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Interviews: James Randi Answers Your Questions 217

A while ago you had the chance to ask James Randi, the founder of The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), about exposing hucksters, frauds, and fakers. Below you'll find his answers to your questions. In addition to his writings below, Randi was nice enough to sit down and talk to us about his life and his foundation. Keep an eye out for those videos coming soon.

Submission + - Can the Valve Company Model Work Elsewhere? (

glowend writes: I just listened to a fascinating podcast with Valve's economist-in-residence Yanis Varoufakis about the unusual structure of the workplace at Valve where there is no hierarchy or bosses. Teams of software designers join spontaneously to create and ship video games without any top-down supervision.Varoufakis discussed the economics of this Hayekian workplace and how it actually functions alongside Steam--an open gaming platform created by Valve. I kept wondering, assuming that his description of Valve is accurate, can this model work for other tech companies?
Hardware Hacking

Submission + - The Patents That Threaten 3-D Printing (

An anonymous reader writes: We've watched patents slow down the smartphone and tablet markets. We've seen patent claims thrown against Linux, Android, and countless other software projects. Now, as 3-D printing becomes more capable and more affordable, it seems a number of patents threaten to do the same to the hobbyist and tinkerer crowd. Wired has highlighted some of the most dangerous ones, including: a patent on soluble print materials that support a structure while it's being printed; a ridiculously broad patent on distributed rapid prototyping, which could affect "every 3-D printing service that has launched in the past few years"; and an 18-year-old patent on 3-D printing using a powder and a binding material, held by MIT.

Submission + - Utilities Racing to Plug Grid Before 'Disaster Strikes' (

FreeMichael61 writes: "In the latest episode of Spy vs. Spy, China rejects accusations its hacking U.S. companies to steal IP or bring down the grid. But there's no doubt the grid can be hacked, CIO Journal's Steve Rosenbush and Rachael King report. Industrial control networks are supposed to be protected from the Internet by an air gap that, it turns out, is largely theoretic. Rosenbush and King detail the attack vectors that hackers could use to bring down the electrical system in a neighborhood near you."

Submission + - British Officials Defend Snoopers Charter In Westminster (

judgecorp writes: "A Parliamentary Committee convened to scrutinise British's proposed Communications Data Bill aka the "Snooper's Charter" has heard from the officials who have requested the bill's extensive powers. Home Office officials want to know who communicated with whom and what websites they visited, in order to keep ahead of criminals and "get the data they need" to do the job. Oh, and the Black Boxes which would do deep packet inspection on user data? They are only to be used on traffic that has past through a foreign country's networks."

Submission + - ISPs asks religious groups to set parental controls (

Barence writes: "A British ISP is inviting religious groups to help set parental controls for its customers. Claranet says it is recruiting volunteer "Guardians" from a number of different organisations — including religious organisations, schools and child safety experts. A press spokesman for the ISP said that an "Islamic advisor" was among the first batch of Guardians, but refused to identify them.

The Claranet Guardians will be asked to choose whether they think 140 different categories of internet content are appropriate. Within those categories, the Guardians can choose to add or remove individual websites from the blacklists, which are created by a third-party company that Claranet also refused to name."


Submission + - Amazon Ranked World's Most Secretive Tech Company (

itwbennett writes: "According to Transparency International's survey of 105 publicly traded multinational companies, Amazon, Google and Apple rank among the least transparent companies in the world. The survey looked at companies' reporting of anticorruption programs, their organizational transparency, and reporting of financial results and tax payments. Amazon scored a 2.8 out of 10 on the transparency scale, putting it in 98th place overall and in last place among tech companies. And here's a point that is in no way comforting given the recent financial crisis: The worst performers worldwide when it comes to transparency are all banks."

Submission + - ECJ says Software Functionality not protected by copyright (

An anonymous reader writes: ECJ has decided that copyright cannot protect the functionality of a software program, its programming language or its data file format, so that rivals can study a product’s functionality and create a product that provides identical functions.

Submission + - Telstar at 50: The little satellite that launched an industry (

coondoggie writes: "It was a momentous occasion in the communications industry 50 years ago. NASA launched the world’s first communications satellite July 10, 1962 and two days later it relayed the world's first transatlantic television signal, from Andover Earth Station, Maine in the United States, to the Pleumeur-Bodou Telecom Center, Brittany, France. Telstar was built by Bell Laboratories for AT&T. Such systems of course seem commonplace today but its technology was hailed as a truly modern miracle that united the world."

Submission + - MIT Researchs Ampilfy Invisible Detail in Video ( 1

An anonymous reader writes: MIT researchers have invented an algorithm which is able to amplify motion in video that is invisible to the naked eye — such as the motion of blood pulsing through a person's face, or the breathing of an infant. The algorithm — which was invented almost by accident — could find applications in safety, medicine, surveillance, and other areas.

Submission + - Making renewable energy work: Storing what we don't use (

tanujt writes: As is a major issue with every energy source, so do renewables suffer from it: what happens to the energy that we don't make use of but are still supplied? Well, it goes to waste. Danielle Fong of LightSail (a Berkley-based company) has a potential solution for wastage of solar energy: store it and return it to the grid when needed. And she does it without batteries: "Just use the electricity generated by your solar panel and/or windmill to power a compressor, pushing air into a tank. When you want your energy back, you release the air out of the tank, and use it to drive a generator, creating electricity."

What about the heat loss in compression/expansion? Fong says: "It became clear that what you wanted to do for maximum efficiency was keep the temperature as close to constant as possible in compression and expansion. It turned out nobody had figured out how to do that, and I read a Wikipedia article saying it was impossible to do it, and I said, ‘My god, that’s not true. You can just spray water in.’ And then I was like, ‘Wait. I could just spray water in.’ And thus the company and core idea was born."

So how does it work? : "Instead of wasting the heat, we collect it by spraying water into the air during the compression process. That keeps the temperature down, and it keeps the pressure down, so you have to put less energy in to compress the same amount of air. During expansion, spraying water sends heat back into the air, which keeps the pressure high, and increases the amount of energy you get back.” Science aside, the numbers don’t lie: LightSail’s process recovers 70% of the energy it puts out, pretty much doubling the efficiency of the standard compression method. "
Their website has more information about the technology they've developed, including some experimental calculations. This sounds like an innovative idea, although past experience has made me cynical about actual practicality or implementability of innovative ideas.


Submission + - 40 Years of Tech Ads' Finest: '80 Mbytes of storage for under $12k!' (

CWmike writes: "After looking over four decades of Computerworld in print given the publication's 40th anniversary, we found some smokin' deals — and some really funny stuff: Guess which 80MB disk system costs less than $12k — and even better, 300MB for under $20k! What the heck is electronic mail? That's the question posed in this Honeywell ad, which explains: 'Simply put, it means high-speed information transportation.' What year do you think an advertisement would be using a model in hot pants? Headline hints: 'Univac 9700 Offers Compatibility, Price'; 'Technology Makes Move Out of Core City Feasible.'"

Submission + - Will Dolby's New Atmos 62.2 Format Redefine Surround Sound? ( 2

CIStud writes: "Anyone who goes to see Pixar's new animated "Brave" film might come home with their ears ringing. Why? because "Brave" is the debut of Dolby's Lab's new 62.2 surround sound format called Atmos, which adds new innovations such as developments such as pan-through array and overhead speakers. With 62 speakers and 2 subwoofers, only a handful of theaters nationwide will be able to show the film at its full throttle. Dolby has produced a new highly informative video that talks about how movie sound has progressed from mono to stereo to LCR (left/center/right) to 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound and now Atmos. The big question is will the 62.2 format system be adapted for home theaters intent on emulating the immersive movie experience?"

Diplomacy is the art of saying "nice doggy" until you can find a rock.