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Submission Summary: 0 pending, 1083 declined, 591 accepted (1674 total, 35.30% accepted)

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Submission + - Russia moves to universal ID card (

prostoalex writes: On January 1st 2012, Russian government will start issuing universal ID cards that will replace current national identification system (Russia has a system of internal passports), medical insurance cards, student IDs, public transport passes, and debit cards. The smart card contains unique personal identifiers and allows for multiple levels of authentication. The Russian government is pushing for local government agencies, transportation providers, banks and retail operators to adopt the government-issued ID to streamline their operations.

Submission + - Do we need running shoes to run? (

prostoalex writes: "The Daily Mail takes a look at current research in the field of running and injuiries related to running, quoting a few interesting factoids: (1) the more expensive the running shoes, the greater the probability of getting an injury, (2) some of the planet's best and most intense runners run barefoot, (3) Stanford running team, having access to the top-notch modern shoes sent in for free by manufacturers, after a few rounds of trial and error still chose to train with no shoes at all."
Linux Business

Submission + - How Facebook runs its LAMP stack (

prostoalex writes: "At QCon San Francisco Aditya Agarwal of Facebook described how his employer runs its software stack. Facebook runs a typical LAMP setup where P=PHP with certain customizations, with backend services written in C++ and Java. Some of the infrastructure components Facebook has released into the open source community. Those include Thrift RPC framework and Scribe distributed logging server."

Submission + - 13 things that don't make sense (

prostoalex writes: "13 things that don't make sense by Michael Brooks is a fascinating look into the world of scientific discoveries, or lack thereof. Because, you see, there are quite a few commonplace things that we take for granted, but cannot quite explain from the scientific point of view. Sure, you'll say, it must be some extra-hard scientific stuff, a formula understandable only by an army of advanced PhDs who spend their lives figuring out these ultra-complicated tasks.

Well, not quite. It turns out that life itself is quite a mystery from the scientific point of view.
  1. Life. In theory life in the universe appeared when electric currents went through the masses of hydrogen, ammonia, water and methane, therefore creating something animate out of a set of inanimate chemicals. In practice, for a few decades the scientists have been trying to achieve a similar effect on a smaller scale, but so far no one has been able to produce the Holy Grail — turning something lifeless into something that is actually live, such as a single-cell organism. The life itself, it seems, is a scientific anomaly that should not happen in this Universe according to the existing laws of chemistry.
  2. Death. You've heard it before: two things you cannot avoid in life are death and taxes. Well, this is a very human-centric view of things, as it turns out there's a variety of species (most of them vertebrates) that only get better with age. Some turtles, it seems, only get healthier and produce more children with age. Moreover, scientists are aware only of non-natural causes of their deaths — being run over by a truck or attacked by a bird. Are those turtles immortal, or are we observing just a small stage of their lifecycles (which could eclipse ours by generations)?
  3. Dark matter. It's not embarrassing for scientists to admit they don't know something. After all, there are plenty of little details that remain unknown in many branches of science. So not knowing what constitutes dark matter would be an acceptable excuse, if it weren't for the fact that dark matter comprises 96% of the Universe. We know that the Universe keeps expanding, but we cannot quite describe how and what happens to the space that used to be compacted previously. Dark matter is the giant elephant in the room in discussions related to astronomy or physics — we don't know what it is, we've never seen it, and only infer its existence, yet roughly speaking it's a major ingredient in the Universe we live in.
  4. Varying constants. Physical constants are warm and fuzzy. We don't know why they have the value they have, but we always substitute them into our equations and formulas, relying on decades of scientific research behind us, and the fact that they are, well, constants. However, there's a fairly determined group of scientists that is looking into certain scientific constants and finding that their values have changed as the Universe aged. Determined might be an understatement, as anyone willing to travel to Gabon and mess with uranium there is certainly dedicated. What they're finding is that the constants describing nuclear reactions were different two billion years ago compared to current constants.
  5. Newton's inverse square law. In 1994 scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory figured out they had a bug with Pioneer probes. Contrary to the Newton's inverse square law, the Pioneers were drifting off course. They hired Slava Turyshev out of Jet Propulsion Lab to investigate the small bug, which was most likely to blame on some contamination or error in Pioneer design. 14 years later the bug still stands unresolved. Together with NASA the scientists have gone through heaps of papers figuring out what could go wrong, and the answer is still up in the air. If unresolved, the Pioneer trajectory might become the first evidence that it's time to rethink Newton's inverse square law.
  6. Homeopathy. When it works, you hear all about it. Homeopathy is almost like religion, in the sense that it attracts either staunch believers, or extreme sceptics. The idea of diluting a certain ingredient with copious amounts of water doesn't sit well with the majority of chemists, who point out that such small proportions call for a chance of the entire solution being water. Nevertheless, in Brooks' book there's an attempt at the explanation of what might be causing homeopathic effect — changes in molecular structure of water depending on the chemicals that it's been in contact with, even if the chemicals have been filtered out. However, it's still an attempt at best, since the scientific experiments that do achieve positive results are generally not reproducible.
  7. Placebo effect. Perhaps related to the previous thing we don't understand, placebo effect has some interesting features. The patient knowing or suspecting that they might be receiving a placebo behaves differently than those without any knowledge. Are we comforted by the sight of people in white robes and our local pharmacist dealing out the regular dose of medication? Or does body start producing entirely different set of hormones with mind suspecting that the recovery process is near. Placebo, if figured out, might become a huge money saver with the current drug prices, and hence attracts scientific research. The only thing missing? A definitive conclusion on the placebo effect.
  8. Free will. A certain amount of human ideology rests on the idea of free will. So the idea of the body just reacting to some responses outside of the brain is uncomfortable. But picture this. You're in bed, it's time to get up, yet you want to spend a few more minutes in bed. Your conscious mind is sending the signals for the body to get vertical, and yet at some point, probably between the thoughts of pending shower and commute to work, you get up. The final decision done by something unconscious, something you don't really have control over. While your conscious mind can submit an application to this unknown organ and request something happening, the body movements and behavior are triggered by something that is still largely unknown for science.
  9. Cold fusion. It became one of the most ridiculous scientific ideas to get associated with, and no scientist would touch it nowadays with a 40-foot pole, since it brings the stigma. However, as some point out, peer pressure is pathway to missing out on some potential innovations in the field. What's currently reproducible is the effect of cold fusion on a plastic called CR39. Placed by a piece of depleted uranium, CR39 shows similar patterns of radiation as placed into a cold fusion experiment.
  10. Life on Mars. The Viking probes were declared to contain no evidence of life on Mars. The only person in the room who disagreed with the announcement was a bacteriological researcher, who came up with a clever idea of detecting life (fart reference coming soon). By adding radioactive isotopes to the nutrients fed into the foreign soil, the researchers would get any evidence of carbon-based life to produce gas (there it is), and by the virtue of having the food injected with isotopes, the Geiger counter would go ballistic, and hence you could validate existence of life in the soil, even if other tests came negative.
  11. WOW signal. One would argue that scientists at SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) have a pretty monotonous job. They're waiting for a signal on 1420 MHz frequency. Why 1420? That's the frequency of hydrogen, the most prevalent element in the Universe, so hopefully those extra-terrestrials will arrive at the same idea when sending the signal. So far no signal has arrived. Except on August 15th, 1977, when the signal came. It was very distinct, and caused Jerry Ehman to write "Wow!" on the margin of the printout. The signal never repeated, and the SETI folks have not heard anything similar since then.
  12. Mimivirus is an interesting virus that does not seem to affect humans, except for the unique cases, when it actually does. It's the virus that fight cancer cells among others, and hence draws a great deal of research attention.
  13. Sex. If you've read this far, here's a bonus entry. Yes, sex is one of those things that scientists do not quite understand (insert a proper nerd joke here). Looking at overall picture, the animal kingdom provides a great variety of alternative means of reproduction, that are much more efficient as far as number of offspring and the quality of gene preservation. A number of reptiles and fish are all-female or all-unisex species, copying themselves for the purposes of reproduction. Moreover, a number of species, like water fleas, can reproduce either sexually or asexually. You'd think that the species produced through asexual reproduction would be somehow inferior to the ones that appeared as a result of a sexual act, but there's no solid scientific data to prove that or the opposite. What remains enigmatic is that if asexual reproduction would provide you with 2x the population compared to sexual (and that leaves out the time and energy spent on finding a mate, taking her to dinners and consequent ring shopping), why didn't the entire animal world switch to asexual, as it's obviously a more efficient process.

The Almighty Buck

Submission + - Tracking shopper movements inside the store (

prostoalex writes: "Infosys is building a system to wirelessly monitor all the shopper movements and product interactions inside a grocery store. With the help of 802.15.4 mesh network, Infosys will collect data on where exactly the customer's shopping cart stopped, what items the shoppers picked up from the shelf, and what they put back on the shelf. Goals of this project? Figuring out whether product promotions work, and whether grocery stores do their job on properly promoting the products, when they take the marketing money from Procter & Gambler, and other consumer brands. As far as privacy implications, "Infosys says that its system is completely anonymous, unless the consumer agrees via cell phone to tell the system who he or she is (and consumers can opt to identify themselves based on just their shopping-cart number). Infosys says that it will pay to install the sensors in stores, charging retailers only for the data that they want to use.""

Submission + - NYT explores the world of Internet trolls (

prostoalex writes: "New York Times magazine explores the history and status quo of Internet trolling. They look at the early days of Usenet trolling, current anonymous forums, and social networking pages as the latest venues for trolls: "In the late 1980s, Internet users adopted the word troll to denote someone who intentionally disrupts online communities. Early trolling was relatively innocuous, taking place inside of small, single-topic Usenet groups. The trolls employed what the M.I.T. professor Judith Donath calls a pseudo-naïve tactic, asking stupid questions and seeing who would rise to the bait. The game was to find out who would see through this stereotypical newbie behavior, and who would fall for it. As one guide to trolldom puts it, If you don't fall for the joke, you get to be in on it.""
Input Devices

Submission + - Subject to change

prostoalex writes: "Most of the companies would call themselves innovative and would claim they're delivering an above-average service to their customers. Yet, if you ask their customers, their views would strongly contradict. If you drill the companies on their innovation practices, they would mention two approaches they probably employ:
  1. Their research department meets with target groups, compiles presentations for the upper management, which then occasionally hands those reports over to the development department.
  2. Their research or marketing department comes up with competitive matrix of the products available from competition. In a meeting then, executives see that their product is missing a feature, and hence the development department is assigned the task of adding "an Internet-enabled installer" to the product, since everybody else offers them, thereby creating market expectations.

Subject to Change is a book, written by four Adaptive Path veterans describing new approaches to product development and innovation. Who are they to have the authority over the subject? Adaptive Path is a consulting shop helping large and small companies with product design, Web design and industrial design. They're perhaps mostly known to the general public for coining the term AJAX, and articulating the idea of building dynamic Web sites with asynchronous data retrieval, but they certainly didn't invent the technology. Their design experience is behind many products we use today, but due to licensing agreements they're not always at liberty to disclose their customers.

So what do Adaptive Path designers advocate?

  1. Making the design emotional. While the idea itself is not new, this is something that product manufacturers have to face sooner or later. Early Kodak cameras did not succeed because of superior technical qualities or ease of film development — they managed to cross this emotional barrier, where people who previously thought "This is too complicated" after getting a glimpse of the ad or product demo thought "Even I might be able to enjoy this."
  2. Understand people's needs outside of your company-approved usability testing guides. Two great examples provided by the book are Adaptive Path's own usability study of — product review and comparison shopping site. When a woman showed up for usability test with her newborn baby, she was frequently distracted by baby's needs during the test. Bad test candidate? Vice versa. Adaptive Path learned how confusing it could be for someone who needs to get away from the comparison shopping process to come back and quickly realize where they were in the process. Another example has to deal with babies as well — after watching new mothers use the diaper wipes at their homes, Kimberly-Clark researchers redesigned their diaper wipe container to be easily accessible with just one hand.
  3. Make the whole system coherent, not just patch new interfaces throughout product holes. Financial companies and banks certainly suffer from a desire by single group to innovate the others out. My own example — I go to Fidelity Web site, and upon login offered to also check my NetBenefits(SM) or check out the FullView(R). Now, there might be customers who think in those terms, but I surely did not log in to check NetBenefits(SM) or do FullView(R) or check out mySmart Cash Account (SM), I just wanted to find out how my investments were doing. A simple graph would do. Yet my options from Fidelity are either downloading quarterly PDF account statements, and then punching the numbers to create a graph, or going to Account Positions page, where I can view the graphs for every single stock and bond I own for any time value except the time span that I need — from the day I bought the security to today. This is not a rant on Fidelity Investments in general, this is just another example of different groups within the company handling such things as stocks, bonds, retirement planning, cash investments, quarterly account reports, and Web site design. Each group probably doesn't think highly of the existing user interface, and hence the desire to introduce that new simple interface, call it a different name, and expect the customers to get on with a program and use it.

Authors provide a lot of good case studies for design successes and failures to support their point. Case studies are borrowed from outside literature or told in first person — Adaptive Path's customer names are changed to be KeyboardCo or FinanceCo to protect the innocent. The book explores several different permutations of design and relevance:

  1. When design is great, and product is relevant, market success is a given. The example is Apple iPod series. Somewhat less known example is Google Calendar, that outgrew Yahoo! Calendar and MSN Calendar, even though all 3 calendars are tied into Web-based e-mails, and Yahoo! and Hotmail both have market shares multiple of Gmail's.
  2. When design is great, but product is not relevant, market success will be extremely hard to achieve. Segway scooter and Apple G4 Cube come to mind.
  3. When design is bad, but product is relevant, market success will quickly turn into failure as competitors copy the product and invest in design. Diamond Rio, the pioneer of digital music player industry, learned a hard lesson that way.
  4. When design is bad, and the product is irrelevant, it's possible it will never even come out in the market. Adaptive Path's own example of KeyboardCo wanting to implement a downloadable music service right on the keyboard is a good example of this.

Overall the book is informative and inspirational, albeit a bit dry. Chapter 7, dedicated to describing agile approach in software development, seems to be out of place. Maybe it's because I am a software engineer, and have familiarized myself on various development methodologies, the chapter was old news to me, or maybe it's the idea that you're being sold one specific methodology, instead of implementing dozens of small improvements within the product development process, that threw me off.

On page 162 the authors claim "Google and Yahoo!, once technology companies, are now media players, and their advertising-based business models mean they compete more with Los Angeles and New York than their Silicon Valley brethren." Now, I don't see how being a media company leads one to compete with a US municipality. Maybe they meant "New York [Times|Post] and Los Angeles [Times]", in which case it's time to look for another proofreader. But to be fair, I haven't noticed any glaring errors or omissions in the title.

"Subject to Change" is a good book to read if you're into product development or design. If you're staying abreast of the industry trends, most of it is probably not going to be big news to you, nevertheless, it's a good collection of case studies and a summary of rules relevant for modern-day product development."

The Almighty Buck

Submission + - Outsourcing to India losing its attractiveness ( 3

prostoalex writes: "Forbes magazine doesn't play around with metaphors by predicting impending death of Indian outsourcing. Decent salary growth rates in Indian IT industry — 14.4% in 2006, 15.1% in 2007, and expected 15.2% in 2008, create the status quo where expected savings, which used to be 1:6 (6 Indian employees at the cost of 1 American employee) drop down to 1:1.5. At this point, Sramana Mitra says, employers start looking to US Midwestern states, Canada, and Eastern Europe."

Submission + - Daylight savings time wastes energy (

prostoalex writes: "Economists studying economic effects of switching to daylight savings time found out that having "the entire state switch to daylight-saving time each year, rather than stay on standard time, costs Indiana households an additional $8.6 million in electricity bills," Wall Street Journal reports. The findings, combined with Indiana's popular disposition towards daylight savings, are likely to move the state legislature into skipping switching to and from daylight savings time this year."

Submission + - Dell to drop AMD from Web store (

prostoalex writes: "Dell announced its decision to drop AMD chips from its online store. However, majority of Dell's sales happen in its online store at The company will still sell AMD-based PCs in retail kiosks and via phone orders. Dell spokesman "did not give an exact reason for the change concerning AMD sales through the Dell Web site, other than to say 'we adjust our product offerings frequently'", WSJ reports."

Submission + - Asking for passwords violates 5th Amendment (

prostoalex writes: "US federal magistrate ruled that asking for user's password to access encrypted information violates 5th Amendment. Sebastien Boucher's computer was detained at US-Canada border with the suspicion that suspect had child pornography on his hard drive. As it turned out, Boucher was downloading porn from Usenet newsgroups, but admitted to deleting child porn, whenever encountered. To clear his name, Boucher chose to waive his 5th Amendment rights, USA Today says."
The Internet

Submission + - MySpace Developer Platform launches (

prostoalex writes: "MySpace Developer Platform is now open for public, as Fox Interactive Media is welcoming third-party developers to write applications for its popular social networking site. According to the documentation, "with MDP you will be able to create compelling new products that integrate directly into MySpace pages and get exposure to millions of people around the world.""
The Military

Submission + - Bionic arm might go into clinical trials (

prostoalex writes: "The bionic arm project, sponsored by DARPA and executed by Deka Research and Development Corp. run by Dean Kamen (inventor of Segway, among other things), is nearing completion and might undergo clinical trials if DARPA sees the project fit, IEEE Spectrum says: "The arm has motor control fine enough for test subjects to pluck chocolate-covered coffee beans one by one, pick up a power drill, unlock a door, and shake a hand. Six preconfigured grip settings make this possible, with names like chuck grip, key grip, and power grip. The different grips are shortcuts for the main operations humans perform daily.""

Submission + - Firefox reaches 28% in Europe (

whataboutopera writes: "Mozilla Firefox reached 28% on European continent by December 2007, according to a report by research company XiTi Monitor. Internet Explorer was still the leading browser with 66.1%, however, in some countries, like Finland, Slovenia and Poland, Firefox reached 45.4%, 44.6% and 42.4% respectively. In Ukraine and Netherlands Firefox actually lost market share during 2007."

Submission + - Annals of Improbable Research goes free online (

prostoalex writes: "Annals of Improbable Research, scientific publication that hosts annual Ig Noble awards, has decided to offer its issue free online, reports. According to the journal Web site, for free visitors can view HTML articles with low-res images or download low-res PDFs. High-resolution PDFs and "traditional on-the-toilet-readable paper-and-ink" issues are still available for a subscription fee."

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