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+ - Intent To Deprecate HTTP -> 2

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: A suggestion on the Mozilla Dev forum aims to deprecate HTTP in favour of HTTPS. Has it really come to this? Browser devs dictating the protocols we use? Of course, it is all in the name of freedom.
The basic idea is that HTTPS is more secure — it stops government agencies spying on what we do and it stops man-in-the-middle attacks. Hence there is a growing belief that all web traffic should be encrypted and hence the move to deprecate HTTP and phase out browser support for it.
The problem is that to use HTTPS you need to buy a certificate and this isn't cheap. The solution is to make use of a self-signed certificate which provides encryption but not authentication. At the moment this isn't an easy option, but initiatives like the EFF's Let's Encrypt promises a service that will provide free certificates with some automatic domain validation and a database of certificates. This is makes using "lightly validated" certificates a possibility, but at the moment browsers tend to put up warning messages when you encounter a website that has a self-signed certificate. This makes an HTTPS site using a self-signed certificate look more risky than an HTTP site that has no encryption at all!
This is a very complicated situation. It is clear that there are situations were HTTPS is essential and there are many situations were it is largely irrelevant and actually harmful.
Which to us is not a decision that should be left to browser developers.

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+ - Intel Boss Controls Robot Spider Army ->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: At the recent Intel Developer Forum, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich took to the stage to demo its latest system-on-a-chip controlling an army of spiderbots.
OK it wasn't an army it was just four but in principle it could have been.
The Curie, announced back in January, might be Intel's best chance of getting more than a foothold in the IoT market. It is tiny button-like device that has a complete Intel Quark SoC and some sensors built in — 384K of Flash and 80K of SRAM to run the open source RTOS operating system. What is remarkable is that it also crams in Bluetooth LE, DSP hub and 6-axis accelerometer and gyro.
A small wristband containing a Curie monitored Krzanich's arm position and gestures and connected via Bluetooth to four spiderbots. You need to see the video to appreciate how spooky this is.
What is it with Intel and spiders? To show off its Edison processor Intel helped create a spider dress that reacted to protect the wearer's personal space if someone came to close, see Spider Dress Defends Your Space.
Now it has a bunch of spiders under the CEO's personal command. Perhaps this is how they plan to finish off ARM and any other competitors. Be afraid, be very afraid....

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+ - Festo's Robot Ants And Butterflies ->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: Every year around this time of year Festo builds some amazing robot or other — last year it was a kangaroo. What could it possibly do to top previous amazing devices? What about some even more amazing robotic insects.
BionicANT is designed not only look good but to demonstrate swarm intelligence. The robot not only looks like an ant, but it works like one. The design makes use of piezo bending transducers rather than servos to move. As well as being able to move its six legs, it also has a piezo-activated pair of pincers.

The second insect robot is a butterfly — eMotion. For flying machines these are incredibly lightweight at 32 grams. The bodies are laser sintered and the wings use carbon fibre rods. Two miniature servo motors are attached to the body and each wing. The electronics has a microcontroller, an inertial sensor consisting of gyro, accelerometer and compass and two radio modules. Flying time is around 3 or 4 minutes.
Both devices push the boundaries of miniature robotics and they just look so good...

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+ - Magic Leap's New Game Changer? ->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: Magic Leap is a secretive company promising to deliver Virtual Reality that will change everything. It was going to show off a first-person real world shoot-em up at TED, but suddenly pulled out. Why is unclear, but the company seems to be happy to show the video it would have used in the TED talk.If you take a look.
OK, you have probably seen it all before and yes this could, and probably is, a mock-up rather than the real thing — but it doesn't matter you want to play it. If you look at its publicity material what you see are lots of things that are typical of VR, but none of the viewers are wearing any sort of VR headset. This is the "magic" part of the leap. The best guess is that the Digital Lightfield that they claim to have invented is most probably a fibre optic device that projects light straight into the retina so that it merges with the light from the real scene. So you might have to wear a device but it will be small and it should produce a natural VR effect.

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+ - GCHQ Builds A Raspberry Pi Super Computer Cluster ->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: GCHQ, the UK equivalent of the NSA, has created a 66 Raspberry Pi cluster called the Bramble for "educational" purposes. What educational purposes isn't exactly clear but you do associate super computers with spooks and spies. It seems that there was an internal competition to invent something and three, unnamed, GCHQ technologists decided that other Pi clusters were too ad-hoc. They set themselves the target of creating a cluster that could be reproduced as a standard architecture to create a commodity cluster.
The basic unit of the cluster is a set of eight networked Pis, called an "OctaPi" — one thing you have to admit is that the Raspberry Pi name lends itself to silly variations. Each OctaPi can be used standalone or hooked up to make a bigger cluster. In the case of the Bramble a total of eight OctaPis makes the cluster 64 processors strong. In addition there are two head control nodes, which couple the cluster to the outside world. Each head node has one Pi, a wired and WiFi connection, realtime clock, a touch screen and a camera.
This is where the story becomes really interesting. Rather than just adopt a standard cluster application like Hadoop, OctaPi's creators decided to develop their own. After three iterations, the software to manage the cluster is now based on Node.js, Bootstrap and Angular.
So what is it all for?
The press release says that:
"The initial aim for the cluster was as a teaching tool for GCHQ’s software engineering community."
and then goes on to say:
"The ultimate aim is to use the OctaPi concept in schools to help teach efficient and effective programming. Watch this space for more details!"
The second point seems a bit unlikely.
Is it going to be open source?
Given that this is a GCHQ creation it seems unlikely, but we can hope.

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+ - Classic Mac Icons Archive Bought By MOMA ->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: Susan Kare is the artist responsible for many of the classic Mac icons that are universally recognized. Now her impact as a pioneering and influential computer iconographer has been recognized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
She designed all of her early icons on graph paper, with one square representing each pixel. Now this archive of sketches has been acquired by MoMA, jointly with San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, and has gone on show as part of a new exhibition, This is for Everyone: Design Experiments For The Common Good.
So now you can think of the smiling mac, the pointing finger and scissors as high art.

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+ - Nao's Creator Quits Aldebaran As Pepper Goes On Sale ->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: Bruno Maisonnier, founder of Aldebaran, the French company that brought us the friendly humanoid robot Nao, is standing down as its CEO. This coincides with the availability, in Japan, of company's latest creation Pepper which has quickly established itself in a hospitality role. At Bruno Maisonnier's request SoftBank,which already owned a majority share, will purchase all his shares in the company he founded in 2005. Pepper was created for SoftBank a Japanese phone company and now basically it is on sale for an upfront fee of $1,600 followed by a subscription of $206 per month for 3 years for access to Softbank’s cloud-based artificial intelligence software.
However its main purpose seems to be in the role of a greetings robot at the door to the store, a role that even Nao seems to be getting involved in. It is arguable that a "greetings" robot is really only something that could be a success in countries that have the same cultural background as Japan. Try to imagine the customer reaction to being formally greeted by a Pepper-like robot in a US phone store — the novelty would wear off very quickly.
This probably isn't the future Maisonnier had in mind for his creations.

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+ - Replacing the Turing Test -> 1

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: A plan is afoot to replace the Turing test as a measure of a computer's ability to think. The idea is for an annual or bi-annual Turing Championship consisting of three to five different challenging tasks.
A recent workshop at the 2015 AAAI Conference of Artificial Intelligence was chaired by Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology at New York University. His opinion is that the Turing Test had reached its expiry date and has become
"an exercise in deception and evasion.”
Marcus points out:
the real value of the Turing Test comes from the sense of competition it sparks amongst programmers and engineers
which has motivated the new initiative for a multi-task competition.
The one of the tasks is based on Winograd Schemas. This requires participants to grasp the meaning of sentences that are easy for humans to understand through their knowledge of the world. One simple example is:
The trophy would not fit in the brown suitcase because it was too big. What was too big?
Another suggestion is for the program to answer questions about a TV program:
No existing program—not Watson, not Goostman, not Siri—can currently come close to doing what any bright, real teenager can do: watch an episode of “The Simpsons,” and tell us when to laugh.
Another is called the "ikea" challenge and asks for robots to co-operate with humans to build flatpack furniture. This involves interpreting written instructions, choosing the right piece, and holding it in just the right position for a human teammate.. This at least is a useful skill that might encourage us to welcome machines into our homes.

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+ - Twitter Can Identify Heart Disease ->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: Researchers have shown that Twitter can serve as a dashboard indicator of a community’s psychological well-being and can predict rates of heart disease. Many factors contribute to the risk of heart disease, not just traditional ones, like low income or smoking but also psychological ones, like stress. The team found that negative emotional language and topics, such as words like “hate” or expletives, remained strongly correlated with heart disease mortality, even after variables like income and education were taken into account. Positive emotional language showed the opposite correlation, suggesting that optimism and positive experiences, words like “wonderful” or “friends,” may be protective against heart disease.
The maps produced showing heart disease rates according to Twitter show a remarkable match to maps of actual death due to heart disease.
As one team member commented:
“The relationship between language and mortality is particularly surprising since the people tweeting angry words and topics are in general not the ones dying of heart disease. But that means if many of your neighbors are angry, you are more likely to die of heart disease.”

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+ - Bjarne Stroustrup Awarded Dahl-Nygaard Prize ->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: Bjarne Stroustrup, the creator of C++, is the 2015 recipient of the Senior Dahl-Nygaard Prize, considered the most prestigious prize in object-oriented computer science. Established in 2005 it honors the pioneering work on object-orientation of Ole-Johan Dahl and Kristen Nygaard who, designed Simula, the original object-oriented language and are remembered as "colorful characters".
To be eligible for the senior prize an individual must have made a
"significant long-term contribution to the field of Object-Orientation"
and this year it goes to Bjarne Stoustrup for the design, implementation and evolution of the C++ programming language. You can't argue with that.

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+ - Atlas Rebuilt - DARPA's Almost New Robot ->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: Atlas was the robot from sci-fi, big, black and powerful — only it had these cables that provided it with power and made it look a little like a dog on a leash. It was designed to provide a hardware platform for teams competing in the DARPA Robotic's Challenge DRC — a competition designed to encourage the construction of an effective disaster response robot. Now it has been revealed that the finals of the DRC later in the year require that the robot used not to have a tether and hence Atlas needed a redesign.
The new Atlas has no wires of any kind and hence is described as "wireless". This is achieved by fitting an onboard 3.7 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery. This is used to drive a variable-pressure pump which operates all of the hydraulic systems. This makes ATLAS much quieter but introduces a complication for the teams. The pump can be run at low pressure to save battery and then switched into high pressure to get some work done. What this means is that not only do the teams have to worry about robotic things they also have to manage the power consumption as if ATLAS was a mobile phone.
There are lots of other new features and you can see the robot in action in a video.
There is also news of the DRC in that the prize has been increased to $3.5 million — $2 million to the winner, $1 million to second and $500,000 to third place. The robots also have to work without a cable and if they fall over they have to get up on their own or fail at the task. The idea of an Atlas falling over and picking itself up is difficult to imagine.
Finally while the new Atlas looks good the plastic covers make it look far less threatening.

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+ - SparkleVision - Seeing Through The Glitter->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: Another new application of computational photography lets you reconstruct an image that has been reflected by a rough shiny object — a glitter-covered surface, say.If you have an image viewed by reflection from a "glittery" surface — more technically one containing mirror facets with random orientation — then what you will see is a blurry shadow of the original. To unscramble the image all you need is the inverse transform and a recent paper from MIT explains how to do it. Basically all you have to do is shine a one pixel light onto the glitter and record where it goes on the sensor. Then some math is used to compute the inverse transformation. Not content with theory the technique was used to make convincing reconstructions of photos reflected off a glitter surface.
The reconstruction is very sensitive to slight shifts in the image and this could be used as a movement detector or 3D camera. But next time you are in a room with a glittery surface keep in mind that you could still be watched.

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+ - Computing Teachers Concerned That Pupils Know More Than Them->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: A survey of UK schools carried out by Microsoft and Computing at School reveals some worrying statistics that are probably more widely applicable.
The survey revealed that (68%) of primary and secondary teachers are concerned that their pupils have a better understanding of computing than they do. Moreover the pupils reinforced this finding with 47% claiming that their teachers need more training. Again to push the point home, 41% of pupils admitted to regularly helping their teachers with technology.
This isn't all due to the teachers being new at the task — 76% had taught computing before the new curriculum was introduced. It seems that switching from an approach that emphasised computer literacy to one that actually wants students to do more difficult things is the reason for the problem.

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+ - Google Cast For Audio - A Solution?->

Submitted by mikejuk
mikejuk writes: You would think that sending an audio stream to some device so that you could hear it would be a solved problem. Far from it! Google has just announced Cast for Audio based on its Chromecast mechanism.
Chromecast isn't a dumb communications device. When you use it to play a video it takes the URL, connects and streams the video via its WiFi connection independently of the originating device. This means that if you cast a video from a phone the ChromeCast does the heavy lifting leaving the phone to save its battery.
The latest extension of the idea is Cast for Audio just announced by Google. Chromecast technology will be built into Cast ready speakers which should be available in the spring. It seems Google have companies like Sony LG and Denon in on the deal. So you at the very least have to go and buy a new set of speakers to make Cast work. Once set up on your WiFi network the fact that is supposed to appeal to the consumer is that playing something is just a matter of hitting the Cast button. This will transfer the URL of the stream and leave your mobile free to get on with something else — you can even turn it off.
Is this the end of Bluetooth audio?

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Hacking's just another word for nothing left to kludge.