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Internet Television

Lights, camera, interaction: Why video data is a crucial part of the enterprise value chain
Apr. 12, 2014 - 12:00 PM PDT Apr. 12, 2014 - 12:00 PM PDT The Netflix-Comcast truce has demonstrated once more how crucial video has become for today’s internet. YouTube alone streams enough footage each month to
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Amid social TV consolidation, Zeebox rebrands as Beamly 14 April 2014, 20.39 Internet Television
Amid social TV consolidation, Zeebox rebrands as Beamly
21 hours ago Apr. 14, 2014 - 3:00 AM PDT Social TV startup Zeebox is rebranding as Beamly, and focusing more on interactions that happen when a show isn’t airing — a departure from the focus on live second-screen activities
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A print newspaper generated by robots: Is this the future of media or just a sideshow?
13 hours ago Apr. 14, 2014 - 10:44 AM PDT What if you could pick up a printed newspaper, but instead of a handful of stories hand-picked by a secret cabal of senior editors in a dingy newsroom somewhere, it had pieces that were
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Mohu preps Channels TV tuner release after raising $145,000 on Kickstarter
20 hours ago Apr. 14, 2014 - 4:00 AM PDT Antenna maker Mohu is working on releasing its Channels TV adapter this summer after successfully completing a Kickstarter campaign that not only helped the company to raise close to
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Comcast customers get much faster Netflix streams, thanks to peering deal
12 hours ago Apr. 14, 2014 - 11:31 AM PDT The peering deal between Netflix and Comcast seems to be paying off for consumers: The average speed of Netflix streams consumed by Comcast subscribers has increased by 65 percent over
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Earth News Reports

Dick Moby’s Eco-Sunglasses Help Rid the Oceans of Plastic Pollution
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: Tommy Hilfiger Adds Eyewear to Philanthropic “Millennium Promise” Line Dick Moby’s Eco-Sunglasses Help Rid the Oceans of Plastic Pollution by Helen Morgan , 04/14/14   filed under: Eco-Fashion
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Factory45: An Online Accelerator for Sustainable Fashion Businesses
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: First Fair-Trade-, Fair-Labor-Certified Clothing Arrives in the U.S. Factory45: An Online Accelerator for Sustainable Fashion Businesses by Amy DuFault , 04/14/14   filed under: Features,
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Make a Veggie-Printed Tote for Trips to the Farmers’ Market (DIY Tutorial)
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: Recycle a Necktie Into a Camera Strap (DIY Tutorial) DIY Nation Make a Veggie-Printed Tote for Trips to the Farmers’ Market (DIY Tutorial) by Blair Wilson, Textile Arts Center , 04/14/14   filed
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The Awesome Reason You’ll Never See a UPS Truck Take a Left Turn in the U.S.
Share on TumblrEmail Email and text messages may have replaced snail mail, but there are some things that you just can’t send electronically. While the Internet may have killed the handwritten letter, all
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Hybrid Skylys Flying Car is an Electric Vehicle, Helicopter and Plane Rolled Into One
Share on TumblrEmail The dream of flying cars dates back to the 1960s when the animated series “The Jetsons” envisioned a future where these airborne vehicles dominate the sky. In the past few years the
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Glow-in-the-Dark ‘Smart Highways’ Replace Street Lights in the Netherlands
Share on TumblrEmail Light-absorbing glow-in-the-dark road markings have replaced standard street lighting on a 500 meter stretch of highway in The Netherlands. This project is the first stage of a concept
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WordPress news: April 6 to April 12, 2014 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
WordPress news: April 6 to April 12, 2014
WordPress has become a tool used by millions of designers for much more than creating blogs. Each week we take a look at what’s new with WordPress. For more regular news, tutorials and tricks, check out our blog about
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Whimsical lighting collection 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
Whimsical lighting collection
Ingo Maurer‘s nickname is “The poet of light”. I’m pretty sure you will understand why by taking a look at the images in this post. Via Beautiful Life. The post Whimsical lighting collection appeared
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Keeping it Consistent- Why You Need a Responsive Website Design 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
Keeping it Consistent- Why You Need a Responsive Website Design
Today’s consumers are spending more and more of their time on their mobile devices. From browsing the Internet to catching up on current events, mobile devices have become an essential part of daily life. When it comes to
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Urban fabric rugs 14 April 2014, 20.38 Green Architecture
Urban fabric rugs
Urban fabrics is a series of area rugs inspired by the man made patterns inscribed upon the Earth’s surface through the development of our agriculture, infrastructure and architecture. The post Urban fabric rugs appeared
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Technology News Reports

The Awesome Reason You’ll Never See a UPS Truck Take a Left Turn in the U.S.
Share on TumblrEmail Email and text messages may have replaced snail mail, but there are some things that you just can’t send electronically. While the Internet may have killed the handwritten letter, all
Read More 61 Hits 0 Ratings
Hybrid Skylys Flying Car is an Electric Vehicle, Helicopter and Plane Rolled Into One
Share on TumblrEmail The dream of flying cars dates back to the 1960s when the animated series “The Jetsons” envisioned a future where these airborne vehicles dominate the sky. In the past few years the
Read More 61 Hits 0 Ratings
Glow-in-the-Dark ‘Smart Highways’ Replace Street Lights in the Netherlands
Share on TumblrEmail Light-absorbing glow-in-the-dark road markings have replaced standard street lighting on a 500 meter stretch of highway in The Netherlands. This project is the first stage of a concept
Read More 64 Hits 0 Ratings
Cheap Solar Power—at Night 14 April 2014, 20.39 Tech
Cheap Solar Power—at Night
New solar thermal technologies could address solar power’s intermittency problem. By Kevin Bullis on April 8, 2014 Searing sun: Thousands of mirrors focus sunlight on a tower to generate high temperatures at a power
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Does Musk’s Gigafactory Make Sense? 14 April 2014, 20.39 Tech
Does Musk’s Gigafactory Make Sense?
Tesla’s audacious plan to build a giant battery factory may mostly be a clever negotiating tactic. By Kevin Bullis on April 14, 2014 Dream maker: Elon Musk, Tesla Motors’ CEO, hopes a massive factory will lead to
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Going Nuclear: The Global Power Picture 14 April 2014, 20.39 Tech
Going Nuclear: The Global Power Picture
Already a Magazine subscriber? You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account. Activate Your Account Become an Insider It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research,
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The Underappreciated Ties Between Art and Innovation
Author Sarah Lewis discusses some counterintuitive pathways to breakthroughs. By Brian Bergstein on April 15, 2014 Sarah Lewis The path to a great achievement—whether it is a technological innovation or a masterwork of
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Averting Disastrous Climate Change Could Depend on Unproven Technologies
A U.N. climate report says we’ll overshoot greenhouse gas targets, and will need new technologies to make up for it. By Kevin Bullis on April 14, 2014 Carbon conundrum: One way to decrease the amount of carbon in the
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Adobe Lightroom for the iPad is finally here, and it’s superb: Hands on review
Adobe’s Lightroom has become the dominant image-organizing and non-destructive-editing application among serious photographers. However, it has been very awkward to integrate mobile devices into a Lightroom-based workflow.
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Heartbleed: Which passwords you should change right now
Security researchers can all agree on one thing: the Heartbleed bug is probably the most significant and dangerous vulnerability to ever hit the internet. What’s odd about Heartbleed, though, is that due to the nature of
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What the Heartbleed bug is, and how you can protect yourself (and your servers)
Over the last couple of days, you may have heard about the rather ominous sounding Heartbleed bug — a bug that affected hundreds of millions of websites, exposing usernames, passwords, encryption keys, and other sensitive
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The NSA knew about and exploited the Heartbleed bug for ‘at least two years’
When I wrote about the Heartbleed bug last week, and how it means that much of the web has been insecure for the last two years, I found myself thinking: “if I was the NSA, or some other intelligence agency, this is exactly
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Why Game of Thrones is the most pirated TV show in the world
While hard and fast figures are tough to come by, it appears that the Game of Thrones season four premiere will become the most pirated TV episode of all time, racking up around one million downloads within 12 hours of the
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Could a Hotel Bring Back Los Angeles’ Theater Row?
The gothic interior of the United Artists Theater. Photos by Jen Griffes The gothic interior of the United Artists Theater. Photos by Jen Griffes Murals line the walls of the United Artists Theater. Photos by Jen
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How Flesh-Eating Strep Bacteria Evolved Into an Epidemic
Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. Image: CDC Bacteria aren’t kind enough to leave behind a fossil record (save for cyanobacteria), but they’re evolving fast. Really fast. Their short life cycles mean that generations come
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Mad Men Recap: Welcome to the Beginning of the End
Every week, Wired takes a look at the latest episode of Mad Men through the lens of the latest media campaign of advertising agency Sterling Cooper & Partners. Image: AMC “Are you ready? Because I want you to pay
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3 Brilliant UI Details in Carousel, Dropbox’s New Photo App
Photo Illustration: WIRED With the rise of digital cameras and smartphone photography, we lost photo albums–the actual, physical things we relied on to hold our memories. In their place, we have the photo apps that come
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Watch Live Tonight as a Total Lunar Eclipse Turns the Moon Blood Red
Tonight the Earth, moon, and sun will align just right to put on a celestial show known as a total lunar eclipse. Though you can just look up in the sky to catch the event, we’ve also got some spectacular live feeds of the
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Apple Buys Tiny Dams to Power Its Data Centers
Apple’s Maiden, North Carolina, data center. Photo: Apple Apple is buying up a hydro-electric project in Oregon, hoping to lock into an environmentally sustainable way of powering its massive data centers. The project,
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Tesla Model S Blazes Across the United States on Record-Setting 12,000-Mile Road Trip
Share on TumblrEmail Summer is almost here, and thousands of US travelers are gearing up for the great American tradition of road tripping across the States. But what if those trips could be taken by electric
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MIT Whizzes Invent Magical Furniture That Changes Shape on Demand
MIT's Tangible Media Group created Transform, a vision of what could be the shape-shifting furniture of the future. Photos by MIT MIT's Tangible Media Group created Transform, a vision of what could be the
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Are Touchscreens Melting Your Kid’s Brain?
Gadget Lab Reddit Digg Stumble Upon Email Tags: children, magazine-22.04, magazine-april-2014, tablets Subscribe to Wired Magazine Advertisement Wired gadgetlab Editors Michael Calore Bryan
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A Virtuoso Robot Band Whose Guitarist Has 78 Fingers
Practice might be the way for human musicians to get to Carnegie Hall, but if you’re a robot, it’s not so tough—as long as your programmers have given you the proper advantages. Meet the Z-Machines, a band made entirely
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A Sweet/Sad Stop-Motion Film Made With 3D Printing
They said the honey was just at the top of the stairs… GIF: Kyle VanHemert. Source: DBLG Here’s an innovative use for your 3D printer: moviemaking. London-based creative agency DBLG shows the way with “Bears on
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Twitter’s Next Big Cash Cow: Your Data 14 April 2014, 18.59 Tech
Twitter’s Next Big Cash Cow: Your Data
Twitter just agreed to buy its long-time partner Gnip, a data company that anaylizes and sells Twitter data to a host of third parties companies. Gnip is the largest provider of social data in the world. In its announcement,
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This Car Talk Puzzler Solution is Bogus 14 April 2014, 18.59 Tech
This Car Talk Puzzler Solution is Bogus
Image: Rhett Allain. It’s not so easy to burn a string from both ends Don’t get me wrong. I love Car Talk. Who doesn’t love this show? I think this is the only podcast I listen to in the car that doesn’t make my kids
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Why Google’s Modular Smartphone Might Actually Succeed
In a two-story building in an industrial district of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Ara Knaian shows off prototypes of what could be the industry’s first completely modular smartphone. On workbenches sit prototypes of memory
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The Revival of Cancer Immunotherapy 08 April 2014, 02.16 Tech
The Revival of Cancer Immunotherapy
An old idea for treating cancer is yielding impressive results on cancer patients—and lots of attention from drug companies. By Susan Young on April 7, 2014 Immune infantry: T cells (yellow) attack cancer cells (pink)
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Tesla Model S Breaks 28-Year-Old Sales Record in Norway 08 April 2014, 02.14 Transportation
Tesla Model S Breaks 28-Year-Old Sales Record in Norway
Share on TumblrEmail The Tesla Model S has only been on sale in Norway for less than a year, but the electric car has already broken a 28-year-old monthly sales record. Last month Tesla sold 1,493 Model S
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Laser-Cut Koi Bike Rack Offers a Stylish New Way to Keep Bicycles Safe in Philly
Share on TumblrEmail Jibe Design won a bike rack competition with Koi – a futuristic new design that will be installed at the base of a downtown high-rise in Philadelphia. Based on a Japanese textile and
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Man Hacks Prius to Run on San Francisco MUNI Electric Bus Power Lines
Share on TumblrEmail When we first spotted this crazy picture of a Prius driver hitching a free energy ride on San Francisco’s MUNI power lines, we couldn’t believe it! Equipped with a giant trolley pole,
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High-Flying Camera: DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Drone Promises Stabilized HD Video
Camera drones are increasingly popular among sports and photography enthusiasts for their ability to capture stunning images from above. DJI, a company that specializes in small remote-controlled aerial vehicles, now sells
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Europe votes to protect net neutrality, abolish mobile data roaming charges
In a stark reminder of just how different things are over the pond in Europe, the EU Parliament has voted in favor of abolishing mobile roaming fees and maintaining net neutrality. While US lawmakers have generally favored
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Map-D: MIT spinout takes big data real-time with GPUs
We all know that with enough expensive servers, big companies can crunch through massive amounts of data. In some cases, like trending search reports, dedicated computing resources can even make large-scale analysis happen in
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Build 2014: Microsoft announces Windows Phone 8.1, shows off Cortana the digital assistant
At the Build 2014 conference keynote in San Francisco, Microsoft’s Terry Myerson and Joe Belfiore have kicked off things by giving us more details about Windows 8.1 Update 1, and officially unveiling Windows Phone
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Facebook details its plans to bring drone internet access to the masses – but will monopolistic telcos stand idly by?
Earlier this month, Facebook announced that it was developing its own drone-based plan for global internet coverage, to compete against the likes of Google’s balloon-based Project Loon. On Friday, Zuckerberg unveiled a more
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How Dropbox knows you’re a dirty pirate, and why you shouldn’t use cloud storage to share copyrighted files
Over the weekend, it emerged that Dropbox has the ability to stop you from publicly or privately sharing copyrighted content — in other words, Dropbox has a system in place that prevents piracy. At first, this sounds rather
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European Parliament Votes to Protect Net Neutrality, Kill Roaming Fees
Image: Free Press/CC The European Union is poised to pass new laws that would protect network neutrality within its borders. On Thursday, as part of a larger proposal to create a single telecommunications market for the
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Vine Creeps in on Messaging With New Private Video Option
Vine added private video messaging features in an update today. Image: Vine Vine just announced that it’s getting in on private messaging. Users can now send looping six second video messages to multiple contacts —
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Science Graphic of the Week: Fluorescence Reveals the Incredible Productivity of America’s Corn Belt
The glow represents satellite measurements of fluorescence of land plants in early July, over a period from 2007 to 2011. Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. During photosynthesis, the chlorophyll in healthy plants
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Apple’s New Lottery System Gives Everyone an Equal Shot at Getting Into WWDC
Apple is holding WWDC June 2nd this year. Image: Apple Apple announced its annual, five-day Worldwide Developer conference (WWDC) will kick off June 2nd this year. And following the model that other large conferences like
Read More 22 Hits 0 Ratings
Tsunami Warning Tests Galapagos Islands 03 April 2014, 21.21 Tech
Tsunami Warning Tests Galapagos Islands
Boats anchored in Puerto Ayora in the early morning of April 2nd. Vessels were ordered out of the shallow-water harbor during the tsunami warning of April 1st. (Image: Jeffrey Marlow) At 8:46 PM, on April 1st, the Nazca and
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Nest’s Smoke Alarm Stumble Is a UI Lesson for Everybody
Image Courtesy of Nest After a nearly blemish-free record that culminated in a $3 billion acquisition by Google, Nest today issued a surprising halt to sales of Protect, its gesture-controlled smoke alarm. One of the
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Madrid Gets Ready to Launch its First Electric Bike Sharing Program
Share on TumblrEmail Madrid is making it easier and greener to get around town with its first electric bike-share program. Dubbed BiciMad, the program mirrors similar programs in place in Barcelona, London
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Antler Handlebars Add Hipster Flair to Picnic-Ready Lumburr Bicycle
Share on TumblrEmail Spring is finally here, which means fair-weather cyclists and picnickers are popping up in droves at parks across the nation. In celebration of craft and the great outdoors, Lumbürr Co
Read More 167 Hits 0 Ratings
Pay with Your Fingerprint 03 April 2014, 21.19 Tech
Pay with Your Fingerprint
Samsung’s Galaxy S5 is the first smartphone that can use a fingerprint to authorize payments in stores and online. By Tom Simonite on April 2, 2014 Anyone with an iPhone 5 can use its fingerprint reader to unlock the
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A Bandage That Senses Tremors, Delivers Drugs, and Keeps a Record
A flexible electronic skin patch has strain gauges to measure tremors, and heating elements to release drugs held inside nanoparticles. By David Talbot on April 1, 2014 Drug patch: A new prototype of an electronic skin
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Study Shows Flawed U.S. Encryption Standard Could Be Broken in Seconds
If the NSA did have the keys to the backdoor in a random number generator it could break some encryption without trouble. The security of a data connection protected using a flawed U.S. encryption standard promoted by
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U.N. Climate Report Warns of Increased Risk to Crops
Crop yields are expected to decline due to climate change faster than scientists thought. By Kevin Bullis on March 31, 2014 A few years ago scientists thought climate change wouldn’t cause much harm to overall food
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Cheaper Joints and Digits Bring the Robot Revolution Closer
Efforts to build robot hands and humanoids more cheaply could make them affordable enough for businesses and even homes. By Tom Simonite on April 4, 2014 Helping hand: A new kind of electrostatic clutch makes this design
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Toyota Unveils TS040 Hybrid Race Car for the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship
Share on TumblrEmail Toyota just unveiled its new TS040 hybrid race car, which is going to go head to head with Audi and Porsche during this year’s 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship. The all-wheel-drive
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$4.9 Billion Plan Aims to Protect NYC Transportation Infrastructure from Future Storms
$4.9 Billion Plan Aims to Protect NYC Transportation Infrastructure from Future StormsSee Beautiful New Pics of the Eco-Friendly Waterfront Condos Coming to Brooklyn Bridge ParkNew QueensWay Plan Reveals Zip-Lines,
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Arizona and Ohio Legalize Tesla’s Direct-to-Consumer Sales Model
Share on TumblrEmail The battle between Tesla and state car dealership associations continues to rage on, however the tide may be slowly turning in favor of the electric automaker. After New Jersey passed
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The Latest Chat App for iPhone Needs No Internet Connection
A startup’s software will let iPhone apps connect phones without the Internet. By Tom Simonite on March 28, 2014 Just between us: Peer-to-peer schemes like FireChat’s send information without involving distant servers
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Curiosity Stops to Thwack Its Instruments, Take Amazing Panoramas
A mosaic panorama made from images taken on Mar. 27. Image: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Jason Major (Do yourself a favor and click through to see the full image) On the road of life, it’s sometimes important to stop and thwack your
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A Futurist on Why Lawyers Will Start Becoming Obsolete This Year
Photo: Do-Ming Lum Karl Schroeder is one of the best of the current generation of hard science fiction writers. He’s also an accomplished futurist who works for the design firm Idea Couture. In his new novel Lockstep,
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Here's All the TV You Need to Catch Up on This Weekend
Screengrab: WIRED The two hardest things to say goodbye to in pop culture are: 1) Yesterday and 2) TV shows that you love. Broad City and Brooklyn Nine-Nine have wrapped their inaugural seasons, which B99‘s Gina Linetti
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Microsoft Curtails Email Snooping After Leak Controversy
Photo: Jim Merithew/WIRED A week after being caught snooping through the hotmail account of an unnamed French journalist who published some company secrets, Microsoft says it will no longer search through customers emails
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Design FX</em>: Noah'</em>s Epic Storm Was Controlled by a Single iPad App
And on the eighth day, we got apps. Director Darren Aronofsky’s new film Noah is, of course, about the Biblical flood so massive it required one man to build an ark. Bringing such an apocalyptic deluge to the big screen was
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WIRED Space Photo of the Day: Milky Way Panorama
Touring the Milky Way now is as easy as clicking a button with NASA's new zoomable, 360-degree mosaic presented Thursday at the TED 2014 Conference in Vancouver, Canada. The star-studded panorama of our galaxy is constructed
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The internet thinks Facebook just killed the Oculus Rift
As announcements go, this one hit everybody way out of left field. From the halls of GTC to the echoing environs of Reddit, when Facebook excitedly announced that it had purchased Oculus VR — the manufacturers behind the
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Apple wants to bypass net neutrality for its own streaming video service
Apple has been toying with the idea of modernizing the living room for the better part of a decade now, and it seems as if Cupertino is on the cusp of a breakthrough. Apple is reportedly in talks with Comcast to bring a
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Turkey becomes first nation to block Google DNS, claims Twitter is groveling at its feet
Turkey’s corrupt Prime Minister Racep Tayyip Erdoğan has upped the ante in his quest to “root out Twitter,” which is hugely popular in that country. Three days ago, Erdoğan banned Twitter in Turkey after links
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What is mesh networking, and why Apple’s adoption in iOS 7 could change the world
With iOS 7, Apple snuck in a very interesting feature that has mostly gone unnoticed: Mesh networking for both WiFi and Bluetooth. It also seems that Google is working to add mesh networking to Android, too. When it comes to
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Verizon accused of tearing out copper telephone lines to force FiOS and wireless on customers
Verizon has come under fire in the past for attempting to shove consumers off of copper wire and on to either FiOS or its expensive wireless Voice Link service but the blowback to-date hasn’t dissuaded the company. Now,
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Rungu’s Three-Wheeled Juggernaut Bike Floats Over Sand and Snow
Share on TumblrEmail Anyone that’s ever tried to ride a bicycle through the sand or snow knows how easily standard tires are bogged down, making it a near impossible feat. But a new fleet of “fatbikes”,
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All-Electric Horizon Trike Gives Off-Road Mobility to the Disabled
Share on TumblrEmail Designer Jesse Lee has created an all-terrain electric tricycle that gives extreme mobility to adventurers with disabilities. The three wheeled Horizon bike can be controlled with hand or
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Bicycle Haüs is a Gleaming Green Mecca for Cycling Enthusiasts
Share on TumblrEmail The recently re-located bike shop is a two-story wedge structure that uses a combination of resilient materials, solar power and strategic
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What Zuckerberg Sees in Oculus Rift 26 March 2014, 20.13 Tech
What Zuckerberg Sees in Oculus Rift
Facebook acquired Oculus Rift because it believes virtual reality could be the next big thing after mobile. By Simon Parkin on March 26, 2014 New reality: Attendees try Oculus Rift at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las
Read More 11 Hits 0 Ratings

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WIRED Space Photo of the Day: Milky Way Panorama PDF Print E-mail

Touring the Milky Way now is as easy as clicking a button with NASA's new zoomable, 360-degree mosaic presented Thursday at the TED 2014 Conference in Vancouver, Canada. The star-studded panorama of our galaxy is constructed from more than 2 million infrared snapshots taken over the past 10 years by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

"If we actually printed this out, we'd need a billboard as big as the Rose Bowl Stadium to display it," said Robert Hurt, an imaging specialist at NASA's Spitzer Space Science Center in Pasadena, Calif. "Instead, we've created a digital viewer that anyone, even astronomers, can use."

The 20-gigapixel mosaic uses Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope visualization platform. It captures about three percent of our sky, but because it focuses on a band around Earth where the plane of the Milky Way lies, it shows more than half of all the galaxy's stars.

The image, derived primarily from the Galactic Legacy Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire project, or GLIMPSE, is online at:

Spitzer, launched into space in 2003 and has spent more than 10 years studying everything from asteroids in our solar system to the most remote galaxies at the edge of the observable universe. In this time, it has spent a total of 4,142 hours (172 days) taking pictures of the disk, or plane, of our Milky Way galaxy in infrared light. This is the first time those images have been stitched together into a single, expansive view.

Our galaxy is a flat spiral disk; our solar system sits in the outer one-third of the Milky Way, in one of its spiral arms. When we look toward the center of our galaxy, we see a crowded, dusty region jam-packed with stars. Visible-light telescopes cannot look as far into this region because the amount of dust increases with distance, blocking visible starlight. Infrared light, however, travels through the dust and allows Spitzer to view past the galaxy's center.

"Spitzer is helping us determine where the edge of the galaxy lies," said Ed Churchwell, co-leader of the GLIMPSE team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We are mapping the placement of the spiral arms and tracing the shape of the galaxy." Using GLIMPSE data, astronomers have created the most accurate map of the large central bar of stars that marks the center of the galaxy, revealing the Milky Way to be slightly larger than previously thought. GLIMPSE images have also shown a galaxy riddled with bubbles. These bubble structures are cavities around massive stars, which blast wind and radiation into their surroundings.

All together, the data allow scientists to build a more global model of stars, and star formation in the galaxy -- what some call the "pulse" of the Milky Way. Spitzer can see faint stars in the "backcountry" of our galaxy -- the outer, darker regions that went largely unexplored before. "There are a whole lot more lower-mass stars seen now with Spitzer on a large scale, allowing for a grand study," said Barbara Whitney of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, co-leader of the GLIMPSE team. "Spitzer is sensitive enough to pick these up and light up the entire 'countryside' with star formation."

The Spitzer team previously released an image compilation showing 130 degrees of our galaxy, focused on its hub. The new 360-degree view will guide NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to the most interesting sites of star-formation, where it will make even more detailed infrared observations. Some sections of the GLIMPSE mosaic include longer-wavelength data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, which scanned the whole sky in infrared light. The GLIMPSE data are also part of a citizen science project, where users can help catalog bubbles and other objects in our Milky Way galaxy. To participate, visit: The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer and WISE missions for NASA. The Spitzer Science Center is at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Caption: Spitzer Space Telescope Team

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What Zuckerberg Sees in Oculus Rift PDF Print E-mail

Facebook acquired Oculus Rift because it believes virtual reality could be the next big thing after mobile.

attendees try Oculus Rift

New reality: Attendees try Oculus Rift at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, this past January.

Facebook moved quickly to acquire Oculus VR—creator of the forthcoming Oculus Rift virtual reality headset—for approximately $2 billion. Discussions between the two companies opened less than two weeks ago, according to Oculus VR’s CEO Brendan Irebe. “We locked ourselves in the Facebook HQ and just got the deal done really fast,” Irebe told the Wall Street Journal. “We don’t want to disrupt the team and go through months of negotiations.”

Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly instigated the deal. “Strategically we want to start building the next major computing platform that will come after mobile,” he said on a conference call on Tuesday night. Zuckerberg sees the acquisition as part of Facebook’s mission to build the so-called knowledge economy. “There are not many things that are candidates to be the next major computing platform,” he said. “[This acquisition is a] long-term bet on the future of computing.”

Zuckerberg described his first time using the VR headset as revelatory: “When you put on the goggles, it’s different from anything I have ever experienced in my life,” he said.

The headset, designed by 21-year-old Palmer Luckey, has been available as a developer kit since March 2013. So far it’s primarily been used for video games (see “Can Oculus Rift Turn Virtual Wonder into Commercial Reality?”). John Carmack, co-creator of the seminal 3-D video game Doom, joined Oculus VR in August; many enthusiasts and independent game makers have already released games and demos for the hardware. This has happened even though the company hasn’t announced a launch date for a commercial version of the hardware. At this point the device isn’t expected to be released any earlier than the end of this year.

Facebook views the technology as more than a peripheral for video games. “Immersive virtual and augmented reality will become a part of people’s everyday life,” Zuckerberg said. “History suggests there will be more platforms to come, and whoever builds and defines these,” he said, will shape the future and reap the benefits.

Asked on the investor call why the time is right for mass-market virtual reality, Zuckerberg cited the low cost of the necessary components. “One of the things driving this is that people can reuse components mass-produced for phones that can render a world quickly enough to not make a person feel motion sickness,” he said. “You need to render everything in a virtual world within 15 milliseconds, otherwise it’s too jarring and doesn’t feel real. For the first time, we are able to do that.”

The Oculus VR team posted a blog on the company’s website last night, acknowledging that the partnership with Facebook might seem odd at first glance: “But when you consider it more carefully, we’re culturally aligned with a focus on innovating and hiring the best and brightest; we believe communication drives new platforms; we want to contribute to a more open, connected world; and we both see virtual reality as the next step.”

Not everybody shares the optimism about Facebook’s new acquisition. Among the deal’s critics are some who backed the original Oculus VR Kickstarter campaign in August 2012. Markus Persson, the outspoken creator of Minecraft, wrote on his blog “I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition.”

Persson also tweeted to his 1.5 million followers that he had been in talks with Oculus concerning a VR version of Minecraft, but “I just canceled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.” In his blog post he complained that Facebook’s focus on social interactions rather than video games may harm the Oculus vision. “Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts,” he wrote. “Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience.”

Another critic is Jaron Lanier, who founded the first VR company, VPL Research, in 1983. Lanier warned that the acquisition could have a stultifying effect: “I have seen a lot of cases where big ticket acquisitions seem to actually slow innovative startups down,” he said in an e-mail to MIT Technology Review. “Whether the combination of Oculus and Facebook will yield more creativity or creepiness will be determined by whether the locus of control stays with individuals or drifts to big remote computers controlled by others.”

Others from within the video game industry see good things about the deal. Andy Payne, the chairman of the Association for U.K. Interactive Entertainment and of Mastertronic, one of the U.K.’s longest-running video game publishers, said: “This could be an amazing deal if Oculus is allowed to press on, but more quickly. Facebook’s mass-market power will move VR into the mainstream. They have bought a vision of the future. And they have also bought future relevance.”

Even Lanier, who works at Microsoft and is rumored to be developing a parallel product for Xbox One, restated his belief in the technology: “VR can be tremendously fun and beautiful.”

Credit: Photo by the Associated Press | Jae C. Hong

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Coming Soon: Android Apps for Wearable Devices PDF Print E-mail

Developers and designers are now building apps for Google’s smart watch platform.

New direction: A mockup of a turn-by-turn notification from an Android app on the forthcoming Moto 360 smart watch.

The designers of the forthcoming Moto 360 hope they’ve passed a fashion test. In contrast to the often bulky and boxy smart watches released to date (see “Smart Watches Need a Makeover, and a Shrink Ray”), their device is sleek and perfectly round, evoking the style of a classic analog wristwatch.

But beneath the slick design lies even slicker software. A new version of Android, called Android Wear (see “New SDK Shows Google Really Wants to Get on Your Body”), allows apps for the watch to be created using simple tweaks to existing Android apps.

The nice design and promised ease of development have encouraged a handful of developers and designers to prototype the first wearable apps for Android Wear. For example, a developer at the startup Pocket has proposed an app that would let someone wearing the watch slip notifications and e-mail alerts into a special folder for later review on his smartphone. Designers, meanwhile, have mocked up wearable apps including trip planners and speed-reading e-mail clients using the interface guidelines included with Android Wear.

While the market for wrist-worn computing is uncertain, Google hopes to gain an early edge by leveraging the many Android developers already out there. Other smart watches, including the Pebble and the latest Samsung Galaxy Gear, use their own operating systems, forcing prospective developers to learn to code for a new platform.

Samsung put a new operating system, called Tizen, on the latest version of its Galaxy Gear smart watch (see “Samsung Weans Itself from Android, at Least for Smart Watches”) partly to undermine the dominance Google has achieved so far in mobile software. The release of Android Wear is also something of a preëmptive strike, since Apple is widely expected to release its own watch this year.

Android’s dominant position in mobile software could give it an edge over Apple in smart watches. Cecilia Abadie, a developer at 33Labs, a mobile development company in Los Angeles, says she is building a personal fitness training app and personal assistant app for the Moto 360. “Android Wear has better chances of winning the next big battle of wearables against Apple, in the same way Android itself won the battle in number of [smartphone] units sold,” she says.

Det Ansinn, president of BrickSimple, an Android app development firm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, says he’s already experimenting with the new software development kit. “They’ve made it very easy for Android developers to support experiences on these watches,” he says. “You can generate a notification that generates meaningful controls using the exact same notification mechanisms that you are familiar with.”

The Moto 360 won’t be out until summer, and Google hasn’t disclosed its price. No third-party apps have yet been released, but Google has shown some concepts, including weather and traffic updates, the ability to dictate short e-mails, and turn-by-turn directions.

“Basically apps on the phone already have an on-ramp to the watch,” says Ansinn. “It makes the Android Wear devices truly an extension of the device in the pocket.” He points out that dismissing a notification on a watch also dismisses it on the phone.

The software development kit lets developers integrate Google’s voice-driven personal assistant Google Now into their software for smart watches and other devices. In announcing the software development kit last week, Google said it’s working with companies including Asus, HTC, LG, Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm, and Fossil Group to build devices that can use Android Wear apps.

The Moto 360 will have swipe controls, but Abadie of 33Labs believes good voice control will determine whether consumers actually find it convenient to use the device. “As people get used to talking to their devices, we’ll see that in the next few years, all software and hardware will need to add a new layer of voice, allowing people to talk to them and being able to talk back,” she says. “These devices will make voice mainstream again.”

If smart watches are to gain mainstream acceptance, they’ll also need to be well-designed. In a talk last week, Jim Wicks, lead designer of Moto 360, says the first priority was making sure consumers would actually want to wear the smart watch. Not all early wearable gadgets have passed that bar: Google Glass has been hampered by reactions that it is bizarre, geeky, and downright creepy. Those reactions have, in turn, limited developers’ appetite for writing Glass apps.

To help the Moto 360 “pass the fashion test,” Wicks says, his team chose a brushed stainless steel case, optional leather straps, and the familiar round shape that most people choose when buying a traditional watch. And they banished cameras: “We did not see it as essential,” he says.

But Wicks acknowledges that other features will be equally crucial to the device’s popularity: for example, easy tie-in with Android apps, and the “ability to talk to your watch, and have it do things for you.”

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Academics Spy Weaknesses in Bitcoin’s Foundations PDF Print E-mail

Game theory suggests the rules governing Bitcoin may need to be updated if the currency is to endure.

One thing cannot be disputed about the person (or persons) responsible for creating Bitcoin: they were skilled in math, and expert at coding. Five years after the Bitcoin software was first released, no major fixes have been needed to the core code, which uses cryptography to generate and transfer virtual money.

Yet signs are emerging of more subtle flaws in the vision of Satoshi Nakamoto (which may or may not be a pseudonym), with analysis suggesting the rules governing how Bitcoin operates as a currency may be far from perfect. Some researchers claim that these rules leave room for cheats to destabilize Bitcoin. Others have concluded that major changes to the currency’s rules will be needed as the number of bitcoins in circulation increases.

“In the real world, people don’t always follow the rules—they do what’s best for them,” says Joshua Kroll, a researcher at Princeton. “Understanding this is the key to understanding whether and how Bitcoin survives—it tells you whether the system can last for a long time, [and] how robust is it in the face of shocks.”

Kroll and others are exploring possible problems using game theory, a way to mathematically calculate how individuals might choose to coӧperate, compete, or cheat given the options available to them and the strategies of others.

One conclusion drawn by Kroll and his Princeton colleagues Ian Davey and Ed Felton is that those rules will have to be significantly changed if Bitcoin is to last. Their models predict that interest in “mining” for bitcoins, by downloading and running the Bitcoin software, will drop off as the number in circulation grows toward the cap of 21 million set by Nakamoto. This would be a problem because computers running the mining software also maintain the ledger of transactions, known as the blockchain, that records and guarantees bitcoin transactions (see “What Bitcoin Is and Why It Matters”).

Miners earn newly minted bitcoins for adding new sections to the blockchain. But the amount awarded for adding a section is periodically halved so that the total number of bitcoins in circulation never exceeds 21 million (the reward last halved in 2012 and is set to do so again in 2016). Transaction fees paid to miners for helping verify transfers are supposed to make up for that loss of income. But fees are currently negligible, and the Princeton analysis predicts that under the existing rules these fees won’t become significant enough to make mining worth doing in the absence of freshly minted bitcoins.

The only solution Kroll sees is to rewrite the rules of the currency. “It would need some kind of governance structure that agreed to have a kind of tax on transactions or not to limit the number of bitcoins created,” he says. “We expect both mechanisms to come into play.”

That kind of approach is common in established economies, which tame things like insider trading with laws and regulatory agencies and have central banks to shape economies. But many backers of Bitcoin prize the way it currently operates without centralized control, and would likely rebel at any suggestion of changing the rules.

Researchers from Cornell claim to have found another problem with bitcoin mining. At the Financial Cryptography conference this month, they presented work suggesting that so-called “selfish miners” could exploit the current rules to gain more than a fair reward for their work.

Bitcoin miners run software that races to solve a mathematical puzzle and thereby add the next section to the blockchain, netting the reward that comes with it. Under the selfish-mining strategy, a mining operation would refrain from announcing it had completed the next new block, shunning the reward in an attempt to get a head start on the competition on the following block.

The Cornell analysis shows that although selfish miners do worse initially, the strategy can pay off over time by causing honest miners to waste time on puzzles that are irrelevant. The strategy does, however, depend on having a significant share of the overall computing power of all bitcoin miners.

“If your mining power is more than a third of the system total, this always works,” says Ittay Eyal, who did the research with colleague Emin Gün Sirer. “You may be able to do it with much less,” Eyal adds.

Eyal proposes a modification to the mining protocol that would ensure that only someone controlling at least a quarter of all mining power could profit from selfish mining, and says the Bitcoin community should also make efforts to limit the power of mining operations.

The selfish-mining theory has been controversial in the Bitcoin community and academia, with some claiming it wouldn’t work. But the idea of somehow reducing the influence of the largest mining operations has wide support. It has long been known that a miner controlling 51 percent of all bitcoin mining power could tamper with the blockchain to do things like spend bitcoins twice.

That threat began to feel genuine in January this year when the G.Hash mining group from China grew to control 41 percent of the network’s power, before backing off in the face of outcry. Nonetheless, the dominance of a handful of large mining operations suggests a 51 percent attack remains possible, whether from one growing or two colluding. G.Hash now controls 29 percent of the network’s power, with the next three largest controlling a further 42 percent between them.

One other reason to reduce the dominance of large mining ventures is that their size seems to encourage use of denial of service attacks, says Benjamin Johnson, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. He was lead author on a paper at the Financial Cryptography conference that used game theory to show that it makes sense for smaller miners to boost their own success by preventing large miners from operating rather then investing in more mining power, and that the incentive disappears if mining is not dominated by a handful of large players.

Another paper presented at the conference reported that 63 percent of large mining pools had been attacked, compared to only 17 percent of small ones. “This argues that way before a pool reaches the 51 percent threshold, it creates unhelpful incentives,” says Johnson.

Johnson says the Bitcoin Foundation, a nonprofit created to standardize and promote Bitcoin, and the people maintaining the Bitcoin software have shown interest in his work and that of others probing the currency’s design. “They’re really invested in making sure this protocol works and doesn’t fail due to some economically motivated attack strategy.”

Gavin Andresen, chief scientist for the foundation, and leader of the group that maintains the Bitcoin software, says he would welcome closer ties with academic researchers as a way to keep track of potential problems. “Security is a process; it is never done,” says Andresen. “There are always new threats.”

Andresen will speak at a conference in Princeton this week intended to foster such collaboration. “I’m looking forward to making deeper connections with the academic community,” he says.

Identifying problems in the Bitcoin protocol and possible fixes will be easier than implementing them, though. Although the growth of Bitcoin businesses has diluted the anti-government feeling that motivated many of the earliest adopters (see “Bitcoin Hits the Bigtime”), making major changes to the basic rules of how the currency works is likely to meet stiff resistance.

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Lens-Free Camera Sees Things Differently PDF Print E-mail

An itty-bitty camera could bring sight to the Internet of things.

Rambus’s lensless camera

Picture this: Rambus’s lensless camera uses a spiral-etched grating to capture light. Shown here, next to a euro coin for size comparison, is a prototype of a grating that sits atop a sensor.

Patrick Gill is excited to show me a small, fuzzy-looking picture of the Mona Lisa, printed in black and white on a piece of paper. It’s not much to look at, literally, but it’s unmistakably her, with long dark hair and that mysterious smile.

More intriguing than the low-resolution image of da Vinci’s masterpiece, though, is how the picture was created: with a lens-free camera that, at 200 micrometers across, is smaller than a pencil point.

While digital cameras with lenses can take great photos, it is difficult to get cameras into smaller devices. Miniaturizing lenses only works to a certain point: the smaller they get, the more difficult it is to make their precise curved surfaces. Gill, a senior research scientist at the technology licensing company Rambus, thinks one way to solve this problem is by replacing the curved camera lens with an itty-bitty sensor that uses a spiral shape to map light and relies on a computer to figure out what the resulting image should look like.

Eventually, he envisions the tiny camera being built into all kinds of things, from wearable gadgets to security systems to toys, without having to add to the cost or bulk of a camera with a lens. “Our aim is to add eyes to any digital device, no matter how small,” he says.

The point is not to build high-resolution cameras like you’d want on a smartphone but rather to build the smallest, cheapest, easiest-to-make optical sensor that can still capture enough information to show what’s going on.

Gordon Wetzstein, a research scientist at MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture Group, is optimistic about the technology, though he says it’s still not clear how well it will work. “Other than pixels getting smaller, we haven’t really seen much progress in camera sensors for a while,” he says.

Gill shows me a prototype sensor at Rambus’s Sunnyvale office that has been etched with 28 different types of diffractive structures—spirals and other shapes like a cross and a pentagon. A tiny segment of the chip contains a spiral that has been used to capture a number of images, including the Mona Lisa picture Gill shows me as well as fuzzy depictions of John Lennon and Georges Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières.

When you take a picture of a painting on a wall with a regular digital camera, a lens focuses each point of light it captures on a sensor, generating a digital file that a computer can show you as an image. Rambus’s approach instead uses a grating etched with a spiral pattern through which light can enter from every orientation. The sensor below the grating captures a jumble of spirals that a human wouldn’t see as a recognizable image, but software can translate into one.

Gill uses the Mona Lisa image to demonstrate. He shows me a regular black-and-white image of the painting, a blurred black-and-white form indicating the jumble of spirals the sensor would capture for the computer to interpret, and a blurry but still recognizable black-and-white image of the painting as reconstructed from this data by software.

Gill says Rambus’s algorithms let users ask the computer to produce images at various resolutions; the highest he’s done thus far with prototypes is 128 by 128 pixels, which he says represents the capabilities of the highest-resolution sensors Rambus would make if it commercializes the technology.

While there are other lensless camera projects out there, such as one created by Bell Labs (see “Bell Labs Invents Lensless Camera”), Gill believes the one Rambus is working on is less complex and can be made much smaller. The technology used to make it is similar to the CMOS technology used to construct computer chips, so it could be manufactured within an array of chips while adding just a few cents to the overall cost of each chip.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Patrick R. Gill

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As Amazon Mimics Google's Price Drop, Cloud Computing Grows Up PDF Print E-mail

Andy Jassy, Senior Vice President of Amazon Web Services. Photo: Mike Kane/WIRED

Andy Jassy, Senior Vice President of Amazon Web Services. Photo: Mike Kane/WIRED

Andy Jassy, Senior Vice President of Amazon Web Services. Photo: Mike Kane/WIRED

The price of cloud computing continues to plummet.

On Tuesday, at an event in downtown San Francisco, Google unveiled some enormous price reductions across its various services for running software applications and websites and storing large amounts of data. And on Wednesday, at its own event just a few blocks down the street, Amazon followed suit by slashing prices across its own set of cloud services.

“In this business, you’re cheaper for about 24 hours. That’s how quickly the others guys can respond on price,” Forrester analyst James Staten told us in discussing Google’s price tag. And this proved all too true.

Twenty hours after Google’s announcement, Andy Jassy, the man who oversees Amazon Web Services, the world’s largest cloud computing business, unveiled a 30 to 40 percent drop on its Elastic Compute Cloud, a means of running software on virtual machines, and a 51 percent drop on its Simple Storage Service, a way of storing data. He also said that prices would drop by as much as 61 percent on Elastic MapReduce, a way analyzing data.

Amazon’s price reductions closely mirrored what Google had done the day before — with the exception of a new pricing scheme Google introduced that addresses a particular egregious problem in the way cloud services have traditionally been priced. What these two sets of massive reductions show is that companies like Amazon were probably charging far higher for their services than it cost to build and run them.

In the past, Amazon had indicated it was running a low-margin business, much the same as its retail and digital goods, but it was probably a very high margins business. And now we’ve seen an enormous correction.

Startup and developers have raised particular concerns over the cost of running fairly consistent software workloads on cloud services. The cloud made a lot of sense when your workload when up and down — when you were dealing with the ebb and flow of traffic to a website, for instance — but it made more sense to just buy your own hardware if your workload stayed pretty much the same. Google addressed this specifically with its new pricing scheme, and though Amazon did not, the price reductions on its Elastic Compute Cloud should help this issue at least in part.

What this ultimately means cloud computing makes even more sense than it did before. This week was a major turning point of a technology that Staten and Forrestor predict will become a $40 billion business by 2020, capturing 15 percent of the overall information technology market.

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An Unexpected Discovery in the Brains of Autistic Children PDF Print E-mail

A 3D reconstruction showing a disrupted patch of cortex (blue and red area). Image: Stoner et al. NEJM

A 3D reconstruction showing a disrupted patch of cortex (blue and red area). Image: Stoner et al. NEJM

A 3-D reconstruction showing a disrupted patch of cortex (blue and red area). Image: Stoner et al. NEJM

Nobody knows what causes autism, a condition that varies so widely in severity that some people on the spectrum achieve enviable fame and success while others require lifelong assistance due to severe problems with communication, cognition, and behavior. Scientists have found countless clues, but so far they don’t quite add up. The genetics is complicated. The neuroscience is conflicted.

Now, a new study adds an intriguing, unexpected, and sure-to-be controversial finding to the mix: It suggests the brains of children with autism contain small patches where the normally ordered arrangement of neurons in the cerebral cortex is disrupted. “We’ve found locations where there appears to be a failure of normal development,” said Eric Courchesne, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego and an author of the study, which appears today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

‘These kinds of changes in cellular architecture would happen during brain development, probably around the first part of the second trimester.’

“It’s been really difficult to identify a lesion or anything in the brain that’s specific and diagnostic of autism,” said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, one of several agencies that funded the project. The new study is notable because it applies sophisticated molecular labeling methods to postmortem tissue from people with autism who died as children, which is incredibly hard to come by, Insel says.

“If it’s real, if it’s replicated and it’s a consistent finding, it’s more evidence that autism starts prenatally and only manifests itself when kids start to have trouble with language or social behavior around age two or three,” Insel said. “These kinds of changes in cellular architecture would happen during brain development, probably around the first part of the second trimester.”

The cortex is the thin sheet of tissue on the surface of the brain. We humans have so much of it that it’s folded up to fit inside our skulls, giving our brains their wrinkly appearance. The cortex plays an important role in everything from basic functions like planning movements and making sense of information from our eyes and ears, to more advanced stuff like language and abstract thought.

If you cut a cross-section through the cortex and looked at it under a microscope, you’d see that it has a consistent cellular architecture, with six distinct layers, each inhabited by certain types of neurons with a certain pattern of connections with other neurons. This uniform organization, many neuroscientists think, is what makes the cortex such a powerful and flexible computer.

These classic anatomical drawings by Santiago Ramon y Cajal show the layers in different parts of cortex. Image: WikiCommons

These classic anatomical drawings by Santiago Ramon y Cajal show the layers in different parts of cortex. Image: WikiCommons

These classic anatomical drawings by Santiago Ramon y Cajal show the layers in different parts of cortex. Image: WikiCommons

But that organization appears to be messed up in spots in many children with autism, according to the new study.

Courchesne and colleagues examined post-mortem brain tissue from 22 children who died between the ages of 2 and 15 — half had autism, half did not. The symptoms of those who had it varied from mild to severe. With help from Ed Lein and other scientists at the Allen Brain Institute, the team applied genetic markers that label specific cell types and specific layers of cortex.

In 10 of 11 of the autistic brains, they found patches of cortex that didn’t follow the normal rules. The patches were a few millimeters across (roughly a quarter to half an inch). In some patches, a specific layer was missing. In others, certain cells weren’t there. The details varied from case to case.

The researchers found these abnormalities in the temporal and prefrontal cortex, areas with roles in language and cognition that are — in a very broad and hand-wavey sort of way — relevant to the symptoms of autism. They did not see them in the occipital cortex, a region primarily associated with vision, which isn’t typically disrupted in autism. Nor did they see them in the brains of 10 of the 11 children without autism. (The one child in this group without autism who had patches of scrambled cortex also had a history of severe seizures, which doesn’t exactly explain that finding, but might be relevant, Courchesne says).

“It’s intriguing to find something consistent like this,” said Helen Barbas, a neuroscientist at Boston University who wasn’t involved in the new study. But she’s less sure about what it means.

One popular hypothesis is that autism results from altered connections within or between regions of the cortex. “The cortex is a huge communication system,” Barbas said. “If you have an abnormality in the structure of cortex, it’s going to affect connectivity.” At this point though, it’s not possible to connect the dots between the scrambled bits of cortex described in the new study and the type of altered connectivity Barbas and others have found previously. “It raises a lot of questions, and that’s good.”

Colored ribbons indicate different layers of cortex, and an abnormal disruption, in a person with autism. Image: Eric Courchesne

Colored ribbons indicate different layers of cortex, and an abnormal disruption, in a person with autism. Image: Eric Courchesne

Colored ribbons indicate layers of cortex, and an abnormal disruption, in a person with autism. Image: Stoner et al. NEJM

Courchesne acknowledges the new study is just a start. The researchers only had access to small chunks of brain tissue, so they can’t say how widespread the disordered patches were in any given person, let alone how common they are overall in the brains of people with autism (or without it, for that matter). For the same reason, it’s not clear yet whether there’s any relationship between the severity — or the type — of autism symptoms and the number or location of scrambled patches of cortex.

What could cause these abnormalities isn’t clear, but Courchesne thinks genetics and environment could both play a role. The trigger could be some relatively common (but currently unknown) thing encountered by pregnant mothers, Courchesne suggests, but different individuals might vary in their genetic susceptibility to it — and in their genetic potential to compensate for it.

The findings might also be consistent with spontaneous gene mutations, which have been implicated by several teams of autism researchers in recent years, says Robert Hevner, a neuropathologist and neuroscientist at the University of Washington. Unlike the inherited gene mutations passed down from parent to offspring, spontaneous mutations occur later, during development.

“As billions of cells in our body and brain are dividing, mistakes get made,” Hevner said. Because those mistakes affect some cells and not others, they can create a mosaic-like pattern of abnormalities. “If there are mutations occurring on a small scale during brain development, we might see some changes like they’re showing here.”

Still, Hevner sees several reasons to be skeptical about the findings. Chief among them is that the researchers haven’t directly shown that the brains of people with autism have cellular abnormalities — they’ve inferred that from their molecular labeling, which targets RNA. That could be problematic in postmortem tissue, Hevner says. “The brain after death is just sitting there stewing in its own juices, and RNA is a highly unstable molecule that’s easily degraded.”

An alternative interpretation for the new findings, Hevner says, is that the patches with missing molecular markers simply correspond to areas where RNA degraded more quickly than in the surrounding tissue. Courchesne and colleagues did experiments to try to rule this out, but Hevner says he’s still not convinced. “I’ve developed a habit of being cautious,” he said.

When it comes to autism research, that’s probably a healthy habit for everyone.

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Why Netflix Wants to Keep Binge-Watching All to Itself PDF Print E-mail

Image: AMC

Image: AMC

Image: AMC

For those of us who watch TV online, few irritations compare to the “five most recent episodes” rule. On Hulu and TV-network websites, only the last five episodes to air are typically available for internet streaming. Networks realize this is annoying to viewers, and they want to make binge-watching of current seasons easier. But there’s a surprising source of resistance: Netflix, which would be happy to keep the binge-watching culture it spawned all to itself.

The question of current-season streaming came up again recently in connection with reports that Apple is in talks with Comcast to develop a cable-replacement set-top box. In a piece on the discussions, CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that Apple was seeking “in-season stacking rights” for its possible internet TV service. The arrangement would allow Apple to stream complete current seasons of shows, Stelter said. These are the same kinds of deals networks have reportedly been seeking from the studios who own the rights to the shows they broadcast — deals that would put an end to the “five most recent episodes” rule.

Networks would love to be able to stream any and all episodes they’ve already broadcast, since otherwise those shows just sit dormant. For broadcasters and most cable channels, making money is all about building momentum toward the latest episode — that is, the episode they can show ads around. The ability to offer viewers the full season to date is the best way to get potential new viewers caught up. While “in-season stacking” wouldn’t be that important for most comedies, it would be huge for serial dramas that build audiences by hooking them on what happens next.

The studios that actually make and own the rights to shows have resisted in-season stacking because it would hurt their ability to repackage and resell their content for syndication. In the streaming-video era, syndication has come a long way from seven o’clock reruns on local affiliates. Netflix has transformed the very idea of a rerun, posting complete most recent seasons of shows just before new seasons air (for example, the Netflix release of Mad Men season six at the end of the month ahead of the mid-April premiere of season seven on AMC). Netflix apparently pays dearly to offer viewers such binge-able access — up to $750,000 per episode, according to The Vulture.

If networks began offering in-season stacking, Netflix would lose much of the unique value it offers subscribers in the realm of reruns. That’s why the company has made clear to studios it will cut its rates severely if they opt to make complete current seasons available to competitors. “If you’re going to also offer that, it’s not exclusive anymore, and the rate goes down,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos recently told a entertainment industry gathering. Sarandos said Netflix, which plans to spend about $3 billion next year on content, isn’t threatening to cut off its own deals if studios start offering in-season stacking.

“It’s not that we won’t do it,” Sarandos said. “We just won’t pay as much.”

In other words, don’t blame Netflix for the “five most recent episodes” limit — at least not entirely. The irony is that access to the last five episodes — or any streaming video at all — would feel like a privilege if not for the expectations set by Netflix. Especially with its strategy of releasing entire seasons of its own shows at once, Netflix exposed the artifice of the timed rollout. Networks could put every episode online at once, too, instead of piecing them out one week at a time. The reasons they don’t aren’t technological. As usual, it’s all about business.

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Microsoft Finally Gave Away MS-DOS. Now It Should Open Source Everything Else PDF Print E-mail

Photo: Rexhep-bunjaku/Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Rexhep-bunjaku/Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Rexhep-bunjaku/Wikimedia Commons

Microsoft just released the source code of one of its most important computer operating systems. The catch is that the software is over 30 years old.

Yesterday, with permission from Microsoft, Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum published the source code for MS-DOS, the text-based operating system that ran so many personal computers in the ’80s and turned Microsoft into one of the industry’s dominant software companies. For computer geeks, the move can provide a bit of fun — a glimpse into how software was built in the past — and it provides a nice metaphor for a Microsoft that’s evolving with the times. Microsoft was once vehemently opposed to open source software, believing that it would cut into its core business, but in a modern world where open source is so very important, the company is changing its tune.

But the company shouldn’t stop at symbolic gestures. We love that the MS-DOS code is now available to the world at large (even if you can’t distribute your own changes to it, as with truly open source software). And we love that Microsoft has also released the code behind another seminal piece of software: Microsoft Word for Windows, originally released in 1990. But if the company is to regain its place at the head of the tech table, it needs to start open sourcing operating systems that are used today, not 30 years ago. Microsoft needs to open up the Windows Phone mobile OS — and maybe even desktop Windows.

Google already gives away both the source code and the licenses for its Android and Chrome operating systems, and that strategy has been quite successful in stealing market share from Apple and Blackberry. Especially in the developing world, handset makers are flocking to Android, and there’s little reason for them to pay a fee for Windows Phone.

There’s even reason to consider extending this policy to the desktop. Apple long ago open sourced the foundation of its OS X operating system through a project called Darwin, and now, it gives away new versions of the operating system to existing customers. Microsoft licenses Windows Phone to manufacturers for as little as $10 per device, and desktop versions of Windows may sell for even less than that. As the price of operating systems approaches zero, Microsoft is running out of excuses not to open up its operating systems. Plus, this could give the company added currency among the world’s software developers — something it desperately needs.

Trust the Source

Releasing source code resonates on so many different levels. It helps software spread. And it accelerates the pace of innovation. But it also engenders an added trust in the companies and individuals doing the open sourcing, a trust that spreads among developers as well as users. People are often more likely to use and build on top of software if they can see into the source code. The history of MS-DOS can actually provide a window into this phenomenon.

Microsoft started out as a company that sold tools for programmers. But tiny outfit got its big break in 1980 when IBM asked for help building an operating system for its new desktop PC line. The result was MS-DOS. It was hugely successful, but a cloud has hung over it from the very beginning. For years a man named Gary Kildall claimed that parts of Microsoft’s operating systems were copied from an OS he built at a tiny company called Digital Research Inc.

The questions that plagued Microsoft during its early years could have been resolved long ago had it simply published its source code under the same license it did today. Rivals wouldn’t be able to use it in their own products, but curious parties could have decided for themselves just how closely Redmond mimicked Kildall’s work.

In similar fashion, Microsoft could help answer lingering questions about Windows. Rumors about NSA backdoors into Microsoft products have swirled since at least 1999, and trust in Microsoft and other large tech companies has only eroded since Edward Snowden leaked a large cache of documents showing the breadth and depth of NSA spying. Microsoft could help clear this up by publishing the full source code of its modern operating systems — even if it’s under a very restrictive license.

Microsoft Does Android?

According to reports, Microsoft is already looking to license certain Windows operating systems at no charge. This is different from open sourcing. But it’s a start. And through Nokia, the handset maker it’s acquiring for $7 billion, Microsoft may even build low-cost phones with Android, the poster child for how successful an open source OS can be.

Now the question is whether Microsoft will go so far as to emulate Android with its own OSes. Yes, Microsoft would lose a revenue stream, but first and foremost, it needs to ensure that Windows is widely used. This will not only encourage developers to build software to the platform — something that will lead to even wider use. It will provide a widely used platform for all sorts of other Microsoft software and services as well as ads. That’s how Google makes it work.

You may see open source DOS as a novelty. But it provides the seeds for a new Microsoft.

  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Tech  |  

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