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Space Invaders 40th Anniversary

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 09:17 AM PST

In July this year it will be 40 years since the ultra popular video game Space Invaders first hit the arcades:

Arcade historians know that 1978 was a big year in arcade games and Taito knows it too since they released a game that year that put them on the map. Unfortunately Taito hasn't done anything earth-shaking in the past few years but they will certainly be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Space Invaders throughout 2018. They've started by launching this special website commemorating the original; if you frequent modern arcades then you likely will have come across the new Space Invaders Frenzy by Raw Thrills.

For the record, the arcade version was released in July of 1978.

Any other Soylentils remember when this first arrived in the arcades?

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Bjarne Stroustrup to Receive the 2018 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 07:44 AM PST

The US National Academy of Engineering has announced that Bjarne Stroustrup will receive the 2018 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering for his creation of C++ while at Bell Labs. The language C++, to put it mildly, is widely used. The prize will be formally awarded on February 20th in Washington, DC.

Here is Bjarne's home page and his Wikipedia page.

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Agile Development: Success or Snake Oil?

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 06:11 AM PST

Agile Development is hip. It's hot. All the cool kids are doing it.

But it doesn't work.

Before I get into why this "Agile" stuff is horrible, let's describe where Agile/Scrum can work. It can work for a time-sensitive and critical project of short duration (6 weeks max) that cross-cuts the business and has no clear manager, because it involves people from multiple departments. You can call it a "Code Red" or call it a Scrum or a "War Room" if you have a physical room for it.

Note that "Agile" comes from the consulting world. It suits well the needs of a small consulting firm, not yet very well-established, that lands one big-ticket project and needs to deliver it quickly, despite changing requirements and other potential bad behavior from the client. It works well when you have a relatively homogeneous talent level and a staff of generalists, which might also be true for an emerging web consultancy.

As a short-term methodology when a firm faces an existential risk or a game-changing opportunity, I'm not opposed to the "Code Red"/"crunch time"/Scrum practice of ignoring peoples' career goals and their individual talents. I have in mind that this "Code Red" state should exist for no more than 6 weeks per year in a well-run business. Even that's less than ideal: the ideal is zero. Frequent crises reflect poorly on management.

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Bitcoin's Gender Divide Could be a Bad Sign, Experts Say

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 04:36 AM PST

The CBC reports,

Bitcoin, and the world of cryptocurrency, is a boys' club, say some experts, and that should be cause for concern.

Google Analytics results put the divide at 96.57 per cent men to 3.43 per cent women:

That's a huge red flag to Duncan Stewart, research director of Deloitte Canada's technology division. "It isn't merely that the value has risen as far and as fast as it has; it's the fact that it's 97 per cent men — that is, in and of itself, a potential danger sign," he says. "There are studies out there that suggest men are predisposed towards bubbles in a way that women are not."

Stewart made his case in a recent online post about the subject:

Stewart said he "cannot think of any security, currency or asset class in history that shows that extreme a gender divide and has been sustainable."

[...] Iliana Oris Valiente is a rarity in the cryptocurrency world. She has emerged as a female leader in this space and was recently chosen to lead consulting firm Accenture's global blockchain innovation division. Oris Valiente doesn't buy into the theory that an outsized amount of male interest in a particular asset in and of itself creates a bubble. "If we have primarily men involved in building the businesses and being the early-stage investors, they're likely to share the new tidbits and the new deals with their own established networks."

But without a major catalyst, she doesn't see the gender divide in this field narrowing anytime soon.

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ASUS Will Use Routers You Already Own for a Mesh WiFi Setup

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 02:43 AM PST

Submitted via IRC for Fnord666_

Getting WiFi to every corner of your home is made much easier these days with a mesh network, which uses a specialized router and individual nodes that can configure themselves. Companies like Netgear, Samsung and ASUS all have kits of varying price that can help you make one in your own home, but you generally have to purchase a whole new set of devices to make it work. Now, ASUS is offering AiMesh, a system that uses your current ASUS routers to create a mesh network without pricey extra hardware.

Since you're using routers that you already own to create a mesh network, you can decide which one is the primary and which will act as nodes. You simply find the router with the best capabilities, drop it in a central location, then use the built-in software to configure the network.

AiMesh only runs on routers from ASUS, though.


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Ask Soylent: What is the Best way to Begin a Successful FOSS Project?

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 12:35 AM PST

I love FOSS, and even though it doesn't work as a model for everything, there are some kinds of applications that just seem to be a perfect fit.

I think one such application is software for CAD as it relates to construction and land surveying(my trade). Much of the design and record data from the field must be accessible for decades and this fact alone builds a strong case for using open formats. Unfortunately, and much to the chagrin of all of the surveyors I know, there seems to be a slow push by the software side of the industry away from using the open formats of old toward proprietary formats. A lot of this is caused by the ever increasing complexity (and reinventing of the wheel) of design software; however, when it comes to boots the ground, not much has changed with means and methods. There are only so many ways to accomplish what we do and most of it has already been optimized. The result of this push toward proprietary formats and overkill software has been the abandonment of good, functional, and simple proprietary software that just worked. Many of the companies that created this good software no longer exist because they have been embraced and extinguished by larger players. There is a growing reality that the only option to keep work going is to pay many 1000's of dollars a year per person for what should be a fairly simple piece of software. This is not the kind of software that would require a lot of support.

So my question is this: What is the best way for me to begin a successful FOSS project like this?

For the record I am not a programmer, but I dabble from time to time. I could foresee it being a fairly easy sell to convince the powers that be to throw some money (one time cost) at a development team to create for us what we need. Between the different companies and contacts that I know in the industry, a sort of corporate crowd funding effort is not far fetched. Why the heck isn't this already done for all the standard corporate software, rather than paying needless licensing fees into perpetuity? Sometimes software just becomes stable. A FOSS solution would be a godsend to smaller mom and pop operations and I think it could cure some of my resentment of people constantly breaking good things for the sake of "progress".

BTW, I have looked at some of the existing open source CAD software and found it all pretty wanting. Could requesting special functionality from these developers be a better route than starting from scratch? Thanks in advance!

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NASA's GOLD Mission to Study the Upper Atmosphere Using a Commercial Satellite

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:02 PM PST

On January 25, Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) will become NASA's first science instrument to launch aboard a geostationary commercial satellite:

The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission is an instrument launching on a commercial satellite to inspect from geostationary orbit the dynamic intermingling of space and Earth's uppermost atmosphere. GOLD will seek to understand what drives change in this region where terrestrial weather in the lower atmosphere interacts with the tumult of solar activity from above and Earth's magnetic field. Resulting data will improve forecasting models of space weather events that can impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.

NASA will hold a press conference about the mission at 1 PM EST on Thursday.

The mission will study the thermosphere and ionosphere using a far-ultraviolet imaging spectrograph. Richard Eastes from the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida leads the mission.

The SES-14 commercial payload will replace NSS-806, a communications satellite covering Latin America, the Iberian peninsula, Canary Islands, Western Europe and much of Eastern Europe.

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Why Bots Go Bad: Curbing Transgressive Tendencies in AI

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 09:27 PM PST

At Venture Beat:

From Microsoft's accidentally racist bot to Inspirobot's dark memes, AI often wanders into transgressive territories. Why does this happen, and can we stop it?

Ispirobot seems very interesting.

Another example of AI gone awry is Inspirobot. Created by Norwegian artist and coder Peder Jørgensen, the inspirational quote-generating AI creates some memes that would be incredibly bleak if the source weren't a robot. News publications called it an AI in crisis or claimed the bot had "gone crazy." Inspirobot's transgression differs from Tay's, though, because of its humor. Its deviance serves as entertainment in a world that has a low tolerance of impropriety from people, who should know better.

What the bot became was not the creator's intention by a long shot. Jørgensen thinks the cause lies in the bot's algorithmic core. "It is a search system that compiles the conversations and ideas of people online, analyzes them, and reshapes them into the inspirational counterpoints it deems suitable," he explained. "Given the current state of the internet, we fear that the bot's mood will only get worse with time."

The creators' attempts to moderate "its lean towards cruelty and controversy" so far have only seemed "to make it more advanced and more nihilistic."

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Dust Still the Likely Cause of Tabby's Star Dimming

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 07:54 PM PST

The dips in brightness observed at Tabby's star are still probably caused by dust, and not alien megastructures:

For the last two years, astronomers all over the world have been eagerly observing what is hailed as "the most mysterious star in the Universe," a stellar object that wildly fluctuates in brightness with no discernible pattern — and now they may finally have an answer for its weird behavior. Scientists are fairly certain that a bunch of dust surrounding the star is to blame. And that means that the more tantalizing explanation — alien involvement — is definitely not the cause.

It's the most solid solution yet that astronomers have come up with for this star's odd ways. Named KIC 8462852, the star doesn't act like any star we've ever seen before. Its light fluctuations are extreme, dimming by up to 20 percent at times. And its dips don't seem to repeat in a predictable way. That means something really big and irregular is passing in front of this star, leading scientists to suggest a number of possible objects that could be blocking the star's light — from a family of large comets to even "alien megastructures" orbiting the star.

Also at Sky & Telescope and Discover Magazine.

The First Post-Kepler Brightness Dips of KIC 8462852

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Drug Approvals Sped Up in 2017

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 06:21 PM PST

New drug approvals hit 21-year high in 2017

U.S. drug approvals hit a 21-year high in 2017, with 46 novel medicines winning a green light -- more than double the previous year -- while the figure also rose in the European Union.

The EU recommended 92 new drugs including generics, up from 81, and China laid out plans to speed up approvals in what is now the world's second biggest market behind the United States.

Yet the world's biggest drugmakers saw average returns on their research and development spending fall, reflecting more competitive pressures and the growing share of new products now coming from younger biotech companies. Consultancy Deloitte said last month that projected returns at 12 of the world's top drugmakers were at an eight-year low of only 3.2 percent.

Many of the drugs receiving a green light in 2017 were for rare diseases and sub-types of cancer, which often target very small populations, although they can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Significantly, the U.S. drug tally of 46 does not include the first of a new wave of cell and gene therapies from Novartis, Gilead Sciences and Spark Therapeutics that were approved in 2017 under a separate category.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has indicated that it might be time to revise the Orphan Drug Act of 1983.

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Venison: The Luxury Red Meat?

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 04:48 PM PST

Deer are regularly hunted across the United States, but some people pay exorbitant prices for imported deer meat:

Wintertime is a special time of year at Cafe Berlin, located just a few blocks from the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. This is when they roll out their menu of wild game, such as deer, wild boar, and quail. Regular customers have come to expect it. "They ask, weeks in advance, 'When does the wild game menu start? When does it start?'" says James Watson, one of the restaurant's chefs. And the star of that menu is venison. The restaurant serves venison ribs, venison loin, even venison tartar. It's food that takes your mind back to old European castles, where you can imagine eating like aristocracy.

You won't see venison in ordinary supermarkets. At Wagshall's, a specialty food shop in Washington, I found venison loin selling for $40 a pound. This venison comes from farms, usually from a species of very large deer called red deer. Much of it is imported from New Zealand.

Yet there's a very different side to this luxury meat. Less than two hours drive from Washington, Daniel Crigler has a whole freezer full of venison that he got for free. Crigler's home in central Virginia is surrounded by woodlands full of white-tail deer. For Crigler, they are venison on the hoof. And he loves hunting. "I love the outdoors. I love being out. But I also like to eat the meat," he says, chuckling. It's pretty much the only red meat he eats. And as he shows off the frozen cuts of venison in his freezer, this crusty man reveals his inner epicurean. "That's a whole loin, right there," he says. "What I like to do with that is split it open, fill it full of blue cheese, wrap it up in tin foil and put it on the grill for about an hour and a half."

And here's the odd thing about this meat, so scarce and expensive in big cities; so abundant if you're a hunter in Madison County, Virginia. Hunters like Crigler kill millions of deer every year in America, but the meat from those animals can't be sold: It hasn't been officially approved by meat inspectors. Also, the government doesn't want hunters to make money from poaching. Yet hunters are allowed to give it away, and many do. As a result, venison occupies a paradoxical place in the world of food. It's a luxury food that turns up in notably non-luxurious places.

Related: Arby's is Selling Venison Sandwiches in Six Deer-Hunting States
Deer in Multiple U.S. States Test Positive for Chronic Wasting Disease, Leading to Restrictions

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New Bill Could Finally Get Rid of Paperless Voting Machines

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 03:15 PM PST

Submitted via IRC for SoyCow1984

A bipartisan group of six senators has introduced legislation[pdf] that would take a huge step toward securing elections in the United States. Called the Secure Elections Act, the bill aims to eliminate insecure paperless voting machines from American elections while promoting routine audits that would dramatically reduce the danger of interference from foreign governments.

The legislation comes on the heels of the contentious 2016 election. Post-election investigation hasn't turned up any evidence that foreign governments actually altered any votes. However, we do know that Russians were probing American voting systems ahead of the 2016 election, laying groundwork for what could have become a direct attack on American democracy.

[...] The first objective is to get rid of paperless electronic voting machines. Computer scientists have been warning for more than a decade that these machines are vulnerable to hacking and can't be meaningfully audited. States have begun moving away from paperless systems, but budget constraints have forced some to continue relying on insecure paperless equipment. The Secure Elections Act would give states grants specifically earmarked for replacing these systems with more secure systems that use voter-verified paper ballots.

The legislation's second big idea is to encourage states to perform routine post-election audits based on modern statistical techniques. Many states today only conduct recounts in the event of very close election outcomes. And these recounts involve counting a fixed percentage of ballots. That often leads to either counting way too many ballots (wasting taxpayer money) or too few (failing to fully verify the election outcome).

The bill reads like a computer security expert's wish list.


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NVidia AI Project Creates Photos of People Who Don't Exist

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 01:31 PM PST

How an A.I. 'Cat-and-Mouse Game' Generates Believable Fake Photos (archive)

The woman in the photo seems familiar. She looks like Jennifer Aniston, the "Friends" actress, or Selena Gomez, the child star turned pop singer. But not exactly. She appears to be a celebrity, one of the beautiful people photographed outside a movie premiere or an awards show. And yet, you cannot quite place her. That's because she's not real. She was created by a machine.

The image is one of the faux celebrity photos generated by software under development at Nvidia, the big-name computer chip maker that is investing heavily in research involving artificial intelligence.

At a lab in Finland, a small team of Nvidia researchers recently built a system that can analyze thousands of (real) celebrity snapshots, recognize common patterns, and create new images that look much the same — but are still a little different. The system can also generate realistic images of horses, buses, bicycles, plants and many other common objects.

The project is part of a vast and varied effort to build technology that can automatically generate convincing images — or alter existing images in equally convincing ways. The hope is that this technology can significantly accelerate and improve the creation of computer interfaces, games, movies and other media, eventually allowing software to create realistic imagery in moments rather than the hours — if not days — it can now take human developers.

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Indonesia Introduces New Internet Censorship System

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 12:00 PM PST

Indonesia's Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry is set to implement a new $14 million Internet censorship system from Wednesday. The new system will automatically block pornography and other content deemed to be unsuitable by the government, following years of manual monitoring which has failed to adequately police the abundance of illicit online content.

The ministry's Information Applications Director General Semuel Pangerapan said the machine is equipped with artificial intelligence that will crawl websites and use keywords to detect inappropriate content.

"After the content is crawled, our team will evaluate and verify the data," Pangerapan told Arab News. "We will then block sites that are validated as carrying negative content. This machine will make our jobs a lot faster." The new system will enable the ministry to identify a range of negative content referencing topics from gambling, terrorism, fraud and drugs, to hoaxes and fake news, he added.

Indonesia introduces new Internet censorship system

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WWW Reprint of 1973 Rolling Stone Interview with Daniel Ellsberg

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 10:24 AM PST

The Rolling Stone has run a web version of its 1973 interview with Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg is the former US military analyst who blew the whistle on the Nixon administration's misdeeds regarding the Vietnam War. Specfically he photocopied an extensive, secret study and gave it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and nearly a score of other newspapers. These documents he released became known as the Pentagon Papers eventually published as excerpts and commentaries by The New York Times. Both The New York Times and The Rolling Stone have since drifted from that kind of coverage and the article provides an interesting contrast to how those publications are now.

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