Monthly Archives: August 2019

Ready or (mostly) not: here come more contactless payment devices

Contactless payments are one of those ideas that make instant sense—in theory. Instead of forcing people to stand in line, waiting to talk to/deal with a cashier, businesses can use a scanner that can read whatever card or phone is waved in front of it, and allow the customer to go on his or her merry way. It's a technology that the major credit card companies are pushing, but it's not without its growing pains, as the battle continues between security experts who want more a more open approach to device security and companies who seek to hide their methods of securing such devices. HangZhou Night Net

Despite the issues surrounding contactless payment deployment, Visa has taken a significant step forward in designing its version of this technology by unveiling its newest product: the Visa Micro Tag.

As shown above, the Microtag is a small device meant to attach to a keychain. The Micro Tag uses Visa's payWave system to conduct and verify the actual transaction. No number is imprinted on the device, which, according to Visa, is one of the Micro Tag's security features. According to Visa's Micro Tag homepage, Visa payWave will only activate once the tag is within 1-2 inches of the scanner, which will then indicate that the appropriate information is being processed through the "secure" Visa network. Users making purchases under $25 won't even have to sign a receipt.

There are, however, some practical concerns standing between you and your insta-purchase keychain. There are currently a number of contactless payment systems in use from various credit card and mobile phone companies. This alone is likely to make any store wary of upgrading its scanners to any single contactless payment system until compatibility with the major players can be guaranteed. Security researchers have also raised issues regarding both how the credit card numbers are transmitted and the fact that none of the companies developing contactless payment systems are willing to allow independent security developers to examine their systems. For the moment, it's not even clear whether Visa uses an encryption algorithm to communicate with the scanner or if such data is transmitted "in the clear." The company web site has little to say on the matter, noting only that "Visa Micro Tag is very secure, protected with the same multiple layers of security as traditional Visa cards."

Contactless payments are going to continue growing in the US—it's too good a concept to ignore. The big battles, then, are going to be fought over who controls the payment networks, how secure they are, and how wide a variety of devices can be supported by a single scanner unit. Hopefully someone will also come up with a way to simplify the keyfob end of the system—I can imagine carrying one these devices, but I'm really not sure I'd want one for Visa, MasterCard, and American Express all hanging off a single keychain.

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Microsoft announces Code2Fame Challenge winners

With Windows Home Server just about ready to be released to the masses, this week Microsoft revealed the winners of the first Code2Fame Challenge—a contest dedicated to finding the most innovative Windows Home Server add-ins. HangZhou Night Net

With the release of Windows Home Server, Microsoft has been doing all it can to promote the operating system as a fantastic development platform. The Software Development Kit has been geared to appeal to both hobbyists and professional developers with its simple but powerful APIs. With that in mind, the Redmond giant has been doing all it can to build up the small Windows Home Server development community. This past week, that community received a little more attention as the Microsoft-sponsored Code2Fame Challenge came to an end.

From June to August of this year, the Code2Fame Challenge was a contest open to developers in the United States and Canada. The goal was to see who could create the most interesting, useful, and innovative add-in for Windows Home Server. Besides notoriety, the winner of the contest would also receive $10,000. Second and third place finishers would get $5,000 and $1,000, respectively. The results of the contest, which were released Wednesday, were decided by a panel of "Home Server" experts including Ed Bott, Paul Thurrott, and Rob Enderle.

After receiving a variety of submissions, the judges awarded Andrew Grant the grand prize for Whiist, an add-in that allows users to easily create web pages on their Home Server *.com site simply through drag-and-drop actions. Once Whiist is installed, a "Website Management" tab is created on the Home Server Console. From there, a user can upload HTML documents (including ones from Word), edit pages, create photo albums, create new web sites, and set access restrictions. Grant's web site has a comprehensive overview of Whiist, including screenshots and tutorials.

The second and third place applications, while not nearly as impressive as Whiist, should still be useful for Home Server users. Finishing in second place, Jungle Disk uses Amazon.com's Simple Storage Service to backup Windows Home Server data remotely. Third place winner Community Feeds for Windows Home Server does just what its name implies: it uses RSS to deliver text, audio, and video content to Windows Home Server. Any Windows Media Connect-compatible device can then view the content, which opens up possibilities for creating custom feeds for your Xbox 360 or any other digital media receiver in your home.

Creating a Windows Home Server add-in is not overly difficult for those with a small amount of development experience. As long as the operating system is reasonably popular—and it should be, based on the feedback I've heard—the development community that focuses on it will continue to grow.

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Shaking a fluid uphill

It is easy to get a fluid to move downhill relative to where it begins; getting it up hill can pose more of a challenge. Typically one would use a pump to pressurize the fluid so that it can over come the elevation difference. Before the advent of the various types of mechanical pumps, one could use an Archimedes' screw to move fluid from low lying areas to desired higher elevation destinations. It has also recently been demonstrated that water under a high voltage can defy gravity. Now, a new method gives a way to move fluids uphill without pumps or screws, just shakes. Research from a team of mathematicians from the University of Bristol demonstrates how one can move a droplet of fluid uphill simply by shaking the surface on which thefluid is resting. HangZhou Night Net

When a droplet sits on an inclined surface, the force of gravity will pull it down. This typical response can be countered by a phenomena known as contact angle hysteresis—when the edge of the droplet on the downhill side contacts the surface in a different manner than the uphill edge. This can result in a capillary force that counteracts the force of gravity and holds the droplet in place. Philippe Brunet has shown that not only can the shape of a droplet hold it in place on an inclined plane but, by deforming the droplet through shaking, it can be made to roll up hill.

In a paper set to be published in an upcoming edition of Physical Review Letters, the researchers show that glycerol-water droplets can actually roll uphill when one vibrates the surface they are on. The researchers have a set of four movies illustrating various aspects of this phenomena available on the author's homepage. They propose that this motion is due to a combination of non-linear effects of friction between the fluid drop and the substrate, and a symmetry breaking during the acceleration cycle present during the shaking. In addition to simply moving uphill, the authors suggest that, by independently controlling the phase an amplitude of horizontal and vertical vibrations, one could force a droplet to move in an arbitrary path along a surface. This aspect the work could lead to improvements in microfluidic devices—in these devices control over where the fluid moves is of the utmost importance.

Physical Review Letters 2007, to be published

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PlayStation 3 getting holiday makeover: $399 PS3 rumor has legs

Sony clearly doesn't have an issue with trying a few different pricing levels for its flagship PlayStation 3. The PlayStation 3 debuted with both a $500 and $600 price tag, but since that time much has changed. HangZhou Night Net

With sales staying modest, Sony initially nixed the $500 PS3 and then announced an 80GB unit, then they dropped the price of the 60GB unit, and then revealed that the 60GB unit was "clearance." This meant that there is no official "entry level" PS3, so we've been waiting for Sony to address that issue.

In the meantime, you can see what Sony has done: the company has focused on reducing the cost of building the PS3 while also closely watching how sales of lower-priced units are doing. The time is ripe for a new PS3 model to hit the scene, and we strongly believe that the company is about to launch a $399 PS3 in time for the holiday season. We've been hearing rumors to this effect for some time, but now the evidence of a new PlayStation 3 configuration is almost undeniable: an FCC filing details a new model number for the system.

What this new model number means is impossible to know for sure; the FCC filing leaves out pictures to "avoid premature release of sensitive information prior to marketing or release of the product to the public." The product description tells us that there is no difference in the wireless configuration, CPU, or Bluetooth aspects of this new PlayStation 3. The information that details the differences has been conveniently left out of the released paperwork, for the aforementioned reason.

So what does this mean? We know something new is coming, but everything else is open to speculation. Luckily we have sources in the industry who have long been telling us about an upcoming $399 40GB PlayStation 3. A $399 PlayStation 3 would be a great way to get new consumers into the Blu-ray enabled system for the holidays, and it would help to counter the Xbox 360's lower price and newly announced pack-in software.

We also have a date to pin this information to: our sources tell us that the $399 PlayStation 3 hardware will launch on, or before, November 16. We're confident in this information, as our sources in this area have always given us accurate information in the past. The "sensitive information" in the FCC filing will go public 45 days from September 4, unless something changes. We're confident saying that Sony is readying a new low-priced weapon for the console wars, regardless. Frankly, we also think it makes good sense.

Why didn't Sony announce this at the Tokyo Game Show? We reason that the company will hold off as long as possible on the announcement so as not to stymie existing sales.

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Frontline wants FCC to bar Verizon from 700MHz auction

The 700MHz spectrum set to be auctioned by the Federal Communications Commission next January is some of the most highly sought after bandwidth to be made available in years. One major wireless player may be left on the outside looking in when the bidding begins, however, if Frontline Wireless has its way. HangZhou Night Net

In a complaint (PDF) filed with the FCC late last week, Frontline accused Verizon of violating the FCC's lobbying rules. Frontline wants the FCC to impose sanctions on Verizon, up to and including being barred from bidding on the beachfront spectrum that will hopefully become home to a new wireless broadband network.

Frontline is upset about a September 17 meeting between Verizon, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, the FCC's Wireless Bureau Chief, and a handful of other FCC staffers. After the meeting, Verizon filed an ex parte letter with the Commission that provided only a brief, one-sentence description of the event. Frontline calls the brief description an "arrogant violation" of the FCC's requirement that firmsdisclose the "summary of the substance" of their meetings with the FCC to other interested parties during ongoing proceedings (in this case, the rule-making process for the 700MHz auction).

The FCC later instructed Verizon to make a more detailed filing covering the substance of the discussions, which Verizon did on September 25 with an additional one-paragraph description. To no one's surprise, Verizon used the meeting to rehash its opposition to the open access rules adopted by the FCC for the spectrum auction. Indeed, Verizon has already sued the FCC in an attempt to get a federal court to overturn what the telecom describes as the "arbitrary" and "capricious" rules.

Like Verizon, Frontline didn't get what it wanted from the FCC during the rule-making process, either. The company had pitched a plan to the Commission under which the winner of the auction for 10MHz of the available spectrum would also be given half of the 24MHz spectrum allotted for public safety use. The company guaranteed it would build out the system within 10 years and promised it would reach 99 percent of all Americans.

Instead, the FCC decided to pair two separate 5MHz blocks (Block D) with larger blocks of spectrum already reserved for public safety use. Under the FCC's Public Safety/Private Partnership, the winning bidder(s) for the 5MHz blocks will need to build a national network good enough to meet coverage and redundancy requirements. The 10MHz public safety and 5MHz blocks can then be combined to operate a commercial network, but public safety traffic will get priority on the network.

White blocks indicate available 700MHz spectrum. Data source: FCC

Last week, Frontline asked the FCC to reconsider some of the rules, including what it described as the FCC's "capricious" $1.6 billion reserve prices for the 5MHz public safety blocks. The company also wants the likes of AT&T and Verizon barred from controlling more than 45MHz of the available spectrum in order to avoid "unacceptable anticompetitive effects."

Getting the FCC to bar Verizon from bidding in the upcoming auction would go a long way towards accomplishing Frontline's goal of keeping the large telecoms from monopolizing the spectrum. In the likely event that the FCC decides against preventing Verizon from bidding, Frontline helpfully attached a list of other possible sanctions, including fines and/or barring Verizon from further participation in the FCC's rule-making process.

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