By msmash from Slashdot's reality-check department
An anonymous reader shares a report: As the holiday shopping season approaches, voice-powered smart speakers are again expected to be big sellers, adding to the approximately one-quarter to one-third of the U.S. population that already owns a smart speaker and uses a voice assistant at least once a month. Voice interfaces have been adopted faster than nearly any other technology in history.
While some of this will likely come to pass, the hype might be disguising where we really are with voice technology: Earlier than we think. About a third of smart speaker owners end up using them less after the first month, according to an NPR and Edison Research report earlier this year. Just a little more than half said they wouldn't want to go back to life without a smart speaker. While people are certainly enthusiastic about the new technology, it's not exactly life-changing yet. Today, voice assistants and smart speakers have proven to be popular ways to turn on the radio or dim the lights or get weather information. But to be revolutionary, they will need to find a greater calling -- a new, breakout application.
Smart speakers, like training wheels, are getting people more used to talking to their devices. However, the future of voice probably won't be on speakers at all. The major speaker makers have all added screens to their assistants. Samsung, smartly, is putting its voice assistant Bixby on its TVs, which have the potential to become the smart assistant hub of choice. The key element is the voice assistant, regardless of what device it resides in. Smart assistants will creep into every aspect of our lives and will be available at home and away.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's Tech-for-the-Betterment-of-People department
Weather forecasting is impressively accurate given how changeable and chaotic Earth's climate can be. It's not unusual to get 10-day forecasts with a reasonable level of accuracy. But there is still much to be done. One challenge for meteorologists is to improve their "nowcasting," the ability to forecast weather in the next six hours or so at a spatial resolution of a square kilometer or less.
From a report: In areas where the weather can change rapidly, that is difficult. And there is much at stake. Agricultural activity is increasingly dependent on nowcasting, and the safety of many sporting events depends on it too. Then there is the risk that sudden rainfall could lead to flash flooding, a growing problem in many areas because of climate change and urbanization. That has implications for infrastructure, such as sewage management, and for safety, since this kind of flooding can kill. So meteorologists would dearly love to have a better way to make their nowcasts. Enter Blandine Bianchi from EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, and a few colleagues, who have developed a method for combining meteorological data from several sources to produce nowcasts with improved accuracy.
Their work has the potential to change the utility of this kind of forecasting for everyone from farmers and gardeners to emergency services and sewage engineers. Current forecasting is limited by the data and the scale on which it is gathered and processed. For example, satellite data has a spatial resolution of 50 to 100 km and allows the tracking and forecasting of large cloud cells over a time scale of six to nine hours. By contrast, radar data is updated every five minutes, with a spatial resolution of about a kilometer, and leads to predictions on the time scale of one to three hours. Another source of data is the microwave links used by telecommunications companies, which are degraded by rainfall.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's you-hear-that-mr-anderson department
Reader Iwastheone shares a report: A small rocket from a little-known company lifted off Sunday from the east coast of New Zealand, carrying a clutch of tiny satellites. That modest event -- the first commercial launch by a U.S.-New Zealand company known as Rocket Lab -- could mark the beginning of a new era in the space business, where countless small rockets pop off from spaceports around the world. This miniaturization of rockets and spacecraft places outer space within reach of a broader swath of the economy.
The rocket, called the Electron, is a mere sliver compared to the giant rockets that Elon Musk, of SpaceX, and Jeffrey P. Bezos, of Blue Origin, envisage using to send people into the solar system. It is just 56 feet tall and can carry only 500 pounds into space. But Rocket Lab is aiming for markets closer to home. "We're FedEx," said Peter Beck, the New Zealand-born founder and chief executive of Rocket Lab. "We're a little man that delivers a parcel to your door." Behind Rocket Lab, a host of start-up companies are also jockeying to provide transportation to space for a growing number of small satellites. The payloads include constellations of telecommunications satellites that would provide the world with ubiquitous internet access.
The payload of this mission, which Rocket Lab whimsically named "It's Business Time," offered a glimpse of this future: two ship-tracking satellites for Spire Global; a small climate- and environment-monitoring satellite for GeoOptics; a small probe built by high school students in Irvine, Calif., and a demonstration version of a drag sail that would pull defunct satellites out of orbit.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's things-to-think-about department
Michael Kan, writing for PCMag: NZXT is a popular PC desktop case vendor, but the California-based company recently had to raise its prices. The reason? The new US tariffs on Chinese imports includes PC cases. In September, the Trump administration imposed the 10 percent duty, which also cover motherboards, graphics cards, and CPU coolers from the country. As a result, NZXT had to introduce a 10 percent price increase on PC cases to deal with the added costs, VP Jim Carlton told PCMag in an interview.
And building a PC could get even more expensive in 2019; US tariffs on Chinese-made goods will rise from 10 percent to 25 percent in January. "If I needed to build a system in the next six months, I'd definitely build it before the end of the year," Carlton told us. For PC builders, the tariffs risk adding a few hundred dollars to the total cost of components for a custom desktop. "If it's a $2,000 purchase on 25 percent tariffs, it's going to be a $2,500 purchase," Carlton said. "So we are very concerned with the direction of where this is going. I don't have a 10 percent [profit] margin I can just throw away and absorb the tariffs," he added. "And certainly no one has a margin for 25 percent."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Ed Yong, writing for The Atlantic: For many people, a two-and-a-half-minute video of a baby brown bear trying to scale a snow-covered mountain was a life-affirming testament to the power of persistence. As it begins, the cub is standing with its mother on the side of a perilously steep ridge. The mother begins walking across, and despite slipping a few times on the loose snow, she soon reaches the top. Her cub, following tentatively after her, isn't so fortunate. It loses its footing and slides several feet. It pulls itself together and reattempts the ascent, before slipping again.
Finally, the cub nears the top. But as the footage zooms in to focus on the moment of reunion, the mother inexplicably swipes at the youngster with her paw, sending it hurtling downward again. It slides a long way, scrabbling for purchase and finding some just before it hits a patch of bare rock. Once again, it starts to climb, and after what seems like a nail-biting eternity for anyone watching, it reaches its mother. The two walk away.
The video was uploaded to the ViralHog YouTube channel on Friday, and after being shared on Twitter, it rapidly went viral. At the time of this writing, it has been watched 17 million times. The cub's exploits were equal parts gif, nature documentary, and motivational poster. It had all the elements of an incredible story: the most adorable of protagonists, rising and falling action (literally), and a happy ending. It was a tale of tenacity in the face of adversity, triumph against the odds. But when biologists started watching the video, they saw a very different story.
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By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
In a fireside chat in New Delhi, India, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Monday the "follower count" metric on the social platform is meaningless. Talking in front of a live audience, the Twitter co-founder said it was probably unwise to include and emphasize on the follower count on his social network, a move he said the company did not realize while implementing it back in the day. "Back then, we were not really thinking about all the dynamics that could ensue afterwards," he said.
"One of the things we did was we had people follow each other -- so you can be a follower of someone," Dorsey said, explaining the thinking that went into carving some of the core features of Twitter. The company listed the number of people you had, and "made the font size a little bit bigger than everything else on the page. We did not really think much about it and moved on to the next problem to solve. What that has done is we put all the emphasis, not intending to, on that number of how many people follow me. So if that number is big and bold, what do people want to do with it? They want to make it go up."
"So when you open Twitter and you see that number is five. It is actually incentivizing you to increase that number. That may have been right 12 years ago, but I don't think it is right today. I don't think that's the number you should be focused on. I think what is more important is the number of meaningful conversations you're having on the platform. How many times do you receive a reply?"
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By msmash from Slashdot's everyone-else-gets-it department
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a press freedom event in Paris Sunday that one of the bulwarks protecting democratic governments from being undermined is also an institution under stress -- a free-thinking, robust media. From a report: "If a democracy is to function you need an educated populace, and you need to have an informed populace, ready to make judicious decisions about who to grant power to and when to take it away," Trudeau said. "When citizens cannot have rigorous analysis of the exercise of the power that is in their name and they have granted, the rest of the foundation of our democracies start to erode at the same time as cynicism arises." The press freedom advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders has developed a six-page international declaration on information and democracy to establish basic principles for the "common good of mankind." The organization hosted a small event on the sidelines of the Paris Peace Forum late Sunday afternoon where five presidents and prime ministers, including Trudeau, offered endorsements for this declaration. The Paris Peace Forum, intended to be an annual gathering of political, business and civil society leaders to explore peaceful solutions to the world's problems, was hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron to coincide with this weekend's events marking the centenary of the armistice agreement that ended the First World War.
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By msmash from Slashdot's law-of-the-land department
While the European Union has worked hard to strengthen its copyright laws in recent years, one country in the heart of the continent chooses its own path. Switzerland is not part of the EU, which means that its policies deviate quite a bit from its neighbors. According to Hollywood, that's not helping creators. From a report: Responding to recent submission to the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the MPAA has identified several foreign "trade barriers" around the world. In Hollywood's case, many of these are related to piracy. One of the countries that's highlighted, in rather harsh terms, is Switzerland. According to the MPAA, the country's copyright law is "wholly inadequate" which, among other things, makes it "extremely attractive" to host illegal sites. "Switzerland's copyright law is wholly inadequate, lacking crucial mechanisms needed for enforcement in the digital era," MPAA writes. [...] The European country has plans to update its laws, but the proposed changes are not significant improvements, Hollywood's trade group notes.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Your phone knows where you shop, where you work and where you sleep. Hedge funds are very interested in such data, so they are buying it. From a report: When Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said the car maker would work around the clock to boost production of its Model 3 sedan, the number crunchers at Thasos Group decided to watch. They circled Tesla's 370 acres in Fremont, Calif., on an online map, creating a digital corral to isolate smartphone location signals that emanated from within it. Thasos, which leases databases of trillions of geographic coordinates collected by smartphone apps, set its computers to find the pings created at Tesla's factory, then shared the data with its hedge-fund clients [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], showing the overnight shift swelled 30% from June to October.
Last month, many on Wall Street were surprised when Tesla disclosed a rare quarterly profit, the result of Model 3 production that had nearly doubled in three months. Shares shot up 9.1% the next day. Thasos is at the vanguard of companies trying to help traders get ahead of stock moves like that using so-called alternative data. Such suppliers might examine mine slag heaps from outer space, analyze credit-card spending data or sort through construction permits. Thasos's specialty is spewing out of your smartphone.
Thasos gets data from about 1,000 apps, many of which need to know a phone's location to be effective, like those providing weather forecasts, driving directions or the whereabouts of the nearest ATM. Smartphone users, wittingly or not, share their location when they use such apps. Before Thasos gets the data, suppliers scrub it of personally identifiable information, Mr. Skibiski said. It is just time-stamped strings of longitude and latitude. But with more than 100 million phones providing such coordinates, Thasos says it can paint detailed pictures of the ebb and flow of people, and thus their money.Read Replies (0)
When No One Retires
Posted by News Fetcher on November 11 '18 at 01:10 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's food-for-thought department
More and more Americans want to work longer -- or have to, given that many aren't saving adequately for retirement. From a report: Before our eyes, the world is undergoing a massive demographic transformation. In many countries, the population is getting old. Very old. Globally, the number of people age 60 and over is projected to double to more than 2 billion by 2050 and those 60 and over will outnumber children under the age of 5. In the United States, about 10,000 people turn 65 each day, and one in five Americans will be 65 or older by 2030. By 2035, Americans of retirement age will eclipse the number of people aged 18 and under for the first time in U.S. history.
[...] Soon, the workforce will include people from as many as five generations ranging in age from teenagers to 80-somethings. Are companies prepared? The short answer is "no." Aging will affect every aspect of business operations -- whether it's talent recruitment, the structure of compensation and benefits, the development of products and services, how innovation is unlocked, how offices and factories are designed, and even how work is structured -- but for some reason, the message just hasn't gotten through. In general, corporate leaders have yet to invest the time and resources necessary to fully grasp the unprecedented ways that aging will change the rules of the game.
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By msmash from Slashdot's unravelling-mysteries department
Paradoxically, the abundance of tight interactions among living species usually leads to disasters in ecological models. New analyses hint at how nature seemingly defies the math. Veronique Greenwood, writing for Quantamagazine: Behind the beautiful facade of a rainforest, a savanna or a placid lake is a world teeming with contests and partnerships. Species are competing for space, consuming one another for resources, taking advantage of one another's talents, and brokering trades of nutrients. But there's something funny about this picture. When ecologists try to model ecosystems using math, they tend to find that the more interactions there are among species, the more unstable the system. For a simple ecosystem model to be stable, all the interactions among its species must be in perfect harmony. Maintaining that balancing act gets much harder, however, as the number of coupled species and the strengths of their interactions rise: Any disturbance or imbalance for one couple ripples outward and sows chaos throughout the network.
Bring in mutualisms, relationships in which species contribute directly to each other's survival, and things can really fly off the handle. Pairs of organisms that live off each other sometimes do so well in the mathematical simulations -- thriving exponentially in extreme cases, in what Robert May, the theoretical ecology pioneer, once called "an orgy of mutual benefaction" -- that everything else can go extinct. It seems unlikely that real ecosystems are quite this flimsy. In a new paper in Nature Communications, a pair of theoretical ecologists at the University of Illinois explored more precisely how the give-and-take in mutualism affects ecosystem stability and how, under the right conditions, it might contribute to it. Their result joins previous work in suggesting how real-world communities manage to be more resilient than the models imply.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's greenback-boogie department
An anonymous reader shares a report: The ironic thing about the compressed state of air travel today is that planes are getting larger. The jet I was on, an Airbus A321, stretches nearly 23 feet longer than its predecessor, the A320. More space, more passengers, more profit. These bigger planes are increasingly the most common Âvariants -- both on American Airlines and across all carriers. The current Boeing 737s, the world's most flown craft, are all longer than the original by up to 45 feet. And yet, on the inside, we're getting squeezed. That's because more space doesn't equal more space in Airline World. It equals more seats -- and typically less room per person. In 2017, for example, word leaked that American was planning to add six economy spots to its A320s, nine to its A321s, and 12 (that's two rows) to its Boeing 737-800s. JetBlue is reportedly ramming 12 extras into its A320s, and Delta's will gain 10. And, come 2020, you'll likely find more seats on every United plane. In Airline World, they call this densification, which is a silly word. Passengers call it arrrgh! Consumer Reports recently polled 55,000 of its members about air travel. There were complaints about all aspects, from ticketing to agents checking carry-ons at the gate. But 30 percent of coach-class fliers rated their seats as outright uncomfortable, and every airline received extremely low scores on legroom and cushiness in economy. Clearly, things are dismal and seem to be getting even worse. They're so bad, in fact, that last year, nonprofit consumer-advocacy group FlyersRights.org filed a suit against the Federal Aviation Administration, after lobbying the agency to stop the squeeze and standardize seat sizes.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Smartphone data from riders and drivers schlepping meals for restaurant-to-home courier service Deliveroo shows that bicycles are faster than cars and motorized two-wheelers. From a news writeup, which sources its data from Deliveroo, a UK-headquartered food delivery company with more than 30,000 riders and drivers in 13 countries: That bicyclists are faster in cities will come as no surprise to bicycle advocates who have staged so-called "commuter races" for many years. However, these races -- organized to highlight the swiftness of urban cycling -- are usually staged in locations and at hours skewed towards bicycle riders. The Deliveroo stats are significant because they have been extracted from millions of actual journeys. And it's all thanks to Frank. Frank is the name Deliveroo gives its routing algorithm (the name was chosen for the Danny DeVito character in the TV series "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.") Delivering millions of simultaneous orders from thousands of restaurants to hungry consumers within 30 minutes using roving self-employed couriers equipped with smartphones is a complex vehicle routing problem: consumers want piping hot food; restaurants want meals picked up when cooked; riders -- paid per drop -- want multiple deliveries per hour, and Deliveroo needs to make money. The algorithm team employs data scientists with PhDs in computer vision, computer science, operations research, cognitive neuroscience, econometrics, machine learning, and physics.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
You may be thinking: But sand is everywhere, there are whole deserts filled with the stuff. The sand in a desert, though, is useless as a construction material. The grains are out in the open and blow around for thousands of years. From a report: This rounds them off until they become useless as building blocks. Imagine trying to make a building with golf balls. In order to build, sand with angular edges must be used. The preferential type is the kind found in a river bed, sea, or beach. The fact that desert sand is useless makes for some unexpected situations. Despite being surrounded by endless miles of sand, the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, was built with sand imported from Australia. Dubai also imports sand for its beaches from Australia. Apparently desert sand doesn't do well in a beach atmosphere either. Sand also regenerates slowly. It takes thousands upon thousands of years for rock and sediment to break down into the usable grains we all rely on. The world has seen a construction boom in recent years. The base that boom is built on, quite literally, is concrete. The United Nations estimates that the world consumes more than 40 billion tons of building aggregate -- sand, gravel, and crushed stone -- each year. Some estimates predict consumption will top 50 billion tons by next year, with China alone gobbling up much of the world's concrete supply as it undergoes a massive urbanization. According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, between 2011 and 2013 China used more concrete than the U.S. used throughout the entire 20th century. Other parts of Asia, such as India, are rapidly expanding as well. The urbanization driving this construction boom, and increasing reliance on concrete, shows no signs of slowing. By 2030 the U.N. expects 60 percent of the world's population to live in urban areas. [...] One of the prime issues with sand is that it's heavy. Heavy items incur large transportation costs, especially over a long distance. The scarcity and high prices attract the attention of criminals. Why go to a legal mining area when sand can be extracted for next to nothing elsewhere? "Sand mafias" are groups of criminals that illegally dredge sand from areas where extraction is prohibited. Since they're not following laws, all environmental protocols are ignored. Often rivers are illegally mined, destroying the habitat for fish and fishermen. Sometimes land from private villages is even taken over by these mafias. If they're confronted, violence often results. And according to a 2015 Wired story on sand mafias in India, police are typically of little help: "The conventional wisdom says that many local authorities accept bribes from the sand miners to stay out of their business -- and not infrequently, are involved in the business themselves."Read Replies (0)