Ced Kurtz’s Techman Texts: CMU tackles photos, programming

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Two interesting developments came out last week from computer-research powerhouse Carnegie Mellon University.

Researchers are adding a third dimension to photo editing by enabling editors to turn or flip objects any way they want, even exposing surfaces not visible in the original photograph.

This is possible because 3-D numerical models of many everyday objects are readily available online. The research team led by Yaser Sheikh, associate research professor of robotics, found it could create realistic edits by fitting these models into the geometry of the photo and then applying colors, textures and lighting consistent with the photo.

Though a wide variety of stock models is available online, models are not available for every object in a photo. As 3-D scanning and printing technologies become ubiquitous, “The more pressing question will soon be, not whether a particular model exists online, but whether the user can find it,” Mr. Sheikh said.

Also, CMU computer scientists are developing a programming language, called Wyvern, which can use other computer languages within the same program, allowing programmers to employ the language most appropriate for each function, such as SQL for querying databases or HTML for work with Web pages.

Another advantage of Wyvern is that it is not vulnerable to certain computer attacks. A research group led by Jonathan Aldrich, associate professor in the Institute for Software Research, said Wyvern does not use long strings of characters to form a command in a specialized language. These strings are especially vulnerable to attacks.

Game of thrones: Netflix chief Reed Hastings was bragging on Facebook last week that his company surpassed HBO in total subscriber revenue ($1.146 billion to HBO's $1.141 billion) last quarter, according to dslreports.com

Call me stupid: Two unusual events at this year’s Def Con hacker conference last week in Las Vegas, according to wsj.com and wired.com. John McAfee, a pioneer of antivirus software, made a surprise appearance to warn that smartphone apps spy on consumers. Mr. McAfee has been in the news for more than his privacy views. He escaped from Belize after his neighbor was found dead and officials called him a person of interest in the 2012 incident. He fled to Guatemala, then faked a heart attack to win deportation to the U.S. and generally has been keeping a low profile. “I’m dumping all my smart phones,”he said at Def Con.

Second was Gene Bransfield’s presentation “How To Weaponize Your Pets.” He told how he equipped Coco the cat with a collar that had everything necessary to map Wi-Fi networks in the neighborhood that would be vulnerable to an intruder or Wi-Fi mooch. He sent Coco out and three hours later the feline returned with a map of dozens of Wi-Fi networks, identifying four routers that used an insecure form of encryption and another four entirely unprotected.

Security pays: Google is running trials of rewarding sites that use the more secure HTTPS Web address with a slightly higher ranking in searches.

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