What do you get when you add aluminum iron oxide to regular latex housepaint?

If you follow the recipe developed recently by researchers at the University of Tokyo, you get an effective barrier for radio signals that could effectively lock drive-by WiFi freeloaders out of your home or small office wireless network.

According to the inventors, the additives in their paint resonate at the same radio frequencies used by wireless systems, effectively blocking connections from outside of any building coated with the compound.

The researchers didn’t say how much more the WiFi shield paint might cost than regular exterior finishes but at least one paint expert of our acquaintance speculates that that users would not only have to pay significantly more for the paint but also buy more if it, perhaps enough to apply several coats, to ensure an effective WiFi barrier. And the effectiveness of the barrier would also depend, to some degree, on the skill of the painters — specifically, their ability to apply even, consistent coats.

One way or the other, industry observers say it would be just a matter of time until freeloading hackers found a way aroud the barrier. Whether the new WiFI barrier paint ever hits the shelves as a product remains to be seen.

Adobe Photoshop has long been the defacto standard for professional photographers and serious amateurs alike. Adobe recently released Photoshop CS4, and it includes some great new features.

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For most users, the best way to make image adjustments in Photoshop is to use layers so that the adjustments are non-destructive. Photoshop CS4 makes that process faster and easier with an ‘Adjustments’ panel containing tools like Curves, Levels, Hue/Saturation, black & white conversion, and the new Vibrance adjustment. Adobe claims that the new Adjustments panel helps eliminate up to 90 per cent of the mouse movements required to make nondestructive image adjustments and I certainly agree that it is a much more efficient way to work.

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The new Vibrance adjustment is also a nice addition. Adjusting saturation can be difficult, especially when skin tones are present. I found the Vibrance control allowed me to tweak overall image saturation with a much less impact on skin tones than the traditional saturation control, making it great for portrait work.

Another new feature introduced in CS4 is ‘Content Aware Scaling’. At some point, most of us have fussed with an image that simply isn’t the right ratio — you know, that tightly cropped 2:3 ratio image from your SLR that looks great at 8×12, but now needs to fit an 8×10 matte. Even if you’re really good at extracting objects from the background, maintaining the aspect ratio of a foreground object while stretching or compressing the background to fit is very difficult. According to Adobe, this new feature analyzes the image while you adjust it and intelligently recomposes the scene to preserve the most visually interesting areas. In practice, when used within reason (for example going from 8×10 to 8×12), I found that it works quite well. However, it’s not magic, and scaling some images will require that you manually mask critical objects.

CS4 also introduces ‘extended depth of field’, which allows photographers to, “shoot the scene with a series of focal points, and use the enhanced Auto-Blend Layers feature to automatically create a new, single image with a depth of field encompassing the entire series.” Other new features include enhancements to aligning and blending features for panoramas, better dodge/burn tools, and improve masking.

But perhaps my favourite change to Photoshop CS4 is tighter integration with Photoshop Lightroom 2. I’m a huge fan of Lightroom, and I’m glad to see them play better together. For example, you can select multiple images in Lightroom and with a single command send them to Photoshop as separate layers, components of a panorama, or to be merged into an HDR image. Photoshop and Lightroom now share the same underlying technology for dealing with RAW images, so adjustments made in either application are now recognized by the other. 64-bit Vista users will also be pleased to know that Photoshop CS4 includes a 64-bit version and it installs automatically on 64-bit systems.

You’ve almost certainly heard, by now, that someone at search giant Google made a tiny little mistake in routine maintenance this past weekend which resulted in a huge uproar.

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In it’s simplest terms, an update to a ‘dangerous Web sites’ list generated by another party, was installed improperly at Google resulting in all Google search results being tagged potentially hazardous to visit.

As Google’s VP of Search Products and User Experience, Marissa Mayer, wrote in the Official Google Blog late Saturday, January 31:

What happened? Very simply, human error. Google flags search results with the message “This site may harm your computer” if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or otherwise surreptitiously. We do this to protect our users against visiting sites that could harm their computers. We maintain a list of such sites through both manual and automated methods. We work with a non-profit called StopBadware.org to come up with criteria for maintaining this list, and to provide simple processes for webmasters to remove their site from the list.

We periodically update that list and released one such update to the site this morning. Unfortunately (and here’s the human error), the URL of ‘/’ was mistakenly checked in as a value to the file and ‘/’ expands to all URLs. Fortunately, our on-call site reliability team found the problem quickly and reverted the file. Since we push these updates in a staggered and rolling fashion, the errors began appearing between 6:27 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. and began disappearing between 7:10 and 7:25 a.m., so the duration of the problem for any particular user was approximately 40 minutes.

The problem persisted for less than an hour this past Saturday morning but generated a lot of confusion.

Industry observers say the incident is a prime example of the dangers of dependence on a single vendor or service provider for any vital product of service.

Google has updated its Chrome Web browser to version 1.0.154.46, plugging security holes revealed last week by independent security researchers.

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According to the official release notes, the update addresses ten separate security issues including the ones revealed last week that could allow cyber crooks to take control of a computer running an unpatched copy of Chrome.

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Also as reported last week, the current version of the Firefox browser was also alleged to be vulnerable to the clickjacking vulneravility that triggered the Chrome update. Firefox users will receive notification of an auto-update when one is ready for prime time.

You’ve always been able to  subscribe to TECHLife Post headline feeds via RSS and e-mail. Now, you can follow us on Facebook, too!

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On our Facebook page, you’ll find all the latest TLP story headlines with links back to this site. And you can send us feedback by writing on our Facebook Wall.

And, when you’re here at TLP, remember that we’ve added links to all the most popular social networking sites at the bottom of each full-story post. Find something here you want to share? Go directly to your favourite online meeting place and tell all your friends… There’s also a handy link to let you e-mail any TLP news story to a friend.

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In honour of North America’s annual day of equinocal prognostication, we present our gateway to the official Web sites of the continent’s two best-known forecasters.

On closer examination, you’ll find there’s much more to Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA, or Wiarton, ON, Canada than checking to see if the little fellows see their shadows. February 2 may not be a statutory holiday in either country but, in these towns, where marmota marmota is king, the day is the culmination of week-long celebrations and year-long preparations.

In Punxsutawney, the town literally ‘goes groundhog’ for four solid days starting on January 30 and building in a crescendo to the traditional prediction ceremony which is televised across the continent.

If you go… Be sure to visit the unique Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center, ‘a place where science and folklore of weather prediction meet in a beautiful building’. And be sure to reserve your ticket early for next year’s Annual Groundhog Banquet, ‘sponsored by the Inner Circle of the Groundhog Club, held at the Punxsutawney Area High School Cafeteria’.

For details on the Punxsutawney celebration, visit: groundhog.org/info/. Be sure to peruse the ‘About Groundhog Day’ page where you’ll find a fascinating history of the art of predicting when spring will come — a tradition the site says dates back hundreds of years in Europe (and, according to the Weather Network, back to ancient Roman times). One way or another, the occasion didn’t officially involve groundhogs at all until 1886 when the first recorded ceremony took place at Punxsutawney’s legendary Gobbler’s Knob.

In Wiarton, ON, the festivities began on Thursday, January 29, this year, with a youth dance and rose through the weekend, through dozens of events, to a climax with the Prediction Ceremony at 7:30 this morning.

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(Photo: Wiarton Willie Festival)

Willie and his friends have their own year-round Web presence at: wiarton-willie.org.

From the ‘Make up your mind, for gosh sake!’ department…

The U.S. Senate late last week passed another bill aimed as delaying the switch from analogue to digital TV broadcasting there from February 17 until June 12. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for its approval.

However, the House resoundingly defeated a similar bill from the Senate earlier last week.

Under the new ‘compromise’ bill, broadcasters could switch to digital as originally planned or opt to delay their switch until June.

If the House approves the new bill, it will go to President Barach Obama for signing. Obama has indicated that he is in favour of a delay or, at least, the option of a delay.

At issue is the fact that as many as 20 million U.S. TV viewers — mostly low-income, elderly or rural viewers — are not technologically ready for the change to digital.

The U.S. government instituted a program last year making available (US)$40 grants to viewers towards the cost of a digital to analogur set-top converter box to adapt their old sets. But the program ‘sold out’ of coupons before all comers were served and additional funds have just recently been made available under the Obama economic stimulous package.

Did U.S. President Barach Obama greet you when you sat down at your computer this morning?

If you found a picture of the new U.S. president smiling back at you from the lower right-hand corner of your screen, you’ve got the Obama Worm.

But don’t panic. Leading security experts say that’s all the bug does: displays a picture of Obama every Monday morning.

Trend Micro virus analyst Jamz Yaneza told ZDNet.com the bug is a rather primitive one, which can be spread by USB drives or network shares.

Yaneza also pointed out that serious malware programmers do all they can to hide their infectious agents. The last thing they would do would be to advertise the presence of their creations, especially in as brazen a manner as the Obama Worm does.

Security experts agree that the Obama Worm is probably just a prank by a school kid who got his or her hands on a copy of one of the many DIY virus cookbooks available on the darker side of the Web. The fact that the worm was first discovered on computers at an Illinois elementary school seems to support that contention.

Medical science has known, for a couple of decades, now, that passing a weak electric current through a broken arm can help the bones knit faster.

Now, Vomaris Innovations of Chandler, AZ, is bringing to market an ‘electric bandaid’ designed to help skin wounds heal faster.

The PROCELLERA wound dressing is composed of a single later of a special polyester fabric containing proprietary chemical compounds ‘designed to emulate the natural electrical energy found in living tissue’.

As the Vomaris Web site explains, “Simply moisten the patented PROCELLERA dressing and apply directly to either acute or chronic wounds. PROCELLERA then activates to become an antimicrobial barricade to infection, with patients reporting enhanced healing with significant pain reduction.”

The accompanying before-and-after pictures, in the online product brochure, are literally worth a 1,000 words of description.

The PROCELLERA wound dressing is U.S. FDA approved.

Businesses, transit users and those of us who drive to work all suffered during Ottawa’s transit strike.  However, we can learn valuable lessons about business continuity planning that are equally applicable to an influenza pandemic, severe storm or even a terrorist attack.

There is a segment of our population who simply must get to work: Police officers, fire fighters, teachers, bankers, assembly line workers and those in the health care, retail and hospitality sectors. But many of us can — or could, with the right solution — work from anywhere we have access to a computer and telephone rather than sitting in traffic.

Now, before I give you the wrong impression, I do live in the real world.  Face-to-face meetings are often more desirable than teleconferences, and some companies aren’t set up to support remote workers.  Some corporate cultures are such that working from home is seen as a euphemism for a day off and having one’s buttocks pressing upon a chair for the requisite number of hours is considered far more important than actually getting work done.  As a result modern day office martyrs drag themselves to the office when ill and consider sprinkling their viral load amongst colleagues a badge of honour.

When we step back and look at the issues from a broader point of view, it’s clear that during a transit strike we would all benefit by keeping the roads clear for those who must go to work and spending our time working instead of sitting in the car.

From a business perspective, not only are there advantages during transit strikes and severe storms, but the capability also allows the organization to function despite other emergencies such as fires, building evacuations and localized power failures.  Enabling employees to work at home also helps to retain top talent by promoting a better work-life balance. And less commuters is a better thing for the environment as well.

Enabling remote work — like any other infrastructure change — does have security implications.  Some organizations already have fundamental components in place such as laptops with VPN connectivity and the ability to forward phone lines.  For those who don’t, products are available to specifically address the issues.

One company seeing increased interest in their products is Route1, the Toronto-based firm that developed the MobiKEY product. “The user simply plugs MobiKEY into any computer with Internet access and within seconds they are able to access their home or office computer through the TruOFFICE service,” explained Tanieu Tan, Director of Marketing.  “With MobiKEY, all information remains behind the corporate firewall and no footprint of the work session is left on the guest computer. In the event that there is malware on the guest computer, it can not be introduced into the corporate network, making this a very secure solution.”

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The product also offers other features to facilitate secure access to Web portals or specific applications instead of an entire remote desktop environment.  These solutions also tout a high level of security by eliminating dependence upon applications on the user’s local computer.

So, whether you blamed the City, OCTranspo workers or, perhaps, both, we did get a great lesson in business continuity planning.  Acting now can better enable you and your company to cope with similar events in the future.

The British government this week revealed plans aimed at putting broadband Internet connections in every home in the country by 2012.

That goal was first enunciated in the Digital Britain Interim Report, released last fall by UK Communications, Technology and Broadcasting Minister, Lord Carter.

Only about four per cent of British households are currently out of reach of existing broadband networks. However, only about 56 per cent of all UK homes actually have broadband installed.

The service commitment target set in the Digital Britain Report calls for a minimum 2 Mbps connection for all, to be delivered by “a mixture of fixed and mobile, wired and wireless means.”

Critics and industry players are skeptical about the feasibility of filling in the holes in the UK broadband grid in time to meet the 2012 deadline.

Nevertheless, Carter remains steadfast in his resolve.

“We will establish a government-led strategy group to assess the necessary demandside, supplyside and regulatory measures to underpin existing market-led investment plans, and to remove barriers to the timely rollout, beyond those declared plans, to maximise market-led coverage of next-generation broadband,” the Report asserts.

Carter also suggested that the broadband industry (which will ultimately benefit from more customers and more revenue) should expect to fund up to two thirds of the cost of new network infrastucture needed under the plan.

Call it a ‘Web 2.Oh, no…’ application.

PMSBuddy.com is a Web site where men can register to have reminder e-mails sent to them, warning of the onset of their beloved partner’s monthly difficult days.

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The site was created by 28-year-old Jordan Eisenberg, an Aussie who got tired of his married and attached buddies complaining about their problems dealing with their PMS-afflicted significant others.

PMSbuddy.com’s slogan — ‘Saving relationships one month at a time’ — clearly conveys the impression that the whole thing is at least partly tongue-in-cheek. So do the site’s ‘National Alert Level’, showing how many of the partners registered on the site are estimated to be suffering each day, and the Overall Threat Index, measured on a scale of one to four, rather like the fire risk indicator at the entrance of every national park.

But the reminder service is also backed up with resources for men who suffer not from, but because of, PMS.

The PMS Stories discussion board gives men a place to vent their PMS-related frustrations. It’s basically an online analogue of the classic men’s locker room. And, as the late Douglas Adams might have observed, it’s ‘mostly harmless’.

The PMS Tips page has great potential but disappoints, both in its briefness and it’s emphasis on ‘Do something special for her’ advertising links. The the notion that a guy can simply buy his way out of the PMS spatter zone will grate on some women.

Of course, there are women who resent their private business being tracked, even if only quasi-publicly. But Eisenberg insists, “the majority do feel it is helpful and the remainder at least get a kick and a laugh out of it.”