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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Driver is Ticketed for Wearing Google Glass

As reported by the Detroit Free Press: A California woman pulled over for allegedly speeding was cited for wearing Google Glass behind the wheel.

Cecelia Abadie of Temecula, Calif., posted the ticket to her Google+ page with the caption "A cop just stopped me and gave me a ticket for wearing Google Glass while driving!" Her post has received over 500 comments.

Abadie adds she was cited in San Diego for "driving with monitor visible to driver." The California Highway Patrol confirmed to The Los Angeles Times that the citation was issued for violating California Vehicle Code 27602:

This may be the first ticket issued for Google Glass.
A person shall not drive a motor vehicle if a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen, or any other similar means of visually displaying a television broadcast or video signal that produces entertainment or business applications, is operating and is located in the motor vehicle at a point forward of the back of the driver's seat, or is operating and the monitor, screen, or display is visible to the driver while driving the motor vehicle.CHP spokesman Jake Sanchez tells the Times officers aren't specifically looking out for Google Glass, but anything that could distract drivers.

In a response to a comment added to her post, Abadie says the device was not in use while she was behind the wheel. "Glass was not on and I honestly don't use it much while driving but I do wear."

Mozilla Starts Crowdsourcing Data to Help Devices Find Your Location Without GPS

As reported by EngadgetMozilla's got a full plate between browsersFirefox OS and a mess of other projects, but that hasn't stopped it from starting a new initiative. The software community has set up the experimental Mozilla Location Service to collect crowdsourced geolocation data from public WiFi networks and cellular towers. According to the outfit, devices with weak or non-existent GPS capabilities will be able to determine where they're at with the help of the service. Anyone interested in contributing will need to download the MozStumbler app for Android, walk around and upload data. Mozilla's aware you'd be handing over personal location info by using the application, so it's vowed to improve privacy all around. There's no word of an iOS counterpart just yet, so contributors will be limited to Mountain View's OS for the time being.

Bluetooth Gets Smart

Most modern day mobile devices incorporate the new
Bluetooth 'Smart' communications capability.
As reported by the Denver PostYou may know Bluetooth as the wireless technology you use to connect your phone with your wireless headset or your car's hands-free speaker systems. But in the near future, you may use the wireless technology to do a lot more than that.

Dubbed Bluetooth Smart (or Bluetooth low energy), the new version of the technology is already being used in fitness devices, including Fitbit's Force and Nike's latest FuelBand, to help track users' physical activity. The technology is at the heart of AirDrop, a feature included in the latest version of Apple's iOS operating system that allows iPhone and iPad users to transfer photos and other files to nearby users of other Apple handhelds. And an upcoming deadbolt lock from Kwikset uses the technology to allow owners to unlock their doors with a simple touch, rather than a key.
Fitbit's wrist band physical activity tracker, as well as many
other similar bands (such as the Nike 'Fuel') incorporate
Smart Bluetooth in order to send updates to applications on
The technology will soon be available in a range of health monitoring devices, such as a blood glucose sensor developed by Johnson & Johnson. It also may be used soon to allow users to make wireless payments at their local coffee shop or for retailers to identify frequent customers and send them targeted ads. And Bluetooth proponents think it will be a key part of the “smart home” of the future, helping consumers control everything from their TVs to their thermostats.
The new technology “changes the perception of Bluetooth and what it can be used for,” said Mark Hung, an analyst who covers wireless technologies for Gartner, an industry research group.
Smart Bluetooth is also being used for medical device
integration with smartphones - such as glucose monitors.
In some ways, the new version of Bluetooth is a “back to the future” moment for the technology.
When Bluetooth was first being developed nearly 20 years ago, technology experts thought it would be used for a lot more than headsets. In fact, Bluetooth was initially pitched as a technology for “personal area networks.” These were envisioned as a collection of devices worn by or positioned near an individual who could interact with them through a phone or a Palm Pilot-style personal digital assistant.
But that vision never materialized. While Bluetooth is commonly used to connect wireless keyboards and mice to PCs, and has started to be used more frequently to connect phones to portable speaker systems, it's mostly been used just for hands-free devices.
That's starting to change thanks to the updated technology, which is part of what's more broadly called Bluetooth 4.0.
The key innovation with Bluetooth Smart is that it uses very little energy. The new technology allows devices to run for weeks without needing a recharge and to send bursts of data while consuming very little power.
That makes it a good fit for health and fitness devices. Bluetooth Smart serves as a conduit that takes data collected from sensors either in the phone or in the fitness accessories and transfers it to apps on the phone where the data can be processed. The first examples of these are the fitness bands. But soon to come are soccer balls and basketballs that have sensors and Bluetooth Smart radios built into them to help athletes track how they are shooting, kicking or dribbling and suggest ways to improve.
Part of what's driving Bluetooth Smart into new uses is that it's gained wide support among computer platforms. Apple integrated the technology into iOS two years ago. Microsoft built support for it into Windows 8, which the company released last year. And this summer, Google added support for Bluetooth Smart to Android.
In addition to health and fitness uses, Bluetooth Smart is also starting to be used as an invisible beacon. When an iPhone makes an AirDrop file transfer, it uses Bluetooth Smart to find other nearby devices and to create secure one-to-one connection. Similarly, the Bluetooth signal can be used to identify an individual phone user for the purpose of making a payment or sending a marketing message.
Zigbee hopes to be the 'home' standard for communication
but Bluetooth appears to have an edge in the market.
While other technologies can and are being used for wireless payments — most notably NFC, or near field communication, radios — the advantage of Bluetooth is that it's already in nearly every phone. By contrast, NFC is less widely supported and isn't used in Apple devices at all.
Bluetooth Smart could also have a future in the smart home. It's already being used in some remote controls, allowing users to change channels or turn on equipment even when its hidden in cabinets, something they can't do with old-style infrared remotes. And the Kwikset lock could trigger a wave of broader use of Bluetooth in home automation devices.
I haven't been a huge fan of Bluetooth in the past. In some cases I haven't been able to get devices to connect using Bluetooth. In other cases, I've had to repeatedly re-pair formerly connected devices.
Suke Jawanda, the chief marketing officer at the Bluetooth industry's trade group, said that the widespread support for Bluetooth 4.0 at the operating system level should solve some of those problems.
I hope so, because of the new uses for Bluetooth sound pretty cool.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Telematics and Smartphone Lessons in Product Differentiation

Where is the best location to integrate a vehicle user
interface - in the car or in an associated smartphone?
As reported by Telematics Update: Andrew Thompson looks at what happens to product differentiation once OEMs begin to let go of their proprietary platforms and start going the way of smartphones.

It’s one of the biggest pickles in mobile telecommunications.

A device manufacturer’s proprietary platform gives a product a distinct feel, but only at the cost of forcing app developers to wrestle with a dizzying number of platform-specific modules and, in turn, a higher price for the consumer.

In mobile, this problem has been all but solved. Apple and Blackberry have their own branded platforms, and everyone else – for the most part – uses Android, with a smattering of Windows Mobile.

But what is now taken for granted by phone designers, is only beginning to be realized by vehicle OEMs.

Car manufacturers are already looking at telematics that can
be accessed by an associated user's phone - using specialized
apps for Android and iOS devices.
“Right now, if you’re an app developer, you’re doing one app for GM and another for Ford,” says T.C. Wingrove, senior manager of global electronics innovation at Visteon. “And even within GM, you’re doing one for Chevrolet and another for Cadillac.”

As of this year, Linux-based platforms – the closest the automotive industry comes to having a unified platform – only accounted for roughly 2% of the market, according to IHS. That’s expected to grow to about 30% in 2018, by which time proprietary systems begin to fade into the background – or so it is hoped.

So if OEMs give up the keys to their platforms, how will they distinguish the in-vehicle infotainment of their products?

Differentiating the product
“There’s not a single correct answer,” Wingrove says. And the problem is that so few automakers have adopted a uniform platform that, at this point, there is little more then conjecture.

Still, a consensus is beginning to emerge that innovation needs to pick up and that the best way to realize that is by standardizing some of the many components at the base of car makers’ elaborate infotainment systems. “The ones who will innovate the best will be the ones who can collaborate the best,” Wingrove says.

In other words, companies that can bring together the players in an increasingly complex supply chain and sacrifice their proprietary platforms in order to further actual innovation, instead of furthering mere branding illusions, will come out ahead.

How much should be integrated into the user's phone - and how
secure will this approach be?
In mobile, this has resulted in products that in many ways resemble their competitors. Still, the different brands manage to distinguish themselves. “Just like in the phone OS, where they make 80% to 90% of the platform identical and then the top 10% is the special stuff on their phones only, they could do that with the HMIs,” says Mark Boyadjis, senior analyst, IHS Automotive.

Still, not everyone agrees.

“The current automobile market has become too competitive with very few well-delineated areas of product differentiation,”says Frank Hirschenberger, senior director of product innovation at Agero. “Connected vehicles are viewed as one of the primary areas where OEMs can still substantially differentiate their product and also provide services for the life cycle of the vehicle. The acceptance of open source is typically reserved for non-differentiating functions, as opposed to differentiating features.”

HMI, services and performance
Boyadjis expects innovation to come in three areas: human-machine interface (HMI), services and performance of the actual product.

“Be it a Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei or other brand of smartphone, they will all have Android, but have very different implementations at play,” he says. “These differences are the icing on the cake, which help sales of one phone separate from another. This would also happen in vehicles if a common platform emerged.”

For example, a proprietary voice recognition system similar to Samsung’s S Voice or vehicle-specific social linking tools like those found in some of HTC’s phones serve to differentiate phones that both operate in the familiar Android platform. And similar differentiators might be seen in cars.

“Innovation will come from the features, services, performances at the application level,” says Phillipe Gicquel, president of GENIVI, one of the industry’s biggest proponents of Linux-based systems. “Using GENIVI standards changes the supplier ecosystem because OEMs can more easily make their own choices for each software module, like navigation engine, voice recognition and so on.”

Voice recognition integration into the vehicle won't be much
of a significant differentiatior alone.
One of the biggest differentiators will be the services themselves, according to experts, and this is where the phone analogy begins to falter. Unlike phones, in which apps are universally available across all supported devices, there would still be a variety of different apps available for different vehicles.

“While a common app store is shared within all Android phones, this would be different in the vehicle,” Boyadjis says. “Many apps and services would be shared, but because some of them will be vehicle-centric applications, reading data from sensors and other connectivity platforms in the car, the total services and applications offered will be a point of differentiation for OEMs."

Then, of course, there’s the basic performance of the product itself – the parts and processes involved in making the HMI, apps and everything in between run at an optimum level. “Different processors, memory and other hardware-based solutions will differentiate across vehicle brands,” Boyadjis says. “The problem with this differentiation is it’s easy to replicate, and thus is no longer a differentiation.”

There’s another way to look at it, though, which is that the difference in performance will itself take the forefront in differentiation. Samsung may have used the branded S Voice feature, but it was the sheer firepower under the hood that made the Galaxy series a runaway success.

A similar process of differentiation might be seen in vehicles. In this case, the leaders of innovation would become the chipmakers and engineers, not the OEMs.

One GPS/GNSS Device for Every Person on the Planet by 2022

7 billion devices with GPS/GNSS capabilities are predicted to
be available by 2022, with smartphone functionality making up a
significant portion of the overall $344 billion GNSS market.
As reported by Spar Point Group: By 2022, the number of GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) receivers and devices in use is predicted to hit seven billion. That’s nearly one GNSS device for every person crowding the planet, the European GNSS Agency (GSA) said in its third market report on the positioning technology.

Today, the installed base of GNSS devices is over two billion, and most of those are in Europe and North America. In the future, however, most of this growth will be driven in regions outside Europe and North America, the report said.

GNSS is a system of satellites that provide geospatial positioning with global coverage through receivers using available GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou, and other middle Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites, typically hovering about 10-20 miles above the planet.

Multi-constellation GNSS receivers grab market share
Today, multi-constellation receivers, which use all navigation signals in view, are becoming more widely available on the market with more than 70 percent of GNSS models SBAS (Satellite Based Augmentation System) capable. These devices offer increased availability of signals, especially in urban environments, and more robust performance in professional applications such as surveying. GLONASS is the second constellation of choice for users after GPS, the report said.

Global GNSS-enabled markets are forecast to grow to $344 billion per year by 2022, according to the report, which also said core revenues - attributable to direct GNSS functionality and service - are expected to reach $138 billion over the period.

Countries will increasingly implement regulatory measures to promote the use of GNSS, for example in emergency location sharing or search and rescue operations, which will further drive growth in Europe and North America over the next five to 10 years, according to the report.

The report analyzes key market segments: location-based services, road, aviation, maritime, agriculture, surveying, and rail.

It's estimated that smartphone location based services will
make up 47% of the overall revenue for the market, (down
from the current 90% share of the market) with vehicle
based services making up 46.2% of the market.
Smartphones dominate
The market for Location-based services (LBS) includes smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, laptops, fitness and people tracking devices, and mobile data revenues.

For example, LBS devices increasingly support navigation and other services in the Road market segment, which is cannibalizing the share of personal navigation devices (PND) in the market, the report said.

Smartphones comprise 90 percent of LBS devices sold, and new smartphone capabilities “will dominate global GNSS revenues and with other integrated technologies they are entering into other market segments, not only LBS,” according to the report.

However, with the growing penetration of tablets and increased GNSS usage in digital cameras, the smartphone share is expected to decrease over the next decade, the report said.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chinese Appliances are Shipping with Malware-Distributing WiFi Chips

As reported by GeekWas the iron in the last hotel room you stayed in made in China? Bad news: it may have been hiding an insidious little chip designed to infect your computer with spam-serving malware.

It’s not just irons that are being used as tiny trojan horses, either. Dashboard cameras, cell phones, and tea kettles have also been found inconspicuously outfitted with the malicious chips. They’re reportedly capable of latching on to any computer within 200 meters that’s attached to an unsecured WiFi network… like the ones in many hotels and coffee shops.
Shipments of modified small appliances are apparently popping up in Russia, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg. It’s entirely possible that the Russian gadgets were the first to be spotted and that similar malware gear has already been shipped to other corners of the globe.
It’s bad enough that you can’t trust that unfamiliar USB charger you were just about to plug your smartphone in to, but now you can’t even trust the iron you were going to use to press your slacks.
So what are these sneaky Chinese appliances up to? Right now, it looks like they’re only looking for unsuspecting drones to add to someone’s spam-serving army. Once a machine has been compromised, though, it’s possible that those in control would push additional malware to a victim’s machine.
They may even start sniffing WiFi traffic for usernames, passwords, and payment data being passed around in the open. Until security researchers learn more, you may want to unplug the iron in your next hotel room right after you inspect the mattress for bed bugs.

Thieves Pose as Truckers to Steal Huge Cargo Loads

As reported through the AP news wire: To steal huge shipments of valuable cargo, thieves are turning to a deceptively simple tactic: They pose as truckers, load the freight onto their own tractor-trailers and drive away with it.
It's an increasingly common form of commercial identity theft that has allowed con men to make off each year with millions of dollars in merchandise, often food and beverages. And experts say the practice is growing so rapidly that it will soon become the most common way to steal freight.
A generation ago, thieves simply stole loaded trucks out of parking lots. But the industry's widening use of GPS devices, high-tech locks and other advanced security measures have pushed criminals to adopt new hoaxes.
Helping to drive the scams, experts say, is the Internet, which offers thieves easy access to vast amounts of information about the trucking industry. Online databases allow con men to assume the identities of legitimate freight haulers and to trawl for specific commodities they want to steal.
Besides hurting the nation's trucking industry — which moves more than 68 percent of all domestic shipments — the thefts have real-world consequences for consumers, including raising prices and potentially allowing unsafe food and drugs to reach store shelves.
News reports from across the country recount just a few of the thefts: 80,000 pounds of walnuts worth $300,000 in California, $200,000 of Muenster cheese in Wisconsin, rib-eye steaks valued at $82,000 in Texas, $25,000 pounds of king crab worth $400,000 in California.
The Hughson Nut Co. fell victim twice last year, losing two loads valued at $189,000. Each time, the impostor truckers showed up at the Livingston, Calif., nut processor on a Friday with all the proper paperwork to pick up a load of almonds.
On the Monday following the second theft, a customer called to complain that the almonds had never arrived in Arizona. The company's quality assurance manager, Raquel Andrade, recalled getting a sinking feeling: "Uh-oh. I think it happened again."
The thefts are little-known and seldom discussed outside the world of commercial trucking. Companies that have been victimized are often reluctant to talk about their losses. But crime reports and Associated Press interviews with law enforcement and industry leaders reveal an alarming pattern that hurts commerce, pushes up consumer prices and potentially puts Americans' health and safety at risk.
"In the end, the consumer winds up paying the toll on this," said Keith Lewis, vice president of CargoNet, a theft-prevention network that provides information to the insurance industry.
The economic results go beyond adding a few nickels or dimes to retail prices. The "consequential damages" from stolen cargo easily run into the millions of dollars, far exceeding the value of the lost shipments. For example, a stolen load of pharmaceuticals might necessitate a worldwide recall of every drug with that lot number to ensure none of the product ends up back in the market in case it gets tampered with.
Stolen food shipments pose similar health concerns.
"It might be low value, but that load of poultry could be high-risk," Lewis said, explaining that if it spoils and gets back into the supply chain, hundreds or thousands of people could get sick.
The scheme works like this: Thieves assume the identity of a trucking company, often by reactivating a dormant Department of Transportation carrier number from a government website for as little as $300. That lets them pretend to be a long-established firm with a seemingly good safety record. The fraud often includes paperwork such as insurance policies, fake driver's licenses and other documents.
Then the con artists offer low bids to freight brokers who handle shipping for numerous companies. When the truckers show up at a company, everything seems legitimate. But once driven away, the goods are never seen again.
The thieves target mostly shipments of food and beverages, which are easy to sell on the black market and hard to trace. Some end up on the shelves of small grocery stores. Others go to huge distribution warehouses like the one authorities raided in August in North Hollywood, Calif. It was filled with stolen steaks, shrimp, energy drinks, ice cream and other frozen foods.
Last year, carriers reported nearly 1,200 cargo thefts of all kinds nationwide, about the same as the previous year, according to CargoNet, a division of Verisk Crime Analytics, which estimated losses that year at nearly $216 million. Since many thefts go unreported, the real figure is almost certainly far higher.
The most common crime is still the "straight theft" of trailers left unattended in parking lots or at truck stops. But CargoNet says the new trucking scams are growing at a rapid 6 percent each quarter. Of the average three to five truckloads stolen each day in the United States, at least one involves what are known in the industry as fraudulent or fictitious pickups.
The thefts emerged three or four years ago and are now "the latest, greatest thing" for organized groups seeking to steal freight, said J.J. Coughlin, vice president for law enforcement services at LoJack SCI, a supply chain protection company.
LoJack examined 947 cargo thefts last year and identified 45 of them as fictitious pickups. So far this year, the number of fictitious pickups has probably already doubled, Coughlin said. The average loss last year was more than $170,000 per incident.
Although cargo thieves prey on companies across the nation, the hot spots are places with shipping ports or rail hubs. California leads the nation. Large numbers of thefts have also been reported in Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Scott Cornell, national manager of a special investigation group focusing on supply chain security at the insurance company Travelers, said the thieves take advantage of the Internet, which allows them to do "so many things online where nobody sees you," including setting up a company and bidding on loads.
Within a few years, Lewis said, identity theft-related scams are expected to become the most prevalent method of cargo theft.
Experienced thieves know where the major manufacturers are located. And some are savvy enough to pick out which brand of electronics or appliances to steal by bidding on loads posted online. Someone wanting to steal a truckload of copper, for instance, would target shipments coming out of Carrollton, Ga., where a major copper-wire manufacturer is located.
Food and beverages were the most commonly stolen items, accounting for 23 percent of all thefts last year, followed by metals at 16 percent, and electronics and household goods at 12 percent each. Other products made up the remaining 37 percent, including pharmaceuticals at 3 percent, according to CargoNet's 2012 report.
One reason food shipments are popular targets is because they have a lower value than electronics or pharmaceuticals, which are often more heavily protected. Plus, food generally does not have any serial numbers to trace.
The loads are also difficult to recover. Companies often do not know they have been scammed until their shipments fail to show up, usually four to five days after they were stolen, Coughlin said.
By that time, the goods have probably already been sold on the black market.
The trucking and insurance industries are fighting back, urging freight brokers to take extra precautions, such as checking information before awarding shipping contracts to unfamiliar truckers.
The California Farm Bureau Federation warns about clues that could indicate a suspicious hauler: temporary name placards or identification numbers on the truck, abrupt changes in the time of the pickup and lack of a GPS tracking system on the truck.
Another suggestion is to get a thumbprint from the truck driver.
"This is growing at such a rapid, scary rate," said Sam Rizzitelli, national director for transportation at Travelers Inland Marine Division. "It warrants a lot of attention."

UPS Switching to Natural Gas to Raise Efficiency of Its Big Rigs

As reported by the BladePackage shipping giant UPS Inc. is expanding the fuel-efficiency of its trucking fleet, and part of that effort will include building a new Liquefied Natural Gas fueling station at its Maumee cargo facility at 1550 Holland Rd.
The facility will be ready by next May, and it is among nine new LNG stations Atlanta-based UPS is building in Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The company already has begun construction on four other LNG stations in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and California.
Mike Chavez, manager for UPS plant engineering, said the cost of the Maumee station will not be disclosed, but the company is spending $68 million to construct all 13 of its LNG stations. The Maumee location will not create any jobs, he said.
Liquefied Natural Gas is predominantly methane that has been reduced to a liquid state and has a higher energy density than diesel. That makes it more cost efficient to transport over long distances where natural gas pipelines don’t exist. In a tractor-trailer fleet, LNG enables a vehicle to go farther on the same volume of fuel.
UPS has already purchased 1,000 LNG-fueled tractor-trailers that will displace more than 24 million gallons of diesel fuel annually. The company has used LNG-powered vehicles since 2002.
“The natural gas industry needs companies to commit to using natural gas to help establish a reliable alternative to traditional fuel, and that is just what UPS is doing,” David Abney, UPS chief operating officer, said in a statement. “The UPS strategy is both environmentally friendly and economically viable. LNG is becoming more readily available, plus it’s more insulated from market volatility than diesel fuel.”
Mr. Abney said that UPS’s goal is to reach one billion miles driven by its alternative fuel and advance technology fleet by 2017. It already has more than 2,700 alternative-fuel and advanced technology vehicles in use, including all-electric, hybrid electric, hydraulic hybrid, compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, liquid propane gas, and biomethane.
Mr. Chavez said the company’s diesel-powered tractor-trailers will be retired as they wear out. The company will be running LNG-powered tractor-trailers to the Maumee facility, which is why it needed an LNG fuel station in the Toledo area.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Scientists Want to Turn Smartphones Into Earthquake Sensors

As reported by The VergeFor years, scientists have struggled to collect accurate real-time data on earthquakes, but a new article published today in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America may have found a better tool for the job, using the same accelerometers found in most modern smartphones. The article finds that the MEMS accelerometers in current smartphones are sensitive enough to detect earthquakes of magnitude five or higher when located near the epicenter. Because the devices are so widely used, scientists speculate future smartphone models could be used to create an "urban seismic network," transmitting real-time geological data to authorities whenever a quake takes place.

The authors pointed to Stanford's Quake-Catcher Network as an inspiration, which connects seismographic equipment to volunteer computers to create a similar network. But using smartphone accelerometers would be cheaper and easier to carry into extreme environments. 

The sensor will need to become more sensitive before it can be used in the field, but the authors say once technology catches up, a smartphone accelerometer could be the perfect earthquake research tool. As one researcher told The Verge, "right from the start, this technology seemed to have all the requirements for monitoring earthquakes — especially in extreme environments, like volcanoes or underwater sites."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Solar Flares: X-Class

As reported by The Christian Science MonitorDon't be distracted by Star Trek's M-class planets or X-Men's First Class of students – while the terms have been appropriated by science fiction, M-class and X-class solar flares are very real.

Two enormous solar flares – an X1.7 and X2.1 class, respectively – erupted from the surface of the sun on Friday morning. The smaller flare peaked at 4:01 a.m. EDT, while the X2.1 solar flare peaked seven hours later, at 11:03 a.m. EDT.
The last time the sun released an X-class flare was on May 14, 2013, but there were two weaker M-class flares on Thursday.
The steady stream of solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and other solar storms are associated with the solar maximum. Solar storms occur on a roughly 11-year cycle, but the "maximum" isn't a one-day peak, but a prolonged period of more than a year.
The minimum-maximum pattern is more of a gentle sine wave, like a system of rolling hills and valleys, than like the jagged peaks of a heart monitor, says Art Poland, an astrophysicist with George Mason University.
"We're just on the other side of the top of the sine wave right now," says Dr. Poland. "You get your biggest flares and biggest magnetic disruptions on the way down."
It's hard to pinpoint the precise timing of a solar maximum, especially in advance. In recent years, NASA was estimating the maximum would come in 2011, or 2012, or maybe 2013. "You only know afterwards," says Poland, who is the project scientist on SOHO, an observatory orbiting the sun. "You're pinning real data to a sine wave, and it's not a perfect sine wave, so it's hard to tell."
The first X-class flare of the current solar cycle occurred in February 2011. The largest X-class flare so far in this cycle was an X6.9 on Aug. 9, 2011.

What's an "X-class" solar flare?

Solar flares are classified by strength. When the system was created in the mid-1960s, the smallest solar flares were classified as C-class, moderate flares were M-class, and the largest were X-class. Since then, more refined instruments have been able to measure even smaller flares, called A-class and B-class. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

How GPS Has, and Has Not Transformed Trucking

Portions reported by The Wall Street JournalOne icon of American popular culture of the 1970s was the long-haul trucker, a free-range rebel in jeans and a Peterbilt hat. Think Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit, hauling a load of Coors beer eastward from Texas. Or Clint Eastwood (and his orangutan Clyde) in Every Which Way but Loose. Or of the truckers in the song “Convoy,” tearing up their log sheets, triumphing over Smokey, and rockin’ into the night. The spirit of the American West firmly relocated itself from pioneer to cowboy to trucker, at least for a little while.

Fast-forward 30-some years: That untamed maverick is harder to find and the open road has gotten a lot less wild. In one short generation, technology, from on-board computers to GPS systems, transformed some truckers from free-range rebels to carefully monitored employees whose lives are a bit more like cubicle-bound office workers than the iconoclasts of yore.
In the days before GPS, a driver could, if he chose, take leisurely breaks at truck stops then make up the time by racing at 80 miles an hour down the highway, possibly endangering himself, other motorists and company profits.
So most companies that had to get stuff across the country refused to take on the risk and hired freelance drivers who owned their own rigs. Owner-operators, the logic went, would be responsible because they had to account for the cost of wear and tear on their trucks—and the consequences of reckless endangerment. Or, at the very least, any screw ups would cost the driver, not the company.
But this situation of owner-operators hauling on a contract basis was less-than-ideal for some companies. Drivers did little to help out with loading or unloading at the warehouse or taking care of special loads, something the company could ask drivers to do if they were full-time employees.
Along came better monitoring via on-board computers or GPS. This fundamentally changed the playing field. Companies could keep reckless behavior in check and benefit from more coordination and extra help at the warehouse. Companies dumped the freelance operators and once again hired their own. (A 2004 study confirms this.)
Call it a victory for the productivity-enhancing effects of information technology, weighed against a loss of autonomy and independence of the trucker on the open road.
Gary Bojczak, who worked for a construction company in northern New Jersey, discovered the personal effects of these trade-offs  Earlier this year, Bojczak got his 15 minutes of fame (and a $32,000 fine) for jamming the satellite signals of a newly installed air traffic control system at Newark Airport. Bojczak hadn't procured his illegal GPS jammer for the purposes of disrupting civil aviation. He merely wanted to keep his boss from tracking his whereabouts at all times.
Increasingly sophisticated software is able to detect employee misbehavior even in the absence of direct monitoring by flagging suspicious patterns.  And the benefits – at least for the company’s bottom line – are being felt across many industries; where performance can be monitored real-time.

If workers aren't doing anything wrong, one might argue, they shouldn't mind being tracked.
So is there still room for mavericks in the trucking industry?  The short answer is 'Yes'.  They still have the opportunity to roam throughout the country, rubbing elbows with their compatriots at truck stops along the way; but also emulating those most famous traits of the cowboy and the wild west - hard work, dependability, and taking on the tough jobs that demand durable character an adventurous spirit and a can-do attitude.  Technology will never take that away from them.

Noise Pollution Mapped using Crowdsourced Data Collected by Smartphone App

As reported by Wired UKThe main causes of noise pollution -- machines, transportation, poor urban planning, people -- vary considerably in terms of location and intensity throughout the year. Consequently, measuring these noise levels on a large scale is often a time consuming and sometimes inaccurate procedure.

However, Rajib Rana, Chun Tung Chou, Nirupama Bulusu, Salil Kanhere and Wen Hu at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia's national science agency, have devised a novel way of combating many of the problems that have hindered previous methods of monitoring noise in the past. Rather than spending thousands on equipment, Rana and his team have crowdsourced the data from smartphones -- they call it the "Ear-Phone".
The average smartphone has enough sophisticated technology (on-board microphones, GPS, time stamping) to make it an extraordinary mobile monitoring device. However, the implementation of the Ear-Phone came with its own set of challenges -- there are many ambient noises picked up by a smartphone that would be of no use to the researchers, namely intimate conversations that sound loud to the phone, but wouldn't be disruptive to passersby, as well as the sound of rustling clothes, or keys or money jingling in pockets.
The team at CSIRO isolated these problems and fixed them accordingly, programming the phone to recognize a conversation, wait until it was over, and then start recording again. They also made sure the GPS was only collecting data when outdoors and while being held in the user's hand.  
This was made possible by taking advantage of the automatic proximity sensors and accelerometers that are standard in most smartphones. These sensors generate specific feedback when the phone is handled, which the software developed by Rana and his team can then use to assess whether or not it's an appropriate time to take a reading. Using this method, handheld usage can be detected with an accuracy of 84 percent.
Once all of the criteria have been met, the phone will take a sound recording, complete with exact location and time. The data is then sent to a central server the moment the phone is connected to Wi-Fi.
The only major downside with the crowdsourced method is battery life -- always-on GPS and Wi-Fi can drain a phone's power in a matter of hours, but the team claims it is working on a solution.
Noise pollution is thought to be a particularly destructive environmental hazard. Not only can it cause hearing-loss, stress and tinnitus in humans, but it's devastating to local Wildlife, reducing livable habitats, disrupting predator or prey detection and avoidance, and even causing infidelity in finches.
The Ear-Phone has been tested on various Android and Nokia phones in Australia.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

NASA Has a 622 Mbps Data Connection to the Moon

As reported by Gismodo UKNASA has smashed its record for transmitting data to and from the moon. Now, it boasts a frankly amazing 622Mbps transfer speed to the rock that circles our little planet.
The Agency is able to achieve that using lasers—instead of radio waves—to transmit data between its ground station in New Mexico and a spacecraft that’s orbiting the moon, 239,000 miles away. Part of the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, the agency was also able to upload error-free data to the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) spacecraft at a rate of 20Mbps.
It beats previous attempts to send data through space using similar techniques, in particular one earlier this year which saw NASA beam the Mona Lisa into space at a rather paltry 300 bits per second. The new success of the LLCD marks a major milestone in space communications: NASA has previously relied on radio frequency data links, but they’re not able to carry the quantities of data that the agency will require in the future.
So, while the LLC is currently a proof of concept, it’s hoped it will see real service soon. “We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon,” explained Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation. And frankly, when Internet on the moon is faster than some home connections, you know the future had arrived.

Federal Court of Appeals Says Police Need a Warrant to Track Vehicles via GPS

The Supreme Court ruled that attaching a GPS unit to a vehicle
constituted a 'search', but not if that search generally required
a probable cause warrant.
As reported by the Washington PostA federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled Tuesday that the government must obtain a warrant to attach a GPS unit to a car.

The case involved alleged pharmacy burglaries in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland: the authorities suspected a trio of brothers and slapped a magnetic GPS unit to one of their vehicles after consulting the U.S. Attorney's office -- but without obtaining a warrant. Using the evidence gathered from the device, the vehicle was tracked to a recently burglarized RiteAid. Police stopped the brothers shortly afterward, and a search allegedly revealed items from the RiteAid. In the resulting case, U.S. v. Katzin, the brothers argued that the evidence obtained as a result of the GPS unit should be inadmissible because the police had not obtained a warrant.
The District Court agreed with the brothers, and the government appealed the case to the Court of Appeals for the Third District. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel upheld the lower court's ruling, finding that the actions of the police were "highly disconcerting" under a physical intrusion theory of the Fourth Amendment. The judges dismissed the government's arguments that the search was legal because the police had probable cause even if they didn't seek a warrant, saying "generally speaking, a warrantless search is not rendered reasonable merely because probable cause existed that would have justified the issuance of a warrant."
That's important because it extends a recent Supreme Court ruling, which found that GPS tracking constituted a search but did not rule on whether it's reasonable to conduct such a search without a warrant. This week's ruling is the first time a federal appeals court has ruled since that landmark decision.
The appeals court also rejected a government argument that a GPS search might qualify for the automobile exception, in which police have greater leeway searching through vehicles. "A GPS search," the court found, "extends the police intrusion well past the time it would normally take officers to enter a target vehicle and locate, extract, or examine the then-existing evidence."
American Civil Liberties Union Staff Attorney Catherine Crump, who had argued before the panel, called the decision "a victory for all Americans because it ensures that the police cannot use powerful tracking technology without court supervision and a good reason to believe it will turn up evidence of wrongdoing," in a statement. A request for comment from the U.S. Attorney's Office which argued the appeal was not returned.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Tentative Step Toward Intelligent Highways: Bluetooth Detection In Vehicles Helps Crowdsource Traffic Flow

As reported by the Columbian: If you want to improve your travel time along some of Clark County’s busier roads, turn your Bluetooth device to “discoverable” mode.

Clark County traffic engineers — along with engineers from the State of Washington and the city of Vancouver — have in place a system that can detect Bluetooth devices in discoverable mode.

The program is being funded primarily through a $540,000 federal grant, with a small match from the local governments.

And with some 900 vehicles traveling through the Andresen corridor during peak travel times, even a small sampling is enough to give information on how quickly cars are moving along the roadways.

“Right now, we are seeing between 3 and 5 percent of traffic broadcasting in discoverable mode,” said Rob Klug, traffic signal operations and engineering lead at Clark County. “From that, we can track MAC addresses and ... get a timestamp of when cars enter and exit the area we are scanning. From there, the next step, we can make traffic signal settings based on (the information).”

Klug explained the process from an interior office at the Clark County Public Service Center. Large computer screens blink out traffic data and display live footage from intersection cameras. When something traffic-related in Clark County breaks, this office is where it starts to get fixed. At times, Klug will run signals manually from his computer to unclog congested areas.

He receives immediate reports from an automated system when cars start to back up beyond expectations.

Klug can talk at length about traffic philosophy and methodology, and he can recommend a few books to read if you’re really interested in how traffic systems have evolved over the years.

But before he explained how this Bluetooth system is being implemented, he stopped for a moment.

“It sounds kind of like Big Brother, right?” Klug said.

The fact of the matter is Bluetooth devices are most commonly used in connection with cellular phones. And it can sound, perhaps, a bit creepy that your local government can see those devices.

Because of that, Klug made it a point to make sure the county wouldn’t end up in a strange spot from day one.

Every Bluetooth device comes with a unique address to identify it. The system that tracks those addresses strips about half of the address off before tracking them. Further, if the system finds a device that isn’t moving through the corridor, it quits tracking it.

The system can’t listen in on your conversations, either.

And if some agency were trying to find a certain device for whatever reason, the county wouldn’t be able to help out.

“We don’t have any way of tracking like that,” Klug said.

And the bottom line is, if you don’t want the system to find your device, simply turn off discoverable mode.

“You can turn it off and just not participate,” Klug said. “But if you want travel times to improve, well, leave it on.”

Bob Hart, project manager at the Regional Transportation Council, is assisting with linking the Bluetooth program between the state, county and city. He said the hope is that enough information will be available by spring 2014 for the agencies to start tweaking traffic signal times.

“The reason for having the pilot project is we want to know if enhanced information can help us make the corridor work better,” Hart said. 

“We’re testing it now to see if the project is going to give us the information we want. The next part will be if the information can improve the corridor.”