Tech Today w/ Ken May

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Add / Remove We have seen numerous ventures — such as #Tweetstay — promising to secure holidaymakers a better deal on hotels by bartering on the customer’s behalf. Now DreamCheaper has automated the process. The German start-up helps customers to make the best of hotels’ fluctuating room prices, by canceling and rebooking their room anytime it spots it at a better price. To begin, customers make a hotel booking as normal — choosing the commonly available ‘flexible booking’ option. They then create an account on DreamCheaper and forward their confirmation email to the start-up, which begins a process of price-comparison that continues right up until the day before check-in. Most hotels offer widely changing room prices depending on supply and demand and deals from booking aggregators, so the startup’s automated system monitors the hotel’s changing prices and cancels and rebooks the customer’s room at a cheaper price. DreamCheaper can boast saving customers an average of EUR 65 — or 15 percent — per booking. It takes a 20 percent cut of any money saved so it is always incentivized to get the best price. Could a similar service be offered in other industries where prices often fluctuate? Website: Contact:

NASA announces details of its asteroid redirection mission

Posted by kenmay on March - 26 - 2015

Today, NASA held a press conference in which it described the latest developments in its plan to return an asteroid to an orbit close enough to Earth that it could easily be studied by a manned mission. Gone is the idea of returning an entire asteroid. In its place, a robotic probe will pluck a boulder from the surface of an asteroid and return that, testing our ability to redirect similar rocks if they threaten Earth. In fact, the entire mission is generally focused on technology development. Once the asteroid is placed in a cis-lunar orbit (orbiting Earth and closer than the Moon), it will be visited by a crewed Orion capsule that will allow detailed study and a return of samples to Earth. But the focus of this mission will be testing technology that will allow extended manned missions in space. The current timeline involves further studies of potential targets for extracting a boulder in the years leading up to 2019. Right now, three asteroids are on the menu: Itokawa (which was visited by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa), Bennu (which is planned for a sample return mission called OSIRIS-REx), and 2008 EV5. In each case, the orbit and composition are well-known, making them relatively low risk. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

An anonymous reader points out this daunting construction plan in Japan. “Japanese authorities have unveiled plans to build a giant 250-mile long sea barrier to protect its coastline from devastating tsunamis. According to the proposals, the £4.6bn ($6.8bn) barrier would reach 12.5m high in some places – stretching taller than a four storey building. It would be made out of cement – and actually be composed of a chain of smaller sea walls to make construction easier. The plan comes four years after a huge tsunami ravaged Japan’s north-eastern coast.” Read more of this story at Slashdot.

An anonymous reader writes There’s great news coming out of Russia for epic road trip lovers. Russian Railways president Vladimir Yakunin has proposed building a highway that would reach from London to Alaska via Russia, a 13, 000-mile stretch of road. “This is an inter-state, inter-civilization, project, ” the Siberian Times quoted Yakunin. “The project should be turned into a world ‘future zone, ‘ and it must be based on leading, not catching, technologies.” Read more of this story at Slashdot.

GNOME 3.16 Released

Posted by kenmay on March - 26 - 2015

kthreadd writes Version 3.16 of GNOME, the primary desktop environment for GNU/Linux operating systems has been released. Some major new features in this release include a overhauled notification system, an updated design of the calendar drop down and support for overlay scrollbars. Also, the grid view in Files has been improved with bigger thumbnail icons, making the appearance more attractive and the rows easier to read. A video is available which demonstrates the new version. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

As amazing as Half-Life 2 was when it was first released in 2004, time has not been kind to the original release’s graphics, which can look a bit flat and dated compared to modern PC games. Enter Romanian modder Filip Victor , who’s ready to release the final version of a massive, Source engine-powered graphical update for the game on Steam for free tomorrow. As shown in a slick comparison trailer  and detailed in a PDF brochure , Half-Life 2: Update offers graphical improvements like high dynamic range lighting, improved fog and particle effects, world reflections, more detailed water rendering, improved background models, and other effects that just weren’t feasible back in 2004. The update also fixes a number of animation and cut-scene-activation bugs that have persisted in the original release and adds optional fan commentary from a number of high-profile YouTube personalities. Despite all the graphical changes, the update leaves the original gameplay, level design, character models, textures, and animations intact. “The goal of Half-Life 2: Update is to fix up, polish, and visually enhance Half-Life 2 , without ever changing the 2004 original’s core gameplay, or time-tested style,” Victor wrote in the update’s brochure. “I wanted to ensure that the update was something that would be enduring, and worth the time it takes to play it. I hope that both newcomers and veterans of the Half-Life series will enjoy seeing the work that went into its creation.” Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

We are all familiar with water, and we see it every day in many forms: in the bulk as a glass of water, in the crystal phase as ice, and the vapor phase as steam. While the behavior of these phases seems predictable, water is an unusual substance that behaves unlike any other small molecule we know of. This fact is particularly notable when water is viewed at small-length scales or confined to small compartments. An international team of scientists recently discovered some intriguing structural characteristics of water confined in graphene nanocapillaries. In these studies, the researchers deposited a graphene monolayer on a small grid, added a small amount of water, and then covered it with another monolayer of graphene. This sample was left overnight to allow excess water to evaporate, eventually bringing the graphene layers together so that only a small amount of adsorbed water remained between them. The water left behind showed some unusual structural properties. Structural characteristics of water are influenced by hydrogen bonding among adjacent water molecules. In the liquid state, water exhibits a partially ordered structure. In the crystal state, water molecules begin to conform to more rigid lattice structures, forming ice. As ice, the water molecules typically take on a geometry that is a three-dimensional “tetrahedral” structure, which basically looks like a square pyramid. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New WoW item will allow players to trade gold for game time

Posted by kenmay on March - 26 - 2015

Blizzard will soon allow World of Warcraft players to trade purchased game time for in-game gold, and vice versa, effectively putting an official, floating real-world value on the in-game currency. With yesterday’s rollout of WoW patch 6.12, Blizzard says it’s ready to introduce the ” WoW token,” a new in-game item that can be traded for 30 days of play time in the subscription-based MMO. Blizzard says the new feature will be launched in the Americas “once Patch 6.1.2 has been live for a while [to] help us ensure the foundation for the feature is solid.” Other regions will get tokens further down the line. WoW tokens will be available for purchase from the in-game shop for $20 or “the rough equivalent” in other regions. That’s somewhat more than the $14.99 maximum usually charged for a single month’s subscription fee, but the tokens differ from regular subscription game time because they can be exchanged for in-game gold through an in-game auction house. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Once you’ve learned one programming language or programming tool, it’s pretty easy to get into another similar one. Sometimes, though, the fine differences are hard to remember. Hyperpolyglot is an awesome tool for looking up the differences and similarities between programming languages and tools. Read more…

They were the first company to dabble in a laughably crude version of the surveillance business-model, aggressively collecting your address every time you bought batteries so they could get into the direct-mail racket. Read the rest