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When engineers dream, do they dream of a world in which everyone is an engineer?Or do they leave room for a couple of topless models and a few cartoon heroes?I ask for no reason other than that I've just heard of a new technology that will excite engineers, I'm guessing, slightly more than it may excite all real people.
It's called Intelligent Speed Limiter. You might choose to think of it as the most wonderful, helpful back-seat driver. It was announced Tuesday by Ford of Europe in a blog post and a pulsating YouTube video.
What might you imagine that an Intelligent Speed Limiter would do? Well, in Ford's words it "monitors road signs with a camera mounted on the windscreen, and slows the vehicle as required."
As required by the technology and the law, you understand. Although the blog post announcing it tantalized drivers with the headline: "Could this spell the end for speeding tickets?"
Yes, your car might have its own independent strait-jacket, but think of the money you'll save.I'm being unusually unfair. The car in which it's being launched -- Ford's S-Max -- allows you to turn the speed-limiting intelligence on and off. This is not, like Google's idea of self-driving cars, compulsory.
But how will it feel when you've forgotten it's on and you suddenly grind to a crawl at 2 a.m? Of course I don't condone speeding. But there's a certain controlling element to this that some might find uncomfortable.
It works by using electronics to adjust the amount of fuel delivered to the engine. So it's not as if your back-seat driver or driving instructor will arbitrarily put on the brakes. Not quite, anyway.
If you want to override the system, you put pedal to the metal quite hard, just so that the engineering gets the message.
Still, there's something a touch novel about the way Ford of Europe's active safety supervisor Stefan Kappes described the problem: "Drivers are not always conscious of speeding and sometimes only becoming aware they were going too fast when they receive a fine in the mail or are pulled over by law enforcement."
A familiar woe for some. Therefore, he said: "Intelligent Speed Limiter can remove one of the stresses of driving, helping ensure customers remain within the legal speed limit."
Please focus on the logic holding that sentence together and consider whether it needs a little servicing.MORE TECHNICALLY INCORRECT
I have contacted Ford to ask for its comment on many aspects of this invention. One of them was this: the idea of having your speed limited like this might be seen as one of those injections you get before surgery. Isn't it ultimately preparing us for the self-driving car era, where everything rolls along at the legally required pace?
It seems clear that those behind automotive technology intend to change human behavior in possibly radical ways.
Cars may essentially become little trains, chugging us cheerily from one destination to the other. However, I'm moved by Kappes's theory that his company's invention will save us money. Will it really?
What will our local councils do for money when they can't catch us speeding all day? Our official buildings will crumble, our local utilities will become useless. And, worst of all, where on earth will our councilors be able to have a fine expense account lunch?
Premera Blue Cross, based in the Pacific Northwest, said hackers "may have" accessed millions of health profiles that included Social Security numbers, birthdays, emails, physical addresses, bank account information, clinical information and detailed insurance claims.
The data breach affects so many people, because criminals accessed computers housing data about current and past customers, dating back to 2002.
The company also has lots of affiliates and related firms. Premera Blue Cross operates in Washington State and Alaska. Its affiliate Vivacity provides workforce wellness services. Connexion Insurance Solutions caters to individuals and small businesses. All were affected by the hack.
Premera said it was initially infiltrated on May 5, 2014 -- but it didn't discover what happened until January 29 this year.
This is the second major hack of a large health insurance company so far in 2015. In January, hackers stole similar personal information on 80 million people from insurance giant Anthem.
Premera said it is now mailing data breach notification letters to the 11 million people whose information was exposed. The company is forced by state laws to send the letters.
The insurer referred questions about the investigation to FBI agents in Seattle who are now investigating the incident. FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said agents are currently working "to determine the nature and scope of this incident."
Premera also hired cybersecurity firm Mandiant as a consultant to investigate the hack. In these types of cases, the FBI often relies on clues discovered by Mandiant, which is owned by FireEye (FEYE), and vice versa.
Premera CEO Jeff Roe's apology statement repeated what's become an all-too-familiar template for companies that lose client data: "The security of Premera's members' personal information remains a top priority. We at Premera take this issue seriously and sincerely regret the concern it may cause."
The company also said it "is taking additional actions to strengthen and enhance the security of its IT systems moving forward."
However, it wouldn't say how hackers gained access.
As for the hackers? There's no telling who did it. Often, such attacks are the work of mafias that traffic in stolen information. This information normally appears on black markets, where identity thieves can buy packaged profiles.
It's become so rampant that there's a new epidemic: Hackers are stealing tax refunds.
The road ahead may soon lead to a digital driver's license on your mobile phone.
The printed plastic driver's license has been a standard for decades, acting not just as proof that you can drive but as an ID to verify your age and identity. Getting issued a license is a rite of passage for many a teenager. The license has a status that transcends mere motoring.
Your driver's license may one day be a mobile app.MorphoTrust
Now, just as concert tickets, airline boarding passes, Starbucks loyalty cards and even your wallet are migrating onto your smartphone, your driver's license seems headed down the same route.
"The world is changing, and a lot of transactions and activities that people do are now done in digital formats," said Mike Williams, chief of communications for the Department of Motor Vehicles in Delaware. "You can do so much with your smartphone. You can pay at the gas pump. You can go to the grocery store. You don't even need a debit card sometimes anymore. So this is just a movement in that direction."
Delaware is among several US states -- including the bellwether of California -- considering digital driver's licenses, and prototypes will go into pilot tests in some places this year. If those tests go well, the first smattering of virtual licenses could be offered to the public as early as 2016.
The digital version would resemble your printed license, with the same information, including your name, address and date of birth, along with a photo. And just as your printed license contains a scannable barcode so machines can read the information, so too would the digital version.
Your digital driver's license would also be more than just a static image of your regular driver's license. Instead, it would be a full-fledged mobile app with security protection and potentially real-time data downloaded directly from your state's Department of Motor Vehicles.But for all the convenience that would offer, hazard lights are flashing for some critics. Do you want to hand your smartphone to a police officer if you get pulled over? If the officer can look at your license, what else would be accessible, and what would be off-limits?
The Microsoft Band fitness and activity tracker is now more readily accessible.
Microsoft Band will start selling at Amazon, Best Buy, and Target on Tuesday, the software giant has announced. In addition, Microsoft said that it will boost the number of units shipping to stores as part of an effort to get more Microsoft Band units on store shelves for customers. The device was previously available only at the company's own brick-and-mortar and online stores.
And the gadget is heading to shoppers outside the US as well. Microsoft said Tuesday that it will begin taking preorders via the Microsoft Store for people looking to buy the fitness band in the UK. The device will launch in the UK on April 15 at the Microsoft Store, as well as a host of retailers, including Currys PC World, Amazon, and O2. It'll retail in the UK for 170 pounds.
Microsoft Band first hit store shelves in October and only in the US. The device, which costs $200, was available in limited supply as part of a "phased approach" by Microsoft. The wearable features an all-day heart monitor, tracks daily physical activity and delivers workout stats on its display. The Band also downloads fitness instructions and, via the Cortana personal virtual assistant, lets users take notes and set reminders. It coordinates with the Microsoft Health app, which is available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
The Band is one gadget among many in a crowded market of wearables and fitness trackers, including the Samsung Gear Fit, the Fitbit Surge and Jawbone Up. The Apple Watch, which goes on sale in April, will also come with some fitness-tracking features, like the ability to monitor a wearer's heart rate.
CNET Reviews editors Scott Stein and Dan Graziano took the Band for a spin in November and gave the device three stars out of five, or a "Good" rating. They lauded Microsoft Band for having "a ton of features" and working on Android and iOS in addition to Windows Phones. However, they found that Microsoft's wearable comes with "mediocre battery life" and that its "Bluetooth syncing and pairing can be buggy."
"Microsoft Band is an ambitious first crack at a smart health wearable that throws in a ton of features and cross-platform support, but it's just not as easy to use or as functional as it should be," the reviewers wrote.
The increased supply from Microsoft should help satisfy would-be Band owners. Because of limited quantity and availability, the Band has often been sold out on the Microsoft Store. (The listing there today says the Band will ship by April 1.)
Looking ahead, Microsoft says it will deliver more updates and improvements to Band, though it didn't say what users can expect.
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