By msmash from Slashdot's this-week-in-history department
With 95% of Americans owning a cellphone, it can feel like we've been calling, texting, and tweeting on the go forever. But the infrastructure supporting our cellphones has actually not been around that long. From a report: While we're now on 4G networks, it was only 35 years ago this week that Ameritech (now part of AT&T) launched 1G, or the first commercial cell phone network. That network, called the Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS), went online on October 13, 1983, allowing people in the Chicago area to make and receive mobile calls for the first time. Ameritech president Bob Barnett, who made the first call, decided to make the historic moment count by ringing Alexander Graham Bell's grandson. A little more than a year later, UK's Vodafone hosted its first commercial call on New Year's Day. Israel's Pelephone followed suit in 1986, followed by Australia in 1987. Cellphone technology had been around for quite a while before that. AMPS was in development for around 15 years, and engineers made the first mobile call on a prototype network a decade before the first commercial network call. It took that long to troubleshoot the various hardware, software, and radio frequency issues associated with setting up a fully functional commercial network.Read Replies (0)
The Magic Leap Con
Posted by News Fetcher on October 14 '18 at 11:33 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's topsy-turvy-world department
Reader merbs shares a report about Magic Leap, a US-based startup valued at north of $6 billion and which counts Google, Alibaba, Warner Bros, AT&T, and several top Silicon Valley venture capital firms as its investors. The company, which held its first developer conference this week, announced that it is making its $2,295 AR headset available in more states in the United States. Journalist Brian Merchant attended the conference and shares the other part of the story. From a story: After spending two days at LEAPcon, I feel it is my duty -- in the name of instilling a modicum of sanity into an age where a company that has never actually sold a product to a consumer can be worth a billion dollars more than the entire GDP of Fiji -- to inform you that it is not. Magic Leap clearly wants its public launch to appear huge -- who wouldn't? In decidedly Magic Leapian fashion, the company covered an entire side of LA Mart, the 12-story building in downtown Los Angeles where the conference was to be held, with a psychedelic image of an astronaut and the tagline 'Free Your Mind'. In similarly Leapian fashion, the actual demos and keynote took place in the basement, where a wrong turn could land you in shipping and receiving and cell reception was nil. [...] You know that weird sensation when it feels like everyone around you is participating in some mild mass hallucination, and you missed the dosing? The old 'what am I possibly missing here' phenomenon? That's how I felt at LEAP a lot of the time, amidst crowds of people dropping buzzwords and acronym soup at light speed, and then again while I was reading reviews of the device afterwards -- somehow, despite years of failing to deliver anything of substance, lots of the press is still in Leap's thrall. Demo after demo, I felt like, sure, that was kind of neat. The games were charming, if often glitchy and simplistic, and yes, it might be helpful for architects to be able to blow up and walk around their designs. I liked the developers, who were smart and funny. Some of the graphics and interactions were very nicely rendered. But there wasn't anything -- besides a single demo, which I'll get to in a second -- that I'd feel compelled to ever do again. It felt genuinely crazy to me that people could get too excited about this, especially after years of decent VR and the Hololens, without having a distinct monetary incentive to do so. As many have noted, the hardware is still extremely limiting. The technology underpinning these experiences seems genuinely advanced, and if it were not for a multi-year blitzkrieg marketing campaign insisting a reality where pixels blend seamlessly with IRL physics was imminent, it might have felt truly impressive. (Whether or not it's advanced enough to eventually give rise to Leap's prior promises is an entirely open question at this point.) For now, the field of vision is fairly small and unwieldy, so images are constantly vanishing from view as you look around. If you get too close to them, objects will get chopped up or move awkwardly. And if you do get a good view, some objects appear low res and transparent; some looked like cheap holograms from an old sci-fi film. Text was bleary and often doubled up in layers that made it hard to read, and white screens looked harsh -- I loaded Google on the Helio browser and immediately had to shut my eyes. Further reading: Magic Leap is Pushing To Land a Contract With US Army To Build AR Devices For Soldiers To Use On Combat Missions, Documents Reveal.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's moral-dilemma department
An anonymous reader shares a report: Somewhere in the United States, someone is getting into an Uber en route to a WeWork co-working space. Their dog is with a walker whom they hired through the app Wag. They will eat a lunch delivered by DoorDash, while participating in several chat conversations on Slack. And, for all of it, they have an unlikely benefactor to thank: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Long before the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi vanished, the kingdom has sought influence in the West -- perhaps intended, in part, to make us forget what it is. A medieval theocracy that still beheads by sword, doubling as a modern nation with malls (including a planned mall offering indoor skiing), Saudi Arabia has been called "an ISIS that made it." Remarkably, the country has avoided pariah status in the United States thanks to our thirst for oil, Riyadh's carefully cultivated ties with Washington, its big arms purchases, and the two countries' shared interest in counterterrorism. But lately the Saudis have been growing their circle of American enablers, pouring billions into Silicon Valley technology companies. While an earlier generation of Saudi leaders, like Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, invested billions of dollars in blue-chip companies in the United States, the kingdom's new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has shifted Saudi Arabia's investment attention from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund has become one of Silicon Valley's biggest swinging checkbooks, working mostly through a $100 billion fund raised by SoftBank (a Japanese company), which has swashbuckled its way through the technology industry, often taking multibillion-dollar stakes in promising companies. The Public Investment Fund put $45 billion into SoftBank's first Vision Fund, and Bloomberg recently reported that the Saudi fund would invest another $45 billion into SoftBank's second Vision Fund. SoftBank, with the help of that Saudi money, is now said to be the largest shareholder in Uber. It has also put significant money into a long list of start-ups that includes Wag, DoorDash, WeWork, Plenty, Cruise, Katerra, Nvidia and Slack. As the world fills up car tanks with gas and climate change worsens, Saudi Arabia reaps enormous profits -- and some of that money shows up in the bank accounts of fast-growing companies that love to talk about "making the world a better place."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
A new study in Frontiers in Psychology examined why people struggle so much to solve statistical problems, particularly why we show a marked preference for complicated solutions over simpler, more intuitive ones. Chalk it up to our resistance to change. From a report: The study concluded that fixed mindsets are to blame: we tend to stick with the familiar methods we learned in school, blinding us to the existence of a simpler solution. Roughly 96 percent of the general population struggles with solving problems relating to statistics and probability. Yet being a well-informed citizen in the 21st century requires us to be able to engage competently with these kinds of tasks, even if we don't encounter them in a professional setting. "As soon as you pick up a newspaper, you're confronted with so many numbers and statistics that you need to interpret correctly," says co-author Patrick Weber, a graduate student in math education at the University of Regensburg in Germany. Most of us fall far short of the mark. Part of the problem is the counterintuitive way in which such problems are typically presented. Meadows presented his evidence in the so-called "natural frequency format" (for example, 1 in 10 people), rather than in terms of a percentage (10 percent of the population). That was a smart decision, since 1-in-10 a more intuitive, jury-friendly approach. Recent studies have shown that performance rates on many statistical tasks increased from four percent to 24 percent when the problems were presented using the natural frequency format.Read Replies (0)
By FirehoseFavorites from Slashdot's stable-releases department
Long-time Slashdot reader pikester has a friend running a museum "looking to make it more interactive for visitors."
To make this happen, the museum is going to need to have good WiFi connectivity throughout the premises. The good news is that the museum is pretty small. The bad news is that it is located in an old horse barn with many metal walls. I'm hoping to put in a mesh network for him, but most solutions I've seen are pretty bulky. I'm looking for recommendations for a solution that is easily mountable in the building.
Long-time Slashdot reader Spazmania suggests it's "not terribly complicated." After setting access points to same SSID but different channels (and with the transmit power down), "walk around with a piece of free software such as Wifi Analyzer and tweak the positions and transmit power on the access points until the signal levels look good in wifi analyzer." But are there other solutions? Leave your own best answers in the comments.
Can you install a wifi mesh network in a barn?Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's animal-tracking-planet department
An anonymous reader quotes New York magazine:
Salmon are just the latest entry in a growing cornucopia of animal faces loaded into databases. For some animals, the biometric data gathered from them is being used to aid in conservation efforts. For others, the resulting AI could help ward off poachers. While partly creepy and partly very cute, monitoring of these animals can both help protect their populations and ensure safe, traceable livestock for developing communities...
U.K. researchers are using online resources like Flickr and Instagram to help build and strengthen a database that will eventually help track global tiger populations in real time. Once collected, the photos are analyzed by everyday people in a free app called Wildsense... The mighty lion is being surveilled too. Conservationists and wildlife teachers are using facial recognition to keep tabs on a database of over 1,000 lions... Wildlife experts are tracking elephants to protect them from encroaching poachers. Using Google's Cloud AutoML Vision machine learning software, the technology will uniquely identify elephants in the wild. According to the Evening Standard, the tech will even send out an alert if it detects poachers in the same frame.
The story of whale facial tracking is one of crowdsourcing success. After struggling to distinguish specific whales from one another on his own, marine biologist Christian Khan uploaded the photos to data-competition site Kaggle and, within four months, data-science company Deepsense was able to accurately detect individual whale faces with 87% accuracy. Since then, detection rates have steadily improved and are helping conservationists track and monitor the struggling aquatic giant.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's type-righter department
MIT Technology Review recently discussed new attempts to replace the standard 'QWERY' keyboard layout, including Tap, "a one-handed gadget that fits over your fingers like rubbery brass knuckles and connects wirelessly to your smartphone."
It's supposed to free you from clunky physical keyboards and act as a go-anywhere typing interface. A promotional video shows smiling people wearing Tap and typing with one hand on a leg, on an arm, and even (perhaps jokingly) on some guy's forehead... But when I tried it, the reality of using Tap was neither fun nor funny. Unlike a conventional QWERTY keyboard, Tap required me to think a lot, because I had to tap my fingers in not-very-intuitive combinations to create letters: an A is your thumb, a B is your index finger and pinky, a C is all your fingers except the index.
The article also acknowledges the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard layout and other alternatives like the one-handed Twiddler keyboard, but argues that "neither managed to dent QWERTY's dominance."
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's pessimistic-predictions department
"Dire as it is, the latest IPCC report is actually too optimistic," writes Slashdot reader Dan Drollette. "It ignores the risk of self-reinforcing climate feedbacks pushing the planet into chaos beyond human control. So says a team of climate experts, including the winner of the 1995 Nobel for his work on depletion of the ozone layer." From their article:
These cascading feedbacks include the loss of the Arctic's sea ice, which could disappear entirely in summer in the next 15 years. The ice serves as a shield, reflecting heat back into the atmosphere, but is increasingly being melted into water that absorbs heat instead. Losing the ice would tremendously increase the Arctic's warming, which is already at least twice the global average rate. This, in turn, would accelerate the collapse of permafrost, releasing its ancient stores of methane, a super climate pollutant 30 times more potent in causing warming than carbon dioxide.
By largely ignoring such feedbacks, the IPCC report fails to adequately warn leaders about the cluster of six similar climate tipping points that could be crossed between today's temperature and an increase to 1.5 degrees -- let alone nearly another dozen tipping points between 1.5 and 2 degrees. These wildcards could very likely push the climate system beyond human ability to control. As the UN Secretary General reminded world leaders last month, "We face an existential threat. Climate change is moving faster than we are.â¦ If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences."
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's consumer-conundrums department
Douglas Rushkoff, long-time open source advocate (and currently a professor of Digital Economics at the City University of New York, Queens College), is calling Universal Basic Incomes "no gift to the masses, but a tool for our further enslavement."
Uber's business plan, like that of so many other digital unicorns, is based on extracting all the value from the markets it enters. This ultimately means squeezing employees, customers, and suppliers alike in the name of continued growth. When people eventually become too poor to continue working as drivers or paying for rides, UBI supplies the required cash infusion for the business to keep operating. When it's looked at the way a software developer would, it's clear that UBI is really little more than a patch to a program that's fundamentally flawed. The real purpose of digital capitalism is to extract value from the economy and deliver it to those at the top. If consumers find a way to retain some of that value for themselves, the thinking goes, you're doing something wrong or "leaving money on the table."
Walmart perfected the softer version of this model in the 20th century. Move into a town, undercut the local merchants by selling items below cost, and put everyone else out of business. Then, as sole retailer and sole employer, set the prices and wages you want. So what if your workers have to go on welfare and food stamps. Now, digital companies are accomplishing the same thing, only faster and more completely.... Soon, consumers simply can't consume enough to keep the revenues flowing in. Even the prospect of stockpiling everyone's data, like Facebook or Google do, begins to lose its allure if none of the people behind the data have any money to spend. To the rescue comes UBI.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's I'll-be-seeing-you department
An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times:
On the same day Facebook announced that it had carried out its biggest purge yet of American accounts peddling disinformation, the company quietly made another revelation: It had removed 66 accounts, pages and apps linked to Russian firms that build facial recognition software for the Russian government. Facebook said Thursday that it had removed any accounts associated with SocialDataHub and its sister firm, Fubutech, because the companies violated its policies by scraping data from the social network. "Facebook has reason to believe your work for the government has included matching photos from individuals' personal social media accounts in order to identify them," the company said in a cease-and-desist letter to SocialDataHub that was dated Tuesday and viewed by The New York Times...
As Facebook is taking a closer look at its own products amid increasing scrutiny and public outcry, it is increasingly finding examples of companies that have been exploiting its global social network for questionable ends.... Artur Khachuyan, the 26-year-old chief executive of SocialDataHub and Fubutech, said in an interview Friday that Fubutech scraped data from the web, particularly Google search and the Russian search engine Yandex, to build a database of Russian citizens and their images that the government can use for facial recognition. "We don't know exactly what they do with it," he said.... At one point in a 30-minute phone interview, he said the Russian Defense Ministry was a client but later said he could not name Fubutech's government clients.
The two Russian companies have been around for over four years, "relying in part on Facebook data," the Times reports.
"At the top of the SocialDataHub's website, there is a single line: 'We know everything about everybody.'"Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's symbolic-sculptures department
There's now a giant, inflatable rat covered in crypto code across from the Federal Reserve. An anonymous reader quotes Fortune:
The bitcoin rat, first noted on Reddit, was created by Nelson Saiers, an artist and former hedge fund manager, according to Coindesk. The art installation, which appeared earlier this week and is temporary, is intended as much as a tribute to bitcoin's creator Satoshi Nakamoto as much as it is a condemnation of the Fed and critics of cryptocurrencies. "The sculpture's supposed to kind of reflect the spirit of Satoshi and what he's trying to do," Saiers told Coindesk, who noted the rat image was inspired in part by another titan of traditional finance. "Warren Buffett called bitcoin 'rat poison squared' but if the Fed's a rat, then maybe rat poison is a good thing," he said... "This is a very iconic image for protest," Saiers told blockchain news site Breaker. "Somewhere in the heart of bitcoin is a bit of protest of big bank bailouts."
That idea appeared to be lost on some Redditors, who claimed they spotted the bitcoin rat in the wilds of Wall Street but didn't immediately see its significance. "I walked past it today," one wrote. "Had no idea it was about Bitcoin." "It's cool, but people walking by won't understand it," said another. "I don't even understand it. Needs a BTC logo or something."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's final-quest department
"The first published RPG was Dungeons & Dragons, shortly followed by some other imitative games," Greg Stafford once said. "Chaosium, however, was never content to imitate but published games that were original in style of play, content and design."
Greg Stafford died Thursday at the age of 71. Long-time Slashdot reader argStyopa shares this memorial from Chaosium's Michael O'Brien.
As one of the greatest game designers of all time; winner of too many awards to count; and a friend, mentor, guide, and inspiration to generations of gamers, "the Grand Shaman of Gaming" influenced the universe of tabletop gaming beyond measure. Greg founded The Chaosium in 1975... Under his leadership, the company quickly became renowned for its originality and creativity, and was responsible for introducing numerous things to the hobby that are standards today. As John Wick (7th Sea, Legend of the Five Rings) memorably said, "The older I get, the more I hear young RPG designers say 'Never been done before!' And then I just point at something Greg Stafford did a few decades ago."
Greg's work in roleplaying games, board games, and fiction have been acclaimed as some of the most engaging and innovative of all time. There will doubtless be many valedictory messages over the coming days from the countless people that Greg inspired and enthused across his many interests and passions -- Glorantha, Oaxaca, King Arthur, shamanism, mythology and more. For now, we leave you with the words of the Myth maker himself, speaking at the 2018 ENnies Awards ceremony, his last public engagement
"When I started Chaosium in 1975... we never imagined, truly, that it would reach the magnitude that it has today," Stafford tells the audience. "It went through a long period of being some strange thing that just random geeks did... I figure when role-playing games get on The X-Files and The Simpsons, we've made it..."
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's scratching-the-Surface department
An anonymous reader quotes Ars Technica:
Microsoft was the fifth-biggest PC maker in the U.S. in the third quarter of this year, according to industry advisory firm Gartner. The top spot in the U.S. belongs to HP, with about 4.5 million machines sold, ahead of Dell at 3.8 million, Lenovo at 2.3 million, and Apple at 2 million. The gap between fourth and fifth is pretty big -- Microsoft sold only 0.6 million Surface devices last quarter -- but it suggests that Microsoft's PC division is heading in the right direction, with sales 1.9 percent higher than the same quarter last year. The company pushed down to sixth place was Acer. The current quarter should be better still; the Surface Pro, Surface Laptop, and Surface Studio have all been given hardware refreshes which, when combined with the always-busy holiday season, should stimulate higher sales. Globally, both Gartner and IDC reported a flat PC market (up 0.1 percent in Gartner's view, down 0.9 percent in IDC's), after the previous quarter's modest growth.
"The PC market continued to be driven by steady corporate PC demand, which was driven by Windows 10 PC hardware upgrades," said one Gartner analyst.
In defining what constitutes a PC, Gartner includes notebooks and "premium" ultramobile devices -- but does not include iPads or Chromebooks.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's pondering-pandemics department
An anonymous reader quotes ScienceAlert: Earlier this year, scientists published a paper describing how they pieced together segments of DNA in order to bring back a previously eradicated virus called horsepox. The paper, written by two University of Alberta researchers and the co-founder of a New York pharmaceutical company, was controversial because, as various experts told the magazine Science, someone could use a very similar process to bring back a related virus: smallpox. Smallpox, you'll recall,
killed hundreds of millions
of people before the World Health Organization declared it eradicated in 1980. That was the result of a long vaccination campaign — so the idea of piecing the virus back together from bits of DNA raises the specter of a horrifying pandemic.
Two journals rejected the paper before PLOS One, an open access peer-reviewed journal, published it. Critics argue that the paper not only demonstrates that you can synthesize a deadly pathogen for what Science reported was about US$100,000 in lab expenses, but even provides a slightly-too-detailed-for-comfort overview of how to do it. Some of the horsepox scientists' coworkers are still pretty upset about this. PLOS One's sister Journal, PLOS Pathogens, just published three
pieces about the whole flap, as well as a rebuttal by the Canadian professors. Overall, everyone's pretty polite. But you get the sense that microbiologists are really, really worried about someone reviving smallpox. MIT biochemist Kevin Esvelt, for instance, wrote on Thursday that the threat is so grim that we shouldn't even talk about it.Read Replies (0)