Archive for June, 2008

Robots that recognize when people are stupid

June 27, 2008

Lost the remote? Use your face | Community

By using a combination of facial expression recognition software and automated tutoring technology Jacob Whitehill, a computer science Ph.D. student from UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering, is leading the project that ultimately is part of a larger venture to use automated facial expression recognition to make robots more effective teachers.

The researchers recently conducted a pilot test with 8 people that demonstrated information within the facial expressions people make while watching recorded video lectures can be used to predict a person’s preferred viewing speed of the video and how difficult a person perceives the lecture at each moment in time.

“If I am a student dealing with a robot teacher and I am completely puzzled and yet the robot keeps presenting new material, that’s not going to be very useful to me. If, instead, the robot stops and says, ‘Oh, maybe you’re confused,’ and I say, ‘Yes, thank you for stopping,’ that’s really good,” said Whitehill in a release.

Is there anything people can’t do with a little bit of image processing?


Fire season comes early?

June 25, 2008

Wildfires in California

What kind amazes me is how relatively inconspicuous the urban areas are

Who woulda thunk it?

June 25, 2008

Oil Price Fallout: Jobs Coming Home?

“Cheap labor in China doesn’t help you when you gotta pay so much to bring the goods over,” says economist Jeff Rubin.

Some local manufacturers have suddenly found themselves in the thick of boom times.

“In December, we had three employees here. We were just getting set up. Now it’s 14,” says Casey Hearn, who owns a furniture manufacturing business in North Carolina.

Other sectors of U.S. manufacturing may see a boost in jobs as well. Rubin says the U.S. steel industry is poised to reap benefits.

“It’s not just about labor costs anymore,” says Rubin. “Distance costs money, and when you have to shift iron ore from Brazil to China and then ship it back to Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh is looking pretty good at 40 bucks an hour.”

Well, pretty much anyone who had any sense.

Want to know the real kicker here? Shipping bits is cheap, so it could be that soon white-collar jobs are the only ones it makes sense to outsource. Until the dollar falls a little more, that is.

We’re sure who you are, and — oops, you’re dead.

June 25, 2008

JAMA — Abstract: Electromagnetic Interference From Radio Frequency Identification Inducing Potentially Hazardous Incidents in Critical Care Medical Equipment, June 25, 2008, van der Togt et al. 299 (24): 2884

Health care applications of autoidentification technologies, such as radio frequency identification (RFID), have been proposed to improve patient safety and also the tracking and tracing of medical equipment. However, electromagnetic interference (EMI) by RFID on medical devices has never been reported.

There are probably ways to make readers that won’t shut off or reset other piece of medical equipment, but eek.

Damned if you do, no problem if you don’t

June 25, 2008

Merchants call credit card industry’s bluff on compliance | The Register

A poll of 65 merchants across Europe by NetIQ revealed that two years after the standard was introduced the majority of firms are still way off being compliant. Worse, the majority (54 per cent) have no timetable for getting up to speed. Only 17 per cent of respondents reckoned that they would be compliant within six to twelve months.

By comparison, 23 per cent of respondents to a similar survey of 300 US organisation said they were already PCI DSS compliant. However more than two in five (44 per cent) of those quizzed had no idea when they would achieve compliance.

Seven out of 10 of those quizzed by NetIQ reckoned that the penalties for non-compliance would only occasionally be levied, while 23 per cent said that fines would “almost never” be issued.

But wait, it gets better:

US grocery chain Hannaford warned in March that an information security breach (later blamed on malware) had exposed an estimated 4.2 million credit card records. Hannaford had achieved PCI DSS compliance prior to the breach but the approval process failed to uncover the flaws that led to the breach.

I can’t wait to hack this building

June 25, 2008

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Dubai plans ‘moving’ skyscraper

The 420-metre (1,378-foot) building’s apartments would spin a full 360 degrees, at voice command, around a central column by means of 79 giant power-generating wind turbines located between each floor.

And I sure hope they’ve done the analysis to prove it’s stable against interesting turn sequences.

Punitive damges: constitutional only if they don’t really punish

June 25, 2008

Talking Points Memo | Court cuts judgment in Exxon Valdez disaster

The Supreme Court on Wednesday cut the $2.5 billion punitive damages award in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster to $500 million.

Justice David Souter wrote for the court that punitive damages may not exceed what the company already paid to compensate victims for economic losses, about $500 million compensation.

A jury decided Exxon should pay $5 billion in punitive damages. A federal appeals court cut that verdict in half.

2007 profits for Exxon: $40 billion. So that punitive damage bill is a little more than 1 percent of profits. I’m sure it will make the company ever so much more environmentally sensitive.

(And the thing is, I don’t love punitive damages because piling more money on the plaintiff is not necessarily the best way to make them more whole, but the Supremes’ ongoing insistence that the constitution bars courts from socking egregious tortfeasors for much more than provable economic damage to one plaintiff is just pernicious. The last case that went by said that more than 9x regular damages was suspect; now it appears that even-steven could be the rule. That’s not punitive, that’s just a cost of doing business. And to put it in even clearer counterpoint, it means that a company will pay less of a punitive addition to the damage bill for injuring people than for infringing a patent, which is triple damages.)

So one obvious missing detail

June 25, 2008

One big drug test for L.A.: sewage analysis – Los Angeles Times

Untreated sewage at all eight treatment plants tested in Los Angeles County contained cocaine metabolite, according to data obtained from the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts. Palmdale and Lancaster had the highest concentrations, averaging 3.5 parts per billion. The lowest, averaging 1.4 ppb, were from Long Beach and Valencia.

In all the Los Angeles County locations, the cocaine metabolite was more concentrated than in Omaha and in Italian, Swiss and British cities, which all had less than 1 ppb, according to a comparison of several studies.

What’s the average water use, and how much of it goes down the sewers?

I can’t wait until they refine this to a house-by house basis, with little coke-sniffing robots running up everyone’s sewer pipes…

None dare call it cracking

June 24, 2008

Researcher: NebuAd forges Google data packets | The Register

“There was an extra 133 bytes of JavaScript code being added to web pages being sent,” Topolski tells us. “It was being sent in a separate packet, and even though it wasn’t coming from Google, it was identified as being from”

That bit of JavaScript code, Topolski continued, instructed the browser to load additional script from the domain FairEagle is a subsidiary of NebuAd, and one of the cookies that turned up on Topolski’s browser was tagged with that same domain.

In his report, Topolski compares this trick to several common hacking techniques, including a browser hijack, a cross-site scripting attack, and a man-in-the-middle attack. “NebuAd exploits normal browser and security behaviors by forging IP packets, allowing their own JavaScript code to be written into source code trusted by the web browser,” he writes. “NebuAd and ISPs together cooperate in this attack against the intentions of the consumers, the designers of their software and the owners of the servers that they visit.”

Google confirms that the extra cookies and the extra packets are not coming from its site. “The sections in [Robb Topolski’s] report that talks about Google are accurate,” says company spokesman Michael Kirkland. “We’re obviously aware of this issue and are looking into it.”

Forging packets as coming from a (somewhat) trusted source and using it to load your own code into the browser? If any hacking group were doing it, the feds would be working to roll them up. But gosh, if there’s a contract with an ISP, there’s probably a clause in your terms of service that requires to to let yourself be pwned (unless it’s by someone the ISP doesn’t approve of, in which case you’ll be thrown off their network instead). Oh, and if it turns out there’s no such clause, that would mean your ISP could be engaged in a conspiracy to violate antihacking statutes for profit. Whee.

Worst science reporting ever?

June 24, 2008

Bizarre Properties of Glass Revealed | LiveScience

The finding could lead to aircraft that look like Wonder Woman’s plane. Such planes could have wings of glass or something called metallic glass, rather than being totally invisible.

Then the bit about how glass flows (it doesn’t) and about how the crystalline nature of metals brought down the De Havilland Comet (it didn’t, or at least planes built from the same materials don’t fall out of the sky nearly as often when not stupidly designed) and on to some really garbled stuff about three-dimensional Penrose tilings. The underlying discovery might actually be true for some class of materials somewhere, but you sure couldn’t tell from this article.