Start up: FBI v Apple redux, Google’s Cloud Vision, fixing #error53, Iraq’s lost iridium, and more

You can always sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Try it. Unless you’re reading the email.

A selection of 12 links for you. Remember, Friday is for life, not just for Christmas. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Statement on FBI-Apple court order » Congressman Ted Lieu

This might not be what you expect:

»Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) issued the following statement regarding the APPLE court order. Congressman Lieu is one of only four computer science majors in Congress.  Congressman Lieu is also the author of the ENCRYPT ACT of 2016.

“The terrorist attack in San Bernardino was horrific and the tragic loss of innocent lives demands a strong response.  I have several deep concerns, however, about the unprecedented court order that forces Apple to create software it does not have in order to provide a “back door” way to weaken its smartphone encryption system.

This FBI court order, by compelling a private sector company to write new software, is essentially making that company an arm of law-enforcement.   Private sector companies are not—and should not be—an arm of government or law enforcement.

This court order also begs the question: Where does this kind of coercion stop?  Can the government force Facebook to create software that provides analytic data on who is likely to be a criminal?  Can the government force Google to provide the names of all people who searched for the term ISIL?  Can the government force Amazon to write software that identifies who might be suspicious based on the books they ordered?”

«

link to this extract

 


A Linux-powered microwave oven [LWN.net]

Neil Brown:

»Adding a smartphone-like touchscreen and a network connection and encouraging a community to build innovative apps such as recipe sharing are fairly obvious ideas once you think to put “Linux” and “microwave oven” together, but Tulloh’s vision and prototype lead well beyond there. Two novel features that have been fitted are a thermal camera and a scale for measuring weight.

The thermal camera provides an eight-by-eight-pixel image of the contents of the oven with a precision of about two degrees. This is enough to detect if a glass of milk is about to boil over, or if the steak being thawed is in danger of getting cooked. In either case, the power can be reduced or removed. If appropriate, an alert can be sounded. This would not be the first microwave to be temperature sensitive — GE sold microwave ovens with temperature probes decades ago — but an always-present sensor is much more useful than a manually inserted probe, especially when there is an accessible API behind it.«

Just wait until you get onto the bit about making sure the door is shut (which is what stops you blasting the room with microwaves that would cook you).
link to this extract

 


Learning the Alphabet » The Verge

Ben Popper:

»For the most part, [Flint, Michigan schools technology director Dan] Davenport’s repository consisted of eight- to 10-year-old Dell desktops and laptops he had robbed of RAM and other components to help speed up or repair machines used by teachers. “We are left with these mismatched parts.” And yet, when he set the machines up to run Neverware’s Cloud Ready version of Chromium, they outperformed newer Windows machines the school was using. “If you are comparing what we used to run, Chrome and Neverware is a better experience for the end user.”

Davenport estimates that to get a new machine and the proper license, it would cost around $400 for each new Windows computer and $200 for each new Chromebook. “With Neverware it’s costing me 50 bucks.” The school is now adapting several computer labs to run Neverware chromebooks. “Hey, that’s an interesting model,” says Davenport with a chuckle. “Run on your oldest junk for next to no money.” The transformation at Ovid-Elsie is striking, but far from unique. It’s just one example of a much larger trend toward cloud computing, a paradigm shift that has radically reshaped the technological landscape at schools across the United States.

«

Popper says – in the first comment on the article – “I’ve been writing about Neverware since 2009. Pretty crazy how much things have changed since then.”

But the general point about Neverware, which tried to get Dell and HP interested but found none for lengthening PC life cycles, and cloud computing in schools, is well made. Certainly a threat to Microsoft in schools.
link to this extract

 


Google Cloud Vision API enters Beta, open to all to try! » Google Cloud Platform Blog

Ram Ramanathan, product manager:

»Today, we’re announcing the beta release of Google Cloud Vision API. Now anyone can submit their images to the Cloud Vision API to understand the contents of those images — from detecting everyday objects (for example, “sports car,” “sushi,” or “eagle”) to reading text within the image or identifying product logos.

With the beta release of Cloud Vision API, you can access the API with location of images stored in Google Cloud Storage, along with existing support of embedding an image as part of the API request. We’re also announcing pricing for Cloud Vision API and added additional capabilities to identify the dominant color of an image. For example, you can now apply Label Detection on an image for as little as $2 per 1,000 images or Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for $0.60 for 1,000 images. Pricing will be effective, starting March 1st.

«

I feel like this is partly the work of Pete Warden – it looks so like his work at Jetpac.
link to this extract

 


Apple fixes iPhones disabled by Error 53 caused by unofficial repairs » Techcrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

»Today, Apple is issuing an updated version of iOS 9.2.1 for users that update their iPhones via iTunes only. This update will restore phones ‘bricked’ or disabled by Error 53 and will prevent future iPhones that have had their home button (or the cable) replaced by third-party repair centers from being disabled. Note that this is a patched version of iOS 9.2.1, previously issued, not a brand-new version of iOS.

A new support document on Apple’s site has been issued that details the causes and repair methods for Error 53.

The update is not for users who update their iPhones over the air (OTA) via iCloud. If you update your phone that way, you should never have encountered Error 53 in the first place. If, however, you update via iTunes or your phone is bricked, you should be able to plug it into iTunes to get the update today, restoring your phone’s functionality.

«

That was quick. And it disables TouchID, or leaves it disabled – which is the course of action you’d hope for. (Thanks Jonathan Davey for the link.)
link to this extract

 


Data broker defendants settle FTC charges they sold sensitive personal information to scammers » Federal Trade Commission

»“LeapLab purchased sensitive information, including Social Security and bank account numbers, from pay-day-loan websites, and then sold that information to entities it knew had no legitimate need for it,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.  “That allowed scammers to steal millions of dollars from people’s accounts.”

In its complaint, the FTC alleged that the defendants collected hundreds of thousands of loan applications submitted by financially strapped consumers to payday loan sites. Each application contained the consumer’s name, address, phone number, employer, Social Security number, and bank account number, including the bank routing number.

The defendants sold 95 percent of these sensitive applications for approximately $0.50 each to non-lenders that did not use the information to assist consumers in obtaining a payday loan or other extension of credit and had no legitimate need for this financial information. In fact, at least one of those marketers, Ideal Financial Solutions – a defendant in another FTC case  – used the information to withdraw millions of dollars from consumers’ accounts without their authorization.

«

Classy. It’s a $5.7m judgment, but suspended.
link to this extract

 


The hidden homescreen » Medium

Matt Hartman:

»The move to chat-based interfaces is mainly developer driven: relative to a native iOS or Android app, development of a chat-based app is faster and marketing is less crowded (for now). It is also partly consumer driven in that it is a painful for consumers to have to switch in and out of different apps — or even to have to download an app at all. However the developer pain point is more significant at present.

For app developers, marketing is often hard. #Homescreen data shows that apps on users’ homescreens are pretty calcified. In January 2016 over 50,000 apps were submitted to the app store. However, most smartphone users download zero apps per month.

«

We’re probably going to see more chat interfaces, as Hartman points out (look at Quartz’s new news app), but as he also points out, lots of them will struggle to gather enough context to be useful compared to the interfaces we already have.
link to this extract

 


Exclusive: Radioactive material stolen in Iraq raises security fears » Reuters

Ahmed Rasheed, Aref Mohammed and Stephen Kalin:

»Iraq is searching for “highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen last year, according to an environment ministry document and seven security, environmental and provincial officials who fear it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.

The material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, went missing in November from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra belonging to U.S. oilfield services company Weatherford WFT.N, the document seen by Reuters showed and officials confirmed.

A spokesman for Iraq’s environment ministry said he could not discuss the issue, citing national security concerns…

…A U.S. official said separately that Iraq had reported a missing specialized camera containing highly radioactive Iridium-192 to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, in November.

“They’ve been looking for it ever since. Whether it was just misplaced, or actually stolen, isn’t clear,” said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The environment ministry document, dated Nov. 30 and addressed to the ministry’s Centre for Prevention of Radiation, describes “the theft of a highly dangerous radioactive source of Ir-192 with highly radioactive activity belonging to SGS from a depot belonging to Weatherford in the Rafidhia area of Basra province”.

«

More about Ir-192: “has accounted for the majority of cases tracked by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in which radioactive materials have gone missing in quantities large enough to make a dirty bomb.” More reading from 2007 from the New Yorker.
link to this extract

 


The most important Apple executive you’ve never heard of » Bloomberg Businessweek

Brad Stone, Adam Satariano, and Gwen Ackerman:

»A little over a year ago, Apple had a problem: The iPad Pro was behind schedule. Elements of the hardware, software, and accompanying stylus weren’t going to be ready for a release in the spring. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and his top lieutenants had to delay the unveiling until the fall. That gave most of Apple’s engineers more time. It gave a little-known executive named Johny Srouji much less.

Srouji is the senior vice president for hardware technologies at Apple. He runs the division that makes processor chips, the silicon brains inside the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. The original plan was to introduce the iPad Pro with Apple’s tablet chip, the A8X, the same processor that powered the iPad Air 2, introduced in 2014. But delaying until fall meant that the Pro would make its debut alongside the iPhone 6s, which was going to use a newer, faster phone chip called the A9.

This is the stuff that keeps technology executives up at night. The iPad Pro was important: It was Apple’s attempt to sell tablets to business customers. And it would look feeble next to the iPhone 6s. So Srouji put his engineers on a crash program to move up the rollout of a new tablet processor, the A9X, by half a year. The engineers finished in time, and the Pro hit the market with the faster chip and a 12.9in display packed with 5.6 million pixels.

«

Useful profile (and a little scoop-ette in the intro), though of course Apple – and Srouji – won’t indicate what direction the chip design there is going. There’s also the question of quite what delta it gives it over those using chips from TSMC et al; aside from the reference to the 64-bit shift, that isn’t addressed clearly.
link to this extract

 


Apple, the FBI, and the San Bernadino iPhone

Dan Wallach:

»Q What’s so bad about Apple doing what the FBI wants?

A Apple’s concern is the precedent set by the FBI’s demand and the judge’s order. If the FBI can compel Apple to create a backdoor like this, then so can anybody else. You’ve now opened the floodgates to every small-town police chief, never mind discovery orders in civil lawsuits. How is Apple supposed to validate and prioritize these requests? What happens when they come from foreign governments? If China demands a custom software build to attack a U.S. resident, how is Apple supposed to judge whether that user and their phone happen to be under the jurisdiction of Chinese law? What if the U.S. then passes a law prohibiting Apple from honoring Chinese requests like this? That way lies madness, and that’s where we’re going.

Even if we could somehow make this work, purely as an engineering matter, it’s not feasible to imagine a backdoor mechanism that will support the full gamut of seemingly legal requests to exercise it.

«

link to this extract

 


If you want life insurance, think twice before getting a genetic test » Fast Company

Christina Farr:

»Jennifer Marie* should be an ideal candidate for life insurance: She’s 36, gainfully employed, and has no current medical issues.

But on September 15 last year, Jennifer Marie’s application for life insurance was denied.

“Unfortunately after carefully reviewing your application, we regret that we are unable to provide you with coverage because of your positive BRCA 1 gene,” the letter reads. In the U.S., about one in 400 women have a BRCA 1 or 2 gene, which is associated with increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Jennifer Marie provided a copy of the document to Fast Company on the condition that she and her insurance company remain anonymous, as she is still hoping to appeal the rejection.

«

You’re thinking “surely that’s illegal!” It would be for health insurance, under a 2008 law in the US – but that doesn’t apply to life insurance, long-term care or disability insurance.
link to this extract

 


Unlock your Windows 10 phone remotely » Windows Help

»Try unlocking your Windows 10 phone remotely if you get this message: “This device has been locked for security reasons. Connect your device to a power source for at least two hours and then try again.” The key is to reset your PIN through account.microsoft.com.

Go to account.microsoft.com/devices

Sign in with the same Microsoft account you use on the phone.

Click the Find my phone link.

Press Lock.

Enter a new PIN. Now you’ll be able to unlock your phone with your new PIN.

«

You can’t do this with an iPhone – you need to enter the existing PIN first. Clearly, the answer is for the FBI to issue would-be terrorists with Windows Phones running Windows Mobile 10 (it doesn’t work on 8) to simplify subsequent investigations. (Thanks Tero Alhonen for the link.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

4 thoughts on “Start up: FBI v Apple redux, Google’s Cloud Vision, fixing #error53, Iraq’s lost iridium, and more

  1. Three articles that may be of interest regarding dirty bombs

    http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/67/8/10.1063/PT.3.2475

    http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/57/11/10.1063/1.1839375

    and one I wrote back in July 2001 in which Interpol at the time reckoned they were only detecting 10-15% of all cases of radioactive material smuggling.

    http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/54/7/10.1063/1.1397390

      • It probably is. Its more likely than them using an atom bomb. Most of the Interpol cases though are “unintended” transportation of material. For example, a lot of scrap yards that recycle metal kept getting contaminated so now they have detectors installed to look out for the stuff.

        The main disadvantage for terrorists using medical or industrial isotopes is that they are so toxic and radioactive, and the people handling the material so unskilled, they are quite likely to get sick and die before they actually deliver the material to the target. That’s happened a couple of times in Russia on the black market.

        This is also why there’s great interest in developing new technical ways to deliver medical isotopes on site instead of shipping them to a hospital (which hopefully I’ll get around to writing about before the end of the year).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s