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Robotics

The Year In Robotics 44

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-a-wrap dept.
malachiorion writes "From Google's emergence as a robotics giant to Gypsy Danger's emergence as a giant robot (we can root for), here's my attempt to round up the biggest trends in robotics in 2013. These trends are by no means comprehensive or ranked, but feel free to add your own picks for the year's biggest bot-related breakthroughs and setbacks."
United States

US Customs Destroys Virtuoso's Flutes Because They Were "Agricultural Items" 894

Posted by samzenpus
from the this-one-time-at-customs-camp dept.
McGruber writes "Flute virtuoso Boujemaa Razgui performed on a variety of flutes, each made by himself over years for specific types of ancient and modern performance. Razgui has performed with many U.S. ensembles and is a regular guest with the diverse and enterprising Boston Camerata. Last week, Razgui flew from Morocco to Boston, with stops in Madrid and New York. In New York, he says, a US Customs official opened his luggage and found the 13 flutelike instruments — 11 nays and two kawalas. Razgui says he had made all of the instruments using hard-to-find reeds. 'They said this is an agriculture item,' said Razgui, who was not present when his bag was opened. 'I fly with them in and out all the time and this is the first time there has been a problem. This is my life.' When his baggage arrived in Boston, the instruments were gone. He was instead given a number to call. 'They told me they were destroyed,' he says. 'Nobody talked to me. They said I have to write a letter to the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. This is horrible. I don't know what to do. I've never written letters to people.'"
Education

Are High MOOC Failure Rates a Bug Or a Feature? 122

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-wouldn't-try-fixing-it-with-code dept.
theodp writes "In 'The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course,' NPR's Eric Westervelt reports that 2013 might be dubbed the year that online education fell back to earth. Westervelt joins others in citing the higher failure rate of online students as evidence that MOOCs aren't all they're cracked up to be. But viewed another way, the ability to try and fail without dire debt or academic consequences that's afforded by MOOCs could be viewed as a feature and not a bug. Being able to learn at one's own pace is what Dr. Yung Tae Kim has long argued is something STEM education sorely lacks, and MOOCs make it feasible to allow students to try-try-again if at first they don't succeed. By the way, if you couldn't scrape together $65,000 to take CS50 in-person at Harvard this year, today's the first day of look-Ma-no-tuition CS50x (review), kids!"
Books

Ask Slashdot: What Are the Books Everyone Should Read? 796

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-loved-that-one-with-the-plot-and-the-characters dept.
dpu writes "Part of my New Year's resolution is to encourage reading as a hobby in those around me — especially my friends' children (ages 2 to 22), but my wife and I as well. There is a lot of 'classic' literature out there I'm familiar with, and will be promoting to the short masses here (Fahrenheit 451, To Kill A Mockingbird, In The Heat of the Night, Huckleberry Finn, Cryptonomicon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, A Wrinkle In Time, When Rabbit Howls, etc.), but I know many of you are much better read than I am. What recommendations would you make? What are the books that everyone should read? I don't care if it's been banned by schools, burned by communists, or illuminated by 15th century monks. If you think everyone around you should read it, I'd love to know about it."
Earth

Reducing Climate Change Uncertainty By Figuring Out Clouds 249

Posted by Soulskill
from the look-an-article-about-actual-clouds dept.
Most climate scientists agree that the Earth's climate is getting warmer, but models predicting the severity of the temperature rise span a (relatively) broad range. One big reason for this is the difficulty in modeling things like cloud cover and how different air masses mix and move around each other. "Specifically, they have differences in how water-rich air at the bottom of the atmosphere gets mixed with the layers immediately above it. In some cases, this mixing increases rapidly as the temperature rises, effectively drying out the lower atmosphere and suppressing cloud formation there. This in turn would enhance the warming effect. In others, the increase in mixing is more gradual, limiting the impact of warming on clouds. The former produces a higher climate sensitivity; the latter a lower one. ... So, the authors turned to the atmosphere, using data to determine the relative importance of these processes (abstract). In the end, they find that the models that dry out the lower atmosphere more quickly are likely to get the process right. And, in these models, the mixing increases the drying rate in the lower atmosphere by about five to seven percent for each Kelvin the Earth's temperature increases. In contrast, the rate of evaporation, which adds moisture to the lower atmosphere, only increases by two percent for each Kelvin. Thus, the lower atmosphere dries out, cloud formation there is suppressed, and the planet warms even further. How much more will it warm? Quite a bit."
Robotics

How To Change U.S. Laws To Promote Robotics 118

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-worry-about-the-kill-all-humans-part dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A law professor says the U.S. could fall behind in the robotics race if we don't change product liability law. A new op-ed over at Mashable expands upon this: Yet for all its momentum, robotics is at a crossroads. The industry faces a choice — one that you see again and again with transformative technologies. Will this technology essentially be closed, or will it be open? ... What does it mean for robotics to be closed? Resembling any contemporary appliance, they are designed to perform a set task. They run proprietary software and are no more amenable to casual tinkering than a dishwasher. Open robots are just the opposite. By definition, they invite contribution. It has no predetermined function, runs third-party or even open-source software, and can be physically altered and extended without compromising performance. Consumer robotics started off closed, which helps to explain why it has moved so slowly."
Encryption

Dual_EC_DRBG Backdoor: a Proof of Concept 201

Posted by Soulskill
from the this-is-how-we-do-it dept.
New submitter Reliable Windmill sends this followup to the report that RSA took money from the NSA to use backdoored tech for random number generation in encryption software. From the article: "Dual_EC_DRBG is an pseudo-random number generator promoted by NIST in NIST SP 800-90A and created by NSA. This algorithm is problematic because it has been made mandatory by the FIPS norm (and should be implemented in every FIPS approved software) and some vendors even promoted this algorithm as first source of randomness in their applications. If you still believe Dual_EC_DRBG was not backdoored on purpose, please keep reading. ... It is quite obvious in light of the recent revelations from Snowden that this weakness was introduced by purpose by the NSA. It is very elegant and leaks its complete internal state in only 32 bytes of output, which is very impressive knowing it takes 32 bytes of input as a seed. It is obviously complete madness to use the reference implementation from NIST"
Android

NVIDIA Tegra Note 7 Tested, Fastest Android 4.3 Slate Under $200 107

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the still-waiting-for-pixel-qi dept.
MojoKid writes "NVIDIA officially took the wraps off of its Tegra Note mobile platform a few weeks back. If you're unfamiliar with the Tegra Note, it's a 7", Android-based tablet, powered by NVIDIA's Tegra 4 SoC. The Tegra Note 7 also marks NVIDIA's second foray into the consumer electronics market, with an in-house designed product; NVIDIA's SHIELD Android gaming device was the first out of the gate earlier this year. Though Tegra Note 7 on the surface may appear to be just another 7-inch slate, sporting a 1280X720 display, it does have NVIDIA's proprietary passive stylus technology on board, very good sounding speakers and an always on HDR camera. It's also one of the fastest Android tablets on the market currently, in the benchmarks. Unlike in NVIDIA's SHIELD device, the Tegra 4 SoC is passively cooled in Tegra Note 7 and is crammed into a thin and light 7" tablet form factor. As a result, the SoC can't hit peak frequencies quite as high as the SHIELD (1.8GHz vs. 1.9GHz), but that didn't hold the Tegra Note 7 back very much. In a few of the CPU-centric and system level tests, the Tegra Note 7 finished at or near the head of the pack, and in the graphics benchmarks, its 72-core GeForce GPU competed very well, and often allowed the $199 Tegra Note 7 to outpace much more expensive devices."
Politics

US Justice Blocks Implementation of ACA Contraceptive Mandate 903

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the can-we-just-have-communist-care-instead? dept.
theodp writes "First approved for contraceptive use in the U.S. in 1960, 'The Pill' is currently used by more than 100 million women worldwide and by almost 12 million women in the U.S. But just hours before the Affordable Care Act was to go into effect, Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a stay temporarily blocking a mandate requiring health insurance coverage of birth control, and gave the Obama administration until Friday to respond to the Supreme Court on the matter. Sotomayor's order applies to a group of nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and other Roman Catholic nonprofit groups that use the same health plan, known as the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust (PDF). The group is one of many challenging the federal requirement for contraceptive coverage, but a decision on the merits of that case by the full Supreme Court could have broader implications. One imagines Melinda Gates is none too pleased. So, will U.S. health care require a Department of Personal Belief Exemptions that are dictated by employers (PDF, 'The Trustees of CBEBT and the management of Christian Brothers Services are dedicated to protecting the employers participating in the CBEBT from having to face the choice of violating their faith or violating the law')?"
Hardware Hacking

Russian Startup Offers Wireless Remote Controller For Cars 65

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the thought-it-was-a-video-game-officer dept.
DeviceGuru writes "A Russian startup called Virt2real has produced a small $120 Linux-based WiFi controller board for remote control and video observation applications, and has demonstrated its use in a remote controlled car. Inspired by Back to the Future and James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, Virt2real's Bond Car demo (YouTube video) shows a Vauxhall (Opel) Vectra being remotely controlled by an iPad via WiFi. The iPad interface includes touchscreen-based steering wheel, brakes, and accelerator, which are mirrored in the car by a mechanical contraption that physically turns the steering wheel and pushes the brake and accelerator pedals. The company is now accepting orders for the first 1,000 of its Virt2real controller board, and is working on a Virt2real-based Bond Car it that will work with most cars."
Space

Researchers Confirm Exoplanet Has Clouds Using Hubble Telescope 62

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the cloudy-with-a-chance-of-heavy-metal dept.
Exoplanet GJ 1214 b was discovered in 2009 by the MEarth project. Researchers now have strong evidence that it has an atmosphere. "[A] team of astronomers led by UChicago's Laura Kreidberg and Jacob Bean have detected clear evidence of clouds in the atmosphere of GJ 1214b from data collected with the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble observations used 96 hours of telescope time spread over 11 months. This was the largest Hubble program ever devoted to studying a single exoplanet. ... The first spectra, which were obtained by Bean in 2010 using a ground-based telescope, suggested that the planet's atmosphere either was predominantly water vapor or hydrogen-dominated with high-altitude clouds. ... More precise Hubble observations made in 2012 and 2013 allowed the team to distinguish between these two scenarios. ... The best explanation for the new data is that there are high-altitude clouds in the atmosphere of the planet, though their composition is unknown. Models of super-Earth atmospheres predict clouds could be made out of potassium chloride or zinc sulfide at the scorching temperatures of 450 degrees Fahrenheit found on GJ 1214b."
Medicine

Finnish HIV Vaccine Testing To Begin 72

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the alter-your-genes dept.
First time accepted submitter ultranova writes with news of a new phase in trials for an HIV vaccine. From the article: "Some 1,000 patients throughout France and Switzerland will take part on the trials, with the first phase involving hundreds of HIV sufferers. Participant numbers will increase as the program progresses. ... According to Reijonen, the GTU technology developed by FIT Biotech is also suitable for use as a preventive HIV vaccine, however, he says that such a drug is still ten years away.The central idea behind HIV vaccine development is the use of genetic immunization. Genes are introduced into the body in order to generate a controlled immune response against HIV. Gene Transport Unit (or GTU) technology refers to FIT Biotech’s patented method by which genes can be safely introduced into the body."
Security

Partially Censored Database From Snapchat Intrusion Released 51

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the that's-what-you-get-for-trusting-people dept.
hypnosec writes "Just days after Australia-based Gibson Security disclosed two vulnerabilities in Snapchat that could allow hackers to gain access to personal data of its users, hackers managed to get their hands onto basic information of 4.6 million Snapchat users and have leaked it online, partially censored.The database dump is available on SnapchatDB and allows anyone to grab it as a SQL dump or CSV text file. ... 'This information was acquired through the recently patched Snapchat exploit and is being shared with the public to raise awareness on the issue,' reads a statement on SnapchatDB."
Privacy

US Federal Judge Rules Suspicionless Border Searches of Laptops Constitutional 462

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the i've-got-an-inchoate-hunch dept.
AHuxley writes "The American Civil Liberties Union sought to challenge the U.S. legal 'border exemption' three years ago. Can your laptop be seized and searched without reasonable suspicion at the border? A 32 page decision provides new legal insight into legal thinking around suspicionless searches: your electronic devices are searchable and seizable for any reason at the U.S. border. The ACLU may appeal. Also note the Kool-Aid comment: 'The report said that a reasonable suspicion standard is inadvisable because it could lead to litigation and the forced divulgence of national security information, and would prevent border officers from acting on inchoate "hunches," a method that it says has sometimes proved fruitful.'" It's even legal for them to copy the contents of your laptop for no reason at all, just in case they need to take a peek later. A bit of context from the ACLU: "The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pascal Abidor, a dual French-American citizen who had his laptop searched and confiscated at the Canadian border ... Abidor was travelling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in May 2010 when he had his laptop searched and confiscated by customs officers. Abidor, an Islamic Studies Ph.D. student at McGill University, was questioned, taken off the train in handcuffs, and held in a cell for several hours before being released without charge. When his laptop was returned 11 days later, there was evidence that many of his personal files had been searched, including photos and chats with his girlfriend."
Google

Google's Comical New Social Networking Patent 45

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-see-what-you-did-there dept.
theodp writes "GeekWire reports on Google's just-granted patent on creating and sharing social network status updates in the form of comic strips, a la Bitstrips. Google also envisions an educational role for its new invention, which the search giant has dubbed the Self-Creation of Comic Strips in Social Networks and Other Communications. Google explains, 'Aside from humor, such comic strips are also usable for education, for instance in summarizing a real-time conversation between two political leaders as it is happening. By posting such a comic strip on a social network facility such as a social network blog or tweet, others may more readily follow the flow of the conversation than if it had been summarized in plain text.'"
Software

Ask Slashdot: Command Line Interfaces -- What Is Out There? 383

Posted by Soulskill
from the anything-but-the-truth dept.
Mars729 writes "GUIs are walled gardens in that features available in one piece of software is not available to other pieces of software. However, there is software out there with command-line options that can make software features accessible to power users and programmers. Some important ones I have uncovered are:
  • Exiftool: A command-line application that can read/write almost any kind of metadata contained in almost any filetype
  • Imagemagick: This and similar software like GraphicsMagick is a full-feature toolkit for displaying, converting and editing image files.
  • Irfanview: Like Imagemagick but faster, although it has much fewer features.
    FFMpeg: For video files
  • VLC: For audio and video files
  • Aspell: A command line spell checker
  • Google Static Maps API: A URL with coordinates, markers, zoom levels and other options to show a custom map from Google Maps. (I just uncovered this: no need to learn KML!)

Less useful but still useful are command shells. These provide file management mostly. I believe some of them may allow for sending and retrieving email messages. Also useful but less accessible and with a steeper learning curve are software with APIs and scripting. Examples would be Visual Basic for Applications in office software and groovy scripting for Freeplane. What else is out there?"

Transportation

Oil Train Explosion Triggers Evacuation In North Dakota 199

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-put-it-on-amtrak dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "The LA Times reports that the small town of Casselton, North Dakota dodged a bullet after being partially evacuated when a train carrying crude oil collided with another train, setting off a large fire and explosions. Officials received a report at 2:12 p.m. of a train derailing about a mile west of Casselton, a city of 2,432 people about 20 miles west of Fargo. At some point, another train collided with the derailed train, belonging to the BNSF Railway, carrying more than 100 cars loaded with crude oil. The explosions and fire erupted after cars from a grain train struck some of the oil tank cars. 'A fire ensued, and quickly a number of the cars became engulfed,' said Sgt. Tara Morris of the Cass County Sheriff's Office, adding that firefighters had managed to detach 50 of the 104 cars but had to leave the rest. This was the fourth serious accident involving trains hauling crude in North America this year. In July, an unattended train with 72 tank cars carrying crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken shale fields rolled downhill and set off a major explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. The accidents have put a spotlight on the growing reliance on rail to move surging oil production from new fields in Texas, North Dakota and Colorado. U.S. railroads are moving 25 times more crude than they did in 2008, often in trains with more than 100 tank cars that each carry 30,000 gallons. Though railroads have sharply improved their safety in recent years, moving oil on tank cars is still only about half as safe as in pipelines, according to Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane University Energy Institute. 'You can make the argument that the pipeline fights have forced the industry to revert to rail that is less safe,' says Smith. One problem is that the trains go through small towns with volunteer fire departments, not well schooled in handling a derailment and explosion. Casselton Mayor Ed McConnell says it is time to 'have a conversation' with federal lawmakers about the dangers of transporting oil by rail. 'There have been numerous derailments in this area,' says McConnell. 'It's almost gotten to the point that it looks like not if we're going to have an accident, it's when.'"
The Internet

How One Man Fought His ISP's Bad Behavior and Won 181

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-bet-he-had-lasers dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Eric Helgeson documents his experience with an unscrupulous ISP that was injecting affiliate IDs into the URLs for online retailers. 'It appears that the method they were using was to poison the A record of retailers and do a 301 redirect back to the www cname. This is due to the way apex, or 'naked' domain names work.' Upon contacting the ISP, they offered him access to two DNS servers that don't perform the injection, but they showed no indication that they would stop, or opt-out any other subscribers. (It was also the only wireless provider in his area, so he couldn't just switch to a competitor.) Helgeson then sent the data he gathered to the affiliate programs of major retailers on the assumption that they'd be upset by this as well. He was right, and they put a stop to it. He says, 'ISP's ask you to not do crummy things on their networks, so how about they don't do the same to their customers?'"

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