Breakthrough in water based energy storage


[Daniel Nocera], working with the MIT Energy Initiative, has come up with a method to easily and cheaply store energy generated from solar electricity with water. The method uses two catalysts of non-toxic and abundant metals to separate the water into both oxygen and hydrogen. These gases are then stored, and later recombined in a fuel cell to generate power. The process was inspired by photosynthesis, and helps to make sources such as solar power viable around the clock. Current storage technologies are both expensive and inefficient, so technologies like solar are only useful when the source is available. This will allow homes to cheaply and easily store power generated through solar and other technologies. While this is only part of the solution towards the current energy problem, it could go a long way towards decreasing our use of non-renewable sources. When combined with other new breakthroughs in the field, you can easily imagine more homes coming off the grid. Check out the short video after the break.

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Securing DNS on OSX


It’s been a few weeks since [Dan Kaminsky] announced the nature of the DNS vulnerability and allowed 30 days of non-disclosure for patches to be applied before details of the exploit went public. Unfortunately, the details were leaked early and it didn’t take long for a functional exploit to be released into the wild. Since then, many ISPs have taken steps to prevent their users from falling victim to the attack, and BIND, the widely-used DNS protocol implementation, was updated to minimize the threat. Even then, there were reports of a version of the attack being actively used on AT&T’s DNS servers.

Mac OSX uses a BIND implementation but as of yet, Apple has not released a patch updating the system (Microsoft, on the other hand, patched this up on July 8). As a result, machines running OSX are at risk of being exploited. Individual users are less likely to be targeted, since the attacks are directed towards servers, but it’s not a smart idea to leave this vulnerability open. [Glenn Fleishman] has published a way to update BIND on OSX manually, rather than waiting on Apple to patch it themselves. It requires Xcode and a bit of terminal work, but it’s a relatively painless update. When we tried it, the “make test” step skipped a few tests and told us to run “bin/tests/system/ifconfig.sh up”. That allowed us to re-run the tests and continue the update without further interruption. [Fleischman] warns that people who manually update BIND may break the official update, but he will update his instructions when it happens with any possible workarounds. Unfortunately, this fix only works for 10.5 but alternative, yet less effective methods may work for 10.4 and earlier.

If you’d like to know if your preferred DNS servers are vulnerable or not, you can use the DNS checker tool from Doxpara. As an alternative to your ISP’s DNS servers, you can use OpenDNS, which many prefer for its security features and configuration options.

UnMouse cheap multitouch prototype


A Microsoft research team has delivered a prototype called the UnMouse that could really be a big hit. This unit is a mouse pad sized sensor that is multitouch and pressure sensitive. It is flexible and thin enough to roll up. The article mentions that the construction of the device is “dirt cheap”. This is very exciting; is this the next mouse?

The idea of having low cost multitouch input is very enticing. While there are many ways to do multitouch right now, most are limited by their large size due to projector/camera setups or high cost such as the iPhone. A portable (fits in your laptop bag) pressure sensitive multitouch input device is something that a lot of people have been craving for a while.

Just imagine the uses. Audio engineers could create new interfaces on the fly. You could draw a key map on piece of paper and just lay it on top. Graphic designers could use different sized and shaped brushes. Gamers could make their own ergonomically comfortable gaming layouts. How about covering one in Velcro and attaching buttons to it?

Russian homemade telescope


In the Russian city of Barnaul, some enthusiasts are gathering their resources to revive a home made telescope and observatory. Built by [Mikhail Levchenko], in the mid 70’s, the telescope is quite impressive. [Levchenko] kept his hobby somewhat of a secret so as not to arouse the suspicions of his neighbors, but its pretty hard to hide a tower as tall as a house with a domed observatory on top. The telescope itself has a 16 inch glass lens that provides 500x magnification. His hobby would turn out to have a pretty big impact on the town. People would come to him hoping that his telescope could tell their fortunes. Not a believer in horoscopes, he tried to educate people with lessons in astronomy and physics. One man was said to have given up drinking after seeing Saturn.

[Levchenko] passed away in 2002 and his observatory fell into disrepair. Local thieves tried to steal pieces for scrap and the whole structure has sunken somewhat. Some of those who were inspired when young by [Levchenko] have decided to renovate it for the eclipse. Barnaul will be a prime location for viewing. The total renovation and possible relocation will cost around 2 million dollars.

In the past, we covered a high powered telescope made by some girl scouts, and this $40 USB telescope looks fun too.

British hacker to be extradited to U.S.

British computer hacker [Gary McKinnon] lost his final appeal to block his extradition to the U.S. He stands accused of hacking into almost 100 U.S. military and NASA computers from his girlfriend’s aunt’s house in London over a four year period by the U.S. government. If convicted of the crimes in a U.S. court, he could face up to 70 years imprisonment. [Gary McKinnon] freely admitted to hacking into the computers, but claimed that he did it out of curiosity, not out of malice or any terroristic aims. He was looking for information on UFOs. The U.S. government claimed that in addition to hacking into the computers, he also stole 950 passwords and erased important files. [McKinnon’s] next move will be to appeal to the European Court, and if unsuccessful, he will have no other option but to stand trial in the U.S. court system.

Hacking animatronic Elvis


[Scott] shot us a tip about some progress on hacking those creepy [Elvis] heads produced by Wowee. The head uses a flash cartridge to store all the data used for the motion/audio control. The cartridge uses NAND flash, so a quick solder job to an XD flash card reader yielded a useful dump of the memory cartridge – which happened to be fat32 formatted. There’s still plenty of work to do, but it seems that it’ll be trivial to replace the data with custom audio and motion commands.