Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Facebook ditches grid view for a mosaic-styled UI for the Photos section

With over 300 million photos being uploaded on Facebook daily, it was only time that the grid-style layout of Facebook photos would be revamped. It would seem unnatural if Facebook did not force new changes down our throats every few months. So keeping with that tradition, Facebook announced an update to its Photos section yesterday promising a mosaic-style UI layout. The stress on this new update is to make photographs fill up your screen space with high quality photographs. On first glance, this new update does look strikingly similar to the Google+ photo viewer.

There are now three new tabs atop the Facebook Photos section called Photos of You, Photos (that you have shared) and Albums (that you have created). If you hover your mouse on top of a photograph, you get options to highlight it, post it to your timeline, like as well as comment on it. This integrates the photos section quite well with Facebook's Timeline.

The update will start rolling out in the coming weeks according to the Facebook release. There were no details on implementation of the same on its mobile app.

Sources thinkdigit

More specs leaked for the next-gen Xbox

The Xbox 360, it seems, is getting its fair share of the limelight, thanks to all the leaks. After the infamous “roadmap leak”, new rumors have surfaced, shedding light on some of the supposed specs of the next-gen gaming console.

For starters, it looks like the next Xbox will sport an 8-core Intel CPU, along with Nvidia powered graphics and over 8GB of RAM, making the console, somewhere 6 times as powerful as the current Xbox 360. The leaks also suggest that the console with ship with a Blu-ray drive, along with native 1080p and 3D capabilities.
If there is any truth to these rumours, then it looks like Microsoft is re-asserting the Xbox’s dominance not just as a gaming console, but also an all round entertainment hub. Speaking of entertainment, rumours of Microsoft making two variants of the console; one as a pure gaming device and the other as a gaming/entertainment hub, have died out. Given the success of the Xbox 360, it would make more sense for the Redmond outfit to stick with just one console instead of splitting it into two.

More specs leaked for the next-gen Xbox
While the Xbox 360 works just fine for most gaming and entertainment needs, lately the hardware has been reaching its limitations thanks to the games becoming more and more graphics and process intensive. The next-gen console is expected to be called the Xbox 720and will hopefully hit the shelves around holiday season 2013.

Top 10 features in Microsoft Office 2013

Microsoft Corp. unveiled the customer preview of the new Microsoft Office that features an intuitive design that works with touch, stylus, mouse or keyboard across new Windows devices, including tablets.

"We are taking bold steps at Microsoft," Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft said at the press conference in San Francisco. "The new, modern Office will deliver unparalleled productivity and flexibility for both consumers and business customers. It is a cloud service and will fully light-up when paired with Windows 8."
Here's our list of top 10 features that the new Office has to offer.

1) Touch everywhere - The new Office responds to touch as naturally as it does to keyboard and mouse. One can swipe their finger across the screen or pinch and zoom to read documents and presentations.
2) Inking - Use a stylus to create content, take notes and access features. Handwrite email responses and convert them automatically to text. Stylus can also be used as a laser pointer when presenting. One can also add colour to their content and erase mistakes with ease.
3) Apps - OneNote and Lync represent the first new Windows 8 style applications for Office. These applications are designed to deliver touch-first experiences on a tablet. A new radial menu in OneNote makes it easy to access features with finger.
4) SkyDrive - Office saves documents to SkyDrive by default, which means content is always available across all devices tablet, PC and phone. Documents are also available offline and sync on reconnecting.
5) New subscription services - The new Office is available as a cloud-based subscription service, which means consumers will automatically get future upgrades in addition to exciting cloud services including Skype world minutes and extra SkyDrive storage. Subscribers receive multiple installs for everyone in the family and across their devices.
6) Stay connected - Follow people, teams, documents and sites in SharePoint. View and embed pictures, videos and Office content in activity feeds to stay current and updated.
7) Skype - The new Office comes with Skype, which gives 60 minutes of Skype world minutes every month. Integrate Skype contacts into Lync and call or instant message anyone on Skype.
8) Reading, markup - The Read Mode in Word provides a modern and easy-to-navigate reading experience that automatically adjusts for large and small screens. Zoom in and out of content, stream videos within documents, view revision marks and use touch to turn pages.
9) Digital note-taking - Digital note taking helps keep notes handy in the cloud and across multiple devices with OneNote. One can take notes with touch, pen or keyboard, or use them together and switch easily back and forth.
10) Meetings - PowerPoint features a new Presenter View that privately shows your current and upcoming slides, presentation time, and speaker notes in a single glance. While presenting, one can zoom, mark up and navigate slides with touch and stylus. Lync includes multiparty HD video with presentations, shared OneNote notebooks and a virtual whiteboard for collaborative brainstorming.

Source: gadgets.ndtv.

Microsoft Surface releasing with Windows 8 on October 26

Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows 8 is scheduled for an October 26 release this year. Windows users have some more good news as the OS will be accompanied by the release of Microsoft's first Windows RT-based tablet, Surface.

The news is confirmed in an annual report filed by the software giant with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) which states,"The next version of our operating system, Windows 8, will be generally available on October 26, 2012. At that time, we will begin selling the Surface, a series of Microsoft-designed and manufactured hardware devices." The Surface Pro version, will however, launch 3 months later as stated earlier by Microsoft.

As far as pricing is concerned, nothing is official yet. Speculations continue to do the rounds with some suggesting $599 for the Windows RT model and $999 for the Windows 8 Pro version.

Microsoft says, "Suggested retail pricing will be announced closer to availability and is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC."

It would be interesting to see how Microsoft's venture into the tablet market pans out for the company as it competes with Apple's iPad and the more recently launched Nexus 7 tablet from Google. 

Windows RT version of Surface
Processor: NVIDIA Tegra-based ARM chip
Weight: About 1.5 lbs. (676 grams)
Thickness: 9.3 mm
Screen: 10.6 inches (diagonal) with ClearType HD Display
Connections: microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, 2x2 MIMO antennae (for wireless communications)
Storage options: 32 GB and 64 GB
Extras: Runs Office '15' Apps, Touch Cover, Type Cover, VaporMg Case and Stand
Availability: 26 october 2012 (Alongside release of Windows 8)
Windows 8 Pro version of Surface
Processor: Intel Core i5 (Ivy Bridge)
Weight: About 2 lbs. (903 grams)
Thickness: 13.5 mm
Screen: 10.6 inches (diagonal) with ClearType Full HD Display
Connections: microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2x2 MIMO antennae (for wireless communications)
Storage options: 64 GB and 128 GB
Extras: Touch Cover, Type Cover, Pen with Palm Block, VaporMg Case and Stand
Availability: Three months post Windows 8 launch

Sources; gadgets.ndtv

Monday, 30 July 2012

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean may come soon on the Samsung Galaxy S II and S III

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean may come soon on the Samsung Galaxy S II and S III

Samsung may introduce Google’s latest OS not only in its current flagship device, the Samsung Galaxy S III but in the Galaxy S II as well

According to sammobile.com, the Samsung Galaxy S III will get the Jelly Bean update soon and that Samsung is testing the 4.1 OS on the S II as well. The 4.1 update for the S III is expected to roll out in August/September 2012. The blog also goes on to say that the first tests with Jelly Bean on the S II have shown successful results.
Even though the initial tests have been successful, there is no confirmed date when the OS will hit the Samsung Galaxy S II. There is also still no word on when other Samsung devices such as the Galaxy Note, the Galaxy Tab 2 or the Galaxy Tab 7.7 will receive the update.
Even though HTC was one of the first companies to announce that its current generation smartphones, the One X and the One S will receive the Jelly Bean update, HTC also confirmed that the HTC Desire HD will not receive the Android 4.0 ICS update.
Asus has also confirmed that three of its tablets - Transformer Pad, the Transformer Pad Prime, and the Transformer Pad Infinity will also receive the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update.
As of today, the only device to run Jelly Bean out of the box is the Google Nexus 7, manufactured by Asus.

Windows 8 much more secure than Windows 7

Windows 8 much more secure than Windows 7

Researchers Chris Valasek (Senior Security Researcher at Coverity) and Tarjei Mandt (senior vulnerability researcher at Azimuth Security) spend their days seeking ways to compromise security in Windows. They're good guys; if they find a problem they report it, rather than exploiting it for illicit gain. At the Black Hat conference they reported on their analysis of new low-level security features in Windows 8.

The precise details of what they discovered were barely within the realm of my comprehension. Apparently many doubly-linked lists within Windows 8 are now protected by "pool cookies." To avoid exploits that involve forcing arbitrary code or data into places it doesn't belong, Windows 8 randomizes locations for memory allocation and adds "guard pages" as needed. That sort of thing.
In between slides filled with code and intense details, Valasek and Mandt displayed a couple that anybody could understand. The column for Windows Vista was all red, meaning not secure. Windows 7 was close, with just a few green checkmarks. And of course Windows 8 displayed a column of solid green checkmarks. Expert or not, we know that green is good.
After the talk I checked in with Valasek.
Rubenking: Back in the day I would write TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) programs in DOS, and they were great, and useful. But the malware writers used the same DOS features to write bad stuff. Microsoft could have shut them down, but they would have shut me down too. It seems from your talk like they don't plan to shut anybody down. They're doing fine-tuning, working really hard to ensure that everything still works while they crank up security. Do you think it's conceivable you could write an operating system that just wouldn't be vulnerable to attack?
Valasek: No, that doesn't exist. Not as long as humans are writing the code. Once Skynet takes over and humans don't write code any more that might be possible. They have to have a certain amount of data and algorithms and structures that are needed, so there's always a potential to use this stuff for exploitation purposes. Here's the thing. If you don't make it impossible, but you make it severely difficult so only a tenth of one percent of the population can do it, you've effectively lowered the threat to decent levels.
Rubenking: And if you hire that one tenth of one percent…

Valasek: That's just what Google and Microsoft have done. Hire that one tenth of one percent, then you're good.
Rubenking: Thank you Chris!

Indeed, Windows 8 isn't perfect. Valasek and Mandt laid out a number of possible avenues that hackers might conceivably exploit. But as Valasek said, it will be severely difficult, and only the most adept will come close to exploiting the tiny vulnerabilities that remain.
Copyright © 2010 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc

Twitter blocks soon-to-be Facebook's Instagram

instagram-logo.jpgPopular photo-sharing app Instagram released an update on Thursday, and the latest version of the app does not include the 'Find Twitter Friends' feature.

Instagram says Twitter has cut off its access to its API, which forced Instagram to drop the feature. Though the app still presents the "Find Twitter Friends" option, both iOS and Android users of Instagram are greeted with the following message when the option is selected:
Unable to Find Friends

Twitter no longer allows its users to access this information in Instagram with Twitter API. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Though Twitter users can't find friends via the app, they can still make use of Instagram's Tweet Photo feature to share pictures onto the Twitter site.

The reason for such a move by Twitter isn't clear. Speaking to CNET, a Twitter spokesperson said, "We understand that there's great value associated with Twitter's follow graph data, and we can confirm that it is no longer available within Instagram."

Earlier this year Instagram was acquired by Facebook, Twitter's rival in the social-networking space. Though the Facebook acquisition of Instagram is still pending regulatory approval, Twitter's move is bound to be linked to its own failed attempt at acquiring Instagram (as reported by the WSJ), despite public noises to the contrary.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Twitter explains latest mystery outage


A freak double failure in its data centers took Twitter down for around an hour Thursday, leaving millions without updates from friends, celebrities and news providers a day ahead of the Olympics.
"We are sorry," said Mazen Rawashdeh, Twitter's vice president of engineering, in a message on the company's support blog.

"Many of you came to Twitter earlier today expecting, well, Twitter. Instead, between around 8:20 am and 9:00 am Pacific Time (1720 GMT to 1800 GMT), users around the world got zilch from us," he said.
The glitch was fixed by about 1925 GMT, according to Rawashdeh, but not before the outage had affected users around the world.

In a blog post, Rawashdeh explained that the blackout was triggered by a data center system and its backup system failing simultaneously.
"I wish I could say that today's outage could be explained by the Olympics or even a cascading buy," he said. "Instead, it was due to this infrastructural double-whammy."

Service was gradually restored and many users posted messages expressing relief in sarcastic terms.
"Wow. Wasn't sure I'd survive that @twitter outage. I even took to Facebook. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Thankful it's back," professional baseball player Michael Schlact tweeted.
Jason Carlin of Toronto tweeted: "Took time during the Twitter outage to explore some self-improvement."

"I've written two novels, learned Esperanto and knitted a sweater," he added.
Last month, the service was downed for several hours by what the company described as a "cascading bug," but the company said this time it had fallen victim to the double data center failure.
"Data centers are designed to be redundant: when one system fails, as everything does at one time or another, a parallel system takes over," Rawashdeh said in a message to users.

"What was noteworthy about today's outage was the coincidental failure of two parallel systems at nearly the same time.
But Rawashdeh promised that "we are investing aggressively in our systems to avoid this situation in the future."

In its early days, Twitter was notoriously unstable and would display a picture known as the "fail whale" on its home page when it experienced one of its frequent outages.

The service has become more reliable over the past couple of years, however, and down time is now infrequent.
At the Olympics, athletes are expected to share their Twitter handles, and tweet their experiences using the site.

Twitter, which allows its members to post brief comments, links or pictures, claims to have more than 140 million active users, with the largest number being in the United States.
A recent survey found one in seven Americans who go online use Twitter and eight percent do so every day.

Facebook-HTC phone rumoured to launch in 2013

Facebook-HTC phone rumoured to launch in 2013Rumours of a Facebook phone will not just die. According to a report from Bloomberg, Facebook has partnered with HTC to produce a self-branded phone that would launch in mid-2013.

The Bloomberg report quoting people knowledge of the matter claims the companies were working to release the device by end of this year but then pushed back the deadline to give more time to HTC to work on other devices. Facebook is reportedly working on a customised operating system for the device and has engaged a team of ex-Apple programmers to improve its iPhone app. 
The report further points out that more than 50 percent of Facebook 900 million users across the network access the site via mobile devices. Facebook would like to cash in on a Facebook, with built-in social networking features to attract investors and advertisers. 
“Usage is shifting to mobile, and they have not been able to monetize mobile,” Victor Anthony, an analyst at Topeka Capital Markets Inc is quoted as saying. “To the extent that it’s a device you own and carry around with you at all times, and it ties into the Facebook experience, it will be beneficial. They could then put a lot of ads onto the platform.”
Facebook has declined to comment on the report published by Bloomberg. "Our mobile strategy is simple: We think every mobile device is better if it is deeply social," Facebook representative Ana Brekalo told CNET. "We're working across the entire mobile industry -- with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers to bring powerful social experiences to more people around the world." 
Of course, it's not the first time we have heard about a Facebook phone being developed by HTC and Facebook. Back in April, HTC was rumoured to be working on a Facebook with an 'exclusive operating system'. Another rumour surfaced in May stating Facebook phone will see the light of the day by 2013. 
It's notable HTC has already launched two Facebook phones, known as ChaCha and Salsa. Meanwhile, Facebook has upped its focus on mobile advertising. A smartphone with exclusive Facebook features certainly seems like a good idea; but will it ever become a reality? 

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Airtel opposes net neutrality; asks Google, Facebook to share profits

Airtel opposes net neutrality; asks Google, Facebook to share profitsNet neutrality is one of the growing issues in a number of countries across the globe, especially in the emerging countries where Internet usage via mobile phone is going past the fixed-line web. Net neutrality basically means ISPs are supposed to treat all sorts of Internet access in the same fashion.

Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel has come out against the net neutrality and asked the Internet companies such as Google, Yahoo! and Facebook to share their revenues for using operators’ expensive infrastructure.
Bharti Airtel's senior official Jagbir Singh recently said the telecom regulator should levy interconnection charges for data services, as it is applied for voice calls. “Today, Google, Yahoo! and others are enjoying at the cost of network operator. We are the ones investing in setting up data pipes and they make the money. There is interconnection for voice then why not for data,” he told Hindu Business Line.
While pointing out that network is capital intensive, he further said that the telecom operators have to pay huge sums for spectrum and that the voice revenue was dipping. He also highlights that the Internet companies such as Google are enjoying valuations that are ten times of a traditional telecom player.
Airtel in India is the first telecom operator to launch LTE-based 4G services in the country. The operator reveals traffic from Web sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google account for nearly 40 per cent of its overall data traffic
It's notable telecom companies across the world have been pressurising the regulators to resolve this issue. The Internet companies such as Google, on the other hand, have been pushing 'network neutrality' on grounds that the Internet should be free and does not need to be controlled by regulation. Telecom operators are finding it tough to keep upgrading network to meet the rising data demands.
It's learnt that carriers in the US and UK are quite vocal against net neutrality rules. European Commission is conducting an EU-wide consultation period to gauge public opinion on net neutrality. To collect responses the EC has created a questionnaire that any European citizen can complete.

Google, Facebook, eBay launch US Internet lobby

Big technology firms including Google, Facebook, eBay and Amazon have joined to create a new lobby group aimed at promoting "an open, innovative and free Internet."
fb-google.jpgThe Internet Association announced its formation in a statement on its website, indicating it will be headed by Michael Beckerman, a former congressional staffer.
The group, to be officially launched in September, did not name its member companies but sources familiar with the group told AFP that Google, Facebook, eBay and Amazon are among them.
"The newly formed Internet Association is comprised of some of the world's most visible Internet companies and will be headquartered in Washington," the statement said.
"Beckerman will lead the Internet Association's efforts to advance public policy solutions that strengthen and protect an open, innovative and free Internet."
A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on its participation.
But a source familiar with the lobby said it "is going to be a permanent association here in Washington and will be advocating on behalf of the Internet industry and its vast community of users."
"The association will be advancing public policy solutions to strengthen America's global Internet leadership," the source told AFP, adding that the group was "the first trade association representing the Internet and Internet companies as a whole."
Beckerman said: "I am honored to lead such an important undertaking. The Internet is the greatest engine for economic growth and prosperity the world has ever known. The Internet must have a voice in Washington."
He added: "The Internet isn't just Silicon Valley anymore, the Internet has moved to Main Street. Our top priority is to ensure that elected leaders in Washington understand the profound impacts of the Internet and Internet companies on jobs, economic growth and freedom."
Beckerman was deputy staff director to the US House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees telecommunications and Internet policy. He previously was an aide to Representative Fred Upton.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Nintendo Wii helps stroke patients recover

nintendo-wii.jpgStroke patients considered too far gone to regain use of affected limbs are now showing signs of recovery because of a new therapy that utilises the Nintendo Wii.

Penelope McNulty, neurophysiologist at Neuroscience Research Australia, shows that an intensive, two-week training programme based on the Wii can bring about significant improvements in the way stroke patients are able to use their limbs, even for people that had a stroke many years ago.

"It was previously thought that the movement and function stroke patients had at the time they left hospital was the only recovery they would make. But we have worked with people who have had strokes one month to 21 years ago, and excitingly, they all improve," says McNulty, according to a Neuroscience Research statement.

"The Wii is inexpensive, easy to use and, very importantly, fun. This type of rehabilitation motivates participants to actually complete their therapy, which is essential for maximum recovery," McNulty says.
"Everyone notices improvements not just using the Wii, but in activities they do every day, such as opening a door or using a fork."

The findings were presented at the international conference of the Society of Electrophysiology and Kinesiology in Brisbane.

Why iPhone 3GS is a better buy than Rs. 10K Android smartphones


Aircel has lowered the price on the iPhone 3GS to Rs 9,999, making it a really attractive option. Even when you add the Rs. 3,000 advance rental it's probably the cheapest iPhone in the world.

The iPhone 3GS is a pretty capable phone, even if it may feel two, soon to be three, generations old. The hardware specs are in line with what most current-generation Android smartphones at the price point offer, though some do beat the 3GS on RAM and camera megapixel count.

The best part about the iPhone 3GS is that it will run the latest version of iOS the day iOS 6 releases. Contrast that with the scenario in the Android world, where even smartphones costing Rs. 30,000 or more had to wait for months before they got Android 4.0. And just as some of them were finally getting ready to receive Ice Cream Sandwich, Google went ahead and released Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. The wait begins all over again.

It's true that iOS 5 on iPhone 3GS feels a little bit sluggish. However reports indicate that Apple has made performance improvements in iOS 6 and it actually runs faster on iPhone 3GS than iOS 5.

A note of caution though. Performance in beta versions is just an indication of how things are going to turn out to be. The final iOS 6 version may end up performing worse (or better) than the beta, so you may be well advised to wait until iOS 6 comes to get a real idea as far as iOS 6 performance on iPhone 3GS is concerned. Still, the early signs are good if you are an existing iPhone 3GS user or looking to buy one.

iPhone 3GS users on iOS 6 will enjoy new features like updated Maps, Shared Photo Streams and Passbook. Also included is ability to decline incoming calls calls with text messages or a "remind me later" option, that will remind you to call back the person later. Pretty handy.

iOS 6 also includes improvements to the mail and browsing experience, which will be extended to iPhone 3GS.

However, there are some iOS 6 features that iPhone 3GS will not receive. These are flyover and turn-by-turn navigation in Maps, the improved Siri (which iPhone 4 will not get either) and FaceTime (the 3GS has no front-camera).

While on Maps, we would love to be surprised, but we doubt India will get turn-by-turn navigation (at least initially), so that isn't much of a loss in itself. In any case, there are plenty of third-party apps that you can use to fill that gap.

Other features that the iPhone 3GS will not get are Offline Reading List, and accessibility features that require Made for iPhone hearing aids, which are supported only by iPhone 4 and above.

Overall, there are more hits than misses as far as iOS 6 on iPhone 3GS is concerned, and it boast of running the latest OS version for another year. A claim that can be made by only a handful devices in the Android world.

App aims to improve accessibility for visually impaired

Whether it is getting off a bus or reading a menu, a new app aims to make life easier for the blind or visually impaired.

Called Georgie, the app for Android devices enables people with little or no sight to accomplish daily activities that could be difficult for them.

"The great thing that attracted me to (creating the app) was this notion of gaining confidence, and also having reassurance that you could press a button and get help if you were lost," said Roger Wilson-Hinds, co-founder of Screenreader, a nonprofit based in Peterborough, England, that developed the app.
Users navigate the app's features by passing their fingers over various options which are read aloud. Lingering on a particular option produces a beep, indicating that the option has been selected.
The app can make calls or send texts but it also provides location-based technologies, which can let users know, for example, when the next bus is coming, which direction they're facing, or the ability to set location-based reminders.

"You can actually record a GPS-tagged voice label to say 'dangerous steps' and as you're approaching it the phone will tell you that there are dangerous steps there," explained Alan Dean Kemp, the chief technology officer.

Kemp added that the app is not meant to replace a seeing-eye dog, but to provide added assistance.
About 39 million people worldwide are blind, according to the World Health Organization, and 285 million people are visually impaired.

For Wilson-Hinds, who is blind, one of his biggest struggles has been using public transit.
"I used to struggle to know when to get off the bus every evening when I was coming home from work," he said, adding that the app can give users information on upcoming bus stops while they're traveling.
It also reads out text, such as ingredients on a label, using a technology called optical character recognition (OCR).

Wilson-Hinds said what makes the app unique is the way it is designed for the less tech-savvy person and the support it provides.
"We've brought them all together into a little bundle so that you're not switching in and out of apps," he said.

Screenreader is also selling Georgie smartphones, Android-based Samsung phones that come pre-installed with the Georgie app.
"The settings are such that you turn on the phone and the app starts. You can't get out of it unless you go through a sort of unlock feature to do so," explained Kemp.

At 150 pounds, the app is more expensive than most apps but Kemp said the price includes support for the app. "You get a help line, which will set up your contacts for you if you want and even come and train you, so there's a big support mechanism around it," he said.

The app is available worldwide in English. All profits generated by the app go to a charity called Communication for Blind and Disabled People, of which Screenreader is a subsidiary.
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012

Computer hackers and defenders mix in Las Vegas

Rival factions from the Internet security world will mix warily this week at a pair of Las Vegas conferences gathering computer security experts and software savants who make sport of hacking them.
hacking.jpegMore than 6,500 high-level security experts will attend the Black Hat conference already under way, with many apt to swap surnames for code-names and stay for the infamous Def Con gathering of hackers that starts on Thursday.
Black Hat plays out in posh ballrooms at Caesar's Palace on the Las Vegas strip with big-name sponsors including Microsoft, Qualys, Looking Glass, Cisco, IBM, Hewlett Packard, and Amazon.com.
Def Con unfolds in the Rio hotel and casino on the opposite side of the Las Vegas Freeway, with attendees plunking down $200 each in cash to hear how to crack anything from smartphones and power grids to door locks.

While Black Hat has invitation-only evening soirees at hot clubs, Def Con draws crowds to its annual Toxic BBQ in a local park, "Hacker Jeopardy" team drinking games, and all-night hacker duels.
As different as the Black Hat and Def Con scenes may seem, the realms have been converging with the shift of threats from brilliant kids showing off online to cyber attacks by nation states, industrial spies, and criminal gangs.

The founder of both Def Con and Black Hat, Jeff Moss, is now chief of security at US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the agency in charge of website addresses.
Security firms started by longtime Def Con hackers or which have hired them for key positions have become key players at Black Hat.

A "Spot the Fed" game that began in early Def Con days as a way to ferret out undercover cops has evolved into a playful way to break the ice between hackers and police who attend to sharpen crime fighting skills and recruit talent.

Def Con on Saturday revealed that this year's "top-secret VIP speaker" will be US National Security Agency (NSA) director General Keith Alexander, who will give a presentation titled "Shared Values, Shared Responsibility."

"Dark Tangent has been working to get a speaker this high-profile from the NSA for quite a long time, and we're excited that he's coming to our 20th anniversary shindig," Def Con said at its website, referring to Moss by his hacker name.

Press covering Def Con were sent safety tips that include shunning bank teller machines near the conference because of potential hacking and shutting off wireless connection features on all gadgets to thwart cyber attacks.

"You are entering one of the most hostile environments in the world," Def Con organizers warned. "Prepare to hack and be hacked."

After leaving Las Vegas, change all online passwords just to be safe, Def Con organizers added.
While the potential to hack into power plants, mass transit systems and other high-profile targets grab headlines during the back-to-back gatherings, ramped up attacks on smartphones will be among hot topics for attendees.

"The biggest trend of the moment revolves around mobile devices," said Qualys director of engineering Ivan Ristic, who will give a Black Hat presentation on tightening security at websites.
"Every single year we see a greater diversity of mobile devices used in every layer of our society," he continued.

"There is an increasingly hostile environment and yet an increase in the exchange of information."
Smartphones and tablet computers have become popular devices for online shopping, banking and other exchanges involving potentially valuable personal information.

Black Hat briefings at which findings are presented will begin on Wednesday.
"I've been attending Black Hat for years; the most popular talks are those demonstrating how to break things," Ristic told AFP