mikejuk writes with an excerpt from I Programmer on a neat swarm of robots that use flying drones to build a map of their environment: "How can a swarm of robots get a global picture of its environment? Easy it simply sends up a drone. We are used to thinking of drones as being used for surveillance by humans operating on the ground, but what is good for humans is good for robots too. The drone can view the overall terrain and run simulations of what configurations of robots could best traverse the slopes. Once it has worked out how to assemble the robots into a single machine the drone has to communicate the plan to the swarm using a protocol based on the colored lights they all have. The ground robots adopt a random color and the drone selects the one it wants to communicate with by displaying the same color. They then repeat the process until only one robot has been selected i.e the drone follows the color changes of the selected robot. Of course if you don't like the idea of human drones flying over your head you may not be happy about robots getting in on the act as well..." Original paper
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
kkleiner writes "Short on arable land? One solution would be to plan up. Singapore, a small country that imports most of its food, has now begun selling vegetables from its first vertical farm. And even while they're more expensive the vegetables are already selling faster than they can be grown. If the farms prove sustainable – both technologically and economically – they could provide a much desired supplement to Singapore's locally grown food and serve as a model for farming in other land-challenged areas."
Phil Shapiro isn't famous, but he's a pretty good writer whose work appears regularly at opensource.com. He makes his living as the tech support person (he calls it "public nerd") at the Takoma Park Maryland Library. He has also -- see the link to his bio page above -- lived in New Delhi, India; Copenhagen, Denmark; Paris, France; and Scarsdale, New York. He got started with Linux as a "social justice" thing; because Linux and FOSS helped make it possible for people of modest means (we used to just call them "poor") to learn about computers and get on the Internet. He's still a big "computer for the masses" advocate and computer rehab volunteer. What's especially interesting about this interview (which is slightly out of sound/visual synch; you may prefer reading the transcript) is the amount of credit Phil gives Slashdot for spurring him on and getting him excited about FOSS. He also sees Slashdot as instrumental in helping start the Maker subculture. Do you agree? If so, should influencing the future of technology be Slashdot's main mission? Also: If so, how do you suggest we do it? And more specifically, do you know any other non-famous Slashdot readers (or people in general) we should talk to because they are doing interesting things?
jenningsthecat writes "Public payphones seem headed the way of the dinosaur, as noted here on Slashdot 10 years ago, and again by the CBC earlier this year. Reasons typically cited for their demise are falling usage, (thanks to the ubiquitous cell phone), and rising maintenance costs. But during the recent disaster in NYC caused by Hurricane Sandy public payphones proved their worth, allowing people to stay in contact in spite of the widespread loss of both cellular service and the electricity required to charge mobile devices. In light of this news, at least one Canadian news outlet is questioning the wisdom of scrapping payphones. Should we in North America make sure that public pay phones will always be widely available? (After all, it's not as though they don't have additional value-added uses). And, should their continued existence be dependent on corporations whose primary duty is to their shareholders, rather than to the average citizen?"
juicegg writes "TechCrunch contributor Klint Finley writes that developers have shunned unions because traditional workplace demands like higher pay are not important to us while traditional unions are incapable of advocating for what developers care about most while at work: autonomy and self-management. Is this how most developers feel? What about overtime, benefits, conditions for contractors and outsourcing concerns? Are there any issues big enough to get developers and techies to make collective demands or is it not worth the risk? Do existing unions offer advantages or is it better to start from scratch?"
A while ago you had the chance to ask Bruce Perens about how open source has changed in the past 15 years, what's happening now, and what's to come. Bruce has been busy traveling, but he's found some free time and sent in his answers. Read below to see what he has to say.
An anonymous reader writes "The state-by-state election outcome probabilities today on Nate Silver's 538 imply a 97.7% probability for Obama to win 270 or more electoral college votes this coming Tuesday. A site that allows anyone but U.S. citizens vote seems to indicate that the rest of the world hopes these numbers are accurate. "
An anonymous reader writes "In a surprising blow to the movement to create free textbooks online, an upstart company called Flat World Knowledge is dumping its freemium model. The upstart publisher had made its textbooks free online and charged for print versions or related study guides, but company officials now say that isn't bringing in enough money to work long-term."
angry tapir writes "Japan's Sharp, a major supplier of LCD displays to Apple and other manufacturers, has warned that it may not survive if it can't turn around its business. The Osaka-based manufacturer said there is "material doubt" about its ability to continue operating in its earnings report filed Thursday. Sharp added, however, that it still believes it can cut costs and secure enough credit to survive. Its IGZO technology for mobile displays is likely to be a key element of its business strategy."
Late Tuesday, both the 2012 U.S. election (the popular vote at least) and the 2012 campaign season should be over. Tonight, though, whatever your ability or plans to vote are (see the current poll for a peek at what other readers claim about their intentions), you've got the chance to see one more presidential debate, to be moderated by Ralph Nader, and featuring third-party presidential contenders Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Jill Stein (Green), Virgil Goode (Constitution) and Rock Anderson (Justice). Yes, the same ones featured in another debate a few weeks back. (We promise, this is the last debate of this go-round.) If you're voting (or would, if you could) for other than the Democratic or Republican parties' candidates this year, what drives that decision?
You may have noticed that retailers like Amazon are charging tax, in compliance with state laws, on not just the price of goods, but on the "shipping and handling" fees they charge. An anonymous reader writes "By coincidence I noticed this myself the other night, and ended up ordering something from a supplier in Arizona, rather than Amazon, to avoid the sales tax. Now here is an article about it in the Los Angeles Times."
New submitter dryriver writes with this snippet from the BBC: "Apple paid only $713m (£445m) Tax in the year to 29 September on foreign pre-tax profits of $36.8bn (£23.0bn), a remarkably low rate of 1.9%. Apple channels much of its business in Europe through a subsidiary in the Republic of Ireland, which has lower corporation tax than Britain. But even Ireland charges 12.5%, compared with Britain's 24%. Apple is the latest company to be identified as paying low rates of overseas tax, following Starbucks, Facebook and Google in recent weeks. It has not been suggested that any of their tax avoidance schemes are illegal. Many multinational companies manage to pay substantially below the official corporation tax rates by using tax havens such as the Caribbean islands."
Several outlets are reporting, based on screenshots posted by Android Police that Google is (or "may be" — CNet calls the report "loosely sourced") about to introduce a lower-tech variant on its smartphone-based Google Wallet payment system. Instead of transferring payment information from an NFC-equipped phone, this would mean a physical payment card (like a conventional plastic credit or debit card), but one linked via Google's databanks to the user's existing bank or credit accounts. Upsides: less to carry, a simple way to suspend or cancel service on them (should the card be lost or stolen), and doesn't require you to carry your phone to make a credit or debit transaction — handy, since NFC readers are still thin on the ground. Downside: while perhaps no worse than putting the same information on your phone, it's one more step toward giving a third party all of your personal information in one place. A card that fits in a wallet probably makes a lot of sense: I live in a city with at least three pay-by-phone options in trials or fully available (CitiBank, Isis, and Google Wallet), but I can't buy ice cream or coffee with them yet. And there's no reason a card-shaped token couldn't use mag-stripes and NFC, too.
First time accepted submitter danbuter writes "In probably the most poorly thought-out reaction to allowing people displaced by Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey [to take part in the 2012 presidential election], residents will be allowed to vote by email. Of course, this will be completely secure and work perfectly!" Writes user Beryllium Sphere: "There's no mention of any protocol that might possibly make this acceptable. Perhaps the worst thing that could happen would be if it appears to work OK and gains acceptance." I know someone they should consult first.
An anonymous reader writes "Apple today posted its second Samsung apology to its UK website, complying with requests by the UK Court of Appeal to say its original apology was inaccurate and link to a new statement. As users on Hacker News and Reddit point out, however, Apple modified its website recently to ensure the message is never displayed without visitors having to scroll down to the bottom first."