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The rise of the @ symbol

This is a story about the little symbol that could.  Many, many years ago, as Smithsonian Magazine tells us, the @ symbol wasn’t very popular.  It was the ugly duckling of symbols.

The first typewriters, built in the mid-1800s, didn’t include @. Likewise, @ was not among the symbolic array of the earliest punch-card tabulating systems (first used in collecting and processing the 1890 U.S. census), which were precursors to computer programming.


In those distant days, the @ symbol still had a role to play--merchants used it for bookkeeping--but it was a small role.  But the @ symbol didn’t give up.  It worked hard.  It dreamed big.  Years passed.  And then a computer scientist named Ray Tomlinson came along.  "Ray Tomlinson was facing a vexing problem: how to connect people who programmed computers with one another." He needed a symbol.  

Tomlinson’s eyes fell on @, poised above “P” on his Model 33 teletype. “I was mostly looking for a symbol that wasn’t used much,” he told Smithsonian. “And there weren’t a lot of options—an exclamation point or a comma. I could have used an equal sign, but that wouldn’t have made much sense.” Tomlinson chose @—“probably saving it from going the way of the ‘cent’ sign on computer keyboards,” he says. Using his naming system, he sent himself an e-mail, which traveled from one teletype in his room, through Arpanet, and back to a different teletype in his room. 

And like that, the @ symbol chugged up the mountain of relevance and turned into a swan.


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Aug 31, 2012

Ad it up

Social networking sites are still trying to figure out exactly how to make money from us.  How to get ads in front of us that we’ll actually click.  How to share our data with marketers without winding up in trouble. So far, we’ve all been way more excited to comment on our friend’s vacation pictures than clicking an ad for mirror-ball-pants. All Things D reports Facebook and Twitter are trying to change that.  
In Facebook’s case:  

It will start letting marketers find prospects on the social network by using personal information like phone numbers and email addresses.
The catch: In order for a company to track a Facebook user using any of that data, the Facebook user has to have already given the company that data on their own.
Or to put it another way: Facebook is letting marketers hunt down existing customers on the site.


Twitter is remaking its ad strategy.  A few changes:

*Twitter is effectively providing advertisers access to all of its 140 million users, via targeted “Promoted Tweet” ads.
*Twitter is also making it cheaper, at least potentially, to reach those 140 million users.


And, they are adding Enhanced interest targeting:

This is what’s going to allow advertisers to hawk their stuff more broadly on Twitter, and it’s what Twitter was referring to earlier this summer, when we got our hands on their ad pitch deck. The gist: Now advertisers can try targeting some 350 “interest categories,” as well as users who share “similar interests” with a specific Twitter account.


I wonder how many ads a single human brain can process in a day before exploding (or learning to ignore all of them)?  At what point in our already ad-saturated lives does the next ad simply stop mattering?


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Aug 31, 2012

Wolfram Facebook

The statistics-leaning, charts and graphs-heavy, “computational knowledge engine” Wolfram Alpha has added a new tool for you to parse out information about your Facebook page into different analyses that tell you about y-o-u. Find out which of your posts is most liked or most commented on. Check in which months your friends are most likely to have a birthday. Or, for something completely random, the app will spit out the most common names of your friends (eight Jessicas and seven Michaels top my list). The Verge reports:

You might think of it as a data-lover's version of Facebook's own Timeline, broken down into as many as 60 different reports. It is a stunning reminder of just how much Facebook knows about you and your network, and also gives you a chance to dig into your personal analytics almost as much as Stephen Wolfram has dug into his.


To run the report, go to Wolfram Alpha and type “Facebook report.” You’ll be prompted to give the site access to your Facebook account (how else did you think it was going to analyze you?), then the app goes to work. My report came back in less than a minute, granted I’m not that heavy of a Facebooker.
One tool that wasn’t immediately clear, at least to me, is that you can dig deep on  information about your friends too. Click on a name in your report and Wolfram drills down into any of  your friend’s data that is publicly available. One more reason to quadruple check your Facebook security settings. You never know when someone’s going to Wolfram you.


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Aug 31, 2012

Recharging through thin air

First there was one-click buying. Next up, we could have one-plug charging.  Intel’s just-announced solution to the “oops, I forgot my phone charger” problem is to pass a charge through an Ultrabook outfitted with an Integrated Device Technology chip -  over the air. No strings, or wires, attached. CNET reports:

The creatively dubbed Wireless Charging Technology by Intel (WCT) is pretty simple. Just put your juice-impaired gadget within about an inch or so of a WCT-enabled Ultrabook with WCT detection software running. The laptop will couple with the mobile device and begin transferring energy wirelessly, as if conducted by the ghostly hand of Nikola Tesla himself.


Intel hopes to have Ultrabooks with IDC on the shelves in early 2013. It says that after an hour of charging, a your once-useless phone should be able to carry you through an afternoon. Not exactly quick, but at least you can use the thing.


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Aug 31, 2012

Gloves! They’re hottt, especially a really cold ones

Seems like we’ve been talking a lot about gloves lately. Let’s see, there was the award-winning glove that translated sign language to speech. Then there was the rehabilitating glove that taught you how to play piano. And now... gloves that can make you stronger. About a decade ago, Stanford biologists H. Craig Heller and Dennis Grahn were researching how the body disperses heat. But, the Stanford news blog tells, a happy accident occurred:

by taking advantage of specialized heat-transfer veins in the palms of hands, [the gloves] can rapidly cool athletes' core temperatures – and dramatically improve exercise recovery and performance.


The team is getting ready to bring their discovery to the market. Simply called “the glove,” they describe its potential as “equal to or substantially better than steroids.” They originally developed and tested the gloves on patients whose bodies had chilled after having anesthetics administered for an operation. The gloves helped them recover in record time. Then one of their lab buddies, who had a penchant for working out and doing pull-ups, tried it.

The glove seemed to nearly erase his muscle fatigue; after multiple rounds, cooling allowed him to do just as many pull-ups as he did the first time around. So the researchers started cooling him after every other set of pull-ups.
"Then in the next six weeks he went from doing 180 pull-ups total to over 620," said Heller. "That was a rate of physical performance improvement that was just unprecedented."
The researchers applied the cooling method to other types of exercise – bench press, running, cycling. In every case, rates of gain in recovery were dramatic, without any evidence of the body being damaged by overwork...


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Aug 31, 2012

Freebie movies

Oh, I mean free B-movies.

Troma Entertainment, the company responsible for classics like “Zombie Werewolves Attack!” and the less familiar, “Rock n’ Roll Space Patrol” has just uploaded 150 of its b-movies to YouTube. Break out the hot-buttered popcorn, it’s going to be a long weekend. The website Tech Dirt was tipped off to this treasure trove of schmaltz by Lloyd Kaufman, the company’s founder and film director.

Kaufman has shown himself to be a filmmaker who truly understands how the internet can help him, rather than be something worth fearing, so it's great to see him fully embrace a platform like YouTube to distribute his flicks, and to not freak out about the fact that people can watch stuff for free (actually, to encourage people to watch stuff for free).

If you’re going to complain Troma’s, arguably, most popular title, “The Toxic Avenger” didn’t make the list, save your breath and watch THE 150 FREE MOVIES it already made available to you.
Pretty sure Mother will enjoy this... 


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Aug 31, 2012

Snail-shaped phones? It could happen thanks to biomimicry.

The San Diego Zoo just cut the ribbon on the Global Center for Bioinspiration, which will specialize in figuring out ways to bring nature-created ideas into our everyday lives. The concept of biomimicry has been around since the days of Da Vinci, who took a keen interest in birds because he wanted develop a flying machine. The BBC adds:

[Da Vinci’s] device never took off, but the Wright brothers did manage to build the first aeroplane in 1903 - after years of observing pigeons.
Probably one of the most notable nature-inspired technologies is the well-known hook-and-loop fastener, Velcro, which copies the tiny hooks on the surface of burrs.


Public radio station KPBS spoke with the center’s managing director Larry Stambaugh, who shares:

One example of biomimicry comes from the morpho butterfly, whose brilliant blue wings are due to a structural pattern that reflects blue light. Stambaugh said Qualcomm has used that pattern to create more vivid colors on its cell phone screens.


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Aug 31, 2012

Friends of Nemo cheer fishing net lights

The UK’s James Dyson Award winner for design this year goes to Scottish art school student Dan Watson, who wants to bring light to fishing nets. His idea looks something like a hockey puck ringed with three small LED lights. The lights keep their charge by harnessing energy from the motion of commercial fishing nets, and they fit nicely in a net’s webbing. Watson spoke to the BBC about his design:

"The rings fit into the 'cod-end' of the net - the part where all the fish are kept - and they basically exploit fish behaviour and their physical size to guide some to safety while keeping the other ones in. They act as kind of emergency escape sign."


Smaller fish, the kind that get “thrown out” because they are unusable, naturally want to swim toward the light and can wiggle their way out of the webbing to safety.
Watson’s design now goes on to compete with 17 others in a world design competition.


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Aug 30, 2012

23 years and not a note of music. A new hearing aid - BLAMO!

If you don’t end up at least dabbing the corner of your eye after reading this story, you deserve to be placed in our next robot round-up, because you’re definitely not human. The Atlantic profiles Austin Chapman, a 23-year-old born “profoundly deaf,” who recently received a new high-tech hearing aid. Chapman said that watching people be moved by music was one of the most puzzling things he experienced as a deaf person.
The first noise he heard post-hearing aid was his shoe scraping across the carpet. Mundane for you and me, and totally startling for Chapman. Shortly after being fitted with the hearing device, Chapman’s friends introduced music.

That night, a group of close friends jump-started my musical education by playing Mozart, Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Elvis, and several other popular legends of music.
Being able to hear the music for the first time ever was unreal.
When Mozart's Lacrimosa came on, I was blown away by the beauty of it. At one point of the song, it sounded like angels singing and I suddenly realized that this was the first time I was able to appreciate music. Tears rolled down my face and I tried to hide it. But when I looked over I saw that there wasn't a dry eye in the car.


And now he has 23 years of music to catch up on. A Reddit thread about him has garnered over 14,000 suggestions. Spotify has given him a 6-month subscription to kickstart the affair, which is nice and all, but shouldn’t they have given him a 23-year subscription? As of now, this is his top five list:

1. Mozart's Lacrimsoa... I know it's a depressing song but to me it represents the first time I could appreciate and experience music.
2. The soundtrack to Eleven Eleven... I can see how this comes off as narcissistic, it being my own film and all but it's such a personal work that when I listened to it for the first time I broke down. I felt like I was truly seeing the film for the first time ever. I'm grateful that Cazz was able to capture the tone perfectly. We discussed the film and specific scenes with essay-sized reasoning/deliberations on what should be conveyed. The critical response to the film surprised me and I still didn't quite get it until seeing the visual images coupled with the soundtrack.
3. Sigur Ros's Staralfur... The first song I had to listen to again, over and over.
4.

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Aug 30, 2012

Out of nowhere Windows phone

Samsung unveiled the first phone running Windows 8 yesterday, and my guess is that there are some pretty ticked off Finns this morning. It’s been widely rumored that Finnish phone maker Nokia would unveil its Windows 8 phone next week. There was probably a big bru-ha-ha planned for the phone too... a ticker tape, maybe a balloon drop, and all the cold, smoked fish you could eat. And now it’s all going to have to be for the second Windows 8 phone. From Reuters:


The brief announcement on Wednesday at a Berlin electronics show comes amid expectations that smartphone makers may turn increasingly to Windows devices after a U.S. jury decided many of Samsung's Google Android-based phones infringed Apple Inc patents.
"It looks like a good phone, and seems like a pre-emptive announcement ahead of Nokia," said Sid Parakh, an analyst at investment firm McAdams Wright Ragen, of the Samsung phone.


Samsung’s offering is called the ATIV S. CNET has the specs:


The Ativ S (Ativ is "Vita" spelled backward) features a slim design, a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display, and a 1.5GHz dual-core processor. There's also compatibility for HSPA+42. In addition, the Ativ S packs in a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera with autofocus and an LED flash, and a 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera.
Taking full advantage of new software capabilities announced for Windows Phone 8 in June, there's a microSD card and support for NFC (think file-sharing and, soon, payment).


If you’re still hungry for more Windows 8 phone, and presumably fish, make your way to New York on September 5th for Nokia’s 


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Aug 30, 2012

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