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Submission + - Where Are The Raspberry Pi Zeros? (

mikejuk writes: No matter how you spin it the Pi Zero is remarkably good value for a one-off or a repeat-production IoT project.
It also has one big advantage over similarly priced alternatives — a community and a track record. There are so many Pis out there that it has a stability that any IoT developer will find reassuring. Thus when the Pi Zero at $5 was announced it was a knockout blow for many of its competitors.Suddenly other previously attractive devices simply looked less interesting. The $9 C.H.I.P, the $20 CodeBug and even the free BBC MicroBit lost some of their shine and potential users.
But the Pi Zero sold out.
The Pi Zero was supposed to be available from November 26, 2015. It is now the start of February and all of the stockists, including the Pi Swag Shop, are still showing out of stock. That's two whole months, and counting, of restricted supply which is more than an initial hiccup.
Of course you would expect enough to be made available initially to meet the expected demand.
The Pi sells something in the region of 200,000 per month so what do you think the initial run of the Pi Zero actually was?
The answer is 20,000 units. Of which 10,000 were stuck to the cover of MagPi and "given away" leaving just 10,000 in the usual distribution channels. And yet Eben Upton, founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, commented:
"You'd think we'd be used to it by now, but we're always amazed by the level of interest in new Raspberry Pi products,"
Well yes, you really would think that they might be used to it by now and perhaps even prepared for it.
At the time of writing the Pi Zero is still out of stock and when it is briefly in stock customers are limited to one unit.
A victim of its own success, yes, but the real victims are the Raspberry Pi's competitors.

Submission + - Fewer Degrees Of Separation With Facebook (

mikejuk writes: Six degrees of separation is the, already well established, idea that any individual is connected to any other via six network nodes. New research — Three and a half degrees of separation has discovered that the average between Facebook users is just three and a half.

We know that people are more connected today than ever before. Over the past five years, the global Facebook community has more than doubled in size. Today we’re announcing that during that same time period, the degrees of separation between a typical pair of Facebook users has continued to decrease to 3.57 degrees, down from 3.74 degrees in 2011. This is a significant reflection of how closely connected the world has become.

This may all be true and Facebook makes us better connected, but it leaves the question of the quality of the connections open. Are Facebook friends anything like real friends?

Submission + - Celebrate Charles Babbage's Birthday With LEGO (

mikejuk writes: Charles Babbage was born in England on Boxing Day (December 26th) in 1791 and in the 19th century designed calculating engines that were the visionary forerunners of today's computers. Would you like your own model of the Analytical Engine? If so lend your support to the campaign for the Lovelace and Babbage LEGO set.
The set, if it is approved will contain
Analytical Engine (inc. store, mill, barrels)
glass roof (removable)
two easy access 'service hatches'
gas lamps
punched cards
Charles and Ada minifigures and a pet owl
The proposal was for the set to be available in time for the 200th anniversary of Ada Lovelace's birth — December 10, 2015. Although it hadn't gained the 10,000 supporters needed for LEGO to view it as a viable proposition it has had enough (currently over 7,000) to be granted extra time.
Voting for the Lovelace and Babbage LEGO set doesn't commit you to ever purchasing one, but you do have to sign up to the LEGO Ideas site and answer some marketing questions.

Submission + - Femto Fairy Lights - Touchable Holograms ( 2

mikejuk writes: One method of creating a volumetric, i.e. true 3D, display, is to use a high power laser and focus it on a small spot in space. The air in that spot will be heated to the point where it ionizes and glows with a bright blue light. Scan the laser really fast and you can make a full 3D arrangement of glowing points of light — not exactly a hologram but as good as.
Of course, the big problem is that you have a lot of energy being focused on small areas and human interaction could be a problem. You might well get burned by the laser if you attempted to touch or interact with the display. The solution is to use a really fast laser, a femtosecond laser, that heats a small spot to a high temperature but only for a very short time. This is much safer because the total energy involved is smaller. This is the reason you can touch sparks without getting burned.
The idea is very simple but getting it to work is a tough problem and so far the "holograms" are small very small — but still amazing — see the video.
If you are thinking of the sort of "hard light" projector that created holograms in Star Trek then you have the right idea. Yes, this system makes it possible to touch light.

Submission + - Create Your Favourite Actor From Nothing But Photos (

mikejuk writes: If you always wanted to see John Wayne play the lead in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly you might not have to wait much longer. A University of Washington team has essentially reversed engineered what makes an actor recognizable as that actor, or as the title of the paper puts it "What Makes Tom Hanks Look Like Tom Hanks".
  It explains how using nothing but photos and videos from the web it is possible to create an actor puppet that follows the expressions of a driver i.e. a puppeteer. Now your really can see actors perform things they never got round to performing.
The model of the "puppet"is first created using photos.from the web. The next stage is to analyse a video of the "driver", i.e. to work out the deformations in the puppet needed to make it follow the driver.
The real innovation is working out how to convert the movement of one person into those of the actor so that the actor remains recognizable. You might think that its would be complicated because everyone smiles in a different way and Tom Hanks smile is, well, unique. What they discovered is:
"After a great deal of experimentation, we obtained surprisingly convincing results using the following simple recipe: use actor B’s shape, B’s texture, and A’s motion (adjusted for the geometry of B’s face)."
So it seems that it is sufficient to use the movements generated by the driver and simply modify them to take account of the geometry of the actor's face.
Although the researchers don't draw any conclusion from this, it suggests that the character of an actor comes about from displaying a universal human facial expression using the physiology they happen to have.
So much for acting...

Submission + - Coordinated Cyber Attack on Greek Banks (

mikejuk writes: Financially tortured Greece has been caught in the middle of another turmoil, that of a hacking thriller currently in full deployment. Hacker team Armada Collective last week notified the National Bank of Greece of a series of pending DDoS attacks against its banking infrastructure unless 700 bitcoins is paid in ransom.
Carrying out their threat, to prove their point, they launched a pre-emptive attack on Thursday November 26th lasting for 45 minutes, against three institutional Greek banks, which unconfirmed information suggests were Eurobank, Alpha Bank and Attica Bank. The deadline is Thursday, December 3rd. If this expires, new DDoS attacks, this time more massive in scale, will be launched with the aim of causing total blackout bringing those sites and their online transactions to a standstill.
Greek authorities do not disregard the claim, upgrading the Greek banks' online security level to the maximum, with EYP, the National Intelligence Service in Greece, taking charge of this shielding operation.
According to, last October the same group threatened Swiss hosting providers for an amount of just 20 BTC by sending a warning email which included the advice:
"Bitcoin is anonymous, nobody will ever know you cooperated".
For the first time in history Bitcoin makes blackmail, extortion and kidnap logically possible simply because of this fact.
So now our attention turns back to Greece, with Thursday coming very soon. Will the attacks be carried out? Will they succeed, and will the Greek Banks pay up under this pressure? We'll just have to wait and see.

Submission + - Raspberry Pi Zero $5 Computer (

mikejuk writes: Rumours that something new was coming from the Raspberry Pi team have proved true — a $5 computer the Raspberry Pi Zero is here to give the BBC micro:bit and other low cost devices some competition.
The new Pi Zero offers quite a lot of hardware for $5:
A Broadcom BCM2835 application processor
1GHz ARM11 core (40% faster than Raspberry Pi 1)
A micro-SD card slot
A mini-HDMI socket for 1080p60 video output
Micro-USB sockets for data and power
An unpopulated 40-pin GPIO header
Identical pinout to Model A+/B+/2B
An unpopulated composite video header
form factor 65mm x 30mm x 5mm
1x Micro USB Data port
comes with Micro USB ‘On the Go’ adapter and Mini HDMI to HDMI adapter
It also runs Raspbian including Scratch, Minecraft and Sonic Pi. The GPIO is the same as all of the previous Pis but it doesn't come with a 40-pin connector soldered into place — so some assembly is required if you want to use it as an microcontroller. The same is true if you want to make use of the composite video output to drive older display devices.
To emphasize how low cost this device is, it is being given away free with this month's MagPi, the magazine published by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which claims, probably correctly, that this is the first time a computer has been given away as a covermount.
This really is a revolution — disposable computing is here

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.

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