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  • A Thousand Kilobots Self-Assemble Into Complex Shapes

    An anonymous reader writes "Researchers at Harvard's Self-Organizing Systems Research Group—describe their thousand-robot swarm in a paper published today in Science (they actually built 1024 robots). In the past, researchers have only been able to program at most a couple hundred robots to work together. Now, these researchers have programmed the biggest robot swarm yet. Alone, the simple little robot can't do much, but working with 1,000 or more like-minded fellow bots, it becomes part of a swarm that can self-assemble into any two-dimensional shape. These are some of the first steps toward creating huge herds of tiny robots that form larger structures—including bigger robots."

    56 comments | 5 days ago

  • Open-Source Gear For Making Mind-Controlled Gadgets

    the_newsbeagle writes If you've been hankering to control a robotic battle spider with your mind but haven't known how to begin, you're in luck. A startup called OpenBCI is now selling an Arduino-compatible board that any reasonably competent DIYer can use to build a brain-computer interface. The board takes in data from up to 8 EEG scalp electrodes, and hackers are already using it to pull of some good tricks. There's the guy with the battle spiders, and there's a group in L.A. building a paint-by-brain system for a paralyzed graffiti artist.

    32 comments | about a week ago

  • Chicago Mayor Praises Google For Buying Kids Microsoft Surfaces

    theodp (442580) writes "Google earned kudos from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel this week for teaming up with Staples to fund the projects of 367 of the city's 22,519 public school teachers on "begfunding" site DonorsChoose.org. "Everything that you asked for...every project that the teachers put on to help their students learn, exceed and excel here in the city of Chicago, you now have fully funded," Mayor Emanuel said. "Chicago's hardworking public school teachers are doing all that they can-and more-to support their students, but they need more help," said Rob Biederman, head of Chicago Public Affairs at Google. "We jumped at the chance to join with DonorsChoose.org and Staples to make Chicago's local classroom wishes come true." So what kind of dreams did Google make possible? Ironically, a look at Google Chicago's Giving Page shows that the biggest project funded by Google was to outfit a classroom with 32 Microsoft Surface RT tablets for $12,531, or about 6.5% of the $190,091 Google award. Other big ticket projects funded by Google included $5,931 for a personal home biodiesel kit and $5,552 for a marimba (in the middle of the spectrum was $748 for "Mindfulness Education"). In addition to similar "flash-funding" projects in Atlanta (paper towels!) and the Bay Area, Google and DonorsChoose have also teamed up this year to reward teachers with $400,000 for recruiting girls to learn to code (part of Google's $50 million Made With Code initiative) and an unknown amount for AP STEM teachers who passed Google muster (part of Google's $5 million AP STEM Access grant)."

    137 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Sprint/T-Mobile Plan To Buy Spectrum Together May Be Blocked By FCC

    An anonymous reader writes with a FCC proposal that is bad news for Sprint and T-Mobile. A proposal from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would block an attempt by Sprint and T-Mobile US to buy spectrum together in the incentive auction that will transfer airwaves from broadcast TV stations to cellular carriers next year. Announced on Friday, Wheeler's proposal seeks to help the smallest wireless companies develop business partnerships with larger ones. But it would not allow partnerships between the biggest carriers, since more than 95 percent of US customers are served by either AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless. "Our goal is to promote the participation of as many parties as possible in the auction," FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Chief Roger Sherman wrote Friday. "If two of the largest companies are able to bid as one combined entity in the auction, their combined resources may have the effect of suppressing meaningful competition. Therefore, the item tentatively concludes that joint bidding arrangements between nationwide providers should not be allowed."

    28 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Was America's Top Rocketeer a Communist Spy? The FBI Thought So

    New submitter IMissAlexChilton (3748631) writes Frank Malina masterfully led the World War II effort to build U.S. rockets for jet-assisted takeoff and guided missiles. As described in IEEE Spectrum, Malina's motley crew of engineers and enthusiasts (including occultist Jack Parsons) founded the Jet Propulsion Lab and made critical breakthroughs in solid fuels, hypergolics, and high-altitude sounding rockets, laying the groundwork for NASA's future successes. And yet, under suspicion by the Feds at the war's end, Malina gave up his research career, and his team's efforts sank into obscurity. Taking his place: the former Nazi Wernher von Braun. Read "Frank Malina: America's Forgotten Rocketeer". Includes cool vintage footage of early JPL rocket tests.

    165 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Gaza's Only Power Plant Knocked Offline

    necro81 (917438) writes "Gaza's only power plant (see this profile at IEEE Spectrum — duct tape and bailing wire not included) has been knocked offline following an Israeli strike. Reports vary, but it appears that Israeli tank shells caused a fuel bunker at the plant to explode. Gaza, already short on electricity despite imports from Israel and Egpyt, now faces widening blackouts."

    868 comments | about three weeks ago

  • A Fictional Compression Metric Moves Into the Real World

    Tekla Perry (3034735) writes The 'Weissman Score' — created for HBO's "Silicon Valley" to add dramatic flair to the show's race to build the best compression algorithm — creates a single score by considering both the compression ratio and the compression speed. While it was created for a TV show, it does really work, and it's quickly migrating into academia. Computer science and engineering students will begin to encounter the Weissman Score in the classroom this fall."

    133 comments | about three weeks ago

  • How Stanford Engineers Created a Fictitious Compression For HBO

    Tekla Perry (3034735) writes Professor Tsachy Weissman and Ph.D student Vinith Misra came up with (almost) believable compression algorithms for HBO's Silicon Valley. Some constraints -- they had to seem plausible, look good when illustrated on a whiteboard, and work with the punchline, "middle out." Next season the engineers may encourage producers to tackle the challenge of local decodability.

    90 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Researchers Create Origami Wheels That Can Change Size

    rtoz writes Researchers from Seoul National University have designed a robotic wheel based on the origami "magic ball pattern," which is a traditional technique used to create folded paper spheres. This robotic wheel can change its radius to create larger wheels to climb over things, and shrink back to a smaller size to squeeze under obstacles. The diameter of the wheels changes automatically to enable the robot to either be strong or speedy. The scientists think their innovation could one day be used for interplanetary rovers as the wheel can be folded up and "inflate" itself.

    52 comments | about a month ago

  • Math, Programming, and Language Learning

    An anonymous reader writes: There's often debate amongst modern programmers about how much math a professional developer should know, and to what extent programming is math. Learning to program is often viewed as being on a spectrum between learning math and learning spoken/written languages. But in a new article, Jeremy Kun argues that the spectrum should be formulated another way: Human language -> Mathematics -> Programming. "Having studied all three subjects, I'd argue that mathematics falls between language and programming on the hierarchy of rigor. ... [T]he hierarchy of abstraction is the exact reverse, with programming being the most concrete and language being the most abstract. Perhaps this is why people consider mathematics a bridge between human language and programming. Because it allows you to express more formal ideas in a more concrete language, without making you worry about such specific hardware details like whether your integers are capped at 32 bits or 64. Indeed, if you think that the core of programming is expressing abstract ideas in a concrete language, then this makes a lot of sense. This is precisely why learning mathematics is 'better' at helping you learn the kind of abstract thinking you want for programming than language. Because mathematics is closer to programming on the hierarchy. It helps even more that mathematics and programming readily share topics."

    241 comments | about a month ago

  • A Peek Inside D-Wave's Quantum Computing Hardware

    JeremyHsu writes: A one-second delay can still seem like an eternity for a quantum computing machine capable of running calculations in mere millionths of a second. That delay represents just one of the challenges D-Wave Systems overcame in building its second-generation quantum computing machine known as D-Wave Two — a system that has been leased to customers such as Google, NASA and Lockheed Martin. D-Wave's rapid-scaling approach to quantum computing has plenty of critics, but the company's experience in building large-scale quantum computing hardware could provide valuable lessons for everyone, regardless of whether the D-Wave machines live up to quantum computing's potential by proving they can outperform classical computers. (D-Wave recently detailed the hardware design changes between its first- and second-generation quantum computing machines in the the June 2014 issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Applied Superconductivity.)

    "We were nervous about going down this path," says Jeremy Hilton, vice president of processor development at D-Wave Systems. "This architecture requires the qubits and the quantum devices to be intermingled with all these big classical objects. The threat you worry about is noise and impact of all this stuff hanging around the qubits. Traditional experiments in quantum computing have qubits in almost perfect isolation. But if you want quantum computing to be scalable, it will have to be immersed in a sea of computing complexity.

    55 comments | about a month ago

  • A Brain Implant For Synthetic Memory

    the_newsbeagle (2532562) writes "People who have experienced traumatic brain injuries sometimes lose the ability to form new memories or recall old ones. Since many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffered TBIs, the U.S. military is funding research on an implantable device that could do the job of damaged brain cells." Lofty goals: "To start, DARPA will support the development of multi-scale computational models with high spatial and temporal resolution that describe how neurons code declarative memories — those well-defined parcels of knowledge that can be consciously recalled and described in words, such as events, times, and places. Researchers will also explore new methods for analysis and decoding of neural signals to understand how targeted stimulation might be applied to help the brain reestablish an ability to encode new memories following brain injury. ... Building on this foundational work, researchers will attempt to integrate the computational models ... into new, implantable, closed-loop systems able to deliver targeted neural stimulation that may ultimately help restore memory function."

    87 comments | about a month ago

  • Alcatel-Lucent's XG-FAST Pushes 10,000Mbps Over Copper Phone Lines

    Mark.JUK (1222360) writes The Bell Labs R&D division of telecoms giant Alcatel-Lucent has today claimed to set a new world record after they successfully pushed "ultra-broadband" speeds of 10,000 Megabits per second (Mbps) down a traditional copper telephone line using XG-FAST technology, which is an extension of G.fast (ITU G.9700).

    G.fast is a hybrid-fiber technology, which is designed to deliver Internet speeds of up to 1000Mbps over runs of copper cable (up to around 250 meters via 106MHz+ radio spectrum). The idea is that a fiber optic cable is taken closer to homes and then G.fast works to deliver the last few meters of service, which saves money because the operator doesn't have to dig up your garden to lay new cables. XG-FAST works in a similar way but via an even shorter run of copper and using frequencies of up to 500MHz. For example, XG-FAST delivered its top speed of 10,000Mbps by bonding two copper lines together over just 30 meters of cable.

    149 comments | about a month ago

  • Normal Humans Effectively Excluded From Developing Software

    theodp (442580) writes Over at Alarming Development, Jonathan Edwards has an interesting rant entitled Developer Inequality and the Technical Debt Crisis. The heated complaints that the culture of programming unfairly excludes some groups, Edwards feels, is a distraction from a bigger issue with far greater importance to society.

    "The bigger injustice," Edwards writes, "is that programming has become an elite: a vocation requiring rare talents, grueling training, and total dedication. The way things are today if you want to be a programmer you had best be someone like me on the autism spectrum who has spent their entire life mastering vast realms of arcane knowledge — and enjoys it. Normal humans are effectively excluded from developing software. The real injustice of developer inequality is that it doesn't have to be this way." Edwards concludes with a call to action, "The web triumphalists love to talk about changing the world. Well if you really want to change the world, empower regular people to build web apps. Disrupt web programming! Who's with me?" Ed Finkler, who worries about his own future as a developer in The Developer's Dystopian Future, seconds that emotion. "I think about how I used to fill my time with coding," Finkler writes. "So much coding. I was willing to dive so deep into a library or framework or technology to learn it. My tolerance for learning curves grows smaller every day. New technologies, once exciting for the sake of newness, now seem like hassles. I'm less and less tolerant of hokey marketing filled with superlatives. I value stability and clarity."

    608 comments | about a month ago

  • When Beliefs and Facts Collide

    schnell writes A New York Times article discusses a recent Yale study that shows that contrary to popular belief, increased scientific literacy does not correspond to increased belief in accepted scientific findings when it contradicts their religious or political views. The article notes that this is true across the political/religious spectrum and "factual and scientific evidence is often ineffective at reducing misperceptions and can even backfire on issues like weapons of mass destruction, health care reform and vaccines." So what is to be done? The article suggests that "we need to try to break the association between identity and factual beliefs on high-profile issues – for instance, by making clear that you can believe in human-induced climate change and still be a conservative Republican."

    725 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Two Earth-Like Exoplanets Don't Actually Exist

    Two suspected exoplanets, Gliese 581g and 581d, have been shown to not exist, and are instead misinterpretations of data from starspot activity. From the article: "Gliese 581g doesn't exist," said lead author Paul Robertson of Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. Neither, he said, does another planet in the same solar system, known as Gliese 581d, announced in 2009—less clearly hospitable to life, but still once seen by some astronomers as a possible place to find aliens. ... What's happening, they say, is that magnetic disturbances on Gliese 581's surface — starspots — are altering the star's spectrum in such a way that it mimics the motion induced by a planet. The star itself rotates once every 130 days, carrying the starspots with it; the disputed planets appeared to have periods of almost exactly one half and one fourth of the 130-day period. When the scientists corrected for the starspot signal, both planets disappeared.

    102 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • IEEE Spectrum Ranks the Top Programming Languages

    An anonymous reader writes Working with computational journalist Nick Diakopoulos, we at IEEE Spectrum have published an app that ranks the popularity of dozens of programming languages. Because different fields have different interests (what's popular with programmers writing embedded code versus what's hot with web developers isn't going to be identical) we tried to make the ranking system as transparent as possible — you can use our presets or you can go in and create your own customized ranking by adjusting the individual weightings of the various data sources we mined.

    197 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Nathan Myhrvold's Recipe For a Better Oven

    Tekla Perry writes: We cook our food today using technology invented to bake bricks. We can do a lot better. Nathan Myhrvold explains what's wrong with today's ovens and challenges oven designers make them better. He says, "Oven designers could do a lot to make ovens heat more evenly by taking advantage of the different ways ovens transfer heat at different cooking temperatures. At 200 C or below, convection moves most of the heat. But at 400 C, radiant energy starts doing a fair amount of the heat transfer. At 800 C, radiation overwhelms convection. Why couldn't we have an oven designed to cook primarily by convection at low temperatures that switches to radiant heating for high-temperature baking? ... The shiny skin of raw fish reflects heat, but as the skin browns, it reflects less and less energy. That’s why food under a broiler can seem to cook slowly at first and then burn in the blink of an eye. But technology offers a fix here, too. Oven designers could put optical sensors in the oven chamber to sense the reflectivity of the food, and then the oven controller could adjust the heat automatically or at least alert the cook as the surface browns. And a camera in the oven could feed to a color display on the front panel, giving the chef a clearer view of the food than a small window in the door can. Indeed, a decent optics system could allow designers to dispense with the glass in the door altogether, reducing the gap between the hottest and coolest corners of the oven and obviating the need to open the door and rotate the food midway through cooking.

    228 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Lawrence Lessig Answers Your Questions About His Mayday PAC (Video)

    We've mentioned this interesting PAC more than once, including when Steve Wozniak endorsed it. The original Mayday PAC goal was to raise $1 million. Now Larry is working on a second -- and more ambitious -- goal: To raise $5 million by July 4. We called for your questions on June 23, and got a bunch of them. This time, instead of asking via email, we used Google Hangout to ask via video. Here's a quote from the Mayday website:'We are a crowdfunded Super PAC to end all Super PACs. Ironic? Yes. Embrace the irony. We’re kickstarting a Super PAC big enough to make it possible to win a Congress committed to fundamental reform by 2016. We set fundraising goals and then crowdfund those goals." Check the Mayday About page and you'll see that a whole bunch of Internet and coding luminaries are on board. You may also notice that they span the political spectrum; this is totally not a partisan effort. | Another quote from the website: "Wealthy funders are holding our democracy hostage. We want to pay the ransom and get it back." Is this an achievable goal? We'll never know if we don't try. | This is Part 1 of a 2-part video. (Alternate Video Link) Update: 07/02 23:42 GMT by T : Here's a link to part 2 of the video, too.

    148 comments | about 1 month ago

  • That Toy Is Now a Drone

    fluxgate (2851685) writes "A notice from the FAA announced earlier this week just turned a bunch of kids' toys into drones. In the past, the FAA had made the distinction between model aircraft (allowed) and drones (prohibited without special permission) according to whether they were used for recreation (okay) or commercial purposes (verboten). Now they have further narrowed the definition of model aircraft: If you fly it through video goggles, it no longer qualifies. This move eliminates First Person View (FPV) radio control flying. I'm an editor at IEEE Spectrum with a special interest and blogged about this disturbing development as soon as I heard the news."

    268 comments | about 2 months ago

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