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Rdng is Fndmtl.



“[W]hat Spritz does differently (and brilliantly) is manipulate the format of the words to more appropriately line them up with the eye’s natural motion of reading. The ‘Optimal Recognition Point’ (ORP) is slightly left of the center of each word, and is the precise point at which our brain deciphers each jumble of letters. The unique aspect of Spritz is that it identifies the ORP of each word, makes that letter red and presents all of the ORPs at the same space on the screen. In this way, our eyes don’t move at all as we see the words, and we can therefore process information instantaneously rather than spend time decoding each word.”

Whoa…I’ve read about kung-fu. An intriguing new app aims to turn everyone into speed readers. “Spritz is about to go public with Samsung’s new line of wearable technology.”

Fools and Their Money.

“What Nigerian scams are to your grandfather, Bitcoin exchanges are to the 20-30 semi-tech-savvy libertarian demographic. Even if the Bitcoin protocol were perfect, and it isn’t, our computing infrastructure is not up to the task of handling high-value transactions…While the underlying cryptocurrency is quite interesting and the wallet software is fairly good, the [Bitcoin] exchanges are based on layers upon layers of bad software, run by shady characters.”

Making the rounds today: Cornell professor Emin Gün Sirer gives his take on Bitcoin and what happened with Mt. Gox, the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange, where over $400 million recently disappeared. “Human history is full of people who were entrusted with valuables, who then absconded with them…Chances are that this is a simple case of theft, involving at least one insider.”

Also note the conclusion: “If one must pick a cryptocurrency, the lowly dogecoin, of all things, is doing everything right. It’s based on economic principles that provide the right incentives for a healthy economy. The community does not take itself seriously. Most importantly, no one pretends that Doge is an investment vehicle, a slayer of Wall Street, or the next Segway. No one would be stupid enough to store their life savings in Dogecoins. And people freely share the shiba goodness by tipping others with Doge. So, young people who are excited about cryptocurrencies and want to get involved: Dogecoin is where the action is at. Much community. So wow.”

Step Aside, Human.

“It is an invisible force that goes by many names. Computerization. Automation. Artificial intelligence. Technology. Innovation. And, everyone’s favorite, ROBOTS. Whatever name you prefer, some form of it has been stoking progress and killing jobs — from seamstresses to paralegals — for centuries. But this time is different: Nearly half of American jobs today could be automated in ‘a decade or two,’ according to a new paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, discussed recently in The Economist. The question is: Which half?”

A Prelude to WALL-E: In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson looks at the coming robotic takeover of the job market, whereby 47% of jobs could soon be automated. I for one welcome our new robot overlords — all the more reason why we need to start rethinking a social contract founded primarily on having full-time, two-income employment. We’re entering a new phase of human existence — we’d best start preparing for it. (Bionic man image via here.)

River of Song.

“The Music Timeline shows genres of music waxing and waning, based on how many Google Play Music users have an artist or album in their music library, and other data (such as album release dates). Each stripe on the graph represents a genre; the thickness of the stripe tells you roughly the popularity of music released in a given year in that genre.” Some click-bait fun for a slow day: Google Research’s Music Timeline.

Make it Better Do It Faster.

“Before now, the record for storing quantum data at room temperature was two seconds. One. Two. Done. But researchers in Canada announced they’ve now hit 39 minutes. That’s right — they’ve raised the bar from 2 seconds to 39 minutes…The advance clears a major hurdle in developing powerful new supercomputers and has outside experts excited about the not-so-distant future of the field.”

(Our work is never over.) In more promising future-tech news, scientists figure out a way to store quantum data for much longer than ever before. “Though surviving for 39 minutes may not sound like very long, it only requires one-hundred-thousandth of a second to perform an operation on a single qubit. So theoretically, over 20 million operations could be performed before the qubits’ data decayed by 1 percent.”

The Wheel of Pain…for Dogs.

“The Turnspit Dog, 1500-1900 – A dog specifically bred to run on a small wheel in order to turn meat so it would cook evenly. This took both courage, to stand near the fire, and loyalty, to not to eat the roast. Due to the strenuous nature of the work, a pair of dogs would often work in shifts. This most likely led to the proverb ‘every dog has his day.’”

Time to raise Berk’s retirement age? By way of the re-designed Quiddity, which has tons of intriguing posts up at the moment, a curious history of dog-powered engines. “The last illustration displays a very unique, but now extinct, dog called the Turnspit…bred in Britain for hundreds of years to help with cooking and is the original ‘working dog.’”

“You’ve Only Made 0 Friends.”

Sometimes your computer, cellphone, and whatnot just don’t know how to let you down easy: Screenshots of Despair, the Tumblr.

A Better Cloaking Device.

“Whilst previous cloaking studies have used metamaterials to divert, or bend, the incoming waves around an object, this new method, which the researchers dub ‘mantle cloaking’, uses an ultrathin metallic metascreen to cancel out the waves as they are scattered off the cloaked object.”

Physicists get ever closer to a Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak with a new, less-bulky metascreen that scatters nano-particles. “Moving forward, one of the key challenges for the researchers will be to use ‘mantle cloaking’ to hide an object from visible light.”

The Other Space Program.

‘The mission is ongoing,’ Air Force Maj. Eric Badger, a spokesman for the X-37B program, told SPACE.com. ‘As with previous missions, the actual duration will depend on test objectives, on-orbit vehicle performance and conditions at the landing facility.’” From the the bottom of the ocean to low-earth orbit: The Air Force’s classified X-37B space drone enters its third month in space. “The X-37B looks a bit like a miniature space shuttle. The vehicle is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 15 feet (4.5 m) wide, with a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed.”

Well, at least one branch of our government is well-funded enough to take on these sorts of projects, I guess. Too bad the research is classified and likely highly iffy. Consider, similarly, the two “other” Hubbles found lying around in a Pentagon warehouse last year. “[S]top and think about this for a moment. The Department of Defense has the kind of funding needed — hundred of millions to billions of dollars, presumably — to build not one, but two, Hubble-like optical telescopes and then never use them.”

Run Silent, Run Deep.

“This is the driving idea behind DARPA’s Upward Falling Payloads (UFP) program, which seeks to create technologies that would allow the Navy to leave unmanned systems and other distributed technologies hidden in the ocean depths for years on end and deploy them remotely at the push of a button when the need arises. Think: unmanned aircraft that travel to the surface and launch into the sky to provide reconnaissance or to disrupt or spoof enemy defenses, or perhaps submersible or surface sub-hunters that launch from the seafloor during times of heightened alert in a particular maritime theater.”

You know what the world really needs? A system of dormant underwater drones, which apparently DARPA is hard at work on. If you want to use this type of tech to explore the oceans of Europa or Titan, fine. For the Taiwan Strait? Sounds like a terrible idea. SKYNET aside, glitches happen.

The Blogosphere’s Baby Pics.

They shut down the factory in 2009, but old Geocities home page find a (brief) new life at the One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age Photo Op tumblr, dedicated to researching the Geocities days of the web. The Ghost’s old Geocities days are still captured here. There was also a time before then when my personal site was crufted over with embedded MIDIs and other embarrassing late-90′s artifacts. I’m sure it’s somewhere in the Wayback Machine.

Aperture Science.

“With a portal at each university, students can stand in front of a vertical 50-inch high-definition monitor and communicate with the help of a webcam, microphone, speakers and a computer running a video communication service. A backlit booth will house the portal.” Look at them still talking when there’s science to do — Now Duke and UNC are playing with portals. (I just hope the Duke side is red.)

HAL’s acting squirrely.

“Deception is not something that comes very naturally to today’s artificial intelligence programs. For most robots, it’s hard enough to navigate the world the way it is without introducing fantasies about the way it’s not into the equation. So to help robots get the hang of misleading others, the team has turned to the squirrel, or ‘forest liar,’ to give robots the tools they need to learn the subtle arts of deception.”

It can only be attributable to human error: Also in the “This will end badly someday” department, programmers at Georgia Tech teach robots how to lie. No way this will cause problems. Wait, just a moment…just a moment…I’ve just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It’s going to go a hundred percent failure within seventy-two hours.

Secrets of the Supercut.


“Many supercuts provide hard evidence of the existence of tropes long suspected but never quite proved: imperiled characters fretting that they have no cellphone signal; high-tech investigators asking their imaging software to “enhance“; action movie toughs girding for battle by announcing, “We’ve got company.” But what motivates the supercutter to slog through hours of footage to compile these minute observations? And what distinguishes the masters of the form?

In Slate, old friend Seth Stevenson surveys the practice and methodology of supercuts. At the very least it’s both funny and instructive to see how many times, to take the example of ST:TNG, Worf gets denied and bad things happen to Geordi.

Going Up, Sir?

If we are to use the death of the old generation of explorers to spur on a revival in the idea for this generation, let’s also learn from their mistakes. Don’t follow a paradigm which results in 0.0000003 per cent of the planet making it out of orbit; create a new one, which lets this massive achievement change the lives of many, rather than a lucky (or foolhardy) few.

In the wake of Neil Armstrong’s passing, The New Statesman‘s Alex Hern makes the case for moving in the direction of a space elevator. The political argument aside, serious forays into space are clearly hindered by the prohibitive costs of leaving orbit more than anything else. If we are going to get serious about this, a space elevator is a technology that’s worth looking into. Right now, only Japan is on the case.

The Ruin of Many a Poor Bit.


Speaking of SKYNET, witness here some very old-school technology deriving a binary understanding of the blues: “House of the Rising Sun,” covered by various oscilloscopes. Shades of Sam and Max‘s C.O.P.S. (Computer Obsolescence Prevention Society.)

The Man in the Iron Mask.

As seen in the comments of this strange story, writer, inventor, and science-fiction pioneer Hugo Gernsback shows off The Isolator, a Spaceballs-like contraption designed to allow someone to read and write in peace, in the July 1925 issue of Science and Invention. What could possibly go wrong?

International Ballet Machines.


Ballet pointe shoes are not typically thought of as technological artifacts, but they certainly are…Dancers on this pointe regimen developed characteristically long, lean leg muscles. Balanchine also encouraged dancers to let the shoes remake their bodies, including developing bunions that gave the foot just the right line.Speaking of shoes and from the Atlantic, a new paper examines pointe shoes within the history of technology. “[I]n 1980 dancers threatened to strike — not over hours or pay, but for better pointe shoes, and better management of them.

For the Long Haul.


Look back 100 years. If you could have had James Clerk Maxwell and Guglielmo Marconi and Albert Einstein sit around a lunch table in the early 1900s, they would have had all the math necessary to create an iPhone. But there’s nothing that they could have done to characterize the integrated circuits, the satellites, the communication links or the Internet, to draw a plan that would have led them to an iPhone until Apple introduced it 100 years later. That’s how I see where we are with this.

From the folks who brought you the Internet, DARPA announces the 100-Year Starship Study, offering $500,000 in seed money to whomever comes up with the best plan for developing the technology needed for interstellar travel. “To stimulate discussion on the research possibilities, DARPA officials will hold a symposium that brings together astrophysicists, engineers and even sci-fi writers so they can brainstorm what it would take to make this starship enterprise a success.

Back to the Future?


Douglas Cooke, associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, told reporters the Orion concept, described by former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin as ‘Apollo on steroids,’ is the most capable spacecraft currently on the drawing board for meeting the Obama administration’s ‘flexible path’ approach to deep space exploration.

With the Space Shuttle nearing its end, NASA unveils the prototype for their new deep space exploration vehicle, Lockheed’s Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), and, well, it’s a throwback alright. “As currently envisioned, the MPCV would support four astronauts on short-duration flights of less than 21 days. For longer missions to asteroids or even Mars, the capsules would dock with a larger spacecraft of some sort that would provide more room for the crew while in transit.” “Of some sort”? So far at least, I am underwhelmed.

Still a Hoopy Frood.


I suppose earlier generations had to sit through all this huffing and puffing with the invention of television, the phone, cinema, radio, the car, the bicycle, printing, the wheel and so on, but you would think we would learn the way these things work, which is this:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

In remembrance of Douglas Adams, ten years after his untimely passing: His 1999 essay, “How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet” (although I think he too would have despised the term “webinar.”) If only he lived to see the actual, honest-to-goodness Hitchhiker’s Guides! (Pic via here, which also tells the story of Adams’ lost Doctor Who episodes.)

Atlantis Rising?

“‘This is the power of tsunamis,’ head researcher Richard Freund told Reuters. ‘It is just so hard to understand that it can wipe out 60 miles inland, and that’s pretty much what we’re talking about.‘”

As a modern-day tsunami wreaks catastrophe in Japan, researchers think they may have found the original Atlantis in the mud flats of Spain. “To solve the age-old mystery, the team used a satellite photo of a suspected submerged city to find the site just north of Cadiz, Spain…The team of archeologists and geologists in 2009 and 2010 used a combination of deep-ground radar, digital mapping, and underwater technology to survey the site.

Palantir Pervasive.


After the Anonymous attacks and the release of Barr’s e-mails, his partners furiously distanced themselves from Barr’s work. Palantir CEO Dr. Alex Karp wrote, ‘We do not provide — nor do we have any plans to develop — offensive cyber capabilities…’ But both of the Team Themis leads at these companies knew exactly what was being proposed…They saw Barr’s e-mails, and they used his work. His ideas on attacking WikiLeaks made it almost verbatim into a Palantir slide about ‘proactive tactics.’

Strange powers have our enemies, and strange weaknesses! In Wired, Nate Anderson of Ars Technica fdelves into the story behind the highly troubling HBGary leaks. Among other things, these leaks have already revealed that:

  1. Bank of America contemplated hiring private-intelligence goons — the aforementioned HBGary, the aptly-named Palantir Technologies, and third-wheel Berico Technologies — to spread anti-Wikileaks disinformation discredit Salon’s Glenn Greenwald.

  2. The Chamber of Commerce has been using their services to conduct surveillance on and smear progressives and unions.

  3. These organizations are manufacturing sock-puppets wholesale to create an “illusion of consensus” on behalf of their clients.

  4. Private security firms like the aforementioned ones above are, as Marcy Wheeler puts it, deploying “intelligence techniques developed for use on terrorists [against] citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.” And

  5. These morons actually tried to charge their clients $2000 a day for what amounts to trolling services.

As HBGary target Glenn sums it up: “What is set forth in these proposals for Bank of America quite possibly constitutes serious crimes. Manufacturing and submitting fake documents with the intent they be published likely constitutes forgery and fraud. Threatening the careers of journalists and activists in order to force them to be silent is possibly extortion…Attacking WikiLeaks’ computer infrastructure in an attempt to compromise their sources undoubtedly violates numerous cyber laws. Yet these firms had no compunction about proposing such measures…and even writing them down. What accounts for that brazen disregard of risk? In this world, law does not exist as a constraint.

In other words, they do not fear the law because it has forsaken these lands. And, hey, when you consider that nobody has yet gone to jail for lying the American people into a trillion-dollar war, setting up an illegal, unconstitutional, and inhumane torture regime, or fraudulently abetting or even precipitating a multi-trillion-dollar economic meltdown, their brazen calculation seems like a pretty safe bet.

Strapped to the Rocket.


There is no shortage of proposals for radically innovative space launch schemes that, if they worked, would get us across the valley to other hilltops considerably higher than the one we are standing on now–high enough to bring the cost and risk of space launch down to the point where fundamentally new things could begin happening in outer space. But we are not making any serious effort as a society to cross those valleys. It is not clear why.

In Slate, sci-fi author and technophile Neal Stephenson discourses on what rockets tell us about innovation and the course of technology over time. “The phenomena of path dependence and lock-in can be illustrated with many examples, but one of the most vivid is the gear we use to launch things into space.

Neutral No Longer.

The message: the FCC Chairman caved to the most powerful interests and is adopting a rule that may end the Internet’s historic openness to all software and content as a level playing field. This will undermine the Internet’s role in as an engine of economic innovation and democratic participation. The rule was written by and for the giants like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, who are cheering the rule. And the FCC Chairman is trying to fool the public into believing they should thank him.

After earlier explaining why the FCC’s compromise(d) stance was “garbage”, Marvin Ammori laments Julius Genachowski’s sad sell-out on net neutrality. While the president is claiming victory here — it does, after all, follow the “solomonic or moronic” splitting-the-baby approach he likes to bring to every issue — everything you need to know about it is summed up in one sentence in Wired: “There was one group, however, which seemed content with the new rules: the nation’s cable and telecommunications companies, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.

The X Flies.


The Planetary Society, an advocate for commercial space ventures, also said in a release: ‘The proposal to refocus NASA’s human spaceflight program beyond low-Earth orbit now looks more achievable, as this flight demonstrated that commercial rockets may soon be ready to carry supplies and, we hope, astronauts to the International Space Station.’

Congratulations to Space X on their successful Falcon-9 launch last Friday. “After Friday’s successful test launch — unusual for a maiden voyage — SpaceX plans to send a fully operational rocket and capsule into orbit this summer, and one to the ISS next year.

Putting the Hot back in Hotmail.

I’ve been using a pre-release version of the service for a couple of weeks now, and I’m a huge fan. The new Hotmail is fast, well-designed, and adds a host of features that bring it up to par with other e-mail services, including Gmail. Indeed, it has several features that I wish Gmail included.Slate‘s Farhad Manjoo previews the coming Hotmail overhaul. As someone who’s stuck around the old home even as all the cool kids flocked to gmail (which I use for listserv e-mails), I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Meet the iRoach.


Right now, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have to lug around a huge amount of equipment, sometimes weighing over 100 pounds. But the soldiers of the near future may followed by a pack bot that can carry all their gear while gracefully stepping over obstacles. As for giving the robot the ability to lay down some suppressive fire, that’s something the military is understandably skittish about…You know, worldwide robot apocalypse when they inevitably turn on their fleshy masters.

With a word of warning from The Prospect‘s Paul Waldman, Popular Science takes a gander at Boston Dynamics’ LittleDog. “LittleDog doesn’t just traverse the terrain; it learns as it goes, noting what works and what doesn’t and incorporating that knowledge into its foothold scoring system.

The Widening Green Gap.

The US military is rushing to embrace sustainability. Its primary motive is not ethical. It is trying to keep pace with China in a strategic race to harness clean energy. Any future conflict between superpowers will almost certainly feature eco-weapons and green tactics. The oil-burning Americans are starting to realise how badly they are lagging behind.

In Britain’s New Statesman, John Naish looks at the national security and job implications of our falling behind on green tech. “The more the military thinks about green technology, the more it sees how it goes hand in hand with improving operational effectiveness…Afghanistan is the principal driver for Nato nations. Resupply convoys can be eight miles long and they in effect say: ‘Please hit me with a roadside bomb.’ Up to 60 per cent of the convoys carry fuel and water. If you reduce that need for supply, you save lives.”

See also the “clean energy is a national security issue” argument made by Operation FREE (mainly in terms of Iran and its $100 million a day in oil profits): “‘There’s no greater threat to our national security than our dependence on oil.’ Marine veteran and Operation Free member Matt Victoriano told Kerry.‘” To be honest, I could really do without the implicit saber-rattling involved with some of this argument. But let’s face it, that’s how we got a space program.

Govt’s in Ur PC Taking Ur Net! …or not.


This statement describes a framework to support policies that advance our global competitiveness and preserve the Internet as a powerful platform for innovation, free speech, and job creation. I remain open to all ideas on the best approach to achieve our country’s vital goals with respect to high-speed broadband for all Americans, and the Commission proceeding to follow will seek comment on multiple legal theories and invite new ideas.“In happier news on the Obama tech policy front (and after a disconcerting public wobble in the final days before the decision), FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski outlines a “third way” for Internet oversight that includes Net Neutrality and gives the agency Title II (i.e. regulatory) authority over transmission services, to prevent bad behavior by internet services providers (ISPs) controlling the pipe. (Net neutrality is explained here, but the “First Amendment of the Internet” is a good way of looking at it. Basically, it means ISPs can’t privilege and/or block content on a whim.)

While the Big ISPs begin to mount their counter-offensive, the usual blatherers on the Right are, naturally, decrying the decision as Phase 2 in the administration’s socialist-cryptofascist takeover to take over all things good and wonderful. Suffice to say, they don’t seem to understand the issue or the Internet very well. (Also, this is really a side matter, but, regarding the highly goofy “Big Guvmint is taking over the Internet!” meme: This is completely and utterly not true in any way. But, just so we all have the history straight: Big Guvmint created the Internet. If you haven’t heard of DARPA or J.C. Licklider, think Al Gore.)

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