U.S. and South Korea delay anti-submarine exercises

(CNN) — South Korea and the United States postponed joint anti-submarine military exercises due to an approaching tropical storm, U.S. Forces Korea said.

The exercises were scheduled to begin Sunday and run through Thursday, the forces said in a statement. Tropical Storm Malou is forecast to arrive in the region Monday.

Military officials said the exercise could have gone ahead despite the weather, but safety concerns prompted the postponement.

“Although the alliance is capable of operating in all weather conditions, this decision was made in the interest of safety for the participants,” the U.S. military said in its statement. “Both high winds and heavy seas would have directly impacted the exercise area and the training objectives.”

The exercises will be rescheduled but a new date has not been set, the statement said.

U.S. officials have said the naval exercises off the western coast of the Korean peninsula are in response to North Korea’s alleged sinking of a South Korean warship last March.

“We said that we would continue a series of exercises that are defensive in nature, that are designed to send a clear message to North Korea,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in August.

Tensions between North Korea and South Korea, as well as between North Korea and the U.S., have escalated since a May report from Seoul, South Korea, blamed the North for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

The report, whose findings have been endorsed by the U.S., alleged that a North Korean sub sank the Cheonan warship with a torpedo, killing 46 sailors.

North Korea denies it sunk the ship and has sharply criticized the military exercises, describing them as war games conducted under a false pretext.

“The U.S. forces side would be seriously mistaken if it calculates it can browbeat [North Korea] through large-scale war exercises,” the state-run KCNA news agency said in July. “It should immediately stop the [anti-North Korean] nuclear war racket.”

“[This] double-dealing attitude is a dangerous one of driving the situation on the Korean Peninsula to a war phase,” KCNA said.


What’s next for ‘check-in’ apps?

(CNN) — Seth Priebatsch was at a burrito joint in Boston recently when a message popped up on his smartphone from an app called SCVNGR.

If he opened the foil on the burrito ever so carefully and turned the wrapper into a piece of origami art — and if he uploaded a picture of his creation to the app, the note said, then he would earn points toward a free burrito.

Priebatsch thought: That might be fun.

“I made a really weak origami crane, because I’m no origami artist myself,” he said, but “it got me closer to unlocking a free burrito, which was cool.”

SCVNGR, which Priebatsch helped create, is one of the latest apps to build on top of the idea of a “check-in,” that emerging term some tech-savvy people use to describe the act of using a GPS-enabled smartphone to share their whereabouts with friends.

Increasingly, app developers are using existing location-based social networks — such as Foursquare, Gowalla and, most recently, Facebook Places — to create games, challenges, city guides and dating services.

It seems the “check-in” was just the beginning.

SCVNGR, for example, announced its integration with Facebook Places on Friday. That means people can use that free Android and iPhone app to complete challenges similar to Priebatsch’s origami experiment and share that information easily with friends on Facebook. People on SCVNGR (pronounced “scavenger”) also will be able to see the locations of their friends who use Facebook Places.

Users also can go onto the app and create their own challenges if they’ve earned enough points, Priebatsch said.

‘Check-in fatigue’

Other location-based apps seek to make the act of checking in easier.

Tim Sears said he developed the Future Checkin iPhone app, for example, to help people combat a phenomenon he calls “check-in fatigue.”

The app automatically checks users in through the Foursquare network when they go within a 300-meter radius of one of their favorite locations.

That’s a big help if you’re the kind of person who checks in all the time and gets sick of pulling your phone out of your pocket constantly to do so, he said. And it also may help cut down on the social awkwardness of checking in if you’re with friends who would rather you talk to them than stare at a phone.

“If I’m at my house and I know I’m going to be at P.F. Chang’s later to grab Chinese food, I could search for that place [on the app], hit ‘add to favorites’ and it has it on my favorites list at that point,” Sears said, “so when I get with in 300 meters of P.F. Chang’s it will automatically check me in and send me a notification message.”


An open-source group called geoloqi is trying to take that idea of an automated check-in radius even further.

The volunteer group of app developers, which is based in Portland, Oregon, is working on a website and app that will help trigger events if and when a person walks up to certain pre-set locations.

For example, you would be able to set the app to text you your shopping list when you went within a certain distance of your favorite grocery store.

Or, if you didn’t show up to work by 9 a.m., you could set the app automatically to e-mail your boss saying that you’re late, said Aaron Parecki, geoloqi’s founder.

“We’re calling these geonotes,” he said, “and these are location-based notes so you can leave yourself a note that is tied to a location and pops up when you’re there.”

The site and the app should be up and running in about a month, he said. Geoloqi won’t be a social network, exactly, but it could be integrated into Foursquare, Gowalla or other location-based networks, he said. The group has one new project up — it’s a Seattle, Washington-based website that can send you a text message, in real time, when a 911 call is placed within a certain radius of you.

Check-in guides

Other add-ons act more like guides to a city.

Foursquare has developed a number of innovative partnerships with corporations that want to advertise through the network, said Marshall Kirkpatrick, the lead writer at the tech blog ReadWriteWeb.

The Independent Film Channel, for example, launched a challenge for its viewers to review theaters, coffee shops and restaurants that exemplify the IFC brand, he said. The company picked its favorites, and people who follow IFC on Foursquare get notifications and reviews if they’re nearby.

Bravo, another TV channel, also has a similar integration with Foursquare. The channel’s pseudo stars, such as Lynne Curtin from “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” submit reviews of their favorite spots on the app.

Yelp, the restaurant and venue review site, also has added check-ins and is expected to integrate soon with Facebook Places. On the wackier side of things, an Android app called Pee*Free collected information from Foursquare users about public toilets to get you a rated guide to free, public commodes near you.

Finally, a website called Where Do You Go takes a person’s Foursquare check-ins and plots them on a heat map — giving you a good idea of which neighborhoods in your city you visit most often and which others you may want to explore.

Location games

Other developers are interested in turning the real world into a game.

Some are using check-ins to do so, although most of these appear to be in the earliest stages, said Brian Crecente, editor-in-chief at the gaming blog Kotaku.

A few games build on top of the Foursquare network. One, called Mayor War, encourages users of that app “to fight each other with virtual weapons in real locations.”

“Use eggs, wedgies, wet wellies and many more weapons to fight your friends and fellow mayors on Foursquare venues,” a description of that app says.

Another, called Mob Zombies, uses location as part of a zombie fighting game.


Other check-in-based apps try to save people money.

A app called shopkick, for example, is trying to combine some gamelike features with real-world shopping deals.

When you sign into the app, you’re shown a list of nearby retail stores. Some of those stores offer you deals if you check in from their location; others may give you a discount or points if you just walk in; and still others require you to complete some sort of challenge — like taking a photo of merchandise — before earning points.

Points in shopkick can be redeemed for gift cards and other prizes.

The app only works in certain cities for now, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, California, and Chicago, Illinois, according to the app’s website.

Further innovation

These apps may only be the beginning.

For developers to build on top of existing check-in apps, the owners of those apps must open their code for developers to tinker with.

Foursquare did this in November 2009, but others have only opened up recently or may do so in the near future. Gowalla, one of Foursquare’s direct competitors, opened its code up for developers this month.

Facebook Places announced it would let a group of select partners, including Foursquare, tinker with its code.

Facebook said it will open up its check-in code to everyone to write on top of in “coming months.”

That will give developers a chance to put new check-in-based apps out to Facebook’s 500 million users around the globe.

This doesn’t ensure the success of check-in-based apps, said Kirkpatrick, from ReadWriteWeb, but he said he hopes it will give this idea a boost.


‘Plan B’ could mean speedier rescue of Chilean miners

Copiapo, Chile (CNN) — Engineers in Chile said on Saturday that they have come up with a “Plan B” that could halve the time it would take to rescue the 33 miners trapped underground since August 5, but the country’s mining minister quickly cautioned against setting what he called unreasonable expectations.

Walter Herrera, quality control and risk manager for Chilean mining company GeoTech, said his company was bringing a specialized device — a Scram T-130 drill, typically used for boring water holes — to the San Jose mine. He told CNN the drill could be on site and working within five to six days.

Herrera added that the plan hinges on using one of the three bore holes, measuring 4 inches each in diameter, which has already been drilled and is being used to pass the miners supplies. The drill would use that bore hole as a pilot and simply widen the diameter to about 28 inches, which officials have said is wide enough for the miners to pass through.

“I don’t want to put a time frame on this,” Herrera said. “We think it could be quicker than the other plan. In ideal conditions, this could take around two months.”

But later Saturday, Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne told reporters that the alternative plan might not be put into operation, and might not work even if it is implemented.

“We cannot let our expectations get beyond what is reasonable,” said Golborne, who spoke outside the mine.

He added the new drill would be used initially to widen one of the 4-inch holes to around 12 inches in diameter, to facilitate sending supplies to the miners. Golborne stressed he did not know whether that same drill would then be used to make the hole large enough so that the trapped miners could pass through it.

The miners have been told they could be stuck underground for as long as four months, the head of the rescue operation said Friday.

Officials expect drilling on a rescue shaft, a process that workers have said could take four months to complete, to begin Sunday or Monday.

Herrera said both operations — to drill the rescue shaft and widen the bore hole — could be carried out at the same time.

Still, even under the best-case scenario, the trapped miners will be underground for quite some time, posing a host of practical and psychological problems. To help solve them, Chilean officials are looking in unlikely places.

An official at NASA, the U.S. space agency, said on Friday that the organization has been asked by Chile to help provide nutritional and behavioral health support to the miners. A four-person team, including two physicians and a psychologist, are planning to go to Chile next week, said Michael Duncan, NASA’s lead on the Chile effort.

NASA has a long history in dealing with isolated environments and thinks experiences in space and underground are not too different, he said.

“It’s an opportunity to us to bring the space-flight experience back down to the ground,” Duncan said.

Chilean Health Minister Jaime Manalich told reporters on Saturday that 61 metal cylinders have been sent to the miners in the last 24 hours, containing such essentials as water, letters and clean cotton clothing. Rescue workers have also been pumping down compressed, cool air periodically in a bid to keep the enclosed space fresh.

Manalich said each miner has received about 1,500 calories of food in the past day and can expect up to get up to 2,000 calories of food by Sunday.

The rescue effort has been dubbed the “Saint Lorenzo Operation,” after one of the miners’ patron saints.

The miners have been trying to keep their spirits — and the spirits of their loved ones — from flagging. They sent a video message to their families earlier this week in which they expressed thanks for the efforts under way to free them and displayed occasional flashes of humor.

The images showed the 50-square-meter (about 540-square-foot) living space occupied by the men since they were trapped by the collapse of a mine shaft. Some appeared heavily bearded, all of them were stripped to the waist. A thermometer showed 29.5 degrees Celsius, (about 85 degrees Fahrenheit), a little cooler than officials had estimated.

Some of the men were standing, others were lying down. “Oh, you’re sleeping on a box-spring bed,” joked one man to another, who is sprawled out on a pile of rocks.

On a crate sat a set of dominoes; on a wall were two first-aid boxes. Nearby were two stretchers.

Out of the view of the camera, as one miner finished his message, another could be heard saying, “Get us out of here soon.”

Family members who saw the video in a private screening said their loved ones appeared thin, but healthy and in good spirits.

Doctors have given the miners advice about how to keep their limited living space clean: Portions of a 1-meter-high (3.3 feet), 40-meter-long (about 130 feet) shaft are being used as a latrine.

It is connected to the main cabin, which is being used for sleeping, washing and praying.

Health Minister Manalich said the trapped miners have organized themselves into shifts to patrol the underground space and to monitor the arrival of shipments sent from above. Rescue workers plan to establish a permanent line of communication by early next week, which would allow miners to talk directly with their family members and friends.

Manalich also reported that all of the miners, including ones who were previously thought to be showing signs of anxiety and depression, are doing well.

“There has been an enormous improvement and some of the miners we were worried about yesterday are now in good shape,” he said.


How to create a ‘super password’

(CNN) — Say goodbye to those wimpy, eight-letter passwords.

The 12-character era of online security is upon us, according to a report published this week by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The researchers used clusters of graphics cards to crack eight-character passwords in less than two hours.

But when the researchers applied that same processing power to 12-character passwords, they found it would take 17,134 years to make them snap.

“The length of your password in some cases can dictate the vulnerability,” said Joshua Davis, a research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

It’s hard to say what will happen in the future, but for now, 12-character passwords should be the standard, said Richard Boyd, a senior research scientist who also worked on the project.

The researchers recommend 12-character passwords — as opposed to those with 11 or, say, 13 characters — because that number strikes a balance between “convenience and security.”

They assumed a sophisticated hacker might be able to try 1 trillion password combinations per second. In that scenario, it takes 180 years to crack an 11-character password, but there’s a big jump when you add just one more character — 17,134 years.

Passwords have gotten longer over time, and security experts are already recommending that people use full sentences as passwords.

Here’s one suggested password-sentence from Carnegie Mellon University:

“No, the capital of Wisconsin isn’t Cheeseopolis!”

Or maybe something that’s easier to remember, like this:

“I have two kids: Jack and Jill.”

Even though advances in cheap computing power are making long, complicated passwords a necessity, not all websites will accommodate them, Boyd said.

It’s best to use the longest and most complex password a site will allow, he said. For example, if a website will let you create a password with non-letter characters — like “@y;}v%W$\5\” — then you should do so.

There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, but there are 95 letters and symbols on a standard keyboard. More characters means more permutations, and it soon becomes more difficult to for a computer to generate the correct password just by guessing.

Some websites allow for super-long passwords. The longest one Boyd has seen is at Fidelity.com, a financial site that lets users create 32-character passwords.

On a Microsoft website devoted to password security, the tech giant tells the password-creating public not to use real words or logical combinations of letters. That keeps you safer from a “dictionary attack,” which uses a database of words and common character sequences to try to guess the code.

The Georgia Tech researchers carried out a “brute force” attack when they determined that passwords should be at least 12 characters long.

To do so, they deployed computer graphics cards, which are cheap and can be programmed to do basic computations very quickly.

The processors in those cards run simultaneously, trying to guess all of the possible password combinations. The more characters in a password, the more guesses are required.

But if your password has to be really long in order to keep up with this computational power — and if you’re supposed to have a new password for each website you frequent — then how are you supposed to remember everything?

That’s a real problem, the Georgia Tech researchers said.

There are a few solutions, however.

A website called Password Safe will store a list of passwords for you, but Boyd and Davis said it may still be possible for a hacker to obtain that list.

Other companies sell tokens that people carry around with them. These keychain-sized devices generate random numbers several times a minute, and users must enter those numbers and a shorter password to log in.

Some sites — Facebook for example — are marketing their log-ins and user names as a way to access sites all over the Web.

That’s good for the user but is potentially dangerous because if hackers figure out a single password, they can access multiple banks of information, the researchers said.

The reason passwords have to keep getting longer is that computers and graphics cards are getting faster, the Georgia Tech researchers said.

“These things are really inexpensive — just a few hundred dollars — and they have a performance that’s comparable to supercomputers of only just a few years ago,” Boyd said of fast-processing graphics cards.

Maybe our brains will have to get bigger and faster, too. We’ll need some way to remember these tome-like character strings.


Tropical depression in Atlantic expected to become hurricane

(CNN) — A tropical depression moving through the Atlantic Ocean will likely become a hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said Saturday, though the storm is not expected to make landfall.

The storm was relatively weak Saturday, with maximum sustained winds of 30 miles per hour, but “all reliable guidance makes the depression a hurricane within a few days,” the National Hurricane Center said in a Saturday evening advisory.

Conditions ahead of the storm, known as Tropical Depression 6, are favorable for strengthening, which means it is likely to become Tropical Storm Danielle as soon as early Sunday.

“All model guidance has this as a large hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic for the middle of next week,” CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras said. “The current forecast track has the storm staying clear of land through mid-late week.”

There are no coastal watches or warnings in effect for the storm, the National Hurricane Center said Saturday.

It is too early, however, to say that the storm will definitely steer clear of the United States, forecasters said, because of possible changes in the long-range forecast.

On Saturday, the tropical depression was 580 miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands, off the west African coast.

If the depression builds into a hurricane, it would be the second of the season. Hurricane Alex left thousands in northeastern Mexico in shelters in late June and early July.

Gulf oil traces spread east on sea floor, researchers say

St. Petersburg, Florida (CNN) — Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill may have settled to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico further east than previously suspected and at levels toxic to marine life, researchers reported Monday.

Initial findings from a new survey of the Gulf conclude that dispersants may have sent the oil to the ocean floor, where it has turned up at the bottom of an undersea canyon within 40 miles of the Florida Panhandle. Plankton and other organisms showed a “strong toxic response” to the crude, according to researchers from the University of South Florida.

“The dispersant is moving the oil down out of the surface and into the deeper waters, where it can affect phytoplankton and other marine life,” said John Paul, a marine microbiologist at USF.

Results of the latest survey are scheduled to be released Tuesday, but CNN obtained a summary of the initial conclusions Monday night. Tests conducted offshore indicate the oil matches the 205-million-gallon Deepwater Horizon spill, which has been temporarily capped for a month, the summary states.

Some of it has spread into the DeSoto Canyon, a channel on the ocean floor east of the ruptured well. That canyon comprises part of the spawning grounds for much of the Gulf’s commercial fish. “To date, this is the easternmost location for the occurrence of subsurface oils,” the report states.

The oil is not “draping” across the bottom, but is spread out in “small, unevenly distributed droplets,” the report states. USF chemical oceanographer David Hollander said that when an ultraviolet light used to detect oil was turned onto the sea floor, “All of a sudden, it turns out to be a constellation of little dots.”
And the oil could well up onto the continental shelf and resurface later, Paul said. Or it could be eaten by fish and other animals and accumulate in the food chain, Hollander said.

“It’s in such small droplets that you can see it — you can filter it and see it,” he said. “But if you look at it, it’s transparent, and small larval fish see these droplets as food so they’re ingesting pure oil.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has previously reported some oil turning up in the sediment at the bottom of the Gulf, but has not determined whether it came from the Deepwater Horizon spill that erupted in April or whether it was already present. And on August 4, the head of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration warned that oil could persist in the water even though the well has been temporarily capped.

The oil company BP used more than 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants on the Deepwater Horizon spill between its eruption in late April and the time the well was capped in mid-July. BP says the chemicals allowed the oil to be broken up into droplets small enough that microbes can digest it, and the Environmental Protection Agency has said the dispersants were no more toxic than the oil itself.

Critics warned the full effect of the dispersants on the food chain was not known and that their use in deep water effectively concealed the full extent of the spill.

NOAA spokeswoman Mary Jane Schramm said on Monday that she had not seen the latest study and couldn’t comment on it. BP spokesman John Curry, meanwhile, said the company wants “to know everything everyone wants to know.”

The company is responsible for capping, cleaning up and compensating victims of the oil spill, and it has committed to spending $500 million to research the spill’s impact over the next 10 years. The latest study will “add another piece to the puzzle,” Curry said.

“There will be others that’ll want to look at this study and want to look at doing some additional research,” he said. “There’s been extensive testing up to this point, and I’m sure there will be much more going forward.”

Booking a flight? Visit Facebook

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) — Booking a flight just got more social.

Delta Air Lines unveiled a new feature on their Facebook page Thursday that allows fliers to book air travel entirely through Facebook.

Dubbed the “Ticket Window,” the new tool comes just days after the company gave its homepage a thorough redesign as part of what Delta says is a larger plan to improve the online experience for customers.

Delta says other plans include improvements to airport kiosks, and a new iPhone app that will let fliers check in, research flight statuses, check frequent-flier-mile balances, and even set parking reminders.

Passengers in certain hub cities will be able to use the app as a boarding pass — a feature already available on their mobile site.

“Unlocking the full power of social media and mobile apps is the next step for Delta, while providing innovative travel tools and greater convenience in our customer’s mobile world,” said Bob Kupbens in a written press release.

The move comes in the midst of an already fiercely competitive commercial air travel market. In May, Continental and United airlines announced a definitive merger plan, making it the world’s biggest air carrier — a title previously held by Delta.