Engineer Builds Working Thor’s Hammer

You can’t beat a good practical joke, and this one is certainly one of my favourites. An engineer has built a working thor’s hammer, but of course, it’s not really as magical (sorry) as the one from the comics/movies. The legendary hammer Mjolnir is known to only be wielded by the worthy and if it does not deem you worthy, then you simply cannot pick it up.

Allen Pan from the Sufficienly Advanced YouTube channel decided to create his own working replica and take it on the streets to troll the unsuspecting public. The hammer uses a very powerful electromagnet taken from a microwave oven and some batteries. When placed on a metal surface, it would take the force of The Hulk to remove the thing, or of course, it’s creator. The handle of the device is fitted with a thumbprint scanner, an Arduino Pro Mini and a solid state relay, which allows Allen to turn the magnet off, allowing him to reign supreme and lift the mighty Mjolnir into the air.

It’s a simple trick, but a fun one none the less, because who wouldn’t want to have their own Thor’s Hammer to make them look super strong! It’s just a shame he can’t use it to fly or summon lightning.

Uber Accquires Bing Mapping Assets and 100 Engineers from Microsoft

Car-hailing firm Uber is making big strides into the mapping market, acquiring mapping data as well as about 100 image-collection engineers from Microsoft. Uber has been looking to making their mobile app better, mainly in the area of better maps to bring drivers and riders together. While companies transferring data and technology isn’t something new, the movement of about 100 engineers is rare.

With such a large movement of engineers, it looks like Uber actually may have acquired a Bing mapping division or some part of it at least. What is most surprising though isn’t that Uber wanted the data and engineers, but that Microsoft was willing to part with them. Microsoft has spent a lot of money trying to build up their Bing search and mapping platforms and divesting itself of this many experienced engineers is not a sign of confidence.

both Uber and Microsoft are facing tough times ahead of them. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke about making tough choices in the near future and getting out of fringe markets not core to the business. Uber is also facing push back to its business model, mainly from taxi organizations and just had two senior officers arrested in France. It will be interesting to see both firms move on from this technology and personnel transfer.

Thank you Tech Crunch for providing us with this information.

Internet Outrage at Barbie ‘Computer Engineer’ Book

A children’s book centred around Barbie becoming a ‘computer engineer’ has faced allegations of sexism from hordes of internet users.

“I Can Be a Computer Engineer” has since been pulled from sale on Amazon after it contents went viral on the web.

The book features Barbie in the process of building a computer game, however it appears that she constantly makes mistakes and is unable to do anything productive without the help of her two male friends, Steven and Brian.

“I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie says, laughing. “I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!”

At one point, the supposedly computer literate Barbie, inserts a virus infested USB drive into her friend’s laptop, wiping its hard drive and deleting her homework in the process.

When Barbie puts her flash drive into Skipper’s laptop, the screen starts blinking. “Oh, no!” says Barbie. “The virus must be on the flash drive!”

“I forgot to back up my homework assignment!” cries Skipper. “And all my music files are lost, too!”

Mattel, the owner of the Barbie brand, has since responded with this statement:

“We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologise that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

As with anything like this on the web, people have reacted rather creatively, rewriting the book with terms such as “live cd”, “Debian” and  “VPN router”.

Source: The Verge

Facebook’s Outage Scares Everyone… Again!

Millions of users have noticed today that around 12 pm Eastern Time, the social media giant, Facebook, went down for about 30 minutes. This is not the first time the website and its services are unavailable, having the social media giant experiencing similar issues just over a month ago.

Mashable has reported that it was able to access the website during the outage, though the response time is said to have been slower than usual. Users were reporting that they have been greeted with a “Sorry, something went wrong.” message when attempting to load the Facebook page.

It is said that even Facebook’s developer webpage went down during the initial outage, but went back up shortly afterwards. It then displayed a warning message describing the problem and that Facebook engineers are working to fix the issue.

Facebook is currently experiencing an issue that is affecting all API and web surfaces. Our engineers detected the issue quickly and are working to resolve it ASAP. We’ll update shortly.

The above message was displayed after the first occurrence at 12 pm ET, having the engineers change the message to the below mentioned one at around 1:45 pm ET.

Traffic and error-rates are almost back to normal after a coordinated intervention by our engineering teams. We are now monitoring the situation and we have our best engineers determining the root-cause of this issue that affected much of our web fleet. We apologize for any inconvenience and we aim to ensure that this issue does not repeat.

Mashable confirmed the outage through the Down for Everyone or Just Me and It Is Down Right Now services as well. During this time, Twitter was flooded with user messages regarding the outage.

The mobile version of the social media giant was reported to be down as well. Users are stated to have been greeted with the “Error loading News Feed” message inside the app. Even Instagram was reported to have been taken down during the outage, though nobody has confirmed the service’s outage.

A Facebook representative has issued an official statement regarding the issue experienced this morning, though it does not explain what exactly caused the outage.

“Earlier this morning, some people had trouble accessing Facebook for a short time. We quickly investigated and are currently restoring service for everyone. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.”

Thank you Mashable for providing us with this information
Images courtesy of Mashable

Experts Find ‘Backdoor’ in iOS Functions that Allows Personal Data Monitoring

A forensic scientists warned people about the fact that Apple has undocumented functions in its iOS operating system which allows people to wirelessly connect and extract pictures, text messages and other sensitive data, without the need of either a password or PIN.

iOS jailbreaker and forensic expert, Jonathan Zdziarski, has apparently revealed the functions at the Hope X conference, where he stated that any device that has ever been paired with the target handset can be used to access the functions. Zdziarski has also stated that he is unsure of Apple engineers enabled the mechanism intentionally in order to make room for easier surveillance by the NSA or law enforcement groups.

The most concerning service of all is the com.apple.mobile.file_relay. It is said to generate a huge amount of data, including account data for email services, Twitter, iClound, a full copy of the address book including deleted entries, the user cache folder, geographic position logs, a complete dump of the user photo album, and many more. All the data is available and accessible without requiring any additional security protocols, such as passwords or PINs.

Zdziarski has also added two other services, the com.apple.pcapd and com.apple.mobile.house_arrest, stating that the latter may have legitimate uses for app developers or support engineers. However, the data generated can be used to spy on users by government agencies or anyone who knows how to access the logs. For example, the pcapd allows people to wirelessly monitor all network traffic traveling into and out of the device, even when the handset is not running in a special developer or support mode. In addition, the house_arrest allows the copying of sensitive files and documents from Twitter, Facebook, and many other applications.

While the services are available and can be read by all, Zdziarski tells that not every hacker out there is out to get your data. He said that only “technically knowledgeable people who have access to a computer, electric charger, or other device that has ever been modified to digitally pair with a targeted iPhone or iPad” can access the data.

Thank you Arstechnica for providing us with this information
Images courtesy of Arstechnica

Forget the T-800, MIT and Google’s Boston Dynamics Are Said To Work on T-1000 Robots

There have been talk of future robots resembling the T-800 model from the Terminator series for some time now. Yet, no company has even arrived close to a design, yet alone a prototype of such a robot. While we won’t see any T-800’s running around anytime soon, we might see some versions similar to the T-1000. At least that is what MIT and Google’s Boston Dynamics are aiming to build.

Reports say that a team at MIT has discovered how to make a phase-changing material composed out of a mixture of wax and foam, having it change states from hard to soft at any given time. The researchers even state that thanks to the cheap materials and easy-to-make mixture, it can be used in a variety of robotics, spanning from common autonomous vacuum cleaners to high-tech advanced and complex robots.

The material has been stated to be the work of Anette Hosoi, a mechanical engineer and applied mathematics professor. She and her team, including her former graduate student Nadia Cheng, stated that the material could be used in a variety of fields, such as medical robots that can deform and change shape in order to navigate internal organs and vessels to perform delicate surgery. Other uses include rescue robots, having to navigate through collapsed structures in order to find and rescue survivors.

While the MIT has developed the material, it is said that Boston Dynamics is in charge of making the entire project, having it initially designed to contribute to Darpa’s Chemical Robots program aimed at developing robots with octopus-like abilities that are able to squeeze into small spaces. Therefore, the engineering team came up with the wax and foam idea, having the wax heated up with current running through a wire in the structure in order to make it malleable. A bonus to this technique is the material’s ability to ‘repair’ itself.

Having the wax material heated up, all deformations suffered while in the hardened state are said to repair themselves when in the soft state, just like the T-1000 robot from the Terminator movies, having the material recover from surface and even deeper damage. The researchers are said to now focus on finding a new material to replace the wax, having solder as a strong candidate. If the latter will prove to be true, then T-1000 models are not far away.

Thank you TechCrunch for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of TechCrunch

Hackers Can Get Your Wi-Fi Password By Simply Hacking Your Smart Lightbulbs

Though everyone wants to bring a variety of ‘Internet of things’ products on the market, from microwaves, to refrigerators, and even light bulbs, not everyone thinks about the bad side of all this. This means that, despite everything linking to your local area network, not everything connected is currently secure. This is how some engineers over at Context uncovered a way to hack your network through smart lightbulbs.

LIFX, the company making the actual light bulbs in question and their software, have not released the 1.1 version to the public, making it harder for hackers to fiddle with it. Even so, the Context engineers have apparently removed the microcontroller embedded inside each bulb and connected different JTAG pins ti special debugging hardware in order to monitor the signals sent when the light bulbs were added or removed to the network.

The company has quickly responded to the engineers’ findings, having to release LIFX software version 1.3, which is stated to encrypt all 6LoWPAN traffic using an encryption key derived from the Wi-Fi credential while also including functions for secure processing when new bulbs join a network.

Though people might think they are missing out if their household appliances are not connected to the network, security breaches such as this one still reminds us that not everything should be linked to the internet, at least not yet. The big names in the tech industry, namely Microsoft, Apple and Google, have devoted large amounts of resources to ensure their devices are secure and stay that way. Even so, breaches are still inevitable from time to time.

Thank you Wired for providing us with this information
Images courtesy of Wired

Ford Working With Intel on Bringing Face and Gesture Recognition Technology to Cars

Automaker Ford and chip maker Intel apparently have started looking into how people can interact with their gadgets even more. With smart watches and virtual reality already on the way, the two manufacturers apparently are looking into making their own innovative technology, but for automobiles.

“Project Mobii” is the name of Intel and Ford’s little project, having it stand for Mobile Interior Imaging. The project itself is not that “small” either, having a team formed from ethnographers, anthropologists and engineers working to achieve a “more personalized and seamless interaction between driver and vehicle.”

What all of this means is that Intel and Ford are experimenting on new ways people might interact with cars in the future. Cameras could be connected and allow owners to check the car remotely via an app, or gestures might be able to control a car’s features, such as a sunroof or windows, or even have the car implemented with facial recognition software in order to identify the driver or give certain permissions to family members.

Though the project is being worked on, this does not mean we will see sci-fi cars on the streets anytime soon. Intel and Ford have apparently made it clear that the project is currently just for research and exploration purposes for now.

Thank you Endgadget for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of Endgadget

Google Invents Self-Fixing Problems? Is This The Future?

After some of you experienced or at least saw what happened yesterday with some of Google’s Services, the company officials expressed their apologies and released a statement explaining what went wrong, which inevitably caused the outage yesterday.

Ben Treynor, Google VP Engineer, posted a statement which points to a ‘bug’ in the system, the ‘culprit’ that caused the whole outage. He says that at 10:55 a.m. PST, an internal system that generates configurations for other key systems reported to have generated incorrect settings, which in turn sent out to other systems. Around 11:02 a.m. PST, the massive outage started and users reported they can’t access the Google services.

The current incompatible settings were basically telling the systems to ignore server requests from users, which in turn generated the error messages. About 12 minutes later, at 11:14 a.m. PST, the same system that generated the error instructions rectified itself and starting sending correct configurations. By 11:30 a.m. PST, all systems were back online and engineers started taking precautionary steps, from removing the source of the failure, to implementing new security measures for it not to occur a second time.

Some questions still remain though. If the bug hadn’t ‘magically’ repaired itself, at what timeline would we be looking at for yesterday’s outage? And how come Google’s Site Reliability Team did not find the error faster? I mean, we are all human of course, but isn’t Google supposed to be one of the top companies with the best team of engineers? It appears not.

Thank you Google Blog for providing us with this information