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The Video Game That Maps the Galaxy

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 23:58
An anonymous reader writes "Video game designers and astronomers have been working different ends of the same problem: how to chart a galaxy full of stars. Astronomers start with observation, finding new and better ways to look into the sky and record what they can see. Game devs take the limited data we have as a starting point, and assume that everything else in the galaxy obeys roughly the same rules. They generate the rest of the galaxy procedurally from this data. But the information flow isn't simply one-way. As developers like David Braben improve their galaxy-creation models, astronomers can look at the models and see where they match (or not) with further observations, allowing them to improve their own scientific models in the process. "'The conflicts that show up are generally due to simplifications made in the models, for which new observations can provide improved guidelines. There's a continuously evolving and developing understanding of space, in which both models and observations play important roles.' ... Elite's model has expanded Braben's understanding of planet formation and distribution. Braben boasts that his games predicted extra-solar planets ('These were pretty close to those that have been since discovered, demonstrating that there is some validity in our algorithms'), and that the game's use of current planet-formation theories has shown the sheer number of different systems that can exist according to the rules, everything from nebulous gas giants to theoretically habitable worlds.""

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Categories: Tech/Science News

The Pentagon's $399 Billion Plane To Nowhere

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 23:36
schwit1 writes with an update on the U.S. government's troubled F-35 program, the cost of which keeps rising while the planes themselves are grounded. A fire in late June caused officials to halt flights for the entire fleet of $112 million vehicles last week. Despite this, Congress is still anxious to push the program forward, and Foreign Policy explains why: Part of that protection comes from the jaw-dropping amounts of money at stake. The Pentagon intends to spend roughly $399 billion to develop and buy 2,443 of the planes. However, over the course of the aircrafts' lifetimes, operating costs are expected to exceed $1 trillion. Lockheed has carefully hired suppliers and subcontractors in almost every state to ensure that virtually all senators and members of Congress have a stake in keeping the program — and the jobs it has created — in place. "An upfront question with any program now is: How many congressional districts is it in?" said Thomas Christie, a former senior Pentagon acquisitions official. Counting all of its suppliers and subcontractors, parts of the program are spread out across at least 45 states. That's why there's no doubt lawmakers will continue to fund the program even though this is the third time in 17 months that the entire fleet has been grounded due to engine problems."

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Will Google's Dart Language Replace Javascript? (Video)

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 22:54
Seth Ladd, Google Web engineer and Chrome Developer Advocate, is today's interviewee. He's talking about Dart, which Wikipedia says is 'an open-source Web programming language developed by Google.' The Wikipedia article goes on to say Dart was unveiled at the GOTO conference in Aarhus, October 10–12, 2011, and that the goal of Dart is 'ultimately to replace JavaScript as the lingua franca of web development on the open web platform.' A bold aim, indeed. Last month (June, 2014), InfoWorld ran an article by Paul Krill headlined, Google's Go language on the rise, but Dart is stalling. Seth Ladd, unlike Paul Krill, is obviously rah-rah about Dart -- which is as it should be, since that's his job -- and seems to think it has a growing community and a strong place in the future of Web programming. For more about Dart, scroll down to watch Tim Lord's video interview with Seth -- or read the transcript, if you prefer. (Alternate Video Link)

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Cosmic Mystery Solved By Super-sized Supernova Dust

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 22:10
astroengine writes: 'How cosmic dust is created has been a mystery for some time. Although the textbooks tell us that the dusty stuff that builds the planets — and, ultimately, the complex chemistry that forms life (we are, after all, made of 'star stuff') — comes from supernova explosions, astronomers have been puzzled as to how delicate grains of dust condense from stellar material and how they can possibly survive the violent shock waves of the cataclysmic booms. But now, with the help of a powerful ground-based telescope, astronomers have not only watched one of these supernova 'dust factories' in action, they've also discovered how the grains can withstand the violent supernova shock. "When the star explodes, the shockwave hits the dense gas cloud like a brick wall," said lead author Christa Gall, of Aarhus University, Denmark. "It is all in gas form and incredibly hot, but when the eruption hits the 'wall' the gas gets compressed and cools down to about 2,000 degrees. At this temperature and density elements can nucleate and form solid particles. We measured dust grains as large as around one micron (a thousandth of a millimeter), which is large for cosmic dust grains. They are so large that they can survive their onward journey out into the galaxy (PDF)." The surprising size of the measured dust particles means they can better survive the supernova's shockwave. This research has been published in the journal Nature.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Gamestop's Ludicrous Idea: Require Preorders To Unlock Custom Game Content

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 21:50
MojoKid writes: One of the great universal truths of modern gaming is that preorder bonuses suck. The term refers to the practice of ordering a title at some point before it actually ships in order to get access to a variety of minor outfit tweaks, a few starting weapons, or boosts to early gameplay. Today, some publishers take this practice to truly ridiculous levels; the recent game Watch Dogs has no fewer than nine pre-order options. GameStop, perhaps sensing that there's pressure building against the model, wants to turn the dial up to 11 — and create preorder-locked, GameStop-specific content. According to financial analyst Colin Sebastian, "[GameStop] indicates that software publishers are more enthusiastic about partnering with it. For example, by offering exclusive content on each major game release and longer term, future models may include GameStop offering exclusive gameplay." GameStop is enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment. The company has captured a greater share of the Xbox One and PS4 market than it held at this point in the console cycle last time around and it's clearly looking to increase the attractiveness of its own business. That's fine but this kind of arbitrary lopping off of content to boost sales at particular shops simply isn't going to sit well with most gamers.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

UK Computing Student Jailed After Failing To Hand Over Crypto Keys

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 21:28
stephendavion sends news that Christopher Wilson, a 22-year-old computer science student, has been sent to jail for six months for refusing to hand over his computer encryption passwords. Wilson has been accused of "phoning in a fake warning of an impending cyber attack against Northumbria Police that was convincing enough for the force to temporarily suspend its site as a precaution once a small attack started." He's also accused of trolling on Facebook. Wilson only came to the attention of police in October 2012 after he allegedly emailed warnings about an online threat against one of the staff at Newcastle University. ... The threatening emails came from computer servers linked to Wilson. Police obtained a warrant on this basis and raided his home in Washington, where they seized various items of computer equipment. ... Investigators wanted to examine his encrypted computer but the passwords supplied by Wilson turned out to be incorrect. None of the 50 passwords he provided worked. Frustration with his lack of co-operation prompted police to obtained a order from a judge compelling him to turn over the correct passphrase last year. A judge ordered him to turn over these passwords on the grounds of national security but Wilson still failed to comply, earning him six months behind bars.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Blueprints For Taming the Climate Crisis

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 20:45
mdsolar sends this story from the NY Times: Here's what your future will look like if we are to have a shot at preventing devastating climate change. Within about 15 years every new car sold in the United States will be electric. ... Up to 60 percent of power might come from nuclear sources. And coal's footprint will shrink drastically, perhaps even disappear from the power supply. This course, created by a team of energy experts, was unveiled on Tuesday in a report for the United Nations (PDF) that explores the technological paths available for the world's 15 main economies to both maintain reasonable rates of growth and cut their carbon emissions enough by 2050 to prevent climatic havoc. It offers a sobering conclusion: We might be able to pull it off. But it will take an overhaul of the way we use energy, and a huge investment in the development and deployment of new energy technologies. Significantly, it calls for an entirely different approach to international diplomacy on the issue of how to combat climate change.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Tor Project Sued Over a Revenge Porn Business That Used Its Service

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 20:03
redletterdave writes: The Tor Project has been sued in the state of Texas over a revenge porn website that used its free encrypted communications service. The plaintiff in the case — Shelby Conklin, a criminal justice major at the University of North Texas — alleges a revenge porn site called Pinkmeth "gained unauthorized access to nude photographs" she owned and posted them to the internet. She also said Tor, which The Economist once called "a dark corner of the web," was involved in an active "civil conspiracy" with Pinkmeth because the revenge porn website used the anonymous communications service to prevent others from tracking its location.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

A Brain Implant For Synthetic Memory

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 19:21
the_newsbeagle (2532562) writes "People who have experienced traumatic brain injuries sometimes lose the ability to form new memories or recall old ones. Since many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffered TBIs, the U.S. military is funding research on an implantable device that could do the job of damaged brain cells." Lofty goals: "To start, DARPA will support the development of multi-scale computational models with high spatial and temporal resolution that describe how neurons code declarative memories — those well-defined parcels of knowledge that can be consciously recalled and described in words, such as events, times, and places. Researchers will also explore new methods for analysis and decoding of neural signals to understand how targeted stimulation might be applied to help the brain reestablish an ability to encode new memories following brain injury. ... Building on this foundational work, researchers will attempt to integrate the computational models ... into new, implantable, closed-loop systems able to deliver targeted neural stimulation that may ultimately help restore memory function."

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Interviews: Ask Juan Gilbert About Human-Centered Computing

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 18:40
Awarded the first Presidential Endowed Chair at Clemson University, and being named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), are just a couple of Juan Gilbert's more noteworthy honors. Juan is the Associate Chair of Research in the Computer & Information Science & Engineering Department at the University of Florida where he leads the Human Centered Computing Lab. With the help of students, the lab works on a variety of issues, including electronic voting, automotive user interfaces, advanced learning technologies, culturally relevant computing or ethnocomputing, and databases and data analytics. Dr. Gilbert has agreed to answer any questions you might have about computing and affecting society through accessible technologies. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 18:04
Advocatus Diaboli (1627651) writes The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans — including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers — under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies. From the article: "The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called 'FISA recap.' Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also 'are or may be' engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens. ... The five Americans whose email accounts were monitored by the NSA and FBI have all led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives. All five vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage, and none advocates violent jihad or is known to have been implicated in any crime, despite years of intense scrutiny by the government and the press. Some have even climbed the ranks of the U.S. national security and foreign policy establishments."

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Alcatel-Lucent's XG-FAST Pushes 10,000Mbps Over Copper Phone Lines

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 17:26
Mark.JUK (1222360) writes The Bell Labs R&D division of telecoms giant Alcatel-Lucent has today claimed to set a new world record after they successfully pushed "ultra-broadband" speeds of 10,000 Megabits per second (Mbps) down a traditional copper telephone line using XG-FAST technology, which is an extension of G.fast (ITU G.9700). G.fast is a hybrid-fiber technology, which is designed to deliver Internet speeds of up to 1000Mbps over runs of copper cable (up to around 250 meters via 106MHz+ radio spectrum). The idea is that a fiber optic cable is taken closer to homes and then G.fast works to deliver the last few meters of service, which saves money because the operator doesn't have to dig up your garden to lay new cables. XG-FAST works in a similar way but via an even shorter run of copper and using frequencies of up to 500MHz. For example, XG-FAST delivered its top speed of 10,000Mbps by bonding two copper lines together over just 30 meters of cable.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

DHS Mistakenly Releases 840 Pages of Critical Infrastructure Documents

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 16:45
wiredmikey (1824622) writes The Operation Aurora attack was publicized in 2010 and impacted Google and a number of other high-profile companies. However, DHS responded to the request by releasing more than 800 pages of documents related to the 'Aurora' experiment conducted several years ago at the Idaho National Laboratory, where researchers demonstrated a way to damage a generator via a cyber-attack. Of the documents released by the DHS, none were related to the Operation Aurora cyber attack as requested. Many of the 840 pages are comprised of old weekly reports from the DHS' Control System Security Program (CSSP) from 2007. Other pages that were released included information about possible examples of facilities that could be vulnerable to attack, such as water plants and gas pipelines.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Physicists Spot Potential Source of 'Oh-My-God' Particles

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 16:06
sciencehabit (1205606) writes For decades, physicists have sought the sources of the most energetic subatomic particles in the universe — cosmic rays that strike the atmosphere with as much energy as well-thrown baseballs. Now, a team working with the Telescope Array, a collection of 507 particle detectors covering 700 square kilometers of desert in Utah, has observed a broad 'hotspot' in the sky in which such cosmic rays seem to originate. Although not definitive, the observation suggests the cosmic rays emanate from a distinct source near our galaxy and not from sources spread all over the universe.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Normal Humans Effectively Excluded From Developing Software

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 15:27
theodp (442580) writes Over at Alarming Development, Jonathan Edwards has an interesting rant entitled Developer Inequality and the Technical Debt Crisis. The heated complaints that the culture of programming unfairly excludes some groups, Edwards feels, is a distraction from a bigger issue with far greater importance to society. "The bigger injustice," Edwards writes, "is that programming has become an elite: a vocation requiring rare talents, grueling training, and total dedication. The way things are today if you want to be a programmer you had best be someone like me on the autism spectrum who has spent their entire life mastering vast realms of arcane knowledge — and enjoys it. Normal humans are effectively excluded from developing software. The real injustice of developer inequality is that it doesn't have to be this way." Edwards concludes with a call to action, "The web triumphalists love to talk about changing the world. Well if you really want to change the world, empower regular people to build web apps. Disrupt web programming! Who's with me?" Ed Finkler, who worries about his own future as a developer in The Developer's Dystopian Future, seconds that emotion. "I think about how I used to fill my time with coding," Finkler writes. "So much coding. I was willing to dive so deep into a library or framework or technology to learn it. My tolerance for learning curves grows smaller every day. New technologies, once exciting for the sake of newness, now seem like hassles. I'm less and less tolerant of hokey marketing filled with superlatives. I value stability and clarity."

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Climate Change Skeptic Group Must Pay Damages To UVA, Michael Mann

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 14:48
ideonexus (1257332) writes In January of 2014, the American Traditions Institute (ATI) sought Climate Scientist Micheal Mann's emails from his time at the University of Virginia (UVA), a request that was denied in the courts. Now the Virginia Supreme court has upheld a lower court ruling that ATI must pay damages for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Thus ends "Climategate." Hopefully.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Buzz Aldrin Pressures Obama For New Space Exploration Initiative

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 14:12
MarkWhittington writes: While he has initiated the social media campaign, #Apollo45, to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin is also using the occasion to campaign for an expansion of American space exploration. According to a Tuesday story in the Washington Post, Aldrin has expressed the wish that President Obama make some sort of announcement along those lines this July 20. The idea has a certain aspect of deja vu. Aldrin believes that the American civil space program is adrift and that some new space exploration, he prefers to Mars, would be just the thing to set it back on course. There is only one problem, however. President Obama has already made the big space exploration announcement. Aldrin knows this because he was there. President Obama flew to the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010, with Aldrin accompanying as a photo op prop, and made the announcement that America would no longer be headed back to the moon, as was the plan under his predecessor George W. Bush. Instead American astronauts would visit an Earth approaching asteroid and then, decades hence, would land on Mars.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

In the Belly of the Beast

The Daily WTF - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 12:00

A large company is something like a whale. They are huge beasts who strain their sustenance (profits) from the ocean that surrounds them. In this analogy, customers are krill, but their employees are more like Jonah- wrapped up inside of a beast larger and more complex than they can possibly imagine.

First, we have no control over who gets swallowed up in that whale with us. Phil, for example, found himself huddled in the bowels of a large manufacturer with Len as his only company.

The Broken Piece

Len, like an RJ45 connector with a broken clip, had a difficult time holding onto his connection to the world around him. This led to bizarre, almost surreal exchanges, like:

Len: Do you do even logging in your programs?
Phil: I… I write to a log.
Len: I’m getting duplicate entries in the log.
Phil: Then you’re probably writing to the log twice.
Len: I was thinking about only writing to the log if the entry ID is even.

Or a later encounter:

Len (pointing at a machine): What’s this?
Phil: It’s an air compressor.
Len: What does it do?
Phil: It compresses air.

In the end, Len deleted all of the .resx files from an ASP.NET application and spent a few days trying to understand why it stopped building.

File(system) Not Found

Tom had a similar issue with fellow developer Reggie. Reggie was getting errors, and Tom suspected that Reggie had an old version of one of the key assemblies. Reggie was unsure how to check that, so Tom gave him instructions- “Right click on the assembly, go to properties, and on the details tab, you’ll see the file version.”

“Where is that in the C# editor?” Reggie asked.

“It’s on the file system.”

Several minutes went by, and Tom assumed Reggie had things under control. “Can you send me a screen shot of how to navigate to that? I’m not able to find the file system.”

Production testing

It’s not just the challenging co-workers though. Sometimes, the environment inside the belly of the whale itself is the challenge. John was getting ready to release some code changes for his company’s largest client. That led to this IM exchange:

(10:59:11) John: The boss says to be sure that this works we need to test it. Is there somewhere I can test this?
(11:01:06) Dave: there’s nowhere to test it
(11:01:10) Dave: it has to work first time

Hey, Four Eyes! Your momma dresses you funny!

When the whale gets big enough, the whale stops thinking of itself as a rampaging Moby Dick, and instead starts thinking about just how much it has invested in itself. Then it starts thinking in terms of risk aversion.

An Anonymous informant sent us a process document from a large banking company. It leads off with this chilling summary:

“Up to and including dismissal”! What is this “4 Eyes Check”, and why could I lose my job over it? Is this a crack about people who wear glasses? Of course not- it’s a fairly common sense policy: if someone’s about to do a manual process, someone else should watch. It sounds like a great way to cut down on errors. A large company, though, can’t simply lay out a policy like that. It needs to be couched correctly.

Because in a process like this, you don’t just have four eyes. You need far more. You need the process owner.

You need the control owner.

Then you need your two pairs of eyes.

You need to keep one foot in reality.

But the other foot needs to document absolutely everything that could possibly be documented.

The list of things that “must be evidenced” is surprisingly short, at only a page long, including things like the script used, the parameters used, the CMDB stated both before and after the process, the names of any files changed, etc.

In addition, we need documentation to prove that our “pairs of eyes” have complied with the “4 Eyes Checking” standard.

And finally, this standard is exactly that- a standard:

There are no exceptions .

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Categories: Fun/Other

How Japan Lost Track of 640kg of Plutonium

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 11:09
Lasrick sends this quote from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Most people would agree that keeping track of dangerous material is generally a good idea. So it may come as a surprise to some that the arrangements that are supposed to account for weapon-grade fissile materials—plutonium and highly enriched uranium—are sketchy at best. The most recent example involves several hundreds kilograms of plutonium that appear to have fallen through the cracks in various reporting arrangements. ... [A Japanese researcher discovered] that the public record of Japan’s plutonium holdings failed to account for about 640 kilograms of the material. The error made its way to the annual plutonium management report that Japan voluntarily submits to the International Atomic Energy Agency ... This episode may have been a simple clerical error, but it was yet another reminder of the troubling fact that we know very little about the amounts of fissile material that are circulating around the globe. The only reason the discrepancy was discovered in this case was the fact that Japan has been unusually transparent about its plutonium stocks. ... No other country does this.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Dwarf Fortress Gets Biggest Update In Years

Slashdot - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 09:40
An anonymous reader writes Dwarf Fortress, the epic, ASCII text-based, roguelike citybuilding game, just released its biggest update in years. The game is notable for its incredible depth, and the new release only extends it. Here are the release notes — they won't make much sense if you don't play the game, but they'll give you a sense of how massively complex Dwarf Fortress is. It's also worth noting the a team of modders has recently released a new version Stonesense utility, which renders the game in 3-D from an isometric point of view. "[T]he utility relies on DFHack, a community-made library that reads the game's memory and can be parsed, thus allowing for additional utilities to render things while bypassing the initial ASCII output." If you're unfamiliar with the game, here's an illustrated depiction of an amazing story generated by the game.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

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