A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘computers

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • Centauri Dreams looks at the massive flares of red dwarf TVLM 513.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that M-class red dwarfs have less massive protoplanetary disks than other stars but more massive planets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes new research suggesting that Earth’s grat oxygenation event was preceded by another.
  • Geocurrents looks at Fiji’s Kiribati-administered Banaba Island.
  • Language Hat is skeptical about the idea that computer programs could automatically reconstruct ancient languages.
  • Language Log notes research about hesitation markers in Germanic languages.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes Richard Posner’s criticism of anti-abortion obstacle courses.
  • Marginal Revolution comes out in favour of Syrian refugee admission.
  • Johnny Pez wonders what it is with white men.
  • Towleroad notes a Cook Islands ban on same-sex couples renewing their vows.
  • Transit Toronto notes the ongoing removal of many streetcar stops.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia will work with Iran to undermine Saudi Arabia by supporting Shi’a, and argues current mindsets suggest Russia will remain a threat to Ukraine and its other neighbours for some time.

[LINK] “Walmart’s $10 Smartphone Has Better Specs Than the Original iPhone”

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Vice‘s Nicholas Deleon reports on Motherboard about a ten dollar smartphone on sale at Walmart that may, if I read the specs correctly, by more powerful than my own.

Walmart is now selling a TracFone-branded LG smartphone that costs $9.82 (it also ships free if your online order total tops $50). Now, there are a few reasons why you may not want such a smartphone—for one, it’s running an outdated version of Android that may make it vulnerable to hackers—but there’s no denying that it represents something pretty special.

For less than $10 (plus the cost of data access) the user gets access to the Google Play app store, giving him or her the power to summon transportation at the push of a button, instantly connect with friends, and watch livestreams from all over the world. A bona fide smartphone, in other words.

It’s perhaps even more impressive when you consider that its modest specs—a 3.8-inch display, 3G and Wi-Fi networking, and a 3-megapixel camera—surpass those of the original iPhone, which was referred to in the tech press at the time as the “Jesus phone.”

The sole user review of the TracFone on Walmart’s website gives it four stars out of a possible five, with user traeguth calling it “pretty darn good” and “a steal” for the price.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 18, 2015 at 8:57 pm

[LINK] “The West Coast of Europe Wants to Be the New West Coast”

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Bloomberg’s Caroline Hyde reports on the start of an initiative to make the Portuguese capital of Lisbon a high-tech startup centre, a European version of San Francisco. Certainly that would hit the city’s relatively cost of living, but it might also save the Portuguese economy. If this works, mind.

Picture a city with an iconic golden bridge, trams, bronzed surfers and a vibrant technology industry. San Francisco? Definitely. But what about Lisbon?

The Portuguese capital already has the bridge, trams and surfers. Now it’s starting to show off its tech strength too, with a raft of startups in Lisbon catching the attention of international investors.

Uniplaces was founded three years ago and finds accommodation for students across 38 countries. It has won backing from renowned angels such as Alex Chesterman, founder of Zoopla, and European venture capital firms including Octopus Investments.

Andre Albuquerque, head of growth at Uniplaces, thinks the Lisbon-San Francisco comparison is a valid one. “It’s a booming environment and I see a lot of similarities from the energy of the people who are in both cities.”

Written by Randy McDonald

November 4, 2015 at 5:47 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

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  • At Alpha Sources, although Claus Vistesen is rightly gloomy about the prospects for the Italian economy, he thinks there may be a cyclical upturn coming.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes the warping of the protoplanetary disk of AA Tauri.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes exciting ancient archeological finds in Indonesia possibly belonging to Homo floresiensis.
  • Geocurrents notes the controversy over an India-Africa summit.
  • Language Log notes an instance of tardy students being forced to draw a Chinese character.
  • Languages of the World examines the genetics of Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the history wars of South Korea.
  • Marginal Revolution notes an East German village whose inhabitants will soon be far outnumbered by Syrian refugees.
  • Personal Reflections reacts to the Turkish election and Chinese demographics.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes the vast data gathered from Ceres.
  • Registan suggests Russia’s elites are operating according to frightening theories of geopolitics.
  • Cheri Lucas Rowlands shares photos of a trip to the Southwest.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog looks at the demographics of the Donbas in 1926.
  • Whatever’s John Scalzi thinks the 50 dollar Amazon Fire tablet is worth it.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russian nationalists will be a lasting threat to Ukraine and suggests non-Donbas Ukrainians will soon be deported from Russia.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes a remarkable sort of organizational artifact.

[LINK] “If We Want Humane AI, It Has to Understand All Humans”

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The “all” in the title of Davey Alba’s Wired article is italicized, for emphasis.

The first picture flashes on the screen. “A man is standing next to an elephant,” a robotic voice intones. Another picture appears. “A person sitting at a table with a cake.”

Those descriptions are obvious enough to a person. What makes them remarkable is that a human is not supplying the descriptions at all. Instead, the tech behind this system is cutting-edge artificial intelligence: a computer that can “see” pictures.

Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, is standing on a lit stage in a dark auditorium showing off the advanced object-recognition system she and her fellow researchers built. But as impressive as the system is, Li grows more critical as her presentation unfolds. She says that even if the computer is technically accurate, it could do more. The computer may be able to describe in simple, literal terms what it “sees” in the pictures. But it can’t describe the stories behind the pictures. The person sitting at the table, for instance, is actually a young boy—Li’s son, Leo. Li explains that he is wearing his favorite T-shirt. It’s Easter, and we non-computers can all see how happy he is.

“I think of Leo constantly and the future world he will live in,” Li tells the audience at TED in a video that’s been viewed more than 1.2 million times. In Li’s ideal future, where machines can see, they won’t just be built for maximum efficiency. They’ll be built for empathetic purposes. Artificial eyes, for instance, could help doctors diagnose and take care of patients. If robot cars had empathy, they could run smarter and safer on roads. (Imagine if the builders of self-driving cars used algorithms that didn’t account for the safety of pedestrians and passengers.) Robots, Li says, could brave disaster zones to save victims.

Li is one of the world’s foremost experts on computer vision. She was involved in building two seminal databases, Caltech 101 and ImageNet, that are still widely used by AI researchers to teach machines how to categorize different objects. Given her stature in the field, it’s hard to overstate the importance of her humanitarian take on artificial intelligence. That’s because AI is finally entering the mainstream.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 2, 2015 at 8:16 pm

[LINK] “Harvard cracks DNA storage, crams 700 terabytes of data into a single gram”

Sebastian Anthony’s ExtremeTech article shares information about game-changing technology. Computer memory this abundant can enable quite a lot.

A bioengineer and geneticist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have successfully stored 5.5 petabits of data — around 700 terabytes — in a single gram of DNA, smashing the previous DNA data density record by a thousand times.

The work, carried out by George Church and Sri Kosuri, basically treats DNA as just another digital storage device. Instead of binary data being encoded as magnetic regions on a hard drive platter, strands of DNA that store 96 bits are synthesized, with each of the bases (TGAC) representing a binary value (T and G = 1, A and C = 0).

To read the data stored in DNA, you simply sequence it — just as if you were sequencing the human genome — and convert each of the TGAC bases back into binary. To aid with sequencing, each strand of DNA has a 19-bit address block at the start (the red bits in the image below) — so a whole vat of DNA can be sequenced out of order, and then sorted into usable data using the addresses.

Scientists have been eyeing up DNA as a potential storage medium for a long time, for three very good reasons: It’s incredibly dense (you can store one bit per base, and a base is only a few atoms large); it’s volumetric (beaker) rather than planar (hard disk); and it’s incredibly stable — where other bleeding-edge storage mediums need to be kept in sub-zero vacuums, DNA can survive for hundreds of thousands of years in a box in your garage.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 27, 2015 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Science

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[LINK] How Deus Ex: Human Revolution predicted PM Justin Trudeau

The National Post‘s Daniel Kaszor had a nice article noting how the 2011 Montreal-designed cyberpunk computer game Deus Ex: Human Revolution predicted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Deus Ex showed a future world 20 years in the future (16 now) where people live as augmented cyborgs, a giant super city looms over Hong Kong … and Justin Trudeau is the Prime Minister.

[. . .]

Near the end of the game, you pick up an email indicating that the Liberals have come back into power, and that Justin Trudeau is now the Prime Minister of Canada. And that his wife is a bit of a diva. What isn’t clear is why she would be staying at the Chateau Laurier instead of 24 Sussex. Maybe Trudeau finally allowed the much-needed renovations on the house he grew up in.

Some of the details aren’t quite right (in real life Sophie Gregoire, for example, kept her last name. She’s not Mrs. Trudeau). But it’s a fun easter egg in a game filled with Canadiana.

Earlier in the game one of the missions takes your character to Montreal, where you have to infiltrate the offices of Picus Communications, a sort of evil journalism/propaganda mill. Surprisingly, it looks like Picus has taken up shop in a renovated Olympic Stadium. The mission even includes a ride on the stadium’s funicular.

Additionally, in the future history of Canada, the booming Northern economy outstrips a flagging U.S. one. The economic disparity culminates in a shoot-out between Canadians and illegal U.S. immigrants who are crossing the B.C. border.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 22, 2015 at 3:55 am


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