Egyptian tech pioneer and activist Ali Shaath died of a heart attack Wednesday. He was 45.
Shaath, a computer engineer, was the co-founder of the Arab Digital Expression Foundation, a non-profit that runs summer camps for Arab youths ages 12 to 15. The camps focus on “adding Arabic digital content, enabling more varied voices in the Arab World and promoting active and artistic expression.” He spoke of the changes that came from these youth camps at TEDxCairo in 2012
In addition to summer camps, the ADEF strongly advocated for more Arabic-language and open-source software. Shaath also co-founded the Egyptian Association for Free and Open Software, which criticized the Egyptian government for spending $44 million on Microsoft licenses rather than using locally adapted open-source software Read more...More about Egypt, Us World, and World
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It seems there's almost nothing computers can't simulate these days: Now, a new computer program simulates human birth using 3D virtual reality.
The simulator is the first of its kind to take into account factors such as the shape of the mother's body, and the shape and position of the baby. It could help doctors and midwives prepare for unusual or dangerous births, according to the researchers in England who developed it.
"You can't see inside during a live birth. The simulator shows you what's happening inside," said Rudy Lapeer, a computer scientist at the University of East Anglia, leader of the research that was presented Nov. 22 at a conference on E-Health and Bioengineering in Romania Read more...More about Health, Parenting, Science, Birth, and Pregnancy
Up for seven nominations each are Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake. Drake and Bob Ludwig snagged five nods, while Daft Punk, Lorde, Bruno Mars, Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift earned four nominations
The veteran rapper came out on top on the strength of his 12th studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. This year, Jay Z gave away one million copies of the album, purchased for $5 each by Samsung, to one million Samsung Galaxy owners, who had to download an app to snag a copy. The marketing stunt influenced the Recording Industry Association of America to "modernize" its 55-year-old certification process to immediately include digital sales. Read more...More about Music, Entertainment, Tv, Cbs, and Jay Z
That might actually be possible without a gun. Hacker Samy Kamkar has built a modified Parrot AR Drone 2.0 — which, coincidentally, can be purchased on Amazon — that can hijack other Parrot drones in the vicinity, taking control of them. Basically, it's a drone that makes zombie drones
Kamkar dubbed his creation SkyJack and published a detailed explanation of how it can be reproduced on his blog Tuesday. All you need is a Parrot AR Drone 2.0 equipped with a tiny Raspberry Pi computer, a battery, two wireless transmitters and Kamkar's software Read more...More about Hacking, Hackers, Gadgets, Us World, and Us
FB could look a lot more like TV soon. While Vine and Instagram Video are booming, you don’t see many people natively uploading videos to Facebook. But now Facebook is bringing auto-play for native videos to all users after testing the feature in September. And it’s just the beginning of a huge push to put Facebook in motion.
Previously, any video uploaded to Facebook directly or shared to the News Feed from Instagram would appear the same as YouTube videos — locked behind a play button. While the conscious decision to stop scrolling for, open the video player, wait for it to load, and watch might not seem like a big deal, it may have been too much of a time and effort investment for some. If people don’t watch videos, they don’t get likes and comments that encourage friends to upload more, and they might skip uploading them themselves.
But after spotting an auto-play video in my feed yesterday and asking Facebook, the company confirms the new format is now internationally rolled out to most iOS and Android users and will reach all of them soon. Facebook tells me it’s still testing this feature on desktop and doesn’t have schedule for when it will roll out there.
On mobile, auto-play gives natively uploaded Facebook videos and ones shared from Instagram an advantage: you don’t have to think about playing them, they play themselves. At first they’ll play in-line even as you scroll, but with no sound. If you tap them, they expand full-screen and the audio kicks in. Videos uploaded to third-party sites retain the old click-to-play-format.
I’ve found the new design to be quite pleasing. As I wrote when Facebook’s auto-play style was first unveiled, it feels a bit like the moving photos in the Harry Potter newspapers.
If you don’t want to watch, you can scroll by with little disruption. This isn’t Myspace, Vine, or Instagram where auto-play sound is suddenly going to bombard everyone around you. If you’re not sure if you want to watch, you get a little preview. Maybe the thumbnail was dull but motion shows the video is actually exciting. A little animated audio levels icon clues you in to there being sound to be heard, though. You can watch silently if you don’t have headphones or privacy, but if you want the full experience, you can tap and the video plays instantly without a loading delay.
To respect users who don’t want to burn data, Facebook has added a setting that lets you only auto-play videos if you’re on WiFi and not on cellular data. It’s found in your phone’s Facebook settings on iOS and the Facebook app’s settings on Android.Facebook With Commercials
When Facebook started testing auto-play, it was upfront about looking for ways to give the feature to marketers as well as users. It wrote “At first, this feature will be limited to videos posted by individuals, musicians, and bands. We’re doing this to make sure we create the best possible experience. Over time, we’ll continue to explore how to bring this to marketers in the future.” I would bet we’re going to hear some news about this soon, either just before or after the New Year.
Facebook recently starting letting developers put videos in their app install ads, but those don’t auto-play. Maybe they will eventually, though.
For advertisers, auto-play videos could make their ads a lot more noticeable. Most people wouldn’t volunteer to watch a video ad (cool movie trailers aside), but if it’s already playing and looks compelling, they might watch or even expand it to include sound too. Facebook is a fan of consistency, so video ads might have a very similar user experience to organic videos.
Because they’re more captivating, Facebook could potentially charge a lot to show video ads. Back in September, AdAge reported Facebook could charge between $1 million and $2.4 million to distribute a 15-second video ad for a day. Facebook raked in $2.02 billion in Q3 2013, and video ads could give that number a significant bump in Q1 and Q2 2014. Finally, we might start to see a landslide of ad spend previously devoted to television coming online, as the Facebook format would be relatively familiar (though possibly with no sound unless clicked).
The question remains whether users will freak out about video ads. Comments on my last piece about them and general sentiment has been quite wary of what video ads will do to the Facebook experience. If they’re the most eye-catching things on the social network, they could seem quite annoying. AdAge says Facebook might cap video ads so users don’t see more than three a day. Striking the right balance will be critical, though surprisingly, Facebook found that showing static photo ads in the News Feed hasn’t had a significant negative impact on engagement.
And if you’re thinking to yourself, “AdBlock Plus, bro”, that’s up to you. Personally, I think ads are the lifeblood of innovation, funding free products we rely on. But they’re a nuisance unless well-targeted, so hopefully Facebook can keep video ads relevant to the viewer. Otherwise I’d expect a lot of people to look for ways to banish them from their feed.FacebookCut Pro
The secret to making people swallow video ads might be getting them to shoot mini-movies themselves. If there were more user generated videos on the site, the ads would blend in.
The problem is, right now Facebook’s video creation tool is painfully outdated. Unlike its Instagram Video product, there’s no way to shoot multiple shots in a single video, no editing, no stabilization, no cover image, and no filters. That means videos shot with Facebook often look pretty crummy. Crummy videos get few likes, so people don’t shoot them, so no one sees them, so no one thinks to shoot them…
It’s time for Facebook to modernize its video creation tool.
It could easily port in the Instagram Video features, maybe with a better tagging interface since Facebook is more about friends. It also has patents on some pretty futuristic video technologies like recording video as soon as your camera is open, recognizing and tagging faces or locations, and detecting audio and visual cues like saying “that’s beautiful” to select a cover image thumbnail or create anchors for navigating around within a video while watching.
These features could make it much more fun to shoot and view Facebook videos, which could fill the feed with them and camouflage the video ads.
And even if the native creation tools stay the same, a better watching interface could make a big difference. Right now there’s no real way to discover and watch Facebook videos in bulk. A Facebook “channel” that showed your friends’ videos back-to-back (perhaps with clips from Pages and advertisers mixed in) could be an addictive lean-back experience. Better video viewing could pit Facebook in more direct competition with YouTube.
So basically, Facebook has a huge opportunity to step up its video…game, and auto-play on mobile is just the first step. Photos fueled Facebook’s popularity back in its early days. As it turns 10 years old in 2014, we’ll see if video can give it a second wind.
[Image Credit: BGR]
Writers from Thor and X-Men: First Class are working on a script for a new Terminator television series that will tie-in to the upcoming reboot trilogy.
According to reports on the Terminator film, the short-list of actresses up for the role of Sarah Connor included Emilia Clarke, Brie Larson, Margot Robbie and Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany. Recently, it seems the list has been trimmed to just Clarke and Larson. Director Alan Taylor, of Game of Thrones and Thor: The Dark World, is helming at least the first film in this new trilogy.
According toThe Hollywood Reporter, producers have hired, “writers Zack Stentz and Ashley Miller to write and executive produce a new Terminator television series that will be in conjunction with the rebooted feature. Skydance and Annapurna have combined the forces of the creative teams behind both the film and TV series for the new project.” Read more...More about Tv, Television, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator, and Remakes
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2013 was a great year for our Hive Five feature, where we ask you for the best tools in a category, highlight the top five, and then challenge you to vote to determine the best or most popular. We covered a lot of ground this year and highlighted some great gadgets, apps, and tools. Here are the most popular Hive Fives of 2013.
Two GIFs by consumer tech blog GadgetLove capture the evolution of both manufacturers' controllers in two hypnotic loop, below. Remember when the Xbox controller used to be too big for most hands? Remember the weird analog stick placement of the of older PlayStation DualShock controllers?
Relive those memories in both these GIFs. It's interesting to see how some design elements — like the PlayStation controller's four face buttons — never change in placement or shape, while Microsoft altered the Xbox controller buttons significantly. Read more...More about Microsoft, Entertainment, Gaming, Sony, and Playstation
India’s Unique Identification project, also known as Aadhar, earlier this week finished capturing demographic and biometric data of over half a billion residents–the largest biometric project of its kind currently in the world.
It’s been a multi-year effort not without its critics among privacy and security advocates and others. The latest development this week concerned the method that Aadhar is using to capture, store and manage the data, and the role a startup from the U.S. called MongoDB may be playing in it.
MongoDB, a NoSQL database startup, last year raised funding from the CIA-backed In-Q-Tel, an independent non-profit venture backed by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.
During past few days, several reports in the Indian media have quoted political parties and activists, raising questions about whether sensitive data is being compromised by Aadhar, headed by the Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani.
Some of the reports have linked the controversy with MongoDB.
Governments across the world are raising concerns over spying by the National Security Agency, and anything even remotely associated with U.S. government intelligence agencies is enough to cause uproar. Moreover, with general elections set to be held next hear, political rhetoric is at an all time high in India.
Still, the timing of these allegations couldn’t have been worse, at least for the ambitious identification project, which is waiting for a parliament bill to be passed this year to be established as a fully constitutional authority.
I took a tour of Aadhar’s offices in Bangalore, and the truth of the matter, according to officials I spoke to, is that while some have alleged large contracts that include sharing data with MongoDB, the reality is that Aadhar is using MongoDB open source code that doesn’t touch sensitive data. The meeting also offered an opportunity to understand how the biggest biometrics database on earth is functioning, and dealing with concerns of security and privacy.
Moreover, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), refuted allegations of sharing Indian residents’ data with any U.S. agencies.
What Aadhar means for India
To set the context right here about Aadhar, and what it means for a country like India, more than half a billion people have no official ID of any kind, which makes it impossible for them to receive government aids, open a bank account, get a loan, get a driving license, and so on. The database project, which is now enrolling over one million Indians residents a day, is scheduled to sign up about 1.2 billion people by the end of next year, making it the biggest biometrics database on earth.
One of the biggest advantages of having a 12-digit Aadhar number is that the government can link bank accounts of the country’s poor with it, and directly transfer cash benefits and other subsidies. Already, nearly 40 million bank accounts in India have been linked with Aadhar.
According to research firm CLSA, more than 40% of the Indian government’s $250 billion worth of subsidies and other other benefits meant for poor, will be lost to corruption over next few years. Aadhar will remove the middlemen and curb any corruption by enabling direct cash transfer to those who need government subsidies.
But several think-tanks and activists including Bangalore-based Centre for Internet & Society, have been raising concerns about privacy issues and even questioning the effectiveness of the entire project.
Inside the biggest biometrics database on earth
I have been trying to get meetings with the officials at Aadhar to understand security aspects, progress so far and their reaction to the MongoDB allegations.
They finally agreed to meet on Friday in their headquarters across the road in one of Bangalore’s southern suburbs, where both Intel’s and Cisco’s India headquarters are located. From outside, Aadhar’s technology center, which stores all residents’ data (now totalling 5 Petabytes in size) does not look like a government building at all—it could pass for as one of the buildings housing Intel or Cisco nearby.
Inside, as I walked into a room with about dozen television screens in the center of it, some twenty young engineers feverishly looked ahead, typing on their computer keyboards, checking the movement of data packets storing information, the setting looked like a very sophisticated command center. The television screens they were looking at showed the journey of these data packets (each sized at around 5MB) from the time they are logged at one of the 30,000 enrollment centers around the country, through at least three stages of validation. Validation includes running duplication checks for each of the profiles to ensure there are not more than one Aadhar number for the same person.
So, for every new enrollment, a ‘de-duplication’ check is done against all existing profiles, which is over half a billion currently.
Srikanth Nadhamuni, a former Intel engineer who helped set up Aadhar’s technology platform in September 2010, and is now running Khosla Labs in Bangalore, tells me that these data packets are stored behind 2048-bit encryption and capable of self-destruction if any unauthorized access is attempted.
Dealing with MongoDB controversy
So why did Aadhar engage with MongoDB in the first place and will it continue working with the startup?
Sudhir Narayana, assistant director general at Aadhar’s technology center, told me that MongoDB was among several database products, apart from MySQL, Hadoop and HBase, originally procured for running the database search. Unlike MySQL, which could only store demographic data, MongoDB was able to store pictures.
However, Aadhar has been slowly shifting most of its database related work to MySQL, after realizing that MongoDB was not being able to cope with massive chunks of data, millions of packets.
They have already started using ‘database sharding’: a process where data packets are stored across different machines to ensure the system does not crash as volumes rise.
This has helped Aadhar reduce its dependency on MongoDB and instead use MySQL for storing most of the data.
Ashok Dalwai, deputy director general of the tech center, told me that MongoDB has no access to any biometric data.
“We believe in using open source technologies to avoid any vendor lock-in, but that doesn’t mean we are in any way, compromising security,” Dalwai said.
When contacted, a MongoDB spokesperson redirected to this announcement about the company’s funding involving In-Q-Tel.
And more importantly, UIDAI started using MongoDB’s open source software much before the startup received any funding from In-Q-Tel. As this Crunchbase entry shows, MongoDB received venture round funding of $7.7 million from Red Hat, Intel Capital and In-Q-Tel, only in 2012.
So what lies ahead for Aadhar?
Despite all the controversies surrounding it, Aadhar is on track to enroll over 1.2 billion Indian residents by end of 2014, the officials added. This will create a database of about 15 petabytes in size.
Currently, the project is enrolling around one million residents in the country a day. Narayana told me that he’s confident of achieving around two million enrollments a day from next year, and that will help bring the remaining 700 million people into the database.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is coming to a television screen near you (insert "yippee" here)
HitRECord on TV, based on the actor's collaborative project hitRECord, which crowdsources entertainment, is being turned into a 30-minute variety show for which Levitt will act as host
The first trailer for the show dropped Friday and there are several things to glean from the 60-second spot — there will be lots of puppets, Tony Danza, dancing, wackiness, suit-wearing and JGL is so darn excited about it all
"Hundreds of thousands of artists from all over the world contribute to the collaborative projects we have going on our site ... where I've been directing each piece and performing in a bunch of them too," Levitt writes in the video's YouTube description Read more...More about Viral Videos, Celebrities, Trailers, Entertainment, and Tv
Our bodies require a lot of upkeep, and the mouth is far from an exception. Taking care of our teeth and gums can have a significant impact on our lives. This weekend, take some time to make sure you're not neglecting anything important and getting the best dental care available.
Good morning and how do you do? Do you enjoy all of your limbs and organs? Good! Keep them healthy because these Dystopian War Robots are sure to want them when they come to power.
To begin with, we present the two-armed worker robot from Seiko Epson. Designed to work a great deal like the now-famous Baxter, this robot will be available in 2016 and be used to help – and later harm – factory workers in their daily tasks. It can be trained to assist – and later assault – its human counterparts and is, for the time being, called “the autonomous dual-arm robot” and will later be called “My lordship.”
It seems, however, that our own lovable Baxter is seeing the competition creeping up and is doing more to assimilate. For example, Active Robots is offering a program for Baxter than will allow him to solve a Rubik’s Cube with nary a whimper. The robot will methodically make all the colors match – and smile the whole time – while viewers are lulled into a dull sense of safety. Then he will pounce. Oh, how he will pounce.
Finally we have a charming bipedal robot from the University of Michigan. Named Margo, this old girl can traipse around like a two-legged, high-stepping heifer until it’s time to start doing a little face stomping on the front lines of the human/robot wars. The revolution will be televised and Margo will probably be holding the camera. Until next time, wet spots, keep your eyes on the skies!
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