Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Relatives of Ship Collision Victims Hear Navy Describe Strain on Force

As grieving family members watched, top Navy leaders and lawmakers on Tuesday said frequent extended deployments, delayed maintenance and nearly a decade of budget constraints have strained the U.S. Navy, possibly contributing to two ship collisions that killed 17 sailors.

The Navy’s top officer said he couldn’t yet draw a direct link between those problems and the ship crashes, and instead said commanders were ultimately responsible for ensuring their forces were combat ready and operating safely and effectively.

“I am accountable for the safe and effective operations of our Navy, and we will fix this. I own this problem,” Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee as distraught family members looked on. “I’m confident that our Navy will identify the root causes and correct them, and that it will be better in the end.”

The hearing, however, broadly condemned the deadly accidents as preventable, and Senator John McCain, the committee chairman, demanded immediate action.

‘Truly alarming’

“It is simply unacceptable for U.S. Navy ships to run aground or collide with other ships — and to have four such incidents in the span of seven months is truly alarming,” the Arizona Republican said.

Speaking directly to Richardson, he said that some fixes could be done now, without long studies or review.

Sailors “should not be working 100 hours a week,” said McCain, who at the start of the hearing introduced all the family members in the audience and asked them to stand. “That’s common sense that doesn’t require a study.” He told Richardson to make immediate changes to reduce the strain.

The USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided in Southeast Asia last month, killing 10 U.S. sailors and injuring five. (The ship is named for the committee chairman’s father and grandfather, but the senator also served in the Navy.) Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided in waters off Japan.

In the audience on Capitol Hill Tuesday were at least 10 family members of sailors who died on the Fitzgerald, and another seven family members of sailors who died on the McCain. Through much of the hearing, they sat grimly but quietly in their seats.

“Your presence here today reminds us of our sacred obligation to look after the young people who volunteer to serve in the military,” said McCain, who — along with the Navy leaders — met and offered condolences to a number of the family members.

Readiness to fight

During the hearing, McCain also noted that, with three of the ships involved in the collisions now out of service for months, “there are serious questions about our maritime readiness to fight in response to North Korean, Chinese and Russian aggression.”

Members of the Armed Services Committee were quick to pin some responsibility for the accidents on Congress, which has relied on stopgap spending measures for the past eight years, forcing the services to shift money from modernization and training accounts in order to fund current missions.

They said they thought that reductions in training time had contributed to the accidents.

Congress has to provide adequate funding to take care of service members, said Senator Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer noted that over time Congress has added training and other requirements to the force, likening it to piling more and more rocks into a rucksack.

“No one is taking a rock out and the rucksack is getting pretty damn heavy,” he said.

John Pendleton, an expert on defense readiness issues with the Government Accountability Office, said ships based in Japan had failed to keep up with required warfare certifications, and that reductions in ship crew sizes had led to longer working hours, including the 100-hour weeks. And he said he was skeptical the Navy would be able to make needed gains in readiness until aggressive deployment schedules and other demands on the force were decreased.

Is Packaged Entertainment Media Really on the Way Out?

As home video viewing patterns continue to evolve, one common prediction is that packaged media is on its last legs. Streaming services have been gaining market share at a steady pace.

In fact, streaming media sales eclipsed sales of DVDs and Blu-ray discs for the first time in the last quarter of 2016 — with discs accounting for US$5.4 billion in annual U.S. sales compared to the $6.2 billion haul for SVOD (streaming video on demand) providers such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.

However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of packaged media has been greatly exaggerated.

Sales of DVDs and Blu-ray discs still accounted for $18 billion in 2016, according to Futuresource Consulting. Yes, that was down from $21.6 billion worldwide in 2015, and sales are forecast to drop to $9.1 billion by 2020 — but that is still a lot of potential revenue for the content providers.

That $9.1 billion needs to be put into context too. It means packaged media will continue to sell, albeit at a reduced rate, and live alongside streaming media.

Streaming media actually arrived as Blu-ray began to replace DVDs, and one reason for Blu-ray’s early success was that it was truly an HD format, which DVD was not, and it took advantage of the transition to larger TV sets with higher resolution.

Today streaming can provide nearly as good a picture and sound as Blu-ray — but only if the bandwidth is available. At peak viewing times, and in areas where bandwidth is limited, streaming viewers have to settle for lower quality. However, as services now offer the ability to download for viewing at a later time, that is becoming less of an issue.

More Ways to Get Content

Packaged media’s decline has coincided with the arrival of new ways to view content — not only streaming, but also a growing lineup of on-demand offerings from pay-TV services.

Still, even though many cable/satellite subscribers add multiple premium channels like HBO and Showtime, the simple fact is that favorite movies are not always available.

In the early days of the home video era — which came about almost as an afterthought, despite Hollywood’s fierce anti-VCR resistance — you had to go to a rental store if there wasn’t something you wanted to see on TV.

The ability to purchase tapes, and later DVDs and Blu-ray discs, allowed consumers to build movie libraries.

Streaming has displaced video collections, but only to a point. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other services may add content each month — both new and archived programming — but they remove many films and TV series as well.

Disney’s films, including its Marvel superhero franchise movies, soon will leave Netflix for Disney’s own OTT (over-the-top) streaming service, scheduled to launch in 2019.

“Streaming has its limitations. It requires a connection, and the content library is typically limited,” said Greg Ireland, research director for consumer digital transformation and multiscreen video at IDC.

“Movies drift in and out of these subscription services,” noted Dan Cryan, senior director for digital media at IHS Markit.

“It is true that if you are going subscription-only you are going to miss some things, and all movies aren’t available at all times,” Cryan told TechNewsWorld. “Part of the reason is that there are windows, and this includes a set release strategy and viewers have to be patient.”

Bungled Play

The pay-TV model is built around bundled packages, which for cable and satellite TV subscribers has meant numerous movie channels, but streaming services provide more.

However, the value of archived content could be lost as packaged media declines in sales.

“The industry has handled it badly — they’ve bungled it, to be frank,” said Colin Dixon, principal analyst at

“One of the problems is how online content has been handled,” he told TechNewsWorld.

It seems as if someone hit repeat, and a format war broke out — similar to the one that raged between Betamax and VHS, and later simmered between HD-DVD and Blu-ray.

In this case, the controversy can be pinned on the lack of an accepted format or protocol for watching content that has been purchased via streaming.

“UltraViolet was supposed to be the answer for buying a movie via digital download, but Disney never got behind it,” noted Dixon.

“So you have islands now, and must question where you can play your films and on what devices,” he said.

Amazon and Comcast offer competing standards, for example.

“It is hard to play those films you buy as a Comcast subscriber if you leave Comcast. The whole thing has been bungled,” Dixon said.

Must-Own Films

One reason that packaged media may never go away completely is that there will be certain content that people will want to own in a physical format. Parents may want a library of children’s content, for example, including packaged media that can be viewed in a car, on an airplane, or in other places where streaming services aren’t available. Some consumers likely will want to own their own copies of modern epics and other “must see” films.

Anything with Star Wars in the title is likely to sell well. Many hardcore fans won’t be satisfied with a mere digital copy.

Some viewers will always regard ownership of a physical object as important, said IHS Markit’s Cryan.

There are lessons from the music industry’s handling of streaming media vs. packaged releases too.

“We are seeing that the right title will sell,” Cryan noted. “Taylor Swift sold a lot of copies of her album despite it being on Spotify.”

If an offline platform can be managed, video content could follow the success of online music downloads.

“Many OTT streaming services — both audio and video — allow downloads for offline listening and viewing,” IDC’s Ireland told TechNewsWorld. “Cable already showed us the model with VOD services that have rentals as well as subscription content.”

Studio Services

For movie studios, the streaming services could mean a decline in revenue, especially as many movie buffs once were happy to pay $20, on average, for a new DVD release.

Today, streaming services at $10 a month would offer much more value — but consumers might not be amenable to paying for multiple services.

Even with multiple subscriptions, some favorite movies might not always be available through streaming.

Instead, “electronic sell through (EST) and digital rentals could be the answer,” said Ireland.

“No single service offers a complete solution, just as cable TV doesn’t solve for all of today’s video needs,” he pointed out, “so consumers will need a combination of streaming services and EST/rental services such as iTunes.”

One possibility could be that studios utilize their vaults to launch their own respective services, and leverage their libraries the same way that they created a home video market in the first place.

That may seem like a workable idea, but “it isn’t supportable because it adds up for the consumer,” warned nScreen Media’s Dixon.

“If the movie industry does this, people might subscribe for a month and cancel — but another option might be a mega movie portal,” he suggested.

Although that would be a better deal for the consumer, Dixon said, it would not bring in the same money as packaged media brought in for the studios.

Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and

Email Peter.

Augmedics is building augmented reality glasses for spinal surgery

Meet Augmedics, an Israeli startup that is working on an augmented reality headsets for surgeons performing spinal surgery. The company is participating in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt SF.

Computer assisted surgery systems are nothing new. Plenty of surgeons look at a screen while performing an operation. But Vizor is something new. Instead of making you look away from your patient, the device acts as a heads up display and gives you superpowers.

Vizor is a sort of eyewear with clear glasses. But it can also project your patient’s spine in 3D so that you can locate your tools in real time even if it’s below the skin. It has multiple sensors to detect your head movements as well.

“What we are projecting is the patient’s CT scans,” co-founder and CEO Nissan Elimelech told me before Disrupt. “We do not have an active X-ray device that emits X-ray light. But instead, we’re using the patient’s CT scan with a very sophisticated registration process. And then we project a 3D model of the CT scan.”

Hospitals first have to segment the spine from the rest of the scan, such as soft tissue. They already have all the tools they need to do it themselves.

Then, doctors have to place markers on the patient’s body to register the location of the spine. This way, even if the patient moves while breathing, Vizor can automatically adjust the position of the spine in real time.

Surgeons also need to put markers on standard surgical tools. After a calibration process, Vizor can precisely display the orientation of the tools during the operation. According to Augmedics, it takes ten to twenty seconds to calibrate the tools. The device also lets you visualize the implants, such as screws.

Elimelech says that the overall system accuracy is about 1.4mm. The FDA requires a level of accuracy below 2mm. The company is still working on FDA approval before it can sell Vizor to hospitals in the U.S. It could still take a year or two. But some surgeons have already tried it.

“We showed it to 50 spine surgeons right now. They’re all overwhelmed by the technology,” Elimelech said. “They could actually feel like they had superhero capabilities.”

And if you think spine surgery is a niche market, think again because navigation systems cost a small fortune. Neurosurgeons already use navigation systems, but it’s not as common for spine surgery. “We’re going to be reasonably competitive with other products,” Elimelech said. Current systems cost between $200,000 and $500,000.

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Twitter replaces board member who left for Microsoft with ex-Google CFO

Crossing the social media divides isn’t common in Silicon Valley, so it’s notable that Twitter and Microsoft have played a spot of musical chairs with their boards.

Twitter board member Hugh Johnston — day job: Pepsi vice chairman and CFO — has left Twitter’s board to join Microsoft’s board as of today. Johnston’s replacement at the microblogging company is Patrick Pichette, a former CFO of Google.

No sooner was Johnston’s new role announced by Microsoft, so Twitter was trumpeting its own new addition, Canada-born Pichette, who served as Google CFO between 2008 and 2015.

Twitter already has another former Googler on its board in the form of Omid Kordestani, its executive chairman, who joined in 2015.

The trigger of these changes appears to be the decision of Microsoft board member G. Mason Morfit, president and chief investment officer of ValueAct Capital, to not seek re-election.

Microsoft’s board includes company founder Bill Gates, Greylock’s Reid Hoffman, Teri L. List-Stoll from Gap, and Bank Of America’s Charles H. Nosk among others. The Twitter board, meanwhile, includes Peter Chernin, Martha Lane Fox, CEO Jack Dorsey and others.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

The Pirate Bay Takes Heat for Testing Monero Mining

The Pirate Bay has come under fire for testing a Monero javascript miner as a possible means for generating new revenue to replace its current model of making money through advertising on the site.

The Pirate Bay Takes Heat for Testing Monero Mining

It used a cryptocurrency miner from Coinhive, essentially hijacking the processing power of its own users to help generate revenue, TorrentFreak reported last week.

Limited Options

Monero is an open source digital currency, like bitcoin, with one important difference.

“Monero is one of the few valuable cryptocurrencies that can be mined with CPU power, which is why it is the choice for many malware miners,” said Sherrod DeGrippo, director, emerging threats, at Proofpoint.

Cryptocurrencies usually are mined with CPU power initially, she told LinuxInsider. Users then find ways to speed up the hashing before going to GPU. They build specialized hardware and field programmable gate array (FPGA) chips to carry out the hashing function in order to mine much faster.

“Monero uses cryptonight algorithm, which so far as we can tell is fastest on CPU,” DeGrippo added.

The miner has caused many users to see a sudden unexplained jump in CPU usage.

While few would quibble with the site’s need to find additional revenue streams, some users were angered by the lack of prior notice.

“You didn’t make an effort to let us know beforehand??” commented user Zhangsun. “You seem to lack respect for your users.”

In the future, all coining scripts would be blocked, said Zhangsun, who also promised to notify the public the next time The Pirate Bay attempted to use any ‘sneaky’ tactics on its users.

Par for the Course

That The Pirate Bay would engage in cryptocurrency mining doesn’t come as a shock, given the issues it has dealt with over the years in seeking revenue — but in this case, the price of the ticket could be the long-term trust of its users, said Ed Cabrera, chief cybersecurity officer at Trend Micro.

“Pirate Bay is a peer-to-peer file sharing service, and their primary income is advertising revenue. However, the revenue tends to be modest by comparison to the explosive growth of cryptocurrency in the last two years,” he pointed out.

Ad-sponsored sites basically are user funded, to the extent that users want to endure ads and vendors want to place ads in front of those users, observed Paul Teich, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“The proper, civilized thing to do would be to offer users a range of funding options, such as ads, mining cryptocurrency and perhaps a simple annual donation,” he suggested.

“But Pirate Bay is, well, Pirate Bay,” Teich added. “If Pirate Bay elected to pirate some cycles from user computers, would we really not expect that?”

Damage Done

The notion that The Pirate Bay effectively would borrow resources from its own users is not the problem, suggested Jessica Groopman, principal analyst at Tractica.

The outrage stems from the way it was done, she told LinuxInsider.

“The notion of exploiting underused compute from across the network is one we’ve seen other businesses and universities consider as a way to leverage computing resources at night time or while students are away for the holidays, so this in and of itself is not far fetched,” Groopman said. “What raised eyebrows and anger around this was that Pirate Bay did so without informing its users.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.

Florida's Irma Outages Continue Despite Power Grid Upgrades

Hundreds of thousands of customers in Florida are still without power nine days after Hurricane Irma hit.

Electric companies in the state are coming under fire from residents, legislators and local officials about how long it is taking to get power back on. Eight people in a south Florida in a nursing home died last week amid sweltering heat.

Despite the frustrations, experts in the electric industry and utility officials point out that improvements made since Hurricane Wilma hit 12 years ago have meant people waiting less time for their lights to come back on.

Only 25 percent of Florida Power & Light’s customers had power restored within two days of Wilma. This time, company officials said more than 50 percent of customers had power within 48 hours of Irma.

O-Robotix spruces up its SeaDrone underwater robo-craft

At last year’s Disrupt SF, SeaDrone made it to the Battlefield finals with its simple, robust, and affordable underwater drone. With a few customers and a year of feedback under their belts, the engineers behind the robo-sub are putting out a version 2.0 with a few improvements.

The company’s pitch is basically an alternative to using expensive, professionally-piloted remotely operated vehicles for things like ship inspections and other underwater tasks. The SeaDrone is portable, easily piloted from an iPad, and its path and camera can be automated for frequently repeated jobs.

One of the things I was most impressed by originally was the propulsion, which the company’s founders engineered themselves. Their thrusters were already smaller and more efficient than off the shelf components, but somehow they found a way to improve them even further. Its top speed has increased by 20 percent — you still won’t be winning any races, but it means the job gets done that much faster.

It’s also important that the craft remains stable while it stays in place shoots images, of course, and to that end its battery has been shifted from the top to the bottom. Turns out being top-heavy matters underwater, too — co-founder Eduardo Moreno said this change vastly improved stability and made the SeaDrone considerably easier to control.

Interested fishermen and boat lovers should inquire at the SeaDrone website for more specifics.


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