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Submission Summary: 0 pending, 28 declined, 30 accepted (58 total, 51.72% accepted)

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Submission + - From the Maker of Arduboy: Tetris on a Bracelet

timothy writes: Kevin Bates showed off his tiny ("credit card sized") homebrewed game-playing rig at OSCON this summer; not content with merely wallet sized, he's now squeezed enough display — three of them, lacking a curved display to wrap around the wrist — input sensors, and processing power (Atmega 328p) to play Tetris on a tiny, multi-segmented bracelet (video). Sure, there's been Tetris on watches before, but from large-budget companies, not — at least not that I've ever seen — from hackers. Bates' post gives some more technical details, too.

Submission + - ZXX: A Font to Annoy the NSA 1


Edward Snowden isn't the only former NSA contractor who should annoy the agency ("No Secrets Allowed" remains my favorite expansion of the TLA): Reason reports that Sang Mun has created a font called ZXX: 'The font is named after the Library of Congress code ZXX, which labels a document as containing “no linguistic content.” The goal is to make the contents of a document unreadable by text scanning software while still being intelligible to a human reader.' This is probably more of an awareness-raising art project than an important privacy tool (not that raising awareness is a bad thing); I'd like to see a dynamically changing font along the same lines."

Submission + - Hardware: A Wishlist for Tablets in 2013

timothy writes: For the last few years, I've been using Android tablets for various of the reasons that most casual tablet owners do: as a handy playback device for movies and music, a surprisingly decent interface for reading books, a good-enough camera for many purposes, and a communications terminal for instant messaging and video chat. I started out with a Motorola Xoom, which I still use around the house or as a music player in the car, but only started actually carrying a tablet very often when I got a Nexus 7. And while I have some high praise for the Nexus 7, its limitations are frustrating, too. I'll be more excited about a tablet when I can find one with (simultaneously) more of the features I want in one. So here's my wishlist (not exhaustive) for the ideal tablet of the future, consisting only of features that are either currently available in some relevant form (some of them even on existing tablets), or should be in the foreseeable near future; I'll be on the lookout at CES for whatever choices come closest to this dream.

Here's my current mild-fantasy feature list; if you know of better ways to meet these desires, or even more compelling features you'd like to see, I'd like to hear them.
  • Integrated GPS navigation with *built-in maps*, not relying on an (always brittle, often expensive) ongoing data connection. Even cheap standalone GPS units come loaded with maps, which means putting those maps on is possible, and (except from the standpoint of the companies who sell you data by the byte) it would be a good idea. Google's maps app provides a passable workaround, in the form of cached data, so you can load up the maps you need for a given route while you're sitting at a cheap and fast broadband connection, but in practice I'd found it iffy; sometimes the navigation refuses to recognize the maps I've loaded.

    So long as you've got a data plan you don't mind dipping into, and are within cellular coverage range, that's fine, but large stretches of the Western U.S. in particular could leave you reliant on paper maps or a really good memory. If Garmin and company can put 6 million points of interest on pocket-sized GPS devices, and has been doing so for the last decade, shouldn't tablet makers do the same? (Not that freshly updated maps with handy chunks of crowd-sourced data are a bad thing; they just shouldn't be the only option. Graceful failure is reason enough to include a basic map set by default.)
  • (Two related pipedreams: 1) Future ntegration, too, with Gallileo and Beidou — the EU and Chinese equivalents to the U.S. made GPS constellation, and 2) integration with Open Street Maps. Every tablet should be a mapping tool, not just a map reader.)
  • A full sized USB port. Two of them, even better, but I'd settle for one. USB keys are the easiest way to transmit a certain size of file, close range, in particular when that's already the medium the file occupies. Things like Dropbox help, but don't pass the Mom test (at least in my family), and require extra steps if the document / podcast / video clip is right there in your pocket, just in an unusable form. The other reason I want a full-size USB port is that as impressive it is to have a tiny computer and display in a pocketable device, there is not yet a more efficient way for a sitting person to enter text than a keyboard, and tiny tablet-focused portable keyboards are a weak tool of convenience rather than actually *good,* generally. For light travel, sure. But I'd like to pop to the coffee shop to work for a while with a 1-pound tablet and a real keyboard. Workaround: There are Bluetooth keyboards, but the only true way to get a full-size USB ports for most tablets is by picking up a dongle from Amazon or Deal Extreme, but that's both an extra part to break or lose, and a hassle that it would be nice to skip.
  • A better "swiping" keyboard. Since I can't always carry a Model M keyboard, I want a keyboard as good as the Swype version that came with my aging but once high-end Samsung phone (Galaxy S). I've tried some Swype versions intended for tablets, but they made the mistake of making the control surface bigger (I suspect to "take advantage of all that space") rather than kept it sensibly small and fast. Being able to zip my finger around quickly is exactly why the one on the phone has totally changed my view of touch keyboards. The swiping keyboard that came with the newest versions of Android is a mixed bag: it's welcome, but at least in my experience so far suffers worse accuracy than does Swype. (On the other hand, the actual included vocabulary seems broader; I've had to customize the dictionary much less often.)
  • Daylight readable screen of some kind. Pixel Qi is the obvious one right now, but there's also one from Mirasol that I've seen demoed, but which seems unlikely (sorry) to see the light of day. Except for the impressive use of the same technology in the OLPC project's XO kid-centric laptopstablet, Pixel Qi's screens have been mostly going into military and industrial displays, though, rather than into consumer tablets. There's a market waiting for daylight readable color screens!
  • Hardware toggles for cameras and all wireless capabilities. That is, anything which could betray privacy should be labeled and defeatable. Among other good reasons for this, it might make some devices more acceptable in workplaces with restrictive policies on personal technology. At the last CES, I saw a few Chinese Android tablets that had what looked from their icons like external Wi-Fi toggle switches, but wasn't able to quite confirm that with the vendors. Not every camera-equipped, Wi-Fi-equipped laptop has a physical toggle for either or both of these, but some do, and I'd pay a few more dollars for the capability.
  • HDMI out: This is common enough on recent tablets, but mostly in the form of a tiny mini-HDMI port. There are a few exceptions, but I'd like to see more. Just as with USB, I'd rather a slightly chunkier case if it means not needing a fistful of finicky cables and adapters. Being able to plug a tablet conveniently into any HDMI-equipped display would be handy; it's more compter than most of us had at all just a few years ago.
  • Decent in-built stereo recorder: Many tablets (and practically all smartphones as well as many feature phones) include a voice memo feature; that's handy, but it's a shame to waste the capabilities of the rest of the device on just that. Surprisingly good stereo recorders — included ones marketed as "business recorders," but severely overqualified — start at less than $100, and typical tablets have far more horsepower, not to mention a more flexible control surface for apps to control audio recording. In the iWorld, there are dozens of stereo input devices, as well as DI boxes for electric instruments, but not even Apple's devices come with a Just-Hit-Record stereo recording mic, which is too bad. Can you recommend any Android tablets with good built-in stereo mics, or third-party add-ons?
  • Bright LED light built in: This one, at least, is now the rule to which there are exceptions, rather than the other way 'round. It shows that sometimes the features-list game goes the right direction.
  • Alternative OS support. This isn't something I expect tablet makers to trumpet; they generally want you to run their choice of OS (whether the underlying tablet is from Apple, Microsoft, or the vast Google/Android conspiracy). But they don't have to; they just have to not make it impossible for others to do the work for them. In the last few months alone we've seen Linux (both Ubuntu for ARM and KDE Plasma Active) ported to the Nexus 7, and the Cyanogenmod developers have for years been making many handset and tablet makers' upgrade abilities look just plain silly. It's not just for novelty, either: right now, I'd like to be able to offload footage from my video camera to a tablet for uploading, which would mean I could stop carrying a laptop around quite so often. If I risk bricking my tablet by installing one of those Linux varieties, that might just be a practical option.

For now, don't think I'm ungrateful: I'm pleased and constantly amazed by how much has already been squeezed into a computer that takes less space than a trade paperback, and it's true that space trade-offs make it hard to squeeze in all the full-size ports I'd prefer. But most of these are features that exist in some form, and don't require anything to spring from the forehead of the Media Lab. I hope that by this time next year it'll be a smaller list of features I'm still looking for.


Submission + - When Getting Rid of College Lectures Makes Sense 3

timothy writes: NPR (don't worry, the article is worth reading, even if you don't want to listen to the audio) reports that Harvard physicist and professor Eric Mazur has largely gotten rid of the lecture in his classes, after finding that in lecture-based classes, students tend to commit to memory formulae and heuristics, but fail to develop deep understanding of concepts. Mazur has tried &mdash and seemingly succeeded — to cultivate deeper learning with a combination of small group peer-instruction and a tight feedback loop based on in-class polling about particular problems. Joe Redish also teaches phyics, at University of Maryland, and says, 'With modern technology, if all there is is lectures, we don't need faculty to do it. ... Get 'em to do it once, put it on the Web, and fire the faculty.'

Submission + - Testy! (

timothy writes: I enjoy traffic lights. Do you? is where one might find some. Fnord.


Submission + - Plant a Garden? Go to jail! ( 4

timothy writes: Oak Park, Michigan, apparently frowns on vegetable gardens visible from the street. 93 days in jail's worth! I would like to see pictures (with visible mailbox numbers, please) of all the local bigwigs who thought this was a smart fight to get into.

Submission + - Former university head jailed in prostitution case (

timothy writes: "Police say five people have been arrested and two more are sought in connection with a prostitution website operated by a New Jersey professor." Yeah, and one of them used to head a major state university. Jeesh! I wonder if this will affect the Newsweek ratings for schools by forcing them to include a whole new column listing the best crimes committed by the university president.

Submission + - Apple to start making TVs, report says - (

timothy writes: 'Apple might want to sell you your next TV,' says this CNN report. Which makes a lot of sense, considering that Apple's razors-and-blades, vertical-marketplace model for iTunes (and the various iDevices) doesn't make as much sense with the world of TV, where your Sony, Samsung, or (egads!) Westinghouse TV set is just as happy with a Google TV box, or a Roku, or one of many other media devices, as it is with an Apple TV attached.

Submission + - Pixel Qi introduces 10 inch, 1280 x 800 pixel sunl (

timothy writes: Compared to their dumber e-ink cousins, tablets with LCD screens suffer at least two notable disadvantages: their batteries last hours or days, rather than weeks (or months), and they're notoriously hard to read in the sunshine. Neither of these problems are likely to be licked soon, but the gap may be shrinking: Mary Lou Jepsen's OLPC spinoff Pixel Qi has now shown off a 10", 1280x800 panel. Pixel Qi's screens are well-known, though not currently widely adopted, for their ability to run in a high-contrast, low-power greyscale mode as well as a still-frugal color mode. Though the company is currently showing prototypes rather than a shipping version of the new high-resolution screens, it's reason to renew hope for a long-lived, daylight-readable, color-screen tablet.

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