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Neural Net Learns Breakout By Watching It On Screen, Then Beats Humans
Posted by News Fetcher on December 27 '13 at 07:45 AM
By Soulskill from Slashdot's but-can-it-eat-doritos-all-day? department:
KentuckyFC writes "A curious thing about video games is that computers have never been very good at playing them like humans by simply looking at a monitor and judging actions accordingly. Sure, they're pretty good if they have direct access to the program itself, but 'hand-to-eye-co-ordination' has never been their thing. Now our superiority in this area is coming to an end. A team of AI specialists in London have created a neural network that learns to play games simply by looking at the RGB output from the console. They've tested it successfully on a number of games from the legendary Atari 2600 system from the 1980s. The method is relatively straightforward. To simplify the visual part of the problem, the system down-samples the Atari's 128-colour, 210x160 pixel image to create an 84x84 grayscale version. Then it simply practices repeatedly to learn what to do. That's time-consuming, but fairly simple since at any instant in time during a game, a player can choose from a finite set actions that the game allows: move to the left, move to the right, fire and so on. So the task for any player — human or otherwise — is to choose an action at each point in the game that maximizes the eventual score. The researchers say that after learning Atari classics such as Breakout and Pong, the neural net can then thrash expert human players. However, the neural net still struggles to match average human performance in games such as Seaquest, Q*bert and, most importantly, Space Invaders. So there's hope for us yet... just not for very much longer."

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Internet Commenting Growing Away From Anonymity
Posted by News Fetcher on December 27 '13 at 06:45 AM
By Soulskill from Slashdot's playing-nice-with-others department:
An article from the Associated Press makes the case that internet commenting is slowly but surely transitioning away from widespread anonymity. More and more sites are finding that the prevalence of vitriolic comments is driving away new readers, not to mention other, more reasonable commenters. Sites like YouTube and the Huffington Post are leading the charge, requiring users to log in via Google+ and Facebook respectively in order to establish a real-world identity. The Post's managing editor, Jimmy Soni, said, 'We are reaching a place where the Internet is growing up. These changes represent a maturing (online) environment.'
"Nearly three-quarters of teens and young adults think people are more likely to use discriminatory language online or in text messages than in face to face conversations, according to a recent poll ... Newspapers are also turning toward regulated comments. Of the largest 137 U.S. newspapers — those with daily circulation above 50,000 — nearly 49 percent ban anonymous commenting, according to Arthur Santana, assistant communications professor at the University of Houston. Nearly 42 percent allow anonymity, while 9 percent do not have comments at all.

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Ford Rolls the Dice With Breakthrough F-150 Aluminum Pickup Truck
Posted by News Fetcher on December 27 '13 at 05:30 AM
By samzenpus from Slashdot's shiny-new-truck department:
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "USA Today reports that Ford's next F-150 pickup truck will be made mostly of aluminum, instead of steel, in a bid to save weight. It will likely either be hailed as a breakthrough product to buyers who've made F-150 the bedrock of its business or one that draws comparisons to a 'rolling beer can.' The automaker has asked Alcoa, which makes aluminum blast shields for battlefield-bound vehicles, to lend some of its military-grade metal for the automaker's display, according to people familiar with Ford's plans. Ford's sales job will be considerable: The company is eager to demonstrate the toughness of aluminum, which is lighter than steel, to pickup buyers at next month's Detroit auto show. 'This is already the most significant debut at the auto show,' says Joe Langley. 'Everybody's going to be dissecting that thing for a long time, especially since Ford will be taking such a big gamble.' As a transformative product with a potentially troublesome introduction, the new F-150 has drawn comparisons with Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner — an aircraft developed under the company's commercial airplane chief at the time, Alan Mulally, who in 2006 became Ford's chief executive officer. Because of the complicated switch to aluminum from steel in the F-150's body, IHS Automotive estimates Ford will need to take about six weeks of downtime at each of its two U.S. truck plants to retool and swap out robots and machinery. Ford is apparently trying to squeeze more than 700 pounds out of its next generation of pickup trucks. Using aluminum to cut weight would help meet rising fuel economy standards in the United States, which is requiring a fleetwide average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025."

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Video Games Charity Raises Over $10 Million
Posted by News Fetcher on December 27 '13 at 02:45 AM
By samzenpus from Slashdot's good-cause department:
jones_supa writes "Gaming for Good, a charity established and fronted by celebrity gamer Bachir 'Athene' Boumaaza, has this week passed the significant milestone. At time of writing the group's tally stands at a tame $10 million. It works like this: game publishers donate games to the charity, without asking for profit. Regular folks buy points, which can then be exchanged to games on the website. Finally the money used to buy the points goes to charity. So in one way they're really just buying games, but instead of the money going to publishers, it's going to a good cause. Money raised is going to the international charity Save The Children, where it can be used on health programs in Malawi, Indonesia and Bangladesh."

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First 3D Printed Liver Expected In 2014
Posted by News Fetcher on December 27 '13 at 12:30 AM
By samzenpus from Slashdot's drink-up department:
Lucas123 writes "After 3D printing has produced ears, skin grafts and even retina cells that could be built up and eventually used to replace defective eye tissue, researchers expect to be able to produce the first functioning organ next year. The organ, a liver, would not be for the purpose of human implant — that will take years to complete clinical trials and pass FDA review. Instead, the liver would initially be for development and testing of pharmaceuticals. The field of 3D printing known as organs on a chip, will greatly increase the accuracy and speed of drug development and testing, researchers say. The company producing the liver, Organovo, has overcome a major stumbling block that faces the creation of any organ: printing the vascular system needed to provide it with life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients. Typically, 3D printed tissue dies in the petri dish before it can even be used because of that. 'We have achieved thicknesses of greater than 500 microns, and have maintained liver tissue in a fully functional state with native phenotypic behavior for at least 40 days,' said Mike Renard, Organovo's executive vice president of commercial operations."

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Metamaterials Developed To Bend Sound Waves, Deflect Tsunamis
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 09:45 PM
By samzenpus from Slashdot's building-it-better department:
cold fjord writes in with this story about some new possible applications for metamaterials. "A new way of assembling things, called metamaterials, may in the not too distant future help to protect a building from earthquakes by bending seismic waves around it. Similarly, tsunami waves could be bent around towns, and sound waves bent around a room to make it soundproof. ... Metamaterials are simply materials that exhibit properties not found in nature, such as the way they absorb or reflect light. The key is in how they're made. By assembling the material — from photonic crystals to wire and foam — at a scale smaller than the length of the wave you're seeking to manipulate, the wave can, in theory, be bent to will. ... Ong and others say ... they could be used to redirect other kinds of waves, including mechanical waves such as sound and ocean waves. French researchers earlier this year, for example, diverted seismic waves around specially placed holes in the ground, reflecting the waves backward. Ong points to the possibility of using what has been learned in reconfiguring the geometry of materials to divert tsunamis from strategic buildings.'"

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What Would It Cost To Build a Windows Version of the Pricey New Mac Pro?
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 07:30 PM
By samzenpus from Slashdot's on-the-cheap department:
zacharye writes "The new Mac Pro is the most powerful and flexible computer Apple has ever created, and it's also extremely expensive — or is it? With a price tag that can climb up around $10,000, Apple's latest enterprise workhorse clearly isn't cheap. For businesses with a need for all that muscle, however, is that steep price justifiable or is there a premium 'Apple tax' that companies will have to pay? Shortly after the new Mac Pro was finally made available for purchase last week, one PC enthusiast set out to answer that question and in order to do so, he asked another one: How much would it cost to build a comparable Windows 8 machine?"

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Memo To Parents and Society: Teen Social Media "Addiction" Is Your Fault
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 05:30 PM
By samzenpus from Slashdot's won't-somebody-please-think-of-letting-the-children-outside? department:
FuzzNugget writes "Wired presents this damning perspective on so-called social media addiction: 'If kids can't socialize, who should parents blame? Simple: They should blame themselves. This is the argument advanced in It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd. Boyd ... has spent a decade interviewing hundreds of teens about their online lives. What she has found, over and over, is that teenagers would love to socialize face-to-face with their friends. But adult society won't let them. "Teens aren't addicted to social media. They're addicted to each other," Boyd says. "They're not allowed to hang out the way you and I did, so they've moved it online." It's true. As a teenager in the early '80s I could roam pretty widely with my friends, as long as we were back by dark. Over the next three decades, the media began delivering a metronomic diet of horrifying but rare child-abduction stories, and parents shortened the leash on their kids. Politicians warned of incipient waves of youth wilding and superpredators (neither of which emerged). Municipalities crafted anti-loitering laws and curfews to keep young people from congregating alone. New neighborhoods had fewer public spaces. Crime rates plummeted, but moral panic soared. Meanwhile, increased competition to get into college meant well-off parents began heavily scheduling their kids' after-school lives.'"

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NSA Drowns In Useless Data, Impeding Work, Former Employee Claims
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 04:30 PM
By samzenpus from Slashdot's we're-putting-new-coversheets-on-all-the-TPS-reports-before-they-go-out-now department:
An anonymous reader writes in with this story of confusion at the NSA due to the flood of data they harvest. "Some of the documents released by Mr. Snowden detail concerns inside the NSA about drowning in information. An internal briefing document in 2012 about foreign cellphone-location tracking by the agency said the efforts were 'outpacing our ability to ingest, process and store' data. In March 2013, some NSA analysts asked for permission to collect less data through a program called Muscular because the 'relatively small intelligence value it contains does not justify the sheer volume of collection,' another document shows. In response to questions about Mr. Binney's claims, an NSA spokeswoman says the agency is 'not collecting everything, but we do need the tools to collect intelligence on foreign adversaries who wish to do harm to the nation and its allies.'"

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Millions of Dogecoin Stolen Over Christmas
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 03:30 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's it's-just-been-hidden-by-the-catecoin department:
Kenseilon writes "The Verge reports that millions of Dogecoins — an alternative cryptocurrency — was stolen after the service DogeWallet was hacked. DogeWallet worked like a bank account for the currency, and the attackers modified it to make sure all transactions ended up in a wallet of their choice. This latest incident is just one in the long (and growing) list of problems that cryptocurrencies are currently facing. It brings to mind the incident where bitcoin exchange service GBL vanished and took a modest amount of Bitcoins with them. While not a similar case, it highlights the difficulties with trusting service provides in this market."

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Utilities Fight Back Against Solar Energy
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 02:45 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's this-again department:
JoeyRox writes "The exponential growth of rooftop solar adoption has utilities concerned about their financial future. Efficiency gains and cost reductions has brought the price of solar energy to within parity of traditional power generation in states like California and Hawaii. HECO, an electric utility in Hawaii, has started notifying new solar adopters that they will not be allowed to connect to the utility's power grid, citing safety concerns of electric circuits becoming oversaturated from the rapid adoption of solar power on the island. Residents claim it's not about safety but about the utility fighting to protect its profits." We mentioned earlier the connection fee recently approved in Arizona. Do you have a solar system? if not (or if so, for that matter), does this make you think twice about it?

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Houston Expands Downtown Surveillance, Unsure If It Helps
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 01:45 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's someone-is-getting-fat-on-this department:
SpaceGhost writes "The Associated Press reports that the Houston (Texas) Police will be adding 180 surveillance cameras in the downtown area, bringing the total to close to 1000. While most cover public areas (stadiums, theater district) the police suggest that Houston also has more 'critical infrastructure' (energy companies) than other cities. Interestingly AP points out that 'Officials say data is not kept to determine if the cameras are driving down crime.' Didn't London face the same issue?"

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Antarctic Climate Research Expedition Trapped In Sea Ice
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 01:15 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's that-looks-like-a-fun-vacation department:
First time accepted submitter Stinky Cheese Man writes "An Antarctic climate research expedition, led by climate researcher Chris Turney of the University of New South Wales, has become trapped in heavy ice near the coast of Antarctica. The captain has issued a distress call and three nearby icebreaker ships are on their way to the rescue. According to Turney's web site, the purpose of the expedition is 'to discover and communicate the environmental changes taking place in the south.'"

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How Ya Gonna Get 'Em Down On the UNIX Farm?
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 12:15 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's small-useful-pieces department:
theodp writes "In 1919, Nora Bayes sang, "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" In 2013, discussing User Culture Versus Programmer Culture, CS Prof Philip Guo poses a similar question: 'How ya gonna get 'em down on UNIX after they've seen Spotify?' Convincing students from user culture to toss aside decades of advances in graphical user interfaces for a UNIX command line is a tough sell, Guo notes, and one that's made even more difficult when the instructors feel the advantages are self-evident. 'Just waving their arms and shouting "because, because UNIX!!!" isn't going to cut it,' he advises. Guo's tips for success? 'You need to gently introduce students to why these tools will eventually make them more productive in the long run,' Guo suggests, 'even though there is a steep learning curve at the outset. Start slow, be supportive along the way, and don't disparage the GUI-based tools that they are accustomed to using, no matter how limited you think those tools are. Bridge the two cultures.'" Required reading.

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Tesla Updates Model S Software As a Precaution Against Unsafe Charging
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 11:15 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's belt-and-suspenders-and-superglue department:
zlives writes "Tesla Motors has maintained that the most recent fire involving one of its Model S electric vehicles isn't the result of a vehicle or battery malfunction, but the company is still addressing the situation with a software fix, according to Green Car Reports. The California-based automaker has added a software function that automatically reduces the charge current by about 25 percent when power from the charging source fluctuates outside of a certain range, Green Car Reports says, citing the Twitter feed from an Apple employee, @ddenboer, who owns a Model S. You can read the text of the update below."

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The Archaeology of Beer
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 10:30 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's glog-glog-glog department:
cold fjord writes with an excerpt from The Atlantic's profile of Dr. Pat McGovern, a biomolecular archeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, who has what sounds like a fascinating job: decoding ancient clues about what (and how) humans in the distant past were brewing and drinking.

"'We always start with infrared spectrometry,' he says. 'That gives us an idea of what organic materials are preserved.' From there, it's on to tandem liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry, sometimes coupled with ion cyclotron resonance, and solid-phase micro-extraction gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. The end result? A beer recipe. Starting with a few porous clay shards or tiny bits of resin-like residue from a bronze cup, McGovern is able to determine what some ancient Norseman or Etruscan or Shang dynast was drinking." The article points out that McGovern has collaborated with the Dogfish Head brewery to reproduce in modern form six of these ancient recipes.

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Surge In Online Orders Overwhelms UPS Christmas Deliveries
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 09:30 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's coordinating-unknowns-is-hard department:
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Reuters reports that the high volume of online orders of holiday packages overwhelmed shipping and logistics company UPS delaying the arrival of Christmas presents around the globe and sending angry consumers to social media to vent. The company projected 132 million deliveries last week "and obviously we exceeded that," said UPS spokeswoman Natalie Black without disclosing how many packages had been sent. "For now, UPS is really focused on delivering the remaining packages. You might not see trucks, but people are working." Asked why the company underestimated the volume of air packages it would receive, Black noted that previous severe weather in the Dallas area had already created a backlog. Then came "excess holiday volume" during a compressed time frame, since the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas was shorter than usual this year. Amazon.com responded with an email to affected customers offering shipping refunds and $20 gift cards to compensate. Packages shipped via UPS for Amazon.com by Prime customers, who pay $79 a year for two-day shipping, may be eligible for additional refunds. Amazon's stated policy for missed deliveries is to offer a free one-month extension of Prime. Frustrated consumers took to social media, with some complaining that gifts purchased for their children would not arrive in time to make it under the tree by Christmas morning. '"A lot of these employees keep saying 'It's the weather' or 'It's some kind of a backlog,' said Barry Tesh. 'Well then why, all the way up until the 23rd, were they offering next-day delivery? That guaranteed delivery was 80% of my decision to buy the gift."' However, others on social media urged shoppers to be more appreciative of the delivery company's work during the holiday season. 'While others take vacation and time off in December, remember we aren't allowed ever to be off in December. Ever,' said a 20-year veteran UPS driver on the UPS Facebook page. 'So when you see your family and complain that your package is held up, everyone who moves your package is working and doesn't get the Xmas experience you get, Be thankful for that.'"

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Ask Slashdot: How To Build a Morse Code Audio Library For Machine Learning?
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 08:15 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's wax-cylinders-all-the-way department:
New submitter mni12 writes "I have been working on a Bayesian Morse decoder for a while. My goal is to have a CW decoder that adapts well to different ham radio operators' rhythm, sudden speed changes, signal fluctuations, interference, and noise — and has the ability to decode Morse code accurately. While this problem is not as complex as speaker-independent speech recognition, there is still a lot of human variation where machine learning algorithms such as Bayesian probabilistic methods can help. I posted a first alpha release yesterday, and despite all the bugs one first brave ham reported success. I would like to collect thousands of audio samples (WAV files) of real world CW traffic captured by hams via some sort of online system that would allow hams not only to upload captured files but also provide relevant details such as their callsign, date & time, frequency, radio / antenna used, software version, comments etc. I would then use these audio files to build a test library for automated tests to improve the Bayesian decoder performance. Since my focus is on improving the decoder and not starting to build a digital audio archive service I would like to get suggestions of any open source (free) software packages, online services, or any other ideas on how to effectively collect large number of audio files and without putting much burden on alpha / beta testers to submit their audio captures. Many available services require registration and don't support metadata or aggregation of submissions. Thanks in advance for your suggestions."

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US Internet Service In 2014: Net Neutrality Challenges and High-Speed Build-Outs
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 07:45 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's right-to-pay-for-faster-connections? department:
Ars Technica takes a look at two sides of the world of internet service, as it's available to customers in the U.S., and especially at changes that are in the works for the next year. Thanks to Google, AT&T and other providers (including municipal networks), the number of Americans with access to very high speed household connections is rising dramatically — good news, for those in range of fiber-to-the-home rollouts, and this means at least some pressure on competitors. But as Ars writer Jon Brodkin points out, there are also developments that may dismay many customers, specifically the possibility that the Federal Communication Commission's 2010 Open Internet Order ("a network neutrality law that forbids ISPs from blocking services or charging content providers for access to their networks") may be overturned or weakened. That could come about either through lawsuit (Verizon's suit is mentioned), or through a more market-oriented approach from the FCC. Writes Brodkin: "If the law were overturned, ISPs could more easily steer customers to their own services and away from those of their rivals. They could charge companies like Netflix for the right to have their videos prioritized over other types of Internet traffic, perhaps indirectly raising the price consumers pay for streaming video and making it more difficult for startups to compete against established players who can afford the 'Internet fast lane' fees."

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Apple Fined In Taiwan For iPhone Price Fixing
Posted by News Fetcher on December 26 '13 at 06:45 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's maximizing-returns department:
Frankie70 writes "Taiwan's Fair Trade Commission has hit Apple with a small fine and warned the company that it may face a more substantial penalty if it doesn't stop interfering with carriers' iPhone pricing and the prices of the plans carriers sell alongside the iPhone. 'Through the email correspondence between Apple and these three telecom companies we discovered the companies submit their pricing plans to Apple to be approved or confirmed before the products hit the market,' Taiwan's FTC said in a statement."

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