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Graphics

+ - SPAM: A new way to improve computer graphics

Submitted by
Roland Piquepaille
Roland Piquepaille writes "Computer scientists at the University of California in San Diego (UCSD) have developed a fog and smoke machine for computer graphics which dramatically cuts computing costs for generating bright images. They've used 'photon mapping' algorithms, a subset of the more computationally intensive ray tracing algorithms — and with better results. This could lead to better computer graphics for movies and video games. Now, the researchers are adapting their algorithms to render other materials, such as skin, milk and plants which behave more or less like fog or smoke. But read more for additional details and references."
Programming

+ - The Return of Ada 1

Submitted by
Pickens
Pickens writes "Today, when most people refer to Ada, it's usually as a cautionary tale. The Defense Department commissioned the programming language in the late 1970s but few programmers used Ada claiming it was difficult to use. Nonetheless, many observers believe the basics of Ada are in place for wider use. "We're seeing a resurgence of interest," says Robert Dewar, president of AdaCore. "The thing people have always said about Ada is that it is hard to get a program by the compiler, but once you did, it would always work." Ada's stringency causes more work for programmers, but it will also make the code more secure, Ada enthusiasts say. Last fall, contractor Lockheed Martin delivered an update to ERAM, the Federal Aviation Administration's next-generation flight data air traffic control system — ahead of schedule and under budget, which is something you don't often hear about in government circles. Jeff O'Leary, an FAA software development and acquisition manager who oversaw ERAM, attributed at least part of it to the use of the Ada, used for about half the code in the system."
Transportation

+ - MS Clearflow to Help Drivers Avoid Traffic James 1

Submitted by
Pioneer Woman
Pioneer Woman writes "Microsoft announced plans to introduce a Web-based service for driving directions that incorporates complex software models to help users avoid traffic jams. The system is intended to reflect the complex traffic interactions that occur as traffic backs up on freeways and spills over onto city streets and will be freely available as part of the company's Live.com site for 72 cities in the United States. The new service will on occasion plan routes that might not be intuitive to a driver and in some cases Clearflow will compute that a trip will be faster if a driver stays on a crowded highway, rather than taking a detour, because side streets are even more backed up by cars that have fled the original traffic jam. The Microsoft researchers designed algorithms that modeled traffic behavior and collecting trip data from Microsoft employees who volunteered to carry GPS units in their cars. In the end they were able to build a model for predicting traffic based on four years of data and 16,500 discrete trips covering over 125,000 miles effectively creating individual "personalities" for over 819,000 road segments in the Seattle region."
Security

+ - SPAM: Linux v. Mac v. Vista in Hacker Super Bowl

Submitted by
Amy Bennett
Amy Bennett writes "In what may be the most anticipated matchup in the hacker world, attendees at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver this week have a shot at hacking 3 laptops running Linux, Mac OS X, and Vista. The catch? They have to use a brand-new 'zero day' attack that nobody has seen before. The prize? $20,000, plus the hacked laptop. Note: By late Wednesday — the first day of the contest, nobody had even tried to hack the three laptops."
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NASA

+ - NASA Science Chief Alan Stern Resigns

Submitted by
Hugh Pickens
Hugh Pickens writes "Alan Stern stepped down as head of science programs at NASA. A NASA spokesman says that no immediate reason was given for Stern's sudden departure, which has shocked the space-science community. Immediate speculation was that Stern's departure could have resulted from fallout associated with a struggle with the Mars program. Stern had cut the Mars program to help pay for a future mission to the outer planets, and said that the program would be held accountable for hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns for its flagship Mars Science Laboratory mission, which is due to launch in 2009. Stephen Mackwell, director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, says that the episode seems to reflect some strong influence from the Mars community. "One has the distinct feeling that someone pushed pretty hard on Alan and he said, 'No, I won't be pushed'.""
It's funny.  Laugh.

+ - Bill Would Make Theft of Wireless Access a Crime 1

Submitted by
Pickens
Pickens writes "A bill presented by Delegate LeRoy E. Myers Jr. to the Maryland House of Delegates would make purposely surfing the Internet on someone else's wireless connection a crime. According to the bill, intentional unauthorized access to another person's computer, network, database or software would a misdemeanor with a penalty up to three years imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000. Myers told the House Judiciary Committee that one of his neighbors, after buying a new laptop computer, got onto the Internet, thinking it was through a cable TV hookup but actually, the connection was through Myers' home wireless Internet system. The Maryland public defender's office has submitted written testimony opposing the specific ban and penalty suggested in Myers' bill. Noting that wireless connections are becoming common in neighborhoods, the written testimony says: "A more effective way to prevent unauthorized access would be for owners to secure their wireless networks with assistance where necessary from Internet service providers or vendors.""
Lord of the Rings

+ - SPAM: The Children of Hurin 1

Submitted by
stoolpigeon
stoolpigeon writes "Throughout much of his life, J.R.R. Tolkien worked on a series of stories set in his well known middle earth. A few he considered his "Great Tales" and he would return to them often, writing them multiple times and in multiple forms. One story that he worked on often over many years was the tale of Hurin and his children Turin and Nienor. Following his death, Tolkien's youngest son Christopher has worked to collect, edit and publish much of what his father wrote but never published. The tale of Hurin's children has been told in part already in some of those works. But it is in this book that for the first time the complete tale is told from start to finish of "The Children of Hurin."

Some insight from what I think of this book is revealed in the fact that I preordered a copy before it was published last year. I was very excited when it arrived, made it about a third of the way through and then set it aside for quite a while. It was just recently that I saw my copy sitting on a book shelf and decided that I would finish it. It really didn't take too much time. The story is not very long. The reason I had trouble was because I had been hoping for something along the lines of "The Hobbit" or "The Lord of the Rings", Tolkien's most widely read efforts. They read like most modern novels, whereas much of the material published since Tolkien's death is written in a more classical and frankly, difficult to read style. Christopher acknowledges that those works are perceived in this manner in his preface by stating, "It is undeniable that there are a very great many readers of 'The Lord of the Rings' for whom the legends of the Elder Days (as previously published in varying forms in 'The Silmarillion', 'Unfinished Tales', and 'The History of Middle-earth') are altogether unknown, unless by their repute as strange and inaccessible in mode and manner." I have read the first two from that list of three and would say that yes, they are in many ways work to read.

Unfortunately I didn't find "The Children of Hurin" to be much more approachable or easy to enjoy. I think that Christopher's motivation is to bring these tales to a wider audience, but I doubt very much he succeeded. There are a few problems that plague the book. The first is that there is a constant use of proper names, for places and people, that for most readers will be unfamiliar. Not only that, they will be difficult to pronounce. The book does have a small pronunciation guide in the beginning, but the bottom line is that often I felt like I was reading a book written in another language. To some extent it is, Tolkien's own elvish tongue. But without some familiarity or explanation much of it just slides past and makes reading the story difficult. Main characters change names throughout the story and keeping track of it all can be difficult. Here is a short paragraph about Hurin's wife Morwen.

"Hurin wedded Morwen, the daught of Baradund son of Gregolas of the House of Beor, and she was thus of close kin to Beren One-hand. Morwen was dark-haired and tall, and for the light of her glance and the beauty of her face men called her Eledhwen, the elfen-fair; but she was somewhat stern of mood and proud. The sorrows of the house of Beor saddened her heart; for she came ans an exile to Dorlomin from Dorthonion after the ruin of the Bragollach."

That isn't an unusual passage. That is the style and much like most of the entire book. Antiquated english with an immense amount of proper names and relationships constantly spread throughout.

The setting is Beleriand, some 6500 years before the events of "The Lord of the Rings". This land would eventually be mostly destroyed in a war that would end the First Age. So the places do not correspond to the landscape of middle-earth in "The Hobbit" or "The Lord of the Rings." The main evil in the land is Morgoth. He has come to middle-earth and set up shop in Angband. Hurin, a man, dares to defy Morgoth. Morgoth captures him and binds him to watch what befalls his wife and children that Morgoth has cursed.

This curse and how it works itself out is the redeeming quality of the story. The vast majority of the book focuses on Turin. He is an amazing warrior and leader of men. At the same time he is incredibly proud and rarely listens to anyone else. This failure of character on his part is pushed along by the malevolence of Morgoth and so a flawed man is also trapped in the machinations of an evil power. The working of the story brought to mind the great Greek tragedies. The reader confronts issues of fate and free will. It is a beautiful story, it is just not written in a manner that is going to connect well with a modern audience. And I doubt J.R.R. Tolkien would have ever released it in the present state. This may sound presumptuous on my part. In fact I know it is, but in the first appendix Christopher gives a history of how this tale developed as well as snippets from the other versions that existed.

J.R.R. had begun to tell the story in verse. The small sections of that poetry that are given in the appendix to this work, and that go beyond what was published in "The Lost Tales" is much more descriptive and beautiful than what is given in "The Children of Hurin". Often Children reads more like a history book than a novel. The facts are all there, and at times the life is too. But too often it just feels like a listing of facts about events, people and places.

So how can I rate the book as a 7 out of 10 with all these issues? Well for some people, nothing that gives them more information about middle-earth and its history can be bad. They are probably cursing my name in the tongue of Mordor at this very moment. They loved "The Silmarillion" and they probably adored this work too. I share some of their passion, and despite its weakness, I did enjoy this story, especially once I had moved fully through the telling and could look at the arc of the entire story. It is a work of great skill and though I don't think it is Tolkien's best, it is still much better than many others.

For someone who is a casual fan or answers "I've seen the movies" when you ask them about "The Lord of the Rings", this is not something they would probably enjoy. Getting them "The Hobbit" to read would probably be a more pleasant experience for everyone involved. Or just wait and see if New Line can ever get done with the legal barriers and make a film of that was well.

The edition that I bought and matches the ISBN I've given is a hard-cover with beautiful art by Alan Lee. The cover dust jacket is gorgeous and there are full color illustrations throughout. The appendixes include the history of the tales as I've mentioned, genealogies, a list of names and a map of Beleriand. There is also a preface, slightly longer introduction and pronunciation guide. The preface, introduction and appendixes were all written by Christopher Tolkien."
The Internet

+ - Athletes Can Blog at Olympics - with Restrictions

Submitted by
Hugh Pickens
Hugh Pickens writes "Let the blogging begin. The IOC has given athletes the right to blog at the Beijing Games this summer, a first for the Olympics, as long as they follow the many rules it set to protect copyright agreements, confidential information and security. The IOC said blogs by athletes "should take the form of a diary or journal" and should not contain any interviews with other competitors at the games. They also should not write about other athletes. Still pictures are allowed as long as they do not show Olympic events. Athletes must obtain the consent of their competitors if they wish to photograph them. Also, athletes cannot use their blogs for commercial gain. The IOC said accredited participants in the Olympics also "should not disclose any information ... which may compromise the security, staging and organization of the games." Domain names for blogs should not include any word similar to "Olympic" or "Olympics." Bloggers are, however, urged to link their blogs to official Olympic Web sites."
Wireless Networking

+ - SPAM: Q&A: Nitty-gritty of Bluetooth/Wi-Fi union

Submitted by alphadogg
alphadogg (971356) writes "The Bluetooth Special Interest Group this week announced a plan to let the Bluetooth software stack run over high-bandwidth 802.11 Wi-Fi radios, in addition to the short-range, 1M to 3Mbps Bluetooth radios in use today. Michael Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG, gets into the details here."
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Wii

+ - Older Demographic is Playing Video Games 1

Submitted by
Reservoir Hill
Reservoir Hill writes "The NY Times had an interesting article last week about the new mass audience for gaming among families, women and older people. The importance of the mass audience in gaming's spectacular growth is seen most clearly in the success of Nintendo's Wii, which is far outselling its more technically advanced hardware competitors, the Xbox 360 from Microsoft and PlayStation 3 from Sony. Wii Play was the No. 2-selling game of last year even though it received an abysmal score of 58 out of 100 at Metacritic, which aggregates reviews. The Times says that as video games become more popular hard-core gamers are becoming an ever smaller part of the audience. "Paradoxically, at a moment when technology allows designers to create ever more complex and realistic single-player fantasies, the growth in the now $18 billion gaming market is in simple, user-friendly experiences that families and friends can enjoy together.""
Education

+ - Toddlers Learn Language by Data Mining? 1

Submitted by
Ponca City, We Love You
Ponca City, We Love You writes "Toddlers' brains can effortlessly do what the most powerful computers with the most sophisticated software cannot, learn language simply by hearing it used and a ground-breaking new theory postulates that young children are able to learn large groups of words rapidly by data-mining. Cognitive Science researchers Linda Smith and Chen Yu attempted to teach 28 12- to 14-month-olds six words by showing them two objects at a time on a computer monitor while two pre-recorded words were read to them. No information was given regarding which word went with which image. After viewing various combinations of words and images, however, the children were surprisingly successful at figuring out which word went with which picture. Yu and Smith say it's possible that the more words tots hear, and the more information available for any individual word, the better their brains can begin simultaneously ruling out and putting together word-object pairings, thus learning what's what. Yu says if they can identify key factors involved in this form of learning and how it can be manipulated, they might be able to make learning languages easier for children and adults, through training DVDs and other means. The learning mechanisms used by the children could also be used to further machine learning."
The Internet

+ - SPAM: Time-Warner slaps $10 surcharge on iTunes movies? 4

Submitted by
destinyland
destinyland writes "Time-Warner wants to charge a per-gigabyte fee. A leaked memo reveals they're now watching how many gigabytes customers use in a "consumption-based" pricing experiment in Texas. "As few as 5 percent of our customers use 50 percent of the network," Time-Warner complains, mulling plans to cap usage at 5-gigabytes, with more expensive pricing plans granting 10-, 20-, and 40-gigabyte quotas. Steven Levy suggests Time-Warner's real aim is to hobble iTunes, raising the cost of a movie download by $10 (or $30 for a high-definition movie). Eyeing Time-Warner's experiment, Comcast cable also says they're evaluating a pay-per-gigabyte model."
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Wireless Networking

+ - SPAM: Cellphones to monitor highway traffic

Submitted by
Roland Piquepaille
Roland Piquepaille writes "On February 8, 2008, about 100 UC Berkeley students will participate in the Mobile Century experiment, using GPS mobile phones as traffic sensors. During the whole day, these students carrying the GPS-equipped Nokia N95 will drive along a 10-mile stretch of I-880 between Hayward and Fremont, California. 'The phones will store the vehicles' speed and position information every 3 seconds. These measurements will be sent wirelessly to a server for real-time processing.' As more and more cellphones are GPS-equipped, the traffic engineering community, which currently monitors traffic using mostly fixed sensors such as cameras and loop detectors, is tempted to use our phones to get real-time information about traffic. But read more for many other details and a map of the Hayward-Fremont loop where this traffic monitoring study will be done."

Get hold of portable property. -- Charles Dickens, "Great Expectations"

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