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Communications

Earliest "Writing" On 60,000-Year-Old Eggshells 214

New Scientist reports on research published in PNAS (abstract here) about what may be the earliest writing yet discovered, on eggshells dated to 60,000 years ago. "Since 1999, Pierre-Jean Texier of the University of Bordeaux, France, and his colleagues have uncovered 270 fragments of shell at the Diepkloof Rock Shelter in the Western Cape, South Africa. They show the same symbols are used over and over again, and the team say there are signs that the symbols evolved over 5,000 years. This long-term repetition is a hallmark of symbolic communication and a sign of modern human thinking, say the team. [Another researcher is quoted:] 'Judging from what we know about the evolution of art all over the world, there may have been many [written language] traditions that were born, lasted for some time, and then vanished. This may be one of them, most probably not the first and certainly not the last.'"

Comment Stroustrup chose proportional-width (Score 4, Interesting) 394

All code in Stroustrup's "The C++ Programming Language" is presented in a proportional-width font: "At first glance, this presentation style will seem 'unnatural' to programmers accustomed to seeing code in constant-width fonts. However, proportional-width fonts are generally regarded as better than constant-width fonts for presentation of text. Using a proportional-width font also allows me to present code with fewer illogical line breaks. Furthermore, my experiments show that most people find the new style more readable after a short while."

Not only is the font proportional, but it's bold, italic, and serif as well. Now, reading a textbook is of course pretty different from editing on-screen, but I remember reconsidering some of my habits after reading that book. That code ain't hard to read.

Education

CMU Web-Scraping Learns English, One Word At a Time 148

blee37 writes "Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have developed a web-scraping AI program that never dies. It runs continuously, extracting information from the web and using that information to learn more about the English language. The idea is for a never ending learner like this to one day be able to become conversant in the English language." It's not that the program couldn't stop running; the idea is that there's no fixed end-point. Rather, its progress in categorizing complex word relationships is the object of the research. See also CMU's "Read the Web" research project site.

Comment Re:Cheap Printer? (Score 1) 970

My dirt-cheap Brother DCP-130C came with full cartridges. I guess that's because the fixed costs of producing two lines of ink for the same printers are too high. HP, Epson and Canon sell a lot more printers and ink.

The downside to this printer is that it refuses to print anything, even plain b/w, once one colour cartridge is empty. I fooled it with a piece of black tape.

Comment Re:it's all about screen size (Score 1) 220

"Scrolling the text sideways"? It doesn't sound like you ever tried a decent mobile browser, like Opera Mini. It reflows text and resizes images to fit your little 3 inch window. For a whole lot of sites out there, neat and simple tricks like that work brilliantly.

As for the rise of web apps that the article brings up, that's where a mobile browser like Opera Mini falls short.
United States

DHS To Use Body Odor As a Lie Detector 206

The US Department of Homeland Security is studying lies, damned lies, and smells. They hope to prove that human body odor could be used to tell when people are lying. The department says they are already "conducting experiments in deceptive behavior and collecting human odor samples" and that the research it hopes to fund "will consist primarily of the analysis and study of the human odor samples collected to determine if a deception indicator can be found."
The Internet

Wolfram Promises Computing That Answers Questions 369

An anonymous reader writes "Computer scientist Stephen Wolfram feels that he has put together at least the initial version of a computer that actually answers factual questions, a la Star Trek's ship computers. His version will be found on their Web-based application, Wolfram Alpha. What does this mean? Well, instead of returning links to pages that may (or may not) contain the answer to your questions, Wolfram will respond with the actual answer. Just imagine typing in 'How many bones are in the human body?' and getting the answer." Right now, though the search entry field is in place, Alpha is not yet generally available -- only "to a few select individuals."
Mozilla

Firefox 3.2 Plans Include Natural Language, Themes 285

Shrike82 writes "Mozilla have described plans for the next version of their popular web browser, Firefox. Mozilla's "Ubiquity project" is set to become a standard feature, allowing "users to type natural language phrases into the browser to perform certain tasks, such as typing 'map 10 Downing Street' to instantly see a Google map of that address, or 'share-on-delicious' to bookmark the site you're currently visiting on the social news site." Also of interest is so-called "lightweight theming" allowing users to customise the browsers design more easily. The launch date is still somewhat unclear, and Mozilla are apparently unsure if version 3.2 will be released at all, apparently considering going straight to Firefox 4."

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