Boing Boing 

Holy crap Facebook is paying $2 billion for virtual reality headset firm Oculus Rift


$2 billion? Are you fucking kidding me?

Update: Don't miss Dean Putney's opinion piece, "Oculus was the future of gaming. Now it’s the future of Facebook."

Facebook today announced that it has "reached a definitive agreement to acquire Oculus VR, Inc., the leader in immersive virtual reality technology, for a total of approximately $2 billion." The deal includes $400 million in cash and 23.1 million shares of Facebook common stock, and provides for an additional $300 million earn-out in cash and stock based on "the achievement of certain milestones."

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In a world of text, humans experiment with different ways of conveying emotion

Texting has changed the English language! We now use more exclamation points than we did 15 years ago! But that's okay, because language is always changing!

Quakebot allows journalists to break news in their sleep

Three minutes after last week's earthquake, a Quakebot created by the The Los Angeles Times had already written a story breaking the news. It took humans another five minutes to copyedit and publish.

Terry Pratchett's Raising Steam, out in the USA today


Terry Pratchett's Raising Steam, the 40th Discworld novel, comes out in the US today. I reviewed it back in November for the UK release; here's what I had to say then: it's a tremendous synthesis of everything that makes Pratchett one of the world's most delightful writers. It's a curious thing: a fantasy novel about modernity and reactionaries, a synthesis of technological optimism and a curious sort of romantic mysticism.

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Robot fish and the dawn of "soft robots"

MIT engineers are developing "soft robots" with bodies made of silicone that is actuated by fluid flowing through veins in the material. They've just demonstrated a soft robotic fish.

“As robots penetrate the physical world and start interacting with people more and more, it’s much easier to make robots safe if their bodies are so wonderfully soft that there’s no danger if they whack you," says Daniela Rus, director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Delhi police lost password for complaints portal in 2006, haven't checked it since


The Delhi police lost the password for a portal that hosted complaints that had been passed on by the Central Vigilance Commission after an initial vetting. 667 complaints had been judged serious enough to be passed onto the police since the password was lost in 2006, but none have been acted upon, because no one had the password. Now they have the password. Presumably, the 667 unserved complainants believed the police to be either too slow or incompetent to have gotten back to them.

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Guy who "fixed" women's computers spied through their webcams


A London court has found a man named Andrew Meldrum guilty of "unauthorised access to computer material" and "voyeurism." Meldrum "helped" young women fix their computers and covertly installed snoopware on them, and subsequently spied on them via their webcams. He is to be sentenced in April. A forensics expert claims that this sort of thing is "very common."

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Coderdojo: global network of self-directed hacker schools for kids


Glenn sez, "An Irish programmer started with a club in Cork to teach (at no cost) kids aged 5 to 17 how to program. It was such a hit that it's expanded to hundred of cities across 27 countries. CoderDojo has a template that includes self-directed learning with mentors on tap to help out. The notion is to provide kids a productive outlet. Among its successes is an average participation split about halfway between girls and boys in most chapters."

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The underwater spacesuit that's going to revolutionize ocean research

The Exosuit allows humans to move like scuba divers at depths that would make scuba wildly impractical. It's got all the benefits of a small submarine, but with more flexibility and freedom of movement.

Ye olde history of perpetual motion machines

Mersebergwheel jpg

Cambridge science historian Simon Schaffer researched the history of quack science's most iconic device, the perpetual motion machine. Cabinet magazine's Christopher Turner recently interviewed Schaffer about one famed demonstration from 1721, and the, er, perpetual attraction of such devices to this day.

Spin Doctors: An Interview with Simon Schaffer (Cabinet)

And here's the abstract for Schaffer's scholarly paper (behind a paywall): "The show that never ends: perpetual motion in the early eighteenth century"

Ukraine security forces torch #euromaidan's IT tent, kill journalist, beat tech protester to near-death


Protesters in Kiev's #Euromaidan camp report that yesterday's horrific violence -- which saw at least 25 protesters killed by police -- has continued to escalate. The #IT_Namet tent -- a fixture in Euromaidan, offering nonviolent IT support to protesters and journalists -- was targeted by government security forces who burned it to the ground, beating Alexei Lymarenko, one of the tent's volunteers to a state of near death. A journalist, Veremei Vyacheslav, was killed by police.

Here is a statement released by IT_Namet, asking the international technology community to support their efforts:

“From the very beginning #IT_Namet was built with the aim of a peaceful protest. Members of the IT-community never had weapons, except for tablets and smartphones connected to the Internet. So, the real purpose of security forces actions was not anti-terrorism, as it was claimed, but the destruction of unarmed people. We regret that tonight IT professional Lymarenko Alexei suffered. He was together with Ukrainian journalist Vyacheslav Veremei. Vyacheslav was killed, and Alex, who was beaten nearly to death, has serious traumas of his face. Although # IT_Namet was destroyed tonight, our beliefs and our support for peaceful protest remained unchanged. The “IT spіlnota” (IT community), which united people representing the IT industry, is expanding its activity beyond # IT_Namet. “IT spіlnota” will set out to spot the violence of authorities, to save people’s lives. Now every member of the IT-community can itself make his/her choice on the tools to protect their rights and the rights of people who yesterday were violated by their summary execution. We highly appreciate any actual support of IT-community abroad.”

Tech Protester in Kiev Badly Beaten, Journalist Killed, As ‘IT Tent’ Is Burned By Police [Mike Butcher/Tech Crunch]

See also: EuroMaidan: a Facebook revolution in the streets of Kiev

The Knowledge Box: psychedelic education enviro from 1962

140121 knowledge box ken issacs 04

140121 knowledge box ken issacs 01

Above is designer Ken Isaacs inside his Knowledge Box, a 1962 invention meant to educate students through "a rapid procession of thoughts and ideas projected on walls, ceilings and floor in a panoply of pictures, words and light patterns." At right, technicians work on the slide projectors that project the imagery inside the box. More over at LIFE.

Micro-windmills could someday power your phone

Wndm

Above is a micro-windmill that University of Texas Arlington researchers suggest could someday be used to charge mobile electronics if they were embedded en masse on the device's case. The MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) are fabricated using recesses similar to the way integrated circuits are manufactured combined with origami-like self-assembly techniques.

“Imagine that they can be cheaply made on the surfaces of portable electronics,” says researcher Smitha Rao. "When the phone is out of battery power, all you need to do is to put on the sleeve, wave the phone in the air for a few minutes and you can use the phone again.” She adds that eventually, flat panels coated with the windmills could be mounted to buildings to harvest energy for sensor networks, wireless communications, lighting or other purposes.

Check out the video below of the windmills in action! (via Wired)

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California Assembly approves bills limiting use of drones by police, public agencies


An octocopter drone hovers in front of vapor trails left by aircrafts during a demonstration. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic

In California, state assembly lawmakers approved a number of bills today, including a measure to limit how law enforcement and public agencies can use drones:

The bill, by Assemblymembers Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo), Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), would require public agencies to destroy data collected by drones within six months and would ban the weaponization of drones in California.

It also would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant to use a drone, except in certain emergency situations.

More: California Assembly approves limits on drones, paparazzi - latimes.com.

Lovecraftian rant about the horrors of Blackboard

Anyone who's ever had the misfortune to attend or work at an academic institution that uses the horrible classroom software Blackboard knows that it is a worse-than-useless exercise in technological sadism that is responsible for more pain and suffering than practically any other technology in educational history. But it takes the eloquence of Dave Noon's epic, Lovecraftian rant to truly express the loathing that Blackboard inspires in its users: "After generations of dry-throated croaking and lung-starched wheezing, their tongues swollen with thirst and punctured with abscesses that never heal, these distant people will bring forth a new language to survey the boundaries of their pain."

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Podcast: Digital failures are inevitable, but we need them to be graceful

Here's a reading of my latest Guardian column, Digital failures are inevitable, but we need them to be graceful, about the social and political factors that make all the difference when choosing technologies.

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How Twitter's back-end stays up


Raffi Krikorian is a smart engineer and technical manager; I've know him for decades, but didn't realize that he was currently Vice President for Platform Engineering at Twitter. This interview with him at InfoQ gives a really fascinating flavor for how Twitter's reliability engineering is baked in at the systems level:

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Bipartisan budget deals require sacrifices. Here's one.

Yay, Congress passed a budget bill! Boo, it gutted energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs!

How to have a healthy relationship with technology

My latest Guardian column, "Digital failures are inevitable, but we need them to be graceful," talks about evaluating technology based on more than its features -- rather, on how you relate to it, and how it relates to you. In particular, I try to make the case for giving especial care to what happens when your technology fails:

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India's street typists: a vanishing breed


India's street typists -- skilled professionals who type documents for passersby who need formal paperwork for official purposes -- are in great financial difficulty. Their trade has been largely supplanted by computers with word-processors. Even the love-sick young men who would come to them to type out love letters have moved on. The BBC profiles the street typists of Calcutta, in a piece steeped with melancholy at a world that has moved on.

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A tour of online shopping in 1984

In an NPR report from 1984, a revelation: There are people who do not like to go shopping and some of them might enjoy buying things from the comfort of their own home with the help of a computer. I know. It's crazy. Bonuses: Description of a kludged-together, TV-based system that "will eventually be replaced by a home computer" and an early version of the audio editing and production style now famous from its use on Radiolab.

Patent mess goes to the Supreme Court

Two more high-profile patent cases are headed to the US Supreme Court, which has already agreed to hear a patent case this year. The patent system is in chaos, with ever-more-trivial patents being granted, and ever-broader theories of patent infringement being created by the Federal Circuit, the court that oversees the patent system.

A Supreme Court ruling that restored some sanity to patents would be very welcome indeed -- but if they went the other way, it would be dreadful. The only solution at that point would be for Congress -- whose campaigns depend on revenue from patent abusers -- to pass a new law (don't hold your breath).

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Senior execs are the biggest risk to IT security

Stroz Friedberg, a risk-management consultancy, commissioned a survey [PDF] of information handling practices in businesses that concluded that senior managers are the greatest risk to information security within companies.

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New Disruptors 57: Through a Glass Brightly with Abhi Lokesh

Take a picture and put it under glass, but not quite the way you think. The folks at Fracture have a built a business that connects several different technologies into one new way to make large-format photos printed on glass suitable for hanging. Today I talk to Abhi Lokesh, one of Fracture's founders, about the journey from a small village in Africa to a whizz-bang printing and distribution company.

The New Disruptors: RSS | iTunes | Download this episode | Listen on Stitcher

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North of Philly, a museum of dead tech

In Doylestown, Pennsylvania, there is a poured-in-place castle made of concrete and filled with archaic technology — a museum of tools that people no longer use because they've all been replaced by industrialization. You can visit.

Hop a high-speed train

Here's a fascinating idea for how people could board a high speed train without it ever having to slow down.

The coming era of Glass

Theodore Ross on Google Glass: "Glass will free your hands, but your eyes, let alone your ass or mind, may not follow. If it gains wide acceptance, however, it could necessitate the creation of new rules of decorum..." [Medium]

Robot cheetah demonstrates efficient new motors

MIT researchers built a 70-pound robot "cheetah" meant to demonstrate the high efficiency of a new electric motor design. Among other improvements, the design enables the impact energy of the robot's leg hitting the ground to be captured and fed into the robot's battery. Soon, they expect the motors to enable the cheetah-bot to gallop at 35 mph which, of course, is still just half the speed of a real cheetah. However, it will hit those speeds much more efficiently than other running robots.

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Illustrated timeline of anti-fun moral panics


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Tor.com has republished a great chart from Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!, forthcoming in on January 7. The chart details the central thesis of the book: that "the long-standing campaign against fun" is a recurring story in which anxious, killjoy grownups make up stupid explanations for why the stuff their kids like is terrible and should be banned, and the golden era of their own childhoods (and the amusements that reigned then) should be restored.

The chart starts with Trithemius's 1494 rant against printing presses ("The word written on parchment will last a thousand years. The printed word is on paper. How long will it last?") and moves smartly through books, steam engines, newspapers, photos, telegraphs, movies, phones, phonographs, radio, TV, computers, and (of course), the Internet.

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Designing "technology for women": a flowchart


Ars Technica's Casey Johnson has designed a handy checklist for people hoping to develop a "woman's" tech product without being sexist jerks. The first step is ensuring that there is, indeed, some need that is unique to women (an important step -- women don't need their own pens, Bic). And obviously, you can't just make a pink version or a version that has fewer features and declare it to be chick-ready. Johnson then counsels against avoiding merely making things more "design-y" and declaring it to be woman-friendly (guys like things that look good too).

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