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After Math: Only the essentials

It was a pretty kick-ass week in terms of interplanetary exploration — and not even just in NMS. Astronomers found a potentially habitable planet just 4.2 light years from us! This could be our first stop beyond Mars but it’s going to take a while to get there, so we’re going to have to travel light. That means bringing nothing but the most essential of supplies — like scouter drones, custom-designed hazmat suits, efficient solar power generators and 8K televisions. Numbers, because how else are you going to calculate the interstellar rocket’s payload fraction?


 Ben Heck’s Hackbot wars, part 3

The Ben Heck Show - Episode 251 - Ben Heck's Hackbot Wars Part 3: Final Fight

Find out who will win in the final Hackbotz showdown between the Death-A-Nator, Ghandi-Bot and Mr. Pointy? Ben’s weapon of choice is an “intimidation knife” that’s attached with 3D printed parts, but how useful will that be? Then he reveals the code he used for the drone controller board on his Hackbot. We also discover what Felix has been up to, with a step-by-step guide to pairing a PlayStation 4 controller and an Intel Edison module via Bluetooth. (He, too, will reveal his secret Hackbotz weapon, by the way.) In this episode we also have a research update for a future build: Ben introduces a TI Launchpad that will be used in an upcoming project and demonstrates how the light sensor functions with the pnboard LCD display. Would you have developed a Hackbot differently? Or have you been making your own robots? Share your creations and ideas with The Ben Heck Show team over on the element14 Community.


Slow updates are hurting Android as an app platform, and Google Play


Everyone wants better support for the phones we’re buying, and not getting it is holding Android itself back.

Here’s a simple truth we all probably know in the back of our minds — you don’t need to get a new version of Android because not much will seem different. The home screen or app drawer may have a tweak or two, and there will be one feature we would like to have, but the apps we use are going to look and function the exact same. The things we do, like messaging or Facebook, won’t use any of the new features developers have available for a while, and apps that do include the latest cool developer feature will be few and far between for quite a while.

That sucks.

Yeah. That really sucks. But there’s nothing most of us can do about it since we’re not building phone operating systems or apps ourselves. And we can’t get mad at the developers who make the apps, because of another simple truth: phones not getting fast updates are hurting the Android platform.

Android only exists to run apps. Poor support for phones limits the people making them.

It’s not hurting us a bit. As mentioned, there’s not as much to look forward to as it sounds on paper, and you don’t have to have the latest version to get maintenance updates. In fact, unless you’re using a phone you bought from Google, the updates from the folks who built it usually bring more to the table than a whole new Android version. What Note 5 user doesn’t want to new interface from the Note 7? Compare that to the number of folks excited about Scoped Directory Access in Android 7.0. (Though Scoped Directory Access is pretty sweet and will make apps safer and run better.) We want things we can see. We want application-focused things like Svelte or Bundled Notifications. We’re getting neither.

All one has to do is look at the number of phones running the last version at the Android Developer Dashboard to see why. When less than 20 or 30 percent of your potential users would be able to benefit from anything new, it’s a much better idea to build your apps for the other 70-plus percent of the market. It will still work for phones on the newer version, and gives you time to make changes and be ready when the cycle repeats for the next big update. There is no rocket science needed on this. But feel free to rocket science the hell out of it if you can because rocket science is cool.


This is the real story of Android fragmentation. Phones with older versions aren’t the issue — it’s the phones with the newer version that are. Crazy. Building apps for different screen sizes and different processors was a lot easier than people made it out to be, and it didn’t even turn out to be the mess that was predicted. Working around all the different versions turned out to be simpler, too. Pick the one with the most users and ignore what’s new. Google has tools to make it easy to stay compatible with the older versions (which will come in handy six months later when it’s finally time to update) and phones with the latest software will still get the same experience as everyone else. And I’m on your side, developers. This is exactly what you should be doing. Work with your market, not against.

The fix is simple and impossible all at the same time. Phones that are going to get updated need to be updated faster. Phones need to be supported longer by the people who took your money. Google has to plan carefully to not exclude any phones unless they absolutely have to.

Google, as the torch-bearer of Android and maintainer, does some of this well. The update cycle has been stretched to one per calendar year, manufacturers and big names in the app space get early access to code changes and new APIs. The vanilla framework and system are regularly updated and patched. All these should make it easier to update the operating system on a phone. The department-of-making-phones, though, is a bit sketchy on the support side and sometimes the reasoning behind it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. They can do better, and they should be doing better. But they are doing something.

Fragmentation works the opposite way we think it should. The updated phones are the ones left out.

And the companies who make the phones we are buying in gigantic numbers aren’t sitting on their laurels all day every day, either. Samsung, LG, and HTC have shown that they can pump out an update fairly quickly while others like Huawei and Sony even show us the progress and let us join the fun through beta programs. But nothing is done consistently. Some models get some things, others get none, and the ones in the middle seem to be in perpetual limbo. Releasing a $90 phone running Lollipop and locking it to that version is fine as long as critical issues are addressed, but the most expensive models need supported longer and updated faster to change things. And for God’s sake please stop making so many different middle-of-the-road models so you have the resources to support the ones you do make. If it’s not on this list, stop making it and instead make one that will be on that list next year. Done. No charge for that market insight.

Nobody can force anyone to change things, nor should anyone be able to. Android is already the most closed open-source project since WebKit. Yeah, I know, being mobile-focused is the reasoning but I’m still allowed to not like it. Only the people making the phones and writing the software for the phones can change any of this, and even then only for their own models. The market research they tout so often to support things like thinner phones with small batteries or that only users outside of North America want dual-SIM models will have to show that what we really want is better support for what we’re buying.

Yes, only enthusiasts are worried about getting the latest update quickly, but everyone wants to have apps with the best features and a phone that doesn’t need to be replaced every 18 months to get them.

Android 7.0 Nougat

  • Android 7.0 Nougat: Everything you need to know
  • Will my phone get Android Nougat?
  • All Android Nougat news
  • How to manually update your Nexus
  • Join the Discussion


Tesla’s powerful new battery, and more in the week that was

Tesla makes the world’s best electric cars – but they’re not content to rest on their laurels. The company just launched a powerful new battery that makes the Model S the fastest production car you can actually buy. Meanwhile, autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy has beat Uber to the punch by launching the world’s first fleet of self-driving taxis in Singapore. The MIT Climate CoLab awarded honors to a new elevated Caterpillar Train that soars over traffic jams. And in Europe, Paris is planning to go completely car-free for an entire day this September, and we spotted an awesome pedal-powered school bus on the streets of the Netherlands.

The Ring Garden, a finalist in this year’s Land Art Generator Initiative competition.

California is still suffering from a severe drought, but one design firm may have an answer: a massive solar-powered floating pipe that can desalinize 1.5 billion gallons of water a year. Another option is a gigantic sun-powered Ring Garden that blends water purification with sustainable agriculture. In other energy news, Costa Rica is on a roll – the nation has managed to power itself entirely with renewable electricity for 113 days and counting. And in Chile, the price of solar power has plummeted to half the cost of coal.

This week astronomers announced what could be the biggest story of the century: an earth-like planet is orbiting the star nearest to our sun, just over 4 light years away. In other science and tech news, Egyptian researchers have discovered a way to grow forests in the desert using sewage. Scientists at the University of Warsaw created a tiny robot caterpillar that’s able to push objects ten times its size. And Japan announced that it wants to make the 2020 Olympic medals from recycled smartphones.


Watch Snowden talk ‘Snowden’ with Oliver Stone next month

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s telepresence world tour has another stop: a conversation following an early screening of the upcoming Oliver Stone biopic, Snowden. The Oscar-winning director will also be a part of the fireside chat, but rather than beaming in from Moscow, according to Deadline he’ll be joining from New York. That, in a nutshell, is the difference between being wanted by the federal government and making a movie about someone wanted by the federal government.

“Snowden Live” will broadcast to 700 theaters in the US (find out if it’s in your city right here), one night only on September 14th. See the film two days early, catch a conversation between its director and exiled subject and have a cool story for your grandkids all in one fell swoop. What else do you have going on Wednesday nights anyhow?

Source: Deadline


MIT’s new 3D-printer makes objects that remember their shape

3D printing has done a lot for medical science. It’s helped us create better prosthetics, manufacture artificial vertebrae and even develop smaller internal cameras. Next, it could help us revolutionize medication delivery. MIT researchers are using a new 3D-printing process to create tiny structures that change shape at specific temperatures — opening the door for a new drug delivery system that only medicates patients if they have a fever.

The team hasn’t developed temperature sensitive pills quiet yet, but the technology is halfway there. By combining a new 3D-printing process called microstereolithography with a special polymer mix that hardens or softens based on variant thermal conditions, researchers have been able to create tiny structures that can “remember” specific shapes. These objects can be molded to a specific shape at one temperature, “locked” to that shape at another temperature and will return to their original form at yet another temperature. Printed objects can also be stretched and twisted up to three times their original length without breaking.

The new printing process is so high resolution, that it can create structures about as thin as a human hair. It’s a little complicated, but the possibilities are fairly broad. The team hopes to use it to create biomedical devices, shape-changing solar cells and aerospace components — but the team isn’t quite there yet. Still, progress is being made: the group has used the technology to create a tiny, intricately detailed replica of the Eiffel tower as well as a tool capable of grabbing and lifting small objects. It’s a start.

Source: MIT News


Laptop pioneer John Ellenby dies

The PC industry has lost one of its quieter but more influential leaders: John Ellenby, the CEO of Grid Systems, died earlier this month at the age of 75 of yet to be determined causes. His company (particularly late designer William Moggridge) is widely credited with making the first commercially successful clamshell laptop, the Compass. The 1982-era machine was thick, had a tiny screen and was wildly expensive for the time at $8,150. However, it was a hit among companies and governments — it was a relatively slick way of bringing computing (and even basic digital communication) with you at a time when the alternatives were barely-luggable desktops like the Kaypro or Osborne 1.

Ellenby himself was influential beyond that one computer. Before Grid, he also worked at Xerox’s groundbreaking Palo Alto Research Center. He took the Alto, the template for what would become Apple’s Lisa and Mac desktops, and developed a sequel (the Alto II) that was much more commercially viable. He also founded an early tablet company, Agilis, and helped get the ball rolling on both augmented reality and navigation through another firm, GeoVector.

You could argue that some of Ellenby’s creations were premature. Laptops didn’t really hit the mainstream until roughly a decade later through systems like Apple’s PowerBook and IBM’s ThinkPad, and it would be well over two decades before his other companies’ fields really swung into high gear. With that said, there’s no denying that he was forward thinking and had a knack for translating ambitious ideas to devices you could buy. He’ll be missed.

Source: New York Times


Strange galaxy is made almost entirely of dark matter

A galaxy isn’t big just because it has many stars in it. A worldwide research group has discovered that a galaxy in the Coma cluster, Dragonfly 44, consists of 99.99 percent dark matter. It has about as much mass as our own Milky Way galaxy, but far fewer stars. The team determined the presence of the invisible, mysterious substance based on the motions of the stars themselves — there were too few of them to be moving so quickly. If there weren’t a gravitational force like dark matter to hold them together, those stars would simply fly away.

Dragonfly 44 raises more questions than it solves right now. The team’s Roberto Abraham tells Wired that it’s unclear as to how a dark matter galaxy on this scale could form. Previous examples were much smaller. It’s possible that the formations of the stars (very dense clusters) are a clue, but that’s as far as astronomers can go right now. The hope is that someone will find a similar galaxy closer to home, increasing the chances of finding a dark matter particle and making some sense out a baffling (but virtually ubiquitous) aspect of the universe.

Via: Wired

Source: Astrophysical Journal Letters


Ubisoft is shutting down the free-to-play ‘Ghost Recon’

Free-to-play games based on popular franchises were a huge trend for awhile. But, as Microsoft showed us this week by canceling Halo Online for Russia, there are no guarantees for success. Ubisoft is following suit and shutting down Ghost Recon Phantoms, formerly known as Ghost Recon Online. As Gamasutra writes, this was the publisher’s maiden voyage into the market when it launched back in 2011.

It “wasn’t as successful as we had hoped for, so we had to make the decision to close the game,” a note on the game’s Euro forums reads. “This decision wasn’t easy for us and we tried to find other ways. But in the end we decided to close the game and focus on other projects.” Sounds a little cold, yeah? A US-targeted blog post is a little less harsh, but the overall message is similar. Hopefully you didn’t have a ton of money in your in-game wallet, because there isn’t a way to get a refund for that, either. Ubisoft also explicitly notes that there won’t be a sequel, player numbers won’t be disclosed and fans won’t be able to host the game on their own.

The servers shut off on December 1st, so if you want to get in a few more rounds of the microtransaction-based shooter, don’t hesitate. And, perhaps let this be a warning about investing big in free-to-play games not named Team Fortress 2, Dota 2 or League of Legends — they can shut down at any time and take your money with them no matter who’s in charge.

Via: Gamasutra

Source: Ubisoft (1), (2)


Google taps Airbnb exec to turn self-driving cars into a business

Google’s self-driving car project hit a rough patch with the departure of one of its earliest team members, but it’s evident that the tech giant is still bent on turning the experiment into a viable business. The company has hired Airbnb executive Shaun Stewart, who led his former employer’s vacation rental team, as a director for its autonomous vehicle group. He’ll focus on commercializing the division — just what that entails isn’t clear, but previous rumors (and industry expectations) suggest that he may translate Google’s self-driving technology into a robotic ride-for-hire service.

Stewart may be a particularly good fit. As our TechCrunch colleagues observe, his expertise revolves around short-term travel rentals. Before Airbnb, he was the CEO of the luxury vacation deal site Jetsetter — he knows a thing or two about getting these services off the ground. And that’s important when the concept of a driverless taxi is still brand new, with plenty of nuts-and-bolts details that need to be pinned down in the years ahead.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Reuters

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