Monthly Archives: July 2015

Facebook ready to test giant drone for Internet service


Menlo Park (US), Jul 30: Facebook says it will begin test flights later this year for a solar-powered drone with a wingspan as big as a Boeing 737, in the next stage of its campaign to deliver Internet connectivity to remote parts of the world.

Engineers at the giant social network say they’ve built a drone with a 140-foot wingspan that weighs less than 1,000 pounds. Designed to fly at high altitudes for up to three months, it will use lasers to send Internet signals to stations on the ground.

Though Facebook is better known for online software that lets people share news with friends, watch viral videos and view commercial advertising engineers in a unit called the Connectivity Lab are working on a different set of problems.

For one thing, they are designing a laser communications system they hope will be accurate enough to hit a target the size of a dime at a distance of 11 miles, said Yael Maguire, director of the unit, which is responsible for drones, satellites and other high-tech communications projects.

“There’s a lot of moving parts here that have to work in concert,” said Maguire, during a press briefing at the company’s headquarters.

The project is part of a broader Facebook effort that also contemplates using satellites and other high-tech gear to deliver Internet service to hundreds of millions of people living in regions too remote for conventional broadband networks.

Other tech companies have launched similar initiatives. Google is experimenting with high-altitude balloons as well as drones and satellites. Microsoft has funded a project that will transmit Internet signals over unused television airwaves.

Facebook also has a separate but related initiative that works with wireless carriers to provide limited mobile Internet service at no cost, in countries where residents are too poor to afford traditional wireless plans.

But the company invited reporters Thursday to hear an update on its effort to provide service to about 10 percent of the world’s population who live in regions where it’s not practical or too expensive to build the usual infrastructure for Internet service.

Facebook’s drone was developed in part with engineering expertise that joined the company when it acquired a British aerospace startup, Ascenta, last year.

Facebook engineering vice president Jay Parikh said the team created a design that uses rigid but light-weight layers of carbon fiber, capable of flying in the frosty cold temperatures found at high altitudes, for an extended period of time.


Google now update allows to send WhatsApp messages


Google is now making it easier for you to send WhatsApp messages without typing them on your android device. The update to Google Now, allows to send messages to your contacts using voice. Not just WhatsApp, but this update will allow you to send IMs to a number of 3rd party apps including Viber, WeChat, Telegram and NextPlus.


Half of World’s Online Population Use Facebook


WASHINGTON: Half of the world’s estimated online users log on to Facebook at least once a month, the social networking site has claimed.

According to the company, the number of people who use Facebook at least once in a month grew 13 per cent to 1.49 billion in the three months to the end of June this year.

The number is equal to half of the estimated three billion people who use the internet globally.

Facebook said of those users, well over half, 65 per cent, were now accessing the social networking site daily, ‘BBC News’ reported.

People were now spending more than one out of every five minutes on their smartphones on Facebook, the company said.

The majority of the monthly users now access the social network through mobile devices.

The rise in monthly active users helped drive second quarter revenue up 39 per cent year-on-year to USD 4.04 billion, the report said.

Mobile advertising revenue was the biggest factor, accounting for more than three quarters of the total.


People’s President Abdul Kalam laid to rest with full state honours in Rameswaram


Former President APJ Abdul Kalam laid to rest (Photo: Twitter)

Rameswaram (TN):Thousands poured into Rameswaram, some walked miles, to pay their last respects to former President Dr Abdul Kalam as he was laid to rest a little before noon at the Pei Karumbu ground in his hometown.

The funeral procession travelled from his ancestral home to the local mosque before reaching the public ground. The People’s President was accorded full state honour before he was laid to rest.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and a host of other dignitaries, including chief ministers of some states, wre present during the last rites held around 11 am after the ‘Namaz-e-Janaza’.

Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day and Rajya Sabha was adjourned till 2 pm as a mark of respect to the former President.

The body of 83-year-old Kalam, who passed in Shillong on Monday, was taken from the house around 9.30 am to the mosque by officers of the three services with the casket covered with the traditional green shawl.

At the mosque, the Aalin or the chief priest read out special prayers and spoke about the former President, who grew up from in this island.

Later, it was taken to the place of burial where prayers were be offered again.

The body of the “Missile Man” was brought to his house on the narrow Pallivasal Street around 10 pm last night and left in the privacy of his family till this morning.

Thousands of mourners kept pouring through the night by various transport including buses, trains and boats to attend the last rites and many of them even slept on the roads last night.

Shops, business establishments and hotels remained shut in the town and throughout Tamil Nadu as a mark of respect to the late leader fondly called the “People’s President”.

Police said tight security arrangements have been made in and around the town and Navy, Coast Guard and marine police personnel deployed in the sea.

Tamil Nadu Government has declared a public holiday today as a mark of respect to Kalam.

Several people were seen holding the national tri-colour as they waited in the jam-packed streets around Kalam’s house to have a last glimpse of their hero. Many were perched on the terraces of buildings.

The burial will be at Peikarumbu here where about 1.5 acre had been allocated for the purpose.

Slogans of “Bharat Mata ki jai” rent the air as the body was taken in flower-bedecked carriage to the burial site, about 3.5 km from the mosque, accompanied by the personnel of three services.

Kalam’s family members, including his eldest sister 99-year-old Mohammed Muthu Meera Lebbai Maraicker accompanied the body.


Windows 10 finally unveils with better features than its predecessor


Microsoft Windows 10, the next operating system from the Cupertino software giant, has been long awaited and finally rolled out of the stables today. Windows 10 debuted today and the launch wbe accompanied by a global marketing campaign, which the company hopes will be pivotal.

Windows 10 will be released for tablets and PCs first, and following the two platforms, the operating system will also show up on smartphones, gaming consoles and holographic headsets. The operating system will be free to download and around 5 million people, who have already enrolled in the test programme earlier, will get to download the new operating system right away. Those who already have a licensed version of Windows 7 and Windows 8, Home and Pro editions, will also be allowed to freely upgrade to Windows 10, any time, over the next year. Microsoft CEO said that he aims to see more than 1 billion devices using Windows 10, within the next three years.

Microsoft planned to skip Windows 9 and headed directly to Windows 10, in a move to distance itself further from the last release. The main reason was to help themselves and PC makers to erase the memories of the failed 2012 Windows 8 operating system, which had a jarring, unwieldy design. However, Analysts are unsure if Windows 10 will spur the industry back to growth.

So what is Windows 10 all about? What are the newer features that users will see? Well, a new streamlined browser has replaced the old, outdated Internet Explorer with Microsoft Edge, which MS hopes to give you a better experience. You can write or type notes directly on the web pages and share them with others. You can read online articles free of distraction and save your favorite reads for later access. Additionally, Microsoft has also added Cortana, a desktop version of the personal voice assistant, found on the Windows Mobile platform. Using Cortana, you get instant access to key actions – like making reservations or reading reviews – without leaving the page that you’re on.

Multi-tasking is better. You can snap up applications together, see all tasks running in a single window, create virtual desktops to get more space on your desktop, and a few other features are included.

Microsoft has also introduced Windows Store, a unified shopping experience across all Windows 10 devices. You can use it to download applications, music, videos, TV shows, Movies and games.

A new customized Start menu will greet you to a whole new experience. The new Start menu can be pinned with almost everything. These include apps, people, playlists and more. It also includes tiles which showcases your content without you even opening your app.

Windows 10 is also optimized to work and look complete across all devices, be it PC, mobile or tablet.

The task bar has also received a big facelift. Dumping the Windows 8 task switcher, Microsoft has replaced it with a new Task View, which helps users switch between apps and virtual desktops with great simplicity.

Though a small change but an important inclusion, Windows 10 incorporates a new edition of the Command Prompt. It will now allow you to paste commands directly from the keyboard, along with a few other keyboard shortcuts.

Continum is a great new added feature to Windows 10. It is an intelligent mode which automatically detects PCs, tablets and all-in-ones, whether they have a keyboard or not. Applications will automatically detect a keyboard or touchscreen mode, with the help of Continum, and decide whether to switch the input mode to onscreen or not.

Microsoft is also planning to merge the gaming console with Windows 10. The biggest Xbox franchises and the best of Xbox Live are coming to Windows 10. Start recording gameplay in seconds, compete against console players and stream games from your Xbox One console to your Windows 10 device from anywhere in your home.

Standard applications are bundled along with Windows 10, out of the box. These include Maps, Photos, Mail & Calendar, Music and Films and TV. Additionally, you can also download the Office applications from the Store.

There are many more features, small to big, that will be seen on the new Windows 10.


‘No force can stop Rajapaksa from becoming PM’


A day after Sri Lankan President and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) chairman Maithripala Sirisena came down heavily on his predecessor and prime ministerial hopeful Mahinda Rajapaksa, leaders of the SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) on Wednesday said Mr. Sirisena’s statement would not have any bearing on the outcome of the next month’s Parliamentary polls.

Going ahead with plans

“We are undeterred. We are going ahead with our plans for the elections,” Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, SLFP general secretary and one of the candidates contesting alongside Mr. Rajapaksa in the Kurunegala constituency, told The Hindu on Wednesday.

Vasudewa Nanayakkara, leader of the Democratic Left Front, a constituent of the UPFA, said the remarks have only portrayed Mr. Sirisena as an “open ally” of the United National Party (UNP). The President’s statement is “very hostile to us”, he added.

“There is no force on the earth that can stop Mr. Rajapaksa from becoming the Prime Minister,” said Mr. Nanayakkara.

SLFP general secretary Yapa feels that as people have realised that the present government [which has a number of UNP representatives], is “incapable” of handling the economy and it has no vision, they will vote for the UPFA this time. Earlier in the day, the UPFA announced that Mr. Rajapaksa would head its election committee, after a meeting of chairpersons of constituents of the alliance. The former President was also present.


NO JOKES: ‘Killer robots’ with AI could be a huge, global threat


Buenos Aires: It sounds like a science-fiction nightmare. But “killer robots” have the likes of British scientist Stephen Hawking and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak fretting, and warning they could fuel ethnic cleansing and an arms race. Autonomous weapons, which use artificial intelligence to select targets without human intervention, have been described as “the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms,” around 1,000 technology chiefs wrote in an open letter.

Unlike drones, which require a human hand in their action, this kind of robot would have some autonomous decision-making ability and capacity to act. “The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI (artificial intelligence) arms race or to prevent it from starting,” they wrote.

“If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable,” said the letter released at the opening of the 2015 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires. The idea of an automated killing machine — made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator” — is moving swiftly from science fiction to reality, according to the scientists. “The deployment of such systems is — practically if not legally — feasible within years, not decades,” the letter said.

Ethnic cleansing made easier?

The scientists painted the Doomsday scenario of autonomous weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, dictators or warlords hoping to carry out ethnic cleansing. “There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people,” the letter said. In addition, the development of such weapons, while potentially reducing the extent of battlefield casualties, might also lower the threshold for going to battle, noted the scientists.

The group concluded with an appeal for a “ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.” Elon Musk, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and head of SpaceX, a private space-travel technology venture, also urged the public to join the campaign. “If you’re against a military AI arms race, please sign this open letter,” tweeted the tech boss.

Threat or not?

Sounding a touch more moderate, however, was Australia’s Toby Walsh. The artificial intelligence professor at NICTA and the University of New South Wales noted that all technologies have potential for being used for good and evil ends. Ricardo Rodriguez, an AI researcher at the University of Buenos Aires, also said worries could be overstated. “Hawkins believes that we are closing in on the Apocalypse with robots, and that in the end, AI will be competing with human intelligence,” he said.

“But the fact is that we are far from making killer military robots.” Authorities are gradually waking up to the risk of robot wars. Last May, for the first time, governments began talks on so-called “lethal autonomous weapons systems.” In 2012, Washington imposed a 10-year human control requirement on automated weapons, welcomed by campaigners even though they said it should go further.

There have been examples of weapons being stopped in their infancy. After UN-backed talks, blinding laser weapons were banned in 1998, before they ever hit the battlefield.


Supreme Court confirms its decision to commute death sentence of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins


Former PM Rajiv Gandhi. (Photo: PTI/File)

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed the curative petition of the Central Government upholding the commutation of death sentence of three convicts involved in the assassination of former PM Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991.

The apex Court had earlier said that it was essential for the convicts to suffer and realize the victim’s pain through ‘ slow poison’ and asked the Centre if a governor can take a decision over the mercy plea of any convict whose petition has been declined by the President.

The Supreme Court’s constitution bench raised this question while hearing the matter related to former Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins.

The Centre had earlier told the apex Court that the killers of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did not deserve any mercy.

It also termed the May 1991 assassination the result of a conspiracy

White House Rejects Petition to Pardon Edward Snowden


LONDON: The White House has rejected a petition that sought to pardon former NSA employee Edward Snowden, saying that his revelations about the US government’s surveillance apparatus were “dangerous”.

According to the Guardian, the Obama administration reiterated its belief that Snowden should face criminal charges for his actions.

Lisa Monaco, Obama’s adviser on homeland security and counter-terrorism said that Snowden’s decision to disclose information that is classified had harsh consequences on the US’ security.

Monaco also urged Snowden to rather switch to engaging in a constructive act of protest if he thought that his actions were consistent with civil disobedience.

Snowden has been living in asylum in Moscow after fleeing the US for Hong Kong in the wake of the leaks.

The US government had filed espionage charges against Snowden shortly after his revelations were made public.


Greece’s Problem Is More Complicated than Austerity


It is easy to see Greece as a clash between “austerity” and “progressive economics,” with the Germans (and Finns and Dutch, alongside various international public servants and economists) on one side, and Keynesians and progressives on the other as Paul Krugman’s recent CNN interview suggests. This has certainly been the picture painted by Syriza, the left-wing political party of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and by many friends of Greece and progressive economists.

The reality, though, is more complicated. To be sure, excessive austerity is bad macroeconomic policy. But the issue at stake isn’t just austerity. The issue is that Greek “resistance”-not just Syriza’s, but also that of the previous government-takes the form of protecting rent-seekers. This is where the July 2012 memorandum of understanding between Greece and the Troika (the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and the European Commission) failed miserably; the previous government, much like Syriza, wanted to preserve the status quo.

Greece’s main economic problem is structural and an exit from the Eurozone will not solve it. Besides the short-term costs of such a move, history shows us that Greece has never managed to benefit from currency devaluations. What’s more, the recent McKinsey study on Greek competitiveness shows that the country’s biggest challenge has been a lack of investment.

Exit from the Euro would only increase that capital scarcity, as the foreign exchange uncertainties would need to be factored in. For a country that isn’t export-oriented, and whose major industry, tourism, relies on stability, having its own currency is not much of a solution to economic woes. The lack of investment, along with red tape, byzantine regulations, and corruption make it fiendishly difficult for new businesses to grow. This, more than anything else, explains why Greece been unable to benefit from lower wage costs in developing its economy.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many groups have strong motivations for preserving the status quo. From taxi and lorry drivers to lawyers to pharmacists to milk producers, regulations protect incumbents and forestall the introduction of new business models. On the social front, some groups enjoy truly outrageous benefits, even as others suffer. Take the case of pensions: the average pensioner under 55 is getting 46% more than the average pensioner over 70.

The previous PASOK and ND governments resolutely failed to address these evolutionary, structural problems, which create “haves” and “have-nots”; sets of incumbents (usually connected to the government) and outsiders. Justice can hardly be served when court proceedings take over seven years on average to reach a conclusion. And it all revolves around a statist model, with politicians creating influence zones.

It isn’t only the branded pundits who are neglecting these issues. Over the last few years, focused fiscal consolidation also failed to fix these underlying problems. The 2012 memorandum of understanding was supposed to address them, but Greek governments had neither the capacity nor the will to change. Yet if we want to understand and fix the Greek crisis, we must look at its structural causes, not just its symptoms.

Many reports have portrayed the Syriza government as the defenders of social justice and Greek national pride. On the latter, they have indeed done a terrific job-albeit at a heavy economic cost. But on social justice the claim is more than questionable. For all the party’s talk of “social justice” and “solidarity,” only €200 million has been granted to cope with Greece’s human crisis, and it has still not been fully disbursed. Meanwhile, the retirement fund for pensioners of DEO, the state electricity company, continues to receive an annual state subsidy to the tune of €600 million-at a time when most pensions are being slashed. Syriza, which is close to DEI unionists, even instituted a canteen subsidy a few weeks after taking office. Not only is there a lack of will; there’s a critical lack of skill. In the recent government reshuffle, a former comedian with no policy experience was made Minister of State for Pensions. He is a vociferous member of ANEL, Syriza’s far right-populist partner.

As for all Syriza’s pre-election noise about “oligarchs”, nothing has happened beyond a few nice headlines. And it’s interesting to note that although the party had threatened to check the licenses of the rich “entrepreneurs” who own the key media, they shelved the pledge a few weeks into their administration-after which media coverage of the party became broadly supportive (at least until the crisis peaked). Business as usual?

On tax evasion, despite clear evidence of malfeasance, and nearly 450,000 identified possible tax evasion cases, there have been no new concrete measures whatsoever. Syriza did change the makeup of the panels who evaluate corrupt officials, though: rather than judges, they now feature local union reps. And they did away with the rule that state officials found guilty of corruption could no longer work-now, those convicted can stay at their unit during the five- or six-year appeal process.

The record on economic policy-making is equally disappointing. Although former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis made eloquent appeals about the need to rethink macro, he said very little about changing how the economy is run. In his first four months in office, he put his signature to 403 documents, 245 of which were approvals for travel for himself and his appointees. In a country slipping from 1.8% growth in late 2014 to a 2.5% contraction today, there was no one in the finance ministry actually making policy.

Greece’s continued failure to fix its economy is an important part of the Greek crisis. But the Greek government is not the only guilty party and there is some truth to the claims that the debt crisis that Greece is currently enduring is in part the responsibility of its EU partners.

Many in the press fingered excessive and ill-judged lending by Greek banks as a prime cause of the crisis. In fact, Greek banks were some of the soundest institutions in Europe before Greece went into the crisis and Greeks didn’t borrow much. Their total debt (private and corporate) was between a half and a third of that in the UK and the US. It was sovereign debt that was off kilter. And amidst all today’s calls for debt forgiveness, people seem to forget that Greece did enjoy the biggest write-off in global economic history, when the 2012 bailout saw Greek-issued private debt cut by over 50%.

But the 2012 haircut only covered debt held by private creditors (including banks, insurance companies, and pension funds). By 2012, that was less than half the Greek debt-so Greece got a write-off on 50% of its 50%, or just 25% of the total. The IMF, ECB, and EU own the rest. So what about that debt?

Here’s where it gets interesting. Back in 2010, before the haircut, when Greece ran out of money, all of its debt was private and issued under Greek law. At the time, everyone knew that Greece was going to have to be forgiven some of its debt but the then president of the European Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, would not entertain the idea. Why? Because French and German banks had gorged on Greek debt, and a haircut would mean that they, and the whole EU banking sector, would collapse. So he forced Greece to pretend that its solvency problem was a liquidity problem, and pushed it to substitute official debt for private debt. Effectively, between 2010 and 2012, Greece borrowed from the IMF, ECB, and EU in order to pay the banks that should have assumed the losses. At the same time, he forced Greek banks and pension funds to keep rolling over debt. This is why Greek banks got into trouble – it was not because of too much lending.

What happened was that the EU and taxpayers got dodgy Greek debt to help EU (but non-Greek) banks and hedge funds, which duly made a killing. Then, when Greece eventually got the debt forgiveness in 2012, its official debt to public institutions was excluded. This is the real scandal of the Greek crisis – not the profligacy of Greek individuals, corporates, or banks. The bottom line is that the Greek people are paying a heavy price today both for their government’s failure to restructure in 2010 and for their government’s bailout of French and German banks.

And what about that price? All in all, the current deal is really tough in terms of the fiscal targets; it’s punitive, focused on tax hikes rather than cutting expenditures, and probably makes little macroeconomic sense. Of course, there should be a medium-term program on debt relief – after all, we Greeks do deserve a payback for bailing out all those big German and French banks five years ago.

Yet we have to deal with political reality as it is and on balance the structural changes that the deal calls for represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They are reforms that no government in Greece, including Syriza, has attempted, for fear of upsetting powerful vested interests. By forcing the government to remove institutional barriers to competition and innovation the deal will create a sound basis for economic growth and development. If (and that’s a huge if) the politics work out, confidence returns, and people invest again, things could get back on track; the alternative may be a failed state. So, let’s keep a cool head, and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s just too much at stake-for Greece, for the Eurozone, and for the European project more broadly.


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