While the wee $35 USB stick is more practical than the last Google TV gadget - and hopefully less catastrophic to Google's supply chain partners - it's a typically Silicon Valley way of going about things: a solution looking for a problem. This even has a name nowadays: solutionism.British telly broadcaster BSkyB touts an even cheaper TV dongle (£9.99, $15), but it received a fraction of the coverage even though it may have a greater impact on its intended market. Why?What Silicon Valley perpetually forgets is that every TV is fundamentally a dongle to begin with. It stands between between us and the broadcasts we want to watch. For the most popular drama or sport - the most popular two categories of telly stuff - some kind of access device is required. In the earliest days some TVs were even bundled with a service, as were the first telephones.The real industry power lies with the owners of the rights to Breaking Bad or Premier League footie, a global phenomenon that absorbs every country in the planet. We're probably in a golden age of TV and even NetFlix has pivoted to creating its own original material and releasing it exclusively. Content remains king, the demand that pulls technology industries along behind it. So let's be more precise and think of a TV as an access dongle, the termination point of broadcast technology.
There's another kind of dongle, a secondary category, that extends the ways in which you can watch: typically this offers the ability to watch a programme later (time-shifting) or on another device over Wi-Fi (place-shifting). This secondary dongle is a convenience gadget, but it remains utterly dependent upon being authenticated in the first place: there will be a primary dongle, somewhere.Some services provide time and place shifting at the server (Virgin Catch Up TV, for example) while others like TiVO or Sky+ do so through this kind of secondary dongle. Apple TV's is also a dongle - but it's little more than a DRM enforcer, similar to a set-top box smart card or the USB-eLicenser you need to plug into the back of your PC to run Cubase (a hardware copy-protection approach that was much more common in the 1980s). Hollywood doesn't trust its most valuable material to run unencrypted over networks, so Apple produces a box to decrypt that video. Amazingly, people even buy it.The mistake pundits made last week was assuming that the secondary category of dongle does away with the need of the first, which has a flavour of Underpants Gnome logic about it:
Google simply doesn't have the material today that drives any significant demand. Matched up against Major League Baseball, the English Premier League and Breaking Bad, for example, is the same familiar YouTube stuff: novelty and niche. The sorta stuff that could be aggregated and slotted into one of the high hundred channel numbers on a cable service.Chromecast is a secondary order dongle and no matter how cheap these are, these have a very limited appeal. The first Google TV devices failed to address this problem, so Google went out and failed to address it all over again. Only cheaper.So Chromecast is left with a minor and useful function: pumping material acquired on a handheld device, such as a smartphone or a tablet, onto a TV screen. For those few homes without a laptop next to the TV, and there aren't many left, or for users unwilling to perform the highly technical manoeuvre of plugging in an HDMI cable then yes, there's a convenience factor. But dongles such as this have been washing around for a similar price point for years.
Now contrast what BSkyB has done - for it too has a new dongle. The company is all about making money from the rights to programmes and other material, and it doesn't really care how you consume its stuff as long as you're paying. The combination of a satellite dish and conditional access box can be pretty expensive, and while it's been hugely successful for Sky, the broadcaster acknowledges that many people don't want to make such a hefty investment or commitment.So to fend off so-called over-the-top players (which piggyback Sky's internet broadband to offer their own TV entertainment) it's become one itself: the NOW TV dongle can be used with day passes to BSkyB material. The gadget costs just less than a tenner and it's similar to Apple TV or Roku in terms of specifications: Wi-Fi, HDMI and A/V ports and a bundled remote. All will offer over-the-top services such as Netflix or iPlayer. No doubt mobile apps for the NOW TV box will follow. The key difference isn't one of price - it's that Google is offering you sneezing panda clips and Gangnam Style reenactments, while Sky is offering The Ashes cricket glory.Silicon Valley loves to talk about disruption but from Google's TV efforts we must conclude that the only industry it's seriously disrupting is now itself - in the traditional sense of the word disruption. As in: I've disrupted my feet by shooting them, again. How long can Google bark madly up the wrong tree? The clue lies in the name Google used to submit Chromecast for regulatory approval: H2G2-42.
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Here is a tale of two security research presentations, both looking at motor vehicle security in a world in which even the humblest shopping trolley now has more brainpower than a moonshot.Flavio Garcia, a University of Birmingham lecturer familiar with insecurity in car systems – here, for example, is a paper he co-authored with Roel Verdult and Josep Balasch for 2012 – has been blocked from presenting to Usenix 2013, thanks to a House of Lords injunction requested by Volkswagen.Volkswagen took exception to Garcia's intended presentation to the long-running and respected conference, entitled Dismantling Megamos Crypto: Wirelessly Lockpicking a Vehicle Immobilizer. As The Telegraph in the UK reports, Justice Birss of the Lords decided that publication of the paper would mean “car crime will be facilitated”.Megamos is the family of RFID chips used by a number of vehicle makers. VW asked Garcia to publish a redacted version of the paper, which he declined to do.
Garcia's treatment is in stark contrast to the laurels being heaped on America's Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek ahead of the upcoming DefCon conference in Las Vegas. Their demonstration of how to interfere with on-board computers was accepted at the Vegas con.Miller and Valasek connect a laptop to the diagnostic ports of a Prius and a Ford Escape, and from there, show that the laptop can issue instructions to the vehicles' ECU (electronic control unit), including steering, acceleration, braking and the horn.As part of the leadup to DefCon, snippets of their work are getting previewed left right and centre, without a lawsuit in sight.Even though the pair promise to release their source code after DefCon, they have a key advantage over Garcia: America's First Amendment. The fact that their work was funded by DARPA doesn't hurt, especially since Miller told the BBC the work involved destroying a few cars.
Pics and vid The Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) team is just about done sifting through the photos and vid from our recent test flight of the Special Project Electronic Altitude Release System (SPEARS) control board, and we hereby present highlights for your viewing pleasure.Click here for a bigger version of the LOHAN graphicRoll over the photos for the name of the snapper in question, or for a bigger version in a new window where available.Since this is a photo-round up, we're not going into much written detail about the flight. There's more on our heroic Playmonaut's 113,00ft stratodangle here, while you can get details of the SPEARS element of the mission - the control board which fires the rocket's igniter at an altitude of around 19 miles (100,100ft) - here.
We'll bring you full coverage of the mission trackers and Raspberry Picam rig in a dedicate piece next week.On Saturday 13 July, we assembled at Blighty's Baikonur (Brightwalton in Berkshire) for the big event, to find Dave Pi In The Sky Akerman sitting in mission control behind his improbably expansive wall of monitors:Dave does do low-tech too, though, as this snap of him knocking together lunch proves. Look closely, and you can see the obligatory bacon sitting with the burgers on the barbie. Lovely:Myself and Anthony Stirk, meanwhile, got on with prepping the Covert High Altitude Vehicle (CHAV), a peripheral bit of fun designed to have a pop at our own Guinness World Record for the highest launch of a paper plane...From L-R we have rocket motor geezer Paul Shackleton, custom igniter chap Rob Eastwood, apprentice boffin Katarina Haines Barbosa, the aforementioned Anthony Stirk, Neil Barnes and Dave Akerman, plus Paper Aircraft Released Into Space (PARIS) vet John Oates.
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For those of you who missed the live feed of the launch, here's a tasty time lapse sequence video of the whole thing, with a bit of music thrown into the mix:Review Can such a small, silver and black gadget deliver all it promises? Talk to the device’s creator, Leap Motion, and it’s clear that plenty is indeed being pledged. The tiny box - at 79 x 30 x 10mm, it’s barely bigger than a disposable lighter - is called the Controller and it will help “break down the barriers between humans and technology to realise the potential of both” with its “incredibly natural way to interact with your computer”.Leap Motion’s Controller: hand-monitoring hardware to replace your mouse? The technology is certainly impressive. The Controller contains a pair of cameras capturing 200 shots every second. Three infrared LEDs provide the illumination, helping the cameras to see all the parts of your hand and to detect even very tiny movements they make.It’s not so very different from Microsoft’s Xbox accessory Kinect, but much, much smaller and focused. The Controller can get away with a more compact size because it’s designed for desktop use, whether it’s hooked up to a traditional tower or placed in front of a laptop. According to Leap Motion, the Controller keeps its electronic eyes on a what is essentially a hemisphere of just 60cm radius above and around its gloss-black plastic window.
Any hand movements made within that zone can be tracked by the Controller and interpreted as application control gestures. It’ll follow both of your hands separately and simultaneously as you move them up and down, toward and away from the screen, rotate them at the wrist, and wiggle, point and make circles with your fingers and thumbs. Crossing your two hands at the wrist confuses the Controller mightily, but pretty much anything you might do with a mouse, a trackpad, a joystick or a games controller can now potentially be done with this wee, USB-connected device.But not, of course, without software. Out of the box, the Controller does nothing. You’re invited to download Windows or Mac software, but this only provides drivers, settings and calibration tools, and a basic demo app that shows how the Controller’s detectors can be used to model your hands in order to let you waft colour lights around the screen.