Some HP laptops are hiding a deactivated keylogger

Researcher Michael Myng found a deactivated keylogger in a piece of software found on over 460 HP laptop models. A full list of affected laptops is here. The keylogger is deactivated by default but could represent a privacy concern if an attacker has physical access to the computer.

“Some time ago someone asked me if I can figure out how to control HP’s laptop keyboard backlight,” wrote Myng. “I asked for the keyboard driver SynTP.sys, opened it in IDA, and after some browsing noticed a few interesting strings.”

The strings led to something that appeared to be a hidden keylogger – a program that sends typed characters to an attacker – in a Synaptic device driver. Given that the decompiled code prepared and sent key presses to an unnamed target, Myng was fairly certain he had something interesting on his hands.

Luckily, HP responded quickly.

“I tried to find HP laptop for rent and asked a few communities about that but got almost no replies,” he said. “One guy even thought that I am a thief trying to rob someone. So, I messaged HP about the finding. They replied terrificly fast, confirmed the presence of the keylogger (which actually was a debug trace) and released an update that removes the trace.”

The bottom line? Update your HP laptop as soon as possible. If you are on HP’s list of affected laptops you can download the fix here.

The 5-year bootstrapped odyssey of Sno-Go, a snow bike for the everyday ski mountain visitor

Skiing has always been something of a nightmare for me. I first “learned” how to ski in middle school, and still to this day don’t really understand how to stop. I once went to a “black diamond” mountain in Minnesota (read: gently sloping Midwest hill) and had to slam myself into the ground before skiing straight into the ski chalet.

I’m hardly alone in my fear of skiing. The ski and snowboard industry is suffering a generational downturn in the sport, driven by less snow due to climate change as well as an increasingly sedentary population of young athletes more addicted to their smartphones than to the slopes. While several top resorts are growing exceptionally well, many other locations are shrinking and at risk of disappearing.

Cue Sno-Go. The product, the brainchild of Utah-based co-founders Chase Wagstaff and Obed Marrder, is a “snow bike” with three skis and handlebars that allows any person to get back onto the mountains.

Riding the bike is simple. Riders stand on the back two skis just as they normally would with traditional skis, but instead of holding ski poles, they grip the handlebars connected to the front ski. The whole bike articulates as you move your weight from one side of the bike to the other, allowing the rider to navigate hills with ease.


For Wagstaff and Marrder, the product — and the startup they are building — is the culmination of a years-long pursuit of a better ski experience.

The two first met in seventh grade, and both faced similar challenges with skiing. “I come from a family of five boys, and all of my brothers are practically professional skiers, so from an early age I was forced to go to the mountains,” Wagstaff explained. Yet, he didn’t like skiing, and couldn’t get into snowboarding either. Marrder tried skiing, but on his first attempt broke his wrist, and on his first attempt to snowboard, broke a thumb.

Instead, the two got into mountain biking, and biked every summer. That worked great when the mountains were clear, but was hard in winter when snow made biking impossible. “Winter-time was just dreadful since we didn’t participate in any winter sport,” Wagstaff said, and so he and Marrder would be left behind as his family and friends headed up to the ski resorts for a weekend of fun.

After graduating high school, the two hatched a variety of businesses, together and separately, including businesses in auto detailing, mobile phone repair, and nutrition supplements. Despite hard work around each of their entrepreneurial ventures, the two walked away with a string of failures, and their goal of becoming millionaires impossibly distant. Then an epiphany came. “Our businesses were all failing, and we hadn’t had much success,” Wagstaff explained. “We realized we weren’t passionate about what we were doing, and we were just starting businesses.”

The two ran into the snow bike concept online and were intrigued by the technology. They ordered a couple of models and for the first time, started to enjoy their time on the ski slopes.

The two decided to try prototyping some snow bike concepts. Wagstaff noted that at the time, only one resort in all of Utah would allow ski bikes — Brighton Ski Resort. So the two started inquiring what the resorts concerns were. Two main issues came up that blocked allowance: the challenge of getting a ski bike onto a chairlift, and the risk that the bike would cut deep treads into the snow, making the mountain unsafe for other skiers.

Most ski bikes at the time used two skis, but the two founders realized that a three-ski model made far more sense. They could align the three skis in such a way that the treads they left behind were identical to a standard pair of skis. They now had a concept, but prototyping a bike was expensive. Engineering and production would cost tens of thousands of dollars to get a model out, and unlike in Silicon Valley, there wasn’t an immediate rush of venture capital to launch the company, nor was their exit money from a pervious venture return.

So Wagstaff and Marrder did what any bootstrapped entrepreneur knows dearly: they worked side gigs to fund their dreams. “What we did was do door-to-door sales every summer, and then we just poured that money into development,” Wagstaff said. Over a period of five years, the pair built a series of seven prototypes, each one getting better and more focused on their vision of what a snow bike could be.

In 2015, they were ready to go. The two scouted out a manufacturing partner in Utah with factories in China to produce the units. And then they launched a Kickstarter, which raised $42,710 from more than one hundred backers, with sales to more than 15 countries. “We realized we were on to something, so we started talking with some local investors,” and the two built a syndicate of local Utah business leaders to fund the first round into the company.

Fast-forward a season, and Sno-Go has launched an Indiegogo that has already raised almost $60,000. The base cost of their bike is $1,699, with a special rate for Indiegogo backers of $1,399. Part of that cost is the state-of-the-art Rockshox fork, which itself is hundreds of dollars per unit. Moving forward, the company intends to build a kids bike targeting a $700-800 price point so that whole families can come together skiing.

For Wagstaff, seeing the vision for the product come to life has been rewarding, but the true value has come from customers who have suddenly gained the ability to ski for the first time. “We get a ton [of customers] from the adaptive community,” Wagstaff said. He noted that several customers are veterans with injuries who can’t use traditional skis, but can ride a snow bike because it gives them more stability while riding.

Wagstaff noted that, “When we started this business, it was just for us, we didn’t have any intentions of impacting the lives that we are. So many people can benefit from us.” For two bootstrapped founders, toiling summer after summer has suddenly meant building a far more vibrant winter, and a path to becoming the ski business moguls they always dreamed about.

Featured Image: Sno-Go

Researchers train robots to see into the future

Robots usually react in real time: something happens, they respond. Now researchers University of California, Berkeley are working on a system that lets robots “imagine the future of their actions” so that they can interact with things they’ve never seen before.

The technology is called visual foresight and it allows “robots to predict what their cameras will see if they perform a particular sequence of movements.”

Write the researchers:

These robotic imaginations are still relatively simple for now – predictions made only several seconds into the future – but they are enough for the robot to figure out how to move objects around on a table without disturbing obstacles. Crucially, the robot can learn to perform these tasks without any help from humans or prior knowledge about physics, its environment or what the objects are. That’s because the visual imagination is learned entirely from scratch from unattended and unsupervised exploration, where the robot plays with objects on a table. After this play phase, the robot builds a predictive model of the world, and can use this model to manipulate new objects that it has not seen before.


“In the same way that we can imagine how our actions will move the objects in our environment, this method can enable a robot to visualize how different behaviors will affect the world around it,” said Sergey Levine, assistant professor at Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineeing and Computer Sciences. “This can enable intelligent planning of highly flexible skills in complex real-world situations.”

The system uses convolutional recurrent video prediction to “predict how pixels in an image will move from one frame to the next based on the robot’s actions.” This means that it can play out scenarios before it begins touching or moving objects.

“In that past, robots have learned skills with a human supervisor helping and providing feedback. What makes this work exciting is that the robots can learn a range of visual object manipulation skills entirely on their own,” said Chelsea Finn, a doctoral student in Levine’s lab and inventor of the original DNA model.

The robot needs no special information about its surroundings or any special sensors. A camera is used to analyze the scene and then act accordingly, much as we can predict what will happen if we move objects on a table into each other.

“Children can learn about their world by playing with toys, moving them around, grasping, and so forth. Our aim with this research is to enable a robot to do the same: to learn about how the world works through autonomous interaction,” Levine said. “The capabilities of this robot are still limited, but its skills are learned entirely automatically, and allow it to predict complex physical interactions with objects that it has never seen before by building on previously observed patterns of interaction.”

Featured Image: Kevin Smart/Getty Images

Zelda expansion, Death Stranding and other titles hyped at The Game Awards

The Game Awards, an event that’s exactly what it sounds like, took place shortly ago and, like any gaming event, it was shot through with trailers and announcements. What’s the biggest announcement, you ask? It’s probably a tie between the sudden release of a new expansion for Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a teaser for the next project from From Software, the creators of Dark Souls and Bloodborne.

Well, let’s be honest – a new Zelda expansion, available now, is pretty much the only thing that matters in the world. Everything else can wait.


The Champions’ Ballad appears to be a follow-up to the original story, with the four champions working to defeat “the beast” once and for all. More importantly, there’s new horse armor that lets you teleport your mount to your location instantly. New weapons and armor await, and it also looks like there are a number of new shrines and larger dungeons. Oh, and you get an “ancient” motorcycle. I’d be playing it now if I hadn’t left my Zelda cartridge in the U.S. when I crossed the pond for Disrupt Berlin. What was I thinking?!

Less immediate but perhaps ultimately more intriguing is From Software’s minimal trailer for its new game, which has no name but does have a tagline: “Shadows Die Twice.” Some speculate this is a reboot of Shadow Tower, one of From’s earliest games, but others point out that not only is this a line from venerated ninja series Tenchu, but the music and writing suggest a Japanese theme. No one is quite sure what the gruesome hardware on display is, though my guess is it’s a grapple made from a bone.

Next on the hype train is Death Stranding, the next project from Hideo Kojima, of Metal Gear fame. In the longest and most substantive look at the game so far, which really isn’t saying much, we see a space-suited-up Norman Reedus attempting in vain to hide from invisible and enigmatic pursuers that seem to be attracted to… suffering? Life? Anything but the baby in bottle that later turns up inside Reedus.


We’re really no wiser than we were before, but Kojima’s eye for the uncanny and dramatic is clear. He may be rather off the rails, but often our most interesting artists are.

Some other trailers of note: The developers of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a creepy mystery, show off their latest project, Witchfire.


But if you were expecting another somber, slow-moving affair, the developers would like to remind you that they were also behind the excellent Painkiller and underrated Bulletstorm. It looks like a high-energy shoot-em-up in a strange, arcane world.

I’m particularly interested in Campo Santo’s In the Valley of the Gods, in which it appears you and a partner (likely computer controlled) infiltrate a tomb not to raid it, but to document it with an old-timey movie camera.


Perhaps you’re not as much of an antiquarian as I am, but this looks like it should be a very interesting little adventure.

Some other things worth noting: Bayonetta 3 was teased as a Switch exclusive, along with remasters of 1 and 2. This should please hardcore action fans who might not be satisfied with the console’s otherwise great selection of games.

And the soul still burns: Soul Calibur 6 was announced, though honestly I’m still happy to play the original on Dreamcast.

Lytro’s ‘living pictures’ cease to live

As part of its move away from consumer gear towards professional cinema hardware, Lytro has killed off the site that once hosted its “living pictures,” still photos taken with its cameras that could be refocused after the fact. This will turn a handful of those pictures, where they had been embedded on the web over the past few years, into empty frames. If you want to see light field images now, you’ll need to see them in the desktop app.

In 2012, when I reviewed the original Lytro camera, I wrote:

“The Lytro software is limited to browsing your photos and grouping them into ‘stories,’ and you can upload them directly to (and only to) Lytro, which will serve them for… eternity, you hope. Not much of a choice there.”

As I half expected would be the case at the time, eternity turned out to be on the short side — until it became inconvenient for the company to host it. Of course, it’s unlikely there were many active users of the service now; Lytro left the consumer camera market two years ago when there proved to be little demand for its technically amazing but ultimately gimmicky cameras.

Non-living picture

One never should trust services that offer so little flexibility in how you access and serve your own data, but Lytro’s tech was unique in that it essentially required a special plug-in to view properly. These plug-ins you would embed wherever you wanted to share a “living picture,” a rather clumsy clumsy solution that contributed to the usability problems endemic to the whole Lytro proposition.

The living picture format is done forever unless the company releases some way to self-host them, but it seems unlikely. Any remaining users will have to export to ordinary stills or movie files in the desktop app.

I’m happy to see Lytro evolving and applying its very cool tech to a new market, but the bumpy road it has traveled is littered with lessons for young hardware startups.

Gomer is a soft robot that can bother your cat

If there’s any sort of trend in robotics this year it’s soft hands. Robots with soft pinchers are quite useful in picking up – and not breaking – objects and now you can enjoy a soft-handed robot at home.

The robot is called Gomer and it’s available now on Indiegogo. The little robot had an expressive face and a big claw on top. You can play games with Gomer – my kids liked keep-away in which the robot steals a box and then tries to run away from you – or you can train him to pick up objects or explore his surroundings.

I had an early version of Gomer and our techie family found him very cute. At $229 for early birds you’re not paying much for a smart wheeled robot and he has a nice little SDK for programming. They’ve also designed him to be able to play with your pets, as evidenced by the short video of Gomer tormenting a grey cat.

Dr. Jonathan Liu created Gomer as part of his research into soft robotics. His co-founder, Eric Zhao, worked in robotics and embedded systems.

“For the first time, soft robotics is not exclusive to factories and other industry specific products, but are made consumer friendly and for the masses,”said Liu. “Gomer is easy to use for anyone, but also has an open API for developers who want to customize Gomer. In addition, Gomer’s AI recognizes facial expressions and can express its own based on what he sees.”


“When the Gomer team finished graduate school, we had a clear idea of what we wanted to do with with our research results: a robot that combined the helpfulness and attitude of Dobby with the playfulness of Baymax. We invented Gomer to bring this dream into reality, and to bring to the world a new being with the liveliness and distinctiveness of our favorite animated characters,” he said.

Amazon Prime Video finally lands on Apple TV

Tim Cook said six months ago Amazon Prime Video was coming to Apple TV sometime before the end of the year. And here it is: the long-awaited app is finally available on Apple TV and the iOS flavor was updated to support the iPhone X.

The native tvOS versions is compatible with Apple TV 3rd generation devices or later. If the app isn’t visible yet, try searching for Amazon Prime Video on the Apple TV and it should pop-up.

The release of the Apple TV app could signal Apple TV’s return to Amazon, as well. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said previously that the retailer would not sell the streaming device until it was compatible with Prime services.

“We want our player, our Prime Video player, to be on the device, and we want it to be on the device with acceptable business terms,” said Bezos at Code Conference 2016. “And if you can’t, then we don’t want to sell it to our customers, because they’re going to be buying it thinking they can watch Prime Video and then they’re going to be disappointed. And they’re going to return it.”

The Amazon Prime Video app was the lone missing streaming service from the Apple TV, where Netflix, Hulu and the rest had previously been available.

Now if only Apple could fix the terrible Apple TV remote.