Input Devices

The Challenge of Getting a Usable QWERTY Keyboard Onto a Dime-sized Screen 114

Posted by timothy
from the you-will-fail-at-that-task dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Researchers from Spain and Germany are building on Carnegie Mellon's work to attempt to create workable text-input interfaces for wearables, smartwatches and a new breed of IoT devices too small to accomodate even the truncated soft keyboards familiar to phone users. In certain cases, the screen area in which the keyboard must be made usable is no bigger than a dime. Of all the commercial input systems I've used, Graffiti seems like it might be the most suited to such tiny surfaces.

The BBC Looks At Rollover Bugs, Past and Approaching 50

Posted by timothy
from the ought-to-be-enough-for-anybody dept.
New submitter Merovech points out an article at the BBC which makes a good followup to the recent news (mentioned within) about a bug in Boeing's new 787. The piece explores various ways that rollover bugs in software have led to failures -- some of them truly disastrous, others just annoying. The 2038 bug is sure to bite some people; hopefully it will be even less of an issue than the Year 2000 rollover. From the article: It was in 1999 that I first wrote about this," comments [programmer William] Porquet. "I acquired the domain name and at first it was very tongue-in-cheek. It was almost a piece of satire, a kind of an in-joke with a lot of computer boffins who say, 'oh yes we'll fix that in 2037' But then I realised there are actually some issues with this.

Tesla's Household Battery: Costs, Prices, and Tradeoffs 304

Posted by timothy
from the stick-it-on-the-wall dept.
Technologist Ramez Naam (hat tip to Tyler Cowen's "Marginal Revolution" blog) has taken a look at the economics of Tesla's new wall-mounted household battery system, and concludes that it's "almost there," at least for many places in the world -- and seems to already make sense in some. From his analysis: For some parts of the US with time-of-use plans, this battery is right on the edge of being profitable. From a solar storage perspective, for most of the US, where Net Metering exists, this battery isn’t quite cheap enough. But it’s in the right ballpark. And that means a lot. Net Metering plans in the US are filling up. California’s may be full by the end of 2016 or 2017, modulo additional legal changes. That would severely impact the economics of solar. But the Tesla battery hedges against that. In the absence of Net Metering, in an expensive electricity state with lots of sun, the battery would allow solar owners to save power for the evening or night-time hours in a cost effective way. And with another factor of 2 price reduction, it would be a slam dunk economically for solar storage anywhere Net Metering was full, where rates were pushed down excessively, or where such laws didn’t exist. That is also a policy tool in debates with utilities. If they see Net Metering reductions as a tool to slow rooftop solar, they’ll be forced to confront the fact that solar owners with cheap batteries are less dependent on Net Metering. ... And the cost of batteries is plunging fast. Tesla will get that 2x price reduction within 3-5 years, if not faster.

Bill Gates Owes His Career To Steven Spielberg's Dad; You May, Too 168

Posted by timothy
from the our-fathers'-fathers'-fathers dept.
theodp writes: On the 51st birthday of the BASIC programing language, GE Reports decided it was finally time to give-credit-where-credit-was-long-overdue, reporting that Arnold Spielberg, the 98-year-old father of Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, helped revolutionize computing when he designed the GE-225 mainframe computer. The machine allowed a team of Dartmouth University students and researchers to develop BASIC, which quickly spread and ushered in the era of personal computers. BASIC helped kickstart many computing careers, include those of Bill Gates and Paul Allen, as well as Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

My High School CS Homework Is the Centerfold 608

Posted by timothy
from the awfully-thin-skin dept.
theodp writes: To paraphrase the J. Geils Band, Maddie Zug's high school computer science homework is the centerfold. In a Washington Post op-ed, Zug, a student at the top-ranked Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, argues that a centerfold does not belong in the classroom. "I first saw a picture of Playboy magazine's Miss November 1972 a year ago as a junior at TJ," Zug explains. "My artificial intelligence teacher told our class to search Google for Lena Soderberg (not the full image, though!) and use her picture to test our latest coding assignment...Soderberg has a history with computer science. In the 1970s, male programmers at the University of Southern California needed to test their image-processing algorithm. They scanned what they had handy: the centerfold of a Playboy magazine. Before long, the image became a convention in industry and academia." (Wikipedia has a nice background, too.)

The Pioneer Who Invented the Weather Forecast 33

Posted by timothy
from the kept-it-hidden-in-his-conestoga dept. writes: Peter Moore has a fascinating article on BBC about how Admiral Robert FitzRoy, the man who invented the weather forecast in the 1860s faced skepticism and even mockery in his time but whose vision of a public forecasting service, funded by government for the benefit of all, is fundamental to our way of life. Chiefly remembered today as Charles Darwin's taciturn captain on HMS Beagle, during the famous circumnavigation in the 1830s, in his lifetime FitzRoy found celebrity from his pioneering daily weather predictions, which he called by a new name of his own invention — "forecasts". There was no such thing as a weather forecast in 1854 when FitzRoy established what would later be called the Met Office. With no forecasts, fishermen, farmers and others who worked in the open had to rely on weather wisdom — the appearance of clouds or the behavior of animals — to tell them what was coming as the belief persisted among many that weather was completely chaotic. But FitzRoy was troubled by the massive loss of life at sea around the coasts of Victorian Britain where from 1855 to 1860, 7,402 ships were wrecked off the coasts with a total of 7,201 lost lives. With the telegraph network expanding quickly, FitzRoy was able to start gathering real-time weather data from the coasts at his London office. If he thought a storm was imminent, he could telegraph a port where a drum was raised in the harbor. It was, he said, "a race to warn the outpost before the gale reaches them".

For FitzRoy the forecasts were a by-product of his storm warnings. As he was analyzing atmospheric data anyway, he reasoned that he might as well forward his conclusions — fine, fair, rainy or stormy — on to the newspapers for publication. "Prophecies and predictions they are not," he wrote, "the term forecast is strictly applicable to such an opinion as is the result of scientific combination and calculation." The forecasts soon became a quirk of this brave new Victorian society. FitzRoy's forecasts had a particular appeal for the horseracing classes who used the predictions to help them pick their outfits or lay their bets.

But FitzRoy soon faced serious difficulties. Some politicians complained about the cost of the telegraphing back and forth. The response to FitzRoy's work was the beginning of an attitude that we reserve for our weather forecasters today. The papers enjoyed nothing more than conflating the role of the forecaster with that of God and the scientific community were skeptical of his methods. While the majority of fishermen were supportive, others begrudged a day's lost catch to a mistaken signal. FitzRoy retired from his west London home to Norwood, south of the capital, for a period of rest but he struggled to recover and on 30 April 1865 FitzRoy cut his throat at his residence, Lyndhurst-house, Norwood, on Sunday morning. "In time, the revolutionary nature of FitzRoy's work would be recognised," says Moore. "FitzRoy's vision of a weather-prediction service funded by government for the benefit of its citizens would not die. In 1871, the United States would start issuing its own weather "probabilities", and by the end of the decade what was now being called the Met Office would resume its own forecasts in Britain."

Submersible Photographs WW2 Japanese Sub's Long-Lost Airplane Hangar 74

Posted by timothy
from the flight-was-delayed-and-then-cancelled dept.
Zothecula writes: Until the 1960s, Japan's three I-400-class subs were the largest submarines ever built. They were so large, in fact, that they could each carry and launch three Aichi M6A Seiran amphibious aircraft. The idea was that the submarines could stealthily bring the planes to within striking distance of US coastal cities, where they could then take off and conduct bombing runs. Now, for the first time since it was scuttled at the end of World War II, one of the sunken subs' aircraft hangars has been photographed. The M6A on display at the Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center is worth seeing, if you get a chance.

Meet the Firmware Lead For Google's Project Ara Modular Smartphone (Video) 25

Posted by Roblimo
from the build-it-one-piece-at-a-time dept.
According to Wikipedia, 'Project Ara is the codename for an initiative that aims to develop an open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones.' Google is the sponsor, and the project seems to be moving faster than some people expect it to. There's a Project Ara website, of course, a GitHub repository, a Facebook page, even an Ara subreddit. During his conversation with Timothy Lord, Ara firmware project lead (and spokesman) Marti Bolivar said it won't be long before prototype Ara modular phones start user testing. Meanwhile, if you want to see what Marti and his coworkers have been up to lately, besides this interview, you can read a transcription of his talk (including slides) from the January Project Ara Developers Conference in Singapore.

Breakthough Makes Transparent Aluminum Affordable 247

Posted by Soulskill
from the hello-computer dept.
frank249 writes: In the Star Trek universe, transparent aluminum is used in various fittings in starships, including exterior ship portals and windows. In real life, Aluminium oxynitride is a form of ceramic whose properties are similar to those of the fictional substance seen in Star Trek. It has a hardness of 7.7 Mohs and was patented in 1980. It has military applications as bullet-resistant armor, but is too expensive for widespread use.

Now, there has been a major breakthrough in materials science. After decades of research and development, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory has created a transparent, bulletproof material that can be molded into virtually any shape. This material, known as Spinel (magnesium aluminate), is made from a synthetic powdered clay that is heated and pressed under vacuum into transparent sheets. Spinel weighs just a fraction of a modern bulletproof pane.

Holographic Principle Could Apply To Our Universe 129

Posted by Soulskill
from the too-cool-for-the-third-dimension dept.
New submitter citpyrc sends this news from the Vienna University of Technology: The "holographic principle" asserts that a mathematical description of the universe actually requires one fewer dimension than it seems. What we perceive as three dimensional may just be the image of two dimensional processes on a huge cosmic horizon. Up until now, this principle has only been studied in exotic spaces with negative curvature. This is interesting from a theoretical point of view, but such spaces are quite different from the space in our own universe. Results obtained by scientists at Vienna (abstract) now suggest that the holographic principle even holds in a flat spacetime, like ours.

An Open Ranking of Wikipedia Pages 39

Posted by Soulskill
from the citation-needed dept.
vigna writes: The Laboratory for Web Algorithmics of the Università degli studi di Milano did it again: after creating the first open ranking of the World Wide Web they have put together the first entirely open ranking of Wikipedia, using Wikidata to categorize pages. The ranking is based on classic and easily explainable centrality measures or page views, and it is entirely open — all data (Wikipedia and Wikidata dumps) and all software used is publicly available. Just in case you wonder, the most important food is chocolate, the most important band are the Beatles and the most important idea is atheism.

Allegation: Philly Cops Leaned Suspect Over Balcony To Obtain Password 225

Posted by timothy
from the forget-it-jake-it's-the-city-of-brotherly-love dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this news from Ars Technica: If you want access to encrypted data on a drug dealer's digital device, you might try to break the crypto—or you might just try to break the man.

According to testimony from a police corruption trial currently roiling the city of Philadelphia, officers from an undercover drug squad took the latter route back in November 2007. After arresting their suspect, Michael Cascioli, in the hallway outside his 18th floor apartment, the officers took Cascioli back inside. Although they lacked a search warrant, the cops searched Cascioli's rooms anyway. According to a federal indictment (PDF), the officers 'repeatedly assaulted and threatened [Cascioli] during the search to obtain information about the location of money, drugs, and drug suppliers.'
That included, according to Cascioli, lifting him over the edge of his balcony to try to frighten out of him the password to his Palm Pilot. That sounds like a good time for a duress password.

Amazon's Profits Are Floating On a Cloud (Computing) 83

Posted by Soulskill
from the they're-hoping-the-weather-holds dept. writes: The NY Times reports that Amazon unveiled the financial performance of its powerful growth engine for the first time on Thursday, and the numbers looked good, energized primarily by renting processing power to start-ups and, increasingly, established businesses. Amazon said in its first-quarter earnings report that its cloud division, Amazon Web Services, had revenue of $1.57 billion during the first three months of the year. Even though the company often reports losses, the cloud business is generating substantial profits. The company said its operating income from AWS was $265 million.

Amazon helped popularize the field starting in 2006 and largely had commercial cloud computing to itself for years, an enormous advantage in an industry where rivals usually watch one another closely. At the moment, there is no contest: Amazon is dominant and might even be extending its lead. Microsoft ranks a distant No. 2 in cloud computing but hopes to pick up the slack with infrastructure-related services it sells through Azure, the name of its cloud service. Amazon executives have said they expect AWS to eventually rival the company's other businesses in size. The cloud business has been growing at about 40 percent a year, more than twice the rate of the overall company and many Wall Street analysts have been hoping for a spinoff.

As for Google, the cloud was barely mentioned in Google's earnings call. Nor did the search giant offer any cloud numbers, making it impossible to gauge how well it is doing. But the enthusiasm of Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, was manifest when he spoke at an event for cloud software developers this week. "The entire world will be defined by smartphones, Android or Apple, a very fast network, and cloud computing," said Schmidt. "The space is very large, very vast, and no one is covering all of it."

Wellness App Author Lied About Cancer Diagnosis 256

Posted by timothy
from the but-this-was-my-whole-health-plan dept.
Freshly Exhumed writes: Wellness advocate Belle Gibson, who translated her high profile as a cancer survivor into publishing success, has admitted her cancer diagnosis was not real. Ms Gibson, 23, who claimed to have healed terminal brain cancer by eating wholefoods, made the admission in an interview with the Australian Women's Weekly. The success of Gibson's book, The Whole Pantry, and her smartphone application, which advocates natural therapies, has been largely dependent on her high-profile as a cancer survivor. Sadly, we've seen this sort of behaviour before. It would seem that Belle Gibson has emulated Dr. Andrew Wakefield in knowingly decieving the public in ways that could possibly be dangerous to the health of believers.

Futures Trader Arrested For Causing 2010 'Flash Crash' 310

Posted by Soulskill
from the moving-at-the-speed-of-government dept.
New submitter dfsmith writes: Apparently the "Flash Crash" of the stock market in May 2010 was perpetrated by a futures trader in the UK. The US Justice Department alleges that he used a "dynamic layering scheme" of large-volume sell orders to confuse other buyers, hence winning big in his futures trades. "By allegedly placing multiple, simultaneous, large-volume sell orders at different price points—a technique known as 'layering'—Sarao created the appearance of substantial supply in the market. As part of the scheme, Sarao allegedly modified these orders frequently so that they remained close to the market price, and typically canceled the orders without executing them. When prices fell as a result of this activity, Sarao allegedly sold futures contracts only to buy them back at a lower price. Conversely, when the market moved back upward as the market activity ceased, Sarao allegedly bought contracts only to sell them at a higher price."

'Mobilegeddon': Google To Punish Mobile-Hostile Sites Starting Today 356

Posted by timothy
from the now-there's-a-nudge dept.
jfruh writes: Google has announced that it will be adding mobile-friendliness to the list of factors that will get a site bumped up in search rankings. Sites that have no mobile versions — which includes sites owned by Wikipedia, the BBC and the European Union — will find themselves with lower Google search placement, starting today.

Robot Workers' Real Draw: Reducing Dependence on Human Workers 289

Posted by Soulskill
from the it-can-do-your-job-and-won't-complain-about-the-coffee dept. writes: Zeynep Tufekci writes in an op-ed at the NY Times that machines are getting better than humans at figuring out who to hire, who's in a mood to pay a little more for that sweater, and who needs a coupon to nudge them toward a sale. It turns out most of what we think of as expertise, knowledge and intuition is being deconstructed and recreated as an algorithmic competency, fueled by big data. "Machines aren't used because they perform some tasks that much better than humans, but because, in many cases, they do a "good enough" job while also being cheaper, more predictable and easier to control than quirky, pesky humans," writes Tufekci. "Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency."

According to Tufekci technology is being used in many workplaces: to reduce the power of humans, and employers' dependency on them, whether by replacing, displacing or surveilling them. Optimists insist that we've been here before, during the Industrial Revolution, when machinery replaced manual labor, and all we need is a little more education and better skills. Tufekci points out that one historical example is no guarantee of future events. "Confronting the threat posed by machines, and the way in which the great data harvest has made them ever more able to compete with human workers, must be about our priorities," concludes Tufekci. "This problem is not us versus the machines, but between us, as humans, and how we value one another."

Computer Beats Humans At Arimaa 58

Posted by timothy
from the call-back-when-it-can-make-a-good-egg-cream dept.
An anonymous reader writes A computer engine has beaten humans at Arimaa, an abstract strategy game, in the official human–computer challenge of the year. Sharp, as the bot is called, had to beat each of three strong human players in a best 2-out-3 contest and managed to sweep the first two rounds, thereby already guaranteeing victory. Its developer David Wu will receive a $12,000 prize, contingent on him submitting a paper describing the program to the International Computer Games Association.

Mandelbrot Zooms Now Surpass the Scale of the Observable Universe 157

Posted by timothy
from the from-here-you-can-see-forever dept.
StartsWithABang writes You're used to real numbers: that is, numbers that can be expressed as a decimal, even if it's an arbitrarily long, non-repeating decimal. There are also complex numbers, which are numbers that have a real part and also an imaginary part. The imaginary part is just like the real part, but is also multiplied by i, or the square root of -1. It's a simple definition: the Mandelbrot set consists of every possible complex number, n, where the sequence n, n^2 + n, (n^2 + n)^2 + n, etc.—where each new term is the prior term, squared, plus n—does not go to either positive or negative infinity. The scale of zoom visualizations now goes well past the limits of the observable Universe, with no signs of loss of complexity at all.

Can High Intelligence Be a Burden Rather Than a Boon? 385

Posted by timothy
from the how-can-I-still-go-on? dept. writes David Robson has an interesting article at BBC on the relationship between high intelligence and happiness. "We tend to think of geniuses as being plagued by existential angst, frustration, and loneliness," writes Robson. Think of Virginia Woolf, Alan Turing, or Lisa Simpson – lone stars, isolated even as they burn their brightest." As Ernest Hemingway wrote: "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know." The first steps to studying the question were taken in 1926 when psychologist Lewis Terman decided to identify and study a group of gifted children. Terman selected 1,500 pupils with an IQ of 140 or more – 80 of whom had IQs above 170. Together, they became known as the "Termites", and the highs and lows of their lives are still being studied to this day. "As you might expect, many of the Termites did achieve wealth and fame – most notably Jess Oppenheimer, the writer of the classic 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. Indeed, by the time his series aired on CBS, the Termites' average salary was twice that of the average white-collar job. But not all the group met Terman's expectations – there were many who pursued more "humble" professions such as police officers, seafarers, and typists. For this reason, Terman concluded that "intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated". Nor did their smarts endow personal happiness. Over the course of their lives, levels of divorce, alcoholism and suicide were about the same as the national average." According to Robson, one possibility is that knowledge of your talents becomes something of a ball and chain. During the 1990s, the surviving Termites were asked to look back at the events in their 80-year lifespan. Rather than basking in their successes, many reported that they had been plagued by the sense that they had somehow failed to live up to their youthful expectations (PDF).