Tech Today w/ Ken May

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Apple’s new 9.7-inch iPad is its cheapest yet

Posted by kenmay on March - 21 - 2017

Apple just simplified its tablet lineup in a big way. The company has introduced a new 9.7-inch iPad — not the Air 3, just… iPad. The new model will seem extremely familiar on the outside, but there are a bunch of notable under-the-hood upgrades. You’ll find a slightly older but still speedy A9 processor inside instead of the Air 2’s aging A8X, and Apple has doubled the capacities to give you either 32GB or 128GB (sorry, no 256GB option here). This new mid-size model also touts a brighter display, although it’s still sitting at a 2, 048 x 1, 536 resolution. The cameras remain the same, for or better or worse, with an 8MP shooter on the back and a 1.2MP FaceTime cam at the front. For most, the biggest deal may simply be the price. The upgraded iPad is available now at $329 for the 32GB version, and $459 for its 128GB model. That’s the lowest starting price yet for a mid-size iPad, and it’s clear that this is the new budget option. In fact, Apple has gone so far as to make the iPad mini 4 more expensive – it’s now available solely in a 128GB edition for $399, and there’s no iPad mini 2 to pick up the slack. Apple clearly feels that 9.7 inches represents its mainstream size going forward. Source: Apple , BusinessWire

eBay takes on Amazon with guaranteed 3-day shipping

Posted by kenmay on March - 20 - 2017

In an effort to deal with formidable rival Amazon , eBay has launched a new program giving shoppers guaranteed three-day shipping on 20 million products. Called ” Guaranteed Delivery , ” it also includes free shipping on “millions” of those items, according to eBay, and will roll out in the US starting this summer. The auction site also revamped its home page today to provide a more personalized experience for shoppers. eBay points has 1.1 billion items listed at any given time, of which 67 percent already ship for free and 63 percent arrive within three or fewer days. With “Guaranteed Delivery” items, however, eBay will either refund the shipping or give you a coupon if they don’t arrive on time. Buyers looking to get items speedily will be able to filter searches based one-, two- and three-day delivery times. The company is also providing qualified sellers with new shipping tools so that they can in turn give buyers more accurate delivery times. Such things have become crucial for consumers in a world where Amazon can deliver an item within an hour and let you track packages to an exact spot on the map. On top of that, eBay has launched a new home page that gives consumers a more, well, Amazon-like buying experience. Rather than forcing customers to follow sellers they like to see preferred products, it will feature stacked horizontal image carousels. Rows will be arranged by items that you’ve viewed recently and put on watch lists curated by eBay’s algorithms. That works much the same way as content on Netflix, and eBay compared its new offering specifically to that service’s home page. It’s not the first time eBay has changed its design — in 2012, it adopted a Pinterest-like list of offerings, and a year later, a look based on the user’s interests. However, both of those designs required some user intervention and “that was a lot to ask a casual customer, ” eBay’s Head of Personalization and Engagement Bradford Shellhammer told Recode . The desktop rollout redesign is now live, but it may not reach your neighborhood until mid-2017, and the mobile refresh is coming at the end of the year — something that should tell you a lot about who eBay’s customers are. As mentioned, the Guaranteed Delivery service will arrive this summer in the US. Via: Techcrunch Source: Ebay

When you strap on all of the gear required for a modern, immersive, virtual reality experience, you’re all but completely blind to the real world. But interacting with real world objects can often enhance a virtual experience, so Disney’s researchers came up with a way to let users catch a real ball without leaving a… Read more…

It’s been successfully tested on trucks, as well as UAVs and small rockets, according to a video from Lockheed Martin, which is now shipping the first 60kW-class “beam combined” fiber laser for use by the U.S. Army. An anonymous reader quotes the Puget Sound Business Journal: Lockheed successfully developed and tested the 58 kW laser beam earlier this year, setting a world record for this type of laser. The company is now preparing to ship the laser system to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command in Huntsville, Alabama [according to Robert Afzal, senior fellow for Lockheed’s Laser and Sensor Systems in Bothell]. “We have shown that a powerful directed energy laser is now sufficiently light-weight, low volume and reliable enough to be deployed on tactical vehicles for defensive applications on land, at sea and in the air…” Laser weapons, which complement traditional kinetic weapons in the battlefield, will one day protect against threats such as “swarms of drones” or a flurry of rockets and mortars, Lockheed said. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

1.6 Billion-Year-Old Plant Fossil Found In India

Posted by kenmay on March - 20 - 2017

Complex multicellular life began 400 million years earlier than we thought, according to a Phys.org article shared by Slashdot reader William Robinson: Scientists found two kinds of fossils resembling red algae in uniquely well-preserved sedimentary rocks at Chitrakoot in central India. One type is thread-like, the other one consists of fleshy colonies. The scientists were able to see distinct inner cell structures and so-called cell fountains, the bundles of packed and splaying filaments that form the body of the fleshy forms and are characteristic of red algae… The oldest known red algae before the present discovery are 1.2 billion years old. The Indian fossils, 400 million years older and by far the oldest plant-like fossils ever found, suggest that the early branches of the tree of life need to be recalibrated. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Mark Lopez/Argonne National Laboratory A group of researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory have developed a sponge that will collect oil from bodies of water, which could improve how harbors and ports are cleaned, as well as how oil spills are managed. The Oleo Sponge is made of a polyurethane foam whose interior surfaces are covered with oleophilic molecules that draw oil out of water. The challenge, according to Argonne, was finding a way to “glue” those oil-loving molecules to the sponge’s interior. That issue was tackled with the help of 2011 research from Argonne scientists , who were able to infuse metal oxide with nanostructures. The Oleo creators used that technique to develop a primer for the interior of the sponge that the oleophilic molecules stick to. The result is a sponge that can adsorb up to 90 times its weight in oil . Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tiny liquid battery cools chips while powering them

Posted by kenmay on March - 20 - 2017

Scientists from IBM and ETH Zurich university have built a tiny “flow” battery that has the dual benefit of supplying power to chips and cooling them at the same time. Even taking pumping into account, it produces enough energy to power a chip while dissipating much more heat than it generates. The result could be smaller, more efficient chips, solar cells that store their own energy or devices used for remote monitoring that don’t require external power sources. “Redox flow” batteries that use liquid electrolytes are normally used on a large scale to store energy. For instance, Harvard Researchers recently created one that can last over ten years with very little degradation, making it ideal to store solar or wind energy. Building them on a scale tiny enough for chips is another matter, however. The team from ETH Zurich and IBM managed to find two liquids that are suitable both as flow-battery electrolytes and cooling agents that can dissipate heat from chips in the same circuit. “We are the first scientists to build such a small flow battery so as to combine energy supply and cooling, ” says doctoral student Julian Marschewski. Using 3D printing, the team developed a wedge-shaped micro-channel system that supplies the system with electrolytes using very little pumping power. The resulting electrodes press liquid into the membrane layer where ions can flow, generating power. The result is a system that generates 1.4 watts per square centimeter, with 1 watt left over to power the battery after taking pumping into account. Moreover, it gets rid of a lot more heat than it makes, pulling off the neat trick of powering and cooling chips at the same time. The battery needs to generate more electricity than it does right now, so the idea now needs to shift from the research into the engineering stages. However, the team thinks that it has a lot of potential for not just chips, but also lasers that require internal cooling, solar cells that store electricity directly in the battery cell and even large flow batteries optimized with liquid cooling channels. Source: Eth Zurich

Ipsita Agarwal via Backchannel retells the story of how India’s underfunded space organization, ISRO, managed to send a rocket to Mars for less than it cost to make the movie “The Martian, ” starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney. “While NASA’s Mars probe, Maven, cost $651 million, the budget for this mission was $74 million, ” Agarwal writes. In what appears to be India’s version of “Hidden Figures” (a movie that also cost more to make than ISRO’s budget for the Mars rocket), the team of scientists behind the rocket launch consisted of Indian women, who not only managed to pull off the mission successfully but did so in only 18 months. Backchannel reports: A few months and several million kilometers later, the orbiter prepared to enter Mars’ gravity. This was a critical moment. If the orbiter entered Mars’ gravity at the wrong angle, off by so much as one degree, it would either crash onto the surface of Mars or fly right past it, lost in the emptiness of space. Back on Earth, its team of scientists and engineers waited for a signal from the orbiter. Mission designer Ritu Karidhal had worked 48 hours straight, fueled by anticipation. As a child, Minal Rohit had watched space missions on TV. Now, Minal waited for news on the orbiter she and her colleague, Moumita Dutta, had helped engineer. When the signal finally arrived, the mission control room broke into cheers. If you work in such a room, deputy operations director, Nandini Harinath, says, “you no longer need to watch a thriller movie to feel the thrill in life. You feel it in your day-to-day work.” This was not the only success of the mission. An image of the scientists celebrating in the mission control room went viral. Girls in India and beyond gained new heroes: the kind that wear sarees and tie flowers in their hair, and send rockets into space. User shas3 notes in a comment on Hacker News’ post: “If you are interested in Indian women scientists and engineers, there is a nice compilation (a bit tiresome to read, but worth it, IMO) of biographical essays called ‘Lilvati’s Daughters.'” Read more of this story at Slashdot.

The 10th annual Pwn2Own hacking competition ended Friday in Vancouver. Some of the highlights: Ars Technica reports one team “compromised Microsoft’s heavily fortified Edge browser in a way that escapes a VMware Workstation virtual machine it runs in… by exploiting a heap overflow bug in Edge, a type confusion flaw in the Windows kernel and an uninitialized buffer vulnerability in VMware.” Digital Trends reports “Samuel Grob and Niklas Baumstark used a number of logic bugs to exploit the Safari browser and eventually take root control of the MacOS on a MacBook Pro, [and] impressed onlookers even more by adding a custom message to the Touch Bar which read: “pwned by niklasb and saelo.”Ubuntu 16.10 Linux was also successfully attacked by exploiting a flaw in the Linux 4.8 kernel, “triggered by a researcher who only had basic user access but was able to elevate privileges with the vulnerability to become the root administrative account user…” reports eWeek. “Chaitin Security Research Lab didn’t stop after successfully exploiting Ubuntu. It was also able to successfully demonstrate a chain of six bugs in Apple Safari, gaining root access on macOS.”Another attacker “leveraged two separate use-after-free bugs in Microsoft Edge and then escalated to SYSTEM using a buffer overflow in the Windows kernel.” None of the attendees registered to attempt an attack on the Apache Web Server on Ubuntu 16.10 Linux, according to eWeek, but the contest’s blog reports that “We saw a record 51 bugs come through the program. We paid contestants $833, 000 USD in addition to the dozen laptops we handed out to winners. And, we awarded a total of 196 Master of Pwn points.” Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Here’s Why Your Turn Signals Make That Clicking Noise

Posted by kenmay on March - 18 - 2017

When you hit your car’s turn signal stalk and that little arrow flashes at you on the dash, you always hear a rhythmic clicking sound in sync with that flashing arrow. Here’s what that is. Read more…