Category: Geek

The FCC loses a half-million online comments on their crap net neutrality proposal

The FCC somehow publicly lost public comments on a petition they were mandated to create. It might not matter, anyway. Telecoms are outlobbying net neutrality advocates 3:1. That’s all that matters in all of American government. But due to one provision, the FCC was at least forced to talk about it.

In April, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed a new rule that would allow for corporations to discriminate against certain kinds of speech on the web. By rule, the commission put the proposal up for public comment.

Yesterday, the FCC’s website somehow lost public access to signatures and public comments for a petition to stop it.

Today, the commission said it was vowing to give those people a chance to file again.

…The spokeswoman also politely asked everyone to “please be assured that the commission … is committed to making sure that everyone trying to submit comments will have their views entered into the record.”

The record — if they can keep the website up and running — will show that almost all of the comments are against the new rules, which shouldn’t be a surprise. As former FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell pointed out today, consumers stand to gain nothing by having increased FCC oversight of the internet.

On the other end of the influence game, telecoms lobbying for the new rules are outspending their opponents 3 to 1. So you know they stand to gain something.

So, the FCC gets to take sides. Who do you think they will side with? Corporations and their paid lobbyists? That is the official lobbyists in addition to the political hacks who build their careers on donations from special business interests.

Or will they come down on the side of you and me?

Don’t hold your breath too long.

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Japanese androids bring us closer to Blade Runner

A future in which it is difficult to tell man and machine apart could soon become reality, scientists say, after recent robotic breakthroughs in Japan.

But as the once-fantastical idea of wise-cracking android sidekicks takes form in laboratories — and the gap between humans and robots narrows — society faces ethical and legal complications as yet undreamed of, they warn…

Robots already perform a wide variety of tasks in Japan: they cook noodles, help patients undergo physiotherapy and have been used in the clean-up after the 2011 nuclear meltdown at Fukushima.

South Korea deploys jellyfish-terminating robots, while a robot with artificial intelligence able to analyse market trends has become a company director in Hong Kong.

One day, predict future-gazers, robots will perform all kinds of household chores, monitor the sick, and even serve up cappuccinos…

But will they look like us..?

“More important is robots and androids as a mirror to reflect humanity. Once we become friends, the boundary between human and robot disappears,” added Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University.

The blurring of that line has long been a source of worry for humanity, as often depicted in popular culture…

Ishiguro foresees that just as younger people today are attached to their mobile phones — in reality powerful computers that mediate much of their lives — androids will one day become an indivisible part of our landscape.

“Everyone is going to have an android,” he predicted. “Handicapped people need another body. We are going to have more choices.”

In my geek news junkie experience, most people sitting around moralizing about robots, worrying about the effects of their mirror to humanity, don’t know squat about machines, robots, computers – and probably human beings outside of their classrooms and psychologizing seminars.

Go back and read Isaac Asimov, read Ray Kurzweil, quit worrying about what you think Freud thought about Golems. Real life experience will sort things out.

Steve Terrell gets his first robocall of the 2014 political season


It’s Starting …

Posted on Jul 8, 2014 by Steve Terrell at his blog at the Santa Fe NEW MEXICAN

I checked my personal email a few minutes ago and noticed I’d received a call on my home phone. Here’s what it looked like (transcript courtesy of the robots at Comcast, copied and pasted exactly as it appeared, question marks and all):

“Hi this is Gary I’m very sorry I missed you. I’m a volunteer and I was just calling to let you know about Doctor Mike street(?) he wants to stand up for New Mexico in the US House of Representatives. my(?) … with-the-mexico(?) for fifty five years now and he he understands our state and our district extremely well next week with the scientist engineer physicist-instead(?) the mathematician with the PhD in applied mathematics from MIT. He’s also Maggie here and both his(?) bachelors and Masters from the Mexico State University. Doctor Mike Reed wants to be your representative in Washington but in the meantime he is working to make Mexico a better place with his-own(?) small business. My free there’s-been(?) a contractor and the sub contractor(?) supporting our Air Force national ads for the past twenty five years. Well. Thank you very much for your time and for considering Doctor Mike from-with-your(?) thoughts about the one(?) … bye have a great day.”

Steve Terrell is one of the best political reporters in any local/state/regional scene around the nation. Major newspapers agree with me – say no more. They read his writing to find out what’s going on in New Mexico. So do I – and enjoy an extra chuckle in the process.

I’m not certain which is least competent – whoever drafted this political robocall or the Comcast robots transcribing and emailing the contents to Steve. But, it makes for enjoyable reading albeit mostly incomprehensible.

Robotic bird looks like the real thing in flight

Nowadays, we take flight for granted. But, of course, we can never built something that flies like a bird. Or can we? If there’s one “talent” humanity has in abundance, it’s perseverance and it seems somebody has cracked it.

Two years ago, Hiroaki Hashimoto from Japan build a machine that can flap, glide and turn like a bird. It’s so good, in fact, that during one of its test flights, the robot attracted the attention of some eagles who wanted to hunt and kill it. The machine looks somewhat like an oversized pidgin and weighs in at 166 grams… With a wingspan of 1,430 mm – about 56 inches – it’s never going to be part of the flock, but the bird-like movements are incredibly life-like…

A company called Festo Robots built a complicated seagull-like machine a few years ago, but it had a huge budget. This is what a man built in his garage and for that, we tip our hat to mister Hiroaki Hashimoto.

The concepts behind ornithopters is as old as Leonardo DaVinci. Balsa-wood toy versions have been around – and occasionally popular – for decades. Trying to produce anything capable of flying longer than a rubber band wind-up toy never got very far because of the weight restrictions of strictly mechanical devices.

Solid state and computerized controls resolve pretty much all those problems. It just takes an inventive and curious mind to revisit old questions and solutions.

Thanks, Honeyman

Strength of materials advanced – Audi introduces fiberglass springs


GFRP spring on the left, conventional steel on the right

The quest for ever-greater fuel efficiency is driving auto manufacturers to extreme lengths to reduce the weight of their vehicles. Aluminum, carbon fiber and fiberglass are all being used to help meet stringent emissions standards. In its search for “enlightenment,” Audi has announced it will introduce glass fiber-reinforced polymer (GFRP) springs in its vehicles before the end of the year.

The core of the spring is made up of fiberglass strands, impregnated with epoxy resin and twisted together. Audi then uses a machine to wrap additional strands of fiberglass around the core and cures the unit in an oven. The strands are wrapped across each other at a 45-degree angle, to allow the load to be equally distributed across the whole spring.

So what benefits do the GFRP springs hold over steel? To start with, they don’t corrode, even after damage by stone chips, and they’re not impacted by wheel washing chemicals. In areas with snowy, salted roads, there are huge potential benefits to ditching steel for fiberglass.

Another key advantage over traditional steel springs is weight. In an upper mid-size car, Audi claims each individual spring weighs almost 6 lbs, whereas its GFRP units weigh just 3.5 lb. This adds up to a saving of around 40 percent.

One of the essential parameters in automotive design is the ratio of sprung to unsprung weight. Reducing vehicle weight, the weight of those portions of the suspension in motion – is part of that whole equation.

In combination with metallurgical advances like the lighter high-strength steel employed by Mazda and the tough, strong aluminum projected to reduce the weight of Ford’s 2015 F-150 pickup truck – we’re about to experience a dramatic change in weight-savings in production motor vehicles.

Facebook experiments with lab rats user base.

legit lab rat

Unbeknownst to the world, Facebook data scientists, in collaboration with Cornell University and the University of California, ran an experiment in 2012 to test how emotions can be transmitted through social media. They did this by manipulating the newsfeed of 689,003 English-speaking Facebook users, so it would show low numbers of positive or negative posts, and observed how this influenced their posts.

The results of the study were published late last week and have since gone viral. They concluded that emotional states could be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.

Reaction was negative and swift, with people predictably angry to find out Facebook had tweaked user feeds without permission. Critics questioned the ethics of the study; the researchers were criticised for not seeking consent; and the social networking giant was deemed creepy by angry users.

Adam Kramer, a Facebook employee and one of the authors of the study, apologised for the emotional contagion, saying, in hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all the anxiety caused…

Facebook may have been concerned about users’ exposure to negativity, but it is unlikely it thought about how users would feel after discovering they were lab rats for the social network.

Either way, the study once again highlights Facebook’s unclear boundaries with its membership.

That’s putting it pleasantly.

Poisonally – unlike Google which tried at first to maintain a facade of caring for consumers and customers as associates in a journey through the InterWebitubes – I feel Facebook has always seemed to be peering down its patrician nose at us common folk.

Now, they’re neck-and-neck spewing disingenuous bullshit about caring for anything more than their balance sheet.

Thanks, Mike

The brave new world of three-parent IVF

In August 1996, at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., a 39-year-old mechanical engineer from Pittsburgh named Maureen Ott became pregnant. Ott had been trying for almost seven years to conceive a child through in vitro fertilization. Unwilling to give up, she submitted to an experimental procedure in which doctors extracted her eggs, slid a needle through their shiny coat and injected not only her husband’s sperm but also a small amount of cytoplasm from another woman’s egg. When the embryo was implanted in Ott’s womb, she became the first woman on record to be successfully impregnated using this procedure, which some say is the root of an exciting medical advance and others say is the beginning of the end of the human species.

The fresh cytoplasm that entered Ott’s eggs (researchers thought it might help promote proper fertilization and development) contained mitochondria: bean-shaped organelles that power our cells like batteries. But mitochondria also contain their own DNA, which meant that her child could possess the genetic material of three people. In fact, the 37 genes in mitochondrial DNA pass directly from a woman’s egg into every cell of her offspring, including his or her germ cells, the sperm or eggs that eventually produce the next generation — so if Ott had a girl and the donor mitochondria injected into Ott’s egg made it into the eggs of her daughter, they could be passed along to her children. This is known as crossing the germ line…In May 1997, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl…

Two months later, her doctors published her case in the journal Lancet; soon, at least seven other U.S. clinics were doing the injection. Because the amount of donor mitochondria added to Ott’s egg was small, it was unclear how much third-party DNA would be present in the cells of her daughter. Ott says her doctors ran tests and did not find any, but it has been found in two other children born from the procedure. Although IVF drugs and devices are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, IVF procedures (like all medical procedures) are generally not. But what media outlets came to call “three-parent babies” compelled the agency to take action. In 2001, the FDA informed IVF clinics that using a third person’s cytoplasm — and the mtDNA therein — would require an Investigational New Drug application…

Now, more than a decade later, two research groups in the United States and one in Britain each believes it has nearly enough data to begin clinical trials for a new technique based on the transfer of mitochondria — only in this case, researchers want to pair the nuclear DNA of one egg with all the mitochondria of another. Their aim is not to cure infertility. Rather, they hope to prevent a variety of devastating diseases caused by mutations in mtDNA. The new technique, which they call mitochondrial-replacement therapy, is far more advanced than the cytoplasm injection — and the researchers have studied the procedure’s impact on animals and human cells up to a pivotal point: They have created what appear to be viable three-parent embryos. They have yet to implant one in a woman, though…

Is our fear of crossing the germ line causing us to block a technology that could improve people’s lives, and if so, is the fear itself a thing we should also be afraid of?

RTFA. I’ve barely introduced the topic. You can presume my personal opinion would not be acceptable to any flavor of the FDA. Crass politics aside – unlikely in the USA – science moves ahead in tiny conservative steps. Bodies like the FDA are more conservative than that.

I think consenting adults have the right and freedom to participate in an unlimited range of experiments excepting those designed to destroy humans, individually and as a species. Our government and military already have that market cornered, anyway.

Like I said. RTFA. Think about what you think.

An algae that switches its internal quantum computer on and off

Scientists have shown that certain algae which use quantum effects to optimize photosynthesis are also capable of switching it off. It’s a discovery that could lead to highly efficient organic solar cells and quantum-based electronics.

Like quantum computers, some organisms are capable of scanning all possible options in order to choose the most efficient path or solution. For plants and some photosynthetic algae, this means the ability to make the most of the energy they receive and then deliver that energy from leaves with near perfect efficiency. This effect, called quantum decoherence, is what allows some algae to survive in very low levels of light.

Recently, scientists from the UNSW School of Physics studied one of these algae, a tiny single-celled organism called cryptophytes. They typically live at the bottom of pools of water, or under thick ice, where light is scarce. The researchers found that there’s a class of cryptophytes in which quantum decoherence is switched off, and it’s on account of a single genetic mutation that alters the shape of a light-harvesting protein.

In quantum mechanics, a system is coherent when all quantum waves are in step with each other. When it’s coherent, it can exist in many different states simultaneously, an effect known as superposition.

The researchers used x-ray crystallography to determine the crystal structure of the light-harvesting complexes from three different species. Two cryptophyte species had a mutation that led to the insertion of an extra amino acid that changes the structure of the protein complex, which disrupts decoherence.

The next step for the scientists will be to determine whether the switching effect is assisting the algae’s survival. What’s more, further understanding of this phenomenon could eventually lead to technological advances, such as better organic solar cells and quantum-based electronic devices.

I’m beginning to worry that quantum mechanics is starting to rub off on my little gray cells. This is making sense to me – and it only took five or six decades.

Thanks, Mike