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  • "Intelligent" Avatars Poised To Manage Airline Check-In

    An anonymous reader writes One of the developers behind special effects used in the film Avatar has inked a deal with airline check-in kiosk manufacturer BCS to implement avatars for personalized and interactive customer service. Dr Mark Sagar's Limbic IO is applying 'neurobehavioral animation' combining biologically based models of faces and neural systems to create live, naturally intelligent, and expressive interactive systems. "One of the comments levelled at self-service check in is that it has lost the human touch that people had when checking in at a traditional manned counter," Patrick Teo, BCS CEO says. "Travelling can be stressful and our aim is to make the interaction between human (passenger) and computer (check-in) as natural and helpful as possible."

    102 comments | 2 days ago

  • EPA Mulling Relaxed Radiation Protections For Nuclear Power

    mdsolar sends this news from Forbes: Both proponents and opponents of nuclear power expect the Environmental Protection Agency in coming months to relax its rules restricting radiation emissions from reactors and other nuclear facilities. EPA officials say they have no such intention, but they are willing to reconsider the method they use to limit public exposure—and the public's level of risk.

    At issue is a 1977 rule that limits the total whole-body radiation dose to any member of the public from the normal operation of the uranium fuel cycle—fuel processing, reactors, storage, reprocessing or disposal—to 0.25 millisieverts per year. (This rule, known as 40 CFR part 190, is different from other EPA regulations that restrict radionuclides in drinking water and that limit public exposure during emergencies. Those are also due for revision.) "We have not made any decisions or determined any specifics on how to move forward with any of these issues. We do, however, believe the regulation uses outdated science, and we are thinking about how to bring the regulation more in line with current thinking," said Brian Littleton, a chemical engineer with EPA's Office of Radiation and Indoor Air."

    221 comments | 2 days ago

  • Heinz Zemanek Passes At 94

    Knuckles writes Austrian computer pioneer Heinz Zemanek, the first person to build a fully transistorized computer on the European mainland, died in Vienna, aged 94 (link in German). Officially named Binär dezimaler Volltransistor-Rechenautomat (binary-decimal fully transistorized computing automaton), but known as "Mailüfterl", the computer was built in 1955 and in 1958 calculated 5073548261 to be a prime number in 66 minutes. Its power was comparable to a small tube computer of the time, and it measured 4 by 2.5 by 0.5 meters. "Mailüfterl" means "may breeze" in Viennese German and was a play on US computers of the time, like MIT's Whirlwind. 'Even if it cannot match the rapid calculation speed of American models called "Whirlwind" or "Typhoon", it will be enough for a "Wiener Mailüfterl"' (Viennese may breeze), said Zemanek. Mailüfterl contained 3,000 transistors, 5,000 diodes, 1,000 assembly platelets, 100,000 solder joints, 15,000 resistors, 5,000 capacitors and 20,000 meters switching wire. It was built as an underground project at and without financial support from the technical university of Vienna, were Zemanek was an assistant professor at the time. In 1961, Zemanek and his team moved to IBM, who built them their own lab in Vienna. In 1976, Zemanek became an IBM Fellow and stayed at IBM until his retirement in 1985. He was crucial in the creation of the formal definition of the programming language PL/I. The definition language used was VDL (Vienna Definition Language), a direct predecessor of VDM Specification Language (VDM-SL). He remained a professor in Vienna and held regular lectures until 2006.

    52 comments | 4 days ago

  • Australia Repeals Carbon Tax

    schwit1 notes that the Australian government has repealed a controversial carbon tax. After almost a decade of heated political debate, Australia has become the world's first developed nation to repeal carbon laws that put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. In a vote that could highlight the difficulty in implementing additional measures to reduce carbon emissions ahead of global climate talks next year in Paris, Australia's Senate on Wednesday voted 39-32 to repeal a politically divisive carbon emissions price that contributed to the fall from power of three Australian leaders since it was first suggested in 2007.

    286 comments | 4 days ago

  • Nearly 25 Years Ago, IBM Helped Save Macintosh

    dcblogs (1096431) writes "Apple and IBM, which just announced partnership to bring iOS and cloud services to enterprises, have helped each other before. IBM played a key role in turning the Macintosh into a successful hardware platform at a point when it — and the company itself — were struggling. Nearly 25 years ago, IBM was a part of an alliance that gave Apple access to PowerPC chips for Macintosh systems that were competitive, if not better performing in some benchmarks, than the processors Intel was producing at the time for Windows PCs. In 1991, Apple was looking for a RISC-based processor to replace the Motorola 68K it had been using in its Macintosh line. "The PCs of the era were definitely outperforming the Macintoshes that were based on the 68K," he said. "Apple was definitely behind the power, performance curve," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. The PowerPC processor that emerged from that earlier pairing changed that. PowerPC processors were used in Macintoshes for more than a decade, until 2006, when Apple switched to Intel chips.

    233 comments | 4 days ago

  • US Marines Demonstrate Ultra Heavy-Lift Amphibious Connector Prototype

    Zothecula writes In a recent demonstration carried out during RIMPAC 2014, the US Marines displayed and tested a fully-functional, half-scale prototype of its new amphibious transport vehicle. The proposed full-size version of the Ultra Heavy-Lift Amphibious Connecter (UHAC) is designed to power across the water with a payload of nearly 200 tons at up to 20 knots and be capable of driving up on to the shore and over the top of obstructions up to 10ft high.

    90 comments | 5 days ago

  • Manuel Noriega Sues Activision Over Call of Duty

    mrspoonsi sends this BBC report: Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama, is suing Call of Duty's video games publisher. The ex-military ruler is seeking lost profits and damages after a character based on him featured in Activision's 2012 title Black Ops II. The 80-year-old is currently serving a jail sentence in Panama for crimes committed during his time in power, including the murder of critics. One lawyer said this was the latest in a growing trend of such lawsuits. "In the U.S., individuals have what's called the right to publicity, which gives them control over how their person is depicted in commerce including video games," explained Jas Purewal, an interactive entertainment lawyer. "There's also been a very well-known action by a whole series of college athletes against Electronic Arts, and the American band No Doubt took action against Activision over this issue among other cases. "It all focuses upon the American legal ability for an individual to be only depicted with their permission, which in practice means payment of a fee. "But Noriega isn't a US citizen or even a resident. This means that his legal claim becomes questionable, because it's unclear on what legal basis he can actually bring a case against Activision."

    83 comments | 5 days ago

  • Harvesting Energy From Humidity

    rtoz writes: Last year, MIT researchers discovered that when water droplets spontaneously jump away from superhydrophobic surfaces during condensation, they can gain electric charge in the process. Now, the same team has demonstrated that this process can generate small amounts of electricity that might be used to power electronic devices. This approach could lead to devices that can charge cellphones or other electronics using just the humidity in the air. As a side benefit, the system could also produce clean water. The device itself could be simple, consisting of a series of interleaved flat metal plates. A cube measuring about 50 centimeters on a side — about the size of a typical camping cooler — could be sufficient to fully charge a cellphone in about 12 hours. While that may seem slow, people in remote areas may have few alternatives.

    89 comments | about a week ago

  • Led By Nest, 'Thread' Might Be Most Promising IoT Initiative Yet

    An anonymous reader writes Nest, Big A%@ Fans, Yale door locks, ARM, Freescale, Samsung and Silicon Labs launch the Thread Group, a standards initiative for using 6LoWPAN-based network technology with mesh capabilities optimized for home automation. Because it blends IPv6 with low-power 802.15.4 radios, a layer of security, peer-to-peer communications, and other special sauce for whole-house connectivity, Thread looks extremely promising in an increasingly crowded field. Plus, millions of units of enabled products are already deployed by way of Nest's little-known Weave technology. There's a press release. Thread is based on open technology, but it's not clear that the protocol specifications will be available for non-members. No hardware changes are required for devices with 802.15.4 radios, and the group claims the new protocol fixes enough flaws in existing standards (mostly ZigBee) to be worth the software upgrade. Promises include increased reliability (mesh network with multiple routing points), lower power use (by not requiring sensors to wake up for traffic from other sensors), and easier bridging between the mesh network and Internet (thanks to using IPv6).

    79 comments | about a week ago

  • People Who Claim To Worry About Climate Change Don't Cut Energy Use

    schwit1 (797399) writes with news that a UK study has found that folks concerned about climate change don't do much to conserve power at home. From the article: Those who say they are concerned about the prospect of climate change consume more energy than those who say it is "too far into the future to worry about," the study commissioned by the Department for Energy and climate change found. That is in part due to age, as people over 65 are more frugal with electricity but much less concerned about global warming. However, even when pensioners are discounted, there is only a "weak trend" to show that people who profess to care about climate change do much to cut their energy use. The findings were based on the Household Electricity Survey, which closely monitored the electricity use and views of 250 families over a year. The report (PDF), by experts from Loughborough University and Cambridge Architectural Research, was commissioned and published by DECC. High power use doesn't have to be dirty: Replace coal, methane, and petroleum with nuclear, wind, solar, etc.

    706 comments | about a week ago

  • Three-Year Deal Nets Hulu Exclusive Rights To South Park

    First time accepted submitter gunner_von_diamond writes with news about a deal between the creators of South Park and Hulu. If you're a fan of South Park, you better be a fan of Hulu as well. Specifically, Hulu Plus. The creators of the funny, foul-mouthed animated TV show have signed a deal with the online streaming service. Valued at more than $80 million, the three-year deal grants Hulu exclusive rights to stream the 240+ episode back catalog of South Park in addition to all new episodes (as soon as they've aired on Comedy Central). "This is a natural partnership for us. We are excited that the entire library will be available on Hulu and that the best technology around will power South Park Digital Studios," said creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, in a statement.

    138 comments | about a week ago

  • Interviews: Juan Gilbert Answers Your Questions

    Last week you had a chance to ask the Associate Chair of Research in the Computer & Information Science & Engineering Department at the University of Florida, Juan Gilbert, about the Human Centered Computing Lab, accessibility issues in technology, and electronic voting. Below you'll find his answers to your questions.

    18 comments | about a week ago

  • New Raspberry Pi Model B+

    mikejuk writes The Raspberry Pi foundation has just announced the Raspberry Pi B+. The basic specs haven't changed much — same BC2835 and 512MB of RAM and the $35 price tag. There are now four USB ports, which means you don't need a hub to work with a mouse, keyboard and WiFi dongle. The GPIO has been expanded to 40 pins, but don't worry: you can plug your old boards and cables into the lefthand part of the connector, and it's backward compatible. As well as some additional general purpose lines, there are two designated for use with I2C EEPROM. When the Pi boots it will look for custom EEPROMs on these lines and optionally use them to load Linux drivers or setup expansion boards. Expansion boards can now include identity chips that when the board is connected configures the Pi to make use of them — no more manual customization. The change to a micro SD socket is nice, unless you happen to have lots of spare full size SD cards around. It is also claimed that the power requirements have dropped by half, to one watt, which brings the model B into the same power consumption area as the model A. Comp video is now available on the audio jack, and the audio quality has been improved. One big step for Raspberry Pi is that it now has four holes for mounting in standard enclosures.

    202 comments | about a week ago

  • Sand-Based Anode Triples Lithium-Ion Battery Performance

    Zothecula (1870348) writes "Conventional lithium-ion batteries rely on anodes made of graphite, but it is widely believed that the performance of this material has reached its zenith, prompting researchers to look at possible replacements. Much of the focus has been on nanoscale silicon, but it remains difficult to produce in large quantities and usually degrades quickly. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have overcome these problems by developing a lithium-ion battery anode using sand."

    60 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Ode To Sound Blaster: Are Discrete Audio Cards Still Worth the Investment?

    MojoKid (1002251) writes "Back in the day (which is a scientific measurement for anyone who used to walk to school during snowstorms, uphill, both ways), integrated audio solutions had trouble earning respect. Many enthusiasts considered a sound card an essential piece to the PC building puzzle. It's been 25 years since the first Sound Blaster card was introduced, a pretty remarkable feat considering the diminished reliance on discrete audio in PCs, in general. These days, the Sound Blaster ZxR is Creative's flagship audio solution for PC power users. It boasts a signal-to-noise (SNR) of 124dB that Creative claims is 89.1 times better than your motherboard's integrated audio solution. It also features a built-in headphone amplifier, beamforming microphone, a multi-core Sound Core3D audio processor, and various proprietary audio technologies. While gaming there is no significant performance impact or benefit when going from onboard audio to the Sound Blaster ZxR. However, the Sound Blaster ZxR produced higher-quality in-game sound effects and it also produces noticeably superior audio in music and movies, provided your speakers can keep up."

    499 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Ask Slashdot: Best Dedicated Low Power Embedded Dev System Choice?

    An anonymous reader writes "I'm a Solaris user which is not well supported by the OSS toolchains. I'd like to have a dedicated Linux based dev system which has good support for ARM, MSP430 and other MCU lines and draws very little (5-10 watts max) power. The Beaglebone Black has been suggested. Is there a better choice? This would only be used for software development and testing for embedded systems."

    183 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Blueprints For Taming the Climate Crisis

    mdsolar sends this story from the NY Times: Here's what your future will look like if we are to have a shot at preventing devastating climate change. Within about 15 years every new car sold in the United States will be electric. ... Up to 60 percent of power might come from nuclear sources. And coal's footprint will shrink drastically, perhaps even disappear from the power supply. This course, created by a team of energy experts, was unveiled on Tuesday in a report for the United Nations (PDF) that explores the technological paths available for the world's 15 main economies to both maintain reasonable rates of growth and cut their carbon emissions enough by 2050 to prevent climatic havoc. It offers a sobering conclusion: We might be able to pull it off. But it will take an overhaul of the way we use energy, and a huge investment in the development and deployment of new energy technologies. Significantly, it calls for an entirely different approach to international diplomacy on the issue of how to combat climate change.

    389 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On

    Advocatus Diaboli (1627651) writes The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans — including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers — under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies. From the article: "The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called 'FISA recap.' Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also 'are or may be' engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens. ... The five Americans whose email accounts were monitored by the NSA and FBI have all led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives. All five vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage, and none advocates violent jihad or is known to have been implicated in any crime, despite years of intense scrutiny by the government and the press. Some have even climbed the ranks of the U.S. national security and foreign policy establishments."

    223 comments | about two weeks ago

  • How Japan Lost Track of 640kg of Plutonium

    Lasrick sends this quote from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Most people would agree that keeping track of dangerous material is generally a good idea. So it may come as a surprise to some that the arrangements that are supposed to account for weapon-grade fissile materials—plutonium and highly enriched uranium—are sketchy at best. The most recent example involves several hundreds kilograms of plutonium that appear to have fallen through the cracks in various reporting arrangements. ... [A Japanese researcher discovered] that the public record of Japan’s plutonium holdings failed to account for about 640 kilograms of the material. The error made its way to the annual plutonium management report that Japan voluntarily submits to the International Atomic Energy Agency ... This episode may have been a simple clerical error, but it was yet another reminder of the troubling fact that we know very little about the amounts of fissile material that are circulating around the globe. The only reason the discrepancy was discovered in this case was the fact that Japan has been unusually transparent about its plutonium stocks. ... No other country does this.

    104 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Coddled, Surveilled, and Monetized: How Modern Houses Can Watch You

    Presto Vivace (882157) links to a critical look in Time Magazine at the creepy side of connected household technology. An excerpt: A modern surveillance state isn't so much being forced on us, as it is sold to us device by device, with the idea that it is for our benefit. ... ... Nest sucks up data on how warm your home is. As Mocana CEO James Isaacs explained to me in early May, a detailed footprint of your comings and goings can be inferred from this information. Nest just bought Dropcam, a company that markets itself as a security tool allowing you to put cameras in your home and view them remotely, but brings with it a raft of disquieting implications about surveillance. Automatic wants you to monitor how far you drive and do things for you like talk to your your house when you're on your way home from work and turn on lights when you pull into your garage. Tied into the new SmartThings platform, a Jawbone UP band becomes a tool for remotely monitoring someone else's activity. The SmartThings hubs and sensors themselves put any switch or door in play. Companies like AT&T want to build a digital home that monitors your security and energy use. ... ... Withings Smart Body Analyzer monitors your weight and pulse. Teddy the Guardian is a soft toy for children that spies on their vital signs. Parrot Flower Power looks at the moisture in your home under the guise of helping you grow plants. The Beam Brush checks up on your teeth-brushing technique. Presto Vivaci adds, "Enough to make the Stasi blush. What I cannot understand is how politicians fail to understand what a future Kenneth Starr is going to do with data like this."

    150 comments | about two weeks ago

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