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One of the Twitter feeds MiniDuke-infected machines use to locate a command-and-control server.

Kaspersky Lab

Unidentified attackers have infected government agencies and organizations in 23 countries with highly advanced malware that uses low-level code to stay hidden and Twitter and Google to ensure it always has a way to receive updates.

MiniDuke, as researchers from Kaspersky Lab and Hungary-based CrySyS Lab have dubbed the threat, bears the hallmark of viruses first encountered in the mid-1990s, when shadowy groups such as 29A engineered innovative pieces of malware for fun and then documented them in an E-Zine by the same name. Because MiniDuke is written in assembly language, most of its computer files are tiny. Its use of multiple levels of encryption and clever coding tricks makes the malware hard to detect and reverse engineer. It also employs a method known as steganography, in which updates received from control servers are stashed inside image files.

In another testament to the skill of the attackers, MiniDuke has taken hold of government agencies, think tanks, a US-based healthcare provider, and other high-profile organizations using the first known exploit to pierce the security sandbox in Adobe Systems' Reader application. Adding intrigue to this, the MiniDuke exploit code contained references to Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and also alluded to 666, the Mark of the Beast discussed in a verse from the Book of Revelation.

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In a series of articles last year, executives from the ad-data firms BlueKai, eXelate and Rocket Fuel debated whether the future of online advertising lies with “More Data” or “Better Algorithms.” Omar Tawakol of BlueKai argues that more data wins because you can drive more effective marketing by layering additional data onto an audience. While we agree with this, we can’t help feeling like we’re being presented with a false choice.

Maybe we should think about a solution that involves smaller amounts of higher quality data instead of more data or better algorithms.

First, it’s important to understand what data is feeding the marketing ecosystem and how it’s getting there. Most third-party profiles consist of data points inferred from the content you consume, forms you fill out and stuff you engage with online. Some companies match data from offline databases with your online identity, and others link your activity across devices. Lots of energy is spent putting trackers on every single touchpoint. And yet the result isn’t very accurate — we like to make jokes around the office about whether one of our colleagues’ profiles says they’re a man or a woman that day. Truth be told, on most days BlueKai thinks they are both.

One way to increase the quality of data would be to change where we get it from.

Instead of scraping as many touchpoints as possible, we could go straight to the source: The individual. Imagine the power of data from across an individual’s entire digital experience — from search to social to purchase, across devices. This kind of data will make all aspects of online advertising more efficient: True attribution, retargeting-type performance for audience targeting, purchase data, customized experiences.

So maybe the solution to “More Data” vs. “Better Algorithms” isn’t incremental improvements to either, but rather to invite consumers to the conversation and capture a fundamentally better data set. Getting this new type of data to the market won’t be easy. Four main hurdles need to be cleared for the market to reach scale.

Control and Comfort

When consumers say they want “privacy,” they don’t normally desire the insular nature of total anonymity. Rather, they want control over what is shared and with whom. Any solution will need to give consumers complete transparent control over their profiles. Comfort is gained when consumers become aware of the information that advertisers are interested in — in most cases, the data is extremely innocuous. A Recent PWC survey found that 80 percent of people are willing to share “information if a company asks up front and clearly states use.”

Remuneration

Control and Comfort are both necessary, but people really want to share in the value created by their data. Smart businesses will offer things like access to content, free shipping, coupons, interest rate discounts or even loyalty points to incentivize consumers to transact using data. It’s not much of a stretch to think that consumers who feel fairly compensated will upload even more data into the marketing cloud.

Trust and Transparency

True transparency around what data is gathered and what happens to it engenders trust. Individuals should have the final say about which of their data is sold. Businesses will need to adopt best practices and tools that allow the individual to see and understand what is happening with their data. A simple dashboard with delete functionality should do, for a start.

Ease of Use

This will all be moot if we make it hard for consumers to participate. Whatever system we ask them to adopt needs to be dead simple to use, and offer enough benefits for them to take the time and effort to switch. Here we can apply one of my favorite principles from Ruby on Rails — convention over configuration. There is so much value in data collected directly from individuals that we can build a system whose convention is to protect even the least sensitive of data points and still respect privacy, without requiring the complexity needed for configuration.

The companies who engage individuals around how their data is used and collected will have an unfair advantage over those who don’t. Their advertising will be more relevant, they’ll be able to customize experiences and measure impact to a level of precision impossible via third-party data. To top it off, by being open and honest with their consumers about data, they’ll have impacted that intangible quality that every brand strives for: Authenticity.

In the bigger picture, the advertising industry faces an exciting opportunity. By treating people and their data with respect and involving them in the conversation around how their data is used, we help other industries gain access to data by helping individuals feel good about transacting with it. From healthcare to education to transportation, society stands to gain if people see data as an opportunity and not a threat.

Marc is the co-founder and CEO of Enliken, a startup focused on helping businesses and consumers transact with data. Currently, it offers tools for publishers and readers to exchange data for access to content. Prior to Enliken, Marc was the founding CEO of Spongecell, an interactive advertising platform that produced one of the first ad units to run on biddable media.

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An anonymous reader writes "Ars reports that commercial space company SpaceX has gotten its first launch contracts from a military organization. The United States Air Force has hired SpaceX to launch the NASA DSCOVR satellite aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, and several other satellites aboard a Falcon Heavy. (The Heavy isn't finished yet, and SpaceX currently has no place to launch it, but the contract gives them three years to do so.) 'According to the mission requirements, the Falcon Heavy must carry its payload up to an orbit of 720 km and deploy a COSMIC-2 weather- and atmospheric-monitoring satellite, up to six auxiliary payloads (probably microsats), and up to eight P-POD CubeSat deployers. The rocket should then restart and continue all the way up to a 6,000 x 12,000 km orbit and deploy the ballast, more science experiments and more microsats.'"

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“The campaign is in a lull. The wars overseas are winding down. Washington is paralyzed. I’ve loaded up my iPod with some new songs. There’s nothing to do but….hit the road!”

With that, veteran TIME political columnist Joe Klein began his three-week, eight-state road trip, which ended last Friday. Klein has made this sampling of the country’s political climate a yearly tradition. This time around, TIME sent three of the magazine’s contributors to accompany Klein for different legs of the journey. Here, LightBox presents a selection of their work as well as their thoughts from across America.


What was the single most memorable experience you had on the trip?

Andrew HinderakerIn Richmond, Virginia, at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in a Drug Rehabilitation Center, we met a woman who’d struggled with addiction since age nine. She was a convicted felon, and now, in her 40’s, was 21 months clean. She’d recently convinced a friend to allow her to farm a piece of land. For someone like her, whose addiction left her reliant on medical care most of her life, President Obama’s healthcare legislation meant for her a fresh start. With affordable healthcare, she could be a small business owner, a farmer, an active, contributing citizen; without it, she’s just a recovering addict. We learned her story because another man at the meeting expressed his disdain at the Healthcare Reform Act. We got to watch their argument, and this woman’s story change a man’s mind. It certainly proved Joe’s point about getting to know one another; perhaps the government should sponsor free coffee and organize meetings once a week with a group of local strangers.

What was the economic and political mood of the parts of the country you visited?

Katy Steinmetz: People seemed disappointed and exhausted by the political and economic state of things in America. Many were hopeful, but more were resigned—past anger and yearning for a little compromise.

What was the #1 problem facing the people you met?

Pete Pin: This was dependent on class. For a group of upper middle class voters in Charleston, West Virginia, they were most concerned with the visceral partisanship of the country and the future of the health care law. For rural voters in Jackson and Newcomerstown, Ohio, they were most concerned with jobs and social ills.

What was their #1 reason for hope?

Pete: Community at the local level. I learned that in spite of the partisanship and bickering in Washington, people genuinely believed that things can and will get better, not because of intervention by the federal government, but rather because of the community coming together at the local level.

Andrew Hinderaker for TIME

Leslie Marchut and Briggs Wesche eat breakfast with Joe Klein in Chapel Hill, N.C.

What is the national character? Are there uniquely American traits?

Pete: The singular thread I found was an overwhelming sense of self-reliance. Liberalism in the classical sense, John Stuart Mill.

AndrewEveryone likes barbeque.

Did you return from the trip more or less optimistic about the future of the country?

Andrew: Certainly more optimistic. One of the things that struck me most about the places that we visited was all the conversation. In all these pockets of America, folks more than willing, eager even, to talk and debate reach new conclusions. I don’t think it’s the impression you’d get of our citizens from watching the nightly news, but it’s something I observed in every niche.

Andrew Hinderaker is a former TIME photo intern and a photojournalist whose work has appeared in TIME, The Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine.

Pete Pin is currently the international photo intern at TIME and a photographer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times and Forbes.

Katy Steinmetz is a reporter in TIME’s Washington bureau.

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I didn't intend for Please Don't Learn to Code to be so controversial, but it seemed to strike a nerve. Apparently a significant percentage of readers stopped reading at the title.

So I will open with my own story. I think you'll find it instructive.

My mom once told me that the only reason she dated my father is because her mother told her to stay away from that boy, he's a bad influence.

If she had, I would not exist.

True story, folks.

I'd argue that the people who need to learn to code will be spurred on most of all by honesty, not religious faith in the truthiness of code as a universal good. Go in knowing both sides of the story, because there are no silver bullets in code. If, after hearing both the pros and cons, you still want to learn to code, then by all means learn to code. If you're so easily dissuaded by hearing a few downsides to coding, there are plenty of other things you could spend your time learning that are more unambiguously useful and practical. Per Michael Lopp, you could learn to be a better communicator. Per Gina Trapani, you could learn how to propose better solutions. Slinging code is just a tiny part of the overall solution in my experience. Why optimize for that?

On the earliest computers, everyone had to be a programmer because there was no software. If you wanted the computer to do anything, you wrote code. Computers in the not so distant past booted directly to the friendly blinking cursor of a BASIC interpreter. I view the entire arc of software development as a field where we programmers spend our lives writing code so that our fellow human beings no longer need to write code (or even worse, become programmers) to get things done with computers. So this idea that "everyone must know how to code" is, to me, going backwards.

Grace-hopper-and-the-univac

I fully support a push for basic Internet literacy. But in order to be a competent driver, does everyone need to know, in detail, how their automobile works? Must we teach all human beings the basics of being an auto mechanic, and elevate shop class to the same level as English and Mathematics classes? Isn't knowing how to change a tire, and when to take your car in for an oil change, sufficient? If your toilet is clogged, you shouldn't need to take a two week in depth plumbing course on toiletcademy.com to understand how to fix that. Reading a single web page, just in time, should be more than adequate.

What is code, in the most abstract sense?

code (kōd) …

    1. A system of signals used to represent letters or numbers in transmitting messages.
    2. A system of symbols, letters, or words given certain arbitrary meanings, used for transmitting messages requiring secrecy or brevity.
  1. A system of symbols and rules used to represent instructions to a computer…

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Is it punchcards? Remote terminals? Emacs? Textmate? Eclipse? Visual Studio? C? Ruby? JavaScript? In the 1920s, it was considered important to learn how to use slide rules. In the 1960s, it was considered important to learn mechanical drawing. None of that matters today. I'm hesitant to recommend any particular approach to coding other than the fundamentals as outlined in Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, because I'm not sure we'll even recognize coding in the next 20 or 30 years. To kids today, perhaps coding will eventually resemble Minecraft, or building levels in Portal 2.

But everyone should try writing a little code, because it somehow sharpens the mind, right? Maybe in the same abstract way that reading the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica from beginning to end does. Honestly, I'd prefer that people spend their time discovering what problems they love and find interesting, first, and researching the hell out of those problems. The toughest thing in life is not learning a bunch of potentially hypothetically useful stuff, but figuring out what the heck it is you want to do. If said research and exploration leads to coding, then by all means learn to code with my blessing … which is worth exactly what it sounds like, nothing.

So, no, I don't advocate learning to code for the sake of learning to code. What I advocate is shamelessly following your joy. For example, I received the following email yesterday.

I am a 45 year old attorney/C.P.A. attempting to abandon my solo law practice as soon as humanly possible and strike out in search of my next vocation. I am actually paying someone to help me do this and, as a first step in the "find yourself" process, I was told to look back over my long and winding career and identify those times in my professional life when I was doing something I truly enjoyed.

Coming of age as an accountant during the PC revolution (when I started my first "real" job at Arthur Andersen we were still billing clients to update depreciation schedules manually), I spend a lot of time learning how to make computers, printers, and software (VisiCalc anyone?) work. This quasi-technical aspect of my work reached its apex when I was hired as a healthcare financial analyst for a large hospital system. When I arrived for my first day of work in that job, I learned that my predecessor had bequeathed me only a one page static Excel spreadsheet that purported to "analyze" a multi-million dollar managed care contract for a seven hospital health system. I proceeded to build my own spreadsheet but quickly exceeded the database functional capacity of Excel and had to teach myself Access and thereafter proceeded to stretch the envelope of Access' spreadsheet capabilities to their utmost capacity – I had to retrieve hundreds of thousands of patient records and then perform pro forma calculations on them to see if the proposed contracts would result in more or less payment given identical utilization.

I will be the first to admit that I was not coding in any professional sense of the word. I did manage to make Access do things that MS technical support told me it could not do but I was still simply using very basic commands to bend an existing application to my will. The one thing I do remember was being happy. I typed infinitely nested commands into formula cells for twelve to fourteen hours a day and was still disappointed when I had to stop.

My experience in building that monster and making it run was, to date, my most satisfying professional accomplishment, despite going on to later become CFO of another healthcare facility, a feat that should have fulfilled all of my professional ambitions at that time. More than just the work, however, was the group of like-minded analysts and IT folks with whom I became associated as I tried, failed, tried, debugged, and continued building this behemoth of a database. I learned about Easter Eggs and coding lore and found myself hacking into areas of the hospital mainframe which were completely offlimits to someone of my paygrade. And yet, I kept pursuing my "professional goals" and ended up in jobs/careers I hated doing work I loathed.

Here's a person who a) found an interesting problem, b) attempted to create a solution to the problem, which naturally c) led them to learning to code. And they loved it. This is how it's supposed to work. I didn't become a programmer because someone told me learning to code was important, I became a programmer because I wanted to change the rules of the video games I was playing, and learning to code was the only way to do that. Along the way, I too fell in love.

All that to say that as I stand at the crossroads once more, I still hear the siren song of those halcyon days of quasi-coding during which I enjoyed my work. My question for you is whether you think it is even possible for someone of my vintage to learn to code to a level that I could be hired as a programmer. I am not trying to do this on the side while running the city of New York as a day job. Rather, I sincerely and completely want to become a bona fide programmer and spend my days creating (and/or debugging) something of value.

Unfortunately, calling yourself a "programmer" can be a career-limiting move, particularly for someone who was a CFO in a previous career. People who work with money tend to make a lot of money; see Wall Street.

But this isn't about money, is it? It's about love. So, if you want to be a programmer, all you need to do is follow your joy and fall in love with code. Any programmer worth their salt immediately recognizes a fellow true believer, a person as madly in love with code as they are, warts and all. Welcome to the tribe.

And if you're reading this and thinking, "screw this Jeff Atwood guy, who is he to tell me whether I should learn to code or not", all I can say is: good! That's the spirit!

[advertisement] Hiring developers? Post your open positions with Stack Overflow Careers and reach over 20MM awesome devs already on Stack Overflow. Create your satisfaction-guaranteed job listing today!

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Researchers at Italy's Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT), home of the iCub, have created a way of giving extra properties to paper, including magnetism, waterproofing, fluorescence, and even the ability to clean itself and fight bacteria. However, despite these fundamental changes, it still looks and behaves like ordinary paper, and can be printed upon in the same way. The work centers around combining liquefied cellulose molecules (monomers) from wood or other plant material with the nanoparticles. These entirely coat the momomer fibers and create a polymer solution, which can be applied to any non-woven material like paper or fabric by rolling, dipping, or spray-coating.

The physical effect on the paper depends on the nanoparticles...

Continue reading…

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Signs are emerging that Google is de-emphasizing its efforts in online productivity tools that compete with Microsoft, which was never the core of its business to being with, to focus even more on search and social networking, and its increasing competition with Facebook.

This shift in emphasis is reflected in some notable departures, as well as in a reorganization of the division that oversees the development of Google Apps, which include online office productivity tools that compete with Microsoft Office. Google continues to add functionality to Google Apps, but most of the functionality has either been in the works for years, or borrows from other existing products such as Google+.

Google Apps for businesses includes Web-based word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications that the company hosts on its own computers and offers to companies for $50 a user, per year. The suite became popular among smaller businesses looking to transition from Microsoft Office software, which is hosted on company computers and requires maintenance from an IT staff.

Google Apps has had some churn to its core leadership as the company evolves under CEO Larry Page, including the loss of Dave Girouard as vice president of Apps and president of Google’s Enterprise business. Girouard, who joined Google in 2004, oversaw the development and launch of Apps for businesses. He left April 6 and no successor has been named.

Google
Amit Singh

A source familiar with Google Apps told CIO Journal: “I was personally shocked to see Dave G leave. That was his baby, and he was so invested in it.”

Girouard himself downplayed his exit in an e-mail to CIO Journal: “Google has an amazingly deep bench and the Enterprise biz has never been doing better.” Girouard left to launch a startup.

Other key Google Apps employees have also left the company or been reassigned to other projects. Matt Glotzbach, a product management director at Google Apps who was often the public face of the suite when Girouard wasn’t available, became managing director of Google’s YouTube unit in Europe last June. Apps also lost its top two Google public relations managers. Mike Nelson moved to Japan to lead Google’s public relations team there last year. Andrew Kovacs left earlier this year to run public relations for Sequoia Capital.

Tom Sarris, who replaced Kovacs three months ago as the public relations manager for Google Apps, told CIO Journal in early April he has not yet met with Sundar Pichai, who oversees the Google Apps business, among other responsibilities.

The executive exodus at Apps follows a restructuring of the Google Enterprise business under Page. Last summer, Page split the Google Enterprise business into two units — an Apps unit uniting Google’s consumer and business product teams, and another unit that focuses exclusively on selling Apps to businesses. Under this change, Girouard reported to Pichai, who manages the Google Chrome and Apps businesses. Amit Singh, responsible for sales of Apps to businesses, reports to Nikesh Arora, senior vice president and chief business officer at the company.

The split may seem confusing, but Singh told CIO Journal Page restructured the enterprise business to help the Apps product teams focus on development, leaving Singh and his team to sell the software to businesses.

To be sure, Apps appears to be in solid shape today. More than 4 million businesses rely on Google software to support their collaboration efforts, though Google said only hundreds of thousands of those companies are paying customers. The company in the last few months secured two large, paid contracts, including BBVA bank, which will put its 110,000 employees on Apps this year, and healthcare provider Roche Group, which agreed to put its 90,000 workers on the software.

And customers appear to be pleased with the software, which gained over 200 features in 2011 alone. Ahold, a large retailer based in Amsterdam, has been using Google Apps for its 55,000 employees in Europe and the U.S. since 2010, according to a company spokesman. Joe Fuller, CIO for Dominion Enterprises, said he has been pleased with his Apps implementation since he moved his 4,000 employees from Microsoft Office to Apps this year.

Google’s Singh said Girouard essentially incubated Apps as an enterprise business within Google. But now  the company is focusing on scaling the business. “Instead of seeing one large [customer] name a quarter, you’ll start to see several a quarter.” Singh also told CIO Journal Google would consider sensible acquisitions to prop up the Apps business.

Even so, the recent Apps management and stewardship changes are accompanied by a subtle shift in Google’s focus. Google’s application portfolio has broadened since Apps were introduced to include products such as Chrome and Android, which are key to the company’s mobile ambitions. When Google published Page’s update on its business for investors last week, Page touted products primed to fuel Google’s advertising revenues, including search, Android mobile software, Chrome, and Google+, the company’s new social network.

Page didn’t address the momentum of the Google Apps suite, and only referenced Gmail, the Web-based e-mail application that forms the core of Apps’ communications for businesses, as an afterthought: “And our enterprise customers love it too. Over 5,000 new businesses and educational establishments now sign up every day.”

For now, Google is still adding functionality to Google Apps. The company recently launched an archiving application that had been in development for years. A source familiar with Google Apps’ product road map said Apps users can expect the company to integrate Google+ social functionality with Google Apps over the course of 2012. Google could also more tightly integrate Apps with notebook computers based on its Chrome Operating System, the source said.

Google’s Enterprise business has historically only accounted for roughly 3% of the company’s annual revenues, with the lion’s share provided by advertising.

Microsoft has also developed a Web-based version of its Office suite, called Office 365. The suite has drawn favorable reviews from users and analysts, and is beginning to win some customers from Google. Chandris Hotels and Resorts and beauty care company Naturally Me recently said they chose Microsoft over Google Apps.

IDC analyst Melissa Webster, who talks to customers of both Apps and Office software, says more customers could join that exodus, especially if Google finds itself challenged in areas it considers more strategic, such as social, search and advertising.

“I could see Google Apps de-emphasized, or just not funded that aggressively,” Webster told CIO Journal. On the other hand, “Microsoft is and has always been an enterprise software vendor — they’re in it and committed for the long haul, that’s their DNA and Office is a strategic product line,” Webster noted.

Correction: CIO Journal incorrectly listed Contoso as a company that picked Microsoft over Google Apps. We regret the error.

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Screen Shot 2012-04-02 at 12.22.51 PM

Why do so many great companies fail? Professor Clay Christensen of the Harvard Business School argued they fail because of something he called The Innovator’s Dilemma – a term he popularized to describe the way in which smart companies become prisoners of their own innovation. So is it possible to escape the innovator’s dilemma? I had the honor of interviewing Clay at The Economist‘s Innovation event in Berkeley last week where the great man talked to me about how Google might escape the innovator’s dilemma, why he worries about Apple’s future, how to effectively innovate in education and healthcare and why most business school professors get the economy so wrong.

This is the second in a week long series of interviews from the Innovation event. Tomorrow, check out my interviews with Vivek Wadhwa on racism in Silicon Valley and GE marketing chief, Beth Comstock, on the oldest start-up in the world.

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