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31
Dec

Ben Heck’s Atari Dragster: Testing the world record


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Can the Ben Heck Show team recreate the fabled 5.51 world record with micro-controller hardware? In an effort to find out, the team invites world record holder Todd Rogers into the workshop to help train the simulation. Can Ben’s hardware beat the fastest-ever time? Find out, and let us know what you think over on the element14 Community.

31
Dec

If you can’t spell ‘Birkenstock,’ the sandal company wants you to avoid Amazon


A German court has ruled that Amazon may not lure customers to its site when they misspell “Birkenstock,” Reuters reports. The German shoemaker’s relationship with Amazon has been rocky lately, and the recent court ruling is not likely to help matters. Birkenstock told a court in Dusseldorf that Amazon used Google Adwords to draw customers by booking variations on “Birkenstock.”

Any of the brand name’s several misspellings could draw customers to Amazon’s storefront, the court stated. Birkenstock requested an injunction due to fears that customers would unknowingly buy cheaply-made Birkenstock knockoffs, which could damage the company’s reputation.

In December, Birkenstock said that it would stop selling its shoes through Amazon’s European site because the online retailer “failed to proactively prevent” the sale of knock-off Birkenstock shoes. The German company cut ties with Amazon’s American site last year.

The story was first reported by the German magazine Der Spiegel, which reported that Birkenstock’s Oliver Reichert said that Amazon was “complicit.”

For its part, Amazon said that the company always worked to ensure that fraudulent products were not sold on its website.

“We work diligently with vendors, sellers and rights owners to detect and prevent fraudulent products reaching our marketplace,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

Amazon’s disagreement with Birkenstock reflects one of the company’s few defeats in 2017. For the most part, Amazon has had a good year with the purchase of Whole Foods giving it a foothold in the physical grocery market. On the digital front, Amazon Prime membership is on the upswing. Additionally, the company’s hardware division has done well with its line of affordable Fire tablets and Amazon Echo.

As a whole, the fashion world has been one area in which Amazon has struggled, as many peoples simply prefer to see their clothes in person before they buy them. However, the company did recently reach a deal with Nike which would see the company sell its products directly on Amazon’s site. Part of Nike’s motivation for the deal was to help Amazon deal with knock-offs and copycats.

For now, however, it appears shoppers will have to look elsewhere for their Birkenstocks.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Keep drooling. It’ll be a while until you can afford the future of shoes
  • What’s a headphone amp, and do you really need one? You’d be surprised
  • Yes, Apple is slowing down your old iPhone. But if you’re angry, you’re crazy
  • Verizon will help you watch the NFL … even if you’re not a Verizon customer
  • Whether you’re a novice or a master chef, here are the best oven ranges for you




31
Dec

Congo orders cuts to internet and SMS to stifle protests


Authoritarian leaders are fond of severing communications in a bid to hold on to power, and that tradition sadly isn’t going away. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government has ordered telecoms to cut internet and SMS access ahead of planned mass protests against President Joseph Kabila, whose administration has continuously delayed elections to replace him. Telecom minister Emery Okundji told Reuters that it was a response to “violence that is being prepared,” but people aren’t buying that argument. Officials had already banned demonstrations, and the country has history of cutting communications and blocking social network access in a bid to quash dissent.

Historically, these attempts at disrupting communication have had mixed results. Kabila used a communications cut in 2015 with some success, but attempts in Egypt and elsewhere have failed — if just because service eventually has to come back. And the Congo protests this time around promise to be particularly strong, with a normally divided opposition rallying together. An attempt to sever internet and SMS access may make it difficult to coordinate, but a sufficiently angry public will still find a way to make its voice heard.

Source: Reuters

31
Dec

Instead of stealing jobs, what if A.I. just tells us how to do them better?


In the early part of the twentieth century, a management consultant and mechanical engineer named Frederick Taylor wrote a book, titled The Principles of Scientific Management. Workplace inefficiency, Taylor’s book argued, was one of the greatest crimes in America; robbing both workers and employers alike of achieving the levels of prosperity they deserved. For example, Taylor noted the “deliberate loafing” the bricklayers’ union of the time forced on its workers by limiting them to just 275 bricks per day when working on a city contract, and 375 per day on private work. Taylor had other ideas. In the interests of efficiency he believed that every single act performed by a workforce could be modified and modified to make it more efficient, “as though it were a physical law like the Law of Gravity.”

Others took up Taylor’s dream of an efficient, almost mechanised workforce. Contemporaries Frank and Lillian Gilbreth studied the science of bricklaying, introducing ambidexterity and special scaffolds designed to reduce lifting. The optimal number of motions bricklayers were told to perform was pared down to between two and five depending on the job, and new measures were introduced to keep track of the number of bricks an individual laid — to both incentivize workers and reduce wastage.

It’s now possible to offer workers real-time feedback in a way that no human manager ever could.

Like many management theories, Taylorism had its moment in the sun, before being replaced. Today, however, its fundamental ideas are enjoying a surprising resurgence. Aided by the plethora of smart sensors and the latest advances in artificial intelligence, it’s now possible to monitor workers more closely than ever, and offer them real-time feedback in a way that no (human) manager ever could.

A recent study from the University of Waterloo showed how motion sensors and A.I. can be used to extract insights from expert bricklayers by equipping them with sensor suits while they worked to build a concrete wall. The study discovered that master masons don’t necessarily follow the standard ergonomic rules taught to novices. Instead, they employ movements (such as swinging, rather than lifting, blocks) that enable them to work twice as fast with half the effort.

“As we all know, [an] ageing workforce is a threat to the national economy,” researcher Abdullatif Alwasel told Digital Trends. “In highly physical work, such as masonry, the problem lies in the nature of work. Masonry is highly physical and repetitive work: two major factors that are known to cause musculoskeletal injuries. However, when this kind of work is done in an ergonomically safe way, it doesn’t cause injuries. This is apparent through the percentage of injuries in expert workers versus novice or less experienced workers. [Our team’s work] work looks at using A.I. to extract safe postures that expert workers use to perform work safely and effectively as a first step towards creating a training tool for novice workers to graduate safe and effective masons and to decrease the number of injuries in the trade.”

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Alwasel describes the team’s current work as a “first step.” By the end of the project, however, they hope to be able to develop a real-time feedback system which alerts workers whenever they use the wrong posture. Thanks to the miniaturization of components, it’s not out of the question that such a sensor suit could one day be used on construction sites across America. As with Taylor’s dream, both workers and employers will benefit from the enhanced levels of efficiency.

“Our next step is to find out whether the concept of expert safe workers applies to other trades that have similar situation,” Alwasel said. “I think commercialization is a final step that has to be done to make use of this technology and we are looking for ways to do that.”

Objects that nudge back

It should be noted, however, that the classical concept of Taylorism is not always viewed entirely favorably. Critics point out that it robbed individuals of their autonomy, that it made jobs more rote and repetitive, that it could adversely affect workers’ wellbeing by causing them to over-speed, and that it assumed speed and efficiency was the ultimate goal of… well, everything really.

As with so much of modern technology, a lot depends on what we gain versus what we lose.

It’s difficult to criticize a project like the University of Waterloo’s, which is focused on reducing injuries among the workforce. However, this same neo-Taylorist approach can be seen throughout the tech sector. In Amazon’s warehouses, product pickers (or “fulfillment associates”) are given handheld devices, which reveal where individual products are located and, via a routing algorithm, tell them the shortest possible journey to get there. However, they also collect constant, real-time streams of data concerning how fast employees walk and complete individual orders, thereby quantifying productivity. Quoted in an article for the Daily Mail, a warehouse manager described workers as, “sort of like a robot, but in human form.” Similar technology is increasingly used in warehouses (not just Amazon’s) around the world.

It’s not just Amazon, either. A company called CourseSmart creates study aids that allow teachers to see whether their students are skipping pages in their textbooks, failing to highlight passages or take notes, or plain not studying. This information — even when it concerns out-of-lesson time for students, can be fed back to teachers. A university’s school of business dean described the service to the New York Times as, “Big Brother, sort of, but with a good intent.” The idea is to find out exactly what practices produce good students, and then to nudge them toward it.

These “nudges” form an increasingly large part of our lives. Rather than the subtle nudges of previous “dumb” objects (for example, the disposability of a plastic cup, which starts disintegrating after a few uses and therefore encourages you to throw it away), today’s smart technology means that we can be given constant feedback on everything from our posture to which route to take to the bathroom for a quicker toilet break to how best to study. Autonomous technology challenges the autonomy of individuals.

Amazon

Whether that’s a bad thing or not depends a whole lot on your perspective. In Sarah Conly’s Against Autonomy, the author argues that we should “save people from themselves.” It’s part of a larger argument that may begin with technology to modify how you work, continue to the banning of cigarettes and excessively sized meals, and maybe even extend to spending too much of your paycheck without making the proper savings.

There are no easy answers here. As with so much of modern technology (news feeds that show us only articles they think will be of interest, smart speakers in the home, user data exchanged for “free” services, etc.), a lot depends on what we gain versus what we lose. We might be very willing to have a smart exoskeleton that tells us how not to damage our backs when lifting heavy bricks. We may be less so if we feel that our humanity is minimized by the neverending push toward efficiency.

What’s not in question is whether the tools now exist to help make this neo-Taylorism a reality. They most certainly do. Now we need to work out how best to use them. To paraphrase the chaos theory mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (also known as Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park), we’ve been so preoccupied with whether or not we could achieve these things, we haven’t necessarily thought enough about whether we should.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • IBM and MIT are working together to make sure A.I. isn’t our downfall
  • This flexible skin will help robots sense the world around them
  • Microwaves will be obsolete by 2027. Here’s what’s going to replace them
  • Which DC films will die if ‘Justice League’ doesn’t deliver?
  • Killing friction: How Khronos’ OpenXR will standardize virtual reality




31
Dec

OkCupid’s ‘real’ name push isn’t sitting well with users


OkCupid is facing a lot of backlash for ditching usernames in favor of real names. As TechCrunch noted, its app’s Google Play and App Store pages are flooded with one-star reviews posted over the past month, complaining about the features the service has recently changed or killed. The reviews talked about how the forced transparency of the new name requirement could compromise people’s privacy and security, since the service now also matches users with others nearby based on their shared interests. Those with stalkery tendencies might take advantage of these new offerings. A lot of them also discussed concerns that Match.com is simply turning OkCupid (which it owns) into another Tinder (which it also owns).

OkCupid explained again and again as responses to the reviews that it’s not requiring people to use their legal names. They can use nicknames, even initials, so long as they don’t have numbers and symbols. It told TechCrunch in a statement that the change’s purpose is to make the service more human and to give interested parties a name to call the other by from the get-go. The spokesperson also said that they’ve been getting positive responses despite the public outcry against the new feature:

“To give you some more background as to why we made the decision to remove usernames — this is a part of our mission to add more substance and depth to dating. OkCupid wants to make the experience more personal. Having a name adds more of a human element versus a ‘username’.

In response to the ‘workarounds’ we have stated that in order to qualify as a name it just has to be two letters minimum, no numbers or symbols. We also have a list of banned words that would not qualify. It’s important to clarify that this does not need to be your real/legal name, it can be any name that you want someone to call you.

We don’t have any plans to bring usernames back. We know some folks don’t like that usernames are going away but we get many (thousands!) of messages from folks who say they are offended by some of the usernames people make…or they just have a really really hard time coming up with one and can we help them create something that incorporates dinosaurs, tacos or pizza and ideally all three. Or they came up with a seriously awesome user name, and now they forgot it and can we please help them recover it. And we get thousands of requests to change their username because it doesn’t feel like the right thing anymore.

We are about safety and security of our users more than anything. That’s why we were the first dating app to introduce the Dating Pledge earlier this year. That’s why we have an incredible moderation team that personally reviews any issues and gets rid of folks that violate our rules.

Since we’ve made the change, we’ve heard from lots of people that it makes OkCupid a bit more human. And isn’t that the right move for a dating app?”

Based on users’ reviews, though, OkCupid has a lot of things to address aside from people’s unhappiness over its new name requirement. Some of those who recently paid for Premium membership to be able to get new usernames aren’t happy that they’re not getting any refund. OkCupid is now giving everyone free access to the name change process, after all, and has reportedly even locked out people until they complied. Other users complained about the fact that the service stopped showing profile visitors, and there seemed to be a lot of reports about glitches in the messaging system, as well.

Clearly, the 13-year-old dating service is struggling to find an identity that can both entice new users to sign up and keep the old ones happy. One thing’s for sure, though: just because it’s the age of Tinder doesn’t mean people want all dating apps to follow the same formula.

Source: TechCrunch

31
Dec

Kenwood will be one of the first to offer wireless Android Auto


Google talked about wireless Android Auto back in spring 2016, but there hasn’t exactly been widespread adoption. You still have to assume that you’ll need a USB cable when you hit the road. That’s about to change: JVCKenwood has casually teased plans to unveil a high-end head end unit with “wireless connectivity for Android Auto” at CES in January. It’s keeping most details close to the vest, as you might expect before the big show, but it will pack Apple CarPlay support and a 720p screen.

It may take a while for this head end to arrive. Many products announced at CES tend not to ship for a few months. And this certainly won’t be a trivial expense when it does arrive. However, this might be one of your better options if you want to get directions or listen to music without plugging in your Android phone. Also, we won’t be shocked if this hints at other wireless Android Auto introductions in the near future, including built-in implementations.

Source: JVCKenwood

31
Dec

Ripple passes Ethereum to become the second most valuable cryptocurrency


The cryptocurrency Ripple surged on the final Friday of 2017, reaching a market cap of more than $86 billion, CNBC reports. Ripple, which is officially known as XRP, saw its value rise by 55.9 percent. At its peak, the currency was valued at $2.23 a coin. Since then, it has fallen to $2.17, but it is still the second most valuable cryptocurrency in terms of market cap, according to Coinmarketcap.com.

Ethereum is currently the world’s third-largest cryptocurrency in terms of market share, at over $69 billion. In the early hours of Friday morning, the two cryptocurrencies vied for the second place in a bout of intense trading. Today, however, the market seems to have stabilized with Ripple in second place.

Bitcoin remains firmly entrenched as the world’s most valuable cryptocurrency in terms of market cap and price-per-coin, but there are plenty of alternatives. Ripple is one of the more interesting of the bitcoin alternatives, due to the fact that it is not just a currency, but a payment network and distributed exchange. These qualities make it easier for users to trade Ripple for other currencies such as the dollar or bitcoin.

Ripple actually began as a blockchain-based payment network for banks and other organizations. The coin offers a four-second settlement time compared to the two minutes for Ethereum or over an hour for bitcoin settlements. Currently, more than 100 banks use Ripple’s payment network and more may join soon.

Ripple’s unique qualities mean it has attracted the attention of many wealthy investors including Google Ventures though the majority of the coins are owned by the startup’s founders.

The cryptocurrency market has been extremely volatile lately with bitcoin, in particular, rising and falling in value at a rapid rate. Ripple appears to be on the upswing, however. At the time of this writing, it is the only one of the top four cryptocurrencies to see an overall increase in value over the past 24 hours. Of course, this market has proven itself to be rather unpredictable so tomorrow could see a new shift in the market though we expect bitcoin will remain on top for the foreseeable future.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Bitcoin is still soaring. What’s the limit?
  • Bitcoin Cash surpassed Ethereum as world’s second most popular cryptocurrency
  • Ethereum vs. bitcoin: What’s the difference?
  • Bitcoin approaches $20K, but is the bubble about to burst?
  • Bitcoin’s latest boom sends it scorching past $9,000




31
Dec

Ripple passes Ethereum to become the second most valuable cryptocurrency


The cryptocurrency Ripple surged on the final Friday of 2017, reaching a market cap of more than $86 billion, CNBC reports. Ripple, which is officially known as XRP, saw its value rise by 55.9 percent. At its peak, the currency was valued at $2.23 a coin. Since then, it has fallen to $2.17, but it is still the second most valuable cryptocurrency in terms of market cap, according to Coinmarketcap.com.

Ethereum is currently the world’s third-largest cryptocurrency in terms of market share, at over $69 billion. In the early hours of Friday morning, the two cryptocurrencies vied for the second place in a bout of intense trading. Today, however, the market seems to have stabilized with Ripple in second place.

Bitcoin remains firmly entrenched as the world’s most valuable cryptocurrency in terms of market cap and price-per-coin, but there are plenty of alternatives. Ripple is one of the more interesting of the bitcoin alternatives, due to the fact that it is not just a currency, but a payment network and distributed exchange. These qualities make it easier for users to trade Ripple for other currencies such as the dollar or bitcoin.

Ripple actually began as a blockchain-based payment network for banks and other organizations. The coin offers a four-second settlement time compared to the two minutes for Ethereum or over an hour for bitcoin settlements. Currently, more than 100 banks use Ripple’s payment network and more may join soon.

Ripple’s unique qualities mean it has attracted the attention of many wealthy investors including Google Ventures though the majority of the coins are owned by the startup’s founders.

The cryptocurrency market has been extremely volatile lately with bitcoin, in particular, rising and falling in value at a rapid rate. Ripple appears to be on the upswing, however. At the time of this writing, it is the only one of the top four cryptocurrencies to see an overall increase in value over the past 24 hours. Of course, this market has proven itself to be rather unpredictable so tomorrow could see a new shift in the market though we expect bitcoin will remain on top for the foreseeable future.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Bitcoin is still soaring. What’s the limit?
  • Bitcoin Cash surpassed Ethereum as world’s second most popular cryptocurrency
  • Ethereum vs. bitcoin: What’s the difference?
  • Bitcoin approaches $20K, but is the bubble about to burst?
  • Bitcoin’s latest boom sends it scorching past $9,000




31
Dec

Cryptocurrency expert released after $1 million bitcoin ransom


The Guardian reports that an employee of a U.K. bitcoin exchange has been released after it was paid a bitcoin ransom of $1 million. EXMO Finance, the company which Pavel Lerner works for, stated that the blockchain expert was kidnapped on Boxing Day while in Ukraine. The company said that Lerner had not been harmed, but would not be making any public comments due to stress.

“At the moment, he is safe, and there was no physical harm inflicted on him,” the company’s website states. Nevertheless, Pavel is currently in a state of major stress, therefore, he will not provide any official comments in the coming days.”

While authorities are investigating the kidnapping, it is currently unclear as to who paid Lerner’s ransom. His work at EXMO does not involve access to financial assets and the exchange is currently operating normally.

Local news outlets reported that on Boxing Day, six armed men kidnapped Lerner and forced him into a car which was displaying stolen plates. Kiev police later responded to a call concerning a kidnapping in the Obolon district of Kiev though the police spokesperson refused to reveal the name of the victim.

EXMO has expressed gratitude to the media and cryptocurrency community for their support of the company and Lerner during this time. However, it did caution that the kidnapping had spawned various rumors which could impede the work of law enforcement, so the company would not be making any more comments regarding the kidnapping.

In regards to the ransom, it is not yet known where it came from. However, the company has promised its users that their wallets and accounts are safe, as Lerner did not have access to them. Regardless, it is likely that the criminals have already sold their bitcoins due to the fact that the market is rather volatile right now, and holding onto them for too long could mean a decrease in value.

Ukraine authorities told the Guardian that this is the first bitcoin-related kidnapping the country has seen. However, it may not be the last and, thanks to the currency’s anonymity and untraceable nature, it has become very popular among criminal elements, though it has plenty of legitimate uses.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • What’s the true value of bitcoin? A Morgan Stanley analyst says it may be zero
  • How to buy bitcoin
  • CEO suspects foul play after bitcoin cash value soars prior to Coinbase trading
  • Major investment firms are now offering Bitcoin futures
  • How to sell bitcoin




31
Dec

Cryptocurrency expert released after $1 million bitcoin ransom


The Guardian reports that an employee of a U.K. bitcoin exchange has been released after it was paid a bitcoin ransom of $1 million. EXMO Finance, the company which Pavel Lerner works for, stated that the blockchain expert was kidnapped on Boxing Day while in Ukraine. The company said that Lerner had not been harmed, but would not be making any public comments due to stress.

“At the moment, he is safe, and there was no physical harm inflicted on him,” the company’s website states. Nevertheless, Pavel is currently in a state of major stress, therefore, he will not provide any official comments in the coming days.”

While authorities are investigating the kidnapping, it is currently unclear as to who paid Lerner’s ransom. His work at EXMO does not involve access to financial assets and the exchange is currently operating normally.

Local news outlets reported that on Boxing Day, six armed men kidnapped Lerner and forced him into a car which was displaying stolen plates. Kiev police later responded to a call concerning a kidnapping in the Obolon district of Kiev though the police spokesperson refused to reveal the name of the victim.

EXMO has expressed gratitude to the media and cryptocurrency community for their support of the company and Lerner during this time. However, it did caution that the kidnapping had spawned various rumors which could impede the work of law enforcement, so the company would not be making any more comments regarding the kidnapping.

In regards to the ransom, it is not yet known where it came from. However, the company has promised its users that their wallets and accounts are safe, as Lerner did not have access to them. Regardless, it is likely that the criminals have already sold their bitcoins due to the fact that the market is rather volatile right now, and holding onto them for too long could mean a decrease in value.

Ukraine authorities told the Guardian that this is the first bitcoin-related kidnapping the country has seen. However, it may not be the last and, thanks to the currency’s anonymity and untraceable nature, it has become very popular among criminal elements, though it has plenty of legitimate uses.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • What’s the true value of bitcoin? A Morgan Stanley analyst says it may be zero
  • How to buy bitcoin
  • CEO suspects foul play after bitcoin cash value soars prior to Coinbase trading
  • Major investment firms are now offering Bitcoin futures
  • How to sell bitcoin




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