The iPhone of slide rules

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I have vague memories of my older scientist brother Mark wearing a slide rule in a leather case on his belt. It was really one of the first wearable computers, albeit a mechanical, analog one. Then in 1974, he was able to purchase a Texas Instruments SR-50, the first mass-market commercial electronic calculator. The slide rule was buried in Mark's desk drawer, where the SR-50, and later his Sharp Wizard, Palm Pilot, and their descendants would ultimately end up as well. (Mark died wearing a calculator wristwatch!)

In this episode of Numberphile, Alex Bellos explains the seduction of the slide rule and also the Halden Calculex, a device he calls the "iPhone of Slide Rules."

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What is the most interesting scientific news? Very, VERY smart people respond.

It is time once again for the Edge Annual Question, a mind-bending and boundary-busting online convening of scientists, technologists, and other big thinkers all responding to a single question at the intersection of science and culture. From physicists to artists, cognitive psychologists to journalists, evolutionary biologists to maverick anthropologists, these are people who Edge founder, famed literary agent, and BB pal John Brockman describes as the "third culture (consisting) of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are."

This year, John asked: What do you consider the most interesting (scientific) news? What makes it important?" Nearly two hundred really smart people responded, including Steven Pinker, Nina Jablonski, Freeman Dyson, Stewart Brand, Marti Hearst, Philip Tetlock, Kevin Kelly, Lisa Feldman Barrett, Douglas Rushkoff, Lisa Randall, Alan Alda, Jared Diamond, Pamela McCorduck, and on and on.

"Science is the only news," writes Stewart Brand in the introduction. "When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn't change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly.' We now live in a world in which the rate of change is the biggest change." Science has thus become a big story, if not the big story: news that will stay news."

2016 : WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST INTERESTING RECENT [SCIENTIFIC] NEWS? Read the rest

Check out Disney's real wall-climbing robot!

Disney Research Zurich and ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) developed VertiGo, a mobile robot that can roll up walls. It uses two tiltable propellers that keep it rolling and also provide the thrust that keeps it against the wall when moving vertically.

“About why Disney is interested in this area, I am not able to say specifics as you can understand," Disney Research scientist Paul Beardsley told IEEE Spectrum. "But just speaking in general, one can imagine that robots with lighting effects could be useful for entertainment effects or for wall games. This also relates to the question of why the ground-wall transition is useful. If you have to manually place a robot on a wall at the start of a deployment, and manually remove it at the end, then that's taking manpower and it's not flexible. If the robot can make those transitions automatically, then you are a step in the direction of autonomous deployment, and that makes the technology more powerful. We are motivated by making a practical device, so it is real-world feedback and challenges that drive our work.”

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Did the FBI pay Carnegie Mellon $1 million to identify and attack Tor users?

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Documents published by Vice News: Motherboard and further reporting by Wired News suggest that a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University who canceled their scheduled 2015 BlackHat talk identified Tor hidden servers and visitors, and turned that data over to the FBI.

No matter who the researchers and which institution, it sounds like a serious ethical breach.

First, from VICE, a report which didn't name CMU but revealed that a U.S. University helped the FBI bust Silk Road 2, and suspects in child pornography cases:

An academic institution has been providing information to the FBI that led to the identification of criminal suspects on the dark web, according to court documents reviewed by Motherboard. Those suspects include a staff member of the now-defunct Silk Road 2.0 drug marketplace, and a man charged with possession of child pornography.

It raises questions about the role that academics are playing in the continued crackdown on dark web crime, as well as the fairness of the trials of each suspect, as crucial discovery evidence has allegedly been withheld from both defendants.

Here's a screenshot of the relevant portion of one of the court Documents that Motherboard/Vice News published:

Later today, a followup from Wired about discussion that points the finger directly at CMU:

The Tor Project on Wednesday afternoon sent WIRED a statement from its director Roger Dingledine directly accusing Carnegie Mellon of providing its Tor-breaking research in secret to the FBI in exchange for a payment of “at least $1 million.” And while Carnegie Mellon’s attack had been rumored to have been used in takedowns of dark web drug markets that used Tor’s “hidden service” features to obscure their servers and administrators, Dingledine writes that the researchers’ dragnet was larger, affecting innocent users, too.

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Upvote this: Teach kids in underserved communities how to code with Minecraft

Camp Minecraft. The goal: Bring it to more kids whose families can't pay.

LA Makerspace co-founder Tara Tiger Brown shares a project that her kid-friendly maker workshop is trying to make a reality.

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Obama's coming for your Christmas drones

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Amid growing fears about safety and security risks from unauthorized drone flights, federal regulators say they plan to require pretty much all recreational drones in the U.S. to be registered. Read the rest

“Mom, Dad, where do emoji come from?” The Unicode Consortium, son.

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The New York Times profiles the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit that “serves as the midwife to new emojis.”

People who aren't nerds never cared much about the Unicode Consortium until everyone started caring, a lot, about emoji. Read the rest

Powerful new tool literally blasts mean internet comments to smithereens

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Tanner Stokes of Herp Derp fame has done it again. He invented what we have all longed for, since the internet began: an effective way to shut people up.

“Plasma ball destroys the web.”

Yes, friends, Tanner's latest creation is the answer to unfriendly YouTube comments, harassing or abusive Facebook posts, douchey viral ads, you name it. Whatever on the internet is wrong. Read the rest

PocketLab: a $100 scientific "Swiss Army knife"

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The PocketLab is billed as a "Swiss Army Knife of science." Launched via Kickstarter, the small device contains numerous sensors to measure acceleration, force, angular velocity, magnetic field, pressure, altitude, and temperature and send that data to smartphones or laptops. According to inventor Clifton Roozeboom, it's a tool for students and citizen scientists who can't afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars on lab equipment and will get the data they need from this $100 gadget. From IEEE Spectrum:

“If you are doing a classic experiment in AP physics, you might have, say, a track and a pulley and you want to attach a sensor to a cart to measure acceleration, force, and momentum transfer,” says Roozeboom. “The typical gear available is wired, plugs into a specialized handheld gadget with a host of menus to navigate. The students spend a lot of time understanding how to use the gear instead of learning concepts.” In other traditional physics experiments, Roozeboom says, the device can be attached to a rocket to study projectile motion, stuck to a pendulum to look at harmonic motion, or placed inside a tube to measure changes in pressure with volume.

Video demo: Read the rest

Ambient weather report display generates rain, lightning, sunshine in a box

Ambient displays translate online information into a simple presentation that's meant to be glanceable, easy to understand, and non-intrusive. I've always appreciate artistic ambient displays, like Nancy Patterson's Stock Market Skirt and Eric Paulos's Limelight. Ken Kawamoto's Tempescope appears to be another wonderful example. It's a weather display in the form of a transparent box that generates the predicted weather conditions inside. For example, when the forecast is rain, a tiny rain storm occurs in the Tempescope. It can even form "clouds" and create a "lightning" storm through flashing LEDs. Kawamoto created an open source version of the Tempescope so you can make your own, or get one through the Indiegogo campaign launching this week!

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Why students are forced to buy this expensive and obsolete Texas Instruments calculator

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Twenty years ago, Texas Instruments released the TI-83 graphing calculator, a stupidly expensive piece of old technology that most high schools still require their juniors and seniors buy for around $100. Why? Because. That's why. From Mic.com:

Pearson textbooks feature illustrations of TI-series calculators alongside chapters so students can use their TI calculator in conjunction with the lesson plan. The calculators also have a significant learning curve, and moving students over to new technology is a risky proposition when success in the classroom is so tied to the technology being used.

TI calculators have been a constant, essential staple in the slow-moving public education sector. Students and teachers are so used to generations of students learning the familiar button combos and menu options that TI provides a computer program that perfectly resembles the button layout of the TI-83.

However, even if teachers wanted to be bold and bring in better technology, they would end up right back at square one because of that infamous force in American education: standardized testing.

College Board and other companies that administer the country's standardized tests have approved lists of calculators. TI-series devices are ubiquitous — mobile apps are nowhere to be found.

"I'm actually at the point now where when I do parent conferences, I tell the parents it's in their students' best interest to buy one, because the device will become necessary," Bob Lochel, a math teacher in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, told Mic. "But you feel dirty, because you're telling parents they need to buy a device, and I know I can teach without it."

"Remember Your Old Graphing Calculator? Read the rest

Watch these drones build a rope bridge you could actually walk across

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This video is amazing, and feels like something that will become even more graceful, precise, and normal as drone technology and design improve.

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Yet another pre-installed spyware app discovered on Lenovo computers

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A factory refurbished Thinkpad shipped with Windows 7 and a scheduler app that ran once a day, collecting usage data about what you do with your computer and exfiltrating it to an analytics company. Read the rest

First issue of new feminist hacker zine

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Audrey writes, "The Recompiler is a new feminist hacker magazine dedicated to learning about technology in a fun and inclusive way. The first issue of the magazine is now online, with articles about glitchy art, 80s tech, SSL bugs, and the flaws in DNS." Read the rest

The sad truth about your computer

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Another XKCD bullseye for Randall Munroe. It's all just a tangle of things you put in to fix the things that you put in to fix the things. As the tooltip says: Read the rest

The antique tech shortage that hurts the vinyl boom

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As the vinyl record resurgence continues, the problem is that there simply aren't enough record pressing plants to meet the demand. Indie labels get pushed to the back of the line when the majors place a big order. Read the rest

Hypnotically captivating video of CGI Silly Putty

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"There's something mesmerizing about watching little dragons made of semi-viscous cookie batter falling helplessly into heaps and melting into each other."

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