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Submission + - GPS Always Overestimates Distances (

mikejuk writes: Have you had a suspicion that your GPS app is overestimating the distance traveled? It is something that runners and walkers complain about a lot.
If so you are probably correct but the reason isn't an algorithmic glitch. The answer lies in the statistics and it is a strange story.
If you make a measurement and it is subject to a random unbiased error then you generally are safe in assuming that the random component will make the quantity larger as often as it makes it smaller. Researchers at the University of Salzburg (UoS), Salzburg Forschungsgesellchaft (SFG), and the Delft University of Technology have done some fairly simple calculations that prove that this is not the case for GPS distance measurement.
Consider the distance between two points — this is along a straight line and hence it is the shortest distance. Now add some unbiased random noise and guess what this tends to increase the distance. So unbiased errors in position give rise to a biased overestimate of the distance. There is an exact formula for the bias and in some cases it can be more than 20%.
Is there a solution?
Perhaps using velocity measurements and time to work out distance is better — it isn't biased in the same way but how accurate it could be remains to be seen.
So when your fitness band tells you you have run a 4 minute mile — don't believe it.

Submission + - Celebrate the 200th Birthday of George Boole With Logic (

mikejuk writes: November 2nd 2015 is the bicentenary of George Boole, dubbed the forefather of modern information technology. To mark the event 55,000 school students globally will be learning about Boolean Logic. Free lesson plans, puzzles and worksheets have been made available in English, Irish and Manadarin and schools in over 30 countries have signed up.
According to the George Boole 200 website,
set up by University College Cork (UCC), the Irish university where he was the first Professor of Mathematics in the mid-19th century, Boole is:
  an unsung hero of the digital age
who deserves to be recognized as:
  the forefather of the Information Age
An hour-long documentary The Genius of George Boole will be released on November 2 and available to view online until November 16.
Although Boole did briefly encounter Charles Babbage during his lifetime he wasn't responsible for bringing together binary arithmetic and what we now call Boolean logic. That achievement is down to Claude Shannon who recognised the relevance for engineering of Boole’s symbolic logic. As a result of Shannon's work Boole’s thinking became the practical foundation of digital circuit design and the theoretical grounding of the the digital age.

Submission + - RankBrain - AI Comes To Google Search (

mikejuk writes: Google has been using an AI based signal — BrainRank — for the past few months. This isn't surprising in that it has always been clear that part of Google's extensive interest in AI goes beyond self driving cars and classifying cat videos on You Tube and into its core search business.
What RankBrain seems to do is deal with search queries that Google hasn't seen before, about 15% of the total queries.
It seems to be based on Word2vec. This is a technique that uses a shallow neural network to capture the way words relate to each other. It was invented by Google's AI researchers led by Tomas Mikolo. The neural network takes the input words and maps each word to a vector in a high dimensional space. The way that this is done captures many of the semantic relationships between the words so that words that mean similar things correspond to vectors in the same direction in the space and they capture many regularities. For example, the vector operation:
  vector('king') — vector('man') + vector('woman')
is close to the vector("queen") and so on.
What RankBrain seems to be doing is semantic processing on the input query enabling the search algorithm to return pages that are more relevant to the query. It seems to have nothing to do with ranking the importance of the pages.
Even so RankBrain has surprised its creators by becoming, in a few short months, the third most important signal among the hundreds that the search algorithm uses.

Submission + - OpenOffice - There WILL be a next version (

mikejuk writes: After a recent open letter to the Apache OpenOffice team argued that the project should bow out and redirect potential users to LibreOffice instead the OpenOffice team have responded with the promise of a new version. It's in final stages of preparation and the project has requested help for tasks associated with its release.
While not mentioning the call to pass the baton to LibreOffice specifically, the blog post appears to be a response in that it opens with the statement:
A new OpenOffice update, version 4.1.2, has been in preparation for a while. Born as a simple bugfix release, it became an occasion for some deep restructuring in the project: several processes have now been streamlined (and some are still in the works), new people are on board and infrastructure has been improved.
So its not dead then.

Submission + - NSA Codebreaker Challenge (

mikejuk writes: NSA, the United States National Security Agency, is challenging university students in the US to exercise their reverse engineering and low-level code analysis skills while working on a fictitious, yet realistic, security threat.
The challenge consists of multiple tiers that become progressively harder. Last year, only 10 students solved the fourth and final tier problem but perhaps the fact that for this year's challenges prizes will be awarded to the first 50 students to complete all four tasks will attract more entrants.
"To solve these challenges, you will need to analyze the executable file with low-level tools such as a disassembler, debugger, hex editor, Linux binutils, etc"
You can only register for this challenge using a valid .edu address.
"Not every problem is the same. Each participant who downloads the problem receives a identifier with slight modifications to the problem, which gives everyone a unique experience."
The Codebreaker Challenge site FAQ points out that reverse engineering is a crucial skill for those involved in the fight against malware, advanced persistent threats, and similar malicious cyber activities and admits that:
"as the organization tasked with protecting U.S. government national security information systems, NSA is looking to develop these skills in university students (and prospective future employees!)"

Submission + - It Is Programmer Day - Why So Apathetic? (

mikejuk writes: Programmers Day comes around every year and yet each year it seems to be increasingly ignored. Why, when we are trying to encourage children to take up all things computing, is Programmers Day such a big flop? If you've not encountered it before, the idea is that on a specific day we celebrate computer programmers. It is designated to be on the 256th day of the year, which in most years is September 13th and this year, 2015, it falls on a Sunday. If you don't know why its the 256th day then you probably aren't a programmer and there is no point in explaining.
The usual suggestions for things to do on programmer day include telling jokes and other fairly lame stuff. How about instead:
Teach someone to program just a little bit.
Explain why programming is a mode of thought that is incredibly effective.
Point out to an assembled group of people what the world would be like without software.
Describe how much better the world would be if EVERYONE could think algorithmically so getting to real solutions rather than just expressing vague desires about "a better world".
So what are you going to do to stop this opportunity slipping by unmarked?


Submission + - Firefox, Chrome & Opera Block Access To Routers (

mikejuk writes: Due to a heavy-handed approach to security Firefox, Chrome and Opera are causing problems. They block access to routers with inadequate SSL reporting the cryptic message, "Server has a weak ephemeral Diffie-Hellman public key". Web browsers are becoming increasingly authoritarian in their approach to implementing security. The latest step to protect the innocent user is causing a lot of trouble for network administrators. Instead of offering a choice to proceed the browsers are blocking access and telling the user to get the server fixed. There is a way to temporarily make Firefox proceed with the unsafe connection, but so far no fix has been found for Chrome and Opera.
There are horror stories of users trying to get important documents from faulty servers and being unable to do so because of the block and suffering financial or even legal penalties as a consequence but the biggest problem in being caused when admins attempt to access network devices. In these cases the browser simply refusing to connect means that the devices cannot be managed and without access to the management interface they cannot be updated either. The only option is to find a browser that will connect- currently IE and Edge will both warn the user but continue with the connection if required. Even then there is often no way to change the connection security. This problem is affecting routers from a wide range of manufacturers including Netgear and Cisco. Some of the routers don't have a management option to change the security of the management connection and in this case the users have no choice but to drop Chrome, Firefox and Opera and work with IE or Edge.
The final blow is that often routers, vpn boxes, WiFi access points etc. are left alone doing their jobs for long periods of time until something goes wrong. When such a crisis happens the user is also immediately confronted with another problem in that they are locked out of the management UI and it couldn't happen at a worse time.
It is time that browser builders realized that they can and should protect innocent users, but they should not do so by force

Submission + - Steve Wozniak "Steve Jobs played no role in my designs for the Apple I & II" (

mikejuk writes: In a recent interview with very lucky 14-year old Sarina Khemchandani for her website, ReachAStudent, Steve Wozniak was more than precise about the role of Steve Jobs.
"Steve Jobs played no role at all in any of my designs of the Apple I and Apple II computer and printer interfaces and serial interfaces and floppy disks and stuff that I made to enhance the computers. He did not know technology. He’d never designed anything as a hardware engineer, and he didn’t know software. He wanted to be important, and the important people are always the business people. So that’s what he wanted to do.
The Apple II computer, by the way, was the only successful product Apple had for its first 10 years, and it was all done, for my own reasons for myself, before Steve Jobs even knew it existed."
He also says a lot of interesting things in the three ten minute videos about life, electronics and education.

Submission + - FlatCam - Who Needs A Lens? (

mikejuk writes: Computational photography has more or less killed off the classic approach to photography. But a camera without a lens — surely some sort of joke?
The idea is to get rid of the lens completely and produce a camera that is as thin as the sensor. The way to make it work is to place a coded mask over the sensor. The input to each sensor element is then a known combination of light coming from different parts of the scene. As the mask is known, the outputs of the sensors can be unscrambled using linear algebra to produce an image.
This is how FlatCam, a project at Rice and Carnegie Mellon, works and they built light camera with the mask placed on top of the protective glass plate making the spacing 0.5mm. This produces a camera element that isn't much thicker than the basic sensor.
The researchers suggest that Flatcam could be used in clothes or more importantly wallpaper.
Consider this spy scenario — you look around a room for hidden cameras but do you notice the colored spot on the wallpaper. It's not a lens. However now no lens doesn't mean no camera.

Submission + - Do We Need More Emojis? (

mikejuk writes: The Unicode Consortium has accepted another 38 emoji characters as candidates for Unicode 9.0, with new characters including bacon and a duck on the list. Why could we possibly need a duck?
Many of the new characters are the ‘other half’ of gender-matched pairs, so the Dancer emoji (which is usually rendered as Apple’s salsa dancing woman) gets a Man Dancing emoji, who frankly looks like a cross between John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and your dad at the wedding disco.Would Salsa Dancing Woman really dance with Dad Dancer?
I doubt it.
Other additions include carrot, cucumber, and avocado, and bacon.
How did the emoji world survive without a bacon emoji until now?
The list of additions is rounded off with new animal emojis. Some are the ‘missing’ zodiac symbols (lion and crab). Others are as baffling as ever – is there *really* a demand for a mallard duck? Sorry it's in fact a drake!

Submission + - Now You Can Buy The Raspberry Pi HAT That Went Into Space (

mikejuk writes: OK it hasn't actually got to space just yet but it is on its way. When the Sense HAT was announced everyone seemed envious that this multifunction add-on board was available to space men but not to us IoT men. Now it is and for just $30.
In case you missed it
this is a project that will see two Raspberry Pis, two Sense HATs and a lot of code written by UK school kids hosted on the International Space Station. It has joypad, an 8x8 color 15 bit color LED display, a pressure/temperature sensor, a temperature/humidity sensor and an accelerometer/gyroscope/magnetic field sensor. All run by a built in ATTiny88 which can be reprogrammed by the Pi.
This may be useful on the International Space Station but there are a lot more uses for it on the ground at $30. As the Raspberry Pi Foundation puts it — we are already imagining the birth of a million Pi-controlled stunt quadcopters.

Submission + - Leaked Mozilla Tax Return Reveals $800K Top Salaries (

mikejuk writes: The Mozilla Foundation is a non-profit organization that is exempt from income tax. Even so it has to complete an annual return for the United States Internal Revenue Status. The completed form for 2013 was posted to an apparently recently commissioned server by an anonymous agent
It reveals that in 2013 Mozilla's top brass earned quite a bit more than its foot soldiers: Mitchell Baker, Chair of the Mozilla Foundation (total $801K); Brendan Eich, who back in 2013 was Mozzilla's CTO and a Director of the Board ($779K) and James Cook, Treasurer ($613K).
Mozilla portrays itself, not only as an open source community, but also as the champion of ideals of equality and morality — look at how it treated Brendan Eich. Sympathy for Mozilla's "fat cats" isn't helped by the fact it is currently seen as an organization which is failing its loyal community of users and volunteer developers.
Currently Mozilla Firefox is number three in the list of top browsers could it drop lower as its loyal users decide that it is no different from Google's Chrome or Microsoft's Edge?

Submission + - Computer Finds New Pentagonal Tiling - With Some Human Help (

mikejuk writes: A new pentagonal tiling of the plane has just been discovered. It is the first in 30 years and we still don't know if there are any more.
You can make pentagons fit together if you move away from regular pentagons — that is, use convex pentagons with different lengths of sides and angles.
As of the start of this year (2015) 14 such pentagonal tilings were known. The first five were found in 1918, three more in 1968 and it was claimed there were no more. A ninth was found in 1975 and then amateur mathematician, Marjorie Rice, found four more in 1976 and 1977. The set seemed complete with a 14th convex pentagon tiling found in 1985 and things went quiet for 30 years ... until this year.
Casey Mann, Jennifer McLoud, and David Von Derau have just discovered a 15th tiling using a computer program. The pentagon itself doesn't look that impressive but the pattern it makes when used to tile the plane is another matter.
The pentagon is the last of the n-sided tiling shapes to be holding out on us. You can tile the plane with any triangle or quadrilateral. There are known to be just three types of convex hexagon that tile the plane and that's it. No other n-sided convex objects tile the plane, but we still don't know how many possibilities there are for the pentagon — is the count closed at the fifteen we now know?
"The team will look for additional tiles by running a tweaked version of Von Derau’s computer program on Hyak, the high performance computers on the UW Seattle campus."

Submission + - Your Phone's Battery Leaks - Your Id That Is (

mikejuk writes: You can run, but you can't hide. It is amazing how innocent technological features turn out to have a hidden dark side. So it is with the battery API. Designed to help out with running out of juice, it now seems that it can be used to track you even if you don't want to be tracked.
The battery API was approved as part of HTML5 by the W3C and as it was intended to report your battery status no permission was deemed necessary to use it. This means any web site, app or 3rd party script can ask for your battery status.
What could possibly go wrong?
According to Belgian researchers a lot. They have found a way of using the battery status information to track you accurately for 30 seconds. This is enough time to identify you during a change from public to private browsing or clearing cookies and getting a new one. In some cases it is even possible to work out the capacity of the battery and this doesn't change quickly providing a way to track over longer periods of time.
A solution might be to ask user's permission to supply battery status — but most innocent users would simply agree. After all what harm can there be in a website knowing your battery level?

Submission + - MORPHs Roam The Park Looking For Children To Play (

mikejuk writes: Robots, taken at the widest interpretation of an active mechanism with some computer control, are getting cheaper all the time. This means you can start to think of using them for non-essential things like — fun and art. The MORPH — Mobile Reconfigurable Polyhedron — an octahedral robot has twelve actuated struts and moves by changing their length so as to overtopple in a determined direction. Let loose in a park a morph is free to roam around finding people to play with it. It resembles a mobile climbing frame and the idea that it might pursue small children and insist that they play with it is both amusing and spooky. Just wait until it manages to trap a small child in its actuators! See the video of it roaming a London park.
The current prototype is around 1.5 meters high and can withstand an imposed load of 30 kilograms and there are plans for a bigger version at twice the height. Now that will really be an autonomous roving climbing frame!
Let us hope it doesn't go rogue.
Just in case — I, for one, welcome our robotic climbing frame overlords...

I have a theory that it's impossible to prove anything, but I can't prove it.