Tech Today w/ Ken May

Archive for August, 2017

Japan is already known for being at the forefront of humanoid robots that take over traditionally human jobs ( hotel concierge and elderly companions , for instance). Now they can add robot funeral priests to their list. Japan’s telecommunications company SoftBank just unveiled “Pepper,” its robot priest, dressed in Buddhist robes, that can chant Buddhist scriptures, play the drum, and livestream the ceremony for people who can’t attend the funeral in person. The demo took place at Japan’s “Life Ending Industry Expo” in Tokyo last Wednesday. According to The Guardian : The robot was on display on Wednesday at a funeral industry fair, the Life Ending Industry Expo, in Tokyo, shown off by plastic molding maker Nissei Eco. With the average cost of a funeral in Japan reaching in excess of £20,000, according to data from Japan’s Consumer Association in 2008, and human priests costing £1,700, Nissei Eco is looking to undercut the market with Pepper available for just £350 per funeral. Pepper (not a name I’d expect a Buddhist priest to have, but this is a robot we’re talking about after all) has not yet been hired for a real funeral.

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Wikipedia’s mindblowing timeline of the far future

Posted by kenmay on August - 26 - 2017

Wikipedia’s prediction of far-future events really makes me wish I could stick around to see the red supergiant star Antares go supernova in 10,000 years. “The explosion is expected to be easily visible in daylight.” I’m happy I’ll miss the 1km asteroid that’s likely to hit Earth in the next 500,000 years. Looking farther out, the moon Phobos will collide Mars in 50 million years. Anything alive 2.8 billion years from now will need good air conditions because “Earth’s surface temperature, even at the poles,” will be 300 °F. This list “Technological Projects” below is just one of the many different tables in the Wikipedia article:

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 CarPlay and Android Auto can only really be described as what you’d call a ‘slow burn.’ They both debuted quite a few years ago, but getting access to them via first-party infotainment systems didn’t happen with the pace early adopters might be accustomed to. Luckily, a variety of third-party aftermarket in-car audio and infotainment decks offer an option for those… Read More

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Germany, in a First, Shuts Down Left-Wing Extremist Website

Posted by kenmay on August - 26 - 2017

An anonymous reader shares a report: An influential website linked to violence at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg last month has been ordered to shut down, in the first such move against left-wing extremists in the country (alternative source), the authorities in Germany said on Friday. Thomas de Maiziere, the interior minister, said that the unrest in Hamburg, during which more than 20, 000 police officers were deployed and more than 400 people arrested or detained, had been stirred up on the website and showed the “serious consequences” of left-wing extremism. “The prelude to the G-20 summit in Hamburg was not the only time that violent actions and attacks on infrastructural facilities were mobilized on linksunten.indymedia, ” he said, referring to the website. The order on Friday was the latest move in a long battle against extremism in Germany. It comes in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Va., this month and amid worries about “antifa” factions that use violence to combat the far-right in the United States. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Enlarge / Marcus Hutchins. (credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images) Marcus Hutchins, the popular British security researcher, has a new legal headache beyond the criminal charges against him. Hutchins, AKA “MalwareTech,” pleaded not guilty two weeks ago to criminal charges in Wisconsin that accuse him of creating and distributing the Kronos malware that steals banking credentials. Now comes word that his legal defense fund was riddled with illicit donations. At least $150,000 in donations originated from stolen credit cards or fake credit card numbers, according to Tor Ekeland, a  criminal defense attorney who is not on Hutchins’ defense team. Ekeland, who became popular in hacking circles for successfully defending Andrew “weev” Auernheimer, had started a legal fund on Hutchins’ behalf. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Ancient Tablet Reveals Babylonians Discovered Trigonometry

Posted by kenmay on August - 26 - 2017

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Magazine: Trigonometry, the study of the lengths and angles of triangles, sends most modern high schoolers scurrying to their cellphones to look up angles, sines, and cosines. Now, a fresh look at a 3700-year-old clay tablet suggests that Babylonian mathematicians not only developed the first trig table, beating the Greeks to the punch by more than 1000 years, but that they also figured out an entirely new way to look at the subject. However, other experts on the clay tablet, known as Plimpton 322 (P322), say the new work is speculative at best. Consisting of four columns and 15 rows of numbers inscribed in cuneiform, the famous P322 tablet was discovered in the early 1900s in what is now southern Iraq by archaeologist, antiquities dealer, and diplomat Edgar Banks, the inspiration for the fictional character Indiana Jones. Now stored at Columbia University, the tablet first garnered attention in the 1940s, when historians recognized that its cuneiform inscriptions contain a series of numbers echoing the Pythagorean theorem, which explains the relationship of the lengths of the sides of a right triangle. (The theorem: The square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the square of the other two sides.) But why ancient scribes generated and sorted these numbers in the first place has been debated for decades. Mathematician Daniel Mansfield of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) realized that the information he needed was in missing pieces of P322 that had been reconstructed by other researchers. He and UNSW mathematician Norman Wildberger concluded that the Babylonians expressed trigonometry in terms of exact ratios of the lengths of the sides of right triangles, rather than by angles, using their base 60 form of mathematics, they report today in Historia Mathematica. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Semi-autonomous truck convoys due to hit UK roads next year

Posted by kenmay on August - 25 - 2017

Convoys of semi-autonomous trucks are expected to be tested on public roads in the UK before the end of next year, the government announced today . The Department for Transport and Highways England have rustled up £8.1 million in funding between them to pass on to the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), the independent organisation that’ll conduct the trials. TRL will start with simulation studies and driver training before moving onto a test track and finally, public roads by the end of 2018. Platooning, as it’s known, is one of the simpler ways of harnessing self-driving technology. While the truck at the front of a convoy remains under human control, trailing vehicles follow its lead autonomously. Wireless connections (aka vehicle-to-vehicle communication) keep all trucks talking to each other so the self-driving members of the conga line can immediately respond to changes in the lead lorry’s direction and speed. With software managing the distance between vehicles, it should be possible to create a much tighter convoy than would be safe if human limbs were in charge of the wheel and pedals. This has the potential to ease congestion, but more importantly reduces drag on the trailing trucks, meaning better fuel efficiency and lower emissions. TRL has already done some preliminary feasibility studies on the government’s instruction. In fact, platooning trials on UK motorways were originally due to start in late 2016 , but the project has been delayed for one reason or another. At the time, the Financial Times reported that various manufacturers of heavy goods vehicles were just not particularly keen on taking part. Several real-world trials of semi-autonomous convoys are taking place elsewhere , and TRL is looking at how these are addressing the technical and practical challenges of public platooning tests. There’s no substitute for conducting your own in situ , though, which is why TRL will investigate everything from fuel efficiency to safety, acceptance by drivers and the public, the suitability of UK infrastructure and future, commercial viability. Source: Department for Transport

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A large global agricultural company has joined Bill Gates and Richard Branson to invest in a nascent technology to make meat from self-producing animal cells. “Memphis Meats, which produces beef, chicken and duck directly from animal cells without raising and slaughtering livestock or poultry, raised $17 million from investors including Cargill, Gates and billionaire Richard Branson, according to a statement Tuesday on the San Francisco-based startup’s website, ” reports Bloomberg. From the report: This is the latest move by an agricultural giant to respond to consumers, especially Millennials, who are rapidly leaving their mark on the U.S. food world. That’s happening through surging demand for organic products, increasing focus on food that’s considered sustainable and greater attention on animal treatment. Big poultry and livestock processors have started to take up alternatives to traditional meat. To date, Memphis Meats has raised $22 million, signaling a commitment to the “clean-meat movement, ” the company said. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Engineers have figured out how to make antennas for wireless communication 100 times smaller than their current size, an advance that could lead to tiny brain implants, micro-medical devices, or phones you can wear on your finger. Science Magazine reports: The new mini-antennas play off the difference between electromagnetic (EM) waves, such as light and radio waves, and acoustic waves, such as sound and inaudible vibrations. EM waves are fluctuations in an electromagnetic field, and they travel at light speed — an astounding 300, 000, 000 meters per second. Acoustic waves are the jiggling of matter, and they travel at the much slower speed of sound — in a solid, typically a few thousand meters per second. So, at any given frequency, an EM wave has a much longer wavelength than an acoustic wave. Antennas receive information by resonating with EM waves, which they convert into electrical voltage. For such resonance to occur, a traditional antenna’s length must roughly match the wavelength of the EM wave it receives, meaning that the antenna must be relatively big. However, like a guitar string, an antenna can also resonate with acoustic waves. The new antennas take advantage of this fact. They will pick up EM waves of a given frequency if its size matches the wavelength of the much shorter acoustic waves of the same frequency. That means that that for any given signal frequency, the antennas can be much smaller. The trick is, of course, to quickly turn the incoming EM waves into acoustic waves. The team created two kinds of acoustic antennas. One has a circular membrane, which works for frequencies in the gigahertz range, including those for WiFi. The other has a rectangular membrane, suitable for megahertz frequencies used for TV and radio. Each is less than a millimeter across, and both can be manufactured together on a single chip. When researchers tested one of the antennas in a specially insulated room, they found that compared to a conventional ring antenna of the same size, it sent and received 2.5 gigahertz signals about 100, 000 times more efficiently, they report in Nature Communications. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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IRS Now Has a Tool To Unmask Bitcoin Tax Evaders

Posted by kenmay on August - 24 - 2017

SonicSpike shares a report from The Daily Beast: You can use bitcoin. But you can’t hide from the taxman. At least, that’s the hope of the Internal Revenue Service, which has purchased specialist software to track those using bitcoin, according to a contract obtained by The Daily Beast. The document highlights how law enforcement isn’t only concerned with criminals accumulating bitcoin from selling drugs or hacking targets, but also those who use the currency to hide wealth or avoid paying taxes. The IRS has claimed that only 802 people declared bitcoin losses or profits in 2015; clearly fewer than the actual number of people trading the cryptocurrency — especially as more investors dip into the world of cryptocurrencies, and the value of bitcoin punches past the $4, 000 mark. Maybe lots of bitcoin traders didn’t realize the government expects to collect tax on their digital earnings, or perhaps some thought they’d be able to get away with stockpiling bitcoin thanks to the perception that the cryptocurrency is largely anonymous. “The purpose of this acquisition is to help us trace the movement of money through the bitcoin economy, ” a section of the contract reads. The Daily Beast obtained the document through the Freedom of Information Act. The contractor in this case is Chainalysis, a startup offering its “Reactor” tool to visualize, track, and analyze bitcoin transactions. Chainalysis’ users include law enforcement agencies, banks, and regulatory entities. The software can follow bitcoin as it moves from one wallet to another, and eventually to an exchange where the bitcoin user will likely cash out into dollars or another currency. This is the point law enforcement could issue a subpoena to the exchange and figure out who is really behind the bitcoin. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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