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Why BART Is Falling Apart 474

HughPickens.com writes: Matthias Gafni writes in the San Jose Mercury News that the engineers who built BART, the rapid transit system serving the San Francisco Bay Area that started operation in 1972, used principles developed for the aerospace industry rather than tried-and-true rail standards. And that's the trouble. "Back when BART was created, (the designers) were absolutely determined to establish a new product, and they intended to export it around the world," says Rod Diridon. "They may have gotten a little ahead of themselves using new technology. Although it worked, it was extremely complex for the time period, and they never did export the equipment because it was so difficult for other countries to install and maintain." The Space Age innovations have made it more challenging for the transit agency to maintain the BART system from the beginning. Plus, the aging system was designed to move 100,000 people per week and now carries 430,000 a day, so the loss of even a single car gets magnified with crowded commutes, delays and bus bridges. For example, rather than stick to the standard rail track width of 4 feet, 8.5 inches, BART engineers debuted a 5-foot, 6-inch width track, a gauge that remains to this day almost exclusive to the system. Industry experts say the unique track width necessitates custom-made wheel sets, brake assemblies and track repair vehicles.

Another problem is the dearth of readily available replacement parts for BART's one-of-a-kind systems. Maintenance crews often scavenge parts from old, out-of-service cars to avoid lengthy waits for orders to come in; sometimes mechanics are forced to manufacture the equipment themselves. "Imagine a computer produced in 1972," says David Hardt. "No one is supporting that old equipment any longer, but those same microprocessors are what we have controlling our logic systems." Right now BART needs 100 thyristors at a total cost of $100,000. BART engineers said it could take 22 weeks to ship them to the San Francisco Bay Area to replace in BART's "C" cars, which make up the older cars in the fleet. Right now, the agency has none. Nick Josefowitz says it makes no sense to dwell on design decisions made a half-century ago. "I think we need to use what we have today and build off that, rather than fantasize what could have been done in the past. The BART system was state of the art when it was built, and now it's technologically obsolete and coming to the end of its useful life."
Graphics

Intel Teases Skull Canyon Gaming NUC: Core i7, Iris Pro Graphics, Thunderbolt 3 (hothardware.com) 92

MojoKid writes: Intel first hinted at their upcoming Skull Canyon NUC small form factor PC at CES 2016 in January, but the company is now ready to give this slightly bigger, badder NUC its official debut. Skull Canyon manages to cram high-end Intel silicon within an enclosure that measures just 8.5" x 4.6" x 0.9" and has a volume of just 0.69 liters. Inside, there is a sixth generation Intel Core i7-6770HQ processor with 45W TDP and integrated Iris Pro Graphics 580 with on-board eDRAM. On the memory front, up to 32GB of 2133MHz DDR4 is supported, while storage duties are covered by two M.2 slots that support the latest NVMe PCIe SSDs. Also on-board is Intel 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, and GbE and even a consumer infrared sensor if you want to use Skull Canyon as a media box. For external ports you'll find a full-size HDMI 2.0 port, Mini DisplayPort 1.2, four USB 3.0 ports, an SD slot which can accommodate up to 512GB, and support for Thunderbolt 3 (40GBps) and USB 3.1 using a USB Type-C connector. Intel says that a barebones Skull Canyon NUC (NUC6i7KYK) has an estimated street price of $650. Preorders for the NUC6i7KYK SKU will begin next month and shipments will commence in May.
Data Storage

Google Proposes New Hard Drive Format For Data Centers (thestack.com) 202

An anonymous reader writes: In a new research paper the VP of Infrastructure at Google argues for hard drive manufacturers and data center provisioners to consider revisions to the current 3.5" form-factor in favour of taller, multi-platter form factors — with the possibility of combining the new format with HDDs of smaller circumference which hold less data but have better seek times. Eric Brewer, also a professor at UC Berkeley, writes "The current 3.5" HDD geometry was adopted for historic reasons – its size inherited from the PC floppy disk. An alternative form factor should yield a better TCO overall. Changing the form factor is a long term process that requires a broad discussion, but we believe it should be considered."
Advertising

Google Cleans Up Search Results By Ditching Sidebar Ads (theverge.com) 105

Mark Wilson writes: Google generates a huge amount of revenue through advertising but it's not afraid to try mixing things up a little. Ads in search results have long-been controversial, but the latest change is likely to go down well with many people -- the ads that currently appear in the right-hand sidebar of search results are to be dropped.

The change means that ads will only be displayed above and below search results. There will be seven Google AdWords ads in total -- four above the search results and three below. The right-hand side of the page will be left free for Google's own Product Listing Ads. Google also confirmed that the change is global and affects all languages.

Books

Amazon Restores Some Heft To Helvetica For Kindle E-Ink Readers (teleread.com) 85

David Rothman writes: Props to Amazon. The Helvetica font will be restored to a more readable weight than the anorexic one in the latest update for E Ink Kindles. Let's hope that an all-bold switch—or, better, a font weight adjuster of the kind that Kobo now offers—will also happen. I've queried Amazon about that possibility. Meanwhile thanks to Slashdot community members who spoke up against the anorexic Helvetica!
Transportation

Jeep/Chrysler's New Gearshift Appears To Be Causing Accidents (roadandtrack.com) 567

bartle writes: The new gearshift design for the Jeep Grand Cherokee appears to be causing rollaway accidents: 121 crashes and 30 injuries so far. The gear shifter is designed to look and feel similar to a traditional automatic gear shift lever but it is meant to cycle through the gears rather than move directly to a certain gear. A driver who is used to placing their vehicle in park by pressing the shifter all the way forward may instead be setting it to neutral before exiting the vehicle. The NHTSA is investigating.
Books

Amazon's Thin Helvetica Syndrome: Font Anorexia vs. Kindle Readability (teleread.com) 156

David Rothman writes: The Thin Helvetica Syndrome arises from the latest Kindle upgrade and has made e-books less readable for some. In the past, e-book-lovers who needed more perceived-contrast between text and background could find at least partial relief in Helvetica because the font was heavy by Kindle standards. But now some users complain that the 5.7.2 upgrade actually made Helvetica thinner. Of course, the real cure would be an all-text bold option for people who need it, or even a way to adjust font weight, a feature of Kobo devices. But Amazon stubbornly keeps ignoring user pleas even though the cost of adding either feature would be minimal. Isn't this supposed to be a customer-centric company?
Technology

One Hoss Shay and Our Society of Obsolescence (hackaday.com) 220

szczys writes: The last time you replaced your smart phone, was the entire thing shot or had just one part gone bad? Pretty much every time it's one thing; the screen has cracked, or the WiFi stopped working predictably. But the other parts of the phone were fine. The same is true for laptops, or cars, or one-horse carriages. In fact this is a concept that has been recognized for well over one hundred years. The stuff we buy isn't meant to last forever, otherwise we wouldn't buy more of them. And for that matter, nothing lasts forever despite design. But what if everything was optimized to fail all at once? Instead of a single point of weakness, all parts wore equally and failed in the same time frame. Finding a balance between the One Hoss Shay model, and encouraging the return of user-serviceable parts would go a long way toward making sure that replacement is a choice and not a necessity. (And here's a nicely illustrated version of One Hoss Shay.)
Transportation

The Feds' Freeway Font Flip-Flop (citylab.com) 182

McGruber writes: Citylab has the news that the U.S. Federal Highway Administration is revoking its 2004 approval of the "Clearview" font for road signs. Clearview was made to improve upon its predecessor, a 1940s font called Highway Gothic. Certain letters appeared to pose visibility problems, especially those with tight interstices (or internal spacing)—namely lowercase e, a, and s. At night, any of these reflective letters might appear to be a lowercase o in the glare of headlights. By opening up these letterforms, and mixing lowercase and uppercase styles, Clearview aimed to improve how these reflective highway signs read.

Now, just 12 years later, the FHWA is reversing itself: "After more than a decade of analysis, we learned—among other things—that Clearview actually compromises the legibility of signs in negative-contrast color orientations, such as those with black letters on white or yellow backgrounds like Speed Limit and Warning signs," said Doug Hecox, a FHWA spokesperson, in an email. The FHWA has not yet provided any research on Clearview that disproves the early claims about the font's benefits. But there is at least one factor that clearly distinguishes it from Highway Gothic: cost. Jurisdictions that adopt Clearview must purchase a standard license for type, a one-time charge of between $175 (for one font) and $795 (for the full 13-font typeface family) and up, depending on the number of workstations.

That doesn't seems like a very good use of tax money, for something that can be nondestructively reused once created.
Transportation

MIT Team Tops Hyperloop Design Competition (google.com) 144

The Dallas Morning News reports that a team from MIT has topped competitors from around 100 universities around the world at a competition held on the campus of Texas A&M by presenting a workable design vision for Elon Musk's dream of a hyperloop. The hyperloop concept, mentioned several times before on Slashdot, involves rapidly shuffling passenger pods through 12-foot-wide tubes evacuated of air, and would mean terrestrial transport at speeds topping those of commercial air travel. From the Morning News article: Delft University of Technology from The Netherlands finished second, the University of Wisconsin third, Virginia Tech fourth and the University of California, Irvine, fifth. The top teams will build their pods and test them at the world's first Hyperloop Test Track, being built adjacent to SpaceX's Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters.
Windows

Microsoft's Windows Phone Platform Is Dead (windows10update.com) 456

Ammalgam writes: Tom Warren at the Verge today gave voice to what a lot of other technology analysts and today definitively declared that Microsoft's Windows Phone platform is dead. This largely based on the abysmal adoption numbers released in Microsoft's most recent earnings report. Mr. Warren articulates the obvious by stating: "With Lumia sales on the decline and Microsoft's plan to not produce a large amount of handsets, it's clear we're witnessing the end of Windows Phone. Rumors suggest Microsoft is developing a Surface Phone, but it has to make it to the market first. Windows Phone has long been in decline and its app situation is only getting worse. With a lack of hardware, lack of sales, and less than 2 percent market share, it's time to call it: Windows Phone is dead. "

Now this news should not be surprising to anyone who has watched the slow decline of Windows Phone. Last December, in an article on Windows10update.com, Onuora Amobi also wrote off the platform. In this case, his analysis was based on the nonconformity of the Microsoft user interface to Apple and Android's widely adopted aesthetic appeal. He wrote "I believe Windows Phone is dead. Kaput. Finished. Over. Done. ... Windows 10 is successful in part because it's a return to Windows 7 in many ways and that's what made the consumers happy. One of the definitions of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result". This is exactly what Microsoft is doing and it's insane. Over 90% of Microsoft's desired audience like the look and feel of iPhones and Android devices. They do – it's not good or bad – it just is what it is. They spend their money on those two user interfaces."

GNOME

GNOME Settings Area Getting a Refurbishment (gnome.org) 151

jones_supa writes: Allan Day has written a blog post today about some of the improvements that are being worked on for GNOME's settings area. The new GNOME Settings area is working toward a model that uses a list sidebar for navigation. The window is now resizable, and overall should be a nice upgrade. The new GNOME settings area certainly bears some resemblance to the Windows 10 settings app. Work is also ongoing specifically around improving GNOME's network settings, redesigned sound settings, experiments around improved display support, and various other enhancements to GNOME's settings area. For now, this work is considered experimental and all may not be completed in time for the GNOME 3.20 release in March.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Microsoft Patents a Slider, Earning EFF's "Stupid Patent of the Month" Award (arstechnica.com) 127

An anonymous reader writes with news that the EFF has given Microsoft a dubious award this month for their slider patent. According to Ars: "The Electronic Frontier Foundation's 'Stupid Patent of the Month' for December isn't owned by a sketchy shell company, but rather the Microsoft Corporation. The selection, published yesterday, is the first time the EFF has picked a design patent as the SPOTM. The blog post seeks to highlight some of the problems with those lesser-known cousins to standard 'utility' patents, especially the damages that can result. The chosen patent (PDF), numbered D554,140, would seem to be one of those things that's so simple it raises some basic philosophical questions about the patent system. That's because it's just a slider, in the bottom-right corner of a window, with a plus sign at one end and a minus sign at the other. That's it.
Programming

Can Web Standards Make Mobile Apps Obsolete? (arstechnica.com) 225

nerdyalien writes: There's a litany of problems with apps. There is the platform lock-in and the space the apps take up on the device. Updating apps is a pain that users often ignore, leaving broken or vulnerable versions in use long after they've been allegedly patched. Apps are also a lot of work for developers—it's not easy to write native apps to run on both Android and iOS, never mind considering Windows Phone and BlackBerry. What's the alternative? Well, perhaps the best answer is to go back to the future and do what we do on desktop computers: use the Web and the Web browser.
Businesses

Reluctance To Go Mobile Inhibiting Innovation In Financial Services (enterprisersproject.com) 104

Lemeowski writes: Compliance concerns have long prevented financial services businesses from adopting mobile capabilities as quickly as other industries. But Yvette Jackson of Thomson Reuters argues that technology advancements have made compliance worries of the past now obsolete, and financial services companies are running out of excuses for not going mobile. She stresses that holding onto this reluctance will cause businesses to miss opportunities, limit innovation, and turn away talent by restraining their workflow. She says, "Any millennial joining the financial services industry, who expects a flawless user experience both at home and at work, is – I'm sure – surprised on their first day in the office when they get to their desk and are transported back in time by the technology they're expected to use."

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