Tech Today w/ Ken May

Archive for March, 2017

Amazon will collect state sales taxes nationwide April 1st

Posted by kenmay on March - 25 - 2017

While Amazon has resisted collecting state sales taxes, over the last few years it has bent, state by state . Now CNBC reports that as of April 1st, it will collect sales taxes in every state that imposes one, as Hawaii, Idaho, Maine and New Mexico join the list. Even if Amazon (or another online retailer) doesn’t collect sales tax, consumers may be on the hook to pay via a “use tax.” For companies like Amazon, however, bringing warehouses, services and data centers closer to where customers live has closed the loophole, and they’ve begun collecting the tax on their end. Between the taxes and universal pricing policies, the gap between Amazon and local retailers (big box or small) is getting closer. Of course, the convenience of Amazon Prime and the addition of other services (Fresh, Local, etc.) may keep things tipped in its favor. Source: CNBC

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An archivist working at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library has stumbled upon color home movies taken in the late 1920s by former First Lady Lou Hoover. Incredibly, this is very likely the first color film to show a US President, the First Lady, and the White House. Read more…

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Flexible, printable circuits inspired by goldbug beetle

Posted by kenmay on March - 24 - 2017

Poking a golden tortoise beetle (“goldbug”) triggers the insect’s color to change from gold to a red-orange. Inspired by the natural system underlying that insectoid superpower, MIT researchers have developed flexible sensors circuits that can be 3-D printed. Eventually, the technology could lead to sensor-laden skin for robots. From MIT News : “In nature, networks of sensors and interconnects are called sensorimotor pathways,” says Subramanian Sundaram, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), who led the project. “We were trying to see whether we could replicate sensorimotor pathways inside a 3-D-printed object. So we considered the simplest organism we could find….” The MIT researchers’ new device is approximately T-shaped, but with a wide, squat base and an elongated crossbar. The crossbar is made from an elastic plastic, with a strip of silver running its length; in the researchers’ experiments, electrodes were connected to the crossbar’s ends. The base of the T is made from a more rigid plastic. It includes two printed transistors and what the researchers call a “pixel,” a circle of semiconducting polymer whose color changes when the crossbars stretch, modifying the electrical resistance of the silver strip. In fact, the transistors and the pixel are made from the same material; the transistors also change color slightly when the crossbars stretch. The effect is more dramatic in the pixel, however, because the transistors amplify the electrical signal from the crossbar. Demonstrating working transistors was essential, Sundaram says, because large, dense sensor arrays require some capacity for onboard signal processing. To build the device, the researchers used the MultiFab, a custom 3-D printer developed by (professor Wojciech) Matusik group. The MultiFab already included two different “print heads,” one for emitting hot materials and one for cool, and an array of ultraviolet light-emitting diodes. Using ultraviolet radiation to “cure” fluids deposited by the print heads produces the device’s substrate.

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SoundCloud borrows $70 million to keep going

Posted by kenmay on March - 24 - 2017

When a startup is in the ascendancy, there’s a near-endless line of investors ready to back it in the hope of future returns. When that road to success gets riskier, the investors dry up and the business has to run to the bank because it’s the only place to get more cash. Apropos of nothing, BusinessInsider is reporting that SoundCloud has secured itself a $70 million loan from a group of financial institutions. The “debt funding, ” as it’s called, has been supplied by Kreos Capital, Davidson Technology and Ares Capital and was reportedly secured on March 10th. SoundCloud says that it will use the cash to hire staff, build technology and grow itself to be more than twice its current size by the end of 2017. It’s hoped that the moves will enable the company to become “financially sustainable” for “years to come.” SoundCloud has had a problem with money for a while, admitting in 2015 that it would need to raise cash or risk going under. It managed to score $70 million from Twitter and then spent the bulk of 2016 hinting that it would like to be bought, thank you very much. Spotify spent a while thinking about it before deciding that it was better off steering clear . Unfortunately, SoundCloud doesn’t necessarily look like a great investment at this point, given its numerous issues. For a start, its SoundCloud Go subscription service was reviewed poorly when it launched, with a meager library and poor design. Then there’s the fact that the majority of the tracks it hosts are user-generated content, remixes and other things you may not expect people to pay for. Between that, and the often onerous terms that come with debt financing, and it’s… it’s not looking great . Via: TechCrunch Source: BusinessInsider

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Enlarge (credit: Bruce Leighty / Getty Images News ) In the wake of recommendations that were part of a recent study of its red-light cameras , the Chicago Department of Transportation has agreed to immediately increase the so-called “grace period”—the time between when a traffic light turns red to when a ticket is automatically issued. Under the new policy, which was announced Monday, the grace period for Chicago’s red lights will move from 0.1 seconds to 0.3 seconds. This will bring the Windy City in line with other Americans metropolises, including New York City and Philadelphia. In a statement , the city agency said that this increase would “maintain the safety benefits of the program while ensuring the program’s fairness.” On Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reported that the city would lose $17 million in revenue this year alone as a result of the expanded grace period. Michael Claffey, a CDOT spokesman, confirmed that figure to Ars. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Pope Francis holds his homily during his weekly audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Francis is warning the world’s youth to be wary of the “false image of reality” portrayed in social media and on reality television shows. In a written message the Vatican issued Tuesday, the pontiff cautioned followers not to let the Internet dilute the church’s message. The speech will be released in video format on World Youth Day on April 9. “History teaches us that even when the Church has to sail on stormy seas, the hand of God guides her and helps her to overcome moments of difficulty. The genuine experience of the Church is not like a flash mob, where people agree to meet, do their thing, and then go their separate ways,” Francis wrote. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Mike Mozart ) Update on March 23 : Less than 24 hours after it began, AT&T said that “The brief grievance strike has been resolved and employees are returning to work today.” Original story : About 17,000 AT&T wireline technicians and call center employees went on strike in California and Nevada today while filing an unfair labor charge to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that AT&T violated federal law. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Arcade Flyer Archive ) The historical record of video games received a strange shake-up on Wednesday from Ed Fries, the ex-Microsoft executive who had a huge part in the creation of the original Xbox . Fries took to his personal blog, which typically covers the world of retro gaming, to announce a zany discovery : he had found the world’s earliest known arcade game Easter egg. His hunt began with a tip from Atari game programmer Ron Milner about the 1977 game Starship 1 . This tip seemingly came out of nowhere, as the duo were talking about an entirely different ’70s arcade game, Gran Trak 10 , which Fries was researching separately. Starship , Milner said, had a few special twists that didn’t all make it to market, but one did: a secret message to players. The game would display “Hi Ron!” if players put in the right combination of button commands. This type of thing is better known to gaming fans as an Easter egg , and more than a few Atari games had them as a way to include the developer’s name (which Atari never put in games or on cabinets). Milner didn’t tell anyone at Atari about the secret message for 30 years, he told Fries, and one reason is because he’d forgotten how to trigger it. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A hacker or group of hackers calling themselves the “Turkish Crime Family” claim they have access to at least 300 million iCloud accounts, and will delete the alleged cache of data if Apple pays a ransom by early next month. Motherboard is reporting that the hackers are demanding “$75, 000 in Bitcoin or Ethereum, another increasingly popular crypto-currency, or $100, 000 worth of iTunes gift cards in exchange for deleting the alleged cache of data.” From the report: The hackers provided screenshots of alleged emails between the group and members of Apple’s security team. One also gave Motherboard access to an email account allegedly used to communicate with Apple. “Are you willing to share a sample of the data set?” an unnamed member of Apple’s security team wrote to the hackers a week ago, according to one of the emails stored in the account. (According to the email headers, the return-path of the email is to an address with the @apple.com domain). The hackers also uploaded a YouTube video of them allegedly logging into some of the stolen accounts. The hacker appears to access an elderly woman’s iCloud account, which includes backed-up photos, and the ability to remotely wipe the device. Now, the hackers are threatening to reset a number of the iCloud accounts and remotely wipe victim’s Apple devices on April 7, unless Apple pays the requested amount. According to one of the emails in the accessed account, the hackers claim to have access to over 300 million Apple email accounts, including those use @icloud and @me domains. However, the hackers appear to be inconsistent in their story; one of the hackers then claimed they had 559 million accounts in all. The hackers did not provide Motherboard with any of the supposedly stolen iCloud accounts to verify this claim, except those shown in the video. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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About half of Detroit can’t read

Posted by kenmay on March - 23 - 2017

America’s public education system is failing the citizens of Detroit, where the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund reports that 47% of people in Detroit are illiterate . In nearby suburbs, up to one-third are functionally illiterate. (more…)

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