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  • CMI Director Alex King Talks About Rare Earth Supplies (Video)

    CMI in this context is the Critical Materials Institute at the Iowa State Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. They have partners from other national laboratories, universities, and industry, too. Rare earths, while not necessarily as rare as the word "rare" implies, are hard to mine, separate, and use. They are often found in parts per million quantities, so it takes supercomputers to suss out which deposits are worth going after. This is what Dr. King and his coworkers spend their time doing; finding concentrations of rare earths that can be mined and refined profitably.

    On November 3 we asked you for questions to put to Dr. King. Timothy incorporated some of those questions into the conversation in this video -- and tomorrow's video too, since we broke this into two parts because, while the subject matter may be fascinating, we are supposed to hold video lengths down to around 10 minutes, and in this case we still ended up with two videos close to 15 minutes each. And this stuff is important enough that instead of lining up a list of links, we are giving you one link to Google using the search term "rare earths." Yes, we know Rare Earth would be a great name for a rock band. But the mineral rare earths are important in the manufacture of items from strong magnets to touch screens and rechargeable batteries. (Alternate Video Link)

    27 comments | about a week ago

  • Halting Problem Proves That Lethal Robots Cannot Correctly Decide To Kill Humans

    KentuckyFC writes: The halting problem is to determine whether an arbitrary computer program, once started, will ever finish running or whether it will continue forever. In 1936, Alan Turing famously showed that there is no general algorithm that can solve this problem. Now a group of computer scientists and ethicists have used the halting problem to tackle the question of how a weaponized robot could decide to kill a human. Their trick is to reformulate the problem in algorithmic terms by considering an evil computer programmer who writes a piece of software on which human lives depend.

    The question is whether the software is entirely benign or whether it can ever operate in a way that ends up killing people. In general, a robot could never decide the answer to this question. As a result, autonomous robots should never be designed to kill or harm humans, say the authors, even though various lethal autonomous robots are already available. One curious corollary is that if the human brain is a Turing machine, then humans can never decide this issue either, a point that the authors deliberately steer well clear of.

    327 comments | about a week ago

  • Nokia's N1 Android Tablet Is Actually a Foxconn Tablet

    sfcrazy writes: "Nokia surprised everyone when it announced the N1 Android tablet during the Slush conference in Finland, today. This story has a twist, though: the N1 is not a Nokia device. Nokia doesn't have a device unit anymore: it sold its Devices and Services business to Microsoft in 2013. The N1 is made by Taiwanese contract manufacturing company Foxconn, which also manufactures the iPhone and the iPad.

    But Nokia's relationship with Foxconn is different from Apple's. You buy iDevices from Apple, not Foxconn; you call Apple for support, not Foxconn. You never deal with Foxconn. In the case of N1, Foxconn will be handling the sales, distribution, and customer care for the device. Nokia is licensing the brand, the industrial design, the Z Launcher software layer, and the IP on a running royalty basis to Foxconn.

    109 comments | about a week ago

  • Rooftop Solar Could Reach Price Parity In the US By 2016

    Lucas123 writes: The cost of rooftop solar-powered electricity will be on par with prices of coal-powered energy and other conventional sources in all 50 U.S. states in just two years, a leap from today where PV energy has price parity in only 10 states, according to Deutsche Bank's leading solar industry analyst. The sharp decline in solar energy costs is the result of increased economies of scale leading to cheaper photovoltaic panels, new leasing models and declining installation costs, Deutsche Bank's Vishal Shah stated in a recent report. The cost of solar-generated electricity in the top 10 states for capacity ranges from 11-15 cents per kilowatt hour (c/kWh), compared to the retail electricity price of 11-37 c/kWh. Amit Ronen, a former Congressional staffer behind legislation that created an investment tax credit for solar installations, said one of the only impediments to decreasing solar electricity prices are fees proposed by utilities on customers who install solar and take advantage of net metering, or the ability to sell excess power back to utilities.

    516 comments | about a week ago

  • NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet Android Lollipop Update Performance Explored

    MojoKid writes Last week, NVIDIA offered information regarding its Android Lollipop update for the SHIELD Tablet and also revealed a new game bundle for it. This week, NVIDIA gave members of the press early access to the Lollipop update and it will also be rolling out to the general public sometime later today. Some of the changes are subtle, but others are more significant and definitely give the tablet a different look and feel over the original Android KitKat release. Android Lollipop introduces a new "material design" that further flattens out the look of the OS. Google seems to have taken a more minimalist approach as everything from the keyboard to the settings menus have been cleaned up considerably. Many parts of the interface don't have any markings except for the absolute necessities. While the OS definitely feels more fluid and responsive, the default look isn't always better, depending on your personal view. The app tray for example has a plain, white background which looks kind of jarring if you've using a colorful background. And finding the proper touch points for things like a settings menu or clearing notifications isn't always clear. Performance-wise, NVIDIA's Shield Tablet showed significantly better performance on Lollipop for general compute tasks in benchmarks like Mobile XPRT but lagged behind Kit Kat in graphics performance slightly, which could be attributed to driver optimization.

    57 comments | about a week ago

  • Intel Announces Major Reorg To Combine Mobile and PC Divisions

    MojoKid writes: For the past year, Intel has pursued what's known as a "contra-revenue" strategy in its mobile division, where product is deliberately sold at a loss to win market share and compete effectively. This has led to a huge rise in tablet shipments, but heavy losses inside Intel's mobile division. Today, the company announced that it would take steps to fold its mobile and conventional processors into a single operating division. While this helps shield the mobile segment from poor short-term results, it also reflects the reality that computing is something users now do across a wide range of devices and multiple operating systems. Intel may not have hit anything like the mobile targets it set out years ago, but long-term success in laptops, tablets, and smartphones remains integral to the company's finances. Desktops and conventional laptops are just one way people compute today and Intel needs to make certain it has a robust long-term presence in every major computing market.

    75 comments | about a week ago

  • Robots Put To Work On E-Waste

    aesoteric writes: Australian researchers have programmed industrial robots to tackle the vast array of e-waste thrown out every year. The research shows robots can learn and memorize how various electronic products — such as LCD screens — are designed, enabling those products to be disassembled for recycling faster and faster. The end goal is less than five minutes to dismantle a product.

    39 comments | about two weeks ago

  • A Worm's Mind In a Lego Body

    mikejuk writes The nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is tiny and only has 302 neurons. These have been completely mapped, and one of the founders of the OpenWorm project, Timothy Busbice, has taken the connectome and implemented an object oriented neuron program. The neurons communicate by sending UDP packets across the network. The software works with sensors and effectors provided by a simple LEGO robot. The sensors are sampled every 100ms. For example, the sonar sensor on the robot is wired as the worm's nose. If anything comes within 20cm of the 'nose' then UDP packets are sent to the sensory neurons in the network. The motor neurons are wired up to the left and right motors of the robot. It is claimed that the robot behaved in ways that are similar to observed C. elegans. Stimulation of the nose stopped forward motion. Touching the anterior and posterior touch sensors made the robot move forward and back accordingly. Stimulating the food sensor made the robot move forward. The key point is that there was no programming or learning involved to create the behaviors. The connectome of the worm was mapped and implemented as a software system and the behaviors emerge. Is the robot a C. elegans in a different body or is it something quite new? Is it alive? These are questions for philosophers, but it does suggest that the ghost in the machine is just the machine. The important question is does it scale?

    200 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Apple Disables Trim Support On 3rd Party SSDs In OS X

    MojoKid (1002251) writes One of the disadvantages to buying an Apple system is that it generally means less upgrade flexibility than a system from a traditional PC OEM. Over the last few years, Apple has introduced features and adopted standards that made using third-party hardware progressively more difficult. Now, with OS X 10.10 Yosemite, the company has taken another step down the path towards total vendor lock-in and effectively disabled support for third-party SSDs. We say "effectively" because while third-party SSDs will still work, they'll no longer perform the TRIM garbage collection command. Being able to perform TRIM and clean the SSD when it's sitting idle is vital to keeping the drive at maximum performance. Without it, an SSD's real world performance will steadily degrade over time. What Apple did with OS X 10.10 is introduce KEXT (Kernel EXTension) driver signing. KEXT signing means that at boot, the OS checks to ensure that all drivers are approved and enabled by Apple. It's conceptually similar to the device driver checks that Windows performs at boot. However, with OS X, if a third-party SSD is detected, the OS will detect that a non-approved SSD is in use, and Yosemite will refuse to load the appropriate TRIM-enabled driver.

    327 comments | about two weeks ago

  • For Some Would-Be Google Glass Buyers and Devs, Delays May Mean Giving Up

    ErnieKey writes with a Reuters story that says Google's Glass, not yet out for general purchase, has been wearing on the patience of both developers and would-be customers: "After an initial burst of enthusiasm, signs that consumers are giving up on Glass have been building.' Is it true that Google Goggles are simply not attractive to wear? Or perhaps it's the invasion of privacy that is deterring people from wearing them. Regardless, Google needs to change something quickly before they lose all their potential customers. From the article: Of 16 Glass app makers contacted, nine said that they had stopped work on their projects or abandoned them, mostly because of the lack of customers or limitations of the device. Three more have switched to developing for business, leaving behind consumer projects. Plenty of larger developers remain with Glass. The nearly 100 apps on the official website include Facebook and OpenTable, although one major player recently defected: Twitter. "If there was 200 million Google Glasses sold, it would be a different perspective. There's no market at this point," said Tom Frencel, the chief executive of Little Guy Games, which put development of a Glass game on hold this year and is looking at other platforms, including the Facebook-owned virtual-reality goggles Oculus Rift. Several key Google employees instrumental to developing Glass have left the company in the last six months, including lead developer Babak Parviz, electrical engineering chief Adrian Wong, and Ossama Alami, director of developer relations.

    154 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Low Cost Ground Robot Chassis That Can Traverse Challenging Obstacles

    Hallie Siegel writes In order for a robot to be useful in our world, it must be able to traverse unpredictable obstacles, including stairs. But currently available robot chassis tend to be either too small or extremely expensive, and most platform kits cannot leave a controlled environment – a huge problem for makers who want to get outside the lab or workshop. This has been an extremely hard problem for roboticists to solve, but the Ground Drone Project wants to change all that with its low-cost ground robot chassis. Check out this innovative design. (Currently, the project is raising money through Kickstarter; if it succeeds, "the instructions and bill of materials will be available for all.")

    38 comments | about two weeks ago

  • US DOE Sets Sights On 300 Petaflop Supercomputer

    dcblogs writes U.S. officials Friday announced plans to spend $325 million on two new supercomputers, one of which may eventually be built to support speeds of up to 300 petaflops. The U.S. Department of Energy, the major funder of supercomputers used for scientific research, wants to have the two systems – each with a base speed of 150 petaflops – possibly running by 2017. Going beyond the base speed to reach 300 petaflops will take additional government approvals. If the world stands still, the U.S. may conceivably regain the lead in supercomputing speed from China with these new systems. How adequate this planned investment will look three years from now is a question. Lawmakers weren't reading from the same script as U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz when it came to assessing the U.S.'s place in the supercomputing world. Moniz said the awards "will ensure the United States retains global leadership in supercomputing." But Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) put U.S. leadership in the past tense. "Supercomputing is one of those things that we can step up and lead the world again," he said.

    127 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Real Steampunk Computer Brought Back To Life

    New submitter engineerguy writes We discovered a 100 year old 19th century computer that does Fourier analysis with just gears spring and levers. It was locked in a glass case at the University of Illinois Department of Mathematics. We rebuilt a small part of the machine and then for two years thoroughly photographed and filmed every part part of the machine and its operation. The results of this labor of love are in the video series (short documentary), which is 22 minutes long and contains stunning footage of the machine in action — including detailed descriptions of how it operates. The photos are collected in a free book (PDF). The computer was designed by Albert Michelson, who was famous for the Michelson-Morley experiment; he was also the first American to win a Nobel Prize in physics.

    81 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Ask Slashdot: Is Non-USB Flash Direct From China Safe?

    Dishwasha (125561) writes I recently purchased a couple 128GB MicroSDXC card from a Chinese supplier via Alibaba at 1/5th the price of what is available in the US. I will be putting one in my phone and another in my laptop. A few days after purchased, it occurred to me there may be a potential risk with non-USB flash devices similar to USB firmware issues. Does anybody know if there are any known firmware issues with SD or other non-USB flash cards that could effectively allow a foreign seller/distributor to place malicious software on my Android phone or laptop simply on insertion of the device with autoplay turned off?

    178 comments | about two weeks ago

  • An Applied Investigation Into Graphics Card Coil Whine

    jones_supa writes We all are aware of various chirping and whining sounds that electronics can produce. Modern graphics cards often suffer from these kind of problems in form of coil whine. But how widespread is it really? Hardware Canucks put 50 new graphics cards side-by-side to compare them solely from the perspective of subjective acoustic disturbance. NVIDIA's reference platforms tended to be quite well behaved, just like their board partners' custom designs. The same can't be said about AMD since their reference R9 290X and R9 290 should be avoided if you're at all concerned about squealing or any other odd noise a GPU can make. However the custom Radeon-branded SKUs should usually be a safe choice. While the amount and intensity of coil whine largely seems to boil down to luck of the draw, at least most board partners are quite friendly regarding their return policies concerning it.

    111 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Facebook Testing Lithium-Ion Batteries For Backup Power

    itwbennett writes Facebook has just started testing lithium-ion batteries as the backup power source for its server racks and plans to roll them out widely next year. Lithium-ion has been too expensive until now, says Matt Corddry, Facebook's director of hardware engineering, but its use in electric cars has changed the economics. It's now more cost effective than the bulky, lead-acid batteries widely used in data centers today.

    41 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Window Washing a Skyscraper Is Beyond a Robot's Reach

    HughPickens.com writes "Patrick McGeehan writes in the NYT that the image of a pair of window washers clinging to a scaffold dangling outside the 68th floor of 1 World Trade Center have left many wondering why robots can't rub soapy water on glass and wipe it off with a squeegee relieving humans of the risk of injury, or death, from a plunge to the sidewalk? The simple answer, several experts say, is that washing windows is something that machines still cannot do as well as people can. "Building are starting to look like huge sculptures in the sky," says Craig Caulkins. "A robot can't maneuver to get around those curves to get into the facets of the building." According to Caulkins robotic cleaning systems tend to leave dirt in the corners of the glass walls that are designed to provide panoramic views from high floors. "If you are a fastidious owner wanting clean, clean windows so you can take advantage of that very expensive view that you bought, the last thing you want to see is that gray area around the rim of the window."

    Another reason for the sparse use of robots is that buildings require a lot more maintenance than just window cleaning. Equipment is needed to lower people to repair facades and broken windows, like the one that rescue workers had to cut through with diamond cutters to rescue the window washers. For many years, being a window cleaner in Manhattan was regarded as one of the most dangerous occupations in the world: by 1932, an average of one in every two hundred window cleaners in New York was killed each year. Now all new union window cleaners now take two hundred and sixteen hours of classroom instruction, three thousand hours of accredited time with an employer and their union makes sure workers follow rigorous safety protocols. In all, there are about 700 scaffolds for window washing on buildings in New York City, says union representative Gerard McEneaney. His members are willing to do the work because it pays well: as much $26.89 an hour plus benefits. Many of the window cleaners are immigrants from South America. "They're fearless guys, fearless workers."

    203 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Comet Probe Philae To Deploy Drill As Battery Life Wanes

    An anonymous reader writes With less than a day of battery life left, The European Space Agency's Philae probe will begin to drill for samples even though the drilling may dislodge it. From the article: "Philae is sitting in the shadow of a cliff, and will not get enough sunlight to work beyond Saturday. Friday night's radio contact with the orbiting Rosetta satellite will be the last that engineers have a reasonable confidence will work. The team is still not sure where on the surface the probe came to rest after bouncing upon landing on Wednesday. Scientists have been examining radio transmissions between the orbiter and the lander to see if they can triangulate a position. This work has now produced a 'circle of uncertainty' within which Philae almost certainly lies."

    223 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Nvidia Shield Tablet Gets Android Lollipop Update, Half Life 2 EP1 and GRID

    MojoKid writes Nvidia's Shield Tablet is only a few months old, but Nvidia is already updating the device with a freshly minted OS, a refreshed Shield Hub and access to the company's newly upgraded GRID Game Streaming service. A number of new Tegra K1 optimized games are arriving as well, as well as a new game bundle which includes Half Life 2 Episode 1. The SHIELD Tablet Android Lollipop update will feature Android's new "material design" interface and improved app performance, according to Nvidia. The update will also come preloaded with a new version of Nvidia's own Dabbler drawing and painting app (Dabbler 2.0). In addition to a new interface inspired by Lollipop's design language, Dabbler 2.0 will offer full support for layers and it'll allow users to share their sessions over Twitch. Previously, accessing the Nvidia's GRID beta meant streaming games from a GRID server cluster on the west coast, but Nvidia is expanding the service with server clusters located in Virginia, Europe and Asia. For the best possible user experience, streaming games from the cloud must incur minimal latency, and adding more servers in strategic locations not only affords Nvidia greater capacity, but minimizes latency as well. Nvidia says the GRID service will be available in North America this month, Western Europe in December and Asia sometime next year. The company's GRID service gives gamers access to 20 top titles currently, including Batman Arkham City, Borderlands 2 and Psychonauts, among others, and Nvidia is planning to add new games every week.

    58 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Comet Probe Philae Unanchored But Stable — And Sending Back Images

    An anonymous reader writes with an update to the successful landing of the ESA's comet probe Philae, which (as mentioned yesterday) had problems attaching to the surface of the comet's Rosetta: "BBC now reports that Philae is stable on the surface. Although no source claims so, we can all imagine a faint humming of 'Still Alive' coming from the probe." Not just stable, but sending pictures while it can. From the article: The probe left Rosetta with 60-plus hours of battery life, and will need at some point to charge up with its solar panels. But early reports indicate that in its present position, the robot is receiving only one-and-a-half hours of sunlight during every 12-hour rotation of the comet. This will not be enough to sustain operations. As a consequence, controllers here are discussing using one of Philae's deployable instruments to try to launch the probe upwards and away to a better location. But this would be a last-resort option. New submitter Thanshin notes that the persistent Philae bounced a few times, and actually performed 3 landings, at 15:33, 17:26 & 17:33 UTC.Thanshin adds links to a handful of relevant Twitter feeds, if you want to follow in something close to real time: Philae2014; esa_rosetta; and Philae_MUPUS (MUlti PUrpose Sensor One).

    132 comments | about two weeks ago

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