Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?

Slashdot videos: Now with more Slashdot!

  • View

  • Discuss

  • Share

We've improved Slashdot's video section; now you can view our video interviews, product close-ups and site visits with all the usual Slashdot options to comment, share, etc. No more walled garden! It's a work in progress -- we hope you'll check it out (Learn more about the recent updates).


Comment: The Big Reveal (Score 4, Interesting) 239

by cowtamer (#49023909) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Will It Take To End Mass Surveillance?

This is coming. I don't want it to come, and neither do you.

But one day, there will be such a security breach that regular people for whom monitoring happens to other people will find every phone call they've made, every email/text/IM they've sent, every street camera picture that's been taken of them, every URL they've visited, and every nude airport scan available for searching, downloading, and scrutinizing going back at least a decade.

Some will find surprisingly more.

This will hurt you, me, the super-paranoid dude with the encrypted hard drive, the boring grandma, and the powerful politician.

After the dust settles from the several million ruined marriages, the inevitable political scandals, and the rampant identity theft, things will change. For a while.

New politicians will get elected. Privacy laws will be enacted. Watchers will be appointed to watch the other watchers. Whatever government surveillance exists will go further underground. Everyone will encrypt everything.

And then people will relax and thighs will go back to some version of what we have now.

Comment: I've done this (Score 1) 175

by cowtamer (#48942847) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: How Do I Engage 5th-8th Graders In Computing?

Taking apart a computer and programming are two orthogonal skills -- someone might be great at one and terrible at the other.

I've successfully used Basic4GL to teach basic programming, graphics, and algebra concepts to underperforming 6th graders. They really loved the exercise of drawing a spaceship first on graph paper and then on the computer using simple graphics commands. Basic4GL is great because it has built in sound, graphics, etc.

I will suggest 3 other things

1) Teach the Processing computer language. It's graphical, easy to start with, and mature.
2) Teach the Arduino. Build a simple circuit or a very simple robot with two servos. Any Arduino workshop devolves pleasantly into students tinkering with stuff.
3) Teach Python

I'll caution against Python because the text only interaction may bore them (even though I've taught this language before).


Researchers Direct Growth of Neurons With Silicon Nitride Microtubes 23

Posted by Soulskill
from the superbrain-under-construction dept.
MTorrice writes: Bioengineers want to connect electronics and neurons to make devices such as new cochlear implants or prosthetic limbs with a seemingly natural sense of touch. They also could build synthetic neural circuitry to use to study how the brain processes information or what goes wrong in neurodegenerative diseases.

As a step toward these applications, a team of researchers has developed a way to direct the growth of axons, the connection-forming arms of neurons. They use transparent silicon nitride microtubes on glass slides to encourage the cells' axons to grow in specific directions. The cultured nerve cells grow aimlessly until they bump into one of the tubes. The axon then enters the tube, and its growth is accelerated 20-fold. Silicon nitride already is used in some orthopedic devices, and could serve as a substrate for electronics to interface with the growing neurons.

Comment: Good luck finding cybersecurity people... (Score 1) 580

by cowtamer (#48120745) Attached to: FBI Says It Will Hire No One Who Lies About Illegal Downloading

Not that I would ever promote illegal downloading...

But this is a little bit like looking for expert medical marijuana growers who have never smoked anything in their lives.

If they want to hire cybersecurity people who also happen to be millennials, they are basically restricting themselves to hiring "white hat" home-schooled Boy-scout types who've learned everything they know from some technical school. There's nothing _necessarily_ wrong with this -- but they are SERIOUSLY shrinking the size of their talent pool to about to maybe two to three thousand people who've never done this. Out of this small pool, they will have to find the applicants who are both ridiculously qualified and interested...

Comment: Linux and SSH (Score 1) 334

by cowtamer (#47933067) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Remote Support For Disconnected, Computer-Illiterate Relatives

Look, just give them Linux (if they will tolerate this -- computer illiterate people still don't like their environment to be changed), and put something in /etc/init.d/rc.local to e-mail you their IP address every time they dial in.

Alternately, you can just give them a shortcut that displays the IP in a window for them to read to you.

This way, you can just get them to dial in and troubleshoot their problems via ssh. You may want to have a fresh OS image in a different partition that you can restore from the command line if needed.

I use a disposable gmail account and a Python based mail client to do the e-mail sending for this purpose.

Alternately, something like GotoMeeting might work -- albeit slowly.

Comment: Because they are ignored (Score 1) 278

by cowtamer (#47661495) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Why Are Online Job Applications So Badly Designed?

Anecdotal evidence: I have probably gotten hundreds, if not thousands of phone calls from various companies and recruiters, some of which have hired me.

I have NEVER gotten a single phone call from ANY 'online form' I've filled out, including ones for large companies.

I imagine all input on these forms is ignored. Don't waste your time. Post on Dice, Monster, etc. If you can, have your friends enter you into an employee referral system at the company they work for. Referrals are the best filter for companies.

Comment: Subscription Everything (Score 4, Insightful) 87

by cowtamer (#47467451) Attached to: Amazon Is Testing a $10-Per-Month Ebook Service

So for better or worse, everything is going to turn into a subscription service. You'll subscribe to read books, listen to music, stream movies, etc. Soon, we'll have grocery store subscriptions, subscriptions to hospitals (I think they're called HMOs), etc. I can imagine a furniture delivery & maintenance subscription too. At the end of the month, we'll probably see about $50 out of our paycheck -- which we won't even need to buy coffee, since we'll all have Starbucks subscriptions!!!

This will be great until, God forbid, the plug is pulled for some reason (unemployment, desire to take a couple of months off, etc.), at which point nobody will own anything...

Comment: Intendix P300 and other Brain Computer Interfaces (Score 1) 552

by cowtamer (#47079869) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Communication With Locked-in Syndrome Patient?

I am currently in graduate school for Biomedical Engineering and have looked into this a bit. Electroencephalography (EEG), ElectroOculography (EOG) and Electromyography (EMG) are all methods that can be used.

tl;dr version: Check out the EEG Based P300 speller system by Intendix. I think this is something you can buy and use right now.


There is also a similar open source system based on OpenViBE (an open source Brain Computer Interface (BCI) platform) : http://openvibe.inria.fr/openv...

Here's a bit more detail:

There are several options, none of them extremely good. EEG or blink based systems are probably your best bet. The EEG based systems rely on something called the P300 Event Related Potential (ERP). Basically, the user pays attention to one object, waiting for an event (e.g., a letter on an on-screen keyboard). The brain's recognition of the event evokes an EEG signal that can be easily detected. These are kind of slow, but the tech has been around for more than a decade. This is the first kind of system to let a locked-in patient communicate with the outside world.

Blink based interfaces are very easy to build -- I've built one myself using a BIOPAC system, several electrodes, and an Arduino using a combination of EEG and EMG signals. You could probably do it using an instrument amplifier and an arduino alone. For a very similar system to what I built (currently unpublished), see "Virtual keyboard BCI using Eye blinks in EEG" by Chambayil et al at: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl...

There are also several invasive systems (i.e., those that require brain surgery) which have been tested. Most of these rely on Electrocorticography (ECoG), where an electrode array is implanted on the brain. Both computer cursor and wheelchair control have been achieved. This is probably not where you want to go.

Check out the Cortech Solutions EEG based spelling device: http://www.cortechsolutions.co...

Here are some scientific articles that are relevant:

“Bridging the Brain to the World: A Perspective on Neural Interface Systems” John P.Donoghue. Neuron 60, November 6, 2008 p511-521

(Chambayil, Brijil, Rajesh Singla, and Rameshwar Jha. "Virtual keyboard BCI using Eye blinks in EEG." Wireless and Mobile Computing, Networking and Communications (WiMob), 2010 IEEE 6th International Conference on. IEEE, 2010.)

Good luck, and feel free to message me privately if I can provide more information.

Comment: Exciting, but long way to go... (Score 1) 61

by cowtamer (#46265373) Attached to: The Road To VR

I think Rift is in the right direction -- I've played with a few HMDs and many VR systems, and although the resolution of the Rift is extremely poor, the comfort is better than almost any HMD that I've tried.

The State of the Art in VR is not HMDs but systems like the CAVE (check out the C6 at Iowa State) where the user is in a room with head tracking and a 3D input device, and each wall (including the floor, ceiling, and the wall you entered through in the case of the C6) is a 16 megapixel rear-projected 3D display updated in real-time. The experience is very much like being in the alpha version of the Holodeck (the walls disappear for the head-tracked user wearing the 3D glasses, and any object can be walked around).

The problem with these systems, of course, is that they take up real physical space and have been prohibitively expensive for the last 2 decades. To get something equivalent to the human eye, you need close to 100 Megapixels (updated at >60Hz) with a 180 degree field of view (to avoid feeling like you're seeing the world through welding goggles). The CAVE gives you this experience, at a great price. The real problem is that it is used almost exclusively for demonstrations to visiting dignitaries and funding agencies at the places fortunate enough to have them. The genius of the Rift is that it will have a huge developer and user base (at least compared to current VR systems). What is created by this developer and user base will feed into State of the Art VR research (which has, unfortunately, stagnated horribly for at least a decade) and lead to the creation of something cool. (I'm hoping for a 100 Megapixel equivalent eye tracked VR helmet with vergence and accommodation compensation -- or true real-time digital holography -- or light field displays).

[Incidentally, 3DTV could have been the basis of home based VR systems if the game console companies had had the vision to add head tracking and embrace it for what it is -- a very affordable VR display. For those of you who have never tried it -- the experience of head tracked 3D is VERY different than just 3D. But the 3D hate is too strong -- primarily driven by people who don't see 3D, are too sensitive to the effects of current display tech, or those who have had the misfortune of having experienced badly calibrated 3D]

Comment: War and Peace, Anathem, The Black Book, etc. (Score 1) 796

by cowtamer (#45843599) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Are the Books Everyone Should Read?

Here are my favorites, if you're not stuck on a single Genre:

War and Peace: This one is a classic for a reason. Very clear and vivid descriptions, covers politics, philosophy, and even a bit of science and math if you read carefully enough :). Notable, of course, for its very well developed characters. NOT dull at all, despite the formidable length.

Anathem: Stephenson's best work so far. I like it for the same reasons I liked War and Peace (see above)

Snow Crash and The Diamond Age:
Two far-fetched futures from Neal Stephenson -- full of inspiring ideas and a bit of humor.

The Black Book (Orhan Pamuk)
I love this book for the atmosphere it creates as well as the exploration of the themes of identity (both individual and cultural), East vs West, etc. Orphan Pamuk won the Nobel prize in literature recently.

The Ringworld; Integral Trees; Building Harlequin's Moon (Larry Niven & collaborators)

These books are worth reading for the ideas and the world-building.

Glory Season (David Brin)

Brin is like a Larry Niven who can write beautiful prose. The book is indescribable -- also good for trolling your feminist friends (it takes place in a female dominated society and pokes fun of current stereotypes)

Brave New World (Huxley)

A past dystopia that will be eerily familiar.

East of Eden (John Steinbeck)

Read this if you enjoy epic cross generational tales and insights into human nature. I wish I had read this book 4 years earlier than I actually did.

Travels with Charlie (John Steinbeck)

Very insightful travel diary

Comment: Makerspaces (Score 2) 120

by cowtamer (#45717245) Attached to: Interview: Ask Forrest Mims About Rockets, Electronics, and Engineering

What do you feel about the Maker movement and Makerspaces in general?

It seems to me as the Maker/tinkerer is the new equivalent to the electronics hobbyist. Do you believe new project designs need to keep this in mind? (i.e, present the design of an entire gadget instead of just the electronics)?

Comment: Get your head out of your smart phone (Score 4, Insightful) 308

by cowtamer (#44899849) Attached to: To Boldly Go Nowhere, For Now

...and look up!

If you want to go and live in space, develop the tech to do so right now, before you lose the last of the know-how on how to do this. If you want to lust after pics of distant worlds forever unreachable to you, then divert your resources to robotic missions. Or better yet, just create the worlds in Maya and release them to the public -- it's not like they'll ever be able to verify.

The truth is, we care about space because some of us want to go there. In our lifetimes. This is technologically within reach. Keep taking pictures of distant rocks (instead of sending some humans to tough it out and settle them) and you will find all your money diverted to social media and more wars.

In the sciences, we are now uniquely priviledged to sit side by side with the giants on whose shoulders we stand. -- Gerald Holton