New system combines classroom audio, emergency alert

A new system could help campuses respond to emergencies much quicker.

A new system could help campuses respond to emergencies much quicker.

A new classroom product that combines sound amplification, lecture capture, and emergency alert capabilities in a single system could have a big impact on the safety of K-12 and higher-education classrooms.

The Safe Security system, from Panasonic and Audio Enhancement, features a button on a microphone worn around the instructor’s neck that, when pressed, sends a silent alarm to a school’s central offices and to administrators. Once alerted, school leaders have access to a live video feed courtesy of a networked camera inside the classroom, as well as to the audio feed captured on the microphone, and they can immediately assess what type of emergency is occurring in the classroom.

Jeff Anderson, president of Audio Enhancement, said many teachers wear wireless microphones around their necks as part of standard classroom audio systems, and incorporating a built-in security alert system was a logical next step.

If there is an incident in the classroom–an attacker, a medical emergency, or whatever–all a teacher must do is hold down a button on the audio transmitter for two seconds. Three blue lights will appear on the transmitter to let the instructor know that the alarm has been activated.

Activating the alarm sends an eMail message to any number of designated school employees, and the message would make a unique sound on administrators’ smart phones. Schools also can install a siren strobe in their main administrative offices, which will light up to tell designated employees to check their eMail for an alert. The emergency eMail message contains a link that, once clicked, takes administrators to the live audio and video feed from the classroom.

“Going past the basic [classroom audio and security functions], schools can also program the camera for distance learning,” Anderson said. “I believe education is going to move that way.”

The Safe System can shorten the amount of time it takes first responders to appear or react, he added.

The MS1000, the system’s monitoring console, runs on a network that is independent from a school’s eMail server, which Anderson said is an effort to keep the system running quickly, because school eMail servers can become bogged down.

“Administrators and first responders [should] know what they need to be prepared for and if they should even enter the room,” Anderson said, calling the combined solution “a
game-changer; … something education hasn’t seen, and something education wants.”

Bob Fortenberry, a former school district superintendent, said safety is one of several benefits the system offers. Fortenberry spent 17 years as superintendent of Jackson Public Schools in Jackson, Miss., before becoming a private-sector educational consultant.


Wanted: Young cyber experts to defend internet

Nationwide campaigns to steer youthful techies into careers defending the internet are gaining steam, USA Today reports. The federal government, education officials, and giant military contractors are collaborating to recruit a new class of tech professional specifically trained to battle data thieves, online scammers, and cyber spies. The recruitment tool of choice: competitions that pit tech-savvy youths in mock warfare against professional hackers. This year, the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition drew teams from 83 colleges and universities, up from five schools in 2005. Boeing hired seven contestants to help defend its internal networks, which are prime targets for corporate and military spies. A similar contest that accepts high schoolers, the US Cyber Challenge, has a goal of finding 10,000 “cyber security top guns.” Promotional materials tout bragging rights for beating bad guys. “We’re building the pipeline that will produce our future cyber guardians,” says Alan Paller, research director of SANS Institute, a co-sponsor of the event…

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Intel, FTC in talks to settle antitrust case

Intel Corp. and the Federal Trade Commission are in talks to settle an antitrust case against the chip maker, a move that might increase competition in the chip market but also could make it more difficult for rivals to pursue damages, reports the Associated Press. In December, the FTC filed charges against Intel, seeking to end what it described as decades of illegal sales tactics that have hampered competitors and kept prices for computer chips artificially high. This week, the FTC and Intel agreed to suspend administrative trial proceedings as they work on hashing out a settlement. The FTC accused Intel of strong-arming computer makers into exclusive deals, manipulating technical data to make its chips look more powerful than those from competitors, and blocking rivals from making its chips work with Intel’s. Intel has disputed the charges. A settlement would be at least a partial victory for Intel, said Robert Lande, director of the American Antitrust Institute at the University of Baltimore. If Intel loses in court, rival chip makers such as Nvidia Corp. would be able to pursue damages. By contrast, settlements often come without any admission of wrongdoing. A key question remains whether the settlement will affect computer prices. Intel says its sales strategies help keep chip prices low; the FTC argues that prices haven’t fallen as much as they could have.

The case is particularly important, because the FTC has said it wants to change Intel’s behavior, instead of merely issuing fines…

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How to avoid accidental data breaches

Universities house a large amount of personal student and employee data.

Universities present particular challenges in securing sensitive information.

College campuses are centers for learning and exploration, where students and faculty develop, exchange, and trade information. More than most other organizations, colleges and universities are in a continuous state of information sharing and data creation, and they rely heavily on the ability to seamlessly share, store, and protect that information within their communities and among their partners.

What’s more, life on a campus is always in flux. Students and faculty come and go, and their need to access certain information, not to mention physical campus locations such as dormitories and labs, is fluid.

As a result, the university setting causes big headaches for chief information officers and other technology professionals who are charged with securing the data that reside on a university’s computer systems—everything from proprietary research to students’ financial and personal data.

Involuntary threats from within

While most CIOs spend their days worrying about the external hacking threats, a university’s greatest vulnerability comes from its own students, faculty, and administrative staff. Across the higher-education field, too many insiders have access to sensitive information that they should not be privy to, and the outcome can be highly disruptive and damaging to a university’s operations and reputation.

Making matters worse, most data security breaches are actually the result of students or faculty unwittingly acting as an accomplice to an internal or external threat.

In fact, in many data-breach cases on college campuses, there is no malicious intent on the part of the insider—even though they are the primary facilitator of the crime. University computer systems are a hotbed for all types of personal information, including names, Social Security information, and addresses—making them especially enticing for identity thieves.

Hackers realize that most computer users lack the sophistication and understanding of computer systems and data-sharing, and they leverage that to its fullest extent. As a result, they create strategies to trick users into sharing private and sensitive information without ever knowing they are doing so.

For example, it’s not uncommon for students to install file-sharing software using university computers connected to the school’s IT systems. The student, in most cases, perceives this to be an innocuous activity. In reality, however, the student’s actions provide an entry point for a hacker to compromise the security of the overall computer network. It is a seemingly innocent step taken by a student or employee that ultimately enables a cybercrime to take place.


Amazon cuts Kindle price to $189 after Nook move

A price war is heating up in the electronic reader market, as Amazon cut the price of its Kindle eReader below $200 on June 21, just after Barnes & Noble did the same with its competing Nook device, reports the Associated Press. The rapid-fire moves are fanning flames in the still small but rapidly growing market that the book industry sees as a major part of its future. On June 21, online retailer Inc. slashed the price of the Kindle by $70, to $189, just a few hours after bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. reduced the price of the Nook by $60, to $199, and said it would also start selling a new Nook with Wi-Fi access for $149. Both the Kindle and the original Nook can wirelessly download books over high-speed data networks; the Nook also has Wi-Fi access. Seattle-based Amazon has lowered the Kindle’s price several times since the eReader with a grayscale screen debuted in 2007 at $399. The cuts also mean the price gap between these products and Apple Inc.’s touch-screen iPad, which starts at $499, is getting ever wider. The popularity of the iPad, along with a number of other tablet computers soon to be available that offer many functions, have pressured eReader makers to lower prices…

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Future of eReading: Following your eyes?

Text 2.0 uses infrared light and a camera to track eye movement across a screen.

Text 2.0 uses infrared light and a camera to track eye movement across a screen.

As eReading devices and the software that runs them become more advanced in an increasingly competitive market, researchers are creating applications that could take reading to a whole new level, with tools such as Text 2.0—a reading technology that personalizes the user’s experience by tracking eye movements.

Created by researchers Ralf Biedert, Georg Buscher, and Andreas Dengal at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), Text 2.0 uses eye-tracking technology from Tobii Technology (a Stockholm-based startup that just closed $21.5 million in Series B funding from venture capitalists), along with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, to customize reading based on signals sent by eye movement.

Text 2.0 uses infrared light and a camera to track eye movement across a screen, and it uses this information to infer a user’s intentions during the course of reading.

For example, taking more time to read certain words, phrases, or names could trigger the appearance of sound effects, footnotes, translations, biographies, definitions, or animations. If the user begins skimming the text, the tracker will begin fading out words it deems less important to the text. If the reader glances away, a bookmark automatically appears, pointing to where the user stopped reading.

Watch a video that demonstrates Text 2.0 in use:

Though many new technologies now beginning to surface are experimenting with hands-free controlling of software and devices—such as electrocorticography (ECoG), in which a sheet of electrodes is laid directly on the surface of the brain to allow for “mind typing” and performing computer activities based solely on brain stimuli—some observers say Text 2.0 is a just-right futuristic technology that’s already generating interest from major companies.

One of these is reported to be Apple Inc., a company known to take risks on highly-profitable technologies, such as the computer mouse in 1984 and the touch screen in 2007.

In a 2007 patent filing by Wayne Westerman and John Elias, co-founders of the Fingerworks firm acquired by Apple during the development of the original iPhone, the patent details a handful of these newly proposed inputs under the title “Multi-Touch Data Fusion.”

The pair of engineers note in their filing that while the touch technology gives users more control, fusing additional information from other “sensing modalities” can enhance a device or improve its overall ease of use.

These sensing modalities can include voice fusion, finger ID fusion, facial expression fusion, biometrics fusion, and Gaze Vector fusion—a technology from Tobii Technology.


Judge: University illegally searched journalist’s camera

A judge has ruled that the University of California police illegally searched the camera of a photojournalist covering a protest outside the chancellor’s campus home, reports the Associated Press. Alameda County Superior Judge Yolanda Northridge on June 18 invalidated the search warrant used by UC Berkeley police to review photographs taken by David Morse at the Dec. 11 demonstration, according to the Oakland-based First Amendment Project, which represented him. The judge also ordered the university to return all copies of Morse’s photos, which campus police were using as part of their investigation into violence and vandalism the night of the protest. The First Amendment Project called the ruling a “huge and hard-fought victory for freedom of the press,” noting that the judge upheld a California law restricting police searches of journalists’ unpublished work. The UC Police Department has not had a chance to review the ruling, said Capt. Margo Bennett. But she said campus police wrote the affidavit for the search warrant in good faith, and a judge signed it. Morse was covering a demonstration outside Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s campus residence, during which campus police arrested eight people after dozens of protesters broke windows, lights, and planters outside of Birgeneau’s home. The protesters were demonstrating against state funding cuts that have led to course cutbacks, faculty furloughs, and sharp fee increases…

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Connecticut heads up 30-state Google Wi-Fi probe

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal plans to head up a 30-state investigation into Google’s Wi-Fi data gathering scandal, CNET reports. Blumenthal’s investigation adds to the legal headaches for Google caused by the revelation that its Street View camera cars were collecting wireless “payload” data in addition to geolocation data from unsecured wireless hot spots. Ever since Google revealed the extent of its data gathering a month ago in response to inquiries from German regulators, lawyers and politicians have been lining up to express their outrage. “Consumers have a right and a need to know what personal information—which could include eMails, web browsing, and passwords—Google may have collected, how, and why,” Blumenthal said in an online statement. “Google must come clean, explaining how and why it intercepted and saved private information broadcast over personal and business wireless networks.” Google has argued that the data it collected were “fragmented,” because Street View cars were moving and the equipment used to record data was changing wireless channels several times a second. The company also has said that it collected the data inadvertently, and the company’s intent will be a key part of the legal battle between Google and its critics…

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Phone software takes the taps out of typing

A new technology called Swype allows users to glide a finger across the virtual keyboard of their mobile phone to spell words, rather than tapping out letters, reports the New York Times. Back in the 1990s, typing out “hello” on most cell phones required an exhausting 13 taps on the number keys, like so: 44-33-555-555-666. That was before inventor Cliff Kushler, based in Seattle, and a partner created software called T9, which could bring that number down to three by guessing the word being typed. Now, there is a new challenge to typing on phones: More phones are using virtual keyboards on a touch screen, replacing physical buttons. But pecking out a message on a small piece of glass is not so easy, and typos are common. So, Kushler thinks he has a solution once again. Swype’s software detects where a finger pauses and changes direction as it traces out the pattern of a word. The movements do not have to be precise, because the software calculates which words a user is most likely trying to spell. Kushler, who is chief technology officer of Swype, estimates that the software can improve even the nimblest text-messager’s pace by 20 to 30 percent…

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On web video, captions are coming…slowly

For the deaf and hearing impaired, more captions are coming to the web versions of shows on television, where captions are mandated, reports the New York Times—and yet there is still great disparity among various content. Media companies say they are working hard to make online video more accessible. YouTube, the world’s biggest video web site by far, now supplies mostly accurate captions using voice-recognition software. ESPN is offering captions for its live streams of World Cup matches. And ABC now applies the TV captions for “Dancing With the Stars” to But big gaps remain, much to the dismay of deaf web users. Television episodes on, news videos on, and entertainment clips on all lack captions, to name a few. Other web sites, like, are inconsistent about captioning—so “America’s Got Talent” has captions, but “The Marriage Ref” does not. As online video becomes ever more popular, deaf viewers face the prospect of a partly inaccessible internet. The Hearing Loss Association of America says that 36 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. Other groups, like English-language learners, also benefit from captions…

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