Boing Boing 

India's $11 cellphone could change the world

micromax_joy_x1800_x1850_pouch_package The mobile market in India is flooded with new phones: three a day last year. Local provider Micromax has a gamble to claim a slice of that.

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Pixar's Renderman released for free

Pixar has released its Renderman imaging software to the public free to download. This version is identical to the software it uses on it's own films, which was invented in-house, and is used today by major film and video game studios for animation and visual effects. This free license is for non-commercial use only, which includes show reels and student films.

Free Non-Commercial RenderMan can be used for research, education, evaluation, plug-in development, and any personal projects that do not generate commercial profits. Free Non-Commercial RenderMan is also fully featured, without watermark, time limits, or other user limitations.

Pixar is also launching a Renderman Community Site to share knowledge and assets, showcase work, and support all the new users bound to take advantage of this unique opportunity.

(via)

Watch: how Digital Light Processing works

Ben Krasnow is the modern Way Things Work. In this video, he shows how Digital Light Processing projectors work.

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Apple Watch will have to nail heart rate

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When Apple releases Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport in April, expectations will be high. Today, over a dozen watches attempt to monitor heart rate through the wrist, using optical sensors to judge changes in blood flow, but only a few actually work well. It's a tricky engineering problem. Comb the reports of the most thorough gadget reviewers, and you'll see that many of Apple's competitors simply don't have their sensors quite working. The watches stop monitoring if the user is cold or moving around (which can sometimes happen in sports.)

Imagine getting to work Monday morning and a project manager demands that you reverse-engineer a difficult technology in a newly minted field. Optical heart rate feels a little like light-bulb filaments in the 1870s: everyone's trying to find a long-lasting one, only a few have the answer. In wearable products, the pulse is an important data stream to power a lot of advanced features.

To date, several companies have completely figured out optical heart rate monitoring for wearables, including Mio and Valencell. Will Apple join them in April, or will its users discover a finicky and imperfect version?

Wearable laugh sensor knows when you're feeling good

laugh_sensor At the 2015 Wearable Device Technology Expo in Tokyo in January, a tech firm introduced a small lapel worn sensor that can tell when the wearer's laughing, talking, or in trouble. Based on 10-years of "laugh-detecting" research, it's meant to help monitor the health of senior citizens. According to researchers:
To know they are "laughing" will help you see that they are happy and mentally well. "Falling" may indicate an emergency situation. This device reassures you that your loved ones, who live far away, are doing well.
via Tim Hornyak, IDG News Service

Nova Scotia artist generates furious noise from hand-made sound machines

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Artist Rebecca Baxter of Halifax, Nova Scotia makes noisy, grating, often ethereal sounds from machines she designs and solders herself. Demand has been high for her one-offs, including those used in recordings and performances by Flaming Lips, Electric Wurms, New Fumes, Mike O'Neill, Panos, METEOROID, Holy Fuck, Buck 65, and Oscillator Sunshine Machine.

Now she's launched a campaign to raise money to build more sophisticated handmade instruments. So far her devices have been stand-alone, creating sound from oscillators inside, but her next model, the Omega, is slated to have inputs for a guitar or keyboard. More videos: 1, 2, 3.

Learn the sign language for "screengrab" and "SMH"

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Online mag Hopes & Fears asked an educator in American Sign Language and his young assistant to demonstrate various internet jargon such as "emoji" and "photobomb". Each demo is captured in a short video loop. SMH portrays all the disgust involved in shaking one's head at something really stupid; Screengrab involves a nice gesture that enacts the mechanism of a phone display flashing in one's hand.

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Since there's no central authority for such neologisms, some signs were ones used among friends while others were reached by consensus among members of the Deaf community online.

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Why are (some) transhumanists such dicks?

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In December on the forum biohack.me, there was a fascinating discussion entitled "Why are transhumanists such dicks?" What came out of it was this.

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Kathy Sierra's BADASS: how to make your users into successes


Kathy Sierra, the brilliant and storied user experience expert, has a new book, Badass: Making Users Awesome, which is aimed at teaching you to "craft a strategy for creating successful users."

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The dystopian future of quantified babies

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A group of design students from a Swedish university published an insightful academic paper last year spoofing all the baby health trackers now pitched to parents. The trackers measure things like a baby's breathing rate, heart rate, and sleep, and are made by startups including Mimo Baby, Owlet, Sproutling, and Monbaby.

Is this fear mongering for new moms? Or will these devices actually offer valuable data on infants? I think it's too early to tell. But the paper does a good job of critiquing the design pitfalls of the user experience. It argues such devices could needlessly raise anxiety and remove intuition from parenting.

There's a cool hand-drawn storyboard of a new mom deciding not to go the park with Johnny after she binges on biometric data:

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Also, a good rendering of an epidemiological map overlay that would show all the kids in your neighborhood suffering from excessive booger:

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The beauty of an energy-free treadmill

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I've been coveting the world’s best manual treadmill, the EcoMill ($7,000). But until I have a spare seven grand, I have to run with conventional electric mills. Most use a lot of juice -- between 800 and 1800 watts continuously -- because they have ot lock down a consistent pace with a low-cost mechanism.

At a sleepy little gym and pool complex here in Vermont, on a conventional electric machine this week, the current was so high it overloaded a nearby stereo receiver playing upbeat pop music for a water aerobics class. All of a sudden, seven wet, angry seniors swarmed from the pool. Encircled by bright floaties, they demanded I quit running so the music would come back on. I tried to explain the concept of a blown fuse and how treadmills use high wattage because they can’t rely on the friction like spin bikes and how the world really should invent a cheap electricity free mill. But at that only enraged them, and they gripped the handrails and rocked the machine side to side.

I really want my own EcoMill for the house. Or maybe a human-sized hamster wheel.

 

1871 plans map out the first circuit of the globe by telegraph

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The Library of Congress site contains gems like this map showing the proposed final link of the original world wide web: the proposed trans-Pacific telegraph line, envisioned with Civil War-era technology.

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Watch how responsive laser car headlights can change night driving

Of all the CES videos this year, the most surprisingly interesting one demonstrated responsive laser auto headlights. In the concept demo, sensors gauge driving conditions and objects as they come into view, even splitting the beam so it doesn't blast oncoming vehicles with light.

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WATCH: Kid gets new 3D-printed prosthetic StormTrooper arm

7-year-old Liam Porter got his prosthetic StormTrooper arm thanks to e-NABLE, an online community of 3-D printer enthusiasts who make prosthetics for those in need.

New prosthetic "trooper" arm built with 3-D printer surprises Augusta boy (Augusta Chronicle)

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If you'd like to get involved or see other wonderful stories, visit enablingthefuture.org.

E-Nabling the Future website

Previously: Interview with young man about his 3D printed prosthetic hand

Bottom line: are humans sensors or things to be sensed?


A magesterial longread from Hans de Zwart of the Netherlands' Bits of Freedom steps carefully through all the ways in which the modern technological landscape focuses on ubiquitous surveillance for the purposes of social control and increased profitability for corporations.

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Harmful aging considered


Charlie Stross lays out the state of aging: "cognitive functioning burdened by decades of memories to integrate, canalized by prior experiences, dominated by the complexity of long-term planning at the expense of real-time responsiveness...truck by intricate, esoteric cross-references to that which has gone before."

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Gecko Feet Inspire Wall-Climbing Gloves

I love it when nature inspires technology. A group of researchers has developed a glove that will allow humans to stick to and scale walls. This bit of amazingness is being modeled on the feet of geckos.

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Unlike tree frogs, whose sticky toe pads give these amphibians the ability to cling to surfaces, gecko toes instead use friction created by microscopic hair-like structures called setae that hold up the animal's body weight.

This adaptation has been studied before, but so far physics and gravity have prevented any practical application for human use. We're simply too large and heavy. That has all changed now based on the work of Michael Elliot Hawks of Stanford University, who has developed a synthetic nano-fiber "setae" that can hold the weight of a human.

If and when these become available to the public, I'm definitely adding them to my wish list!

How the Enigma code-machines worked


With the release of the Alan Turing biopic "The Imitation Game," interest in the Enigma cipher used by the Axis powers and broken by Turing and the exiled Polish mathematicians at Bletchley Park has been revived.

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Cybercrooks sell stolen rewards points at 99.9% discount

Enough Hilton Hhonors points to cover $1200 worth of stays can be bought for $12, and the crooks who're inside your account can use your associated credit-card to buy more points and more hotel rooms for themselves.

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Tech projects vein maps during blood donations

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service is testing a technology to project a vein map on the arms of blood donors during the phlebotomy.

"Vein visualisation technology uses near infrared technology to project an image of the vein onto the skin," says Dr. Dan Waller, a senior researcher with the organization. "Veins have a lot of deoxygenated haemoglobin that absorbs near infrared light and the device is able to use this information to project the image. The machines have settings to manage individual differences.

"World-first vein viewing tech trial is... not in vain!" (Australian Red Cross)

Big ISPs' efforts to squeeze Netflix lead to slow connectivity for you

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Over at Backchannel, Susan Crawford reveals how the crap Internet speeds everyday people get from the likes of Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T isn't a tech issue but rather a terrible side effect of those companies trying to punish their competitors like Netflix into paying them for access to you.

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Click your Bluetooth heels three times to call an Uber

iStrategy Labs' Dorothy is a mobile app and Bluetooth-based switch (called the Ruby) that slips into your shoe. Click your heels together three times and it triggers an action on your smartphone like calling an Uber.

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Video: flying through a pneumatic tube system

A camera flies through a pneumatic tube system like those found in libraries, banks, or in government buildings (such as this one in Norway.) It's fun to imagine that this is what it will be like riding in Elon Musk's Hyperloop. For more on pneumatic tube systems, check out this talk below by Molly Wright Steenson:

USB charger in a knife form factor

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Brunton saw me coming when they came up with their Power Knife Multi Charger integrating a standard USB to Apple Lightning, 30-Pin, and Micro-USB. Sharp, but spendy at $25.

Steven Levy's Backchannel

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Veteran tech journalist Steven Levy, author of the seminal books Hackers and Crypto, launched his new tech hub Backchannel over at Medium.

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Mini-documentary about the world's largest e-waste dump

Agbogbloshie in Accra, Ghana is the world's largest dump for electronic waste from all over the globe. Meet the teenagers who tend it in this short film, Regolith, directed by Sam Goldwater.

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

Steven Johnson blends the history of science with keen social observation to tell the story of how our modern world came about—and where it's headed. Cory Doctorow reviews How We Got to Now, also a six-part PBS/BBC series, which ties together a lifetime of workRead the rest

Great ideas that changed the world, and the people they rode in on

To inaugurate the publication of his brilliant new book How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World (also a PBS/BBC TV series), Steven Johnson has written about the difficult balance between reporting on the history of world-changing ideas and the inventors credited with their creation

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Twitter funds MIT Laboratory for Social Machines

Twitter committed $10 million to the MIT Media Lab to create a Laboratory for Social Machines that will study social systems, build tools for "social engagement and change," and deploy "social machines — networked human-machine collaboratives."

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Steven Johnson: the flashbulb and urban poverty

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Over at Medium, Steven Johnson, author of How We Got To Now, writes about how the 19th century invention of flash photography shined a light on poverty.

"Flash Forward: How We Got To Know"