Category Archives: Tech

Papers, Please Review: Paper trail of tears

Can you spot what’s wrong in this picture?

I have so many documents to review in my small booth today. Maps, lists, document guides, daily news reports, photo galleries. It can feel pretty cramped in here. Maybe a sip of coffee will help me relax and get on with it. Slurp. Mmm.

OK, here’s the first victim of the day. You’d think someone who waited all night at the border would have noticed his passport number doesn’t match his entry visa number! Idiot. Lemme warm up the ol’ “DENY” stamp. KA-THUNK! Next! Slurrrrp.

Hmm. Your documents are all in order, ma’am. You’re visiting Arstotzkan for… two weeks, is it? No problem. KA-THUNK! Glory to Arstotzkan! Next! Slurrrp.

It’s easy to fall into a grind here at the Arstotzkan border. There’s almost a meditative quality to protecting our borders from the endless procession of people and documents that come through every day. You sometimes forget that these people have lives… until they try to slip revolutionary propaganda through the window slip. Or an occasional wimp cries as he’s detained for fraudulent documents. Or some jerk blows himself up right next to my booth. What, does he expect me to change the way of the world from within this tiny booth?

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Tesla Motors founder won’t execute plans for solar-powered Hyperloop

Elon Musk, head of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, plans to reveal his design next week for a “Hyperloop,” a method of transportation along the California coast that would take passengers from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes. Musk announced the release date for the plans last month and mentioned them again during a Tesla Motors earnings call Tuesday, Gizmodo reported.

The Hyperloop was first mentioned in Businessweek in 2012, where Musk described a “fifth mode of transportation” that has none of the disadvantages of public or private modes like the cars, planes, trains, or boats that we use now—it shouldn’t crash or have downtime, and it would be solar-powered.

The Hyperloop would not only be irrationally fast, taking about a third of the time a plane does to go from one destination to the other, it would “leave when you arrive,” meaning no appointment-style waits like there are for public transportation. Musk also claimed the Hyperloop would cost a tenth of the $60 billion that the state of California is paying to build a bullet train running the same route that takes five times as long to complete the trip.

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DIY stalker boxes spy on Wi-Fi users cheaply and with maximum creep value

Inexpensive F-BOMB sensors that form CreepyDOL, a distributed network for stalking people using mobile Wi-Fi devices.

You may not know it, but the smartphone in your pocket is spilling some of your deepest secrets to anyone who takes the time to listen. It knows what time you left the bar last night, the number of times per day you take a cappuccino break, and even the dating website you use. And because the information is leaked in dribs and drabs, no one seems to notice. Until now.

Enter CreepyDOL, a low-cost, distributed network of Wi-Fi sensors that stalks people as they move about neighborhoods or even entire cities. At 4.5 inches by 3.5 inches by 1.25 inches, each node is small enough to be slipped into a wall socket at the nearby gym, cafe, or break room. And with the ability for each one to share the Internet traffic it collects with every other node, the system can assemble a detailed dossier of personal data, including the schedules, e-mail addresses, personal photos, and current or past whereabouts of the person or people it monitors.

Short for Creepy Distributed Object Locator, CreepyDOL is the brainchild of 27-year-old Brendan O’Connor, a law student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a researcher at a consultancy called Malice Afterthought. After a reading binge of science fiction novels, he began wondering how the growing ubiquity of mobile computing was affecting people’s ability to remain anonymous, or at least untracked or unidentified, as they went about their work and social routines each day.

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Hisense’s $99 and $149 Android tablets limbo down to $79 and $129

Hisense doesn’t make many Android tablets, but the company earned some kudos for its $99 Sero 7 Lite and $149 Sero 7 Pro. Neither tablet is perfect, but each provides a good experience for the price compared to the bargain basement Android tablets of yesteryear. The tablets haven’t been on the market for long, but Hisense is already cutting their prices down even further. The company announced today that the Sero 7 Lite will now retail for $79 and the Sero 7 Pro will go for $129.

The Lite is objectively not a great tablet—it’s fine for the price, but its low-resolution, low-quality screen and bottom-of-the-barrel flash memory make using it a frustrating experience. The Pro, on the other hand, is essentially a carbon copy of the 2012 Nexus 7. While that tablet has aged rapidly, it’s still not bad for gaming, reading, and Web browsing.

Both tablets continue to be Walmart exclusives and are available only in stores. We still recommend the newest Nexus 7 as the best small Android tablet money can buy, but if you need to save $100, there are worse ways to do it.

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The Engadget Podcast is live at 3:30PM ET!

Phones, phones, phones, everybody’s got phones, phones, phones. The lines between the Classic and Mobile podcasts continue to blur, as the bulk of the week’s news once again falls firmly within the handset category. Also, Barbie and laboratory hamburgers. Come for the phones, stay for the test tube fast food on this week’s Engadget Podcast.

August 8, 2013 3:30:00 PM EDT


Data wants to be free, but somebody has to pay for it

A tape robot handles data at Fermilab.

While some in science continue to grumble in private about the need to share their findings with the wider public, there is now widespread—if not overly enthusiastic—acceptance among the scientific community that their work should be more transparent. Not that they may have much of a choice in the matter soon if the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) gets its way. Earlier this year, the OSTP issued a widely circulated memo in which it called on all federal agencies with R&D budgets of over $100 million to come up with strategies to make their research data more publicly accessible by this September.

The catch: they need to do so without the benefit of additional money, setting up a chain of potentially untenable situations in which research funds would have to be sacrificed at the expense of data management funds, or worse.

In a Policy Forum published in today’s issue of Science, Francine Berman, a professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Google Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf argue that only by fostering greater private-public sector partnerships can federal agencies and researchers ensure that their data is more widely accessible and preserved for posterity. They start off by citing a few examples of successful public and private databases but go on to caution that most research data is at risk of becoming lost or “homeless” without better management. And they soberly conclude that there is no “magic bullet” that “does not require someone, somewhere, to pay.”

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Microsoft patent application details Illumiroom-like projection system

Microsoft patent application details Illumiroomlike projection system

Normally, patent applications have us guesstimating at future implementations, but not so with this particular Microsoft filing. The USPTO doc, which surfaced just today and dates back to February 2012, has a very direct purpose: it uses two cameras to capture an environment, process the images and then spit ‘em back out as a “integrated interactive space”, or projection. Sound familiar? We thought so. It’s called Illumiroom and it works with Kinect. Outside of a few gaming-centric demos earlier this year, Microsoft hasn’t really detailed too much about the in-development tech, nor its destiny outside those research labs. But if this patent app is related, it bodes well for fans of full-body gesture control and immersive AR environments. Because as we all know, a life less real is a life worth living. Right?

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Source: USPTO

Rdio redesigns its Stations feature, promises more customization

Rdio redesigns its Stations feature, promises more customization

It’s been less than a week since Spotify showed the world its new Browse feature, and now Rdio wants in on that action. The vowel-skipping music streaming service is revamping its Stations offering, starting with a player redesign, which includes voting on songs and station fine tuning and pivoting. Users can also create 10 types of different stations, starting with an artist, song or one of the service’s 400 or so sub-genre selections. You FM, meanwhile, utilizes Facebook likes, Twitter follows, listening history and track votes to curate a customized listening experience. You can also build stations based on your friends’ listening habit. The above offerings are available now on iOS, Android and in the browser.

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Living, 3D-printed cyborg ear: Promising, but eww

I remember the days when “cyborg” was a science fiction term and was unlikely to turn up in a serious science paper. Happily, the old folk who attempt to stand between the seas of scientific and popular discussion are failing, and I am proud to present the cyborg ear.

That’s right—researchers from Princeton and John Hopkins have come together to grow an ear. The hearing, however, is done with electronics, making this the ultimate in human-machine chimera. On the whole, though, it looks kinda gross.

So how do you go about making a fleshy electronic ear? Well, the first step is to get a 3D CAD model of an ear (they got theirs from thingiverse). The researchers then modified the model to include a radio frequency antenna and cochlea-shaped electrodes. The whole ear was then printed using a 3D printer. You can even watch a clip of the printing process.

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Nintendo: Wii U still being sold at a loss

Last October, Nintendo made some waves by announcing that the Wii U would break company precedent and be sold at a loss at launch. That state of affairs was likely to be temporary, though, as the component costs, design streamlining, and mass production would bring manufacturing costs down over time. Turns out, the basic state of affairs hasn’t changed too much yet, as Nintendo tells that the Wii U is still being sold at a loss, nearly nine months after its launch.

While the news isn’t too surprising,given how long the system has been on the market, it’s not a great bit of data for Nintendo, which is still struggling to sell the Wii U at its current price of $300 for a Basic 8GB system and $350 for a Deluxe 32GB unit. Nintendo is still working to return to what president Satoru Iwata calls “Nintendo-like profits” after posting a historic annual loss last year. Continuing to sell systems at a loss won’t directly help that state of affairs, but plenty of other systems have done just fine selling their systems at a loss and making money on software licensing. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime previously said that the company turns a net profit after selling just one piece of software with a Wii U, but later corrected that to say the actual number is “more than one.”

In any case, recent history has proved that trying to protect profits on hardware can actually do more harm than good to the overall success of a game system. Nintendo made money on every 3DS unit it sold when the system launched at $250 in early 2011, but failed to sell as many systems as it expected at that price. It was only after the company slashed the price and started taking a loss on each unit that the system started selling enough to sustain itself through software support (though the turnaround wasn’t immediate, and major first-party releases from Nintendo helped).

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