Mercenary botnets for hire

Creators of botnets want to rent them out for attacking targets:

When anyone can make use of a burgeoning army of rogue connected devices for a fee, the threat of a crippled Internet is more real than ever.

Source: IoT Botnets Are Growing—and Up for Hire

The online world is out of control. Botnets for hire. Android malware that takes control of your phone – until you write a number of favorable online reviews of certain apps or products.

Product reviews are today filled with enormous numbers of fake reviews. As sites like ReviewMeta and FakeSpot help end users filter the real from the fake, the fake reviews have become more sophisticated.

Fake reviews are produced to promote the sales of products – and to simultaneously give bad reviews to competitors’ products.

Many companies are very pro-active about bad reviews – and contact the buyer seeking a resolution. This is excellent customer service, but often comes with a request to rewrite or delete the review.

If there is a way to scam a system, dozens of people have figured it out.

Materials science engineers develop “metallic glass” gears for #robots

Materials science engineers have developed a “metallic glass” gear system that operates at very low temperatures, without lubrication, and provides high strength.

“Metallic glass” has the strength of a metal but sigh the amorphous structure of a glass. Further, parts made from the materials can be injected molded, similar to how plastic parts are made.

Applications include many kinds of robotics, and especially space systems that must operate in extreme temperature conditions.
Source: Metallic glass gears make for graceful robots — ScienceDaily

Some Albertson’s stores eliminating self service checkouts

Our local Albertson’s, in Oregon, removed self service checkouts during the summer. Self service checkouts have been seen as a semi-automated way of reducing labor costs, and for some customers, a faster checkout experience. However, Albertson’s grocery is now removing self service checkouts from additional (but not all) stores in Southern California.

“Still, self-service is growing beyond supermarkets as time-strapped consumers demand more convenience. Reduced labor costs, as one employee is typically assigned to multiple self-service registers, is another corporate incentive.Home improvement stores, movie theaters, airlines and the hospitality industry have also embraced self-serve technology. Some McDonald’s restaurants in Southern California have experimented with self-ordering kiosks.”

Source: Albertsons getting rid of most self-checkout lanes at Southern California stores

Will automation lead to better jobs, rather than fewer? Some say yes.

“…fear has been replaced by a belief that automation not only holds the key to long-term survival but it can create better jobs than those replaced. More to the point, he says there is simply no choice – businesses like his can embrace automation or disappear. “I believe that automation will be the cornerstone of our business within the next five years,” he says. “Manual fabrication will become the exception rather than the rule.”’

Source: Mining, manufacturing and fruit picking: can automation save Mackay jobs? | Guardian Sustainable Business | The Guardian

(Featured photo is of bricks stacked outside a no longer used, historic mine. Photo by me.)

Automation to improve quality, rather than reduce labor costs

“Automation is not something we do simply to reduce labor. It’s a more a factor of consistency,” Burton said. “In fact, I treat (human) labor as a fixed cost. When things get slow, that’s the time to put people on something you always say you need or want to do but haven’t had time to do.”

Source: Automation grows at local manufacturers | GazetteXtra

Automated systems – and new tooling – as illustrated in this case study, have enabled this manufacturer to gain new customers, expand the business, and put his labor resources to work on new tasks.

Retailers using automation to reduce labor costs

Source: Retailers looking to save on labor costs turn to automation

$15 per hour minimum wage, $4 to 5$ hour in benefits adds up while the costs of automation fall dramatically. The former is a variable cost while automation is mostly a one time fixed cost. Labor intensive service businesses have advanced beyond experiments with automation and are now rolling out various solutions. The “featured image” attached to this article is a pair of self order kiosks in a McDonald’s in St George, Utah (photo by me). Starbucks offers a mobile app that let’s patrons order products in advance for pickup when the customer enters the store. If widely adopted, this could reduce the labor needed to take orders. To the extent these steps free up labor that may then be applied to higher value services, this will be good for all. But in some situations, this may simply free up labor – reducing the number of jobs. Plus, some of the people whose jobs become automated may lack the ability to learn new higher-value skills.

UK to log all web site access from everyone

In a move taken by few other nations, it [new law] requires telecommunications companies to store for a year the web histories known as internet connection records — a list of websites each person has visited and the apps and messaging services they used, though not the individual pages they looked at or the messages they sent.

Source: Sweeping UK spy bill dubbed ‘snoopers’ charter’ becomes law – SFGate

No warrant is required to access the data and the list of accessed web sites will be available to nearly any government agency, not just police investigating crimes.

This is the largest, publicly disclosed, mass surveillance system in history.

Majority of Americans may not be able to use VR headsets

Most (nearly all?) virtual reality viewers available online can not be used by those who need to wear eyeglasses, which is a majority of Americans.

The Problem

  • VR viewers lack space on the face side to accommodate the wearing of eye glasses.
  • VR viewers lack diopter adjustments.
  • VR viewers lack inter pupil distance (IPD) adjustments.

Who Does This Impact?

75% of Americans use some form of corrective eye lenses, split as 64% wear glasses and 11% wear contact lenses (Source: Corrective Lenses Statistics – Statistic Brain).

Nearly 100% of those over the age of 45 require reading glasses for close in viewing – or using most any virtual reality viewer. Almost all viewers lack sufficient space to wear reading glasses when the viewer is on the face. Attempting to wear reading glasses with a VR viewer is extremely uncomfortable as the viewer pushes the glasses into their face.

Unlike camera viewfinders that include a diopter adjustment, VR viewers are almost all fixed focal lengths or have limited adjustments (possibly only for myopia but not presbyopia).

Most VR viewers (but not all) have a fixed inter pupil distance (the distance between the eyes is fixed even though people have different distances – think of how binoculars work to address that!).

Consequently, VR viewing is – for a majority of Americans – either impossible or painful.

A few of the higher end viewers have – during the past year – begun to address this problem either by enabling the wearing of glasses while using the viewer, or by adding a focus adjustment.

The focus adjustment, however, is not sufficient. Of the 75% who need vision correction, some have significantly different corrections between the left and right eye. All VR focus adjustments make the same adjustment for both eyes – meaning such individuals can only get a good focus in one eye.

Again, think of binoculars. Binoculars solved this problem decades ago by having a master focus ring that adjust both eye views simultaneously, plus a single diopter adjustment for one eye. The inter pupil distance is adjusted in binoculars by positioning each lens further apart. Through these adjustments, binoculars long ago provided solutions to the majority that need vision correction.

A reasonable guess is that the VR industry views its customers as young gamers and hired young people with excellent vision to design their products, but who are oblivious to real world customers.

If the VR industry does not address these design defects urgently, the future of VR is itself in doubt.

When a majority of potential customers are likely to have unsatisfactory experiences, they will not purchase VR products and content. They will not post positive comments in reviews and online forums.

Media pundits said 3D failed because people had to wear “3D goggles” (their term for 3D glasses). In reality, the problem was a lack of compelling 3D content for consumers to watch at home.

VR, which really does use “3D Goggles” (and helmets too), is headed down the same path to oblivion if it does not deliver VR viewers that can be worn and used by a majority of the population. This is a significant VR industry marketing failure.

MIT researchers create synthetic “muscle fiber” using nylon cord for #robotics applications 

‘Some polymer fiber materials, including highly oriented nylon, have an unusual property: When heated, “they shrink in length but expand in diameter,” Mirvakili says, and this property has been harnessed to make some linear actuator devices. But to turn that linear shrinking motion into bending typically requires a mechanism such as a pulley and a takeup reel, adding extra size, complexity, and expense. The MIT team’s advance was to directly harness the motion without requiring extra mechanical parts.’

Source: Nylon fibers made to flex like muscles | MIT News