french police car ubuntu

French Police Save Millions With Ubuntu

12 Mar 2009 2009-03-12 20

French Police Save Millions With Ubuntu, OpenOffice

Posted by Jared Newman

french police car ubuntu

Solving budget crises at the local level may not be so complicated after all, if the French Gendarmerie Nationale police force is any indication. By switching to open source software, such as the Ubuntu operating system and OpenOffice instead of Windows and Microsoft Office, the force has saved roughly €50 million since 2004. The best quote comes from Lt. Colonel Xavier Guimard: “Moving from Microsoft XP to Vista would not have brought us many advantages and Microsoft said it would require training of users,” he said. “Moving from XP to Ubuntu, however, proved very easy. The two biggest differences are the icons and the games. Games are not our priority.” But what about those sweet, sweet icons? No matter, the department says its budget dropped by 70 percent by switching to open source, and it’s obviously an approach they’d like to continue in the future. The entire organization should be running on Linux by 2015. My editor, an open source junkie, is probably ecstatic. [via Ars Technica]

10 Amazing High Tech Crimes (Which Mostly Failed)

4 Mar 2009 2009-03-04
Posted by Jared Newman

 

If crime didn’t pay, there wouldn’t be any criminals.  Throughout history, the successful criminals have used technology to stay above and beyond the law, developing new techniques to hedge their bets and avoid arrest.  While some tech masterminds have escaped the long arm of the law, most have still failed.  Meet the 10 most amazing high tech crimes– and the fate of the criminals that pulled them off.

Editor’s Note– if you enjoy this, be sure to check out our companion list of the 10 Amazing Tech-Assisted Arrests.

 

WANK Worm Bugs NASA

wankworm

When NASA laid out plans to launch the nuclear-powered, unmanned Galileo spacecraft on a mission to Jupiter, protesters feared that the radioactive vibes could harm the Earth. But instead of merely grumbling about it, a group dubbed “Worms Against Nuclear Killers” hacked into NASAs systems and presented scientists with the image pictured above. The hack also tricked employees into thinking their files were being deleted, and spit random messages promoting anarchy and decrying the government. Cultural references in those messages suggest that the hackers came from Australia, but no one knows for sure.

$1.3m Made in “Easy” Roulette Scam

 

In 2004, a trio of cheating roulette players raked in £1.3 million from a British casino. Reports suggest that they used mobile phones fitted with laser scanners, calculating the likely position of the ball based on the speed of the wheel. That’s pretty clever on its own, but one physicist told New Scientist that there’s an easier way: Use the phone as a stopwatch, click it once when the wheel starts spinning and again after a revolution, and use a formula to calculate the outcome. Either way, the group was arrested, because you can’t win millions in a day at the casino without drawing some suspicion.

High-Tech Gadgets Aide Massive Poker Run

 

Aided by a camera up his sleeve, a tiny earpiece and a pair of accomplices, Yau Yiv Lam won $250,000 playing poker at six casinos. One of the cohorts, in a remote location, played back the video in slow motion to see the cards before they hit the table. Then, his person relayed the information to a veteran player that was in on the heist. Alas, it was too successful; casino staff called out the other player and caught the crooks red-handed. One officer said cheating like this is otherwise “extremely difficult” to prove.

ATM Scam Yields $9M

 

This isn’t your typical scan job, in which a single ATM is fitted with a camera for identity theft. This is a hack involving RBS WorldPay, which serves workers around the world with a direct-to-debit payroll system. Last November, someone hacked it, stole the information need to make clone ATM cards and lifted the withdrawl limits on those accounts. In a matter of hours, dozens of henchmen hit over 130 ATMs around the world, pulling out cash over and over again until $9 million was stolen. Police had no suspects as of early February.

Spy Gear Used to Cheat on Immigration Test

 

The “Life in the UK” test — the last step on the path to British citizenship — can be a daunting task, particularly if you don’t speak English. Last year, police caught two men making it easier by transmitting the answer over an earpiece. The test takers inside paid the men for their services and used a buttonhole camera to transmit the answers. When police found the masterminds in a nearby a BMW filled with high-tech equipment, they originally thought an ATM card-skimming scam was at work. Then, they realized the men could be part of a network that helps immigrants cheat on their tests. The perps will spend eight months in jail, and the men inside taking the exam, they were sentenced to 180 hours of community service.

Crowdsourcing Crime on Craigslist

 

After taking control of an armored truck by subduing the driver with pepper spray last September, a perpetrator in Monroe, Wash., needed to cover his tracks. Fortunately, he thought ahead by hiring decoys on Craigslist. The job ad offered $28.50 per hour for road maintenance work for anyone who could show up near the Bank of America wearing a yellow vest, safety goggles, a respirator mask and a blue shirt if possible. Roughly a dozen guys showed up, sporting the very outfit the robber was wearing. In a surprising switch to low-tech, the man then escaped down the river via innertube. Police eventually caught up to him in November using DNA evidence.

Infrared Aides Jaguar Break-In

 

Ever worry that your car’s remote lock system might not be foolproof? In 1999, at least, there was good reason for concern. Using an infrared transceiver, someone copied the keyless entry signal on a Jaguar in England and opened up the car to steal the Rolex watch inside. One wireless security expert said the trick could be done with a £15 device, or made at home for about £2. Even Palm Pilots and other PDAs could be manipulated into break-in tools. Improvements to the technology have since made this crime much more difficult, but with keyless systems expanding to include ignition, it’s also more tempting.

Walkie-Talkies and Hot-Wiring in Tech Robbery

 

It’s the sum of its parts that makes this tech-assisted 1997 heist impressive. In order to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in Lexmark printers, a band of criminals hotwired a tractor and used it to pull two huge in front of the yard where the goods were held. This blocked a view from the road while two men ordered in a pair of rental trucks by walkie-talkie. Another man kept lookout and monitored police band radio while the other guys loaded up the stash. It was like butter, and just one of many burglaries that had high-tech companies concerned in the late 1990s.

Tunnel-Digging Operation Had All the Comforts of Home

 

In one of the largest bank burglaries of all-time, a gang of criminals dug an 80-meter tunnel into Brazil’s Banco Central from a nearby house. This wasn’t just a shovel job; along the way, the burglars installed air conditioning and rudimentary lighting in the tunnel. At the end of their trip, they had to drill through a meter of steel-enforced concrete. They broke into the bank with no guns and no fuss, and stole 3.5 tons of money, valued at almost $70 million. In the end, though, one of the suspected accomplices was kidnapped and murdered, and police arrested 13 others.

“Mission Impossible Burglar” Makes Like Tom Cruise

 

Though we don’t know if Steven Jay Kreuger had to avoid any floor-activated security systems, he certainly had a penchant for Hollywood-style burglaries. With the help of sophisticated cutting tools, ropes and a strong upper body, Kreuger broke into Laptop Solutions in Irvine, Calif., from the roof, climbing down to pull out $300,000 worth of wireless modems. This was after he used a grappling hook to get onto the roof. Police nabbed Kreuger in 1998, but a press release from 2006 suggests that he’s out of jail and at it again. His new thing, allegedly, is cutting through metal roll up doors and stealing computer memory and laptops from industrial complexes.

Thanks for reading, GearCravers, Diggers, Stumblers, Redditers and otherwise!  What did you think of our list of high tech crimes?  Do any stand out to you as criminally brilliant– or criminally stupid?  Could you have pulled off any of these better on your own?  Let us know what you think in the comments.  In the mean time, we could certainly use your help– if you’ve got a minute, send this to a friend or two who you think might like it, and feel free to give us a vote in your favorite social news website.  Thanks for reading!

Editor’s Note– if you enjoy this, be sure to check out our companion list of the 10 Amazing Tech-Assisted Arrests.

soundshelf3_msp3

Soundshelf: Shelf Speakers Turn Speaker Shelves

12 Feb 2009 2009-02-12
Posted by Carl Weiss

soundshelf3_msp3

Usually CDs and DVDs don’t mix with your speakers until you hit play. An interesting new home audio design concept out of Poland could change all that. Designers Witek Stefaniak and Anielka Zdanowicz crafted the Soundshelf, a working stereo speaker that doubles as a CD/DVD shelf. Wall and tower shelves provide two useful options.

Simple yet smart, the Soundshelf promises to be a great way to sell the wife on a new stereo system. Rather than big, intrusive speaker boxes, you get a sleek, integrated shelf to organize the living room. Everyone wins (at least in theory, no indication as to how these would actually sound). With the simple, multi-function design element here, perhaps the juvenile Polish quips about solar-powered flashlights can finally be put to rest.  [via designboom]

eyeclock

Eyeclock Is Googly All the Time

11 Feb 2009 2009-02-11
Posted by Jared Newman

eyeclock

Here’s the description for the Eyeclock from designer Mike Mak: “Eyeclock is a pleasuring clock which gives pleasure while telling you time.” Not sure “pleasure” is the right word. Judging from the photos, it seems the right eye continually circles around as the minutes tick by, while the right eye swirls a bit slower to count off the hours. Cute at first, the Eyeclock could possibly whittle away at your sanity as you while away the day. [Mike Mak Design]

invisible-sammich_msp1

Steve Ballmer: Tech Will Right This Economy

3 Feb 2009 2009-02-03

Steve Ballmer: Tech Will Right This Economy

Posted by Mike Payne

invisible-sammich_msp1

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had some thoughts to share on the sour world economy with CNET and EMC.  “I think if you did a fair analysis of the last 25 years and said what’s has been the top source of productivity gain in the U.S. or world economy, it has been information technology,” explained Ballmer.  And while the economy is facing a stark peril, Ballmer feels that it is information technology that will right this ship.  While we might be a bit biased, ya know– since we’re a gadgets/tech publication, we can’t help but agree.  However, Ballmer had better be careful about what he says though, he might end up with egg on his face…  Zing!  Can you feel that!  Burn!  You got BURRRNED!  (before we embarrass ourselves anymore, you can learn more about Ballmer’s comments at Cnet)

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The Amazing Trebuchet Toaster Catapults Your Breakfast

26 Jan 2009 2009-01-26 1
Posted by Jared Newman

brunch_toaster_580

According to designer Ivo Vos, the catapulting toaster is one of several products “that address the desire for skill, struggle, rituals, perfection, preparation and anticipation – qualities lost when we indulge in the comforts of prozac technology.” It’s also just really awesome to launch a piece of toast onto your plate. Angle and force are both adjustable, but there’s no word on the toaster’s ability to brown evenly. The greater “Brunch” collection includes a teapot that records your best pouring height and a set of cutlery that looks invisible against an accompanying placemat, but the catapult is the most fun. [Ivo Vos via SlipperyBrick]

The Year of Indie Games: 2008’s Ten Best Independent Games

5 Jan 2009 2009-01-05

The Year of Indie Games: 2008’s Ten Best Independent Games

Posted by Jared Newman

Check out our historic favorites below, then check out the latest headlines with these Video Game videos:

In a year dominated by corporate titles like GTA IV and Fallout 3, the independent video game industry has begun to strike back.  Designed in basements, bedrooms and offices by small, dedicated startups, indie gaming is about something that many corporate titles have missed– pure, unadulterated fun.  To celebrate the work of the unsung heroes of gaming, here is GearCrave’s list of the 10 best indie games of 2008.

Number Ten: ROM CHECK FAIL

Like a bad dream after a long night at the arcade, you’re at one moment driving the Spy Hunter car and shooting Goombas over the backdrop of a Pac-Man level, when suddenly you hear the crunch of a computer glitch and everything has changed. Now, you’re Mario, trying to stomp Space Invaders in a maze of Arkanoid bricks. It’s a hilarious mashup that tests not only primitive gaming skills, but the ability to change gears at a moment’s notice. [Free Download]

Number Nine: N+

The instant replay mode of this platform jumper is a testament to the impressive ninja skills you’ll be showing off in every level. With speed, timing and the ability to jump from walls, your tiny avatar narrowly avoids rockets, lasers, machine guns and electric drones, all in the name of reaching the next exit as quickly as possible. [$10 Xbox Live, $20 DS and PSP]

Number Eight: You Have to Burn the Rope

It’s pointless to read too deeply into this two-minute flash gag and its eponymous hand-holding. But maybe Swedish developer Kian Bashiri is right about games becoming too easy. Yes, you have to burn the rope to beat the boss. Also, YHTBTR has the catchiest credits theme song since Portal. [Free Flash]

Number Seven: Gravitation

Jason Rohrer’s breakout game, Passage, dug deep and jumpstarted his career of using computer games to make small, abstract gestures instead of sweeping blockbusters. Gravitation sports the same simple play mechanics and intentionally pixilated graphics, but with a “Cat’s In The Cradle” message that’s typically unfound in game culture. That’s because Rohrer proudly exists outside of it. [Free Download]

Number Six: “The C Word” (NSFW)

The game that gets its name for a part of the female anatomy, and features a part of the male anatomy attacking it, is fiendishly fun. Too bad you can’t play it around anyone who isn’t in on the joke. Edmund McMillen created this shoot-em-up mostly to assert his artistic independence, but he suggests there could be subconscious hints of misogyny lurking about. No kidding. [Free Flash]

Number Five: Aether

Because it wouldn’t be fair to present only McMillen’s sick side, Aether is a meditation on the dangers of introversion. A boy meets a monster when delving into his own imagination, and together they swing from planet to planet, encountering happy-looking, but deeply disturbed creatures at every turn. The looping soundtrack is appropriately dreamy. [Free Flash, or check out McMillen’s compilation CD for $10]

Number Four: Crayon Physics Deluxe

The imagination runs wild in this physics puzzle game, in which you draw ramps, see-saws, pulleys and big, swinging hammers to move a ball around the screen. Each level captures that youthful sense of wonder, where anything seems possible. Even though the PC version doesn’t drop until this week, we’re counting this one because of its late-December iPhone port. And because it’s awesome. [Pre-order for $19.95]

Number Three: Karoshi 2.0

The expanded version of Karoshi, which is Japanese for “death from overwork,” has little respect for the fourth wall or other standard gaming conventions. The goal of killing yourself in each level starts with a few cathartic leaps onto spikes, but quickly becomes a game of developer vs. player. Don’t be surprised when you’re booted out to Windows, only to move your mouse and have the game launch again while being told that the joke’s on you. [Free Download]

Number Two: Braid

Braid is this year’s golden boy of indie games, garnering buzz phrases like “long-awaited” that are typically reserved for AAA titles. The hype is justified though, as this title plays on the platform genre with mind-bending time manipulation puzzles. The plot, of a man who wonders about changing the past in the wake of lost love, is masterfully applied. [$15 on Xbox Live]

Number One: World of Goo

No game in 2008 so deftly combined all the things that we love about indie games. The task of stacking goo balls into wobbling towers and connecting them to drainage pipes is easy to learn but ruthlessly difficult by the game’s end. Wry humor and a cartoon art style make World of Goo personable, and its download-only availability for the Wii hints at a retail-free future where even the little guy can shine. [$15 on WiiWare, or $20 for PC]

Thanks for reading, GearCravers, Diggers, Stumblers and otherwise.  Did we miss any indie game that you would have included here?  Would you have arranged this list differently?  Leave your thoughts in the comments!  Also, if you enjoyed the article, be sure to share it with your friends and vote it up on your favorite social media site.  Come back soon, ya hear?

Election Tech: 7 New Technologies that Shaped an Election

11 Oct 2008 2008-11-10

Election Tech: 7 New Technologies that Shaped an Election

Posted by Mike Payne

One of the most historic elections in the history of the United States of America ended nearly a week ago.  While the result will go down as a defining moment in world history, this election also saw the introduction of many ground-breaking new technologies.  From internet fundraising to multi-touch election maps, here’s a list of 7 technologies that helped shape the most historic election of the internet generation.

The Election ATM: Internet Fundraising

When forming his campaign, then Senator Barack Obama took inspiration from the model of one-time presidential candidate Howard Dean.  Dean foresaw the internet as the fundraising tool of the future, but it was Obama who championed this concept in his own campaign.  Throughout his campaign, Barack Obama raised a record breaking $600 million in contributions from individual donors, the majority of which came from internet-based campaign contributions.  By the end of his campaign, Obama received contributions from over 3,000,000 donors.

Internet fundraising was used in prior elections, as was internet advertising.  But this was the first campaign in history to have taken the majority of its donations online.  In January 2008, 88% of Obama’s donations came from individuals donating online– to the tune of $28 million.  This more than doubled then-rival Hillary Clinton’s total fundraising for the month of only $13.5 million.  Barack Obama’s use of the internet as a fundraising tool gave his campaign a monumental cash advantage over both Hillary Clinton and John McCain, an advantage he rode directly to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The Debate Snap Poll: Pundits Begagged!

This was the first presidential election in modern history where snap polls were used to score debates.  In prior elections, each debate was followed by obsessive spin from the mouths of the pundits.  To propel their favored candidate, the pundits would spin the outcome of a debate in their favor.  Thanks to snap polling, it is now the people who decide who wins the debate, not the pundits.

During and immediately following each debate, news organizations poll a group of undecided voters about the outcome of the debate.  Once this data is compiled, it is delivered to news teams for reporting.  Should a pundit claim that their candidate was the clear winner in the debate, the snap poll data may or may not overturn this spin.  The pundits are held accountable, and it is the voice of the people that write the news headlines the following day.

The Text Message of History: Biden for VP

It was the text message heard around the world.  On August 23rd at around 3:00a.m., Senator Joe Biden was announced as Barack Obama’s running mate for the 2008 presidential election.  Not surprisingly, this was the first time that a Vice Presidential candidate was announced via SMS.  While this was news to many of its recipients, the campaign had failed to keep the news from leaking before the text went out.  However, this text message became the first of many news updates that were transmitted via SMS by the Obama campaign.  Later in the season, SMS was even used to organize and rally volunteers to help drive support for the Obama campaign.  Which leads us to…

The Internet as Campaign Manager: Organizing Volunteers

Not only was the internet a fundraising phenomenon for the Obama campaign, it also helped to organize an army of volunteers across the 50 states.  Through the Obama website, email newsletters and text messages, supporters were asked to volunteer for the Obama campaign in their own time.  Supporters were invited to make calls for the Obama campaign, to deliver flyers and talk to their neighbors about Obama’s message, to host Obama parties and events and to help get voters to the polls on November 4th.

Obama’s experience as a community organizer and his campaign’s understanding of the internet allowed Obama to turn out volunteers in unprecedented numbers.  Members of the Obama website had created over 30,000 events across the US to promote Obama’s candidacy for President.  In the weeks leading up to the election, Obama volunteers were everywhere: on the phones, door-to-door in neighborhoods and driving voter registrations in towns and cities across the country.  This turnout was only possible with the help of the internet as a communication and organization tool.

Display of the Future: The John King Multi-Touch

For the tech-minded, John King’s multi-touch election map on CNN was the reason for watching that network’s coverage.  This mammoth, multi-touch screen was paired with some visually stunning software developed by CNN.  From the Iowa Caucus to the general election, King’s map provided amazing visual displays of election data right down to the precinct level.  King could instantly pull up data from a tiny precinct in Indiana in real time, then compare it to the 2004 election, then pull up voter trends by demographics.

Like the Apple iPhone or the Microsoft Surface, CNN’s “Magic Wall” is controlled by multi-touch.  John King could use one or both hands to move around on the map, to control different display elements and to draw and hightlight sections within.  While it wasn’t CNN’s only technological advancement in this election cycle, it was the only one that roundly impressed tech lovers across the US.

Tech Hype: CNN’s Holographic Interviews

While CNN’s Magic Wall was seen as a hit in the tech community, the network should have quit while they were ahead.  On election night, November 4th, CNN revealed their new technology, interviews via hologram.  By using an array of cameras, a subject would be recorded live and then merged with the studio feed to show viewers a holographic representation of that subject.  The technology appeared gimmicky to many viewers, and appeared less visually appealing than showing the subjects in their own location.

The quality of the holograms were poor– think Princess Leia to Obi Wan Kenobi.  While the technology will likely be improved upon to the point that they appear to be more compelling, it is now a bit too underdeveloped.  One interesting use of the hologram was when it was controlled by John King’s Magic Wall– the display on the magic wall would be shown in 3D, floating between two CNN anchors.  While there might be opportunities to build on, this was little more than an election night gimmick to keep viewers on CNN, not elsewhere.

The Metapoll: Combined Polling and Electoral Projections

The first known example of U.S. presidential opinion polling dates back to 1824, when Andrew Jackson led John Quincy Adams 2-to-1 in a straw poll conducted by The Harrisburg Pennsylvanian.  While that makes presidential election polling 184 years old, the way we use this polling data evolved in an extaordinary way in the presidential election of 2008.  In March of 2008, a baseball statistician named Nate Silver launched FiveThirtyEight.com, a meta-polling and electoral projection publication based on polling data from firms across the United States.  FiveThirtyEight not only accurately projected the outcome of the presidential election of 2008, it accurately determined the outcome of the primary battles earlier this year, with few exceptions.

Silver’s method involved gathering polling data at the state and national levels, weighing the poll provider based on accuracy, partisan lean and participant samples, then merging this data in one mammoth database.  Each day, as new polls were published, Silver would update his database to reflect the most recent data.  FiveThirtyEight would then publish this data with Silver’s analysis, including a map of projected electoral results for the November 4th general election.  On January 4th, Silver’s method gave John McCain a 1.1% chance of taking the election, but suggested Barack Obama would win with 349 electoral votes.

Nate Silver’s concept may not be new, but his execution and efficiency is.  Others like Pollster.com and RealClearPolitics.com have provided meta-polling projections, but both of them were taken to school by Silver’s methodology.  In future elections, this “Oracle of Elections” will likely be called on by the media elite to weigh in his very data-informed opinions.  He’s already risen to the top, having been featured in an interview with none other than Stephen Colbert himself…

Thanks for reading, GearCravers, Diggers, Stumblers and otherwise.  Please share this with those you think might be interested, and let us know if you think we missed anything.  This has been an historic election season on many, many levels– including the involvement of new technologies…

(images courtesy: ravedelay, adria.richards, perceval_tl via flickr)

Beer of the Week: Old Scratch Amber Ale

Thursday, September 18, 2008 3:27PM – By Mike Payne

Flying Dog brewery, most famous for their partnership with Hunter S. Thompson’s visual counterpart Ralph Steadman, is featured again for GearCrave’s Beer of the Week.  We’ve been on an Amber kick lately, so we couldn’t go without trying Flying Dog’s Old Scratch Amber Lager.  Old Scratch (nicknamed “Gold Scratch”) pours a dark brown amber and gives off a grainy malt aroma with hints of caramel and nut.  The flavor is faithful to its scent, a rich amber with plenty of character.  For Ambers, this one is quite drinkable– so split a six with a friend and you’ll be inclined to ask for more.  Enjoy it, GearCravers, and as always– tell us what you think!

The Ray Watch by QuikSilver

25 Aug 2008 2008-08-25

The Ray Watch by QuikSilver

Posted by Mike Payne

Friendly to your eyes and the environment, the Ray Watch by Quiksilver is as progressive as timepieces come.  Built from sustainable ebony wood, stainless steel and fully recyclable parts, the Ray Watch symbolizes Quiksilver’s approach to pollution neutral design.  The visual philosophy of the Ray Watch takes its inspiration from the classic Art Deco radios of the 1940s.  Its unique display styling only shows the time above the fold, using double-ended spinning dials that move across the time markers twice in 12 hours.  If you want a statement on your wrist, a sustainable watch with a bold new design, you’re looking at it.

Buy: $500

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