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Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Inventor of the Bar Code Dies

N. Joseph Woodland, Inventor of the Bar Code, Dies at 91


N. Joseph Woodland explaining his prototype scanner for products with bar codes.

N. Joseph Woodland, who six decades ago drew a set of lines in the sand and in the process conceived the modern bar code, died on Sunday at his home in Edgewater, N.J. He was 91.

His daughter Susan Woodland confirmed the death.

A retired mechanical engineer, Mr. Woodland was a graduate student when he and a classmate, Bernard Silver, created a technology - based on a printed series of wide and narrow striations - that encoded consumer-product information for optical scanning.

Their idea, developed in the late 1940s and patented 60 years ago this fall, turned out to be ahead of its time. But it would ultimately give rise to the universal product code, or U.P.C., as the staggeringly prevalent rectangular bar code is officially known.

The code now adorns tens of millions of different items, scanned in retail establishments around the world at the rate of more than five billion a day.

The bar code would never have developed as it did without a chain of events noteworthy even in the annals of invention etiology:

Had Mr. Woodland not been a Boy Scout, had he not logged hours on the beach and had his father not been quite so afraid of organized crime, the code would very likely not have been invented in the form it was, if at all.

Norman Joseph Woodland was born in Atlantic City on Sept. 6, 1921. As a Boy Scout he learned Morse code, the spark that would ignite his invention.

After spending World War II on the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, Mr. Woodland resumed his studies at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia (it is now Drexel University), earning a bachelor's degree in 1947.

As an undergraduate, Mr. Woodland perfected a system for delivering elevator music efficiently. His system, which recorded 15 simultaneous audio tracks on 35-millimeter film stock, was less cumbersome than existing methods, which relied on LPs and reel-to-reel tapes.

He planned to pursue the project commercially, but his father, who had come of age in “Boardwalk Empire”-era Atlantic City, forbade it: elevator music, he said, was controlled by the mob, and no son of his was going to come within spitting distance.

The younger Mr. Woodland returned to Drexel for a master's degree. In 1948, a local supermarket executive visited the campus, where he implored a dean to develop an efficient means of encoding product data.

The dean demurred, but Mr. Silver, a fellow graduate student who overheard their conversation, was intrigued. He conscripted Mr. Woodland.

An early idea of theirs, which involved printing product information in fluorescent ink and reading it with ultraviolet light, proved unworkable.

But Mr. Woodland, convinced that a solution was close at hand, quit graduate school to devote himself to the problem. He holed up at his grandparents' home in Miami Beach, where he spent the winter of 1948-49 in a chair in the sand, thinking.

To represent information visually, he realized, he would need a code. The only code he knew was the one he had learned in the Boy Scouts.

What would happen, Mr. Woodland wondered one day, if Morse code, with its elegant simplicity and limitless combinatorial potential, were adapted graphically? He began trailing his fingers idly through the sand.

“What I'm going to tell you sounds like a fairy tale,” Mr. Woodland told Smithsonian magazine in 1999. “I poked my four fingers into the sand and for whatever reason - I didn't know - I pulled my hand toward me and drew four lines. I said: ‘Golly! Now I have four lines, and they could be wide lines and narrow lines instead of dots and dashes.' ”

That transformative sweep was merely the beginning. “Only seconds later,” Mr. Woodland continued, “I took my four fingers - they were still in the sand - and I swept them around into a full circle.”

Mr. Woodland favored the circular pattern for its omnidirectionality: a checkout clerk, he reasoned, could scan a product without regard for its orientation.

On Oct. 7, 1952, Mr. Woodland and Mr. Silver were awarded United States patent 2,612,994 for their invention - a variegated bull's-eye of wide and narrow bands - on which they had bestowed the unromantic name “Classifying Apparatus and Method.”

But that method, which depended on an immense scanner equipped with a 500-watt light, was expensive and unwieldy, and it languished for years.

The two men eventually sold their patent to Philco for $15,000 - all they ever made from their invention.

By the time the patent expired at the end of the 1960s, Mr. Woodland was on the staff of I.B.M., where he worked from 1951 until his retirement in 1987.

Over time, laser scanning technology and the advent of the microprocessor made the bar code viable. In the early 1970s, an I.B.M. colleague, George J. Laurer, designed the familiar black-and-white rectangle, based on the Woodland-Silver model and drawing on Mr. Woodland's considerable input.

Thanks largely to the work of Alan Haberman, a supermarket executive who helped select and popularize the rectangular bar code and who died in 2011, it was adopted as the industry standard in 1973.

Mr. Woodland, who earned a master's in mechanical engineering from Syracuse University in the 1950s, received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 1992. Last year, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. (Mr. Silver, who died in 1963, was inducted posthumously along with him.)

Besides his daughter Susan, Mr. Woodland is survived by his wife, the former Jacqueline Blumberg, whom he married in 1951; another daughter, Betsy Karpenkopf; a brother, David; and a granddaughter.

Today, the bar code graces nearly every surface of contemporary life - including groceries, wayward luggage and, if you are a traditionalist, the newspaper you are holding - all because a young man, his mind ablaze with dots and dashes, one day raked his fingers through the sand.

Android Malware Creeps Into Cellphone Bills

Smartphones are meant to be headache-free compared with old-school computers. But malicious software written for Android devices can be even sneakier than the malware that invaded PCs.

The most prevalent form of Android malware scrapes small amounts of money from smartphone owners by making secret charges to their phone bills, according to a report published by Lookout, a mobile security company in San Francisco. This type of malware is called toll fraud, and it has the potential to fool plenty of people who don't pay close attention to their phone bills every month.

But how does toll fraud work if the carriers control our bills? The process is actually very complex, said Derek Halliday, a product manager at Lookout.

First, it helps to understand a legitimate transaction involving text messages. Say, for example, a person wants to send a text message to a service to buy a new ringtone. When this happens, the cellular network forwards the text message to a middleman service, which handles the transaction between the wireless provider and the ringtone provider. The ringtone provider then shoots a message to the cellphone owner asking for confirmation of the order. When the customer confirms the order, he receives the ringtone, his cellphone bill is charged, and the carrier takes a cut and gives the rest of the money to the ringtone provider and the middleman service.

Here's how toll fraud works: A person downloads a malicious app. The app invisibly sends a text message to a service that uses a middleman service that has a relationship with the malware author. A confirmation message is sent back to the malware, which blocks it from being seen by the customer and confirms the charge. The charge goes to the user's bill, and the carrier takes its cut and gives the rest of the money to the service and the middleman, and thus the malware author.

In its  report, Lookout estimates that from the beginning of 2012 to the e nd of 2013, 18 million Android users may encounter malware. About 72 percent of the malware that Lookout detected this year was toll fraud, and the company expects this number to grow, because even though the process is complex, the code isn't difficult to replicate. The company advised cellphone owners to regularly check their bills for suspicious charges.

Pogue: Maps App for iPhone Steers Right

David Pogue reviews Google Maps for the iPhone and says: "It's free, fast and fantastic."

How Google\'s Maps App for iPhone Hurts Nokia

Apple isn't the only company that should feel nervous about Google's release of a new maps app for the iPhone. Nokia may have lost whatever chance it had to get iPhone owners hooked on its mapping service.

Just hours after the Google Maps app was released Wednesday night, it skyrocketed to the No. 1 spot on Apple's list of most downloaded free apps, with thousands of five-star reviews. Nokia's maps app, Here, got a lot of buzz when it came out in November, but a majority of users rated it one star.

A chart on AppData, an analytics service that tracks the rankings of apps, shows that do wnloads of Nokia's Here app took a nosedive in late November. Now Nokia's maps don't appear to be gaining any traction in the App Store.

This could put Nokia at a competitive disadvantage in the mobile industry over all. In November, Stephen Elop, Nokia's chief executive, said the company made its maps available to iPhone owners so that it could improve its location database. The more people who look up directions or search for locations on its maps, the smarter its system gets. And if Nokia's maps get better, the company could build more powerful location-based features just for its Lumia smartphones.

Now that iPhone owners are gravitating toward using Google or Apple maps, Nokia will have to rely on people using its Lumia phones to improve its location database. But the Lumia phones haven't sold very well. Tony Costa, a Forrester analyst, said the overnight success of Google's app complicated Nokia's goals of selling handsets and bolstering its maps.

“T heir core business has to succeed for Here to succeed,” Mr. Costa said. “That's one of the challenges for them. They have to compete on the handset side, and the Here stuff will come along with that to some extent.”

Mr. Costa said that Nokia still had an opportunity to get people to use its maps through third-party apps. Nokia offers a toolkit for software developers to integrate its maps into their apps across multiple platforms, including Windows phones, iPhones, Android phones and the Web.

Nokia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Daily Report: Apple Approves a Google Maps App

The return of a Google-powered maps application to the iPhone may make it easier for Apple's customers to find their way. But it will not relieve Apple of the pressure to bring its own maps service up to snuff, Nick Wingfield reports in Thursday's New York Times.

The release of the new Google Maps app for the iPhone on Wednesday night does put to rest most of the conspiracy theorizing that began when Apple stopped bundling Google's mapping service with the latest operating system for the iPhone and iPad, released in September. Apple did that because it was determined to own an increasingly critical feature of its devices, but the move seemed premature, as flaws in the company's new service led to unusual public embarrassment.

Mobile analysts wondered whether Google would create an app for the iPhone or allow Apple, its rival, to flail around wi thout a service on its devices that so many people rely on. After all, any long-term fallout for the iPhone could, in theory, benefit Google by making its own Android mobile operating system, which includes Google Maps, more attractive to customers.

Analysts also questioned whether Apple would approve the distribution of a Google Maps app through its App Store or hold it up, as it has some previous Google apps, to help Apple Maps.

That speculation is over. By making a high-quality maps app for the iPhone, it appears Google has put creating the biggest possible audience for its maps service above trying to undermine Apple's product. “They're more interested in owning the relationship with customers in any way they can,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner.

In his review of the new Google Maps app, David Pogue writes that in terms of the app's design, “Google admits that it's even better than Google Maps for Android phones.” See his 60-second video review as well.

Yahoo Said to Plan Board Shake-Up, Adding Levchin

Yahoo is poised to announce changes to its board, including the addition of Max Levchin, a former senior executive at PayPal, people briefed on the matter say.

The board is also expected to announce the departure of two directors: Brad Smith, the chief executive of Intuit, and David W. Kenny, chief executive of the Weather Channel.

The shake-up is expected to be announced within days, these people said. Yahoo did not respond to requests for comment.

Yahoo's latest board changes signal its continued push to become a top technology company once more, a strategy it began in July, when it hired Marissa Mayer away from Google to become its new chief executive.

Since taking over, Ms. Mayer has emphasized ways to modernize Yahoo staples like e-mail and the Flickr photo service, to help them contend with ever-newer competitors.

Bringing in Mr. Levchin is intended to help with that push and show a commitment to developing enticing new offerings. He served as PayPal's chief technology officer before forming Slide, a company that eventually helped produce Web applications for Facebook. Google bought Slide for about $180 million two years ago, and Mr. Levchin left the Internet giant when it shuttered Slide last year.

He will serve as the fourth director nominated by Daniel S. Loeb, the activist hedge fund manager who joined Yahoo's board in May after mounting a prominent challenge to the company's directors. Mr. Loeb's other directors, besides himself, are Michael J. Wolf, a media consultant, and Harry Wilson, a turnaround expert who served on the Obama administration's automotive task force.

Since joining Yahoo's board, Mr. Loeb has helped orchestrate a number of changes, including hiring Ms. Mayer.

Mr. Loeb was introduced to Mr. Levchin by Mr. Wolf, who had served on Slide's board of advisers. They met in Silicon Valley ahead of the proxy fight, when Mr. Loeb was recruiting candidates for Yahoo board seats.

One of the departing directors, Mr. Smith, was a main supervisor of Yahoo's turnaround efforts, including its talks with private equity firms about a capital infusion into the Web company.

The other, Mr. Kenny, became the Weather Channel's chief executive in January and was formerly the president of Akamai Technologies. Mr. Kenny had briefly considered campaigning for Yahoo's top spot last year.

Sprint Offers to Buy Remaining Stake in Clearwire for $2.1 Billion

Sprint Nextel is ready to flex its new financial muscle.

After striking a partnership with the deep-pocketed SoftBank, Sprint Nextel is moving to secure access to a big chunk of spectrum, offering $2.1 billion for the portion of Clearwire it does not already own. The deal, which values Clearwire at $4 billion, will help Sprint build out its next generation wireless network.

Under the terms of the deal, Sprint would pay $2.90 a share for Clearwire, according to a regulatory filing. Sprint, which currently owns 51.7 percent of Clearwire, will need SoftBank to sign off on the deal.

Sprint is bulking up in the face of increasing competition.

In October, T-Mobile USA announced plans to merge with a smaller network operator, MetroPCS. The combined company will have 42.5 million users, making it a closer competitor to Sprint, the No. 3 carrier.

Later in October, S print bolstered its own resources by selling a majority stake to SoftBank of Japan for $20.1 billion. With the deal, Sprint gained a well-funded partner to help finance the expansion of its network and pursue acquisitions.

“SoftBank brings so much more to Sprint than money,” Daniel R. Hesse, Sprint's chief executive, said at the time. “This investment provides the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of a leader in mobile Internet technology with a proven track record of challenging larger incumbent carriers.”

Almost immediately, speculation mounted that Sprint would seek to buy Clearwire. Shares of Clearwire jumped on the day the deal with SoftBank was announced.

A couple of days later, Sprint increased its holdings in Clearwire, buying shares from Craig O. McCaw's Eagle River Holdings. The transaction gave Sprint a majority stake in Clearwire.

Sprint now wants to buy the whole company as part of its greater ambition to bui ld out its Long Term Evolution network. Sprint has already been converting its infrastructure, and the deal with Clearwire could help accelerate those efforts.

G.O.P. Balks at Unlicensed Airwaves Plan

G.O.P. Balks at Plan to Add Airwaves for Mobile Internet and Wi-Fi

WASHINGTON - House Republicans warned the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday against “giving away” scarce airwaves that they said could produce up to $19 billion in proceeds if they were instead auctioned to telecommunications companies for use in mobile broadband networks.

Julius Genachowski

The remarks, which came at a House communications subcommittee hearing, took aim at one of the top priorities of Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. chairman: to make available more unlicensed airwaves, or spectrum, to open congested mobile broadband networks and to use in Wi-Fi hot spots.

In September, the F.C.C. proposed freeing 12 to 20 megahertz of spectrum for those unlicensed uses. The unlicensed space on the electromagnetic spectrum would also be used as “guard bands.” Those are areas that border segments of airwaves that are used by cellphone companies, broadcasters and other communications entities; their purpose is to limit interference from transmissions on nearby airwaves.

Mr. Genachowski defended the commission's plans. “Unlicensed spectrum has a powerful record of driving innovation, investment and economic growth - hundreds of billions of dollars of value creation for our economy and consumers,” he told the committee on Wednesday.

He pointed to Wi-Fi networks, which operate on unlicensed airwaves on the electromagnetic spectrum, as an example of innovation that has generated “hundreds of billions in tax revenues” and made the United States a leader in the use of unlicensed airwaves.

But Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, who is chairman of the panel, said the law that gave the F.C.C. the ability to conduct “incentive auctions” of newly available spectrum required “maximizing the proceeds from the auction.”

For the F.C.C. to obtain the highest price for the spectrum it sells, it should limit the size of guard bands, Mr. Walden said; he said the six-megahertz minimum size proposed by the F.C.C. was unnecessarily fat.

Up to $7 billion of auction proceeds is earmarked to help build a nationwide public safety communications network for first responders. The spectrum for the auctions is supposed to come from television broadcasters who voluntarily give it up or move their position on the airwaves in exchange for some of the auction proceeds.

“I support the use of unlicensed spectrum to foster innovation” for relief of congested broadband, Mr. Walden said. “What I cannot support,” he added, “is the unnecessary expansion of unlicensed spectrum in other bands needed for licensed services, especially at the expense of funding for public safety.”

The F.C.C.'s five commissioners, who all testified before the subcommittee on Wednesday, are split 3-2 along party lines over the issue of unlicensed spectrum.

Commissioner Robert M. McDowell, a Republican, said it would be premature for the commission to reserve newly available airwaves for unlicensed use.

Instead, the commission should set aside the “white spaces” between broadcast television channels for unlicensed use, he said. White spaces are similar, but smaller, guard bands in the part of the spectrum dedicated to broadcast television that are intended to minimize interference between stations.

“At this early stage in the incentive auction process,” Mr. McDowell said, “it is not apparent that we should stop the progress well under way in the TV white spaces arena to create a solution for a problem - an alleged shortage of unlicensed spectrum in lower spectrum bands - that may never exist.”

The F.C.C.'s plans for unlicensed spectrum received support from Democrats on the subcommittee, including Representative Henry A. Waxman of California. Mr. Waxman said the way unlicensed spectrum would be set aside and used were settled in negotiations on the Public Safety and Spectrum Act, which was enacted this year.

“I am troubled by attempts by some to relitigate issues that were resolved earlier this year, when the bill passed Congress with widespread support,” Mr. Waxman said.

Republicans on the subcommittee also sparred with Mr. Genachowski over whether the F.C.C. should limit the amount of spectrum any one company could own. That would limit the potential buyers of some spectrum to be auctioned. Supporters of restrictions say they are one of a few ways to give smaller cellphone companies the ability to build nationwide networks.

Separately, the F.C.C. said late Wednesday that it had agreed to allow Dish, the satellite television company, to use spectrum that it controled for mobile broadband; previously, the airwaves were to be used only for satellite transmissions. The change, which was expected, greatly expands the value of the spectrum and could allow Dish to enter a mobile broadband partnership with another wireless company.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 13, 2012, on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: G.O.P. Balks at Plan to Add Airwaves for Mobile Internet and Wi-Fi.

10 Arrested in Breakup of Botnet Crime Ring

10 Arrested in Theft of Web Data

International authorities, with some help from Facebook, have arrested 10 people accused of operating a network of infected computers that stole personal information from millions of victims.

The Justice Department said Tuesday night that the F.B.I. and international agencies were helped in their investigations by Facebook, whose users were among those targeted by the malware, or malicious software, over the last several years.

The agencies arrested people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Britain, Croatia, Macedonia, New Zealand, Peru and the United States, the F.B.I. said.

The suspects used a chain of infected computers to form what was known as the Butterfly botnet, which spread a piece of malicious software called Yahos, officials said. Versions of the software have long been trafficked among criminals who spread it over social networks and by other means, compromising the security of infected PCs and letting criminals steal personal data, including credit card numbers.

In a statement, the Justice Department said variants of this kind of software had infected about 11 million computers and caused more than $850 million in losses. A Justice Department official said those figures referred to the cumulative damage from the long-running problem, not a measure of the damage done by the people who were arrested.

Mark Hammell, Facebook's Internet threat researcher, said the company had begun investigating suspicious behavior on its service two years ago. The malware had hijacked some users' accounts and posted links on their friends' Facebook pages. A person who clicked on those links could download the software and infect his computer.

Facebook's researchers reverse-engineered the software to understand how it worked, and eventually traced some of its activities to computer servers controlled by the suspects. That helped Facebook determine the identities of some of the people involved in the crime ring, Mr. Hammell said.

“We realized we didn't have the ability to stop it completely, and at that point, we decided the best response was to escalate this to law enforcement,” he said in an interview. Two of the people who were arrested were the original authors of the malware, he noted. Facebook said its users made up only a small percentage of those who were infected.

Security firms and social networks are generally on the lookout for this particular form of malware, and software to detect and eliminate it has been available for years. The Justice Department urged computer users to take common-sense measures, like antivirus scanning, to guard against the risk of infections, and said people who suspect they have been victimized should file a complaint with the F.B.I.'s Internet crime complaint center at ic3.gov.

Facebook said users who were concerned about being infected could check their computers at on.fb.me/infectedMSE. The malware does not infect Apple computers, Facebook said.

Manos Antonakakis, director of academic research at Damballa, a company that specializes in fighting botnets, said the size of the Butterfly botnet was significant. It was more than double the size of the last major botnet that authorities took down last November, one that used a piece of malware called DNSChanger that had infected an estimated four million computers.

“This is a major achievement for law enforcement,” he said, “and we look forward to many things like this, so we can effectively tackle emerging botnets out there.”

But Dr. Antonakakis said the estimate of 11 million infected machines was probably high, because a computer could be counted as a new device each time it connected to a different network, like the Wi-Fi at a Starbucks or a home router.

The $850 million figure may also be high given that credit card companies typically wipe out fraudulent charges.

Peter G. Neumann, principal scientist at SRI International, an engineering research laboratory, was less excited about the arrests. He said that defeating this particular botnet did not solve the fundamental problem of computer security being too weak. Anybody could easily take the same software and create the botnet again, he said.

“You're solving a problem that wouldn't exist if the systems were designed properly,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 13, 2012, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: 10 Arrested In Theft Of Web Data.