Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
An anonymous reader writes "Today, the latest victim of the U.S. government shutdown, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory shut its doors and essentially mothballed all three of its radio telescope facilities: the Very Large Array or VLA (think Jodie Foster, Contact); the Green Bank Telescope, and the Very Long Baseline Array or VLBA. While the ALMA telescope is not yet affected (mainly due to it being run by a consortium of European, Japanese, Chilean and U.S. organizations), the U.S. funds for that will soon also dry up. Not only does this furlough most of the ~550 employees, it has also thrown a monkey wrench into many long-term carefully planned observations (to the tune of wasting half a million dollars and a year's worth of work). Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society also has a commentary on the closure — and a plea to 'stop the madness.'"
Dawn Kawamoto writes "Lockheed employees are the latest casualty in the government shutdown, with the defense contractor announcing Friday it plans to furlough 3,000 workers on Monday. But what they didn't mention is they are laying off workers too, says a Lockheed source on the hush-hush. Lockheed, of course, isn't the only defense contractor taking it on the chin. Other contractors include United Technologies, which has furloughed 2,000, and BAE Systems which cut 1,000."
cartechboy writes "The Tesla Model S fire that, to date, is either electric car Armageddon or 'no big deal' has been fun Internet theatre combined with a dose of crowd-sourced battery-pack pseudo-expertise. Now the actual car owner (and Tesla investor) weighs in with his take, which is, basically, 'nothing to see here and yes, I can't wait to get back into a Tesla.' Owner Robert Carlson wrote an email in response to contact by Tesla's vice president of sales and service, Jerome Guillen, saying he found the car had 'performed very well under such an extreme test. The batteries went through a controlled burn which the Internet images really exaggerates.' Carlson had no comment on the guy who videoed his car fire, who is now Internet infamous for shooting video in portrait mode." You can read Elon Musk's take, along with Carlson's correspondence.
DeviceGuru writes "At the Maker Faire Rome this week, Arduino announced a next-generation Arduino single board computer featuring a dual-processor architecture, and able to run a 'full Linux OS', in contrast to the lightweight OpenWRT Linux variant (Linino) buried inside the Yun's Atheros WiFi module. The Arduino TRE features a 1GHz 32-bit TI Sitara AM335x ARM Cortex-A8 SoC for running Linux software, plus an 8-bit Atmel ATmega MCU for AVR-compatible control of expansion modules (aka shields). The TRE's Sitara subsystem includes HDMI video, 100Mbps Ethernet, and 5 USB 2.0 ports, and is claimed to provide up to 100X the performance the Arduino Leonardo and Uno boards. Interestingly, the TRE's development reportedly benefited from close collaboration between Arduino and the BeagleBoard.org foundation."
An anonymous reader writes "Soured by his attempt to acquire a quote from healthcare.gov, James Turner compiled a short list of things developers can learn from the experience: 'The first highly visible component of the Affordable Health Care Act launched this week, in the form of the healthcare.gov site. Theoretically, it allows citizens, who live in any of the states that have chosen not to implement their own portal, to get quotes and sign up for coverage. I say theoretically because I've been trying to get a quote out of it since it launched on Tuesday, and I'm still trying. Every time I think I've gotten past the last glitch, a new one shows up further down the line. While it's easy to write it off as yet another example of how the government (under any administration) seems to be incapable of delivering large software projects, there are some specific lessons that developers can take away. 1) Load testing is your friend.'"
jds91md writes "Today's NY Times delivers a great story of the development of the iPhone by Apple. It focuses on the events during the leadup to Steve Jobs taking the stage with shockingly buggy prototypes and pulling off the show that is now history. 'Only about a hundred iPhones even existed, all of them of varying quality. Some had noticeable gaps between the screen and the plastic edge; others had scuff marks on the screen. And the software that ran the phone was full of bugs. The iPhone could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn’t play an entire clip reliably without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an e-mail and then surfed the Web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it might not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called “the golden path,” a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and order, that made the phone look as if it worked.' One of the big problems was the phone's connectivity. The man in charge of the iPhone's radios, Andy Grignon, had to deal with Jobs's anger when rehearsals didn't go well. Grignon said, 'Very rarely did I see him become completely unglued — it happened, but mostly he just looked at you and very directly said in a very loud and stern voice, "You are [expletive] up my company," or, "If we fail, it will be because of you." He was just very intense. And you would always feel an inch tall.'"
Nerval's Lobster writes "Earlier this week, a small helicopter drone tumbled out of the sky over midtown Manhattan, crashing to the sidewalk near Grand Central Station. On the way down it almost hit a businessman, who plucked out the video card from the wreckage and handed it over to a local television-news station. In the video, the drone (a Phantom Quadcopter) lifts off from what looks like an apartment terrace and buzzes its merry way toward some nearby skyscrapers, pausing for a few panoramic surveys of the Manhattan skyline. But the operator is clearly inexperienced, crashing the vehicle against the side of a building, and the flight lasts a mere three minutes before a final collision sends it to the street. Drone enthusiasts and engineers blamed the Quadcopter's poor performance on the pilot's possible reliance on GPS mode; when flying in an area crowded with tall buildings (and they don't get much taller or more crowded than in Manhattan) that block GPS signals, a vehicle can quickly think it's off-target and attempt to correct, leading to crashes. In theory, the FAA forbids the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles over crowded areas such as Manhattan, but that hasn't stopped any number of hobbyists from launching drones. And hobbyists aside, the industry for commercial drones is picking up: over the summer, the FAA approved a pair of small, unmanned aircraft systems for flight, and Airware (which builds autopilot computers for drones) recently accepted funding from Google Ventures. That's led legislators to begin exploring ways to regulate domestic drone use (particularly with regard to use by law enforcement), and it begs the question: should drones be regulated? And if so, how?" A similar incident just happened in Australia, where a small drone operated by an unknown owner crashed into the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Counter-terrorism officials felt they had to investigate, of course.
An anonymous reader writes "Valve has revealed their first Steam Machines prototype details. The first 300 Steam Machine prototypes to ship will use various high-end Intel CPUs and NVIDIA GPUs while running their custom SteamOS Linux distribution. The Intel Haswell CPU + NVIDIA GPU combination should work well on Linux with the binary drivers. Using a range of CPUs/GPUs in the prototypes will allow them to better gauge the performance and effectiveness. Valve also said they will be releasing the CAD design files to their custom living room console enclosure for those who'd like to reproduce them." Valve is careful to point out that these specs aren't intended as a standard: "[T]o be clear, this design is not meant to serve the needs of all of the tens of millions of Steam users. It may, however, be the kind of machine that a significant percentage of Steam users would actually want to purchase — those who want plenty of performance in a high-end living room package. Many others would opt for machines that have been more carefully designed to cost less, or to be tiny, or super quiet, and there will be Steam Machines that fit those descriptions."
New submitter _0xd0ad sends this news from the CS Monitor: "The activities of bantam water droplets in just one region of a power plant could make a significant difference in the output of power plants, scientists say. ... When a water droplet forms on a sheet of metal coated with a superhydrophobe, the droplet can camp there only so long as it does not merge with another droplet. As soon as it weds with another droplet, the energy produced is so great that the two will 'jump' away from that surface, as if in urgent deference to the surface's severe water phobia. Scientists have proposed that this 'jumping' could be incorporated into power plant design. ... 'To have the most efficient condensing surface, you want to remove the droplets as early as possible,' says Dr. Nenad Miljkovic, [postdoctoral associate at MIT and co-author on 'Electrostatic charging of jumping droplets']. But, in prototypes, this 'jumping' design is not as efficient as engineers believe it could be. Some of the droplets will just fall back to the condenser's surface, recoating it and slowing the process down. ... But a newly discovered component to the 'jumping' process might allow scientists to eliminate this fall back. In an accidental find, the MIT team found that droplets don't just spring from the surface — they also rebound from each other ... because an electrical charge forms on the droplets as they flee the hydrophobic surface. So, if a charge is applied to the condenser system, the water droplets can be electrically prevented from returning to the surface, he said.
SustainableJeroen writes "On Sunday morning (Australian time), October 6th, 40 solar-powered vehicles from 24 countries will depart from Darwin and make their way south along the 3000km Stuart Highway towards Adelaide in the 2013 World Solar Challenge. About half of the vehicles compete in the Challenger class, the class which features what many people will recognize as typical solar racing cars: flat, UFO-like vehicles, built exclusively for efficiency and speed. For the first time, however, much more practical vehicles will race each other in the new Cruiser class. These vehicles will seat two, three of four people and be road legal. In both 2009 and 2011, the University of Michigan Solar Car Team finished third, Nuon Solar Team finished second and Tokai University finished first. The fastest vehicles will be expected to reach Adelaide on Thursday or Friday, depending on the weather."
mattydread23 writes "Every student learns differently. Some educators are starting to use data analytics to figure out how to tailor teaching techniques to individual students, rather than using the 'one size fits all' approach. But Alec Ross, a senior advisor on innovation at the U.S. State Department, worries this would create a new class of haves and have-nots. Speaking at the Schools for Tomorrow conference last week, Ross said, 'A lot of what I see is the ability to productize and commercialize very intensive assessments of individual limits. So what I imagine is parents getting their kids essentially a $30,000 educational checkup where they extract enormous amounts of data about the kinds of learners their children are, the kinds of education deficits they have.'"
MojoKid writes "Although Intel is Chipzilla, the company can't help but extend its reach just a bit into the exciting and growing world of DIY makers and hobbyists. Intel announced its Galileo development board, a microcontroller that's compatible with Arduino software and uses the new Quark X1000 processor (400MHz, 32-bit, Pentium-class, single- core and thread) that Intel announced at the IDF 2013 keynote. The board makes use of Intel's architecture to make it easy to develop for Windows, Mac, and Linux, but it's also completely open hardware (PDF). Galileo is 10cm x 7cm (although ports protrude a bit beyond that), and there are four screw holes for secure mounting. Ports include 10/100 Ethernet, USB client/host ports, RS-232 UART and 3.5mm jack, mini PCIe slot (with USB 2.0 host support); other features include 8MB Legacy SPI Flash for firmware storage, 512KB embedded SRAM, 256MB DRAM, 11KB EEPROM programmed via the EEPROM library, and support for an additional 32GB of storage using a microSD card."
The Guardian has released new documents from Edward Snowden showing how the U.S. National Security Agency targets internet anonymity tool Tor to gather intelligence. One of the documents, a presentation titled "Tor Stinks," bluntly acknowledges how effective the tool is: "We will never be able to de-anonymize all Tor users all the time. With manual analysis we can de-anonymize a very small fraction of Tor users, however, no success de-anonymizing a user in response to a TOPI request/on demand." (Other documents: presentation 1, presentation 2.) The NSA is able to extract information sometimes, though, and Bruce Schneier details what we know of that process in an article of his own. "The NSA creates 'fingerprints' that detect http requests from the Tor network to particular servers. These fingerprints are loaded into NSA database systems like XKeyscore, a bespoke collection and analysis tool which NSA boasts allows its analysts to see "almost everything" a target does on the internet. ... After identifying an individual Tor user on the internet, the NSA uses its network of secret internet servers to redirect those users to another set of secret internet servers, with the codename FoxAcid, to infect the user's computer. FoxAcid is an NSA system designed to act as a matchmaker between potential targets and attacks developed by the NSA, giving the agency opportunity to launch prepared attacks against their systems." Schneier explains in a related article why it's important that we figure out exactly what the NSA is doing. "Given how inept the NSA was at protecting its own secrets, it's extremely unlikely that Edward Snowden was the first sysadmin contractor to walk out the door with a boatload of them. And the previous leakers could have easily been working for a foreign government."
KentuckyFC writes "Sentiment analysis relies on vast databases of common words which are marked as positive, negative or neutral and associated with one of the eight fundamental emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, discuss, anger and anticipation. It is then a straightforward matter to search Tweets, novels and even fairy tales to see what emotions appear. Now, researchers have carried out the first large-scale study of sentiment in workplace emails. They examined the emotions associated with words in over 30,000 emails and analyzed the emotional differences between messages sent by men and women. It turns out that women use more cheerful words in emails than men, that men use more fear words, especially when communicating with other men, and that both men and women are far more likely to use anticipation words when emailing a member of the opposite sex. The same researchers say they are developing a Google app that will allow users to track their own emotions towards the people they correspond with in Gmail. And they plan to make a public call for volunteers willing to share their data for research purposes."
MIT research scientist John Romanishin, along with professor Daniela Rus and postdoc Kyle Gilpin, have demonstrated a swarm of modular robots with the ability to self-assemble into larger shapes. The individual robots are small and cubical, but they contain a flywheel capable of spinning at 20,000 rpm. By spinning up the flywheel and then braking abruptly, the robots use angular momentum to jump into different positions. Magnets on the edges of the cube guide them into alignment. The researchers hope to be able to shrink the cubes even further, but they think a "refined version of their system could prove useful even at something like its current scale. Armies of mobile cubes could temporarily repair bridges or buildings during emergencies, or raise and reconfigure scaffolding for building projects. They could assemble into different types of furniture or heavy equipment as needed. And they could swarm into environments hostile or inaccessible to humans, diagnose problems, and reorganize themselves to provide solutions." The cubes could also be packed with sensors, batteries, or other technologies.