Comcast planning 8 million Wi-Fi hotspots in 19 major cities by year-end

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The Comcast Wi-Fi network only encompasses 1 million hotspots right now, but that number will skyrocket to a whopping 8 million by year’s end, with the cable MSO promising to operate hotspots in 19 of the country’s 30 largest cities.

Cities targeted for new hotspot locations include Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Hartford, Houston, Indianapolis, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

In a blog post, Marcien Jenckes, executive vice president of consumer services for Comcast Cable, said some 200 million out-of-home sessions have been initiated on the company’s Xfinity Wi-Fi network so far in 2014, a 650 percent year-over-year increase.

“Comcast customers now transmit nearly 2 million gigabytes (or half a million DVDs worth) of data through Comcast’s Wi-Fi hotspots each month,” Jenckes added.

Comcast’s hotspots are located at a mix of outdoor locations, businesses and residences.

One of the company’s more controversial efforts has been the creation of “neighborhood hotspots” via the inclusion of a second “xfinitywifi” signal (or SSID) in its residential customers’ home wireless gateways. The second signal provides visiting Xfinity Internet customers with Wi-Fi access without the need to use the homeowner’s private network password. Comcast said 54 percent of Xfinity neighborhood Wi-Fi usage already travels over the second SSID.

“Wi-Fi is part of our broader plan to deliver the fastest in-home and out-of-home Internet experience and power our customers’ growing number of devices and growing Internet use,” Jenckes said.

Though Comcast has indicated an interest in possibly launching a wireless service that would rely on a combination of Wi-Fi and back-up leased capacity on a cellular network, it and other U.S. cable MSOs are currently using Wi-Fi primarily to extend wireless connectivity to their nomadic broadband customers.

The cable industry’s need for Wi-Fi was stressed by other industry execs at this week’s 2014 Cable Show in Los Angeles, according to an article in FierceCable. “There’s so much we can do with Wi-Fi that it’s becoming very important in our new service offerings. It just gives our customers more flexibility,” said Yvette Kanouff, executive vice president of corporate engineering and technology for Cablevision Systems.

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Source: FierceWireless

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Google tech to bring 3D mapping smarts to NASA’s space station robots

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NASA and Google are working together to send new 3D technology aloft to map the International Space Station.

Google said Thursday that its Project Tango team is collaborating with scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center to integrate the company’s new 3D technology into a robotic platform that will work inside the space station. The integrated technology has been dubbed SPHERES, which stands for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites.

NASA astronaut Mike Fossum works with one of the smart Spheres aboard the International Space Station. The robotic orbs will get some 3D-sensing smarts from Google this summer. (Photo: NASA)

The technology is scheduled to launch to the orbiting station this summer, although Google a specific date hasn’t been set.

“The Spheres program aims to develop zero-gravity autonomous platforms that could act as robotic assistants for astronauts or perform maintenance activities independently on station,” according to a Google+ post from the company’s ATAP ( Advanced Technology and Projects) group. “The 3D-tracking and mapping capabilities of Project Tango would allow Spheres to reconstruct a 3D-map of the space station and, for the first time in history, enable autonomous navigation of a floating robotic platform 230 miles above the surface of the earth.”

Earlier this year, Google announced that its Project Tango group is working to build an Android phone with sensors and chips that enable it to map indoor spaces in 3D.

The project, which includes scientists from universities, research labs and commercial partners, is led by Google’s ATAP group.

“Mobile devices today assume the physical world ends at the boundaries of the screen,” said Johnny Lee, the Project Tango leader, in a YouTube video. “Our goal is to give mobile devices a human scale understanding of space and motion.”

Google’s 3D sensing smartphone, which is still in the prototype phase, has customized hardware and software, including a 4-megapixel camera, motion tracking sensors, computer vision processors and integrated depth sensing.

The sensors make more than a quarter of a million 3D measurements every second, fusing the information into a 3D map of the environment.

NASA began working with Google last summer to get Project Tango working on the space station.

The Intelligent Robotics Group at the Ames Research Center is looking to upgrade the smartphones used to power the three volleyball-sized, free-flying robots on the space station. Astronauts will exchange the current smartphones used in the Spheres with the Google prototypes.

Each robotic orb is self-contained, with power, propulsion, computing and navigation equipment, along with expansion ports for additional sensors and appendages, such as cameras and wireless power transfer systems, according to NASA.

“The Project Tango prototype incorporates a particularly important feature for the smart Spheres — a 3D sensor,” said Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group, in a statement. “This allows the satellites to do a better job of flying around on the space station and understanding where exactly they are.”

In February, Google and NASA scientists took the smartphone prototypes on a zero-gravity test flight. The engineers used the flight to calibrate the device’s motion-tracking and positioning code to function properly in space.

NASA scientists say they envision 3D-enabled Spheres could be used to inspect the outside of the space station or the exterior of deep space vehicles.

While Google’s 3D technology is set to go to the space station this summer, a SpaceX resupply mission, which will carry legs for the humanoid robot working on the orbiter, is slated to launch this afternoon.

SpaceX was set to launch its third resupply mission on Monday but the liftoff was postponed due to a leak in the Falcon 9 rocket that will carry the Dragon cargo spacecraft aloft.

Since the summer of 2013, Google and NASA have been working together to bring 3D mapping technology to the International Space Station.

Source: Network World

U.S. Views of Technology and the Future

Science in the next 50 years

Via: Pew Research

Findings

The American public anticipates that the coming half-century will be a period of profound scientific change, as inventions that were once confined to the realm of science fiction come into common usage. This is among the main findings of a new national survey by the Pew Research Center and Smithsonian magazine, which asked Americans about a wide range of potential scientific developments—from near-term advances like robotics and bioengineering, to more “futuristic” possibilities like teleportation or space colonization. In addition to asking them for their predictions about the long-term future of scientific advancement, we also asked them to share their own feelings and attitudes toward some new developments that might become common features of American life in the relatively near future.

Overall, most Americans anticipate that the technological developments of the coming half-century will have a net positive impact on society. Some 59% are optimistic that coming technological and scientific changes will make life in the future better, while 30% think these changes will lead to a future in which people are worse off than they are today.

Many Americans pair their long-term optimism with high expectations for the inventions of the next half century. Fully eight in ten (81%) expect that within the next 50 years people needing new organs will have them custom grown in a lab, and half (51%) expect that computers will be able to create art that is indistinguishable from that produced by humans. On the other hand, the public does see limits to what science can attain in the next 50 years. Fewer than half of Americans—39%—expect that scientists will have developed the technology to teleport objects, and one in three (33%) expect that humans will have colonized planets other than Earth. Certain terrestrial challenges are viewed as even more daunting, as just 19% of Americans expect that humans will be able to control the weather in the foreseeable future.

But at the same time that many expect science to produce great breakthroughs in the coming decades, there are widespread concerns about some controversial technological developments that might occur on a shorter time horizon:

• 66% think it would be a change for the worse if prospective parents could alter the DNA of their children to produce smarter, healthier, or more athletic offspring.

• 65% think it would be a change for the worse if lifelike robots become the primary caregivers for the elderly and people in poor health.

• 63% think it would be a change for the worse if personal and commercial drones are given permission to fly through most U.S. airspace.

• 53% of Americans think it would be a change for the worse if most people wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them. Women are especially wary of a future in which these devices are widespread.

Many Americans are also inclined to let others take the first step when it comes to trying out some potential new technologies that might emerge relatively soon.  The public is evenly divided on whether or not they would like to ride in a driverless car: 48% would be interested, while 50% would not. But significant majorities say that they are not interested in getting a brain implant to improve their memory or mental capacity (26% would, 72% would not) or in eating meat that was grown in a lab (just 20% would like to do this).

Asked to describe in their own words the futuristic inventions they themselves would like to own, the public offered three common themes: 1) travel improvements like flying cars and bikes, or even personal space crafts; 2) time travel; and 3) health improvements that extend human longevity or cure major diseases.

At the same time, many Americans seem to feel happy with the technological inventions available to them in the here and now—11% answered this question by saying that there are no futuristic inventions that they would like to own, or that they are “not interested in futuristic inventions.” And 28% weren’t sure what sort of futuristic invention they might like to own.

These are among the findings of a new survey of Americans’ attitudes and expectations about the future of technological and scientific advancements, conducted by the Pew Research Center in partnership with Smithsonian magazine. The survey, conducted February 13–18, 2014 by landline and cell phones among 1,001 adults, examined a number of potential future developments in the field of science and technology—some just over the horizon, others more speculative in nature. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

Among the detailed findings of this survey:

A majority of Americans envision a future made better by advancements in technology

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When asked for their general views on technology’s long-term impact on life in the future, technological optimists outnumber pessimists by two-to-one. Six in ten Americans (59%) feel that technological advancements will lead to a future in which people’s lives are mostly better, while 30% believe that life will be mostly worse.

Demographically, these technological optimists are more likely to be men than women, and more likely to be college graduates than to have not completed college. Indeed, men with a college degree have an especially sunny outlook: 79% of this group expects that technology will have a mostly positive impact on life in the future, while just 14% expects that impact to be mostly negative. Despite having much different rates of technology use and ownership, younger and older Americans are equally positive about the long-term impact of technological change on life in the future.

Predictions for the future: eight in ten Americans think that custom organ transplants will be a reality in the next 50 years, but just one in five think that humans will control the weather

Americans envision a range of probable outcomes when asked for their own predictions about whether  or not some “futuristic” inventions might become reality in the next half-century. Eight in ten believe that people needing organ transplants will have new organs custom-built for them in a laboratory, but an equal number believe that control of the weather will remain outside the reach of science. And on other issues—for example, the ability of computers to create art rivaling that produced by humans—the public is much more evenly split.

A substantial majority of Americans (81%) believe that within the next 50 years people needing an organ transplant will have new organs custom made for them in a lab. Belief that this development will occur is especially high among men (86% of whom believe this will happen), those under age 50 (86%), those who have attended college (85%), and those with relatively high household incomes. But although expectations for this development are especially high within these groups, three-quarters or more of every major demographic group feels that custom organs are likely to become a reality in the next half-century.

The public is more evenly split on whether computers will soon match humans when it comes to creating music, novels, paintings, or other important works of art: 51% think that this will happen in the next 50 years, while 45% think that it will not. In contrast to their expectations for custom-built organs, college graduates and those with high incomes are comparatively unlikely to expect that computers will advance to this level of development. Some 59% of college graduates and 57% of Americans earning $75,000 or more per year feel that computers will not be able to produce works of art that are on par with those produced by humans within the next 50 years.

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Source: Pew Research

BrainHealth Research Shows Strategic Thinking Strengthens Intellectual Capacity

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Strategy-based cognitive training has the potential to enhance cognitive performance and spill over to real-life benefit according to a data-driven perspective article by the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. The research-based perspective highlights cognitive, neural and real-life changes measured in randomized clinical trials that compared a gist-reasoning strategy-training program to memory training in populations ranging from teenagers to healthy older adults, individuals with brain injury to those at-risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our brains are wired to be inspired,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman,  founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHeath and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. “One of the key differences in our studies from other interventional research aimed at improving cognitive abilities is that we did not focus on specific cognitive functions such as speed of processing, memory, or learning isolated new skills. Instead, the gist reasoning training program encouraged use of a common set of multi-dimensional thinking strategies to synthesize information and elimination of toxic habits that impair efficient brain performance.”

The training across the studies was short, ranging from 8 to 12 sessions delivered over one to two months in 45 to 60 minute time periods. The protocol focused on three cognitive strategies — strategic attention, integrated reasoning and innovation. These strategies are hierarchical in nature and can be broadly applied to most complex daily life mental activities.

At a basic level, research participants were encouraged to filter competing information that is irrelevant and focus only on important information. At more advanced levels, participants were instructed to generate interpretations, themes or generalized statements from information they were wanting or needing to read, for example. Each strategy built on previous strategies and research participants were challenged to integrate all steps when tackling mental activities both inside and outside of training.

“Cognitive gains were documented in trained areas such as abstracting, reasoning, and innovating,” said Chapman. “And benefits also spilled over to untrained areas such as memory for facts, planning, and problem solving. What’s exciting about this work is that in randomized trials comparing gist reasoning training to memory training, we found that it was not learning new information that engaged widespread brain networks and elevated cognitive performance, but rather actually deeper processing of information and using that information in new ways that augmented brain performance.

Strengthening intellectual capacity is no longer science fiction; what used to seem improbable is now in the realm of reality.”

Positive physical changes within the brain and cognitive improvement across populations in response to strategy-based mental training demonstrate the neuro-regenerative potential of the brain.

“The ability to recognize, synthesize and create the essence of complex ideas and problems to solve are fundamental skills for academic, occupational and real-life success,” Chapman said. “The capacity to enhance cognition and complex neural networks in health, after injury or disease diagnosis will have major implications to preventing, diagnosing and treating cognitive decline and enhancing cognitive performance in youth to prepare them for an unknown future and in middle age to older adults who want to remain mentally robust.”

Source: Center for BrainHealth

With Launch of Pantry, Amazon Thinks Prime Members Will Pay for Some Deliveries

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Amazon Prime is synonymous with free (two-day) shipping for those who pay for the annual membership. But with a new service called Prime Pantry, Amazon is betting that Prime customers will agree to pony up and pay for shipping for items such as 12-can packs of Coke or a six-roll paper towel pack.

The service gives Prime customers the ability to order as much canned foods, cereal, snacks, beverages and everyday household items as can fit in a four-cubic-foot box that holds up to 45 pounds. No matter how packed or empty the box is, it costs $5.99 to deliver it. As customers add Pantry items to their online shopping cart, they are told what percentage of the box is full.

For Amazon, the program gives them a way to try to drive demand for some products that would have been cost-prohibitive to ship for free.

But on first blush, Amazon doesn’t make it very clear what’s in it for Prime customers that are paying the $79 a year membership fee (soon to be $99), in large part for the free shipping feature of the membership.

Is it that most of these items were never available for free shipping in the first place? And so if you pack a bunch of them together in a box, the $6 shipping charge will be cheaper than if you would have ordered them separately?

Or is that some, most or all of the available products were never sold on Amazon at all?

The Prime Pantry page makes it seem like a little of both; it references both a “wider range of products” and highlights some “new selections” including single boxes of Cheerios, 12-packs of Coke and a 100-ounce container of Tide laundry detergent.

But it’s still not totally clear how much of the Pantry collection is new stuff you couldn’t previously get through Amazon.

So I asked an Amazon spokeswoman to explain the program’s benefits to shoppers. She mentioned the exclusivity of the program — it’s only available to Prime members; the fact that you’re getting some heavy items delivered to your door; and that shoppers are getting “low prices on everyday essentials in everyday sizes.”

The last point is a subtle dig at the Costcos and Sam’s Clubs of the world that provide good prices in exchange for customers being willing to buy larger size packs of an item than perhaps they otherwise would have.

The problem is that Amazon doesn’t spell out just how much of a deal these Pantry items are.

Maybe it won’t matter. Maybe Prime customers so love Amazon that they will see value in getting a shipment of Doritos, deodorant, toilet paper and cereal delivered to their door in one tidy box.

Or maybe the digital coupons displayed next to many of the items will give the impression that Pantry items are cheaper on Amazon than they are anywhere else.

Still, Amazon would do well to better market why Prime customers would get into the habit of paying $6 shipping charges when they have been trained to almost always expect free shipping.

But if Pantry finds some success, it has the potential to build up the frequency of orders from Prime members. And that has the potential to make the economics of the AmazonFresh grocery delivery service, which includes perishable foods and drinks, look a lot better as it rolls out to more cities in the future.

Source: re/code

More online Americans say they’ve experienced a personal data breach

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As news of large-scale data breaches and vulnerabilities grows, new findings from the Pew Research Center suggest that growing numbers of online Americans have had important personal information stolen and many have had an account compromised.

Findings from a January 2014 survey show that:

• 18% of online adults have had important personal information stolen such as their Social Security Number, credit card, or bank account information. That’s an increase from the 11% who reported personal information theft in July 2013.

• 21% of online adults said they had an email or social networking account compromised or taken over without their permission. The same number reported this experience in a July 2013 survey.

Last week’s discovery of the Heartbleed security flaw is the latest in a long string of bad news about the vulnerabilities of digital data. The bug, which affects a widely-used encryption technology that is intended to protect online transactions and accounts, went undetected for more than two years. Security researchers are unsure whether or not hackers have been exploiting the problem, but the scope of the problem is estimated to affect up to 66% of active sites on the Internet.

In December, Target announced that credit and debit card information for 40 million of its customers had been compromised. Shortly thereafter, the retailer reported that an even larger share of its customers may have had personal information like email and mailing addresses stolen. In January, Nieman Marcus reported the theft of 1.1 million credit and debit cards by hackers who had invaded its systems with malware.

The consequences of these flaws and breaches may add insult to injury for those who have already experienced some kind of personal information theft. And research suggests that young adults and younger baby boomers may have been especially hard hit in the second half of 2013.

In our survey last year, we found that 7% of online adults ages 18-29 were aware that they had important personal information stolen such as their Social Security Number, credit card or bank account information. The latest survey finds that 15% of young adults have experienced this kind of personal information theft. Similarly, those ages 50-64 became significantly more likely to report that they had personal information stolen; while 11% said they had this experience in July, that figure jumped to 20% in January. Increases among other age groups were not statistically significant.

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As online Americans have become ever more engaged with online life, their concerns about the amount of personal information available about them online have shifted as well. When we look at how broad measures of concern among adults have changed over the past five years, we find that internet users have become more worried about the amount of personal information available about them online—50% reported this concern in January 2014, up from 33% in 2009.

Source: Pew Research Center

Ingenic unveils developer board for wearable devices with NFC

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ALL-IN-ONE: Ingenic Newton board can be used to create wearable NFC devices

Chinese embedded CPU provider Ingenic Semiconductor has unveiled a MIPS-based developer board that can be used to create wearable, healthcare and industrial devices that include a wide range of environmental sensors and wireless communications interfaces.

The Ingenic Newton is a single board similar in size to an SD card. It includes a MIPS CPU and memory plus a humidity and temperature module; a three axis gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer; an ECG bio-sensor; and a 4-in-1 wireless module that supports WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and BLE, FM radio and NFC. The platform supports both Android and Linux.

“The three-axis gyroscope, accelerometer [and] magnetometer can track your movement and help the CPU compute how many miles you’ve walked, for example,” MIPS technology owner Imagination Technologies has told NFC World.

“The pressure, humidity and temperature sensor can give you an idea of the weather environment you’re in and it helps people who are [sensitive] to these factors be aware of potential health hazards.”

“Finally, the bio-signal detection sensor can monitor your heart rate and notify you, your relatives or your family doctor if you’re having any potential health issues.”

“By integrating all these components on a single PCB, device manufactures save costs — since they have one component that can do everything they need — and reduce area,” the company explained. “This platform can be integrated in various devices together with other components, and create devices that are much more aware of their surrounding and can communicate easily with the user.”

Source: NFC World

Beware New IRS Phishing Scam

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The IRS warns of a new email phishing scam with hooks that look like they are from the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service. They’re not. The scammers say your 2013 income is being reviewed and that the Taxpayer Advocate Service will help resolve it. Just click these links! Don’t!

Taxpayers who get these messages should not respond or click any links. Forward the scam emails to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov. For more information, visit the IRS’s Report Phishing web page.

Can you phish or fish as a business? Maybe. In Lowe v. Commissioner, Janice Lowe was the primary breadwinner, working full time as controller for a steel company for 38 years. Her husband Steve worked on home improvements from 1986 to 1999. And he fished.

When he attended a fishing tournament with a prize of $6,000, it spawned his interest in tournament fishing. Believing it would be like shooting fish in a barrel, Steve took to tournaments like a fish to water. Steve competed in 26 tournaments and eked out gross income of $4,241 in 2005. He entered 15 tournaments in 2006, and his gross income swelled to $10,932.

That may sound like a pretty full creel. Until you look at Steve’s expenses, that is. He racked up nearly $100,000 of expenses between 2005 and 2006, losing almost $50,000 in 2005 and $40,000 in 2006. But was he trying to land a profit? He said he was, but the IRS thought it was a fish story.

That meant Tax Court. Steve showed that he read books, magazines and newspapers about fishing. He even consulted professional fishermen seeking to improve profitability, so he was no bottom-feeder. Unfortunately, Steve’s tournament track record spoke for itself.

Steve may have had the best of intentions, but his winnings were never close to covering his entry fees, let alone his travel costs or depreciation on his equipment. Steve’s fishing activities seemed more recreational than business. Steve testified that his fishing started out as recreational.

But by 2005, he lamented, it was sure no fun! Professional fishing turned out to be a different kettle of fish. Despite all the points in Steve’s favor, the Tax Court found that Steve really hadn’t shown that he intended to make a profit. Plus, Steve hit a major snag, a veritable underwater redwood: He consistently entered his spouse as his tournament partner.

Steve’s breadwinning wife always went along and he deducted all her entry fees, but she never fished. This gave him a built-in handicap in the tournaments. By registering as a team, but with only Steve fishing, he had to catch twice as many fish! This conduct was inconsistent with intending to make a profit, said the court.

After considering all the factors, the Tax Court concluded that Steve’s fishing activity was not for profit. That meant no deductions. Still, Steve was reasonable and the court seemed to like him. So no penalties either. This is no fish story.

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Source: Forbes