Man literally betrayed by his own heart.

Modern technology is amazing, but every day we’re hearing about cases where someone’s electronic device ends up tying them to the crimes they’ve committed. Usually it’s cellphone location data or photos that busts someone for a crime, but in this case police arrested Ross Compton for arson because his story didn’t line up with data from his electronic heart monitor:

Middletown man’s electronic heart monitor leads to his arrest – WLWT5

Middletown police said Compton told them that he was able to pack his suitcases and throw them out his bedroom window after he broke out the glass with a walking stick.

According to court documents obtained by WLWT, a cardiologist told police that those actions were “highly improbable” because of Compton’s medical condition.

Police sought to prove that by collecting electronic data stored in Compton’s electronic heart device. They wanted to know Compton’s heart rate, pacer demand and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire.

Police told WLWT on Friday that it was an excellent investigative tool, and the information that was retrieved didn’t match Compton’s story.

“It was one of the key pieces of evidence that allowed us to charge him,” Lt. Jimmy Cunningham said.

It’s believed this is the first time data from an electronic heart monitor has been used in this manner. Of course, it helps that the arson inspectors say the fire was started with gasoline at multiple points around the outside of the house and it was on the clothes Compton was wearing at the time, but this is the icing on the cake.

I’m always amused by the criminals who don’t think to leave their cellphones at home when undertaking a planned crime because that’s going to be the first thing the police are going to check. Turning it off is another option, but that looks suspicious if it’s only off during the time the crime takes place. Especially if it’s during the day when you’d have it turned on.

Having a heart monitor, however, is not something you could (or probably would want to) turn off. I suppose you could start the fire and then go through the motions of what you are going to claim to have done so that the data links up, but given that it’s physically demanding you’d be putting yourself at risk of heart failure while in the middle of a burning building which doesn’t seem too smart either. Probably want to change your clothes after handling the gas too.

I dunno, seems like the smart thing to do is not to do this in the first place.

WTF: The “Licki Brush” for grooming your cats.

Apparently there’s a group of folks out there in the world who aren’t happy with using traditional pet grooming brushes on their cats. They want something more akin to what a mother cat would use. So someone has invented a tongue-brush you hold in your mouth so you can lick your cat.

No, I'm not fucking kidding.

No, I’m not fucking kidding.

I’m not sure I see the point in this. It doesn’t seem to me that a cat would get more out of this experience than they would from a traditional brush or even just your bare hand. If anything they’d probably be annoyed because now you’re breathing all over them through your nose, which most cats don’t really appreciate. It looks awkward as hell to use and I was pretty sure this had to be a joke, but their website claims they’ll be launching a Kickstarter to raise funding for it soon.

I can’t imagine this will be a big seller, but at least they can take comfort in knowing that they have at least one potential customer out there:

Yeesh. I love my cats, but I have my limits.

An explanation on why setting your iPhone to 1/1/1970 will brick it.

There’s been a rather nasty meme going around on Facebook recently that suggests there’s an easter egg in iOS that will give your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch a retro looking original Macintosh theme if you set it’s clock back to January 1st, 1970:

NOTE: DO NOT ACTUALLY DO THIS!

NOTE: DO NOT ACTUALLY DO THIS!

What really happens if you do the above is you’ll end up with an essentially bricked iPhone that isn’t able to get past the boot screen. The reason why has to do with how dates and times are stored in most operating systems these days and a bug someplace in iOS. YouTuber Tom Scott has put together a handy little explanation on what is probably happening and why:

So, as a PSA to those folks out there who have one of these devices, don’t try to set the clock back to January 1st, 1970 unless you want a very expensive paperweight. Presumably Apple will get around to patching this bug at some point, but even when they do there’s not a good reason to do it anyway as there is no easter egg associated with that date.

And now here is today’s “feeling old” moment.

I’ve already shared this one on Google+ so if you’ve already seen it there I apologize for the repetition, but I know my mother would get a kick out of this so I’m sharing it here too.

I’m old enough now that snot nosed kids can make me feel old pretty easily. Especially when it comes to stuff I grew up with. Stuff like dealing with a rotary phone:

Even though touch tone phones were introduced well before I was born, it took awhile before they were ubiquitous. Growing up we mostly had touch tone phones in the house, but we had a couple of the old rotary ones around too. I don’t recall when I learned how to use one though I’m sure I had to be taught. These days I don’t even have a landline anymore. It’s just an added expense that doesn’t make much sense when I carry my cellphone with me everywhere. That doesn’t stop this video from making me feel really old.

If a tablet is good then a Christian tablet must be even better!

Everything you love about tablets removed for your soul’s protection!

One of the things Christians love to do is Christianize everything they can get their hands on. Everything from super heroes to full-contact martial arts have been slathered in a thick layer of Jesus and sold to the faithful. With the popularity of tablets like the iPad it was only a matter of time before someone came up with a Christian take on the concept.

Holy iPad slayer! Company releases world’s first Christian tablet | Fox News.

Billed as the world’s first Christian tablet, its genesis came with the inevitable intersection of technology and religion, according to Brian Honorable, a technology supervisor at Family Christian, the group that sells the tablet.

“We wanted to be able to offer our customers the ability to use our Holy Bible application, which has 27 different English translations of the Bible,” Honorable told FoxNews.com in an interview.

“It goes along with our mission: trying to get people closer to God … through a tablet.”

Because if there’s one thing Jesus made clear, it was that when the day came that tablet computing was popular his followers should find some way to use them to bring people closer to God.

The Family Christian Edifi tablet, as it’s called, is a basic Android powered tablet with 512MB of RAM and 8GB of storage in a form factor similar to Amazon’s Kindle. It’ll set you back about $150 making it about $50 cheaper than the aforementioned Kindle:

But the Christian tablet is more than just an e-reader. It also comes with movie-watching capabilities, Christian radio stations, and even a web browser with built-in “safe search,” so the tablet is safe for the whole family. “We put that on there just in case it was given as a gift to a child, so they wouldn’t have access to things they shouldn’t have access to,” said Honorable. “We definitely had to tailor it to our customers.”

Based on the description in the article it’s hard to say exactly how this is any better than just loading up your choice of Bible app and installing safe search software on any other tablet you might care to own. Is having that stuff pre-installed really worth settling for a cheap knockoff that costs almost as much as what you’d rather own anyway? The YouTube video promoting the product doesn’t reveal anything particularly special about it compared to other tablets.

One thing they don’t mention is whether or not it has access to the Android app store. Having access to thousands of apps is usually a big selling point for other tablets, but other than mentioning that you can download free software to connect to unnamed social networking sites there’s no word on what, if anything, you can install on the Edifi. I suppose that’s OK if you’re happy only reading Christian books, listening to Christian Internet radio stations and watching Christian movies, but it seems like a lot of freedom to give up for a sub-par tablet.

But then it’s not about your freedom. It’s about your ever-lasting soul, right?

Own an iPhone or iPad? It’s been tracking everywhere you go for the past year.

Pic of output from iPhone Tracker app.

A sample of the output. The bigger the dot the more times you've been recorded as being there.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about your iPhone/iPad: It appears to be keeping a record of everyplace you’ve ever been both the device itself and on your computer if you use iTunes to back up your phone. The folks over at AresTechnica.com have the details:

Researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden revealed their findings on Wednesday ahead of their presentation at the Where 2.0 conference taking place in San Francisco. The two discovered that the iPhone or 3G iPad—anything with 3G data access, so no iPod touch—are logging location data to a file called consolidated.db with latitude and longitude coodinates and a timestamp. The data collection appears to be associated with the launch of iOS 4 last June, meaning that many users (us at Ars included) have nearly a year’s worth of stalking data collected.

In order to drive the point home, the two developed an open source application called iPhone Tracker that lets anyone with access to your computer see where you’ve been.

Now some of you might be thinking this isn’t anything new as these products have long had GPS features that will tell you where you are and they often notify you that they’re doing so when you use them. Yeah, but this is slightly different. This tracking isn’t being done using the GPS, but by triangulating your position relative to cell phone towers:

Users don’t get to decide whether their locations are tracked via cell towers or not—unlike GPS, there is no setting that lets users turn it off, there’s no explicit consent every time it happens, and there’s no way to block the logging. (Nitpickers will point out that you do give your consent to iTunes when you download and install iOS 4, but this is not treated the same way as the consent given to the iPhone every time an app wants to use GPS.) So, whether or not you’re using GPS, if you’re using your iPhone as a cell phone, you are being tracked and logged constantly without your knowledge.

The only way to avoid this tracking is to turn off the cellphone part of the device. Now the problem here isn’t so much that your devices are tracking your every move, but that you’re not being told about it. The good news is that, as near as the researchers can determine, this data is not being sent back to Apple or any other third party. The bad news is that it’s not at all difficult to get access to which means that if you lose your phone or your computer is compromised then anyone with the iPhone Tracker app can call up everywhere you’ve ever been with it. You can bet your ass that law enforcement absolutely loves this “feature” so if you’ve ever been anywhere you don’t want someone to know about, well, hope you didn’t have an iPhone with you.

Of course, this only really matters if you give a shit about people knowing your comings and goings. Something which more and more people seem to have stopped worrying about. In fact, the folks at Gawker are reporting that this discovery has spawned a hot new trend:

When it comes to technology today, there is barely any distance between outrageous privacy violation and cool new feature. When news broke yesterday that Apple has been secretly spying on iPhone users, many people immediately broadcasted the illicit data to everyone.

[…] Holy crap, Apple has been secretly logging our every move for months? Let’s… broadcast it to everyone on the internet! Many techies are now showing off their iSpy maps: “I find myself fascinated staring at this automatically generated record of where I’ve been,” wrote tech blogger Alexis Madrigal. Tumblr and Twitter arefull of them. “I don’t get out of West LA enough,” user aboycommemoi observed.

For its part, Apple hasn’t said shit about this discovery, but there is some indication that this may not have been an intentional breach of user trust. More likely it’s a bug or an oversight in the program. The folks at Gizmodo explain:

As Gruber’s been informed, consolidated.db—the tin-foil-hat-inducing log in question—is a cache for location data. (As Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan’s FAQ about their project implies.) What’s supposed to happen with the cache is that the “historical data should be getting culled but isn’t”—because of said bug or oversight. In Gruber’s words:

I.e. someone wrote the code to cache location data but never wrote code to cull non-recent entries from the cache, so that a database that’s meant to serve as a cache of your recent location data is instead a persistent log of your location history. I’d wager this gets fixed in the next iOS update.

So how freaked out should you be? If you don’t own an iPhone or iPad then this isn’t really an issue for you. If you do then it depends on how much you give a shit if someone could potentially get hold of that data. The chances that you’ll be hacked and have it stolen for some nefarious, but unknown purpose is probably minimal. However that data is something that could potentially be used against you by law enforcement if they should happen to have reason to acquire it.

Given the recent hoopla here in Michigan where the State Police have been accused of extracting data from cell phones during routine traffic stops, that may be something to consider. (Note, the MSP put out a response to the ACLU’s assertions saying that they do not collect cell phone data during routine traffic stops and only do so with a court issued warrant.) And while you may say that you’ve nothing to hide from the police, it’s not like there aren’t cases where circumstantial and coincidental evidence got an innocent person convicted.

Just the same, forewarned is forearmed and it’s better to know what is being collected about you — intentionally or not — than not know.

Cella Energy claims breakthrough that would result in $1.50 per gallon gasoline alternative.

Cella Energy Logo

Breakthrough promises $1.50 per gallon synthetic gasoline with no carbon emissions – Gizmag.com

UK-based Cella Energy has developed a synthetic fuel that could lead to US$1.50 per gallon gasoline. Apart from promising a future transportation fuel with a stable price regardless of oil prices, the fuel is hydrogen based and produces no carbon emissions when burned. The technology is based on complex hydrides, and has been developed over a four year top secret program at the prestigious Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford. Early indications are that the fuel can be used in existing internal combustion engined vehicles without engine modification.

According to Stephen Voller CEO at Cella Energy, the technology was developed using advanced materials science, taking high energy materials and encapsulating them using a nanostructuring technique called coaxial electrospraying.

“We have developed new micro-beads that can be used in an existing gasoline or petrol vehicle to replace oil-based fuels,” said Voller. “Early indications are that the micro-beads can be used in existing vehicles without engine modification.”

“The materials are hydrogen-based, and so when used produce no carbon emissions at the point of use, in a similar way to electric vehicles”, said Voller.

This sounds like one of the many scams that litter the Internet promising to run your car on water or giving you ridiculous mileage and I am highly skeptical that the product will actually live up to the claims being made about it…

…but if what they’re claiming is true then saying it would be monumental is an understatement.

Given my natural skepticism I checked to see what some other sites are saying. The folks over at PopSci.com are also skeptical:

We’re going to go ahead and write this one because it’s all kinds of interesting, but know that we are doing so with all kinds of skepticism, fair readers. Because anytime anyone claims to have created inexpensive synthetic fuel that will burn in conventional automobile engines with no carbon emissions, you simply have to be on your guard. Nonetheless, UK-based Cella Energy claims to have done exactly that by devising a hydrogen-based synthetic fuel that could replace gasoline in cars.

The technology—reportedly incubated at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford in a top secret four-year program—is based on complex hydrides that are highly unstable, usually degrading rapidly in air. Put simply, the company claims it has found a nanotech-driven method that encapsulates hydrogen at usable concentrations in micro-capsules, allowing it to be handled and burned in conventional engines without the need to store it in dangerous high-pressure tanks or super-cooled environments.

The article says the science makes sense if the process Cella is using actually does what they say it can do. Beyond PopSci, though, the few news items I found discussing it were largely just repeating the claims without analysis.

If this is real you can expect the Oil Industry to have an absolute shit fit over it. I’d like to be optimistic about it, but the cynic in me can’t help but think that even if it does work as well as claimed that there’ll be some wicked trade-off like it causes cancer in everything that comes in contact with it or something else equally horrible.

It just seems too good to be true and you know what they say about things like that.

Sony kills off the Walkman.

Pic of a Sony Walkman

And another fond childhood memory bites the dust.

Sony just announced the other day that they have ceased production of the cassette tape playing Sony Walkman in Japan. The last shipment was sent out this past April and there will be no more. Well, no more from Sony. Apparently some Chinese company has the rights to keep making them under the Sony name for sale outside of Japan.

It’s hard to believe that these devices are over 30 years old — the first was sold in 1979 — and I can clearly remember how it wasn’t long before everyone was producing portable tape players that were quite similar. I don’t think I ever actually owned a Sony Walkman, but I did own several of the imitators and I burned through more than my fair share of AA batteries listening to tapes until they wore out from overuse. In high school the trading of mix-tapes was a big activity for a lot of kids, myself included.

Of course these days the lowly Walkman has been supplanted by the plethora of MP3 players capable of storing months of music in them as opposed to 60 to 80 minutes. Looking back on it now it seems almost paleolithic in comparison, but even though I’ve not owned one for years it still feels like it wasn’t that long ago.

I suppose it’s a sign that I’m getting old that announcements like this make me feel a bit sad. I felt the same way when Sony announced they were dropping production of Floppy Disks earlier this year as well. Now that I think about it I wasn’t even aware that Sony was still making cassette tape Walkmans so I’m not sure why I should be disappointed to hear that they’ve stopped.

And yet I am. I had a lot of quality time with my imitation Walkman back in the day. Good times when there was less to worry about and more time to get things done.

Yeah, I’m a sentimental fool about some things.

Kevin Costner’s water cleaning machine works well enough for BP.

So here’s a bit of good news in the morass of bad news coming out of the BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf. Turns out that BP did test Kevin Costner’s machine that separates oil from water and it appears to work:

BP says Kevin Costner’s water cleaning machine can ‘make a real difference’ | NewsWatch: Energy | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle.

BP’s COO of Exploration and Production, Doug Suttles, said that within the first few hours of testing the machine, the company decided to order 32 of them.

“We tested it in some of the toughest environments we could find and actually what it’s done — it’s quite robust,” Suttle said. “This is real technology with real science behind it and it’s passed all of those tests.”

Suttles said BP has committed to building four deepwater systems. Two of the systems will be barges that have machines on them and two of the systems will be a new design using 280-foot offshore supply vessels.

In total, the systems BP is rigging up will have a processing capacity of 128,000 barrels a day.

“That’s a substantial amount of capacity and can make a real difference to our spill response efforts,” Suttles said.

There’s already a lot of damage done, but better late than never in getting something like this out there where they can prove themselves in a real-world worst-case situation. If they end up helping to any decent degree then they should be made a mandatory part of every oil company’s oil spill response plan.

Which shouldn’t be too difficult considering that they all had the exact same photocopy of the piss-poor BP response plan anyway.

The security chip in that fancy new U.S. Passport? It’s made in Thailand.

The U.S. Government has been pushing what they consider a better passport since August 2007. It contains a contactless smart card in the back cover that contains the same data about you as what is printed in the passport itself. The idea is that this is supposed to make passport forgery impossible for the evil-doers of the world. The official website lists off several potential attacks which the cards are supposedly protected against including skimming, eavesdropping, tracking, and cloning.

Which all sounds really good except that since the cards were introduced a number of hackers and researches have demonstrated that almost of the protections in place can be successfully attacked and compromised with very minimal resources. The Wikipedia entry for biometric passports has the details and links about the attacks if you’re interested. It doesn’t help that not all of the security measures are mandated with things such as Active Authentication and Extended Access Control being optional.

In short, cloning data on a passport is not difficult at all nor is burning it to a blank passport, something that was done back in 2006 before they were even being issued regularly. More difficult is modifying the data as there is a cryptographic hash used to verify the data, but that relies on the scanner reading the passport making use of it (not all do).

You’d think, given all of the above, that the government would at least take steps to make sure the chips aren’t compromised before they’re ever issued. Perhaps, say, ensuring that they’re produced in a highly secure facility someplace within the United States?

Don’t be silly. The chips are currently being made in Thailand and have been for years:

Security of U.S. Passports Called Into Question – ABC News

The U.S. government agency that prints passports has for years failed to resolve persistent concerns about the security risks involved in outsourcing production to foreign factories, a joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity has found.

“On a number of levels this is extremely troubling,” said Clark Kent Ervin, a former inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security . “Something like that ought to be produced only in the United States, under only the most rigorous security standards.” A report on the outsourcing of U.S. passports to high-risk countries can be seen on World News with Diane Sawyer tonight.

Despite repeated assurances they would move production to the U.S., a key government contractor has continued to assemble an electronic component of the nation’s new, more sophisticated passport in Thailand.

The factory is near the same Bangkok suburb where a notorious terrorist extremist was captured in 2003. There have been bursts of violence in the industrial city, Ayutthaya, as recently as last month.

Both the inspector general at the Government Printing Office and the agency’s own security chief have warned specifically against producing the computer chip assembly in the Thai facility. One internal report obtained by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity warned of a “potential long term risk to the [U.S. government’s] interests.”

All this bullshit talk by the Powers That Be about making things More Secure™ and not only are the chips being used easily cloned for a couple hundred bucks, but the factory that’s producing them is in an unstable area of a foreign country where terrorists are known to operate. The reason this is such a concern is because the U.S. Government, in its infinite wisdom, has made owning one of their fancy e-passports a shortcut past some of the more stringent security procedures  — one official describes it as an EZ-pass — that would otherwise apply to people entering the United States.

Oh, but that’s not the best part. No, the cherry-on-top that I just know you’re going to love is the fact that there is absolutely nothing in place to make sure blanks don’t fall into bad guy’s hands:

GPO’s inspector general has warned that the agency lacks even the most basic security plan for ensuring that blank e-Passports — and their highly sought technologies – aren’t stolen by terrorists, foreign spies, counterfeiters and other bad actors as they wind through an unwieldy manufacturing process that spans the globe and includes 60 different suppliers.

This disturbs Rep. John D. Dingell, D.-Mich., who wrote letters to the agency two years ago raising questions about passport production.

“Regrettably, since then, our fears have been realized because the inspector general and other people in charge of security at the government printing office have pointed out that the security is not there,” Dingell told ABC News. “There is no real assurance that the e-passports are safe or secure or are not in danger of being counterfeited or corrupted or used for some nefarious purposes by terrorists or others.”

Feel safer yet? Oh, and there are stolen blanks out there from several different countries including a big heist of U.K. blanks in 2008.

Supposedly, most of the production of the chip has already been moved out of Thailand and officials are pledging to have the last bits moved out by the end of July. Also, as far as anyone is aware, no one has successfully made a forgery of a biometric passport using cloned data and a stolen blank chip. Given the number of vulnerabilities that have already been demonstrated it’s probably only a matter of time before someone figures out how to clone and modify a passport that’ll pass as real.

Sadly, all of the concerns and problems with this system were known by the U.S. back in 2004 having been raised by numerous security and privacy experts. Rather than take the time to address the issues raised they decided to just ignore them instead and pressure everyone else to adopt our flawed standard. That is, after all, the American way.