Meet Baxter: The Humanoid Robot to Revolutionize U.S. Manufacturing

Rethink Robotics unveils Baxter, a robot that can work alongside humans. According to Valentin Schmid at The Epoch Times, Baxter could revolutionize the way American companies operate as they shift production back to the United States using the humanoid robot to save on costs. Rethink Robotics unveiled its flagship product to the public September 18, 2012.

“Roboticists have been successful in designing robots capable of super-human speed and precision. What’s proven more difficult is inventing robots that can act as we do—in other words, that are able to inherently understand and adapt to their environments,” said company founder Rodney Brooks, an artificial intelligence legend and robotics pioneer having spent much of his life teaching at MIT. Rethink was founded in 2008 with the purpose of designing a robot like Baxter and carries a few other products. It is currently owned by venture capital firms and Brooks.

He further notes that providing a flexible and inexpensive solution—the robot costs only $22,000—Rethink specifically hopes to contribute to a revival in American manufacturing. “We believed that if we could cross that chasm with the manufacturing environment specifically in mind, we could offer new hope to the millions of American manufacturers who are looking for innovative ways to compete in our global economy.”
Baxter Solves Problem of Safety, Adaptability, and Programming

Baxter, which is exclusively produced in the United States and will first ship in October, aims to solve some of the long-standing issues with automation. The most important one is safety, as most industrial robots on assembly lines operate far away from humans or need to be caged to prevent injury. Rethink’s robot, which has a screen as a head and big flexible arms, is also equipped with Sonar sensors and software that help it detect human activity. In addition, it is programmed to stop its relatively gentle movements as soon as it detects resistance. A promotional video shows the robot standing on a fixed platform and the company has not commented on whether it can also walk.

“The class of products that can work side by side with people without any protection, those would be important developments. They could take robots from a factory environment … where people would have to be kept away, into more areas … some outside of factories,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of the Robotic Industries Association, an organization that provides education and information for companies interested in automating workflows.

Another big advantage is the ease of use. Normally, industrial robots need technical personnel to be programmed to perform a limited amount of tasks in an effort that involves special software and more often than not can take up to a full day. Baxter, which can be employed in less than an hour after being delivered, can be trained by any type of personnel by merely showing it how to perform a wide range of tasks, such as material handling, line loading, light assembly, or packing products.

In practice this would mean that the employee would move Baxter’s arms to perform the desired process and chose one of several preprogrammed options by way of twisting a few dials. The robot can also adapt to changes in the environment, for example if it drops an object, it knows to get another before trying to finish the task, unlike other robots, which have been seen picking air for a whole day, if no human supervises them.

“This class of robots doesn’t need a whole lot of programming. … That’s important. There are a number of companies that either don’t have the in-house expertise or they don’t want to pay for outside assistance,” said Burnstein in an Epoch Times interview.

“Because of its versatility and the short amount of time it takes to retrain, Baxter can be easily moved by production personnel to different and varying tasks over the course of a day, week, and month,” says the company’s press release. Most of the claims that the company makes in the press release can be tracked in a promotional video and also have been tried in practice when Baxter was on loan at Vanguard Plastics, a small manufacturer based in Connecticut, writes Will Knight of technologyreview.com.

Jeff Burnstein cautions, however, that the ultimate success will be determined after the product is rolled out. “Until these products are out in big numbers you don’t know if they are safe or not.”

If Baxter or similar robots can be rolled out on a large scale, it could mean big things for American manufacturing. Given the fact that robots like Baxter are inexpensive, flexible, and do not need much maintenance in terms of programming, they can be used in companies of all sizes that face tough options in competing with low-wage countries. AFL-CIO, the umbrella federation for 56 U.S. unions cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data saying that 5.5 million jobs were lost in the process of offshoring.

“This development will either save or create new jobs,” believes Burnstein. “We would hope that companies that would have otherwise either closed down because they can’t compete or sent manufacturing jobs overseas will decide to automate in order to keep jobs in the United States.”

Bob Baugh, executive director of the AFL-CIO industrial union council, representing the manufacturing unions within the umbrella organization agrees: “If you are more productive this way, you can share the benefits. … The productivity is shared with the workforce and the community and the country in a sense that people earn better wages and income. They are compensated for these productivity gains that come with the interface with human interaction with technology to produce goods.”

The idea is as follows: A humanoid robot would boost human labor productivity in such a way that it would reduce costs and boost output without reducing employment here. Increased output at lower costs would mean more capital accumulated and wages paid in the United States, leading to greater economic prosperity, even outside manufacturing.

A simple example would see an American company closing its factory in China, because it is upset with intellectual property theft and corrupt business practices as well as rising wages over there. It would then reopen production in the United States, hiring workers and supplementing them with flexible automation solutions. Jobs and output are created in the United States, leading to more jobs and output created in the United States.

Jeff Burnstein sees numerous reasons why reshoring makes sense: “When you build domestically you are closer to your customers, you don’t have to deal with political instability … the fear of your IP being stolen. There are a lot of reasons if all things are equal why you would want to build domestically. … Automation and robotics in particular is allowing companies to do that, we are seeing signs of that.”

According to Bob Baugh, automation is also seen as a positive by the unions, as long as some standards are met: “Workers need to be compensated well and have a good work environment where they do these things and that they have the skills to operate the technology and equipment.” These new developments in automation seem to be a win-win situation that might even lead to American companies becoming export leaders again one day in the not too distant future.
- As seen in The Epoch Times
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U.S. is Tightening Web Privacy Rule to Protect Young

Federal regulators are about to take the biggest steps in more than a decade to protect children online. According to Natasha Singer of The New York Tiems, the moves come at a time when major corporations, app developers and data miners appear to be collecting information about the online activities of millions of young Internet users without their parents’ awareness.
Some sites and apps have also collected details like children’s photographs or locations of mobile devices; the concern is that the information could be used to identify or locate individual children. For example, McDonald’s invites children who visit HappyMeal.com to upload their photos so they can make collages or videos.

These data-gathering practices are legal. But the development has so alarmed officials at the Federal Trade Commission that the agency is moving to overhaul rules that many experts say have not kept pace with the explosive growth of the Web and innovations like mobile apps. New rules are expected within weeks.

“Today, almost every child has a computer in his pocket and it’s that much harder for parents to monitor what their kids are doing online, who they are interacting with, and what information they are sharing,” says Mary K. Engle, associate director of the advertising practices division at the F.T.C. “The concern is that a lot of this may be going on without anybody’s knowledge.”

The proposed changes could greatly increase the need for children’s sites to obtain parental permission for some practices that are now popular — like using cookies to track users’ activities around the Web over time. Marketers argue that the rule should not be changed so extensively, lest it cause companies to reduce their offerings for children.

“Do we need a broad, wholesale change of the law?” says Mike Zaneis, the general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an industry association. “The answer is no. It is working very well.”

The current federal rule, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), requires operators of children’s Web sites to obtain parental consent before they collect personal information like phone numbers or physical addresses from children under 13. But rapid advances in technology have overtaken the rules, privacy advocates say.

Today, many brand-name companies and analytics firms collect, collate and analyze information about a wide range of consumer activities and traits. Some of those techniques could put children at risk, advocates say.

Under the F.T.C.’s proposals, some current online practices, like getting children under 13 to submit photos of themselves, would require parental consent.

Children who visit McDonald’s HappyMeal.com, for instance, can “get in the picture with Ronald McDonald” by uploading photos of themselves and combining them with images of the clown. Children may also “star in a music video” on the site by uploading photos or webcam images and having it graft their faces onto dancing cartoon bodies.

But according to children’s advocates, McDonald’s stored these images in directories that were publicly available. Anyone with an Internet connection could check out hundreds of photos of young children, a few of whom were pictured in pajamas in their bedrooms, advocates said.

In a related complaint to the F.T.C. last month, a coalition of advocacy groups accused McDonald’s and four other corporations of violating the 1998 law by collecting e-mail addresses without parental consent. HappyMeal.com, the complaint noted, invites children to share their creations on the site by providing the first names and e-mail addresses of their friends.

“When we tell parents about this they are appalled, because basically what it’s doing is going around the parents’ back and taking advantage of kids’ naivete,” says Jennifer Harris, the director of marketing initiatives at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, a member of the coalition that filed the complaint. “It’s a very unfair and deceptive practice that we don’t think companies should be allowed to do.”

Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s, said in an e-mail that the company placed a “high importance” on protecting privacy, including children’s online privacy. She said that McDonald’s had blocked public access to several directories on the site.

Last year, the F.T.C. filed a complaint against W3 Innovations, a developer of popular iPhone and iPod Touch apps like Emily’s Dress Up, which invited children to design outfits and e-mail their comments to a blog. The agency said that the apps violated the children’s privacy rule by collecting the e-mail addresses of tens of thousands of children without their parents’ permission and encouraging those children to post personal information publicly. The company later settled the case, agreeing to pay a penalty of $50,000 and delete personal data it had collected about children.

It is often difficult to know what kind of data is being collected and shared. Industry trade groups say marketers do not knowingly track young children for advertising purposes. But a study last year of 54 Web sites popular with children, including Disney.go.com and Nick.com, found that many used tracking technologies extensively.

“I was surprised to find that pretty much all of the same technologies used to track adults are being used on kids’ Web sites,” said Richard M. Smith, an Internet security expert in Boston who conducted the study at the request of the Center for Digital Democracy, an advocacy group.

Using a software program called Ghostery, which detects and identifies tracking entities on Web sites, a New York Times reporter recently identified seven trackers on Nick.com — including Quantcast, an analytics company that, according to its own marketing material, helps Web sites “segment out specific audiences you want to sell” to advertisers.

Ghostery found 13 trackers on a Disney game page for kids, including AudienceScience, an analytics company that, according to that company’s site, “pioneered the concept of targeting and audience-based marketing.”

David Bittler, a spokesman for Nickelodeon, which runs Nick.com, says Viacom, the parent company, does not show targeted ads on Nick.com or other company sites for children under 13. But the sites and their analytics partners may collect data anonymously about users for purposes like improving content. Zenia Mucha, a spokeswoman for Disney, said the company does not show targeted ads to children and requires its ad partners to do the same.

Another popular children’s site, Webkinz, says openly that its advertising partners may aim at visitors with ads based on the collection of “anonymous data.” In its privacy policy, Webkinz describes the practice as “online advanced targeting.”

If the F.T.C. carries out its proposed changes, children’s Web sites would be required to obtain parents’ permission before tracking children around the Web for advertising purposes, even with anonymous customer codes.

Some parents say they are trying to teach their children basic online self-defense. “We don’t give out birth dates to get the free stuff,” said Patricia Tay-Weiss, a mother of two young children in Venice, Calif., who runs foreign language classes for elementary school students. “We are teaching our kids to ask, ‘What is the company getting from you and what are they going to do with that information?’ ”

- As seen in The New York Times
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Squishy Robots That Can Hide and Seek

Researchers have built soft-bodied robots that can either blend into or stand out in their environment by changing their color. According to Sindya Bhanoo of The New York Times, these silicone-based robots can also glow in the dark.

The rubbery, four-legged robots mimic the behavior of soft-bodied creatures like sea stars and squid. Most robots today are large and rigid and mimic the movements of mammals.

“Starfish and things of this kind are simpler than mammals,” said George M. Whitesides, a chemist at Harvard who is involved in the research. “Less able to pick up a door, but maybe able to perform other tasks.”

He and his colleagues published their findings in the current issue of the journal Science.

The soft robots are made of a silicone-based polymer called polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS. They were created using 3-D printers, as were the recently added “color layers.”

The color layers were built with channels into which researchers could pump colored liquids to change the colors and patterns of the robots as desired.

By pumping heated or cooled liquids into the channels, the researchers were also able to camouflage the robots in the infrared.

The coloration feature may one day be useful in building search-and-rescue robots, Dr. Whitesides said. By using color, the robots can serve as a visual marker to help search crews.

“They are very light and can make their way across mud in a way that a heavy robot would have trouble with,” Dr. Whitesides said. “A way of seeing a robot there is to make it very visible in the infrared.”

The robots can also pick up fragile objects, like uncooked eggs and fruits, he said — or even a live mouse.

As a bonus, the soft-bodied robots are inexpensive to build. The current prototypes cost less than $10 each.

- As seen in The New York Times
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Naive Online Daters Turn into Drug Mules

Seriously? YCMTSU! One fine day, Sharon's and Catherine's online dates, called "Frank" and "Marc," asked them to finally meet in person, but not before one last favor: going to Argentina to pick up some sensitive documents. Red flag numero uno...

The two women eventually agreed, thinking their dream had finally come true. However, the documents, hidden in a secret compartment of their luggage, turned out instead to be cocaine. That's how Sharon Mae Armstrong, 55, former deputy chief executive of the Maori Language Commission from New Zealand, and Catherine Blackhawk, 49, an American nurse, suddenly and unknowingly became the final links in a drug trafficking chain. Astonished, they ended up behind bars in the same federal prison on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, in April and June 2011, respectively.

Their cases reveal that dating deceits -- which rose by 150 percent in 2011 alone, fraud protection agency Iovation reveals -- are moving beyond the simple take-the-money-and-run scheme.

"Cartels are looking for people who clearly can't focus properly to realize what kind of business they have been thrown into," Claudio Izaguirre, president of the Argentine Anti-Drugs Association, told Metro. "People like Sharon are thrown into the fray with a luggage where the cocaine is easily detectable; she is just a decoy, a scapegoat. The real mules are behind her, managing to get through while the attention falls on her," he added.

In January of this year, a third person fell into the same cyber-trap and got caught at Buenos Aires airport: Paul Howard Frampton, 69, a distinguished professor of physics and astronomy based at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Frampton has said he was lured into meeting a woman he thought he had been chatting with on the Internet, Czech-born lingerie model Denise Milani. He was given luggage to carry by someone claiming to be Milani's intermediary; the case had 2 kilograms of cocaine inside.

Just like Armstrong and Blackhawk, Frampton was perceived to be vulnerable and financially secure.
Julieta Lacroze, Sharon's lawyer from Buenos Aires-based law firm Estudio Durrieu, believes they are just the tip of an iceberg, but admits it is hard to find exact figures on the dating scam trend.

"It is easy for criminal organizations -- they just have to sit down and chat," she said. "Three months of work via the Internet, and that's it. For 5 kilos of cocaine, it's a fairly good deal."

Normally, dating website rip-offs tend to go unreported due to victims feeling embarrassed or humiliated.

The unwitting drug mules detained in Argentina now fight a battle behind bars to raise awareness about their plight.

Drug smuggling 2.0

A well-educated Western professional feeling lonely and looking for a mate on a dating website: That’s the perfect profile for the next-generation drug mule. Watch out: That seductive, sweet-talking cyber-mate might in fact just turn out to be a cover for a drug cartel in need of smugglers who are beyond suspicion.

How to dig your own grave

Being a professional cyber-love scammer requires an outrageously creative brain. Investigators believe that the organization that tricked Sharon used her own money to pay for the whole operation: In more than four months of a virtual relationship with “Frank,” Sharon agreed to send him $20,000 in different installments via Western Union.

“Every time, he had a different excuse,” her lawyer, Lacroze, pointed out.

“Who in Argentina would ever accept to send this much money to a stranger? No one.”

Nigerian and Russian criminal organizations are infamous to experts and drug enforcement agencies around the world. Websites like Romancescam.com are dedicated to raising awareness over the issue and help people detect their scammers before it becomes too late.

- As seen NY Metro
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Why Young People Should Create Their Own 4-Hour Work Week

Young people shouldn't bother "fighting over the remaining scraps of the old economy," said Walter Russell Mead. Now is a fantastic time to "find new routes into the uncharted wilderness of the 21-century economy."

Start-up costs for new ventures are incredibly low; a 24-year-old with an Internet connection has "the kind of information and access that only large corporations used to be able to afford." And there are vast sums of money to be made in providing "customized and tailored services" to increasingly busy Americans."

If you can figure out ways to take necessary chores off peoples' hands at a reasonable price, many will pay what you ask and thank you for the help." In particular, Americans want help bottling the "hose of the Internet"--there's simply too much on the Web these days for most people to handle, opening huge opportunities for "filtering, organizing, and customizing" this torrent of information.

My advice for young people: Build a small business around what your friends and neighbors need and want. It'll be more satisfying and "substantially more remunerative that anything a traditional, off-the-shelf career has to offer."

Read the full article "Finding the Jobs of the Future" here >> http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2012/07/15/finding-the-jobs-of-the-future/

- As seen in The Week
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5 New Rules to Pick a Cell Phone Carrier

There are more variables than ever to consider when signing-up for cell phone service (or shall I say tracker service ;-) New shared plans offered by AT&T and Verizon are changing the economics of how individuals and families access voice, data and texting services. Additionally, as 4G phones become commonplace, understanding which carriers offer reliable 4G connections becomes all the more critical.


Before signing-up for a new cell phone plan for you or your family, chew over these five new rules for picking a cell phone carrier.

1) Determine whether a shared plan will save money for you and your family

In August, 2012, AT&T is scheduled to debut its Mobile Share plan for new and existing subscribers. This follows Verizon’s Share Everything plan, which was introduced in June 2012. Both plans offer unlimited voice and texting services for a fixed fee, and charge extra based on the number of devices included and how much overall data is consumed. While the pricing and services for each plan are generally similar, the biggest distinction is that AT&T gives its subscribers the option to choose between Mobile Share and other existing plans. New Verizon subscribers, however, have no other choice but to sign-up for Share Everything.

So how can you determine whether a shared plan is cost-effective versus individual plan options? Consumer Reports advises AT&T subscribers with “low or moderate” data needs to stick with individual plans as this point. Individuals with one smartphone connected to the Mobile Share share plan are charged $95/month plus taxes and penalties for 1GB of data. Overage fees thereafter are $15 for each GB. In comparison, individual voice and data plans on AT&T range between $59/month (450 minutes and 300MB of data) to $99/month (unlimited voice/texting and 3GB of data).

So the benefits of shared plans from both AT&T and Verizon only come into effect as you connect more devices (smartphones, feature phones, tablets, connected laptops) to your plan. Both AT&T and Verizon offer attractive packages that connect two smartphones with two feature phones and 4GB of data for $210. From there, the packages get more cost-effective as you add more devices and data to them.

While Sprint and T-Mobile also provide opt-in shared and family plans, their packages have not changed as dramatically in recent months. However, if AT&T and Verizon are successful with their new offerings, expect the two other major carriers to follow suit.

2) Monitor your data consumption – but don’t pay for more than you need


One additional and unfortunate wrinkle in Verizon’s Share Everything plan is that existing subscribers who enjoy grandfathered unlimited data plans will not be able to upgrade their phones at subsidized prices. That means that new and shiny smartphone you want to buy for $199 will actually run you more than $500. For most of us, that negates the benefits of having an unlimited data plan. Verizon is not the only carrier getting stingier with its data. Earlier this year, AT&T confirmed that subscribers still on their unlimited plans (no longer available to new customers) could see data speeds slow down after 3GB are consumed in a billing cycle. T-Mobile’s “Classic Unlimited Plan” for $95/month reduces high speed data after 5GB are consumed in a billing cycle. At this point, Sprint is the only remaining major U.S carrier to offer unlimited data plans.

But is not having access to unlimited data really the end of the world? According to Nielsen, the average smartphone owner consumes less than 500MB of data each month. So if you are a relatively light data user who likes to email, browse the web and maybe play the occasional game or two, you can save $10 to $50 per month or more on AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile with plans that offer 1GB of data. Paying for unlimited data, or as much as 5GB of data per month, is best for family plans or individuals who constantly play games and/or watch videos on their smartphones without wireless Internet connections.

3) Research coverage maps for the best 4G networks in your area

As we increasingly treat our cell phones like handheld computers, the speed and reliability of the networks they are carried on become more important than ever. If you are about to purchase a new phone and things like high-speed Internet connections, video conferencing and HD gaming are important to you, than you should research which carrier in your area offers the best 4G connection. While AT&T is lauded by PCWorld and others as having the fastest 4G download speeds, the other carriers got a head start in offering nationwide 4G coverage. Before choosing a provider, check out the coverage maps offered online by Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as other regional providers you can access. You don’t want to shell out the big bucks for a state-of-the-art phone and two-year plan, and not have access to the fastest network possible.

4) Be mindful of your privacy before downloading certain applications


Advances in mobile media technology offer great benefits like the ability to identify nearby retail sales or happy hours in our area, as well as what our friends and contacts might be doing at any particular time. Of course, the counter-effect is that we sacrifice elements of our privacy to make these things possible. While many of us are proactive about deciding what personal information we are willing to give up for these services and conveniences, many third-party applications are not always forthright about what they are doing with our information.

Earlier this year, it was discovered that many popular apps like Path, Twitter and Yelp were uploading iPhone users’ address books to its servers without explicit permission. There is no evidence that the companies were doing anything nefarious with that information, and the offending app developers immediately revised their practices once they were revealed. Still, in this era where the technology is moving so quickly and so many new services are available at our fingertips, there is a good chance some of the information on our phones is stored by unknown third parties. Proceed with caution, and research the background and user and professional reviews of unknown applications before downloading them.

5) Consider a prepaid plan

While prepaid cell phone plans that don’t require two-year commitments have long been available, their biggest drawback was that they didn’t typically offer higher-end devices. This is no longer the case. Last month, prepaid plans for the iPhone debuted for the Cricket and Virgin Mobile USA networks. Those carriers and others are also beginning to offer among the best Android and Windows devices. There are still various pros and cons you should consider before investing in a prepaid plan. But if you resisted in the past because of poor handset selections, now is a great time to consider prepaid options.

- As seen in Yahoo! News
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When Rachel became the Office Robot

Telepresence robots, which retail for about $9,700, just may be the future of work.

For several weeks in the summer of 2012, I was a robot in the office, said Rachel Emma Silverman in The Wall Street Journal. Literally. I work remotely from Austin, but I used the QB-82, a wheeled robot that showed my face and emitted my voice, to wheel around our New York headquarters.

These “telepresence robots,” which retail for about $9,700, are designed to allow “far-flung workers to collaborate with peers and log face time at the office.” They just may be the future of work.

Oddly, research has found that employees are more open with human-operated robots than with human colleagues. As I rolled around the hallways using my laptop’s arrow keys, I spoke with colleagues I’d never met before. But I also “nearly careened into glass walls, got stuck in an elevator,” and got dinged in my virtual cranium by a Nerf ball. Glitches aside, Robot Rachel was a hit.

- As seen in The Week
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Cyberwarfare Emerges From Shadows for Public Discussion by U.S. Officials

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned Thursday, Oct 11, 2012 that the United States was facing the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transportation system, financial networks and government. According to Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker of The New York Times, Defense Secretary Panetta's warnings of a dire threat of cyberattack on the U.S. is being voiced now as he seeks new standards to protect vital infrastructure.

In a speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, Mr. Panetta painted a dire picture of how such a cyberwar might unfold. He said he was reacting to increasing aggressiveness and technological advances by the nation’s adversaries, which officials identified as China, Russia, Iran and militant groups.

“An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches,” Mr. Panetta said. “They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”

Defense officials insisted that Mr. Panetta’s words were not hyperbole, and that he was responding to a recent wave of cyberattacks on large American financial institutions. He also cited an attack in August on the state oil company Saudi Aramco, which infected and made useless more than 30,000 computers.

But Pentagon officials acknowledged that Mr. Panetta was also pushing for legislation on Capitol Hill. It would require new standards at critical private-sector infrastructure facilities — like power plants, water treatment facilities and gas pipelines — where a computer breach could cause significant casualties or economic damage.

In August, a cybersecurity bill that had been one of the administration’s national security priorities was blocked by a group of Republicans, led by Senator John McCain of Arizona, who took the side of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and said it would be too burdensome for corporations.

The most destructive possibilities, Mr. Panetta said, involve “cyber-actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack.” He described the collective result as a “cyber-Pearl Harbor that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life, an attack that would paralyze and shock the nation and create a profound new sense of vulnerability.”

Mr. Panetta also argued against the idea that new legislation would be costly for business. “The fact is that to fully provide the necessary protection in our democracy, cybersecurity must be passed by the Congress,” he told his audience, Business Executives for National Security. “Without it, we are and we will be vulnerable.”

With the legislation stalled, Mr. Panetta said President Obama was weighing the option of issuing an executive order that would promote information sharing on cybersecurity between government and private industry. But Mr. Panetta made clear that he saw it as a stopgap measure and that private companies, which are typically reluctant to share internal information with the government, would cooperate fully only if required to by law.

“We’re not interested in looking at e-mail, we’re not interested in looking at information in computers, I’m not interested in violating rights or liberties of people,” Mr. Panetta told editors and reporters at The New York Times earlier on Thursday. “But if there is a code, if there’s a worm that’s being inserted, we need to know when that’s happening.”

He said that with an executive order making cooperation by the private sector only voluntary, “I’m not sure they’re going to volunteer if they don’t feel that they’re protected legally in terms of sharing information.”

“So our hope is that ultimately we can get Congress to adopt that kind of legislation,” he added.

Mr. Panetta’s comments, his most extensive to date on cyberwarfare, also sought to increase the level of public debate about the Defense Department’s growing capacity not only to defend but also to carry out attacks over computer networks. Even so, he carefully avoided using the words “offense” or “offensive” in the context of American cyberwarfare, instead defining the Pentagon’s capabilities as “action to defend the nation.”

The United States has nonetheless engaged in its own cyberattacks against adversaries, although it has never publicly admitted it. From his first months in office, Mr. Obama ordered sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment plants, according to participants in the program. He decided to accelerate the attacks, which were begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games, even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010.

In a part of the speech notable for carefully chosen words, Mr. Panetta warned that the United States “won’t succeed in preventing a cyberattack through improved defenses alone.”

“If we detect an imminent threat of attack that will cause significant physical destruction in the United States or kill American citizens, we need to have the option to take action against those who would attack us, to defend this nation when directed by the president,” Mr. Panetta said. “For these kinds of scenarios, the department has developed the capability to conduct effective operations to counter threats to our national interests in cyberspace.”

The comments indicated that the United States might redefine defense in cyberspace as requiring the capacity to reach forward over computer networks if an attack was detected or anticipated, and take pre-emptive action. These same offensive measures also could be used in a punishing retaliation for a first-strike cyberattack on an American target, senior officials said.

Senior Pentagon officials declined to describe specifics of what offensive cyberwarfare abilities the Defense Department has fielded or is developing. And while Mr. Panetta avoided labeling them as “offensive,” other senior military and Pentagon officials have recently begun acknowledging their growing focus on these tools.

The Defense Department is finalizing “rules of engagement” that would put the Pentagon’s cyberweapons into play only in case of an attack on American targets that rose to some still unspecified but significant levels. Short of that, the Pentagon shares intelligence and offers technical assistance to the F.B.I. and other agencies.


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Screen-Viewing Blues: Why You Should Unplug at Night

Spending evenings in front of a glowing computer, TV, or cellphone screen can put you at risk of depression, Science News reports. Nighttime exposure to light from gadgets has already been shown to contribute to insomnia, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Now, a new study shows that screen glow can cause mood-related changes in the brain.

For weeks, researchers exposed hamsters to eight hours a night of dim light—like that from a TV screen—instead of their usual eight hours of pitch darkness. They found that the rodents became lethargic and ignored their favorite sugary treats, suggesting that they weren’t deriving “pleasure out of activities they once enjoyed”—a major indication of depression in humans, says study author Tracy Bedrosian. The rodents’ brains also showed the same kinds of changes in the hippocampus that are common in depressed people.

“The good news,” Bedrosian says, is that the damage disappeared and the rodents’ behavior returned to normal after researchers took the night lights away, meaning that simply powering down earlier may “undo some of the harmful effects” that late-night gadget users face. Over the past 50 years, depression rates in the U.S. have increased dramatically as artificial lighting at night has become more common.

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Are social media making us lonely?

For all the connectivity offered by social media, we “have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier.” Do you agree?

It’s the great paradox of our age, said Stephen Marche in The Atlantic. Thanks to texting, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, Americans now live in “a web of connection” in which we can reach everyone we know in just a fraction of a second. Yet for all this connectivity, we “have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier.” A 2010 study by the AARP found that 35 percent of adults over the age of 45 were chronically lonely, up from 20 percent a decade earlier. Another major study reported that 20 percent of Americans—some 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness.

Facebook, of course, isn’t the sole cause of the growing isolation so many people feel, but there’s little doubt that it is amplifying it. Social media lure us into “increasingly superficial connections at exactly the same moment they make avoiding the mess of human interaction easy.” So instead of engaging our friends in meaningful, face-to-face conversation, we now spend hours a day clicking “like” on their photos and exchanging single-sentence status updates. “In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society.”

It’s true that people report feeling lonelier, said Jeff Bercovici in Forbes.com. But this is a phenomenon that precedes Facebook. Between 1985 and 2004, the year Mark Zuckerberg launched his site, surveys found that the average American’s number of close confidants shrank from three to two; in that pre-Facebook era, one in four Americans had zero close friends.

There are many reasons for this increasing isolation, such as the fact that we work ever-longer hours, commute longer distances, and have less time to socialize. “And technology undoubtedly has a lot to do with it.” Just don’t blame Facebook alone. In fact, research shows that the site can actually strengthen our friendship networks, said Luke Allnutt in Radio Free Europe online. A recent Pew Research Center study found that Facebook members had more close confidants than non-Facebook users. That’s possibly because Facebook allows us to better nurture and manage existing relationships. When my son was born last year, for example, I uploaded a photo of him onto Facebook; within minutes, I received dozens of “likes” and congratulatory comments from family members, friends, and people I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Those “likes” weren’t throwaway sentiments, but rather “the equivalent of smiles,” pats on the back, or wineglasses raised in my boy’s honor. “Facebook didn’t make me feel lonely; quite the opposite in fact.”

I really wish Facebook was making us lonely, said Alexandra Petri in WashingtonPost.com, but it’s actually doing something far worse. Every day, it forces you to face the fact that your friends’ lives are going better than yours. Ugh: Mimi has just posted photos of her engagement ring. Carl won a Pulitzer. “Camilla just got into graduate school (twitch) and Ann was elected to the Senate (twitch) and Marcel won the Goncourt prize (twitch).” After gritting your teeth and clicking “like” on each of these infuriating announcements, you’re left wanting to retreat “to a secluded area and scream wordlessly for hours.”

Please stop blaming Mark Zuckerberg for your problems, said John McQuaid in Forbes.com. Hating something as popular as Facebook “has a certain resonance,” but research shows that the site is just a tool that can amplify people’s feeling of isolation or be used to alleviate it. It all depends on what you put into it. The blame game “assumes a kind of infantilization effect, that Facebook (or any social tool) can determine the conditions of your life for good or ill.”

Open your eyes, said Sherry Turkle in The New York Times. Everywhere you look, you’ll see the proof that social media are turning us into solitary creatures. Whether at a college library, a coffee shop, or even a beach, people now spend much of their time looking down, while “furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens.” Being “alone together” has an addictive appeal, because real human relationships are messy, demanding, and frustrating. By compressing other people to digital connections, we can keep each other “carefully at bay. Not too close, not too far, just right.”

Facebook and Twitter also give us the power to “present the self we want to be,” carefully tailoring our status updates and retouching photos of ourselves. But beware: “Sips” of online connection provide only “the illusion of companionship.” May I suggest that we put down our devices, “look at one another, and let’s start the conversation.”

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It's History in the Making: Google's Self-Driving Cars Are Now Legal In California

California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law on September 25, 2012 that clears Google's driverless cars for use on state-owned roads, as reported by Dylan Love at Business Insider. Technically this lets any company pursue driverless car plans, but Google is clearly the face of automated vehicles right now and the bill was signed at Google headquarters.

As seen on Google's blog on 9/25/12: California Governor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. is visiting Google Headquarters today to sign SB1298, a bill that creates a legal framework and operational safety standards for the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.

What an incredible development!


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Amazon Shifts Tactics on Sales Taxes

Tax-free shopping on the Internet may soon come to an end, said Monica Langley in The Wall Street Journal. Republican governors in budget-strapped states, eager for revenue, are joining their Democratic colleagues by dropping their longtime opposition to collecting sales taxes on online purchases. Under pressure, Amazon, which has long relied on a 1992 court ruling that online companies don’t have to collect sales taxes if they lack a physical presence in the customer’s state, is now collecting taxes in six states, and by January 2014 will start doing so in seven more, including New Jersey, Indiana, and Virginia.

The irony is that Amazon’s capitulation on taxes could be the death knell for its offline retail rivals, said Barney Jopson in the Financial Times. The company is expanding its network of warehouses to states where it collects sales taxes, and plans to soon offer same-day delivery to millions of consumers. “If Amazon can deliver to work or home in three or four hours—and at little or no shipping cost to the consumer—then why bother with the store?” An Amazon promise of same-day delivery is “a major fear,” said New Jersey bookstore owner Rita Maggio. “I’m afraid we’ll never get back what we lost.”

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The Smiley Emoticon Turns 30 Today!

The official birthdate of the smiley is September 19, 1982. It was created by Scott E. Fahlman at Carnegie Mellon University. The two original "glyphs" by Scott were :-) and :-( Since Scott posted his first smiley proposal, MANY other smileys have been devised...

Smileys, also known as emoticons (meaning icons that represent emotion), grew out of the need to display feeling in the two-dimensional, online, written world. When speaking face-to-face (F2F), a person's facial expressions help you understand the meaning of what he or she is saying. Smileys are an attempt to bring that extra nuance to online communications by composing a face out of ASCII characters.

And, lest you think that's all, there are also now assicons and boobiecons... emoticons which highlight other parts of the body! And there are graphical smileys, straight-on smileys, Japanese smileys, special characters and full-on ASCII art, enjoy!

Check out the Original Bulletin Board Thread where the Smiley :-) was Proposed!

Here is NetLingo's special smileys page for a closer head tilting look so you can start using one for yourself 0*-)

5 Web Tools Every Student Needs to Know

It’s back to school time, and though most of us have mastered the use of social media to enhance our personal lives, what about mastering Internet and technology that can make us more productive instead of easily distracted? Neha Prakash of Mashable rounded up the best apps, tools and websites for students to streamline your school life and be more successful.

Google has given you a leg up though this year on that looming avalanche of paper assignments with its Google Docs research feature. It easily allows you to search online while writing and — the best part — footnote the paper with the click of a button. But be prepared to spend more time actually writing your paper since you now have no excuse.

Bookrenter.com will help you in the financial and academic realms. The site is one of many that lets you rent the books you need on a per semester basis for much smaller fees than purchasing them at school bookstores.

And for those annoying group projects, when organization is the hardest but most key part, use Trello to keep on track. It uses a set of boards and cards to assign tasks to specific people. All the members can be aware of what others are working on. It also lets you set priorities and due dates for each task. Trello can be accessed from your laptop, iOS device or Android device.

Group projects also require lots of file sharing. Instead of trying to pass around flash drives, head to Dropbox. Dropbox lets you easily upload anything from video and audio files to slide presentations and access it from anywhere. It’s also got a great free mobile app.

If Dropbox’s upload limits get you frustrated, CloudApp has a similar concept but offers unlimited uploads for files under 250 MB.

And we all know the first ingredient to a great school year is having a good teacher, so check out Rate My Professors before scheduling your classes. It works like Yelp, but just for academics. It rates teachers on easiness, helpfulness, clarity and even their looks. And other students can leave in-depth comments about their experiences in the class.

And just for good measure here’s another study app: Evernote Peek. It turns your iPad‘s SmartCover into a flashcard. No more stacks of index cards needed to memorize those geometric equations. It’s available for free in the App Store.

Check out this video to learn more about each of these tools!

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It's Back to (Online) School Time!

Advances in technology, coupled with increased demand for educational services, have given birth to a wave of new online learning options. According to Zev Gotkin in Mashable, this leaves infopreneurs with the opportunity to create exciting new ways for individuals to learn online. Here are five start-ups that are shaping the online education trend.


1. 2tor - 2tor is the first startup of its kind to offer full degree programs online at top-tier universities. It’s also the most highly funded. As of April, its total investments added up to a little under $97 million. 2tor partners with universities across the country to help them build and market their own online degree programs. The startup has created master’s degree programs for a variety of schools, including a master of arts in teaching at the University of Southern California and Georgetown University’s nursing program.

2tor is making waves for its web-based infrastructure that allows professors to easily share information with students, create interactive lessons, and provide lectures and opportunities for social interaction among students. Its iPad and iPhone apps even allow students to participate on the go. These varied services are allowing 2tor to lead the way as an online education startup.

2. Udemy - Udemy is unique because it allows anyone to take or build an online course, not just colleges and universities. Instructors can implement videos, PowerPoints, zip files, audio files, and PDFs to create a course and share it with the world. The site offers courses on technology, business, music, art, languages, math, science, games, sports, and more.

The basic premise is to crowdsource education. Much like blogging allows anyone to share information, Udemy allows anyone to create courses with nothing more than an internet connection. Many individuals with a desire to learn are cut out of the education system by rising tuition, housing, and commuting costs, but Udemy empowers anyone to share and learn at a more affordable rate.

3. EdX - Announced on May 2, 2012 EdX is the joint creation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard. The partnership strives to bring online learning to people across the globe and offers online classes for free. EdX courses include videos, quizzes, feedback, and more to help students navigate the material. In July 2012, the service received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which shows just how much potential online education programs have to grow.

4. Voxy - This start-up is allowing users to “learn a language from life,” meaning they use context and flexibility to teach new languages via web-based and mobile technology. Voxy turns your real-world conversations, activities, and the media you consume into contextual language lessons. The service allows users to control the pace of their learning with tailored language lessons focusing on things that are of interest to them. The iPhone and Android apps also allow users to learn on the go.

Language acquisition is more difficult for adults, but Voxy’s customized pacing allows for a stress-free environment. Since January 2011, the site has grown to more than one and a half million users, and spent nearly a year as the number one education app in twenty countries.

5. Noodle - Noodle has created the very first search engine of its kind, devoted solely to navigating the vast sea of educational information available online. Noodle’s customized search engine helps students and their families to find resources for tutors, pre-K schooling options, guidance counselors, summer camps, MBA programs, and much more. Basically, this service is revolutionizing the way we search for and locate educational opportunities suited to our needs.

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Awesome Android Tips and Tricks

You don't need a degree in software engineering to get more out of your Android smartphone. Regardless of the kind of Android phone you're packing — be it from Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola or Sony, to name a few makers — Marc Saltzman of Digital Crave has a handful of helpful ways to unlock the capabilities of your favorite handset.

Unless otherwise specified, it also shouldn't matter what version of Android you're running on your smartphone, with the most popular today being Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread") or the latest release, Android 4.0 ("Ice Cream Sandwich"). To figure out what version you're running, go to the About section of your device, under Settings.

Many of these tips and tricks will work on Android-based tablets (including those powered by Android 3.x, a.k.a. "Honeycomb") as well as phone-tablet hybrids like the Samsung Galaxy Note and its built-in stylus pen.

1. Text or talk - If you're getting a call on your Gingerbread or Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) device, you can swipe the screen to the right to answer, swipe to the left to ignore or swipe up to quickly respond with a text message — by default it's "I'm busy right now. I will call you later." On some models, you'll need to tap "Ignore With Text." But you can change this default message in the phone's app's Settings area to something else altogether.

2. Hi Mom! - If there's someone you call a lot, there's an easy way to set up a "quick dial" for them on your Android device. Simply tap and hold anywhere on your homescreen wallpaper and select Shortcuts from your list of options. Now, touch Direct Dial and select the person from your contacts list. If you have a photo of this person in your contacts then that's what you'll see on the shortcut icon, along with their first name. You can also use this little-known tool for one-touch texting, by selecting the Direct Message option instead.

3. Cutting corners - There are many dozens of handy shortcuts to speed up your time on Android devices — some tied to the web browsers, others to using the virtual keyboard and another set related to app management. But here are a few handy ones for those who use Gmail on an Android device: While inside of a message, tap the R key to reply to the message, F to forward it, A to reply to all (to everyone in the To: and Cc: field) or Y to archive an email (this last shortcut works inside of the message or while in the main inbox view). Compose a new email by tapping Menu + C or refresh your inbox with Menu + U.

4. Flash, on demand - Unlike the iPhone, Android devices are capable of displaying websites with Flash animation, video and games. But if you don't have a generous data plan with your carrier, or if you find loading Flash is slowing down your browsing, you can launch Flash on-demand. That is, you can tap to see or interact with Flash content when you want — and if you don't tap to start it, it won't load. To do this, go to the Settings of your web browser, select Advanced and tap to change the Enable Flash and Plug-Ins tab from "Always On" to "On demand" or "Off."

5. Siri, Shmiri - If you're a seasoned Android user you likely know Google has offered voice-based search for some time, but the voice-to-text dictation feature is really strong on the phone — especially with ICS. Tap the microphone icon to the left of the spacebar while inside of a text or email and start talking. Not only will you see the words typed out as you say them — unlike Apple's Siri, which shows you the words after you're done talking — but the accuracy is outstanding and you'll find this is much faster than typing out a lengthy message. Don't forget to say punctuation requests, such as "comma,' "period" and "question mark."

6. Speak easy - One of the advantages of Android over competing smartphone platforms is its integrated Google apps ranging from Search and Maps to Gmail to YouTube to Calendar to Google+ to Earth. One of the most powerful of the free services, however, is Google Voice, which lets you make phone calls (with cheap international rates), send and receive free text messages, transcribes voicemails into text, forward your number and set up custom greetings for different callers. Google Voice will quickly become your favorite app, so get to know it.

7. Say cheese - Quick — your friend is doing something ridiculous and you must capture the moment. Problem is, by the time you pick up and unlock your Android phone, launch the camera and snap the picture, it's simply too late. Well, here's a trick to enabling the camera from the lock screen so you don't miss the action. Instead of sliding the ring towards the center of the screen or typing in your PIN code or pattern, simply tap and hold the camera icon on the bottom right of your smartphone and drag it to the ring — it'll meet you halfway — and then let go to launch the camera pronto. Cool, huh?

8. Wild about widgets - One of the great things about an open-source platform is you can customize the look and feel of your Android's homescreen in a myriad of ways. Want "live" wallpaper that animates behind your icons? Too bad iPhone can't do that. Want to create one homescreen for work (with 9 to 5 apps) and one for play (5 to 9 apps)? Why not. Something else that separates Android from the IOS camp is Widgets, which you can add by pressing and holding down on the home screen; these can range from funky clocks and bookmarks to weather information and messages to photos and system information. Have fun exploring. If you're running ICS you can also resize these widgets on the fly.

9. Screen dream - Before ICS, it wasn't easy to snap a picture of what you're seeing on the device's display. To take a screenshot of a game, website, message or anything else, Android 4.x users can simply press the power and volume-down buttons at the same time. The screen will flash white, you'll hear a sound and the image be saved in your photo gallery. If you're on a non-ICS-device — such as Froyo, Gingerbread or Honeycomb — try the $5 No Root Screenshot It app, but be aware you'll need to connect your device to a computer via a USB cable to enable screenshots each time you restart the phone.

10. Don't leave home without it
- Increasingly, Android devices are shipping with NFC (Near Field Communication) technology under the hood. This wireless radio can be used to make payments at retail, vending machines or between supported devices, in place of using cash, credit or debit. Consider it an electronic wallet, of sorts, that lets you buy goods or services by tapping or swiping on a sensor. NFC-enabled phones -- such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S II, LG Viper 4G LTE and LG Optimus LTE — all work with apps like Google Wallet at supporting stores for NFC payments.

11. Freeze frame - You're likely aware there are a few photo effects built into your Android camera app. If not, from the photo gallery, simply tap Edit from the dropdown menu and you can brighten up a dark shot, add a film grain look, remove red-eye or tweak color (better yet, download the free Instagram app). But did you know ICS has another cool photo feature: when you're shooting a video with your Android device, tap the frame and it'll take a still snapshot and automatically dump it into your camera roll. Those running older Android devices can download an app, like Frame Grabber from Google Play (formerly Android Market), that do the same thing -- but you'll have to grab a still after the video has been shot.

12. Later gator - About to go on a long flight without any Internet connectivity? Those on an ICS device can save web content to read at a later time — without needing an app to do it (like Pocket). If you're inside the browser and come across something interesting you want to read at a later time, tap the menu tab and select "Save for offline reading" instead of "Bookmark," as the latter will require an Internet connection. This is also a good tip in case you're nearing your monthly data limit and want to queue up a few things to read offline.

13. Know when to fold 'em - If you need to clean up a messy desktop, perhaps littered with multiple app icons over multiple pages, you can press and hold on an app, drag it onto another one and it will create a folder and place them both in there. You can then tap and hold to rename the folder to something relevant ("Music Apps"), add more apps to the folder, if you like, and then rearrange where they go on your homescreen. You can also drag and drop shortcuts into folders, too, if you like, but not widgets.

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