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Java problems, Aaron Swartz’s legacy, and Tactus’s amazing keyboard

Molly Wood Jan 15, 2013

Java problems, Aaron Swartz’s legacy, and Tactus’s amazing keyboard

Molly Wood Jan 15, 2013

Java is like Esperanto, a universal computing language that works on just about any type of computer. It’s also vulnerable to attack by hackers. So much so that the Department of Homeland Security the other day told people to turn off Java.

“The reason the D.H.S. responded the way they did is that it’s actually what we call an ‘in the wild attack,'” says Chester Wisniewski of the computer security company Sophos. “It’s being actively exploited by criminals to attack people’s computers and infect them with viruses.”

For the average computer user, the problem is that Java can be quite difficult to figure out how to turn off.

“It got a lot easier recently, but the process is quite complicated. What we’re recommending people do is disable Java in your primary web browser, whatever you use for surfing all day long — whether that’s Firefox, or Chrome, or Internet Explorer,” Wisniewski says.

The Oracle Corporation says it’s now fixed the security vulnerability in Java, but Wisniewski is among those recommending you keep it off unless you really need it. “If you need something like that for a business purpose, or even a personal purpose, leave in enabled in a browser you don’t typically use.”

An attorney for a software wunderkind and accused hacker who committed suicide last week now says prosecutors had offered a deal of six months in jail for pleading guilty to 13 federal crimes, an offer he and his client rejected. Aaron Swartz campaigned for the free flow of information and was accused of breaking into a computer system at M.I.T. so the public had access to a repository of academic journals, many of which were subscription-only. Critics say prosecutors were too aggressive in handling a case where there may not have been malicious intent. M.I.T.’s president has launched an investigation into the university’s role in the hacking affair. Swartz was an inventor of RSS news feeds and helped design the widely-used online site Reddit. Swartz was 26 years old.

How about a shape-shifting screen for your tablet or phone? Flat as glass one minute, then suddenly covered with bumpy, little buttons to form a keyboard you can feel. The company that makes these screens is called Tactus.

“We make this invisible network of channels, and fill these little channels with a special oil, and then we use simply a change in the pressure of that fluid to make the buttons appear and disappear,” says Tactus CEO Craig Ciesla.

Ciesla says his almost magical keyboard is just the beginning.

“We really see what we’re doing at Tactus as creating this dynamic surface,” explains Ciesla. “It could be gaming controls, it could be a new type of design tool with which to go off and innovate.”

Tactus plans to have these screens on the market by the end of this year. Still not visualizing this? Think of a nice smooth face suddenly growing pimples. Who wouldn’t want one? Check out a video of the screen, bumps and all, below.

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