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Harvesting Energy From Humidity

BillX Twist on a very old idea? (89 comments)

While the "water droplets spontaneously jumping off superhydrophobic surfaces" effect is interesting in itself, the mechanism of stripping charge from those droplets as they leave the apparatus sounds like a variation of the Kelvin water-drop energy harvester from 1867. In this case, rather than charge separation via the cross-connected cups, electric-double-layer charge-separation occurs between the droplet and the hydrophobic surface, causing the two to come away similarly unbalanced when the droplet jumps away.

about two weeks ago

Pseudonyms Now Allowed On Google+

BillX Welcoming and inclusive (238 comments)

"For this we apologize, and we hope that today's change is a step toward making Google+ the welcoming and inclusive place..."

Neither here nor there, but this is the kind of language companies usually use just after being spanked for discriminatory-like* practices.

* "Can't have my name attached to a post about controversial topic X in the current political climate whilst keeping my day job -> excluded from the service -> more controversial ideological groups more excluded -> discrimination!" ...I wonder if someone's trying to scratch up a case to this effect...

about two weeks ago

FCC Proposal To Limit Access To 5725-5850 MHz Band

BillX Re:So who is behind this? (112 comments)

In principle I would agree, however, the idea of parking this nuanced distinction on the desk of a regulatory bureaucrat makes my neck hairs stand at attention.

about three weeks ago

IEEE Launches Anti-malware Services To Improve Security

BillX Taggant vs. any other digital signature scheme (51 comments)

While I'm admittedly not an expert in cryptography or trusted computing schemes in general, I don't see how this differs on a technical level from numerous other code-signing schemes with a central certificate authority (CA) (and its chain of delegations) blessing "good" code and revoking such blessings. Well known examples include Securicode / Windows Driver Signing, the anti-consumer bits of UEFI, etc. Can anyone shed some further light on how this is different?

As with other such systems, it assumes the existence of a benevolent authority that cannot be hacked, the cooperation of all packer vendors, the cooperation of all packer *users* (who are not malware authors)... and all packer users who *are* malware authors never hearing of it.

The only main difference I can see (and its potential downfall for its purpose) is that end-users don't pay for certificates. While that's great for end-users (driver signature enforcement in x64 Windows versions is pretty close to extortion IMO), this seems to break down for any packers that are not a licensed commercial product where an explicit, one-on-one packer-vendor to packer-user relationship exists. This excludes any freeware and open-source packers*, where any schmuck can just download and run it (and even modify it) without key exchanges or other communication with its author.

Conversely, if any old schmuck can obtain a fresh signature at any time ("it's free!"), what's to stop any old schmuck from doing exactly that? The stipulations that the system is free to both end-users and packer vendors, bankrolled entirely by A/V vendors out of the goodness of their hearts, suggests any background-checking that occurs as a condition of generating a signature can't be very exhaustive.

* While the IEEE materials refer to the proof-of-concept running on "a modified version of UPX", a well-known F/OSS packer, this almost certainly has to do with the ability to quickly bodge this feature in due to easy source code access, and very little to do with whether the actual author of UPX is complicit in or aware of the system, or whether this scenario can possibly work in the real-world for open-source packers with anonymous downloads.

about a month ago

Overkill? LG Phone Has 2560x1440 Display, Laser Focusing

BillX Re:Probably not (198 comments)

Still does. I just bought, and then returned, a Moto X after discovering that Motorola's "unlock your bootloader" page is a sham. Tried it on a brand-new, retail, unlocked device and got "Your device does not qualify for bootloader unlocking" . The better part of an hour going round in circles with their tech support and they are unable (or unwilling) to even state the criteria that would, theoretically, make a device "qualify".

(An aside: While most companies might claim unlocking or rooting a device "could" void the warranty, it's usually with a wink and a nudge as long as the device is factory-restored before RMA'ing or at least not obviously bricked. A couple have software tamper flags that can likewise be reset. Motorola, on the other hand, uses the device serial # to generate and return - by email - a bootloader unlock code, and immediately blacklists the device for warranty service the moment they do so, whether you actually use the code or not.)

about a month ago

Funding for iFind Kickstarter Suspended

BillX Re:Slashdot Effect (104 comments)

Hackaday had a similar discussion just over a month ago. The consensus there seems to be likewise that it is probably a scam. (Or *extremely* optimistic kid who has seen a few of the technologies involved work on paper. But more likely a scam.)

about a month ago

The Military Is About To Get New Augmented Reality Spy Glasses

BillX Re:Spy glasses? (58 comments)

Heh. For our military this seems very counterintuitive. AFAICT the push in recent years has been toward anything that reduces unnecessary cognitive loading in heated situations, and frees up their tactical senses (eyes & ears) generally. At my day-job a recent project was a tactile display vest specifically to replace voice and hand-arm signaling, keeping soldiers' eyes and ears free for other matters. Basically a dense array of vibrotactile drivers (like what makes your phone buzz) that can display messages on the skin, which is basically "unused bandwidth" thus far. Blocking vision with AR, and in a very obvious way, seems counter to this trend.

about a month ago

Chrome 35 Launches With New APIs and JavaScript Features

BillX Reading TFA (73 comments)

I'm not remotely interested in Chrome, but I want to see what's in store for Firefox about 2 releases from now.

about 2 months ago

Canadian Teen Arrested For Calling In 30+ Swattings, Bomb Threats

BillX Re:Autoimmune disorder... (350 comments)

Another popular option is to route prank calls through a Deaf relay service (TTY). Whatever you type, the operator HAS to repeat it to the called party. This gets around voice identification - even more relevant if the callee is someone who knows you or you pull this shit regularly.

A friend discovered a new employee at his work was doing this, and got his cell # somehow. We had lots of fun with him.

about 3 months ago

Why Mobile Wallets Are Doomed

BillX Also (272 comments)

Also: TFA verbed 'onboard'.

about 3 months ago

USPTO Approves Amazon Patent For Taking Pictures

BillX Re:Our patent system is totally broken (152 comments)

It looks like there is only one extremely narrow independent claim (calling out a specific ISO and lens) - claim 1 - but it's a red herring. The real meat of it is Claim 2, which is much more broad and from which every subsequent claim through Claim 24 derives. Claim 25, the only remaining independent claim, is also much more broad.

about 3 months ago

Zenimax Accuses John Carmack of Stealing VR Tech

BillX Re:Trade secrets, not patents (148 comments)

Indeed, sounds like a non-compete-clause type of snit... the old "you can't work in the field you work in because you learned lots of stuff while working for us".

about 3 months ago

Firefox 29: Redesign

BillX Molasses mode (688 comments)

All (valid) complaints about the continuing dumbing-down of the interface aside, have they fixed the FF28 behavior where opening a new tab/window gets progressively slower with use, until after a few days of use, opening one freezes FF and pegs the CPU for upwards of 20 seconds before it appears? (Or just crashes.)

Closing and re-opening FF resets the molasses clock, but that's a poor substitute for just working correctly in the first place.

about 3 months ago

Aereo To SCOTUS: Shut Us Down and You Shut Down Cloud Storage

BillX Re:Doubt it will shut down cloud storage... (342 comments)

Indeed. Specifically, they are taking the approach already found by at least one previous court decision to be lawful. The one off the top of my head is Cartoon Network vs. Cablevision; digging up the actual decision will reveal a goldmine of related cases and the nuances (at least to the 2nd Circuit) of how the ugly "rented, remotely hosted DVR, separate redundant copies per user" technical workaround differs from more logical approaches. IIRC the Cablevision decision as to whether transmitting video from a remote-rented DVR was a public performance or other infringing use hinged on whether it was the cable co or the customer that "pressed the button" that initiated the recording (copy).

about 3 months ago

The Internet of Things and Humans

BillX IoT not quite ready yet... (55 comments)

Ha ha, apparently proselytizing about the "Internet of Things" is trendy again. Don't hold your breath kids; until IPv6 is a thing that's really a thing, enjoy your "small home network of things", where your game console, thermostat and toaster have 192.168.x.x IP addresses dangling from your cablemodem, and require a 3rd-party cloud service to mediate contact with your neighbor's toaster.

Seriously though... if anybody but major datamining companies are going to get remotely enthusiastic about this IoT shenanigans, two things need to happen: IPv6 and dirt-cheap low-bandwidth wireless uplinks (think cellphone plan with pay-by-the-byte or 512kb/month dataplans and low/no monthly maintenance fees) so that all the applications (smart stoplights, weather/pollution sensors, whatever) that would benefit from not dangling off someone's cell plan or cablemodem don't have to do so. Maybe on the 3rd revival of the IoT hype, about 10 years from now, it'll really catch on and be actually kind of useful. (See also: "M2M".)

about 3 months ago

German Wikipedia Has Problems With Paid Editing — and Threats of Violence

BillX Threats of violence? (55 comments)

The 'threats of violence' thing appears to be a naive misunderstanding of German, if not an intentionally sensationalist one: have a look at the comment by user "Required" following the article, which explains the original German idiom.

The actual "curbstone" quote in question is:
"Ein geistiger Tiefflieger, er soll aufpassen, dass er nicht mit dem Kinn am Bor[d]stein hÃngen bleibt."

It's not a threat to curbstomp anyone, but a colorful insult that loosely translates as "someone with such a low-flying intellect, they have to watch out for curbstones lest they hit their chin on one". Indeed, Google auto-translates it as:

"A spiritual low-flying aircraft, he should be careful that he does not hang with the chin on the curb."

about 4 months ago

Adam Carolla Joins Fight Against Podcast Patent Troll

BillX Re:Dialup? Windows 95? (126 comments)

There are definitely some interesting ideas mentioned in the 1996 patent (e.g. tying playback stats back to a billing system; voice commanded playback), but much of it sounds similar to the systems commercial radio stations used at the time to schedule programming and handle royalties. But the patent claims are written so broadly as to cover just about anything. For example, Claim 1 could easily encompass a playlist feature in any audio program. I can't imagine there wasn't a single audio program in 1996 with playlists. In fact, this claim would appear to cover plain Audio CDs, which have been around since the mid 70s and include just such a "playlist" (TOC data) at the beginning of each disc, with the player providing the customary play/next/stop/repeat controls. The CD-changer I had in the early 90s allowed programming an arbitrary playback order as well. Interestingly, the more advanced CD-Text specification, which includes human-readable track listings and other metadata in the TOC, was officially released a month before the priority date of the patent.

about 4 months ago

$30K Worth of Multimeters Must Be Destroyed Because They're Yellow

BillX Re:Did Fluke request this? (653 comments)

"Safety Yellow" is a thing. (See also: yellow and black, striping, police tape.) Especially for test equipment that may be presently connected to high voltages. Also, easy to spot at a distance, or in dark places (such as the bottom of a toolchest or bag). Aircraft "black boxes" are usually bright orange, for the same reason.

about 4 months ago

Algorithm Reveals Objects Hidden Behind Other Things In Camera Phone Images

BillX Fascinating, but with limits (85 comments)

I don't claim to be an imaging expert, but a few odd details about the experimental method jumped out at me. It's been known for some time now that diffusive and other scene-perturbing objects (e.g. grossly distorting 'lenses' such as a Coke bottle) can be nullified using a structured light technique to characterize and effectively 'undo' the perturber. A simple structured light example is to replace the light source with a DLP projector and take multiple images with only one pixel illuminated at a time. More clever implementations can replace the single pixels with speckle patterns, zebra stripes, etc., and replace the 2D imager with a single-pixel photocell. Other neat tricks can then be performed such as reconstructing the image from the POV of the light source rather than the imaging device.

The experimentals shown in this paper all seem to have two things in common: 1) the "object" in each case is a backlit, 2D binary pattern on a transparency film or similar, with a relatively small illuminated area, and 2) an extremely narrowband (laser, actually) light source is used. The paper does mention several times that the light source is non-coherent, but it is a laser under the hood. This explains the numerous references to "speckle" in the images, which may leave most readers scratching their heads since things don't normally speckle when looked at through a slice of onion under ordinary light. Speckling is a laser (de)coherence phenomenon where the rays are put slightly out of coherence so as to interfere constructively and destructively.

These things suggest to me that while the paper is definitely interesting, there is no need to worry about the neighbors snapping passable nudes through your shower door or Feds cataloging your grow farm via pictures of a blank wall through your window. This sounds more like a modest extension to what's already been done stirring coherent and structured-light in a pot with convolution and autocorrellation methods.

Since the coherence length of cheap semiconductor lasers (e.g. laser pointers) can be on the order of 1mm or less, it's possible to call even a straight-up laserbeam "non-coherent narrowband light" with a somewhat straight face. Likewise, the quasi-point-sources created using a sparse geometric 2D aperture in transparency film, backlight by the aforementioned source, is pretty close to structured light for practical purposes. The takeaway message is these are very special lighting and "scene" conditions that are not representative of everyday photographic circumstances. So not to worry just yet :-)

about 4 months ago

Merlin's Magic: The Inside Story of the First Mobile Game

BillX Old handhelds (60 comments)

Seeing this reminded me of an old handheld electronic pinball game I found in my grandparents' attic as a kid. I figured it had to be almost this old, possibly predating the Merlin, and so Googled it... Sure enough, it is from 1979 and invented by one Bob Doyle.

about 5 months ago


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