Tag Archives: Technology

How #USB became the undefeated king of #connectors


Parallel and serial ports, just a couple of the flakey old connectors USB replacedEricf / Flickr CC-BY 3.0Parallel and serial ports, just a couple of the flakey old connectors USB replacedEricf / Flickr CC-BY 3.0

Like all technology, USB has evolved over time. Despite being a “Universal” Serial Bus, in its 18-or-so years on the market it has spawned multiple versions with different connection speeds and many, many types of cables.

The USB Implementers Forum, the group of companies that oversees the standard, is fully cognisant of this problem, which it wants to solve with a new type of cable dubbed Type-C. This plug is designed to replace USB Type-A and Type-B ports of all sizes on phones, tablets, computers, and other peripherals. Type-C will support the new, faster USB 3.1 spec with room to grow beyond that as bandwidth increases.

It’s possible that in a few years, USB Type-C will have become the norm, totally replacing the tangled nest of different cables that we all have balled up in our desk drawers. For now, it’s just another excuse to pass around that dog-eared XKCD comic about the proliferation of standards. While we wait to see whether Type-C will save us from cable hell or just contribute to it, let’s take a quick look at where USB has been over the years, what competing standards it has fought against, and what technologies it will continue to grapple with in the future.

What it replaced

If you’ve only been using computers for the last decade or so, it can be easy to take USB for granted. But for all of its ever-shifting specs and connectors, it’s still a huge improvement over what came before.

If you were using a computer anytime before the dawn of USB in the Pentium and Pentium II eras, connecting pretty much anything to your computer required any one of a large variety of ports. Connecting a mouse? Maybe you need a PS/2 connector or a serial port. A keyboard? PS/2 again, maybe the Apple Desktop Bus, or a DIN connector. Printers and scanners generally used big old parallel ports, and you could also use them for external storage if you didn’t want to use SCSI. Connecting gamepads or joysticks to your computer often required a game port, which by the 90s was commonly found on dedicated sound cards (these were the days before audio chips became commonplace on desktop and laptop motherboards).

You can see the problem. Some of these ports required their own dedicated expansion cards, they all took up a bunch of space, and they were often fussy when it came time to configure or troubleshoot them. By the late 90s, computers were starting to come with a couple of USB ports, usually a couple of them on the back of the system — these were usually USB 1.1 ports, capable of speeds up to 12Mbps (or 1.5Mbps for peripherals like keyboards and mice). Accessory makers didn’t all make the switch to USB right away, but keyboards, mice, printers, and other accessories began to include USB ports and connectors as an option, then as the primary interface.

When USB 2.0 became more widespread in the early-to-mid 2000s, it began to replace even more things. USB flash drives had a hand in the death of the floppy disk (and proprietary relatives like the Zip drive), and in the slow fade of optical media — why use CDs and DVDs for data storage and operating system install media when smaller, faster, more versatile USB drives can get the job done more quickly? USB 2.0 also made it feasible to connect external peripherals — like Wi-Fi adapters, optical drives, Ethernet ports, and so on — that previously needed to be installed inside the computer. Transfer speeds of up to 480Mbps helped make all of this possible, and in this era USB ports began to multiply and completely replace older legacy ports on desktops and (especially) laptops. It was pretty common to find four or more USB ports on the back of desktops, as well as one or two more mounted on the front for easy access.

USB really came of age with USB 2.0, and USB 3.0’s increase in speeds to 5Gbps has made it even more useful for all of the use cases mentioned above — it takes less time to perform system backups or to move giant video files around, and it relieves a bottleneck for 802.11ac or gigabit Ethernet adapters. It’s relatively comfortable to run entire operating systems from USB 3.0 hard drives or flash drives, especially useful if you’re trying to troubleshoot a machine or recover data from it. USB ports are often the only ports available on laptops, especially since Wi-Fi has reduced the need for dedicated Ethernet ports. The ubiquity of the interface guarantees support from all major chipmakers, from Intel to Qualcomm to AMD. (Intel’s current chipsets support a total of 14 USB ports, a far cry from the two-ish that were usually available on early systems.)

In other words, USB isn’t without its problems, but it’s managed to gain and keep wide support from technology companies and the basic USB Type-A connector found on most computers has stayed the same size and shape for close to 20 years. Considering the patchwork of interfaces it came to replace, that’s no small feat. Continue reading

BBC News: CNET News Site attacked by Russian hacker group


CNET twitter feedCNET was informed about the hack attack via a Twitter conversation

A Russian hacker group has attacked the news site CNET. It later said it stole usernames, encrypted passwords and emails for more than one million users.

CNET said a representative from the group – which calls itself ‘w0rm’ – informed it about the hack via a Twitter conversation.

A spokeswoman for CBS Interactive – the owner of CNET – said the firm had “identified the issue and resolved it”.

According to CNET, w0rm offered to sell the database for 1 Bitcoin, or $622.

But it added that the hacking group said the plan to sell the database was to gain attention and “nothing more”.

Improve security?

The representative of the group claimed that it hacked CNET servers to improve the overall security on the internet.

The group has claimed to have successfully hacked the BBC last year, as well as websites of Adobe and Bank of America.

It says that by targeting high-profile websites it can raise awareness of security issues.

“We are driven to make the Internet a better and safer [place] rather than a desire to protect copyright,” the representative said in a Twitter exchange with CNET.

On Monday, the representative offered a security solution to CNET by tweeting: “#CNET I have good protection system for u, ping me”.

According to CNET, 27.1 million unique users visited its desktop and mobile sites in the US in June this year.

BBC News

Wired: The Brilliant Machine That Could Finally Fix Airport Security


Fans at a World Cup game at Arena de Baixada stadium in Curitiba, Brazil use the Qylatron to go through security.Fans at a World Cup game at Arena de Baixada stadium in Curitiba, Brazil use the Qylatron to go through security. PHOTO: Qylur

Australian fans pumped to see their team take on Spain during the first round of the World Cup were intrigued by the honeycomb-like machine that had replaced the standard manual search process at Arena de Baixada stadium in Curitiba, Brazil. They were less thrilled when the machine spotted the toy kangaroos they were trying to sneak into the match.

That machine is the Qylatron Entry Experience Solution, and it could soon replace a crappy experience of going through security checks at airports and other venues with one that’s faster and less invasive. Instead of having a human poke around in your bag, the machine scans it for a variety of threats in just a few seconds. Searching those Aussies and other soccer fans may prove to be a watershed moment for the system, a successful test of how well it can spot trouble and move people through security, efficiently and with their dignity intact.

The system is the work of Silicon Valley-based Qylur Security Systems, and it consists of five pods that sit around a central sensor. The process is a much closer to being pleasant than having your stuff searched by hand at a stadium or going through the mundane horrors of TSA security. You don’t have to open your bag or let any else touch it. And with five people moving through at once, you’re through security before you have time to really get annoyed.

The whole process is simple. You hold your ticket up to the machine, and it assigns you a pod, in which you place your bag in. Each pod is about the size of a big microwave, so will fit most bags, but maybe not the biggest carry-ons you can take on a plane (though Qylur presumably could tweak the size). Close the door and walk around to the other side. In the time it takes you to get over there, the machine scans the bag for a range of threats. Qylur isn’t keen on explaining how the technology works, but we know it has radiation and chemical sensors to pick out explosives. With a multi-view X-ray, it runs the images it sees through a detection engine that uses machine learning to pick out prohibited items like guns and knives. If it sees a threat, it alerts a security officer, and the door of the pod turns red. If not, the door turns green, and you unlock it with your ticket. Take your bag and go.

Before Qylur can lock down contracts to move into airports and other venues, it has to prove the system works. So it went to Brazil, where it was hired by an event operations company running some World Cup games. Qylur was given responsibility for one entrance to Arena de Baixada stadium, for four games. Continue reading

Genetically-engineered moths make spider silk for flameproof pants


Monster Silk moths are genetically engineered to produce spider silk. They have been engineered with red eyes so scientists can tell them apart from conventional moths.Monster Silk moths are genetically engineered to produce spider silk. They have been engineered with red eyes so scientists can tell them apart from conventional moths.Kraig Labs

Spider silk is widely considered a superfibre, a near magical material with potential medical and military applications. The problem is that cost-effective mass production has eluded scientists for years. Until now, it seems. A Michigan firm has brought us one step closer thanks to a genetically engineered silkworm, modified to produce spider silk.

Kraig Biocraft Laboratories, based in Michigan, announced today that it has found a way to double the production rate of its commercial product, called Monster Silk. The ramp-up takes the company another step closer to market, and away from the R&D stage.

Spider silk is stronger and lighter than most other fabrics, so it could be used in things like body armour, medical sutures and, oddly, underwear. The US military is experimenting with silk underwear to protect soldiers’… privates … from explosions, since silk doesn’t melt onto skin when exposed to heat. It also resists penetration by finer particles like sand and dirt, which can keep wounds clean.

“Our production system is the only commercially viable technology for producing spider silk,” says Kim Thompson, Kraig’s founder and CEO. Genetically engineered silkworms are “the only way to go.”

Kraig Labs’ spider silk is produced by inserting specific spider genes into silkworm chromosomes. Then the worms (actually moths) produce threads nearly identical to spider silk. The company can vary the silk’s flexibility, strength, and toughness by moving around the DNA sequence. It’s been talking about the technology since at least 2010, and is now finally moving closer to commercialisation.

Kraig’s current production run is largely headed to Warwick Mills, a specialty textile manufacturer that focuses on protective applications like body armour and fireproof wearables. They are making the first Monster Silk textiles, and their research will lay the groundwork for the first commercial sales as soon as next year.

Medical and military applications are where the money is, along with the opportunity to save lives. But those markets will take years to reach fruition thanks to lengthy FDA and military approval processes. In the shorter term, Thompson is interested in making dress shirts and neck ties. The traditional silk clothing market is worth as much as $5 billion per year. “No one material can ever satisfy all textile needs,” he says, and he believes spider silk will see increased usage in textile blends in the near future.

“We’re hoping to add one more arrow to the quiver, and we think it’s a multi-billion dollar arrow.”

This article originally appeared on Wired.com

Wired UK


Editors Note: One has to wonder what would happen if the genetically-engineered moths mated with the conventional moth!

 

#Amazon seeks #US #federal permission to test delivery #drones near #Seattle


Company wants to deploy ‘Prime Air’ to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aircrafts flying at 50mph.

Amazon 'Prime Air' would use 'octocopter' mini-drones to deliver small packages to consumers.Amazon ‘Prime Air’ would use ‘octocopter’ mini-drones to deliver small packages to consumers. Photograph: Amazon/AFP/Getty Images

Amazon.com Inc is seeking permission from US regulators to test its delivery drones near Seattle, as part of a rapid expansion of a programme that has sparked widespread debate over the safety and privacy implications of drone technology.

Chief Executive Jeff Bezos wants to use drones – small unmanned aircraft – to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less as part of the programme dubbed “Prime Air.” The company is developing drones that can fly at speeds of 50 miles per hour.

Now Amazon is seeking permission to test drones in areas near Seattle, where one of its research and development labs is working on the technology, according to a letter posted on the Federal Aviation Administration’s website on Thursday.

Currently Amazon can test drones indoors and in other countries. But it cannot conduct R&D flight tests in open outdoor space in the state of Washington, where Amazon has its headquarters.

“Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States,” the company said in the letter, dated 9 July and signed by Paul Misener, head of global public policy for Amazon.

In 2012, Congress required the FAA to establish a road map for the broader use of drones. The FAA has allowed limited use of drones in the US for surveillance, law enforcement, atmospheric research and other applications.

Last year, the US government created six sites for companies, universities and others to test drones for broader commercial use in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia.

But the area near Seattle, where Amazon wants to conduct its tests, is not among those sites. Amazon plans to use one or more of the six FAA sites, but said in the letter that it would be “impractical” to limit its testing to those areas.

Bezos, who founded Amazon 20 years ago, disclosed the “Prime Air” drone programme on the CBS television program “60 Minutes” late last year. His plan was derided by some as a mere publicity stunt, while others raised privacy concerns and said the technology needed more refinement.

Despite the controversy, Amazon has rapidly grown the drones team in the past five months. It has hired roboticists, aeronautical engineers and a former Nasa astronaut, and recently advertised for a full-time communications manager for the programme.

Delivering packages by drones will one day be “as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” Amazon said in the 9 July letter.

The Guardian