view a video on YouTube millions of time, for example to pump up ad revenue) more ways were created to do so. To overcome this,security experts came up with audio and video (animated) versions. It didn't take long for the research team at Stanford to crack the audio version, and now they've announced that they have done the same for the video version, though they suggest with a little tweaking, the video version might be made strong enough to ward off most bot attacks.

NuCaptcha differs from regular CAPTCHA in that the letters and/or numbers are made to move across the window box, like a ticker-tape. To make things even more challenging, the letters and/or numbers are also partially rotated as they move.

To crack them, the team created software that takes multiple snapshots of the NuCaptcha image over time which allowed for still image analysis. Once the software believed it had the full message in a frame, the resultant image was turned to black and white and the background removed to make deciphering the code easier. After that, character analysis software was used to break down the individual numbers and letters. Then, all that was left to do was knit them together as typewritten text and enter the whole string into the input box. Bursztein says the process is ninety percent accurate.

He also writes that cracking NuCaptcha was harder in some respects than cracking the original CAPTCHAs due to the moving characters. But he says it was also easier in another way, because in creating multiple frame captures there was more data to work with which allowed for performing multiple guesses against the same coded characters before actually submitting the final guess to the system. He also says that NuCaptcha could likely be made more difficult to crack if more decoys were added to the coded characters, which the makers of NuCaptcha are planning to do.

The team from Stanford didn't strike out of the blue however, they have been working with the NuCaptcha team for several months so that improvements could be made before hackers got wind of the means by which they could crack the older version.

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Tiny, implantable medical device can propel itself through bloodstream

Posted: 25 Feb 2012 02:40 PM PST

Tiny, implantable medical device can propel itself through bloodstream

Tiny, implantable medical device can propel itself through bloodstream

Engineers at Stanford have developed a wirelessly powered, self-propelled medical device that can propel itself through the blood stream to deliver drugs, perform diagnostics or microsurgeries.

Someday, your doctor may turn to you and say, “Take two surgeons and call me in the morning.” If that day arrives, you may just have Ada Poon to thank.

Yesterday, at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) before an audience of her peers, electrical engineer Poon demonstrated a tiny, wirelessly powered, self-propelled medical device capable of controlled motion through a fluid—blood more specifically. The era of swallow-the-surgeon medical care may no longer be the stuff of science fiction.

Poon is an assistant professor at the Stanford School of Engineering. She is developing a new class of medical devices that can be implanted or injected into the human body and powered wirelessly using electromagnetic radio waves. No batteries to wear out. No cables to provide power.

“Such devices could revolutionize medical technology,” said Poon. “Applications include everything from diagnostics to minimally invasive surgeries.”

Certain of these new devices, like heart probes, chemical and pressure sensors, cochlear implants, pacemakers, and drug pumps, would be stationary within the body. Others, like Poon’s most recent creations, could travel through the bloodstream to deliver drugs, perform analyses, and perhaps even zap blood clots or removing plaque from sclerotic arteries.

Challenged by power

The idea of implantable medical devices is not new, but most of today’s implements are challenged by power, namely the size of their batteries, which are large, heavy and must be replaced periodically. Fully half the volume of most of these devices is consumed by battery.

“While we have gotten very good at shrinking electronic and mechanical components of implants, energy storage has lagged in the move to miniaturize,” said co-author Teresa Meng, a professor of electrical engineering and of computer science at Stanford. “This hinders us in where we can place implants within the body, but also creates the risk of corrosion or broken wires, not to mention replacing aging batteries.”

Tiny, implantable medical device can propel itself through bloodstream

This image shows the scale of the wirelessly powered, self-propelled medical device developed by electrical engineer Ada Poon at Stanford.

Poon’s devices are different. They consist of a radio transmitter outside the body sending signals to an independent device inside the body that picks up the signal with an antenna of coiled wire. The transmitter and the antenna are magnetically coupled such that any change in current flow in the transmitter produces a voltage in the coiled wire — or, more accurately, it induces a voltage. The power is transferred wirelessly. The electricity runs electronics on the device and propels it through the bloodstream, if so desired.

Upending convention

It sounds easy, but it is not. Poon had to first upend some long-held assumptions about the delivery of wireless power inside the human body.

For fifty years, scientists have been working on wireless electromagnetic powering of implantable devices, but they ran up against mathematics. According to the models, high-frequency radio waves dissipate quickly in human tissue, fading exponentially the deeper they go.

Low-frequency signals, on the other hand, penetrate well, but require antennae a few centimeters in diameter to generate enough power for the device, far too large to fit through all but the biggest arteries. In essence, because the math said it could not be done, the engineers never tried.

Then a curious thing happened. Poon started to look more closely at the models. She realized that scientists were approaching the problem incorrectly. In their models, they assumed that human muscle, fat and bone were generally good conductors of electricity, and therefore governed by a specific subset of the mathematical principles known as Maxwell’s equations — the “quasi-static approximation” to be exact.

Poon took a different tack, choosing instead to model tissue as a dielectric — a type of insulator. As it turns out human tissue is a poor conductor of electricity. But, radio waves can still move through them. In a dielectric, the signal is conveyed as waves of shifting polarization of atoms within cells. Even better, Poon also discovered that human tissue is a “low-loss” dielectric — that is to say little of the signal gets lost along the way.

She recalculated and made a surprising find: Using new equations she learned high-frequency radio waves travel much farther in human tissue than originally thought.


“When we extended things to higher frequencies using a simple model of tissue we realized that the optimal frequency for wireless powering is actually around one gigahertz,” said Poon, “about 100 times higher than previously thought.”

More significantly, however, her revelation meant that antennae inside the body could be 100 times smaller and yet deliver the same power.

Poon was not so much in search of a new technology; she was in search of a new math. The antenna on the device Poon demonstrated at the conference yesterday is just two millimeters square; small enough to travel through the bloodstream.

She has developed two types of self-propelled devices. One drives electrical current directly through the fluid to create a directional force that pushes the device forward. This type of device is capable of moving at just over half-a-centimeter per second. The second type switches current back-and-forth in a wire loop to produce swishing motion similar to the motion a kayaker makes to paddle upstream.

“There is considerable room for improvement and much work remains before these devices are ready for medical applications,” said Poon. “But for the first time in decades the possibility seems closer than ever.”

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Tough times for HP ahead; will investors wait?

Posted: 25 Feb 2012 02:28 PM PST

Tough times for HP ahead; will investors wait?

Tough times for HP ahead; will investors wait?

This Feb 21, 2012 photo shows a Hewlett Packard logo in Frisco, Texas. Hewlett-Packard Co. will update investors on its progress under CEO Meg Whitman Wednesday afternoon when the world's largest personal computer maker releases its fiscal first-quarter earnings.

Hewlett-Packard Co. plans to spend years turning itself around as it addresses internal problems and battles broader threats from smartphones and tablet computers.

Investors willing to wait could be rewarded. Its market value is half of what it was about a year ago, and HP could start to improve in the second half of 2012.

It won’t be easy, though.

After all, HP will need to fix itself as the personal-computing industry faces its own challenges, including reduced spending by consumers who are saving up for iPads and other popular devices.

Richard Gardner, an analyst at Citi Investment Research, described HP’s road to recovery as “not a journey for the faint of heart.”

After presiding over her first full quarter as CEO, Meg Whitman said Wednesday that she has a good sense of what the company needs to do.

For starters, Whitman said, HP needs to fix its internal operations. The company is unable to turn orders into products quickly enough, and its supply chain is a mess. HP has numerous parts in its inventory, but not necessarily the right parts to fulfill actual orders. The variety also creates confusion in sales and technical support. Whitman said HP needs to invest more in internal systems and procedures.

Longer term, she said, the company needs to spend more money to grow businesses such as security services, information management and Internet-based systems known as cloud computing.

“We didn’t make the investments we should have during the past few years to stay ahead of customer expectations and market trends,” Whitman said. “As a result, we see eroding revenue and profits today.”

HP reported a 44 percent drop in net income to $1.47 billion, or 73 cents a share, in the November-January period. Revenue was $30 billion, down 7 percent and slightly below forecasts of $30.7 billion. It was the fastest revenue decline for the company since the recession hit 2009 results.

The division that makes PC desktops and laptops saw revenue fall 15 percent to $10.4 million. That’s still about a third of the company’s revenue. A shortage in hard drives because of flooding in Thailand was partly to blame. So was increased competition from mobile devices, which HP quit making last year after losing to Apple and manufacturers using Google’s Android system.

To pay for investments, HP needs to cut costs. Whitman didn’t offer specifics; some analysts foresee “restructuring” – which often means job cuts.

“We have got to save to invest,” she said. “We have got to save to grow.”

Whitman became CEO in September after HP fired Leo Apotheker just 11 months into the job. Apotheker also complained about underinvestment by his predecessor, yet his decisions hadn’t instilled any confidence.

Among other things, Apotheker announced that HP was looking to jettison its PC unit, which has large volume but small profits. That scared off some buyers, who may not have come back when Whitman decided to keep the division.

Whitman pleaded patience as she described “a multiyear journey.”

Investors responded by selling shares of HP. The Palo Alto, Calif., company’s stock fell $1.89, or 6.5 percent, to close Thursday at $27.05. Its market value of $54 billion compares with $104 billion about a year ago.

Louis R. Miscioscia, an analyst with Collins Stewart, said the stock looks cheap, but a turnaround now seems further away. He noted that IBM Corp., which transformed from a dying PC maker to a leading provider of software and services, had to work hard for more than a half decade to get there.

Nonetheless, he raised his price target on HP’s stock Thursday to $28, from $25.

Of course, HP may be intentionally setting expectations low.

Analyst Shaw Wu at Sterne Agee said many investors dismissed Cisco Systems Inc. a year ago, after its focus got scattered from expanding into too many new markets. But the network-equipment maker has reported a few good quarters in a row. The stock is up nearly 50 percent since Aug. 10.

Wu expects HP’s revenue decline to start slowing by midyear. That’s when supplies of hard drives should rebound. Soon after that, HP could see increased sales from an upcoming release of Microsoft’s Windows 8, an operating system that would work similarly on PCs and tablet computers.

If that’s the case, a turnaround may happen sooner and reward investors who buy HP’s stock now and hang on to it.

“It’s tough to count them out,” he said. “They have a lot of the ingredients. It boils down to execution. At least they have a game plan in place.”

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