Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nanotech Brings Better Batteries

Nanotech Brings Better Batteries By: Rebecca Kutzer-Rice

Researchers at MIT are using nanotechnology to build a new kind of lithium-ion battery whose charge will last much longer than the batteries of today.

Whenever I pack for a trip, I have to save room in my suitcase for a tangle of battery chargers. One for my cell phone, another for my iPod, others for my laptop and my electric toothbrush. Depending on how long I’ll be away, sometimes I stash more chargers than I do T-shirts. Researchers at MIT are using nanotechnology to develop a new breed of rechargeable battery—one whose charge will last up to 10 times longer than the batteries of today.

Most current portable devices—from MP3 players to electric lawn mowers—employ lithium-ion batteries, which emerged in the 1990s. In its basic design, a lithium-ion battery contains three basic parts: an anode (a negative electrode), a cathode (a positive electrode), and an electrolyte (a highly conductive material). To produce an electrical current and power a device, positively charged ions travel across the electrolyte to the cathode. Later, in the recharging process, the ions, now negatively charged, return to the anode.

In the new design, carbon nanotubes are added to the battery to replace the anode and the cathode. The nanotubes self-assemble into a stiff but porous substance that contains many oxygen molecules, which are able to store large numbers of lithium ions. This unique design allows the structure to serve as both the positive and the negative electrode in the battery.

This diagram illustrates how lithium ions bond to the oxygen ions on a carbon nanotube, ultimately creating a higher-power battery (Source: Yang Shao-Horn, MIT).

The insertion of carbon nanotubes promises great improvements for traditional lithium-ion batteries. In addition to providing much higher energy output, the new batteries also show improved stability over time. After being charged and discharged 1,000 times—a test that would weaken a traditional battery—the carbon-nanotube batteries showed no signs of decreased performance.

The current device would be suitable for portable devices, like iPods and cell phones. The scientists envision that that a higher capacity version could have larger uses, such as in hybrid cars.

While I won’t be leaving my battery chargers at home just yet, carbon-nanotube batteries could mean more room in my suitcase on future trips, when my devices will keep their charges for plenty of time.

Findings were published in Nature Nanotechnology. Researchers from MIT included Yang Shao-Horn, Paula Hammond, Seung Woo, Naoaki Yabuuchi, and Betar Gallant.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Where are all the IT job seekers?

Where are all the IT job seekers?

To: IT Job Seekers

The job market has turned and opportunities abound, but are you still looking for a job? Don't give up. Help is one the way!

Key Takeaway: IT Recruiters are searching for top IT talent and can't find you.

We can see the demand for IT Job Seekers really picking up. We have new companies signing up to join us at the 2010 National BDPA Career Fair & Tech Expo and new companies have subscribed to our online BDPA Career Center too.

3 Tips to Help BDPA Job Seekers in Today's Information Technology Industry

1) Post your resume now!

BDPA Career Center - Job Seeker's Page

BDPA Career Center Subscribers (as of 6/27/10)

Allstate Insurance





Excelsior College

Freddie Mac



Johnson & Johnson

JPMorgan Chase

Marriott International

Mayo Clinic

Merck & Company

NCCI Holdings

Online Computer Library Center



Quest Diagnostics

SC Johnson

State Farm Insurance

The Travelers Companies

Turner Broadcasting System

US Air Force


Walgreen Company


Wells Fargo Bank

2) Join Us Online!

Don't miss this unique opportunity to engage directly with IT Recruiters. They are looking for you on Facebook, LinkedIn, and on Twitter. Follow our daily tweets to our fast growing online community of recruiters and hiring managers who are online and looking for you.

3) Join Us in Philly!

2010 National BDPA Career Fair & Tech Expo

Professional Development Workshops and Seminars

Panel Discussions

Career Planning Workshop

Private Career Coaching Sessions

This message has been brought to you by BDPA, where IT Job Seekers and IT Recruiters meet each and every day.

Please accept our invitation to join us in the City of Brotherly Love by registering for the 32nd Annual National BDPA Conference, ( July 28 – 31, 2010 at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA.

Hotel Rooms Are Now Going Fast: Please Book Now !!!

Reserve your room today by contacting the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown at 1-800-266-9432 and ask for the BDPA (Black Data Processing Associates) rate or register online.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Finally, the Medical Tricorder!!

An MRI Machine in the Palm of the Hand By: Rebecca Kutzer-Rice
Utilizing nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, German researchers have developed a magnet that could lead to a pocket-sized MRI machine. This technology could revolutionize medical testing and research in other scientific fields.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines have become commonplace in the medical industry. Doctors use them to diagnose life-threatening conditions, such as brain tumors and multiple sclerosis. Despite their usefulness, MRI machines are inefficient. They are huge—often filling an entire room—and incredibly expensive. Scientists at RWTH Aachen University in Germany have created a pocket-sized device that utilizes nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, the technology behind MRI machines.

The new magnet is about the size of a standard D battery and weighs just over 1 pound. Similarly sized magnets have been manufactured in the past, but, unlike others, the new NMR device is capable of making measurements as accurate as those made by much larger models.

A major problem with small magnets is inconsistency; the smaller magnets are, the more imperfections they have. These imperfections are comparable to electronic noise and can impair detection. The goal of the German scientists was to create the smallest but most homogenous magnet possible. According to an article in Technology Review, Frederico Casanova, who headed the project, said, "The important thing we did is to correct the inhomogeneity that comes from imperfections in the magnet."

The new magnet works like a miniature MRI machine (source: Frederico Casanova, RWTH Aachen University).

In their creation of the device, the scientists made modifications to the cylindrical Halbach array, a common design for magnets. Working with samarium cobalt, they placed movable rectangular pieces into the cylindrical base. They then used a computer to calculate the best positions for these pieces in order to eliminate inconsistencies.

With this current design, the magnet’s strength is only 0.7 tesla (a measurement of magnetic flux density). The researchers believe the design could be slightly modified, however, to generate 1.7 tesla. They hope to use other metals to produce an even stronger magnet.

Although massive MRI machines, which provide superb detail, are unlikely to become obsolete, tiny NMR devices could be incredibly useful in many fields. For example, doctors could use them in the office to test for local conditions like blood clots. Additionally, archaeologists and others might use these small machines to test samples in the field.

Have you had unpleasant or expensive MRI experiences? Are you in a field that might benefit from portable devices? Let us know below in the comments section!

New Cars Run on Air

New Cars Run on Air By: Dave Greenfield
Today's electric cars are riddled with problems, mainly due to their inefficient batteries. Lithium-air batteries, which boast more power and a longer charge time, could revolutionize the automobile market.

Many of today's electric cars are powered by large lithium-ion batteries. While the trend of electric automobiles has yet to catch on, lithium-air batteries could revolutionize their recharging mechanism and make these cars more popular than ever.

Society has been discussing the possibility of reliable electric cars for decades, but the drawbacks have always presented bigger problems than most manufacturers could overcome. Even with today's advanced battery technology—the kind that can allow cell phones and iPods to go days between charges—electric cars only go half as far as most gas ones do before a recharge is necessary. Even recharging is a hassle. It requires hours of time and access to power sources that most individuals simply don't have.

Enter lithium-air battery technology. With the potential to have 10 times the energy of its lithium-ion cousin, researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and in other locations are carefully examining the concept.

Lithium-air batteries use a catalytic air cathode that supplies oxygen, an electrolyte and a lithium anode, according to researchers at ANL.

(Source: Argonne National Laboratory)

But don't go selling your gas-guzzling car just yet. Li-air batteries will require advancements in materials design, chemistry and engineering before researchers can realize their vision. Even then, breakthroughs will be required over the next two decades before a viable battery could be adopted in commercial applications.

Still, the U.S. federal government is excited enough to invest in the technology. At the start of May, $34 million in grants to lithium-air battery proposals were offered to researchers. To put that in context, the figure represents about one-third of the money (totaling $109.2 million according to the Department of Energy Budget Authority for Energy Research, Development, & Demonstration Database from the Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School) that the DOE invested in vehicle technologies under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Just One Word . . . Plastics

NatureWorks looks to open source to help bioresin replace oil based plastics

By Alan Shimel

It was over 40 years ago that Walter Brooke as Mr. McGuire uttered that famous line to a young Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate". Back then it was very true. New materials technology including injection molding, made plastic a by-product of cheap petroleum a very lucrative industry. Of course now everything is made of plastic. It can be hard as steel or softer than rubber. But oil ain't cheap no more and neither is plastic!

One company, NatureWorks is hoping to replace petroleum based plastic with bio based resins. But they are going one better. They are open sourcing both the formulation and compounding procedure for their green bio based plastic substitute.

Like ethanol, it remains to be seen if the impact of growing more crops for bio-resins won't have an impact on food crops. There is only so much land for farming and the more we use for bio fuels and bio resins, the less we have for growing good, old fashioned food. But then again, we don't have to worry about a gusher sending millions of gallons into the ocean and polluting our waters and beaches.

Seriously though, another example of taking open source source principles and applying them outside of the software industry. I am not sure how NatureWorks monetizes this, but I guess we will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, here's to you Mrs. Robinson.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

BDPA National Convention Facts

Open-sourced textbooks could ease college costs

Open-sourced textbooks could ease college costs

While it wouldn't be the first open-sourced textbook, it may well be the first not to focus on open source and the first spearheaded by a major university.

Notepad and Schoolbooks [1]

The University of Illinois is going to use a $150,000 federal grant to create textbooks using open-source software so they can be easily customized to the needs of students at all three UI campuses.

I wrote back in April about the open-source textbook [2] created by open source professionals for use in any university that wanted it. The idea was that anyone would be able to join the project and add to it. It was developed on an open-source platform, with a Creative Commons license and, as they explained, "patches welcomed."

The first UI book might be similar - the three campuses have courses focused on research into sustainability [3]. On the Urbana campus, the focus is wide - engineering, liberal arts and sciences and agricultural, consumer and environmental sciences; in Springfield, environmental sustainability is the primary focus; Chicago is home to research in engineering and liberal arts, according to the university.

Charles Evans, the university's associate vice president for academic affairs and project head, said Sen. Dick Durbin, R-Ill., who secured the grant for the university, had hoped the textbooks could be free to students. It appears that's unlikely to be the case, but they will carry a minimal cost [4], he said, and will be available in printed and digital versions.

Even better, the textbook could then be used by other universities, and adapted to their specialties. That textbook on sustainability could be used by Malcolm X. Community College in Chicago once chapters or assignments were added on its program on urban recycling. Each college or university interested in the book could take it, add what was appropriate, delete chapters it deemed unnecessary and add homework assignments or questions specific to its focus at the end of each chapter.

At the same time, the students — and educators — will get a nice education in open source [5]. That'd be nice, as one of the biggest issues involved in such an endeavor is copyright. Educators tend to be rather proprietary about their knowledge and needing to get credit for it. Of course, so much of their job security depends upon published research, so that's understandable.

Hopefully those copyright issues can be resolved, as their employer is behind the project, and the University of Illinois' first open source textbook will be complete by the time the one-year grant ends.

With the ever-skyrocketing cost of college textbooks, that could be none too soon for students.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010 Tops 100 Pink-Slip Partiers With New Jobs Tops 100 Pink-Slip Partiers With New Jobs

By WWJ Technology Editor, Matt Roush

After overwhelmingly successful events over the past 12 months that have seen more than 100 people get hired into new jobs, the IT networking organization is extending invitations to anyone in and around the metro Detroit IT industry to participate in upcoming events.

Results from prior events have been nothing short of outstanding -- dozens of solid leads and business connections made. Hundreds of out of work members have received free training from New Horizons to date. Most importantly, more than 100 people have gotten new jobs as a direct result of these events since the group expanded its focus beyond just casual networking to include helping people find jobs in early 2009.

Job seekers have the ability to network with dozens of the top IT recruiters and headhunters in Metro Detroit. Recruiters and hiring managers have the ability to talk with candidates running the gamut of the IT field -- developers, architects, project and program managers, analysts, help desk personnel, technical writers and more. All events are completely free to attend for job seekers, recruiters, and anyone else that wants to participate.

Said founder Bob Waltenspiel: “What started as a group that just wanted to avoid ‘That Guy’ at other events has truly evolved into a force that helps people, and we couldn’t be happier."

Added co-founder Dave Phillips: "We’re excited about the growth that the group has experienced over the past year, as well as the new opportunities that bring other groups to the mix can bring. However, none of that detracts from our core focus -- bringing the IT community in and around metro Detroit together to help make things happen."

Organizers request that interested parties visit to view photos of past events, and read through the FAQs that have been published regarding how to get the most out of attending one of the upcoming events:

* Thursday, June 24 Casual networking event in the back room of the BlackFinn, Royal Oak. More at this link.

* Thursday, July 15, Pink Slip Party event at the Post Bar, Novi. More at this link.

All events start at 5 p.m.

Five Reasons to Worry About Free WiFi at Starbucks

Five Reasons to Worry About Free WiFi at Starbucks By: Joe Maglitta
It sounds like a smart technology idea. Still …

Like most, I appreciate free stuff, mobile computing and creative use of IT to drive business. And coffee. I'm not ashamed to express my love of Starbucks. I cannot imagine—and fear—a world without the green Goddess of Go. Still, I'm concerned about the chain's recent announcement of free, all-you-can-gulp WiFi in 6,700 company-owned U.S. shops starting July 1. I'm worried for myself as a coffee drinker, for Starbucks as a business and, in my darkest moments, for our nation. Here's why:

1. You think it's tough to get a seat now? Like many over-clocked mobile professionals, I often duck into Starbucks for a quick jolt, a little laptopping, maybe a snack. If I'm lucky, I get a seat. If I'm really lucky, that seat is near a power outlet. Unfortunately, my favorite shops are always clotted with students studying and business types typing. All on laptops. I live in a college town and often work in Manhattan, so maybe I'm extra touchy. But it's hard not to notice: The biggest barnacles are always online. Added congestion from free WiFi will only make Starbucks less inviting for all except committed homesteaders.

It will only get worse.

2. AT&T nets already groaning. Starbucks named AT&T its sole WiFi provider. Will new WiFi traffic strain the carrier's networks the way iPhones and iPads have? Best case: AT&T reinvests cash from the Starbucks deal to fortify its overmatched cell networks. Worst case: Starbucks becomes a network black hole for reliable WiFi AND cell coverage, sparking an angry backlash.

3. Security and tech support. It will take smart on-site security to avoid enabling fishing-in-a-barrel by password sniffers and stealers. And there better be at least one person in every store who can troubleshoot/reboot a router, or heaven help us all.

4. Revenue and profit pressures. Table squatters may nurse a Tall or a bottled water. By and large, though, they're cheap. In fact, I'll bet that, somewhere in Starbucks corporate, there is a chart showing that the more time customers spend in a store, the less money they spend. It's easy to imagine that's why Starbucks brewed up the idea. “Customers hanging around and not buying scones and lattes? Let's double down, get more of them to hang out more. We can sell more in-store and online …” But while buyer butts might be in Starbucks, their browsers are on the Web. So while there's good reason to buy coffee at the store, why would I buy music from Starbucks just because I'm sitting in one? In-store online deals would have to be really compelling (i.e. cheap). Perhaps instant coupons for discounted in-store CDs. Coupled with the cost of providing free WiFi, such discounting could further strain company and partner profits. Overall, you'd need pretty great reasons to stay and read ads, offers, etc. on a Starbucks/Yahoo page. Planned free access to the Wall Street Journal and Zagat is a good start.

5. Potential loss of U.S. leadership, innovation, productivity and American greatness. Rival Dunkin Donuts' ads proclaim thatAmerica Runs on Dunkin.” Sorry DD, that's only partially true. Based on my observations, America's leaders overwhelmingly get their caffeine at Starbucks. Can you imagine the economic impact if enough Alphas decided they'd had it with Starbucks for reasons above and switched to, say, green tea, or worse, quit caffeine altogether? Devastating. Maybe that's java jitters talking. But it could happen. Now that I think of it, expanding Starbucks shops might be an excellent use of any TARP money still hanging around …

Fourth Places: Caffeinated Libraries, Starbucks U.

I hope I am wrong about all this. Like I said, I love Starbucks. It is one of America's, if not the world's, great companies. The people who run it are certainly smarter and richer than me. That includes Stephen Gillett, CIO, EVP and GM of Digital Ventures at Starbucks. Free, customized in-store surfing/shopping might well be a brilliant new strategy. The Starbucks Digital Network could provide a much-needed new model for narrowcast publishing. Maybe more stores will do what I've seen in midtown Manhattan—create a library-like alcove for the long-term laptop lingerers. And I'm certainly not against a social “third place” for students and job seekers; I've been there.

I'd also like for Starbucks, in addition to turning their stores into libraries, to cut more deals for coffee shops and free wireless in public libraries. Doing so would bring much-needed revenue, patrons and caffeine. Nobody cares if people linger at the library—you're supposed to. My wife, ever a visionary optimist, has another idea: Why couldn't Starbucks expand and officially become a location for solopreneurs like her? (And she doesn't even drink coffee.) Offer social groups, live and online courses, like Small Business Administration, with better beverages, company and music. Starbucks U.?

Fact is, I have a wireless broadband card, so I can go anywhere I want. I just prefer to go to Starbucks. I'll bet I spend a good $1,000+ a year there on coffee and food alone. But if I can never get a seat, I'll go elsewhere. Smart, “no-brainer” tech ideas like free WiFi can sometimes cause unexpected headaches. Starbucks should be careful that all-you-can-sip WiFi isn't a last cup for people like me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Motivational Monday

Thought for the Day

June 20, 2010


For an achiever, perhaps the most dangerous, most destructive habit of all is procrastination, for it robs you of your initiative. When you put things off once, it’s easier to put them off again, until the habit is so firmly ingrained that it cannot be easily broken. Sadly, the effects of the habit of procrastination are also cumulative. Its cure is obvious-action. You’ll be surprised how quickly you begin to feel better about yourself and your situation when you get going on something-anything. As British prime minister and author Benjamin Disraeli said, "Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action."

This positive message is brought to you by the Napoleon Hill Foundation. Visit us at

Motivational Monday

Thought for the Day

June 20, 2010


For an achiever, perhaps the most dangerous, most destructive habit of all is procrastination, for it robs you of your initiative. When you put things off once, it’s easier to put them off again, until the habit is so firmly ingrained that it cannot be easily broken. Sadly, the effects of the habit of procrastination are also cumulative. Its cure is obvious-action. You’ll be surprised how quickly you begin to feel better about yourself and your situation when you get going on something-anything. As British prime minister and author Benjamin Disraeli said, "Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action."

This positive message is brought to you by the Napoleon Hill Foundation. Visit us at

Can X Prize help deliver Gulf region from BP oil disaster?

Can X Prize help deliver Gulf region from BP oil disaster?

X Prize Foundation CEO Diamandis says innovative group will talk with White House

By Layer 8

The X Prize Foundation, known for offering millions of dollars in prize money to drive innovations in aerospace, life science and energy will soon offer its potentially extensive help to the White House in an effort to tackle challenges of the devastating BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"We have a call with the White House on Saturday to address clean up and or prevention," said Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation during an interview today at the Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship at Babson College.

10 hot energy projects that could electrify the world

While he wouldn't divulge exactly what proposals his foundation had regarding helping out on the BP oil spill mess he said, "We have lots of ideas we will present."

"One of the biggest challenges is defining what is a reasonable objective for such a project," Diamandis said.

Addressing the challenges of the oil spill and helping develop new ideas about preventing future spill problems would not be out of the purview of the foundation. A recent X Prize Foundation "Visioneering" workshop included: designing low-cost housing for the more than 1 billion people living without shelter; developing an artificial intelligence physician that can diagnose people in areas where there is no healthcare or access is limited; and mitigating the pollution caused by plastics choking the oceans.

Meanwhile, the government needs all the help it can get too as the amount of oil still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico rises everyday and criticism about how the cleanup is being handled mounts. BP CEO Tony Hayward and other oil executives have been skewered in Capitol Hill hearings this week as well.

The US Coast Guard last week issued a call for better specialized technology to help it better respond to the ever-widening BP Deepwater oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard is looking for all manner of technology such as advanced wireless sensors to help it track the movement and amount of oil in the Gulf.

The US Coast Guard Research and Development Center will evaluate the submissions - and their potential cost - to determine if the technology as a potential for immediate benefit to the spill response effort, the Coast Guard stated.

Friday, June 18, 2010

HP says IT pros need own social network

HP says IT pros need own social network

HP's near-beta social network, dubbed 48Upper, is about solving tech issues, not dating
By Patrick Thibodeau

WASHINGTON -- Despite the flood of existing social networking tools, Hewlett-Packard Co. will soon introduce its own social network, albeit specifically aimed at IT professionals.

It's called 48Upper and it comes with its own "manifesto," which says this about IT pros: "We have lived with the stereotype of being introverted, pessimistic loners for too long."

There's also video on that shows IT workers laughing, smiling and working in cubicles with stuffed animals.

This anti-Dilbert version of IT aside, 48Upper (which gets its name from a building an HP building in Cupertino, Calif.), incorporates familiar social networking tools, collaborative, friend-based, knowledge sharing, but is clearly aimed at users of HP system management tools.

The product is being readied for beta testing, and HP officials discussed some aspects of it at its software conference here.

There are a number of elements that make 48Upper different from the mainstream social networks.

Ever since e-mail, IT pros have networked with people outside their companies and institutions for help. The designers of 48Upper still expect users to seek out help from external IT folk, but this tool will have a few steps to help them filter out information that might reveal what a company might otherwise want to keep quiet.

Deliver as software-as-a-service (SaaS), 48Upper will be using the queries to build up technology libraries. The subscriber will be able control how the technical information is shared. If the information is tagged 'public," it will be available to other subscribers of service, otherwise it is kept for internal use.

"A lot of what we do in IT is not state secrets," said Matthew Schvimmer, senior director of HP Business Technology Operations products.

The technology information in 48Upper's database won't be limited to HP products, and Schvimmer said he expects 48Upper's library to have information on any technology used by an IT shop. The social network will also be able to take advantage of HP's business management systems and be used, for instance, to transmit alerts.

One HP management systems user, Henry Yam, vice president of enterprise management at asset management firm Neuberger Berman LLC, was unfamiliar with the service but saw potential in the concept, saying, "It would greatly help."

"Right now it's a hodgepodge world out there," said Yam, adding that IT workers may be running from vendor forum to another in search for an answer.

Schvimmer said the collaborative tools are particularly needed because IT pros today are handed responsibilities that may require some expertise across multiple disciplines, making the need for networking important.

Dell backtracks slightly on Ubuntu safety

Dell backtracks slightly on Ubuntu safety

Dell's Ubuntu page looks a wee bit different than it did yesterday.

By Amy Vernon

In a move that probably shocks no one, Dell has removed a statement that Ubuntu is more secure than Microsoft Windows from its website.

Given that Dell sells computers pre-loaded with Windows, one might imagine the company came under a wee bit of pressure from the software maker. As I reported yesterday, in Dell's Top Ten things you should know about Ubuntu, No. 6 was

Ubuntu is safer than Microsoft® Windows®

The vast majority of viruses and spyware written by hackers are not designed to target and attack Linux.

Here's a link to the cached page and here's a photo of the cached page:

Today, No. 6 simply says:

Ubuntu is secure

According to industry reports, Ubuntu is unaffected by the vast majority of viruses and spyware.

I put a call in to the Dell media relations folks an hour or two ago and I'll update once (not if - I'm nothing if not an optimist) I hear back from them.

Supreme Court ruling lets employers view worker text messages with reason

ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick may have started this. :-)

Supreme Court ruling lets employers view worker text messages with reason

Overturns earlier rulings that search violated fourth amendment rights of California police officer
By Jaikumar Vijayan

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that employers have the right to search through text messages, including personal ones, sent by workers if they have reason to believe that workplace rules are being violated.

The ruling ( download PDF ) overturns an earlier decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case involving a California police officer who had claimed his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated when supervisors conducted a search of his text messages.

The Ninth Circuit court had ruled that the city of Ontario, Calif., violated the officer's constitutional rights when police supervisors read transcripts of personal messages, including several sexually explicit ones, that Sgt. Jeff Quon sent using his city-issued SWAT pager.

Quon filed a federal lawsuit against the city, its police chief and the police department in October 2004, contending that the search of his pager was unreasonable.

The suit contended that when Quon and other officers were issued the pagers, the city had no policy related to text-messaging. The city did, however, have official policies surrounding general computer, Internet and e-mail usage policy that limited use to official purposes.

Under the city's contract with Arch Wireless, (since purchased by USA Mobility Wireless Inc.), each pager was allotted 25,000 characters per month.

An informal policy required police officers who exceeded that amount to pay for the overage to avoid auditing, according to papers filed with the court. Quon was one of several officers who frequently exceeded that limit largely on account of his sending numerous private messages, including sexually explicit messages to others, including his wife, the papers said.

The police department discovered the personal use when it was conducting a review of pager use to see whether the 25,000-character limit was adequate for official purposes.

Quon claimed the search was a violation of his constitutional right against unreasonable search. He claimed that he had been led to believe that the personal messages he sent and received using the pager would not be audited if he paid for the personal use.

The city, for its part argued that any expectation of privacy was subjective at best. It argued that Quon knew about the department's written policies relating to computer use and the fact that text messages sent on the department's pagers were subject to public disclosure requests under the California Public Records Act.

The police department also argued that the payment for overages that Quon made stemmed from an informal billing practice and not an official department policy.

The city's arguments however were dismissed first by the Central District Court of California and later by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Both courts ruled that Quon did indeed have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the personal text messages he sent on his official pager.

In today's ruling the Supreme Court however held that the search was justified because the police department had a "legitimate work-related rationale" in conducting it.

"The City and OPD had a legitimate interest in ensuring that employees were not being forced to pay out of their own pockets for work-related expenses, or on the other hand that the City was not paying for extensive personal communications," the court ruled.

"That the search did reveal intimate details of Quon's life does not make it unreasonable, for under the circumstances a reasonable employer would not expect that such a review would intrude on such matters," the court said.

At the same time, the Supreme Court court said it was hesitant to use the facts from this one case to establish "far-reaching premises" involving employee privacy expectations when using employer-provided communication devices.

"The Court must proceed with care when considering the whole concept of privacy expectations in communications made on electronic equipment owned by a government employer," the decision said. "The judiciary risks error by elaborating too fully on the Fourth Amendment implications of emerging technology before its role in society has become clear."

Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology said the key to the Supreme Court's opinion is what is missing from the ruling.

Rather than curtailing workplace privacy, the ruling makes it clear that employers have the right to search employee communications but only if they have a good reason for doing so, Dempsey said in an e-mail statement.

"Unless a 'no privacy' policy is clear and consistently applied, an employer should assume that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy and should proceed carefully, with a good reason and a narrow search, before examining employee emails, texts or Internet usage," Dempsey said.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Location-Aware Apps: Will We Lose Privacy Location Forever?

Location-Aware Apps: Will We Lose Privacy Location Forever?

Are you a human homing beacon? Privacy risks skyrocket in proportion to the plethora of programs that share users’ real-time location information.

By Ms. Smith

With the increasing popularity and expected market explosion of location-aware applications, the dangerous side effects of location-sharing should be addressed. This mean corporations need to put some effort into user-friendly privacy controls. Lip service and a generic privacy policy will not cut it. And yet, recent research shows that nearly 1/3 of location-aware applications have no published privacy policy at all -- let alone backing a policy with teeth.

Like lax security and the subsequent breach that inevitably follows, once someone's privacy has been victimized, it cannot be undone. That's when people start screaming about their data going public and pointing fingers. I urge location-aware developers and companies to be transparent and proactive about privacy. So I was especially interested in some research by Carnegie Mellon's CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory (CUPS). CUPS surveyed 587 American Internet users and analyzed the privacy policies of 89 location-sharing services.

According to The Location-Sharing Technologies: Privacy Risks and Controls research, 66% of location-aware applications have privacy policies. But those policies don't do much to protect the user. Most of them say they will be collecting and saving all location data, personal profile information, and identifying web information like IP addresses for an indefinite amount of time. Who do they share their information with? If we authorize service A to handle our data, but A talks to Service B which then connects to Service C, users have the right to know that Service B and C now also have their information. Service A might be extremely secure, but what if B or C is hacked?

76% of location apps do have privacy controls, but 70% lack immediately accessible privacy controls. That's unacceptable.

I'm not saying that there is no potential value of these location-aware applications at all. People that participated in the study said there are some applications that are worth the privacy risks. These include finding people in an emergency, finding information based on location that you actually want (like directions to the nearest coffee shop), and finding (and tracking) your teenagers.

The greatest expected harms from using location-based apps are revealing one’s home and being stalked, respondents said. The study revealed people also worried about being tracked by the government and didn't want to be annoyed by receiving ads based on one’s locations.

The Please Rob Me service initially pointed out the potential risks of over-sharing by aggregating publicly shared check-ins and tweeting who was where. The site stopped its social experiment after its creators were satisfied that they had freaked out a significant number of location-aware app users.

The EFF sounded a warning nearly a year ago On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever. I contacted the EFF about location-aware apps. EFF's Rebecca Jeschke pointed out, "A lot of location-based technologies are very useful and interesting. But it's important to ask a few key questions before you decide to interact with these applications. Location-based technologies often create and store records of your movements, so you should learn what a company's policy is about how long those records are kept, who can access them, and how they are protected. Location-based services can make it possible for others to know a lot about your life, and so we'd like to see more technologies created with privacy-protecting algorithms built in. Then we can enjoy their convenience without the privacy risk."

Geofencing is a virtual perimeter or "fence" around a location. When people carry cell phones across that perimeter, the system becomes aware of their proximity. It can then push information to the nearby phones. Applications in personal security through geofencing could range from alerting a mom that her child has left the school grounds, to alerting people that approach the perimeter of a looming natural disaster. But a coffee shop pinging your cell phone with a cappuccino bargain when you’re 300 feet away? Geofencing should provide a service, not an ad, and needs to have transparent settings to opt in and out.

The more people purchase smart-phones and other GPS-enabled devices, the more these services will grow. Unlike the Facebook privacy debacle with its third party apps full of potential holes to be exploited, users that try location-aware apps become human homing beacons. A "privacy catastrophe" could mean being mugged or raped. Why wait for that before pushing for privacy rights and addressing location-aware privacy issues?

Let's press for privacy controls before these location-aware apps misuse our trust. It's too late after that trust has been broken with location breaches which could have annoying to deadly consequences.

As much as it pains me to admit it, there are potential benefits, so this is a fight worth fighting. More security information about identifying privacy attacks and current defense techniques can be read here: Privacy in Location-Based Applications: Research Issues and Emerging Trends.

New Supernova Type Sheds Light on Universe's Origins

New Supernova Type Sheds Light on Universe's Origins By: R. Colin Johnson

Scientists have discovered a third type of supernova that could explain the universe’s previously puzzling abundance of calcium—which enabled the evolution of life—as well as eliminate at least one reason to hypothesize the existence of dark matter.

Standard astronomical theory maintains that all the elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were created and dispersed by supernovae of two different types: hot, young giants that explode in a violent display and then collapse under their own weight; and very old, dense, white dwarves that explode in a thermonuclear explosion. Unfortunately, the universe as we know it has many more heavy elements—like the calcium that makes up your body—that cannot be accounted for by those two types of supernovae.

Now astronomers at the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) claim to have discovered a third type of supernova that could account for the abundance of calcium in the universe—as well as eliminate one reason to postulate "dark matter."

The new type of supernova first appeared in telescopes in 2005, but it took five years for the scientists to collect, analyze and explain the faint evidence from this odd sighting. By combining data from many different telescopes from around the world to determine its chemical makeup, the scientists now surmise that they are witnessing a new type of supernova.

The new supernova ejected too little material for it to be an exploding giant, and yet that material's chemical makeup did not match that of white dwarfs. Exploding white dwarfs eject mainly carbon and oxygen, but the new supernova had an abundance of calcium and titanium, which are usually produced in thermonuclear reactions involving helium.

A new type of supernova involves two stars: a donor and a thief. The latter (A) steals helium from its less massive, but larger, companion (B), which becomes hot and dense enough for a nuclear explosion (C) that releases calcium and titanium—the building blocks of life. It is unknown if the thief survives the explosion (D1) or collapses into a neutron star the size of a big city on Earth (D2). (Source: Dr. Avishay Gal-Yam, Weizmann Institute of Science)

To explain the odd behavior, the astronomers at the Weizmann Institute ran computer simulations in an attempt to deduce just what circumstances could have produced this unique supernova. By simulating different possible circumstances that could account for the presence of helium, the astronomers finally concluded that a pair of closely coupled white dwarves had to be involved. The unstable star stole helium from the donor during close passes until it reached a critical level, resulting in a fiery nuclear reaction.

Observations show that the main mass of the thief star was not consumed in the nuclear explosion, but the researchers as yet do not know its final fate, since the explosion could have triggered its compression and collapse into a neutron star—a dense, compact object the size of large city on Earth.

After sifting through historical records, the astronomers now believe that this donor/thief phenomenon may be common enough to explain other anomalies besides the abundance of calcium in the universe. In particular, dark matter has been hypothesized as the source of positrons—electrons with a positive charge—in the center of our galaxy. However, this new type of supernova produces a radioactive form of titanium that emits positrons as it decays, potentially explaining the abundance of positrons without the need to postulate dark matte

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dell says Ubuntu is safer than Windows

Dell says Ubuntu is safer than Windows

Linux has a powerful booster in the never-ending debate over what OS is safest from malware and spyware: Dell.

Stethoscope on laptop computer keyboard [1]

Dell's Ubuntu site has a "Top 10" list of "things you should know about Ubuntu [2]." No. 6?

Ubuntu is safer than Microsoft® Windows®

The vast majority of viruses and spyware written by hackers are not designed to target and attack Linux.

The VAR Guy [3] noticed the comment on Dell's site the other day (and created this PDF [4] of a screenshot in case Dell decides it doesn't want to tick off Microsoft and removes it).

I found this amusing in light of the news the other day that a large number of Linux systems had a trojan installed [5] that would grant someone access to your computer, no matter what kind of password or restrictions you had on your server.

And if you search the Secunia Advisory and Vulnerability Database, you find way more security advisories for "Linux [6]" (9963) than for "Windows [7]" (1692) — tighter searches, for "Linux kernel [8]" and "Microsoft Windows [9]" bring fewer advisories and weed out a lot of advisories that really aren't security issues, such as updates for plugins and applications, Linux still has more than Microsoft (819 to 687). Many of the advisories are relatively minor and there's some credence to the argument that there are more reported bugs on Linux because there are more eyes on the code [10]

I say "amusing" simply because if someone wants to do mischief, they can get into any system. Yes, Microsoft seems to face more serious attacks than Linux or other open-source operating systems or software, but a large part of that is scale. You can wreak much more havoc if you attack the system with the largest user base.

Apple fanboys have had to face a harsh reality, too, after years of mocking Microsoft users, viruses and malware [11] that target Macs have reared their ugly heads.

As folks from Symantec Security Response [12] recently told Jeff Bertolucci of our sister publication, PC World, the biggest risk any system faces is from its user. If you download games or screensavers or apps from an unknown source and don't do proper security scans and maintenance, you have a greater chance of running into problems.

Windows will face the largest risk of malicious attacks so long as it commands the largest market share. If Apple or Linux were to overtake it, that OS likely would take over the top spot.

Whatever the case, having a major computer-maker such as Dell touting the security of Linux is a coup and certainly gives those using the Ubuntu distro a certain degree of bragging rights.

I just wonder how soon before Microsoft has a little word with Dell and No. 6 is changed to something along the lines of, "Ubuntu is safe / The vast majority of viruses and spyware written by hackers are not designed to target and attack Linux."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nanotech 'Tattoo' May Help Diabetics

Nanotech 'Tattoo' May Help Diabetics By: Rebecca Kutzer-Rice
Researchers from MIT are developing a new nanotech "tattoo" that displays blood sugar levels and allows diabetics to manage their disease in a hassle-free way.

Last week, I wrote about a new technology being used to diagnose diabetes. Down the road, when diabetics are diagnosed using that innovative breathalyzer, they might maintain proper blood sugar levels with the help of another new nanotech device. MIT researchers Michael Strano and Paul Barone are developing a “tattoo” that will help patients constantly monitor their glucose levels—without having to draw blood.

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 8 percent of the American population currently has this serious disease. Existing technologies require patients to prick their fingers several times a day, enough to make the process a painfully unpleasant chore, to say the least.

“Diabetes is an enormous problem, global in scope, and despite decades of engineering advances, our ability to accurately measure glucose in the human body still remains quite primitive,” says Michael Strano, MIT’s Charles and Hilda Roddey associate professor of chemical engineering. “It is a life-and-death issue for a growing number of people.”

The new sensing system involves injecting glucose-sensitive nanoparticles beneath the skin in a kind of “tattoo.” The patient then wears a wristwatchlike device that tracks the particles. The technology relies on nanotubes that are wrapped in glucose-responsive polymers. When the polymers encounter blood sugar, they cause the nanotubes to flash light, which the sensor recognizes with near-infrared detection. Nanotubes’ unique resilience to light exposure means the device can provide constant information without damaging the particles.

More likely in a bar than a hospital, tattoos might be the future to diabetic health (source: Christine Daniloff via MIT).

Existing wearable devices for blood sugar monitoring are quite flawed. Several types are only approved for weeklong use, while others require pricking the finger for blood. Despite these weak technologies, scientists agree that constant glucose monitoring would be the best way to manage diabetes.

“The most problematic consequences of diabetes result from relatively short excursions of a person’s blood sugar outside of the normal physiological range—following meals, for example,” says Strano. “If we can detect and prevent these excursions, we can go a long way toward reducing the devastating impact of this disease.”

Although the researchers say that they will not be able to test the technology in humans any time soon, they will shortly begin animal trials.

Motivational Moment

Thought for the Day

June 15, 2010


Thomas Edison once observed that the reason most folks don’t recognize opportunity when it comes along is that it is often dressed in coveralls and look like work. Often opportunity involves a great deal of work and a willingness to take a chance on something, the outcome of which may be uncertain. Eventually you reach a point when you must either accept an opportunity with all of its unknowns or else turn your back on it. No one can tell you when you have reached that point; you alone know when it’s time to make your move, to have the courage to take a chance.

This positive message is brought to you by the Napoleon Hill Foundation. Visit us at

Monday, June 14, 2010

Linux Tablets, Where are You?

Linux Tablets, Where are You?

Analysis: It's time for Linux-powered smartphones, tablets and devices to give users top-notch alternatives to Apple.
By Steven J. Vaughan-nichols,

Apple has long had a history of being arrogant. But, more often than not, they've been able to back it up by the quality of their products. But now, with Apple locking out Adobe Flash and Google Ads, not to mention their cute trick of setting up an HTML 5 demo site that only works with Apple's own Safari Web browser, I think Apple has overstepped their authority. It's time for Linux-powered smartphones, tablets and devices to give users top-notch alternatives to Apple's offerings.

Linux, largely thanks to Google Android, has already made progress that way in smartphones. Indeed, even hardcore iPhone users are now thinking about switching to Android phones. There's also a wave of Linux-powered tablets and would-be iPad rivals on their way. But they're not here yet.

While I think that these new Linux devices will do well, I also think they need to be more than just tablets that are cheaper and more open than iPads. As Jim Zemlin, the head of the Linux Foundation, wrote in BusinessWeek, "It's important that open-source products add more value for users than simply being free. Open-source software also needs to be fabulous."


Zemlin went on to write, "Providing a good user experience isn't paramount under the white lights of the data center. In consumer electronics, it's a different story. Mobile Linux vendors must increase their technical investments by working on key open-source projects to make every component used in Linux devices benefit the user experience. That includes making devices boot up faster, connect better, and display graphics more smoothly."

That's why I'm encouraged by such moves as Google's Android team working more closely with the mainstream Linux developers. I'm also really pleased to see that Canonical, the company that makes Ubuntu Linux possible, is now working on enabling touch in Ubuntu, which would make it ideal for tablets.

If any Linux company comes close to appreciating Apple's appeal to average users with its focus on making the interface a pleasure to use, it's Canonical. After all, it was Canonical's founder and Ubuntu's guiding light, Mark Shuttleworth, who said Ubuntu's goal was to deliver "a user experience that can compete with Apple in two years."

Shuttleworth was talking about the desktop. Today, it's all about competing on devices. The day of the PC is fading into the afternoon. With Apple making enemies of one-time partners and closing its software circle ever tighter, now is the time for Linux not only to push forward with its historical advantages of lower prices and open software and standards, but to show the world that Linux devices can be every bit as attractive and user-friendly as its Apple competition.

Novell wins final judgment in SCO battle

Novell wins final judgment in SCO battle

A Utah judge favored Novell on every issue, but SCO could still appeal
By Nancy Gohrin

It's not the first time onlookers have declared that the long-running legal dispute between Novell and SCO is over, but many are saying that a Thursday judgment favoring Novell on all counts is the end of the road.

"The door has slammed shut on the SCO litigation machine," wrote Pamela Jones, a paralegal who has closely followed the SCO v. Novell case since its beginning on her Groklaw blog.

A judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah on Thursday granted Novell's request for declaratory judgment and ruled against SCO's claims of slander and breach of implied covenant of good faith. He also said that SCO is obligated to recognize Novell's waiver of SCO's claims against IBM and other companies that use Linux. He ordered the case closed.

The judgment follows a jury decision in March that found that Novell owns Unix copyrights that SCO had tried to assert as its own.

The battle dates back to 2003 when SCO sued IBM, claiming that it had violated SCO's rights by contributing Unix code to Linux. The following year, SCO sued Novell, saying that it falsely claimed rights to Unix.

Jones notes that SCO could decide to appeal the decision.

SCO did not reply to a request for comment on the judgment.

In a statement, Novell's CEO said it was pleased to see the final judgment upheld all of its claims. "I am very proud of this achievement and the work Novell has done to ensure Linux remains free," said Ron Hovsepian, president and CEO of Novell.